Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas: RV Style

While space and storage are limited in our 36' house-on-wheels, I love to decorate for the seasons, so we picked up some of the basics when we stopped by storage last month, to decorate our home for the holidays.

The older girls made these handprint wreath wallhangings in Prep-K when they attended HCS last year and the year before. Perfect for perking up a small, undecorated wall space!

The stockings were hung by the slide room with care...

Oh, Christmas tree, oh (2 foot) Christmas tree...

The shepherds appear to be making their way to Bethlehem in the kids' Playmobile Nativity scene tonight.

We have also brought along and incorporated our Advent house with activities to count down to Christmas, a hand-carved Nativity that my dad made for me years ago, our dining room window has window clings with a scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas stuck to it, and our outside awning has donned Christmas lights along it throughout our stay here on Hilton Head Island, SC. Most of all, the spirit of Christmas is alive and well in all of our hearts. One thing that our family has learned over the past year is that it doesn't take much "stuff" to live big--even, and especially, at Christmas.

Merry Christmas, from our family to yours. May the God of Peace fill your hearts and lives with joy this season as you reflect upon the hope that we have received by the grace of His coming to live among us. His presence was and still is the greatest gift at Christmastime and at all times.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Honey, let's eat on the floor for a few days

As it is with most RV remodel/modifications, it begins with a thought. A 'What if' or 'What do you think about this', and then the ball just picks up speed from there.

For this go around (admitting that it won't be the last), my wife brought up the idea of an L shaped dinette to replace the booth that came with the rig. The goal was to make it so that all 6 of us could sit at the table together. The booth was set up so that just the 4 kids fit. 

We first looked for something that was already made, checking local furniture stores, consignment shops, and even the thrift stores. We did not find anything. Not, we didn't find anything close. We just didn't find anything. So, time for a custom build.

Since it had been more that 2 days since I had last worked, I heard 'PROJECT' and took off with the idea. I soon had my sketch book out, drawing angles, taking measurements, creating a cut list, and making a material list.

This is the point that my wife chuckles on the outside, saying 'You're cute', but inside she is saying 'Yes!' and patting herself on the back.

After a preliminary run to the hardware store to confirm some materials were available and finishing up the plans, I was off. I do find it humorous that we didn't get back home until 3:30 with the first load of material, but I jumped right in until it was too dark to work.
The booth that came in the RV...
...quickly turned into this.
I jumped right back into the project the next morning, politely waiting a half hour after quiet hours was over so as not to disturb any neighbors. Soon I had the base put together and brought it inside for a dry fit.

It wasn't long before I had all of the wood cut and assembled, so it was time to stain and polyurethane.
Assembly and staining outside.
My timetable was thrown off some because of the humidity affecting drying times, so I had to move things inside once it got too dark and the temperature dropped some.
Let it sit overnight to fully cure and dry.
The next morning was final assembly and trimming out. To save a few inches, I only built a back on the portion against the couch. The wall can be leaned on, and we can use some cushions if someone needs better support. The kids are the ones sitting back there, but they sit forward and not against the wall.

My goal was to try to have a zero weight change. I didn't pull out a scale or anything, but after lifting each of the old benches and then the new ones, I came within a pound. We do have more storage under each bench than before, and it is easier to access thanks to a hinged lid instead of having to take the cushions and base off to get below. For the time, we are reusing the table that came with the RV. It is a close fit, but I wouldn't mind having something that is made for the space and matches the new furniture.

Stephanie found a few folding chairs and pillows from World Market to put on the finishing touches.
Finished product.
We now have a space where all 6 of us fit. We tried it out for dinner, and it fits perfectly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Washington, DC and Williamsburg, VA

We've taken most of December off to travel and explore the east coast a bit, working our way South for the winter. Our first week of December was spent in Washington, DC and Williamsburg, VA. We had a great time exploring our nation's capitol as well as the heart of revolutionary Virginia at Colonial Williamsburg. Here are a few of the highlights from the week.

At the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History the kids loved the Insect Petting Zoo. Here, Ian is holding a millipede to show to his sisters.

Posing for a quick photo in front of the Washington Monument on the National Mall.

Korean War Memorial. This was a surprise favorite spot along our tour of the monuments and memorials on the National Mall.

Lydia and Ian reflecting upon the Truth that "Freedom is not free".

No visit to the National Mall is complete without a stop at the Lincoln Memorial.

Smithsonian National Sculpture Gardens. This exhibit was entitled "Girls". 
It looked an awful lot like headless zombies to me.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Ian and Lydia were intently looking at the vast number of names of soldiers lost in the war, and we had an opportunity to share with them about their grandfather who served in the Army during the Vietnam War.

Governor's Palace at Colonial Williamsburg. Everything was decorated for Christmas.

A favorite Colonial Christmas decoration. "Hey Diddle, Diddle". Can you find all of the pieces to this nursery rhyme in this window dressing?

