Sunday, July 26, 2009

Home Sweet Home

We have made our big decision after 13 months of travel to settle down at the farm in West Sand Lake, New York! Thom grew up here, and we’re all enjoying being with family again.

After about three days of living here and watching the boys enjoy every moment, Thom said, “This just feels right, and it’s great to be home.” The irony is that after many months of job searching, he was invited back to NREL in Colorado for a second interview. Had this happened a month ago when we were in Colorado, who knows what may have happened? I believe God wanted us to experience this time together at the Farm first. Thom called NREL and explained why he wouldn’t be returning for the second interview. It sounds crazy to pass up such an opportunity, but we’re all very satisfied and happy with the decision. Thom has some ideas regarding work or possibly starting a business here in NY, but that can wait.

What a great feeling to know this is home! We enjoyed our adventurous trip immensely, and realize it’s been the trip of a lifetime. We traveled through 33 states, 7 Canadian provinces and the Yukon Territory, along with 7 European countries over the past 13 months! The boys learned so much not only from our travels, but also from the challenging Calvert curriculum we chose for home schooling. Thom considered jobs in Florida, Colorado, Michigan, and Massachusetts but we ended up right back here where he departed 30 years ago for West Point.

Thom’s parents, Clayton and Louise bought 150 acres back when Thom was about 6 years old. Now there are three houses, a garage with an apartment above, a huge red barn, acres of hay, and an in-ground swimming pool on the property. Clayton and Louise live in one house, while Thom’s older brother, Clipper, lives in the main house where Thom grew up. He and his wife, Wendy have two children: Tucker who is 10, and Avery who is 8. Our boys love playing with Tucker and Avery and they all think this is great being neighbors!

The third house is ½ mile away and was built about 8 years ago by Thom’s youngest brother, Fred. Fred lives in Truckee, California and offered to sell his house to us! He rents it out to a wonderful couple who graciously toured us through the house and garage. It is a 5-bedroom house with 3 ½ baths, but 2 of the bedrooms and one full bath are currently unfinished. So while the tenants are moving out over the next couple months, we’ll be making plans to finish off the unfinished rooms. In the meantime, we’re living in the apartment and our motor coach. We’re used to living in a small space, so hopefully a couple more months will be manageable. Clipper and Wendy are very accommodating, and we appreciate everything they’re doing to help us during this transition.

Thom’s third brother, Eric lives in Maryland with Terry and their 4 children (ages 11-5). They came by for a visit this past week and we enjoyed a family reunion! Can you picture ten Besch children playing on a 150 acre farm?! Eric also brought two horses, Willow and Ricario who now live here permanently. Our boys are thrilled! My niece, Erin, invited me to ride up to the top of the hill on the horses. It was beautiful sitting on horseback overlooking the rolling hills and lush green countryside. I could see the tall buildings of Albany about 10 miles away on the other side of the Hudson River. Yet here I was on the highest point, and I could only spot about 10 houses as I looked around 360 degrees. So we have the benefits of living close to the capital city of New York, while living in the middle of the country. Yes, this is a wonderful place to call home!

Here we are at Frost Point, Ontario, Canada enjoying a family reunion. The cottages in the background have been in my mother-in-law's family for over 100 years! Our kids are the 7th generation, and they love spending time here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

West Sand Lake, New York

We drove for five hours from Buffalo to the Albany area, and had to pay $63 at the end of the toll road! That’s for five axels, and was by far the most expensive toll in our 13 months on the road. Welcome to New York!

We arrived at the Besch Farm late in the evening, greeted by Nana, Poppa, Clipper, and Wendy. Tucker and Avery were in bed, so playing with cousins would have to wait. This is where Thom spent most of his childhood years growing up.

We settled into the apartment above the garage the next day. Thom, Clipper, Eric, and their parents lived here about 42 years ago when they were expanding the farmhouse next door. Since then, it’s been the home for Thom’s grandparents, brother Fred, and also for Thom’s parents when their new home was being built across the pasture. Now it’s our temporary home, and boy is it nice to have space.

The kids love playing with their cousins, Tucker (10) and Avery (8). The built-in pool is right out our back door. The big red barn is only about 100 yds away, with chickens wandering around. The kids collect fresh eggs daily. I believe the farm has 150 acres. Thom’s happy to be here and is finding many projects to keep him busy. He drove up in a tractor yesterday after chain sawing a bunch of wood. The boys helped him stack it for Nana and Poppa. Robby and Will have been working hard using the power washer to get old paint off a fence around the pool. They’ll start painting soon.
We celebrated Poppa’s 79th birthday on July 16 with a chicken dinner in our apartment, followed by cake and ice-cream. It was the first time Thom was able to be with his Dad on his birthday in probably 4 or 5 years.

