Three birthdays and fourteen pesos

Can you believe that our girl Mara Layne turned SEVEN?! It seems like just yesterday that she was two years old, sucking her thumb, and being bossy. She has stopped sucking her thumb since then.

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She did all the regular birthday stuff, including the traditional Toys R Us trip and dinner of her choosing (Olive Garden). Wesson gave her this dress for her birthday. He said she needed a really nice dress to wear. Sweet boy!

Happy Birthday, sass monster. You make the days brighter!

Right after Miss Mara turned seven we got sick of playing in the cold and moved our spoiled butts to Palm Desert. Palm Springs Thousand Trails is there, and in true Thousand Trails fashion the campground is irritating in it’s own unique ways. The front office troll likes to torture people over their mail, and the palm trees, although great to look at, make getting into and out of your site almost impossible. Add the skinniest sites ever seen to the list and the warm weather is just barely worth the visit. We like the area, though, so that helps.

Everybody ended up with a cold just before we arrived. Everyone else got better within a day or two but Wesson decided to be an overachiever and turned his into bronchitis and an ear infection. We got to go to urgent care in California! How fun! After some heavy duty antibiotics and a few days of staying out of the dirt he was as good as new, just in time to turn NINE!!!

On our regularly scheduled birthday visit to Toys R Us we discovered that they were closing! *sob* Gone are the days of the traditional toy store. So sad! I can’t say that I haven’t contributed to it’s downfall, what with most of my purchases coming from the overlords at Amazon.com. We finished the day at Red Robin. He gets a free kids meal there every year and, like his mother, is all about the freebies.

Happy birthday, buddy! May all your dreams come true!

Wesson got a new scooter in that same week. It wasn’t really a birthday gift, more of a replacement for the one he had beat into the ground. When I went to toss the old one in the trash Justin stopped me and suggested we put it out by the dumpster in case someone wanted it. It was still ride-able, just not in great shape. Boy, am I glad I listened to him. No sooner was it out there that an inebriated lady and her male companion stumbled by. She immediately grabbed the scooter and tried to ride away, losing a chunky heeled shoe in the process. Then, her man friend decided to fold it up for easy carrying, couldn’t figure out how to do it, and ended up riding it home. It was such a sight that neither one of us could actually laugh. Best decision ever!

The morning of March 15th started like any other. Wesson ventured outside at about 10am and came running in with an unfamiliar bike headlight that he’d found back by our bicycles. It was puzzling but no one actually gave it much thought. A few hours later when Justin went out back to do something he started screaming several expletives. There, at the bike rack, where his big ol’ expensive top of the line Trek bicycle should have been was a pile of cut locking cables and a patch of dirt. Someone had STOLEN his bike in the night and left their own headlamp behind in the process. They also cut both ends off the cable which made no sense but maybe bike thieves aren’t the brightest crayons.

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Within the next few hours he was able to get a police report done and a claim in to the insurance company. The locking cable people even mailed me a new one, even though I’m not sure it will matter. By the next day he had a deposit in the bank account for the full value of his bicycle and all the accessories/upgrades at retail prices! So, if anyone is looking for a moderately used black Cannondale with pink brake cables, I’ll leave it unlocked tonight. Just make it look like a pro job, please.

A few days later Wesson started looking funny around his mouth. He’s had really badly chapped lips before because when he gets to chewing at them he won’t quit. This time, though, his cheek started getting red and the whole thing just kept getting worse. By bedtime on the 21st it was hot and nasty. We were supposed to be moving the next day so we made the decision to run him out to the emergency room right then instead of waiting until the next day. After he and I had been in the ER waiting room for about an hour and a half, I tried to leave with him, resigning to bring him back tomorrow because it was already 11pm. A different triage nurse than the first took one look at his swollen, red face and basically said no, you’re not leaving with that kid. She out mommed me, people. This is, apparently, what a staph infection in your face looks like.

Two antibiotics later we were touring California looking for a pharmacy that would take our veterans administration insurance. Wesson was thrilled to be running around CVS at 2am and shockingly he never once fell asleep during this whole adventure. We did not move the next day.

When we finally DID move, it was to a place called Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field.

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The campground itself is tucked away between the airstrip and the firing range. This place doesn’t really have any claim to fame, necessarily. They do, however, have a lot of arsenic in their water. A reverse osmosis system was set up at each campsite to make sure we didn’t let the government poison us with anything but propaganda.

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The water was pretty fantastic, actually. This weekend the air force academy was in town to do some jumping so we got to watch the instructors out jumping for fun. They were doing some formations and at one point two guys came down with a giant American flag strung between them. It was quite a show! The F-16’s from nearby Luke Air Force Base were also conducting some training and would come in extra low and fast all day long with their roaring afterburners. I was also told that we had just missed the munitions training that made all the campground gravel jump up a few inches.

Nearby the community fire pit was a “bathroom” although I got the feeling as I was using it that it may have been a joke.

Our next adventure involved a week in Phoenix. Now, last time we were there we stayed at WestWorld in their parking lot for about a million dollars. This time around we were taking advantage of the Trails Collection with Thousand Trails. Basically, for an extra $200 per year you get access to about 35 more campgrounds within the system. We’ve used it a few times so far and with the exception of one hiccup (looking at you, Sherwood Forest) it’s been well worth the fee. We stayed at Monte Vista Resort right across from the pool.

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Our site was between two houses and had it’s own grapefruit trees. I ate at least one oroblanco grapefruit every single day (sometimes three).

There were always little quail roaming about the site. The poor timid little things didn’t want you to even LOOK at them, though, and it took me several days to even get a photo. We had great neighbors too! The elderly couple next door had one of their sons and his wife visiting and they had the cutest little Brittany Spaniel puppy! The kids were smitten. Everyone we met was more than kind, even the staff. The place is fantastically immaculate and they pick up your trash at your site – a miracle in itself! If you have a chance to stay here book as many weeks as you can.

As soon as we landed in Mesa we got ourselves together to go out for dinner with Justin’s cousin Micah and their Aunt Brenda and Uncle Dana. It was Dana’s birthday! When Dana and Brenda showed up to the restaurant we were sporting our birthday hats and a ridiculously giant birthday balloon.

We had lots of fun and stayed waaay too long, so long that I started feeling bad for the waitress, although after a certain point we weren’t bothering her just taking up her space. We made sure to tip her well, though, and when we left, we left our party hats stacked up on the table. As we were standing around outside still chatting away and taking photos we spotted the kitchen staff through the windows. THEY WERE WEARING OUR HATS! Our waitress had one on too! She finally spotted us and looked almost mortified but laughing hysterically. We all thought it was hilarious and awesome, of course.

The next day when I finally made it to a grocery store I discovered that their specific brand of Kroger was called Fry’s and IT HAD A BAR INSIDE OF THE STORE.

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Why can’t Kroger roll this out all over the place, huh?! Everybody needs a bar inside their grocery store! Just getting milk? Have an IPA first. Running in for diapers? Get a glass of wine, you deserve it.

