Saturday, September 29, 2012

September, I hardly knew ye

This month has simply flown by. That doesn't surprise me, though... we came home from our trip in the wee hours of the morning on September 1. Since then, we attended a 90th birthday party for GG Roberts... (thank you Jenn for the picture! That's GG admiring the card Mallory made for her.)
We broke out the Halloween decor to replace the summer stuff...
(I still love this skeleton as much now as the day I bought him for $3 on clearance. Great score!)
(The picture of the kids at the hockey game needs to be replaced with a Halloweeny one. I'll order a print this weekend.)
(I like the way the front porch looks now, but the mums will be dead before Halloween rolls around, so I'll probably need to do "Autumn: Phase II" planters before breaking out the Christmas decor.)

The kids started back to school, obviously. That's been going very well since we got the first-day jitters out of the way.

We've spent time down by the creek. It's a great place to watch the seasons change.
There's been a lot of this going on. The sheer numbers of geese that fly over at the same time every day amaze me.
Also speaking of down at the creek... Liam made a discovery he is most proud of. It could have been a lot worse. The occupant could still have been inside!
There has been ice time... lots of ice time. Hockey and ringette have started for another season. (So have swimming lessons and gymnastics, but cameras aren't allowed in either of those venues.) Speaking of activities, I've also started some lessons of my own... I've signed up for a master's swimming club and am committed to one night a week with them. I really enjoyed my first night.
There's been this. Er, um, what is this, exactly??
Liam has made friends with a couple of little boys who live down the street. Lots of road hockey going on after school.

We finished the video highlights from our trip, and I'm in the thick of making an album. I love the video but I still like having something tangible to flip through. We have lots of maps and such that need a home, and I'm interspersing them with lots of great photos from our trip. It will be a while before it's done, though.

There's been a home improvement project that is finally, finally complete. Well, it's 95% complete. I'll wait til it's 100% before sharing. It's given me a lot of incentive to get a few more things done in the coming weeks. I go through a similar fall nesting syndrome every year: time to turn the attention back inside, tackle some projects, buy new bath towels to replace the faded ones, a bunch of new clothes hangers for Liam's closet to replace the mishmash of teeny baby-sized hangers that no longer fit his clothes. And a cozy new throw for the couch because the pattern caught my eye and it looked so cozy.

We spent an afternoon volunteering at the kids' school, painting hopscotch and four-square grids on the pavement and planting trees.

And, I read FIVE books this month... FIVE. I think that's a record since we have had kids. I reread Desert Solitaire as soon as we came home from the trip so I could then put a visual to the story; I read the second and third Fifty Shades installments; I read Gone Girl, which was utterly riveting; and I am almost done Happier at Home, which has been really thought-provoking.

One thing that has not happened this month: Four People Twelve Times. I have a day left to make something happen. I guess, after so many pictures last month, I am not surprised that there's been a lull this month. We'll take a snapshot and call 'er done.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Getting lost

I am late to the game, and Megan has already covered this, so if you read there then you are already caught up. On the weekend we teamed up and headed out to our local cornfield maze. The dads were golfing and we had no intention of sitting home twiddling our thumbs, so off we went.
It’s been a few years since we were at the maze – the last time I can recall being there can be seen here – but I needed a stand-in for our non-existent trip to the apple orchard. On a free day last week, we had wanted to go to the orchard, but we were thwarted twice over. First – the local place we have gone to before has changed hands, and the new owners actually tore all the apple trees out and converted it into a standard farm field, full of corn and soybeans. I’m still kind of dismayed by that. Second, the late frost in the spring has pretty much killed the local apple business around here, and the other orchards aren’t running u-pick this fall as a result. So the corn maze would have to do for our fall harvest field trip.
It is funny now to read back on that 2007 trip, when the outing did not interest us all that much. This year, we had to tear ourselves away from the place a little after 6 p.m., and then only because we were starving. And, we spent less time in the maze than we did on the other stuff: the hay jump...

...and the petting zoo...
Oh look, we're actually in the maze now. Well, at the start of it.
(I did not intentionally dress Mallory in as much cheetah print as possible that day - it just happened.)
There were a few arguments about which way to go.
Here are the Barrs, trying to cheat with modern technology - bringing a wealth of Apple gadgets into the maze with us! (No, there's no App for that. Audrey had just taken a photo of the arial view of the maze for reference's sake.)
We thought getting to the top of the bridge might provide a clue as to where to go next. But as you can see from this picture... no such luck.

Obviously, we did make it out alive. So I'd call the day a success. Thanks for the fun day, Barrs!!

Friday, September 21, 2012


Also last week (I know, I know, I have been AWOL lately), Chad and I celebrated Anniversary #11. And this year, I didn't have pneumonia!
The traditional anniversary gift for #11 is steel. So when I came home and found these flowers, I assumed the container they were in (a mercury glass luminary of mine) was supposed to represent the steel. But then I found the card that accompanied the flowers. They were not really from Chad at all. At least, not according to Mallory. In fact, not only did Mallory give me flowers for my anniversary (which she apparently chose by herself, stem-by-stem, at a local floral boutique. Chad says he thinks she drove the owner crazy, though the owner probably spends 95% of her time dealing with bridezillas, so a cute five-year-old girl might actually have been a nice change of pace) - she also made me three anniversary cards, which is three cards more than Chad made me.
However, Chad did give me a little something else made of steel. So all is forgiven. 

