2020… Here’s Lookin’ At Ya

Most blog posts are ordered newest-oldest, but I am not your ordinary blogger. Actually, I am not a blogger at all. I am just me, “Wandering Gypsy Laurel” aka Grammy L, preserving an online journal of my adventures with my husband Jeff as full-time RVers for the past 5 1/2 years now.

So… here is a list of all my 2020 posts in chronological order. This is more for me, and maybe my family, than anyone else as this blog site serves as my online journal. And someday I will revisit our 5 years-plus homeless adventure living in a tin can:

December 2020 Fades…

Into 2021

The sun sets….

The moon rises…



The last day of the year shines down on the Preserve…

And in Ohio…

And in London…


And finally fades on the Preserve…


And an evening video chat with Texas ends our last day of 2020… Happy New Year to us all!
May 2021 bring us kindness, healing, and togetherness!

All About Oliver (and his family)

A Sanfilippo Story by Grammy L

Soooo much has happened since I last visited Oliver and Reagan the end of November and early December of 2019…


2020 Came and Went

When I hugged, kissed, and waved goodbye in December, I had no clue that I wouldn’t see them again until March of 2021! COVID-19 shut down the world and I became sequestered in the Colorado Desert of Southern California believing in science by wearing a mask, avoiding group gatherings, and not flying, especially since Oliver had qualified for the Sanfilippo clinical trial and was awaiting his gene therapy IV-infusion within days after his 5th birthday on April 2nd. (Even without the danger of COVID-19, Oliver needed to be quarantined anyway so that he was not sick for his medical procedure.)


Brian did a Coronavirus shopping, until eventually having groceries delivered…

Of course the stock piling includes Larabars for Oliver!

Oliver turned 5… This was his first birthday since his Sanfilippo diagnosis so the whole family’s emotion-meter was filled with so many fierce feelings! Even before COVID, Jen, Brian, Reagan, and Oliver were staying away from new environments to keep Oliver as healthy as possible. Jen and Brian were already crawling up the walls even before the pandemic quarantine!

Jen posted on her Facebook page, Oliver’s Tomorrow:

Oliver LOVES smiling faces, waving hello, and knowing people’s names. We have an on-going debate on whose birthday it is that starts mid-March. (I say it’s my birthday right now, then he says it’s his and that mine is after his. Then we both break into song, singing happy birthday to ourselves. Then, one of us sings happy birthday to the other and vice-versa.)

Yep, this is so true! I have spent his last 4 birthdays participating in this fun routine. And Oliver knows it’s his birthday, then Mom’s birthday, then Dad’s birthday, then Reagan’s birthday!

So Jen reached out and asked friends and family to send Oliver a video singing him happy birthday.

Happy Birthday, Oliver!

He underwent a medical procedure at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus…

Jen posted, “Oliver was asked the impossible this week, handled it like a champ, and even gave his sister his share of celebration ice cream.”


The Easter Bunny sent Oliver and Reagan on an Easter Egg Hunt…


Oliver graduated from Pre-K via a drive-by ceremony…

He grew tall too! His little face is puffed out from the steroids he had to take post clinical trial infusion.

They had a splash on the 4th of July thanks to Zane’s grandparents’ giant water slide. Jim and Jan live next door to Brian and Jen…

Oliver, Zane, and Reagan
Oliver and Aidan, the other next door neighbor…

Jen, Brian, Oliver, and Reagan did some day-tripping:

The Wilds, a private, non-profit conservation center located on nearly 10,000 acres of reclaimed coal mine land in southeastern Ohio…

Reagan doesn’t look very happy, sandwiched between her dad and her brother!

The Columbus Zoo…

Candlewood Lake…


Oliver started Kindergarten…


Reagan started pre-school after “graduating” from Ms. Kelsey’s Day Care…

Reagan’s first day and last day at Kelsey’s

The upstairs bathtub overflowed and the kitchen ceiling became a shower…

But as Jen said in her post, they are still smiling… wait, where’s Brian?

Follow-up testing 6 months after Oliver received the gene therapy procedure…

#TougherThanNailsSweeterThanPie

Reagan turned 3…

3 going on 13!

