Sunday, July 31, 2011

Trip Tally

Mark and I made it safely home on Friday afternoon. Oh, it was heavenly to sleep in our own bed again!

We traveled from Oregon to New Jersey and back again.
In all, we...

traveled through 17 states
camped 3 nights (I wish it could have been more)
stayed in motels 2 nights
stayed with much-loved family 18 nights
visited 10 grandchildren and 2 foster grandchildren.

We also...

traveled 7,374 miles.
burned up 257 gallons of gas (29 miles / gallon!).
spent $1005 on gas.

Would I do it again? Sure! In a couple of years...
In the meantime, we will probably try to visit these dear families via air travel.

And since we traveled through Kansas, I feel justified in quoting Dorothy:
"There's no place like home!"

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 23: OUCH!!

After our fun visit with Angela and the kids, we drove a day through the desert to visit Mark's mom, LaVerne, in Atascadero, California. Oh, it was wonderful to be back on the coast, with the pleasant marine air! We spent a full day puttering on "handyman" projects at her home, and throughly enjoyed our peaceful time with this very dear lady. (Sadly, I was so happy and peaceful that I completely forgot to pull out the camera...) On our last evening with her, we went next door to play pool at her neighbor's house. Hahaha! Haven't done that since the one time I tried as a teenager. I was definitely the novice in the group. Mark was whacking the balls quite expertly into the pockets, and even LaVerne knew how to set up a shot. It felt like some huge physics problem--which angle? How hard to (try to) hit? I am pleased to report that I did successfully get 3 or 4 balls into pockets over the course of the evening. Maybe I'll have to try that again sometime...

Then yesterday morning we climbed into the car for the drive north, and home. We planned to take two days for the trip, so we decided to take a little play-rest stop on our way to visit The Pinnacles, a place both of us remembered vaguely from childhood family outings. We loved it then...would we still love it now?

Oh, yes, WE DID! The Pinnacles National Monument is an amazing place. It met every expectation we had hoped for.

Oh, we had a glorious 2-mile hike. We congratulated ourselves over and over for taking the time to play on our long drive, and we were almost back to the car when...

I tripped. I tripped on one rock and, in falling, promptly face-planted into another rock. Gravity works oh-so-well. You know how head wounds bleed? Mine was classic. Blood everywhere, from my face, out of my nose, oh my, oh my. Could I walk? Yes. Mark sacrificed his hankie so I could try to stanch the flow(s) and we made our careful way back to the car. Took about 15 minutes of hiking. At the car we pulled ice out of the ice chest and loaded me up with Ibuprofen, and Mark drove the 30 minutes north to Hollister, the nearest town.

They DO have a nice, new ER facility at the Hollister hospital. We spent about 3 1/2 hours there. Turns out I have a broken nose. My facial wounds were all "superficial" and the doctor superglued the two worst, rather than doing stitches.

My present appearance garners lots of sympathy, but I must say that I look WAY worse than I feel. (I've posted a photo from the ER, but you'll have to scroll down a ways to see it. Don't look if you don't want to.) They gave me a prescription for pain meds, but I'm doing fine on the regular Ibuprofen dose, and I'm actually only taking that to help with the inflammation and swelling, not because I hurt a lot.

We stayed in a comfortable motel near Redding last night, and now we're loading our suitcases into the last time...and we'll be home in 7 hours or so.

No more adventures today. Haha! Oregon City, here we come!!

How do I feel? Ummm...kind of stupid. Sort of like Bride of Frankenstein. But you know what? I'm still glad we took that hike. I had an accident, which could have happened anywhere. What fun would it be to live life afraid of what might happen? And mostly I feel grateful. My injuries aren't severe. My glasses didn't break. I don't hurt (amazing!). And I have my wonderful sweetheart, Mark, who helped me all along.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Days 19-20: More playtime with grandkids

 It was wonderful to see Angela, Tim, and their kids in Nevada. They live outside of Las Vegas, in Henderson. On our first day there, we enjoyed some park time with Angela and the kids. Here she is with Audrey and JJ.

JJ is getting so big! Almost 18 months.

 On Monday we went to a wonderful interactive place called the "Springs Preserve." It celebrates the location (a spring) where Las VEgas was started. Sam and JJ got into the "trees" exhibit, where Sam dressed up like a bird and "hatched" a big blue egg.

