Where we’ve been…

Check this page to read a bit about where we’ve been and what we’ve been up to…

Enjoy this ‘Year of Discovery Movie Trailer‘ that Nico created (week of 8/14/16).  Hopefully the actual movie will be coming out in 2017:)

March 31 – Nico writing on the road in Colorado about the last few weeks on the road

We left Athens on Wednesday, March 22 and hit the road again.  Our first stop was Auburn, Alabama where we stayed with my mom’s old friend Merrie.  They have been friends since high school so mom was very excited to spend some time with her.  We also met her husband and their three kids, Harper, E.V. and Charlie.  Oscar and I even got to play some kick ball with Charlie and Eve before we had dinner and then went to Merrie’s grandparent’s house to stay for the night.

The next morning, we all got up and dead a cross fit workout (death by burpees or something like that) and then we got on the road, headed for Memphis.  You can read my blog post about our time at the National Civil Rights Museum here.

After spending the morning at the Lorraine Motel, we had lunch and then continued our travels west, this time to Arkansas and Lake Ouachita State Park. We stayed in a campground at Lake Ouachita for a night. There was a huge storm that came as soon as we got there, so we stayed in the van playing card games. The next day we took a hike, and then moved on to Dallas.

Craig, Dad’s friend from growing up, his wife Kim and Craig’s 11-year-old son Owen let us stay at their house in Dallas for a couple nights after Lake Ouachita. Craig and my Dad grew up just a few houses away from each other and have been friends now for a long time.  My Dad was really excited to be able to visit Craig and his family, especially since none of us had met his wife Kim or his son Owen. During our visit, we went to a video game museum.

The main thing at the Video Game Museum was the timeline of video games, showing how graphics improved over the years. It had a bunch of the 1970s and 80s’ video games, then it had modern video games and showed how the graphics evolved.

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My mom, playing some old game called Pitfall.

It was really cool because there were many parts where there were just old computers and old games in a really long line. There was also a replica of a teenager’s bedroom in the 1980’s. It had all sorts of posters of Ferris Bueler’s day off, that other movie that had Madonna in it, some Mario stuff, a duck hunter game on his computer, a tiny uncomfortable bed, all of that stuff. It brought mom and dad back to the 1980’s (it was kind of weird how excited they were to be back in the 1980s). Owen and I had a blast there.

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The culprit

That night, there was an awesome/scary hailstorm with golf ball-sized hail raining down from the sky. My mom got bonked on the head when she went out to try and cover our van windshield with a towel.

My mom and I came up with a cool science project for me to learn about the scientific method, even though I’ve already been studying it for the past three years. IMG_3105I decided to make a solar oven and try to cook a biscuit at different altitudes and see where it cooked better. My hypothesis was that it would cook better at lower altitudes. I thought the air pressure and the temperature would have something to do with it.

After leaving Craig and Owen’s house, we strolled into a nice beautiful spot at Lake Colorado City State Park in West Texas. The place was totally empty except for us, which is like only the 2nd or 3rd time on the YoD that we’ve had a whole campground to ourselves. We tried to cook the biscuit in my solar oven, but it got nowhere in three hours, so we cooked it over the fire that night instead. There were a bunch of super flat rocks that led to the water. We went out to the water in the middle of the day to swim.

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Mom and Dad at Lake Colorado City, with a lovely power plant across the way:)

The water was so still! I even took a picture of the water and turned it upside-down. It looked like everything was totally normal. Mom, Oscar and I built a fire using only a magnifying glass. At night, we went out to the rocks to watch the sunset. The sky had no clouds that night, so we stayed up stargazing.

It took us a while to get through Texas, but we eventually did. We got into New Mexico and went to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which is basically several hundred miles of caves hundreds of feet below the ground.  We walked about 1.5 miles through the caves and saw all kinds of stalactites, stalagmites, columns (all called ‘speleothems’) and tons of other cool stuff.IMG_3126  This cave was different than Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, which was formed by rivers running through them.  This one was formed by water dripping down through the ground and eroding the limestone layers, which is why there were so many more speleothems in these caves.

 

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After Carlsbad Caverns, we crashed at Bottomless Lakes State Park, New Mexico for a night, then left in the morning for Roswell, NM.

Have you ever heard of the Aliens of Roswell? Apparently a UFO crashed in Roswell in 1947 and a couple of people saw four aliens; two dead, one dying and one standing up next to them. Then the government came and basically killed the aliens and covered up any trace that it ever happened.IMG_3130 You can take it as seriously as you want. They had built a UFO research laboratory in honor of this and turned it into a museum. We went there. They had all of the big UFO sightings and encounters with aliens. It had diagrams and pictures. It had a whole section on IFO’s (Identified flying objects such as street lamps, hats, buttons, drawings, etc,) and UFO’s. There were all sorts of information on the Roswell incident and the supposed “cover-up,” there was stuff about sightings all over the world.

IMG_3132After having seen the museum, we went to a mountain covered in snow outside of Santa Fe in the Santa Fe National Forest. It was there that we realized that the west is still really cold and that we did not pack warm enough for this part of the trip.  The biscuit didn’t cook again even with plastic wrap all around it. We gave up project and had them all over fire that night. They cook really well in our cooking pot over the fire.  The biscuits were delicious! It was so crazy freezing cold in morning. We packed the van and left as soon as possible.

 

 

Then we went to Great Sand Dunes National Park in Southern Colorado. They were suuuuuuper fun even though it was really tiring to climb up them.

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My Dad took this picture of me jumping off one of the dunes…suuuuper cool!

They are the highest in the country. Some of the tallest are over 400 feet tall, though they look tiny when surrounded by mountain peaks that reach 14,000 feet.  We rented these sand sled things but they didn’t really work for me. Oscar and Dad did okay on them so I didn’t think it was fair that it worked for them and not me. It was more fun to kind of ski down on our feet.  Here are some pictures from the dunes and our campsite, where once again, we were basically the only ones there.

We are now headed north and will spend this weekend with friends in the Denver/Boulder area before we go to Steamboat Springs on Sunday for a week of skiing with the Waters family!  Now we are happy that it is still cold and snowy here:)

March 11 – Alys, covering February and our time in Louisville/So. IN; skiing in W. Virginia; visit to Washington DC; Harrisonburg, VA  and Philly

Late January and the first half of February found us visiting Floyds Knobs, IN and Louisville, KY, as we continue to check out different potential hometowns and reconnect with old friends. Turns out we are not the only ones making big life changes these days: our dear Detta (my mom) is also preparing to put the family home and farm on the market soon. We helped her by sorting through the house, filling up an enormous dumpster and sending a roomfuls to Goodwill. Oh, and I got to burn a lot of dry wood that my dad had collected over decades, which was incredibly therapeutic!

 

Our visit coincided with our nephew Lucas’ birthday. I can’t believe it still, even as I write it, but Lucas is EIGHTEEN. I don’t even want to think about how old that makes me. The schmootz on his face in the picture below is from the Dance Marathon project which he basically runs at his high school. He and his colleagues have raised $100k a year for children with cancer with this project. Millennials, eh? I am so glad these young folks will be in charge of the world when I’m old!

Also in Floyds Knobs, we began celebrating Oscar’s birthday. For the first time, he had a cake and presents with our Indiana family. The cake you see in the photo was a special request – chocolate, with donuts, strawberries and whipped cream. That’s right.

The real meaty part of our visit was the first half of February, in Louisville, KY. Our dear friends Amy and Marlon loaned us their house while they visited family in Nicaragua. How generous is that? I had lived in Louisville about 20 years ago, and staying at their place gave us the perfect opportunity to reconnect with old friends and see how the city has changed over the years. To our delight, we found a thriving social justice and local food movement there. We visited the Food Literacy Project, a working farm dedicated to educating youth and their communities about healthy food. We took a couple of days to volunteer with Lots of Food, an urban agriculture project founded and run by Amanda Fuller on a small plot of land in the Portland neighborhood. We used the opportunity to do some of our homework for the Permaculture Design Course we are taking. In the photo we are measuring the contours to see how to better conserve water in the garden. Then, we went across the street and volunteered at The Table, a farm-to-fork, pay-as-you-can restaurant. Nico and I worked cleaning menus and washing dishes while Oscar and Danny bused tables, all the while getting to know more about Louisville’s growing local food movement.

We also found the social justice/resistance movement in Louisville to be not only alive and well, but thriving. On our first evening in town, we attended a pro-immigrant and refugee rally organized by Mayor Fischer. Other days found us at Senator McConnell’s office, and at a Standing Rock support rally. I especially enjoyed reconnecting with dear friends Father Jim Flynn – whose friendship launched my career in international affairs 20 years ago – and David and Mary Horvath, who were partners in crime during my years in Nicaragua. And we got to meet some of the up- and-coming folks who are at the forefront of today’s social justice efforts.

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By mid-February, we were headed back east to join our friends for our fifth annual ski trip. This involves a whopping 19 children and 14 adults. Just check out that dinner table in the pic below.  This year, we met at Timberline Resort in West Virginia, to ski (and as the weather hit 50 and 60 degrees, roll in the mud). Nico and Oscar were thrilled beyond words to be back with their buddies. Oscar skiied his first black, and was so into it he didn’t even take his helmet off while inside the house (below).

These kiddos have been together since they were 4 (and in Oscar’s case, since birth). For fun, Yari recreated this photo of Nico, , Liam, Rami, Amaia and Arkadi from 2012. Do kids get any cuter than this?

After spending President’s Day on the slopes, our family parted ways for the first time in 8 months. Danny flew out to join his three brothers and best buddy Van for a back-country ski trip, while the kids and I headed to DC to do fun things like dentist and tax appointments. We did manage to pack in some fun time with friends though – especially Claudia and Tavon!

Oh, and we continued to celebrate Oscar’s birthday with his best buddy Oren. Oscar and Oren, born Feb 26 and 27, 2011, respectively, have shared their birthday parties from the beginning. This year they celebrated at Zava Zone, followed by a pinata at Oren’s, followed by a rousing game of Infection Tag at the park led by big brother extraordinaire Tavon, followed by asado at Belen and Juan’s house. We were worn out!

Given we did not get our fill of Soula and Seth time when we visited them in their new home in Harrisonburg in January, we departed DC and headed back their way.  Although they have only recently moved in to their new home on 4 acres approaching the West Virginia mountains, they have already created an oasis their that is warm and welcoming.  This visit we were able to spend a few hours each day helping them with projects around their land, which we all loved. And we celebrated Oscar’s birthday yet again, prompting him to claim he was not actually six, but really eight years old 🙂

We also got to spend one evening with the Schirch-Goldberg family before hitting the road again.

From there we headed north to Philadelphia to spend some time with the Philly Malecs and to see Abbey perform in her 8th grade Spring Musical – Sister Act.  We were blown away by the talent on the stage, including Abbey’s rap where she rhymed “apostle” with “gospel” – not your everyday rap lyrics:)  We also got to visit the Franklin Institute in downtown Philly, see Cassie play some indoor soccer, hang out with Meredith’s parents, and watch Jayce and Nico morph into one person – JaNico – as they tend to do when they are together.  Jason and Meredith had to head to New York for a few days so we got to stay a couple extra nights for some extra time with our nieces and nephew.  What a blessing to spend this time with the Philly Malecs!

We left Philly on Tuesday, March 7 to begin our journey west toward Floyds Knobs.  We stopped for two days to explore New River Gorge National River in West Virginia.  New River is reportedly one of the oldest rivers in the world and it was so good for us to get back into the woods for a bit.  We had an entire campground to ourselves as, I guess, no one else thinks it is a good idea to camp right now.  Nonetheless, we had an amazing time there.  Oscar and Nico were not deterred by the 43 (or so) degree water or the 55 (or so) degree air temperature as they took the polar plunge in Glade Creek.  Check the video here for proof.

We woke up yesterday to a rainstorm after two beautifully sunny days and decided it was time to head to Detta’s in Indiana.  But, if you’re wondering what a family who lives in a van does when it’s raining, here is a video that I made with the boys, called “Chin Man.”

Today we get to go support our nephew Lucas and his friends in the Dance Marathon at Floyd Central as they work to help raise thousands of dollars for kids with cancer.  We’ll be here in Indiana for a couple more days before we head back down to Athens, Georgia to benefit once again from the gracious hospitality of the Athens Malecs.  Hasta Prontito!

January 26 – Danny writing from Floyds Knobs, Indiana

Just wanted to share a brief update about the past few weeks since we have landed at Detta’s and will be between here and Louisville, Kentucky for the next 3 weeks.

Nico’s last update left off with our visit with my cousin AJ and his wife Kathleen and their daughter Emma.  We had a lovely visit with them for a few nights.  We were even lucky enough to have Emma as a student at Road School one day and we took an afternoon field trip to Jacksonville Beach.  We had a really nice time with them and even talked them in to coming to hang with us for the day up in Fernandina Beach.