The 1-year anniversary of Oliver’s Sanfilippo Syndrome diagnosis rolled around…

Thank you, Glenn and Cara O’Neil from curesanfilippofoundation.org, for bringing us your army of support! It only took one phone call and you both became Velcro angels holding our family up, connecting us with other families whose children became our children too. You made us strong warriors fighting to help find a cure for and raise awareness of this rare, cruel, incurable, and devastating disease. You let us know we were not alone and you have never left our side!

Valerie Tharp Byers, Will’s mother, posted this message to Jen…

The Byers family

“The diagnosis was the worst thing we ever received, but it did alleviate the stress of “what’s going on?” I remember your feelings so well. Motherhood was hard, but why did it seem so much harder for me than my friends? Why did Will seem like so much more work? We were all tired and emotionally drained, but I was completely empty and didn’t understand until we got the diagnosis that I had been parenting a special needs child that I didn’t know had special needs. And then being able to connect to a community that knew exactly what I was going through and feeling… getting the diagnosis was terrible, but it also gave us the direction we needed in order to be able to live and love our life as a family. I hate that you had to join this “club,” but I hope you know that you are all loved by so many!”

Jen and Brian shared their feelings on Oliver’s Tomorrow Facebook Page…

Jen wrote about the day before the diagnosis.

And the day of the diagnosis

And the day after

Brian shared his thoughts too

I remember receiving a text from my son, Brian, telling me to call him. I knew something was up when Jen texted me too saying, call Brian. So I did, and he had to call me back because he was putting Oliver to bed. When he called me back he burst into tears and said, it’s about Oliver and something about a Spanish sounding diagnosis and that our sweetie love-love boy had no clue that he was slowly dying. All we could do was cry. I couldn’t even look up Sanfilippo Syndrome because I wanted so much to stay in a state of denial. The next day was my son, Andy’s 39th birthday. (He lives in London.) I was hoping Brian would have told him about Oliver’s diagnosis before I called. But I was the one wishing my son in London a Happy Birthday and asking him if he had talked to Brian yet. No. I didn’t want Andy to hear about Oliver from me, but I had to tell him. He burst into tears and we both just cried and cried. Andy howled!

Oliver and Reagan sitting in Kelsey’s front yard.

The “village” of North Cassingham Road is also amazingly GOOD and LOVING and SUPPORTIVE.

To find out more about Sanfilippo Syndrome, go to curesanfilippofoundation.org. And to donate to curesanfilippofoundation.org at no extra cost, consider shopping at smile.amazon.com… Choose Cure Sanfilippo Foundation as your supporting charity.


Jen posted this on Thanksgiving:

“Thankful for a wonderful younger sister… thankful for a wonderful older brother… thankful for these magical days…


The Superhero Project creates Captain Hugs…

aka… Oliver!

Find out more about the Superhero Project…


A COVID Christmas…

And 2020 came and went in a COVID blur that kept us all apart physically… but not in our 💜💜💜💜💜

Wander-less

A COVIDly Kept Year: Staying Put in the Desert

Luckily we visited John and Olivia in Austin by car in late January:


Across the pond my grandson, Reuben turned 6…

I sent him a video birthday greeting…


I met my cousin Jennifer on my Dad’s side in San Diego…

Unfortunately we met in the ICU before our Aunt Lynne passed. Jennifer and I share the same grandfather but different grandmothers.

We pulled mustard weed and bagged the flowers before they turned into seeds…


COVID-19 strikes…

And the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve closes April 1st…


A special 5-way Mother’s Day phone call…

Texas, Ohio, California, and the UK (Cheshire and London)

Stomping palm fronds in the dumpster…

The wind blows the fronds down in huge piles. We pick up…
And halve them into dumpster-sized piles once a week…

Cleaning up and bagging cut piles of reeds at the pond…


“Streaming” for tamarisk…


Returning to the air-conditioned RV…

Sweat soaked clothes are dry in 15 minutes… 😳

We bought a new car…

Honda HRV…

A new sun hat from Yellow Mart…

The Stetson was the only one small enough to fit me!

We celebrated my 68th birthday…

Lunch at an outdoor venue…
And a cake!

A cloudy cloudy night…


Hikers find an abandoned kitten on the trail…

The hikers knocked on our door and we took her in…
And fed her 2 cans of tuna…
We named her Shadow and took her to the “no-kill” shelter for adoption…

Andy and Claire got married in France!

We watch the ceremony live at 6:00 AM California time…

A moon rise through the palms ushered in the last month of 2020…

And this is the last picture I took on December 31st…

Simone Pond

Of course we took day trips too…

Borrego Springs...

Green Valley Lake…

Geology Tour Road (Joshua Tree National Park)…

Oceanside, California…

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve…

Amboy Crater…


COVID COVID go away!

Let us see our kin today!

I’m Dreaming of a…

Nope, not a White Christmas…

We live in the Colorado Desert, part of the Sonoran Desert extending southeast from California to northern Mexico. The Colorado Desert is the lowest, hottest, most arid region of the Sonoran Desert. Wishing for snow is non-negotiable unless hell freezes over. By definition, a desert receives less than 6 inches of rain per year. The desert in Southern California barely receives 4 inches per year. 😳

So, taking liberties with Irving Berlin’s bestselling “White Christmas” song, please bear with my desert adaptation set to the tune of his iconic holiday classic:

I’m dreaming of some rain on Christmas,

So that flowers bloom and grow.

And later in the Spring,

The blossoms shall bring,

Colors delightful to show…

I’m dreaming of some rain on Christmas,

With every week that passes by.

May the mountains be snowy and white,

And melt down to make the desert bright.


And then… what to my wondering eyes did appear?
A sudden rush of dark clouds, And 8 raindrops right here!

Ah, every raindrop has 15 minutes of fame, to paraphrase Andy Warhol… Not long after Jeff and I did our happy dance, the sky’s canvas brightened into a muted sunset.


Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Whatever you prefer… I realize I say Merry Christmas but I really mean Happy Solstice that we celebrate. Somehow this whole year had been a winter solstice hanging over our heads. But, for now, let’s be children again and look forward to bright surprises dropped down the chimney or brought by Hanukkah fairies or shared on Zoom calls with our families.

Lots of Love to All, and to All a Goodnight!

When Jupiter Aligns With Saturn

A Special Solstice

Jeff and I drive to Joshua Tree NP to watch the sunset and observe the “great conjunction” aka, the closest alignment of Jupiter and Saturn since July 16, 1623, a little more than a decade after Galileo first used a telescope to discover Jupiter’s 4 largest moons. Unfortunately, because of the planets’ position to the sun, this great conjunction was virtually impossible to see. So that takes us back to March 4, 1226, when Genghis Hahn was still roaming Asia, as the last time the planets were this close and as visible. (scientificamerican.com)

What makes this event even more special is the fact that is taking place on the Winter Solstice of 2020.

We enter the NP from the west entrance around 4:00 and are surprised that the rangers are just ushering all cars through. Jeff heads to Keys View overlooking the San Andreas Fault and Thousand Palms Oasis where we live right now. (We packed sushi, olives, cheese, a baguette, and nuts to eat when we arrive, but snacked on them on the drive up to the high desert.) Apparently lots of other people decided to choose this spot too.


We find a makeshift parking spot and ascend the walkway…


We hear a beautiful voice singing “Oh, Holy Night” and then “Ave Maria”…

So special and such a clear, angelic voice… Wow!


I start taking pictures of the setting sun…

And the Salton Sea…

And the moon…


A shared heavenly experience… And a shooting star! While Jeff was looking at Mars through his binoculars, I saw a shooting star approach the two planets, visible with the naked eye. A collective, “Ahhh” erupted…


That’s the Coachella Valley below and the lights are from Palm Springs. The road riding into the sunset is Interstate 10.

And here’s a view of Palm Desert and some of the other desert communities…


It gets darker…


And finally, it’s dark enough that I can capture the 2 planets with my iPhone… look closely…


The next rendezvous, according to scientificamerican.com, where Jupiter and Saturn are separated by just six arc minutes will arrive on March 15, 2080.

