December 13, 2012

Elizabeth's Pet Peeve

This is an assignment that Elizabeth was given as part of school.  I hope you enjoy it.

Prang! Splooch! Bang! In this particular moment, the sounds are coming from the back seat. Generated by my brothers, they have now become a regular part of my life. It's quite common for young boys to experience the “I-need-to-make-war-noises-because-I've-got-too-much-energy” stage. I ask them to stop, but they still go on and on in endless war. Even in the car, they don't stop. Parents and siblings: be warned, it can quickly become a pet peeve; It has for me.

One problem is that they spray spit all over you while making the sounds of battle. For boys who don't care for hygiene, this would not be a problem. But as a girl, I have a small problem with it (more of a ginormous, mountain-sized problem with it). Most boys might think I'm weird, but I think that all girls will agree with me that it's really gross to be spat on. Especially if the spit-generator has a cold.

Number two: they wander all over the house. You, dear Reader, might not think that it's a problem. You might think that it is a way to release their pent-up energy without breaking something. For my brothers, it doesn't really work. It only increases their energy.  In the middle of their imaginary war game, they don't see where they're going. Maybe its because they are too infatuated with getting to their goal. Maybe its because they imagine that the dining room table has become an obstacle into which they must crash their “sand-crawler”. Usually this results in pain-filled wailing. They also crash into people, which is also unpleasant. 'What could be worse then hearing your brother cry?' you might ask. I would reply: hearing both brothers cry because they crashed into each other and bonked heads is worse. It's also unpleasant when a brother crashes into you, although that results in more yelling at him than crying on my part.

One of the biggest problems is that they don't stop when you ask them to stop, because they can't hear you over the sound of battle in their head. This creates all sorts of problems. They won't listen when parents are telling them what jobs they have to do, and they don't listen to the parent's when they say it's time for school. They get in trouble at other times, like when they're attending their art class. They can't hear the instructor's lessons in art.

Here's a problem for the parents and teachers. These warrior sound machines disrupt school atmosphere. That might not be a problem in public school. Teachers might just sent them to the principals office or the psychiatrist. This will embarrass the parents, as they will remember it always. The hazard of it is that if the parents remember this, they will tell your friends at awkward moments. O, the horror! But the problem I'm talking about is for the home schooling families. If you are not a homeschooling parent, then skip to the next paragraph. I myself am being home schooled. A war-noise person home schooled with his other siblings is a bad combination. Especially if he has siblings older than him who have more work (like this writing assignment, perhaps). When the young warrior starts his imaginary battle, he can also start a real battle; A battle between him and his older sibling. A typical feud will start like this:
Sibling: “Please stop making those war noises. They're distracting me and giving me a headache.”
Brother/Warrior: “prang!!! Colonel, the mast has been hit! Prepare to be boarded! Pshew! Pshew!
Sibling: “I asked you to stop!!”
Then one of two things will happen. Either the war will increase in volume and ferocity to levels man never has and will never want to see, or a parent will intervene and hand out punishments without mercy.

Maybe later, if I ever find a cure for boys making war noises, I'll write a book on it to help others with this immense problem. Maybe you'll be the one to find it. Maybe doctors and psychiatrists working together will find the cure. I don't know if a cure is even possible. Until we find it, we will just have to live with them, and hope they grow out of it- quickly.

December 7, 2012

Bridgetender school update

If I was a really good homeschooling mom and wanted the extended family and friends to know how we were doing with homeschooling, I would be writing quarterly newsletters and stuff.  I would also be bragging about my kids, who are excelling in every area of school because the incredible love that shines through me all the time and my exceptional teaching skills, not to mention their above-average intelligence.  Instead, you are going to get my quasi-regular update with, I hope, some encouragement and a strong dose of reality.

What I learned so far this year
First of all, I think I have the almost, but-not-quite perfect schedule for us.  It starts with a group lesson on one thing each day:  vocabulary, geography, craft (or something like it) combined with appropriate music whenever I can remember it, Science co-op and History.  Then each day I get together one-on-one for thirty-ish minutes with each kid to discuss a specific topic and review their previous day's work and talk.  Having John be more independent is the main reason this schedule works out so well.  Orthodontics, music lessons and other appointments sometimes ruin the almost perfect schedule.  Praying with my kids during their alone time with me has had the biggest impact on how well our session goes (which probably makes me the densest Christian ever because it has taken me eight years of schooling to figure this out).  The period of time we are covering in history is the beginning of history.  We have studied Ancient Egypt, India, China, Mesoamerica, and Greece.  So far, each book has talked about how each civilization we have  studied except for , Mesoamerica is believed to be one of the earliest civilizations.  All the civilizations studied so far have some advanced farming techniques involving irrigation and developing a calendar to determine when to plant and when to sow.  They have all developed writing and math to keep as soon as they are stable and prosperous enough to start trading and bartering, regardless of whether the trade is largely domestic or international in scope.  The government of the advanced civilizations was usually pretty complex, involving a single ruler who is aided by administrators and regional authorities.  And the rulers are all considered chosen by heavenly authority, with some claiming equality with a divine being.  All civilizations have a pretty similar code of conduct and view of right and wrong that involves looking beyond our own selfish desires to seek the good of the group.  So with all this similarity, it makes me think that maybe the Biblical account of the nations arising from the three sons of Noah might be valid.  Of course, I freely confess being biased on that account.  When the year ends, Rome will have fallen.  Again.  In math, we are starting a policy that if you get 100% on the first page, you get to skip through to the review page, which includes past concepts. If you get 100% on the review page, you get to take the test.  This is a result of several children telling me how math is so easy that it is boring.  The real joy is that Jessi is one of them (so far).

