The Nose

You may remember that it was just over a year ago we lost our much loved Sadie.  It was hard on the family to put her to sleep but everyone agreed it was for the best; her hips had given out and she couldn’t walk any longer.

Those who have had pets know what I’m talking about. There is a strong emotional bond we humans form with these dogs who love us without restrictions. And yes, I say dogs; because I know my cats, who might like me, just don’t have that same relationship.

So, that said, we all grieve differently and we all decide whether to risk attachment and assume the responsibility to another pet at different times. The family, for example, was ready for a new pup last summer but not me.

Still, as more time passed it did seem like we were ready for a new dog. For months Bob had been getting emails from friends to whom he had put out feelers. I managed to ignore them all, until last month. Bob was busy at a job site and without looking had forwarded an email with a picture of “Sadie”.

Really.

A pretty common dog name, no doubt, but for us, one that called our attention.  So I called the lady and it turned out that “Sadie” was a lost beagle whose owner couldn’t be found. This woman was part of a beagle rescue program and had taken the dog because her friend had indicated she wanted one. But, like sometimes happens, when the woman was given the dog she backed away from her statements, saying they just weren’t ready for a pet. The rescuer’s husband wouldn’t agree to their having a third beagle so she decided to seek out a good home for her. Lucky for us.

Sophia Wendt, once known as Sadie.

Sophia Wendt, once known as Sadie.

The only stipulation to getting the dog was that the woman would have to come meet us. She invited me to come see Sadie but I laughed and told her that once Matthew saw the dog there would be no leaving it so she arranged to come visit us and bring the dog along. If we passed muster the dog would be ours. This turned out to be our most exciting Christmas present ever. Of course, we kept the dog and now almost a month later this is home.

While the name Sadie caused us to call initially we decided that this new dog should have a different name so Sadie became Sophia.100_2363

The cats were especially concerned with the idea of a new dog in the house, they too had gotten used to the quiet. Spooky (the black one you have never seen) turned into a giant puffball of fur with saucer eyes. But they are all now, if not friends, at least mutual acquaintances; the cats now allow the dog to sleep on the bed next to them with just the occasional wary glance her direction.

Sophie thinks the pillows are for her exclusive use.

Sophie thinks the pillows are for her exclusive use.

Now that Sophie is more comfortable with us we have learned some things about her. She is gentle and Matthew will tell you she has the softest ears. At about two years old Sophie has had some training and likes to go for walks or rides in the car. As a beagle, she has a definite hound dog howl. She hates to be alone–we wonder if she lived with someone elderly who was always home and liked to sleep in.  And she has a nose. She is always tracking in the back yard and it doesn’t matter if she’s in the upstairs bedroom, if I start cooking she is right there to see what’s going in the pot. You can’t hide a snack because the nose knows.

Someone had food up here...

Someone had food up here…

So if you come to visit, prepare to be greeted by a wagging tale and a howling greeting of a loving dog. Of course, if I’m cooking you’ll find The Nose in the kitchen.

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What’s for dinner???

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Paring Down Christmas

christmas tree 11013I meant to share this post after Christmas last year but as soon as the decorations were down I forgot. Today’s post is not about remembering the real meaning of Christmas. There are plenty of others who will write about that. Instead, today I want to tell you how our family lowered the cost and reduced the stress of Christmas.

Are your holiday credit charges now coming due? Maybe you’ll want to put some of these ideas next year to work in your family.

A few years ago after we all opened ALL our packages and began the clean up my mom asked me what everyone had gotten. It was then I realized everyone had gotten so much stuff that nothing really stood out. And it’s no wonder. Like many of you we have gotten used to just picking up things the kids or family needs during the year so by the time Christmas rolls around they really don’t have one particular wish. And because they don’t want one specific thing we made up by just buying all sorts of stuff.

It’s a good thing; a real first world problem, but we parents often are pulled into feeling that we need to buy more and more–just because.

So after Mom and I talked about it I decided our family most likely didn’t need all the stuff we got and most likely we didn’t need to spend all that money.

It all kind of fell into place when talking to the poor college student daughter, she was trying to figure out what to buy for different members of the family. At our next family gathering I shared my revelation and announced that we would pick a maximum dollar amount per person and everyone had to agree to stick to it. Our family picked $20…for no other reason than it was a good round number. To get the family more enthused I explained I would be judging their gifts for cleverness and there would be prizes.

