grand teton national park {travel}

Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times. – Asian Proverb

I struggle to put in to words the beauty of the mountains. It’s not the first time I’ve seen the Rockies, but they take my breath away every time. This is lock screen on my computer right now, and I always have to remember I was there and it’s not just a stock photo.dsc_0044-1024x681

This was actually maybe 50 yards from our campsite on Jackson Lake. We went on walks, played at the secluded beach and had campfires in the mornings and evenings.

During the days, we hiked. I was confused when I opened the trail map. Not only did we have to drive several miles to the trailhead, but the shortest hike I could find listed was seven miles. Did I mention we have three small children?

So we did some walking and turning around. At Jenny Lake, we found a shuttle boat  that took you back to the trailhead after three miles. At one point, Matt was carrying two kids plus a CamelBak that had to weigh 25 pounds.

dsc_0105-1-1024x681She likes to take normal pictures.

Like most moms, I’m the designated family photographer (plus, a camera is lighter than two kids and a CamelBak full of water). I’m not in many pictures, but our oldest did want to test her photography skills and document that I was along for the ride, too.

dsc_0406-1024x681Because everyone loves a good disco pose and photos of themselves after camping for three days without showering. 

Our trip culminated with rides for our horse-loving girls.

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Matt and I fell in love with this song by Jess Ray when we were planning this trip.

I am headed for the hills,
I’m headed for the mountainland.
Somewhere I can breathe again,
In the air of heaven.
Somewhere I can see for miles,
standing underneath the stars.
See how small I really am,
and how big you really are.

yellowstone national park {travel}

Geysers that spew 100+ feet in the air, vibrant colors, abundant wildlife, and people who act like they’ve never driven before – that’s Yellowstone in a nutshell.

I feel like YNP got the shaft from us because we stayed in the less-crowded, more mountainous Tetons. We knew going in that Grand Teton National Park would be our favorite, and is was. But that’s not to say that our day trip to Yellowstone was anything short of spectacular. DSC_0433Old Faithful putting on a show. We actually got ‘rained on,’ as the girls say, by the geyser because of the way the wind was blowing.

DSC_0426The sweetest boys in the world. Love them.

DSC_0070 (1)A girl and her bear pillow she takes everywhere – overlooking Yellowstone Lake and an area barren from a fire. 

DSC_0057 (1)Obligatory ‘Yellowstone Naonal K’ picture. 

There was just no way to see all Yellowstone had to offer. For the day we spent here, we saw bison, bear, pronghorn, bubbling springs, shooting geysers, lakes, waterfalls, and more.

cody, wy {travel}

Oldest baby girl off to kindergarten {check}. Tomatoes canned {check}. Olympic obesession put to rest {check – tear}. Two workouts completed in effort to compensate for sitting in the chair eating chocolate while watching the Olympics {check – and it’s only Tuesday!}.

I can now officially resume my life. And my blogging (You’re welcome. Hi, Mom!)

I last left off with our Great American roadtrip recap in Mount Rushmore. From there, we traversed the Big Horn Mountains. I suggested the trusty, safe ole interstate, but my safety-adverse husband thought nothing screams ‘adventure’ like taking a camper through some pretty significant hills and downgrades. At least until we hit 5000 RPMS going up, wondering why we were barely moving. We were committed at that point, but luckily the terrain evened out pretty quickly. Even so, we had to make a few stops to let the Suburban rest, which wasn’t a bad thing when you can still hear your children asking questions about the destination, despite the construction worker earplugs you’re sporting.

Once we made it to our destination of Cody, Wy., we set up camp, found a playground for the kids to run around, and visited the Smithsonian’s Buffalo Bill Museum of the West. Matt and I are kind of history nerds. We spent our first anniversary in D.C. visiting all of the historical sights. But we also wanted to take the girls because they’ve been interested in Native American history. Ever since I took them arrowhead hunting in our field this Spring, they always ask about what things were like when ‘the Americans’ were here.

That being said, after a while, they were bored with some of the traditional exhibits, so we took them to the drawing studio and the interactive teppee area. Everything was top-notch, and one could easily spend the whole day there.

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Cody was a great little (large, for Wyoming) town with plenty to do. I’m glad we stopped to get off the road and recharge before heading to Yellowstone.

mount rushmore {travel}

Mount Rushmore is somewhere I’ve always wanted to see, but other than the Badlands (which we just saw from the interstate, and I’m sure would be fun to explore more), there isn’t a whole lot else to do in the area. So when we started mapping our trip itinerary, it worked out great as a stop to break up our drive further west. After two days in the car, we were ready to stretch our legs.

DSC_0057 (2)The girls and I had watched a few documentaries about why the presidents were chosen and how the mountain was carved. My sister also lived in North Dakota for a while and sent them a Mount Rushmore puzzle from her visit, so they were familiar with it. So the whole trip they were asking when we would get to see ‘the presidents.’

