Sunday, December 20, 2009

Here are a few favorite pictures.
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Monday, October 26, 2009

San Diego Reunion

Serendipity brought us the opportunity to visit San Diego one more time before we head back to Illinois. Consider a few things to preface this story.
First I had scheduled a backpacking trip for this past weekend, October 24th-25th with a guy from work. He had to back out on me and we rescheduled for the previous weekend, the 17th-18th. He backed out then on the overnight hike and wanted to do a day hike. He cancelled on the day hike the morning we were going to go so I went out alone. Anyway, my original schedule would have put me in the desert over the weekend.
Traci and I had bantered about the idea to go back to San Diego to play on the beach. We had met people in Washington who had moved from San Diego so we figured we might be able to pimp them for ideas on where to visit. We struggled with the cost of hotels. We scoured the internet for camp site reservations. We couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to making the trip happen. We began losing the motivation for traveling six hours west just to play in the ocean. The kids were making plans with their friends from school and the significance of visiting San Diego was fading.
In a seemingly separate line of activities Traci began searching for a friend of ours, Nicki from Belleville. She was someone we had hung around with and we all sort of knew the same circle of people. Traci just thought “I wonder what she’s up to” and pursued her on facebook. She couldn’t remember how to spell Nicki’s married last name and after several failed attempts at finding her she typed in the name of one of her daughters. She had a hit. She had found one of the daughters.

Before we were married, Traci and I had spent several hours watching the daughters, four girls of a single mother who was trying to go to college. We would often go watch all four girls or break them off into groups so our friend could get some time to do whatever she wanted or needed to do. She was raising four girls by herself and any break I’m sure would have been helpful. We saw the girls and our friend off and on for several years until we moved out of the area and lost touch for a little while. The girls grew up, finished high school and began their own lives.
The daughter Traci found on facebook, Elyse, had listed her location as San Diego. Traci sent her a message finding out Nicki was going to be in San Diego the same weekend we wanted to go. Her youngest daughter, Janae, had joined the Navy and was taking our friend on the ship for a few days before while sailing together back to San Diego. A third daughter, Hannah, had also relocated from Belleville to San Diego. Three of the four daughters and our friend were all going to be in San Diego the same weekend we had tried to plan to go. They invited us to stay with them so a six hour car ride was no longer going to keep us from the coast. We advised our children to get ready to swim in the ocean, they love the beach.
Traci had the car packed and ready to go by the time I got home from work on Friday. I quickly ate up a chicken wrap for dinner, grabbed a few things, loaded our stuff and kids and were on the road 20 minutes after I got home. Traci had napped during the day so she was ready to drive. We had movies for the kids and began a long conversation into the dark night, reminiscing about our time with our friend and her girls. We talked about the state of the economy. We talked about our pending transition back to Illinois and a more permanent location. We stopped in Yuma for coffee and a potty break.
Heading into Yuma we had to cross back over the highway. On either side of the overpass we had to cross were two huge construction vehicles with the appearance of front end loaders with jack hammer attachments where one of the buckets should have been. The jack hammers were at work destroying the edges of the over pass we had to cross. As we crossed the light at the end of the over pass turned red. We sat on the over pass with the sounds of breaking concrete, the vibrations of the jack hammers shaking the entire bridge. The kids broke from their movie watching to examine the commotion all around us. Savannah offered she didn’t really like being on a bridge while it was being deconstructed from both sides. The ground shook, concrete fell away from the bridge, Traci gave me a worried look and the light turned green. We found our coffee and returned to the highway circumnavigating the construction project.

