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We want to share with you everything that we have learned so far about international travel and education. So, roam around the site and read our posts. Please ask about anything and we will do our best to answer. Thank you.

3 continents, 8 countries and counting!

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Our Travels: 2.811371, -54.843750

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Helpful Hint:
 
1. Always check with the U.S. State Department before you travel:  U.S. State Department 
 

Categories: Before the Adventure | 1 Comment

Igloo Outing

How to Make an Igloo

Igloo_Mountains
Why sleep in a comfortable bed inside a nice warm house when you can sleep in a frozen dome outside in the mountains? The answer is simple, you must be a Boy Scout. Only Scouts would think that spending the night away from the comforts of civilization in an igloo is fun. Yet, that is exactly what we did. Family traveling is always an adventure! Bear Grylls has nothing on us!

Our two boys, Aaron and Elijah, 24 other eager Scouts, and five intrepid dads, all trekked up Stevens Pass in the North Cascade Mountains area of Washington to build and sleep in igloos. Things like this always sound fun, until you are actually there questioning your sanity. Despite the cold, wet, and intense labor involved in constructing our temporary habitats, the experience was definitely one that our boys will always remember. It was a great father-son adventure! Notice no mothers were involved in the making of this post. I would say that my wife is not as rugged as her three men, but I think that it more came down to brains. She knew what we were in for and wanted no part of it. Smart.

Igloo_In_Progress

Let me say, if you have never built a real igloo, then you do not understand the enormous amount of work that goes into their construction. We have built igloos every year on this annual outing. (Yes, we have done this before and willing went again; you think that we would learn.) We are not igloo experts, but we have experience at least (and enthusiasm!). Despite knowing what we are doing (maybe) an igloo for four still takes about six hours to build from snow. That is a lot of manual labor. Here is a great book on the science of igloo construction.

Igloo_Julius

First, you need to make a foundation. You do that by digging a 6 foot diameter circle down to a depth of about 1 to 2 feet. Second, you make blocks from snow or ice. Ideally, you cut the blocks with a saw from a packed snow area or ice. If you cannot do that, then you make the blocks by packing snow in a form, like this one. About 18 to 24 inches cubed seems to work best. Third, start laying the blocks around your foundation in a ring and work upwards. As you work up, you need to shape the blocks with a saw so that they are angled (trapezoidal for you math types). This way, the blocks will fit tighter together and lean inwards to form the dome. You can check out our video for a better look at the process. Icebox makes a cool tool to make igloo building easier and faster.

Igloo_Elijah

Tip: Bring a sturdy snow block making mold, like a Rubbermaid storage container.

By the third or fourth ring of the igloo, our scouts start to get tired and bored with the whole building idea. Snowball fights invariably break out. About this time, the dads’ patience starts to wear thin. The race is to see if you can get your igloo built before the scouts tire, the dads lose it, and darkness sets in. If you succeed, then you get to sleep in your igloo! If you don’t, then you beg for shelter! (Actually, we had a back-up cabin reserved just in case.)

Igloo_Aaron

Tip: Bring a large plastic tarp. If you do not finish the igloo, you can at least cover the top with the tarp for shelter.

Now it is time to fill all those cracks with snow. (The really big cracks are filled with small blocks of snow.) Then the inside of the igloo must be smoothed. This is done by hand (your gloves get very wet, bring an extra pair!). If the inside of the dome is one, smooth surface, there will be no dripping of water at all (right!). When the smoothing of the inside is done and all the snow has been shoveled out, it is time to finish the entrance.

Igloo_Elijah_2

We were all famished by dinner time. Since you cannot cook inside an igloo for obvious reasons (I hope). We ate in the nearby cabin. Warm spaghetti and meatballs never tasted as good.

cabin

The igloos stay surprisingly warm inside (or at least warmer than the outside). They will usually stay above 40 degrees even on a sub-zero night. We hung our lantern from the top, climbed into our sleeping bags, and settled in for evening. Within a few minutes, most of us were fast asleep. I felt like a polar bear during hibernation.

Tip: Bring another tarp to sleep on or plastic garbage bags to slide your sleeping bag into. Water tends to pool on the igloo floor despite our best efforts. Waking up in a giant slushy is no fun.

Igloo_Complete

Fun Tip: Spray bottles filled with colored water make cool graffiti sprayers to tag your igloo!

igloo tag

Go Troop 600!

how-to-make-rainbow-colored-igloo-using-milk-cartons-11

Show off!!!

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HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!

To all of our fellow family travelers, may the luck of the Irish be with you!

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

-old Irish blessing

st-patricks-pug

Check out:

The Emerald Isle!

and

Ireland Top 10!

 

Categories: Ireland | Tags: | Leave a comment

Hiking Rattlesnake Ridge

Sometimes you just need to seize the moment.

Rattlesnake Ledge

We had a sun break today! For those of you not familiar with the dreary winter weather in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, a sun break is a local term we coined to describe the much celebrated (and much awaited) time when the grey clouds finally part and reveal that shiny warm orb. I think it is called the sun. If we had not lived in other places, I think that I would believe that this sun as you call it is a myth. Actually, Seattle is not that bad, it just seems it this time of year. Family travelers fear not, the region is great all seasons of the year (just some are better than others).

We did not waste the rare opportunity. You have to seize the time when it comes because you never know when the next sun break will arrive. Plus, we really needed relief from the cabin fever that had set in. I also wanted to try out my new pack. So, we picked one of our favorite areas to go walking, the Cascade Mountains.

Elijah Hiking

The Cascade Mountains are very close to Seattle, which is why they are a favorite for most outdoor enthusiasts in the area. In less than an hour, you can go from the hustle and bustle of the city to the solitude and tranquility of nature. Plus, they offer a variety of trails to meet anyone’s desires, whether you want magnificent mountain vistas, lush meadows, stately old-growth forests, clear lakes, roaring rivers, or quite woodlands. The North Cascades National Park truly is a natural playground.

I consulted my favorite website for up-to-date trail information, The Washington Trails Association. It is a great resource for hiking in Washington State. You can get up-to-date information about any trail. We decided to go with the Rattlesnake Ridge Trail. Although it lies outside of the national park boundaries, it is still in the area. This spur of the Cascades is sometimes referred to as the Issaquah Alps and is part of the Cedar River Watershed. We are not sure why it is called Rattlesnake. The only rattlesnake that you may ever find west of the Cascades would be very lost and very cold.

Rattlesnake Ridge 2

The Rattlesnake Ridge Trail starts at Rattlesnake Lake and climbs steeply up the east side of the mountain. The 1.9 mile trek gains 1,100 feet elevation as it winds its way up to Rattlesnake Ledge. Although it is a mildly strenuous hike, it is well worth the effort.

Mish annd Albie Rattlesnake Ridge

“You won’t find better views anywhere else this close to Seattle. Rattlesnake Ledge is a monolithic block of rock on the eastern end of Rattlesnake Ridge, towering high over the cool waters of Rattlesnake Lake and the Snoqualmie River valley. Looking up from the trailhead, the site is daunting–the rock face looks sheer and impregnable. Fortunately, the cliff face isn’t too broad, and hearty Washington Trails Association volunteers have carved a path through the steep forests flanking the rock face.” Dan A. Neslon, Day Hiking: Snoqualmie Region.

We had a great time, as usual. We are always glad when we break the monotonous rut we get into this time of year and get out. Plus, I got to field test my new pack and equipment.

Rattlesnake Ridge

Be advised, it is a very popular hike. So, it will get a little crowded on nicer days. Also, be careful on the ledge. I do not like heights and always worry. The rock is slippery and the fall is steep. Pets, children, and acrophobic husbands should be monitored at all times. We do not want the hospital to be your family travel destination.

Driving Directions:
From Seattle drive 32 miles east on I-90 to exit 32 (436th Avenue SE). Turn right (south) on 436th Avenue SE (Cedar Falls Road SE) and drive about 4 miles to the well-developed Rattlesnake Lake parking area on the right.

Do you have any favorite hikes? Let everyone know! Thanks.

Categories: The United States | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Remember the Boy Scout Motto

What to do on a rainy day in Seattle?

Rainy Seattle

This is why Starbucks was invented here. As I look out our 6th story window across Lake Washington to Seattle, a cold, grey rain blankets the city. My optimistic weekend plans for a hike or kayak have been washed away. Normally, we do not let a little bad weather deter us, but this is on the verge of two competing seasons. I call it “sprinter,” not quite yet spring, but no longer winter. It is too warm for nice white fluffy winter snow, too cold for a pleasant warm spring rain, and just right for a miserable time outdoors. So, we are all stranded indoors trying to keep boredom from setting in while getting some needed stuff done and staying off each other’s nerves, mostly.

