Take it Easy

As we were looking at the map on the way out of Grand Canyon country we discovered that we could totally do an entire week of Junior Ranger programs without any deviation from our route! I hear you chanting “ROAD-SCHOOL! ROAD-SCHOOL!” *crowd goes mild* I know, I was totally excited too! The girl child managed to snake a sweet, pink Junior Ranger vest from us at Grand Canyon. They didn’t have a green one in Wesson’s size but we found them at our next stop: Walnut Canyon National Monument.

17799141_10155087561263548_8546544192115601449_n

17861686_10155087561323548_7983592046630103122_n

This woman was from a remote pueblo in New Mexico

This was a neat place that I’d never heard of, and the Rangers were so excited about the canyon that it was hard not to be excited with them. The Ranger pictured above talked about a rock slide they’d had like it was Christmas morning. They had a great facility that talked about the natives and showed their way of life in what visually looked like a really rough place to live. They also had a fourth grade program with the local schools in which the students wrote and illustrated books about the people and area. It was a really neat idea, something that I’m making a mental note of for later.

This was a pretty busy day as far as travel days go. We had one more stop to make before we made it to our campground. To the children’s horror we sang Eagles songs most of the way there.

17636761_10155088031948548_3226944988992651692_o

♫ Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona ♫

Aww yes! We stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona! Some nice people took our photo, and in turn we took one for someone else, and so on, and so on. It’s was like a steady stream of tourists who needed another body.

17854966_10155088036728548_4916781804820973577_o

Not to spoil the illusion but this was literally just a wall made to look like a building. To their credit it’s a darn good looking wall. They even have a girl, my lord, in a flat bed Ford painted in the window like a reflection. The town is pretty desolate beyond this corner. Yet another victim of the freeway bypassing the state route.

Our chosen campground was supposed to be called Sun Valley RV Resort. Sounds fancy, right? The correct analogy for this situation would be a McDonalds salad. “Oh, hey, I’ll just have a salad, those are good for you.” Except it’s a McDonalds salad with brown lettuce and old tomatoes, part of a glove, ranch dressing from last year, and chicken nuggets made from pink slime. When we arrived it was ten feet from the freeway, absolutely no cell service, and the actual name was ROOT 66. Just like that, spelled wrong, with it’s sensory assaulting capital letters and all. It was also situated around an abandoned-looking hourly motel. We ended up back-tracking a few miles to sleep in the parking lot of a Hopi Indian truck stop. It was the correct choice.

Side note: Not having cell service is an automatic deal breaker for us. We don’t ever put ourselves in a situation where we can’t dial 911. We’ve turned around at better campgrounds in the name of safety. It could have been gorgeous there, we still would not have stayed.

Well rested and thankful for the ability to boondock, we set out the next morning to visit Petrified Forest and Painted Desert.

17862465_10155090491778548_9064473575708838342_n

This was another one of those places that photographs could never fully represent. The petrified wood sparkled and the desert had so many different colors. The layers were so defined yet blended together; painted indeed. Just looking at the landscape you could tell where there had been water and what had stuck up beyond the ocean.

17861638_10155090492393548_8756934895699556469_n

 

17800077_10155090491328548_3331933846287376002_n

There were multiple visitor centers within the parks. The first one we visited had an awesome museum full of fossils and full skeletons, giant logs of sparkly petrified wood (polished and natural). They had a great Junior Ranger workbook. It was a real challenge for the kids and they definitely earned their badges that day.

17799946_10155090492273548_6128372763970433932_n

Right.. Left.. Oh well.

This is the part in the story where we look back and have many regrets. Just before we got to New Mexico – and I mean JUST before, we could see the welcome sign – the truck overheated. Overheated is not a strong enough word to describe what had happened, and we’d discover that much later. We barely made it off the freeway to a truck stop. Justin discovered that most of the coolant was missing from the truck, along with the cap from the reservoir. We thought that maybe he’d forgotten to put it back on and the antifreeze had evaporated. We sat for about 45 minutes letting everything cool then forced our way the 20 miles to Wal-Mart to get some distilled water to mix with the half gallon of antifreeze we had with us. We puttered along at 45mph on the freeway, stopping every few miles to let the engine cool. We ate dinner at Wal-Mart, and we still don’t have a table.

17761139_10155091134233548_5739208732037511950_o

Mmmm, cart burgers

Then, when the engine was cool enough, Justin added coolant and distilled water. It seemed as if our truck troubles were over and we went on ahead to our next campground: Dancing Eagle Casino. This was not just a parking lot at a casino, this was a parking lot at a casino with a FULL HOOK UP for $10/night! And a grocery store within walking distance! And a gas station across the street! And a Post Office! It was basically a town within a parking lot. We ended up being here for four days while we explored the area. Justin went exploring on his bicycle one evening, got trapped by vicious dogs along Route 66, and we had to go rescue him. He was not happy about getting his kicks that day.

I wish that I could tell you that the truck story was over and done with. Unfortunately it was going to get much, much worse. Another tale for another day, though.

Life is Grand

Happy May Day! When you and I last chatted, friends, we were at Hole in the Wall campground in the Mojave Nature Preserve griping about the camper and it’s bent axle and wonky fridge and busted tires and dead battery. I just haven’t felt like writing lately. We’ve had such a challenging month between camper problems, truck implosion, wicked storms, and our first pukey sickness on our journey that I felt like everything I’d have to say would be fraught with disdain for life in general. Think happy thoughts, right? I feel like I’m back in my comfy hand-basket now and ready to talk! Let’s do it!

We wandered around Hole in the Wall before we beat feet out of there. Justin even harassed the camp host into opening the visitors center so we could stamp our National Parks passport.

We found a shop to look at the camper once we got to Arizona. We determined that the only thing we’d ruin by continuing was part of the tread on whatever tire was on the bent axle, and we could get the beast back to Michigan to do the work ourselves. Good enough for me! We ended up spending a few days in Topock, Arizona while this was happening. Our campground was just off Route 66, and we were finally able to get our kicks.