What I have learned about my kids
For Elizabeth this is a year of confirmation of what I have suspected for a bit:  She is wildly creative in many different areas.  As a result, it is hard to get her to focus on one thing.  I have yet to see her have any difficulty in picking up a new skill in art or fiber arts with the exception of counted cross stitch.  She excels at creative writing and peotry.  She loves clowning around and play-acting.  Factual reports and anything with a due date is a struggle with her.  The really encouraging news is that math doesn't seem to be so much a struggle these days as she heads into Algebra.  I think some of the reason is that Math-U-See includes algebraic concepts from day one.  She is taking Physical Science this year and is good at memorizing facts.

Jessica is blossoming musically.  She has now picked up guitar lessons as well as piano and is picking it up as easily as she has picked up piano.  It is truly a joy to hear her play.  She is great with factual writing and in making connections.  She has challenged Elizabeth in our history discussions by taking the "thinking questions" seriously and giving seriously great answers.  She is better at analyzing characters in stories, in general and putting things into practice.  Her organizational skills are getting slightly better, though she is still as bad as I am at staying organized. Jessi is also doing much better in math this year.  Fractions didn't seem as hard to her as they were for Elizabeth and so far, she is doing great at decimals, probably because she sees that there isn't much difference between decimals and math involving whole numbers.  Her biggest frustration this year has been that science has been too easy.  I chose a Physics curriculum for elementary kids and have discovered that it is better for the younger elementary students.  Therefore, next semester, she will be starting General Science, which is slightly ahead of schedule.

Kyle is my "just the facts, ma'am" guy.  He voraciously reads all things historical, especially if it involves the military or techology or baseball.  He has been complaining that math is too simple, so I started letting him do only two or three pages before completing the test as long as he gets 100% on each practice page.  At this rate, he will be starting the next book by March, unless long division delays him.  If anyone becomes and engineer or architect or some other science-related field, he will.  He also considers the physics curriculum to be pretty easy, but seems to enjoy it.

John is my story guy.  He loves stories.  This morning, he started narrating the battle between two eggs as they were frying in the pan.  He also is finding math very easy, so we are on the same program with him. He is not a science guy so far and prefers the literature selections to the non-fiction history books.  And he LOVES comedy.

I am really enjoying this stage of teaching and really enjoying teaching my kids.  We still have tough days and I am still learning how to bring God's grace into homeschooling and in raising my kids.  I hope that by the time my oldest graduates, I will get my "grace" diploma, too, even if it only high-school level grace.

The next blog posting will be one of Elizabeth's writing efforts, a humorous essay for you to enjoy.

November 10, 2012

Good Post-Election Prayers and Thoughts

Instead of joining in those who are wailing or celebrating election results, at the local, state and federal levels, I am going to let God do the talking, though I am taking the liberty of highlighting some of His words.

For those that voted against the people who ended up being elected, this is what God told the Isrealites to do after they had been carried away to Babylon in defeat:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 
Jeremiah 29:  4-7

If God wanted the Isrealites to pray blessings for their "enemies", what do you think He wants us to do for our government representatives who are doing what they feel is for the benefit of our country, even if we don't agree with them on what constitutes a benefit?

A second example is found in Psalm 61:

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever
    and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. Selah
For you have heard my vows, O God;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
Increase the days of the king’s life,
    his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
    appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.
Then will I ever sing praise to your name
    and fulfill my vows day after day.

Several sites offering historical background for this Psalm seem to feel that David wrote it while running away from his own son, Absalom, who had organized an insurrection against his father and was seeking to kill him and all of his followers--a horrible betrayal of the deepest trust and a potential severance of all family ties of love.  Okay, if you have read the story, you know that Absalom and David weren't very close and that David had banished his son for fratricide in an earlier incident.  Still, David prayed for the next king's benefit and blessing, even when the king was seeking his demise.  And in that really hard place, David knew who to turn to for help.

Finally, we have instructions from Jesus, son of God, God-With-Us, King of Kings, The Redeemer and Savior, who WILL one day return to set up his eternal kingdom and end all political turmoil:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:43-45

As I have said before, Jesus doesn't just talk the talk:  while he is on the cross, he asks God to forgive those who called for his crucifixion.

