Friday, July 31, 2009

Day 37: Springfield

We were even more lazy today. Fred and Mimi left yesterday to go to the Rogue, so we’ve had the house to ourselves--quite a novelty. We’re enjoying our visit tremendously, but a little down time to relax is in order. I took the opportunity to get all our grocery shopping done and putter around the house packing. This is going to be our longest camping trip ever, so I want to be prepared like a good Girl Scout. Okay, “be prepared” is the Boy Scout motto, but I’m sure I completed the requirements for a “Preparedness” badge or something like that back in the day.

I don't think internet access is going to be very good while we're camping, so I won't be updating my blog until we return on Tuesday (or a couple of weeks later as it’s turned out).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Day 36: Springfield

Today was a record-breaking hot day with an official high temperature of 106. The kids played for an hour or so at Skinner Butte Park with their second cousin, Matthew, who was visiting from Tennessee also. Our car thermometer registered 109 after a pre-camping visit to REI, so I decided that we would be staying indoors for the rest of the day. I let the kids run wild inside and then settle down with a movie while I did some more pre-camping planning. Looking forward to our trip to the Rogue River!

Day 35: Springfield to the Coast and back again

Today marks the halfway point of our trip! Five weeks have just flown by and I expect the next five will move just as quickly. Good thing I've been documenting with the blog and photos (I do need to update flickr, though).

We wanted to get out of the house today to give Fred some peace and quiet before working again tonight, so we took a road trip to the coast. Heading to the coast also gave us a break from the oppressive heat that's gripping the valley right now. Our first stop was the Heceta Head lighthouse where we met up with Ron's aunt, Christy, his cousin Sarah and her husband, Brian, and son, Matthew, and the kids' second cousin, Dayna. Today the weather on the coast cooperated. It was clear, sunny, breezy, and a very pleasant 70 degrees. Beautiful views from the cliff, but we couldn't go into the lighthouse because of repair work. Maybe next time!

After checking out the beach briefly, we got back in the car to go to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. This portion of 101 is definitely my favorite. Every bend gives you a mind-blowing view of the Pacific from atop a spectacular bluff. I think the kids even managed to tear themselves away from their video games to enjoy the view. The Aquarium also did not disappoint, although the seals, sea lions, and sea otters were pretty lackadaisical in the heat. Our favorite area was the Passages of the Deep which are three very large tanks that are hollowed out in the middle so you can walk through them to see a vast array of fish. Elli was initially freaked out about sharks swimming next to her, above her, and below her, but she recovered quickly. She and Jonah even named the biggest shark "Bruce".

Our last stop was Depoe Bay to walk along the sea wall and eat at a seafood restaurant. We didn't have a recommendation, but just picked Gracie's Sea Hag because it was open and near our car. Luck was on our side because the food was fantastic! Elli even tried some Dungeness crab for the first time. She didn't like it, but at least she gave it a shot. We were treated to a beautiful sunset on the return drive, although the tranquility was interrupted by bugs pelting the windshield so hard it sounded like hail. Disgusting. I think I'm going to need a chisel to get all the carcasses off.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Day 34: Coos Bay to Springfield

Today was probably a day Jonah will never forget because it's the day he received the birds and the bees talk. We drove to Smith River Falls to swim and while we're eating lunch on the rocks, Jonah asks "What does someone actually do when they want to become pregnant?". Pretty direct question that I couldn't easily weasel out of. So, Ron and Elli went for a walk and I explained exactly how women become pregnant (technical terms and all). Jonah's reaction was "That was surprising. That wasn't what I expected you to say at all." He couldn't elaborate on what he was expecting, just that it wasn't that. Of course, no sex talk is complete without a description of menstruation. He was, after all, curious about how fertilization happens. As I imagine almost all males react upon learning about periods, Jonah said "I'm glad I'm a boy." I responded that getting a monthly period meant that I could feel another life growing inside me like when I was pregnant with him. He said "Hmm" and gave me a little shrug as if to say "If that helps you sleep at night, Mom, but I'm not buying it." I'm sure that's not the last time I will be the recipient of that shrug.

Once we were done with "the talk", we all got to enjoy swimming at the Smith River Falls. There were a couple of pools, a rope swing, and potholes like the ones at Shelburne Falls in MA. The water felt refreshing in the 90 plus temperatures and the sun was so intense you didn't even need a towel to dry off. Elli's big accomplishment for the day was finally trusting her swimming vest to keep her afloat. She shrieked and shrieked when Ron let go of her and it took her about a minute to realize that she was treading water all by herself. Then we could hardly get her out of the water as she was having too much fun swimming everywhere. Glad she figured this out before, and not after, our 4 day camping trip to the Rogue River!

We eventually made it back to Springfield in spite of our GPS's numerous attempts to get us lost on closed, gravel roads. One of the roads we were sent on was so scarcely traveled there was moss growing in the middle of it. We made much better progress once we turned off the damn device and Ron navigated by instinct. Fortunately, Ron got us back in time to have dinner at Hop Valley Brewery for all day Happy Hour again. Unfortunately, he had another disappointing meal (everyone else's was great, though, as was the beer). We'll have to decide if another attempt is warranted the next Monday we're in town.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day 33: Coos Bay

Ron and I got our exercise in this morning: a mountain bike ride for him and a run for me. I think his ride was less painful than my run, but at least we're both making progress.