18236117_10155160704378548_1394848710_o

This also afforded us a trip to Nevada! It was like, right there. To get the state sticker on the camper we need to actually do something in the state. We found a casino over the border with a big arcade for the midgets, and Justin and I took turns winning and then immediately losing. *womp womp*

18216282_10155160703703548_133069124_o

I never saw any burros 😦

Our next hop, skip and jump was to Bedrock. I wish that I was joking, but it’s my own fault. We needed a cheap campground near the Grand Canyon and they fit the bill. It needs A LOT of love.

At least there was no awkward staring.

18236079_10155160704093548_306094488_o

Oh yeah.

BUT, we got to see THIS:

17814662_10155083117558548_580789702079603025_o

L-O-V-E

There are no photos that could ever really project the actual feeling of being perched on the edge of the world. All of the colors and the depth, layer after layer of history laying at your feet. If only those rocks could talk.

18261086_10155160704013548_1004458195_o

The kids got to complete the Junior Ranger program while we were there. (This started a six day quest to complete as many Junior Ranger programs as we could get our hands on. We’ll talk more about that later.)

The park rangers were awesome, by the way. They were genuinely happy to talk to the little buggers and had great tidbits for them. Wesson asked this one about the California Condors and got a whole rescue story.

I managed to FALL DOWN at the TOP OF GRAND CANYON. *dry heave* I skinned both my knees because it was either let go of my camera, watch it topple over the rail, and save myself, or hang onto my camera and give back some skin. I can grow new knees and dignity. I texted my mother after it happened because she had very specifically told me NOT to fall while I was there. She suggested that Justin be in charge of the kids for the rest of the day.

When it came to lunch time we had kind of resigned to the fact that we’d have to go home to eat because we had neglected to pack a lunch like we usually do in these situations. Mara being deathly allergic to peanuts makes eating at random places a safety issue. On the off chance we’d get lucky I went into the cafeteria and asked if my peanut free kid could eat there. Not only was I met with an enthusiastic yes, the kitchen manager came out to talk to me about it. He waited around until Mara picked what she wanted and then cooked it himself! He even made a point to tell us that he’d rechecked all of the ingredients in every single thing and wore new gloves. I can’t tell you how much this means when you have a kid who’s life depends on it. It also allowed us to stay at the park that day and explore that much more. I am forever grateful to them for allowing us that small sliver of normalcy and safety.

We are driving through Ohio at this very moment. ” What about Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, you slacker?” Man, have I got some stories for you. Until tomorrow…

On a Dark Desert Highway, Cool Wind in My Hair

We’ve had an amazing – and I mean amazing – few months here in California, and now we’re on the way out. *insert saddest emoji you’ve ever seen* The bright, hot sun, the shimmery, sandy beaches, the awe-inspiring mountains everywhere you turn, the towering palm trees, the infinite Slurpees…. Uggghhh… Don’t make me go! If some mean person told us that we couldn’t travel any longer and had to choose somewhere to live, California would be my pick. Hopefully we’ll see it again next winter.  Let’s talk about what we’ve been up to in the last few weeks before I start having mixed drinks about feelings.

We did this garbage:

20170307_155908.jpg

We went another 15 miles, thank goodness. NO REPEATS, PLEASE.

We went to Coronado beach AGAIN because if I’m going to cry I may as well do it on the most beautiful beach in the vicinity.

17361994_10155009642653548_3377982028815443775_n

She has a half-stache

One day Justin found a bike trail that he wanted to ride within the Cleveland National Forest and the kids and I tagged along to traipse through the woods. While he rode through puddles and such we lobbed giant pine cones and talked about habitats and life cycles. I do love it when we can pick our lessons right off the ground (and hurl them like grenades).

20170314_151030.jpg

Mara was too busy pouting about climbing the hill

While in Descanso we were lucky enough to be neighbors with a legend named Doctor Oliver Luck – an 85 year old Korean War vet who played trombone in the Air Force band (and with Duke Ellington), teacher of music, actor, two time Love Connection winner, and most importantly for this story a GOLD PROSPECTOR. For some reason he agreed to teach us how to search for gold. The process involved something called dowsing rods and included fantastically exciting stories about traveling to Papua New Guinea. We all had an appreciation for the octogenarian treasure hunter.

We soon moved off of the mountains to a park in Palm Desert which lived up to its name.

17361667_10155016837718548_1021279890411039691_n

Disregard the satellite dish

They even had sneaky cell towers that looked like palm trees.

wp-1491171303255.jpg

You can’t even tell. It’s magic.

The men decided to get haircuts while we were here. Wesson gave up the mullet he’d been cultivating for the last year and a half but still retained his long hair for the most part. Justin decided to lose a little more.

It was drastic but he looks GREAT! He kept the beard, of course. Nobody messes with the majestic brewers beard.

I have been thinking about jalapeno poppers since November, y’all. We were at some weird grocery store in Texas when I saw a $5 poppers kit. It came with eight peppers, a block of cream cheese, and a pound of bacon. As shameful as it is to admit, I do not like grilled bacon. *GASP* I know, I know. I finally sat down and found a recipe I liked. We’ve started making them and now cannot stop. We’ve been adding them to our hamburgers on the reg. I keep thinking of all those pathetic burgers that I cooked that didn’t have piping hot cream cheese filled jalapeno peppers on top and wondering where I went wrong in my life. If you want to change your world, go here: Grilled Stuffed Jalapenos

Speaking of eating cream cheese en masse, I finally purchased a bicycle. I sold my last bike back in September when it wouldn’t fit properly on our original bike rack. My unicycle has been riding in my spot on the newer roof rack. This time I ended up with a black on black Cannondale. Don’t ask me what kind it is beyond that. I know that it has two wheels and I like it, that’s all I need. I got it from this place that used a photo of their previous business card as their new business card just to induce aneurysms.

