Monday, May 28, 2012

enjoy Memorial Day and Start Summer

It's Memorial Day...again. And this isn't just one of those phoney baloney holidays made up by fat cat Union gangsters (we all know the truth, Labor Day). This is the day we remember not to forget...we remember, if we are civilians, that the military actually exists and that real people still choose to join it, and if we are touched by military families, we remember that our friends have moved away and we need to wish them a happy memorial day on Facebook. But those of us who live on military bases, who have seen the rocky beaches of Guam, who still don't know what to say when asked the question 'Where are you from?', we remember other things. I remember lots about Matt, but on this day, I always remember his funeral. And one very specific detail always comes to mind about that day. I was watching his dad, holding his mother, when the first shot of the traditional 21 gun salute was fired. The crack of those seven rifles, going off in unison, was so loud and so sharp, it stunned us all. It stunned us out of our pain, out of our feeble attempts to hold things together, out of our thoughts of what we were doing, and we were suddenly driven right back to what we felt the moment we were told that Matt had been killed. We were stunned, and I watched a tear fall from that man's eye. Matt was more than a soldier, but on Memorial Day, that's the part of him I remember not to forget.
Memorial Day is a holiday, too, and everybody has their own routines for a holiday. We are no exception. This year, we decided to picnic in a park we'd never been to as a family. So we packed up the Kia and headed over to Canal Park, now part of the city greenway. When Beck and I first visited it, though, it was just a weird park next to the sewage plant. Awesome choice for a date, I know, but Beck confided in me recently that she always thought I was quirky. Nowadays, it's a great place to find a picnic table overlooking the Congaree River, and that's just what we did. We ran into another family like ours, toting their overloaded picnic bags around, who said they were trying to find a place to play in the river. Canal Park is not that place, though, and they turned around in search of something a little more primitive. It is a good place to ride bikes, as we discovered from the bikers going by, and when we left, I made a mental note to try it that way one day. On the way home, we made a few stops for some light shopping and picked up a new inflatable pool to use in our slanted backyard, where it inevitably now has both a deep end and a shallow end. I grilled up some burgers and hotdogs for dinner, which is what people eat when they feel patriotic, and the family sat down for a private viewing of 'We Bought a Zoo'. Nothing finishes off a day like a sentimental Matt Damon.
The only other thing worth noting about this Memorial Day is Savannah lost her front tooth and the tooth fairy had to make a visit to our house, and on a holiday no less. It was a good day for the Gongre's, and we hope it was the same for your family. Happy Memorial Day. Remember not to forget.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Alot has changed in two years...

I am not sure about this blogging stuff, but I am sure that I want a place to write stuff down occasionally to remember.  Maybe if I call this our list, I can stick to it! 

We are now a family of FOUR!  We were blessed to add our sweet baby girl Meredith in 2011.  Savannah loves being a big sister and Meredith loves her as much!  Life is busy and fun!  It feels complete, now, where it hadn't before.

David has commited to a self study of computer certifications.  He is almost finished with A+ and ready to pass the test!  Then he plans to go on with Network certification.  I have been very impressed with his dedication to this...I am looking forward to what God has in store for us through this!

Savannah is 2 weeks away from finishing Kindergarten!  I can't believe it!  It has gone so quickly.  I remember the feeling I had when leaving her at the school the first time. And now, we can't go back.  School is her job and she has had no problems adjusting to it.  School was made for her.  She has learned so much with such ease.  Thank you Mrs. Gunter, Mrs. Pittsenbarger and WKE!

Meredith is a busy little body!  She is 14 1/2 months.  She is walking, almost running and letting her big, red headed personality be known.  We  have been working on sign language for a few words to help her communicate with us and learn her manners!  I love when she gives fishy kisses and laughs at herself!

I have fallen in love with pinterest!  I have always wanted a place to keep all the stuff I find on the internet!  I am currently trying to get into freezer cooking.  I have been making waffles, muffins, breakfast burritos and today I made meatballs!  It is alot of fun, and saves time and money! 

