National Park Awesomeness!

Our second 2 week vacation out west!  Another stream of checks marked off our Family Vacation Bucket List!  We took 15 days and flew to Phoenix, drove up to Zion NP, then Bryce NP, Canyonlands NP, Arches NP, Mesa Verde NP, Grand Canyon NP, and the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert NP. One thing we did to save money and time was to buy an America the Beautiful pass.  It is a one year pass that gets you into any National Park and some other places for one yr.  The pass is $80.  Considering all the places we were visiting, it would save us about $50 if we were to pay for entry at each place.

Grab your coffee….I will tell ya all about it!

Day One, Thursday….SUPER LONG DAY!!!  Originally, we intended to fly into Phoenix and then drive up the Vegas for the night and visit Hoover Dam the next day along with some other places.  We were then only going to Grand Canyon and Monument Valley and Mesa Verde.  After talking to my favorite Chiropractor (David Perry) and my friend and her husband Varinka and Gordon Williams, we took Vegas out and changed up the itinerary.  However, airplane reservations had already been made and in order to make all the super cool places work out…we had to drive a LONG ways after our plane landed.
SO, we got up at 4:30 am, let the animals out and watered and fed them, showered, and packed last minute luggage and then off to airport. Plane left at 7:45am.  We got lucky and the plane was full and they needed to check our carry on luggage…so that was nice, we didn’t have to carry it everywhere.  BUT, we also had to hope it made it to Phoenix.  Once in Phoenix, all was well.  All luggage arrived. This year we used two large coolers as luggage and checked them.  Instead of buying $40-50 coolers at Walmart, we chose to just use them as luggage and then empty them into the 31 bags I had brought with us and use one cooler for water and one for food. Worked out well for us!  When we went to pick up our Suburban, they didn’t have one for us.  They tried to give us a smaller vehicle, but I told them no, and to please check again.  Turned out 3 were being brought in right at that moment.  SO we waited about 40 minutes more for them to clean it up for us. And let me tell ya…Phoenix was HOT HOT HOT!!!!  The Garmin in the vehicle showed it to be 116 degrees! Dry heat, dry shmeet!!   Hot is just plain, HOT!  Anyhow, we drove 2 hours to Flagstaff and stopped at Walmart.  They had canopies in the parking lot for shade!  We thought that was super cool. We ate some supper also and then headed over to Zion NP.  It was another 5 hour drive!  The last hour was a super struggle…we were SO TIRED.  We had been awake for 22 hours!  We drove through Zion on our way to the hotel.  Our hotel was right outside the entrance on the other end from where we started.  The roads were red and we thought that was super cool.  We arrived at our hotel so late, we had to go to the special office to get an envelope with our room info and key.  We didn’t officially check in till the next morning.  We stayed at Quality Inn and it was pretty nice and roomy.

Day Two, Friday…we slept till about 9ish, ate hotel breakfast and then off to Visitor Center to catch the bus up to Temple of Sinawava.  Our lovely friends Varinka and Gordon with their kid #4 and some friends of theirs were waiting for us up there.  We hiked The Narrows, which is a hike through the Virgin River.  It was such a cool hike!  Literally and figuratively!  HAHA  The water ranged from ankle depth to waist depth.  We hiked about a mile up river.  We ate a late lunch at the Zion Lodge and then hiked up to the Emerald Pool.  We made sure we got our NP stamps and said our Goodbye’s to the Williams fam and went back to the hotel.  This day we hiked approx 7 miles.

 

Day Three, Saturday….Today we were up early and at the Visitor Center by 8:30.  We hiked up to the Watchman’s Trail.  When we got to the very top, we could see our hotel at a distance.  We could also see the Visitor Center and the ice cream place across from our hotel.  After this hike, we walked to the Museum, which was about a mile away.  Afterwards we took the park bus (which by the way is the ONLY way to get around, they do NOT allow cars to drive and park inside, there isn’t enough room) up to the Weeping Rock. It was so so hot here…but we made sure we drank tons of water!  After Weeping Rock we made our way back to the hotel, made some lunch and headed out to Bryce Canyon. Our hotel there was really cute, it was a Quality Inn but was set up like an old western town. Today we hiked about 7 miles.

Day Four, Sunday…we got up early and drove approximately 30 minutes to Bryce Canyon NP.  We stopped inside the Visitor Center to get the “lay of the land” then took the bus up to Inspiration Point.  We hiked around it and on to Sunset Point, Navajo Loop, and then to Sunrise Point.  This hike was about 3.5 miles. It was absolutely beautiful!  We even got to hike all the way down to the bottom of the Hoodoos!  Then we went back to the truck, made some lunch and drove to the end of Bryce to Yovimpa Point and Rainbow Point and did a 1 mile hike along the Bristlecone Loop Trail. We stopped at Fairlyland Point and then drove to the Mossy Cave Trail and hiked up to the waterfall.  Total miles today were about 6.

Day Five, Monday…We left early from Bryce and drove about 4 1/2 hours to Moab.  We stopped once along the way  and looked at the super cool stuff the Navajo people were selling.  We bought a couple things.  When we got to Moab we drove up to Canyonlands NP.  We did not hike here, it was afternoon by the time we got there and very hot, and there werent really any short trails.  They were mostly 3+ miles and we werent up for that.  Instead we just stopped at all the major lookouts, including, Grand View Point, Buck Canyon, Green River, Whale Rock, and Mesa Arch (which we did hike, it was about a 1 mile round trip hike).  We spent a few hours here and then drove up to Arches NP to get the lay of the land and sign in for our Fiery Furnace hike the next morning.  We found a yummy diner to eat supper at.  We liked it so much we ate there both nights we were in Moab.

Day Six, Tuesday….up early and drive to the check in point for Fiery Furnace tour.  The tour was 2 miles but somewhat difficult.  It took us 3 hours to complete it. The kids LOVED it, and so did Jim and I.  We had to climb rock, jump, shimmy, crawl….it was so much fun! Afterwards we drove up to the Devil’s Garden to hike to Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch.  We then drove to Upper Delicate Arch and hiked around it, then on up to Double Arch and hiked it.  It was SO SO hot today…by lunchtime it was 100 and by 4pm it was 107.  We drank almost an entire case of water, we did not sweat, we only peed one time, and when we took our clothes off they did not smell at all!  It was such a dry hot heat that it evaporated off of you as soon as it left your body.  Water was very important, as you actually don’t feel very thirsty, but you would quickly feel the effects of not drinking. We tried to stay on top of it because we knew that headaches were common with dehydration and hard to get rid of once they start, and they kinda ruin the day too. After hiking was done,we drove to a grocery store (which happened to be owned by Kroger, but it wasn’t called Kroger and they looked up my phone number and I could use my Kroger discount) to load up on more groceries and water. We tried to not have too much water sitting in the car when not in the cooler.  We tried to continuously stock one of the coolers with water and ice. Then back to the hotel to unload and let the kids swim. We ate at the Moab Diner again and then drove up to the Fiery Furnace again to watch a sunset.  However, clouds rolled in and it rained and messed up the sunset.  Leave it to us to go to the desert, and hear the locals complain of no rain, and then when we want to see something, it rains…LOL

Day Seven, Wednesday…left hotel early and drove to Mesa Verde.  We got to the Visitor Center about 11 and immediately booked our Cliff Dwelling tours.  They book up quickly and we barely got them reserved for while we were there. We drove out to the Petroglyph Trail and hiked it.  It was pretty cool, we saw some broken down cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, rocks where knifes and tools were sharpened, beautiful views, and LOTS and lots of Yucca plants.  After this tour we went on the Balcony House Tour and the Cliff Palace Tour.  Both were super cool and well worth seeing. I have decided the reason the majority of the women died early was from heart attacks while trying to keep their toddling babies from falling off the cliffs. One of the tours we wanted to take was closed due to rock slides.  It was the Spruce Tree House. After our tours we drove to the lodge in the middle of Mesa Verde and ate at the Lounge.  We saw some friends of Jim’s who happened to be vacationing there also.

Day Eight, Thursday…We got up super early today and left the hotel by 6:45.  We had at least a 45 minute drive down to the bottom of Mesa Verde and then drove to Durango.  We had booked a train ride from Durango to Silverton.  We boarded the train at 9:15, and it left at 9:30 and arrived in Silverton at 1:15.  We didn’t have much time there, just enough to eat lunch and shop a couple stores. Silverton was a super cool place, a very old mining town.  The building were old and looked like something from an old western.  We did get to eat at Thee Pitts BBQ, which is one of Guy Fierro’s Diners Drive-ins and Dives.  It was very good! Boarded back on the train at 2:50 and arrived back to Durango at 6:30.  The train ride was fun, it was long and tiring at times, but it was still pretty cool.  We saw tons of prairie dogs and meerkats, and a few deer.  The waterfalls and river along the way were beautiful.  We also saw old original livestock cars gold mine buildings and equipment. After the train we found something to eat and then drove back to Mesa Verde and up to the campground to hear the Ranger’s National Park presentation.  He gave us the history and timeline of NPs and how he came to be a Park Ranger.  Hearing him has caused Kat and Sam to talk about the possibility of being a ranger someday, even if just for a year or two for fun.

