Saturday, April 11, 2015

Denver for the Day

We just got back from Denver and I'm on the patio catching the last of the day's sun.  The night air is crisp, but not too cold.  This is where my writing juices seem to flow.

We had made plans to meet up with a long time Facebook friend and fellow Lostie, Stephen.  This would be our first in person meeting.  We stopped up to our friend's apartment, but quickly realized it would be better to find a place for Truman stretch his legs.  Only there less than 10 minutes, I think Stephen's cat had a full blown panic attack from all the commotion.  Stephen recommended a nearby park and we all piled into our car for the short ride.  

We drove by the park to see if it would have the necesary amenities...mainly, did it have a playground for Truman?  It did, so we drove on to grab a picnic lunch.  The grocery store was just a few blocks away. We went in and quickly gathered the items needed for our meal.  Chicken, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, grapes, and cookies made the cut.  The big boys went to grab some beer and then it was back to claim a picnic table near the playground.  

We spent the afternoon in Cheesman Park, a location with a bit of a sorted history.  When I got home, I did a bit of research (ie.  Apparently, the land was originally allotted as a multidenominational cemetary, but by the late 1800's had fallen into disrepair.  Local developers felt the area would be better served by a community park.  Bodies were to be moved, but it is believed gravesites still exist within the park boundaries.  Today the land is prestine, a perfect combination of old growth trees and expertly manicured lawns.  Paved trails meandered throughout.

Upon our return to the park there was an open picnic table.  Truman was immediately drawn to the playground and chose to forego eating in lieu of playing for most of the afternoon.  

And here is where I need to go on a bit of a tangent...a tangent about mom's and how we treat each other...

Truman played while we ate.  Helicopter parents...we are not.  He was within view and at 3 years of age is quite self sufficient on play structures.  That is except for the swings.  Another mom and toddler had entered the play area.  The mom loaded her little one into a swing.  It was at that moment that our own little Truman, made his way over to the swings and encouraged this woman to load him as well and to push them both.  I was mortified and pleased simultaneously.  I began to rush towards the swings, but this fellow mom held up her hand and motioned me back to my lunch.  Once I'd finished my lunch, I joined this other mom at that swings.  I didn't want to abuse this priviledge she had just gifted me.  She assured me it was fine and that he had been quite charming.  We chatted comfortably.

When they left a short time later, Truman moved to join some children playing in the sand.  This time I was in the midst of two couples out for a playdate with their daughters.  The kids were playing well and the parents chatting.  I over heard the dads discussing overcoming a "WOW" addiction and I chuckled aloud.  The one mother closest to me smiled and we nodded in understanding.  Brian is a lover of online multiplayer games as well.  I knew what it was like to be a "gaming widow" from experience.  Once the connection was made, conversation flowed easily.  

Interaction after interaction continued for the remainder of the afternoon.  Dozens of families in all shapes and sizes coming together for an afternoon of pure fun in the park.  Over and over I witnessed gentle parenting and teachable moments.  Adults motivating sharing and building socialization...through demonstration.  It was a beautiful thing.

There was no "momism" to be least that's what I've coined the term.  Much like racism and sexism, "momism" is very real and rampant in Colorado Springs.  I have easily made "girlfriends" in every location we have been.  Most significant friendships were cultivated in Arizona.  From playgroup mom's to co-workers to family of friends, I made a strong support network of woman that I haven't had before or since, but always desperately wanted.  I have tried several playgroups and other activities, only to remain an outsider.  I spent 2 hours one afternoon in a fast food playplace monitoring other people's children, only seeing other parents when they came to retrieve their kids...without so much as a simple hello.  And that, as a mom, can be very lonely.  On this day, it has definitely made me wish we had chosen to relocate to Denver, rather than the Springs.

We stayed this afternoon until the street lamps came on and the evening chill drove us back to the car.  Then it was time to drop Stephen off and head south towards home.  Truman was fast asleep before we even made it back to a main road.  It had been a great day.  Such a great day, that we had simply lost track of time.  The best kind of day.  And the cherry on top, we arrived home to these pictures our friend and professional photographer Stephen had snapped of us.  Perfect digital memories which capture these essence of this perfect day.       
Stephen Fry Pictures 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Trekking Across Texas | Part 2

We woke up refreshed and ready to get an early start.  Our hope was to drive during Truman's naps, limiting driving accompanied by crying to a minimum.  We could tell Truman had begun to loathe being confined to his car seat and he would wail inconsolably if contained, but not asleep.  This wasn't a limitation we had considered when embarking on this journey.  We were accustomed to busting out the miles and had assumed (albeit naively) that our ability to travel in the same fashion would continue.  Our son had loved his car seat.  It was our go to pacifier and sleep aid for those tough times all parents experience at some point or another.  "Not anymore suckers!" we felt him saying without a word.  But if parenting in this unconventional setting has taught us anything it has been remain flexibile and don't get too comfortable.