We’ll soon be looking at houses in the area. It would be nice to settle here, close to the family and farm. School starts in about 5 weeks, so we need to make some decisions. Thom’s brother, Fred owns a house on 13 acres around the corner. Fred moved to Truckee, CA and would like to sell us the house. So that’s a possibility.

Thom’s still pursuing a few jobs outside of New York. One is in Golden, CO where he had a good interview on July 9. The interviewer emailed Thom yesterday saying he’d like Thom to fly back for a second interview! Thom also interviewed for a job nearby in Pittsfield, MA and is hoping for a second interview. There’s still the possibility of accepting the solid offer in defense contracting in Tampa, FL. So we pray daily for wisdom as we make this important next step.

July 15, 2009 – Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York
We’ve put on hundreds of miles since our Denver departure five days ago. Now we’re in New York, the 8th state since Colorado. The bread basket of the Midwest has endless miles of corn fields!

We arrived in Nappanee, Indiana in the evening, parked the motor coach at Newmar, and jumped on our bikes to ride over to the Burkholder’s for dinner. Marlene had fresh green beans from her garden, along with coleslaw and hot potatoes awaiting us. Michael had cooked up burgers and hotdogs. It was wonderful spending time with our Amish friends again. We were last in this area at the end of May. Kari laughed as she played with the boys, and Larry compared stories with us about Pike’s Peak and other Colorado landmarks. To celebrate Thom’s 50th birthday, Marlene baked four desserts including chocolate cake, rhubarb pie, cream pie, and the kids’ favorite….peanut butter pie. We were all stuffed!

Newmar worked on our coach the next morning to replace a headlight part. While they worked on it, we headed to breakfast at our favorite local restaurant, the Corner CafĂ©. Amanda, the waitress, remembered us and even recalled that the boys like hot chocolate, Thom drinks decaf, and I prefer regular coffee…that’s great service! The boys were thrilled to return to the Burkholder’s home for the rest of the day where they helped with chores and rode bareback on Princess the Pony. Thom and I tracked down Sara with Jonas’ help, and boy was she surprised to see us! Sara was our first friend in the area who then introduced us to her family and friends two months ago.

That night, all three families got together at La Fogata Mexican Restaurant in town. Larry treated us to an open buggy ride with his horse, Rose leading the way. We all loved riding along on a sunny evening with our friends. Sara, John, Jonas, and Jonathon joined us also and we had a great visit while enjoying authentic Mexican food. Marlene shared so many gifts with us including homemade cookies, produce from her garden, pie, coffee mugs, key chains, and magnets, while Sara gave us 3 dozen fresh eggs, green beans, and more yummy cookies. The kids had so much fun playing together, and we enjoyed the conversation with everyone. It was hard saying goodbye to our wonderful friends as we headed out the next morning.

From Indiana, we continued east through Ohio, the NW part of Pennsylvania, and into New York. This morning we left the RV in the Sam’s Club parking lot while we popped over the border into Canada to see Niagara Falls. You can see the Falls from the US, but the best views are from Canada. Today was a beautiful sunny day, perfect for walking alongside Niagara Falls. Robby and Will were here about 10 years ago, but they don’t remember the trip.

What an amazing volume of water pouring over the Falls every second! We all threw pennies over the Falls making wishes. The greenish-blue water looks incredibly clear as it crashes over the Falls. I learned that the Horseshoe Falls, those on the Canadian side are receding one foot per year, due to erosion of the rocks.

Thom took us to the Dare Devils’ Museum, which not only tells about the crazy, courageous people who went over the Falls, but also displays the wooden barrels, steel barrels, and boats designed to accomplish this feat. I think 15 people intentionally went over Niagara Falls, and 10 survived. To read their stories is unbelievable. Many did it for fame. Some did it multiple times. I was surprised to read that at least 5 or 6 have done it in the past 25 years. It’s illegal and the US fines a person $25,000 for doing this, while Canada’s fine is a mere $10,000.

Sam must have asked me 10 times if I’d be scared to go down Niagara Falls. Of course I’d be terrified, I told him. What terrifies me even more is his curiosity about it, especially when he finished our visit proclaiming that he wants to go over Niagara Falls one day, or at least ride the treacherous rapids and whirlpool further down the river!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Newton, Iowa

July 12
Happy 50th Birthday Thom!!! We’re just waking up, and Sam can’t wait to give Dad presents. We’re going to celebrate his birthday this evening with our Amish friends, Marlene, Larry, Michael, and Kari once we arrive in Nappanee, Indiana.

We camped out last night in a Walmart parking lot in Newton, Iowa. Today we’ll continue east through Iowa, Illinois, and into Indiana. More later…..

July 11, 2009
We’re now driving east on I-80 through Nebraska, seeing miles and miles of corn as well as grazing land for cattle. After being in the Rocky Mountains for a month, the flatness here is such a contrast. We hope to reach Nappanee, Indiana by tomorrow afternoon where we’ll celebrate Thom’s 50th birthday. Yes, it’s hard to believe that my youthful-looking husband who thrives on extreme sports will be fifty years old!

