Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Well, this is the view of New Year's Eve for the family this year. Everyone tucked in their beds with closed eyes (except me because I can't physically seem to get anymore sleep). Since this is a journal of our travels, and this round of illness we've run into is really quite a significant point for us right now, I figured I'd post a bit about it - just to put it on record.

So far, this is about the worse bout of anything we've been through as a family, and even Jill was down for the count for a day-and-a-half. I fared better, but still need sleep, with Erika bouncing in and out of perfect sunshine and barely comprehensible sentences. Madelyn is on dehydration watch and Victoria has been throwing herself down on the ground and bawling - until tonight before dinner when she heard the mention of a snack and perked right up like nothing was wrong... THAT was a fantastic sight, and a strong memory for me, which is why I post it.

Looks like New Year's Day will be a quiet one for us as we prepare for another round of snow and visits, and my getting back from vacation (of which it really hasn't been one, aside from the sleep :) ). I'll be much happier if 2011 starts out better than 2010 ended.

Hope your New Year's Eve was a good one, and that 2011 brings you everything you need to make your life better. We are looking forward to more travel, more stories, and more fun. That's something I think we can definitely be resolved to accomplish!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Jill's Journal: Word is that Great Grandpa in Iowa may venture into the world of computers and start reading our blog, so I want to give him a special incentive by mentioning him here again. This photo of him and Madelyn was taken during our visit in November.

He’s brought up frequently in the girls’ conversations. One of my favorites was Madelyn’s sudden musing a few days ago, “I really miss Great Grandpa because he’s so sweet. And he has really good ice cream.”

‘Tis the Season

Jill's Journal: My “holiday hiatus” from blogging means I have a massive collection of pictures from the last 10 days or so that haven't even been sorted through. So, here’s a few of the highlights (or at least some of my favorite moments) to share.

Little girls have to bundle up here in “cold California,” as Victoria calls it. I just saw a report that this is the wettest, coldest December on record in Southern/Central California. I can hear the freezing rain and driving snow outside our windows as I type…maybe one day soon we’ll see that sun we came to California for! And truly we have nothing to complain about as we keep hearing how dreadful the winter has been in Kentucky this year, so a little rain and snow here isn’t too bad, just funny. :)

Three little girls, all competing for Grandpa’s attention. Poor guy doesn’t stand a chance!!

Erika and her new Easy-Bake oven, which she had asked Santa for and was supremely confidant would be under the tree Christmas morning. She proudly made her first two miniature cakes, which were actually very tasty…wouldn’t it be lovely if making dinner for the whole family was next on her agenda?

I’m told I’m never shown on here (but it’s because I’m always taking the pictures!), so here’s a photo of my sweet girls and me engrossed in a story. Oh, how I love these little girls.

A pre-Christmas dress-up playdate with the adorable Athena, Zoe, and Jack (and their too-fun parents, Chris and Julie). We knew Chris and Julie pre-kids (for all of us!) in Kentucky and somehow they ended up in nearby Bakersfield via New York. They’re a super-adorable couple and their kids and ours didn’t even need an introduction before they dove in playing together.

Rob, my brother, and my Dad enjoyed an afternoon of clay pigeon shooting. They even let me wield a shotgun, albeit briefly. I don’t think those flying orange discs will be in danger from my “skills” anytime soon, but boy oh boy, it was fun!

And a post-Christmas piñata…it was hard to tell who had more fun. Was it Beppy or the girls?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas #2

Jill's Journal: Christmas morning dawned with a visit from Santa, who somehow found us even on our travels and brought Victoria the bike she’d been dreaming of!

We took a break from all the gifts for a wonderful Christmas breakfast, only one of the amazing meals Beppy loves to stuff her family with. The woman singlehandedly packed five pounds on each of us over the Christmas weekend. Funny, but I don’t remember any of us putting up much resistance…

And speaking of Beppy, here she is with her little granddaughters!