The continental breakfast was decent.  We ate quickly and grabbed some fruit and coffee for the road.  Our goal was to get to Midland, where we would look for a room for the night.  

We drove through miles of desert.  Texas was definitely making good use of wind power.  Many of these miles were lined with windmills.  At one point we stopped for a photo op with these majestic white structures.  We are suckers for alternative power.  It was also a nice opportunity to stretch our legs.  

Rest top to check out the windmills somewhere in Texas

Then it was back in the car we piled.  We had found a travel rhythm and Truman was responding positively to our adaptations.  It had been peaceful and allowed Brian and I to chat and joke in the front seats.  The mood was light and we were on target to arrive in Midland just before dinner.

We pulled into the WalMart in Midland just after 4pm local time for restrooms and wifi.  Our goal was to find lodging quickly before Truman's demeanor changed from cooing baby to demon spawn (as a result of pushing our daily drive times to the max).  

While I used the restroom, Brian used the wifi to get our bearings.  We found hotel row and drove over, relieved to be gettiing off the road for the day.  We too, had our own car bound limits.  Our mode of tranportation across the country was a Chevy HHR...only slightly larger than a PT cruiser.  Brian's 6ft frame became easily cramped after long hours on the road.  All of our remaining belongs were distributed between the pop up and the car itself.  It's a good thing none of us are claustrophobic.  

Unfortunately, a hotel room was not in our least not in Midland.  I pulled in to the first hotel, a Hampton Inn and at the front desk requested a room.  The quote was just shy of $250.  While I was busy lifting my jaw from the floor, the receptionist began explaining the obscene rate.  This time the "flexible" cost was a result of a recent oil find.  He advised that every hotel from Midland to Odessa would likely be near full, with available rooms at a similar price to the one he was authorized to offer.  I was allowed to use their lobby computer to attempt to find something suitable, but found what the hotel staffer said to be true.  

I knew the present situation could easily deteriorate into a repeat of the prior evening if we weren't careful.  This new information would definitely throw a wrench in our original plans.  Brian and I put our heads together and quickly regrouped.  Apparently, Pecos was the closest town with lodging in our budget.  We would stop for food outside Midland and then make our way to Pecos.  Our hope was to continue to coincide with Truman's sleep patterns.

We hit traffic, Truman awoke, and the crying began.  We slowly and painfully learned there wasn't much outside of Midland.  Hungry and tired, the enviroment was ripe for a fight, but we somehow held it together this time.

About an hour in, Brian saw a sign for a State Park with camping ahead.  It was a race against the sunset and there was no guarantee that Pecos would have affordable lodging by the time we arrived.  We quickly made the decision to take the upcoming exit and see what  Monahans Sand Hills State Park had to offer.  

The car rolled to a stop at the end of the off ramp.  We looked to the left and saw a beautiful wroght iron arch sign identifying we had found the park.  I turned on the blinker and paused to look both ways.  We were at a crossroads both physically and metaphorically.  In this moment, we were opening ourselves to think outside the traditional lodging box...and in doing so experience something we'd only seen in the movies.  

The road was clear, I made the turn, and we pulled through the entrance into the unknown...

The entrance to Monahans Sand Hills State Park

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Trekking Across Texas | Part 1

It was time to leave Corney Lake and head on to a new adventure, volunteering with the US Forest Service.  Packing the pop up always took longer than expected and this day was no different.  Keeping Truman occupied while trying to complete the two person job of dismantling camp came with it's own set of challenges.  Now 13 months old, he was becoming more mobile.  He hated being contained and for his safety this was necessary while packing.  Once we were hitched up and ready to go it was time to strap Truman into his carseat.  He cried until he fell asleep to the rhythm of the tires putting road between us and Kisatchie.  We had 1,245 miles between us and our destination, and with the ability to travel about 4 hours a day, we needed to get a move on if we were going to make it to Roosevelt by our April 1st start date.

The first day we made it about 3 1/2 hours to a place called Canton, TX.  With sunset pending, we opted for a hotel.  This would be our first experience with "flexible" hotel pricing.  Truman had met his limit for the day and we were about to test our own.  I pulled in to the first lodging off the exit, a Motel 6.  I pulled in and parked temporarily under the awning near the entrance.  I was so ready to be out of the car and even more so to check into a room.  It had been over a week since we had showered in the traditional sense.  

I entered a full lobby and the air was thick with a smog of negativity.  It was easy to see the employee was disgruntled.  The line moved slowly and in my head I was preparing for a fight.  My mood was already soured by the 30 mins of crying we had just endured...and Brian was still enduring.  I knew he'd be wondering what the heck was taking so long.  With each minute that ticked by my blood pressure rose...and all from anticipation of things that hadn't even happened yet.

