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.

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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*

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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.

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Oh yeah.

BUT, we got to see THIS:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Disregard the satellite dish

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

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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.

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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:

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Mount San Jacinto

And mysterious objects like this:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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All in all I think they enjoyed themselves that day.

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

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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.

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Look at this view before I implode.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Happy birthday, beach boy!

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

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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.

Ten Bottles of Glitter

Look at this gorgeous sandy water! Just LOOK!

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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.

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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.

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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:

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And this was the view on the way back:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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!

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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.

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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.

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There was also this very concerning sign on the bathrooms:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Amarillo by morning

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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:

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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?

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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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Thanksgiving in a box

How does one cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner while living in a 5th wheel RV? My relationship status with dinner this year reads “It’s complicated.” I’m determined, though, and I’m documenting for posterity. I’ll forget all of this by next year.
Roasted sweet potatoes and apples in a honey bourbon glaze: http://www.myrecipes.com/m/recipe/roasted-apples-sweet-potatoes-honey-bourbon-glaze

I cooked the sweet potatoes on the grill ahead of time, then on turkey day I made the glaze on the rv stove, combined everything with the apples on the bottom so they’d cook faster, and roasted it on the grill in a 9×13 pan.

Baked beans:

The charcoal grill took point again! I cooked the bacon and hamburger in the electric frying pan, combined everything in the Dutch oven, and put it on the grill without the lid for an hour and a half.

Justin went out to buy charcoal the other night and came home with lump oak. I’d never used lump charcoal before, my go-to was Kingsford briquettes. I’m never going back! The lump oak has such a nice smoke to it, not overpowering like I anticipated, and burns HOT.

Stove Top stuffing: *womp womp* Something had to give, and honestly I do that every year. Maybe next year I’ll make the stuffing from scratch. Or not.

Mashed potatoes: This one was the same as usual. Boil potatoes on the stove, hand over the smushy taters to the kitchenaid mixer (pre-loaded with the rest of the good stuff) and let them whip.

Gravy: From a jar, like an animal. A smart, lazy animal.

Pumpkin pie: I’ll admit, this one stumped me for a little while. I decided at one point that I’d use the smoker but it only goes up to 275 degrees. Two days beforehand I ended up plopping the whole pie crust – in the aluminum pie tin – in the Dutch oven, filling it, and putting the lid on top. I put it directly on the hot lump charcoal, loaded the top with coals, and baked for 45 minutes. The edges were toast but the rest of it was great! We’re eating it, dammit.

I made four little pies with the leftover filling to tide us over until Thanksgiving. I baked them in the oven and it took FOREVER. I’m desperately glad that I decided not to use the oven for anything else. Propane cooking leaves a lot to be desired.

Rolls: Store bought, and I’m pretty sure I bought the wrong ones. We’ll find out in a minute. When I went to H.E.B. for groceries it was ridiculously busy. All of us chumps were trying to beat the crowd by going on Monday. I grabbed the first thing that looked like bread in small sections.

Turkey: 

It was brined overnight in a mixture of salt water, garlic, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. I rinsed it this afternoon and rubbed it with sage, thyme, garlic, and rosemary, and added butter pads all over.

OK, me. I hope you did a good job. If you didn’t, well… there’s always Christmas.

We moved for 30 days and I ignored you

WELL! Here we are, a full month-plus since our last conversation. I know, I know. I’m supposed to be keeping you up to date. Would you accept this cookie as an apology? It’s a Keebler Elf with chocolate creme, of course you will.

The sale of the house closed as planned on the day planned. We drove our rig to the closing and hit the road immediately! I’m going to rip out a quick list of places we’ve stayed and then we can elaborate on a few, ok?

  • Bass Pro Shops – Portage, IN

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  • Aunt Terri and Uncle Tom’s House – Grandville, MI (No photo. Dangit.)
  • Camp Dearborn – Milford, MI

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  • Stacey’s House – Holland, MI

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  • Doctor Dan and Amanda’s House – Nunica, MI

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  • Conestoga Grand River Campground – Coopersville, MI

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  • Aunt Brenda and Uncle Dale’s House – Brooklyn, MI

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  • Mom and Dad’s House – Dearborn Heights, MI

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  • Cabela’s – Noblesville, IN

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  • Lousiville Slugger Field – Louisville, KY

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14958416_10154572305768548_1484912478_nThe first thing we did in Michigan was have our heating system fixed at the dealership,because if you are going to voluntarily live in the cold you should probably have heat. Don’t ask me why it wasn’t working, it must have known that we needed it. While it was being fixed we drove go karts and Mara won a big stuffed animal out of a claw machine. She is the Babe Ruth of claw machines. She once won TWO stuffed animals at the same time AND gave one to her brother. A winner with a heart of gold!

We spent a week at Camp Dearborn then headed to West Michigan again. On the way we stopped in Lansing and hung out at the state capital because *ahem* roadschool, remember? We did the tour of the capital building and checked out the awesome state library. On the way back to the East side we stopped there again and visited the state museum. Such a neat place as a whole, rich in history and easy to enjoy.

We visited the USS Silversides museum in Muskegon one afternoon and played on a torpedo or two.

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When we left the West again we headed to Aunt Brenda and Uncle Dale’s house for a week of visiting and fun. While we were there Mara finally got to shoot her rifle. She’d only had it an entire year. Everybody got to shoot that day! It was also a great opportunity to brush up on firearms safety with the children. If you haven’t had that conversation with your kids I highly recommend you do so.

We left there and spent ten days at my parents house. We somehow got the camper in the driveway and although it barely fit between the houses and fences I’m glad that we got to spend all those days there. The kids really got comfortable and we all had a great stay. With Grandma and Grandpa there we had an opportunity to take the kids out one at a time for some fun on their own. We took Wesson to ride the bumper cars, he jumped on a sky bungee thingy, and we got Slurpees. Mara wanted to go to Build-a-Bear. On our way into the mall we stepped into a puppy store and played with the cutest little Daschund. He immediately started licking Mara’s face and made it extremely difficult to hand him back over – that is, until we found out it was close to $3,000 to love him permanently.

What else did we do there… Hmm… we watched flaming puck unicycle hockey, made bacon pancakes, went to unicycle practice, attended Pumpkin Palooza in Plymouth, carved jack o’ lanterns, and went trick or treating!

 

Are you tired? Because I’m tired. We’re at Slugger Field for another few minutes. We came here so that Justin could brew some beer with Goodwood Brewing. It was part of his prize for winning his category in the homebrew competition at the Kentucky State Fair. It lead to creation of his own blog and I’m super excited for him. He’ll be brewing with other people around the US and Canada as we travel. You can follow Roadbrewing.com for updates on that portion of the adventure.

Surprise! I never finished my blog post and now we are in Lexington, KY! We had a great dinner with friends and after we replace two dry-rotted tires on the truck tomorrow we’ll be headed to Tennessee. The destination is really San Antonio, Texas so that Justin can have a small umbilical hernia fixed at the awesome Veterans hospital. We are going to slow-roll our way down there. I promise and pinky swear that I will update you sooner than thirty days from now. I’ll sign off with a selfie of me wearing my sunglasses indoors and a hat that I didn’t purchase, because that’s what the cool kids do.

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Hookin’ ain’t easy, kids.