This summer was different from those in the recent past. I think a couple factors let me categorize this as one of the best ever. First, I am not pregnant and I am not the mother of a baby or a toddler. This very significant fact is bittersweet. Time. It doesn’t stop. Everybody keeps growing bigger and I just picked up my niece who is now a freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She was the flower girl at our wedding!! For the past 11 summers, I have been either pregnant, nursing or the mother of a baby or a toddler. Continue reading
Summer Family Adventure Part 2
It was on our way from Ruth’s to Jackson that we decided we would break up the trip and stop at Yellowstone Under Canvas. We were kind of skeptical about this whole set up, but also curious so we decided to give it a shot. It is essentially a camp of safari tents and teepees along the Madison River near West Yellowstone. The setting is magical and the only thing that would have made it better was if we were totally alone, but then we would not have benefited from the teepee bathroom with which it came. I have never been to Africa on safari, but I imagined that these accommodations might be similar and Earnest Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro kept coming to mind.
It was a simple day of swimming in the river, playing board games, not a lot of sibling infighting and minimal whining. It was kind of like heaven really. Just us being a family without any outside stress to mess it up. No agenda, no plan, no schedule and it just worked. It topped off my cowgirl morning so perfectly that it was absolutely my most favorite day of summer 2014.
The kids tried to claim our bed upon arrival.
Rinsing off the river in the teepee shower.
I was kind of sad to leave this unique setting, but Jackson here we come.
The Tetons. I have been graced by their presence so many times, but they still take my breath away. I always imagine being a Native American living amongst the wildness of it all trying not to get eaten by a grizzly while fishing for my dinner. The peaks of the Tetons resemble a child like drawing of a mountain range very specific and annunciated among the rolling landscape. When they come into view they always remind me to focus on the big stuff and let the small stuff float away and while making me feel lucky that I get to be inspired by their beauty.
The Idaho side of the Tetons.
Our plan was to camp with Darren’s best bud from high school and his wife. The first night we spent in Grand Teton National Park. I could not figure out why people were not standing in line for these campsites. This was our view.
Morning at Camp in Grand Teton National Park. My big girl clearly needs a big girl chair. We used it not too long ago and it was not until this trip that it was clear she no longer fit in the little kid camp chair.
Buffalo in Grand Teton National Park.
Top of Rendezvous Mountain. We road the tram to the top.
The next two nights we spent at Teton-Bridger National Forrest. It was so lovely and off the beaten path.
Our lovely friends that put up with our family chaos and showed us the ropes.
Bacon on the Wilson Grill.
Our departure on a rainy morning. There is nothing more soggy than breaking down camp in the rain.
Summer Road Trip Part 1
There is something about Montana. The sky just feels bigger and that is saying something because I am from Colorado, which boasts a pretty huge sky. We finally reached I-90 and headed west towards my dear friend Ruth. She has been my friend since I was sixteen. Back then we both lived in Chester County, PA. She shared with me her wisdom of the world and I babysat her son. We have both managed to move west, a little farther apart than I would like, but still only a days drive. She lives on a ranch in Southwest Montana, a magical place that is alive with a love of the land, the critters that call it home and the energy of Ruth who, at almost 70, can still maneuver a pasture gate from the seat of her horse. We have not seen each other in a few years and for several months Darren and I have been talking about laying eyes on her. So we made it happen.
Reuniting with old friends is one of the greatest things in life I think. It’s a reminder that there are few things more valuable than a friend who loves you through the years and life’s changes. Geography makes no difference and you can pick up right where you left off with a little catch up and fill in the blanks while on the back of a horse or over wine on the porch. We did just that. She got to know my kids again (3 years older) and I got filled in on all the beautiful people in her life. We spent 2.5 days chillin’, making meals, grooming horses, riding horses, collecting eggs, playing with Bull and Crew and swimming and fishing in the river. And in the last hour of our visit something totally perfect happened…
…the cows got out. Three babes escaped the fence line.
As I packed our bags to load in the car, I heard Ruth yelling to get the horses ready. Now I know they did not need me for this little round up, but they indulged me nonetheless. I was in shorts and flip flops ready to jump into the car for part two of our summer family adventure, when Ruth yelled, “Leenie, get on your jeans. You’re gettin on a horse!” Darren was busy getting things ready to hook up the camper and said, “Go have fun, I will take care of this.” Oh how I love him.
I arrived in the barn smartly dressed in my running shoes and skinny jeans (FYI to non horse people – not the perfect outfit for herding cows) and Ruth handed me her personal cowgirl hat and her horse ready to go. Tami, Ruth’s friend and right hand, guided me out to round up the three little cows that were going to top off what had been an already fantastic visit with a little dream come true for me. You see, I spent most of my childhood on the backs of horses. I have managed to experience a lot but never moving cattle and never in Montana. There I was atop a skilled cow horse, complete with appropriate hat (which distracted from my sneakers) in Montana rounding up cows.
Darren chased me with the camera and I was beginning to wonder if Ruth, always being an exceptional host, had let the cows out for my benefit and photo op. I didn’t really care though as I cantered down the field to heard these babies because you have to start somewhere.