Although I thought we would be able to get a little closer to the actual carvings, Mount Rushmore did not disappoint. There was something special about staring into the faces that sculpted our nation, and world, really, as we know it today.

Times were harder back then. Thomas Jefferson and his wife had six children, and only two of them survived to adulthood. This was one of those times I hope the kiddos look back on and remember something about being grateful for their heritage.

We also had the park nearly to ourselves in the morning – that made it all the more special.

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our great american roadtrip {travel}

We’ve been traveling.

3,400 miles over ten days with three children, ages five and under, and a camper, to be exact. We’re home, and we survived! Well, except for the mean stowaway kitten we left in the parking lot of the Corn Palace in South Dakota.

Two new tires, a few tense moments, ear plugs meant for sleeping that came in handy for parents in the car. Swearing we were going to be ‘old fashioned’ and not use GPS, until we needed GPS. Getting rained on by Old Faithful, hiking with no one else in sight, learning about a way of life almost forgotten, driving through a forest fire, taking two hours to get down a 20-mile ‘Four wheel drive required’ gravel rock stretch of road path.

We already miss the mountains. We’re still overwhelmed with the beauty and grandeur … and vastness … of the West. And really, the beauty of coming back home, too – especially at 6 a.m. after two straight 15-hour road days.

More details to come on:
Mount Rushmore
Cody, Wy.
Yellowstone National Park
Grand Teton National Park
Stops along the way
Traveling/camping with kids

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite memories.

bad dance mom?

There are all those fun things you imagine doing when you find out you’re having a little girl: tea parties, dress up, braids and bows, shopping, playing house, decorating a pretty room.

A few pink baby showers and generous grandparent gifts later, we pretty much are enveloped in glitter, Barbies and overwhelming girly-ness over here. Sure, my girls climb trees, but they do so in dresses and flip out of them to get down.

I’m still Switzerland on Barbie – there’s the whole unreal body size thing, but then again, if it hadn’t been for the approximately 84 dolls my mom bought me, my little sister would have been the next victim in line for my mad hair cutting skills during that stint where I actually thought I had a future as a hairdresser ( … and then later I made my kid grow her bangs out, because I couldn’t even handle trimming those). Maybe 84 Barbies x $10/each was a good trade off for the counseling fees my parents saved.

But the rest of girl stuff is in Camp Cute for me – I’ll admit I feel like a good mom if the girls are dressed stylishly and have their hair done. But then reality reminds me that I wouldn’t want to impede their independence or my sleep by getting up early enough to do curls and French braids. So they usually look like they just walked out of the costume aisle at Walmart, and they also have unkempt hair.

Then there’s a whole new world we’ve entered: dance. It was all fun and games, until the recital parent note and its requirement of a costume, tights, proper shoes, hair bow, curly ponytail and highly recommend blush, eye shadow, mascara, and the optional hairpiece.

Need I tell them what happened last time my kids touched mascara?

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When my now-five-year-old was in gymnastics last year, all she could talk about was ballet and doing a ‘groche-tay’ (grande jatte) (thanks, Angelina Ballerina). So I signed her up for ballet this last fall (and now all she talks about is doing gymnastics again). When we went to the open house, my now-three-year-old (who was 2.5 at the time) looked at me with big eyes and said “I want to be in ba-la-let too.” So we left $120 in registration and first month’s tuition fees poorer.

And now, fast forward 10 months and the aforementioned purchased shoes, costume/tutu, tights, hair bow, plus monthly tuition, pictures, recital tickets and a DVD later, here we are.

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And by here, I mean trying to get out the door for their mandatory dress rehearsal (read: can’t participate without attending practice for the recital that their grandma and aunt are driving 100+ miles to watch them have their 3 minutes of fame in and we paid $42 just in tickets for).

Two girls, four tear-stained cheeks. One because she just woke up, and the other because she never went to sleep. One frantic mom who can’t find her keys. The ‘don’t talk to mom until we leave the driveway’ rule in effect. We finally hijack my husband’s truck while he’s on a conference call. It conveniently ominously threatens it’s flashing LOW FUEL light all the way there.

Arrive at rehearsal 20 minutes late, realize dance shoes are in the diaper bag for the baby left with the conference-calling-husband. Hope there’s a mute button!

“Mom, we’re the only ones without our hair bows YOU forgot.”

There’s absolutely nothing cuter than a stageful of three, four, and five year olds who look like they’ve been dipped in cotton candy twirling off beat, but I’m just not sure I’m cut out for this dance mom thing.

Bad dance mom? Maybe. But they got there, and I totally couldn’t stop smiling the whole time they were on stage. Thank goodness for practice dress rehearsals. If only life gave you such a thing.

