Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Brother's Great Idea

We recently traveled to my brother's home in Southern Illinois. He had the idea to take the kids to a local park with a Dungeons and Dragons theme complete with a castle playground, wizards, dragons, goblins and archers. The park was a brilliantly done and a peaceful memorial to a young man who left this earth much too early in his life. The "Boo" Rochman memorial park was built by his family to remember a young man's life. The park is full of surprises. Private donations allow for the operations of the park and it was open to the public. Our kids loved the park almost as much as I did. I did have to spend some time unsuccessfully explaining the dungeons and dragons game. My explanation was met with shrugs as the kids all ran off to enjoy climbing and exploring the park.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Summer Days Ending

We were tempted by a little cooler weather to brave the bike trails. We loaded the kids, the dog, the bikes, some water and ourselves into the car and drove over to the bridge, a section of the trail spanning a local highway. We unloaded and the kids and dog were off. We were off to a slower start than they were but managed a nice even pace through the light of the setting sun. The corn stood tall on every side of our walk shielding us from the golden rays of the retreating guardian of daylight.

The kids were fighting and racing along the trail while the dog chased after them and came back to us. He ran back and forth from the cycling children to the gently ambling parents. We were able to let him run off leash most of the evening until few fellow cyclists and walker passed by. We then called him over and put him on leash until all of the other traffic dissipated and we were left alone with our own group. Jack the dog ran and ran all evening chasing the children and then checking on the parents. We tried our best to tire the puppy out but he has resolved to run every minute of his life, wherever he goes. There appears to be no limit to his source of energy, no boundary to his kinesis.

Shane and Sophie have done some experimenting this summer. Shane has done the classic volcano powered by the acid base clash of vinegar and baking soda framed in the Star Wars diorama from the volcano planet where Darth Vader was born. He poured the red vinegar into the tubes and watched as the foaming lava oozed from the volcano and nearly wiped out the light saber duelers at the base of the mountain.

Sophie has nurtured caterpillars into butterflies. She has taken the caterpillars and placed them in their home until they formed chrysalid. She watched nearly every day until the butterflies broke free and began flying around their little home. She released them into the world after giving them much love and sugar water. We were all fascinated by the process.

Savannah has started fall soccer with the local recreation league. She has been working hard in the goal and on the field.  She has spent most of the recent days with hopeful anticipation of school starting again. Her soccer skills have been improving while she has prepared for the challenges of another school year, with new friends and new teachers.


Shane has begun a long journey toward the x-games. He has been tearing up the skate park on his BMX. He has been training hard trying to master the bunny hop and jump the ramps in the park. He tried skateboarding and found it to be more than he was prepared to do. He felt the BMX tricks were closer to his abilities. He has been all over the skate park breaking in his nerve to try bigger and better tricks. He has not crashed hard enough to break anything but has crashed pretty hard a few times.

We have been back to the shut-ins for a day of water play. The cool water was a treat and sliding through the chutes made the river more exciting. There were a few scrapes and tumbles. Over-all it was a place where the heat made the visit more enjoyable.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Last Month

August would seem a good time to talk about where we were in July. We spent the holiday on the fourth in Kentucky with Aunt Rebecca and Uncle Jason.  They hosted the entire clan from cousins to grandparents and we were delighted to be invited to their home.  We stayed at their house while others in the clan were in hotels.  All of the children slept at Uncle Jason and Aunt Rebecca's.   We spent some time at their house and in Louisville.

We were the last ones to arrive Saturday morning.  Our two eldest kids were in the advance party with grandma and grandpa.  Our lovely red headed teenager texted us about an hour into the ride.  When she agreed to travel with her grandparents she did not realize the several hours trip would be sans television.  The grandparents don't have the DVD, satellite tv set up in their car.  She and her brother were forced to deal with the passing time strapped to the backseat of the car.  I think she texted everyone she knew.  Traci had advised her to take a book or something to keep her distracted but Savannah chose not to.  Somehow they survived the travels with minimal psychologic distress.

We went down the the riverfront in Louisville to watch fireworks during their fourth of July celebration.  There was a band playing an odd mix of country and hip-hop.  I wasn't sure where the music was going and everyone around us seemed to not notice.  We sat on the lawn, shared a couple of funnel cakes and waited for the fireworks.  The year before we were on someones lawn watching the explosions over the Puget Sound.  This year it was the Ohio river.   The fireworks display was exciting and colorful yet lacked communal chorus of oohs and ahhs we usually heard accompany such displays.  I wondered if the unison oohs and ahhs were regional to the midwest.

