Getting Away From it All

Glacier National ParkThere’s nothing like getting away to clear the mind.  And even though we were traveling by car, we really got away from it all on our recent road-trip, our second annual family camping extravaganza.  This year we drove east to Glacier National Park in Montana, then north into Canada and Banff, then back west through Canada, hitting Harrison Hot Springs.  It was an amazing vacation, and I love this new tradition of ours.

I love it because it’s just the four of us for an entire week.  It is such a treat for the four of us to have so much fun together.  We play frisbee and monkey-in-the-middle, hike, fish, tent wrestle, and just hang out 24/7.  And we are so happy.

Hike Lake Louise

I also love the driving.  It’s a lot of scenic driving and winding hills, but best of all Todd and I get to talk to each other – as much as we want.  Or not talk and listen to the music we love, like in the old days.  In fact it’s really like the old days since our “new” car, that replaced our “old” car, is a 1997 Subaru with just a tape player in it.  We’ve hung onto old cassette tapes that are 20-30 years old now but they still crank out the tunes for us, like the Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta and Cracker’s first couple of albums.

The Back SeatThe kids set up their cozy little spaces in the back seat with their pillows, piles of books, drawing stuff, and the DVD player.  Like last year they watched the movie Airplane back there, and even though we couldn’t watch it from the front seat, Todd and I know that movie so well that we could visualize every scene and laugh along with the kids.  On the way home Nadine sat in the front seat for a bit so Todd could sit with Miles in the back and watch Star Wars.

Then there’s the camping.  This year we really had it down.  We had a new 6-person tent that Nadine and Todd always set up and took down together, and it was luxurious to have all the extra room.  We had a borrowed “X-Cargo” box on top of the car, and it held all of the camping gear.  Then in the way back we had just a cooler, food, water, and our bags.  Easy peasy.

Firing up Pancakes and CoffeeOur camping stove broke on the second day of the trip and we thought we were going to have to buy a new one somewhere, but it turned out that cooking over fire works just as well.  It’s funny to think of how well we lived and ate, living outside for a week with just the stuff packed into our car.  Nadine thought it was so much stuff but I kept telling her, “You know we’re pretty much packing up our clothes, our kitchen, our beds, our furniture, and our house for a week.”  (Although I could have packed a lot less for Miles, who wore the same thing almost every single day.)

Campsite in BanffEach campsite we stayed at cost around $20 per night, and was beautifully situated in the woods, surrounded by mountains.  I’m pretty sure a hotel room would cost a heck of lot more and the scenery wouldn’t be nearly as good.  Although the mosquitoes might not be as bad, and you wouldn’t have to worry about bears.

And, of course, the national parks we go to are so beautiful it’s mind-blowing.  The snow-topped mountains that jet out of the lush valleys, the rivers, waterfalls, and glacier lakes, the wild-flowers and wild-life are practically impossible to capture with a camera.  Of course I tried, and got some great shots, but I almost wished I didn’t take a single photo and just took it all in 100%, without stopping to take pictures all of the time.  But I do love taking pictures and want to look back on these trips later on, and the photos will help the kids remember them too.  Plus I think that maybe the act of carrying around my camera and looking for shots might make me more observant, noticing more.  Like the wild-flowers.  They are just tiny little things that grow in crazy places, but when you look at them close up they are incredible.

Glacier Wildflower

Todd and I kept saying to the kids, “Look out the window!  Look how beautiful this is!” but the kids weren’t that impressed with the scenery.  I guess that will come when they’re older.  Right now what they want are animal sightings and fun things to do.  And we got those a-plenty.  We saw three bears, lots of mountain goats, a moose swimming across a lake, deer, all kinds of birds, ground squirrels and chipmunks.  We got sprayed by waterfalls, climbed on rocks to cross rivers, played in the snow, and crossed ice bridges.  They also love gift shops, and while they browsed the gift-shops at some of the lodges Todd and I could enjoy a pint of Moose Drool on the deck.

Leaving St. Mary Campground

Swimming Moose

BearBig Horn Sheep

Lake LouiseThen on the very last day of our trip, which we spent at Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia, we walked over to Harrison Lake and saw this:

Harrison Hot Springs Water ParkEven though the water was ice cold and the weather was gloomy, once the kids got a glimpse of that thing it was all over.  There was no way they were not going to get their butts onto that water park. It was all they talked about it and even though it cost $35 per person, we all knew we were going.  Fortunately we were given wet suits.  Then we climbed aboard the floating banana and got towed out to this island of dreams.  Even though I think it was way more dreamy for the under-40 set, I still had a blast.

Todd and Nadine were the bravest, jumping off the tallest structures and sliding down the steepest slides.  Miles was all over the rope swing and jumping off the trampoline into the water.  And I was a big chicken.  What happen to me?  I think I’ve watched so much AFV with the kids that I couldn’t get over visions of me tumbling down the giant pyramid or doing a face plant off the rope swing.  It didn’t help that I was very aware of being four times as old as most of the people at the water park.  But I must say, I jumped and slid and rolled around and did the seesaw thing like crazy, and it was so totally fun and probably the best workout I’ve had in a long time.  I think my muscles are going to be sore for weeks.

