Where we're heading next:

Home Sweet Home

Quote of the Day

Peanut, "Wow, mom, now we can say we've been to all 50 states! What are we gonna do next?"

28 May 2008

Homeward Bound!

The kids are wiped out. A month is the perfect amount of time for a road trip with kids this age. It was just long enough for them to understand that this was very different from a vacation; it was quite literally life on the road. Another reason it was the perfect amount of time is that now they’ll have some time to absorb their experiences and figure out how to fit them into their own perceptions of our country.

Before boarding the plane, the kids were alight with ideas of home. We’ve heard that Samson has been hiding under the bed since we left and Delilah has gotten skinny, so Peanut is ready to cuddle them out of their depression. Doodle is excited to sleep in her own bed, and I should add she’s already dressed for it, insisting on wearing her princess nightgown to the airport. Little Man can’t wait to play with his best friends again and organize all his stuff. Right now they are all fast asleep, dreaming of who-knows-what.

I’m most excited to see how the kids act out their experiences in the next few weeks before we take off again. Peanut said she lies awake every night thinking about returning to school and giving her class their presents. Oh, to be a fly on the wall!

Southwest Reflections

Our kids have never been interested in playing Cowboys and Indians and we certainly wouldn’t have encouraged it if they had. (We try to channel that kind of energy into Star Wars play, and I could do an entire post on why.) But now Little Man has a new bow with 3 suction cup arrows and he is quite at home. I’d forgotten how much skill is involved in archery and he’s just about mastered his aim. He and Doodle have been running around playing Native Americans in the hotels at night. “Quick, Doodle, go get those bad guys! They’re trying to kill our buffalo!” Doodle will run and attack the curtains while Little Man takes aim at the window. I suppose it’s all part of the processing.

I’m compelled to note that one night in Sedona, I took Peanut out for a couple of hours and when I got back, Grandma had quite a story to tell. Little Man got mad at Doodle and called her a F---ing White Person, something he clearly picked up from the kids on the Navajo reservation. She ignored it, and we’re all crossing our fingers that he doesn’t call someone that at school!

The United States is truly so diverse, both physically and culturally, but the Southwest in particular is stunningly unique and special. Digging around in the dirt and finding itsy-bitsy pieces of Quartz, is a thrill one can only experience, not learn from a book. Seeing Native Americans cultivate anything in such barren land makes one appreciate the Garden of Eden we’re fortunate enough to live in.

Even within the desert there are obvious differences you can only experience by driving day after day. New Mexico is littered with windmills. Colorado has yurts everywhere. Utah has tiny L.D.S. churches with clean bathrooms, even where it seems no one could possibly live much less worship. I’ve always been taken with the miniature chapels dotting the highways and the trains that seem to run for miles, where you can't see the engine or the caboose.

Peanut was particularly taken with the hogans in Arizona. They’re circular shaped houses with a single door that always faces East. It’s like a modern tee pee and is usually the first and final dwelling. When the family is financially able, they build a Western style house and use the hogan as a church or gathering place. But when you get really old or sick you’re actually moved back into the original hogan. When your clock says time is up, your family makes a nice comfy bed on the ground outside the door with a little awning to protect you from the elements. It is here, out in nature where you can finally rest in peace. We were told that the Navajo believe the good goes with you when you die and the bad is left behind. Therefore, should someone die inside a dwelling they’d have to burn it down. No need asking bad spirits to linger!

Favorite parts of the Southwest Road Trip:
Peanut, "Pretty much
Slide Rock, White Sands and the Dude Ranch. I liked looking at the pretty desert and everything on the drive, I'd say, seeing all the things you never get to see, like the forest with all the Joshua trees by the Grand Canyon."

Little Man, "At the Dude Ranch, when I saw Loop Rawlins do rope tricks. He was really nice. And driving around by the Grand Canyon."

Doodle, "Pink babies and pink princesses."

Grandma, "The Grand Canyon Sky Walk and I loved seeing the kids react to a real hail storm. I just liked being able to go. I'm tickled silly that I was even invited and I like the idea that we went from one different part of the desert to another different part."

27 May 2008

Grand Canyon West Rim

With my antibiotic eye drops doing their job, we decided to continue with our plans. We wanted to leave really early for the Grand Canyon today and be home in time to swim all afternoon. As we have become acutely aware, rarely do things go as planned with 3 little ones.

I forgot to mention that Peanut lost one of her teeth in Sedona which was a very exciting event indeed. The event got more exciting, however, when we realized I forgot the tooth in the hotel (which had been given to me for safe-keeping). I told Peanut, "Look the Tooth Fairy and I have a really good line of communication; I'll let her know I blew it with the tooth, and I'm sure she'll leave something under your pillow anyway." She twinkled back an understanding glance. Then I asked her if it was okay for us to wait until Las Vegas because her dad would really want to be a part of this. She said, "She'd rather not, but sure."

When I tucked her in she had a little note in her hand. I asked her about it and she quickly hid it and said, "Shh! This is for you to read tonight!" Well, Tomcat and I ran down to the casino gift shop (and to try our luck with the 25 cent slots) and we found her a little Las Vegas license plate with her name on it. Back in the room, I slid it under her pillow and quietly removed the note. Here's what it said, "Dear Tooth Fairy, I lost my tooth! Oh no! Will I ever find it? Would you mind if I got a present anyway? I even don't care if the present is a penny! Love, Peanut".

