Wednesday, June 27, 2012

So at least I posted...

All spring I managed to put off the major cleaning, convincing myself that I would get around to dusty screens and baseboards once the heat of summer arrived.  After all, there are so many beautiful places to explore in lovely spring.  Once the blazing heat of summer hits, we're stuck indoors without much better to do anyway.  Right?

Wrong.  Well, mostly.  Yes, the heat is blistering, and yes, I dread the walk even between the parking lot and the grocery store.  But summer cleaning?  Forget it.  I don't know about the rest of you, but when the summer sauna hits, I get SOOO lethargic.  Even blogging seems a chore.  My fondest dreams revolve around a three-hour uninterrupted siesta (only a pipe dream, I know.)  You know your personal motivation got snagged on the cobwebs when you measure the success of a day by whether or not all the plastic otter pop wrappers made it into the trash can. 

Tonight, however, I'm determined to pull myself up by the bootstraps by posting some pictures.  That way there's proof that at least I did something today.  And as for those pesky cobwebs, well, I'm sure there will be plenty left tomorrow.


News update: Papa Kay came to visit! Since NomiAnn is quite busy leading middle school students all around England, Scotland, and Ireland with People to People, Papa Kay came by himself to enjoy five days with the grandkids.

Iphone or not, I'm just not sure how anybody's supposed to take this law professor seriously. Siri, what do you have to say about that?
Posing with the grandkids. But wait, Talia's looking just a bit too normal.
There, that's better!
Brooklyn of the scary eyes.
Terror in triplicate.
Of course, we all know that Daddy's a clown.

But quite a good-looking one, at that.

We had all sorts of fun adventures with Papa Kay, ranging from a family bike ride through Tonaquint to the Hydrotube at the City Pool. Ever the "net-giver," we abused Papa Kay for his babysitting, took advantage of his Costco card, used his rental car to facilitate some minor car repairs, and even borrowed his brawn while snagging a bunkbed off Craigslist. Too bad I forgot to take more pictures!

Fortunately, I do have photos of one major highlight--a two hour horseback ride. Papa Kay treated Brooklyn and Talia to their first-ever trail ride.

Here's Papa Kay riding Jazzy:

And Brooklyn on Miss Mariah:

Talia rode Trixie. Sounds like the perfect match!

Aren't these helmets snazzy? Papa Kay took one for the team when he gave up his cowboy hat in favor of a too-small helmet, just to set a good example for the girls.

Settling in for some serious business.

In the end, the guide Mike decided to lead Talia's horse since it's hard to stay seated when your legs are so short.

Brooklyn managed Mariah quite well.

And here's Papa Kay, bringing up the rear as the group sets off. His horse Jazzy was accustomed to leading, so he had to use a bit more skill. Fortunately, everyone made it back safe and sound.

Thanks so much for your visit, Papa Kay! We absolutely loved having you spend time with us, even if you did spoil us rotten with Tic Tacs. :)

You probably noticed from the previous pictures, but I just wanted to point out that Brooklyn chopped a full ten inches off her hair and donated the ponytail to Locks of Love. The new summer hairdo is adorable.

So adorable, in fact, that instead of waging another battle on the snarls, I offered Talia the choice of cutting her hair like Brooklyn. She accepted.

It's not perfect, but also not terrible, considering it's my very first foray into the world of cutting hair. (Oh wait, a haircut--I did two things today!) The bangs aren't nearly as short as they look--the wind was blowing. At any rate, Talia definitely likes it. She smiled at herself in the hand mirror for five full minutes before commenting with a sigh, "I wish I could never stop looking at me!"

And here's the whole gang.

More to come soon.

Monday, June 18, 2012


So before school let out, I felt so enthusiastic about having all the kids home. With emptier schedules, I was going to establish some incredible routines, we'd all work happily together on the chores, and boy, was I ever going to get stuff DONE. Photo albums labeled, closets organized,  interior decorating, landscaping--you name it, I would be all over it.

