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." 


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.)


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.)


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.



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….?!


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.


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…


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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


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.


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!


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.


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


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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 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….


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.

Monday, November 06, 2017

memory candy

Last Tuesday afternoon, I sat down with the intention to post a single photo of Halloween. But then I started to remember our Halloween's gone past, and I tried to recall all the various costumes our children have been over the past decade plus.  As much as I tried - I simply couldn't recall.  So what was supposed to be a very quick exercise, turned in to a longer endeavor - with me searching three separate computers and a time capsule - for photos dating back to 2004.

By the time I came to my senses and realized I'd had fallen headfirst down a rabbit hole, the kids were dressed and ready to go out for this year's Halloween, despite the fact it was pouring rain.  But I'll get to that, further on.  Now without further ado, here is a look back over All Hallows Eve, gone past.

Halloween 2004

Because the babies were in the NICU and our first Halloween together was spent running back and forth to the hospital, worrying over William who was battling NEC, we don't have a picture of our first holiday together. But if I'd dressed them up that first year, I think the best costume would have been to put bows on their heads and made them gifts.  Because that's what they were ... and still are to me 13 years later.

The best gifts we've ever received.

First Family Portrait

Halloween 2005

My three little pumpkins, with my Mom, Jimbo, and our dear friend Virginia. None of the children were walking on their own yet, so I'll always remember the sight of these three little pumpkins, rolling around on the floor.


Halloween 2006

My little chickens. It was right about this time I realized I was "on the nest" and we had another little chick on the way, who would be joining us in less than nine months time. Bok! Bok!


Halloween 2007

Crazy to believe this was 10 years ago.  I remember the day like it was yesterday.  My four little peeps … and my heart which couldn't be any more full.


Halloween 2008

William and his baby brother in matching Buzz Lightyear costumes and Elizabeth the princess. I'm not quite sure what we were going for here with Carolyn?  Safe to say that she had reached the tender age of four where she knew she wanted to be something different than her sister.

Point taken, Zorro!


Halloween 2009

The Wizard of Oz meets Toy Story.  Henry wore that costume for 2-3 years straight: not on Halloween, mind you, but all day, every day.  I still have it, somewhere in our attic ... the tattered remnants of an incredibly precious time that I will never forget. I'll also never forget William and the silver paint on his face ... he wanted more, more, more - until I had sufficiently coated him and then, HE WANTED IT OFF!  This photo was snapped a second before he said, "It's itchy!" (Can you not just see the words forming on his lips?!)


Halloween 2010

Our first year in Virginia.  We recycled costumes, and convinced Henry to shed Buzz Lightyear for a few hours and join the crew on the Yellow Brick Road.  I also wised up and ditched the face paint. We spent a long evening walking around the neighborhood with some new friends - and we absolutely FROZE. The highlight of the night, was going inside and warming ourselves beside the fire of another neighbor.  Halloween in northern Virginia was considerably cooler than San Diego!


Halloween 2011

Had it not been for my blog post that I wrote following Halloween of 2011, I would have absolutely no recall that our children were two butterflies, one vampire, and Batman this year.  What I do recall is that moments after I took this photo of Elizabeth carving her pumpkin, my mother and Jim, surprised us - after driving all the way from South Carolina to see the kids on Halloween. And what I also recall was that was the first year I dragged our fire pit to the front yard, because my mother and I were freezing as we sat outside waiting for trick-or-treaters.  Since we had a fire, we may as well have s'mores and thus began a tradition that we still do to this very day.


Halloween 2012

One cowgirl, a cheerleader, a zombie guy and Spider-Man.  Note the bonfire at the end of our driveway, we made this atmosphere a little more festive by offering water (in addition to the s'mores) to the trick-or-treaters.


Halloween 2013

A Hippie, an Indian Girl, Superman and a Ninja. Our setup at the end of the driveway has continued to improve; so too did our offerings: hot apple cider and Oktoberfest for the grown-ups. Word was catching on that our cul-de-sac was a good place to be on Halloween night and people began showing up with their own chairs and beverages to share.