Clearly, I underestimated the Lost Tooth excitement, as she was up at 4am thrilled with her present. We got her back to bed and by 4:40am she was up again, this time with Little Man in tow. We ended up separating them and they finally got back to sleep. They slept until 9am, but Doodle had Grandma up at 5:00am, bless her. Furthermore, I had promised the kids Room Service at least once on this road trip and was reminded that I still hadn't done it. Dang! Now we were doing it in over-the-top Vegas?! We had a feast to say the least and it was enjoyed by all. But we didn't get out the door until after 10:30am at which time we were reminded that we'd promised Doodle she could say good-bye to Tay-Tay back at the In-Laws. So we popped by there on our way out of town, had a very nice quickie good-bye, and were finally on our way!

Who goes to the West Rim anyway? No one I know. The South Rim is what everyone thinks of when they think of the Grand Canyon. The North Rim is where they go when they want less traffic, or they're up in Utah and don't want to drive 5 hours around to get to the South Rim. When I found out that the West Rim is only a couple of hours from Vegas, I was so there. I'd seen pictures of the newly built Skywalk and have wanted to walk it ever since. Surprisingly, it's not actually part of the National Park, but run by the Hualapai tribe. It was fantastic and worth every penny!

You know that roller-coaster thrill? It was like that. We each had to wear hospital slippers over our shoes to keep the glass floor pristine. The kids loved this. In fact, they were digging the entire thing; they even talked us all into lying down on the bridge! What an optical illusion -- as you got down, the canyon seemed to get farther and farther away and as you got up, it came up with you! We eagerly bought the overly priced photos they took, but since all belongings must be left in a locker prior to entering, these were the only pictures we were going to get.

There were Hualapai dancers, drummers, food, easy but rewarding hikes and a genuine friendly vibe from everyone we met. There's something to say for getting there long after the tour buses have gone home.

Another bright spot was the drive back to Vegas. The light was perfect for pictures of the giant Joshua trees in Joshua National Park, giddily moving along the bumpy, curvy 20 mile stretch of gravel road before hitting the highway. We were all queasy by the time we got back to the hotel.

Little Man Post #1 - the geiser

Las Vegas is our most expensive (planned) stop on the entire road trip. Chicago is a close second. Everything is so wasteful and decadent here, but we choose to play along because that's really the only way to have fun in Sin City.

Little Man, age 5.5, is going to dictate the rest of this post:

"Our hotel room is so huge that we could actually have a laundry room in it but we don't. And there are 5 t.v.s but my mom won't let us watch -- only my dad lets us watch cartoons sometimes and the terrible tornado with the barns flying around. I'm sleeping with Peanut, in the kitchen, on the cushions from the huge couch in the living room. Me and Peanut are crowded but we're comfy. I really want to sleep on the chaise lounge in my mom and dad's room, but they won't let me. There are 5 huge windows and we can see the huge pyramid light that goes out to the universe!

Something really fun and scary happened. We have a bidet. A bidet is, we sit on it and face the faucet, and the water sprays into our bum. I was showing Doodle how to do it, but there was too much water and it sprayed all the way to the ceiling! There was a flood! Me and Doodle came running out of the bathroom and my mom and Grandma came rushing in. They were scared because it was a really loud noise! We had water all over the ceiling and the walls and pictures, too!

I went to Gram & Pop's house. I always sit on Pop's lap and we sing songs. My favorite song to sing with him is "Found a Peanut". My very favorite part of Las Vegas is going to Gram & Pop's house.

Another visit to E.R. in Nevada - State #8

Ta daaaa! Nevada is our final state of Road Trip #1! We did it!!

Las Vegas isn't our favorite place in the world -- the smut and expense gets old really fast, but we come here once a year to visit Tomcat's parents. They've been here a long time so we know this town pretty well. The kids do too apparently as they toss out comments like, "Yay! We get to go swimming!" and, "Mom, look at all those naked bums on that taxi!" We always stay at The Orleans which is off The Strip and close to Gram & Pop. It was too early to check in, so we headed straight to their place where we reunited with Tomcat. We hadn't seen him in 7 states -- since Oregon -- and we were all swarming him at once. One of Doodle's favorite cousins was there, too, and she was thrilled! Tay-Tay is a darling girl and we were all happy to see her.

Dropping off the kids and Grandma, I had a quick chat with Pop and off we went together. I visited the Spring Valley Hospital E.R. about 3 years ago after Little Man decided it'd be fun to stick his finger in my eye at a restaurant. This produced a wicked corneal abrasian. I still suffer from the darn thing, too, with what's called recurring erosion. Such is life. Now I found myself there again, with Pop, in the over-crowded, under-staffed E.R. waiting room while my eye oozed brown goo.

They asked me if anything could have blown in my eye in the past few days and I had to laugh. Soot in Durango? Dust in Canyon de Chelly? Breezy Slide Rock?
I was there about 3 hours, but fortunately, I got to watch Clueless while waiting in the 2nd waiting room (with all the bloody and moaning people). Sure enough, I have another scratch in the same eye with conjunctivitis to boot.

Luckily, I'm done driving for a few days.

California - State #7

I've had a renewed interest in ghost towns since seeing the awesome flik 3:10 to Yuma. I've tried to get the kids interested but they since they've never seen any Westerns, they only focus on ghosts and miss the appeal of the Wild West. Still, Grandma and I thought the tourist trap near Barstow, CA, Calico Ghost Town, would be fun for them so we headed once again for Historic Route 66.

