Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Help A Girl Out

I love books. I love everything about them; their smell, the way they feel in my hands, how they transport me away from my everyday life. I can almost always find something good about a book--any book--a clever turn of phrase, a character to which I can relate, an intriguing plot, an author's command of a subject about which I know nothing and their ability to educate me in an entertaining way. And if a book doesn't have any of those things? Well I've been known to be complimentary of the cover design or an author's photo. I'm a fan of books, is what I'm saying.

I read a lot. In fact, I sometimes have two or three books going at once. I know this will probably come as a shock, but I have been known to let the laundry slide and let the housekeeping duties go because my nose has been buried in a book. Um, hey there. Can I help you get up off the floor? Smelling salts, perhaps? No? Not that shocked, eh?


I need your help. I am out of books. I mean, obviously I have access to books, I have a library card after all. I am within 5 miles of a bookstore. I'm not a total Philistine, y'all. But I have nothing to read. I am in dire need of some recommendations. My hands don't know what to do with themselves. If they don't get a book in them soon, I may be forced to do--oh, I don't know--housework!

So do tell. What have you been reading lately? What page-turner has been in your possession? What book have you been foisting upon all your friends telling them that they have to read it or you simply cannot be their friend any longer?

C'mon. Help a girl out. Give me your recommendations in the comments. I'll be your best friend. Lucky you!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Rules To Clean By

My family is coming in over the Fourth. So I have been making my children slaves earn their keep do their part around the house by cleaning. I have discovered a few things along the way and, because I am a giver, I will share them with you.

If you tell your children that you will be waking up early, there is a 90% chance that when you go to wake them up, at least 50% of your children will moan and complain that they are "tiiiiiired!" (Digression: I woke them at 8:30. In my book this is not early. My lazy dependents, however, have managed to get their days and nights turned around in the last week of post-vacation recuperation--a feat that they haven't managed since their infancy.)

Of the 50% complaining, roughly 50% will complain that their fatigue is your fault. Because you didn't make them go to sleep. Trust me. If I had that kind of power, I wouldn't be using to cause children to float off to dreamland. I would make the government do things that make sense. I would deliver world peace. I would make certain that all the world's chocolate was sent to my home. Free. And it wouldn't cause me to gain any weight.

Once all children are vertical, at least one will avoid any of his work by going in and distracting others from theirs.

When you call this child on it, he/she will crumple to the floor in tears and tell you how mean you are. He/she will again complain that it is not his/her fault. When you ask whose fault it is, your child will again blame you, because you were off having a good time (cleaning the crap out of your own disgusting bedroom--good times, all right!) and not supervising like you should be.

You may consider strangling this child. But don't do it yet. For it would deprive you of what's coming next.

Several of your offspring will discover, among the detritus of their bedrooms, musical instruments of various and dubious musicality (kazoo, I am looking at you). They will then have an impromptu jam session that you can hear from your water closet--which is behind three separate doors (bedroom, bathroom, water closet) and in which a fan is running. Talent, I says. They haves it! Book 'em on America's Got Talent! (Which I like to call the New Gong Show.)

After breaking up the band--way to go, Yoko!--you will remind the children that when everyone is done, we can head to the pool.

Listen to one of your children mutter that he/she doesn't want to go to the stupid pool anyway. Pools are stupid. Also they are dumb. Who ever thought of a pool anyway? What a dumb, stupid idea!

Go to your own room armed with two garbage bags. Use one to clean up the remnants of Christmas wrapping paper from your closet. Festive!

Use the other garbage bag to clean up approximately seven years' worth of car magazines from your beloved's nightstand. Hurry to the recycling bin and dispose of them before your beloved spots you and explains why he needs all of those magazines.

Stop in the middle of the hall and raise your finger and shout "EUREKA!!" after you figure out that your beloved is responsible for the pack rat tendencies of your offspring. Then, spend an extra few minutes going over the list of all the positive things about your beloved. Keep this list in your head. You will need it in a few minutes.

Clean the television in your bedroom. Roll in the dust that falls from it. Look ma! Gray hands!

Peek into your children's rooms. Praise them for the good job they are doing. Remind them that you WILL BE looking under their beds and in their closets.

Cast a look over your shoulder and watch your children skitter like roaches as they go to clean out all the crap they hid under their beds and in their closets.