We drove out to Shore Acres for a hike and stroll through the gardens after a quick lunch. Once again, the weather did not cooperate. It was clear and sunny at the Hammonds, but as soon as we started driving, the fog rolled in to stay. The chill in the air was brisker today than yesterday, but we were prepared for it and could still enjoy the beautiful gardens and hike along the bluffs. The views were still breathtaking in spite of the fog.

Ron and I picked up some Chinook salmon steaks and filets on our way back from Shore Acres and Joe and Shelley cooked up a feast. The salmon was spectacular although Elli wouldn't admit to it. I think the rest of the kids enjoyed it, though. Seriously some of the best salmon I've ever had and I eat a lot of salmon.

I'm a little sad that tonight is our last in Coos Bay. We've had a great visit and I love seeing all the cousins together. Wish we could do it more often.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Day 32: Coos Bay

Ron wanted me to clarify that dinner at Unger's Bay was most definitely not the cause of his and Jonah's illnesses. Ron's illness pre-dated our trip to Coos Bay and Jonah's vomiting began less than two hours after dinner. We didn't want to falsely malign a restaurant that served us an excellent meal.

With that disclaimer aside, Jonah made it through the night with no vomiting and kept down his food for the rest of the day. Ian was also feeling a bit better, so we felt brave enough to venture out of the house in the afternoon. We drove out to Cape Arago and walked down to the beach. The tide was high so we had to walk on rocks and driftwood so bleached and smooth, it felt like walking on a field of bones. The kids enjoyed exploring the rocks and the shoreline and came away with a few treasures. My allusion to a field of bones became a reality on the return walk as we discovered a slew of rib bones, vertebrae, a pelvis and a skull (all from an animal, I'm sure). A little eerie.

We then drove to Sunset Bay for more play on the beach and a fire for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. The weather was chilly and foggy, but it was still very pleasant and relaxing. The kids built quite a few castles and the adults got to enjoy a few beverages. A lovely evening for all.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Day 31: Springfield to Coos Bay

We slept in until 10 am today which set back our whole schedule. I had to finish our laundry and then Ron, Jonah, and I drove over to a Little League field for some baseball practice. It was fun and productive (Jonah looked really good at shortstop), but we stayed way too long. By the time we showered, ate lunch, packed, and hit the road to Coos Bay, it was 3 pm, about 2 hours later than we planned on leaving.

It worked out fine, though, because we were able to meet the Hammonds at Unger's Bay, a seafood restaurant on a boat in Winchester Bay. I was afraid the swaying of the boat was going to wreak havoc on my digestive tract, but I felt fine once I started eating. Turns out I shouldn't have been worrying about my digestive system. Jonah was playing Wii baseball with Gage back at the Hammonds when he suddenly ran to the bathroom to throw up, which he continued to do for the next couple of hours. Ron's intestinal issues had re-surfaced after dinner, too, so I had two sickies on my hands. To top things off, Ian started running a fever of 102. Not sure what this weekend is going to have in store for all of us...

Day 30: Portland to Springfield

A red-letter day today! I took Jonah on his first mountain bike ride (Ron's brakes are out of commission, so he hiked with Elli and Peg instead). At one point, we were going down a pretty long descent. I was hanging back, giving Jonah some space, when I noticed him running, not riding, on the trail. Turns out he felt out of control so he jumped off the bike and ran down the trail. He managed not to get a scratch on him and he learned an important lesson about using both brakes, not just the back brake. He had taken our cautions about using the front brake a bit too literally and never used them. All in all, a successful first ride. Jonah was excited about getting his bike dirty, like a real mountain bike!

We ate a quick lunch while Ron did some work and then drove back to Springfield. We got back in time to do some laundry and then go to the Eugene Emeralds minor league baseball game. The game was lots of fun: cheap beer and food (much more reasonable than a major league game). It would have been better if the Ems had managed to win, but you can't have everything!

Day 29: Portland

After a lazy morning at the Currys and a trip to the Apple store for a new computer battery, we drove over to Grandma Peg's. Ron was feeling a little under the weather, so he took a nap while the rest of us played Legos for hours. Not very exciting, but it was relaxing to just sit still and spend time with the kids. Our mellow day was capped off with a swim at the condo pool and a short walk to dinner at a McMenamin's. I hope Ron will be feeling better tomorrow. I don't think there's anything worse than being sick when you're away from home. Since we're traveling for another six weeks, I hope that no one else gets sick.
Attention 5-year-olds everywhere: Hungry does not mean "I want dessert."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Watching the Ems at Eugene's historic Civic Stadium.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Day 28: Springfield to Portland

Kids watched the rest of Inkheart this morning (a movie we rented after our dinner at Hop Valley), then got dressed to go berry picking with Fred and Mimi. They returned with six quart containers of raspberries and a spattering of berry stains on their shirts. I stayed behind to do some packing for our two day trip to Portland.

Our first stop was the Currys. It was fun visiting with the grown ups and the kids eventually warmed up to play together. Ron and Kevin drove to Best Buy and bought Coraline for the kids to watch. The movie was a little creepy, but didn't seem to upset Elli at all. I think she was too tired to even register what she was watching!

Day 27: Springfield

Today Jonah and I played tennis just the two of us. He'd been itching to try and hit hard with me since we arrived in Oregon. He did really well and it's a shame he couldn't play in the North Adams tournaments this summer. He'll get a chance next year.

