Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Choose Your Weapon - or Trailer

Along with the questions I've been receiving about trip planning, I've also been asked why I selected the fiberglass trailer over pop-up trailers, or fixed "stickie" trailers or some other tow option. I hope this response (copied from an e-mail sent earlier today) answers some of those questions, and helps you pick your vacation home on wheels:

Hi J! I'm glad we found each other! Traveling with our children is just such a fabulous experience our family has made it a tradition for generations. Not sure if it began with my pioneering great-great grandparents or earlier generations, but we seem to have the "expeditionist" gene running here.

In your search for a trailer, have you tried Craigslist? That's where I found mine in an AMAZING string of luck! That might be a good place to look for used 'glass. Or watch the sales listed on this group. (You may want to subscribe to the list so you hear about each new posting ASAP.)

OK...what you might need: Do you camp much? That would bear a lot on the decision you make about your vehicle. I've been tent camping as long as I can remember, with some trailer camping available to me from the ages of 9 to 13, then back to the tent again up 'til 2008. I've gone without showers for weeks (but used lakes and streams to keep myself sane and relatively clean), pooped in the woods, on rocks, in the desert, in snow, and I'm not afraid to sleep under the stars without a tent at all. So, while I appreciate all the comforts of home, I'm not beholden to them when I travel.

IF YOU'VE NOT CAMPED A LOT, don't go cold turkey. DO get the potty, and the sink with the electric pump and water heater, the fridge and the good stove. If it has counter space, too, then BONUS! A heater might be nice. I've never needed A/C, but I'm pretty darned flexible when it comes to weather. If you've not camped, you'll want all the comforts you can afford to include, but remember...unless you've got $100 grand or more to buy one of those behemoth bus RVs we all (if we were honest) drool over, it's just NOT going to be as comfy as home. Just remember this, my cardinal rule of traveling (with AND without kids): "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall maintain their sanity."

I read the thread (on the fiberglass RV site) and the recommendations from others that you go fiberglass. I've only had mine for about 18 months now, and the folks on THIS list are a biased lot. But I have to agree with them that the fiberglass trailers do hold their value. (Mine's already increased in value because I've made some improvements,and before it's over, I plan for this baby to help pay for our kids' college education! OK...maybe that's reaching a bit high. But if we enjoy it for a few years and sell it for the same or more than OUR initial price - FANTASTIC!)

My little fiberglass trailer, a 1972 Compact Jr. made by a now defunct company previously in Southern California, has no bells and whistles (or even a potty). But considering we have always tent camped, and planned to do this trip ala tent up 'til just about the last minute, I don't find the lack of a potty a big deal. Indeed, the trailer, complete with sink and 16 gallons of water, a tiny counter, three-burner stove, closets, cupboards and an icebox I use as a pantry, is a HUGE step up from a tent!

It would be NICE to be able to use the potty in the middle of the night without leaving the trailer, but the trailer works for us on a number of other levels. First, our vehicle (a 2000 Toyota Sienna with tow package and 2,800 pound tow limit) can handle it WITH EASE even in snow and driving rain (both proven in our own "road tests"). Second, we were planning to camp at spots either with restrooms or ample foliage (and a shovel in our hands) anyhow, so not having the potty, again, isn't a big deal. OH SURE! It'd be nice. But for that $9,000 savings, I'd have to say I'm pretty happy with what we got!

Our old FG (fiberglass) trailer held up really well, even in terrible driving conditions and very rough roads (read the bit about Chaco on the blog). Because it was old (and I'm a bit rough on things) I didn't exactly baby it along, so I'd say if MY trailer survived, any of these new fiberglass trailers should do fine. Just batten down the hatches and hit the road.



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Road Trip Questions: Prep, Planning and Perserverence

Folks in colder climes must already be getting that cabin fever. They're planning next summer's big adventures, and several have contacted me lately for more details about how, why and what we do. I thought I'd post one of my responses here to make the information more readily available to others interested in hitting the road in a fiberglass trailer, or, really, any other portable housing situation:

Traveling with the girls has been SO fun, and certainly educational for us all! I'm happy to share my details and answer ANY questions you have. Just be warned - I'm wordy! ;)

I'm sure you'll have a WONDERFUL trip as long as you keep this single, most-important thing in mind:
"Blessed are the flexible, for they shall keep their sanity."
:)

First of all, I noticed you'd asked about the Sienna tow capacity. OUR 2000 has a top rated capacity of 2850 (a seemingly random number, but sobeit), so our 1700 pound (fully loaded with water and more stuff than we EVER used) trailer was well under that. Our 2000 had the tow package offered that year (oil cooler and larger radiator). Strangely, the tow package did NOT include a hitch receptacle, or any trailer wiring. Go figure. Point is, if you go well under the weight prescribed by YOUR year (and keep in mind you're going to put in some 500 pounds of clothes, blankets, pots, pans, and water even if you go lightly), you should be fine. (It sounds like you've camped a time or dozen before, but just in case you need it, here's our basic camping list
http://tinyurl.com/y8tt5dl).

