Thursday, September 20, 2012

Camping Take 2, Sheep Spotting and Apple Picking

Last weekend we headed out for another abbreviated camping adventure.  Unfortunately, this time I had a class early Sunday morning so we left Friday night and came back late Saturday.  Knowing we could pull the trailer without huge problems (*knock on wood*) we headed to Yellowstone.  We left after we had both finished work for the day and headed down to the Gardiner/Mammoth entrance.  We passed the fire that consumed and is still burning in the area where we were hiking/camping earlier in the summer.  

I naively thought we were far enough out of peak season we'd have a shot at a campsite in the park and the park guide even only recommends reservations June-mid-August.  Ha!  We were turned around at the gate and at that point it was about 8pm.  Had I been thinking we would have just stopped in the National Forest just north of the park.  However, at this point in the game we were just ready to try and get the kids settled down so we ended up at an overpriced RV Park in Gardiner.  The kids didn't seem to mind and were excited about the camper all over again:
Matthew wiggled out of his sleeping bag once and Catherine was up a few times but all in all we had a good night and I know I slept better than our past few tent trips.  The next morning we made breakfast in the trailer's kitchen and then packed up.  I still have some fine tuning to do with organization of cooking gear but we're making progress.  The kids were eager as always to help pack up.  You can tell they were both working really hard:
We headed back to the park and saw these guys just hanging out in Mammoth.  
 We then headed east to do the top loop of the park as we (I) haven't done it for a while.  Our first stop was the (in the words of Matthew) "tree that turned into a rock".
 It must have been a great weekend for various car enthusiasts to tour around.  We saw this odd collection of "military police" vehicles:
 As well as passing a large group of VW vans (swoon!) and quite a few classic cars.  However, the animals as always stole the show.  Here's the herd of sheep we saw just outside Tower Falls:
 You can see in the background it was quite hazy the day we visited:
 They had created quite a traffic jam, both by being adorable and close to the road and then by darting through traffic:
 Next we stopped at Tower Falls.  I left the telephoto lens on the camera all day so my people shots at the overlooks all turned out very, very close!
 And the falls themselves:
 The trail to the base of the falls has been eroded but we went for quite a hike down to the banks of the Yellowstone:
 As always, Matthew did it "all by myself":
 We followed a group of Mule deer down to the river:
 Where were stopped to take a break:
 And of course, collect rocks and throw them in the water.
As we were headed back I discovered Matthew had left me this to remember him by:
Next up we had a picnic lunch and headed to another set of falls and Artist Point. 
 A very nice old couple offered to take our photo - unfortunately he didn't get Catherine:
 but she did offer to hold Matthew's hand down the stairs and he let her.  It was very cute.  I was able to grab this photo of Catherine and Daddy later:
Both kids completely zonked out as we headed out so though we passed some more places we wanted to stop - keeping the kids asleep was top priority as always.  We had left the trailer parked in Gardiner to save gas and make it easier to navigate the park.  The kids woke up as we stopped to re-attach the trailer so we wandered over for a sweet treat to cap off a great trip.  Catherine approved:

And though we had seen lots of buffalo, elk and sheep I was a little bummed we didn't see a bear. Sure enough one ran right in front of the car in front of us.  James pulled over and I was able to watch the bear look at me (would have been an amazing shot) and then head back into the bushes right as I got the lense cap off.  You can use your imagination that there's a bear to the right of that post :-)
Sunday I had signed up for a photography class with a group of friends.  It was very, very helpful and informative and I've challenged myself to shoot more pictures in manual mode.  All the pictures below I shot on manual which was a huge step for me as I've been hesitant to play with it at all before this and totally intimidated every time I had tried to teach myself.  A friend and I were so jazzed after class we arranged to head to the park that night. . . probably a little too late as we were both fumbling around with our gear in the dark!   
 However, here you can see how crazy smokey it is here.  Somedays its hard to make out the Bridgers.  Our smoke is coming mostly from fires in ID & WA or so they say.  Sorry to whoever is getting the smoke from MT's fires because we have too many too close.

