Escaping Winter: Part 2

Spring seems to be arriving early at the farm. Today I was walking around in a t-shirt while the low winter sun warmed my face. The pregnant sheep and goats are close to having their babies, and we’re scrambling to get ready for the season ahead. I have more of our winter get-away to write about, but if you’re dying for some farm-related news check this out: http://us9.campaign-archive1.com/?u=76509a2c1f99173c27cbcc178&id=d67b98781a

I also promise to post baby animal photos as soon as they arrive, so be sure to check out our facebook page as well: www.facebook.com/brightideacres

And now…back to the Southwest!

After leaving Salt Lake City, Andrew and I spent an uneventful night in Moab, Utah, one of our favorite spots from our 2012 road trip. Unfortunately in the winter Moab is like a ghost town, and most of the restaurants and shops are closed for the season. In light of this, we left early the next morning and headed down into Arizona. We debated about whether or not to hit the Four Corners region, but decided instead to drive through Monument Valley, which is in the Navajo Nation Reservation. We were fortunate enough to drive through this amazing landscape after a recent dusting of snow. The roads were clear and safe, but the red rocks that jut out of the ground like alien formations on Mars were sprinkled with white powder. The contrast of colors made for an unforgettable experience, especially when the semi-wild horses wandered past. We listened to the local Navajo radio station as we drove through, and felt our souls vibrate in tune with the native chanters as we marveled at the magnificent terrain.

That night we stayed in the Canyon de Chelle at a Navajo run campground. It was a frigid night and the campground water tank was frozen solid, so we melted snow to make some pasta and curled up in our tent early. I was thankful for the extra heft and warmth our new Pendleton blanket provided! The next morning we drove into the Canyon to take a look at some of the sights. This is a holy place to the Navajo people, and I was excited to notice some tokens of offering that had been left at the base of Spider Rock. I am thankful to Andrew for always packing every possible item we may need on our trips; were it not for the binoculars I would have missed this small, reverent detail. Our next destination was the Petrified Forest National Park, a place I had visited as a child. Unfortunately after the beauty of Monument Valley, the Painted Desert fell a little short. Many of the petrified logs once held glimmering crystals, but rude tourists and other scallywags have dislodged and stolen the crystals over the years, which also added to our sense of disappointment.

Happily for us our next stop was Tucson, where plenty of joy and amusement awaited. We were stoked to meet up with my sister Meghan, her husband Jonathan, and their baby Juniper, and spend some quality time with my grandmother as well. Tucson activities included swimming in a lovely heated pool (Jonathan’s all-time favorite pastime, and Juniper’s first swim!), visiting Biosphere 2 out in the desert, hiking in Sabino Canyon, enjoying delicious food and drink (including the various meats and eggs we hauled down with us!), and taking a family portrait at JC Penney for Grandma. One of the days we went to lunch in downtown Tucson at one of our favorite places, The Blue Willow. We invited our old nanny Kaye, who took care of Meghan and me from infancy through childhood while our parents worked during the day. Kaye was 90, and her health had rapidly declined in the year since I’d seen her last. I’m so grateful we were able to spend that lovely afternoon with her, as it would turn out to be our last. Kaye passed away last week at home with her family. If only I can be so lucky as Kaye, to live a long, happy, joy-filled life and pass away in my home surrounded by love. She was like a grandmother to me, and I will never forget the warmth and tender care I received from this wonderful woman.

We spent close to a week in Tucson, and were itching for some rock climbing so Andrew and I headed north to Queens Creek Canyon up near Phoenix. The desert landscape here was gorgeous, and Andrew and I hiked through a canyon, past a little pond where we waited out a rain shower under the shelter of a small mesquite tree, and came out on top of a cliff. We strapped on our gear and rappelled down a route known as Geronimo. This exposed cliff was nerve-wracking for me since I haven’t done much outdoor climbing in the past few years, but I was proud of myself. Once we rappelled down we had to climb back up (of course!), and I managed to do it without help from Andrew since he was ahead of me and couldn’t do much but holler encouragement from above. As we hiked back down to our truck we were treated with a gorgeous rainbow, and we deeply inhaled that damp, musky, invigorating scent that only rainfall in a desert can produce. That night we made friends with our camp neighbors and enjoyed some beer and company around a roaring fire.

