Monday, January 28, 2008

1/28/08 Jalapeno Peppers!

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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

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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!