Sunday, June 12, 2016

Grand Tetons National Park: Phelps Lake and Family Fun.

Somewhere in the middle of Idaho.  Adventures awaiting.

Living in the wild west means I am perpetually hounded by the trips I should be taking.  It is no secret that I don't plan to live in Utah forever and so my mind has a list of must-sees about a mile long that may or may not get seen but feel urgent nevertheless.  My current, incomplete, western bucket-list goes something like this (right now; it changes constantly and is in somewhat random order):

1. Sequoia National Park
2. Seattle & Vancouver to gorge myself / see my dad
3. Brice Canyon
4. Lake Powell
5. Yellowstone National Park / Grand Tetons National Park
6. Hike at least one Slot Canyon
7. The Grand Canyon (even if just for the photo op)
8. Canyonlands National Park (gotta take a pic at Mesa Arch!)
9. See St. George (I've heard it's a cooler town as Utah goes)
10. Disneyland / Legoland (threw that in for Roman's sake)
11. Zion National Park
12. Grand Sand Dunes National Park in CO (we never made it there!)
13. Have a raspberry shake at Bear Lake during raspberry days
14. The Ogden Rodeo
15. Drive to the top of at least 1 mountain in Utah
16. Go camping at least once in Utah
17. Rent an RV and drive around the west with the kiddos
18. Las Vegas (never been!)
19. Go back to Park City
20. Go to Provo

Ironically, I did not realize we only live about a 4 hour drive away from Grand Teton National Park and 6 from Yellowstone National Park.  Upon being enlightened, those two things quickly moved up to the top of my bucket list because, well, duh, but also because it's the 150 year anniversary of the National Park system and I am a lover of nature.

Jackson Hole, WY
Neither Matt nor I had ever been to either of these parks but we determined that with 3 small children it would be impossible to do them "right," and so we flew by the seat of our pants, focusing only on Grand Tetons National Park.  I looked up a family-friendly hike on my phone as we cruised the open roads of Idaho, and, for once, food was not a priority on this trip.  I focused on having a nice time hiking in the park for a few hours and getting back to our hotel where we could exhaust the children at the awesome waterfall-filled, fake-bear-decorated pool, and perhaps get a rustic bite to eat at a local game-restaurant.

Roman admiring the river on an overlook.
It was a good plan and we were gainfully rewarded when we took the advice of other travelers and hiked the short, 3-mile roundtrip to Phelps Lake in the Rockefeller Preserve within Grand Tetons National Park.  It was uncrowded (possibly due to the patchy weather) and included multiple fun stops for the boys, among which was a waterfall with a metal walkway directly against it so that the boys could grab at the water and splash each other.  The ever-present danger of black and grizzly bears in the park is something I simply could not let go of and it did cause some stress during our hike (especially with the wee ones), but I decided the best way to keep the bears away was to sing loudly with Roman.  That meant ceaseless repetition of old Girl Scout classics like "My Grandfather's Clock," "The Gay Old Desperado," "I Said A-Boom-Chicka-Boom," "Daisy on my Toe," and some songs Roman decided to make up including an unforgettable rendition of "Jingle Farts" (sung to the tune of "Jingle Bells," of course).  I'm fairly certain the bears stayed away out of annoyance.  Mission accomplished.

On our hike we encountered a deer only 1-2 feet away from the trail; he was so accustomed to humans that he just stood there looking at us as we passed.  I was nearly driven mad by the bountiful collections of mushrooms in bloom, among them many lovely Morels, all of which are highly verboten to pick at any National Park.  The compulsion to get them almost drove me to break Federal law, but I stayed strong.  Alex was miserable for most of the hike (read: until we got to the lake and it was snack time) and I can't decide if it was because we woke him from a nap to hike (without offering coffee), or if his little hiking boots are getting too small.  Either way, I felt bad because he's too big to carry anymore, and anyway, I was carrying Linus.  Linus was a trooper for the most part, but decided to punish us by having a somewhat intense #2 diaper situation in the middle of the hike (and, as luck would have it, we forgot the wipes).  Disaster was averted and we made it to the lake without too much incident and delay.  When we got there Matt admitted he'd been trying to hurry us along so we could do a longer hike than we'd intended (there is another 2 miles around the lake), but it had become abundantly clear that the 3-mile round trip was more than enough for everyone.