17308807_10155032195658548_6384379103649536362_n

Solo bike rides offer deafening silence and I kind of love it. Normally a bicycle purchase would not be a significant, notable event, however now that I go on bike rides by myself I get to take photos of places like this:

wp-1491171316165.jpg

Mount San Jacinto

And mysterious objects like this:

wp-1491171308838.jpg

Behind the campground a mile or two was Coachella Nature Preserve and the road there was shoddily blocked off for some reason. I think it probably had to do with the sand dunes overtaking the roadway.

20170329_091333.jpg

They also have something against pomegranates, so maybe the road was blocked off to keep dirty, dirty pomegranates away from their wildflowers? We may never know.

17554073_10155053165778548_228923357704100885_n

It took me about five bike rides to figure out that the sidewalks here are so huge because the old folks like to drive their golf carts everywhere.

wp-1491171297750.jpg

There is also ridiculous amounts of golf cart parking at the grocery stores. This makes it extremely difficult to park my excessively large diesel truck when I’m trying to buy jalapenos.

Joshua Tree National Park was on the list of sights to see. The park is an intersection of two deserts: the Mojave and the Colorado. The Mojave has all the Joshua Trees and the Colorado has more brush and cacti. The children were more concerned with climbing than plant life.

We also looked out upon the San Andreas fault line. 

That’s where we lived, come to find out. IN the fault line. Thank you for behaving, tectonic plates.

Most of the National Parks have a Junior Ranger program. The kids collect workbooks at the Ranger Stations and once they are complete they get a badge or a patch. Here’s Mara being sworn in as a Junior Ranger.

17523311_10155040789643548_3025615397053504390_n

I like the program because A) it’s free and B) it engages us with the park in ways that we may not have considered. Because we’re doing a scavenger hunt or pretending to be lizards we’re actively looking for plants and animals and structures that would probably be overlooked. Lots of learning to be had!

Right behind this Ranger station was a place called the Oasis of Mara! Our girl has her own oasis, can you believe it?

17523634_10155040791453548_1679053958880969876_n

All in all I think they enjoyed themselves that day.

17498737_10155038803818548_6339753678666440180_n

Justin replaced the worn out, crooked Super Duty decals on the truck the other day with something a little more fun.

17498477_10155058862388548_8045381437142020579_n

We’ve been meaning to do it for a while but they’ve been out of stock. If you want your own, you can find them and lots more good stuff here: Hoonigan

Today, we started our journey back East to take care of some VA business in Michigan. It is supposed to take us about six weeks to meander that way. The camper is being a butt at the moment, so I think our trip might be paused. A tire is wearing oddly, another has a bubble in it, and the fridge just went out a few minutes ago. All this as soon as we got to the gosh darn Bob Sagget mother trucking middle of nowhere literal Hole In The Wall campground in the flippin’ Mojave Nature Preserve.

20170403_142914.jpg

Look at this view before I implode.

20170403_153614.jpg

I climbed on top of the camper to take that photo, and I didn’t fall on a cactus when I came down the ladder.

Thankfully and inexplicably we have internet and phone service here, which is great because tomorrow we will have to find a camper doctor. We’ll also explore this park, because we didn’t come all the way out here for nothing. We need some happy. Whatever YOU do tomorrow, make sure that it makes you happy.

PS – this is the second time I’ve written this post. I had it almost finished yesterday and somehow deleted everything but one lower case n.

Here it is: n

A California Adventure and the Birthday Boy

Our second day at Disney was magical in its own way. It was dang near empty there by Disney standards. We rode all the rides we could stand and never waited more than 5-15 minutes each. The longest wait we had was for Anna and Elsa.

17097746_10154963586773548_128589642715440548_o

Between you and me, they were disappointingly bland. The other princesses had personality, these two were not as exciting.

Pictures! Same deal as last time, we were more worried about having fun than documenting the shenanigans. Here’s a few miscellaneous snaps.

We met Mickey, Olaf, and Daisy!

And Minnie Mouse stole my child.

 

We were sitting on a bench when Minnie Mouse came walking by and Mara stood up. Minnie grabbed her hand and they both walked away!!! Justin and I looked at each other in shock, then had an “oh shit” moment like we forgot that we should probably follow them. When we caught up with them Minnie had found a spot in the shade to greet people and was interacting with Mara. The introvert had been kidnapped by a giant mouse and Did. Not. Care. She didn’t even know that she was “missing.” Her love for Minnie transcends all common sense.

16999004_10154963641643548_7550919510418770597_n

Wesson got this sweet hat, complete with his name stitched on the back. He was pretending that he was an airplane. Goofy would definitely approve.

17039179_10154961156718548_3046865268685622719_o

We ran into the very fun green Army men who had a little mobile dance party/cadence deal going on.

It was a great day! Disneyland and California Adventure far surpassed my expectations and the ridiculous price was worth every penny. There will definitely be a next time.

Another one of our fabulous birthday events was a trip to LEGOLAND! Wesson has been looking forward to this for years. He spent the day before we went randomly grabbing us and screaming “WE’RE GOING TO LEGOLAAAAAND” while simultaneously shaking our shoulders.

17016982_10154976854983548_4094090416179825541_o

LEGOLAAAAAAND!

They got fancy new Lego Batman shirts to commemorate the day. We were about five seconds into the park when we walked right into this:

17022406_10154978227728548_3276486706820887625_n

BATMAN!!! So, the kids were totally geeked. I was fairly horrified by the giant Lego Dark Knight. AND THERE WERE MORE…

Umm, do you see Unikitty? That was NOT a statue. There was somebody INSIDE that suit! I desperately wanted to stand around to see them try to walk out of the area but that probably would have scarred the children. Nobody cares that I’ve been scarred, though.

