Jackson Hole, The Grand Tetons, & Moose Wyoming

6.17.2019

Since I was in high school, my dream was to visit Yellowstone National Park.  Maybe it was because of the breathtaking scenery, the geysers, and the wilderness, or maybe it was because I was in awe that a National Park could be the same size as our little state of Connecticut.

Whatever the reason, I've been drawn to it, and I can't believe that right now, my (our) dream is finally coming true.  On Friday, we flew into Jackson Hole, WY and stayed at the Snake River Lodge.  There, we've been able to explore a little of the Grand Tetons.  Tomorrow (Monday), we are on our way to begin a five day tour of Yellowstone, complete with our own tour guide who will be leading a group of two to three families with children Lewie's age (ages 8 - 12).

While Yellowstone has been the focus of our trip, I can't say enough about our experience here in Teton Village and the surrounding area.  What a gorgeous view of rolling fields, ranches, and farms with the beautiful white Teton Mountain Range in the backdrop!

Here is how we spent our first day...it's pure paradise for anyone like me that loves nature and getting a glimpse of life on the prairie back in the 1800's:

Our plane at Jackson Hole Airport.  We saw the beautiful Teton Mountain Range as we landed on the runway.  Breathtaking!!


Our hotel inside Teton Village.

Views from right outside of Teton Village.

On our short walk, we saw a few paragliders jumping from the mountains.  Their journey to the bottom looked so calm and peaceful; I think this activity may be on my bucket list....

Wagon ride anyone?
 After exploring views from Teton Village, we left to take a rafting trip down Snake River.  At first we were going to try whitewater river rafting, but when we learned the snow-melt river was 50 degrees, we decided to try the "dry" floating option...
Floating down the Snake River through the forests of Grand Teton National Park.




Our tour guide rowed the boat and kept it steady in some choppy waters. 
(He's going to Brown University for med school in the fall.)







On our tour, we saw some Pelicans and a baby Bald Eagle.  (It was my first sighting of a Bald Eagle ever!)



If the river rafting wasn't enough, we decided to drive to Moose, Wyoming (inside Grand Teton National Park) to eat at Dornan's Chuckwagon.  This was truly our first chuckwagon experience.  For those of you, like me, that's not up on the lingo, a "chuckwagon" is a type of field kitchen with a covered wagon used for storage and cooking equipment.  Early settlers, cowboys, and loggers were used to eating like this on the prairies of the United States and Canada.   I loved it!!

On Mondays, Dornan's has hootenannies.  If we were not traveling to Yellowstone, I would have loved to experience this, too.  Who wouldn't love eating with some folk music and dancing?!










Good eats!!




Our first day in Wyoming was simply outstanding.  The weather was perfect (in the low 70's) with a light breeze, and the sky couldn't be bluer with the most beautiful white puffy clouds.  There wasn't a single bad view.  Even the grocery stores like Albertsons and Aspens Market were surrounded by beauty, and the insides of the markets were clean, rustic, and cozy, too.  It was nice to be in an environment where it appears as if everyone takes pride in their home.

Little Lewie's First 5K (and Mine, too)!

5.25.2019

At the end of February, Lewie surprised me by asking to join "Running Club."  The goal would be to spend the next few months training to run a 5K.  Since the club didn't interfere with any of his other extracurricular activities, I thought it was perfect.  On two days each week, he'd spend an hour after school learning how to stretch, run, breathe, and walk off cramps.  On a week when Running Club was cancelled, his teacher suggested he practice on his own; this is when I started taking an interest, too.  We practiced run-walking together.


On Mother's Day weekend, our town held its annual 5K to benefit Multiple sclerosis (MS).  The kids in Running Club were encouraged to sign up as this would be their first 5K (at least for most of them) and proof that they could do it!   "Would you like us to sign up, too?" I asked Lewie, wondering if he wanted the company of Mom and Dad.

"Sure," he replied, but when my husband's tooth was giving him trouble (he had a post and crown put in), Little Lewie and I ended up doing the 5K on our own.  We arrived to the race bright and early (around 8:30 a.m.) and spent the next few hours talking to the other members of the Running Club that showed up, including Lewie's Running Club teacher, Mrs. Wright.  Some parents, like me, were participating, and others were going to enjoy the race from the sideline.

I reminded Lewie that he didn't have to stay with me as I knew that I was not prepared to run the race.  Yes, I can walk a 5K, no problem, but running is a whole other story.  In the beginning, Lewie kept up with his friends, but as the race dragged on, he found himself right by me.  (I still don't know if he did this intentionally to keep me company.)  Lewie finished in 43:40, and I finished in 43:59.

The race was exhilarating, for sure.  If I ever wanted to run competitively, I would need to train to beat the best score, which was 20:06.   I can't imagine it.  I've tried running, and it's not for me.  I like to take my time, smell the roses, and daydream.  The minute I have to divert my attention to my breath is the minute it doesn't become fun anymore.  I'd rather walk and breathe comfortably than run and feel winded.

