Thursday, April 25, 2013

Road Trip Day Two

 I know I already posted about our visit to Pismo Beach, but I wanted to share a few more pictures.  Here's another of me and my girls at the beach.

 Chloe's a bit blurry in this one, but it captures the misty rain that started to fall as we collected our shells on the beach that morning. 

 Rosie was just thrilled with the beach.  Though we don't live far from the ocean, I honestly can't remember if I've taken her to the ocean before. 

 What a cute little ham.  And I'm talking about either Rosie or her dad.
 Just to emphasize the cuteness, here's a video of Rosie and the water.
 The rain finally got heavy enough that we decided to head back to the  RV and get back on the road.  The nature trail from the beach to the RV park was just gorgeous.
 My soggy family trekking through the foliage.
 A little tree cave on the path.
 Tiny little purple pinecones growing by the trail.
 As we got back to the RV, we were followed by a number of geese.  They weren't particularly aggressive, just persistent.  And we did nothing to discourage them by letting the girls feed them.  By the time the girls had finished, we had three different species gathered outside the door of the motorhome.
 We hit the road on the 101, so very much prettier than the 5 we usually drive to SoCal.  It cleared up quickly, and we enjoyed the scenery very much.  We even saw the Goodyear blimp as we drove. 
 We pulled into San Clemente a little before dinner time.  We were able to visit my brother, Ben, and his wife Megan in their super cute apartment.  They then drove to the campground with us where we had hot dogs and smores and forgot to take any more pictures.  We fell into bed, tired and happy, and thoroughly enjoying our trip.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I am rich!

In the summer of 1988 my family moved from Starkville, Mississippi to San Luis Obispo, California.  We drove for days in the big brown van and had many adventures, but that is a blog post for another day.  We arrived in San Luis in the wee hours of the morning, and since none of us seven kids had ever seen the ocean, my dad just kept on driving until we did.

We pulled into Morro Bay on a surprisingly sunny and fogless morning.  We all piled out of the van, bleary eyed and tousled and ran toward the surf.  The tide was out and the beach was covered in sand dollars.  Thousands of whole, unbroken sand dollars everywhere you looked.  Magic.  We filled our pockets and piled them up, loading the van with handfuls of the fragile shells, few of which survived the journey. 

We lived in San Luis Obispo for 5 years, and after my family moved, I regularly visited.  Every time I went to the beach, especially when I went to Morro Bay, I looked for sand dollars but very rarely found one.  They became the ultimate prize of shell collecting for me.  I started to wonder if my 11 year old's memory of that first trip to the beach was flawed, if there possibly could have been that many sand dollars on the beach.  It started to seem more and more impossible as the years passed. 

And then we went on our RV trip.  We got a later start than we had hoped on Sunday, and it was already dark when we pulled into our campsite in Pismo Beach, just a few miles south of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo.  In the morning we ate and got dressed before heading out on the nature trail to the beach.  It was a gray and misty morning, but our spirits were bright and our walk was beautiful.  We finally crested the dunes and saw the ocean, and my children ran toward it just as I had all those years ago.

I followed behind, enjoying the walk and the fine, powdery sand.  I didn't remember how soft the sand was at this particular beach, though I did remember being pulled over for speeding on my cousin's ATV on that same beach when I was 12. And then I looked down.

Thousands of sand dollars, as far as the eye could see.  Millions perhaps.  It was exactly as I remembered it from all those years ago.  And like a child, I filled my pockets and piled them up, separating out a few that were still alive and returning them to the ocean

 .  Again, many didn't survive the journey home.  But the ones that did, the ones that did.  Magic. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

RV Road Trip!

At the beginning of this year Bracken had to request all his time off for the rest of the year.  We had no set vacation plans, but decided to have him take Spring Break week off since the girls would be out of school.  As Spring Break drew nearer, all I could think about was some fun, sun-drenched time at the beach.  Oh, I do love the beach.  We were considering spending the week in the San Luis Obispo area where I lived for 5 years, but when I looked at the weather it was supposed to be stormy and cold all week.  We looked further south--my baby brother lives in San Clemente now--but it was supposed to be 50 degrees all week there.  50!  I didn't know it was allowed to be 50 in Orange/San Diego county!

