Our last day in Zion, I added up our hiking mileage for the day and realized that the kids had hiked 6.6 miles. This realization of the kids’ capabilities and a new mantra to savor life (losing someone will do that to you) got our wheels turning. It was time for us to finally backpack Coyote Gulch. We’d read a blog post a few years ago about a family that took their 4 and 7-year-old and had felt inspired, but at the time our kids weren’t quite ready. Now that they could hike 6.6 miles in a day and not act like they were dying, they were ready. We planned the trip for over our Spring Break and set about being as practical as we could when you’re undertaking something so crazy. As our trip approached, the forecast was giving us a little bit of a scare and we decided to move our trip up by a day to hopefully avoid death by flash flood or paying to tow our car out of a mud pit. We were still a little nervous, but we just kept praying that if this was monumentally stupid idea we’d realize it. The trip started out with a drive through a blizzard (gotta love spring break). What should have been a 45 minute part of our drive ended up being a teeth clenching 90 minutes. We spent the night in Grand Junction and since we weren’t getting any horrible premonitions, woke up early the next morning and drove five hours to the Escalante Interagency Visitor’s Center to get our permit and poop bags (yes, poop bags). After that, we drove 36 miles on Hole in the Rock Road (a dirt road, this will be important later) to our starting spot: Chimney Rock.
Now, I should mention that the blog post that initially inspired us, also introduced to a “shortcut” that would shave off a few miles. The shortcut involved starting from Chimney Rock, navigating to Hurricane Wash, “dropping” into it, and arriving at the confluence. This would involve orienteering (reading topo maps and using a compass), but Noel is a former Scout Master so that wasn’t a worry. It all sounded easy enough. Well, lets just say it wasn’t as direct as we’d hoped. We spent a lot of time zig-zagging around hoodoos to get to our waypoints and when we arrived at the ravine that was supposed to “drop” us into the wash we had to reroute several times to avoid giant pot holes or perilously steep descents. Miraculously, everyone made it down without incident and after a few more miles, we arrived at a lovely alcove that we made our home for the next two days. According to my GPS watch, we did just over 5 miles. It probably would have been easier to hike a few extra miles, but it was an adventure.
The next day we left our heavy packs at camp to explore the gulch. We saw waterfalls, a natural bridge, and two natural arches. There was something new and beautiful around each corner. We ran into a couple of other groups, but for the most part were on our own. It was completely gorgeous and the kids had a lot of fun climbing and playing in the water. We spent one last night at our beautiful campsite – a sandy oasis where you could walk around barefoot. (Soapbox side note: Grand Staircase Escalante’s monument status is currently on the chopping block. Utah’s state legislature and congressional delegation are working hard to convince the Trump administration to have its area reduced by 70-80% to open up space for coal mining. If you live in Utah and don’t think places like this should be a strip mine, please contact your representatives to tell them not to be so short sighted. #standwithgrandstaircase)
It got really windy that night and both Noel and I kept having nightmares that the wind was actually pouring rain and that we were going to be trapped in the canyon for a few days. When we woke up, we were relived to find it actually hadn’t rained, but the clouds were looking ominous. We ate and packed quickly and then headed on our way. It began to rain lightly as we hiked and we urged the kids along, practically dragging them at some points. There was some crying that happened, but we figured a little crying was better than being stranded somewhere (or worse . . .) We’d thought climbing out of the ravine would be easier than getting into it, but it was just as convoluted and we had to be extra careful since everything was wet. They call it slick rock for a reason. Everyone was so relieved when we made it to the car.
The 36 mile drive out was both a little scary (for me) and a little fun (for Noel) as portions of the dirt road had turned into a mud bog. We were really glad we had the Subaru. (We were also really glad that the non-four-wheel-drive car that was full of single people trying to “float” across the muddy sections by driving across them at top speed did not rear-end us.) That night we camped in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park where we took showers and ate food that wasn’t freeze dried.
That night it snowed. All night. BUT, we were warm, snug, and dry in our tent. We all slept like the dead. In the morning we had a warm breakfast at the comfort of our covered picnic table and at around 9am it stopped snowing making it possible to pack everything up without getting drenched. We were staying in Grand Junction that night, but made stops at the Sunglow Motel in Bicknell (for unusual pies) and Capitol Reef (for a final red rock fix).
