Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Musings from a RV Trip

If you follow Straddling the Gap or my personal account on Facebook, you know we recently went on a 19 day vacation all over the West.  In addition to the 4,000 miles of cool places, we did it in a RV.  We don't own a RV - we rented it - and it was a first for all of us.  During our 19 days on the road, we did learn a few things about RV travel and have a few tips.  In no particular order:

1.  You WILL bump your head (at least twice) and definitely on a cabinet door.  Ice packs in the freezer are a necessity.
2.  We let the kids roam around the RV which was probably the best thing we did.

3.  Get a Swiffer - wet and dry.  Small space, lots of foot traffic.
4.  "A place for everything and everything in its place."  Spend a few days in a RV and you'll understand what it means.

5.  Take a pair of heavy latex gloves and extra yucky shoes for dealing with the "black water" hookup and take down.
6.  Use nubby shelf liner on the table to keep things in place during driving.
7.  Take bungee cords with you.  You probably can't imagine all the ways you will need them.  We had two drawers that stopped latching and the bungees kept them closed.

8.   Wedging the tip of a hot dog into the carbon monoxide alarm works great to muffle the sound in the middle of the night.
9.  Bring a bucket - you never know when the black water valve might leak.
10.  You really need one of these things.  It keeps the hoses going downhill so the hoses drain while you are parked (as opposed to liquid sitting in the hose - ewww).

I don't know if my family would agree, but I would buy one of these in a heartbeat.  We shall see . . .


Monday, July 29, 2013

Kenzie Does Crafts - Watercolor Stained Glass

During our recent trip, Mackenzie did manage to do a couple of crafts.  This one is sooooo easy and great for little kids too.  You need:  blue painter's tape, heavy (watercolor) paper, watercolor paints (you could even use finger paints).  That's it.

Do this with the painter's tape:

Do this with the watercolors:

Do this with the painter's tape:

You get this:

If you would rather have the "black" window look, use a black crayon and a straight ruler to outline each watercolor design, then color or paint in the black.

I said it was easy, right?


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Delicate Pastel Shells Afghan

I've been working on clearing all the baby yarn I was given and having a lot of fun with it.  I'm pretty proud of this one.  It's really delicate and soft.

 I used 1 skein of Bernat Baby Coordinates in each color: white (Color A), pink (Color B) and mint green (Color C).  I used a size G hook and the pattern was a Catherine Wheel.  I'm pretty pleased with this one.  If you like this one, you can buy the finished product or an electronic version of this pattern in my Etsy store.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Kenzie Does Crafts - Corn Syrup Painting

Even on our recent road trip, Kenzie does crafts!  I loved doing this one too.  It's really cool and as long as you keep it neat, you will love the result.  We even did it in the RV!  Here's what you need:

Paper (either heavy stock or glossy paper works great too)
Karo Corn Syrup
Food Colors
Paint brushes

Draw your picture with crayons.  It's best to draw things without too much detail.

For each color paint, pour a small amount of corn syrup into a plastic cup - a couple of tablespoons should be fine.

Add a few drops of food coloring.  This is something you need to play with for the right color, however you need only a few drops, otherwise you will get black.

Using your brush, paint within the crayon lines.  This will keep the "paint" contained, because it can be a bit thick.

Once your painting is done, you need to let it dry completely.  It takes a long time - sometimes a few days.  When it is dry, it should feel smooth to the touch, not tacky at all.  In the meantime, don't let anything touch your painting because it will stick like glue to it.
Here's our finished products:

You won't find any other substance that will give you such vivid shiny colors.  We had a great time and can't wait to try it again.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Day 19 - Great American Family Vacation - Back to Arizona!

If you've been following this travelogue for the last 19 days, thank you.  It's been an awesome odyssey, the best family vacation ever!

Our last day began in a rush to get out of Santa Fe.  We loved our long vacation, but we are all ready to get home.  Our one stop was the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest near Holbrook, Arizona.  (Please consider this the weekly "All About Arizona" because I am writing on a Saturday even if you won't see it until Sunday.)

Places all over the West are breathtaking, but Arizona will not be outdone in beauty.