So here are three distinct walking orders from God to stop moaning and whining about the election results, and calling those in the opposite political camps all sorts of names as if you are stuck in middle-school mentality/maturity level.  Suck it up and show respect to the people that God has put in power over us.  This doesn't mean that we have to be silent when we see abuses of power, lies being presented as truth, injustice or skullduggery.  It also doesn't mean that when someone of the opposite political persuasion repeatedly voices their opinion just to make sure that you know where they stand, you are not allowed to express your opposing opinion.  I would just ask that you do so respectfully, knowing that the other person is also made in the image of God and dearly loved by God.  There will be other elections in which we can work to get the people we want in office.

And for those who are celebrating because your candidate(s) won and ESPECIALLY for those people who were just elected/re-elected, remember this:
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

May God bless you and keep you!

November 6, 2012

A Foretaste of the Future?

Those of you who know me, know the details of where we have lived.  For those of you just tuning in, I am keeping the location details 'under wraps' because this story can happen in any state, including the one in which I am currently residing.

Four years ago, my husband was one of thousands of people laid off at his company.  Enough people were laid off that it triggered a federal law requiring the company to give three month's notice to those who were released.  This particular company decided to give the employees three month's salary in a lump sum, along with severance based on their years of service and told to go home start looking for a job.  My husband, along with every other employee let go, was told to immediately apply for unemployment.  This didn't seem right to us because we had three months pay in our bank account and didn't really need the unemployment money.  Why not wait until we had the need?  The HR person assured us that not filing for unemployment immediately would be perceived by the state government as equivalent to not looking for a job immediately.  Do you see fallacy #1?  Anyway, we dutifully followed HR advice.  This was the same HR department that, at a later time, misfiled the paperwork with claims that those who were laid off had been on the company payroll for the three months.  The state unemployment office could have contacted the HR representative to verify whether the paperwork was truly representing the situation.  This would have saved the state a LOT of money. Instead, they sent out letters to the thousands of people who were laid off notifying them that they falsified claims.  That is hundreds of dollars in stamps to harass people who might still be unemployed.  It resulted in thousands of people filing appeals, requiring someone's time to review the paperwork and additional time to hold the hearing and even more additional time filing the follow-up paperwork detailing the appeal's findings.  More wasted money. However, it DOES provide job security for the folks working for the unemployment office.

Meanwhile, God had graciously provided a job for my husband 1,800 miles away within four months be being released.  He dutifully notified the state unemployment office that we would no longer be needing their money and gave them a change of address notification so that future communication would be sent to the us.  The group of people who handle problems with claims is separate from the the group that pays out claims.  Apparently, paperwork isn't shared.  So when that former group sent out the mailings accusing us of making a fraudulent claim, they sent it to our last known address in our former state rather than taking the considerable time and energy calling the claims department to see if there was an address change (warning:  heavy sarcasm in use).  They also did not allow the post office to forward the notification in the off chance that we had moved because, apparently, all that matters is that the notification is sent--they are not responsible for ensuring that the information is actually received (Note:  This is my sarcastic interpretation of their motives and does not represent the bureaurocracy's actual thought process).  Result:  we never were notified by the state that it had filed a claim of fraudulence against us.  Our notification came three years later, when the state requested that the federal government garnish our federal income tax to re-pay our "debt" and the federal government happily complied, notifying us of the transaction.

When we received this notification from the federal government, my husband called the state unemployment office to see if we could file an appeal.  The person told him where to go to download the paperwork and within a day, he had faxed the completed forms to the fax number he was given.  We waited.  We received no notification that they received the paperwork.  Six months passed.  I suggested that maybe it was time that we contact the state to see what the status of our appeal was.  The contact person my husband reached told him that the appeal was never filed and was closed because of no activity.  At this point, my very wise and calm husband asked to speak to a supervisor (I doubt I would have been as gracious).  During the course of the conversation, in which my husband stated our situation, the supervisor gave him his direct fax line and told him to re-apply for an appeal and fax it directly to him.  Within a day, my husband completed appeal paperwork a second time.  This time, he was notified by mail of our hearing date within a week.  The envelope originally had the address that we haven't inhabited for nearly four years printed on it, but that address was crossed out and our correct address was written on it.  During the appeal's hearing, my husband was told that one of the "findings" was that our appeal was not made in a timely manner.  Fortunately, the person handling the appeal was understanding and noted that we had never been notified by the state.  The end result is that the state ruled that we were not responsible for paying back the entire aid we were given, but that some residual charges apply and they are in the process of determining if those charges exceed what was garnished in the federal taxes.  We are not exactly sure WHY we have to pay for the state's ineptness, but if it means an end to the situation and it doesn't involve a lot of money, we are grateful.