As we latched the gate behind the happy babies whose mothers stopped whining, Ruth smiled knowing that those few minutes on the back of her horse taking instruction from Tami where a total thrill for me.
It could not have been a better ending to my reunion with my dear friend. We left each other knowing that now that the kids were bigger the time between visits would be shorter. Darren and I both drove away vowing that, when seventy, we would have Ruth’s same energy and love of life. xo
Yesterday we arrived at home from a six day road trip to Utah. I was reminded instantly by the request for Saturday morning media that we were no longer powered by propane in the Utah desert where the early requests consisted of warm snuggles in the sleeping bag followed by the assistance in building a campfire to escape the morning cold.
Camping for our family takes the good moments from real life and neatly tucks them in to a beautifully wrapped package just begging to be unwrapped, savored, a gift to behold. Of course, there are the hard moments too. These are accentuated by the absence of modern shelter, amenities and extremely tired children who, when presented with the opportunity of being outside with their friends nonstop for days, do not know when to turn it off, sit back and chill. There is always the next adventure to be had, a rock to be scaled, a fire to be built and a campfire story to be performed.
There was that 50 mile and hour wind day when four families were trapped in our pop up except for some of the Dad’s who we thought may have been blown off a desert rim while conquering a must do mountain bike ride. Nik was the exception. He stayed behind and thankfully makes good conversation and the perfect margarita. They got us through – Nik and the margaritas.
Living out of our comfort zone for a few days taps the extremes. It takes the good and bad to their maximum and sometimes the beautifully wrapped package is hurled into the mud. It’s a matter of finding the balance and the place that allows me to accept the snot mixed with dirt topped off with sticky marshmallow.
The place were food tasted better, the fire felt warmer, the wind blew windier and the stars appeared more abundant. Tired is an understatement and when my head hit the pillow it was almost cathartic. Nature was ever present. Coyotes called in the night. The March full moon rising over the La Sal mountains lit up our sky and turned it into something magical. Sometimes I would stop and inhale the moment to make sure that when later arrived it was there right with me. I got to this place a few times and left the snotty marshmallow in the dust along the trail.
The first day of spring highlighted the inevitable changes ahead. Our trip was coming to an end and stress started to churn in my belly. I haven’t heard from the accountant. We are moving house in less than a month. We need a packing schedule. Would my old pets come out of this move unscathed? How are we going to afford to make this house comfortable? Darren inquired a few times on our last day.
What’s wrong? You don’t seem right.
Honestly, I was not in a self aware place and when he first asked I dismissed the question entirely. The second time, I used the excuse that I wasn’t feeling all that great, which I really wasn’t. On the drive home, I thought about my mood and the reentry into life and all the things ahead of us this spring. Why was I stressing? How is it that I can turn good things into ridiculious problems? All these things on the horizon that were stressing me out are actually amazing opportunities – products of this magnificent wave of goodness we are riding at the moment. A new house. A house that for the first time ever we chose without the urgency of simply needing shelter. So. I thought about these good things in my life. I have a trip to Napa to celebrate my littlest sister, Mary Susan, turning 40 and my biggest sister, Mary Sheila, turning 50 and, on the last day, I get to see my amazing friend, Wendi who lives in the area. Then we go camping again with all of the wonderful friends that I will, in a few short weeks, be privileged to call my neighbors. And then we move into the house that we chose, in a giving community, a hop skip and a scooter from the elementary school my kids attend. And, if we can’t afford to furnish it who cares? That’s not what a home is about anyway. It’s about the people and critters that call it home and I hit the jackpot there so life is good and BAM my perspective is different. It’s a start anyway. I am giving up creating problems where there are none for Lent because it is so silly to give up french fries again.
So as Liam asked to pee the sixth time in 3.5 hours on the road, I reminded myself to receive the request gently and I could tell Darren was trying hard too. He is a potty trained three year old boy who has a tiny little bladder. How is this a problem? React with grace. It’s so easy to remember and to forget.
After the first of seven loads of laundry hit the washer and the coolers were cleaned out, we sat down to dinner. Usually we talk about our favorite parts of the day. Last night, we talked about our favorite parts of the trip.
Ella: The giant sand hill and the campfire lit up by tumbleweed. It inspired the kids to dance around like cave people and chant iiiuuugggAAA!
Juliet: Running into her best friend from school and getting to make a purchase at the amazing Rock Shop.
Liam: Campfires and marshmallows
Darren: Hiking up the river in Hunter Canyon and defying death at Corona Arch
Leenie: Waking up and having coffee by the campfire with family and friends and our hike to Corona Arch
As I tucked each child away for the night, I was reminded that one of the best parts of going on an adventure is coming home. Tonight we will go through our dinnertime ritual again and our favorite parts of the day will be less adventurous and more ordinary – a play date, a board game, watching Star Wars with Dad.
I will cherish our stroll along the trial of ordinary over the next few weeks while we prepare for our move. Everyone is going to be ejected out of their comfort zone and it is my job to make sure that this next family adventure goes off without a hitch. Needs will be greater and emotions will run high. Gratitude will be at the center of my prefrontal cortex in hopes of warding off any problem-making creativity. I will remember the desert and that the best part of any adventure is coming home.