Let me back up a bit. Ben was released from Denver Children’s Hospital this past Monday, July 6. He’s had a thorough recovery, and his left eye looks back to normal. Our whole family prays daily that this was his final episode, and that the surgery perfumed by Dr. Friedman will prevent his left eye from ever again becoming infected and swollen.

We headed back to the lovely campground at Golden, along the beautiful Clear Creek. Sam mastered riding the wave, an active part of the rapids. He did it on his boogie board, beside the adult kayakers! Robby and Will rode the rapids in our inflatable red kayak. Robby also enjoyed riding his bike over to the tennis courts, where he played frequently.

One day while picking up trash for a Boy Scout community project, Robby met a woman named Jean. She was working in a community garden, and Robby loves anything to do with botany. So she invited him to help the next morning in one of Golden’s rose gardens. Robby got up at 6:30am and helped her for two hours pulling weeds! She then invited all four boys to her house, while Thom and I had an evening to ourselves! We went to the community center for our first ballroom dance class. We learned the salsa and the swing, and met some wonderful people.

We drove up to the top of Look-Out Mountain. Buffalo Bill is buried up there, and we toured through his museum showing highlights of his Wild West Show. He toured all over the US, as well as most of Western Europe. He had great respect for America’s Native Indians and included them in his show.
We also took the boys on a tour of Coors Brewery in Golden. Adolph Coors started this in the late 1800’s. It’s huge! It was a great tour where we all learned about barley, germination, mashing, malting, wort, and the fermentation. The boys liked the bottling and packaging portion. Their school studies covered the Industrial Revolution, and it was neat to see mass production with quality control in action. Thom and I did a little beer sampling, while the boys drank soda.

The Galvin’s invited us over for our Goodbye dinner. Regina, who would love to have us settle in Colorado, took us on a walk showing at least 6 gorgeous homes for sale or rent. Most had breathtaking views looking west at the awesome Rocky Mountains. If I could choose, I would love to live here. Our family loves the great outdoors, including the world-class skiing.

Thom had an interview with NREL the day before we departed. It went well, and we hope they call back next week for a second interview. In the meantime, Thom had a phone interview for defense contracting in Pittsfield, MA. Thom’s also looking into openings in NY and MI. He’s had one solid job offer in Tampa, FL but we’re hoping to land closer to home in upstate NY. We’ll keep you posted.

We departed Colorado and headed north to Wyoming. Just south of Cheyenne, we spotted a ranch offering trail riding. They boys were excited, and so we stopped for 1-hour of horseback riding. The horses’ names were Twister, Hoss, Princess, Outlaw, Twenty-two, and Colby. Our guide was McKenzie and she enjoyed talking with our boys. We made a big wide circle around the buffalo, small train, and beautiful open grasslands where the birds thrived.

Afterwards, we toured the ranch where we saw goats, 9 camels, llamas, alpaca, ostriches, turkeys, peacocks, more horses, and cows. Ben thought the little 4-day old Philly (female horse) was the most beautiful horse he’s ever seen. We also saw a week-old llama named Squirt.
Now we can add Wyoming and Nebraska to our map, which puts us at 33 states visited over the past 13 months!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Golden, Colorado

July 5, 2009
You won’t believe what’s happened since my last blog. Ben ended up in the hospital again for his third time with peri-orbital cellulitis of his left eye! Aahhhh…the saga continues! The good news is that he’ll probably be going home tomorrow morning.

It started last Tuesday just as we departed Colorado Springs on our way north to Golden. Ben complained of a headache and said his forehead really hurt. That night, he was nauseous and developed a low-grade fever, yet his eye wasn’t swollen. By 7am, things developed quickly, and we could tell he wasn’t opening his left eye completely. Because this happened in May ’08 and again in Dec ’08, we recognized the signs and headed to the Denver Children’s Hospital. The ER took it very seriously and got him started on IV antibiotics. They ran a CT scan, and determined that an abscess was developing in his left orbital area just inside from the nose. The doctors hoped the antibiotics would take care of everything, without requiring a surgical procedure.

When Ben had this the first time, we lived in Alaska and he had to be medivaced by plane from Fairbanks to Anchorage. They performed surgery to drain a huge abscess that was growing on his left optic nerve. The second time he had it, we were in Maryland and took him to Walter Reed Hospital. That time, IV antibiotics took care of the problem without requiring surgery. So we didn’t know what to expect this third time around.

Here in Denver, by day #2 the doctors were concerned that his eye continued swelling and became purplish-red. The ophthalmologists said the vision was being affected detrimentally in the left eye, and recommended surgery to drain the abscess. In addition, the ENT (ear, nose, throat) doctor recommended surgery simultaneously to remove some of the ethmoid sinuses up in the left nostril to help drainage and prevent this from happening again. All doctors agreed that it’s extremely rare for this problem to happen three times, and it’s time for proactive surgery to reduce a future recurrence.

