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.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Three Times the Cuteness

While in Utah over the summer, my former mission companion Camille and I visited a third companion, Michelle--the three of us served together in a threesome for two weeks when we were missionaries in Seattle. Our first day tracting together was marked by a man opening his door and barking madly at us and by one of us stepping off the curb and onto a used condom. Missionary work is not for the faint of heart, folks!

Anyhoo, back to the subject at hand, which is the fact that Michelle now has three babies, making six children total. Yes, she has triplets! And three older kids!!! From the time I found out she was pregnant with triplets to the time they were born I could not shut up about my friend who was having three babies. All my friends here in Texas heard all the updates regarding the triplets, spoken in reverent tones of awe. On our visit we spent the afternoon holding babies, because that's what you do at the triplet house--you hold babies, feed babies, change babies, and do it all over again. As Camille so wisely put it, if you are ever feeling that your life is hard, go spend a day at the baby house. You will quickly learn that your life, with all your sleep and free time and the ability to leave the house at will and eat meals when they are hot--heck, the ability to eat meals at all as opposed to living on handfuls of Cheerios and the crusts from your kids' pb&j sandwiches--your life is CAKE.

Here I am with all three babies. They are the cutest little bugs you have ever seen, tiny but healthy. Do you see the panic in my eyes? Once I had all three babies on my lap I could not move--I was trapped in the La-Z-Boy! I was really glad no one cried (myself included).
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Ella Bean, Swimming Machine

That is my nickname for Ella--Bean. Ella Bonzer Bean, if you want the full name. She's actually had many nicknames over the years--I'm full of them. "Bean" has stood the test of time, however, while many other lesser nicknames have fallen. Natalie is currently "Nattle", "Beetle", and "Beets". Actually, a lot of the time she is "Trouble", but that is a post for another day.

Ella (The Bean) had an amazing swim team season this year. She consistently came in 1st and 2nd in freestyle and backstroke at her swim meets, and it was so much fun to watch her. In one relay event she swam freestyle in the last leg of the race. When she left the wall she was in 2nd place, but as she swam her 25 meters, she caught up with and then overtook her opponent to win the race for her team. (I was the jumping, shrieking maniac on the side of the pool, in case you were wondering.) Oh, and it should be mentioned that while she was not always in the lead in her races, she never once was disqualified from a race, which is quite a feat for an 8-year-old.

Here she is with some of her scads of ribbons:
And here she is in action--go, Bean, go!!!
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8 Years, 4 Eyes


Ella turned 8 in May and within a few days of her birthday got glasses and also got her ears pierced. All of a sudden she looked so grown up! The traditional Willden birthday hat adds to her aura of maturity, don't you think?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Know What You Meant, But...

In my ongoing attempt to exploit ridiculous internet typos, I submit to you the following head-scratcher from a post on Tripadvisor regarding Storyteller's Cafe at Disneyland:

"Disney seldom misses the mark, and this was no exception. Extraordinary food, remarkable service, an atmosphere unlike anything else! What a worthwhile experience. We ate and choose the buffet over off the menu. The value is sexing to none when you consider hand carved NY loin, salads, soup, sides, veges, meats and a world class desert bar...and all you care to eat?!"

Did you spot it? Could you have missed it if you tried?!?! Greg says when it comes to "sexing" it's all about the loin.