Thursday, July 30, 2015

imagining the miles

Tuesday morning we said goodbye to Matt as he headed off on another trip.  Last week we ordered a replacement for the (quickly-dying) everyday bag that he carried for years.  The new bag arrived just before he headed to the airport and I asked Matt for one last picture of him and the old bag before we retired it :)

He's carried this bag since Lydia was born!  Almost 8 years!  Oh the miles it's travelled and the stories it tells.

I missed a picture of his new bag but it's already got a big notch it it's story-belt.  Matt is home again. Already.  From the get-go it was a tale of struggles and delays and trials.


Matt and the new bag take off again next week.  Hopefully for smoother roads :)

This afternoon a surprise summer thunderstorm cancelled our trip to the pool and I declared cut-and-glue happy hour.   Julianna was off helping (and being helped by) a friend - (Matt picked her up on the way home from work).


There is nothing like paper and scissors and glue.  Happiness everywhere :)


I collect magazines and old school books and other cut-ables for projects just like this.


Although we realized this afternoon that it's time to beef up our supply of colored paper - slim pickings today!



My lefty, John Paul.  Although we are a few years out from any formal schooling I'm already realizing in how many different ways I favor my right hand (and tend to forget that he favors his left).  We will figure it out, but I'll need him to be patient with me :)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

hot and sweaty on the way to the pool

It's sweltering.  Maybe it feels hotter after a week at higher elevation, low humidity and long sleeve hoodies to keep us cozy.

Saturday at 6pm the temperature was 103 degrees.  We were all in the pool :)  obviously.

I'm grateful for nice swimming pools, and kids who are loving the water.  All five are making good solid progress on their swimming skills now that we are swimming consistently again.  John Paul plunges into the water and gets four or five 'swimming strokes' of progress before starting to sink :)  He definitely still needs plenty of supervision and is a long way from proficiency but his progress is admirable.  And with a pair of water wings he's happy for hours.

Our newest water bug is Isaac.  He can hold his breath for so very long.  But coming up to take a good breath and continuing his swim was the challenge.  He's made such progress even these past two days and I'm glad I no longer have to wonder just how long he can go without breathing :)  He earned this new swimming mask as a prize for completing some pretty significant challenges in the pool.


After two chlorine filled days we opted to go lower key this afternoon.  Three of the kids needed their bike seats raised (those pesky growing kiddos!) so Matt pulled out a few tools and we headed out to ride around the complex.  John Paul - who ignored his bike for about four months - is back in the saddle and perfecting his starting skills.  It's still a bit clunky (basically he gives himself a good push and scrambles to get his feet on the peddles before he wobbles and falls) but he's doing it himself.

We caved and bought Luke a balance bike.  He was the sole member of the family (apart from me) without his own two wheeled ride and you know Matt can't resist buying a bike for a child.  [Or buying a bike for himself.. but that's another story.  haha!  He just added a third bike to his fleet!  A sweet road bike that he picked up from a friend heading back to America.  And in his defense we've tried twice in the past few weeks to buy a used bike for me and it didn't work out both times.... but we're waiting for just the right one to pop up!]

The package with the bike arrived about 6:30 tonight.  We were at dinner down the street when I got the phone call from the delivery guy.


[I forgot to get a picture of Luke on his balance bike but I did take this one of him watching the restaurant owner's son cook lamb kabobs.  Yum.]

So of course after we got home from dinner we assembled the bike and rode for a bit before heading in for (much needed!) showers and bedtime.

The forecast for the week looks hot and hot so I'm thinking we'll be doing lots of pool time along with some sweaty bike and roller blade outings.  Ahhhh summertime.  I love it!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Western mountains trips days 6 & 7: one last hike then home

One priority for our last day was to stay out of the van :)  We needed to build up some emotional space for the drive home!  The early morning alternated between misty and rainy so the kids mostly played in their bedroom.  With two sets of bunks and some creative imaginations they created a small town (John Paul sold ice cream!)

The boys also played some Go Fish! with their Daddy on the porch of the hostel annex.


We walked downhill for lunch and then decided on a final mini-hike to end our time and work up an appetite for one last yak burger dinner.


The wildflowers are just beautiful.  And everywhere!


We started home early Tuesday morning and went no where fast.  The narrow (single lane but with traffic attempting to move both ways) mountain road was blocked by two trucks, each negotiating for position.  After much talking and inching this way and that and backing up and moving forward and Matt talking with the drivers we finally got through.  It wasn't a very auspicious start.  Neither was the second traffic pile-up we encountered about 15 minutes later.  But considering our slow-to-start trip home we made great time.


The skies were mostly cloudy and we drove through some rain during the final hours.  The rain helped wash off the nasty mud that we picked up driving through multiple dirt-turned-mud-pit road detours.

