– Ben Martens


Eureka Filming Site Visit

I’ve been burning through the Eureka (2006-2012) TV show episodes on Amazon Prime. I’m a Stargate fan and this was recommended to me as something with a similar vibe (and a lot of crossover actors.) Like Stargate, a lot of the filming happened in the Vancouver, BC area.

I was curious where the downtown Eureka scenes were filmed so over many episodes, I carefully looked for clues and searched and searched and searched around on Google Street View until I finally found a couple blocks on Wellington Ave in Chilliwack, BC which looked similar. (Shortly after that, I found this website which lists out all the filming locations for many different shows. Derp.) That’s only a couple hours from our house and it seemed like it could be a fun family adventure day so I looked up a few other possible activities and we set off.

Our first stop was the filming location and even though it has been 10 years, I was happy to see how much it felt like walking through Eureka. It wasn’t quite the same vibe I had walking through Radiator Springs at Disneyland, but it was similar.

With my own nerdery satisfied, we set off to find some food at Cookies Grill. I don’t remember how I stumbled on this place (Yelp?) but I suspected it would be a winner since Tyla and Elijah love breakfast and Cookies serves breakfast for lunch. It lived up to their expectations and they honestly talk about driving all the way back there to eat again some time.

While we were walking around Eureka, there were a few other people there looking in the shops, etc. One of the couples seemed like maybe they were Eureka fans too but that seemed unlikely and I wasn’t about to start that weird conversation. When we drove ~10 minutes to get to Cookies Grill in a random strip mall area, we got out of the car and the same couple was in the parking lot! Weird things happen in Eureka.

It was still raining but we went for a hike anyway to see Bridal Veil Falls. The path is almost smooth enough for a wheelchair (except for a couple stairs) and it’s only ~5-10 minutes long, but it’s steep. The falls are beautiful though and the length of the tiny hike was about perfect for our day.

From there we stopped for ~10 minutes at the Chilliwack Supercharger on Luckakuck Road and then continued our journey via Lickman Road. As we giggled about the street names, we drove to Chilliwack River Valley Honey where we picked up a few jars of delicious honey. (Before we left home, I verified that we could get back across the border with it.)

Our border entry into Canada had been quick and while the internet said the return trip would be quick, the line of about a dozen cars was moving very slowly. They were carefully inspecting everyone, searching a lot of cars, and even pulling some cars off to the side for additional inspections. As we approached the booth, I was prepared for a lot of questions, but apparently we are super boring and we were almost waved right on through.

Despite what the border guard must have thought of our story, we loved it! It was a lot of driving for one day, but Elijah had fun going to Canada for the first time that he can remember, and we all enjoyed the random sites. There were quite a few other attractions in Chilliwack that looked interesting (water parks, giant lakes/parks, disc golf, etc.) so who knows, maybe we’ll be back!

PacNW Christian Men’s Retreat 2023

Every year, the area churches affiliated with the WELS and ELS combine to host a men’s retreat. I’ve known about this for years but have never attended myself. This year when I got the email, I thought, “Hmmm… I think I want to go to this one. I need to remember to bring it up with Tyla and see what she thinks.” A few minutes later, she came in reading the same email and said, “Ben! You have to go to this retreat! Professor Paustian is amazing!” Mark Paustian is a professor at Martin Luther College, and she had him for a couple classes. He was scheduled to be the guest speaker at the retreat. I took her advice and signed up immediately. Over the next week or two, three other MLC grads heard about the retreat and encouraged me to attend so I could hear Professor Paustian.

The event was held at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend. It’s only about 35 miles away but it either requires a ferry ride or a drive around the south end of Puget Sound. The event starts Friday evening so I checked in, met up with a couple other people, and we got a quick dinner at a Mexican food truck called Burritos y Tacos on the northwest side of the golf course. Then we headed back for the opening session where Professor Paustian explained what he’d be sharing over the weekend and talked to us about being “transparently Christian.” He shared examples like purposely reading Christian books when he’s out in public or simply including church activities when people ask about your weekend.

There were 76 of us in attendance so that requires a lot of sleeping space. We stayed in building 225 which is a group housing dormitory. It’s a historical site so the accommodations are simple, but I had my own room and a shared bathroom. Our group brought a large selection of snacks, drinks, and games so there was optional fun happening there until late into the night.

