Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Last of the Summer Adventures, Part 2: Canyoneering in Zion

Typically, when packing for a vacation most people put things like suntan lotion, beach towels, swimsuits, and flip flops. Most people are not like my in-laws. I think their ancestors were Nordic (likely Vikings). Contrary to what you might have learned in school, I'm convinced that the Vikings didn't rape and pillage because of overpopulation or religious convictions, but rather because it was the most difficult thing they could possibly do for fun. It was like a Viking vacation! I can imagine a Viking dad getting his immediate family together and having a conversation like this:

Paulthor (the dad): Sons, it's time we planned next year's family vacation. What should we do?

Gregotgardill (eldest son): How about rowing a boat up a waterfall?

All: Nah, too easy.

Cliarkf (younger son): What about playing tag with the sharks again? That was fun.

All: Boooo-ring.

Jevan (brother in-law) (and yes, it is a Nordic name I'll have you know): How about we pick an activity that won't get someone killed? Remember what happened to poor Hjorvarth last year...

[Paulthor, Gregotgardill and Cliarkf share a look of disgust]

Merdonfthnus (youngest son): It's not a vacation unless someone could die or at a minimum be horribly maimed you pansy.

Reedolf (other brother in-law): Jevan, you can stay here with the children while your wife Emilfrothi comes with us!!!

[All laugh, pointing fingers at Jevan and making rude hand gestures that bring into question his masculinity, parentage, facial hair and choice of clothing]

Louifst├Žn (mom) to Emilfrothi: I told you he was a wiener.

Paulthor: How about this - we'll all get into a boat, row across the ocean, land on a beach somewhere, run ashore brandishing weapons and screaming, rape / pillage / plunder, then come back home!

All except Jevan: Yaay!

This is pretty much how we plan family vacations in Em's family (including the mocking of my clothing). Case in point - the family trip to Zion National Park this summer. Here is what we packed: wetsuits, suntan lotion, 3 first aid kits, a climbing harness, locking carabiners, nylon ropes, wet bags, water, and tons of trail mix / granola bars. Pretty much the kinds of things that you would pack if you were planning on running from the law for an extended period of time in the desert.

In the past, Emily has gone on this annual "Let's attempt to cheat death one more time" vacation by herself, but this year I decided that I had had enough of the rude gestures from her brothers and came with them. This is a rough breakdown of how it all went down.

Day 1:
Wake up at 5:00 AM, because no good adventure starts after sunrise. (Note: I think that, with the exception of early-morning golf, the Holy Ghost really does go to bed at 12:00AM and doesn't wake up until around 7:30 or 8:00.)
Get in the car and drive for a couple of hours.
Contemplate the number of ways you may meet your end in the upcoming hours.
Arrive at the trailhead at 7:30AM. Begin hiking.
Hike down some steep canyon terrain until you arrive at the mouth of a slot canyon.
Realize that you have survived so far and be simultaneously grateful and sad that it will take even more effort to get your corpse out in the event of an accident.
Proceed to what the guide book describe as your first 'obstacle'.
Remind yourself that an 'obstacle' is to a Tayler as 'The Grand Canyon' is to a unicyclist.
Proceed to rappel down a 20-foot cliff into a puddle of what can only be described as "37 years' worth of cow urine in mud".
Slog your way through while trying not to breathe.
Accidentally breathe.
Vow to make it the last 20 feet without breathing, or die in the attempt.
Watch your mother in-law do the same thing and feel like a total wimp.
See your mother in-law's shoes come off in the pee / mud mixture.
Try not to giggle.
Tell your wife you can't go in and help your mother in-law get out because you're filming the event for posterity.
Help your mother in-law out.
Remind your mother in-law that this is her vacation.
Catch all of the pack as they are thrown down from the top of the 'obstacle'.
Discover that, when thrown from 20 feet above you, catching a 60-pound backpack feels very similar to getting steamrolled by a blitzing linebacker.
Reassemble the group, after an hour or so of traversing the stinkhole.
Resume hiking (and breathing).
Traverse a few other 'obstacles', including one in which you have to physically drop your wife, sister in-law, niece, and mother in-law off of a cliff into a pool of water (I'm not exaggerating).
Tell your mother in-law she looks like a drowned cat.
Pretend to not notice the dirty looks you get from everyone.
Find out why it's not a good idea to hike for many hours with a mesh-lined swimsuit.
Discover first-hand the meaning of the word 'chafing'.
Learn to hike bow-legged.
Continue hiking. Start to look at all of the amazing stuff that 99% of the people that go to Zions don't see. Think to yourself that maybe the Vikings were onto something.
Realize that there's something to be said for near-death vacationing.
Emerge from the canyon at 8:30 PM battered, bruised, chafed, but whole.
Spend 27 minutes showering and using an entire bar of soap attempting to remove the 'obstacle' smell.
Remember that Day 1 was the 'easy' day.
Collapse into bed for a few hours of sleep.

