Happy Birthday to Our Awesome 11 Year-Old


Here we are, August 11th.  Today, Lewie turned 11 (at one o'clock in the afternoon), and I'm left  scratching my head once more, wondering where these precious 365 days went...

Surely, we had lots of fun this year.  Our big ticket item was going to Yellowstone (in June), but we managed to take smaller trips to Battleship Cove, Santa's Village, and the Maritime Center.  We also enjoyed annual traditions like going to Lake Quassy, snow tubing, hiking, and hosting our annual Easter Egg Hunt, to name a few.

As I scan through all this year's pictures, however, I'm reminded of a year that was both silly and charming.  Silly because this boy still loves pineapple memes and Uranus jokes (oh yeah...my husband and Lewie can go on for hours, days, and weeks about Ur-anus).

Charming because Lewie is a love bug.  When he first turned 10, Lewie, like most kids, would give me some resistance when it came to doing homework and chores. Over the past four months, however, his demeanor has changed.  He tells me that he loves me daily and does everything I ask without hesitation.  At times, he even offers to do chores without me asking...Where did this new kid come from?  (When my husband and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary on June 11th, Lewie used his time after school to make us an anniversary card!  We couldn't believe he thought to make one for us without anyone prodding him to do it.)

This year has been a year of milestones, too.  First-time events included running a 5-K (back in April), wildlife viewing with binoculars and scopes in Yellowstone (in June) and boat tubing (this July).  He's also shown more interest in new things like "the Running Club," arts and crafts (especially painting and pottery at a place called the Clay Date), and making music.  He will take four-mile, weekend walks with me in nearby towns like Woodbury and Bethany.  (He used to complain about long walks.)  He'll also beg to stay up with us, so he can watch stand-up comedians like Jim Gaffigan and Demetri Martin.  (This boy likes stand-up comedians because he, himself, likes to make other people laugh.)

Yes, spending days with this 10 year-old is pure joy.  Sure, I do miss the days of taking Lewie to the Shore Line Trolley Museum for his birthday, but I do have to say that each new year brings amazing experiences, blessings, and memories.  This year, it was about inviting friends (we had nine boys) to celebrate at our pool.  Who knows what next year will bring?  In Lewie's own words, "You better bet" I love this wild ride called parenthood. 

Lewie and his "besties."

The ice-cream cake Lewie designed...
Some of the boys: Lewie, Ryan, Corey, Hunter, and Tyler.
Here is this year's interview:

Q:  What is your favorite color?
A:  "Orange." (This is the same as last year.)

Q:  What is your favorite book?
A:  "The Humphrey Series." (as in Humphrey the Hamster)

Q:  What is your favorite cartoon?
A:  "The Amazing World of Gumball."

Q:  What is your favorite movie?
A:  "My favorite movie is 'Avenger's End Game.'"

Q:  What is your favorite song?
A:  "'Megalovania' by Toby Fox from the UNDERTALE Soundtrack."  (This is the same from last year.)  However, he has been listening to "Stolen Dance" and "Crab Rave" this year, too.

Q:  What is your favorite board game?
A:  "Probably, Sorry.  Yup, definitely Sorry."

Q:  What is your favorite computer game?
A:  "Holy smokes!  I mean I have a lot....TABS (Totally Accurate Battle Simulator)."  (This is a pretty funny game!)

Q:  What is your favorite place?
A:  "Probably Yellowstone."  (This was a complete surprise!)

Q:  What is your favorite thing to do at school?
A:  "P.E. (Gym)." (This is the same as last year.)

Q:  Who is your favorite teacher?
A:  "To be honest with you...still Miss Drayton, my second grade teacher."

Q:  What is your favorite sport?
A:  "Dodge Ball."

Q:  What is your favorite food?
A:  "French Toast." (This is the same as last year.)

Q:  What is your favorite ice-cream flavor?
A:  "Sweet Cream." (Last year it was birthday cake.)

Q:  What is your favorite thing to do with Mommy?
A:  "Walking with you."

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A:  "A media producer."

Q:  What is your favorite thing to do with Daddy?
A:  "Throw the football with him."

Q:  What is your favorite moment as a ten year-old?
A:  "I don't really know.  I've had so many good moments....Making MineCraft mods with Java."  (This is what he learned in computer camp this July.)

Finally, one of my favorite moments from this year is when Lewie came home from his camp at the JCC (the Jewish Community Center) with a special pin; it was awarded to him for being kind to other campers.  He said to me very innocently, "Look Mom.  I won an award, and I'm not even Jewish."

I laughed.  "You're right.  You're not Jewish.  But isn't it nice to know that kindness is universally recognized across all religions?"

I learned that day that he also wants to come back to this camp to be a CIT--Counselor in Training.  Thankfully, he won't be learning how to do that until he's fourteen.  There's still time (which now is my new mantra)...there's still time.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River (Yellowstone National Park)


On our third day in Yellowstone, our little Yellowstone Forever bus brought us through the Canyon area of Yellowstone National Park.  Here we had a chance to see several breathtaking views of the canyon and its three waterfalls, including a hike to Artist Point, which is "one of the most photographed views of Yellowstone."  At Artist Point the rocks are different hues of pink and orange, and there's a "V-shaped" view of the canyon with the most beautiful view of Lower Falls.