I know, I know. You can stop your guffawing now. Even as I dreamed my pretty dreams, I knew that my expectations were unrealistic. But still, one always hopes...

On the positive side, I have enjoyed having all the kids home together. Yes, there are times when they argue, and yes, there are times when they make too much noise (okay, that's almost all the time). Still, it's delightful watching them all play together. Even if their play is ridiculously creative. Even if "playing" usually involves rearranging the furniture and digging into the craft supplies and dumping out half of their toys to create these elaborate forts and offices and castles and ships and seascapes. Even if Eli cries when he doesn't get to be the princess. And even if they don't put things away with as much gusto as they took everything out. It's great to be together as a family.

So since we haven't been transforming our home into a finely-tuned, precision cleaning machine, what exactly have we been doing?  My thoughts are as disorganized as my dresser drawers, so please forgive the scatterbrained response.  Maybe someday I'll finally get organized: after school's back in session.


Running.   While I haven't been covering any remarkable distances,  I've been doing my best to get out regularly, mostly for my personal sanity.  I relish the solitude as I run through Snow Canyon, often going for many miles without seeing another person.  Recently I particularly appreciated the privacy when I suddenly felt the urgent need to take care of some personal business.  Miles away from the nearest outhouse, I picked my way through the desert landscape for a minute before accepting the fact that there simply aren't enough (any?) trees to provide adequate cover.  While I successfully managed to avoid mooning anyone, I discovered that it's difficult to find makeshift TP in the desert.  All those soft, tender, deciduous leaves of the Midwest?  Forget it.  EVERYTHING has thorns or spines.  Jeepers.

All the same, I think I preferred my desert hole to the outhouse I visited before this morning's Chuckawalla trail run.  While the toilet was in decent condition, a black widow had spun its web right beside it.  Yikes!  I'm certainly not dropping my drawers for that trap.


Hiking.  Last week I felt particularly brave and took all of the kids to hike up Taylor Creek in Kolob Canyon while Jason was at work.  Well-equipped with sunscreen, swimsuits, and snacks, we conquered the entire trek without any worrisome melt-downs.  The kids absolutely loved all of the wildlife that we encountered.  Tadpoles, frogs, water skeeters--biology at its finest.  Of course, there were also those two water snakes...  Another kid favorite, but certainly not mine.


Swimming.  Now that the summer heat is officially upon us, we've been hanging out quite a bit at the City Pool.  The kids love the giant Hydrotube slide, and I enjoy the chance to soak my tired feet.  While I still need to enroll the girls in a session of swim lessons, all of the time splashing around has been helping.  When Jason took the kids swimming on Saturday, he reported that the girls were jumping off the diving board and swimming in the deep end all on their own.  While I'm not quite sure that I would have been brave enough to allow that, everyone came back healthy and extremely happy.


Cooking.  On Friday night we had a lovely dinner with some good friends in Gunlock.  With three apricot trees covered in ripe fruit, they generously invited us to pick as many as we wanted.  After 30 minutes of picking, we toted home three giant buckets full.  Ever since, we've been drowning in fresh fruit.

Yesterday Jason and I spent a fruity Father's Day playing in the kitchen.  We made three different kinds of apricot jam, a double batch of apricot fruit leather, an apricot pie, plus we froze about fifteen cups of apricot puree to use sometime in the future.  Even so, we've still got an entire bucket overflowing with apricots.  So if anybody has some great ideas on how to use up lots of fresh fruit, please share!  We're out of canning jars and desperate...


Giggling.  Why, you might ask, are we so full of smiles and chuckles?  While laughing needs no reason, we're particularly pleased because Callie has once again been featured in Peter Jackson's latest Hobbit blog.  You've got to check out minute twelve.  It's totally worth it.  P.S. The ending's pretty rich as well.  :)


Camping. Okay, okay, not all of us went camping. But Brooklyn and Talia accompanied Grandma Susie and Grandpa Charles to the Wheeler family reunion in Swan Valley, Idaho.

With so much family around, a great time was had by all, despite the cold and a touch of wet.

