The Mountain

Whatever her name may be, she is more than just a rock towering into the sky. She is a living creature that opens your eyes to a whole new world.

She goes by many names. Some call her Tacoma. Others refer to her by Rainier. Less common are the names Talol, Tahoma, Tahima, Tacobeh and Pooskaus. The locals simply call her “The Mountain”. She is the tallest peak in the state of Washington and demands respect; flaunting 26 glaciers and taunting climbers to conquer her summit. She is impressive in every sense of the word and leaves you feeling almost heartbroken as you leave her when your time is over.

Our four days at Mount Rainier National Park felt like a month. Each day brought new spectacular sights. Ranging from waterfalls to glaciers, The Mountain was a world of its’ own. The first day we spent trekking up to Comet Falls. It was a rather exhausting hike, but I wouldn’t rate it as challenging. The inline was impressive; lined with beautiful pines creating intricate root pathways. Evelyn instantly opted for a bird’s eye view on top of Daniel’s shoulders while Alexander and I lagged behind in awe of the pace he established as he rucked with a forty-pound child sitting on top of his backpack that weighed at least another 30lbs. As that duo raced up the layers of rock and roots, Alexander and I took turns taking pictures of the water, trees, path and whatever caught our eye. When we grew tired, we talked about will-power, determination, and what a real winner was. I explained to him that giving up was the only way you would lose in life. You may not win a race or a game, but giving up was a guarantee that you would never reach that finish line. When we reached the falls, he knew that while he wasn’t the first person up that mountain, he still made it to the top. He was still one of the few who was able to sit on the ice while feeling the water mist over him as it plummeted into the river below. It was a victory in itself. A life lesson that would not be soon forgotten.

Day two was a bit simpler as we stayed in the wooded section. We started by stopping at Reflection Lake and letting Daniel get his cold water fix. Then we headed over to the Box Canyon and a section of the Wonderland Trail. As we walked through the forest, the lush greenery engulfed us. The trees took on new life as they grew in ways that seemed physically impossible. The flowers looked like they belonged in a Dr. Seuss book and the serenity was beyond description. The kids took off along the trail and discovered huge Red Cedar trees that had fallen during the winter. The giant beauties made one realize how small we are and how even the greatest, most powerful entities can come crashing down with the right combination of elements. The environment helped me realize just how small all of our problems are in relation to the world.

 

Day three is what I think of as my reward day. We drove towards Sunrise Visitor Center, looking for a great hiking spot with a spectacular vantage point. We got just that. We parked at the White River Campgrounds (all roads past that were still snowed in). We hiked on a trail that lead to a breathtaking view of Emmons Glacier. The trail was perfect for the kids as we meandered across one side of a mountain, over a river and to another ledge. While working our way up the ledge, a beautiful turquoise color glimmered through the trees on the other side. We soon caught a glimpse of one of the most beautiful and secluded alpine lakes I have ever dreamt about. It took us longer than expected to navigate a wildlife trail down to the water, but the event was worth it. The water was gorgeous and felt amazing. The first two feet of it was warm, reminding me of the Emerald Coast waters in Florida. Then, as my feet sunk down, the water turned crisp and cold. As I treaded, the water churned and the warmth gave in to the icy glacier water beneath. It made me want to stay in that piece of heaven forever. However, the trail still beckoned us towards the view of The Mountain and Emmons Glacier.

We made our way back up to the top of the ridge and walked along the cliff as far as the trail led. While it was simple, it gave one the sense of true adventure and conquest. The landscape was practically untouched and the glacier added so much depth and mystery to The Mountain. Cracks and crevices littered the untouched snow. Rocks struggled to emerge from the ice, even if just by a bit. It was almost as though the glacier was calling for us to dare attempt its assent. Showing us that only the most worthy opponents would ever reach the summit.

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After that third day, I didn’t think there would be anymore surprises that The Mountain had in store for me. Day four was meant to be a simple day that included the kids getting their Junior Ranger badges and a short hike. It turned out to be the most inspiring day of the trip; not because of what the mountain did for me, but what it did for my daughter. As we exited the truck, getting ready to start our hike, Evelyn became upset that she didn’t have a pack like the rest of us. Alexander had been carrying his own Camelbak with enough water for both him and his sister. I explained to Evelyn that she had to show us that she was big enough to hike trails all on her own, without asking to be carried. The fire in her eyes lit up and she instantly pushed ahead of us to be the “trail leader”. We first visited some mineral springs on a short and touristy path. That path led us to another that was said to have beautiful scenic view at a certain point. No one realized that by the time the day was over, we would have hiked over 1400 feet in elevation and nearly seven miles. The trail was serene and once again, we were nearly alone and isolated. We reached yet another section of the Wonderland Trail (it is a 93-mile trail around Mount Rainier) and finished right before the sun set. The entire trip was filled with laughter, chatter, and conversation. Not a single complaint left Evelyn’s mouth. She was determined to prove herself worthy. That she did.

While this may not seem so inspiring to most people, it left me speechless. She is only four years old and is by far the most stubborn, decisive and independent women I know. She showed me that it doesn’t matter how big you are, you can still make it in this world. She taught me that it only takes one step after another to reach your goal. She taught me that complaining isn’t going to help you get there. Now when I think about saying that someone (especially myself) can’t do something, I think of Evelyn and Longmire.

Although we were only on The Mountain for four short days, I have a different perspective of this life I was given. Lately I have been told that I haven’t had the best of luck. I understand how someone on the outside could say that when they see the black and white. Words like blindness, autoimmune, disability seem to make a person feel helpless. It is frustrating to not be able to do the same things you know that you are capable of doing. It is hard to face it and even harder to accept it. However, The Mountain changed that.

