Friday, June 17, 2011

Nomads Turned Homebodies

 It's the little things that I am most appreciative of on coming home after a long journey.
After spending 5 weeks on the road, living mostly in a tent, it is quite a luxury just to have a home and not to have to pack and move every few days. We have all been so happy to be home with our own bathroom that we don't have to share with the general public, and our real stove that's easy to light, and a refrigerator that doesn't rely on melting ice or leave us with soggy food. And my dear dishwasher....I do love her.

The kids are spending hours with their things, playing, building, reading, drawing, writing. I am pretty much doing the same- just enjoying home. Our animals apparently really missed us because they followed us around and would not let us leave their sight for days. It's good to be loved.

And it's good to be home. So good, that we have barely been wanting to leave. We've become uncharacteristically hermit like, turning down invitations, passing on commitments, avoiding errands, and pretty much staying home as much as we possibly can. We're even saying no to fun stuff like going to the lake and playing baseball, just because we really want to hang out here right now.

I know it's just a phase, but it's feeling great to just say no to things, and to just relax and enjoy summer. At some point, we will be back on the road exploring again. We still have 43 states to cover in the next few years, and there's a great big world beyond our borders waiting for us. Before I know it, we will be signing up for classes again too, and there will be rehearsals and practices and performances, and our schedule will be crazy, and we'll still be squeezing in traveling adventures in between it all. But for now, these nomads are really enjoying being homebodies.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Grand 11th Birthday

As we neared the end of our Great Southwestern Adventure, we had to decide where on the road to spend Boy Child's 11th birthday. He requested the Grand Canyon, and as luck would have it, we were close enough to make it happen.

We started the day with an attempt at making strawberry pancakes on the Coleman camp stove. They were some of the ugliest pancakes any of us had ever seen, but thankfully, he is not a picky or judgmental child, and he enjoyed our efforts, and the fact that they actually tasted pretty good.

This was followed by presents, which Girl Child and I had to be extremely sneaky to pull off the purchasing of since Boy Child was with us 24 hours a day. We orchestrated elaborate distraction schemes that sent them on made up errands all over the store while I stashed things in the cart. I think I looked a bit like a deranged shoplifter with my attempts at hiding everything, but we managed to get the birthday loot paid for, back to the tent and wrapped in brochures without him being able to identify any of his goodies.

We packed up camp, cramming everything in the car and heading west driving through some isolated and desolate landscapes top the eastern entrance of the Canyon. The Ranger at the kiosk did not seem all that happy about her job and made a semi scowling face of contempt when I asked her about campgrounds.

In honor of Miss Grumpy Ranger, I have a few suggestions for people visiting major National Parks on vacation:

1) Arriving on a Saturday afternoon with no campground reservation is apparently not the best idea.
2)When that Saturday lands during spring break, Free National Parks Week and is the day before Easter, it's even worse, and some of the rangers get really annoyed and look at you like your an idiot when you have the nerve to ask about where you might pitch a tent for the night.
3) The Grand Canyon would probably be a nightmare vacation to take a toddler on. Most of the trails have no railings, and if you aren't paying attention, you could just fall into the abyss. Hence, it is better suited for kids a bit older.

Since worrying about lodging wouldn't help anyway, we decided to just enjoy the drive along the rim, stopping to check out the sights and making our way towards the village. The canyon itself is obviously grand, but so are some of the buildings.

In the early 1900s, a woman named Mary Colter designed a number of really cool structures incorporating natural materials like stones from the park and Native American artwork into buildings that just fit really well into their environment. She was not only one of the few female architects of her time, but she had a terrific ability to bring to life buildings that work- they look like they belong in the landscape, and showcase the incredible views.

We also learned about the Kolb brothers, a couple of daredevils who are a big part of the history of the Grand Canyon. The two not only took insane boat rides down the river in the days of wooden boats and no life jackets, but also survived and brought back video tapes of their adventures. They set up a photography studio, which they lived in through many harsh seasons, and is now a museum.

By the time we made it to the village area, we knew we needed to start thinking about sleeping arrangements before night came. Of course all the campgrounds had "Full" signs, but I figured at least the Ranger might be able to tell me where the nearest open campground outside of the park was. Instead, she gave me a lecture.

