Friday, May 31, 2013

Family time with the grandsons in the OC: Part II

May 26-30, 2013
Orange, California
Orangeland RV Resort

orange square pop store

Our last four days here were mostly spent doing simple but fun things with the boys and picking up or taking them to their various activities. Fortunately, my step-daughter Mindy, who was vacationing in New York City, left incredibly detailed notes about their daily schedule plus their dad (son-in-law David) was around over the Memorial Day weekend and after work to help make sure we were on track. We did give him some time without us when we decided to take about an hour’s drive to an RV show at the Rose Bowl. We should have investigated the show more as it turned out to be just one big dealer, McMahon, with no vendors and only about a half dozen Class A motorhomes.  We had hoped to see the newer Tiffins, so we decided to stop at the local dealer, Mike Thompson’s RV Superstore, where we were able to see some 2013 Phaetons with the L-shaped couch, fireplace, and large TV layout. It looks more like a living room, even has a coffee table, but you give up a lot space on the other side by having just one recliner instead of a love seat or two recliners.  The other result with the sofa is no hide-a-bed, just a scissor bed.  It would be hard for two people to fit on the extra bed. So, once again, we are happy to say we like our motorhome just fine. (It is good for us to go and reaffirm this feeling every so often. Probably the biggest temptation for us would be to go up to 40’, but the only difference would be that we could take more stuff and we already have more than we need!)


With the boys living so close to Disneyland, Legoland, Universal Studios, California Adventure, Knott’s
Berry Farm, and probably countless other attractions we don’t even know about, there is no shortage of things to do in this area, but we are not into crowds, so we kept close to the RV Park or their home over the Memorial Weekend. The boys spent Memorial Day with us at the park where we all watched the first of the Narnia series,The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, together with the surround sound and two TVs on in the galley of the motorhome. I remember reading the whole series aloud to my sons we spent two summers on a sailboat in British Columbia. Those books have special memories to me and I also appreciate their symbolism as a spiritual allegory.

After the movie and lunch, Grandpa challenged the boys to a game of shuffleboard.  It took the boys a while to get the hang of out (Grandpa a little bit too—all those months in Florida the last two years with shuffleboard courts everywhere and he never played once).  After about an hour of practice, they paired up: Grandpa and Tyler (4) against Luke (9) and Nate (6).

Grandpa gave Tyler and Nate a bit of a handicap by letting them  shoot their discs from a shorter distance. The game was pretty close until the last frame when Tyler scored thirty points!  He came back to the motorhome beating his chest. These guys are competitive but, thankfully, no one was a sore loser. 

Tuesday was back to school, so Grandpa and I enjoyed the break and got some things done around the motorhome. This park has a car and motorhome/RV washing station which Vic used for doing a much needed detailing of our Jeep. He did not take on the motorhome, but I can feel that time is coming soon. Tyler had a fire truck presentation at his pre-school which we stayed to watch. The bummer was the actual fire truck had to go out on a call, so they sent a small truck but the kids loved the demonstration of the fire hose and sirens just as well and it was fun for us to meet his pre-school teacher and see him interacting with his peers.

The two older boys started basketball practice this week so after school was snack, homework, playtime, early dinner, off to practice, shower and get ready for bed. Vic, as a former basketball coach, was super excited to watch them practice for summer ball. I mentioned in my previous post that this side of the family is extremely athletic: Vic coached his daughter Mindy in basketball from fifth grade through high school; she also played volleyball which earned her a Division One scholarship to Oregon State; son-in-law David wrestled and played baseball in high school, then played Division One baseball for Oregon State. Did I mention that we are all avid Oregon State Beaver fans? They just finished first in Pac 12 baseball and we have high hopes they will make it to the World Series and become national champions for the third time since’05.  (Note to self: we need a family photo with everyone decked out in our Beaver gear.)