Thank you Lord for all the blessings you have provided us!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Taking pictures and leaving footprints in San Diego

Today is the day we see the world renowned San Diego Zoo. Of course, our zoo, the Riverbanks Zoo, has garnered acclaim of its own, so the bar has been set. Before we get there, though, we want to check out the Coronado bridge, a high bridge that leads to, where else, Coronado. We also have quite a bridge, the Cooper River bridge, back home. How will San Diego compare?

The Coronado bridge is indeed high, but not much higher than the Cooper River bridge, truth be told. Plus, the Cooper River bridge is a suspension bridge, so it wins the bridge competition. The Coronado bridge does afford an AWESOME view of the city of San Diego, and that made it all worth while.

We made it to the zoo around 9 o'clock. It was sunny and cool. Parking was easy, there was no wait for tickets, and the one day pass was good for the bus tour. At the entrance to the tour, there was a Macaw, just perched there to welcome us. The bus had two levels and we sat on the top. It took about thirty minutes to complete the tour and we saw all kinds of animals, and the ariel view afforded us atop the bus was unique and fun. The San Diego Zoo is amazing. At one point, as we were walking through one of the three open air aviaries, I thought they could lose the animals and the place would still make a great garden. The weather allowed the animals to be very active, which is something missing in the heat and humidity of Riverbanks Zoo. The polar bear enclosure, which is just one of the many animals not featured back home, had a glass wall for underwater bear viewing. The hippo enclosure had the same type of viewing area, which made me feel like I was seeing the hippo for the first time in my life. When we got off the skyfari, which was yet another way to cross from one side of the zoo to the other, the ramp down to the main path lead directly over an enclosure with small deerlike animals. And as if the Macaw at the bus tour and then these animals at the skyfari weren't enough to make us feel surrounded by wildlife, while we ate lunch outside at a patio restaurant, both a mother duck and mother peacock approached our table, complete with little ones in tow. Incredible.

Now it's time for the Panda paragraph. This zoo has pandas. Crazy, but true. The panda enclosure was the only one in the zoo that had a line. Seriously, a line to look at some animals. So we stood in line for the chance to watch a panda eat some bamboo. They are neat animals. We learned that NO PANDAS, no matter where they are born, belong to anyone except China. China has the panda thing on lockdown. We took some pics and left. Other notable animal enclosures:

The zoo has two meerkat enclosures, which are 10 times as big as the one at Riverbanks. The zoo had two different types of elephants, African and Asian. They had rhinos, sun bears, and tapirs, which we had never seen before, but they did NOT have an aquarium or penguins. Chalk one up for Riverbanks.

We did see a sea lion, in the one and only animal show we checked out. The show opened with doves flying over the crowd and included a wolf and dog duo. But it wasn't an animal show as much as it was a conservation message. The line that stuck with us - "Go explore our natural world, remembering to take only pictures and leave only footprints".

After seven and a half hours at the zoo, we realized the hardest thing about the visit would be trying to drag our exhausted bodies back to the parking lot. We then drove four hours to Bakersfield. The Pacific was beautiful from the highway. We reached Los Angeles at sunset and saw the city through the famous LA haze. It was neat. I noticed that the interstate signs had razor wire wrapped around the support posts here, presumably to keep people from spray painting graffiti on them. We were elated to reach Mark and Chris's house and some well-deserved time away from driving. What does the next week have in store for us? We can't wait to find out.