After waking up early and walking around the park, Saturday morning started with breakfast in the group dining facility and then we headed over to the USO Hall for more classes. Our course was on apologetics which is an intellectual defense of the truth, rationality, and core beliefs of Christianity. We went through various aspects of it, but the repeated message was that you’re not there to argue specific facts with people, but the goal is always to point people to the message of the gospel. Our consciences tell us that things are wrong, but only the gospel reveals the saving message of Christ. Jesus died for our sins. There’s nothing we have to do or can do to earn heaven. He did it all for us! This is a simple message that is unfortunately unique to Christianity and even unique within many circles of Christianity. Human reason says that there must be something we have to do, but God’s mercy is an affront to human reason. He loves us more than we can ever imagine.

There were a few hours reserved on Saturday afternoon for people to do whatever they want. Some went back to the dorms to take a nap while other groups went hiking, golfing, and shooting. I went with a group of about a dozen people to play disc golf. It was fun playing on a new course and introducing people to the sport.

After dinner, we headed back for another session before going back to the dorm for more fellowship and sleep.

Sunday morning was the end of the event and we met one more time. Professor Paustian gave a devotion/sermon and as part of a short service. Hearing a big group of men singing some favorite hymns is a treat!

If you’re in the area and are at all intrigued by these, please consider attending! This event has been going on for over 20 years except for a short COVID pause and they’re planning to hold it again next year in mid to late April. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be encouraged by your fellow Christians and hear a great speaker. Professor Paustian lived up to the hype! Tyla and I are already going through his “Our Worth To Him” devotion book, but now I’m also looking forward to reading Prepared to Answer and the cleverly titled follow-up: More Prepared to Answer.

LeMay Car Museum Review

I’ve seen the car museum off to the north side of I-5 in Tacoma many times, but I’ve never been inside… until recently. When my parents came for a visit, we decided to check it out. A review on the internet said that a non-car geek could make it through in about two hours. I couldn’t understand how that would be possible. The place doesn’t look that big.

As we walked around, we saw signs that said Harold LeMay owned a refuse company in Tacoma and built up one of the largest private car collections in the world. And while there were a lot of cool cars in sight, it sure didn’t seem that large. But then we turned the corner, went down the ramp, and I caught sight of a building map. There are four floors and each one is packed full of cars! If you follow the arrows, you’ll wind your way all the way to the bottom and then work your way back up to the top.

We spent too much time on the way down and had to walk up a bit quicker than we would have liked since we were on a schedule, but wow, this place was huge! There were so many cars to look at. It kept our family easily entertained for a couple hours, and I think we could have spent a bit more time there.


Lincoln Rock State Park Cabins

After our fun cabin rental in Bay View in 2021, we decided to do it again this year. There are quite a few Washington State Parks that have cabin rentals. This time we picked a cabin at Lincoln Rock State Park that included a bathroom and a small kitchenette. The Scherschels booked the cabin right next to us.

The cabin was built recently and was nice inside. It had a bunk bed and a futon. You could theoretically sleep six, but six adults would need to be very friendly. The three of us spread out and each had our own sleeping area.

The heat was a key feature for us because it was chilly! We knew we were rolling the dice by booking a cabin the last weekend in March. It was in the 30s in the mornings and only got up to 50 for a little while. Throw in a ~10mph wind and it was cold, but we still spent a lot of time outside exploring the campground, playing games, and sitting by the fire. While the cabins were only about a hundred feet from the Columbia River, access to the river wasn’t the easiest and there wasn’t a ton of room along the shore. There was easier access at the other end of the park which I imagine would be nice in the summer.

The hot water wasn’t super hot, but it was nice to have a sink to do dishes in and a place to take a shower. If we go back there again, I think I’d buy a small electric hot plate to make it easier to cook meals inside. We used a camp stove outside which worked fine but the hot plate would be a nice option.

A couple fun facts about the park:

While I think we’d all be happy to go back there again, we’re also interested in exploring more of the state park cabins.

