January 29, 2012

Another weekend in Pinetop-Lakeside

One thing we miss from Illinois is snow.  It never snows in Phoenix, though it has hailed twice.  Fortunately, all we have to do is go a few hours north, where the elevation is 6,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level and there is snow in some areas.  The route we took to get there, Taking 60 East from Mesa to Show Low is magnificent most of the way.  Everyone has heard about The Grand Canyon and it truly is breath-taking.  But the canyon lands we passed through between Globe and Show Low are also amazing and beautiful.  The really interesting part of the trip is that 90% of the drive was spent without seeing a bit of snow.  Then, for the last hour, we would see bits of snow on the side, in the shady areas.  It wasn't until we got into Pinetop proper that we saw a consistent bed of snow, but even that wouldn't have given us much hope for more if we hadn't been watching the snow report for Sunrise Ski Park.  Sunrise is about 40 minutes from Pinetop as you head east toward Greer.  It has downhill skiing/snowboarding hills, sledding hills and cross-country skiing trails.  The previous weekend, our Young Life leaders took their students to Sunrise for a day of sledding.  Our original plan was to spend three nights and two days in snowy bliss.  We stayed at a cabin in Premiere Vacation Club at Roundhouse in Pinetop.  The cabins looked like double-wides with a facade of log cabin pine.  Each cabin had a little porch near the front door which remained unused.  The inside was very nice, but whenever I looked at the wrought-iron light fixtures with antler motifs in them, I heard Gaston from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" singing "I use antlers for all of my decorating..."  We didn't spend much time in our cabin.

The cross-country trails in Sunrise Ski Park were not groomed for classical cross country skiing, which involves forming two grooves into the snow to guide the skis so that all you had to do was focus on going forward.  Instead, it was groomed for skate skiing, which was great for Eric, but not so great for beginning skiers, like the kids.  Furthermore, the skis that Sunrise Rentals had for the boys really were horrible--1/4 inch thick plastic sheets with some buckles to hold their boots to the skiis.  By the end of the day, when they were tired, those plastic sheets weren't strong enough to keep their shoes straight, causing so many problems, especially for my youngest. Skiing in Arizona is a lot different from skiing in the north because the temperatures get in the 40's and 50's by mid-afternoon.  We all started out in the morning with light winter coats, hats, and gloves because the wind was gusting.  However, within thirty minutes, most of us had shed everything but the jacket.  I was wearing a long-sleeved bicycle jersey with pockets in the back that soon became stuffed with hats and gloves from me and a couple of other kids. I probably looked like either a hunchback or Aunt Fanny in "Robots".  We had fun and challenges throughout the day.  We skied twice for a couple of hours each time with a break in between for lunch and hot cocoa at the ski lodge.  The cocoa break allowed us to watch downhill skiers and snowboarders.  At least one of the kids wants to return and learn how to snowboard.  The afternoon session was a little more challenging, with sticky, slushy snow, a long initial climb, and then a descent down the same hill at the end.  John had to stop halfway through the loop and walk, dragging his skis and poles behind him.  Eric and Elizabeth were the only two who skied all the way back down the hill to the parking lot.  By the time we reached the hill again to go down, my legs were shot from not exercising regularly.  The whole time there was only one other cross-country skier on the trail with us and we met up with him two or three times during the day.  It was a good day.  That night, we realized that we should have brought sunscreen and pain relief medication for the sore muscles.  The next day, instead of sledding, we decided to utilize the club's pool.  It was lovely--heated to just below skin temperature with a hot tub that helped our aching muscles.  After swimming we packed, checked out, and headed home.  Below are some pictures from our trip:

Driving along 60 East

This is the start of a section of road flanked by rounded columns of rock standing on end that seemed like people lining the road to encourage you to keep going.

I loved catching a glimpse of the canyon lands and trying to get a pictures. If you don't like heights, like my husband, this view creates different feelings.  His eyes were glued to the road for more than one reason.

This rounded rock formation reminded me of scenes from "Cars."  It seemed as if we drove all the way around it, though I know we couldn't have.  The blurry bit in the front is a bit of plant sticking up.  All of these pictures were taken from the passenger seat of our Chevy Suburban.