One of the best things about getting away is coming home.  We pulled into the alley behind our house at around 7pm on Sunday night, and when I stepped out of the car, I was immediately overcome by the feeling of the air.  Granted the air in the car wasn’t the freshest, but I do love Seattle air.  I always notice it when we fly home from somewhere far away, but today I was surprised to notice it so much when I stepped out of the car.  I guess it’s because we live so close to Puget Sound, that the salt water permeates the air, and feels so fresh and smells incredible.  And then there was my vegetable garden, which must have tripled in size while we were away.  (Thanks neighbors for all of the watering you did!)  The kids went immediately to find the cat.  And then there were our delicious beds that night.

When I woke up the next morning there was nothing in the fridge and so I made pancakes with what was left of the mix I’d made for the trip.  How luxurious to turn on a stove, throw the dishes the dishwasher, and eat while watching cartoons.  But for some reason they just didn’t taste quite as good.  And I’m going to miss running into these guys on the road:

Celebrating Summer

Carkeek Park in AugustGod I love Seattle in the summer-time!  I know I’m biased, but is there any other big city in the U.S. as beautiful as Seattle is right now?  And it doesn’t just look good, with its abundant mountain and water views, it feels good.  It usually doesn’t get too hot, so we don’t need air-conditioning, and the cool nights mean good sleeping.  I have to admit though, I miss the hot summer nights of New Jersey, with the lightening bugs and the sound of cicadas singing in the dark.  Although I don’t miss stuffing my bra with ice cubes to stay cool during a heat wave.  But I digress.  (Digress from what though? I’m not even sure what this blog post is about.)

Super Mom

Don’t I look strong and warm in my borrowed Superman snuggy in my friend’s back yard?

School got out last Thursday and oh boy have we (especially me) been whooping it up, celebrating the arrival of summer.  First we went to a concert at the Zoo and listened to Medeski Martin Scofield and Wood while lounging on blankets with friends, drinking wine, eating picnic food, dancing and doing cartwheels on the lawn with Nadine.  The next afternoon we whooped it up in my friend’s back yard with a big slip-and-slide, water guns, and far too many margaritas for me.  (I paid dearly the next morning, which hasn’t happened in a while.  Ugh.)  Then it was off to a neighborhood potluck the next night with more friends, delicious food and drink (sparkling water for me,) and my favorite game, Giant Jenga.  And we ended our streak of summer kickoff parties with the Fremont Solstice Parade on Saturday afternoon, followed by a delicious back-yard barbeque at another friend’s house.

I also think probably no other city celebrates the summer solstice as well as we do, with the likes of the Fremont Solstice Parade.  The parade kicks off with a hundreds of naked bikers covered in cleverly applied body paint, then continues with floats, music, dancers, and more practically naked people.  We try to go every year, and three years ago we were even in it (not naked – but I’ll save that story for another time.)  And this year’s parade was exceptional, with great weather, outstanding costumes, music, and mind-blowing creativity.  I love it so much and I think we need to be in it again next year.

Whew!  What a whirlwind of fun.  Let’s just say that when Sunday night rolled around, I was pretty darn happy to sit in my living room and watch Project Runway with Nadine.

Kicking off summer also coincides with the anniversary of me quitting my job two years ago.  It’s been a crazy ride since then, and even though I wish I was making more money, and still haven’t quite found “my calling”, I’m having the time of my life – exploring, learning, growing, and spending time with friends and family – which is really what summer is all about, isn’t it?  So on that note I will stop rambling.  I am so excited for what this summer may bring.  Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be tons o’ fun.

SO LET THE SUMMER BEGIN!

Greenlake

We also kicked off our lazy days at Greenlake. Woo hoo!

Another Arty Party

This summer, on one of the rare not-so-sunny days, the kids decided we should have an arty party.  I wanted to experiment with painting on canvas, maybe using it to cover the seat cushions on a couple of free chairs I picked up on the side of the road.  So I figured this was an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, and got out some canvas I’d bought a while back – seconds that were on super-sale at a local art store – and some paints, brushes, sharpies, and blue tape.  I thought it would be fun to experiment with making patterns on the canvas with paints and blue tape, something I’d never done before.  Well the kids, of course, went in their own direction.

Miles is not a big fan of paint.  I think it is unwieldy for him.  He prefers sharp pencils and fine tipped pens, and makes very detailed line drawings.  Like these:

Captain Rex by Miles  

Nadine, on the other hand, likes patterns and bright colors, and when she sets out to draw, she does stuff like this:

Nadine's circles

and this:

Rainbow Nadine

I’m somewhere in between.  For this project though, I just started drawing patterns on the canvas with a sharpie and painting swatches of color, as well as cutting out pieces of blue tape to make stencils to block out the paint.  It was totally fun, although I’m not sure if it will work or the chairs.  I think the canvas it too think and the paint makes it even stiffer.  But that’s why I was experimenting.