Spring Break 2000

The other day I was thinking about my attempted college spring break trip to Hawaii in 2000. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t on my blog and then I remembered that it existed many iterations of the site ago before I started blogging regularly. So this is going to be a bit long, but I thought I’d resurrect the story from my backups and post it here. Unless you’ve been following my site for 23 years, this might be new content to you.

The characters in this story are all friends from school. Originally it had been a planned trip for four guys but after I paid for a bunch of stuff ahead of the trip one guy backed out. (This is the point in my life where I vowed to collect money from the group immediately after booking something like that.) We were scrambling to find someone to fill this spot because we couldn’t afford to split it three ways. Thankfully my friend Jess was willing to come. No, she wasn’t dating any of us and her dad gave us a speech before he let her leave for Hawaii with three nerds.

Another key point to the story is that none of us could afford plane tickets for the trip. The only way that it worked was that Rohan was an intern at Delta and could get us all free standby tickets. Free. Yes, this should have been a red flag, but enjoy the carnage that came from my learning opportunity.

I’ve resisted the urge to improve the text. It is mostly what I originally wrote with some grammatical corrections and updated links where possible.

Day 1: Friday

We were all packed up and ready to roll when 7:00 rolled around on Friday night.  Rohan and I dumped our bags into Steve’s car, and we drove over to pick up Jess.  The trip up to Steve’s house in Chicago went quickly.

We planned to leave at 4:00 Saturday morning.  That meant that we needed some sleep.  That didn’t really happen though because we were all too excited.  I think we got about two hours of sleep.

Day 2: Saturday

We got up at just after 3am.  Steve’s dad whipped us up some pancakes, and we were out the door by 4.  Our flight left at 6 from O’Hare. We ended up at the end of the line to check in.  We ran onto our plane as
they were closing the doors.  I suppose it’s important to mention at this point that we are flying standby for the whole trip.  That means that we don’t get on if there are no empty seats on the plane.  But this flight was only half full, so we even got to sit together.  Oh yeah… we were surprised to find out that our “free” buddy tickets carried a $200 tax on them.

We made it into Cincinnati just fine on our MD-88.  We put ourselves on the standby list for the flight to LA.  Rohan got called before us.  He has a higher priority because he works for Delta.  He got on the plane but we didn’t.  It was too full.  So we sat in Cincinnati as Rohan flew to sunny LA.  Luckily, a few seconds before he got on the plane, I gave everyone my mom’s number.  If we got split up we would all call home to see what was going on.

It turned out to be a busy travel day in Cincinnati.  We watched flight after flight take off without us.  We finally got on a flight in the evening after spending 12 hours in the airport.

The time wasn’t really wasted however.  We met up with some friends from Purdue (Mark and Rosie) who were on their way to Boston.  We also met two girls named Kelly and Julie who were on their way to Honolulu.  (That’s Kelly and Julie on the left in this picture.)

Famous person sighting #1 : Kelly and Julie spotted Britney Spears ducking into a luxury suite amidst a throng of body guards.

Day 3: Sunday

We got into LA at 12:30am.  We had to sleep in the airport because no flights were leaving until the morning.  But in LA they make you sleep out by the check-in counters.  That means that every weirdo in LA is more than welcome to come in and sleep there too.  Jess couldn’t sleep and stayed awake all night.  Steve and I were really tired and managed to catch a couple winks.

When the morning rolled around we started talking to Delta.  The Delta people in LA were the most helpful Delta employees that we met all trip. That’s a good thing because we were there for 19 hours waiting for a flight out of LA to Maui!  We learned that we were on the bottom of the bottom of the standby list.  Not only were we on free buddy passes, but it is then sorted by date of hire.  Rohan was hired in August 99.  There were people on the list that had hire dates from before I was born!

Kelly and Julie were with us the whole time.  They got on the same flight from Cincinnati and out of LA.  We also met another guy named Glenn.  It was nice to have some new company.  And it helped that they were in the same boat as us (standby tickets.)  We had to get some fresh air, so we went to the top level of the parking garage.  I don’t know how fresh the air was, but at least we could see the sun!  I saw my first palm tree from the top of a parking garage in LAX.