Brooklyn and Talia were particularly thrilled to have a chance to meet all their "cousins."

Talia made instant friends with an adorable little girl named Avery.

This picture of Brooklyn and Taylor cracks me up because Brooklyn seems much more enthused by the new friendship than her pal.

The girls made out like bandits at the reunion, coming home with all sorts of fun crafts and other memorabilia. One fun memento was a white dishtowel just like the one that the Wheeler kids used to wave to Grandpa Wheeler when he was out on the farm in order to call him in for dinner. As you can see, there were some excellent demonstrations as to how this should best be done.

Naturally, it wouldn't be a true Wheeler get-together without some excellent food.

For posterity's sake, here are the Wheeler siblings. From left to right: John, his wife Diana, Uncle Merlin, Diane, Kathleen, Nancy, and Charles.  Missing are Uncle Mark (who is excused due to being in Singapore), and Merlin's wife Alayne, who passed away a few years back.

Far more amusing is this picture of all the photographers.

Thanks, Aunt Diane for organizing such a great "Make and Bake" reunion.


Playing hooky. So the real question  is, if Brooklyn and Talia were at the family reunion, where in the world were the rest of us? Playing hooky. Jason had a work conference in Salt Lake City, and I panicked at the thought of making the long drive on my own. And so, after spending the night in Hyde Park, I headed back to Salt Lake City with Eli to relax in the hotel and enjoy the perks of "big city" life.

Overall, I think the two of us did a pretty good job of painting the town, even if I do say so myself. We enjoyed the elephants splashing at the Hogle Zoo...

...and saw an amazing bird show. Worth the admission all on its own.

Very patriotic.

Eli made his first trip to Temple Square.

No matter how many times I see it, the temple always inspires me.

We played at the Discovery Gateway Children's Museum...

...and listened to an organ concert in the tabernacle. Eli was so well-behaved, except for between numbers when they switched the background lights. All of a sudden he blurted out into the silence, "BLUE!"

After lunch, we played with the dinosaurs in the new City Creek mall...

...before heading over to the downtown library to make superhero masks.

The crowning moment, of course, was dining out on some outstanding Vietnamese food at Indochine with Dad.

All in all, it was delightful to have some uninterrupted one-on-one time with our little boy. Even so, I'm glad we're all back together.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Eli Jameson: 2 years, 10 months

Yesterday Eli and Talia stayed home from church due to a nasty stomach bug. When I came back after the sacrament service, I found Eli sleeping like this.

Poor little guy! (Cute, though.)

For weeks I've wanted to post an update on our Eli Jameson. Funny thing about kids--they insist on constantly changing, regardless of whether or not you get around to capturing the moment. The past couple of months, Eli has grown rapid-fire: perhaps not physically, but certainly developmentally.

Most notably, Eli's begun to talk--in entire epistles. Back in the fall, Eli participated in a developmental screening at a community event. While he was on target in most areas, his speech clearly lagged behind. "Please share an example of a two-word phrase that your child uses." Awkward silence. "Ummm, there aren't any." At the end of the evaluation, they concluded that Eli wasn't lagging enough to require formal intervention, but ought to be closely monitored. Well, somewhere over the past few months, Eli leaped straight from one-word utterances to complex grammatical phrases. Almost overnight, he switched from "House" to "Mom, I want to go home now, please." His vocabulary surprises me--a couple days ago he broke out with "That's awesome!"

All the same, Eli's pronunciation is still developing, so interpreting his baby-talk can take quite a bit of guesswork. Just this morning I mistook "puppy" for "poopy." Brooklyn is "Blooblin," and NomiAnn is "MommyMan." As for Papa Kay, Eli insisted on calling him "Gwampa Chawels" for most of our Memorial Day vacation. "Chawels" has long been both a favorite word and a favored grandparent. Even if you don't understand him, it is quite obvious that Eli is sharing quite specific messages when he jabbers. Often he will repeat himself over and over and over again until you're finally able to decipher what it is he's trying to say.