Experimenting with the Canvas

Of course the stuff the kids did was the best.  Nadine asked me to make some 3-D letters for her – a large one on each canvas of her initials.  Then she got out a ruler and started using the colored sharpies to make lines all over the place.  I was skeptical, but I love what she did:

Miles just started drawing monsters with a sharpie, incorporating the letters of his name.  I thought it was so awesome, and when he finished it I asked him if wanted to paint it in.  He said, “No, but you can.”  And so I did.  And I loved doing it.  It took a while, but it was a great little escape, and I loved the way the paint absorbed into the canvas in a way that made it really easy to stay within the lines.  Most of all, I loved the way it came out.  I have to figure out a better way to hang it in his room, but this will do for now:

I just love arty parties.  I wish we had more of them.  My kids couldn’t be more different when it comes to art projects – and their art is such a reflection of their personalities.  Thankfully they each are, obviously, incredibly talented.  :)

Epic Summer

Woe is me; summer vacation is over.  The kids went back to school yesterday, autumn is in the air, and it’s been raining, really hard, all morning.  I knew this time was inevitable, but it makes me a little sad to think it’s over.  We had a truly amazing summer this year, and not just weather-wise.  We did so much fun stuff, and best of all, we all got along great.  Really great.  Maybe that seems like a strange thing to say, but last summer we had some serious struggles keeping everyone (mostly me) happy.  This year I believe the combination of fabulous weather, other friends to play with, awesome trips, and a full-time mom who might be finally hitting her stride, made all the difference in the world.  So here’s what our summer looked like.  I’ll let the pictures tell the story:

Montana Road Trip

Waterfall in Yellowstone

Beautiful Stinky Geysers in Yellowstone

The King of Hawaii

Miles said, “That rock looks like the King of Hawaii!”

The Cutest Girl in Yellowstone Brushing Her Teeth

Camping in Yellowstone

The Cutest Ranger in Yellowstone

Buffalo at Yellowstone

The Grand Tetons

Party at Greenlake!

Many Hands Make Light Work

Our Regular Morning Visitor

Axel and Giant Jenga

Happy Hour!

Cannon Ball!!!

Catch of the Day

Dinner's Ready!

Party of 16 - Romantic Dinner Outside

Ice Cream After Mini-Golf

My Parents 50th Wedding Anniversary Cake Toppers

Miles Found this Turtle in a Puddle in Alabama

Arty Party Day

One Way to BBQ

Nadine Shows Will How to Cast

Campfire at Marble Creek Campsite

Hooray for Pancakes!

Bro and Sis and Marble Creek

TV Zombies Sleepover

Getting in a Little Summer Reading

The Olympic Mountains from Carkeek Park

Carkeek Park with the Cousins

Miles at the Skateboard Park

Seattle Center Fountain

I'm a Velvet Painting!

Nadine and a BFF at Seattle Center Fountain Pool

Miles and His Bud at Seattle Center Fountain Pool

Rafting Down the Cle Elum River

Kayaking in the San Juans

Shaw Island Ferry Dock from Blind Island

Blind Island Camp Ground

Ice Cream Cones on Shaw Island

The end.

Summer Velvet

Last Friday night we went to a neighborhood party where, in the spirit of the maker revolution, it was encouraged to bring some sort of game or activity that you made yourself.

My friend, the host, had made a giant Jenga game, and another friend was making felt hats that you could throw velcro balls at.  So the bar was high, and I was definitely expected to bring something.  The pressure!  I came up with a bunch of ideas, but they were all too elaborate to accomplish in time for the party.  Finally, at the last minute, I got a crazy idea.  I would be a velvet painting.

I had just gotten a velvet dress at a naked lady party.  A naked lady party, if you didn’t know, is a party where a bunch of ladies get together and swap the clothes they no longer want.  It’s pretty hysterical drinking wine and trying on all kinds of whacky garments, and I always go home with a few gems.  One thing I tried on was a really pretty and form fitting long black velvet dress.  Even though I knew I would probably never have an occasion to wear it, I took it anyway.  I could always bring it back to swap at the next naked lady party.  Little did I know that I’d have an occasion to wear it so soon, and in the middle of summer no less!

So early Friday evening I packed a bag with a muffin tin, a bunch of paint brushes, and a slew of neon acrylic paints, then put on my dress, put up my hair, packed my family into the car and headed to the party.  I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out, and I have to admit, I was a bit nervous.

When we got to the party it was already hopping. Giant Jenga was in full swing, as were balloon races, a monkey ball game, a graffiti wall, ping pong, and lots of fun food and fancy drinks.  I got some nice compliments on my dress, but mostly a lot of confused looks.  This was not a formal occasion and it was way too hot for velvet.  If somebody asked, I simply explained that  it was my summer velvet dress.  So my giant Jenga opponent started calling me “Summer Velvet” which was kind of nice, although it did kind of sound like a hooker name.

I wasn’t sure when to get the velvet painting started, but fortunately my ‘get things done’ friend just started squeezing paints into the muffin tin, had me stand on the parking strip (a seemingly safe place to be with all that neon paint), and she and Nadine started painting me.  Before I knew it, there were several kids and a couple of adults getting super into it.

