Wednesday, August 6, 2008

California -- Here We Come!

Dear friends and family,

I haven't been blogging lately... We have been living each day fully -- balancing the adventure and responsibilities; stopping to smell the flowers and see the stars while we keep to a schedule; and falling into bed at night, reviewing the special things that happened that day, looking forward to tomorrow and sleeping peacefully.

But I have been taking tons of pictures that I'd like to share with you... Be sure to take a look at the pictures with us and our frogs at the Mark Twain Festival Frog Jumping Contest in Hannibal,Missouri or the video of carving the Crazy Horse Memorial near Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota or cherry picking and the fish boil in Door County, Wisconsin.

We're leaving Minnesota on Monday to come back to California for the Home School Conference in Sacramento, CA next week and then to Orange County till 9/24. Email me at or call me on my cell phone (714) 328-8541 -- it would be great fun to get together!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

6/12/08 Dazzled by Electrical Storms and Museums in Kansas City

If you receive email updates: To see the photographs, click on the blue link "Malkoff's Grand Adventure" at the bottom of the email. From the blog: You may restart the slideshow by clicking on the arrow.

A break from rain and listening to our favorite detective Spenser solve crimes made the drive from Omaha, Nebraska to Oak Grove, Missouri go quickly. KOA campgrounds aren’t our first choice (they are too sterile and surprisingly expensive), but it was a relief to spend three days in cookie-cutter comfort compared to our last campground with no services, mosquitoes and flooded campsites.

I was feeling better, but it was Sarah’s turn to be feeling punk. Fortunately, there was a book trade library with a Janet Evanovich book that made her laugh, a bottle of “sexy” orange juice (she’s been captivated by the marketing campaign for Tropicana juices – she’d love to become a commercial photographer) and soft ultra Kleenexes. Unfortunately, she felt awful longer than that one book, so she started into the Twilight series, one of Dave’s favorites. Topic of book? Vampires, of course!

Dave started his Coastline Community College course online! Taking this 4-unit College Algebra course is quite a milestone for him – We’re so proud! It was sweet to read his bio posted for his teacher and classmates “a mushroom amongst the daisies” describing his life on the road in the RV. Wouldn’t be my personal choice of images for him, but it certainly got him lots of comments from his fellow “daisies” adult students, mostly female teachers, from all over California. As is typical while living in close quarters of the RV, Dave became sick, needed his own Kleenex box and suffered stoically. The CPAP breathing machine he uses nightly for his sleep apnea helped greatly, so he spent a lot of time sleeping.

We packed our pockets with tissues and headed out to enjoy Independence, Missouri, the home of President Harry S. Truman and a terrific German restaurant. I talked the kids into trying Spatzle, a type of egg pasta that Mel and I love. I looked longingly at the German beer choices and decided on ice tea instead. It’s sad when you don’t feel well enough to drink!

The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum was delightful. It was markedly different than the Clinton Library we saw in May, which took your breath away with its design, lighting and presentation – you got the feeling that it was the very best money could buy. In contrast, the Truman Library felt like coming home. It was beautiful in its simplicity and quiet elegance; it had recently been remodeled.

Harry S. Truman was president under remarkable circumstances. He had been the vice president for 82 days when President Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945. During his presidency he oversaw the ending of the war with Germany and approved the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan. History has been rewritten since that time and the museum had a terrific exhibit exploring both sides of the issue. Many historians now believe that Japan was ready to surrender, that the bombing was not necessary, and others believe that the 80,000 people who died was a small number compared to the numbers that would have died had the conflict continued another year. Dave has been troubled by the bombing since he toured the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque. He was glad to read both sides of the issue, especially the warnings that the US gave Japan before the bombings. The next room featured the Marshall Plan, the $12 billion European recovery program, put in place after the war to alleviate poverty and starvation – creating an interest juxtaposition of America’s actions. President Truman also signed the papers founding the United Nations and NATO (creating a military barrier to protect Europe against Soviet expansion), defended South Korea from communist invasion in the Korean War (a fascinating exhibit about General Patton and President Truman) and recognized Israel as a new country. He desegregated the armed forces and forbade racial discrimination in Federal employment. We got to see the love letters between the President and Mrs. Bess Truman, the famous newspaper “Dewey Defeats Truman” and the desk plaque “The Buck Stops Here.” After his presidency he returned to Independence for twenty years as “Mr. Citizen.” The excellent films about the President left one feeling that his was a remarkable life and that we were lucky to have him as a president during those difficult years.

Our Kleenex supply was running low, so we breezed through the traveling Lincoln exhibit about the Civil War. There will be plenty of Civil War studies during our East Coast trip of 2009. On the way back to the RV, we dropped Dave off at a Barnes & Noble, conveniently with a nearby BBQ restaurant.

Sarah and I got back to the RV and I began following the tragic news about the tornado that tore through Little Sioux, Iowa (where we had been scheduled until bad weather rerouted us) killing the four boy scouts. Fox began putting up weather maps saying that the Midwest was due for even more storms and tornadoes, especially Kansas City (25 miles away) which was expecting a significant storm with tornado warnings in an hour. Yikes! I jumped in the car, got Dave on his cell phone, told him to hurry and purchase a book, and picked him up just as the storm began to hit.

We got back to the RV just as the skies opened up around 8:00 pm and were dazzled by the most amazing electrical storm we’d ever seen; it lasted through midnight. We kept all the blinds open and the lights off to experience the dazzling brightness. It rained fiercely all night and the tornadoes touched down 20 miles from us, but we were safe and dry. We took a day off to rest, study, read and write.

On our last day, we set off early because we had so much we wanted to do. All three of our destinations were close to one another and we didn’t think they’d individually take much time. We were surprised at how much fun we had at each. We took a self-guided tour of the Hallmark Visitors Center whose slogan “When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best” applies to their excellent exhibits, especially the company’s time line and products intertwined with world events giving you a unique feeling of the mood of America seen through greeting cards. Sarah especially enjoyed the films about the creative process and various techniques used by the Hallmark artists. I was fascinated by the different Presidential Christmas cards. There were presses using dies to make three-dimensional designs and embossing, and a machine that makes bows from spooled ribbon.

By far the highlight of the day for Sarah was watching clips from Hallmark commercials shown around the world. To her delight, the commercials touched me deeply, and my eyes would well up and I would cry at the sentiment expressed. We’d watch a commercial with her watching to see if I would start crying -- she thinks I have a future at Hallmark testing commercials. “You’re not crying, are you?” has become her favorite way to tease me. After lunch we headed over to the Steamboat Arabia. Sarah wasn’t feeling that well, so Dave and I left her in the café while we took the tour. The Steamboat Arabia was 171 feet long with 28-foot tall paddlewheels and was carrying 200 tons of cargo bound for frontier merchants when she sunk in 1856. All of the passengers got off safely, but the cargo was lost. Over the years, the Missouri River changed course and eventually the Steamboat was discovered 45’ below the surface of a Kansas cornfield in 1988 by four local treasure hunters who have discovered ten other ships.

The treasure hunters were astounded by their find, and since the ship was still in water due to a low water table, the items were remarkably well preserved. Of course, all of the paper and cotton clothing had long since melted away, but the rest of the goods were able to be restored. It was a fascinating look at what was needed by families settling the frontier from tools, nails and hinges to build houses, dishware and pots and pans, shoes and boots, (all shoes were “uni-shoes,” neither right or left in those days), sewing supplies and buttons, preserves for pies, and ladies toiletries, including perfumes. They had sent the perfumes to a lab to determine what it was originally made from, and had recreated the scents. One smelled like baby powder and the other was a lovely floral scent that I gladly wore the rest of the day. We enjoyed their behind-the-scenes look at the on-going restoration of the remaining items that they have preserved frozen in giant ice cubes. The museum estimates that it will take 20 more years to restore all of the items. Next we headed to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. In part because Sarah loves art museums, and in part because Mel’s sister Susan worked there for a number of years and we knew it had to be a very special collection to woo her away from the Getty. Dave always pretends to be dragged along to art museums, but he enjoys himself and the yummy treats that art museums always have in their restaurants. We hadn’t been there for 30 minutes, when Sarah said “maybe we should stay an extra day so we could see everything!”

The Museum buildings themselves were magnificent. The new addition called the Bloch Building glows with natural light and intriguing spaces that make you want to wander. In 2007 it was named one of the ten best recent architectural marvels by Time Magazine. Too bad we didn’t get to see it at night – people say it is magical.

