Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park

March 2006

“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

- Theodore Roosevelt

Words cannot describe the Grand Canyon and photos, while beautiful, also do not do the views justice. The great expanse of the canyon surely leaves first time viewers speechless and we were no different when we first caught sight of this national treasure late one afternoon in March 2006. One last cliché, everyone should go to Grand Canyon National Park at least one in their lifetime.

Kellisa visited Everglades National Park in 2004 for the first time making the Grand Canyon the second national park checked off of her life list. As of March 2018, Kellisa has visited 29 national parks.

If I can't fully write about the beauty and pictures don't accurately capture the grandeur, then the following pictures probably don't say 1,000 words each, but hopefully they say a few hundred:

Friday, March 16, 2018

Flat Tire in the Frozen Desert

Sunset Crater Volcano 
Wupatki National Monuments

March 2006

After Sedona, but before our visit to the Grand Canyon, we made the side trip to see Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments. Both are just out side Flagstaff and on the way to the Grand Canyon. Despite the winter cold and snow, we still managed to do a hike in both national monuments. This was before we kept track, so we don't remember the trail names or the distances hiked.

All I really remember is Kellisa's jog stroller getting a flat tire at Wupatki. I had to push her back to the car while lifting the back of the stroller with the wheels off the ground. I was also panicking because I didn't have a plan for a flat tire. I didn't want to go back to Flagstaff to try and figure it out, but I also wanted the stroller available for trails in Grand Canyon National Park, our next stop.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Red Rocks and Hungry Giraffes

Sedona, Arizona
March 2006

Shutterfly memories popped up in my emails to remind me that we were in Sedona, AZ exactly 12 years ago. Scrolling through the photos brought back many memories. The first thing that jumped out is Kellisa's very short hair. That's because she ended 2005 with three brain surgeries for her shunt. Next, I noticed that I could still carry Kellisa out on a trail even though she had the biggest and best baby jog stroller on the market. Lastly, while mentioned in our 2006 summary, I realized that this trip was never completely shared on the blog in words and pictures.

This was our first vacation since Kellisa was born where the purpose wasn't to visit family. In fact, the main goal of this trip was to witness and immerse ourselves in the great outdoors! Lisa and I also celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary in a cowboy themed restaurant in Sedona and the girls (Lisa and Kellisa) fed giraffes during our side trip to the Out of Africa Wildlife Park.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Shaking for Gold

Marshall Gold Discovery
State Historic Park

February 18 and March 10, 2018

Our initial visit (2/18/18) to the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park where James W. Marshall first discovered gold on the South Fork of the American River back in 1848 was a little disappointing. We wanted to start our visit with a nice little picnic before exploring the park. For a variety of reasons, we left later than planned and by the time we arrived at the park there was less than an hour remaining before the park closed.

We decided to skip the picnic so we could walk through the museum (and gift store) before they closed. Unfortunately, we missed our chance to pan for gold due to our late arrival. As the sun was fading, we did enjoy a few short trails through the little village and along the river. Everyone was a little hungry and not at our best during this visit, so we ended up having our picnic lunch at home for dinner. Thankfully, the park is less than an hour from our home.  

Almost a month passed since that visit and out of the blue, Laurel asked, "Can I have a do over? I'd like to go to that park to go shaking for gold so we can become rich"?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Trains and Sisterly Love

California State Railroad Museum
March 5, 2018

Yesterday, Laurel went on her first field trip of the year to the California State Railroad Museum. Even though it's less than 30 minutes from our house and both girls, especially Kellisa enjoy trains, we've never explored this museum. Laurel got dressed up in a special dress and had Lisa fix her hair straight for the occasion. She wore her purse to school filled with a small bottle of lotion, chap stick, and $10 of her Christmas gift money. Laurel was so excited for this trip.

When I picked her up from school, she was even more excited. I figured she had a great time with her friends while also enjoying the train exhibits. While my assumption was correct, Laurel was more excited about something else. She opened her purse to pull something out as soon as she got in the SUV. I was thinking a souvenir of some sort, but it was a brochure. She opened it up and started talking a million miles per hour. "Kellisa will love the train museum. I know she loves trains. They have so many. See? See?" as she pointed to the brochure. 

