Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas in Maryland - 19 December 2008

Merry Christmas everyone! We caught a flight out of Ramstein, Germany on Dec 2. Although you don’t always catch the flight you want, flying space A is the way to go! We had to wait about 10 hours at the air base before getting on a flight. During that time, we talked with quite a few soldiers going to/from Iraq and Afghanistan. We also worked on home schooling. We arrived at Baltimore and stood in line for customs, listening to the cheering of a supportive crowd out front at BWI. Thom said volunteers come to welcome every flight with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. I felt so patriotic and proud walking with our soldiers through the fanfare!
Since then, we’ve been busy with school, school, and more school. The boys, especially Will really miss public school! They say this is a lot harder and more demanding. Thom and I remind them about our great experiences and opportunities, but how quickly they forget when it’s time to catch up on geography, history, composition, reading, grammar, etc. We brought math with us to Europe, so they were ready for testing in that subject upon our return.
After a week of school, Ben gave us another fright. He complained that his eye was hurting…his left eye. Some of you may remember that last May, he required emergency surgery on his left eye after being air medivaced from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Here we go again??!! Sure enough, he developed a mild fever and his left eye began to swell. We took him to Bethesda Naval Hospital here in the DC area. They hooked him up on IV antibiotics and drew blood samples for lab work. Next he went to Walter Reed Hospital where they have a pediatric ward for overnight patients. He spent 3 nights there, in order to continue the IV antibiotics. Luckily, the swelling and discoloration disappeared and he’s now “at home” on a month’s supply of oral antibiotics. We have 3 follow-up appointments, primarily to determine what must be done to prevent this from recurring. It appears that his left sinuses don’t drain properly, and he has a small opening into the left orbital eye area. So now he’s gotten orbital celulitis twice when he gets congested! Thom and I have been very impressed with the doctors, and their keen interest in Ben’s health. They want to solve this issue. We’re thankful that we were here in the DC area when this emergency arose.
So, we returned to our RV and tackled more school. We parked it over a month ago at Ft. Meade’s RV Park in Maryland. It’s nice to have the commissary, laundry facilities, and full hook-ups. We’re also located close to so many friends/family in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area.
We visited with Pancho, Veronica, and Francis Kinney twice now, and Pancho was kind enough to loan us an extra car during our hospital travels. Thanks Pancho! We’ve also visited again with the Zelnosky’s and Kieta’s. Now we’re on our way south to see Kathy, Chris, Jack, and Alex Tone in VA.
Robby and I joined Cornerstone Church in an event this past week serving the Baltimore community. We helped serve dinner to approximately 400 men through a charitable group called “Helping Up Missions”. The recipients were very appreciative, and knew we were all volunteers through church. Many teenagers like Robby served along with the adults, and it was good for all of us. It puts everything in perspective to see others in such need. God has blessed us with so much. Afterward, Robby and I walked along Baltimore Harbor and had one of the best conversations ever. He felt good to have served others, and of course he had a lot of questions about how people end up in such poverty. An artist was painting pictures of boats, and asked if we could possibly spare anything since he was desperate. So Robby picked out a colorful drawing of “The Pride of Baltimore” and gave him $10. The artist seemed genuinely appreciative. Again, more eye-opening experiences.
This Christmas is very different from any we’ve ever shared as a family. We’ve prepared the kids that they won’t receive loads of presents this year. First of all, we have no space to put them! Secondly, this year is all about doing things, not buying things. Most importantly, the holidays should be focused on love, and sharing with others, not on receiving a long list of gifts. We’ll spend Christmas day with Thom’s brother, Eric and his wife, Terry, and their 4 wonderful children. They live about an hour from us, and our boys are counting down the days. They can’t wait to see their cousins!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Switzerland Nov 30

We had a marvelous time visiting Lisa and Frits in Switzerland on Lake Maggiore, only 2 miles north of the Italian border. We’ve known Lisa for about 18 years when she was a First Lieutenant in the US Army in California. She and Frits married four years ago, and it was delightful to spend 2 days at their charming Italian villa, which used to be the abbey for the church next door. Although the weather was dreary, cold, and rainy, we couldn’t help but gaze in awe at the lake surrounded on all sides by the Swiss and Italian Alps.
The boys loved playing with their dog, Fargo and sharing countless stories with Lisa and Frits. We stayed up late two nights in a row, surrounded by candles and a cozy fire. Thom and I especially enjoyed getting to know Frits, since this was our first time meeting him. We went shopping across the lake in Italy, where Thom purchased some great hiking boots. Frits treated us all to lunch, and then we drove up to a dam on the northern Swiss side of the lake. Here we stood at the top of an incredibly steep dam where a James Bond movie was filmed with the star (stuntman) bungee jumping off. We had a great time throwing snowballs down, waiting for what seemed to be an eternity, and finally hearing the loud Boom upon impact. Lisa and Frits said on our next visit, we must come during the summer to truly enjoy the beauty and swim every day. The only one brave enough to swim on this trip was Ben. On our last day as the rain poured down, Ben ventured into Lago Maggiore in just his swim shorts for a short, cold swim! We all cheered him on.
Now we’re heading back to our starting point, Ramstein Air Base, to catch a space A flight back to Baltimore…hopefully soon! It’s been a wonderful 2-week European adventure where we had a chance to visit Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland, France, Switzerland, and Italy (briefly!).

Chateau Bonnet Nov 29

After Paris we headed south to the Beaujolais region, which is very special to me. It was 25 years ago when I was a college student at UC Davis studying winemaking. I spent two months in France during “the crush” to gain wine making experience. The Perrachon Family owns a winery called Chateau Bonnet in the Chenas appellation of Beaujolais and they were kind enough to invite a college student for this opportunity. So in 1983, I traveled alone from California to France. Pierre-Yves and his father were in charge of Chateau Bonnet and their entire family was very hospitable. I lived in their home, picked grapes in the vineyards, made wine in the cellar, and worked in the laboratory. I met about 30 other college students from Europe who pick grapes to make money. What a great time of my life! Then Pierre-Yves invited me to travel to St. Emilion, Bordeaux to help his friend Pascal Dalbeck make wine at Chateau Ausone and Chateau Belair. The drive takes all day, and was well worth it! I learned so much about the vineyards and wine making.
So now we meet again! Pierre-Yves and his wife Marie-Luce have four fine-looking children named Pauline (20), Charlotte (18), Clemence (16), and Julien (13). Marie-Luce treated us to a wonderful welcome dinner, complete with a cheese course and dessert. Of course we enjoyed wine, including a bottle of vintage 2000 Chenas from Chateau Bonnet produced exclusively from 100-year old vines. Pierre-Yves then opened a 1997 Chateau Belair, the winery in St. Emilion I visited and worked at 25 years ago! Thank you Pascal for all the great wines you’ve made…this was fantastic!
Today, Pierre-Yves toured us around vineyards and his winery. Ah, the memories! The boys played in the vineyards where I once picked grapes, and Pierre-Yves explained how they prune the vines. He bought more vineyards and now owns 20 hectares (50 acres) in many parts of Beaujolais, which produce 120,000 bottles, or 10,000 cases/year. He has added barrels, fermenting vats, a “balloon” press which is important in this region, and much more equipment.
We met his parents, Monsieur and Madame Perrachon who look healthy and happy. I believe the wine is their secret! We tasted wine from the barrel (a white wine from Chardonnay grapes), and Chenas (red), and Moulin-a-Vent (red) all from Chateau Bonnet. He opened a bottle of unfermented grape juice for the boys, which they loved. We couldn’t leave without buying wine, and also his last bottle of grape juice for the boys. With the generous gift of wine from Pierre-Yves, we walked away with 8 bottles. What great souvenirs!
Pierre-Yves explained how they are in control of their wines, from the vineyards to the winemaking, to the marketing and sales. Pierre-Yves is happy that his daughter, Charlotte is studying winemaking in Macon and also his daughter, Pauline is a graphic designer who recently updated their wine label. He hopes all his children will specialize in part of the family business someday. These are wonderful experiences for us, as we plan our future as well.
After another delicious meal by Marie-Luce, we said our Good-byes and promised to spend more time on another visit. We also hope they will come visit us in the US…once we have a house!
I wanted to talk a moment about our drive from Paris to Beaujolais. The 4-hour drive passes directly through the famous wine region of Burgundy. So Thom liked my idea of detouring off the A6 autoroute to take the scenic drive first to Chablis. Yes, there is a charming little village by this name, and Chardonnay has grown here for hundreds of years. We stopped at a small tasting room where we enjoyed 3 Chablis samples of wine. Crystal and Rachel introduced us to the wines, and it turns out that Rachel grew up in California for 15 years! What a small world.
We then followed a well-known route that Rachel suggested, passing along the historic pinot noir vineyards of Clos de Vougeot and Aloxe Corton and towns including Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits-St-Georges. I tried to take everything in, from the rolling hillsides of vines to the castles and old farmhouses, to the small village signs marking some of the most recognized wine villages of the world. This is where the red burgundy wines are made, which are probably the most expensive wines in the world. Soon we were back on the auto route zipping south. What a memorable detour!

Paris 28 Nov

Paris is beautiful. Yesterday was a full day starting off with a metro ride to L’Arc de Triumph. Thom was impressed and said it was more than he’d expected. There are a few rooms near the top which display the history of France’s battles and wars. Then we climbed up the last of the 230 steps (Will likes to count as we climb). We found ourselves overlooking Paris from the top of the Arc! Just as we got our bearings, my Mom called from California to wish us a Happy Thanksgiving. She was surprised to hear where we were!
After that, we visited the Louvre and discovered it used to be a palace for royalty. The rooms are expansive and show off the treasured art magnificently. The Mona Lisa, The Winged Victory, Louis XIII jeweled crown, and Venus de Milo were some highlights.
From there we met up with Yolanda and David who were on vacation in Paris. As I mentioned earlier, Yolanda is from Spain and lived with us for a year as our au pair back in 1998-99 when Robby was 3 and Will was 1. How wonderful to be reunited in Paris! She was so happy to hug the boys, and we were so happy to see her again! The 8 of us trekked around Paris, stopping to enjoy landmarks like the Cathedral of Notre Dame. We enjoyed a delicious Chinese meal for our Thanksgiving dinner! David was excellent navigating the metro and streets, and we were happy to get to know him. We promised to take another trip to visit them in Spain.
The highlight was venturing to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night, lit up in blue this year. Paris stretches out for miles in all directions, dazzling with lights, bridges crossing the Seine River over 30 times, boats, barges, monuments, palaces, and cathedrals. We spent over an hour on the three different levels enjoying the 360 degree view.
I was here with Julia back in July of 1984 when the gardens and fountains are spectacular. Although this time of year is greyer and definitely colder, we still enjoyed every minute of this memorable and romantic city!

