Monday, September 25, 2017

The Grand Finale!

Fifteen months ago we embarked on our Great Family Adventure and now I am thrilled to report that WE ARE FINALLY BACK HOME!! HOORAY!!!! The renters have moved, so let the dogs run free and the unpacking ensue! We're all excited and I'm more than a little curious to see what sorts of things we'll uncover that I've forgotten about along the way..... 

After returning to our first blog post, I can happily confirm that we've achieved every goal and have come a long way. A VERY long way. In fact, I think the best way to conclude this blog is with a recap of the highlights, so here goes!


- Drove about 45,000 miles. (That's almost double the circumference of the earth!!)
- Are on our third set of tires for a car that is less than 2 years old.
- Had one flat tire (on the loneliest highway in America of all places...)
- Visited all four corners of the American roads system.
- Drove the entire length of both the Alcan and Dalton Highways.
- Drove the full length of the Alaska Pipeline.
- Slept in the barracks of oil workers on The North Slope.
- Drove through six time zones.
- Experienced 24 hour sunlight.
- Visited 43 states and 8 Canadian provinces. 
- Spent the night in 25 states.
- Walked on arctic tundra.
- Walked on Matanuska Glacier.
- Tasted glacial ice in our drinks after it had been fished out of the water in Prince William Sound.
- Waded in the Arctic Ocean
- Waded in Chena Hot Springs.
- Our oldest son flew a plane over Knick Glacier.
- Our youngest son drove a boat in the Everglades and rode on a camel.
- Were pulled by an Iditarod sled dog team.
- Witnessed the Aurora Borealis in it's full glory.
- Saw people surfing the Alaska Bore Tides.
- Learned how to use an authentic Eskimo Yo-Yo.
- Saw the tallest mountains in North America.
- Met and learned from Native people all over the continent.
- Visited long-unseen family from all four branches, in both the U.S. and Canada.
- Visited Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and quilters all over North America.
- Visited as many national parks as possible, both American and Canadian, during significant anniversaries.
- Saw the following animals in the wild: Grizzly Bear, Black Bear, Deer, Caribou/Reindeer, Moose, Javelina, Alligator, Eagle, Dall Sheep, Bison, Elk, Fox, Rabbit and Hare, Porcupine, Hawk, Squirrel, Coyote, Sandhill Crane, Loon, Bighorn Sheep, Raven, Crow, Seagull, Swan, Canadian Geese, Puffins, Seal, Whale, Cow, Musk Ox, Mountain Goats, Antelope, Ibis, Dolphin, Osprey, Pelican, Iguana, Chicken, Manatee (okay, this one was in a zoo of sorts, but we did see their natural habitat in person!), Peacock, Snake, and so many more!
- Learned about things like geothermal energy first-hand (Chena Hot Springs, Yellowstone...). 
- Visited as many farmers markets as possible and tried many new regional foods (Square ice cream? Honeyberries? Pinon Nuts? Conch?).
- Got library cards and checked out books in each location we stayed (except Maine). 
- Crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge and drove through a tree.
- Taught the kids about politics while watching a very controversial presidential election.
- Saw a cattle drive.
- Stood in four states at once.
- Visited cliff dwellings and petroglyphs
- Saw a cactus forest.
- Visited an "energy vortex".
- Participated in The Festival of Lights
- Experienced snow in Arizona.
- Took a left at Albuquerque.  
- Slept by a graveyard.
- Ate beignets and drank chicory café au lait at Café du Monde.
- Witnessed a NASA Atlas 5 rocket launch in person. 
- Had a nasty encounter with fire ants.
- Had season passes for Disney World.
- Ate Key Lime Pie in the Florida Keys.
- Discovered there's no such place as Kokomo
- Swam in the ocean.
- Saw real-life mermaids eating and drinking under water.
- Met an author and drove by Stephen King's house.
- Met an Olympian
- Visited lots of cheesy tourist attractions.
- Drove UNDER a body of water.
- Were chased by a snow storm.
- Ate a Boston Cream Donut at Dunkin' Donuts in Boston, Massachusetts.
- Had lunch at the original Wahlburgers location in Hingham, Massachusetts.
- Walked through a covered bridge.
- Watched the process of making both birch and maple syrups.
- Tasted the first candy to be commercially sold in America (No, not the ACTUAL candy!). 
- Visited lighthouses.
- Visited a working Shaker Village where the last two actual Shakers live.
- Visited Prince Edward Island and Green Gables
- Found Oak Island.
- Visited Civil War battlefields and stayed in a haunted(?) house.
- Toured America's Capitol
- Visited the Canadian capital during Canada's 150th Anniversary.
- Were detained at a border crossing.
- Watched a race at Churchill Downs.
- Explored the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
- Ate a Kentucky Hot Brown at the Brown Hotel.
- Ate Kentucky Fried Chicken in Kentucky (It tasted the same).
- Watched the making of a Louisville Slugger in person.
- Lost 1 credit card and a drivers license.
- Bought boots in Nashville. 
- Attended a show at the Grand Ole Opry (wearing said boots).
- Drove through Rocky Top, Tennessee while singing "Rocky Top Tennessee".
- Ran moonshine across state lines.
- Saw a life-size replica of Noah's Arc.
- Experienced a total solar eclipse.
- Said goodbye to a loved one and celebrated the graduation and wedding of two more. 
- Homeschooled all three of our children for a year....and survived!
- All five of us (plus two dogs) lived in a hotel room for one month...and survived!
- Reached over 30,000 hits on this blog, and saw it through to the end. <3

