Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 in Review: Happiness

We learned about the Junior Ranger program when we were in Colorado.  We promptly came home and earned another badge at Grant's Whitehaven.

We gallivanted around the STL Zoo after hours at the Zoo Parent Picnic.  (The picnic is the only time we do actions that cost money, like taking the train or seeing the sea lion show.)

Additionally, we took tours of the Veterinary hospital -- canine birth control is pretty fascinating -- and the Nutrition Center.  Samantha and I sampled primate biscuits.  They were awful.

We celebrated MICDS Homecoming with the MICDS-JBS Fun Run, lots of free food, and the Carnival.  The inflatable obstacle courses were wildly popular and the life-size bowling game was hysterical to watch.

Lola did another season of soccer.  Her time on the field saw her chasing the ball, actually getting aggressive and kicking the ball, dribbling a fair amount, and playing goalie.  She has really progressed in her soccer abilities.  Her time "on the bench" was really time where she played on playgrounds, rolled down hills in the grass, and practiced her cartwheels.

Eric ran his first official half-marathon.  We trained for this race together, and it was absolutely wonderful to have designated weekly one-on-one time together to exercise and talk.  He pushed us to run faster and faster during the actual race; he was determined to chase down the person in front of him, and was super excited when it was another pace runner.  The Halloween Half was an awesome experience for both of us.

I suggested that Eric be Bill Lumbergh for Halloween.  He delivered.

A $3 investment in wood and nails resulted in a two-day extravaganza of hammering fun.

Pneumonia hit the Whomptons hard this year; Raina, Eric, and Krystal all fell victim to it.  Disease did not stop Eric from trekking to Austin, TX, to celebrate Andrew McDiarmid's wedding, though, and we are so thankful he was able to be there to reconnect with old friends and honor Andrew and Cynthia.  The ceremony was incredibly personal, funny, and touching.  We wanted to applaud during the vows because they were just so good.  This weekend was a 2015 win.

I won the Worldbuilders lottery.  Pat Rothfuss sent me a personally inscribed book AND a copper jot (currency from The Name of the Wind's universe).  I totally geeked out.

Lola put on ice skates for the very first time.  She fell down a lot but picked herself up each time and tried some more.

Raina and Lola had another successful Navigators year.  Raina raked in a LOT of patches at the final ceremony, which is awesome (just like Raina) and troublesome because she doesn't have any more space on her sash.  She's grown so much in her Scouting adventures since she began Girl Scouts and Ethical Navigators five years ago.

Lola performed in the MICDS Winter Concert.  It was weird to have Lola be the only Whompton on stage that we were cheering for, and it was absolutely fitting that Raina asked to come watch and support her.

Wonderful friends joined us to celebrate the return of light and longer days at the Ethical Society's Secular Solstice event, Good Cheer.  My heart fills when thinking of Mini, Tina, and I together in the same space.

2015 in Review: Service

The Whomptons believe in the power of community service.  As Lola said yesterday, service is "mandatory fun!"  We adults are working hard to develop a service-minded passion in the girls and we are so proud of their developing concern for others.  They also are growing a belief that they can make an impact in the world because they see the results for themselves after each service outing.  Here are some highlights from 2015.

We made vegetarian chili, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and salty snacks for Winter Outreach.

We organized a "kids, aged 4 - 6, make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches" service project. This was a fun mess.

Raina's Girl Scout troop made recycled artwork for the MICDS Stem building.

All the Whomptons sort incoming donations from the Letter Carrier Food Drive.  We staffed the Creve Coeur branch in the pouring rain.

We made signs and held vigils.

We donated items and made "bags of necessity items" for Winter Outreach.

Raina joined the Rambassors and hosted many visitors to the school.  Here she is, calling her first visitor buddy.

The family cared for our friends' dogs.

And we spent numerous hours at the Saint Louis Area Foodbank -- nine during Winter Break alone!  The best way to do service is with friends and family.

We also set-up and took down the Ethical Society's Good Cheer event.  The whole family pitched in daily for four straight days to create a rousing good time for others.

2015 in Review: Race and Staying Woke

I think a lot about race nowadays.  Debby Irving, in her book Waking Up White, asks the question “How often do you talk about race in your household?” with possible options supplied: once a day, once a week, once a month, once a year, or hardly ever.  Ten years ago, I believed I thought a lot about race and racism – you know, by considering it every couple weeks or so.  But, goodness, I really didn’t know what I didn’t know.  I was so na├»ve.  Krystal of 2015 thinks and talks about race and systematic racism every single day.  I can’t not see it.  I can’t not think about it.  It permeates my existence, my every interaction, my explanation for how I see the world.  In this situation of extreme inequity – where some folks are privileged based upon the color of skin and some folks fear for their lives because of the color of their skin – it defines and describes and is the basis upon my entire life.  Nothing is untouched. 

My waking up journey has taken many years – from a belief in being colorblind and everyone is equal because Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said we should be to a belief that every culture and background should be tolerated, then celebrated, then understood, and now to an ever present questioning of the world around me and the systematic design to advantage folks with white skin. 

I recognize and am grateful for my inherited privilege.  Completely selfishly, I am grateful that it meant that I had a great education, parents with jobs, no fear of police, and a preserved optimism about the world and opportunities around me.  I’ve had a fair amount of heartbreak as I’ve learned about all the unasked-for privilege I have and that it came fully at the expense of others.  It’s extraordinarily challenging to believe that I am entitled to everything that I have earned in my life because I know that I started farther ahead than many folks and I was given breaks along the way. 