Day Nine, Friday…up early and ate some breakfast bars and bananas.  We left our lodge by 8am and checked out of hotel.  The sky was showing a clearing of morning rain, but by the time we arrived for our 10am tour of the Long House it was lightly raining.  we had to walk a good 20-30 mins to the Long House and along the way saw so many trees leftover from a forest fire in 2002.  2,600 acres were destroyed from fire caused by “dry lightning” which is what most fires are started from.  There have been fires started from careless people, but most are dry lightning. In the last 14 years, there have been 5 large wildfires just in Mesa Verde alone, destroying almost 29,000 acres. By the time we were halfway through the tour, the rain stopped and the sun came out and the rest of the day was fantastic.  When our tour was finished we drove back to the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and visited some more ruins.  We left mid afternoon and drove to Four Corners Monument, which was pretty cool.  Getting to stand in 4 states at one time.  Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Colorado.   We then drove to our hotel in Grand Canyon.  We were starting to wind down and get tired and I totally messed up the time and mileage on this portion of the trip. I am usually very careful about writing down mileage between points so driving is done when we wouldn’t get too tired. However, I big time goofed this one and our drive was 3x what we thought it would be.  We arrived quite late to our hotel.  However, it was very convenient to be inside the park and close to most of the main hikes. The park is huge and the direction we came in required an hour drive inside the park just to even get TO our hotel!

Day Ten, Saturday….tired but up early as we had a reservation in Page, AR for a Raft Tour.  Originally we were going to get up early and visit the Glen Canyon Dam.  However, we were too tired to get up that early.  We arrived about 30 minutes before the required time to be there for our tour.  A bus took us about 10 minutes away to the Glen Canyon Dam where our boats were waiting.  Fortunately, some good friends of ours, the Honeycutts, who we had not had the pleasure of hanging with in several years, just happen to be in some of the same places as us during our vacation.  We were able to book this raft trip together and get on the same boat.  It floated us down the Colorado River, we had one stop in the middle to take a short hike to some petroglyphs, and also take a short swim in the river.  The river was SO cold, but my kids, Melanie’s kids and Melanie herself all took the plunge in!  Jim and I and Andy only waded with our feet.  After our boat trip, we were able to catch some dinner together at a place our tour guide recommended called State 48.  We had the most delicious burgers…and even got an appetizer neither of us had eaten before, deep fried avocado!  DELICIOUS!  Then we drove over to Horseshoe Bend and hiked up it to overlook the very same river we just rafted down.  The sun was setting and it was certainly gorgeous.  There were TONS of people there and zero fences.  One slip and you were plunging down 1000ft. So many people allowing their small children to walk around without holding hands, or stand close to edges for pictures, it made my stomach hurt. We stayed about 30 minutes and then back to our hotel we went.

Day Eleven, Sunday…we got up about 7am and went to Verkamp’s Visitor Center.  Kids got their NP stamps, we made sure they got them at every NP we visited.  We got the the lay of the land and some ideas for hikes.  First hike we took was the Bright Angel Trail.  We hiked a total of 4.5 miles on this one.  It was so hot!   We drank plenty of water and rested several times to just take in the view. On our way back to the vehicle we saw some native people at the Hopi House starting a performance of traditional dances.  We stopped to watch them for a while.  After our hike we went back to our lodge for sandwiches and a short nap.  Then walked over to Hermit’s Rest and grabbed a bus to take us up along different viewpoints.  No cars were allowed on this road, only the park buses.  The sun was setting and at each veiwpoint we got a different view of the sun setting. We ate supper at the lodge cafeteria and then showered and bed.

 

Day Twelve, Monday…we got up early again to hike the South Kaibab Trail.  If you want to hike here, get done early and before lunch or else you will die from heat and high elevation. This was a hard trail for us considering we had been hiking for nearly 2 weeks already.  Our bodies were winding down and the many many switchbacks and steep climb back up did us in.  We only hiked 2 miles on this hike but it took us about 3 hours. We stopped at Ooh Aah Point halfway in our hike to take about a 30 minute rest and pick the brain of the Volunteer who worked there and was stationed at Ooh Ahh for the day.  A week after we were there we read a news report of a woman falling off the cliff and dying.  It was sad to hear, esp since she fell from the same spot we took our family picture.  After our hike we drove over to the main Visitor Center and watched the videos they had.  It is hard for us to watch those videos at places like these because we believe in Young Earth.  We believe God’s Word is pretty plain when it comes to an accurate timeline of Earth.  The millions and billions of years is silly to us. We also fully believe the Great Flood of Noah’s time played a huge role in the formation of the Grand Canyon so listening to their gap theories drove us bonkers. After Visitor Center we grabbed sandwiches at the truck and drove back to the lodge for another nap.  After our nap we walked around the Village and shopped in the stores and bought our souvenirs.  Then we drove out to the Desert View and climbed up the Watchtower.  We stopped at a few overlooks and the Tusayan Ruins.  Back to the Lodge Cafeteria for delish pizza, then showers and back to cafeteria for ice cream.

Day Thirteen, Tuesday…Up early and left lodge by 7:15 to drive to the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest.  We started on the Forest end and drove through, stopped at several places along the way. We stopped at the Rainbow Museum, walked around the Giant Logs, stopped at Agate Bridge (which was a large petrified tree that had fallen across 2 large rocks), Blue Mesa, Newspaper Rock (petroglyphs on the rocks), Pintado Point, Chinde Point, and the Painted Desert Visitor Center. Then we drove back to Flaggstaff for supper and our hotel. We drove on Historic State Route 66 and ate at the Galaxy Diner.  The kids ended their meals with a classic diner milkshake. Back at the hotel the kids swam while I showered and then we hit the sack after they showered.

Day Fourteen, Wednesday…we left our hotel about 9am and drove back to Phoenix.  We found a couple things to do that were simple and in the air conditioned.  We went downtown and ate at Five Guys and then visited the Wells Fargo Museum.  It was pretty cool and gave fantastic history of Wells Fargo and had several hands on things for the kids to do.  They even had a Telegraph and you could use morse code to talk to kids in other Wells Fargo museums across the United States.  A screen next to you would show up the conversations an where they were. The lady at this museum told us if we walked a block we could go visit the Police Museum, which was also free and a neat place.  So we hussled over there before they closed and a retired officer gave us a tour.  It was pretty cool seeing the history of police in that city.  Uniforms, cars, guns, what people were put in jail for over the years, bomb disarming devices, guns,and funny sayings. After our museums we checked into the hotel.  The boys swam and Kat and I repacked all of our luggage.  We hoped and prayed we hadn’t gone over the limit in our checked bags since there was no scale to check them on.  We had souvenirs to pack plus I had a few fragile items we had to figure how to carry safely in our backpacks.  We went to Chickfile for a very light supper and then went to Sweet Republic ice cream.  Alton Brown loves this place and I ordered the same ice cream that he likes from there.  It was a vanilla with bananas and homemade caramel.  Sound plain but it was fantastic. Then back to the hotel for showers and bed.

Day Fifteen, Thursday…up early to get to airport and drop off Suburban and wait for our 10am flight.  We had no problems with our luggage being overweight or going through security and we were a good 2 hours early in sitting and waiting for our flight.  However, only 20 minutes after we got there we could see large influxes of people and lines at security, so I would much rather be through it and waiting than standing in those lines.  Esp with kids. We had our layover in Atlanta and were home by 8:30pm.

 

California is the place you ought to be…..or is it?

This will be a super long post….so grab some coffee and get comfy in your chair….

Visiting the west is part of our Family Bucket list…so this year, we started off with California.  We took 17 days from our daily lives and flew to San Francisco, rented a Suburban, and drove around the state.  We had so much fun!  We saw the most majestic trees, beautiful mountains, things we would never see in TN, and we also saw some things we wished we had never seen.  Some of the places we saw we were surprised at how much we enjoyed them, and some we found we didnt like as much as we thought we might.  I spent practically a year researching and getting opinions from friends who have lived or visited in CA, I mapquested every location we thought we would like to see and made note of the distance and driving time between each.  I then started making reservations, which meant we were now invested in following through with such an amazing adventure. Some said our itinerary was over zealous, some said we werent doing enough, some said we missing too many important things.  But with such a large state, and technically only 15 days to visit, we could only hit the highlites. So, here is our trip.  I hope you enjoy reading about our adventure.

