Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Bucket List #3 | Whale Watching

This blog has been neglected horribly, but we are truly winding down our time in Seattle (less than a year left!) and I want to follow through on our bucket list! It has been a fun way to spend our time here and we still have a lot to see and do!

Whale watching is one of the first things I added to our list - I've heard such incredible things and it seems like something you wouldn't want to miss living in the Pacific Northwest. I hadn't realized what an endeavor it would be - you've got to get out to the islands and it's fairly costly. Lucky for us, I have a fabulous cousin who planned it in as part of her destination wedding, so we were able to make it happen!!
We went on a chartered boat (thanks again, DiFrans!) and the trip lasted about 4 hours. Clearly Walt's upset about it:
It really was an incredible experience. We saw a pod of orcas, some seals, lots of birds, and other beautiful wildlife.

Our kids loved the feel of the boat and had a blast hanging out with cousins. (Second cousins? First cousins once-removed? I'm just never sure...)
I couldn't believe how BIG the orcas were. Fun fact: I'm terrified of orcas. For some reason when I was pregnant with Zuzu I would have this reoccurring dream about being stuck on a ferry that was being swamped by huge (and apparently very organized) orcas. Irrational for sure, but still horrifying. I think it's their human eyes that creep me out the most. But seeing them up close was actually fun! And they did not try and attack our boat, so bonus. :)
Definitely a beautiful experience that I'm glad we had. Thanks for including us Chel. Love you guys!

Sunday, June 4, 2017


Of course Zuzu couldn't be left out of the school fun. Just like her brother, she started a very low-key co-op this year to get some play time in, learn her letters, and give mom a couple of hours/week to get some work done. :)
For the most part she loves school - playing with friends is definitely her jam. She sometimes is sad for me to leave, which is crazy because she has never had that issue with nursery or babysitters or anything like that. But she is always sad to be picked up, too, so there's that.
We're making some great friends and we're proud of our little Zuzu bug!


What?! When did this little guy grow up?
Walt started Kindergarten this fall and hasn't looked back. He loves school (although, like his mom, he's not so great with mornings). His teacher this year is Ms. Oakley, who is great.
School came with more challenges than I had expected. It is great that he has an activity that takes up the bulk of his day (he was getting really bored and whiny towards the end of last spring), but it is difficult to plan Zuzu's naps around his school pick up schedule, hard to get him out of the door on time, and hard to fit in all of the volunteering and field trip chaperoning and a whole host of other things that came with school that I hadn't been 100% prepared for.
After a few months of school, two different teachers let us know that Walt was struggling with writing. He started the year not being able to write his own name or really form letters at all. I always chalked this up to a general disinterest in art and drawing, and figured it'd get better over time, but after multiple people brought it to my attention we decided to have him evaluated. The district occupational therapist told us that he was delayed in fine motor skills and gross motor planning, but since his reading and math skills are quite advanced, he doesn't qualify for any help through the school.
Strangely, as soon as his teacher mentioned the possibility of physical therapy, a lot of things fell into place in my mind. Walt has always been less "athletic" than his peers, but he's so imaginative and bright that it never occurred to me that these things constituted a delay of any kind. At the mention  of his struggles, I recalled his difficulty riding a bike at the same age as his friends, running slower than his soccer teammates, the hard time he had with teeball, etc. It just all started to make sense to me. Through a series of small miracles, we were able to visit an occupational therapist and a physical therapist who have given us a lot of ideas and have been helping us understand the best ways to help Walter thrive.
Now one of his favorite activities is to make "books," where he typically draws a bunch of pictures and then adds some descriptive words either outlining a video game idea he has or a story about church or our family. He is still a bit behind the writing skills of his classmates, but he has worked so hard and improved so much and I'm just grateful that we have been able to help him move forward so this won't be a stumbling block his whole life.

We love school, and we love our Kindergartener!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Grand.