Day 2:
Wake up at 6:00AM.
Pack wet suit, ropes, harness, carabiners, and food into a dry pack.
Ensure your Last Will & Testament is in order.
Drive to the trailhead.
Start hiking.
After 2 minutes, arrive at the first 'obstacle'. Or, to be more accurate, the place where you have to put on a wetsuit and swim through freezing cold and fetid water in order to get to the first obstacle.
"ON-ROPE".
Rappel down a sheer 80-foot cliff.
"OFF-ROPE".
Hike through an amazing slot canyon, going down some incredible rappels (including one into 'The Cathedral', which has to be one of the coolest things you've ever done).
Be upset that your camera's battery is nearly dead.
After numerous rappels, arrive at the last one - a 120-ft free rappel straight down into the jaws of death picnic spot.
Sidle up to the edge of certain death without looking down.
Look down.
Let your nephew go first.
Watch as he manages to hang on to the cliff using only his butt cheeks.
Marvel at the amazing gripping power of terrified glutes.
"ON-ROPE"
Army-ranger rappel down to the bottom.
"OFF-ROPE"
Resist the urge to kiss the ground and weep.
See your father in-law, wife, and 15 year-old niece do all of the above and ponder whether
a) you're just a wimp,
b) they're really tough,
c) they really are Vikings, or
d) all of the above
(note: the answer is d)
Hike out of the canyon, spending time playing in swimming holes rejoicing that you still have all of your limbs attached and no known organ punctures.
Enjoy a meal swapping war stories with the rest of the Vikings.

So there you have it. I survived, and found that it was one of the funnest vacations I've been on. I was proud of every scrape, bruise, contusion, and odor I got on that trip. Sign me up for the next raid!

They are all smiling. That's because none of them smell like cow pee yet.

Yeah. We walked through that. Paul actually had to get his nose about 1 inch above the water to dig out Louise's shoes.

I may have neglected to mention that we found Gollum on the trip.

Louise, my mother in-law, rappelling down into the cow pee, with Gollum watching his Precioussssss...


And we just lost a shoe.

Looking up from one of the slot canyons. Freedom seems far away right now.

The aforementioned 'Drowned Cat' pose.

Check out the scale of the canyons.

Em trying to decide which way to go.

I thought this looked really neat, with the vertical crack in the wall.

Ensign Tayler, reporting for duty. Fortunately, he was wearing a blue uniform. Had it been red he would definitely have been eaten by a monster along the way...

... like poor Hjovarlth and Magnus, who didn't make it.

Ready to swim through who knows what.

Em rappelling down into the Cathedral.

Finally getting the hang of it. And for the record, yes farmer tans help when you're canyoneering.

Coming down the last rappel.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Last of the Summer Adventures, Part 1: The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone

Sorry folks. One last family vacation post. I wanted to get it recorded before, say, Christmas..as I do rather like to procrastinate.

Once again, I think I will let the pictures do most of the talking. Here's a quick summary:
In July, I went with my young women from our old ward up to run the Snake River. For some reason, the Young Men's leader thought that since I had run rivers with my family growing up, it somehow put me in the category of river guide, and that I was capable of paddling a huge raft full of teenagers down the Snake - a river I hadn't actually ever run. Not being able to convince him that the idea scared the pants off me, (I honestly had nightmares for weeks, kids drowning, parents strangling me, even Kevin Bacon appearing out of nowhere to hunt me down (movie anyone? A River Wild. Kevin Bacon has one of those faces that completely freaks me out) I quickly invited my dad along as moral support. He was a good sport....and I made him run the rapids for me. Whew. Huge crisis averted. Jevan and the girls then drove up and picked me up in Wyoming and we set off for a weekend in the Tetons and Yellowstone.

We camped at Signal Mountain, and despite the hoards of vampire mosquitos, we had a great time. Such a beautiful place. I think the kids were impressed too. Although, if you ask Jane, the thing she remembers most was the deer with 2 broken legs (probably got hit by a car) trying to get away from a BEAR IN OUR CAMPGROUND! Luckily we were in our car, but Jane talked about it for days. Definitely disconcerting. Don't worry - the bear never got the deer - no scenes out of Wild America for us, thank goodness. Ranger Susie saved the day. (Editor's note: "Save the day" = take the wounded deer for a walk with a shotgun in tote. Not exactly a happy ending, but the bear didn't get to eat it...)