Mount Rainier. Mount Tacoma. Whatever you choose to call her, know that she is not just a mountain; she is an experience. She gives you a way to challenge yourself, discover your possibilities and face your fears. She taunts you to push yourself to another level and then rewards you in ways that only she can conjure. She showed me life in a different light. Even if the cards I have been handed recently aren’t the greatest (according to some people), I still know that I am the luckiest woman in this world to have such an inspiring family and a life that enables me to appreciate all this world has to offer. She showed me how blessed I am, no matter what life has in store for me.

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The Mountain.

A Monumental Day For Our Nation

Our National Monuments are under review and there is only a couple more days left for our voices to be heard. These places are more than just landscapes. They are our future.

Looking back at my life, one of my fondest memories was around the age of nine. My mother and step-dad loaded my sister, grandmother and I up in a bright blue rental van and took us for a road trip. I remember the van being cramped and my sister and I fighting most of the time we were awake on the drive. The trip took us west from Denver, into Utah. North into Idaho. East into Wyoming and South Dakota and finally back home. It was a long two weeks in the van, but reflecting on the trip, the experience opened my eyes to see a different world and helped shape me to be the person I am today.

In those two weeks we were on the road, I was able to experience some of America’s greatest National Monuments and National Parks. We drove through the Garden of the Gods, Canyon of the Ancients, and though beautiful arches. We floated in the Great Salt Lake in Utah and stared up in dismay at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming as my mother told me the story about the sisters who escaped the great bear and were lifted into the heavens. We took a helicopter ride over the Badlands in South Dakota and learned about Crazy Horse and the Presidents that were carved on the huge mountain. We explored Yellowstone and watched Old Faithful erupt with such force that taught us the magnitude of the Earth’s power. In short, we discovered that America was full of amazing features, lessons, and beauty.

That trip has entered my mind more and more now that I am grown with children of my own. I have never taken them to Disneyland. I don’t take them to places where everything is commercialized. I take them to places that open their eyes, widen their imagination and let them experience the natural beauty of the world; not just the commercialized points of interests aimed at getting richer.

In just the past two months, we have been places that I will hold onto forever. We have explored the Lehman Caves in the Great Basin of Nevada, leaned over the cliffs of Cedar Breaks in Utah. Ridden our bikes through Bryce National Park and hiked Zion. We sat on a cliff in the Grand Canyon, Arizona and took in the beauty that only water, rock and a lot of time can create. We camped in Joshua Tree, both in the Colorado and Mojave Deserts and discovered a hidden waterfall in the Toiyabe National Forest. Along the way, we learned about the land, animals and one another. We laughed over campfires and hot coco. We had snowball fights and jumped in rivers. The memories we made were our own without costing us massive entrance fees and long lines.

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Today is the anniversary of the American Antiquities Act. This act gives the President of the United States the power to designate national monuments. It protects the public land that hold so many memories, wildlife and hidden treasures. Without this protection, our children and their children may lose the right to see these great places.

While I have many political views, I am not one to post them publicly. This blog is not about my views on politics, but my views on protecting this great country of ours so we can enjoy it for years to come. All national monuments are currently being reviewed to determine whether or not they should indeed continue with the protection they currently have. It is up to the American people to do their part in this. The administration needs to know why the monuments are so important to us. They need to remember how it feels as a child, standing at the base of an enormous mountain, under a beautifully sculpted rock, or in the middle of a fossil bed. These monuments not only need to be protected to keep history alive, but they also need to be there to encourage  children to be active and promote fields of study such as geology, ecology, biology, wildlife conservation, paleontology, seismology, anthropology and many others.

Please take the time to tell your representatives what these places mean to you. Take the time to let your voice be heard. Go see these monuments and witness the truly spectacular beauty and history they hold. Get out and be a part of something greater than yourself. We have until June 10 to be heard. Don’t wait and hope that someone else will do it. We may not get another chance.

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Idaho: Coming Back to My Reality For Two Weeks

After two months of travel and adventure in Western USA, coming back home (for two weeks) was more than I expected. d

We are back in Idaho. Home sweet home. However, Idaho brings about a whole new set of emotions with it. A little less than two months ago, we set out on our first adventure. There was so much to see and so much that we didn’t even have time to see. We added trips to Utah with Zion, Bryce and Cedar Breaks and Arizona with Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. These were not on the initial itinerary but were phenomenal additions that helped me cross off some bucket list items. The entire trip was breath taking with a lot of great pictures, memories and feelings along with it.

Coming back to Idaho was a wakeup to reality though in a way. The day after getting back into town, I had a couple doctor’s appointments and today rounded it off with another optical appointment. Each brought back the harsh reality that I am not the same girl I was a year ago and there is a big possibility that I will not be the same girl a year from now. It is a hard pill to swallow.

Going on the first trip was almost an escape from reality. There were issues that we had to overcome. Days like Bryce Canyon where I can barely remember the day because the pain in my eyes was so bad that I laid in the front seat on our way there trying not to throw up. However, the storm settled and I pulled it together to go on a bike ride with the kids, soaking in their smiles and the beautiful landscape that unfolded before my eyes. The reality of how life has changed in the last eight months was always present, but less to deal with since in a way I was trying to run away from the reality of it. I suppose it was bound to catch up with me.

Oh! But I have missed Idaho. I miss the “suspiciously nice” people that live here. I miss the scenery. Good friends and a familiarity that I hadn’t had in nearly two months.