This situation prompts the following question in my mind:  if there is a problem with how the government is operating, whether state, local, or federal, who can you appeal to?  If the supervisor had refused to re-open our case, or if the person handling our appeal was being unreasonable, where could we have gone to appeal?  If the problem involved a privately held company, we could file a claim with the Better Business Bureau, put something on Yelp or Google or Yahoo reviews and the company, if it continued having bad business practices and racking up complaints, would eventually go out of business or be put out of business by the government.  And the situation we were in REEKS of bad business practices that would put a privately held company out of business within a year.

My personal answer is that I would, and did, appeal to God and He answered us by giving us a compassionate supervisor and a favorable person handling our appeals hearing.  And I am sure that there is always the option of suing the government if it ever came to that, but that takes money.  We have money, but what about people who can barely afford the basics?  They wouldn't have the resources to sue the government for negligence or fraud and would just get exploited and overlooked and overcharged.

And then I think of the future healthcare insurance to be administered by the same governments that are administering unemployment insurance.  And it will be directed and funded by the same government in charge of managing our Social Security benefits.  So as evil and as hard-hearted and profit-driven as insurance companies are, I have NO confidence that the future government bureaucrats that will be in charge of health insurance decisions will be any better.

The truth is that government officials who tell you that the government will eliminate health care problems are overselling their capabilities, just as PPOs and HMOs in the 1980's oversold their capabilities.  The government welfare system that was supposed to eliminate poverty still has people fall through the cracks AND, simultaneously, allows people to scam the system.  Both private and public institutions are run by seriously flawed people and seriously compassionate people.   But private organizations are more directly accountable to their customers than the government is.  And they have the government to watch them to make sure they are following fair business rules.  But who will watch the watchmen?

November 1, 2012

Spiritual Alzheimer's disease

God has been speaking through three blogs today about walking and sharing His grace with my immediate family on a daily basis and with people in general.  One of my long time favorite bloggers is Matt at The Church of No People.  He wrote about how Americans are becoming more intolerant.  Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like discusses why Christians are such jerks.  And at Prodigal magazine, Michael Perkins confesses that he is the problem  that causes the Christian church to get a bad reputation (though I think I make equal contributions).

All this as a song resonates in my brain as the possible solution to Christian jerkiness, intolerance and judgement.  I have tried unsuccessfully to embed the video several times (the embedded information seems to disappear when I hit "update", so I am providing the link here.  Please watch the video before continuing to read.  Pictures are provided so that you don't "peek"  :-).
Kyle ready to make a play.  This is what
you wear in October in AZ

Staying warm in the early morning
before my first 10K race.  The kids needed it, not me.
Elz is thrilled as you can see.

Finishing my first ever 10K run.  My "partner in crime"
is the woman on the far left of the picture.  Finishing was my goal.
Mission accomplished.

And now back to the original thought, involving man's jerkiness...
The video speaks of belonging to God, being his beloved child no matter what I do.  And this awesome love and grace is what can flow out of me when I keep my focus on Jesus Christ throughout the day and on his grace and mercy and love.  But I forget, as if I have a spiritual Alzheimer's disease.  And in another video, the singer says that he wrote this song because he, too, forgets and needs to be reminded of his position in Christ.  And I think every Christian out there has the same disease, as well as every human on the planet.

The Good News is that God can reverse the debilitating and destructive effects of this disease as well as its progress.   It is called "the work of the Spirit" and it happens when we shift our attention from the fleeting shadows of this world and fix our eyes on the solid light of Jesus, our ears to God's still small voice, and relax to let the Spirit lead us.
John 15:5--I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.  Apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:9--As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.  Now remain in my love. 
Galatians 5:22-23, 25--The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

October 29, 2012

Election thoughts

I have been doing some homework for these elections.  I always feel like I leave this at the last moment and promise to do better and follow local politics throughout the next post-election period, much like my semi-annual promise to the dentist to floss my teeth every day.  I have missed every single debate in the election cycle, mainly because they have appeared more and more like the question and answer session of a beauty pageant.  Yes, political cynicism reigns in my thoughts right now.

Arizona has so many propositions on the ballot, it took my husband and I over an hour to go through them all.  Some were "no brainers".  Some were pretty confusing.  There is one proposition that proponents say will help education, but, reading the fine print, it seems that most of the money raised by the increased sales tax goes to tracking education metrics and unspecified education spending.  Sounds like a "bait and switch" tactic to me.  A couple of propositions make me wonder if the Republicans in this state have developed their own peculiar brand of funny kool-aid.  But then again, I am sure that every state has idiosyncracies that provide comedic fodder for any blog.

The one thing that I always feel unqualified to decide is judges.  How can you really determine if a judge is good or not?  One person I know votes against all incumbent judges, but do we really want all new judges?  Arizona has a "Judicial Performance Report" online that helps.  It is a summary of evaluations attorneys and sometimes the plaintiffs/defendents on the judge's legal skills, integrity, communication skills, temperment and a couple of other metrics.  It helps, especially if there are more than five surveys completed.  It also nay help knowing which governor appointed them.  I mean, if I were in Illinois, I would be voting all judges appointed by Blagojoveich out of office, especially if they had attorneys questioning their legal abilities or integrity.

