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Friday, August 31, 2012

Adventures at Arches National Park

I know what you're thinking. (Wait, didn't they do that trip in July? Is this old news?) 


I'm completely behind the times on this blog regarding our family's doings. 

Don't worry, I'm catching up!

Obligatory guilty explanation and sneak peak for upcoming posts: I've been so busy with lots of home-improvement projects/home organization/back-to-school shopping/time-demanding callings at church/SELLING OUR OLD HOUSE (The deal closes next week! Hallelujah!), so blogging admittedly slipped down the slippery slope of my priority list. But there's good news! This is almost the end of the summer pics! {This is where I do a little happy dance and cheer.}

Then you get to read all the exciting details of our poultry harvest day (killing a flock of roosters and having a Peruvian feast, plus the comical mishaps of the day), our memorable family traditions for starting the new school year, and lots of tutorials I made regarding how to refinish furniture and create unique and gorgeous organizers for the home. 

Until then, enjoy the pictures I snapped while hiking through the Arches National Park in Utah this summer. 

Nathan insisted on climbing the rock formations with Diego in tow. That man is part mountain goat! 

(Did I ever tell you about the time we were visiting ancient castles in Turkey and he scaled the walls with his bare hands?)

Sarah contemplates the scenery while working on the Junior Ranger program.

Some of the arches conveniently have stairs leading to them. Nice, right? What they didn't tell you was there are 200 of these babies leading up to the rock formation. 

Daniel sits on the edge of a cliff. 
(Yes, my heart was pounding- I'm afraid of heights. I was so scared he'd slip!)

Nathan surveys the landscape from the top of a cliff.

He always climbs someplace scary like this, then says, "Honey, come over here and take a picture!"

Do you realize what that means? It means I get the privilege of also clamoring over whatever path he took, trying to get close enough for a good shot, all the while holding my camera gingerly with one hand and trying to not look down. Fun.

The boys had a wonderful time, scaling rocks and calling out from new vantage points. This was the best sort of playground they could imagine.

The boys found a little cave up high on a tall rock formation. They pulled out their trusty binoculars and are looking for treasure.

Look at this cute arch that we found along one of our hikes!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Celebrating the end of summer

Remember the free summer camp program I wrote earlier this year?

Today was the day to redeem those hard-won points. 

We piled into our beensy car (I call it our sardine can on wheels) for a long drive to New Braunfels.

I thought I had the perfect plan- let's go to Schlitterbahn on Tax-Free weekend, when everyone else will be shopping! 

I imagined short lines and open spaces as we strolled leisurely through a nearly-empty park.

As we pulled into the parking lot thirty minutes before the park opens, I was dismayed to discover the parking lots were already full (we were directed to park a block away) and streams of people were walking towards the entrance. Evidentally evreyeone else in the area had the same idea as me. Sigh*.

We were determined to still have a great time and create positive family memories together, so we claimed a picnic table and began our explorations.

We still had lots of fun (although we did decide we'd never come to Schlitterbahn on a Saturday again!). 

(Editor's rant: It's totally worth it to have your husband take a vacation day from work instead of going on the weekend. Last year when I took my sisters to Schlitterbahn on a Tuesday, we had very short lines and really enjoyed our time. This year we waited in lines for 20 minutes to go on a 30-second ride. Then we climbed out and got in line for the next ride. The most popular water coaster rides had a 4-hour wait in line. Did I seriously pay $45 for the privilege of standing in line? I was kicking myself mentally for not coming during the work week. that's out of my system, let's move on.)

After observing the super-long lines for the rollercoaster water slides, we opted to stick to the other rides in the park. (Why would anyone stand in line 4 hours for a ride?)

We enjoyed lots of water slides, raging rivers, scenic pools, obstacle courses, white water rapids, and tube rides. (Just in case you're wondering- yes, Nathan did wear his hat on every ride. Hawaiian swim trunks, tie-dye shirt, and a fedora- there's style if ever I saw it.)
Matthew and Daniel looked forward all summer to surfing for the first time. This was a highlight of their day.

They were glowing with excitement (or maybe the glow was from all the water hitting them in the face?) when they climbed out of the surfing pool. 
We took Diego on several of the river rides with us. He hated any of the rides with splashing water or rapids, so we stuck to the lazy rivers and kiddie pools for him. Nathan and I tag-teamed who played with Diego while the other parent took the older kids on exciting rides. 