We had a great time exploring our country's history and heritage in this region. We can't wait to go back, but have been spoiled by the mild weather and low crowds that we experienced by visiting in December. We would highly recommend visiting the area in late fall to anyone that is averse to heat and crowds.

We have traveled further south and have been on Hilton Head Island, SC for the past week. Stay tuned for more adventures, such as what "rest" and an island vacation means for our family. Hint: We don't sit still and do nothing very well, so our beach vacation has been a little more unconventional than most!

Friday, December 7, 2012

100% Mobile!

We're ready to shout it from the rooftops...


On Wednesday December 5, the Simpson Six closed our chapter of life in Indianapolis and became 100% mobile with the closing of the sale of our house. As with every other detail in this journey toward living more intentionally, flexibly, and increasing our mobility and ability to live life more fully, it comes with a great story.

Back in March of this year, we met with a realtor who was recommended to us by friends who had sold a couple of homes with her, including one just on the other side of the neighborhood. They also sold their Indianapolis home to relocate their family across the country, so we felt like she might be a good fit for us as a realtor. We listed our home with her April 2 and for the next 6 months had a constant string of showings, averaging 1/week over the course of the spring/summer/early fall. However, feedback from our realtor after each of these showings trickled to a halt upon our launch into full-time travel, and communication became more and more of a challenge with this real estate agent. By mid-October and the end of this first contract we decided to re-evaluate our options and try something different.

I contacted a college friend who I've become re-acquainted with over the last year or so that we lived in Indy that happens to be a realtor specializing in the North side of Indy, and also knows our neighborhood well. She has a great track record with selling homes, and most of all we were so impressed with how easy she was to get in touch with and communicate with while we were discussing our options for our home. We discussed rental options and how, unfortunately, we were heading into the slowest point in the year for real estate sales in Indianapolis. 

Against conventional wisdom, we decided to re-list with our friend, Christy, as our realtor and give the house a few more months on the market before we considered crossing over to the world of being long-distance landlords. We really didn't want to lease the home, and knew that if anyone could help us sell our home before spring, Christy could do it!

We listed the house October 17 and within three weeks we had 6 showings, 2 second showings and on November 5 we received our first offer! Over the next few days we negotiated with the buyer and both parties agreed upon a contract on November 7.

Now, here's where the story gets exciting.

If you'll recall, when we bought our truck in Moab, UT, we were called back to Colorado for Jason to work an extra week or two to complete the job in Snowmass. Because we needed to register our new truck in Indiana within 30 days, we decided to head east toward Indiana before the next snowfall. Well, the next snowstorm was forecasted to make its way into the Rockies around November 9/10, so we started traveling east toward Indiana on November 7. Therefore, when we got the call that the house was under contract, we were already in Denver, CO for the night, planning to be in Indiana within a few days.

Ordinarily, it wouldn't be that big of a deal if we were back in Indy before the house closed, since we had already completed our final cleaning back in June when we hit the road and it was in turn-key condition for new owners. However, one awesome surprise that we never expected was thrown our way. The buyer had waived their option to have the home professionally inspected, but instead requested only that our vegetable garden be removed. Well, since we were already planning to swing through town and the weather promised to be amazing for the few days that we were there, we gladly agreed to a few hours of manual labor to pull up the weeds, rake up the thatch and offered the garden fencing to a neighbor who will put it to good use.

An added bonus on our end to skipping over the home inspection step before closing was that we had very, very little to do on our end prior to the week of closing and once we had a contract, we had a contract without any contingencies! Seriously, how much easier could this home-selling process possibly be?!

Because we were continuing on toward the east coast, Jason and I were able to complete our end of the closing process remotely. Although a little complicated with having to rent a van for a few days and find a notary public to witness our signatures on the documents, it was really simple, easy and painless on our part.

Finally, 8 weeks after re-listing with a new realtor, 30 days after receiving the offer and just 4 weeks after going under contract, our house-on-dirt was sold and closed!

It was a great little house for our family and provided a home for us when all that we wanted was a spot of dirt to call our own. It was, in its time, our own little piece of heaven, and I hope that it is a dream come true for its new owner as well.

Now, for the icing on the cake, and yet another example of God's hand in the story of our lives...

When we purchased our new truck in Utah, the only hesitation that we faced was taking on a vehicle payment, which had never been part of our family's budget, when we were still paying a mortgage and other expenses related to owning a house-on-dirt. We knew that we could swing the extra expense, but that it would definitely put a limit on our family's freedom while we had both a mortgage and a truck payment to make.

Well, last week, before we knew when our house would close, we scheduled the first payment on the truck to draft from our account on Wednesday December 5. Our house closed on Wednesday December 5, so not only did we not have to make a final December mortgage payment on our home, the funds from the sale of the house were disbursed prior to the truck payment being drafted from our account. 

We did not make the first payment on our truck until after the house was off of our family's books.