DAY 1….My friend Amy Corrigan told me about ITA Matrix.  I used that site to get a great deal on our plane tickets.  Instead of trying to use one of the other cheaper flight websites, inserting possible dates for a range of prices, this site offers a minimum date of when you could leave and you can choose multiple airports to fly into, and a day range.  It will show you which day is the cheapest and when you click on it, it tells you which airline has that price for your date range.  you then go to that airline website and get the tickets for that price.  After watching for 6 months, seeing how the prices jump around and which days are best, we stumbled across a cheap rate for a Sunday.  A rate that i had only been seeing on Tues or Wed.  So we grabbed it!   We flew out of Tri-Cities, into Atl, and then to San Francisco.  We prefer flying out of Tri-Cities.  We know when we get home we will be tired, and driving a couple hours isnt at the top of our list. Plus, keeping our vehicle at the airport isnt cheap. This was Samuel’s first flight, and the second for Jameson and Kathrina.  Jameson was 3 months and kat nearly 2, so they did not remember flying the first time.  All the kids were quite excited. We stayed at the Villa Montes Hotel in San Bruno.  It was about 5-10 minutes from the airport.  The hotel was clean, very nice, decent breakfast, but no eggs or meat and very little parking underneath the hotel. The staff was very nice and helpful with directions.  Trader Joe’s was about 10 minutes away.  After landing, we checked into hotel, then went to eat supper, and off to Trader Joe’s for sandwich stuff, snacks, and water.  We picked up a cooler at a Walgreens.  Apparently CA charges you for bags.  We were charged 10 cents for each bag at TJ, and at Walgreens, they were going to charge 25 cents..and they dont even offer a bag at Walgreens, you have to ask…so I just carried my things.

DAY 2…
We left the hotel about 9:15 and drove to downtown San Fran to the Trolley Museum.  FYI….we froze.  It was about 50 degrees, and our jeans and sweatshirts almost weren’t enough.  It’s quite cold in that area and it was absolutely freezing closer to the water. Be prepared for paying for parking…and not a little bit either.  The Trolley museum is free….the parking we found for this stop was $15 for Suburban size, normally $10 for smaller. They park it for you, they wont even let you park it at this place.  We walked down about 3-4 blocks to the museum.  Later, walking back up….was a beast!  Those SF hills!   Craziness!  The museum showcases the history of the Cable Cars in San Fran, it also shows the cable wheels that make the cars move daily.  In the back of the building, they have cars and use those specific cars for training new drivers and you can watch them going in and out of the shed. After the museum, we drove down to Pier 29 next to Alcatraz Landing.  The normal cheaper parking spaces were all full so we were forced to park in this one specific place and they charged us FORTY FIVE dollars to park there, and it didnt matter if you stayed one hour or 8 hours!  And you had to be back by 8pm to get your vehicle of they would lock it in and you would have to wait till morning. We walked down to Pier 39 and ate our packed lunch along the way.  We headed back to Alcatraz Landing for our 12:30 boarding time on the ferry. Alcatraz was our destination.  Everyone enjoyed Alcatraz, the kids liked having headphones and following the directions around the place and listening to the stories.  If you keep up with National Park stamps…bring your book, and you can get stamps here.  If your kids like to do Ranger programs, they have that here too.  After Alcatraz, we walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf and ate at Nick’s Seafood.  A couple yrs ago when I went to CA for my brother’s wedding, we ate here and the spicy sauce they pour over the crab was amazing!  I had been craving it since then.  I introduced the spicy sauce to Jameson, he thought it was ok.  Surprising, because he likes hot and spicy.  He did enjoy the crab though.   After supper, we got our vehicle and went back to hotel for bed.

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DAY 3…
We took the Double Decker bus on a tour of San Fran.  We saw many different aspects of San Fran.  Historical, business, movie locations, federal buildings, Golden Gate bridge, and tons and tons of people!  One of our stops was the California Science Museum.  We spent a few hours there, it was a pretty cool place. A whale exhibit, Rainforest, Space, Earthquake, and some other things. After the museum, we hopped back on the double decker bus and finished our tour.  After that we found the car (we were able to park someplace better and cheaper today) and headed over to Fort Mason, which isnt very far from the exit to get off the island on the Golden Gate.  At Fort Mason, we were able to get stamps for Muir Woods (even though we tech didn’t go to Muir Woods, we would be going to Yosemite and Sequioa and John Muir was very popular in both of those places), Golden Gate and Fort Mason.  When we got there, they were actually closed, however, we were fortunate enough to find a Park Ranger and he let us into the office to get stamps and chit chat a bit. On our way out of San Fran, we stopped at an In and Out burger.  Sam loved it, and the burgers were good and fast and cheap. Onward to Ukiah, which was about the closest place to Leggett I could find for us to sleep.  The Quality Inn was clean, it had 3 double beds (which was nice), a large bathroom, and a good hot breakfast.

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DAY 4…
We drove about an hour from Ukiah to Leggett to the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree.  We thought we might drive thru the tree, take some pics, and leave.  But we were pleasantly surprised.  Of course our Suburban was too big to take through the tree.  It is possible we could have done it with someone on the outside guiding the driver, and tucking the side mirrors in…but we didnt think it was worth it in a rental.  We walked through it several times and got pictures of that.  We also hiked up in the woods and saw many Redwood trees fallen. The boys and Kat climbed on them and had quite a bit of fun.  Back out in the parking lot was a large Redwood with a hollowed out trunk.  The kids climbed all over the tree, on top and inside for hours!  We ate our lunch there and in all, spent nearly 4 hours in that place.  It was peaceful, perfectly tempuratured, and quite enjoyable. When we were finished with this stop, we headed out towards Sacramento, traveling through Napa Valley.  We arent drinkers, but along the 3000 different Vineyards we passed, we decided to stop at one for a teesy taste of wine.  We also bought some freshly picked strawberries and Boysenberries.  Both berries were delicious, and we remembered why we dont drink wine, it doesnt taste good to us.  HAHA  While driving, we discovered the Petrified Forest of Napa Valley. Mount Saint Helena, which borders Napa and Sonoma CA created this petrified forest of Redwoods. It was quite fascinating seeing large Redwood trees fallen and hard as rocks and walking on trails made of ash. We spent about an hour here and headed onto Sacramento. We stopped at the Black Bear Diner on our way, we compared it to Cracker Barrell menu-wise.  Our hotel in Sacramento was downtown and literally across the street from the Children’s Hospital.  The parking in our hotel was horrendous.  There were about a dozen spots and they are for compact cars.  We had to park across the street in the hospital parking garage. The breakfast was good, several options.

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DAY 5…
Today we visited the Capitol of CA! Sacramento! We parked downtown in a garage right next to the Capitol. Capitol offers Free guided tours at the top of every hour. We saw some beautiful rooms, historic rooms, and pictures of former governors including Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Afterwards, we walked a few blocks downtown to Old Sacramento which reminded us of a version of Historic Jonesborough, but no antiques, just old buildings. Before entering Old Sac, we shopped a bit at the mall. Jim had never been in a Macy’s, so we walked around it…and Kat found a Forever 21 store going out of business and deep discounts. We bought a few things for her and she was thrilled to get to “shop”. We ate some lunch in Old Sac and then stopped over at the California State Railroad museum. We had a tour guide who gave us some very interesting history of the trains out west and how they got there. Trains were built in New York, then disassembled, put on a boat, and traveled down the coast around South America and back up. It took 9 months for the train to get there, and the first train that came didnt have instructions on how to put it back together. There was no telegraph or Mail system up yet and it would take another 18 months for a letter to be mailed back and an answer received. So fortunately, the west was able to get ahold of some engineers who were able to figure it out and get it built back together. When we were finished with the museum, we walked back to our car and headed to Mariposa, which is just outside Yosemite. The hotel was older but clean . Breakfast left little to be desired, not many options for gluten free kids and momma.

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DAY 6…
Yosemite!! What a beautiful place! We wished we had taken away a Hollywood day and had a second day at Yosemite! The kids LOVED climbing on rocks, and playing in water. We stopped at the Swinging Bridge first, and there was a super nice place for the kids to play in the water, they so badly wanted to put their swimsuits on and swim, but we just didnt have time to dig for suits and swim for a while when we had so much more to see in just one day. We had our first view of the falls from here and we couldnt wait to get up closer to it. After about an hour, we headed towards Curry Village to park and walked over to the visitors center to get our State Park stamps, then we hiked to the falls. We hiked all the way to the bottom of the first big drop for the falls…there were tons of people there, the kids LOVED climbing all the rocks, and they even took their shoes off and climbed down to stick their feet in the freezing snow melted waters. A few people stripped down to their undies and jumped in and swam out to the big rock in front of the falls, jumped up and hollered and waved to friends then swam back to their friends. The water was C-C-C-Cold!! The kids said it hurt their feet! We spent a couple hours playing around there and then walked back to the visitor center to eat lunch at Dangun’s. We then drove up to Glacier Point. We wanted to stop and hike up to Sentinal Dome, but it was a couple miles up and then a couple miles back, and it was getting late in the afternoon, and we still had to drive a few hours to Sequioa. Glacier Point was beautiful also. I could totally build a house up there and live all the rest of my days.

