Another Crazy Carlson Road Trip

Friday, March 9th (4:30 pm):
We threw the four kids in the car and drove. We drove and drove. There were rules. No stopping (almost). We synchronized our bladders. Food gets eaten in the car while travelling. Did I mention no stopping? No changing seats. Do your reading. Do more reading. Do your french reading. Play car bingo. Okay, maybe a digital device but for a short time only. First day, only one pit stop. Get gas and do everything all at once. We cross into the Oregon State line. My husband says, "kiss." I lean over and kiss him. This is our tradition. Every new state, new province, new country--we cross the line and kiss. Grateful for another day, another breath, another chance to live, see, explore and be with each other. The 8 year old yells, "gross!" Then he qualifies it, "Only if you kiss him on the lips, it's gross!" "How do you know?" I reply. "Maybe your dad likes it on the lips." The 8 year old is unconvinced. We make it to Albany, Oregon. Unfortunately, the kids wake when we got to the motel and everyone has to eat cereal before bed. Lights out near midnight.
By Mom.


Long And Boring...

Friday, March 9th.
Long. Boring. Very long. Very boring. We left the house at 4:30. I read. Complained. Begged. And so did my siblings. We ate food in the car. The solution: complaining and begging some more. We found a motel at 11. Too late. Way too late. Tired too. Way too tired. This day has certainly been eventful and exciting.
Anticipating tomorrow with much excitement.



More driving

Saturday, March 10th:
More driving. Did I mention this was a road trip? Reading. Then their dad makes them watch a movie: The Sound of Music. Groans in the car. No one wants to watch it. Husband chose it because it is a classic AND (he leans over and whispers to me) "it is three hours long." I begin to sing "Doh, a deer, a female deer..." There is loud wailing and nashing of teeth in the back of the car. My vocal talents are under appreciated. They turn the movie on. The car is blessedly quiet. The thirteen hours are long. We make it to a motel outside Bakersfield. They have warning signs about valuables and a security guard roving the premises. I mutter something unappreciative to my husband. We wonder if the three mountain bikes on the back of the van will be there in the morning. He promises the next one will be nicer. I am grateful not to be in a tent.
By Mom.


Can It Possibly Be...

Saturday, March 10th.
How can it possibly be that 13 hours in the car is more exciting than 6 hours in the car? Yes, unbelievably, I found it more exciting. No, no sarcasm there. Possibly that we went to Subway? Or that there was a security guard at the motel today? Whatever, for some reason, I wasn't as bored.


Absolutely Nothing

Sunday, March 11th:
Making it to Sedona at dusk
We can make it through one more day of driving. I am sure of it. The highway heads east and we have gorgeous sun, wide open sky and velvet hills. The cactus appear. I am in love with the desert, the sun, and the opportunity to sit in the passenger side of the car and do absolutely nothing. I do not even read. Nothing. Oh, I play car bingo with the kids, check my blackberry occasionally, pass food back to the kids, and stare vacantly out the window. This is bliss. My husband has hidden a bag of Miss Vickie's chips under his seat. He had a bag yesterday as well. He brought them for me. I think he loves me. Some women get diamonds. I get Miss Vickie's chips. I am grateful not to be sleeping in a tent. At 3 pm we break open the bag of Miss Vickie's. I pass them out in plastic cups to the kids. We stop for gas and to empty the synchronized bladders. He drives crazy so we can get close to Sedona before we lose the light. We want to see the rocks in the red glow. We make it. He stops the car repeatedly. I jump out to take pictures with my camera and blackberry. The hills are alive.
By Mom.


The Promise

Sunday, March 11th.
We left our guarded motel at 9:40 am. Today, we would reach our first destination. Sedona. It was pretty boring in the car. Nothing much to do other than look out the windows. That's very exciting. We crossed into Arizona and made a stop at a Pilot Travel Center. We were in a canyon. We dropped from 7000 feet to 4500 feet. I was on an iPad. My mom yelled at me. "Put the window down" and "Quick, take pictures with the iPad." I roll down the window. I take some pictures. About fifty in half a minute. The pictures are almost identical. Here's one:
Then I went back to what I was doing. Shortly after, we arrive at Sedona. Dad gets directions to our hotel and where there's good food. Chinese food. We drove 2,688 km to get Chinese food. I thought we were supposed to experience Arizona culture. Not Chinese.