Just a few presents: Photo calendar from Grandma along with popcorn for Matthew, a couple lottery tickets for everyone, a small log representing a load of split wood for the folks, and some crocheted pot holders made by the poor college student.

Just a few presents: Photo calendar made by Grandma, popcorn for Matthew, a couple lottery tickets for everyone, a small log representing a load of split wood for the folks, and some pot holders hand crocheted by the poor college student.

I was surprised at the family reaction. What would have been just an ordinary Christmas suddenly turned into a challenge. We had to really think about what the other person would want or could use. Some in the family decided to make gifts. The poor college student embroidered Christmas designs on towels. Bob made a cookie sheet holder for the cupboard. Some choose to buy food items, the kind that you might want but just put back on the shelf because it costs more than you think you should pay for such a product. Grandma got Bob a giant jar of peanut butter while I got the college student a case of mac & cheese. We put the dehydrator to good use and Grandma got a box of dried vegetables ready to throw in her famous soup. To no one’s surprise Matthew received hero themed presents including coloring books and colored pencils. But even better, Matthew was able to be part of the planning as he crushed a box of soda cans for Grandpa’s recycling project.

Do note that thinking of these ideas might take more time then just buying off the shelf at your local megamart. We started in November the first year and now enjoying having the whole year to plan and shop with these limitations in mind.

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My most useful present? According to the family it is a new keyboard with actual letters…

Opening the gifts was fun for all. We laughed at our own cleverness and talked about why we were inspired to give each present. Prizes were awarded for most unique, most homemade, most regifting, etc. I don’t remember what was handed out for prizes but it seems like they were coupons for coffee at McDonalds and the like… something small but fun and usable. Now as the January bills roll around we’re not having to re-budget and eat beans the rest of the month. We’ve discovered a meaningful and fun Christmas does not have to be an extravagant Christmas.

If you decide to try this be sure to let me know how it works for your family. I bet you’ll be as surprised as we were at how much fun it can be.

It’s a Conundrum

Sorry I haven’t written in a few weeks. Had you stopped by you would have found me sitting her wallowing in my own self-pity. No, nothing is wrong with me. It’s just sometimes the reality of Matthew’s limits come to the surface and I sit around feeling sorry for myself.

Matthew and his pal Smokey with the beautiful red rocks of Sedona in the reflection.

Matthew and his pal Smokey with the beautiful red rocks of Sedona in the reflection.

For those who haven’t met Matthew I’ll share just some of his challenges. He is non-verbal which doesn’t mean he is quiet, instead it means he talks a bit, most with prompting, and makes sounds (some which are obvious—like right now as he sees the Lone Ranger come into view and he cackles with excitement). He can say NO to most anything and left to his druthers would probably never go anywhere because this is his stock answer. Matthew also needs help with everyday things; some he can do independently though not to a ‘mom approved’ standard, like brushing his teeth. Even though he does not talk he wants to be part of all conversations using tools like his TV guide to pull you into saying something for him.

Superhero map reader.

Superhero map reader.

That said we aren’t complaining. We live a good life. He and I are together each day with our schedule of events and activities. Matthew’s knows what time it is and plans for his lunch and later waits outside for Dad to show up. Our routine is not all that exciting but we manage to keep the house in order, care for the pets, visit friends, shop, etc. Contrary to popular opinion, and Matthew’s personal preference, we don’t spend all day sitting around watching TV eating bonbons.

Working on those pesky weeds.

Weed eliminator.

The Department of Developmental Disabilities offers assistance for disabled adults.  Matthew qualifies for specific programs because he was a disabled child who became an adult; adults who become disabled are covered differently.

We parents, as guardians, can choose to live without government aid. My own personal preference would be to keep the government completely out of our lives but, in our case, especially after my cancer and mortality reality check, we accepted some of their programs including health insurance and some respite care. Because we receive these services the government wants to make sure we are keeping Matthew’s best interests at heart. So they come by to check on him.

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Apple picker.

And that’s where we were last week. It’s a quarterly meeting and to me seems silly but I know that sometimes those who are disabled are taken advantage of and not well cared for. It’s sad to think about but I know it happens. Anyway, the case manager assigned to Matthew has to visually lay eyes on him, speak with him and generally assess that Matthew is in good condition.

