A newly minted Eagle Scout!
I remember Aaron’s first Cub Scout meeting when he was just seven years old. The old cliche, “Kids grow up fast,” is true. He has gone from a Tiger Scout all the way to the highest rank possible in Boy Scouts, the coveted Eagle Scout. The journey to Eagle Scout is long, arduous, and trying, but definitely worth it. It is a life time achievement. We are very proud of him.
As we have family traveled around the world, Scouts has been one of the constants for both our boys. Scouts has given them many things. A Scout is
- and Reverent.
Aaron and Elijah both live these 12 time-honored characteristics. They will serve them well as they are now fastly becoming young men.
Good job Aaron!
Mom and Dad
The French Quarter
After the amazing Audubon Zoo experience, we headed for the historical French Quarter of New Orleans as we continued our family travels. The Big Easy has special fond memories for Mishele because she used to visit frequently when she lived in Mississippi. She was anxious to reconnect with the city.
The French Quarter, or officially known as the Vieux Carré, is the oldest part of the city of New Orleans. It includes the blocks along the Mississippi River from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue (13 blocks) and inland to North Rampart Street (nine blocks). It totals a fairly large area of 78 square blocks, so bring your walking shoes. Luckily, it largely was spared any serious damage during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, so it still preserves its characteristic old style architecture and charm.
Tip: In the summer, New Orleans will be crowded, hot, and humid, try off season.
The Quarter, as locals refer to it, is an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, bars, hotels, music venues, art galleries, and historic landmarks. It was acquired by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Despite its name, most of the architecture is old-world Spanish. Some remnants, like the Saint Louis Cathedral, from its original French settlers are still visible. Most of the buildings date back to the late 18th century. The area as a whole is designated a National Historic Landmark. Walking around it really makes you feel like stepping back in time a little.
Our oldest son, Aaron, is a jazz music fanatic. He was very eager to see the birthplace of jazz. Many great pioneering jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden, and Jelly Roll Morton started out playing in the clubs along the French Quarter. Historic places such as Preservation Hall, Latrobe’s, Snug Harbor, and the House of Blues are legendary hallowed halls where all serious jazz fans make a pilgrimage too. Aaron had them all mapped out. He was like a religious zealot in search of sacred shines.
First, however, the rest of us needed tangible nourishment. So, we headed to the world-famous Central Grocery to get a muffuletta. A traditional style muffuletta sandwich consists of a muffuletta loaf split horizontally and covered with layers of marinated olive salad, mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone. Italian immigrants brought it to New Orleans in the 1920’s. It may just be the best sandwich in America! We went up unto the levee across the street to eat as we watched the mighty Mississippi River float by. I am not sure how many calories one is, but I did not care. They are amazingly delicious. Besides, with all of the walking that we are doing, I figured we would burn them off anyway.
After our impromptu pick-nick, we headed to Preservation Hall. Unfortunately, there was a movie being filmed there. Much to Aaron’s disappointment, we could not get in. He desperately tried to ask anyone if they could slip him in, but no luck. At least he got to have his picture taken with an unknown actor. Now, he will need to wait for the movie to come out to see who it was. I know he was hugely disappointed, but it is an excuse to go back some day.
Since we were striking out with historic landmarks, we decided just to meander around the area to check out the scenery. We found a really cool store along the way. It sold original autographed memorabilia from famous people. They had a signed Jimmy Hendrix guitar! They also had a book signed by all seven original NASA astronauts. Aaron, our Naval aviator hopeful, was awe struck by it. Elijah liked the signed Howard Hughes book and picture. I wanted the first edition The Wall album cover signed by all of the band members. Mish liked the autographed Chuck Yeager model aircraft of his sound-breaking X-1 Bell. If we each had a few thousand dollars, we all could have waked out of there with something memorable. Oh well.
You never know what you will find strolling along the French Quarter. Each corner has something different to offer. No matter where you go, however, you will see street performers and artists. New Orleans is a magnet for bohemian types. Local musicians perform some of the best authentic jazz music you will find anywhere. We stopped and listened to several of them. We were very impressed. This is what really separates New Orleans from other cities, its love affair with jazz. You can hear it everywhere. After a short while, we were all swinging and swaying to the hypnotic rhythm.