When I checked our bank accounts and saw this, I had to sit down. Every small detail was ordained and "just so". God continues to make His presence known in our story, and we continue to acknowledge and express both our awe and thankfulness for these little confirmations that we're right where we are supposed to be.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Harpers Ferry, Antietam Battlefield and history come to life

This week we've taken the opportunity to explore the area of West Virginia and Maryland where we've found ourselves for two weeks. The area is rich with American history, namely American Civil War history. I am an unashamed history lover. For as long as I can recall, I have adored history, simply because history tells the story of people. People from recent years and people from long ago. I love to hear people's stories, and history is a perfect outlet to get my fill of stories. I've yet to run out of new stories to hear, or old stories told anew, and there is always more history to uncover.

On Monday, my cousin Tiona and her family came down from the Hagerstown, MD area to join us for a walk through Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Besides myself, Tiona, her husband Carvey and nephew Trent, we also had our collective 9 children ranging in age from age 7 to 3 weeks with us on our outing. We totally looked like a preschool field trip, only without the rope for the kids to hold onto! As chaotic as it sounds, we all had a great time and really enjoyed getting the cousins all together for the evening.

Mid-week, I loaded up our four kids into the van that I rented for a few days and we ventured north about 20 minutes to Antietam National Battlefield. I allowed only 3 hours for our visit, expecting that to be more than enough time for the kids to have their fill of Civil War battlefield excitement. I underestimated these kids who not only sat through the 27-minute preview film depicting the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, they were on the edge of their seats and pulled me along through every exhibit in the Visitor Center museum. They talked to a park ranger and we found out about the Junior Ranger Program that the National Park System has, where kids fill out workbooks and answer questions about the national park that they are visiting, and once completed they return it to be checked by a ranger and the kids can earn a Junior Ranger certificate, badge, and special surprise. In this case, after visiting each of the stops on the driving tour of the Antietam Battlefield, the kids were gifted a set of Civil War trading cards with photos and facts about key aspects of the Battle of Antietam. Let's just say that we've had a lot of play surrounding battles around our home the past few days!

The next day the kids and I traveled to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Center in Harpers Ferry, WV to learn about the Appalachian Trail and what it is like for hikers who undertake the journey along the trail. This is at almost the mid-point of the 2,179 mile trail that runs from Maine to Georgia. We even looked up and found a photo of some college friends of mine and Jason's who hiked the A.T. from end to end a few years back. The kids loved seeing that we knew a couple of famous people whose photographs were in a museum! We then proceeded to walk 1/4 of the stretch of the Appalachian Trail that runs through West Virginia. It was pretty cool, but no need to be too impressed. The full length of the A.T. that runs through West Virginia is about 4 miles.

Finally, today Jason and I returned to Harpers Ferry to explore the town more thoroughly. The National Parks Service was also hosting a Yuletide Celebration within the park this weekend, so we had the opportunity to share in some of the mid-19th century holiday traditions such as strolling carolers and seeing the town decorated for Christmas with natural, historically accurate decorations. In the blacksmith shop, one of the blacksmiths struck a pair of iron leaves for our kids, which we are planning to add to our home decor to remember this stop on our journey. Stay tuned for photos as they find their place in our home.

One of my favorite spots in this entire area is in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, along the Appalachian Trail, where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac. Granted, this unique place, geographically, lended itself to being the site of the Federal Armory that was the target of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, which was a spark that helped ignite the American Civil War. (I warned you that I'm a history nerd!) However, it's a beautiful convergence of these two rivers that continues east as the Potomac River toward Washington, D.C.

"The Point"
Where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers converge along the Appalachian Trail in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Tomorrow, we'll be following the Potomac River into our nation's capital. With Washington, D.C. being just over an hour away, we simply could not leave the region without a taste of this city that I love. We cannot wait to share in the beauty, the history and the wonder of Washington together as a family.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

An Update on the Single (Vehicle) Life

This week, for the first time in 7 months, we rented a van to have a second vehicle. We had some business to attend to that required both Jason and I to have transportation during the day and public transportation was not going to be a viable option in this situation. So, I rented a van for a few days to complete our business and extended the rental by a couple of days to take advantage of visiting several National Parks and Historical Sites with the kids while Jason completes the final days of his current job assignment.

While I enjoyed re-learning how to drive (I haven't driven since we sold our van at the end of June), it soon became apparent that we are nowhere near the point of needing or wanting a second vehicle on any kind of regular basis. There are so many benefits that we have received from making this one choice to live simpler and more intentionally. For our family, this means choosing to own just one vehicle.

Financially, this has been a huge savings! The total cost of secondary transportation for our family from May-November has been $434.72 (I think...unless I missed a $1-2 bus fare somewhere). This includes a 4-day van rental, a tank of gasoline (to drive 300+ miles this week) and 3.5 months of bus fare for the 4 kids and me. The insurance cost alone for a secondary vehicle would have been nearly this number. Add in the cost of 1-2 oil changes and fuel for at least 5,000 miles and the cost for simply maintaining a second vehicle for our family would be $1,500+ before even factoring in additional routine maintenance and repairs or the unseen cost of vehicle depreciation. Additionally, with limited transportation availability there are fewer "I'm bored" trips to Target, home improvement stores, or the mall which can nickel and dime a family budget quickly. Not to mention, where would we put the crap that we don't need from these stores? Our single-vehicle lives have successfully put an end to any of those trips that we had been in the habit of making.