Diego loved the lazy river rides and fell asleep to the gentle rocking of our intertube. Naptime was very peaceful for him- he was curled in our arms and rocked gently for hours. 

Sarah particularly loved the Torrent River- it's a ride with a wave machine creating  6-foot waves that rush down the length of the river. Sarah begged to swim that river without an intertube, so I floated next to her (with Diego in my lap) while she swam the course over and over again. Luckily there is no line for this 'ride' so we enjoyed it for over an hour without waiting. 

We played hard in the hot sun for 10 hours and left with happy and tired children.

It was a good way to celebrate the close of summer.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A most unique home

This cabin is full of stories and memories. It was built by Nathan's great-grandpa on a mountain-side isolated by miles of empty land. Each brick was lovingly made by hand and encrusted with rocks that were scavenged off the surrounding mountains. 

Look at the picture above in the top left corner. See that large white rock that Grandpa's hand is resting upon? Years ago, he found it high in the mountains during a hike and liked it enough to carry it back down the trail all the way to his truck. Imagine how much that stone would weigh! 

Inside the house, each of the bricks are inlaid with pieces of china dinnerware because great-grandpa thought they were beautiful and interesting. Every wall is a colorful mosaic. Our kids love looking at the miniature paintings on each broken plate and searching for the playful teacup handles sticking out from the walls. This house is so unique...I am filled with a childlike sense of wonder each time I visit. 

From their back porch we can look over the entire Salt Lake valley. It's such a breathtaking view!

We love to visit our Grandma and Grandpa LeCheminant and bring our children to this beautiful place. We sit at the feet of this sweet couple and learn from this wonderful wisdom and powerful examples. To me they are the perfect example of living a good life.

Our son Daniel was named after the man in these pictures: Grandpa Lincoln. Daniel's middle name is Lincoln.
I feel so privileged to know these good people! They truly are the 'salt of the earth' and I treasure each visit.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Touring the LDS Conference Center

This year we finally took our kids to the LDS Conference Center for a tour. For those of you not of my particular faith, this building is where the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs, and more importantly, this is where our prophet and apostles gather to broadcast General Conference to our members around the world twice each year. It holds a special place in my heart and I was eager to show our children this unique building.

Highlights include-

The children loved entering the huge conference room and 'oohing' over the 21,000 seats and the cavernous size of the room.

The rooftop gardens were surprisingly beautiful.We could scarcely tell we were in downtown Salt Lake City.

The halls of this building are filled with art galleries. We LOVED seeing the originals to many of the paintings we were already familiar with.

Sarah particularly loved the statue collections in the lobby.

Daniel really loved the water fountain- this unique fountain is made from several panels of rippling glass. The water creates the sound of a babbling brook as it rushes over the glass. The sound of rushing water creates a peaceful white noise to fill the large lobbies.
temple square, LDS conference center, conference center rooftop garden, reflection pool
We created wonderful memories and enjoyed exploring someplace new. (And -can you believe it- we toured this place immediately after our long hike from my earlier posts. We didn't even of home and take a nap!)

I'm thankful for the moments like this that we are blessed with. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Playing with Sun Conures

Family visit aviary, aviary, bird aviary, bird zoo visit, sun conures, feed wild birds,
Tracey Aviary, Salt Lake City, feed sun concures, amazon experience

This was amazing.

There is something inexplicably exhilarating about playing with beautiful birds.

I loved the feel of their tiny feet each time they landed on me to eat an apple snack.

We really loved our visit to the Tracey Aviary.

Our Littles giggled in delight and 'oohed' as the birds landed on them. This experience was absolutely magical. 

I love crossing things off my bucket list.

(Next item on my list is earning a concealed handgun license. Sound fun?)

And I'm too busy to write a long post (and frankly, I'm tired of playing 'catch-up' with our vacation pictures), so this concludes the commentary for today.

Have a beautiful day!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Conquering a mountain... Part 3

After resting at the lake for a short time, we faced the descending dirt path and began our trek home.  The Lord really blessed us and transformed our hike from the I-regret-I-ever-suggested-this-idea-now-I-hate-myself trip into a positive and memorable experience.

 The path downhill was so much easier than our grueling scramble up the mountain where we had been fighting gravity with every uphill step.

