Aquatic Turtle Care

A bit more than six years ago, when I worked for a company called DreamHost, I went to my first DreamHost holiday party. There were maybe 20 people at that party, and we were seated at the same table in a restaurant, the White Elephant gifts piled up next to the table. One of my co-workers, Glen, told me that the items in the big bag he brought were from a swap meet, so I chose his bag. Inside, along with many other weird items, was a tiny tank containing a tiny turtle.

Thankfully, nobody stole the turtle from me, and I brought the turtle home, and I dubbed him Hurley. I did some research on aquatic turtle care, bought the equipment, and over six years later, he’s still thriving. He’s also grown a bit.

When I first brought him home, he was a bit traumatized. The first few months of his life probably were not ideal for a growing turtle, and he had just been whisked around quite a bit. He didn’t eat for at least a week, until I popped a little bread coated with peanut butter into his tank. He ate well after that.

Anyway, on to a standard aquatic turtle tank setup:

The two lamps on top of the tank are important. The one on the left is a UVA/UVB lamp. It is needed so the turtle absorbs nutrients into its shell. Without it, the turtle will get a condition known as “soft shell.” That condition does what it says on the tin, and means death for the turtle. The lamp on the right is the heat lamp. Turtles are reptiles, which means they cannot regulate their body heat like mammals can. They need a spot where they can get warm, and a spot where they can cool off.

The two basking spots are important. They need to be above the water line so they can get out of the water and dry their shells off, again to prevent the shell from softening. I like to have to spots – one under the UVA/UVB lamp, one under the heat lamp. In the above photo, he is happily basking under the UVA/UVB lamp. He often sleeps under the heat lamp at night.

To the right, outside the tank, is the filtration unit. It is specifically made for turtle tanks. It’s a more high-volume filtration unit made to deal with turtle waste, which is quite a bit more heavy duty than fish waste.

Here’s a closer shot inside the tank. The basking spot under the heat lamp is a floating turtle dock. Turtles tend to like basking spots that can float. It attaches to the side of the tank via suction cups. You can also see the waterfall of the filtration unit. I like waterfall filtration units because they keep the water from getting stale.

That’s about all you need to keep a turtle happy as far as setup. The initial setup can run pretty expensive. I’d say this entire setup was around $300 total, including tank. If you’re just starting up with a tiny turtle, the expense won’t be as much, but keep in mind eventually you’ll need to upgrade.

On the subject of feeding – pet stores and reptile specialty stores have all sorts of pellets and supplements that will keep your turtle healthy. In my turtle’s case, he’s a red-eared slider. So he’s omnivorous, but he’ll get more and more vegetarian as he gets older.

You’ll notice the water level in the tank. It’s enough for him to have a good swim. When you feed a red-eared slider, you drop the pellets into the water, where they prefer to feed. They like to have a bit of a drink with their food. They drink the water they swim in, so it’s important to keep the water clean with a good filter. If you have a good filter, you’ll only need to completely clean the tank once every six months or so. You’ll need to clean it more often if you have a fish tank filter doing the job.

Once you have everything setup, they’re very easy to maintain. I feed my turtle only once a week to keep him at a reasonable size. We live in an apartment, so it’s not feasible to setup a pond for him, and red-eared sliders can get up to a foot in length.

One more thing to keep in mind – turtles have a very long life. There have been instances of red-eared sliders living up to 30 years. Aquatic turtles aren’t as long-lived as tortoises, but you still have to keep that kind of long-term commitment in mind when considering one as a pet.

If you do get a turtle as a pet, I recommend going to a local specialty reptile shop for supplies and advice. Not only is it best to support local businesses, but they’re better stocked and much more knowledgeable than a chain such as Petco.

But, as pets go, Hurley is really low-maintenance. When we go on vacation and have someone keep an eye on the pets, I only have to instruct them to throw some pellets into the tank once a week. He’s not a cuddly pet – reptiles are not like mammals in that way. They don’t really need handling like a mammal. They don’t need cuddling, nor do they really seek it. But they are cool to watch, and it’s an experience to watch them grow and develop. Hurley is not cuddly, but he seems to be very happy when I spend more time in my office, where his tank is located.