We've seen massive changes in communication within our family. We discuss daily where we need or want to go and arrange our schedules accordingly. Jason knows that I will most likely be home when he returns from work in the evening and can consistently have dinner planned for our family because there are fewer I-got-distracted-and-didn't-get-home-in-time-to-plan-dinner days. Also, we have all but eliminated the occurrence of him working late and wondering when he will be home, unsure of how to plan our evening. Jason has become excellent at communicating his work schedule--as random as his hours may be at times--so that we can coordinate all of our evening plans around when he will be home.

Finally, we have learned to slow down and savor life. The kids and I walk to a lot of places. We find the hidden gems around where we are staying or near the places to which we take public transportation. We spend a lot of time with the people immediately around us at the campgrounds where we stay, because we're rarely in a rush to get somewhere. While waiting at bus stops and riding public transportation, we have had the opportunity to engage in rich conversations with strangers and one another that we would otherwise miss out on by riding in our private vehicles. We truly *see* the beauty around us and realize that there is a lot to miss in life when you move through it at a rapid pace, and we're never at a loss for finding opportunities for exercise.

While the single-vehicle life will not work for every family, I'm grateful that we critically evaluated our family's needs and made this choice. For now, it's a good move for our family. Will it remain that way forever? Most likely not, but as long as the benefits continue to outweigh the costs, having one vehicle is part of the life that we choose.

(For more information on how we chose to become a single-vehicle family, click on the link here.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A new bed

During our recent trip through Ohio, we took a few days to visit with our families. We are storing a few items at our parents' houses, and took the opportunity to exchange a few items and shed some unused items while there. I also took the opportunity while we were stationary and the kids were busy keeping grandma entertained to remove our other jack knife sofa and build a proper bed for Ian. Both Stephanie and I were eager to accomplish this, knowing that the new bed would be less weight than the couch, but that we would gain extra storage space. So away we went.

Thankfully, I still had my drawings from when I built the first bed, so I had a lumber cut list, dimensions, and a picture to reference, so building this bed went smoothly. Stephanie was able to pop out every now and then to stain the trim boards, so that I could focus on building the structure and fabricating a new addition. An added bonus was that my dad was free and able to help us out on this project.
The space once the couch was removed.
As you can see from the photo, we have access from the outside for storage, which makes it convenient to get items out while on the road or without having to disturb anyone in the room.

I started off by removing the couch and cleaning up the area. After that, things move fairly quick. Since the space is just at 6 feet, the bed is designed to hold a smaller person so I did not go all out with the bracing. But, in case you are wondering, I do not think twice about climbing into bed with one of the kids. It easily accommodates my 160+ pound frame.
The basic frame work.
A few floor cleats, some vertical supports, and then the basic frame for the plywood to sit on. This does create a better air stop/insulation than the couch, so this is also an upgrade from a temperature standpoint as well. At this point I face it with some plywood to attach the front finish to and lay a piece of plywood on top for the mattress. I leave this loose for easy access to the storage underneath.
The finished product, sans bedding and toys.
For this bed, I finished it straight across, using two pieces of sheet metal for facing, thus creating a large magnet board. I covered up the rough edges with the trim boards, eliminating any cut hazards. We plan on painting the metal with chalkboard paint to create a multi-surface play/learning area. A consideration that I had to keep in mind was that the bed is built on a slide, so I had to make sure that I did not build beyond the clearance zone. The fun part is checking your work for the first time by standing inside the room while the slide comes in. And for anyone wondering, I built the beds within .5 inches of clearance.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Moab: We Came, We Saw, We Bought a Truck

Last Tuesday was the big day. The day that we left the Roaring Fork Valley which had been our summer home and headed West into Utah. We planned to spend 2 nights in Moab then continue south into Arizona for the rest of the week for vacation.

Our trip out of the mountains and into the desert was fairly uneventful. Aside from the vast nothingness of eastern Utah--literally not a single building to be seen for 60 miles into the state, when we finally arrived at the Utah Welcome Center--it was a downhill coast into the desert until we arrived at the oasis of Moab. We stayed at OK RV Park which is south of town and had an amazing view of the backside of Canyonlands National Park. The views were breathtaking, the staff was very gracious and we even met up with a few other Full-Time Families who were staying there, which was an added bonus!

We took Wednesday to visit Arches National Park in the morning, returning back to the RV Park in the afternoon during a freak rainstorm. Yes, we would visit the desert on the one rainy day! In the evening we returned to the park for Jason to get a few sunset and dusk photos of the arches.