I'm not sure what was with the gruff lady rangers there, but after she got done interrogating me about how important reservations are, and how difficult tourists with questions made her job, she said she would look in the computer and see what she could find. I could not believe when she said someone had just left early and we could have their site for 2 nights! This was an amazing bit of fortune because the closest campground outside of the park that was actually open for the season was 30 miles away! We were all beyond thrilled.

We froze at night, but were able to spend a few relaxing days hiking, riding the shuttles and checking out this big natural wonder. Another tip- it is much warmer in the buildings where the evening ranger programs are than it is in a tent. The programs were nice, but the warmth was wonderful.

When the wind settled down enough so that we weren't worried about being blown off the edge, we descended a few miles down into the canyon. We weren't  prepared for the multi day trek to the bottom and back, but met a group of cool people in their 60's going for it. Maybe we will try that on another trip.  For now, we were inspired by them.

Something else that sounded incredible, but was slightly out of the budget was a raft trip down the Colorado River which ended by being helicoptered out of the canyon. At $500 each plus tax and tip, we had to pass, but it really did sound fun.

In any case, Boy Child said that this was his funnest birthday yet, which I considered to be a compliment since we didn't have the usual big party with friends. We did have an adventure though, and he seems to be taking after me in that he loves the adventures. Plus, I didn't lose him like I did on his 10th birthday- that was a definite bonus, and is a story for another time.

After Zion and Bryce, then the Grand Canyon, I came away feeling an incredible sense of awe and faith. In the same way that each of these wonders can be so completely different, yet so amazing, I know that there are amazing and different adventures ahead for my family. I had not really had time to contemplate all of the life issues I had planned to on this trip, but somehow, I was feeling totally confident that things would turn out the way they were supposed to. It's been a fabulous adventure so far, and we're all looking forward to seeing where life takes us next.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dinosaurs and Crazy Ladies at Lake Powell

Oh how I wish that I could spare my children the experience of coming across unpleasant people, but the world is full of them, so I can't.

When we left Utah, and headed back into Arizona on our way to see the Grand Canyon, we decided to stop and spend a few days at Lake Powell. It looks like a place that would be twelve thousand degrees in the summer, in which case we probably would have kept on driving, but it was spring, and except for the wind, the weather was quite lovely and so was the lake, so we stopped.

The Visitor Center at Glen Canyon Dam was well worth a visit with gorgeous views and interesting exhibits about the history of the area, the dam, the river and the really cool rare dinosaur that was discovered near there a few years ago. The land in this area is now barren desert, but was once under the ocean, and is apparently a hotbed of action for paleontologists, rock hounds, fossil hunters and the like.

A few years back a group of scientists and volunteers was exploring nearby in southern Utah and one of the amateurs came across a bone during his break. It turned about to be a previously unknown dinosaur called Therizinosaur, also known as the sickle claw dinosaur. I suggested that the sickle claws were used for harvesting wheat, but apparently the experts feel that disemboweling dinner was a more likely use.

There is all sorts of mystery surrounding this creature such as what exactly it was, how it got to be there- a land animal in the middle of the ocean, how it died, etc. It was cool to see the replica of the skeleton, along with other fossils and footprints from nearby, and it gave us a great chance to think and talk about the way science is not ever really a finished deal. Humans are always learning and what is thought to be certain in one age can change with the next new discovery. It's all about educated guesses based on evidence, but as long as we keep exploring, we'll keep finding new evidence.

We decided to do some exploring of our own with some hikes near the lake before we found a camp site. The wind was something fierce, so we opted not to camp in the open lakeside area, but instead at an RV Park in the nearby town of Page. I wasn't thrilled at first as it was not very scenic, and was clearly not geared towards tent campers (we were the only ones there,) but at least the sites offered some shelter from the wind. I became a bigger fan of the place when we found the indoor heated pool and hot tub, and decided I could do with a second day of relaxing before moving on. We made use of the electrical plug in where I could charge my phone and laptop, the laundry and showers, and Boy Child was thrilled that we had an excellent tree to climb.

When we returned from a wildflower hike, a look at the beautiful horseshoe bend in the Colorado River, and some shopping the next day, we found we had several tent camping neighbors. The sites were clearly separated, so we still had plenty of our own space. Everyone seemed quiet and friendly and after more swimming, we headed to bed.