That evening after dinner we watched a slide show of our pictures - such a fun way to end the vacation :)


I loaded the trip pics into our digital frame and it's been a fun way to reminisce these past few days.  Isaac loves to perch on the arm of the couch and watch the photos go by.


The trip was simply an incredible experience.  To think that we got to see all that, do all that!

Our family's life can feel like such a crazy place.  A friend in the U.S. just vacationed with her husband and children in Washington, D.C.  I'm jealous.  I'd love to vacation in D.C.  It sounds so appealing, so 'normal', so American.  But reality is that we can't go visit D.C.  At least not easily.

So we do what works for us.  We drive crazy places and do amazing things, things that many Americans will never experience.  And it's ok to long for the stereotypical "week at the beach/lake".  It's also ok to enjoy the yak herders in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Western mountains trip day 5: tagong

This was one of the coolest days ever.  I was a bit hesitant when we first started talking about it, because it involved a good bit of driving.  And the previous roads were so terrible I just ... ugh.... didn't want to do it.  But I am so glad that we did!  For one, the roads were incredible! Surprisingly well maintained.  And the scenery just unbelievable.  And the experiences were one of a kind.  

We left our hostel early, headed for a destination north and west.  This is sparsely inhabited territory.  Only a few "large" towns between here and Lhasa.  And Lhasa is a three or four day drive west.  These high elevation grasslands make North Dakota look crowded :) 


Right out of town the road started climbing.  The highest pass we would cross that day came within the first 90 minutes - 14,050 feet.  Not too far on the other side of the pass we decided to stop and visit a nomadic yak herding family.  [The road was very lightly travelled!  We just left the van parked there on the side and let cars pass as needed.]


We were hoping they'd be up for visitors, and were thrilled when this little girl started waving at us as soon as we stopped the engine.  She was 13, gregarious and out going and talkative.  Perfect.

Together with her mom and older sister (her father died) she lives in this tent, up in the grasslands, for the summer months. In the winter they move to lower elevation and she attends school.  Her big sister was laying in the grass, working on her summer studies.


Her mom was busy milking, and very welcoming.  She offered Luke a sip of yak milk, but he declined.


After enough yak-watching we headed down hill.... about another hour on the road and we were in Tagong.  This was the most cars we'd seen in hours.


We were feeling pretty tough - and so was our van :)  It might only have a 1.6 L engine but it served us well and handled everything we asked of it!


The kids were fired up to ride horses on the grasslands and this was the perfect spot.  Matt and the big kids are reading The Horse and His Boy so Isaac was feeling especially excited about these horses!


The peak in the distance is 19,000 feet!


Everyone had a great time.  Except maybe Luke, who had a marginally great time.  He rode for a while, but eventually decided he'd rather Dad carry him :)





Next time we are in this area we hope to stay a few nights out here.





There is so much to explore.  The skies are wide open, big and blue.


We drove a different route back to the hostel and got in about 8pm.  It was just an incredible day.  Definitely one of the highlights of our entire trip.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Western mountains trip day 4: around town

After two big days we decided to spend Saturday staying closer to home.  And by home, I mean, our hostel.  This place is just so cool.  We have two rooms in the annex (I stood on the annex porch to take this picture).  The main hostel is the gray brick building, and the girls are on the swing in the courtyard.



This is the kids' room :)  It's a hostel, so you pay per-bed-per-night. Since this is a six bed room we just 'claimed' all six beds for the duration of our stay.  The kids are in bedroom paradise. With five kids in a family it's not often that everyone gets their own bed when we are on the road :)


The only other room in the annex is a double bed room (perfect for us) and in the hostel set up, both these rooms and all their inhabitants share a bathroom.  So essentially, we have the entire annex just our family.  It's perfect.

Town is captivating.  It sits in a narrow river valley.  The buildings creep up the sides of the steep mountains - from our hostel to the river is about ten minutes hard walking.... straight up hill!


The river is so loud that you can hardly hold a conversation when you are standing next to it -

After lunch we decided to walk to a monastery on the edge of town.  Matt actually has a buddy there from previous trips and we thought it would be nice to say hi and have him meet the whole family.  We have covered many many miles on foot, but it's nice to have no real agenda and just take it slow.

If we go slowly, stop to let the kids goof around and jump off steps and make silly lines and play games while generally walking in the direction of our destination... the miles go by and we eventually do get there :)  This particular time the kids started a marching game on the steps of a restaurant .... Matt and I actually sat down on a bench to just watch and wait :)


All the monks in training were on holiday so the place seemed super quiet.  Matt's friend was still in town and it was neat to meet him.  His family lives quite far away so he didn't use the 7 day holiday to go home.  It's free for his family to send him to the monastery (room, board, 'education') so it's a desirable spot for many young men in this area.


And then we took a short cut, walking alongside the mountain instead of going back down to the river and back up to the hostel.  The path led straight through this construction site.  You have to admit that it's an enviable view for any backhoe operator.


We spent part of the evening gathering information about our Sunday destination.....

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Western mountains trip day 3: rocks and rivers

I didn't plan to blog every single day we were out here, but there's just so much to remember.  And it's quiet at night around here (plus I didn't bring a book) so the time is available.

On our way out of town (headed for adventure) we drove past a city park with yak statues.  Too tempting to resist, Matt pulled over to the curb and we piled out.


There are plenty of people in town who live way out in the grasslands and over far mountain ranges.  The lure of a blond 3 year old is too much for just about anyone, and these folks simply cannot resist. They love to touch his skin, his hair, and the photo ops abound.  Sweet Luke, he is well travelled in this territory (the paparazzi territory, I mean) and responds better than any of our other children.  Maybe that's why God gave him the white hair :)


Only about 30 minutes out of town we found our first stopping point.  The desire to throw rocks in water runs deep.  It's basically our official family hobby.




A washed out road prevented us from reaching our initial destination, so we re-routed and ended up at a gorgeous spot that captured us for hours.

I'd be remiss to not mention that our car is back to faithful service.  Never misses a crank of the engine; and although 4 wheel drive would be nice on a trip like this, we love our van.


No one could resist this rushing water.  The rock collecting and washing and throwing and mixing and sorting just went on and on and on.  Matt engineered a shallower pond area, blocked off from the main river by large rocks.  He got Isaac really interested in using levers (thick piece of driftwood) and pivot points (smaller rocks) to move large rocks.


Lydia and Matt had a "who can keep your hand immersed in the freezing cold water the longest" contest.  Tie.  It can't be more than a few degrees warmer than frozen!


The originals.  These three share a special bond.  For three years it was just the three of them.  And together - with us - they lived through the year that we brought both Luke and John Paul into the fold.
[You can see the little pond just beside Lydia's feet.]


Team K.  Tired and wind-blown, pockets full of rocks and hands frozen from playing in the icy water.  I still dared to ask for a family picture just before heading home.  :)



Friday, July 17, 2015

Western mountains trip day 2: serious hiking

This is one for the record books.  The short version of Thursday is this: we went for a hike.  


The long version is this:  We hiked six hours, gained 2000 ft of elevation, picnicked on the grasslands at 10,400 ft, got a smidge lost on the way down, backtracked and gave up on finding the loop trail, headed back down the way we came, and that evening Matt and I looked at each other and said "I cannot believe we did that."


John Paul is definitely one of the hero-hikers of the day.  He walked farther than any four year old has ever walked :)  He just kept on keeping on, one foot in front of the other.  And he was THRILLED when this butterfly landed on his water bottle!


Luke's stamina and endurance is remarkable for a three year old.  He's just an athletic little kid.  But his three year old legs failed him at times, and Matt shouldered him up parts of the trail.  [yes, we all agree the real hero of the day is Matt!]


The kids had a blast.  Except for that one time when Lydia told me that every part of her body hurt :)  ha!  Seriously, they had so much fun.  Matt asked Julianna what her favorite part was and she said "every part".  Isaac loved it.  He attacked the mountain, scrambling to be the leader of the pack, hurling pine cones and discovering sticks shaped like guns and blazing "short cuts" that involved lots of scrambling up slopes.


After about three hours on the trail when we still hadn't made it to the grasslands Matt and I were seriously considering calling it quits.  We decided we'd give it 15 more minutes and then turn around.  14 minutes later I rounded a curve and saw the promised grasslands.  Isaac was the first kid to make it to the green space :)

The grasslands were gorgeous, sitting in a bowl surrounded by peaks.  Grazing horses and a Tibetan herdsman rounded out the scenery.  It was awesome.


We stopped for more snacks/lunch and then began the search for the rest of the trail.  This was the not so fun part ... did I mention it was drizzling?  And we were running low on drinking water?


Once we started down and knew we were on the trail home it took a bit of pep talking to get the crew in gear.  A long way down, mostly through pine forest (occasionally decorated with prayer flags) and then as we got closer to town the vegetation changed to scrubby brush and plenty of wildflowers.

It was really a great hike.  I'm not sure we would have ever attempted it if we had known just how far and how steep and how challenging it would be!  Some times it's best to learn things the hard way.

And the kids are proud!  We all are!  Today we were again up above 10,000 ft, even higher than yesterday and Julianna said "yea, but it's not as cool because we didn't get here by hiking".  She's got a bit of her Daddy in her,  huh?