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Nico, Emma, and Oscar buried at JAX Beach

Next stop, after checking out Big Talbot Island State Park, was to visit the new home of our good friends Aaron and Brandy.  They have just recently moved in to a beautiful duplex, the “Peace House,” located just one block off Fernandina Beach.  I can’t imagine a better spot for these two.  We had a blissful time getting a taste of their life their, including lots of time on the beach, riding the waves on some of their surf boards and sea kayaks, beach football, visiting the historic Fernandina Beach downtown, visiting Aaron’s art studio, and enjoying another visit with our St. Simon’s family – Jen, Ethan and Aiden (Van had to stay home and work -booooo!!!) as well as a visit from AJ, Kathleen and Emma.  Our time on Fernandina would mark our 6th barrier island visit on the South Georgia/North Florida coast over the past two weeks as well as our transition back north.  We are grateful for such a blessed time with some of my oldest friends and time on these amazing islands.

After a family Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at the Peace House and an afternoon on the beach, we headed out on Martin Luther King Day for Athens and two nights at Andrew and Ashley’s house.  As always, we were welcomed with open arms by our Athens family and enjoyed catching up with them for a moment before beginning our trip back to Washington, DC.

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got a chance for some Nathan squeezes…so blessed:)

We realized a few weeks back that we were feeling called to be in DC around inauguration time this year to be part of whatever nonviolent witnesses would materialize to say “no” to Trump’s campaign rhetoric promising walls, registries, bans on human beings, division and exclusion and yes to community, human rights, justice and inclusion.

We drove on Wednesday from Athens straight to Harrisonburg in order to visit our dear friends Soula and Seth in their beautiful new home.  Always does us well to visit with these two and to soak in some of their love.  This visit was no exception, though it was way too short.  We hung all we could until lunch time on Thursday, and then we got on the road toward DC.img_2623

We arrived in DC on the Thursday before inauguration.  I joined an organizing meeting with Witness Against Torture that evening as they planned a nonviolent witness against torture on Inauguration Day.  I had helped organize past actions with Witness Against Torture many years ago and therefore we thought this would be a good group to join on Inauguration Day.  We were also welcomed by our good friends Yari, Michael, Arkadi and Oren to stay at their house through the weekend.  Alys and I were on our bikes by 5:30am on inauguration day in order to join our friends at Witness Against Torture.  We spent the morning mostly in silence, half of the group in orange jumpsuits and black hoods carrying signs decrying torture and calling for the prison at Guantanamo to be closed.  It was a powerful day of prayer and witness and a meaningful way for us to mark President Trump’s first day in office.

Yari kindly offered to keep Nico and Oscar on both Friday and Saturday, which gave Alys and I the freedom and opportunity to participate in the action on Friday as well as the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday.  You have no doubt already seen much coverage on the Women’s March and you can also check out Alys’ blog to read some of her reflections on the day.

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Yari, with Oscar and Oren

Being back in DC is always a gift for us.  We were able to visit with lots of friends, attend St. Stephen’s (our beloved DC church home) and hit the streets once again in our nation’s capital.

We hit the road once again early Monday morning and drove 10 hours straight to Detta’s house here in Floyds Knobs, just in time for a delicious dinner with Detta, Rob, Lucas and Trace.  We are spending this week at Detta’s house and will be going to Louisville on Monday to house sit for a few weeks for our good friends Amy and Marlon.  Until next time, peace and blessings be yours:)

img_2364January 13 – Nico writing from Jacksonville, Florida

We left Athens on January 2nd and got back on the road.  We headed south to spend time on Georgia’s barrier islands.  So far we have visited 5 of them.  It has been a great time of year to visit them as there have not been too many people and the weather has been really nice, although I do miss the snow:(

We first stopped in Savannah, Georgia.  We walked around the historic downtown area and saw the Savannah River.  img_2385Here we are standing in front of the City Government Building.

We then went to Skidaway Island and stayed the night there in a state park campground.  Right when we got there, we unpacked, got on our bikes and went on a cool bike ride through the state park, and in the morning we took a hike through the woods, and we saw a beautiful turtle when we got back.

On our hike, the underbrush was HUGE. Spanish moss everywhere, young palm trees all over the place, bushes scraping your leg at every turn… There was some pretty weird wildlife on Skidaway, too.

img_2392After skidaway Island, we went on a ferry to Sapelo Island. The ferry ride was really long and it started to rain halfway through, but we all had fun trying to hold onto the boat as the wind blew onto our faces.

After a bumpy ride from the ferry dock to our campsite, we set up camp in no time. We still had a couple hours until sunset that we could use for whatever we wanted. The only downside to the island was the bugs…

The sunrises on Sapelo Island were really, really, ridiculously pretty. I think they almost tied with Lake Superior.img_2395

On the Sapelo beach, the sand was super fluffy, but the water was cold. Our mom refused to get into the water, so Oscar and I had to chase her into it.  We also did the traditional – dig a hole in the sand and bury ourselves.  It was my idea to bury myself, but when my dad drew the heart around us both I was too deep to get out.

Sapelo island was a cotton and sugar cane plantation before the civil war. Thomas Spalding owned roughly 400 enslaved Africans on the island. The majority of the slaves came from Sierra Leon, and developed their own language called Gullah Geeche which is derived from Krio in Sierra Leon. After the civil war, though, most of  his slaves stayed on the island and the whole sugar and cotton thing ended. The island became home to a big African-American community, and to this day, the same community is still there with all the history and stuff. Today, there are only 48 people total living on the island, all descendants of the first slaves there.  On the first day there, we had a tour during the morning with one of the descendants – RJ Grovner.  He drove us around the island and showed us where some of the main plantations were, where the original slaves lived, some of the slave burial grounds and some other interesting things about the island.

After Sapelo, we crossed over on a bridge to Jekyll Island and spent the night. We rode our bikes out onto a pier and watched the sun go down before going back to camp and eating some dinner.img_2414

After taking down camp, we had until 4:00 pm to do whatever we wanted. At 4:00, we were supposed to meet our really good friends Jen and Van, and their two kids Ethan(12) and Aiden(10). We spent the morning on Driftwood Beach, climbing trees, hopping on rocks, etc. Then we went onto St. Simon’s Island and had some incredible pizza.

After our pizza lunch (sorry, no picture), we went to Fort Frederica National Monument. Fort Frederica is a historical place that was built before the United States Revolution. img_2438It was meant to be a military outpost to protect against a possible Spanish invasion from the south.  It has the ruins of shops, houses, barracks and watch towers, because not too long after the revolution, the whole place burned. We are at the Barracks in this picture.

We finally got to the Waters house and played with all of them for the rest of the day. Ethan and Aiden were really fun. We did a ping-pong tournament and we played basketball a ton. My parents’ friends Aaron and his wife Brandy came over to celebrate Aaron’s birthday. They both spent the night at the Waters’ house.img_2469

My mom and dad got to rock out on their fitness thing. They went to hot yoga with Jenn on Saturday and to cross-fit with Van on Monday, which made them really happy.

When we got there on Friday, we got to go watch Aiden’s first ever basketball game. They lost 16-14 but Aiden scored with 8 seconds left, and then on the next play he stole the pass and got fouled. So his team got the ball and he went up for a shot right when the buzzer went off (but unfortunately missed). It was very dramatic.

Everyone played a big basketball game one day out front of their house. My mom made like a million shots. Ethan was on fire too. img_2487One time Aiden started laughing so hard we had to stop the game for a while for a laugh break. And one time Van flattened Oscar like a pancake and he scraped his arm, but Jenn gave him a chocolate covered cherry and an ice pack and he was fine.  I think he over reacted a little, like always.

We played on their PS4 a lot. Mostly sports stuff. Oscar wasn’t the best person to have in that situation because I couldn’t play my favorite PS4 and Xbox game STAR WARS Battlefront in front of him because my parents won’t let me. He also was annoying every time we tried to get out the mini roller bikes and scooters. He would take out the last one and one of us wouldn’t be on one.

Van was really funny, and he was the dude to ask questions, Jen was so curious and extremely, very, very, really nice. Aiden always understood your feelings, and if you were sad he would be really funny and nice to you. He was the one who showed me around their house. Ethan was really compassionate, and he didn’t get too caught up on things like Aiden. He would challenge me to a game of FIFA when he could and then Ping Pong. Aaron was awesome. He reminded me so much of our friend Tavon; Cool with the adults but also awesome with the kids. Aaron would crack potty humor jokes, or pick up Aiden or Ethan, etc. They loved him. Brandy was really soft and funny. She would always put others in front of her, and everyone liked her.­­­­­­­­­ We all had a great time together. We even made huge posters and signs saying happy birthday for Aaron.

We went to Jen’s school where she teaches 3rd grade. We took some markers and painted for an hour, while jamming out to the Hamilton soundtrack. Ethan and Aiden and I worked in the classroom, while my mom and Jen claimed they needed more space so they went out into the hallway. Eventually the kids finished first, so we went into the hallway and played until Jen kicked us out into the playground. There was a big wooden tower that you could climb, some ordinary playground material (Slide, Jungle Jim, sliding pole, etc), it had a chess station with three foot tall chess pieces and a basketball and soccer court. Eventually we went to a pastries store and bought cupcakes and a cake. It was Aaron’s birthday, so we surprised him when he got home with the posters up, the cake on the table, and all of us hiding then jumping out when he came in. He loved it. We ate some cupcakes and then we did a ping-pong tournament. It was double elimination, and everyone had fun. I lost in my third game though. There was a prize for the winner, but the game kind of burned down before anyone won. The next day, we said our goodbyes and head off for Cumberland Island.img_2474

After St. Simon’s Island, we went on to Cumberland Island. We boarded the Cumberland Queen II with our bikes and our backpacks full of food and gear for a 3-night stay.img_2490

When we got to the island, we had to ride like 3 miles on our bikes with our hiking backpacks on our back.  It was soooo hard and I didn’t think I would make it.

Cumberland island has lots of wild horses.  Here is a picture of one of the ones we saw while returning from the beach at sunset one night.img_2531

There was a very dedicated squirrel that stole our food three days in a row. It would jump from the branch above and shimmy down the rope holing it up, then hang on with its hind legs and tear a whole through our camping bags. There are now big holes in all three of our back-country bags, so now we need to get new ones.

There are many, many shark teeth all over the island. The ranger told us to look along the “Main Road” for them, because to build the main road they took sand from the beach and dumped it there, along with seashells, fossils and shark teeth. img_2502Oscar was  a maniac at finding them. He could spot them from bicycle speed, and skid to a stop, and a few moments later, he would yell that he had found another. We found 22 shark teeth in total (Oscar found like 16 of them). Here is a vlog of Oscar talking about his shark teeth discoveries.

Click here to see Oscar’s vlog.

Cumberland Island is the biggest Island of Georgia barrier islands. Like many of the other many barrier islands, there were Native Americans there first, and then there were conflicts over ownership between the French, the British, and the Spanish, then pretty much all of the trees were cut down (Like other barrier islands) and the island was turned into a huge cotton and sugar plantation, and like the other islands, rich people all over the country came and built huge mansions.

One of the latest people to come and build a huge house there was Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate, and he was the one who built the mansion Dungeness (The picture above), a 42 room house for his daughter, and it burned to the ground in 1955. Only the skeleton of the building remains now. Today the majority of Cumberland Island is National Park land, and is covered in second growth forest of live oak and pine and lots of beautiful flora and fauna.

While we were checking out Dungeness, my mom decided to plop down and take a nap.  My Dad, Oscar and I were sitting not far from her talking and we saw this armadillo start to circle my mom and snip her feet.  It was really funny.  Here is a picture of it.img_2516

Every day we were there, we would have to ride down the sandy main road, so we could explore the beaches, marshes, Dungeness and other cool things on the south part of the island. The Main road is six miles long, there and back from our campsite.  We weren’t able to go into the wilderness area in the north because they were having a hog hunt up there to reduce the hog population on the island.  Sounds like the hogs need a natural predator out there.  Click here to see a vlog that my dad made of our daily commute.

We left Cumberland Island on the ferry yesterday morning and now we are with my dad’s cousin AJ, and his wife Kathleen and their daughter, Emma in Jacksonville, Florida. We will spend the next two nights with them and then we are going to head up to Fernandina Beach to visit Aaron and Brandy at their house there on the beach.

 

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Me, as the Invisible Man for Halloween

December 2 – Nico writing from Athens, Georgia

We have been in Athens, Georgia, since Halloween. In this Where We’ve Been, I’ll explain what life is like here!

So, since we are planning to stay here at least until Christmas, we have parked the van in our family’s driveway, and now it is only for day use. We are staying with my dad’s brother, Andrew, and his wife, Ashley. They have three kids, two of which are Oscar’s age – Mason (6), August (4), and Nathan (1). They have a tiny apartment right by their house, which is where we’re staying.

During the weekdays, my dad goes to work with Andrew (he builds homes and furniture) on Mondays and Wednesdays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he stays home and helps with school. My mom goes to a non profit farm and helps around there on the days dad does not work, and stays home the days dad does go to work. We usually have school in the morning and in the afternoons, we do a “Field Trip” as my mom calls it. We go somewhere like the library, a museum or a park.

