Monday, June 10, 2013

Memorial Bend: We've arrived!

This year, we are taking off. A break, if you will, from our usual routine. 2013 seems like a good year for change. To bring you up to speed, making the long story short, we moved. If you have ever moved. Sold your home. Bought a new one. If you've ever upgraded, downsized, you know exactly what I'm talking about. For the past few years we had been attempting to do all the above. We continued living in limbo. Not letting failing housing markets, private school registration fees, and having half our personal possessions in storage deter us from LIFE. We still managed to make our cross-country journey with zeal. Then, in January of this year, a miracle happened. We had an offer on our house.

That offer did not pan out, BUT we knew it wouldn't be long so we started looking for a house in our desired neighborhood, Memorial Bend. Houston is an anomaly. Unlike most of the country it has been virtually immune to the ups and downs in the economy. People are still moving here. In February, due to the low interest rates and decreasing unemployment houses were flying off the market. So much so that there was (and still is) nothing available. No worries, right?
Luckily for me, I was in the right place at the
right time. Driving the neighborhood one day after meeting a new friend for coffee I saw a For Sale by Owner sign in the front yard of a super cute yellow house. I called Paul with the number and we made an appointment to see the house that evening. The moment we walked in the house, I knew it was OUR new house. I tried to maintain my cool, but I am sure I could not wipe that dopey gleeful grin off my face. After we walked out, the only word I can say to describe my feeling was EUPHORIA. We were over the moon! Making an offer that night and having them accept it...well, it was meant to be.
In March after jumping through a zillion crazy loops we moved into our new humble abode. This house was built in 1955 and is a spacious 1300 square feet. The space we lost by downsizing (nearly 1/2 the size of our old house) we have gained with increased family time and the most amazing neighbors. It truly feels like a small town inside this gargantuan metropolis. Instead of Paul spending all day driving to and from work, he is home in minutes. The girls next year will ride the bus .5 miles to school! Everything is within walking distance, which is even cooler! And so the days have been filled with meeting new friends, swim team, tennis lessons, days at the pool and so much more.
I sometimes wonder what the neighbors make of our little family. We are sometimes extreme when it comes to "Living Life to its Fullest". We are constantly outside in the front yard, our kids found frequently high in the ancient Crepe Myrtle tree. All the kids and parents end up in our front yard playing way past sundown. It is incredibly fun. The four of us are often seen skateboarding to the pool, tennis lessons, or just up and down the street. I am sure catching many sideways glances...There goes the dad, and his girls...and the mom too?! Oi!
Memorial Bend is like stepping back to 1955 in style. Here new young families bring back the kids that used to run free in the neighborhood before the Beltway and mass media made parents afraid to play outside. The older residents remind us of the history of the land we reside in. This area can boast the highest concentration of Mid Century Modern (MCM) homes in Houston. Families are tight here. Paul actually grew up in "The Bend" and so many others we have come to learn have returned back to their roots. This neighborhood is just that cool.
The lovely Ms. Dale, who with her husband commissioned this home to be built in  the summer of 1955, still resides in Memorial Bend. She popped by the other day and brought us a photo of the house under construction. (left) I, of course, invited her in and hung off every word she had to say about this quaint home. She marveled that the built in bookcases her husband had constructed still stood in the living room and the hardwood floors that they had covered with carpet were beautiful as the day they were installed nearly 60 years ago. Her 3rd child was even born under this roof. This little yellow house's history still lives and breathes in these walls. And I am so proud to be custodian to it. Honored to have the privilege of living here.
So, no Annual Richman Road Trip. At least not to Canada. Yet, that doesn't mean a summer with out an intense amount of fun and travelling. The girls are I are flying up to BC and we are taking a smaller road trip to Port Aransas. There will be days at Galveston and I think later this week I will be making a post about all the fun things to do this summer in HOUSTON! So stay tuned there will be much fun to come!
Happy Trails!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Blazing a New Trail

Today we blazed a new trail and checked off another state on our list. Travelling through uncharted territory is always an adventure. We now have traversed all four corners of Wyoming. Although we have to admit that the northwest area is our favorite, as the Black Hills rose up from the seemingly endless prarie we were impressed with the new topography. The rolling hills are blanketed with a mossy green grass and adorned with large smooth pyrite spotted boulders that shimmer in the sunlight. I had no idea what South Dakota would look like, but our first impression was really great. All of the towns looked pristine and lovely with the Black Hills National Forest as their backdrop.

We didnt really know what to expect from Mount Rushmore, but the entire area blew our minds! There is so much to do and see. One day was only a sneak peek at future road trips to come. From Rapid City, South Dakota we headed south toward the National Monument only to learn that the area has so much more to offer than the 4 Presidential heads. All along the highway there is a plethora of things to do. From Reptile Museums, to Old West Towns, to Chuck Wagon Dinners to large water parks, there are enough activities to make everyone happy.