The girls’ Aunt Kristi is well known for her amazing powers of figuring out every gift under the tree while it’s still wrapped. (That “power” has nothing to do with the fact that she has “secretly” unwrapped and carefully rewrapped each present ahead of time for her entire life, usually overnight while our parents slept.) To make sure there was at least one present she couldn’t figure out this year, Rob wrapped one very special gift in a foolproof way. Just in case she’s looking for revenge, I want her to know I had nothing to do with it. :)

Madelyn and her two favorite Uncle Adams!

Kristi with a special horse art project for the girls. She clearly knows the way to their hearts.

Me and Beppy – a tribute to our weeks of afternoon glasses of wine together.
“What time is it?”
I never imagined I’d be drinking with my mother, especially in the middle of the day (!), but gosh, we’ve had fun. Living next door to my parents this past month has been a wonderful, wonderful gift. I'm trying to talk them into buying an RV of their own and caravanning with us. Hint, hint. :)

Christmas #1

Jill's Journal: As anyone with two sides of the family can attest, sometimes Christmas happens twice! This was actually only our second time to experience this phenomenon as our families have always been plane rides apart. But with the magic of modern travel, the girls were blessed with TWO Christmas celebrations this year. They could hardly believe their luck.

Our first Christmas took place in the Los Angeles-area, in Rob’s mother’s hometown of Northridge. The girls’ Great Grandma Lili has been in the same home for 45 years. Erika is nearly as tall as this petite little lady!

Here’s a benefit to Los Angeles – an orange tree in Great Grandma’s front yard with fruit that will be ready soon. You don’t see that in Kentucky in December!

Our two older girls love regaling folks who lend a willing ear. Their Grandma, Rob’s Mom Andee, got an earful! On their laps are “pillow pets,” half toys/half pillows that the girls had been eyeing in stores for days. Only 20 minutes before, we had made a last minute stop at an office store that happened to carry them and had said no yet again when the girls spied them. But what can we do when Great Grandma walks through the door with one for each? Surrender, that’s what.

Why is it that packing material still makes the funnest toy even at 6, 5, and 3?

A major highlight of the trip south was time spent with Rob’s uncle, the girls’ Great Uncle Punior. Eight months ago, this vivacious outdoorsman and avid boater was stricken by an abscess in his sinuses that left him in a coma for a month. It’s been a long road of recovery from the complications and ensuing brain surgery, so we feel blessed to have gotten some special time with him.

A Henry family collage, clockwise from top left…the girls’ Great Aunt Patti, Grandma, Great Grandma, Aunt Wendi, Great Uncle Brian, and Great Uncle Punior.

It was a lovely two days and on the way home, we were vividly reminded of one of the reasons we left Southern California in 1993…!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bear Valley Springs, California

Jill's Journal: I’ve been so enjoying my three weeks of blog-posting hiatus and plan to enjoy some more after today! For us, the month of December has been filled with marvelous, fun-filled days of family, Madelyn’s birthday, loads of schooling for the girls, and lots and lots of grandparent time. And there’s more to come! The upcoming weeks promise more family, old friends, and of course, the holidays.

We’re staying on my parents’ little acreage in a mountain village of sorts called Bear Valley Springs. It’s quiet and just perfect for us after six months on the road. About 10 miles away is the small town of Tehachapi in Central California. This is not the sunny Southern California I grew up in, but definitely a place with four seasons and an elevation of 4,200 feet. In fact, on our first weekend here, we were “blessed” with more snow than we’d seen anywhere else on this journey! We did find it pretty humorous that we came all the way west for a warm winter only to find snow.

Our plan at the moment is to spend the rest of December here, January on the Central Coast, and then who knows? California has so much to offer. We’ll spend the next month or so “settled down” a little bit, but I’m sure we’ll soon be chomping at the bit as the road beckons again.