We used the next weekend to go bowling with Micah and he kicked our butts. We have only been bowling with the kids twice before this, and they did ok with the bumpers in place. Justin and I should have opted for bumpers too, I think.

Easter also happened to… happen, while were here. Good guy EB left us all too much candy and a few toys.

And then we went SWIMMING!

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The pool is actually two pools separated by a really awesome waterfall that I never documented.

On our way out of Arizon we stopped at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for a night. Our original plans were to head straight back to Holloman Air Force Base but we were off on the distance and it ended up being quite a bit farther than we usually plan for in a day. Check your route with your actual GPS, ok?

Davis-Monthan is where they have the plane grave yard!

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They need at least ten days notice to run background checks for tours of the boneyard. As much as I would have loved to do that, if you’ve paid any attention to our mildly interesting lives you’d know that we don’t plan for diddly squat. Our journey changes by the literal minute because of who we are as people: flighty, fidgety, and a touch legitimately crazy. This next paragraph will prove it.

Our next stop was another famcamp in El Paso that’s associated with Fort Bliss. While we were there we loaded up into the truck to go to the base museum as always and then suddenly we went to Mexico. It wasn’t really planned for? I mean, I had our passports so I had definitely considered it while I was getting ready to leave but it was a toss up until we actually crossed the border. Mostly we just wanted to use those passports we went through the effort of obtaining before our full-time nonsense began and just have the little mental everything-trophy that said we’d been out of the country.

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So we crossed the border. We made our way to a pretty good sized park that was supposed to have a history museum. The museum was going through a remodel as it turns out, so that was a no. Instead, we found a spot with a scary looking playground and let the kids out to run around.

It’s worth noting that the dirt in this park was at least 25% confetti, no joke. We tried to go to a big art installation down the road, and I think this is when we started to actually look around at the ‘roughness’ of the area.

We resolved, instead, to find a bathroom and then begin the process of heading back to the United States because the line for the border was a little lengthy. We stopped at that same park again when we spotted what appeared to be a public restroom. Except… an aggresive lady was charging people 5 pesos each to use the restroom. I paid her two US dollars to let us all pee, and wished those dollars good luck, not expecting change. She handed me four pre-measured strips of toilet paper. Just as I was about to go she gave me 14 pesos back! So not only did we get a ‘souvenir’ but we had a somewhat pleasant interaction in a foreign language. Ok, my Spanish sucks and I wasn’t paying attention so I almost went to the men’s room but Justin had his shit together. Later I discovered that she shorted me two pesos. I call that a tax for dealing with my dumb, needy, American keester.

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After we had safely made it back to the United States I posted about our field trip on Facebook, because of course I would. Every sane person on our friends list, border patrol agent included, pointed out that we’d gone to one of the most dangerous places in the entire world.

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Literally. The WORLD considers Juarez to be one of the MOST DANGEROUS PLACES. This is where I laugh to keep from crying. In the end, though, we survived it; “it” being our blatant stupidity and lack of googling.

And also the Mexico.

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California Rush

After our somewhat disastrous time in Arizona, we again headed out in a westerly fashion on February 9th. By mid-afternoon we were in one of our favorite nowhere spots: Pilot Knob!

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We parked in the same spot we did last year! There were some other RV’s across the way that were all parked in the same area. All this wide-open land and they want to be right up on top of each other. I’ll never understand it. I’d show you around but there’s nothing here. It’s just a patch of dirt and rocks (down a road that doesn’t exist) that the Bureau of Land Management owns. It’s quiet, it’s warm, it’s ultra dark at night (so many stars), and best of all: it’s free! The kids love it for it’s open space. They ran in circles, they flew the stunt kite, they played giant frisbee, and they collected ALL THE ROCKS and sifted ALL THE DIRT. Outdoor showers were necessary.

 

We usually end up in our locales around dinner time, which means I’m immediately busy as soon as I step foot out of the truck. We got here early enough in the day that we had time for day drinking and nothingness before dinner!

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See those mountains? Arizona is behind them.

We left our happy place bright and early the next morning, thinking we’d just get breakfast on the way. We’d totally forgotten that this piece of the route did not offer anything in the way of regular food. Last year we ate Slim Jim’s for lunch because crappy gas stations were all that we could find and no one had been grocery shopping (way to go, me). We, apparently, wanted to recreate the experience. On this day, armed with a gas station danish and the will to live, we disappointingly chugged along.

Guess who was waiting for us when we drove through El Centro! THE BLUE ANGELS!

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They flew so close to the ground and over our heads that you could read the planes and see the pilots. I don’t have a photo of that, of course, because I was too busy watching.

Our destination on this day was a place called Admiral Baker RV Campground which is the famcamp for Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It wasn’t so much a campground as it was a big semi-circle shaped swath of RV spots situated somewhat around a giant open area with picnic tables and a playground. Within about 30 minutes the kids had been accepted into the giant horde of children (ok, 25 or so) that roamed the common space. This campground was fantastic for them and they absolutely loved being a part of this diminutive street-gang. Plus, SOCIALIZATION, amirite?

The campground was about eight miles from the base. We picked a day to venture out and ended up at their museum, of course. The Flying Leatherneck museum is just a small former office trailer type building but it also encompasses some fantastic artifacts outside. Right there, roasting away in the noon-day sun, was an Iraqi helicopter that some unit had taken as a war prize. The sign valued it at $2.5 million which I thought was generous, seeing as at this point it’s just a paperweight with a really ‘fun’ backstory.

At the base exchange we were able to score a cover (hat), a proper belt buckle, and some insignia for Wesson to go with his dress blues.

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Mara also somehow procured some cammies and a ridiculously priced hair-bow that she desperately needed.

Awww, Daddy’s little Devil Dogs.

Because we were staying in Miramar’s campground we were able to take advantage of a discounted whale watching tour that the MWR (think parks and rec) office was offering. The tickets were usually $55 and we got them for $16 each!!! What a great opportunity!

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Except… um… we don’t do well with continuous motion. Wesson hid under the table for a big chunk of the cruise, Mara laid on my shoulder, and I angrily held my lunch down.

Justin would have been strapped to the bow of the boat had they let him.

Through our angry faces and belly aches we saw a few whales (2) and, like, 23 dolphins according to Mara’s count.

Totally not worth the trauma for us in my opinion, but an experience nonetheless, and something cool that all sea tolerable people should do. Justin would go again! Maybe you can go with him.

Two days later we went to one of our favorite places! The waves of the ocean tried to bring back whale boat sickness but they couldn’t ruin Coronado Beach!

We also ran over to Point Loma and did the tide pools again.

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No octopus this time but we did see quite a few sculpin and some black sea hares.

On the way home we saw this dude:

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Some people’s children…

On February 15th our beloved rabbit Carrots Fuggles Secrets Funnybunny Rowland crossed over the rainbow bridge to the fields of kale.