Halloween 2014

What I recall from 2014 is the kids' birthday party was on the same day (a Friday) and many of the children that had descended on our house for the "Fall Festival" party, stuck around for trick-or-treating that night. I cannot remember their costumes what exactly they were….?   See, an odd thing happened when the triplets turned 10 that has prevailed ever since.  You look at the clock and it's 3:30 PM and you're making dinner thinking there's ample time to get them fed, dressed, and photograph ready.  But suddenly it's 6:00 PM, your door bell is ringing and when you open it to hand out candy to tiny tots dressed adorably, and zoom - your own kids are in their costumes, taking off.  You may not even know what they're dressed as … and if you yell out "Wait for a photograph of everyone together!" Well, you may have an easier time asking them to annotate their math book on Christmas morning.


Halloween 2015

This was our first year in Texas, and again ~ Halloween time warp! ~ I lack a picture of the children in their costumes.  But what I do know is that we brought our fire pit tradition with us, and met several of our new neighbors, as we were camped out at the end of the driveway roasting s'mores.  Elizabeth was a zombie bride, I think Carolyn, William and Henry were zombie-like creatures, too?


Halloween 2016

We've got a two zombies (Elizabeth and Carolyn), firefighter (Henry) and a vampire. We also had a great set up at the end of the driveway.  Good times!


Halloween 2017 

This year, because of my photographic adventure down the rabbit hole, I keenly realized that I am missing photos of prior year costumes, so forced the kids to wait.  We had two Spider-Mans and two dinosaurs. The two Spider-Mans are intended to reflect Peter Parker of old (William in the handmade suit); and Peter Parker of new with his suit that he received from Tony Stark (a la Spiderman Homecoming).  The kids picked out their own costumes, as they have virtually every year for the past seven years.  Although Carolyn had a dinosaur costume too, she did not go trick-or-treating because she was at her Annie rehearsal from 6:00 to 11:00.


Despite the torrential rain this year, our children likely broke records for the amount of candy they collected in an abbreviated period of time.  They were out for less than two hours, but each time they'd ring a doorbell, the candy provider would dump handfuls in to their cases because trick-or-treaters were sparse.   Even our house, which normally gets >60 kids, had a mere 15.  But those kids made out like bandits too, because I unloaded all of our purchased candy in to their bags.  While we didn't have a fire pit this year, we did set up beneath our carport and entertained several neighbors - who forged streams of water running down our street - to come join us.

Nothing should stop good times spent with friends!

What I want to most remember about this year, is the 8th grade boy who recently moved in to our neighborhood and attends a different school, so doesn't know all the kids in the neighborhood particularly well.  He had bought a costume but then thought he was too old to wear it out.   According to Elizabeth who conveyed the story to me later (and his grateful parents who corroborated it) our pack of kids rang his doorbell, and when his parents opened the door, she could see this forlorn boy sitting on the steps.  Liz yelled, "What are you DOING? Why aren't you DRESSED?  Do you not realize it's HALLOWEEEEEEEEN?! Let's GO!"  With that encouragement, he jumped up, hopped in to his sumo wrestling suit, and took off with his new friends, grinning from ear to ear.

As it should be.


Next up:  I'm heading to the post office to ship this box of at least 1000 pieces of candy from several kids in the neighborhood (and our own!) to my nephew Tommy and his fellow Army soldiers at Fort Campbell.  Just in time for Veteran's Day.

The mother in me, is also throwing in some toothpaste, dental floss, and toothbrushes.  Don't forget to brush, Thomas John!

Monday, October 23, 2017

… and then they were 13

Last weekend, our amazing trips turned 13.  Here's a picture of them opening their birthday present, their very own flip cell phones. 


That's right. Our once three pound premature babies, are now teenagers ... and thriving with flip cell phone technology.  (More on that, later!)  We threw them a surprise party for their birthday.  Surprise because we didn't plan it until Thursday night, and didn't tell the kids about it until Saturday late afternoon.   