The kids and I standing beneath Window Arch at dusk.
Thursday morning we got up early in order to head out of town by 9am. We had a long drive through the barren desert of southern Utah and Northern Arizona's Navajo Nation ahead of us before we would reach our destination for the night. We made it almost 10 miles out of town before Jason asked me to look for a good place to pull over. The truck was struggling to pull us at 50 mph (speed limit is 65), and we needed to figure out the problem. Well, we're on a 2-lane highway in the desert. There are no good places to pull over a 53-foot rig! However, a very steep uphill grade was just ahead, so Jason quickly pulled us off to the shoulder. We unhitched the trailer on the side of the highway and turned back to Moab in our truck to get a new air filter for our truck, which was VERY dirty. Surely a clean filter will give our truck the power it needs to pull us through the desert.

When we get to the auto parts store we found our first problem. The truck had an after-market permanent air filter installed. Awesome--it's a better piece of equipment than the standard OEM filter. Not awesome--they didn't have a new one in stock and had to order one in from Salt Lake City. It would arrive first thing Friday morning. Okay, well, we needed a clean air filter for our truck to pull the RV out of the valley, so we went back to the side of the highway where we dropped the rig, picked it up--somehow Jason turned that thing around, and returned to OK RV Park for another night.

We decided that we would start actively looking for a new truck, as the Blue Beast was really letting us down with its towing capabilities. We stopped into Moab Ford and looked at a couple of new 2012 F350s on their lot. They only had one that fit our specs, so we took it for a test drive and filed the info on new F350s in the back of our minds, planning to start stopping into Ford dealerships along our route. Afterwards, we decided to make the most of our situation and returned to Arches National Park for a third visit. That America the Beautiful National Parks pass is really coming in handy! We ventured down another road through the park and saw more of the amazing sandstone arches that makes this area so unique. 

Ian, taking in a view of the sandstone arches.
His jacket says, "The Journey Is The Destination". Fitting.
Friday morning comes around and Jason returns to the auto parts store at 7:30am to pick up our new air filter. He comes home to install it, only to find the part doesn't fit. So he returns to the auto parts store to inform them that they ordered the wrong part. Only they didn't. They looked inside the truck and told him that the part they ordered was the correct part for our truck, however the part that was installed in our truck was not the right part for our model. The only option that we had at this point was to clean the air filter ourselves and hope that it would get us on our way. The cleaning process would take approximately 20-48 hours and our truck would be inoperable during this time.

Awesome! Everything just keeps getting better...or not! Now we have a truck that keeps breaking down on us, that has been Frankensteined together with the wrong parts and even the auto parts store cannot tell us how to fix our problem. We're also within 1,000 miles of the end to our limited warranty which covers the *really* expensive repairs--because our $1000 here, $1300 there repairs are only a drop in the bucket of what was yet to come, given this truck's record.

So, we add another night to our stay at OK RV Park. I'm starting to feel like we're back in St. Louis all over again! Jason starts the air filter cleaning process and we begin an Internet search of the Ford dealerships along our planned route between Moab, northern AZ, Phoenix, Albuquerque and central Texas. You know what we found? Nothing. We couldn't find another F350 that fit our needs (diesel, long bed, 6 seats, fifth wheel hitch installed, to name the biggies) for almost 1,000 driving miles. Remember that warranty that would expire in 1,000 miles? We were starting to think that maybe we should look a little closer at the truck that was just a few miles up the road here. If we were actively searching for a truck and one that fits our needs is in the town that we are currently grounded in, maybe we should look at it a little more seriously.

So we called Moab Ford and talked to the salesperson, asked a few more questions and found out that the 5th wheel hitch that it was prepped for was being shipped from Salt Lake City and could be installed on Saturday. Also, Ford is currently offering 0% financing on their new 2012 trucks. While neither of us have ever taken out a vehicle loan in our lives and are extremely debt-averse, we were starting to realize that in order to purchase a new truck, we would likely need to take out a loan. A loan at 0% would at least eliminate the interest charge aspect of financing, and our average monthly repair bill since purchasing our current truck was exceeding the monthly payment on a new truck. (How sickening is that?!)

After much discussion, prayer and weighing all of our options, we decided to add (yet another) night to our stay in Moab and returned to the Ford dealer on Saturday morning to purchase the new truck and trade in our Blue Beast.

After finalizing all of the details, we were signing the paperwork just before noon on Saturday and Jason got a phone call from an Indiana number. He didn't recognize the number, so he let it ring through to voicemail. Later that afternoon, he checked his messages. It was his contractor calling, asking if he would consider returning to Snowmass for just one more week for a final push to finish the project there. After checking the weather to see that the forecast calls for high 50's/low 60's and sunshine all week, as well as an offer of a small bonus for the trouble of returning to the job from his vacation time, he agreed. Had our week unfolded as planned, we would have been in southern AZ and far too far to agree to return to Colorado for a week. Moab is less than 4 hours from the Snowmass area and we could easily turn around to go back! Also, while our vacation did not go as planned, by working this week, we are able to extend our vacation through next week and get a bit more time to travel before Jason reports to a new job site in mid-November.

