Monday, February 19, 2018

working from home

Today is President's Day.

In the United States of America, that means the bank, post office, and schools are all closed.  If you have children that are school-aged, they'll be home from school on vacation, today. And unless you work for the school, post office, or a bank, chances are, you won't be.

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For the past year, my team at work has been developing a database that takes complex information from all over the globe, and puts it in to a format that is intended to be very easy to use and understand.  Data visualization is our future - and the more that we can take complicated topics and put them in to a bite size, easily digestible piece, the more we have succeeded.

For example, when you click on an app to see the weather, you want to see a sunshine, or rain cloud, in the exact location where you are searching; not only for that moment - but for the next 12 or 24 hours, or seven-day outlook. You're not interested in all the algorithms and development that goes in to pulling that information from some super cloud of multiple sources on to your phone, but I can tell you that teams of people - over several years - have made it so that understanding what the weather is like will be SO EASY for you, that you can glean everything you need to know in less than five seconds, and whether you should pack an umbrella for your upcoming trip to Dallas.

So that's kind of what my team is doing, but we're evaluating remediation systems which are machines that are engineered to remove contamination from soil and groundwater.  And, by the way, I'm a Geologist, not a software developer or computer programmer.  My ability to navigate things that  are computer related are slim, at best, which is why it's taken the better part of a year and team of experts to help with this initiative.

All this to say, four weeks ago, when I sent out an invitation for a telecom session to 120 people for our global roll-out of this database, today at 1:00 PM CST, I didn't realize that today was a US national holiday and our children would be home from school. And because Charlie and I are neither teachers, bankers, or postal workers - we'd be working.  For that matter, because I've been so busy with this database initiative rollout, it didn't even hit me until yesterday that the kids would be home TODAY.

Since I'm part-time, I'm not even supposed to be working on Mondays - but that's a different matter. Let's just say that because I was working today, my plan was to get to my office early.  My office is a 25-minute drive from the house without any traffic, and the distance from the parking garage to my desk is another 12 minutes, depending upon what kind of shoes I'm wearing.  So if I don't leave my house at least 40 minutes before my first meeting, the chances of me arriving in time are nil. 

Today: the plan was to go to the office. But I woke up to a child that had a bad dream, and a puppy that had a face that looked like a balloon. I don't know what happened to him - but he had some kind of allergic reaction that is now under control, but which completely flipped my morning schedule.  My first conference call was at 8:00 and when I was feeding Ollie Benadryl at 7:15 while still in my pajamas, I knew my window of opportunity for getting to the office had closed unless I wanted to show up in my 'Life Is Good' flannels and slippers.

After the 8:00 call, I had a 9:00 call … and then a 10:30 call, that wound up lasting for almost two hours.  The chance of getting in to the office for my big telecom was not looking so good.  One of the women from my team, who I consider to be my rock in this initiative, is located in Canada and we spoke this morning and walked through the presentation, together.

The plan was that I'd launch the meeting, and welcome everyone to the call.  I'd then give a quick spiel introducing her - and one of the global managers that would be on the call. Then I'd pull up the presentation on my computer, and give her control via our platform, Skype. I should mention that my phone is my computer, I no longer have an office phone.  So as long as I have internet connection, my "phone" works great.   During our dry-run this morning, it worked swell as it does 99.9% of the time.

After my call concluded at 12:30,  I took a quick lunch break to see the children and Charlie.  They were set up in our kitchen area, playing a game of Risk with neighborhood friends. It was a beautiful sight.  I told them that my BIG call was coming up and they needed to stay away from my office area of the house, so there would be no background noise.  Everyone agreed, totally understood, all was good.

At 12:45, I went back in to my home office, closed my sliding glass doors, and launched the meeting. My plan was that I'd log on a good 10 minutes ahead of time so I would have ample opportunity to open the presentation, and "greet" people who logged in to the rollout session.  There was peace in my soul: we were very ready to deliver this material and I was extremely happy with the progress our team had made with this complex effort.

That feeling of peace vanished when at approximately 12:56 my internet connection started to flicker and a pop-up showed that my system had lost signal.  Before it cut out, I thought it would be best to transfer the call to my cell phone, so I could at least keep talking with the people that logged in.  I tried trouble shooting the issue, and nothing was working.

At 12:58, my computer crashed and the whole screen went black. I'd just transferred the call to my cell phone and felt my blood pressure surge when I contemplated not having the ability to launch the presentation or share my screen with my colleague.   With my headphone still on, I yelled out to Charlie, "HELP ME CHARLIE! HELP, HELP, HELP, PLEASE COME RUNNING NOW!!!"

He's got a lot more technical savvy than me, so he was the obvious choice.  Even if he didn't know what to do, just his mere presence would surely help set things straight.

My husband barreled down the hallway with a look of panic on his face, "WHAT'S WRONG? JEN! ARE YOU HURT?" I was pointing at our wireless router in the hallway and yelling, "I NEED A CORD! QUICK I NEED A CORD!"  He didn't know what this meant.  I elaborated, "ACK! THE $%^&ING WIRELESS CONNECTION IS DOWN I NEED A CORD TO CONNECT DIRECTLY TO THE MODEM!"

