Monday, December 28, 2009

Images of Christmas 2009

We are back in Arizona, but we have so many images of our two+ weeks in Colorado for Christmas.

Kylie, her mom Liz and I went to High Tea at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. We joined a number of Kylie's friends and their mothers that day. The Brown is The place to go in Denver if you want history and tradition and elegance.

Earlier in the week, John and I spent the morning with our grandchildren while their parents went Christmas shopping.

Kylie and I made Flying Frog Pudding, using a recipe in a book we gave Kylie earlier this year. First we made the green goo (which really tasted just fine), then Kylie served it to us.

No time with the grandchildren would be complete unless they wrestled with their Papa.

Early Christmas morning (we had to leave our motel in time to arrive by 6:30 am), the tree was surrounded by numerous gifts from Santa and from family.

Kylie received a guitar.

John made a hot pad out of beans for his mother.

Eric and Liz are both fans of the Grateful Dead. This monopoly game was one of Eric's gifts.

John is trying to use his Leapster2.

Nana, Papa and Kylie helped John learn how to play the Sorry game he received.

Papa spent about an hour and a half playing Eric's Grateful Dead-Opoly with Kylie. Monopoly really helps 9- and 10-year-olds practice their math with money.

This shows you why we like to spend the winter in Arizona! It was cold in Denver.

This shows you most of the motel room where we lived for 16 days. Small, but adequate with a kitchen, bathroom, bed, and a way to confine the cats when we were away.

The exercise room at the motel helped us keep our perspective and work off the calories during our visit.

The images of our Christmas Eve worship at Bethany Lutheran Church with our son and his wife and their children are in our hearts and minds, but not in the camera. The service was beautiful and meaningful, in a setting decked with lighted trees and numerous red and white poinsettias. That thanksgiving for the birth of Jesus Christ, Our Savior, is really what it is all about, isn't it?

Monday, December 21, 2009

How Much Space Is Enough?

How much space is enough? I grew up as an only child with two parents in a 900 square foot house. I enjoyed the large basements found in my friends’ homes, but I never felt we didn’t have enough space.

After I lived four years in a college dorm, John and I were married and rented a small apartment. A couple of years later we bought a mobile home, 12’ by 60’, or 720 square feet. Then we bought a house that was 1200 square feet, with a 1200 square foot basement. The last home we lived in was 1800 square feet, plus a basement.

Now we live in an RV that is 336 square feet. There are two adults and two cats in the RV; our children are grown and gone and we don’t have company for dinner or overnight.

When we were moving into larger homes, lots of people were building homes with 3000 to 4500 square feet. In some areas of Denver, homes are 10,000 square feet and more. How much space is enough?

When I was growing up, my grandmother lived in a couple of different studio apartments. In the 1930s my parents lived in apartments that I imagine were also studios. I feel like maybe we have been transported to those times. We are spending two weeks in a Homestead Suites studio unit. We have a double bed, one chair, a kitchen with a 2-burner stovetop, a microwave, a sink and refrigerator and a counter with two bar stools, and a bathroom. Oh yes, we also have a closet. The place measures 12 x 21 ft.—252 square feet.

There is a sign advertising move-in specials of $699 per month. When I was in the office, I heard a man asking the staff is he was the longest tenant. They said, no, the longest stayed 5 years. I can’t imagine that. But it made me think about where my grandmother and my parents lived. Today (or maybe 2 years ago, before the recession) young married couples expected to buy a house with 2400 to 3000 square feet very early in life. But do we really need all that space? As our children grew up, we found the best family times were when we stayed in a small cabin with 1 or 2 bedrooms and one large room. We all really enjoyed one another when we couldn’t each go into our own private space.