Okay, school board people are also a mystery to me because I don't really have a lot to do with public schooling.  For that, I might go to my neighbors to help me with their opinions.

My one thought when it comes to the Presidential campaign is actually the result of a conversation I had with my Mormon neighbor that had nothing to do with politics.  She was talking to me about how Mormons handle their missionary assignments.  If you don't know, young Mormon men are encouraged to become missionaries for a year or two.  Two missionaries are assigned as 24/7 partners for several months with absolutely no possibility of "parole," even if they don't like each other.  She told me that it teaches a young man how to work with difficult people.  They do have roommate changes during their time as missionaries.  This works well later in life, when they are assigned a specific meeting house (their version of church) and a specific time to attend based on where they live.  I'm sure the system is not perfect, because people aren't perfect, but it might explain how Mitt Romney was able to work with Democrats in Massachusetts and actually get things done.  And this character trait is why I will be giving Mitt Romney my vote.  It also has something to do with the fact that I believe in being politically conservative and personally liberal.  And I will support the next President of the United States and love my country and fight for the republic in which we live with the following in mind (taken from a friend of a friend who posted it on Facebook)

"In two weeks I will vote according to my political convictions. But if the election doesn’t go the way I’d like it to, I’ll be fine. I won’t spend a moment disheartened or depressed. This is because my hope isn’t in any candidate, proposition, or shift in our nation’s political landscape. My hope isn’t found in a political ideology or “ism”. My hope is found in Jesus Christ. The law of his Kingdom supersedes all others: to love the Lord your God with all you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself. And no election can change that.


October 27, 2012

Piano Recital

Last weekend, Jessi played in her piano recital.  The nice touch is that she is playing in our new church.  We are renting space there for our church services on Sunday.  We have been spending a lot of time getting the place looking nice by painting it, setting up tables in the lobby for people to sit and have coffee and talk before and after service.  Jessi is playing "Maleguena" by Pablo de Sarasate.

October 20, 2012

August vacation: Tour of National and not-so-National Parks

Before school started, we had a big Minnesota family vacation planned.  My husband's family lives in Minnesota.  For years, my father-in-law has wanted to have a father-son canoe trip at his favorite place, The Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  Because it looks like a of time will be spent going to see family in the Midwest, one of the ideas we have is to take a leisurely trip to get there, visiting places along the way that the kids haven't seen yet.  The father/son canoe trip turned into a father-daughter canoe trip with Eric and his brother bringing their oldest daughters, and Eric's sister accompanying her dad.  We drove through Colorado and  Wyoming to get to Minneosta so that we so that we could see The Crazy Horse Monument, Mount Rushmore, and The Badlands, camping along the way.  We also stopped and toured the Wind Cave, which is halfway between Mount Rushmore and The Badlands.

The sun lighting up and coloring storm clouds at
our CO campsite

Driving through Wyoming.  This was consistently our view.
Where are all the people?

Custer State Park:  excellent camping facilities with free shower.  There are places you can go to see deer, antelope and buffalo.  However, we were more focused on carved rocks during our one-day stay.  We should have booked our campsite for two days.

Nearing Custer State Park.  This is a "drive by" shot
Chief Crazy Horse.  Totally amazing.  You can see it from a distance as you drive up.  Keep in mind that the park is created to raise funds for the sculptures as they get no money from the government to create this masterpiece.  It is a family business with the family of Native Americans who hired Korzcak Ziolkowski to initiate the monument.  He worked mostly alone of the project until he married and had ten kids, who helped him with his project.  They actually created a one-room schoolhouse for the kids, taught by a certified teacher.  Many of them continue his work on the sculpture.

Mount Rushmore.  Also incredibly beautiful.  In some ways, however, I would go and see it first because it is small in comparison to the Crazy Horse sculpture.  Interestingly enough, when you get in the park, it seems so big and imposing.  The first glimpse is actually a little unimpressive, until you realize that even this "small" scultpure is much bigger than anything that Michaelangelo or Da Vinci ever did.  Junior Ranger badge #1 completed by the kids
A view from a distance--the Presidents seem really small
in comparison to the surrounding mountainside
A view in the park

Wind Cave campground
.  Nice for a one or two night stay, but not much longer because it does not have shower facilities. That night, we saw a family of wild turkeys cross our path in the evening.  In the morning bunch of deer grazed in the grass and we even glimpsed a buffalo foraging along the fence that separated it from the campsite.  The drive from Mount Rushmore to this campsite was filled with buffalo, prairie dog towns, and an antelope sighting.  I could hear "Home on the Range" play in my head frequently as we drove to the next stop.

Deer grazing in the Wind Cave campground near our site

A buffalo and calf, part of a herd, hanging around the plains

This antelope was totally unphased when we pulled
to the side of the road and started snapping pictures.
I took these with the Nikon twisted around to take pictures
behind us.  Totally cool for this suburban princess.