"Kellisa can even go in some of the trains. Look!" as she points to the trains with a wheelchair symbol designating which trains are accessible.

Laurel went on and on about how we need to take Kellisa because she will "just love it!"

Laurel continued about how she checked everything out with Kellisa in mind and was disappointed in a few things Kellisa couldn't do in a wheelchair, but "You can just carry her dad".

I was expecting to be proud that she had a great field trip and avoided any trouble and I was, but I was more proud of how much Laurel loves Kellisa and how she is always looking out for her. I sometimes worry if Kellisa will be OK when her parents are unable to take her places, then Laurel has a way of reminding me that Kellisa will be in good hands.

I'm guessing there will be a post in the near future of a family trip to the California State Railroad Museum.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Another School Threat

Oakmont High School
Roseville, CA

March 5, 2018

Kellisa was already safely home from school when we received this message from her school district. The threats are obviously out of control and these are extremely scary times to be a student, teacher, aide, school nurse, administrator, or first responders. 

We don't have any more information, so we don't know if there was ever a real threat to Kellisa or any other people, but that doesn't make this any easier as a parent of a special needs student. 

I'm just thankful these recent threats have been taken so seriously and I don't envy the people who have to figure out if it's a student making a joke or if it's a real threat of mass murder. 

The former student was arrested less than 3 miles from Kellisa's school during school hours with an AR-15 style weapon in the suspect's vehicle. So scary! It makes me want to hug Kellisa and Laurel and head off on a trail!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Special K

Sadly, Lisa’s father passed away 5 years before Kellisa was born. That left my dad, Jeff as the only grandfather Kellisa would ever know. My dad desperately wanted to be surprised about the sex of our twins and wanted to wait until their birth. We shared the same feelings, but once the pregnancy started to go into life and death circumstances, Lisa and I decided to find out, so we could start calling our little lime sized babies by their names instead of Baby A and Baby B. Since we were faced with losing one, we wanted to call her by her name for as long as possible. It’s wasn't the first time we didn’t honor my dad’s wishes as we told him Lisa was pregnant with Kirsten and Kellisa.

   Shortly after losing Kirsten, while Kellisa was fighting for her life in the NICU, my dad started calling Kellisa his Special K. He would kiss his index and middle finger before gently touching them to some part of exposed skin on Kellisa while she lay in her incubator. He would talk softly to his Special K. When he would get updates over the phone, he always used his nickname for Kellisa. For my dad, Special K stuck, but it didn’t catch on with anyone else and that was OK.

   I believe losing the love of his life, my mom, in March 1998  made our move to Florida the following year extra hard on my dad. Kellisa was barely 6-months-old when we overloaded our Mitsubishi Eclipse and drove to the Sunshine State. I just hope he understood that we were making the best decision for Kellisa's fragile health. Looking back 18-years later, I can definitely say it worked out for the best and don't have any doubts.

   My dad even drove down from Chicago to visit us for a week during our first summer in Florida. He had a great time. We kept him busy by hiking, visiting the beach, swimming in a spring, and even surprised him with NASCAR tickets to a race at the famous Daytona International Speedway. His favorite driver, Awesome Bill Elliott was well past his prime, but led an unlikely 42 laps. I could see my dad was having fun on his vacation and was impressed with how much time he was spending just holding his Special K. What I didn’t know was my father was dying inside and he knew it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


MattyB featuring the Haschak Sisters

The Ballroom at Warehouse Live
Houston, TX

February 11, 2018

Laurel has been a huge fan of MattyB for at least 3 years. She loves watching his videos online and can spend hours dancing and singing along to all his songs. Laurel has been asking to see him in concert for a long time and I promised that if he ever came to Jacksonville (when we lived there) or Sacramento, that we would go. Unfortunately for her, he doesn't embark on long tours, probably because he's still high school age.

Then early last year, she read his announcement online that he was playing a concert in Jacksonville. Laurel was devastated and I heard, "I wish we never moved".