When we began RVing, we had to simplify. For these two weeks, we are doing it even more. And do you know what? It isn’t that bad. We have enough to eat. Enough to keep us busy. Because we don’t have a DVR or 80 to 100 TV channels, we talk to each other more. This life isn’t what we want all the time, but it is enough, for now. I look at it and think it would be enough for students at local colleges, for people in the first year or two of working after school. Where else could a single person rent a place in the greater Denver area for $699? The simple life isn’t that bad, is it?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

More of Our Grandchildren

During the last two days we have seen more of our grandchildren. Friday we drove to John's preschool, The Willows, by 8:30 am, to listen to his Christmas concert. During the last week before Christmas vacation, the boys and girls at the Willows sing Christmas and Hanukkah song for family and friends. This is the same preschool his big sister Kylie attended, so we have come here in years past.

It is really fun to come year after year and see how the children mature. John and his best friend, Patrick, are always together. Patrick lives across the street from John and they had the same nanny for 2 years or more. This is a photo from the last song they sang, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." John is waving good-bye. Patrick is to his right.

All of the children in the preschool take part in the concert. The preschool allows religious expression, including singing grace before lunch. So many of the songs in the holiday concert are religious. In today's world, that is refreshing. Here is a picture of the whole group.

Today we watched Kylie in a swim meet. She is really good. This is a picture of the board showing that the swimmer in Lane 4, Kylie, took first place in the 200 meter freestyle race, in 1 minute, 23.71 seconds.

A sign of her drive and confidence is the words she had written on her back:

The swimmers all write the event number, heat number and lane on their arms. Kylie added that challenge to her back.

Kylie plays soccer, basketball, as well as swimming and tennis. She is really strong and you can see her muscles when she wears a swim suit. Look at those shoulders!

Notice how John is paying rapt attention to the words of wisdom his dad is sharing with Kylie.

We've had two more great days of grandparent time--one of the main reasons for being in Colorado.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Visit to Santa

A big reason for our time in Colorado this month is to have time with our family. Sunday we repeated a Christmas tradition by going to the Colorado Railroad Museum with Eric, Liz, Kylie and John. We, of course, rode the Santa Train. Several times each year the museum fires up steam engine #346 to give visitors a ride around the grounds. We really enjoy taking advantage of the opportunity each December.

This is a view of the train from our open observation car.

This is taken of a later trip. We were able to watch the train as we waited in the line for Kylie and John to see Santa.

Here is a picture of the three men of the family taking the trip.

And here are the women.

The day was cold with a brisk breeze. We were thankful for our winter coats.

After buying some lunch, we waited for Santa and Mrs. Claus to return from their lunch. Kylie and John each told Santa what they want for Christmas. One of Kylie's wishes was for a loose tooth to come out. She is 10, John is 4.

Since this visit is a tradition, each year we visit the same areas of the museum. In the basement there is a large, beautiful model train layout. You can put in a quarter and the train will run. Between the four adults, we only had one quarter. After the train finished running, John asked his papa to put in money again to make the train run. Papa said, "I don't have any more money." To which John replied, "Well, go get some!"

After we watched the garden railroad and the model trains, both children had their faces painted--something new this year. Kylie had a blue whale painted on her cheek.

John chose a spider and web.

When we live on the road, we miss a lot of family time. That makes the experiences and memories of our time with them even sweeter.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Three Generations

Saturday, the third generation of our family graduated from the University of Colorado. In 1936 my mother received a bachelor’s degree in accounting. In 1965 I received a bachelor’s degree in journalism. In 1966 John received a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Saturday, 73 years after his grandmother graduated from CU, our younger son Eric received a master’s degree in online education.

Eric didn’t go straight from high school to four years of college to get his bachelor’s degree. He took several detours and earned it when he was in his 30s. But then he really made us proud by earning his master’s with straight A’s, graduating summa cum laude. We both were close to tears several times as we saw him in his gown and hood.

And when we saw him receive his diploma. The photo is terrible—taken off the jumbo-tron in low light while he was walking, but I had to show it. He had just shaken hands with Bruce Benson, president of CU.

Here Eric is with John and me and his two children, Kylie and John. His wife, Liz, is taking the picture.