At the Petrified Forest (where giant trees have turned into gorgeous quartz), we had our last hike of the trip.  Based on a deal the kids had with Kent, they have each now earned a Camelback water bottle.

After the Painted Desert, we headed downstate through the White Mountains and its gorgeous thick pines.  Weekend RV camping is sounding better and better to this family, who would never have considered staying outside of a hotel.  A typical summer monsoon thunderstorm chased us down the mountains, but it was still oh so beautiful, maybe more so because we are on the way home.

At about 6:00 p.m. we drove up to our home in the Sonoran Desert, smelly and exhausted, but happy to be home.  Tomorrow we will clean out the RV so it can be returned on Monday, Kent will go to work at church and I will get back to my job at the City of Phoenix on Monday morning.

Whew, what a trip!


Days 17-18 - Great American Road Trip - New Mexico

Day 17 was a travel day from the Denver area to Las Vegas, New Mexico.  We thought our campground was closer to Santa Fe, but not so.  New Mexico was high desert, pretty desolate and unpopulated.  That pretty much describes the campground where we stayed too.  The kids gamely tried out the swimming pool and we snapped a few pictures before they jumped out shivering.

That was pretty much the highlight of Day 17.  We couldn't light a fire because the area was under a fire restriction.  Thank goodness the KOA campground loaned DVDs.  "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" saved the evening.

Day 18 was much better.  We headed toward Santa Fe and our first stop was the Pecos National Historic Park.  This is one of the many locations in New Mexico where you can see where native cliff dwellers or pueblos were located.  A very large pueblo community existed at Pecos before the Spanish showed up in the 1600's.  The ruins of an old adobe church and underground kivas are still there to explore.

We also confirmed that New Mexico is the land of ants.  There are black ants and red ants with really big ant hills.  Kent is really susceptible to ant bites, so we were jumping around a bit.

Our next stop was Los Alamos Laboratory.  You can't actually go to Los Alamos, but we did find the Bradbury Museum which is a gem of a place dedicated to learning about the work of Los Alamos, especially the Manhattan Project and the first nuclear bomb.  It was free and we highly recommend it if you are ever in the Santa Fe area.  This is "Fat Man" a replica of the first plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

We probably stayed a little too long at the Bradbury Museum because we didn't get to downtown Santa Fe until just after 5:00 p.m.  I was a little disappointed because there were a few places I wanted to show the kids, including Loretto Chapel with the amazing staircase.  We trooped all over downtown Santa Fe, looking for a place to eat and finally found a little place where we could have our "last night" dinner which is a tradition for us at the end of vacation.

Tomorrow - goodbye New Mexico, hello Arizona and home!!


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Days 15-16 - Great American Family Road Trip - Rocky Mountain High

After leaving Mount Rushmore we had a long drive to Colorado.  Because we were so late getting into Fort Collins (and because we all needed a shower), we broke down and stayed at a motel.  We all enjoyed it to a certain extent, but it was kind of a seedy motel for the price (which was higher than any campground where we have stayed).

Bright and bushy tailed (and freshly showered), we drove on to Rocky Mountain National Park.  The dense pines and smell of the same were amazing.  There is little room for RV parking, but we did manage to get to Hidden Valley picnic area.  It's a former ski resort that the National Park System has restored to its natural beauty.

We had to stop in trendy Estes Park for souvenirs and then it was on across the mountains to our KOA campground in Central City.  This one is atop a mountain with a vista of the valley below.  Wow.

We roasted marshmallows over perhaps the last campfire we will have :(  and headed off to bed late.

Day 16 (yesterday, July 16) we awoke to a bright, sunny day with the smell of pine in the air.  I wanted to see the headwaters of the Colorado River (it's that water lawyer thing in me), so we headed off to Granby and Grand Lake where it all starts.  This is as close as we could get without hiking 8 miles.  As it was, I hiked about 1/2 mile in the rain.

The views here are spectacular and we agreed that the tree covered mountains are even more impressive than Yellowstone, mostly because they are so thick and green.

We drove up Trail Ridge Road (thanks for the tip Sara - Mom Endeavors!) to the Alpine Visitor's Center at 11,000 feet.  There was still some snow there and we saw some elk!

