Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Journey So Far...(Part 1)

     In early September of 2010 we left Portland in our converted 1972 GMC propane powered school bus under dubious circumstances. Two adults one 6yo, two 3yo's and a blind dog. We were being evicted from our sticks and bricks house of 5 years, after more than a year of downsizing, still not quite making ends meet and opportunities not arising locally, we loaded Wayne (our bus). We loaded everything we thought we could not live without and discarded what we could live without, and it turned out we would learn a lot about things you could live without.
     Our first leg in our new home had us camped in the rain on the Oregon coastline. It was many firsts, among them the first nights spent in the Bus as a family, ever. The first road trip in our bus was thrilling and scary at the same time. People would wave when they saw the bus, people just like converted school buses I guess. Every noise from our rolling home, alarming like owning a new/used car and getting used to the unfamiliar sounds it makes. I remember most the quiet sound of rain drops on the metal bus roof, and the feeling after my kids eaten a simple dinner and had fallen asleep as their bed time stories were read aloud. We were Out, on the road and had several thousand more miles planned, but not really sure how we were going to pull it off. 
     We explored Beverly State Park ,our new backyard, that first morning and our children got their first taste of school on the road with Nature Studies and a Physical Education hike. We learned about the plant and wildlife of the area and spoke with Rangers regarding conservation. Lex had an opportunity to demonstrate his nature knowledge in front of a group of strangers and left me very proud of his confidence at age six. He continues to build these skills, and others that have been commented on everywhere we go.  
     After leaving Beverly State Park to go south and make a family visit stop, we had our first breakdown. When traversing Oregon coastal mountain roads our rear heat exchanger located with our deep cycle batteries and inverter under our kitchen counter sprung a leak and started venting coolant all over the back of our buses kitchen area. Removing this unit had been debated and I chose to leave it in due to a messy removal process and potential later use. I was wrong and my wife was right, repair or removal after departure was much worse than the alternative, I stand corrected. Her Epoxy patch job alone got us back on the road after shutting off the coolant supply nob to the exchanger under the hood of old Wayne.  As it got darker while making repairs we discovered the headlights had also failed, and so had to convince a camp host at the nearest camp ground I could in fact get my 34ft bus into and out of his camp ground.
      Coos bay and Amber's Aunts house is where we finally dried out Wayne and learned about some of the first things we did not need, by shedding baggage. We finished our coolant repairs, and took a referral to a family friend who was a classic car aficionado and mechanical genius, to replace the foot peddle high beam switch the short in the headlight was traced to. The first of many charities given to us on our travels, we reminded ourselves not never forget to say thank you out loud.  I would like to say here once again out loud, "I am truly thankful to you for your open heart and for the positive influence you represent in the life of my family, and this goes to all have contributed to the fullness of our journey." 
     One thing about traveling in a school bus is that young travelers and hippies see a schoolie conversion and think one thing, they might get a ride and probably to a pretty good party. Unfortunately, many other people looked at us and thought the same one thing, we would give those people a ride to that party also. Both were always surprised when my family stepped from the buses accordion doors.
     Convenience of fueling our propane powered bus came under scrutiny, from varying prices to simple availability, and not for the last time. 
     In an unlikely location directly off of Interstate 5 in southern Oregon is a delightful small state park called Valley of the Rogue State Park . We made our first important discovery about our needs when traveling as a family; Mountain Bikes and Trailers are one of the best investments to our traveling family that can be made. It gave us a healthy option for travel away from our bus as a family and go on adventures together, simple trips for groceries or more often than not both at the same time. The Valley of the Rogue State Park has a bicycle trail that runs next to the Rogue River the several miles to the town named for the river. While paved in places and with small rolling hills it is a fun ride that our 6yo completed on his own 16 inch bicycle, so I think a great safe family ride. There was wildlife and a beautiful river with spots to picnic in the shade. The town of Rogue River was simple and pleasant with a friendly family grocer where we purchased our meals to  prepare in camp at the bus. Although we loved our time there as a family and would recommend this park to others, it will always be to Lex the place where he got his first yellow jacket stings. He said it was very painful all 3 times, but he seemed most upset at the betrayal in the yellow jackets not understanding that he would never hurt them. 