Famous person sighting #2 : Somebody ran off the plane.  A bunch of girls took off running and screaming after him.  We later talked to them and found out who it was.  We just saw Billy D. Williams, a.k.a. Lando Calrissian from Star Wars!

Famous person sighting #3 : A guy got off the plane that we all thought we recognized.  Finally we asked the lady he was traveling with who he was. The guy was John Amos and she was his publicist!  He was the adult Kunte Kinte in “Roots”.  He was also in Die Hard II (co-starred with Bruce Willis), Good Times (the sitcom), Lockup (starred with Sylvester Stallone), Fresh Prince of Bel Air (sitcom), and In the House (another sitcom.) 

We finally got on the last flight to Hawaii.  But it didn’t go to Maui.  We went to Honolulu instead.  At that point we just wanted to get out of LA. When we got to Honolulu we couldn’t stand another night in an airport.  So we shelled out some more money for a hotel around the corner.  Boy did that shower and bed feel good after sleeping on the floor in LA.

Day 4: Monday

We got up around 8 and headed back to the airport.  Rohan had made it to the condo in Maui by this time.  He called us at the hotel and gave us some info about getting to Maui.  The Delta flight (which we could get on for free) didn’t leave until 7pm.  We just wanted to get to Maui.  So we shelled out another $75 each to jump islands.

That got us to Kahului, Maui around lunch.  Unfortunately, the Delta counter there doesn’t open until 2:15pm.  We needed to talk to them to get our bags. So we took a taxi to pick up our rental car.  The taxi driver laughed when I said we wanted to go to Wheels U.S.A.  I soon found out why.

This place was a junk yard.  And there was our Mustang convertible that we had been looking forward to.  The lady explained to us that the back windows didn’t roll up.  And she was also nice enough to tell us that the tank was almost dry.  She pointed us to the most expensive gas station on the island ($1.97/gallon for unleaded.)  The car was a beat up ’89 Mustang.  The odometer read about 28,000… I  think there should at least be a 2 in front of that, maybe even a 3.  At least it ran and the top went down.  That’s about all I can say for Rhonda. (That’s what we named her.)  You can see Rhonda at the bottom right of this picture.  Actually, the picture doesn’t do the place justice.  I got it’s good side, if that’s possible.  The other side looks like the back yard of a redneck.  I bet half the cars on the lot don’t run.  One of my goals in life is to make sure that no one I know ever rents from this place.

We drove to the mall and got some lunch.  Then we went to a music store and Steve bought a ukulele.  It was time to head back to the airport to pick up our bags.  Thankfully they were all there.

Next it was on to the condo.  I was really bummed about getting ripped off with the car.  I kept wondering how bad the condo would be…

But first we had to get there.  Lesson for Maui bound travelers: Just because it’s the shortest distance on the map doesn’t mean it’s the shortest.  We took a winding one lane road around the volcano.  We could only go about 15 or 20 miles and hour.  It was really beautiful, but it took us two hours to go about 40 miles.

We made it to the condo.  I almost thought I had the wrong place because it was so beautiful.  That condo was unbelievable.  I’m still really happy with it, and I will happily stay there again if I ever make it back.  (It’s the Napili Shores Outrigger Resort Condominium.)  Our condo had a good-sized living room, full kitchen (pots and pans included), bedroom, and bathroom. It also had a porch overlooking a beautiful garden.

Rohan was there waiting for us.  We weren’t feeling very adventurous at this point.  After calling our parents to let them know we made it, we screwed around on the beach for the rest of the day.  (Oh yeah, the condo was right on the beach too!

Here are some shots of the condo:

This is the garden that we could see from our room.
The kitchen
The living room
A view of the pool from our balcony

Day 5: Tuesday

Jess was still tired from the trip and just wanted to lay around.  So that’s what she did all day.  Boy did she get red!  Rohan, Steve, and I took Rhonda out for a cruise.  We just drove around stopping at beaches.

We went back to find Jess fried.  None of us felt like spending more money, so we cooked in the kitchen and ate food that we brought with us.