At approximately 12:59, Charlie pointed out that we'd just moved the modem to the living room, so I hastily unplugged and grabbed my laptop with one hand, my cellphone in the other hand, and with my headset dangling, flew open the door to the office - and ran down the hallway to our living room.  The kids were sitting at the table in the middle of their board game of world domination and I'm gushing like an absolute maniac, "SORRY KIDS! I NEED A QUIET HOUSE WITH SILENCE …. EVERYONE GO OUTSIDE! OUT OUT OUT!"  I sat on the floor in the living room and desperately tried to plug in the modem line to my computer, and it still wouldn't work.  So in that moment, I yelled, "DAMN COMPUTER INTERNET YOU BITE SUCK MEAN!!"

Thankfully, I didn't say anything terribly bad because I looked down at my cell phone, and saw that the timer was ticking on, evidence I was still on the call, and it wasn't on mute.  I could only hope that when my computer crashed, so too did the transferred connection to my cell phone.  But I didn't even bother to ask, "Hello? Is anyone there?" I just hung up the phone and figured if anyone heard me, they'd tell me later.  

I sent an email to my co-presenting colleague which indicated, "Computer Froze!"  She immediately responded that she couldn't dial in either, and was having her own computer issues.  I pulled myself together to dial in to the session from another phone line, and was at least able to talk to the large crowd that had gathered, to let them know we were having technical difficulties.  Kind of like the time when I led a session with more than 100 participants and someone put the call on hold, and everyone got to listen to hold music a la The Carpenters, "Close to You" for a grueling ninety seconds before the offender came back on the line.    Global conference calls can be so hard, especially when you take the "RISK" to lead them from your home office!

(Have you ever seen this: Conference Call in Real Life? <<< This is my life.) 

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In the end, by some divine technical miracle, everything worked out - our global manager said a few words - we launched the presentation - it was well received, and our initiative was successfully conveyed to the global organization.   After the call, when I dialed my colleague to convey what had happened, as I've conveyed countless similar "life" stories … she told me that she thinks I'm the incarnate of Erma Bombeck and need to write a book.  I don't see that happening.

But I do see it happening that tomorrow someone will tell me that they heard my maniacal rantings, and feel compelled to illuminate this is precisely why we should make every effort to come in to the office to lead technical presentations where we have a more reliable internet connection.  Assuming, of course, I have any better luck making it to the office, tomorrow.

My first call isn't until 9:00 AM so that's promising.

Friday, February 02, 2018

on the day of the super blue blood moon

So I went back to see my periodontist and she determined that the graft wasn't healing properly, was indeed infected, and she removed the entire thing.  Some of it had started to take, but because she was concerned there could be a more significant infection, she didn't want to take a risk and pulled it all out.  She then had to restitch my mangled gums to my teeth and after a dozen shots of Novocain and another dozen stitches holding my extremely fragile gingiva together - said she'd see me again at the end of this week.

Three hours after my surgery, Charlie left for a several day business trip to California.  Before he said goodbye, he cleaned the kitchen, did a grocery run, and made me a small batch of Jell-O.  He told me he loved me. He was very upset to be leaving me in this condition. He kissed the top of my head.  And then… poof!

He was gone.  

The kids hadn't come home from school yet, so it was just me and Ollie, who was frolicking around the sunny backyard, as puppies are known to do. When Ollie wandered back in to the house, the smell was the first thing to hit me.  It didn't immediately equate that the smell was tied to the dog, so I just walked around the house, drowsy like, with my still fat-feeling lip, looking high and low to see what it was.

And then I saw our puppy. 

He immediately dropped down on the floor and started to roll over, doing whatever he could not to make eye contact with me. I had no idea what was covering his head and body but it was something gross and gooey and my first thought was that he'd rolled in his own poop.  It was so obvious that he'd done something (of which I had no idea), but it stunk to high heaven and he clearly realized that it probably wouldn't bode too well with the lady who gives him cookies.   

I took a picture of him desperately diverting eye contact, which I sent to Charlie with the question, WHY in this moment - when my husband has just walked out the door for a cross-country business trip, and I am home alone, recovering from my second oral surgery in a week, does the dog decide to roll in something that would require a substantial bath?

In THIS moment?  

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It struck me as very funny (odd) and funny (ha, ha!) because that's just how it goes. And to be frank it seems to happen a lot with us.  I really don't try to overly dramatize things, just capture the facts.   And I've found that when dealing with these life events - there's a very fine line between humor and hysteria and as much as possible - I try to fall to the side of humor.  Partly because it's better for you and the whole wide world, and at least this week, I can't open my mouth to yell or I'll rip out stitches.

A cyclone of starved kids hits our house between 4:00 and 4:30 every day.  Henry was the first one home from school and while I went to clean my mouth, he ate all the Jell-O.  The triplets were home next and they unloaded? exploded? their gear and set about making snacks and clearing out the cupboards as teenagers are known to do.

William provided great details about a big fight that had happened in school.  This was the second one in as many days.  Yesterday's brawl was between two girls who were fighting over a boy; today's brawl was between two boys who were fighting over, who knows what.  One of the kids on the bus had filmed it with his iPhone which he was passing around and sharing with his fellow riders. The video showed a larger boy, wailing on a smaller boy, who was curled in a ball with his hands pulling a hood up to cover his head.

William told me he didn't want to see the video and looked away after a few seconds. He said he couldn't stop thinking about how terrible the smaller kid must have felt.  Junior high school can be challenging enough as it is, without getting beat up in front of every one while kids are filming it.