It was my turn at the front of the line.  I requested a room and was met with sticker shock.  The prices were $100 per night in lieu of an upcoming Flea Market event.   I attempted to explain we were simply traveling through in the hopes of some compassion, but there was none to be had.  It was $100 firm or move along.

My irritability was beginning to swell.  As I exited the hotel, I could hear Truman crying and see Brian's look of desperation...his body language screaming, "what the heck took so long".  I reached for the driver's side door handle and that's when I heard a gentleman address me in a tone I didn't take kindly to.  And that's the moment my limit was found.  I  turned and unleashed on this unsuspecting man.  

Brian leaped from the car to diffuse the situation.  He ordered me into the car with a tone I knew better than to argue with.  Once inside it's confines, we turned on each other.  We said a lot of things we didn't mean in those few minutes it took to drive to the Super 8 next door.

Luckily they were not price gouging and I graciously accepted their rate of $45 per night.  They even offered a complimentary breakfast.  Score!  Unfortunately, this turn of good fortune was not enough to dis way the foul mood I had set in motion minutes before.  

It definitely adds a new dynamic to go from spending hours a week together to every minute of every hour of every day.  Your spouse becomes your everything from your husband to your best girlfriend to the person you unload on.  We emptied the car in silence and continued our evening separately, eating dinner at two separate restaurants within walking distance.  Can anybody blame him...I can't.  

Truman and I enjoyed breakfast for dinner at a nearby Denny's.  Our hunger satisfied, I loaded Truman in the stroller and made the hike back to the room.  The cool night air felt good and the exercise lifted my mood.  By the time we made it back to the room Truman was asleep and I wasn't far behind.  Brian came in shortly after and crawled into bed to curl up next to his family.  His time off had seemed to erase his bad mood as well.  I whispered, "I'm sorry..."  He replied, "I know."  And we drifted to sleep.  

This wasn't our first spat and I'm sure won't be our last, but we have definitely minimized our disagreements over the last two years.  

If we've learned anything it's this...  

  • Don't sweat the small stuff
  • Some time apart is a necessity
  • Forgiveness is key

Monday, April 6, 2015

Primitive Camping at Corney Lake | Bernice, Louisiana, Late March 2013

Let's be honest...I have been putting off this article for forever.  I still feel a tinge of bitterness when I think about our time spent in Northern Louisianna.  It wasn't all bad.  We did make time for daily bike rides (in between the rain storms), Brian made a mean camp fire chili, and we enjoyed a really fun night by the fire with a bottle of cheap whiskey and our favorite internet radio station (thanks to verizon unlimited data and solar panel power for daytime charging of electronics).  

We were spent by the time we hit Kisatchie in late March of 2013.  Upon leaving NOLA, we drove north to Lafayette and settled on camping in a private campground called Maxie's, that Brian had found while leafing through a lodging magazine we had picked up at a rest area.  Unfortunately, this RV park just happened to be right next to a highway.  The tree barrier did little to block the sound and late night hours did little to alleviate the traffic.  The one highlight was our camping neighbor, Barb.  She, too, had sold everything and bought an RV to travel.  It was the second and last time we would use our movie projector purchased with the vision of hosting movie nights in campgrounds we stopped in across the US.  Our thought was it would help us meet people.  That night we watched Nature Calls (appropriate...we thought so) projected on the side of our pop up.  Barb joined in contributing cracker jack snacks.  Barb is still traveling today.  Check out her blog here.  
The movie Nature Calls being projected on the side of our pop up

We packed up the next day and by the time we were ready to pull out it was more afternoon than morning.  After solely camping in the pop up from mid February through mid March, we treated ourselves to a free stay in the  Best Western up the road by using points from our rewards card.  This was followed by several days in a cheaper hotel across the street which we paid for out of pocket.  We needed to decompress.  We needed to regroup.  We needed to ask ourselves some serious questions.  Could we really do this?  Physically?  Financially?  Mentally?  Should we just throw in the towel and head back to PA?  

We decided to stick it out for the time being.  Reevaluating our finances, we began to look at free camping options to offset the cost, making more money available for food and gas.  Our first destination would be Corney Lake, about 4 hours north of where we were.  Following several days of "cushy living" while staying in hotels, we figured we would be ready from some backcountry camping.  We were also hoping for some more seasonable temperatures.  As we pulled away from the hotel I felt a bit of excitement at the prospect of returning to life in the pop up we now considered home.
Our first day at Corney Lake 

Corney Lake is located within the Kisatchie National Forest.  The nearest town would be Bernice, 9 miles down the road.  As a rule, camping of this type is free and sans amenities such as water and electric.  This location did provide pit toilets within a short walking distance and flush toilets within sight best visited by bicycle or car (though we did walk there several times a day all depending on urgency).

Our first night there we set up camp, got a fire going, and poured ourselves a celebratory drink.  It was nice to be back on the road and back in our "home".  It was a fair evening and the sky was clear.  The lake lapped the shore lulling us into relaxation mode.  Truman slept, while Brian and I continued to celebrate.  Patting ourselves on the back for deciding to tough it out.  If we had thrown in the towel, we would have missed this.  We were feeling fine.
Truman happy to be back in the Pop up 

And then we were blindsided by what came next.  

As I stated above, we were in search of primitive camping and cooler temps after a week in Lafayette with temperatures pushing 80 degrees and summer like humidity.  We got more than we bargained for...and not in a good way.  We were plagued with freezing temps, rain, wind, lack of sun (so very limited power), and neighbors with a generator that they ran 24/7 (even though courtesy hours were posted on site).  There were some positive highlights from this stay, but many of the pictures and videos captured during this time show exhaustion and desperation.
Raw emotion

The Palm Sunday Snowstorm of 2013 brought rain and cold temperatures to the southeastern United States.  Northern Louisiana was experiencing daytime temps around 50 degrees and nighttime temperatures in the 20's.  The wind blew constantly.  We had realistic fears of freezing to death in our sleep.  Because of this we all slept in one bed.  We layered our clothing and slept in hats.  We always put Truman in the middle to keep him warm.  Every blanket and sleeping bag we owned was piled on top.  If fear and desperation are the mother of invention, than Brian was Macgyver.  He concocted this radiant heating system using fired heated bricks and our large soup pot.  It actually worked pretty well in our little pop up.  
Brick Heat 

Hey, on the bright side, ice lasted forever and we didn't lose any food to spoiling.

And now, back to bitching.  As if it wasn't enough our sleep was being affected by the cold temps, those people and their damn generator.  It was so flippin' LOUD!  "RRRRR RRRrrr rrrrrr" it went, all hours, day and night!  And gas was over $3.00/gallon then too!  They arrived day 2 and were still there when we were pulling out.  There went our peace and tranquility.  If we have a pet peeve this would be it, respect posted camp courtesy hours, respect your fellow campers, and we won't have a problem.
Who needs a generator? 

Back in Alabama the idea of camp hosting had peaked our interest.  After a little research, we settled on exploring our options within the National Forest Service.  This option offered free campsites in exchange for 20 hours a week in labor.  This plan had the possibility of giving us long term lodging security.  If we were successful in our placement, we could have future opportunities in locations across the US.  We kept our heads down and focused on applying to voluteer positions with the National Forest Service.  We had a lead from Northern California while we were in Lafayette, but our services were not required until the end of June.  And honestly, we needed something sooner.  Our original plan had been to stay in Kistachie 2 weeks, but our patience with our impolite neighbors was waning fast.
Our Home (February 2013 to May 2013)

All our hard work paid off and we got the call.  We had been accepted as camp hosts with the Tonto National Forest at Roosevelt Lake.  Our start date was set for April 1st, 2013.  We began planning our departure.  We woke up early and packed up camp.  With adventure awaiting us and that noisy generator in our rear view mirror, the highway beckoned us.  We pulled out with 1,245 miles of road ahead of our destination and a renewed sense of passion for our cause.
Until we meet again...

Friends from Home: Denise

Beautiful Denise!
Meet Denise.  Also a recurrent character in our travelers' story.  We met during her junior year of high school.  She had transfered to Gateway from a local private school.  Though I don't have any recollection of this, apparently Denise has a fond memory of me inviting her to join my lunch table on one of her first days at Gateway.  My memories from high school are fuzzy and over cast by my insecurity of being someone who didn't fit in.  It feels good to know I was kind and welcoming.  

Back in 2008 we found the gem that is Bear Run Nature Reserve.  Located in the Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania, the Reserve is a area of protected land with a maintained trail system and 6 hike in only camp sites.  If faries and leprechans exist, this is where they can be found.  Shaded with hemlock and lined with rododendron the trails transport you to a place of tranquility.  We wanted to share this find with anyone willing to make the hike.  Several friends joined us over the 2 summers that we camped there consistently.
The magic that is Bear Run Preserve

It was also about that time people were congregating on Facebook, making connections from the past.  One of those friends from the past was Denise.  At the time she was just getting into hiking and camping and was posting for advice about equipment and locations.  Feeling a kindred spirit, I reached out and asked if she's like to join us at Bear Run.  We would be there for the weekend with Brian's sister and our niece and nephews.  I thought it would be fun for her kids and a good time for the adults as well.  She agreed to stop up for a day hike.  