My step-daughter returned from NYC late Wednesday night which also happened to be our last night at Orangeland RV Park (long story but we messed up our reservation dates a bit). Our plan is to return for another week after the boys are out of school so we can do some daytrips to the beach and other fun places together. In the meantime, we are off to San Diego to visit my niece and nephew who both live there. My nephew has room for our motorhome so we are happily going to be parked at their house while we enjoy the San Diego area—a place we haven’t been since the 90s! 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Family time with the grandsons in the OC

May 23-26, 2013
Orange, California
Orangeland RV Park

Our annual trip westward takes us to Southern California to spend time with Vic’s son and daughter and our five grandkids. First stop is in Orange County to visit his daughter’s family with three grandsons, ages 9, 6, and 4. Challenge number one is finding a decent RV park close to their home in Yorba Linda.  Last year, we stayed at a park about eight miles from their home, Canyon RV Park, which was once a county park but is now privately run. It is in quite a lovely setting with one major exception: many of the sites are almost directly under the freeway. Noise doesn’t usually bother us, but this was one exception. So, this year we chose to stay a little further away at the Orangeland RV Park, a private park that used to be an orange grove a hundred years ago. The cool thing is they kept many citrus trees throughout the park and campers are invited to pick to their heart’s content. If you don’t like picking, the office keeps full bins of fruit available for guests to take.  We are about ten minutes further from the kids, but this park has better amenities for us all to enjoy: miniature golf, shuffleboard, heated pool and spa, and two dog parks all for about the same price.

After a three to four hour drive from Barstow, California, we arrived before noon and checked into the very full park due to the Memorial Day weekend.  After getting settled, let the games begin. Our oldest grandson, age 9, was in a baseball playoff game at 5 p.m. We were thrilled to be able to watch one of his games before the season ended. Of course, the other two boys wore their baseball team outfits and played around in the park while their brother was playing.  Meet the boys:

Playing third baseman, Luke looks to the outfield for a throw to get the runner out on third.

At bat, Luke gets a solid hit but it was a fly ball that was caught.

Nate goofs around with a plastic bat and soft baseball that they brought along to play with in the park.

Four-year-old Tyler runs the pinecone bases he set up for his own game on the sidelines.

The Red Sox lost the game 7:6 with an exciting last inning. The good news is that they were ranked higher than the other team, so both teams earned a spot in the city tournament next week.  Meanwhile, summer basketball season for the two older boys starts next week as well. With three athletic boys, my step-daughter is in her early stages of carting kids to practice and cheering on the boys in their various sports teams.

On Friday, Grandma and Grandpa took advantage of a day to take it easy around the motorhome while the boys were in school. After school, it was pool time at their house before having burgers on the grill. 

On Saturday, my step-daughter, Mindy, flew to New York for a five-day vacation in New York City with her best friend from high school. We offered to be here during this time to help out with the kids so she could enjoy her first break in nine years. We brought the boys to the RV Park for the day where they could swim and, most importantly, help Grandpa pick oranges and make fresh-squeezed juice for our picnic lunchtime together.

It has been nearly a year since we have been together—much too long a time to not be more a part of their lives. We have high hopes of getting the family to Florida next winter (Mindy, are you reading this?) or we may just take a flight back to California for the holidays. Such are the challenges of choreographing a full-time RVing lifestyle. The good news is we have the rest of this week here, another week later in June, and another week at a lovely campground in Oregon in July with the boys and their parents.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Haunted hotels, Indian Gardens, and Red Rocks

May 19-21, 2013
Flagstaff, Arizona
J and H RV Park

Our three night stay in Flagstaff just flew by. We knew this would be a brief stopover so we kept our plans pretty low key: spend a day walking around the historic district and Northern Arizona University campus in Flagstaff and a day in Sedona meeting a friend and checking out a few Sedona highlights.

First a word about the RV park. In doing our usual research, we learned there are no Passport America parks in the area, and the forest service campgrounds nearby were dry camping, so that left us with about four or five private parks that did not have very good reviews. We typically do not enjoy KOAs, so we ruled that one out even though the reviews were pretty good. Another park had major red dust issues and another serious train noise, so we opted for the J and H RV Park in spite of mixed reviews, and ended up quite pleased with everything except the price—$45 with the Good Sam discount. The location was excellent—no road noise and only about eight miles from downtown—and the dogs were happy with an off-leash dog area (plus they have a dog wash station that we didn’t use). Also worth mentioning—no long term residents or park models—just a well-laid out campground with gravel pull-throughs and a few back-in sites.