What’s more scary than giant people with claw hands? It turns out that it’s real people.

17201337_10154978227668548_1155278610481213189_n

These are the Lego Friends, and Wesson thought they were great. Mara was unsure about their validity, as the rest of the Lego characters actually looked like toys. Real people were not in the grand plan, yo.

Just like our two Disney days, we planned ahead! We were there on a week day so the lines were non-existent! The kids got to ride nearly every single thing, and most of it they were able to ride on their own. The rides there are pretty tame, made for the under 12 crowd. They chose to stay off the roller coasters and we walked past a few spinners we knew they would hate.

Wesson got a Happy Birthday button from member services when we walked into the park, and just like Disney every staff member we passed had a birthday greeting and a kind word for him! He had big smiles all day long.

We purchased passes for Legoland, Aquariums, Madame Tousseau’s Wax Museums, and other neat places so we can have fun and be horrified all year long!

What else happened? Wesson turned EIGHT!

Oh, boy. Where did the time go? It seems like only yesterday that he was walking way too early (nine months old – for real), riding his big wheel down the stairs (Hey mommy, watch dis!), and asking if we can harvest the inner workings of Big Ben to build a giant robot. As for that last one, we agreed that if the clock were to be decommissioned – which is not probable – I would assist him in drafting a letter to the government asking for the spare parts. It’s what a mother should do.

The birthday boy requested lunch at Red Robin, a trip to Toys R Us for his birthday freebies, tacos and creamed corn for dinner, and to spend the afternoon at Coronado Beach.

17311613_10155001430683548_810161185_o

Happy birthday, beach boy!

The kids ended up finding another set of kids who were wearing Marine Corps hats just like them! Instant friends!

17264647_10154996654113548_6609019695409013151_n

We all love this beach! Look how happy these little boogers are!

My little buddy had a wonderful day! I only hope that the rest of his 100+ years can be filled with as many smiles and as much happiness. This kid is going to do amazing things. Correction: This kid is going to KEEP doing amazing things, and I can’t wait.

Disneyland and A Birthday She’ll *hopefully* Never Forget

Mara turned SIX last week! Oh, how time flies when you’re having fun. She is intelligent, beautiful, creative, stubborn, compassionate, sassy, inventive, hilarious… I could go on and on. She’s my kid and I love her, which is why we decided to subject ourselves to Disneyland for her birthday! We were going to go on her actual birthday but the weather was going to be nicer the day before. We took some photos but mostly just tried to enjoy the day. Honestly, we were just having way too much fun to be bothered.

These two nuggets were SO HAPPY! Look how cute they are! The first thing we did when we got through the gate was procure a Happy Birthday button for Mara and a 1st Visit button for Wesson. These, along with a few others, can be found at just about every store in the park – and they’re free! As we walked along the park, throughout the entire day, cast members would come up to Mara in her Cinderella dress, call her princess or your highness (some even bowed) and told her happy birthday. Can you imagine how special that made her feel? She was absolutely glowing. Not to be left out, Wesson got lots of attention too for his 1st visit milestone.

When we talked about meeting characters prior to going we made the kids pick just a few so that our entire day wasn’t consumed by waiting in line to take a photo. Mara decided that the two she HAD to see were Cinderella and her absolute favorite Princess, Ariel. We decided to get that over with immediately to avoid sweaty photos with tired kids. When we got in line for Ariel and Snow White (package deal) there was a third mystery character that wasn’t listed on the board. Guess who it was!

dsc_0195

Ella herself! Three for one, baby! She asked Mara if she had been going through her wardrobe.

Ariel said Disneyland was her favorite place in the human world. Snow White surprised us right inside the door which made the kids laugh. Wesson tried to hide from all of the princesses but each one of them called him out, hahah! He was a little pink in the cheeks when we walked out of there.

We encountered Aurora hanging out in front of the spinning teacups. She tried to get Mara to spin dresses with her but she wasn’t having it.

dsc_0209

While we waited in line, Daddy and Wesson rode the Teacups. I had heard that the solid purple teacup goes faster than the rest, and a cast member told me that as well as we were standing in line to schmooze with Aurora. Something to keep in mind if you ever find yourself wanting to throw up.

dsc_0203

This is my favorite set of photos captured that day, taken by Justin, before Dumbo took off and after the ride started:

 

SO MUCH HAPPINESS!

We met Mickey, of course. Wesson graciously allowed his photo to be taken with his favorite mouse.

dsc_0212

Speaking of photos, the park had photographers all over the place. If you wanted to pay $40 you’d get a copy of all the photos and in theory never have to take your own. I finally looked at them a few days later and the photos were pretty terrible. I’m thankful for the few snaps I took myself and glad I didn’t bother with the photo fee.

We rode as many rides as we could get into that day and reaffirmed what we already knew: Mara is a roller-coaster kid like Daddy and roller-coasters give Wesson and Mommy regrets.

We ended a perfectly exciting day with the best light parade ever! All the characters had light up costumes, and Alice told everyone it was their unbirthday. Pete rode his dragon, Smee went paddling by in a canoe, and Pinocchio danced his wooden buns off.

dsc_0222

Mara looked down from Justin’s shoulders and exclaimed “nobody told me this parade was gonna be so great!” The day couldn’t have been more magical.

They slept the whole way home.

16836131_10154940115898548_3778483784914162201_o.jpg

Note the neck pillow on the forehead

The next day was her actual birthday!

17106229_10154967146908548_516781183_o

She’s SIX! *sobs*

She awoke to a room covered in whirligigs, My Little Pony decorations and lots of balloons. We did all the traditional birthday things: open presents, measure our height, make cupcakes, and plan our birthday freebie excursion. A lot, and I mean A LOT of businesses give free something or others to you consumers on their birthday, and kids are no exception. Mara decided she wanted her free birthday meal from Red Robin so off we went.