We pulled over at the address provided to us from our hosts, called them and waited. Soon enough they pulled up with a brief reunion of sorts on the sidewalk. Here was our friend and one of her daughters, Hannah, I couldn’t even recognize at first. Our friend hadn’t changed but the young woman in front of us was a new person, not the little girl I remember, the little girl who had carried the flowers at our wedding. We hugged our hellos and went into an apartment where Hannah had laid everything out for us.
It had been a late night so we slept in a little the next day then called our friends to see where to meet and go. We just wanted to go where the beach was and play in the waves. We decided on La Jolla. We followed Nicki while Hannah rode with us in case we were separated. When we got to the beach we met Elyse’s significant other, Cliff, and his daughter Ali. Ali was ten and we thought she and Savannah would get along well. Ali had just played in her first soccer game and was a little tired. Apparently Ali’s coaches were all Marines and they really liked to push their kids to their limits.
Cliff had brought some water toys, namely a body board and snorkeling gear to the beach. The waves were rolling in. Savannah, Shane, Sophia and I got in the chilly water with M and Cliff. We were knocked around in the surf and tried our hands at the body board. We crashed more than anything and had a great day freezing in the 64 degree waters. Traci, Hannah and Nicki stayed on the sand and chatted. Eventually Cliff and Ali took a nap while the kids played in the sand. We spent about three hours there until the hunger pangs reminded us we might need to eat something. Actually Cliff and Ali had packed up their stuff and were leaving to get some food and we all realized we might like some food too. Nicki mentioned something about fish tacos and Ocean Beach.
Traci and I had had fish tacos in Washington. We hadn’t been impressed. We paid for what had looked like two Van De Camp’s breaded fish sticks wrapped in a six inch flour tortilla with lettuce. I wasn’t getting excited about fish tacos. Nicki was very excited about fish tacos.
“Oh these fish tacos are the best, but your kids can’t go in, it’s a bar. Besides we can get a beer. Hannah can watch the kids. You spent enough time watching her when she was that age. For my girls getting these fish tacos is like a ritual. Janae can’t get them yet, she’s too young to go in the bar.”
I now share a great enthusiasm for these fish tacos. I thought these must be the kind of fish tacos people talk about, these must be the ones making people excited about fish tacos. One had a grilled piece of fish the other was lightly battered and fried. They snuggled into a flour tortilla under a healthy blanket of cabbage with a tasty white sauce drenched over the top. I added some hot sauce and dug in not stopping to breathe until my plate was empty. I washed it all down with a brave golden pilsner, slightly hoppy, very tasty.
We spent the moment between bites comparing stories and catching up with Nicki. We talked about Nicki’s most recent activities. She had settled for the time in Denver working per diem and traveling as much as possible. One of her daughters, Cher, was in pre-med in Alabama while the other three were in California. We shared stories from the past, made plans to meet in the future and just soaked up each others company. We talked about the girls’ challenges and successes.
Elyse, her eldest daughter had always wanted to come to California to live. So at age nineteen she left Belleville for California with 160 dollars and a few contacts she had met in the past. She lived with a few people for a while, spent some time without a home and eventually figured out how to make things work for her. I thought of all the ways things could have gone wrong. Elyse had made her own way and survived, thrived in the fallout from her experiences. She had met Cliff and was living with him and his daughter.
Cliff was one of the most laid back people I had ever met, not like sit around and chill “everything’s great dude” type laid back but a calm friendly person who seemed to want nothing more than to just be a great person. He helped out with everything, making us breakfast on Sunday. He brought all of the stuff to the beach for us to play with. He laughed and joked a lot. He showed us all around Balboa Park. I just never felt like he was anything but a good guy, which made him a great guy for Elyse.
Cliff and a friend had recorded some music and we listened to it while we chatted Saturday night over California burritos and Luigi’s slices. It was mostly relaxed guitar sounds with some rhythms, other electronic generated tones like keyboards, some vocals. It was some colorful combinations of styles and notes with a mellow vibe to it. Elyse called music to chill to. There were no real high’s or low’s, nothing overtly dramatic about the sounds but it did change and flow around itself with new sounds coming around each ebb drawing its listener to the next move in the music. The music played softly in the background but I would have liked to hear it and explore it more closely.
The music reminded me of the sunset we had just watched at sunset cliffs. The waves were still rolling in, crashing on the rocks. Nicki convinced us to let the older two kids climb down to the beach from the top of the cliffs. The path was wide down to a point about thirty feet above the beach where a knotted rope had been fixed for people to climb down to the sand. Several surfers were out in the water while a few people wandered up and down the beach in the dying light as the sun settled beyond the horizon. I went down the rope first. Shane and I had done more technical climbs in Illinois with our friend Jeff so I figured Shane would do well. The footholds in the cliff were stair stepped until the final ten feet. There you had to lean back and sort of hold your weight in your legs against the rock while holding the rope and walking down the cliff face. I made it down and spotted Shane as he quickly climbed down. Savannah started to lose her nerve toward the end of the climb.
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to climb back up” she said hanging onto the rope while leaning back and testing her strength.
Nicki coaxed her down, reassuring her the climb back up was easier then the descent. Savannah made it down and the sun cast a few colors across the clouds and the ocean. We were ready to climb back up. It was easier to go up and we all made it safely back to the top of the cliffs where Traci and Sophie waited. Traci took a sigh of relief and Shane told Nicki all about his climbing adventures in Illinois.
We finished the night visiting with Elyse, Cliff and Ali at their place where we ate the burritos and pizza and enjoyed perusing through some of Cliff’s home mixed music. It was relaxing, everyone telling stories about each other and enjoying learning the new places and experiences each had had. We were breaking for the night and Cliff threw in an offer to make chorizo and eggs in the morning and I couldn’t wait to wake up for some of that.
We slept hard and fast, everyone tired from fighting the waves and cliff faces. The next morning we wandered over to Cliff and Elyse’s for the chorizo and eggs. It turned out to be soyrizo and eggs, making a tasty dish healthier. This was a good time to be alive, healthy chorizo! How would it taste? Could soy chorizo be as good as pork? Well Cliff made sure it was as good. We had soyrizo and eggs in tortillas with potatoes and onions, cheese and sour cream some tapatio and you could not have had better chorizo and eggs.
We stuffed ourselves and were off to Balboa Park. We walked around the park until we ran out of time then we traveled across town to Cabrillo National Monument where we looked over the bay to the city. It capped off the weekend and we hugged our good byes promising to see everyone again, just sooner this time.
On our way back to Chandler we stopped at the sand dunes just outside of Yuma. We walked up the sand dunes in the whipping wind. Shane was on Tattooine as a Skywalker. Sophie was ready to play in the piles of sand. The wind was prohibitive for any play longer than a few minutes. When we got out of the car at the bottom of the dunes I briefly thought ‘I wonder if I will have a problem getting the minivan through the sand?’

