New Wheels

By: Heather

We bought a thing! A new to us 12-passenger Ford Transit! It is disappointingly white but spending thousands of dollars to paint it iridescent orange was not exactly in the budget.

So backstory: In 2014, shortly after we started our full-time RV journey, we bought a van. It was a 2004 Toyota Sienna that had been sold at auction and fixed up by a student trying to pay his way through college. We paid $5,000 for that little van and it was money well spent. That thing traveled all over the country and often pulled our box trailer as well. I was spoiled with that van. It had heated leather seats and automatic doors and the back seats folded flat into the floor, I mean, what else could a girl ask for?

Well eventually it did get old. 265,000 miles and 15 years old plus 10 of those years had been spent in Ohio with winters full of salty roads. A recent repair shop in California said there was so much rust on it that many of the parts they were trying to remove were fused together to other parts. Plus, now as a family of 6 we only had one extra seat and we often wanted to haul more than one extra person. Several times I (being the smallest) was the one who ended up sitting on the floor when we had extra people riding along. It was not very fun for me.

So now we have the Transit. We have named it Baymax since it is big and white and… fluffy?

“Hello, I am Baymax, your personal transportation assistant. Are you satisfied with your ride?”

Seriously though, it is much less scary to drive than I first assumed. There are lots of mirrors to alleviate blind spots, it accelerates surprisingly well, we had a backup camera installed shortly after we bought it, and I am really (surprisingly) enjoying being up higher. I can see so much more of the road and surrounding cars since I tower over most of the other vehicles now. Also, now I can always find Baymax in a busy parking lot as the roof is about 8′ tall instead of the average 6′ tall vehicles around it. I am, however, limited on the parking garages I can fit into now.

My kiddos really like it too. Though they do still fight over seats. Go figure. The kids have lots more room and there is a lot of room for storage in the back since the van was designed to accept yet another row of seats bringing the total to 15 seat. We looked at one of the 15-passenger vans, but it left ZERO room in the back for anything else, so we opted for the 12-person setup.

Notes from Kevin:

If we are going to use the Transit for the foreseeable future, we might as well make it the best fit for us. Therefore, I took no time at all to begin popping off trim pieces and drilling holes to customize it. Heather just shook her head as she looked over the array of plastic trim pieces laid out on the ground next to the van less than 24 hours after we purchased it. Everything went back together the way it came apart, but the Transit now has two extra 12-volt outlets, 2 sets of Anderson Power Pole connectors, a 500 watt power inverter, a VHF/UHF ham radio with antenna, and 2 lock boxes for firearms installed. We are now set to travel!

San Diego Zoo

By: Kevin

DSC_0799The San Diego Zoo….a massive sprawling zoo located not only in the middle of the city of San Diego, but also situated within Balboa Metro Park. The zoo has earned and kept quite a reputation for excellence, and for good reason. Not only are they a renowned zoo, they are also a full botanical garden with many species of plants and flowers.

My (Kevin’s) first visit to the San Diego Zoo was actually back in 2004 when I was on summer cruise with the US Navy, as part of the ROTC program at the Ohio State University. Some things have stayed the same since my visit in 2004, but much of the park I do not remember, so I was excited to explore it again.

Our family has been to the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, the home of (Jungle) Jack Hanna, a number of times over the years and we have been able to make it through the zoo in a full single day. San Diego Zoo would be a tough feat to make it through everything in a single day. We decided to get annual zoo passes, and we are glad we did. We have been to the zoo three times now, and have covered different sections of the zoo each time. After three visits we have completely covered all areas of the park. We most likely could have covered everything in two full days, but since we have season passes we felt less rushed to cover everything in three days instead of two.


We have not yet taken the guided bus tour of the zoo to hear their insight and information about the zoo that we may not learn by just walking around ourselves.

Safari Park

As an added bonus to our annual passes, there is also a Zoo Safari Park at a separate location in the area that our passes allow free access to, and you can see how a single day just isn’t enough time.

The Safari park is located about 30 mins north of the main San Diego Zoo off of Interstate 15. Over half the acreage of the park still sits empty for possible expansion and as a sanctuary for native wildlife. There are multiple open areas that visitors can overlook as well as a drive-through tram ride that explores additional areas of the park. It took us two days to get through all the areas of this park, and we only did the free things that were included with our (free) admission. There are additional pay-to-play “safaris” such as a high ropes course, zip-line, Jeep tour, and overnight camping excursions. Even without these pay options the park was well worth our time and drive.

Old Town San Diego

I must start by apologizing to our faithful followers. We have been pretty busy over the past few months, and we have not shared any of it with you all. We are trying to get caught up, so please keep your eyes out for a number of posts over the next few days.