In other excitement we've been busy harvesting apples off our tree:
 Matthew enjoys helping, but mostly enjoys throwing the icky apples on the ground:

 I had asked him to stand near the fence but didn't ask him to be all model-esque about it.  What a goofball!
 He's taken to running circles around the yard.  It doesn't make sense to me really, but it tires him out and keeps him busy which is its own blessing:
And he's figured out how to operate his excavator fully which is pretty exciting.  It takes a lot of concentration but now he's been busy filling all kinds of inappropriate things (his sisters shoes for example) with sand:
 Catherine, bless her, has just been cranky all week.  I'm hoping that leftover from vaccines last week but she doesn't want to be put down and is even less cooperative than normal around the camera:

She does have some moments where she idolizes her brother and is willing to play peacefully for a few second:
 Or when she's playing peek-a-boo over the counter:
 It's been so smoky and drab here I was pretty exciting when we got some of our impressive clouds back the other afternoon, if only for a moment:

Monday, September 17, 2012

State of the Union

In between travel and play a lot of other excitement has happened that I've been terrible about blogging all the little details in life like I used to (you know, in lieu of a baby book) so here's one big catch up post on all the other nitty gritty details of life in the household as we head into fall season.  This one's a long one so grab a cup of coffee (or vodka, I won't judge) before you start :-) Oh yeah, and if you want to make it a drinking game - one shot for every run-on sentence I'm guessing will leave you pleasantly buzzed.

Catherine:  

Catherine is approaching toddlerhood at full force.  She's pretty proud of herself for standing and loves to stand around and just grin like "hey, look at me, I got this!"  She's becoming quite the signer and is currently rocking the signs for: please, more, all done, hungry/thirsty and milk/nurse.  As far as "words" we've gotten some Mamas and Dadas that I'll go ahead and count as well as dog and "woooooo" when we read the train books.  Speaking of books, she's developed a new interest in them, which is good because I was not as diligent about reading to her early on as we were with Matthew.  In the interest of full-disclosure it was more like I was militant about James reading to Matthew because he was a much tougher baby and I needed that break where Catherine's been pretty easy going and I'm in charge of bedtime and not as militant with myself.  Shame on me.  

With regards to Catherine's easy-goingness, we've hit one snafu with some pretty serious separation anxiety that's cropped up over the past month or two.  For about 9 months we'd set her on the floor of daycare and she'd happily play or crawl away.  Now there's a bit of leg clinging - but if we hand her directly to one of her caregivers she's mostly good to go.  Most of this is I'm guessing just a developmental stage with a side of teething thrown in.    Speaking of teeth, Catherine now has 8 teeth up front and 2-3 molars in the back.  It's thrown her sleep off (which I shouldn't complain about as she was such a good sleeper for so long) but for the most part she's still sleeping through the night.  She's playing around with dropping her morning nap which is a blessing and a curse as it makes it easier to get out of the house in the morning but she definitely turns back into a pumpkin around noon.  

Regardless, Catherine is definitely our little ham and a big flirt!  She's generous with her smiles and laughter with a devilish little grin when she knows she's about to push the limits.  She is also fearless viewing the world as a challenge and approaches life's obstacles with the confidence of a 3 year old who's been there and done that.  She loves climbing, even if its just into and out of her booster seat on the ground or into and out of the camp chairs.   She's a pretty good eater and will try everything, but she rarely devours everything the way her brother did.  She also really enjoys sneaking food to the dogs.

