Hello, Muddah. Hello, Faddah.

Eleanor and I went to Girl Scout Camp this week.  Here’s something you may not know about me: I love Girl Scouting.  Here’s something else you may not know: you don’t have to be a Girl Scout to go to camp.  One more thing: many councils will host parent-child camp sessions, and they are very reasonably priced.

When I heard that there would be a three-day mother-daughter camp in June, I signed me and Eleanor right up.  And we had a blast!  We slept in a platform tent!

We had our trail mix stolen by a chipmunk!  We saw a deer! I forgot to bring clean socks for myself and had to wear the same pair three days in a row!

Can you see the deer that Eleanor is watching?

My fingernails turned black with dirt and I could not ever scrub them clean.  There was fire building (with pretend fire) and knife safety (with pretend knives) and knot tying (with real rope).  We ate in the mess hall and hiked together and sang silly songs in the amphitheater (Eleanor and I even sang The Spam Chant for Skit Night) . . .

The woman sitting just behind Eleanor wore a windbreaker covered with vintage Girl Scout badges from the 80s. It rocked!

. . . and some girls in our camping area formed a secret society that met in Tent #3.  They called it a “Three Meeting” and involved lots of giggling and the consumption of Twinkies.

BUT . . . the best thing of all?  HORSES.

I would say that 90% of the girls at camp were there for the horses and horses only.  All that time playing games and balancing on the ropes course?  Mere obstacles to getting into the saddle.

It’s a tough 1/2-mile hike up the mountain to get to the stables.  Since the camp is at the top of the South Fork of Provo Canyon, Eleanor and I were breathless, and she complained all the way up.

See how high up this is? You’d be breathless too, right?

But then she got to meet Pep.

And it wasn’t a pony ride we did, either.  Eleanor got to give Pep simple commands to go forward, stop, and turn from side to side.  Pep liked to stop and eat grass on the side of the road, and Eleanor was able to get him back on the road all by herself.

Pep is now Eleanor’s favorite animal, ever.  She talked about Pep alllll the way back down the mountain.

I rode a very old horse named Duke.  He’s a tri-colored beauty.

Here’s the view on the trail.  I’m really going to miss the Wasatch mountains.

The next day we played games with this gigantic parachute . . .

. . . and we had a carnival.  There were balloon animals, cotton candy, and games, but the most intriguing activity was “horse painting.”

Hilarious, no?  I can’t wait to do this again with Eleanor next year in Seattle.

Winter Walk

Here’s what we needed today:

Why?  Because Brian and I have had a very stressful weekend.  One of those curl-into-a-ball-on-the-couch kind of times.  I can’t get into the details right now, but let’s just say that both Jeff and Eleanor were throwing up all day yesterday, and it didn’t even phase us compared to the Big Bad Thing.

I mean, Jeff even threw up in the middle of Sacrament Meeting.

All over the pew.

While I was in the middle of playing prelude music on the organ.

And when someone came up to tell me that Jeff had thrown up, I cried “Holy crap!” a little too loudly, and yanked my hands off the keyboard in the middle of a chord . . .

. . . then noticed that the chapel had become eerily quiet.  Pulling myself together, I shakily stumbled back into the music.

Brian wasn’t there; he had stayed home with Eleanor.  Some amazing church members stepped forward to get Jeff cleaned up while I crawled through the opening hymn, the sacrament hymn, and then the congregational hymn.  At that point, Jeff made a mad dash to the bathroom for a second round of sick.  Praying that the rest of the meetings’ speakers were long-winded, I grabbed both boys, stuffed them in the car, drove them home (“I’ll explain later,” I shouted to Brian,) then dashed back to church.

Fortunately, the speakers were nice and long.  I think it’s the first time I’ve ever been happy about that.

BUT, all that hubbub was nothing, I say nothing compared with the stress from the bad news we got on Friday.

So, a distraction was in order.  TO THE MOUNTAINS!

We went to Wasatch Mountain State Park, home of alpenhorn goodness.

