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 http://davesnotsoprivatejournal.blogspot.com/ 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.