Monday, May 19, 2008

Are we there yet?

Didn't blog last night because we pulled over at Exit 170 on the Ohio Turnpike around 1230 in the morning to finally get some rest at the Travel Plaza after about 12 hours on the road (only about 8 of which were actually spent making progress driving). Seven hours of driving today, and we're finally "there". We set up camp at Solomons Island Navy Recreation Center, across the river from the base. Dinner at Chick Fil-A around 9:30 tonight. We considered crashing the Gough's, but thought better of it. We'd like to keep them as friends!

We'll spend the next several days looking for a house and cleaning out cars and trailer after a LONG time on the road. We're looking forward to having LOTS of neighbors over the upcoming holiday weekend, as well.

Praise God for safety on the road and we continue to pray that we'll soon find the house He's prepared for us. Thanks for joining with us.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Making progress again

We were able to hit the road around 1pm today and made it across Iowa to Rock Island, IL, just across the Mississippi River. Hoping to make it to the Cleaveland area tomorrow, and Pax River by Monday evening. Trailer looks great. 4 new tires. Abbey's tummy is doing better, but she gets more and more neurotic with every day in the car. We finally had to buy a restraining bar to keep her from crawling over or around the back seat of the Suburban into Emily's lap. We also found some homeopathic sedatives for her (Chamomile, Triptophane, and such). The drive went smoother after we "calmed" her down.

The "sudden" climate change has been a bit of a shock. Just a couple days ago, we were bundled up in 4 ft of snow in Montanna. Now we're sweating amongst mosquitos. Bizarre. Two more days on the road. We can do it.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Almost ready

Quick status update. Today was actually a very pleasant and relaxing day. The trailer damage repair estimate was less than $1000 (not including replacing 4 tires... we have no confidence in the original tires now). Repairs should be done by mid-morning tomorrow, and we'll be on our way again. We enjoyed a picnic in the park today, found some geocaches, and Janell bought some yarn at a local shop. Dinner at IHOP was a horrid experience, but we'll just try to forget that. Well, maybe not "horrid", but this was hopefully either our waitress' first day on the job or her last.

We're hoping to hit MD late on Monday (with 3 aggressive days of driving) or early on Tuesday. We're not going to commit at this point and just make it as far as our nerves and kids will allow each day. Sorry, Kailtin. I'm getting her there as fast as we can! Either way, we should be there before school lets out on Tuesday.

Thanks for your prayers. We definitely were aware of God's provision and comfort today.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Definition of a Bad Day

Where do I start? You'll recall that our typical routine on this trip has been to hit the road around 11 or noon each day. This morning we set a goal to be rolling at 9am and actually left the campground by 9:07! We had a long day of driving planned, with a fun stop to meet a Farm Dog breeder for lunch. You'll recall that we started our day in Sioux Falls, SD. Our day abruptly ended before we even reached Sioux City, just 90 miles to the south.

As I was following Janell down I-29, her towing the trailer, me in my Civic, I noticed some debris fly out from under the trailer. I assumed that it was stuff she had just kicked up from a previous truck blow-out. Then I noticed a lot of fluid draining from the back of the trailer. Not good. Since the next exit was several miles away, we opted to pull over on the side of the highway. Hand held radios are wonderful in times like that.

Upon closer inspection, the left side aft tire on the trailer had completely delaminated. Before the tread from the tire departed, it took out a sizeable chunk of the underside of the trailer and kitchen plumbing and wiring. Fortunately, it was fresh water I had seen draining from the trailer (not grey or black). I'll spare you too many other details, but the bottom line is that no one was hurt, the kids were amazingly good all day, and Janell and I haven't strangled each other! Actually, we've all been a good team, dealing with crisis after crisis all day. Other crises? Of course, just one is never our style. Let's see, there's the "Good Sam" Road Side service call that cost us $100 to duct tape some plastic trash bags to the inside of the trailer (I'm not done fighting that one). We pulled tick's off Janell and I (none found on the girls yet). Found a green snake under the truck while I changed the tire on the side of the interstate. Hailey with blue ink all over her face. And Abbey has diarrhea. This is the definition of a bad day.

