Saturday, August 24, 2013

Colorado: The Country

I love the mountains. Or I should say, I love the idea of the mountains. I love what mountains represent, the triumph of nature over man, the sheer power of the earth itself, the  rock layers and colors proving her ancient being. Inspiring.

So I was really excited to go to Colorado with our girls, who have never seen mountains before, and share in the wonder.

We were not disappointed.

The mountains were ever-present, as a landscape off to our west, no matter where we drove. And then the day after the wedding we drove to Estes Park, and were amazed by the drive itself.

On the drive to Estes Park
How is this now awe-inspiring? Look at how tiny we humans are in comparison. And we think we're in charge. Ha!

We stopped in Estes Park and had lunch. We happened to stop at the ONLY Packer bar this side of the Colorado River.
Are you kidding me?
The best part was that the family in the booth next to us was all wearing Vikings jerseys. I don't think anyone in the place outside of ourselves saw the irony in that.

We then drove further up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Wayne and I are both nervous mountain drivers, as we've experienced in previous travels to Napa Valley and Colorado Springs. We both feel like we're going to fall off the edge of the road and down the side of the mountain. I found myself leaning to the left away from the edge, even though there was no point to that. Later on we encountered more recently repaved roads which had been widened to create a very small shoulder. It's amazing the difference 1.5 feet makes in feeling more secure on the road.

We drove as far as Sprague Lake and walked around the lake, about a 1.5 mile walk, the perfect length for the kids. The sky had become overcast and it started spitting rain a little bit, but we didn't care.

We kept watching the big peaks across the lake from us, observing how they changed as we went along. We discovered that the snow we were seeing on the one large peak was actually Tyndall glacier, and at one of the stops there were photos of the glacier from the 1910s. It was sad to see how small the glacier was today in comparison. (Granted it is summer, but I bet it was the smallest summertime glacier ever.)

Looking at Tyndall Glacier from Sprague Lake. Can you see it?
Look now, it won't last forever, sadly.
Later during our travels, we had an opportunity to go horseback riding in the foothills of the Rockies. I love the way the locals call them "foothills" but we would call them "mountains." Perspective is everything.

We had made reservations for all 4 of us to go horseback riding for an hour. God bless Marissa, she said she wanted to go, but when she wouldn't get near or pet the horses I could tell that it might not work out. We got her on a horse but 2 minutes later she was crying and asking to get off. Instead of traumatizing our child by making her go, we let her get off and Wayne and Lindsey went out while Marissa and I hung back. Since we had paid for 4 trail rides I was able to arrange to have Lindsey and I go again the next day. So Lindsey -- lucky horse-loving girl that she is -- got to go twice, while both Wayne and I accompanied her once, and Marissa happily got to go shopping with Daddy on the second day of riding.

On the second day when Lindsey and I arrived a ranch hand came up to her, gave her a hug and said, "I recognize this little girl! She's the one with the big smile." She clearly made an impression on her first day by her love of horses.

Our guide, Slim,  was well-suited to the job of trail guide. He was so comfortable with the horses, easy to talk...and hilarious. At one point we came over a ridge and he called back, "Now there are two ways you can go here, the left or the right. I recommend you stay to the right." Once we came over the ridge we could see that the way "left" was actually straight down the ravine while the right was the only way you could go without hurting yourself. What a joker.

Photo by Slim, expert trail guide and bullshitter.
He told a story of coming across and killing a rattlesnake while leading a trail ride, only to have the truth be that he came across a dead rattlesnake in the road. He had Lindsey, the only child in our group, stay right behind him for both of the riding days, and they got along splendidly.

The horses were masterful at picking their way among a more advanced trail than the trail taken the day before (according to Slim). The trails looked no wider than ones humans would walk, yet these large animals took them with finesse. I simply sat back and let the horse pick the way as we descended the mountainside. We came back up through another trail and rose higher than the trail taken by Lindsey the day before (the guide pointed down to the trail they had previously taken).

