Cows are no help in times of crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’d be a shame if I RAN YOU OVER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NOT useful, google!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those cows, though…

La fin de Janvier, and maybe a little Février

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Mexico was next on the adventure list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The first chimpanzee who went to space is buried here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Worth it.

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

 

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

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

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

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She caught air!

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dress blues acquired!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Can you find ROADSCHOOL in there anywhere?

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

Thanks, Ranger Rachel from Virginia!

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

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

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This is only one part of the warehouse

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

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

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Saturn V shirt , like a boss.

 

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

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

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

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

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Florida fauna is out to get me

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

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

 

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

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Blerg!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Here’s our Christmas card photo:

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…and the back:

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We’re so cute!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And s’mores. Always s’mores.

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Why are you driving a new truck and why are you still stuck in Michigan? October, that’s why.

Remember when I told you about Justin’s new nose? Eight days later he tried to kill it and the rest of him.

22104405_10155639151228548_4883393787004605937_oThat’s a brand new bicycle, FYI. He says that if you don’t crash at least once a bike ride then you aren’t doing it right. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what I live with. AND I have two little people who act just like him. *sigh*

We need to talk about the truck for a minute or two. The front end of the white beast started to shimmy and shake like crazy. After we’d sunk a week and several hundred dollars into replacing most of the front end it was better but not great. Then, the oil leak. Ohh, the oil leak. In the middle of the engine compartment was a tiny seal that was leaking ever so slightly. The mechanic wanted TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS to fix this seal. I don’t know about you, but I can only take so much bullcrap from one vehicle. Between the thousands we put into it in Oklahoma and the thousands they wanted to fix it now… it was the oil leak that broke the camel’s back. We eventually found a great truck for a great price at the dealership where we’d been taking the crap truck for service.

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Out with the old, in with the new!

And that’s the story of how we went from a 2008 F450 to a 2015 F350. The last truck was paid for in cash, and the dealership was nice enough to buy it from us and sacrifice it to the truck gods or push it off a bridge or whatever you do with trucks that make you furious. This new one has a payment on it but it has warranties out the tail pipe and we won’t get stuck in Oklahoma again. *crosses fingers* Plus, cooled seats, so totally worth it.

 

 

The day after we took ownership of the new truck, Justin had to haul the camper to the shop to do the work they didn’t do last time it was there. On the way to the RV dealership the rear drivers side brakes seized on the new truck. ONE DAY. WE WENT ONE. DAY.

So, he dropped off the trailer and went straight to the truck dealership. While on the way there the RV dealer called and said that the part we needed (gutter) showed up damaged and they wouldn’t be able to do the work. This was different from the last two times they ordered the part in that they ordered the RIGHT part this time but, alas, it was busted. The truck dealership said “well, it’s already ruined. Go get your camper then bring the truck back and we’ll fix it.”

On the way back to the house from the RV dealership the SPARE TIRE FELL OFF OF THE UNDERSIDE OF THE CAMPER. A nice man flagged Justin down and told him about it. Thank goodness he did because it was not really a spare tire, it was the actual rim from the camper as the spare was currently on an axle. Justin brought the whole rig home and we ripped out to Telegraph Road to find the runaway wheel. Thankfully it had either landed in the median or some kind soul had flipped it into the grass.

Back at the house we backed the camper into it’s proper spot in the driveway, just as we had a million times before, except this time the awning got caught on a house gutter and ripped a big ol’ hole. WHYYYYY!!!????

Just about that time my mother came home with her Terrain which sounded like someone was repeatedly killing a cat. It was promptly towed away.

October 10th = terrible day. Ultimately everything worked out. The truck was repaired under the warranty, the wheel was undamaged, and I was able to patch the awning. The Terrain had literally nothing wrong with it. We may never know why. I will be hiding on this anniversary next year and hoping for the best.

Switching gears for a moment: “Hey, how do you homeschool when you travel?”

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By really pissing off the mailman, that’s how. Two grades worth of books, 50 or so in all, delivered mostly one by one, single-handedly funding the United States Postal Service. Praise be to you, Wonder Woman, for the blessing that is Amazon.com.

We ended up in Grand Rapids again in October for a baby shower that we didn’t actually attend because I came down with a disgusting cold. Still with me? Good. Anyway, we stayed at this really nice little campground in Georgetown Township called Steamboat Park.

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They had a big riverboat and were adjacent to a tiny airport that was used maybe once the whole time we were there. When I say adjacent, I mean that the end of the runway was the road to the campground.

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As soon as we got there we started having leveling system issues. One service call later it was determined that the control board was going out and we’d need a new one. The tech was really nice but please listen to me when I say stay the hell away from anyone related to TerryTown RV Center. Three weeks later we are still waiting on a part that they were supposed to order immediately but just decided not to. Eat shit and die would be the least hostile thing I can think of saying to them.

