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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Yellowstone 2017!

Our other huge adventure this past summer was a week-long road trip to Spokane for Mike’s 20th High School Reunion(!!) and a five-night camping trip to Yellowstone with our bfff’s (best family friends forever).
We had an absolutely amazing, magical time. We stayed at a KOA located outside the West Gate’s entrance. This worked out extra awesomely as KOA’s are essentially the five-star resorts of the campground world. There was an indoor pool (hugely beneficial during one of the couple of rain squalls that we experienced), a gift store (awesome for random forgotten items and gift-shopping, of course) and – best of all – a laundromat. This came in VERY handy when – after a day spent in the park – we discovered our tent had flooded and many of our sleeping items were wet. I didn’t see the rainy situation as a problem – especially as I sat in the warm laundromat drinking wine with Rebecca and waiting for our things to dry. Mike seemed to find the rain and our indoor-water-feature tents, a lamer situation as he spent a couple of hours attempting to mop up the wet mess.  Huh! Go figure! The boys opted to sleep in the car two nights rather than deal with the SUPER cold, damp situation in their small two-man tent. Mike, Kayli and I wore EVERY layer of clothing possible and still woke up frozen most mornings. (Mental note: must spend the next few months of gift giving – Christmas, his birthday, Father’s Day - stocking Mike up with MUCH warmer camping clothes/rain gear)!
The park was incredible – of course! We saw and did all of the required awesome things: Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Springs, floated in a swimming river hole, saw LOTS of geyser/bubbling spots (you really do realize: holy crap! This WHOLE place is a volcano!), the gorgeous Falls, the river/Grand Canyon, the Paint Pots, bubbling mud pots, Mammoth Springs, & the Lamar Valley to name a few. We went for a boat ride/tour on Lake Yellowstone and learned about some of the history of the park as well.
We saw animals galore (and continued my family’s camping trip tradition of getting a Skittle whenever a creature is spotted! The bison are so goofy looking – so big, so weirdly cute. Lots of elk (saw a couple up REAL close when a mama and her baby jumped in front of our car one night). We saw deer, tons of hawks/birds. And from a-far (and with the help of people letting us peak through their high-tech scopes), we saw a couple bears and JUST missed seeing some wolf cubs.
We also managed – surprisingly enough – to spend some time in close proximity to cows. Just beyond our campsite’s fence was a field full of grazing cows. Every morning we woke up to them mooing. One morning, they were so loud in fact, I opened my eyes and turned to glare at Mike – thinking that he was mooing back at them. Nope, he was still asleep, but seriously – the cows were all of five feet away and so loud I thought they were lying next to me! One of my favorite photos from the trip is from one misty morning when Kayliana is slowly waking up with her cup of hot cocoa and having a staring contest with a cow on the other side of the fence.
One of our mornings started exceptionally early. We woke everyone up at 4am (yes, we woke up 8 children ages 13 years and under at the butt-crack-of-dawn). The goal was to drive out to the Lamar Valley so we could be there at dawn – the best time for animal-spotting.  Well, it was almost a disaster as we had all the kids up, sitting sleepily in cars eating cups of oatmeal when Jason’s and Rebecca’s van wouldn’t start. The battery was dead. The guys managed to hook our cars up and get theirs jumpstarted. (I’m quite certain our camping neighbors must’ve hated us a bit). Then, as we made our way through the park, the valley was completely locked in fog. We couldn’t see a thing.  Thankfully, the kids all handled it quite well. I actually thought the fog was pretty cool, especially as we came across a bison just slowly ambling down the middle of the road in the thick fogginess. And eventually, we did make it back to the valley – on our last night in the park. We managed to be there at dusk instead of dawn and it was stunning.
Perhaps my very, very favorite aspect of the trip was one of those rare family memory moments that you plan for, hope for and that actually succeeded in working out. I’d made a playlist of the classical music from the two cassette tapes we had for long car camping trips growing up. Basically, that music became the soundtrack to large parts of my childhood. In fact, it’s because of one of those cassettes that I decided to play the flute.  So, I’d prepped the kids that I would be playing classical music once we got inside the park.  And – gasp! – Family Camping Trip Miracle! – not only did the kids accept the plan, they really enjoyed it! It was actually really amazing how the music seemed to perfectly fit the scenery.  At one point, I read out loud one of the warning signs about approaching wildlife and – no joke – the music immediately turned ominous and suspenseful.
That morning that we got up pre-dawn and drove through the fog into the park was especially meaningful. I was already feeling moved by the music, by childhood memories and especially thinking about my dad and how much he loved camping and how much I miss him…when we crested a hill and the sun finally broke through the clouds. It was breath-taking.

