Andi and Stevyn. Two boys names for two sisters. Sisters who are similar in height, body shape, the sound of our voices, and fear of horse flies. We grew up as quarreling sisters until high school at which time we became great friends. We always knew that we wanted to live near each other and raise our children together, and until now, we've been able to do that. She's the younger sister but got married and started her family 6 years before me. So even though I'm older, she is wiser.
Despite our similarities, there are obvious differences between us, too. As my family uproots to move to Australia, her family plants roots a little deeper in the Illinois soil. As we sell our house, she is adding onto hers. We have no pets. She has chickens, two cats, and a dog. Every time I pull into her driveway and walk in her door, I have the feeling of everything good about my childhood memories. Her home is comfortable, creative, and decorated with children's art and smiling faces all over the walls. Andi has created a true home in every sense of the word and it has become a gathering place for family and friends, so I know I'm not alone in my opinions. She loves deeply and is extremely loyal. Her sweet and content disposition is a beautiful contrast to my restlessness and minimalist tendencies.
Our children are best friends. I have never seen a relationship like the one between her oldest daughter and my son. They never argue and their personalities are a perfect compliment to each other. Silas loves to talk silly and Lilia loves to giggle. Russia may have given birth to Lilia, but my sister brought her into our family and gave my little boy a best friend. It is a continuous joy for me to witness the happiness they find in each other. Andi's youngest daughter Georgia and my daughter Morgan are almost exactly 1 year apart. Georgia is naturally grown up for her age and seems to understand how life works better than the average 5 year old. So, she is older and wiser than Morgan and teaches Morgan all the ways of the world. Morgan looks up to her and argues with her and loves her deeply. Then there is Caleb, Andi's oldest son. I feel bad that I waited so late to have children because Caleb didn't have a cousin to grow up with. Instead he gets to be the cool big kid that my children look up to and adore. He plays Nerf guns with them, wrestles, and helps. I couldn't ask for a better role model for my children. I say all of this to illustrate why we make such an effort to drive the hour and a half to see each other for an afternoon of play.
Tonight I am spending the last night at her house until we return. This is the last time that Silas will tell all the other kids stories about Godzilla before they fall asleep. It's the last time I will catch the little girls having a dance party in their nightgowns. It's the last time Andi will pour out her hospitality on my family, for a year.
We came here today to make a special present for our parents for Christmas. What started as a simple project ended up taking all day. As tired as we both were, we stayed up far to late talking, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Since the children came along, our talks are interrupted and far too infrequent, but with our move to Australia, they will have to be put on hold for a year. I will miss Andi and her family more than I even realize at the moment of writing this. I asked the girls to promise to stop eating and put books on their heads so they will not grow and stay just the way they are until we return. They giggled, but I cried a little inside knowing that I am going to miss out on their transformation and they will miss out on ours. I feel the weight of separating beloved cousins and sisters across an incredibly large ocean and different hemisphere, but I pray that the bonds will not be broken...just stretched in a way that will rebound even stronger when we return.
Visas in Australia are complicated, requiring a lot of paperwork and time. We utilized a migration agent to help with our 457 visa details. He recently emailed us with the news...our visas have been approved.
This means that is it time to purchase flights and making solid travel plans. After doing extensive research for the last couple of days, I was pretty sure I was going to have to sell my beloved left and right big toes to afford our flights to Brisbane. You would think that one-way tickets would be cheaper than roundtrip tickets, but if they are, it's not by much. Add traveling during the holiday season, and you have a recipe for sticker shock. Thankfully, my web surfer guru of a husband read an article that suggested contacting a travel agent to assist with the flight research and purchase. My experience with travel agents was not very positive because I always was able to find cheaper flights on my own. But, I decided to trust this unknown author and give it a try. So I called an agent named Karen and told her what we needed. She found us tickets that ended up saving us $1200! We would have to fly out a little earlier than planned, and we would arrive in Brisbane on Christmas morning, of all days, but we could live with that. She was able to get a discounted price for the kids and found a Southwest flight to LA that was $200 less per person compared to what I found on my own. Moral of the story...try a travel agent for the big flights, or as my husband says, listen to the wise counsel of your husband.
Now the real packing begins...if we would only get well. Our whole family has been sick with colds and deep, rumbly, think-you're-going-to-pee-your-pants kind of coughs for about 4 weeks now. Two of us are on antibiotics finally, so we hope for relief soon. There is much to do, and little ears need to be clear for the plane ride. So let the healing commence!
For those of you considering visiting us in Australia, this is for you...Our trip will consist of a 4 hour flight to Los Angeles followed by a two night stay to rest up for the big daddy flight. Then we will hop on a 747 at almost midnight for a non-stop 14.5 hour flight to Brisbane, Australia. We will land at 7am on Christmas Day. I imagine that this will be one of the most miserable, exciting Christmas Days we've experienced. Troy and I will be grumpy zombies with two little lunatic zombie children as companions. Hopefully the excitement will overshadow our exhaustion, and we will be granted an extra portion of grace.
Our plan is simple...walk the children's legs off in LA at Legoland, Disney, or some other over-the-top experience, board the plane late at night so they will crash and sleep for 8 hours. Then have 2-3 movies and a gazillion snacks ready when they wake up to finish out the remainder of the flight. Our challenge will be preserving Morgan's dignity among the other flight passengers, as she is a hot natured sleeper and likes to strip down to her skivvies for sleep. Silas will likely do well as long as he knows he is getting out of doing any school work that day.
As I reflect on these last days before we leave, I am reminded of how I felt before each of my children's births. Great expectation combined with the knowledge that life as I know it will never be the same. Everything from here on out will be new in 14 days. It's easy to let fear and doubt creep in. Did we make the right decision? What if we can't do this? The sadness of leaving loved ones also sits heavy on my heart. My children have been raised with both of my parents only steps away and both of Troy's parents only an hour away. Daily Oreos with Papa and overnights with Nana will be replaced with Skype calls and emails. How will this separation impact them? But if I sit still in my uncertainty, a peace gently fills the gaps and mutes the fear. This is where strength and faith are born.