He’s also a massive ham for the camera.


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Pumpkin Bisque

It’s my favorite time of year – Autumn. Apples come into season in lots of tasty varieties, the weather cools off (which makes cycling easier), and the most awesome of holidays is nearly here – Halloween.

Pumpkins are now stocked in grocery stores, and last year I got a random hair up my butt to make pumpkin bisque. I made it from a recipe I found online, and it was pretty tasty. This week, I invited Kyle and Liz over for dinner. Kyle was one of my Burning Man campmates this year, and his fiancee, Liz, took care of our kitties while we were getting dirty on the Playa. I owed her BIG TIME. So I took up the ambitious project of making pumpkin bisque, bacon cheese and green onion scones, and a whole slow-roasted chicken with veggies. I had to shower when it was all nearly done, and holy crap it was worth it.

I decided to post my recipe for pumpkin bisque since all the recipes I’ve found online were pretty lame, or even more work intensive than my method. Plus, I figured photographing the process would be fun.

First, you get yourself a pumpkin – mediumish in size. The original recipe recommends five pounds. It doesn’t have to be pretty, although most grocery stores try to trot out their prettiest pumpkins since they’re mainly sold to be carved and grace doorsteps for the month.

What a purty pumpkin!

If it makes everyone feel any better, the backside of this was a bit flattened, dirty-looking, and had a bit of guano stuck to it that I had to slice off. Two people complimented my pumpkin at the store. I felt bad telling them it’d be turned into soup. One woman looked like I had grown another head when I told her I’d be making pumpkin bisque. “Is it stringy? How do you keep it from getting stringy?” I told her that you have to purée the fuck out of that, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Before starting anything, I turned the oven to 375 degrees F, for roasting the pumpkin. I like to preheat the fuck out of my oven. Since I started doing that, food has cooked a lot better, more evenly. The longer it’s pre-heated, the better.

I like to assemble a bit of a work area at my kitchen table for the taking apart the pumpkin part. It’s a bit of a messy job, and I like being able to just sweep away the mess. I took apart two Trader Joe’s paper bags and laid them down with the stuff I’d need on top.

And then comes the part that I loathe – actually cutting into the bitch. I started cutting it the standard way – by cutting around the stem. But then I realized I wasn’t carving a jack-o-lantern, and I was just making more work for myself. So I cut it in half.

Greasy grimy pumpkin guts!It still was a lot of grinding work to cut up. If any of you have a way of cutting up a pumpkin that is easier than just using a knife and putting your back into it, let me know in the comments, please!

Just cutting it in half did make scraping out the insides much easier, however. I used a big metal serving spoon to scrape the inside, and used a larger plastic serving spoon to gather the guts into a bowl, for making roasted pumpkin seeds later.

Cleaned pumpkin halvesI then hacked up the halves into five or six pieces each. I brushed the pieces with a bit of olive oil (lightly coated) and then lightly sprinkled them with crushed sea salt and cracked pepper.

Pumpkin prepared for roastingI then roasted the pumpkin for 25 minutes. I have to note here that in the original recipe I borrowed, it instructed to peel and cut up the pumpkin into small pieces before this step. You can do that, but at this point, you’ve probably realized how much back-stabbing work goes into cutting up raw pumpkin. My method means you have less cutting to do when the pumpkin is raw. Once it’s roasted a bit, cutting it off the rind and into smaller pieces is a LOT easier.

After 25 minutes, take out the pieces and allow them to cool down so that it’s easier to cut up. Once they’re cool, cut up the pumpkin into smaller pieces, slice the meat off the rind, and put the pieces in a big crock pot. I had gotten too large of a pumpkin, so once the pumpkin bits reached about four inches from the top, I stopped and put the remaining pieces in a ziplock for use later.

I then filled the pot with water until it just covered the pumpkin. I returned the pot to the stove, cranked the burner to high, and threw in about two tablespoons of chicken bouillon (I use Better than Bouillon, but use whatever floats your boat, including vegetable base if you’re vegetarian). I added half a chopped yellow onion, about half a cup of white wine, and herbs – a sprinkle of cumin, about one tablespoon each of cinnamon, allspice, sage, and thyme. I also added a bit of crushed sea salt (just a bit – bouillon already adds so much salt), and some cracked pepper.

