Thursday, August 28, 2014

Firsts and Faucets

Landon started First Grade on Monday! He looked super handsome in his uniform shirt and shorts- the cleanest and brightest that shirt and shorts are going to look all year. He had a new backpack, old shoes (we ran out for new ones that night; his feet are growing SO big SO fast), and an excited little smile. Who doesn't love the first day of school? I would still like to have one every year.

Landon didn't think the five of us really needed to be in his classroom, and he definitely didn't see why I needed to hug him goodbye, but he was a good sport about our (new) traditional handshake. How many years does it take for something to be a real tradition? Maybe by second or third grade?

This started when my best friend got married last summer and at her bridal shower her dad had a little slideshow of childhood pictures including a series of her and her big brother shaking hands on the first day of school every year from Kindergarten through college. It was adorable and so touching and funny to see them change (along with their attitude towards each other and school) each year. It occurred to me that my kids don't really seem to know what a handshake is, but they're very good at hugs.


Landon's new teacher seems just amazing. Very like his Kindergarten teacher (who we adored) in that she went to his school for her elementary years, her mom taught at the school, she student-taught at the school, and she's now on her 17th year there as a teacher herself. She is known as the "child-whisperer" and did seem to have an incredible and immediate hold on her class despite the parents, first day craziness, and not ever raising her voice above her soft-spoken drawl.

His first four days have gone great. Our big changes from first to kinder involve daily homework instead of weekly and a requirement to sign his behavior folder each day. So far neither party is finding this overly onerous, but it's early and the homework is all review so far.

In other bits of excitement I ordered four things online at the other day and all four fit and are perfect and I'm keeping them! This happens exactly never- I order most of my clothes online and always routine about half, but this time I'm keeping ALL of the things and I'm so excited by my success, and the re-purchase of my favorite pair of shorts in two new colors (and smaller sizes!) for only $10 each, that I don't even mind that I'm not getting the credit I assumed I'd get when I returned an item or two. I also got a dress for our anniversary dinner on Saturday- a cute trapezey thing that makes my shoulders look great for $18, so I'm all kinds of pleased with the internet right now.

Also on the internet- the inspiration for our new kitchen! As I mentioned previously, we're knocking out a wall and redoing our kitchen in the next few weeks. We picked out our appliances yesterday (amazing deal at a local store with the sweetest salesman; he helped me pick out and buy our fridge and washer/dryer when we moved here in early 2012. The company recently came out for free to fix a leak in our freezer no questions asked and they have a scratch and dent warehouse that saved us about $1,000 which justified my buying the double-convection-oven gas range of my dreams), and our contractor is coming by tomorrow morning to finalize our cabinets and floor plan. We're picking out granite and tile next week and our whole kitchen should be ripped out by mid-September. Can't wait!

Here's a few of my inspiration photos:

Flooring is going to be the trickiest part- I'm thrilled to get rid of our 70-year-old linoleum, but I need something that goes with my color scheme, doesn't clash with the honey wood floors already running throughout the house, and isn't square or boring or wood (I only like tile in kitchens). But I can't roam the aisles of the tile warehouse until Tuesday, so I'm picking out our faucet and over-peninsula pendant lights in the meantime.

Thoughts? Granite will be white/grey, cabinets will be white Shaker-style, floors will be darker (likely brown, but we'll see), walls will be same blue as living room, all appliances are stainless, and sink is stainless undermount.

Circle Pendant; Downlight Pendant.

Industrial; Curvy.

I still have some googling to do before finalizing those purchases, but I think I'm leaning towards the downlight pendant and industrial type faucet. Does anyone have one of those? Do you like it? After 2.5 years of discussions and savings, we're really just a few google clicks, building permits, and weeks without a kitchen away from a walk-in pantry and the ability to see the kids while I cook dinner each night. I am most excited about that last part. I hate getting home after work and then immediately kicking them out of the kitchen so I can cook (it's too narrow and dangerous to let them stay; my leg bears the scars from run-ins with appliances). I want to see Cora in her pen and Landon doing homework at the island and Claire flitting about between them. 

So while I meditate on that happy thought, let me know if you have any kitchen reno wisdom to share. Cabinet configurations, favorite drawer set-ups, things you wish you'd done, things you did that maybe weren't quite worth it in the end- anything! We've renovated three bathrooms, but this is the first kitchen and it means so much to me. Plus, it's expensive, so I'm going to need to love it until we move or the year 2034, whichever comes sooner, so let me know if you have any hard earned advice or other thoughts!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Palo Duro Canyon and Summer's Last Hurrah

Today was back to school prep day- I made 3 days worth of dinners, shiny new backpacks and lunchboxes were made ready for their big debuts, and Monday's uniform is the cleanest and brightest it's ever going to be. We are READY for this. Summer is great and all, especially with the pool, but I much prefer the school year's steady routine to the craziness of June - August (it's mostly JP's craziness, but it bleeds over). So yay first day of school, bring it on!