Before we could hitch up our new truck to our RV for the trip back to Colorado, we needed to get some miles on the truck and break it in. What better location to do so than eastern Utah?! We drove 30 miles north of town into Canyonlands National Park and got to test out the truck's ability to handle 8% grades, hairpin curves, and a little bit of off-roading as we maneuvered into parking spots. Yes, this new truck should work out well for our family!

A view of Canyonlands National Park
So, we're back this week in the Roaring Fork Valley. The plan is to head out on Monday morning. At press time, we are still undecided as to which way to go. The whole country is open to us...well, except North. It's starting to get pretty cold up north. Maybe we'll just flip a coin. Either way, our new Bronze Beast will get us wherever we choose to go.

Our new Simpson Six mobile.
I LOVE that it is the color of the Utah desert! We'll always remember from where it came.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Moving on

It is that time. I have finished working at Snowmass and we are getting ready to head out. It is a bittersweet time since we have grown very fond of the Roaring Fork Valley, but we know that other adventures and experiences await us. We have spent Sunday and Monday preparing to depart. There is some anticipation and excitement, because I am looking at 1-2 weeks of vacation time to spend with the family. The plan is to head west into Utah to visit Arches NP and then to head south into Arizona and make our way to the Grand Canyon. Stephanie and I both love the southwest and are eager to share this corner of the country with our children. We have been in the southwest in both the heat of the summer and the cold of winter, so this time around will be a new experience for us as well as we get to experience it in the fall.

Personally, I am excited to head to these parks to work on my photography. Many years ago, on my first visit to the Grand Canyon was when I was first beginning as a photographer. It will be fun to compare my work from then and now to see (hopefully) how I have grown and developed (pun intended) in my skills.

We are trying to learn from our trip out and the difficulties that we had and are taking any and all preventative measures that we can, but we still ask for prayers for safe travels. Later this morning we will play Willie Nelson's On The Road Again and be there.

Life is good.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Eliza and her cake

The history and back story:

Since we had our first child, Caroline, we have made it a point to try and avoid serving our kids chocolate until they were two. This was mostly an attempt to limit their sugar intake. We have been mostly successful in this endeavor, not directly or intentionally serving them until their second birthday, minus a few unconfirmed incidents with their grandpas.

Once our kids start potty training, we have used small chocolates (M&Ms, chocolate chips) as a reward and motivator for successful use of the toilet. This has worked well for both Caroline and Lydia, and we have been in process of toilet training Ian. Things have been hit and miss with him, and recently he has been improving. Eliza, being a watchful little sister and wanting to be one of the big kids started to want to sit on the potty about a month ago. We obliged, not expecting much other than a giggle.

We were wrong.
She started using the potty.
Several times.
With success. #1 and #2. 

So what do we do? Do we encourage her? Do we really take on potty training two kids at once who aren't twins? Does she get a reward? She is not two yet, but she sees Ian getting a chocolate treat for his success.

We decided to go for it. I made an agreement with Eliza: If she potty trains with more success than Ian, I will buy her a chocolate cake. Not just any cake, but the same kind of cake that I got myself for my birthday. I like chocolate.  A lot. I blame my father for giving me this appreciation. Thanks Dad! We are speaking of a moist chocolate cake with chocolate mousse layers, topped with a smooth and creamy chocolate icing, and covered with dark chocolate shavings. Yep, D-E-licious!
The cake, in all its glory, uncut and pristine. Not for long!
It has been 3 weeks since I made that agreement. In that time, we have been giving her the little rewards for success. I honestly didn't expect her to make the deadline, though, given that Ian had such a start on her. I was wrong. In the past 3 weeks, she has consistently used the potty, telling us when she needs to go. She has gotten to the point that she can hold it, and not just for a few minutes, but for hours. We hiked 4.5 hours up to Hanging Lake, and she held it the whole time. She is waking up dry in the mornings. She is doing everything right. She has been doing so well that last weekend we bought her 'training' panties (all cloth, no waterproof liner, just a little extra padding).

It was at this point that we realized that she had done it. She had potty trained herself. As much as I didn't want to, I had to make good on my agreement. So this Sunday, I bought the cake along with our usual donuts. When I got home, the 3 older kids were curious why I bought a cake. I told them that I would fill them in later.

I pulled Eliza aside right before we had our afternoon snack, explained that I was making good on our agreement, praised her for making it this far and doing so well, and asked if she would share her cake. She was excited and giddy, especially when I looked her in the eye and told her, "You win." My kids do not hear those words from me, and by the look on her face, she knew how hard it was for me to utter those two words. At least she was willing to share the cake with the rest of us.

So we plopped down outside and here is what happened:
Notice how the whole hand disappears
Graciously sharing with her siblings.
This is all that was left. My girl likes her chocolate.

One very happy girl.
For those of you that want to watch it happening:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hanging Lake

This past Sunday we took a hike. Literally.