Anyway, it was all beautiful, the weather was great, and Allie only had a few breakdowns of epic proportions. No naps plus sleeping in a tent where you can roam about endlessly until you fall asleep do not a happy toddler make.

It was still REALLY fun.


Some of the daring Young Women from my old ward. They are all awesome girls and I miss them....


Starting our hike to Jenny Lake. This is also where Jane informs me that this is NOT her favorite place to hike. Her favorite place is "Warberry Alice Sunburn Valley." Oh, well then. She gets to plan the next family vacation.


Taking the picture BEFORE the hike. This is important. We have learned that even after 5 minutes into the hike, pictures with all family members present and smiling are not so...possible.


Um...taking the ferry across Jenny Lake as to make the hike significantly shorter...ah-hem. Jevan liked the 3 blond heads shot.


Making it to Hidden Falls. Definitely worth the trip.


Jane makes friends with squirrel. Apparently it likes Pringles. Don't tell Ranger Susie. Jevan's cousin Morgan told me that it looks like the squirrel is smoking a doobie. Definitely don't tell Ranger Susie that...


Playing at Jenny Lake. Here Jane informs me that if I ever wanted to buy the sky, it would cost me a million dollars. No one tell Bill Gates. At that price, he could buy the freakin' universe.


This, dear friends, is Jane's deliciously named "nun cupcake". It's a bit gritty but it just might save your soul.


Allie chillin' in the carseat...in the near-buff because she decided some swimming was in order.


YELLOWSTONE:
This is by far one of my most favorite pictures from the trip. A true Allie smile...they are really rare to catch on camera. Allie LOVES drinking fountains. She was delighted to find one just her size.


Walking around the boardwalk by Old Faithful, looking at pools and geysers. Here Jane asks me: "If Jesus fell into this pool, would he cook like a hot dog or just get baptised?" What do you say to that?


Have I mentioned Jane loves bugs? Jane loves bugs and has NO fear of them. Hence, the HUGE beetle on her arm. She let it climb all over her for a good 10 minutes.


Note the new bug friend perched on her hat. It climbed from her arm, up the side of her face and onto her hat. Note too the onlooker in the background. She watched with fear and amazement and repeatedly refused Jane's invitations for her to hold the bug.


We had to take a picture of this doomsday cloud. It was the ONLY cloud in the sky and shaped like an atomic bomb mushroom cloud? Freaky.


Playing in the river near a hot spring.Good times.


Crazy Jane in our campground. The night before we were playing the "like/hate" game. I said I really liked camping and I really hated mosquitos. Jane said she really liked marshmellows and...really hated it when a car runs over her. Right. No hit and runs, people. Jane hates that.


Like father, like daughter. No need to say more.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Today, we say a (not so) fond farewell and welcome a new addition.....

Our Booger died.

I wish I could say it was with a heavy heart, but it really wasn't. It's life ended on the freeway in a swirl of smoke.

The old, heavy, stinky guy had been good to us, bless it's heart. (You know you can say something derogatory about ANYTHING, so long as you add "bless his heart" at the end, right? For instance: "That guy that just cut me off is a sorry little man....bless his heart." See? You can vent your feelings AND give him blessings....it's a total win-win.)

Yes, a few weeks ago we said a fond farewell to our Booger, our 1994 Ford Tempo, a lovely shade of turquoise-green, weighing as much as a small building and navigating the roads about as well as one too. Each door was crafted with so much metal that they threatened to crush you instantly if you didn't leap from the car and roll to safety. Trying to get out while parked on a hill was especially exciting.

So, with a loving kick to it's tires, we sent it off to the Kidney Foundation.

And then, we broke down, gave in, and bought this:



Yes, we are the proud new owners of a MINI-VAN.

This is the point where I freak out a little and wonder how in the world my life suddenly got to this stage. I truly had a mid-life crisis during the test drive. You KNOW it makes sense, you KNOW you love having a wonderful little family to putter them around in it, but you still wonder how you went from crazy, adventurous college kid to soccer mom in 2.2 seconds.

Is it just me or did any one else go through this?

At least we still have my baby, the '98 Subaru Outback. It will keep me reminded of the good ol' days.

Anyway, we're happy to have our new "certified used car" toyota sienna. There is just no beating the convenience of a mini-van. It's nice, sensible and gonna go forever and I'm going to love it..........right???

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Raspberries!!