This week we've been putting it to good use, playing countless games of "Where's My Water?" and watching the Gangnam Style video over and over again. The wonders of modern technology.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Meeting the teacher

Last week was our school's meet the teacher night. This was a lot earlier than it's normally held, but I liked it that way. We'd never met Liam's teacher before so it was nice to meet her before there was already a month of school under our belts.
One of the things I like best about meet the teacher night is not meeting the teacher at all. It's seeing the projects the kids have worked on in preparation for meet the teacher night. I always learn things about my kids that I never knew before. Like, I did not know that the three words Liam would use to describe himself are tall, nice, and smart. (I'd say about 90% of the class used the word 'nice' on their respective folders.) He's got it right though - he is tall compared to the other kids in his class. And he's pretty smart.
More importantly though, I did not know that his favourite song is "Party Rokin in the house to night". Bwahaha. My little LMFAO fan! And I think it's funny that he said "After school I think I'll watch TV." He almost never watches TV, unless a hockey game is on (and we all know how that's going this year...) Mallory, on the other hand, we can't pull away from the TV. Maybe that's why Liam never watches: there is always a Barbie or princess movie on.
The kids had to make a collage of pictures that represent themselves to put on a puzzle piece and connect to the other kids in the class. I thought it was very sweet that in addition to including a family picture in his collage, he wanted another picture just of Mallory, too.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Grand Circle: Part 3

Leaving Monument Valley and heading into Arizona, our first destination of the day was Page. Or, more specifically, Lake Powell. The lake was created by damming the Colorado River roughly 40 years ago, which flooded Glen Canyon.
We've never boated before, so this was a bit of an experiment. We packed a cooler full of food and drinks, rented a motorboat for the day from the Wahweap marina, got a lesson in its use, then headed out onto the water.
The lake is known for being very scenic, with red rocks meeting the blue-green water. This year the water level in the lake is really low, since there was not a lot of snow last winter. This picture isn't mine and probably isn't even from this year, but the white line showing the high-water level looks pretty similar to what we saw.
Being August in Arizona, the lake water was also very warm - 83 degrees - wonderful for swimming in. Hard to believe it can be that warm when the lake is roughly 600 feet deep!
We alternated between cruising around the lake and docking in place to do some jumps and swimming from the boat. Thankfully, we were able to return the boat to the marina in one piece. We survived our first boating trip!

After spending the night in Page, we hit the road early the next morning for the last destination of the trip: The Grand Canyon. We chose to visit the North Rim, which is a lot more remote and has fewer amenities than the South Rim. They say 90% of people go South and only 10% go North. The North Rim also closes for the winter because it's 1000 feet higher and typically gets snowed in.

The drive up to the North Rim followed a lot of twisty, turny roads and gained a lot of elevation. Once again, Liam was not feeling well. (Note to self: build in a few extra acclimatization days the next time we take Liam to the mountains.) We were 1/4 mile away from the pit stop we'd planned in Jacob Lake when Liam started puking more puke than I ever would have thought could fit in one little boy's stomach. We pulled over and decontaminated the car the best we could with a bottle of Wet Wipes, then continued on.

The North Rim is densely forested. Here we are almost on the brink of the canyon, and you'd never know it was there.
On the North Rim, you only get peeps at the canyon at lookouts between the trees, and on the back patio of the Lodge, which is amazing. It's pretty much the whole reason why I wanted to visit North Rim versus South Rim. 
Sitting there in one of those Adirondack chairs is just about all the entertainment you could ever want.

But we still decided to do a few short hikes, ones Liam felt up to. The trail was 2-3 feet wide, paved, and in sections it had this short rock wall alongside it. But I was a nervous wreck. Chad was holding onto Mallory and I was holding onto Liam, but my palms were sweaty and so were the soles of my feet. It was several hundred feet down on either side of this fin of rock - and that's only until you hit the first ledge. Many more hundred feet to go until the bottom of the canyon!
I felt somewhat better in the spots that had railings, but my knees were still weak.
Back on the patio as the sun went down, with drinks in hand - a North Rim Sunset for me, a North Rim Lager for Chad, and Shirley Temples (and Leappads - groan!) for the kids.
In our cabin for the night. The cabin was nearly identical to the one we'd rented at Bryce Canyon, which makes sense since they are both National Parks lodges, both built in the 1930s and both currently run by the same company. One difference though - in this one, we had an overnight visitor - a chipmunk, who must have smelled the peanut butter cookies we picked up at the Jacob Lake Inn!
The next morning, after seeing a few more sights at the North Rim, it was time to start thinking about going home. We drove back to Las Vegas. En route we passed through Colorado City in Utah, (former) home to Warren Jeffs. The town was established just a short time ago in the middle of nowhere so that the polygamists would presumably be left alone. Unfortunately for them, it's right on the highway between the North Rim and Las Vegas, so I imagine they get a large number of tourists stopping in. We ate lunch at the Merry Wives Cafe: 
Yes, the cafe is owned and operated by several sister wives, and it's decorated with family photos... photos of very, very large families. I was wearing shorts and a tank top and felt quite out of place. Every other woman there had sleeves past their elbows and a dress to the floor. Plus bouffant hair. I hope I did not look disrespectful.