Two young Native American boys were selling beef jerky on the side of the road so I supported their cause with 3 bags for $20 plus a bag of dried apricots and a jar of wildflower honey. But where was the
Welcome to California sign? Another traveler told me California was too cheap and not interested in welcoming people to the Mojave Desert. Ha! Always watching to see when we'll actually drive over the "water" they see on the road up ahead, they have a clear understanding of optical illusions and what a desert mirage is. Woe to those who think they can cross the Mojave desert! And the kids love hearing stories about how the cops find these fools and just how shriveled up they are.

You know how sometimes everything seems fine but you know something isn't quite right? Well, that's what's going on with my left eye. It's watery and wants to shut which is making me very road weary. I talked to Grandma about it, and she's not overly excited about me crossing the Mojave desert with tired, watery eyes, so we decided to skip it and head into Nevada. The two bigger kids have already been to the Red Woods so I feel justified in saying we've been to California on this trip. Incidentally, I finally found a proper welcome sign, too!

24 May 2008

Change of Plans

We gave up on the weather and packed up a day early for California. After driving through snow, sleet and another rainstorm, we didn't quite make it. Instead we found ourselves crossing the real London Bridge into Lake Havasu! Who knew?

This place is a mecca for Suburbanites -- I've never seen such enormous chain stores before or so many identical houses crammed together. It's incredible. Everything surrounds the beaches at Lake Havasu and that's just where we are: The Nautical Inn. You could easily call this a splurge, but considering every place is jammed with sand-seeking Memorial Day vacationers, we consider ourselves very lucky (again) to have any room at all.

It's been awhile since I was in the middle of a spring break scene -- drunk, bikini- clad horny girls surrounded by drunk, macho irresponsible boys with boats. It's hilarious to watch and the Security is busy doing just that. The kids haven't even noticed them, but there's still no way we'd let them anywhere near the lake (hundreds of party boats and their exhaust) so we found the pool. Surprisingly, it was completely empty! A dream come true for all of us. No stormy weather, a nice pool to ourselves, music from afar and a nice view of the beach.

Grocery stores and restaurants have been our main source of fuel, but we have indulged in some fast food along the way. Anyone traveling these desert highways can attest to the nasty tasting water (iced-tea when bottled water isn't available), the shear lack of food options (no grocery store for hundreds of miles) as well as the salt cravings (Grandma says it's the desert's way of making one drink more water). Usually, I search for a Subway. Next choice is a Taco Bell or a Wendy's. Today our only choice was Burger King and I'll never go back. Disturbing as hell, I noticed that the menu has added super-sized options for kids: double cheeseburgers, large fries, large sodas. I was shocked and disappointed although I guess I shouldn't be. Marketing to kids...CurlyTop could go into a rage everyone, but I'll get off my hind legs for now because we're having a really sunny afternoon.

23 May 2008

Slide Rock

Slide Rock has to be one of my favorite childhood and young adult memories. Thirty years ago it was just a stop by the side of the road kind of place. I distinctly remember all the nudists lying about on the red rocks sunning themselves and me being told not to stare. Twenty years ago they had a paved parking lot and a fee. This year, with the kids, they had bathrooms and a gift shop! The nudists were missing, although that could have something to do with the temperature.

When the rain stopped, we went to check it out. I brought all of our bathing suits, jean shorts and old tennis shoes on the off chance the kids would actually slide. Grandma and I were absolutely convinced they'd never get in. Our car said it was 42 degrees outside and the water was much colder than that. Little Man was dead set on going though. When we got there two teenage boys were doing their best to get in, but failing miserably. Their bellies were bright red from cold and their dad was on the rocks with a nice camera waiting patiently for them to get the courage to do more than just sit in a little pool of water. He looked at Little Man who couldn't get his clothes off fast enough and said, "Go show them how it's done!"

My only rule about going down the chute was that there were to be no tears. I explained very clearly that this would be the coldest thing they'd ever done and that they might have trouble breathing. I also said I was absolutely positive they would love it. But no crying!

Shock of the world they actually did it! I went down with Little Man first and just kept telling him to keep his head up. A couple of times I lost him (these rocks are slippery as hell!) but was able to get a hold of him again. I nearly went under once after a waterfall, but he managed to keep his head up. He was freezing...and raring to go again! Peanut's turn. About 3 feet down the chute I heard her gasp for air and flex -- shock -- so I said, "C'mon Peanut, smile! This is fun!" It snapped her out of it and she started giggling like crazy. She was holding on to me so tightly that we never separated, but I had a harder time keeping my own head above the water. She scrambled up the rocks to Grandma who had her dried and changed in under a minute. Grandma said, "You're NUTS! Tomcat never would have done this!" But she knows how fun it is, because she's been down this same chute, many times herself. She's a thrill-seaker at heart; don't let her fool you!

Doodle was screaming to go and I just knew this was a horrific idea. I was already frozen beyond words, physically tired, and she was so small and would be so slippery in my arms. But for any of you who have 3 kids, you know what it's like talking logic to the baby. They just have to figure things out on their own. So, I took her to the beginning of the chute, sat down (all the while saying, "You sure?") and just as I was beginning to slide, I thought, "You've got to be kidding me! You're really doing this?", she started to scream to get out. Hallelujah! I immediately lodged my foot and 2 teenagers came and scooped her out of my arms. She started taking off full force toward Grandma which was just as terrifying (wet rocks). I managed the uneasy task of backing out of the chute (thank you again big teenagers) and catching her before she fell into the safety of Grandma's arms.