We'd like to thank to each and every one of you for following along on our Great Family Adventure. May life bring you many wonderful adventures of your own! Who knows? We may be reading about YOU one day!

With much gratitude, this is the Schmidt Family signing off!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

In the Meantime....

Last weekend was my birthday and my husband and kids made it really special. The kids pooled their allowance together to buy me some beautiful copper mixing bowls and a wooden spoon with my initial on it. SO thoughtful! Then we drove to my favorite breakfast spot, The North Bend Bar and Grill, and explored for the day.

I love it when the clouds settle low on the mountains and trees.

You Twin Peaks fans out there will recognize this sight. Twede's Café is the site of the Twin Peaks Café and it's located next to Mt. Si in North Bend. Sunday was a cloudy day, so you couldn't see the mountain in the background.

This is where we ate. You never know which coffee mug you'll get when you visit. It's so fun!

Western Washington is partially temperate rainforest. I love all the green!

Other than that, last week was pretty much like the week before. We spent a lot of time in the car, went to school, Boy Scout meetings, back-to-school nights, some dental appointments....... AND we now have an official homecoming date- September 25th!!! YAY!! I can't even begin to tell you how good it will be to be in our own house with access to our own stuff again. Let the new countdown begin!!

- Jen

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Challenges of Returning Home....

It's been two weeks since we returned to Washington State and moved from our 17 foot trailer to a slightly larger hotel room. For reasons I won't mention here the renters are still in our house, so we've been improvising until we can finally exclaim "We're home!!!" Patience is a virtue and we've all been working hard to make lemonade out of lemons. To give you a better idea, here's a glimpse of what our current normal looks like:

- During the week, my husband gets ready for work early in the morning and takes the dogs out before he leaves. (So thoughtful!) We take the dogs outside several times a day to go to the bathroom, always cleaning up after them like any responsible pet owner should. We can't leave them alone in the hotel room for long in case of barking, so they come with us everywhere we go. We take turns staying in the car with them for appointments, shopping, etc. because the car might get too warm otherwise.

- I make sure the kids are ready for school and drive to our neighborhood. Our daughter goes to a friend's house so she can take the middle school bus while I drive my oldest to the high school. The middle and high schools start within minutes of each other, so timing is an issue. After my oldest is dropped off, the youngest and I drive back to our neighborhood to wait for the elementary school bus. I could just drive him to school and wait there for an hour, but taking the bus helps him get used to the route so we don't have any issues after we return home.

- After the bus pulls out I try to get things done with the dogs in tow. It may be a hassle but you have to admit, they ARE pretty cute.

- After school, the dogs and I pick the oldest up and drive back to our neighborhood to meet my daughter. Then we wait for the youngest.

- From there we all return to the hotel room and do homework. The kids can work in the room but if it's too loud or they need to spread out they can go down to the lobby and work at the common area tables.

- Next we make/get dinner. This is usually something that can be cooked on the stove, microwaved, or brought in due to lack of an oven and storage space.

- Somewhere in there my husband returns from work and we eat together and relax.

- Then comes bedtime and we repeat it all the next day with slight variations. Sometimes our kids plan to see a friend or two after school, which is nice because it gets them out of the hotel for a while. Seeing friends and going to school helps them reclaim a small sense of "normal" while we wait for the real thing.

- Over the past few weekends we've had some amazing friends who've hosted the kids at their houses, which was great for our son's 16th birthday. Otherwise we generally drive around or hang out at the hotel. We can't really prepare anything for the house just yet because there's no place to put it. Even the kids' school gear had to be replaced because everything we have is currently in storage. I'm just hoping the weather doesn't cool off too quickly because our cool-weather gear is in there too!

Even though our homecoming date is still up in the air, we really are thankful for the small things that have made this transition time bearable. Fred Rogers once said "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" She was right. We've had so many people step forward and offer help during this time and we're grateful for each one of them.

I'll keep this blog updated until we're home again, so please say a prayer that that will happen soon. My birthday is this weekend and you can guess what I'll be wishing for when I blow out those candles!

Hope you're all having a great week! Stay safe out there!

- Jen

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Long Road Home

Hello!! It's been a while! I'm happy to report that we're back on the grid, and even better, back in Washington!!!  We arrived on Tuesday, August 22nd, and have been busy getting things lined up for the kids to return to school and for moving back into our house. Who would have thought that coming home would be more difficult than leaving?! I'm planning on continuing this blog until we're officially settled, so I'll save that subject for later... For now, I'll catch you up on the big finale of our adventure!

