Monthly Archives: January 2014

White Sands National Monument by Carter

White Sands, the world’s largest gypsum dune field, is in New Mexico. Did you know that sand dunes can move up to 25 feet a year? The sand dune does that by having more and more sand blow over the top of a dune.

When we visited White Sands we rented a sled and slid down the steep part of the dunes. It was very hard to climb to the top of the dune because it was so steep. I collapsed nearly every time into the sand dune as I climbed up to the top.

We went to the place where a lake would be during the rainy months. When the lake dries up during the nonrainy season the gypsum is then selenite, which breaks down from the wind and gets smaller and smaller until it is sand. The water from the mountains around White Sands is gypsum rich because there is gypsum in the mountains.

Walking on the dry bottom of the lake reminded me of walking on Oreo cookies.  When you walked on it, it was the sound of crushing Oreo cookies.  The white of the selenite was very white.

We had a great time at White Sands National Monument.  If you go, I recommend renting the ten dollar sleds.  Check the weather because it was cold the day we went, but it gets really hot there.  It’s in a desert you know!IMG_2608 IMG_2621

Bisbee, Arizona

OK, everybody get this song in your head… Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana, not Louisiana, Paris, France, or Rome.   OK… now substitute Gary Indiana with Bisbee Arizona.    Everybody got it in his or her head?  I will proceed then.

Bisbee, Arizona is a small artsy town south of the tourist trap Tombstone, Arizona.   The town made its money off of copper mining while Tombstone was all about silver.  We never would have known about Bisbee if the Tombstone/Bisbee combo weren’t listed in “500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up”  (the book I always mistakenly refer to as “500 Places to Take Your Kids Before You DIE” – which is really morbid).

First, we have to discuss Tombstone.  Let’s get it right out there that the kids loved the OK Corral reenactment of the famous gunfight complete with actors and booing and cheering of the ‘heroes’ and ‘bad guys.’  It was loud (real blanks in those guns) and hokey and overdone and all that would have been fine, but the admission was 10 bucks each (no discount for kids).  (Video link not filmed by me and I don’t actually have the bandwidth to watch it all, but it looked right) I looked around the audience and calculated they made about $1500 from our half filled show on a quiet Tuesday.  They do these performances THRICE daily – probably more on the weekends.  The show lasted about 30 minutes AND then the actors were asking for tips.  Someone is making out like a bank robber from the Old West on that business.

The rest of Tombstone is souvenir shops and old-timey photo booths – BUT they are all set on a cute boardwalk with western looking storefronts.   There seem to be a plethora of folks walking around in period costume also.  The kids got to shoot 6 paintball bullets out of a real gun in one of the stores ($3 each).  Woo-hoo, the excitement just doesn’t end. One highlight was a diorama narrated by Vincent Price that was so 1950s it was fun.  I don’t want to give away too many plot points, but the little plastic cowboy figure falling down after he was shot and then springing back up again as the diorama turns was a hit with David and me.  Lord knows, I love a good diorama. *  In summary, David and I weren’t huge fans of Tombstone, but the kids had fun.

The next day we drove a short 30 minutes down to Bisbee, Arizona (cue chorus from song above).    I loved this town!  I want to move here.  David is a little scared I’m serious, and likely I will forget about it in a few months, but the whole place just gave off a great vibe.  It was finally summed up for me when I saw this bumper sticker.

Bisbee – It’s like Mayberry on Acid

Everybody was super friendly (but not in a ‘we are here to take your money so we have to be nice to you’ way), there was a ton of fun artsy shops**, a great mining museum, Bennett and I ate a fantastic deli called the High Desert Market***, there was art everywhere you looked in every random corner, AND the town doesn’t get boiling hot in the summer.  (They have a small monsoon problem, but what place doesn’t have some faults?).  Everybody seemed to know each other and stopped to have a conversation.  How can you not like a town that has this statue for the “Virile Copper Miners” or that their big fundraising event is the Bisbee 1000 that makes you run all the outside stairs around town?


We didn’t even do the big tourist attraction, the Queen Anne’s Mine Tour, because we still felt a little entertainment budget ripped off from the day before, and it was also pricey.  However, it does get good reviews and the tour guides are mostly retired miners.

We stumbled onto a glass blowing shop where the artist had a sign on his chair that said, “Please don’t hesitate to interrupt me.”  He was actively making a glass piece over the flames but he took the time to answer all of our questions even though it was pretty clear we weren’t real customers.  He also had two nice dogs guarding the shop that we got to pet for a quick dog fix.