I couldn’t see how it looked, but the paint was going on liberally and I could feel it seeping through the dress.  One little girl painted on my butt and, very pleased with herself, told me she had painted a butterfly.  Very funny.  So I just stood there, with a beer, as it got dark out, and the kids continued to paint me until their parents had to take them home.  People were commenting on how good it looked, but I had no idea until someone took a picture and showed it to me.  And wow, those kids did an amazing job.  There was practically no ‘black space’ left on the dress, and the neon paints looked amazing.

Summer Velvet Painting

At just about the same time the kids were finishing up my dress, the DJ was getting things started, and I hit the dance floor.  I just can’t resist that Macklemore song “Can’t Hold Us” and I started dancing all around with Nadine, my favorite dance partner.  But then I realized that this was a precarious thing to do, as my dress was still juicy with paint.  So I went inside and Nadine and Todd helped me get the dress off, and I changed into shorts and a t-shirt, then continued to dance and even played a few more games of giant Jenga.  What a super fun way to spend a summer evening!

Shaking my booty in my velvet painting

Shaking my booty in my velvet painting.

Playing Giant Jenga

Playing Giant Jenga!

The Beach Life

Every year, at the end of July, we fly south to join my parents and two sisters, and their husbands and kids, for a week at the beach.  We rent a big house in a place called Fort Morgan, which is on the Alabama Coast, on the Gulf of Mexico.  We started this tradition ten years ago, although this was only our eighth trip because one year we couldn’t go because of the hurricanes and another year we couldn’t go because of the oil spill.  But even through those crazy disasters, Fort Morgan has remained an incredibly beautiful place, and for me this vacation is one of the best weeks of the year.  Here’s why, in no particular order:

  1. The water. You just step into it and swim.  The temperature is perfection.  The salt water means I just lay back and float.  The waves can be gentle swells, or they can be big enough for some pretty decent body surfing.  Either way, I love being carried away by the tide.

    The beach at Fort Morgan

  2. The birds. There are so many awesome coastal birds here.  I’ve decided that in my next life I want to be a pelican.  They have such a beautiful way of flying -  high in formation with other pelicans, or just inches above the water.  They dive for fish with such precision, I don’t know that they ever miss.  And they look prehistoric.

    Pelicans at the Fishing Pier

  3. My family.  When it comes to family I am incredibly lucky.  We might not get to see each other very often, but when we come together once a year it feels like home.

    Annual Family Photo

  4. The flow. There’s such a natural flow to the way we live at the beach.  We go to bed when we’re tired, get up when we’re not, eat when we’re hungry, swim when it suits us, chat when we’re feeling social, read a book when we’re not.

    A Very Sleepy Boy

  5. The kids. Did I ever mention that not only do I have the most amazing kids, I also have the most incredible nieces and nephews?  There were 8 kids in our beach house – ages 9 through 14, and then there were the neighbor’s kids, and the kids of our friend’s who were renting a house down the beach – 14 kids all together.  I love watching them have the best time ever.  Sometimes they even include me.

    Watching Fireworks on the Beach

  6. My bathing suit.  It’s practically all I wear.  While this might not sound so great to some, it really is, trust me.  I would never do this in Seattle, but for this one week I am completely comfortable traipsing around in my swim-suit, completely forgetting about my huge thighs and ever-increasing waist-line.

    So Comfortable In My Bathing Suit

  7. The puzzle.  We do 1000-piece puzzles every year and oh boy do they suck you in.  Todd stayed up until 3 am one night because he couldn’t tear himself away.  This is the only time of year we everdo jigsaw puzzles.

    The First Puzzle

  8. Dinner.  All 16 of us eat dinner at the same time at three big tables pushed together.  It’s pretty incredible that for seven nights we pull off making enough food for everyone, but we do, and it’s delicious.  Keeping it simple is the key.

    Party of Sixteen?

  9. Our friends.  This year we were joined by our friends who, 35 years ago, we shared a beach house with at the Jersey Shore.  We’ve talked about doing a reunion in Alabama forever, and this year we finally pulled it off.  How lucky are we that even though we live all over the country and rarely see each other, we can get together and have so much fun as if no time has passed at all?

    Atlantic City Boardwalk in the 70s

    My best friend and I at the Atlantic City boardwalk in 1976.

  10. The south.  “Yes ma’am.” and  “No sir.”  It would be weird in Seattle, but in Alabama I find it really charming when someone calls me ma’am.  The accent is the best, and the people are the nicest.  And the live oak are super cool too.

    Live Oak

I’m going to stop at 10 things, but could probably keep going for a while.  There’s the mini-golf, the incredible thunder storms, the dolphins, the fish that suck on your feet, the stars, the fort, the shipwreck, the Blue Angels, the fireworks, the crêpes my dad makes for breakfast, and this little guy:

Ghost Crab

Okay I’m done.  Thanks y’all for reading.

Hasta la vista, Axel

Isn’t it funny how people just drop into your lives sometimes?  When we were camping at the Grand Tetons earlier this summer, a young guy from Austria named Axel came by our campsite and asked if we had change for a twenty so he could pay for his camp-site.  We didn’t, but we got to talking, and learned that he was riding his bike across America.  He’d started in New York City and was making his way to Seattle.  Wow.