It was such a pleasant surprise to discover how easy and enjoyable the walk down was. Instead of being my mocking enemy, gravity was now encouraging (friendly even!) and nudging me along.

We all enjoyed ourselves much more and found ourselves bantering and laughing. The surrounding hills echoed with our joyful noise.

Finally we were going home!

With this elation soothing my sore spirit (and sore muscles) we found much to be happy about. Once again the landscape was breathtaking and beautiful.

Halfway down the mountain we paused and gazed around us at the forest, flowers, and rolling landscape.

My spirit was full of gratitude that the Lord created such a lovely place.

I was so grateful to have a body that was healthy enough to even consider this hike. I was thankful for my legs and the privilege it is to be mobile and not constrained to a wheelchair.

We gathered as a family and had a little mountainside devotional about the priceless nature of God's creations. We prayed together to thank the Lord for blessing us with this beauty.

It was a special moment as we stood in silence to appreciate the forest around us.

We felt recharged and fully enjoyed the rest of our excursion..

Thankfully our lunch was still with the van, waiting for us on the pavement. All ended well as we enjoyed our picnic with gusto. We didn't even mind eating our feast in a parking lot instead of on a mountain lake shore.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Conquering a mountain, Part 2

The children smile as we pass through a mountain meadow
Two miles into our hike, I realized we were beginning to run short on water. The children had been careless with their water bottles, leaving dark splashes of water on the trail beneath them. Nathan and I kept reminding them that water supplies were finite and there were no refill stations on this mountain. 

This was about the same time the mosquitoes and biting flies came out in full force. We looked like walking windmills as we constantly waved our arms in the air in an attempt to keep the insects at bay. It looked pretty comical: one long row of people all waving their arms in sync with each step as we passed through a forest.

Adversity comes in multiples, have you noticed? This point of the trail had not been well-maintained, and runoff had washed away much of the path, leaving behind a precarious path that slipped under our feet.

My enthusiasm for the hike was quickly waning as I scrambled over rocks and slipped on loose gravel.

 The children were beginning to get tired and frustrated. And hungry. I passed out our meager trail snacks, but that was not nearly enough to satiate their hunger.

As the trail continued up the slope, I felt myself losing energy quickly. My previous bouncy steps were replaced with methodical trudging as my body sagged more and more in fatigue. We had been hiking for hours and still hadn't reached the lake.

I murmured to Mr. Kingsley, "Babe, we've had fun and we saw the mountains, let's turn back. We don't have to make it to the lake. We're running low on water and food and we're tired. Let's call it a day!"

He protested. How could we turn back before we reach the lake? It would be a failed hike! We'd always regret not pushing ourselves to the top of the mountain.

My heart sank. I really, really wanted to go home. I was done. Nathan was optimistic (he actually wasn't tired at all!) and encouraged everyone to press on.

I sighed heavily and lifted one foot in front of another without any joy.

I just wanted it to be over. 

The trail seemed like it would never end. My chest was heaving for oxygen in the thin mountain air. I thought to myself with a small smile, "I'm so pathetic! How did I let myself get this weak?"

As I lifted my eyes to look up the trail, I couldn't believe my eyes. Around the bend came a woman from the opposite direction. She was unbelievable.

She was running -RUNNING!- down the path and literally leaping from rock to rock. She was athletic and full of energy and power. She was like a mountain goat, stepping on the uneven rocks with confidence as she skipped along the path.

 I imagined my jaw dropping to the ground in awe as she breezed past me, leaping off the trail to get around me and then hopping back on without even breaking her stride. In a moment, all that remained in our sight was her bouncy ponytail flashing through the trees.

That was really funny.

 I mentally juxtaposed these two images- her trim athletic build, overflowing energy, powerful muscles, (and I admit- her cute clothes) next to my body, which was tired, saggy, worn down, slow, plodding, and streaked with dirt. I laughed. 

 Life is full of irony.

After another half-mile of trudging we finally arrived at our goal: Dog Lake.

My head was spinning (from fatigue or thirst or hunger....take your pick) as I unsteadily lowered my body on the shore of the lake. I needed to rest (honestly, I would have happily face-planted into bed for a three-hour nap at this point). Sarah used my camera bag for a pillow and tried futilely to sleep on the shore.