But before we close out on summer and move on to fall (if a 105 degree forecast can be called fall), let's go back in time to Wednesday morning when we piled our children and lots of carefully planned food, two hiking backpacks, some baby gear, a bunch of sunscreen and bug spray, and Landon's gigantic size 5 hiking boots (size 5!!)and drove for 6 (actually 6.5; we missed an exit by about 20 miles) to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. I booked a 2-room rim cabin back in April when I decided I had lied when I justified our February ski vacation by promising we wouldn't go on a vacation this summer and then polled co-workers for a trip ideas that would be inexpensive, no more than a half-day drive, not involving the beach of water (JP is waterlogged by late August), and with good hiking. Palo Duro it was, and because no one wants to go camping on a Wed-Fri in late August, we were able to book our cabin with less than the usual 10 months notice- huzzah!

And oh, our the cabin. This was our view when we opened the tall gate separating the cabin from the road.

The camera phone can't come close to capturing it, but it pretty much took our breath away. I can't believe I grew up camping all over Texas and never heard of this place. It's the second biggest canyon in the US and spectacularly beautiful.

The cabin was built into the rim of the canyon by the CCC in the 30's. It had a flat roof edged in stones the kids could climb up and they thought it was the most amazing thing in the whole world- screw the geological wonder before them, they get to play on the roof of a house! And their bedrooms had full-sized bunk beds, so this was basically the greatest vacation destination of their lives.

We quickly unloaded the car and headed out for our first hike. Dubbed "Rock Garden" and rated "difficult," it was basically a windy path through the canyon that ended in an explosion of boulders seemingly thrown down from the heavens. As you know, there's nothing the Lag Liv loves more than a pile of rocks to climb on. So climb we did.

Cora was all, you put me in a car seat for 6.5 hours so that you could put me in a hiking backpack for 2 more? Awesome.

We all bought hats for the trip, making this the first time I think I've ever worn a hat in my life, but Claire adored her little baseball cap and she wore her heart-shaped teal sunglasses on every hike.

This was the first trip she had to hike on her own instead of freeloading in the backpack, but she did SO great. She was pretty sure that hand-holding was essential to hiking, and given that she hiked a total of about 10 miles in 3 days without whining, I was happy to oblige.

Cora was happy to take the sacred seat in the hiking backpack. Giddy'up Daddy!

We got back to the cabin in time for cocktail hour and some scaling of the walls.

The kids got to stay up past dark so they could run around with glow stick necklaces and we could make s'mores. Except the s'mores plan had to be abandoned in the face of crazy high winds, so we enjoyed back-up chocolate chip cookies and tucked the kids in bed before heading back out to our patio to watch the stars, which were truly spectacular. I counted 9 shooting stars the first hour.

On Day 2 we woke up to a bald headed baby who was DELIGHTED to find us sleeping in her room and began our preparations to tackle Palo Duro's signature hike to Lighthouse rock. 2.72 miles each way (which was a lie, more like 3.2), the last bit quite vertical, with a 105-degree sun and no tree cover. This is how we vacation people.

We loaded up our two hiking backpacks: JP's with Cora, 2 big water bottles, my camera, and a diaper changing pad and supplies; and mine with a gallon of water strapped securely in the baby holding area, a bunch of snacks, and a first aid kit. I was the supply cart in the wagon train and our plan to put Claire in JP's pack and Cora in mine when Claire got too tired and our water jug was empty worked out perfectly.

Claire was such a trooper. She made it 5 whole miles on her own, which was great, because as it turned out, it nearly killed JP to have a 40-lb. Clairebear on his back for the last 1.5. As she noted frequently throughout our hike, "I'm a really good hiker, but sometimes I need a little help because I'm four."

After reading the 65 warning signs about dehydration and heat stroke, we were very good about hydrating. And it says something about the dehydration risk when all that water guzzling didn't result in a single request for a bathroom.

When we finally got to mile 2.72, the alleged "end" of the trail, we discovered it ended in a view of Lighthouse Rock, not with our feet actually on the formation itself. That wouldn't do, so we pressed onward and upward. Seriously upward.

But we made it!

Totally worth it. Even Cora was like, I guess this is nice, you crazy crazy people.

