Friday, June 8, 2018

Laurel's Birthday and Total Inclusion

June 8, 2018
aka Laurel's 9th Birthday

Roseville, CA

Laurel woke up excited to be a 9-year-old early this morning, but it's what she did to make this day special for someone else is what really melted my heart. Today is her last day of third grade and her teacher said she could bring in a birthday treat. Laurel was concerned because a classmate can't eat gluten. The teacher told us not to worry about doing something extra (I think they would have provided a gluten free treat), but that wasn't good enough for Laurel. She wanted to get a treat that every kid could eat...100% inclusion for her birthday celebration. Lisa helped Laurel taste and purchase gluten free birthday cupcakes earlier in the week for her class to enjoy today. Just after Lisa delivered the cupcakes, the teacher asked Laurel's class if anyone knew, "why it was a special day?" Laurel's gluten free friend was the first to raise his hand and his answer was, "because there's gluten free treats for everyone"? I couldn't be more proud of Laurel and her staunch advocate heart.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Born Too Soon

May 29th

Another sorrow filled day for the Kain family. It should be a day of crazy celebrations because it's our first born, Everett's birthday. We never celebrated a birthday with Everett because he passed away from an extremely rare heart defect when he was only 6 months and 9 days old.

Everett's birth defect was explained as a 1 in 10 million births in the United States. He bounced around hospitals before we found a leading cardiologist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The doctor performed two heart surgeries and was hopeful that he would be able to save Everett, but his surgeries couldn't correct the defect. Everett spent approximately half of his short life in hospitals.

Lisa and I have seen and been through more than any two people should ever endure and be expected to survive. I'm sure some people wonder how we do it and I don't have an answer, I guess we're just adapted to endure.

Through everything, nothing compares to watching Everett slowly earn his angel wings as Lisa held him for days as we knew there was nothing left for the doctors to do. We had hoped to donate his organs so other babies could benefit with parts of Everett living on, especially his big beautiful blue eyes, but he was too weak at the end to donate.

Kellisa and Kirsten's complications are not related to Everett's and the girls are their own and separate 1 in many millions. Before adopting, we consulted with a doctor to learn the odds of a third pregnancy being completely successful. Since both of Lisa's pregnancies were unrelated and neither were hereditary, we were told that any future pregnancies had the same odds as any other healthy couple our age. The doctor wanted to place odds of two 1 in millions pregnancies happening to the same couple, but he couldn't come up with a number high enough, he left it at incomprehensible.  

I think the doctor could tell that we weren't really comforted by his information and green light to proceed, so he offered another fact. He told us that if Everett would have been born in 2007, doctors would now be able to perform successful surgery on his heart leading to a long and healthy life. Again, this did not comfort us and was devastating before we realized through hopeful reflection that Everett may have helped future babies with his heart defect survive by the experiences of his two surgeries. We like to think he continues to save 1 out of every 10 million babies born in the United States with the same heart defect.

We purchased two gravesites after Everett passed away with the plan that he would spend eternity over Lisa. We had no idea that in less than 10 years, Kirsten would be spending eternity above me and next to Everett and Lisa. About 10 years ago, we purchased the site directly before my spot for Kellisa. 

Everett's Statistics: 1 state (Illinois) and 2 hikes (Starved Rock State Park and Chicago Botanical Gardens)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

An Evening of Train Rides

May 23, 2018

aka Kellisa's 19th Birthday

Sacramento, CA

We went all out for Kellisa's 18th birthday last year, so we didn't plan anything crazy this year. In fact, we didn't really have a plan until Lisa suggested taking Kellisa for a ride on Sacramento's Light Rail System since she loves trains so much. The plan evolved to riding the train downtown where we would find a place to eat dinner, have cake, and then ride the train back. Since her birthday was a Wednesday and it was also a school and work day, we planned her train adventure for the evening.

Kellisa's birthday started with getting ready for school in her birthday dress before catching her bus. A little later, Lisa dropped off a dragonfly birthday cupcake so Kellisa could celebrate with her teachers and classmates. Even at 19, it can be hard picturing Kellisa going off to school and living a huge part of her life without mom and dad. This hit home when Kellisa's teacher sent a picture of Kellisa taken at McDonald's for a birthday lunch. We had no idea she was going to McDonald's for lunch. A little mind blowing when we think about it.