The graduation was held in the Colorado Convention Center. Well over 1,000 students received bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees. It was quite a mob scene, but really ran well and was done in less than two hours. Here Eric and I are, trying to leave the building.

In the afternoon we attended a party to celebrate the event at their house. This is the cake they had made for the occasion.

It isn’t every day of the year any of us can look back on the job we did over the years as parents and feel such incredible pride, humility and joy as we did Saturday. It really is all worth it.

We Made It

It was a long, cold trip, but we made it to Colorado from Mesa. Because of a massive winter storm, we had to first go south to go north. We drove south to Tucson, east to Deming, NM, then north to Truth or Consequences, NM.

It isn’t easy finding a motel for two humans and two cats, but we did—the Motel 6 there. After a short night, with cats crawling on us and wandering around to check out the strange environment, I walked next door to McDonalds at 5:30 am for coffee and breakfast. Then we were headed on north.

By the time we passed through Albuquerque, we could see evidence of the previous day’s storm. We can up on this overturned semi in the median.

This shows the blowing snow on the highway.

We have lived all our lives in Colorado (with 3 years in Wisconsin) and have always enjoyed winter. Now we like the warmth of Arizona. But the next day we did get to see the beauty of winter snow, seen in this view of the Sangre de Cristos in southern Colorado.

We spent our second night at another Motel 6 in Raton, NM. Again, there was a McDonalds nearby—thankfully they open earlier than the motels put out the morning coffee at 6 am. However, it was a cold walk at about 14 degrees. We thought about calling our son and telling him we really tried to come to his graduation, but we changed our minds and were going back to Arizona. We thought better of that and drove on to Denver.

Now we are in a pet-friendly motel for 16 days. We hope both the cats and we adjust.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Packing to Go

Yikes! This week we are driving to Colorado for a two-week holiday stay. Since we live in an RV with less than 400 square feet of space, we feel we are living a very simple life—minimalist, almost. Anything we don’t use for a year, we get rid of. We have a place for everything, and everything must be in its place. Otherwise, we don’t have room to do something else.

The flip side is that, every where we go, we take along everything we own. Once before this year we flew to North Carolina for three days. We boarded the cats and lived just fine out of one suitcase.

This time we will be gone about three weeks, when you include our travel time. Some people would cover the 700 miles from Phoenix to Denver in one day. We plan on three days. And we will be traveling with our cats. Taking them with us in the truck is nothing new. Staying in motels for all that time is another matter. We have only done that on one other trip and it wasn’t very fun. And that was 4½ years ago. They are a lot older and more difficult to care for now.

Another issue is what to pack. We have some “dress-up” clothes in storage in Colorado. But what do we need, what can’t we live without and how much do we have room for? We fill the front seat of the truck, the cats take up the rear seat. Whatever we pack needs to go into the tool box in the truck bed or into a plastic tub. One tub will be full of things for the cat—food, medicine, litter, newspaper and plastic to protect the motel floors.

We need to take clothes, computers, our Bibles and prayer books, novels to read, lunch and snacks for at least the first day. We are leaving sunny Arizona, where right now the days are in the 50s and 60s, the nights 30s and 40s, and going to Colorado, with lows in the single digits, highs anywhere from 18 to 40. We need at least one heavy coat each. Normally, that would travel in the trailer. Where does it go now? Thank heavens we mailed all the Christmas gifts, to arrive before we do. We keep reminding ourselves we aren’t going to a wilderness or the North Pole—just a major large city. Anything we need that we don’t pack, we can buy, can’t we?

In past years we have traveled to Europe without our trailer—and we always packed way too much. And that was without computers or cats. This trip is mind boggling. By early tomorrow morning we have to figure it all out.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

RVing Friends

The world of full-time and long-time RVers is relatively small and there aren't a lot of people to share your experiences with who really understand. There are some exceptions. If you stay in an Escapees park, you will find a lot of kindred souls. Sometimes you encounter them in work camping assignments. In any RV or state park where we stay, we meet others and it is possible to have an active engagement with those people. For some RVers, an evening campfire with anyone and everyone in the park is just their cup of tea. But it isn't ours. So this life could be lonely.