We stole an idea from our friends, the Currens, who are traveling full-time in their Airstream with their 3 children. They had a House Cooling Party before they moved into their Airstream. We thought it was a great idea, so we threw ourselves a House Cooling Party, too. Think of it as the opposite of a House Warming Party. Instead of people bringing gifts to welcome you to your new home, they come to take some of your stuff away and say good-bye.
So that is what we did. We invited our friends and family to our home and enticed them to come over by offering food. Then we asked them to rummage through our stuff and take home what they wanted.
We are reducing our household (2 adults and 2 children) down to a 12x10 storage unit so we can move to Australia for a year. Anything that won't fit won't be kept. So, it is a matter of prioritizing what is most important and the best use of the real estate. Grandma's flour sifter or my high school yearbooks? Troy's cowboy boots he hardly ever wears or my dishes from Japan that I hardly ever use? Troy's Elvis memorabilia or my toe puppets? You get the idea. Lots of decisions.
The house cooling party was a lot of fun for us. We loved hosting our friends and watching them go through our stuff. There were stories to tell about some of the items, and we found joy in seeing people pleased with their loot as they left. As an added bonus, an impromptu soccer game broke out in our empty living room the next morning with the kids. Think of all the spontaneity and creatively that we've stifled by having too much stuff and not enough margins in the past! There is nothing in the way to break, so bring on the cartwheels and the sword fighting.
Since we will only be traveling to Australia with our suitcases, we still have more stuff to get rid of, but this event put a big dent in the pile. As Troy and I processed how the day went, we both felt the same way. Happy with our decision and more committed to the process than before. One thing we forgot to mention to everyone who attended - this work visa could still get denied by the Australian government. If that happens, we want our stuff back!
In all seriousness, purging our stuff, on top of a move around the world, seems dramatic to me at times. Then I think of the book I just finished reading that outlined the living conditions in other parts of the world, and I am reminded that there is nothing drastic or dramatic about anything we are doing from a global viewpoint. America has a culture of consumerism, but just because we do that here, doesn't mean it is the norm. Other people get by, and even thrive, on much less than what we have. Our children will not suffer, and we probably won't even be able to recall much of stuff that we once owned. We are thankful for the people who have given freely and abundantly to us over the years, and we've enjoyed giving to others now as we downsize.
'There is a time for everything...a time to plant and a time to uproot..."
Down Under is calling, and we are responding! Although our travel date is not yet firm, we hope that we will be moving to Australia in the next few weeks. It is an exciting time for our family, and we keep hearing the phrase "once in a lifetime" from our family and friends. They may be right, but I hope not. I hope that this trip leads us to many more "once in a lifetime" opportunities to follow.
It was a difficult decision to make since we will be uprooting our family with 2 small children and moving halfway around the world. Before we were even presented with this option, we were planning on selling our house and moving into our Airstream. We were going to spend the winter in Florida and travel the country for at least a year. So we called Australia Plan A and the Airstream travel Plan B. If Australia had fallen through, Plan B was still a great option. We considered a move to Australia from every angle. Would our kids thrive? How would they deal with missing their cousins and grandparents? How would our marriage change in a new environment with different roles? What would our support network look like? What would happen when we returned to the United States? How would this impact our finances? We even hired the life/business coach, Chris LoCurto, to help us work through some of these potential issues. In the end, we decided to go for it.
We will be living in Brisbane, Australia for a minimum of 12 months for my work. Brisbane is a city of about 2.5 million people which is a stark contrast to where we live now - in the middle of Missouri on an 80-acre farm with one neighbor that you can see when the leaves fall off the trees. The closest store is 30 minutes away. We plan to live in the city center in Brisbane so we can walk to the markets and parks. I only know 2 people in Australia, but we are Instagram friends with some Australian Airstreamers and the Australian Airstream dealer down in Sydney. Hopefully we will have a chance to meet up with our extended family of Airstreamers while we are there. Maybe we can even rent an RV and travel part of Australia at some point.
But first we have to get there. There is much to be done to plan a move like this. Paperwork, work visas, health insurance, passports, bank accounts, credit card changes, doctor appointments, goodbyes, etc. Plus, what do we do with all of our stuff?
STUFF. Let's just think about that word for a minute. Yes, the word can be a noun describing a multitude of items, but it is also a figurative word for the way we have been living our lives until recently. Our closets are stuffed. Our drawers are stuffed. Our garage is stuffed. We had expanded our stuff to fill every available space. If we had more space, I'm sure we would have found more stuff to stuff it with.
After our 95 day adventure in the Airstream last winter, we came home feeling even more confined and suffocated by our stuff. You would think the opposite would be true, that we would have felt confined and suffocated by four people living in a small travel trailer for 3 months. However, we found freedom living small with less stuff. So, when we returned home, the contrast was striking. Too many dishes to wash, too many floors to clean, too many bathrooms to keep stocked. In the Airstream, cleaning was done in about 15 minutes. That included the kitchen, bathroom, and floors. When we returned home, it took me an entire day to clean our house.
Although it doesn't always happen this way, Troy and I were of like mind and decided to start downsizing with purpose. It started with my closet the same night we returned from our southwest Airstream adventure, and it is nearing the end as I write this, about 8 months later. Looking back, it seems that our move to Australia actually began with our trip out West. That trip set desires and a lifestyle in motion that made Australia a plausible option in our minds. We know that we can live in a small apartment without all of our stuff for a year and be happy. We know that investing in experiences and people rather than things is where we will find joy. We know that home is wherever we are all together. And we know that for this season of life, security and tradition are being overshadowed by exploration and inquisitiveness. We look forward to this new adventure and hope to share it with you through this blog....'Mate'.
One week from today, I am starting an accountability group for PiYo. (go here to eroll) The start of a new program is THE BEST! It's so exciting. I can't wait to see what the workouts will be like. The promise of transformation and results is a carrot in my mind. The hard part is the second week and beyond. The newness has worn off. The results haven't shown up, yet. So that's where the power of an accountability group comes to the rescue. I have done this with other programs and really saw the power of other people checking in with me and posting about their trials and success. It is a great way to bond, make new friends, and not feel so alone in my pursuit of health and wellness.