After Ron's mountain bike ride about 20 miles outside of Eugene, we all went back to Amazon Pool. It was just as crowded on this Monday afternoon as it was on Friday, but it was still fun. The highlight of the visit was Jonah's jump off the 6 meter platform. He looked terrified but he did it! Certainly braver than I am.

Our next stop was dinner at Hop Valley Brewery to enjoy their all day Happy Hour, $2.50 pints of their brews all day long. All the grown-ups enjoyed 3 pints since we were walking (we found out later that Fred and Mimi had already stopped for one on their way home from the pool!). Elli had her fill of drawing throughout the meal and Jonah got caught up on MLB coverage. A very pleasant evening for all.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Day 26: Springfield

It's hard to believe we've been away from home for almost a month. I'm usually itching to get back home at the end of a 2 week trip, but I feel no anxiety. Maybe I'd mentally prepared myself for the long absence and the restlessness won't set in until late August. We've planned fun visits with friends and family for a return trip, so I hope I'll be able to fully enjoy them.

We eventually took a long bike ride to the river today once Elli, the sleeping diva, got out of bed mid-morning. We wound up riding 15 miles which was the longest ride Jonah's ever done (broken up into segments since we stopped a few times). He said he thought his legs were going to fall off in the last mile or so but he recovered just fine. He's turning into quite the cyclist on this trip!

Day 25: Springfield

Yesterday we gave our nephews, Connor and Gage, tennis rackets as belated birthday presents. So, we took them to some courts this morning so they could try them out. They both picked it up really well and we all had a lot of fun. After tennis, Ron and I got much needed massages from an effective, although somewhat loopy, massage therapist. We'll definitely visit her again, but I hope she'll refrain from unsolicited advice, like I should eat according to my blood type.

Shelley and the boys headed home to Coos Bay today after a great two week visit. I think all the cousins had a great time playing together. We even survived with very little fighting at least between cousin. The siblings met their usual quota of fighting, I think. In any event, a little down time is probably a good idea.

Day 24: Springfield

We've been having a lot of fun visiting with everyone here in Springfield, but I've noticed that we seem to be slowing down our routine in the morning. We still want to get out and about, but we're taking longer to get there. After Fred and Shelley did a little shopping at Costco, Fred took Elli and I to the Springfield Public Library to pick up a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Elli loves libraries, so it was hard to convince her to leave. We enticed her with a new book from the summer reading program cart and a promise to return soon. A quick stop at the farmer's market for a couple of pints of raspberries and we headed back to the house.

We ate a very quick lunch and packed up all the kids for a fun afternoon at Amazon Pool in Eugene. The place was huge and packed with people on this hot day. There were two large kiddie pools with a maximum depth of 3 feet, a tall water slide into one of the kiddie pools, an Olympic size pool with lap lanes, free swim area, and an over the water obstacle course, and a diving pool with two low springboards, a high springboard and a 6 meter platform tower with a short tube slide coming off it. Add some sprinklers, a huge sandbox, and a hot tub and there you have Amazon Pool. It was impressive and a lot of fun. The boys did the high springboard and the high tube slide, but we headed back to the platform dive too late for Jonah to have a go at that. He was pretty disappointed, but I assured him that we'd be back soon. It's hard to believe that the kid who was terrified of jumping off my parents' dinky diving board a year ago actually wants to throw himself off a 15-18 ft. platform into a deep pool of water. More power to him!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Day 23: Springfield

Today was the day that I officially began my get back in shape campaign. I was actually able to jog for 15-20 minutes without stopping. I went incredibly slow and I'm sure I looked horrible but at least I'm finally getting started. I even got some more exercise when we rode our bikes a couple of miles to a park for a picnic lunch. I guess the three hours we spent at an indoor pool also counts as exercise. So, a day of rest tomorrow will be well deserved!

I don't think we needed to go anywhere, though, for the kids to have fun. The highlight of their day seemed to be their after-dinner play. It was over 90 degrees, so the three older boys asked if they could spray each other with the front yard hose. Elli got into the action, too, once she finally finished her dinner and there was much squealing, shrieking, and giggling as they took turns spraying each other. No one was safe from the hose. My kids had enormous fun chasing me when I came outside to check on them. Quite a price to pay for being concerned about them. The real fun began after Elli came inside, though. Jonah and Gage discovered a mound of wet yellow chalk and they started smacking each other on the back with handfuls of it. It was all downhill from there. When I came outside about 15 minutes later, Jonah's entire face was purple, Gage's was green, and Connor had artfully painted his face several different colors. All three of their shirts and shorts were covered with multi-colored handprints. They even got little Ian involved in the fun by putting big handprints of chalk on the back of his diaper. All this pandemonium under the watchful eyes of their grandparents. Jonah said it was the best night of his life, so I guess I shouldn't complain. Or maybe I should if nothing we've done with him compares to smearing wet chalk all over his face and clothes.

Day 22: Springfield

As I write this post, my kids and their cousin, Gage, are sitting next to each other on the couch playing their DS Lites. Seemed like an opportune moment to capitalize on the silence and write a couple of blog entries. The last couple of days have been pretty hectic and I've been too tired to write in the evenings.