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Long gone are the days of chasing Mara around the house, or sneaking out of her cage at night, or eating every damn laptop cord, you little shit…. Ahem. She had been residing in Michigan with my parents since we left their house in November. By all accounts she enjoyed stationary life and daily breakfast meetings with my mother. She only lasted about 12 hours after she showed signs of illness. We’re kind of thankful that she didn’t languish but it still sucked. She was also giving my mom hell in true Carrots fashion by going missing in the house (again) just before her end.  In her memory, I will share the most Carrots story of all the Carrots stories:

February 20, 2016 · Lexington, KY ·

I am about to paint a picture. Fair warning, the tale is wordy and gross. I don’t necessarily need to broadcast today’s happenings but I do need Facebook to remind me of the disgusting details of this day on it’s anniversary so that I may take a shower in remembrance. 1509051_10153112832698548_5432705213614927868_n.jpgThese events happened in a 25-30 minute window.

 

The kids were playing outside so I decided to grab Carrots and give her a good brushing since she has been blowing her coat all over the place. As soon as I picked her up I knew something was amiss. What’s that smell? I flipped her stout body over. There it was: a turd, the size of a Smart Car, stuck to her undercarriage. I’m exaggerating slightly, it was probably 4″x2″. That’s a little bigger than a Smart Car.

At this point I’m formulating a plan. How can I help this animal? Where should I attempt to do the helping? Why do I have this rabbit in the first place? I start to pull “things” apart and immediately she starts trying to run away. My instinct is to GRAB. I grabbed a full handful in a bad place. Now I’m tainted, but I finish the job. The children were a good 20 feet away the whole time and were complaining of the stench, you can just imagine my position. I enlist Wesson to find a tote bag and I stick the offending poop hoarder in it so that I can carry her without ruining my clothes.

17097645_10154970606523548_5940460959352225949_oAs the children are packing in their bikes etc. so that we can go inside, Wesson falls spectacularly and scrapes both knees. This was not an “oh man, I fell over” type fall that normally occurs. This was blood gushing down both legs and death rattle screaming (which he never does; he was HURT). Here I am in the back yard, bleeding, wailing child, rabbit in a bag, poop hands, and a Mara. Wesson manages to hobble in the house with Mara’s assistance and I run to the bathroom to furiously scrub my hands while a tote bag full of Carrots hangs from my shoulder. I throw the beast back in her hovel and take care of the boy. Mara was already picking out giant bandages. She is a wonderful helper in general, by the way. I never give her enough credit for that.

 

With the children squared away I turn my attention back to the putrid furball. I decide the only way to help her is to try to soak her rear. I fill the bathtub with about an inch of water. Carrots was now holed up in her carrier, as she was somehow aware of what was about to happen. I grab the carrier and try to dump her out into the tub. I 12400786_10153760809958548_137939840111768259_nturned it completely sideways and she somehow stayed in there. I could have shook that green, smelly box with a paint mixer and that rabbit would have never came out. After several tries she unceremoniously plopped into the tub.

A few minutes into the spa experience the oven timer went off. MEXICAN LASAGNA! DAMMIT! Neither child can operate the oven. With Wesson maimed in the earlier melee, Mara was the unlucky soul. “Mara” I say, “Grab this paper towel and hold bunny’s head, she won’t go anywhere if you push on her head a little. Sit here for thirty seconds while I wash my hands and grab dinner out of the oven.” Wash hand: Check! Lasagna: Check! Mara:…

12193605_10153628935703548_761149071998762748_n.jpgAs I walked into the bathroom to sit on the toilet, Carrots decides in a rather abrupt fashion that she is done with OUR shit. She leaps on poor Mara, foul water spraying everywhere, scratched legs and scratched arms. I grab at her, pushing her back into the tub while Mara screams bloody murder and runs away. Carrots jumps onto the edge of the tub then up to my shoulder like she’s a damn shit-covered parrot. I grab a nearby towel, wrap the stew meat candidate in a burrito and leave her on the floor. Mara and I HAVE to abandon our clothes. I track her down – which was not difficult as she was still wailing. Amazingly enough, Carrots stayed where I had placed her while I tended to the injured “volunteer.”

Battered and soiled, with a broken spirit, sporting only my underwear, I complete the mission. Poop be damned, I won. The rabbit was dried and returned to her habitat, the tub was rinsed, the girl was consoled, the boy was bandaged, and the lasagna was delicious.

 

Our next destination was a Naval Weapons Station in Seal Beach, California. My Great Grandmother and her sister lived in Seal Beach when they were alive. I have fond (albeit fuzzy) memories of visiting them when I was just about five years old. This is where my Grandfather purchased the 1970 Ford Maverick I ended up with when I first got my license.

We made a quick visit to the beach while we were here. Wesson was brave enough to get in the water here with his newly acquired board.

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He was very matchy matchy that day. Such a big kid, too.

We also took the truck over to the Hoonigan Donut Garage!

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There was only one guy there working in the gift shop and no shenanigans to be had on this day. We couldn’t pass up an opportunity to peep in on them, though.

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If you decide that you really want to see the La Brea Tar Pits, by all means, go right ahead. I will tell you, thought, that it is almost impossible to breathe around the pits. It smells like a thousand parking lots being refurbished. The museum is really neat and worth a look. They have thousands of specimens on display, and a really good guided tour available. One of the areas where the workers are cleaning and assembling bones is open to spy. Behind the glass fish tank (people tank?) area there are people in white lab coats toiling away with their toothbrushes in hand. Our Kern County Museum Membership got us in here for free, FYI. Hooray for ASTC!

Goodness, I have the yawns. I’m going to have to chop this post into several as there’s just so much to share and I am TIRED. Every second traveling is like constantly discovering secrets that everyone knew about but no one shared. Even with the days we hated we still found pieces of this country to appreciate and love. I hope the kids remember even a small fraction of the things we’ve seen. I can’t wait to tell you more tomorrow.

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Cows are no help in times of crisis

There are few constants in our lifestyle, and really that’s part of the draw. We move, we travel, we explore, we end up lost but always find our way back to the sanctity of our rig (wherever it may be). On February 7th, this way of meandering just about brought this grand experiment to an end.

During the week prior to our entrance into Arizona, Justin had been plotting. He desperately wanted to hit a new trail of some sort. He always wants to go out exploring on his bicycle, find fun trails, and maybe try to throw himself over the handlebars.  I think if he were able, he’d be GO! GO! GO! on that bike 24/7. He totes mountain bike wheels with him as we travel (they lay across the bed on moving days, so glamorous) and really he had only used them once – in Michigan. Imagine his excitement when he found a trail that intrigued him that was on an actual mountain! Dreams come true! Pining over the planned excursion had him just about bursting with energy. All the plans and pining would prove to be almost pointless.