We worked up an appetite. The muffalettas had burned off, so we were in search of something else. Elijah really wanted to eat a Bubba Gump’s. This is the restaurant made famous by the Tom Hanks movie Forest Gump. We decided it was worth a try. The inside is filled with memorabilia from the movie. Even the menu is movie themed. We all had some variation of shrimp. The meal was delicious, but pricey. I guess you pay extra for the experience.
Mish wanted to find a late night desert of another New Orleans favorite, beignets. They are a French pastry made from deep-fried choux pastry dough and topped with powdered sugar. They are a tradition handed down from the city’s French ancestry. Café Monde on Canal Street serves the original, and best, beignets in the city. They are must with coffee when you visit.
One drawback with New Orleans with families is that the nightlife doesn’t start until after 8:00pm, at the earliest, and goes until dawn. This is great if you want to avoid the crowds and rowdiness that comes with the jazz scene, but bad if you are tired and do not want to stay up and walk anymore. After dark, The French Quarter takes on a completely different look. The jazz clubs open, the bars rev up, and the party starts! Even though Aaron really wanted to stay around, at 17 we thought it was best for him to wait until his next trip to the Big Easy.
We finally stopped for the day and headed back to the car. I must admit, New Orleans does have a distinct atmosphere. It is a lively city with much to experience. I am not sure that I would want to be there during Mardi Gras, but our family trip was a lot of fun.
Tip: New Orleans can be a very dangerous city! Stay on the beaten path and in groups. If you find yourself in a non-tourist area, turn around.
Next week: Bayou Country!
The Audubon Zoo
The Wild Smithberrys are off on another family travel adventure! This time we headed to Cajun country to visit Mishele’s folks outside of New Orleans. We have not been there in a while, so we decided that we were long over do for a visit. Plus, getting away from the usual cold, grey drizzly weather of Seattle this time of year is always nice.
Our animal lover, Elijah, really wanted to see the famous Audubon Zoo. So, we made it the first stop on our trip to “The Big Easy.” We always visit any zoo nearby no matter where we are. One of these days, I need to write the definitive guide to zoos and aquariums around the world. The Audubon Zoo comes highly regarded, so we were eager to check it out and add it to our list.
The Audubon Zoo is named after the famous ornithologist John James Audubon, who lived in New Orleans for a time. Like its namesake, the zoo is dedicated to the preservation of wildlife. It was founded in 1914 and spans 50 acres on the west side of the city. Since it showcases over 2,000 animals, plan on a 3 to 4 hour visit and bring your walking shoes. Admission is $18.95 for adults (over 12) and $13.95 for children (12 and under).
The trolley runs from down town New Orleans to the zoo for easy access. You will want the St. Charles line. Travel New Orleans’ past on the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the world! The 150-year-old mahogany seats, brass fittings, and exposed ceiling light bulbs are from a day when plastic seats and aluminum rails were not even a thought. “The route traditionally forms a 13.2-mile crescent from Carondelet at Canal Street in the Central Business District through the oldest and most majestic section of uptown New Orleans, around the river bend to Carrollton at Claiborne Avenue. Swaying along St. Charles Avenue through a tunnel of live oaks, the streetcar passes dozens of antebellum mansions, historic monuments, Loyola and Tulane universities, the sweeping grounds of the Audubon Zoological Gardens, shopping centers, fine restaurants and hotels.” All of this for only $1.25 (paid with exact change when boarding).
Whether you arrive at the zoo by rail or car, you will have a great time. After you enter, there is a beautiful water fountain featuring bronze elephants and hippos to greet you. We took a left at the fountain and headed for the primates. We were amazed by a large male orangutan showing off his impressive acrobatics skills. He effortlessly swung down on ropes from the top of a 25-foot pole. He actually posed at the bottom for his fans with his hand out as if saying “ta-da!” Meanwhile, a huge silverback gorilla lazily stretched out in the sun with his feet up. He looked over at us with an expression that almost looked like, “Big deal, I could do that too if I wanted.”
Elijah raced to the reptile area. He loves snakes! No one else in the family does, but we bravely followed. The Komodo Dragon was cool, but the anaconda creeped me out. When you enter the snake house, look up. Hanging from the ceiling is a replica (thankfully not real) of the largest snake ever found. At 32 feet long and 22 inches in diameter, it is a true monster. All I could think of was that it could eat me if it were alive. I kept looking back at it just to make sure that it did not move.