While we would have loved another day or two in Queens Creek, we had Joshua Tree on our minds. We hightailed it through Arizona (thanking our luck that gas prices had dropped to $1.84/gallon outside Phoenix!), and zoomed into Joshua Tree in the evening. Joshua Tree is a very special place for us: we met there, were married there, and I even have a Joshua tree tattooed on my ribcage, so we were excited to spend some time in one of our favorite spots. We wound up sharing a campsite with a young couple from Montana. Sam and Ian were kindred spirits, and we had a good time sharing meals, laughs, and campfires with them. We even took them to the Chasm of Doom one night, which is a fun cave scramble you do in the dark (assuming you have a knowledgeable guide like Andrew!). Unfortunately for me my fickle stomach wasn’t on board with this adventure, so I spent most of that time lying on a picnic table in the dark alternately listening to their hoots and hollers as they wormed their way through the cave and keeping an eye out for nosy coyotes.

After a couple days of rock climbing, lounging, and general merriment, we told Joshua Tree “goodbye for now”, and headed into Desert Hot Springs for a few hours’ soak in a natural hot springs pool. The resort we went to obviously had its heyday in the 1980s, and we enjoyed the cheesy music, cheap prices, and delicious mai tais as the desert dust rinsed away. That night we spent at Andrew’s grandparents’ house in San Clemente. Andrew’s grandmother always prepares for his visit by baking a fresh batch of his favorite chocolate chip cookies, and we always have a warm comfy bed on standby. We had a nice breakfast the next morning and polished off the last of our traveling bacon, and then headed through the LA madness towards his other grandparents’ home. We stopped at my favorite LA spot: Scoops Ice Cream for a delicious treat, (their flavors are incredible and they have the BEST soy ice cream options I’ve ever seen!), and the stress from LA traffic vanished at that first bite. Once we made it to Andrew’s grandparents’ house we sat and chatted with them for a while about life, death, grief, and other important topics before hitting the road yet again.

Our next couple days were full of driving, though we were lucky enough to have the time and good weather to drive up the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. We stopped for a night in Mammoth and saw my pal Jill, and stopped for a couple hours in Reno to catch up with some of Andrew’s old friends from college. Finally we made it to Eugene, Oregon where we spent the night with my brother and sister-in-law (and their menagerie of dogs), and before we knew it we were back on the farm, frantically planning for the season ahead. One month later and we’re still at it, working on spreadsheets, business plans, and figuring out how we can afford to buy the animal feed we’ll need to keep 1,200 broiler chickens, 120 laying hens, 40 pigs, and 100 turkeys alive and healthy. Thankfully the goats and sheep eat grass, but there’s a lot of work involved with those guys too, so it’s bound to be a busy season for us again. After this nice relaxing winter I think we’re ready for the challenge!

Escaping Winter: Part 1

The start of January and a new year signaled that it was time for us to continue our new tradition of escaping the Washington winter for a spell. After last year’s grand adventure in Australia, we decided to stay stateside this year and planned a road trip that would have us in Tucson to visit my grandmother at the same time as my sister, her husband, and their baby.

Our trip began with real winter. While we were lucky enough to avoid snowfall the entire time we were on the road, the temperatures in the first few nights were well below freezing. While we had great camping gear with us, including a propane heater and some amazing vintage Eddie Bauer down sleeping bags that Andrew’s parents let us borrow, I vetoed camping until we reached a more amenable clime.

Our first destination was Pendleton, a small city in eastern Oregon that is known for the Pendleton Woolen Mill. The drive east over the Cascade Mountains was lovely and uneventful, and after a nice relaxing evening in a warm motel room we hit the Pendleton Woolen Mill to check it out. Unfortunately for us they were not giving tours that day, but we had a great time checking out their wares in the factory outlet store and of course I wasn’t about to walk out of there without a Pendleton blanket!

Next we drove southeast into Idaho. On our way into Idaho as we drove down out of a mountain pass, we saw a man jogging and pulling a kind of rickshaw behind him. Rather than loading the rickshaw with people, he had what I assume to be his life’s possessions piled up. It appeared as if this man was adventuring around the state (or country?) on his own two feet. It was an inspiring sight, but the frigid temperatures made me grateful for the Tacoma’s blasting heater!