Little Man was thrilled because he finally got to go again. At this point (my 3rd+ time down), I could barely breathe or speak. It reminded me of when I joined the Polar Brrrr Club by jumping from a boat into the glacier water at Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska. It was the first time I became acutely aware that you actually feel warm when you're starting to freeze. Well, would you believe I forgot a change of clothes for myself, and new underwear for Little Man? I suffered through, but there's just no way he'd put on jeans without underwear, so he went bare-assed the .3 miles to our car!

Here's the worst part though. The entire way back to our car, Doodle sent me a litany of judgments, "My daddy said I can't go in that water. It's too cold. I'm too little. You shouldn't have let me do that. My daddy won't let you do that. It's not allowed." Whatever, Doodle! It was AWESOME and I loved the opportunity for the kids to overcome something...anything. This is the stuff confidence is made of.

Tonight Peanut was writing in her journal while the other two were in the tub. When they got out I told her to jump in for a quick wash. A few minutes later she finally got in and started to complain, "Hey, this is cold!" pause pause pause "Well, at least it isn't as cold as Slide Rock!"

Peanut's Post #2

***3 excerpts continued from Peanut's journal, spell checked and typed by CurlyTop***

After the Painted Desert, on our way to Sedona -- STORM! Mom saw lightning two times! The Ranger said we only had 2 minutes before the storm would hit. We ran to the car and got in quick. Thunder, hail, rain and lightning! Little Man and Doodle were crying but I was too big to cry in the storm. There was so much hail it looked like snow. It stung my legs and covered the windshield.

In Sedona, we went to a chapel that was built inside a red rock. It was just a small one but it was beautiful inside. I even got to light a candle for a buck to pray for my cousin who is struggling. My mom prayed for Grandpa. Little Man prayed for Jesus because he's dead and Doodle prayed for her friend because she loves her. At the gift shop we bought a Rhyme Bible which is much easier to read than the HOLY BIBLE I keep finding in all of our hotel rooms.

Mom was sad about not getting to go in a hot air balloon (because of the storm) and Slide Rock so we went to check it out (Slide Rock). It was open and cold as could be! And we did it! We slid down the river over a waterfall, into the deep part with mom, into another waterfall and into the river! "It was all fun except the cold, but the cold was what made it fun," said Peanut. It was fun and we didn't cry even though it was the coldest thing we had ever done!

Peanut's Post #1

Peanut's teacher gave her an assignment to keep a journal on our trip. She's 7.5 and would be in 2nd grade, but the kids go to a Montessori School where grade level is pretty irrelevant. Anyway, she's been pretty faithful, writing snippets nearly every day and drawing a picture to go with it. I told her that she could "blog" whenever she wanted and today she handed me her journal!

I'll conveniently let her pick up where I left off at Canyon de Chelly. Let us know if you enjoy her input!

***4 excerpts from Peanut's journal, spell checked and typed by CurlyTop***

We went to Canyon de Chelly and it was sooo windy that if the walls weren't there I would have had to hold onto my mom or I would have blown into the canyon! We saw a cliff dwelling but this time it was different from the others (which I didn't tell you about). On the other side of the canyon there are big stripes (black) that look like rain.

After windy Canyon de Chelly we went to mom's friend's house and spent a night there. She had a big cookout in their desert backyard and all their neighbors came with all their kids. We could just run around the neighborhood into the other kids' houses!
We made s'mores and jumped on a very high trampoline. The cat there was so nice. He understood everything I said to him. When we were ready to leave, mom's friend's husband gave each of us some petrified wood from his yard because now we were going to the Petrified Forest. ps: the cat was actually a neighbor's cat.

At the Petrified Forest you aren't allowed to take anything because it's protected. President Roosevelt made it protected because he's the one who cared about the environment and made National Parks. We know why it's protected. Because it's so beautiful and there are also stories about taking pieces of the wood and bad stuff happening to you. Petrified wood is wood that is so old it turns to stone. And there were really cool drawings on some rocks, called petroglyphs, from when the Native Americans lived there and they didn't have any paper.

We saw the Painted Desert and it's called that because it's full of hills of sand and every hill is a different color as far as the eye could see. And mom took a picture so I can paint it because I love to paint.

Canyon de Chelly

The original plan was to stay in Escalante, then drive into Bryce Canyon for a couple of days. The trouble was my gut said not to do it. Scenic Route 12 is a very winding road from Monument Valley and then a lot of miles a-r-o-u-n-d the Grand Canyon to get back to Sedona, AZ. Grandma and I would certainly have had a Thelma & Louise experience, but I could hear the complaints from the kids already: Peanut, "I'm hot." Little Man; "I feel like I'm going to throw up." Doodle, "I don't TARE about dese wed wocks!"

After talking with a nurse friend of mine who works on the Navajo reservation, we changed our plans. First of all she offered to let us stay with her in Point Defiance, AZ and second of all she recommended a canyon I'd never been to: Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Canyon de Shay). My mind was at ease and I knew this was a much better route for us.

Lucky for us, they had a big room at the Navajo-run lodge in Canyon de Chelly.
It's important to plan a vacation day from your vacation and this was it for us. We were all ready for bed. When Grandma filled the tub with desert water, Doodle gave her a look like, "There's no way I'm getting in that." Have you had a bath in yellow water? Or red water? It's a mental challenge to consider yourself clean.

We ate breakfast at their cafeteria which was an absolute riot. When I was a kid, Furrs Cafeteria was a fancy outing for us and I always chose red Jello cubes with whipped cream on top. Watching the kids, I remembered how fun it was to have a tray and choose your own food no matter how mix-matched! The kids chose fry bread, strawberries, grapes, Jello, cottage cheese, cereal and rice. I made them each have a few bites of my chicken, too.