But then JP and Landon discovered a side trail that would get us up even higher to the very TOP of the formation. So of course, up we went.

JP even boosted Landon the last 5 feet so they could walk across the top of the world. Or at least the top of Palo Duro Lighthouse trail.

And then, kids refueled and re-watered, we headed back down.

The last 1.5 miles were a little rough. Cora had finally HAD it with this non-crawling, non-napping hiking nonsense and yelled in my ear the whole time I carried her on my back. Claire was delighted to be in JP's pack and Landon was still a cheerful trooper who did so much extra running and climbing I think his hike was 9 miles long, but JP and I (and Cora) were pretty goddamn happy to get to the car. Not that I regret it- the pictures don't come close to doing justice to how beautiful it was to stand on top of that rock and look out at the canyon below, I just wish you could park about a mile further along the trail...

(later, post-nap)

But we got home and kids played on roofs and babies napped in their pack 'n play. The kids and I walked to the Visitors' Center, where Claire made many dubious bobcat sightings from the tourist telescope and Landon diligently filled out his Junior Ranger Packet and earned his first badge. And then he filled out one for Claire so she could have one too. He's basically the best. We rounded out the day's adventures by driving in to Canyon, Texas for dinner and a much-needed margarita, only to find out that it's a dry town (nooooooooooo) and 3:30 is too early to eat. We explored the largest Texas history museum in the state (so we were told) and ate at a tasty diner with a lot of senior citizens before driving all the way in to Amarillo to get the kids their promised ice cream. We got back to "our new little house," as Claire called it, and played some more. I did yoga. Claire helped, and Cora once again thought everything was awesome.

Day 3 dawned cool and windy and beautiful. I may not miss the semi-functioning "air chiller" window unit that got the cabin down to a not-quite-comfortable 80 degrees, but I do miss waking up to that view. It never got old. We packed up a little and set out in search of a last great hike. We spied a cave a little ways off the road and pulled over to go explore it.

Cora was all, "LET'S DO THIS!"

The cave was quite a bit further away than it looked, of course, but we made it! In this picture, Claire is telling us, "Um, I'm pretty sure there's a bear in there and I do NOT want to see him." Love her.

JP took his traditional "jumping over something carrying kids" picture, now with three. I think this might be the end of Landon's inclusion in the series because he's getting really heavy.

As it turned out, there were lots of caves to explore and rocks to climb, so it was a pretty perfect end to a pretty perfect trip.

We got back to the cabin for the last time, let the kids play on their roof for the last time, and then took one final picture with all three on top of their world.

New desktop background!

I was doubting this trip in the days before we left- summer is so exhausting and suddenly just staying home sounded lovely, but I am so so glad we went. I love family vacations with our kids, and if possible, JP loves them even more than I do. I actually love all of our days, but there's something extra bright about vacation memories. This was a short one, and all told we spent $450 including lodging, food, and the gas to get there, but it was glorious. We head to Steamboat Springs in November for a hike-filled Thanksgiving, and then I have to figure out where we're going next. 2015 is our 10-year wedding anniversary, so I think we need to do something big. Maybe even involving airplanes and non-state-funded lodging. Maybe beachy, and definitely with an all-inclusive swim up bar and drop-in kids camp. Suggestions welcome, and if you are a hiking/camping enthusiastic (or "camping", I'm not sure it counts when you're in a cabin with electricity, mini-fridge, and surprisingly nice bathroom), definitely add Palo Duro Canyon to your list. Maybe not for August, but sometime- it's beautiful and I think we saw 5 people the whole time we were there. But that's probably because no one likes hiking enough to go to the Texas panhandle in August except us.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Shiny and New

I finally bought a new computer- a refurbished Sony Vaio flip, usually $900, but $550 for me because somebody else brought it home first. So I'm sloppy seconds, but I'm a slightly richer sloppy seconds and I don't think spending the extra dollars would make Windows 8.1 any less foreign or the distinction between "photos" and "pictures" ANY LESS CLEAR. I'm having adjustment issues. I love everything about the size, weight, and aesthetics of the new computer, but most evenings I've been booting up my clunky old one just because it's familiar. Like an ugly old slipper that makes you walk slower and sometimes just makes you blackout and stop moving at all, but is so comfy.