We enjoyed the terrific collections of European paintings by Caravaggio, El Greco, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Degas, Monet and van Gogh; Asian art – Japanese, Chinese; Korean and Indian; and we were confounded in the Modern Art section. Sarah has a wicked sense of humor – as we toured the exhibit, she kept up a quiet, whispered-in-my-ear dialog on the bewildering choices of art in the gallery that made me laugh out loud. You should hear her rift on the “cantaloupe on the newspaper,” the all-black canvases and the grey rectangles -- we were lucky we didn’t get kicked out!

We skipped the American paintings since we’d seen so many excellent examples in Oklahoma and ran out of time before we got to the Photography exhibit, which had been donated by Hallmark Card’s Hall family. Instead, we enjoyed the outdoor sculpture park with my favorites – the badminton shuttlecocks that I’d previously seen in picture books. What a treat to see them in person! The gift shop was magnificent, we were lucky to escape without a cow shaped radio, a cow backpack, and cow magnets – are you picking up on the theme? Sarah loves cows. Her new myspace name is “eddielovescows.” She is currently going by Mel’s mother’s name Edith, Ed or Eddie, having grown weary of her boring and common name “Sarah.”

Sunday, June 8, 2008

6/8/08 Butterflies and the Ocean in Omaha

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Arriving in Omaha we called my good friend Steve Murow’s brother Allan. We had hoped to meet up, but our schedule and his didn’t match up. Allan had plenty of good suggestions for things to do in town, so we decided to take it easy and enjoy Omaha for a few days. We were anxious to stay put for the upcoming storms.

Our new campground had been inundated by the storms and their gravel roads were badly damaged. It was easy to choose a site -- most were in standing water, so we tried to choose one that wouldn’t be good for growing rice.

The first night we went downtown and enjoyed a “Taste of Omaha.” It was a lovely warm summer evening in the Heartland of America Park on the Missouri River with food booths featuring local restaurants, a live band doing a tribute to U2 and fireworks.

The next day Sarah, Mayim and I sat outside enjoying some rare sunshine, played with a frog found next to RV, and read each other the book "The Perfect Present" a going-away gift from our South Dakota friends Celia and Jack. It wasn't till later that we realized that we had been a lovely snack for the mosquitoes and Sarah and I were covered in bites.

Later the girls went on a quest for internet access, ran errands, discovered a Tollhouse Cookie store, and bought groceries while Dave hung out at the local Borders book store. We got back just as a major storm was starting that continued for the next 36 hours so we enjoyed our full pantry and movie selections as we watched the rain pour down. Our final day in Omaha we enjoyed the magnificent Henry Doorly Zoo, considered to be one of the best in America. Sarah and I got sidetracked in the walk-through Kingdom of the Seas Aquarium and spent several hours enjoying the penguins and puffins, giant Pacific octopus, moon jellyfish lit with black lights, floor-to-ceiling cylinder tank with schooling fish, and coral displays. We were in awe in the Shark Tunnel area – an oval-shaped, 70 foot long, acrylic tunnel through a 500,000 gallon salt-water tank with sharks, sea turtles, rays and other marine life swimming by on two sides and overhead.

We then went to the brand new Butterfly and Insect Pavilion. The exquisite butterflies and moths fly freely in a conservatory filled with large trees, plants rocks, waterfalls and ponds to mimic natural habitat. When you leave the exhibit, you enter a mirrored room to check that no butterflies are trying to hitch a ride out. Fascinated by the chrysalis room, we tried to match the cocoons in the hatching chambers up with the beauties we’d just seen. After admiring the bee hive and insects like centipedes and walking sticks, Sarah squealed with joy at seeing the different spider habitats including her favorite -- tarantulas. (She continues to lobby for a pet tarantula making her case that they would be the perfect pet for an RV. Eek!)

Knowing that our time was growing short, we hopped a tram to see the rest of the zoo. Luckily for us, our tram driver was an adorable teenage boy who used every opportunity to flirt with Sarah and was rewarding by her teasing him back. He stopped the tram for us to get pictures of the baby sea lion that had been born that morning. The mother sea lion guarded her darling little one zealously almost wounding another sea lion in the enclosure who swam up to see the new arrival. You’d be amazed how quickly she can move!

Sarah tried to wrangle another ride around the zoo, but I dragged her off to met up with Dave for a “Wild Ocean – Where Africa meets the Sea” IMAX in 3D. At the end of the day, we ran into Dave at the primate exhibit. He had seen the entire zoo on foot and was more than willing to leave the for a steak dinner at a Texas Roadhouse.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

6/5/08 Storms, Tornado Warnings, Extreme Weather Advisories

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Leaving South Dakota was hard – Exceptionally hard -- Extremely hard.

We grew to love Western South Dakota. The five star park we stayed at was luxurious, there were amenities to spoil all of us – great WIFI, free movies, café with fantastic fries and buffalo burgers, water aerobics, and spectacular dog parks and play areas. It was hard to say goodbye to our new friends Jack and Celia. The nightly thunder and lightning storms each night made the prairies a brilliant green.

The morning of our departure, I woke up feeling like I’d been run over by a tractor. It’s never fun leaving a great location like Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills, but it was a real push to work out for the last time with my friends in the pool. The kids were great at getting the RV ready to roll and we hit the open road with a stormy looking sky ahead. We decided to take a short stop at Wall Drug, a frontier town themed group of stores founded in 1931, to experience some of their famous donuts and home-made ice cream. Even donuts didn’t make me feel better. My throat was raw and I was feeling quaky. When we started to see signs for a KOA near the 1880’s town of Murdo, 150 miles from where we started, I decided we were done traveling.

Wall Drug and Murdo SD Slideshow
Right after we got set up for the night, the skies opened up and we experienced an incredible storm that lasted most of the night. I felt horrible, but was glad to be off the road safely and dry. There was crappy cell reception so I had to stand outside getting eaten by bugs in the rain to talk to Mel. The next morning the campground was flooded and I wore water shoes to take the dog for her morning walk. There was a fun doggy play area with agility toys and she had a great time splashing in the water – good thing Portuguese Water Dogs have webbed feet!

We went to the 1880’s town for breakfast in the train depot and enjoyed a quick visit through the 30 authentic buildings that had been gathered from around South Dakota. It was wonderful to see school houses, jails, telegraph offices, saloons, and boarding houses with cowboy spur marks on the stairs. They had a nice collection of memorabilia from the movie “Dances with Wolves” and a scruffy cat that fell in love with Dave.

1880's Town Slideshow
Off again in the RV, heading toward menacing dark skies with our destination of Little Sioux City, it was a difficult drive fighting the wind and rain. We pulled off to get gas around 2:00 in the afternoon near Spencer, SD (170 miles from where we started) and I was greeted by a number of truck drivers that wanted to know where I was headed. When I said I was headed East on I90, the truckers were concerned and insisted that I not travel further into the 100 mph wind gusts ahead. The owner of the truck stop said that the alarm I kept hearing go off in the back was a weather warning and suggested I stay the night in their lot. (I didn’t know till later that in 1998 with similar weather patterns, the town of Spencer had been destroyed (close to 190 buildings), 6 people died, and hundreds were injured. No wonder everyone was so caring.)

When I called Mel on his cell phone to tell him I had chosen to stop for the night far from my destination, I could hear him sigh. To be fair to Mel, he has spend the last two months listening to me whine about unbelievable weather conditions and wind advisories, skinning my knees when I got knocked down by 65 mph winds in Wichita, sleet and snow outside Denver in late April when it was 80 degrees the previous day, a blizzard in Nebraska closing down all the roads in May, and daily thunder, lightning and flooding reports from South Dakota. He’d call me when he got back to the office where he could track the weather on the satellite maps for us since we didn’t have internet.

I had been listening to the local weather reports and I was aware that the weather conditions were worsening. But when Mel called back with a stressed voice telling me what I’d be expecting in the next hour, I knew it was serious. I had shut all the blinds in the west side of the RV facing the gas station for privacy. I almost fainted when Mel told me to open them to tell him what I saw. I had thought the pounding storm with the wind gusts couldn’t get any worse – but this black line of storm clouds was advancing at a pace that took my breath away and terrorized Dave and Sarah.

We were reasonably sure that the tornadoes were twenty miles south of us, and if the tornado siren went off that we could sit in the gas station’s cooler with the staff.

But for a severe thunder storm, we decided to ride out the advancing storm in the 27,000 pound RV instead of the flimsy metal-sided gas station situated in the middle of acres of corn fields. Mel instructed us to instantly bring in the slides to give the RV more stability and we left the tow car hooked to the RV. Dave and Sarah packed emergency bags in case we needed to leave the RV. Mel stayed on the line reporting the weather updates as the wave after wave of storms raged over our location. The gas station flooded as inches of rain poured from the skies. In an hour the worst of it had passed leaving a steady rain that lasted the night.

