Sunday, July 7, 2013


Being here in "the Mormon Motherland" means that we get to see lots of friends. Today we visited with Janae, my MTC companion and dear friend for more than a decade now. She is also here visiting family, so it is pretty great that our trips coincided.

We spent the morning visiting with the kids played. Her kids are funny, cute and brilliant. I wonder where they get that... Anyway, I had so much fun having an actual conversation in person, and I loved every second of it. We need to stop living thousands of miles away from so many people we love.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Down Day

If you were wondering how the kids are holding up on the trip so far, I'll tell you. The kids are tired. Tired to the bones. They've been on the road for a week and a half, they've stayed up hours past their bedtime pretty much every night, and we've even switched a time zone just to compound their suffering. It must be so hard on them; they don't have their food, their beds, their toys, their routine, their house, or anything else that is familiar. Annie is taking it the worst, and will now only allow people in our immediate family to touch her. Rachelle is a trooper, but you can tell it's wearing on her. Stellan is grouchy and irritable, which is completely understandable.

So we've decided to take it easy today. We planned no major excursions, just a couple of fun short trips the kids would enjoy. We spent the morning at the park, which even Stellan liked, despite his best efforts. We did lots of building with toys at Grandma and Grandpa. Then we went out for ice cream with the cousins at Leatherby's. It's been nice. I hope the kids start settling down soon. I'm beginning to feel pretty guilty about dragging them along on this grand adventure.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Happy Anniversary To Us!

When we lived in California (for the first 7 anniversaries), we spent most of those on the road. We would complain every year that it was some family event in another state or some other obligation that would keep us from having our dream anniversary night together. Then we had kids, and also moved away from California, our families, and the obligation to go to every little family event or friend's invitation. We didn't know how good we had it!

Now that we're far away from all those people and events, we miss them. Also, we miss having relatives who will watch our kids (for free!) on our anniversary. We took so many things for granted, we were so young and so foolish! This year, we're back in the West and we're enjoying an anniversary especially because we're on the road.

Matt and Adrianne decided to spend the night at Kevin's parents' house with us after the pool party yesterday, and we have spent the whole day with them. After a brief stutter in our perfect day caused by a locked door with a missing key and a short visit from the locksmith, we headed out for pupusas and a movie. (We saw one of 20 movies Tom Cruise in which Tom Cruise plays someone with the name Jack.) The kids were at their cousins' house, and they ended up having a sleepover. So then we headed back to Kevin's parents' house for a game night. Don't underestimate the rarity of a true game night if you don't have kids. We spent a beautiful Utah evening on the deck with my beloved brother and his wife, Kevin's parents, lots of grown up fun and gaming, and even a bottle of Squirt (my favorite soda which is not available in the East).

Yep, it was pretty much a perfect day. Happy anniversary, Kev! Here's to many more. And to our kids: we love you lots, but thanks for giving us a day off. (That goes for the team of relatives who made that happen, too!)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

4th of July Pool Party

Kevin's uncle and aunt, Dan and Marge, hold a legendary annual 4th of July pool party every year. Somehow in 11 years of marriage, we've never managed to attend the pool party. Until this year. Was it worth traveling across the country just for this one event? You better believe it!

Kevin has a bunch of super awesome cousins (not to mention siblings) who were in attendance. We also convinced my brother Matt and his wife Adrianne to join us for the day. It was pretty much perfect; the kids got to play with their cousins, we grown ups sat around cool in the pool, we all ate some really tasty food (including homemade ice cream and also homemade root beer), and I even got to witness the traditional cannonball competition. Sadly, Kevin didn't even come close to winning this one, mass wasn't on his side.

We ended the night in the driveway watching a heap of fireworks with cute kids spilling all over everyone's laps, enjoying being together and celebrating the day and the event. Needless to say, we'll all sleep pretty well tonight!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Dinosaur National Monument

Our latest adventure has been one of my favorites of any trip ever. We met Kevin's sister Renae, along with her husband Norm and their three adorable kidlets, in Vernal, UT to spend a couple of days at Dinosaur National Monument.

I've known dinosaur nuts my whole life, but have never considered myself a nut. An enthusiast, certainly, but I never really understood what drives someone to obsess over creatures that died out millions of years ago. Now I get it.

One of the visitor areas at the monument includes a quarry full of fossils. The park built a two-story gallery around the wall so that people can see, and in some cases touch, the bones up close and very personal. I was almost brought to tears as I thought of the history of the planet literally laid wide before me.

We also went on a short hike with the kids back to the main visitors center, giving my kids the chance to experience the Utah mountains firsthand. They chased lizards and found fossils; they climbed rocks and found shady nooks. Today has been one of the most amazing days of my life, and I loved being able to share it with my family.