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Winter Ball

Oakmont High School
Roseville, CA

February 4, 2018

Kellisa attended the Winter Ball at her school on a beautiful Saturday evening. Kellisa is always excited to attend dances and this night was no different. She is treated like a queen once we arrive at the school. Kellisa is escorted not to the front of the line, but through a side door so she can skip the ticket line all together and get right out on the dance floor. Kellisa is known as "KK" at school and I'm always amazed by all the adults and students that get excited when they she her and call out, "It's KK!"

As soon as we entered the gym, KK took off wheeling as fast as she could toward the dance floor as she made her way through the sea of jumping kids to setup as close to the speakers as possible. It doesn't take long for me to lose sight of KK.

Every time I could see her, she was dancing with able bodied students. She was usually surrounded by 6-10 kids. At one time, I counted at least 7 boys dancing with her. KK had a huge smile plastered to her face the entire night. I love that she is so included with all the other kids. It made me so proud to watch KK out on her own and accepted. Many kids even bent over to talk to her at her level. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Eternal Rains Will Come

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

February 2018

As I was approaching the refuge, I reached to turn off the radio because I didn't want to scare away any of the wildlife I was hoping to observe and photograph. The excellent song, Eternal Rains Will Come by the progressive giants Opeth was playing. Even though the song has nothing to do with rain, I couldn't help but think it was ironic that this song was playing since the Sacramento Valley is in another drought. Last year at this time, Northern California was in between multiple atmospheric rivers and most of the valley was flooded and the region was nervously watching a dam in Oroville that was expected to fail.  

Since the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge is only 90 minutes from our house, I thought it was worth the time and effort to drive up in the hopes of catching some of California's natural beauty. Even though most of the wetlands were dry, several were still covered in water providing excellent opportunities to do a little birdwatching. In addition to seeing several types of birds, I enjoyed a couple of turtles on a log and many rabbits running around the dry scrub areas. The background was picturesque as always with Lassen Peak looming on the northern horizon and sweeping mountain views to the east and west beyond the refuge. I was not disappointed in my decision to visit despite the drought.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Titus Canyon Road

Death Valley National Park

January 2018

I had the opportunity to take one of my all time favorite drives back in January. I drove the rugged 27 miles that is better known as the Titus Canyon Road that starts in Nevada and ends in Death Valley National Park.

This was my second time driving the road, the first was back in November 2010 with the family. The mostly one-way road has everything from desert driving to going up and through colorful mountains, an abandoned mine, petroglyphs, wildlife, and the last three miles takes the driver through a narrow canyon barely wide enough for a vehicle. It's like driving a wide hiking trail. 

Due to the rough condition and many hazards on the road, the national park recommends 2-3 hours for the drive. Make sure you have an extra tire because a tow truck will cost close to $2,000 to help you in the middle of nowhere. Even in winter, have some food and water in case you get stuck for awhile. High clearance vehicles are recommended and 4X4s are needed when the road is wet or washed out. The canyon is prone to flash flood, so do not attempt on a rainy day! 

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Space Needle

July 2017

No visit to Seattle is complete without a visit to the top of The Space Needle. We made our pilgrimage on a Sunday, which meant driving around endlessly waiting for a parking spot to open up. I gave up on finding a disabled spot long before we were lucky enough to get a spot in a lot near the attraction. 

It was hot, record breaking heat on the day of our visit. It was actually hotter in Seattle than back home in California. The Space Needle was very crowded (and expensive), but more important to us, it was not very friendly for someone in a wheelchair. It had everything we needed, I think it was the crowds that made our visit so difficult and employees acting like they've never seen a wheelchair before. It was hard to figure our where we needed to be and the employees were just as confused as us.

Once at the top, we couldn't go to the outside viewing area until we found someone with the key to a little lift to get Kellisa down a few stairs. We waiting almost 20 minutes for this key. It was like we were the first people who needed the key in years. After enjoying our time 605 feet above Seattle, we had to wait another 20+ minutes to find the worker who had the elusive wheelchair lift key. The views were outstanding and maybe we would have had a better time if we didn't visit on a weekend day.