I felt weird and lame that it’s taken me until nearly Thanksgiving to finally reflect on our big summer trip, but now I see why it worked out this way. Today, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, will always be the anniversary of my dad’s death. (Yes, it was on Nov. 26th but that date moves around. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving doesn’t). So, on that note, I’m going to listen to my Yellowstone playlist and be instantly transported to a place of beauty and awe – where I can spend a little time in that weird sensation of grief and yet happy memories.   

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Arizona Trip, June 23-27th, 2017

Our kids’ last day of school was Tuesday, June 20th. My last day of school was June 22nd with a grand finale of directing my kindergarten class graduation. Once I got through that (huge sigh of relief – it went well!), it was time to scurry home and pack for our early morning flight to Phoenix the next morning.
Luckily, our National Catholic Engaged Encounter Convention weekend, was just on the tail-end of the ‘record breaking heat wave’ that shut down much of Phoenix. So, by the time we got there, it was only 115…not 120.
Our Convention was a held at a beautiful swimming-pool themed resort that was all orange-terracotta-y tucked into the hills above Phoenix. The kids hung out in the Convention childcare while Mike and I attended our meetings. The childcare was extra awesome on Saturday since they took all the kids to the pools for a few hours!
Saturday night of our Conventions are the highlight – a big ‘ol bumpin’ dance. Mike had left to go take the kids back to our room so they could watch tv and go to bed when the MC’s for the night asked for a volunteer from each table.  Well, wouldn’t you know, I was volunteered by my table to be our table’s volunteer…I headed on to the stage in my dress and wedge sandals not knowing what would be required of these volunteers.  I soon discovered that we would be in competition – basically a scavenger hunt and race followed by a quick-as-you-can snag one of the remaining chairs on the stage situation. I quickly tossed my wedge sandals to the table and put my game face on.
The things we had to retrieve were easy at first – a lipstick, a $20 bill, an ID, a man’s belt, etc. Then – when it’s down to me, one other woman and about 8 guys – we’re told we need to return with a square of toilet paper.  Well, the nearest women’s room was FAR away, but the men’s was much closer.  One of the guys from my table ran with me and – just as Mike returns to the lobby he sees his wife sprinting out of the men’s restroom with a streamer of toilet paper. He just shrugged his shoulders, shook his head and returned to his seat. No big deal. Nothing weird about that. 
In the end, it came down to me and one other guy racing for the last chair. We had to return with something with the Engaged Encounter logo on it. As I ran to the table, Mike was trying to remove his nametag to hand to me. There was no time to waste. I grabbed the nametag around Mike’s neck and like a leash dragged it (AND HIM!) back to the stage where HE managed to slide onto the chair and the other competitor sat ON him.  Technically, WE won because the other competitor dropped his EE logo/badge BEFORE sitting on Mike…but it didn’t really matter…The visual of me, holding Mike as if on a leash and another guy sitting ON him was enough to prove that…we’re all winners….? Or really weird.  Anyway, it was a good time followed by many hours of salsa dancing!
After the Convention wrapped up on Sunday, we spent several hours taking the kids to the pools/slides. Super fun.
Monday morning, we got up early, checked out and drove up to the Grand Canyon. Having never seen it, we’d been ‘warned’ (to strong of a word) by many at the Convention, that the Grand Canyon is, in fact, SO grand, it’s nearly impossible to completely appreciate.  And I have to admit that was the case for us. It’s like our wee brains can’t fully grasp just how massively GRAND this place is…it’s almost underwhelming because your expectations are so high…and grand. At least, that was the case for us. It was the tiniest bit of a let-down…BUT we’d been warned.  I also couldn’t thoroughly enjoy it because – with the known-to-be-slightly-accident-prone Kayliana there – it was hard to relax next to all these massively sheer drop-offs and cliff walls. I refused to let us go anywhere close to any of the areas that didn’t have guardrails. And I was seriously disturbed and stressed out seeing people go closer and closer to the edges just for the goal of getting the possible selfie vantage point. Idiots.  Honestly, it was with a sigh of relief that we left the lookouts and headed into the AC-infused visitor’s center.
That night we ate at a ‘historic’ diner on Route 66. (‘Historic’ apparently =’s overpriced and not awesome food). The little town offered a nightly ‘Western/Shoot-out’ show in the middle of main street right in front of the diner. We watched some of the locals provide some horrific and cheesy acting and storytelling and called it a night!
On Tuesday morning, we drove to Montezuma Castle National Monument. This was by far the highlight of our sightseeing. Basically, it was described to us as a five story luxury apartment building built about three stories off the ground into the limestone cliffs and only inhabited from 1100-1400. We tried to explain to the kids just how OLD this is.  As in: when you see the amazing cathedrals of Europe…those weren’t done with construction yet when this place was already empty!
Last stop before the airport was Goldfield Ghost Town.  In the middle of the desert, in the middle of a Tuesday when it’s 115 degrees, it was nearly literally a GHOST TOWN. We had to wait for the ma/pa team to come sell us tickets to then be our tour guide to then practically be the same people running the gift shop, the train ride and the ice cream scoopers in the ice cream parlor.  Anyway, it was cheesy (and so freakin’ hot) but the kids enjoyed it – especially the ‘Mystery Shack’ where water ran UP hill, pool table balls wouldn’t roll straight and objects hung from the ceiling crooked, at 45 degree angles. Spoooooky.
From Goldfield, we returned to the airport and flew home. From that point on, the summer went like this: home for 1-2 weeks (to go back to work and in any off time, powerwash and paint the deck) and then the next event (Mike’s dad and stepmom visiting for the 4th of July). And then home for 1-2 weeks (paint the deck and prepare) for our week-long trip to Spokane/Mike’s 20th high school reunion and camping trip to Yellowstone…home for 1-2 weeks (finish painting the deck) and then sending the kids off to CYO camp…home for 1-2 weeks (finally enjoy the deck!) and then preparing for summer to be over and school to start back up! L