While family traveling, we have learned that not every moment is packed with thrilling adventures. You will have some down time. So, we use that time to mostly catch up on some of the more mundane necessities of life. The boys work on some chores, like cleaning, and of course school work. My wife sews, works on line, does laundry, cleans, cooks, and keeps the boys engaged (whether they want to be or not). The dog sleeps and periodically comes out of hibernation to scavenge for food. I write the blog, clean, work out, fix stuff, nap, and try my best to stay off the radar of my every vigilant wife on the look out to assign tasks. My “honey-do list” is ever ongoing.

Today, I am working on replacing my stolen day hiking pack. I was extremely upset that my pack was stolen out of my truck. Unfortunately, thieves are a universal problem, some places worse than others, but still everywhere. On the bright side, I get all new gear. So, I went to my favorite shopping place, eBay. I have always had very good luck with eBay, no matter where in the world we were. I bought a car while still in the U.S. that I picked up in England, a motorcycle from another state and had shipped to me across the country, numerous birthday and Christmas presents, items for work, camping equipment, car repair parts, furniture, and more. I much prefer sitting on the couch perusing on line than driving all over town. Remember, on eBay you do not pay tax and I rarely pay shipping. Plus, I have yet to get ripped off after 150 purchases.

Since the rain prevented me from enjoying the beautiful Pacific Northwest, I went to eBay and started my search for replacement hiking gear. Being a Boy Scout, I rely on the tried and true recommendations of the scout handbook on what to carry on every venture into the wild. I also rely on my military survival training and civilian search and rescue experience. A life-time of hiking and camping comes in handy too. My wife likes to tease me that I am an “over-grown boy scout,” but she also implicitly trusts me in the wilderness (just not navigating in the car).

My day pack is an essential item when we go hiking anywhere. I carry very specific items that I believe are very helpful in any circumstance while family traveling. I scoured eBay and found, of course, exactly what I wanted. Below is my personal list of essentials:

For load carrying, I prefer a fanny, lumbar, or waist type because on hot days your back will sweat with a backpack. I really like the Mountainsmith Day TLS Lumbar Pack. Mountainsmith made the original lumbar pack and is still the best. The Day TLS is as big as they get. You can buy shoulder straplettes to help with the weight if needed. It is very rugged and will hold all that you need. eBay price: $84.95 (same as retail but no tax and free shipping) Spoiler: on sale at Amazon for $65.81!

lumbar pack

In the pack, I keep the following:

1. Water filter: You always need clean water. Even in some urban areas, the drinking water is not reliable. Trust me, I had cholera, it is not pleasant. The best on the market for the price is the Katadyn HikerPro. It works very well for individuals or small groups. Plus, it is field serviceable, which is very important when traveling. eBay price: $69.99 (retail $84.95)

hikerpro

2. First Aid Kit: Adventure Medical Kits are the best out there. I bought the .9 because it is for 1-4 people for up to 6 days. You can get the size you need. They are very comprehensive and packed with useful supplies. You may someday need more than a band aid and alcohol pad. Be prepared. eBay price: $29.70 (retail $49.99)

firstaid kit

3. Compass: I think that Suunto makes the most reliable and accurate compass. I got the A-30L. I prefer orienteering compasses compared to lensatic types (but that is a whole other discussion). eBay price: $21.40 (retail $35.00)

compass

4. Knife: I actually carry at least two knives, a rigid type and a multi-tool. There are many good rigid knives on the market. I am a Gerber fan personally, but there are many others. Get a well-known brand with 440 steel. For the multi-tool, I bought a Gerber Diesel. No matter where you go, these newer designs of multiple function tools will come in handy. You will end up not being able to go anywhere without one. eBay price: $53.38 (retail $69.00)

Gerber Diesel

5. Emergency blanket: These are amazing additions to your pack. They can be used as a shelter to keep of rain and sun, a blanket for warmth, a giant signaling device, a load carrier, a water extraction device, and more. I recommend not going for the cheap “space blankets” They are also useful, but limited. I bought an AMK SOL Sport Utility Blanket, red. eBay price $16.00 (retail $25.00)

Survival Blanket

6. Rope: By rope, I do not mean a large spool of old hemp or nylon line. Parachord is one of the most useful items in the entire outdoor world. I prefer J-chord because it is like parachord but with a hemp center. You can use parachord or j-chord for a multitude of functions, like tying up things, lashing, makeshift pack, stretcher, or tent (with your blanket), and tethering. The smaller inside lines can be used for fishing line, sutures (ick), and dental floss. The paper center in j-chord can be used to help start a fire. eBay price: $7.50 for 25 feet (retail $.50 / foot)

J-chord

7. Whistle: If you are lost, your voice quickly gives out from shouting. Any whistle will do, but there are some louder than others. eBay price: $2.00

whistle

8. Fire starter: I am not a big fan of expensive complicated lighters. I have bought them only to be disappointed with them in real-world use. Now, I prefer good-old flint and all-weather matches. They do not break or run out of fuel and if you lose or break them you are not out $50.00. eBay price: $5.00

matches

9. Headlamp: I prefer a headlamp over a flashlight. With a headlamp your hands are free. There are many makes on the market. Get a LED with a bright light, preferably one that adjusts beam width and has a flashing and red mode. eBay price: $4.00 (yes!)

headlamp

10. Glow sticks: handy for signaling, keeping track of everyone in the dark (especially children and pets), and light source for seeing at night. I even have used them as a night light while camping with our boys (I was a little afraid of the dark). eBay price: $1.00 each

chem light

11. Folding saw: If you need to cut firewood or timbers for building something, you will wish you had one of these nifty little tools. Like with my knives, I prefer Gerber. eBay price: $24.99 (retail $36.00)

gerber saw

12. Water bottle: Any will do. I actually do not like camel packs (why I am not sure) so I use just plastic sports bottles. eBay price: $2.00

water bottle

I also carry as optional gear a GPS (Bushnell Back-Track D-Tour), hatchet (again, Gerber), venom extractor (The Pump), solar charger for my electronics, and small folding shovel. All totaled without filled water bottles, food, and extra clothing, my pack weighs in at 25 pounds and less than $300. This is an easy load to carry on even the most strenuous hikes and well worth the investment.

Extractor PumpFolding Shovel

Bushnell Back-Trackhatchet

Remember, an old Boy Scout adage, “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.” I also like the Boy Scout motto, “Always prepared.”

be prepared

No one plans on getting lost (I hope), but it happens. When we went on a rescue mission in SAR to find lost hikers, we always took note that they were ill prepared for their adventure. Potentially disastrous situations can be averted easily if you plan ahead. You want your family travel to be a memorable experience (in a good way).

If nothing else, going through my day pack has made the rainy day go by faster and kept me out of my wife’s way. If you have any items that you think are necessary on a hike, experience with certain gear, or brands you like, let everyone know. Reply with a comment. Thanks!

Categories: Before the Adventure | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Family Travel Taking on a Whole New Meaning

Home is Where You Park It?

comic

So, my wife, Mishele, has this crazy idea to buy a new RV and move into it full time! This makes family travel take on a whole new meaning. After we visited the Seattle RV Show last week (please see last week’s post), she has been bitten by the travel bug again. We have traveled all over Europe (but still want to go back) and part of Central America (I’m OK with not going back, but I do miss our friends there), but have missed large parts of North America.

We are very familiar with the west coast of the United States and Canada. However, We have only spent a little time in other places on the continent. We both lived and met in Pensacola, Florida, while I was stationed there with the Navy. Mishele is a southern girl, sort of (she grew up a Navy brat in bases over seas). She spent her high school years on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and then went off to college in Alabama. I am a Yankee from New England. I went to high school in Connecticut and then college in Pennsylvania. Amazingly, we fell in love despite some serious geographical differences. Opposites attract I guess.

Once the Navy shipped me off to San Diego, California, I never looked back east. My 30 year high school reunion is closing fast. I have not been back that way since I graduated. I often have thought about showing our boys where I grew up, but have not had the chance. Also, I have not really explored that vast middle area of the country between the two coasts. We sailor types like to keep close to the ocean. So, maybe Mishele’s idea is not that crazy.

We have owned an RV for about 10 years. We started with a pop-up trailer, up-graded to a 5th wheel, and now have a travel trailer. We lived in our 5th wheel for 14 months while we were buying our house. I remember those days as a “full-timer” in our RV. We had some good and not so good times. Living in an RV is definitely an adjustment, especially coming from owning a house. When our boys were much younger, it was actually kind of fun, like an adventure. Now that they are in their teens, it sounds like a nightmare waiting to happen.

Her idea is to move into a new RV after our oldest, Aaron, goes off to university. Aaron is hoping to be the third generation of Navy in our family by applying to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis (You would think he would have learned better after hearing his grandpa and father tell sea stories!). Actually, he would be 4th generation U.S. Armed Services. His great grandfather is buried in an American cemetery in France.