Just to make the initiation a little easier, here are some of the items I do to prep for starting a new program:
THINK ABOUT MY SCHEDULE: When am I going to commit to this program each day? The workouts are 30-45 minutes long, but I will need to set aside an hour. Before the kids get up? Lunch? After dinner? Do I want the kids to be a part of it so they can join in or is this going to be me time? When will this time be most protected and have the best chance of getting done each day? When do I have the most energy so I can get the most out of my workouts? Finally, if I happen to miss my scheduled workout time, when is my backup time?
DECIDE ON MY FOOD PLAN: I like to set some personal ground rules. For example, I may choose to go gluten free or cut out sugar. Sometimes it's as simple as eating healthy and giving myself the weekend off. Will I commit to Shakeology or Phood (my two favorite protein shakes) or will I make eggs and oatmeal? Will I eat before or after my workout? What healthy snacks will I be sure to keep on hand?
CHECK IN WITH MY BODY: Am I recovering from an injury? Do I feel weak or strong right now? Do I need to give myself permission to do the modifier (easier workout) for awhile to make sure I stay injury free? Sometimes coming out of the gate too strong ends in injury and I've had to stop in the middle of a program. To avoid this, I try to mentally prepare to not feel like I have to keep up. It is ok to take my time to work into a program in either intensity or duration and then build from there as I feel stronger.
SET MY GOAL FOR THE PROGRAM: This particular program is 8 weeks. What goals are realistic? How will I measure them to know if I was successful at the end. For some this is weight, for others it is the way clothes fit. Mine often includes how I feel. Can I do a push up and feel strong? Have I improved in my ability to do the workouts? Another great indicator of wellness and disease prevention is waist circumference and this is an easy one to measure. Keep in mind that average weight loss from working out and eating well is typically 1-2 pounds per week, but sometimes you won't even see that much if you are putting on muscle. If you are over 40, putting on muscle is KEY for long term weight maintenance. Weight can be a good goal, but I recommend coupling it with other goals so you can get a realistic picture of your improvements.
It's time for a new workout. I'm 40 now and it seems that my body doesn't take well to impact anymore. Little annoying injuries surface when I do too much running or jumping jacks. In fact, I'm still in the final stages of recovering from a foot injury that happened last summer.
This is why I have chosen PiYo. No impact, yet defining & challenging. Sounds perfect. PiYo is a combination of Pilates and Yoga in one workout. It's been in the fitness center arena for several years, but it is just now available for home consumers like me. Since I live in the middle of nowhere Missouri, the closest workout facility is small and 30 minutes away. And that's on a good day when the creek hasn't flooded the low water crossing. If I want to go to a bigger club that might have PiYo on the schedule, we are looking at a 45 minute drive. This is just not sustainable on an ongoing basis. So, I workout at home. Not my choice, but a necessity.
When I heard that PiYo was coming to the home consumer in the form of a DVD set, I knew I wanted to try it. What's even cooler is that I met some of the people in the video when I attended Smart Success in Anaheim earlier this year. In fact, my good friend Chloe Gibbs is even in the infomercial that will be coming out later this year. She saw amazing results from PiYo and has been an instructor for years, despite the fact that she has suffered from severe scoiosis her whole life. This gives me incredible trust in the program.
So, here I am. I purchased my PiYo kit today and should be ready to start in about a week.
Want to join me? I am an exercise physiologist and personal trainer, so I will support you the whole way through! Just 3 steps to enroll...
Troy brought it to my attention on our last day through Missouri, just prior to getting home, that we were gone for 95 days. For some reason, 95 days seems a lot longer than 3 months. After being gone that long, day 96 felt like a big deal.
Re-acquainting ourselves with our home reminded me of how it felt to come home to my parents' house during college breaks. It felt comfortable, familiar, and held lots of memories, but at the same time it felt like someone else's home and like someone else's life. My home for the last 95 days was small, aluminum, and looked somewhat like the inside of a tin can. The house we came back to felt enormous, even though it is average or maybe even small to some. The kitchen sink looked like a bathtub. I could get lost in our frig for 2 days. The ceilings, bathrooms, everything was so spacious. The four of us spread out immediately. Kids to the playroom, Troy and I to the loft. Personal space was something rare on our 95 day journey. Personal space was everywhere to be found when we returned. I can't say that one is good or one is bad, they are just different. It's nice to spend time alone, but it's also nice to spend time smashed together with the people you love.
One of the things I was most looking forward to when I returned was a shower in my master bedroom. It's a walk-in with a tall shower head and I can let it run continuously without fear of running out of water or filling up the gray tank. So, I went in the bathroom that evening and turned on the water. I was greeted by the smell of rotten eggs. It was bad. I guess that is a side effect of letting water sit in the hot water heater for long periods of time. So we had to empty the hot water heater since I didn't want to shower in stinky water. I was disappointed by the delay, but I still got my shower in later.
Something often not mentioned about RV living is the fact that most RV'ers don't put their toilet paper in the tanks. It tends to clog them up or at the very least, fill them up too fast. Our black (poop) tank is 18 gallons, so if we were camping at a place without sewer hookups, we had to be aware of how full our tanks were getting. Therefore, we always threw toilet paper into the trash rather than the toilet. Getting home, this proved to be a difficult habit to break. How freeing to realize that you can just put the tp right into the toilet. Is that TMI?
The day we got home, I also had a burning desire to immediately clean out my closet. I had 2 bags of clothes tied up and ready to give away before we even had the Airstream unloaded. It was so clear to me what I didn't want/need anymore.
So it began...a cleaning, throwing out, and organizing frenzy. Much of the stuff we have collected over the years seems silly to hang onto. We cherish the memories that the items trigger, so a quick picture of the item to preserve the memory, then time to get rid of it. It's kind of exciting to begin down-sizing our possessions. This process isn't for everyone, but we feel freer and less burdened as we see open space where there was once clutter. Seriously, how many shoes do I need? Most of them aren't comfortable anyway. Nic naks on the shelves? Just requires more dusting. Four glass baking dishes? Why? Crystal dishes and candle sticks, gone. Canoe that we never use? Craigslist. Goodwill. The dump. You get the idea.
On Day 96, Troy and I left the kids with my parents so we could re-stock our house with groceries. This was the first time we had been together without kids in 3 months. It made this trip to Costco seem like we were getting away with something or skipping school. It was fun to slowly shop every aisle, but the fun ended when we went out to the truck and found a completely flat tire. Two things we are grateful for...one, that the Costco tire shop was still open, and two, that we didn't have the flat tire the day before while towing the Airstream through the rolling hills of Missouri. .