Thom and I were allowed to go into the operating room with Ben, looking like part of the team in our surgical gowns, caps and masks! The anesthesiologist hooked Ben up, and Thom asked him to count backwards from 10. He only made it to 7, and he was out! After only about 15 minutes in the waiting room, the ophthalmologists came out saying the abscess was drained! They called it a “no brainer” and said the abscess was quite large. The antibiotics would have had a hard time getting it under control. The ENT, Dr. Friedman then worked on Ben’s sinuses for 1.5 hours. We were pleased to hear from him that all went well, and he said, “I took that little country road, and made a 2-lane highway out of it!” We’re all praying that this procedure is indeed exactly the solution to Ben’s problem with his left eye. We’re very pleased with the Children’s Hospital and the entire staff. They recognized that this problem needed fixing, and took it very seriously.

The swelling and discoloration has improved over the last two days, and the doctors believe he should be ready to go home tomorrow. Streptococcus pneumonia is once again the culprit….same as the first time around. Strep Verodan was the cause of his second episode. It looks like Ben will take oral penicillin for a few weeks, just like the last two times. I’m so glad we brought Ben to the Children’s Hospital.

The other boys loved visiting Ben because the floor’s “teen room” has Rock Band. Will rocks on the guitar, Sam’s a noisy drummer, and I’m the wild vocalist! We livened up that room a few times. It’s kind of strange singing old songs from the Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi with my kids.

Thom and I have been taking turns spending the night in Ben’s room, while the other heads back to the RV with Robby, Will, and Sam. We’re camping in Golden, CO. It’s a beautiful campground, and we’re only a stone’s throw from the rapids of a fast-flowing river. The locals ride the rapids in kayaks and inner tubes in this warm summer weather.

To celebrate the Fourth of July, Ben watched at least 5 or 6 fireworks shows simultaneously from his hospital room window with Thom. It looks directly over Denver with the Rocky Mountains behind. Thom and Ben called us to describe the spectacular fireworks. In the meantime, the Galvin’s met us at our campground. Robby cooked up burgers and spicy sausages, which we ate around the picnic table with sweet corn.

Afterwards, the nine of us strolled next to the river along with hundreds of others. Antique cars convoyed through the darling town of Golden, as we watched from the bridge. In the park, Jim treated the kids to glow sticks, and by nightfall, it seemed that everyone was decorated with these bright and festive accessories. Finally about 9:30pm, the fireworks began and the crowd oohed and aahed at the colorful sky. I agreed with Regina when she said, “This is where memories are made.” Sam and Will had a brotherly spat, which was soon smoothed over by angel food cake, strawberries, and whipped cream.

June 30
My mom underwent knee replacement surgery last Wednesday in Lakeport, California. Ever since her car accident in 1997, she’s had a bum right knee which hyper extends and causes considerable pain. She lives with my brother, Glenn, his wife, Vanessa, and daughter, Cassondra.

The surgery went well and only lasted 1.5 hours. Mom says the pain is horrendous. She knows that she’s supposed to do the physical therapy and work through the pain in order to get the mobility back in her knee. At age 76, it’s a daunting task and her muscles aren’t strong. She reported that it’s easiest to simply lie still so the pain doesn’t set in. Unfortunately, that’s the worst thing she can do.

After four days at the hospital, Mom was moved to a rehabilitation center nearby. If she does her therapy, she should be able to go home in about two weeks. So she is in our prayers, and we hope she’ll be able to get around soon using her walker.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Air Force Academy, Colorado

Summer has arrived for the Besch Family! Robby, Will, and Ben completed their final green test 160, which is the end of our homeschooling year with the Calvert curriculum. That final 2-week stretch was hard, because they felt that everyone was done with school for the year except them. Thom and I cheered them on, offering rewards at the bowling alley and swimming pool after full days. We completed our last 2 weeks at the Air Force Academy, driving a shopping cart full of books into their library daily. Sam completed first grade at the end of April, and he continued with second grade reading and math.

Thom and I are very proud of the boys, and pleased with the set of courses. We recommend Calvert to anyone considering homeschooling. As I’ve blogged many times, it’s demanding, but rewarding. Mrs. Clark, Mrs. McMahon, Mrs. Ryan, and Mrs. Stewart were our boys’ Calvert teachers, and they’ve done a remarkable job. They graded the boys’ tests, gave feedback and comments, answered questions, sent emails, and provided reinforcements as Thom and I taught the boys. Thanks to all of you for your help over the past year! Now that we’ve been home teachers for a year, we can appreciate all the hard work that goes into this essential profession.

The boys will start school in the fall at a public or private school, depending on where we settle. Home schooling was the ideal answer to allow us to travel this past year. We’ve all enjoyed the traveling, but we’re anxious to settle down. The boys have missed having friends to play with, sports teams, and a sense of community like we had in Alaska.