Among our explorations around the San Diego area we stopped in to Old Town San Diego. This area of town is a great area to stroll around on a sunny afternoon or weekend. The area is comprised of multiple historical sites, 32 restaurants, 36 museums, and over 100 shops. The center of Old Town is accessible by foot only, which adds to the family fun factor since we didn’t have to worry as much about the kids running around. There was plenty of parking within walking distance, but if you want to park right in the middle of the action, plan to arrive early in the day.

One of the historical sites in Old Town is the Mormon Battalion historical site operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The site features a free interactive tour which explains how the Mormons made their way from the Midwest to the San Diego area and the struggles they encountered along the way. Bug even got to dress up like a soldier complete with leather backpack and rifle. The outside exhibits included panning for gold, using a hand pump and metal washboard to wash clothes, and using wooden forms to make bricks for buildings. The time spent at the site was enjoyable for both adults and the kids. Afterwards we strolled through many shops and snacked on freshly made tortilla chips and salsa from one of the restaurants before calling it a day.

*On a separate trip to Old Town we also tried out of the Mexican restaurants which was pretty tasty.

Navy Band Christmas concert

By: Kevin

This week we had the opportunity to attend the first annual Navy Region
Southwest Christmas concert by the U.S. Navy Band. This concert was a
combined effort by the Navy band and USO San Diego. We are a huge fan of the
USO, and the San Diego division has been awesome to us as a family. We have
attended free weekly dinners, gotten free food items at regular intervals,
and sent the kids to a week long summer camp for free courtesy of USO San
D The San Diego community has been truly blessed by the USO. Anyways,
back to the subject at hand.

The concert was at the Balboa Theater located in downtown San Diego. The
theater itself boasts tall ceilings, comfy seating, and a balcony with quite
a view. The band performed many traditional and contemporary Christmas songs
including a sing-along session with the audience. There were visits from
Santa Clause and the Grinch. It was truly a great performance lasting around
90 minutes. The Commander of Navy Region Southwest, Rear Admiral Lindsey,
read the Christmas story to all the children in attendance as they were
huddled around him on the side of the stage. After the concert, both Santa
and the Grinch were available for photographs as we exited the venue. Both
of our kids said they really enjoyed the concert and each had a favorite
song from the performance. We are all looking forward to attending again
next year.

Lastly, there was a special moment mid-concert that I wanted to mention. One
of the band members was due for re-enlistment, and she was sworn back in by
Rear Admiral Lindsey with the call to reenlistment for everyone in
attendance. What a great honor it would be to reenlist with the Rear Admiral
and a theater full of military members standing at attention to witness the

Air and Space Museum

By: Kevin

IMG_7319IMG_7297There are many things to do around San Diego, and we have been knocking them
off our list as we can. So when we were presented with the option of free
tickets to the Air & Space Museum, we were happy to scratch it off our list
as well. On arrival we were wondering how long it would take to get to the
entrance, as the admission line was wrapped around the sidewalk, but we were
pleasantly surprised as how fast it was moving.

As one first walks in there is a central display with an airplane as well as
a space capsule. These are neat exhibits for the kids to look at as parents
are getting tickets printed or online tickets redeemed. Then visitors go
through a turnstile to actually enter the museum. When we were there, there
was also a side exhibit about race cars that required a separate ticket and

The museum started with a Hallway of Fame, with framed portraits of
note-worthy pilots or engineers and their contribution to the science of air
travel. There were small models of some of the air frames these pilots or
engineers have designed and built, and a few propeller designs that are a
little atypical. Next, one walks into the early days of flight and war-time
efforts by both the United States as well as other nations. There is a nice
display on blimp use as well as their safety and control issues. Of course,
there is no shortage of planes at the museum. Some are models, some are real
aircraft sitting on the floor or suspended from the ceiling. There was a
runway mock-up complete with control tower and search light. There are a good
number of military planes most likely because the military is frequently at
the forefront of technology, but also because I consider San Diego a fairly
military city. For fans of the US Navy Blue Angels, there is what looks to
be a real Blue Angels plane towards the end of the museum.IMG_7311

There were stunt planes, some not much taller than me, and not much longer
than about 6-8 feet. The stunt planes had huge engines, which made them look
like something out of a cartoon. There were some, possibly developmental,
ultralight aircraft that barely even had a cockpit. One in particular the
pilot had to lay down prone on top of it instead of sitting in a seat. The
pilot’s face was protected by a small windshield that appeared smaller than
the windshield on my motorcycle. I hope the pilot didn’t roll too far in
either direction and fall off! IMG_7321

The museum is not all planes either. While I don’t know if they are always
there or not, there were some beautiful antique cars in the center atrium
between the fountains. The museum also has a display and damaged police
cruiser from the attacks on 9-11-01. The display was well-designed and
tasteful, and while it is related to aircraft, it felt a bit out of place
sandwiched between historic planes and stunt aircraft.

At the end of the museum were a few flight simulators, both stationary as
well as the large cockpit simulators complete with hydraulics so it feels
like the person is really banking and rolling in the simulator. These of
course had an additional fee per person. We opted to proceed without trying
them as we had other things we wanted to do that day, but they looked like
fun. The museum concludes with a small gift shop. The whole thing took us
about 1.5 hours to get through, but with younger children we did not stop to
read each and every display. If you are one of the people that likes to read
everything, it would take you considerably longer. All in all, I would recommend the museum to others.

La Jolla Sea Lions

By: Kevin

IMG_7096When we made a visit to San Francisco last year, we went down to the docks and Fisherman’s wharf to try and see the sea lions, but for whatever reason we were unsuccessful in our efforts. Yes, we have seen sea lions at SeaWorld, both here in San Diego as well as Orlando, FL, but it is just not the same as seeing them in their natural environment.

We were told that the beaches at La Jolla frequently have sea lions sunning themselves, so we made the short drive out to the beaches to see what we could find. The kids heard the word ‘beach’ and immediately changed into their swimming gear, piled way too much stuff into the van, and were ready to go.

On arrival to La Jolla beach, our first hurdle was to find parking. The beach was busy, and due to construction in the area, parking was even tighter than normal. We lucked out and found a car pulling out right at the beach and I was able to swing into the spot before anyone else snagged it. This time, we were successful! There were many sea lions swimming, sunning, sleeping, and playing on and around the beach. There were animals of all sizes and one could hear the barks and calls as they conversed and challenged each other. They didn’t seem to mind people being around either. While I doubt they would let you pet them, they couldn’t care less as we walked among them in the sand. The thing that surprised me the most was the stagnant smell. While I fully understood that there was no zoo keeper tending to them and cleaning up after the sea lions, the stale smell of salt and feces was stronger than I expected with the prevailing sea breeze. We could clearly see droppings around the rocks, sometimes liquified in pools of trapped water atop the rock formations. Miss Kicky Feet was heading straight for these pools of liquid poop and had to be redirected more than once to ensure our van did not smell like sea lion poop for the coming days or weeks.

Despite the smell of nature, the sea lions were actually pretty cool. Watching them “walk” around on the rocks with their two front flippers and kind of wiggle their hind end around was entertaining for me. They were more agile than I would have otherwise thought. They of course are avid swimmers as well, even is strong surf and waves between the boulders and rock formations they swam with ease and grace.

We spent approximately an hour taking pictures and videos of the sea lions and their cubs before moving on to our next activity of the day. All of us enjoyed our little dose of nature in action on the rocks by the sea. If anyone is in the area, the sea lions hang out on the rocks of La Jolla beach most of the year, if you care to visit them too.

Runway 5K

By: Kevin

Many people that read this may have completed a 5K. I have personally completed a number of 5K runs, some official events, and some just on a whim while working out. However, how many people can say they have done so on the runway of an active airport? Well, that is exactly what I did yesterday. Since joining the military I have had the opportunity to experience many new and different things, and yesterday added to my list of cool things I have done.

The event was hosted by Naval Air Station North Island, and as the name of this post implies, the event took place on one of the airport runways. Due to the FOD (Foreign Object Debris) risk we posed to the aircraft, which would be utilizing the runway shortly after our departure, we were limited on what we could bring with us out on the runway. We were allowed to have earphones and phones to play music, but no water, no hats, basically nothing that could get dropped or blown off and be picked up by a jet engine. Even with limited gear at hand everyone completed either the 5K running course, or the 1-mile walking course successfully without issue. We did have to slow at one point to allow an aircraft to pass as it was being towed across the runway from one area of the flight line to another.

Heather and the kids opted for the 1-mile walking course, so we all participated in the event. At the conclusion of the event we all received very nice Dri-wick T-shirts with a pretty cool logo on them.

Now I can honestly state that I have run from one end of a runway to the other and back again. Thanks North Island for hosting the event, and I will see you next year!

Movie in the Park

By: Kevin

Last night we attended a ‘Movie in the Park’ event, sponsored by a local hospital and hosted by San Diego county parks. The setup consisted of a large inflatable screen, projector, and sound system to ensure everyone could hear the movie. The blower to keep the screen inflated, the projector, and the sound system were all run via a 3,000 watt Yamaha generator….the big brother to the generators we have as part of our RV setup. These generators run quiet enough not to disturb the movie sound. In reality it is quite a simple setup, but it was pretty neat to experience. The kids got to play on the park playground for a while as the sun set. Then we planted ourselves in our lawn chairs and the kids on a large towel on the grass in front of us. We brought along some gummy snacks and multiple bags of pre-popped microwave popcorn to enjoy during the movie. It was a little cool down by the reservoir, and we were all glad we brought along hoodies. Miss Kicky Feet, who is now 2 years old, was asleep by halfway through the movie, but that was not a surprise to us. Around 2130 (9:30pm) the movie concluded and we made our way to the van for the trip back home. All in all, it was an enjoyable night out for all.