Head into the laundry room and start your 347th load of laundry for the day. While the upper half of your body is in the washing machine, hear your name called 12 times by at least one child and your beloved. Answer in your loudest voice dripping with mock patience: "I'm in the laundry room! I can't hear you! Come here or wait a minute!"

Repeat that last sentence 7 times.

Hit your head on the top of the washer.

Remember that list? Use it now as your beloved mentions that he would like to reconfigure his office. The office that is in your bedroom. Just inside the door. With piles of paper that you dare not touch EVERYWHERE.

As he lovingly explains the changes he would like to make, repeat the list like a mantra in your head. Trust me. This or heavy drinking is the only thing that works--and heavy drinking is generally discouraged at 11 a.m.

Nod your head and say "Sure, babe. Whatever works best for you." Walk away biting your tongue.

Head downstairs to fix lunch. Ask everyone what they want to eat. Have them all shout back four different things.

Eye the wine bottle.

Shake it off and fix lunches. While everyone eats, remind them that the quicker they finish, the quicker you can get to the pool.

There is an 87% chance that one of your children will admit that the job in front of them is a very big one. There is a -798% chance that this child will admit they live in a pigsty. They will maintain that they "like it that way and can totally find everything."

There is a 100% chance that you will now remind them that the job would go quicker if they would just pick things up and put things away when they are done with them. There is a 100% chance that this child will disagree with you.

Rejoice when everyone (save one who has been granted a grace period to finish his/her room) is finished and can finally jump into their pool gear.

Head to the pool and spend 95% percent of your time responding to this phrase: "Mom! Watch this!"

Spend the other 5% telling your children on a revolving basis that it is NOT time to go yet and NO we are not going to the snack bar now.

Two hours later, give your children the "5 minutes left" sign. There is a 98% chance that the child who thought the pool was a dumb, stupid idea will not want to leave. Ever. Because a pool is the best place ever. In the whole world. And home is just dumb. And stupid.

Get home, get everyone out of their pool gear and remind them each three times where to put their wet stuff.

Marvel that everyone followed directions.

Crack open the wine bottle and have a celebratory glass--after all, it's after five p.m. now and totally socially acceptable to guzzle sip a glass of wine.

Sigh and realize that you get to do it all again tomorrow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Colorado Day 4, 5,& 6: In Which Our Explorers Defy Death On A Bridge, Encounter Wild Beasts, And Admire Falcons

Thursday found us making our way south to Canon City. (Anyone know how to put a tilde over the n? Um, just for me, since I am stoopid and am too lazy to figure out the tilde thing, you should pronounce "Canon" like "Canyon." Unless you want people to point and laugh at you.) We were headed there to see the Royal Gorge and laugh at danger as we crossed the gorge on the crazy-high suspension bridge.

Neither Sean nor Maggie were too keen on this trip. Both dislike heights. But when James disclosed the fact (that I had mentioned to him in confidence) that you can actually feel the bridge move both of them tried to declare mutiny. After reassuring them that the bridge was made of steel, inspected daily, and really, really safe, they settled down a bit. I also may or may not have bribed them. I'll never tell.

It didn't take much convincing to get everyone out on the bridge. After all, it has the best views.

This is the river. It is much farther down than it appears in the picture. Because I was lying down on the bridge to take the picture through the gap in the planks. I simply cannot understand why my children are embarrassed by me.

We also watched people on the Skycoaster.
Those people? Completely. Nuts. Basically you get strapped into this bungee contraption and set to swinging back and forth over part of the gorge at 40 miles an hour. James, of course, wanted to go on it, but in addition to ponying up and extra fee not included in our entry fee, he would have had to pry my arms and legs from around his body. So we satisfied ourselves with watching the other insane adventurous people give it a go.

Then we rode the incline railroad down to the bottom to get an up-close and personal view of the fast flowing Arkansas river.
(Aside: My brother fell in this river--not while we were visiting the gorge--when we came here as a family. He, my dad, my other brother, and my non-swimming uncle were fishing. Todd was nearest my uncle when he went for a dip and my uncle saved him. Ahhh...memories.) We saw rafters while we were up on the bridge, but none came by when we were down by the river. We did, however, see a shoe and three oars go floating by in quick succession. Never did see a raft or any rafters. A good thing, I guess?