We invited him to dinner, and he stayed late into the evening, eating huge piles of spaghetti and s’mores with us under a star packed sky, and telling us stories of his journey.  He came back the next morning for a pancake breakfast, then we said our goodbyes and told him to give us a call at the end of July when he got to Seattle.

On July 17th, as we were winding up our day of play-dates, swimming, and karate, Todd got a call from our Austrian friend.  He was heading north on the Burke-Gilman Trail  in Kenmore and wanted to know how to get to Seattle.  Todd told him that he’d gone too far and to turn around, and that he’d meet him at Fred Meyer with his truck and bring him back to our house.  We were all very excited to see him and to celebrate his amazing accomplishment.  He’d biked solo clear across the country in 58 days.

Axel photo booth

Axel and friends in a photo booth at the Modern Design Block Party

We were actually pretty surprised to hear from him so soon – he was a couple of weeks earlier than planned.  But it was a great surprise, so we cracked open a bottle of champagne, had dinner on the deck, and caught up.  I think he was pretty excited to get off his bike for a while, so we put it in the shed and got him set up to stay in the TV room for a couple of nights.  His plan was to leave in two days (the same day we were going to Alabama for our annual beach trip), and to hitch hike down the Pacific coast to San Francisco and back. We’d see him again when we got back, and then he’d head back to Austria, and start college in the fall.

We all left the house on Saturday to go on our respective trips.  We were taking the red-eye (ugh!) and the kids were beyond excited.  But when we got to the airport it turned out I’d goofed majorly, and our tickets were actually for the next night.  It was a huge disappointment, but we headed back home, and promised the kids that we’d make tomorrow an extra special stay-cation day, before heading to the airport again in the evening.

The next morning, as I was watering the plants, through the window I saw Axel in the living room talking to Todd.  What the?  So I went inside and he told me that he’d made it as far as Olympia.  He said that hitch-hiking took a lot longer than he’d imagined, and he worried he wouldn’t make it to San Francisco and back in time to make his flight home.  So we told him he could stay at our house while we were gone, and talked about some short trips he might take from Seattle.

Axel is 20 and we don’t hang out much with 20-year-olds.  But I have a feeling Axel isn’t your typical 20-year-old.  He’d ridden thousands of miles by himself, made it through some crazy situations, befriended strangers of all ages, had such great confidence, my kids adored him, and we were really fond of him too.  We knew he probably wouldn’t throw any raging parties in our house while we were gone, and that he would probably like to just chill out a bit, use the computer, Facebook friends back home, and explore the Pacific Northwest at a leisurely pace.

We got home late last Sunday night (Monday morning actually) and the house was nice and clean, my garden was is good shape (2 huge zucchini!), and the cat’s bowl was full.  In the morning Axel told us that he’d gone whale watching, spent a few days in Vancouver, and visited the EMP.  (He loves Jimi Hendrix.)  He also told us that the cat killed the fish, and felt really badly that he hadn’t closed the doors and kept the cat out.  Oh well.

Todd took Axel to the airport this morning.  He had his bike in a cardboard box, his other belongings in a thoroughly taped up garbage bag, and was wearing his big poofy hippie pants and Jimi Hendrix t-shirt.  He’s flying into Munich, taking a train to the Austrian border, and then biking to his friends house to raise a glass before biking home.  He looked so happy when we said good-bye.  I keep thinking about his mom and how happy she is going to be to have him home safe and sound.

Last night we had dinner on the deck again, and hung out for a bit.  I asked Axel what were some of the biggest challenges on the trip, and he told me about the trouble he had with his tire wearing out and the the inner tube exploding.  He got stuck in the middle of nowhere, and was furious with himself for not taking better care of his bike.  Fortunately some guy in a small car with two other friends drove by and saw him.  They made a U-turn, figured out how to get him and and his bike into the crowded car, and then took two hours out of their way to find him a bike shop.  Axel said that if that hadn’t happened, he wouldn’t have gotten to the Grand Tetons when he did and met us.  And if he hadn’t met us, he wouldn’t have had a nice place to stay in Seattle.  He said he thought about that stuff a lot – all of the synchronicities that made his trip turn out the way it did – and that is what kept him going, especially through the toughest situations.  I thought that was pretty cool, and told him I think that way a lot about my own life.  And then we talked about the German movie Run Lola Run, which is like three movies in one – the same story retold three times with vastly different outcomes because of the seemingly trivial changes in the sequence of events.

Axel dropped into our lives because we happened to camp at the same campsite and he needed change for a twenty.  We got to know each other pretty well over the time we spent together, and today we said good-bye.  But it’s not like he’s dropping back out of our lives; he’s just going back home.  And I’m pretty sure we’ll keep in touch and get to hear about his upcoming adventures.  There are bound to be many.

Road Trippin’

Five days ago, late Sunday morning, as I was hanging out at the camp site with the kids, waiting for Todd to come back from towing our car to a Subaru shop and lining up a rental vehicle, Nadine said to me, “So mom, are you going to meet with that accountant again next week?”  The question took me aback, and I said to her, “Wow, Nadine, I haven’t thought about the real world this whole week.  I don’t know.”  And that’s when it struck me:  this had been a perfect vacation.  Yes, our car broke down 500 miles from home, and yes, we were stuck at a camp site until a ride home was arranged, but we were relaxed about it, and, as Todd said, “What’s the worst that could happen?  We’d have to stay here for little longer?”

