Monday, June 29, 2009

Air Force Academy, Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 19, 2009

Colorado Springs, CO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas and Colorado Springs, Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Iowa City; Liberty, Missouri

After a quick night’s stop in Iowa at a beautiful campground, we headed south to visit friends in Liberty, MO. It was a nice driving watching the green fields and rolling hills go by. We also spotted huge wind turbine blades going down the highways loaded on the back of tractor trailers. They are enormous. There’s a huge future for these turbines in the Midwest, and Thom sure would like to work in that field.

Mike and Sue Conge were our neighbors in Bel Air, MD back in 1996-98. Their daughter, Christine is Robby’s age, and son, Mac is Will’s age. We haven’t seen each other since about 9 years ago, and what a great time we had catching up! The boys had sleepovers 3 nights in a row, and Sam enjoyed playing with their yellow lab, Duke. The kids spent hours in the backyard on the trampoline, having a water balloon war, and getting wet on a hot Sunday afternoon.
Mike, Sue, Thom and I shared stories and pictures of the last decade. Mike was laid off work this past Jan, but just started a new job last month. So we had good conversations about the job market and the economy. Sue works for Home Depot in kitchen/bathroom design. We all went to church on Sunday at The Vineyard, which was wonderful and reminded us of our Austin, TX church called Gateway. Mike spoiled us every morning with a delicious breakfast of waffles, eggs, pancakes and coffee! They grilled chicken, burgers, and hotdogs later, and the boys were in seventh heaven!

Bryce and Michelle McCloskey also live in Liberty, and we hadn’t seen them since 9 years ago as well. We spent a day at their home catching up, with another terrific BBQ meal. Bryce Jr is now starting his senior year in high school, and is taller than both parents! Twins Taylor and Dylan are 12 and had fun with our boys. Dylan shared all his electronic games and toys, while Taylor shared her artwork with Thom and me. She’s quite a talented artist! Bryce shared so many great stories, which kept us all in stitches. It’s cute to see his kids roll their eyes as he makes his jokes. I couldn’t help but laugh, since he’s one of the funniest people I know! Bryce now works for SAIC after retiring from the Army about 6 years ago, while Michelle is a nurse. We all attended an outdoor play that evening of Shakespeare’s “A Mid Summer Night’s Dream.” Christine had told us about it, and she attended as well with her boyfriend and Sue. Seeing friends has truly been one of the best parts about our journey these past 11 months.