Driving through Idaho was fun, what with speed limits of 80 MPH and pronghorn antelopes bouncing along the highway. We decided to make a stop at a random little town to let the dog out, and we found a nice spot overlooking a river. As we walked around and let Zephyr roam, a lady in a small white car pulled up with her dog and got out. She was dressed in a t-shirt and sandals, which contrasted ridiculously with my Nanook of the North style parka. The temperature was below freezing, but it quickly became apparent that locals are not fazed by such weather. This woman introduced herself as Hedayat, and she originally hails from Turkey. Hedayat was incredibly sweet, and obviously lonely. She said it was the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death and that she has no other family, and proceeded to break into tears. I gave Hedayat a long hug, and we started talking about our dogs, which seemed to brighten her mood a little. I hope all the Hedayats out there can bask in the unconditional love of a pet, and find occasional comfort in the embrace of a stranger.

That night we stayed in Twin Falls. It’s a small city with a beautiful waterfall, and a bridge that is known as the only one you can legally BASE jump off year-round. We were hopeful there’d be some jumpers, but it was cold and mid-week and no jumpers were to be found. After another night in a motel we took Zephyr on a little hike to see Shoshone Falls. The area was covered it snow, and it was a fun adventure for Zephyr who absolutely loves to romp and roll in snow and lick icicles. The falls were gorgeous, although we quickly learned that they are much grander in the spring once the snowmelt joins the rush.

Back on the road, we headed for Salt Lake City. I’ve been a few times, but this was to be Andrew’s first visit. I am always so amazed at how clean and tidy downtown SLC is, especially when I compare it to other major cities I’ve been in. In my travels I’d say it’s second only to Hong Kong, a city where a stranger picked up a piece of candy that fell out of Andrew’s mouth and put it in her pocket for future disposal! In SLC we stayed at the fancy (for us) Hotel Monaco, a dog-friendly boutique hotel. We were even treated to a happy hour with free wine, hot toddies, and guacamole. That night we ate a delicious dinner at the Copper Onion, and then I luxuriated in the hotel bathtub, marveling once again at how easily hot water comes out of the tap in modern civilization!

The next morning we awoke early to take in a show of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The show is broadcast live on radio, and is the oldest continuous radio broadcast in the country with a start date it 1929. It was an interesting experience, and I can easily appreciate how talented and composed the 360 members are, although the style of music is much more subdued than I would normally seek out. When it comes to religious music, give me a Southern Baptist style gospel choir any day! But then again, Salt Lake City wouldn’t be Salt Lake City without the heavy influence of the Mormon Church. Walking around the Temple Square is a bit like being at Disneyland, especially in the winter. They had an almost life-sized nativity scene, complete with camels and donkeys. Missionaries stand at every corner, ready to answer your questions and, of course, ask their own: “are you familiar with the book of Mormon?” I had to cram my tongue in my cheek to avoid making jokes about the Broadway musical we saw earlier in the year, and we politely excused ourselves whenever the conversation tilted towards religion.

Our next destination in Utah was Moab, and as we headed southeast through the mountains we passed people participating in various winter sports. The ice-covered lakes were absolutely covered with little huts and people ice fishing, which is something I’ve always wanted to try. But I was much more impressed with the people who were kite boarding in the snow! This was a genius combination of snowboarding and kite boarding, which I’ve only before seen on open water. It looked like a complete blast, and I think I’ll add that to my list of crazy things I’d like to try someday. I guess I should get a little better at regular snowboarding before I get too carried away (literally)!

Stay tuned…in my next post we continue the adventure down into Arizona!

The Best Vacation Ever Part 3: Eastern Australia (Part 3!)

We’ve been back on the farm for almost two months now, so it’s probably time for my final post about our Australian vacation extravaganza so I can start filling you in about what’s been going on around here (goat babies, for one!).

After our misadventure in the rainforest, we headed back down to the quiet town of Yepoon to stay in the same caravan park from our trip up the coast. Our gregarious host Murray was kind enough to show us a giant carpet python he had captured when a neighbor called and asked for his help. Apparently he is known as the guy you call when giant snakes are in your yard and he will come pick them up and relocate them away from residences. Pretty great! We had our own little Steve Irwin moment there in Yepoon, and I got to watch the flying foxes, rainbow lorikeets, and red-tailed black cockatoos again too!