The thing that got me was the doctor appointments. It wasn’t bad enough that there were still no answers or solutions to the puzzling health issue. It was the fact that I was returning to my former place of employment. The place I had to quit because I was no longer physically able to work. My old life. It hurt more than I was prepared for. It hurt bad enough that my doctor had tears roll down her cheek as she gave me a hug and told me WE would get through this. Being there reminded me that my life has taken a huge 180 and brought me from a professionally motivated go-getter to someone who can’t read for more than 5 minutes without pain and can not work because she got death the wrong cards. It was not the place I was ready to be at.

The first couple of days in Idaho also made us think a lot about where we want  to be. Do we stay in Idaho where the mountain streams beckon to our wild west side? Or do we leave the West and move closer to family, who will not only provide the support and history but also allow for our kids to grow up while getting into mischief with their cousins? How long will we travel full-time? We are currently doing two weeks in Boise followed by two weeks on the road. What is our end game? There are so many things on the table that make things hard to figure out. What we do know is that we are happier having a simpler life. We are in a house that is about 400 square feet but are more relaxes than when we lived in something five times the size. It brings with it an easy fresh start, new adventure, or good memory. Life is better when it is less complicated. Less stuff. I focus more on the stuff that matters instead of the stuff that I once collected to impress those around me.

Coming back to Idaho has really shown me that while you can’t hide from your life, you certainly can embrace the new normal and make the most of it. It has made me appreciate the relationships I have with my friends, family and those I meet along the way. It makes me realize that we need to have an end plan. Maybe even a place to settle down and make my own. It had me torn about where I should be. For just the beginning of the Grayt Adventure, it sure seems to pack a lot of emotions with it. Good thing, we leave for the next chapter in less than two weeks. Maybe it will bring yet another perspective of the future. Only time will tell.

Hiking with Children

While the trail is not tranquil when kids are involved, it can still be magical.

Traveling across the country has been quite an adventure. It is filled with exploration, discovery and adventure. Hiking with our children is an adventure of it’s own. It is a different experience than you would have without children; a different perspective.

When hiking solo or with other adults, the conversation is generally limited. There is a peaceful connection to your surroundings. You become part of the landscape. You go at your own pace, tackle your own obstacles and find a deep inner peace within yourself.

This is not the case when you have children, at least young children. Evelyn is four and Alexander is seven. Alexander is old enough to keep up and be adventurous, but hasn’t quite hit that age where he absorbs the quiet energy of the trail. Instead, he is powered by the excitement of the adventure and the challenge of jumping off big rocks, climbing hills and jumping in every stream or puddle along the way. Evelyn goes at her own pace. Sometimes she runs along enthusiastic bout being a trail leader. Other times, she barely moves at a snail’s pace, secretly hoping we will offer a piggy back ride. Generally, her hand is intertwined with mine as she floats along the trail giddily telling me everything that comes to mind. She talks about the butterflies, fairies, rocks, flowers and just about anything that she sees, touches, hears or feels. Those are the moments that I hold onto as much as possible.

I have also discovered that children think about food more than I ever imagined was possible. We could be at a beautiful waterfall, and Evelyn will turn around and say, “This is a great place for a snack Mom!” It’s incredible how much the topic of food is on their brain. They do expend an inordinate amount of energy trekking through the forest, so we do make sure to bring lots of snacks that are both nutritious and delicious. IMG_1181

Hiking with kids is also interesting in the fact that you have to go at their pace and their level. Sometimes, this means taking an extra five minutes to get past an obstacle. Sometimes, it means going a different way because there is a really cool rock that they just have to climb on. You have to be alerted to everything and point out hazards in order to avoid more cuts and scrapes. In fact, you wind up with more scrapes trying to minimize the dangers of thorns, rocks, and branches as your body seems to be the perfect barrier between them and the danger. You also ration your water differently than you would if you were solo. You know how much your kids will guzzle down or spill or use to wash off a rock so you not only hide an extra bottle, but you enforce a hydrate but don’t gulp rule. It rarely works. IMG_1219

The biggest thing about hiking with kids is seeing the small stuff. The forest is a huge place that makes the biggest adult feel small. For a child, the forest becomes a magical, enchanted land. The trees are teaming with life. My kids watch the beetles that are hauling their food across the pine needle carpet. We stop at ant hills to observe their behavior and make hypotheses about what each of their roles are. We notice the different animal droppings along the way. We take a break to compare the tracks in the mud that we see. Nothing is done with efficiency or speed, but when it comes to raising children, those are not terms often used anyway.

While hiking with children is not the serene, healing experience that it can be when alone, it is worth every moment. Conquering a trail give the kids more confidence. It gives them a sense of accomplishment. It brings them back to nature and offers countless learning opportunities. Their senses are awakened as they get lost in the trees and their imagination is sparked. There are no computers. No iPads. No video games. Just Mother Nature and two children soaking in every moment. As a parent, this is the best thing you can offer: a place to thrive and become independent. It is worth every mile.IMG_1123

Discovering Friends Amongst Strangers

All it takes is a genuine smile and a glass of wine over a fire to find friends anywhere.

For every mile you go forward, your past drifts another mile away. It is the down fall of traveling I have found. I love new adventures and seeing things that I have always dreamt about, but the lifestyle also means that am isolating myself from my family, friends and familiar acquaintances. It means there are fewer and fewer people that know and understand my inside jokes. There are no longer “girls night out” while my husband stays home with the kids. It can be lonely. You miss the feel of good friends chatting into the depths of the night.

It makes it even worse for me. I do not make friends easily. I am anxious about new people and I feel awkward engaging in conversation or even approaching someone new. Not the best combination for a girl on the road. At times I wish I was instantly comfortable walking up to a new group of people and bonding. At other times, I enjoy the excuse of being awkward so I don’t have to even try. However, every so often, it feels natural. I just hoped that this would occur more with our new lifestyle.