We didn't really have a plan, just drive to the nearest light rail train stop closest to our house and take a ride downtown. We'd pick a spot to get off and hopefully find a restaurant close. Since this was our first ride, buying tickets from a machine was a little confusing, especially not being able to really see the screen due to the glaring sun, but it all worked out when we hopped on the train at Watts/I-80 West. We got off at the Cathedral Square stop in downtown Sacramento.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Kellisa's "Day of Flight" - One Year Ago Today

Lisa Marie Kain
On May 16th, we spent an entire day flying around the country to celebrate Kellisa's 18th birthday.

By now, you may realize that Chris is a bit extreme when it comes to travel. Several months ago, he started talking with Southwest Airlines (his carrier of choice) about the potential to fly as many commercial flights as possible in one day. At that point, he had been working on the plan for a while but realized he needed their help to perfect the route. They were very supportive. A route was selected, and tickets were purchased. I was informed of this plan after the arrangements had been firmed up with Southwest. Chris knows I do not like to travel and gave me limited information about what the day would entail. When I decided to participate, I told him I did not want to know the specifics because I could not handle the truth. If I had any idea, I never would have gone on this trip, but I am so glad I did.

On Tuesday morning, we boarded "our" plane in Tampa, Florida just before 6 am Eastern time (3 am for us West Coast folks). At that point, all I knew was that we would be on that plane all day, and that our plane would travel to 8 destinations. I never expected what would happen over the next 21 hours -- or even that it would take 21 hours!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day on the Refuge

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
Glenn County, CA

Lisa wanted a picnic lunch in nature and asked if we could go to a place with wildlife. We debated a few spots, but we chose Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for a few reasons. It's not that far (90 minutes) from our house, this would be Lisa's first visit, and it's always had an abundance of wildlife from our previous visits.

Most of the water in the refuge was gone, although there were still a few ponds left from the rainy season. We observed many birds, but they were difficult to photograph for one reason or another (loud kids, radio, Evie, lighting, etc.). In addition to the birds, we saw a squirrel, two deer, a few rabbits, and four lizards. We enjoyed a short walk to the picnic area where we devoured sandwiches made by Lisa. We planned to hike a short trail, but the bugs were just coming out, so we made our way back to the car. Sadly, we didn't think to take a picture with Lisa and the girls until after Kellisa went to bed.

The best pictures are below.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

April 2018

Laurel woke up on Sunday and asked if we could go panning for gold. The last time we visited the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Site, we bought two mounds of gravel where Laurel found about 75 cents of gold after panning for an hour. We didn't have plans and thought it would be nice to have a picnic and see how Evie does in an outdoor setting.

Kellisa slept until almost noon, so it was mid-afternoon before we arrived at the park less than an hour from our house. Lisa made a nice picnic lunch that we enjoyed upon our arrival. Then Laurel and Evie started wandering while Kellisa wheeled around like crazy.

By the time we made it to the gold panning area, it was closed for the day. Laurel was disappointed because she was convinced it was her day to strike it rich. As she was processing the letdown, Lisa thought she saw a good friend of Laurel's from school. I turned around and sure enough it was her friend and his family. Laurel quickly forgot all about her lost gold while spending an hour exploring with her friend and his younger brother while prancing Evie around the park.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Chicago "Grub"

Taco Burrito King
Harlem & the Kennedy
Chicago, IL
April 2018

Lisa and the girls recently joined me on my business trip to Chicago to visit with Grandma. Laurel had heard food referred to as "grub" several times on this trip and she didn't understand the meaning. I'm not sure if it's a Chicago or Midwest thing, but I tried to explain it to her. On our last day, we were stopping by Grandma's one last time before catching our flight and as we drove by Taco Burrito King, Laurel asked if they had Chicago Grub. When I answered, "It looks like they would," Laurel asked if we could stop for some food. 