A couple of Navajo men told us to get into the canyon right away. The winds were coming! Already they were blowing at 25mph and the 50mph would be here soon. We went to the gift shop first and that was a monumental mistake. This was the best gift shop we'd been in since Santa Fe -- beautiful, interesting items and excellent quality. We love
buying straight from the manufacturers, too!

A couple of hours later (okaaay, I bought a lot at the gift shop), we realized we better hurry so we loaded the car and headed to the South Rim Drive. Oh my GOSH! I have NEVER seen wind like this. At the first lookout point my car door almost blew off -- literally. I got it closed then asked Grandma to get a picture of me when I opened it again. (A fleeting regret entered my mind -- why didn't I purchase car insurance from Hertz?) The kids were awed and terrified in this wind. It could have gone either way, but I was so excited that they couldn't help but enjoy it. Grandma had just told them a great story from when she was Doodle's age. She was living in Dutch Harbor, AK and the winds carried her away until a native teenage boy caught her and brought her back to her dad. Let's just say we didn't even allow Doodle out of the car!

Canyon de Chelly appealed to me so much because it's not teeming with tourists, there are great hikes and easy to see ruins and Navajos actually still inhabit the canyon. It felt real and alive and
I was loving it! If only Tomcat were here. He would have had his Blackberry out finding the answers to all of our questions. He's a need to know NOW kind of person whereas I'm content to just wonder. We'll just have to come back. Preferably without the wind.

I've been meaning to mention the snot factor as it's been a real issue on this road trip. I seem to be the only one not regularly congested or sneezing. Blowing our noses has been a reminder of the places we've been -- black dirt in the Kleenex there, red dirt in the Kleenex here. You can't underestimate the fun of this traveling with little kids.

22 May 2008

Utah - State #6

We each brought about 3 sets of clothes, except Doodle who feels the need to change clothes several times a day even while traveling. We just cycle through, doing a load or two of laundry every few nights. Last night Grandma and I were up so late doing Durango-Silverton Train laundry that it was a real challenge getting out of bed in the morning to leave Colorado.

I'll add that
Spray 'n' Wash may be bad for the environment, but it works magic getting the environment out of our clothes. I'd do a commercial for them if only they'd ask. Hey, I did do a commercial once 15 years ago. Well, an infomercial. It was for cheesecake, which I love. Tomcat and I had Amaretto Cheesecake for our wedding and the baker asked me to do a commercial for them. Crazy, right?

A long time ago a friend of mine took me to a great Navajo restaurant in Bluff, Utah. It was in a dark house in the middle of nowhere but the food was amazing and spicy as hell. I was on a mission to find it and savor whatever they put in front of me once again. Off we went, leaving the lush green mountainous Colorado behind. Hello Utah!

On our way we stopped at Four Corners and were shocked to find that it's a real destination now, with an entry fee and everything. We could hear Navajo spoken by the Native Americans selling their wares and we wandered around with snow cones and fry bread. There aren't a lot of places you can buy a snack and say, "Hey, we're in Arizona" then turn and walk a few hundred feet and say, "Hey, now we're in New Mexico" and so on. It's really fun. Actually you have to work hard to make it fun because it's so bloody hot, but we managed to do it.

Bluff, UT isn't exactly a normal sort of place. (I'm taking a leap that your idea of normal is in cahoots with my idea of normal.) Our car really needed gas and up the road we found a slab of concrete with 2 ancient pumps and a barred up station. Surprisingly, it seemed to be working (a taped sign on the pump read: Pay first. 10 gallons = $41.50 and so on), but there was no one around. Directly next door was a building with a little walk-up window. I went over and immediately the window popped open with a panicked face that said, "She's not there, but if you tell me how much, I'll get you the gas." I said, "Oh, well do you take credit cards?" She looked really nervous and I was very curious what was going on behind the window when she said, "Sure. Just tell me how much and she can do it when she gets back. I don't really do the gas or the money."

I told her I'd take 10 gallons at $41.50 and then I asked her about my Navajo restaurant. She goes, "It ain't here anymore. The Sunbonnet. Closed down." DANG! So I asked if there was any place we could eat and she considered for what seemed a long time and finally replied, "Well, there's the place a mile up the road....or here." Stunned, I said, "What's here?" "Well, it's sort of like a cafe." Sure enough the sign on the front of the building read Dairy Cafe and we all slugged our way through the 90+ heat into the cool room, which really was an okay place with a few okay people inside.

The face through the window turned out to be the nervous, very kind daughter of the owner, the above she who apparently "did the gas and money". Mother was quite a specimen: very tall, very thin, around 70 give or take 10 years (smoking and the desert make it tough to judge), gray thinning hair, piercing blue eyes, 6 coats of stage make-up and a deformed hand which she waved around and around our table without one of my kids making a single comment...yay! We ordered ham & cheese sandwiches, drinks and an order of fries. They all showed up in little wax paper pockets, grilled on rye bread with mayo and mustard. The kids wouldn't touch it.

Doodle had to pee so Mother said, "Well, everyone get up! Line up now and I'll unlock the door. I have to come with you." I was certain she had a shotgun slung around her back so we all did as she said, and she marched us outside, around back with the stray dogs to a toilet room. Very strange indeed, but effective. We all peed even though Doodle was the only one that knew she needed to go.