The sky was immense. An intense blue in every direction, dotted with puffy cotton ball clouds. A realization of being of no consequence to the universe came upon me; our lives are little in the history of the earth. Not to say that what we do doesn't matter, but why not enjoy as much of it as we can?

I asked Slim, "Do you ever get accustomed to how beautiful this country is?" His answer: "Never."

I rode Trail Baron, Lindsey rode Valley Girl.
We had to take a picture with "Slim," whose real name is David. Super nice guy.
On our last day we visited Horsetooth Reservoir just outside of Fort Collins, which nephew Ryan had recommended to us. We didn't get to see as much of it due to Wayne's and my intense anxiety over the steepness of the hills, but we did get to see the "foothills" one more time.

Go if you haven't been. And go again if you have. I know for sure we will be back.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Colorado Wedding

Just in case you are wondering: This vacation beat Disney. Hands down. So much so that I will need to break this up into multiple posts just to cover it all.

Colorado. Mountains. A wedding. Family. All of it, wonderful.

The purpose of this trip was a family wedding. Wayne's nephew, Ryan, who was an usher in our wedding 18 years ago when he was in grade school, mind you, was getting married in Fort Collins, CO. Would we be there? Absolutely.

We met his soon-to-be-wife for the first time at the rehearsal dinner the night before. She is wonderful and lovely. We met their daughter, Kya, a sweet little nearly 2-year-old who charmed everyone she met. We also met James, the son of niece Rita and husband Jason who live in New Mexico, and he also is nearly 2. All this family spread out over this immense country of ours, we hadn't realized how many years were passing between our gatherings until we saw little ones we had never met before. Family gathered from 13 states for this event, including sister-in-law Laurie from New York City. The times we get together are so rare and we were so happy to be able to visit with everyone.

We picked Laurie up from the airport and went straight to lunch.
This is what you have with lunch when you're on vacation.

And this is what you do after lunch -- re-apply your lip gloss!

The venue for the wedding was breath-taking, every detail thoughtful and meaningful.

The programs doubled as fans, which came in handy in the heat of the setting sun.
The view of the ceremony from our seats.
The ceremony took place under an angled pergola with strings of glass menagerie hanging down. The trees were strung with lights that lit small cocktail tables as evening drew near.
Glass menagerie of the pergola lit by the setting sun.
The reception area, lit by trees strung with lights, beyond the ceremony's seating.

The evening's lighting.
They were so thoughtful to offer pizza for the kids and babysitters to keep them out of trouble. Because seriously, what 6-year-old do you know craves eggplant roulade? Exactly. Except Lindsey is at that "I'm grown up now even though I'm only 10" stage, so she asked to partake in the evening meal with us, while Marissa was happy to gobble down pizza with the younger children and spend the evening running through the gardens, catching toads. 

Marissa shows us one of the 6 toads the kids caught that night.
No worries, we let them all go before they drowned in their cup houses.
Lindsey was polite as could be, sat through all the dinner courses with infinite patience and manners, and was a perfectly behaved little lady. She's growing up before my eyes.

Lindsey was thrilled to find her name on a place card.
The meal was delicious and the festivities after were of legends. Well, that part I'm not quite sure of, but I do know that dancing took place, and that is legendary to us.

Little ones danced.

Big ones danced. (And this is the best photo proof you'll get.)

And family had a wonderful time together.

(From L to R) Rita (Ryan's sister), Jason, Chelsey, Ryan

Proud parents of the groom Mark and Donna, big sister Rita with husband Jason

We spent the next day visiting with family at the hotel, which included the ever-popular pool. Oh yes, the pool, usually the best part of our kids' vacation. 

"What'd you like best about Disney?" 

The pool. 

"What'd you like about Boston?" 

The pool.

Why don't we just save all this money we're spending flying around this country of ours and build a f*cking pool. But this time?

"What'd you like best about Colorado?"

The wedding.

And THEN...the pool.