We made an early start the next day with several air hockey games, rock band on the playstation and finally a family wiffle ball game at a nearby park.  The competition was fierce and Traci caught a fly ball off the end of my bat to end the game.  The terrific heat and humidity trimmed our kids' tempers to a short fuse and they made plays at attacking each other.  No one was injured and over all  everyone had a good time.

After wiffle ball in the park we returned to the house for the birthday festivities.   Aunt Rebecca made a pink cake with strawberries on it.  The cake was the right color and flavor for Sophia.  Sophia wanted a pinata full of candy.  I stuffed the rainbow shaped pinata with tootsie rolls and tootsie pops completely forgetting a couple of the kids were still in braces.  As the candy flew I realized my error and had to stop the brace bearers to relinquish their share for something else.  They had no problem voicing their dissappointment and letting me know I was not their favorite person at that time.

The next day we visited Churchill Downs home of the Kentucky Derby.  We took the tour and learned all about the race and festivities manifesting during derby week.  The hats, the crowds, the pageantry all was on display at the downs.  We left the race track to eat ice cream at Graeter's in Louisville.  I had the Blackberry White Chocolate Chip something or other.  It was darn good.

We made our way home, never as swiftly as we wanted.  We were all tired from our journey but were grateful for the wonderful family we have to share our time with.  We thank Rebecca and Jason for their hospitality and generosity.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Playing in the Shut-Ins

A few years ago a reservoir broke open in southern Missouri and water scoured the wooded landscape to bare rock. The millions of gallons of water was held at the top of a local mountain and the water washed away trees, grass, soil and boulders. The layers of the rocks forming the mountain were exposed immediately revealing geological history for millions of years. The containment facility operators cleaned up the area and have left a marked trail explaining the mishap and identifying the exposed rock. The trail wanders through the scour area adjacent to a popular swimming hole located on the Black River, Johnson's Shut-ins.
We walked the trail on an early Monday morning when the humidity soaked through our clothes and the sun heated the water in the air to steam. The scour area was impressive leaving even those limited in imagination to visualize a wall of water crashing down the side of the mountain. The hike wanders through a wooded section then opens out into the scour area. As the trees break it looks like a valley field at first glance. We moved closer and could see the bare rock in the opening shaped in a trail down the mountain. Vegetation was busy filling the area in and the site may be reforested within a decade. The morning we chose to be there was hot and humid.

We sweated through the hike back to the car and drove over to the shut-ins on the other side of the river. Here the Black River tumbles across dolomite in various formations creating pools, slides and small water falls. We eagerly jumped into the cold water washing our sweat away from the short mile and a half hike. We jumped off rocks and splashed in the water as late as we could. We walked back to the picnic area where Uncle Tom broke out his amazing turkey sandwiches made of six different flavors of the same meat, some cheeses and mayonnaise. We ate up the sandwiches, some tapioca pudding and a brownie each. We had to drive home a little early to make sure Traci could get to school on time. The Johnson shut-ins were a fun place to spend a hot summer day.

We had spent the earlier part of the morning at Elephant Rocks state park which is about 15 miles away from the shut-ins. The park has huge granite rocks piled all over and we hiked and climbed our way through the park. On top of the rocks we could see a mile or two across the tree tops. Walking along the pink granite in the early morning sunlight gave the sense of being on another planet.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In The Grasslands

We have been immersing ourselves in the busy ways of our former family life, before life on the road. Each of the kids are in some sort of sport/activity and they seem to run in all different directions at one time. It can be a challenge keeping track of them. Savannah has been playing indoor soccer, Shane has been playing baseball while Sophia has been training for her future as a princess through ballet lessons. The neighborhood has a few kids who play with our kids. Shane has a new buddy around the corner who he has been spending days with. When he is not with his new friend he is talking about when he will get to play with him again. Shane's new friend has a younger sister who plays well with Sophia. Savannah has crossed the teen thresh hold requiring her to be surrounded by her peers (for some reason I feel obligated to address them as peers now) often in the context of a shopping trip.
Traci has begun the journey toward radiology tech through training at the local community college. She will have two years of full time classes, labs and clinical experiences during this journey requiring her to be otherwise occupied. We have been calling in all the support of our friends and family to help cover care of the children. Savannah has always taken great care of her siblings. We hope to not abuse her services too much and give her time with her peers.

We have recently taken a few trips separately. Traci and Sophia went to a town north of us to visit a high school friend of Traci's. She has two girls who played well with Sophia. Traci took our foster dog Moxie/Murray/Jack. We have settled on Jack as the name and confused the poor pup in the process. He now answers to several names. The puppy behaved well and we are considering assuming the full burden of care for this guy, making him a permanent member of the family. He seems to follow commands well and listens to Traci without having to bite every foot he sees(see the story on Smokey).

