Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The End

Jill's Journal: This post finds us in the midst of our journey across the heartland to a different life in New Jersey. At first, we intended to continue this little blog, especially as we plan to make many, many daytrips to nearby Manhattan and Philadelphia. (And that doesn’t even bring into account the many weekends we hope to spend in locales like Vermont, Maine, Washington D.C., and so many other close destinations!)

But after much soul-searching and plenty of debate, Rob and I have decided it’s time to close up shop on this little corner in cyberspace. (And Rob may carry on at some point, but it’s unlikely I’ll continue to contribute in this space.) We started this blog as a record of our RV trip for our children to have someday. Since that chapter of our lives is coming to a reluctant-but-hopefully-not-permanent close, I could sure make good use of the hours upon hours of extra time not blogging affords a person. Maybe, instead of blogging during the precious hours the girls are sleeping, I can finally learn a new language. Or read a book. Or get a good night’s sleep. Or simply watch a movie. Or, you know, have a new baby in two months or so. :)

We want our kids to know what a magical life we’ve all led together over the past two+ years. It’s been wonderful in ways we never could have imagined. And our story is not over. We may be taking a hiatus to better situate ourselves financially, but we’re sure as heck not done traveling with our kids yet. There’s a whole world out there.

I think we gave this blog a valiant effort over the last two+ years on the road. We hope our kids will enjoy it someday and we hope you enjoyed it too. Thanks for reading. (And a very special, heartfelt thanks to the folks who have commented over the past two years; you have no idea how appreciated you are and how much your feedback encouraged us. Thank you.)

Road trip!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fitting Finale

Jill's Journal: It took us until our last day in Las Vegas, but I think we found the happiest place in the desert. In a hardened gambling city crawling with tourists, the Bellagio Conservatory stands out. Everyone in this place seemed to have a smile on their face and it wasn’t just because of the generous air conditioning. Open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is maintained by 140 horticulturists who keep this indoor paradise in meticulous splendor. The theme changes with the seasons. It’s not huge, but there’s so much to see. Every corner is beautiful, whimsical, and wonderful. Our girls absolutely loved it. Surprisingly, especially for Vegas, there’s no admission charge. Maybe the best things in life are free. :)

We loved this recreation of a Monet done entirely in plants and flowers.

Of course, the Bellagio lobby ceiling isn’t to be missed either. Two thousand square feet of ceiling are covered in more than 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers.

And last but not least, we had to catch a show of the famed dancing fountains at Bellagio. The fountains are choreographed to music (and several different songs at that). They’re always impressive and elicited plenty of oohs and aahs from the girls (and the other tourists around us). The fountains were the very last thing we did in Vegas. It was a fitting finale to our time in Sin City and the curtain call for our time in the West…Rob and I felt a little like the characters in the final scenes of Ocean’s Eleven (minus the life of crime and millions of dollars!).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hoover Dam

Jill's Journal: Surely everyone has seen pictures of Hoover Dam, such as the one above borrowed from a government site. But to truly appreciate it, you have to see it. It is said the marvel that is Hoover Dam is the greatest engineering feat of mankind since the great pyramids of Egypt.

Spanning the border of Nevada and Arizona, it was originally called Boulder Dam. The name was officially changed in 1947 in honor of the 31st president, Herbert Hoover, who was a strong supporter of the project.

Today, in addition to helping meet the water needs of over 20 million people, Hoover Dam generates enough low-cost hydroelectricity to serve 1.3 million people. California is allocated 56% of the power, Nevada 25%, and Arizona 19%.

The water behind the dam is Lake Mead, the largest manmade body of water in the Western Hemisphere. It has an astounding 550 miles of shoreline with a surface area of 156,800 acres. I snapped this picture from the Arizona side.

Here’s a closer picture of one of the four intake towers from the Nevada side.

This is one of those same massive intake tunnels from 574 feet below the surface. Standing in the room/platform above it, one can feel the floor vibrating from the millions upon millions of gallons of rushing water below.

The girls learned a little about the path the water takes from our guide, Fred.

And then it was into the power plant itself. There are two, one on the Nevada side and one on the Arizona side.

Here’s the power plants from above. They’re the “arms” that stick out below the dam. A tour inside the dam itself can be taken, but two of our three kids were too young for the safety cut-off.

Without a fancy camera lens, this was the best I could do from our vantage points of the dam. It’s such a massive structure; indeed, the road between Nevada and Arizona goes right over it…or used to until it was diverted to a bridge spanning the canyon after 9/11. I remember being able to stop on the side of the road and peek over the dam. Now one can still drive over the dam but must pass through a security checkpoint first.

Some fun statistics: Hoover Dam is 726 feet high, 1,244 feet long, 45 feet thick at the top, 660 feet thick at the bottom, and contains 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete. In fact, there’s so much concrete in Hoover Dam that it should take 125 years to cool such a project as concrete gives off heat as it cures. To get around this challenge, designers built the structure in five foot tall blocks and built an innovative refrigeration plant right into the dam.

Construction began in 1931. Hoover Dam was finished and dedicated in 1935, with the power plants finished the following year. Around 16,000 people worked on the project with 96 people dying on site. The crew worked 24 hours a day, 363 days a year. Amazingly, they finished the dam under budget and more than two years ahead of schedule. I can’t imagine that happening in this day and age!