As Bracken and I discussed what we should do with the week, the idea of renting an RV came up.  I had always wanted to take a trip in one and never had.  Bracken's family had taken several trips in them when he was growing up and he had a lot of fond memories.  Plus, our children had been longingly gazing at "house-cars" and telling us how fun they looked.  And so, we reserved an RV for our vacation!  I was just so excited, but didn't say a word to the kids.  Kid super excitement+ 3 weeks= cranky mom.  Plus, it was pretty awesome to pull up to the house after our second Easter egg hunt and have the motorhome parked out front.  Oh, they were thrilled.

That excitement continued throughout the whole trip.  It really was fantastic.  It was honestly one of the best vacations we've ever had.  I will detail all the days and locations soon, but this post is about all the ins and outs of the RV for all you who want this skinny on our trip or may be considering it for yourselves.  

Hitting the road.
We had rented the standard size motor home from Cruise America, which is about 24 feet long.  The RV had seatbelts for 7, including the two seats in the cab, but the website shows that it seats a maximum of 5.  I asked them about that and they said it's because of insurance.  They can only insure it for up to 5 people.  They have larger RVs that are insured for up to 7 (but have seatbelts for 9, and have a private bedroom in the back), but we decided to stick with the smallest RV that would fit our family since we were novices.  Cruise America was hands down the least expensive option out there for renting an RV that I found, and they were very helpful.  There had been a couple minor issues with the RV we had, and when we returned it, they comped us the rest of our mileage to make up for the problems!  Their motor homes are very basic--no slide outs, no TVs--but we wanted to keep it simple ourselves. 
Watching a movie in the top bunk.

But simple is still very accommodating.  We had a fridge, microwave/convection oven, 3 burner stove, toilet, shower and two sinks.
There was a slightly larger than queen sized bed over the cab, the table and benches folded into a twin-ish sized bed, and there was a queen sized bed in the back.  There were blackout curtains throughout the rv, and curtains closed off the bed over the cab.  We also had a curtain in the back of the RV that closed off our bed and the bathroom, so we had quite a bit of privacy.  Every place we parked for the night had electrical hookups so we were able to plug in the white noise machine every night.  We honestly got the best sleep in the RV that we have on any vacation anywhere!  It was private and dark and quiet.  Of course, we were camping in the off season, so all the campgrounds were very quiet, but the kids did great. 
We actually put up Rosie's pack and play on the folded down table, and put all three bigger girls up top.  Yes, I usually had to get up once a night with Maggie, but it was such a short trip to the bathroom that I was able to go back to sleep quickly.

Maggie, actually in her seat, and not in the bathroom (the door on the left.  The fridge is right behind her.)
Oh, the bathroom.  It was so amazing to have a toilet in the car!  Growing up we kept a port a potty in the back of our van on road trips.  I don't know how many truckers we mooned as we drove, but it sure shortened the length of our trips to not have to stop for all 7 kids' bladders.  It sure brought back memories to use a toilet again in a moving vehicle.  Yes, we used it while driving.  Maggie has the world's most active bladder.  She can easily go 4 times in 2 hours, especially in the morning.  And since I was already up helping her, I used it, too!  Naturally, our black water tank filled up pretty quickly, but Bracken soon learned it was not hard to empty at all.  I had heard horror stories of sewage explosions while emptying the tank, but we had no problems.  We also decided not to shower in the RV so we wouldn't have to empty the tank as often, plus the shower was the perfect place to store our laundry hamper.  We didn't stay at campgrounds with full hookups, so when it was time to empty our tanks, we drove over to the sanitation station, clearly marked on the campground map, and emptied it there.

Having an actual fridge was amazing, too.  I wasn't sure how it was all going to work.  I didn't know if it ran off the engine, and if we needed to be plugged in when we were stopped in order for it to work, or if I would have to use the generator (which carries with it a $3.50 per hour fee).  It turns out that when you are not plugged in, the fridge runs off propane, then switches to electric when you do plug in.  I was confused reading how the fridge works--it says it doesn't get as cold as a home fridge--but all our food got icy in the back of the fridge.  Thankfully, the kids still liked eating cucumber-sicles.  It was also a good size--it comfortably held more than enough food for a week for our family of 6.  And it had a good size freezer. 