Spring Break Training

I didn't expect to be going to Boot Camp. No one prepared me for this. Spring break training in Arizona. In the morning we hiked 4 miles around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. Three of the boys had bikes and the rest of us hiked. That worked fine until we got to the steep upgrade with a sign that said "No Bikes--$300.00 Fine." The 13 year old, the 5 year old and I continued the hike up, up and around Bell Rock. Did I mention up? My husband biked back the easy downhill with the other boys (he must have planned that). My 5 year old is pretty tough but 4 miles uphill in the heat is a lot. I had to give him a ride. Just 40 pounds on my back. No weight training needed today. My husband meets me at the van with water. "I thought you were going to be mad at me." I say nothing. I get in the van just for the sheer pleasure of sitting down.
After lunch, we headed out on what was supposed to be a scenic drive so we could all have a break. Sixteen year old had other idea. Let's ride the bikes on the Chuck Wagon Trail to The Devil's Bridge (a magnificent natural bridge) in the middle of nowhere. It was the nowhere part that caught me off guard. There I was mountain biking on a single track that wound up, over, down, in between. Rocks? Cactus? Hairpin turns? More rocks? Steep, sandy dry gulch? Yes, me and the 8 year old pushed our bikes most of the way. Isn't that what mountain biking is all about? Crusted in red sand, bruised, sun-burned and raked by sharp branches, we made it back before dusk. "Are you okay?" asks beloved husband when we finally make it to the van. In sickness and in health. Gotta love this family.

By mom.



Monday, March 12th.
Today we started off by walking/biking to Oak Creek. My parents and my youngest sibling were walking. The rest of us were biking. About a quarter way down, I traded with Mom. She biked. Aka, walked the bike. We had to go uphill instead of riding the bikes. The bikes were being carried. Once we arrived at a sign that clearly stated they didn't want bikes on the trail, we had a problem. We decided that the weaklings, my Dad, older brother and the second youngest brother would go the easy way back on the bikes. My youngest brother, Mom and me carried on. The terrain was quite steep in some places and we had to help Ellis.
When my Mom wanted to take photos of us Ellis would become a flamingo. We had to ration out what was left of the water. When Ellis was tired he would ride his "pony." Eventually, after walking 5 miles we arrived at the car. We returned to the hotel then went for a drive. The drive was supposed to be "scenic." Depends on your point of view. No pun intended. On our way to an undisclosed restaurant a battle erupted in the car. Where should we eat? I was all for a Mexican restaurant a teacher-friend of Mom's recommended. Elliott wanted a Ribs restaurant that the same friend had also recommended. The younger ones wanted a very cultural restaurant: The Golden Arches. We decided against the Ribs. So, Elliott wanted Subway. Another cultural restaurant. We decided to go Mexican. In the US. The food was delicious.



Spring Break Training Continues

March 13th, 2012
Ha! And I thought yesterday was Spring Break training. That was simply the warm-up. Since I was still able to walk after getting out of bed in the morning, my 16 year old and I went mountain biking. All was good until I actually put my rear end on the bike seat. Bike seats were not designed to match the female anatomy. Oh, tender. As this is a family blog, I will forego an anatomical description of the raw (quite literally) details. I was in for the long ride. My son headed off with me chasing behind. This time, I was pretty determined to actually ride more than walk the bike. We went up, down, up, down, around and more up. "Mom, you need to pedal more." "Mom, you need to lean back behind the seat on the downhills." "Mom, stand up on the pedals." My quads screamed. So did my lungs. I was sure he was trying to kill me. I began thinking some not nice things about my son. No, these were not nurturing, motherly thoughts. And then we turned around and came back. He flew ahead of me. We whipped down Llama Trail, joined onto Bell Rock trail, hung left onto a side trail and flew down the curves, bumping over the rocks, flying along the slick rock. I let out a few wild yells. "Yee-haw!" Even the hikers moved out of our way. One hour and 45 minutes later, we arrived back at the motel. It was so-much-screaming-fun, I may never come back to work. I love my 16 year old.
Climbing up the steep Cathedral Rock

But that was just the morning. We checked out of the motel and headed over to Cathedral Rock for the short, but steep, "hand-over-hand" climb up to the top of the butte. Did you read "hand-over-hand?" Yes, this was a strenuous rock climbing adventure. The 8 year old shot up the face of the rock with the 13 year old chasing. "Stick with him," I yelled. "Make sure he doesn't jump off the ledge at the top." My husband and I flanked the five year old and up we went. The 16 year old bounced back and forth between our groups. Up, up and up. More up. Slick Rock. Smooth. Steep. Only a crack to go up in places. Steep, red, glowing rock. And at the top, a sheer ledge overlooking the valley on the other side. Of course, the boys all took turns walking out to the tip of the ledge and hanging off it. See picture. See mom freak out.
Coming down was a slippery challenge but it was a fabulous thrill of a hike.