The Louisiana swamp section was interesting. It housed the only known specimens of white alligators. They are not albino. They are an extremely rare genetic mutation that has only been observed twice, both at the zoo. Not very good camouflage, but when you are 18 feet long with 3 inch teeth, I guess you don’t need to hide.
My favorite section was the Jaguar Jungle. It was made to look like a tropical jungle complete with Aztec ruins. I felt like Indian Jones. The centerpiece of the exhibit is 2 magnificent jaguars. We vividly remember these powerful cats from living in Costa Rica. I think that they are the most beautiful of all the cat species.
Tip: Get to the zoo when it opens. That is when the animals are most active and the crowds the least.
There were many other animals to see. There was even a Jurassic area with animatronic dinosaurs! We spent half the day there and could have stayed longer, but Aaron was getting very anxious to go to the French Quarter to find an authentic jazz experience. So, we finally left and headed downtown in search of good food and music.
Next week, our family travels will take us to the French Quarter area of New Orleans with its rich history!
As VERY proud parents, we have to give a huge shout-out congratulations to Aaron.
He has been officially appointed to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland for the Midshipmen class of 2019! Most outstanding job!
He is hoping to have gold wings on his chest someday as a Naval Aviator. So, someday he might be flying around in a mach 3 jet in the wild blue yonder and beyond. Good luck and best hopes to him.
We are now international teacher recruiters!
After living and teaching in four different countries, we decided the time was right to share our hard earned expertise with you! So, if you are thinking about working in international schools or know someone who might, please contact us. We offer placement, career advice, moving and relocation help, and more. Share the word. Thanks!
No matter where you are, we wish all of our fellow family travelers peace on Earth and good will towards all.
To all of our fellow world family travelers, we hope you are safe, happy, and together this holiday.
We are actually going to have a traditional Thanksgiving feast this year! Turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, string beans, and pumpkin pie! I am already starting to fast to make room for all of it.
In England, we could not get turkey, cranberries, or pumpkin pie. Instead we had lobster. I remember reading that the original Pilgrims thought that lobsters were garbage fish and wouldn’t eat them unless they were starving. We had no problem.
In Germany, we ate ham. Since the Germans love swine, it was easy to get one. They pound, bread, and fry it into schnitzel and then cover it with mustard sauce. We prefer the old American honey glaze style. I’m not sure if schnitzel even qualifies as ham after the German cooks get a hold of it.
In Cost Rica, we stuffed a chicken. It kind of qualified as a small cousin to the turkey. I still prefer the good old turkey though.
In Canada last year, we decided to try some different carnivorous delights. We tried roasted elk, bison, alligator, kangaroo, ostrich and python. I must admit, they were all tasty, except the python. Sorry, no vegetarians in this family.
What are your holiday favorite dishes?
We are extremely thankful for family, friends, and our lives. We feel very blessed. No matter where our family travels takes us, we have each other and all of you.
Let us know what you are thankful for.
Entrance to the Ape Cave
Everyone always asks, “Why are they called Ape Caves?” Keep reading and I will try to explain.
Our Boy Scout troop just returned from another camping expedition! We try to go camping every month: rain, shine, snow, or heat. The boys are usually up for getting out in the wild regardless of the conditions. The dads, however, are a little bit less adventurous. I am positive that the ground gets harder and the air colder every year. Luckily, there are enough of us to take the duty, so we rarely cancel a trip. So, even though night-time temperatures were 21F, off we went.
Seaquest State Park Visitor Center
The destination this time was Seaquest State Park near Mt. St. Helens, Washington. Seaquest is a great area to camp. It is the gateway to Mt. St. Helens and easily accessible off of I-5. The park is over 6,000 acres of old-growth forest with lots of wildlife.
Before/After Post Card
Mt. St. Helens is an awe inspiring sight. The mountain was 9,677 feet high until at 8:32AM on MY 18, 1980 it violently erupted. With the force of 5,000 nuclear bombs, the fatal blast literally vaporized the top third of the mountain. Today, its remaining crater rim is a mere 8,365 feet. The cataclysmic force of the explosion blew the upper top soil off exposing the bare bedrock underneath. Over 1 million trees for 40 miles around were snapped and blown over like match sticks. The surrounding area was covered in over 20 feet of ash. The ash plume rose to over 96,000 feet and encircled the globe. The eruption was heard as far ways as Florida. Tragically, 62 people died on the mountain in an instant on that catastrophic day.