We left Kentucky on August 2nd and crossed into Indiana

Then Illinois

Then Missouri, where we passed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis

When we arrived in Kansas, we spent the next week with cousins. We drove all over visiting family from both sides and were able to celebrate two 90th birthdays! It was a great time. 

Post Rock is made from the local limestone. 

The open plains

My cousin played tour guide in Wichita and took us to see the Keeper of the Plains

He also took us by the old Boeing site where my grandfather worked, Cessna, Lear Jet/Bombardier, and more. Our oldest loved being able to see one of the big aviation centers of our country. Maybe one of these days, he'll go back for a tour! I hear you can only get one if you buy a plane..... anyone got an extra million-plus lying around??

While we were there, my daughter and I joined another cousin for a side trip to Missouri Star Quilt Company in Hamilton, MO, which was every bit as wonderful as I had hoped! I mean, a whole town dedicated to quilting?! A shop for each style of fabric?! A revitalized economy? People from all walks of life being able to start over and learn a new trade? Yes, please! Sign me up!

They even set up a shop for those wonderful companions who would rather wait than join in on the quilting fun. It was called "Mansland" and it had recliners, lamps, books, a TV, a pool table, and more! Talk about thoughtful!

We left Kansas after a week of fun and crossed into Colorado, where we saw all kinds of different landscapes and weather. 

I may not be a hot-weather-desert person, but no one can deny the beauty of Utah, which is where we went next!

We crossed into Nevada and drove on Highway 50, "The loneliest road in America," where we got our only flat tire of the adventure. It was a great learning opportunity for our kids...

From there, we crossed into California and spent the next week with family at my husbands family cabin in the Sierra Nevadas. If you've been following us for a while, then you might remember that my Father-In-Law passed away in October. This was the time that we all agreed on to lay him to rest. We shared stories and memories, we made new memories, and we got a lot of work done on the property.

The cabin is pretty remote and is in an old gold mining town from the 1800's. Dirt road is the only way to get there.

When you own any kind of property, there's always something to do to maintain it. We all chip in where we can.

This year, a few trees and lots of branches needed to come down for safety reasons. It was fun to watch the arborist work.

This is how the tree trunk looked when it was neatly stacked (by me!). What you don't see is the whole field of debris from all the branches that were cut. I'm happy to report that everyone worked together to get the yard organized and raked before we left. You can't beat that sense of satisfaction after a job well done.

My favorite! Wild Sweet Peas. They grow EVERYWHERE in the Sierras.

The local berries were ripe while we were there, so the kid-cousins picked sweet blackberries by the side of the road while the adults foraged for the elusive gooseberries....

Wild Sierra Gooseberry- These things don't mess around!

We boil them down to make a delicious jelly. They're very hard to find, so it's a treat when we are able to make it. 

Bears, deer, and snakes are the main wildlife we see by the cabin. No rattlers this year!

One of the favorite pastimes there is ATV riding to lakes and vistas. The kids are all old/big/experienced enough to drive solo this year, so they had a lot of fun!

The weather was perfect for the funeral and we had a nice ceremony. We were all very impressed with the volunteer color guard. The bugler played the most beautiful version of taps we had ever heard! I think Ernie would have liked it. We sure miss him.

Our last stop, and big finale for this Great Family Adventure, was in Oregon for the total solar eclipse! We noticed a lot of smoke hovering in the air between Northern California and Oregon due to wildfires.

The traffic wasn't bad but as we got closer to John Day, Oregon, which is where our camp site was, we noticed a lot of RV's by the side of the road and tents in every available open area. People from all over had come to see the total eclipse.

Some friends had reserved a spot on private property by the river where a group of us could enjoy totality together. They even invited an astronomer to tell us all about what to expect and why everything was happening. It was really interesting! Everyone who went was very nice and the kids really enjoyed making new friends and playing in the water. 

The eclipse itself was an experience of a lifetime! Just as the astronomer said, the sky became darker, the animals at the farm next door went to bed, the air got chilly, shadows sharpened, and we were able to see totality with our naked eyes (wearing special glasses the rest of the time). Words can't even do justice to how amazing it was!

We were prepared...haha!

We all monitored the progress of the moon.

This is how the eclipse looks when looking at the shadow of a colander.

Shadows sharpened

Right before the cow went to bed...

The moment of totality!

Totality.You could see the suns corona! This picture obviously doesn't do it justice.

The moon after it had crossed over to the other side of the sun...

The next day, we packed up and headed for home. We all cheered when we saw the Washington sign! Home, at last!

Next week this blog will feature a new adventure....returning home! We hope everyone reading this has had an amazing summer!! Thanks for following along!

- Jen

P.S. Sending our best wishes and prayers to our friends in Texas. We hope you're safe and sound wherever you are. <3
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