The hike up to Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs, CO was one of the first "must-do" activities recommended to us when we arrived. Multiple friends have told us that we needed to hike up to see this amazing, tucked away ecosystem.

Well, between Jason working 6-7 days a week since we arrived and cars parked *on* the highway at the exit every Sunday that we drove by and thought about stopping to take the trek, it took us nearly 2.5 months before we finally made the journey.

And journey it is! The signs in the parking lot, and along the paved path leading to the hiking trail, and at the trailhead ALL state the the trail is DIFFICULT. So I thought, "Well, yeah. We're climbing a mountain here, folks, it's not going to be easy."

No really. They mean business when they say DIFFICULT. I'm talking huge rocks to traverse, loose rocks, loose dirt, switchbacks, and you climb over 1,000 feet in just over 1 mile. And then you get to almost the top where you think you might die (or maybe that's just me), and then there are several large boulders to climb over with a sheer drop-off cliff next to them with only a thin, metal railing between you and falling approximately 1,000 feet.

And then you get here:
Hanging Lake in all its glory!
We made it to the top and all that led to getting to that point was suddenly forgotten. We were in a whole other world. Pristine beauty surrounding us, and it felt like another world! There was even a geocache when we reached the summit. The kids and I sat on the boardwalk and enjoyed taking in our surroundings while enjoying the snack that was promised once we reached the top. Jason continued further upward to the source of the waterfalls feeding Hanging Lake.

Spouting Rock, just beyond Hanging Lake

Yes, this is real. Doesn't it look like a fabulous painting?! I'm loving Colorado in the Fall!
Eventually, we had to start hiking back down. Amazingly, even with 3 sets of little feet (we'll get into why only 3 later...yes, we all survived!!), coming down took only half the time that climbing up did! Maybe it was knowing the trail, maybe it was motivation that we were almost done, or maybe it was just that coming down was a lot more like falling downhill for a mile! :)

View from the paved path at the base of the trail. It's very deceiving of the actual trail!
So, why only 3 sets of little feet walking the trail down? Well, first of all, I give MAJOR props to our gang of super-hikers! All four of the people under 4-feet-tall did exceptionally well hiking up the trail. Caroline, Lydia and Ian hiked the whole way and Eliza hiked nearly half, and we carried her when she allowed us to, and when the trail became too rough for her tiny legs.

Coming down, we barely made it past the super-crazy-edge-of-the-cliff section at the top before Eliza was totally sacked out in my arms. Cool, because I knew that coming down she was much more likely to slide and fall and while asleep she couldn't fight being in my arms. Uncool, because now she was suddenly a 27-pound-sack-of-sugar. I love hiking with dead weight in my arms! (Not so much.)

Well, just when I was about to ask Jason, our pack mule who was already carrying our hiking pack with snacks, water, emergency kit and whatever else my ultra-prepared husband happened to tuck away in the bag (including all of the trash that we picked up as we hiked in and out), to carry Eliza for me, he had an idea.

Jason: "Would you like to carry her in a sling?"
Me: "I was just wishing that I'd brought a long-sleeve t-shirt to tie her to my chest with, but I don't have anything."
Jason: "What if we tie 2 bandanas together and make a sling that way?"

So, apparently we had 2 bandanas in our pack "just in case", and within minutes he had tied then together to create a makeshift baby sling!

Modeling our bandana baby sling with my 27-pound-sack-of-sugar.
We made the entire round-trip hike, including an extended stop at the top in just over 4.5 hours. Not bad with 4 kids under 8 and a 30-something mama who is a loud wimp when the trail gets tough! Even better, we had no casualties.

Unless you count Jason's hiking boots.

Soles? We don't need no stinkin' soles! Umm...actually we do.
Within a quarter mile of the summit, the soles of Jason's boots began to rapidly separate from the footbed. We were hoping that he could make it to the top before they gave up the ghost, but no luck.

However, in the spirit of always being prepared for anything, Jason just happened to have an extra pair of shoes in his pack! Seriously. I cannot make this up. So, what could have been disastrous (this is REALLY not a hike to do barefoot!) was merely a minor inconvenience as he hiked the remainder of the way in his Chacos.

All in all, a great day! While it was a challenging hike, it was definitely worth the effort and work to get to the destination. At the end of the day we realized, once again, that the journey IS the destination. We're enjoying the journey.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Snowmass balloon festival

Last weekend the town of Snowmass held its annual hot air balloon festival. They have been doing the festival for many years, I believe that this was the 37th time. Over several days, they hold a race up the valley, some target competitions, balloon rides, and an evening glow. Stephanie and the kids were able to go to some daytime activities and see some of the balloons up close. They were able to ride the bus up to Snowmass to meet up with me on Saturday evening once I got off of work so that we could head to the glow together. After a meal from Big Hoss BBQ, we were able to sit in the grass and watch many of the balloonists setup and inflate. It was a fun time to run around and then enjoy the glow from 12 balloons and 3 burners.
One of the balloons standing up. Very cool part to watch.
I think that Lydia liked the balloons inflating.
Fire! Fire! We found ways to stay warm on a cool evening.