The next morning we spent some time in the tiny town at a shop that was 1/3 coffee shop, 1/3 clothing shop, and 1/3 nautical themed home décor. Obviously I loved it. We idled for a long while, sitting at a long bar with giant windows overlooking the ocean. We sipped our lattes and read trashy Aussie magazines, and I was discouraged to find that the majority of the characters in said magazines were of the Kardashian variety…I guess horrible American pop culture is inescapable.

Our next stop on this journey was Bundaberg (Bundy), which is known for it’s sugarcane crop and namesake rum. The logo on a bottle of Bundaberg rum is a polar bear, which makes little sense considering the location is downright tropical. Apparently the rum is potent juice, and many bars in Eastern Australia have banned it because it encourages “rowdy” behavior. I was under the impression that this is just a side effect of alcohol in general, but I guess I’ll have to take their word for it. After all, we didn’t go to Bundy for the booze…we went for the sea turtles!

Mon Repos turtle rookery is a natural nesting site on the coast near Bundaberg, and for once the season was in our favor. Sea turtles only lay eggs between November and February, and the eggs hatch about 6 weeks later. We bought tickets to the sanctuary and had to wait with tons of other people for the sun to set before we could head out onto the beach in small groups. We were in the last group, and we had heard that groups before us had all seen baby turtles emerge and scurry towards the ocean. Baby turtles use the moonlight reflecting off the ocean to guide them, and light pollution from cities is a real concern. Flashlights were prohibited on the beach for this reason, and we stumbled behind our quick-footed guides as we hustled down the beach to an amazing sight. A mother loggerhead sea turtle was on the beach, laying her eggs in a hole she had dug with her flippers. A research team was there taking measurements and notes, and after her eggs were laid we got to help move them to a safer spot up the beach where the incoming tide wouldn’t drown them. It was a slow, laborious journey for the turtle to lumber back out to sea, but when she made the final push and vanished beneath the waves I cried tears of joy.

We had spent over an hour watching this turtle, and were told that was the end of the action for the night. As we headed back up the beach towards our cars, someone spotted a baby turtle running willy-nilly down towards the water. A researcher was alerted and we soon learned that a nest of flat-back turtles had hatched and was pushing out of the ground trying desperately to get to the ocean. This turtle species is more rare at Mon Repos, so the researchers had placed a basket on top of the nest to try and catch the babies so they could take measurements before releasing them into the sea. The instinct in these little guys was so intense they were pushing the basket out of the way and escaping one by one. The researchers finally rounded them up and we were able to touch a little turtle before they took them into the lab. Fact: baby turtles are adorable! And amazing! They dig themselves out of the ground, but they don’t start digging until every egg has hatched. They also wait for nightfall, which they can sense by the temperature of the sand. These little tricks are meant to better ensure their survival…the rate of sea turtle survival to maturity is a paltry 1 in 1,000.

After what was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, we had a miserable night. We had failed to secure a campsite before going to the rookery, and nothing was available at the late hour we returned. I even deigned to walk the halls of a disgusting youth hostel but could not find anyone who even worked there, so after much driving around (and almost hitting a kamikaze wallaby!), we lucked into a caravan park that had a rare and welcoming sign: “late arrivals check in in the morning.” The next morning I went to check in and mentioned we arrived after midnight, and they said in that case our night was free! We found a nice place to make breakfast on the beach and read, relaxed and felt happy after our stressful (and argument-inducing) night!

Before I get to the end, there are some things about traveling in Australia that I think would be nice to pass on to you, in case you decide to go (you should!!!). Of course there are a million little differences between the U.S. and Australia, but these are some of the ones that really popped out to me while we were traveling around, mostly because they are things we apparently take for granted.

Wifi is very hard to find. If you’re going to be staying in big cities, you’ll be fine. But wifi is not in every coffee shop like here in the US. We found we had to spend way more time in various McDonald’s (Maccas) than we’re comfortable with. I would definitely recommend paying for international cell phone service rather than trying to rely on free wifi like us. Having cellular data available would have saved us a lot of stress on those nights where we couldn’t find lodging, and would have made it easier to contact potential lodgings (and saved us a needless trip into the flooded rainforest!).

Most restaurants close early by American standards. Again, probably not an issue in big cities. But in the beach towns along the coast, we struggled many times to find a meal after 8PM. This rule applies to caravan parks too…don’t expect to find a campsite after a long day of traveling. I assume you might be able to call ahead and make a reservation so they know you are coming, but without a phone we were stymied more than once by locked gates and “closed at 5PM” signs.