See these bumps?

This is called John F. Kennedy mountain because it is said to look like his head and body in profile as he is reclining. I could see the resemblance. Sort of. There was no Jackie O. mountain with a pillbox hat and big sunglasses. That would've been cool.

On Friday we headed to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. It touts itself as "America's Only Mountain Zoo!" You know what? They really aren't kidding. We did some hill climbing folks! Lots of it. I was terribly glad all my children can walk, because pushing a stroller here would have been far too much work. After looking at all the animals and arguing over which we liked best--bears! giraffes! otters! tamarinds! gorillas! naked mole rats! hippos!--we took the ski lift up higher.

They had a name for the lift, you know, to make it sound fancier, but it was just your basic ski lift. When we got to the top there were fabulous views.

Also? There was a yurt. I think yurts are pretty cool. I mean, I know it's basically a round tent, but "yurt" sounds much more fun than "round tent." And this yurt was outfitted as a climbing wall. So the kids had a blast scrambling up the yurt. (Bet I'll never use that particular sentence again!)

Then we took the lift back to the bottom and got in the car to make our way further up the mountain to the Shrine of the Sun.

The Shrine of the Sun is a building made out of one very large piece of sandstone that had been cut into blocks. It is dedicated to the memory of Will Rogers. It was pretty, but what really recommended it were the views.

Plus, it was kinda hard to explain Will Rogers to my kids, who had never heard of him. So we contented ourselves with climbing up and looking out. Although Sean had a great time looking at the murals inside that depicted local historic events and counting naked Native American booties. Gotta love 8 year olds.

On Saturday, as we made our way from Colorado Springs to Denver, we made a stop at the United States Air Force Academy. We visited the beautiful and unique chapel.

Our visit, however, was very brief because the Protestant Chapel had 3 weddings and the Catholic chapel had two. I don't know if the Jewish or Buddhist chapels had any because we didn't go in them. We weren't sure of protocol and didn't want to offend anyone, so we stuck to the chapels we knew. As I'm looking at those sentences now, that strikes me as funny.

Anyway! We spotted cadets and planes. The boys enjoyed looking at the planes and Maggie enjoyed looking at the cadets. When she saw the ratio of men to women at the Academy, she made noises about going there for college. I could do nothing but roll my eyes and shake my head.

James, however, who has always said he is going to Purdue to study engineering discovered that the USAFA might be someplace that he would think about going. Sounds good to me--it's free! Plus, as one of my friends pointed out, he'd make a handsome pilot.

We hit the Academy gift shop and left with armloads of Air Force and Falcon gear, then headed to the car so we could get to Denver.

As we headed north, we all kept looking out the back window watching to see how far away Pike's Peak, which had dominated our views for the last week, was becoming. We all took turns calling out goodbye and saying our various favorite things from the trip. I'll remember that part for a long time.

Thanks, Colorado, for providing us with such an excellent vacation. We're glad you let us in. See? We didn't even break anything while we were there. Pass that on to your friend Arizona, would you? Because somebody mentioned a trip to the Grand Canyon and we wouldn't want Arizona to have erroneous notions about us.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Colorado Day 3: In Which Our Explorers Stroll Amongst Gods, Sip From Springs, And Sing With Cowboys

Wednesday dawned bright and beautiful--what the weatherman called a "severe clear." The sky was a magnificent blue. Perfect, as we were headed for Garden of the Gods. I remember being dazzled by this free park when I was a kid and hoped my own children would love it as well.

They did. They scrambled on rocks, got silly in a rock circle that allowed you to hear your own echo when you stood in the middle (yodeling completely optional but highly encouraged), goggled at some guys who were really rock climbing (you had to have proper equipment and a permit.), and were amazed at the views. I myself took more pictures than a person should be allowed, but dude--those red rocks! That blue sky! The light!! Fortunately for you, I'll only subject you to some of the many I took. Heh.

This formation is called The Kissing Camels. See 'em smooching?

If you click on this picture, it will enlarge and you will see the guy by the arrow climbing up. He looks tiny compared to the rocks. James really wanted to try this, but I told him the rules were that he had to be an experienced climber with proper equipment. He was bummed and I was secretly thanking God in heaven.