Matthew: 

Oh Matthew, what can I say?  Three is such a wonderful and tough age.  He's phasing out of his people-pleasing phase, developing real opinions and expressing them often and loudly.  When we're in the car he's taken to announcing "I don't like this end" or "I don't like this part" of drives.  I'm not certain what prompts this dislike but its certainly not unique to portions of town we drive through.  However, for as much as he expresses his distaste for things he also is developing likes and loves.  For a while he just loved James and I and his sister but recently he loves the park and our campsite and a variety of other things.  However, there is still nothing sweeter than when he cuddles up and announces "I love my mommy" or his half-asleep "love you" before bed.  And speaking of loving his sister, watching that relationship develop is like watching a love story that can turn into a train wreck at any moment.  For every time he is super protective and "mothering" to his sister there is another time (general only 5 seconds before or after) where he is specifically antagonizing her.  August was a terrible month for this so fingers crossed September brings some relief.  I know it's frightening when I hear my mother's tone/exact words come out of my mouth.  However, with my kids but its a thousand times worse when we're driving along and I hear *my* words/tone come out of Matthew's mouth.  When we're headed home somewhere and Catherine's fussing, he's in the back saying "It's okay Caff-rine, we're almost home, don't cry Catherine, don't cry."  This is the sweet portion.  Then when Catherine doesn't listen to him it escalates to "NO CRY CAFF-RINE NO CRY" accompanied with his own screaming and crying.  He's also picked up on the tone I use to make something sound exciting when its' not.  If he's trying to give Catherine a new toy because he wants to play with what she has, he definitely does a great faux-mommy-enthusiasm tone.  Awesome.  

When Matthew's not announcing his non-favorites, he's asking for his favorites.  From his dino pajamas (which must match and must not be daytime clothes) to his crocs vs. "people shoes" (Avengers) he certainly has an opinion.  We're working on manners like crazy these days, especially not interrupting.  Some of his favorite phrases are " 'cuse me mommy, 'cuse me mommy I have a question for you . . ." which is most often followed by some crazy question he's thought up to stall bedtime or for reassurance of what we've just said.  He's also going through an annoying phase where he asks both James and I every question or has to specifically tell us both something.  I don't think he's trying to play us off each other (yet) more just confirming we both have heard everything and that we know things like "this is Catherine's doll" or "I had two poops this morning".   Now if he's addressed one of us and the other answers he likes to say "no daddy, I was talking to mommy" even if he was planning of saying the exact same thing to the other parent not 2 seconds later.

His brain is constantly working and while he's picking up on abstract concepts he's often still a b&w thinker.  The other day we were at the grocery store and he was asking for toys. (as an aside really grocery stores? really?  Toys every 3 feet?  Shoot me.)  Anyway, I had explained to him that the only time we got to pick out a toy was when I said "Matthew, when we go in the store today you can pick out a toy" BEFORE we went inside.  Anyway, as we walk through the store Matthew keeps repeating this scenario and I get a little cocky because he was being so calm and rational about it.  When we get outside the store he tells me "Okay mommy.  Now you say 'Matthew, Matthew it's time to pick out a toy' and we go back in the store okay?"  At that point when I said no a total meltdown occurred.  I'm not certain why I was surprised since the boy refers to everything we've done in the past as "yesterday" and his thinking for the future only extends to about an hour.

When it comes to physical activities he's definitely coming into his own and can conquer just about any playground equipment and is starting to enjoy some minor risky behavior for fun, like sliding down the slide on his belly or balancing on something on one foot.  He also loves to chase and be chased and will now initiate games on his own "you chase me mommy then I chase you."  He's also developing budding friendships, complete with holding hands and hugs when we leave.  He thinks our neighbor girls are the bees knees and is constantly asking for them to come over or go play and he has a little best bud at school he gets excited to go see.  When we start his preschool co-op next month there will be 3 boys and one girl which is a huge change from seemingly every playgroup/daycare group he's been in where he was the only boy or one of few! 