17121453_10154967146923548_796810364_o

We also stopped by Toys R Us. They had sent a certificate for a free stuffed animal, a free book, and a $3 gift card! Here is a photo that I took just now because lately i’ve been trying to live in the moment and not take so many photos – like a monster.

17106157_10154967154833548_2017641959_o

After she picked her toy and got her Geoffrey and book, the manager gave her a helium balloon and paper crown! Bonus!

We left there and headed to the Disney Store in Temecula. The night before when we were at Disneyland we let the kids pick a souvenir. Wesson had his heart set on one of those strange looking Tsum Tsum creatures in the shape of Chewbacca, as seen here:

17121545_10154968201743548_1924333817_o.jpg

It’s like a really hairy jelly bean the size of a small dog. There’s actually one that’s bigger than this, so you could potentially own an even larger toy that looks as if you wrenched it from the shower drain with one of those barbed, flexy plastic tools used to mine for hairballs. The Disney Store takes better wookie photos than I.

Anyway, so while we were there, the store employee noticed that Mara was wearing her birthday pin from Disneyland and snaked out of her that it was, indeed, her day of birth. As we continued to shop the music picked up and over the loudspeaker the employee announced that today princess Mara was turning six! The store staff and all of the customers gathered in the middle of the store to sing and clap for our favorite girl. The video screen read Princess Mara is Six, and the store displays all had fireworks projected onto them. They gave her yet another birthday button, this time with little Mickey ears drawn on the first ‘a’ in her name. If you ask her, the little Sharpie Mickey ears were her very favorite thing of that whole experience.

17101386_10154967146998548_970053007_o1

My favorite Disney Princess

We are SO never going to be able to beat this birthday.

Ten Bottles of Glitter

Look at this gorgeous sandy water! Just LOOK!

16797618_10154919589303548_390746512860869777_o

I don’t even care that the photo takes up the entire screen. It was so sparkly! If you haven’t guessed the locale yet it’s Coronado Beach, in front of the famed Hotel del Coronado. The hotel was built in 1888, and at the time was the largest resort hotel in the world. It is currently the second biggest wooden structure. The beach itself is one of very few beaches that has mica in the sand, which looks like flecks of gold. Mara said they had to have dumped at least TEN bottles of glitter in the ocean. Technically she’s not wrong.

16797537_10154919589313548_5680314173644860615_o

I have no idea who this footprint belongs to.

These guys are always so happy to be on the beach! Can you blame them? They roll around in the sand, haul buckets of treasures out of the water, and build castles with moats and flags – the whole nine yards. Part of Wesson’s actual schoolwork was to build a castle of some sort, so this was *technically* a school trip. Ahem. They left there with half the beach in their shorts and the other half in their hair.

16700532_10154919589533548_5590854421181013017_o

We also learned about Sand Dollars, AKA Snapper Biscuits, AKA Sea Cookies that day. They are burrowing sea urchins covered in tiny hairs that move independently and the little wiggly hairs definitely don’t creep me out in any way whatsoever. Look at the variety of colors that washed up onto the beach. I don’t think that I was aware that they were anything but the bleached, white “test” that’s usually found. Any day we can literally pick our lessons off the ground is a great one. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

This was the view from the bridge that we had to cross to get to the island:

16715908_10154919589308548_5305236355606137299_o

And this was the view on the way back:

16797998_10154919337478548_7561055689999866603_o

Sleepy beach baby, clutching a platypus

We had tons of fun and will be back there in a few weeks. We’ve been trying to talk the kids into checking out a different beach. They’re insistent that we go back to the one with the fancy sand and the warm, hot sun.

A few days later California got rocked by the heaviest rainstorms that they’ve seen in six years. We decided to move off the mountain a few days early to avoid any potential mudslides or high winds. The Weather Channel had this to say about the situation:

16804514_10154926911593548_621993148856544591_o

Someone made a typo or we’re all about to land in Oz

The bad news is that we didn’t get skipped by the storm but thankfully our site didn’t flood and we never lost power. Yeehaw!

Moving to this new park, Wilderness Lakes, gave us a site with a full hook up! BONUS! I have been keeping the laundry bucket empty and it’s been a dream come true. We also get to wash our dishes indoors and use our own shower! I like camping, I really do. I also like not packing a shower bag, as it turns out. “Glamping” would be a closer term for the thing I love.

16722546_10154929746543548_8815527817673470617_o

On February 18th, Carrots Fuggles Secrets Funnybunny Rowland turned TWO! In proper, traditional Rowland fashion, her bedroom was decorated overnight and when she awoke in the morning Mara provided her with a stylish birthday hat. She took her decorations down right away. She had no appreciation for my toilet paper streamers. As you can see from the above side-eye, she had no love for the hat either. Poor, tortured, traveling bunny.

The Disneyland post is next, people, and I am so excited to tell you about it! We have one more visit there this week and then I will fill you in on the Disney goodness all at once.

Sneak preview:

16825943_10154938875853548_2005298712410496389_o.jpg

I Missed the Octopus

I wrote half of this post and Word Press decided to eat it. *sigh* It’s never as good the second time around, kind of like reheated leftovers. Lets try to make this blog post tasty Thanksgiving leftovers instead!

On our way from Pilot Knob to Pio Pico we stumbled upon El Centro! Can you believe it?  THE BLUE ANGELS! Apparently The Blue Angels practice in California in the winter and we just happened upon them! We pulled over to watch them swoop back and forth. I tried to take photos but they were just too fast and high up. They dove and rolled and performed their close quarter maneuvers. It was like our very own air show!

4028109678_b63e2fcbc5

A beautiful photo that I did not take.

