Saturday, December 10, 2011

You've Heard of Christmas in July...

How about July in Christmas? As I write, my computer is sitting on a Christmas tablecloth but I am so far behind on my blog that I am writing about 4th of July. Ah, well. I've got a few weeks off coming up--we'll see how far I get.

We spent the 4th in Centerville, UT, where they celebrated the 4th on the 2nd (?). The day began with the annual Freedom Run 5K, the longest footrace I had yet done. I ran the whole way and finished! Of course, my time was just a hair under double Greg's time, and Kelsey walked the dog most of the way and still beat me. There were grandmas out there that I couldn't catch up with. The whole way my mantra was, "I have short, little legs!"

Next was the main event: The Centerville 4th of July Parade, where the candy haul rivals Halloween:

Back home at Grandma and Grandpa's we had a big lunch (barbecued chicken and apple pie--mmmm...) and then began the 1st Annual Willden Olympics. Events included a doughnut-eating contest:

A balloon and squirt bottle tether-ball game:

And a water balloon toss. We began with your basic person-to-person toss, then brought out towels and launched the balloons as teams:

It was a fun, fun day. Everyone received a medal for their stellar performance, and we later capped the day with a fireworks display a la Michael (not pictured because it was too darned dark).
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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Like Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills

You know, long-lost sisters reunited at last! She lives in India, I live in Texas. . . The twain just don't meet often enough for my liking. I hadn't seen Shannon in way too long, and we had so much fun together.
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Chock Full of Cousiny Goodness!

The best thing about Utah is COUSINS! Ella and Nat had a terrific time playing and playing and PLAYING with Jacob, Laurinda, and Lindley from Pleasant Grove and Spencer, Zack, and Alli (My Palli) all the way from India! (We missed Nico and Cata very much--they were enjoying themselves in Chile.)

Here's Nat and Alli. I call her Alli My Palli, and Nat calls her "Alli-da-palli". They WUV each other.

Hayrides and rock candy--it just doesn't get any better.

Here the cousins pose on their great-grandpa's tractor.

We tie-died patriotic t-shirts for the 4th of July.

I made all the girls matching skirts.

All the kids had fun bouncing around at Kangaroo Zoo.

A trip to Hogle Zoo is always a must. (Not pictured: a harrowing train ride through a hail storm)

Uncle Steve, a.k.a Cap'n Beav, planned a pirate treasure hunt for the kids, complete with sword fighting, rope swinging, talking like a pirate, and dubloons!
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Top of Timp

Okay, we didn't actually hike to the top of the mountain, but we did make it to the cave, which is no small feat, especially with two small fry. The hike up is strenuous, to say the least--all switchbacks, all the way. Before they even let you hike up, a ranger talks you through all the ways you may die on the way up--falling off the mountain, having rocks fall on you, et cetera. I quote from the ranger spiel: "Red lines on the trail denote rock fall danger zones. Continue walking through these areas--do not stop! Rock slide will sound like hands clapping. Should you hear that sound, get close to the face of the mountain, crouch down and cover your head with your arms." They are so concerned about giving you the best chances at making it back to the bottom alive that after the cave tour and before you hike back down another ranger gives you ANOTHER speech full of doom and dire warnings: "There is a tendency to feel that once you have made it up the mountain, the hard part is over. People DIE on their way down because they aren't being careful."

To be fair, it is a scary trail, generally without railings and very steep. I don't mean to mock the rangers--they know their stuff and do a great job. I have no problem, however, making fun of fellow hikers. You know how when you go on something like a cave tour you really get to know the strangers with whom you are briefly trapped underground? We narrowly avoided getting put in a tour group with a woman I named "The Gobbler" because of her loud and incessant turkey-like laugh. That was a close one! In our group was a woman whose questions made me giggle. The best of all came at the end of the tour, after the "don't die" lecture. The ranger mentioned that the Provo River running through the canyon was extremely high and dangerous, and that people should exercise extreme caution near it because one person had already died in it this year. (These rangers are a wealth of statistics of local deaths and maimings.) The woman in question then asked the ranger a question so fabulous I wondered if I had heard her correctly. As she made her way down the treacherous path, I murmured to the ranger, "Did she just ask you where the river is?" to which he replied, "Yup." I said, "Did you tell her it is AT THE BOTTOM OF THE CANYON?!" to which he replied, with a smirk, "Yup." I looked around at the steep and narrow canyon we were perilously perched above and wondered exactly where else a river would be hiding.

