Lessons Learned in Costco

I approached the man who checks receipts at the Costco exit with a cart full of food and a brain full of to-dos.

“You wanna hear something funny?”

Without waiting for my response, he starts his story, and my first thought is of the dog hair tumbleweeds that I still have to vacuum up before my house guests come later that day. My second thought is of the several more stops I still need to make before going home to the tumbleweeds.

I don’t have time for this.

Then, I see his weathered face come to life as he tells me about “these young fellows working here” who didn’t even know who Johnny Mathis was when he told them he was going to see him perform.

“Can you believe that?” he says. “These youngsters don’t know what they missed out on, do they?”

He chuckles and smiles and pats me on the back like we are old friends.

His story lasted maybe two minutes. Two minutes of my time and attention was all he needed to share something with me that he thought was important or funny or valuable.  Two minutes of listening to him brightened his smile and added a memorable human interaction to my day.

Lesson learned, Costco man.

I do have time to listen to your story. For two minutes (or even five or ten) I can hear what you want to share. I will not lose my manners and humanity among the bullets of my to-do list.

Second lesson learned: I will wear makeup to Costco from now on because without it I look old enough to be a fellow Johnny Mathis fan.  Though I do know his work, I would have felt better had Guns-n-Roses or Michael Jackson or even Rick Springfield been the point of reference.

For those “youngsters” out there, I present Johnny Mathis singing “Chances Are,” which, I might add, was released in 1957, sixteen years before I was born.

 

On a side note: I am fully aware that this is my fourth blog post born in Costco.

On another side note:  After leaving Costco, I went on to Trader Joe’s and while picking up a can of chopped green chiles from the top shelf, I dropped the can and caught it right before it hit the ground. It was an amazing catch. I looked around to see if anyone saw it and, sadly, no witnesses. I wanted you to know.

A Strong Foundation

I saw her walk from the fitting room holding a fist full of bathing suits. She thrusts the heap towards her mother, scowl upon her face. As she passes, her shoulders slump and tears threaten to fall.

I want to tell her that we all feel this way sometimes. The slump in my own shoulders took its permanent hold when I was about her age, when I towered over the boys in my class as I suspect she does in hers. It was around this same place in my life that my own mother and I would argue in the mall about the shoes I would buy to cover my size 12 feet – her wanting the good, supportive “old lady” shoes and me just wanting to get the hell out of the Naturalizer Store.

I watch her stomp away and I want to call after her, It will all get better…

But that would be untrue. I cannot deny the moments in my not so distant past (yesterday) when I looked in the full length mirror and wished, if only for a moment, for a smaller frame. Or the times I have walked out of the shoe store empty-handed cursing the length of my feet.

“It means you have a strong foundation,” I can still hear my grandmother say.

Unfortunately, a strong foundation is not high on the list of attributes a teenaged girl seeks in herself. Strong foundations allow us to throw a ball really hard. They help us to reach things on the top shelf. Strong foundations carry our weight and help us to bear the weight of others when needed.
But strong foundations do not often fit into cute shoes.

As she passes me by, I make a wish for her. I wish that she will find an appreciation for the things her strong, healthy body allows her to do.

I wish her the knowledge that the strength she carries in her shoulders will someday carry her.

a strong foundation

I wish the same for me.

IT’S AUGUST ALREADY…

…and I have thoroughly neglected July here on the blog. Allow me to catch up.

Charlie took a different position within his current company which means he spent most of the summer traveling for work. Not ideal, but necessary. And you know what they say, when the cat’s away…
…the other cat and the mice will eat popcorn for dinner.

Teenagers in and out of my house all summer =  eyebrows on my dog.  Those of you with teenagers understand this equation.

Reeses with eyebrows

My Mom received a summons for jury duty. She and Dad went downtown to do a “trial” run so she would be sure of where to go when the day arrived. Cheerio and I tagged along.

She's leading the way.