Our 2008 trip was the third BIG trip I'd done with the girls. (The first was to the PacNW in 2005, then Utah in 2006 - though I cheated there because I've lived there and already knew my way around.) Besides rule number one (see above), probably the most important thing I learned about traveling that kind of distance with kids was to plan kid-focused stops EVERY SINGLE DAY. Here are some other pointers (
http://tinyurl.com/y8apl63). And these (http://tinyurl.com/ybva5gx). And finally these (http://preview.tinyurl.com/y8v5zjo).

For me, an ideal TRAVEL day involves 100-150 miles of driving split up by a midday break that could be a picnic in a good park, junior ranger program at a national park, museum that would spark their interests (in my girls' cases, any history museum works, or doll museums).
I'm very easily entertained, and as long as my kids are happy, I am (in general) happy. While I can drive for HOURS on end joyfully, it's tough to be a passenger for very long drives, so the stops really help make the day more enjoyable for everyone involved. This mileage equates to about an hour's drive in the morning, a good multi-hour stop midday, then an hour's drive to camp with the goal of being set up and eating before dark sets in. With your girls' age differences, you'll probably have to juggle interest that differ from each other. Perhaps alternate the days, or, better yet, once you have a list of options, let THEM chose! (http://tinyurl.com/ybnzs9g - note: this blog entry was written BEFORE we knew we'd have a trailer - I thought we were going to TENT the whole thing!) My girls were SO ready to go home by the time we hit Arizona that they really didn't want to stop for another national park. But when I handed back the map of the park and told them THEY got to chose the activities and trails, they were all over it - and we were there most of the day!

How did I find these locations? While I'd like to "just wing it," I'm a planner. I think this stems from the year I spent traveling in Europe. While it was fantastic, I had done NO studying before I went and missed a lot because I just didn't know about so many of the popular stops. (Then again, I camped at the base of a waterfall in Ireland's backcountry - an odd, off-the-beaten path spot I learned about from an ANCIENT local.) Plus, with the responsibility of kid, I feel beholden to know know GENERALLY where we'll be sleeping, but I'm flexible if I have a good plan as back-up for when "winging it" doesn't pan out. In this trip's case, I knew the general route we wanted to follow (Lewis & Clark Trail) so I mapped that first. Then I read a LOT about the areas we'd be traveling through (as in that HALF of the state). If I saw a large park on the map, I looked it up for details, then looked AROUND it for national forestland or BLM land or Corps of Engineer sites, all of which are generally less crowded and equally breathtaking as the neighboring "official park."

It also helps that I have no problem diverting from our intended route. (This all REALLY started with a trip to Washington. Once we were there, at ONE end of the L&C trail, "might as well" follow it east. And once to Montana "might as well" see Glacier, which led to Canada, etc., etc.) So as I'd read about, say, Glacier Park (not on Lewis & Clark's route, but SO close we couldn't miss it), I'd figure out how to work it in. (In the case of Glacier, it was our most heinous diversion from our intended route - but well worth it.) I read online, I used the AAA guides (are you a AAA member?), guides I found in our local library. Then I went to the best source of all - perfect strangers! Locals know the best places, the places travel guides don't bother telling anyone about (thank HEAVENS...after all, this secrecy is what keeps the places wonderful). The biggest problem, really, is winnowing it down to fit your schedule. There's just SO much to see and do in this country! Also, since the girls didn't know what each day held, if we just relaxed and remained in one spot for awhile longer than EYE had planned, it was ok! Sure, we missed something else, but I'm the only one who knew what we missed, and if it was REALLY important, then I knocked something less interesting out later in the trip. (Does that sentence even make sense?)