Wind Cave State Park.  Very cool tour.  Very cool cave, in so many ways.  Eric took some great pictures with his new Nikon Digital SLR camera.  Here is one of them, showing off the boxwork--calcite deposites in the limestone cracks that are harder than limestone and more difficult to erode than the limestone which it surrounds.  It is also one of the largest caves in the world.  There are several tours available and a nice museum detailing the history of the cave.  Junior Ranger badge #2 completed.
Boxwork on the ceiling

Minuteman Missile Museum:  This is located just before you enter the Badlands.  If you don't have a reservation for a tour, don't bother to stop unless your kids have a burning desire to complete every single National Park Junior Ranger program.  The movie is okay, but without a tour, all you get to do is drive to where a Minuteman missile is displayed.  There is an audio tour at the missile that you can access through your cell phone, but the menu is lousy and it just repeats what you watch in the museum, which is little more than a double-wide trailer. Junior Ranger Badge #3 accomplished, though it was not much of an accomplishment.  The ranger working there was good with the kids, but not so great with interacting with adults.  I got the impression from a conversation I had that this site is considered "National Park Ranger Hell."

Badlands State Park and Campground.  Badlands is a good drive-through state park.  It is stark and colorful in a washed out sort of way, but it remains an inhospitable place for those who might consider setting up camp.  It was hot enough camping there that we did not put up the fly, which gave my hubby and I some midnight star-gazing when we both got up to use the facilities.  The campground also does not have showers.    It is a difficult place to capture in pictures, at least in ways to make them interesting.  In some ways, it reminds me a lot of the Painted Desert, except bigger.  Junior Ranger Badge #4 accomplished, though I think John was getting tired of having to do so much work on his vacation :-D.  I was very tired at this point.

Family in Minnesota:  Totally, completely awesome.  Eric and Elz went on a Father-daughter canoeing trip on the boundary waters with his brother and Father, niece and sister.  Me and the the rest of the kids hung out at my SIL's house and MIL's house.  Jessi had some alone time with her fabulous Grandma Sue and cousin Jasmyn.  After the canoe trip, Eric flew back to AZ to work and the kids and I stayed a couple of weeks with family.  Elz and her cousin went to a Bible camp near Pine City, AZ and had a lot of fun.  Maybe next year, Jessi will go.  The only hard part about the return trip was being away from Eric for so long.  I know it sounds corny, but I miss him a lot and do better with my goofball near me.  It might be the last time I plan to be away from him for so long.

The drive back alone was a little harder than I thought it would be, mainly because a driver decided to pass the person in front of him while I was in the middle of passing him.  Miraculously, there was no major damage and the other driver responded pretty quickly to my horn and slipped back into the long line of traffic without bumping anyone else before pulling aside.  That incident took the steam from me.  I had planned to camp that night to save some money and to be able to say that I had camped in Kansas at least once.  Instead, we spent the night at a decent motel in Witchita and walked to dinner and back.  The rest of the trip was uneventful.

I do love traveling and seeing so many things.  I hope that we are building wonderful memories for our kids, who seem to have a lot of fun camping.  I must be getting "oldish" however, because these long trips take a lot out of me.  There is no place like home.

October 15, 2012

Two months later: The North Kaibab Trail

This post has taken so long to write because we took a three week trip in August to see friends and family in Minnesota, returning in time to start school and all the activities that come with school--scouting, baseball, and Aerials.  We have finished our first unit of school and are taking the week off to rest after working very hard for the last eight weeks.  This trip originally started at the end of July.  

We had a hearty breakfast in the morning and prepared to hike the trail.  We could have walked to the starting point,  but most of the parents were unsure of how tired the kids would be after taking the hike, since the trail is 100% downhill going to the tunnel and 100% uphill on the way back to the car.  The men were concerned about the way up.  From the one time in my 20's when I hiked three hours down and five hours up, I knew that legs also didn't like going downhill for very long either, especially those front thigh muscles.  The Supai Tunnel, a man made tunnel in rock is roughly 2 miles from the start of the trail.  There is a flat rest area with composting potties and hitching posts for mules.  We were almost positive that we would turn around at the Supai Tunnel, mainly because many of us hadn't really worked up hiking more than a mile or so, though the kids can easily walk up Wind Cave Trail in the Usery Mountain.  I had some secret hopes to make it all the way to the bridge, but held that option veeerrrryyy loosely.

The trail had a definite downhill, but wasn't as steep as I remembered the Bright Angel Trail at the South Rim being twenty years ago.  Then again, memories are tricky, aren't they?  Just like The Bright Angel Trail, the North Kaibab is a multi-use trail, meaning that humans and mules used the same road, which is really not much wider than a fully loaded mule.

The path is made up of rock with a thick layer of finely pulverized dust that tends to billow up with every stamp of the foot.  Initially, the kids stomped down the trail, partly because gravity was pulling them down and partly because they liked seeing the dust clouds.  It wasn't until we reached the first evidence of mules--a mule "lake" and mule droppings that the kids realized that mules were not too particular about where they relieved themselves.  It also made us all realize that the dust they were stirring up most likely was...infused with donkey output.  The donkey lakes were the worst, sometimes covering the whole trail, forcing us to climb around on rocks and suffocating us with the smell.  Soon, we encountered several mule caravans.