 More fun for Sam.

 Later we went to an exhibit of venomous desert animals. The woman in the center is the naturalist with the rattlesnake. There's a camera on the table, and the image is projected on the big screen above. It was really cool to see the animals "up close."

 Along with the rattlesnakes, they had a gila monster. Uggghhhh. It was pretty amazing. Glad he was safely down on that table.

 That afternoon Mark and Tim worked on a little chair-restoration project. Grandpa's handyman skills are always welcome, especially when the young families are getting settled into a new home.

 We finished off the evening with a swim in the pool. So much fun! We were glad to see that the pool has a locked fence around it. (Tim w/ JJ, Angela w/ Audrey, Mark)

 Angela, Sam, and Audrey playing with the sea serpent.

 Tim with JJ.

On our last morning, we went into Las Vegas to see Tim's new workplace. He's been on vacation all month, but will officially start his new job next week. Click here to read an article from the newspaper about "Dr. West" and the work he'll be doing at the MS clinic.
 I didn't get an outside "front shot" of his work place, but it's really kind of strange looking. You can see pictures and read about it here. This is a photo of Mark, Tim, Sam, and Audrey inside the beautiful meeting space.

 In back of the meeting space, heading across the courtyard to the clinic offices.

Dr. West's office, with a view of Las Vegas.

Good bye, Angela and Tim! We had a wonderful visit...we'll be missing you!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Days 17-18: Back to the Home Time Zone

Isn't it funny what makes a person feel at home? Here we are in the 107-degree weather of Las Vegas, but I find it very comforting that we are back in the Pacific Time Zone. Haha - we still have a few more days of travel ahead of us before we are truly home, but at least I won't be changing my clocks again.

We crossed from Kansas into Colorado, accompanied by huge thunderstorms in the distance, to the north and south of the freeway. Towering clouds and huge lightening flashes...goodbye, Midwest! We were glad to see the thunderstorms in daylight and in the distance.

We planned to camp west of Denver in a small National Forest campground, but it was Friday night, not too far from Denver...full. The camp hosts told us the next campground down that road was also full, but they said we might try another one a little further west on I-70. We figured if we found a campsite, fine, but if not, we would get a motel and call it good. Meanwhile, we were off the freeway and poking around mountain roads on a pleasant summer evening...ahh. We pulled into the Clear Lake Campground, just south of the little town of Georgetown about 7:30 pm. Once again, all the sites were full. We were consulting our map, figuring whether to try one more campground, or just give it up and head back to town, when there was a tap at the window. There was a man, who we had seen strolling through the campground as we drove the loop, offering to share his campsite with us! He was camping in a truck + camper shell, and didn't need the tent area or picnic table. Hooray!

Here is our tent set up to the left, and Paul's camper truck to the right. We spent a pleasant evening roasting biscuits on sticks over a campfire, and chatting with our new neighbor, who is a retired teacher.

The only problem with our campsite? We were camped at 10,000 feet elevation, and both of us had headaches. Mark was feeling dizzy and nauseated by morning, so we packed up quickly and headed for lower altitudes. I drove through gorgeous mountain scenery all morning until we were back below 5,000 feet and Mark began feeling better. I had heard of altitude sickness before, but this was the first time experiencing my body's reaction to being almost 2 miles above sea level. Oh, but it felt so good to sleep snuggled in our mummy bags, comfortable and cozy with the 40 degree temperature that night!
The next morning we headed back to Georgetown and I-70, which you can see in the distance in this photo. (We drove I-70 for its entire length, from Pennsylvania to Utah.) Georgetown is one of the little historic mining towns in this region of Colorado. Other towns have names like Copper, Leadville, Silver Plume, indicating the area's history. You can still see active mining shafts as you drive along the freeway, and I'm sure there are many more tucked back into the mountains.

We stopped at Georgetown's post office to mail post cards to grandkids, and then began our drive to Las Vegas to visit Angela and her family. Yes, that is the "hillbilly Subaru" again. We are loaded up with boxes from David and Holly for their move back to Oregon. Good thing we know how to pack efficiently!

The western mountain vistas had as "oohing" and "ahhing" all the way through the rest of the Rocky Mountains.
And the road dropped gradually lower until we were into the deserts of southern Utah. They are dry and barren, but beautiful. My photos do not do justice to the fantastic scenery.
Every bend in the road brought new sights, new views of the region's geology. It was fascinating! I wish we could have explored more, but it was time to stay focused on our goal: more grandchildren, and another dear family settling into a new home!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 17: Reflections on the Midwest

I'll just admit right up front that I am a snob about the West. About living here.