My wife’s thinking is that we will save a lot of money (true, which we will need for university if Aaron does not go to the academy, college is expensive), reduce our work load (true, I am burnt out on yard work – way over-rated), and allow us the mobility to take off on vacations to see the continent (also true, I get vacation time from work). Hmm… maybe.

Our youngest, Elijah, is all for this. He thinks living a nomadic life camping in state and national parks is about perfect. He is a serious nature boy in love with all things wild and untamed. The whole idea still has me a little nervous to be honest.

Don’t get me wrong. I love camping. After all, we are a die-hard Boy Scout family. I have graduated some tough military survival schools too. However, giving up the creature comforts of a solid non-moving home is a little daunting. Plus, having company over for dinner takes on a whole new meaning. No worries finding us, we’ll come to you! We can even go through the drive-through for dinner!

To humor her, and keep our options open I suppose, we are researching RV’s. Like I said, we are pretty familiar with them. I am amazed and impressed with the new luxuries, conveniences, and amenities in the new rigs. I will keep you posted.

Please let me know your ideas, thoughts, or insights. Anyone else doing this? Are we crazy or just out-side-the-box thinkers?

Here is a humorous article we found from another crazy (err… different) family doing it! We’re Doing This

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The Seattle RV Show

Family Travel on the Open Road!

RV

This weekend is the Seattle RV show! Being avid “RV’ers,” we couldn’t wait to go. Summer is coming and we are anxious to get on the open road of family vacation (see our Oregon adventure or our Olympic Peninsula adventure) . We are on our third RV and thinking of trading it in for a new one. So, we went to check out what is new in the world of recreational vehicles for family travel.

Before you can dive into the world of nomadic vacationing, you need to educate yourself on the basics. So, this article is my quick and easy RV buying guide.

RV_images

Basically, RV’s come in the following types:

Motorized RVs

A Class:  These are the behemoths of the RV world. They range in weight from 15,000 to 30,000 pounds and stretch from 30 to 40 feet in length. Describing them as “motorhomes” is no exaggeration. Class A units come with almost every creature comfort you would expect in a home, minus the front lawn.

B Class: These are commonly known as van conversions and are the smallest fully enclosed motorhomes. They generally weigh 6,000 to 8,000 pounds and are 17 to 19 feet in length.

C Class: These are mini-motorhomes. They are scaled-down versions of Class A motorhomes. They range in weight from 10,000 to 12,000 pounds and stretch from 20 feet to 31 feet in length.

Towable RVs

Travel Trailer: Travel trailers come in a variety of sizes, ranging from a small bedroom on wheels to the equivalent of a Class A motorhome without the engine and transmission. Travel trailers may be as small as 10-feet long or as big as 35-feet long. Many feature slide-outs to quickly extend the unit’s living space.

Folding Camping Trailer: Folding camping trailers, also commonly referred to as tent trailers or pop-up trailers, are designed from the ground up to be lightweight and inexpensive while providing many of the conveniences found in a basic travel trailer. Because of their relatively small size, folding camping trailers can easily be towed by a typical mid-size car, and even compact cars in some cases. A folding camping trailer can be thought of as a large, expandable tent built on a trailer.

Fifth Wheel: Fifth-wheel trailers are similar to larger travel trailers, but they have an extension on the front of the box that extends over the tow vehicle and a horizontal plate that looks like a wheel (hence the name “fifth wheel”) that rests on the tow vehicle for support. This hitch arrangement requires special equipment on the tow vehicle. Typically, full-size pickup trucks serve as tow vehicles. The hitch arrangement makes towing easier by placing the trailer load in the center of the tow vehicle instead of behind it. The extension on the front of the box also serves as extra room.

Truck Camper: Truck campers, sometimes referred to as pickup campers or slide-on campers, consist of a camper body loaded onto the bed of a standard pickup truck.

Hopefully, the chart will make things easier:

Type Pros Cons Price
Class A
  •   Every comfort imaginable
  •   No need for tow vehicle
  •   Roomy
  •   4 seasons
  •   Very expensive
  •   Usually need to tow a “shuttle” vehicle
  •   Difficult to drive
  •   Gas guzzlers
$100,000-$500,000
Class B
  •   Less expensive than Class A
  •   Easy to drive
  •   Fuel efficient
  •   4 seasons
  •   Not very roomy
$40,000-$100,000
Class C
  •   Roomy
  •   Less expensive than Class A
  •   Many amenities
  •   4 seasons
  •   More difficult to drive for new RV’ers
  •   Need a diesel to get good fuel economy
$50,000-$150,000
5th Wheels
  •   Lots of room
  •   Many amenities
  •   Relatively east to tow
  •   Can be 4 seasons
  •   Need large truck to tow
  •   Lose your truck bed for the tow device
  •   Expensive
  •   Not really meant for families, so floor plans   are limited
$15,000-$150,000
Travel Trailer
  •   Roomy
  •   Variety of options
  •   Great for Families
  •   Keep your truck bed
  •   Can be 4 seasons
  •   Need a strong tow vehicle
  •   Harder to maneuver than a 5th wheel
$10,000-$100,000
Tent Trailer
  •   Relatively inexpensive
  •   Easy to tow and maneuver
  •   Tow with a variety of vehicles
  •   Many new designs and innovations
  •   Amazingly comfortable
  •   Even can have a shower
  •   Limited room
  •   Limited options
  •   Not meant for 4 seasons
  •   Set-up required each time you use
$4,000-$25,000
Truck Campers
  •   Able to tow a boat or other trailer with one   mounted on your truck
  •   Surprisingly roomy (for 1-2 people)
  •   Even can have a shower
  •   Can b 4 seasons
  •   Need a big truck
  •   Expensive for the size
  •   Limited room
  •   Limited options
$5,000-$30,000

We started with a tent trailer and got addicted to RV’ing. As we added a family member, we out grew it and up-graded to a 5th wheel (which we actually lived in for 14 months). When the boys got a little older, we wanted something with a separate bedroom for them. So, we traded the 5th wheel for a travel trailer.

Komfort

We think that a travel trailer is the way to go for families. The manufactures more cater to families in this class than any other of the RV classes. You can get many family friendly floor plans in a travel trailer that you will not find in a 5th wheel or motor home. For example, our current trailer has three bunk beds in the back (one for each of the two boys and the dog). The ones we saw at the RV show had a separate little apartment in back just for the kids and a mom and dad master suite in the front. Some even have a fold out patio for extra room. These are not your grandparents old RV!

Once you decide on a class of RV, you will want to decide on the make. Just like anything else, you get what you pay for. Nicer RV’s can come with a steep price tag. Decide what you need versus what you want.

Construction Feature Pros Cons
Wood Frame
  •   Less expensive
  •   Better insulated
  •   More common
  •   Heavier
  •   Not as strong or durable
  •   Lower re-sale value
Wood/Aluminum Frame
  •   Stronger where needed
  •   Less weight
  • Generally not considered a good combination   due to the different properties of wood and aluminum
All Aluminum Frame
  •   Very strong and durable
  •   Higher re-sale value
  •   Light weight
  •   More expensive
  •   Fewer models and plans
Fiber Glass Siding
  •   Smooth look
  •   Adds strength
  •   More expensive
  •   Harder to repair
  •   Adds considerable weight
Plastic Corrugated Siding
  •   Light weight
  •   Easy to repair
  •   Less expensive
  • Not as refined a look
Enclosed under-belly
  •   Able to use 4 seasons
  •   Protects under-carriage
  •   More expensive
  •   Adds weight
Slide-outs
  •   Extra room
  •   More expensive
  •   Adds weight
  •   Repairable parts and service

Once you have decided on a class and a construction make, you will find that your options have narrowed considerably. As a general rule, all RV manufactures are of very similar quality. Industry standards and government regulations have fairly ensured that all RV’s meet the same standards.

Really, what come next are the amenities you want. This is where personal opinion and budget come in. The sky is the limit in RV’ing. Anything you want, you can probably get. We have seen real travertine marble counters, stainless-steel appliances, fire places, surround sound entertainment systems, cedar lined closets, wood floors, and more. So, don’t let yourself indulge too much. You can get carried away. However, we recommend buying that best quality you can afford. Comfort can mean the difference between an amazing time on your family travel or a dragged out journey.

If you want recommendations, ideas, suggestions or to just tell everyone of your RV’ing experience, please let us know. We will be happy to respond and share your knowledge and experience with everyone.  We hope to see you on the road!

imagesYYKJXTJK

You won’t get that from a hotel!

Categories: The United States | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Congratulations Seahawks!

OK, we have to celebrate! Our home town team, the Seattle Seahawks won their first Super Bowl. Way to go Hawks!

Seattle-Seahawks-Super-Bowl-Ring

Wilson

coach

space needle

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The Eagles Have Returned!