Have a hankerin' for some fresh raspberries? I can tell you how to get them for $2 a pound!! My sister-in-law (who is always finding cool stuff to do) found out about this place in Payson where you can go pick your own raspberries for $2 a pound. It's amazing! We went there today. You would think it was too late in the season, but the bushes were brimming with berries. I picked off of 3 rows (out of probably 50) and got 5 pounds of berries...with a LOT left over the bushes! I could have kept picking forever but my girls, covered in red berry juice, quickly lost their fascination with picking berries and began to wander, causing trouble and losing stuff (shoes, cinderella cell phones {heaven forbid we lose that!!}) and themselves in the berry bushes.

Here is the link to their website: www.westmountainraspberries.com

Read about the company...it's kind of funny.

All in all, it's fun. And then you have lots of raspberries. Pie anyone?

TIPS:
Unless you have days to commit to berry picking, don't bring HUGE containers hoping to fill them. You'll be sorely disappointed. It's uh...kinda slow work...but very rewarding in the end!

When they say wear long sleeve shirts, take them seriously.

If you bring small children, BRING THINGS TO OCCUPY THEM. In your perfect world, you think about them happily chattering away as they contentedly pick berries by your side. If you have children like mine, that ain't gonna happen. The only thing that saved us was all the TREATS my sister-in-law packed. They were so bored they even tried to have water fights with their waterbottles. I'm telling you, bring stuff.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Jane turns 4....and very "girlish"

Jane tells me all the time that she likes things that are "girlish." She has started to categorize everything that way - colors, cars, even animals. (All koala bears are boys, FYI). In fact, the other night she said that I had to tuck her in bed because she was feeling very girlish and "Dad is just too boyish." Sorry, Jev...your testosterone must have been a bit too strong that day.

So, when I asked her what she wanted to do for her 4th birthday, she informed she wanted to have a tea party, because, of course, it was a very girlish thing to do. This is all especially hard for me to swallow because I was a raging tomboy until I was....well, i dunno, I'm not sure I have really grown out of that phase. I wouldn't even wear a dress to church let alone have a "pretty princess party." (I truly threw such major tantrums over dresses that my mom actually let me wear pants to church many times. Sad, but true. Sorry Mom. I wear dresses now though so i guess that's something...). I guess I also just assumed my children would be the same way. But they come programmed from the start, huh? Jane likes everything girl, from princess dresses to "pail nolish" (nail polish) to dolls and everything that is perfectly pink. Thus, i am totally out of my element with my very "girlish" daughter.

You know how you sometimes try to hide inadequacy by overdoing it in the area for which you feel you lack? That was me with this tea party...to the point of my mother thinking I had lost all my marbles. But I have to admit...I kind of enjoyed myself. I think Jane and guests had a pretty good time too. Everyone dressed up in their finest princess dresses (except for our token male guest)and I doled out the plastic jewelry. They decorated purses, played games and had a tea party out on the patio. For reasons I still don't understand, I took the food pretty seriously and made all sorts of little fancy food...finger sandwiches, mini muffins, cheese cut into shapes, tiny fruit kabobs, chocolate covered strawberries (with drizzle no less! Who would have thought me capable of such things? No one who has ever seen me cook...)and even these mini watermelons made from a lime, red jello and mini chocolate chips. And just so you know, if you ever read in a recipe "Cut a lime length wise and hollow out the halves", don't be fooled into thinking it's like an avocado or something that you just scoop right out. No sir. It ain't no avocado. You'll be swearing before you're done with one...mark my words.

But enough with party details. Suffice it to say it was fun and Jane had a great time doing girlish things with her cousins. I really love my little four year old. Wow, I still can't believe I have a kid that old! I've decided four is a good age (am I going to eat those words?)even though it's only been one day. I know this because 3 was pretty dang good and it only gets better right? (Don't burst my bubble.) Jane has really become my little buddy, pleasant to be around, entertaining and funny, curious and surprisingly reasonable for her age. She handles her crazy mother and stubborn sister with grace and patience.(Am I going to eat all of these words too now that I have said them out loud?) She makes me truly happy and I am so glad she's mine. It's been a good 4 years. Happy Birthday Janers!



Notice the tiny tea set



Happy Birthday Jane!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Not nearly enough magic

I have more than a few things which I enjoy doing, and like to fancy that I do them moderately well. Being a somewhat self-actualized individual I realize that I am not the best at any of them, but I often tell myself things like "I could be as good as so-and-so if I had more time / money to practice / work at it more, but I have always had other things to do as well". But every so often that illusion of this great potential comes crashing down.

I was playing Wii golf with my nephews while I guess I was supposed to be watching Jane & Allie (I think Em told me to keep an eye on them. That or make sure I took the rolls out of the oven. I can't remember because it was THAT intense of a game of Wii golf) Anyway, Jane was playing dress ups and came up to me wearing either a fairy godmother or a drag queen outfit (again, the details are kind of fuzzy) and told me that she had a magic wand and could turn me into whatever I want.