*  *  *

Snacks and "Peace" at Phelps Lake
Phelps Lake was breathtaking.  Not only is everything painfully pristine in the Grand Tetons, but we also happened to be there on a day of on-and-off rain storms.  When we arrived at the lake the land was in a state of perfectly screaming pigmentation as a small storm had just passed.  It was sunny and blue-skyed, the water was invitingly emerald with the backdrop of the snowcapped Tetons and framed with towering pines and evergreens.  I've become somewhat jaded about the beauty of the mountains because we live in such close proximity to them; sometimes it just doesn't feel as exciting anymore, but this view and this environment left me speechless, kind of the way Acadia National Park did.  I wanted to sit still and silent and absorb it.  I got about 3 seconds of peace to do that.  Then I was brought back to reality with the squeals of two little boys chasing chipmunks all around me, bounding into piles of pine needles, chugging gatorade, and screaming and giggling non-stop.  Hey, I didn't say it was a bad reality, just not very peaceful. :)  Matt and I snacked on Spanish chorizo and the boys enjoyed goldfish and other sundry snackies.  All that was missing was a nice glass of wine.

Phelps Lake: Fresh air is good for the soul.

We stayed at a lovely resort called the Snake River Lodge and Spa in Teton village, a ski village just outside Jackson Hole.  The whole thing looks like a modern Swiss or Austrian village, and is nestled right on the side of the Tetons with ski-in-ski-out access being a perk widely advertised in our hotel.

We were greeted by a double rainbow at the end of our hike,
and just dodged a downpour.
In the off-season it was just wonderful.  Not too many guests, a great facility with a beautiful indoor/outdoor pool, and a restaurant or two just a short walk away.  That evening we had dinner at the local Wyoming-themed restaurant called The Mangy Moose.  The boys loved the name and the moose face on the sign.  They also loved the extensive taxidermy and antique ski articles hung all over the inside of the restaurant.  We were seated at a large table set into a small alcove, facing out on a main dining area, making it a semi-private dining experience and an easy place to corral little ones. Amazingly, this dinner was a landmark for our family.  It was one of the first and only times that all three boys have willingly sat down to eat without complaining and interacted in a decently civil manner with us.  I ordered a rabbit and venison meatloaf that came with broccolini and mashed potatoes, and Matt had elk sausage and the same sides.  We also had fried pickles to start and were very pleased to see that they were sour gherkins battered and fried whole.  They were delicious.  Roman was forced to try one but, alas, he still hates pickles no matter how much we harass him.  Alex gobbled one up and so did Linus.  The boys had mac n cheese and tried some of our food.  As a reward for the good behavior, we ordered a Mud Fudge cake and it was the biggest piece of ice cream cake I have ever seen.  The boys pounced.  Matt described it as we were throwing carcasses to vultures.  They simply would not stop until it had been devoured and were then energized, bordering on maniacal, for a quick dip in the hotel pool.

A view to the Tetons from the start of the Phelps Lake trail.

We returned home early the next day, Memorial day, (sadly two of us became very ill with a stomach bug Alex had had), good memories in our hearts and a determination to soon come back, this time to Yellowstone, in our minds.  But, really, who knows what the next adventure will be!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Oh, to feel at Home.

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,

To gain all while you give,

To roam the roads of lands remote,

To travel is to live.”

- Hans Christian Anderson

*  *  *

My wanderlust has always been there.  A part of me as normal and necessary as my skin. For me there was never a time when I didn't want to travel and explore.  While, with age, that tendency has become more refined - I don't really want to go everywhere anymore - it has not lessened at all; this is a longing that defines my core, one of the true, immutable realities of me.  

I think about it a lot - my wanderlust - especially these days, because it is also a truth that is currently at odds with my reality.  What I have found is that with age, things deepen: tendencies especially, but also loves, fears, judgments, dreams, realities.  And so I find myself in a state necessitating consistency, normalcy, and routine, but wanting spontaneity, madness, and adventure.  It's not fair.  I guess not much is.  (And far be it from me to complain about the beautiful and sometimes charmed life I lead.)  But it is exactly what it is: the current state of reality in our house, the pretty green house with a pleasant view.

The concept of Home is one we generally take for granted.  Most people I know can identify a place that they consider their Home, without question, in a manner annoyingly blasé.  They aren't bothered because it's their daily bread, always there, always normal and recognizable.  Never leaving.  Always waiting for them when they need it.  But me...I haven't been able to say where Home is for a long, long time now.  I've spent eighteen years in a state of exciting, nomadic exploration and resettlement.  It was fun and right and I loved it.  But now, living the life I live today, I am ambivalent about whether not being able to name a Home is something I like or hate about my life.