Revisiting Amboy Crater

Hiking Into a Volcano…

Jeff and I first visited Amboy Crater, located on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, in July during the triple digit heat of summer. Today we return for a proper hike into the cone itself to explore the caldera and hike to the rim.

Courtesy of desertusa.com

This National Natural Landmark, an anomaly of black rock rising in the earth-toned desert, is formed of ash and cinders. It is 250 feet high and 1,500 feet in diameter. The crater is situated in one of the youngest volcanic fields in the United States. It is located in the Barstow-Bristol trough, an elongated tectonic depression running west-northwest, which approximately straddles the boundary between the Mojave Desert and Sonoran Desert tectonic blocks.

To get there from where we live in the Coachella Valley, we take Thousand Palms Canyon Road north to Dillon Road and head east on Highway 62 toward Twenty Nine Palms past Joshua Tree. We turn north (left) on Godwin Road and east (right) on Amboy Road. Amboy Crater is about 45 miles from Twenty Nine Palms. We cross Bristol Lake, once a prehistoric sea, now a dry lake mined for the calcium chloride used to de-ice roadways in colder climates. (desertusa.com)

The volcanic field was created by at least 4 distinct periods of eruptions, resulting in a coaxial nested group of cinder cones. (I understand this to mean that the group of nested cinder cones share the same center or axis.) The most recent eruption of Amboy Crater was about 10,000 years ago. The lava flows consist of basalt rich in minerals of magnesium, iron, and calcium. If you look closer, you might observe minute green-colored olivine crystals. The red color indicates the presence of ferric iron, the result of steam on heated rock. (from kiosk in parking area)


The trail to the crater is only 1.1 miles from the parking lot/day use area. This well-marked trail leads to the west of the cinder cone, taking you to a wide opening where an explosive eruption breached the crater wall. From here you can descend into the caldera and/or climb to the top. Round trip, the trail is about 3+ miles, depending upon how many trails you descend and ascend within the cone before returning to your car.

The trail leads you through sand and lava fields:

Up close and personal, the crater is less intimidating. (I know it looks like there is a trail here leading to the rim. Trust me, this is not the way up…)

The trail wraps around the back to the right and then starts to head up. Here the uphill is steep and uneven but fortunately this part is a rather short climb.

Once you climb up, you are inside the crater.

Four trails lead up to the ridge.

Naturally, Jeff and I choose an “iffy” and steep trail to the top. These pictures are deceiving in that the trail looks well-established and an easy climb… NOT in my humble opinion. I am scared to look down. I am scared to lose my footing. I am just plain scared. I end up crawling my way to the top, latching on to any secure rock I can find.

Whew! I hug the ground when I safely make it to the rim! Then I stand up. And look back down.

More views from the ridge…

Here we descend into the caldera again on the most friendly trail.

I pause and look back up to the top…

And down again…

Almost there!

One last curve…

And we are in the caldera. I look back one last time…

And we descend onto the trail leading back to the parking area.

We walk back toward our car and turn around for a last close-up and personal look at Amboy Crater.

Looking ahead again, a train runs parallel to Route 66.


Amboy Crater is so worth the “off the beaten path” drive! There is no shade or civilization at all as you travel through the desert. The feeling of solitude is intense, but welcoming, if you know what I mean. But if you need to feel connected again, head to the town of Amboy before returning back to Twenty Nine Palms. Look for the giant neon sign on Route 66 that advertises Roy’s Motel and Cafe.

roadtrippers.com, courtesy of Sanna Boman Coates

The exact population of Amboy, originally founded in the 1850s by salt miners, is less than 10. It was the first stop in a series of railroad stations constructed across the Mojave Desert in the late 1800s. In 1938 Roy’s Motel, named after Roy Crowl, opened as a rest stop for travelers, the only respite from the desert heat for miles and miles around. With the rise of automobiles, Roy’s Motel included a gas and service station. At it’s heyday, the town of Amboy, owned by Herman “Buster” Burris, had a population of 700. Buster eventually sold the town and moved away. Albert Okura, a businessman, Historic Route 66 activist, and philanthropist purchased the town of Amboy in 2005. (roadtrippers.com)

According to desertusa.com, Amboy is a time capsule of 1950s Americana. After Albert Okura purchased the town for $425,000, he has slowly been restoring it. Roy’s is open for gas and there’s a little store where you can buy water and a postcard and use the restroom. On November 16, 2019 the iconic neon lights of the Roy’s Cafe & Motel sign were lit after 20 years of darkness, lighting up the roadway again for travelers on Route 66. In the future there are plans to restore the 20-room hotel and 6 bungalows.