Grandpa and Beppy (Grandma in a dialect of Dutch) with their adoring granddaughters. These little girls love, love, LOVE their grandparents. The feeling seems to be pretty mutual. :)

The girls hadn’t seen their Uncle Adam, my darling baby brother, in two years and took right to him like it was yesterday they'd last seen him. As my Mom says, “He’s such a good boy!” Ha ha! Sorry, Adam. :)

We were so fortunate to have my awesome sister and her fun husband, the girls’ Aunt Kristi and other Uncle Adam, living in Kentucky near us for the first 1 1/2 years of their marriage. They officially returned to California about a month before we left Kentucky also and the girls have missed them something fierce. I have too!

Our December birthday girl! Madelyn turned five and picked out a very fancy birthday dress for her special day. We spent the day at a local farm in their corn mazes, petting zoo, and corn pits. She didn’t care one iota she may have been slightly overdressed! The crumbs from the s’mores we made over the farm's bonfire blended in nicely with the bright pink of her dress. :)

We visited a local ostrich farm and got a fantastic tour. Who knew there was so much to learn about these prehistoric-looking birds? Most interesting facts: they can tear apart a lion, can run as fast as a Thoroughbred, and do not really stick their heads in the sand. This particular farm has been featured on both Dirty Jobs and Fear Factor.

Each girl got to feed some ostriches, much to everyone’s great laughter. Those birds are voracious and messy eaters, much in the same vein as Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster.

Beppy with her trimmed Christmas tree, compliments of Rob!

A very kind neighbor, Warren, who learned we are Thoroughbred people and invited us over to see his racing Emmy (one of two he’s won!). He was the cameraman behind the iconic 1990 Kentucky Derby scene which captured trainer Carl Nafzger acting as eyes and ears for his 92-year-old Derby-winning client. It’s a moving and unforgettable scene, which has probably received more airplay than just about any other Derby moment and is firmly planted in racing lore. At nearly 80-years-old himself, Warren cracked me and Rob up as he regaled us with his Derby tales and then reenacted Nafzger and Mrs. Genter’s poignant moments. And by the way, those Emmys are heavier than they look.

We spent one afternoon at a local gym watching a 28-member Danish national gymnastics team put on a dazzling show. The girls ooohed and aaahed and were mesmerized (and so were Beppy and I!).

Erika on Grandpa’s horse.

Victoria meeting a goat.

A Tehachapi sunset off my parents’ back porch. Yes, we are having a grand time, indeed.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Things I figured out in Denver

We feel that we're finally settling in a little and finding a little time here or there, now that we're stationary for a little while. I've had a few posts in my head in a note on the bulletin board since we stopped in Denver, but hadn't really had the time to put it all down in the blog. I had a lot of long, quiet time on the trek West, these thoughts went along with that drive... I'll post bits and pieces of them over the next couple of days.

Go for a little trip before going for the big one.

While we aren't unhappy with how we took off, and as I've written before that each journey is its own, and this journey wouldn't be the same if we'd done it any differently, in hindsight I'd have to recommend that if you're planning on taking off on any long-term, full-time RV trip, it would be a good idea to take a short trip or two first. Originally, that was our plan, but for one reason or another those small trips never materialized. I think what those small trips would have helped was not having to learn everything all at once, all at the same time. There's a lot to know and a lot to adjust to living like this. Doing a small trip or two first would have given us a little less to learn right off the bat. At the very least, camp for a little while in one location that you know - and try to do everything you can and/or think you will on your trip while you are there. That way you'll have a little safety net before you set off. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that we did things the way we did. It's just a hindsight recommendation for others.

Buy the right rig up front.

I'm very x10134 happy about our purchase. What we bought seemed to be the right choice at the time, and I can only say that it was the right choice 100%. Sure, I'd love to have a class A with three bedrooms, but I don't particularly want to spend what I would have had to spend to get it. I'd rather put those resources into museum visits, fishing equipment and other niceties on our trip. By saying "buy the right rig", I'm essentially saying - don't buy expecting to trade up - you won't, and even if you do, you'll lose money on the deal. Buy a rig with a good reputation too - quality is one thing you can't fix after the fact. Full-timing is very different from vacationing, so look at a rig with the features/quality you need up front. Having the kids sleep on the couch in the kitchen might be great when you're all running around on the beach for the weekend, but doing that day-in, day-out will cut into your alone time, their sleep time, and everyone's happiness-in-general - even if it saves you $15,000 in rig-cost. We researched and bought the very best I could find, and I'm not only glad I found what I wanted, but spending what I spent (considered pretty expensive for a fiver) has been worth every penny.