It was 102 degrees out, but we had a nice shady spot at a KOA campsite (showers!) just south of Boise, and we waited patiently in the cool grass, chatting, playing games, and organizing our stuff.  At around 1 pm Todd pulled up in a giant white Chevy Tahoe (hip hip hooray!) and in no time we were packed up and back on the road.  We got home around 11pm, and it was so good to be home and off the road.  What an amazing trip we’d had.

Goodbye Subaru

Goodbye Subaru…

Hello Chevy Tahoe

Hello Chevy Tahoe!

We had left Seattle the previous Sunday at 6 am, and drove straight for 10 hours until we got to our first camp site, the Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana.  I was nervous about how the kids would handle this long trip, and they were dreading it, but it wasn’t bad at all.  They got along great, the scenery was gorgeous, we got the bulk of our driving out of the way, and we made it to the campsite by dinner-time.  Now it was time for our adventures to begin!

arriving in montana

We made a pit stop at huge tourist shop after crossing the Montana border.

weldome to Montana

Plaques galore!   And if you don’t like wildlife, they also have Elvis, John Wayne, and Jesus – something for everyone!

Our first destination was the caverns near our camp site.  We had to hike up for about a half mile and enter the mountain through a little opening.  Immediately we saw bats everywhere – apparently all pregnant females – tiny little things with humongous ears.  The kids were completely engrossed.  The cave tour took a couple of hours as we made our way through tiny tunnels and big chambers, slid down a rock slide, and our guide even turned out all the lights so we could experience total darkness.  Wow.

Lewis and Clark Caverns campsite

Lewis & Clark Caverns - inside the cave

Next destination – Yellowstone!  Or ‘Jellystone’ as we liked to call it, with way too many “Hey Boo Boo” jokes thrown in.  We got up super early and drove two hours south to get to the park and secure a campsite, because they don’t take reservations and they fill up quickly.  We ended up at the Indian Creek campsite, in the northern part of the park, set up camp, then set out to do the northern loop of the park.

We didn’t have to drive too far before we got to our first stinky steamy geyser.  Incredible.  I really had no idea that Yellowstone was full of these things – crazy prehistoric and other-wordly landscapes, spewing stinky gasses, and pools of bubbling liquids in crazy combinations of color.  We were all enthralled.

Next we made our way to Tower Fall for a little hike and some lunch, then continued on the loop and stopped at the Roosevelt Lodge for some cocktails and dinner, where there were lots of clean and well coiffed people wearing white pants – a stark contrast to us tent campers. Then we stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs at around 7:30 for more geysers and hot-springs.  Miles and I raced each other up to the top, and when we got to the highest point Miles shouted, “It’s great to be alive!”

Yellowstone River near Tower Fall

Roosevelt Lodge

mammoth hot springs

The next morning our destination was Old Faithful and the lower loop of the park.  We were lucky to get a great parking spot next to the Old Faithful Inn, and made our way to the geyser to wait.  She blows every 90 minutes, but fortunately we only had to wait 30 minutes, so we ate our lunch.  After the eruption the kids said, “That’s it?  Can we get some ice cream now?”  So we did, and then we continued around the southern loop, making our way to the Yellowstone Lake for some fishing.  We didn’t catch anything, but the guys fishing next to us caught a lake trout and asked us if we wanted it.  Apparently all other types of trout are catch and release, but the lake trout is invasive and you are not allowed to toss it back.  So Todd whacked it with a stick, cleaned it, put in in a plastic bag, and threw it in the cooler.  No hotdogs for us tonight!

We started the long drive back to the campsite at around 7pm and the scenery blew us away. We saw bison, baby bison, and elk.  Awesome.  We finally ate dinner at around 10pm, which was the most delicious dinner of the whole trip – fresh trout, black beans, and cabbage.  Yum!

Fishing near Yellowstone Lake

Beautiful Yellowstone

Bison at Yellowstone

Elk at Yellowstone

Lake Trout from Yellowstone Lake

On day 5 we headed south again, toward the Grand Tetons.  Again, we had to get an early start because we wanted to camp at Jenny Lake, a popular tent-only site right on the lake.  We made it just in time and got the last spot, but had to wait forever for three stoner dudes to pack it up and leave in the 90-something degree sun.  But we didn’t mind because, holy cow, those Tetons are something else.  Bam!  They are right in your face – no foothills – just jagged mountains jetting out of the earth, next to pristine spring lakes, and wildflowers everywhere.

Jenny Lake ended up being a great spot to camp, and unlike Yellowstone, we didn’t have to do much driving.  We could walk to the lake from our site, or to the boat house to get a ride across the lake for a nice little hike to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point.

entering Grand Teton National Park

Swimming in Jenny Lake - Brrrrrrrr

View of Snake River and the Tetons

We drove about 30 minutes to Jackson one night for dinner at a brewery, and to check out the town Todd lived in for a year, back in the day.  We were hoping to run into Harrison Ford (Hans Solo!) who lives there, but no luck.  Bummer.