“There is an old cemetery, a church and a post office nearby — all closed now — but the grave markers remind us of the history and the residents who used to live there.” (desertusa.com)

All About Oliver

A Sanfilippo Story by Grammy L…

CAPTAIN HUGS



THE SUPERHERO PROJECT

Lisa Kollins launched the Superhero Project in 2016. She interviews children with challenges to learn about their inner superhero qualities, then connects with professional artists across the world to bring the character to life.

The Project began when Kollins volunteered as a program specialist at Camp Sunrise, a former camp for children who were affected by HIV and AIDS, near Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2015 she asked all the children to describe what their superhero alter-egos would be like. She then arranged for artists to draw quick sketches and presented the children with depictions of their superhero characters in a slide show at the end of the camp.

Within 20 seconds I was weeping, half the counselors were crying, and the kids were just going nuts. I had stumbled into something more powerful than I could imagine.

Lisa Kollins

…Too powerful to be a one-time thing… (cleveland.com)

So Kollins spent a year developing a plan for her Superhero Project transforming children into superheroes with vibrant posters created by artists from around the world. And she does all this in her spare time. By day she is an administrator at the Social Justice Institute at Case Western University. (thedaily.case.edu)

It’s important, I think, to recognize that every kid deserves to see themselves reflected or depicted in a positive way. People are marginalized in our society for a lot of reasons—for race, for disability, for illness, for class, for education—and it’s really wonderful to have the opportunity to create these characters that really reflect the spirit and the soul of the kids I meet. It’s an honor and a privilege that these families allow me into what, for some of them, are the worst moments of their lives. I know some of the kids that we’ve interviewed have passed away after our interview. It’s a privilege to walk with these families for a short time and to bring some joy into a really difficult time.

Lisa Kollins

Oliver’s mom saw Will Byers’ superhero picture posted on his Sanfilippo Facebook Page, Willpower. His mom, Valerie, encouraged other families to reach out to the Superhero Project, so, Jen did.

And Lisa quickly responded and set up a time to talk with Jen on the phone to learn about all the wonderful qualities that make Oliver a bonafide hero. Jen described his love of books, getting kids their water bottles as they left preschool for the day, giving big hugs, his love for Larabars, Paw Patrol, his love for his little sister, his big smile, his enjoyment of being chased, playing at the playground, going down the slide, snuggling, giving Eskimo kisses, how he loves the letters of the alphabet, knows everyone’s names and who belongs with who… well, he is just a bundle of love! Jen sent Lisa some photos as well. They decided that his superhero name would be ‘Captain Hugs’, originally coined by his teachers at Christ Lutheran Preschool for a similar project…



Lisa composed the story of Captain Hugs and Ana Gusson drew the superhero poster:

A kind soul, a silly spirit and a tough-as-nails attitude — Captain Hugs has it all! This brave superhero inspires people with his strength and courage. He works every day to make the world better for other kids, whether he’s beaming his beautiful smile, sharing story books or helping find a cure for Sanfilippo Syndrome. Captain Hugs flies through the air, powered by his determination and a never ending supply of LARABARS. He passes them out to whoever needs an extra energy boost, along with one of his famous hugs. Nothing makes Captain Hugs happier than making other people smile and rooting for them when they’re being funny. Truly his joy and sweetness are a gift to the world!

written by Lisa Kollins, designed by Ana Gusson, inspired by Oliver (age 5)

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Within the Sand to Snow National Monument*

Nestled among the Little San Bernardino Mountains, this desert oasis is one of the 10 largest cottonwood and willow riparian (stream) habitats in California. The Preserve is an internationally-recognized birding site. It includes 2 desert vegetation zones: the Mojave and the Sonoran. The lush vegetation of Big Morongo Canyon stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding desert slopes. A high water table in the canyon has made possible the growth of tall trees in a desert climate. (bigmorongo.org)