Anyway... back to Las Vegas! We stayed at the Mirage this time, enjoyed the pool, then went out to see a few sights:
Showgirls (this is one of my favourite pictures of the whole trip! Mallory really enjoyed Las Vegas due to the larger-than-average number of people dressed in sequins.)
Chad and his twin.
Liam striking a pose in the Seigfried and Roy gift store. Everything there had a white tiger on it. We stayed out past dark on the Strip to see the Bellagio fountains, the Mirage volcano (which Mallory was absolutely terrified of - I should have seen that one coming) and the pirate show at Treasure Island, which is a lot less family-friendly than it used to be, thanks to the addition of some scantily clad female pirates. Liam loved it nonetheless.
And the next day after lunch, we were off, climbing over the Strip...
...and also getting one last view of the Grand Canyon on the way home. So long to the Wild West!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Grand Circle: Part 2

When I last left off, we were still in the early stages of our Moab stay. I have to say, I am so glad that we decided to go to Moab. It was the furthest point east on our itinerary and made for the longest driving days. We did consider leaving it out of the loop in order to spend more time in other locations, but it really did provide the best activities of the whole trip, along with some of the best scenery. It was also our longest stay of the whole trip. We were in or around Moab for a total of 4 nights which was a nice long stay without any packing/unpacking required. We took the opportunity here to fit in a lot of downtime, swimming, relaxation, and a few loads of laundry to boot.
After we did the Fiery Furnace on our second day, and spent some time at the pool, it started to cloud over. We decided to forgo the hike to see the Delicate Arch that we'd planned on for that night because you're 'supposed' to see it at sunset and we figured there wouldn't be much of one. Instead, we spent that night at our resort, checking out the stables and having dinner on the deck out beside the river.
On our third day, we had an early-morning appointment at The Ice Cream Parlour, which is a rock climbing site in Kane Creek Canyon. We met our guide in Moab and she shuttled us out to the site. Here, we all tackled a 5.6 pitch. 
(I found this picture on the internet. The pitch we climbed is the one called, uninterestingly enough, "5.6".) 
The kids loved this - Liam in particular. He was a natural.
On the way back to town we stopped to see some petroglyphs at an old Native American settlement.

That afternoon, the sun blazed and despite having had an early-morning wakeup for the rock climbing, the conditions were perfect to see Delicate Arch. It was also the last possible chance to see it so it was now or never! The hike there is all uphill and Mallory complained a little, but she made it in the end. (This was also our first taste of the steep drop-offs that would become par for the course over the coming week. The last few hundred meters of the approach to Delicate Arch are on an exposed ledge hewn out of the rock. We did lots of hand-holding and barking orders at the kids to stay to the inside of the path.)
Luckily, we all survived the trip to Delicate Arch and were able to find our way back to the car after the sun set. We went right to bed when we got back to the hotel because the next morning we had to pack up and leave Red Cliffs Lodge. We parked the car at a beach along the river, and were then met by Red River Expeditions, with whom we did an overnight rafting trip on the Colorado River.
Mixed reviews for this part of the trip. The rafting itself was the most fun thing I think we did the whole time we were gone - but the first day of rafting was really short. We were at the beach setting up camp by 2 p.m. and had a lot of time to kill for the rest of the day as a result. The conditions on the river change every day, so the guides are always making judgment calls in terms of where to put the rafts in and where to set up camp... and I get that this is hard to do... but in hindsight, I think we would have chosen to do a daily river run instead, and put that extra day of vacation time toward something else. Nonetheless, the kids loved it. The scenery was spectacular. We passed lots of landscapes that have famously shown up in movies/music videos and I am now looking forward to seeing the upcoming movie where Johnny Depp will play Tonto from "The Lone Ranger", which just finished filming there.
We pulled out of the river on the second day around 3 p.m. and hit the road for our next destination: Monument Valley, a remote little outpost on the Navajo Nation. We knew we were getting close when we passed the famous Milepost 13:
Fast forward to 5:09 to see it as you have probably seen it before:
Monument Valley was the sleeper hit of the trip. It was only meant to be a convenient overnight rest stop, but we were blown away. First of all, the view:
The hotel there (which is pretty much all there is in Monument Valley - not even so much as a gas station for miles and miles), actually called The View, is only a few years old. Every room faces the valley and has a little porch overlooking it. It doesn't look like much to pull up to it from the front, but the view out the back is unreal. The restaurant serves authentic Navajo food:
 the Trading Post is extensive:
and every night after dark, they project John Wayne movies shot in the valley onto the wall of the hotel.
The following morning, we were up for a beautiful sunrise.

And with that, we were on our way from Monument Valley, driving through the Navajo Nation and eventually turning out into Arizona, home to more free-range animals than you can shake a stick at.