We got stuck immediately after the car started moving. There were several four wheel drive vehicles around with high clearance. I thought we could have had someone push us out or pull us out as we dug the tires deeper in the sand, spinning with no traction. I put it in reverse and tried a rocking approach like I would have done in the snow. Funny, the kids just watched the television. I rocked us into a hole and I stopped. Traci looked at me with a ‘thanks for burying us in the sand’ look on her face. I decided I was getting out of the sand and gunned the engine. I put it in reverse and gunned the engine again and the car moved a little, I stayed with the gas and the car proceeded to move backward. I wasn’t giving up any momentum, forward or backward and we backed across the sand back to the asphalt road. We made it out of the sand and proceeded back to Chandler. We made it home just in time to go to bed, ready for another week.
The trip to San Diego had been refreshing, exhausting and meant a new appreciation for old friends. We could stand doing it again.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hot Weekend

Traci and I spent Friday evening together at the movies. It was a nice break for us to be together without the children. It was a great way to start the end of a long week.
The weekend was packed with excitement, record high temperatures, a birthday party, a hike in the desert and a health seminar. Saturday we split the family nearly in half, Savannah and Traci went to a Phoenix area hospital for a seminar on health while Shane, Sophia and I went to the Arizona mineral museum for the annual rock show, the first rock show either one of them has been to.
Sophie tried her hand at making jewelry at the mineral show. Shane spent his time learning about different minerals, sorting them and placing name placards near the apporpriate mineral. We panned for gold and inspected the exhibits. The museum gave examples of different minerals and ways they are mined and used in our daily lives.
We left the museum and went to Allison's birthday party. Allison is one of Sophie's friends from school. Shane was invited as well and he knew several of the other siblings as most of the guests were students from the school where Shane and Sophie attend. Shane disappeared into the fray while Sophie went inside to play in the toy room, an entire room full of toys. The temperature Saturday climbed to 102 degrees fahrenheit setting a record for October in Phoenix. Shane swam the entire afternoon. Sophie played inside. The party was fun. Each child had to make their own serving of ice cream using zip lock bags, ice cream mix, ice and salt, a little shaking and the ice cream was ready. Sophie found an ant who decided to bite her toe and she cried the pain away for a few minutes. After running around all day, ice cream, juice and cake the only difficulty I had at the party was severing our kids from the fun at the end of the day. Neither Shane nor Sophie wanted to leave.
We settled back home while Savannah and Traci updated us on their plans. Traci went out with Lisa and Erin for the evening while Savannah accepted an invitation to sleep over at her friend's home. Savannah and her friend had attended the seminar all day and wanted to spend the rest of the night together.
I put the kids to bed and watched a movie. Traci came home and we went to sleep. An hour into sleep my phone rang with Savannah on the other end requesting a ride back home, she wasn't feeling well. I picked her up and returned to sleep. An hour passed and Sophie woke up crying from the pain of her ant bite. I tended to her pain and she and I returned to sleep.
Earlier in the month I had made plans with a friend from work to go on a hike near the superstition mountains. He, his wife and I were going to hike the Angel basin trail to see some Indian ruins. I woke up early to get ready for the hike. My phone rang. It was my hiking partner. His wife had been up late and wanted to sleep in for the day and did not want to hike, he wasn't able to go. I was up early so I went out to a trail to hike. I couldn't make it back to the Angel Basin trail, the forest road was full of large rocks with deep ruts cut out in places, so I went out on the Picket Post trail. It was a good hike with some interesting views of mountains and buttes. I hiked for about four hours then returned home.
The rest of the day we lounged around the house. It was nice to relax and enjoy the air conditioning. Savannah recovered from her illness and we ended the day in the neighborhod park playing basketball.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Sophie has been having fun with her friend Ting. They have had play dates at least once a week.