Jane: "Dad, what do you want to be?"
Me: "A pretty pretty princess." (Don't try and tell me you've never secretly wished for that too...)
Jane: "Abracadabra, you're a pretty pretty princess."
Me: "Yay!"

<5 minutes of Wii golf elapse>

Jane: "Ok dad, now what should I turn you into?"
Me: "I want to be a crocodile!"
Jane: "Abracadabra, you're a crocodile."
Me: "Yay!"

<5 more minutes of Wii golf elapse, in which I hit a lousy shot. Note: this is not at all unlike a regular game of golf, only in regular golf I do not have big blond pony tails>

Jane: "Ok dad, now what should I turn you into?"
Me: "I want to be a good golfer."
Jane: "Oh, I'm sorry dad, my magic wand can't do that."
Me:

Yes, apparently a magic wand that can turn me into a reptile and a princess does not have enough magic to improve my short game. Of course, maybe I am putting way too much stock in the magic wand of a girl who the other night, as I was tucking her into bed, looked at me and said "Dad, sometimes I just wish that everything could be hamburgers."

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The scariest 4th of July ever!

When it comes to holidays, the word "scary" is usually reserved for Halloween. But my 4th of July warranted the word this year. Not because there were men with chainsaws hiding in the bushes or creepy creatures coming out during the fireworks....no, no, here is the face that gave me the scare of my life:



Yes, she looks innocent enough (sort-of....she actually looks like she's about to go hang with her homies...) but she was the source of my complete and utter panic that day.

The day started out fabulous. We spent most of the later afternoon and evening at Sugarhouse Park with Jevan's family waiting for the fireworks to begin. It's a tradition with Jevan's family and we always secure a sweet spot on the hill.

Just at dusk, at that point where you can still somewhat see but colors become muted and it's harder to distinguish things, I was talking to my sister-in-law, keeping an eye on my kids like mothers sometimes do...kind-of a "I am mostly aware of where they are even though they are just barely in my peripheral vision" type of vigilance. Or maybe I should not put any other mothers into that category because that is just my own lack of protective parenting. Anyway, for some reason, it halfway registered in my peripheral vision that Jevan had Allie and was paying attention to where she was going. Apparently, he was thinking the same thing of me. You can tell where this is going, huh?

All of the sudden, in mid-sentence, the alarm bells started ringing in my head (mine are a little bit sluggish and unreliable I've decided. Time for new bells. I think I should get a new set with each kid....) and I blurted out: "Um...where's Allie?" I yelled over to Jevan and he gave me the blank stare. Ohhhh boy. She's just got to be around here somewhere.

After a quick 10 second check, we could tell that the scene was all to calm and serene for Allie to be anywhere in the near vicinity. I glanced frantically around at the neighbors around us, in hopes of finding her scavenging around looking for "treats", but she wasn't anywhere around.

I took a long look at the hillside COVERED completely in HUNDREDS of people and... the panic set it in. My stomach dropped out, tears started to form at the edges of my eyes, and I started praying. The main reason for such panic was that it was basically dark at this point. I couldn't tell who anyone was, let alone my little child toddling through the mass of people.

Jevan's family was great and immediately fanned themselves out across the hillside. I took a wild guess and hoped Allie had headed up the hill, going for the top. I called out for her frantically and a few people said they had seen her, so I followed a trail of pointing fingers, the tears growing stronger for each second that passed. Where could she have gone? Why did she have to move so fast? Why wasn't I paying better attention? Why? Why?

After about 3 minutes, which honestly felt like the longest 3 minutes of my entire life, I spotted her. She was standing right by a car parked on the road, pointing and telling anyone who would listen that she found a car. She was literally feet from an extremely busy road and could have stepped out from the side of the parked car at any moment into on coming traffic. I ran and swept her up in my arms and started crying. I had never felt such relief. Every tense moment flooded from me in a rush of emotion. I held her so tight that I probably squeezed all the air out of her.

I notified all the searchers and everyone returned, greatly relieved that she had been found. The rest of the evening was great - the fireworks spectacular...but I had a tough time enjoying it with all the mommy guilt I was carrying. It was a good learning experience though...or rather, it basically just solidified a rule I already knew - never take your eyes off Allie.

So that's the story. I probably shouldn't publicly admit to being such a negligent mother. No one will ever leave their kids with me again. But I guess such an experience was something I needed to write down because I had never experienced true fear until I had thought I had lost a child. You realize how much you love these little crazy creatures.

A couple pictures from the day:
Jane and Jevan playing some soccer.

Jane and her cousin Calvin.