While generally happy and easy going, our Easy E has a temper that can flare up unexpectedly. His two year-old tantrums are so passionate that they're almost comical. Okay, I confess. To me, they are comical--downright hilarious, even. Maybe it's the come-what-may attitude of having three kids (after a point, you just stop stressing as much about what everyone else thinks), but I simply can't help but giggle. Out of nowhere, Eli will get upset about something totally irrational and suddenly launch himself on the ground. Feet kicking, arms flailing, lungs wailing. Fortunately, the wails are usually masked as he buries his face in the ground, no matter whether it's dirt, gravel, carpet or grass. I'll stand back, trying hard to suppress my chuckles as he works through the rage.

In all seriousness, it must be extremely difficult to be two: yearning for independence, yet having so little control over your life. You want to do it all on your own, but the truth is that you still need a lot of help. A couple of weeks ago Eli was really angry with me. While I can't remember the cause of his wrath, I remember that he finally got so upset that he came running up to me for hugs and snuggles to help him feel better. In this moment, I couldn't help but think about my relationship with my Father in Heaven. So often I too want to be independent and do it all myself. I get angry when things don't go my way and storm off in an angry huff. Yet inevitably, I finally feel so rotten that I come running back for comfort and consolation. And just like an earthly parent is grateful when a belligerent toddler returns to their lap, our Heavenly Father likewise welcomes me home.

As challenging as tantrums can be, I'm grateful that Eli's hitting phase has been over for awhile now. Right around the time Eli turned two, he started walking up to random kids and pushing them for no reason whatsoever. Generally not hard--it was more like a science experiment. "Gee, I wonder what will happen if I push this little girl. Will she cry? Will she shove me back? Will I get put in time out? Will we have to go home?" No matter what the inner-workings of that little mind, as a parent I positively cringed every time I dropped Eli off at nursery or the gym's childcare. Play dates were cancelled, talks were had, apologies were made, and just when I thought I was going to rip my hair out, it stopped. The hitting disappeared as mysteriously as it began. This was a good reminder to not become too distraught with the challenges of specific phases--time passes, and usually kids grow out of their worst habits.

Eli's best habit has to be his boundless affection. He is the snuggliest, huggiest, friendliest little boy! I've often thought that I ought to bring him around to hospitals and nursing homes the same way that people share their therapy dogs. Never having met a stranger, he greets most everyone with a cheerful "Hi" and a hand wave. He loves to give hugs and cuddle. He's proud to share his name, "I Eli!", and up until last week when you asked him how old he was, he'd hold up an entire hand and say "Five!" It was so fun to watch everybody's reaction as they processed his response. Delighted to be the center of attention, he quickly learned to add "No, six!" just to get a few more laughs. But alas, maturity is catching up with him, and our little boy has recently graduated to being just two.

While Eli may be pushing three, he still relishes his role as the baby of the family. In no great hurry to grow up, he still sleeps in a crib, prefers his high chair, and insists on wearing diapers. We haven't even bothered with potty training because every time we ask if he wants to use the toilet like a big boy, he responds with "No, I a little baby. You change my diaper." Frustrating? Perhaps slightly, but I feel confident that he'll let us know when he's ready.

Typical boy, Eli still adores trains, cars, and trucks. Yet with two older sisters he also enjoys wearing headbands, playing with dolls, and toting their pink puppy purses.

The past couple of months, it's been delightful to watch him emerge from the world of parallel play and actively engage in the pretend world of his sisters. They now treat him as an equal as they play school, house, church, princess, or dolphins. Many times I've responded to the call of "Mom," only to hear "Not you, our pretend Mom!" I'm a little worried about Eli being bored next year when Talia leaves for kindergarten. He likes Mom fine, but his sisters are definitely best when it comes to entertainment.

Academically, I suspect Eli will be ridiculously well-prepared for school because he's paid such close attention as Talia's kindergarten preparations. Every time that Talia does her fifteen minute "computer preschool," Eli stands on the chair behind her, mimicking all of the letters and sounds. About a month ago we finally allowed him to have his own computer school account, so he's subsequently become pretty adept with a mouse. He counts well, knows some letters, and is surprisingly good with all the colors. I remember it took the girls forever to sort out colors--we actually worried Brooklyn might be color-blind.