After we had been on the road for many months, several years in a row, we discovered, a web site with links to many RV blogs by RVers, sharing their lifestyle. It provided us a way to read about the trials, tribulations and multitudes of rewards of the life we were living, too. We started reading those blogs regularly and after a while some of the people seem like old friends. We see their photo at the top of the blog and read about their life, get to look at pictures of their adventures. It seems like we know them.

Well, today, for the first time, we met a couple who we have been reading about for 18 months or longer. Since September Ron and Barbara have been traveling in the same states we have and once, we learned later from reading each other's blogs, we were parked within a few miles of one another in the southern tip of Nevada. They winter in the Phoenix Valley of the Sun and that is where we will be all winter, as well. It was high time we met them.

It has taken about three to four weeks to make it happen, but today we had lunch together at a Garcia's Restaurant in Mesa. We instantly recognized each other, since we "see" each other every time we read a blog. And we talked non-stop for nearly three hours. What fun!

John took a picture of Barbara, Ron and me in front of the restaurant after lunch. We looked for someone to take a picture of all four of us, but we had talked for so long after lunch, not a single wait staff member could be found.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Copper Spike Railroad

Sunday we took another train ride, this one on the Copper Spike Railroad from the old town of Globe to the new (at least relatively) Apache Gold Casino in San Carlos. Globe is a historic mining town east of Mesa. First they mined silver there and the story goes they found a large ball or globe or glob of silver, so they named the town Globe. The vein of silver soon played out, but they found a lot of copper and the town grew. As a matter of fact, they are still mining copper there, as well as in several other places in Arizona. This is a view of one of the mines.

We arrived in Globe just before 11 a.m. and found that the next train left at 11:30. We bought our tickets, then a volunteer offered to open the Globe museum next door for us and another couple. Globe has been refurbishing its historic sites and the museum is nicely done, if small. The historic train depot has been restored and opened in January. This is the second winter season for the tourist train.

The folks who own the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, which has a train from Alamosa to La Veta in Colorado, also own the Copper Spike. In 2006 we rode the San Luis Express in Colorado a week after it began operation. You can read about that trip in my blog:
We rode it again in July 2007. This summer we watched the train pull into La Veta and saw a young man being trained to be a conductor. To our surprise, he was the conductor on our Sunday ride. Here you see the photo John took of him in La Veta and my photo of him and the car attendant on Sunday.

The Copper Spike makes four round trips a day between Globe and Apache Gold. Sunday was cool and rainy, with some hail mixed in at times. As we drove into Globe, we saw this wonderful rainbow.

By the time we boarded the train, the sun came out, but maybe the weather was the reason there were only four other passengers on our trip out of Globe. We were the only passengers returning from the casino. We could have gotten off there, stayed a while, and returned on a later train, but we didn't. Our interest was in the train, not the casino.

The Copper Spike has some neat old cars. First we visited the vista dome car.

We walked through the dining car.

Then we settled in the club car, where we later bought some popcorn. This is the view out the window of the back door in the club car.

It was a fun way to spend our Sunday outing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Life in a 55+ Resort

What’s it like to live in a community like Valle del Oro? There are 1761 spaces at VDO for RVs and park models--a community of up to 3600 people, plus those who come in to work. And everyone who lives here has come to play. We’re all in our second childhood.

The tennis courts are busy during all the daylight hours and sometimes at night. The softball field has games on Mondays and practice several times a week, with both a men’s team and a women’s. The streets are busy, and getting busier every day, with cars, bikes, golf carts and walkers. Almost everyone has either a bike of a golf cart. Most are very ordinary, but this is my favorite golf cart.

It is safe to go out for a walk or bike ride after dark because those driving cars look out for others. Everyone says hi when they pass you. Often people on their porch or patio say hi as you pass by. Any evening you go out you see people having company for dinner or cocktails.