Some other customers came in wanting to see rugs and we realized this cafe was also a Trading Post type of place. She sells native crafts in yet another side room, securely locked. Fumbling through at least 50 keys hanging from her belt, Mother opened the shop for them, mumbling the entire time to herself. "I'd like it better if you'd actually buy a rug." Grandma and I left there thinking these were what Prairie People looked like that went crazy from the wind.

We quite enjoyed the nutty visit, and Mother did send us off with a wonderful nugget of information: see Goosenecks. "It's only 4 miles out of your way and no one goes there." How could I resist? Now, I say to you, "Go there." Pictures don't do it justice. Driving along through miles of colored sand and scrub brush, you'd never know it's out there. What a gem.

Grandma had never been to Monument Valley before and I'd never actually entered the park as the view from the highway is impressive enough. Nothing can prepare you for the sheer grandeur of these monuments. Not books. Not movies. Not my testimony.
This is one of those places. You need to watch other people in awe, seeing the same thing you are. The dirt must be tasted so you can verify that it's actually nothing like paprika. And I suspect this valley needs to be seen in winter as well as spring but I can't speak to that.

This was supposed to be a highlight for Peanut and I. We were going to paint the desert at some point and I was sure it'd be Monument Valley. Unfortunately, s
weltering in the oppressive 92 degrees, Grandma and I turned around to a whimpering Peanut and found her wearing her fleece of all things! Her fever was back and we'd already committed to the Loop Drive...miles and miles of bumpy, red dirt roads and magnificent views from every possible angle.

19 May 2008

Hours of Monkey Business

Somehow I missed the fact that one should have a res for the Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. I had to prepare the kids for the possibility that we might not be able to go, but that the only way to even try was to wake up and get moving early. Lo and behold, Peanut coughed at 5:55am which got everyone rolling to Doodle's tune of, "Hurry Hurry! We won't miss the train, right?" We were at the train station, without breakfast, at 7am sharp, and luckily they were able to get the 5 of us on board in the open-air car. It had 2 benches with assigned seating, all outward facing. Perfect.
Perfect for about 30 minutes until all the soot started flying in our faces. Now we understood why we were supposed to wear dark colors and sunglasses! Can you say covered? I even had the stuff in my bra when we got home. For those of you considering this ride as part of your trip to the Southwest, hear me loud and clear: Leave your 3 year old at home and consider leaving your 5 year old, too.

Life with Doodle became an absolute nightmare after the 1 hour point. She climbed all over us and exercised every opportunity to practice her mighty 3 year old control. Constantly I found myself using full upper arm strength to hold her down. You name it, she attempted it. This little demon was unrecognizable to me for hours on end. And if you think I'm overreacting, keep in mind that it was nearly a 4 hour ride up, with a lunch time stopover in the old mining town of Silverton, followed by a 4 hour return ride back to Durango.

Overall, I'll give it a net positive because there's something very magical about actually hearing, feeling and touching this kind of train. And the scenery, like most of Colorado, was breathtaking. Remember, however, that I'm a die-hard optimist and I have a big threshold for pain.

The Best 57 Miles Ever

It was a bit of a let down not to squeeze in one delicious New Mexican breakfast before we left Santa Fe, but the kids aren't really into green chilies on their eggs, or eggs in general for that matter. So, we ate a quickie breakfast at the hotel and off we went toward Durango, Colorado. This was supposed to take us about 3.5 hours.

What an incredible route. In fact, I'm going to say this is my all-time favorite drive ever. The desert changes remarkably in Northern New Mexico. Hills, mountains, mammoth rocks and quirky formations, a menagerie of colors top to bottom. Camel Rock showed up out of nowhere and I'd forgotten all about it!

Grandma's favorite thing to say was, "I just don't see how people can live out here." I couldn't agree more, the urbanite that I am. When I saw the sign for the town of White Rock, Peanut and Little Man in unison screamed, "Hey! I've been there!" It took me a minute to realize they were talking about White Rock, BC where we go in the summer sometimes. Ha! I decided to check out the White Rock view to get a reaction from the kids. Doodle was asleep and missed the entire thing, but the other two were actually in awe and fired-up about the enormity of the canyon. It has an incredible view of the Rio Grande Valley. Added enthusiasm came from the vast numbers of hawks flying over head, and these tiny yellow birds dashing about that we could never get a close enough look to identify. After this visit, I'm rethinking my plan to skip the Grand Canyon. Maybe they actually would notice more than the chipmunks? On our way out of town, we noticed some people in a park preparing for some kind of a Kite Festival but we were too early to enjoy it. A vendor, however, was able to sell us 10 Red Vines and life was good.

Next came Bandalier National Monument and this was a very calculated stop. It was a big decision for me to skip Taos, as I adore it, but I wanted the kids to stay interested and pleasant, and I already knew the heat was against me. The ruins in Taos are too sprawling and too touristy and the town is too pretentious for my little darlings. Having chosen correctly, Bandalier was exciting and manageable (if you call carrying Doodle on your back up a cliff manageable), and sure to be a lasting memory. The kids had just made it down the ladder from a once-a-cliff-dwelling now a hole-in-a-cliff, when Little Man announced to everyone within earshot that he needed to poop. This kid has excellent plumbing so we heeded his need. He barely made it the 1/2 mile back, but the important thing is that he did. (Our family has clearly met it's quota for pooping in inappropriate places on this trip.) They had a great kid-friendly gift shop and a good snack bar, too, so we picnicked outside and hit the road.