Truth is: not very many full-time RV’rs or campers are all that comfortable with strangers either. We spent 3 weeks in Barstow and talked to a total of four different individuals LIVING at the RV park; each only once. I figured that in the RV community or even camping community, the physical boundaries that are reduced will increase the amount of socialization. Turns out, it is generally only with the people they already know. Strangers are still strangers, no matter where you are.

Yesterday, we traveled on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We had booked a KOA (Kampgrounds of America) for the next four nights in Coleville, California. The town itself is a mere 550 people but had a genuine charm that made you want to buy a small farmhouse and enjoy a simpler, kinder life. The KOA didn’t look like the standard ones you see on the website. It had charm and was smaller but with a unique individualization that was different from the cookie cutter KOAs we have stayed in recently.

When we got to our RV space, we quickly realized that our huge 43’ Fifth Wheel was going to have a almost impossible time making a tight turn into the spot. It was the making for a terrible ordeal. The site was on a slope and with a 90 degree turn to get in, we feared the worst. We also found that our huge RV was drawing attention from other campers and I am sure there were quite a few bets going on whether or not we would succeed. I decided to stay out of the truck why Dan figured out what to do because I have learned in the last couple months that the best thing I can do is to let him handle anything RV wise… especially driving it.

As I stood outside the RV on the road trying to look like I was devising some master parking plan, something crazy happened. People came up and talked to me. Yes, strangers decided to talk to me. This is one of the first times this has happened since we started off on our trip. In fact, most of the people we have communicated with is because we have initiated the conversation. However, this time the tables were turned and before you know it, I had found two guys that helped Dan (a thousand times more that I ever do) park the beast and we had a few invites to go over to their area for wine.

Such a simple invitation was such a refreshing feeling. In fact, over dinner we talked about our previous stays and how this was what we thought would happen everywhere we went; people wanting to meet and engage with strangers. Fellow travelers wanting to enjoy other’s company and swap stories over the campfire. But that never happened. Yesterday though, made the wait worth it.

After dinner, we headed over to the fire of our new aquaintances. As we came up, we were welcomed as if we had been friends for years. Talk was easy and the stories, ideas, and laughs flowed freely. The people were real. Humble. Kind. But most important: welcoming. It may be the best evening we have had at a campground so far.

Last night made me think a little differently about things. While I am generally very polite and nice, I may not be as welcoming as I can be. I always say hi but rarely do I put myself out there for conversations or friendships. It makes me wonder what responses I can get if I am the one who initiates real conversations instead of just pleasantries. There are so many potential friends hidden amongst the strangers in our lives. Maybe if we were just willing to tell them to come over for some wine, the world would be a different place.

On a side note: if you ever find yourself in Eastern California, check out the Meadowcliff Campground: Coleville/Walker KOA. The place is amazing in every way from the friendly owners to the gorgeous campground. It is by far my favorite KOA I have seen and will certainly be a future destination for our family.

Reflections of Barstow

Barstow is not the place I would want to spend any amount of time, but it did get me out to explore Southern California.

For the past three weeks, we have been stationary at a Marine Corps Logistics Base located in Barstow, CA. When we first arrived to the town of Barstow, my husband instantly looked at me and said “I am so sorry for bringing you here.” The streets were littered with garbage and neglected houses and buildings. Every block had at least one homeless person pushing a cart or holding up a sign. It seemed as though Barstow had been forgotten a long time ago. The town was dirty, run down and not on the safe side.

Dan had a contact job working out of Fort Irwin, an Army base located in the middle of nowhere about an hour outside of Barstow. It was four days on, three days off for three weeks, although there were quite a few days when the weather didn’t cooperate so he didn’t have to report. While we were not excited to be in Barstow, we were lucky enough to have the security of being on a base and we decided to make the most of our time there. IMG_0402

The first weekend we were there, we took off and went camping in Joshua Tree National Park for two nights. It was amazing. The first night we spent in the Colorado Desert on the south side of the park. With not a singe Joshua Tree in sight, we had a great time wandering the desert, hiking and exploring. IMG_0296

The second night was spent in Black Rock Canyon of the Northern part of Joshua Tree. It was a dense concentration of Joshua Trees and offered a lot of fun for the kids. In the park, we climbed the great granite boulders. The kids had no fear as they found small cracks within the rocks that kept them scaling higher and higher. I have never been afraid of heights, but watching my children ascend the rocks, I felt the fear of most people when they are out of their comfort zone. The kids are great being safe though and with our careful watch and guidance, we all made it back down without a scratch. The fear was certainly worth the views from the top!IMG_0367

A few days later, Dan had a day off so we decided to go to Big Bear City for the day. The town is a ski resort town located on a big lake and is pretty much the ideal place to be if you like the outdoors. We drove up Big Bear Mountain and explored life above the clouds. Just miles away from the  Mojave Desert, the forest brought with it a new sense of life and purpose. The pines create a canopy that allows just enough light in to highlight soft wildflowers that speckle the ground. The needles create a soft blanket beneath the trees, causing sound to be absorbed and making the area perfectly calm and tranquil. Evelyn and I dropped the boys off at the top of the mountain to ride down on their bikes while we explored some more and drove down to meet them at the bottom. IMG_0529

