Sunday, April 22, 2012

Spring 2012 - Family Times

Greetings, Family and Friends.  It's been a busy few weeks with lots of family activities. 

The third week of March my sister Connie came to visit us during her school's spring break.  Husband Tom came along and also the student body, son Peter, a sophomore.  Connie is home-schooling Peter, who will be the sixth and final graduate of the Connie Collins Home School (unless she reopens the school for grandchildren).

We did some hiking, first a pleasant one-hour loop in some newly-designated open space near the Cedar Crest Post Office:

On another outing we rode the Sandia Peak Tramway to the top of the Sandias and took about a three-mile RT hike and slog on the Crest Trail from the tram station to the parking lot at the end of the road to Sandia Crest.  There was still quite a bit of snow up there and when we got off of the packed trail we got into areas where when you broke through the crust you could sink thigh-deep in snow.  Here Tom is pulling Connie out of such a hole.

 We also did Old Town, enjoyed several Mexican meals, and just visited.  A fine time was by all and it was great to have this portion of the Collins family with us for a while. 

Next we hit the road, driving to Denver for a weekend with Jeff, Valerie, Malia, and Macy.  Our primary task was to spend Good Friday with the two girls on their last day of spring break while J and V went to work.  We played lots of games, horsed around, went to the park, and did some serious Easter Egg decorating.

Aren't these three little girls cute!

Saturday we drove to nearby Golden, CO, where grandson Andrew Hinkle's soccer team from Adams State College was playing a couple of scrimmage games at the CO School of Mines.  Here Andrew, at right, awaits a clearing swat from his high-flying goalie:

Near the end of the second game, Andrew made a nice sliding tackle to knock the ball away from an opponent.  In the follow-through, the opponent's foot hit Andrew in the forehead.  He was hurt, writhing on the field.  We wondered, should we run on the field to help attend to him?  We didn't, but after he was helped off we went around to the sideline to see the damage and I scurried off to a concession stand in search of ice. 

Here he's reporting home - not like this is his first ever soccer injury.  Soon all were all smiles.

Next day, Easter morning, it was time to hunt Easter eggs.

Our friends, Pat and Dori Helms, recently moved from Albq to a retirement resort, I'd call it, in Highlands Ranch near where Jeff and family live.  The name is Wind Crest.  Pictures and info at the link.  We met Dori and Pat for church at a local Methodist church -- great service, music and message.

Next morning we went to breakfast at Wind Crest - individually-prepared omelets by the chef in residence, not your usual retirement home fare of puffy scrambled egg-like material in an aluminum tray, and took a tour of the facilities.  Sorry I didn't get a picture of the Helmses, or their apartment, but for those of you who know them, they haven't changed much appearance-wise in the month they've been gone.  And their apartment is lovely and has a great view.

After breakfast and tour we headed home and got there in late afternoon.  Had a few days to wash clothes, finish and file taxes, troubleshoot some well problems, and then we left Friday for Raleigh. We were listed on a nonstop flight to Baltimore, then a connection to Raleigh.  Just at boarding time the agent called us to the counter and said, We don't have room for you on this flight, but if you hurry to another gate you can fly to St. Louis, catch a Baltimore flight, and arrive in BWI in time to catch your Raleigh flight.  And, that's how it worked out.  Even had time for dinner in BWI that included the traditional (for Rob) crab cakes.

Saturday morning we drove to a nearby farm and picked strawberries, and then enjoyed strawberry shortcake a couple of times during the weekend.  

Then it was time for more soccer: Jason and assistant coach Mike had games on Sat. and Sunday.  Not much of an action picture here, but no. 17 is Jason, just after a mighty throw-in.  He got a nice assist on a goal during the game.

Monday we flew Raleigh to Chicago-Midway to St. Louis (again) to Omaha.  Our objective: Sioux City, IA, home of Jeff and Valerie Hinkle.  On a couple of these legs we were the last or nearly last to get to board, so we were lucky.  (Susie tells me to relax.  She thinks I get too antsy waiting to hear our names called, or not.)

From Omaha we drove to Sioux City, about a 2-hr. drive, to spend a couple of days with our other Jeff and Valerie.  (I should have mentioned earlier that this somewhat frenzied touching of family bases is because we're getting ready to spend some extended time in Las Vegas where daughter Heidi will be delivering TWIN GRANDSONS in mid-May.) 

Tuesday we took a long drive to the SE of Sioux City through some of the lovely rolling hills and farmland of NW Iowa.  Our route took us through Wall Lake, birthplace of Andy Williams, and Denison, home town of Donna Reed. Here's the Williams house.

 And here's the Donna Reed Performing Arts Center in Denison.

We ate lunch in a little sandwich shop to the right of the theatre and while I waited to get into the restroom, a guide from the Donna Reed Museum told me all about the restoration work at the theatre (which was built as an opera house in 1914 by German settlers of this region).  Here is an interior shot.  Next scheduled event: a Cinco de Mayo celebration.  Things change, but they really don't change.