Today we decided to get out of the house early to give Fred, my father-in-law, a chance to sleep in a quiet house. He works nights in a sleep lab and he arrived home at 7:30 am after his fourth night of work in five days. We packed all 5 cousins into my sister-in-law Shelley's car and Ron and I followed in ours. After switching the seating arrangements so that no siblings were next to each other, we were on our way to Belknap Springs and hopefully to the lava fields on McKenzie Pass. The rumor that the road to the lava fields was closed due to construction proved true, so we couldn't complete that leg of our journey. The Belknap Springs Resort was worth the drive, though. The gardens at the resort were beautiful and it was an idyllic location for a picnic lunch. The kids even got to burn some energy hiking around. We made another stop at one of the waterfalls on the McKenzie River before heading back to Springfield. The water at the falls was an unbelievable shade of pale aqua blue. It was practically fluorescent. The force of the falls was so great that you could feel the mist hundreds of feet away--Elli actually complained about getting wet in the 90 degree heat.

The highlight of the day, though, had to be taking the three older boys to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince late in the day. The kids have been playing Harry Potter almost non-stop since we arrived in Springfield. Fred and Mimi have a great collection of chopsticks that have been doing double duty as wands all week. We all enjoyed the movie and I recommend it to all Harry Potter fans. Definitely worth the money. Elli has definitely been bitten by the Harry Potter bug, too, so I'm going to start reading the series to her while we're here. Maybe we'll be finished with all 7 by the time the next movie opens in Nov. 2010 so she can see that one in the theatre...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Jonah, put the dress back on the doll." Really? Already?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Day 21: Springfield

With this post, I am officially caught up with my travel blog. If I wasn't so hell bent on documenting our trip, I would've given up on this thing two weeks ago. Making myself write every day is hard. Not sure how I'm going to do on my sabbatical since writing is pretty much my sabbatical project. I suppose this blog will help me get into writing shape, right? Maybe?

Anyway, we ventured to another park today in pursuit of Ron's quest for a decent Little League field. He remains unfulfilled, but there was a serviceable field for hitting grounders to Jonah and Gage. They both did well and I think Jonah's skills had time to consolidate without daily practice on our trip. He looks smooth fielding the ball and seems to have lost his fear of being hit. Not sure how that happened with riding in the car and playing video games for 9 days straight. Go figure.

We also played some tennis at the park and my nephews, Connor and Gage, discovered that they enjoy the sport. We'll have to try and play again before they all leave on Saturday.

Mimi treated the kids to a movie night by renting Madagascar 2, so we had a relatively quiet evening. With 5 kids age 2-10 in the house, the emphasis is clearly on the "relatively" in that sentence, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Now we have to come up with something fun to do out of the house tomorrow morning so that Fred can sleep after his fourth night of work at the sleep lab. We'll see how that goes...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day 20: Springfield

Today was mine and Ron's first full day in Springfield. The kids have been enjoying themselves since Thursday, though, and seem to be fully settled at their grandparents' house. Elli is even being less picky about food than she has been over the past few weeks.

After sleeping in a bit and eating a leisurely breakfast, we decided to embark on a 13 mile round trip bike ride with all the kids to Skinner Butte, the site of Elli's ill-fated birthday party. Being back on my bike was simultaneously exhilarating and painful. I think Shelley, my sister-in-law, was equally sore after the ride, since neither one of us has done any significant riding lately. The kids had a grand time on the unique play structure at Skinner Butte and playing in the sand and water feature. Water trickled down from an artificial rock formation into a large sand/dirt area that covered replica fossils from different geologic eras in Eugene. Many dams were erected and destroyed and river meanderings manipulated in a short span of time. I was hardly the only adult shoveling sand to ford the river.

We finally returned home around 3 pm to make a late lunch. I was amazed that neither of my kids had a low blood sugar meltdown on the ride home. Jonah was a little extra weepy when he slammed too hard on his top tube, but he managed to recover and ride the rest of the way home. At dinner, Elli discovered a couple of new foods that she enjoys when she ate enchiladas filled with zucchini, green onions, and ricotta. Jonah would have enjoyed them, too, if he had closed his eyes and not seen the zucchini. He is convinced that he can taste zucchini (which is definitely not a plus in his book) no matter how small the pieces or how many other foods are present. He eventually ate the enchiladas once I removed all the "big" pieces of zucchini. He better figure out a way to eat them quick because they are going to make regular appearances at dinner now that he's officially outnumbered 3-1 in the enjoyment of zucchini department. My mom didn't stop cooking those frozen veggie medleys just because I wanted to vomit whenever a lima bean even passed under my nose, so he's going to have to endure zucchini. I guess you could call it the hazing of parenthood. I'm sure he'll exact his revenge on my grandkids someday and the cycle will continue.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Day 19: Portland to Springfield

Ron and I miraculously woke up hangover free this morning. Not sure how we managed that after a 10 hour day of drinking, but I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth (ok, I probably am, but I didn't today). Our drive back to Springfield for Elli's birthday party was a lot easier than I anticipated. Turns out that was about the only thing that was easier than expected today.