That weekend, we headed out to San Diego. I was fortunate to meet a couple amazing individuals from San Diego in Denver when I was training for my job with the VA and we have been in constant communication ever since. We spent the first night with Shannon and her husband Mike, catching up on life. Our other friend Abe, his wife Jane and daughter Lei came out that night and hung out making the night exciting and full of laughter. Being in the company of friends that were more like family instantly made being on the road feel not so foreign. The next couple of days we explored San Diego a little. We went to a dog beach on Ocean Beach (previous blog), and wandered. San Diego has terrible traffic and so many people so it can be quite overwhelming at times. However, watching the waves of the Pacific Ocean crash into the tall cliffs was refreshing and made me understand why so many people are willing to deal with the craziness of the city. Leaving was bittersweet since I feel as though there was so much more to explore and see. Also, I felt as though I was leaving my family again, even though I know it would not be the last time we see each other. I am still trying to talk them into buying an RV so we can all travel the country together. IMG_0411

When we got bak to Barstow, we immediately started planning out next trip out of the town. Big Bear City was so refreshing that it was no-brainer to go back and spend a full weekend there. We opted to camp to avoid having to pack up an RV and drive it up the mountain. Plus, camping offers a little more intimacy with nature and more adventure underneath the stars. We went on bike rides around the campsite, a hike along a mountain stream and built a squirrel house made of pinecones. Evelyn and I once again dropped the boys off at the top of the mountain for more intense biking while us girls enjoyed some ice cream shakes down in town. Just being there made the world feel small, calm, and peaceful. It is a place we will surely be back to visit. IMG_0666

Our last week in Barstow is best described as hot. The temperature was in the triple digits and the dust and wind made it almost unbearable. On Monday, I took the kids to Fort Irwin to escape the heat at the Army base’s splash pad and various parks. The base was a mini-oasis in the middle of the desert. The splash park was conveniently located right next to one of two Starbucks on base and the kids had a blast playing in the water and running around like crazy. On Tuesday we decided to make the RV look a little more like home by changing out some curtains and decorating the kids spaces with posters and stickers. The RV still looks quite bland, but it we are slowly making it our own and figuring out ways to modify it so it suits our needs better.

There was another family at the Marine base that we were staying at so the kids had three other kids their age to play with this entire time too. It was nice watching the kids all play together. They would run from RV to RV or hide off in the trees that line the park. Even on the hottest days, they would be out on their bikes or coloring with sidewalk chalk. They too were homeschooled so the kids instantly bonded. It also helped Alexander at times focus on his work so he could get back outside to play with his new friends. Leaving today was a bit sad knowing that they would most likely never see one another again, but we did exchange addresses so the kids can send postcards and maybe keep in touch.

We are currently on our way to June Lake in central California. As I sit here in the truck and reflect, I look out the window at an endless stretch of desert. A sign for Death Valley alerts me that we are a mere 121 miles away. Evelyn is fast asleep in the back while Alexander watches a movie on my Kindle. Barstow is in the rearview mirror. The past three weeks here have given us a taste of what life is like on the road, even if we were “stationed” in Barstow the entire time. It showed me that there is no excuse to just stay in and be miserable. There is beauty and adventure anywhere you go, even if you have to take a day trip to get there. I hope that I will never be back in Barstow again, but I am grateful that I was there and that I was able to experience Southern California these past few weeks.IMG_0540

How to be a “Leaf in the Wind”

The lessons I am learning as I work at letting go the idea of normal.

I had a conversation with my mother yesterday. Being Mother’s Day and all, I tried my very hardest not to engage in any kind of argument, however, being she is my mother and I her daughter, that can be quite difficult. It also didn’t help that I called at a time when I was not feeling the best. I was on edge and didn’t have much patience for some reason. I would love to blame it on the medications I am on to help save my sight and even though being grumpy is a common side effect, I am bound and determined to be in control of my emotions. This means I was just not in the mood.

Before I begin this story, I suppose I should also tell you that my mother does not know of my medical issues, therefore she really doesn’t understand the basis for us renting out our house, buying an RV and traveling. She does not know that I have lost vision in one eye and that I had to quit my job due to the illness, not because I wanted to explore the country, homeschool my kids, and start a blog. She believes that I chose to do this because I am a “leaf in the wind” of sorts; not wanting to settle down and establish roots. I’m still waiting for the right time to tell her, but telling her over the phone is not the place and considering I haven’t seen my mother in over ten years, I am not sure when this conversation will take place.

The conversation started with the traditional “Happy Mother’s Day” stuff followed by me letting her know I was currently in San Diego. We talked about the kiddos a bit and how nice the shower pressure was in the hotel compared to the RV. (Surprisingly, I was not as thrilled with staying at a hotel as I thought I would be after living in an RV). She then asked me the loaded question: “So how does it feel to just not to work and travel all the time?”

“Deep breath. Know your audience. Count to ten. Close your eyes. Another deep breath. Remember…. It is Mother’s Day.” My mental list for relaxing was not quite working. Yes. She is right. I did quite my job and yes, I am traveling. But I had to quit my job. I am losing my vision. I can not stare at a computer all day. Even as I write this post, my eyes are closed due to the immense pressure and pain caused by straining or even trying to move my eyes. We are traveling because I want to see this country while I still can. We are not on a vacation. We are living the RV full-time lifestyle. I am homeschooling two kids. That is more work than ANY job I have ever had. In fact, I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss having a “real” job that earned money and allowed me to run away to a corporate environment while my kids drove their other teachers to drink. We are not bringing in the same money we used to. It is not all fun and games all the time.

I love traveling around the country. It is beautiful. The people are unique and diverse. There is so much to learn, see, visit and experience. However, it isn’t always that spectacular. It is a lot of work trying to figure out campsites, places to visit, YOUR BUDGET. It is exhausting when you realize that on top of seeing the beauty of the country, your first priority is to teach Math, Grammar, Spelling, Reading to the little people living with you and now provide all three meals of the day.