Coffee culture is different. If you like lattes and mochas, or any espresso drinks, you’re set; they have really great espresso. If you like drip coffee (as we do), forget it. It cannot be found in a coffee shop. At the grocery store you can find some beans, but most Australians drink instant coffee at home. Also if you order iced lattes or mochas, they’ll put ice cream in it unless you specify otherwise!

Bacon is different! This isn’t a big deal at all, but of course we are bacon lovers and we had a fun time trying to convince Cathy that crunchy bacon is superior to floppy bacon. She wouldn’t budge on this one! The bacon slices are huge, and contain not only the belly strip but the round of the chop as well. It’s like a combination of American bacon and Canadian bacon. Australian meat is really delicious, and they still process their pigs with the skin intact (rather than skinning them like so many of our American butchers these days), so we enjoyed that aspect very much.

Our last couple days in Australia were wonderful. We drove through gorgeous “hinterland” scenery in the hillsides just inland from the coast and passed through a town called Maleny. We didn’t have time to stop and explore, but even driving through I could tell Maleny was a place in which I could happily live! The hillsides were covered in pink and purple blooms, and the ridgeline offered amazing views of the valley below while the Pacific twinkled in the distance. The town itself was comprised of cool local shops and the vibe was very laid back and independent. It seemed a perfect place for a small, sustainable CSA farm, although I think the property price tag would be a tad prohibitive!

Our last night was spent at Dicky Beach outside the town of Caloundra. This was the most expensive caravan park of our trip, and it was obviously a popular destination for city folks from all around Southern Queensland. The caravan park was HUGE and lacked character, but the proximity to the beach was the real draw. For dinner we went into town and tried to use our outdated library copy of the Lonely Planet guidebook, and were laid astray again. We read about a cool pub called CBX, which stands for Caloundra Beer Exchange. Apparently the beers on tap are all priced according to global market prices and there are ticker signs up that stream the live market prices. We thought it would be fun to check this out, as it is apparently one-of-a-kind. When we arrived we were obviously mistaken…the beers had set prices and nothing seemed any different than any other pub. The girls behind the bar looked at us like we were crazy, before one mentioned that she thinks they had ticker signs up a few years ago “or something.” They weren’t even able to recommend good beers or ciders because, as one admitted, “I don’t really drink beer.” Oh, good thing you’re working at a bar then! (Another instance where some internet research might have helped us pick a better place for food and drink!)

The next morning Andrew woke up early to watch the sunrise on the beach, and I lazed in the tent while a cacophony of tropical birds greeted the coming day. We bid farewell to the Pacific (on this side of the world anyway) and headed into the Glasshouse Mountains for a quick day hike. The Glasshouse Mountains are strange volcanic spires that jut out from the valley floor, and our short hike afforded amazing views. When we passed other hikers they greeted us with “g’day!” which was exciting because it was the only time we really heard people use this phrase on our entire trip. We returned to Brisbane that evening, and spent a nice time with Cathy and Lee relaxing and packing up for our return home. I was glad to spend some final quality time with my cousin, and even got to say goodbye to my little possum friend who was lurking in the tree outside. The next morning we may have boarded the plane with our pockets turned inside out, but our hearts were bursting with rich experience.

Australia is such an amazing, diverse continent. As a child I always dreamed of visiting Australia (who doesn’t?!), and would send my exotic cousins Hershey bars and peanut butter while eagerly awaiting the Cadbury chocolates and vegemite return packages. Now I have been there and met my cousins in the flesh. I have explored, camped, hiked, sweated, itched, and gaped around both Eastern and Western Australia, and it’s fair to say I can check this off my “bucket list.”

Except. Except. Australia was so amazing, and there’s much more to see (and let’s not forget New Zealand!), so I may have only succeeding in whetting my appetite. Fair warning Australia: I reckon we’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail!

So Long (Mexico), and Thanks for all the Fish!

