Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Family That Packs Together...

I guess we just didn't get enough family time on our 10-day vacation so we decided to go on a family backpack trip the weekend after we returned.

Marc and I were both nervous as we didn't want to press our luck, but we also knew that it would be hard.  We decided to do the same hike that Marc took Sister on last summer for the "Father, Daughter" trip he'd organized with the brothers-in-law. Horse Flats trail up on the Alpine Loop.

We had prepped the kids all week long and made sure that we kept them on schedule by not missing any summer camp and going on Friday after they were done.

At about 4pm we headed out. The kids all seemed pretty excited. I don't think Baby really had any idea what was about to go on, but she was along for the ride anyway.

We got to the trail head, started getting everyone situated into their gear and Marc and I made one wrong move with Brother by telling him to "wait" while we were trying to get his pack on and he melted.

It took me a good 30 minutes to get him to calm down enough to even stand by the family and then with a bit of a continued struggle we had his pack on and we were ready for our big "starting out" photo op. Selfie Sticks can be a little complicated when you are wearing an ill-fitting backpack...

It was a good walk/hike into Horse Flat Meadows and we only had to endure Baby's freak-outs every time there was a bee... "bee" meaning anything that made a buzzing noise, ie., flies, gnats, bees, hornets... even some moths, apparently.

She was excited though, about finding the fort she and her cousins had made last summer

Baby was happy to find my lip balm

And Brother, as usual was just thrilled to have his microphone and Shania Twain in the wilderness—great entertainment.

After we were ready to settle down for the night Brother had decided that he was freaked out by the owl that was hooting across the meadow in the trees.

Baby had to sleep in my arms the entire night so I really didn't get a whole lot of restful sleep, but Sister was out cold.

Oh, and Ranger was with us too and, thank goodness, he saved Sister from her anxiety a number of times, not only that, but he helped her go to sleep too.

I have to say that he's not a good watchdog though, because somewhere throughout the night I think we had a critter (big or small, not sure) trying to get into our tent. It was tapping the tent against my head so it seemed to be curious. When we woke up in the morning we saw that our visitor had tried to get into our backpack too... I'll try not to think too hard about what came to visit our camp...

Anyway, I put together a video so you could enjoy a bit of our trip with us.

Trains, Loops and Scary Voices. The End.

Friday morning we were kinda lazy about getting going. I think we all just wanted to linger longer with our family.

The kids swam a bunch and then Baby got tired of water so Aunt Amber brought out all her fun clay stuff and Baby was in heaven.

Clay is a great sensory "toy" and although water is great for sensory input too, I think she was just ready for something more tactile. Besides, look how adorable that elephant is! I really need to find this same clay set, it was adorable. 

Amber takes care of kids in her home and has held on to all her kids' fun toys. She was even kind enough to send us home with one toy that Baby kept her interest in and that was the little "Alphie" robot. Loved him until I realized late at night in the van he could give me quite a scare... you'll get that story in a minute.

We finally got around to packing up and leaving at about 2:00 figuring we'd get to Vegas about 10:00 and just get a hotel last minute for the night.

We were off with smiling faces.

We had tentatively planned a short stop in Tehachapi to see the famous train loop that is there that Brother has watched a bazillion times on YouTube.

As I said before, Marc really wanted to make this trip about the kids and what they would enjoy and we all know how much trains mean to Brother.

We decided we didn't mind getting to Vegas a little later and that this stop would be worth it.

It took a little effort to find the route to the Tehachapi Loop, but on our way up we could hear a train going by and just knew that Brother's dream would come true and we'd be watching trains in real life on the famous Tehachapi Loop!

We got to the look-out spot and there were already a few officianados there waiting for the next train.

We waited a few minutes thinking the next train would come any moment. Our new train friend informed us that the trains enter the loop every 15 minutes and there would be another one coming along any moment...

Fifteen minutes turned to thirty and we were getting a tad discouraged as we were trying to still get to Vegas at a fairly decent time.