James:  

When I'm not driving him crazy with some off the wall request, James is doing well and very busy at work.  After our AK vacation, to say he's in the hole regarding vacation days is an understatement.  (When James' company got bought out they bought out everyone's vacation so he's only been accruing since March.)  However, he has a great team leader who has been working with him to balance work and play this summer so after we got back from Alaska James took off for a few days exploring Northern CA with some high school friends.  The downside is that he's spent the last two weeks working nights and extra days to make up for it.  All the travel and work and life has definitely cut into his golf plans this summer but maybe he'll squeeze a few rounds in before the snow hits the courses.

Heather:  

Well, I guess my biggest news is that I am currently phasing out of my job.  I've struggled with this decision since last spring and after lots of discussion, James and I have agreed that my evening/weekend obligations weren't working well for anyone and weren't necessarily part of the life I wanted to build for our family.  While our symphony is busy growing and expanding and has been very flexible/supportive with me, there are just certain dates that I can't commit, nor will I ever want to commit, so it was better I step down.   I'll be participating in a preschool co-op for Matthew which I'm very excited about, as it gives me an opportunity to teach, as well as a few free mornings each month for some one-on-one time with Catherine.  I know that I will definitely miss the intellectual stimulation, peaceful office and adult interaction that work often provided but I trust in my support system and friends to help me through the crazy days.  I'm also working on focusing on some hobbies that will not only provide intellectual stimulation outside of the office but improve the household.  I struggled with this decision for a long time because I felt I was letting someone (the twenty-one year old me maybe?) down since I had what should have been "the best of both worlds".  However, I look around at my friends and families and see so many great and different combinations of parenting and working and have learned there's no "right" way for anyone but we definitely needed to try something new to find the best way for our family.  

Pets: 

Right now Iris is yowling at me for no discernable reason which is pretty much her constant state.  We're pretty certain her vocalizing is one of the reasons the kids don't sleep in much.  The only time its helpful is when she's outside and wants in.  We originally allowed the cats to be part-time outdoor cats because a) the dogs can let them out and were doing so and b) they would sneak out when Matthew went out.  Now Iris has taken to pawing at the sliding doors when she wants out.  Interestingly since they've been hanging out outside they tend to hiss at each other more.  I think they've found better friends down the block.  

Sky and June are about the same as always.  If they were to be dogshamed, it would be for eating sticks of butter or loaves of bread when we leave them out on the counter.  We're still working on fixing our gate as they've taken a few jaunts around the neighborhood, but they're getting easier and easier to find since they always go the same place.  Matthew's been working with the dogs on their manners as he says (screams) " 'cuse me Sky 'cuse me, get out the way" when Sky has taken to laying down in his path.  Sky's not really a huge fan of the kids unless they are throwing the ball.  June meanwhile really likes Catherine because a) she drops food for her and b) she generally has food on her face that she'll let June lick off.

So there is our life in a nutshell right now.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Outdoors!

Last week we headed down to Big Sky to hike Ousel Falls with our little "babies" playgroup, which is a bit of a mis-nomer as most of our "babies" are now toddlers *sniff!*  Matthew was not jazzed about a hike at all (which in retrospect should have been a red flag) but after agreeing he could take his airplane, he was in.  I was very proud as he hiked the whole 1.7 miles by himself which I believe is his longest hike to date.  We even finished the hike in under 2.5 hours which is a miracle!  (This might have had something to do with a white lie I told him about a playground near the waterfall when I was trying to coax him into the whole trip, but I digress.  He survived without a playground and eventually had a good time along the way!)