Starting to cook!Once the soup starts to boil, a bit of foam scum will start to hang out on the top. When that happens, get a small sieve and skim it off. Then turn down the heat until it’s simmering. Let it simmer until the pumpkin is very soft. It might take only half an hour, but I let it simmer at least an hour to get the flavors really going nicely together.

When the pumpkin is very soft (test this with a spoon – if it sinks without any resistance into the pumpkin, then it’s ready), you’ll want to purée the soup in small batches with either a blender or food processor. You can let the soup cool before you do the purée bit to save yourself some discomfort, but probably at this point the smell of the soup is driving you nuts and you’ve been at it for awhile and godDAMN let’s just get this done already, ok? Anyway, purée in small batches. As in, fill whatever container that is doing the deed only halfway, or you’re going to have an even bigger mess on your hands than normal. This step is already naturally messy. Don’t worry about it, just get through it and clean up later.

It’s going to be tempting to just shove your face into the resulting soup. Resist that urge.

Purée'd soupIt’ll taste pretty good at this point on it’s own. You could probably eat it just as-is. But just a little bit more work – much easier work compared to what you’ve done so far – and you’re done. So hang in there, slugger.

To me, bisque should be a bit spicy. It should make my mouth warm, and the warmth should hang around. So at this point I add some hot sauce. My favorite is Cholula, but whatever you have in the fridge should work just fine. Just keep adding it and tasting the soup until it’s at the heat you like.

You can either simmer the soup until you’re ready to serve it, or if you are ready to serve, just add some heavy cream. About half a cup or so. I don’t measure it. I just stir in cream until the soup looks right.

I then serve in bowls with an Italian parsley garnish. I didn’t take a picture of the result. I was too busy shoving it in my mouth.

I did, however, serve it with bacon, gruyere cheese, and green onion scones. I took a picture of those.

These are like filling your mouth with sweet, sweet orgasmHere’s the link to the recipe that was the inspiration for the bisque. If you want to try out the scones, here’s the link to that recipe. You’ll need to follow the scone recipe precisely. Baking n’ all that.

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REI Shipping Fail


I ordered four small items from REI, in the same order. Here’s how two of the items arrived today. What an awful waste. REI should be ashamed.

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Burner Bike


Fastened on with two-part epoxy, as recommended by a friend. The head bobbles.

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Rapturous links

Seems like the internet is all abuzz about the rapture today (has been for a few days), so I thought I’d compile some links/pictures here for your viewing pleasure.

First off, a video from YouTube from the great show “Six Feet Under.” Courtesy of my friend Bronwyn, it’s a clip of one of the obligatory intros, where their client-to-be thinks the rapture is happening. Great stuff.

If you want rapture humor along with just all-along great lampooning of Christianity, the Tumblr blog “Jesus is Love” is for you. The Oatmeal is weighing in on how god is managing the rapture. One of my favorite sites of all time, Regretsy, has featured an item that I think I might have to buy for a friend of mine. If you’re having a hard time understanding how this rapture thing works, Rapture Tech Support on Twitter might be able to help you out. The LA Times has a feature on the con man responsible for all the fuss, Harold Camping. If you want to witness the backpedaling for yourself once it becomes clear the world isn’t coming to an end, you can check up on the radio station that appears to be spreading the good word of judgement day. I don’t recommend actually listening to the station.

Feeling a little horny? There’s a Pre-Rapture Orgy group on Facebook. If you don’t expect to be one of the called to glory, there’s a post-rapture party for those who attended the pre-rapture orgy. It looks like there might be more people going to that party than expected.

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A drink recipe

Happy New Year!

For New Year’s, my husband and I biked/trained it over to Pasadena and hung out with some friends who were camped out on the Rose Bowl Parade route. We didn’t stay all night, but thankfully I had brought extra blankets to keep us warm. It was quite chilly!

I also brought another thing to keep me warm – a new drink recipe.

Earlier that day, while I was cooking, my friend Chris popped by. I was baking vegan goodies, and one of the recipes called for almond milk. He asked to try some. He liked it, but said it needed bourbon. It went downhill from there.