I went back and forth on getting an apple, and I would still love for someone to give one to me (oh the retina display, so beautiful), but they were just too expensive. I don't understand how everyone I know owns all the apple products, but I continue to wait for Santa to be real so he can bring me my first iPad. (Actually, if Santa was real I'd want all the boots and purses first- I'm not sure I'd really use an iPad since I'm generally typing if I'm on the computer and I hate onscreen keyboards with a fiery passion that results in my never answering people's emails and texts during the day on my phone. Also then my kids might want to use it and we're still enjoying our anti-electronics and TV caveman method of child rearing). But I was in the apple store to admire the macbook pro's and their retina displays in person and I saw the iPads and felt sure I needed one. Those stores are powerful. Thank goodness the federal employee discount has to be done online or I would have handed over my credit card right there.

My biggest move towards acceptance of this new computer was to hook up my external hard drive and transfer over all my pictures. I've had the laptop for six days and just took that step, so I guess it's mine now. Even if some of its keys are in the wrong place and I don't understand its reversed scrolling touch pad. (Between gazing longingly at my old laptop and getting mad at facebook's new messenger app, I'm basically a technological 85 this week.) But it is shiny and bright and I enjoyed doing my yoga download video in the upside-down-V-tablet mode (it's a thing) so I didn't hit the keyboard during a spirited chatarangas.

This picture looks 50% brighter on my new screen; also, what color are her eyes? We're undecided

But I have done things in the last few days that didn't involve warily staring at a shiny skinny new laptop- I went to two four-year-old birthday parties in the same day! And locked my keys in the car AGAIN! I made the largest batch of homemade poppy seed bread with orange glad that my KitchenAid has ever seen, and ordered the adorable rainbow heart return address labels for Cora's first birthday party. Yes, it's happening. I've accepted it, so now I get to buy all the rainbow-themed things my heart, wallet, and pocket of discount codes desire (the labels were free; thank you Shutterfly "end of summer gift"). Actually I haven't accepted that she's going to turn 1, not even a little, but I love party planning enough to let it numb my pain a little.

Claire's first party on Saturday was at the Texas Ballet Theatre with a real ballerina. Claire wanted exactly NOTHING to do with it. She sat next to me on the floor and refused to participate. I don't know what happened to turn her off of ballet, but it is real and it appears permanent. She was pro-cake though. Cora was pro-everything and crawled after the ballerina at high speed.

ready to dance

Party #2, after my "I'm just going to run a few quick errands between parties" plan turned into a "JP waking up Cora and piling everyone in the car to go rescue mommy because she locked her keys in the car AGAIN" special new plan, was a Frozen tea party. Claire LOVED it. It was hosted by one of my barre teachers, whose daughter is in Claire's class, and it was adorable. Real china mixed with Frozen paper products in her beautiful historic house (built in 1914 by the guy who the street is named after). There were tiny tea foods, pink lemonade "princess tea," a making of crowns and marshmallow Olafs, and a massive group sing-a-long to the Frozen soundtrack that was adorable to even the most jaded so-sick-of-Frozen parent.

Today dawned cool and grey, and while the boys went on their Sunday run (7 miles today!), the girls and I did the opposite and went grocery shopping. I've found we spend less if JP doesn't come along, sort of like me and Target. As soon as we had checked out, our cart piled high with all the foods for the week and our upcoming 3-day camping trip, it started POURING. Like buckets of water falling from the sky pouring. We got soaked. Cora was displeased. I was too. It then stopped raining as soon as we got home 6 minutes later and the boys could help us unload everything from the car. Of course.

two hands for safety

I wanted to make a meal for our neighbor's who just had a baby (chicken barley chili!), so I thought I'd add in a loaf of my mom's Poppyseed Bread with Orange Glaze because it's delicious and is a great morning snack with coffee or tea. And then I thought it would make a good back to school gift for the teachers in our lives. And then Landon requested some for him to eat on the first day of school and JP asked for some for the camping trip and next you know, I baked 6 loaves of Poppyseed Bread. The KitchenAid was skeptical.

It continued to rain off and on while JP ran some errands (hats for everyone for our August hiking trip to a canyon where it's 110 degrees without trees- can't wait!), I went to barre, and the kids made forts, built a truly spectacular lego castle, and helped me pack their clothes for the trip. Claire was surprised to hear that maxi dresses were not on the approved camping clothing list and we had several discussions about it. Cora took some naps and I ran across the street to hold my neighbor's new baby and he is so adorable and so TINY and I want him. It is cruel that I have become a baby person at a time when I am on my last baby.

And so it was a lovely low-key weekend where much was accomplished while somehow not feeling hectic or busy. Probably because swim team is over and having a whole Saturday, even one where JP was coaching and I had to take Claire to two birthday parties, seemed luxurious. Also, it started on Friday with an evening swim in our bathtub temperature pool and a Mexican martini AND a water-obsessed adorable baby, and those three things are always an excellent start to anything.