The kids played mostly peacefully in the yard while we fought the leveling system. To quote Mara:

“We were fighting about what game to play together so we decided to just color rocks with chalk. Now we don’t fight, and I colored one brown so it looks like poop! We’re both happy!” – Mara, 6 years old

Despite our jack issues we had a good weekend! Justin’s parents and sister Stacey came out for burgers and a campfire. I got to try a new meatless burger recipe on Aunt Stacey and the kids suckered her into a bike ride. Saturday we went to Robinette’s orchard and picked apples with another one of Justin’s sisters and her family. The kids got to play with their cousins which is always great.

 

We came away with oodles of very excellent Fuji apples and some monster pumpkins! It was good experience to have the kids pick the apples directly off the tree. Learning where your food comes from is important.

 

Giant chairs are so “in” right now.

We were originally slated to leave on Monday but left on Sunday instead because I was ill and it was also about to rain for three days straight. No one wants to fight their jacks in the rain. The campground owner happened to hear that we were having jack problems and he kindly brought over his forklift to put the camper back on the truck.

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Make friends wherever you go, people.

When we finally got back to Dearborn Heights there were a billion books waiting to be unwrapped (see the above prayer to Wonder Woman) and these super cute canvas prints I had ordered.

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The perfect size and shape for cramped camper walls! I ordered them from Canvas People and they were exactly what I wanted them to be. They always have coupons, it’s worth a Google before you order.

What’s the best part of October? HALLOWEEN! Our little Marine and Tinker Bell came away with more candy than any child should ever have, and we only went around for about 45 minutes.

 

Unlike years past there were TONS of houses lit up and TONS of kids roaming the sidewalks. Uncle Steve and Grandma Kathy came with us, and Grandpa Mike stayed home to hand out treats to the masses.

 

 

October was a trying month to say the least. We were supposed to leave for Florida on November first, yet here we still are in the soon-to-be tundra we call Michigan. If only Lippert would send me a damn control board! We’ll be doing the “Orlando shuffle” soon enough I guess. If you’re already in Florida, save us a spot at the beach, would you?

So Many Posts, So Little Time!

Here it is! Our ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY! (Or it WOULD have been a one year anniversary post had I not been hiding.) One year ago September 29th we drove our rig to the closing and sold the house away to what seemed like a lovely couple. Then, we drove off to start our grand adventure! YAAAAAAAAY!

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September 29th, 2016 (photo credit Melissa Nalley)

We’re still out here, a whole year-plus later, showing our midgets that their life doesn’t have to have boundaries. Except when they want ice cream before bed every night. There are some walls that cannot be hurdled until adulthood. When you’re grown, sweet children, you can order a cake that says “Happy Thursday” or “Happy Polka Day” (because you just want the cake with the whippy frosting) and the baker will misspell polka but the cake will taste better because you got a discount. Adults can do these things. This is all hypothetical, of course.

Note: There was a post before this one. I published it, you commented on it, we were happy together. It has since disappeared off the face of the earth (curses and such to you, Word Press). Miraculously my mother had a copy of it in her email because that’s what mothers do.

Months ago I told you all to just do the things you’re supposed to be doing. I then promptly disappeared from this blog. I haven’t even felt nosy enough to check my Word Press stats. Forgive me, children. I won’t speculate on the reasons. Instead, I’ll just tell you about the extremely entertaining last few months.

August 5th we went canoeing!

Unbelievably this was my first canoe trip, and the children had been on many a boat but not a canoe. Accompanying us were river trek veterans Cousin Terry, her friend Luann, Uncle Steve, my mother Kathy, Justin, and his sister Stacey. Five seconds into loading up (we weren’t even away from the shore) Justin and Aunt Stacey FELL OUT THE BOAT. They also had custody of Wesson who, by all accounts, should have been at the bottom of the river too but he HUNG ON for DEAR LIFE. When the boat was righted, there he was in his seat!! Hilarious doesn’t even cover it.

Halfway through the trip we had a picnic lunch in a backyard that butts up to the river. The resident doesn’t mind, apparently. What a nice guy!

The whole thing was challenging and different and out of the comfort zone. It really was a great day, though, and something we need to do again.

In the post that time forgot I talked about taking Wesson to Maker Faire, just him and I. As a counter balance – you can’t just take one baby out somewhere – I took Mara to an event that was right up her alley. Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills was having an Alexander Girard family day and our library card gave us access to free passes to the museum. It warms my parsimonious soul just telling you about it. What can’t a library card do?!

After the guided tour we made our way around the tables and created masterpieces of the Girard kind. Textile printing, flags for new countries, and even some fancy little wooden dolls were forged. She absorbed every bit of the wonderment into her arsty fartsy heart. It hammered home the fact that we really need to get her into more art museums. It also reaffirmed that my kids are on two completely different paths in life.

 

The next day was Trash day.

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Honestly, who throws away something as grandiose as this?  Reggae Bananas need love too. Had he not been leaning on an old mattress I would have banana-napped him and left him in another location, i.e. someones porch.

The day of the total eclipse (Augusts 21st) was not totally awesome here. It got to about 90%, which was plenty good enough to show the kids cool paper tricks and little eclipse shadows peering through the leaves on the trees. Unfortunately I was ultra sick that day, so much so that I went to the emergency room. They were kind enough to load me up with steroids and albuterol so that I could function as a somewhat normal human. I caught the virus from hell from my Dad who had been in the hospital for several days at this point. NOT FUN. The nurse that walked me out of the ER had excellent discharge instructions: “You’re still at risk, so come back if you can’t breathe, and if you’re smoking pot lay off the joints and eat the brownies for a few days.”