You would think that a 15,000 mile cross country road trip would have prepared us for a 12 hour car ride through Mexico, but you would be wrong. Riding in the backseat of an overstuffed sedan that is careening around mountain curves in a country where the lines on the road are merely suggestions is a lot different than meandering around in our pickup truck, stopping to admire the scenery when it suits our fancy. Thankfully Danny has been driving this route forever, and he was entirely capable of getting us to our destination safely. It required some quiet acceptance on our part that this wasn’t “our” road trip anymore, and we tried to sit back and relax while we sucked on ginger candies to ward off carsickness.

After a long uneventful drive with a few unpleasant bathroom stops and drug checkpoints, we made it to the house that sits on a cliff overlooking a serene, turquoise bay in the Sea of Cortez. Katie and I did some preliminary chores around the house (since it is a vacation home it is boarded up and the furniture is covered when no one is there), while the guys worked on getting the fishing boat ready for action.  That first night was the only night we didn’t eat freshly caught seafood that we wrangled ourselves. And by “we” I mean Danny, who is an expert at all things related to obtaining food from the sea.

I didn’t take notes while in Mexico, so I won’t be able to tell you what we did on any given day. Most days we awoke before the sunrise and headed out in the little fishing boat. I don’t know anything about boats, but I know that this was 19 feet long, and had GPS and this fun thing called a “fish finder” that uses some kind of sonar to detect fish below the boat. It was handy, but I could tell that even without the fish finder Danny would have found fish! Every morning started with us catching “bait fish.” I have only really ever done river fishing, and my faithful readers will remember the excitement I felt at catching three rainbow trout with my brother in Oregon. The bait fish we caught in Mexico were about the same size as those trout, and so I was already stoked when we started reeling them in.

After we had enough bait (around 10-15 fish) we headed out into deeper waters. Danny has specific fishing holes on “speed dial” if you will on the GPS, and so we tried various holes to catch fish. The first day out we caught two yellowtail fish; Danny first hooked one and then had me reel it in. I was unprepared for the strength of this fish (which was probably around 12 pounds or so), and so Katie had to help me by holding onto my back AND the fishing pole as I reeled. It was exhausting, but it was definitely a fun experience. That was the only fish I “caught” on the reel. Andrew had even worse luck, and had several fish get away before he could get them in the boat. Fortunately Danny and Katie caught plenty throughout the week, and we never went hungry in Mexico.

In addition to traditional fishing, the sea has lots to offer and we definitely took advantage. Andrew caught a small hognose fish with a spear gun, and it was my favorite fish taco meat we had all week. Danny also taught us how to dive for various clams and scallops. Scallops were hard for me because I’m not so great at holding my breath and diving deep, but I managed to pull up some on my own and I was proud of this accomplishment! Danny also scored us some lobsters, so we had quite the smorgasbord for our Thanksgiving feast.

When we weren’t on the boat we were lounging in the house, on the patio, or taking a hike. It was a relaxing time, and we encountered very few other people on the whole trip. There was no internet, no cell service, and no television. We read books, chatted, and played a game of spades every night. I am not a natural born card player, which gave Andrew (my partner in the game) a sizeable handicap. Everyone else would remember what cards had been played so they could formulate strategy. I only noticed what cards were being played in that given hand. I have the kind of brain that prefers to dwell “in the moment,” which is why I try to take good notes when something interesting happens so I can remember it later for the blog!

As the end of our trip neared, Andrew and I discussed plans for the future. Our visit to my grandmother in Tucson had convinced me she could use a helping hand, so we decided that I would spend the winter at her house while he and Zephyr headed up to Seattle with our stuff. It was a difficult decision, but as I sit here in Tucson typing this up I know it was the right one.  After returning from Mexico we spent a few days in San Diego couch surfing and getting our things organized, and then parted ways. Andrew headed into real winter with a rented moving truck and the trailer, while I headed back into the warm desert with the pickup truck and our brain-damaged cat.

Which leads me to this pressing question: do I continue posting on the blog? Our road trip is over, and we are going to be apart for a few months (with the exception of a week around Christmas, when I will fly up to Seattle). Despite this hiccup, I feel that the adventure of our young married life together is just starting. We still don’t know what the future holds; in February we could be living together in Seattle, or I could apply for a job working at a National Park, or we could decide to move to Costa Rica for a while! I have also become accustomed to having this blog as a sounding board for my feelings, insights, and experiences. I have received so many positive comments and compliments about the blog that I feel motivated to continue, and perhaps see if this whole “writing thing” can play a significant part in my future.  In classic blog style I will end this post by asking you, my readers: what do you think?