The next morning it was lightly raining and we were glad to be safe and sound. The only storm damage was to a small window in the back. Driving down the freeway we were stunned to see the impromptu waterways and lakes that had been farmland the day before. We laughed at a pair of ducks taking advantage of a new pond.

We were relieve to leave South Dakota and the worst weather we've seen. We were headed to Omaha, Nebraska 250 miles away and planned to be set up in a campsite before the next storm hit.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

4/19/08 Passover in Denver

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I returned to the RV after dropping Sarah off at the airport; Dave and I got ready to move and went to the new campground. Cherry Creek State Park was lovely -- we parked next to a meadow and began enjoying the lovely 70 degree weather. In Denver, they say if you don’t like the weather, wait two hours and it will be different. It’s hard to believe that it was snowing the day before!

Dave and I met up with Osi and Selma Sladek, friends from the JCC in Orange County. Selma and I used to be inseparable at the JCC – she staffed the Adult Education and Cultural Arts Department and I loved to volunteer with her events taking tickets at the door, planning book fairs, then chairing events and eventually committees. Selma convinced me to accept the JCC’s offer of a Vice President portfolio, so we worked together daily. They were the days I enjoyed the most at the JCC, before I ever thought of being President and years before the $65 million dollar campus project. Dave was in the preschool; Sarah was in a backpack or playing under the table at committee meetings and I loved my friends on the committees and the excitement of learning about Judaism. They were golden days.

Selma and Osi retired to Denver and Dave and I were going to join their family for the first night of Passover. The night before, we met up with Selma and Osi at a Chinese restaurant. Osi used to teach Dave music at Congregation B’nai Israel, so he was surprised by Dave’s height, head full of curly hair, and outgoing personality. (He read two books at dinner, so apparently some things are still the same, Dave used to read through Hebrew School too.) My head full of curly gray hair was a surprise too. Selma remembers when I started dying my hair to cover the white blaze in my early 30’s.

For Selma and I, it was as if no time had passed. She is just as beautiful as ever – she hasn’t changed a bit. She remembered my book addiction – and brought me two books from author’s she is considering using for this year’s book fair. Plus she brought me a CD filled with her original piano compositions. Wow -- The CD is fantastic!

Passover was a delight. It was a special treat because one of the first events I ever did with Selma was teaching a class on how to make Passover -- I still use many of her recipes that we handed out to the attendees. I got to meet two of their four children and five grandchildren.

Osi lead the service with his wonderful singing voice – not too long, but all the important parts. Selma, her daughter and daughter-in-law put together a spread that was delicious: matzah ball soup, apricot Cornish game hens, brisket, carrot kugel to die for, chopped liver and the best charoset I’ve ever had. When we were all completely stuffed, they brought out plate after plate of desserts. When we left, Dave and I were shocked to realize it was 11:45. We’d had such a good time; we never looked at the clock.

Passover with the Sladek's

Attending the Seder were four of Selma and Osi’s beautiful teenage granddaughters. Not just “nice Jewish girls,” but gorgeous young women, two younger and two older than Dave. After dinner, Dave did his best to make small talk with Alanna. It was sweet to watch him be tongue-tied, stumble over his words, lose his train of thought, try to find websites and books in common, and attempt conversation on the origins of conflict in the Middle East. She is more a listener than a talker, but there was hardly any room for her to get a word in… Did I mention she was beautiful? With incredible bravery, he asked her for her email. Almost 18, she could have blown him off at any time. I was so proud of Dave’s willingness to put himself out there and so taken by the gentleness, charm and graciousness that she showed to him. And yes, she gave him her email address.

The beautiful weather continued and Dave and I explored Denver. Ron, Selma’s son who specializes in historical sites, was full of good ideas and planted the idea of seeing the Denver Mint. The Mint was established 100 years ago, in 1906 and produced 167,371,035 coins the first year. Now they manufacture all the denominations of circulating coins, coin dies and they Denver “D” portion of the uncirculated coin sets and commemorative coins. Today, they make 50 million coins a day.

Denver Slide Show

We were lucky to get a “walk up” space for the tour – they had been full for reservations for several weeks. Dave and I got excited about the state quarters all over again – we had given up his collection when he started the RV trip because the portfolio was too big. We purchased an 8x10 portfolio at the gift shop and are committed to checking all the laundry quarters until we fill up the book. In our change in the RV we had 20 different state quarters, so we are on our way to filling up the book. I got the brand new “New Mexico Quarter” for my friend Sandra Dodd from Albuquerque who sent me a wickedly funny quarter joke a few weeks ago.

We got to see the Court House and the State Capital Building and the park between the two. I talked to one of the gardeners about the pink flowered trees – a type of crab apples – and they are busy getting the flower beds ready for next month’s planting of 30,000 flowers. I wish we could see that…

Dave and I walked along the one mile 16th Street Mall, a road closed off to cars, only the alternative fuel buses are allowed, and enjoyed a leisurely walk to our lunch at the Rock Bottom Brewery. I had thought they had pool tables, but they did have an outdoor patio. We sat outside, enjoyed great food, Dave read a local paper, we discussed graffiti as art; Section 8 housing and watched the world go by.

Then we drove to Golden, Colorado to the Coors Beer Tour. Coors is the world’s fifth-largest brewing company, and their facility in Golden, Colorado is the world’s largest on a single site. Coors also makes the UK’s most popular brew, Carling, which surprised me. Founded in 1873, they made it through prohibition by diversifying into malted milk and ceramics. There was exhibits featuring their early products and packaging; you just don’t expect the Coors logo on a malted milk package!

Early in the tour they have bins full of hops, barley, corn and wheat. After sniffing the fragrant hops, my nose started to run. By the time we got into the fermenting area, I was feeling wheezy. Everything smelled wonderful, but it was very obvious that I was allergic to one of the ingredients in beer production.

At the end of the tour, Coors gives you your choice of three glasses to sample. I’m not much of a beer drinker, so I asked for a half glass of their Blue Moon Belgium White and then I tried pineapple-flavored Zuma. I like the first one well enough, but couldn’t take more than a couple tastes of the other. I guess it shows how little I like beer, when I won’t even drink it if it is free…

The next morning Selma and Osi came to the RV for brunch and to see Mayim. After breakfast Dave and Osi went for a walk and Selma told me romantic story about a blind date, a whirlwind courtship and their elopement. It was right out of a movie! Selma helped me close up the RV, so when the guys got back from their walk, we hooked up the tow car and headed toward Nebraska. It was great having them over and the perfect end to our visit to Denver.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

4/19/08 Aurora, CO "What would you attempt..."

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Dave and I are in Aurora at an urban campground in Cherry Creek State Park through Tuesday. We dropped Sarah off at the Denver airport to visit the San Francisco area with another Family-on-the-Road, traveling actors who perform at elementary schools and libraries; then she's off to Orange County to spend time with Mel and her Disneyland-loving friends.

It’s a different type of day – the weather is beautiful, we don’t have anywhere we have to be till the Seder tonight with Selma and Osi Sladek's family or any errands to run. Dave and I went to bed early and slept in – that was until began Mayim throwing up. (Why can’t she barf on the linoleum; why the carpet?)

I drank coffee while I finished James Patterson’s new Maximum Ride book “The Final Warning.” The book is more a tasty little snack than a novel, and it was very humorous. When Dave read it last night, he laughed until his sides hurt. Yes, I know that I bought the book as a present to mail to Sarah, but that doesn’t mean that Dave and I shouldn’t read it first!

Dave took Mayim for a long walk and when they came back I made breakfast. Dave enjoyed my fried rice creation using the leftovers from our dinner last night reconnecting with Selma and Osi. We were visited by some new friends...

Cherry Creek State Park Slide Show

Then I began to think about things; my mind was whirling with thoughts and emotions going 100 miles per minute:

Missing Mel, feeling grateful for his sacrifice and sad for his current frustrations about work and the boat;

Our first Passover separated, even when Mel was so badly injured in 2001, we still propped him up in the wheelchair near the table;

Sarah growing up so quickly that she can travel on her own and how lonely the RV will be while she is away for three weeks;

A longing to be outside in the green grass of the meadow next to the RV -- this is the first nice weather we’ve had in forever. Wouldn’t it be nice to play catch with Dave?;

What I’d change if I could… Magically create a way for Mel to be with us full time. Spend more time disconnected from all the technology that the kids and I enjoy so much but stops us from being outside;

What’s right about the RV trip and how much I love these days and the feeling of freedom and the call of the yet unseen states. My recent feelings of confidence and how we've adapted to life on the road has brought me immense personal satisfaction;

Two more states can be clicked off – time to put the Kansas and Colorado stickers on our US map.

