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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Reconnecting

Last week we hopped on an Express Jet and bobbed our way to Colorado Springs for a much-anticipated family reunion which was only about 13 years overdue. After a few hours chalk full of toddler-toting, air-travel stress, we arrived at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in time to order pizza and turn in for the night. The next day we greeted long lost family at a yummy sandwich lunch held on the terrace. After hugs, catching up, bragging about children, goofing off, and exclamations of surprise for those who've most definitely "sprouted like weeds," we returned to our room and waited for my parents arrival. We didn't expect them to come until later in the evening, but my dad ended up finding someone to sub for his class and they were able to get away early. They came in the afternoon and we promptly crashed their unpacking efforts by plopping down in their room for a lengthy visit. Buddha and Bugga were especially excited to see Unkey Dino and Uncle Josey. Bugga still talks about Uncle Josey. Dinner that evening was served at Mimi's Cafe. We were quite the crowd for them, even missing a few dozen people from various families who couldn't make it to our lovely family reunion (we missed you guys!). There's nothing like a delicious meal with lively conversation to make you feel truly satisfied. I love my family.

Uncle Josey and Auntie at Mimi's Cafe.


Giving Bugga a lemon at the restaurant.



We meant to play games that night after the kids got to bed. We even bought a monitor so my parents could listen for them from next door. Unfortunately, Buddha and Bugga had other ideas. Bugga figured out how to escape the pack 'n' play, which was a most untimely and particularly discouraging discovery considering the effort required to get it there (picture The Chief hauling two suitcases, two car seats and a heavy pack 'n' play through two airports on his own). Buddha, despite being exhausted, or perhaps because of his exhaustion, was extremely wired. Both little guys were thrown off by the strange surroundings and sleeping arrangements with all of us in the same room. Needless to say, it was well past their bed time when they finally fell asleep side by side in the second queen bed allotted to our room, illuminated by the glow of the television and soothed by a combination of white noise CD and air conditioner. And, sadly, everyone who could possibly have been interested in playing late-night games with us was most likely also asleep in their rooms. There's nothing like being able to say "there's always tomorrow" to make you sleep soundly. I love my family.

Daddy reading to Buddha, Bugga and Ari.

Thursday we were awakened bright and early by a knock at the door when my dad came to remind us that Uncle Luther, our resident CPA, was giving a financial presentation for all those interested in learning some good tips on managing money. I declined to go for two reasons: first, I wasn't even dressed and the rest of my family was still in bed asleep; and second, The Chief's dad is a retired CPA who is always willing to give us financial guidance. After discussing it with The Chief, we decided that I should go anyway to show support for my family. I would be taking family pictures of Uncle Luther's clan after the presentation, so The Chief volunteered to stay with the still-sleeping boys whilst I threw on some clothes and trudged up to the conference room for the presentation. I, of course, took my camera with me to see if I could snap any quality shots and improve my abilities in low-light situations. I admit that I did take lots of pictures and learn a lot about my camera, but what was even more exciting was all the amazing tips I learned from Uncle Luther's presentation. He is a brilliant man and I'm glad that I didn't miss the opportunity to learn from him. There's nothing like being surrounded by talented and intelligent people to make you feel buoyed up. I love my family.

"Pay thy Debt, and Live."

Uncle Luther is "the man!"



Here's what Finn thought of the presentation.

With questions asked throughout, the presentation went a bit long and family pictures were pushed back and squeezed right up next to the guys' golf tee-time. I talked with Eric and Aunt Kathy and warned them that the sun would be unforgiving at this time of day, casting wicked shadows across their faces and causing squinty eyes. A huge shady area would have been ideal. As it turned out, we didn't have time to find shade and we couldn't reschedule, so we made due. We went up to the resort's upper balcony and shot out over the valley with the mountains as a back drop. It was a lovely setting and, despite the poor lighting, I think we got some great pictures. As soon as the group picture was over, most of the men took off for their golf adventure while I took some smaller family pictures in a tiny shady corner of the balcony. There's nothing like preserving quality memories of loved ones. I love my family.



Mark and Nicole's kids.