"Mom, were you serious about buying land in northern Glacier and homeschooling us?" he asks.  Yes, I was serious. When it was July and we were in Montana.  Considering I responded to this most recent cold snap (IN TEXAS) like one of those poor frozen iguanas that were falling out of trees in Florida, I let William know I'm not so sure I could handle the Montana climate in the winter.

"OK, so what about a farm in Georgia?" he asked. "Hmm. That would be peachy," I replied.

Carolyn took the initiative to give the puppy a bath and while outside, identified that he'd been rolling around in one of our rotted out October pumpkins that the kids had been trying to germinate.  Considering he'd been laying on our breakfast nook rug, I'm so glad it wasn't poop.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth conveyed to me another situation that had happened at school. Her friend keeps using bad language. Really bad language. Elizabeth thinks its because she wants attention, but it's starting to wear on her.  She said that on this day - during lunch - she finally told the girl, "Listen, I think you're really great and smart, and when you use that bad language it's really not nice and it bums me out. You're so much better than that. Can you please just STOP with the bad talk?"  She said the girl put her head down and said, "I'll try."

"Wow, you really did that?" I asked.  She nodded her head, "Yep, I sure did."  I gave her a smile and said, "Well, I'm pretty f - f - f [just kidding!] impressed!"

"MOM!" she said, outraged.

"LIZ!" I countered, as outraged as a ventriloquist can be.

It's so hard being a kid and trying to figure out what's cool and what's not.  Just today, the PE coach sent home a letter asking parents to remind their children that although they don't think gym shorts are fashionable, it's not acceptable to wear shorts OVER their bluejeans and beginning next week, they'll lose points if they don't dress out appropriately.  I wrote to the coach and suggested that they take pictures of the kids and include them in the year book under a section entitled, "Fashion Statements."  Gym shorts over blue jeans?  That's solid gold material for the annals of time.

This day was a pretty average day of happenings, the only difference was that Charlie was out of town, and I was in recovery mode. So a dear friend brought over dinner, and checked in on us.  She is a doctor and insisted I stay on top of the pain, get adequate hydration, and plenty of rest.  As she was talking with us, one of my children who knows better but wasn't thinking, opened one of my sterile medicines that comes in a dropper, and stuck a ballpoint pen in the tip of it.   Because it was there. And … and…?

Reminded me of the time I was talking on the phone and playing with a letter opener when I sliced my finger open.  Since I was in my 30's, I knew better. I just …. wasn't thinking.  As humans are sometimes known to do.

We walked my friend outside to say goodbye and look at the moon. It was spectacular.   We walked back inside and heard the printer which had already printed out at least 50 sheets of paper - and was printing several more - of what we realized was a homework assignment printing mishap.  Paper had spilled out of the feeder and was everywhere.  There might have been a bad word and a slight drift in to the world of ventriloquy hysteria.

After dinner, William and Elizabeth were helping Henry with his homework, which wasn't going well.  I'd love to say they helped him, but the situation went from bad to worse.  When you're 10 and stuck on long division word problems, a pep talk and shoulder rub from your 13-year old siblings isn't particularly helpful.  Nay, it can be downright awful.

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As I put away a few things in the kitchen, I found this note from Elizabeth that had been folded in Carolyn's lunchbox.  The awesomeness is the love between siblings which I know is real. So, too, is the teasing. It's a major point of contention that Carolyn, who is purportedly the youngest of the triplets, is a solid eight inches taller than her siblings.  It slays her and her much smaller sister knows.

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The day concluded with my supplementary efforts at studying geometry with Carolyn and Elizabeth for a test the next day. The girls were highly complimentary that I could remember so much (from so, so, so, so long ago!) and help them work through their study guide.  We spent a solid two hours reviewing concepts and it got to the point, we could no longer remain vertical.  When Charlie called to say goodnight, I snapped off this picture of us cuddled up and adjacently working through a problem.  I am so acutely loving seventh grade math.  Not to sound obtuse, but from this angle, I wish I could say the same for my seventh graders!

Come on, am I right?

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Ha! See, varying degrees of humor abound!

Monday, January 29, 2018

pearly white observations

As I've probably written several times before, I've got a handful of posts in my draft folder that I've started to write, but just haven't finished.  Sometimes, I try to start writing after I tuck the kids in to bed - and will fall asleep while I'm typing.  No kidding, that's happened a lot.  More than 14 times from what I can tell in the past three months.  Those are actually funny posts and I should publish them, anyway.  But I'd need to add a tag like #HALFASLEEP  because there's no way to otherwise explain how a story could evolve from a serious topic such as dealing with a school bully to, "bright candlelight rainbows they taste really good with peanut butter." 

Huh?

Other times, I start to write something, but then question if I should be writing about that subject at all, because our kids are at an age where they are reading my blog and are easily embarrassed. As a devoted and caring parent, I wouldn't want to cause them unnecessary embarrassment. But then I remember that just about everything embarrasses our children - especially the teenaged ones - and I should publish those posts anyway, too, because in 30 years when they (God willing) are raising our teenage grandchildren, they might wonder how in the world their parents ever got through it.  Those are the posts I should tag #SAVORTHEMOMENTS and #WINEANDPRAYER.