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I don’t think I mentioned it yet but we were staying about 20 minutes from Tombstone, Arizona at one of the Encore parks. We stopped there last year for a hot minute and stayed at a resort park with an observatory that shall not be named. This visit we did not see a lady wearing a towel on her head, smoking a Pall Mall, fighting a cat on a leash. I know, disappointing. I did, however, have a run-in with a guy who followed me around after I accidentally went into the men’s room when I thought it was the laundry room even though it was clearly marked and I’m apparently blind. All I wanted to do was leave packages of new, giant underwear on the laundry table so they’d find a new home. Anyway…

He set out that day at noonish, maybe later, and called me at 1:30pm to let me know he was there and ready to ride. The kids and I continued with our day indoors. We were not as motivated as the mountain biker and were content to be truck-less and lazy. About 4:45pm the phone rang.

“It’s gonna be a while.” Justin said. This golden trail on the mountain – this bicycling ADVENTURE – was, apparently, not well defined. Only small parts of it were even ride-able. Of the 25 miles he was supposed to traverse, he’d done about 15. Too far to turn back and really fighting the clock and the sunset to get through the last ten. I did as much pep-talking as I could and told him to scoot.

About fifteen minutes after that, I got another call. “I really just don’t know where I am.” Hmm, no. We talked about what to do, what he could do, and what could possibly be done from where I was. Some people will tell you to stay put if you’re lost, because then there’s a better chance of someone finding you. He was not prepared to spend the night on a mountain, though. Ultimately, I vehemently encouraged him to keep moving, keep heading down the wash he had found, and he’d be clear eventually. It was his only hope of not spending the night in the trees. He did not sound encouraged but promised to keep going. He said he was going to send me photos of where he was currently so if it became an issue there’d be a place to start. This was a TERRIBLE idea. Cell service was spotty and this killed his phone immediately. Now, he’s stuck on a mountain with no map, no phone, and 45 minutes before real darkness was to set in. There are no streetlights in real nature, people.

I messaged a friend who I knew had been rescued at one point, half-jokingly but totally not: “How much does it cost to rescue a mountain biker who got lost in the woods?” She called me immediately. After we talked about it, she convinced me to figure it out NOW while there was still daylight to be had. She reasoned that if we were to wait until it was already dark that the search and rescue team would just wait until morning.

While I was calling about ten different numbers trying to figure out who does what, Justin was plodding along. He was now CARRYING his bike along the craggy terrain, literally slicing all of his exposed skin to shreds in the brush. He said at one point he seriously considered leaving that not-so-cheap bright orange Trek bicycle laying against a tree because although it only weighs a few pounds, a few awkward pounds get heavy when you have to heave it through the brush. He didn’t think he’d make it off the mountain before dark if he had to carry it.  Really think about this. He’s now in survival mode. Would you be strong enough to leave behind one of your prized possessions – and your mode of transportation – for the sake of survival? About that time he ran into a herd of cows. What?! Who leaves their cows on a mountain?

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It’d be a shame if I RAN YOU OVER

These were not savior cows, they were jerky cows who initially refused to get out of the way no matter how much prodding and yelling was had, then stampeded by him in a violent fashion. Thanks for nothing, Elsie and friends.

Meanwhile I had finally gotten someones cell phone number who then gave me the non-emergency number for the sheriff’s department I needed. Name, phone number, description of the person and his belongings, address… “Wait, you’re from Michigan? WHAT THE HELL IS HE DOING OUT THERE?” As I tried to explain it, he sighed. They’d start moving people.

Ten minutes later another Deputy called me instead of Justin by accident. Not the vote of confidence I needed but it was a productive conversation. We discussed clues Justin had given me as to his whereabouts and possible outcomes to the many scenarios. He told me he’d call when they figured out anything at all. The Deputy pinged Justin’s phone right after this and found him in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere near a trail, or road, or known areas. SOMEwhere, but also nowhere. Memories of speaking to a park ranger last year about how they had to call in the Navy to rescue someone from the volcanic fields in northern New Mexico rattled around in my head.

As darkness set in outside there was literally nothing to do but wait.

Right before it became so dark outside you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, Justin miraculously made it out of the mountains of his own volition. He was still desperately lost. At least he wouldn’t get eaten by a mountain lion? As soon as he hit the small dirt road he took off like a lightning bolt in a random direction. No map, remember? He found houses that were away from the road, not something you really want to ride up on in the dark. He stopped at every house and yelled to them that he needed help, but he never saw any movement. Finally, after miles, he came across a ghost town. No, really. It was on a road called Ghost Town Road (that’s how you know it’s authentic). As he sat there and pondered in what direction to ride or what to do in general he saw headlights. Could it be?! YES! People! He flagged down two gentlemen in a truck who just happened to be headed through that area and were eager to help a lost soul. They were able to plug in his phone and get it working again. As soon as the phone turned on, it was the deputy calling.

“Where the hell are you?” Once they determined he was alive and well they started a deputy his way. The two dudes in the truck had to go but would be back that way in a few. When the truck pulled away and took it’s warmth with it, Justin realized just how cold the desert can be. Up until that point he’d be running on adrenaline and his motivation to get home. When the guys rolled by again, they found him to be a shivering mess. Thank you to the kind souls who wrapped him in a tarp and a jacket so that the Sheriff’s department wouldn’t have to bring me a popsicle.

Bedtime came in the camper for the two young adventurers. I hadn’t expressly discussed the happenings with them, as I really didn’t have any answers, and at that point I didn’t know if he was going to be home that night or if he’d be hardcore camping. They knew, though. The camper isn’t big and the story wasn’t hard to piece together from my phone calls. Mara had a fit first. Daddy was never gone at bedtime. He hadn’t missed a bedtime in years. To their credit they just can’t remember when Daddy worked every single night and Mommy successfully put them to bed without issue.

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NOT useful, google!

Suddenly, my phone lit up like Christmas! Text messages! And they were all from Justin! It was all those photos he was trying to send me earlier.

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There was a selfie in there, but I decided to forgive him.

He must be back in cell phone range! And then the phone rang! HOORAY, HE’S ALIVE! A very brief “I’m good, a deputy is coming to get me” and I reassured the kids that Daddy would be home to smooch their little cheeks soon enough.

Nine hours after he had left, Justin climbed through the door, covered in cuts from head to toe, on the edge of exhaustion. He was home.

Damages were insignificant. Other than the many new scars he obtained he cracked his phone screen when the bike mount broke and shot it into the dirt. His Garmin watch said about 6,000 calories had been burned. Not the best fitness plan! In the days afterward I’d think of things he should take with him next time, like a battery bank or an emergency blanket. He stopped me at one point and said “No, you don’t understand. There won’t be a “next time.” It’s hard to admit your faults. Lessons were learned that day.

Neither of us breathed a word of the incident to anyone for over a week. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was just too scary to think about all the what-if’s. I haven’t had to worry about him so much lately since he’s not with the police department anymore or out in that other desert with the Marines. I’m out of practice.

We’re eternally grateful for those two guys in a truck, and the Sheriff’s department who ultimately came to rescue him from nowhere, and even Alisa who told me to get my shit together while the day was young.

Those cows, though…

La fin de Janvier, and maybe a little Février

Hola, internet friends! It is I, the goose whisperer.