Our plan was to have the party outside at a cool Eugene park called Skinner Butte. Fabulous play ground with a sprinkler, lots of grass, and picnic tables. But no covered shelter. The weather was threatening, but the future weather map on looked promising. So, Ron and I drove over to the park to set up after the sprinkles passed by. Or so we thought. As we scoped out the park in the rain, we decided to buy a 10 x 10 shelter from a nearby REI. That's when everything went from bad to worse. The kids were riding their bikes to the park with their grandparents and got caught in a thunderstorm about a mile into their ride and sought shelter under an overpass. They eventually turned back to warm up and change into dry clothers. At our location, the thunder rumbled, the rain intensified and the power flickered in the REI. My sense of foreboding seriously deepened at this point. Ron's phone was ringing off the hook with different family members and friends asking what our rain plan was. I am a compulsive planner who inexplicably did not have a rain plan for her daughter's outdoor birthday party and I felt physically ill about it.

With our new rain shelter in hand, we drove back to the park to make a final decision. Ron's cousin, Lynnea, and her family were sitting in the parking lot during the torrential downpour waiting for us. That's when Ron had the great idea of asking Lynnea, who lives locally, if she knew of any indoor play areas. She and her husband quickly suggested Papa's Pizza which didn't require reservations days in advance or a room rental fee. A couple of phone calls later, the party was moved to Papa's Pizza and I didn't continue feeling like an inept mother. The kids wound up having just as much fun at the indoor play space and they got pizza to boot. Elli seemed to barely notice the change of venue and it was just as easy to catch up with friends and family at the pizza place as it would have been at the park.

After the party we headed back to Fred and Mimi's to visit with Adam and Hannah a bit more. Adam is leaving for a 2 month trip to China in a couple of days, so today was our last day to see him. I'm glad we got to spend a lot of time together before his trip. It was probably the most time we've had than any of our previous visits to Oregon. Yet another reason I'm so glad we threw caution to the wind and drove cross-country for the summer.

Day 18: Portland

Today was Mike (a friend from college) and Danielle's wedding on Sauvie Island in Portland. The weather was a little overcast and cool for the ceremony, but it certainly didn't distract from the simple beauty and poignancy of the short service. Although the wine bottles were uncorked and the kegs tapped before the service began, serious celebration began after the "I do's" as the sun worked its way out from behind the clouds. I resisted temptation to begin drinking before noon and slowly sipped a lemonade or two until my hangover officially disappeared. Then I set to work on acquiring a new one.

It was one of the most relaxed weddings I've been to with folks playing bocce ball and corn hole in the sun while kids ran around chasing bubbles and model airplanes. Ron and I even enjoyed a hammock in the middle of an apple and pear orchard for almost too long. At about 4 o'clock the reception wound down and we waited our turn for the shuttle to the after party at the bride and groom's house. This second wedding party lasted as long as the reception and was just as laid back and fun.

After a couple of hours at the after party, we realized our designated driver plan wasn't working out, so Adam, Hannah, Ron, and I took a cab back to Adam's place via his favorite donut joint. The cabbie didn't mind the detour since the meter was ticking and Adam bought him a donut, too. I guess I shouldn't complain because all the sugar, grease, and lard probably helped soak up all the alcohol in my system and prevented a hangover the next day. It's fun to act 22 every now and then.

Day 17: Springfield to Portland

Ron and I got back in the car headed for Portland and our friend Mike's wedding, but before we left, I did some shopping for Elli's birthday party with my father-in-law. The drive up to Portland was traffic filled and rather frustrating. By the time we picked up Adam, too, we were half an hour late to the pre-wedding party at Mike's house. Our timing was actually pretty perfect, though, as they had just started serving dinner when we arrived. Dinner was a southern feast called Frogmore Stew. A whole mess of shrimp, sausage, corn cobs, and red potatoes strewn on a huge sheet of brown paper on a table. A new and very tasty dining experience. We got to catch up with a few friends from college whom we hadn't seen in years and then met up with our friend Dani again. It was lots of fun that my head wound up regretting a bit in the morning. At least it's a morning wedding, so I could recover with some hair of the dog. But, I'll cover the wedding in the next entry...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Brian, James, Mike and Adam tonight. Good times.
Saw Luke, Phil,

Friday, July 10, 2009

Day 16: Portland, OR to Springfield, OR

Today was Elli's 5th birthday! She has been counting the days until her birthday for weeks, so she was beside herself with excitement that the day FINALLY arrived. While Elli watched tv with her cousins, I re-packed all our bags and then started making a big brunch feast, as per Elli's birthday request. I made her favorite: pancakes and sausage links. I also made home fries and scrambled eggs, but Elli didn't eat any of that. Adam and Hannah came over for the meal, too, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Elli opened some presents, including a digital camera from me, Ron, and Jonah, and then was sad that she didn't have more to open. Luckily, I was able to distract her with a demonstration of how her new camera worked. Look, shiny! She quickly started to snap everyone's picture and then admire the shot on the LCD screen. Crisis averted for the time being.

Once we all recovered from our post-brunch food coma, we re-loaded the car and headed down to Springfield. I thought the drive was pretty uneventful, but Ron was quite frustrated with drivers camping out in the left lane. It seems that Oregon drivers aren't aware that the left lane is for passing slower cars on the right. If my nephew, Gage, had been in the car, he would have been treated to several examples of Uncle Ron shaking his fist and yelling at other drivers, just like he did in New York City a few years ago when the Hammonds visited.

It felt fantastic to completely unload the car and unpack our belongings when we arrived at my father in law's house. Mimi and Fred have generously opened their home to us for the rest of our stay in Oregon. We won't actually be here for the whole 6+ weeks, but it will be our home base for all the short trips we have planned. In fact, our first short trip starts tomorrow. Ron and I will be heading back to Portland for a wedding, but the kids will be staying here with Mimi and Fred.