When we arrived at Pio Pico RV Resort, everything looked promising. It appeared to be a nice big park nestled between the mountains with it’s own store! We quickly realized this was too good to be true. The staff was incredibly rude immediately. Then we found out that the park was full and we’d be in overflow across the road. If we wanted a main park spot we had to be at the gate every day at 0830 to stand around and hope our name was called, then randomly take whatever spot was available without knowing if we’d fit or what the site looked like. Also, there was absolutely no cell phone service. If we had an emergency at any point we had no way to call for help unless we went to the ranger station. As we contemplated that fact, Justin found a GIANT bubble in the trailer tire that wasn’t there when we arrived.

16422337_10154885255633548_2558599050327120126_o1

It had formed while driving through the park that we couldn’t stay in. We pulled into an overflow spot, changed the tire (I have THREE different roadside assistance programs, by the way, but could not CALL anyone), and went back to ask the snotty woman to take us out of the system.

We high-tailed it back forty minutes in the opposite direction and landed at Oakzanita Springs in sunny Descanso, California. The campground is off of a road that winds up into the mountains, I think it was old highway 79. The staff was wonderful, the campground was very mountainous but not treacherously so, and although they were pretty full, we didn’t feel like our presence was a burden. The super cute town of Alpine was close enough that we weren’t truly out in the middle of nowhere. We ran into a little fog being so high in the mountains, though.

16602488_10154893644703548_6552463604843947224_o

There was also this very concerning sign on the bathrooms:

16463879_10154886980353548_5399971288003868120_o1

EEEEEE!

After a few days of recovery from the long, repeated puddle jumping, we had a family visit! My maternal Grandfather’s sister, Aunt Gerry, lives about an hour and a half north of the campground. I had alerted them that we’d be in town for a while and made arrangements for a visit. The drive out there was AMAZING! And also nauseating. It was twisty, hilly, and fast, with a few mountain switchbacks, and LOTS of citrus groves. We had to pull over twice to let little bellies settle. I’m thankful that the GPS sent us that way because it was a gorgeous drive, however, we wont go that way again. We spent a few hours with Aunt Gerry, had lunch, and even saw her daughter (mom’s cousin) Donna for a few minutes. It was really nice to see some family again and get to talk about days past. Aunt Gerry gave us a big stack of these awesome cookies, pizzelles, to take home. I need to add a pizzelle maker to my wish list.

16910807_10154947911498548_1426906778_o

I started eating this one before I remembered to take a photo

We also went to the tide pools that week! Cabrillo National Monument is located off the coast of San Diego on a peninsula that also includes a marine sanctuary area. The tide was especially low the day that we went exploring. All of the park rangers pointed at our nice looking shoes and then asked where we were from. The fact that none of us had on slop boots or sandals or water shoes was a dead giveaway that we had no idea what we were getting into. Supposedly you could also see whales migrating from this area but FOG. SO MUCH FOG.

16602611_10154897055523548_4408149068805831051_n

This is the ocean. No, really.

We walked down the rocks and sand, not really expecting to find much, but hopeful to at least catch some crabs. We saw boring clams carved into the rocks, sea urchins covered what seemed like every inch of the place, tons of different types of seaweed – some of which was so unusual that it looked fake.

Two different types of sea hares made their presence known. They’re similar to giant slugs. I didn’t touch them to find out, but something tells me that they are probably pretty squishy. The highlight of the whole experience was a super cool octopus! He was just swimming along in one of the pools, stretching his tentacles and shoom, shoom, shooming along. When he saw that we were following him he hid under a rock. *sad face* Thankfully I thought I had gotten a pretty excellent video of him. Later, when I tried to show it to the Ranger, I discovered that I had gotten a one second video of my finger instead. Ooh well. Sometimes it’s better to just enjoy the moment anyway, right?

The kids thought it was awesome that they were actually touching the bottom of the ocean. I think that I was the only one that ended up with really wet feet that day. We did well despite our ‘pretty shoes.’

We also popped in at Marine Corps Recruiting Depot for a hot second. We may go back for a graduation ceremony when we get back to the area in a few weeks.

16700429_10154897276538548_3824815676567597959_o

I also made this bad boy after seeing yet another camper with an airbrushed masterpiece across the back.

16602491_10154915888023548_5285643306511470943_o

The children ran outside to see if it was really on there and Justin threatened to kick me out if it ever became reality. No love for Carrots.

I’ll leave you with a recipe for Kentucky Bourbon Burgoo, because you always have leftovers and you have no idea what to do with them. Improvise a little, throw in whatever you’ve got, and for the love of all things try lump charcoal at some point in your life.

All Sunshine Makes a Desert

PHOENIX!!! We parked our booties at West World right next to the polo fields. West World is a large event complex that’s owned by the city of Scottsdale. They host horse shows, polo tournaments, and other great big things. Guess what had just wrapped up before we got there! No, that wasn’t happening. That either. You know what, let me just tell you: BARRETT JACKSON! The auction with all the fanciest cars in the world had just ended on the 22nd (darn) and most of the cars had not been shipped yet so the view to the right was the coolest.

16833548_10154931128683548_88620539_o

Nevermind the glorious mountains

All week long we watched them load up the most incredible cars that we’ll probably never see again. Check out this coke truck, complete with glass bottles:

16832726_10154931128763548_1544992447_o

One of the other RV’s about three spots down had Evel Knievel’s F150 parked next to it. It was purchased from Barrett Jackson back in 2011 and the owner brought it there to show it off while he undoubtedly looked around for more treasures.

We also saw lots and lots of airplanes go by while we were there as we were super close to the airport. On the first day some fighter jets flew overhead doing aileron rolls. Later in the week there was a red biplane that circled the area for a good hour.

Justin’s cousin Micah lives in downtown Phoenix so we were able to spend a really good amount of time with him that week. We all went to the Capitol museum together on Saturday.

On our way back to the truck we passed through a ton of memorials in the park across the road. The USS Arizona was one of them of course, and this one caught my eye:

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a memorial specific to Enduring Freedom. The memories of war efforts of the early 2000’s are especially poignant. Justin is still suffering the ill-effects of  his participation, some of which will never go away. Thankfully all of the men and women in his unit came home with him from both deployments. Even so, I’m appreciative that in a little park in Arizona people can pause a moment and show some gratitude for the ones who passed before us in the name of justice for all.