I almost forgot, the movie of the night was “Back to the Future”, which was originally released in 1985. It was entertaining to see the “technology” circa 1985 in the movie. I am curious to see the rest of the series and see what they predicted 2015 to look like.

Hiking in Southern California

By: Kevin

IMG_6516There are plenty of options around southern California for those who enjoy hiking! The mountains to the east of San Diego offer some wonderful views of the countryside. The urban interfaces also allow some interesting hikes along the edges of civilization while still being in nature. We have taken a number of hikes and treks since arriving in San Diego back in March. Some have been simple 1-2 mile hikes all the way up to a hike through the mountains that was pushing 12 miles and was threatening darkness by the time we made it back to our starting point. We have all upgraded our hiking boots since arriving in California to meet the challenges of some trails, and to help guard against being struck by snakes should we stumble across them during our hikes.

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There are also a few “truck trails” through the mountains along the Mexico border which offer great scenic views and a decent challenge to the Border Patrol enforcement efforts. While exploring one of these truck trails we even received text messages saying “Welcome to Mexico!” when our cell phones connected to the closest cell tower, which was on the Mexico side of the border. You can see from this map just how close we were to the border. Lucky for us, our blonde-haired blue-eyed kids would not likely be mistaken for illegal border crossers.IMG_6522

Last night we met up with other families at Cowles Mountain for a Full Moon Family Fun Hike organized by MWR, the Navy Morale Welfare and Recreation office. We started at 6:45pm and finished around 8:45pm. This gave us plenty of light for the ascent to the top of Cowles Mountain, then we watched the sunset and moon rise from the summit while drinking water and a having a quick snack. We made our way back down the mountain trail via moonlight and the occasional flashlight beam for harder to walk areas of the trail. The only injury we incurred was a scraped knee and finger when Heather took a spill after her boot laces hooked each other and didn’t allow her foot to move forward any more, effectively hobbling her. The view of the moon and the city lights below were beautiful and oddly peaceful, even while surrounded by over a hundred other night hikers.

SeaWorld San Diego

By: Kevin

IMG_6743One major attraction around the San Diego area is SeaWorld. Now, SeaWorld has been the subject of some negative press over the years because they “extort wild animals for profit” and other similar arguments. However, living on the coast, it has become evident that this is not entirely the case. SeaWorld has a huge division of their operations that is devoted to helping wild animals and performing animal rescues and rehab, mainly not for profit. Their trucks can be spotted on the beaches when a random whale or sea turtle washes up too far to get back in the water by itself. These animals are either helped back to the ocean, or transferred to SeaWorld for medical treatment, rehab, and if at all possible, release back to the wild.

Beach rescues aside, thanks to the generosity of SeaWorld all active duty military and their families can come to SeaWorld once a year for free. We took advantage of this program and spent a full day wandering their park along Mission Bay. We got to pet Stingrays, see penguins up close, and even ride a roller-coaster which Pie requested more than once. We attended the Sea Lion show and avoided getting splashed at the Killer whale show. To make the day even better, Heather’s mom was in town for the week, so the kids got to spend time with Grandma too. The kids enjoyed the large play zone complete with hanging nets and obstacles. Last, but not least, what is a day at SeaWorld with Grandma without visiting the gift shop before leaving the park.

We did add a certain military feel to the day by opting not to indulge in the amusement park-priced food while in the park, but opted instead to bring….M.R.E.s with us for lunch. For those of you not familiar with M.R.E.s or ‘Meals Ready to Eat’, these are prepackaged meals that are designed for the military while on deployment or other field exercises. They are completely self-contained and can be consumed with zero prep other than a little water to activate the heating element if you prefer your entree heated. Heather’s mom wasn’t too sure of this idea and reserved the right to purchase food at the park if her chosen M.R.E. was not to her liking, but she was pleasantly surprised with her meal. This of course, was a single elective meal in comparison to eating EVERY meal via M.R.E.s over the course of a multi-week exercise that some military units must consume M.R.E.s, which may alter one’s view of MREs and their appeal.

This was not the first time we have been to SeaWorld. During my time as a travel nurse I was contracted to work in Florida, and we visited SeaWorld Orlando while we were in the area. The two parks are very similar, but each has their own unique attributes.IMG_6721