Mules have the right of way, so we all had to step aside to let the caravans pass.  The mules ambled by and were very calm will passing us, even when I had my camera snapping away.  They are probably used to the paparazzi.  When we reached our first mule lake, one of the children (not mine) started complaining about the stink and the sun and the exercise involved in our activity and wanted to return.  Said child was told we were A:LL continuing down to Supai Tunnel, which wasn't much farther.  This information darkened the mood of the child for the remainder of the trip.  Ignoring the muttered complaints and insults and giving encouragement was the only recourse we could offer.

Entering the Supai Tunnel
When we reached the Supai Tunnel, the temperature was in the upper 90's.  We all used the restrooms and took advantage of the flat area to have a snack and fill up our water bottles.  One couple that had walked down to the bridge told us that the bridge looked a lot closer than it actually was and recommended that, with the kids we had, we should probably turn back around.  The bridge can be seen from the other side of the tunnel.  It looked pretty far to me, especially since the disgruntled child had added to his mood a contrary spirit, refusing to eat or drink anything until we had arrived back at our vehicles.  So we hoisted our packs and started walking uphill, taking stops whenever a child insisted on stopping.  Once again, the slope was relentlessly uphill, but not incredibly steep.  We took an extended break at the Coconino Overlook again and  made it back to  our vehicles in less time than we expected with seven children.  It was a good hike.

The "path" past the Supai Tunnel

The North Kaibab Bridge.
Doesn't it look very small?

From the beginning, we knew that showering was going to happen once during our short visit because showers cost money--$1.25 for eight minutes.  When we planned our trip, we figured that the best day to take a shower was going to be after our big hike.  We had no idea that after the hike, we would be covered in dirt from our heads to our toes.  Our faces, arms, legs and hair not being protected from the hats were all a mottled red/grey.  The fine dust had even worked its way  into our socks to get our feet covered in dirt! The money we spent on the shower was the best $1.25 we spent.

The rocks look like sentinals

What a lovely rock formation!

This was an overhang near the path on
our hike.  I'm just glad it didn't decide to fall
while we were under it!
John's sweat mingled with dust, making
brown rivulets down the side of his face

Relaxing at the campsite.  This wall was the kid's favorite spot

The Grand Canyon at sunset from patio of the
North Rim Lodge.  SRO
The Grand Canyon during a thunderstorm
The rest of the day, we spent resting our feet and resting our eyes.  The next day, we also took it easy, going on a Park Ranger guided tour and having the kids finish up their work on their Junior Ranger programs so that they could receive a pin.  A couple of our kids spent their money on Junior Ranger clothing that allows them to display the pins they earn from the different National Parks.  We were also lucky enough to view a thunderstorm blow across the canyon from the North Rim Lodge, where we could flit in and out depending on whether we wanted to feel the rain or not.  Interestingly enough, people hiking down into the Grand Canyon from the North Rim can experience hypothermia when caught in a rainstorm because the temperature drops very suddenly.  We were definitely feeling the cold front.  It was a deliciously chilly sensation for people who had been surviving the summer heat.

August 5, 2012

North Rim Adventure Continues....

On my last blog, I contemplated which pictures of rocks I should include in my next blog and I decided that people are much more interesting.  So these pictures are of us during our car drive tour of Point Imperial,  Vista Encantada, Wallhalla Overlook and Cape Royal Point.  As I believe I said in an earlier blog, we wanted our first day to be rather easy to help us acclimate to the higher elevation.  One thing I will say about being at a much higher elevation is that the sun feels more intense.  I know, most people would think that the sun in Phoenix would feel more intense, and the heat IS more intense there, but it seems brighter in the Grand Canyon.

One thing I love about kids is how inventive they are.  At Point Imperial, they found a grove of Ponderosa Pine trees with lots of exposed roots and started playing a game involving jumping from root to root without touching the sandy soil. You might see an occasional adult in the background

While the kids played, Eric took pictures of lots of rocks.  And I took a picture of him taking pictures of rocks with rocks as the background.  If you click on the picture for a closer look, you will see people on the white outcropping jutting out behind him.  The trail led to that overlook.  

At Vista Encantada, a Ranger was very nice to point out some rock formations with names which I have since forgotten.  He also took a picture of our group of two families, though most of us had our faces shaded by hats.

The kids played on a rock at the end of the trail and became quite rowdy until some other visitors asked them to be quiet.  

At Cape Royal, I insisted that Eric and I get our picture taken with Angel's Window in the background as we kissed.  

We headed back to camp to cook dinner, play games, wash up and collapse in our tents from our first day's excursion.  The next day, our plan was to hike down the North Kaibab Trail, at least to the Supai Tunnel, which would be about four miles round trip.  