During the trip, we kept laughing about how if you just listed the facts of our trip it would probably sound like a really miserable time, but the truth was we were having a blast. Even though we were nervous about the weather, there was a part of us that didn’t want to leave Coyote Gulch. We just wanted to stay there forever exploring its beauty and being out of range of cell service. There’s a Scandinavian saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” I think it’s a great saying, perfect with just two additions: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, bad gear, and bad attitudes.
October was one of those months where I would think, “Life can’t get any crazier than this” and then it would. My job as a middle school freelance educator came to an end at the beginning of the month and our family was ready to get back into a normal groove. Life had other plans though. Two big things happened in October: my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and my grandfather died. Those two things were pretty big upsets to regular life all by themselves, but we also threw in a weekend getaway, talking in church, the tail end of Noel’s treatment for his broken arm, helping with meals at parent teacher conference, and preparing our house for family to move in with us just to make sure we didn’t have too much free time on our hands.
Noel’s mom’s diagnosis was a shock, partially because she’s a non-smoker and partially because none of us realized how sick she was. There were lots of tears and phone conversations as the family made plans for how to help her. Noel made plans to go to Alaska to help for awhile during her radiation therapy and then to travel with her to the lower 48 where she would live with us to receive additional treatment and support. My grandfather passed away in the midst of making all those preparations. We added in plans to travel to Utah and had to make changes to Noel’s flights so he could make it to the services. (As it turns out, telling an airline you need to change your ticket to visit your mother with stage four lung cancer to go to your wife’s grandpa’s funeral is a pretty good story and they kindly waived the change fee.) My grandfather was a truly great man so there were many good things to reminisce about. Although we will miss him, it is an honor to not only know, but be a descendant of such a great man. His services were lovely and the second they were over Noel, Alaska bound, headed to the airport. I stuck around a few more days to spend time with family and then drove the kids back home the day before Halloween.
A few days after Halloween, Noel and his mom made the trip to Colorado. Her oxygen levels plummeted on the flight despite having access to oxygen and when the plane landed at DIA they rushed her to the ER. She stayed at the hospital for a few days until they got her pain and breathing under control. (That first day they drained 1.6 liters of fluid off her lungs!) Since then, she and my father-in-law have moved in with us. Her oncologist has a lot of accolades and has been very positive. She just started a drug that has been successful at shrinking cancer in 80% of patients and extending their lives. We are optimistic.
Life has been absolutely bananas, but it has also been so very good. We’ve seen so many miracles big and small and had so many friends offer love and support – they’ve watched the kids, helped me clean the house, and listened to us. We’ve refocused on what’s important and grown closer to our families. It’s been a hard time in some ways, but it’s also been a beautiful time. (Except for the election, but I’m not going to talk about that.)
This is not one of my most eloquent posts, but I just wanted to get some pictures up and let you all know we’re alive.
At the beginning of the year we got caught up in the spirit of resolutions and decided we were going to do our first triathlon. After much thought, we decided we would do our triathlon in UT so we could visit family, have plenty of reliable babysitters, and choose from a variety of race choices that weren’t on Sunday. Eventually, we decided on a sprint triathlon in our old home, Logan, UT. It was a well thought out plan, at that moment. Then things changed as often happen in life. My mom got paid for a photo job with a free time share in Arizona the week of our triathlon. So we made a new plan that involved a lot of driving, but would hopefully be fun. Then we ended up making a quick trip to Utah and back just a week before because my grandfather wasn’t well. There was some worry about whether any of the plans we’d made would even be possible, but since you just never know what’s going to happen we moved forward with our plans knowing it was possible we might have to scrap them at the last minute. (And we would have without a second thought had he passed during that time.) During the course of the trip, we drove a little over 2700 miles through four states. (Note, this does not include the mileage driven on the previous UT trip. We joke that we’re just trying to get as much out of our car in case we decide to let VW buy it back.)
Our first leg of the trip was to New Mexico where we almost hit a coyote, perfected a recipe for dark chocolate raspberry cobbler (hopefully coming to the cooking blog soon), and camped in the rain. (This is where the kind stranger mentioned in this post built me a fire.) We’d initially planned to see some things in New Mexico, but we were short on time and there were tons of people because it was the fourth of July weekend, so we just plowed on with our driving and decided we’ll have to come back another time.