I should also mention that both of us had been to Flagstaff and Sedona before, but only passing through on our way somewhere else. I should also mention that I lived in Tucson in 1982 and 1983 where I attended the U of A part-time and where my youngest son was born. Other than loving the U of A English department, I did not enjoy life in the southern Arizona desert, especially with a three-year-old and a new baby when it was 110 degrees outside. Aside from the summertime heat, the scorpions, snakes, and tarantulas in our yard were another challenge that contributed to my desire to move back to the Northwest. Some people travel to the desert and discover something that resonates in their soul. I feel this kind of connection in pastoral settings or on a beautiful white sand beach. Vic’s experience in the Arizona desert has been mostly the years his son lived in Scottsdale when we would travel there to visit. Unfortunately, one of those times was a week of babysitting the granddaughters in August with temps above 110 on most days. I should also mention we do not golf, an Arizona pastime that seems to make this area more attractive to others. Having said all this, we are both open to changing our mind about the Arizona desert as a place to consider for a winter stay. We are grateful for the bloggers who write about their passions for desert adventures and hope that someday we will share in their enthusiasm for this part of the country.

The landscape in Flagstaff is quite a bit different than most of Arizona because of the 7000 ft. elevation. and Ponderosa Pine forests. The town actually reminds us more of Colorado or Montana than the Southwest—pretty appealing place but it gets cold here in the winter when the town becomes a bit of ski resort with Arizona Snowbowl only seven miles north of town.

As we walked around town, we discovered several plaques that educated us about the history of the town. One of the more interesting ones was the origin of the city’s name. Some pioneers traveling on the trail that came through this area stopped on the 4th of July to celebrate the 100 year birthday of the nation. They made a tall flag pole to raise a flag by stripping the limbs from a ponderosa pine. Over the years, this "flag-staff” became a landmark for future travelers and the name stuck.

The most significant factor in Flagstaff’s history was the decision to run the Santa Fe Railway through the town in the 1880s. Like many western railway stops, the town became a bit wild filled with sheep herders, loggers, and cattlemen leading to the colorful history of saloons, dance halls, and gambling houses. The train also brought in visitors who used Flagstaff as a jumping-off point for a stage ride to Grand Canyon.

One of the more well-known “trails” coming through town is Route 66, the Main Street of America. The route from Chicago to Santa Monica was originally supposed to go through Phoenix, but Flagstaff won out and visitors today can follow a walking path to see some of the historic sites of the old Route 66 that remain today. We actually walked past many of these landmarks without knowing their history as we discovered the brochure that explains them after our self-guided tour of the town.

Now for the hauntings. You can get map of the haunted places with explanations for a self-guided tour or you can book a tour with costumed guides who take you at dusk and reenact some of the creepy mysteries that are part of the haunting stories. Legend has it that many of the characters associated with these mysteries have stayed around town in the form of ghosts. The two main places we knew about were the two historic hotels in town: the Hotel Weatherford and the Hotel Monte Bella. I went inside and talked to the hotel desk employees and they confirmed the stories. The Hotel Monte Vista even has a handout describing the most famous “permanent residents” of the hotel. The most famous guest of the Monte Bella, the phantom bellboy, was even confirmed by John Wayne when he was a guest of the hotel. The stories are so embedded in Flagstaff lore that they have been featured on the TV shows Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters.

Other observations from our urban walk. Flagstaff is a recreational town with a high priority placed on outdoor activities as at least four locally-owned sports shops are in close proximity of one another; a second primary pastime may be watching sports and drinking—definite signs of a college life atmosphere.

The downtown is super dog friendly with filled water bowls at many storefronts and invitations to bring your dogs in for biscuits. Other features we liked was free 2-hour parking throughout town, wide streets, and a general laid-back atmosphere. We both really appreciate thriving downtowns with locally owned stores making up the majority of the businesses. We also liked that we saw a thriving used bookstore, a groovy looking used record store, and a large used sporting goods store. The emphasis on reduce, reuse, and recycle is a value we share. They even have a bar that advertises this philosophy.

The Northern Arizona campus, about two miles southwest of the downtown area, is larger than I remembered it.With an enrollment of about 25,000 students, the campus is fairly spread out with three notable features: a dome football stadium, an observatory, and gorgeous townhomes for campus housing.

We looked for a separate college-type business strip, but it looked like most students hung out in the downtown area. Neither of us knows much about the Lumberjacks, but it looked like a welcoming campus with a strong hotel management program and nursing school (judging by their facilities). One big bonus for going to school here would also be the close proximity of a ski resort and lots of hiking opportunities in the nearby canyons. We saw photos of the town covered with snow and it looked an inviting alpine village—something we could enjoy for a few weeks.