Another beautiful rock formation.  So many of them point up to the sky, as if they want to direct our eyes to the One who made them.

Skiing Pictures
Here is my oldest.  If you have spent winters in the northern parts of the U.S., it just seems wrong to be cross-country skiing with only a long sleeve t-shirt, but if you bundled up as if you were skiing in Minnesota or Illinois, you would overheat.  For me, the biggest challenge was remembering how to ski.  I loved pushing myself into the classical lunge on the straight paths, but had some moments of panic as I had to re-learn how to snowplow downhill with a curve.  Everyone fell going downhill at some point--even Eric, my expert.

Three kids waiting for the youngest to catch up with them.  This was at the top of a long hill.  This was taken during our afternoon run, when the snow was sticky, which made it easier getting up than if the snow had been really slick.  Kyle is wearing a light jacket, Elizabeth has a jacket wrapped around her waist in case she gets cold, and Jessi is wearing fleece.  No one is wearing mittens or hats because they aren't needed.

John skiing up at the end of the climb.  Behind him is the downhill ski slopes.  I think this climb took most of his energy.  Eric stayed with him to encourage him going up.  John is also wearing a light jacket with no mittens or hat.

This is a picture of the whole gang, including Eric.  He is wearing skate skiis.  Skate cross-country skiing is just what it sounds like.  You push your legs in the same motion as when ice skating while wearing long, wide boards on your feet instead of short, thin blades.  You can see the "V" marks Eric has made in the snow.  All the kids LOVED cross country skiing, especially Elizabeth, who is the small red dot farthest from me.  We are thinking of making this an annual pilgrimage, though we might try getting some skis for the boys at pro shops in Pinetop  until they are big enough to get decent boots and skis from the Sunrise facility.

January 13, 2012


We hit our three year anniversary of my husband being laid off by Motorola and will be celebrating our third year of living in Arizona in April.  The house we found was and still is, beautiful.  The people who lived before us did a great job of updating it to present-day standards.  And yet, I am starting to want to make it mine.  It all began when we were getting ready for Christmas doing "Christmas cleaning."  Christmas cleaning involves the refrigerator and blinds and other "extras."  The blinds were awful, but the worst ones were the blinds by the window at the sink.  Food from dishes had been flung far up the blinds.  As I tried to get the food off, I discovered that some of them had been stained.  "Why would someone put up blinds in a kitchen window that doesn't have privacy issues?," I asked.  My husband agreed with me and off came the blinds, making the kitchen with its low ceiling and rust red walls a little bit brighter and giving me an unobstructed view when I sent my kids out in the back to play.  As an added bonus, I have a window ledge to put things, once I figure out what we should our could put there.  But even before this, little ideas were starting to blossom in my head.  Okay, some of them are big ideas requiring a lot of work and maybe even a lot of money.

One idea would be to change the kids' rooms into kids' colors and maybe change their closets as much as I can.  The girls want a sea theme and the boys want a space theme. The girls need help in their closet to help keep things more organized and I have ideas, but not lots of time to work out the details.  I would love to change my bedroom from  mocha brown to something that goes with our new coverlet.  I have also dreamed from the moment we found the house of putting plantation shutters over the windows in our bedroom that overlook the living room (yes, you are reading that correctly) for both privacy and sound reduction purposes.  In reality, if money were no object, I would replace them with stained glass windows custom fitted and able to be opened when desired.  If I could, I would convert the sliding glass doors in the family room that are currently covered with bookshelves into french doors with a security lock to prevent young children from getting into the pool area without adult supervision.  I would also change the windows in the dining room into french doors with security locks because it, also would have access to the pool area, where we now have a dining set in the pool area, thanks to my grandma.