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the age of princesses

There is a video I found
From back when I was three
You set up a paint set in the kitchen
And you’re talking to me
It’s the age of princesses and pirate ships
And the seven dwarfs
And Daddy’s smart
And you’re the prettiest lady in the whole wide world

My daughters love Taylor Swift. As much as I’m not a fan of them running around singing “She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts. You belong with meeeeee,” when I forget to skip that song (thank you, 20-year-old, boy-crazy version of T.Swift), her Best Day (lyrics above) song my girls call their ‘Cinderella song,’ is a sweet reminiscence of Taylor’s own childhood.

And indeed, it is the age of princesses in our house. Our girls are all about Rapunzel, bows and bling. Our oldest went to her first Daddy-Daughter Dance this spring, complete with a ‘makeup’/nail polish/lotion/best dress/hair curling pamper session beforehand.

As I was trying to set a curl in the wisps of her pin-straight blonde hair that clearly did not come from my genes, she talked about how grown up she felt.

“I probably look five or six or 17,” she kept saying.

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Parenting in these little years is fun and exhausting, blissful and frustrating – a long whirlwind.  Although some (most) days I am sustained by coffee and nap rest play just stay the hell in your room for an hour time, I realized that she’s not always going to let me do her hair. Watching my big girl climb on her bike with the training wheels freshly removed, it hit me that the ‘age of princesses’ is really just a stage.

Most of the time the chaos feels so all-encompassing it’s as if it will always be this way. It feels like I will never come out of the grocery store without doughnuts, bubble gum, diapers, and another sippy cup that will surely leak (already 72 dollars poorer than I had planned, all the while tallying up how many bottles of wine I can still afford). I realize I’ve yelled more than I want to. I panic when I know full well that I have not enjoyed every bickering-filled, yogurt-smeared, butt-wiping moment, yet it’s going way, way too fast.

Already gone are the pigtails, replaced by wanting grown-up curls. The ‘look at me’s’ will turn in to ‘leave me be’s’. Just when I’m starting to embrace the crazy-messy-loud-full of love time that is life with little kids.

The other day, my younger daughter was talking about what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“I want to be Rachel when I get big,” she proudly stated.

I was caught in a crossfire, wondering whether to change the subject and remain blissfully ignorant that she wanted to be me, or be crushed to know she really meant her babysitter whom she adores, also named Rachel.

“Rachel who?” I slowly asked.

“I want to be Rachel Dawn Stine. You, Mommy.”

The same child who just hours earlier told me with her lip stuck out all pouty “I am really mad at you,” reminded me of why this parent thing is so worth it. That’s love … and the beauty of a short attention span of a preschooler.

Maybe, hopefully, they will remember there were days where Mommy was crazy, but always crazy about them. And I hope that somehow these carefree days will be part of their own Cinderella stories.

It’s over, Winter

Dear winter,

We are breaking up. It’s not you … it’s my children. You see, being loud, running fast and creating wreckage as fast, ferocious, and wide-spread as an F5 are a few of their favorite things. And I think you would agree, loud noises and tornadoes are really better suited for the outdoors.

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We had a fling once. It started with wanting to feel the crisp air back in October. The leaves, family photo opportunities and all the hoopla for chai-pumpkin-scarves-boots-hoodies everything season passed quickly, followed by the allure of the holidays. You seduced me when those children’s big blue eyes danced of sugarplums and Christmas Barbie and listening to Jingle Bells on repeat everywhere we went. I didn’t even mind repeating the number of days until Christmas 600 times a day for a few short weeks.

You convinced me to spend 65 dollars on something that I killed on purpose for it to shed needles all over my floor – especially when it didn’t get taken down until three weeks after Christmas. And now that I’m still finding those darn things in my rugs, I lust for a Roomba.  But it was such a romantic time, so I happily went along with it all.

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You were new and exciting and flirtatious with your promises of snowmen to be built, family memories to be made and joy on those little faces every time you’d come around. You had the kids convinced too – they nearly cried every time you started to go away.

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Until they were distracted by the next indoor activity for all of their 5-minute attention span.

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And then, February hit and things got crazy fast. One morning, I couldn’t take it anymore. I took away the TV, toys, bubbles inside the house (because that’s never been an expectation), the couch (because it is not a jungle gym nor gymnastics bars, a bounce house, or apparently even a place to sit, once I started my threat). I blame you.

I freaked out when my kid didn’t put the princess tattoos in her Valentine’s cards just right. We played Play Doh and drew until the crayons were stubs, but still you wouldn’t go away.

You tried to make it right. And you almost succeeded. I thoroughly enjoyed the peppermint mochas, mashed potatoes my grandma makes with a full stick of butter and Valentine’s chocolates, but when the Samoas overtook my cabinet, I’d had enough. I went on a binge and hid everything from the sticky fingers who knew what cabinet to stand on to reach for  the mint truffle, candy cane stripe and raspberry love Hershey’s kisses that I took of the store’s hands at the bulk rate of half price.