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Look at those fat puddles of hissing and fervor. They’ve been making a habit of stalking whatever I happen to be cooking outside. Chicken Taco Soup is not for you! Is there a good recipe for goose in the Instant Pot? Someone once said to me that you don’t really know that you miss Canadian Geese until they’re gone. I would like to at least give it a try.

Where did we leave off? Ah, yes. Texas!

From our trusty posting in Whitney, we ventured into good ol’ Fort Worth to visit Texas Christian University. Seriously, I was just as surprised as you are.

It turns out that the science building holds a very extensive meteorite museum! The Monnig Meteorite Gallery houses approximately 3,000 samples of meteorites from around the world – correction, universe. Their catalogue can be searched here if you’d like to take a look. The samples range from very small to very large, some being slices and others big fat chunks. The kids were excited because there were quite a few meteorites to lay hands on. We touched Mars, y’all!

This next thing I found on google maps just by accident. Did you know that they print money in Fort Worth!?

The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing is located there, and they offer TOURS! The only catch is that you have to leave behind every single bit of technology you carry on your person. No phone, no watch, and sadly NO CAMERA. It was such a damn shame too, because that place is super freakin’ neato. It’s a self-guided tour on an enclosed catwalk over the printing floor, but a tour nonetheless. Mara was extra excited about the little handheld telephone type speakers they gave to everyone. When you got to a number on the wall, you’d type it in to your device and a disembodied voice would tell you all about what was happening through the windows and below.

You guys, the employees on the production floor were SO HAPPY! Everybody waved at us as we awkwardly gawked at them and a few even showed us what they were working on. One guy took an uncut sheet of 36 hundred dollar bills and folded them like a paper airplane so that he could throw them to us. Damn windows. That same national treasure of a man also counted out ONE MILLION DOLLARS in hundreds, folded the sheets up in thirds, and hugged the mass of paper like a teddy bear. Someone somewhere is buying an industrial sized tub of gummy bears with a hundred dollar bill that man snuggled.

New Mexico was next on the adventure list.

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The last time we came through southern New Mexico, it was a pass-through state. We really didn’t accomplish much, and that was OK. This visit we were determined to see the things we’d passed by and ignored for times sake. Have you ever been to Carlsbad Caverns?

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As you know we LOVE us some National Parks! My mother has spoken not so fondly about the caverns in the past, as she had visited as a child and HATED it. I had high hopes, though. We were privileged to have Justin with us as his handicapped feet bought us a pass on the elevator straight down about 800 feet to the big room, skipping almost two hours of hiking!

The big room in the cavern is really pretty, and over the years they’ve put in actual paved walking paths, about a thousand lights, and even a snack bar. I had it in my head that I wanted to walk the whole mile and a half trail through the big room. These guys frequently ride their bikes WAY farther than that, they can walk a measly 7,920 feet.

They were MISERABLE. Honestly, by the time we got to the last half mile anxiety was winning. I was freaking out internally, the kids were tired and hungry, and Justin’s feet were barking. In hind sight, the cavern looked the same all over. We could have spent twenty minutes down there and been done. We did it, though, and we don’t have to do it again! Some regrets!

The next day we used our spiffy new military ID’s to gain access to a campground inside Holloman Air Force Base. We got there on a Friday when no one was flying, and the silence continued until Monday morning when the zoomies woke up for work. SO MANY PLANES. Fighter jets, reconnaissance planes, cargo planes… they all wooshed past the camper on repeat for the entirety of the day. I really like base campgrounds, and I really like planes. Sometimes, though, you just want to complete a full sentence before the jets go by again.

They had a small air park that included a drone! One of the units at this base is made of drone pilots.

 

Why were we at Holloman? Two reasons: New Mexico Museum of Space History and White Sands National Monument!

The space history museum housed some fairly significant artifacts, such as the daisy track, once used to test deceleration techniques:

…and I don’t think they actually know the meaning of “fun fact.”

The first chimpanzee who went to space is buried here.

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Well, his skin is, anyway. Horrified yet? After a failed bid to have him stuffed (public outcry and all), his skeleton was shipped off to the National Museum of Health and Medicine and the rest of him buried in the front lawn at the museum. RIP Ham!

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White Sands was a whopping FOUR miles away from Holloman. Our stop here last year was very brief and expensive. They have that sled scam going on, funding the entirety of the parks system. This year we stopped at the local Walmart and procured $5 sleds. Take that!

Can I just say how much we LOVE White Sands? A LOT. It’s one of our favorite places by a mile. We started the Junior Ranger Program before we headed out for the really good stuff. Most of the programs can be completed in the visitor centers but White Sands requires some outdoor participation.

If you’ve never thrown yourself down a giant dune of gypsum you’re missing out!

The sand was so white and the sky was so blue!

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Do me and you a favor and make your way out here, please? It’s such an experience.

When Justin decided that he wanted to ride the roads at the monument on his birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY YOU ADVENTUROUS SOUL)

 

…we were all too eager to tag along for more sledding.

When Justin was done with his birthday ride, we did what any reasonably sane adults would do and geared up the turbos to rip donuts on the flats with our F350 dually. You know you would too, stop playin’. One problem, though: NOBODY SHUT THE TAILGATE.

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Helmets, sleds, an entire bag of lump charcoal, and sad, sandy Crocs as far as the eye could see. *sigh*

Worth it.

Now listen, my next post takes us into Arizona. Only a handful of people know what happened on our second day there, and most of them are Sheriff’s Deputies. I will write as fast as I can, just keep in mind that everyone is alive and well and we know exactly where they are.

 

It’s my RV and I’ll dance if I want to

I’ve started singing and dancing while I make dinner every night and the kids hate me for it. SO much eye rolling and impatient grunting, and that’s mostly why I do it. Why shouldn’t I share my obsessive ear worms with my family? Sharing is caring, children.

The morning after our extremely epic space adventure we woke up thinking we were going to have a recovery day. It was A LOT of walking for my two small tax deductions and my lovely retiree with the foot problems. By lunch time we’d decided that the weather wasn’t going to get any better that week, we should just bite the bullet and head to LegoLand.

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She caught air!

I have two things to say about LegoLand. First, I enjoy that the kids can ride the rides without us. I mostly detest amusement park rides, and the children like to be independent, so it works. Second, LegoLand is VASTLY overpriced. I thought this about the nicer one in California, too, and had I known the state of affairs in Florida I would have skipped the Merlin passes all together. The Florida location can best be described as teetering on the edge between shit-hole and novelty. The park really shows it’s age, and it seems that there are no efforts to update the place. Everything is extremely spaced out and hard to get to. We got lost several times – even with a map. I can hear you whispering to yourself that it was probably my fault. Hush, you.

 

 

Nobody was there, it was like a ghost town. We rode this ride at least five times in a row.

It was a submarine ride that swung outward on your command. It was probably not safe.

They also had a two story carousel which they rode first and last.

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Admittedly it was kind of neat. Who wouldn’t want to ride those life-sized Lego horses up there? (hint: me)

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We completed the whole park in about three hours. Because this was our second day in a row filled with walking and being in public, Wesson was in tears by the end and Justin was a hobbling mess. Mara was happy, though!