The boys had a great time and seemed invigorated by the sight of the lake. They uncovered a reserve of energy from within and laughed as they frolicked in the freezing water. They had a great time exploring and splashing.

family hike, hike lake, wasatch hike, dog lake hike, utah family hike

As for me, I felt exhausted and sore and had the sad realization that this was only the half-way point. We still had to hike back the entire distance before there would be food or water or real rest.

My mind raced trying to think of any possible 'easy way out'. I had to accept the tough answer that there was no way off the mountain other than the way we had come. Mr. Kingsley couldn't swoop in and rescue me from this self-imposed trap.

I eyed the cold lake water wishfully, weighing the risk of harmful biological contaminants against my raging thirst. My heart sank as I realized how weak I was and thought again what a fool I had been to plan so poorly for this hike. I felt trapped on this mountain with no hope of assistance. My head fell into my arms and- I'll admit it- I cried silent tears of anger and exhaustion.

Nathan, cheerful as ever, asked me to turn around for a picture. I wiped my eyes and smiled at him (pretending I was having a great time).

It wasn't until after we returning home that I found these other pictures he had taken earlier without me noticing. They tell my real feelings at that moment.

At that moment I resolved to work harder at building strength- strength in body and strength in character.

It was ironic to realize I had imagined myself conquering this mountain by hiking to its summit. I realized now that the only thing to conquer was myself and my weak body. 

How was I going to get off this mountain? One step at a time.

With renewed determination, I faced the trail and we began again. 

Read the conclusion of this story later this week.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Conquering a mountain... and myself

Glimpses of our hike in the beautiful Wasatch mountains.
Today was the day.

The morning was crisp and beautiful. All year I had looked forward to the idea of hiking in the Utah mountains during our summer vacation. I was impatient to begin the adventure.

I hadn't guessed what a difficult challenge this would be for me personally....and I hadn't foreseen what mishaps would come our way to add 'character' to this story.

Allow me to set the scene:

Earlier that morning,  I carefully packed a generous picnic lunch comprised of tall stacks of turkey sandwiches, bowls of sliced peaches, bags of salty potato chips, organic energy bars, and my favorite candy bars for quick energy- Big Hunks.

After a scenic drive winding through the Wasatch forest, we eagerly clambered out of our van at the base of a beautiful mountain where the trail head began.

Nathan pulled on the baby carrier after buckling Diego securely inside and then tucked a bottle of formula into the side pocket. As I loaded trail snacks into a backpack, I reminded everyone to carry their own water bottle.

We waved goodbye to our van (which is named twice: the children named it "Buford", after a character from our favorite cartoon "Phineus and Ferb", and I call it "Old Bess", from the first Queen Elizabeth.) and promised to be back in a couple hours. (Oh how naive I was to think we'd be back so soon!)

The children were laughing and skipping to the trail head in their excitement.

I felt a thrill run through me as I eyed the tall mountain before us.

I envisioned my body feeling powerful as my legs carried me up this mountain. I could hardly contain my giggles and euphoria as we began our 5 mile hike.

The trail was a steep dirt path winding around a mountain up to a lake trapped on the top of the mountain. We planned on enjoying our picnic on the shores of the lake before hiking back down.

We sang and laughed as we continued our steep ascent, enjoying the beautiful forest and scenery. I couldn't stop myself from sounding like a broken record each time we rounded a bend in the path and saw new scenery. "It's so beautiful!" I exclaimed over and over again. I realized how much I miss the aspen forests of cooler climates.

Butterflies flitted back and forth through the air, landing on the path or wildflowers or the children. Matthew and Daniel were ecstatic each time a butterfly graced them by choosing their shoulder as a landing spot. They named each butterfly and begged to take them home as pets. (We convinced the boys to let the butterflies be happy and free.)

Matthew and his friendly butterfly
It was breathtaking and serene. 
It was so peaceful.

My heart was full of joy to be sharing this journey with our children.

After hiking about a mile, I stopped short with an unpleasant realization. I had left our lunches sitting on the pavement next to our van! I shared this information with Nathan and we deliberated over whether we should turn back or not to retrieve our picnic. It was 9:30am and eventually we decided we could make it back the the van before lunchtime, so we pressed onward and upward.

I later regretted that decision so much! I was so naive! Little did I know we were going to be pushed beyond our limits and stranded without food or water and very far from our van with no shortcuts or easy way off the mountain. What had I been thinking?

Read Part Two of the story tomorrow.