But this time, the best part about the pool was the time spent with cousins there. That was music to my ears.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Going Meatless

I've jokingly referred to our youngest daughter as a "self-selecting vegetarian." Whenever she's given an option of a meat with vegetables, starches or other foods, she usually eats everything except the meat. My kids have never been hot dog eaters, and Marissa -- for the most part -- doesn't choose meat. Ever.

Lindsey, on the other hand, ate an 8 oz. steak by herself when she was 3 years old. She devoured grilled chicken with gusto and ate spaghetti and meat sauce at least once a week, if not every night if I let her.

I like to say that my kids get a balanced diet between the two of them. Marissa eats all the fruits and vegetables, Lindsey eats all the meat and potatoes.

Lindsey has two friends who are vegetarians; one her entire life, the other more recently because she didn't like the idea of animals being killed so she could eat. Lindsey began getting pickier about the meats she would eat.  And then she had an experience eating at someone else's home where they served fried chicken on the bone, and suddenly that connection between living animals and animals that we eat was made clear.

Suddenly our meat eater did not want to eat animals anymore.

She decided to try to be a vegetarian for a week. So we tried a few plant-based alternatives to get the protein in -- black bean burgers, meatless "chicken" nuggets, and other options.

After a week of testing out a vegetarian diet, she decided she loves it and wants to be a vegetarian for good.

And since our other daughter already is a vegetarian by the choices she makes, that leaves just Wayne and I as the two meat eaters in the house.

I really have no plans to make two meals for dinner every night, one for us and one for our offspring, so we decided that when we're dining at home, we'll be a vegetarian family.

I have a high school friend who never really cared for meat but her parents made her eat it. After all, we grew up in Wisconsin, in the heart of dairy and meat country. What else did you eat if not meat with every meal? The texture made her want to vomit and she had frequent battles over dinner during her childhood. The day she arrived at college she became a vegetarian and never looked back.

Decades later, options for people who have specific diet requirements are readily available, especially in our metropolitan area. Gluten free, dairy free, meat free, just look in the local grocery store (or better yet the local co-op) and there are tons of options. It's a lot easier to be a vegetarian today than it was years ago.

If our kids don't want to eat meat, we'll support it. After all, Americans as a whole eat way too much meat and protein. Did you know that you shouldn't eat a piece of meat larger than your palm at any given meal? Your palm, not your hand. Take a look at your palm and ask yourself how often you are served a piece of meat the size of your hand, or more.

It's been 3 weeks and it's going well so far. We've gotten both Lindsey and Marissa to eat foods they would have never tried before. And Wayne and I are eating healthier than ever.

This doesn't mean we'll be choosing vegetarian when we're not home. Wayne and I are already planning which steakhouse we're going to visit for our next date night.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

More Than Daughters

This summer there have been small events happening that strike me as strange, and until recently I couldn't figure out why.

First, I came across the "selfie" that Lindsey took of herself to send to a friend, showing off her new gummy bear earrings.

A friend of mine texted me a photo of Marissa and a friend on an outing together.

I found a note Marissa's friend made for her at their summer program.

Note the proper use of "you're." That's a smart friend!

At first I couldn't figure it out -- why did all these little things make me a little nostalgic, a little proud? Finally, I put it all together.  

I have known for years that they have friends. But these little signs made me realize that to others, they are friends.

I finally realized that my kids might be my daughters to me, little ones I am trying to parent, to be a good example for, to teach responsibility, kindness and all that stuff. 

To others, they will be a character in a story of other kids' lives. The funny one, the serious one, the musical one or the smart one. The "oldest" friend, the best friend.

I wasn't present for any of these interactions. I could not remind my kids of manners, guide them in sharing or behavior that makes a good friend. And yet there they are, signs that they are indeed good friends to others.

They will make memories together on class trips, before- or after-school activities, sports, music, senior skip day (if they still have those), and I will not be there.

They are becoming their own people, people who actually have lives and activities outside of the ones that happen within our family. There is a world out there, and they are playing a part in it.

Based on how they're growing up, I think they're going to be pretty good parts.