So far, it's been good to be home. The grass is getting greener everyday. We went hiking in the woods to see what changes the winter brought to the property. The chicken hatched 7 new chicks. And the peahen hatched a clutch of 6 peachicks (minus one that the dog got to). The frogs are croaking which means a lake full of tadpoles is just around the corner. We celebrated little girls' birthdays with family and are enjoying re-uniting with friends. It is a sweet time, but we already miss our time in the Airstream and find ourselves exploring options for our next trip.
As we made our way through Texas, near the end of our 3 month trek across the Southwest, it worked out to hang with my long time friend Kelly and her beautiful family.
Kelly and I met in 10th grade (25 years ago) when her family moved next door to mine in Blytheville, Arkansas. She only lived there for about a year and a half before her dad's work took the family to Kentucky. But looking back, that brief time together had a profound impact on my life. We spent so much time together that our classmates nicknamed us the Twin Towers since we were both tall and lanky and often walked the halls in unison between classes. We spent weekends at each other's house, learned to drive together, and had first boyfriends at the same time. So I was devastated when she moved. We stayed in close contact for several years, but time and distance played their part in muting the friendship. Thanks to Facebook, we kept in touch the last few years which led to our visit on the way through Texas.
We ate pizza and then sat in the front lawn chatting, laughing at the kids' antics, and drinking a glass of Barefoot Red Moscato (hint hint to those of you looking for future birthday and Christmas ideas for me.). It's hard to put into words, but do you know that feeling when you see your children playing happily with the children of someone you love? Is it joy that our friendship lives on in the next generation? Contentment in the longevity of relationships? A chance to reminisce of happy times? I'm not sure what it is, but I feel the same way when my kids play with my sister's kids. Having cousins is a magical relationship born of history between siblings over time. The same is true of good friendships. Watching my kids enjoy the company of Kelly's kids brought me a deep satisfaction. I know we aren't related in blood and that we don't see each other often, but it still feels like a sister/cousin kind of connection. In these types of relationships we can find, and offer, grace, forgiveness, support, encouragement, and so much more to generations beyond our own.
P.S. Did I mention how HUGE their house felt to us after living in our Airstream for 3 months?!!
This state park in Texas was quiet, comfortable, and the kids REALLY enjoyed it. I'm not sure if it was because of the excitement of dinosaur footprints or the chance to play in a shallow river, but they repeatedly said how much fun they were having. Here is a conversation that happened repeatedly in this river. Me: "Let's head back and eat some lunch." Kids: "Not yet. Pleeeease! We are having so much fun. This is the best ever."
Even the earlier trauma of getting a piece of bark in his eye while climbing a tree was forgotten at the river. Morgan was too little to walk on the mossy rocks alone, so Daddy came to her rescue walking her back and forth across the river while she explored every footprint.
When the water level is low in the summer, they say you can see the footprints better. Even though the water was up during our visit, we saw several sauropod footprints (big and round) mixed with some meat eater footprints (smaller with 3 distinct toes).
We only stayed here one night before moving on to the North Texas Airstream Community. The NTAC is both a neighborhood and a campground for Airstream owners. When we joined the Wally Byam Caravan Club (WBCCI), we got 2 free nights at this community. They have houses and villas with attached RV bays for those that want a home-base for their travels. We are too young to buy property here because you have to be at least 45. That's not too many years away, but the other stipulation is that you can't have any minor children living with you. That's quite a few years off for us. It was a great location to work for a couple days and meet other Airstream owners.
We didn't really anticipate staying anywhere uber interesting in West Texas. But, sometimes the greatest joys are when you aren't expecting it. Like a movie that you heard was good rarely lives up to the expectation, the opposite is true, too. Having no expectation or even a bad expectation is fertile ground to be pleasantly surprised. So was the case at Monahan's Sandhills State Park.
We arrived early since the night before consisted of camping in a Cracker Barrel/Walmart parking lot. This really gave us two days to work, relax, and explore since checkout wasn't until 2pm the following day. The sandhills are very similar in appearance to the White Sands of New Mexico, but instead of being white, they are tan. The campsites are actually among the dunes which provided hours of fun for the kids.
They tried to sled with a table top we had, but it didn't work very well, and they played scenes from "The Croods" over and over. This video shows the depth of the sand. Very fun to go down the hill...challenging to go up the hill.
While I was inside working, Troy was reading outside and watching the kids play. He ran inside to tell me that a man in a bear costume came by to ask him to take his picture on top of the dunes. I thought it was a joke at first and waited for the punch line, but Troy was serious. Really? A man in a bear costume came by? We were one of only half a dozen campers in the whole park. What were the odds of a man in a bear costume coming by?
We grilled salmon and asparagus on the baby Weber. Then Troy and I strapped the Jungle Gym to the shelter and got a few reps in at sunset. I love these suspension straps because they are basically a gym in a bag. They are so versatile yet so compact. Perfect for being on the road.
The rest of the stay was uneventful, but we have a new appreciation for Texas and our new fondness of state parks grew again. Through the rest of Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, it became a goal to only stay in state parks. They were proving to be hidden gems among the ordinary.
These "Giants" at Carlsbad Caverns National Park were made from tiny, continuous drops of mineral water. Over time the deposits at the bottom (stalagmites) and deposits at the top (stalagtites) met in the middle to form these impressive columns. Notice how one is smooth and seems to flow downward while the other one standing right next to it appears to be blooming and reaching upward. How unique they are even in the same environment.
As I sit here and stare at this picture knowing how they formed, I am reminded that our lives are very similar to these columns. We don't grow into who we are overnight. Instead experiences, people, events, relationships, and feelings continually shape us slowly into the person that we become. For most of us, it's hard to identify a moment that made us what we are today. Instead, like these cave deposits, every little moment builds to create the totality of us - masterpieces that could never be duplicated.