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Then of course there are the posts that I start to write and are on topics or happenings that are very important to me, but they take some additional time to craft, and in that time - I feel like my time would be more wisely spent playing our rapidly-growing-children-who-will-be-moving-away-to-college-in-a-few-short-years an impromptu game of Connect Four.  Tag #GUILT.

Or, I'll be distracted by Charlie who will drop in and start reading to me the highlights of the daily news, and try as I might, I immediately lose all brainpower and momentum as I tumble down the rabbit hole of global and national news. Tag #NOWWHAT?

All this to say - as the children grow up, our days are becoming more compressed, and world events have my mind spinning out of control and it feels like more often than not, I've hit a writing wall.

Nay, life wall. 

Sometimes it's just so mentally hard.  And physically draining.  And I feel overwhelmed, out outnumbered, and anxious because time is going by in a blur.  And yet - there's nothing I'd like to do more than lose myself in a comedian's skit of current world events.  Or take a really long nap?!

But tonight, clap! clap!  I'm not writing to further dwell on any of that!

Tonight, I'm here to document things for posterity, including a minor oral surgery last week that went no good, horribly, terribly, very badly wrong.  As some quick backstory, it turns out that I'm an aggressive tooth brusher and have a problem with grinding my teeth while I sleep.  I'm sure my propensity to grind my teeth at night like a cow chewing its cud, might have something to do with our rapidly growing children, a very full schedule, and a worldwide political circus that at any moment, seems to be on the brink of total collapse and complete disaster.  Or glory.  Or who knows anymore?  It's all fake news. (Or is it?)  #STRESS. #2018. #JUSTBREATHE. #PASSTHETUMS.

Nonetheless, several years ago, I had to take Elizabeth in to the periodontist for a procedure on one of her teeth, which had a receding gum.  The dentist told me that I, too, had receding gums that required repair - but Elizabeth's was the more pressing of the two, and since I didn't want for BOTH of us to have periodontal surgery on the same day - and hers was purportedly worse than mine, I had her go first.  The fact that it's taken me nearly five years to have this procedure done for my own teeth, is undoubtedly due to me observing what my sweet child went through, which involved excising a piece of skin from the roof of her mouth, to graft on to her lower gums, I remember distinctly thinking, "OK that's barbaric. Perhaps I should have gone first because now there's NO WAY I'm doing it." 

So I didn't. But then my dentist kept asking when I was going to have it done because it's getting worse. And then we moved to a new state, and my new dentist said, "Whoa, you need to get this checked." And then continued to tell me every few months when I went in for a teeth cleaning, "Get it checked, Get it checked, You're in the Red Zone here - GET THIS CHECKED OUT or you'll be losing teeth!" and so I finally went to a periodontist that came highly recommended by a colleague.

I made my appointment and last year, had my first periodontal procedure - that involved yanking all of the gums around the base of my teeth, up over the exposed roots, and then stitching them in place. Kinda like putting rubber bands around your droopy knee socks.  While it wasn't pleasant, it sounded like a much better option than cutting out skin from the roof of my mouth.

Alas, the droopy knee sock fix didn't stick.  They drooped again, lower this time.  So this year, I went BACK to the periodontist and was informed that because of the root area that needs to be repaired, there isn't enough skin they can take from the roof of my mouth in one fell swoop, so instead, it was suggested that I use donor graft.  Donor graft that comes from a cadaver's posterior region.

The advantage of this procedure is that they can do a larger area of grafting at one time, which is good for someone like me that has a lot of area that needs to be covered.   The downside of this is that sometimes your body vehemently rejects the skin cells from another human being stitched in to your mouth and you wind up with a severe oral infection.  This is apparently very uncommon.  But wouldn't you know, that's exactly what happened to me because I'm often a magnet for the very uncommon.

My surgery was on Thursday afternoon. While I knew I'd be on a liquid / soft diet for the next week and there would be some discomfort, I fully expected I'd be feeling better by Friday.  But I wasn't.  

My doctor called to check on me Friday afternoon, and I told her that while I was in pain, I'd surely be feeling better and "only" be on Tylenol by Saturday.  When Saturday rolled around and I was desperate for my prescription 800 mg Ibuprofen every 5 hours, I didn't worry too much because the second day is often worse than the first for pain during recovery.  

By Saturday night, I was getting a little worried because even while on pain medication, the pain was radiating down my teeth to the base of my roots and the graft looked like it was turning white.  But maybe this was normal.  Scratch that.  Surely this was normal.  I tend to overreact sometimes.

Sunday morning found me awake at 4 AM desperately searching for my medicine.  We went to church and I prayed and lit a candle for the healing of my gums, and teeth because I'd really like to keep them and not wear dentures before the age of 50.  #NOPOLIDENTYET.  #PRETTYPLEASE.

The rest of the day Sunday went by in a blur because I succumbed to Henry's pleas and we watched the first episode of Stranger Things on Netflix. It was so good, we then binge watched the rest of Stranger Things and Eleven is now #1 in my book.  That's right.  We haven't watched more than 10 hours of television in the past three months - and this weekend, we watched 20 hours of televiion in two days.  #OHYESWEDID.

This morning I was up again at 4 AM hunting for my medicine, while thinking "this can't be right…"  When Charlie woke up, I had him snap off a picture of my gums, which I sent to the doctor with the inquiry, "Does this look OK to you?  Wondering if I just have a low threshold for pain, or is there a problem here?"  She immediately replied, "Oh no!  That's definitely not good!  Can you talk?"  