Ostensibly to snowshoe, but it’s been a dry winter so far and there wasn’t enough snow for it.  Instead, we pulled on boots and hit the trail for a snowy walk.

I love William’s winter ensemble here.  Monster hat (present from grandma), stripey scarf (present from other grandma) a size-too-big coat because his regular coat was left at church (see the Grand Spew Incident, above) and big sister’s hand-me-down pink boots.  RAWR!

We saw a bird’s nest, which the park rangers said might belong to a mountain bluebird . . .

. . . and a few cute bird tracks.

There were snowstorms looming above us, on the peaks.  It made the scene look half-erased, as if a landscape painter changed his mind, waiting for a better idea to strike.

The kids were whiny at times, but eventually became more stalwart.  It wasn’t that cold, to tell the truth.  And while the path was slippery, only one of us ever slipped.  (Me.  Ow.  Ironically, it happened just at the moment Brian and I were discussing the novel Icefall.)

Here’s the real reason we decided to hike in Midway:

Tarahumara!  One of our favorite Mexican restaurants.  They have killer chilles rellenos, and about twenty kinds of salsa. I like the pineapple mango best.

But the bakery items are my favorite — orejas, pastelas, and key lime flan.  They aren’t pictured because they were eaten too quickly.

The day overall?

DISTRACTION ACCOMPLISHED!

Dem Bones

Brian’s mother gave him the best birthday present — a family membership to the new Natural History Museum of Utah.  As such, we were able to go to a sneak preview open house on Thursday night.

Squee!  I LOVE natural history museums, and this one’s a beaut.  Check out the Big Display Case of Random Things:

This would be so perfect for a game of I-Spy.  Eleanor and I even had a few quick rounds before heading off to explore.

There are scads of hands-on exhibits for kids (and grown ups) to try.  This room will house an insect and amphibian zoo dedicated to Utah wildlife:

Big chunks of fossils from the Green River dig site — underneath a glass floor!

The Paleolab was open, with scientists on hand to show us the finer features of the Diabloceratops.

Over in the corner (behind the guy in the orange shirt) is another fossil, that of the Cosmoceratops, which was just discovered and named this summer.  It had SIXTEEN HORNS ON ITS HEAD.  Just think of the hat possibilities.

Speaking of which, Brian and I were especially taken with this wall describing ceratops‘ relationships:

And, of course, many more dinosarus from the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.  I loved the emphasis on paleontology and other sciences specific to Utah.

BUT the spiffiest bit was being allowed to walk back into the storage vaults and labs.  These will be closed to the public once the museum officially opens.

I peeked around, but couldn’t find the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail.  Sorry, Indiana.

But we saw the Archaeology Lab . . .

. . . the dry bio lab (where they taxidermify small rodents!  I know I shouldn’t be squeamish, but ew! my kids asked if they could touch them!  And then they did!) . . . .

. . . the entomology vault, which houses many insect collections like this . . .

. . . aaaaaaand herpetology, with its shelves and shelves of creepy preserved specimens.

Including, of course, Jar o’ Snakes.  Gotta have a Jar o’ Snakes.

The biologist standing next to the Jar o’ Snakes explained that the museum used to have a herpetologist on staff, but now he’s retired and, as she put it, “getting crankier every year.”

The Cranky Herpetologist?  Somebody needs to write a book with that title.  Chop, chop, people.

What’s most disappointing with the museum is that after visiting the herpetology room, I didn’t take any more pictures!  Not the squishy floor describing the Great Salt Lake!  Not the really turn-crank exhibit demonstrating how basin-and-range geology works!  Not the water play tables or dig sites!  Not the Ancestral Puebloan weaving, or the Native Voices exhibit, or the life science floor!

Well, I guess I’ll just have to go back then, won’t I?

Caynoneering

As I mentioned before, we found Bryce Canyon National Park is kinda boring.  But fortunately it is right next door to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (henceforth referred to as GSENM), which is chock full of not-boring.