We are in love with Sedona.


Cathedral Rock

Tuesday, March 13th.
Early in the morning, my mom and older brother ditched the rest of us and went biking. We had to pack the car. Then we left the hotel. Next, we went to climb a mountain. We hiked climbed crawled up Cathedral Rock. Except me, I ran up and jumped down. We went up about 1500 meters. Then we took some photos that resulted in us getting into places which caused Mom to wring hands, bite fingernails and generally be very anxious and nervous. We got really high up but then Mom wanted to go back. On the way down I just jumped down cliffs. Pretty fun. And pretty worrisome for Mom, which made it all the more worthwhile. And then we left Sedona. I'd love to go back there.




March 14th, 2012
Phoenix. Sun. Heat. Real heat. 28 degrees. The pool calls my name. It hear it clearly. Bootcamp waits. I don bathing suit. "Where did you get that mom?" queries son with strange look on face. He doesn't like it. I'm going sunbathing and I get a critic in the house. I head to pool, without critic. Lounge chair. Towel. Husband keeps boys in motel room to do "homework." That would be their English and French reading. I get peace and a chance to read the guidebooks. I plan the afternoon's activity. I turn over to tan other side. Lovely. I begin to fantasize about pool boy showing up with lunch. A quesadilla, guacamole, sour cream, and salsa served with a fruit drink topped with paper umbrella. Perfect. I am abruptly awakened from reverie by cold water bottle and bag of nuts tossed on my tanning body. That would be the 16 year old. He has no class. Husband delivers the youngest. Five year old says, "Mom, I like your top." I am going to keep that child. The rest of the kids join us. I should have brought a whistle. I am now official lifeguard and referee. No more reading. No more peace. The kids have a blast. I become pool girl. I make lunch and deliver poolside. The boys have inhaled it before I have a chance to sit down. This is the real life we live.
We drag boys from pool and head out to go hiking. They don't want to go hiking. It is 28 degrees. They want to stay in the air-conditioned motel room and play on computers or go horseback riding. Fat chance. Mother rules. We head to South Mountain Preserve, the largest municipal park in the world, to climb down The National Trail to Hidden Valley. We head out on the trail at 4 pm. We climb down to Fat Man's Pass.
We must pass through a crevice to get to the Hidden Valley. The boys squeeze through.
My husband says, "I'm too big. My chest is too big." He takes off the pack to slide through. I'm next. With a deadpan face, I announce, "No, my chest is too big." The 13 year grins wide and his eyes laugh. "I'm too buxom," I add. The 16 year looks embarrassed but he too is smirking. What a mother! The boys find the natural rock slides. They are slick, smooth and shiny. We slide them. We make it to The Tunnel. It's gorgeous. The Tunnel, Fat Man's Pass and the natural slides are why we came. We have to hustle back. The park closes at 7 pm and we need to drive out from the Trailhead. It is uphill. The light is perfect, the desert begins to glow. The camera battery dies. My blackberry is full. Good thing 16 year old has iPod. It is a race back to the car. I come in last but I have logged 2.5 hours of strenuous exercise. I think I win.

By Mom.

South Mountain Park

Wednesday, March 14th.
First day in Phoenix. For breakfast we went to the deluxe continental breakfast. I made my own waffles and had orange juice. Then, my Mom, and my other siblings went to the pool. I stayed and did some homework I had assigned, that is till my younger sibling begged me to come down. I came down and played Tag with them and then I had swimming races with my Dad. I won. Then, we had lunch by the pool, after we went in the car to South Mountain Park, the largest municipal park in the world. We took a hike to Hidden Valley in the extremely hot sun. We went to find a tunnel and a rock slide. We found them after thinking we found them twice (other hikers helped us). Before we found the real one, we got separated. Dad yells "Elijah!" I yell "Elijah!" Ellis yells "Elijah!" No answer. Dad yells "Elliott!" Ellis cuts me off, "Elliott!" I reply "Elliott!" No answer. Dad shouts "Elisa!" Ellis yells, "Mommy!!" with a grin on his face. Then I yell, "Mom!" Then they answer and we have a shouting match. We were half a mile apart. On the way back, we had a race to the car. Then we went home and had hamburgers for dinner. Did I mention I was trying to convince my parents to go to the buffet nearby for dinner and go horseback riding at night?



