"It matters not, how much we own, the cars ... the house ... the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash." ~Linda Ellis

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Border Crisis Tour

Note: This is a long post, but there is a lot to share on this.

Every time we've come to Tucson we have wanted to take the Border Crisis Tour through Gray Line. However, it is only offered once a month, and we never fit it into our schedule. A few weeks ago, we finally did. I highly recommend this tour if you get a chance. If you are going to be in Tucson, please take the tour rather than reading my take on it. You will get sooo much more from them.

The most important thing about this tour is that it is not political in any way, shape, or form. The guide did a wonderful job of staying neutral and keeping his political beliefs out of the conversation. Of course, there were some people in the group who tried to steer the conversation in a political direction, but our guide was very good at getting the conversation back on track. The tour is strictly information on what is actually happening at the border. I've heard all of the political arguments on each side, and have my own views on the matter (which I will not mention here). But, what this tour did was present us with the human aspect, which is left out of all arguments.

This was an all day tour. We arrived at the tour company an 8:15am for a brief description of how our day would go. We then boarded the bus with the other tourists and were on our way.

Our first stop was at an emergency water station. Here we learned of the harsh conditions illegal immigrants face as they head north from the border. They are walking across harsh desert, and many die from dehydration along the way. Humane Borders, Inc. is working to save lives by providing water stations for illegal immigrants wandering across the desert. It is not a political organization, and does not take a political stance. Their belief is that while what the immigrants are doing is illegal, their crime should not be punishable by death. Humane Borders is merely trying to save lives. A question was raised as to whether border patrol stakes out the water stations, and the answer is "no". The desert is too vast, there are too many stations, and not enough personnel. Humane Borders actually goes in to Mexico to educate those that may be thinking about crossing illegally. They advise people NOT to do it. However, they also distribute maps detailing where to find the water stations in the event they do decide to cross. In the desert, water stations are marked by long poles with a blue flag at the top so that they can be seen from a distance. The water station we visited was about 30 miles north of the border. We were shocked at what we found when we arrived. The water station had been vandalized. The flag pole was knocked down, and the water tank was gone.
Apparently some people with more extreme views on immigration have been sabotaging the humanitarian efforts. I was deeply saddened by this disregard for human life. Can you imagine the despair of having wandered across the desert, desperate for water, knowing that some relief should be nearby, only to find it gone when you get there? What if this water station is exactly what would have made the difference between life and death for someone? The guide then had us walk around the station looking for signs of people having been there. We found what appeared to be a piece of torn clothing up in a tree. He then told us to imagine how it might have gotten there. Another danger the immigrants face is being attacked.

At this point, our guide also explained to us how many of the illegal immigrants are mislead. Quite often a guide will take them across the border, and then leave them at some point. The immigrants are told to wait for someone to come pick them up. That person never comes. They are also told things like, Phoenix is only a half hour away. Or, New York City is only a day away. Many of the immigrants are not prepared with enough food and water for how long their hikes really are. Or, the drug cartels help them across, and then the immigrants are in debt to them for the rest of their lives.

Our guide did make one political statement. He is extremely angry with both the left and right sides of this issue and says that the immigrants are being used as pawns in a game of political chess. What really needs to happen is that a decision needs to be made either way so that something is finally done about it. While each side sits back and plays the blame game, people are losing their lives when all they are trying to do is find a better life for themselves.

Our next stop was Nogales, AZ, where we had a wonderful lunch catered by a restaurant in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. While we were eating, we visited with a representative of the city of Nogales about the safety along the border. His opinion of safety is that Nogales is just like any other city. There are parts that are perfectly safe, where people leave their bikes outside and their cars unlocked; and there are parts that are not so safe. He went on to say there is nothing to be afraid of when walking along the shopping districts along the border. Due to increased police presence in the city, it is actually a pretty safe place to be. It was also mentioned that at the same time Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico was one of the most dangerous cities, right across the border El Paso, Texas, United States was one of the safest. Again due to police presence in the area.