Presentation. Pictures. Then back to my babies and the blessed air conditioning. Colorado Springs is not cool by any means. The Chief and the boys had had an uneventful morning of lounging and vegging and were rearing to go play. We threw on our swim suits, showered in a steady spray of sunscreen, grabbed some scratchy hotel towels and headed for the pool by the lake. Bugga face-planted in the parking lot just outside the pool area, giving himself a lovely, bloody fat lip which he proudly displayed throughout the remainder of the family reunion. I swear my boys bite the dust more than any other kids I know! Buddha and Bugga loved the kiddie pool (despite the cloudy, dirty water) and the water toys that kept floating by them. I stayed by the kids while The Chief lounged in the shade. Swimming didn't last long as it was soon time to return to the room and get ready for the next activity planned for the family reunion. The Chief stayed with Bugga while he napped and I took Buddha back up to the conference room for craft time. Aunt Denise (who, by the way, planned this whole thing and did a right good job of it, too), had some kid crafts and adult crafts all laid out and ready to go. After taking pictures for a bit while Buddha decorated a foam visor, I tried my hand at sticking calligraphy words to a tile. I don't know how else to explain that, so I'm sorry if it makes no sense. After a time, most everyone trickled back to their rooms to prepare for the evening's dinner at the Flying W Ranch. I was still in the conference room, finishing up my craft and I got to talk to my lovely cousin, Marianne. I was a nanny to her children one summer years ago. She was pregnant and suffering with gestational diabetes. I was too young and selfish to be much help to her, but I hope I lightened her load just a little. Her kids were definitely the objects of exclamations that first day as her oldest daughter, Rachel (who was just seven years old that summer I lived with them), is now 14 years old and taller than I...by a lot!! It was calm in that conference room as we chatted about all sorts of things from food storage to the Amish community that they now live in. There's nothing like sound people, good family and quiet conversation to make you feel grounded. I love my family.

Mommy and Bugga enjoying the murky toddler pool.

Surprisingly, Buddha was quite at ease in the water this go 'round.

Kid crafts.

On our way to the Flying W Ranch that evening, Buddha fell asleep in the beast of a rental car we were driving - a Crown Victoria. It was like navigating a boat through these little side streets. We fairly glided along and I don't blame Buddha for not being able to resist the lull of our "yacht on wheels." To give him more sleep time, we took a detour through the Garden of the Gods - a hike-able, clime-able, obviously drive-able rock garden filled with cool rock formations and people crawling all over them like ants. Jarem was going to do some rock climbing there with those who were in favor of it, but those plans were thwarted by the thunder storm that rolled in that afternoon - as it did every afternoon we were there. The drive was only 20 minutes or so and we were soon headed back in the direction of the Flying W Ranch. Upon arrival, we outfitted the boys in their bandannas and cowboy hats that Erika had given them earlier in the day. They were so cute! I went crazy with the camera while The Chief just plain went crazy. Watching two little boys while they wander in opposite directions and their mother looks on through the viewfinder of her camera can't be easy. Auntie, who is just a month or so away from her due date, had a scare when she started to feel contractions. She was promptly given a blessing and ended up being able to stay through the dinner and festivities. For us, however, things just kept going downhill. Bugga was flinging himself all over the place in that state of exhausted mania familiar to all mothers of toddlers. Buddha was whiny and tired. The MC kept droning on into the microphone and the din of 1200 people sitting down to a chuck wagon dinner together was overstimulating to all of us. After I plodded through the dinner line twice, once to get my food and once to get The Chief's, we settled down to eat. About 10 minutes later, though, Buddha's biscuit fell apart and he with it. I guess he tried to recover it from the ground but fell over backwards on his head instead. Seeing as how the ground was just a bunch of tiny rocks/pebbles, he came up with a spray of bloody spots decorating the back of his head. Not to mention the fact that he was screaming bloody murder over his broken biscuit. The Chief took him out and when he returned, Buddha just started crying all over again. I finally busted through the closed kitchen doors and begged another biscuit from a saintly Flying W worker who clearly remembered what it was like to have an exhausted, overstimulated and stubborn toddler screaming over a trifle. Alas, the new biscuit didn't appease him as he then started crying about his lemonade that he couldn't find. I gave him mine, but of course that wasn't good enough. So, we left. We were starting to get "the look" from our neighbors. You know, the one that says, "Enough already, shut that kid up." Buddha cried about his food almost the entire drive back. I kept trying to calmly talk him through his drama, but he kept coming back to his worry that someone else was going to eat his food. I assured him that no one would eat his food, but I made sure to omit the part about them throwing it away. Getting back to our beds, the a/c and the white noise defender CD was like emerging from fire into cool, calm, crystal blue water. We meant to play games again that night. There was even a scheduled game night. But, we ended up falling asleep as we waited for our kids to fall asleep. I woke up at 11:45pm, put on my pj's and roused The Chief enough to do the same before we both fell back into a fine slumber that lasted through the early morning. Ah, you've got to love hotel drapes. So thick. It stayed so dark in there as long as we kept those heavy drapes drawn and even the little ones were duped by the faux darkness enough to sleep in late. I've got to find some of those for their bedroom window! There's nothing like a long day filled with adventure, activity and drama to make you appreciate family and home. I love my family.