I feel very fortunate that I was raised on the west coast. That is, I feel fortunate that I wasn't raised somewhere the Midwest, or example, or in the East. The Western vistas are grander, the freeways are actually free, the people are more polite (except for Utah drivers...don't get me started...), the speech sounds normal, blah, blah, blah.

You get the idea.

Sheesh--as I write this, I realize what a North America snob I am, too. Of course it doesn't even occur to me that I might have been raised on another continent. But I'll save that topic for another day. Because what I want to say today is this: the Midwest isn't so bad after all. 

There, I've said it. Yes, it was hot and humid. No, there aren't any mountains. But the humidity wasn't unbearable, and the land isn't totally flat. There are rolling hills and streams and everything is so green! Green cornfield. Green soybean fields. Green trees along all the streams and rivers, and as we drove further east, toward Ohio and into Pennsylvania (I know that's not "Midwest" anymore) there were green trees everywhere! As in, you couldn't see the towns for all the trees.

Plus: they have fireflies.
Minus: they have chiggers. And cicadas.

Now, I am no expert. We drove through on the interstates, we stayed with family for a few days, and we moved on. But while we were there, I could see--at least a little--why people might love to live somewhere else besides the West. I didn't pity the people (at least not too much) who lived in Illinois or Iowa or Ohio or Kansas. Or Indiana, which, at least based on what I saw from the interstate, is one of the prettiest Midwest states.

If our time in the Midwest started out like a lion, with the severe thunderstorm in Kearny, Nebraska, it went out like a lamb, with a charming rest stop in Goodland, Kansas, almost the last town before crossing the border into Colorado.

I wanted to stop. Mark wanted to keep going. "Convince me," he said, so I did.
The map said there was a "museum of the high plains." He thought it would be boring. I said it would be a good place to get out of the car and stretch. It might be interesting. If we didn't like it we could leave. We needed gas anyway.

Ha! I convinced him.

We gassed up at the interchange and got directions to the little museum. The lady told us to drive past "the Van Gogh." Huh?

 Oh, I get it. This is Kansas, the "sunflower state." So they have a giant replica of the Van Gogh painting.

 Not only did the museum have great displays of the history of western Kansas, but they also had the actual first (patented) helicopter in the US! Mark was one happy boy.

So cool - the museum had a button to push, and the rotors whirled! Haha - it didn't take off.

As we were leaving the museum, we picked up a coupon at the counter for The Buffalo Guys. We drove 1/2 mile to their little shop, and we got free buffalo jerky (yum!) with the coupon. Check out the link for wonderful, healthy meat that they will actually ship to you!

Thank you, Goodland, Kansas, for a wonderful sendoff from the Midwest! I am looking forward to my next visit...maybe when it's not so hot...

Days 14-16: So Many Grandkids, So Little Time

It was hard to capture all the fun we had in Kansas with Kendra/Chris/kids and David/Holly/kids. When the whole group got together there were 13 of us! We had lively times, for sure. 

On Tuesday we celebrated the July/August birthdays. Ender's first birthday is coming up, Kendra turned 30 in July, and Holly and Mark both have August birthdays. Tuesday afternoon I took Kendra and Holly birthday shopping, and we left all the kids home with Grandpa and Chris. The girls told me they liked their gifts, but best of all they liked having some grownup girl time with me.

After family dinner on Tuesday, Ender had his very own little chocolate birthday cake.

It didn't take him long to figure out what to do with it!

Holly made the delicious chocolate cake. Oh, it was amazing! So moist and wonderful, with mousse for frosting. But she took pity on Mark's chocolate allergy, and made him his very favorite apple pie.

 Proud Daddy! (This is the only photo I have with David in it. Oops! Things were just really busy while we were visiting with these dear families.)

The birthday kids. Holly with Ender, Kendra, Mark.

Wednesday we had another grownup outing. David took the day off, so Mark and I took all the adults out for lunch at a buffalo wings restaurant. (Kendra and Holly had arranged for 2 babysitters to watch the 5 younger kids at home, while Gavin and Andie were at summer camp.) The food was fun, but the best part was spending time with our kids together. I didn't get any photos--the restaurant was dim, and my fingers were too sticky to manage the camera--but I will long remember the joy and laughter of that outing together.

