Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween On the Go

The kids spent a lot of time worrying about what to do for Halloween. When Miki offered her church's trunk or treat, it was such a blessing to get that on our calendar! K wanted to go as Bellatrix Lestrange, NB wanted to be Steve?, and J wanted to be a zombie....or a ninja.....or, what is that costume over there? At any rate, we worked on all their ideas, and they came out pretty good!

Hair Work Begins

I loved the look of Bellatrix that Helena Bonham Carter portrayed in the movies, so I decided that K needed some truly tricked out hair. We started her out with a shower on Saturday, and then got down to business braiding her hair. LOTS of braids. Different sized braids. Braids made out of braids. It was a lot of work. Bill said I braided for about an hour. Needless to say, this is not something we do on a daily basis!

Hair is Setting

When it was all braided, we put it up in octopus clips, giving it an extra twirl. I'm not sure that helped add to the wackiness of it all, but it was fun to look upon! K even slept on it like this, which is a feat in and of itself!!


It was definitely worth all that work. She looked killer. Ha ha!


NB really wanted to be Steve?, from Minecraft. So we hit Costco before going to the house to pick up a box. Miki traded him boxes and gave him one of hers that actually fit the bill. She also provided the construction paper. NB did all the work on it, and I think it looked great! He even managed to put in eye holes that weren't too obvious, so he could see his way around without ruining the look.

Photo Booth

Somehow I missed getting a shot of zombie boy, but Miki saved my butt on that one. She got a picture at the photo booth at the church. The older boys opted out of the trunk or treat, but were hoping their siblings would give them candy. I don't know that's going to happen, we'll see!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Family Help

How to get mail while we're travelling. And not just paper that someone could scan, but books or what not. Send them to relatives! It's helpful to have things mailed to us along the way, but this time we had some time-sensitive things to take care of, and no home that we were visiting (if only I had thought of Miki a week ago!). So we sent things to Bill's parents, and she came down to the Great Smoky Mountains with Bill's brother and his family, and brought along our mail. Thank you Lynn!

While Lynn and company were in town, we spent time in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. We had a great time with them going to the aquarium, the odditorium, and mini golfing. So much good food was was a great time, a chance to see Bill's family in a whole different setting!

NS and NB Touching the Jellies

We got to spend time at Ripley's Aquarium doing work on a fun scout patch. There are several touch tanks throughout the aquarium. Here the boys touched jelly fish. Bill wanted me to, but the last time I touched jellies was when I lived in MD back in the 70s, and I got stung way toooooooo many times for my small body. I'm good, I don't need to touch the jellies! But the kids got a kick out of it. They also got to touch horseshoe crabs and stingrays.

Touching the Rays

NB tried to touch the rays, I'm not sure he made it. G was the most successful--he touched four different times! There were also a few sharks in this tank, and they asked that you take your fingers out of the tank as the sharks swim by.


The shark tank is a really cool experience. I have to say, though, that the lighting and the moving sidewalk conspired to make me a bit motion sick. The older boys wanted to go through again, so I went with them, but when they begged to go a third time, I had to take a time out. They went through without me, though, so no loss for them!

NS and the Fat Man

NS posed with the fat man suit. Ripley's Odditorium was a collection of bizarre and record breaking things. Some truly odd things that Ripley collected throughout the years. We ran into one lady who left one area very freaked out. After we went through that area, I couldn't blame her!

Hungry Kids

We went to Bubba Gump's for dinner. Clearly the kids were hungry and not in the mood for a picture. Bill and I got Lt. Dan's Drunken Shrimp, and that rocked. Everyone who got shrimp really enjoyed it, the other food was just so so.

Mini Golfing

We finished the family visit with a trip to Old McDonald's Farm mini golf and lunch at the Mellow Mushroom. We split into two groups for golf, and my group enjoyed ourselves immensely. The other guys felt they got onto a course that was somewhat lame, but we thought the chicken course was crazy enough and fun enough to hold our attention. What a great time we had, hangin' with the fam!