Anyhoo, here are some pictures of us on the hike. We made it to the top and all the way back down to the bottom without even one rock slide!
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Middle Earth

When you look at a map of the state of Utah, the vast middle is crossed by scant highways and dotted with tiny towns. In short, it looks like there is a whole lot of nothing out there, which is correct. However, as we spent a whole day driving the very long way from Zion to Aurora, UT, we discovered that the nothing (feel free to hum "The Neverending Story", I know you want to) is amazingly varied and stunningly beautiful. As we drove I kept thinking that surely we had passed all the beautiful stuff and that the rest would be ugly and boring, but no! We would come around a bend or over a hill and a whole new vista would stretch out before me, different than what we had left behind and even more 1amazing. We drove through Escalante National Monument and on north and as we drove the view changed from this:

to this:

and then this:

and this:

followed by this:

and finally this:

We watched the sun go down as we drove. It was a great day. We even stopped and played in Calf Creek, carefully avoiding the snake we saw. Fun for all!

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Beautiful Zion

The next (and main) stop on the Willden Family Fun Trip of 2011 was Zion National Park. What an unbelievably gorgeous time we had. I love to be absolutely surrounded by the beauties of God's earth, when the view all around me is so breathtaking that I feel like I can't actually take it all in. It astounds and humbles me. Even the view from our motel in Springdale was beautiful--red rock cliffs, glowing in the sunset.

We spent a full day hiking, starting at the top of the map and working our way down. Due to very high waters, this was as far as we could go up the canyon. Ella and Natalie were perfectly happy to throw rocks in the river to their hearts' content.

This photo is one in a series we call "Ella on a Rock". There are lots and lots of them. (Photos, that is. Come to think of it, there were a lot of rocks, too.)

The sheer cliff behind Greg is topped by a narrow path to a pillar of rock called Angel's Landing, which Greg ran to, of course. It's an 8.7 mile hike round trip, and here's what the hiking guide says about it: "Long drop-offs. Not for anyone fearful of heights or young children. Last section is a route along a steep, narrow ridge to the summit." (It's a good thing Greg isn't fearful of young children, eh?) I was glad he told me where he ran after the fact, because that ridge was scary. I did a little running, too, but I stuck to the tame (but still lovely) paved path at the base of the canyon.

This was Ella's favorite spot--Weeping Rock. A short, very steep hike led to an overhanging cliff that was literally weeping. Ella had a great time getting thoroughly dripped upon. I thought the view was well worth the climb.

This was Natalie's favorite spot--the smoothie stop at the lodge. It was nice to relax in rocking chairs, sipping and people-watching, before we resumed our hike in the heat.

We hiked about 5 miles that day. "How does a three-year-old manage to hike 5 miles?" you ask? On Daddy's shoulders, of course. She walked the first couple yards, but at the pace she was going we would still be making our way out of that canyon right now, had we let her continue.