After three days Noel and I said goodbye to the kids and my parents and drove all day till we got to my grandpa’s house in Bountiful, UT. The next day we worked our way up the Wasatch front saying hello to family and friends and ended the day with a dinner date in Logan, UT at second dam. (Oh, the nostalgia!) The next morning, was race day. We ran into a few more college friends and finally put our skills to the test. We didn’t really have any goals other than just finishing in a way we felt proud of, but we both ended up placing in our age groups. (We don’t think this would have happened at a tri in CO, people seem to be insanely fit here.) Then it was time to pack up again. We had lunch in Salt Lake with Vanessa Joy and Chris (Noel’s sister and her husband) and drove down to Moab where we met my parents and the kids.
When we’d looked at places to stay for that night we checked the Devil’s Garden Campground at Arches and they had exactly one spot the night we wanted it. We didn’t expect there to be any availability (it’s one of those competitive campgrounds that fills up 6 months in advance) so we’re pretty sure it was meant to be. The campsite was possibly my favorite campsite of all time. There was plenty of red rock for the kids to climb and gorgeous views. Everyone was pretty tired so we just made frozen pizza in the dutch oven, but watched the most amazing sunset from our campsite. In the morning, we packed up and hiked Delicate Arch. We haven’t hiked Delicate Arch since before we had kids, so it was about time. It was super windy so we didn’t stay long, but we were glad to finally introduce our children to such an iconic landscape. Then it was time for the final leg of our journey. We hugged my parents goodbye and drove the final 300+ miles home. It was another jam packed adventure, but it seems to be the way we do them best.
I just did the math and we’ve spent 45% of this summer away from home. I do really well with routines, they’re predictable and comforting, but when you’re traveling basically every other week it’s pretty difficult to create a norm. As we’ve had the privilege to go here and there I started to develop a post about how traveling makes me a better person, but as I drafted in my head the post started to sound like one of the pretentious family spotlights our neighborhood magazine likes to publish. (“Since our family values a world education it’s very important that little Xavier spend every summer abroad.”) I hated the direction it was going, especially since some of the most meaningful travel I’ve done has been something simple, like camping trips in the mountains 20 minutes from my house. But I still couldn’t quite figure out what it was I wanted to say so I continued to mull over two small instances that stuck out to me from our most recent trip. (Post about that coming soon!)
The first night of our trip we were camping. Noel left to find firewood and left me at the campsite with the kids and a chimney of charcoal. It started to pour rain and of course all our rain jackets were in the car with Noel. I grabbed a tarp and was trying to hold it over all of us as well as the charcoal. Suddenly, a young Hispanic guy was at my side throwing an armful of wood into our ring and lighting a fire. At first I was annoyed. I didn’t want to be bothered. I didn’t need him to start a fire. I had it under control. He chatted politely until Noel came back and the rain dissipated. All the local places were out of wood and if that young man hadn’t helped us, we wouldn’t have had a fire. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but it was nice to have. It made me ponder whether I’m gracious when people try to help me and forced me to ask myself whether I’m the type of person that would jump in to help a stranger in need or would I just assume they had it covered?
A few days later, the kids were throwing bread crumbs into a fish pond. A couple, possibly retired, came to the pond with fishing poles. I pretty much ignored them until the woman asked the kids if they wanted to try fishing. The couple then spent over an hour patiently fishing with our children. When we walked by an hour later we found them helping a new set of kids fish. It made me ponder whether I’m truly friendly and whether I’m the type of person that would give up some of my time to make a stranger’s day.
On one of our long drives, Noel and I were listening to an Invisibilia Podcast titled “Frame of Reference.” The podcast initially interested me because the main story featured an adult woman with Aspergers, but as we listened I also became intrigued about the theme of the show: how our frames of reference “filter our experiences and determine how we feel.” I realized that it wasn’t the traveling specifically that was urging me to be a better person, it was just a vehicle that exposed me to other people’s frames of reference. Stepping outside of my stuffy, suburban routine and being exposed to things, people, cultures, and situations that I might not have encountered in my regular routine was the real secret. (And I think it can also be done to some degree through books, articles, and such.)
When I was in college I had a professor that would often encourage us to take new paths to work or class because it would change our perspective. I remember trying it a few times thinking it was mostly just a nice change of scene that occasionally spurred a new thought or crossed my path with a friend I didn’t usually see. I didn’t realize that departures from my regularly scheduled programming might force me to contemplate a new point of view or become more aware of the world around me. Not every deviation from routine will be life changing, obviously, but I think it’s important for us to shake up what we’re doing and examine whether our way of doing things or interpreting the world truly is the best way.