After you've mapped your BASIC route, post your intended route online and share it with EVERYONE you know and ASK for input. In my case, I said, hey, this is our initial plan (
http://tinyurl.com/ysfw83), but we're open to anything. What is it we shouldn't miss? What are your suggestions? And I made it super clear that I wasn't set in my plans or my routes. I also specified, when asking about camping, certain things like, for instance, my interest in rural camping and complete disinterest in city camping. I wasn't interested in paved RV parks, though state parks with RV parking were OK. Etc. I posted to various message boards (Fiberglass RV, for instance), plus e-mailed requests to EVERY family member and friend I had online! You will get SO much feedback! Some of it you can use, some of it won't be useful. If you respond to those irrelevant requests with "Thank you, what else have you got," you'll probably get a lot more details than if you say, "not up my alley; got anything better?" ;) Catch my drift? You'll learn about friends' and relatives' past travels, and may even find that that house-bound senior you know around the corner or the homebody mom you know actually had a past full of traveling - at least one great trip that they're HAPPY to share IN DETAIL if given this opportunity.

After they tell you about spots, STILL read up on them. Their tastes and yours may not be at all the same. By using the internet, you may also be able to discover the latest about a "great park" they visited three decades ago (like it's now closed, or overdeveloped, or recently encountered swarms of killer bees - whatever).

I love the whole planning process. I should do it for a living or something. Just the idea of all these new places to explore, or old favorites to visit again, is really exciting to me. I'm at least a fourth-generation explorer, so I suppose it's understandable! ;)

Well, your eyes are probably bleeding by now with all this info in such small type. If you have more questions, drop me a line.

Best of luck in your planning AND your travels. OH! And we're looking toward an East Coast trip in a couple of years...here's my VERY initial FIRST map...which will change a LOT before we're done with it. Have any pointers?
http://tinyurl.com/ybngbhr

View East Coast Adventure in a larger map


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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Reconfiguring Dolls One Removable Head at a Time

Who doesn't remember a headless Barbie? A reconfigured Ken? For decades, a certain set of children were as likely to pop the heads off their action figures as dress them or deal with those godforsaken shoes.

Finally, a doll made JUST for those kids - and ours are proud new owners.



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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!



E wakes up early every morning. Christmas, then, means she's up around 5, usually milling around the house, checking every clock to see if she can't find ONE that has apparently stopped overnight. ONE that shows the true time. SURELY it can't be JUST 5 a.m.! Yet it's dark outside, everyone (including Little Sister V and the kitten) is still asleep. So she settles down again. Fifteen minutes later, she's up and milling about, finally settling back in bed with a book and her flashlight 'til first light. Then, all bets are off. She wakes us first, then attempts to awake her Little Sis who, even on Christmas Morning, isn't exactly bright and shiny first thing in the morning.

While the girls worked on their stockings, we prepared our traditional collection of crackers, meats and cheeses on a cutting board for everyone to graze through at their whim. Gift unwrapping, often punctuated by long pauses to play with new items, took over the rest of the morning.

Usually, my family has a full turkey dinner on Christmas Day. Turkey with all the trimmings is MY favorite meal, so one of my moms used to make it for me for my summer birthday as well. Far be it from me to skip an opportunity to roast the big bird. But Mr. B's family tradition involves ham, and this year the girls and I spotted GOOSE at our local supermarket. It was organic, free range goose, too. It called to me from the depths of the freezer section - TRY ME! You can do it! So, I opted to give it a whirl, with a small ham, too, "just in case."

Talk to anyone about cooking a goose and you're likely to get any of the same reactions I did:
"WHY?!"
"EW! It's so GREASY."
"It's too gamy."

I'd had duck on two occasions - once homemade in France (what an excellent memory - thank you Mme. Nadeua of Lyon!); once in a restaurant that knew its stuff and charged accordingly. Having never had greasy or gamy or bad duck, I figured goose couldn't be too far off. Plus, we had company coming - all the California grandparents. What better way to try a new recipe than to experiment on company, right?! (OH, what would Julia Child say!?)

I combed the Internet for recipes and cooking tips, and combined what I learned into the day's cooking adventure. (Here's one of my favorites.) First, and probably most importantly, I roasted it on a rack so it was raised ABOVE the fat that did, indeed, practically pour off the bird. Second, and another very important tip, I scored the skin so the fat that grows plentifully between the muscle and the skin could escape the bird. Here are the other steps I followed:

Clean bird - remove giblets and neck from inside, pull out as much fat as you can by hand - it's really lose and easy to spot and pull - rinse the bird under cold, running water.

Score skin - particularly in very fatty areas which, on a goose, are surprisingly similar to the fatty areas on most people: the thighs, the chest, and just under the wings.