In short, if you are ever in this area, glance around Tombstone and then drive on down and embrace the warmth of Bisbee.  If David leaves me for a younger model when I’m 65, I’m moving down there.


*I HATE homework assigned dioramas – especially when they are assigned to students as a mandatory project to describe a time in history or book or whatever.  They can be on a list of 20 options of how to do a project, but never mandatory.

** David reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from a 5th grade student of mine long ago… “If everyone is an artist, who buys the art?”

*** Carter and David ate at a nice Mexican restaurant across the street.  Although the owner of the deli tried ever so hard to find something gluten free/nut free/egg free for Carter, the choices left were a little too fancy or spicy for him.  After we ate, Bennett told the owner that it was the best sandwich he had ever had.  My eyes rolled back into my head after I tasted her coconut Thai soup.  (Our review might be tempered by the fact that we have either been eating my cooking or Costco deli for a while, but it WAS good.)

Is This Vacation or Is This Life?

A friend of mine told me that she hesitated texting me because “we are on vacation and she didn’t want to bother us.”  I told her that was ridiculous because we aren’t on vacation; this is just our life for the next 7 months.  I need my friends to text me when they have a random thought of brilliance, I need the ridiculous email chain showing a series of gorgeous pics of actors or the thought provoking one about rich parents volunteering.  I need more of that.   It makes me feel connected.  I have awesome, amazing friends and I miss them.   Facebook makes this much easier to stay connected, but Facebook is always about putting the best foot forward and never showing the embarrassing or too personal.

I have to think about “vacation” though because, well, technically, we are on vacation – we are travelling, we are seeing amazing sights, 5 years from now when we look back, we will look at this as the RV Vacation.  So, it’s vacation, right?  On the OTHER HAND, it is life.  The kids get haircuts, we have birthday celebrations, I’m still cooking and cleaning (and trust me when I think ‘vacation’ it does not involve me cleaning the toilet every other day).

Bennett reading his kindle while life goes on.  Kartchner State Park, Arizona
Bennett reading his kindle while life goes on. Kartchner State Park, Arizona

Then there is the homeschooling.  That’s not vacation.  (I’ve been getting a few questions on what we do for homeschooling, I’ll summarize it with it’s more than some and less than others and will try to write up a blog entry on it when I’m not being lazy.)

David met a family last night that is planning on traveling for the next 4 years.  FOUR YEARS.  They have 3 kids, 8, 6, and 3.  The 3 year old isn’t completely potty trained.  (OH MY GOD, THAT WOULD BE SO HARD.  I love the age of our kids for this trip.)  In David’s brief talk with them he found out it probably would have been fun to talk to them further.  We seemed very similar in outlook about money and parts of life.*   The dad works remotely (great post here on the care and feeding of your work at home husband).  Are they on vacation?  I would answer a no on that one.

*How much did we have in common with these folks?  I backed a Kickstarter project in November for a board game that teaches programming called Robot Turtles.  It wasn’t available in stores – only to the Kickstarter folks.  They have a picture of the same game on their website!  How random is that?  Unfortunately they are driving west and we are driving east and they left for church this morning before we were even awake.  (Well, that’s something we don’t have in common.)

Anyway – back to the vacation idea.   Vacations are breaks from reality – two weeks in Hawaii.  Traveling is our reality right now.  We are incredibly fortunate to be living our dream and seeing all of these amazing sights, but it isn’t completely a holiday.   Maybe that’s what I should call it.  We aren’t on vacation; we are just living our dream…

P.S. Many of my cooler blogging friends have musical interludes for their blogs.  While writing this, all I could think of was the Go-Go’s “Vacation.”   Further proof that I’m just not that cool.


Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

Museum!!?  I would call it a zoo.  If you consider lots of live animals as a zoo you would too.

Fun things:

  1. Mineral Madness:  All around the park there are tables set up.  At each table  there are high schoolers and they tell about their mineral and teach you about geology.  Each table has its own kind of mineral.  You get to bring home the minerals you collect.   My favorite rock I got was the geode.  Geode is a hollow rock which grows crystals in the middle after millions of years.
  2. “Live and on the Loose” Show: Two venomous animals being handled by humans a few feet away from us.  A Gila Monster and rattlesnake to be exact.