And of course, being part of the Wheeler family, Eli loves to both read and help cook. This bilingual story, "The Empanadas that Abuela Made," let us combine the two, all while practicing a bit of Spanish.

With a storyline modeled after "This is the House that Jack built" and empanadas reminiscent of pumpkin pie, the book was a great hit all around.

Love you, Eli!


Over the past few days, we remembered a couple of additional Eli-isms. They're such an integral part of your personality that we just had to go back and add them in.

First of all, you LOVE breakfast. While you enjoy eating in general and will happily sit perched in your high chair for hours, breakfast is by far your favorite meal of the day. Without fail, your very first word in the morning as you stand up in the crib will be "Frekfast!" You eat a bowl of cereal before your sisters even crawl out of bed, only to insist on eating once again when they sit down to the breakfast table. One Sunday I was talking to your nursery leader about how we really do feed you well at home, no matter how greedily you devour your snacks. When I told her about your two breakfasts, she started calling you her little "Hobbit" with First Breakfast, Second Breakfast, Elevenses, and so on. Pretty funny, considering our Hobbit kinship.

Next, you are SUPER ticklish. Your neck, your back, your knees, your toes, your armpits--heck, we don't even have to touch you before you start laughing hysterically. The really amusing part is that even though you look like you are dying from laughter, you positively LOVE it when we tickle you and beg for more. If we stop, you'll start lifting up your arms just so we'll start again. The complete opposite of your mother, who has threatened to divorce your father only once--for tickling her armpits.

Lastly, well, there are too many lasts to list, so let me just say that you are SUPER cute and we are so glad to have you as part of our family.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Moab Memorial Day Camping

A favorite professor of mine, Lloyd Newell (you likely know him from Music and the Spoken Word), strongly believed in the importance of family traditions. No matter what the family make-up, research shows that traditions are the glue that hold families together. Over the years, Memorial Day camping has become a favorite tradition. Memorial Day has found us camping in Iowa (Wildcat Den State Park and Muscatine), Nebraska (Indian Cave State Park), Barcelona (Malgrat de Mar), Illinois (Little Grassy Lake), Tennessee (Great Smoky Mountains), Colorado (Glenwood Springs), and this year...Moab, Utah!

Now, I acknowledge that this blog has already extolled the virtues of Moab's slickrock ad nauseum. So, we'll try not to bore you with too many photos of arches and share a peek of Andrus/Wheeler camping peculiarities instead.

Let's start with Papa Kay's trademark gimmicks. Papa Kay came equipped with an entire BOX of gadgets clearly labeled as private so that no one else could spoil his surprises.