Pre-dance with my friend Rachael/race to victory!
 After a day at the pools
 The view from the hilltop above our hotel.

 Dumb tourist was PETTING the 'lil guy. (We just took pics and avoided sharing snacks).

 "It's pink!"
 Don't mess with this jail guard!
 With the "Town Wench." (Yes, that's what they called her).

 Montezuma Castle

 Goldfield Ghost Town...pretty much a Ghost Town!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Only 2.5 months behind!

Sheesh, September – half over and I haven’t even documented any of the crazy exciting details from our epic summer! I will (EVENTUALLY!) get caught up…maybe.
Let’s start with the end of the school year. It was the end of an era actually. Zachary wrapped up his entire elementary school career with a bang! He was one of only four (and the only boy!) to share an essay at graduation looking back on his experience as a fifth grader.
I will thoroughly admit that I was a little shocked when I read his speech. It felt sort of, um, brutally honest and a little bit of a downer to be honest. I knew that he’d had some struggles – especially with some of his classmates and the ridiculous cliques of 5th grade – but the tone of the message (when I read it in my head, anyway) made it sound like he’d had a rough go. Honestly, I’d say his year was probably typically – some drama, some struggles, but nothing too terrible. I decided to hold my tongue and not make any suggestions. They were his thoughts. His class would be voting on whose speech would represent them in front of the entire fifth grade and all the families.  And yep, they picked his, so obviously they liked it/could relate! 
I’m pretty sure I was more nervous than Zachary. The first girl to present her speech was all sorts of sweet and nostalgic on her experience at the school. The second girl’s speech was very funny and got a lot of laughs. And then it was Zach’s turn. I attempted to take a video but my stupid hand was shaking so much, I deleted it right after. 
He did a GREAT job. Got up there and read his very personal thoughts like it was no big deal. Several parents afterwards came up and told me they were amazed that he was so brave and honest. One mom came up to me later in the day and, with tears in her eyes, told me that his speech moved her as it so perfectly summed up her own son’s experience as a fifth grader. She later posted on facebook: “ZJ's speech has me looking forward to having the DVD of this event more than anything! He perfectly captured the experience as I understood it through my own son, and I am so grateful for his voice (and his courage in using it)!