When we approached Brother to inform him that we should move on because of time we could see the longing in his eyes and just couldn't bring ourselves to make him leave. Marc and I agreed that we would give it 45 more minutes so we could say we gave it a good solid hour.

I mean when you see a kid looking on anxiously like this, you just have to hope his dream will come true...

After 45 minutes we started thinking that there must be something wrong and that the trucks that were along the loop's tracks were possibly doing repair work and the trains just weren't going to come.

I knew we had a few more minutes so I thought I'd just snap some pics from my phone to pass the time.

There's the Tehachapi Loop out there. This picture may give you an idea of how hot it was out there and show you the love we have for Brother...

After and hour we finally heard a train whistle and we all got excited and gathered to the viewing spot with great excitement and squinted our eyes as we tried to focus on the train that was over 5 miles away... and then it stopped...

We thought maybe it was waiting for another train before it came to the loop so we thought we'd wait a little longer. Besides, you could cut the anticipation with a knife at this point... or maybe it was just all that heat and humidity... at any rate, it was intense.

Brother had become quite the buddy with these two train buffs that had been there for the long hall with us and I had to sneak a picture.

Brother is so shy and really won't talk to strangers, but if you know about trains, you're his friend. I also think these two gentlemen were quite impressed with Brother's knowledge of trains—they all had a good train discussion.

Well, sadly, after one and half hours of waiting for the trains to come to the loop we had to give up hope and conceded that the trains weren't gonna be moving soon enough that we could stay to watch.

So our epic end to the trip wasn't so epic.

But, I was happy that Brother was still excited that he was even at the Tehachapi Loop.

(And in case you were wondering, yes, the girls were not really thrilled about this hour and a half wait, and were even more of a handful when they had realized we waited for nothing, but we've talked about them enough, that I think we can just leave it to your imagination.)

Drive through Tehachapi the fields would wisp as we sped by and the sunset was magnificent so I tried to capture a shot.

We stopped at, yet another, Taco Bell in Tehachapi... wait... wait... Wait! Have I even told you about Taco Bell? I can't remember. Well, anyway, Sister always wanted to eat at Taco Bell. If there was a Taco Bell that was where we would eat. We were just grateful that something was keeping her fed and happy.

So we were a few hours from Vegas, but now I had no cellular connection so I couldn't start looking for a hotel. We weren't too worried though, you can always find something in Vegas or nearby...

Hmmm... did we forget it was Memorial Day weekend?

Long story short, Vegas had NOTHING available... and when I say, "NOTHING" I mean no rooms under $500. I know, there's the places just before that like, Primm, but I said I was keeping this short.

Well, we had no choice, but to go to Mesquite at this point as it was 12am and we weren't about to call my aunt and uncle in Vegas for a place to stay that late, so we had to go to the nearest city.

On our way to Mesquite I called the Casablanca and there were no rooms available there, but the receptionist was sweet enough (I think she heard the desperation in my voice and the melting of the children) and she called around to all the hotels in the area for me! So kind. Such great service from the Casablanca in Mesquite and we didn't even stay there! She found an available room at a Best Western on the north end of Mesquite and there were only 2 rooms left so she gave me the number to call. I called and booked over the phone and we were finally in a hotel parking lot by 2:45am...

We were all toast.

Tired, ornery, tired, grumpy and in the car with each other too long we tripped and lumped up to the second floor to our room. All the while Sister was screaming and yelling for one reason or other and then Brother was crying because of her antics and then Marc and I realized how short our fuzes were and we even had the audacity to concern ourselves with the neighboring tenants and tried to get Sister to be quiet to no avail.

We had to concede that we would be "those" people coming into the hotel.

I'm sure it was because of all the commotion and such that I forgot a few things and Marc was already getting to bed so I just went down to the darkened parking lot by myself.

I have to admit I was a bit nervous. I didn't really know what the area looked like because it was all dark and I wasn't sure if there was someone lurking in the bushes so I just tried to act tough, confident and strong as I strolled to my van, all the while moving my eyes about so as to find anything that might be coming to get me.