I learned there are two types of rattlesnake bites: Accidental and non-accidental.  Accidental is when someone is doing the right thing but might not be paying attention and steps on a rattlesnake and gets bit. A non-accidental is when someone sees a rattlesnake and decides to mess with it and gets bit.  Most of the people who get non-accidental bites are male, teens and twenties, and have a higher TTR* than average.

* TTR is Tattoo to Tooth Ratio.  My TTR is 0 to 22.  What’s yours?

I think kids 7-9 would like this zoo/museum.

(Mom note: Mineral Madness happens one weekend a year.  We just happened to hit it, but it was amazing.  I can’t emphasize enough how great the high school docents were.)

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is huge. It is 1 mile deep. It is a valley and inside the valley it looks like there is another valley. That second valley is the exact spot of the Colorado River. In one place we can barely see the river but you can hear the water rushing. It was sort of cold but not too cold. I had to wear a big sweatshirt.

We walked down to Ooh Aah Point. It’s a place on a trail to the bottom of the canyon. It’s the first stop out of 3 or 4 stops. It’s a panorama view. The reason we went on that trail is because all the other trails had snow on them the day we were there.

Overall it was not a bad day. Wait, did I say not a bad day? I meant it was an AwEsOmE day. Wait, did I say AwEsOmE day? I meant it was a MARVELOUS day.

Using Kids’ Real Names in Blogging

Now that we are a whole 10 days into the real portion of our trip and starting to take the blogging seriously, I’m starting to wonder whether we shouldn’t use aliases for our kids’ names.  David’s thought has always been – there is nothing on the blog that we want to hide from.  It is us.  I think that is a fair decision for us, but I’m starting to question it for our children.  Shouldn’t they be allowed to create their own digital world?  Does 15 year old Carter really need anyone to know that he used to sleep with a stuffed animal called Little Bear?  Does job seeking 21 year old Bennett really want his employer to know that we used to call him Mr. Mayor because he is the only extrovert among us?  One solution is to obviously take down the blog as they get older.  However, I have seen  other bloggers use aliases.  I saw some cute ones last night, Data, Storybird, Monster Man, Cat and Dog.
I’m not a network news watching doom sayer that thinks that crime is rising (it’s not) and that there are bad people around every corner (mostly super nice ones).  However, now that the blog is being seen by non friends and family, I wonder about someone coming up to Bennett and saying “Hey, I hear you like rocks, come over to may scary van with no windows and I’ll show you some.  Your mom and dad, David and Betsy, said it was OK.  Your brother, Carter, is already over here.”  Bennett is a pretty bright kid and we talk about different scenarios a bit, but he might fall for that one.  I don’t see any of that as a likely occurrence, but it is a stronger possiblitity with a web presence than without one.
David’s more worried about identity theft for us.  One of my goals at the next fast internet place is to invest in a simple credit monitoring service for the year.  I might even see if I can get a free one from Target due to their recent difficulties.  (I did use my card during the time frame, but have seen no problems.)
What are your thoughts on aliases vs. real names for children?  I’m going to send this to a few family bloggers too to get ideas.


Setting the Bar Too High?

After hiking down the South Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon National Park for about 10 min – and watching the boys’ jaws drop a few times – Betsy and I agreed on the following: we are setting the bar way too high.  (Or more accurately: Yosemite, Hoover Dam, and the Grand Canyon are setting the bar too high.)  How are the kids going to continue to be amazed by stuff when they’re seeing such amazing things in the first few weeks?!?  No offense to American history buffs, but I just don’t think East Coast historical sites like Williamsburg and Gettysburg are going to pop their eyes like the Grand Canyon.  And getting 8/9-year-olds excited about history is much tougher than saying “hey, look at that mile-deep canyon”.  

After completing the hike, as well as a long day exploring Grand Canyon National Park, we agreed on something else: it’s time for a day off.

This might sound wimpy, but bear with me.  In the past 10 days we’ve done more exploring and adventuring than we’d usually do in 6 months:  Joshua Tree exploring, fishing/hiking at Wilderness Preserve, The Living Desert (posts on all 3 of these activities below), then departing Mema’s and visiting Hoover Dam, and hiking in the Grand Canyon and Sedona.  Geesh.  For stay-at-homes like us, this has been pretty extreme.