Nadine had gotten a cute sweatshirt at the visitor’s center near Jenny Lake, and now Miles wanted a souvenir.  So we spent way too much time, in the way too touristy t-shirt shops, that sold ridiculous t-shirts that said things like, “If God intended us to be vegetarians, he would have made broccoli more fun to shoot at.”  Finally he chose a simple blue baseball cap with the Wyoming bucking bronco on it.  Thank goodness, because he had looked at a t-shirt that said, “All I want for my birthday is a booty hoe” on it, which he thought was hysterical.  What does that even mean?

We left the Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole on Saturday, and at around 9 pm on Saturday night we had to pull over because the car was overheating.  Fortunately we made it to a KOA campsite in Mountain Home, Idaho, and, well, you know the rest…

So that’s the story of our trip.  Like I said, it was a perfect trip.  We put the real world on hold for a whole week -  jobs, projects, play dates, computers, and TV were all forgotten.  It was just the four of us and mother nature, whooping it up, happy as can be.  What a perfect way to celebrate the end of the school year and the beginning of summer.  We feel so fortunate that we could take a vacation like this – not too expensive (if you don’t include the tow-truck, rental car, and new car we need to buy), and not too far away.  Where should we go next year?  More of Montana and Glacier National Park?  And what vehicle would be the best to take us there?  Decisions, decisions…

Click here if you want to see the full slideshow of the trip.  And, in closing, here are some photos of the flowers Nadine and I loved taking close-up shots of, with some fun filters applied.

Thistle

Mountain Wildflower

Yellow Wildflower

Funky Thistle

HAPPY SUMMER!!!

It’s Summertime!

The last day of school was on Friday, the Summer Solstice was yesterday, and yesterday was also the anniversary of my leaving my previous place of employment.  Woo hoo!  What a year it’s been.  And while I would love to write a post about what a difference a year makes, I have to pack for our road-trip, because tomorrow we are off to Montana, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons – our first family vacation with just the four of us, and our first major road trip.  But first, let’s quickly reflect on the school year, and on Spring…

On the last day of school the kids bring home a ton of stuff that I need to sort through.  What supplies can we use again?  What stuff do I want to save?  And what stuff needs to be recycled?  It’s kind of a big job, but it’s also kind of fun to see, all at once, all of the work they’ve been doing over the past year.

For Nadine, 3rd grade seemed to be the year where she took off with her writing skills.  They did a lot of writing this year – book reports, stories, and poems.  Here is a poem she wrote called ‘inanimate object’ which I think is beautiful:

Inanimate Object poem by Nadine

Miles was really sad for first grade to end this year.  He loved his teacher and his class.  For Miles, math is where it’s at, but it’s always his drawings, and his explanations of his drawings that I love the most.  Usually he does very detailed pencil drawings of skateboarders, Star Wars scenes, or ninjas, but here is a rare full color piece he did this year.  I just love that lion!

Jungle scene by Miles

Apparently his teacher felt the same way, as this was tucked in his back pack on the last day of school.

Note from teacher

We are so lucky to live in a district with such good schools, and I am so thankful for the great school and wonderful teachers my kids had this year.

It’s really hard to believe I’m going to have a 4th grader and a 2nd grader next year.  It seems like only yesterday that they were in preschool, looking like this:

Nadine in pre-school

and this:

Miles in pre-school

Crazy.

Now, about Spring.  Back in March I put together a list of my Spring intentions, and while they were a bit ambitious, I did make some progress.  For instance:

  • I did a lot of spring cleaning and cleaned out my closet and the laundry room.  Todd cleaned out the shed.  So we have bags and stacks of stuff for a garage sale this summer.  The garden is planted and thriving, and I can’t wait to pick a whole bunch of snap peas to munch on for our road-trip.
  • I still haven’t made my ‘inspiration board’, but I bought the materials and I’m designing some fabric to cover it with, so I guess that’s a (slightly pathetic) start.  But I have done some work on finding balance, as planned.
  • I’ve continued my blogging, and I’ve been keeping a journal.  Nadiine has started, and kept up with, a journal as well, which I love.
  • I haven’t worked too much on our family budget, but I have spent a lot of time working on Todd’s bookkeeping, learning QuickBooks, and I have a bookkeeper expert who I am meeting with regularly to make sure I’m on track, and that their books are ship shape.
  • I took some classes:  fabric design, and a sewing class.  But I didn’t get away from the computer as much as I would have liked.
  • I continued with my boot-camp and riding my bike, but I didn’t get back into yoga like I wanted.  But there’s free yoga this summer at the sculpture park and at Seattle Center, so hopefully I can make it to some of those.  Maybe even try the free zumba?
  • I do feel pretty good about my goal to be a good mom.

So now that summer is here, instead of making lofty goals for this season, I just have three simple intentions:

  1. Get QuickBooks fully set up and rockin’ for Todd’s business.
  2. Go through all of my notebooks, notes, and journals, and really think about what I might want to launch into in the fall.
  3. Chill out, have fun, try not to feel like I need to accomplish too much, and really enjoy the summer.