Tennessee Friends

When we were in Mammoth Cave, I looked up our route to Great Smoky Mountains and checked to see if there were any Costcos on the route to get our shopping done. Turns out there was one, right on our route, in Knoxville. And then I checked my address book, because an old roomie lives in Tennessee, but I couldn't remember where. Turns out, she's in Knoxville!!! A quick email and a day later, we scheduled a time to get together.

Mark, Miki, me, Bill

I was so psyched to get to go to their house for dinner. Miki designed their house, long time ago, and I've never seen it in person. So we took the long tour. It is so stinkin' gorgeous. I need her to work with me on plans for our house when we re-enter the home ownership market. We had a great evening of food and talk, it was wonderful catching up. We hadn't seen each other since we moved to CO in 2008, so it was a great treat to spend an entire evening with each other. She even invited us back for Trunk or Treat on Sunday at her church, so that even solved our problem of how to have a Halloween celebration. Friends are the best!

Before we headed over to her place, which is about an hour from our campsite, we hit the Muse. It's another science museum that we could get into using our ASTC reciprocity. What a gift that has been this year! It was a little young for most of our guys, but we only stayed about an hour.

NS and J Completing Circuits

Before the Muse, we hit Bush's Beans for a tour of their welcome/visitor's center. What a fantastic recommendation from our camp host! They show a 20 minute video on the history of Bush's Beans, and have a walk-through museum. As a souvenir, we got a picture of us with Duke the dog. We had a great time. The cafe was jam-packed when we were there, so we didn't get to eat there, but we did get a whole pecan pie to take to Miki and Mark''s made with baked beans.....yum!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Camp Cooking

Cooking can get quite repetitive, so we've been mixing things up and asking kids to not only pick one meal, but to cook it as well. We've been getting some pretty good meals, and I've been getting a bit of a break.


NB picked one of our most complicated meals, right off the bat. Homemade gumbo. Totally from scratch. This is something we make quite a bit of during the fall and winter, it keeps us nice and warm and is oh so tasty. This is NB's first attempt at a roux, and he wanted to do it all himself. Constant stirring of hot oil and flour for about a half hour. That's a half hour of propane time. This was a propane-costly meal. Anyway, we talked about the different stages of roux, and he got it to a nice, dark chocolate before we proceeded.

Next Phase

After getting the roux nice and dark, he went ahead and added veggies, let those cook down a bit, and then added the andouille and spices. Man, at this point, it's divine to smell. But it's not done yet!

Adding of the Broth

Time to get this down to more of a stew than a paste. NB did such a good job on this. When we're at home, this makes enough to feed us for several days. We polished off enough to make leftovers not make sense. This could be because we're outside and freezing our booties off, it could be because the kids are growing like fiends, or we could just not want to save leftovers because it's challenging. Whatever. But here's the recipe, if you're interested:

Summers Family Gumbo

1 c oil
1 c AP flour
1 c celery, diced
1 c sweet bell pepper, diced
1 1/2 c onion, diced
1 lb andouille, cut bite size
1 1/2 t salt
1/4 t cayenne
3 bay leaves
2 chicken breasts, cut bite size
2 T Emeril's Essence
6-8 c chicken broth
1 T gumbo file

Get the oil nice and hot before adding the flour. Carefully add the flour, stirring constantly to bring it to a dark chocolate color. Add the veggies and cook for about 5 minutes to get them soft. Add the andouille, salt, cayenne, and bay leaves. Cook for another 5 or so minutes. Add the broth gradually, making sure it incorporates well. Once it's all incorporated, bring to a boil; lower to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for an hour.

Rub the chicken with the 2 T Emeril's Essence and add to the pot. Stir well and let simmer for 2 hours. Add the file and serve individual servings over rice. YUM!