This week we’ll be in Apache Junction, AZ (at a state park, with Tiny off the grid) and we expect to get back to a more regular schedule of home school in the morning (which we did pretty well at Mema’s) and a little touristing and visiting with Grandma Ruth in the afternoon.  Or something resembling that type of schedule.  We’ve promised ourselves one day of just hanging out at the RV / campground sometime soon, too.  I assume we’ll naturally slow down and settle into a more normal routine soon enough, as the big visits (2 grandmas) and big parks are behind us.  There’s lots and lots more places and people to see ahead, which we certainly are looking forward to, but we’re off to a rip-roaring start.  Time to just lower that bar a notch or two.

Joshua Tree National Park

Having lived in Northern climes my entire life, the Southwest is a very otherworldly landscape for me.  No forests, no rivers, no dirt.  Joshua Tree National Park is an excellent example of all of this.  It is Dr. Seuss-ville.

One of the reasons this area is interesting is that it is the meeting/transition of two different deserts, Mojave and Sonoran.  The actual strange looking Joshua Tree only grows in the upper Mojave sections of the park, however, the whole park is an big mix of cacti, Jumbo Rocks, creosote bushes, and sand. 

The rocks were a huge hit with the kids.  They loved scrambling, scaling, conquering, clambering, and scaring their parents all over them.   We joked that giant kids had been playing with stones and then got called in for dinner by their giant parents.  They didn’t clean up and these rock piles were the result.  I found an indentation in a low rock on the backside of one of the outcroppings and enjoyed a vista and some quiet moments of nature observations while the boys performed more death defying climbing with dad.

When asked 6 days later for memories of the park, I got:

David: You playing U2 on your iPhone so that the kids could hear one of the things that made the park famous, the rocks, and that view from Keys Vista.

Carter and Bennett: The rocks.

Travel Notes: The Keys View is not to be missed.  (Could see all the way to Mexico!).  There also appear to be dirt roads you can take during daylight hours – didn’t know about that until the end.   The roadside exhibits (pull off to read the signs) were actually interesting and informative to those of us who know little about deserts. No food for purchase in the park.  You can do a loop through this park from Palm Desert – go in on one end and come out the other.

We also stumbled upon a great adventure the next day at Whitewater Preserve outside of Palm Springs toward LA.  The Wildlife Conservancy was donated an old trout farm.  They made great hiking trails out of the surrounding area and cleaned up the trout farm.  Every couple of weekends they let kids learn to fish.  They provide all the equipment and some older male Palm Desert Area retirees help out with the release of the ‘catch and release’ portion of the event.  Bennett and Carter both caught fish (the term ‘fishing in a barrel’ does come to mind), but they both had a good time and it’s always exciting to pull in a fish.    We then enjoyed a beautiful hike up to a great vista of the area.  My memory of this hike will be Carter exploring a cactus a little too closely and getting scores of tiny barbs in his hands.  He showed great humility (for the stupidness of touching a cactus), perseverance, and maturity by completing the hike with little complaint.   I was reminded of the poem On Turning Ten that a friend just sent me.    Watching him grow up is sometimes bittersweet, but has its rewards, but it’s hard, but it has its benefits, but it’s awesome.  (Can you tell I’m a little conflicted?)

A Day With Mema

What place has two sections, one called North America and one called Africa? The Living Desert Zoo in Palm Springs, California! We went there and saw tons of different animals that live in deserts all over the world (but mostly North America and Africa).
We saw birds visiting from Australia that we actually went into the cage with. Something interesting is every time someone new came into the cage to feed the birds, all the birds made a tornado shape and flew around the top.

Since we were visiting the zoo with our grandmother, Mema, I decided to go on the shuttle around the zoo with her instead of walking with Carter and Mom.Even though I was riding the shuttle, we still got off at the exhibits and waited for Mom and Carter. (Dad was home watching football.)

We also went to goat petting corral. We actually saw some of the goats fighting. In the back of the corral were amazing cattle from Africa with huge horns. See the picture

zoobirds  (This is a video of the bird hurricane at the zoo!

Stop Motion Videos

The kids have been playing with stop motion videos with the iPad app Stop Motion.  First they did a thank you note for a few of the gifts they received, then they made some silly ones with monsters.  The impressive thing about that one is how they carefully made sure their hands weren’t showing as things “flew” through the air.

Bennett played around with “hello” in a sweet 14 second video. 

Lastly, today I put them to work today and made them do a stop motion video showing that they knew what a NOUN was in its various forms.  (Nouns is our first area of study in Grammar).   I like the emphasis on candy…  Nouns by Carter and Bennett

Tomorrow we are headed into Joshua Tree National Park WITH MEMA.  Looking forward to sharing this park with her…