Mount Rushmore National Monument itself was incredible. It is so worth the trip, and we will be back for sure. The drive through the winding hills gave us a brief glimpse of the profile, which didnt do it justice. So if you go, you have to go in! It cost only $11 to park at the Monument, which is the only fee to get into the park. Everything was very new, clean and organized. It was busy, but not so crowded that we couldnt get a family photo without crowds and we got a great parking spot. We hiked along the Presidential Trail to get some closer views of the monument and check out a Native American Indian interpretive area to learn about how the plains indians once lived.

After some mint chocolate chip ice cream in the shadow of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln we hit the road again to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Again blazing a new trail along a desolate highway. For nearly 200 miles there was barely a town, but the boundless horizon kept our attention and before we knew it the interstate appeared before us. Once on I-25 we started to see the smoke that had followed us yesterday, but this time we saw the source. It was a few miles off the highway just north of Cheyenne. A smokey haze covers most of the state, and we will encounter the same tomorrow in Colorado. The Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs will hopefully be more under control tomorrow. The winds have died down a lot, which is helping firefighters get control of the blaze. We were planning to hike in the Garden of the Gods tomorrow, but since it is closed due to the wildfire we will just head to Amarillo and get in an early night at the hotel. Perhaps on the way we will find turtle or if the wind takes us, hike one of the volcanos in New Mexico. All I know is we are heading SOUTH.

Happy Trails!

The Long Haul

700 miles is the long haul. We consider it the maximum distance our family can make and understand it is one that will be possibly marred with complications such as super cranky kids. 700 miles means minimal stops; rest areas, food and Starbucks only. Why would we even consider hitting the road for 12 hours straight when we normally do under 600? It’s all about the fun! In order to fit in 3 shorter drives and 3 days of fun activities, we had to do “The Long Haul” so we could fit it all in.

 This trip back we drove our first day from Abbotsford, BC Canada to Butte, MT. It was a crazy, miserably wet and crabby ride, but we made it in record time (12 hours…usually we do 600 comfortably in the same amount of time).  The entire time we drove through the Cascade Mountains we were literally in the clouds. Finally once we hit the Montana border, 10 hours later, the clouds parted.
Day 2, we awoke to a beautiful clear blue sky and fresh mountain air. The perfect day to drive to the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park between Wheatland and Three Forks on Montana 2. The drive was gorgeous. The road hugged the Jefferson River through the deep canyons as we climbed higher until we met the entrance: a single-lane road built in the 30’s and 40’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp. When we reached the summit where the visitor center and gift shop are located, we found we were the first ones there. Everyone donned jackets and leapt out into the cool 50 degree morning.
The view was breathtaking. An extreme valley dropped before us while the mountains climbed high in the distance. We were in awe! After about an hour of wandering around we paid for tickets to take the 9:15am tour of the caverns. The vertical climb to the entrance was challenging, but not impossible. We were sheading layers as we hiked. The Park Ranger was extremely knowledgeable and showed us fossils in the mountainside and gave us fresh sage and mint to smell. She said the sage energizes her along the route, and I would have to agree.
At the mouth to the cave we were given a fascinating lesson on the history of the caverns, cave terms, rules and of bats. It is a cave after all. The group entered into the labyrinth and were silenced by the darkness and the incredible formations. It was awesome. The highlight for the kids was the "Beaver Slide”, a spot in the cave where we actually had to slide down a narrow pathway. The Ranger gave an entertaining interperetive talk that included funny names and senarios for many of the cave formations including a Romeo and Juliet scene in which they choose to elope instead of jump off the cliff. In their next scene, when the star crossed lovers are in their later years, Romeo pushes Juliet off the cliff in her wheelchair and gets pulled after because his beard is stuck in her chair. LOL! The stelagmite in the collage below is appropriately called "Ice Cream Cone".

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dinner with GG & Poppa

We spent this afternoon and evening at GG & Poppas place at Rabbitswood Farm. (my maternal grandparents) If you have followed my blog over the years you may remember that this is where I grew up. We lived in many places, but if I had to choose the one place I would call home, it would be this beautiful plot of land. My memories of this farm span over my entire life and I hope my Aunt and Uncle live there forever, for I would be saddened not to be able to plant my feet on its soil from time to time.

The moment we arrive, Juliane and Sydney are set free to do as they please. They relish in the unsupervised play outside among the animals under the canopy of the trees. I like to think they also feel the magic in this place as I once did. For in this forested farm the plants seem larger than life, the horses mythical creatures, the dogs obtain superpowers, towering trees whisper you their secrets and lanky young goats become dear friends.