Savannah and Traci spent a day at the Science Center for a home school field trip.

Shane woke me at 6:30 this morning and we headed out to Camelback Mountain. We had made a couple attempts at the top of the mountain when we first visited Arizona, never reaching the top. The previous attempt was stalled by an urge to visit the bathroom about 3/4 of the way up the trail. Today we were going to make it. All the way.

We parked down the street. The parking at this park was limited by a tiny lot at the base of the mountain. We walked up the street and rested at the ramada on the end of the parking lot. I asked Shane how far he wanted to go up. He asked how far was the top? The trail ran 1.2 miles in length and Shane shrugged, stating he wanted to go to the summit. We set off.

He belly ached, rested a lot, climbed, slid, shuffled and huffed all the way to the 3/4 mile marker. He stopped and began the petition for returning to the car. A large group of climbers came down the trail from the top and noticed Shane as they passed.
"Wow you're doing great! How old are you? Are you going to the top?"
Shane beamed, his resolve strengthened, the energy returning to his legs. We made the summit after a couple more hesitant requests to return to the car. He smiled and watched the clouds sail over the tall buildings of the Phoenix area. We celebrated and watched others celebrate the accomplishment of the day.

We had come up and were passed by a man who was making his third trip up the mountain for the day. He was 70 years old, a little bent at the waist with a richly tanned brown torso. He smiled and said, "here we go." and he walked past us effortlessly. He was congratulated by nearly everyone on the trail, he had passed everyone on one of his trips up the mountain or down the mountain or back up etc. He smiled the entire time. We were passed by him again as he climbed back down and we slowly worked our way up.

Traci had spent the night with Lisa and we picked her up on the way home. Shane related the story of our adventure, showing off his scraped arms and dusty face.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sin Town to Saint Table

We returned to Tombstone this past weekend. We have finally had a weekend where we were all together and the temperature outside was cool and not half a degree cooler than the surface of the sun. We went back to see some of the sites we failed to see on our first visit several months ago. We had the good fortune to have guests along for the trip, Trish and Trish.
Big Trish has been Trish's mother all little Trish's life. We met them the first go around in Arizona through Savannah's soccer team. We had had them over to the house for dinner and Savannah had spent some time with little Trish doing Girl Scout activities. Since we have returned to the valley Trish and Savannah have been running around together. It was nice for Savannah to have a companion and Traci and I had another adult around to chat with.
We booked a hotel in Tucson and drove down to Tombstone, arriving just in time to see the gunfight at the OK Corral. The actors portrayed some of the conflicts leading up to the big shoot out, reminding everyone in the crowd of the debauchery filled and lawless town Tombstone had been. The Earp's shot everyone then we went for dinner.