At the beginning of the year, we made plans to visit Noel’s sister, Danielle, at the sweetest place on earth – Hershey, PA. We were excited to take the kids to visit their cool aunt who worked at a chocolate factory. Then, a few months ago she broke the news to us that she was looking for a new job and it was very likely that she wouldn’t be working in Global Chocolate Innovation (yes, that’s really what she did) by the time our trip rolled around. Because there were so many unknowns, we stopped all our planning, but kept the tickets (they were Southwest so we could have cancelled as late as 15 min before the flight and still banked the points) and just waited. A few weeks before our departure, things miraculously fell into place. Danielle would be in-between jobs when we visited and since her new job was in New Jersey we could check out both her new and old stomping grounds. (Go small states!) Still, the timing was a little crazy for everyone. Within two weeks, Danielle would quit her job, host us, move to a different state, and start a new job. We would finish some yard projects, end the school year, fly to PA, visit three states for both sight-seeing and moving purposes, fly home from NJ, welcome visitors of our own, and run a 12 mile trail race. It was an exhausting, fun-filled couple of weeks. This post is not going to be a literary masterpiece, but in case you want to know more about the trip, feel free to read the day by day synopsis and check out the huge gallery at the end.
Day One (Wednesday)
In the morning, Cooper graduated from kindergarten. That afternoon, we loaded up the car and began our journey. Because we have an unofficial goal to try every method of getting to the airport we rode the newly finished train to the plane. Morale was high and everything went well from our train ride to going through airport security. We arrived in Philly at midnight (10pm our time) and caught a shuttle to our hotel. Everyone was exhausted and pretty much fell asleep immediately.
Day Two (Thursday)
We stayed at a a Courtyard Airport hotel and we knew beforehand that there weren’t any great breakfast restaurants nearby, so we came prepared with shelf-stable milks, Crispix, and some freeze dried backpacking meals. It was suspicious enough that TSA felt the need to search our suitcase. After a luxurious breakfast, we lounged at the pool and waited for Danielle. She picked us up and we went into Philly to check out the Touch Museum, Liberty Bell , and the Rocky Statue.
Day Three (Friday)
Danielle was busy with her movers, so we rented a car and drove out to Ocean City, NJ. We spent the afternoon walking the boardwalk, wading in the ocean, and burying our feet in sand. Then we drove home and laughed at the LONG line of stop and go traffic heading the opposite direction. (It was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.) We took our rental car back to the airport and then played an unintentional game called “Let’s See How Many Different Kinds of Transportation We Can Take to Get to Danielle’s New Place.” I’ll spare you the long, boring stories of why, but in the end, it took one shuttle bus, one Lyft ride, one Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Train, one New Jersey Transit train, a ride on the airport train, and finally a ride in Danielle’s Subaru, complete with dog. It was after 11 o’clock by the time we were reunited and we drove around looking for something that was open (gas station, grocery store, anything!) to find food. In retrospect, we really should have looked into a one way car rental and just driven. Danielle had spent all day stuck in traffic moving and her apartment was tetrised with boxes. We were all sandy and sweaty and in desperate need of showers. We couldn’t find any towels, so we made due with a bunch of her t-shirts. We blew up some air mattresses and wedged them in-between the stacks of boxes and fell asleep.
Day Four (Saturday)
We all slept in and rolled out of bed in time to catch a late breakfast at Morristown Pancake House. As we were parking the car we ran into a parking enforcement guy and we asked if there were any free places to park. He laughed and said, “No, this is New Jersey.” When Danielle told him she’d just moved from Hershey, PA he said, “Why?” We felt very warmly welcomed. Breakfast however, was good. Next, we hit up the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This involved lots of waiting in line and some slight panic about whether a ferry would actually pick us up and return us back to New Jersey. It was interesting to learn about the history of Ellis Island and I realized that I should learn more about our country’s immigration laws past and present. It was also really cool to see the Statue of Liberty up close. We’d read a Kid’s National Geographic that featured some National Parks and Monuments and one of them was the Statue of Liberty, so the kids were really excited to see something that they’d read about in a magazine. We grabbed dinner and headed back to Danielle’s apartment hoping we could help her get some stuff unpacked. As we pulled into her cul-de-sac, we noticed there was a truck from the power company and a lot of people outside, but it wasn’t until we went to flip on the lights in her apartment that we realized the power was out. We went to the grocery store to get some essentials hoping that by the time we came back the problem would be fixed, but it wasn’t. We went out again to buy some candles. The kids thought it was awesome, but all us adults were a little hot (no A/C) and grumpy about the situation. The power didn’t come back on until 3 or 4 in the morning.
