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.

 

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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I’m cold and I forgot about you

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I did it again. I went an entire month and never told you about the cool things we did. Mostly because we really didn’t do a whole lot, and partly because I’ve been avoiding sitting down to write anything at all. Today we are trapped indoors by unforgiving temperatures. Our water hose is frozen but not our spirit! This has happened before, and thankfully we have a water holding tank (and booze) to tide us over until we thaw.

15935777_10154789463658548_555591730_nLet’s see, where did I leave off? Oh, right. NASA! The first week of December we stayed at Lake Conroe for a few days and visited the Johnson Space Center. The real, actual NASA mission control. There were so many great things to see and do. My favorite part of the whole place was the tram tour. We went to old mission control and sat in the viewing area. I can only imagine what a privilege it would have been to be there while it was operational. Justin’s parents were kind enough to gift us a membership to the space center so we can go back as many times as we want!

All that fishing in Goose Island State Park and no one ever caught anything. We dipped our fishing lines in the shallow waters of a stocked pond at Lake Conroe, armed with hot dogs and a dream, and caught so many fish we lost count. We also found out the children will hold the fish in their bare hands and the mother will not.

On our way back to the San Antonio area we met up with Santa! He’s a class act, that guy. Always a smile on his face.

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We high-tailed it back to Lake Medina to meet with Grandma and Uncle Steve! My Mom and brother came down to hang with us and watch the kids while Justin had umbilical hernia surgery at Audie Murphy VA hospital. Surgery went well! No complications! We put them up in a cabin across the path from us at the campground. Our Thousand Trails membership provides us with a couple of weeks of free cabin stays, thankfully, so we can have visitors. It was nice to have everyone in the same area. We’re happy that they were willing and able to fly down. Uncle Steve rented himself a fancy Mustang convertible. Thankfully Texas provided him with a few nice days to enjoy it.

Picture time!

After our visitors left we kept a low profile for a few weeks. We hit a few museums (DoSeum and Witte), we played on a few playgrounds, we made Christmas Cookies and decorated the camper.

It was an unremarkable time and lovely to be sitting still. Christmas eve we went SWIMMING. Can you believe it? The pool was colder than an ice cube, but they did it anyway. Wesson declared that it must be a new tradition. We’ll see where we are next year. Maybe they’ll be joining the polar bear club.

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In the past I have come across people who ask “You’re atheists, why do you celebrate Christmas?” Because it’s fun, it’s a reason to spoil your kids, a reason to make memories, and a gentle reminder to appreciate the things and people in your life. It shouldn’t matter to you or me how others celebrate any holiday. Do your thing, and if people get joy from being with or without their families, regardless of why or how, just be glad they still celebrate anything. Eat a Peep shaped like a tree, hug your kids, be kind to your neighbors, and have a holly, jolly whatever you want.

And here we are in Whitney, Texas at Lake Whitney RV resort. Earlier in the week we went to the natural history museum at Baylor University. They provided tons of great learning opportunities for these curious few. Live and fossilized vertebrates, modern and historical methods of communication, a kid’s weather station complete with green-screen, and much more fun! We saw only a small portion of what they offered before we had to leave; we may have to go back.

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We will be in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth and San Antonio areas indefinitely. Justin has to complete the evaluations needed to get a disability rating from the VA. He has a few ongoing things that need to be addressed and the VA has legitimately been so wonderful to him so far. He’s getting help navigating the system from some amazing people at Disabled American Veterans. Hopefully they will all be swift (hahaha, i’m dreaming) and he will be through the process in no time.

In the week after Christmas we hit 100 days!!! We sold our house on September 29th and hit the road the same day. We had been living in the camper for a few months prior to that but the ceremonial termination of the mortgage is the real date of independence, one we can be most proud of.

Until next month…

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Don’t call me Dorothy

 

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The second largest live oak tree in the world is behind that fence. Neat.

Here’s my attempt to write things down before “HOLY CRAP I FORGOT TO WRITE STUFF DOWN” sets in. I’m making an effort, people; Be proud of me. I’m doing this while riding down the bumpy freeway. I’m sure I’ll catch the typos later.

This week we were in Rockport, Texas at Goose Island State Park. The park had A LOT going for it in terms of scenery.