Amsterdam to Paris 27 Nov

Happy Thanksgiving from Paris! Of course, here in France it is just another Thursday. We arrived last night in the area of Clichy, just NW of the heart of Paris. We will have our petite dejeuner (breakfast) and then head off to explore on a sunny, crisp fall day. Yolanda, our au pair from Spain who lived with us for a year back in 1998-99, is in Paris on vacation with her boyfriend, David. We will meet them today!
Up until now, our favorite day was spent in the unique city of Amsterdam. It is a city of canals, like Venice. One million people live here, with one million bicycles. We enjoyed walking all around the canals, bridges, and city squares. Oh, and the architecture of the buildings along the canals is fabulous. You’ll see stair-stepped gables (tops of buildings), fancy decorated gables, and statues up high. Most have a hook and pulley up high outside. This is how they lift up furniture to the top floors, since the stairwells are too narrow inside. Then they simply bring the heavy objects in through big windows! We took a 1-hour boat tour around Amsterdam where we saw many buildings dating back to the 1500’s and 1600’s! The boys loved spotting sinking boats that were tied to the sidewalls of the canals. They also spotted bicycles that were locked to bridges or railings which hung down into the canal! Swans dotted the water, and we saw where the trading ships brought treasures back from India, China, and other faraway places centuries ago. Amsterdam was truly one of the centers of world trade.
We visited the Anne Frank Museum, a solemn building along a canal. We walked through the building which was her father’s business, and then we walked through the hiding spot behind the bookcase which led into the annex where Anne and 7 other people hid during World War II for two years. Our boys’ eyes have been opened to the tragedies of our world, first hand. They have many questions. Anne was outwardly a happy girl, but in her diary she shared her serious thoughts. We bought her diary there at the museum which we all plan to read.
Amsterdam is a city where prostitution and drug sales of marijuana are legal. Again the boys had many questions about things they saw for sale along the streets in the heart of the city, which is right downtown by the train. We all felt very safe with many other tourists and locals all around. Only Thom was allowed to venture into the Red Light District for a short walk…I told him he had to go! We linked up and returned by train to our hostel in Souse.

Monday, November 24, 2008


The sun is shining as we drive into beautiful Holland. Thom keeps pointing out old wind mills along canals, new giant wind mills, sheep, and barges along the big canals. It’s really flat here, and green. I’m so happy the sun is finally out. We’ve had grey skies, rain, and snow ever since we arrived 5 days ago. We’ll be touring into Amsterdam all day tomorrow and maybe tonight if we get settled quickly. We have a reservation at a youth hostel outside of Amsterdam. The tour book says, “Don’t drive in Amsterdam!” With the canals, bikes, minimal parking, and break-ins, we decided to take their advice. So the hostel just outside Amsterdam has parking, and then we’ll take the train in. We’ve discovered that youth hostels are a great way to go for our family, which run us about $90 Euros/night (about $120 US). We all get one room with a bathroom, which usually includes some bunk beds. We have to make our own beds. Continental breakfast is included which is a great deal for the 6 of us! We try to avoid hotels because they require us to pay for 2 rooms since we have 6 people. This easily runs about $250/night in US dollars. I’m reminded of my travels around Europe 25 years ago. After Luxembourg, we went to SHAPE near Mons, Belgium where Thom hoped we could stay in military housing. SHAPE is an army base where NATO headquarters is located. Unfortunately, we arrived on a Saturday and housing was closed for the weekend. So we ventured into nearby Mons and booked the last room at a youth hostel. Then we walked into the local cobblestone grand square where a children’s festival was taking place. The kids were delighted, played a few games, and walked through the “Haunted House.” In the morning, we visited a stunning cathedral before departing. The artwork inside was breathtaking, including alabaster statues, unbelievable stained glass, wood carvings, and paintings. These cathedrals are so colossal. It was Sunday morning but very few people attended mass. I imagine that hundreds of years ago, this cathedral was filled with townspeople and organ music every Sunday. We drove through Brussels, and happened upon the weekend flea market. What a hoot! You can find anything from fresh fish, fruit, and candy to toys to all kinds of clothing. It’s been snowing, so we bought gloves, hats, scarves, and Will even bought a coat for about 10 Euros ($12 US)! From there we made our way through Brussels. It’s a good thing it was a Saturday because we had no idea where we were and the traffic was light. We found all the tourist sites, including the Grand Place, the cathedral, and the town’s favorite statue of Julien. He’s a little bronze statue fountain who pees gleefully. Thom was impressed to walk the Grand Place and see the artistic statues decorating all the buildings. A school group was posing for a picture in the square, yelling their school cheers. We also found a bronze relief of Jesus lying down, which was rubbed to a golden color by visitors wishing for their prayers to come true. From there we headed north, but only made it about 20 miles due to the snow storm. Cars were traveling about 15 mph. So we settled into another youth hostel in Mechelen, Belgium where we caught up on three loads of laundry. That’s a hard thing to do with all this traveling! In the morning we treated the boys to a trip to Europe’s largest toy museum. It’s normally closed on Mondays, but this Monday was our lucky day because it was open for many school field trips. We spent close to three hours learning about ancient toys from Egypt, Africa, Europe and all the way up to modern video games. I’m sure each of the boys will blog about their favorites. Then we drove north to Holland, which is where we are now. It’s amazing to think we’re in our 4th country and this is starting day #6 for us. Yet we only drove about 5 hours in Germany, 1 hour in Luxembourg, 4 hours in Belgium (through the snow!), and 2 hours in Holland. The countries are so small here….especially when we compare driving here with Alaska!

Luxembourg Nov 22

We’re driving from Luxembourg to Belgium in the first snowfall of the season. Thom made sure we had snow tires when he rented the car, so we’re in good shape. This morning we observed a huge traffic jam in the opposite direction of the Audubon, due to trucks and vehicles incapable of climbing a hill on their summer tires. Maybe we brought Alaska’s weather to Europe!
Our European journey began 3 days ago when we landed in Germany. After using the USO facilities to set up our cell phone and check email, we headed down the road in our Nissan minivan (with GPS!). We all commented on how clean and orderly Germany looks, even the little villages with their spiral church steeples. After a couple hours, we arrived in Heidelberg, where we stayed at a US Army facility called Patrick Henry Village. We had a 3 bedroom suite with a kitchen, which is just what we needed to get caught up on sleep. Unfortunately, Will and Ben were unable to sleep on the red eye flight, and the rest of us only caught a few hours.
We spent our first day exploring Heidelberg. It’s a beautiful city along the Nekkar River with an impressive castle built up on the hills from the 1400’s. We climbed the cobblestone steps and toured the castle, discovering the prince’s and princess’ quarters, the chapel, the damp recesses inhabited by bats, and the high protective walls. The castle is home to a museum of apothecary and medicinal things. It was interesting to see how people were medicated prior to modern medicine. Robby and I enjoyed the laboratory with distillation, mortar and pestle, etc. The boys were surprised to learn that the moat surrounding the castle was used to raise animals, and then the royalty actually hunted there! Our tour guide explained that the women would cheer on their “brave” men from balconies above.
Walking down the cobblestone streets with cafes and shops was enjoyable. The boys deciphered many signs, since many German words are similar to English…just a lot longer, they noticed. We heard children at recess playing in a very small space. Our boys watched as the kids laughed, played, and called to each other in German. I think they miss their friends, and probably being at school too. They simply commented that they couldn’t believe what a small outside space the kids had.
We also noticed that so many people commute on bikes; students, working people, mothers with children behind, etc. Robby enjoys all the different efficient cars. We think the Smartg Cars are too cute! We found ourselves inside a sporting goods store in a mall. A track with 4 lanes wound its way through the store. Before I knew it, all the boys were on scooters zipping around the track, including Thom! Skateboards, 3-wheelers, 2-wheeler scooters, etc. They were having a ball, and I was amazed that the clerks didn’t stop them.
Next, we visited a friend of Louise’s who lives in Heidelberg, named Karin Diekmann. Louise lived with Karin’s family about 50 years ago for a little while as an exchange student. Karin invited us into her stunning home filled with beautiful artwork. She shared sparkling wine and a light dinner with us, as we discussed the wonders of travel, speaking many languages, and family. The boys loved her house because it has an elevator, a lovely outside garden with an incredible view of Heidelberg, and an inside swimming pool. You bet they accepted her offer to go for a dip in the pool! Thank you, Karin for hosting a perfect evening to complete our first full day in Europe.
Next we drove to Trier, one of the oldest cities in Europe, which is located on the western border of Germany. We visited La Puerte Nigra, “The Black Door”, which is some of the oldest surviving architecture built by the Romans. I couldn’t help but ask the boys in awe what it feels like to climb 3 stories up on a structure so old. Statues, relief artwork, and drawings are everywhere. We could see the distant vineyards up and down the hillsides along the Moselle River.
Our family then walked through the pedestrian-only streets, enjoying German folksingers in traditional costume. We tried schnitzel for dinner, which the boys loved. As an adventure, we spent the night in a hostel. Over 25 years ago, I toured Europe as a college student and stayed in many youth hostels and pensions. It’s a terrific way to meet people from all over the world. The boys liked being in bunk beds again, and meeting a local man from Germany.
Today we ventured into Luxembourg and learned about its history. The city is strategically located on steep hills, and was constantly being attacked. Spain, France, Austria, German, The Netherlands, and Prussia controlled it over the past 2000 years. Now it is finally its own country. Luxembourg is the cleanest city I’ve ever experienced, basing much of its economy on finances and banking. Thom spoke with a local man who said the poor world economy doesn’t affect them as much here because they’re very conservative with their loans. We stopped into 2 incredible cathedrals, and walked along the steep hillsides. How they built the bridges, walls, and large cathedrals on inclines like this from hundreds of years ago seems miraculous.
Now we’re driving to Brussels, and it’s still snowing. We hope to spend the night at a US Air Base Community, Shape Headquarters, near Brussels.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ramstein, Germany

How exciting this is! We’re on a flight to Ramstein, Germany. Now it’s truly becoming a world tour. We parked our motor coach at the RV park on Ft. Meade and tried catching a Space A military flight yesterday out of BWI (Baltimore). There weren’t enough seats available, so we returned to our RV, spent the night, had a full day of school today, and then returned in the evening to BWI. This time it worked. Two flights were going tonight to Germany, with close to 200 seats available. We heard them call “Besch” and off we went! We’re on World Airways, and it’s exactly like a commercial flight. The boys haven’t been on a flight in over 2 years. Sam especially was thrilled to try out the headsets, put his seat back, and was delighted when the flight attendant gave him a free activity pad with crayons! We’ll land at about 10am, German time. We hope to spend about 2 weeks in Europe, and then return to Baltimore. We all thanked Thom tonight for his 26 years of military service!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Elkridge, MD