We also hung out with Justin’s Uncle Dana and Aunt Brenda that weekend! They are extremely knowledgeable in minerals, shells, and fossils. Their home houses many excellent examples of all of the above. We had fun ogling their collection! Uncle Dana was able to identify some things we’d collected and been hauling around in a bucket, some of which we’ve had since last July. They also took us all out to dinner at great place called A&M Pizza in Florence, AZ. The proprietors picked this location out in the middle of nowhere-ish in honor of their Grandfather who was from Florence, Italy. Delicious pizza and great company made for an excellent day!

What else happened that week? I let life get the best of me and yelled at a lady who let her dog pee on the water spigot next to our camper. She told me that she had no control over where her LEASHED dog went. I won’t go any further into the details of that “conversation” but I will say that everyone should take a valuable lesson away from this: if your water source is near the ground, it has pee on it.

The rest of our time in Scottsdale was spent relaxing, washing the camper and truck (it was caked in cow poop from who knows where), visiting the local science center, and being stuck in traffic over and over again. I cannot tell you how many red lights were ran or how many people tried to run us off of the road in Phoenix, mostly because there were too many to count. “Too many to count” is such a lame phrase. Everything can be counted, Lori, get your act together. Just know that the shoddy drivers were ubiquitous and we were not amused. *sigh*

The good outweighed the minor troubles, though. Family visits are the best and the mountains and weather made for a gorgeous week.

16805100_10154931129398548_1117619773_o

Pro-tip for everyone lucky enough to live in a state with prevalent 7-Elevens: They sell these little books for $5 and they contain twenty coupons, each good for a small Slurpee. A 25 cent Slurpee makes everyone’s day!

Our next stop after Phoenix was nowhere. I mean, it was somewhere, technically California, but it was really nowhere. We ended up parked in the desert two miles from the Mexican/US border, with the freeway in the distance, on a Bureau of Land Management site called Pilot Knob. At least I think we were on it.

16832748_10154933537748548_1546939667_o.jpg

We just kind of picked a spot to the side of a road that wasn’t on the map and set up camp. We have a generator and a large water tank so we’re mostly prepared for boondocking. We could probably last quite a while if we used paper plates and never took a shower. One night was all that we needed at that point, although, I would not mind going back there again for a few days. The kids had a blast running around in the wide open space, collecting small rocks, and drawing in the dirt but NOT TURNING OVER ANY LARGER ROCKS, FOR THE LOVE OF SNAKES. Once night took hold we stepped outside. The sky was phenomenal! I almost wish we had let the kids stay up late to see it. Almost. Also worth noting: the Mexican border was lit up like Christmas.

lkjhgfd

Don’t tell me what to say, google!

In the next installment of “This is Our Life” we continue on over to San Diego County! Stay tuned!

Open range and hot dogs

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more clearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints. Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting who can annoy himself about the future?” – Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

Ok, so we aren’t riding pack mules, but we are moving enough to feel the ups and downs of the earth. I wish that I could properly convey to you the barrel-chested deep breath feeling that is driving across an open plain or through a mountain range or down in a valley with nowhere to really go and nothing to be. I’ll keep working on it.

Gosh, after reading this whole thing I’ve determined that I’m a whiner today. Or maybe it was just a meh patch of travel. I’m dedicated to writing it all down, though. Brace yourself.

Our detour to gallivant around White Sands put us past our soft limit on driving time for the day. When we got to this sign for Hidden Valley Ranch RV Resort it was already starting to get dark.

16252388_10154855312008548_4630822868951647431_o

Yeah, about that… The road turned out to be a very bumpy seven miles of dirt road, washed out in some places, running through open range. Open range is land where cattle roam freely without fences or cares. There were a few by the road but none who wanted to make friends with the truck.

Upon arriving at the gate after our seven mile adventure we discovered two giant signs that said “ADULTS ONLY PARK.” Aw, hell. The sun had set and the light was all but gone. Even though it was after office hours a nice woman got us into our assigned site. I couldn’t remember if I had talked about having kids with us when I had made the reservation so I just plain old didn’t mention them. I surmised that we’d just be eating dinner and going to bed, leaving early the next morning, so we’d not be making a whole lot of noise which is 90% of the complaint about families in parks. Then, Wesson tripped, hit his face on the CORNER of the wall with all of his body weight, and wailed for like 45 minutes.

16251779_10154855632028548_44204860329301420_o

OUCH!

Poor buddy! I tried to tell him that he could have come up with a less painful way to blow our cover.

The next morning I paid the front office on our way out and the woman working said they happily accept families short term and they should probably take the signs down. *phew*

16735182_10154905621488548_763503887_o

The park has been there in the middle of nowhere since the 60’s. The fantastic panoramic view by itself was enough to make us want to come back. The sign was right, totally worth it.

Once we made the seven mile trek back to somewhat civilization we headed west yet again. Today’s destination was Tombstone, Arizona! The park du jour was Butterfield RV Resort and Observatory. Sounds cool, right? This is going to be a really complain-y paragraph. I’ll speed through it and get it out of my system. *BIG BREATH IN* The observatory was open, but only for a few minutes at 7pm sharp, and only for 16 predesignated people to look through. The spaces were tiny and they had miniature picnic tables (no joke). The price was RIDICULOUS!!! The office staff told me that they would never answer the phone or help anyone 15 minutes before closing. There were very loud trains and helicopters every twenty or so minutes ALL NIGHT LONG! *GASP* PHEW! I think that was it.

I didn’t bother with any photos. That’s fairly significant as I just had to dump 6,000 photos off my phone because I take a photo of everything. They deserved none.