Day 6: Wednesday

It was time for us to do something fun.  Steve, Rohan, and I decided to go snorkeling.  Jess didn’t come along because she got a little too much sun yesterday.  We found out that we could go in the afternoon for only $40 (instead of $80).  The catch was that it was usually to windy to go to Molokini (the snorkeling mecca of Maui.)  But we were blessed enough to make it out there!  It wasn’t too windy.  I guess that only happens about 5% of the afternoons.  And wow!  That was the best $40 I spent all trip.  The boat ride was fun, they fed us well, and the fish…. amazing!  There were hundred of them… all different shapes and sizes.  They would swim right up to your face!  Here are some pictures from my underwater camera:

Jess had been in the condo/on the beach all day, so we decided to take a little trip that night to get her out of there.  We went to Lahaina and ate at the Hard Rock Cafe.  It was a great time and a nice way to relax a little.

Day 7: Thursday

This was a big day.  We drove all the way to Hana.  It was only about 120 miles away (the other side of the island) but the round trip took somewhere between 8 and 9 hours.  The sights were indescribable!  The road was really curvy and it was only one lane in some places, but it was kept up a lot better than our other experience with that first road.  We saw amazing sights, but I think these pictures will have to do the talking.

By the time we got back from that we were all really tired.  Our condo deal gave us $50 to spend at the restaurant there.  Rohan, Steve, and I ate there.  It was a Thai/Chinese place.  It’s a good thing that Rohan was there to explain things!  Ha ha! Steve and I had no idea what was going on.  But the food was sure good.

Day 8: Friday

This was our last real day in Maui.  Rohan got up at 1:30am and took a bike ride down the crater.  He said it was really quite a trip!  You just coast all the way down (40+ miles).  The rest of us just bummed around the condo, in the hot tub, and on the beach.  Rohan got back around lunch time and joined us in being lazy on the beach.

We headed back to Lahaina for supper.  We thought about eating at Bubba Gump Shrimp, but we ended up at Cheeseburger in Paradise.  That was my favorite meal of the whole trip!  It’s highly recommended!

Day 9: Saturday

We had to leave today.  I know I had an excellent time, and I’m pretty sure everyone else did too.  But we were ready to get back.  We discovered that four people with luggage wouldn’t fit in our rental care so we drove with the top down and the backseat riders held onto luggage that was balanced on top of the trunk. We dropped off Rhonda and waited at the airport.  We caught the first flight over to Honolulu (at about 4:30pm).  There are six flights a day out of Honolulu to the mainland.  We tried to get on them all.   No luck.  There were people there from Friday.  It was really a big mess.  So we spent the night in the airport.  It was a lot nicer than LA though.  There were carpeted ledges that we could sleep on, and they let us stay in the terminals.

Day 10: Sunday

We got up and put ourselves on the lists of standby people for the flights today.  Six flights left, and we were still in Honolulu.  That meant another night in the airport.  Keep in mind that we are wearing the same clothes without a shower since Saturday morning.

While we were waiting, Kelly and Julie showed up!  They were trying to get back too.  But they didn’t have any luck either.

This is a good picture to explain what it’s like in an airport overnight.  Empty.  That’s me sitting up on the window ledge / my bed.  A Delta plane sat there every night mocking us.  We would sit in the terminals all day.  They would be empty.  Then a couple hundred people would come get on the plane.  And then it would be empty again.  It gets pretty depressing after a while.  Eating Burger King for three meals a day didn’t help much either. Steve spiced it up by playing guitar with an airport band complete with geriatric hula dancers.

As we talked to the Delta agents (who weren’t very helpful), we slowly found out why we were having such a hard time getting on the plane.  Other airlines were canceling flights.  Delta had deals with those airlines, so all those passengers were put on the list ahead of us.  At one point there were 160 people on the standby list.  And the flights out of Honolulu had about 5 open seats on each one.  Since we were at the bottom of the list we didn’t have much hope of getting on a plane.

Day 11: Monday

I’m sick of eating Burger King.  I’ve spent more money on airport food than you can possibly imagine.  Just our luck… Northwest cancelled two flights so all those people got put above us on the standby list for Delta.  We had been told all weekend that we would for sure get out on Monday.  That just wasn’t going to happen.

Kelly and Julie did get out because their buddy pass hire date was quite a bit earlier than us.  That was the last we saw of them.