Being a “leaf in the wind” requires a whole new perspective. One that allows you to accept any change and to roll with it, whether it is good or bad. It means that some days, even though life may be shitty, you figure out how to let it turn to gold. I’m not quite at that point. I am more like a kite. I have let myself fly in the wind and am getting used to the breeze. I am learning how to soar and I pray that when I land in the branches, it is only temporary.

I wish I could tell you how to be a leaf in the wind. How to accept and embrace all the changes. Hopefully one day, I will be able to write a post about that. Until then, I have learned a few things I can share:

First: There is no such thing as normal. We are all mutations of sorts. All abnormalities trying to get along and survive in this crazy world. I don’t want to be normal. I want to learn how to embrace my new normal. Whether it is a good day or a bad day, it is MY day.

Second: Stress comes in more forms than one can imagine. Whether it is working, planning a trip, homeschooling kids, getting dinner ready or even going for a walk; there is some sort of stress that is wrecking havoc in your body or head. Having an autoimmune condition is slowly teaching me that I need to embrace the stress instead of fight it. If something is too much, I need to stop the battle. If not, I only fuel the stress.

Third: You BECOME the people you surround yourself with. Negative people only come branches keeping you from flying in the wind. I was able to see some great friends this weekend that reminded me of all the good energy that I need in my life. I am also so blessed to have a husband that is willing to sacrifice so much and be so supportive of me in this crazy time. If I gave into the fake people, the negative people and the people who thrive on insecurities, I would only suffer more. Instead of letting the negative people control me, I let them go and do not waste my time trying to make them happy. It is better this way, even if it is hard at first.

Finally: Breath, laugh, reflect, relax and enjoy the ride. You may not be thrilled at the ride you are on or satisfied where it has led you, but it is YOUR ride. Make the most of it. I don’t have the best relationship with my mother, but I am bound and determined that that aspect of my life isn’t going to hold me back. My body is fighting itself, but it isn’t going to keep me down. Gas prices are through the roof in California, but that doesn’t stop me from taking a walk on the beach. YOU are the only one who can make your day be good or bad. It is alway YOUR choice on what you FEEL.

So going back to my phone conversation. It was Mother’s Day. I didn’t lie to make her feel better but I did tell her (for the 50th time) that this wasn’t a vacation. I love homeschooling the kids. I miss working in so many ways. However, I was okay. I was making the most of every day. I was exploring and I finally was able to SEE the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life. Maybe this summer when I am finally able to visit her and introduce her to the man I have been married to for eight years and her two grandchildren, I will tell her more about the life I have been living. But until then, I am doing my best. I may not be a leaf in the wind just yet, but I am doing alright being a kite in a field.

All Dogs Need a Heaven

The beach should not just be reserved for people. Dogs need some sand, sun and freedom too!

This morning, I awoke to an amazing life. We are currently in San Diego for a long weekend and have been able to visit great friends, eat delicious food, play on the beach and enjoy life. Today was my day. My kids handed me flowers, my husband handed me a card with a homemade mimosa and my puppy snuggled up next to me. It feels good being a mom.

Since it was my day, I got to choose what to do. I had never been to the Pacific Ocean before, so that was the first thing on my list. We drove through the psychotic traffic of San Diego and found our way first to a pleasant park called Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. There wasn’t much for the kids there other than the grand views, some trails and the water, so we decided to go out to Ocean Beach.

Ocean Beach is the big deal in San Diego. It is where you can sit and watch surfers, play in the sand, get into a volleyball game and truly experience the San Diego laid back way of life. Your stresses disappear as quickly as the sand falls between your toes. It is a slice of heaven.

Now, we are not newbies when it comes to the beach. We spent five years living in the Panhandle of Florida where the turquoise waters of the Emerald Coast illuminate the sparkling white sand of beaches that are found almost nowhere else in the world. We love the beach, but today I saw what we were missing in Florida: a dog beach.

Maggie is a yapper dog. She is a whopping 9lbs of energy and excitement so when we take her out, she is bursting at the seams. So she will bark at every dog. Jump up and then sometimes growl when she isn’t allowed to play or sniff whatever she wants. She has never had an issue with another dog, but what kills me is that 20 seconds when she first meets another one or her continuous yapping when she sees another canine roaming the streets.

This made me quite hesitate at first. My excited yapper dog surrounded by dog’s whose right paw weighs more than her. However, I took a deep breath, unhooked her leash and watched her beeline for the first animal in view.

Without the leash, there was nothing I could do, but an amazing thing happened. There was no barking. No growling. No yapping. Just a quick sniff and few playful chases and she was back at our side. In fact, that is how every encounter with ever dog turned out. I saw no out of control animals. No growling. Honestly, I see more aggressiveness on the children’s playground everyday.

We spent the next hour or two sitting at the beach. Our kids played in the sand and laughed as the dogs ran over the sand castles. Maggie spent her time dashing into the water, chasing (other dogs’) balls, and running wild and free. All without any yelping, barking, or issues of any kind. When she needed a break and some salt-free water, she came over, dried off in Daniel’s towel (not by Daniel’s choice), got her water and went back out. She hung out with us, the kids and greeted the other dogs and people that wandered by. It was most likely the best day of her life.

Sitting there in the sand, watching the dogs run freely may have been the best part of my day today. It was a moment when one of my amazing children was able to be free and happy and live to the fullest. I am so blessed to be able to watch my beautiful human babies do this on a daily basis, but today it was my dog’s turn. Seeing all the dogs on their own playground, their own beach, their own slice of heaven; that warmed my heart.