She’s leading the way.

We went to the farmers’ market and hung out by the lake. There may have been some yoga poses and opera singing involved.

Dad is cool

Cheerio singing Opera

The kids and I took a week and road tripped to Ohio and Indiana to visit family and friends.

Road Trippin'

We played volleyball and whiffle ball and frisbee.
Let me rephrase – the kids played volleyball and whiffle ball and frisbee while I sat on the porch and drank a beer.
There was another college visit and a hotel pool and pizza and card-playing. All good things.
We flew some lanterns and and made smores.  The kids kayaked and fished while I sat by another campfire and ate more smores.

Lantern liftoff

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Sidenote: Apparently if you hang a bag of pennies in water next to your door, it keeps the flies away. These are the things you learn when you live amongst farmers’ fields and have access to the internet. I gave my mother-in-law lots of grief for this but I must admit now in this public forum that there were fewer flies, so maybe she and the internet are on to something.

Floating pennines

This happened. I wasn’t there to see it in real life, but thanks to a couple of friends (Thank You Jen and Michelle), I have photos.

VOTY 2014

A good July, a good summer. And now, here we are in August with its first days of school for my 6th grader, Freshman, and Senior (gulp). A return to routine will be welcomed, but not for a couple more weeks.

Until then, pass the popcorn.

For your viewing pleasure, Reeses and her Dum-Dum.

Favorite Finds in Moab

Favorite Finds in Moab, Utah

Since returning from Moab, Utah nearly a month ago, several friends have expressed interest in making a trip of their own. It is for their benefit, and perhaps for yours, that I am now sharing some of my favorite parts of this beautiful place.

Our Travels
We chose to fly in and out of Denver due to the fact that Charlie would be staying on and working in Colorado for a few days at the the end of our trip. Grand Junction, CO or Salt Lake City, UT would have been closer starting points, but also more expensive. The six hour drive from Denver to Moab was easy and beautiful and we were able to spend the final two nights of our vacation in Glenwood Springs, CO on our way back to the airport.

Where We Stayed
The Aarchway Inn is located between the entrance of Arches National Park (2 miles in one direction) and the town of Moab (two miles in the other). Anyone who has more than two kids knows how difficult it can be to find hotel rooms that fit the whole family. We picked this place  because it had large rooms with three queen beds. It also had a nice pool for our afternoon hiking breaks from the hot desert sun and an included hot breakfast (which my teenage son put to very good use).

Oh, and a view.

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Favorite Food
Let me preface this by saying that we don’t do fancy meals on vacation (because we want to be able to afford to fly home).  We also try to avoid chain restaurants (because we want to try things that we couldn’t get anywhere else). My favorite meal of the trip was a Navajo Taco from The Moab Diner. It was served on incredible Navajo fry bread and topped with homemade green chile sauce.
Sorry. No time for a picture with the scarfing and the chewing.

Favorite Drink
Not what you think.

Matrimony Spring is located just outside of town with a continuous flow of clean water from snow that melted in the nearby La Sal Mountains. It took 200 years for the water to travel through the rock into our awaiting mouths. We stopped by twice to fill our bottles with the clean, cold water. Both times we encountered locals filling their jugs to bring back to their homes. We were all fairly convinced it had magic powers.

Favorite Adventures
We spent a day rappelling and rafting with Red River Adventures. The guides were competent and patient and friendly. I found it so interesting to hear how they live their lives. It is a subculture all its own – one that my teenagers found to be very cool.

Rappelling in moab

Favorite Shopping
Aside from the National Park Visitor Center Gift Shops, we don’t really shop while on vacation. This time we made one exception. Our rafting guide told us that the local Rock Shop was worth a visit. We had driven by it several times before hearing this and had dismissed it as a tourist trap. We had some extra time on our final evening in Moab and decided to give it a chance. I really wish I would have taken pictures of this place. On the surface, it looked like a mess – unorganized tables containing piles of rocks, some glass display cases, tons of hand scribbled signs warning you DO NOT TOUCH, and old newspaper clippings hanging on the wall.