Here is Zachary’s speech for your reading pleasure:
Survival of the Fittest:
We came to school expecting an awesome year. We came with growth mindsets and high hopes. But needing to handle being the oldest in the school, going to middle school, competing in P.E and at recess, gossip and even getting bullied. We learned that it was survival of the fittest, the smartest, the athletic, the popular and then the ones who aren’t any of these. We were somehow separated into two groups the popular and UN popular.
 As fifth graders it was like if the left side were the popular and the right side was the unpopular, you’d have to stay with your group; girls with girls guys with guys nerds with nerds. Soccer, football, wall ball, baseball, four-square, and tag were all separated into their own groups it was like good and evil or black and white “I stay with my posse and you with yours ” fights and arguments were happening all the time. “And Gosh was that hard”
 But despite all this trouble and turmoil our teachers were there with us to help us survive. Every kid had his own time and life yet our teachers figured out a way to help us out they’d notify our mistakes and inform us the correct way. Along with fifth grade drama we also needed help learning what we needed for 6th grade. After loads of help from our elders we were finally ready to pass on and complete 5th grade. “These teachers must’ve been exhausted cuz’ believe me we are difficult”
So in the end we survived the boring-ness of social studies, the hardness of math, the disturbing-ness of flash, the difficulty of science, the fun of camp, the shock of bad grades, the seemingly endless arguments during lunch and recess, and the exhilaration of music, P.E, and library After all our teachers were there to help us all out and this year was actually kinda’ decent. But now we move on to the next great adventure. MIDDLE SCHOOL!
Well, after I somehow managed to get through the graduation without massively breaking down, I went to get a picture of Kayliana with her Kindergarten teacher – who we absolutely adored [and who is now on medical leave and could use some much needed prayers]! I was appalled to find KAYLI was an absolute disaster. She was just sobbing and having the hardest time saying goodbye.  Yeah, my whole success in not losing it didn’t last once I saw this.

Kayliana with Zachary's 5th grade teacher (with the mini/replica-version of their class-auction project. Our fam made this one for her as an end-of-the-year/thank you/pre-her summer wedding gift.

 The big day!
 Kayli - attempting to smile through her tears. PHENOMINAL Kindergarten teaching team!
 Are you KIDDING ME?! You expect me to keep my eyes dry when my daughter is like THIS having to say goodbye to her teacher?! :( sniff sniff

