I guess you could say Spring Break started early for Cooper since he didn’t go to school the last three days before the break. There’s a nasty cold that’s been going around and we all caught it. In two weeks we:
Went to our HMO’s Urgent Care twice.
Called the nurse hotline three times.
Visited the doctor’s office three times.
Treated two ear infections.
Learned you can get canker sores on your uvula.
Thankfully we have good insurance. All of the illness and related appointments made it so we weren’t able to leave for our trip as soon as expected. After we’d established that no one had anything life threatening, we decided to still go on the trip, just a day late. (This happened last year too, hopefully this won’t become a trend.) We weren’t really better, but the snowy weather was bumming us out and we figured we might as well be sick somewhere warm.
We left early Saturday morning. Despite the forecast predicting little to no accumulation of snow there was several inches on the ground and we slid through an intersection and into a curb on our way to the interstate. Luckily, the interstate was better plowed, but it still took 90 minutes to go the first 25 miles. (Ski traffic definitely didn’t help.)
As we got farther from home, the skies cleared and our spirits lifted. We stopped at a rest stop/park in Parachute and everyone shed their down coats and enjoyed the sun.
It was a long day of driving, but we made it to Capitol Reef just before dinner time. We were meeting up with the Walker clan and my parents. Hope and Joe were heading out that night so we only got to spend a few hours with them, but it was so nice to see them.
The fruit orchards were in bloom and we had fun singing a couple of rounds of “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree.” Blossoming trees and red rock are some of my favorite things, so this part of the trip did my heart good.
Hope, Joe, and Porter stayed until after dinner and we almost got to a point where Porter wasn’t completely terrified of us. At the very least, he was brave enough to take Cheetos from us.
The next day we went on a little hike with my parents to Hickman Bridge. It was good to get out, but for the first time ever Noel and I found our hiking capabilities to only be as good as the kids.’ Turns out we were more worn out than we thought.
The kids had a blast with my parents and we were all sad to say goodbye to them after a brief picnic. As for us, we headed South to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park to continue our trip. This was our first visit to Capitol Reef and we’re definitely going back to hopefully see more next time.
We set up camp in Escalante and had a delicious dinner of rice, salmon, and asparagus. After roasting some marshmallows, we all took warm showers and went to bed. We all stayed warm and were relatively comfortable, but our sleep was still restless since we were all coughing and sniffling.
The next day, we took the kids to Devil’s Garden in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The kids loved the self-direction we gave them to climb and explore and probably put in more miles than if we’d been on a trail. We played there for quite awhile before the wind picked up and blew sand in everyone’s eyes. We headed back to the State Park and let Ellen take a much needed nap in the car.
Before we left, we knew we needed to check out the petrified wood. I’d read about it on my friend’s travel blog, 51 Cent Adventures, and knew we needed to check it out. The hike (Petrified Forest Trail and Trail of Sleeping Rainbows) was supposedly only 1.75 miles, but it felt much longer. Whether that was because it actually was or because we were kind of rundown, we may never know.
It was cool to see all the petrified trees. Noel said in some ways it was better than the Petrified Forest National Park, mostly because there were lots of small pieces of petrified wood here, whereas at the National Park most anything you can lift has been taken. (In spite of the fact that you aren’t supposed to do that . . .I don’t think it has anything to do with poor management on the National Park’s part, I think just a lot less people have visited the state park.)
That was our last night camping and we were all so ready to go home, eat ice cream, chill, and sleep in our own beds. The second I woke up I started packing up sleeping bags and pads. By the time Noel woke up (he’d moved to the car because he couldn’t stop coughing when he was lying down) I’d packed everything the kids weren’t sleeping on. (We are blessed with sound sleepers.) Generally when we camp we are the last people to leave the campground, but that day we were the first to leave. Before heading home, we stopped at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, UT. When we were first married we would wake up to Utah Public Radio, and at that time Hell’s Backbone Grill was one of their sponsors. Sometimes they would read the menu items and Noel and I would salivate longingly. We really wanted to eat there when we did our backpacking trip back in 2009, but we felt pretty scraggly by the time we were done and not really restaurant appropriate. While our kids are not necessarily restaurant appropriate, really ever, we decided to risk it and gave them a nice long talk about how they needed to behave themselves and not do things like throw fits or plates around. The food was amazing and really ended the trip on a positive note. They’d only been open for the season for a day or two so the staff was getting back into the routine. They were all very welcoming though and when our breakfast took a little longer than expected they more than placated us with some free streusel-topped apple cake. When the breakfast arrived, it was indeed heavenly.
We made it home safely on sunny, clear roads. After eating soup and popsicles, we slept amazingly with all of our humidifiers going. The next day we woke up to a blizzard (18+” by the end of the day!) and were so, so glad we were already home.
This year marked our 9th wedding anniversary. Noel and I put a lot of thought into what we wanted to do. We’re always tempted to dress up and try to do something fancy, but ultimately we decided we get more enjoyment out of owning who we are and doing something less fancy.
A friend kindly agreed to watch the kids and we headed up to a nearby open space park after picking up some Chinese takeout. We enjoyed our dinner as we watched the sunset. Then we went on a night hike and enjoyed the stars.
It might not be the typical anniversary celebration, but it was definitely true to who we are. Here’s to many more years of owning our unfanciness.
In high school I could run a sub six minute mile. In college, I ran two Boston qualifying marathons.* I have a box in my basement full of ribbons, medals, and trophies, but as proud as I am of those accomplishments, the miles I’m proudest of these days are much slower. They’re long lasting miles fueled by patience and full of silliness, lack of focus, and creative endeavors at motivation. They’re the miles I do with my children. These miles require calculated self-control to keep my temper in check when Ellen stops to inspect the millionth rock and an endless resilience against discouragement as senior citizens with trekking poles pass us. In some ways, running fast was easier; holding back can be so much harder than giving it all you’ve got. These miles aren’t always as instantly gratifying. There aren’t any finishing medals or prize drawings at the end. But in the midst of the trudge Cooper will announce “I like hiking!” or Ellen will engage in the most ridiculously hilarious conversation about chipmunks and I’ll get a little taste of parenting flow. When we arrive at our destination and realize that our kids are the youngest to get there on their own two feet I can’t help but puff up with pride. These aren’t even close to being my fastest personal records, but they may be some of my most important ones.
*For the record, current me is slightly flabbergasted by and jealous of those PRs.
When we initially planned this trip months ago, it started out as just a little family road trip, but then more and more fun things came up that got added on. I usually like to come up with a story to share or a thread to follow when talking about our adventures, but there is so much I want to share about the last two weeks. Forgive me for this being a little bit journal-y. I’ve highlighted each day with just one picture, but there’s a big gallery at the end if you’re interested in more.
Day One – Telluride, CO
Our big summer trip began on Father’s Day. We went to church before heading out and Cooper gave Noel the best gift: joining all the kids when they sang a medley of songs about dads. Previously, whenever the kids sing special numbers in church, no matter how much we’ve tried to prep him for it, Cooper would get really tense, refuse to go up on the stage with the other kids, and then burrow his head in the pew the rest of the meeting. This time he went right up with the other kids without a problem. Noel and I both had tears in our eyes to see him take such a big step. The rest of the day was spent driving to Telluride and setting up camp. We had extra fancy tinfoil dinners with fish and asparagus and chocolate cherry cobbler for dessert.
Day Two – Telluride, CO
We had really high expectations for Telluride, maybe too high. The town was really cute, but most of the really cool hikes were beyond the capabilities of some of our crew members. There was a 1/4 mile hike to a waterfall that was recommended as “family friendly” by someone at an info kiosk, but what the hike lacked in distance it made up for in washed out trails with steep slopes. After almost tumbling to our death a couple of times, we turned around. There also seemed to be a bit of a lack of signage in the town, but thanks to our data plans we were able to figure things out like the location of Carhenge (the giant free parking lot). The highlight of Telluride was the free gondola rides and eating Detroit Style Pizza at Brown Dog. (Our neighbor is a co-owner of Blue Pan, the sister restaurant to Brown Dog that just opened here in Denver.) We’ll probably visit Telluride again, but maybe when the kids are able to hike 5+ miles of difficult terrain.
Day Three – Mesa Verde, CO
After packing up in Telluride, we headed straight to Mesa Verde National Park. We got to explore two cliff dwellings (Spruce Tree House on a hike and Cliff Palace on a tour). The cliff dwellings were probably the coolest thing we saw on our trip. Our tour of Cliff Palace ended up being at 5pm, which wasn’t ideal, but despite the heat and it being the time of day the kids really start to be monsters everyone did really well. When we went to purchase our tour tickets the Ranger asked if we thought our kids could climb 10 foot tall ladders. We did our best not to laugh. (The tours are pretty inexpensive by the way, $4/person, and totally worth it.)
Day Four – Natural Bridges, UT
We crossed into Utah and headed to Natural Bridges National Monument. The kids were hot and tired so when we first started out on a hike to Sipapu Bridge everyone was super ornery, but once we got through the first three minutes of whining the kids gave up and decided to enjoy themselves. The trail is slightly technical (it’s steep and you climb three ladders) which was a little scary, but I think made it more exciting for the kids. A lot of the trail was in the shade which was also nice. Ellen hit another meltdown when we got back to the car (she was a wee bit sleep deprived since she was now only sleeping when the sun was down) so we just did overlooks for the rest of the trip. That night we stayed in some quirky cabins in Blanding, UT. It was a nice change of pace to sleep in a bed and have our own bathroom for a night.
Day Five – Canyonlands, Needles District
The last time we went to Canyonlands we took the kids to the Island in the Sky District, so this time we went to the Needles District. We hit up Newspaper rock and then headed into the park. Once again, Ellen was super ornery. She yelled and cried the whole .3 miles of the Roadside Ruin trail. (All the childless people were running the opposite direction). We let her take a nap in the car while we drove the loop to look at some of the landscape and then hiked Cave Springs. The caves were a nice respite from the heat, but we didn’t stay there too long because apparently Cooper hates caves. After having a nice picnic lunch, we headed into Moab to do some much needed laundry and grocery shopping. Somehow, we weren’t the stinkiest people at the laundromat.
Day Six – Moab, UT
The main reason we were in Moab was for a big “Dirty Thirty” bash/cousin reunion with Noel’s side of the family. Overnight a couple of siblings and cousins had arrived, so we all went to breakfast at Jailhouse Cafe. After that, we planned to hike Delicate Arch with the kids, but some plans got changed around and Ellen fell off a picnic table and cut her head. Instead, we hung out at the campsite doctoring her and monitoring her for signs of concussion. While we were doing this, Cooper was messing around in the car, fell out of the trunk and hit his head and got a nasty goose-egg. (Note: We did a lot of semi-dangerous stuff on this trip and hanging out at the campsite is when people got injured.) Morale was low; we were all very hot and annoyed. Everyone else had spent the morning at Mill Creek (or the shoot the chutes as my dad calls them) and we were a little jealous, so after some lunch we headed there ourselves. It was so hot that everyone ended up joining us even though they’d already been there. While we were all sliding down the “natural waterslides” Noel said, “If I were to name this trip I’d call it ‘Chutes and Ladders.'”That night even more family arrived and we had a big dutch oven dinner and Dirty Thirty Mud Cake (AKA Mississippi Mud Cake).
Day Seven – Moab, UT
Once upon a time, a few of the members in our group used to be river guides in Moab and the main reason we’d met up there was so we could all go down the Colorado River. When we went to pick up our boats, the rental company freaked us out about taking the kids down the section of the river we were planning on (the river is really high and fast right now) so our trusty guides refigured the trip so we’d be on a safer part. The part we rafted was so safe it was almost boring. We hopped out halfway down so all the kid-less people could enjoy the exciting stuff (also we had some more traveling to do). We think the rental company may have been a little overly cautious in their recommendations, but better safe than sorry. And really, it was pretty daring of us to take our little people rafting at all. After we had an interesting lunch of mexicones (see the gallery at the end of this post) we hugged everyone and headed to Northern Utah.
Day Eight- Brigham City, UT
The main purpose of the trip to my hometown was to hear the address my brother, Spencer, gave about the two-year-mission he just served for our church in Oregon and my brother, Mitchell, give an address about the two-year-mission he’s about to serve for our church in Belgium and the Netherlands. (As well as spend some quality time with family while we’re all in the same country.) Both brothers gave mature and touching addresses that were followed by a big lunch party at my parents house. We enjoyed multiple flavors of cheesecake and chatting with old and new friends.
Day Nine – Northern Utah
I took Noel to the airport so he could get back to work then spent the day with my sister and her toddler (what?!). We did super fancy things like shop at Target and the DI and chat with my sister-in-law, Danielle, before she flew back East. That evening I swung by my grandparents to say hello and pick up my brother, Spencer, who had helped them make it to a doctor’s appointment. The kids stayed with my parents and a had a grand time with Grandma Cindy and Grandpa Wayne. Cooper drew the picture above while I was gone. It’s Sully and Mike from Monster’s Inc. For the longest time drawing has been such a frustration to him. The only thing he would draw was the same stick figure. (I literally have 100 of them from preschool.) When he’d try to draw anything else he’d get mad that he couldn’t draw what he wanted and would yell and surround himself with piles of crumpled starts of drawings. In the last few weeks he’s suddenly blossomed in this area.