And here's the county courthouse in Denison.

 Part of our excursion took us through the geologically interesting, as well as scenic, Loess Hills, which make up the eastern boundary of the Missouri River flood plain all along the "west coast" of Iowa. Here are Jeff and Valerie at a roadside stop along the way.

The Wednesday highlight was a visit to one of our Sioux City favorites, the elder-funky Green Gables Cafe, home of the hot-fudge sundae that features your own individual pitcher of hot fudge.

Now, as you can see, the dish is too full to pour in the syrup.  I discovered the way to handle that problem is to dip your spoon in the hot fudge first, then scoop out a spoonful of ice cream and whipped cream.  After you clear some space this way, you can then pour the syrup in strategic locations.  The challenge is to come out even, ice cream and hot fudge.  Practice makes perfect, I'm sure, so we'll be back.

On previous visits we've been amused by the geriatric wait staff and clientele in the Green Gables.  Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren grew up in Sioux City and frequented this cafe as little girls.  We think some of their playmates are still there, waiting tables or playing bridge (that's what many do after lunch).  As we entered this time, Susie and Valerie broke up laughing (but trying not to show it).  There was a line of senior women sitting on a bench near the door.  They did not look happy.  Turned out the van from their retirement home was late picking them up.  Meanwhile, there were bridge games going at several tables (this was around 1:30). 

Back at the Hinkle house for some R&R, here's the view from their patio.

I decided to walk over to those hills across the way.  It's a nature preserve called the Sioux City Prairie Nature Preserve.  I'd been there on a previous visit: nice hike, nice views.  Here's the view toward town:

And here's looking at the Hinkle house; that blue spot is Jeff mowing.

Returning from the Prairie, I stopped at the Briar Cliff University campus, located on the same ridge to the left of that view from the deck.  I had checked the campus website and found out that a senior art major was having her work shown.  Here's a picture I liked, called Prairie Fire.

Now, things get complicated.  Jeff, over a year ago, had bought a GMC Yukon Denali SUV - LOADED!  He thought Valerie would drive it to work.  Well, Valerie works down town, parks in an open lot, and didn't want to expose the Denali to the elements.  It only had 7000 miles on it.  She drove her old Yukon to work.  So, Jeff asked us: Want to buy it?  I drove it and we said we'd think about it.  It has lots of features that weren't even dreamed about when our 2002 Explorer was built.  Next morning, we left to drive to Omaha in our rental car.  We'd both individually been thinking about the Denali and we discussed it some as we drove.  After about 30 miles I said: Let's go back and buy it. That's what we did.

After taking care of preliminary paperwork, we headed for Omaha again, Susie driving the Denali, me the rental car.  Dropped the rental car off at the airport about noon, and headed for NM.  Got to Dodge City near dark and stopped at a motel.  There was a crowded parking lot and we noticed that the Denali was not very maneuverable - it's larger, relative to the Explorer, than we had realized.  Of course, you've got warning beepers going off, which adds to the excitement.  So, I started having second thoughts, maybe Susie did, too.  We didn't talk about it.  Next day, Friday, we got up early and drove on to Cedar Crest by noon.  Meanwhile we had heard from son Matt who said, if you're getting a new car, we'd be interested in buying the Explorer.  That seemed a good thing to do.  We went to town to get the Explorer, which was in an airport parking lot, then had both cars washed (we'd driven through a lot of rain).

Back at home, I put the Denali in the garage.  That's when it really hit me how big that car is.  And I started to think that it was really too big for us.  In addition to width and length, it's a big step up to get into the the car.  Not good for those approaching the age of gimpiness.  After 900 miles of driving in two days, we didn't talk about it, though - just needed a night's sleep.  Next morning, I brought up my concerns.  Susie, it turned out, shared them.  She had a Sat. morning hair appt. and was reluctant to drive the Denali, which is a bad way to feel about one's primary mode of transportation.  So, I called Jeff and said we've decided this car is just not for us.  OK if we bring it back?  He said, Sure.  None of the paperwork was irretrievable.  He said he had been surprised when we said we'd buy it.  Double-senior moment of irrationality, I guess.

But, the new car bug having bit us (only 10 years since our previous purchase, not counting Tuzigoot), we had to do something about it.  After Susie's hairdo we went car shopping.  Long story made short: We bought a 2012 Lexus RX 350 -- red, loaded.  Mike and Karen have been driving this Lexus model for several years and they, and we, have been favorably impressed, so that's what led us to the choice, though we did look at some Ford and Toyota SUVs before going to the Lexus dealer, but just didn't find the car or salesman we felt comfortable with.  So, now we'll be driving the Denali back to Sioux City this week.  Friday we pick up the new car.

Once we get back, thank you SW Airlines (Mandi), we've got a couple of weeks to get ready to head for Las Vegas and the new grandsons.  We'll be in touch.

Rob and Susie