She arrived with her oldest kiddo ready for some serious hiking.  We showed them around our favorite trails and went for a dip in our favorite swimming hole.  But the most memorable moment from that afternoon was Denise as a mom.  She had packed fixings for pb and j sandwiches, snacks, and drinks to feed our entire crew.  Just the right combo for a pack of hungry hikers.  Kidless at the time...I was in awe!  I haven't been able to find any photos from this trip.  The memories will have to be enough.

Denise relocated to Colorado back in 2012, and when we planned on making our way there in 2014 I was excited with the prospect of the very least for a mini reunion.  Already having close to 2 years experince with the Rocky Mountain State, she would be a great resource on things to see and do while we lived here.  Little did I know how influential Denise would actually be in our family's life.
Denise finding her own peace in the Great Outdoors

It's no secret we were in a serious financial bind when we arrived in Colorado.  It quickly became apparent that we would not last more than a month in temporary housing.  The conditions were pretty bad...enough for a future article.  We were running into issues finding a furnished rental that was a.  within our price range and b.  available when we needed it.  Reevaluating our situation, we decided to start looking at unfurnished spaces.  We found a suitable space, but the original deposit amount quoted was increased once our application was processed.  We had been in Colorado less than a month and our finances were still shaky at best.  And in the chaos, there was Denise, offering to help.

As I sit and write this article, I look around the apartment, and can not see a space where Denise has not touched our lives.  From the roof over our heads (she helped by funding a portion of our deposit) to the furniture, the curtains, the pots and pans, our dining room table...the list goes on.  She had offered to help and when I asked, she was there.  

The day we paid our first months rent and deposit, she was there.  She help us move two loads from our hotel room to our new apartment and in between runs treated me to an amazing lunch of mexican food.  Mmm...I'm hungry for tacos just typing about this.

In the first few months, after we moved, I took jobs where I could get them...sometimes even 60 plus miles away.  They provided me with bed and breakfast services on several occasions when I worked closer to Denver than the Springs.  Always leaving the light on, Saving me gas, and giving me extra minutes of precious sleep. 

I owe her a debt I'm not sure I will ever be able to fully repay.
Flowers I got Denise for her Bday!

It is no surprise that she was just awarded an honor for excellence in education in the school district where she works.  She carries this giving spirit into every aspect of her life.  A wife, mother, teacher, and friend...she balances each with what appears to be grace and ease.  I admire her and am proud to call her my friend.  I am honored that she considers me hers.  
Denise preparing to receive her award for Excellence in Education

Thank you Denise for everything you have done for us!  I hope our paths continue to cross for many years to come.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Friends from Home: Jeanette

And the Friends from Home series continues.  Meet Jeanette.  She could be considered a recurrent character in our travelers' story.  But first, our beginnings.  Jeanette probably doesn't know this, but she was one of my high school idols.  She was in color guard and dyed her hair with kool aid, she listened to cool music and she knew my name (me, an under classman, two years her junior).  One of my first high school parties was attended at her house.  As one of those awkward kids, I felt special being on her radar.  Again, as with the other friends from Pittsburgh, we reconnected via Facebook.
Jeanette and I on a band bus circa 1995

Jeanette is one of those strong women.  She recently wasn't afraid to turn her life upside down to find her own bliss.  She divorced her high school sweetheart and completed a massage therapy program.  Following her dreams is mandatory.  As a massage therapy instructor her passion is contagious.  Her willingness to take risks has even found her true love.  I am continually motivated by her metamorphosis.
Radiant Jeanette

Our first meet up was a result of Jeanette and her then husband Fred (also a friend from high school) camping at a nearby lake for the weekend.  They decided to swing by on their way back to Phoenix.  At the time we were stationed in Roosevelt, AZ with the Forest Service still living in our pop up in a campground called Schoolhouse.  I felt butterflies about receiving guests from our prior life while living this bohemian one.  Brian was out on garbage duty, so I would be entertaining alone.  I showed them how we lived and then we gathered around a picnic table in the shade of the pavilion while Truman played near by in the dirt.  We talked more about the present than the past.  What had brought them to Arizona and sharing stories of the adventure that is parenthood.  We made tentative plans to meet up again if the opportunity presented itself.  It was hugs all around before they headed back to the Valley.
Jeanette and Truman at the AZ Renn Faire 2014

We never did have the opportunity to meet up again following our first visit, but it was Jeanette to the rescue when we needed a ride to the airport to catch our flight to Hawaii a few months later.  She was their on time, while we were fashionably late.  She stuffed our bags and us into her compact car and delivered us to the airport as well as any shuttle service around with what we thought were minutes to spare (due to our own tardiness).  In the end, none of that mattered as our flight was delayed close to 5 hours in the end.  We didn't know at the time, but Jeanette would be the highlight of that trying travel day.  
Truman and I at the entrance to the Renn Faire