Long story short: the graft is severely infected and requires removal first thing tomorrow morning.  Until then, it is still in my mouth, stitched to my gum, has turned green and brown, and feels like it is on fire.  Ew.

My doctor has called in an additional antibiotic prescription that I started this afternoon, along with another prescription for some heavy duty pain killers which I've just ingested so should probably wrap this up quickly before I fall asleep and start writing about peanut butter.

One last comment:  Charlie is heading out of town on a business trip tomorrow immediately after my surgery, and I think it's a bit unnerving that I always go down the tubes, whenever he leaves town for a few days.  The last time he left me alone with the children (and puppy) for a week, I was diagnosed with Influenza A on Day 1.   This time, I'm going in for gum surgery and have been informed that I'll be jacked up on pain medication that could probably make an elephant drowsy.  

And yet I do not despair!  Because we are so incredibly fortunate to have an amazing network of support in the area. Several neighbors know what's going on - and have vowed to stay close for the next few days since I can't make important decisions like what to cook for dinner.   I'll also be unable to operate heavy machinery which at this juncture encompasses our refrigerator, dishwasher, and stove.  See, what a great opportunity for our children to step up and help!  

So in conclusion I'm so grateful for friends - and for kids who, when they chose to be, are awesome little people who have learned how to cook #QUESADILLAS and candlelight rainbow peanut butter.

That's my sign.

G'night and Godspeed!

Monday, January 08, 2018

The Amazing Trip of Summer 2017: Jenny Lake

Happy New Year!

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We hope that everyone had a magical holiday season and are looking to this new year as one filled with hope - promise - and an opportunity for wonderful life adventures.  One of my resolutions this year is that I will update my blog more than once a month.  But we'll see how that goes what with three teenagers and all. 

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At the risk of repeating myself for the umpteenth time: the impetus for us taking a one-month camping trip this past summer, is this fiery and simmering realization that our children are growing up so incredibly fast, as children are prone to do, and in such a short period of time - they'll be flying from our nest.  They're already stretching their little wings (much to my chagrin), and I know that our time with them to strengthen bonds and make incredible lifetime memories is finite. 

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Our vacation this summer - while extended - was not so long that we could lose ourselves for days at a time in one location. We had places to be and somewhat of a schedule to keep since I'd really outdone myself and actually pre-paid some of our campsites. 

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While in the Grand Tetons / Jackson Lake area, we did actually extend our stay for a night so that I could take the children to visit Jenny Lake. Which I may have mentioned once or twice, is where it is currently stated in my Will that I would like for my remains to be "sprinkled" upon my demise.   

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My first visit to Jenny Lake was in June of 1994, just a few weeks before Charlie and I were married.

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This is what I looked like way back then: 

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At that time, it was the most beautiful place that I'd ever visited.  Since then, I've visited a lot of other beautiful places in the world, but I still have a soft place in my heart for Jenny Lake seeing as my name is you know …. Jenny.  

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The children loved visiting this place and wasted no time peeling off their outer wear and jumping in to an absolutely FRIGID lake.  The water temperature was around 50 degrees.  Cold enough, that I couldn't even put my feet in, let alone my entire body … which made me reconsider being posthumously sprinkled here because I'm really partial to water temperatures 85 degrees and above.  

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We hiked a perimeter trail…

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Sat before a waterfall…

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Stood before an even bigger one…

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And talked to some lovely people from New Jersey who took pictures of us perched atop this granitic outcrop, before enjoying a picnic lunch.  

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We got caught in a sputtering rain storm and experienced temperatures that dropped 20 degrees in as many minutes.  It was cold enough that the children happily donned our emergency poncho and pretended they were the Three Headed Giant from Monty Python and The Holy Grail

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Following a really fun day together, we took the boat back to the other side of Jenny Lake - hiked to our car - and made it back to our campsite at Colter Bay just in time to attend a church service.  I've always considered nature to be my church, but it's an even more epic experience to actually attend an organized service in the middle of a National Park. This is some seriously holy stuff for me. 

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The kids had lamented going to church because there were so many other things to do - like pretend they were early explorers, or play Dungeons and Dragons, or a game of cards - but when we arrived at the amphitheater, we learned that a huge black bear had also decided to show up for church and had just been climbing over the amphitheater benches moments before I snapped this photo.  

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After much fanfare about a bear encounter, this was the first bear we'd really seen while outside of a vehicle - and the children's reaction was very similar to Brave Sir Robin with his chicken shield.  They bravely tucked their tails and ran, ran, RAN away.   Charlie had been on a coffee run, and missed the bear encounter, but was able to lure the kids back to the amphitheater with hot chocolate from Starbucks.  We then proceeded to sing songs, give abundant thanks, and meet some amazing people from all over North America.   

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That evening, we went out to dinner at the Jackson Lodge and met a group of horseback riders who had traveled up from Illinois.  They sat next to us during dinner at a funky little diner - and had all kinds of tips and tricks for us, once they heard our next destination was Yellowstone National Park. They told us all the great - off the beaten path - places to visit. 