Then I realized I had forgotten my keys...


I had to rewind all that, go back to the room to get my keys and then play it all over again.

I decided I would open my van door from a distance so as to deter any weirdos with the light beaming from the back of my van like a firefly.

Then I heard it...

a voice...

it was subtle...

but it was there.

I looked up to see if Sister had come out of the room to wonder where I had gone to, but nothing was on the stoop.

I trepidatiously walked to the rear of my van hoping the voice was just a creak or a owl or something.

As I approached the van I realized that the voice I heard was Alphie's ... the toy robot Amber had given the kids.

That darn thing nearly gave me a heart attack.

Finally at 3:45 I had settled in bed, car safely locked, Alphie secure, kids in bed and I zonked, but not before I thought to take a selfie to commemorate the moment...

The next morning we woke up late enough to miss the "free" breakfast but early enough to get checked out in time.

As I stepped out into the light I laughed when I saw that our hotel was nestled next to a Taco Bell... most people would think, "Oh, it was meant to be!" We shuffled Sister quickly into the van hoping she would not see the Taco Bell as we had all had enough of Taco Bell for a while... thank you Taco Bell, but no thank you...

Our way home wasn't bad, really, at all... just those few times we missed Sister's cues for potty breaks.

We stopped in Nephi to celebrate MrT's birthday with the family for a while and then continued on home.

We were all happy to be home again. I was especially happy to see that my roses had bloomed while I was gone.

As cheesy as it sounds, I have to say that my roses weren't the only thing that bloomed while we were on this trip. Our family bond had bloomed to a bright and beautiful hue and we have to say that, even with all the struggles and trials, we were truly grateful to have bloomed brighter and stronger than we though we could.

Big Trees and Big Expectations

We woke Friday morning a bit trepidatious about starting our vacation on our own without the help of Jessie and Joel and the kids, but it started off well with a happy breakfast with Amber, Lynne and Gary and the kids.

Then we were off on our Sequoias adventure.

The road there was so windy, I forgot how many bends that road had. It had been years since my last visit to the Sequoias and the windy road was definitely the part I forgot.

Don't worry, Sister didn't forget that she gets carsick. She was reminded, as were we, at every bend.

We decided to try to get her mind off of feeling a little carsick by stopping off the side of the road so she could see how big the trees were.

See that blue spec at the bottom? That's Sister... these trees are gigantic!!!

Don't let her "happy" face fool you, she was so angry with us and demanded that we take the pictures and head back to grandma's house.

So, I guess you could say it started off with an unhappy Sister so it wasn't too shocking when we arrived at the main parking lot and she had an immediate meltdown. She was not about to go anywhere without her cousins and she was going to make sure that everyone knew about that.

Now, I can't say that Marc and I didn't think this would happen or that we were even discouraged by it. If fact, I think we took it all in stride.


I think it was all the other people that weren't ready for her...

I am pretty sure she scared a couple of old ladies and kept some burly men at a fast pace to get without of earshot from her.

During this picture I am pretty sure that all 3 kids were melting and didn't want to walk anymore and wanted to go home and were trying to dart off in every direction that might get them out of the park.

We decided to push forward and, at least, go to see the great tree, General Sherman.

We took pictures to document our destination because we knew that it would only last a moment with all the whining, screaming and tantrumming that was going on.

After getting some shots we headed back up the trail to leave and Sister's meltdowns were getting louder, Brother was reacting to her screams and Baby was just... well, she was just.

Then Marc and I got to witness a sweet moment between Sister and Baby and we both documented it at the same time.

Luckily on the way back just before Sister's meltdown escalated to "uncontrollable" there were 2 ladies that came walking down with their tiny dogs in their arms and I saw that Sister had some interest in them and knew that with how much she was missing Ranger that this might be our saving grace.

"Is it OK with you if my kids pet your dogs? They really miss their little dog at home" I asked as Sister and Baby both approached with anticipation.

First, I was grateful that these two women were so gracious to share their dogs with us for a few minutes.

Second, I was so grateful for the calming power of animals.