Monday, June 21, 2010

California Love

This morning we embarked on the final long day of driving for the week. We had just crossed the 2000 mile mark on our trek the night before and were ready to see the California sun. We stopped in Kingman, AZ, for gas and coffee because we had been told ahead of time that fuel exits would soon become rare. When we reached the California border, we were met by the agricultural custom agents, looking for rogue fruits and vegetables that might carry non-native insects. Or so I assumed. It might be possible that they simply wanted to assert their dominance over us. We showed them our apples and blueberries we had been carrying in the cooler across the country, and, once they deduced the apples were from New York, the fruit was deemed dangerous and confiscated. Something about insects in the apple cores. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that we had been eating maggots in our apples for years. "It's that bitter taste around the core," they said. No explanation was offered for the blueberries. I guess they just don't like those things. Then we stopped in Needles, CA, the LAST stop for MILES. The temperature was 104 at 11:30 and the attendant told us it would reach over 110 by the afternoon. They say a dry heat doesn't feel as hot, but in Needles, that isn't true. It was so hot that the car was radiating heat IN THE CAB and making the AC almost useless. We didn't reach the California Welcome Center until Barstow, where it was located in the Tangers Outlets, for some reason. When we left the welcome center and headed back to the interstate, we saw dirt roads with state road signs. It seems California could identify the road, but couldn't be bothered to pave it. The traffic was heavy in Barstow, and little did we know it would last ALL THE WAY to San Diego. That's two hours and over 100 miles of traffic.

We were greeted in San Diego by a temperature of 68 degrees. We on the east coast take the Gulf Stream, and the warmth it brings to the ocean water, for granted. The Pacific is cold, all the time. After we checked into the hotel in Point Loma, we took in a bite to eat at Pizza Nova. The marina was incredible and people packed the waterfront as they waited to board commercial fishing boats and, judging by their gear, head out for some SERIOUS offshore fishing action. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel only to discover the WiFi service there did not work, and were told our computer settings needed to be reset...again. Savannah swam in the heated outdoor pool, but Rebekah thought it was too cold to use the pool or the heated spa, since the prospect of walking from the room to the spa in her bathing suit was too much to bear. We went from 104 to 68 in the same day, and turned in for the night with high hopes for an amazing zoo experience tomorrow.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A river runs through it

We awoke in Albuquerque to a windless morning. It was just a clear reminder that we couldn't leave this town behind us soon enough. We set course for Williams, Arizona, and hit the road. We stopped at the Arizona Welcome Center for our first photo op. Right next to the welcome center was the first Native American tourist trap of the day. It looked like it was built from leftover plywood, with no windows, and it struck me that one could walk into that place and never walk out again, and no one would ever know what happened. As we continued to drive through the Navajo Nation, we saw a number of crazy statues next to even more of these tourist traps. One depicted a winged snake of some kind, another a two headed lizard with fangs barred. We even saw a dinosaur with a baby in its mouth. I started thinking about 'From Dusk Till Dawn' and John Carpenter's Vampires. The place really creeped me out. I didn't relax until we left the reservation.

The desert landscape has a savage beauty. It appears inviting and unforgiving at the same time. It demands strength from those who wish to tame it, an idea that is as much an illusion as any mirage the heat might create, using only a little distance and light. We were quite taken with it, but still found great comfort in the mountains outside of Williams. The ascent was gradual as we left the desert and soon we were surrounded by pine trees, a warm reminder of home. We stopped in Williams, booked a hotel room, and headed for the canyon.

The Grand Canyon National Park located at the canyon's southern entrance has everything a camper and hiker might want. At the Visitor Center, large displays are available that describe all the hiking trails available, complete with level of difficulty and expected time of travel. The information is invaluable. We checked out the charts and decided that hiking along the rim was our best option, given that we only had an afternoon to spend and we were out of breath after just walking from the parking lot. We chose to walk the Hermit's Rest route, which has multiple observation points, all serviced by a dedicated bus system.

The canyon was, of course, breathtaking, in both its geological splendor and incomprehensible size. I had heard many times that the Grand Canyon was an awesome display of the power of the Colorado River, but after seeing it, I am convinced that this explanation is just an easy way out of saying 'I have no idea what could have done this'. I'm sure the science is right, but it just seems impossible that this canyon exists simply because a river runs through it.