Sydney with Indie

I am finding that time suspends here in these lengthening days. I look at the clock one moment and it is 10am and without a change in light the next time I look its 8pm. So much has been done, but the day doesn't feel nearly over. We left at 9 o'clock with the same energy as we arrived that afternoon. Sleep? Ha! The long setting sun quickly chased our weariness away. So, on the way back to Abbotsford, we drove along the route I walked or biked to school with my sister, Angela and a few neighboring kids...but mostly my childhood friend and playmate who lived next door, Diana. The girls were amazed at how far it was and that we walked without parents. I thought about explaining to them how times are different these days, but thought the better of it. Better for them just to think it was cool to walk to school. At least I didn't have to walk in the snow uphill both ways as my parents did. Mum was always "happy" to take us when it was raining or snowed too much (which I realize now, was more often than not!).

Glenwood Elementary School
Then as we slowed in front of Glenwood Elementary they marveled at how small it is. It is quite funny how as you grow older things seem so much smaller. It looked to huge to me as a child. But now that I have seen Houston schools I can't believe how tiny it is too!

These sweet mares are rescues from a US Circus.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Time Flies

The age old saying, time flies when your having fun, is remarkably true whenever I come to Canada! Before I know it I've been here for 10 days and havent made much contact with the outside world. And no offense, but I think I actually enjoy the excuse to be disconnected. My cell phone only gets US service when I am in my bedroom, so most of the time it is turned off. And I only get online for brief moments when I am actually sitting down, which is not necessarily a rare occurance, however sitting in Canada equals coffee and visiting. Two things not easily done when you are plugged into a computer or iPhone. And so, instead I am savoring the experience of being unplugged.

So, as you can imagine, we have been very busy visiting and touring around. The first thing the girls wanted to do when we arrived was hit Birchwood Dairy to go see the calves and eat some farm fresh ice cream. Paul had never been, so it was a fun outting for us all. Birchwood has the best ice cream. They even have my favorite flavor, Tiger. A wonderful combination of black licorice and orange. The next day we went into Vancouver to Stanley Park. I am ashamed to say this was the girls first time to the park and Paul's first time out of the car at the park. Oi! We hit the highlights before lunch at Milestone's and a little shopping at Roots.

We drove Paul to the airport the next day taking the backroads along the border. Growing up here in Canada, it never really seemed strange to me that on one side of the ditch was Canada and the other was "The States" (as Canadians affectionitly call the USA). After living in Texas with what is percieved as an open border to Mexico, I have to admit I find it rather strange!

Since then we have been to visit my Grandparents and Aunts and Cousins in Langley on their small Rabbitswood Farm. The girls always enjoy playing outside in the trees where I played as a little girl. They check out the goats, throw pine cones for the dogs, examine the asparagus growing along the fence and play with the horses. The girls and I spent a day at Fort Langley. We just love this historical gem. There is nothing better than a hands-on historical experience to really get a sense of what life was like for settlers in 1827. We have also taken to an occasional evening swim at the Mission Rec Center. For $12 a family of 5 can enjoy swimming and activities at this fantastic indoor pool. The fun includes 3 pools, huge hot tub, not so lazy, lazy river and a gigantic (Schlitterbahn style) indoor/outdoor water slide!

On Thursday we enjoyed a special treat thanks to my very good friend Jaida Hay!! She invited us to the studio where they were filming the Barbie and Monster High Doll commercials for the Christmas season. The girls were THRILLED, needless to say. They got to see how they make the commercials, make over the dolls (there are actually doll hair stylists!), the sets and best of all the new dolls! A huge THANK YOU to Jaida who is a hand model in all these commercials. I appreciate her thinking of the girls and I was excited to see my sweet friend of nearly 18 years!

This weekend we went to Harrison Lake where we were lucky to enjoy some of the festivities of the First Nations Band Sts’ailes during their Sasquatch Days. The canoe races reminded me of the AWG Sponsored Grom Round Ups in Galveston. Today was spent at the Mission Children's Festival held in Fraser River Heritage Park. It turned out to be a spectacular day (the first where it was truly sunny) to spend on the grassy hills by the great river surrounded by pirates and scully wags. The festival had a pirate theme and although we all arrived landlubbers, we left transformed into a family of buccaneers. To start the day we all had our names converted into "pirate". Mine was Salty Tooth, while Sydney was Stinky Mate and Juliane was Salty Mouth. Then onto pirate garb and a little face painting. There were lots of reptiles to hold and storytellers to enjoy along with roving performers (our favorite the Trolls) and live music. It really was a great day.

I have taken so many pictures that I would like to share with you, but it takes forever to upload them all. I guess I will have to make a little slide show for the next posting.

Happy Trails!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Yellowstone: For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People

Yellowstone. It is all you imagine it to be. Picturesque snow-capped mountains, wide valleys teaming with wildlife, marvelous thermal features and an ecosystem more diverse than you have ever experienced. 