Backtracking a second: After we had gotten parked in the… park we headed out to Tombstone. It was exactly as you’d picture it: Horse-drawn Wells Fargo stagecoaches, Men in long dusters and cowboy hats, and lots of historical markers.

Except for one obnoxious bunch of drunks in a saloon (still, how perfect) it was a great little town. After wandering around we drove down to the Tombstone Brewery and sampled a few things before heading back to the house where I proceeded to not sleep (see the aforementioned long-winded complaint).

Lunch the next day was at a rest area. Does everyone cook their hot dogs on the ground? No? Someday I’ll graduate to a table.

16402570_10154860179698548_610887957165852533_o

This was our last day of serious driving for an entire week. FINALLY!

Scottsdale became our home for seven sleeps. That week would provide lots of fun, family, and a bit of frustration. It doesn’t deserve to be attached to this grouser of a post, though. I’m going to drink some tea, maybe some bourbon, and come back with less grumble in my fingers.

Have an adventure this weekend, would you?

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

16710333_10154905922098548_31643942_o

Amarillo by morning

16667816_10154894697923548_883406851_o

Here, have the world’s largest pistachio as a gift for reading this post.

We got to Amarillo pretty early in the day so we had lots of time. After the camper was set up we headed for Cadillac Ranch! We stopped at the local Wal-Mart and ended up on this bad boy:

wp-image-198138711jpg.jpg

YEE HAW!

Cadillac Ranch is an art installation put together by some guys from an art group called Ant Farm. It consists of several Cadilli buried nose first, together representing the rise and fall of tail fins. They are all at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza, oddly enough. They weren’t meant to be spray painted initially but it turns out everyone is totally cool with it, and the millionaire who owned the property where it lies encouraged visitors to the site so the gate to get there remains. Fun fact: the Home Depot in Amarillo sells the most spray paint of all the Home Depots. I think we were all really excited about Cadillac Ranch. It’s one of those places that we’ve read about a lot. Wesson was especially insistent that we go.

It was super windy and the field was a mud hole but we had a total blast! Mara was the only one to empty her spray can. The rest of us passed them off to a family that showed up as we were leaving.

wp-image-203402512jpg.jpg

We also ran into the 2nd Amendment Cowboy over at the Cadillac Ranch RV park, no relation.

16586820_10154894845263548_1848139831_o

After we had expressed ourselves through the medium of spray paint we visited The Big Texan Steak Ranch. This place used to be on Route 66, when the Interstate rolled through they were suffocated right out of business. The only way they could continue was to move to the freeway. It’s a really, REALLY different place. It’s very eclectic decor included farting mannequins, taxidermy by the truckload, a live rattlesnake, a shooting gallery, and lots of horns from long horns -some of which you can buy and attach to the front of your vehicle. This is also home to the 72oz steak dinner challenge. The current record holder is a 120lb woman who ate three of these such dinners in twenty minutes. That’s all three within the same 20 minutes. *blort*

They also offer a free limo pick up service. If only we had known about it ahead of time…

Wesson was the only one smart enough to order a steak – which showed up INSIDE A COWBOY HAT! While we were eating our incredibly delicious dinner and sipping on a ten sample flight of house brewed beer, the musicians came by. This was my favorite part of the whole experience.

16667662_10154894845613548_1653334665_o

These two gentlemen sang and played their instruments to the tune of an old Hank Williams song. It was marvelous! I stopped eating and just sat there grinning at them like a weirdo. When they got to the next table a bass player joined them in a melodious rendition of “Amarillo by Morning.” They earned every penny they got that night.

The next morning we were off again! We aimed for a little town called Elida, New Mexico but discovered we could totally get to Roswell by quittin’ time. We parked in another whelming (not over or under, just whelming) park called Midway. Just a little dirt with a lot of permanent residents but it was full hook up for less than $13 again! Here we learned that our auto levelers are absolute garbage in high winds. Too much movement in the camper and it can’t tell if it’s level or not. Isn’t that great?

We drove into Roswell for groceries and to poke around for extraterrestrials. The street lamps had alien eyes and the businesses all had kitschy names. It was total tourist trap. We managed to snap photos with these two visitors on our way home.

On the road agaiiiinn… The next morning we drove through the mountains all the way up to 7,500 feet above sea level and parked at a really neat looking museum complex. It was completely out of character for the area but just the space we needed to pop the slides out and make lunch. Plus BONUS! They had SNOW! Snow is not at all what I like to see. The kids, however, thought it was incredible and proceeded to fill my pockets with it. They also lobbed snowballs at each other until their little fingers couldn’t take it anymore.

16586800_10154894698088548_718986705_o

Shortly after we went inside the camper another rv parked right next to us – and they were from Michigan! They were traveling virtually the same exact route we were headed. Small world!

16667800_10154894698568548_353654416_o

Our route took us directly past White Sands National Monument. We had initially written this into the schedule but the weather was supposed to be crappy. The weather was, yet again, all lies. It was gorgeous when we arrived! The gift shop sold us a couple of sleds and some wax, which was a complete scam and they made money hand over fist on these little disks. It was $17 for a sled, they buy them back from you for $5, resell them for $10, and will buy those resold sleds back for $3. Wax was $2 and was a 75 cent buy back. I found it, guys. This is what funds the National Parks system.

The sled scam was totally worth it, though. We drove out the the sand dunes and picked a good spot with a nice, steep hill and started throwing ourselves down it. The sand was soft and dry and the sun was warm. The whole thing was amazing!

PS – the sand here is actually gypsum: calcium sulfate with two molecules of water! Exciting for me, possibly exciting for you? Eh, it’s my blog, I can be excited about the main constituent in drywall if I want to.

16667739_10154894845718548_1263855793_o

GYPSUUUUMMM!

This was an experience that we will treasure forever. I truly hope the kids remember this one when they’re bigger. That’s why we document things, right?

16651173_10154894846128548_1922958833_o