Learning to ride an old beat up yellow bicycle when I was 6, making my first best friend, roller skate dancing to "Hey Mickey" in the basement with my sister, feeling hurt when I caught a friend lie to me at the bus stop in 4th grade, getting pooped on by a bird at the same bus stop, a skinned knee in 5th grade, sitting in someone's loogie at the swimming pool in college, locking my keys in my car over and over again - these millions of tiny moments made me, me. The same is true for my kids. They probably won't even remember this 3 month trip we took the winter of 2014 or the fact that we went 75 stories down into the earth to explore Carlsbad Caverns. But the culmination of how they felt on the trip and the images burned into their little minds will still affect their future. Maybe going into Carlsbad Caverns taught them to manage fear or embrace exploration. The conversation with the park ranger giving out badges might have made an impression that smiling people are nice to be around. Mommy's fearful reaction to the drop off on the side of the road could have showed them how to offer support. It's hard to say what is "sticking" on my children, and for that matter myself and my husband, during this trip. But I think that it has created some beautiful colors, ripples, and patterns in all of our lives, not dissimilar to the giant columns above.
In an effort to bring my focus back to our day at Carlsbad Caverns, let me start by saying that this cave is known for many things, but two that were particularly interesting to us - the bat colony that flies out every night at sunset and the natural entrance into the cave. Unfortunately, we didn't get to experience either. We arrived too late to go in through the natural entrance. They close that entrance at 2pm each day. But, we were thrilled to make it with about 30 seconds to spare for the last elevator ride down to the bottom at 3:30pm. Normally the lines for the elevators are an hour or more long, but we got right on and had the cave to ourselves.
The reason we didn't get to see the bat colony at sunset is because they migrate south in the winter and don't come back until late April or May, so we were too early in the season to see them. It's hard to imagine that 400,000 bats fly out together. The person who discovered the cave noticed the "black smoke" coming out of the ground. Turns out that the "smoke" was actually bats. The ranger said that they will typically have 1000 or more people watching the bats exit the cave each evening. I bet it is a madhouse at Carlsbad in the summertime.
Despite missing those two items, we still had a great time exploring the cave and were glad we made the effort to get there. Our National Park Pass saved us the $20 entrance fee, which made the visit free which was even better.
As I reflect on how visiting Carlsbad Caverns grew me personally, I can probably identify a few things like now I know that bats migrate. I had never considered that before. But the experience more than likely contained a thousand drips of impact on me that I will never be conscious of until later, if even then, but they will still contribute to shaping me and my family into our own unique columns.
After the state park fiasco the previous night, we made a beeline for American RV Park in Albuquerque. We knew it from a previous stay. It had a playground, laundry facilities, and full hook ups. So we worked the rest of the week there before heading south through New Mexico in search of warmer weather.
VERY LARGE ARRAY
Our first stop was the VLA or Very Large Array. We first read about it on our friend's blog Man in the Maze. The name was of interest to me. Rather than National Radio Astronomy Observatory, it was named Very Large Array. Kind of nondescript, don't you agree? After having been there, though, it is a perfectly fitting name. Set in the backdrop of the high desert of New Mexico are these very large, white dish receivers that listen to outer space. There are 27 of them lined up in a huge "Y" pattern, and they are all connected to a super computer that processes and stores all the data they receive. It can do 3 billion processes per second! This pattern and collective of data from different angles creates the essence of one enormous radio antenna that can be seen from space. From the radio waves emitted by objects in space, they can create images of stars, black holes, and other galaxies.
We had the place to ourselves on a sunny, but extremely windy, day. First we watched the 20 minute documentary about the observatory - how they collect the data, move the receivers on a specialized rail system, interpret the data in conjunction with other observatories such as the Hubble telescope to "see" deep into outer space. The best part for me was getting to actually go out and see the real deal after watching the movie. It was like science class from school, but in 3D. A trail led us to one of the 27 radio antennas, and we were dwarfed by their size. We all ooohhh'd and aaaahhh'd while Morgan danced in the wind. Several movies were shot on location like one of the Terminators and Contact with Jodie Foster. We added those to our mental Netflix queue and grabbed some lunch in the Airstream.
WHITE SANDS NATIONAL MONUMENT
After we left the VLA, we headed southeast to White Sands National Monument. We got there just in time to pick up the Junior Ranger books for the kids before the visitor center closed. White Sands was beautiful, serene, and expansive. It also played tricks on our minds because it looked like a massive snow storm had hit the area. White sand was piled high on the sides of the road just like our roads back home after the snow plow had come by. No hats needed. No gloves. Bare feet in the soft sand were perfectly comfortable. Rolling drifts of stark white sand in the setting sun....absolutely breathtaking.
OLIVER LEE STATE PARK
We made it to Oliver Lee State Park (which is about 20 minutes from White Sands) right at dark. There was one electric site left and it happened to be a pull through, so no backing in the dark. Perfect. After getting the kids in bed, Troy and I sat outside in our lawn chairs and gazed at the stars. There was no light from a town nearby so we could see the night sky spilling over with stars of every size and brightness.
We woke to discover a mountain and canyon behind us that the Apache Indians lived in and defended aggressively. It was an ideal place to live in an area with so little rainfall each year because a stream flowed through the canyon providing both water and protection. We would have liked to have spent more time exploring; however, we wanted to get to Carlsbad Caverns before they closed at 3pm, so we decided to forgo a hike through the canyon. Even with this decision, we still got a later start than we wanted because Morgan fell down on the road and scraped the scabs from a previous fall off her knees. It was tragic. Many tears and hugs and bandages later, we were finally on our way.
The beauty of the morning and the pain of the scraped knees brought to mind a line in a song from my high school days. "Joy and pain. Sunshine and rain." These are our days. A little good mixed with a little bad adds up for some great memories, bonding, and stories.
Our time for roaming was (mostly) over. Time to turn the Gray Whale East and head toward home in Missouri. We left Escondido and opted for the northern route East on I-40. This was mainly because I had a meeting with a fitness center in Albuquerque in a couple of days, but we hadn't been on this end of I-40 before, so it seemed like an adventure. We drove further than we anticipated and got to Needles, CA which is right on the border of CA and AZ. It was a horrible stay at an older KOA. Nothing really wrong with the KOA, but the wind that night was intense. It kept us up most of the night because the Airstream felt like it would take off in flight any minute. We were reluctant to get on the road the next day, but the wind was supposed to die down, so we headed out after work. So began our not-so-happy quest for our next overnight...