But, we've received blessings along the way, too. It didn't rain (very much) while we drove the 25 miles to get the trailer to an RV repair place. We were able to FIND an RV repair place within 25 miles of the middle of nowhere. As I said earlier, the girls (for the most part) were awesome and very patient all day. The fact that we're staying in a hotel for a few nights is pretty exciting to them. And we had a very relaxing dinner at Chili's tonight, with the view of a rainbow out the window. Yes, a "relaxing dinner" with four kids.

We'll see how the night goes with Abbey's looseness. We've already plugged her with Imodium and white rice. She gets to sleep in the bathroom tonight. We laid the girls down to bed around 9:30. It's now 10:20 and they're still fidgeting. It's tough sharing a queen bed with two other sisters. Katelynn's the lucky oldest and she gets her own roll-away.

We should get an estimate on the trailer repairs tomorrow. If it's less than $3000, we can have them start work immediately. Otherwise, we must wait for the insurance company's field adjuster to come out and review the estimate in person, and that won't happen until Mon or Tues. Looks like we'll get to know the town of Sioux City pretty well. I've never bounced between three states like this before. If you've never taken a close look at this "corner" of the country, it's pretty unique in its geography. Full of Lewis and Clark history, as well, since it's right along the Missouri River.

Until we get the estimate tomorrow, we're not sure what our next step will be, so we're trusting in the Lord day by day and hour by hour. Of course, that's what we should always be doing, but sometimes it takes a blown out tire to remind us.

Still moving east, mostly

Just a quick update before I go to bed. We arrived in Sioux Falls, SD, this evening around 8:45pm Central Time. Rushmore and the Black Hills were a great time. The girls again earned their Junior Ranger badges, and we also checked out the Crazy Horse Mountain project. Ran out of time and missed Jewel and Wind Caves, which we wanted to see. Today we drove through the Badlands National Park, eastbound as it parallels I-90. I wish we could have spent more time in the Black Hills and more time in the Badlands. I must admit, I'm a big fan of southwest South Dakota. We'll be back.
Tomorrow we head down to Lincoln, NE, to visit a Danish-Swedish Farm Dog breeder we met in Pomona a few months ago. We've been considering buying a DSFM for a while and we're still trying to learn about this extremely rare breed (which can be read: Janell is trying to convince me they are the best thing for our family!). So, we're going to go a little out of the way to make some inroads with the tight-knit rare-dog community (and to earn some brownie points for me). We should land somewhere in central Iowa tomorrow night; Oxford, I think. Still looking like a Sunday afternoon arrival in SoMD.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Soggy in South Dakota

We landed in Hill City, SD, this evening after a day of driving in the rain and playing leapfrog with semi trucks up and down the rolling hills of eastern Wyoming. The KOA here is huge and looks like it would be blast in the summer time. Pretty sleepy in the off season. We didn't get here quite early enough to do any sight seeing this evening, so actually had a "home"-cooked dinner at a normal hour and attempted to enjoy a campfire (our first of this trip). I created a pile of kindling from one of the logs by chopping off small thin strips and chunks. The wood lit off nicely and a decent flame started growing in the fire pit as each of the larger logs lit up. I came back into the trailer to announce that the sun was setting and the fire was ready. Girls (in their jammies already) bundled into jackets and flip flops and came out to enjoy the fire. Just as they all sat down, the fire just went out.
Any man out there who has gone camping with his family and lit a camp fire can attest to the indescribable feeling of purpose and accomplishment in lighting a fire. It may be a small thing, but it's the stuff of manhood. As my fire went out before my girls' eyes this evening, I was crushed. Quickly we gathered what few paperbags and papertowel tubes we had available and attempted a re-light. Once again, the logs lit up, burned for five minutes, got nice and charred, and just went out. A little piece of me died with the fire. The girls were very understanding and simply got up and tumbled back into the trailer to warm up.
We WILL have another fire soon and I WILL redeem myself. Upon closer inspection the wood was a little wet. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

On the road, and [finally] on the blog

To friends and family of the StringerZoo, I must apologize for neglecting my blogging duties since we left home. I can't believe it's been over three weeks since we moved out! I also can't believe it's been since FEBRUARY that Janell or I have blogged. Life has been a bit overwhelming, I guess. Here's the reader's digest version of the past couple weeks, with a few pictures to help...