Stuff lightly - I don't particularly enjoy bread stuffing, so I went with the aromatic stuffing designed to help cut the fat - one lemon, one onion, two small apples all chunked up, plus some ginger.

Salt and Pepper - to taste - just a sprinkle of salt for me, and a few turns of the pepper grinder.

In the roasting pan, sear the skin - This is supposed to give it a bit of browning, and seal the skin. I don't really understand "sealing" it since we WANT the fat to come out. But I DO understand browning.

Roast, breast DOWN, for 45 minutes in oven preheated to 425 degrees.

Turn the bird - breast up and continue cooking at reduced temperature (325) for about 2 more hours ('til meat thermometer inserted to deepest part of thigh - and not touching the bone - reads 170-180). I found differing opinions on the roasting temperature varying from 160 to 190, so opted for this middle road and stopped ours at 175. I'd say it may have been slightly overcooked at that point.)

Remove and let rest at least 20 minutes before slicing. Sure as shootin', this DID allow the juices to spread throughout the bird rather than just run out as I sliced.

Served with ample sides (green beans, was beans, Grandma's butternut squash, mashed potatoes, gravy, cornbread muffins, Brussels sprouts and homemade cranberry relish ala Auntie M, plus the spiral-cut, honey ham) it made for a beautiful meal with great company who played along.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Cookies - nothing like the last minute

Well, here it is Christmas Eve. We've promised to provide cookies for tonight's Candlelight Service, but have we made them yet? (Are you serious?!) In between the trips, we managed our shopping and gift making, loaves upon loaves of bread making for friends and family, card mailings as well as packing, unpacking, laundry, packing, unpacking, laundry again.

So, today we finally got to the cookie task. I planned on sugar cookies, but E, a bit distressed, said, "MOM! We have to make gingerbread! With butter cream frosting and red hots! They're Santa's FAVORITE!" (She's right! And, you know, we don't want to irritate the big guy!) So, after the sugar cookies, we moved on to gingerbread.

As I added the egg to the butter cream frosting, ala one of my mom's recipes I've used for years, I just couldn't figure out the purpose of that single, raw addition. If eating raw eggs is so bad for us, why is it included here? Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don't. But since these were headed outside the family AND I wanted to KNOW, I turned to the Internet. Turns out, butter cream with eggs is supposed to be COOKED before it's completed. There are lots of ways to make it, but if an egg is involved, all involve slowly eating the eggs to 160 degrees before adding the butter.

Since I had already put all the ingredients together, I heated the whole concoction, then let it cool before spreading it. Well, it was CERTAINLY more easy to spread than the raw version, but with the butter cooked as well, it had a distinctly "cooked" flavor. I'll try it again following the steps properly, but I have a feeling I'll resort to our old favorite - minus egg.

To make butter cream frosting without eggs or heat:
1 cube butter - creamed
powdered sugar to taste (about 2/3 bag)
1 tsp. vanilla (if you want WHITE frosting, you need to use white vanilla)
If it's too sweet, add a pinch of salt. JUST A PINCH!

This frosting is simple, great on cake, cookies or just graham crackers. Healthy? Not at all. I don't even think our organic butter effort really helps much. But it's a treat, and we're gonna enjoy it!

Merry Christmas!


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Monday, December 21, 2009

Autumn Leaves - Winter Solstice

Winter is sort of a non-item on the Central Coast. Our idea of winter involves putting away our shorts for a few days, maybe putting on sweaters or sweatshirts in the mornings and late afternoons. Still, we're pleased to see the foliage take leave of the sycamore trees in the nearby greenbelt, and, if we can beat the gardener to it, making good use of them.

Today, after horseback riding, the girls brought home a friend. The three of them quickly found their way into the greenbelt where some neighborhood boys had built a leaf pile earlier in the day.

Welcome winter!


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Farewell to Great Neighbors and Friends



We're so sorry to see our good friends and neighbors moving today. They stopped by for a few hours before heading south for Christmas in Ventura County, then southeast to their new home in Texas. (I've written about them here before.) Between missionary works in the rain forest, we'd begun developing a habit of meeting here in the culdesac in the mornings. It was two Jens relaxing in the front yard with hot cups of tea while our four kids rode their bikes and scooters, played tag, picked flowers. They were such relaxing visits with easy conversation that always provided me a fresh perspective.