Try 1: I write this with regret, as it was not our greatest hour in our camping career. It began with a late start on the road. We wanted to drive 250 miles to Meteor Crater Campground on the other side of Flagstaff, AZ. We called ahead and it seemed like a great spot for us. However, on the way, we changed our minds and decided to try to stay in a Camping World parking lot. But there was no room and we got ourselves in a tight spot. With Troy's creative backing skills, we got the Whale out in one piece.
Try 2: Next we decided to stay in a Flagstaff Walmart parking lot. It would be free and we needed groceries anyway. Turns out that Flagstaff had a city ordinance against overnight parking, so we moved back to our original plan - Meteor Crater Campground.
Try 3. We found the campground, but it was significantly later than we originally planned and the campground was locked. Big gates were at both entrances. Snap! Now what? We tried to turn around in a wide spot in the road. No luck. At 30 feet, we were too long to be agile. Surprisingly, there were no outbursts of frustration even though it was late and we were stuck in a difficult position for the second time within an hour. We finally got the Airstream pointed in the original direction down the long road toward the crater. After driving 4 miles down this dark, lonely road, straining our eyes to find a spot wide enough to turn around in, yet level enough to not scrape our dump valve, we finally found the perfect spot. Back to the highway.
Try 4. We had no choice but to drive on 20 more miles with a congested Troy and kids who were sick of the truck by now. The GPS tried to get us to Homolovi State Park via a "no access" restricted roadway. This was getting ridiculous by now, so we decided to give the Pilot gas station parking lot a try since it was so late. But it was packed. There were no big rig parking spots left. So, Troy ran in to get a drink and see if anyone knew where this state park might be. Turns out it was only one more exit down, so we hopped back in the truck and eventually found it in the dark. For $20 we got electricity and a secluded campsite near the Hopi people's tribal ruins dating back to 620 AD. Great spot, it was just soured from our difficult time getting there...the downside to waiting too late and planning too little.
We settled at Escondido RV Resort while I attended my second conference of the trip. IHRSA, the biggest fitness conference of the year, was in San Diego this year. So I spent 2 days talking fitness with the best in the industry while Troy and the kids enjoyed some of the sites in the area.
After dropping me off, they headed to La Jolla and watched the seals and their babies swimming in the low tide.
After IHRSA, I hopped on an Amtrak train and headed up the coast to Anaheim to attend my third conference of the trip. This stretch of track was thoroughly enjoyable. My first train ride was when my college roommate and I backpacked through Europe almost 20 years ago. A few years later I went back to Europe with a group of 6 friends and family and rode the train between France and Italy, but I don't remember any of those trains being this clean, spacious, and comfortable. The beauty of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean was breathtaking. It's one of the best $28 I've spent.
Troy and the kids continued their 4 day Daddy-bonding event by hanging out in Escondido for a couple days while I was at this final conference. Smart Success was a personal development event put on by Chalene Johnson. It was fun to catch up with a few friends and hear from amazing speakers like Bo Eason, pro football player and author of Runt of the Litter. His lecture alone was worth the whole trip. Basically, your story is the most powerful tool you have. What may seem ordinary and boring to you is extraordinary and incredible to others. Use your story to motivate, lead, and teach others. Being open and vulnerable is being brave. Feel, love, and take risks.
Chalene offered practical takeaways to improve focus, time management, delegation, and reverse engineering based on goals and priorities. This final event helped me gain a deeper understanding of why we are on this 3 month trip. We value time together as a family. We value new experiences because they change the way we think about ourselves and our surroundings. We are guilty of thinking inside a box, and putting others into boxes, unconsciously. When in reality, there are no limits or boundaries to what we or others can accomplish and no one's story is finished until that final breath. This trip has been a step out of our rut. And how refreshing it has been.
One of the more important things Troy and I can do for our children is to help them identify their own passions and values and pursue those. We tend to think that homeschooling is our way of customizing their educational experience to their interests and that exposing them to many people and places will help them think outside of the norm. There is wisdom and wealth to be found in simply knowing yourself. For some, this is a spiritual journey. For others it is a journey of freedom. May you always seek a deeper understanding of yourself and your world.
Silver Strands is a California State Beach. $65 for front row sites and $50 for everything else. Really it is just a parking lot at the beach with electric and water hookups. This section of beach was different than Doheny because the waves broke further out and it was a longer, slower grade into the water. At Doheny it was somewhat steep and the waves broke right at the water line which makes more drastic changes in water depth right at the edge. With a 3 year old, I prefer the longer, shallower beach.
The one thing about camping at Silver Strands that didn't sit well with us was the curfew. They lock the gate to the park at 8pm and reopen it at 8am. If you miss the curfew, you have to park your car outside the gate and walk a mile in to the campground. Not ideal for exploring or even going out to dinner.
Silas was quite the scavenger at this beach. First he found an old harness that had washed up. It had been out in the ocean long enough to have barnacles growing on all the buckles, so we had fun imagining who wore it, how it got lost at sea. We finally decided that it was from a shipwreck and someone probably died wearing it.
The next thing Silas found was a rock with seaweed growing on it. It was anchored so tight that this rock could be lifted and used as a catapult by holding onto the seaweed. We were all impressed with the strength of the plant.
Overall, we are glad we stayed at Silver Strands, but I'm not sure we would go back.
Never say never. We passed on this campground earlier in the week because is was $35 for no hook ups which seemed like a ripoff. But now we really wanted to be by the beach, so we gave it a try on our way out of Anaheim. Doheny is at Dana Point which is known for whale watching. We didn't see any, but we did enjoy the beach, playground with an ocean view, and the harbor.
I worked at a local Starbucks that was across the street from the San Juan Capistrano Mission. It was established in the late 1700's, but is known for the swallows that migrate from Argentina and arrive on the same day each year.
The sunsets at Doheny were the best. We stayed 2 nights until our battery power was getting low, so we headed south toward San Diego...for the third time this trip.
Goosebumps. That is the feeling I had walking onto the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim. We had re-arranged our trip so I could help my co-worker work our Natural Fitness yoga products booth for this expo. Troy and the kids dropped me off at the Anaheim Convention Center and headed to the beach for the day. The first thing I saw as I walked toward the vendor hall was an Airstream. Huh? No way! It was a classic model all shined up and sporting the Chia Co logo. As I walked by they offered me a Chia Pod. It was heated up berries, oats, and chia seeds. Yumm!