No Easy Ride

March 15th, 2012
Another otherworldly morning poolside. Phoenix appears to be in a heat wave. I'm riding it. Toasting both sides on a lounge chair. A good-looking pool boy drops by near lunch time. He delivers taco chips, fresh salsa and water. He looks vaguely familiar. In fact, I think he is the same pool boy that has been following me around for the last 30 years. I think I will take him home with me.
Bootcamp begins in the mid-afternoon. I really want a nap. No chance. We head for the Papago Park in search of The Hole in the Rock in the red rock buttes. The kids hike up. We climb through the holes. This is like a walk in Stanley Park. It will not do. We head to another section of the park for "easy" mountain biking. A least, the pool-boy husband says it will be easy. Ha, he's not riding it! If it is mountain biking with my 16 year old as a guide, we are in trouble. We lose the trail and the oldest son conveniently takes me off-trail, up and down steep embankments. This was not the "easy" trail we planned on. My 8 year old is plum tuckered out. The temperature is 29 degrees. He's pushing his mountain bike repeatedly up washes. I'm pushing mine, too. We finally get back on the right trail and my oldest apologizes. "I'm sorry, Mom. I'm really sorry." "That's okay, hon'," I reply, "we all get lost." I can see right behind his eyes and know he feels bad. We finally make it back to the van 45 minutes later. The 8 year old is as red as the rocks and he is done. Now, however, it is time to do the loop again. Yes, again. We have been trading bikes. Only three of us can go at a time. It is the 13 year old's turn to join his mom. I offer the bike to my pool-boy husband but he declines. "No, honey, he wants to ride with you." This is true. He has waited for his turn with mom. This time we ride the trail in reverse so we don't get lost. We finish in 15 minutes. It is hot but not gruelling like the first time.
Before we leave, we drive to the Desert Botanical Gardens to walk among the cacti in the fading light. I change out of my short shorts into respectable shorts but I'm still covered in red dust, sweaty and have helmet hair. My 16 year old says, "Mom, fifty percent of the people here are dressed better than you. They don't look so shabby." This is good. He takes me off trail in the Phoenix heat wave and now compliments me on my attire. Son #2 says, "That's not nice." "Hold it," says my beloved pool-boy. "Look around you. He's telling the truth." I love my family but I may not take my pool-boy husband home with me after all. And to punish my 16 year old, I make him do weights with me in the evening. If this is bootcamp, I'm making the minutes count. Serves him right.


Hole In The Roof

Thursday, March 15th.
Today, we went to the continental breakfast again. Then, I went down to the pool to play with Ellis. Until my Mom took him away. After swimming in the pool we had hot dogs on hamburger buns. Then we left to go on a hike. Ummm... More like a walk. Anyways, after walking 200 meters we arrived at a hole in a rock. Right above us there was a hole in the top of the rock. So, my Dad and me, (my older brother was too scared) climbed up. We had to hide so my 8 year old brother wouldn't see us and want to climb up. We were pretty much crawling among the face of the rock. We got to the top and Elliott took a picture of us peering through the hole.

Then we went down. As we were leaving the park we noticed some people who had gone up ahead of us were having trouble getting down. *shrugs* After, we went for a bike ride, first my Mom, Elliott and Elijah who got lost then Mom, Elliott and me who didn't get lost. Finally, we went to a garden. We walked around and looked at desert plants. I wouldn't exactly say it was interesting. However, the fragrance was really nice.



Frank Lloyd Wright

March 17, 2012 (Friday)
I had 42 minutes in the morning at the pool. That was all I was allowed. Pool boy said I could have an hour but he was ready sooner. We had things to do today.
We had been waiting to go to Taliesen West, the summer camp of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The oldest son joined me for a 90 minute tour. (The oldest likes design. He dreams of being a car designer or an architect.) The guide gave a fascinating narrative of both Wright and the complex itself. Did you know Wright was the first to use lights embedded in the floors? Did you know he drew the architectural plans for the first drive-in bank but the bank decided not to use them? Wright's contemporary style was an extreme contrast to the Victoria architecture of his time. He was determined not to replicate any previous architectural style (from Victorian to Greek or Roman) in his design. He wanted the look to be open and free. He brought nature into the living spaces of homes. He even designed his own furniture in the house. Sumptuous living spaces, clean angles, unobstructed windows, natural rock, and lines designed to flow with the desert floor. I could live there.
Then I was unceremoniously dropped off at the largest shopping mall in the Phoenix area. It was large and anchored in all four corners by big department stores--ones I'd never even heard of. I had 90 minutes to cover the ground. The five guys went to the food fair to keep themselves entertained. When you cruise through a major mall that fast there is only time to window shop. Pool boy was happy.
Although I had walked a lot we hadn't worked out. Walking in a mall is not quite the same as hiking or mountain biking. I dragged 16 year old out in the 31 degree heat for a run. We ran on the sweltering pavement and cantilevered boulevards near the motel while the rest of the family frolicked in the pool.
Then the guys went shopping again. Yes, I got dumped while they hit the Lego store. This is how this family works. Where are the women when I need them?