It turns out you really only need the generator to run the electrical and air conditioning if you're not plugged in, so we never used it at all.  The weather was nice enough on our trip (it ended up being so much better than originally forecasted) that we only used the heater one morning, and never used the air at all.  We refilled the propane tank at the end of our trip and in an entire week, we only used about a gallon and a half.  Not bad.

Art time!  It was nice to have a table.
There was a lot of storage in the RV.  I was able to pack all of our clothing directly into the cupboards, which made changing clothes so easy.  I filled the other cupboards with food and dishes and games.  There was plenty of space for everything we needed.  There was a large storage compartment underneath that we filled with all our beach gear and camping equipment and a stroller and some baby stuff for my brother.  We could have brought a lot more with us than we did.  I was impressed with how well all the cupboards stayed closed as we drove.  The drawers, on the other hand, had a tendency to slide open and closed as we turned.  All in all, though, things we packed away pretty much stayed put.  

I never actually drove the beast.  Bracken bravely did all the driving.  He said it wasn't too bad, though.  It felt just like driving a U-Haul.  Big and boxy, but not too hard to maneuver.    There were a couple times on the freeway when we were passing a semi and forgot that the rest of the vehicle was much wider than the cab, and we got a little nervous, but we never had an actual problem.  Most of the legs of our trip we drove 3 to 4 hours, but the day we drove from San Clemente to Yosemite got long.  It was about 7 hours, and Bracken's leg was a bit sore and achy at the end. 

One of my favorite parts of vacationing the RV was that we always had all of our stuff with us.  We went to the beach in San Clemente, parked it on the street (we only took up 2 spaces) and headed out.  Rosie was napping so Bracken hung out there with her for a bit, then came down and we all played.  When it was lunch time, I walked back up, got our chilled food out the fridge and walked back down.  That night when we were socializing, we needed to change the kids into pjs so I just walked outside, got their pajamas out, and walked back in.  No packing and unpacking, or wondering where things have ended up. 

It did get dirty in a hurry, though.  Every morning, after a nice, warm breakfast we didn't have to go anywhere for, we had to clean everything.  Man, that floor was filthy every morning.  But, on the other hand, it was such a small space that it didn't take much time to put everything back where it went, make the beds, and make sure everything was secured before we hit the road.
The bed in the back.

With that intro, here are some other negatives of the motorhome
  • It was super loud.  At freeway speeds, the windows rattled, the wind howled and you could barely hear anyone when they talked.  I think the noise got to Rosie most of all.  She struggled a bit when we drove.  And when the kids tried to watch movies on our portable DVD players, they really couldn't hear them.  And lets not even discuss my plans to read to the kids as we drove.
  • The seatbelts were kind of a joke.  They were only lap belts, so with the exception of Rosie's carseat, no one had to bring a booster, which was nice.  However, it was next to impossible to keep the kids' belts actually tightened to a level where they actually kept them safe.  Most the time the kids loosened them as far as they would go and I would find them doing acrobatics behind me.  
    Maggie, testing the seatbelts and my patience.
  • I love to sleep in cars and was really looking forward to taking a nap on an actual bed in a moving vehicle.  However, the one day I tried to slip into the back and try it, I was sadly disappointed.  That bed in the back is a rough ride!  The smallest bump would send me flying in the air, completely clearing the mattress.  Maybe next time I will have to try the bed over the cab.
  • Gas.  Oh my gosh, gas.  We spent more on gas than we did on the RV, including the mileage (you pay a fee to rent the RV, plus a per mile fee).  And filling up could be rather frustrating.  We didn't have a problem finding gas stations that would accommodate us, but most of them had caps on how much you could spend at a time per card, between $75-$100.  And guess what?  $100 will not fill the RV tank.  
  • It needs more cupholders!  I have often joked about the excess of cupholders in my Sienna, but the RV could have used several more.  There was nothing in the table/benches area, and the kids were constantly losing stuff.  Cups, toys, colored pencils and books went flying off the super smooth table at every turn.  I'm surprised our DVD player survived.  There was really no way to secure or stabilize it, and the girls would forget to hold onto it, and it fell a lot.  Other belongings were not so lucky.  Surely there must be some way to make it work better.
  • Campsite fees add up.  Most are around $30 that we used, but in San Clemente they were $60 a night. Plus the rental and mileage and gas, this was not a cheap travel option.
  • It was big to navigate around town.  While it was a plus to have all of our stuff with us, it also would have been nice to have something smaller to drive sometimes.  
  • I'm kind of spoiled for tent camping now.  I don't know if I will be able to tent camp ever again!
Even with those negatives, I would still do it again in a heartbeat.  Halfway through the trip I found myself contemplating how we could purchase one, and if we would get a motor home or a 5th wheel. And then I could install all the cupholders I want!  Just dreaming for now, but it really was a great time.  Two very enthusiastic thumbs up!
And Rosie would be happy to drive you!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Easter Day