When Landon turned 29, I asked him in the car one day if there were any goals he'd always had that we should do before he turned 30. Something about turning 30 makes your mortality a little bit real, and I'm all about the bucket list! Landon had a few ideas. Some that I remember are that he'd always wanted to go to Alaska (working on this one), write a novel, get his first dissertation paper published (check!), and a few others. Some of his lifetime goals had already been accomplished - serving a mission, having kids, getting married in the temple, going back to Europe, etc. Then he mentioned to me, "I've always wanted to climb the Grand Teton." I suddenly got very excited, because I KNEW that I could make this one happen. Financially and physically this was within our grasp. Sure, it would be difficult, but not impossible.
Within a few weeks, I had chatted with my big brother, who has been up the Grand before. I asked him if we could do it and he assured me, "anyone can climb the Grand if they really want to." By the end of that summer, we had a plan. We began slowly, by climbing the hill near our house with our kids in the evenings. We graduated to some hikes, focusing on short, steep hikes that we could accomplish with kids. All the while, I kept harassing my brother, telling him we were serious about this and asking him about dates and plans.

Eventually we came to the conclusion that if we were really going to do this, we needed to join a gym. It's just not feasible to do real incline training with two kids, one who is simply too big to carry up the side of a mountain anymore. We went to the gym around 3 times/week, gradually increasing the time we spent on the treadmill, but above all, doing STAIRS. We got into a good rhythm, and I would text my brother with a report of how many floors I'd done each day. At some point, I made him commit to a weekend that he could take off work, I scheduled my mom to babysit, and it all became real.

For our final training feat we enlisted some awesome friends to watch our kids for an entire Saturday and completed the training hike for Mt. Rainier together with packs on - see previous post. It was so much fun!! Just being outside, using our muscles and trying to beat the clock felt great. An added bonus was the hours of conversation about anything and everything we were able to have. (This is a rare luxury between the demands of grad school and two small children)
Mt. Si

In August of last year we drove to Idaho loaded up with backpacks and outdoor clothes and other supplies. We left the kids with my mom, drove to Jackson to get our permit at the crack of dawn, and we were ready!!
I sent this to my brother the day before we left to make sure I was ready.
This whole experience was something I'll never forget. It was amazing to make a difficult goal like this TOGETHER and work SO HARD to make it happen. We sacrificed financially, gave up a ton of time and energy to working out, we used our vacation time/resources to get there, and eventually, we were on our way.
The first day was hard, but I was so proud of us because we kept up with the group and I could tell our training had paid off. This first half of the hike is no joke. We gained almost 6,000 ft in a 12 mile hike. The worst part is a set of switchbacks about halfway up to the campsite. You quickly gain a LOT of elevation - even my brother and his friend who were guiding us were huffing and puffing the whole way. We had to take frequent brakes and we went through a ton of water. My legs were burning and I can't imagine we would have made it without doing any training at all. But it was still so fun! We were all talking and joking and eating lots of snacks - one of the best byproducts of this hike was spending two full days with my big brother without a lot of other distractions around. We haven't talked that much in years.
Our campsite was in an area known as The Moraine, and it is exactly what it sounds like - the side of a glacier. I remember being so concerned that I wouldn't be able to sleep up on the mountain. I brought a small heating pack so I wouldn't be too cold, and several doses of Tylenol PM. But I needn't have worried; after completing that hike we were bushed and all asleep by 7pm!

We woke up early early in the morning - around 3am - and got started on day 2 of our adventure. It. Was. Breathtaking. I've never seen anything like the stars up there - laid out above the canyon between the Middle and Grand Teton at about 10,000 feet. It's also amazing to watch all of the hikers streaming past with headlamps on, getting higher and higher as they climb! There are climbers going past at all hours of the day/night. Some people start at night and summit at sunrise. Some, like us, camp and then start early in the morning. They were walking past our tent all night and all morning.
We climbed up the glacier and got to our first real obstacle, which is called the Head Wall. We roped in and started climbing. I had so much adrenaline at this point - it felt good to be climbing and it seemed like a breeze. We made it up to what is called the Lower Saddle and took some pictures. At this point we were at about 11,600 ft, about 1,000 feet below the peak of the Middle Teton. The view is spectacular - you can see the curvature of the Earth, there is almost no life up there and it is really other-worldly. We were able to see the sunrise from this point and even if we had stopped there it would have been worth it. But of course we didn't!
From the Lower Saddle, you basically take the Teton head-on. At this point in our journey I started to feel very overwhelmed. To be encouraging, my brother consistently told me that climbing the Grand Teton is just a really steep hike. He told me I needed leg muscles and that it would be exhausting, but you don't use ropes for most of the trip and he kept telling me it wasn't like rock climbing at all. I have to tell you - he lied. This climb was incredibly daunting to someone who doesn't regularly rock climb. True, you aren't roped in or doing technical "climbing", but the entire thing is exactly what it sounds like - just scrambling up the side of an actual mountain. It was thrilling and terrifying and EXTREMELY challenging for me. It was Landon's favorite part and honestly, it ended up being fun for me, too. I gained confidence with every obstacle that we cleared and for about the first half, it was pretty exhilarating. However, I was starting to feel weird. I was getting really emotional at odd times. I chalked it up to exhaustion and we kept going.