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I felt terrible for those vacationers who bought tickets at the gate. Spend your money on Lego sets instead and you’ll be much happier.

Two days later we were on the move! This little guy apparently did not want us to leave. He tried to jump onto Justin’s hand when he unplugged the camper.

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Hey.

The first night of travel was spent in a Bass Pro Shops parking lot! We love some BPS! Always there with a boat to play on, a line of parking spaces to hog, and a curb to hang our bed slides over.

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There was a roundabout to go through to get into this lot. Roundabouts seem cool until your vehicle is sixty feet long, then waterboarding seems more attractive.

The next day brought us to our first real stop: Pensacola Air Station!

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This campground was really nice! It was right by the water.

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Don’t you just freakin’ love a watery sunset? That strip of land over there is Alabama, FYI.

Most of the military installations have museums of some sort. This place had a whopper.

Wesson has been wearing his Marine cammies every time we go on a base just to let everyone know where his loyalties lie.

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Look at that face! That boy is precious. If that plane had wings he’d have been gone. The gift shop had something that Wesson has been pining over:

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Dress blues acquired!

Daddy has a soft spot and deep pockets for the little Marine boy. We tried to talk him into a haircut to go with the uniform but he LOVES his long hair. Nine out of ten people assume that he is a girl and engage him as such (sometimes I wonder about people). He is quick to correct them but is never offended because there is nothing wrong with being a girl. He is confident enough in himself that it just doesn’t bother him. Rock on with your luxurious locks, baby boy!

We were off again on January 14th, but instead of going to ONE place, we went to FOUR places; Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, in very specific order. This also gave us three new states on our states sticker map, effectively closing the tauntingly barren gap we had lying between Florida/Georgia and Texas. Some people only count the states if they’ve slept there, other people have more creative criteria. We just have to go there as a family while full-timing. There are going to be some pass-through states, It’s the nature of the beast. Mississippi is just going to have to get over it.

We got into Texas just in time for a nice ice storm. By the second day our camper-cicle was complete. The south has let us down tremendously this year. We’d have been better off going straight to California.

Instead of hanging out in icy Houston we opted to head north to warmer weather. Totally makes sense, huh? We planted ourselves in Whitney, just south of Fort Worth and just north of Waco. If you remember last years stay in Whitney, we had a tornado tear through and hop right over the campground! For this reason I was nervous, but honestly what are the chances? I wore pants to bed so that I wouldn’t get flung into the woods in my underwear. It was the least I could do. Thankfully the days were not stormy and my fears were unfounded.

I’ve talked about museum memberships before (I think). We’ve taken advantage of the wide reciprocity of the Lake Superior Zoo membership in the past. We took a break last year, because you can only visit so many children’s science centers without wanting to pluck your eyelashes out because of the redundancy. This year, we opted to buy a travel membership from Kern Pioneer Village in California because of their broad reciprocity. They are members of Time Travelers, North American Reciprocal Museums, Association of Science-Technology Centers, AND Association of Children’s Museums. If you do any traveling AT ALL this is a worthy investment. Anyway, for this reason we headed out to Waco one day to visit Baylor University and their AMAZING natural history museum. On the way, we saw a sign for something called Waco Mammoth National Monument. Whaaaaat?! How did we not know about this! Plans changed immediately.

 

…and we were SO glad that they did! The tour was fantastic! There have been 26 Columbian Mammoths found in this area, in what is the only nursery herd that’s ever been found in the US. The ranger that led us to the STILL ACTIVE dig site was awesomely friendly and gave us great information. Wesson is, like, the BEST person to have on your tour because he eliminates the awkward silence that is inevitably applied by adults who are still awkward and don’t ever give the docent anything to work with. He’s the participant that you wish that you were.

Also exciting? JUNIOR RANGER PROGRAM! This was surprising because the place has only been in the National Park system for two years.

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Can you find ROADSCHOOL in there anywhere?

The kids had to take their Junior Ranger Pledge with one hand on a Columbian Mammoth tooth!

Thanks, Ranger Rachel from Virginia!

While we were in Waco last time I saw this big greenspace and drove right by, not even realizing it was that place from that show.

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I BARELY know who Chip and Joanna Gaines are but I wasn’t going to skip this again. The shop is exactly as clean and stylish as you would expect.

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This is only one part of the warehouse

The outside was a big, green area of fake grass where kids could play and adults could lounge around on giant beanbag chairs.

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Overall it was ok, nothing to repeat, but now we can say that we did it. If they were there behind the register slinging bags of fake flowers and gingerly wrapping giant timepieces it would have been more of a thrill.

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Saturn V shirt , like a boss.

 

The kids finally got to ride their unicycles! We’ve been lugging them around since we left Michigan in November, and Wesson hopped right on! Mara is almost there. If she believed in gravity a little less she’d be riding circles around her brother. For the record, that tennis court said no bicycles or skateboards and said NOTHING about unicycles. Also, we didn’t get caught.

If you want to learn more about unicycling, check out the Unicycle Society of America! This year’s North American Unicycling Competition and Convention is going to be held in Livonia, Michigan and if you’re in the area it’s worth a stop to see some awesome people do *almost* impossible things.

I had thought that I’d squeeze the rest of January into this post but we are so active right now life is moving faster than my fingers. I have SO much to tell you. Come back soon!

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse, and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The Tiny Blue Dot

Here we are, still sitting around in Texas. The next month is going to involve oodles of jaunting here and there so taking a few days to basically do nothing is not unwarranted. Well, the kids still have to do their school work, Justin still does the dishes, and if I don’t wash anyone’s clothes they start complaining about the lack of pants. We live in the woods, children. Who needs pants to live in the woods?

New Years Day we moved back to Orlando with several touristy goals: First, the happiest place on Earth:

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The other happiest place on Earth. Did you know that there is a whole beach shop dedicated to Hulk Hogan? DID YOU KNOW?! I sure didn’t, or we would have trekked here long ago.

Justin and I giggled our way through this building sized shrine to ol’ Thunder Lips. The kids were… confused.

To be fair they have no frame of reference for this because we’ve been denying them the physical theatre that is professional wrasslin’. Wesson thought the car was cool, though.

Probably the best part of this was that for less than three American dollars you could purchase your very own blonde beauty:

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I walked out of there with two amazing gifts; one being a bottle koozie emblazoned with the pythons of a legend, and the other wasn’t for me. My brother is a collector of socks, so it would have been shameful if we had not sent Uncle Steve some friends.

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HOLY COW, YOU GUYS. I just went looking for a photo of the socks to show you their majesty and I didn’t have one of my own so I mined their website. In that process I learned that you can have anything you buy from them signed by Mr. America himself for a mere $75! Missed opportunity. In looking for a way to ship these bad boys to Michigan I saw a pasta box and got an idea.

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Ahhh, I crack myself up sometimes. I wonder if any postal workers got a chortle from his peekaboo grimace. Good news! He was still peering out of his sarcophagus when he arrived at his destination.