I think the kids were also happy to arrive in Springfield. We picked up Jonah's bike from the local bike shop where we shipped it to and he rode it up and down the street for about an hour. He even met one of the kids on the street, so he has a new friend already. We set up Elli's ride along on Mimi's bike and she already can't enough of riding, too. I hope they'll be just as enthusiastic about bike riding after all the riding they're likely to do this weekend with their grandparents!

Day 15: Portland, OR

We had a slow start to the day as I uploaded pictures to Flickr and tried to catch up on this blog (something I'm still trying to do, in fact). We eventually got everyone dressed and out the door to Clackamas Town Center to get studio portraits of all 5 cousins together.

We were a little late to the Picture People because our GPS let us down with crappy directions to Adam's apartment. We drove at least 10 blocks out of the way to get on the interstate when we could have just driven straight through on a city street. Sure, you can drive faster on the interstate but it's not much of a time savings if you have to drive in circles to get on it.

The photo session was a little trying for the photographer, at least at first. Ian eventually decided to cooperate for a few shots, but he ran out of patience pretty quickly. Can't say I blame him. It's not all that fun to be placed in unnatural and sometimes uncomfortable positions and then told to smile naturally. My two kids didn't seem to have any trouble, though, when we got a bunch of shots of them using the rest of our poses for the session. After they sat for about 10 different poses, Elli said "That was fun!"

We did get some really nice shots and I was sorely tempted to buy one of those already framed large prints they bring out when you review the poses. This one was a black and white 15 x 18 in a beautiful honey maple frame. They try to rope you in with a line like "this framed photo is regularly $145, but if you buy 3 photo sheets, it's only $45!". I seriously doubt anyone just buys that framed photo and nothing else, so they probably just make up that number for the "regular" price. After all, lots of people probably think "I'm getting a $100 discount! That's a steal, so I have to get it! And my kids look so cute! If I don't buy it, they're just going to be put in the shredder!" And, I'm ashamed to admit, those thoughts were going through my head, but cooler heads (my husband's, in this unusual case) prevailed. In hindsight, I think they over-reached with the $100 discount. I might have been convinced with a $30 or $40 discount, but I just don't see how they profit with a $100 discount. They strained credibility just enough for me to pass on their incredible deal. Maybe that's just me, though.

Day 14: Portland, OR

Our first non-traveling day started out pretty leisurely. We relaxed in our jammies for a couple of hours and then took the kids to the pool for a quick pre-lunch swim. I wasn't the least bit tempted since the outdoor temperature wasn't even 70, but I think kids have different pool weather criteria. After lunch, we drove over to Mt. Tabor Park in Portland to meet up with some family friends and my brother, Adam. Mt. Tabor is a dormant volcano right in the middle of Portland. The views would have been spectacular if it had been less hazy, but it was still very pleasant to walk around and watch the kids play on the playground. The best moment of the day came when Adam brought out a carton of raspberries for the kids. He placed it on the picnic table and the 5 kids descended like a swarm of locusts. When they parted 1 minute later, the raspberries were gone. Nice to see that kind of enthusiasm for fresh fruit.

We wrapped up the day with a spaghetti dinner at my mother in law's condo and then Ron, Adam, and I headed out to a bar to meet up with our friends Dani and Chris and Adam's girlfriend, Hannah. Good beer and good company made for a fun night!

Day 13: Missoula, MT to Portland, OR

We tried to get a relatively early start today to have a reasonable arrival time in Portland. We contemplated taking the scenic route through Montana and into Idaho, but decided that speed was going to win out over beauty. I thought the interstate had its fair share of scenic vistas, but what do I know. Where we live, 3500 feet is tall for a mountain. Anything higher just looks spectacular to me!

We made pretty good time to Pullman, WA where we stopped for lunch with a friend of Ron's from high school, Jodi. Our kids and Jodi's kids, Ruby (age 7) and Arlo (age 4) took a little while to warm up, but once they did, they had a grand time playing together. When we were leaving, Ruby asked when she was going to see us again. Too cute!

We continued to make good time and stopped for dinner at a Burgerville, USA in The Dalles, OR. Ron thought the rest of the drive took forever even though it was only about another hour and a half. I guess when you've been traveling for so long and your destination is so close, time slows down.

It was sweet relief to unload at my mother in law's condo and the kids quickly fell into play mode with their cousins, Connor, Gage, and Ian. We let the kids run around for a while and finally got them to sleep at about 10:30 pm. Sleep followed quickly for us as we looked forward to no long drives for several weeks!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Attention Oregon drivers: Slow moving vehicles move to the right.
Successfully reloaded car for trip to Eugene. Bye for now to Portland.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Just had a nice mtn bike ride on Powell Butte.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Arrived safely in PDX. Woohoo!
Crossing OR
Had a great visit with Jodi, Ruby & Arlo. Next stop Oregon.
In Moscow, ID about to cross into Washington.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Day 12: Missoula, MT

The weather was so beautiful last night, and we were so tired, that we opted not to put on the tent's rain fly. At about 7:20 am, we deeply regretted that decision when the automatic sprinkler system turned at Rob's friend's house. We managed to place our tent in the confluence of 3 sprinkler heads, so there were puddles of water inside our tent in mere seconds. Quite an alarm clock. Ron, Jonah, and I started laughing pretty quickly at the situation but a crying Elli couldn't understand why water was going through the tent. After a few minutes of drying off on the back porch she started to giggle about Mommy and Daddy foolishly trying to throw on the rain fly after the sprinklers started. We laid everything out to dry in the sun and grabbed some breakfast with Rob at a coffee shop in Missoula. Elli had about 3 bites of an outrageously delicious blackberry and blueberry fruit tart, so I got to enjoy her breakfast as well as mine.