The amounts are all estimates. Adjust to your taste.

The Dirty Almond

1 part really good bourbon
4 parts almond milk
splash of apple juice or cider
dash of allspice

Mix well. Sip carefully.

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Domesticated Me

I finally have a Kitchenaid mixer.

Let me go back.

I started cooking pretty seriously. Things taste better when you make it all yourself, and I’m starting to really get into it. One of the things I’d noticed in foodie/recipe blogs is that people were doing a lot of work with Kitchenaid mixers. It’s kind of the thing to have when you’re ready to really step it up.

And then, like many things you lust after, it seemed that everywhere I went, there was a Kitchenaid mixer. I’d go visiting friends and every single one of them seemed to have one. My American-born keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality started screaming.

They are freaking expensive because they are built like tanks. Many people pass them down from generation to generation, hence the expense. They last. I despaired ever being able to afford one.

Then, like the savior it is, Craigslist delivered. Someone was offering one for $75, an 80s model that has been barely used. I picked it up tonight, from a man who lost his parents a few months ago. He met us at his parents house, the place in disarray. He inherited the house and its contents, and the Kitchenaid was him parting with things he didn’t want or need before he rented out the house. He said he was happy it was going to a good home, and that makes it feel like it’s all that much more special.

As my first endeavor with the mixer, I made pasties – meat pies. It’s like a hybrid of a chicken pot pie and a calzone. It was so good, I have to share the recipe.

Chicken Pasty



3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup shortening
1 cup cold water


3 cups chicken broth
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp onion soup mix
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into small cubes (about 1 1/2 c.)
4 carrots, chopped
1 potato, peeled and cubed into small pieces
pepper to taste
dill weed
fresh chopped parsley
1 egg white
4 slices bacon, chopped (optional)


1) First prepare pie crust. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in water until mixture forms a ball. Shape into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for one hour. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2) Put broth in large saucepan, put on med-high heat. Throw in spices, potatoes, and carrots. Boil. Turn down heat to low. Add chicken. Simmer until potatoes and carrots are just getting tender. Turn off heat.
3) Whisk together flour and onion soup mix. In a medium to large saucepan, melt butter completely. Mix in flour until a paste forms. Turn heat to low. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken and veggies from other sauce pan to one with the flour/butter mix. Stir in some broth too. Mix, adding broth until mixture is thick but not like a dough. Optionally, mix in bacon. Turn off heat, set pan with chicken mix aside.
4) Take dough ball out of fridge. Roll into a tube on a lightly floured surface. Separate dough into six pieces. Shape each dough bit into a ball, roll out into a round sheet. Spoon about one cup of chicken mix into one half of the dough, leaving enough for edges. Using a pastry brush, spread some egg white over the edge overage. Fold sheet over chicken mix. Press down dough, fold it over a bit. Using a fork that has been dipped in a bit of flour, press into the edges to seal. Brush more egg white over the top, then poke a few vents into the top using the fork.
5) Bake pasties for 30 minutes in preheated oven.
6) Transfer pasties to cooling racks. Let cool about 20-30 minutes.
7) Om nom nom nom.

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Rain and Mushrooms

I will not discuss how long it has been since I’ve posted. I will not. Moving along…

It has been raining here. No, I’m sorry, rain is what happens to normal people. For climates like the one Los Angeles possesses, ordinary old rain just will not do.

What is happening here can only be called “biblical.” I’ve been looking up, watching for frogs. It’s not just that it’s fierce. Yes, there has been the usual pelting, driving water. There’s the expected road damage from continual storm. However, it’s been raining now for six days. Can we get back to the sunshine that makes the rest of the country snipe about smog and hippies? Please?

We did have a very slight lull, and during that lull I noticed there was a large patch of mushrooms growing in one of the soil oases around my building. I decided if the lull lasted long enough for me to grab a few pictures, I would take advantage of the little break.

Lovely wild mushrooms

I have fond memories of wild mushrooms. I’ve always been a city girl, so exposure to the outdoors was pretty minimal. My family wasn’t into camping or hiking, so the bit of wildness I had access to meant my backyard, my grandmother’s backyard, and maybe a bit of state-held park land when there was a BBQ.