Before I continue, however, I must mention that the town of Tropic, Utah (pop 600) has incredibly tasty pizza.  Really, you should try it, especially the Navajo Taco pizza.  It totally blew away the pizza in Torrey, Utah (pop 200).

Now, on to Devil’s Garden!

Because GSENM is managed by the Bureau of Land Management instead of the Park Service, the rules are a bit more lax.  So we got to run all over this set of hoodos and arches.  Its entrance was marked by a sign that labeled it an “Outstanding Natural Area,” and it is outstandingly natural.  The kids found it the best playground ever.  I half expected to see Wile E. Coyote run through this landscape.

When we arrived, the crowds hadn’t hit yet.  We had the place pretty much to ourselves.

It was almost worth the headache I got from driving 10 miles of washboarded dirt roads to get there!  (Ugh.  I hate washboarded roads.)

BUT mere headaches could not stop us from continuing another 6 miles down the washboarded road to hike a slot canyon!  Heavens, no.  The canyon is called the Dry Fork . . . or was it the Dry Wash?  Eh, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Lovely, isn’t it?  I love slot canyons.  Almost worth the horrid headache I got from driving the combined 16 more miles of washboarded roads to get back to the main road.  I even agreed to try out a different slot canyon the next day.  Which will be discussed in the next post.

Bryce Canyon, a.k.a. Park #5

The finale!  El Fin!  This past weekend, we headed down to Bryce Canyon National Park, the fifth and last of Utah’s national parks we’ve visited (and the fourth national park that Katie has visited in her short 9 months).  Huzzah!

(Yes, we brought the stroller.  In fact, I even said out loud, “I’m so glad I brought the stroller,” to which William replied, “I’m so glad I brought myself!”)

To celebrate, Brian and I put together this puzzle in our hotel room, which features photos of all five parks.  In the grand tradition of jigsaw puzzles, one piece turned up missing.

We saw many, many views just like this:

Which got . . . kind of dull.

The kids began to tire of smiling in front of sweeping hoodoo vistas and tried to mix it up a bit.

And yes, we did hike down into one of the canyons.  The best thing we saw there was this sorcerer tree:

Aannnnnnd yawn.  Maybe we should have stayed away from a trail called “Swamp Canyon/Under the Rim.”  (Although it gave us a great new code phrase for when Katie has a messy diaper.)

However, I did accomplish the monumental task of finding the most inane of all the sentences on the park’s many interpretive signs.

Tentacles of invisible streams, indeed.

I also appreciated the big ravens.  They are massive and terrifying.  No wonder Poe liked them so much.  Quoth the raven: Shut the doooor.

We also took advantage of the astronomy programs offered by the — get this — Dark Ranger.  Which would be a ranger specializing in astronomy and dark skies.  But it really sounds like he needs a cape.

Despite all these delights, I was fine moving on after a few days and exploring a different part of the desert.  Where to?  Stay tuned!

And the Award for Most Original Gutterball Goes To . . .

I’ve been scrounging up little videos of the kids that we took over the summer.  This one was filmed by Kathryn during our trip to Cedar City.  While Brian and I went to see a production of “Noises Off,” the grandparents took the kidlets bowling.  Or perhaps I should say (air quotes) “bowling” since they used bumpers and a little metal slide for the balls.  The entire bowling experience was whittled down to pushing a ball down a slide, so I guess you can’t blame Eleanor for getting creative.

What’s really impressive, I guess, is that despite all this, she still gets a gutterball.  Genius.

Letters From Camp

Did I mention that Eleanor is a Daisy Girl Scout?

Well, kind of.  She’s troopless.  I’ve tried for the past many, many months to start a troop, but I can’t find anybody to run it with me (you need two leaders to have a troop).  Most of my good friends live too far away to make it practical, and those who live close by don’t have daughters Ellie’s age.  So, she’s a “Juliette,” which is a class of rogue Girl Scout.

But she still gets to go to camp!  Which is what she did with her grandma this past weekend.  It was a one-night minicamp for kids with an adult.  Very fun stuff.

