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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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…