Nov 15
It’s a quiet Saturday morning, and everything is so familiar as I look out our “dining room” window. We’re parked at Scott and Sharon’s house, next to our old house at the end of River Birch Ct in Maryland. We lived here for 5 years, which is when Ben and Sam were born. It’s wonderful seeing the Zelnoskys, Kietas, Seemans, Gilligans, Giffords, Ruckers, Ritters, Brockmans, Dabecks, Synders, Lindermans, Hayes, Gerus, and so many other neighbors and friends. The boys are having a ball playing with their old buddies. Yesterday, Robby asked if we could visit his teachers and principal at Elkridge Elem where he attended Kindergarten-3rd grade. He enjoyed surprising Dr. Mumford, Mrs. Herman, Mrs. Fales, Mrs. Fastman, and Ms. Lloyd, and we had a good time catching up with everyone.
On our way here, we stopped at Calvert School’s offices north of Baltimore. Thank you Cecilia, Pam, Martha, Joan, and all the staff we met on that rainy day. We enjoyed our tour, and the boys love their Calvert baseball caps. Robby thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Mrs. Clark. We’re so sorry we missed Mrs. McMahon and apologize for not linking up on the 2nd visit. Thom forgot how much travel time to plan for given it was a Friday afternoon and raining. One more reason to miss Delta Junction and to look for somewhere less crowded. Calvert is a first rate homeschooling program and now that we’ve seen their offices and staff, we are even more delighted with our choice to go with their curriculum. The boys finished up their 2nd round of testing last week and have been diligent with their studies.
We spent 10 days at Eric and Terry’s home just west of here an hour. The kids played daily together, and we had school 5 days a week making good progress. Thanks to Eric and Terry for all the good meals, laundry facilities, showers, etc. Under Uncle Thom’s tutoring, Lauren progressed out of training wheels and now rides her big girl bike on 2 wheels. Duncan is close to doing the same! Erin tried out roller blading, and Thom took the boys ice skating twice.
We headed up to Gettysburg and spent a beautiful Saturday at the new Visitors’ Center and of course driving the battle field. Wow! Thom’s been there before and was a terrific guide with his West Point education touring us around. We all learned so much. Did you know that the South produced 75% of the world’s cotton at that time? Slavery of course was important to their economy. What we didn’t know is that the war occurred over whether the slavery should be allowed in the new territories to the west. If the territories had not brought the issue to a head, there is no telling how long it would have continued. Soldiers came from all over, including California and Utah. The 3-day battle involved more casualties than any other on American soil for a total of 51,000! The visitors’ center shows a fabulous 22 minute movie, which really holds the boys’ attention. Moments like these confirm to Thom and me why this trip is so important and we hope they remember these historic places. Given the historic election of Senator Obama to President, Gettysburg was particularly interesting and important.
We tied in a visit with our Alaskan friends, the Rennhack’s, who now live in Chambersburg, PA. Dawn cooked up a big spaghetti dinner while the kids played as though it was just yesterday when we last saw them. Then they treated us to a fun fall festival party at Darby and Darwin’s school nearby. Once again, it was great catching up with old friends. We also enjoyed visiting with the Sunderlys; Brian, Deni, Cameron, and Samantha in nearby Germantown. Brain was our pastor when we lived in Elkridge, and we enjoyed a bible study with the Sunderlys and several other families. The kids played like it had only been 5 days, not 5 years, and really enjoyed getting caught up with all Brian and Deni have been doing over the past few years. It was wonderful to see them healthy, happy and flourishing.
Another family we were thrilled to see again was the Hilldreth’s. We drove up to Carlisle, PA where Ted is attending the War College. We last saw each other in June as we departed Ft. Greely, where we were neighbors for 2 years. The boys enjoyed playing again with Ashley, Allison, and Aimee while Ted, Kristie, Pat, Thom, and I caught up. Our timing was great to see Pat, Kristie’s Mom, visiting from Alabama. We all went bowling, and although I didn’t break 100, we had a good time (not sure about the bowling league right next to us!)
From here, we’d like to catch a Space A flight out of Dover, DE or Baltimore. We’ve never done this as a family, and now is a great time to take advantage of this terrific military benefit. It’s virtually a free flight to Spain, Germany, Iceland, or wherever the military is flying that day. So if you don’t hear from us for a couple weeks, we’re probably in Europe!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Here we are at Eric and Terry’s in Frederick, MD and it’s great to have 8 of the Besch kids back together again. Cousins Erin, Logan, Lauren, and Duncan have been sharing their scooters, bikes, big wheel, and toys with us. They live on a beautiful park, so there’s plenty to keep everyone busy. We arrived just in time to creatively come up with last-minute Halloween costumes, and off they went trick-or-treating together. Now we’re making good advances in school, and are close to the next round of tests.
Before this, we visited Pat and Mary Kay O’Neill in New Jersey, and their 3 children Sarah, Kayla, and Matthew. Due to a bad storm, electricity was out in the entire neighborhood. No problem! Not only were we self-sufficient in our RV, but we also plugged in their frig/freezer to our RV and kept it cold with our generator. It’s nice to help others when so many have opened their driveways to us! We enjoyed a romantic candlelight dinner in their beautiful home that evening, with all the kids! Pat was kind enough to let us keep our RV there, while we ventured into Manhattan for a daytrip.
We rode the NJ Railway 45 minutes into Penn Station, which was exciting for the kids. We read books, talked with commuters, and Sam even brought his sewing kit along to pass the time. The weather was sunny and crisp, perfect! Robby was a real trooper, maneuvering his way around on crutches like a pro. He sprained his ankle only 4 days earlier. We visited the Empire State Building, and the guides expedited us right to the elevators since Robby was “disabled.” The 50 minute wait only took us about 10 minutes, and suddenly we were on the 86th floor overlooking the breathtaking sights.
Our next stop was Ground Zero. Thom and I lived on Long Island, NY for the first 2 years of our marriage, so we’ve seen many of Manhattan’s sights. Yet our last time here was in the late 90’s. Ground Zero is the one place I really wanted to see on this trip. It’s easy to tell when you’re getting close, since it’s the only large area in Manhattan that has no tall protruding buildings, except for Central Park. As we walked 2 sides of Ground Zero, we could hardly see what was going on in the busy centerpiece. The views are blocked by large tarps for construction. Once we reached the south side, we could walk up to a 2nd level overlooking the giant construction scene. It’s truly amazing to consider what happened on Sept 11, 2001. Memories poured over me, as I recalled walking back from the boys’ bus stop that morning in Maryland, being 8 ½ months pregnant with Sam at the time. Thom had just started his new job about ½ mile from the Pentagon on Sept 10. Luckily, he was 10 miles south of there at Ft. Belvoir on Sept 11. To think about the innocent lives lost that day is something I will never forget. We walked past Fire Station Company 10, literally across the street from Ground Zero. A wonderful, artistic wall relief (like a mural) is a great tribute and memorial to all the brave fire fighters. I bought a DVD geared towards children and schools as a documentary of that fateful day. Robby was only 6 at the time, and I want our boys to understand the significance of 9/11. The Freedom Tower and three other sky scrapers are in the construction phase and are supposed to be up by 2012. What a great celebration that time will be!
The next stop was South Street Seaport where we caught a water taxi around Lower Manhattan. Ah, to be on a boat on such a picture-perfect day in this world-famous city was exhilarating. The boys loved it too! We snapped a bunch of photos with the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, and skyscrapers of lower Manhattan. Again, we caught the Grayline Tour which drove past Soho, Chinatown, Little Italy, The United Nations, and Fifth Avenue. We jumped off at Rockefeller Center, and the boys complained that we didn’t bring our ice skates! Yes, kids were skating on the rink for all to see. We walked to Central Park, and then caught a subway to The American Museum of Natural History where “Night at the Museum” was filmed. By now we only had a short time remaining, so we focused on dinosaurs. The boys are at ideal ages where they’re enjoying the sights without getting lost. Ben panicked a bit when he couldn’t see us in a crowd surrounding a McCain rally we happened upon in the center of Times Square. He spotted Will and came running. Then he burst into tears. New York is a scary place for a 9-year old on his own, he realized. Earlier in the day, he decided he’ll never live in a big city because there are just too many people. Now I’m sure that’ll be his opinion for years to come!
So let’s see, we enjoyed the lights of Times Square, which is definitely more lit up than I ever remember it. They’ve even added neon red stairs for people to climb and enjoy the view…directly in the center of Times Square! We caught the train located below Madison Square Garden where the Rangers were playing that evening, and headed back to NJ. We’d spent 11 hours in the city and I can’t imagine how we could have packed more in than we did!
Before NJ and Manhattan, we spent a couple nights at Round Pond, a campground outside of West Point. I want to mention it because we had 2 days of snow while there! Couldn’t believe it! I kept asking Thom, “What are we doing so far north?” We made good progress with Calvert schooling, and then headed south.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Oct 27 2008

I’m in the motor coach overlooking the Hudson River at West Point, where we’ve camped for 3 nights. It’s been like old home week for Thom, connecting with many classmates. Army beat Louisiana Tech at Saturday’s football game which was the wettest football game we’ve ever attended! Our boys have experienced the life of a cadet here, with a tour of the mess hall, Grant Hall, the obstacle course, the game parade, and tail gating before/during the game. We’ve had a full day of Calvert School today, so we’ve even studied like cadets.
Thanks to Casey and Ester Haskins for a fabulous dinner in their beautiful home, and we enjoyed seeing their son, Aaron who’s a yearling now. It was also a great surprise finding Sam & Carol Johnson here. Thanks for breakfast, a great tour, and your laundry facilities! We had an enjoyable walk with Les Knotts and his sons Aaron and Tyler. Thom also caught up with Tom Gerard, Tim McDonald, Pat Ortland, and Mike White.
The only negative thing that happened was when Robby and Will were wrestling on The Plain on our walk back to the RV. Will ran to tell us that Robby was hurt, and sure enough, Robby sprained his ankle. Thom piggybacked him to the RV, removed his sock, and found a baseball-sized ankle. After X-rays, they determined it wasn’t broken, but now he’s on crutches for a week! Well, we have lots of school to do with his foot elevated this coming week.
So let’s see, after my last update, we spent a great day in Boston. With 6 of us, we opted for the trolley tour with 17 stops of historic Boston and Cambridge. Sights included the Boston Harbor, Paul Revere’s house, The Old North Church (1 lantern by land; 2 by sea…remember?), Breed’s Hill (misnomer Bunker Hill), The Boston Common, Fenway Park, and many others. We rode the T to avoid traffic and parking, which is Boston’s subway. Outside of taking one wrong train, we did pretty well and the boys experienced commuting at 5pm…a foreign concept after spending 3 years at Ft. Greely! Mort, Sarah, and Nathan Orlov treated us to a delicious home-cooked meal and we had a great visit after a 14-year gap. We caught up on laundry and school at Hanscom AFB’s RV Park (best Laundromat on our journey so far!).
After Boston, we headed south to Newport where we viewed the mansions along Cliff Walk on a glorious, sunny day after finishing schoolwork. Nice summer cottages those New Yorkers built over a hundred years ago! The kids loved the scary Halloween Festival set up near our RV Park by the naval base with graveyard and pirate scenes. Seems like there’s something to be seen everywhere we go!
We stopped at Mystic, CT to walk the tall ships and visit the shipyards of that celebrated era. The boys learned how ropes, sails, masts, and ships were built hundreds of years ago. We met David, a 13-year old boy traveling by sailboat around the world with his parents Rosemary and David. He’s homeschooling in the 8th grade Calvert program just like Robby! He’s currently working as an apprentice in an old printer’s shop at Mystic for a few weeks.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

October 20
We’re now travelling east into Boston to walk the famous Freedom Trail. Robby’s studying the American Revolutionary War so our timing’s perfect. Tonight we had a delicious dinner at the “Summer Shack” with Cousin Sally and Jeffrey in Cambridge. Robby was about 6 years old the last time we saw them, so it was great catching up. They’re off to St. Bart’s on Wednesday, and we feel lucky to have caught them just in time!
On the drive today, we stopped to visit my Uncle Don and Aunt Barbara in North Brookfield, MA. They prepared a wonderful lunch and the kids had a great time exploring their stunning 5-acre property. Ben even went for a swim in the pond, when last night was their first freeze! My cousin Cathy stopped by, and we also met with 8-year old Alexis. Thanks for a nice visit!
We definitely had to stop in Williamstown, MA to hang out with Cousin Steve, Cousin Georgia, and Aunt Liz. They introduced us to Joe and Tracy Finnegan, and their boys Patrick, Shawn, and Dan who treated us to an unexpected and delightful dinner. We’re overwhelmed with all this hospitality. Steve just finished a magnificent painting which is on its way to England, and we had the chance to see it just before its completion. Way to go Steve!
Prior to this, we spent almost 2 weeks at Uncle Clipper and Wendy’s farmhouse in West Sand Lake, NY. Louise and Clayt live ¼ mile down the road so we enjoyed a grand visit. This is the farmhouse where Thom grew up and spent most of his childhood years. Cousin Tucker (9) and Cousin Avery (7) shared everything from scooters, bikes, forts in the woods, computer games, stuffed animals, and cookies with our boys. We went to fencing practice (on guard!), a soccer game, choir practice, a medieval fair, and Friday assembly at Avery’s school. All of us attended the opening season hockey game of the Albany River Rats, who unfortunately lost to the Bridgeport, CT Tigers. Aunt Wendy arranged for a tour of the haunted Capitol Building in Albany to get ready for Halloween. The kids had one last chance to go back up to Frost Point, Canada with Clipper and Nana to close up the cottage for the winter. They helped move wood and do numerous chores while Thom and I enjoyed a quiet weekend at the farmhouse.
Being at the farmhouse for 2 weeks helped us move forward with the home schooling immensely. Nana was a huge help and assisted all the kids with reading, quizzing, etc. Wendy was a saint to put up with all of us invading her home for so long, more than doubling the number of occupants she’s accustomed to…thanks Wendy! We could easily settle down in this beautiful part of the country next year…who knows?!