Today, the caldera still periodically releases smoke and lava. Slowly, nature is repairing the damage. Some smaller plants are striving to gain a foothold on the bare rock. Animals are returning one by one too. Over millions of years, the mountain will probably again regain its lofty height.
David Johnston’s Famous Pictures
You can drive all the way to an overlook directly across from the mountain. The overlook was named in honor of David Johnston, who died taking some of the most famous pictures of the eruption. He was standing on the same spot as the new visitor center when the mountain erupted. They only found his melted camera with the film inside.
Let’s hope Mt. Rainier stays quiet.
Tip: Watch the short video about Mount St. Helens at the visitor center, it is worth it!
Another unique geological feature created by the eruption are lava tubes. They are created when fast moving lava flows downhill and its outer skin cools into hard rock. The rock insulates the hot molten center, which continues to flow. The lava flows out of the tube creating a hollow straw as it progresses down slope. These lava tubes can be miles long. Many of them are completely buried and hidden. However, the ceiling of some eventually fall in revealing the cave like tubes.
Deep Inside the Ape Cave
These lava tubes are a young Scout’s dream come true! They offer an eerie, yet irresistible attraction to curious boys. Inside, the caves are a consistent year-round 42F. They are dark! I mean total lack of all light once you enter. Without a flashlight, you are blinder than a bat.
Tip: Bring an extra light. If your only one doesn’t work, then you will really be in the dark!
The floor can be very slippery due to water seeping in, so you must be careful. Good hiking boots are a necessity. In some places, you need to crawl on all fours to get through, while in other places you can walk 10 abreast. There is a section in one cave where the floor raises up 6 feet unexpectedly. You need to hoist explorers up with ropes to keep going. One particular cave goes on for 2.5 miles. You can probably imagine that for a group of adventurous Scouts, the experience is like the world’s coolest combination of hide-and-seek, jungle-gym, and treasure hunt!
Sorry, no wild apes in the area, except maybe the hyper-active boys. So, why are they called Ape Caves? The answer is simple, in 1951 a group of Boy Scouts from the local troop’s Ape Patrol discovered them. The National Park Service named them in their honor
One more race…
Leading at the half-way mark!
Last Thursday, Aaron, our oldest son, competed in the district cross-country championships at Lower Woodland Park in Seattle. Between Oregon and Washington, the Pacific Northwest is home to some of the fastest runners in the country. His district is arguably the fastest in the state. Needless to say, he was in a very competitive field. We wished him good luck and stood by the course finish line in the rain waiting to see how he would do.
One of the nice things about cross-country races is that they are over in a short time period, usually less than 20 minutes. So, you do not have to endure cold, wet weather for too long. There are also no referees making controversial calls or over-zealous parents coaching from the sidelines.
It is a simple race of speed and endurance where each runner gives all that he can. As a parent, all you can do is watch, cheer, and be there at the finish line for either congratulations or sympathy.
Time: 16:24 (5K course), congratulations this time!
We have never been the neurotic parents who try to live their lives through their children or gain validation by their performance. We enjoy watching him run and pushing himself to his full potential. Good parenting is always walking the fine line between gentle encouragement and incessant nagging. We probably cross the line occasionally. I am sure Aaron feels it is more than occasionally. Oh well, he can thank us later.
I remember when we lived in Costa Rica Aaron came to us wanting to join the running team at his school. I was a little surprised, but glad that he wanted to join a sport. I think that sports help foster physical fitness, a competitive spirit, and a sense of teamwork. He definitely has gotten that out of his years as a runner. He loves the whole atmosphere of a race: the team bonding, the coach’s pep-talk, the friendly competition among runners he has raced against many times, the rush of adrenaline when the gun goes off, and the exhilaration of flying across the finish line.
The district championship this time was the last local race of his high school running career. It was an exciting, but nostalgic time for him. He raced this course before and knows it and the other runners well. He wanted to go all out one last time.