All the kids on our tour with our guide, Chandler.

Our happy hiking crew.

Reflection time for Lewie as he was required to do some quiet contemplation at Artist Point. 
(This was one of the activities for him to earn his Junior Ranger Badge.)

Lower Falls, as we learned, is 308 feet high, which makes its height more than twice the size of Niagara Falls.  During our exploration of the canyon, we also had a chance to see the Upper Falls and Crystal Falls as well.

Beyond the scenery and the quiet meditation time, I did have three more favorite moments from the day.

1)  While in the middle of having a "family photo," we soon learned we had a "visitor" behind us.  A COYOTE was standing only a few feet away!  Well, that coyote could care less that we were taking pictures; he had his own agenda in mind.  He was way too busy trying to pounce on a little field mouse in the meadow!

Can you see the COYOTE?

There he is!!
2) On our way to the canyon, Chandler, our tour guide, brought us to a grassy field to have lunch.  After lunch, we played a game called Animals (Elk) vs. Resources.   What a great game!  One group on one side (six of us) were Resources (Water, Food, Shelter).  The other group on the other side (six of us) were Elk.  The Elk would secretly choose a Resource, and the Resource people would choose what they wanted to be (Water, Food, Shelter).  As the Elk came over to the other side, they would try to find their match.  If a person was Water (they would indicate this by using a rain motion with their hands), and if an Elk wanted water, the Elk would pair up with the person that was Water.  Then the person that was Water would now turn to an Elk and go back with the Elk to the other side.  However, if a Resource was not chosen, that person would remain a Resource.  Also, if an Elk wanted a Resource, say Food, but there was no Food Resource for that Elk, that Elk would now become a Resource.

To make it even more interesting, Chandler, threw a Wolf into the game, too.  The Wolf was allowed to try and "eat" the Elk as they tried to make it to a Resource.  If the Wolf "captured" an Elk, it would now become a Wolf.  (Wolves had limited abilities to capture Elk, so it was not easy for them.  They could only move from side to side, following an invisible line.)

The game was interesting because we never ran out of Elk nor did we ever run out of Resources.  What WOULD happen is that if we had ten Elk on one side and only two Resources on the other, most of the ELK would die and become Resources.  (At least eight of them would "die.")  On the other hand, if we had too many Resources, eventually the Elk would become more and more populous and the Resources would dwindle.  It was an excellent, fun, and visual way to teach kids about the cycle of life and how everything needs balance to exist.  It was also a reminder to the kids that, of course, if the ELK did run out of Resources altogether, (say because people interfered and took them away), the ELK would die off and become extinct.

Lunch in the meadow.
3) At the end of our canyon tour, we stopped by the Canyon Lodge Gift Store for some snacks and ice-cream.  There we got to see two things we've never seen before: 1) A Booth for Bear Spray Rentals and 2) A pale ale called Road Block, with, you guessed it, a picture of a bison standing in the middle of the road.  This was the perfect way to end our day!

Lewie and I had ice-cream, while Lew treated himself to one of these...

Mammoth Hot Springs (Home of Terrace Mountain and Historic Fort Yellowstone)


Our trip in Yellowstone had us staying for three nights at Mammoth Hot Springs and two night at Old Faithful.  Since our daily scenic trips never included Mammoth Hot Springs, it was up to us to explore the area on our own.  On one evening, we spent a few hours exploring the boardwalks at Terrace Mountain, which is the largest known "carbonate-depositing" spring in the world.

The mountain, which we could see from our cabins, would continuously let off a hot mist of steam (much like the steam vents and hot springs we would soon see at Old Faithful).  However, as you explore it closer on the boardwalks, you can see that the mountain was created by calcium carbonate deposits that have flowed from the the spring for thousands of years.  The result is beautiful, colorful terraces--some dry and some wet--full of interesting shapes, designs, and patterns.

A view of Fort Yellowstone from Terrace Mountain
On another night during our stay at Mammoth Hot Springs, we went to the Visitor Center to take a historic walking tour of Mammoth's historic Fort Yellowstone buildings.  It was here that we learned all about the history of Yellowstone National Park (which I LOVED)!  On March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park (the world's first national park) in the territories of Montana and Wyoming "as a public park of pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people" under control of the Secretary of the Interior.

However, in the beginning, the Secretary of the Interior didn't exactly know what it would take to run a National Park.  They first established a civilian superintendent to manage the park, but, having limited resources and authority, the superintendent wasn't able to control poaching, hunting, vandalism, or random people and interest groups trying to come in and commercialize/privatize park lands.  Thus, in 1886, the Interior Department transferred control of the park to the War Department; the army, the 1st U.S. Cavalry, was sent to Mammoth Hot Springs where they set up Camp Sheridan.  Camp Sheridan, in 1891, was later renamed as Fort Yellowstone, and the army continued to use this fort to control the park until 1918--exactly 32 years later.  (They wrongly thought the army was only needed for a few years.)