Salad eater.

Salad eater.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it’s all good and well that someone, especially an outside source, regularly checks on the well being of the weakest among us, those who are most vulnerable. And you would be right.

But.

Something seems to happen when the government gets its finger in the pie.  Sometimes the workers, well-meaning though they may be, start to think they know best. Maybe you’ve run into this. When Matthew was in school we would meet with the ‘staff’ who more often than not appeared to be on a power play as they all sat on one side of the table opposite me, the mom, telling me what was best for my child and too often making light of or in some cases even laughing at my suggestions.

Grrrr…what a terrible flashback, I felt my claws coming out just remembering…

So back to today. These social workers who come to visit are well meaning but this year I have been getting the feeling again that they would go back to their little government cubicle and write up a plan for Matthew that their superiors would approve of.

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Log loader.

The agent this week did just that. Each visit he asks whether Matthew should be in a day program or a group home to which I respond that Matthew is quite content right where he is. But this time he wanted a specific list of what activities Matthew participated in each day. What does he do with his time? And how could he, the agent, justify to his superiors that Matthew could stay home rather than going to a day work program?

Log unloader.

Log unloader.

What? Wait a second, what kind of communistic questions are these? Since when did this person, who has met Matthew only twice, know what is best over the desire of his parents of his daily schedule?

And therein lies the rub. I grew frustrated with the agent and asked if I needed to even meet with him. But of course, I knew the answer. If I want Matthew to remain eligible for services I must accept their intrusion into our lives.

Brother.

Brother.

It’s a conundrum.

What’s on Your TV?

As anyone who has spent more than thirty seconds around Matthew knows, he likes television. He religiously carries around his TV Guide reading and searching it until it is thread bare. In Matthew’s mind, any TV is better than no TV.

Being mom and head authority over the remote I am allowed, though grudgingly, to limit television time and to help choose what ‘we’ watch. Our family has some rules that may be unique to us and we limit viewing to family friendly shows. Sometimes it’s a challenge to find appropriate television that is not a cartoon (yes, low on my list is Sponge Bob.)

This week we were waiting at the doctor’s office and Matthew found a magazine with the new fall lineup. We don’t want to miss out on a possible good show so he and I spent an hour carefully looking through each day’s schedule. We found one new pilot that he thought might be good—something Shield; it’s about some superhero Avenger-type guys.

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The new fall lineup. Thank goodness Leroy Jethro Gibbs is still on.

One show out of an entire seven days. And for what it’s worth, he watched about twenty minutes of before handing me the remote to return to an old standby, NCIS.

But never fear, we are not without television shows to watch; including many we haven’t seen before.

That’s because we discovered some good family shows down on the religious channels. We are watching old Westerns including the High Chaparral and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman along with some really old black and white shows like Roy Rogers.  (Feminists should love the independent minded Dale Evans who has become my hero.) These shows are found on the INSP channel which, to my surprise, advertises they have been offering this kind of programming for ten years. Down on the BYU channel we have found Doc (Matthew loves Billy Ray Cyrus) and Sue Thomas, FBEye. I also discovered they have some great live action history shows that, were we still homeschooling, we would certainly schedule time for. Now that we actually watch these channels schedule we have found that many offer great family movies, including some of the old Disney specials.

One thing I personally find positive is that when we are watching these channels I don’t have to worry about being offended, or having my folks who might have joined us, be offended by the commercials.

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It is not without noting the irony of watching an old black and white television show on a new HD TV. But Matthew doesn’t care. He is happy to stand next to Roy Rogers!

Bob mentioned that we were watching some of these channels to some of the guys at work and one friend shuddered telling him that only old people watch these shows. I beg to differ. Just because a program isn’t new doesn’t mean younger people won’t find it entertaining. I know for sure if Rebecca had any free time she would be scheduling the series Christy which will be starting next month. And you certainly don’t have to be old to enjoy the BYU new series Granite Flats, a compelling mystery adventure.

Folks looking for family friendly television, who aren’t so keen on the questionable humor and often degrading conversation found in many of today’s sitcoms may find some of these older shows to be uplifting.

The shows we have been watching do not promote any specific religion but we’ve noticed most do portray a more civilized society. In the age of Honey BooBoo, it’s a refreshing change.