One of my favorite parts of the climb was the part called "Threading the Needle." You go through a small opening, crawl through kind of a short cave, and come out the other side onto a fairly stark drop off. Suddenly, you can see the top - you can also see what's below you. This part, I loved!
But...the higher we climbed, the odder I felt. I started to have panic attacks. And granted, we were up pretty high. The heights were dizzying, and it was a fairly dangerous thing to be doing. But things like Threading the Needle and climbing semi-exposed boulders I did fine at, and I would hyperventilate during easy parts of the climb. I would become frozen and couldn't move further. I remember getting so frustrated at one point where we were doing an easy traverse and I suddenly got really freaked out and couldn't move. Everyone seemed baffled and I felt like a total fool but I legitimately thought that if I moved my foot I would fall and die. I also started shivering.

We pushed on - I was so determined to make it. We reached the final stage of the climb, where you start to rope in and work around some serious exposure. This is about 400 feet short of the summit, and within 2 miles of hiking. Unfortunately, we got stuck behind a tour group and waited in an open area at above 13,000 feet for almost an hour. I started shivering and crying uncontrollably. I didn't think I could get down OR go up. Eventually, my brother tied me to himself and I was able to move forward.
We started to rope in for the technical climb but I couldn't move my fingers and I couldn't stop sobbing. I wanted to move forward and as my brother asked me questions, I could tell he thought something was wrong. I kept insisting that I was fine and asking to keep going, but I was still crying, still unable to move without being tied to someone, and still shivering. My hands were stiff and cold and Josh, Bryce, and Landon had a quick pow-wow and eventually told me we had to turn around. I was completely devastated. We could see the top, we were so close - and I was sure they were turning around because they didn't think I could make the climb. I kept telling them I could do it, but they made me sit, eat something, and start moving down.
I'm not kidding, with every step down the mountain my head started to clear and I was finally able to stop crying. By the time we reached the lower saddle, my brother finally told me that I had been severely affected by the altitude. Suddenly, it all made so much sense! It still seems like sort of a cop-out to me, but I realize that I wasn't really thinking rationally, and I was hyper emotional and not making the best decisions. When you're up that high, and you're literally roped to other people, it isn't safe to be climbing with someone who isn't thinking clearly. I was also shivering a lot more than I had realized and my brother and Landon were worried about hypothermia. Ultimately, I am glad that he made that call. I still feel guilty that Landon didn't make it to the top because of me, but I also realize that the circumstances were outside of my control and it wasn't that they thought I physically couldn't make the climb. Anyone can contract altitude sickness/hypothermia at the top of a mountain, even people who don't live at sea level or who have made that climb before.
And honestly? We were RIGHT THERE. We definitely stood on the Grand Teton. Even not quite reaching the top, we felt a huge sense of accomplishment in what we had done. A few days later, we went with my parents to a ski resort I used to frequent as a teenager and showed Walt and Zuzu where we'd been. Walt was suitably impressed and kept telling us he wanted to climb a mountain someday! Looking up at the Tetons, that view that I'd seen so often as a kid, and remembering the view from up there was pretty awesome.
I am so glad we had this experience. It gave me a huge taste for backpacking and also confidence in myself to do things out of my comfort zone. I think both of us have also realized that we can do big things if we are willing to put in the time and effort. Even while we're working through grad school, we can and have had fantastic adventures!!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Bucket List #65 | Hike Mt. Si

We spent the summer of 2016 training for a huge adventure (more on that to come). The last step in our training was to hike Mount Si, which is the training hike for Mt. Rainier expeditions. They say that if you can complete the Mount Si hike in under 2 hours, you are ready.
It's not the kind of hike that you do with kids, or at least with a 5-year-old who is too big to be carried and too small to do that strenuous of a hike, so we enlisted the help of our very good friends to have Walt and Zuzu over to play one Saturday while we did the hike. It took about 6 hours total, with the hike and drive time, so - we're talking VERY good friends, here. :)