July 31, 2012

Pardon the extended break

Hi there!  It has been a couple of weeks since I last posted and there have been several good reasons for it.  We took 700 pictures during our three days at the Grand Canyon, and by we, I mean my husband took pictures from his new Nikon digital SLR camera, as well as me.  The kids and I took turns using are small digital camera to take pictures and, when the batteries on both of those were exhausted, my husband and I used our iPhone cameras.  And they are beautiful, breathtaking pictures, at least most of them.  However, they are mostly of rocks and, really, how many pictures of rocks do you need to see?  And which picture of rocks would interest all ten of you who read my blog?

But what pulled me away from pondering these "very important questions" was some work as a result of a my new role at church. I was asked to coordinate all of children's ministry for our church.  I had been coordinating the elementary group for the last six months to help the woman who had been coordinating the entire group for the last year as the church began.  Because our church is a church plant, we really only have two different children's ministry groups:  younger than five and 1st through 6th grade.   When the coordinator of nursery gave notice a month or so ago, our pastor asked me as co-coordinator to start praying for a replacement.  At that time, I felt God put a big bulls-eye on me for the job, but the idea scared me to death and I wasn't being asked, so I didn't volunteer. Coordinating this can be a big job, even for a church small enough only to have the children divided into two groups:  kids younger than six and elementary age kids.  However, whenever God targets you for a job, it is EXTREMELY difficult to avoid doing it.  Even running away didn't help Jonah.  After praying with my husband, who made me promise to step down as a teacher, we agreed that this was God's job for me at the church.  As soon as I was given the job, there were some big projects to complete in a short amount of time, mainly getting enough people helping out in nursery, train them and do the required background checks.  And thus The Blog That Would Be the Definitive North Rim Grand Canyon Picture and Commentary Blog was postponed for God's work.

And now, I am going to give a brief homage to the Children's pastor at our Illinois church, Jan Meuth.  I worked with Jan for roughly ten years, on and off, in between getting married and having babies.  I worked with kids from babies up to 5th graders to help her out.  At the her good-bye luncheon, I told her that I didn't work so long with her out of sense of duty, but because she always cast out such a wonderful vision for Kid's Ministry that you wanted to be a part of it. She could be detail oriented, but she was also good at recruiting people to work out the details of her vision.  She was so gracious and so generous with her wisdom and she was great at communication.  Her fingerprints, along with God's, will be all over the way I coordinate our Kid's ministry program.  I hope someday to be half as good as she was in my new role.  Thank you, Jan Meuth, for all you shared and taught me.  May God continue to bless you and your family.

July 14, 2012

First morning: Walking the Transept Trail

I promise you that this won't be like a Charles Dickens novel which can sometimes go on endlessly because he was paid by the word.  My idea was to create a movie in Picasa with a bunch of photos and upload it to my blog.  I had difficulty accomplishing this last year, so I wasn't surprised when I had the same problems today. Thus, I am breaking down the trip into small segments with lots of pictures.

Our first full day started with me praying to God asking Him to help me overcome my natural grumpiness from being woken up eight or more times in the night by the boys.  Usually, after three or four times, I have difficulty getting back to sleep and this night was no different.  God was good and answered my prayer.  After a meal of breakfast burritos, we got ready to hike the Transept trail to the lodge and back, have some quiet time in the afternoon and then do a driving tour of the North Rim.  Unlike the South Rim, which is one giant, flat wall of rock, the North Rim has "fingers" sticking out.  Our campground is situated on one side of the longer fingers and the lodge is at the end of the longest fingers so that it has the best view of the whole canyon.  To give you a better idea, go this map provided by the Grand Canyon National Park, keeping in mind that the brown areas are the canyon itself.  We took the Transept Trail, holding close to the rim for most of the way until we reached the Grand Canyon North Rim lodge.  From the Lodge, after taking a bathroom break and a break to rub the nose on Brighty's statue, we continued walking on the trail until we reached Bright Angel Point (not to be confused with Bright Angel Trail which starts on the South Rim and ends at Bright Angle Plateau).  Before we returned, we snacked, browsed the gift shop and took another potty break. The altitude was getting to us a bit, becoming winded and easily tired.  On the return trip, one of my children broke down crying she was so tired.  Lunch helped everyone's attitude.  That and some rest time.  In the afternoon, we drove....
Some of the trail wound through the woods

I love the lines created by the rocks.  It was a very hazy day.


Rocks!  This shot was taken near the Grand Canyon Lodge.  Note the railing in the foreground.  It is not a very common sight, which can be disconcerting.

Interesting angles cut out of the rock and interesting colors spilled onto the rocks.

This is not anyone in our party.

The trail ends at the big pile of rocks known as Bright Angel Point.

A naturally occurring wall of rocks.

We climbed up one set of rocks, but not up the tall pile at Bright Angel Point.

I love being here!

A tree hanging on for dear life!

It isn't just about is a lovely moth

The feathery seeds of an Apache Plume Plant