A Homeless Homecoming

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of the pickup, outside my favorite taco shop in San Diego. “San Diego!?” you say. “You’re still in Arizona!” Okay, I admit I have fallen hopelessly behind on blogging about my adventures, and for this I apologize. I know many of you (okay, maybe just you Jane!) are sitting glued to your monitors wondering where in the world the Ides are now.

After departing the Grand Canyon we headed down south towards my native city of Tucson to visit my grandmother, who at 88 years old is just starting to experience some health issues. Once we were on our way to Tucson we started to get the sad feeling that our trip was coming to an end. We saw more and more California license plates on the road and realized our teardrop traveling days were dwindling. We tried to keep our spirits up with diversions. We stopped in Sedona for lunch, and we went into every single jewelry store in town so Andrew could find the perfect silver wedding band before he finally settled on a very cool Hopi design. We braved the snow flurries on the crazy mountain pass outside Jerome, and then hunkered down for a freezing night spent in a campground near Prescott. Despite the bitter cold we were not alone, and made a point of camping as far from possible from the group of young men rocking out heavy metal while huddling around a large bonfire.

Sadly, this was to be our last night in the teardrop. We spent our first night in Tucson with Jane, an old family friend who lives out in the desert in an area so remote that she came out to meet us on her four-wheeler as we were driving up. We had a lovely time visiting Jane and her husband Don, while also mooching free laundry and dinner. We have become quite adept at taking advantage of people’s generosity, and fortunately so far people seem to actually enjoy helping us. I am grateful for all of the help and hospitality we have received along our journey. I wonder how long we can keep up this charade…I really think I could have a future in hobodom!

The next few nights were spent at my grandmother’s house, and we visited her every day in the rehab facility where she is being treated for a mysterious infection. While in Tucson we distracted ourselves by having a drink with Chaz, an old high school buddy of mine who happened to be in town. He showed up in his Navy khakis (he is an officer), and talked about his plans for nursing school. Yet another example of one of my peers having achieved so much already and having responsible plans for the future. Who are these people?!?

Most of our time in Tucson was low-key, so we had plenty of time to think about our options and fret about our own future. We figured we were all set to move in with Andrew’s parents for the winter, but we were beat to the punch by his sister, her husband, toddler, and their two dogs. Andrew’s family is very generous and accommodating and still welcomed us to come, but having six adults, a toddler, and three dogs in one house was starting to sound like “crazytown” to this girl, who is used to being alone in the woods with her little family. Additionally, as I spent more time with my grandmother I realized that, while she has a wonderful network of friends in Tucson, there is no family nearby to take care of the day-to-day tasks that she needs assistance with. She had been in the rehab facility for five days before we got there, and still only had the clothes she was wearing when she arrived. I started thinking maybe I could be of use to her this winter, so Andrew and I began grappling with the idea of parting ways for a few months.

After lolling around Tucson for a few days we said goodbye to Grandma and headed back into San Diego for a few days before the exciting Mexican leg of our adventure; the grand finale if you will. Returning to your hometown without actually having a home there is tough. You feel like you’re home, and you start spending money on all of your favorite restaurants and such, but you don’t have a routine, and you don’t have a place to settle. You also don’t have a job, so the whole spending money bit is treacherous! After floating around San Diego for a few days we dropped Zephyr off at Sunnybrook Farms, an awesome dog-boarding farm that lets the dogs run around in a pack and play all day. It was bittersweet to say goodbye. Zephyr has grown on me, despite (or maybe thanks to) his crazy antics, but it was nice knowing he was going to have a grand time with some canine pals.

Our Thanksgiving trip to Baja, Mexico was planned months and months ago, much to the dismay of my father who usually hosts Thanksgiving. Fortunately Dad was generous enough to give me his blessing. I love family and I love Dad’s turkey…but when life asks you “Sacramento…or Mexico?” you’d better say Mexico! Our friends Danny and Katie travel to Baja frequently, and Danny’s family owns a house near the town of Mulege which is about 12 hours south on the Sea of Cortez. After a few days in San Diego the four of us crammed into Katie’s (mostly) reliable sedan, along with oodles of fishing gear, spear guns, snorkeling equipment, coolers, and a wakeboard, and left San Diego at 0’ dark-thirty in the morning.