PS Some may wish to tell me that NCIS is a particularly violent show and I agree it’s not appropriate for young children, maybe even older children. But, as the Grail Knight said to Indiana Jones, “You must choose. Choose wisely.” Four-year-olds may impacted differently than teens. Be a parent and make good choices.

PPS… Matthew and I are on the road this week. It’s a super mission. We’ll tell you about it very soon!

And So???

I know. I know. Dear gentle readers, who followed us all the way up to the North Country and back, you are right to ask this very question. What happened to us? Did we just disappear? Did we melt in the heat? Well, honestly, time escaped me and until my air card required its monthly renewal I didn’t realize how much had passed.

After our return to the very HOT Valley of the Sun we had only a few days before Rebecca headed back to school. We are learning that medical school programs do not have to follow the same schedule as the regular university. Without Rebecca’s company we decided to let Bob fend for himself and Matthew and I headed up to Strawberry to work on a few projects. . . and that’s where we’ve been since.

My helper.

My helper.

You may remember we have a little place right on the side of the Mogollon Rim. It’s wonderful Ponderosa Pine country and at 6,000 feet it is always much cooler and peaceful than the metropolitan area of Phoenix. Once the monsoon season arrives it brings cooling rains most every afternoon and provides an amazing respite from the valley heat a short two hour drive away.

The monsoon brings welcome rain which is especially fun to watch from the front porch.

The monsoon brings welcome rain which is especially fun to watch from the front porch.

Anyway, there have been a number of items on my priority list begging for attention at the place. Since Matthew and I had no other commitments we thought we’d use this time to start tackling them. As we were working I remembered when last I had attempted to work on some of them. For example, I wanted to take the many sandstone rocks from the lot and build them into a stairway on part of the hill. I remember well heading out with my shovel in hand and trying to dig the dirt so that I could move the rocks around. I remember how quickly I became discouraged when I tired after chipping out what seemed like only a half shovel of dirt.

I blamed the high elevation. . . It takes time to become acclimated and be able to work at such altitudes.

I blamed the rocky soil. . .Who can shovel this hard rock filled caliche?

I blamed my age. . .After all, I was nearing that scary mid-life number.

I blamed everything but I didn’t realize the culprit. Longtime readers and my family know what it was. They know the answer. I discovered it in September four years ago. It was an insidious cancer that was so slow growing in my body that all its symptoms were able to be explained away.

Today I lecture people. I know the caregiver’s life is never her own. But there are times when we must make ourselves the priority. (And even though I had gone to the doctor I had put off getting that screening mammogram because. . . well. . . there were other things needing my attention. . .)

So there. After going through the hell of chemo and radiation therapy I came out on the other end, slightly worse for wear. I still have chemo brain and just hate when I can’t remember the _____.

Before

Before

and After.

and After.

But. Here I am and it is four years later. Matthew and I headed back to the mountains to see what we could accomplish. And this time, I’m pleased to report that I could shovel the dirt. And I could move the rocks. And we were able to trim the trees and use the weed eater—we hauled off three truck and trailer loads of brush. And we even worked on the inside of the house painting.

My rock staircase. A work in progress.

My rock staircase. A work in progress.

You may be asking when or if we will return to the valley. But I know if you are fighting the urge to turn down the air conditioner and sweating instead of sleeping at night you will understand that I am keeping the windows open and sometimes, well sometimes, the fan is just a little too cool. Ha. We’ll come back when the high temp drops under triple digits. Or. . .

100_1848. . . if Matthew’s satellite reception goes out.

And so. . . that is my report. I am happy to say we have been busy. But, never fear, I have been thinking of lots of other things to share, including a couple of product reviews and I promise to post them soon.

Things We Learned

For the new reader, our family recently returned from a lifetime adventure driving all the way from Arizona to Alaska…and back. You can read our daily trip diary if you scroll back to the beginning of June. For all you regular followers, I don’t know about you, but I’m having  withdrawals not writing every day.My mind still has things to share but generally the chore list has taken priority.

Today’s writing is a large compilation of things we learned from our trip.

