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 jalapeƱos 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.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Serious Love for Iowa

Jill's Journal: Lazy days soaking up the wonderfulness of close-knit family ties are quickly drawing to a close. The girls’ Great Grandpa treated us to a super nice lunch and we stuck around for a few hours for a surprise early Christmas and to play. I hope I’m that spry when I’m nearly 87! The girls really think the world of him and are building such tremendous memories. The pictures alone are treasures to me.

Great Aunt Julie joined us for a visit to the Ice Cream Capital of the World. More ice cream is produced in Le Mars, Iowa, by Blue Bunny than by any other city in the world. Their little museum simulates their factory and taught the girls a little bit about how ice cream is made. And what kids don’t like ice cream? They were, of course, enthralled. The 1920’s-style ice cream parlor is a must-visit as well.

My Dad will appreciate this one…his “domestic” brother serving up dinner. It ranks up there with the picture of my Dad running a vacuum. :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

God’s Molen Malen Langzaam Maar Zeker

(God’s Windmills Grind Slowly But Sure)

Jill's Journal: For the first time, the girls got to see the workings inside of a windmill (the Old Mill at Diamond Vogel Paint), including the cheery and charming living quarters of a Dutch miller and his family. After seeing other mills which were powered by water, it was super easy for them to understand that windmills harness the wind (and wonderful to see they’re retaining many of the things they’re learning on this trip!).

Notice the Dutch storefronts downtown and actually throughout all of Orange City. I appreciate this town more every time I’m here. And Mom, yes, we went to the wonderful Woudstra Meat Market today and have as many saucijsjes as our little freezer can hold!! Saucijsjes are a Dutch-style pig in the blanket, a spiced pork/beef sausage wrapped in a delicate pastry. They are divine and can’t seem to be perfectly replicated anywhere outside of Orange City. Of course, we’ll have to try the versions in other Dutch towns as we travel. :)

The girls were particularly taken by the phone booths in town…

And visited Great Aunt Julie at work (she’s a librarian!).

But I think the most educational thing we did today, hands-down, was give the girls an idea of where their bacon comes from! They got to go to a hog confinement and learn a tiny bit about how pigs are raised. They’ve only ever seen one pig in their entire life – in Plymouth in September – so seeing 1,000 at once was wild. Erika found it fascinating, Madelyn was a little overcome by the smell, and Victoria was intimidated by their size and number. Erika got to touch several and was surprised at how “not-soft” they are and how clean they are in comparison to what she expected. It was something I don’t think they’ll forget. Thanks so much to Uncle Kim and Denny V.R. for giving us the opportunity.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Idyllic Days

Jill's Journal: Orange City, all American with a hearty dose of Holland. It’s a fantastic combination.

These are idyllic days, these beautiful days in Iowa focused on family. Great Grandpa spent part of his afternoon teaching the girls how to play Chinese Checkers on a board that belonged to their Great Great Grandfather.

My sweet cousin Kelsey showed the girls how to gather eggs! Her family added a few of yesterday’s eggs to the mix to make sure the girls had plenty to find. How sweet is that?

Kelsey with her parents, the girls’ Great Uncle Ward and Great Aunt Brenda, in the gorgeous horse arena they’ve nearly finished building on their acreage. Ward is the aforementioned uncle in the infamous strawberry skirmish of my childhood, a fact that still provides plenty of fodder for ribbing all these years later. And I just learned today that Brenda makes the meanest apple pie around. YUM. That should help take the sting out of Ward’s strawberry deficiency. :)

The adorable Levi, another cousin, in a photo taken by Victoria. The girls are not used to hanging out with 11-year-old boys and they think he is just soooooo cool!

Here’s Erika playing on the VERY SAME playground equipment I have so many memories of playing on in kindergarten and first grade. And goodness knows how long that giraffe was around before my time! It must be an antique.

Madelyn on more school yard equipment I remember! Wouldn’t these girls make cute little Iowan farm girls?

Monday, November 15, 2010

What It’s All About…

Jill's Journal: This is what it’s all about…three little girls getting to know their great-grandfather. This picture wasn’t posed in any way. They were simply sharing ice cream together. Look at that adoration on those faces – all four of them! Victoria is notoriously aloof with new people, but at the first sight of Great Grandpa yesterday, she immediately hugged him. And look at her here all snuggled up to him with her hand on his leg!