I split my subjects between my parents. My mom teaches writing and science. Dad works with literature and history, and I have to do math every day. I do 20 – 30 minutes of Khan Academy learning the common core stuff. Writing is usually my novel, Hit, and science is really cool. We get to dissect animals.

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Here we are dissecting the earth worm

My mom ordered a dissection kit of an earthworm, a grasshopper, a crayfish and a frog. Every few days we do one. Literature and history, I like to blend together. I finished book three of MARCH by John Lewis, and I had to do an essay about it. Now I have to read the civil rights act chapter of A Young People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and do an essay on that. Then I have to do another essay comparing them. Before Thanksgiving I did a project on Galileo. I researched and made a presentation on him to my family, and then copied his method studying the sunspots and seeing how the sun moved. He was the one who discovered that the sun spun around, but he thought it was like the earth. We learned that since the sun is plasma and not a solid, some parts of the sun move right while some move left, and some move up and down, and parts move at different speeds, and it was crazy.

Oscar’s school is much more simple. He does a journal entry for the day, including three sentences (two if they are really juicy), and a picture that describes it all.

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My Dad and Oscar doing school

Then he does about 20 math problems (number sentences, greater than, less than, equals, etc.), and then he either writes or reads a bit. Writing he will do on an app that gives him words which he needs to spell out on the iPad, and then he has to write them down in his journal. Sometimes he uses a program on the iPad called Osmo, which has reading and math games, and sometimes he does Khan Academy like me.

When we are not in school or checking out Athens, we spend a lot of time on the Malec trampoline or playing with our cousins in the back yard. Next, Uncle Andrew, my dad and me are going to build an end table from scratch and we will decorate the surface with river rocks that we collected from all around the country.

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Nathan and me on the trampoline:)

We also got the chance to spend a weekend in Roswell, Georgia with my dad’s brother Ryan, his wife Cathy and our cousins Anna, Greyson and Grant.  Then, we spent Thanksgiving week on the road.  We first traveled to Washington, DC and I got to hang out all weekend with my friends.  Then, we went up to Philadelphia and spent Thanksgiving with all 21 of the Malecs – that’s 10 adults and 11 kids.  We played lots of soccer, ate good food and then we headed back to Athens on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

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Our Roswell Cousins
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All the Malec cousins except August and Nathan in Philly
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Oscar and Nico with Claudia, our dear friend in DC

We are going to leave here probably sometime just after Christmas and we will be hitting the road again for several weeks, maybe spending some time in Atlanta and then heading south to the Georgia coast, St. Simon’s Island, Jacksonville, Florida and then Fernandina Beach. It will be good to be on the road again, but I think we all will miss having family right next door, so we must enjoy it while we can!

Here are some more pictures from our time in Athens. Also, you can check out a short video of the song “24 Frames” performed by my mom’s band, After the Flood, which was performed at their CD release party when we were in DC.

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Me with my project on the digestive system:)

October 26 – Nico writing upon leaving Floyds Knobs, Indiana

We arrived in Indiana at the most beautiful time of the year. Fall. We got there two days before my grandmother. She was in France. For those two days we settled into her house. We didn’t do much.

On the second day, we were having a fire, during a beautiful sunset, and my grandmother’s car pulled up. We said our hellos and went to bed.

We didn’t do much for the whole day. But in the night, we went to see my cousin’s football game. It was Floyd Central Highlanders vs. New Albany Bulldogs – longtime rivalry. The Highlanders won by a lot to a little.

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The Trace Willman Fan Clubimg_1830

The next day the whole family came up to my grandmother’s house. We had fun for the whole day, and roasted hot dogs over a bonfire. Mine exploded. Then, it got dark and everyone slowly started going home. We turned on the TV and watched an old debate between George Bush and that other guy and realized that during presidential debates they actually talked respectfully about real issues back then.

When we all woke up the morning after the big party, we ate pancakes. Then, we broke my cousin Trace out of school.

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Playing hookie from school…don’t share this with his principal:)

The Monday after fall break! We took him to Huber’s, a fall festival, and got some pumpkins and a delicious pizza. Then, we did almost all the mazes and games. There was one that had little go-karts that you had to pedal to move. We raced around in those for a while, then we went back home.

On the weekdays, Oscar and I would do school: forty minutes of Khan Academy for me, and twenty of any kind of math for Oscar. He could do straight up math problems on paper or make up a math game where he could walk around and count. He also has this app called Osmos where he has to put number cards below the iPad and add them up to pop bubbles. It’s hard to explain – you just have to try it out. Oscar also has to write in his journal every day – three sentences and a picture of something from the day before. I finished my essay on the book “The Alchemist” and spent some time working on my novel, “Hit.” Toward the end of our time I started working on a research project on Galileo.

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Gandhi as a young athlete and Gandhi riding a unicycle.

We also did art with Detta almost every day, which was really cool. Detta used to be a middle school art teacher so we always learn a ton from her about art. Every year, I chose a project to do in a week, and I finish it before I go home. This year, we were going to stay there two weeks, so I did something bigger. I took a canvas and eventually painted a picture of Gandhi riding a unicycle on a dirt road.

My mom’s cousin in law Jeff invited us to take a look at his work one day. He is a fireman for the Clarksville Fire Department. We spent an awesome day there, learning how everything in a fire station works. We took a look at the trucks, and all the equipment. In all of the seats, the oxygen tanks are already strapped to the seats so while you’re driving you can put the tank on easily and not waste any time. We got to put all of the equipment on, like the oxygen tank, the gas masks, the boots, helmets and jackets. It was really cool.

img_1924My aunt Megan and my mom arranged a day to walk across a bridge over the Ohio River and spend some time in Kentucky. We went to a nearby playground and played around there. Then we walked back to Indiana.

After about two weeks in Indiana, we said our goodbyes and began our trip south. Our first stop was going to be Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

Here are some more pictures from our time in Indiana.

 

img_1813October 11 – Danny writing from Detta’s (Alys’ mom) home in Floyds Knobs, Indiana

We left Standing Rock Reservation on Sunday, October 2 in the afternoon. We had worked all day chopping wood and in the clothing donations area and were torn about whether we should hit the road or stay longer. We decided that we could stay longer, but ultimately our greater responsibility was to go and share what we experienced with our communities. We knew that others would come and fill in any small gap we might leave at the Seven Council Fires Camp, but more importantly, we needed to commit long term to supporting the work to stop fossil fuel projects and to change structures that marginalize, oppress or negatively affect the poor and people of color. So, with that commitment, we decided to head out and begin a southwardly drive toward Iowa and then Missouri.

We drove about 4 hours that evening and ended up camping at the same campground we had stayed at on our way to the Badlands in July in Chamberlain, South Dakota along the Missouri River. The next morning, after Alys and I were able to take a run along the Missouri, we continued our drive south. We decided we would stay in a hotel near Sioux City the next night so that we could have some time to process our experience at Standing Rock and to begin to write about it. A shower also seemed appealing after 6 days without oneJ We arrived to the hotel around 1pm after weaving through tons of corn fields in southern South Dakota and northern Iowa. We swam, we showered, we processed, we wrote, we ate pizza, and we showered some more and then we headed out toward Iowa City to visit my cousin Joe, his wife Holly and their beautiful 1-year old Lazarus.

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Lazarus, sporting our traveling hat

While we only were able to visit the Lears for one night, it was a gift and a blessing to be able to learn about their life in their new home in Iowa City. Soccer, bon fire, delicious dinner, homemade apple pie, more blogging, and some quality time with Joey, Holly and Lazarus were all part of our short time at their house. Before leaving Iowa City, we also got a chance to visit the church where Joe is now pastoring and to meet up for a tastey lunch at a local Mexican restaurant with Joe and Holly.

After lunch, we continued our southward journey toward La Plata, Missouri in northeast Missouri to visit our dear friend Adam Campbell. Adam has been living and working there for nearly 5 years for an organization called the Peace and Permaculture Design Center (PDC).

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Adam, giving us an incredibly educational tour of the land where he lives

We arrived to the PDC in the afternoon and it took a while to find Adam. The PDC shares 160 acres of land with two other organizations, the Possibility Alliance and the White Rose Catholic Worker. All of these folks live entirely off the grid with no electricity whatsoever. Adam and others from the PDC were 12 days in to facilitating a 16-day permaculture certification workshop for about 25 participants. We found one of the facilitators who helped us find a place to park Red and then we walked through the woods on the property and found Adam resting near the pond on the back side of the property. We spent the next three nights with Adam and in and around the permaculture workshop going on. Alys and I dream of incorporating permaculture into the next phase of our life, so it was a gift to be visiting Adam at this time.

Permaculture is an agricultural/ecological design philosophy, which promotes sustainability and self sufficiency through the production of fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants, herbs, animals, etc. The three groups that share the 160 acres are all living off the land with very little input from the outside world. They grow a range of fruits (apples, persimmons, figs, etc.), vegetables, grains, animals (cows, work horses, chickens, pigs), a range of mushrooms, and they forage for a whole bunch more food in the forests on the property. All of the meals for the workshop were cooked in an outdoor kitchen over “rocket fire” burners and in several solar ovens. Most of the food came from the property or from neighbors. We were invited to share in all of the meals while we were there and the food was exquisite. Friday night’s meal was particularly notable. The communities gather every Friday night for Shabbat (in the Jewish tradition, Shabbat begins with prayer and a feast on Friday night to mark a day or rest on Saturday) and this Friday we celebrated Shabbat with about 40 people. The chefs for that evening made ‘Breakfast for Shabbat!’ This included a delicious salad, fried local eggs, amazing bacon and sausage from some neighbor pigs, hashbrowns, pancakes, stewed apples, and lots of other goodness. It was a festive and joyful gathering. I don’t know if it was the food, or something else, but Oscar pulled out a stand-up comedy routine that entertained our end of the table for over an hour. We are not sure what came over him, but he had about 10 of us belly laughing until we could take no more and it was time for him to go to bed.

We woke up early on Saturday to pack up and then head over to the PDC as the workshop participants were going to be presenting several permaculture designs that they had been working on for the past few days. We were able to be there for the first two presentations and then we decided to get back on the road in order to head to Kansas City, Kansas to visit two of my former community members from Managua, Marvin and Rachel and their three lovely children – Sam (12), Ben (9) and Maggie (7).

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As you can see, the kids had a really tough time connecting:)

It had been more than 11 years since I had last visited Marvin and Rachel and while our families had grown much bigger (only Samuel had been born then and I wasn’t yet dating Alys) our friendship picked up right where it left off. It was a blessing to be back with more friends from our time in Nicaragua and to reflect together on our lives and struggles today. Shortly after we arrived we headed off to a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) street festival not far from their home. Sam is part of a Capoeira group, which performed at the festival.

Sam was energetic and engaged and his group was excellent. We spent the next two days in and around their warm and welcoming home, complete with chickens, a lovely garden and great space for the kids to play and ride bikes.

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game time at the Grilliot abode. Another tense moment out there…

We even got the chance to have a spirited whiffle ball game that went much longer than we expected and was finally settled by the good guys. It went like this – score tied 9-9 through nine innings. Remained tied through the next 5 innings. Unbelievable excitement as we entered the 15th inning! Marvin, Alys, Oscar and Sam were up to bat – the bad guys:). Alys got on base somehow and then Marvin smashed a homerun. It seemed as if all was lost, but then we got to the bottom of the 15th. Nico, Ben, Rachel and my team was up – the good guys. We loaded the bases and our secret weapon, Rachel, stepped to the plate. Rachel waited patiently for her pitch and then slapped a double into left field, winning run scores and the good team wins! It was very dramatic indeed.

On Monday, we still were not sure if we would begin our journey east, but we decided instead to stay in Kansas City for a bit and visit my friend Eric Garbison at the Cherith Brook Catholic Worker.

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the boys, Eric and I at Cherith Brook Catholic Worker

We were able to catch up with Eric and tour around the Catholic Worker, learning about their life and ministries. We then headed back to meet the Grilliot’s for dinner – mostly from their garden – and then we hit the road to begin our journey toward Alys’ childhood home in Floyds Knobs, Indiana. We drove 3 hours that night and ended up camping at Graham Cave State Park outside of St. Louis. The next morning we woke up, had some breakfast and then hiked about 3 miles around the state park. We learned quite a bit about the ecology and geology of this region where the plains meet the Ozarks. We then got on the road and drove almost 6 hours to Floyds Knobs. Detta, Alys’ mom, had not yet returned from her latest trip to France, so we settled in and were glad to be ‘home.’

We expect to be here in Floyds Knobs for a couple of weeks before we head down south to Athens, Georgia, where we expect to spend pretty much the rest of the fall. Until then, here are a few more photos from the past week or so. Be well!

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night time ritual – reading together – pictured here just after arriving to Graham Cave State Park

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A Note from Danny:

After much prayer and discernment, we have decided to head north to the Sacred Stone Encampment on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. We will be heading north sometime after Monday, September 26 and arriving around Wednesday, September 28. We understand that cell service is spotty there, but we will be blogging from Sacred Stone while we are there.