Raised beds built by MWH*
Most of our efforts this year will involve the outside.  We are in the process of converting part of our side RV pit into a raised vegetable garden.  Because Arizona is part of  opposite world, February is the best time to begin planting for a spring garden.  By summer, the sun will have burnt everything to a crisp.  Then, we can start another garden sometime in September or October.  Over two weekends, I worked with my son, Kyle and Eric shoveling the rocks covering the dirt into a big pile.  Last weekend, Eric bought the wood and some weatherproofing stain to build the bed.  This weekend, he will finish installing the irrigation system that is essential to growing things in Arizona.  Then, we have to buy a truckload of dirt and some plants and seeds to start it.  As the season progresses, there are plans to put up a sun shade to screen the plants a bit, since this area gets a lot of sun through most of the day.  The previous owners loved palm trees and we have 27 in our front and back yards, mostly in the back.  I love the palm trees in the back because they provide a lot of shade in the pool area, but less in love with the front ones.  I would love to replace one set of three in the front with a cocktail tree--grapefruit, oranges and lemon trees planted together to make one big tree.  I would also love to replace some bushes in the back with rose bushes, which also seem to thrive surprisingly well in Arizona.  We will see how much gets done this year other than the vegetable garden.

*MWH = My Wonderful Husband

January 1, 2012

Bridgetender Quarterly Update

We made it through another nine weeks of school with a week-long break at Thanksgiving to see the Minneapolis relatives and a partial break in October to see the Memphis relatives.  Here is a summary of what we learned this quarter:

Tapestry of Grace is our program for both History and Literature.  We read through The Great Depression through WWII.  Elizabeth learned about FDR and Joseph Stalin in depth and Kyle and Jessi learned about Winston Churchill in depth.  John and I read through _American in the Time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt_.  The kids all learned about Anne Frank, Corrie Ten Boom,  and the Holocaust.  We also learned about Japanese internment.  We worked on a timeline of WWII, starting with initial German aggression in 1937.  We ended with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, prompting the end of the war.

Elizabeth enjoyed reading _The Lord of the Flies_, _Our Town_ and _The mportance of Being Earnest_, and _The Red Pony_  by John Steinbeck.  Jessi and Kyle read _Mr. Popper's Penguins_, _Mary Poppins_, and _Homer Price_.  John read a lot of classic stories, like _Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel_, _A New Coat for Anna_ and _Madeline_.

We are still a Math U See family.  Elizabeth finished Zeta, which is mainly math with decimals and percent and started Pre-Algebra.  We are trying to get her motivated to work extra hard in math so that she can get through the lesson in record time and hopefully catch up by summer time.  Jessi finished Delta, which is high level multiplication and division, and started Epsilon, which is fractions.  She is also behind in math, mainly due to problems with long division.  Kyle is on track to finish Math U See Gamma by the end of the year.  John is doing well in Alpha, though he needs a little extra work to catch up.

My friend, Tina and I are having a friend teach creative writing this year to all the kids twice a month as part of our co-op.  She worked with the three oldest of our kids and two of Tina's kids on writing a newspaper and creating a radio drama.  The kids really enjoyed the exercise and are learning a lot.  Elizabeth is very creative in her descriptions.  Jessi likes the human interest stories and Kyle likes fact-based articles. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows our kids.  She also taught John and Tina's daughter some basic storytelling techniques.  All the children loved learning from Miss Jenny.

Elizabeth got through eight modules of General Science covering The Scientific Method, the History of Science, and overview of the basic studies of science.  Jessi and Kyle  worked with Tina's oldest kids going through all but the last two chapters of Astronomy.  John started reading _Christian Liberty Nature Readers Book 1_ with Tina's daughter.  When we finish Astronomy, we will be learning about marine life.

We have a Spanish-speaking friend come twice a month to help us learn, mainly by speaking it.  He taught basic conversational questions and instructions that I could use with the kids.  The biggest problem in this area is getting me to talk in Spanish, since it isn't native.  I think attending a bi-lingual church is helping in the matter, at least for me.

Fine Arts:
The kids are taking classes once a month from an art teacher.  There have been some creative things from the Tapestry of Grace curriculum, like making posters and collages and play-dough scultpures.  The  kids also like checking out drawing books at the library and working on them without any help from me, probably because I wouldn't be much help in the area.  I like their independent spirits.  The primary art form of choice currently is manga.  Elizabeth is getting quite good at it.  My efforts at music became rather stalled this quarter.

I spent a few days reviewing the schedule I have with the kids to make sure that I spend an equal amount of time with them and add time for me and time with them individually.  God has been really gracious in showing me a potentially really good plan.  Another revelation is that there might be a better way to manage all the papers they create than three ring binders, which are currently NOT used by anybody.  I switched to seven pocket file folders for everyone.