Of course, a great uncle who spent hours today playing the Memory Game, reading them books, and just being silly earned quite a bit of adoration of his own! At bedtime, Erika told me, “It’s so nice to have so many people that love us here. I really like it here, Mom.”

Great Uncle Kim also taught the girls how to feed chickens with dried ears of corn; they thought this was about the funnest thing ever and are starting to think Kim practically walks on water. Madelyn can’t contain her adoration; she even leaned over and spontaneously gave him a hug during dinner tonight.


Naturally, Great Aunt Julie ranks pretty high up there too. This picture was snapped within about three seconds of our arrival yesterday. The two older girls took one look at her friendly face and were immediately ready to move in with her.

The wonderful barn, built meticulously by Kim’s hands, that we are staying in…

And when I say “staying in,” I really mean staying in. Kim had us back the fifth wheel inside so we would be entirely protected from any weather. It’s a balmy 70 degrees in here! We have every comfort you could imagine. It’s like a vacation at the beach without all the sand! Good, old-fashioned Iowa hospitality is out of this world.

Rob with his girls, who absolutely insisted he needed flowers on his birthday cake yesterday. Look at Victoria’s eyes on the prize!

Grandpa with my cousin Blake. There aren’t too many pictures from my childhood without me and Blake joined at the hip. How fun and special to grow up with cousins…my daughters need some cousins!!

The landmark Orange City water tower.

If you’re ever in need of wooden shoes or countless other Dutch goods, Orange City is the place to come.

Just because someone loves the Midwest, it doesn’t necessarily mean they love the weather!

Such special times in Iowa...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Orange City, Iowa

Jill's Journal: Nestled in the Northwest corner of Iowa is the teeny-tiny little Dutch town of Orange City, best known for its annual Tulip Festival. Named after William of Orange (part of the Dutch royal house) when it was founded in 1870, Orange City today sports a population well under 6,000 people.

On the edge of this little town is one of my favorite places on earth, a very special, honest-to-goodness farm.

My great-grandfather built this farm from rich earth nearly 100 years ago. My grandfather was born in this home in 1924, grew up here, and didn’t leave until he retired, unless you count time in the military serving our country during World War II. My father also was born here and grew up here, although he left the day he turned 18 to seek adventure out West. He too served in the military, but the farm must have had a great pull for him also, as he returned with his bride in 1969. I was born a few years later and most of the memories from my first seven years of life are from this very farm.

This is where my grandmother picked strawberries from her garden with me, much to an uncle’s consternation (at 10 years older than me, apparently he wasn’t allowed to pick those same strawberries). This is where I’d urge my pony, Flash, to full speed – as fast as her short little legs could carry us (which in hindsight must have been a dawdling pace but at the time felt like I was riding Secretariat) – and leap off in front of my grandparents while they sat on their front deck. My grandmother would feign a heart attack and chide me, while my grandfather would grin from ear to ear and give me the “thumbs-up” sign behind her back.

This is where my father milked his cows and let me feed calves. This is where my mother and my aunt spent countless hours while my cousin and I played. On cold days, if I had happy news while at my grandparents’, my Mom would call my Dad in the cow barn – which is in sight of the house – and he would pause from his milking and come out to “jump for joy,” much to this little girl’s delight. Oh, good memories indeed.

And now a very beloved uncle and aunt live in this wonderful old home and farm this land, the third generation to do so. Three generations. In this world where people move so much more than they used to, I find the constant of this farm and this small town very special. Only the sophistication of the farming equipment has changed over the last century. And the people, both then and now, are surely some of America’s finest.

I used to make it a point to visit about once a year, even early in our “child years.” But December of 2006, with a 34-month-old and a 12-month-old in tow, was the last time I went for fun. The next year the third child arrived and it got more difficult to travel, so our last trip to Iowa was out of necessity and sadness in December of 2007, when Alzheimer’s disease completed its thievery and stole my grandmother’s body as it had her soul.

My grandfather is 86 now, my only surviving grandparent and one of the girls’ only two surviving great-grandparents. He has been a central figure in my life and I know the years where I can cherish him and not just his memory are growing short.

So, while our original plan was to head to Florida following our Northeast tour, we decided to make a detour. If we didn’t do it now, it could easily be a couple of years before our loose “itinerary” brought us to these parts. I’m so glad we’re here.