The second thing I saw was another Airstream! Huh? No way! This one was promoting another company but was a new model Airstream that they had rented for the event. The renter even put their graphics on it just for this event. All I could see were dollar signs. They didn't give me any free food, but I still posed for a picture in front of it.
Once I got inside, I realized that this was at least 4 times bigger than any fitness conference I've ever attended. The line to get my badge was seriously about a 1/4 mile long. Thankfully I had the free Chia Pod to occupy me in line.
Since I was in our Natural Fitness booth most of the time, I probably only got to see about 4 rows of vendors, but I could have spent all day just on 1 floor and there were 3 floors! Everything you can imagine from natural supplements, clothing, energy bars/drinks, candles, toothpaste, baby food, and much more. For lunch, I simply walked down a few aisles and collected free food. Chobani plain greek yogurt with granola and honey on top was my favorite. The Bare coconut chips were a close second. But the kale dips with different flavorings on them were a dud. (I like mine better.) And winner of the best name was the flax seed cracker...Flackers.
We left San Diego in the rain and headed north along the coast toward LA. Although Silas said that he recognized the area, this was new territory for all of us. It was a short day of driving, but a rest area along the way still provided a pleasant view, a snail to build a home for, and a race track for Morgan and Daddy.
Our first attempt at camping was in Doheny State Beach, Dana Point. However, we left after we found out that sites are $35 for no hookups. No thank you. Our next stop was Orangeland in Anaheim. They had the worst customer service at the front desk and their pool was out of service for the week. No thank you, again. We finally settled on Anaheim RV Park. Great customer service, great site, close to my conference later in the week, and their pool worked. The best part was that in the midst of all the uncertainty and changed plans, Troy and I were calm, cool, and collected. We actually went with the flow today without any ruffled feathers. Maybe we are starting to get the hang of this.
After settling in, we used our new baby Weber grill for the first time. It worked like a dream and kept the heat and mess out of the trailer. Troy fired it up, threw on the chicken, and voila!, done by the time my biscuits were ready. Later in the evening, we watched the Oscars. This is something we've done before, but this year it was different. I don't know why it mattered, but knowing that the Oscars were actually happening, live, not far from where we were camping made the actors seem more like real people. The night ended with fireworks from Disneyland. Our campground is so close that we felt like we had a private viewing, so we got the kids out of their bunks to watch the fireworks outside. On that note, we are not going to Disneyland while we are here. As much as we wish we were on a perpetual vacation, we aren't. Most days are simply work, homeschooling, laundry, and legos. We did make it to Downtown Disney, though, for a visit to Jamba Juice and the Lego Store.
We already went to the San Diego Zoo a few weeks ago, but we did it again when Grammy and Lilia came to visit. It was a last minute decision based on weather, so I took the day off work, and we headed to the zoo. We got there almost when the zoo opened a little after 9am and got front row parking. Since it was a Wednesday and it was overcast, there were no crowds. In fact, we may have been the only ones on the whole bus as we shuttled from one area to another.
This zoo is too big to see all in one day. Last time we missed the whole children's area. This time we missed the aviary. But we did see a mossa and a pangolin, which were both firsts for all of us.
The end of the day brought a small $5 toy for each of the kids. They all ended up with the same rubber bat, which was a fitting souvenir since we didn't see any bats.
Much excitement and anticipation filled our little Airstream for several weeks prior to the upcoming visit from Grammy and cousin Lilia. But when they arrived in San Diego, the weather prediction was rain and colder temperatures. Since leaving Missouri the day after Christmas, we had not seen more than a few drops of rain, and certainly not enough to even get the ground wet. In fact, California was in the middle of a drought which suggests that my mom did bring her bad Missouri weather with her to San Diego. So we were in somewhat of a panic to hurry up and have fun in the sun while there was still some sun. We chose to stay at the San Diego KOA for her visit because it had RV sites with full hook ups right next to furnished cabins, as well as a playground and pool for the kids.
Taking advantage of a decent weather day, we headed to Point Loma, a National Monument on a peninsula on the north end of San Diego, the morning after they arrived. Our National Park Pass saved us the $5 entrance fee to the park. First stop was the visitors' center where we met up with some Instagram friends from www.currentlywandering.com, Jess and Sam and their three children. They have been traveling in the same area as us for awhile, so we decided to meet up and knock out some Junior Ranger badges together.
Next stop was the tide pool area below the cliffs. It was a short hike down to the rocky sea floor where we found the most interesting pools of living plants and creatures. This dwarfed our first trip to tide pools in Carlsbad a few weeks prior. Low tide was at 12:38pm and we hit it on the nose. The round, smooth rocks were exposed, but were wet and slippery with plant growth. Thankfully nobody fell down.
The trek to get their Jr. Ranger badges included a trip around the visitors center museum about the man Juan Cabrillo who was the first European to set foot on the West Coast in 1542. We then moved to the Point Loma Lighthouse and whale overlook and learned that baby gray whales are born in Baja, Mexico, or as our kids renamed it "Baja, ha, ha, ha" giggling every time they said it. There was also a painting of a gray whale on the concrete that was the color and length of our Airstream, so we felt justified in the name we gave our Airstream when we got her...The Gray Whale.
We never saw a whale, but we did see a submarine surfaced in the distance, which was almost as exciting.
Our week and a half at Sam's Family Spa in Desert Hot Springs was over. Time to head toward the coast for business meetings and a visit from Grammy. Our last sunset was a beautiful send-off.
The 2.5 hour drive to San Diego was uneventful, although we did stop at Souplantation again for a hearty dinner. While waiting for Troy to finish his muffin, the kids and I got some exercise racing up and down the 8 flights of steps in the parking lot.
Our destination was the Metro San Diego KOA. It was actually in Chula Vista south of the city. It won an award for KOA's in the nation, so we were excited to stay there for a week. As I write this after-the-fact, we are starting to realize that we may prefer the BLM land or a state park to these commercial RV resorts.