After getting hot and sweaty in the Garden, we headed into Manitou Springs for some refreshment and to kill time before dinner. We had ice cream and the kids sampled several of the many natural spring fountains. The verdict? Maggie and Sean didn't think it was all that great, but Mary my pickiest, finickiest eater thought they were wonderful. Will I ever figure out my children?
Do you dare me to try it?

Okay, here goes...


Ewww. Yuck!

After that we headed to a local park where my husband tried to fling my children off of the funkiest merry-go-round we've ever seen.

We also sat by a creek and watched a dog fetch a stick out of the fast moving water.

We watched this dog for at least a half hour. And you know what? It never took off. It always came back. I'm totally gonna show this picture to the dumb dog and lay a guilt trip on her. "See OTHER DOGS play fetch and don't run away! How's about you give that a try, huh?!?!" Somehow, I don't think she's gonna go for that notion.

At last, we headed off to the Flying W Ranch to have a chuck wagon style dinner and see a musical show. We had a great time exploring the village. Then we watched a Native American family perform some traditional songs and dances. We were all extremely impressed with Mrs. Sweetwater, who performed a hoop dance. It was fantastic.

When the dinner bell rang, we headed off to the outdoor dining area and got our tin plates and cups full of "cowboy" food. There surely may have been beans and some kind of bread on a real chuck wagon dinner, but I don't think there was barbecue chicken or beef. And probably not applesauce, baked potatoes, or spice cake. Or lemonade. But we didn't complain. We loaded up and chowed down. (Not Mary. She had the emptiest plate on the ranch, sticking to her all-carb plan of biscuits and cake.)

After dinner, the Flying W Wranglers played and sang and made us laugh. The kids were delighted. We adults had a good time too. It's hard to sit stone faced when you hear songs like "Riders in the Sky," "Rawhide," (and its parody number "Bowlin' Bowlin' Bowlin'" which my kids still sing) and "I Am My Own Grandpa." Now, my family isn't real big on country music (although we do love us some Johnny Cash) but we loved this show. The musicians were spectacular and the humor was great. If you are ever in the Colorado Springs area, I highly recommend heading to the Flying W for an evening of wholesome family entertainment. My kids are still talking about how much fun they had here, and Sean--my child who just couldn't "find anything fun to do here" put the Flying W as his top memory from vacation. A favorable review, indeed.

When the moon came up and the stars came out, we wound our way back up into the mountains to head for home. We spotted a fox on the way up our dirt road and the kids went to bed speaking of cowboys, bowlin', and foxes. All-in-all, a very good day.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Colorado Day 2: In Which Our Fearless Family Ascends A Mountain And Descends Into A Cave

Somehow, I managed to set the alarm clock wrong, so instead of waking up at 7:30a.m., I somehow woke up at 5:30a.m. but thought it was 6:30a.m. Did you follow that? Yeah, I have no idea what happened, but somehow I woke at the buttcrack of dawn thinking it was later than it was and I couldn't get back to sleep. I decided to take an early morning walk while the rest of the family snoozed. Our house, you see, backed up to the Pike National Forest and so I decided to see what I could see.I walked uphill--alot--through the frosty forest relishing the fresh air and the quiet. All I could hear was the sound of my own breathing. Well, if I'm honest, I was panting. The altitude, it made everything harder. I was enjoying the view in general

and the wildflowers like these

and then I came upon this fellow. I made a deal with him; I told him I would shoot him, but that it wouldn't hurt.

He was quite obliging, standing there watching me while I took several photos.
After wandering a little more, I decided that I should get back and make some breakfast and rouse the family as we were going to drive up Pike's Peak.

We got ourselves moving and soon wound up at the gate to the Pike's Peak Highway. The ranger took our money, gave us a map, and told us to enjoy ourselves. Maggie was having a mild panic attack at thought of driving up the mountain--she is not a fan of heights. I was doing my best to act calm, but I'm not a huge fan of heights myself, so I was surreptitiously texting a couple of my friends asking them to pray for our safety and simultaneously wishing that WalMart would hand out free samples of Xanax.