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DAY 7…
Sequioa! We left our hotel about 8:15am and had a 10 minute drive to the park entrance. We stopped at the Ranger Station and got tickets for Crystal Cave. They only allow so many people at a time, and you must get the tickets from the Ranger station. Then we had a little over an hour drive to the cave parking lot. ALL food and drinks and any smelly things were required to be put into the bear proof boxes they had provided around the parking lot. Large Brown bears were a problem. We had a 1/2 mile hike down a path to the cave entrance. The cave was pretty cool, but the guide wasnt very educational. We asked questions and she answered, we also asked why they didnt name the different formations. We mentioned later the cave tour would be much better if formations were named, more education about caves or this particular cave. Who found it, what it was used for in history, etc. Eastern US cave tours are MUCH better. Then we had a very steep and exhausting hike back up the 1/2 mile to get to the parking lot. After our cave tour, we had about another hour drive furthur up the mountains to the General Sherman vicinity. We stopped at a picnic area and had some lunch while we kept our ears perked and our eyes vigilant for bears. There were signs everywhere about being cautious, bears were in the area. The trees here were ginormous! The difference between Sequioas and Redwoods is the Sequioas are very fat but not super tall, the Redwoods are tall and large, but not generally as wide around as the Sequioas. Some Redwoods are very large in circumference , and there are a couple that can be driven thru, but for the most part, they are very tall and straight, the trunks being about the same thickness as the top of the tree. The General Sherman is the largest tree in the world! It is ginormous! It has some larger friends surrounding it as well. After seeing the tree, we took a quick jaunt over to the visitor center. There was a bus to take you to Green Meadow (i think that is what its called) but we didnt have time to take it. However, a few people on the bus back to the large parking lot said they were tons of bears all over the meadow and everyone was taking pictures. We were sorta glad we didnt have time for that in our day! HAHA The road back down the mountain were super curvy and required rolled down windows to stave off motion nausea. I have never in my life been nauseous in a car, but i did get that way coming down the mountain. Kiss your heind-end curves galore, one right after the other! Hollywood was our next destination!

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DAY 8-11…
Hollywood….Our hotel as on Sunset Blvd, Hollywood Blvd as parallel to our road and if we walked out of our hotel and turned right, walked past Starbucks and turned right, we would come out across the street from Madame Tusauds Wax Museum. Our hotel room was decently sized, we had a corner room. The bathrm was tiny, and 2 people could hardly fit in there together. A large walkin closet was handy to keep luggage in, and a large couch was useful to Samuel so the beds werent as crowded.
Day 8….
We bought Go LA City Passes before we left home. There were several things on there we could choose from, but some places required driving and traffic was a beast. So we tried to keep as close to where we were as possible. On this day we chose the LA Hollywood Tours. We saw famous homes, different parts of the city, the Hollywood sign and several other things. We had a good guide and he seemed to be quite informative, claiming he was the real deal because he had lived there his whole life and had been both in front of and behind the screen. Afterwards, we ate some packed sandwiches and then visited the Hollywood Museum. This museum is in the old Max Factor Makeup building. The basement is dedicated to horror flicks. The first floor was mostly about the history of the Makeup there and about Max Factor himself. Kat was in heaven there and read pretty much every single word on every single exhibit. There were also some other exhibits from Hunger Games, GWTW, Star Wars and Trek, and some other movies. The second floor was all Marilyn Monroe, including very large floor to ceiling copies of her Playboy spread. My boys walked in and saw it and turned around immediately and wouldnt go any further. Jim ignored it, and so did Kat and I, looking at her other outfits. The third floor was dedicated to “alternate lifestyles” of actors, comedians, etc. It wasnt out favorite floor just because we dont care about that stuff. Our next stop was Universal Studios. We really enjoyed that. The transformers came out for pictures with guests and spoke. Megatron was hilarious and we could have stood there and watched him all day. He was super insulting but in a funny way and he cracked us all up!
Day 9…
Today we visited Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. It was entertaining. They had several actors we enjoy watching in movies. Then we went to the Chinese Theatre and looked at the handprints and signatures for many people. Then we visited a huge candy store, and a guy and a girl were handmaking hard candies. We watched them from the time they had just started kneading it until they finished and gave us samples of what they made. We also bought a bag of it and it was delicious! Next up, some lunch at Chickfile. They actually had one there! And then we were off to Universal again. A word of caution while walking on Hollywood Blvd. People are dressed up in characters of all kinds and if they see your camera, they will take it and hand it off to someone to take a picture of you with them. And then they expect you to fork over 10 bucks to pay for it! Good grief…be firm and keep your camera to yourself! There are also people trying to get you to take a CD of their music and then slap you up for money. We were very firm, they didnt like it…but we did not buy any wierd music!
Day 10…
Today we took a tour of the Warner Brothers Studio! That was super cool. We saw an empty town and no actors….LOL…but it was still cool. We also saw stages for reg TV shows like Two Broke Girls, Molly and Mike, and Big Bang Theory. We also saw a huge warehouse with props the directors “rent” for their shows or movies. They also had a Batman Museum showcasing all the clothes and main characters from each Batman movie, and a Batcave with all the Bat Vehicles. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel for a nap, all this traveling and busy touristy stuff was catching up with us. A dinner at Mel’s Diner and then Jurassic World at the famed Chinese Theatre. Granted, we didnt watch the movie in the main theatre where stars go for previews because that actual theatre is 3D and we cant handle an entire movie in 3D without getting a headache after 30 minutes. But it was still cool to even be AT the Chinese Theatre to watch a movie.
Day 11…
Today we drove up to Simi Valley to the Ronald Reagan museum. One of the hilites of our trip. The museum chronicled his entire life, every family event, and every political event. We spent a few hours there. After wards, we drove over to Santa Monica to check out the pier and swim in the ocean. The beach sand was stinky, it smelled like fishy poo. The kids played in the water for a couple hours. The beach was super crowded and noone has beach ettiquette. Kids are running and kicking and flinging sand all over us. Sometimes they would stand so close we thought they were going to actually step on us. People were roaming up and down the beach like crazy selling fruit, fresh chips, sand buckets, boogie boards, ice cream…you name it. It was obnoxious and distracting from our job keeping up with kids in the water. We had supper on our way back to our hotel at the Apple Pan. It was a burger joint and the seats were all around a bar. It was pretty cool and old fashioned. The restaurant had been there about 50 yrs or something like that.

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DAY 12….
today we drove up Historic Hwy 1 along the coast. We left our hotel about 9ish and drove towards Santa Barbara. We ate at a small hole in the wall restaurant recommended by a customer at the Apple Pan the night before. This restuarant is supposed to be famous for bing Julia Child’s fave mexican restaurant. It was tasty and inexpensive and they had a woman there making fresh tortillas. It was called La Super-Rica Taqueria. After lunch, we drove on up the coast. We stopped at San Simeon to see the Elephant Seals on the beach. The noisy, stinky, roly-poly seals. They were funny and odd at the same time. We also saw a gazillion Marmots. They look like a cross between a squirrel and large rat and are super personalble and super cute. They would come right up to you hoping for food, even though several signs say to NOT feed any of the wildlife. We continued our drive on up to Carmel and Monterey to our hotel. We ate supper at Bubba Gump on Cannery Row in Monterey and it was delicious.

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DAY 13…
Monterey…today we wet on a Whale Watching tour. We chose the Monterey Bay Whale Watching company because they have Marine Biologists and Naturalists on the ship giving us an education about the animals we were seeing. The tour was about 4 hours long and it was VERY cold. SO cold, we almost couldnt stay outside. If the sun would have just come out it would have been great…but it chose to not come till a couple hours after lunch..sighhh. We saw Harbor porpoises, Sealions, Humpback Whales, Black footed Albatros, and Risso’s dolphins. It was super cool to see these animals in their natural habitat and to see the blowholes. After our tour we went back to the hotel for napping and swimming. Supper at a pizza place called Pizza My Way and they had the most delicious Gluten Free crust…soft but crunchy edges….super delicious!