Thom continues the job search. He’s learning so much at this challenging time in the midst of a poor economy. Today he had a job interview through a previous work associate in Colorado Springs with a defense contractor. The two interviewers were impressed, and said they’d offer him a job if they only had an opening. We’d love to settle in Colorado, but if something doesn’t open up soon, we’ll head east to the Albany, NY area where Thom grew up. We’ll settle near family, while he continues his job search. It’ll be nice to live near grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles for the first time since we’ve had children.

Yesterday we spent the day with our good friends, the Galvin’s. We visited Jim, Regina, Shelby, and Olivia only one short month ago when they lived at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. Jim retired from the Army and now started a job at NREL in Golden, CO. They bought a beautiful home and just moved in two days before our visit. Their home sits high on a steep slope, surrounded by forests of pine and fir, with a gorgeous view. We visited their three horses, Clementine, Ben, and Naumi at stables about 10 minutes away. Then we walked around Lake Evergreen where the kids rented canoes and had a splash war. Thom hopes to link up with Jim and his boss over lunch in a couple days. Thom applied for jobs there, and he’d love to work for NREL (Natl. Renewable Energy Lab). After the boys finished their final tests, we celebrated our first day of summer break by going horseback riding here at the Air Force Academy. We went trail riding on horses named Clever, Voodoo, China, Peewee, Woody, and we can’t remember Ben’s horse’s name! For two hours we trekked along narrow paths through the wood, up hills, across small streams, and even across from the General’s lovely home. The boys now all think we should buy a farm and raise horses!

We couldn’t leave the Colorado Springs area without touring Royal Gorge. Thank you Tammy Hoselton for recommending it! It’s unbelievably beautiful and inspiring to visit. The Royal Gorge is a huge mountain rock that’s been carved out by the Arkansas River. In 1929, a bridge was built connecting the canyon walls 1000 ft above the river! It’s still the highest suspension bridge in the world. The six of us rode a tram across the gorge to begin our tour. The views were scary and incredible.

On the other side, three of our boys decided they just had to ride the Skycoaster. It’s for daredevils only, which was just right for Will, Ben and Sam. The three of them were strapped into harnesses, and attached to two long ropes. The ride then slowly pulled them up, up, up to one side of a pendulum. Sam then pulled the rip cord, and they freefell down until the ropes’ slack caught up. Over the Royal Gorge they soared at 50mph, and 1200 ft above the river! Yahoo! Or, as Sam screamed, “Holy Crap!!”

From there, we walked down and saw many animals in the zoo including buffalo, big horn sheep, and caribou. In the western town, we watched two cowboys fight over a girl, which ended in a shoot-out. About six cowboys ended up on the ground, with the Indian winning the girl! We watched a movie about the history of the bridge, the railroad along the narrow Arkansas River, and the tram. Then it was time to walk across the famous bridge. What an experience! The boys dropped pennies through the wooden boards, and watched as the wind scattered them in all directions. The river looked tiny so far below. What an engineering marvel.
On the other side, we took the inclined railcar down to the river. It’s the steepest rail in the world, and it took about 4 minutes to reach the base. I loved standing next to the roaring, brown river and looking up at the steep canyon walls with the hair-like bridge so high above. A couple rafting groups and a fearless kayaker swished on by. The train came by on its narrow track winding alongside the Arkansas. Engineers back then built a hanging bridge for the track and train, at a point where there was simply no room for the track. The bridge is supported by a steel hanger attached directly above and into the rocks of the canyon walls! The natural beauty here is unsurpassed, and combined with the engineering feats, the Royal Gorge is a place everyone should see in their lifetime. On the return drive, a black bear dashed out in front of our car and beat feet up the embankment! He wasn’t too big, but was sure in a big hurry.

Not only is this blog entry a biggie because we’re celebrating the end of school, but it’s also a mile marker since we’ve officially been on the road for one year. About this time last year, we were visiting our dear friends, the DeLange’s, in South Dakota. It’s hard to believe how many places and people we’ve visited in this 12 month period.

We departed from Alaska on June 17, 2008 and headed into Canada through the Yukon, British Columbia, and Alberta. We entered the “Lower 48” in Montana, and continued to North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. We re-entered Canada and toured Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. This was a great part of North America to spend the summer months living in an RV.

Next, we headed south in Sept and Oct to enjoy the breathtaking fall colors of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
Thom made the command decision that it was time to try a Space A flight to Europe at this juncture. So we flew out of BWI (Baltimore) to Ramstein, Germany. It was easy! We didn’t catch a flight on our first day of attempt, but we caught one on day #2. We rented a car and drove through 7 countries with all four boys. What an education! Our favorite spots included Amsterdam, Paris, and Ticino, Switzerland. We caught a return flight back to Baltimore on the first day we tried. This all took place in late Nov/ early Dec, which is a good time to catch military flights.
By now, it was too cold RVing it in Maryland, so we headed south for the winter. We visited friends in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Then we soaked up the sun in Florida for 2 ½ months from the end of January through early April. We met so many people who escape the cold every winter living full-time in their RV’s in Florida. Now we understand why. Disney World, Key West, and the Dry Tortugas were highlights!