Friday, October 10, 2008

October 6

October 6
Our last 4 days were spent with longtime friends Victoria, Rich, and Bryce in beautiful Southern Vermont. Victoria and I grew up in the same home town of Lakeport, CA way back when. Her husband, Rich is the President of Bromley Ski Resort and their son Bryce is in 8th grade. We parked the RV right at their home, which made for a terrific visit despite the winding, narrow dirt road up to their home. Thom backed the RV down just fine; he’s a champ driving the big rig!
Our visit couldn’t have been timed better with the fall colors and their schedules. We hiked to the top of Bromley one morning where there’s a shelter and marker for the Appalachian Trail. The sun was hiding behind low clouds so we only caught glimpses of the view, although we spotted Magic Mtn and Stratton Ski Area. Ben decided to cut his own trail below a chairlift, and we didn’t catch up with him until an hour later at the base of Bromley. He hopes to climb Everest one day, but we don’t plan on letting him out of our sight on a mountain again until he’s 18!
Rich treated us to a playday at Bromley’s summer park, which includes the country’s longest Alpine Slide (4000 ft!), a big swing like you find at an amusement park where your stomach hangs in midair for a good 30 seconds, a bungee trampoline, space bikes, zip line, rock climbing wall, spinner, and basketball challenge. All 6 Besches played like kids as we ran from one attraction to the next. Thanks Rich for a memorable family fun day!
Bryce introduced the boys to skateboarding in his basement as well as the local skate park in Manchester. Ben’s already asking if we can find a skate park at our next stop in NY. The boys enjoyed hanging out with Bryce and playing his play station games also. Another highlight was when Robby and I visited Bryce’s school to attend “Frostival”, a celebration of the life of poet Robert Frost. Speaking of school, we finished almost 2 days of it while here. Victoria homeschooled Bryce using Calvert from Kindergarten through 3rd grade and loved it. She jumped right in and helped teach our boys as well.
Yesterday was Sam’s 7th birthday. He helped mix, bake, frost, decorate, and eat his cake! Victoria made a dessert pizza with the kids made of cookie dough, jam, white chocolate, and fruit roll-ups cut into “pepperoni” slices. It was a hit! Sam had fun celebrating his special day with friends.
Thom especially enjoyed hearing about the operations at Bromley, and what’s involved in running a ski resort. He had a chance to meet Billy, who is the water treatment manager at the mountain. Billy also gave Thom a hand in solving our problems with the RV’s hot water system.

The best part was just catching up with Victoria and Rich over good food and wine. We can see why they love Vermont so much, and we could easily choose this area to settle down next year. It’s only an hour from Albany, NY where Thom’s family lives. And that’s where we’re heading next.

October 1
Today was a big day as the 4 boys completed their first round of Calvert tests…whew! Their increasing age directly correlates with time needed for completion, and Robby didn’t finish until just before dinner. Now I’m compiling their tests, previous compositions, science homework, and maps to send in to the ATS (Advisory Teaching Service) of Calvert School in MD. It’s good to have professional teachers review their work and grade their exams for feedback. We’d like to stop in and meet them as we pass through Maryland next month.

Sept 30
We just pulled into our campsite in Glen, New Hampshire. We’re now hitting the height of the color changes in New England. Gold, orange, scarlett, red, and other brilliant colors cover the hillsides. For the first time in months, we’re next to a river, reminiscent of our travels down the Alaska Highway. Although the water’s awfully chilly, guess who’s out there now collecting rocks, driftwood, and looking for bugs? Robby, Ben and Sam! Will’s inflating the canoe with Thom’s help using our air compressor. We just saw a couple kayakers float past, and Thom eyed the fly fisherman in the middle of the stream further down. So it’s a good time to catch up on our website.
We passed through customs last week after a wonderful summer in Canada. It’s probably very obvious by now how much our entire family loves Canada. In addition to the province of Ontario where we were married and Ben was born, we have now spent time in the Maritime Provinces. If you ever have the chance to visit, we highly recommend you go!
We came through St. Stevens and down to Bar Harbor, Maine. Acadia National Park was donated by John D. Rockefeller almost a hundred years ago, and we decided it was time to do a serious hike. The boys opted for a long, strenuous hike so we chose the 9-mile (10?) climb to Cadillac Mountain. We started at noon, and returned to the car at 7:30pm! Robby and Will carried fairly heavy Boy Scout packs with food, water, and rain gear for everyone. We hiked through peaceful woodsy trails, along brooks, up steep granite rocks, to arrive at the peak at 1530 feet where we discovered the gift shop crowded with busloads of tourists! Hiking down was a challenge as the rain started to fall making the granite rocks slippery. The boys started complaining around mile #6 that this was a little too long! I was surprised since they’d been saying we hadn’t gone for a long hike in so long. The views were beautiful, especially from Eagle’s Crag overlooking Bar Harbor and the Atlantic. We celebrated our success by having pizza in town, saving me the chore of cooking!
Our next destination was home of LL Bean, Freeport, Maine. Of course we visited the landmark and enjoyed meeting Doug Brown, Clip’s college friend who works for LL Bean. He was quite helpful with outfitting us in rain gear…thanks Doug! We attended church in Freeport where we met Adam and Sarah. They kindly invited us to their home for lunch, where we learned more about Maine, NH, and their two younger boys, Ben and Nate. Thanks for the pizza, salad, cookies, and hospitality!
We ventured into Boudin College’s Art Museum nearby, which truly is a brave thing to do with our four boys! Being on a college campus in the autumn brought back a flood of memories, and it was a neat experience walking with our boys. I asked Robby how he’d feel about going to college like this, and he really liked the idea. Before we know it, we’ll be touring campuses to make these big decisions! Once again, I’m reminded of how lucky we are to have this time together.
We also enjoyed seeing Cousin Stephen Hannock’s painting of The Ox Bow at Boudin. It’s cool seeing his work, and we hope to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art in NYC where his paintings have been displayed in the past!
So you’re probably wondering when we fit schooling in, with our busy schedule exploring our world? Just ask the boys. They took practice exams yesterday to prepare for the first round of actual tests. The two older boys spent 4-6 hours completing the thorough tests in about 6 subjects. It’s comprehensive covering the last 20 lessons. Ben spent 3 hours at it, and Sam required about an hour and a half. They all did well. Today we’re reviewing the weak areas, and tomorrow they’ll tackle the actual tests. They’ve also had to complete compositions, poems, and loads of homework. They’ve had to read great books like Swiss Family Robinson, Johnny Tremain, and Robinson Crusoe. The curriculum is through Calvert and also includes spelling, vocabulary, science, geography, history, math, art and language arts (grammar). The school day lasts about 5 hours to take all 4 boys through one complete lesson. It’s nice when we’re in one place so both Thom and I can work with the boys. When Thom’s driving, I’ll read with one while another sits up front with Thom and reads science or another textbook aloud. Again, we constantly incorporate our lessons into everyday experiences like when we visited the museum and saw Egyptian bas relief, statues in the round, and cuneiform writings. Ben’s now writing his own poems about cake, pudding, and cheerios, and Sam’s taken up a new hobby – sewing! He loves it and wants to be the best in the family (he’s already better than me!).