They slept in the Trefoil Lodge, up Provo Canyon.  Eleanor turned herself into a Sleeping Bag Monster . . .

. . . and got piggy-back rides from lots of new friends.  The camp had a “cowgirl round-up theme, in case you’re wondering about the hats.

On the first day, the campers went hiking and found a nest of baby garter snakes.  They cooked “brown bears” over a campfire (cinnamon-sugar-dipped biscuit dough toasted on a stick), sang silly camp songs, and looked at the stars with a local astronomer and her telescope.

The next morning they learned some country dance steps.  I think Eleanor and her grandma performed particularly well:

And if that wasn’t exhausting-sounding enough, the girls then spent the rest of the day doing arts and crafts: dipping candles, painting picture frames, and tie-dyeing shirts.  Eleanor’s candle is pleasingly funky:

And did I mention MORE brown bears before lunch?  Taaaaasty.  Kathryn was so impressed with the camp that she’s already asking to take Eleanor on the next one in January (they get to go snowshoeing!).  If I didn’t have a little nursing one at home, I’d take Ellie myself.  Thank goodness for grandmas who can stand in for me when duty calls!

History Face, PART DEUX

BY THE GHOST OF GRANT’S TOMB!

JEFFREY HAS ENLISTED IN THE UNION ARMY!

It was all part of “Voices of the Civil War” day at This is the Place Heritage Park.  Jeff was in hog heaven.  He got a gunny sack and a piece of hardtack . . .

. . . and then was examined by the army physician to make sure he had all his fingers and toes.  (This was an authentic recreation of a Civil War exam.  “You can shoot a gun and trudge?  Great!”)

(By the way, the hardtack was very chewy with a pleasantly nutty flavor.)

Then he filled out a form for his paystub.  This was taken very seriously:

He later exchanged the stub for candy coins at the bank.

Jeffrey was now official!  Which was a good idea, because trouble was brewing on the main street.  Some Union calvarymen were attacked by a ragtag group of Rebel infantry out on the main street.  Shots were fired, and the Southern troops either dropped down dead or ran away.

This was pretty much the opposite outcome of every single  other Civil War recreation battle I ever saw in Virginia and Georgia.  Down there, the Northern army is the one that runs away . . . usually into an abandoned barn . . . that then explodes into fireworks.   So goes the War of Northern Aggression.

As Jeff’s mother, I think my official job was to sob, throw myself melodramatically on the floor, and beg him not to go off and abandon his family to join the Army.    At least, that’s what I’ve learned from really bad stage plays and period engravings.

Jeffrey’s head was spinning by the end of the afternoon; he adored every minute.  In some ways, Jeff is a kid born in the wrong time.  After finishing all his recruitment-related activities, he saw a woman in period costume riding sidesaddle down the street.  When she stopped at a corner, Jeff stepped up and doffed his hat to her.

“Well, I am most glad to see that there are still a few fine gentlemen in this part of the world,” she replied.  Jeff’s history face was INTENSE.

Meanwhile, Eleanor spent almost all of her time doing PIONEER CHORES!  Washboards, HUZZAH!

Brian’s mother had come along with us on this busy afternoon, and she graciously offered to stay with William and Eleanor and watch them endlessly scrub rags and beat rugs.  She’s a saint.

The other skill Eleanor’s been picking up lately is photo posing.  She took it upon herself to arrange her brothers in front of this statue, and then asked me to take the picture.  Hilarious.

Camping at Tanner’s Flat

Know what?  I’m a wimp.  A camping wimp.  For me, camping means sleeping in a tent no more than 20 feet away from my car, sleeping on an air mattress, and munching on fresh fruit, cheese and veggies from a cooler.  What’s not to love?

Brian and I decided we would try to squeeze a camping trip in at the end of summer, and booked a night’s stay at the Tanner’s Flat campground up Little Cottonwood Canyon.