Suntan Lotion

Friday, March 16th.
Today, we we went to the continental breakfast again. I think I see a pattern. Then, my Mom and my older brother went to Taliesen West, the rest of us to a nearby playground. When we were there it occured to me we could have had this trip sponsored. The amount of suntan lotion my Dad applies daily to us is preposterous. We must go through a bottle daily. I think I know why we're in debt... However, this time, I applied the sunscreen. Then, my Dad decided to go to a different park. There, he reapplied all the suncreen. I guess he doesn't trust me... After applying loads of sunscreen we picked up Mom and Elliott from their 90 minute tour. Then, we went shopping. For clothes. Women clothes. At a women's store. How did the minority get their way? And she wouldn't even let us go into the store. She said we were "dressed too shabby." Did she get the idea from the man in a tuxedo walking by? After she finished at the store she wanted to go to ANOTHER store, this time for 90 minutes. We the majority, left and went and ate Japanese food. We returned to the hotel. My mom and Elliott went for a run (he complained a minute into it) and the rest of us to the pool. Notice how my mom does things with Elliott? And not me? I feel neglected... Anyways, we went down to the pool to discover it was dominated by two baseball teams. Without a notice to all the room they were taking up, the noise they were making and the splashing they were doing, we hopped in. Soon, pool girl came down with some ice cream. Maybe there's hope for us yet...



Biking boys or chicken mama?

March 17th, 2012 (Saturday)
At the end of the Desert Classic Trail
Another boot camp killer day. We (the two oldest boys and me) went riding on the Desert Classic Trail in South Mountain Preserve. The guidebook described it as a "challenging ride" both "easy and moderate." So what is it? Challenging? Easy? Moderate? Can't the writer make up his mind? Seven minutes into the ride and I'm heaving. Forty minutes in and both boys want to turn back. It is hazy with a warm breeze but when you are biking--it is hot. We are riding over the lunch hour. We have water and raisins. I won't let them turn back. No. We are riding one hour out and then back. A two hour workout in the heat. Mom decides. It is just that way in our family. The trail has level parts but roller coasters up and down. That part is actually fun. It is the steep boulder-strewn washes that are grim. They give advice again. "Mom, you need to pedal down the hill faster so you can get up the other side." "Mom, you need to change your gears on the way up." "Mom, move your butt behind the seat on the way down." "Mom, you need to stand up more." And then loose gravel and rocks. I watch two bikers seriously wipe out. Not encouraging. "Mom, you need to keep your pedals even over the rocks."  Who brought these children along? So much to remember. The last 15 minutes are grim. Quads are whining. Butt is feeling delicate (this is a family blog). Hands tired from gripping desperately on handle bars as I reverberate over endless jutting rocks. Face emanating heat. Red and burned from the hazy sun. "Are you having fun, mom?" Someone tell that child to be quiet. We arrive back at the parking lot and water is quickly inhaled. I stretch out horizontally on the shaded picnic bench. There are parts of my body that seriously ache. My abs hurt from lifting weights. I want to rest. "Mom, can we go now." "Mom, what are we doing next." "Come on, mom, let's go." I love my children. I'm sure of it.
P.S. If you are a chicken and ride down the steep washes with your brakes on, it means you have lost momentum and you are going to have to work really, really hard to get up the other side. Who has had the tougher workout? The chicken mama or the biking boys?



Saturday, March 17th.
Today when I went for breakfast I had waffles cereal. Then, we left to go on an easy bike ride hard, long and tiring hike pushing our bicycles. We went for about an hour in one direction and then it took 50 minutes to get back. I was exhausted, we ate, and then my Mom wanted my older brother and my younger brother to go biking. I just wanted to go back to the hotel. Which we did but they hadn't made the room up yet so we had to leave. At the pool Ellis learned how to swim and actually swam.


Should we dress them in straightjackets?