Bill says this is his grandpa's recipe, but my memory is that he didn't have his grandpa's recipe and searched the internet for one that sounded familiar. This is an amalgam of what he found, his attempt to recreate his grandpa's gumbo. So whether this was Versil's recipe or just a recreation, this is Bill's dedication to his grandpa and the love he put into gumbo for his family. Delicious!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Great Smokies

Travel days continue to be the bane of our existence. I had looked up campgrounds, and decided we would stay in the NC part of the park, over at Big Creek campground. It's walk-ins, in the middle of bear country. We would have to pack up everything after every meal, and walk it all back to our car in the parking lot. We travel heavy. We don't even have our tabletop stove any more because that broke. So we bailed on Big Creek, and headed to Gatlinburg, since that's where we're meeting Bill's family later in the week. That's quite the circus. The walking town aspect of it all reminded us of Banff, but with so many more people. And a lot more lights. Bill found us a place to stay, just outside of Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. We stayed the night, then hit the grocery store. While I shopped, Bill tried to find us a campground. Not an easy task. With the Great Smokies/Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area being such a destination spot, campgrounds can be quite expensive/filled/far away. By the time we left the grocery store, we still didn't have a spot. Just one of those days where you question why in the world anyone would take on such an adventure. Especially in a tent when nighttime temps sink, humidity builds during the days, the lighting situation is haphazard, and oftentimes it rains in the fall. But God came through for us, and one of the campgrounds that Bill had called but no one answered called us back. And they have space! And they're cheap! And they're on a river! And they're only 30ish minutes from Gatlinburg! Living large! Oh, and now we're only about an hour away from one of my old roommates, so we get to visit her and her family!!! Thank you God for this wonderful blessing!

Our first sunset here. We were fortunate enough to get the campsite set up early in the day, get our lunch, get cleaned up, and head out to our first field trip. That we just barely missed--it closed just a few minutes before we got there. But we'll hit the Bush's Baked Beans factory visitor's center another day. On our way there, though, Bill got a call from Nate Taylor. Of Taylor Coaches. Our trailer is now moving forward. So exciting. We even got a floor plan. The countdown has begun.


With our first real extended stay (we stayed at Mammoth for two full weeks), we got the chance to see and do a bunch of stuff, AND relax. What a blessing! On our way in, we passed Abraham Lincoln's birthplace. We knew we wanted to visit that, but we also took out our atlas to figure out what else we could do. Thought about the Louisville Slugger museum, but Bill was taken with the Toyota factory. We had been told after our trip to WV in January that we should have checked out the Toyota factory tour in Indiana or Illinois, I can't remember. Turns out, there's a factory in Kentucky, too! So Louisville Sluggers were off the list, Toyotas were on!

Foolishly, I thought we could do both the birthplace and the factory tour in one day. Our tour time was at 11:30 (call WAY in advance for this one, we lucked into spots opened up because of a cancellation), so I thought we'd spend an hour or so with Abe and then get on our way. Pesky time zone changes, that idea was thrown out the window. But we did get to go to Costco again and fill our coolers once again!

The Toyota tour was AMAZING. No cameras or cell phones are allowed on the tour, so you'll just have to go on one yourself, but trust me, it's pretty darn cool. They have huge robots for part of the assembly, they stamp a lot of the metal right there, such cool ways of making their jobs more efficient. Really cool to see such thoughtful procedures. Totally worth the two hour trip we took to get there!

We did get to see Abe's birthplace, we just did it the next day. We had originally planned on leaving Mammoth on the 19th, but with the reservations for the Toyota tour, we extended our stay until the morning of the 23rd, so we had plenty of time to share with Abe!

K at Lincoln

They have a smaller version of the Lincoln Memorial on site. Teddy Roosevelt laid the cornerstone. There are 56 steps up to the building, representing the 56 years of Mr. Lincoln's life. There are so many different sites to see related to Abraham Lincoln, and this was the only one we visited. The changing daylight is messing with our schedule, and our days just slip by us.


This cabin is inside the memorial. It's not a true size version of the cabin he was born in, but it's close. Bill was disappointed to read it wasn't the real size. Even so, he was born in a small house. We did learn, though, that the Lincolns were more of an upper middle class family, which was surprising to us, given the emphasis on his being born in a one-room cabin and his humble beginnings. It's nice to learn more and dispel some myths. Truths are much more impressive.

Sinking Spring

Sinking Spring, the spring where the Lincoln family got their water. It's really cool that it's still running. And then we got to wondering if it flows into an underground cavern. And if that cavern connects to Mammoth. Probably not, but fun to imagine nonetheless!