The Lakota Sioux Tribe has been joined by thousands of people representing more than 100 Native American tribes to resist the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which would carry 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the Dakotas to Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux and other tribal nations claim, with the support of environmentalist groups, that the pipeline would damage their environment and cultural sites.  The Lakota Sioux have set up a camp and have invited folks to come to support their cause.  They have set up a school there for children, kitchens, camp maintenance and many ways for folks to support, so we are going to lend a hand in peace and prayer.  Check out the links below to learn more about this movement that is growing to stop the construction of the DAPL.

The big fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline, explained

Archeoligists denounce Dakota Access pipeline for destroying artifacts

FAQ: The Dakota Access pipeline and protest

Check out the blog posts from Alys and Nico to hear about our experience at Standing Rock.

September 26, Alys writing as we leave Colorado

We’ve just spent a delightfully restful weekend with dear friends Jenn and Dave Ciplet, and their kids Eliza, Cora and Marlon. Sadly, Tavon could not join us for this weekend as planned, and we really missed him.  We met up with the Ciplets at Jefferson Creek Campground, near Breckinridge, late Friday evening, arriving just in time for the first snowfall of the year. The kids were thrilled! And Danny didn’t need ice for the whiskey drinks.

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Danny securing essential resources for a snowy night
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Nico and Oscar celebrating the first snow of the season!

The highlight of the weekend was catching up with Jenn and Dave after many years. Danny and I overlapped with Jenn during our time in Nicaragua, and we hadn’t even gotten to meet the kids yet. Oscar and Marlon were fast friends, keeping the camp safe from any potential ninja intruders. Dave and Danny also proved to be quite a shot with the bow and arrow, keeping the blue jays away from our food.

The weekend also coincided with the peak of the Aspens changing color, to this beautiful yellow you see in all the photos. We did something that Coloradoans call “leaf peeping” all weekend, hiking up into the foothills where the trees grow thick.

We even saw a few moose!

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Also, it was coooooold! Temperatures dropped to 20 degrees on Saturday night, so we did what we had to do: all nine of us piled into the Ciplets pop-up camper for the night. This meant the Walecs shared a queen-sized mattress while the Ciplets divided themselves among the other two beds inside. Suffice to say, no one was cold 🙂  For some reason, we didn’t get a picture of that, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

We headed back to Denver on Sunday night, and spend another night with the Ciplets. On Monday, we got to see our dear friend Annalise and meet her new baby Lucinda. She’s perfect – you can see how perfect she is here.

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img_0474Then, on Tuesday, the Walecs journeyed north on our way toward Standing Rock Indian Reservation to join the Sacred Stone Encampment.  We missed Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial on our first pass through the Black Hills of South Dakota, so we decided to stop there first on our way.  Once Danny’s Dad found out we’d be going to visit the Lakota Sioux at Standing Rock, he purchased for us the audio book, “The Journey of Crazy Horse” by Lakota writer Joseph Marshall III, which we were able to listen to throughout our journey through the Lakota ancestral lands.  It was powerful to listen to this story essentially as we passed through the lands that Crazy Horse’s life and struggles take place.  It is a beautiful biographical story and well worth the read.  On Tuesday we ended our drive at the Crazy Horse Memorial and then camped in its shadows.  img_0471We got up early on Wednesday and headed the 20 miles or so through the beautiful Black Hills to Mount Rushmore.  It was a gorgeous morning and after exploring the museum and the grounds, we decided to get on the road toward Standing Rock.  Stay tuned for blogs from Nico and Alys regarding our experience at Standing Rock.

 

 

img_0443September 23, Nico writing from Boulder, CO after a tour through Las Vegas, Zion, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks

On our way to Zion National Park, my moms’ aunt Pamela said that we could stay at her house since we realized that we would be going through Las Vegas to get there. So we drove to her house in downtown Las Vegas. We drove down the strip, saw all the big casinos, we saw a huge carnival with roller coasters and Ferris wheels.

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Later, Pam, her husband Russell, and  Mom’s cousin Larissa took us to a casino for dinner. After dinner there was a water show with robotic animals and everything. Oscar refused to go because the wolf scared him. Instead, he stayed at the restaurant and fell asleep at the table.

The next day Pam and Russell made us a really nice breakfast. Then, we headed off to Zion National Park in Southwest Utah.

We spent the day there, and we learned about the place. The Paiute American Indians named it Mukuntuweap, which means “straight up rock”. img_0410

But then the Mormons came in the late 1800s and renamed it Zion, because they felt like they were running from religious persecution. Then, when it became a national park, they named it what the Native Americans had it, but later changed it back to Zion because they thought no one would come to a place that had a name they couldn’t pronounce.

We showed up to Zion without a campsite, which is basically they way we have done it all summer. The only problem was that there are not many campgrounds in Zion and they were booked solid. We pulled into the Watchman Campground and it was completely booked as well, but someone had just canceled their reservation so we ended up getting a great campsite surrounded by sunflowers. img_1490We then went on a couple of hikes. We went on the Emerald Pools hike. When we got to the emerald pools, there were way more people than we expected. We took a look at the pools, enjoyed the amazing view, had a few granola bars, and turned back. When we got back, we went on a short hike to the Weeping Rock. Weeping rock is a huge rock canyon that has water coming out of the sides. At first, we were confused but then we read an information sign. We learned that the rock was made out of sandstone, and condensed mud called shale, so when the rain falls the water seeps through the sandstone, except it can’t penetrate the shale, so it flows horizontally until it runs out of the rock. We got on a convenient shuttle that goes all around the park, and we stopped at a visitor’s center to get Oscar a Jr. Ranger book. We heard that there would be a movie about Zion’s history, so we stayed an extra 15 minuets and watched it. But in the middle, we got bored so we walked about a mile back to our campsite.

When we finally got back to our campsite, we ate some chicken chili (which we would later regret – beans and altitude don’t mix well!), and then we went to a ranger program. The ranger sang songs on his guitar about plants and animals of the park. He sang his own version of “Proud Mary” by CCR, about a boulder that fell from a cliff and it was rolling down the river. He did his own version of “With a little help from my friends” about California Condors, and a version of “I will survive” about plants in the dessert. In that song, we learned that when it gets really dry, junipers can cut water supply to a limb in order for the tree to survive.Here’s a picture of one that looks like did that:

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That night it rained all night long which felt very strange given we were in the desert. It only rains about 12 inches a year there and it felt like it must have rained 1 inch that night. The next morning it was still a bit rainy and so we packed up our camp and began the drive to visit Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. It was a beautiful drive with lots of unique canyons and landscape, but it rained the whole way. The desert plants and animals must have been loving it.

It took us five hours to get from Zion to Canyonlands, and it was looking like it was going to rain, so we stopped at a viewing point, took some pictures and then started to drive again, but then we were all in a bad mood, so we pulled over again at a trail and hiked for a little bit. It was nice to get out of the car and walk around. The rain had stopped and you could even see blue sky in some places. The whole trail was huge boulders that we could climb on. At the end of the trail, there was an amazing sight. All around us, in the distance were huge cliffs and deep canyons down below with white rock around the rim of the canyons. It almost made me dizzy just looking at it. We sat down for a while, took some pictures, enjoyed the view, and turned back.

Once we got back in the car, it started to rain again so we decided to keep driving to Arches NP, in hopes of getting a campsite near the park, but we didn’t find one. So we camped for the night a few miles away along the Colorado River in a beautiful canyon. The next day, we drove into the park and went on a short hike. It was three miles, except the altitude made it feel like four. When we got to the top of the hike, the sight was even more beautiful than before. Breathtaking. Literally. img_0439-1People were taking pictures under Delicate Arch. We enjoyed the view, and hiked back down.

We still had a 6-hour drive to get to the Tamayo’s house, so after the hike, we got in the car and started driving. We were all sad to have to rush through the place to get Tavon in time, but we took the most beautiful road possible on our way out which traveled along the Colorado River through a canyon on the east side of Arches NP. We stopped at one spot along the river, got out of the car, took a dip in the river and then had lunch.

We finally got to the Tamayo’s house at about 7:30, after a two-hour wait in traffic, pee breaks, another car catching fire in the middle of the road, more traffic…

Raul and Shannan, and their two children, Ariana and Aiden had already gotten dinner ready when we got there. We had rice and beans along with avocados, sour cream, lots of cheese and caramelized onions. After dinner, Ariana and Aiden showed Oscar and I around the house, and we played Star Wars Battlefront for a while until we got called for s’mores. After s’mores we jumped on the trampoline for a while, played more battlefront, and then we went to sleep.

The next day, Ariana, Aiden and Shannan were already either at school or at work, so we spent the morning with Raul. We stayed until about noon, then we head off to Jefferson Creek, near Breckenridge. AND IT MIGHT SNOW AND I LOVE THE SNOW AND YEAH!

 

IMG_1397.jpgSeptember 18 – Nico writing from our cousin Kari and J.R.’s cabin at Lake Arrowhead in California

We’ve been in the Los Angeles area for the past few weeks, because we have a ton of family in the area. So we visited as much as we could. First, from Big Sur, we headed down the coast to Ventura and stayed the night with my parents’ friends Helen, Peter and their son Tomas. We met up with them at a local brewery and then went back to their house. In the morning, after we all had breakfast, we drove to another town called Fillmore where Helen’s family has an avocado and citrus farm. We toured around there for a while and then Helen has to get back to work, so we headed toward Anaheim Hills to stay with my dad’s cousins; Kari and J.R. They have a beautiful house with a pool, and so they invited us to stay at their house for the weekend.

During the weekend, Kari and J.R.s’ church was having a fundraiser carnival, and so half the time that we were at their house, and the other half we were at the fundraiser. We also got to spend time with my dad’s uncle and aunt, Dave and Joan.  They live like 10 minutes from Kari and J.R. so we got to see them every day we were there.

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Cousin Kari with Nico and Oscar at the church carnival

The fair had all sorts of classic rides, like the scrambler and the Ferris wheel, and it also had some new ones like the tornado and sky-glider. Oscar refused to do any of them, except for a little helicopter ride and another one called “Bear Affair,” where you go inside a huge bear, and you spin around. It was in the little kids section. My favorite ride was the “Starship 2000.” It was basically a small room that you went into, and the room starts spinning, and eventually it spins so fast that you can literally stick to the walls. You can go upside down and sideways and everything. It was awesome. I took my mom in one time and my dad another time. My dad could hardly walk when he got out. He is a bit wimpy.

My mom and dad took turns helping work at a sports bar that Kari and J.R. ran for the fundraiser.

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Danny “working” the bar with Uncle Dave and J.R.

After it was dark, my mom’s shift ended, so she and I left Oscar at the bar with our family and went to go on the Starship again. But the line was so long that we decided to go on the Tornado instead. In the Tornado, you’re in a ball, and you spin around in a circle, while circling the metal pillar that’s lifting you off the ground. But luckily for my mom, she could control the spinning. It was cool.

Later, when we all got tired, we went back to the house, and went to sleep.

More shots from the carnival and Kari and J.R.’s house:

After we said goodbye to Kari and J.R, we headed toward an old friend of my mom, Andy’s house. They lived together in Mexico in the year 2000. For the rest of the night, they caught up with each other. His wife and their baby daughter Kaira came a little after we had just arrived. Kaira is really cute and she is so into Star Wars, she’s fun. We had dinner and walked into town for ice cream. In the morning Andy squeezed fresh orange juice for us from the tree in their backyard.

The next day, we woke up early to go to Universal Studios. We spent the day there, from 9:00 – 6:00, riding the rides and watching the movies and doing everything there was to do. It was really cool. All of us went on the studio tour, including Oscar, thinking it would be fine. It was, at the beginning. They revealed all of the movie – making secrets to us, and showed us the sets from many of their most famous movies. They showed us Skull Island with King Kong and the dinosaurs, they showed us Whooville, Jaws, War of the Worlds and other stuff. But then we got stuck in the Fast and Furious 7 movie in the middle of a high – speed car chase with guns shooting and cars crashing. Many of the rides were in 4D. For example, in Skull Island we went into a cave, and everything went really dark. Then, everything lit up, and we realized that we were in a jungle. Then a dinosaur came and tried to eat us. It looked so real, and then the dinosaur crashed into the cars that we were in, and the car moved and it felt so much like it was real. Then the dinosaur slobbered on us. I cant even count how many times I got slobbered on that day. After that, my dad and I rode on the Jurassic World roller coaster, with an 85 foot drop at the end, and dinosaurs eating the ruins of a building. My mom and I rode on a 4D Harry Potter ride, where we were playing a game of quiddich, and then we got stuck in the dungeon of Hogwarts with Harry, Ron and Hermione and we had to get out. We all went on a 4D Simpsons ride, too. We got in a roller coaster with the Simpsons family and Homer fell off his roller coaster and said dorky things. All of the 4D stuff was kind of overwhelming for Oscar, especially because most of it involved guns shooting, animals eating us and stuff like that.

After Universal studios, we drove to my mom’s Aunt Jerry’s house. We spent the night with her and Uncle John, and the next day we went all around their town, Claremont, and to the Botanical Gardens. They have desert plants there, cacti and trees that don’t need much water. It was hot and sunny. IMG_1443.jpgThat night John set up his telescope and we looked at the moon. You could see every crater, every little detail on it. I tried to take a picture with my camera but it was too bright and it didn’t really come out. We couldn’t see any stars because of the light pollution from Los Angeles.