After passing through the power plants, the Colorado River continues on its merry way.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Valley of Fire

Jill's Journal: About 50 miles north of Las Vegas is a truly stunning place. It’s easy to see why Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada’s oldest state park, dedicated in 1935. The name is derived from the red sandstone formations which rise out of the ground in striking fashion at nearly every turn.

The girls preferred to think the name “Valley of Fire” came from the heat and they had a point. It was mighty hot during our visit and our planned hikes quickly wilted into much shorter little walks at various stops as we braved what felt like a furnace.

Victoria had the cutest comment, “I like it when the car does the hiking for us.”

And on this day, in this heat, most of us agreed with her. Sometimes it is nicer to drive than walk, particularly when one is in a Valley of Fire. :)

These unusual formations are called beehives.

With the girls in the photo for perspective, you can see the beehives are clearly bigger than they look.

Arch Rock.

At Atlatl Rock, a great variety of petroglyphs can be seen. This art on the rock is believed to have been here for 4,000 years, left by ancient Indians. Although the meaning of these drawings has died with history, that notched stick near the top of this first one is known to be an “atlatl,” which was used to thrown primitive spears. An atlatl is considered to be the ancestor to the bow and arrow.

Beautiful, beautiful, just beautiful all over. No wonder the ancient Indians spent time here and left their mark.

What a lovely, lovely place.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Final Gary/World Series of Poker Update

Jill's Journal: Rob’s poker BFF Gary has seen his amazing whirlwind week in the World Series of Poker’s Main Event – the equivalent of poker’s Super Bowl – come to an end. He had a tremendous day, but got knocked out late this afternoon and officially finished 568th. He more than exceeded his goal of finishing in the top 10% of players (players that can only be qualified as the best in the world). He earned $21,707 for his effort, more than doubling his buy-in.

Gary is sitting at the far right (in the black cap, next to a guy in a light-colored cap) in this photo. Can you  imagine the pressure of playing under the spotlight with the cameras filming and spectators all around? 
Gary clearly made several people sit up and take notice. He spent most of his day today at the same table as Daniel Negreanu, one of the most famous and top poker players in the world. This table was one of the ones ESPN decided to feature and film. They captured Gary not only beating Negreanu at a hand, but bluffing him! Later, as players were lost at the table and people reshuffled, Gary was moved to a table with actor Kevin Pollak. After his finish, a magazine interviewed him regarding his experience as an amateur competing against the pros. It’s been one amazing moment after another. Rob said Gary was absolutely thrilled to have made it so far yet understandably also disappointed the thrill ride didn’t last longer.

Rob’s been with Gary this entire week and has been keeping me updated with texts and phone calls. What fun the girls and I have had rooting him on from a few miles away and visiting once or twice. I think Gary should be so proud of himself. He not only made his dream a reality, but he took charge of it and made it a huge success! How many people can say that? Congratulations to Gary. I can’t wait to ask him if he’ll be back next year. I suspect I already know the answer. :)

An ESPN cameraman catches Gary in action!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Three Opposites

Jill's Journal: Among the oddities I’ve learned since becoming a mama of three: such a thing as three opposites exists.

This picture is a case in point:

Child #1 was completely oblivious to the camera, as she was reading the dictionary. Yes, she does those sorts of things. For fun.

Child #2 saw the camera and immediately jumped into the picture, complete with a cooking pot on her head.

Child #3 saw the camera and dove away, giving me an evil look to ensure I knew she wouldn’t be joining in any photos this afternoon unless it was her idea.

Yep, three opposites. How is that even possible?

World Series of Poker update: Gary is not just hanging tough, but doing great! At this writing, there are 768 players left from the original 6,598. The top 650ish will get paid out of the $62 million+ prize pool. Play starts daily at noon and lasts until after midnight (with brief breaks), so that makes for long, intense days. To have gotten even this far is a huge accomplishment and he’s not done yet. Go Gary!

And can it just be noted that the last time I played in a serious game of poker, I went heads-up with Gary (meaning we were the last two players left in the game). It took an hour or so of heads-up, but I kicked his rear-end! Don’t worry, I have no illusions of being able to repeat that feat. It was pure luck. It’s been so long since I’ve played, I barely remember what a flush is. :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

And Today It’s “Rome”

Jill's Journal: Today’s public air-conditioning experience was brought to us courtesy of Caesars Palace, where the girls absolutely loved the Forum Shops. The indoor, high-end mall with the painted ceilings, Roman statues, elaborate fountains, and circular escalator (one of only a handful in the world and the only one in the U.S.) was a huge hit with them. I’m just wondering how we ended up in Las Vegas during what is being called record heat.

WSOP update: Gary is still in it and grinding away. Like in horse racing, poker requires a bit of luck which seems to have eluded Gary today. But he’s hanging tough. Go Gary!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ah, Venice…well, not really

Jill's Journal: We hid out in the air conditioning at the Venetian this afternoon, where the girls enjoyed watching the gondolas cruise the canal in addition to studying the living statues at St. Mark’s Square. As badly as the girls wanted to actually ride a gondola, the price for a family of five was a little too rich for our blood. Someday hopefully we'll take them to Venice for the real thing.

Fun update on Gary and the WSOP: There were 6,598 entrants in the Main Event. Somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 people have been knocked out so far. Gary’s chip count going into tomorrow is in the top 10% of players, which is a super position to be in. How exciting is that? Stay tuned!

The "living statues" do blink! This guy actually moved quite a bit more than we expected.