Friday, March 24, 2017

FINALLY!!! An Update

[Funny! It only took me TEN DAYS to finish this Blog post. How ridiculous!]
OK, super quick overview: Christmas was good. January was good-ish.  Sadly, the day after Mike’s birthday I came down with the stomach flu – or some sort of nasty stomach nastiness – that lasted over a week. Then Zachary had it the following week.  Thankfully – oh so VERY thankfully – our flu bugs ‘n colds were gone by February 21st which was when we left for six days in Hawaii!
We went to the Big Island – staying at a beautiful Hilton timeshare place in Waikoloa (Kona/Westside of the island). We had a two bed, 2 bath ‘villa’ on the top floor with a private balcony overlooking the pool, the golf course and then off in the not too far off distance we had a peek-a-boo view of the bright blue ocean.  All of this for the price of – well, I’m not actually going to tell you – but part of the payment was our required attendance at a please-join-our-timeshare-vacation-club shpiel.  (To which we said, “Thanks for the amazing, vacation, but NO, thank you!”)
The weather was perfect. And it was probably our first ever family vacation that was nearly 100% about relaxing and not camping or the go-go-go-see-see-see-do-do-do kind of trip that we’ve taken in the past.
The HI-LIGHTS (get it ‘HI’ as in Hawaii?! VERY clever if I do say so myself).
*We had a couple of days of snorkeling which we did in the lagoon at the main Hilton resort. This worked out super well since we didn’t have to worry about big waves/open water, but we still had the benefit of seeing all sorts of fish and sea turtles! 
*We had a day at the beach – Kayliana, especially loved body surfing on the waves.  When we rounded the corner and saw the beach below, she gasped and said, “It’s the beach of my dreams – with the blue, the sand, the palm trees, the people!” We stopped to get a picture of the ‘beach of her dreams.’ 
*Mike and I enjoyed an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime - happy 15th Anniversary/Valentine’s Day/Mike’s birthday to us – couples’ seaside massage.  While we laid there peeking out beyond the canvas cabana walls at the turquoise blue sea, I could see occasional whale spouts and flashes of black fin off in the distance.  MAG.I.CAL. to say the least. I felt so blessed and so spoiled. 
*We enjoyed many afternoons just relaxing and swimming at our hotel’s pool and hot tub with poolside bar and (on one evening) – live music at sunset.
 *One of my favorite parts of the trip was having my coffee on the deck in the morning. It was the perfect temperature and just so peaceful. Even the memories are bliss-filled (and smell like delicious Hawaiian coffee accompanied by a piece of dark chocolate).
*We all enjoyed the dinner luau we attended – especially the fire dancers and tropical cocktails! Even the boys have reminisced about their [virgin] Lava Flows.
*We spent a day driving across the island. We saw Rainbow Falls, ate at a local hole-in-the-wall, popular Hawaiian diner for lunch, and then drove out to see the active volcano!  VERY cool (or actually hot. Not that we got close enough to feel it, mind you).
*Our last day was spent lounging by the pool and having one last delicious poolside beverage and shopping at the waterfront market in Kona.
* Our final Hawaiian dinner was spent with my sweet friend Jessica – a fellow musician and music teacher – who lives on the big island with her hubby and adorable 4 year old son. Jessica and I became friends in middle school and attended symphony camp together way back when. SO amazing to see how our lives have changed and so fun to get together!
We took a red-eye home. Landed Monday morning at 5:30am. It was snowing. We had two hours to get Zach home, showered, changed, packed-gear collected and ready to depart for three days of fifth grade camp. (Yes, in February. In the Pacific Northwest. In the snow).  We’d all gotten about 3 hours of sleep.  Mike and Matthew both had bad stomachaches. Kayliana got into bed with her coat and bedroom light on and fell immediately asleep. So, I got Zachary off (he was the only one of us alert and chipper). I returned home and napped for a couple of hours before I drove out to teach two Montessori music classes. 
The weather had been weird all day – off and on snowing but not sticking – and occasionally hailing. The sky was super dark and cranky. One of the teachers said the weather had “PMS” and just couldn’t make up her mind, but she was pissed.  So true.
It was hailing as I came out of class at 4pm. I called Mike and said I was going to attempt a quick Costco run since we’d depleted most groceries before our trip. Costco was just at the bottom of the hill from my Montessori campuses (and 25 minutes from home). I made it through the store – grabbing the necessities – and was at check-out within 40 minutes (pretty good for a huge Costco run). The store was pretty quiet though…because other people were smart and got the heck home before things got crazy.  I glanced outside and saw that things had gotten crazy. REALLY crazy. There were two inches of snow and it was still coming down like CRAZY. Real crazy.
I pushed the fully loaded cart through the snow – a challenge! I got the groceries loaded and noticed the lady next to me had started her car to warm it up. Smart. I put my purse on the passenger seat, turned on the car, hit the unlock button and then closed the door to go return my empty car.  That’s when my sleep-deprived foggy brain replayed what had just happened and I realized I’d hit “Lock” and not “Unlock.” SUCKY!!!!! (And maybe some other choice words were mumbled).
THANKFULLY I had my cell phone in my pocket. I was remaining calm – even asked the Costco greeters at the front door if anyone wanted to be a ‘hero’ and help me out – no takers; other than making the suggestion to call AAA.
I called Mike…and that’s when my ability to ‘handle’ it and remain calm fell apart. I sobbed, “I turned the car on and locked the door! I’m locked out of the car with the car ON and it’s snowing and I locked the car and…it’s snowing and no one’s going to help me…and it’s snowing and I locked the car and the engine is on...”  He got the point. But there wasn’t anything he could do for me. He was home with the extra key, but also with a stomach bug and a minivan that spins out in a puddle! He gave me the number for AAA.
I called them and was thanked for my 14 years of paid membership but was told, “Um, it’s Monday at 5:30pm. In Seattle. And it’s snowing. No one can come help you for…hours.  Don’t you have someone else that can bring you the key?”
Just then, Mike called back to say our neighbor Erik had stopped by to see if Kayli wanted to play in the snow with his daughter. Mike told him what was going on with me and Erik stuck out his hand and said that he’d bring me our extra key.  In, his 4-wheel drive, suv, it took Erik over an hour to make the 20ish minute drive.  We got the car opened, drove to the gas station just to refill my tank and then Erik had me follow him home since he knew the best/least steep/congested/abandoned-car filled streets.
Like a good neighbor, Erik was there. 
And THAT was how we spent our first day back after a week in paradise!

My favorite morning coffee spot.

Super windy on our first day - but warm and sunny, so who the heck cared?!

At the resort

The snorkle-friendly lagoon

 The beach of Kayliana's dreams!

This also happened to be the view from the massage cabana. Not too shabby, eh?
 Luau ready!

 Ahh, happy times.

Rainbow Falls - our last full day was overcast but still comfortable


How we felt about having to leave!