One heck of a front yard

Every night was a new, more beautiful sunset, the kind that make you sigh heavily, relax all the way down to your soul, sink in your chair, and wonder what you did to deserve such a watercolor-painted sky. “It  certainly can’t get better than this.” Oh, but it does.

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The kids fished in their front yard EVERY. DAY. They caught nothing but fun. There were few fish who wanted to make friends with the fishermen.

Even the seasoned anglers were having trouble. One nice woman gave my kids an anatomy lesson on a flounder she’d caught. I saw one other fish that week and it was a Wesson-sized behemoth someone had caught offshore. They all had fun casting and reeling anyway. Mara used her time to collect shells and fall face first into the water. She wanted to test her life vest, I guess. Thankfully she was in about two feet of bay and just gave the water a smooch, catching herself with her arms. No tears, just a lots of PTOOEY-ing and laughing.

We took advantage of the awesome weather one day and hit the nearby beach. It was a weekday so except for the occasional runner it was blissfully quiet.

The kids ended up acquiring a kite along our travels in Michigan. Justin happened to grab it on the way out the door that day but failed to bring the kite string. Wesson’s fishing pole was the cure. It was a very Dad solution. This will be the only way we fly kites from now on.

We also took the ferry to Port Aransas! They had five big ferries running. We were first on the boat both times so we had a big, wide window to see all that was happening. Fun fact: all the boats were named after state roadway engineers. We had the GPS running the first time through and when the boat started moving, the Garmin lady said “in one-quarter mile, exit the ferry.” It gave me a “hah!”

We took the kids to the University of Texas Marine Science Education Center. They had some wonderful hands on things to do and some saltwater fish habitats to explore. There was a telescope set up to look at a nearby lighthouse and we ended up seeing a pod of dolphins as well!

Just inside the doorway was the jawbone of a giant whale. As we were investigating a woman who was hurrying by stopped to talk to the kids. She shared a tidbit and acted like she had to go but then talked to them about the dolphins, then a whale skull, constantly trying to get away yet sucking herself back in, like she had an uncontrollable urge to share and educate. My guess is that she was a professor and probably a parent. We roamed in the wetland education center as well and peered at different birds.

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We drove on the actual beach next to the actual Gulf in our monster truck.

Some creative driving inspired us to order a HOONIGAN sticker for the truck.

We managed to get the kids to walk out on the South Jetty into the Gulf of Mexico. It was a little chilly and a lot windy so we didn’t go fishing but it is on the list for next time.

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We had plans to bring the camper here and spend two nights living on the beach but the weather had other plans. Saturday was the end of our reservation in Goose Island which was fine because that spot was so incredibly windy and a hail storm was coming. Storms rolled into the area on Friday and as of now it is still raining.

Our next scheduled spot was in Galveston Island State Park and they were getting tornadoes. We strongly considered going to Mexico because it was dry and warm and they have tacos. We opted to just go inland a bit and ride out the angry sky. Goliad state park was our new heading and it was perfect. Our benchmark for perfection is rather low, though. It had a full hook up (sewer, water, and 50 amp electric) and a level, pull-through spot. If you’ve ever been in a RV here’s where you say “ahhh, paradise.” It rained the entire time and threatened to flood but a least there were no tornadoes. The park had plenty of historical sites to explore and I wouldn’t mind coming back here again when it’s dry. That’s probably the worst part about traveling when there is inclement weather. I wanted to see all the things and all the things were wet.

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These guys pulled into the park and just about made my day. They ended up parking across the street from us and left the next day before I could ask them any of the many, many questions I had.

We’re now at Lake Conroe RV Resort just north of Houston. THEY HAVE A KROGER NEARBY! I am way too excited about a grocery store, but if you’ve ever shopped at a small town, hole in the wall grocery before you know the struggle. Give me my normalcy, please. Moving on…

We are here because Justin’s parents bought the family a membership to mother-freakin’ Johnson Space Center. As in, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” The place where they run the International Space Station. The original mission control. I’m not excited at all. We plan to spend the next few days immersed in NASA. You WILL hear about it, whether you like it or not.

Friday we head back to San Antonio to set up camp at Medina Lake again. My mom and my brother are coming down for a visit and to watch the midgets while Justin has hernia surgery at the Veteran’s hospital. All that is for another day. For now, enjoy the sunset.

“When twilight drops her curtain down, and pins it with a star, remember that you have a friend, though she may wander far” – L.M. Montgomery