Bald Eagle Watching in Washington

eagle tree

If you are looking for something to do during the cold, wet season in the Pacific Northwest of the United States but still want to get outside, then we found an amazing family adventure, Bald Eagle watching! Every year from about mid-November to late February along the Skagit River in western Washington, hundreds of bald eagles come to feast on spawning salmon. Some eagles come from as far away as Alaska. These majestic birds can be seen sitting in trees along the river, swooping down to grab salmon with their powerful talons, hopping on gravel river shoals eating their catch, or soaring above as they glide on the mountain currents.

Skagit River

Peak viewing opportunities are from late December to early January. This coincides with the spawning salmon, who after laying their eggs, complete their life-cycle and die in large numbers in the river and its tributaries. This is a once a year opportunity for the eagles to feast on the fat rich fish so that they can put on needed weight during the winter to survive. As one animal dies another one gains a chance to live, such is the precarious balance of nature.

salmon

You will need to get up very early to spot the eagles in their native habitat. They start feeding at first light until around 10:00am. Afterwards, they take to the sky and soar high above the river as they catch rising thermals. After all, wouldn’t you if you were an eagle? In the afternoon, they return to perch atop tall trees on the river banks to rest.

This time of year can be very cold in the Skagit River valley, so dress appropriately. Temperatures vary from 25°F to 40°F. It is also the rainy season, so bring water-proof clothing and boots. Ironically, you have a better chance of seeing eagles on wet days than sunny ones. When the skies are clear, eagles are out flying! I also recommend packing a pic-nick lunch or late breakfast. After all, you are there to brave the elements to see eagles, not to sit inside to eat. A thermos of hot coffee, tea, or chocolate can help fend off the chill too. When you see these birds up close, you will quickly forget the cold and wet anyway. It is truly a memorable experience that will leave you with a sense of awe.

Skagit River

There are a few different ways to see the eagles. The Skagit River area is about two hours north of Seattle, Washington. You can drive north 45 miles on I-5 to Arlington and then head east on Highway 530. It is a beautiful drive. Highway 530 intersects into Highway 20 in approximately 50 miles. At the intersection is Howard Miller Steelhead State Park. This is one of the best places to see eagles and should be the first place on your trip to stop. In the park is the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center. Admission is free. You can stop in and get loads of information on eagles and where to see them. Right before you go in, stop and check-out the large real eagle’s nest!

Elijah and nest

Head up river to mile post 100. There is a small park on the right, which is another great place to spot eagles. When we stopped, there was a group of eagle enthusiast volunteers and national park rangers waiting to answer questions, provide insight, and share in the experience. One volunteer had a 60X spotting scope set-up and pointed at an eagle directly overhead in a tree. With his scope, you could count the feathers on the eagle’s head!

I highly recommend heading up river another six miles to the Skagit River Fish Hatchery in Marblemount. They offer free guided tours of the hatchery. Our boys really enjoyed the tour, and learned some things too. We all had the opportunity to hold live salmon eggs and see the tiny fish moving inside. They also got free activity books for the ride home.

salmon egg

If you are really adventurous, you can take a float tour down the river. Trips leave from Howard Miller State Park. The tour service will take you by bus up river to a park just down river from the hatchery. From there, you will climb into eight person rafts. A guide will then take you along a scenic and informative ride down the slow moving river where you will probably see many eagles along the way. The tours also offer bus transportation from Seattle to the park for an additional fee.

We almost felt like National Geographic explorers. My wife was equipped with her camera fitted with a large zoom lens. Even though she does not like being cold, she was too excited about seeing eagles to care. Something about witnessing majestic acts of nature makes any hardships worth the experience. I know our boys will remember the trip. I know I will remember the look on my wife’s face as she joyfully clicked away on her camera like an excited school girl.

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75 Best Real Photos of 2013!

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Beautiful Christmas Music from a Talented Friend

Shelley Ricky in the Netherlands

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Whistler – Skiing and Much More

I am very sorry to our readers. I unintentionally took the month of November off. However, I am back with renewed vigor to post more about our travels, education, and global issues.

November was a hard month. My new job as School Director for an international center in Seattle has kept me very busy. I love that I get to meet students and staff from around the world every day! I am learning more from them then they are from me probably. Plus, being the director gives me an amazing opportunity to apply my international education experience in a real-world setting.

As a well-earned reward for my hard work, my family and I decided to take off to Whistler, Canada, for the long American Thanksgiving weekend. Whistler is an amazing year-round outdoor activity vacation destination. No matter what you like to do on your down time, you can probably find something there to entice you. So, even non-skiers, like my wife, can have a good time.

Whistler Village

From Seattle, Whistler is an easy 219 miles. We meandered north taking in the magnificent scenery. The drive from Vancouver to Whistler is particularly spectacular. You pass by Horseshoe Bay, Shannon Falls, and Brandywine Falls. You can make the trip in 4 hours, but I recommend allowing yourself more time to stop and enjoy the journey. Our youngest son, Elijah, really wants to go back and visit the Britannia Mine Museum in Squamish. Unfortunately, we did not have time this vacation. So, we have an excuse to go back!

Aaron and Elijah

Whistler was the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics. It is a world-class ski destination. The small remote area has greatly benefited from the Olympics. You can visit the now historic reminders of Olympic glory in and around the village. We gawked at the intimidating 90 meter ski jumps and bobsled run. During the Olympics, the village had to have been a thrilling place to be. Today, it is alive with 5 star resorts and people from all over the world.

Lost Lake Lodge WhistlerLost Lake Lodge Lobby

We stayed at a very cozy place called Lost Lake Lodge, which is in the Upper Village of Whistler. It is a small resort with heated pool, fitness center, ski lockers, and very nice rooms. We reserved a one bedroom suite complete with a fully equipped kitchen, gas fireplace, washer and dryer, balcony, wi-fi, large screen TV, and board games. It is also on the Chateau Whistler Golf Course for you golf fanatics. We definitely did not rough it! We liked that we could walk on well-marked paved trails around the lodge and lake each morning. Even though it is not in the village proper, everything is within walking distance.This has the added benefit of making the lodge a great deal compared to in village places. We rate it very high for family getaways!

The staff was very nice and took care of us. Phil at the front desk was especially helpful and courteous. Remember, you need to check in at the Blackcomb Lodge before heading to the Lost Lake Lodge. Unfortunately, Expedia did not tell me that dogs were not allowed. Our pampered pooch, Albie, slept in my truck most of the time. I do not think he enjoyed the vacation as much as we did.

From Lost Lake Lodge, we could walk or drive to the village center. Whistler has a maze of paved and dirt walking and biking trails that connect everything. We did take poor Albie on some walks to get him out and stretch. Whistler Village is a fun place to hang out, stroll around, shop, eat, and take in the scenery. The Village Stroll winds through the pedestrian only village past high-end shopping, art galleries, boutiques, and pubs. It even has two Starbucks! The best hot chocolate I may have ever had can be found at Blenz Coffee across from the Olympic Park. They make it with real melted dark chocolate. Elijah is now addicted to it.

Peak-to-Peak Whistler

The first day, we decided to take the Peak-to-Peak gondola ride. The Peak-to-Peak is the longest gondola traverse in the world. It connects Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. The heart-stopping ride travels a record-breaking 1.88 miles free span between towers at a dizzying height of 1,430 feet above the valley. We took the Village Gondola to the top of Whistler Peak. The 20 minute ride up in an enclosed gondola made for a beautiful aerial trip. At the top, we had a nice lunch at the Roundhouse Lodge with an incredible view of the slopes. After lunch, we braved the traverse on the Peak-to-Peak gondola. It was absolutely amazing! The 360 degree view of the mountains was truly awe-inspiring. We waited for a glass-bottom car, which made the experience even better. We could look down and see how high we really were. I was too entranced by the view to be afraid!

*Tip: Check the weather the morning that you plan to go up because it changes quickly.

Peak-2-Peak

From the top of Blackcomb Peak, we decided not to take the round-trip back. Instead, we chose to ride an open chairlift back down. Despite the cold, the open feeling of the chair let us feel like eagles. Since both mountain ski slopes converge at the village, we were very close to where we started. It was an amazing up, over, down trip in the clouds!

Aaron and Elijah

After our gondola excursion, the boys wanted to go sledding. Luckily, we brought two sleds with us. Mish and I got some quiet time to walk around the village and relax. No amount of cold or wetness can deter boys from playing in the snow. We came back to see if Aaron and Elijah were ready to go. Not a chance. If it was not for the ski patrol herding them off the hill, they would probably have stayed sledding much longer.

Back at Lost Lake Lodge, I cooked a big traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the family, complete with a smoked turkey. OK, I bought the turkey pre-cooked, but the thought was there. Keeping family traditions is very important to us. No matter where we travel, we make sure that we observe holidays. I think that when the boys are older, they will remember these times and appreciate them. For my wife and I, we still enjoy watching the boys during holidays. Even Aaron, at 16, still gets excited and gets into the spirit.