It was like magic when sister got to cuddle those dogs and ask her owners all about them.

She was calm the rest of the way to the parking lot and even seemed to be at ease.

On the way down we all talked about the trees and the kids spoke as if it was the greatest tree trip they had ever been on and you would never have known they were melting most of the time.

It's interesting to notice the personality and life changes Marc and I have made as we have had to learn and grow and change for our children.

Like when Marc yells out, "[Brother!] Did you see that sign that said "turquoise?" and then flips a u-turn so that Brother can see it and we can take a picture of it for him to remember. Marc has learned that "turquoise" to Brother is important in all forms, I love my hubby even more for things like this.

When we got back to the house the kids were all so excited to get back into the pool with their cousins and beat the heat with some good old-fashioned water-play.

I didn't feel like swimming so I stayed inside to take photographs of moments and enjoy the air conditioning and company.

Lynne cutting strawberries to snack on

Marc and Amber... sorry this it's blurry... user error... but at least you can tell who they are (sheepish smile)

Teddy Bear is always a challenge to photograph but I enjoy the challenge

Then Zozo appeared in this get-up and I couldn't resist but to take pictures!

There are many memories at this California home, for Marc and his siblings, and now our children too. I'm glad they are happy ones. During this trip I realized it had been 4 years since I had been here.

It was good to see Marc's siblings and their families again and to listen to Marc recount some of his memories in this home.

This was going to be our last night in Visalia. We knew we and the kids were ready to get home, but it was tempting to accept Amber's offer to stay one more night.


It's so important.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

On Our Own

We woke up in the morning Thursday with a plan to have Marc’s dad come pick us up since we were worried our car would take a while.

“Why would we have him come pick us up all the way from Utah while we were in California?” you are thinking.

Well, that was one of the other little blessings is that Marc’s parents were visiting family in Marc’s hometown of Visalia and Visalia is only 2 hours away from Yosemite. Gary was happy to come help us out.

We were supposed to check out of our rental by 10am, but I had talked to the owner and she was happy to let us stay longer so we could arrange everything with our car.

I was very hopeful that the repair shop would be done with our car that day, but we didn’t want to put all of our card in the hopeful pile and thought we should be prepared just in case they weren’t able to get it done by noon like I had politely and sweetly requested.

Marc’s dad, Gary, got to the house at 11am and we all packed stuff into his car and Jessie and Joel’s car and at 11:30 we were ready to leave when I decided to call the repair shop just to see where they were and make sure that we weren’t taking off for Visalia if the car would be fixed before we got there.

“Hi, it’s your favorite customer from Utah again,” cheesy smile even though they can’t see me, “um, so, I’m just wondering how our van is coming along, you know, because you are so amazing and everything…,” I give a little giggle and wait with anticipation for the answer I hope to hear.

“Oh, yes, Rachael, we found what the problem was last night. It was the ‘blah blah blah blah” engine ‘blah’ connector ‘blah blah’ tube ‘blah’ and one of our employee’s wife works in Tulare and was able to get the ‘blah blah’ part we needed that happened to be there and she brought it back with her so our repairman got the part in this morning and he’s just doing all of his finishing-up right now. We should be ready for you to pick it up within and hour.”

(disclaimer: I heard what he was saying, but I don’t know the exact words after trying to remember back a month…)

I was so excited and surprised and grateful that there had been yet, another blessing. With the repair shop have been 12 or so weeks out on repairs and yet they were able to get to ours in one day was so kind of them and thoughtful to take care of us out-of-staters.

I hated to tell Gary he had come up for nothing, but he was just glad he was there in case we had needed him.

We decided that we should all, at least go out for lunch.

Right when we were done with lunch we got the call that our van was ready.

We were so thankful to the employees at the repair shop that they couldn’t but smile when they saw how thankful we were.

The other blessing was that the bill for both towing and getting the van repaired was only $440. It was definitely not money we had planned on spending, but we know it could have been a lot worse.