We then ventured to a Barnes and Noble and had the kids pick out a pile of their favorite books for Addie while Ron and I followed the Wimbledon men's final on our phones. We couldn't figure out a place to watch the rest of the match, so we drove to a cool park near Rob and Chelle's house to let the kids play while we watched score updates. The park had a huge wooden play structure and several play water fountains so we stayed put for about 4 hours. We had a picnic lunch and the kids played and played and played. It was a very relaxing day and Ron and I relished sitting still and just watching our kids.

We eventually headed back to Rob and Chelle's house for dinner. I was very proud of Jonah for trying elk meat for the first time (a first for me, too). It was really good and I traveled even further down the non-vegetarian path. I'll have ample opportunity to repent when we stay with Fred and Mimi, though.

We opted for a hotel room tonight and headed there late in the evening to rest before our final push to Portand tomorrow. One more long day of driving!

Day 11: Ennis, MT to Missoula, MT

We had plans to watch the 4th of July parade in Ennis this morning, but we couldn't manage to get ready in time for the 10 am parade. I think the previous day's driving was too much for all of us and we needed to rest a bit. The kids had fun visiting with Pat, their great-grandmother, who they were meeting face to face for the first time. After a late breakfast, we walked into downtown Ennis and caught the tail end of the parade. There were still many people milling around and the atmosphere was truly festive. Lots of red, white, and blue everywhere and many adult beverages were being consumed before noon time. Ron enjoyed reminiscing about the changes in the downtown area since he was a kid and briefly lived in Ennis. We eventually made our way to the town park where the kids played for a little while and then we headed back to Pat and Bev's (Ron's aunt).

We visited with Pat and Bev as we ate lunch and then decided to visit the cemetery to pay our respects at a few family graves. Ron's grandparents and stepfather, Roger (Pat's son), are buried there so we took some pictures for his mom. Then, we got back in the car for the 3 hour drive to Missoula to visit our friends Rob and Chelle and their newborn daughter, Addie.

We opted for the direct route to Missoula, so our drive was pretty uneventful. It didn't even rain that much! We arrived around dinner time and ordered some pizzas. The kids were pretty happy with a short drive and they loved seeing baby Addie. After visiting for a few hours, Rob escorted us to his friend's backyard where we planned to camp for the night. We were all so exhausted that we all feel asleep easily in spite of the fireworks people were still setting off.

Day 10: Devil's Tower, WY to Ennis, MT

After a hearty breakfast at the KOA campground restaurant, we drove up to the park visitor center to hike around the base of Devil's Tower. The weather was clear and cool and there were not many tourists there yet. The Tower has spiritual significance for so many tribes, it seems appropriate to view it in the silence of nature without the tour bus throngs who arrived at the end of our hike. The monolithic structure deserves some awed reverence. I can't recommend visiting Devil's Tower enough. It was truly awe-inspiring.

I called Ron and Jonah down from their climb on the boulder field at the base of Devil's Tower to begin our long drive. We took the more scenic, but slower, route through Wyoming so that we could drive through Yellowstone National Park. The landscape was unbelievable. We climbed to almost 10, 000 feet through yet another driving rain storm and saw piles of snow still dotting the roadside. The descent gave us breathtaking views of a vast canyon and valley. We also came a split second within a close encounter with a moose. We were minding our own business at 65 miles per hour when a moose stepped right in front of us. Luckily, he decided to run and got out of our way just in the nick of time. Of course, Jonah was watching a movie and Elli was drawing, so they both missed it. We immediately ordered them to put everything away and look out the window. They both took many pictures as we drove from that point onward and didn't seem to miss their entertainment devices at all.

After hours of driving, we finally arrived at Yellowstone's East Entrance in the late afternoon/early evening. True to form, it rained for most of the drive through the park. We still had incredible views of the lakes, mountains, and forests, though. We stopped for dinner at one of the general stores in the park and ate quickly to make it to Old Faithful before sunset. The weather gods did not disappoint. As we drove up to Old Faithful, the rain stopped and the geyser started shooting water a hundred feet in the air. We caught almost the whole eruption as we ran from the parking lot. Our timing really couldn't have been more perfect.

We enjoyed some ice cream in the Old Faithful lodge before driving on to the Fountain Paint Pots. The bubbling orange, pink and blue mud makes you feel like you're on another planet. The rain had moved through, so we were treated to another amazing sunset which I managed to capture reasonably well on film.

After our speedy tour of the paint pots, we got back in the car for the almost 3 hour drive to Ennis, MT. We rolled in at about 11 pm and transferred the sleeping kids into beds. Another exhausting, but beautiful, drive was behind us.