Traci dropped Savannah off in the small town where her Uncle, Aunt, and cousins reside. She talked about how much she enjoyed being with her cousins.

Shane and I accompanied our friend Jeff, his daughter and his girlfriend to Colorado for a backpacking trip. Our plans were to hit some mountain trails and spend a week near an alpine lake. The trails to the mountains were all snowed in so we opted for a trip through the grasslands in south eastern Colorado. The scenery would not be as dramatic without the snow capped mountains and crystal clear alpine lakes but the area boasted a few attractions promising to hold the attention and interests of our young adventurers.

The area we chose dropped into a canyon. The trail wandered past an old Spanish mission and cemetery, the largest collection of dinosaur tracks in North America and an old ranch house with stables and stock yards. The area had a small river coursing through following most of the trail. We had to drive through a few fields full of cattle and nearly ran into a prong horn antelope as it loped across the gravel road we traveled on. We arrived late the first night, set up tents and slept in preparation for the task ahead of us.

The next morning we woke, strapped the packs on our backs loaded with essential gear and started down into the canyon. The high temperature promised to be in the upper eighties. It was a dry heat so we suffered much less than we would have in the mid west. The trail was edged with tall grasses and grass hoppers jumped at our feet with every step. It was disorienting at first giving the appearance the ground was flying up to your ankles. The grasses eventually opened up and we hiked along the two track gravel road with less activity from the insects until the heat drove us to the river for a little swim and water filtering expedition. Shane states his favorite part of the trip was swimming in the river.
Our first point of interest was the Dolores mission where some Spanish settlers set up a catholic mission and established a cemetery. The headstones dated to the late 1800's to early 1900's. We were unaware of the petroglyphs located behind the mission and we failed to see them while we rested from the heat. The adults dozed through the hotter hours of the day while the kids played with the dirt, sticks, cactus and lizards in the immediate area. The shade thrown by the scrubby trees was sparse but welcomed.

We hoisted our packs and trudged forth toward the dinosaur tracks, the culmination of our anticipation to see something left from animals over 150,000 years before we were to be there. They did not disappoint.
We came across several allosaurus tracks before crossing the river and finding the giant steps of the apatosaurus in paired rows. They were deep and large enough for the kids to sit in. We all took turns making the sounds we imagined of the giant beasts lumbering through the shallow mud of the lake while pantomiming the slow heavy stride with our arms swung out and feet slowly crashing into the ground.
We camped for the night and decided in the morning to hike to the ranch with the kids taking enough supplies so they would not have to carry packs. The kids were happy and had a much easier hike.

The abandoned ranch was an old adobe structure with several outbuildings. It had been in use until 1971 when the property was turned over to the forest service. I spoke with a woman from La Junta about the details of the transition and she was unsure if the land was given over or somehow other acquired. She gave me the impression some deal of malfeasance propagated the transfer of land.
We took a side trip out to the river near the ranch. This little side trip turned into a mini adventure as we crossed through the tall grasses and found several places where we had to pick through stands of prickly pear cactus. Shane stepped into a few cactus with several needles finding their way into his calves. Finding the river was a reward as we all took a while to cool off and splash in the water.
We made our way back to camp and settled in for the night.
The next morning we strapped on our gear and made the trek back to the car. The kids had become fatigued and walked slowly, complaining louder on the way back. We had stopped every half hour on the way in and let the kids rest for ten minutes for each half hour they hiked. We modified the plan on the way out to help the kids we carried their packs after twenty minutes, walked another ten minutes then rested for ten minutes. The hike took a while and the kids worked hard but it was tolerable for them.
Our hike crossed the path of a young rattlesnake. Shane was impressed as Jeff poked at the snake with a trekking pole inciting a strike from the terrified little creature. We all stepped around the snake and went on with our hike.
Shane had one time where he nearly lost all of his will to go on. He complained his feet and ankles hurt, he couldn't make it even one more step. He had this look on his face of defeat and resolution, the fatigue bringing him to a full stop on the brink of tears. I lifted his pack off his back as he stood in the middle of the trail crying in pain and fear he would be stranded in the grasslands forever. We rested for a few minutes and his ability to push forward on the trail returned. He later took his pack again and made most of the hike back. The end of the trail was a steep climb out of the canyon and we took the kids' packs for them and, supressing verbal curses we walked out of the canyon to the car.
It was Shane's first long backpacking trip. He did well and my hope was he was not soured on the activity. We'll wait long enough for him to forget the pain and remember the fun and we'll try it again.