We had to do something.  Three nights in the same airport is enough to drive anyone insane.  We decided to take a big change and fly back to Maui.  There are only two flights out of Maui a day.  One goes to Honolulu and one goes to LA.  If we didn’t get on that LA flight we would be stuck there until the next night!  There had been some heavy praying going on that weekend, and it got a lot heavier this evening.  You can’t imagine our relief when we got on the flight to LA out of Maui!  We were finally leaving Hawaii!!!

Day 12: Tuesday

We got into LA at 5am.  We listed for the Atlanta flight and prayed that we got on.  We did!  So with only an hour and a half in LA we were out the door again.  We got into Atlanta at about 3.  Then we got on the next flight to O’Hare that left at 4!  It all worked out so wonderfully.  We got into O’Hare, picked up our bags that had been there for days, and Steve’s dad picked us up.  We picked up Steve’s car and drove back to Purdue.

That’s it… we’re back.  But all is not over.  Jess failed an exam on Monday because she wasn’t there to take it.  We all missed a lot of classes. I had a huge Computer Science project due on Friday.  There were some late nights trying to get that done.

That’s my story.  The time in Maui was wonderful, but if I had known that we would spend more time in airports than in Maui I don’t think I would have gone.  Maui is an amazing place, and it’s a shame that our standby situation overshadows it.  It’s hard to remember our time in Maui right now because all we can think about is the airports.  I imagine that will go away and we will be left with memories of Maui… or at least that’s what I’m hoping.

Current Day Thoughts

I still think about this trip a lot. We were so naive going into it. It’s a nightmare travel story. But… we still had fun.

Thinking about doing this now, I marvel at how we did this with no cell phones. To keep our parents updated, we had to call from pay phones. WHAT DID WE DO ALL DAY? How did we just sit in a chair and stare at each other for 60 hours in the airport? I know we had a deck of cards and we talked to other college kids in similar predicaments, but wow, it’s so different from today when we’d just bury our heads in our phones and try to numb the day away.

I also look back on this trip now as a parent. Imagine seeing your kid (who has almost never been on an airplane) off on week-long trip with no cell phone and three college kids you’ve never met! I’m not saying my parents made a bad choice, but we’re so used to instantaneous 24/7 communication and GPS tracking these days that it feels like a foreign concept.

I feel like I have to restate my point from the beginning: yes, three guys went on a spring break trip with a member of the Purdue dance team and she wasn’t dating any of us. I imagine when Jess asked her parents about it, she probably said something like, “Don’t worry. It’s two computer science majors and an aerospace engineering major” to which they laughed and said, “Ok, have fun honey!”

Sitting in the terminal watching flight after flight leave with their fancy boarding passes was really tough. To this day, when I get my boarding ticket, I feel lucky/blessed/thankful to see that I have a “guaranteed seat” on a plane. (This Hawaii trip is also where I learned that even if you have a boarding pass you might still get bumped if they oversold the flight and too many people show up.)

Yes, this trip was miserable at times, but I wouldn’t say that I regret going. If nothing else, it makes for quite a story.

Indiana Christmas 2022

We made it back to Indiana for Christmas this year, but it was quite a trip! It seems like every time we get together for Christmas, we try to remember which events went with which Christmas so I’ll list some of them out here.

  • As we were getting ready to fly out of Seattle, a snow storm was coming in. I spent a lot of time the night before watching weather maps and trying to figure out when it was going to hit various areas. Tyla’s dad was driving us to the airport and we wanted to make sure he was home before the roads got bad, so we ended up deciding to get to the airport about 1.5 hours earlier than we normally would. The whole time I wondered if it was a good idea or if I was worrying about nothing, but the snow did hit Don just around the time he got back home. The snow hit the airport later. We got out a little late and had to wait for deicing, but otherwise we were unaffected. Phew!
  • Our time in Indiana started off a little weird as one family member got COVID so their crew couldn’t come when they had planned.
  • A couple days after we arrived, a big winter storm hit the midwest (and much of the country.) We had temps down to -7 and an entire day where it never got above 0. Wind chills were below -30. We got about 10″ of snow in total but up north at the home of my sister’s family, they got more than two feet. That delayed them quite a bit from coming down.
  • It was cold back home in Seattle too. While Tyla’s sister was taking care of our cats, we found out that our pipes were frozen! Thankfully I was able to guess where it happened and Don was able to come over to heat them up slowly. It looks like Megan caught it just in time and there were no leaks. Phew! Thank you, Megan and Don!