Looking closer at the labels on some of the bones in the display cases and actually reading some of the newspaper clippings made this place a lot more interesting. The owner of this little shop discovered the first raptor bones ever found in Utah, a whole stinking dinosaur, and the Moab Man.

I am always awed by someone with such single minded relentlessness and devotion to a “calling,” even if that “calling” is rocks. This guy is a legend. He’s also kind of grumpy, but I’m pretty sure he was 816 years old, so I am willing to cut him a break on that one. He talked to us briefly before heading to the back room. I would have loved to sit down with him and hear his stories. I did ask him how he knows what he is looking for and he mumbled something to the effect that he is looking for everything. The evidence of that truth was sprawled out in every direction of that shop.

Favorite Views
There were magnificent views everywhere we went on this trip – down Rte. 128 coming into Moab along the Colorado River; in Canyonlands National Park; and from Dead Horse Point State Park (where Thelma and Louise took their final leap). But if I were to pick spots to sit with a cold Stella and a good book, those places would all be inside Arches National Park.

The Windows Section

Turret Arch, Arches National Park

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Delicate Arch at Sunset

Me under Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch at Sunset

Park Avenue

Park Avenue, Arches National Park

Favorite Hikes
This is my favorite part. I will never be Cheryl Strayed hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, but spending a few hours on a hiking trail every day of our trip is blissful, especially when I get to have a good meal and shower and sleep in a bed at night.

Devil’s Garden Primitive Trail

This is a loop trail if you choose to go all the way around (7 miles). Most people hike to Landscape Arch a mile in and then turn back, thus making the beginning and end of this hike fairly crowded. We chose to go as far as Double O Arch and then turn back making our roundtrip just over five miles. The Arches we saw along the way were worthwhile but the best part of this hike was the hike itself. After passing Landscape Arch and leaving the tour bus crowd behind, the trail climbs up several rock paths until you find yourself at the top of the “fins.”

Primitive Trail, Arches National Park

I wish the pictures did it justice, but it feels like you are walking atop the Earth’s spine.

Devil's Garden Arches National Park

Corona Arch Trail

This trail is actually outside Arches National Park, thus decreasing its traffic. We went on a weekday and in the evening and had the trail mostly to ourselves, just missing a couple of scout troops. It’s a fairly easy hike (3 miles RT) with a few spots to climb.

We spent a lot of time here.

At Corona Arch

 

At Corona Arch

Corona Arch, Moab, UT

I hope that all who wish to will get a chance to visit Utah someday. Call me if you want some help planning your trip.

Okay. I’ll stop talking about vacation now.

Wait. One more thing. On our last night in Moab, we took a walk across the Colorado River on the pedestrian bridge. I asked the children to pose for yet another photo and this is the IMMEDIATE response to my request.

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The two older dropped simultaneously to the ground and Cheerio plopped her foot right on her brother’s back.  The glory of that place will someday fade from my mind. But I really hope to remember this.

Okay. Now I’m done.

 

Lessons From Moab

I’ve been reluctant to write about our most recent family vacation. I’ve shared some photos through other posts and social media, but I just can’t seem to find the words. Either that, or I’m keeping them to myself, cherishing the memory of that week a little longer.

I could easily take you through where we stayed and what we saw, and I will in a future post, but those aren’t the words I’m grasping for.

No. I’m looking for words to describe seven days of this.

Family Selfie in Canyonlands

There have been many vacations together over the last decade. We’ve been fortunate enough to fit one into the budget nearly every year, albeit to varying degrees. There were city visits and Disney World and beach vacations with extended family. All of those trips hold deep value and beloved memories.