Lewie's teacher made all her Running Club students feel special that day.  He had earned his participation medal and was given a few cool chachkies, including a Running Club bracelet and key chain.  Although we we were all given shirts for the race, Lewie chose to wear his Running Club T-shirt instead as did most kids.   He was truly proud of his accomplishment, and in Lewie fashion, he was high-fiving all the other kids from his club as he crossed the finish line.   (All the boys were so supportive of one another--I loved it!)


Lewie and his Running Club teacher, Mrs. Wright
The next day was Mother's Day, and although it rained, my mom, hubby, Little Lewie, and I still managed to go to our favorite restaurant (the Hopkins Inn) for lunch.  The rain made it impossible to eat outside on their patio or to take a walk by the lake, but we, at least, had a nice view of the lake from inside the house. As usual, the food was SPECTACULAR.  It was a wonderful weekend, all around!

So proud to be a mom of this wonderful kid!
My mom and me--so grateful to be spending another happy year together!

Swimming & Gaming - What a Mix!

5.07.2019

Little Lewie has officially been taking swim lessons for over six years.  Year one was at the YMCA, year two was at Post University and the Colonial Tavern, year three was at the Jewish Community Center, and the last three years have been with a private swim school called Noah's Ark.

Out of all of Lewie's swim experiences, Noah's Ark has been the best.  For one, they never hold classes with more than four students at a time, and their semi-private lessons, which we did for the first two years, were reasonably priced.  Still, there was another reason why we stayed for so long and that was Lewie's swim teacher, Mr. Vinny.


Unlike Little Lewie's past swim teachers that acted more like drill sergeants, Mr. Vinny's style was gentle, patient, and playful.  He let Lewie learn at his own speed, and Lewie quickly discovered that if he had Mr. Vinny to himself, he could talk about his favorite hobby--video games.   At first, I was inclined to intervene.  Lewie, after all, was supposed to be talking about swimming at swim school, not Minecraft.  However, we soon learned that Mr. Vinny loved computers too, and in addition to his part-time job as a swim instructor, he fixed computers and belonged to a gaming team.

"See, I told you, Mommy," Lewie bluted out to me one day after swim school.  Mr. Vinny is making money doing what he loves.  I can make money by designing my own video games."

I didn't know how to respond.  For years, since I was a kid growing up in the 80's, I was taught that technology, like Atari, Nintendo, and TV, rotted your brains.  It was the reason for children's low standardized test scores, low self-esteem, and the rise in childhood obesity and diabetes.  It was touted as pretty much everything evil, and today, there are plenty of statistics to prove it.  (Heck, even South Park took a jab at gaming in Season 10, Episode 8: "Make Love-Not Warcraft.")

Still, over the years, we watched Mr. Vinny move up the proverbial ladder.  First, he no longer had to fix computers because he was making more money with his "esports career."  Next, his team won a $500,000 prize, and although we never knew how much of that money was Mr. Vinny's cut, we did know that he ordered himself a brand new, custom-made, blue Mustang, complete with racing stripes and an orange interior.  (We laughed every time we saw it parked outside the pool area--it couldn't be mistaken as anyone else's car.)

Then, three weeks ago, Little Lewie's world turned upside down.  Mr. Vinny notified us that April would be his last month as a swim instructor.  He was doing so well with esports that companies were now sponsoring him and his team. He would be moving, buying his own house, and living "the dream."  Lewie cried on that day, for  Mr. Vinny had become more than a swim instructor to him.  He was a role model, a mentor, and probably the coolest twenty-something in Little Lewie's world.  (My husband and I were crushed, too!)

Lewie made sure to exchange email addresses with him before he left, and Mr. Vinny sent him a link to his gaming organization on Twitch.  Lewie didn't have to say goodbye forever.  He could now watch Mr. Vinny compete with other gamers live in games like League of Legends, Overwatch, Vainglory, Super Smash Bros and Fortnight.  (Of course, I'll check to see what's appropriate viewing for a ten year-old.)

A few years back, I stopped fighting Lewie on his passion for computers and started nurturing it.  He now goes to computer camp for one week during the summer, and he can have computer time everyday as long as his homework comes first. (At the moment, we have found a good balance between school, Cub Scouts, running club, swimming, and technology.)


Egaming/esports is becoming so popular, it's now recognized as a varsity sport at many colleges, and one article estimates that esports will be a $2.3 billion market by 2022 (https://www.gamedesigning.org/schools/varsity-esports/).  I'm not sure if Little Lewie will be following in Mr. Vinny's footsteps, but if he does, I won't be standing in his way.

Easter Blessings

4.23.2019

There is something to be said for holiday traditions, and this year's Easter certainly did not disappoint.  Little Lewie started the day off at 6:40 a.m.; he crept in my bedroom to tell me he wasn't sure if the "bunny" came.  He didn't see an Easter Basket and was wondering if it might be hidden on my mom's side of our duplex house.  I reminded him that the bunny hides eggs, too, and if he found eggs on our side, then the Easter Basket would be on our side as well.

To that, he went back downstairs in search of eggs, and when he found his first one, he woke me again to tell me that there were eggs after all. 

I woke myself up, promising I would return to bed after the hunt, which, of course, never happened.  There was too much excitement between the eggs and the basket, and before I knew it, it was time for us to shower and get ready for church.