Our plans for the next day were to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in about six years who recently moved to Sedona. The fastest way to Sedona is via 89a, the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive, about 25 miles vs. 40+ miles on Interstate 17. The scenic route is pretty curvy with some decent grades, not something we would want to travel on in the motorhome, but we did this little daytrip in our Jeep. Our plan was to meet for a late breakfast at Indian Gardens, supposedly next to Garlands. I misunderstood the directions and had Vic pull in at Garland’s Oak Creek Lodge a few miles further north. We were glad to make the mistake as this lodge and its setting were incredible. We arrived early so we even took time to tour the grounds and the historic lodge.

Thanks to texting, we figured out we needed to travel further south to the Indian Garden Market, a lovely café with an outside garden setting near the base of the canyon. Julie, her boyfriend Sean, Vic and I spent at least two hours catching up on our lives and enjoying one another’s company before moving on.

With Julie’s help, we planned the rest of the day around a visit to Tlaquepaque (Tla-keh-pah-keh), one of the many meditation centers in Sedona, and a drive to Red Rock Crossing to view the backside of Cathedral Rocks and its famous valley. One other stop was to see The Heart of Sedona, the coffee shop and restaurant Julie is now managing.

Tlaquepaque, touted as Sedona’s “internationally renowned Arts and Craft Village,” is basically a high-end Sedona style shopping area with restaurants. Notable in that none of the stores or restaurants are chains, so at least everything they offer is pretty unique but therefore $$$. We both had our fill of eye candy in Santa Fe, so not even window shopping was on our mind, but the architecture and landscaping of this outdoor plaza was pretty to see. After walking around, we opted to have an adult beverage at the local brewery there while relaxing on their patio.

center for the new age sign

From Tlaquepaque, it is just a quick jaunt across the street to visit one of three metaphysical gift shops and meditation centers. I always thought of Sedona as a high-end artist community, but was surprised to discover much of its tourism relates to the healing arts. Consequently, there is a plethora of spas and spiritual retreat centers. We only checked out the Center for the New Age superstore which had a meditation gardens, an amazing array of gemstones and crystals, and services including aural photography, psychic readings, and massage. One reason for Sedona’s reputation as a spiritual mecca has to do with the geologic phenomenon of vortexes, spots where the earth's energy is supposedly increased, leading to self-awareness and various kinds of healing. More new learning for us as we were both unfamiliar with vortexes. A Sedona website explains: “”In Sedona vortexes are created, not by wind or water, but from spiraling spiritual energy. The vortexes of Sedona are named because they are believed to be spiritual locations where the energy is right to facilitate prayer, mediation and healing. Vortex sites are believed to be locations having energy flow that exists on multiple dimensions. The energy of the vortexes interacts with a person’s inner self.”  The best evidence for the power of the vortexes is that trees growing in a vortex grow in a spiral.  Interesting. . . .

Another major tourist attraction here is the famous Pink Jeep Tours that take people up in the mountains to see the amazing views that surround the area. (There are even Pink Jeep vortex tours. . . .) These tours are pretty spendy at about $100 per person for a couple hours.Related to the natural surroundings, there are abundant hiking opportunities. We came to Sedona with plans to do some hiking, but the temps were already past the mid-80s by the time we headed to the Red Rocks. We are both wimps when it comes to heat and hiking, so we opted to just enjoy the scenic drive that takes you from the lower Red Rock Crossing to the upper one, about eight miles long.

red rock4

Our last stop was to take a quick tour of the café Julie redecorated and now manages. The place was buzzing with espresso and spirulina smoothie drinkers working on their tablets or chatting away with a friend. We don’t know what it looked like before, but the rustic contemporary design of the place with its bright orange, green, and chocolate brown colors quite appealing. We enjoyed the gojo berry smoothie we shared. Good vibes here.

conscious cuisine sign

Sedona is a place we wished we had more time to explore, especially to hike around the areas where the vortexes are and see if we could experience some of the Sedona magic. Like so many places we have visited over the past two years, we found ourselves talking about a longer stay here another year. This is the addictive nature of this lifestyle as it seems the more we see, the more we want to see and the longer we want to stay. For now, the trick is to stay present and enjoy every diverse moment of our lives. Next up: visiting five grandchildren in Southern California!