But the time spent on the Mist Trail of Yosemite, or at the edge of the Grand Canyon, or hiking through the rain forests of Costa Rica, or walking among the giants of Sequoia have bonded my family of five in a way that I find difficult to describe. Each one of these adventures has fed my spirit and fueled my family in invaluable ways.

I think our most recent trip to Moab, Utah ranks near the top in my mind. Here are some reasons why:

1. Their Ages

At 11, 15, and 17, my children can do hard things.
They can hike further,

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climb higher,

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and ride faster.

This was actually in Colorado on our way back to the airport.

This was actually in Colorado on our way back to the airport.

Unfortunately for the food budget, they can eat a lot more, too.

The greatest gift, though, of vacationing with teenagers plus one is their mere presence and attention. No school. No practice. No friends. No work. I mean, really, how often does this happen?

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I will admit that by the seventh day, we all needed a break from the togetherness. My girls were ready to sleep in separate beds and the very full back seat of the rental car was beginning to cramp my son’s six foot frame. But a whole week spent together, just the five of us without distractions, is rare and appreciated.

2. The Fear Factor

I made a discovery on this trip – an Aha! moment of sorts. Accomplishing something physical and difficult and scary together is like super glue for families.
Two examples: Rappelling and climbing Aztec Butte.

Rappelling

The idea of backing over a cliff attached to a rock by a string and a fish hook made us all a tad uncomfortable. As you can imagine, 11 year old Cheerio felt it the most. As the guide suited her up for the first rappel (90ft) and she started her slow, labored descent, her sister stayed by her side, anchored to the neighboring rope, and offered her words of encouragement the whole way down. Her father and brother cheered her on from below and I waited my turn at the top holding my breath because MY BABIES!!

Rappelling in Moab

The second rappel (120 ft) found us all a little more comfortable, including Cheerio.

Rappelling Morning glory in Moab Utah

Until she got her hair stuck in the metal device holding her to the rope. (Side Note: If you intend to rappel, wear your hair back)

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As she hung in the air (and kept her cool, I might add) and waited for the guide to feed her some rope so she could remove her hair, I stood on the canyon floor feeding her words of encouragement. Meanwhile, back at the top, her brother said “Hook me up” in that deep manlike voice he insists on using and nearly hurled himself down the neighboring rope so that he could comfort her while she waited.

I left that experience feeling an exhilarating surge of gratitude for the strength of the rappelling equipment and the strength of the sibling bonds.

Aztec Butte

While visiting Canyonlands National Park, we hiked to the top of Aztec Butte. It wasn’t a particularly long or hard climb, but I NEARLY DIED. Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. But I did “freak the crap out” (hat tip to Kari).

Climbing Aztec Butte

As we approached the top of the butte for our final ascent, I stood last in our line of five. We were the only people on the trail that day because everyone else in the world is smart enough not to climb buttes on windy days. The oldest two made it to the top with little difficulty. When Cheerio expressed some hesitation mid climb, I encouraged her to continue, thinking that it didn’t look so bad. Charlie was next, then me. It was at this point in the vacation that I lost my shit.

This point. Right here.

Aztec Butte

I won’t go into specifics but there may have been a few swear words interspersed with the DON’T LET ME DIE’s.
We took plenty of time to enjoy the top, mostly to avoid the going down which is always harder than the going up.

Did I mention it was windy?

Ontop of windy Aztec Butte, Canyonlands

Upon reaching the bottom, we put our hands in for a little family cheer.

Oh yes, we did.

These are the experiences we will relive for years to come. This is the stuff “remember whens” are made of.  This is where the stories are born.

3. The Nature

We have seen many beautiful places together, each of them with their own merits, each of them awe worthy. But there is something about the red and orange massive rocks under an overwhelming sky that has me hooked on Utah.

Double Arch, Arches National Park

Sitting beside people you cherish and looking in the same direction towards something none of you have ever seen before, something that makes you all gasp – well, I doubt there is any better feeling in the world.