"Should we dress them in straightjackets?" I ask my husband. "Do you think our hosts will notice?" I wonder with a smirk. "Are you sure you want to go?" checks my husband. "They invited all of us," I reply. "I guess we should review the rules." This is a teachable moment. We remind Child #3 that he must sit at the table and not wiggle. My husband adds, "No scratching your armpits. No touching your private parts." And for the two oldest, "No burping." Remember, this is a house of boys. The kids are in peels of laughter. We are all laughing. This is a real family. And they live with demented parents. There is no hope for them.
We arrive at our gracious hosts: Arlene and Bryce Geres. Arlene is a principal at Old Yale Road and one of my buddies. They are having us for lunch at their place in Mesa. They are brave. Fortunately, we are saved by the iPads. She has three. It keeps the three youngest busy while the rest of us visit and trade travel stories. Lunch is fabulous with my favourite--asparagus, then burgers all around, and huge bowls of salad. Bryce is a great chef. 
Child #3 is sitting on a chair with wheels. This is the wiggle boy. He discovers it rolls. Back & forth. I give head signals. Doesn't work. He stills rolls. He is smiling and having fun. Husband gives him cue. Child is oblivious. We carry on conversation and ignore child. I wonder who that child belongs to? Our hosts are kind to our children. We pack away ice cream sandwiches for dessert. We did not go over the rules well enough. Child #3 eats nothing but asks for a second dessert. I'm mortified but hosts are generous and pass seconds out to all the boys. 
We leave Mesa in a rainstorm that soon turns into snow. We pass several car accidents. I remind husband to go slower. I hang on to chicken bar. We arrive at Sedona in the dark. Sixteen year old must now go running with me in the snow. We tramp out in minus 2 degree weather. Not enough of a bootcamp. I make husband go for a walk with me. The snow-draped trees and cacti are quite magnificent. We have a fireplace in our room.  It feels like Christmas.

By Mom.


Snowing In Phoenix?

Sunday, March 18th.
Today, I decided to have a change from my usual breakfast. Waffles. Then, we left the hotel to go back to Sedona, on the way back there we went to stop at a friend of Mom's. In the car, our parents lectured us about etiquette: sit down, be quiet, no burping, no scratching your armpits... Till my Mom panicked because she had no flowers to give. Uh, oh... Fortunately there was a store nearby. We found the retirement home and as we pulled up to the drive my Mom realized she knew nothing about Mr. Geres. We males reassured her and helped her out: he's a male, he has a winter home in Phoenix, he's married, he's retired... We had delicious hamburgers and ice cream sandwiches and we visited till the rain and hail poured down so hard that we couldn't hear each other. When we left we drove down the newly created river and onto the road. On the drive, it was snowing extremely hard. However, we made it to Sedona safely. Mom and my oldest brother went for a walk and had a snowball fight (Mom won).



Yikes! Trails Closed?

March 19th, 2012 (Monday)
     We wake up to a decent six inches of snow. (I'm in the US, that's why its not metric.) The clouds are huddled around the red rock buttes with fog struggling to lift off. Small flakes are still spinning down. I can't believe it. We drive to the trail head. Closed. We get snow in Canada and don't close the trails. This is not good news. Plans shift.
     We head to Sedona to walk around at the Mexican Village Tlacquepacque. This is a maze with corridors, stairs to a second story, hidden railings and fountains. A perfect place for the boys to stage an all-out snow ball fight. I fall victim. Snow in hair, on hoodie, ski jacket and in purse along with my camera. Great. I find the loyal husband and tell him he is in charge of the errant children. I'll take a responsible child and go into the shops that have breakable things. I find toy store and buy word game for the trip home. I make it through intact. Oldest child is with the wiggling child. Things don't fair so well. Wiggling child topples whole Hot Wheel display in toy store. Oldest is mortified. Unbelievable. He leaves embarrassed. We find husband. He didn't know there was a toy store. He heads up there with the youngest. This precious child also reaches up at the now fixed Hot Wheel display and sends it cascading. Someone should have warned them we were coming.
     I show weakness at tourist trap candy store and buy cactus jellies for the boys. Not a success. "Blecch," they say. So much for expanding their cultural horizons. We corral kids back into the car (yes, there is crying over the candy) and I pass out cheddar  popcorn to keep them quiet. We land in downtown Sedona where I have thirty minutes to canvas the streets. The cloud cover is drifting off and sun lands on the orange-red rocks. We leave. No time for tourist traps.
Oldest child and I head out on roads with mountain bikes. We check the main trail. It is still closed. Smart child finds a different trail on opposite side of street with no sign on it. No sign must mean it is okay. We go for it. He bikes. I ride too but mostly I push the bike up the dips. I am chicken of the snow and slippery red sludge. I walk the bike down the dips. I ride the straight parts and small downhills. We have round red clay dots flicked up on our jackets, bikes, pants and even my glasses. The view is otherworldly. He bikes. I stop for photos. The ride is a short 60 minutes but it is glorious. Son is thrilled.
We head home and I grab other child. It is late afternoon and the land begins to glow. We head for a run on the roads and discover a trail circumnavigating a golf course. The backdrop is red rock buttes. We run for thirty minutes with quick stops to take pictures. We finish and I grab loyal husband and two youngest. We walk from out motel to the closed trailhead and take pictures from the parking lot. The red buttes are vibrating and glowing in the fading sun. The children are cold. He heads back. I stay to catch the last rays glancing off the hills. If I don't show up back at work, will anyone notice?