Friday, April 19, was our last night on Forest Meadow Court. On Saturday, we moved into our trailer at the KOA in Chula Vista, and finishished preparing the house for the movers to start packing us up on Monday.

By 4pm on Wed, the boxes were gone and the truck rolled out of town. We stuck around for a few more days of cleaning, and saying goodbye to friends around town. My last day at work was Wednesday as well. I don't start my new job until May 27, so I'm enjoying the time off.

On Thursday, we joined our homeschool group at Imperial Beach for a lunch time farewell party. Upon arrival, the winds were blowing about 20 mph and were freezing everyone out in the park next to the beach. After gulping down our Taco Bell, we found that the sand was much warmer and before long I had constructed my first sand castle in many years (and likely my last for several more years... at least with Pacific sand).
On Saturday the 26th, we officially hit the road, heading north. Our first stop was to visit Janell's grandfather, Roy, in Buena Park (about 1 1/2 hours north of San Diego). We enjoyed lunch and some quality time catching up with Great Grandpa.

Our next couple stops, we neglected to get any pictures. We visited with Janell's parents and her sister. The girls spent the night with Auntie "Mo" and we all went to church with the Macks the next morning. Sunday evening we spent with my sister and her son and twins in Atascadero, CA. I think Amanda took some pic's, but I haven't bugged her to send them to me yet.
We made a quick stop south of Stockton, CA, at the San Joaquin Valley Sharpe Defense Distribution Depot (cheap stop), which is also next door to (and down wind from) the Diamond Pet Food plant. I STRONGLY recommend never living (or stopping) anywhere near a dog food plant. Especially a maker of cheap dog food. Some smells you can get used to. Not that one.

Next was Mt. Shasta, CA, to visit our dear friend, Lynn. We also met up with my parents there and visited the Turtle Bay Discovery Center in Redding on Wed, April 30. We had a great time there and got some fun pictures of the girls learning about the geography, ecology, and history of the north western Sierras. Don't ask what this picture has to do with any of those things. I just thought is was a great picture of the girls...

Along the way, we finally worked into a routine in the trailer. Everyone has their jobs to do and this is a pretty busy place to live with all six (rather, eight) of us stumbling over one another (especially when it's raining or snowing outside. More on that later). Our typical wake up time is about 8am and we'll have showers and breakfast done by around 10. We're usually lucky to be on the road by 11:30 on our normal, relaxed routine. It's certainly possible to be rolling earlier, but we're not stressing about it. With all the visiting we did during the first week on the road, we typically didn't get the kids into bed until around 10pm, which added to the need to sleep in a little.

Our next stop was outside Portland, OR, with more good friends, "Uncle" Jim and "Aunt" Carole, whom Janell and I hadn't seen since our wedding! They graciously let us park our trailer in their larget driveway (even after we crushed some late blooming flowers in the parking process). To her credit, Janell was just following my directions as she maneuvered (that is, backed in) the trailer into place. Everyone (including me) was very impressed with her rig handling skills. My parents also visited with Jim and Carole while we were there. During our visit, we found that one of our trailer tire sidewals had been cut. Upon closer inspection, the inboard tread had worn completely to the wire cords, and was clearly unsafe to drive on. Unless the sidewall had been cut, I probably wouldn't have looked at the tire that closely for a long way down the road. The timing of the cut and the timing of the discovery could not have been coincidence. God continues to take care of us on this trip. Uncle Jim is a brilliant aircraft mechanic who also builds WWII jeeps and restores war birds in his spare time, so he had quick access to a jack and within a few minutes, we had the tire changed out for the spare and were ready to do. Thanks to Papa and Uncle Jim for finding the problem and helping to fix it so fast!