Fall Foliage

We spent more time in the park, as well. We went on the Cedar Sink trail. It's only a mile and a bit, but it's really cool. The leaves are only just beginning to change colors, but I love pointing them out to the kids, because we have so few trees with leaves in CO.


In the middle of the loop, there is a sinkhole. Seems huge to me, but it's really the only one I've ever seen. The kids are all in this picture. Can you see them? I'm so glad we took the time to explore this one. It was a hot and humid day, but when we got down to the bottom, we found a small entrance to the cave system (too small, and they ask that you not try to enter the cave) that blew cool air at us. Nice.


Bill loved listening to the water dripping into the caves. There was water at the bottom that the drops would sometimes hit, making a much larger noise. The sink apparently fills with water during heavy rains, and then drains again into the caves. So cool to see this different geology. Karst geology--so amazing! I'm glad I picked up the geology book I did so that we can explore geology more fully. And to get to see the range of geology that we have just so far on our trip. Wow.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Snag in the Making

Sitting at our campsite, all alone, most of the campground emptied out because it's Sunday afternoon, I hear a HUGE crack, look over, and the tree in the campsite next to ours falls over. That's what we call a snag. My boys are now in the process of chopping up the fallen remnant of what used to be a tree. We're allowed to collect and burned dead and downed wood, and I think that tree now counts.

Snag Attack

Whittlng Injury
J has been dying to have a go with the hatchet, and this is his chance. I've been telling him that he has to have Bill supervise, cuz that boy is stubborn as the day is long. I really just want someone else telling him what to do, so I can be support but not main guidance.

In addition to all the hatchetting going on, NB just got his first pocket knife and has been going to town with whittling projects. And so injuries ensue. But never fear, K is near! She took on the first aid with gusto, though she proclaimed that she'd rather be a vet than a person doctor. All in all, we've been having a fun time working on our camp skills.


Time to visit a Costco, so off to Tennessee we went. I have a monthly prescription, and while I had stocked up ahead of the trip, it was time again to get it filled. So fortunately for us, Costco was able to transfer my prescription to Nashville and get it filled within about a half hour. Whew!

Since we travelled nearly two hours to get to Nashville, we hung out there the whole day. After Costco and the local Publix, we went and hit up Fort Negley. Largest stone fortress built during the Civil War (for the Union). I need to do some more reading on Tennessee during the Civil War, because it sounded to me as if they were trying to play both sides.

After the fort, we toodled down the road to Adventure Science Center. What a blast that was! Very hands-on, dynamic learning.

Moon Walk

The first thing we did was the space walk. It was close to 3:30 when we got to the museum, and that's when they close the "rides," so we hustled to make it just in time to be in line! The kids had so much fun with their short time trying to walk on the moon. Even though our time at the museum was short, I'm so glad we got to check it out.

We finished up our day in Nashville at Peg Leg Porker a barbeque joint. While it's not my type of barbeque, we enjoyed the atmosphere and had a nice evening. All in all, we liked our day trip into Nashville.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

On the Move, Again

After drying out from our drowned rat days in NOVA, we headed out to Mammoth Cave National Park. Our first night in the park was a bit more crowded than we were anticipating for a Sunday evening in October. Columbus Day holiday. Oh, and Kentucky schools get a fall break. But a lot of folks cleared out Monday afternoon, and by Tuesday, we were running pretty free and clear, with just a few other campers. By this weekend, though, we're back to a full campground. Thank goodness most of our fellow campers are headed back to their non-camping lives tomorrow.

Domes and Dripstones Tour

We spent a lot of time trying to figure out which tour to take. There's a wide range of tours offered, so we read up on all of them and then checked with a ranger. NPS' website says to get a ticket the day before, and most of the tours sell out. Even with that warning, we ran into people who came in the visitor's center in the afternoon looking for a tour for that day. Upsetting for them, to say the least, especially since it was their only day in the park. At any rate, we decided upon the Domes and Dripstones Tour. Turns out, I can't go with a crowd. This is a HUGE tour, with about 118 people allowed to go along with the rangers, bringing the total to 120. I had to bust through the crowd and exit the cave and chill out with Ranger John for a few minutes. After gathering myself, we went back in, and as long as I hung back and didn't rush into the cramped spaces, I was cool. But, my oh my, those cramped spots are CRAMPED. Such a good tour, and I'm glad I forced myself back into the cave. It did take us about 10 minutes to get down the windy and cramped stairs entrance. Ranger John told me the guys who discovered the cave came down on ropes and it took them 10 days to get to the big room. I don't think my destiny is to be a caver.