The truck is cleaned out and all the clothes are washed. This week we’re returning everything borrowed so before I forget everything this is a good chance to look back at our adventure and share what we determined, discerned and stumbled upon…

  • At 9,933 miles we put on about 2,000 more than originally calculated. Since we didn’t drive in circles we must have underestimated our detours, particularly through the parks.

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    What’s the Boy Scout motto?
    Be Prepared.

  • Gas was cheapest in Arizona. We paid $3.39 in Phoenix both leaving and on the return. Where the Stewart-Cassiar Highway connects with the AlCan (in Canada they call it the Alaska Highway—everyone else calls it the AlCan) we paid the most at $1.99 Canadian per liter (I’ll let you the math, suffice it to say it was over $90 for half a tank there.)
  • We did not have a problem finding gas but… Bob was nervous about it enough to always fill the tank before it got below half full and we paid great attention to the signs about distance between stations. We did see some gas pumps out of gas. We also found that ‘gas station’ is not exactly what we know in the city; many had one or two pumps and most were the old fashioned kind where you had to pay inside, requiring the store be open to get fuel. Not all stations were open in the evening.
  • We learned that there are two types of tents and ours was the one for mild weather. The wind and rain both blew right in. Reason one to stay in a hotel.
  • We also learned that while there are RV places all along the highway, not all will take tenters and often those who will do not have bathroom facilities close to the tent areas. The National Park and Provincial Park campgrounds are very standard with toilets and access to fresh water at a cost less than $25 per night for a tent.

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    Camera in hand. Foot ready for the gas.

  • Groceries and supplies are expensive outside the big cities but there are Walmarts and chain grocery stores at regular intervals through Canada and into Alaska. With all our dietary restrictions we packed most food so only needed to buy fresh produce and meat (and even then we used cans of chicken/tuna, etc.) All the stores had an assortment of ‘non-dairy’ milk which surprised me. We had no trouble finding our almond milk.
  • Three weeks plus the weekends, from Seattle to Salt Lake, was just barely enough time to do everything but not enough time to spend with everyone. This is a hard trip to do without being retired. It would be much easier without a set schedule.
  • We learned to have our camera ready at all times because the local animals are not afraid to travel alongside the road. It was exciting to capture the grizzlies, blacks, moose, caribou and deer who just happened to be crossing just as we came along. Never have we been so close to so much wildlife.
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Salad again???

  • If you, or someone in your family, qualifies for one of the Access Passes offered by the park system take the time to fill out all the paperwork for it. Matthew’s pass allowed us to get into all the parks free and we got half off on campground fees in the US. The rangers don’t like cheaters and requested his ID at most of the entrance stations.
  • Still even if you don’t get a pass take time to visit the parks making sure if you travel during holiday weeks you reserve your spot. Teddy Roosevelt had real foresight when he began the national park program. And even if you think the road is scary, like the one at Glacier Park, take it anyway. You’ll thank me later.
  • Summers in the north are short but mosquitoes make up for it in volume. The Anchorage newspaper had an article on the shortage of mosquito repellent while we were there. We went prepared with several cans of assorted spray. The lesson we took from our experience is that life is too short to mess around. Buy the most lethal spray you can and then get some of those incense style smoky things. Oh, and it helps if you are not blood type O, apparently this is their favorite.
  • Every place we stopped at in Canada took US money. However, they charged a fee. The best deal we found was that the Walmarts took my Discover card and did not charge a foreign exchange fee. (I might have saved a buck fifty…or so by using my card.)
  • We learned that there are still many rural areas where there is no cell service…and we were there.
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    Dasher or Dancer?

    We saw an accident site and guy using his satellite phone to call for rescue help. Kind of frightening to think of being in an accident and it taking, not minutes but maybe hours, for help to arrive. But, on the plus side, we saw fellow travelers stop to render aid when needed.