 

The next day we headed off to my dad’s cousin Liz’s house. We spent the day with her, swimming in her pool and playing with her Xbox. img_1458Her husband, Mike, came home in time to grill out for dinner. The next day, we went to Kari and J.R.’s cabin in the woods right next to a lake called Lake Arrowhead, and waited for my dad’s family to come up. Liz came, along with her sister Julia, and her boyfriend Aaron. Then Aunt Mary and Michael came. We spent the next two days with them, hiking around Lake Arrowhead, and beating each other in Battleship, pool and Apples to Apples.

But on Sunday, they all had to leave and go back to L.A.

But on Sunday, they all had to leave and go back to L.A. So we waited for my grandfather Papa, Kari and J.R, and Lizz stayed with us for the last day. We went back down to Oktoberfest, the adults got some beer, and we went back on the lake. My mom, Lizz and Kari participated in a beer chugging contest during Oktoberfest. Lizz got second place, and mom and Kari tied for last. We went out on the lake and took a swim on J.R’s boat. We went to a restaurant, ate a nice big meal, and went out on a sunset cruise. Everyone except Papa, J.R. and Oscar went in. I went in again, but no one came in with me.

We went back home, and the next day, we said goodbye to each other and headed off our separate ways. We are going to Colorado to pick up our really good friend who’s like a brother to me, Tavon, from the airport. We’ll probably visit Zion National Park and Arches National Park on the way.

 

 

img_1264-2September 6 – Nico writing as we drive down the northern California coast toward Big Sur

For the past four days, we have been in San Francisco with the most amazing friends we could ever have, Megan and Luz Maria. Megan is so smart and calm and funny and awesome, and Luz is an awesome cook and she’s funny, and their son Joaquin is the smartest kid and funniest in the world. And I just want to say thank you, Megan, for writing this first paragraph for me.

When we drove in, we were all really stinky. Our previous campsite had been too cold for a shower, so we went straight there. Luz hadn’t come home from work, and Joaquin hadn’t finished school yet, so we spent some time with Megan and we all took some nice refreshing showers. After that, we went to pick Joaquin and Luz up. When everyone was in the car, we parked near a grocery store in The Mission District and walked to get some food. On our way there, Luz gave us an amazing mural tour. She would point at one and say, “There’s one. Isn’t it pretty? There’s another.”

When we had gotten enough food for dinner, Megan and Luz both cooked us some delicious mashed potatoes, corn, carne asada, guacamole and tortillas with hot sauce. That Friday night we basically all just caught up on what was happening since we last saw each other almost four years ago. I had built a Lego set for Oscar and Joaquin, but they destroyed it completely using a rubber angry bird.

The next morning, Joaquin woke up with a fever, so we had a pretty chill morning. Later, when Joaquin was feeling a little better, we went to the park and played soccer. It was my mom, Luz and I against Oscar and my dad. Megan was Joaquin’s pillow for the whole time. When our team won, the teams switched. It was Luz, Oscar and I vs. my mom and dad. Of course, our team won again. My mom tried with all her skills (bumping into people and elbowing them, and if necessary, picking them up and moving them,) to win. We rested after the game for a while, and then Megan took Joaquin back home because he wasn’t looking too good. Luz and my family went to these huge concrete slides. They were cool because you had to slide down on a piece of cardboard to avoid burning yourself and getting a hole in your pants.img_1302

After that we briefly passed by the Twin Peaks to check out the view of San Francisco and then went back home to dinner. Luz made us some dinner again, and later once Oscar and Joaquin were asleep, one of Megan, Luz, my mom and dads’ really good friend Mark came over for a while. They talked about their trip together to Nicaragua for practically the whole night. The next morning the rest of Mark’s family came over – Joanna, and their kids Marina and Felix.

The next morning, Megan and my family went out for a day to walk along the Embarcadero in downtown San Francisco (Joaquin was still not feeling great) to see what there was to see. We eventually split up for the rest of the day; Megan and I went to the Exploratorium and Oscar, my mom and dad continued being tourists.

The Exploratorium is sort of a science museum, but every thing is hands-on. There are different stations, and each one teaches you something about something else. Megan and I spent the whole day there, having fun and checking out the different exhibits. The place is so huge, that by the time we had to go back home, we had only seen half of the museum.

Mom, Dad and Oscar walked around the Embarcadero and saw Alcatraz and a bunch of sea lions.

Luz, again, made us dinner. We had some delicious tamales while we watched the Notre Dame v Texas game. Like I said, she’s a really good cook.

The next day, we went to Dolores Park in the Mission District to see what we could do. We met my dad’s friend Amy Vosburg-Casey and her daughter Elena there.  Dad and Amy were friends since they both lived in Atlanta almost 15 years ago so Dad was happy to get to spend some time with her.  There were flyers everywhere for a play starting at 1:00, so we ended up staying there all day. The show was called “Schooled,” and it was about this perfectly fine school that invited this maniac into it to help with “efficiency.” img_1329The man had all the characteristics of Trump, and later in the play, he found out that anybody could run for president of the school disctrict when the current one retired. So he ran against a woman who was a lot like Clinton, and a teacher with grey hair I guess was supposed to represent Sanders. Trump ended up accidently revealing his true identity, and the play ended after two long speeches from Bernie and Hilary, but Trump gave a short three-paragraph essay and gave the middle finger to the other candidates. It was a little long, and I didn’t know how to feel about it.

When we arrived back home my dad made some spaghetti. We gobbled it all up and I went straight to bed.

The next day, there was a sad and heavy energy between all of us. We were all feeling sad that our time together was ending. Joaquin was feeling much better and you couldn’t even tell that he had had a 101-degree fever. But he had to go to school. Megan and him left for school and Luz left for work. We soon followed them and got in the car. We started driving to our next destination; a camping spot right on the coast in the Ventana Wilderness!

 

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September 2 – Nico writing as we cruise Highway 101 toward San Francisco

After the beautiful Oregon Coast, we continued south on highway 101, which runs all along the coast into northern California. We drove about 4 hours to Redwoods NP, and then we got a backcountry permit to hike into the Tall Trees Grove.

In 1800, Redwoods NP covered about 2,000,000 acres of the northern hemisphere. When the dinosaurs wandered around the northern hemisphere, probably all that they were seeing were redwoods. The tallest trees are well over 300 feet; higher than the Statue of Liberty, and in the old-growth forest, the trees’ average age is 500 – 700 years. The redwoods have bark that can grow up to a foot thick, so that they are protected from insects and diseases. Now all that remains of the redwood forest is 40,000 acres, only 2% of the original ancient forest.

We got our permit and drove to the Tall Trees Grove trailhead, packed our backpacks, and set off. Our original plan was to hike in to a campsite called 44 Camp. While we were walking we passed tons of huge redwood trees. It was cool.

We also passed Redwood Creek, and I wanted to get in, but we had to keep walking to get to the campsite. After an awesome 3 miles, we arrived at 44 Camp, but the mosquitoes were so bad that if you sat down for two seconds, there would be at least seven buzzing around you. We quickly decided to hike back toward Redwood Creek and look for a campsite there.  My dad had seen a sign earlier on saying that you could camp anywhere on the redwood creek, as long as you stayed at least ¼ mile away from the trail, which we were, so we were good. We set up camp and my dad heated up water for the meal we were about to have; three cheese chicken pasta. It was one of those freeze-dried meals in a bag and it was delicious! My mom, Oscar and I explored the river to see where the best swimming holes were.

When dinner was ready, we had already mapped out almost everything that we needed. We ate some delicious noodles and hung out for the rest of the night until everyone got tired. I even went into a swimming hole right next to us. The water was really nice. The next morning we ate oatmeal, took a bath in the creek and then hiked out.

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When we got back, we continued driving south without knowing where we were going to sleep. We do that a lot. Then, at a gas station, a man told us about a beautiful spot just off highway 80. We were headed there, but then we realized that highway 80 went away from the beach, and so we swerved off to a campsite literally right in front of a river, and past the river was the ocean. The campsite was not the best, but once we set up, we went for a walk along the beach. We didn’t walk too far because there were huge boulders blocking the rest of the beach. We sat down and looked off into the horizon for a while. Then, my mom spotted a seal right in front of us in the water. When the rest of us saw it, it was popping up its head and looking at us. Then another seal came and did the same.

When the seals went away, we saw baby dolphins dancing in the water. There were about three of the little ones, only about 4 feet long, and they were jumping all together. It was cute. We then broke into a friendly debate about whether they were smarter than humans. I had brought my swimsuit with me in hopes of going into the ocean, but the water was too cold. I went in the river instead. My brother and I swam across the river to our campsite. We made a fire and cooked quesadillas over it for dinner, took some sweet pictures of the sunset, and then when it got dark, we stargazed while eating marshmallows.

The next day, we had planned to have a slow breakfast there and bathe in the river, but it was SO COLD. The wind was terrible, the temperature was something like         -1,000 and there was so much mist and fog, that you couldn’t see five feet forward, so we decided on skipping breakfast and to continue driving. We stopped at a nice little place beside the highway. We all got eggs and Oscar got a muffin, then we set off toward San Francisco!

Here are some more photos from the Redwoods and Northern California coast.

 

 

IMG_0272August 31 – Nico writing as we drive down the coast toward California

So far, since leaving Washington, D.C. on June 22, we have traveled 70 days, 8,000 miles, through 17 states and 2 Canadian provinces.

My mom and I sat down at our campsite at Flora Lake with the atlas and drew our route so far. IMG_0326

Since Portland, we have been driving down the Oregon coast, slowly making our way to San Francisco to see our friends, Megan, Luz Maria and their son, Joaquin. Oregon is amazing because all of the coast is public land, so you can pretty much go anywhere. First, we drove on a beautiful highway down to a small beach south of Florence called Baker Beach with dunes all around it and we decided to camp there. We all played in the dunes for a couple hours, got sand in all our cracks, and then I was the only one who went in the water after that. There was a nice flat spot away from the waves where I went in, and Oscar spent some time with my dad learning how to skip rocks. We found a couple of sand dollars, and then went back to the campsite and ate the best salmon any of us have ever tasted (thank you Aaron and Susanna for that gift!).

The next day, the weather got cloudy and it started to drizzle, so we left and found a sweet spot next to Flora Lake, just south of Bandon further down the coast. Flora Lake is right next to the dunes and then there’s the beach. The sun was shining bright, so we took a long walk down the beach (the sand was rocky) and took some real nice pictures with my camera. We got back to the campsite and started dinner when the sun was just about to start setting. The dinner my dad had prepared was lentils with potatoes, onions, sausage and carrots with delicious corn on the side. After dinner, my mom and I decided to go out back to the beach when it was dark, and look at the stars in the open.

Back in Portland, I got this app called “Sky Guide,” and it is an amazing app that tells you everything about space. You move the phone around and point it at the stars, and it shows you all the satellites, the constellations, stars, planets, rockets, meteors, etc. We saw Ursa Major and Minor, Cassiopea, Andromeda, and we read about the Greek myths that tell their stories. Then we made up a few of our own. I discovered one I call “circulus” that, you guessed it, looks like a circle. Turns out those stars are already part of a constellation someone else named Cronus, according to my app.

The next morning we ate some delicious blueberry pancakes that me and my dad made, and then we set off to Redwood National Park, in hopes to hike in to the wilderness for one night; our third back country hike on the YoD.

August 29 – Danny writing as we drive from Portland toward the Oregon Coast

We arrived to Fort Langley, British Columbia, just northwest of Vancouver, after taking the ferry from Vancouver Island on Tuesday, August 23. There we were blessed by the hospitality of the Haas-Lyons family – Susanna, Aaron, Judah (4) and Matthai (1). Fort Langley is a lovely small town about 30 minutes outside of Vancouver. We seemed to enter a land of milk and honey there as local food and produce was abundant and for the next 4 days we would eat mostly out of Aaron and Susanna’s small, but abundantly overflowing garden. One of the things that we have missed the most since being on the road has been our daily green smoothie. Each day we were able to partake in delicious green smoothies, as well as eggs from a block away and lots of other fresh deliciousness.

While we only had 3 and a half days to explore the area, we were able to do quite a bit in and around Vancouver. The Haas-Lyons live within a mile of the Salmon River and the Frasier River, both important waterways for the fall Salmon Run. We found lovely places to swim each day, on the Frasier River, the Lynn Creek in Lynn Canyon and in the Pacific Ocean at 3rd Beach in Vancouver.

Aaron and Susanna both had to work on Wednesday so we took the morning to clean some clothes, get on wifi (aka plug in to the world), and relax. Then, Alys, Nico, Oscar, Judah and I headed out on an adventure around Fort Langley. IMG_0242Judah and Oscar sported bikes and the rest of us walked as we checked out the local playground, got some ice cream and then headed to the Frasier River for some swimming. We then circled back home and had a lovely dinner from the garden with Aaron, his father (who was visiting from Edmonton) Judah and Matthai. Susanna got home that evening from facilitating a workshop with a First Nations community north of Vancouver.