Lisa and Kellisa weren't hungry and I wasn't about to pass up an opportunity for a promising meal, so we dropped Lisa and Kellisa off while Laurel and I went back for some grub. Right away, Laurel thought it was odd that we entered the restaurant from an alley. In fact, the idea of an alley was foreign to her and she was disturbed by the garbage and smell. Anyway, I ordered a burrito bowl (which was amazing) and Laurel got a burrito. We didn't want to leave Evie in the car while we ate, so we carried our food back to the car. That's when Laurel saw a Rat Warning Sign on a telephone pole. She lost her appetite and was convinced that her burrito had rat meat in it instead of chicken. I assured her that while rats were common in Chicago alleys, her burrito was indeed filled with chicken. Laurel believed me once she took her first bite and proceeded to devour her burrito. Even though this wasn't Laurel's first Chicago Grub meal, it was her first lesson and as her teacher, I would rate the entire meal experience A+.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

On the 9th Day

Evie's 1st Flight

Sacramento, CA to Chicago- Midway

(Evie did great on her 1st flight despite the little vomit upon the sudden stop on the landing at Midway...
and the diarrhea on the jet bridge leaving the plane. I am happy to report no body fluid issues on our return flights.) 

Evie walking in Illinois (3/50):

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Laurel and Kellisa meet Evie
Evie Laurel Kain

April 14 & 15, 2018

Our family grew by one when we flew down to Ontario, CA to pick-up Evie, a Miniature Pinscher/Basenji mix. Lisa found Evie at a rescue in Hesperia, CA. We got very lucky that Lisa found Evie online shortly after her photo and information was posted and we were the first family to submit. Fortunately, our application was accepted.

We spent a couple of hours getting to know Evie before everyone felt comfortable. There were two spots to sign the paperwork and after Lisa signed, we let Laurel sign as she promised to love and take care of Evie. We decided to drive home instead of flying since we didn't know how Evie would travel. Kellisa and Laurel loved having Evie in the back seat and I think Evie enjoyed all the attention!

We decided to take the scenic way home through Owens Valley on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas. Our first stop was after two hours at a small, rundown gas station in the middle of the desert. Kellisa stayed in the car, while I went inside to buy some drinks and snacks. Laurel took Evie for a short walk and Lisa watched from a distance. Just as I was about to pay, I heard Laurel screaming like I've never heard before and when I stepped outside, I saw her crying and holding the leash. You might have guessed, Evie was not on the other end of the leash.

I looked to the south and saw Lisa running across the desert about 100 yards away. I told Laurel to stay at the car with Kellisa and I went running in Lisa's direction. After sprinting maybe 30 yards, I saw Evie running out of the brush towards Lisa. At this point, I could hear Lisa calling Evie and she ended up returning and Lisa was able to pick her up. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Kain Family Grows

We told the girls this morning, so we are comfortable in telling the world that the Kain family will have a new member in the near future. More information and pictures coming soon.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Lake Clementine Trail

Auburn State Recreation Area

March 2018

It felt good, real good to get out on a trail that was not blazed for wheeled mobility devices. It's been awhile.

The Clementine Trail starts out for the first .18 of a mile as an old paved road and it just gets rougher and narrower from there to a trail filled with rocks barely wide enough for Kellisa's Hippocampe in some areas high above the North Fork American River. We also encountered some minor, but challenging elevation changes. As always, the bumpier the trail and more of a struggle for me...the more Kellisa loves it and she had a great time.

Several hikers who passed us mentioned how they noticed Kellisa giggling during the roughest sections and shouting for more when the trail leveled out a little. Most offered words of encouragement to Kellisa, "Love it" and "You're awesome" are two that I remember.

I always brag about how well Kellisa is treated out on a trail and love the compliments that fly her way, but my favorite quote from our hike belongs to an exchange between a mother and her young son (in a picture below). We had been leap frogging them along the trail and as we passed just before our turn around, the mother asked her son, "Do you need a break?"

"NO! We need one of those!" as he pointed to Kellisa's Hippocampe Mobility Chair.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dave Moore Nature Trail

Dave Moore Nature Area

March 2018

This trail has been on my radar for at least a year when I first read that it was at least partially accessible. It's a 1.1 mile loop trail with the first half being accessible down to a beach area along the South Fork of the American River. The trailhead is only 33-miles from our house. Kellisa and I have been desperate to hit a trail, especially after driving to a different trail yesterday, only to find the park closed due to a special event.