Today, of course, Yellowstone National Park is now controlled by the National Park Service, which not surprisingly, has roots from the army (uniforms, hats, boots, policies, protocol, etc.).  The difference, however, is that the National Park Service  (established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916) was established to protect and preserve our national parks, wildlife and monuments.  Thus, they teach natural and cultural resource conservation in addition to protecting our parks.

The tour was led by a Park Ranger, and she spoke about some of the illegal activities that occurred in the park prior to the army coming in... Some ranchers would put up fencing and stake the land as their own; some would poach--one poacher was famous for killing Bison for their heads; some people would do laundry in the hot springs; and still others would put sticks, rocks, and other things in the geysers to watch them shoot out.  It was kind of the wild west until the army came in, and even then, they had difficulty arresting all the poachers and vandals...

The Visitor Center is one of the remaining Fort Yellowstone buildings.

Buildings at Fort Yellowstone.  (Today they are used by Rangers and people that work for the Park Service.)

The tour ended with lowering the flag.

The historic tour was one of my FAVORITE parts of the trip.  (I'm fascinated by early American history.)  As you will learn from at least three more posts, there is so much to see in Yellowstone, and yet, I find that I cannot fully appreciate the beauty without appreciating the history of this place, too!

Lamar Valley (The Roosevelt Area in Yellowstone National Park)


Our trip to Yellowstone National Park was AMAZING.  My goal was to post about each day as the trip was occurring, but as you can imagine, the internet service in the park is not the greatest, and we went several days without access.  The other truth is that we went on an all-day, week-long tour with three other families, so our days were full, and I often fell asleep before my head even hit the pillow.

The first official day of our Yellowstone Forever adventure was at Lamar Valley.  (Part of the "Roosevelt Area," Lamar Valley is known for its broad vistas, open hillsides, and LOTS of wildlife.) Our Yellowstone Forever Bus headed out early (at 7 a.m.), and we spent the day stopping to view animals.  Sometimes we stopped because we'd see a random animal, like a bear, from the side of the road.  Other times, we'd see crowds of people with binoculars, which told us there was something exciting to view!  We'd stop, ask a few bystanders what they were looking at, and then decide as a group if we wanted to be part of the fun!

Along our trip, just on this one day, we saw bison, two black bears, a pronghorn antelope, a family of badgers, a coyote, elk, osprey, wolves, and several mountain goats.  Here are just a few of the pictures I was able to capture:

This guy was holding up five miles worth of traffic.  Good thing for us, we were on the opposite side of the road!

We stopped at a ranch that was used to help breed and protect bison.  When the park first opened,
there were only 24 bison left in all of North America.  Now, the park is home to 5,000 bison!

Do you see the pronghorn antelope?

Remains from an elk.  Our guide, Chandler, had us hike to this spot.

Lewie would not touch the bones, but Amina from our group had no problem grabbing the skull!

Looking at some mountain goats through binoculars...

Our tour guide, Chandler, told us we were very lucky to see so much wildlife in one day.  However, the most exciting moment for all of us is when we saw a real life wolf/bison encounter.  Almost 20 minutes into our trip, our guide pulled to the side of the road because there was a group of 30+ people standing with their binoculars and scopes.  When we asked about the details, we learned that three wolves had killed a young bison calf.  The wolves were trying to get to their prey, but the bison mama (and family) were chasing off the wolves.

As you can see, the pictures of the wolves and the bison are blurry as we were quite a distance away.  Still, I am so lucky to have these photos as one of the families in our group took these amazing shots.  (The bison and wolves in my pictures were way too small.)

As we looked through our binoculars and our scopes, we saw the wolves try to keep sneaking up on the bison to get to the dead calf.  At one point, I watched as the mama bison and one of the wolves had a stare down.  The wolf eventually lied down, and after a few minutes, the mama bison did the same thing.  Then the wolf got up quickly and nipped the mama bison in the butt.  To that, she got up and charged at him.  I couldn't believe I had viewed all of this with my own eyes...

At first Lewie was a little upset by the ordeal.  "Mommy, I thought this was a family-friendly trip," he said half joking-half serious.  We reminded him that this is nothing more than the cycle of life.  After a few minutes of viewing, however, he was hooked, too.  It was amazing to see the stand off between the bison and the wolves.  (This is when Chandler explained that there are over 5,000 bison in the park but only 100 wolves.  The wolves, reintroduced to the park back in 1995, live in packs and are very territorial.  They estimate that there are about 10 wolf packs in the entire park.  The number fluctuates a little, but 100 is the standard--they don't expect this number to increase.)

Yes, this first day of viewing wildlife in Yellowstone was AMAZING.  The best part was watching my son, who is usually tied to his computer at home, out in the middle of nature admiring the beauty and pure magic of it all.  Yes, Lamar Valley was MAGIC!