Next we talked with several border patrol agents from Nogales and from Tucson. Again, we learned of the dangers illegal immigrants face when crossing the border. I was surprised to learn how much of the border patrol agents job involves saving lives. The border patrol has set up rescue beacons throughout the desert. At these beacons, people in need can press a button which alerts the border patrol to their location. When picked up, these people receive the medical attention they need, and then are transported back over the border. While yes, these people know that by pressing the button they will eventually be removed from the country, they will still be alive. The border patrol works with Humane Borders, Inc. in distributing maps and information in Mexico and Central America. The message is the same. Please don't attempt to cross the border illegally, but if you do and find yourself in a life-threatening situation, here is where you can go for help.

When asked about the dangers, the border patrol agents talked a bit about the drug cartels. Quite often it is someone from the drug cartels who is escorting a group of immigrants across the border. When coming across a group, it is not always immediately obvious who the "bad guy" is. One agent talked about striking up a conversation with a man he came across in the desert. He had a very pleasant conversation with him. However, after bringing him in and doing further investigation, found that he was someone from the drug cartels that they were on the lookout for. Another one impressed on us that in coming upon a group, there may only be one dangerous person in the group, but he needs to keep his guard up and treat them all as though they are dangerous, because you never know who it is. The border patrol agent keeps his family forefront in his mind as he wants to go home to them at the end of the day. Again, politics only came into the conversation once as one of the agents expressed frustration stating that he wished the other countries' governments would take better care of their people.

Finally, we talked with a representative from the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. Here we learned about the amount of produce imported from Mexico, the regulations in place, and how Nogales has improved the border station to make the process of crossing the border with produce happen more quickly and efficiently since they are dealing with a perishable product.

Our last stop along the tour was at the Nogales border crossing itself. Here we walked along the shopping areas, and watched the crossing. On that day, the lines on both side were fairly short, and the crossing moved along fairly quickly. He also pointed out how all of the press on border safety has affected the cities. Both Nogales, Arizona, United States and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico showed signs of an economic downturn. There were not many people about on either side of the border. I since did a little research on Nogales, Sonora, Mexico and learned that the sate of Sonora is actually one of the safest in Mexico.
We returned back to the bus station about 4:30pm.

All in all, I have to say that my political views on illegal immigration have not changed after taking this tour. However, my eyes have been opened to the plight of the immigrants themselves. Instead of immigration being just a political problem, I am now seeing it more as a human problem. My heart goes out to the people who are risking it all for a chance at a better life for themselves and their families.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

National Parks are FREE this Weekend!

One of our favorite resources for exploring this beautiful country of ours is the National Parks System. Several times throughout the year, the National Parks offer Fee-Free Days.

This week the National Park System is partnering with the National Park Foundation for "National Park Week". To kick off the week, this weekend every national park is offering free admission!!

According to a press release issued by by the National Park Service on April 16, 2015:

"This year's theme, "Find Your Park," invites people everywhere to be a part of the Find Your Park movement and discover their own unique connections to parks and the programs managed by the National Park Service. Featuring free admission to all parks on April 18 and 19, and exciting activities and programs throughout the week, National Park Week is the perfect time to celebrate America's 407 national parks and find you park.

Find Your Park showcases everything parks can be and the wide range of opportunities they have to offer, highlighting wellness, recreation, community, education, history, culture, and preservation of the environment. Find Your Park connects people to parks, redefining what a park can be and the important role they play in the lives of current and future generations."

The National Park Service is also encouraging people to "Share Your Park" through social media, and enter The Centennial Project contest to celebrate their 100th anniversary in 2016.

Here are some of our favorite national parks that we have enjoyed.

Tumacacori National Historical Park, Arizona
Acadia National Park, Maine
Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Louisiana
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Arches National Park, Utah
Independence National Historical Park, Pennsylvania

So what are some of your favorite parks?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Xscapers

One of the frustrating things about being a family on the road is the lack of resources. Most RVing information is geared toward the retired RVer. However, the number of people still working and either living on the road or traveling part time seems to be increasing. We run into other families on the road everywhere we go. Kimberly over at Fulltime Families has done a wonderful job of creating a resource for those of us who seem to be left out of the bigger clubs.