Once in awhile, I’d find mushrooms in my grandmother’s back yard. It was always something special in my young mind. In the midst of my grandmother’s meticulously-kept lawn, a small circle of something wild, something not purposefully planted, something almost seemingly…forbidden. Unseemly. In my need to poke at everything, I’d peruse a cap or two. The caps were soft and sproigy, the stems like strands melded together.

break in the rain

The entirety of our apartment complex is concrete, except for a few squares in the ground where something has been allowed to grow. Something planted. The trees are very young and the greenery unassuming. So there they were, a great bunch of wild mushrooms glistening with rain. There were a lot out in the open, but there was also quite a colony hiding under the tame leaves. Because of the driving rain, many of them were splattered with sandy dirt.

They’ll probably be gone next week, uprooted by the men who tend the greens, spray down the concrete, then blow it dry with a leaf blower. However, mushrooms are a fungus, and tenacious after their first appearance. They’ll be back.

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It Gets Better

A comment on my last post lead me to the commenter’s website, and he had posted a video from one of my favorite Burners:

There’s so much emotion tied up in the “It Gets Better” project. I’m thankful for Dan Savage starting the project. I’m a straight woman who supports the LGBT community. I support marriage equality for everyone. I support equal rights for LGBT folks. I support the right of all people to live their lives without being harassed for any reason.

The school years are tough until you graduate high school, for everyone. Now that I have years and years of hindsight, it has to be hard for the bullies too or they wouldn’t be hassling those who are different or weaker.

You don’t have to be LGBT to get bullied during middle and high school, but I’d imagine the strong emotions that homophobia can instill in a young brute can make the bullying that much more intense and horrifying. Every bullied teen contemplates suicide, but there has to be some intensity going on if they’re willing to go through with it. The brain has to be pulled out of true to go against its basic animal instinct to survive.

Graduating from high school and moving away from all the cretins who made my life hell was the best thing that ever happened to me. I went on to college and had the best time of my life. My life wasn’t perfect, and there were other growing pains associated with higher education, but nobody was threatening to bust my head in for being different.

The great thing about college is that most everyone there wants to be there. High school is mandatory, college is not. In high school you are exposed to a lot of kids who really don’t want to learn anything, who are willfully attached to their ignorance. After the first year or two the young people who are there because their parents want them to do it drop out.

You’re always going to always run into douchebags during the course of your life, but after high school they’re generally not physically violent. If they are, as an adult you’re able to call the police and file an assault complaint and have the problem dealt with by professionals.

This brings me to a question – why aren’t high school students able to fall back on the law in these bullying cases? A lot of this comes down to stalking and assault, but it’s like we’ve put a label of “bullying” on it, something that’s not legislated, and suddenly it’s just a kid problem. It’s a problem that belongs to all of us.

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Segmentation Fault: Brain Dumped

I will not go into how long it’s been since I last posted. I was caught between “haven’t absorbed it” and “what I have to say isn’t interesting and it’s been said many times before.”

So I’m taking a new angle at this. I’m going to attack my report on Burning Man as a newbie talking to another newbie who has reservations about going to Burning Man.

Disclaimer: Burning Man isn’t for everyone. If it’s not your thing, don’t sweat it. Don’t go.

But it’s too hot!

Probably the #1 reason why people are afraid to go. Yes, it’s in the desert. Yes, it gets really hot. However, if you’re smart, you brought shade structure and have put it up either in the early morning hours or at twilight (when it’s less hot). You’ve also brought enough water to not only drink, but also to mist yourself on occasion (1.5 gallons per person per day). You can also buy ice at Center Camp, keep it in a cooler, and occasionally drop some cubes into your decolletage. A lightweight, wide-brimmed hat is also a necessity. You can also bring an umbrella around with you if you’re walking around the city, or construct a shade over your bike.