We wound up renting and putting in our yard, a 65-foot long bounce house / obstacle course, that the kids all phoo-phoo'ed because they were TEENS and TEENS don't play on bounce houses anymore.  Until, we turned on the water slide component of this massive blow up contraption, and gave them a load of glow sticks so they could run through it at night with several neighborhood friends and kids from school, and suddenly - this was the most epic party ever. 


(This is not our side yard. This is a screenshot from the website, because if you can believe it, I didn't take a single picture of the entire party.) 

It's an awesome privilege to see these beautiful people growing up. Although it really feels like over the past decade, the earth has begun spinning faster and the years are flying by.  I'm sure I've said that before?  I tend to forget things, because - years flying by and mind isn't what it once was. 

(Nor are my teeth or eyes.  Speaking of which, where are my glasses?  I sure hope I'm updating my blog and not writing a comment on an Amazon purchase of interdental toothbrushes.)

When I look at other people's similarly aged children, I wonder, "Wow, when did they get so big?"  Then I look at our children - and I still see my babies.  But I also see these incredible people who are steadily blooming before my eyes and a bittersweet surge goes through my whole body because parenting isn't just about keeping them alive, anymore.  Parenting at this juncture is predominantly about modeling adulthood and coaching them for their own adult lives.  Those lives when they're not living with Charlie and I anymore, when they'll be independently living on their own and not tucked in to bed every night by me, and woken up every morning by their father.  

(Unless they still want to live with us when they're 40, which right now … I'm totally cool with that.  Provided they start doing a better job picking up after themselves. And doing laundry. And cooking. Also, turning off lights - or chipping in money to help with the ever mounting utility and grocery bills.  But I digress. These years are so, so precious … and so, so fleeting. *Sob!*)

In just about everything I do, I try to start with the end in mind.  Or, imagine the favorite glass as already broken. The moments are ephemeral and all shall eventually come to an end.  So it's important to step back and look at the big picture and get perspective, because these days tend to result in a sort of parental vertigo wherein you lose your sense of balance and don't know which way is up.  To combat this PV as I call it, I've just recently reduced to part-time, which is something I've been wanting to do for years

For the past month, I've been working only three days a week.  And on those two days off, when I thought I'd have ample time to do things like float in the pool with a daiquiri in hand … I find that I'm very busy.  Doing things like grocery shopping and communicating with teachers. And stuff!  I don't even know what stuff, but I put the kids on the bus and no pool floating or daiquiris later … they're home again.  Several stay-at-home friends have reached out to me wanting to go to lunch, or take long walks on my "days off" and I've told them no, because it isn't really a day off.  It's a day to get things done that don't get done the rest of the week.  
I genuinely thought I'd have more time because school is long, it starts at 7:45 for Henry, and runs through 3:30 in the afternoon.  Except on the days he has choir, and then he has to be there at 7:00 AM.  Two days a week he is in Tae Kwon Do with his brother at a local studio.  And a few nights a week, they're running to Cub / Boy Scout events.  


The triplets start school at 8:00 and are home at 4:30.  But not all three kids are home at 4:30 because of sports and various after-school activities.   Here's a rundown… 

Elizabeth insisted - much to my dismay - that she try out for the girls cross-country team. Since we're in Texas, schools are huge.  HUGE.  There are nearly 1,300 kids in the triplet's seventh grade class, alone, and a large percentage of those girls tried out for cross-country.  I thought her odds of making the team would be slim to none, so I suggested she skip it and stick with swimming. Also, who would ever want to run in Houston weather?  Crazy people, that's who.  

Lo, Elizabeth landed a spot on the team, which was no small feat - and has since won first place in multiple district and regional meets with starting line-ups of more than 100 girls.  While the majority of "other" parents are actually encouraging their children, and putting them in running camps,  I'm trying everything I can to dissuade her and stick with swim team.  Not just because I liked having ALL THE KIDS IN ONE SPORT - but because my 84-year old mother still swims every day.  Swimming is wonderful exercise, unlike running which hurts me to just think about. She doesn't agree and is telling me she wants to do a marathon when she's 16.   I'm certain that her desire to run and win nearly every race is just to prove me wrong.  