Elijah in bobsled

The next day went looking for more exciting things to do. We considered zip-lining, ATV riding, skiing, dog sledding, bungee jumping (not!), and horseback riding. You can even ride a real bobsled or luge down the Olympic course. In the end, the weather decided our choice. The boys went indoor rock climbing and to an arcade. Maybe not as thrilling, but still fun and different. (We are mean parents who never bought our children a game station.) Later, we went to see Olympic hopefuls test themselves on the luge and bobsled. Unless you have actually witnessed a luge rider streaking past you at 80 mph only 5 feet from your nose, you cannot truly appreciate the danger of the sport.

That evening, we went swimming in the outdoor pool back at the lodge. As we sat in front of the roaring fire snacking on turkey left-overs, we remembered just how thankful we truly are for all of the blessings we have.

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The Emerald City: A Day in Seattle

Guest post by Aaron

Seattle

The Emerald City: A Day in Seattle

Walking through downtown Seattle is much like walking through any other city in America: it possesses the hustling and bustling that comes with enterprise and business. Yet it also maintains a level of serenity. Due to Seattle’s prime location, you are never more than a few blocks away from a body of water. The rush of cars and the dull-roar of people passing are nicely accented with the screeches of seagulls and crashing of the waves. In fact, because of the slope that Seattle is built on, the city acts as a giant auditorium for the harbor, echoing the sounds of the sea through the streets.

This design also offers a water-front view to almost every building. If you stand on the observation deck of Columbia Center, when it’s not raining, looking westwards you can see over Puget Sound to the snow-caped Olympic Mountains. Southward, you can look across rolling hills, coated in Douglas firs, and spot the solitary peak of Mt. Rainer. Looking east, you are able to see across Lake Washington to the Cascade Mountains, a colossal wall of snow and stone that stretches as far north and south as the eye can see. This mixture of natural beauty and the city’s busy nature sets the scene for one of the most wonderful towns in the northwest.

Along with Seattle’s ecological attractiveness, it’s also home to some of the most magnificent architecture west of Chicago. Columbia Center is the city’s tallest building, measuring up to 932 feet, and provides a truly breathtaking vista of the city and surroundings. Traveling west five blocks from the tower, is Waterfront Park, consisting of a long line of unique shops selling the tackiest tourist t-shirts and handmade artwork, all of which are walking distance to the ferry terminal. My personal favorite among these is the Ye Old Curiosity Shop, which offers the most impractical items, such as vampire slaying kits and shrunken heads. Much like a Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the store has some of the most outlandish assortment of souvenirs and is the perfect place to kill time whilst waiting for a ferry.

Walking north along the waterfront, visitors will pass attractions such as the Seattle Aquarium, Ivar’s Seafood Restaurant, and eventually stumble into the locally renowned Pike Place Market. The hustle and bustle of vendors selling the freshest fish is mixed with the intoxicating aroma of spices and floral arrangements. The sound and excitement of commerce is only amplified by the bright colors and exotic tastes. However, if food and flowers aren’t your cup of tea; by following the ramps and stairs underground, you are opened up into a new network of tunnels lined with odd-ball stores. Some of which include: Golden Age Collectables, housing a monstrous collection of vintage comics and fandom apparel, and the Market Magic Shop, home to some of the strangest and most mystical artifacts.

Finally, as you exit the market, you can walk a few blocks northeast and find yourself at the foot of the Space Needle, the most iconic sight in Seattle. At 604 feet, it’s not the tallest structure in the city, but it certainly is the most elegant. If there is time to spare, visitors can tour to grounds around Seattle Center and visit the National Science Fiction Museum, accommodating suits and ships from some of the most popular movies in America. A four-star restaurant sits on top of the Space Needle and, despite the absurd price; it is the perfect way to finish off a day in the Emerald City.

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Wanted: Stories and Pictures

29-45_old_western_14

Hello All:

We are looking for a good story or picture with a caption about your pet! We have  a Wheaton Terrier, Albie, who has traveled the world with us. You can read about his exploits in some of our blog posts. Elijah now has a Leopard Gecko, Johnny, and I have some fish (Sorry, I do not name fish). The funniest story will be a featured post in our blog.

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Autumn is Here!

“O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.”
-Robert Frost

 

Tatoosh Range, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Today is the first official day of fall! Even if you did not know that yesterday was the autumn equinox, you can still feel that summer is quickly fading and the season is changing. The signs are everywhere here in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The air is a little cooler and moister, the days are noticeably getting shorter, the leaves are just starting to turn from greens to fiery reds and bright yellows, Starbucks is serving their delicious seasonal spiced pumpkin lattes, and the boys are back in school. We are definitely sensing autumn is coming.

Church

Even though we have enjoyed spending falls and winters in tropical climates, we always missed autumn for some reason. Maybe because the landscape becomes painted in bright autumn hues transforming it into a surreal vibrantly colored fantasy world. Maybe because you can sense the specialness of the impending holidays which bring back fond childhood memories. Maybe because change always creates an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. Whatever the reason, falls are truly spectacular here. This is my favorite time of the year to brave the chill and go outside to enjoy nature’s art work. There are numerous places to go to enjoy harvest fairs, pumpkin patches, and fall festivals while soaking in the magnificent scenery.

pumpkins

Now that we are back in Washington state for a while, we are excited to re-explore some of our family traditions during this time of the year. No place is more special to us than the Olympic Peninsula (please read our article about it to learn more). We just came back from a short weekend stay there to get away from the business of life in the city. It is a place where we feel at home despite traveling the world. One of our favorite fall destinations on the peninsula is the Sequim Pumpkin Patch.

Our boys, Aaron and Elijah, have fond memories of this perennial favorite. The Sequim Pumpkin Patch has something to offer everyone in the family. For the kids, there is the enormous corn maze. The corn maze there is not for the directionally challenged. If you easily get lost without your GPS, map, or road signs, then you might want to stay out of it. The maze is usually thematic. One year it was The Wizard of Oz theme. The maze path actually spelled out “THE WIZZARD OF OZ” along with symbols and pictures. The boys love running through it trying to find all of the hidden markers. If you find all of them, you win a prize. Amazingly, people pay to get lost while I do this for free all of the time. Entrance is free, but attractions are individually priced $3.00 to $5.00.

They also have giant sling-shots suspended from telephone poles which you use to launch pumpkins into the air to try to land in a barrel out in the middle of a field. I have yet to win the $100 prize for marksmanship, but it is fun to try anyway. There is something about watching pumpkins fall to Earth and splat like giant orange meteors I find exhilarating. It’s probably a guy thing. Of course for the more traditional pumpkin enthusiast they also have tractor rides, farm animal petting, hot chocolate and fresh apple cider with kettle corn and other treats, holiday gift barn, and more. I think my wife most enjoys watching her “three boys” run around. Oh yes, they also have a pumpkin patch where we pick our pumpkin for carving later.

Train

Now that we are living on the “East Side,” we have found a closer pumpkin paradise called Remlinger Farms in Carnation, Washington. Remlinger Farms takes the traditional pumpkin patch up a notch. The $13.85 entrance fee is a little steep, but worth it. It has an inflatable spooky house, kids’ carnival rides, a real steam engine train, pony rides, and exhibits. The boys and I like the homemade warm doughnuts the best, nice touch! Maybe we like the seasonal favorite foods the best. For a complete list of pumpkin patches, go to The Thrifty NW Mom.

haunted house

After finding the perfect pumpkin to carve into the family Jack-O’Lantern, our oldest son likes to test his bravery by finding the scariest haunted house to visit. This year we will see if he dared Hauntownsend Carnival of the Twilight in Port Townsend, Washington, on the peninsula. This is not just a haunted house, but an entire haunted carnival at the Jefferson County fairgrounds! Clowns are scary enough in the circus, let alone at night in an abandoned carnival. I’m guessing that Aaron will not sleep for a week afterwards! For a complete list of haunted attractions in Washington, check out the Haunted Houses website.

haunted seattle

Probably the most authentic haunted experience you can have in Washington is the original Ghost Tours of Pioneer Square. The tour takes you through the haunted side of Seattle. Their “master storytellers will frighten and chill you to the bone as you are guided through the streets, alleys, and dark shadows of Pioneer Square. Hear the incredible events of people stuck in the mysterious world of the undead.” For $16.00 per person, you can be scared out of your skin! For another hair-raising experience, you can try the Spooked in Seattle Tour or Market Ghost Tours, if you dare. All of the tours take you to places normally visitors to our fair city never see, like the old city of Seattle underground and the original morgue. You can find out why we have a reputation for paranormal activity!