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DAY 14…
Monterey Bay Aquarium….we have wanted to visit this Aquarium ever since we read a book by Don C. Reed (a marine biologist at the aquarium) called Sevengill: The Shark and Me. The book is a diary of sorts of his adventure of this very first Sevengill shark found. The aquarium is quite large. We actually saw a few Sevengill sharks there. It was very crowded and if it were less crowded, we would have spent many more hours there. After our aquarium visit, we drove up to Santa Cruz to the Mystery Spot. Mystery Spot is an anomoly of sorts. Gravity is backwards, with water and balls rolling uphill. Tall people becoming shorter than short people. We were super skeptical. Some things looked really odd and cool, while many other things looked like a really good optical illusion. We were impressed with their ability to pull it all off and make some serious cash between cheap tickets, paid parking, gift shop and decent food. After some supper at an expensive restaurant with mediocre food, we headed to San Jose. The hotel we had was huge, and after we finally got all our luggage in, and were halfway ready for bed, we saw a HUGE roach! Samuel saw it first and we all flipped out. It was the first bug we had seen in any hotel the whole time we were in CA. We called the front desk and they sent a manager and a maintenance guy to come check it out. “This is the first complaint we have had since we went through and had the building fumigated and new carpet put in” Gosh, that is reassuring….we agreed to stay because moving was too tiring but we were on the lookout for more. Fortunately, we never saw anymore and they comped our room for that night.

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DAY 15…
San Jose…Today we went to Venture Christian Church where Chip Ingrim preaches. Unfortunately, we never saw him, let alone get to hear him preach. But it was nice to get some church in the middle of our vacation. After lunch we went to the Winchester Mystery House. The house is the home of Sarah Winchester, who was married to William Winchester, son to Oliver Winchester who was the manufacturer of the Winchester repeating rifle. Sarah grew up and lived in Connecticut. A few years after she was married, their daughter died. Fifteen yrs later, her husband died. She was so distraught, and didnt know what to do, and sought the help of a medium. This medium told her the deaths of her husband and daughter were a punishment from the spirits of those who had died in the Civil War from the Winchester guns and the only way to rememdy it was to move out west and build the spirits a house. So she did! She moved to CA and bought a farm house and then started this huge mansion in San Jose. She had a room in the center of the house, which she visited every night to speak with the spirits about the plans for the house. She spent 30+ yrs building, rebuilding, remodeling, adding, taking away on this house. She never stopped. The only time work stopped was when she died, and the evidence of unfinished construction is evident in the house. The house was pretty cool and having full run of the house without being stopped would have been pretty amazing. The reason she built it was sad, I felt sorry for her. I hope she made her way right with the Lord when she died, but our guess is she didnt since she met with and spoke with spirits every night.

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Day 16…
San Jose…today we went to the Intell Museum. It was free and gave us something to do since we had gone to the Winchester House the day before. We spent a couple hours there. After that we found a Costco and checked it out. It would be nice to have one here. They have far more gluten free and organic food options and the range of household products is quite large. We had lunch at In and Out burger. It was Sam’s favorite so we made sure to eat there one more time before heading home. We got to our last hotel about mid afternoon and Kat and I spent a couple hours going through all of our laundry and repacking all the bags. Kat and Jim ran out to Trader Joe’s to get me some jars of Coconut Oil. We wrapped the jars in dirty laundry and stuffed them into the cooler we bought with more dirty laundry and wrapped it all up with duct tape.

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DAY 17…
Heading home. We got to the airport faily early. We were only 10 minutes from there, but with it being so large, we figured we would have traffic and a line returning the vehicle and a line checking in. However, between the time we left the hotel and the time we sat down to wait for our plane, only an hour had passed. We were ready for home. We had a great trip, but we were tired and ready to get back into the normal routine.

We loved pretty much everything about our trip except Hollywood. A couple days there was enough for us. Trading out those days for extra time at Yosemite would have been better. But alas, we didnt know…and we still had a wonderful time. The traffic was super annoying in the bigger cities. We are not used to that. It is much preferred to arrive in a place in 10-20 minutes that is about 5-10 miles away and not spend 1-2 hours traveling 5-10 miles. We could never live in such a busy place. For the most part, people were friendly. Only the beach people and Hollywood people were rudish. In Hollywood, everyone wants money and will do whatever it takes to get some. Whether it be helping you figure out the subway system, taking a picture with them dressed up in a costume, sell you their newest music CD, sell you a tour, bribe you with signs for their store and the $5 preices they have inside….just a super busy and super crowded version of Pigeon Forge. Everything is so brown from the drought it looks dreary. There were signs everywhere about the drought and paying attention to the water you used but none of the hotels we were in had water savers or signage about conserving water. We didnt see any Baptist churches, everything was Christian church, catholic, mormon, 7th day, church of christ, christian science, buddist, or scientology. We did ask someone about Baptist churches and he said he wasnt aware of any anywhere close to him and he had lived there his whole life. It was just something we found odd since here in TN, there are about 30 different versions of the Baptist church alone.

SO, there was our big adventure. I hope you enjoyed reading what we did, places we went, and things we saw.

Our first two week long vacation…can we do it?

We have never taken 2 weeks before. Most people don’t take 2 weeks. It’s a long time away from work, especially if you own your own business. But we tried it, as an experiment, to see if it could be done without feeling exhausted when we got back home. The goal being to take trips out west over the next several yrs to see the amazing things we always read about and see on television. We believe all went well, we had a great time, saw some family we hadn’t seen in a while, saw some things we had never seen, and went places we had never been. Our trip consisted of 2,555.3 miles, 100 Dunkin Doughnut stores (we counted them), high winds and 15ft visibility, and blocks and blocks walked around a Big City!

Our adventure begins here!

Day 1…Saturday June 22, 2013…Driving north from TN to NY. We stopped in Binghampton, NY and spent the night at Fairfield Inn by Marriot. It was close to the interstate, about 2 minutes from exit 5 on US-11, between I-81 and I-88. The hotel was clean and the breakfast was good enough for us. There is also an Applebees next door we were able to walk to for supper.

Day 2…Sunday….On the Road again! I-88 to Albany, switching over to Hwy 7, then 9 and into VT/NH. We stopped for lunch at a place just after Troy, NY called Potter’s Tavern. The food was OK, there were only 2 people working the whole place, except for kitchen staff, no idea how many were in there. It had a cute little store next to it with pottery and candles and cute things like that. It wasn’t my favorite place to eat, but there also weren’t very many places to eat in the vicinity.

Late that afternoon, we arrived at my Aunt and Uncle’s house. We were quite exited, especially since it has been 7 yrs since we have seen them. Two of my cousins with their families were there and it was so nice to see them as well. My one request was to have a Lobster dinner with the family and this was the night we were going to cash in on that! Folks, there just ain’t nothing better than a lobster that was swimming that morning and is now on your plate! My middle child had been dying to try a Lobster, but with the price of them so high here in TN or even when we go to a SC beach, I had never indulged him. But here, where Lobstah is cheap, I indulged and he thoroughly enjoyed. Here are pictures of him holding it live and then being shown how to break into it.

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We then spent the evening watching super crazy storm clouds come through, and laughing and joking with each other. It was great and I wish we could do it more often.

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Day 3…Monday…Today we went to Mount Washington. I lived in NH for 16 years, and have visited family in NH at least half a dozen times, and can you believe I have never been to Mt Washington? Mt Washington sports the logo “Home of the World’s worst weather”, it is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288 ft and the most prominent mountain east of the Mississippi River. When we were there, the winds at the peak were 55-60 mph, the temp was 54 degrees and we had between 10-15 foot visibility, and this was in June! Can you imagine what it is in the winter? But we had great fun in spite of it! The kids thoroughly enjoyed climbing in the clouds and winds, and we constantly had to keep an eye on them, because beyond the 15 feet, we couldn’t see them!!

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After our mountain excursion, we toured around upper NH a bit and then headed back towards my Uncle and Aunt’s house. We stopped at a Mexican restaurant for supper and then made our way over to my favorite Ice Cream place. Lone Oak Ice Cream! I had my kids worked up for nearly any flavor they could imagine, especially Bubblegum, which was always my favorite as a little girl.

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Day 4…Tuesday…today we were going to my cousins house for supper. He is newly GF, and since we are too, I made some sweets on this morning to take with us. We then dropped them off there around lunch so it could be kept in the frig, and we ate some lunch at Friendly’s. It’s a popular place up there, sorta like a mix between Bob Evans/Dairy Queen. Sit down and order, but all kinds of ice cream for dessert! Then we took a drive over to another cousin’s greenhouse to pick up some flowers she put together for my dad’s gravestone. The rest of our afternoon was spent visiting my 95 yr old Great Aunt Dot, and then off to dinner with cousins. I wish we all lived closer!

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Day 5…Wednesday…York Beach! WOW!!! The water is so cold it hurt mine and my husband’s feet! However, the kids did not care one bit! I invited some old school/growing up chums to join us, with the crazy work schedules of most only 2 were able to come as well as my aunt and her adult daughter and 3 grandkids from one of her sons. We had fun getting to catch up a bit and we had a great day. It was overcast, not blazing hot, nice breeze, and it didn’t rain until 2:30. We decided to pack up and go play in the arcade and visit the Goldenrod Taffy Store! And BOO, I forgot to take pictures of myself with my old school chums 

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Afterwards we parted ways with our cousins and friends and drove over to the Nubble Lighthouse and then went for some supper at the Weathervane for some seafood!