Honestly! Such a teenager.  


Carolyn, our most introverted child and who will soon surpass 5'9" tall, surprised all of us, when she decided that she would be auditioning for a role in the local community theatre production of "Annie."   She decided on a Wednesday, and the auditions were on Saturday.   We scrambled to figure out what she had to do (sheet music? song selection? head shots? where to begin?!) show up, and wait for her turn to sing before the directors / judges / people in the decision making role for these sorts of things.   

When she was a baby, Carolyn would hum, all the time.  Recently, I stumbled upon a video of her laying in her crib during nap time, and humming "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" when she was just a year old. She had such a sweet and beautiful little voice!


I haven't really heard her sing much since then - because she's very shy.  So you might imagine my stunned disbelief when she showed up for the audition, strutted right in to the room, closed the door behind her, and belted out a beautiful rendition of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music.  I could hear the judges talking with her and asking, "Wait. {papers shuffling} How old are you? (12) What grade are you in? (7th) Have you ever sung before? (no) When did you have voice lessons? (never) Are you in choir? (no). You've never sung before and you're not in choir? (Yes, wait … no? I'm sorry. Can you repeat the question?)"  


Suffice to say, Carolyn landed three roles in the upcoming performance, along with several speaking parts which she is quite excited about.  I'm very excited for her too, but all of the rehearsals (also) totally conflicts with swim team.  So.  There is no swim team anymore, except for Charlie, who gets up and out of the house by 5:00 every morning to he can be in the pool with Swim Masters by 5:30. Charlie has pleaded that I join him at 5:30 in the pool … but yeah. Um, no.  

The point is, not that there was specifically a point - the triplets are now 13, Henry is 10 - we are clipping through life at warp speed, and trying our best to live and enjoy every moment.  While we cannot slow down the rate at which the earth spins, or momentum our children are growing up … we can take strides to live more simply and intentionally which is something I really struggle with and which is what led to me reducing to part-time.   It's also led to Charlie and I having deep discussions about capitalizing on this time we have remaining with our children, before they fly from the nest.

Selling off everything, taking a hiatus from our careers, and traveling extensively, is a definite possibility.  When we settle down again, we're considering how we could do it as simply as possible. Small house with a sustainable energy source.  Somewhere TBD.  

The one thing I know for sure is that we try so hard to give our kids the best of everything: education, sports, routine.  And sometimes, they - or us (sometimes both), find that in all the busyness, we can miss the fun, adventure, and simplicity that life can and should be.  So we very well might be taking off in the late spring and doing something radical.  As if getting a new puppy, our precious English Cream Golden Retriever, Professor Oliver Plum (Ollie) wasn't radical enough.    


Oh, we love this little guy so much … he is our heart's delight! 

Hey Dog, what's up?


Professor Plum. With the Muddy Paws.  

In the Garden. 

Friday, September 01, 2017

deep in the heart of texas

So, we got hit with a bit of storm this past week.  The name of the storm was Harvey. You may have heard of it … it was a doozy.  I've heard that Harvey dumped 50-inches of rain, and 25 trillion gallons of water over the Houston region over the span of four days.   I've written the word trillion, but if I expressed it numerically it would look like this:  25,000,000,000,000 GALLONS.

I've also heard that if you were to take the volume of water that fell from this Harvey event, and let it flow laterally across an even surface, it would cover the entire United States with 1/4 of an inch of water.  Now THAT is a rainstorm.  Apparently, the largest one, ever, in the history of our country.

It's important to note that two months ago, Charlie and I decided to cut our cable because we never watch television; as in never-ever. And there was no point in paying for something that we don't use. So we really wouldn't have grasped the wrath of Harvey, if not for the people from afar that were calling us in a panic that Houston was in the process of becoming completely submerged and we needed to get the hell out of dodge while the getting was good. We thought they were crazy.