We had so much fun doing this hike together. It was my first time hiking with a pack and I think I did a decent job of it. 
We made it up in about 130 minutes - so not quite the 2-hour limit, but we weren't attempting to climb Rainier, so we felt pretty good about it! 
The view was beautiful and the long stretch of time spent together with no distractions was even better.
This is a great hike - probably my favorite we've done in Seattle. It is very steep, but not super long, so if you like vigorous outdoor things, you'd probably love it!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Preschool (Walter)

This just shows how far behind I am...Walter is halfway through Kindergarten now. But I couldn't let his year of preschool just blow past without recording some special memories.

To begin with, I do not know how we lucked out with our preschool group. For the two years before Walt started Kindergarten, we did a joy-school type co-op with a group of 5 other kids and their moms. It fluxuated a little bit (we swapped our good friend Charlee and her mom Katie for good friend Mili and her mom Emi), but this core group of kids stayed together through thick and thin and I am telling you - as long as I live I will love all of these moms. They have been my lifeline through so much. Lots of babies born, job changes, moving around the country, starting school, husbands finishing school, vacations, developmental milestones, and so much more. They are some of my best friends and the women who have helped parent my boy up to this point.
Walter and his friend Christian also cemented a friendship through the process that is invaluable to him. They are best friends and we even fought to get them in the same Kindergarten class. They rarely argue and will play for hours and hours (and hours and hours!) when they are able. Christian's mom, Alaina, is one of my all-time favorite people on the planet, and I can never thank her enough for pulling Christian out of a second year of paid preschool and sticking with the co-op. I know that was a lot more work and stress for her, but the impact it had on Walt's life was huge. He wouldn't be the same kid without Christian's friendship and I'm just eternally grateful.
Walt learned a ton in preschool, mostly about being a friend, listening to a teacher, and valuing himself and his unique talents. He entered Kindergarten with some challenges, but ahead in reading and math and light years ahead in imagination. We could not have provided a traditional preschool experience for him (financially out of reach for us), and this co-op experience was an answer to prayer for us in so many different ways.
I guess I just wanted to remember that through some tough times there was this amazing light for us among an incredible group of people who are more like family to us now than anything else. I hope we will all keep in touch over the years, and I can't wait to see where these kids go with all of that potential!!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

2 and 5

Having the kids' birthdays so close together is incredibly exhausting but it's also fun because neither one ever really feels left out. :)

This year we had a low-key family only hangout for our spunky 2-year-old. She loves Sofia the First so I made her a cake, we went swimming, opened gifts and had pizza. She was sweet about the whole thing and we had a lot of fun celebrating her!

It was Walt's year for a blowout friend party. And oh. MAN. It was definitely a blowout. Months before his birthday, I started asking him what kind of party he might like to have. He immediately said "Zelda," and I inwardly cringed. Not only would none of his friends have any idea what Zelda was, it would be so hard to plan because they don't exactly sell Link piƱatas at the Party Store. I tried so hard to talk him into a Star Wars party or Ninja Turtle party. He agreed to a Star Wars party but he just wasn't that excited about it. One of my friends wisely said to me - "Who cares if no one knows what it is? It's a party, they'll all have fun, and Walt will love it." I thought this over and told Walt later that day that if Zelda was what he really wanted, then that's what we would do. I scored major mom points that day.
PS: It's hard to fill the same room with balloons twice in 10 days!

And actually, this party was so much fun to plan and host. We created a "game" the kids went through where they had to find pieces of the tri-force at the different sanctuaries.
First, they made shields for their quest:
They used keys to open a treasure chest in the Lost Woods...
And water "bombs" to defeat a bokoblin (or "Gobo" as Walter calls them)...
Finally, they had to cross the hot lava of Ganon's Tower to defeat Ganon himself with their master swords!! Our amazing friend Mike actually volunteered for this job. He was great and the kids got a serious kick out of it.
I integrated some other things from the game into our snack and the party favors.
I'm so glad I went with what Walt wanted. Most of the kids actually loved the whole thing-- and now they know what Zelda is!
This crazy Nintendo loving boy is such a hoot. We're so glad he is ours.