We drove north through Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, and Kansas. We looked up old friends, and made so many new friends. Thank you everyone for all the delicious dinners, sleepovers for the kids, and great company. Our kids often remember their favorite stops based on whom we visited, as opposed to where we were. So many great people have truly made our trip incredibly memorable.

Now we’ve been in Colorado for three weeks, and our whole family loves it here. It’s our favorite state, and fits our family like a glove. People here are athletic, friendly, and they love the outdoors. We know that God has a great plan for our family, and we would love for it to be here in Colorado. Please keep us in your prayers, as we look to make big decisions over the next month. As Carrie Bailey shared with me, “Pray for wisdom, not necessarily for patience.” Thank you Carrie!

We drove to the top of Pike’s Peak, one of the few summits in Colorado over 14,000 ft that can be accessed by car. There’s actually a car race here every summer, with speeds up to 120 mph! We spent Father’s Day there, which was a gorgeous day in the 80’s at the base, but only 37 degrees at the summit. Brrrrr! “America The Beautiful” was written by Katharine Lee Bates after she visited this memorable place. We then drove to Cripple Creek, a gold prospecting area which unfortunately now is just a magnet for gamblers. We walked around town, had dinner, and headed home.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Colorado Springs, CO

The campground (Famcamp) at the Air Force Academy is one of the nicest ever. We’re surrounded by the woods and beautiful Rocky Mountains. People are extremely friendly, and the boys keep busy by playing in the woods. They like to explore the woods, and name the nearby areas. A few days ago, Sam was shooting the BB gun and surprised himself when he actually shot a bird. What a lesson! He felt terribly guilty. The bird was still alive, but couldn’t fly. So Sam spent the entire day caring for the blue bird he named “Flapper.” He gave it water, peanut butter, and petted it frequently. By the end of the day, it was obvious Flapper was down to his last moments on Earth. Sam was so sad. When the bird had passed, Sam dug a little grave and buried Flapper, saving one blue feather for a memorial. Then Sam said, “From now on, I’m going to shoot cans and cups.”

Thom attended a job fair here in Colorado Springs for people with security clearances. He was disappointed that most employers (defense contractors) were in search of engineers and IT professionals (computer people). There are a lot of jobs here in Colorado Springs who appreciate and need people like Thom. They just don’t seem to be hiring at the moment.

Thom continues to send resumes to job openings in renewable energy, but so far nothing has opened up. If things don’t come together soon, we’ve decided we’ll head back to the Albany, New York area next. Thom grew up there, and many family members live just east of Albany. It would be nice to finally live near family. So Thom’s been on the job search in Albany, and a few interesting possibilities exist. We’ll keep you posted.

Great news….the boys are working on lesson 158 of Calvert! They are down to their last week, with lesson 160 marking their final tests and end of their school year. We’ve spent many days at the local library where we’ve all been incredibly productive. The boys realize all their friends are on summer break, and they can’t wait to finish their school year also.

Ron, Carrie, Clayton, and Spencer Bailey invited us over to dinner last week. They’re friends from Ft. Greely, AK who moved here in Feb. Their house is beautiful, and in a short time they’ve made it a warm home. We enjoyed a delicious lasagna dinner with Caesar salad. Carrie baked a coconut cake that could have been straight from a bakery’s window! Thom and I departed, while the six boys celebrated their reunion with a sleepover.

Later in the week, we visited the Kiraly’s, another wonderful family who we knew from Ft. Greely. They moved to Colorado Springs last August. Ruby and Mark welcomed us into their expansive home with a breathtaking view of the Rockies. The boys joined up with their old buddy, Zack who is now 10. Amen, now 3, joined them after his nap. I can’t believe how much he’s grown since we saw him last June! They all disappeared into the basement to play with the toys.

Ruby’s parents, Caled and Raja are visiting for 6 weeks, and their home is in South Carolina. They both grew up in Jerusalem originally, and it was fascinating to talk with them. They are Palestinian, and passionately shared their views on world politics. Once again, I feel fortunate to meet so many people from different backgrounds who can enlighten me in ways I never understood. Raja and Caled watch after Zach and Amen while Mark and Ruby work, so this is working out well for everyone. Mark continues to work in Missile Defense through the National Guard, just as he did at Ft. Greely. Ruby now works for Lockheed Martin, and she gave Thom great advice concerning the job search (resumes, interviewing, etc).