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Neither Charlie nor I can remember their names right now, but this 60+ year old four-some were visiting the area with just their trucks - trailers - horses - and tents.  They would be packing in for ten days, with horses carrying their gear - and would literally live off the land for the duration of their visit, with very little supplementation.  Their gear included fishing rods, water filters, and SALT. 

Several times on this trip, we would meet people who would be amazed that we flew in from Texas, rented a car, and were making a nearly 3,000-mile loop with four children - while sleeping in tents the majority of the way.  But THEN, we'd meet people like our coast-to-coast bike-riding friend, Emily…

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Or the horseback riding folks from Illinois, and we'd become so inspired because people and their quest for adventure and that driving passion to get BACK TO NATURE is so, so awesome.  We were so at peace on this trip: it was simple and easy, and incredibly fun living. The way it should be. All The Time.  

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Yes children: You Are On Alert.

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This is just the beginning.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Amazing Trip of Summer 2017: The Grand Tetons & Jackson Lake

Late last month, I ordered our Christmas cards - and as I have for the past 24 years - I wrote our annual Christmas poem.  It always starts out the same way,  "''Tis again the month of December, and the time to remember, our family and friends - as this year [insert year] ends." 

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Then I'll recount in a rhyming fashion, the things that have happened over the course of the past 12 months. This year, I wrote in our letter:
"A highlight of our year was a full-month camping trip we took over the summer. When we first conjured the idea of four weeks in a tent, it couldn't sound any dumber. But we flew to Colorado with our gear and rented a Yukon for the month of July … then we drove a 3500-mile loop visiting 12 parks while catching fish on the fly.
We traversed Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Montana en route to the border, then crossed over to Canada and stayed for a week while we got our gear back in order.  We drove as far north as Jasper, and hiked the Athabasca Glacier in this park - staying up way too late each night because at 11 PM, it still wasn't dark.   
We rode horses at Roosevelt's ranch and again on Banff mountains capped with snow; we went white water rafting through Dinosaur National Monument - and again in Salmon, Idaho.  It was such an amazing trip - a soul altering adventure for sure… It made us question our purpose in life, and leave us wanting for more." 
The card concluded with some additional rhyming verse regarding the prospect of us taking a hiatus from life and traveling the country in an RV because life is short and there's a magnificent world out there for us to see.  Then I provide a link to the blog, because this space is where I capture the moments and memories of life.  Or, that's the intent.

But then realized I haven't updated this blog in a month, and haven't provided any details of our epic trip since August … four months ago.  So here goes, 1) For posterity, and 2) For my aunts and uncles - cousins - friends - and neighbors who might pop by following receipt of our Christmas card, to see what this "amazing" summer trip was all about.

After we left Utah, we drove north past Jackson Hole Wyoming, while on our way to The Grand Teton National Park. This had been one of my two favorite parks (the other being Zion National Park) prior to this trip.   I love this park so much that when Charlie and I crafted our Wills many years ago, I'd indicated that when I die - I'd like to have my cremated remains sprinkled in Jenny Lake.  The legality of such an event hadn't even occurred to me - but I figured at absolute minimum, in my lifetime, I needed to share the beauty of this area with both Charlie and our children. If for no other reason, so they'd know where to take me posthumously.

(This is actually Jackson Lake - I'll post pictures of Jenny Lake, next time.)

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We'd been sleeping in a tent for the past several nights, and for the first few nights that we'd be in the Grand Tetons at Colter Bay, we'd be staying in a structure.  Structure, because it had a quasi-real roof and two sides made out of wood. The other two sides were canvas.  This is known as a Tent-Cabin.  Brilliant!  There was no bathroom. But, there was electricity. And there were two sets of wall mounted bunk beds which the kids slept on…

(And which scared the life out of me that the ones on the top bunks would fall off; so I had them ramped up on one side, with duffles and blankets on the floor beneath the beds, until I learned that they had guardrails at the office. And then those promptly went up.)

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Henry liked to use the duffles hanging on the wall as his punching bags.  As he explained it to me, he needed to stay in tip-top condition should we encounter any bears.

#TenYearOldBoys

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While Charlie and I hit the air mattress in a corner of the room. I took the side next to the canvas siding, in the event a bear came in - I would be a distraction while Charlie got our bear spray.  Sounded like a good idea at the time.

Now it just sounds like I was bait….?!

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Outside of tent-cabin, there were huge bear lockers with messages that we need to lock up everything. Not just food, but also - toiletries, utensils, and any cooking supplies.  Anything that might have possibly come in to contact with food - and thereby, may have an odor that a bear could smell from 10 miles away.

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There definitely were bears in this area. Big ones. We'd seen them on the side of the road, rustling through berry bushes. And we'd heard from people who had face-to-face encounters with Grizzly Mamas and their babies.  We also saw signs like this one…

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Which was enough to keep all of us, our children especially, HIGHLY motivated in regards to maintaining a clean camp.

If only we had a bear at our house to keep the kids on their toes about picking up their stuff.  Oh wait, that would be me.  HA, HA! Ha. ha.  Ahem. 

One morning, we set off for a hike, only to be told that the trail we were on, had to be closed because of "high bear activity".  What that means, in layman's terms, is that bears had been spotted, cubs had been spotted, and there were several fresh kills (i.e., deer) in the woods that appeared to be the snack food of one or more Ursus.