Sept 24
This may be our last day in Canada for 2008. We’re in the lovely seaside town of Saint Andrews in New Brunswick, just a short distance from the Maine border. The RV is a stone’s throw from Passamaquoddy Bay, and the sun is just rising. It’s a crisp, clear autumn morning with the glorious colors of the season starting to show. Thom’s been working on the heater because this RV gets cold at night. I guess they’re built for winters in Florida! Last night it was toasty warm inside.
Let me go back to where I left off last time. We caught the ferry from PEI to Nova Scotia which took just over an hour. Yes, we drove the RV towing the SUV right onto the ferry! There were big diesel trucks that make this run regularly. Thom requested a tour of the bridge, so before you knew it, all the Besch boys were up there talking with the First Mate and crew. They got a kick out of seeing the small joystick which drove that big boat, as opposed to a giant captain’s wheel.
Heading east, we crossed over into the picturesque province of Nova Scotia (New Scotland). Alexander Graham Bell and his wife fell in love with this area, and summered in Baddeck here for 35 years with their family. What a great museum! Bell was a born inventor, and we all know he discovered the telephone early on with his assistant Watson. What we didn’t know is that he went on to study aeronautics, hydroplanes and air foils for boats, genetics, kites, and photophones (which he considered to be his greatest invention), along with many other things. He was constantly outside with his young engineer associates flying gigantic kites or doing speed trials on the lake nearby. Once again, the boys watched movies and were inspired by new inventions (including Thom).
For months we’ve been hearing about the scenic Cabot Trail of Nova Scotia. We finally drove the 10-hour trek around the northern peninsula of this province in the SUV. We’d been warned not to take the RV. Good thing! It’s a steep, curvy road overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. We made frequent stops at leather shops, chowder stops, and for sunset hikes. The boys never seem to run out of energy, always skipping ahead to discover what’s around the next bend, or to throw rocks into the sea below.
Another day we ventured out to explore the Fortress of Louisbourgh, which is as far east as our travels will take us in North America. This was a strategic fort built by the French in the early 1700’s to control the flow of sea traffic from the Atlantic into the St. Lawrence. In 1744, the British attacked and took control. Years later, it went back to the French, and finally again to the British.
In the 1960’s, Canada sent out archeologists to research this historic place. Over the next 25 years, Louisbourgh was rebuilt and is now open to the public as a giant reenactment from the year 1744 when the French ruled this part of the New World. Soldiers set off canons and fired old muskets. Cooks prepared meals while ducks and chickens hung upside down to be seasoned in the corners. Sam loved watching the heavy weight that slowly turned the mechanism of a rotisserie in front of a hot fire in order to cook a chicken. We also walked through the museum showing much of the archeologists’ work, which is exactly what Will is studying currently in geography.
Thom and I notice daily how easy it is to incorporate the boys’ schoolwork into our adventures. Robby recently announced that history is now his favorite subject. He’s studying the early explorers of the New World and the early colony life. Well, that’s exactly what we’re visiting currently. In fact, this town of Saint Andrews was a place where Loyalists came back in the 1770’s. These were colonists who disagreed with fighting the British, and not wanting to fight against their fellow colonists, they headed north to this area. Many in fact dismantled their homes and shipped them by barge to be reassembled here in Saint Andrews.
Back to Louisbourgh. We noticed a large group of people in costume heading down a backstreet and so we followed along. A maid had been caught stealing from her employer, and was being punished. The townspeople were ridiculing her as she was marched along in old-fashioned hand cuffs. Some men wanted to hang her, while the women begged that she be forgiven since she had 10 children to care for. She cried out as she walked along, but the men yelled at her. Boy was Sam concerned! He kept asking me if they really would hang her for stealing. I had to remind him that they were all actors, and this was just pretend. They finally decided she’d spend time in the town square with her head and hands in iron locks, where all could ridicule her. It was quite memorable!
We drove southwest to Halifax, which is comparable to our Ellis Island. Halifax is where 1,000,000 immigrants came into Canada from the 1920’s-1970’s. We visited Pier 21 which has a tremendous museum dedicated to this era. First hand accounts of immigrants were there to see, hear about, and read. We learned also that Canadian soldiers departed and returned here during WW II. Many soldiers married women in Europe, and these “war brides” came through Halifax shortly after WWII to be reunited with their new husbands. Some thought that Canada was part of Europe and had no idea it was so far away! While there, we looked up Paul Mayer’s ship from July 4, 1951 called the Anna Salene! We also walked up to the Citadel located at the crest of Halifax. Once again, we enjoyed walking the fort and exploring the powder rooms, officers’ quarters, and the boys love checking out the old-fashioned outhouses! Robby and Will pretended to be guards who marched their younger brothers off to prison.
We watched an enormous Cunard cruise ship, the Queen Elizabeth II swing through around George’s Island. It filled the entire bay! Two tugboats helped the large ship do a U-turn, and then the cruiser let out a loud honk, honk, honk as all the people on board waved. Back to sea they went.
We read much about the largest tides of the world, located in the Bay of Fundy. The biggest vertical difference is over 50 feet from low to high tide! This is due to the shape of the bay, which is like a giant funnel. It is a shallow, gently-shaped bay so the water level changes significantly, almost by the minute. We watched the tidal bore arrive in Moncton. Twice a day, as the tide comes in, you can actually see a wave come up. We sat there waiting to view it for almost an hour. Sure enough, it arrived…just a constant wave coming all the way up a narrow inlet.
We then visited Hopewell Rocks. This is a cool, surreal place on the north side of the Bay of Fundy where rocks have been carved away for thousands of year from the daily tidal change.
We first visited Hopewell Rocks in the evening at high tide. We literally couldn’t go all the way down the stairs because the waves lapped at the stairwell with a large chain and sign preventing our passing. We returned the next morning at low tide. What a difference! We not only passed all the way down the stairs onto the sand, but we walked for hundreds of feet down through the mud to the water line. The boys loved it! Luckily, Thom brought their water shoes and we all rolled up our jeans to the knee. At the furthest point, Ben was knee deep and attempting to skate through the mud! He said he caught an edge once but managed to keep his balance.
Speaking of Ben, he celebrated his 9th birthday on Sept 22. I baked my first cake in the RV’s oven, which turned out to be mighty tasty! It was a quiet birthday with only the 6 of us to celebrate, but he received homemade birthday cards from his brothers along with “chores for a week, or chores for 3 days” as gifts. He loved being “prince for the day!”
It’s time to start school. The boys are all up, had breakfast, and are now picking up laundry for me. It’s great to do 4 loads of laundry at a time (especially after we had so much mud to wash out from Hopewell Rocks!). We let the laundry build up for about 5 days, and then do it all at once. Sam loves putting the coins in the machine, while the other boys do the boring work like carrying big laundry bags! They’ve been getting rich on earning lots of allowance money.

Sept 16, 2008
Tomorrow morning we’ll depart PEI by ferry to Nova Scotia. We’ve spent an entire week on this exquisite island. The tourists have gone home and the leaves are starting to show off their festive fall colors. It’s quiet and we’ve enjoyed exploring many places here. Home has been a terrific campground named after the famous Marco Polo sailing ship which was shipwrecked at nearby Cavendish Beach 130 years ago. The campground hosted a 2-day bluegrass festival, and the staff is wonderful. We climbed the West Point lighthouse, again witnessed the increasing number of windmills going up, biked about 15 miles on the east side of the island by Montague, and visited Charlottetown where pre-Canadians held their first organized discussions to form their own country 150 years ago. Yes, we visited the requisite House of Green Gables and walked through The Haunted Woods to visit the site where L.M. Montgomery lived and wrote most of her greatest works. We even met the mayor of Georgetown who owns his own jewelry-making business. The boys collected sea glass on his beach and then Peter showed them how to make pendants and necklaces. Ben loaned me his royal blue sea glass necklace since he’s wearing a recently purchased dolphin necklace. I feel so honored!
Thom finally did it…he took kite boarding lessons! The first lesson lasted about 4 hours and was the “dry land” portion where he worked on his kite flying and safety skills. He had to wait a couple days for the wind to settle down before his 2nd lesson. That was today, and we all tagged along to watch Dad. He and his instructor went out into a shallow protected bay in their wetsuits, since the water’s cooling down fast. It wasn’t long before Thom was pulled up on the board while simultaneously flying a huge purple kite about 100 ft overhead. He worked hard for the 4-hour lesson and by the end he was moving along well. As I filmed the graceful kite powering Thom along, I thought how wonderful that he’s out here learning new sports. Now Will can’t wait to learn to kite board!
The boys have really worked hard on school here on PEI. Being in one place for 7 days straight helps our routine. The boys have completed lesson 13 and we’re getting into a nice groove with the homeschooling dynamics. Will and Ben prefer to wake up early and start school by 8am. I assist and guide, but am pleased they’re able to read through lesson plans and proceed with work independently. Robby’s been doing this since the first lesson, and now the others are catching on. The first big tests happen at lesson 20 so we’ll see how they do. Sam needs Thom or me to work with him one on one, and he’s doing well with his curriculum. He’s strong in math and reading but needs more practice with writing skills. My favorite times are when he reads to me, perhaps because he’s our youngest and therefore the last to go through this wonderful stage.

Sept 10
Here we are at beautiful Prince Edward Island (PEI). It’s so picturesque; right out of Ann of Green Gables. The author, L.M. Montgomery grew up here and wrote this famous book 100 years ago. So the entire island is celebrating their most famous author. Thom, Robby and Will read the book last month in anticipation of our visit.
We arrived today to discover that the World Cup Kite Boarding Competition is here currently. It’s the only stop in all of North America on the tour. Thom’s been interested in learning this sport for a few years now, but hasn’t had the opportunity. So we found the freestyle event and watched the men compete performing impressive flips, twists, and jumps in a windy bay. I hope Thom can take a lesson while we’re here…he’d love it!
We’re at a campground in Cavendish and the boys immediately found the multiple playgrounds here. We plan to stay a few days, using the SUV to explore after we finish school each day.
Our previous stop was to a special part of Canada called Miscou Island in New Brunswick where we visited LTC Hunt Kerrigan’s Mum, Grace. She overwhelmed us with her kindness and hospitality. She welcomed us with a delicious home cooked meal, including her own hand-picked blueberry pie. We spent 2 lovely days and nights at her summer cottage by the sea, which is as far northeast as you can go in the entire province. We watched the herring boats go out at 5pm with the high tide. Requiring another high tide to return to harbor, they must spend another 12 hours out fishing. Thom and Robby went to the wharf early one morning to see the boats return with their catch. Robby enthusiastically described how the vacuums suck the fish right out of the boats and send them off to market. Grace toured us around the island, sharing its interesting history, boardwalk, light house, and lobster traps with us. Thank you Grace!
Before we reached New Brunswick, we spent over a week travelling the perimeter of the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec. In Cap Chat, we schooled the boys for 2 full days, making great progress. We also toured a wind farm and had the good fortune to have our own English-speaking guide, Josie. We tied in the visit with science and economics for the boys. Thom is fascinated with wind energy as well as other alternative energy forms. It’s great to see him motivated and energized to learn more about this ancient, yet youthful force in today’s energy crisis. We plan to visit more wind farms as we travel…who knows what the future may hold?
Perce was a memorable stop, with a walking trip out to the colossal Perce Rock. Thom was disappointed that all visitors must be on a guided tour. Not only did this cost our family $24, but we weren’t able to go all the way out to the rock and the tour was only given in French! Oh well, it was a beautiful walk along a narrow path that’s only open for crossing during a 2-hour period at low tide.
We also stayed a couple nights at Carleton-sur-Mer in Quebec, which has a great campground on a peninsula into the Bay. We’ve really visited some beautiful campgrounds and met incredibly friendly people. Now that we’re so far from home, it’s fun to see people’s reaction when they read our Alaska license plates. They can’t believe it, although many of these folks have visited Alaska!
Crossing from New Brunswick to PEI today, we drove the Confederation Bridge which was completed 12 years ago. It spans over 7 miles, and is the world’s longest marine bridge. Driving 45mph, it took us almost 10 minutes to reach the island.

Sept 2
Our 2nd day at Mathieu’s home, we had a school day. Homeschooling fits our life style perfectly. Here it was a Saturday and the boys had a full day of school! We’re all getting a better feel for Calvert. We find the most challenging part is to interact with all 4 boys, who are of course at different grade levels doing different subjects simultaneously. Robby manages his time superbly and can take his curriculum and go do it. He’ll ask questions from time to time, and then I’ll review his work halfway through, or at the end of the day’s session. Will requires more supervision and he tends to get stuck (day dream?), but he’s getting the hang of it. Ben is a sharp little cookie with a stubborn attitude at times. Once he realizes that the directions and assignments are not negotiable, he gets the work done quickly and well. Sam is zooming through his 1st grade work but requires the most one-on-one. Thom and I are like jugglers and teachers at the same time. Patience and a good night of sleep greatly improve the chance of success for all of us!
We continued on to the charming and historic site of Quebec City. We enjoyed perfect weather on the ferry ride across the St. Lawrence admiring views of the walled city and Hotel Frontenac, a fairy tale castle at the top. Quebec celebrates its 400th year, and we were there over Labor Day Weekend with thousands of people. Traffic was congested, especially for us Alaskans so we opted to walk. We walked through Old Quebec, the promenade, Plains of Abraham, Parliament and its fountains, St. Jean Ave which was blocked off for pedestrians only, and then we returned to the port to enjoy the highlight of the day. Quebec and its ingenious artists created a movie highlighting its 400 year history. They show it every night outside on guess what? The “screen” is comprised of at least 30 huge grain silos and a large building in the middle which can be viewed by thousands of people for free. It’s not in French, but includes sounds of trains, music, people laughing, etc. I’ve never viewed anything like it. The French Canadians should be complimented on their creativity! We all stood mesmerized staring up at these huge silos, listening to the hundreds of speakers that were in place all around the port.
Now we are driving up around the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec. We spent a night at an unexpected point last night. I don’t know how Thom saw it, but we were driving along and he said, “Hey look, there’s a submarine out of the water!” It was wild. The day before, a submarine was brought to a small town with the plan of removing it from the water and making it part of a museum. Well, the plan went awry when the submarine, mainly out of the water, tipped over! Two guards were on duty to keep people away, but all the townspeople kept stopping by to ooh and ahhh at the attraction. They play to float the sub once the highest tides return in 2 weeks, then secure it out of the water with concrete supports. This is next to a museum we visited for the Empress of Ireland, a cruise ship which sank 4 miles from here in 1914. Over 1000 people died, and the story is so sad, much like the Titanic. A cargo ship crashed into the cruise ship at about 2am in a fog bank, and the cruise ship went down in 14 minutes!