Best of luck to them in their move, and their new lives in Texas. We hope to catch up with them there on our next Big Trip - yet more incentive to head out again.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Talented Artists and Craftspeople of Oregon, Washington and California

I've been holding on to these cards since, gee, October? My hope was to share the word about these talented artisans here to help them and to help YOU find some great gifts for family and friends. Well, it's too late for Christmas and I only have a few minutes, but in the interest of getting it done (and clearing my desk before Christmas), here's a taste:

Terramonary - At the Old Time Fiddlers Convention in Goleta, I purchased a BEAUTIFUL teapot made by Ramona Clayton. (I'll post pix later if I get a chance.) Her pottery is very well made and unique. Plus, she offers great customer service. Pricey? Yes, but it was worth giving in to the impulse (with Mr. B egging me on, too). :)

At Saturday Market in Portland, I particularly enjoyed these crafters:

Pterylae - Incredibly intricate, finely made art pieces, some of which may be used as jewelry, others designed for display. The artist, Adam Stare, was creating as we walked by and I was mesmerized. Using various color threads and fine wires, he winds patters around acrylic rectangles to create beautiful pieces.



Sky & Itzel Spehar (no website, but you can find them at spehars AT yahoo.com) - individually handcrafted works (including a barrette I couldn't go without) made of copper, German silver and bronze with lacquer finish.



Rei Garden - Handmade wearable art, lots of wonderful felted pieces, by Reiko Archer of Vernonia, Oregon. Click here to see the amazing things she can make!



KittyBabyLove - Handmade beeswax items, including cute, round kitty-shaped crayons, by Sara and Ben. Candles, coloring books and other cute things, too.



Shabby KnapSack, Lizzy Originals
- I don't often buy clothes for myself, and it's even LESS often that I purchase a NICE piece of clothing for myself. I went off the deep end and picked up one of the one-of-a-kind applique wraps Lizzy Myers makes. I'm not sure I'd suggest buying them online. I tried on a few before I found just the right one. Due to the various materials she uses, each hangs differently. The first one nearly had me convinced NONE would look good on me, but when I tried another made of more pliable material, it hung nicely. I'm stoked with my unusual, but still somewhat dressy new addition!

While at Marshall Gold Discover State Historic Park's holiday gathering, it's true I was disappointed in the caliber of MOST of the booths. But there was ONE exception:

Mary Stained Glass (no website yet, but you can reach her at marymaliff AT yahoo DOt com) - lovely, homemade stained glass pieces. Her emphasis at this, her first, craft fair was holiday ornaments. I particularly appreciated the personal touches. Some of my favorites - a 6" angel wrapped loosely in wire; the kayak-toting snowman; a rounded buggy type car with a kayak on the roof. She also had cut-glass wind chimes and other lovely items.

And where food was concerned there wasn't a lot to be excited about, but the fresh chestnuts were lovely:
T&L Chestnuts (no website, but Tlchestnut3 AT yahoo DOT com) - Tony and Lilly Sacki of Georgetown, CA harvest chestnuts October through November. They were on hand to roast the nuts (yes, over an open fire) and provide pointers. We've tried to do the chestnut thing, but the grocery store here turns out nuts at a high price, 80 percent of which have been mildewed inside. We'll be ordering from here in future. The secret, Lilly said, is to store then in a paper bag in the produce drawer of your fridge. Unfortunately, the grocery store wasn't aware they should never be kept in plastic for any period of time.


And finally, if you ever find yourself ANYWHERE NEAR Roseville, California, and you enjoy Indian food (or would like a great first experience), head to Priya. The girls and I were at a nearby store picking up a stand for their newly cut Christmas tree when E spotted this restaurant at lunchtime. She said, "Mom, have you ever had Indian food? What's it like?" Well, the best way to explain it is to try it.

You need to understand that I haven't had Indian food since a VERY bad experience (involving beetles) at an Indian food joint in London in 1991. I knew it was a matter of THAT restaurant having issues, but still, I couldn't bring myself to do it. Far be it from me, however, to forever taint my children's tastes with my own stories, so I kept my mouth shut and we headed inside.

The restaurant was serving buffet style, and the family that runs it was all eating there, too. (Always a good sign.) The buffet allowed us to taste a bit of everything. Our family favorite? Definitely the butter chicken, though I really enjoyed the goat stew and spicier offerings, too. The rice pudding with cardamom pods and other wonderful flavors was to die for!

Unfortunately, we're too far away from Roseville (or the other location in Chico, which I suspect is equally good, though I can't vouch for it) to enjoy this treat very often. Anyone know some SUPER SCRUMPTIOUS recipes for Southern Indian meals!?


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