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So we took a different trail. And while there had been bears spotted on this trail, too…  they been a considerable distance back.  In our favor, we had two cans of bear spray - whistles, and had merged with a family of Germans who didn't speak much English, but pledged that they'd walk with us and make a lot of noise, if we could flank the hiking party, and share bear spray with them.

Here's Henry, carrying a big stick - making a lot of noise - and showing us how he'd take down a bear.  Those duffle bag battles were really very helpful in perfecting the form.

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And here's Elizabeth - asking why - please why - don't we turn back?

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We eventually did turn back.  And we rented a boat - which took us along the beaches, where the bears had been spotted.  But we kept our distance - at least 30 meters off shore.

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Everyone loved the boat ride, because they all took a turn driving.

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I should say, everyone loved the boat ride…. when they took a turn driving. 

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And while on the boat we had a picnic. It was only when we were on the OPPOSITE bank of the lake, far from civilization, that three of the kids informed us that they needed to use the bathroom. Immediately.

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That prompted a fun swimming excursion, which took their breath away, because the water was a brisk 58 degrees. You can tell by the look on Elizabeth's face that this was going to be COLD!

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Four of the six of our family jumped in.  Carolyn and I responsibly stayed in the boat, because when the water is 58 degrees, we can hold it REALLY WELL and also, we wanted to make sure the boat didn't float away.

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Charlie, floating in the middle of Jackson Lake asking why I wouldn't come in and swim with him?
#CrazyMan.

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We returned to camp for dinner.  This was a nice view over our stove…

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And enjoyed a lovely meal - with a centerpiece that had been crafted by Elizabeth.

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We also met the campers who were right next to us.  It was a group of people who had rented several tent-cabins, and were riding their bicycles all the way across the country.  They were led by this vibrant young woman, a 24-year old named Emily.

This was her second time leading a ride from coast-to-coast and she was incredible.   While the physical challenge of riding was one thing - the mental challenge of trying to keep a group of 12 people happily entertained - who had paid a large sum of money to do a bike ride - was a separate challenge.  Emily didn't complain to us at all … which is really a testament to her strength.  Because we actually heard some of her riders complaining and all I could think was WOW.

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Aren't they there to chill out - take a deep breath - and enjoy the ride?  Sure, I understand that people may have certain expectations. But if you can't be kind, and have a good attitude in a place like THIS … I question if it's possible at all?

This was my observation to Emily.  And her observation to me, was that she'd really like to lead our family on a ride.  So we exchanged contact information and when the kids are a bit older - it's something we'll definitely consider!  

Monday, November 13, 2017

cell: the basic building block of all living things; also small room which a prisoner is locked up

So, as I mentioned, Charlie and I bought the children cell phones for their 13th birthday.

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We'd long held firm to the belief that our kids didn't need cell phones because we certainly didn't have them when we were teenagers, and we survived Just Fine.  Also, the sight of kids (or people for that matter) with their faces buried in cell phones genuinely hurts my soul.  The definition of cell, as a building block to life - and also a small room in which prisoners are locked is so ironic.  That's how I feel about technology and 'screens' in general - it can expand and connect us, and/or trap and hold us captive.

So, we cut the cord to our house.

At some point, we stopped watching television. On the rare occasion we'd turn it on, we were dismayed that it was predominantly commercials, or what can only be categorized as junk TV on 396 of the 400 channels we received.  We had cable boxes all through our big Texas house, and in our outside kitchen, and one day I lifted my head up from the daily grind and yelled, "WHOA. We don't even watch TV. Why are we paying $13.00/month per box for something we don't use?"  

And in the very next moment, I  also realized that we never answered our house phone because the predominant callers on that line were telemarketers. At some point, I've become so resistant to using the house phone, I just ignored it and never figured out how to  retrieve our voicemail messages from the automated system.

In fact, as my sister Beth can testify, when she visited last year, she lamented that I never returned her phone calls.  To which I replied, "What calls??"  So we spent the better part of a morning figuring out how to listen to messages, and then the two of us listened to 87 messages from friends and family that had been received over the past 14 months (including at least twelve calls from my sister, Beth). Upon those realizations, we promptly cut the cord to everything except internet, and our monthly cable bill plummeted.  I was filled with joy and applauded our fiscal accountability and prowess.

Until.  

An evening last year, when Charlie and I went to a Christmas party, and we left the children at home by themselves.  It was the first time they'd ever been left alone, and I alerted several neighbors that they would be home alone and to please be available, if the kids needed to call.  Then it dawned on me, they have no way to call.  So I told the kids that if they need me, they can text me on their iPads.

In my mind, I'm running through scenarios …

The house is burning down!

Text 911!  

But wait.  That means I'd need to give the kids the pass codes to their iPads, which is some big secret in our house that only Charlie and I know, because when the kids have unfettered access to their iPads, something happens to them. They retreat and play games on their iPads all day - and their personalities change from happy, nice and cooperative to moody, cranky and highly unpleasant.

Like prisoners, trapped in a cell. 

So iPads are reserved for homework - and occasionally a game or two. And Instagram for the girls. Which I never OK'd so not even sure how they got that started…?  Ditto for Musical.ly which I deleted because: 1) I don't understand it; 2) Makes me nervous; 3) Could see it being a cyber predator playground if you're not current on your parental "internet safety" competence.  Those feelings above pretty succinctly sums up my feelings on children and the internet and cell phones and... period.