An authentic Western frontier town.

My little cowboys and their sexy chaperon.



Darling Bugga in his rough rider get up.

Buddha has a knack for finding drive-able toys anywhere we go - even in the Wild West!

Waiting impatiently for the grub.

Cowboys at the ranch.



The 4th of July, Independence Day, dawned bright and clear after the passing of the late thunder storm the previous evening. The morning was left free on our family agenda, so we packed up our diaper bag and headed for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Now, being as we live in San Diego and we have passes to the highly acclaimed and superbly fantastic San Diego Zoo, you might ask why we chose to visit the small zoo in Colorado Springs for our 4th of July day time activity. Well, I really can't give you any good answer. The Chief and I aren't good at being spontaneous. Some people were river rafting and some had gone to a local amusement park, but we settled on the zoo when Buddha told us that's where he wanted to go. I know, we're such pushovers. But truly, we did have some pleasant surprises, like how cheap everything was - entrance, stroller rental, feeding the giraffes.... Yep, that's right, when you first walk in, there's the giraffe exhibit, packed full of 12 + giraffes all waiting for little wafer-filled, out-stretched toddler hands. You could feed the giraffes four biscuits/wafers for just $1, so The Chief just kept shelling out the George Washingtons while the boys delighted in their close encounter with the long-necked beasts. And where was I? Well, behind the camera, of course, capturing the feeding frenzy on film. The rest of the zoo wasn't quite as exciting. The location is exactly on a mountain side, so all the exhibits were up and up and up. The day was surely in the 90's, at least, so what with the heat, the altitude and the climb, we were getting more of a workout than we bargained for. The mist-blowing fans were my friends, though I could have wished for more of them. There were a few more highlights, like Bugga and Buddha petting a baby Wallaby and Bugga trying to take it right out of the man's hands. Oh, and the view at the top, by the grizzly bear and moose enclosures, was breathtaking. Colorado Springs looked lovely from that vantage point - much better than it had looked when we'd flown in, anyway. It's a greenish valley nestled in and surrounded by the Rockies. Very Western and very dry and deserty on the outskirts where civilization and mountains are absent. After a quick and steep descent through the zoo, we made our way back to our car and prepared to return to the ranch to see what mischief the others were about. There's nothing like a good workout on a hot day with the best of company to make you appreciate your body and your biggest fans. I love my family.



Bugga reverently petting the baby Wallaby.

Mr. Independent - couldn't be truer.

Taking a snack break and heat break in the shade.

Cheyenne Mountain Resort as seen from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Still hiding in the shade. :)

At the zoo...tracking a squirrel.



Meanwhile, back at the ranch....I guess that's not the best expression to use since we did actually visit a ranch. In this instance, I'm referring to our hotel. So, back at the hotel, we again took advantage of the blasting air conditioner to cool down and relax a while. Then we caught up with everyone at our "family olympics ." This was an hour spent on a grassy area competing in all sorts of races with our matronly Granny sitting at the finish line to welcome all contenders home. It bears mentioning that my cousin Kelly's daughter, Rachel, soundly defeated nearly everyone in nearly every event...and she's still in grade school! I guess there's something to be said for being the last child and the only girl. She's probably grown up learning to fend for herself and keep up with the brothers. Anyway, I digress. So all ages and stages in life competed in each event. In one particularly fateful race, Uncle Doug was racing against our own Papa and others when he bowled over little Buddha on his way back to the finish line. When Buddha stopped crying long enough to tell us what he was doing running across the field after these thundering bulls, his pitiful response broke our hearts, "I was just following Daddy." Oh how that little guy loves his Daddy. I wonder if I should start a "Battle Scar" journal for the boys. I could probably fill five whole pages, single spaced, right now. I've said it before and I'll say it again, these boys have more accidents than any kids I know. Ah, but there's nothing like some friendly competition in fresh mountain air to make you feel alive and invigorated. I love my family.

Bugga and Ari chumming around the "olympic" field.

There's Relentless Rachel on the far left - laughing as she beats the pants off her competition.

Bugga kept swiping the cone that indicated to the runners where to turn around.

Alex and Zachary - definitely brothers. Check out how in sync they are!

The "fateful" race. There's Uncle Doug on the left and you can see little Buddha running after Daddy on the right.

For the three-legged race, The Chief borrowed Jarem's leg.

After that, they were inseparable.

The men competing in the one-legged race.

Cousins Mark and Josh bearing down on the turn-around point in the sack race.

Ari helping his daddy take pictures of our field day.

After his accident, Buddha was quite content to referee from the sidelines.