The people we passed along the way were a mix of different nationalities and cultures. And no one was speaking English. The park rangers were outstanding, and the canyon was so inviting I hated we didn't plan a day just to hike into it. I especially wished we could spend some time rafting on the river. The best we could do was stay to watch the sunset. It was worth it. We didn't get back to the hotel until 10 o'clock or so, and we collapsed. What a day.

Disappointment, thy name is Albuquerque

This morning we bought our first souvenirs, from a shop outside of Oklahoma City. They had a field where Savannah chased butterflies and a large pen with actual buffalo. Neat. We crossed into Texas and stopped for lunch at the first rest area, which offered an INCREDIBLE panoramic view of the windswept valley beyond. The wind had been sweeping nicely all day, so I assumed this was just par for the course. Next we stopped at the actual Texas Welcome Center, where the highlight was seeing a prairie dog in the adjacent field. Although, since there was a 'prairie' dog in it, it must have been, by definition, a 'prairie'. It may have been a marmot, come to think of it, because I'm pretty sure it was a field and not a prairie. I could be wrong, but I just don't think it was big enough for even a 'little house'. We weren't in Texas long, so our next stop was the New Mexico Welcome Center, where signs about how we shouldn't drink the water and should watch out for dangerous snakes and insects greeted us. Inside there were aliens to remind us of Roswell and something about a naval submarine, but all I really paid any attention to was the FREE COFFEE!

When we reached Albuquerque, the first thing to strike us was the modesty of everything we saw. It appeared the entire population was stuck in the lower middle class. Needless to say, we fit right in, but it wasn't at all what we expected. We checked into the hotel and mentioned that we needed a place to eat. We were directed to a local New Mexican eatery, where they used so many chilies that they offered to use their spicy sauce as a dressing for the salad I ordered. Apparently they couldn't dispose of it fast enough. I just got the Ranch. They also had NO sweet tea, which is something I had often heard about the West but never really believed. What's so hard about brewing sweet tea that a restaurant owner would say 'No thanks, I just don't have the energy to dedicate to such a complex undertaking'. But this letdown was just a taste of what was to come.

The Sandia Peak tram is an elevated tram that takes passengers through the mountains that surround Albuquerque. For Rebekah, this was the only redeeming quality of New Mexico, the only thing she could find that justified staying in Albuquerque. I should have known that the constant wind we drove through all the way there would be a problem, but honestly it never crossed my mind. After we finished dinner and went back to the hotel to freshen up before going up to the tram, a random guest overheard our conversation about it and told us the bad news. The tram wasn't running on account of the wind. Rebekah, refusing to simply believe just some guy in a hotel lobby, called and confirmed the truth. No Sandia Peak tram ride. It was the first real bump our well laid plans had hit. Suddenly, staying in Albuquerque seemed like a total waste of time. We pulled it together, though, and tried to make the best of things. And then the Internet connection refused to work in our room, and the hotel assured us the problem was with our computer, which is one way of saying they didn't want to deal with it. Little did we know, this would not be the last time we would hear this. The fine people at Verizon, the company that bought our previous cellphone service provider, refused to upgrade our service to include Nationwide minutes without our signatures on a new contract for service, which would include an additional $20 charge on our monthly bill. We deemed the change unnecessary and decided to depend on our computer as our only means of communication with our loved ones back home. And now it refused to work. Great. Tomorrow, the Grand Canyon awaits. And, on the bright side, we have extra money in the budget. Ain't optimism grand.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Capturing the moment in OKC