Our prayer that we had asked for honest people, a quick turn-around and for the kids to handle it all in stride was all completely answered.

I was surprised the entire time at how well, especially Sister, was handling this bump in our road trip and wasn’t melting or screaming at us about it. I mean, it wasn’t exactly smooth like butter but I would at least give it a chunky peanut butter rating.

The girls were already loading in Gary’s car and I didn’t want to rock the boat by moving them to another car after they had been all situated so I figured I should ride with Gary since I knew it would be tough for him to be alone with the girls.

I tried to stay awake during the drive, but I think with everything, I was just exhausted…oh!! And I forgot to tell you about our little medicine issue.

To make a really long and overly complicated story short, we were not able to fill a certain prescription for Sister and Brother there in California so we had to have my mom rush to pick them up and overnight them before we left Oakhurst. That was the other blessing was that even with all the drama it caused my mom, and the stress of not knowing if our kids would have the meds they desperately needed that the meds were delivered to our rental home’s door just in time for Brother to have only missed 1.5 days and Sister to miss none.

Trust me, you learn to count every tiny little blessing when you’re in our situation. You have to find the shimmer in the darkness to keep you smiling.

When we got to Marc’s parents’ house the kids were excited to see their cousins, Aunt Amber and Uncle Aaron, then they had to jump into the pool… it was hot… really, really hot there! I think I melted a little bit.

Jessie and Joel had decided they’d had a full road trip and decided to head home instead of stay a night in Visalia and then go the Sequoia National Park the next day.

I was sad, and frankly, a little panicked, to see them go because they had been such a blessing to our kids the entire trip and I’ve never gone on a vacation with my sister so it was a joy.

They let their kids swim a while before heading out to Las Vegas for their last leg of their homeward journey, so we got a few pictures of that.

It was so good to see Marc’s California family again and take time to get reconnected. It was really great to see Brother interact with his cousins and see that he has learned so much socially. At moments it was as if he was just “one of them.” I had to take a picture just because it was so sweet to see.

I love that Gary was creative when Baby declared, loudly, that she didn't want to do pictures.
so Gary obliged and get Baby on the swing in the background!

Gary is so proud of his family and wanted to get a picture of everyone who was there that night.

Brother hadn't seen the newest Star Wars yet so he sat down with TeddyBear and was completely enthralled with the whole movie and has made it known that his favorite movie character is Rae. Brother loves taking care of TeddyBear so watching a movie with him was great.

Marc and I were able to take TeddyBear's room and Baby slept in there with us in a Wall-E box TeddyBear likes to play in.
I had to take a picture because she was so cute with all the stuffed animals in her own little space.

Marc and I talked, after Baby had dozed off, about all the blessings that had happened the last few days and then proceeded to express our worries of doing the rest of this trip without the help of Jessie and Joel and their kids helping us with our kids.

We weren’t trying to be doomsdayers… we had just been through a huge meltdown with Sister when she realized that LittleB wasn’t coming back and they were now on their own vacation… trust me, we had reason to worry about how the Sequoia’s would go without help…

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Underwear Eating Bum

We were all excited Wednesday morning to start our big adventure in the Yosemite Valley so we got up early, Jessie and I made breakfast for everyone and then we loaded up into our 2 vans and we were off.

I was really excited to see Yosemite from a different viewpoint and Marc was really excited for me to see it because I never have. He was also excited for Jessie and Joel and their kids to experience it for their first time.

Our excitement was palpable and we were all smiles so, of course, I had to take our "on our way" pic.

Then things took a bit of a turn once we got higher up on our road to Yosemite. In fact it would suffice to say that it all went downhill once we got uphill.

We came to a turn off area along the roadway and we were slowing down so I assumed that Marc was planning to turn in there until I recognized the look of panic on his face. We came to a stop at a curve along the road and I was a little panicked as we sat along a narrow road like sitting ducks. Jessie and Joel pulled up alongside us and suggested we back up to make the turn-off that was labeled Tenaya Lodge.

When Marc tried to back up there wasn't much power moving the van and we were worried that it wouldn't even be able to move.