Those Class A Guys

I'll admit it. I have ClassA envy. I'd love to have the kids with me when we are driving down the road. I'd love to be able to pull into a spot, press a button and have a sturdy, 100% electronically levelled RV at the push of one button. The kids would really enjoy having Satellite TV that tracks as we're driving down the road, giving them 140 different choices of what they could watch. Really, those rigs are generally built very well and would probably not need some of the fixes, upgrades and detail work that our trailer has needed. Class A people are generally better-regarded at parks, and may sometimes get a better shake about things than us trailer-folk (remember the million-dollar motor home in RI?). Besides, how slick would it be to roll into a place in the rain, never have to get out to get any part of things situated and have everything just how it should be, not to mention packing up to leave goes from 2 hours to about 8 minutes... so yeah - I have class A envy.

That being said, I'm very happy with what we've got. The rig cost about 20% of what we'd have needed to spend to get a comparable class A. There was only one made that I've found that had the kind of setup we'd need. Most of the rest would have put the bunks in the master bedroom, and that's no way to live full-time ;) (for us). It also would have been tough in Elkhart and Iowa where I had to have the rig taken away to be worked on. While we could always go get a hotel room - I just like having my own bed at night.

I guess what I'm saying is that just because someone doesn't have a class A doesn't mean they aren't serious about what they are doing. We could have bought one, and afforded doing so, but there were reasons we went the way we did - and everyone just needs to make that choice for themselves for their own reasons. Next time you see an RVer, ask them why they bought that rig specifically, if you're interested. You might be surprised how much thought was put into that particular one - maybe even more thought than most people put into their house.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My new favorite pasttime...

There's lots to be said by a lot of people about this photo. I couldn't help myself from taking it. I'll probably never live it down, and some might get steamed (ok, only one) - but there wasn't much that could be done about it -- I mean, where was he gonna go?

I'm not sure if my favorite part is the Ford yanking out the Chevy (for the second time in a week), or the way the angels seem to have appeared from the heavens. Yes, there is a lot going on in this photo - take with it what you will. (tongue very firmly in cheek) ;)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

We made it.

Sorry for the delay in posting, but we had a long couple of days. I just wanted everyone to know that we made it to our destination in CA, and we're planning on being here for awhile. We still need to turn the trailer around, get things set for the duration, and all will be well. I'm hoping that we'll be able to get all that set tomorrow.

Seeing family has been great, and leaving Iowa to make this trek, only to beat Kim and Julie here by a few hours has been a little surreal. Good times have been had the last couple of days, and I can only think they'll continue as we settle in and spend some quality time here.

Jill's going to post sporadically this next couple of weeks, and I'll put stuff up here and there between work hours, so please allow us a little down-time to recover from the cross-country trip. I think this will be a good stop-over and a nice rest. Catch-up is the name of the game for the next week or so - after that... we'll see. :)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Winslow, Arizona

Jill's Journal: We made huge strides today, to the tune of 475 miles (which feels a lot farther with a trailer than it does with a car!), in our quest to winter in California. Our overnight spot tonight is in Winslow, Arizona, and the “Route 66” song keeps playing in my head (Don’t Forget Winona!).

As we drove through New Mexico, I was really struck by how different the Southwest is from the Northeast. There’s all the obvious reasons, of course, and this is nothing revolutionary, but there’s so many trees in the Northeast that one can’t even see around the block. In the Southwest, the trees are so few and far between that one can see for miles. Both are beautiful in their own way. Rob and I are fortunate because we really do feel at home in both places and our girls seem to as well. On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful for the gorgeous and diverse country we all share and the freedom to travel through it.