The balloonists were very friendly. Some even let people in for photo ops. Not all of our crew wanted to get in.
Here is the wide shot. Very pretty.
If you ever get the chance to attend a festival, I strongly encourage it.  We had a blast!

Next up, the season is changing in Colorado and the Aspen trees are starting to turn a beautiful gold. It's exciting to look up at the side of the mountain and see it turning from green to gold. Fall is looking beautiful, but it is also a reminder that we will not be here much longer. The job is set to wrap soon, and we would like to pull out of the valley before winter sets in too much.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A new hobby

I will start by apologizing that the updates are not as frequent as we intend. Between my work schedule and the spotty internet, I have slacked on posting.

Now, on to our new hobby. Thanks to the inspiration and jumpstart on equipment and information by Stephanie's brother and sister-in-law, we have begun geocaching. For anyone unfamiliar with this activity, it consists of using a GPS device to locate treasure boxes hidden by others using some clues and a set of coordinates. More information can be found at the official website here. There is even an app for the iPhone, which comes in a free but limited version, or the full version for $10 (direct links for the free version and paid version).  We quickly purchased the full version, realizing that we are hooked on geocaching.

We have ventured out a few times in search of some caches. The kids have been able to find a few, but several have taken some help from mom and dad to locate and retrieve. We have tried to keep it to easy/beginner level ones, but I know that I am looking forward to advancing to the intermediate level caches. A benefit to geocaching is discovering locations along the way. On our first outing, while searching for a cache we came across a community garden in Carbondale. We happened upon it at the same time that one of the caretakers had shown up to harvest some food. It quickly turned into an educational moment as they talked about what food they were growing and had the kids help harvest some fava beans.
Harvesting the pods, then sorting the beans.
Stephanie's mom was able to come visit us this past weekend. It was fun to get to use our 'guest suite', which is really our sofa that converts to an air bed. Stephanie and the kids were able to have some fun adventures with grandma, heading into Basalt and Snowmass, and we all were able to take a day to explore Aspen. We were able to find some fun parks to play at, some interesting stores to shop in, and we discovered a few geocaches along the way.
Some bricks from a walk in Aspen. I loved seeing the older architecture in town.

We had to stop here. They had some fun and interesting items (and I have nothing to show).
One of the perks that the kids have been thoroughly enjoying is having a library close by in Basalt. The library graciously issues short term lending cards, which Stephanie quickly picked one up. They have enjoyed multiple visits each week, with each child being able to check out a book of their choice. Stephanie also checks out some read aloud books and a movie or two as a treat for the kids.

I know that every parent will brag on their kids and say that they are so smart or bright, and I am no different. What has surprised me is the reading skills of my oldest two. They both have started to check out chapter books from the library, which has not been too much of a surprise. What has caught me off guard is how quickly that they are plowing through the books and their reading comprehension. They are reading through their books in 1-2 days, making it harder for Stephanie to keep up with them. I will admit that it is fun for me to walk in after work and see 2-4 kids sitting and reading intently. I can't argue with a passion to learn.

The summer has been beautiful, and we are looking forward to fall coming around the corner. We anticipate only being in the area for a few more weeks, but do not have anything firmed up yet. Right now, we are taking things one day at a time and enjoying our time in Colorado.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Rodeo

Every Wednesday during the summer, the town of Snowmass Village holds a rodeo. They have been doing it for decades, which answered my question of how permanent is the rodeo arena. It wasn't a free event, but we thought that it would be worth the price to check out some cowboys in action. We were not disappointed.

The experience began with walking through the gate and being greeted by some qualifying events in the arena, as well as an electronic bull for the kids to ride. We made our way through the crowd to the dinner tent, where they were serving up some delicious bbq. You can't call him a roving minstrel, but there was a cowboy with a guitar wandering around the dinner area taking some requests. Honestly, I don't think that hearing John Denver's 'Rocky Mountain High' will ever get old while we are out here.

Next up was finding a seat on the grandstands to watch the main event. We found a place high up, which proved to be good so that the kids could see. All four of them were enthralled the entire time. The show included cattle roping, mutton bustin', bull riding, bronco bustin', mule riding, and just about anything else that they could toss into the arena. We got to see some cowboys get tossed off of the bulls and horses, but thankfully everyone walked away.
The start of the rodeo. All of the horses and riders at attention.

A graceful dismount, but I don't think that this bull is done.

Don't worry, he was off of this horse in no time.
I enjoyed working on some fast motion photography. An event like this presented some challenges, but I am happy to have come away with a few good shots. It was fun to see faces in the background reacting to what was happening in the arena. It is things like that I do not notice while the event is going on, and may never notice unless it is captured in one still frame.

Everything wrapped up just after dusk, sending us along our merry way into the night. In addition to some mild temperatures, we got to have a nice sunset and see some stars peeking out as we went home. I think that we will definitely attend more rodeos down the line.