By Mom.


No More Waffles?

Monday, March 19th.
Today, I missed my usual breakfast of waffles. I had cereal instead. After breakfast, we went out into the snow to the car. We drove to different starting points for hiking and biking. However, most of the trails were closed so we went to a Mexican village. In the U.S. When we got out we started to walk around and look at the shops. Once in a while someone would throw a snowball at someone and a snowball fight would erupt in a state known for warm weather. We split up, Mom and me going our own way while Dad took care of the other kids. Some of the shops were neat, like the music box shop and the candle shop. Some, such as "Just Us Girls," I'd prefer to skip. We went to the toy shop and then to a jewelry shop were we met Dad and Ellis. Elliott and Elijah had run off. We learned that Elijah, in attempting to reach a Hot Wheels package, toppled a display. However, I wanted to show Dad some things at the toy store. We went back and then Ellis toppled the display trying to reach a set. Next, we stopped at a candy shop. We bought some cactus candy which the two smallest wanted; the two oldest wanted something else. Not finding anything (cheap enough), our penny pinching Dad led us outside. We discovered my youngest siblings upset. They didn't like the look of their candy. However, I took it and found the candy delicious. We went home and my Mom went mountain biking in the snow with Elliott. Returning tired and exhausted she went for a run with me. We took a bunch of photos but there's a catch (we staged the photos)...

By Ethan.


This Ditch is a Deep One

March 20th, 2012 (Tuesday)
I didn't lose anyone over the cliff edge. That is always a good sign. The Grand Canyon had been blanketed in snow so the Rim Trail was covered with ice and snow patches. The wiggle child was told clearly he must not run and hop on the boulders on the edge of the precipice. The ditch is a deep one. These instructions were repeated in many variations, numerous times. We rode the bus (cars aren't allowed) out to the far end of the trail and worked our way back both on foot and by bus. Walk, walk and more walking. Full sun, blue on blue sky, shining white snow and the great expansive Colorado divide--the first view is always the most inspiring. I'm not sure if the boys were as significantly impressed. The novelty of the slow bus ride wore off pretty fast. We arrived back at the van at 5 pm. We scrambled into the car and headed west. We almost chose north: Paige? Then we couldn't decide: south or west? Palm Springs or Vegas? I drove, the regular chauffeur sat in the front seat to read maps and guidebooks. Some days are just like that...the decisions are spontaneous. We were in pursuit of warmer weather. Finally, at 8 pm at night we decided to travel as far as Lake Havasu. We arrived late and finally found a motel with a room after our seventh try. This is the spring break season of college madness. Although it was after 10 pm, I made the 16 year old go running in the dark with me. He was a good sport about it. Meanwhile the chauffeur carried the sleeping kids into the motel room. We were grateful to get a room given the last-minute spontaneity of our decision. I know this: the forecast for tomorrow is 29 degrees.

By Mom.


A Burro?

Tuesday, March 20th.
Today, we left Sedona driving in the snow for the way home driving. For breakfast we had cereal. Again. My Dad then decided that instead of going home right away we would go to the Grand Canyon. We went out to look and even though there was snow on the ground my Dad insisted we put on suntan lotion. We walked for a while looking at the Grand Canyon. Even though I didn't see anything so grand about it... We took the free bus along the Grand Canyon here, there and everywhere. After we admired the scenery we went to our next hotel. On our way, after the two youngest kids fell asleep, we went to a Pilot Travel Center and my brother and I had a Wendy's Froster. As we left we noticed a flashing neon sign stating "Caution. Burro Crossing." We drove on and a while later Elliott stated, "Wow, that guy is watching out for gophers." My Mom, Dad and me laughed. I tell them I thought he had said "golfers." We laugh some more. Dad asks if we know what a burro is. I tell him yes. Dad says it's a donkey. Mom adds it's a "xxx" [insert inappropriate word]. Way to set an example!