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4. The Fleetingness

I think the main reason this trip struck me so deeply is the thought that I carried with me the whole time – How many more of these will there be? How many more times will the five of us get to spend a week’s adventure together?

Next summer we will be packing the car up with all the dorm room essentials and there will likely not be room in the calendar or budget for a week’s long adventure. Our family time will change and evolve with all of the ebbing and flowing and growing and the things that were will be replaced by the things that are and they will be good things.

But still, I found myself taking an inordinate number of pictures of her this vacation.

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Arches National Park, Park Avenue

Because, you see, we think…

She Hung the moon

I learned some valuable lessons during our time in Utah. As always, the lesson standing paramount among the others is gratitude.

Gratitude for the new experiences.

White Water Rafting on the Colorado River

For the abundant beauty.

Windows Area, Arches National Park

For the bonds strengthened.

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And for the time. Every last second of it.

Family at Delicate Arch

 

 

July 1st

Part I

Today we celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. We are physically apart from each other, as he is in California for work. That is okay. We learned long ago that “together” means a whole lot more than “in close physical proximity to one another.”

It means knowing that another person is always on your side even when he’s not standing by your side.

Our First Trip Together - 1994

Our First Trip Together – 1994

We were two broke college students on a three day trip to Niagara Falls sleeping in the bed of his pickup truck and roasting hot dogs on a fire for more meals than should seem acceptable. We were adventurers armed with a hundred bucks, a bag of generic groceries, and a blowup mattress.

Our next vacation (after the honeymoon) upgraded us from the bed of a pickup truck to the floor of my cousin’s apartment in Washington D.C. We brought slightly more than $100, bought Jeno’s frozen pizzas at the local grocery store, and still slept on a blowup mattress. This time we were accompanied by a Rosebud in bloom, otherwise known as the bun in the oven. The adventure had only just begun.

Ignore the expression on my face. It was hot and I was pregnant. Also, ignore the overalls. Thank you.

Ignore the expression on my face. It was hot and I was pregnant. Also, ignore the overalls. Thank you.

 

Jump ahead to last month – our most recent adventure. Here we find ourselves back around a fire pit, this time in the courtyard of a hotel as our three children roam the grounds together.

IMG_3983Our Rosebud, now nearly an adult, will be off on her own adventures soon, her brother and sister quickly to follow. I can now see a time rushing towards us when we will again be adventuring as two. I visualize this through eyes clouded by tears shed for a time that has passed so quickly, but also with anticipation for the adventures that await me with the comfort of him by my side.

Together again. Together still.

But with fewer hot dogs and blowup mattresses, please.

 

Part II

Today he turns fifteen.

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Today we celebrate him and the 5,478 days made brighter because he is here.

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Happy birthday, son. Your mother loves you. To infinity and beyond.

 

Happy Gram Day!

Delicate Arch at Sunset

“I found a happy stone for Gram,” said Cheerio as she walked away from Delicate Arch. “It was lying on the ground under the Arch.” I breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that my daughter had not just made the iconic symbol of Utah any more “delicate” than it already was.

My mother keeps a jar of “happy stones” collected from places that she, or we, have visited – places that brought us joy. My kids don’t go anywhere remotely special without bringing happy stones back for Gram.

My mother raised me in the same small town where she was raised. She has never been wealthy or famous or traveled around the world. Perhaps some would believe her life to be small. Small like each of those tiny stones.

But when you add all of those stones together, that jar, that life, looks full to me. It carries weight.

Each time my children stop and stoop down to pick up a stone for their Gram, they smile – not because of the stone, and not because of the place, but because, in that instant, they think of their Grandmother’s smile and how her face lights up when they walk into a room. I think of it, too.

My mother is not perfect. She did not do everything right. THANK GOD.

What she does do, is make moments special merely by enjoying them – no stone too small or too plain.

Mom, today on your birthday, I wish you a jar full of happy, for that is what you have given to me, to all of us.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

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