Bravo Granny! She was our queen for the day and we all performed our best for her.

Here's Josey striking an interesting pose. He and Unkey Dino entertained Buddha and Bugga with their "Jim Carrey" faces all through the reunion.

Grandpa Sombrero is on the prowl, looking for an opportunity to launch a sneak attack on the boys.

The winner's circle.

After dinner, we all returned once again to the conference room for an Independence Day devotional given by my own dear brother, Unkey Dino. I honestly can't say what he spoke about (sorry, Unkey Dino) since I was busy watching my boys, making sure they didn't terrorize anything important in the room. I know that whatever he said was patriotic and I was sure to pay attention when he spoke to us in Arabic at the end of his "speech." He's amazing! Before Unkey Dino, I should mention that my cousin, Erika, had the children gather 'round close and she told them the story of our country's flag. Afterward she asked questions and threw out candy for correct answers. One question was "What shouldn't we do to the flag?" Buddha got some candy for his wise answer of "Don't tear it or tore it." After Unkey Dino, Granny spoke to us all and told us how much she loves and admires us. I think we'd all readily say the same about her. She's my good friend, she is. We've had our fair share of squabbles, but those are some of my best memories with her. I'll never forget the time she swore at me in Chile when we were fighting about who would get the upstairs bedroom. Teenager squared off against aged old lady and she whips out the only thing that could have stopped me in my tracks, "I don't care about the damn room" she yells. I think we laugh about that every time we see each other. After Granny, more testimonies were borne and then 4th of July paraphernalia was passed out for the fireworks festivities. There's nothing like a sacred gathering of family, with patriotism lauded and testimonies borne, to draw you closer to the Lord and remind you to be grateful for your liberties. I love my family.

Erika teaching the little ones to respect our country's flag.

Unkey Dino speaking to us in Arabic.

Granny baring her soul for her posterity.

Post-devotional, everyone congregated on the resort golf course for the fireworks show. Buddha spent the pre-show minutes running around in the grass, wielding his glow stick like a light saber at anyone and everyone. When the last light from the sun was extinguished we were first graced with the fireworks from a competing resort and then our own show began...and ended...and began again...and ended...and began again, etc. Seriously, the pauses were five minutes long and every time we would think that the show was over only to have to sit back down when another boom, scream and pop signaled the continuation of our frequently-interrupted display. Bugga sat in The Chief's lap and stubbornly refused to let The Chief's arms loosen from around him. He was soon fast asleep, succumbing to the fatigue of an action-packed day. The boys had no trouble falling asleep back at our hotel room that night and, after setting up the monitor in Granny and Grandpa's room next door, we finally got to go play late-night games with Josey, Zachary and Alex. We were all a bit loopy and couldn't even finish all ten phases of Phase 10. We laughed a lot and it was the perfect note to end our vacation on. There's nothing like fireworks, games, laughter and zaniness to make you feel complete at the end of a long day. I love my family.

Super bright flash, Mom!



Bugga and his glow sticks.


Dazed and confused...or just blinded.


Poor little sleepy guy!

Cool night shot of Daddy and sleeping Bugga.

Saturday morning we said good-bye to family as they trickled back to their lives in different States. We ate, we packed, we checked out, we filled the car with gas and returned it and then we boarded our plane and...waited and waited and waited. After about 20 minutes, our pilot notified us over the PA system that the winds had shifted, requiring us to take off from a different runway for which we were too heavy. He proceeded to inform us that we were going to have to sit there, in the plane, while they burned off an excess of 900 lbs. of fuel! My heart sank. Bugga was already having trouble and it was nearing 100 degrees outside. Without movement, the air inside the plane was warm and stale. While others expressed chagrin about the waste of fuel, I thought only of my travel weary boys and how long their patience would last. When we did start to taxi down the runway, I was aiding Buddha on the potty in the restroom - go figure. We raced back to our seats and got buckled in just in time. Take off was rough and so was our ascension into the heavens. I was gripping Bugga so tight while I cried and prayed our plane up over the clouds. I officially hate flying. I suppose it didn't help that we were in a tiny aircraft (two seats on one side and one seat on the other, separated by a barely-there aisle). We were getting batted around the sky, swatted at like a fly in a restaurant kitchen. I can handle regular turbulence, but when the plane shifts sideways and drops dramatically at the same time, ah, I go to pieces. I don't like feeling like I'm not in control, but what's worse is when you can picture your pilot in the cockpit struggling to hold the plane in control against the wicked air currents. Anyway, at some point I was able to relax and that's when I realized that Bugga had fallen asleep. Hallelujah! Our landing in San Diego was fine except for that bit of whip lash we all felt when our pilot realized after hitting the runway and breaking for a while that he was still going way too fast and literally slammed on the brakes. Buddha got a kick out of it, though, and made me laugh when he leaned forward grinning and doing his little growl laugh that indicates something has pleased him. It was pure heaven to step off the plane into lovely 73 degree weather with a slight breeze carrying the fresh ocean scent our way. We were home. There's nothing like coming home after a trip to make you feel safe and secure and all put back together again. I love my family, but this Humpty Dumpty is quite content sitting on her own wall at home.