Day Ten – Brigham City, UT
During the day, my dad rigged up a waterslide in the backyard. It was pretty warm so we all joined in the fun. That night we went to the Brigham City LDS temple with all of my siblings, this was one of the things I was really looking forward to. What made it even more special is that we (along with my parents, aunts, uncle, and grandfather) were able to perform some temple sealings for my grandmother, her parents, and many other ancestors. Getting all the paperwork and foundational ordinances completed is something several of us had been working on for months, so this was a much anticipated trip. Sometimes it’s hard to explain how we “do work for the dead,” but it’s one of my favorite parts about our church – that even after death God still gives you a chance.
Day Eleven – Promontory, UT
On our last day, we took the kids to see some of the most notable sites near my hometown. First was the Golden Spike National Monument. The rangers there were super nice. Noel flew home with our parks pass and they kindly let me in with a scanned copy of it and my name in my checkbook since I’d left my ID at my parents’ house. (I looked super together.) Though Cooper loves trains, he was really rattled by the loud sounds the trains made during the demonstration. Both he and Ellen tried to climb my legs like a monkey climbs a tree. After a picnic, we headed out to the Spiral Jetty. I’ve only been to the jetty a handful of times, but it’s always different which is part of the allure of this earthwork. The jetty always reminds me of this braided essay I wrote in college, which in turn always gets me thinking about how I should write more.
Day Twelve – UT/WY/CO
After eleven days of fun, it was time to head home. This was the first time I’d made the trip by myself. For the most part it wasn’t too bad, but we did have several emergency potty stops, a close encounter with several busloads of pioneer trek reenactors, and the privilege of driving through a terrifying hail storm followed by a torrential downpour. (Driver of the car in front of me that drove slowly and confidently with your hazards on, I wish I could hug you for being my anchor through the storm!) When we finally arrived home we were happy to have all our traveling behind us, but sad to no longer be on vacation.
We’ve grown accustom to a certain percentage of things going wrong in our lives. We could blame it on the kids, but truthfully things going less than perfect is nothing new. We’ve learned to lower our expectations, which may sound depressing, but actually has made it easier to enjoy life. When we planned a weekend getaway to Winter Park, CO we tried to bridle our excitement since we knew getting our hopes up is always a bad idea. As the day approached we kept waiting for someone to get sick or a blizzard to hit, but surprisingly no disaster happened.
We started our vacation by driving up I-70 Friday afternoon without running into any traffic and even narrowly missed the 30 minute road closure for blasting related to an ongoing road construction project. As we cruised right along, Noel and I both expressed amazement at how uncharacteristically lucky we were. The whole weekend continued like that, us waiting for something bad to happen and things going uncharacteristically well. Yes, our children still whined and Ellen almost got a black eye, but honestly there’s no reality in which our children don’t whine now and again and Ellen doesn’t periodically injure herself.
We rented a condo through VRBO at a really good deal since it’s the “shoulder season” (cheaper than any of the hotels and way more space and amenities). Because it was the off-season we got to enjoy things like having the pool all to ourselves. The fall colors were gorgeous and we had amazing weather for all of our hikes. We even took some decent family photos with the aid of our tripod.
At the end of our trip, we made our way back home and got stuck in traffic (on a Monday when everyone is supposed to be at work) which seemed a fitting way to be welcomed back to our reality. It’s nice to get a break every now and then and I hope you all periodically getaway to alternate realities too!
Apparently, summer is over. I’m still not sure how that happened. Three months ago when preschool ended I made a master list of things I wanted to do. I even divided it into categories and made a master schedule for what days of the week I would attack different types of goals. Then I never looked at it until yesterday. Instead of feeling bummed that I didn’t successfully micromanage our summer, I’m doing a recap of the fun things we did do (and even without careful scheduling we did manage to do a few of the things on my list).
Noel is pretty much the same age as all of his cousins and they’ve always been fairly close, even with him being the odd man out. (Pun intended; they’re all girls.) It’s been fun for me to be adopted into this group since my cousins and I have a much larger age difference. Last week, Annie and her fiancé, Greg, stayed with us for a few days and we also got Jaimie and her husband, Wolfgang, who are now Denverites to join us for an evening. We showed them some of the sights, but made sure to leave some out so they’d be tempted to come back. Okay, so really we just forgot the Pro Cycling Challenge happens this time of year and would make it so Mt Evans was closed, but we’d still love for them to visit again.