The sign said 57 miles to Chama and I was already enthralled with this part of the country. The nutty thing is that I'd driven this route before, more than once, and yet I had absolutely no memory of it's substantial uniqueness and beauty.

Then Abiquiu showed up out of nowhere! My neighbor had just told me about this magical place -- Georgia O'Keefe country -- because Peanut had recently taken a big interest in her art. We've been discussing how artists are "inspired" and here we were in Georgia O'Keefe's own backyard. Just look around and her inspirations are obvious. We hopped into the Abiquiu Inn, bought some last-year mini calendars for $1 which thrilled the kids, and we learned where her house was so we could do a drive-by. I told the kids we were the luckiest people in the world but they already knew that apparently. I was in Southwest Heaven.

On the road again and wouldn't you know, in the distance we saw the most stunning layered rock canyon? I kept pulling over to the side of the road for pictures and Grandma announces, "This has to be the longest hour I've ever driven!" Shocking! This was the most amazing hour I'd ever driven in my life! What a magnificent day we were having! Who cares about Colorado at this point?

Well, these glorious cliffs also had a sign: Echo Rock and I just had to turn in. Grandma grunts, "Ah, you gotta be KIDDING me?!" I drag her out of the car. "Look! The path is paved like you like. Come on!" We were just getting onto the path when she spotted a tiny lizard, and the kids became overjoyed. I knew it was going to be a great detour! Peanut arrived at the natural amphitheater first. Suddenly the canyon shouted at us "Myyyyy Preeeeeciousssss!" Grandma and I burst out laughing and now even she was into it. We were alone here. Lucky again! This place was so intimate yet grandiose and otherworldly, that suddenly I began to ache for the familiar to share it with. I wanted Tomcat to be here with us and I wanted my neighbor Green and her kids, my kids' best friends, to be with us. We all began to shout each of their names and soon the canyon was booming with names that we missed from home. Our hearts needed this.

We got to Durango, CO (after one more teeny-tiny detour to see Chimney Rock) just before sunset, 10.5 hours later.

Colorado Dirt Sample

Colorado Dirt Sample.
Cortez, Colorado.

Colorado License Plate

18 May 2008

Foolish Thrills Memoir

Here's a quickie version of my early time in New Mexico: I was born here. When I was five years old we moved to Texas, but my oldest sister had graduated from High School and decided to stay. Oh, how I missed Sister, who was very much my second mother. So, as strange as it may sound, I flew back to live with her and her new husband in Santa Fe for a year, then went back to Texas for a year, then moved back to live with them in Santa Fe for another couple of years. This city is very special to me as it represents some of the best years of my childhood.

Our first apartment was downtown on E. Alameda, a prime location in today's real estate market. I was dying to show the kids where I used to play in the river. Of course, I was regularly in trouble for playing down there -- flash floods are quick in the desert and a dry river one minute is death the next -- or so I was lectured. Hunting for horny toads was the main goal, along with the excitement of being unseen. Occasionally my brother-in-law would come down and play army guys with me. This really got Sister heated.

The complex still has the same narrow, rickety bridge, which we drove over for my token picture. Hard as I tried to leave, I just couldn't. Too many memories. Ignoring the sign: "NO TRESPASSING! WE MEAN IT! TRY US!", I leaned in the car and whispered, "Hey, you guys want to go down in the river?" There were shouts of delight from the rear and a skeptical look from rule-following Grandma. The small river is walled and I hadn't realized how far I'd had to jump in those days. I helped the kids down and they were fascinated, "Why weren't you allowed to play down here? Well, why did you play down here?" I looked at them with a twinkle and said, "Well, doesn't it look like a great place to play?" Huge affirmative nods. We walked around a bit and then it was time to get out. How in the world did I ever climb the stone wall? Geez. There isn't much in the world I prefer less than lugging my ass vertical. It certainly wasn't graceful but the mission was eventually accomplished.

Now in 2nd grade I walked .7 miles to/from school and hung out at home for a couple of hours before Sister got home. I had my usual route, but sometimes (especially if I could show off for a friend), I'd take a short-cut through the back. The weeds were up to my hips and there was a run-down house with a creepy someone living there. The best part was behind their house -- an old shed loaded with coffins. Seriously! Standing up, lying down, old coffins. And don't think for a second that I wasn't scared out of my wits looking for pieces of corpse.

I've always wanted to check this out for size as an adult, and this was the first return trip to Santa Fe where I actually located the spot. Behind the apartments, on Canyon Road, lies a most restorative and beautiful art complex called Project Tibet. There are so many wind operated yard statues, that you absolutely must sit and reflect. Some force pulls you in and does its best to calm you.

The owner was also a very peaceful, quiet woman, and I unintentionally disrupted her calm with my spooky coffin tale. Apparently in 1980 she transformed several lots and created this sanctuary/gallery. However, she doesn't own the property and said that it's the same owner as when I lived there. At first she claimed there was never any shed and I just stared at her, trying hard not to be the know-it-all that comes so naturally to me. I just sent her a silent mental message, "Listen lady, I'm the kid who lived here, and I know what I saw...and I saw coffins in a shed!" Suddenly, she remembered an old well on the property I was talking about, that couldn't be used anymore, so someone had actually built a shed around it. Voila! My shed. She was sorry but had no idea about coffins or creepy neighbors and her silent mental message back to me was, "Please, lady with children in tow, who is not appropriately dressed for Canyon Road, kindly, go away". We did. I guess I'll just have to store this in the mystery memories section of my mind and be done with it.