We really haven’t been tent camping with the kids in over a year, so it was almost a brand-new experience for them.  They loved goofing off in the tent and making as many trips as possible to the campground bathroom, which was just downhill from us.  (When making campsite reservations, I always go for the one nearest the bathroom.)

Eleanor was thrilled to spend time gathering kindling for the campfire.  She lead William on several expeditions, a la Little House in the Big Woods.  Adorable.

Jeffrey’s main occupation was throwing multiple marshmallows into the fire while shouting “TEMPLE OF DOOOOM!” and then watching them spontaneously combust.

I was really worried Katie would not sleep well, but she was great, and slept in quite a bit.  Jeffrey, on the other hand, woke up at 6:00 and proceeded to bounce on the air mattresses as much as possible.

Ugh.  We decided we might as well get up and go hiking.

The Albion Basin is at the top of Little Cottonwood, and is very, very popular for hiking, due mainly to the scads of wildflowers:

Go ahead, sing it to yourself: The hiiiiills are aliiiiiiive with the sound of muuuuusiiiiic . . .

It’s so busy that on most weekends you have to park at the bottom of the basin and take a lousy shuttle bus up to the trailhead.  But we were on the road early enough to bypass this inconvenience and park where we wanted!  Right at the trailhead for Cecret Lake:

Oooooo, purdy purdy.  Last year, we did this hike, and it was just as pretty, but we got rained on, then hailed on.  And then we saw some moose.  This time, we were nearly alone during the first part of the hike, and saw lots of hummingbirds in this meadow:

Downtime on the trail was spent waiting for Heidi to pop out from behind a boulder with a goat or something.

And . . . then we realized that our main activity for the day was over by 11:00 a.m.  So we went back to the campsite, ate lunch, built a fire, roasted yet more marshmallows (yes, more TEMPLE OF DOOOOOM!), and packed up for home.

Need I say that sitting in full sunshine in August next to a campfire is a dumb idea?  Naps were in due order that afternoon . . .

Hiking Jack’s Mountain Mailboxes (Well, Almost)

In which Brian poses for the cover of a Louis L’Amour Novel!

This one is called “The Baby Rustler.”  Apparently Mr. L’Amour has gone a bit daffy in his old age.  (Wait.  Is he even still alive?)

So.  There’s this trail above the foothills of Salt Lake City that leads to Jack’s Mountain Mailboxes, which is a memorial to a little boy who died from cancer back in 1995.  His parents scattered his ashes on one of the foothill peaks, and placed two mailboxes in the hillside.  Hikers who visit read and leave inspirational messages in the mailboxes.

My kids thought it would be ripping to find the “secret messages” on the mountainside.  I was really curious, too.  Up we went!

Starting at the “H” rock (a big rock painted with an “H” for Highland High) . . .

. . . Easy peasy.  But then the trail got steep.  Very steep, although there were scads of dragonflies to keep us entertained.

The following picture shows Brian (and Katie) at the trail’s halfway point.  See the peak in the distance?  Brian said, “Hey, all we have to do is climb up that!  It should only take half an hour!”

But thin Western air can be decieving.  Things are farther away than they seem.

We kept going up up up up up uuuuuup.  Somewhere along the way I noticed that the trail map we downloaded indicated a 1200 ft. elevation gain.

Finally, we came to these rocks — what we thought was the peak.

But then we scrambled over the top and realized we still had half an hour of climbing to go. The real peak was off in the distance, taunting us.

It was 8:30 p.m. by that time, and we had run out of water.  We didn’t want to hike down the steep trail in the dark, so we had to turn back.  Eleanor, who had been the most whiny on the way up, was surprisingly devastated by this decision, and launched into an inspirational pep talk:

“We don’t have to give up!  If you just BELIEVE in yourself, you can do ANYTHING!  And I know we can reach the top if we just BELIEVE!”

Brian was already heading downhill by the time she was done.  Buh-bye!

Jack’s Mountain Mailboxes will have to wait for another day.  In the meanwhile, we got to admire these delicious views of the Salt Lake valley: