Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Back Home Again..... in Indiana

We have been home for three weeks, but my typing fingers are finally unbandaged from a kitchen fire that I attempted to put out less than 24 hours after our return. It appears that we were not ready to live in civilization. (The fire is out--one carpet ruined--four fingers burned but healing--one Michael will no longer be leaving melting wax on the stove unattended to make candles.)
I thought I would wrap up the blog with a few random stories, quotes, and general observations collected over 10,000 miles and 50 days. (FYI--The diameter of the Earth is 8,000 miles according to Christopher's math book.)
  • Upon our return home, I was most excited to see my shoes and clothes-- which seems sick and wrong, but exciting nonetheless. I also actually missed sleeping with the kids in one room. They all slept toether for a few days in the playroom as they transitioned slowly back to separate bedrooms.

  • The Redwood Forest was everyone's favorite place. Wow! We felt so small in such a majestic place of towering trees. When we first got there, Matthew bounced out of the car, looked up and around, then asked, "Wow, awesome! Can I pee on one?"

  • We were able to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and camp at Bright Angel campground. We arrived after dark, with six headlamps bouncing in the blackness, and had to cross the roaring Colorado River on a two foot wide metal suspended bridge. The next morning we left at 4:30AM to beat the heat of the day. So the boys never SAW the bottom of the canyon. However, they remained in great spirits the whole way out (10 miles straight up)thanks to Andy's motivational stories and songs. At one point I heard the chorus of Aerosmith's "Da, da, Da, da dude looks like a lady!" repeated for at least 10 repetitions. This concert also included EVERY word of the "Edmund Fitzgerald" (by Christopher) and at least three verses of Mellencamp's "Scarecrow."

  • A homeschooling highlight (almost) was the morning Matthew announced, "Mom! I just read this really, really, REALLY great proverb." Of course I imagined the wisdom he was being moved by until I read the Proverb...Chapter 18 verse 6. Read it for where Matthew is at spiritually.

  • On our last night at Zion we were riding around on the tour bus trying to catch the last glimpses of the park at sunset. Other than the thrill of the giant tarantula and the 35 turkeys roosting in a tree, the boys kept whining about going back to the campsite to "thrash each other." Earlier in the day they had found giant vine things growing near a river. It appears that these were not only beautiful to look at but, when picked, also nature's tool for whacking your brothers. As only a mother of boys can understand, I found myself making up rules for their game of thrashing each other. 1) No hitting in the face. 2) No yelling when you do get hit (probably in the face "by accident" which still does hurt even if someone "didn't mean to do it.") So we rushed back from the beauty of Zion to the campsite so the boys could whack each other with vines.

  • We had been encouraging the kids to find proverbs that speak to them to commit to memory. Christopher was so proud to announce that HE had one already memorized. "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a woman without discretion." Hmmmm.

  • This week I actually missed the tent and all piling in there together, so we took it to our annual camping weekend rather than the camper. I guess anything can feel like home if you are all together. I also wore my "trip clothes" which I thought that I would never want to wear again after the four day cycle of wearing them repeatedly.

  • God is so good and we are grateful for our time together seeing the beautiful and diverse world that He created. Andy and I both feel renewed and refreshed...and are wondering what the next trip might be....

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sort of an Inn

Michael and Bryan sleeping in a storage closet off the bathroom at the Mission "Inn."

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Finally Found Something Michael Won't Try To Catch

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Not Your Everyday Daddy Long Legs!

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Christopher Feeling Carefree at Arches National Park

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No Vacancy

Because I am a planner by God's design, almost the entire trip has been planned ahead of time. Though we taught the kids the word "vagabond" during car-schooling, we actually have been on a well orchestrated journey rather than a follow the wind sort of trip. But after we hiked out of the bottom of the Grand Canyon by 10:30AM last Tuesday, we were ready to leave the canyon after peeling our clothes off and showering at the campground (actually at the same time as our three Hoosier friends, Steve Carr, Kurt Strueh, and Eric Scudder who were also hiking out of the canyon and showering at our campground--tiny, tiny world.)

We decided to move on to our next park which was Zion in Utah. Spontaneously again, we drove into Page, AZ which was on the way and took the Antelope Canyon tour that the Dulls raved about. Sure it WAS great, but at 7:00 at night our plan to "just grab a hotel" began to unravel when every place in Page was filled. No big deal. We'll just get a little closer to Zion and grab a hotel there. At this point, I had not even begun to have any anxiety. Camping places were no where to be found either and after hiking into and out of the Grand Canyon in 24 hours, I was hobbling rather than walking fluidly. By 8:30 we were given the news that "every place in town was filled...except maybe one." So we came in weakened by the hike and clearly no longer reasoning well when we fell victim to the panic of no where to sleep with four, now cranky boys. We paid $112 dollars for the privilege of staying at "The Mission Inn."

When we pulled in the parking lot Michael said, "Please tell me we're not staying here. This looks like a slum." Sure there was only one other mini van in the parking lot amidst the motorcycles and pick-up trucks, and the mini van couple had the same pained look on their face that we did as they hurridly ushered their kids into the building. The dad saw us and smiled, "Last room in town, huh?"

Once inside Christopher asked, "Are we sleeping in those twin beds?" While they were indeed double beds, they did seem small since the room was only large enough to hold the two beds and one broken end table. The 12 inch TV was mounted to the wall and screwed into a random sheet of plywood. Since I insisted that no one touch the bed spreads and keep shoes on at all times, it proved difficult to move around out of a single file line, so we had to smash by each other to get dressed for bed or move to the bathroom. The older boys slept on a set of sheets in a closet inside of the bathroom (picture already posted by Andy while he played with my blog this morning without asking.)

We survived the night with no sighting of pestilence (of course it was dark), but we did get someone else's wake-up call at 5:00AM which only served to remind us that we had paid over $100 for a room with no fitted sheets so they came off in the night, a pillow case with a monogram on it, and only enough hot water for one shower.

When the boys woke up, Bryan asked if the front desk might have a toothbrush for him since he couldn't find his after hiking. Andy said, "Sure they will. But it will be someone else's."

My favorite thing was Matthew's innocent heart when we left. Although surprised they weren't serving his continental breakfast in the morning, he still commented, "It's OK, I liked this place. It was fun."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Over the wall and feeling fine

-a black bear smelled our Chinese food that we reheated from Fresno and wandered around looking for HIS moo goo gai pan. The younger boys were 10 feet from the bear trapped on the other side of this river bed.

Death Valley...hot hot hot.

Yosemite's filth...notice the hands and eyebrow of sap.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hitting the Wall

Luckily we did not hit a literal wall, but instead we have struck the proverbial "Wall"of our trip. Andy and I kept saying, "I'm still having fun...aren't you?" and I was. The weather has been all but perfect; the kids have been moderately well behaved, and the plans have been moving along flawlessly--until...the San Fransico apartment. At first, we drove right by it since we were on a four lane divided road lined with questionable business establishments. But if you looked very carefully between the hardware store and the dry cleaners, you could see a chained door with a padlock that lead to the "apartment." While we searched for the key, the boys waited in the car 10 feet away while a metermaid wrote us a parking ticket! Nothing says welcome like TWO tickets totally over a hundred dollars.
We never did stay in the apartment and instead stayed at a motel downtown for one night less than we had planned. We were more than ready to leave the "Filthy CITY" (which the boys said with disgust every time we mentioned it. None of them will be drawn to the big cities that's for sure.) We had high hopes for the beauty and peace of Yosemite but as it turns out....it was packed with a sea of humanity AND almost everywhere we went, a six inch high fine powder of dirt covered the ground. The kids would run around and a cloud of dust would float up and then settle on anything in its path. Allegedly I "yelled about dirt all the time" but I considered it encouraging them to stay clean. No such luck. I will have to post pictures of how bad it got. We kept saying, "This will be funny once we're clean."
Well, we cut two days off Yosemite and we are CLEAN. We are in Fresno, CA in a Hampton Inn with Pool and Laundry and will catch Sequoia National Park tomorrow and then ANDY has talked us into seeing Death Valley the next day. He was confused why I would not have planned it in the first place. I said, "It's called....
D e a t h Valley." So after four days of on-again off-again fun...we are OVER the wall and ready for the back end of the trip. Big trees tomorrow, blazing heat and sand on Wednesday, and Vegas on Thursday!!!!! Is that place even considered a city or more of a circus?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Photo highlights this week

Matthew does Crater Lake!

"Mom, they're not really that dirty.".

"You mean just wash them in here?"

Loved the Redwood Forest!

Sunset in Olympic National Park

Hiking in the Olympics

Mid-way up Mt. Rainier

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Nines

Tonight my internet access is brought to you compliments of the Nines Hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon. I thought it would be funny to book a 5 star hotel in the midst of tent camping. When we were explaining to the kids a little about the hotel, Christopher said, "I don't get it. It doesn't have a pool AND it doesn't have a free breakfast? I'd rather have a four star hotel." For those who know me so well, I got it for $130 from Hotwire. Next time, I will get a Holiday Inn, with a pool, as a treat. It is pretty funny though to picture all of us showing up at valet parking, stumbling out of the minivan that we have been living out of for 22 days, unshowered for two days, sporting bulging backpacks, and all wearing the clothes we slept in because it was chilly this morning at Mount Rainier!
We left our cottage on the Puget Sound a few days ago and spent a day and night at Olympic National Park and then spent yesterday at Mount Rainier. We had been seeing the Raineir mountain looming in the distance for almost a week so it was exciting to see it up close. This morning it was foggy so we lost sight of the summit, but we stopped at Mount St. Helen's on the way here and we could see what was left of the summit of that mountain. We are STILL having fun though "car-schooling" has produced comments like,
"This is the worst trip I have ever been on, and I really thought that it was going to be fun!" (Matthew)
"I feel like Dad keeps manipulating the time so that we'll do more." (Michael)
"I still don't get it!" (Bryan)
"Actually, I was planning on starting that tomorrow..." (Christopher)
Just for fun....Google The Nines and then picture my four boys. Someone in the elevator with us said, "Are you guys staying here?"....(Stay tuned for a picture of Matthew cleaning his filthy feet in the granite sink in the bathroom.)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Home Schooling

- What fun the boys have had in ENglish, music, and science class depicted above!

Clean Enough

We have been sleeping indoors now for four nights, so I have enough distance to write about the tent camping experience more thoroughly. The above picture is actually one of our two "one night" tents. These come out when we are in a site for only one night. We sleep three to a tent - that's six feet. COZY! I've learned to have the boys go to bed before I come in so that they can tuck their feet deep into their mummy bags and let the air clear before I retire for the night.
We are at a cottage now on the sound in the Olympia, Washington area for three nights. Christopher woke up yesterday singing a song he made up in honor of our deluxe accommodations:

"We're not in a tent now.....no we're not in a tent
We're not in a hotel
And we're not in a motel
Cause we're in a HOUSE...
Dad's not saying, "Shhhhh boys! Cause no one can hear us
Cause we are in a HOUSE!"

I won't include all the verses, but it did have a country twang to it and he was doing a little dance around the place.

Before I forget, I wanted to explain the new philosophy that Andy I have adopted. It's called, "Clean Enough." We have applied it to many situations including the following:

If a good, deep sniff fails to differentiate whether an article of clothing has been worn three or four days, it is clean enough.

If a spoon some other family member has used, was licked clean and then swirled in a cup of water, it is clean enough.

If a shirt has been smeared with foam hand soap at a gas station dispenser then rinsed in the sink and wrung out, it is clean enough.

If a cup has had the pine needles and rogue ant picked out of the bottom and shaken vigorously, it is clean enough.

If Matthew's feet have been scrubbed with a moist towelette until it is no longer moist, yet remain black, covering them with clean socks makes them clean enough!

If you are out of underwear, but still have a dry bathing suit, then you are clean enough.

Monday, August 30, 2010

14 Days of Camping--DONE!!!

There is a crowd of eager convention attenders stalking this computer so I will be quick and to the point. The camping marathon is over, and we are safely tucked into the clean sheets of the Best Western Hotel on San juan Island outside of Seattle. Last night's hotel in downtown Seattle proved less safe than camping in the woods with bears, after a gas leak filled the hotel with fumes and we had to checkout and find a new hotel. Glacier National Park was without a doubt the most beautiful place I have ever seen...we took a number of hikes including the 12 mile Highland Trail which was successful in that only two of the kids cried and only one for longer than 20 minutes.We took so many pictures because I kept saying, "Now THIS is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!" Then we would go around a corner and it would happen again.
The weather was perfect except for the night of the windstorm--We were camped in a canyon that was advertised as "breezy"-- which to me meant soft, warm summer breezes to keep you cool in August. Apparently when a cool front moves in, that same canyon is a wind tunnel and we ALMOST lost the whole tent. It was shaking in on us for hours and we had a few stakes pop out that we had to go replace at 3:00AM...We heard the murmur of expletives that were floating over from other tenters who seemed to have lost more than a stake.
An elderly lady is looking at me with hope in her eyes so I will wrap up with the most repeated quotes of the week:

Matthew: "Can I pee over there?" (Strict bear rules limited Matthew's marking territory.)