We leave in the morning for our trip, so there’ll be no blog posting for at least a week.  I can’t wait for a little vacation and to experience the great outdoors.  Jellystone, here we come!

Happy Summertime!!!

The Thrill of Gardening

Like I mentioned in an earlier post, we are having the most amazing Indian summer here in the Pacific Northwest, and it has done wonders for my garden (and our moods!)  I have been picking oodles and oodles of ripe tomatoes, and I continue to harvest zucchini and peppers.  I’ve recently planted lettuce, leeks, chard, spinach, and brussels sprouts that are all thriving.  Woo hoo!  Does it get any more exciting than this?!

Probably.  But last year I didn’t get a single red full-sized tomato.  And since it was my first year with a vegetable garden, I was unsure what to do with all those giant green tomatoes.  Fry them?

Last year we had to take down a small but unwieldy cedar tree to build a higher fence.  With the tree gone, we now had a big empty sunny space, perfect for a vegetable garden.  I asked the guys who cut down the tree to save the logs and keep them long.  Then I took a day off of work to build my garden.  With the help of Miles’s skateboard, I dragged those logs around and made a big raised bed.  Then I filled it with soil mixed with the compost we’d been brewing for years.  Now I was ready to plant.

Nadine and I sprinkled seeds, and planted tomato plants.  I built potato towers (directions from Sunset magazine), threw in some starter potatoes, and covered them with hay and compost. Miles transplanted his little sunflower plants he grew in preschool.  Then we watered, and waited.  In no time we had lettuce and radishes sprouting, and the thrill was on.

My first vegetable garden

Last year’s garden

Last year's potato tower

Last year’s potato tower

Miles and his sunflower

Miles and his sunflower plants – which grew to about 8 feet!

That year we had a pretty good harvest of green beans, potatoes, lettuce, carrots, beets and cherry tomatoes.  We pretty much had a tomato jungle because the vines took over and grew everywhere.  And I learned a lot.  But most importantly, my passion for gardening was ignited.  And the kids got into it too.

This year I changed things up a bit, and expanded a bit.  We also grew zucchini, peppers, snap peas, purple string beans, and purple heirloom tomatoes (which are currently selling for $7.98/lb at the market!)  I harvested more potatoes, and way more tomatoes.  Again, I learned a ton, and kicked off a new hobby – pickling, canning, and preserving.

This year's potato towers

This year’s potato towers

Potato tower bounty

Lift up the potato tower and uncover the bounty

I grew so many pepperoncini peppers and  jalapeños that I pickled them.  I thought it would be hard, but it was a piece of cake, and totally fun.

Pickled pepperoncinis and jalapeños

Pickled pepperoncinis and jalapeños

And as I’ve been overwhelmed with tomatoes, I decided to try and make salsa so I could use both my tomatoes and peppers.  I haven’t tried any yet, but it looks beautiful.  Here’s the recipe I used, from the book Preserving Nature’s Bounty by Frances Bissell that I got at the library.

Yummy salsa recipe

I also discovered roasted tomatoes.  Holy moly, these are so amazing.  Being home all day, I can slow roast tomatoes for 10 hours in a 200 degree oven, and they make the house smell so good.  I froze some of the roasted tomatoes, but they are almost too delicious to not eat up right away.

The other night we made home made pasta (so easy and so much fun for the kids) and I took some roasted tomatoes out of the oven, threw them into the Cuisinart, and voila, the best tomato sauce I’ve ever had.  I also roasted a bunch of cherry tomatoes to use on home made pizza.  I just put a bunch in a cast iron pan, tossed with olive oil, chopped garlic, salt and pepper, and roasted on high heat (400) for about 25 minutes.  I usually use pesto as my base for pizza, but using the roasted tomatoes instead made the best pizza by far.  Unbelievably delicious.

Roasting cherry tomatoes

Roasting cherry tomatoes

Star Wars squinkies guarding the tomato tops

Star Wars squinkies guarding the tomato tops

I also learned that you can freeze cherry tomatoes.  First you spread them on a cookie sheet and freeze them for a few hours that way.  Then you can slip them into a zip lock bag (they sound like glass marbles when you do), and they won’t stick to each other in the freezer.  I’m super excited to be able to use them this winter, when crock pot season starts.

Yesterday I spent some time weeding and cleaning up the vegetable bed, and even though the tomato plants are turning brown and losing their leaves, there are still a surprising number of tomatoes left.   I wonder how long this will last.

Still more heirloom tomatoes

Still more heirloom tomatoes

But there is a chill in the morning air, the leaves on the trees are now the most amazing colors and dropping fast, so the end must be near.  Pretty soon I’ll have to plant a cover crop and put everything to bed for the winter.  But I’ll have my jars of peppers and salsa, and a freezer full of tomatoes, to remind me of my bountiful summer.  And I’m already planning next year’s garden in my head.

Oh, and I just wanted to add a comment that Miles made the other night when he was eating his salad.  He said, “Mom did you buy this lettuce?  Because I only like to eat the lettuce you grow.”  I made him eat his salad, but inside, I have to say, I was kind of proud.