This morning we awoke to the Mississippi sunrise. In the hotel parking lot, a swarm of about 30 dragonflies greeted the day with us. Some might think this an omen. I thought it symbolic of the rural environment that is most of Mississippi, but whatever. After filling the cooler with hotel ice, one of the only good things about this hotel, we were Memphis bound. We took a few pics at the Tennessee welcome center (which is hardly worth talking about) and set a course for Graceland. I expected something special, almost transcendant. A legendary memorial, even. Turns out, Graceland is off the side of the road like anything else, such as a gas station or a homeless person. After seeing it from the car, and the 'Heartbreak Hotel' across the street, I thought we should check out Libertyland, an amusement park my family visited when I was just a kid. The Tom-Tom mapped a route, but when we 'reached our destination' there was just an old parking lot. Apparently, Libertyland had been torn down and nobody told Tom-Tom. He really needs to get on the ball because the part of town we ended up in wasn't the part of town we would have voluntarily visited, what with the high risk of drive-by shootings and all. So we left the parking lot behind us and headed through Memphis, where we quickly realized it wasn't Tom-Tom's fault, really. ALL OF MEMPHIS is the part of town we wouldn't have voluntarily visited, what with all the trash and filthiness. On the other side of Memphis is the Mighty Mississippi and the Arkansas line, and we were soon at yet another welcome center. The attendants there seemed rather apathetic about our visit to their state. Or maybe being welcome center attendants wasn't what they dreamed about as innocent young children, and they just liked taking out their dissatisfaction with how their lives had worked out on those unlucky enough to stop by. On the way through Arkansas we saw the Ozarks...which was the most interesting feature of the state.

We reached the 1000 mile mark on our journey while in Arkansas, which was cool. It made me wonder - Why are we always so keen on celebrating numbers divisible by 10, like the 30th birthday or the 100 yard dash? Numbers that end in zero are really uninteresting. Why not celebrate the 1221 mile of the trip, a number that is a palindrome, or the 35th birthday, a number that can be written as the sum of two cubes?

The Oklahoma welcome center was really awesome. I mean, they had a coffee station! Swarm of dragonflies aside, THIS was an omen. There were a lot of neat portraits of Native American life and actual Native American dress adorning the walls. Apparently, Oklahoma was BIG with these guys. The ladies working the desk there were super nice, and even mapped for us a route to the hotels in Oklahoma City. At the Arkansas line, it was hard to get the attendant to even acknowledge our existence, so you can understand our appreciation for this level of personal attention. The picnic tables outside were covered by large concrete teepee structures, and there were about a dozen of them. Very nice attention to detail, we thought, and we knew then Oklahoma was going to be great. And it was.

Once we made it to the OKC (that's what Snoop Dog called Oklahoma City on 'King of the Hill'), we stopped at the bombing memorial first. Without the aid of our trusty Tom-Tom, navigating this city would have been impossible. The city designers were probably those guys who graduated 'thank-the-lordi' from community college. The roads seemingly had no real pattern and didn't really seem to work as team. When we parked outside the memorial, a parking officer rolled over on a segway to check on us. Classy.

The memorial itself is hidden from street view by a black wall three stories high, with a single doorway in the bottom center. Once inside, we saw a field filled with bronze chairs sitting on clear cube bases. Each one has the name of one of the 168 victims of the attack. On the far side of the black entryway is another identical black wall entrance. Between the walls is a rectangular reflecting pool. Each entryway has a time carved into the top. The one we entered has the time 9:01, and the one on the far side has the time 9:03. These walls symbolically frame the time 9:02, capturing the moment of the bomb's detonation, the moment that changed the country, frozen in time. It was like nothing we had ever seen before.

Since we are traveling across the country to lands we often thought completely out of reach, it was decided to eat at as many restaurants featured on The Food Network as possible. Today we chose the Cattleman's Restaurant, where everybody wore cowboy boots and had big, shiny belt buckles. We even saw a guy with spurs, actual spurs, on the heels of his boots. I had a dish called lamb fries. Think fried clams, with cocktail sauce and everything, but instead of clams, it was lamb. On the way back to the hotel, we noticed that Oklahoma City is a very clean city, and it was a real pleasure navigating through it. We will miss it.