At the end of October 2013 we arrived back in Arizona for another extended stay.  This time in the White Mountains outside Show Low.  We were excited at the prospect of being able to attend the Arizona Renn Faire.  The previous year we had missed it by mere days.  Turns out Jeanette is also a Renn Faire Fan.  We decided to coordinate our attendance so we could spend time together.  She even graciously offered her home for accommodations while in the Valley.
AZ Renn Faire Entrance

The weekend in early March finally arrived and I drove in the night before so we could get their early the day of the event.  Jeanette recommended a local pizza place that hit the spot.  The pizza was to die for...the first real pizza I had eaten since leaving Pittsburgh over a year before.  There was an awesome play area for Truman and Jeanette's daughter Emma helped occupy my little man so I could eat an entire slice uninterrupted.  Bellies full we headed back to the house to head to bed.  We had a big day ahead.  The perfect host, Jeanette gave up her bedroom to Truman and I.  It was like sleeping on a cloud.
Truman taking a break in the play area at the 2014 AZ Renn Fest

We all got up early and got ready to go.  We had to purchase tickets from a local grocery store to get the best admission price.  I also needed diapers for Truman and everyone needed a Starbucks treat!  Then we were sit in traffic.  The AZ Renn Faire is a big deal.  People come from far and wide and the backs up for miles.
The golden ticket

Brian and I have been to several Renn Festivals over the years.  It was sort of our thing.  Our original wedding plans included getting married at the Pittsburgh Renn Faire.  That said...I thought I knew my stuff.  I was wrong.  The Arizona version blows every other Faire out of the water.  We shopped, we ate, we rode rides, we ate again, we petted animals, we ate yet again (of course we washed our hands first).  So many vendors, so much good food, numerous performances and educational exhibits.  They even had a petting zoo.  We stayed til the very end watching the final joust in the arena.  I wish I could remember the name of the band we listened to while waiting for the exiting crowds to thin a bit.  Jeanette?  A little help here to fill in the blanks...
Jeanette showing Truman around the petting zoo, AZ Renn Fest 2014

The sun was setting when we finally reached the exit.  A wave of contentment and exhaustion came over me simultaneously.  My original plan had been to make the drive back that evening, but I realized for the safety of Truman and myself, I would need to stay another night.  Grateful we hadn't overstayed our welcome, I enjoyed a nice hot shower and another night in that uber comfy bed.
Sunset leaving the AZ Renn Fest 2014

A leisurely morning of coffee aided or hindered my packing to leave...I still can't decide which it was.  My host definitely didn't make me feel rushed.  The weekend was so refreshing and we promised to do it again...although we never did make that happen.  Jeanette, we can't thank you enough for all the roles you've played in our journey.  Our door will always remain open and we'll leave the light on for're welcome!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Friends from Home: Ken

I'm still enjoying my new tablet keyboard combo.  Here's hoping this feeling never gets old.  It's definitely helping stimulate my motivation to get some of our past experiences down in text...before my memory skews them beyond all recognition.  A few weeks back I published an article titled "Friends from Home:  Patricia" and promised a series.  Well the wait is over.  Now that I have my fabulous new blogging device I have no more excuses.

Back in September of 2013, we were still on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.  Having already been there a little over a month, I had found some great swimming spots with little to no waves and zero depth entry good for toddlers learning to swim.  One of our favorites was located at Ko'Olina just minutes from where we were staying in Kapolei.  The beach park consisted of 4 lagoons adjacent to the Aulani Disney Resort and the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort.  Hawaii has an open access beach policy meaning public access and parking must be provided to all beaches even those that are resort front.  To me it was the real life example of every picture of Hawaii I had ever seen.
First visit to Ko'Olina August 2013

While surfing Facebook one late September afternoon, I noticed my friend Ken (originally from my home town) was visiting Oahu and staying on the North Shore.  He was posting pictures of all sorts of food porn and hot spots from around the island.  I reached out and recommended a mini reunion.  Ken wrote back and said they were in!  They had been doing the traditional tourist attractions and wondered if I could recommend a good place for a family beach day.  Ken is married and has a little one about 6 months older than Truman.  I immediately thought of Ko'Olina.  Ken agreed and we made plans to meet before they left the island.
Amber and Truman Aug 2013

My anxiety immediately began to kick in once the plans were in place.  Ko'Olina was a good distance from the North Shore.  Opposite ends of the island, in fact.  Hawaii is not know for excellence in the department of transportation.  There is only one highway between the two destinations and even on a good day Oahu traffic rivals that of DC.  Yes folks, it is worse than the US capital at rush hour in a snow storm.  What if they got stuck in traffic?  What if they didn't find this hidden gem nearly as charming as I did?  I almost canceled to avoid preceived humiliation.
Truman and Hara