Mammoth Passages

We were fortunate enough to work in a second tour, Mammoth Passages. The entrance to this one is much larger, never having a cramped and winding entrance. Thank goodness. After two days of climbing and walking a couple miles, I was feeling my heretofore lack of exercise. It was good for me. I need to get my butt in gear and exercise more. After the tour, we continued down the trail to the River Styx stream. NB and I then went to Echo River stream and then to the campsite. He and I ended up hiking about three miles that afternoon. We were HOT when we returned to camp.

Cool Roots

NB and I got to see some truly cool roots. We also got to see a small entrance into the cave. Did NOT go through the creek into the cave. But we did talk to a gentleman who moved to the area 24 years ago to explore the cave, and he sounded like he has used the creek to enter the cave.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Hocking Hills

Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio has been on K's list of places to go since we started planning the whole journey.  We looked into camping there, but it's one of the pricier state parks, and it's only an hour and a half or so from Bill's parents' house, so we took a day and headed out.  
First, the water is LOW.  As in, the waterfalls almost aren't even there.  Which actually gave us a very cool way of looking at things, as the water was so sporadic in places that it ended up looking like rain.  Very cool.  This is one of G's pictures.  He loves to steal my camera and take pictures.  He's got a good eye for interesting shots.  He's saving up for a camera, but the one like mine is about $300, so I think he'll need to ask for Christmas money to be able to get it.      
Devil's Bathtub.  Rumored to go all the way down to Hades itself.  This is a treacherous little spot.  The sides are sheer and slippery, which means that once you've found your way in, you're unlikely to find your way out.  Bill read that many people have drowned in this spot.              
When G isn't taking my camera, he's offering to be in the shots for me.  These cool bridges were all over the place.  I was totally digging this park because of their really cool bridges throughout.          
This bridge was my favorite.  All the sections are independent.  So there are gaps.  And there are no rails to hold onto.  NB's on the edge, just as he lives his life.  Freaked a lot of people out, but he knows what he's doing.  All in all, we had a delightful time at the park.  Bill's mom joined us, which was so much fun for us.  We don't normally explore parks with other people, so that was a true treat for us.

Halloween Time

Halloween is one of my favoritest holidays.  Ever.  But we're not in our own home, so we're having to mix things up a bit this year.  We're not sure what kind of trick or treating activities will be available to us while we're on the road, but that's a priority for the kids. But in the meantime, we've been able to have some of the season's fun, courtesy Bill's parents.  
All five of 'em fit on this cool swing under the slide at the Butcher Family Farms pumpkin patch.  G is a bit old for the fun of the pumpkin patch, so it was tricky getting him there and to participate.  But he did pick out a pumpkin to carve, and that was the big reason for getting him there.        
NS hiding amongst the big pumpkins.  These monsters were seriously huge.  The kids all wanted one of their own, but their price is in line with their size, so they stayed at the farm.  But, boy oh boy do I want to plant some of these bad boys some day.  After our pumpkins were all chosen, we headed back to decorate the in-laws' front porch.        
It took us a couple days to get the pumpkins off the porch and get started on carving, but once we started, it went lickety split quick.              
Yanking the guts out is NOT our favorite job.  I don't help with this part, my hands turn bright red and itch for a long time, so if it's not my pumpkin, I don't do it.  This part took the longest for the kids.  I always take forever to figure out my face, but they all got that done in a hurry.              
Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater.  G made his pumpkin's mouth so large that it could consume his uncle's mini pumpkin.  Yum yum!              
K got a goose necked gourd, and instead of carving it, she went ahead and decorated it.  She added eyes, neck bolts, and wings, thus creating....Frankengoose!!!!  With our little Luci light behind it, this guy was one scary gourd!  (Links are simply for finding things, I get no compensation.)              
Cool pumpkin decoration.  Definitely one of the good times we've had in Parkersburg, WV.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Updated Math...Done With It All

