Tuesday, November 27, 2012

LV-AZ trip, part 2

The second destination on our trip was the Grand Canyon. From Hoover Dam, we drove southeast on U.S. 93 to Kingman, then east on I-40 to Williams, where we headed north on U.S. 64 toward Grand Canyon National Park.

We stayed for two nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Tusayan, just a few miles from the park's south entrance (on the canyon's south rim). When we checked in, the front desk clerk immediately offered us a free upgrade from our economy room with two queen beds to one with a king bed and "kid suite" with bunk beds. The kids were thrilled by the adventure of bunk beds and Jim and I, well, we were thrilled to have a room to ourselves, too. I cannot say enough good things about the hotel staff--but more on that later.

I was the only one who had been to the Grand Canyon before, but it took my breath away again. And again.

Several months before the trip, I had looked at the park's website and determined that the best way for the kids to appreciate the canyon (and be learning while we were there) would be to walk along the Trail of Time.

When they're a bit older, perhaps a hike down into the canyon, or even a mule trip would be fun--but with Joe mostly in a stroller and Audrey being at best a reticent hiker, the Trail of Time was just our speed. We spent the morning of our only full day at the canyon on the trail, which took us about an hour and a half round-trip, not counting the time we spent at the Yavapai Geology Museum before we turned around and headed back.

The trail's a well-constructed geological timeline of the canyon (one long step = 1 million years) with samples of rock from each of the main layers from the Elves Chasm Gneiss on the canyon floor (1,840 million years old) all the way to the top layer, called the Kaibab Formation (a mere 270 million years old).

Jimmy and Audrey each had their own favorite rocks.

The kids also enjoyed getting occasional glimpses of local fauna.

Best of all, the entire length (1.6 miles) of the trail is paved, which made it easy on the feet of even our littlest hiker.

After lunch and some souvenir shopping, we drove east along the south rim via Desert View Drive, trying to find a good view of the Colorado River for Jimmy.

We stopped at several turnouts along the road, but Desert View and the watchtower proved to be the  perfect vantage for Jimmy to get his elusive view of the Colorado meandering along the floor of the canyon.

We had no idea this idyllic drive in the lovely light of late afternoon would be the last time everyone would feel good enough to enjoy the scenery. Within a half hour, Audrey lost her lunch in the back seat of our minivan.

Thanks to some good Samaritans in the parking lot of the Grand Canyon General Store, we got bleach wipes and a chamois to clean up the first few waves of puke. One of the store employees suggested Audrey might have altitude sickness, which he said many visitors experienced because the altitude at the south rim was over 7,000 feet above sea level. He gave us a roll of paper towels, which we layered on Audrey's seat for the drive back to the hotel. I improvised a barf bucket from one of the kid's plastic trick-or-treat pumpkins.

By the time we got back to the hotel, Audrey had used the pumpkin several times, so Jim herded the boys upstairs to our room and I kept her with me so she could get some fresh air while I cleaned out the minivan. Fortunately, our parking spot was right in front of the open door to the hotel laundry services room, and one of the laundry ladies noticed our plight and came out to see if I needed help. With her limited English and my limited Spanish, I managed to explain what happened and ask for some cleaning supplies. She gave me everything she had access to, including a big handful of washcloths, some shampoo, disinfectant, a box of Kleenex and a roll of trash bags. She also let me come and go to the utility sink to rinse out the washcloths and then put them in a big rolling laundry bin.

Thanks to that lovely laundry lady, I got the seat and carpet well scrubbed. Then I carried Audrey back up to our room, gave her a bath and put her to bed. Later, the front desk staff connected me with the housekeeping manager, who loaned me a nice big bottle of Febreeze so I could attack the minivan and beat back the sick smell for our six-hour drive to Tucson the next day.

So, if you're ever at the Grand Canyon and need a place to stay that will take good care of you (when you're barfing or otherwise), Holiday Inn Express has got you covered.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas is coming...

...in less than a month! I started my Christmas sewing on Saturday, turning some gold-colored brocade from my fabric stash into a tree skirt. In former lifetimes it has been both pillow shams and a valance above our shower. A little Velco, a little gold braid (and a whole lot of calculating and then recalculating the diameter of the circle based on the amount of gold braid I had to go around the circumferance) and voilà! Things old are new again.

Next up: stockings for me and Jim. I made our original stockings back in 1996 and they're just so... 90s. You know, earth-tone red and green plaids with pine trees and hearts. I wanted something a little more expressive of our personalities, so over the last few months I bought some Simpsons Christmas fabric for Jim and sock monkey Christmas fabric for me.