I thought I had seen the most beautiful sites at Yellowstone, but this view made me cry:

So many beautiful places . . .


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Days 13-14 - Great American Road Trip - South Dakota

We finally said goodbye to Wyoming and hello to South Dakota.  After a long drive we parked the RV at the KOA near Mount Rushmore.  I think I have said this before, but we have really enjoyed KOA campgrounds.  This one in particular was the cadillac - two swimming pools, horseback riding, bike rental, climbing wall, water slide, "pillow" bounce and splash pad for the kids.  Needless to say, after days of complaints about no wi-fi, the kids were thrilled to see someplace they could cut loose.  We decided to spend the day just hanging at the KOA.

Mackenzie and I did one of our favorite activities and went horseback riding.

Gorgeous scenery, right?  After horseback riding, the kids were off to the water slide and pool while mom enjoyed a good book.  Ahhh, camping at its best :)

That evening we met up with my sister-in-law and her partner for the lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore.  It's quite the patriotic affair, with a movie about America and a flag lowering with all the past and present military personnel in attendance.  I highly recommend it.

The next morning we were up early (for us that was 7:00 a.m.) to travel to the Badlands.  It was a cold and rainy day - perfect as far as we were concerned and a real change for what is normally scorching hot at the Badlands.

The Badlands are a series of rock formations that look like solidified mud statues.  They reminded us of the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon except much smaller and more accessible for climbing.  We did a lot of climbing on these.

Here's another great family picture.  We've been pretty lucky to get several of these during our trip.

No trip to western South Dakota is complete without a visit to Wall Drug.  It's hard to explain what this is, but just imagine the biggest original kitschy tourist trap you can and Wall Drug will beat that.  

 They are famous for their jackalopes . . .

  And the home of free ice water and 5 cent coffee.

The next morning we went back to Mount Rushmore one more time for some daytime views of the presidents and then it's off to Colorado.

Time to start the trek back to Arizona.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Days 11-12 - Great American Road Trip - Little Bighorn & Devils Tower

When I was in the 4th Grade we studied states and their capitols.  We also were assigned a state.  I had Montana.  It sounded like a very far away place from southern Illinois and I was sure I would never get there.  I was wrong.  Yesterday I saw the real Big Sky Country - rolling pastures and blue sky as far as the eye can see.  As we drove back into Wyoming, I saw more horses in pasture than cattle.  I love horses so that was very cool.

Little Big Horn National Battlefield was worth the trip even if it is a somber place.  We heard a rousing 50 minute talk from a park ranger (and former high school history teacher and coach) describing the battle in dramatic detail.  We won't forget him soon and my kids also won't forget the history of this place.  General George Custer made his Last Stand and the Plains Indians (mostly Lakota and Cheyenne) won a battle but lost a war to protect their way of life.

The site is so quiet and unassuming - a couple of hills on a prairie near the Little Bighorn River.  The battlefield is dotted with white markers in the locations where each soldier fell.

On the top of the hill is a larger memorial where Custer and most of his men died.  You can see the exact spot Custer fell on the white stone with a black face.

On the same ridge is a monument to the Native Americans who died that day.  It's sobering to think of all the people at this violent confrontation lying silently nearby over 100 years later.

From Little Bighorn we worked our way over to the KOA at Devils Tower.  We have enjoyed KOA campgrounds, and this one was unique.  It was about as close to Devils Tower as you can get.  This was taken from our campsite:

Notice that there is no apostrophe in "Devils Tower"?  When Congress designated it the first National Monument, it was left out of the name and never added.  The Lakota legend says that eight siblings were playing in the forest - seven girls and one boy.  The boy was pretending to be a bear and the girls were running away.  Suddenly, the boy became a real bear and his sisters ran screaming in terror.  They climbed on a tree stump that started rising into the air.  The bear tried to climb the stump, and left his claw marks in the side.  The stump continued to rise until the seven sisters became the seven stars of the Big Dipper.

We spent the morning hiking around the Tower and watching the crazy climbers going up.

I think we also took our Christmas picture.

On to Mount Rushmore!