After Mary gave me the heads up as to where the solutions were (thanks!), though I swear I looked for them time and again, G and I had the discussion as to how to continue math.  I had already put him on Teaching Textbooks, which he loves.  But is it too simple for him?  Do I need to push him to do things that are hard for him?  Everything seems to come so easily to him, it's really annoying.  This led to a grander discussion about high school planning, what courses should be included, what the plans are for his life.  I'm stressing.  I can do this, I just wish I sometimes took the easier path.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Our trip to the DC area had been planned out for months.  Months.  One of NB and K's teachers had told us about a book festival on September 24th, downtown.  She told us this in April.  APRIL!  So we planned.  We reserved.  We told people.  We did not check the weather.  We arrived in Reston, VA, on September 23rd.  Bright, sunny, hotter than I wanted (still 90 degrees after the sun went down).  Tired and cranky, and hearing that Obama would be out and about in DC on the 24th, we decided to bail on the book festival.  We've been told that was a good decision.  The weekend was gorgeous.  We had dinner with friends on Saturday, visited my brother on Sunday.  Gorgeous weather.  Monday we had dinner with those same friends, and it was raining when we left their house.  Tuesday was beautiful again, but the area was put under flash flood watch.  Tuesday night rained hard, off and on.  My sleeping bag got wet at the bottom, but everyone else seemed fine.  Wednesday rained hard all day long, and the night was no different.  This time, the entire tent got wet inside.  Bill's and my bed took the hardest hit.  We're using a foam memory pad, and it got soaked.  With standing water in the tent, our reservation up, and no reservation at Shenandoah, which was our next stop, and no end in sight to the rain, we had to change plans.  So back to Bill's parents we went to regroup and dry out.  
Bill packing up all the wet stuff.  After getting all the pads and sleeping bags out of the tent, we then had to soak up the standing water so that we could get it all in the trailer.  Bill even dumped water out of the tent.  Blech.              
The rain continued on our trip to WV.  It was a bad couple of days, days that made us long for a house and possibly a fireplace.  But we got to the other side of that, got our sleeping bags to a dryer, cleaned out the car, did laundry, and now we are in better spirits.

Great Falls

Having grown up in the NOVA area, I love Great Falls.  I don't love visiting it on the weekends, because I remember lines stretching out through the entire road leading up to the entrance booth.  Not how I want to spend my time.  So instead of hitting it on a bright and beautiful weekend day, we went on an overcast and slightly chilly weekday.  Still an awesome place to visit.  Wouldn't do it in the rain, but I think that's the only weather that would keep me away from this park.  I like to rock hop, and rain just makes it too slippery to do that.  
It's funny--there's a sign telling you about the three overlooks, letting you know that the third overlook is the best view, but it was the least crowded when we were there.  But the real gem is beyond the overlooks, when the path winds its way through the rocks.  There you can scramble on the rocks, test your climbing abilities, and potentially wreck your knees.  So much fun!            
It's no equipment for us, this really is just rock hopping and scrambling.  There are opportunities to test your climbing skills and judgments, and that can be quite thrilling.  In a very tame way.  The kids are close to the water, but not super close.  The literature when I was much younger and going to this park said that, on average, 13 lives a year were lost to drowning in the Potomac.  Now it just says many lives.  At any rate, the currents are very strong, and I have had experience falling in much further away from the falls, so we talked A LOT about not getting into the water at all.  So NB put his fingers in.  Oish.        
We had a reluctant hiker.  Even though, in my mind, this was not a hike.  It was a chance to jump from rock to rock.  And yes, it had a short walk from the visitor's center to the rocks.  SHORT WALK.  I did not require anything super difficult.  But it was imposed on him, it was not his choice.  By the end he was saying it was a good time.  I had overworked my achilles by that point, so our next hike in the park was super short.  Oh well.            
We see tons of geese all the time, I have no idea why the kids thought this little guy was so special.  But they borrowed my camera and took a picture, and now you get to share in their joy.