The day arrived and so did I...on time for once in my life.  I parked and proceeded to walk to the lagoon that contained permanantely fixed palm beach umbrellas.  It was a sunny day and I wanted to make sure we had some shade for the kids.  It did take them longer than expected to arrive, but they weren't upset.  The essence of Hawaii had rubbed off on them this week and they were in a relaxed state of mind.
Truman waiting for his new friend Hara to arrive

We got right down to the business of being beach bums for the remainder of the afternoon.  The kids played in the sand and enjoyed splashing in the warm water.  As the sun began to set we packed up for an evening stroll along the beachfront path.  Ken asked about dinner options and I recommended a few places within walking distance.  I was ready to part ways advising them that dinner out was just not in our budget, when Ken said they had had such a fantastic day they wanted to thank me with dinner...their treat!
The sunset September 23, 2013
We headed for the restaurant district and settled on a place called the Monkey Pod.  This independently own restaurant served locally grown ingredients when ever possible.  There was a wait and it was just a short matter of time before we found out why.  We added our party to the list and found a bench outside to wait.  We snapped a few group photos and let the kids stretch their legs a bit.
Group Photo Op while waiting for dinner 

Our table was ready and they took us upstairs.  The restaurant had a tropical feel with dark wood and shutters and palm trees and windows.  We were seated and our order was taken quickly.  The staff realized the kids might struggle with the wait so they dropped off some Mr. Potato Head dolls to keep them occupied.  They really seemed to cater to families.
Mr. Potato Head Fun

The adults indulged in some amazing ramen, while the kids chowed down on Mac n Cheese.  For some reason I think we had dessert, but I don't remember.  Ken might?  We wrapped up dinner loaded the kids in their respective strollers and headed for the cars.
Monkey Pod Menu

On the walk back Ken and I remineced about our hometown and growing up Gateway.  We talked about mutual friends and how we genuinely felt lucky to have grown up with people who turned out the way we all did.

Back at the cars we exchanged hugs and checked directions.  Oh and placed bets on who's little one would fall asleep first in the car.  If I didn't say it enough that night, thank you and your little family for one of my fondest memeories from our time in Oahu!  Next time dinner and drinks will be on us!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

My New Blogging Device

I am typing to you from my brand new iPad and it's Zagg bluetooth keyboard case, provided by my loyalty to Verizon Wireless.  Brian is sitting next to me on his own new HP.  Having been without my own laptop since last Spring, I am experiencing what can only be described a eurphoria over being able to type without effort, on a fully functional keyboard, and the words are appearing on the screen.  This may not sound like much, but to someone who is trying to produce consistent content on a blog it means the world.  No more lag.  No more lost documents.  No more headaches.  The following has nothing to do with travel and everything to do with customer service and customer satisfaction.

We found a store willing to finance customers with less than perfect credit.  They advised me over the phone that if I wanted the current sales I would need to stop in prior to the end of business that day.  So Tuesday afternoon I headed out to see if I could make a deal.  Our original plan was to get two laptops from the same place.  We hoped to be able to finance them with a "120 days same as cash" deal and pay them off before the interest hits in July.  I advised the sales person of our intent to purchase multiple computers and was told he would need manager approval.  After a brief wait the representative came back and let me in on the bad news.  Unfortunately, the store was unwilling to finance two laptops at once without prior established credit.  They did say if we could show a consistent payment history we would be eligible to purchase a second laptop in the future.

The inability to purchase two laptops at once definitely put a kink in our plans.  Brian is our IT expert and his projects require extensive screen time.  Producing consistent content comes from consistent writing, meaning I would need my own screen time.  I agreed to the terms and purchased the laptop for Brian.  It was back to the drawing board for solutions for my needs.

Over the last several months we had discussed getting me a better resource for blogging.  Brian felt a tablet keyboard combo would suit my needs nicely.  I balked at the idea, but our current hurdle made me reconsider.  I started researching what deals our cell phone provider had to offer.  I made multiple phone calls to the local Verizon stores for information on their tablets with keyboards that would be compatible with our Microsoft 365 software package.  I hadn't even considered a tablet's compatibility to my phone, but I'm glad they did.  We discussed some options and they encouraged me to stop into a store for further assistance.

I haven't been in a Verizon Store in quite some time.  Most of my interaction with Verizon has been via phone over the past several years.  It was a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere.  They took my name and told me someone would be with me shortly to assist.  As I waited I noticed customers being helped all over the store.  An older woman sat on a bench while a representative sat on the floor next her helping her navigate her phone.  A group of preteen kids sat comparing tablets, while waiting on parents to make purchases.  I was initially concerned with bringing 2 preschoolers along, but that quickly subsided when surrounded by the family friendly atmosphere of the store.