We also went to Madame Tussauds wax museum and Sea Life aquarium that day. They are both part of that Merlin pass we acquired last year so this was free! Madame Tussauds was SO BUSY that we could barely walk through. The wax figures were much more lifelike and disturbing than I had anticipated, and Oprah was probably the creepiest. She looked as if she’d come to life at any moment and I watched every corner for a camera crew to pop out or for her to blink or breathe or waiver. *shudder*

The kids had a school assignment to pick a creepy wax person to do a report on the next day. Wesson picked Neal Armstrong and Mara’s choice was Serena Williams. I don’t have a photo of Mara with her subject (though I wish that I did) but I do have this awkward ET photo. Did you know that Serena was a homeschooler? From Michigan?! Mara chose well. Wesson picked exactly who I expected him to. If the boy doesn’t end up in some facet of the space exploration industry I’ll be shocked.

SeaLife was typical. They had some really cool sea turtles, one of which had been rescued and rehabbed with some weights on his shell to balance out the fact that he was missing a flipper.

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Not this one

I’m mostly thankful for the existence of zoos and aquariums, although the more I visit the more I regret. We always start out the visit excited to see some new, unusual animals but ultimately just leave there feeling sad for the creatures who are trapped and on display. Some day there will be a happy medium.

Y’know what happens when someone tries to hulk the washer open when it’s still locked?

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Justin claims that other people have done this frequently and that it wasn’t just him and his brute strength and impatience. He’s not wrong. Still, now I have to open the dang thing with a pair of needle-nose pliers because as I wrote way up there somewhere, kids complain when they don’t have pants.

Speaking of pants, this is a good time to point out the reason that we are in Florida: WE WANTED TO BE WARM. This, however, is the year that Florida decided to participate in winter. What the heck, Florida? Get your shit together! Below freezing temps were present for so long that alligators were frozen in the waters with their sad, little snouts poking through. Iguanas fell out of trees, too cold to move. Couldn’t you have waited until next winter?

A reprieve in the weather allowed us to do one of the most awesome things I think we have ever done in the history of us.

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Kennedy Space Center, y’all. THE Kennedy Space Center, the place where they launched the space shuttles. We’ve been to the rocket center in Alabama and touched a moon rock, and we’ve been to Johnson Space Center in Houston and sat in original mission control, and we’ve gotten birthday cards from real live astronauts. Cape Canaveral is the real deal, though. It’s just different – more important.

Today, as I write this, it is the anniversary of the Challenger disaster. I don’t remember the event, though I’m told that I had a toy space shuttle that I’d crash, mimicking what I had seen on television. The more I learn about the incident the more disgusted I am about the whole thing. I’ll let that go for a moment. If you’re motivated to learn more it’s worth a google. (This article about Columbia is definitely worth reading as well.)

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We were not prepared for what was inside this building. The first thing that you encounter is a line for a film. Uuugghhhhh. I HATE waiting around for lame movies about stuff. Just show us the info and let me poke around.

If we had skipped this movie we would have missed out on the most awe-inspiring, overwhelming display of sheer power and artistry I’ve ever seen. It was almost too much, emotionally and visually. Then, you get to see it  for real; a grandiose relic of our exploration history. Words cannot describe the experience accurately. Impressed is just not enough.

 

 

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Beyond the shuttle they had a very kid-friendly set-up to show how the shuttles would glide their way back to earth. Run up and bank on the turn once, twice, three times, then SONIC BOOM (stop on the boom button on the floor) then glide gracefully down to earth via a huge, fast slide. The slide built up so much static electricity that when it zapped Mara she got a huge blister on her hand. Yes, you CAN receive an electrical burn from static! Live and learn?

There was also a mock-up on the shuttle to play in, and a tiny International Space Station to crawl through. They had a massive 3D ride too but we passed on that (it was too roller coaster-y).

Mara got to take a photo with the astronaut that sent her a birthday card. Well, kind of.

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The bus tour of Cape Canaveral was great too! We got to see where Boeing is putting together the Orion capsule, the infamous vehicle assembly building, and Space X!

We also saw the Falcon 9 Zuma rocket on it’s launch pad.

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We’ll talk more about this in a second. 😉

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Twins!

The bus dropped us off at the place we had been itching to visit since long before we walked through the gate. The last Saturn V! We had seen the other two in previous outings (Alabama and Texas). Justin got a Lego Saturn V for Christmas so it was only fair that we pack it along with us to see the real deal. (Note: This one is made with some replica parts. The only one that is original and flight ready is the one at Johnson Space Center in Texas. Go figure.)

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To get an idea of just how big this Saturn V butt really is, look at tiny Wesson.

The Saturn V building held one of those touristy photo station things that they have literally everywhere at all the Orlando attractions where they make you stand in front of a green screen and make a face or whatever. This is the first time I’ve ever actually purchased their offerings.

We laughed, and laughed, and laughed. Even days later we’d look at our family floating through space or in the ISS and let out a snort. I don’t know why they’re so great, they just are.

 

After we’d seen the new Mars rover prototype and had what Mara described as the best apple juice in the whole world, we left Kennedy Space Center to do something we’d never thought we’d ever do in a million years, the REAL reason this day was the best day ever: FALCON 9 ZUMA ROCKET LAUNCH!!!!!!!!!!!!(x1000) *flailing Kermit arms*

Since NASA wasn’t going to allow anyone in Cape Canaveral for the launch we got as close as we possibly could at the local jetty. We sat in pitch black darkness on the white sand beach of Port Canaveral waiting for the launch window. They said it could be any time between 8pm and 10:45pm. Right at 8pm on the dot:

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That is not the sun or the moon, that is a SPACE ROCKET! We watched an actual, real rocket shoot up, up up into outer space. It lit up the night sky until it was a tiny bright dot, and just like that it was GONE.

After a few minutes a weird piece of something came spiraling down directly over us trailing fuel behind it and making the sky look like a nebulae. This ultimately landed in the ocean. (I think that this was part of the reason the mission was ultimately a failure, but who cares! It was pretty!)

Then, the reusable first stage BURST through the atmosphere, bringing with it SONIC BOOMS! Wesson said that getting to experience his first sonic boom was the best part of the whole day. It landed safely back on Earth just East of where it took off. Welcome home, little buddy!

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Ol’ Musky sure knows how to put on a show. He’s not just making his dreams come true, he’s putting space exploration back into the dreams of an entirely new generation of people. For that, I am grateful.

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Florida fauna is out to get me

Or maybe I’m out to get it? I’ll just be over here watching my toes.

Justin was determined to see an alligator in the wild. He kept trekking into the woods to peer at Peace River in hopes that one would just be chilling on the banks. By all accounts this should have been the case yet every time we went out there, the alligators pulled a “see you later” and hid. His persistence paid off and Wesson was witness, as he was pulled into this gator hunt too. He immediately started forming a knife out of a nearby palm frond. This was the deal he had made regarding the hunt; we find one, I make a knife to defend myself. He might make a good survivalist some day.