Sept 1, 2008
It’s a good time to catch up as Thom’s driving along The Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec, Canada. I’ve been working on my French, which is quite rusty. When I was 20, I lived for 2 months in France with the Perrachon Family working at their beautiful winery and vineyards. I was never fluent, but knew a fair amount of French. The boys know Bon Jour, merci boucoup, sil vous plait, and Bon Soir. The people of Quebec are very friendly and hospitable and appreciate when we make an effort to speak their language. It’s good for our boys to be in a place where everyone speaks a foreign language. Ben gets frustrated when people talk to him and he doesn’t know what they’re saying. I told him it’s good to discover we’re not the center of the universe!
We met a nice family back at Liard’s Hot Springs in the Yukon Territory who live near Montreal. At that time, they invited us to come stay at their home on our travels. So we called Mathieu and Isabelle and they remembered us. In fact, Mathieu had just been reading our updates on our website he said! So we spent 2 nights parked at their beautiful 200 year old home just SE of Montreal. They have an ideal location in the country with farms all around and a huge yard with Poplar Trees that must be 100 years old. Within 30 miles is the international city of Montreal. Their hospitality was unbelievable and they even gave us a key to their home. Mathieu, a chemical engineer, manages a plastic recycling plant nearby. He toured us through and we saw how they buy plastics sorted already by number. They melt it and create small pellets to then sell to companies which can be made into new containers. It was fascinating and opened our boys’ eyes to yet more ideas for jobs and future opportunities.
Our kids had a great time playing with Juliette, Christian, Maximillion, and Beatrice (ages 8 to 2). We enjoyed watching them play in french and English with no language barrier problems. They figured out a way to play and communicate, and Juliette’s English was quite good.
We spent a wonderful day in the diverse city of Montreal, which is an island in the St. Lawrence River. In a way, it is reminiscent of Manhattan. Bridges connect the island all around. The summer Olympics were held there, and so we visited that area which now includes a Biodome, insectarium, and botanical gardens. The Biodome was similar to a zoo, but inside with 4 zones (arctic, tropical rainforest, forest, and marine). We walked through the zones and in most areas interacted with the animals without much of a barrier. Birds flew overhead closely, monkeys were within arm’s reach, and alligators were just under bridges. The boys loved the insectariums with spiders, bees, beetles, ants, etc. The exhibits were interactive and very educational. The botanical garden is where we ate lunch and enjoyed a long walk, including the Chinese Garden and Dream Lake.
From there we drove through a university area with lots of restaurant, apartments, and shops to St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Mathieu told us it’s worth visiting. People have climbed up with crutches, canes, etc, and after praying, have left their crutches behind. He went to the university nearby and said he used to pray to get through his studies! So we parked and Thom noticed all the people on their knees praying as they climbed the 300+ steps outside to the church. We were amazed at the beautiful mosaic artwork above the alter, but didn’t see any crutches nor canes. Then Ben and I went outside and discovered a tiny, old church above and behind this church. Inside was only enough space for about 10 people to pray. There were the crutches, at least 50, hanging on the walls from past visitors. So we all kneeled and prayed for health and safe travels.
We hiked up to the top of Mount Royal, and enjoyed a view of southern Montreal all lit up. Then we had dinner at in Old Montreal down by the port. Walking along the streets we watched artists paint and stopped for a quartet playing music for dancers performing the Tango. It was all very romantic in this French Canadian environment!

August 27, 2008
We dropped down into New York for a day to visit the Clayton Antique Boat Museum. We also had the good fortune to visit Linda Thompson, a dear friend of the Besch’s from West Sand Lake. She and her husband, Larry own a cottage on the St. Lawrence Seaway. Over dinner at her cottage, we watched a huge ship pass as it moved down towards Lake Ontario.
We already miss family and all our friends at Rideau Ferry. Thanks to Paul, Theresa, Nan, Don, Holmes, Yvonne, Maggie, Doug, Owen, John, and Chris for a wonderful visit. We owe you Don for taking all our trash up the lane!
We headed down to Kingston, Ontario to visit Fort Henry. The British built this to defend their colony at the time against enemies coming down the St. Lawrence River. We saw soldiers in uniform from the 1860’s who shot off canons and rifles. We toured their sleeping quarters, mess hall, officers’ quarters, jails cells, and wine cellar. The boys dressed up as soldiers carrying long rifles and guarding prisoners for the most common offense: drunkenness.
We then drove to Sand Banks Provincial Park where we spent the night and enjoyed huge sand dunes. We all swam in Lake Ontario, our 5th and final Great Lake! The boys will tell you that they’re the ones who swam in all 5, since Mom and Dad skipped Lake Erie (we only can get credit for 4).

We’re starting back up with home schooling. After the cousins arrived in Canada, it was hard to keep up with school work since they all had so much fun playing. So we’re now starting lesson 5 of 160. I’m pleased that Robby is focused and wants to keep on track. He’s very aware that his Alaska friends are in their 2nd week of school and doesn’t want to fall behind. The other boys aren’t as conscientious…they leave that up to Thom and me! From here, we plan to head up to Quebec, New Brunswick, and PEI (Prince Edward Island).

August 24, 2008
We’re closing up the cottage, putting boats away, and departing Frost Point for the summer. It’s a sad day, and we’re the last to leave. We’ll have limited internet access for the next few weeks so I doubt we’ll be updating this page much. First we’ll head to Lake Ontario to swim in our 5th and final lake of the Great Lake Series. Then it’s on to Quebec, New Brunswick, and PEI (Prince Edward Island) of eastern Canada. From there, we’ll head south through New England.
It’s been great staying here so long. Thom’s made up for all the lost time since his last visit here four years ago. Between the riding lawn mower, weed wacker, and chain saw he opened up the views of the lake from the cottage. He’s been fixing things like door locks, sailboats, and screens. We’ve enjoyed every minute catching up with relatives and friends and have finished off countless bottles of wine and beer in the process! The kids said Goodbye to all the cousins, most of whom we’ll see again this fall as we head south. The weather is at its summer best, making it even harder to leave. The motor coach is all packed up, and we’re ready to home school daily now.

August 16, 2008
Will and Tucker awoke at 6am and are now at the boathouse fishing. It’s quiet, so I decided to get up as well and catch up on journaling. The challenge here is finding uninterrupted time to do this since we’ve had 12 kids here….can you imagine?! Maybe the boys will catch bass and sunfish for breakfast for everyone. It’s a tradition here to have fried fish for breakfast.
We’re coming to the end of our time at Frost Point. Thom’s been so busy mowing, trimming back the small trees and brush, fixing things like screen doors and lawn mowers, repairing sailboats and floating toys for the kids, and cleaning things up. This cottage is over 100 years old, and used only during the summer since it’s not winterized. Maintenance is a big issue and there’s always work to be done. Thom spent every summer of his youth here dating back to his birth, and it’s truly his favorite place on Earth. He hasn’t been here in 4 years and loves catching up on all kinds of projects. Transitioning from military to civilian life has been easy so far! His beard is full with a tad bit of grey, reminiscent of a sea captain.
It was great to spend time with Cousins Charles, Anna, Jennifer and Neal. They’ve now continued on to Denmark for 2 weeks. Anna and Jennifer are close in age to Thom, and they haven’t been here in over 20 years. They too spent summers here, and it was wonderful hearing their childhood stories. Anna remembered the boat trips in the Frowildo, the family’s beautiful wooden boat dating back to 1927. It was named after 3 related families: Frost, Willard (Thom’s Mom’s maiden name), and Dodds (Anna’s family).
A reporter from the local paper came out last week to interview Louise and Eric, since they remember and know so much about family history. She took pictures of the sixth generation which includes all the kids. We were delighted to see the full page story 3 days later, with a big picture of all the kids in front of the big cottage entitled, “Frost Descendents Still Call Local Cottage Home.” It’s a well done article with information dating back to 1858. Thom’s maternal grandmother was born a Frost and a Canadian. We traveled here almost 9 years ago so that Ben would be born a Canadian, and his middle name is Frost. Yes, this is a special place and we’re so happy to continue the traditions with our own children. Watching them play and get to know their cousins is wonderful and we hope they will always treasure Frost Point as well.
August 12, 2008
We’ve now been at Frost Point, Ontario, Canada for almost a month and it’s been great visiting with the extended Besch family. Thom’s parents (Clayton and Louise), brothers (Clipper, Eric, and Fred), spouses and girlfriend (Wendy, Terry, Emily), and kids (Tucker, Avery, Erin, Logan, Lauren, and Duncan) have all been here or will soon be here. In addition, Cousin John and Laura and their kids Alex and Sushila are at their cottage next door. Cousins Charles, Anna, and Jennifer along with boyfriend Neil are visiting from California for the first time in 20 years. Eric invited friends Kathy, Jack, and Alex who stayed for a week. My Mom and her friend Bob spent a week with us as well. What’s really cool is that people have traveled from New York, Maryland, Virginia, California, and Alaska to be here together. It’s truly the biggest family reunion we’ve had in over 10 years.
The kids range in age from 4 to 13 and are busy all the time. Today they’re adding on to the tree fort near the tip of Frost Point. They swim everyday in the Rideau Lake just outside the door of the cottages. They kayak, take out the Little John rowboat, paddle around on the windsurfer board, fish off the dock, play on the swing set, or build castles at the sandy beach. Frost Point is a peninsula and they can do all these activities right here. They’re all tanned, with blonder hair and lots of mosquito bites.
My Mom and her friend Bob just flew back to California yesterday. Having them with us for one week was enjoyable. Mom’s moving around slower these days, needing a walker and wheelchair to get around. Yet she was outside most days watching the children swim, fish, and play. She took lots of pictures. Bob came out in the boat and after watching a bunch of us ski, decided to give it a try. He popped right up on double skis, headed across the wake, and after a valiant attempt at keeping his balance, went down in the water. He unfortunately pulled a hamstring, but we admired him for his courage! He’s doing better Mom says, and saw his doctor when he got home.
The boys are doing some amazing things behind the ski boat. Will is able to get up on a single ski (slalom) without kicking off a 2nd ski. Each time he goes out, he tries out those edges with turning and crossing the wake. Robby likewise can now slalom ski. Ben and Sam pop right out of the water on double skis. Thom bought a wake board, which we’ve all gotten up on. I find it’s squirrely and hard to turn, but the boys love it. Thom turns well and crosses the wake, and has almost mastered switching the board 180 so he changes his front foot. Will aggressively crosses the wake on it. Sam is probably the biggest dare devil of all, and it’s his favorite thing to do up here at Frost Point.

July 24, 2008
We started home schooling today. It’s a big undertaking but it went really well. It’s a bit of a balancing act with a 1st grader, 4th, 6th, and 8th grader. Thom and I have always been involved with their schooling in the past, but we’ve never BEEN the teachers. I certainly couldn’t do this on my own without Thom’s help. The boys ask many questions and need direction and guidance. So we’re hopping!
The positive attitude paid off as we all completed Lesson 1 of Calvert curriculum. Only 159 lessons to go! It’s the journey that matters, not the destination. We’re starting in July so we can take time off in the fall if we catch Space A flights oversees. Also, I’m hoping the boys won’t be as rusty if we start now instead of Sept. Calvert comes highly recommended by many friends and teachers. It’s very thorough, and has a great lesson plan laid out for the teacher. The boys worked diligently and I think were pleased with the program. Oh, and they love recess. Thom took them for a boat ride, where they each took turns waterskiing or wake boarding!