Bliss: Chained to Digital Devices

The pool, a really good book (The Connected Educator), pistachio nuts and water--that's how I started my morning. Oh, the kids? They were imprisoned in the motel room and chained to digital devices. That worked for me. I had two hours of uninterrupted bliss and, actually, so did they.
Waves washing over them
Then we strolled along the paved walk around the canal at Lake Havasu. The walkway was crowded with scantily clad spring break college kids. There were folks giving away free frisbees, Monster and SoBe drinks to anyone walking passed them. Our children don't get specialty drinks at home (we thrive on mostly milk, water and juice) so they enjoyed the opportunity to sample extensively. After bottling up, we left for the semi-private beach at the State Park. We enjoyed alfresco lunch without the crowds. The smaller children began building with stones, dumping water, moving rocks, and engaging in free play at the edge of the water. For them, this was much more fun than the Grand Canyon.
As the sun was setting, we went to Sara Park to go mountain biking. Unfortunately, it became too dark, too fast. The oldest zipped around and jumped over rocks. He had fun. I watched and kept my mouth shut. I can not ride like him. I walked the bike more than I wanted. The ride was short. The oldest loaded the the bikes back on the rack at the back of the van and I finished the workout with a run. The blogging child was forced to run with me as we were in a deserted area of a desert park in the dark.  I was thankful I could run. I have arthroscopic knee surgery in less then a week and I hope to show up on the operating table in decent shape.

By Mom.

Walking Our Dogs

Wednesday, March 21st.
Fortunately, our motel had a continental breakfast. Unfortunately, there wasn't a waffle maker. Fortunately, there was some nice chocolate goodies. Unfortunately, they were disgusting. Fortunately, there was white bread which Dad says is a big 'no-no' in our house. We left the hotel just in time so we wouldn't have to pay an additional $100 for late checkout. We then went to a beach where companies were passing out free drinks; Monster, SoBe... We picked up a few and then went to a less crowded beach. We had some sandwiches and then some raspberry chocolate chunk ice cream. Mmmm... Good. We went to our new hotel, Island Suites. It's a nice hotel with a TV that can be changed to view from each of the two rooms and this really cool chair which is a cross bethween a rocking chair, armchair and a swivel chair. It's a much sought after place to sit in our family. After this we went to walk our bikes in the dark. Some people walk their dogs. Other people walk their bikes.

By Ethan.


This day is a gift

March 22nd, 2012 (Thursday)
Heading out on the desert trail
If it is good, then one should repeat it. Hence, the children read, played lego or went on computers while I read two chapters of my book, undisturbed, poolside. Then the oldest and youngest came down to join me. Why does my five year old, in a wet bathing suit, climb on top of my warm and dry body? Why does the five year old eat pretzels while balanced on top of my stomach? And, he is oblivious to it all because he is so busy talking. This is a good thing. Then more kids arrived. I would like to say that due to my exemplary parenting skills we had a lovely time splashing, playing and enjoying the pool. Ha! This is no fantasy vacation. There was a tug-o-war over the kick board, fighting over the 5 year old ("No, I get to play with him"), dunking, splashing, and lots of whining. I threatened, cajoled and finally was grateful when the beloved husband showed up. It takes both of us to manage these boys. And it is moments like this that I wonder what the true definition of a holiday really is!
Butt first then oldest jumps down 8 ft slide
We dashed off for lunch, took a walk down the crazy boardwalk loaded with spring break revellers, and a quick trip to the second hand bookstore looking for something to help pass the time on the long drive home. That begins tomorrow.

Last chance for crazy bootcamp today. We head out to Sara Park earlier so we don't get trapped in the dark. We have no plans and we left the trail map at the room. The two boys and I ride across the ridges, down through the washes, and arrive at a slot canyon glowing pink in the fading dusk. The colours are magnificent. We drop the bikes. We don't have much time. We run then jump and hop over smooth pink boulders as the canyon wall curves and narrows to an eight foot slide. Feet first, butts down, we slide it. Whoosh. We climb walls. We get as far as we can until we are blocked by a pool of stagnant lime green water. I am not for wading in it. The light is gone and we must get back. We reverse our climb, our run, and hop on the bikes to ride out from the murky purpled desert. This is the way to celebrate the end the vacation. This day is a gift. I am blessed.


Walking Our Bikes Again

Thursday, March 22th.
Blogger boy hikes the slot canyon
I woke up really early and went down to the continental breakfast. Why do almost all the hotels/motels we go to have continental breakfasts? Not that I'm complaining... I met a couple down there which lives in Langley. Hey! That's where we live!

Mom went to the pool and I did some homework. After we went to a used bookstore and got some books. We had chocolate chip ice cream. Mom was at the pool and I was her new pool boy.

Mom had a lot of fun walking her bike yesterday so she decided to walk her bike again. After about a mile Mom got tired and put the bike down. It was also a little rough so Elliott and me both left them too. We went pretty far till the path was covered in water. Then we had to turn back.

For our last night, we went to a Mexican food restaurant where the menu and food looked a lot like the one in Sedona. The food was excellent.