Driving around, I found my other house, and Kearny Elementary. By the way, Grandma is very uncomfortable trespassing, but I let the kids play at the playground anyway. Peanut had a great time until we went searching for desert critters and she got nailed by a fire ant. Doodle with all her newly acquired class, left another deposit out on the same playground I'd enjoyed as a 4th and 5th grader.

Behind this 2nd house, were train tracks. They were our alarm clock even on the weekends and naturally, I was forbidden to play on them. Of course, I played there often. One summer when I was 10 or 11 my uncle stayed with us for a stint. He was a questionable character and one day he said if I'd go buy him some cigarettes, I could keep the change for candy. I took off, hopped the back fence, walked about a mile to the Ice House, bought our loot, and on the way back found the most beautiful objet d'art I'd ever seen. It was a snail-like statue made of colored glass in deep indigo and reds. I couldn't wait to show it to Sister. Shortly after, house guest uncle got thrown out along with my huge, artsy bong.

Since someone was currently living in my old house, and there was a Beware of Dog sign, I opted not to trespass. But I wanted to see the forbidden train tracks again! I got the idea to drive around back until I found the arroyo (a dry creek) where I used to play and meet friends who lived literally, on the other side of the tracks. Somehow I found myself leaning in the car window again, "Hey, you two want to go check out the train tracks?" An irritated Grandma looked over at me and goes, "Is this trip for the kids or for you?" I have to say this was my best day in Santa Fe!

Anyway, we climbed over the chain link fence which was weighted down from generations of kids doing the same thing. We had to hold onto another fence that ran parallel to the arroyo while we scooted along, dust, sand and rocks giving way with each step. The kids were appropriately scared and exhillerated. Unfortunately, we couldn't actually get all the way to the tracks because there was an enormous sink hole, boarded over with rotten wood. Little Man was heart-broken. "Why can't we just walk across it? Why can't we put pennies on the train tracks like you used to?" All I could say, after we'd made it safely back was, "Because your mom isn't quite as foolish as she once was."

17 May 2008

Santa Fe Tourists

Our room at El Rey Inn has a funky configuration that works perfectly for us. There's a narrow alcove off the living room (it's like a big walk-in closet without a door) where I sleep. Peanut and Little Man share the pull-out couch. Doodle, who must always be isolated or she'd party into the wee hours, shares the big bed with Grandma in a bedroom. Off of their room is another alcove, but it's outside as a sweet little patio! This hacienda style hotel has been here since I was a kid and I love staying here.

Grandma has been reading
Josefina, an American Girl series, to Peanut in preparation for this trip. The morning after we arrived in Santa Fe we drove to El Rancho de las Golondrinas for a Josefina tour. It's a fantastic living history museum for kids this age, especially if they're loaded with lore from the books. They carded wool and tried to spin it, took a turn grinding corn (which Josefina spent hours doing every day), and visited the sheep and goats. Did you know that in the 1700's most children died from disease or falling down wells?

Of course we went to The Plaza. Most people go to see/purchase the beautiful pottery and jewelry that the Indians lay out on blankets and sell in front of the Palace of the Governors. My kids wanted to see real live Native Americans. When Little Man saw his first man with black braids down to his waist I thought he was going to pass out. I think Peanut was more shocked when she learned that he had actually been to our neck of the woods on numerous occasions as a truck driver! He took a lot of time explaining his art to her, carving animals with the thinnest lines into black pottery, and he even let her handle his tools which I sincerely appreciated.

In Santa Fe, there is art everywhere you turn. We kept passing this statue of a Native American catching an eagle and the kids' questions were exhausting me. I should be flattered that they think I know everything, right? I finally told them that we'd go into the Mountain Trails Gallery and find out the story behind this statue if they promised to keep their hands on their chests the entire time. I'm telling you, this was NOT a place for even well-behaved kids. Well, this turned out to be an incredible 3 minute experience as the artist was actually carving right there in the gallery! Of course they wanted to touch it (panic! panic!) and a woman employee was swift as she handed them each a tiny ball of clay. I loved her immediately.

She also told us the story of the sculpture: It is seen as an act of bravery to get an eagle's feather. The Native American is reaching up, struggling with the powerful eagle's talons, trying to get a feather so his tribe would view him as very courageous. Naturally, Peanut was very concerned about harming the eagle and the lady assured her it was like someone pulling a hair out of your head. No one wants someone to do it, but you can get over it pretty quickly.

Our final stop was the Loretto Chapel. It's funny what captures the interest of kids. This beautiful church was built without a single nail -- even the spiral staircase. I thought it would be a quick visit mostly lost on them, but we're not Catholic, so they were extremely curious about each and every detail. Doodle refuses to accept that Baby Jesus is anything but a baby, and why can't she climb that beautiful staircase? What is up there? Little Man just doesn't understand why Jesus didn't break the cross so they couldn't hang him. And were his parents at that special dinner with him? Well, what did he and his friends talk about at that dinner? Would Mary let Jesus' friends come over to his house sometimes? And Peanut wanted to know what the holy water felt like (I wouldn't let her dip) and why there were candles for sale. I told her usually you can pay to light a candle for someone you know who's struggling or has died. (These were off limits to us for some reason.) So, she wanted to know how many candles a person could light, how much it would cost exactly and who she would pray for if she could light one or several? Who did she know that was struggling or that was dead that she could say a prayer for?
And who would I light a candle for if I could? On and on and on.

We finally got out of there and I bought a spicy-licious Frito Pie from the back of the Five and Dime, which was a Woolworth's when I was a kid.