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.