Day Five (Sunday)
Noel went out to get some more milk since the milk we had was spoiled. We did our best to hustle and get everyone fed and dressed then drove two hours to Danielle’s old apartment in Hershey, PA. We went to church at her old ward where Ellen threw a huge fit when we left her in primary, but finally calmed down and Danielle taught a really good final lesson to the high school aged girls. After church we drove to Gettysburg. We checked out the cemetery and then had a picnic in the rain. Our luck was getting sort of comical at this point so we just laughed and sat in the rain for a decent amount of time before it became too much and we got back in the car.
Day Six (Monday, Memorial Day)
A good friend of mine moved to Pittsburgh last fall and she and her family drove to Hershey to spend the day with us. We met up for lunch. We were going to get sandwiches from a delicious local Hoagie shop, but it was closed, so we went to Subway instead. Then we were going to go to this cute park with a castle the kids could play on, but they were doing a Memorial Day Ceremony nearby and wouldn’t let us into the park or give us any indication of how long the ceremony would be. (Have you ever heard of a park being closed?) Instead, we went to a different park and caught up while the kids played. Cooper and Ellen were so excited to play with Russell again. Everyone was having a great time, but Cooper brought the fun to an end when he threw up on the swings. We took a break to clean him up then met up with Jessica and her family to go to Chocolate World. We saw a 4-D movie, went on the factory tour, and made our own chocolate bar. The kids were in heaven and Danielle of course filled us in on all sorts of insider information. We finished off the day with dinner at Houlihan’s and then said goodbye to our friends.
Day Seven (Tuesday)
We got brunch and headed to Amish country. We checked out some fun shops and then went on a buggy tour of Lancaster County. The kids got a kick out of the buggy tour. Our buggy driver was Amish and it was interesting to see his family’s land. They had solar panels which of course interested Noel. When he asked if the Amish didn’t use electricity from the grid because of self-sufficiency our guide told us it was just a tradition that they upheld because of politics, which, one person of faith to another, was sort of disappointing. Maybe that was just his opinion though. After that excursion it was time to finish up loose ends at Danielle’s old apartment. We packed the odds and ends into a trailer and cleaned everything before heading back to New Jersey for another late night dinner at a gas station.
Day Eight (Wednesday)
We were up pretty late unloading the trailer the night before so we all slept in again. We didn’t have much time left, but we decided we wanted to see a little bit of New York before heading home. We rode the train to Penn Station and checked out Times Square and Central Park. The kids loved the park at Central Park. Then we took a frightening taxi cab back to Penn Station where we got some New York Style Pizza and some treats from Magnolia Bakery. Then it was back on the train to head back to the airport. We said our goodbyes to Danielle and then went through security. We were pretty exhausted and excited to be going home, but as we dug into our cupcakes and mini cheesecakes from New York we also felt a little sad we hadn’t had more time.
In case you are still reading, bless your soul, here is a large gallery of photos.
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.
Our trips to Las Vegas are never what people imagine. When you’re a parent, a Mormon, and you’re visiting family it’s definitely very different from what most people do in Vegas. Our purpose in going to Vegas was to be there for Noel’s grandma’s 80th birthday and because of the way our flights worked out, we were also there for Halloween. Life was a tad bit crazy leading up to our trip. Noel was out of town for work earlier in the week and the day we left was Cooper’s Halloween party at school. The school parade and all the class parties were in the afternoon, which meant the half day kids either had to come back or just stay all day. We decided to give full-day a try mostly because we anticipate that transition next year will be difficult and we figured any exposure he can have to it is good. Because we knew lunch would be the hardest part, both the teacher and I agreed it would be a good idea if I was there. Ellen and I joined him for lunch and then stayed to help the teacher with all the hyper kids until the Halloween party. I also was helping out with the Halloween party, so I helped get kids in costumes, assisted with the parade, ran a game, and officially ruled out kindergarten teacher as a career option.
We had a few hours to wrap things up at home before heading to the airport. The kids were so excited to fly on an airplane. Because we were trying to use up the rest of some rewards flights, Noel flew Frontier by himself and I flew Southwest with the kids. Whenever I told anyone about our flight plan people would tell me how sorry they were, but the truth is people are so nice to me when I fly alone with the kids. Cooper and Ellen were the only kids on the flight and got lots of special attention from the flight attendants. They even announced their arrival on the plane over the loudspeaker and everyone cheered.
By the time we got our rental car (we had one of those Seinfeld moments when we we discovered the rental car company had ran out of cars) and drove to our rental house it was past midnight our time and the kids were completely zonked. The next day they woke up excited to play with Grandma Glenna and Granda Mike (Noel’s parents were also able to come down from Alaska for the birthday) and check out the pool in the backyard. We stayed in a place we found on VRBO and really enjoyed having a place to call or own, especially with its own private pool and hot tub.
On Halloween we went to Annie’s house (Noel’s cousin), went trick-or-treating in her neighborhood, and enjoyed some time eating good food with family. Cooper wanted to be Emmet from the Lego movie and the rest of us chose costumes that went along with it.
The next day was daylight savings. I highly recommend never traveling with children during the daylight savings change. At 5:30am (it would have normally been 7:30 at home) Ellen exuberantly exclaimed, “It’s morning time!!!” and would not go back to sleep. Ellen was so grumpy and emotional at church that she wouldn’t go to nursery and I ended up sitting in the hall with her for the last two hours. Cooper was apprehensive at first, but stayed in primary without incident. You just can never predict which one of your kids is going to have trouble with change. That night, we had a pool party at our place with all the Vegas relatives just for fun.
Whenever the kids’ grandparents are around we like to take advantage of free babysitting. Monday morning we went for a lovely run by the city dump . . . Then that night we went on a double date with Annie and Greg to a delicious Tapas restaurant and then went to downtown Las Vegas for fried Oreos. It was really fun to hang out with them sans kids even if we saw some things we can never unsee. The next morning we went to the Las Vegas temple (a sharp contrast to the night before) and did some sealings for the dead. We’d wanted to do an endowment session, but didn’t make it in time. At first I was feeling really bummed about the change of plans because I’d really wanted the clarity doing a session usually gives me, but then I ran into a lady in the dressing room who was also doing sealings. She said her husband usually comes with her, but had a doctor’s appointment that day and because Noel and I were there they would have enough men to still perform the sealings. Additionally, she was a USU alum and had student taught at my elementary school (which was bulldozed shortly after I finished there). It was just little things that could be shaken off as coincidences, but it made me feel looked after.
Our last day there was Grandma Virginia’s birthday. We threw a big BBQ party at our rental, with lots of delicious food of course. It was nice to see everyone one last time since we were flying home the next morning.
We flew home Wednesday and were thrown back into fall (we had a couple of days in the 80s in Vegas) and the rhythm of regular life. Here are a few more pictures for your enjoyment.
There was a time when I would have apologized for a lapse in blogging, but just like how I’ve stopped apologizing for the nearly constant pile of dirty dishes in my sink and for my children not being perfect Stepford children, I won’t be apologizing for this either. For no reason, but every reason I’ve been super contemplative lately about everything and nothing at all and lying low on the internet has been refreshing and glorious. We recently switched web hosting companies and as we’ve been transferring everything over I’ve taken several trips down memory lane and remembered how much I actually do love this little log about our lives, so I’m back with some updates. (There’s still some wrinkles we’re ironing out with the transfer, so don’t be too alarmed if something is a little wonky.)
Cooper – Enjoying kindergarten for the most part. There have been a few bumps in the road (he really dislikes this “brain break” thing they do at school where all the kids get out their wiggles), but we have a good team that is willing to try new things to help him feel more comfortable. Every day he says his favorite thing was, “Playing on the playground and drawing.” He also really likes his homework (it’s a lot of counting and practicing writing) and bringing home books from the library. So far, he has exhibited exceptional taste in book choice. I went to the doctor (somehow I, not the kids, managed to get Strep) a few weeks ago and took the kids with me. I told them we might get flu shots while we were there and Cooper got pretty upset. At some point a huge look of relief came across his face and he said, “Mom, what day is it?” I told him it was Wednesday. He grinned a giant grin and told us factually, “It’s Wednesday, we can’t get shots, sorry.” Can’t argue with that kind of logic. When we did get shots a week later Cooper made such a scene I think we terrified everyone in the entire building. Both Noel and I had to hold him down. After it was over he acted like he had been so brave. Right now he’s practicing for the primary program. He’s been mumbling his part into the microphone which is an improvement from last year. We can’t wait to see how it goes during the actual program this coming Sunday.