We explored the wider Vancouver area on Thursday and Friday. What an amazing region and place in which they live. On Thursday morning we headed out to Lynn Canyon for a hike along the canyon and a dip in some of the coldest and clearest water we have swum in for some time.

Nico said it matched Lake Superior, but instead it was a little swimming hole. We then headed back to meet Aaron who had to work that morning (you know, that J-O-B). After relaxing for a bit, we packed up their canoe and some dinner and we headed a few miles down the Frasier River to check out this island in the middle of the river that Aaron had been wanting to visit. With the assistance of a cute little motor, we canoed over to the island in two shifts and set up a little picnic area on the end of the island. Most of us took mud baths that I’ve heard some people pay big money for. We swam, we played and we had a delicious dinner right on the island. We watched the sunset there and then headed home after a very full day.

On Friday we decided to venture in to Vancouver. After another lovely morning of making smoothies and hanging around the house, we packed their bikes and headed in to Vancouver. Those of us without bikes rented some and we spent the afternoon riding around the Seawall, which runs around a peninsula on the northwest side of Vancouver. It was a beautiful way to see Vancouver and enjoy another gorgeous day. We stopped at 3rd Beach and took a swim for a while. The 65 degree water felt a bit like bathwater to us, so we indulged for a good while. We then hopped back on our bikes and continued around the seawall to return the rented bikes. After a delicious Mexican dinner at Sal y Limon, we headed home after another packed day.

Saturday morning started out similarly, with good tunes, delicious smoothies and breakfast together. Our families seemed to build community naturally and Oscar and Judah were having a wonderful time exploring for gold, planting cucumber seeds and protecting us with their ninja skills. Sadly, we then had to head out to begin a 7 hour journey to visit Alys’ dear friend Sherri in Portland, Oregon. We expressed our gratitude for all of the lovely hospitality and time together and then the Walecs packed it up and headed out. Alys and I made a commitment to come back sometime and drive north through BC, the Yukon and in to Alaska. This had been a dream for us for the Year of Discovery, and we realized that now is not the right time, but we are committed to make it happen some other time. Do you want to join us?

We got to Portland around dinnertime on Saturday and Sherri and her dog Mister welcomed us into their lovely, little home in Southeast Portland. IMG_1171.jpgOscar, Nico and I headed to the neighborhood park to play some soccer while Alys and Sherri spent some time catching up. Alys and Sherri have been friends since they were about 12 in Indiana, so Alys was so excited for this time with her oldest friend. We had a lovely dinner that Sherri prepared mostly from the veggies from her CSA share (community supported agriculture) and then we hung out a bit.

I had looked online and saw that Portland Timbers were playing their biggest rival, the Seattle Sounders, on Sunday at 2pm at Providence Park field and I began to scheme for a way for the boys and I to get to the game. Sherri put out some feelers and scored us some tickets right in the middle of the Timbers Army section. So Nico, Oscar and I got to go see the Timbers whoop up on the Sounders 4-2 and had a great time at the game. Sherri and Alys road bikes to downtown Portland (like 5 miles from Sherri’s home) and got to hang out for the afternoon before we all met up at an Organic Beer festival in northwest Portland. The beer was delicious, so much so that we decided to go have some more and some dinner at a local brewery, the Hub.

Unfortunately we only had 2 nights to spend with Sherri as she had to return to her working life this morning (booo for the ole J-O-B). So after breakfast, we packed up the van again and we are now bee-lining it for the beautiful Oregon coast. Everyone keeps saying we need to check out the Oregon coast, so we are heading there now and will drive straight down the coast for the next 4 days on our way to San Francisco. Thanks for reading and enjoy a few more pictures below from the past week.

 

 

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Me at our campsite on Mussel Beach playing the drum my mom made at a workshop in Port Townsend

August 23 – Nico writing from the Ferry from Vancouver Island, to Vancouver, British Columbia

We are just finishing our visit to Vancouver Island, Canada.

We got a campsite right next to a beach on the west side of Vancouver Island on Barclay Sound. It was a very frustrating process to find a campsite that was open, but once we did, it was really cool – the furthest west and north any of us had ever been before. We drove from Victoria up the east side of the island and then crossed all the way to the west coast. We camped at a place called Mussel Beach, which was right near the town of Ucluelet.

Before that, though, we were in Victoria. We stayed in a hotel for a night, and went out to explore the city. We walked from our hotel down a path that went alongside an inlet for about a mile to the city center. We found a restaurant right near the water, had dinner and then walked around the city a bit. It was packed with people. Supposedly many of them had gotten off some cruise ships that dock in Victoria.

We went to Costco to get a couple of groceries, and my camera. My grandfather invested in a camera for me. It is a Lumix, with very good zoom and stuff. We were all excited to get it and I am just learning how to use it.

We got to the island just as all of us were starting to get annoyed at each other, so it was nice to be able to get out of the van. I was hoping the beach to be sandy, but it was all rocky instead, so you couldn’t get in the water. But there were a ton of tidal pools, with of crabs and sea anemones and other stuff – endless things to explore.

We played along the beach until sundown, had dinner and then had a fire in our campsite and gave everyone massages. The next day, we decided to go on a hike to find some caves that we had heard about. On our way there, there was a man who told us where to find it. He also told us to be careful because he had seen a black bear wandering on the beach about half an hour ago.

We kept walking, and then my dad saw something moving in the rocks. Then a black bear cub came out from behind the rocks and ran past us into the forest. Here is a video of the cute little black bear. We were all amazed, and we kept walking. We saw another one, but it came out of the brambles for only a second, and then ran back in. We kept walking for about an hour, and didn’t see the caves. We finally decided to turn around and go back. About halfway back, we saw the cave, hidden behind some fallen trees. We explored it for a while, then went on our way again.

When we arrived back at our campsite, we were all exhausted. We lay down on the beach, built a fire, and sat around it for a while. IMG_0240My mom played some music and we stayed on the beach until after the sun set. We enjoyed the fire a bit more and then went to bed.

The next day, we woke up, ate breakfast, enjoyed the beach a bit more and then headed off to take another ferry to our next destination, the city of Vancouver to visit some friends of my parents’ Aaron and Susanna and their kids Judah and Matthai.

Here are a few more pictures from Mussel Beach and Victoria.

IMG_0073August 23 – Alys again writing again under the editorship of Nico while he works on his novel

 

 

“How many slams in an old screen door? Depends on how loud you shut it.

How many slices in a bread? Depends on how thin you cut it.

How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ‘em.

How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ‘em.”

—–Shel Silverstein

This past week we planted in Port Townsend, Washington, to soak up some love from our dear friends, Heather (known forever to me as Syd), Jeff and Orlanda. Syd and I met in grad school, and shared some intensely formative years in New York City. Though we’ve been in different parts of the country for the past eight years, we always make a point to visit when we can, and now our families have grown close. Our friendship now is like those tall, majestic trees you see all over the peninsula – the ones where two or three grow up out of another tree that died before. We’re growing in different places, but our roots will always be tangled up together.

IMG_0227We arrived at their place right on time. The boys’ truce was holding, but the ceasefire remained tenuous. Orlanda (turning seven in a couple of weeks) brought the energy and distraction they needed. Our family welcomed the chance to park the van for several days in a lovely spot with a fire pit and tire swing. The outpouring of hospitality was remarkable, especially considering that we showed up and immediately doubled the population of their little settlement. Syd’s mother, Shirley, generously let us do a few loads of laundry at her house at the other end of the property, and we got to shower in a real bathroom for a change. IMG_0223When Sunday came, we headed to a neighbor’s yurt and put together a spontaneous variation on our usual ‘road church’ that included drumming, singing and yoga.

Port Townsend is one of those places people come to visit and end up staying, and we can see why. There’s some kind of cultural event just about every day (though I’m told that slows down in the winter). Syd took me to a workshop where we made hand drums out of horsehide in the Lakota tradition, we saw Shakespeare in the Park, and enjoyed a local music festival. The local food movement seems to be thriving there, with plenty of co-ops, farm stands and restaurants featuring local produce. I had my fill of good seafood, coffee, apple cider and beer. We were lucky to be there when peaches, apples and a bunch of other fruits I couldn’t even identify were in season. Everywhere we went, we found blackberry bushes to snack from.

We also took a few days to head further up the OP to La Push, where we found a lovely, secluded campsite near the beach. The beaches defy description so I’m putting a few photos here. The kids got to climb on downed Western Hemlock and Douglass Fir trees, and marvel at tidal pools that contained entire ecosystems in one little puddle. Orlanda and Oscar flew a kite on the beach.

We also ventured out to the Hoh rainforest – the largest temperate rainforest in the Northern Hemisphere. Being one of the few days a year it wasn’t raining there, a lot of other people had also decided to come see it. We have learned that if we just get about ½ mile past the selfie sticks, we usually find more beauty and peace. In this case, we found a sweet swimming spot in the Hoh River, where the boys had a dip.

Back at camp that night, Danny rustled up one of the tastiest camp meals so far: fire-roasted root vegetables with ramen noodles. (At the recommendation of our foodiest family members, Andrew and Ashley Malec, we have rediscovered ramen noodles. Far from the MSG-packed stuff that sustained us through college, today’s ramen is pretty nutritious, and you can get it at organic food stores.)

The next day, on our way back to Port Townsend, we had a chilly swim in Lake Crescent. This lake was one of the clearest and deepest we’d seen, and we all had a nice scrub with Dr Bronners to take off some of that camp grime. After that we headed up to Hurricane Ridge, where we had a 360 degree view of the Olympic Mountains, including the few remaining glaciers. Oscar and Orlanda earned Junior Ranger badges and were officially sworn in at the visitor center there.

On Saturday, we said our see-you-laters with heavy hearts. Oscar, especially, wanted to stay. But we also feel the solid assurance that we will see each other again soon, somewhere, that comes with lasting friendship.

IMG_0211August 13 – Nico writing from Port Townsend, WA about Glacier National Park (MT) and Steamboat Rock State Park (WA) (August 6 – 12, 2016)

My dad had gone to Glacier NP about 20 years ago, and has wanted to go with us ever since. So we took the chance we had to go and see the glaciers for a while.

Glacier National Park has been the home of the Blackfeet American Indians for millennia. They probably made all the hiking trails. The US government made it a National Park in 1932 along with Canada, forming the world’s first peace park. But because of global warming all the glaciers are melting. So we decided to go there before they all disappear.

We drove to Glacier from Missoula, where we had stayed for two nights. We found one sweet campsite overlooking the “Hungry Horse Reservoir.” We set up our campsite, and then went to West Glacier to go rafting on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

Our tour guide was funny and cool, and so was the whole rafting trip except for the freezing cold water. After that we decided to have dessert a few hours before dinner so we went to get ice cream at a local ice cream shop. Later, at dinner, a mule deer came about ten feet away and started licking its lips with its pink tongue. We assumed that it was a female, because it didn’t have antlers. She kept eying our dinner, and she kept circling our campsite. So we gave her a name. Buddy. For the next few days, we saw mule deer that looked a lot like buddy. We joked that she really wanted to be our pet, so he followed us around. After dinner we went to sleep.  Check out a short video of buddy here.

The next morning we drove to Two Medicine Lake in Glacier and we went to a ranger station to get our backcountry permit to be able to hike into a deep part in Upper Two Medicine. The Park Rangers made us watch a little video on the dangers of the wild and what to do if you encounter them. They talked a lot about bears, except that section was very confusing. First they said, if you see a bear, back away slowly. If it looks at you, either drop on the ground or act aggressive (it wasn’t really clear which was best). If it charges you, back away slowly or stand your ground and make a lot of noise. We joked of giving up and going to a hotel instead. When we could finally get of that building, we parked in a special parking lot for backcountry campers, and set off on a five-mile hike to the camp spot.

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Oscar and Nico investigating some bear scat

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We were all tired of carrying our backpacks the whole way, but we were greatly rewarded when we got to our spot. It was a beautiful campsite overlooking a pond coming straight out of glaciers, so it was chilly. But that is not an obstacle for us (or at least me:)). I waded in and got my whole body wet, the most Dad and Oscar could do was get water up to their thighs, and my mom just put on a sweatshirt and watched us.

For dinner we ate “Three Cheese Enchilada with Ranchero Sauce.” It came in a bag, freeze-dried. There is this company that makes freeze-dried, add-water meals like that.

Then a terrible, but totally expected rainstorm rolled in. We stayed in the tent for a while playing card games. Right before sunset, the storm lifted and my dad spotted a rainbow that went across the whole valley. IMG_0164We went out and, since it was Sunday, had ‘camp church’ on one of the fallen trees. We have gotten used to having church in different places now.

The next morning, we hiked all the way back out again, and got a little campsite at the main campground. There were these two marmots that were really curious about our food and gear. We named them Melvin and Theodore. Melvin almost jumped in our van.

Alys continues (stepping in for Nico while he puts some extra time on his novel, Hit. Look for it later this year).