Unfortunately for you (if any of you have actually made it this far into my saga), the story does not end here. You see, we grabbed our stuff, hopped in our car and bypassed our home on our way out of San Diego County and into Orange County. We were headed for a birthday party, but not just any birthday party. This was The Chief's dad's 75th surprise birthday party, to which we were going to be late. Oh well, we did eventually arrive and that's all that matters. The room where our party was seated at The Daily Grill was all decorated with balloons and candles and the table was covered in Skittles and Starburst. Cousins were running around and adults were chatting. Another table was brought for our family and we ordered and were delivered our food quickly. Cake was brought for the entire party and we sang Happy Birthday to Grandpa Bagel. Buddha somehow missed this and once again our son was in tears at a restaurant. He kept saying over and over that he wanted to sing Happy Birthday to Grandpa with a candle lit in his cake. He would not be consoled and I'm sure falling asleep in the car and being rudely awakened and dragged into yet another family affair didn't help. Finally I took him by the hand and led him up to Grandpa. I told Grandpa what Buddha wanted and he happily obliged by relighting the candle and sticking it into the last bite of his cake. Buddha and I sang to Grandpa and Buddha gave him a kiss on the cheek. All was right again in Buddha's little world. We ate, I took pictures, the boys played with their cousins and then we headed back to San Diego where we literally fell into beds - our soft, comfy, never-to-be-taken-for-granted-again beds. There's nothing like curling up on a soft, cozy bed at the end of a long, happy week to make you feel perfectly content. I love my...bed. Good night.

The birthday boy.

Everyone but Rich-E = pretty darn impressive!

Such a handsome couple!

I caught Buddha making off with some balloons.

Candy renegades.

Cousin Sissy and her daddy, Uncle J.

Bugga checking out Mommy's shoes.

Li and the adorable India.

India's big sis (and Buddha's frequently professed favorite cousin), V.

Caught red-handed with their fingers in the candy jar!

Daddy and Bugga goofing around.

Grandma and Grandpa's new Smart Car is also Buddha's new love affair. This car hug was totally impromptu!

10 comments:

Brooklet said...

wOW! That is possibly the longest post I have ever read, but you rock at journal writing! I like how your family reunion was so extensive and organized, with all sorts of activities. I especially liked the that you had a CPA speak to you- I love listening to CPAs and I am completely serious.

YOur pictures were fantastic- especially the ones of your boys in cowboy attire- those need to be framed!

Marilee said...

I'm sure you did break the world record for longest post, but I read all of it and thoroughly enjoyed it! Your stories make me laugh and it is good to know that we aren't the only family who gets looks from peope when our kids get crazy. Glad you had a fun 4th!!

Erin said...

sounds like a crazy week ... we are glad you're back!

Daniel said...

Great blog Lizzie! I love the glow sticks picture.

Ben said...

Good work Liz. I was happy to spend...Wow!...30 minutes reading about the reunion :)
We wish we could have been there, thanks for documenting it for us.

Jacqui said...

I love the post Liz! It's great to hear about your adventures in such detail...I felt like I was there! I love the pictures and the boys are getting so big. We'll have to try to get together again soon!

Lindsey said...

Dan, how did you like cruising in the Crown Vic?

Love the last pictures of Soren and the Smart Car. He is so cute.

Lisa said...

I made it through the novel! It was a fun read though. Liz, you are a great writer and photographer. I smiled as I read the stories about Sorens breakdowns. It reminds me so much of Mckenna. She definitley lives in her own world too. She likes everything to be just so and if it isn't she falls apart. We fondly refer to them as Mckenna momments. It looks like you had a lot of fun with your family.

She-She said...

It looks like you had so much fun! We are going to miss you guys! We'll now have to find new little boys to tease and torment during Sacrament! :(

At least we have our blogs to keep in touch!!

Freckles said...

Don't you just love Colorado?! We are heading back for another visit this weekend to visit grandma, can't wait! I love all the pictures, good work capturing it all!

So one technical question for you...inside the hotel and the last restaurant did you you a flash or a tripod? I actually couldn't tell, I didn't see any tell-tell signs of a flash, but they look bright and clear. So good job!