Every month we get magazines from Escapees and FMCA, and I just barely glance through them because most of what is in them doesn't apply to me. This has always bothered me. I know that Escapees was founded back in the 1970s by a couple in their 40s, full-timing with their kids. I page through their magazine wondering where the working travelers are represented. Same thing with FMCA. FMCA actually stands for Family Motor Coach Association. However, again I page through their magazine wondering where the families are. I'm not at all saying that the clubs need to change and become all about working and raising kids on the road. I just want to be included.

So I was excited the other day when Techomadia and Escapees announced Xscapers! Finally, one of the "big clubs" is recognizing us! From what I understand, this is not to be a separate club, but a club within a club. Which is great! I still want to be part of the big picture with all RVers of all ages and life-stages. While there are certain aspects of RVing that are different for retired vs working; there are still many things we have in common. It looks like now Escapees will provide the resources that are more geared toward the retired set, and Xscapers will provide the resources that are more geared towards those of us still working. Anyone can be a part of either "club" or both. Kudos! I am looking forward to this new all-inclusive Escapees.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Whole Foods Tour

As much as I love to travel, it has been very nice to be in one place for a few months. One things I miss while we travel is the sense of community. When we are always on the go, I never really feel like we are a part of something. Since we are in one place for the winter, we have joined a local homeschool group, and have been able to take advantage of the field trips they offer.

The other day we were able to take a tour of a local Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods is already one of the stores I shop at because I like their selection. After the tour, I have a new appreciation for their company. As we toured the store, someone from each department explained to us where the food comes from and gave us samples.

In the produce department, we were shown the selection that came from a local organic farm. While sampling scrumptious local oranges, we learned about the farm. Buying local when possible is important to me, so I was pleased by the large selection. They also pointed out some out of the ordinary produce that we may not have heard of, and told us how to prepare it. One such unique plant is the watermelon radish. I thought it looked just like a turnip, but when he sliced it in half, we were surprised to see a pretty shade of watermelon pink! We were told that it tastes just like candy. I just had to buy some to try. I'll keep you posted as to whether they really do taste like candy!

 Next we went to the meat department. Here we were given samples of yummy barbeque chicken and smoked fish as we learned where their meat comes from. The employee from this section brought out a flatfish to show the kids. What is unique about the flatfish is that they are round when they are born, but as they grow they become flat, and one eye actually moves to either the left or right side of the fish. This is so they can see while they are lying flat.

He also discussed their farm-raised salmon. I've always read that wild-caught fish is better than farm-raised fish, so I was surprised to learn their salmon is farm-raised. He then went on to explain their standards and how they avoid the problems usually associated with farm-raised fish. When buying fish, I always look for "wild-caught", so after we got home, I looked up their website to learn more about their farm-raised fish. (Click here to read it.)

The yummiest sample came from the frozen foods section where we sampled some local ice cream. While enjoying the ice cream, we were told the company is one that benefited from Whole Foods' Local Producer Loan Program. Whole Foods is giving low-interest loans to help local businesses get started or grow their business.

One of the questions that came up during the tour was about their GMO policy. I remember when Whole Foods Market was called out recently for marketing as a health food store, but allowing foods with GMOs. They are not moving to have all vendors remove GMOs from their food. However, they are moving toward having all of their food items labeled by 2018 so their customers will know whether or not they are purchasing genetically modified food.

The other question that was raised was the "whole paycheck" question. Whole Foods Market has earned the nickname "Whole Paycheck" due to their prices. Our tour guide informed us that while many of their specialty items are higher priced, their store brand 365 Everyday Value items are comparable to and in some cases even cheaper than other store brands. He also told us that employees get a 20% discount, and can qualify for an even bigger discount by participate in health incentive programs.
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Photo credit: xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thursday, October 16, 2014