July 21, 2008
I can’t type for long, but it’s time for at least a quick update. We’re in Ontario, Canada at Frost Point. Thom’s family has owned cottages (the big cottage and little cottage) on the Rideau Lake since his great grandmother’s days. We were married here in 1993, and Ben was born nearby in 1999. It’s a beautiful place this time of year, and is reminiscent of summer camp. We’re on a small peninsula with favorite spots for swimming, fishing, reading in the hammock, boating, etc. We unloaded the motor coach and have moved into the big cottage. I must say it’s nice to have space again!
Thom’s parents arrived last night from New York. Brother Eric and family will arrive in about a week from Maryland. Brother Fred will arrive at the end of July from California. Brother Clipper and family will arrive hopefully in early August from New York. Oh, my Mom and her friend Bob will spend a week with us in August, and they’re flying in from California. Cousin John and family will fly in from Seattle at the end of July. So you can see we’re getting ready for a big reunion!

July 16, 2008
Today we’re driving to Sault Ste. Marie, MI. We’ll cross over into Canada tomorrow. Thom and I have never been to this area before and really enjoyed Michigan.
Happy Birthday Clayton! We’re looking forward to celebrating July birthdays at Frost Point, Canada. Thom celebrated his 49th this past Saturday. I must admit it’s hard to keep track of dates when we have no schedule, so thank you Aunt Liz for the morning phone call singing Happy Birthday to Thom!
Swimming in all the Great Lakes is one of our short term goals, and we’ll conquer Lake Superior today. Yesterday we stopped just before sunset at Lake Huron and all dove in. Brrrrr! Even the boys admitted it’s cold. By the time we hurried back from the sand bar, our toes were numb. We had just crossed the immense Mackinaw Bridge connecting the 2 land masses of Michigan, so we were at the northern end of Lake Huron. The boys all tried holding their breath for the length of the bridge…impossible. That’s more like a 6-breath bridge.
Once again, the boys are sleeping all around this morning. I woke up at 7am to run over and do 3 loads of laundry. We don’t have a washer/dryer aboard, and with 4 boys who love to play in the sand and water, the dirty clothes add up quickly. The nice thing is I can do 3 or 4 loads of laundry simultaneously since most RV parks have 5 washers and dryers. We have an ongoing quarters collection!
Just after my last entry, we visited Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI. What a great place, especially for kids! Henry Ford built this place as a tribute to all inventors, innovators, and craftsmen. It’s not just about automobiles. It’s a village of at least 100 buildings, many of which are originals that he transported here. We learned about pottery, glass-making, printing presses, saw mills, farming, and machine-making to name a few. There were also many homes of famous people like Robert Frost. They had a school, slave’s quarters, jewely/watch shops, and other buildings to make up a community. My favorites were Thomas Edison’s laboratory; along with the Wright Bros bicycle shop, and Henry Ford’s movies of how he automated the car-building industry. Thomas Edison invented so many important things including the light bulb and telephone. His patents were numerous, and many included no references, meaning he was the first to delve into those areas. Ford and Edison were friends and encouraged each other during Ford’s early years. Fifty years after the light bulb was invented, Ford invited Edison to visit Greenfield Village and made a big commemoration. The chair that Edison sat in for this was nailed to the floor and remains in the same position today. Henry Ford created Greenfield Village initially for students only where they could study and learn about all kinds of science. He knew that it is our youth who come up with new ideas and innovative ways of doing things. I loved sharing this with the boys. Who knows what they’ll design one day?
We returned to Stony Lake, MI to visit again with Cousin John, Laura, Sushila, and Alex. Cousin Steve and his daughter Georgia just flew in from Massachusetts. We haven’t seen them in 4 years, so we couldn’t wait to catch up. Georgia just turned 8, and she had a good time playing with all her cousins. We had a day at the beach with ideal weather.
We also spent a lovely evening with Georgia’s grandparents, Jim and Jan Watkins. They have a beautiful cottage on Stony Lake, only about 2 miles from John and Laura’s. Many of their family members were visiting from Texas, Virginia, and New York. It was wonderful sharing stories on the deck over burgers, beer and wine as the kids rowed the boat and paddled the kayak below. We even had an experimental aircraft guy fly by a couple times, which Thom especially enjoyed. Steve talked about his adventures of painting around the US and world. He’s become an accomplished artist, with works being displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art in Manhattan (The Met). He calls his work neo-romantic landscapes (I think I got that right). Steve’s currently working on about 20 paintings, primarily for museums and is planning to be in Italy for a couple weeks in August. It’s great listening to him talk about all the cool things he does. Steve also played ultimate Frisbee as well as hockey in his youth, and the boys enjoyed talking with him about his years as a goalie. We’re delighted that he and Georgia will join us at Frost Point at the end of July.
After we departed Stony Lake, we visited Elberta, MI where Thom hoped to do some paragliding (yes, we have his gear packed in the back of the SUV!). There’s a club with its own ramp overlooking Lake Michigan, but unfortunately the winds were too strong. Instead we made our way into the cozy town of Frankfort. Thom was fascinated watching a kite boarder rip back and forth adjacent to a causeway. When he jumped, the wind carried him at least 20 feet off the water! We stood on the cause way leading out to a lighthouse and watched him for a long time. It was like windsurfing, wakeboarding, and paragliding all rolled into one sport. Thom’s been interested in trying this for years, and now that he’s seen it up close, he’s talking of buying his own equipment! Thom introduced himself to the kite boarder, whose name is Jay and he has 4 boys too. He’s a pilot for American Airlines out of Chicago, and lives way up here in MI. He hang glides with the club I mentioned earlier, and also wake boards. He spent a lot of time teaching Thom what to do from the sandy beach. Then, he went out in the water with a smaller sail, took all of 5 seconds to slip his feet onto his board, and whoosh, the wind pulled him straight out into Lake Michigan. In the meantime, Will brought out Thom’s kite which looks like a mini-parasail. The winds were strong and he was flying it like a champ, sometimes getting pulled right up in the air and landing 5 or 6 feet away! When I tried flying the kite a few days ago, I landed right on my rear end. At best, I could keep it in the air about 30 seconds before losing control and sending it into the sand. Will does crazy-eights and power turns. Jay’s 2nd son, Luke is 12 and he flew our kite well. He wants his Dad to teach him to kite board this fall. Jay taught his 16-year old son to kite board during the winter by using a snowboard. Jay told us he cruised along on his snow mobile giving instruction. What a cool family!

July 11, 2008
I’m up early while the kids are sleeping all around me. We tend to arrive late in the evening at new destinations, and by the time we finish dinner and setting up, it’s often 10 or 11pm. So we’ve all been sleeping in.
Here we are at a huge RV park in northwestern Ohio on Lake Erie. The boys love staying at parks with beaches, lakes, and pools where they can swim.
We spent the last 2 days visiting Bea, Raul, and their 2 boys Iker and Nicolas. Bea was our first aupair 11 years ago when Will was a baby and Robby was about 2. She’s from Spain, and her boys are exactly the same ages as Robby and Will were when she lived with us! Raul works for Avery, and they live near Cleveland in a beautiful home and yard. The boys I’m sure will blog that the coolest thing is their indoor swimming pool. It’s one that has a current you can swim against for exercise. The Besch boys were in there for hours! We really enjoyed meeting Raul and the boys. They’ve lived in Spain, France, Mexico and now the US, so we had a great time talking about travel, culture, and family goals.
Yesterday we all went to the Cleveland Zoo. Bea thought it was funny we’re coming from Alaska where we had moose walking through our back yard and now we’re excited to go to the zoo! We saw kangaroos, orangutans, hippo’s, rhino’s, giraffes, electric eels, piranhas, elephants, lions, ostriches, frogs, otters, cheetahs, and lots more. The boys are at a great age where they stay with us and can read as they go. I remember taking them to the zoo 5 years ago where it was total chaos! Bea had Iker and Nicolas in strollers. They enjoyed seeing the animals the first half, and snoozing in strollers the second half! We always new Bea would be a great mom, and it was wonderful to see her with her family. Thank you Bea and Raul for your hospitality!
We plan to return to Michigan to visit Cousin Steve and his daughter Georgia who fly in today from MA. We also hope to visit Greenfield, MI where we’ll learn all about Henry Ford. Thom’s doing a marvelous job driving all over this great country of ours. He makes it look easy driving a 43’ RV towing an SUV through cities like Chicago and Cleveland We’ve discovered that a GPS is a requirement!

July 7, 2008
I’m at Cousin John and Laura’s cottage overlooking Lake Michigan. What a beautiful place! Laura spent many summers in this area growing up. She and John bought this property and built a log cabin 3 years ago. It’s our first time visiting and we all love being here. The main attraction is the beach, located a 3-minute walk down the steps and through the forest. It’s just like being at the ocean with fine, golden sand and water for as far as the eye can see. It’s unlike any lake I’ve ever visited. John says he often sees the big freighter ships on the horizon.
We arrived here late on the 4th of July. It was great seeing John, Laura, Alex, and Sushila. John and Thom are first cousins and the same age. Although it was getting late, we headed for the beach. The kids swam as the sun set over Lake Michigan, and then played in the sand for a good hour building harbors and irrigation canals. We saw fireworks in the distance. Thom and John parked the motor coach as best they could nearby in the forest. Unfortunately, there were scratches and small dents suffered on the coach due to the tight roads and full trees. Thom was not a happy camper.
We spent our first full day here at the beach with ideal weather. Will worked on his skim boarding skills, while the others attempted to build an island in the surf. They discovered a sand bar off shore they could swim to and then stand up. Ben carried a chair out there to stand on! We explored the area by car on day #2 and loved Silver Lake with its gigantic sand dunes. The kids rolled down, while I preferred running down (a lot easier than the requisite hike up). There were dune buggies and even sand boarders. Today is day #3, and we awoke early to an intense thunder/lightning/rain storm. We spend the day indoors playing games, reading, and watching old Popeye cartoons. Now the sun’s out and the kids are out shooting off rockets on the beach. Cousins Jeff, Amy, Alix, and Jena arrived from Ohio so now we have quite a large group!
Before we arrived in Michigan, we spent 2 nights in different locations in Wisconsin. The first was at one of the nicest RV parks we’ve experienced with a putt-putt golf course, swimming pool, and skate park. There I caught up on laundry. The 2nd was at Lake Winnebago where the boys swam and we had our very first camp fire on this whole trip! Out came the hotdogs and marshmallows. We visited the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, WI (Experimental Aircraft Assoc). Most of you know how much Thom loves to fly. He once owned a single engine plane, and has since bought 2 kit planes to build. Both had to be sold before he’d completed the building, due to all our moving around. One day he’ll build one. Anyway, the museum was worth the stop. Not only were there at least 30 or 40 full size planes on display inside, but also there were 30 or 40 hands-on displays we could all do. The boys loved the hang-gliding, flight simulator, fluid and magnet dynamics, and fighter pilot activities the most. Maybe someday they’ll learn to fly!