Of the little conveniences and inconveniences of life, what will we miss least about the Northeast? Definitely toll roads. Those things suck both money and time. But we will miss the bagels and lox. No one does bagels and lox like the Northeast. However, we are headed to the land of sunshine and casualness and family; I suppose we can sacrifice bagels and lox.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Raton, New Mexico

Jill's Journal: Maybe our first clue should have been that “Raton” means “rat” in Spanish, but this is a crazy little town (population under 8,000) and not the most appealing by any standards. It’s dilapidated and looks like a ghost town (complete with tumbleweeds bouncing by) in many parts. The 35mph winds with 50mph gusts are brutal and cut through a person like a knife. And the people we’ve seen here definitely qualify as characters. When I said to Rob that at least they were friendly, he cracked me up by saying that it was only because we hadn’t discovered where they’d hidden the bodies.

Just kidding – not to disparage this town too much, but it’s definitely eccentric and a little downtrodden, to be honest. I’m sure it has many redeeming qualities and we just haven’t found them, right? And after being out of the Southwest for so many years, the 5 lb. 13 oz. cans of menudo and jalapeños at the grocery store definitely signified we’d returned. :)

The girls did get to visit a handmade tortilla shop and the sweet couple in there gave them a brief explanation of how tortillas are made. Fresh handmade tortillas…yum.

Two interesting notes for racing fans: Chip Woolley was born here! He was the trainer of 2009 Kentucky Derby longshot winner Mine That Bird, the little New Mexico gelding whom he drove 1,700 miles to Louisville in his horse trailer for a shot at greatness. That may not sound too unusual to horse people in other disciplines, but it’s unheard of in racing. Horses good enough for the national spotlight are more accustomed to flying or being vanned first class in a plush tractor trailer, not being pulled along in a regular horse trailer behind their trainer’s Ford. It was awesome.

And, New Mexico’s first-ever racetrack was right here in Raton, just down the street from our campground. La Mesa Park opened in 1946, was apparently wildly popular in the 1970s, and closed for good in 1992 when racing in New Mexico was hurting. It’s shuttered up tight now, with fencing all around and ominous “No Trespassing” signs. It’s overgrown and the grandstand looks to be falling apart. A shame, especially since the town is embroiled in controversy over a $50 million racetrack and casino that was scheduled to be built in the last year or two but hasn’t materialized.

We’ll leave Raton tomorrow and take with us a smile every time we remember this wacky little town. A blessed Thanksgiving to anyone reading.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What the Heck are We Doing in New Mexico?

Jill's Journal: How is it, you may ask, that we planned to spend the week in the Denver area but instead find ourselves in Raton, New Mexico? That is a good question, indeed.

We got blown a little off course.

We arrived in Golden, Colorado, on Sunday, just like we intended. But the trouble we encountered in finding a campground (with no prospects for improvement over the next few days) meant we had to keep going after one night. We didn’t want to – the Golden area is beautiful, of course, and we were looking forward to a few days of enjoying it. Plus Rob has a busy week at work and had no desire to waste extra time driving. And, of course, the girls and I have school (and had already taken our Iowa week off as an early “Thanksgiving break” (gotta love the flexibility of homeschooling!)).

But, while our house is with us and we can stay in a parking lot for one night, we can’t expect to move into one for a few days. And so, early Monday morning, we set out to head over the Rockies and move just a little farther west. Luckily, we checked the weather first and quickly learned a massive winter storm was moving in at our crossing point with cautions of severe weather and road closures (and temperatures falling to -9)! We'd said all along we’d take the southern route if weather necessitated it and I think it did.

So, south we went. We’re now in a little campground in a sleepy town in New Mexico, just over the Colorado border and still at an elevation of 6,500 feet. We hit 8,000 feet crossing the border on the Raton Pass, which has been used for centuries by Indians and Spanish explorers to cut through the Rocky Mountains this far south. We’re right on the old Santa Fe Trail, a once-dangerous 1800s route that was 1,200 miles long and connected Independence, Missouri, with Santa Fe, New Mexico. This place has seen more covered wagon trains and trade with Indians than we can imagine.