Here's what we saw from our trusty Weather Channel App.  On Thursday night, there was a storm heading north through the Gulf… we were informed school would be canceled Friday so people could "prepare."  We filled our bathtub with water and made sure we had plenty of extra batteries and then hunkered down, because how bad could it be?


Friday rolls around, skies get a little cloudy, wind picks up, but nothing too bad.


Saturday we wake to a torrential downpour. We are in the "red band." Sheets and sheets of water falling from the sky. We went for a 10-minute walk wearing raincoats and carrying umbrellas. It didn't matter.  We might as well have been pushed in to the deep end of the pool.  Tornado warnings are popping up on our phones every five minutes.  Things don't look so good. The sky is ominous.


Sunday, repeat of Saturday. The intensity of rain has not stopped one iota.


Monday, was a repeat of Saturday and Sunday.  The red bands had moved off to the east, but the rain still fell and the grounds - since they were completely saturated - absorbed no additional water.  Nearby creeks overflowed their banks and the flooding was suddenly catastrophic.


Tuesday, we - no surprise - woke up to rain.  After hearing from my colleague down the street, who had flood water less than a foot from his pool and had called to ask if he could move his cars (and his self) to our house which was 20 feet higher in elevation, we were beginning to plan our own evacuation since the creek less than a mile from our house had topped it's banks and showed no signs of slowing down.  Our friends in Dallas were put on alert we might be showing up.


Tuesday afternoon, we had a surprise party for our neighbor, who turned 50, and since school was canceled until after Labor Day, and virtually every adult was out of work for the week because the roads were impassable; scores of us descended on his house in the driving rain.  We lit the candles on his cake, he closed his eyes tightly - made a wish - and blew out the candles.


And just like that, the rain broke and the sun came out. It was seriously that fast.  He didn't divulge his wish to all of us, but after four straight days of dumping rain and pending evacuations due to rising flood waters … I have a pretty good idea what that wish was about.


Even without cable news, by Monday evening, the gravity of what was happening in our area was seeping in and pictures were showing up in text feeds from my local friends.   Colleagues of mine were working tirelessly to help neighbors move furniture from first levels to second levels.  In fact, one of my co-workers helped his neighbor's move a damn grand piano upstairs.


Brand new homes as close as 1-mile away from our house, had been completely flooded and people had to be evacuated by boat.  More than 450,000 people had been evacuated in the area, and at least 100,000 homes had been impacted by floodwater.  More than 500,000 vehicles were totaled.  We gathered blankets and pillows, and bags of toys and games for donation to local shelters.

Because my office was closed all week, we made our way to a local shelter on Wednesday morning, and were happily surprised that the volunteers outnumbered the evacuees by at least 4:1.  We stood around twiddling our thumbs, and observed that donations of water supplies were so high they nearly reached the second floor.


We dropped off our own bags of donations - toiletry items - to our church, and were immensely pleased to see the cars lined up around the block to drop off donations of supplies: diapers, formula, underwear, socks, and snacks for volunteers and evacuees.


Thursday, we joined forces with local churches and our Boy Scout troop, to visit a neighborhood just down the road, that was devastated by the floods and this is when it really started to hit me, just how bad this situation was for people.  Armed with cleaning supplies, we walked from door to door, and entered those homes where we were needed.


While Carolyn, Elizabeth and I, helped one family sort through their soaking wet clothes and movies; William and Henry took off with a group, and later told us over dinner that they had removed all the wood from the floors.  Henry said that a man handed him a crowbar and hammer and said, "Get all these floors up."   And so he did. 


The particular homeowner that we were helping, had just moved to Houston six months ago with his wife and two young children.  They have no family in the immediate area, and their house is now unlivable.  We've offered, and they have accepted, to come live with us until they can get any necessary repairs completed.  Because of our house size, I think we can easily take in at least two families. If needed, the kids can sleep in our room (which is probably even more comfortable than the tent they slept in for the past month); and Charlie and I can try our hand at having a Bed & Breakfast.