This whole internet / phone / cell issue has been quite the slippery slippery slope dilemma for Charlie and I.  Maybe get just a house line for emergencies?  Stop going out?  Say the heck with it, kids will be fine and open the flood gates? Sell everything and move to the mountains, completely off the grid from civilization visa vie Captain Fantastic?

(That's seriously the best movie I've ever seen and my preference for how I'd totally like to live life, but Charlie thinks I'm coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs.) 

The straw that broke the camel's back happened when school started up and Elizabeth had cross-country every day after school - and meets peppered all over southeastern Texas.  Carolyn was in theatre rehearsal at various times, and sometimes finished earlier - sometimes later than expected.  The boys are off to Tae Kwon Do on their bicycles, or having Nerf Wars with friends, and the only way to reach them is to call the parents of the kids.  Or, text their friends.

It really is true that ALL of their friends have cell phones. We learned about this last year, when the children's school bus was in a slight accident, having been sideswiped by a mail truck.  The school called to tell us that the children were OK and needed to be picked up.  We drove to get the kids - who were the last ones there - because the other kids had cell phones and had promptly contacted their parents.  The kids tell us, "See Mom and Dad?! THIS is why we need cell phones! So we can call you when our bus gets in to an accident!"

And I laughed because, "Pfft! Silly children! The chances of your school bus getting in to another accident are slim to none!"

Well. Wouldn't you know that less than six months later, there was another mishap with the bus and the children who had cell phones were able to reach out to their parents and be immediately extracted from the scene.  (Which begs the question what kind of friends don't let you use their phone?!)

Once Charlie and I decided that for a host of legitimate reasons our children really needed a phone for safety purposes (and hopefully, never to call us if their bus is in an accident again), the question became - what kind of phone to get them?  Of course they all want smartphones.  And we actually have several old iPhones in our inventory that we could easily activate and give to them.  Elizabeth had her eye on one of my older phones, and was leaving me inconspicuous notes with the hopes I'd give it to her….

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Alas, we weren't going to give the kids smartphones because they would not use them as a phone, they'd use them for games and social networking; and most experts, including our children's school principal has cautioned that social networking amongst 13-year olds is highly overrated.  As for myself, I wouldn't even have a smartphone, if it wasn't for the GPS that I use every time I get in the car because I have no sense of direction and tend to get lost.  (A lot.)

So we decided to get the kids flip phones, because it is a TOOL not a TOY.  This isn't (just) about the cost of the phones and the data packages, it's a question of necessity.  I'm not the parent who gives and gives anything and everything because there is no end to the madness. While they don't have an XBOX or PlayStation, and our 13-year-old Wii just died … our kids are not totally neglected on the technology front, because they do have iPads at home that they use for various things - including school work (IXL!), texting friends and family, and playing games on those rare occasions I let them play on their iPads.  But if it isn't obvious, I'm really not a big fan of kids having technology, at all.

Some people have tried to tell me that I better get use to it, and stay one step ahead of them because *this* is a different age.  To which I say, "My kids are considerably smarter than me. I cannot stay one step ahead of them, particularly when it comes to technology. If I can't figure out how to retrieve voicemails on an antiquated house phone, I can guarantee they'll be shaking me off their internet trail faster than I can type in "password reset."  

So instead, I tell them, "Go out and play. Read a book. Draw a picture. Play a game. Make slime. Pick some berries. Gut and filet a fish. Build a hut.  Use your imagination!"

Anyway, we went to pick out their cell phones for their birthday, and I asked the sales representative to show me all the flip phones they have available.  She showed me two models and as she did, she whispered, likely to spare me any kind of embarrassment, that that the only people who buy flip phones are senior citizens and disabled people who need the big numbers to call the police, ambulance, and fire department.  She might have been trying to convince me that if I loved my children I'd buy them a phone that kids THEIR OWN AGE have, but I love that these are old people phones.

"Perfect," I said. "I'll take three!"  Then I smiled and added, "Our kids are going to be SO STOKED when I tell them that they are likely the only kids in their Junior High School that have this kind of rad technology!"

I'm so hip!

Next, we had to sign up to activate the phones.  There were all kinds of service charges and fees for various plans, such that the total bill would be close to $100/month for the three phones.  Hearing that craziness, I waved my hands and said, "No, No, NO.  I'm not paying $100 a month for three flip phones for my kids.  They won't be using them that much!  When I was a kid it cost TEN CENTS to call!"  And Charlie, being the supportive husband that he is, added in a crotchety old voice, "I kept dimes in my penny loafers in case I needed to use the pay phone. Sonny, those were the days when I'd buy a paper for a quarter and get two nickels back!"

We wound up with three prepaid plans.  I put $100 on each phone, but since each minute of talking is $0.25 and each text is $0.50, the children need to steward their time, very closely.  When they run low on minutes, they can purchase their own, with money that they EARN around the house.  Doing important chores like emptying the trash and picking up dog poop in the back yard.

As I was making our purchase, Charlie asked if there are a lot of people who come in to the store and buy the latest, greatest, iPhone for their 13-year old kids, and give them an unlimited data package.  The sales rep nodded yes, and then added, "We've had people come in here with children that are just starting PRESCHOOL, and buy them the latest and greatest iPhone with full data package."

I don't remember anything after that, because my mind exploded.