PS It’s World Breastfeeding week and I am running a sale in my shop. If you or a friend are in the market for nursing covers or swaddle blankets you should check it out.
Two years ago we went camping at Maroon Bells. It was an enjoyable experience and we’ve been wanting to go back ever since. Campsites at Maroon Bells itself are pretty hard to come by, especially on weekends, so I had a reminder in my google calendar to make a reservation the second the sites opened up for our chosen days. Months ago that Google reminder popped up and I made a reservation hoping for a nice calm getaway, completely unaware that the trip would end up being bookended by a trip to Utah and Noel going to Scout camp. Such is life.
We invited Noel’s sister, Vanessa Joy, and her husband, Chris to come with us. After a near death experience earlier this year, we figured they could use some R&R.
Despite the insanity surrounding the trip, we did our best to relax. Not having cell phone reception at our campground greatly aided that.
We did an ambling “hike” with everyone and Noel and I went on a hike alone while Vanessa and Chris kindly watched the kids.
The kids slept worse than they ever have on a camping trip and we experienced some frustrating potty training setbacks. (It seems Cooper was terrified to poop in the vault toilets . . . )
Somehow Vanessa and Chris still thought the kids were adorable though. Phew.
And because this is us, we also ate delicious food. Keep an eye on our food blog for all the recipes!
All too quickly, we had to pack up and head our separate ways. We said our goodbyes to the beautiful scenery. When we got reception again Noel’s phone rang a million times with messages so I drove home so he could take care of scouting business.
I’ll have to add another reminder to my google calendar so we can do this again next year, only hopefully not the day before Scout camp.
Prepare yourselves for cuteness. Apparently they make snowshoes for little people. We made a day of it on Presidents Day heading up into the mountains by Winter Park. It was a beautiful sunny day with almost no wind, which is a rare thing these days.
Ellen wasn’t so sure about being in the cold snow, but we made her come along in the backpack anyway. Cooper did great out there and got the hang of the snowshoes in no time. He loved tromping through the snow and picking which way to go. The fact that he is so light made it so he literally floated on top of the snow. I even taught him how to make yellow snow. 🙂
Ellen enjoyed the free ride for a while, but eventually wanted to get out and have fun like Cooper. She dove right in head first as she is known to do.
When we got back near the car we let her have a crack at the snowshoes. She was super cute, but did struggle staying on her feet. When she toppled over and her boots popped off, it seemed like a good time to call it a day.
We didn’t cover an epic amount of mileage, but it was certainly enough to tucker Cooper out. I suppose if you were to adjust for difficulty and leg length maybe it was pretty epic. Either way, it was a good time and I have a feeling it won’t be the last time.
We needed to challenge ourselves. To know for certain that we aren’t losing our edge and prove that we can still go the distance.
The trail was chosen: an 8.5 mile hike to Hell’s Hole. We were feeling pretty hardcore when we arrived at the trail head. We donned our sunglasses with swagger, strapped those child carriers to our backs without flinching, and set off with our peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Oh, we looked baaaad.
Until we hit mile .75 and the boy had a meltdown and an old man with trekking poles breezed right on past us. But we would not be deterred. We let Cooper climb into the pack on Noel’s back and we were off once more, feeling tougher than ever.
You might imagine that hiking with kids in packs is similar to going backpacking, something we did a few times pre-kids and loved. However, backpacks have the distinct advantage of not leaning to one side or kicking you or pulling your hair or crying for that matter. When we finally staggered into the beautiful hidden valley Noel announced, “I think I know why this is called Hell’s Hole. Whoever named it, must have come here with their kids.”
Still, we enjoyed the beautiful vista as we ate our sandwiches and the homemade Oreos that we’d promised ourselves we could only eat at the top. We grumbled as our packs again made contact with our sore shoulders, but cut our whining short as fellow hikers neared us. “Wow, you guys came all the way up here with your kids? Impressive.” We stood taller and exchanged pleasantries. Then quickly headed downhill before any whining resumed.
And it did resume, with nearly everyone taking their turn. Everyone was pretty dead tired by the time we reached the car.
In the old days, this hike wouldn’t have wiped us out so much, but that’s just because we were soft back then and just weren’t able to push our limits the same way we can now. Or at least that’s what we’re telling ourselves.