The nature area and trail is named after a Ranger Conservationist for the Bureau of Land Management who was diagnosed with MS at 35-years-old and forced into an early retirement due to his disability. The trail was dedicated on June 4, 1994. We were hoping to be able to pushike the entire loop, but quickly found the accessible trail to be far from what we expect when out on an accessible trail (pictures below).

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sandals and Water Shoes and Low Top Hiking Boots, Oh My!

Roseville, CA
March 25, 2018

My dividend from purchases at REI during 2017 arrived in the mail recently and I was more than ready to use it towards new footwear for Kellisa. I've been assembling our wall art with pictures from our hikes in each of the 50 United States and I noticed that Kellisa has worn the same few shoes on our hikes for many, many years. This makes sense since she can't walk and her feet rarely touch the ground or get sweaty, so her shoes look barely used even though she's worn them for so long. 

We didn't have anything specific in mind when we arrived, but she gets her love of shoes honestly from her mother, so it wasn't a surprise that she loved all three of the shoes she tried on. Her outdoor adventure footwear should be covered for the next decade with the purchase of these high quality shoes.

We walked around the entire store and saved the books and maps area for last so we could linger until closing time. That's when we saw families on foot staring back at us from a prominent spot on an eye level shelf. Kellisa is featured in a few places in this book, including a 2 page spread (bottom right picture). I couldn't help but show Kellisa the pictures of her out on the trails in the book. The gentleman who helped us from the shoe department came over to see if we were still OK and I could tell he looked a little puzzled as he watched me take a few pictures of the book. I explained that Kellisa has spent a lot of time out on the trails and was in this book after meeting the authors several times. He was blown away and acted like Kellisa was a celebrity...and she enjoyed every second of the accolades.

Lisa and I have been members of REI for decades and they offered Kellisa her own membership at checkout because members could save 20% on any one item. This way, we could check out twice, once under my membership and once under Kellisa's so we could save the 20% on both transactions. It made sense to me to spend the extra few minutes to help sign up for her very own membership card (top right picture). I was proud of her and left with a deep feeling of contentment from our shoe shopping adventure. It's rare that I get to do "normal" activities with Kellisa and this experience somehow felt very normal and I look forward to helping her spend her own dividend next year!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

All 50 States Photo Wall: Exhibit B

    Iowa                  Ohio                California
Delaware          Alabama             Montana
                      Missouri                Utah
  Nebraska                                    Wisconsin

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. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Bremerton to Seattle Ferry

July - August 2017

We spent a week in the Seattle area for our 2017 summer vacation. We decided to stay on the western side of Puget Sound in Bremerton. Our hotel was a block from the water which has a nice walkway that lead to a park with water features and the ferry terminal. Both girls love riding ferries and no one likes sitting in Seattle's legendary traffic jams, so it made sense to commute back and forth by ferry. A couple of days drove our SUV onto to the ferry and on other days we just walked to ride as pedestrians.

Everyone enjoyed the beautiful views (Mount Rainier was even visible one day), fresh air, just sitting back and relaxing in the lounge, and eating a snack or full meals while going back and forth. We would highly recommend using the ferry for pleasure and a means to commute to and from Seattle.

Laurel enjoyed exploring on the ferry. She had a little confidence to venture a little farther away from us than usual and we let her since we knew she couldn't go very far. She was always in sight and it was cute to watch her look back, both for approval and the assurance that we were keeping our eyes on her.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Bremerton Bug Museum

August 2017

Kellisa has always loved her bugs, spiders, bats, snakes, and alligators, so there was no way we could pass up visiting the Bremerton Bug Museum in Bremerton, WA. While Kellisa was observing the exhibits, Laurel was fascinated with the gift shop where you could buy many types of bug themed candies. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Friday, February 9, 2018

Great American Eclipse- Metal Wall Art

We decided to take our best photograph from the Great America Eclipse and have it turned into a metal piece of artwork that we could hang in our house to always remind us of our special weekend spent together witnessing totality in Weiser, ID. Of course, this picture doesn't do the rare event justice, but we will always cherish this moment we were fortunate enough to capture in a picture.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

"Student with a Weapon"

Oakmont High School
Roseville, CA

February 6, 2017

Yesterday, I was 1,800 miles away from home in San Antonio, TX for work. We enjoy some major perks because I travel for my job, but there is always a little worry in the back of my mind that I'm so far away if something happens back at home. Thankfully, this rarely happens, but yesterday it happened.