This southern route to California adds an extra day to our drive, but it’s well worth it for safety’s sake.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

California or Bust

Jill's Journal: After more than a month of winter, we’re definitely ready to head to warmer pastures. Our original plan, of course, was to spend our first winter on the road in the warmer parts of the East Coast. But sometimes things change…

If you look at a map of the U.S., our wonderful Midwest time in Northwest Iowa was smack-dab in the middle of two sunshiny states: Florida and California. Yes, Florida is lovely this time of year. But so is California. And after days of debate, California won out for the sole reason that it has family. My parents moved about two months ago to a town about 175 miles north of Hemet, where they’ve lived for 30 years, and we’re so eager to see their new place. And my poor parents haven’t seen their little granddaughters in a year! It’s time to pay them a visit.

My sister and her husband recently moved also – about a month ago – and we can’t wait to see their new place either (and they have RV hookups!). Apparently my baby brother, who hasn’t moved in 4 1/2 years, is the most stable one of the whole family…who would have thought?

Rob’s family will also be in California around the holidays. And, there just might be a poker event in a few months on the West Coast that is beckoning Rob. So, to California we go. Our plan at the moment is to spend the whole winter in the area, but we’re no where near ready to commit to anything yet. Clearly, plans can change!

Today we made huge strides in our march west and arrived in Golden, Colorado (barely west of Denver), soon after sunset. We had planned to stay here until Thursday, but after we showed up at the two campgrounds here that are open year-round, we were shocked to find them full. Both of them. We’ve been in empty campgrounds for so long that it was quite a surprise. And it’s definitely winter weather here, so it was an even bigger shock. Hopefully Camping World doesn’t mind us overnighting in their parking lot because it was bedtime for the girls and driving any farther wasn’t something we were ready to tackle after an already-full day.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Somewhere in Nebraska

Jill's Journal: We said the last of our goodbyes this morning. Sadness. :(

It was a wonderful, wonderful visit. This is the first Iowa trip we’ve made that the girls will really remember. I think it’s safe to say they loved every minute and most especially the people. As we left, Madelyn told me, “I will remember everything about Iowa. I promise!” And as we were about to cross the state line, Erika said coyly, “How about you put it in reverse?”

Tonight we’re about 300 miles away from Orange City in Kearney, Nebraska, a surprisingly big town in the middle of a whole lot of farmland. It’s cooooold, with some freezing rain adding insult to injury. Happily, we’re snug as a bug in a rug in our little house on wheels, all tucked in for the night. We’ll do a good bit more driving tomorrow.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Zippity Doo Dah

Jill's Journal: Our last full day in Iowa was filled with visiting (and a pony) from morning until night and it was oh so sweet. So much of the goodness of America is wrapped up here in this little town called Orange City. Every time I’m here I wonder what life would be like if I hadn’t left at age seven, nearly eight. But I did and it’s special just to return for visits.

Zippy, who has been in Kim and Julie’s family for almost 20 years, is smaller than a Shetland and is the kind of pony that is priceless. Nothing phases this little guy, including four very excited little girls who have yet to learn how to properly behave around a horse.

Little girl #4 is Emma, granddaughter of Kim and Julie and the only other great grandchild in the family thus far. She’s a cutie and fit right in with my girls. They had quite the time!

Emma’s Dad is my cousin Brad…

And her Mom is Kristi, who was kind enough to give the girls long-overdue haircuts.

It was such a treat to visit with my lifelong friend Nicole. We met in kindergarten and have kept in touch ever since! That’s her precious new baby daughter, six-week-old Ruthie, in her arms.

And more pony time…dear Uncle Kim sure got his exercise today. I don’t know how many laps he got in, but between the round pen and the barn, it had to be in the dozens. The amount of time he has spent playing with the girls this week is just tremendous. He’s like a big kid himself and they are going to be very, very sad to say goodbye to him tomorrow.

This picture cracked me up…we tried so hard to get a nice picture of all three girls on Zippy and this is the closest we got.

Too bad we can’t pack up Zippy to come with us.