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I know what you’re thinking, but I’m not one of those people with a bad memory who will be finding smooshed chocolates and wrappers in my underwear drawer for years to come. Nope, turns out the freezer is the perfect hiding spot (especially the top shelf) and Thin Mints taste even better when frozen. ‘No dessert week’ was more or less a loose term anyways for Mommy every time I had to ‘take out the trash,’ ‘feed the dog,’ or ‘check on something’.

Now there’s somebody new. I’ve just seen a glimpse of him once or twice. He brings warmth to my cheeks, and I can’t wait to feel the full effect of his glorious burning love. He doesn’t control what I wear or when I can go out. He lets me do things like throw whatever I can find or grow on the grill instead of planning 47 ways to fail at producing something edible from my crockpot. It turns out Pinterest lies. I even shave my legs when he comes around.

It’s time to go away. Admit defeat. Quit belittling me at my door, half desperate to hang on for the sake of the past. It’s over, Winter. I’ll break it to the children and tell them about their new home. A place of sanity for us all. Outside!

you’re my calm in the chaos

Seven weeks ago, I was focused on getting the house in order –  tearing off wallpaper from the ceiling in the central room of the house, only to have my preschooler and toddler have a confetti party. And I actually cared the house wasn’t staying immaculate.

Seven weeks ago, I knew I would love this child I was carrying, but whether it be not feeling as connected not knowing the gender or just being plain busy cleaning up that confetti, I just didn’t quite know where I’d find room in my heart.

I should have known that hearts can stretch just like skin and yoga pants. That just as the seemingly consistent waves of the ocean can overtake a beach when the tide rolls in, love can spring up instantly out of seemingly nowhere.

Now you’re here, sweet boy.

The wallpaper is half hanging off my walls, the crumbs sit, my jeans don’t quite fit, and the laundry can wait. When you’re awake, I just want to watch your eyes dance as they take in this brand new world. When you’re asleep, I just want to hold you, all scrunched on my chest.

The house is more chaotic than I’d like, the days go too fast and the broken-sleep nights too slow. I don’t have the energy to think about who I am at this moment. One day soon, I’ll need an escape from the constant caretaking I’m doing. But right now, all I need to be is your mom.

I’ll admit, I thought adding number three to the mix would up the crazy factor. But I was wrong. You, buddy, are my anchor to what is really important. You remind me to love selflessly. It breaks me to realize all you had to do was arrive in this world, and my heart didn’t just make room – you have the whole thing. There was never a question … I loved you from the start.

I can’t comprehend that God loves me the way I look at you for just being my son. I pray harder now because this world matters – for you.

I’m sure the laundry will be piled up just a little higher now with your tiny clothes, and we will be even later now everywhere we go. But as I watch you pull your long, yet fragile fingers to your cheek as you sleep next to me, I realize you haven’t made our lives more hectic.

You, my sweet, sweet boy, are the calm when everything that surrounds me is overwhelming chaos.

Welcome, Campbell Ray. I love you.

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when perfect isn’t working

It sneaks in as a little voice in your head – starting as admiration, but quickly turning into the green-eyed twin monsters of comparison and jealousy.

You were having a rough day, and stopping by her house made you feel better – at first. Until you started noticing she already had snacks made out. There were no piles of laundry on the floor, the couch, or probably not even hiding in the dryer. And she was all sporty looking and ready for a walk.

The drive home and entrance into your own house seals the deal. The undone laundry, exhaustion, and lack of a dinner plan – other than a ‘buffet’ of ‘whatever y’all can find in the fridge’ taunts you. FAILURE. A quick recap of the day reminds you that while you were busy having your mini-meltdown, your still-not-potty-trained child was eating her boogers in public.

But, really, it’s not the lack of listening, fear of botulism by boogers, or friend I know well enough to know she’s only 95 percent perfect, that put me in the driver’s seat heading off the crazy cliff.

It’s me. The complete reliance on the voice of destruction – the one that comes to steal and kill and destroy. As soon as I let the voice in, I don’t just turn to it. I sprint full force to it’s beakoning. And then I can’t stop. I leave the door wide open for it to operate my every thought.

The destroyer voice hides behind lovely things – the longing in my soul to want things beautiful and organized and to just have it together. I try so hard, but even in the brief moments when I arrive at that place, it never satisfies. It’s just a mirage.

I hide behind my accomplishments and what I can get done instead of nourishing relationships. I make busy and perfect my idols. And I almost burn down the house because I forgot I shoved the dirty dishes in the oven before the next time I turned it on.

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Today, I needed some quiet space. To get back to potty training and letting my blonde heads help with saucing the apples that don’t care whether or not they’ve been rotting on the counter. To wash my soul with the words of the one who comes to give me abundant life. And to forget about washing the windows.

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