Just before dinner we toured the Birdcage Theater. The ghosts were not active at that time. There were many bullet holes in the ceiling, walls and bars. The place has been kept in a state of limbo between disrepair and condemnation. Water stains covered the ceiling. Historic artifacts crowded the walls and display cases. It was a little rambled together with interesting items on display showing what it may have been like to be in the middle of a game of faro or poker with Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday. The Black Moriah, the horse drawn hearse responsible for carrying nearly all of the dead to Boot Hill, was tucked into a corner. The gold leaf slightly peeling and the black curtains around the glass encased truck made the vehicle more ominous, as though it still carried the dead today only wasn't moving.
Dinner would have been better from the microwave in our house. The adults left with turning painful stomachs. The children seemed pleased with the meal. We drove back to Tucson for the night, stopping by Dairy Queen to cleanse the filthy taste of dinner from our not so distinguishing palates.
The next day we ventured out into Sabino Canyon, most likely named for the sabino grasses that grew there at one time and are now extinct. The canyon followed a wash through desert landscape at the base of Mt. Lemmon. A tram took us to the end of the canyon road where we got off to play in the trickling waters of the wash. The rain season in the desert had been light this year laving most of the waterfalls and stream beds to be either dry or pitted with small pools of water. We splashed and swam in these pools with saguaro and prickly pear cactus dotting the dry brown landscape while bright blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds filled in a picturesque backdrop. The kids stripped to their near bare nothings, jumping and chasing each other through the water. Savannah and Trish wandered a little deeper into the canyon and took pictures of their explorations. We hopped on the tram, tired and damp and went back to the car.

After a late lunch we contemplated driving home. Several old Spanish missions were in the area and we decided to drive to the closest one to see if we would have time to tour it. As we left Tucson headed south on I-19 a glowing white building appeared to the west. The unobstructed desert sun shining down on the bright white building made the illusion of the walls of the mission giving off their own light. We were impressed.
We pulled into the parking lot facing the mission with accordion music coming from a nearby building, the smell of frybread, crowds of people and children, and the church, a bright white structure with a beige relief adorning its facade. The bright blue sky with its scattered white clouds added a sense of drama to the scene. A small hill with a white cross at the top drew its own trickle of visitors.
We approached the church with reminders to the children of respect for the many observers of the religious rites practiced in the church. Inside worshippers were seated in pews and a line filed past a statue of Saint Francis laid out on a table and wrapped in a sheet. The people kissing and hugging the saint as they passed and pinning hospital bracelets, rosaries and flowers to the sheet. Traci and I later confessed to each other the statue had the appearance of a mummy from the end of the line at entrance to the sanctuary. We had stepped in line to see the ornate statues and alcoves in the sanctuary only to see this ritual of passing by the saint and offernig blessings to him. At one point a man lifted the statue giving the saint new life, the billowing sheet breathing for the saint. The sanctuary was adorned in colors and statues the saint rested quietly on the table as we passed neither breathing nor offering comfort.
We photographed the building, exploring its museum and various buildings. The mass was starting so we decided to head back to Chandler. We drove through a light sand storm turning the bright blue skies a dusty brown, filtering the sun to a faded orb in the sky. We made it through the storm in time to see the full moon rising in the east. We returned to our home and prepared for the coming week of school and work, having had another great adventure.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

We have been here for over a month and this feels familiar, almost comfortable, like a home. The past few weeks we have been working through illness, establishing our new schedules, visiting with friends and travelling out from Chandler.

I went to a Diamonbacks game atChase Field, then backpacking and fishing in Idaho. Mom flew to Santa Fe to work on her wedding duties as matron of honor for her friend's wedding. Savannah, Shane and Sophia have all started in school. We went north of Payson with our friends to their cabin. The majority of the time here has been at home. Once we defeated the illnesses we succumbed to we have had few hours to extend our Arizona explorations. We have calculated about three weekends where we may all have time together as a family. It feels wierd, we have tried to escape the feelings of running circles around ourselves and now we have found ourselves once again trying to catch up with each other. The brief time we have to be together as a family has proved preciously scarce with no respect to where we live.

Traci and I have had some Wednesdays together to visit museums and sight see in Phoenix. This Wednesday we visited the Heard Native American museum. The exhibits showcased the cultures, craftmanship and lifestyles of the tribes of North America. The museum has an impressive collection and interpretation of tools, clothing, art work and history of the people who originally inhabited and settled this continent. The time with Traci has been incredible. We have had so little time to share alone.

One exhibit described the indian boarding school program designed to educate natives and prepare them for modern life. The kids were rounded up, shipped off to schools, forced to speak English and forsake any of their cultural practices and attempts were made to change their appearance to make them more suitable for American life. Children were forced from their homes, their families, and their lifestyle with immediately imposed changes in diet, religion, language and culture. Many children died. More children were humiliated. Tuberculosis spread in the schools. The boys and girls' hair was cut. They were scrubbed with lye soap and doused with kerosene. Another reminder of poor choices attributable to our history.

We'll try to pick up the pace again and share some of the amazing and unique sights Arizona offers. We may just settle in, watch t.v. or play cards.