It is a shame that there are not more dog beaches and parks in our society. Every person on the beach today picked up any waste, to include litter that had blown in with the wind. The dog parks and dog beaches seem to be the cleaner than the dog-banned ones. Places like these give dog owner the ability to reward their children. It gives them  place to go to help their animal and people to talk to that have common interests. Finally, it makes the dog a better dog.

When we finally left the beach, Maggie was a different dog. She didn’t take off running towards a new dog that was on its’ way to doggie heaven. She didn’t bark or yelp or even jump on any dog on the walk back. She didn’t even freak out at the squirrel antagonizing her on our walk. She was satisfied and I think she is beginning to understand that she gets a whole lot more positive interactions when she stops being a yapper.

I think it is the time to push for more dog-friendly places in this country. Parks where the dogs can play, roam and be dogs. Not tiny fenced in areas that feel more like a kennel than a park. We need places where the focus is making life a little better for them. A place where they know what Heaven on Earth actually feels like.

Claustrophobia and the Grand Canyon

Claustrophobia and the Grand Canyon. How one saved me from the other.

Claustrophobia. The fear of tight spaces. It is a very common fear and well known. Up until recently, I thought that it was a fear that a person was born with. I had never had this fear. I could crawl in the tightest spaces, unafraid of anything. However, a couple months ago, I learned what claustrophobia was… the hard way.

I was laying in an MRI machine again. With the rapid progression of my visual loss and the way my body has been attacking itself, it was no surprise that yet another MRI was ordered. I’ve had several and tried to approach this one on the light side as though it was another well-deserved nap since my body was continuously running on empty lately. I laid down on the cold, hard table and the technician placed the face mask over my head. In my mind, I remember thinking not to comment about feeling like a hockey player and just relax. So I did. I fell asleep quite quickly since lately my energy levels had been nonexistent. All of a sudden something happened. I think I went to swallow some saliva and ended up choking instead. Worst possible thing to happen in the middle of an MRI. With a face mask tightly secured, I couldn’t sit up. Frantically, I hit the panic button. Again and again and again. My eyes popped open and all I could see was this shield blocking my face; immobilizing me. Keeping me from fresh air… from breathing. I reached for the mask, trying to rip it away. The technician came into the room and retracted the table as slowly as I thought was humanly possible.

When I finally was able to sit up and gasp for breath, the technician looked at me in amazement. She asked me what happened and all I could tell her was that I started choking. When she asked me if I wanted to come back to redo the MRI, I told her that I was able to finish and that it was just a random occurrence and that I was ok to complete the procedure. Turns out: I wasn’t. That simple occurrence made me develop this random thing that is called claustrophobia. I was terrified of that mask being secured over my face again. I laid down and the moment it went over my head, I freaked out and jumped up again. My heart raced. My anxiety was through the roof. What happened to that nice nap I had expected? Now, it had been replaced by fear.

I knew that if I was going to make it through this procedure the way things were progressing. I had to calm myself. I didn’t want her to know what was going on so I asked for a drink. I knew that seeing that mask cover my face would elicit the panic I felt. So I took a drink and closed my eyes. I laid down and took deep breaths. The sound of the mask clicking into place raised my heart rate but I knew if I opened my eyes, the panic would take control. I too a deep breath and pictured a place I had never been. A place open and wide. A place bigger than life: the Grand Canyon.

The remainder of the MRI, I took myself to a place I had only seen in pictures. The Grand Canyon. It was a place that was deep and vast, open and wide, free of anything confining. I felt myself standing on the edge of a cliff with my kids as the wind flowed through my hair. Nothing held me back. Inside, there was still fear that everything would cave in and that I would choke to death, but I made my mind believe that there was a place that this could never happen.

That is how I made it through that day. Even after the radiologist ordered contrast and I had to endure another thirty minutes of deep breaths and my imagination taking me to a far away place. The Grand Canyon saved me from claustrophobia.

Today, I finally made it to the Grand Canyon. While my imagination did a pretty good job letting me know the freedom it brings, my mind did not do it justice when it comes to the depth and magnitude it holds. While sitting on the edge of a cliff, my husband said it perfectly “you can feel it’s silence”. In fact, it is so large and powerful; you feel as though nothing can escape its’ greatness. It is deafening. Frightening. Calming. Tranquil. For the first time since that MRI, I felt as though everything was okay. I was just a dot on this Earth that existed in such a small amount of time. My panic and fear was not even an blip in history. The greatness of the canyon was almost too much to take in; a counterbalance of what the mask felt like in the machine.

Now as I sit writing for the first time of that new fear, I feel a sense of relief and gratitude. Maybe I was meant to know what it was like to feel constrained and fearful so then I understood the relief of being free and grateful. Maybe I would not feel the greatness that the canyon holds if I had never felt the restraints of being out of control.

I would love to sit here and describe the Grand Canyon to you. I would love to tell you about the way the layers of rock and earth delicately fall upon one another. How the stone is older than the dinosaurs and how water and wind eroded the land to form the beautiful landscape. However, the Grand Canyon can’t be described. It can only be felt. Lived. Seen. It is a monument that pictures can only capture the surface of the power that it holds.

While I sat in that MRI, imagining myself at the Grand Canyon, I saw a beautiful canyon with an open horizon before me. Freedom and solitude that I needed to get through a procedure. Today, I saw time. Evolution. Peace and serenity. Today, I saw Mother Nature in all her beauty. Today I witnessed the power of the Grand Canyon.