Sometime around 1 am, I awoke to the sound of one of our new neighbors who was having a rambling and clearly drunken conversation. Since tent fabric is far from soundproof, I could hear every painful detail of the drama between this mother / daughter pair who really should have been in a counselors office. I was very, very glad that my kids were asleep and not hearing about all of the childhood traumas the daughter was ranting about, or the mothers foul mouthed reply. Every time I would think they had passed out, the daughter would start yelling / slurring at her mother, "Enlighten me mom- WHYYYYYYYY did you do that?" The mom denied everything and blamed it all on an absent father. All I could think was, "Holy cow, I'm gonna really have to make sure to not mess up that badly with my kids."

Eventually, my kids woke up, and were like "What the heck is with those people?" Their eyes were as big as saucers because they haven't had a lot of exposure to the daytime TV talk show crowds. So much for my attempts to shelter them from weirdos.

By this time, we all had to pee, but there was no way we were getting out of the tent with those two lunatics out there. I heard another camper shout at them to be quiet, but they were on a roll. Finally, the mom mumbled something along the lines of , "If I don't get some sleep, I'm gonna go get someone's gun."

Well, I have only called 911 once before in my life, and that was to report a car accident on the freeway, but when a crazy drunken lady mumbles the word gun, and her crazier daughter won't shut up and let the woman pass out, my fingers flew.

I have to hand it to the Page, Arizona police department. They had about 6 cop cars there in no time- just lights, no sirens thank goodness because it was like 3 am. The crazy ladies went silent as soon as they saw flashing lights, and hid out in their tents not making a peep. Another camper came out and told the cops which tent contained the ruckus makers. The officer was not at all like the typical TV cop who would whip out his gun and scream "Get on the ground!" Instead, he was more like a psychiatrist, all calm talking and keeping the ladies settled. He gave them a strict talking to about their behavior, made sure there were no weapons and no one was getting in any cars. We decided to sneak out and head to the bathrooms while the cops were still there, just in case the drama started back up, but luckily, the rest of the night was quiet.

The next morning, we were really surprised to see who these loud mouthed, drunken wackos were. They had a nicer, cleaner, newer and more expensive car than us, and what looked like brand new tents. They sat at their picnic table drinking coffee, looking a bit tired and camperish, but otherwise pretty normal, all acting like nothing even happened. We were all baffled because they way they had acted the night before, we would have expected a rougher looking bunch.

In any case, my Girl Child kept wondering "Why on earth are these people out camping together?" I didn't know... maybe an attempt at a Mother's Day bonding trip? I think we learned a couple of lessons out of this one. You can't judge a book by its' cover, and it's usually better to work out your issues now rather than holding on to them for years until you finally blow your top. Oh, and also, excessive alcohol consumption is not a pretty sight.

Other than the early morning drama fest, we enjoyed our stop at Lake Powell, and I just keep reminding myself and my kids that there are more good people in the world than nut jobs.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Best Friends

I'm happy to have learned that my nomadic offspring seem to thrive on life on the road. We had been traveling nearly a month, and the young road warriors had pretty much rolled with the journey, going along with the ride, and enjoying it without complaints. For the most part, we were too busy exploring to think much about or miss home.

Then, while driving through southern Utah between National Parks, we came across a billboard for Best Friends Animal Shelter. We're big animal lovers, and I tend to pull over for all kinds of things, so of course we stopped to check it out.

As we drove up the winding road, we were all admiring the idyllic farmlands and the gorgeous canyon, when an angry little cowboy in a big muddy truck flipped me off as he sped past. We were glad to see that he did not pull in to the driveway for the shelter (he didn't look like the volunteering / animal shelter type, but you never know.) I am seriously beginning to wonder if there is a correlation between large western style head wear and aggressive driving though. In any case, while some enraged people can be frightening, this guy just made us laugh, and since our car was full of dust from his road rage, we all started coughing.

From pulling in, you can tell that this shelter is a happy place. Not all shelters are. Many are very, very depressing, like bad smelling and poorly run insane asylums for animals. Best Friends was seriously like a farm out of a story book. It's the largest no kill animal sanctuary and people come from all over to volunteer helping with everything from dogs to parrots to pigs that live there.

While I liked the spontaneity that traveling without a lot of plans offered on much of our southwestern journey, here was a case where I wish we had known we were coming beforehand. We just missed the last tour of the day, so we explored on our own starting in the gift store, and then heading out to see the horses and goats. A few volunteers were out walking dogs (or more accurately, being tangled up in leashes by dogs) and we wished that we had known about this place ahead of time so that we could have signed up to volunteer for the day. The animals looked like they were having very happy retirements, and the whole place made us start to miss our own critters back home.