When Congress signed into existence the World’s First National Park in 1872, they changed the way unique lands are preserved for future generations to enjoy. In those days the park was home to only a few bison as they were nearly extinct and soon after wolves, considered a nuisance, were removed from the park ecosystem. Back then it took great lengths to even get to Yellowstone. It’s lodges and facilities something for the very rich.

Yellowstone has evolved. The park is still awe-inspiring. It will still  blow your mind as it did for those who came to see it back in the 19th century. After all, you are standing in the largest supervolcano on the continent. Today’s Yellowstone is home to 67 species of mammals, of which include bison, black bear, grizzly, pronghorn, elk, moose, Canadian lynx and grey wolf. Its nearly 3,500 square miles contain half of the world’s geothermal features and is home to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining, nearly intact ecosystem in the earth’s northern temperate zone.

Every time we go (this is our 4th trip) we experience something new. This year it was the hair-raising cliff hugging road that extends from Canyon to Tower-Roosevelt and from there to Mammoth. This route took us over Dunraven Pass (8859ft), a section of road that is closed to traffic most of the year due to poor conditions. This was the first opportunity we had to take the scenic route and we jumped at the chance. The area promised a higher concentration of grizzly bears and mountain goats. The entire stretch of this 2 lane road teeters precariously along the edges of Observation and Prospect Peaks without the comfort of a guardrail of any kind. I found myself pressing my foot steadily on my imaginary break pedal while clutching white knuckled the center console and telling Paul in my most calm voice to slow down. A glance out the window provided a dizzying drop into the canyons and valleys below. One fowl move and we were toast. When we reached the point of no return, it started to snow. The hairs on my neck stood up as I pictured us with no snow tires slipping off into the abyss. Paul kept exclaiming that he couldn’t believe this road was even open to the public. I concur. We will not be traversing it again, which is a shame since it is the only in park route to the Lamar Valley, the parks greatest concentration of animals. Last year because of several avalanches Lamar Valley was the only part we were able to see and it was well worth it.

Yellowstone in May is unpredictable. Up until Monday it had been snowing heavily and the East Entrance, which we had intended to use, was closed due to poor conditions. Luckily, a little rain and some snowplowing allowed us to take this route through the Wapiti Valley on the Theodore Roosevelt Scenic Byway, which is considered the “50 most beautiful miles in America”. And it is.

We entered into a winter wonderland. At our first opportunity we stopped at lovely (and frozen) Sylvan Lake to play in the snow. We skipped the sled, snow pants and winter boots this year thinking that there wouldn’t be enough snow. Although we didn’t need the sled, we certainly missed the snow pants and boots. The snow was 3 feet deep and in many spots not packed enough to stand on. As we played we frequently found ourselves sinking up to our crotch in the wet white stuff. Fun while you’re playing, not so much when you have to get back in the car all cold and wet. It was the perfect kind of snow for making snowballs and snowmen. We made a nice 4 foot snowman with pinecone eyes, a stick smile and an actual carrot nose. Would you believe our luck when I opened a package of mini carrots to find a nice 4 inch one? Perfect for our snowman!

Not long after we started driving again we came across our first “Bear Jam”. If you have not had the pleasure of going to Yellowstone, you may not know what a Bear Jam is. There is only one way to get a traffic jam in the park. Well one main way anyway. And that is an animal crossing the road. This could easily be a moose jam or a bison jam…but this particular time it was a Bear Jam. A momma grizzly and her little cub were strolling down the middle of the road rather than trudge through the snowy drifts alongside. I can understand the desire to take the easy route, but the cars still needed to get through the pass and so the rangers nudged them back onto the side. We enjoyed watching them climb higher and higher through the snow and disappear into the trees. Every now and then they look annoyingly back at the group of gawkers who caused them to take the harder route.
The next stop on our list was Sydney’s request: Old Faithful. She had been watching Yellowstone Podcasts on my iPhone for months and wanted to give us a tour of the area. We arrived with an hour to spare before the next eruption, give or take 10 minutes. A stroll around the pools and geysers located around Geyser Hill took up the additional time. We saw steaming bright blue pools bubbling over, their cooling micro-organisms creating bright yellow and orange crusts at the edges. Small geysers spewing sulfur enriched water and large geyser cones quietly awaiting their turn to erupt. They were all interesting, but none was as impressive as Old Faithful. We made it back to the beginning of the boardwalk just in time to catch a spot on the edge of the massive crowd. And right on schedule, Old Faithful spouted fourth a gush of hot water into the air.

At this point it was getting pretty late, so we hit the road again and took that crazy path through Dunraven Pass. I still think it was completely insane and it was my idea. I had no idea what we were getting into. I only wish I had some pictures to show you how alarming it was! We made it to Mammoth with no time to spare. We HAD to get back on the interstate and fast. So we crossed into Montana with an ETA at the hotel of 9:30pm. The kids were so awesome. No complaints, or crying as we trudged 5 more hours!