Nevada: More than “Snow-capped”

I never thought Nevada was anything but a desert with a big city, but little did I know…

Nevada. The word rolls off your tongue as if it were a fancy drink at some posh restaurant. In fact, the word simply means “snow-capped” which holds true to its form. Before coming to Nevada, I never thought much of the state. We all know about Las Vegas; the gambling, money, sex, drugs, and booze. A city in the middle of nowhere that never sleeps. We have heard of Reno, however many do not know why Reno is familiar, just that it exists. However, the actual state of Nevada is something that until now never inspired me. Never made me want to visit and explore. It was just a vast state in the middle of nowhere; on the way to somewhere with a city that never sleeps.

We left Idaho a day earlier than planned. The weather was not great and the kids were not enjoying the cold wind that swept across the reservoir. While we loved the Salmon Falls Dam, it was time to move on and go for another adventure. Shortly after starting our journey, we arrived in the quaint city of Jackpot, NV. It is the typical border town that you would think of, except here there were run-down casinos everywhere and restaurants that didn’t open until dinner time. A quick coffee and we were out on the open road, expecting less than an exciting journey. Personally, I was looking forward to a nice nap so when my husband asked if we could listen to a Joe Rogan podcast, I was all for the idea. Evelyn was quickly passed out in the back, Alexander was reading a book about plants and trees and Maggie was laying in my arms as though a child who I had rocked to sleep. However, instead of closing my eyes, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the landscape. The road separated the mountains so as we drove, I stared at the snow-covered hills colliding with beautiful fields that had just started to bloom. It was truly the beginning of spring and the countryside captured each moment with grace and beauty.

We ate lunch in yet another run-down town of Wells, Nevada. It was good cooking yet pricey for what we got. It may be the first time I saw a kids menu that was all over $10 at a diner. However, the service was nice and the break from driving was well worth the money.

As we got back on the road, I couldn’t help but think to myself what our time in Ely, Nevada would be like. We had booked a full three nights there and if it were anything like Wells or Jackpot, I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy it. However, my husband completely surprised me with a beautiful reservoir in Southern Idaho, so I had to trust that we would have a wonderful time no matter what.

We arrived in Ely around 4 pm. It was beautiful. The sun was out and the 70 degree weather was something that I cherished more than ever after a long winter in Idaho. Ely is tucked in an amazing valley that has views in every direction your eyes can wander. We had opted for a KOA campsite that turned out to be almost perfect. It had trails that the boys went mountain biking on. It had a park that the kids have played on each day. The service was wonderful and there was so much nature around that we knew we had plenty to look forward to. The next morning, the boys went mountain biking while Evelyn and I played around being lazy girls. We then ate lunch, packed up the truck and went to Cave Lake, just a short trip down the road. The weather was intermittent rain, but it didn’t slow us down at all. The lake was breathtaking. Its’ water was a turquoise color that made you wonder how nature could create it. There was a trail around the lake and the kids and Maggie ran freely, climbing and exploring the area. When we came back, the boys went to another lake to fish. It was the first time that Alexander actually became engrossed in the activity. Normally, he would fish for five minutes and be bored, but this time, he became obsessed and managed to bring home two brown trout.

Today, we decided to go for another adventure. I was a bit concerned since we actually woke up to snow. Yes… snow. Two days ago the temperature was 70 and sunny and today I woke up in the same place to massive snowflakes coming down. We bundled up and headed down the “Loneliest Highway in America” toward the Great Basin National Park. The clouds hung low as the snow continued to fall while we began our journey. After a few minutes, the snow turned to rain which eventually ceased, but the clouds still obstructed a lot of our view. On the way, I joked that there was no way anyone else would be at the park today because the weather should be a great deterrent. Then, out of nowhere, Daniel’s eyes opened wide and said “LOOK at THAT mountain!” I peered out my window into the distance. There was no mountain in view. Right as I was about to ask him what he was talking about, an enormous cliff appeared in the fog right before my eyes. As I stared in awe, the fog lifted and the remainder of the mountain range took shape. Sharp cliffs rose from the ground, peppered with pine trees and sage brush. The sun reflected off the new snow that was blowing off the peaks and the landscape transformed once again to an exciting wilderness that beckoned you to explore it. Never have I thought that something this beautiful existed in this state that I once believed to be only desert.

When we arrived at Great Basin National Park, we went to the Lehman Caves. We had a wonderful lunch that Daniel had packed for us and then waited for our cave tour. The kids completed a Junior Park Ranger book and were awarded their badges in front of the tour group who all were very receptive to them.

The caves were wonderful. There was so much to see and learn. The tour guide was quite accommodating to the children and very good at engaging the group. The Lehman Caves were founded over 100 years ago and to this day are still a great site to see. Learning about caves, stalagmites and stalactites in a book has nowhere near the same impact as seeing them in person. We all got “kissed by the cave” as water dripped on us and witnessed with our very eyes how over a million years ago, something as simple as water formed the natural wonders we are able to view today. It just proves that education doesn’t always have to be in the classroom.

Our Nevada trip has come to a conclusion. We are heading for southern Utah tomorrow. Fishlike National forest first, then Zion National Park and beyond. While we are leaving Nevada for now, many things will stick with me. I know not to underestimate any place before experiencing it. Seeing my son come back from a afternoon of fishing with his dad has carved a deep place in my memory and heart. Watching my daughter scale rocks like she is a (semi) pro shows me that while she is my baby, she is more than capable of handling herself. Finally, I realize that a simple element like water and a lot of time and patience can make everlasting beauty. Things like that help me see life in a whole new perspective. Maybe while I thought I should move fast or get instant results, that isn’t what Mother Nature has in store for me.  In all actuality, time and patience, love and courage, and most importantly faith is what I really need in order to be completely satisfied with this wonderful, crazy, perfectly insane life that is only mine.

Nevada. Never put all your trust into a name. It is a state capable of a lot more than just being “snow-capped”.