After reading enough news articles and links that neighbors have forwarded, about the health hazards of demolishing flooded houses … I decided today that I'd rather take the children to a food bank to stock shelves and hand out food to those in need.


On a typical month, this particular food bank distributes 900 bags of groceries to individuals.  In the past two days, they've distributed 800 bags, and their shelves are now virtually barren.


If you are wondering how to help … here's an excellent cause:  Northwest Area Ministries.  (I see they haven't updated their website yet today, I know that they also need pasta, rice, dried beans, and tuna fish!)  Although I am a supporter of the Red Cross and various humanitarian organizations, given my proximity to the victims of this disaster - I am purchasing supplies and gift cards for people to use.  I'd rather know that any monies are getting directly to the people who need it.

Charlie, meanwhile, tackled some of the worst hit houses in our immediate area.  He had been skeptical about going, he is so busy with work - he didn't think he could take the time. Also, we have more than enough things to do at home.  But once he saw things himself, he intends to go back as much as he can - for as long as they need him.  For sure, he'll be there again, tomorrow.

And Sunday.

And Monday. 

The homes he visited had sustained eight plus feet of flooding.  Single story homes that didn't have a second level to move things to … homes that were occupied by people in their 70's and 80's and who wouldn't have been able to move things, on their own, even if they'd had a second floor.


What we see firsthand, is that the need is so great here, that there aren't enough contractors to go around; and most people don't have the funds to hire help; nor do they have flood insurance.  So there are thousands of people that are out - volunteering their time to pull down saturated cabinets, rip up flooded carpets and floors, and rip out sheetrock and insulation.  Everyone who has lived through a flood knows that time isn't on our side, so we have to move fast before the mold sets in and homes are condemned.  The goal is to pull out the saturated materials and try to salvage what you can.

For those who aren't demolishing waterlogged houses, or working donation centers, they are shopping for supplies, making sandwiches, working shelters, and walking around neighborhoods handing out food.  Yesterday, I met a woman who was cruising around a neighborhood pulling a wagon that bore a huge pot of chicken and dumplings.   She said, "I know it's hot out, but Honey, you best believe me when I tell you that this will give you all the energy you need to keep going. Please, take a bowl or two." 


Tonight over dinner, my husband was telling me that he understands how people can become addicted to helping others.  His team of workers (several men colleagues from my work that he joined) just arrived in a neighborhood, walked up a random front door and said, "How can we help?" 


As I mentioned, the majority of people have no one to help, except volunteers. So he entered an elderly couple's house and although soaked, he said it felt like sacred ground. This was their home, and their entire life possessions had been destroyed.  

He went to their bedroom and took apart their disintegrating bed. He then opened their dresser, which completely broke apart in his hands. All of their clothes fell to the ground in a soaked heap, and the woman just whispered, "Please, throw it all away."  When he picked up her jewelry box, which also disintegrated in his hands, she again said, "Just throw it all away."

Charlie realized that the shock was so great, she couldn't comprehend any of it. So he gently said, "Wait a minute, hang on. Let's create a separate pile for 'I'll think about it' and let's just put any of the things that you might decide you want in that pile. Does that sound OK to you?"  She nodded and the very next item that they found was a saturated pocket book. Charlie glanced at the woman and when she nodded, he opened the clasp and pulled out $15.00 in soaked bills.  He gave her a wink and said, "See, look at this… I have a feeling your day is about to get a whole lot better!"  

It's horrible, it's devastating, it's overwhelming.

But it's also beautiful, kind, and inspiring.

That's what this is about: Standing shoulder to shoulder with people, and helping them through a time in life that is truly impossible to comprehend. For as much as I am discouraged by the immensity of this situation, I am also encouraged by the supportive community that has materialized all around us. It really has been a gift for us to be here, and experience it all first hand.  We are laying witness to Mother Theresa's observation, "We can do no great things; only small things with great love."

Everything really is bigger in Texas.


The storms ... and the communities.

We sure have been flooded with love!