Railroad Bridge, part of Olympic Discovery Trail

For those of us who enjoy the less macabre side of the season, there are numerous places to take long walks to revel in the autumn foliage. One of my wife and my favorite walks is along the Olympic Discovery Trail on the peninsula. This 130 mile long paved trail connects Port Townsend with Forks, Washington. It meanders through the north slope of the Olympic Peninsula between the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Our favorite part starts from just east of Port Angeles at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, head out to the coast, and follows the shore line into town. The trail passes over Morse Creek by an old restored train trestle, through dense fern clad gullies, and by the rocky shores of the strait. We usually see deer, otters, seals, eagles, and heron as we walk. Walks with my wife do not get better than that! We normally walk there and back again for a rejuvenating flat 8 mile round trip.

So, whether you like having family fun at the traditional pumpkin patch, being scared senseless in haunted houses, or just wandering through fall colors, western Washington has many things to offer. October is usually a great month here. By the end of the month, nights will start to turn cold, as Aaron and Elijah can attest to by trick-or-treating in heavy coats and thermal underwear. November will bring the start of the rains. However, by December, the mountains will once again be clad in snow singling another change is happening as we move into winter. I will have to write to tell you about all the wonderful things to do around Christmas here! I admit, I do love having the four seasons.

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Victoria, BC

VictoriaInnerHarbour

My Favorite Canadian City

Canada is an immense country with much to offer visitors. The world’s second largest country by area is the ninth least populated, which provides for abundant room. Canada also boasts the longest shoreline of any country at over 151,000 miles of ocean front property. While the bigger cities of Montreal Ontario, Toronto, Quebec, and Vancouver usually get the lion’s share of tourism, I prefer the smaller, quainter city of Victoria.

vancouver-island-geography

The city of Victoria sits on the Inner Harbor of James Bay at the tip of Vancouver Island. It is the capital of British Columbia, one of Canada’s ten provinces. Victoria was once one of the busiest ports on the west coast of North America, but fell in stature to the much larger city of Vancouver on the mainland when the Canadian Pacific Railroad decided to terminate there. Fortunately, the city has maintained many of its elegant historical buildings, which give it a feeling of stepping back in time to a more civilized era.

Victoria Clipper

The two most common ways to get to Victoria are both by boat, naturally. The Victoria Clipper runs daily year round from Pier 69 in downtown Seattle, Washington. The trip takes 2 hours and 30 minutes. The Clipper is a high-speed jet boat with airline type seating. On board, you can relax in comfort with a bite to eat or drink while amazing scenery passes by. You may even see a whale! However the Clipper is expensive at $117.00 per person round-trip. Also, reservations are required. Be advised, during the summer, the Clipper can sell out quickly so plan in advance. The clipper does provide for your Canadian purchases to come back to the U.S. My wife put this to the test by bringing a leather couch back!

Coho

The other boat is the M.V. Coho. It leaves daily from Port Angeles, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. Although the Coho gets you to Victoria in 1 hour and 30 minutes, the drive from Seattle to Port Angeles is 3 hours. However, the drive is very spectacular. The Coho is also much cheaper at $21.00 per person round trip. The other advantage of the Coho is that it is a far larger vessel and allows cars, whereas the Clipper does not. For us dog people, the Coho permits animals in the cabin. The Clipper requires animals to be booked in advance, charges an additional $20.00 each way, and requires all animals to make the trip in a confined animal carrier. Albie much prefers traveling with us on the Coho. (If you read my post on the Calais, France, to Dover, England, crossing you would understand why.) One disadvantage to the Coho is that it does not make the run from mid-January to the first of June.

In addition to the Clipper and the Coho, you can take a Canadian ferry from Vancouver to Victoria for about $5.00. The crossing takes about 30 minutes. If you do not like boats or are just in a hurry, you can fly to Victoria from several airports in Washington. Depending on when and where you fly, the flights usually range from $50.00 to $150.00 per person round-trip. No matter which method you choose, you will marvel in the beauty of the area.

bengal_lounge

Once on land in Victoria you can begin exploring this fabulous city right away. Immediately in front of you when you disembark the vessel is the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Built in 1908, the hotel is an iconic symbol of the city. The Bengal Ballroom is decorated in a Victorian Era Colonial India style from when Queen Victoria was the Empress of India. It was a favorite destination of author Rudyard Kipling of The Jungle Book fame. Today, you can have tea in nostalgic Victorian splendor (cost about $60.00 per person, but worth it).

miniature_world_114934

Our boys’ favorite attraction in Victoria is Miniature World. I have to admit, this is a favorite of mine too. Self-billed as “The greatest little show on Earth,” it boasts 85 different miniature recreations s of various places. On display is the Battle of Waterloo, The Battle of Berlin, a complete circus with surrounding city, part of the Canadian Pacific Railway, a space colony, and much more. All of the displays are working lighted little worlds meticulously made in exquisite detail. The kid in me wishes to build one in our home, but my wife has so far halted my plans (so far).

Butchart Gardens2

No trip to Victoria is complete without a tour of the beautiful Butchart Gardens. Portland Cement tycoon Robert Pim Butchart moved to Victoria in 1904 to establish a limestone quarry for their cement company. His wife, Jennie, turned their home estate into one of the most famous and world-renowned private gardens. After the quarry was depleted, she incorporated it into her massive and ever-expanding garden too. Today, it is a show-piece for all to enjoy. My green-thumbed wife could spend all day strolling the grounds and taking pictures. Some travel advice, this is the only major attraction outside the city, so you will need to plan for a bus or taxi to take you there. Since the gardens take some time to fully enjoy, plan to leave in the morning.

Discovery

We all highly recommend the Royal British Columbia Museum. The museum show-cases numerous artifacts that span the history of the area, from 20,000 years ago to today. The ultra-realistic life-size dioramas of life in British Columbia over the ages really are impressive and give you a sense of what life was like back in the day. We easily spend 2 to 3 hours looking around the museum.

There are many other things to see and do in Victoria. Each season has a special feel to it. During the summer, the gardens are in bloom and the weather is perfect. In winter, the city is transformed into a Christmas wonderland of lights and decorations. We love to go each time. For our top 10 things to see in Victoria, please see our “Top 10” lists above.

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Road Races

Summer Family Fun

The winner is...
The sun is shining in a deep blue sky here in the Pacific Northwest. Infinite shades of green paint the forests where rivers loudly cascade over waterfalls and gently glide past old growth cedars clad in moss. Crystal clear lakes reflect majestic snow-capped mountains. Alpine meadows are ablaze with color from wild flowers. Everywhere is the smell of summer. Wafting from back-yards is the mouth-watering smell of barbecues. You have to love August. These are the days that kids day dream of and can hardly wait for in June when school lets out. Summers here are truly special.

Of course we will pay a price during the long, grey, wet winter time for nature’s splendor now, but that seems too far away right now to fret over. Right now we bask in the warmth and revel in the time we have. Summer is also a time where we look to do more outdoor type activities to shake of the cabin fever left over from the previous season. As educators, we have relished the fact that we are all usually off for the best season together. Now that I am an “administrator” for a school, my summer break is much shorter. “Heavy is he who wears the crown!” We still find much time to have fun as a family, though.

One of the best family friendly activities we have found is road races. Seriously! Not only are they inexpensive, they also provide needed exercise. Plus, they give everyone a sense of accomplishment afterwards. There are many races around the area each summer. One in particular is becoming a yearly tradition, the Great Kilted Run.

The Boys and Mommy
The Great Kilted Run is put on by Celtic enthusiasts and sponsored by Super Jock ‘n Jill running store in Seattle. It is, as you guessed it, Celtic themed. Runners wear kilts for the 5K race. Our two boys and my wife all ran this year (I sat on the side-lines). For those who do not own their own kilts, you can rent them at the race. They had along with the race merchants selling Celtic themes items and food. There were also traditional dancers and bagpipers!

This year to make it a little more interesting race organizers placed three swords in the ground about 200 meters  after the start. The fastest three runners to first reach the swords got to pull them from the ground and run the rest of the way with them like Braveheart. They even got to keep them. Aaron, our 16 year-old cross-country and track star, got to a sword, which he proudly brought home like a war trophy. He also happened to win the race! In addition to the sword, he won a cool trophy and a $75 gift certificate to a local running store. Last year, he took 2nd! They had to drag people out of the beer garden so he could get his award.

Elijah with sword
Mishele and Elijah finished a respectable 35 minutes later. Elijah sprinted to the finish carrying his brother’s sword. Aaron had run back to give it to him. Mishele got detained helping a woman with a slight medical emergency, but still finished the race. All in all, we had a good morning.

The next race is the Dawg Dash. It is another annual 5k and 10K run put on by the University of Washington Alumni Association. We will all run that. I just hope they do not expect us to wear dog collars!

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Remembering Costa Rica

A Warm Winter

Elijah and coconut

I lived in Costa Rica for a year where every day it was warm and humid. It seemed to rain for five days straight every other week. There were lots of animals and plants that were beautiful and-or deadly. I lived in a guest house on a coffee and avocado farm. The spiders were immortal, you couldn’t kill them.