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Day 6…Thursday…Today we went to Barrington and visited my dad’s gravesite. We dropped of the flowers my cousin had put together for me and toured around the cemetery. I love old cemeteries, and this one has some mid 1800s in it! We visited Barrington, stopped at my old house, the one I had lived in from 6 months to 10 yrs. I showed the kids my old stomping grounds and we saw a couple neighbor friends of ours and visited a few minutes with them. We took a visit to Calef’s Country Store and I reminisced about “the younger years”. We let the kids get their “penny candy” (and they actually had one jar of 1 cent candy in there). My middle child loves pickles and it was always a treat of mine when I was little to pick a pickle out of the wooden barrel…in fact, I think it’s the same barrel as when I was little…LOL…so I let him pick out a pickle. After Barrington, we drove over to Dover and got some pizza at Weeksies! And let me tell ya, they had some GREAT Gluten Free Pizza. Yummy crust, and yummy selection of toppings and we all scarfed down a load of pizza! We ended the day with supper with my Uncle and Aunt at a Seafood place at the bottom of their hill. While we were finishing up, another cousin’s wife came and picked me up and took me to Trader Joe’s. COOL PLACE!!! I wish we had one closer to us!

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Day 7…Friday…Today we spent some time on laundry for our next week in Philly and started packing. We also went out to visit a little bit and our first stop was at one of my friend’s dad’s house. He still lived in the old family farmhouse. My friend and I had spent many days there playing. The house is connected to the barn, and has a steeple in the top of it. It was and still is one of my favorite houses. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the outside of the house. But I did take a picture of a picture from many years ago of the house. If you look at the picture, you can see the “steeple” in the top that my friend and I used to play in when we were young. We took the kids up there and then my friend’s dad made sure I let them slide down the banisters of this over 100 year old house. Another favorite activity for my friend and I when we were little. I was surprised at how sturdy the banister was considering how many people have slid down it. 😉 We also spent some more time with my Great Aunt and my dad’s sister. I had not seen her since I was a little girl. She had left the area when I was little and didn’t move back to the area until a few years ago. We then had a wonderful supper with my Aunt and Uncle again and a couple family members and said our sad goodbye’s to the cousins with invites to come visit us in TN.

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Day 8…Saturday…Today we drove down to Philly. We had to take the worst interstate ever created…I-95!!! That road is dangerous, exhausting, trafficky, and aggravating. Our 6 ½ hour drive was closer to 9! Blahhh
However, the day was made better because we got to visit with some beloved friends the Tysons! They used to live down the street from us, but moved to Philly a few yrs ago. I have missed them! She fixed us dinner and took me to the “famous Wegman’s grocery store” she is always talking about! Famous because she loves it and talks about it on FB….and I have to agree, what an amazing Grocery store, we totally need one here in my town! Her boys have grown so much, and she has a new one I had never gotten to see! All looked well, and we had a great visit!
We stayed at the Homewood Suites by Hilton (Philadelphia-City Ave). It was a great hotel! Clean, friendly, great breakfasts, great view of the city, but far enough to be out of the crowds and noise at night, we even saw the 4th of July fireworks perfectly from our 8th floor room!

Day 9…Sunday…Today starts our Philly adventure! Today we took our Bus #44 from City Ave and went downtown to the Visitor Center. First order of business was to go straight to the Ranger desk to get our FREE but timed tickets to the Independence Hall! We also got the kids started up with the Ranger Program. If you don’t remember to print out the pages ahead of time before you go, you can get a book from the Ranger Station for free. When on the rounds filling out the book, be sure to collect the Trading Cards! We either forgot to or missed some of them, but no worries because the Ranger Station has all of them and will give 4 at a time. They quizzed the kids on things they saw or of history involving things we saw before awarding them with more cards. Today we toured around Independence Hall, Congress Hall, The Liberty Bell, 2nd Bank, Betsy Ross House, Christ Church, and Christ Church Cemetery. (hint, the best thing to do is buy the Philly City Pass at the Visitor Center which grants access to 5 different things around town and saves you money, several things are free to see, but some things cost a few dollars and are not in the pass booklet). Today it rained, a lot, the kids enjoyed it though because we bought them rain ponchos….LOL

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Day 10…Monday…Today we visited the Franklin Institute! That place is just an absolute blast and so big, so much to see! The kids all had a great time there. Kathrina and I watched an IMAX movie about Butterflies and Jim and the boys watched an IMAX on Space Junk (old satellites and such), the kids climbed through a giant heart, Kat and I watched a REAL heart being dissected, the kids played in a huge train, an airplane, and just a huge number of fun things!

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Day 11…Tuesday…Today we rode around on the double decker Big Bus and got a pretty cool city tour! Our little tour gal was so sweet and did a great job! We used the Bus in place of walking to a couple different things for today including the Eastern State Penitentiary, the National Constitution Center, and the US Mint! Eastern State Pen was pretty cool, the kids enjoyed seeing the old cells and Jim and I liked seeing Al Capone’s “home”. The National Constitution Center was extremely crowded, had lots to do, but we didn’t stay long. It was so overly crowded that it was slightly boring because we couldn’t see everything and it was tedious keeping up with the kids. The US Mint was a super cool place! We watched them make quarters! No pics allowed of the inside of that place though. 

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Day 12…Wednesday…Today we went to Lancaster for the day. Took us about 1 ½ hours to drive there from our hotel in Philly. We started our day at The Amish Village for a little tour of the Amish Life. We wanted to eat lunch at one a highly suggested place called the Good N Plenty. However, since we are Gluten Free, there wouldn’t have been very much we could eat. We did stop at another place just down the street from The Amish Village. It was called Hershey Farm Restaurant and Inn. They had a buffet of food. We don’t usually eat buffets (I am kinda a germaphobe about those places), but this buffet had EACH food item in a covered chaffing dish and everything was so clean! After lunch we stopped at a few antique places and drove around looking at some farms. At 4, we had reservations at the Sight and Sound Theatre. It is a MUST do/see on a person’s list of things to do in Lancaster! We saw the show Noah. It was amazing! Real animals, amazing acting, great story.

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Day 13…Thursday…July 4…Today we tried to get downtown early, but the buses were running a Sunday schedule. We didn’t realize this, so we had to wait for a good 30 minutes at the bus stop, then with it being the 4th, some roads were closed and the route was changed so our ride took a little longer than usual. We were dropped off in a different place on this morning and were told we would be picked up at this same place. Our usual stop was at the Visitor Center. We had great seats for the parade. It was a very long parade. 2+ hour parade! We aren’t used to such long parades! LOL It would have been faster if they didn’t stop every 5 minutes to do a show in front of you. There were some really cool things in the parade though, quite a bit of nationalities represented. After the parade, we walked down to Penns Landing to catch the ferry to go to the aquarium. However, by the time we got there, it was about 1:30 and they didn’t have a ferry until 3. The ferry coming at 2 was a tour and wouldn’t be going across to NJ until 3. We were unaware of this when we bought out ferry pass from the Visitor Center. So, we waited it out and caught the 3pm ferry. However, because the ferry ride took nearly 20 minutes, and the LAST ferry would be coming back at 5:30, and the last Phlash bus to pick us up to take us back to the Visitor Center came through at 5…we rushed through the entire Aquarium in a hour and made it down to the ferry for the 4:30 crossing back to Penns Landing. We rushed up to the stop to catch the Phlash, and waited, and waited, and waited for 45 minutes! We would have walked back to the Visitor Center sooner, but we were tired. I called the Septa people and they said they were still coming but the 4th of July schedule had altered the routes. However, in the time we waited, another guy had called and they were told the same thing, Phlash WAS coming to the Penns Landing stop. In that time we also saw 6 each of the regular Septa buses, Duck tour buses, and Big Bus tour buses in the same time…so why we didn’t see a Phlash bus, we were unsure. After an hour, we walked back to the Visitor Center and made our complaint to the front desk where the Septa guys are. We were told there wasn’t a Phlash at that stop for this day only. BUT we (and another guy) had called them and they said there was! We were super unhappy at this point, and were hoping we wouldn’t miss out bus back to the hotel. Since it was a Sunday schedule, the last bus for us was at 7:30. By now, it was about 6, so we walked to the bus stop, hoping to catch the 6:30. There we waited, and waited, and waited again. Sighhh, we were beginning to think our only option was a taxi. Another bus came through and we asked them about Bus 44. He informed that bus didn’t come to that stop, but we told him we were dropped off there that morning and informed we would be picked up there on this day only. No stopping at the Visitor Center. Our last bus would be at 7:30 and now it was nearly 7 and we had not seen a #44 at all. Another woman on the bus told us to get on this bus, take it to another stop a few blocks down, grab the #17 and get off at the JFK stop, from there we could get the 44. So, off we went, praying we would get our bus in the end. When we got on the 17 bus, a drunk guy hollering how badly he needed to go to the bathroom got on the bus. He stopped in front of our kids and repeated his “need” several times while he fiddled with the string on his pants. Our kids stared at him, and we watched him ready to pounce if he decided to drop his drawers. Thankfully, he made his way to the back of the bus and sang about mangos and needing to potty. The kids thought it was funny at this point and can now not even say mango without saying it like him “Mayyyynnngohhhhh”. Good news though, the #44 did come to JFK, and we made it back to the hotel. Jumped into the truck and went to TGIF’s for supper. Afterwards, showers all around, pack almost everything up and then set down at the window to watch the fireworks over the city from our 8th floor room. We had the most perfect view! It was a good end to a crazy day!