Thankfully all the snow and sickness cleared up on the last day and we had a late family Christmas together, but the complications weren’t over yet.

  • Grandpa got sick so on the day that we left, Mom left a few house before us to go help him.
  • Our flight out was on a Tuesday afternoon, but after the storm cleared on Saturday, Southwest had been canceling 2/3 of their flight every day (and continued to do so through Thursday.) Midway airport was full of stranded baggage. It was very weird walking through the airport and seeing all the empty terminals. Some of the restaurants were even closed because there weren’t enough people around to justify opening it up. Thankfully our flight wasn’t canceled! Our flight was only about 70% full and we got out 2.5 hours late, but we were very thankful to make it home on our scheduled date with our bags.

So it was hard to ignore the drama of the whole trip, but despite all that, we still had a great visit! It was especially fun to see Elijah finally get to experience a real midwestern snowstorm after all the time he’s spent playing in the 4″ of slush that we get around here. The snow was perfect for sledding and we spent a lot of time perfecting a run down the driveway. In fact, the adults usually ended up staying out there longer than Elijah did. In case we forget in the future, the farthest run was 338 feet which was just to the fourth pole in the meadow.

Here’s a short montage of the trip. Hopefully the next one is just as fun but less eventful.

Visited States

One of the main goals of this blog is to document my life. When I wrote the National Parks post a couple of weeks ago, it got me thinking that I should make a similar post about all the states that I’ve been to. LONG time readers might remember that I did this back in 2003, but I’ve added a few more since then.

The states are a little trickier because doesn’t it count a little different if I live in a state for 10 years versus stopping in a state for a 2 hour layover? I decided to break it down into four categories:

  1. I lived there. (Green)
  2. I visited there. In most cases this means I spent at least one night there, but in a couple days it just means I spent a full doing tourist activities and then slept across the border. (Purple)
  3. I drove through the state (Yellow)
  4. I stopped for a layover (Blue)

I was debating whether to include the “layover” category at all because it hardly seems like it should count, but it turns out that there aren’t many states in that category anyway.

By my count, I’ve been to 39 states + Washington DC if we ignore the layover states. Holler if you know of anything I’m missing on here!

If you want to make your own map like this, check out

National Park Passport

Did you know that you can get a passport book and collect stamps at the national parks? There are various options available at and it seems like a neat idea that we might get for Elijah.

That got me thinking about all the national parks that I’ve been to. Thanks to Mom directly helping to create this list and for scanning in lots of old slides and photos that I used as references.

  • Shenandoah National Park (1989)
  • Gateway Arch National Park (1989)
  • Mammoth Cave National Park (1992)
  • Badlands National Park (1994)
  • Rocky Mountain National Park (1996)
  • Gettysburg National Park (1998)
  • Acadia National Park (1999)
  • Everglades National Park (2003)
  • Mount Rainier National Park (Many times starting in 2006)
  • Olympic National Park (2009)
  • North Cascades National Park (2010)

I’ll also include Indiana Dunes National Park, but I was there long before it became a national park in 2019.

The full list of “national parks” is huge because it includes landmarks, sites, trails, memorials, rivers, gardens, towers, islands, etc. I restricted the above list to anything with an official name that ends in “National Park”, but here are some other places I’ve been that don’t fall into that category:

  • Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site/Niagra Falls (1993)
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial (1994)
  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (1998)
  • I visited many different DC sites on two separate trips in 1998. One was with my school and the other was with my family.
  • Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (Many times starting in 2007)

The trips before 2006 were family trips. Those trips started off in a tent and then eventually moved to a pop up camper. The camper felt so fancy because we had a dry place to hang out as a family when it rained and there was a fridge so we could avoid dealing with ice and coolers! (Thanks to Mom for apparently taking both pictures.)