Coffee and Banana plants
On our farm, we had bulls just to scare away snakes and to graze  so the grass stayed short. There was one bull that kept escaping, so then one day there were hamburgers and no bad cow. Oscar was the farm worker who built the farm and only gets a small house and a smaller pay check. There are also horses that are trained to do everything but open the gate. Oscar also makes his own charcoal and he has huge pits filled with bags of it. The farm sells avocados so they have fields of avocados trees and we can eat as many as we want. We also had 3 vicious guard dogs that roamed the farm at night and would attack us if we were out at night. Their names were Pinky, Winky and Fluffy but, we called them Cujo.

elijah tucan
There were snakes and earth quakes and all sorts of insects, but the worst were the 8-legged creepy things. About 4 weeks into our stay we had our first tarantula. We were on the couch and my dad went into the bathroom and yelled. The thing was as big as my head and would not die. We hit it off the ceiling, hit it with a shoe, crushed it under a broom, wrapped it up in toilet paper and crushed it and it still lived! We had several spiders like this, but that was the worst. Oscar also had snakes he caught on the farm, which he kept in barrels. There was a vine snake, 2 jumping pit vipers and a coral snake. His father died from a snake bite, so he donated his “pets” to  the hospital to milk and make anti-venom from.

manuel antonio
In Costa Rica we had beautiful beaches and clear water. Also, every beach had a rain forest filled with sloths, monkeys, macaws and people selling the most beautiful homemade pottery. You could easily pick a ripe coconut (they have a green shell outside and inside  is the famous brown shell) and put hole in it to have a delicious snack and sweet drink. I once went to a beach and got a death wave. It’s a wave that will throw you (seriously) in the water then throw you back out. I got so many cuts from that. Then we went scuba diving and we saw octopi, sponges, eels and fish and looked into the deep blue abyss.

Land Rover on bridge

My dad bought a really cool fire red Series 3 Land Rover with a soft top, winch, snorkel, roll bar, and push bar. We went all over in it. We even went 4-bying on the beach and in the jungle. Unfortunately, we could not bring it back to the U.S. My mom did not like it because it kept breaking down. I liked it though because it could go anywhere.

Volcano Arenal

We went zip-lining and climbed a volcano! The best activity was horse back-riding in the forest. It was my first time riding a horse. At first it looked scary, but once I was on I loved it!

elijah zip line
The beaches were spectacular. The spiders were scary. The farm was comfy. The school was fantastic. Over all Costa Rica was perfect.

 

Elijah

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Summer Camps

Camp Parsons

This summer has turned out to be the camping summer. We normally do everything together as a family, but as our boys get older we believe giving them some independence is also important. Plus, mom and dad like quiet time alone too. So, we agreed to send the boys to different camps this summer. They actually really wanted to go. Instead of dreading being sent away, they counted down the days until they set off on their mini-expeditions. I am not sure if we should take that personally.

Camp Parsons Cove

We usually send the boys to Boys Scout camp each year. Even when we were abroad, we still continued with scouting (please read my post on Scouting International for more information). Here in western Washington, we are very fortunate to have one of the best Scout camps in the nation, Camp Parsons. It is a beautiful facility. Founded in 1919, Camp Parsons is the oldest continuous running Boy Scout camp west of the Mississippi River and one of the oldest continually running Boy Scout camp in the United States. It sits on Jackson Cove, off of the Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula, just north of Brinnon, Washington. With 440 acres of pristine forest that includes creeks, mountain views, salt water beaches, rocky coves, and amazing facilities, no wonder the boys cannot wait to go each summers. They get to hang out with their friends for a week doing archery, rifle shooting, crafts, swimming, canoeing, hiking, craft making, rock climbing, earning merit badges, having fun at campfires, playing games, and more. What young boy would not want to go? I was fortunate to get to go for two days to help out (just to make sure they were safe I had to participate in some activities, honestly).

White Pass

After a week back at home, Aaron headed back out for running camp at White Pass. Most of his high school cross-country team went. This hard-core runners retreat is located on Highway 12 over the Snoqualmie Pass near Naches, Washington. The campers train from 4,500 to 6,000 feet elevation. They stay in the ski lodge condominiums and run the trails up the slopes, 2 to 3 times a day covering over 80 miles that week! (if I only had that much energy again!) The camp is run by some very impressive runners who have competed in the Olympics, won national championships, and coach professionally and in university. Aaron said he learned a lot about running, but he sure looked wiped out when he came home.

Woodland Park Zoo Jaguar

Next, Elijah had his turn to pursue his passion for a week. He went to zoo camp at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Since he is only 11, his camp was only during the day. He still had an incredible time. He got to go behind the scenes at the zoo with the animal keepers and veterinarians. As part of the camp program, each camper had to choose an animal and conduct a research project on it over the course of the week. Elijah picked a jaguar as his specimen. He felt very scientific as he collected his data on the big cat’s activities. The day campers also got to see how the zoo staff cares for, feeds, and trains all of the various animals. In between learning sessions, they played games and ran around like animals (no pun intended!). Needless to say, he had a great time.

Ross_Lake-Mt_Hozomeen

We have one more week long camp. This one includes daddy. We are supposed to do a 50 mile canoe trip along Ross Lake in Washington. We are planning to pack all of our gear in the canoes, row for 8 to 10 miles a day, camp on the shore, and make for the other end of the lake by the end of the week. Along the way we will fish, swim, hike, do scout skills, and hopefully have fun. These “all boys” times I think are very important to their development (and mine). No electronics allowed.

I remember going to camps when I was a young lad. The camp experience taught me to be more self-reliant, independent, and problem solving. I made friends, learned something new, and had a great time. I admit, my wife and I did notice a hole in our family unit while they were gone. Not having the sounds of sibling rivalry shaking the house was nice. However, we missed sharing our day with them and vice-versa. We are not ready to be “empty-nesters,” yet.

Do you remember any camping experiences, good or bad? If so, share them with us. We would love to hear any interesting tales from camp!

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Vancouver, Jewel of British Columbia

vancouver

Summer vacation is here, so we decided to make a run for north of the border. The trip from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada, is an easy two hour drive on I-5. The interstate ends at the Peace Arch, which is the official border between the United States and Canada. The U.S. town of Blaine and the British Columbia town of White Rock straddle the International Peace Arch Park. The center piece of the park is the 67 foot tall white marble arch. Within the arch, each side has an iron gate hinged on either side of the border with an inscription above reading “May these gates never be closed”.  To date, the gates have not closed, symbolizing the long-standing friendship between the two countries. However, the entry into Canada can easily be backed up over an hour during peak times, especially in the summer. Just a reminder, you will need a passport for everyone in your vehicle too.

The drive from the border to downtown Vancouver takes another 30 minutes depending on traffic. Vancouver is a marvelous city. It sits on beautiful Burrard Peninsula. The principle water front areas are along English Bay and Vancouver Harbor. Both offer spectacular views of mountains, water, and surrounding areas. Every direction you look offers amazing scenery. To the north are Cypress, Mt. Seymour, and Indian Arm Provincial Parks, which make up the North Shore Mountains. To the east is the sister city of Surrey. To the south is the mighty Fraser River. To the west is the Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Island beyond.

Stanley Park

We went directly to our favorite part of Vancouver, Stanley Park. This 1,001 acre natural multi-use area sits at the tip of the peninsula. Inside you will find old growth Western Red Cedars that are more than 250 feet high and hundreds of years old along with Douglas Firs, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, and Big Leaf Maples. There is also a colorful rose garden with every hue imaginable. You can wander through the forest like settings on miles of earthen trails or walk, bike, or skate on the paved seawall that circumnavigates the park. Most likely, you will glimpse all sorts of wildlife, like eagles, herons, geese, deer, raccoons, squirrels, sea lions, seals, and possibly whales! You can even marvel at real totem poles!

totems

If you are not as energetic but still want to see the sites, you can take a horse drawn trolley tour. For a more private experience, you can rent a horse drawn carriage (very romantic!). You can also take a trip aboard a steam paddle-wheel boat and cruise the bay to get a different perspective on the area. Stay a little late because every day at 9:00 pm the park rangers fire an old canon into the bay as a tradition.

Vancouver_Aquarium

The park is also home to the Vancouver Aquarium, Canada’s largest aquarium. They have dolphins, belugas, sea lions, penguins, sea otters, sharks, octopus, and more. The aquarium was the first to display a captive Orca whale, but currently does not have any. They have long been a pioneer in marine mammal research, conservation, and education. You will learn much about marine life in the Pacific Northwest and around the globe.