I can say that I hate not knowing where Home is.  I hate always thwarting any attempt to know.  I hate not having the people I love - outside of my husband and best friend, and my wonderful children - near me.  I hate not fitting in anywhere quite, exactly.  I hate not knowing where we'll end up.  I hate trying to make friends with people I don't know and don't really want to put in the effort to know.  I'm tired of phone calls and emails and texts rather than coffees and dinners and parties.  Because those are among the best things in life.

But I love the things I've seen, the things I know, and the things I can imagine one day I'll see and know.  I love the memories we've made and shared and passed to another generation, even as small seeds in their subconscious.  I love that gnawing bug of curiosity in me that simply won't die.  And yet, I love the idea of a home that lasts forever, even if I haven't quite found it yet.  And, oh, to feel at Home.  I love that.

But loving the idea isn't enough.  Because the whispery belief that "Home is where the heart is" is a limiting one.  A false one if only read based on the traditional sense of "Home."  

My heart is in a million places on any given day.  (Don't try to imagine a week.)  Mostly it's here, of course, in my house with my beautiful family, but it's also in Italy on a train to Venice, train ticket in hand for the first time without my parents, in Texas on a bluebonnet field with my sister, walking the streets of Mexico city smelling the smells and seeing the sights of my culture, on the pier on the Adriatic, drinking Porto on a Portuguese 18th birthday, stars shining in our eyes, swimming with jelly fish after gin and tonics.  It's in the Rub' al Khali in Ramadan, breathing in the desert heat.  It's in the dirt of my Utah garden and the worms that make the peonies on the side of my house bloom.  It's in a tent in the Texas hill country, on a tube floating the Guadalupe.  It's at a table in a diner in New York City, eating matzo ball soup and brussels sprouts at 10 o'clock at night, chatting with my fiancé.  It's floating in the Andaman sea next to my husband.  It's swimming in Maine's Atlantic, watching a little red kite fly above, jiggling at the command of my 2 year old son. And my heart is also at Home everywhere he walks.  Everywhere my husband walks. Everywhere my youngest two sons will ever walk.  

But today I feel it's not enough to live on those memories for the feeling of Home. Sometimes you need the substance more than the essence.  Home is something - fleeting, yes, but real.  And to me it's been unclear until the past year.

Home is where we want to be, where our people are already - maybe not the best or golden or only ones, but definitely the ones that will share our lives in day to day, the mundane quotidianity of raising children and growing old in subtle, inescapable, beautiful ways.  Home is with the ones I'll paint with and drink with and eat with and probably smoke a hookah on my porch with.  Home is where I know the streets, where I I can predict the landscape with every coming season, where I can watch a great, big tree grow in my garden, wrinkle after wrinkle, marking my years, and one day tell my sons how small it was when first we moved there. 

I think I know where Home is now.  And to know it is to love it fervently.  I simply can't get there fast enough.  And yet, with irony, that is one trip we can't take quite yet.
Today it's a nostalgic feeling of certainty.  Yesterday it was maddening.  And maybe tomorrow it will be a warm glow of hope.  

But until it happens, oh, to feel at Home!

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Three's not a Crowd.

Three's not a crowd.
Writing is such a luxury these days.

There are so many things I want to write about and never enough time to do it.  I am overdue for one of my pictorial appreciation posts about the beauty all around me (and there is plenty), I have a back-log of all the culinary dalliances I've been concocting (no, still have not lost the holiday weight), and let's not forget the recent family vacation we took which provided ample photographic evidence of how fortunate we are to lead such a beautiful, adventure and love filled life.  Then again, the cruise also provided plenty of evidence that life as a parent, while rewarding and exciting and fulfilling in many ways, can be stressful, difficult, and draining.  It's what literally takes up every second of my waking existence - not writing or cooking or daydreaming about the Wasatch mountains.  But that's to be expected, I suppose.

And speaking of expectations, I'm not entirely sure what I expected life to be like with three children.  But I know I didn't expect this.  Words fail a little bit.  Perhaps a picture of the crumbs on my kitchen floor, or the never-fully-organized playroom, or my crazy laundry room would symbolically do?  It's hard to describe exactly what I mean by "this" without painting a picture, but I'll try:

I expected squabbles and noise and mess - even a certain degree of chaos.  I expected my workload to increase by a factor of 1 munchkin.  Less me-time, less-Matt time.  I did not expect this - I did not expect to feel so completely frazzled and overwhelmed by the constant disorder and madness imposed on my otherwise orderly and independent existence that I am literally reeling from it some days.  Nobody tells you that once you have 3, you might as well have 5, because the amount of crazy, dirty and busy is not equal to just adding one more person.