Wondering if the RV freezer will be cold enough for the new ice cream machine so Dave can start making sherbets since he can’t have milk products anymore;

What I see myself doing next after we’ve seen all 50 states;

Excitement about our new program “Excellence in Writing” that will be waiting for us when we arrive at the campground in Nebraska. Dave has such a passion for learning that my only concern about his starting on-line Junior College a few years early is his weakness in writing papers. This program has been highly recommended by other homeschooling families as perfect for teenagers and it is especially clear cut for kids on the spectrum who like to learn skills as rules with plenty of examples. The coursework requires a lot of “teaching” with two days of teacher’s training on DVDs for me – the bonus is it will help me become stronger and more confident in my writing so it will be good for both of us;

Finding the MP3 speaker in the cabinet below. Time to figure out how to load music on the MP3 player because I want to enjoy listening to the kid’s music with them. While Sarah is away, Dave and I are enjoying country music.

Finding my voice to start blogging again. Dave’s daily diligence for his blog has been inspiring for me. I’m playing with lots of ideas about the blog. I have many friends whose blogs have a stream of consciousness feel. Right now mine is more of a travelogue, and it lacks some of the personality of some of the other blogs I admire. I’ve got pages of notes and hundreds of pictures from the last few months to draw from. I’ll be as surprised as anyone about its future direction.

So many thoughts, ideas, possibilities, and paths to choose from. Like my coffee cup says "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?"

I'm looking forward to a few weeks of down time in Western Nebraska near Lake Mcconaughy to catch up with myself. Then Mel and Sarah will fly in and we'll spend time as a family touring South Dakota enjoying Mt. Rushmore and Badlands National Park in the Black Hills.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

4/17/08 Getting Sarah to the Denver Airport

We had an ulterior motive for arriving in Colorado – it is very cheap to fly from Denver to San Jose, California. Sarah had an invitation to travel with Act!vated Storytellers, the acting troup of Kimberly, Dennis and Zephyr Goza, another Family-on-the-Road, while they performed at elementary schools and libraries in the bay area.

It meant that we were on a very tight schedule in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, without a day to spare if we were going to have her on the airplane of the morning of April 17th.

Now, being broken down in the RV is not my first choice of fun, but being towed into a Truck Center in Wichita with an airline ticket deadline can be nerve wracking. Fortunately, we didn’t have to go to Plan B which would have meant leaving the RV in Wichita, because it the batteries were able to be replaced with more powerful, new sealed gel batteries over a couple days and we were on our way to Colorado with only a couple of small details to overcome…

Detail 1: It was 525 miles away. RVer’s usually have a 250-300 mile per day maximum. There was a lot of distance to cover. San Francisco to Orange County is only 425 miles…

Detail 2: There had been a wind advisory in effect due to 45-55 mph gusts for the previous sixteen hours – we waited for the advisory to be lifted at 10:00 am – even though the worst winds were over, we did the drive with 30-35 mph winds. I hate driving in the wind!

Detail 3: as we crossed into Colorado, it began to sleet. I’m not a fan of driving in bad weather, and after eight hours of driving fighting the wind, I was toast. I finally gave up and stayed at a KOA in Strasburg, 45 minutes from our planned campground at Cherry Creek, because I didn’t have any more driving in me. We parked the RV for the night and came out the next morning to 3” of snow!

Getting Sarah to the airport in the morning was a breeze and the airlines allowed me to have a pass so I could join her through security and see her onto the plane myself. We enjoyed our time together and I tried not to cry too much. She will be in good hands with Kimberly Goza; plus there Zephyr and Sarah will attend a get-together of the teens to plan this summer’s home school conference and Sarah will get to spend special time with her friend Libby. It was easy to be happy for her!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

4/16/08 Wichita Repairs and 43,000 Tulips

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Our arrival in Nebraska was filled with pomp and circumstance -- we were our own parade! A giant tow truck hoisted the RV and Sarah, Dave, Mayim and I followed along in the tow car. Fighting wind gusts in the drive from Oklahoma to Nebraska, my driving speed had been a sedate 58-62 mph. Once the heavy, semi-sized tow truck got underway towing the 39' RV, he zoomed along between 72-75 mph! I guess when you are big enough, wind gusts aren’t an issue.

All-in-all, if you are going to be broken down on the side of the highway on a Sunday afternoon, it was a good experience. Good Sam had a specialized tow truck out to rescue us within an hour; Caterpillar (the diesel engine on the RV) let us stay in their lot and sent a staff person over Sunday night to make sure we were safe and had everything we needed; Kansas Truck Center (our RV is built on a Freightliner platform and electrical system) were quick to move us to their lot when the breakdown was electrical, not engine related, and diagnosed our problem Monday morning. It only took one day to get the new batteries and another day to install them. The Truck Center let us boondock in their parking lot each night, so we were able to keep Mayim with us and not incur the extra expense of a hotel.

43,00 Tulips Slide Show

Mayim liked being broken down as she wasn’t allowed to stay in the RV while it was being repaired. (Good thing, she would have maimed the mechanics driving the RV to a service bay.) Touring Wichita in the car pleased her immensely and since the weather was lovely, we were able to leave her for an hour or so at a time with the windows and sunroof cracked. Drinking from a water bottle is one of her on-the-road skills and she is a good sport about waiting patiently in the car. Although we enjoyed working on her fetching skills using a stick outside the botanical gardens, the fun ended when she found a giant odoriferous mulch pile to roll in.

Our first stop was Botanica, which is Wichita’s stunning botanical garden with sculptures, fountains, waterfalls and flowing streams. Despite the previous few days worth of intense rain and extreme wind, the gardens were in good shape. Dazzlingly laid out so that your breath is taken away around each turn of the path, the experience of seeing 43,000 tulips, 62,000 daffodils, pansies and wildflowers in full bloom was a delight. Even Dave was impressed! The butterfly garden, unfortunately, was closed until June, while the Shakespearean Garden with flowers, herbs and metal carved panels with passages from his sonnets and plays about flora were cleverly done. When finished on our flower photo safari, we visited the gift store, purchased a butterfly t-shirt for Sarah that changes from black and white to vibrant colors in the sun, and resisted books on horticulture or gardening tools. Visiting these gardens and interacting with the volunteers made me long for some dirt of my own to cultivate. An RVer’s sacrifice…

Slideshow of Wichita, Kansas

Overlooking the Arkansas River, our next stop on Museum Row was the science museum, Exploration Place. Deceivingly complicated puzzles waylaid the three of us at the entrance of the museum before we delved into the exhibits. We would have never figured out the answer to balancing twelve 6” nails on the head of one nail, luckily there was a staff member who knew the trick. When we finished up with the puzzles, we had two hours before the museum closed so Dave dashed off to follow his interests and Sarah and I started with the Memory exhibit.

Engaging all our senses with music by the decades, guessing jelly beans flavors, recognizing familiar smells like baby powder and suntan lotion, and touching common items in a covered box taught how our brain can retrieve information, or not, which we laughingly discovered! Although we were fascinated by the interactive exhibits on facial recognition, she and I realized we’d be no help to a police sketch artist. Concerning remembering what is meaningful, we learned how to “chunk” and develop relationships between strings of unrelated items. Speedily zooming through the rest of the museum, we enjoyed high speed photography, an exhibit on Kansas' bison and tornadoes (Wichita is at the heart of Tornado Alley), giant bubbles, explored flight and design by making paper airplanes and attempting to fly 747’s and Cessna’s in the flight simulator while announcements were made that the museum was closing in 15, 10, then 5 minutes. We needed more time!

Agreeing that it was a great museum, we said farewell to Museum Row. We'll save the art museum for our next visit. Mayim was glad to play along the river bank and I enjoyed the architectural lines of the bridge, science museum and artwork in the late afternoon light. Enthusiastically supporting our choice of Sonic for dinner, Mayim wolfed down tater tots, popcorn chicken and hamburger bites. Mayim loves Sonic! Since no one offered to share their addictive Lime Aids, she had to make do with water. We returned to the RV in the Truck Center’s parking lot to boondock another night, buffeted by the winds with gusts between 35-40 mph. While struggling to not be blown away, wondering if I would see Toto and some ruby slippers soon, I bravely went out to do laundry since Sarah needed clean clothes for her trip to California.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dave (Xaven)'s new blog!

A while ago I had set up a blog called Dave's Not So Private Journal! I try my best to set up daily reports of the day's accounts. However, nobody has been going on so I thought I would post this for the people who are curious about what has been happening. Now that I have said that I should get back to work on today's blog as well so, please check out my blog!!! I will put the hyperlink below

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

2/12/08 Santa Fe Making Jewelry and My Future

If you receive email updates: To see the photographs, click on the blue link "Malkoff's Grand Adventure" at the bottom of the email. From the blog: You may restart the slideshow by clicking on the arrow.

Sarah and I decided to take a break from being miserable with our colds and ventured out to Santa Fe today -- just the two of us and our kleenex box. The picturesque town is about an hour away so the drive gave us a chance to chat and ponder the desert landscape and Pinion Pine forests.

Sarah talked about the future -- she plans on sharing a house with friends when she moves out -- she wouldn't want to live alone. She is thinking that seven people might be the right number for a house along with some dogs (especially a Portuguese Water Dog, a Komondor, Swiss Mountain Dog, a tabby and a black cat.)

She thinks that I'll be like Maude (the woman in her late 70's who lives every day to the fullest. When we watched the movie recently I realized that Maude had a number tattooed on her arm -- did you remember that she was a concentration camp survivor?) in the 1970's movie "Harold and Maude."

She asked if I would be one of the seven (I suppose she imagines that I'll outlive Mel) and if I would like to be in charge of the flower garden so there will always be flowers in the house to make everyone happy and feel glad to come home. Interesting take on the power of flowers! I guess we both miss the Villa Park gardens with the 100's of agapanthas, lilies and my cherished rose bushes.

Where I'll live when I'm old has come up several times since our visit to Mel's Aunt Ethel (in her 80's) after observing the role each one of daughters plays in her care. If I don't live in Sarah's commune, Dave thinks that his wife would like to have me live with them, especially if I help out with their kids. Personally, I'm still hopeful for a little cottage nearby a library and a bus stop. I'll turn into my "Nanna," my father's mother Anne, wearing purple canvas tennis shoes, going on long walks collecting "snips" from neighbor's gardens to grow into plants and a canary to welcome me home.

Our mission in Santa Fe was a jewelry making class at "Crown Jewels." It was difficult to choose which beads to use to make a necklace -- they were all so pretty. Sarah fell in love with the ceramic frogs (maybe she's hoping for a prince in her future) and I thought turquoise and heishi (heishi are beads made from shells - the oldest form of jewelry in New Mexico, the Pueblo Indians got them in trade from the Gulf of California) would be a lovely reminder of Santa Fe. The women that run the shop, Missy and Shanna, were delightful and made us feel very welcome.

After our class we drove around because it we weren’t feeling well enough to walk in the cold. What an interesting city – we can’t wait to go back and see their museums and visit the art galleries.

Monday, January 28, 2008

1/28/08 Jalapeno Peppers!

If you receive email updates: To see the photographs, click on the blue link "Malkoff's Grand Adventure" at the bottom of the email. From the blog: You may restart the slideshow by clicking on the arrow.

After Graceland, we drove on to Amarillo, Texas and stayed overnight at the famous steak house “Big Texan Steak Ranch.” The hotel was designed to look like a town out of the old west. The double beds in our room were decorated with cow-print bedspreads and the dressing area was separated from the sleeping area with swinging saloon-style doors.

Jalapeno Pepper Slideshow

The restaurant was a kick. They are famous for their “free 72 oz steak meal.” While we were there a young man was attempting to eat the dinner – shrimp cocktail, garden salad, two rolls, baked potato, 72 oz of steak and dessert – within an hour. On this night, the young man didn’t succeed, but plenty of people before him have gotten the free meal and t-shirt.

Not to be outdone, Dave decided to be adventurous and eat a jalapeño chili on a dare from Sarah. He ate one chili and found that it wasn’t even spicy, so he was thrilled that he won the bet (5 chores). Then, because we decided to memorialize the moment with photos, Dave decided to eat a second chili. Oops! The second chili was scalding – no amount of water, soda or bread worked. Finally, the waiter brought out an emergency glass of milk!

News of Dave’s bravery encouraged the singing cowboys to serenade our table. In honor of Billy the Kid (we were listening to his biography on audio book), we asked for “Turkey in the Straw,” one of Billy’s favorite songs. Dave limped through eating the rest of his meal, but then was desperately ill and spent most of the night in the bathroom.

The next morning, we decided to go back to the restaurant (where Dave decided not to eat another chili) so Dave could have steak and eggs. Sarah and I enjoyed the buffet and enjoyed wonderful omelets. Our cowboy waiter hung out at our table telling jokes and the meal was memorable. We bought a armadillo plush toy and Sarah's new favorite shirt with a picture of an armadillo and text "Texas Speedbumps." We can’t wait to go back there with Mel!

We were excited to get driving since we were within striking distance of Albuquerque. We arrived around 3:00 only to find that our RV had run out of propane due to the extreme temperatures, our refrigerator had turned itself off and all of our frozen and refrigerated food had turned into a science experiment. Thank you Dave for taking on this task. Large trash bags, plenty of cleaning solution and paper towels saved the day.

Then we made a trip to get more propane and got the RV set up in its new space, only to find that the below freezing temperatures had frozen the plumbing and we were without water. Sigh… Conveniently, we were parked close to the bathrooms in the campground. We made a grocery run with plenty of bottled water and got ready to spend the night in the RV with the temperature dipping to 6 degrees. At least it was warmer than Chicago!

Friday, January 25, 2008

1/25/08 World's Longest Cave and Graceland

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So we packed up and headed off from Sandusky with pages full of email and myspace addresses – our plan was to get home safely to Albuquerque and to have some fun along the way.

Our first stop was in Cincinnati, Ohio and the home of Mel’s step-brother Lionel and his wife Carole. (Darn, why didn’t we think to take some pictures…) Lionel was in California, but Carole was in town and we got to have dinner with their daughter Allison, her husband Dennis and their daughter Lily -- an adorable two year old. We were thrilled with the news about their upcoming new arrival into the family. We had a fantastic meal at an Italian restaurant with good conversation, a comfy night’s sleep and we set off for Kentucky.

Mammoth Cave Slideshow

Why Kentucky, you ask? It is the home of the Mammoth Cave National Park in the Green River Valley and hill country of south central Kentucky. It is the world’s longest cave system, with more than 365 miles explored. Remember, we’ve been in cold weather for quite a while now; it was 25 degrees outside (starting to feel warm to us polar bears), but down in the underground caves, it was more than 45 degrees – warm to us. Our little flash wasn’t enough to get any good pictures, but it was fascinating. Prehistorically, the caves were used by Indians more than 2000 years ago. The caves produced a product for gunpowder – necessary for the War of 1812 -- and the mines are still visible. The caves are still being explored today by teams like the three scientists with scuba gear who entered the cave with our tour who were studying the unique cave-adapted species known as eyeless fish.

We hoped back in the car and headed overnight to Memphis, Tennessee home of Mel’s cousin’s son Bobby and Kimberly and their new son. Unfortunately, Sarah was coming down with a dreadful cold, and we cancelled the visit to snuggle the new arrival.

So, if you are in Memphis, and you are unscheduled, what do you do? Go to Graceland, of course!

Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and his beloved Graceland Mansion… what a fantastic way to teach history of the 50’s and 60’s and the cross-cultural barriers he overcame. Elvis’s home was filled with video footage, photos, personal mementos, army memorabilia, music awards, movie memorabilia and stage costumes. The house was outrageously decorated – Sarah’s favorite room was “the Jungle Room” with oversized hand-carved furniture and green shag carpet on the floor and the ceiling.

Elvis Presley Slideshow

His famous Pink Cadillac and the red MG from the movie “Blue Hawaii” was on display with many of his other favorite cars and motorized toys. Another part of the museum housed his airplanes and a video showed news footage of the jet being moved through the streets of Memphis to its final home at Graceland. Then we toured the customized jet “Lisa Marie” with 24-karat gold bathroom sinks, and kitchen, dining room, bedroom and sitting areas.

We spent more time there than we had planned -- Graceland was fascinating. The kids learned about customer service. All of the staff who worked at Graceland were unsmiling and unfriendly. Dave and Sarah wondered why they couldn't find people who liked Elvis -- we decided Cousin Gale with her passion for all things Elvis would be their perfect prototypical employee.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

1/21/08 Conference Fun in Sandusky, OH

From the moment we arrived at the Kalahari Waterpark Resort in Sandusky, Ohio we had a complete blast. The conference was for unschoolers (homeschooling in a non-traditional, child-led, interest-based, life learning approach) a style of teaching we have adopted since being on the road.

Unschooling Conference in Sandusky, OH

When we have met up with unschooling teens and parents in the past, we have always felt a great affinity – the kids are easy to befriend, the teens are seriously “cool” and I feel like I’ve known the parents forever, and this time was no exception. Many people recognized my picture from my blog and greeted me like a long, lost friend. Sarah immediately fell into a pack of teens and left Dave and I to move into our mini suite, before I headed down to hear one of the lectures.

All the lectures were held in the late afternoon/early evening so that everyone could spend the day at the Waterpark. Some family’s had two parents attending or a grandmother to help so they were able to attend classes while one parent managed the children. However, the attendees of the evening lectures were mostly parents with older children or teens which was perfect for me. It was easy to make friends with similar interests and experiences.

The first evening I was starving and tried to pry Sarah out of the teen lounge to take her to dinner. She’d already made friends with a teen from Pennsylvania and they wanted to have dinner together. As I made my way to a restaurant, I heard another family talking to their teen on the phone trying to get their daughter to come dinner with no success. You guessed it, their teen Ann was with Sarah.

I asked if I could join Ann's family for dinner since I had been abandoned by my teen daughter too. You’ll never believe it – Ann’s family owned a KOA! What are the odds of Sarah hooking up with someone who understood completely about being on the road?! The dad had all kinds of questions about what I look for in a campground and then we got into a conversation about 30 vs. 50 amp power and internet access when the mom’s eyes rolled back in her head. Ellen was completely bored out of her mind so we switched topics; it was so easy to talk to her, it was like we’d been friends forever.

By the following day, Sarah and Ann were telling fellow teens that they were engaged to be married. Maybe a little background is in order... 75% of all the teens that hung out in the lounge were male. Sarah easily makes friends with boys, but she doesn’t want a boyfriend right now. She enjoys cruising conferences with an entourage and collects groups of kids to do silly things and hang out. She likes to joke that she is a lesbian. It’s a great strategy -- the boys don’t try anything with her, she can comfortably hang out and be one of “guys,” and it adds an air of mystery about her. Ann picked up on the joke and the two walked around arm-in-arm or hand-in-hand further supporting the punch line. Fortunately, Ellen (Ann’s mom) was ok with the spoof, so for the rest of the week we teased one another about who would make the centerpieces and what type of wedding cake we should have.

We had a moment early in the conference where we thought Dave’s backpack had been stolen from the teen lounge. It didn’t make any sense. Dave was playing on his computer at a nearby table. There were only other unschooled teens in the room all evening. When he went to get a power cord, his backpack was missing. He called me and I came to help him look. We were stunned, there was little of value in the backpack (unless you were Dave) and we couldn’t imagine someone stealing a backpack with three hardcover books, computer/gameboy/telephone chargers, Magic cards and some snacks. At the end of the night I got a call that the backpack had been found in the teen room. The person reported that everything seemed to be there – the Gamebox, Digital Camera and lots of expensive games. It all became clear; it was obvious that someone had picked up Dave’s backpack in error and was going to be very distressed when they went to use their gaming system and found hard cover books instead. The next day the backpacks were exchanged and everyone was happy.

Each day Sarah would throw herself out of bed at the crack of 11:00 am and come back after midnight. The teens were easy to check in with – they had their own lounge when they weren’t at the Waterpark where they played games, watched movies and made new friends. Dave didn’t feel much like socializing but enjoyed the Waterpark and thought the food was great. Dave had hoped to play a lot of Magic but the teen lounge was mostly kept dark for watching movies and playing video games so it wasn’t conducive to card games. Truthfully, we had a fantastic hotel suite and Dave was enjoying having the living room and dining area to his self while Sarah and I conferenced and socialized. He did a lot of Geometry, read Manga and played Runescape.

There was a wonderful dance one evening where a local father donated his equipment, lights and services as a DJ. It took Dave five minutes to get spiffed up for the dance. It took substantially longer for Sarah. Sarah wore a lovely silver skirt that coordinated perfectly with her favorite plaid high top Converse, a bright blue t-shirt with silver lettering “Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every Day” and her hair completely curly with gold glitter. Yes, it did take her more than five minutes to get dressed, but she looked outstanding!

Dave and I went on a field trip to Milan, Ohio and the birthplace and museum for Thomas Alva Edison the inventor of the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb. The Museum had many of Edison’s early inventions, documents where he asked for discounts from suppliers and many of his patent applications, and family mementos.

I was scheduled to give a talk on the last evening of the conference, but many of the people I met weren’t staying till the end. I heard the comment so many times, that I was worried that I would be in the room by myself. I broke down my two hour time slot into two sections – the first on the story of the “Grand Adventure” and the second hour about how to follow your own dreams using my research for the book I’m writing tentatively titled “Letting Go and Setting Free.”

I was thrilled about the number of people who attended, and with the questions afterwards. During the first hour I ran a slide show in the background -- I’ll need to get feedback as to whether it added or detracted from the talk – but it was a blast to put together and the kids and I enjoyed the process.

The second hour morphed into an interesting group dialog that veered off the topic I’d prepared. Next time I'll give out the handout first, skip personalized introductions and get right into twelve obstacles that stop people from moving forward to their dreams. The good news was that I got to know some of my fellow parents better resulting in some lovely friendships.

We made many new friends interested about our life on the road who offered invitations to visit when we were in their states (probably 2009 if our travel plans hold). We will definitely go back next year – the conference was worth the drive from New Mexico!

Friday, January 11, 2008

1/11/08 Chicago Fun in Zero Degree Weather

If you receive email updates: To see the slideshows, click on the blue link "Malkoff's Grand Adventure" at the bottom of the email. From the blog: You may restart the slideshow by clicking on the arrow.

Now that I was officially a resident, we left South Dakota, drove through Minnesota and spent the night in La Crosse, Wisconsin on our way to meet up with Mel and his cousins in Illinois. The weather continued to hold and we finished our Audio Book “Ordinary Heroes” by Scott Turow. Oops, we returned the audio-book to Cracker Barrel, but realized 100 miles later that we forgot to put the last CD back in the book, so we mailed it back to them.

From the freeway, blanketed in snow, southern Minnesota is mostly farm land with beautiful barns and houses every few miles. Driving through Wisconsin was very difficult because it was so beautiful. We almost pulled off at numerous exits to go exploring. The signs for the Dells especially called to me. We were scheduled to arrive in Chicago a day early, so it took a fair amount of self control to keep driving and many promises to ourselves that we’d come back in the spring or summer seasons. Sarah kept us on the road because we were headed to a favorite relative’s house – Mel’s cousin Gale.

When we arrived in Wheeling, Gale and Steve were out at a large bar mitzvah, but had left us the code to get in the house. We did a grocery run, moved our luggage in, set up the bedrooms, got the laundry going and luxuriated in being in a “real house” with all of us having our own space.

Being at the beautiful Cook home was made all the more special because Gale decorates for the seasons – and the entire house was decked out with adorable snowmen. We were thrilled by the concept of a basement – where Dave was bunked – and laundry chutes from the second story right to the basement laundry room. Sarah’s room housed a collection of Beanie Babies and I enjoyed a lovely queen-sized bed that I’d soon get to share with Mel. The sun room with an indoor Jacuzzi had heated floors and all of Steve’s beautiful orchids and plants gave the room a wonderful atmosphere. There were books everywhere and a zillion types of tea. It was going to be a wonderful eight days!

The next day I got Mel from the airport and the party began. Gale and Steve went out of their way to make us feel at home. They hosted two big family get-togethers celebrating Aunt Ethel's birthday with all of Mel’s Levy cousins and Gale’s children and grandchildren. They insisted that Mel and I take a night of to go stay in downtown Chicago and took Sarah to see a play “Little Women.” Gale had a gingerbread house kit that Mel and Sarah built together. Gale pointed out that it might be easier if they read the directions but only structural disaster of the roof caving in convinced them. Each day was filled with fun, long talks and a wonderful feeling of family.

Levy Family Slide Show

Steve was concerned when Dave became ill from his ulcerative colitis and recommended that we go to a local doctor who specialized in allergy testing who had helped Steve immensely. What an amazing experience! I hadn’t had Dave tested since he was four and I had read many articles about diet regarding Aspergers’ and Ulcerative Colitis/Crohn’s Disease where they recommend eliminating gluten (wheat) and casein (milk proteins). (Dave’s Orange County doctors had always dismissed my questions about a special diet – they hadn’t seen any definite results, so I hadn’t made any changes.)

We were stunned with the results – Dave was extremely allergic to milk, yeast, corn syrup and grain products, except rice. Dave was worried at first; he loves milk products, breads, and soft drinks, until he realized that he could still eat his favorite foods, sushi and steak. He can eat virtually all of the fruits and vegetables, so there are still plenty of food choices.

The doctor’s office knew that Sarah was with us in the waiting room. Since Dave had tested so strongly for many different allergens, they recommended we test Sarah also. Just as they suspected, Sarah was allergic to dairy products and a number of grasses and tree pollens. (None of this should be too surprising – Mel is very allergic to pollens and Mary Ann had severe allergies as a child to milk, wheat, eggs and chocolate.) Changing our food choices has been extremely complicated, but we are gradually getting used to our new food palette – it’s like eating for Passover all year round except we don’t get dairy products.

Mel and I spent the night at the Chicago Wyndham downtown. We had great fun taking long very cold (14 degrees) walks in this scenic city. We met a young man with a “Free Hugs” sign (you need to see the YouTube video by “Sick Puppies” and enjoyed the Art Institute with their unique and marvelous collections. Across the street was the fantastic Russian Tea House. We had such a memorable lunch (with plenty of vodka to warm us up!) that we decided to bring the kids back for dinner later in the week to explore the foods of their Ukrainian heritage. Eddie Bauer was having such a fantastic sale on winter clothes that we bought bags full of snuggly shirts, jackets and mufflers. All-in-all, it was a fantastic trip into the Windy City.

Downtown Chicago Slide Show

While we were visiting, cousin Barbara made an emergency trip to Florida to be with her husband Bernie while he had heart surgery. As the family collectively held their breath and said lots of prayers, Bernie pulled through successfully.

Throughout the Chicago trip, we had plenty of opportunities to be Mel’s Aunt Ethel. It was reassuring to see how well she has settled into her new home and touching to know that each one of her three daughters plays a special role in her life. Her charm and personality makes it easy to see why Mel wanted to schedule a visit to the Chicago area.

Cousin Roberta, husband Larry and daughter Sara, and boyfriend Jason, invited us for a lovely meal in Gurnee – it was lovely to be inside and cozy – it was -3 degrees outside. We enjoyed good company, chocolate martinis, a wonderful dinner, homemade bread and brownies and a zillion family photos. It was so fun to watch the family “grow up” in the pictures and see the recent motorcycle trips including the “Paper Clip” ride to Whitwell, Tennessee. It was hard to leave their dog Cinnamon behind; we almost smuggled her out, and it was cute to see her in the window as we drove away.

Alexander Family Slideshow

The next day, it seemed to have warmed up so Dave decided to walk to a sushi restaurant --four miles away. He called when he got to the restaurant saying that he had arrived safely, but that he was very cold and feeling shaky. After he ate, he called for a ride home. When Mel went to go get him, the car thermometer registered 4 degrees. No wonder Dave was cold; he was shaking from hypothermia. Even though Dave was wearing his new Eddie Bauer gear and gloves, he had refused a hat. The poor dear got frostbite on his ears. His ears were burned from the cold and we put special lotion on help heal them for the next week. All winter long Dave and I have fought about whether he needs a coat, hat and gloves – now he willingly wears them – it was a hard lesson to learn.

We took the kids into Chicago one night to eat at Russian Tea Time. They were great sports and tried some of everything. It was a magical evening and we all laughed and laughed (and the kids weren’t drinking vodka)! Sarah refused to let me take a picture of it, but we were dazzled by the self-covering plastic seat covers in the bathroom. Later we went for a walk to watch the ice-skating in the Millennium Park while enjoying the recognizable Chicago skyline. The cold drove us back to the car; we could have walked for miles and had that night last forever.

Sadly, our week of fun and family drew to a close. It was time to pack up and put Mel back on airplane. No tears this time, but it is always sad to say goodbye. We stayed one more night with Gale and Steve and left for Sandusky, Ohio.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

1/10/08 South Dakota - My New Home!

The next morning the weather was good, so we bombed through Nebraska leaving the highway for a lovely road in beautiful snow-covered farm country up into South Dakota and another major highway. We arrived at our destination, Mitchell, South Dakota and stayed at a wonderful clean, modern hotel.

The next day I went to Emery, South Dakota to meet the folks that run “My Home Address” and pick up my new license plates for the RV and tow car. The town has 875 residents, plus an additional 2,000 registered RV families. I then headed back to Mitchell’s DMV, was surprised that they could check my driver’s record in California and thrilled when they announced that I didn’t have to take any of the driver’s tests since I had a spotless record. My new license expires in 2013 and cost $8.00 -- Yipee! Too bad I stayed up until the wee hours studying the handbook…

I met my new Farmer’s Insurance agent. She was surprised that I was so emphatic about having high coverage levels for Uninsured Motorist. In her twelve years in the business, she’d never seen an uninsured motorist claim. No wonder insurance rates are so much cheaper in South Dakota than California – I don’t know that I’ve ever been hit by anyone with insurance or a legal driver’s license.

Life is different in South Dakota than California!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

1/09/08 Sleet in NM, Snow in CO

The trip didn’t start out well. When we woke up the morning of the trip, the tow car was covered with 4” of snow and as the morning progressed and we were packing the car, it began to sleet. After a few hours of tense driving conditions, we drove out of the storm, crossed into Colorado and as the sun set another snow storm hit with a vengeance. To say we were nowhere would be an understatement – we’d passed Trinidad and the next town was Walsenburg.

The snow was dry and the roads weren’t icy, but the snow was falling so rapidly that you couldn’t see the lines on the divided highway. We were creeping along about 40 mph when a bus passed us. We fell in behind the bus, travelled securely in its tracks and benefited from its headlights. We called Mel who found us a bed and breakfast called La Plaza Inn and we were grateful to pull off at the Walsenburg exit.

The La Plaza Inn is a historic boarding house and the place was adorable. The other guests helped us get settled because the owner was delayed due to the storm. Sarah and I read magazines and watched TV in the common area under cozy quilts. The next morning we met the owner, Martie, paid for the room, and sat in the quaint lobby chatting about her life path that led to owning the hotel. It would have been easy to stay longer, but the weather was perfect and we needed to get some serious miles behind us.

The highway had been plowed and the roads weren’t icy, but there was a lot of slush that would be thrown up on the windshield when we were passed by trucks. All of sudden, the windshield wipers stopped working, causing us to pull over to clean the windows so we could see. I located a Chevrolet dealer in Colorado Springs about 40 miles ahead and we headed in for repairs with several stops to clean the windshield with paper towels. (Before we left, I had filled the wiper fluid with a solution rated to -20 degrees, so I was worried we had a problem with the wiper motors.) The dealer had the problem fixed in minutes almost before we had finished our free donuts and coffee and they refused to charge me, so it was a lovely pit stop.

The weather was still clear and we traveled till we were close to the Nebraska border and stopped for the night in Julesburg. By far, the worst hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. It would be a stretch to call those things with mattresses “beds.” Fortunately, we’d brought our own pillows, there was an America’s Funniest Home Videos marathon running and I was reading a good book. The next time I go to a spa, I won’t need a full body scrub, because the towels were so scratchy that they worked like sandpaper on my skin.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

1/07/08 Guinness World Record Car Trip

Sometimes wild ideas come together in ways that couldn’t have been imagined previously. Our trip to Ohio through South Dakota and Illinois in the dead of winter would qualify as something I never planned.

It all started with a free airline ticket for Mel that had to be used before March and a posting on a homeschooling site about a winter conference at the world’s largest indoor water park in Sandusky, Ohio. At this time, we are in New Mexico – and since airline tickets are inexpensive to fly to Albuquerque, I recommended that Mel fly somewhere with his free ticket that would be a better travel value. Since Mel’s beloved Aunt Ethel and his three fun cousins live in the Chicago area, he planned to use the ticket to fly into O’Hare.

The kids and I love being with the Chicago family, so Sarah suggested that we meet him. Looking at an atlas, Illinois and Ohio didn’t look that far apart, so I planned the dates so we could go to the unschooling conference and was able to get a fantastic price on a suite at the hotel. Remember, Sarah’s favorite thing to do in the whole world is to meet up with teens at homeschooling conferences and campouts. However, airline tickets from Albuquerque to Chicago and then Toledo for the three of us where a breathtaking amount of money.

Then, the magic moment happened. The California DMV renewal and my insurance bill for the RV came in the mail. Talk about scary numbers! While on the road, I’ve been meeting fellow full-time RVers with South Dakota license plates. South Dakota is actively soliciting the full-time RV community to make their “home base” in that state because federal tax dollars are based on the number of people that live in the state.

Having RVers become permanent residents is an excellent way to get people to “move” to South Dakota because we don’t need fire stations, sewer services or put children in their schools. They don’t have personal income tax and the cost to register and insure the RV in South Dakota is much cheaper than California – it would save us $2,000 each year! One catch however, you need to have a South Dakota driver’s license. The cost is $8 and if you have a good driving record you don’t even need to take a written or driving test – but you have to show up in person at the DMV.

I pulled out the atlas again and thought that driving in our tow car from Albuquerque to South Dakota looked pretty straight forward if I stayed east of the Rockies, plus I could travel on major highways until I got to Nebraska. We’d turn right when we got to South Dakota to visit the DMV and go straight until we arrived to Chicago.