Bonus story: speaking of nuts, we met a few on the trip. But they weren't dinosaur nuts; in fact, they'd probably best be termed anti-dinonuts. We were outside the quarry while we put on sunscreen and filled up water bottles before our hike and we overhead a man talking with this family. It was clearly not a family talking together, there was a definite patriarchal vibe. He was telling the others about how obvious it now was that dinosaurs aren't real, but that they are a colossal hoax perpetrated by the government. The point of the hoax is to generate revenue and to trick the godless, according to this expert. Wow. He turned it over to the kids for questions, who jumped in with their own versions of possible conspiracies. Interestingly, he vehemently asserted that the moon landings were factual; I'm not sure he's the kind of person I want on "my side" of the moon landing "debate". Again, wow. Just wow.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Day Trip To Vail

While we were with Lara, she took us to Vail for the day. Kevin and I were blown away with how gorgeous this part of the world is. Everything is green and bright and the temperature is perfect and I can't say enough nice things about it.

My kids were fascinated and consterned by the water in the river. The idea that this water was recently melted snow was so foreign to them that they didn't believe it until they felt it. Then they believed.

We enjoyed walking down the village road, playing at the pirate ship playground, splashing in the fountain, and a picnic lunch at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens (the world's highest botanic garden). Did I mention it was completely beautiful? I wish we had more time there, we didn't even make it to the nature center at the Gardens. We'll be back, and we'll spend more time there. How could we not? It's hard to say no to perfection, even if it is halfway across the country.

Cousin Lara and Family

We got to spend a couple of days with my beautiful and amazing cousin Lara and her husband and sons. They live about an hour outside of Denver in the mountains near Vail, and we had such a great time with them!

My kids were so relieved to be in a "kid" house - they've been on the road and with mostly grown-ups or in "grown-up" places like motels for almost a week now. They could finally make lots of noise, play with toys, not get too worried if they spilled their kid snacks, use a stool to go to the bathroom, throw tantrums, and have the time of their lives with their cousins.

Trevor and Christopher were very good sports about sharing their toys and their space and their snacks. Lara was the perfect hostess, and we had a great time catching up and comparing our lives in very different places. Again I ask myself, why oh why do we live so far from Colorado?

Trevor gets bonus points for being a super trooper. He broke his leg a few weeks ago, and is in a very heavy duty cast. He scoots on his butt all over the house, up stairs and down, keeping up with the other kids with very little exception.

Thanks, Lara, for having us! We really enjoyed you and your family, your home and your hospitality. We hope to see you again soon!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Colorado Is Beautiful

Once we headed out of Denver proper and towards my cousin's house in Edwards, we saw something new - mountains! Big rocky cliffs, layers of sediment, mountains!

After literally thousands of miles of flat, plains, flat and more flat, and after 5 years of living in Florida, mountains are not something we take for granted.

In addition to the topography, the landscape is incredible! We are driving past rivers, lakes and streams, with bright green hillsides and wildlife everywhere. Kevin and I can't stop talking about how beautiful it is here. Why don't we spend more time in Colorado?

Museum Report: Denver Museum of Nature and Science

For me, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is a great combination of a newer hands-on kid-friendly volunteer-enriched science center and the classic diorama-taxidermy natural history museum.

Expedition Health was particularly interesting. At the beginning of the hall, you fill out your personal information on a touch screen, and then a card prints out with a bar code and your info. As you go from display to display, you can check your pace, your heart rate, and any number of quantifiable physiological characteristics. At the end of the exhibit, your card is printed with all the data gathered throughout the exhibit. But mostly my kids liked the side room for young children with manipulatives and a slide.

The kids also loved the Discovery Zone, geared at young children. There were activities for all the kids, although 6-year-old Stellan burned out pretty quickly. And it was pretty busy; we had to wait in a line to get in.

The gem and mineral hall was breathtaking. It's set up to look like a mine (this is Colorado, after all). Not only is the collection vast and varying, but the specimens are spectacular. Even the kids had to grudgingly admit that is was pretty cool.

Obviously we went to the Space Odyssey. Although the exhibits are fun and of course feature the best and most exciting topics you could possibly cover (is my bias showing?), the most impressive thing was the sheer number of volunteers. The DMNS seems to have a vibrant and very active volunteer force. Their volunteers are engaging and informative, and do a variety of demonstrations and interpreting of exhibits all over. We did not visit the planetarium, since there weren't any appropriate shows for the kids during our visit. I have been to the Gates Planetarium in the past for a conference though, and it's very cool.

DMNS also features one of the best gift shops we've seen, and both kids made purchases here after long deliberations and sampling.

We loved the museum, and Kevin and I wish we could have seen more of it. Consider taking the kids for half a day, then ditching them and seeing the rest on your own! 2 thumbs up from the Cooks.