We’ve explored many nearby attractions, including a bikeride through “Garden of the Gods.” This is a large area of giant sandstone rocks, reaching hundreds of feet high. Seeing the towering red pillars, with blue skies and puffy white clouds was a sight to behold! The boys climbed some of the rocks, but with dangerous, steep drops, we held them back from climbing the “black diamonds.” We invited the Bailey’s to hike and camp overnight at Stanley Canyon Reservoir. This is a hike we went on last week, and loved. So yesterday, we geared up to carry sleeping bags, tents, food, etc and climbed over 1000 feet up a treacherous but magnificent hike. The views were truly spectacular. The kids led the way across creeks, over boulders, and up jagged edges. Carrie shared with us her good news that she accepted a job offer, and will start work on Monday! I told her I hope her good vibes rub off on us!

We arrived at the reservoir just as the sun was setting. The boys went for a quick and chilly swim, and then we set up camp to include 4 tents. Sam, Ben, and I rounded up firewood, and Will got the fire started. He’s working on his Boy Scout requirements to move up to First Class. After a round of too many marshmallows, the boys took off with their flashlights to explore in the dark. The adults hit the sack, and the kids returned to tell ghost stories around the campfire. Will stayed up late reading his scouting book.

Let’s see….sleeping in a thin sleeping bag at 9,000 ft when the temp drops down in the 40’s, oh and without an air mattress, is the perfect setting for a night of minimal sleep. Then about 3am, Sam came to our tent shivering to inform us he was freezing, and he’d thrown up in his sleeping bag! Ahhh (too many marshmallows!). So he jumped in with Thom while I went to check out the damage. (Why is it that Moms always get the job of cleaning up after these disasters?!) The good news is that Sam contained it all in his sleeping bag. The bad news is we had one less sleeping bag to keep us all warm. I finally fell asleep about 6am when all the kids woke up and went fishing, and then I rolled out of “bed” around 9am.

I soon learned that Will had taken a fall down some steep rocks when he and the other boys were rock climbing. Thom was nearby and heard him groan. Will twisted his ankle badly, and we were all wondering if he’d be up for the descent. Thom wrapped his ankle tightly with an ace bandage, and tightened his hiking boot laces. Although I know he was hurting, Will showed a positive attitude and climbed down cautiously. He’s not a complainer, and in fact, felt embarrassed that I carried his backpack. I’m proud of our boys, and can see that they’re all becoming independent young men. All in all, it was a successful camping trip into the great Rocky Mountains.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas and Colorado Springs, Colorado

How wonderful it is to be in Colorado! This is state #31 as we continue our travels around North America. We’re quickly approaching our 1-year mark of being full-timers on the road. Our departure date from Alaska in the motor coach was June 17, 2008. We’re now camping at the Air Force Academy’s Famcamp nestled right into the breathtaking Rocky Mountains. We’re at about 7,000 ft, and Pike’s Peak towers up at 14,000 ft just south of us.

Let me back up a week to where I left off in Liberty, MO. We headed west for Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas for a wonderful visit with the Galvin’s. Jim and Thom were classmates four years ago at Univ of Texas at Austin, when they acquired their fellowship (War College equivalent). Regina is a senior editor and fantastic writer, and they have two daughters, Shelby (15) and Olivia (11). Jim just retired as a Colonel last month, and they’re moving to Evergreen, CO where Jim accepted a fantastic job offer with NREL (Natl. Renewable Energy Lab) in Golden, CO.

After a delicious ham dinner, we had two visitors stop by. Paul Funk is another UT classmate who will soon be moving to Ft. Leavenworth with his family and he’s being promoted shortly to Brigadier General! It was great seeing him. Also, Dave McBride who is a West Point classmate of Thom’s and a neighbor of the Galvin’s, stopped by. He and his family are moving to Heidelberg, Germany this month. What a memorable evening!

The kids had a sleepover and had a great time playing Guitar Hero and other games. Olivia and Will were best buddies back in Austin. The six kids played outside the next day and helped a precious baby bird which had fallen out of its nest. Before we left, it was flying on its own. We all walked around Ft. Leavenworth on an ideal spring day, taking in the sights of the wide Missouri River and visiting the museum. Lewis and Clark came right through this area.

Bryce McCloskey saw us walking along and caught up to give us a bottle of wine from his brother-in-law in Iowa. Thanks Bryce! Regina and I enjoyed our time together, and she showed me pictures online of their beautiful home in CO. Thom’s applied to NREL as well, so there’s a possibility that we could be neighbors. That would be terrific.

We took our time driving west along I-70, staying at two different campgrounds along the way. Kansas is a huge, flat state thriving on agriculture. This is truly America’s bread basket, with wheat fields stretching as far as the eye can see. Thom enjoyed watching at least a hundred giant wind turbines as we drove through western Kansas.