Looking back now, I think our last day in Glacier may have been our low point of the trip so far. It started out pleasantly enough. We drove the Going to the Sun road early in the morning. So did about 10,000 other people, though, so there wasn’t a lot of space to pull over and enjoy the views. Also, the clouds rolled in and obscured any view of actual glaciers. Undeterred, we continued our journey on up to Bowman Lake, stopping in Polebridge to gobble up some pastries at a locally famous bakery before heading to the campground.

To our surprise, the campground was nearly full, and getting more crowded by the minute. We got one of the last spots. The forecast called for rain that evening, with more expected tomorrow. IMG_0166We managed to get in a quick swim in the lake (cooooold! Because of, you know, the glaciers). The boys had been bickering most of the day about one thing after another, and as the rain rolled in, their conflict escalated.

Sometime during the night, our campsite flooded. Luckily, we were sleeping in the van, but the expanding puddle around the tent that held a lot of our stuff was more menacing by the minute. By morning, Danny and I had decided it was best not to try and weather the storm, but get ahead of it by driving west into Washington state.

Around 8am, when the temperature had risen to maybe 50 degrees, Danny and I packed up the tent and our gear in a heavy downpour. We had about 30 miles to the next gas station, and only about enough gas to get us maybe 12 miles.

The boys were no longer on speaking terms and rebelling against all requests to help pack up. The odor in the van was a potpourri of wet towels and gear, sweaty socks, peanut butter from breakfast sandwiches, with only a slight hint of the eucalyptus air freshener our dear friend John Linn had gifted us before we headed out (thanks, John!). To add insult to injury, when we turned on the van, the radio blared “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.”

We could hear the boys bickering again from the backseat. I honestly don’t know what they were fighting about. I had stopped paying attention. When they got to yelling and kicking each other, Danny did what any respectable parent will do when your offspring are at risk of eliminating your genetic material from the future of the human race.

“If you two can get through today without one fight, you will each have five dollars.”

This was not a sustainable solution. The dollars would add up quickly. But, it bought us some time. At the very least, it stunned them into silence long enough for Oscar to fall asleep, which bought us another couple of hours.

We drove eight hours that day. We managed to make it the 30 miles, coasting into what may be the only gas station in central Washington. The sun came out (or rather, we caught up with it), and by dinnertime, we were pulling into Steamboat Rock State Park in Central Washington. The campground was packed solid with tents and RVs, and we had just resigned ourselves to either squeezing in with the RVs or heading back on the highway to find a discreet place to just pull off and pop our top, when we decided to just check at the visitor center to see if there were any other options. We got lucky. They still had a few hike-in spots open along the cove at the other end of the park. IMG_0149Because they were hike-in, nobody seemed to want them, or maybe they just didn’t know about them. Either way, we found ourselves practically alone on this sweet piece of beach.

We were blessed with some great neighbors – Cassie, Milo, and their kids Tyler and Uriah, who happened to be roughly the same ages as Nico and Oscar. They showed us the “mormon crickets” they had caught (I asked what was Mormon about those insects but nobody knew), and shared a bunch of firewood with us. We cooked a sweet pasta meal right there on the beach.

And the kids? They had made it through the day without a single fight. They were each awarded a $5 bill with their name on it. Over dinner, they cleared the air a bit, and came to something of a truce that (knock on wood) continues to last.

The next day we enjoyed our spot on the beach. We swam across the cove and dove off the boulders into the lake. We played soccer on the beach, and even got a little nap. Then we tried to stay up to watch the meteor shower but nobody made it past 11.

Here’s a few more pics and stay tuned next week as we write about our time in Port Townsend, Washington with our dear friends Syd, Jeff and Orlanda.

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August 5 – Nico writing from Missoula, Montana

Before coming to Missoula, we spent 1 night in Bighorn National Forest and then 3 nights in Yellowstone NP, with our friends Aidan, Maj and Sean.

Yellowstone is known for it’s geysers. It has many thermal vents to see. It also is in the crater of a super-volcano, so there is a lot of magma to heat the stuff.  You have to be careful around the creeks and ponds because some of them are boiling hot because of the thermal vents and magma.

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Oscar touched this creek coming from a thermal vent to see if it was cold and found out it was boiling hot…ouch!

Maj and Sean had invited us up there a while back, but we never got the chance to. We went up there, and they had two nights left in the biggest campsite of the whole place. We arrived, said our hello’s and had dinner. I wanted to go into Yellowstone Lake, which was only a short walk from our campsite, but no one else wanted to. I ended up going in by my self, and I realized why the others did not want to go in. It must have been a little over freezing because I hopped right in, then two seconds later I was back at the campsite.

The next day we got up super early while it was still dark to see the animals before it was hot, but I didn’t see why they would want to get up this early, because I sure didn’t want to go out from my warm toasty sleeping bag into air that was the same temperature of the lake the day before. But my parents were all set, and they were already closing the top where I was sleeping. I definitely woke myself up by climbing  out of the comforts of my sleeping bag and into the cold air all the way from the top of the van to the bottom back seat.

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Rush hour in Yellowstone…

We decided to just drive around and see where cars were clumped up and stop there to see what was happening. On our way, we saw a moose crossing the road, and a couple of Elk eating grass on the side of it. We saw a clump of cars, which apparently was called “Wildlife Jams,” and joined in. There were a couple men with really good telescopes, and were letting people look into it. It was positioned toward two grizzly bears sharing a buffalo carcass. We could just see their shapes through the telescope.

We also saw some bighorn sheep and heard some wolves. When the sun came up, though, the animals went away. Aidan’s family told us of a breakfast place not too far from where we were. After we ate and were stuffed, we decided to go on a hike. We went on top of what they call the “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone National Park.” It was extremely steep and high up.  At some points you could see the river carving through the canyon below – if you weren’t afraid of heights and could look over the edge of the canyon.  Eventually the trail split up, and we chose to go right to see some thermal vents. It smelled so bad because of the sulfur in it that we all put our shirts on our noses and broke into a run.

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Grand Canyon at Yellowstone

After we were all sweaty and the hike was over, Aidan told my family of this warm little river, called Firehole Canyon, heated by the magma and the hot water, and it also had a waterfall that created some rapids. It had a deep section where you could jump off a little cliff into it. The pain was that you had to swim upstream every time you wanted to jump again.  We had a great time swimming in this river and jumping off the rocks for a while.

After that, we went back to our campsite and cooked Mexican food – beans, rice, salsa, tortillas, plantains and some bison brats we’d found at a health food store earlier (which aren’t Mexican, but we had to use them up). I made the plantains. Oscar was playing hockey with Sean using the boat paddles and soccer ball. Then we went to a Ranger talk about fire and how important it is for the forest ecosystem. Feel free to ask me about it next time we see each other.

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My dad and his friend Kevin rented the top floor in this house in Missoula 20 years ago when he lived here.

On our second day, we slept in and went back to the cold lake, but just to bathe really quickly because, like I said, it’s cold. In the afternoon we went on another hike on the south part of the park. There was another thermal vent and a little stream coming from it.

Oscar stuck his hand in there and burned it, but not really bad. From there, we went to a lake nearby and cooked our dinner, and then went back to the campsite. We left the next day in the morning, and came to Missoula, where we are now.

Before we even went to Yellowstone we stayed at a really nice campsite in the Bighorn National Forest in eastern Wyoming.  Below are some pictures from there and some others from our time in Yellowstone. We leave early tomorrow for a raft trip on the Flathead River and then we head to Glacier National Park for a few days.  I’ll write to you soon!

 

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July 31 – Nico writing from Sage Creek Campground, Badlands National Park, South Dakota

 

Since Friday, July 29 2016, we have been in the Badlands.

After the van repairs were done in Green Bay on Wednesday the 27th, we headed as far as we could before night and ended up at a state park campground outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. We then headed off on Thursday to Chamberlain, South Dakota and stayed in this cool campground right next to the Missouri River.We swam in that for a while, bathing and having fun.

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campsite on the Missouri River in Chamberlain, South Dakota

The next day we head off for the Badlands.The Badlands is a National Park that has a bunch of stone canyons and the biggest untouched mixed grass prairie in the United States. It is a very sacred place to the Lakota Sioux American-Indians.  It also has a lot of cool wildlife including bison, coyotes and bobcats. It’s beautiful. The downside to it is the heat. It is about 95 degrees F. all day long, and there is no water anywhere. You have to bring your own if you want to have any in certain parts of the park.  If you’d like to see the presentation that I did for my family before we got to the Badlands, you can click here.

The first day that we got there, we set up our camp and went on a hike. There was a medium-sized stone canyon that we walked up and down. I slipped and fell on a bunch of pebbles and got something called a “Butte Rash,” where the rocks cut you and some mineral in them makes the pain fifty-two bazillion times worse. When we went back to our camp, we met our friends from DC – RJ, Christy, Ben and Sophie – without knowing that either of us was going to be there. Total coincidence. We hung out with them for a while then went our separate ways.

The next day we decided that we were going to hike and camp in the wilderness. The National Park for the Badlands don’t have a rule about staying in a campsite, so you can hike out into the wilderness and camp there.We drove as far as we could to the west side of the park to a campground called Sage Creek Campground. There are a few camp spots there with no water and no fires allowed. Then, we packed up our hiking gear and headed out. We found and followed a bison trail to the South Fork of the Sage Creek and a mountain with a couple of trees for shade. We saw a bison on our way there, just chilling in the tall grass looking at us. My mom found a fossil, and we hiked through a prairie dog town. It was HUGE. Later, we decided on a base camp spot under a short little tree. We all sat down first thing and took a nap. The 90-degree heat and hike had exhausted us.

When we woke up, we set up camp and went out to explore. We climbed a hill and watched the sunset while eating astronaut ice cream (Don’t recommend it if your looking forward to having ice cream. It’s dry and warm and weird.). When we went to bed, there was a huge storm heading our way. At about midnight, the storm hit. The tent was blowing all over the place, lightning was striking in the distance almost every second, the rain was so loud as it hit the top of the tent, and Oscar was sound asleep.

When we woke up, my mom and dad were calling Oscar and me to the top of a hill. When we ran up there, right in front of us was a whole herd of buffalo, my dad counted 100 of them. They were going toward our previous campsite. It was amazing. But then a car turned on and scared them all off. Oscar said it looked like a stampede.

 

IMG_0467July 25 – Nico writing from Green Bay, Wisconsin

We have been camping for the past week in  two amazing National Parks in Michigan. The first one was called, “Sleeping Bear Dunes,” around Lake Michigan. We were up in Michigan with our friends Lisa, Bill, Levi and Miranda just hanging out there for a couple of days. We were going to head south down into Detroit, but then they invited us up north, so we went. It was pretty fun. We had fires, and learned some pretty cool and useful stuff for camping. We all had cinnamon rolls one night, cooked over a fire in orange peels, which were delicious.

We went on a three–mile hike on the dunes, and they were so hot. We saw these things called “ghost forests,” which are areas where the sand covers up trees, and then blows away again, leaving these dead trees sticking up everywhere. It looks like something out of Star Wars so we pretended we were on Tatoine and stuff. After that, we took a nice dip in the water. There was a dead fish that we saw, that all the vultures and buzzards and seagulls had eaten. It had no insides or outsides.

The next day, we floated down the Platte River in inner tubes. It was fun but longer than we thought it would be, so when we finished we were really tired. Later, we went out for dinner. There was a place in town called, “Stormcloud Brewery and Pizza,” which was really the only open restaurant in the small town. They had good beer (according to my parents) and good pizza. I always like to eat pizza.

Next we went, just our family, to another campsite in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, around Lake Superior in the , and got a prime spot right next to the beach. There were about 10-foot drops you that you could jump off of, that then went like another 100 feet down to the beach, or if you were boring (like my mom), you could just walk the regular little hole down.

Here are some pictures and a video of Oscar and me jumping off of the dune at our campsite.

Dune jumping video

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world. It’s so big that you could take the water in it and fill the entire continents of North and South America with 30cm of water. And it’s COLD! Every time you dive under it’s like getting slapped in the face a bunch of times. But I didn’t mind. I think that since I didn’t really know how cold it really was, I didn’t feel it.I swam more than anybody, so much my parents got nervous because I would stay in after sunset and go out really far.  Also, because it’s so cold, nothing much lives in it. There are no plants growing on the edge, and we didn’t see any fish at all.

It was amazing because there was so much to do. The sunsets were beautiful. There were bunches of smooth rocks here and there, and we built cairns on them. Every night we made a fire and stayed up until midnight when all the wood burned out and it was just glowing coals. Mom and I read Lord of the Flies on the beach, which is a cool thing to read from a beach.

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Oscar and I found good walking sticks, and worked on them with our knives until we got all the bark off and smoothed out all the knotted parts. We sharpened some of them into spears, too.

I stayed by my self in the tent every night and slept really well. One night it rained, but I had the tarp on. I could hear the rain puckering on the tarp. It was cool.

The last day that we stayed there, we went on a very short little 0.6 mile hike to a pretty little waterfall that leads from a thin river to a place called Miners Castle. Here it is:

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Now were back in a hotel in the comforts of civilization.