We just received an “Itinerary to Fun,” which has nine pages in 8 or 9 point type listing classes, clinics, workshop, games, cards, clubs, groups, health and fitness and recreation activities. There are 12 rooms set aside for games and crafts, a woodworking room and a tool shed housing saw horses, shovels, wheel barrows, ladders and other items the people in RVs and park models might need to use once in a while but not travel with. There are two swimming pools, a large shuffleboard court, horseshoe pits, croquet/bocce ball area, golf driving cage, and a garden scale railroad.

The daily schedule for Mondays lists aquacise, aerobics/dance, ballroom dance, Bible study, bicycle rides, bike club, billiard lessons, bingo, book club, bridge, ceramics, Church Family Home Event, coffee on the Patio, computer groups, croquet, dancercise, family home evening, flex/stretch, Friends of Bill W, garden railroad, hardanger class, hiking club, jam session, lallygabbers, lapidary, leathercraft, line dance, lost wax, Mah Jongg, massage therapy, Mexican Train dominoes, painting, poker, pottery, prophet makers, sewing, shuffleboard, silversmith shop, singles group, snack bar, softball practice, stained glass, sunshine committee, tool shed, VDO artist guild, walk aerobics, water exercise, water volleyball, woodshop, woodworking and yoga. Whew!

One concern we had when we came here was that our neighbors would have expectations that we participate in community events. There are so many things to do here, no one knows if you are doing something or not. There is everything you might possibly want to do and no need to do anything you aren’t interested in. We walk, run and bike here at VDO. We hike by ourselves and take in sites in the greater Phoenix area. And we have all the privacy we want.

We have seen cottontail rabbits and Gambel Quail in our yard and one morning I saw a coyote walking through the park just after dawn. And yet we are in the middle of Arizona's third largest city. What else could you ask for--unless it would be dark skies and a little less activity. As much as we enjoy dark, it is the street lights that make it possible to bike and walk after dark. There are always compromises.

We are really enjoying our stay here as Snow Birds.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Botanic Gardens

Sunday we visited the Phoenix Botanic Gardens. We looked at cactus and other succulent plants till our brains were full and overflowing with images. Unfortunately, that didn't leave much room for facts about what we were seeing.

At the entrance, these three glass sculptures are in amongst the live cactus (cacti--but I don't like that word). They are called Desert Towers.

The Gardens are full of many kinds of cactus. We focused mainly on the plants of the Sonoran Desert that surrounds us here. This view shows one of the Papago Buttes near the gardens, as well as a beautiful Saguaro and Organ Pipe.

They even provide facilities to help visitors take their own group photo as the tour. Here you see a platform to hold your camera that is turned to a time-delay exposure. There is even a sign so tourists will remember where they were.

Both Apache and O'odham Native Americans lived in this desert. Below you see an Apache Wickiup (with the canvas cover at the top) and an Akimel O'odham Roundhouse. These houses show how local vegetation was used for housing. Other displays show how they used local plants for food and household items.

Before modern settlers diverted much of the Salt and Gila Rivers for irrigation and drinking water, the desert had a lot more flowing water. These wetlands were full of useful plants and wildlife. This stream and willows or bamboo-like reeds made for a pretty picture.

God has made his creation in such marvelous ways that plants provide their own protection. Some cactus plants are covered with hair to provide their own shade.
This is an Old Man Cactus.

This one was only labeled with its Latin name, so I won't bore you with it.

The spines on cactus protect the plants from animals that might want to eat them for water or food. I think they do a pretty good job of that on this Golden Barrel Cactus, don't you?

Some of the cactus reminded us of snakes, often snakes in heaps.

This one looks like a telephone pole that has sprouted leaves. Really it is from the Ocotillo family and is called a Boojum tree.

If I didn't know better, I would say there were green pine cones covered in snow.

Here John is admiring a Fence Post Cactus. You wouldn't want to push through that fence, would you?

This is one last pretty picture. But I don't know what plant it is.