It’s hot, but it is a desert. This means it’s super dry too. Average humidity is 6% (average humidity even when it’s low in most areas is 20%). This means that a) temperatures are much cooler in the shade and b) sweating works.  The dry air immediately wicks away moisture, leaving you cool. Drench yourself with mist from your mister bottle, and you’ll be amazed how cool you’ll feel. But this also means you have to chug water constantly. If you’re not peeing clear, you’re risking dehydration. Bring Gatorade if you want to be sure, but just stock up on food that’s salty and have at least one serving of salty food a day.

The smell has to be horrific!

Yep, I’ve heard this one. It’s actually not a big deal out there.

First of all, some background. My husband teases me about my nose and how sharp it is at detecting odors. While we’re walking it’s not uncommon for me to say, “Oh, hey, a rodent farted here six years ago.” So if a place is stinky, I’m the first to be miserable about it.

Black Rock City is situated on a prehistoric lake bed that is alkaline dust. You learn to live with it. Dust gets into your food, your water, in your clothes, and in your nose. One of the benefits of alkaline is that it absorbs odors. I spent a week amongst people who were not bathing regularly, probably weren’t being very mindful of deodorant application, and we were camped right across the street from a bank of porto-potties. I smelled nothing. It was a blissful week – a vacation from my nose. The only time I smelled anything was when the porto-potties were being serviced, and that was every six hours, if I was at camp.

That gets me to the next obstacle…

You can’t take a proper shower!

I’m a stickler about bathing. During the hot summer, it’s not unusual for me to shower twice a day. I don’t like being sweaty or sticky or smelly.

For the week that I was on the playa, I took one shower, and that was a quick cold one in the RV. We had bought way way way too many baby wipes, and I used baby wipes twice a day to sponge bathe. The only thing that bugged me about not being able to use running water was that gunk piled up under my fingernails. I had No-Rinse shampoo and conditioner to wash my hair (although the playa gets in there anyway and makes it a mess – bandannas are your friend).

It didn’t bother me that I couldn’t properly shower. The dry heat wicked away any sweat and after awhile you get used to being coated in Playa dust. Of course, when we left the Playa and got to Reno, the shower at the hotel felt like angel tears on my skin, but during the week I was comfortable despite the lack of bathing.

Eugh! Porto Potties! I can’t abide them!

Porto Potties are a fact of life on the Playa, even if you bring an RV. You need to use them regardless if you plan on exploring the city, and you don’t want to use up all the RV water.

I was pretty impressed by the Porto Potties at Burning Man. Like most Porto Potties, they don’t compare to your bathroom at home. However, they were serviced every six hours. They were quite clean as Porto Potties go, and again, because of Playa dust, I never got a strong Port Potty odor when I was in one. Just don’t try to glance or give thought to the contents.

One thing to consider, however, is that you do have to bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you wherever you go. After a couple of days, toilet paper and hand sanitizer isn’t consistently re-stocked at all Porto groups. Life is also much easier if you’re camped by a Porto Potty.

I’ve heard there’s a long line to get in

Yes, there is. Eight hours to drive from Reno to Burning Man. Two hours to drive from Burning Man to Reno (once we got on the road – three hour line to get from Burning Man to the road). An RV helps if you don’t have the equipment to pee by the side of the road (and/or prefer not to defile the environment with your bodily fluids). It also helps if you are going with people you like a lot. Conversation and good music pass the time very quickly. An RV also helps if you’re willing to swap places with the driver so everyone can get a nap in and arrive fresh to the Playa to construct camp.

I heard old/ugly/fat people walk around naked. Icky!

I can’t help you there. If you have those sort of hang-ups, maybe Burning Man isn’t the right place for you. However, I do have to say that nudity gets pretty common after a day or so on the Playa. You get used to it, and it just becomes the background to a really cool event. Burning Man really is where hang-ups go to die because the people around you being utterly comfortable in their own skins become quite infectious.

You find yourself relaxing, and if it’s your first time, you might not take as many pictures as you thought you’d like. You just want to walk around and experience the place through your own eyes, and you find yourself realizing next time, yes, there will be a next time, you’ll be able to handle having a camera between your eyes and what is happening.

Did I leave out any obstacles people put between them and Burning Man? Leave them in the comments.

I’ll post some pictures soon that can be public, but for the whole collection you have to be my friend on Facebook. Privacy is important to Burning Man participants.

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