A representative named Dani approached and asked how she could help.  We briefly discussed what I was looking for and she showed me some options to suit my needs.  Our plan is a bit tricky.  We are grandfathered in to unlimited data and though we have been asked numerous times to change we remain adamant in keeping this feature.  I had several questions regarding what a tablet would do to the cost of our service.  Dani took the time to answer each of my questions.  When she didn't know an answer, she went and found someone who did.  She listened to my needs and actually let me make my own decisions instead of pushing me towards one product or another.  Because of this, I feel more confident in this electronics purchase than any purchase previous.

The set up wasn't complete, but the boys had surpassed their limit.  Dinner time was fast approaching and I had to get Truman's friend home, as his Hobbins' Staycation was over.  I asked Dani if she could continue the process without me.  I could swing by on my way back towards home to pick it up.  Once again accomodating the needs of the customer, she said she would call when it was complete.

On my way back towards the store, I received the call letting me know it was ready to go.  And ready to go it was...Dani had even set up the Bluetooth keyboard.  All I had to do when I arrived home was sit down and type!

Thank you Dani of the 7252 Academy Blvd, 80920 Verizon Store!  You are an example of what good customer service should be!  If you are local definitely give them your business!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Boys Day Out | Manitou Springs, CO

We've had an extra kiddo around the past couple days and our already small apartment becomes noticeably smaller in size even if the addition is just a 4 year old.  I decided to take the boys over to Manitou Springs.  Truman and I had checked out a playground there right after we moved and I knew it would make a good place for a picnic and some playtime.  

There's a Subway on the edge of town where we stopped to grab some grub for our impromptu picnic. Subway currently has the cutest Mickey satchels and the staff at this specific location was especially patient while the kids struggled to stand still long enough to place their orders.  

Food in hand we headed towards the playground.  Before reaching our original destination I noticed a playground on the right.  I turned in and found free parking (a score in Manitou).  Grabbed the lunches, my phone, and the key, locked the car, and headed for a near by picnic table.  Truman and his friend were exploring what the playground had to offer.  I enjoyed my sandwich serenaded by the sound of the park's adjacent creek.  Pure bliss!

The park we happened upon is named Memorial.  It seems well visited.  We met several families playing on the playground.  The sand area was enclosed in what can best be described as a tiled art piece.  Once they had tired of playing we expanded our perimeter to check out the rest of the park.  A hollowed out tree had been turned into a play house.  The boys enjoyed crawling inside and peeking out the windows.  There was even a "free library".  They had fun pretending to check out books.

I convinced the boys it was time to move along and we began our trek through town to the other playground.  Along the way we found the "fountain of youth", a penny arcade, and numerous fun shop fronts to window shop.  The arcade would have been a kid pleaser had I not realized that my wallet was back in the car.  The kids were fine with climbing on and off the rides, but at just a quarter a piece per ride you could become a hero pretty cheaply.

We made it to the second playground the boys still had plenty of energy and hopped right on the futuristic equipment like the disc swings in the pictures.  Playing came to an end with the need for a bathroom and lucky for us there was one nearby.  This public restroom was clean.  I was easily able to check the boys room and allow them to use the bathroom alone, while guarding the door of course.  Truman's friend came out first and so I opened the door, "teacher voice" on deck, ready to reprimand.  It was a pleasant surprise to peak in and find Truman actually using a public potty on his own.  Proud mom moment!

Several hours had passed and nap time (for Truman at least) was long over due.  Our journey to the car was slow.  I let the boys set the pace.  Truman found his own beat listening to a street performer singing and playing guitar.  Of course we had to stop and dance.  No wallet, so we left one of our cookies as payment for his lovely tunes.  Another vendor's sign said homeless.  We gave him a bag of our chips.  It felt good to be creative in a way to pay it forward. 

They were drawn in to this little area highlighting what looked like a round pump house.  They enjoyed walking the planter walls and running around the building.  While they were playing I watched people coming in and filling cups or simply drinking from their hands water coming from a fountain off the pump house.  The boys wanted to try, but their was nothing written on the signs about drinking the water.  I didn't know anything about this while we were out today, but apparently their are 9 mineral drinking fountains throughout the town.  It is common for residents and visitors alike to visit each fountain and taste test the water.  We will definitely be back to do this in the future.

Truman had met his limit and I was meeting my own limits.  Finally making it back to the lot where we parked, I needed to scoop Truman up and carry him the rest of the way to the car.  Note to self: next time I will grab the stroller from the trunk.  As we approached the car I noticed the passenger side window had been left open.  Open enough for someone to reach right in.  My purse with wallet was in the seat.  Panic swept over me as I thought about a friend who's purse had just been stolen locally a few weeks ago.  Thankfully everything was still in the car.  This says a lot for this little town!

Boys loaded and buckled, I began the drive home.  We hadn't even made it out of town before a look in the rear view mirror revealed two sleeping kiddos.  In my book, that's a win!