What do you think of the tongue spoon?
Seems like Grandpa's having a hard time keeping a straight face.
Brooklyn tries out the extendable fork--perfect for stealing your sister's meatball.
And the most annoying gimmick of the century--a yodeling pickle. Papa Kay nearly lost his marriage over this one.
And just for the sake of consistency, here are a few more favorite photos from this meal. NomiAnn, always busy taking care of us.
Talia's a natural multi-tasker: she can suck her finger and stir the spaghetti sauce at the same time.
And Jason, pouring out the charm as quickly as the water.
The next day, Papa Kay broke out the rocket balloons. I love how Papa Kay looks like a little kid with feet dangling off the giant bench. It seems a perfect representation of how these toys help him relive more youthful days.
Talia and Eli let one fly.
What joy!
These pictures were taken at the Moab Art festival.
But the fun wasn't done. We shot more rocket balloons at a park on our last afternoon. Eli was particularly entranced.
Running to fetch.
This park had an absolutely fantastic music theme.
The kids loved all the marimbas, xylophones, drums, bells, and chimes--almost as much as me. :)
Back to Papa Kay's gizmos, he unwisely pulled out the silly string.
Surely he expected retribution!
Cleaning up the aftermath.
Lest anybody might feel bored, Papa Kay came equipped with soda pop geysers.
Talia gets ready to pull the string.
The actual result was a bit anti-climactic. Next time we'll have to try Diet Coke.
There were crafts for quieter moments, like these fun Bendaroos.
Eli enjoyed lacing his truck.
And of course, the ultimate Papa Kay stand-by: orange Tic Tacs.
This sweet fodder gave the kids enough energy to tackle the two-mile Grand View Overlook trail. Here they are surveying the premises.
Brooklyn with the binoculars.
Sure a long way down.
Aw, come on. You knew it couldn't be my blog without posting pictures of at least one hike.
This was our first experience in Canyonlands National Park. The Island in the Sky district was so beautiful!
The kids were particularly excited to become Junior Rangers.
NomiAnn looks out over the white rim trail. (I have dreams of biking this someday.)
Kara, the camel.
Brooklyn helped Eli for quite a while along our journey.
Wow, that's a big step for such little legs!
Time for Brooklyn to forge ahead on her own.
While it took a while, Eli walked the entire first leg by himself, squishing many ants in the process... When we finally arrived, he felt so proud!
Eli and his "Mommy-Man."
Jason, Kara, and Talia.
Gazing out from the point.
Mother and daughter, Cathy and Kara.
Jason on the trek back. Talk about buff!
Papa Kay maps out our route home.
We spent a lot of together time squished in the back of the RAV.
So long as the road was paved, Brooklyn was quite happy.
Of course, Papa Kay wasn't the only source of entertainment. Here are Brooklyn and Talia trekking to the campground pool.
Brooklyn floats.
Talia splashes.
And Eli ponders whether or not to get in.
Eli floats by his toes...
...while NomiAnn basks in the sun. Doesn't she look great?
Of course, when we look back on Memorial Day camping 2012, the thing that we might remember most is this: Dirt.
Who needs a toy when you can drive a rock along the dust interstate?
Such lashes!
So, it's hard to describe the wind storms that sent grime flying into every conceivable crevice. You kind of had to live through it to believe it. The 60 mph gusts coated everything with a thick layer of dust, ranging from our pots and pans to the sleeping bags inside our tents. For a day and a half, every mouthful of food crunched from the grit. When we turned on the AC, a big puff of dirt came shooting back out at us. And our trip to Arches? Well, we drove out to the Windows section...
...and tried to hike, but had to turn back early when the stinging dirt nearly blew us off the mountain. Here are Brooklyn and Talia hiding in an alcove.
Unsure of how to spend the rest of our windy day, we went for a long drive through some back roads. These sapphire blue lakes are actually used in the mining of potash.
It seemed quite strange to run across this random guy working security in the middle of nowhere until we came across this movie set. While we can't guarantee it, I'm pretty darn sure this is where Johnny Depp is filming the Lone Ranger. I heard rumors that they were casting extras, particularly the extra-tall and extra-small. And to think, I might have joined show biz alongside my sister!
Keep your eyes peeled for this landscape in the movie.
Looking over the Colorado River.
NomiAnn peeks through the sunroof.
After many miles of off-roading, we finally arrived in Canyonlands National Park.
Not quite sure how we were supposed to pay a fee. Leave it by the cactus?
Unfortunately, the road soon became impassable. Despite being 4WD, the RAV definitely is not high clearance. Time to turn around and head home for 'smores and a dusty campfire. Just when we thought we couldn't survive the grit a moment longer, morning dawned bright and clear. Since we hadn't actually seen much of Arches due to the wind, we headed back in for some more hiking and this beautiful view of Balanced Rock.
All too soon, it was time to pack up and make the long drive home. Everyone was tired, right NomiAnn?
Zoe and adoptive pug-parents, we'll miss you!
And one last pretty picture of the girls to tide you over until we meet again.
NomiAnn and Papa Kay, thanks for yet another great Memorial Day camping trip. Camping is certainly a lot of work (especially when it's so dirty), yet the memories make it all worthwhile.