Bryan: "I miss Basso...." (Endless refrain from the boy who we knew would be homesick first.)

Michael: "I need chicken nuggets...." (Poor kid continuously searching for a break from spaghetti and mac-n-cheese.)

Me: "Look boys, isn't that pretty!" (I was called out on this and changed the comment to just 'Look!'"

Andy: "Would you guys just cut it out--I mean it." (He means it!)

And the quote of the week which was a one time comment from Christopher that had us laughing, "I know. We can check the weather and if it looks bad then we can get a hotel.....and if it looks good--we can get a hotel!" Poor kid, we slept in a tent--AGAIN.

Off to Kayak for today and then a cottage in Olympia, WA to recover from post traumatic camping syndrome. It really wasn't that bad.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Perhaps I should have waited until the beer I just drank has had time to digest, however, this may be the only chance I get to update for a few days. Coverage has been almost nonexistent. I am posting from the lobby of an amazing hotel on the banks of Flathead Lake in Montana right outside of Glacier National Park. After EIGHT straight days of camping, I cracked. We passed a sign that said, "Mountain Lake Lodge two miles ahead" on the way to our next campsite and I said, "Hey, we could see if we can find a hotel for the night." After one shower in the last week and ice on the inside of our tent this morning, I felt a twinge of entitlement. We deserved to sleep indoors. When I inquired about rates and amenities at the front desk and she said, "Yes, we do have guest laundry right on the premises." I told her, "You had me at Hello!"
So, tonight we have had a full meal that didn't come out of the trunk of our car; we have all been swimming AND showered and even used towels larger than a dinner napkin; I have done two loads of laundry; I trimmed all the boys' nails; and tonight we will be warm. Heaven.
It has been an amazing trip and I actually have LOVED camping. The bear precautions have been a bit tiresome and spitting toothpaste into a vault toilet so that bears would not be attracted to our site was perhaps the all time camping low. On the positive side, we have rafted on the Yellowstone River, bathed in the hot springs, hiked into the Yellowstone Canyon as well as a 6 mile hike in The Grand Tetons, and the boys have chopped and hatcheted their way to boy heaven.
It's late and I have a WARM bed that is calling me, but I wanted to close with a few quotes that I have collected these last 11 days from each of us:

Matthew: "If I have to eat that turkey sandwhich, I'm going to throw-up." (Matthew, the finicky eater, HAS eaten a whole turkey sandwhich and much more without throwing up since the threat of bears coming to attack him provided ample motivation.)

Christopher: "Are you serious, Mom? You don't know the difference between a pistol and a revolver? (Hiking conversation)

Bryan: "Oh my gosh! If that's the same waterfall, I'm going to die!" (After hiking the 5th different trail to see the same waterfall.)

Michael: "Dad, are we really cleaning disposable spoons?" (Commenting while drying the spoons we confiscated after our lunch in Gardiner, Montana)

Andy: "Where are we going next?" (Andy took a more passive role in trip planning.)

Me: "Stop wiping your nose on your shirt. We don't have laundry!" (No explanation necessary.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Boating, Badlands, Black Hills

Boating, Badlands, and The Black Hills

We haven't seen cell service in days, but we have hopes that tomorrow this can post. A few trip highlights:

We spent 24 hours with my brother on a lake in western Illinois Saturday through Sunday, and I think the boys spent at least 18 hours tubing, swimming, and jumping from a stranger's boathouse roof. For a family that doesn't go boating but once a year, we can pack it in. I realized God designed two of my boys to love speed...that boat couldn't go fast enough for Bryan and Matthew. Their thumbs were in the air the whole time prodding Joe to make the boat go faster. SInce I was insisting that the speed stay within the range of a non-bone breaking speed, these guys would stand up, or jump from tube to tube to add some thrill. Then the Michael and Christopher would have their turn after having Uncle Joe swear that he would not go above 15MPH. They white knuckled it around the lake and even smiled a few times.

We camped Monday night in the middle of the Badlands after a day of hiking and Prairie dog stalking. It was pleasantly cool and I learned to eat Cream of Wheat by adding hot water to the bag it comes in. I thought FOR SURE the water would leak through, but it appears that Andy the Backpacker was right--again! You can try that trick at home just for fun.