The main canyon is only accessible by tram, which saves the park a thousand-car traffic jam every day of the high season. We all loved riding the tram.
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Thems the Breaks

While in Utah this summer our little family of four took a vacation-within-a-vacation through the middle of Utah. Our first stop was Cedar Breaks National Monument. It was the first day of summer, and in celebration all national parks and monuments were free that day! (So make sure you mark your calendar for next year.) Cedar Breaks looms east and a good distance above Cedar City, Utah--over 10,000 feet above sea level. Please note that on the first day of summer there was still a fair amount of snow on the ground--and dig my kids playing in it in their sandals and summer clothes. They were in awe of how far their dad could throw a snowball.
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Monday, September 26, 2011

Tri Aquarena Springs--You'll Like It

They call it a "sprint triathlon", to which I say, "Hah!" Sprint, my eye! At a 500 meter swim, 14 mile bike, and 5K (3.2 mile) run, the Aquarena Springs Triathlon was one and a half times the only other tri I had ever done. When Greg first found this tri online I was immediately interested in it because I really wanted to swim in the springs. Aquarena Springs is a small spring-fed lake in San Marcos (between San Antonio and Austin) where you can take glass-bottom boat rides, but cannot swim unless you participate in one of the twice-yearly triathlons. The length of the run was really intimidating, but I wanted to swim in the lake so badly that I decided to go for it, AND I dragged my wonderful friends Kristen and Valerie along with me. (Considering they are both WAY more athletic than I am, I didn't feel too bad.)

We got to the race site at 6:30am--it was dark out and the lake was pitch black. I stared at it, thinking, "And I wanted so badly to swim in the abyss because...?" then the sun came out and... it was still intimidating. Here we are, surveying the course. We later saw a fish, a big, fat gar, which was the last fish I saw that morning. By the time I entered the water any and all fish with any brain in their little fish heads had fled the scene in the face of 250 mad triathletes thrashing through their territory. (Valerie did see a turtle on the swim--it was long gone before I made the plunge.)

Here I am, emerging from the swampy depths. Dig the wetsuit! I was concerned about the 72 degree water temperature, but I needn't have been--I was plenty warm. (The wetsuit does make me look TOUGH, though, doesn't it?) Actually, it wasn't swampy. Full of phytonutrients (aka underwater foliage), yes, but otherwise pretty clear. There was one murky stretch right at the end, and the sun was also full in my face at that point, so I couldn't see in or out of the water, which was exciting. I just followed the splashing and hoped I wouldn't run into anything. I have got to say that I loved the open water swim--unlike a pool swim, there was plenty of room to pass other swimmers without throwing elbows. I passed lots of swimmers and threw nary an elbow (this time).

And she's off! That's my Firebolt I'm riding. I don't know how it performs in a Quidditch match, but it rides GREAT in a race. I spent the summer riding and I definitely felt a difference. (I passed lots more people on the bike--I had never done that before!)

Check out how both of my feet are flying off the pavement! This was the home stretch, and I was running as fast as my short, tired little legs could go. The middle mile was all uphill, mostly after a very steep fashion, which caused me much mental whimpering, but it meant that the last mile was all downhill.

We are the champions! Valerie won a medal, finishing second in her age group. I came in 5th of 16 in my age group and 31st of 86 women in the race, finishing in 1 hour and 40 minutes. I was very pleased. And again, we look so TOUGH!

After my last tri, my mom asked about it and then said, "So, do you LIKE doing these things?" (Ours is not a terribly athletic family.) And I said that of course I do, for a variety of reasons. Competing in these races gives me a goal to push toward--it gives meaning to exercise. I love swimming and biking, and I tolerate running. It makes me feel good to push myself and see progress. Also, it is rewarding to voluntarily do something that is really hard and really scary. The days leading up to the race I always start to think, "Now why am I doing this again?" because it is really scary for me. I get very intimidated by all these stringy athletic types strutting around in Spandex. Jumping into the lake was TERRIFYING, but once I was swimming it was exhilarating. Racing my bike along country back roads, passing fields of cows, I kept thinking, "I LOVE this!" I am never going to come in first, but it doesn't matter. I am racing myself, conquering my fears, doing the hard thing and coming out better and stronger on the other side. So, if you can float, pedal a bike, and move in a forward direction on two feet, and don't mind being terrified, I highly recommend finding a triathlon to do! You won't regret it.