Somehow we finally got to the turn-off and then were able to crawl slowly up the hill to the first place that was safe to pull off and that was a parking lot.

We pulled in and turned off the car and I sensed a moment when both Marc and I were both ready to cry/scream knowing that this wasn't going to end the way we would like it to.

At first I started to feel like crying, but luckily, quickly remembered I needed to keep it together so our kids wouldn't sense our panic and start to fall apart.

When Sister started to sense the thickness of the worry in the air she started to melt and worry and panic. It was this moment that I knew that God was in charge and I relied on Him for inspiration in this tough situation.

I was able to stay calm, talk sweetly and not show any sign of worry and she and the rest of the family followed my lead.

The kids and I unloaded from the car and gathered with Jessie and her kids while Marc and Joel assessed what might be the problem.

Jessie suggested praying so she and I and our kids said a prayer together that we would know what to do and would know who we could trust to help us with our situation.

After the prayer Jessie took the kids on a little adventure to see the lodge (really trying to keep their minds off of the situation of the car problem) and ask if anyone knew of a repair place we could call.

So there was Marc, Joel and I left to stare at the van and worry about what was going to happen in the next hour.

Of course, I had to take a picture to document our situation...

Then I had to show my disappointed face for the record too...

When Jessie came back she had a phone number for a recommended, trustworthy car repair place and tow company.

It was then that I started realizing that our prayer was starting to be answered and I moved forward in faith by calling the auto repair place and trusting that they were the ones who would do an honest job.

We had to have a tow truck bring our car down. I had been thankful for Jessie and Joel's family's presence our entire trip, but at this moment I couldn't even express all my gratitude when Jessie and Joel suggested that Jman stay with Marc and I while they took our 3 kids and their other 2 down to the rental house, drop them off and come back to get us so that we wouldn't have to squish into the tow truck. 

At that moment I realized how blessed we were even in a bad situation because if Joel and Jessie's family hadn't been there with us on this vacation our kids would have been in hysterics, anxious meltdowns, and screaming fits if they had to have waited in a hot parking lot with a broken-down van and then have to ride down the mountain with a stranger.

Even with this trial were being extremely blessed.

Joel got back about when the tow truck showed up. After loading our van on the tow truck, we piled into Joel's van and followed the tow truck to Oakhurst repair shop.

When we got there I tried my best to put on my puppy dog face and explain to them that, even though they were 14 weeks out with repairs, that they would help us all be so happy if they could get it repaired by the next day because of our road trip schedule and how it would negatively affect our children with special needs. I tried my best to be likable and kind enough that they would want to put our van ahead of the other work they had before them.

I walked out of the repair shop knowing that God would provide and that it would just all work out, I just had to have faith.

Joel, Marc, Jman and I came back to the house and we sat around a bit, ate and tried to keep Sister's mind off the fact that her van wasn't working. After a bit I encouraged Marc to take Joel and his boys to see Yosemite so they wouldn't miss out on that chance (the whole purpose we had come. The boys were so excited that they didn't even want to stop to eat dinner, they just packed up and headed out.

Jessie and I stayed back and relaxed in the house with the kids watching "Princess Bride" and taking cat naps.

During this time I finally realized what Sister was talking about for the last few days about her underwear bothering her when she came in, tugging at her back side, and asked, "Mom! Ugh. Why does my bum keep eating my underwear?!" I tried hard not to laugh so I didn't hurt her feelings, but I couldn't help it very well. Jessie and I looked slyly at each other and stifled our laughs the best we could.

Eating her underwear?

I told her that her underwear was getting too small and it wasn't because of her bum wanting to eat underwear as much as it was that her underwear had just gotten too small and that we needed to by her some knew ones.

(Fast forward to when we got home from our road trip and soon after I purchases some larger sized underwear for Sister and when she put them on she started smile and said proudly, "My bum's not hungry anymore!")

Marc came home with some great shots of the Yosemite Valley and I was thankful he shared them with me, so I could, at least, be more jealous... *sigh*