     Prepared, by several rest in the Valley of the Rogue we crossed the passes from Oregon to California and got our first sight of Shasta, and celebrated our first state line crossing. It felt like a monumental achievement because of how slow old propane powered Wayne took the mountain passes. Very quickly we learned the differences in RV parks and State Parks from state to state. Oregon, the state run parks are fantastic, private parks are competitive. In California, low funding to parks has caused a shift in focus to only the Prime areas and many parks feel run down and not cared for. This crosses over to the private parks as well and the nice people who stay and work there can simply shrug. If you want a nice place to stay in California plan to pay for it or stay with friends or family. Through northern California we stayed at parks and with friends and family for a week or less at each stop. We visited family in northern California and old friends in Chico. Stayed with family in a gated community outside of Sacramento, and were shown a culture shock of a new kind, with swimming pools, 60 inch televisions, and new and different family values to learn from. We continued south and staying with more old friends and suffered our first break down of a different sort. 
     Traveling while sick is unpleasant, getting a stomach flu while traveling and staying with friends in the semi remote mountain country of California in your RV, I lack the proper words to describe. Each  family member got sick to one degree or another in the bus, past midnight, all suffering dehydration from emptying stomach contents into our portable toilet. We felt dirty, smelly tired and embarrassed at our house guest manners. To our kind hearted friend, I want to say thank you again out loud. There are good people in this world then are those that do for others things that cannot be replayed, for the sake of doing them. The more you travel and leave yourself open to it, and do like deeds in your own way, the more of these people you meet, and my life is richer for it. 
     To one of our home bases the Monterey Bay, home to not only our children s wonderful grandparents, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Marine Sanctuary as well. A family membership took us there many time and more than paid for itself. The homeschooling  educational opportunities are fantastic. The exhibits a spectacular and I would suggest a visit to anyone. While staying with family Grandpa the cabinet maker created cabinets, bookshelves and other storage inside Wayne. We also installed window tinting, buffed out some scuffs and another Grandpa threw together a custom bike rack giving that much more wiggle room while packed for travel. The kids really enjoyed their time with family but we had plans on the other coast and many miles to go. We next headed to meet an old friend for the first time. On the way we had more adventure in fueling and we even "raced" a train on a track parallel to our roadway, with waves back and forth between the children and train driver, who even honked the trains horn for them It was a fantastic ride for all and very exciting.  
    When our sons were born Amber made friends on Parenting Forums, some long lasting ones, it was this family we headed to meet in person for the first time after years of conversations. If you remember we talking about another kind of good people, these are also those kind of people. Not matter how nice getting to know new people is, the visit even to the edge of the Los Angeles basin served to remind us how much we wanted to see more less urban vistas. 
     The impression the children had of their first time through a desert, was totally underwhelmed. Lex said it was boring and brown and wanted to know when we would see Wile E Cayote  and the Road Runner. While starting into the first hills towards Kingman Arizona I noticed a two men on the side of the road staring in dismay at the dragging muffler of their truck. I did not have the right parts to fix their rig but I knew my spare hurricane straps would get them to a mechanic and more importantly off this barren roadside. I knew this would work because the exhaust pipe on Wayne was also held on with the same strapping. Once again people surprise me and though I did not ask for reward or compensation, I left them almost $100 richer and with many blessing from their god. Sometimes the reward for selfless action is instant, and once again don't forget to say thank you out loud. Long past our preferred stop time and still in the middle of no place Arizona, we found a truck stop that we will never forget and was every you would expect from Crazy Freds Truck stop . The lot contained piles of worn tires, burnt out cars trucks and a limo, and of course the Big Red Doll House Gentlemans club. Needless to say, we left as the sun rose to carry on. 
     Our next adventure took us almost to the edge of the Grand Canyon and almost back to the stone age in more than one way. On our way to a planned visit to the Grand Canyon National Park our limited fueling options had us stopped at a camp ground 10 miles outside of the park call Bedrock. Yes, it is a Flintstones themed RV camp ground from the 50's that looks it,  in age amenities and wear and tear. On the other hand they did not bat an eye when Wayne blew a power steering hose and I spent 3 days under the hood trying to fix it.
      I finally fixed it with a length of metal ball point pen tubing and some hose clamps spliced into the power steering hose. We met there another young traveling family in their Class-A who had been turned to the road due to changes in the economy, I bartered my computer skills with them and fixed their computer before we parted ways, and last I heard they headed to Phoenix looking for work. With the repairs made, we still could not make our planned trip to the Canyon Rim because of incoming thunder and lightning storms and freezing temps (Wayne was not well insulated from cold and even less from electricity). We Stood on a Corner in Winslow Arizona, and decided to take it easy and start heading south as soon as we were able to avoid more cold weather. We WalMart camped in Albuquerque and watched a gorgeous electrical storm pass by. Amber took many pictures trying to catch lightning. I have never been in a city with so much obvious street racing. Throughout the night in Walmart the racers would stop at the parking lot to do burnouts and doughnuts before we could hear them race away on the nearby freeway. The following morning the repair to the power steering blew out again, and finally before leaving Abluquerque, repair to the power steering would not be attempted again for months. 
    When nearing Texas we passed a sign for the the grave of Billy the kid, excited we thought to stop, and several minutes later we saw another sign announcing the Real grave of Billy the kid and after that the Actual grace of Billy the kid and later still the Official grave of Billy the Kid. We eventually lost interest and decided to be happy to know, Billy the kid might have died in New Mexico. 
     Halloween 2010 was spent in a quiet KOA just outside Lubbock Texas that had celebrated the night before our arrival. This did not stop Lex and the twins from dressing up, putting on make-up, trick or treating at every RV that would answer their door. Their haul was small but the smiles were huge. My kids once again melted my heart by wanting to share their candy with each other and even offered Mom and Dad some.  As we crossed Texas on Interstate 20 the weather finally started to warm, and the Walmart Camp grounds were friendly. We had a propane company deliver fuel to one Walmart parking lot when we ran low and filled our bus right next to the shopping carts corral, believe it or not that was the most affordable fuel of our trip in Wayne. One thing I have learned about crossing Texas is that it always seems to take for ever and day. I think it might actually be larger than it appears on a map. The next place we stayed was was at an Army Corps of Engineers man made lake called Benbrook Lake. Facilities are simple built not for beauty but for an Army. But we loved biking this place and it looked like a great place to take horses camping. We saw armadillos, deer and Road Runners and many other types of birds an animals. The kids loved catching the 2.5 inch long grasshoppers that showed little fear of them. This is a camp ground I would return to to explore further with my kids. I wish we had the resources to travel with horses, but I a m not sure if that is on our path. 
     Our next stop was Shreveport Louisiana and one of those WalMart overnights you would rather not repeat. The drive down through Louisiana was really nice and we found nicer places including Acadiana State Park. Fun nature trails, and interpretative center, the people were mostly locals who'd been coming back for years. Lex made new friends of some cajun kids and their family, and impressed one parent in particular who was a teacher, who was impressed with his progress and confidence. We stayed for several days and then met the family that owned a nearby organic farm. We would later barter for a place to camp for a short while on this farm and had quite and experience there as well.   
     The Farm was a lovely small family owned farm raising cucumbers and free range chickens. In return for the experience, I built two murphy beds into the shipping container they owned. The beds were intended for future workampers to stay and work on their farm. We also cared for their goats, sheep and chickens. In the end I helped slaughter chickens for sale off of the farm, this was an intriguing experience for myself and the kids. Now when asked what Daddy does with chickens they say proudly, " he kills them!" They had a daughter the same age as Lex who was a real farm girl, they romped about the farm for hours on end, never at a loss for things to do. Playing with each other and the animals, both Lex and the twins loved the farm. With meals often cooked outside over an open fire, food exploration got a big push for the kids, and to be honest for Mom as well. We tried Boudin, which is a spiced pork and rice served in a sausage casing, very Louisiana. Lex tried fresh picked Oyster mushrooms and loved the whole experience if not the mushrooms. The girls became quite accomplished chicken catchers in their time on the farm and even said they had personal favorites out of the hundreds. On this farm one way to keep pests down was to keep small dogs and cats that you do not feed and encourage hunting. It was funny the things you would find Rose' the mini pincher eating. Life on the farm was nice, but somewhere along the way a travel bug again bit us and we headed east.
    We got about 20 miles and the air pressure in our air break systemstarted falling, we had only time enough to exit the freeway and pull into a Target (does not allow over night parking) parking lot before the breaks locked. I had made it thus far without power steering and even had new muscles to prove it, but you DO NOT drive a bus with the air brakes out. Period. Roadside assistance, we found, will get'em out there but it won't pay after hours fees. I had blown an air line due to not bleeding water from the system often enough (if you own a bus, go bleed your wet tank right now). I was kicking myself for my stupidity and I was about to pay for it in cash. I had just learned an important lesson. Just as rewards for wise action can feel instant, so can retribution for unwise actions seem just as instant. Five hours and $400 later we got back on the road, this was a huge hit to this we could little afford. I kicked myself for several more days about this and in was only my next stop that distracted me from the self recrimination.
     Gulfport Mississippi, due to Katrina, was like a supermodel who had been in a car accident, every local saying to us without the words, "we used to be so beautiful, but now all you can see is our scars..." At the Walmart with the still gutted building next door, the ex-KOA with high water marks head height still visable in the washrooms, the older local about to tell you about a local attraction, then pausing and remembering it is no longer there. It there was an underlying sadness that had us leaving a couple days ahead of plans. All along the coast to Biloxi was mansion properties with only cement pads left of the houses and RV's in the place of sticks and bricks. It was a sobering thing to witness the people so effected while the Casino's seemed to be back at business as usual, with some advertising childcare, Title loan services, and even mortgage services ON SITE.  That this would be selling points for these casinos was abhorrent to us, and we traveled on.
     Alabama was a blip, and then we spent the night at a Walmart in Pensacola. We decided that we would check out an air museum we read about in a travel book, so the next day we headed towards the air abase where it was. As we were driving down there we started started seeing groups of people loaded in cars heading the same direction. When when our bus was stopped at the entrance to the Naval Air Station Pensacola we had a chance to ask solider what the crowds were about, and were told that there was a free airshow to celebrate the return home base of the Blue Angles after a successful air show season, a grand finale' so to speak. On this day we had happened to be in Pensacola, and happened to head to an air museum and then happened to show up with 50,000+ other people in time for a free airshow. We were not even the only bus there. The show was amazing, we walked inside planes we could park buses inside. We later stayed at Fort Pickens National Park and were able to watch many cool planes go to and from the airfield.
      Fort Pickens National Park was home to delightful camp hosts, many Osprey pairs and sea birds and a large number of nine banded armadillo, the kids were delighted with our new neighbors. This was their first dip in a warm ocean when they played on the sugar sand beach of the Gulf of Mexico for the first time. The girls and I had our second sick time at Pickens, but those memories are overshadowed by good ones. Long bike rides with Lex through a Pre-civil war fort in nice weather, clear stary nights, with many opportunities to interact with wildlife. With a plan to spend Thanksgiving with family in Ocala we headed further east.
     We spent a few days at Jellystone Park were Amber took some fantastic photo's. Lex gained a new love of Ping Pong at their public table, not to say we are any good, he just loves the game. I like themed  RV parks the same way I like themed restaurants, seldom and only when you have few other choices and just need to know what you can expect. The kids like the pools, playgrounds, rides, put-put golf, mascots, and high speed internet.
     One thing we have learned from staying at so many types of parks is one thing that can make a park State, National, Private, or other is the other people that stay there. We have met so many nice families at parks across the states some full timers but most not. One thing that I often watch with trepidation is my son making friends everywhere he goes. That always has felt like a hard thing for me to do when I was his age, to put myself out there like that. But he does, with confidence that I am proud of when I see him over come his fears to approach a new group and be the new kid once again, and again. At many of the next few parks Lex made many friends, and the family started really doing a great deal of biking together, which turned out how we spent most of the winter and spring.
     After a interesting Thanksgiving spent in a assisted living community in Ocala, we went to Clearwater for a month and then and spent the Christmas season in Hollywood with a cousin, which is a little north of Miami.  ----End Part 1 Please stay tuned!!!

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Many Incarnations of Mac and Cheese

In our home Mac'n'Cheese is a simple favorite, at least for my more picky eaters in the family. Lex is the pickiest followed closely by Mom, then Petra and Nova, but most of the time the mac will do for all. Because of this I have made up or adapted several recipes to my needs as a Dad: simple, quick, and tasty!

Basic Mac (Some Twists included)
What you'll need:  
1lb of Pasta
8oz or more of cheese (to taste)
1/4 stick of unsalted butter
1/4-1/2 cup milk (more milk is creamier)

  First cook your pasta to perfection, meaning not soggy or crunchy. Although any pasta will work, we have a leaning towards tri-color Rotini, because of the veggie content and Rotini holds the sauce so well. 
    I always melt the butter before the mixing. This always gives me a chance to make it into Garlic Mac by adding a little extra butter and cooking a copped garlic clove in the butter, you can do this if your family is a fan of garlic like mine. Stir in your melted butter (or cooked butter and garlic mix) first, then your cheese followed by the milk, do this while the noodles are still steaming. For a kick occasionally I replace the milk with sour cream.
   When it come to cheese most often we use Colby-jack, but almost any cheese you like can be used, we have used ALL kinds of cheddar, Jack, Mozzarella, Provolone, Parmesan and Feta (use no milk with Parm and feta). My kids would never stand it but I want to try a garlic pepper-jack. What do you think would be popular with your clan?
   For variations I add veggies and/or meat. The kids like me to keep it simple so most of the time we will stick to simple veggies like peas and broccoli. Note: these must be cooked separately and added just before sauce mix or served on the side. Steaming is fine, but I really like the veggies in olive oil saute'.
   Cooked sliced kielbasa makes a great addition to round out this single dish dinner, but we have also tired many types of sausages, and in some incarnations even shrimp. I would love to hear some of your other combinations you can come up with. You can be as simple or complex as you want, ours is even seasonal. Mac and cheese can be out of the box or it can be out of this world, and it does not take long to find a few new, "great old standby's" for your family. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Happy Children are GO!

    The joy that is happy children. is hard to express.  It provides a peace that says to you, " at least you are doing one thing right."  It helps me understand the way senior citizens look at young folk, when I watch my children play together happily, or give me a drawing with happy faces. One thing I have learned is that to them I am not the 'Eeyore' that normally think of myself. When having to provide discipline and structure for the small members of the family, I am also shown portraits they have made filled with smiles and us doing fun stuff. Obviously I am not giving off the gruff message I thought I was.
    I sometimes have to remind myself to be thankful for such happy children when I am tired and their shrieks of glee and delight playing together are driving on my last nerves. Who am I to dictate what is "fun.?" Those times I sit down give them all a hug and tell them how I feel the good and the bad, sometimes it even quiets them for a minute or two. I guess what I am trying to say is, look for it. Look for the happiness in your children and family, it is much easier to find and can be appreciated and nourished when it is found. I have been getting in the habit of telling my kids when something makes me happy, and they often now tell me when something makes them happy. That simple communication not only helps things run smoother, but helps me and kids get to know each other better.
    People have told me that children are blissfully unaware, but it has been proven to me time and time again how aware they really are, if you don't believe me, tell me what happens when colorful metaphor is uttered in your house. Turn off the news and just enjoy some music. Just don't forget that tiny ears hear the same as big ones.
    Anyhow, go hug your kids, I am going to hug mine. Don't forget to tell them how you feel and I bet they will tell you how they feel. In my opinion, only more happiness can grow from that.   

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Losing Marbles

Tip: For the younger kids a jar and a bunch of marbles given singly as rewards for good choices, helps a great deal in teaching the small ones to think about the choices they make and they over all make better choices. Once the jar is full a small reward is given as recognition, I have found that the instant and family recognition is the bigger motivator. On the other side poor choices can earn the loss of a marble , " are you sure you want to make that choice, you might lose your marbles?"