 Catherine was pretty impressed, when she wasn't trying to climb over the rock ledge:
Or chatting (or at least not poking eyeballs out) with her friends:
Once I had enough near heart attacks with her climbing and the ledge we moved to the stairs.
 And Matthew and one of his buddies ran laps around us:
 When we got home, Catherine flirted with a nap but Matthew conked out as soon as his head hit his adorable pillowcase from Teta Sharon:
He ended up with some sort of bug which might have explained why he was being such a pill about going hiking.  Poor dude.  We ended up staying home sick for a while so whatever it was  could pass but had a great hike and afternoon outside nonetheless.  Speaking of outdoors, many, many of my formative childhood memories focus around trips with this monster:
and memories of this van (and its replacement) being broken down beside the road even helped pay for our first house in the form of a savings bond I won in a creative writing contest.  Dad was too cool/hip/hippie for an RV (and boy does he b*tch about those on the road) but always extolled the virtues of the camper van.  Even with my father's superior mechanical skills they still broke down a lot so a VW van for our little family was totally out of the question for James and I's less than stellar mechanical skills.  And, as much as I love me some tent camping, the packing and unpacking and set-up with two little ones (in addition to terrible nights of sleep on the ground) led us to stalking Craigslist for a small pop-up camper, our cost-effective, somewhat fuel efficient compromise.  After nearly a year and a lot of missed opportunities, we found a good one and jumped on it last week.  On Friday night we picked it up and headed home.  Unfortunately I had to work Saturday, so by the time we got ourselves situated we agreed on a Sunday/Monday trip, assuming the kiddos would get up early and we could pack up and come back for work early Monday morning.  The kids had fun packing:
And maybe even more fun setting it up:
We headed out early Sunday morning to Missouri Headwaters State Park.  It's only about 20 miles away so we weren't too far in case something went horribly awry.  We made it there safely and got all set-up.

 And then it was just time to relax and hike.  We headed out on a little hike over to the river where Catherine contemplated:
 And Matthew dipped his toes in the water:
 And James grabbed the camera for a bit so there's actually pictures of me for better or worse:
 We spent the whole morning hiking, splashing and throwing rocks:

 But eventually someone got a bit tired so we headed back to the campsite.  We took lunch as an opportunity to test out the stove/gas line.  So far so good.  We then thought we'd test out the sleeping situation with some afternoon naps.  Ha!  The one thing we forgot do to when setting up the camper was to set the auxillary supports.  As we went to put Matthew to bed we all ended up on the same side of the camper and the camper tipped.  Chaos ensued, lessons were learned and unsurprisingly, there was no settling the kids down after that excitement.
 So, we did exactly what we should have done which was to head back down to the river for more climbing, hiking and splashing.  Catherine did her best Lewis and Clark impression at the headwaters:
 And Matthew of course climbed up to help:
 Eventually Matthew decided he needed to explore beyond the rocks and found some mud:
 While Catherine crawled between our laps for kisses:


 And Matthew just got wetter and wetter:
 It was about time for dinner so we headed back to camp.  Matthew put his warpaint on:
 And played some pretty fierce flying trains:
 Catherine played along, but when she disappeared into the ravine, she decided it wasn't as much fun as Matthew made it look:
 One tired baby:
 Much like her brother, it was nothing a little hotdogs and s'mores around the campfire couldn't fix:
 However, as the kids got stickier, dirtier and smellier, the thought of a 6am trip back home was causing me some anxiety.  I had volunteers coming in at work and as it was Monday, that meant the kids came with me.  Bringing my kids into the office has been a very generous perk of my employers but it is rarely enjoyable for me, even when they are on their best behavior.  So, instead of pushing my luck we watched the sunset and headed back into town for baths and sleep in our own beds before a way-too-long morning at mommy's office.  Matthew decided he could help lower the camper all by himself, but this time Catherine jumped in to help:
 And then took over:

Overall, it was an amazingly fun and relaxing day at the rivers.  We learned a few things about our new toy and put enough miles and experience in that we're ready to tackle a true overnight trip a little bit further away.  I'm thrilled that I don't need to pack and repack our basic necessities.  The camper's pretty barebones but it gives us a place out of the rain, a cookstove, a small sink and some flat, padded spaces to sleep on.   I'm already scheming a our next little trip!  


Five on Friday

1.  Look at these winter white legs out enjoying the sunshine at the dino park.  Spring has FINALLY sprung! These boys went from winter di...