After lunch, we went over to David and Holly's home to play board games. More laughter and good memories... All too soon it was time to put the games away and head back again?! My how the time flew with our family.

On Thursday morning we got ready for an outing to the Children's Museum. Mark and I put on our family reunion shirts. Then Charlie came downstairs, pleased as punch that he had his shirt on, too. Abbi got in the spirit of things and ran upstairs to change into her reunion shirt. Kendra pulled out her reunion shirt and loaned it to Gavin, and it was time for a group shot:

You can tell from this photo how attached Gavin became to "Pop Pop." He loved spending time with Mark. Gavin communicates mostly with sign language, and even for someone like me, who isn't trained in sign language, I could generally understand what he was saying. (If I missed something and Kendra or Chris weren't available, one of the other kids would translate for me.) Mark had a great time playing with all of the kids. Kendra's home has a wonderful play "room" just off the dining area, and Mark and the kids--especially Charlie and Gavin--spent lots of time building trains there with him. Mark really got into the engineering spirit of designing cool train layouts. Gavin only has 5 or so spoken words that he uses, so we were all surprised when he began calling Mark "Pop Pop"--a new word in his repertoire! Mark is a special grandpa, for sure!

Even Andie got into the act. She changed into Chris' family reunion shirt, and we were ready to go. Looks like Lilly can't wait!

Here are Andie and Abbi in the ball room, one of the favorite sites at the Children's Museum. There were so many great interactive activities for kids to do with golf balls in that room. Physics in action!

Arora loved every minute of it. She really enjoys her cousin time with Abbi and Charlie, and the Children's Museum is such a great place for kids.

This is a rare still moment for Chris and Kendra. They were almost as active as those golf balls, keeping track of their busy family. (Since they had loaned their reunion shirts to Gavin and Andie, they wore their KU Jayhawks shirts--at least they were the same color. Haha - when our group of 11 walked into the Children's Museum, they thought we were a field trip group because many field trip groups have everyone wearing matching tee shirts.)

Lilly was mostly content in her stroller, but I have a feeling she won't be satisfied with sitting and watching before long. Hard to believe that she's 5 months old already!

 Charlie scores a direct hit with his golf ball down the chute.

 Kendra, Arora, Gavin, Charlie, and Abbi watch the golf balls spiral down the funnel.

 In the "Farmer's Market" room, Kendra entertained Lilly with a donkey costume. Kendra really got into the spirit of play with all of the kids. I think I'm a pretty active grandma, but I couldn't keep up with her!

 Grandpa and Arora interacted with some bird puppets.

Almost time to leave the Children's we went for one more time back to the ball room. Gavin, Chris, Abbi and Andie lined up a long snake of golf balls for the grand finale.

Oh, did I mention that it was hot?!?! On Wednesday the temperature was well over 100 degrees, so we headed for the Crown Center in downtown Kansas City. Along with being the headquarters for Hallmark (think "crown" logo) and a 3-story mall, the Crown Center features a wonderful fountain.
This is one of those fountains that is made for playing. It has almost 50 jets of water that randomly change in height.

 Gavin, Charlie, and Abbi didn't need to be told twice. They were thrilled to get all wet.

Arora and I watched from a "safer" distance, along with Mark and Chris. Andie and Lilly enjoyed some time in the shade.

Mark and I were so happy to spend the four days with our two Kansas families. All four adults--Kendra/Chris and David/Holly--are wonderful parents, and their children are thriving. Nothing makes a grandparent's heart happier than to see that the children are well.

Near the end of our time in Kansas, David and Holly decided that they will soon be heading back to the Northwest. David's Kansas internship is winding up, and there are good prospects for an internship in the Portland area, so they will be moving back to Oregon soon.

In case you are wondering, the answer is "yes." Yes, they will be living with us for a while, and yes, we are once again driving a "hillbilly Subaru," this time loaded with some of David and Holly's belongings. Of course we are thrilled to have these dear ones moving closer to us again, even if it's only for a while, but it is also bittersweet, as the happy times of the "Kansas cousins" get-togethers come to a close.

And so, on Friday morning, Mark and I climbed back into the car--loaded to the gills again!--to continue our journey west.