I'm still unsure whether Lewie believed in the Easter Bunny this year.  Does he believe in an actual bunny that can magically carry or drag baskets with its teeth (we know rabbits can't actually carry baskets with their paws), or does he believe in the concept of someone posing as a bunny in a rabbit costume?  As much as I wanted to know, I chose to ignore the discussion altogether, and Lewie did the same.  He seemed to expect some great loot (like gift cards) in his basket this year, and he was right.  In addition to his normal chocolate treats like nonpareils, chocolate bunnies, and chocolate covered Oreos, he found gift cards to Steam, Xbox, and Roblox.  He also discovered his favorite gift of all--an MP3 player, so he could listen to his favorite songs during running club.  (Some children his age actually have cell phones, but we're opting to hold out as long as we can...)

Friends from work helped me with decorating Lewie's basket this year.

Here's his MP3 Player.

The basket was hidden in the laundry basket this year with a blanket over it.

Treats!!


After church, we had dinner at our usual Easter restaurant, which offers a terrific brunch.  Whereas last year, it was just my mom, husband, Little Lewie, and me; this year, both of my mom's sisters were well enough to join us.  It was nice to have the family altogether again, especially after one of my aunts had spent most of 2018 battling Ovarian Cancer.  It was a blessing to have all of us at the table, looking well and HAPPY!

My mom with Little Lewie.


I love this picture.  It captures Little Lewie's joy and laughter with his dad.

Hubby with my Aunty Irene from Delaware


My Aunty Kiki who was sick most of last year with bestie, Karen.  They are both Cancer survivors.
Again, when looking back at our Easter Celebration this year, I am grateful.  There is nothing more wonderful than being able to spend cherished time with family. 

Teachers' Choice Award & the Geography Fair 2019

4.10.2019

Every year, Lewie participates in our elementary school's academic fair.  The subjects rotate.  In first grade, it was a geography fair; in second grade, a science fair; in third grade, a history fair, and this year, it was a geography fair again.  (I'll admit that I enjoy the geography and history fairs the best.)


This year, Lewie chose to do his project on the Grand Canyon.  At first, I tried discouraging him: "Lewie, why do it on the Grand Canyon when you've already been there?  Don't you want to do research on a new place, like Yellowstone National Park?"  (We're planning on going there this summer.)

He thought about it for two seconds and replied, "Nope.  I want to do it on the Grand Canyon."  At that point, I gave up trying to convince him otherwise, and we became a team.  Using our state's inter-library loan service, we were able to take out four books on the Grand Canyon (from multiple libraries), and we spent our weeks reading them.  Each book, it seemed, focused on a different topic.  One spoke more about the history of the rock layers, another about the wildlife, and still another about human civilization.  Even though we went there in 2017, we quickly discovered there was still so much to learn!

For me, the biggest takeaways were about the rock layers and the history of the park.  The rock layers at the bottom of the canyon are close to two billion years old.  There's evidence through fossils that the canyon was covered by water several times.  Humans didn't start living in the canyon until 12,000 years ago.  There are pictographs in several areas, which demonstrate this fact.  We even saw them on our trip years ago.


In  1919, President Woodrow Wilson made the Grand Canyon into the Nation's Fifteenth National Park.  (This is after President Theodore Roosevelt made it a National Monument in 1908.)  The canyon had to be protected as sites were getting ruined by excavating and mining.  Still others, like the Fred Harvey Company, were purchasing land to be used for tourism.  If the Canyon didn't become a park, it ran the risk of getting bought up by people in the mining and tourist industries.

Here is the El Tovar Hotel, built from 1902-1905, by the Fred Harvey Company. The hotel is located by the Grand Canyon Railroad Station, a train that was built to bring hundreds if not thousands of tourists to the Canyon everyday.  It's interesting to learn that President Theodore Roosevelt didn't want the hotel; it was built before Roosevelt could declare the place a National Monument.  (We had lunch there on our trip; it was great to learn the history.)
If you ask Lewie about his favorite part of this project, he will say learning about the wildlife.  He also enjoyed going through our pictures from 2017. (We used about eight of them on the board, and some of them are now in this blog post.)  Here's a few of our favorites:

The Grand Canyon Railway has been in existence for over 100 years!  (Obviously they have newer trains today and not the steam locomotives from the late 1800's.)



Hubby getting too close to the edge!

The Elk we saw on our walk that stopped to get a 'selfie.'


As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project with Little Lewie, and in the end, he was right.  The Grand Canyon was perfect for the Geography Fair.  His passion must have came out because Little Lewie won the Teacher's Choice Award for Forth Grade.  (There was a winner in each grade.)  Lewie was so excited that he stood on stage speaking to the teachers for a minute.  One of my parent friends joked with me:  "I thought he was going to give an acceptance speech."

I gloated, "Me too."  (Evidently, Lewie felt it was necessary to let the teachers know how happy this made him.)




There's no doubt Lewie's award made me a proud mama.  I'm glad our first National Park trip inspired such an interest in nature, preservation, and wildlife.  This project only motivates me to plan more of these trips.  Yellowstone, here we come (in June)!