Speaking of getting fresh air and staying off the drugs, these people love a good bike ride…

…so when Justin came home with two junker bikes he’d gotten for free from the local bike shop, the wee ones couldn’t wait to fix them up!

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These bikes were multitudes better than the X-Games bikes they were rocking but needed a few things replaced. Part of the deal was that THEY had to do as much of the work as possible so that they were A) appreciative of their new found bicycle wealth and B) learned the workings of the bikes and the names of all the parts. I know what you’re thinking, we took a cool thing and made it even cooler by making it schoolwork and we’re not torturing them at all. *adds one to the win column*

They have since made these bike ROCK. They were excellent bike mechanic apprentices and they’ve earned every pedal.

 

If you need me I’ll be here all afternoon writing blog posts, kicking myself for being so lazy, and maybe baking a pie. Think of me while you Netfix and procrastinate, won’t you?

West Michigangster

Mara was covered in dirt yesterday, and I mean dirty. Head to toe dirty with a dirt mustache and dirt covered forehead, black toes, and knees that would make a bathtub cry. She topped it off with a ponytail that she put together herself. This was the first time she’d put in her own hair tie so you can imagine what a hot mess it was. Dirty and messy, she looked like the embodiment of a no-plans summer! I wish I had taken a photo. She assured me – for no apparent reason- that she hadn’t been eating dirt. Hmm.

Camper repairs may as well be toothpicks under the fingernails because that’s how it felt. We dropped our rig off at the shop May 24th and didn’t get it back until June 26th. The repair was plagued by inexperienced, rude employees and half-assed repairs. They also hit something with it, damaging the back corner, and they fried the battery. I wrote a big, long, bitchy paragraph about it here and then decided life was too short. Just because I can’t move on yet doesn’t mean you can’t.

Prepare yourselves for some smiley kid photos!

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Not this one. This one is titled “Mommy, give me back my bubble gun!”

I mentioned it briefly in the last post but just to recap we lived with Justin’s ever-patient Aunt Terri and Uncle Tom for the entire 4-5 weeks the rig was in the shop. We had originally anticipated this taking a week or so and kept ‘augmenting’ this estimate. They are worthy of sainthood. They had the perfect “basement apartment” set-up to absorb a family of four into their fray.

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They had the best blanket fort building materials

Plus, between their work days and their lake cottage weekends we were in the house on our own all day. I made dinner on most nights and we all ate together, which was nice! The kids had a big yard to play in and a cul-de-sac to ride their bikes. Mara took this opportunity to ditch the training wheels all together and ride like the wind!

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The kids even challenged Grandma and Grandpa Rowland to a bike race! Grandpa almost had Wesson.

Justin LOVED it here as there were tons and tons of bike trails to be had. His sister Stacey came over every few days to ride with him. I even went out a few times and bested my personal distance record. New routes are exciting!

Besides a few family visits, museums, and a picnic or two, we just hung out.

 

The kids (big and little) fished in the gravel pit lake across the road from the house.

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Look at that gorgeous garbage can sunlight! *BING*

It turns out that the kids are fishing kids. They practically begged Justin to take them out on the lake every night.

They held every fish that graced a line.

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The lake was FULL of bass and crappie, and Uncle Tom even caught a pike, which really shouldn’t have been in there so who knows where it came from.

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Maybe it got dropped from the sky like the TURTLE who fell from the SKY at the lake cottage. I know cats and dogs sometimes fall but turtles?! Some unlucky bird dropped their lunch on the roof, and he rolled down onto the deck where I snapped him up for the children to  investigate. Lucky, as I called him, was eventually set back on terra firma where he RAN to freedom. Turtles are not slow, y’all. We’ve been lied to all our lives!

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Let’s talk about Terri and Tom’s lake cottage for a minute. They have this little house on a completely different lake than the other house. Lakes everywhere!

Mara surprised me with this exchange while we were there…

Me: Look at the lily pads in the lake!
Mara: They’re just like in… umm….
Me: Princess and the Frog?
Mara: No, umm…
Me: The Little Mermaid?
Mara: No. MONET’S GARDEN!

Way to go, Mom, trying to dumb down her observations. She’s going to teach me to hold my tongue.

The kids were in the water from minute one and got their cousins in the drink too.

Ok, minute two. I managed to get a few snaps off before they got wet.

There is something magical about a lake house. I’m not a fan of being in or over the water. Put me on the shore, though, and I could stay there forever staring at the water and basking in the peacefulness.

Besides the ever-frustrating “WHEN WILL IT END?!?!” feeling regarding the camper we really did manage to have a good time lounging around West Michigan. Good times were had by all.

I’ll leave you with a photograph of the new sticker we picked up while we were there.

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We cackled like hyenas when we found it at the mall. People looked at us like we were nutty but have you met us? We really don’t care. Clearly we still don’t care what people think because that baby is on the back window of the camper, ready for the next big adventure.