Tuesday we stopped to see a nuclear missile silo, Wall Drug, and Mount Rushmore before setting up camp in the Black Hills at Custer State Park. The boys immediately got out their three scooters and one fishing pole (since the others got cut in the packing dilemma...see prior post) and set off to fish. Christopher returned with tales of 9 "little worms" that were crawling on his hands. He asked Bryan what they were since Bryan had been to DNR camp this summer, and Bryan informed him that they were leaches! They also caught four turtles and a snake and "hundreds" of fish.

Today the boys encountered a heard of 1500 or so buffalo while at their fishing hole. I'm SURE that Matthew was tempted to cast his rod at one of the smaller calves, but he resisted the urge. Andy and I had set out to run and had to get a ride from an older couple while we encountered the same heard on our way back. That was my first time to do the thumbs up hitch hiking sign. The woman had the Bible on her lap and said, "You're not supposed to pick up hitch hikers you know."


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Packing Dilemmas

We knew things would be tight in the mini van. The four inches from the new cooler were used up immediately. We got the largest car top carrier they had, but it still was quite enough last night at 9:30 in the last rays of daylight. The 3 back packs and 4 sleeping bags waiting on the driveway would need to find a way into the car--somewhere--somehow.

It was time to start tossing. We laughed that the first thing to go was the bag of homeschooling books. I reevaluated my hopes and expectations and realized that I was kidding myself with MacBeth and Merchant of Venice and instead opted for the sure thing of enough sleeping bags for everyone. I cursed the 6 pound Algebra book and moved it to the compartment on the side of my door. We took down a well packed plastic tub from the cartop carrier and had to put it in the aisle as a "table." Every mini-van needs a table in the aisle. We even took the car manual out of the glove box and shoved a few more homeschooling books in there. (Macbeth is still back in the house.) Andy was busted for trying to take 2 fifty pound weights and 2 fifteen pound weights to work out with. Clearly sleeping comfort overrides working out every time. I told him he could lift rocks.
Please keep in mind that we had already packed light. Andy said only one towel for all of us for swimming and that we would all use shammy towels for bathing. So I have my 6 inch by 7 inch "towel" rolled in my make-up bag. Yes, I did bring two eyeliners and a curling iron and blow dryer because... if mama's not happy, ain't nobody happy. Each person has five shirts, one pair of pants and two pairs of shorts. We are lean and mean. Denim and cotton are forbidden fruits because of the moisture. However, I did smuggle in my favorite pair of denim capris and an extra pair of flip flops. A girl's gotta live. Though I feel like its camping contraband.

Friday, August 13, 2010

24 hours to go

I woke up at 6:15AM with that same feeling that I used to have when I was seven and it was Christmas morning. (By the way, WHY was the alarm set for so early?) I couldn't even enjoy one "snooze" because my mind was flooded with, "Only 24 more hours." I also couldn't help but notice that I was neither too hot or too cold; my back was not sore and my pillow not damp; the boys were not all sleeping on top of me; there was not a rock under my shoulder. This could be as good as it gets for the next 50 days.
Wow, 50 days seems like a little much. Seven weeks seemed shorter, but almost two months seems longer. What have we done? Anyone reading this and not knowing about "The Trip" clearly does not live in Zionsville, IN at the moment. "The Trip" has consumed almost every free, random-thought moment since April 18th, 2010. That was the day that Andy downloaded the family videos from 1998 and I freaked out that the boys were growing up so fast. The "trip out West/Homeschooling extranvaganza" would have to be THIS fall or they would be driving, voting, dating, and raising families of their own soon. (and in that order)
I feel ready. Sort of. The backpacks, one for each person, are actually in the car with each person's "trip cup"-- their name written in sharpie on the side--already in their cup holder. Each boys' hiking shoes are under their seat and the finger/feet prints on the inside windows have been removed so we can drive at night without dying because we can't see beyond Michael's size 10.5 foot smudges on the front windshield (which he assures me are not his.) Obviously there are people in the world who break into cars with sweaty feet and place them all over the windshield in an attempt to wreak havoc on the American road system.
Ok, the bear spray is packed, the bug spray, and thanks to Amy Rafalko, the room spray/ air freshener is packed. We have one pan, one pot, one stove burner, one roll of toilet paper (thanks Amy again)two fishing poles, two cans of tuna fish, four scooters, four bottles of Gatorade, and four very excited boys with fresh haircuts and big dreams of adventure.
Surprisingly, they are all very excited about home schooling. However, I think the exciting part for them is the "home" part rather than the "schooling" part. So as we sit here on the official last day of the comforts of home, I feel.....ready! (Except I have to go buy a cooler that is 4 inches smaller than the one we have now because Andy says we need those 4 inches! :-) )