 We had a great Easter Sunday this year.  Great, but super, duper busy.  Good thing we got the kids all cracked out on candy first thing in the morning.

 Truthfully, the Easter bunny didn't give them much candy in their baskets.  They had plenty from their hunts the day before.  But we did make resurrection rolls for breakfast, so that sugared them up pretty good.
 Then we slapped them all in matching dresses and cute hats, and rushed out the door to church. 
 I needed to be to church early that morning to practice my flute for a musical number.  But then the bishop pulled me aside and gave me a new calling right before we started practicing.  This made me more than a little nervous.  So, though I tried to do a good job, and did a decent job of keeping it together, know that my performance was not enhanced by my new calling as first counselor in the Young Women's presidency. 

After being set apart in my new calling after church, we headed home to pack up our home on the road for the next week.  We had picked up our RV from CruiseAmerica between Easter Eggs hunts the day before, but were too exhausted to actually pack by the time we got home that night.  So I dashed between raindrops and filled every cupboard with everything I thought we would need for the next 5 nights.

 Kids smiling, and kids sucking on things.
 Oh, they were thrilled.  We were glad to finally get on the road ourselves. 

I Could Write a Sonnet

 About your Easter bonnet.

 And of the girl(s) I'm taking
 To the Easter Parade

 Minus that one who keeps trying to run away in all the pictures.

 I found this darling little hat on clearance at Target a few days before Easter.  I went back and forth, trying to decide if I had the guts to wear it to church on Sunday.  And then Grandma and Grandpa Mannion gave all my other girls Easter hats as well.  That clinched it.  We were an Easter hat wearing family.
 I was the only one in orange shoes, though.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Easter eggs and hunts

Our girls', and Bracken's, Spring Break started on the last Friday in March.  And so, that night, we dyed our Easter eggs.  As always, Bracken was super excited.
 I was there, too!  Rosie was ready for bed. 

 She looks much happier in this picture, but Addie, oh my!

Maggie had gotten some cute little eggs stencils at preschool, which made the whole egg dyeing process take a little longer than 5 minutes.

 The next day we headed to Sacramento for our annual Mannion family hunt with Bracken's family.  We lined the kids up according to age once all the eggs were hidden.  I promise Bracken wasn't really wishing for death, or at least not as much as he looks like he is in this picture.
 Rosie, Maggie, Gigi, Addie, Syrus and Chloe all ready to go.
 Bracken showed Rosie the ropes.  She caught on pretty quickly.
 Where to start?
 I love the kids in action, flying hair shots.

 And I love how smooth Syrus looks in this one.
 Here's a happier Daddy helping his girls.
 Grandma watching the grandkids hunt.

 My beautiful Chloe.
 Running Rosie
 Snacking Maggie
 Eden, Rosie and Bracken

 Lovely Addie
 Cute Gigi
 Maggie so thoroughly covered herself in chocolate that she needed to be hosed down.

Me and my Rosie girl
 Oh, that squishy little face.
 I sure love that little girl.
 She was pretty worn out after all the hunting, so she cuddled up with Grandpa.
Look at this cute Addie, eating her hair Miss Piggy style. This was taken at the Hunt and Hurl later that day where we hunt for candy eggs, then hurl hardboiled eggs at a bunny pinata.  It's super fun, and usually a great way to get rid of all those excess dyed eggs.  This year, though, since I couldn't (or rather, shouldn't) eat any of the candy eggs, I didn't want to give up many of hard boiled eggs.

 Rosie was happy to eat all the candy for me.