July 2, 2008
We’re now in Cannon Falls, MN. This is where we bought our motor coach in Dec…online! We stored it at a wonderful shop called Sandstrom’s Repair for 4 months. Then in April, Thom flew to Minneapolis where owner Andy Sandstrom picked him up at the airport. Andy, Aaron, Heather, Michelle, and Chris were very friendly and helpful as Thom learned all about our new acquisition. Thom then drove it home to Alaska. So since we’re now in the neighborhood, we wanted to meet and thank them for the help. It’s a good thing we did. The mechanics opened up the engine to check the transmission fluid. Not only were we low on fluid, but we also needed some welding done on the coolant system. If we hadn’t stopped by, we probably would have ended up stuck on the side of the road somewhere soon. So once again, we’re having a repair/maintenance day. While Thom’s working with Chris on the RV, the boys and I are enjoying swimming and a picnic at nearby Lake Byllesby. The temp is 75 F with sunny, breezy skies…..ahhhh to have a tan again!
Last night, we all headed over to the county fair where the annual demolition derby took place. This was a first for the boys, and they loved every minute. I think they totaled 40 cars and trucks by the end of 2 hours of crashing into each other. We saw car engines on fire, cars getting pushed up and on top of concrete dividers, reverse driving and sandwiching. Andy Sandstrom sponsored 4 or 5 vehicles, so we cheered for his cars along with his family and team. The most exciting race was probably the trucks, with 10 entries. Andy’s truck won after some serious bashing battles.
Yesterday brought us good news. Ben had an ophthalmology follow-up appt at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Dr. Garrity is not only a practicing orbital ophthalmologist, but he’s a professor as well. He knows Dr. Rosen, Ben’s surgeon from Anchorage, and was aware that Dr. Rosen is the only one in Alaska who handles surgeries like the one Ben required. He spent a lot of time with us yesterday and is very pleased with Ben’s progress. When he saw the CT scan we brought that was taken just before Ben’s surgery, he was surprised at the magnitude of the abscess behind Ben’s left eye. He rarely sees them anymore that size. He said that immunizations have just about eliminated infections like this from happening anymore. Ben’s immunizations are up to date, but he said that Strep. Pneumonia is one which still causes orbital cellulites. He called in another well-known ophthalmologist who apparently just gave a lecture about this exact condition recently, along with 2 interns. They all seemed impressed with the CT scan. I asked about Ben’s 2nd CT scan, taken 2 weeks ago. It showed a collection of fluid behind his left eye, which concerned the Fairbanks ophthalmologist. Dr. Garrity of the Mayo Clinic wasn’t concerned and said this is normal after Ben’s trauma.
Ben asked if he can swim, and Dr. Garrity said, “Yes, like today.” Ben asked, “Can I go underwater?” The doc answered, “Only if you come up for air.” This was the highlight of the visit for Ben!
Ben is past the danger point and no CT scan is required. Dr. Garrity suggested we see an ophthalmologist again in 6 months. Ben’s eyes match pretty closely now, although his left eye doesn’t open quite as much as his right. He’s now at 20/60, which is a great improvement over 20/150 two weeks ago. He can be corrected to 20/40 with glasses, but the doctor recommended holding off on glasses for now. Ben has a little issue with color blindness in that eye for reds, and is missing a little of his upper right quadrant vision in his left eye. We continue to pray for healing and improved vision. God is good and has helped our family through this difficult time. I know I’ve never prayed so much as I did these past 5 weeks for Ben. Dr. Garrity told us that patients with this size of an abscess typically suffer a 25% mortality rate, and the majority would have lost vision entirely in that eye. We are thankful that Ben is happy, healthy, active, and can see so well. THANK YOU GOD!

June 30, 2008
We’re now crossing the state line from South Dakota to Minnesota. What a great state we just left! We visited the world famous Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD and got the full tour. Thom said he’s watched many basketball games on TV that took place here. Next, we linked up with our dear friends, Marchell, Jake, Jadie, Allie, and Luke DeLange in nearby Scotland, SD. They live in Delta Junction, AK but are visiting family in SD where Marchell grew up. Scotland is a picturesque farm town in the heart of corn country with a population of 800. She told us she played a lot of basketball games at the Corn Palace! We camped in the town park, adjacent to the swimming pool, baseball fields, and conveniently located one block from Marchell’s family. Everyone was really excited to see each other, and they all jumped on bikes and started exploring the park. Before long, we were in swimsuits soaking up the sun at the pool. All the DeLange’s sported a nice summer tan, but the Besch boys suffered mild sun burns on shoulders due to white Alaskan skin! We were lucky to visit on a day when Jake and his team had a baseball game, which they won 3-2….way to go Jake!
This morning, Marchell arranged for all of us to visit her friend’s dairy farm. Brian, Dawn, Josh, and Jason were terrific hosts and showed us 40 dairy cows, 200 steer, 2 sheep, 3 new kittens which all the kids loved, a dog, 2 horses, and a new colt. They also grow corn and have huge silos. We saw the newborn calves including a 3-day old who sucked on our fingertips. Many of us were brave enough to try milking cows by hand…you’ll have to read the boys’ blogs on that! We saw the big milk tank where the milk is stored before a truck picks up every other day. The kids all had a chance to ride a horse, and also to climb up into the hayloft. The DeLanges and Besches all had a great time, and gained a new appreciation for dairy products. Thanks to Marchell, Brian, and Dawn for setting this up.

June 26, 2008
We’re now in eastern Montana, where the mountains don’t get in the way of the view (as Greg Bowen would say!). We had a great trip down the Alaska Hwy to Dawson Creek. Wildlife was unbelievable, with 12 bear sightings, deer, beaver houses, over 20 stone sheep, and even a swimming moose. That stretch to the west of Fort Nelson was awesome, with incredible views of the mountains and rivers. You can’t help but wonder where the next gold rush will take place…Thom and I both believe there’s gold in them thar hills.
We’re settling into a routine in the motor coach. We started with all of us being buckled up in front. That’s all changed with the boys cycling between the back bedroom and the front sofa. They all get a kick out of going to the bathroom with Dad still driving, watching the mountains pass by!
We were hoping to spend time in remote campgrounds near lakes for good fishing an d swimming (yes, these boys love the cold water). However, the starter on the RV was acting up so Thom wanted it checked out. He found a good mechanic in Fort Nelson who replaced a solenoid and also discovered a crack in the pipe leading to the muffler. After a half a day, we were on the road again. We spent about 4 hours there, and then continued to Dawson Creek.
After the AK Hwy, we headed south to the Canadian Rockies. The drive from Jasper, to Lake Louise, and finishing down at Banff is one of the most beautiful scenic day trips I’ve ever enjoyed. We stopped many times for photo op’s, throwing rocks in the river, walking to waterfalls, and seeing stone sheep up close. My favorite was visiting the famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel. What a setting! The opaque, milky magical blue-green glacial water of Lake Louise attract millions of people every year. The backdrop of a glacier framed by towering mountains is breath taking. We camped in our RV right there in the parking lot after Will grilled up some shish kabobs for us! Robby loved the Banff Springs Hotel, which reminded him of Hogwarts from Harry Potter.
Tomorrow we have an appointment at a dealership in Bismarck, ND for the RV. Thom discovered this place when he drove from MN to AK in April. He was so impressed with the friendliness and quality work that we decided to return for work that’s necessary on our heating system. My Dad was born there, so I’m curious to visit. We hope to then swing to the south eastern corner of South Dakota to visit the DeLange Family! Maybe e we can catch one of Jake’s baseball games!

June 22, 2008
Welcome to our family’s website! We’ve dreamed about traveling around the world with our four boys and now it’s time to live the dream. Thom retired from the Army after 26 years from Ft. Greely, Alaska. We packed up our 43’ Newmar Mountain Aire motor coach towing an SUV and headed southeast on the Alaska Highway on June 18, 2008. First lesson learned…we packed too much!
Our first night on the road was spent in Alaska just outside of Tok along our cherished Tanana River. Robby, Will, Ben, and Sam scouted a trail down to the river where they collected sticks gnawed down by beavers. On day 2, we crossed over into Canada where Ben announced, “Now I’m home!” He’s our dual citizen, born in Ontario, Canada 8 years ago. Will grilled up burgers next to Pickhandle Lake where a territorial muskrat tried scaring us off. Thom and the boys hooked a northern pike as Will took sunset pictures at midnight in the Yukon.
We all realize we’re down to our last few sunny midnights as we head south towards the Lower 48. Living in Alaska for 3 years has been a wonderful experience. Our boys especially like the winters even though temps drop to -50 F. They realize they’ve lived in a unique place that not many people ever experience, especially in the winter. We all miss our friends from Ft. Greely and Delta Junction. This past month was emotional as we said our Good-bye’s to so many wonderful people. With Ben’s emergency eye surgery on May 29, we experienced the most generous community support and love. Thanks to Leanna, Ray, Tammy, Roger, Carrie, and Ron for helping with Sam, Will, and Robby during that stressful time.
Ben is healing well, and had 3 follow-up appointments with ophthalmologists. Orbital Cellulites set in above his optic nerve on his left eye. Less than 3 days after he complained his eye hurt, he was in surgery in Anchorage. What we’ve learned is what our friend Diane Schultz warned…Don’t mess with the eyes. If you ever have swelling around the eyes combined with fever, head to an eye doc. The good news is that Ben’s eyes now look almost the same with almost no swelling. The bad news is that a recent CT scan showed a fluid pocket exists behind the left eye, and his vision isn’t back to normal (20/150 instead of 20/20). Ben has an appointment at The Mayo Clinic July 1, so please keep him in your prayers.
So back to our trip. We spotted moose, beaver, muskrat, and bald eagles. Thom noticed the Canadian moose are greyer than the brown moose we’re used to seeing in Delta. The bald eagles sat on a sand bar in the Yukon River as we roller bladed on a nearby bike trail in White Horse. We haven’t spotted bear, dahl sheep, or mountain goats but have the camera and binoculars nearby as we drive.
White Horse was a great stop. Thom discovered a great welder, Brendon Heney, who worked late on a Saturday fabricating a new and stronger trailer hitch receiver for our motor coach. The bumpy Alaska Highway took its toll on us as we towed the SUV and bike carriers. Damage to the rear bracket needed attention before we could continue our journey. Coincidentally, Brendon is from Ontario, Canada which is where Thom spent most of his summers as a boy. We were married in Ontario, and our third son was born there. We look forward to spending a month in Ontario at the Besch Family reunion. Thanks Brendon for all your help, and we’re happy to make your special delivery to family in Ontario!
Thanks also to Andy Hudgin who recommended we visit the Games Center in White Horse. It’s a huge indoor athletic facility which includes 2 ice rinks, huge swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, basketball court, soccer field, running track, and all the amenities. Unfortunately, the rinks had no ice so we couldn’t skate. Part of our daily goal is exercise, so we definitely got our fill here. Thom especially enjoyed the jacuz, sauna, and showers after spending the day helping Brendon with the welding project. Oh, here’s a tip for other RV’ers. Wal-Mart lets you park overnight in their parking lots. That’s where we stayed in White Horse, since the RV parks had no more space for pull through’s like ours. About 15 other RV’s camped at Wal-Mart, and we grilled once again about 11pm.
Our next stop was at Teslin Lake, where we could see the longest bridge on the Alaska Highway from our RV. This was an excellent stop because I finally got organized and decided where to put about 6 boxes of stuff that had been sitting in the main area of our RV. I’d intended to do this before we departed Ft. Greely but it took longer than I expected. Something again about packing too much stuff and just not having enough room. The SUV we’re towing holds the stuff we don’t use as much…newly renamed the attic!
Now we’re heading into British Columbia. We have a timetable to keep with Ben’s July 1 doctor’s appt in MN, but we’re hoping to explore the Jasper/Lake Louise/Banff area of Alberta. People have described the area as one of Canada’s jewels. Tonight or tomorrow we hope to visit Liard’s Hot Springs. The kids still talk about that stop from our drive up here 3 short years ago.
Here’s another lesson learned before I sign off for the day. If you ever smell rotten eggs inside the RV, check the pilot light of the frig/freezer. Ours went out, but still drew out the liquid propane. Stinky, as the boys said! Relighting the pilot light solved the smelly problem.