Competitors and friends
This is one of the reasons why we are very glad that we came home from traveling abroad. Traveling when your children are younger is fun and relatively easy. However, when they reach teenage years they start to come into their own and want more than just to be with mom and dad having adventures. As hard as that is to accept for many parents, it is part of the natural process of growing up. Our family travels are not over, just entering another chapter.
He is a senior in school who will soon be off to university and on his own. This is his time. We are very proud of him and know he will do well.
As for the race, he placed 15th out of a field of over a hundred. We will head off to the state championships next week in Pasco, Washington. Wish him luck!
Next week I will let you know how he did!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY ELIJAH!
Horseback Riding at Eagle Creek Ranch
We have always believed that birthday should be about experiences, not objects. So, we usually try to find activities to give each other for birthdays gifts as a way to celebrate another age milestone. Our youngest son, Elijah, just turned 13 (another teenager in the family!). Being our nature lover, we knew he really wanted to do something with animals. Last year, we had a special day behind the scenes at the Cougar Mountain Zoo (way cool!). This year, we decided to go horseback trail riding up in the Cascade Mountains.
Fall has returned to the Pacific Northwest and with nature’s annual color show. The leaves have just started to turn from plain greens to bright reds, oranges, and yellows. The air is a little cooler and the sky is a little greyer. What better time to saddle-up and hit the open trail? Elijah brought his best- friend, Kaneda, and off we went!
I researched on the internet and found Eagle Creek Ranch in Leavenworth, Washington. I have written before about this quaint little Bavarian-like village in the Cascade Mountains, so you can read up on it if you like. Eagle Creek Ranch is about 8 miles north-east of town nestled in a small picturesque valley. On the drive there, I could feel myself start to decompress and relax. The scenery along Highway 2 is magnificent.
Eagle Creek Ranch was amazing! It was everything I hoped it would be for Elijah’s birthday. The ranch was reminiscent of the old west days of the area, with a large barn, old wooden ranch house complete with a pick-nick area, and all sorts of cool antique stuff to look at. The hills and mountains surrounding the ranch created a beautiful backdrop to complete the scene. You really got the feeling of an authentic working ranch. Best of all, standing idly around waiting for us were the horses!
When we got out of my truck, we were promptly greeted by a group of chickens looking for handouts. They seemed to know that visitors usually mean free food. While everyone else walked around and took in the atmosphere of the place, I went to look for our hosts. I went into the ranch house and was warmly greeted by the owners, Susan and Mike.
We were a little early, so we decided to have a pick-nick lunch. Mish laid out a spread on the tail-gate of my truck so we could eat and enjoy the view. The chickens quickly gathered around hoping for some hand-outs, which of course they got. They were obviously quite well fed. I had a nice chat with Susan and Mike and got all of our necessary paper-work in order. Luckily, they had a horse that could carry me too.
After lunch, we were introduced to our horses, Elijah’s was Money, Kaneda’s was Valentine, Mish’s was Oden, and mine was Terminator. I was warned that Terminator had a wonderful habit of releasing a lot of gas while on a ride. Great! Yes, he did live up to his reputation. Oh well, at least I got to go.
Once we were all in the saddles, we followed Susan up onto the trail. We went in single file with me bringing up the rear, for obvious reasons. The day was perfect! We slowly worked our way up into the foothills. As we ascended, the view got better and better. Soon, we were able to see the ranch far below us in the valley. The Wenatchee Forest is filled with Large Leaf Maples, Ponderosa Pines, Mountain Hemlocks, Quaking Aspens, White Oaks, and a variety of colorful wild flowers.
Mish’s horse, Oden, kept helping himself to a snack of the native plants as he walked. Mish tried to keep him from having a continual buffet, but it didn’t work. He was determined to eat his way along the trail. So, we were a merry band of eating, farting, and pooping horses wandering through the forest up into the hills. The entire time, Susan entertained us with stories and information.
I don’t think that we were the most graceful of riders, but we certainly had a wonderful time. The hour and a half went by far too quickly. Before we knew it, we were headed back down to the ranch.
Once we arrived at Eagle Creek, the horses knew exactly what to do. They obediently went to their respective posts and waited patiently for us to dismount. We rewarded them for their effort by feeding them apples and carrots, which they gratefully accepted. All in all, it was a perfect birthday present for Elijah, much better than some over-priced toy that soon would be forgotten. This memory will last a lifetime.
Thank you for the awesome experience Susan and Mike!