Leaping Lamb Farm Stay

Leading up to our 40th birthdays, we decided to do something a little bigger than we normally do. Mine happened in 2020 right after COVID hit so my list of ideas got wiped out, but I’m happy with my lifetime membership to an area taproom. Tyla’s birthday was this year, so she had a few more options and ended up deciding on a few nights at Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, OR.

I feel like you never really know what you’re getting with these kinds of places. How much do you get to interact with the animals? How much freedom do you have to roam? Are the people that work there nice or just busy to move on to their next task? We hit the jackpot with this place.

There are two rental houses on the property. One is a giant farmhouse (over 4000 square feet) built in the 1895 that sleeps 14. We rented the newer, smaller cottage that sleeps 6, and we were happy to see that it had recently been outfitted with a mini-split so we had air conditioning during the 90-degree days. As a bonus for us, the farmhouse reservation was canceled so we had the whole property to ourselves!

Greg and Scottie are the owners but Greg was busy with projects and Scottie was away, so we spent the whole time with farm manager Denny, and we also got to chat a bit with his wife Kate. Denny and Kate were both wonderful, and I marveled at Denny’s patience for answering our endless questions.

Denny met us at the house when we pulled up. It was around 5pm so we headed out on a tour and started our first round of “chores”. When they say chores, what they really mean is letting us participate in the best parts of the farm. Every morning at 9 and every evening at 5, we’d meet up with Denny and either let all the animals out of the barn or collect them back in the barn. We’d get hay down from the loft, feed them all, etc. We helped muck the stalls too. Denny also showed us how he moves irrigation around the farm, how to prime the pump from the natural spring after the power goes out for a while, and how to run the pump from the creek on the property.

When we weren’t with Denny, we had free reign of the property to hang out with the chickens, turkey, peacock, sheep, goats, cats, donkey, and horse. Tyla loved roaming the property to find Chip (donkey) and Tater (horse). It’s good that all the animals were so friendly because Tyla spent a lot of time petting them all. We all enjoyed hanging out by the creek and walking on the trails too. Elijah loved having free roam of the property and once he knew the rules, we cut him loose to explore on his own.

It was a tough week on the farm, and we tried to stay out of the way while Denny dealt with some animal issues, but we also appreciated him sharing his thought process on how to handle the various situations. I heard someone say that “interested people are interesting” and I loved hearing Denny talk about the farm. He clearly loves it, knows a lot, and enjoys the continued learning process.

Most of the time when we go on vacation, Tyla and Elijah both ask, “Can we come back here sometime?” That happened here too, but there were more tears shed than normal when we left this place, and Tyla is already trying to book a return visit.

Thank you to Denny, Kate, and the whole crew at Leaping Lamb farm for a vacation that we won’t forget!

Seaquest State Park Camping

In the summer of 2020, we had planned to camp with Tyla’s family at Seaquest State Park. Don had gotten stuck out of state during COVID and was still quarantining, but we did make the trip with Logan and Megan. This year we decided to try again and thankfully we were all able to make it.

We could not have asked for better weather! It was in the mid 70s during the day and mid 50s at night. There were scattered clouds both days, and on the first day, there were just enough clouds obscuring the mountain that we didn’t make the drive up to the visitor center. (We were watching the webcam.) Instead, we went to Harry Gardner Park and sat along the river for a while. I took my drone and managed to photo some kind of big hawk in flight! (It’s on the left side if the river in the center of the photo.) At the time I thought it was a bald eagle but the tail isn’t white so I guess it was something else.

On Saturday, the web cam looked great when we woke up so we ate breakfast and made the 1 hour drive up to the observatory. Getting there early was really nice as we didn’t follow a line of campers up the mountain. There were more clouds by then but we still had a great view. I’ve been there twice in 2007 and once each in 2011, 2012 (when we climbed it!), and 2020. It’s fun to see how much it has changed over the years. The dome was rebuilding for a while and the area around the mountain is slowly coming back to life. Check out these pictures comparing my view from 2007 with the view from 2022. There’s a lot more green and the dome inside the crater has grown.

Mt. St. Helens 2007
Mt. St. Helens 2022

All in all, it was a fun trip. I pitched in a couple meals but thanks to Don for taking the bulk of the work! It also makes tent camping a lot easier when your camping buddies have a camper!