Our two dogs and one of our cats came from shelters, and we have two other formerly feral felines that live with us as well. None of them were lucky enough to have been in shelters as nice as Best Friends, but at least they got to come home to a loving family (that was now feeling a little bad since we had been on the road without them for a month.) We were all of a sudden feeling all homesick and wanting to snuggle our furry friends. We also missed our three sweet goats even though our goats aren't really snuggly due to their large horns. They do like to be pet and taken on walks and are generally very entertaining, as is my beloved chicken who thinks she is a house pet. She would probably love to snuggle, but isn't potty trained.

We saw quite a few other people traveling with their pets- mostly dogs, but several cats as well. Of course, most of these people were in motor homes. Somehow, I don't think the cats would work out that well in a tent. Goats and Chickens generally don't travel well in any case, and a lot of places are just not very dog friendly. The National Parks let you bring pets, but not on trails. It would be pretty lame to go all the way to the Grand Canyon, and have to stay in the camp site because the dogs weren't allowed to hike with us. Even if we tried to leave them, our dogs are ill behaved and would probably bark annoyingly, chew through their leashes, and run loose, stealing other peoples food. We had debated bringing the digs beforehand, but for those very reasons, we decided to leave them safely at home with Dear Husband.

My kids and I enjoyed learning about Best Friends and their work, and would love to go back some time and spend a few days volunteering. They have adoptable pets, trainings and workshops and as seen on TV, they have DogTown. I was inspired to see compassion such on a large scale, and impressed at how well run it all looked. We probably won't be back in Utah soon, but my kids came up with a few ideas of ways to help our local shelter. Sadly, our local shelter is not nearly as nice, nor is it no- kill, so they could probably use our help even more.

For now, we're glad to be back with our own petting zoo full of animals, and are also enjoying spending some time exploring the Best Friends website. It has lots of cool news articles that will interest animal lovers, and all sorts of entertaining and educational tidbits. Both the shelter and the website are worth a visit, for sure. We may just figure out a way to take some of our furry friends on the road for future adventures, or we may decide they are better off at home. In any case, the animals and the adventures are both worth it as well.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Maybe it's the fact that I am clinging to the very edge of my 30's, or maybe it's that I now have a teen and a tween child, but whatever the reason, I have been thinking a lot about my life and its direction lately. A little conscious decision making about what I want to work on, change or improve is probably better than a full fledged mid-life crisis, although I may save that option for in a few years.

For now, I'm discovering quite a bit on this little journey of exploration. I've also been coming across a lot of interesting resources, like this great list I found of "50 Things You Can Control Right Now" by Lori Deschene.

I hate to say it because I like to think of myself as an easy going laid back kind of gal, but maybe, just maybe I have a little tiny bit of a thing for control. Certain people, who shall remain nameless, have weighed in their opinion about what they perceive as my controlling tendencies. In my defense, I think this person has an unwarranted paranoia. All of the "honey do" items are honestly not an attempt to control their free time, but rather they are actually just ideas that could make life more pleasant.

Anyway, I know I have far less of a need to control things than some of my friends, but hey, let's face it, sometimes it's nice to have things running your way. I think a lot of moms like to run their own show, and maybe even more so amongst homeschooling moms. So, I know I'm not alone.

In any case, when I saw the title of this article my eyebrows shot up, and I was instantly interested in finding 50 things that I actually could control. It's a little embarrassing how excited I was about wrangling a whole 50 things to be my way!

Then I read the list. It's all about realizing the things that you actually have the ability to change, with the thought that if you focus on those, you can let go of all of those other things that you can't really do anything about. Of course, logically, you can't control other people, what they do, or how they act. The things you can control are your own actions and reactions. We all know this in our hearts, but thinking about it is both liberating and heavy. On the one hand, you can let go of a lot of frustration, and on the other, you have to accept responsibility for a lot of things. Some are easier- like smiling and saying "thank you" and they do have a big impact. Others require more effort- like exercising, controlling negative thinking or taking care of clutter. But in the end, Lori is right about most of these things. They are things in our lives that we can control.

So, what do you think of the list? See anything on there that would make your home life happier? Anything you wish you could control, but can't? How do you deal with control issues?