 

It was just a little guy, thankfully, and Wesson didn’t have to go hand-to-… claw. The next park yielded a larger, more relaxed dinosaur.

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Blerg!

This one was, thankfully, on the other side of a lake.

Speaking of parks, we moved into Thousand Trails Orlando on the sixth in anticipation of a visit from these beautiful people:

Justin’s fab sister and her wonderful family came down for a whole week! Now, even when we lived in an actual house that didn’t move around, we hardly ever got anybody for a whole week. We lured them down with the help of Universal Studios, though, so there’s that. The kids got along famously as usual and the theme park was a blast.

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Sam decided to scare one of the Who’s from Whoville, and after his unsuccessful BOO he was chased down in what was probably the most hilarious cat and mouse game ever. Picture Sam taunting them from a gift shop window and the Whoville residents scrambling around. He eventually lost them and they ran off through Dr Seuss land. I kind of wanted to see what they’d do to him once they caught up but, alas, he was fast!

Wesson and Mara fell in love with this water slide ride in the Fivel Goes West area of the park. I think Wesson rode it NINE times. (One of the benefits of going during the week is that no one was there! No lines for anything!) He had very soggy pants after this.

We ended up there for two days, and that was just about enough. We have season passes due to an over estimation of how much the kids could actually do there and we weren’t qualified for the military discount when we purchased. Had we waited until that week it would have been a bit cheaper. Still, now we have a reason to come back down here in the fall, and it will still be ultra fun.

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Dinner on the second night was at Cici’s Pizza! Listen. Cici’s is like Little Caesars if Little Caesars had a buffet and dealt in more than just pepperoni. It’s an ultra cheap pizza buffet, and we go there when we’re STARVING and need food immediately. On this night they were employing the best, most patient balloon artist we’ve ever met. He spent FOREVER on this Captain America.

He created masterpieces for all five kids and walked away with a mountain of tips he most definitely earned.

After everyone went back to snowy Michigan, Wesson decided to create some excitement the hard way. After three whole days of not eating or drinking and literally laying flat out on the living room floor we trekked him over to the children’s hospital.

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It was the nicest hospital I’ve ever seen. They valet parked the monster truck for free, there was NO waiting in the lobby, and they treated Wesson IMMEDIATELY. From door to doctor was five minutes. He ultimately was just working through a virus. They loaded him with anti-nausea meds and Motrin, and after a popsicle went down fine they let us leave. He ate a donut on the way home and then asked to go to Disney World if that gives you any indication of his state of well-being.

Oh! I forgot to tell you about the dang tortoises! They were all over the place, and the park had created garbage can houses for them.

This guy was SO not happy with me. He was traipsing by the camper and I picked him up so that the kids would have a chance to get outside to see him. Once they came out I set him down and he hissed/grunted at me then charged at my toesies. They are NOT slow, people. Wesson is shown here proclaiming his innocence in the tortoise assault.

 

I also managed to piss off the Sandhill Cranes that were EVERYWHERE. I tried to walk up to get a good photo and was met with much dancing, flapping of wings, and tossing of dirt into the air. Justin, however, walked right up to them with no problem. Apparently I am no Dr. Doolittle and the wildlife of Florida knows it. They’ve probably been talking to the Vultures. Ehh, I’m watchin you, nature.

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This park also had the most bizarre speed limit sign I’ve ever seen. Whether it was a nod to Harry Potter or just a way to catch your eye, it worked. It’s now a month after we left there and Mara is still talking about it.

Our travels brought us back down to Peace River for Christmas and such. One day we all decided to go fossil hunting. We found one, alright.

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This big fourteen foot alligator watched us check him out the whole time. Thankfully he was on the other side of the river. I have real doubts on his aggressiveness, though. Everyone seems to see him in this spot everyday, yet I’ve seen people sitting and fishing in “his spot” as well. We moved up the river a little to dig around, anyway.

Our haul was… miniature.  We found baby shark teeth and maybe a few stingray remnants. Wesson put it all in a clear plastic bag labeled CLASSIFIED. He’s my boy and I love him.

Lots of people wade out into the river, alligators be damned. Yeah, we went ahead and passed on that.

25734251_10155866924793548_7834218055869901100_oChristmas came and went without any real drama. We frosted homemade sugar cookies, decorated our big, fake, white Christmas tree, and watched ALL the Christmas movies. The kids were absolutely spoiled rotten as usual and got everything they ever asked for.

Wesson ended up with a really cool drone from Santa. So far Justin is the only one that has come close to leaving it in a tree.

 

Wesson got it turned around a few times and ended up chasing himself. That was probably my favorite trick.

Mara got this glorious Elsa dress from Mommy and Daddy, and Grandma and Grandpa Susanka got her the stroller for her dolly that she’s been pining over forever. If I had to hear her ask One. More. Time. I think I would have lost what little sanity I had left. She about wore the wheels off the thing the first day she had it, and of course wore her Elsa dress the whole time. The campground got quite a show that week.

The kids also ended up with a set of never melting snowballs which have resulted in many hilarious snowball fights inside the camper. So far we haven’t lost any! Grandma and Grandpa Rowland said they thought the kids could use a little taste of Michigan winter and Wesson is especially grateful.

Here’s our Christmas card photo:

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…and the back:

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We’re so cute!

I’m going to share something with you and talk directly to my children in the process. This blog is ultimately for their benefit, after all. I might seem a little crazy here but I choose to believe that my perceived craziness is just part of my charm. *ahem* So, kids, listen. Every year I look at you and think, “look at these little people! They are the most peopley people they could be! They say the best stuff and the do the best things.” Then, you get bigger, and you say BETTER stuff, and do BETTER things, and make it really, really hard to be the straight-faced parent when you come up with something amazingly funny and your dad is inevitably no help as he is always giggling in the background. For example:

Me: Mara told me a story about a lazy susan earlier.
Justin: Mara!
Mara: IT WASN’T ME, IT WAS A GHOST!

It was a story about something that they were going to get me for Christmas but ultimately didn’t. If anything is to be learned about Mara, it’s that she can’t stand it when she has to keep a secret. She’ll do it, but as soon as the information is irrelevant it bursts out of her like a fountain. Do you remember this lady from SNL:

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She could rival Aunt Sue in the inability to withhold information division.

I decided to finish out the year with a ridiculously terrible ear infection that landed me in the emergency room because I quite seriously thought I had ruptured my eardrum again. PS – when you have a ridiculous ear infection, you can’t swallow or move your tongue at all without feeling like you’re being stabbed. I went to a different hospital than dear Wesson did and I still had the best wait time ever: five minutes from door to doctor. The doctor was a real A-HOLE but he was there quickly. Thanks to Doctor A. Hole I felt better just in time for our next move. It was relieving that we weren’t go-to-the-doctor sick at all last winter. Our track record this year is not holding up so well.

New Years Eve was low-key and full of s’mores and sparklers.

A new year for new adventures, new growth, new motivation, and new dreams.

And s’mores. Always s’mores.

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