And if I'm honest, maybe I'm also a victim of parenthood-induced selective amnesia.  I forgot what the terrible-twos looked, sounded and smelled like.  I forgot about potty training and the random poop-in-the-jeans-at-walmart moments.  I fervently and happily painted breast-feeding in the deepest shade of rose, only to fall into the depths of blue despair after 4 months of another relentless-every-hour-feeder Ciardiello child.  I simply could not remember the sleep-deprivation, or newborn laundry.  I did not expect to feel like I'd won the lottery when I could hear my child pooping from across the room and get there in time to avoid a blow-out diaper.  I didn't expect to not be able to have time to spend with my quiet angel infant of the blow-out diapers because, well, there's two other creatures waiting for me to look, touch, smell, clean, help, kiss, hug, tickle, or feed them ALL DAY, EVERY DAY.

Since when do 6-year-olds act like teenagers?!  I heard the warnings that chauffeuring to extra-curriculars gets old fast, but I was too dumb (or naive) to listen and am now living in daily regret.  Meanwhile I can barely get it together enough to go to sing-along time at the library once a week and have officially been paying for a gym membership for two months without using it once.  I don't know if two kids was that much easier (well, yes, it was) or if maybe it's the age-differences, or my children being particularly "spirited" boys?  I don't know what it is.  I just know it's unexpectedly hard.  I knew when I "signed up," that three kids would be a challenge.  I saw that far away look in my MIL's eyes when I told her we intended to have three children and she, having been through it herself, said, "Oh Brenda, it's hard.  It's really hard." 

We've all heard that three is a crowd.  What I didn't know was that it's not a crowd.  This is not about not having enough chairs at the dinner table, or having to buy an annoying extra pair of snow boots or one of those stupid tandem strollers (may they be cursed).  It's not about figuring out how you evenly split the last piece of brownie into thirds when halves are so much easier.  Three's not a crowd.  It's equal parts beauty and madness.  It's beyond anything I'd ever hoped or feared.  Really, what it is is absolutely, positively, all-consuming in every possible human way.  It makes me look at my three kids every day and feel both exasperated at my obvious stupidity at wanting three children, and my prescience to go ahead and go for it, because, in truth, I realize I could never choose one to get rid of.  I simply couldn't breathe if one of them were gone.   And our lives would be all the duller, less rich for it, no doubt about it.

In the end, I AM living in - surviving - this crazy moment in time, though.  It's hard because they're all little and dependent and need me and their dad to survive so much that we spend all our waking moments doing annoying but necessary things (like putting tiny socks back on for the 17th time or sweeping up impossible amounts of crumbs under the bar stools in the kitchen five times a day).  But I'm living in it with a real awareness of how fortunate I am to be able to live in it - despite the frustration, the loss of self, the moments I feel like I'm drowning.  And the reason I get it is because sometimes when I come up for air, I get a glimpse - a small, sparkling view of a moment when they're all playing together, sleeping soundly (the way only tired little kids do), eating their dinners in contentment, unknowingly grateful for their happy and bountiful home.  It makes me realize that one day they'll be grown, and if I'm lucky they'll turn out to be beautiful humans on whom I'll too be able to depend for love and company, but most of all for those memories of what it took to make them independent, well-balanced, loving parts of this crazy life and world.

And that will be worth it.  In an absolute, all-consuming kind of way, too. 

*  *  *

Way overdue for an update on the boys.  Here's a quick snapshot of each to-date.