Our next stop was in Port Angeles, WA. Yes, we took the scenic route from San Diego to Maryland. My paternal grandmother lives in Port Angles with my Uncle. We hadn't seen them in many years and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to visit before we moved back to the the east coast. Once again, we met with my parents in Port Angles. (Hmmm.) We had a great visit and the girls and dogs provided plenty of entertainment for Great Grandma Peggy (as they do for everyone they meet). We enjoyed a better-than-theater-quality movie in Unlce Skip's home-built theater in the garage. We also snagged a few geocaches while we were in Port Angeles. Click on this link to learn more about geocaching if you've never heard of it. I'm trying to find at least one cache in each state we visit during our drive. So far, so good. This picture is from a cache we found together on Saturday morning, May 3.

Here are the girls with their great grandmother...

Leaving Port Angles, we finally turned eastbound (any further north and we'd have been in Canada, eh!) We made a quick stop on NE 26th Street in Redmond, WA, to visit the house where I lived from 1976 to 1979. I hadn't been there in over 28 years and it was fun to show the girls a little of my past, including the little store on Lake Samamish where my dad and I used to stop for Orange Creamsicles ("50/50 Bars") during his bike rides around the lake. I was a tottler strapped into a child seat on the back of his bike. I don't remember much of the rides, as I slept most of the way. But I definitely remember the 50/50 bars. In fact, during my grocery run that evening, I picked up a pack of the local variety of 50/50 bars and brought them back to the trailer (just shy of Spokane, WA, on May 4). From Spokane, we made it to Butte, MT, for a night, then on to West Yellowstone, MT, for 5 nights and 4 full days in the park. There's much more that I'd like to say about the park than I have time for now. Here's a sampling of the hundreds of pictures we took, with a few comments to go with them...

Rush hour in Yellowstone...

This is "Plume Geyeser", about 100 yds north west of Old Faithful. We were waiting for our second viewing of Old Faithful, on the opposite side of the geyser dome than we had seen it earlier, when we were surprised by an erruption behind our backs, from "Plume". We turned around to look at it, and the erruption subsided. Bummed, we turned back to Old Faithful, and Plume started up again! This contined for several iterations. I finally got a couple pictures of Plume, only about 10 yards away!

Here are the girls, bundled up against the light falling snow and very cold winds, while we watched Old Faithful prepare to erupt in the background.

Here's the whole Zoo, with one of the many beautiful waterfalls in Yellowstone in the background. I've since Photoshop'ed the camper out of the background (and removed Katelynn's snow flake booger).

We saw lots of wildlife each day in the park, including many bison calves.

Katelynn took this picture of an elk while we were driving by. No editing required. She's turning into a fine photographer. Beth, on the other hand, needs some work. :)

I'm not sure when I took this, but Hailey was flashing super cute looks just before bed a few days ago. I had to share...

The Stringer girls at the Yellowstone River falls in the "Grand Canyon" of the Yellowstone, during our last full day at the park. Katelynn, Emily, and Beth all earned their Junior Ranger Patches, after four days of collecting information about the park and learning about it's wildlife and geology. We all had a great time and want to come back to see more. I'd especially love to explore the back country. Maybe I have a future as a park ranger?...

We left Yellowstone this moring, after enjoying a Mother's Day brunch at a church down the street from our campsite. The owners of the campsite invited us (our daughters had befriended their kids) and we really enjoyed getting to know them a little this morning over pancakes and coffee. Unfortunately, we had a long drive ahead of us and couldn't stay for the church service, which started at 11. As it was, we didn't arrive in Buffalo, WY, tonight until about 9pm, after a beautiful, but stressful drive through a 9000 ft snow-covered mountain pass in central Wyoming. The journey continues tomorrow as we head toward Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. Two nights there, then we're "sprinting" to Maryland with no further sightseeing stops. Should be hitting Solomons Rec Center (RV spot already reserved) on May 18th.