Also in the park are a few eateries. The Tea House is my favorite. It is sheltered by towering trees and offers an unobstructed and stunning view of English Bay from Ferguson Point. The Fish House is another culinary favorite. It was built as a private lodge in 1930 and still retains charm and warmth. The Stanley Park Bar and Grill has a large outdoor patio so you can enjoy the beautiful exhibition garden in the sunshine. If you are looking for something quicker, the Prospect Point Café has the typical window order take-away items for you. My advice, pack a pick-nick basket and enjoy the spectacular outdoors on the grass along the water. The prices at the restaurants are slightly inflated for the luxury of eating in the park. Less expensive places can be found just outside.

capilano_suspension_bridge

We finally left Stanley Park, almost, by crossing the Lion’s Gate Bridge to North Vancouver. Before we left, however, we stopped at the bridge outlook for an amazing view of the water, mountains, and bridge. In North Vancouver, we went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. The $35.00 adult and $21.00 child USD entrance fee is steep, but worth it. The park is an environmental, adrenaline rushing experience along suspended bridges that give you a squirrel’s eye view of the coastal rainforest. The first bridge crosses the Capilano River. It is 460 feet long and 230 feet high. The walk across is a heart pounding experience as you cross the gorge and look at the river far below. Once safely on the other side, you can stroll through the treetops and enjoy the sites in the forest canopy. The most thrilling part is the glass bottom walkway that is suspended 20 feet out on the side of a sheer cliff. You feel like an eagle!

Horshoe Bay

Once we landed, we headed for Horseshoe Bay to the northwest. The quaint seaside village is worth the 15 minute drive, if for nothing more than the grand views. As you round the point and head north on Highway One, you will see the Canadian Rockies stretching majestically northward. They are a truly impressive site, snow-covered peaks over 10,000 feet tall rising from the water skyward and clad in dense green forests. We got some ice-cream and enjoyed walking around the small park marveling at the breath-taking scenery.

grouse-mountain-skyride

For an even better view of the scenery, you can take a 10 minute cable-car ride up to the top of Grouse Mountain. The cars take visitors on a one-mile aerial journey to the Alpine Station, 3,700 feet above sea level. From there, you can take a chair lift an additional 400 feet to the summit. For an even higher view, you can then take an elevator 76 feet more to the glass observation pod on a gigantic wind turbine. At 4,176 feet, you can see for 360 degrees of unobstructed panoramic views.

We re-traced our path and headed back into downtown Vancouver. Downtown has a myriad of things to do. The very visible geodesic dome houses the TELUS World of Science. This is a hands-on science and engineering experience for the whole family (It is, however, geared towards younger audiences). It is a place where you can definitely touch the exhibits.

Vancouver also boasts numerous museums, like the Museum of Vancouver, the Museum of Anthropology, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, the Vancouver Maritime Museum, the Contemporary Art Museum, and the Vancouver Police Museum. The H.R. MacMillan Space Center will be a huge hit for space enthusiasts and junior astronomers. It has a planetarium show and other exhibits to enjoy and learn.

If you are interested in shopping, then the Granville Island Market is a must see. The shopping village has numerous unique shops that offer goods from around the world. It is also home to the public market where you can select fresh produce, meats, and fish. This is a great place to sample a variety of delicacies as you peruse the shops. We loved watching the street performers in the main square put on a show for the crowds.

Robson is Vancouver’s leading shopping and strolling thoroughfare. It is high fashion mixed with souvenir shops, music stores, beauty products, book stores and so much more. For serious shoppers, this is the place to go. For those less serious, this is the perfect street for having lunch or a coffee and people watching! Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city, so you will see people from all over the world.

Many people also like Kerrisdale. The Kerrisdale shopping area is known to many as the “village.” It’s only 20 minutes from Vancouver’s downtown and offers more than 200 diverse shops and services along its quaint tree-lined streets. The business district is concentrated on West 41st Avenue between Maple and Larch streets, stretching in a north-south direction along West and East Boulevards. Surrounding this area are older, gracious homes. Architecturally, the neighborhood boasts many styles and structures listed in the Vancouver Heritage inventory.

Do not forget Chinatown. It is a historic area reflecting Vancouver’s strong Chinese-Canadian heritage. You will find many shops, restaurants, and historic monuments here. The business community is attempting to revitalize the district and preserve its history. Afterwards, visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Gardens. These well-manicured botanical gardens offer a relaxing time-out from the rush of the busy city.

Vancouver hosts even more parks, shops, and attractions. This is probably why we enjoy going back each time. In the summer you can enjoy walking around and in the winter you can enjoy world-class skiing. The city is truly a year-round destination!

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The Joy of Paragliding

Paragliding

Check out the video under the Videos tab!

Today is Aaron’s, our oldest son, 16th birthday. I look forward to this day not only to reminisce about how quickly time has passed or how proud I am of this young man, but because of the adventure I know that we are about to have. Aaron is as much of an adrenaline junkie as I am. Every year, we do something new and exciting. Last year, Aaron got to fly a Cessna and had a flight in a sail-plane over the Cascade Mountains.

Last weekend, we were driving by Seattle Paragliding Company on Tiger Mountain in Issaquah, WA. We have seen people paragliding often there as we head east on Hwy 90. The multi-color sails always looked very majestic, yet so scary that the thought of actually going paragliding had never crossed my mind. As we drove by my husband jokingly asked Aaron if he would like to go paragliding for his birthday. Of course Aaron jumped at the chance to get some airtime. I, of course, could not let my 15-year-old go alone and volunteered to watch out for him.

We were greeted by Marc, the owner. He offered us a drink and showed us around the pre-flight harness fitting room. Our other son went and checked out the spiral staircase leading to the ‘eagle’s nest’ at the top of a tree 50 feet high where he could watch the paragliders. Seattle Paragliding Company does not take credit cards, so Curtis drove a short distance down the road to get cash while Aaron and I prepared for our flight.

We signed up for the tandem fight with an experienced pilot. The tandem fights are $175 on weekdays and $195 on weekends. There is also an additional $20 per person for the shuttle up the mountain (you can walk if you really want to climb the two miles with your glider) and an optional extra $40 for a personal film of your flight. The time in the air varies according to the weather conditions. The day we flew, the skies were clear and the temperature was 85 degrees F, a heat wave for us here in the Pacific Northwest. Our flight lasted almost an hour. However, there is no guaranteed flight time.

The two pilots taking Aaron and I on our flights were Drew and Rob. Drew is known as a bit of a daredevil, while Rob is known to be a very safe flyer. Marc asked us who wanted a daring ride and Aaron immediately raised his hand. I would gladly save myself some embarrassment. We watched a short 15 minute training video and then rushed to catch the next shuttle up to the top of the mountain.

The Tiger Mountain Shuttle leaves the lower parking lot at 12:30, 2:30, 4:45, and 6:30 pm. You give your $20 to the driver as you board. The ride is only about 10 minutes to the top of the mountain. Aaron and I received a little bit of good-natured teasing for being novices, but everyone was very friendly. On a side note, the local Paragliding Club takes care of the port-a-potty at the top of the mountain if you need to relieve yourself of extra weight before you fly. We were told it is often vandalized, so best to use the facilities below.

Aaron Paragliding
Aaron and his pilot set up first. Aaron was harnessed in and given a helmet. The glider was laid out near the cliff and inflated to ensure none of the strings was tangled. Aaron was then clipped into Drew’s harness. I could tell Aaron was getting a little nervous about stepping off a cliff. What was I about to let our son do? Once all of the connections were double-checked, the paraglider was inflated and Aaron took a few steps forward before being lifted off his feet. The harness becomes a chair once you are in the air and is very comfortable. You are strapped in at your legs, hips, and chest.

Mish Paragliding
Once Aaron and his pilot were airborne, a bald eagle passed directly in front of them. They followed the eagle for a few minutes before the eagle tired of the game and flew away. I am jealous of the experience to fly with an eagle. My launch was smooth and uneventful. I immediately sat back and enjoyed the scenery. The air was cooler at elevation and I could see for a hundred miles in each direction. Each pilot has a camera on a pole for video and still pictures. Rob and I flew around in the mountain chatting about how he got into the sport and paragliding in different parts of the world. For instance, it is illegal to paraglide at night in the U.S. (makes sense to me) but in other parts of the world nighttime paragliding is legal, but still very dangerous.

Unlike other forms of human flight, paragliding really puts you in touch with the experience of being a bird. It is a smooth soaring sensation that is silent and graceful, yet thrilling. You can steer them like a plane and even gain elevation on rising thermals. It is a very graceful way to travel.

As we slowly returned back down to earth, I watched Aaron and Drew do steep spirals. Aaron had bet Drew that he would not get sick. Aaron won the bet, but he was a little green when he landed according to dad. My decent was very smooth and would have been a perfect landing if I had not have lost my balance once my feet hit the ground and landed on my bottom.

Aaron joked that next year we are going parachuting out of airplanes for his birthday. I hope he is joking!

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