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Day 14…Friday…Packin up day! We loaded up and headed to Maryland to visit with Jim’s Uncle and his wife. Uncle Rooster is a pretty cool feller and his wife Tiny is the sweetest ever. We visited with them once before about 7 yrs ago on our way home from our last NH trip. We stayed a few hours and then headed home. We made it home about midnight. Unloaded quickly and then hopped into bed!
We had a great vacation, and if you are thinking about a trip to Philly then hopefully I have given you some things to consider for your own itinerary.

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Ham Broth…Delicious!!!

**Please note that my method of preserving this broth is based on other methods of canning I have done. If you should choose my method and for some reason become sick, you shall not hold me responsible. Researching the proper way to preserve is up to the person preserving. I have done what I think is best and healthy, but I am sure at some point I may find a better method. Thanks for reading and happy broth making.

I recently have been learning so much about bone broth. Chicken broth is amazingly good for you! A few reasons to drink Healthy Homemade Chicken Broth from Pastured Chickens are
1)The yellow fat has immune boosting powers
2)The bones hold minerals we need for our bodies like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and other minerals
3)The gelatin proteins are great for our cartilage and joints and may even decrease or eliminate the need for acetaminophen
4)Leaching the calcium out of the bones and then drinking it in the broth will absorb right into our bodies helping to make our bones strong
5)If you have digestive problems, the properties in the broth assist certain hard to digest foods that are a problem for many people like milk, meat, beans, and grains.
6)And then there are the issues with buying broth, filled with too much salt, MSG, and chemicals to aid in preservation…homemade is the way to go!

Now, I am sure you are asking “Why is she giving the benefits of chicken broth when the title is Ham Broth”. Let me just say, I have been researching the benefits of Ham Bone Broth, but I am not having very much luck with finding all of the benefits. So, I decided to just forge ahead and see what happens and assume that all the benefits from Chicken bones will be the same for Ham bones. However, to make sure I give fair blog time to the chicken, I will post Chicken Broth another time soon! 🙂

So, that lovely spiral ham you ate for Easter dinner? Don’t chuck it when you are done! Strip it clean of meat…and let me tell ya, I found a tremendous amount of meat underneath that spiral cutting! Use a sharp knife, and cut away that layer of fat, and there is an abundance of meat under there! After you have cut away all the meat you can find, dump everything else like bones, fatty pieces, and grissly meat chunks into a crockpot. Add a full onion, skin and all, chopped into fourths, a couple stalks of celery, 2-3 cloves of garlic (love my pampered chef garlic crusher), and couple Tbsp worth of freshly grated ginger. If you want carrots, stick a couple of those in there too. (this picture is on the second round, which is why the meat is brown, but you can do this whole process at least 3 times….chicken bones can have 3 cycles, beef bones can have 6-8 cycles, I am assuming ham can be at least 3)
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Fill it up to the top with water and cook on LOW between 12-15 hours.
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Doesn’t this look yummy?
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After the required time has passed, you will want to pull out the onions and celery and throw them away or throw into compost. Then strain out the bones and such and put onto a separate plate . Strain the broth into a container and any “junk” that is caught in the strainer, keep it for the next round.
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Doesn’t this look pretty and yummy?

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After you have pulled everything out and strained the broth, put all the bones and fat and such back into the crockpot. Add new onion, celery, garlic, and ginger. Add new water and keep on low for another 12-15 hours. You can do this process 3 times total. It is possible you can do it a couple more times, since even after the 3rd time, the broth still looked rich and dark to me. Make sure that the first 2 batches are put into the refrigerator until all batches are finished. Also, remember NOT to add hot broth to cold broth when storing broth in the refrigerator, this is a good way to invite bacteria into the broth. (think back to the breastmilk storage rules, always a new container for each frig batch) After the 3rd time, take all the containers of broth and add them into a large pot on the stove. The purpose of this is to blend together all marrow and nutrients that may have been extracted in different batches. Melt the fat and heat it all together until well blended and simmer for about 10 minutes.

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While your broth is heating up…get your ice cube trays ready, and other small containers that are freezer safe. If you choose to use any glass mason jars, then you should put them into the oven at 200 for 5 minutes. This will heat them so when you pour the broth in, they don’t break. (Also, when using glass jars, you need to make sure the broth has completely cooled before putting them into the freezer) After the broth is heated, I used a ladle and poured some into a 2 cup measuring cup to make it easier to pour into the ice cube trays. Afterwards, I poured all the rest into small 4 oz containers. Do not pour all the way to the top of the containers, leave around ½ inch for expansion in the freezer. After your ice cube trays have completely frozen, pop them out (I had to use a knife to assist) and put into a gallon ziplock bag. I double bagged mine. Now, every time you open a can of green bean, or fresh beans, soup beans, collard or mustard or another green, you can pop in a cube or 2 or a little 4oz cup of the broth to add wonderful flavor.

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And there you go! The easiest and BEST tasting Ham broth EVER!!! Please note, I never added any additional salt to the broths. You may do so if you would like. But I use real salted butter in much of my cooking, plus the ham used had salt in it when it was cooked. So, adding more salt would be too much for me.

Enjoy!

Autism Awareness Month….or should it be Life Awareness Daily!

Autism Awareness Month….the month where those of us with a Special Needs child on the spectrum, get to have an entire month to make others aware that these children are special and need a bit more help. Now please don’t come and get me, tie me up, and burn me at the stake for what I am about to say. I have a child with Asperger Syndrome, I understand, really, I promise. For those who don’t understand what that is, it is a form of Autism, but on a higher functioning level. Many of them can hold a conversation, albeit, generally only one they are interested in, and their focus on other subjects is limited; some will allow contact like handshakes, hugs, etc; sometimes they will look you in the eye; they like the latest movies …but, they often are not as obviously “special needs” to those who don’t know. But here is the thing I don’t like. I don’t like that there is ONE month set aside to make those around us aware of these special kids. I don’t like that some people want to make sure that everyone knows their kids is “one of those” and needs “special treatment” and will use it as an excuse for things. Granted, some do need more help, some are much more severe. But for me, I don’t want everyone to know, I don’t want it on my kid’s medical record, I don’t want a written documentation, I don’t want “special treatment”, I don’t want excuses for their behavior. I DO want people to treat them kindly and with a bit more patience, I do want them to take the time to listen to their non-stop ramblings about whatever is interesting to them for that week, I do want them to have friends, I do want their friends to understand that they might be different (but they don’t need details), but so is everyone in this world. I don’t want their friends to walk away from them when they are talking and ignore them. I do want parents to educate their children to be polite, sensitive, and empathetic listeners. I don’t want only one month of educating people, I want every day, year after year.