This was our second trip to San Diego in a few weeks' time and it was different than the first. Our overwhelming excitement to see the beach on the first trip was not there this time. We still loved the ocean and wanted to see it, but it could wait until tomorrow. The driving force and anticipation was muted a little. This served as a reminder to live, embrace, and enjoy all our "firsts." First Date. First Baby. First Camping Trip. First _____ . Let's take note, express, and remember how we feel on future "firsts." Most importantly, let's not forget to seek out more "firsts."
After a lazy Saturday morning, we went over to the playground to get a quick workout in with the Lifeline Jungle Gym suspension straps and let the kids play. I love these things because they are so mobile. It is an instant gym and full body workout, and you just need a sturdy anchor. Should we hang out at the campground and swim or jump in the truck and head to Joshua Tree National Park? The only thing we knew about the place was that some of our friends had stayed there and posted pictures of a rock that looked like a skull. So, with no real expectations, we decided to pack a lunch and head to Joshua tree. It was about a 45 minute drive from Sam's Family Spa Campground in Desert Hot Springs where we were camped to get to the West Entrance of Joshua Tree. There are 3 entrances, so it took a phone call for us to decide which would be the best option for us.
When we got to the visitors' center, we picked up a map and got a few highlights of what to hit first. The kids were starting to complain that they were hungry, but we still had about 15 miles to go before getting to the picnic area at the "Hidden Valley" trail that the lady had recommended. So, we broke out the chips and pushed on. The first thing we noticed were all the Joshua Trees. Hence the name of the park. The trees are everywhere. It looked like a Joshua Tree farm in certain areas. Upon closer investigation, we decided that a Joshua Tree must be a cross between a palm tree, cactus, and pine tree. The bark is "hairy" looking and the leaves are small tufts of green. Bizarre and beautiful.
The second thing we noticed were the huge piles of boulders everywhere. Our first stop was supposed to be Hidden Valley to eat lunch and watch the rock climbers, but we saw a group of rocks that just had to be climbed and stopped for our lunch on a rock. As we all jumped out of the truck, you could feel our excitement. It was an exercise in will power to sit down and eat lunch before playing on the rocks. In case you are wondering, 3 years old is too little to climb these boulders, but too old to be left behind. We helped her do as much as possible, but it was exhausting for us...well, Troy. Silas (age 7) and I climbed as high as I felt safe. He was actually a really good climber using skill and common sense to gain my confidence.
It was so much fun, but our hands got sore from the rocks and we were in need of water, so we headed back to the truck and drove on to Hidden Valley. It is an area of the desert surrounded by rock piles and creating a valley in the middle. The trail was only a mile, but it took us over an hour to do the loop because there was so much to see and there were so many rocks that needed climbing. Silas saw a lizard hiding in a crack where he was about to put his hand and that freaked us out a little. The last thing we wanted was a gila monster bite (they clamp on and gnaw repeatedly injecting poison) or a rattlesnake bite (the anti venom treatment is about $150,000).
We absolutely loved Hidden Valley and left reluctantly because we were tired and needed water. After a bit of driving we came upon Skull Rock. It was a short hike, so we hoped out and let Silas be a "booger in the nose of the skull" as he requested. The rocks were more crumbly here, so we weren't as comfortable climbing around with the kids since we couldn't trust our hand and foot holds as much as the other rocks.
As we were leaving Skull Rock, we ran into this wolf named Sage. Sage has a business card and a career. He is an actor and stunt wolf for movies and tv. His owner/trainer was more than happy to brag about Sage's jobs working with Kevin Costner, Jennifer Aniston, and many more. So keep an eye out for Sage to show up on the big screen in the year to come.
One of our weekend day trips was 6 miles down the road to Coachella Nature Preserve. It is a palm oasis fed by an underground spring. It was a 2.4 mile round trip hike in soft sand and wooden bridges. Silas and Morgan spotted 10 lizards on the trail and tried to find the bobcat that lived on the preserve, with no luck.
The palms in the oasis are not cut or manicured except to allow people to pass under them on the trail because bats, rats, snakes, lizards, and spiders find refuge in the leaves.
After we returned to the visitors' center, the kids rummaged through the touch drawers filled with animal bones and other collectibles from the area. There were no Junior Ranger badges to be earned, but there was still much to be learned.
By the time we finished exploring we were famished, so we headed over to Souplantation for lunch. It is a sister restaurant to Sweet Tomatoes, which we love. The salad bar, soups, and corn bread hit the spot.
Sam's campground is in Desert Hot Springs, CA right by Palm Springs. We were referred here by a friend. It is really one of the only options for a family in this area because most of the campgrounds are age-restricted (55+) or $100 or more per night. The monthly rate for Sam's is $560 which is super cheap. They don't take reservations, so it is always first-come-first-served. The sites are all full hook up and it is just a short walk to the hub where there is a heated pool and baby pool both fed by the hot mineral springs and 4 smaller, hotter pools under the awning.
Each of the 4 mineral pools gets hotter by 1 degree, so you can pick your temperature. Just like they have done since the 1970's, the pools are filled, drained, and cleaned every day so they don't have to use any chemicals...just pure spring-fed mineral water.
We left Lazy Days without a solid plan. The only thing we knew we had to do was be available for a meeting with the Valley of the Sun YMCA's in Phoenix for my work on Monday morning. After that, we were free as the wind until my mom and niece flew into San Diego to visit in a couple weeks. So after a couple nights in Phoenix, we stopped over in Quartzsite again for a night. The last time we were in Quartzsite, it was for the RV show. Every spot of BLM land was filled with RV's. BLM land stands for Bureau of Land Management. They let you dry camp on it for up to 14 days for free. This time, the town was almost empty. There were a few RV's scattered around, but we easily found a field all to ourselves.
It was hot and sunny and perfect after a week of chilly weather in Tucson.
Collecting rocks, pizza at Silly Al's, and a fire made this one night stay delightful. If we had a generator or solar power, we would have stayed all week. Since we left 6 weeks ago, this was only the second fire we had and it was with one lone, lonely, loner log. There isn't much wood to be found in the desert and the stores were all out. Hummm....could be a good business opportunity?
My name is Stevyn. I am a wife, mother, and exercise physiologist with one foot in the world of travel and one foot in the world of fitness. Learn more about me here.
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