At noon local time, I started getting texts, emails, and automated phone calls from Kellisa's school about a student with a weapon. They weren't releasing much information and the lockdown continued for just over two hours. I was relieved the school wasn't using the phrases, "Active Shooter" or "Shelter in Place", but the texts were very scary none the less. It didn't help to consider that Kellisa can't recognize danger, can't get on the floor by herself, can't crawl, can't remain quiet (I picture her giggling at all the excitement), can't jump out a window...she is 100% dependent on others for her safety and that's a chilling thought, especially when I'm not with her to be her protector. Lastly, Kellisa can't communicate like most other high school students. Therefore, we didn't get texts or calls from her telling us that she was safe.

Parents were asked not to come to the school, but if you wanted to get close, school officials and the police had a meeting place set up at a nearby park. The entire incident lasted just over two hours with little information and no confirmation that Kellisa was safe. It was hard to concentrate on work and even harder not knowing what I should do, if anything.

Eventually, an aide in Kellisa's class called to let me know that she was safe and the lockdown had ended. Another hour went by before I got a text from Lisa, "Both kids are home safe".  It was a huge relief, but I'm sure it took a few hours to get my blood pressure and heart rate down to normal levels.

The early reports indicate that one student stole a gun from a relative and brought it to school to sell to another student. The loaded gun was found in a backpack in the gym. Both students have been arrested and police officials believe there was never a plot to shoot anyone at the school. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

All 50 States Photo Wall: Exhibit A

    Indiana            Kansas         Louisiana
Pennsylvania   Rhode Island   Mississippi
                              Virginia      Washington
     Minnesota                             South Dakota

The girls completed our project of visiting and hiking a trail in all 50 states back in November 2016. Their travels are well documented on this blog and I wanted to display their accomplishment in our home as art. Partly to share our story with visitors, but mostly so we can look back at all the fun we had completing our goal.

I've wanted to copy our kindred spirits at Explore All 50 ever since I read their post about having a photo wall with a picture from each of the United States.  

I've struggled for a couple of years (I started planning our photo wall before we finished) on the format, layout, design, shape, and size of the photos to use. I even struggle picking which is the best picture from each state. Some are obvious, some are impossible to choose, while a few states lack really good pictures.

After a few failed attempts to get this project off the ground (and on our walls), I finally found our layout. We will have five 20X30 canvas art collages with 10 pictures each.  This is our first collage and we love the way it turned out after many, many hours of picking the pictures and then reshaping and arranging the pictures. As excited as I am to have a clear direction, I also know this project will probably take several months to complete. We will order additional collages one at a time as we finish them and share them on the blog. Once we have all five hung on our "All 50 States Photo Wall", we will share a picture of our completed collection.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Interpretive Loop Trail

Miners Ravine Nature Reserve
Bird and Wildlife Preserve
Placer County Parks

January 2018

We just finished the short North Trail Loop and decided that we would check out the other 1/2 mile loop trail at the opposite end of the parking lot. 

Despite the very real warning of rattlesnakes living around the trail, we didn't see or hear any as we explored this wooded preserve on the first day of 2018. Since we didn't see any snakes, the highlight of this loop would be the bedrock mortars created by a prehistoric people who spent time gathered on the rocks grinding grain, acorns, and other local resources into a food product. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

North Trail Loop

Miners Ravine Nature Reserve
Bird and Wildlife Preserve
Placer County Parks

January 2018

After our hike on the Mountain Quarry Railroad Trail, we wanted to do a little more exploring. In between Auburn State Recreation Area and our home, we remembered driving by the Miners Ravine Nature Preserve several months ago and seeing the suburban park had a short trail system. It seemed like the perfect destination to continue our first day of the new year hiking plans.

We started on the North Loop Trail because it was closer to where I parked our SUV. The path did not disappoint. We had the trail to ourselves, it was wide and even provided a short rock scramble for Kellisa. She loved the effort it took to get her to the top where she could enjoy the views. Kellisa asked for "more" after we made it back down, but I was done rock pushing for the day.

In the end, the North Loop Trail was exactly half a mile in length. Short, but very sweet.