Day 9: Badlands, SD to Mt. Rushmore, SD to Devil's Tower, WY

The weather gods seem to be with us on this trip. It rained during the night, but early enough that our rain fly was mostly dry when we were breaking camp. The weather held while the kids and I did a little hiking and Ron rode his bike on the dirt roads of the Badlands Park. The weather was hot enough that ice cream at Wall Drug was the perfect remedy. As we were driving the Mt. Rushmore, though, the skies opened up. The rain was so intense, I didn't even notice the rock tunnel I drove us through. We found a local burger joint and ate excellent food while the storm blew through. The rain slowed to a spit when we finished and we were able to have clear views of Mt. Rushmore. The sun was even shining as we hiked around the monument. The sculpture was impressive (the heads are scaled for 150 foot people), although it wasn't as big as I was expecting. Ron particularly enjoyed the museum displays, but the kids reached their limit faster than he could read, so we moved on.

Our next stop was Devil's Tower and I was again concerned about weather on our drive. The rain cleared up as we approached the park and we were treated to clear skies and a glorious sunset in view of the tower. We camped in full view of the Tower and did an evening hike partway up to the Tower base. It was a little longer than anticipated and Elli got a little scared high up on the hill in the dusky light. She slowed to a virtual crawl and Ron had to carry her down on his shoulders so we weren't stuck up there in total darkness. The angles of the leaf-less tree limbs did look a bit ominous, so I couldn't blame her.

We were treated to an engaging program by one of the park rangers before bed and all four of us slept soundly all night. In fact, it was the best night's sleep I've had on the trip so far!

Day 8: Worthington, MN to Badlands, SD

We tried to get an early start today to make up for the relative lack of progress the day before and we were generally successful. We made it to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD around lunchtime. Ron wasn't too thrilled about stopping there, but he was outnumbered. The corn murals on the outside and inside the building were quite impressive. Amazing what a creative mind can do with different colors of corn. The folks at the Corn Palace couldn't pass up the opportunities for "corn-y" humor, so puns were plentiful throughout the Palace and the town. In fact, South Dakota struck us as a state seriously lacking in subtlety. Cheesy billboards plastered the highway in an awkward juxtaposition with the natural beauty all around.

Our plan was to camp at the Badlands National Park that night, but I was worried that our plan would be thwarted by severe thunderstorms. The park ranger assured us that the threat of rain was minimal, so we started setting up camp around 5 pm.

I'm not a gifted enough wordsmith to be able to describe the absolutely stunning landscape of the Badlands, so I posted a couple of pictures instead. The campground was pretty nice and the kids were excited to do a little hiking around and to sleep in the tent. The rainstorm in the middle of the night didn't wake either of them up, but it kept me up since I had just been comforting Elli through a mild night terror. Once the rain stopped, I ventured out of the tent to find the bathroom. Without a flashlight or my glasses. I don't recommend this, given the high likelihood of stepping in a big mud puddle and/or walking straight into someone else's tent. Fortunately, I only did the former and not the latter. The experience got my adrenaline pumping enough that I couldn't sleep for another 30 minutes. The birds chirping EARLY in the a.m. guaranteed that I was not going to be well-rested for the next day. And to think I had been concerned about the caged parrot in the adjacent campsite keeping me up before I went to bed...

Day 7: Chicago, IL to Worthington, MN

We had a relaxing morning in Chicago today to recover from the long drive a couple of days ago. Ron did a little shopping on the Miracle Mile to get some binoculars and pick up a new inverter for charging the computers in the car. Re-packing the car took a while, too, so we didn't get on the road until about noon.

The drive through Illinois and into Wisconsin was pretty uneventful. As we approached Madison, we decided to alter our route and take the scenic byway along the Mississippi (yes, I just sang the song in my head to spell that correctly) River from Prairie du Chien to La Crosse, WI. The route took us the long way through the state on non-interstate roads. It was a beautiful drive with dramatic bluffs along the side of the road, so the detour was worth it.

One of my goals for the trip was to follow a road sign to an obscure tourist attraction and it was fulfilled today. We stopped at "Little Norway" to see a collection of authentic Norse buildings. We didn't splurge for the guided tour, but we browsed in the gift shop and bought some authentic Norwegian chocolate to snack on in the car.

Our second spontaneous stop was not as successful. We thought the bluffs overlooking the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers would be breathtaking, but it was actually pretty ho-hum and took us about half an hour out of the way. We finally made it to La Crosse, WI for a late dinner at a family restaurant (can't remember the name right now) and then settled the kids in for several more hours of driving. We didn't reach our goal of Sioux Falls, SD, but we made it a couple of hours shy to Worthington, MN. A tiring, but scenic, day of driving.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Made it safely to Ennis, MT last night after seeing Badlands, Rushmore, Devil's Tower & Yellowstone in 2 days.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Farts are funny

Thursday, July 2, 2009

At Wall Drug. First Wi-Fi in awhile. Headed to Mt. Rushmore then Devil's Tower to camp.
At Wall Drug. First Wi-Fi in awhile. Headed to Mt. Rushmore then Devil's Tower to camp.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Just crossed the Missouri:
Out voted 3-1, going to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD
Just passed the world's largest sculpture of a bull's head. Didn't stop because then we might have to pass on seeing the beautiful "ear-chitecture" of the Corn Palace in Mitchell SD.
Just entered South Dakota, the first red state of our trip.
Attempting to link Twitter, Blogger and Facebook to my phone for simultaneous updates