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is located in the Morongo Valley, a community between Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park.

bigmorongo.org

The Preserve entrance is located off of State Hwy 62 on East Drive. Adjacent to the parking area is an information kiosk. On the ceiling are pictures of the various birds you may see inside the Preserve painted in their actual colors, as if you were looking up into the air and seeing the bird fly over. On the ground floor, beneath each flying bird, you’ll discover each bird’s own unique shadow. This shadow is how the ground animals recognize which predator lurks in the skies above. (bigmorongo.org)

bigmorongo.org

All trails begin at the Info Kiosk.

Trails range from 3 tenths of a mile to an 11-mile round trip hike. Elevations on the Preserve range from 600 feet on the canyon floor to over 3,000 feet at the ridge tops. The Morongo fault running through the canyon causes water draining from the surrounding mountains to form the creek and marsh habitat. (bigmorongo.org)

This color-coded map sets the trails apart and also offers a one-way COVID-19 compliant loop to follow:

We take the Marsh Trail to the Mesquite Trail where we pick up the Marsh Trail again and complete the Desert Willow Trail. And then we complete the entire loop of the Marsh Trail. We will return another time to “take the high road”of the West Canyon Trail, Canyon Trail (maybe), and Yucca Ridge Trail.


Here are pictures from our hike:

The Marsh Trail meanders over and along a stream under Fremont cottonwood trees, red willow, and white alder. This wetland area supports the 2nd highest density of breeding birds known in the U.S.. (bigmorongo.org)

left to right: willow, cottonwood, alder (I think?)

The Mesquite Trail continues along the stream through a marsh habitat…

snow-capped San Gorgonio Mountain rises in the background

… then briefly travels along the base of the Yucca Ridge…


A large outcropping of ancient gneiss rock, along this trail, is the result of the Morongo Valley Fault.

A post-war Ford, supposedly pushed off a cliff above, and pummeled by a large gneiss rock… (timingtower.com)

More views of the Yucca Ridge…


Boardwalks along the trails are environmentally appropriate. Composed of 60% recycled plastic milk containers and 40% sawdust, they last longer than wood. (bigmorongo.org)


An airy canopy of twisted limbs and branches…

This mistletoe is a perennial parasite that invades the bark of some desert trees and shrubs
where it takes in water and nutrients to survive…

“Spikerush” growing along the trails can grow to 7 feet high. When the stems can no longer support themselves, they tip over forming a dense ground cover providing small animals a home and protection from predators. (bigmorongo.org)


The Desert Willow Trail is a dirt trail wandering through open fields and honey mesquite thickets that drop down into a desert wash.


More mistletoe… Notice how green it is.

On Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve the mistletoe is red and found clinging to mesquite bushes.

The non-sticky berries ripen in winter and are a feast for birds.
Mistletoe fruit becomes sticky in the birds’ digestive tracks, allowing the seeds to stick to the bark of the host plant and germinate.

Even dead trees add color and ambiance to the desert habitat…


Mojave yucca

Fourwing saltbush
…a closer look

Cool views…

Yep, more mistletoe…

And now we are back where we started, outside the Visitor Kiosk, as we retrace our steps and complete the Marsh Trail, a 6-foot wide boardwalk trail accessible to everyone who is other-abled. There are 3 decks for relaxing along the .65 mile trail.

California fan palm, washingtonia filifera
Old cottonwood leaves still clinging to the branches paint the tree in fall colors.
The “all accessible” Marsh Trail with boardwalk and bench…
The view from the Jess Sherwood Memorial Deck…
A California fan palm takes root…

*Sand to Snow National Monument

Established by President Obama on February 12, 2016, the Sand to Snow Monument stretches from the sands of the Sonoran Desert to the top of San Gorgonio, the highest mountain in Southern California. With an area of 154,000 acres, Sand to Snow ranges from 1,000 feet to 11,000 feet in elevation. It protects a wildlife corridor connecting the San Bernardino National Forest/San Gorgonio Wilderness area, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Bighorn Mountain Wilderness area. (desertusa.com)

courtesy of desertusa.com…