The boys continued with school work. We’re now at lesson 150 out of 160, so the boys are close to the end of their school year. They’re so excited for summer to truly begin. Most kids are out of school now, so our boys are motivated to finish. Thom and I are proud of their efforts, and looking forward to summer break as well! Here's a photo taken in Kansas at a truck wash because the coach and SUV were sooooo dirty.

We didn’t notice an obvious difference crossing the Colorado border, but before long, we all were looking out the windows as the landscape quickly changed. It was so beautiful! Thom exited I-70 to drive more rural roads, and we continued through rolling hills, pine forests, and saw lots of horses. The boys said, “We love Colorado. Let’s move here!” It wasn’t long before the Rocky Mountains came into view. It reminded all of us of Alaska, and our drive last summer through Banff and the Canadian Rockies. Pike’s Peak grew larger and larger as we approached Colorado Springs. We then spotted the Air Force Academy, which is quite visible from the main highway since it sits up high and you can easily see the football stadium. What a magnificent location. We set up camp, stocked up at the commissary, and the boys explored the woods nearby. We plan to stay at least a week, and maybe longer. We set up school yesterday at the Academy’s library where the boys were quite productive.

The Bailey’s are friends from Ft. Greely, Alaska who moved to Colorado Springs a few months ago. Ron, Carrie, Clayton (14), and Spencer (11) came to visit at our campsite. The six boys took off to play in the woods while the four of us visited and made dinner. Once again, it was great catching up with friends, talking about kids, school, work, and buying houses. They bought a house at an ideal time when prices are low and mortgage rates are fantastic. We can’t wait to see them this week at their new house, and the boys are looking forward to a sleepover!

On Sunday morning, we headed east to the cute little town of Simla. Our friend, Pastor Gene Raiford was giving his last sermon at the Methodist Church, before departing later in the week for Alabama. His wife, Ronda worked with Thom in Alaska in missile defense, and she now works in Huntsville in the same arena. We enjoyed our time with Gene and Ronda, and their congregation obviously loves them and will miss them dearly. Gene’s sermon was about transition, which was perfect for our family’s situation. He said a beautiful personal prayer with our family before our departure.

Next, we drove to the Carter’s Ranch in Peyton, CO. What a memorable visit! Roger and Sue put the boys to work outside, and the boys loved it. They have a 5-acre horse ranch and are finishing their vegetable garden. Robby, Will, Ben, and Sam grabbed rakes and made a new garden, complete with railroad ties. We all planted about a hundred strawberry plants, and Sue was delighted. Sam jumped in the Bobcat and Roger taught him how to drive. Sam paid attention to every word, and before I knew it, he was in complete control. That little man absolutely loves to operate machinery. The other boys got a lesson later.

We took a break for a delicious lunch, consisting of shrimp, potatoes, corn on the cob, and sausage. Roger boiled it all in a huge steamer in the garage, and when it was done, he simply dumped it all out on the picnic table. We dug in with our hands while pouring butter, mustard, and other fixings right on the plastic table cloth! What a perfect ranch meal.

Ben was dying to ride a horse, so after lunch, Roger saddled up Dusty, the 9-year old black gelding. Roger showed Ben how to handle the reins, and walked him all over the field. Each of the boys took a turn, followed by Thom. Roger let the boys ride the 4-wheeler, and Sam found the riding lawnmower to drive around. It was a hoot. We all went inside for fresh strawberries, apple pie, and whipped cream. Lastly, the boys stripped down to their underwear and took a dip in the hot tub. Yes, they all want to settle down on a ranch or farm!

Last night was another Ft. Greely reunion. Greg, Kristin, and Carmen Bowen were our immediate neighbors in Alaska for our first year there. They’ve been here in “The Springs” for the past 3 years, and Greg just took over Brigade Command for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System. Congratulations Greg! He told us about his trip up to Ft. Greely last week, and how good it was being back there. He’s happy to be commanding after three years being a staff officer! Kristin’s doing really well with her career in human relations as she helps place executives.

Their home is stunning and they treated us to a wonderful BBQ dinner. In addition, today is Carmen’s 8th birthday, so it was fun for all the boys to be with her. Sam gave her a cool airplane he picked out at the Academy’s gift shop (along with one for himself!), and they played inside and out with them. Their friend, Marshall joined us for dinner and we enjoyed hearing about his career starting with West Point, Iraq, Colorado Springs, and he’s soon heading to Ft. Benning and Ft. Bragg. His wife is active duty and currently in Iraq. She returns in August and it’s obvious he’s looking forward to that time.

It’s 7:45am, and the boys are still asleep. What a change we’re all in for when school starts in the fall! The sky is blue with puffy, white clouds, and it’s a cool 60 degrees outside. The boys like the fact that it’s not so hot here, and they LOVE the mountains. Yesterday we toured the visitors’ center, and watched a 14-minute movie on the Air Force Academy. We’re taking advantage of our time this year to show the boys many college and academy campuses. Who knows? Maybe one of them will be a cadet here someday!