No problem – the decision seemed simple – leave the RV in Albuquerque, kennel the dog with a recommended caregiver, the kids and I would stay in hotels each evening when we got tired so we didn’t need reservations, rented five audiobooks, packed the Garmin GPS, atlas, warm clothes, computers and bathing suits for the waterpark, and read the instructions on how to put snow chains on my front-wheel drive Malibu Maxx. We were off on the biggest car trip I’d ever done.

Friday, January 4, 2008

1/4/08 Petrified Wood and La Posada Hotel

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We decided to make the drive to Albuquerque over two days since we wanted to visit Holbrook, Arizona which was a frontier town founded in the 1880’s and the gateway to the Petrified Forest National Park.

Our camp host referred us to dinner at La Posada Hotel, one of the last great railroad hotels built in 1929 for the Santa Fe Railway by Fred Harvey who hired Mary Jane Coulter to be the architect. Mary Jane Coulter was the architect of the buildings of the Grand Canyon – Bright Angel Lodge, Phantom Ranch, Hermit’s Rest, Hopi House and the Watchtower. These don’t look like modern buildings, but more like old Native American dwellings, even ruins, which was entirely her plan. She also designed the interiors of the Los Angeles, Kansas City and Chicago railway stations.

Mel’s photos of the Watchtower

To design La Posada in Winslow, Arizona, she invented a story of a gracious Spanish Don who loved to entertain in the family’s elegant hacienda that was architecturally represented in the building and landscaping. You can hardly imagine how beautiful this restored hotel/train station that had been vacant for 30 years has become. It is still a work in progress, so we look forward to going back again to enjoy the arched doorways, hand-painted glass windows, glittering tin chandeliers, Southwestern hand-built furniture and whimsical jackrabbit ashtrays – hopefully with Demi (a historic building buff) or Mel (who loves to take art and architecture photography).

La Posada and Turquoise Room Slide Show

We ate delicious gourmet Southwestern regional cuisine in Turquoise Room where they bake and cook everything from scratch and use local ingredients including locally-made goat cheese, roasted corn grown on the reservations and piki bread (in the picture it looks like rolled tortillas) made by local Hopi women. Sarah and I created a meal of artfully-prepared appetizers including the piki bread, flaky like tissue paper served with the best humus ever, their specialty soup (light is corn chowder and dark is black bean) and Dave tried the elk. By the time we thought to ask Dave what he thought of his meal, his generous portion was completely devoured. We shared some desserts. Just like all the reviewers agree – The Turquoise Room is one of the best restaurants in Arizona and New Mexico!

We got disappointing reports about the Petrified Forest National Park. We were primarily interested in touring the petroglyph sites – but we were told that these are now closed to the general public because of vandalism. How sad… The petroglyphs date between 1000-1350 A.D. and were made by pecking away at the desert varnish on the rock to reveal the lighter sandstone underneath. Current research suggests the designs – mostly spirals and circles in geometric designs -- were used as solar calendars.

Winslow – Petrified Wood Shop Slide Show

So we decided to tour Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Company, a ten-acre shop known for their collection of Arizona Rainbow Petrified Wood, fossils, minerals, indoor cactus garden and petrified wood waterfall. We had a great time admiring the fossils, petrified wood hand polished logs, tabletops, bookends and jewelry. Sarah found a petrified wood necklace she wears daily and Dave collected a good-luck sphere made of Onyx to carry in his pocket.

We hurried along to Albuquerque to set up for Demi’s arrival for a weekend visit. Our campground, Hidden Valley, can be utilized by two of my memberships – RPI and ROD, which means I can stay extremely inexpensively alternating weeks between the two. However, it is not close to anything for Dave to walk to. The deli close by (as defined by Dave, it’s only 4 miles away) is closed for the winter.

I picked Demi up from the airport late Friday night. She was bundled up for the snowy weather with a coat and a beret and looked very jaunty. When she arrived to the RV, she asked where the coat closet was. Fortunately, we had cleared 18” of closet space in the coat/bedroom/storage/linen closet in the master bedroom and emptied a drawer, so Sarah and I were able to control our desire to roll around on the floor laughing and giggled instead.

Dave and Sarah mostly took care of themselves during the weekend as Demi and I brunched, enjoyed massages at the luxurious Hyatt Regency Tamara Spa, drove around seeing Historic Route 66 and pueblo-style architecture, and shopped for the perfect piece of jewelry – one that was a piece of art, reflected the trip to Albuquerque and would work with some of her hand knit sweaters.

Demi fell in love with a silver necklace that would go perfectly with a few pieces in her wardrobe. After negotiating a fair price, we were surprised and thrilled to realize it came as a four piece set; it came with a ring and a pair of earrings. I purchased a pair of silver and lapis earrings to go with my favorite blue shirt – the owner of the shop told me there was a surprise in my bag. When I got home, the matching pendant to wear as a necklace on a silver chain was in the bag. How sweet!

Demi went back to the airport Sunday afternoon -- it was the perfect visit but if it had been a little longer we would have spent an afternoon at the art museum. Something to save for the next trip!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

1/2/08 Deanna, Cup Cakes, Tigers and a Lasting Friendship

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For the Christmas Day potluck at Thousand Trails Valley Verde (near Cottonwood and Sedona), Sarah made cupcakes with Poinsettias-styled decorations and marshmallow snowmen and I made scalloped potatoes. The tables were groaning with yummy food -- you’d never believe that the massive spread came from RV kitchens. While helping to clean up at the end of the meal, my “teen” radar kicked in.

Standing right in front of me was a beautiful teenager and her parents. I quickly introduced myself sharing that I had two teenagers and that we would be glad to have their daughter join us to play Uno that evening. The mother quickly said yes and added that since her daughter Deanna was very shy, it was hard to meet other teens, with the daughter giving her the same look Sarah would have given me. I asked where their RV was parked in the 300 acre preserve and the daughter laughed when she said “right across from yours.” She’d seen Dave and Sarah but hadn’t come out to say hello yet. Theirs was the RV that housed the adorable Scotty that I had been admiring when he was being walked.

Deanna and Sarah Slide Show

From that evening on the girls were inseparable – they played Uno, Stratego and Sequence while talking about every topic under the sun including movies, books, music, relationships, families, pets, and longings for a private bedroom with a closet. Deanna taught Dave and Sarah how to geo-cache and Dave won a hat and water bottle as a prize. Mayim was thrilled when Deanna would come over because she knew all the favorite scratch places dogs like best. I loved hearing about Deanna’s favorite places to visit – I can’t wait to take her suggestions about RV parks in the Florida Keys and sledding in White Sands, New Mexico.

Deanna’s mother Cathy convinced me not to travel to Albuquerque on Friday, December 28th since it would be a big travel weekend which is not a good time to be on the road with an RV and tow car, so we extended our stay until January 2nd. It was a great idea to stay since it gave the girls more time together.

They became known as the Cupcake Queens. They made a couple dozen cupcakes each day and started taking them around to neighboring RV’s so that they’d have an excuse to make more the next day. Using some of Sarah’s recipes from a chef school she attended, they worked together to make a gourmet New Year’s Eve dinner with pineapple/mango salsa, black bean dip, chicken pot pie made with pastry dough, garlic bread, and for dessert, cupcakes and sugar cookies. We invited other RV neighbors Carla and John, toasted each other with champagne and sparkling cider at 10:00 pm as we watched the ball drop in New York’s off the east coast feed. After our dinner guests left, we watched “Ocean’s 13” and “My Super Ex-Girlfriend.” It was a great way to bring in 2008!

Dave and I couldn’t talk the girls into going with us to the “Out of Africa Wildlife Park” so we went by ourselves. The park isn’t a zoo or circus, but more a large, clean natural 104 acre habitat for tigers, lions, giraffes, African plains animals, bears, wolves, javelina, snakes and ostriches. Probably the reason it wasn’t a good representation of Africa on the day we were there was due to the cold, but that was extremely rare. Usually the Camp Verde location is perfect for the animals, on this day many of them stayed in their heated enclosures until it started to warm up after lunch. Dave and I came back to the car a couple times to warm back up.

The “shows” aren’t like at Sea World because the animals are not trained. During the tiger show, caretakers played with five 500+ pound tigers the way you’d play with a pet cat at home, with large strips of fabric “ribbons”, balloons to pop (soccer balls) and toys to chase. It was great fun to watch, and a little nerve wracking to watch a tiger sneak up playfully to pounce on a caregiver from behind – Dave and I were sure that caretaker was about to be a snack… After the show we got to feed the tigers giant chunks of meat – their teeth are beautifully white and the incisors are very long! When we got back to the RV, it was apparent that the girls hadn’t even missed us.

Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My! Slide Show

It was the beginning of a long-term friendship for Sarah and Deanna with another teen-on-the-road. We will miss Deanna very much and look forward to her coming to visit for a few weeks!