Today I started planning our yearly advent calendar line-up, inspired by this post at Playful Learning. Our annual favorites will be back, including:
  • putting up the tree on December 1st
  • reading about the history and significance of Christmas symbols such as the wreath, the candle and the star
  • making Christmas cookies
  • hanging our stockings
  • visiting the local animal shelter with donations for needy critters
This year I'll be adding some new activities:
  • making Christmas cards for teachers
  • reading about the history of the winter solstice
  • decorating ice cream cone Christmas trees (instead of the usual gingerbread houses)
  • creating ornaments for grandparents
and the one I'm really excited about (because Audrey suddenly has a wild hair that she wants to eat tamales after we learned about them for Día de los Muertos) ...
  •  learning about how Las Posadas is celebrated in Mexico and making tamales
So many things to look forward to!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving mulligan

I would have thought being sick once already this month had earned me a by, but no. A week ago Jimmy came down with a cold, and I followed suit within a few days. I was so sick I stayed home from Thanksgiving dinner at Jim's folks', since I didn't want to share the love with a sister-in-law who is due with twins the first week in December.

Thank goodness for Jim wanting to get a turkey of our own to cook so we could have leftovers (since his mom was making the bird this year). Now that I'm on the mend, we're having a little do-over feast of our own. I just took the pie out of the oven, and Jim's getting ready to drain the brine off the turkey and put it in.

My nose is still a bit stuffy, but I can smell the nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon... aaaahhh.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

LV-AZ trip, part 1

At the beginning of the year we found ourselves with an unexpected surplus of funds, which I talked Jim into earmarking for a trip to visit my dad and step-mom, who moved to Tucson around the same time we moved to Ellensburg. We see them several times a year, but the visits are usually short--often when they are passing through on the way to or from Seattle. Three years ago Dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer and is now in remission, and I didn't want to wait any longer for a nice, relaxed visit at their place so the kids could build some fun memories.

In the ensuing months, we looked at different options and finally decided to fly into Las Vegas, where Jim's brother John lives with his family, and rent a car there for the drive to Arizona, with some sight-seeing along the way. We tried to strike a balance between fun time with family and educational experiences for Jimmy and Audrey, so they'd still be learning even while we took two weeks off from our regular school schedule.

After trying (and failing) to find good airfares for the beginning of September, we moved the trip to the end of October, which proved to be a perfect time to travel--great weather, moderate temperatures, and no crowds at any of the more touristy places we went.

We flew from Pasco to Las Vegas on the Monday before Halloween. Jimmy was immediately mesmerized by all the lights, and especially by the Stratosphere. "Las Vegas is beautiful," he enthused. I'm glad he's young enough for it to be magical; it isn't for me anymore.

Tuesday afternoon we wandered around the more G-rated portion of the Strip, visiting the M&M and Coca-Cola factory stores and the fountain show at Bellagio, which was the highlight of the day.

On the afternoon of Halloween, we went to the Springs Preserve (which I highly recommend) with the kids' Aunt Chantalle and cousins Mariska and Jack. Unfortunately, because the preserve was hosting a Halloween party that evening, they closed at 3 p.m. We only got to spend about an hour and a half there, just long enough to look around the Origen Museum.

The kids particularly enjoyed a simulated flash-flood exhibit, but we're definitely going to have to go back on our next trip so they can see the outside collections of wildlife and local habitats.

That evening, the kids dressed up and went trick-or-treating with their cousins.

Bright and early Thursday morning, we hit the road. Mid-morning we stopped at Hoover Dam to look around and let the kids stretch their legs. The last time I drove over the dam was in the late 90s, when it was still on the main route of U.S. 93 to Arizona.

While the visitor center offers tours, we decided that the kids' limited attention spans and our need to get back on the road would make it more prudent to look around on our own--which we did, and it was a good call.

Jimmy was fascinated by the history of the dam and completely engrossed by all the informative plaques posted at various points.

However, by the time we got halfway across (where we could have one foot in Nevada and one in Arizona), Audrey was done and ready to head back to the car for a snack.

The new bridge was really spectacular from below, but sadly, we couldn't see beyond the high barriers on each side as we drove over it and into Arizona toward the Grand Canyon.


More birthday goodness from the draft vault (now that he just turned 14 months two days ago). Better late than never, right?


Look what I found when I went back through a folder of drafts I had never posted! It's two and a half months late, but feast your eyes on the fabulous cake Jim decorated for Audrey. How-to here.