Age 6 1/2 years
Nicknames: Romijn, Romidgen, Rome, Buddy, Buck-o

Roman is currently in 1st grade at a Spanish Immersion program.  He seems to love Spanish but is quite stingy with the knowledge he shares.  He recently looked up at Linus and declared "Linus, tu eres un ogro de peluche!" much to everyone's shock and delight.  He is an incredible reader.  He will complain and whine incessantly about having to read but the second he gets hooked into his book he shuts the entire world off.  He's creative and imaginative and an "outside the box" thinker who can think of solutions to things I'd never come up with on my own.  He loves to play Mario-Maker on the Wii.  He wants to help me whenever he can.  He's a caring and thoughtful big brother.  He's loud, messy, and never seems to listen (except he's absolutely always listening and just chooses to ignore anything he doesn't want to deal with).  His favorite movies are the old Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Sound of Music (he does a mean rendition of Julie Andrews' "Do - A Deer"), Elf, Toy Story.  His favorite books are the Magic Treehouse Books.  His love of antiquity continues in his curiosity about ancient ruins and maps.  He also seems to have a particular love of science, experiments, electricity and constructive games.  His favorite foods are tortellini with pesto, pizza, salmon sushi, sunny-side-up eggs, and clementines.  He hates taking a shower (and usually leaves shampoo in his hair), refuses to wear pajamas (he just dons his underwear and fleece robe), and wakes up earlier than anyone in the house to watch cartoons.

*  *  *

Age 2 1/4 years
Nicknames: Baboo, Al, Al-Zander, Babs, Pigmy-Midget, Aloysius Dinkle Doo

Alexander is still not in preschool because Utah doesn't do that and he's very attached to me anyway so I'm loathe to sign him up for daycare.  He is a happy, boundingly-full-of-energy little man who is extremely agile for his age.  He has the eagerness of a puppy.  He wants to be just like Roman (and may very well be stronger than him, or very nearly so).  He has the loudest cry of all the kids, but is the quietest otherwise.  He loves cars, trucks (anything with sirens) and ride-on toys.  He has used all the bikes and tricycles more than Roman ever did in the 5 years before him and is especially good on the plasma car and balance bike.  He listened and followed directions splendidly until he turned two.  Now he still listens and follows directions but only after throwing himself on the floor writhing, crying, and screaming for 1-2 minutes first.  He was potty-trained at 2 years old, but still occasionally has accidents which may very well be the cause of an awkward eye-twitch I've developed.  He loves to read books with me - some of our favorites are "The Snowy Day," the Curious George books, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear," "The Best Mouse Cookie," and all the Helen Oxenbury baby books.  He once fell asleep while I read him "Lost and Found."  Just once. :)

We call Alex a dangerous snuggle bug because if you lay down and fall asleep with him, you'll never want to get up again. He likes to burrow under his covers and is quite possessive of his blanket.  His favorite tv shows are Peppa Pig, Go DIego Go!, Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom, and Plaza Sesamo.  He's my Spanish-loving man and the most bilingual of all the kids so far.  He loves to wash his hands, brush his teeth, help put lotion on and put his boots on (even if it's usually on the wrong foot.)  He's the reason we take walks - even in the snow.  He HATES naps and usually falls asleep and wakes up crying.  Just how he rolls.  Two minutes and his coffee (warm milk) later, he's laughing.  His favorite foods are apple sauce, yoghurt, cereal, mac n cheese, and anything Matt and I are eating.  He'll eat olives with me and for that I'm eternally grateful.

*  *  *

Age Nearly 8 Months
Nicknames: Yinus, Yenai, Yen-Yen, Gumball, Leenosh, Gorrinus, The Golden Ginus

Linus just started sitting up really well and is starting to move around a lot.  You can tell he'll be crawling very soon.  He's the typical last child: the little darling, very patient with this older brothers - the apple of everyone's eye.  He has a quiet but happy personality.  He has started sleeping in his own room now, though he still comes into our bed after midnight.  He is still nursing and quite resistant to bottles though he will occasionally take one grudgingly.  He has just discovered the joys of real solid food (not purees).  His favorite foods these days are puffs, cereals of any sort, soft pears, chocolate (oh yes), apple sauce, and grapefruit segments.  He likes grabbing the book pages more than reading them. He loves dumping out buckets of toys, sucking on everything, and enjoys being wrestled with or allowing his brothers to drag him around the house.  He puts himself to sleep pretty easily in his crib at his bedtime of 6pm.  He takes 3 naps a day, rendering everyone home-bound until further notice, but his smile and babbling makes the inconvenience well worth it.  He has started taking baths with Alex and loves the water.  It is both satisfying and melancholy when he grows out of something.  The most recent things to go the way of the Dodo are the playmat, bouncy seat, and, while I'm still not willing to admit it, the burp cloths I've used with all three boys.  He has reddish, brownish, blondish hair like Roman did, but looks more like Matt in the facial features.  Sometimes Matt looks at him and says, "How did you end up being named Linus?"  I'm not sure either.  But it suits him well. :)

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