  • Back to the cell phones. Bob’s Verizon phone worked where ever there was service available.  Once we crossed the Canadian border he got a message that his phone calls would cost $1.85 per minute—yikes!
  • Speaking of connectivity, when we saw lodging there was most often a sign for wi-fi. There were also signs at all the Tom Horton’s and McDonald’s advertising free internet service. My Boost aircard worked all the way to Seattle and after we reached Boise. It was not meant for the North Country. Still, we all learned we could survive off the grid without email, texting, facebook, etc.
  • Oh, Rebecca learned that while reindeer and caribou are in the same family, they are not the same. No matter, Matthew thought they looked like Santa’s helpers.
  • There were many, many miles where we had no radio service. I was outvoted on my plan to get a satellite radio so I could listen to Fox News. We had several mystery books on cds that were compelling listening and of course, we had Matthew’s very favorite Adventures in Odyssey which worked to calm him when he decided he’d had enough riding.100_1551
  • Yes, there were times when Matthew held his head in his hands and cried because he was tired of traveling. Okay, so did the rest of us. It was a long trip. What I learned from this was there were times when we needed to stop driving and do something else…even if was just to jump out of the truck and swat at mosquitoes.
  • And lastly, we learned that if you’re going on such a long adventure you really need to travel with people you like. Otherwise, it might be just a really long ride.
    Thanks for coming along with us. We loved all the comments and emails following the posts. We felt like we had a whole cloud filled with people riding along giving us incentive to share what we could see and do each day.
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Happy Trails to You!

A Trip Complete

This is the last day of my trip diary. In a few days I’ll post some observations, statistics, and other worthless nonsense. If you have a question you’re dying to know the answer that I haven’t covered, ask away. We’ll include it in the update.

This antenna topper Jack began his life on the first day of the trip. The picture on the right is our last day. He looks like I feel...

This antenna topper Jack began his life on the first day of the trip. The picture on the right is our last day. He looks like I feel…

But let me tell you about today. This is the last leg of our trip. Had we a few more days we could have visited the reservation and a few other spots but today we’re ready to go home.

Our first stop is a remote town on the Arizona Strip called Colorado City. Since you might not be familiar with this area I’ll share what little I know about it. Colorado City has made the news for years because many residents are members of a polygamist sect. For longer before that their remote location allowed residents to live as they wished with little government intervention. Polygamy was once approved by the Mormon Church but they ended the practice in the late 1800’s. The FLDS is one sect, no longer associated with the church, who has continued this lifestyle. You can read much more about it in this 2011 news article from the Arizona Republic: Colorado City, Still an FLDS Stronghold.

Our journey today took us directly through Colorado City and gave us a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of these families. While we weren’t surprised to see the huge homes which would make sense in multi-wife and especially multi-children families we were surprised to see the high fences that kept out prying eyes of nosey people like us.

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We did see many residents…maybe one family??? working in the garden. We only saw women and children. Honestly, it was one of the most creepy areas we have ever traveled. I prayed that the truck would not break down and we decided that driving only one street was good enough for us.north to alaska 141

After having met and talked to so many independent women on our journey we would have liked to learn why/how these women could be so dependent on one man.

In the end we were very glad that we drove through there but even more glad to leave.

On to something more fun. Did you know of the 4.6 Million visitors to the Grand Canyon each year less than ten percent find their way to the North Rim? You can add us to those numbers. The drive from St. George to the Grand Canyon NR was yet another two lane road but easy driving and beautiful painted rock scenery. The view of the canyon is just as spectacular as from the south and yet it is different. More trees dot the cliffs and I think the elevation is higher. Matthew thought it was pretty but he still chatters his teeth when I ask him about it, indicating he thinks it is more than a little scary. (We’re still not very brave travelers.)north to alaska 167

The drive from Jacob’s Lake to the 89, the north-south road to Flagstaff, took us down to the valley of the Colorado, and yet the river was in a gorge still several hundred feet lower. We continue to be awed at the power of nature and wonder at the relative insignificance of man.

After driving through the western part of the Navajo Reservation we eventually made it to Flagstaff and yes, then our first freeway driving since we left Seattle.

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Finally, after more than one month on the road and a whole lot of miles we completed our journey. We discovered that it is still summer…and well over 100F though it is evening.

Home.

The black cat (Spooky) won’t come near us but the yellow cat (Socks) has been crying since he realized it was us. Matthew is very happy to be home, back to his computer and his favorite TV shows and all his stuff (with the addition of his new Superman pal).

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9933.0

So there you have it. Nine thousand nine hundred thirty three miles, through city and country, heat and cold, sun and rain we hope you enjoyed traveling with us. Tomorrow there will be wash to do, a truck to empty and a month’s worth of mail to review. But tonight we’re celebrating with our favorite Mexican dinner and an Alaska Ale. Cheers.home 8589