CurrClick Autumn Specials

CurrClick is one of my favorite resources for homeschooling. They have homeschool ebooks at discount prices. Many of the major curricula is available through them. They also offer some wonderful online classes. My son has taken a few of these. They are actual virtual classrooms with children from around the world. Anyway, since I love their site so much, I wanted to share with you that right now they are having their Autumn Special, and many of their already low prices are reduced even more! You won't find this on their web site, but if you enter the code LEAVES when you check out, you will get an additional 10% off!! Who doesn't love a deal like that?! Hurry, the sale ends October 21, 2014! Just click on the image below and start shopping!
http://www.currclick.com/cclick_autumn.php?affiliate_id=75616
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Disclosure: Since I believe CurrClick to be such a wonderful resource, I am an affiliate of theirs. I do receive a small percentage when an order is placed through one of my links.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Croc Soup Co: A Restaurant Review

http://www.crocsoup.com/
Photo courtesy of http://www.crocsoup.com/
We are always looking for restaurants that serve something a bit healthier and fresher. We found the perfect restaurant in Golden, CO - Croc Soup Co! It is a soup, sandwich, and salad place. According to their website:

"We're consumed with making soup. It's a passion that stems from an Italian heritage and a love for food and flavors from around the world.

In 2010, Daro Hyder quit his job as a big five consulting firm executive to pursue his dream of opening a gourmet soup shop. Using ingenuity in the kitchen, favorite family recipes, and recipes derived from chats with famous restaurant owners across the country, he launched a full alphabet of soups at Croc Soup Company in Golden, Colorado."

Their soups are made fresh daily, and they have vegan, dairy free, and gluten free choices in their soups. You can even taste them before deciding which to order.

We enjoyed their food so much, we went twice in the three days we were in Golden. The first trip, just Hubby and I went. He had a large Croc Soup Gumbo (spicy), and I had a small Broccoli Gruyere soup with a half Italian Croc sandwich. The next trip, Hubby and Son both had a large Potato Cheese soup; and I had a small Chicken Rice soup with a half Italian Salad. Everything was delicious ... even the Chicken Rice soup! So often, chicken soup in restaurants has little to no flavor. Not so at Croc Soup Co ... lots of wonderful seasoning.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Feeling Grateful After a Horrible Couple Weeks - Part 2

Continued... (Click here for Part 1)
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As of a couple days ago, our family is reunited. Looking back on the last couple of weeks, although they were horrible, I can see how God was looking out for us through it all. For each thing that went wrong, a lot also went right.

The hydraulics for our slides - We were expecting a major fix, but it turned out to be simple. Rather than a bad pump, the problem was a bad valve. What Hubby thought was metal flakes in the fluid turned out to be bubbles. What we thought would take days and thousands of dollars to fix, to half a day and cost less than $400. For all of that we are grateful.

The death of our beloved Schatzi - We are grieving the loss of this wonderful dog, and our motorhome feels very quiet and empty without her. However, that could have been worse as well. When we were in the vet for Tinker, we explained what happened to Schatzi. We already knew Schatzi had a bad heart. From our description of her death, the vet's best guess was that she died from heart failure. He told us that even if we had gotten her to an animal hospital, there wouldn't have been anything they could do for her. We were relieved to hear that information. We had also wondered what we would do with a pet that passed away while we were traveling. Where do you go with the pet? We were staying on the property of a friend of my sister-in-law when she died. He had a place on his property where he had buried pets that he had lost, and let us bury our Schatzi with them. Best of all, she spent her last couple days doing what she loved best - exploring outside. For all of that we are grateful.

Tinker getting sick - While Hubby had to take the motorhome to be fixed, we had a place to stay since it happened in a city where we have relatives. There was also another Fulltime Family staying in the area, so we were able to visit with family and friends during that week. We also had our own vehicle to get around in. The doctors and staff at The Animal Emergency Clinic were wonderful. They called every specialist they could think of, and even did research during their off hours to figure out what was wrong with Tinker. They all bonded with our dog, and gave her lots of love and attention while she was there. Best of all, while she is not completely out of the woods, she is getting better. For all of that we are grateful.

The hydraulics for the power steering and brakes - Hubby was driving in construction when the hydraulic line blew, and was able to get safely pulled over to the side of the road. Also, the big rig service shop was able to locate a replacement hose and have everything fixed within a few hours. For all of that we are grateful.

Our family is back together now and ready to put the last couple weeks behind us and enjoy a few days of fun before heading back to work.
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