The scenery was gorgeous. We stopped around mile 6 at this reservoir. We got out, took pictures,

looked in the gift shop, availed ourselves of the facilities (porta potties which my offspring declared "gross") and then made general nuisances of ourselves to the people that were trying to catch fish from the reservoir. I guess fish don't much like rock throwing and water splashing. But I say that if you are looking to find a quiet place to fish, perhaps the lake next to the highway ascending "America's Mountain" really isn't the best place to do that.

Soon enough we piled back into the truck to keep moving on.We kept winding up and up and up. And then someone noticed the cars much higher up the mountain than we were and pointed out that we'd be the ones up there soon. That brought Maggie to tears. I convinced her to look out her window which was the "wall" side of the mountain rather than out my side which had not only spectacular views, but also the sheer drop offs.

As we drove along, I would periodically call out "everybody drink!" It was our own little non-alcoholic version of a drinking game with the idea being that we wanted to keep everybody well hydrated so that none of us would suffer altitude sickness. I remember one of my brothers and my mom, and me to a lesser extent, suffering this when my family vacationed here when I was younger. It was no fun and I didn't want it to ruin the trip for my kids.

Finally, we hit the treeline. Soon after that we were in snow. The kids thought it was fun that people had carved their names into the snow that was on the mountain rock, but nobody wanted to stop and get out and do it ourselves. Then I made a comment about staying away from the yellow snow which necessitated an explanation to Mary about what that meant. Sometimes I really miss the filter I lack between my brain and my mouth...

Soon we were at the summit. The kids couldn't believe there was a building there. Mary was excited about the snow. Everyone was startled by the stiff winds. We arrived about the same time as the cog train, so there was a mad slippery dash to the overcrowded, overheated bathrooms. I was a little lightheaded, but felt better after leaving the bathroom's heat. We admired the views, I took some pictures,
and then the kids headed into the gift shop. It was there that James hit the wall.
After being on the summit for 15 or 20 minutes, James was experiencing a horrid headache. He clutched his head in his hands and began to cry. Given that I experience head-clutching headaches that have been known to make me cry, I was sympathetic. I herded the kids to the car to give them some more water and some food. Patrick paid for souvenirs.

Then we headed back down the mountain.It was a more relaxing ride than going up and everyone started to feel better as we descended. We stopped at the reservoir again to have a picnic lunch and then finished the ride down the mountain. My children now tell everyone that they have been to the top of a "fourteener" and they will spout off the elevation. James says that his head hurt but it was still very cool. Maggie says it was scary, but beautiful. Mary says it was cold but she liked it. Sean says he hated it. There's always one, isn't there?

We then made our way back to Cave of the Winds for our second try. The road winding up to the cave wasn't nearly as scary this time. We got our tickets and loitered around the gift shop while we were waiting for our tour number to be called.

When they finally called us, we met our guide and started in.

Our guide was a young man with a dry sense of humor who made us all laugh during the tour. Our favorite formation? Cave bacon! Because who doesn't love bacon?

We also learned what happens when people touch the rocks. They look like this:

This is damage. These rocks are not wet, they are shiny because of the oils from peoples' hands and the formation would no longer "grow" because of it. They mentioned at the start of the tour that it was a $2,500 dollar fine for littering in the cave or touching the formations. You can bet your bippy that I was being the Cave Nazi with my children.

At one point, the guide turned the lights off. (I may or may not have groped my husband. Then I may or may not have grossed my children out by telling them about it. That kind of stuff is always good for making my children wince. I call it payback for any whining and arguing that happened in the truck.) It was absolutely, positively the darkest place I have ever been. There was no light anywhere and I was grateful that this event happened at the end of the tour rather than the beginning, because it kind of freaked me out.

Anyway, we came out from underground and I asked everyone what they thought. James thought it was very cool, and loved when he got to hold the guide's flashlight and threaten to hit anyone that crossed a line. Maggie thought the guide was very funny and that the cave bacon was pretty neat. Mary liked the "bridal chapel" and thought it was weird that people actually got married in a cave. Sean, finally, finally (!) liked something and he was smiling as we left. It only took seeing dinosaurs, ascending a mountain, and descending into the earth to get him to find something he liked more than the air hockey table at the cabin.

It's a good thing my children are so easygoing and easy to please...
**By the way, Life List #47 "take a picture from the top of a mountain" is accomplished!