I want things to be easier for my child; I don’t like to see him struggle with schoolwork. I wish that the energy he puts into memorizing movies and statistics for actors in his favorite movies or statistics for Skylander characters would equal that of his energy he puts into schoolwork. I wish that my 5th grader did not have to repeatedly do some 3rd grade work, because I cannot in good conscience move him forward unless he completely understands what is in front of him. However, let me say that my 5th grader has only been reading for a year. 18 months ago he was still reading Kindergarten Readers, a yr ago reading Mr Poppers Penguins, and this month he is attempting Lord of the Rings! He is doing well, and for the most part he understands what he is reading. I wish that he did not hate schoolwork and that it wasn’t a fight most days to get him to work. However, when he gets started, he is fine. It is just that he prefers other things. He would watch TV all day long every day if I let him, but I don’t think that will help him get into college. At least, I hope he will go to college, although I have already resigned myself to the fact he might live with me forever…LOL

I don’t like that when he hears the word Asperger; he asks me what that means. He knows he has it, he has heard it said. But yet, he still doesn’t understand it, and that is my fault, because I haven’t told him. I have only told him it means he has a little learning problem; he has to work a little harder at some stuff than others do. But if he works hard, he will be able to learn just as easily as his siblings. He is generally fine with that answer, but sometimes asks more questions. I don’t like the questions because I feel like he is trying to determine if his problem is serious or not. He is a worrier, and if I give him an inch, he takes a mile. I have to be gentle sometimes. I have to watch my words. I have to watch my actions. I have to listen to my own advice and listen to his current ramblings. Although, it is tiring, and I have been known on many occasion to ask him to please hush….and start a new subject, or that I am not interested in the same things he is. And even though I hate saying this to him, because I see the defeated look in his face, I feel that it is also a lesson for him to watch other people, to know when he has spoken too much. I will not always be there to tell him his time is up, he must learn this on his own. He must also have rules and structure, he must understand that there are punishments for disobeying; he must learn to get along. I have seen over the years the changes in him. For a long time every time he was mad or upset or embarrassed, he would run to his room, shut the door, and hide under the bed. No amount of cajoling could bring him out. I suppose I am glad he didn’t lash out and pummel someone. I know some who have children who do this, and I am sorry they do. It hurts, both physically and emotionally. My son has mellowed quite a bit. He rarely gets angry anymore. Although, I think we are starting some new anger issues, which I think are hormonal mixed into it. I am going to have to give him the “talk” soon. I gave the talk to my daughter when she was 10. I cannot imagine giving it to my son any time soon. He just turned 11, but he is so not ready! But before he moves up into youth at church, he must know, and he must hear it from his dad and me first. We are blessed that we can homeschool them, and shelter them somewhat. I have many friends who would love to homeschool their special children, but cannot.

He has been down the road to this doctor or that therapist. We have had our Language checked and therapied, we have had Auditory Processing checked, we have had an EEG and MRI to check for Petit Mal Seizures and we have been here and there and doled out the money to this one and that one, we have fought with insurance on things. We have been told to go see that specialist, only to hear we need to see this other one first. We were so tired of it all, that we just stopped and agreed NO MORE. We are homeschooling, there is no medication, there is no definite, there is only their opinion. Because of our decision to stop, he actually never went to see the official doctor who would diagnose him with Asperger. However, every therapist, every tester, every specialist has agreed he has it. We have read up on it, spoken with others who have it or have children with it. And with Obamacare coming into place, we are ever so grateful we do NOT have it in his medical records. Insurance is a joke, and anything they deem will cause a future problem, they will make sure it becomes one, I can promise you that. My husband is self-employed. Insurance is harder for us. That is a whole other story for another day though. But I can assure you that our decision to NOT have it official is going to benefit us. I also know that not having it official might hurt us when it comes to colleges and such, but we will cross that bridge when we get there. There has been one doctor that has been very helpful though. She is an eye doctor. She does Vision Therapy. She found he had a problem with his eyes “vibrating” and not focusing so he could read. We spent more money, but it was worth it; thus the reason for the speedy levels in reading.  If you have questions about that, message me and I will be happy to give advice on that. I have sent 3 people to this woman over the last 6 months, and all 3 are showing great improvement!

Have a Blessed Week!

Death…is it ever simple?

Last Saturday, on Feb 23, 2013 at 2pm, my sweet mentally disabled brother-in-law Bill passed away from complications with double pneumonia. Bill loved music, he loved Dolly Parton and Alabama (particularly Randy Owens), he loved to play doctor with his childrens medical kit, he loved UT and wearing their clothes and hats, he loved to play baseball (at least he tried) and basketball (made some good shots too), he loved to play copycat. Copycat was our game, he played with a few others, but with us? It was our game, and we played it nearly every time we were together. I copied him or he copied me. Rub a nose, play with an ear, take a swig of coke, straighten our clothes. It was a Simple game, but one we loved. Bill also loved to play air guitar with his belt buckle, or one of his real guitars, and sing and sing to his CD’s of country music. “There are stars in the southern sky….” Or “Roll on 18 wheeler, roll on”, and so many others!

2pm is a special time here. Bill couldn’t tell time, but he loved watches, and always wore one, sometimes a brand new one every month. Every time anyone asked Bill what time it was, he would say “2 ah-cok”. Right before the Lord called his final breath, he opened his eyes, looked at his family gathered around him, looked at his watch, and mumbled something that we believe was “2 ah-cok”, then he closed his eyes, took his final breath, and passed into glory land. It WAS 2 o’clock! We are so blessed that the Lord chose to leave us with that memory.

Every time Bill came to my house, he would wander around until he found a magazine, I would let him have whatever he wanted except for my Answers in Genesis magazines. Because he liked to search them out for pretty girls, tear the page out and stick it in his pocket. Many times he would have a pocket that was a couple inches thick with pictures of pretty girls.

Bill lived in another town in a special group home. A local college there has a program called Best Buddies. They are each assigned a special needs person in this program and over the years they are at that college, they are with that person. They take them to football and basketball games, parades, movies, parties, they have a little “prom” for them and all get dressed up in their finest and dance the night away, they host karaoke parties, and generally just have fun with these guys and gals. It is a fabulous program and one that every college should have. Bill also went to a little tiny church, one that barely holds 100 people, a black preacher and a black choir. Bill is white as are most of the guys in his group home. This is where his caretakers go, so they pile up all the men in the group home and take them too. We had a funeral in this church on the first funeral night, and our whole family thoroughly enjoyed it, the people there loved Bill so much. White or black, it doesn’t matter, people are people and God created them all. The culture might be different, the music might be different, the sway of the preacher might be different, but they love the Lord, and they loved Bill, he will be greatly missed by them, and we have made new friends through it. I am also so glad that his caretakers took him and his housemates to church every Sunday. There he heard about God’s love and salvation. Bill may not have mentally been able to make a conscience decision to accept Christ as his Saviour, but I have no doubt that he is in Heaven. He loved Jesus, and he sang his praise and worship songs, and loved as Jesus loved, without any reservations or prejudices. This is where life should be Simple, loving as Christ loves. With no reservations or prejudices. Taking Bill’s example in life, have fun, love Jesus, love people, forget what they have done in the past, move forward, and be an impact in their lives.
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Never forget those you love. Remember their smiles, their eyes, their laughter….and if you share the same God and made the same decision to follow Christ, then know you will see them again!

Ughh…please Doc, are you sure Gluten Free is necessary?

Oh come on Doc….surely Gluten Free is not really necessary. Sighhh….for a couple of years now, I have noticed some digestional issues. Some headaches. I am pre-diabetic. My A1C bounces around and my fasting sugar is too high. I heard about this doctor a couple years ago who does Nutritional Response Testing. Some would call him a quack. His testing methods are kinda hard to understand. But my regular diet wasn’t working. So, I decided to break down and go see him. Before I went though, I downloaded the condensed version of Wheat Belly by William Davis. I learned so much with such few words, that I had to order the full sized edition! And in this little bit I read, I have decided to take the whole family with me. My children have a mixture of food allergies, Asperger tendancies, and a bit hyper at times. They sometimes lack concentration when I school them, and they don’t have the best diet. One child lives on Mac/cheese or spaghettios, another lives on Goldfish crackers and toaster strudels, and another lives on peanut butter and jelly or ham/turkey sandwiches. Going Gluten Free will be great for all of us. It will force us to eat more vegies and fruits, and completely get rid of processed foods and unhealthy carbs.

After seeing this Doc, the commitment to eat healthier and add whole food supplements to my diet made so much sense. I look forward to eating healthier, teaching my children to eat healthier, fixing my digestional problems, being completely headache free (although, the number of headaches have dropped dramatically since I removed caffeine and artificial sugar from my diet 3 years ago), my A1C stabilizing at a lower number, lowering my fasting numbers, and of course, losing those “last 20” from the babes. I look forward to seeing my children eating healthier and gaining all of the benefits from it.

It has been 1 week since I have been gluten free. It hasn’t been as bad I thought it would be. But then, I don’t think I have had time to truly miss my former foods yet, and I am pretty sure some Oreos would be good about now. 🙂 Last week, on the morning of my first appointment with this new health Doc, I stared out the kitchen window, eating my eggs, and had myself a tiny cry, thinking about the pancakes and toaster strudels and cookies and pastas and yummy pizza that I wouldn’t be able to eat anymore. My youngest asked me what was wrong as he stood there in front of me with a warm toasty blueberry toaster strudel. “Nothing dear, you just eat your toaster strudel, and then go brush your teeth so we can leave”. I had another moment of panic and tears when I made a trip to Earth Fare and bought a few things we had to have, some gluten free pasta, pizza dough, olive oil, etc. The check I wrote caused me to freak out a bit, this new life is going to be expensive. However, I have several friends living this lifestyle, they have it figured out and know where to get the best price for what is needed. We can either pay for it now, or pay for it later with poor health. We will make it, we will learn.