Ellen – Ellen has decided she does like Joy School. Her favorite part is show and tell and showing Cooper the projects she does when we pick him up from Kindergarten. She acts like she’s three going on thirteen. When asked to do things she has an eye roll that rivals that of Liz Lemon fame. All of her emotions are extreme. When she’s sweet there’s no one sweeter and when she’s mad everyone better dive for cover. She finally elicited a scratch from the world’s most patient cat when she crawled under the bed and cornered him in an attempt to force snuggles. No one loves Charlie more than Ellen. Despite her rollercoaster emotions she’s actually pretty helpful and if she’s in a mood simply threatening time out and counting to three is surprisingly effective. When we got flu shots she was very stoic about the whole thing and didn’t freak out or cry at all. She’s quite social and talks a lot. The other day while taking a bath she told Noel, “I want to play forever” which we’re pretty sure was the purest desire of her heart.
Noel – Took the scouts on a campout where he enjoyed it more than he hated it. He discovered that Geocaching was a great hiking motivator that resulted in more hiking and less whining than usual. He had a nasty cold over Labor Day weekend, but has probably been the healthiest overall. During the week I had and recovered from Strep he took care of dinner pretty much every night and was up in the night with the kids on a few different occasions while I slept like the dead.
Audrey – Since my Utah teaching license expired, I’ve periodically wondered what it would take to get back into the teaching game. This summer I felt a push to do more than just wonder. The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) instructed me to apply for a license with the expectation that it would be denied, but would come back with a list of classes, requirements, etc that I would need to take care of. I took care of the fingerprinting and various other paperwork and waited. I expected CDE would require me to go back to school and considering the demands of my current day job it would take several years for me to become license eligible. Imagine my shock when I received an email telling me I’m now a licensed teacher in the state of Colorado. (Just search here using my name for proof.) I feel like things have really come together with this, but I’m not entirely sure for what purpose. (Am I being led to a job? An epiphany? Is Noel going to be unable to work for some unknown reason?) I’m not even sure what I’m going to do with the license, if anything, but am taking things one day at a time and keeping my options open. For the most part I’m at peace about not knowing and am embracing the line from the hymn “Lead Kindly Light” that says, “Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see / The distant scene – one step enough for me.” The same week I was granted a license I was asked to be a Youth Sunday School teacher for the 14-18-year-olds at our church. (One of my biggest worries about getting back into the teaching game was whether I even wanted to work with teenagers anymore, so this did not seem coincidental.) Accepting this new position meant the end of my service in the Relief Society Presidency. I’d been a counselor for almost three years and even though the position was initially extremely intimidating and I still have doubts about whether I did enough, I grew a lot as a person and very much felt God’s hand in my life over my three years of service.
To sum up this update, here are a bunch of pictures from the last two months.
to silently nudge slumber with a most gentle alarm of holiday dream.
was it a dream? — no matter.
to heat, to water!
to the green depths of lake that curtain summer stage.
a dive, then first breath, the slow blurring of edges,
the lack of form between things.
soon a plot unfolds.
cloud and shadow scheme,
draw plans on distant hills
while breeze, waiting in the wing,
rehearse with wave their entrance and exit,
the tricky part,
all the while whistling vaguely
in the manner of summer.
ah yes, summer.
the season meant to remind,
in the final act and measure,
that a clarity lies just out of sight
(on the lakebed perhaps)
awaiting the memory of future days.
– Ken Blackburn
Every time I ask a mom of older kids if they’re ready for school to start they emphatically answer, “Yes!!” Maybe it’s because this is the big year when Cooper’s life becomes ruled by the school system and it feels like some carefree chapter of his boyhood is being closed, but I’m not so sure I’m ready for school to start. This summer slipped through my fingers like sand and the harder I tried to hold onto it the faster it went. Even though it’s over sooner than I’d like, it was one of those wonderful memory building summers. Here are some pictures from the smaller moments of summer that didn’t get their own blog post.