Sunday, July 17, 2016 – by Danny

What is that old saying, “the best made plans are laid to waste”? One of the most consistent dialogues that our family has had in preparation for the year of discovery has been how much to plan out the journey. We have felt a pull to less planning and more listening and responding given the great extent to which our lives have been planned and structured over the past years. For some of us (ME!) more than others, this lack of planning would prove to be an area of personal growth – or in other words, it pains me to not plan out every last detail. However, the one part of this year that we did actually plan out with some level of detail were the first weeks of July. And just as God often does, God laughed at our plans (:)).

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Grandma Lear, Rest in Peace, September 24, 1924 – July 11, 2016

My Grandma Lear, who would be turning 92 this coming September 24, passed away this past Monday, July 11. We were visiting our friends Jessica and Andy and their 3 beautiful boys in New Haven, Connecticut when we received the news. We were not surprised by the news as my mom, Aunt Mary, Uncle Al and Aunt Cyn have been holding vigil with Grandma consistently for the past couple of weeks as Grandma’s health had been declining rapidly.   They were planning to move Grandma to Uncle Al and Aunt Cyn’s house in Brighton, Michigan and were scheduling hospice for the remaining weeks of Grandma’s life, when she passed on to rejoin Grandpa Lear and so many other saints who have gone before us. We learned the next day when Nico’s grandparents called to sing Happy Birthday to him (11 years old that day) that visitation would take place two days later on Thursday and the funeral would be Friday morning. We knew then that our plans to visit with the Potter family on the Cape and then to head up to see our friends the Stew-Balls(Sewart-Baldwins) in Maine, would be laid to waste.

We decided to continue on to spend Tuesday night in Voluntown, Connecticut with our good friends Jim and Nancy MacBride (Check out some of her artwork! – amazing!). Our visit would be shortened, but we were able to get some quality time with Jim, Nancy, their daughter Mae, and my dear friend and fellow farmer Mary Hill and meet her 6 year-old son Ray. Unfortunately the rest of Mary’s family – DJ and Alex – were out of town so we didn’t get to see them. Before beginning our journey to Detroit, we also got to walk the land for a bit at the Voluntown Peace Trust, where I had lived and worked in community for nearly 3 years (2005 to 2008). During our short visit, we were graced with the presence of Joanne Sheehan, VPT board chair and long time nonviolence activist for social change, as well as Nancy Kwasnik, who along with her two daughters, is the current VPT caretakers. A highlight for me was walking and praying the labyrinth at VPT, which was built in honor of a good friend, the late Rev. Emmett Jarrett, TSSF.

Leaving Voluntown, we traveled west and north through the Berkshire mountains and through northern New York. We drove for nearly 8 hours and ended up for the day on Goat Island, just north of Buffalo and just south of Niagara Falls. We pulled in to a campground, cooked up some macaroni and cheese, prepared some salad and some chicken soup and then headed to the campground pool to swim for our 22nd day in a row. After a week of sleeping in a different place every night, we were becoming a well-oiled machine when it came to setting up camp and getting dinner together.

The next morning we headed out, and crossed over to Canada. Alys and I had underestimated the excitement crossing a border would create in our boys. They looked for differences everywhere. Wait- they had passports? When had their parents obtained these magical documents that allowed them entry to this new place called Canada? Would the food taste different? Would they hear people speaking French? Never mind that (to us, anyway) Canada looked a lot like the U.S. – to them, everything was Canadian, and therefore new and exciting.

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Lear family in attendance at Grandma’s funeral (missing Joey and Holly Lear, Jason and Danny Malec, Julia and Michael Lear)

After breathing in the Falls for an hour or so, we continued what would be about a 5-hour drive to Sterling Heights, Michigan. The next several days would turn in to a blessed and joy-filled Lear family reunion and celebration of the life of Elizabeth Lear. 3 out of 4 of the Lear children (my mom, Aunt Mary and Uncle Al – we missed Uncle Joe and Aunt Alice who were in Eastern Europe), 10 of 11 grandchildren (we missed Sherrie who was unable to attend as she was between South Africa and some other far and away place), and 6 of 14 great-grandchildren were in attendance, along with several spouses. I think we were a posse of just over 20 strong, along with a large group of friends and extended family. We laughed, we cried, we hugged, we danced and we reminisced about Grandma Lear’s full, FULL life here among us. I am so grateful to this time to be together with our family to reconnect and to celebrate Grandma Lear, a woman of PASSION, CHARISMA, and deep faith.

Amidst this time of grieving and celebration, our van “Red” broke down for the first time. Thank God she waited for this until we joined up with our family here. Red’s alternator and main battery called it quits here. As grace would have it, Uncle Al knew of a shop just 2 blocks from our hotel and within 2 days, the shop owner had located a replacement alternator (not an easy task up here in the motor city where foreign car parts are few and far between, especially if you are driving a 2003 Eurovan!) and replaced our battery and our alternator. Red is back in action, but is in need of some new brake pads, which we will take care of sometime in the coming weeks. Fingers crossed they don’t go out while we’re in the mountains somewhere.

So what next? Our plan (God laughs :)) is to spend a few more days in the Brighton/Detroit area and then to head north to the Sleeping Bear Dunes to join up with the Schirch-Goldberg family who happens to be spending the week up there. After that, only God knows where we’ll be heading and I am starting to feel more comfortable with that idea…

Monday, July 11, 2016 – by Nico

We’re up in New Haven, Connecticut now visiting friends of my mom and dad from their Nicaragua days. We drove from the beach in New Jersey to New York City, where we visited friends.

I was born in New York City. When I was little, we lived in a tiny apartment with my Mom and Dad in Washington Heights. I would go to daycare, and then come home and hang out with my parents until we got tired and went to sleep. When I had just turned three, we moved to Washington DC into a bigger home and a more peaceful society.

So we visited one of my best friends from New York. He and his mom live alone in a two-room apartment. We stayed for two or three hours, then set off again. We arrived at a campsite in New England at Hammonasset Beach State Park. We had a reservation for the next night, but we tried to see if there was an open spot we could stay that night as well. There wasn’t, so we had to spend the night in the parking lot.

We waited until dark (because we weren’t allowed to set up camp until after 9pm for some reason), set up our van, and got ready for sleep. I found a huge tick on my head, and so we pulled it out and had a deep tick check on everyone. When everyone was tick-free, we settled down and started a book called Lord of the Flies. When we all got tired, we went into our different beds, put on our sleeping bags, and went to sleep.

About halfway through the night, we all woke up when we heard a crash. We all got up, and found Oscar in the front seat of the van on his head. He had fallen through the hole in the roof bed. In the front of the bed, there is a hole that you use to get in and out of the top bed, and Oscar had slowly inched toward that in his sleep, and then started to slip when he got too close. Though Oscar was a little shaken up, he was OK and he climbed back up and went back to sleep.

After that, it was a pretty peaceful night. But when we woke up, there were some kind of gnats stuck to the roof of the van. It was so gross, that when Oscar and I realized it, we scrambled down and fell backward down into the front seats. When our parents woke up and asked us what was going on, we pointed up to the top bed.

We tried to get rid of them in any possible way, but all we ended up doing was making them wake up and fly all around the car. We opened up all the windows and doors, and hoped that they would eventually fly out. After a while, we got hungry. I was supposed to make pancakes, but when we packed up the van to go to a picnic table to cook them, the van wouldn’t turn on. The engine kept making funny noises. My dad banged his head against the steering wheel and said that the battery had died. So we ended up waiting for someone to come to jump the car. We ate cereal with yogurt instead of pancakes.

First night in the van:)

Here are a few pics from New York and Hammonasset Beach…

 

 

July 6, 2016 – Nico writing from Avalon, NJ

So now that were done at the lake, we were aiming at our next family vacation in Avalon, New Jersey. We said our goodbyes, packed up, and squished everything into the van. My dad had made many new modifications to make life better in Red. For example, we have a three-drawer black bookshelf, which we call “Big Black.” It used to fall over every time we took a sharp turn or went over a steep hill. All its stuff would fall out and splatter everywhere, and one time when it happened, Oscar was sitting right where it fell. So my Dad and his brother Andrew did a bunch of things like attaching it to the back of the front passenger seat, screwing in the buckles which kept the shelves in, and putting Velcro in places where we needed to keep things.

Once we took off, at about 6:00 am, the road was very windy. Since we were in the mountains, you couldn’t look down for more than five seconds without getting sick. But after an hour it stopped, so I kept switching from playing on my phone and reading, looking out the window and sleeping, or sitting in the front or the back. In that time, I made a really cool song on Garageband, my mom and I finished the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and about ten hours into the drive we stopped in DC to go to the pool and check in with everyone. When we finally got to Avalon, at 10:00, there were a few fireworks. We watched them, then collapsed in our beds into sleep.

In the morning, when we woke up, we were at the Willman and Mays. Every year, we rent a different house right by the shore. It’s always exciting to see and explore the new house for five seconds, then say hey to everyone. In total, there were four May sisters, one of which who died of cancer in her early ages. But every morning, it’s nice to see my great aunts and grandmother awake and doing crossword puzzles with everyone. We make pancakes, as it is a tradition in the Willman family to do so every morning when you have company. We hung out for a while, until about 11:00, when someone said,                           “I’m going to the beach!”                                                                                                                    Then, other people chimed in saying that they’re coming too. We got our bathing suits on, grabbed some chairs, and headed off.

We stayed in the sand and in the water for about 4 – 5 hours, then we all got hungry and came back for lunch, which at the beach is usually subs from a store called Brady’s.

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We kinda lost our heads here
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My cousins and Oscar, and me

Then we went back to the beach for another 4 – 5 hours. We came back and played card games and hung out and made dinner until it was happy hour. Right then, we are all together and we’re all having snacks and Dr. Pepper and we’re all happy. Then we had dinner, where everyone has a shift for making it for one night. After that, we hung out until we all went to bed, one by one.

And in the morning, when we woke up, we were at the Willman and Mays again. We will be here until Saturday, when we have to give the house to another family.

July 4 – On Leaving Lake Burton and Alys’ birthday

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by Danny and Nico

We have been on the road now since Wednesday, June 22.  After a long few days of packing our home, and lots of visiting with friends in DC, we hit the road early that Wednesday.  Danny and Nico traveled in a 15-foot UHaul with the Prius trailing behind and Alys and Oscar traveling in Red.  It was a long and arduous journey from DC down to Danny’s parents’ house in Atlanta – around 13 hours to be exact.  Needless to say, we were exhausted when we got there.  The next day we powered through unloading all of our stuff because we knew the sooner we got that done, the sooner we would get rid of that UHaul and would be closer to living out of the van.

Before we go any further, a huge shout out is due to Nana and Papa Malec, who graciously let us pile all our furniture and other stuff in their basement while we are on this journey. Same to Alys’ brother Rob and sister-in-law Megan, who also are hosting a pile of our stuff in their Indiana basement. Thanks, guys!

While in Atlanta, we got a chance to sneak a visit with Kevin, Connie, Benjamin and Emma before heading up to Lake Burton on Friday, June 24.  This is when relaxation really began as it is almost impossible to NOT relax on Lake Burton.  As Jenn Waters once said upon arrival to Burton, “I am not worthy!”  That is how we feel every time we arrive there.

Nico writes about our time at Burton:

Every year we go to visit the Malec family at Lake Burton. We own this big house right on the shore, on land that we’ve owned for about twenty years. It’s really fun because there is so much to do – kayaking, paddle boarding, tubing, water skiing, jumping off the dock, swimming in the lake, fishing and just hanging out. The house is big so that the entire  family can be there (My grandparents, my parents, my three uncles and their wives, and the 11 grandchildren). There is a little yard where the grass is always green. There’s so much to do in the water, like racing or diving or pushing people off the dock when they least expect it.

So this year, it was all the same. Really fun stuff. But our grandparents were trying to sell the house because they need more retirement savings. So one day, some of the little cousins and my dad and me were playing baseball in the little yard when my grandmother came and told us all that the house was under contract. We all tried to act excited, but I think I can speak for the whole family that we were all a little sad. So we won’t be coming back next year. But we all enjoyed the week as best that we could, and the memories will still be in our heads.

Back to Danny – so, all in all, it was another epic week at Lake Burton.  As Nico mentioned, this one was colored by all of our grieving this being our last time at Meeting Place at Lake Burton.  At the same time, it was certainly a gift and a blessing that the house was going under contract while we were all together there.  We were able to reminisce and share many stories of our 20 years there and grieve the loss together:)  Below are some photos from our time at Burton, as well as a slo-mo video of Oscar’s first jump off the boat house…from almost 20 feet up!!

Oscar Video

Yesterday (Sunday, July 3), we packed up the van and began what would be a 13-hour drive to Avalon, New Jersey to meet up with Alys’ family there.  We drove 10 hours straight to PG Pool, where we took about a 2 hour break to swim, eat pizza and hang out with friends and then we got back in the car to finish off the last 3 and a half hours to the beach.  And now, today is Alys’ birthday and we are at the beach!