I am a talented individual; I’m smart, I work hard, and I try to make the most of what I have.  However, I know that a major factor in landing my awesome job – at age 22 – was that the Middle School Head knew and trusted my Wash U Education advisor.  The Head did not talk with my student teaching cooperating teacher, who most likely would have given an honest and unflattering description of my abilities.  Instead, he reached out through his connections and hired someone who – on paper – seemed pretty identical to a wonderful hire from the previous year (who was also a White, Wash U educated, Kentucky-raised young woman).  He probably looked at me and thought, “She will grow into what we want her to be” and trusted that I would reach that goal.  I was given a chance – based upon who I was presumed to be and talents I was presumed to have and over substantially more qualified candidates.

My Wash U Education adviser’s recommendation sealed the job for me, which, because she is so well regarded, probably happened for dozens of teachers over the years.  But here’s the thing.  The fifteen student teachers in my Wash U cohort – the 20 teachers who had the advantage of my adviser’s well regarded connections and recommendations – we all were White.  And while there were students of color at Wash U, I don’t remember many in my education courses.  The all-White education faculty taught a mostly-White student body to go out and be White teachers in the community.  It would be foolish to think race played no part in my training and my job offer.  That’s one small instance of how race impacted my life and I never considered it until these last few years.

I have spent a significant amount of my 2015 year having conversations about race: about Whiteness, systematic racism, how we, as White folks, can help in antiracist efforts, how to support and amplify the voices of persons of color in my community, how to show that I care for the life and dignity of others.  I delved into a Witnessing Whiteness discussion group, followed up by a Waking Up White discussion group, followed up by The New Jim Crow.  I organized and participated in many Black Lives Matter vigils.  I attended rallies and protests but, more often, sat in committee meetings with the goal of moving police departments along in their accountability journey.  I helped shut down a highway.  I gave speeches.  I challenged statements by others that I, in the past, would have let slide to keep the peace.  I organized, mobilized, burned out, re-centered, and joined back in the efforts. 

I woke up in 2014.  2015 is the year I stayed woke.  

2015 in Review: Basement

Back in 2002, when the Whomptons numbered two, we had a completely empty basement which resulted in much romping.  Andrew McDiarmid and Eric devised all sorts of silly games that involved our newly acquired Nerf guns (thank you, Amy Sia!).  There was an accuracy game about shooting balloons that are blown by fans, but that paled to Ball Blaster Battle Ball, which was a mix of on-your-knees dodgeball and, well, guns.

Those types of games fell out of favor once we acquired furniture for the basement.  This summer briefly saw their resurgence, because we removed all the furniture so we could change the carpet and paint the walls.  The girls, Eric, and the dog greatly enjoyed all the new-found space.

Eric's knees after a Ball Blaster Battle Ball game 

The major downside of this wholesale effort (besides the actual effort) was that we painted over the girls' height chart. We measured all the heights and entered them into a spreadsheet so that we could recreate their height history in the same spot.  (It's five months later and we still haven't done this task.)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Core Values

At the beginning of each Ethical Society platform, a student in the SEEK program reads the Core Values.  It's quite an honor to stand in front of the entire congregation and proclaim the basic tenets of what bring us all together.  Lola read them today and she was fabulous!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Week without Daughters

Raina and Lola went to Camp Tuckaho, a Girl Scout sleep-away camp, for a week.  On the hour-long drive there, we sang songs, told stories, and worried that Lola’s car sickness would strike.  (She has a puke bucket permanently stationed in every Whompton vehicle.  It’s a worthwhile investment.)  My additional set of worries were not surprising:
Will Raina and Lola make friends?
Will they have a good first experience?
Will they do what the counselors say without being obnoxious?
Will they actually use sunscreen, brush their teeth, and shower if I’m not there to nag them?
(The answers to those questions are yes, yes, yes, not really, yes, and yes.)

They had a great time swimming, hiking, catching tadpoles, playing games, doing arts and crafts, and being independent.  Both eagerly agreed to attend camp again next summer.  Excellent!

Originally, the Whompton adults planned to take an easy, leisurely week as we enjoyed our childfree days and nights.  Realistically, though, I cannot look at a block of empty time and leave it empty.  It goes against my nature as a productive human being.  So ….

We purchased new carpet for the finished downstairs and planned to have it installed during Camp Week.  We would use the child-free evening time to move all the items out of the finished area to be ready for the installation.  That was the plan, anyway.  We finished that job ahead of schedule and mostly had everything out of the living room before the girls went to camp.  (We had a rousing game of Ball Blaster Battle Ball to celebrate.  The last game of BBBB occurred back in 2004 with Andrew McDiarmid.  It was really cute to watch Eric and the girls play it together in 2015.)

So we decided to paint the downstairs too.  It wouldn’t matter if paint got on the carpet because the carpet was trash anyway, the area was clear of all other obstructions, and the kids wouldn’t bother us because they were camping.  While staring at that empty room, I realized if we didn’t do it now, it was never happening.  So we dropped the girls off at Camp Tuckaho Sunday afternoon and spent Sunday evening shopping at Home Depot and prepping the downstairs for painting.

Monday night, Eric and I attended a Diversity Awareness Partnership workshop and we ran into a former high school classmate of Eric’s and a new MICDS 8th grade parent for me. Fun!  I capped off that evening by painting a bedroom with Samantha.  Tuesday evening was a five hour endurance event of painting the downstairs living room and stairwell.  Wednesday was second coats for the living room and bedroom and lots of conversation about race and police brutality.  On Thursday, Samantha painted her bathroom.  We concentrated our painting efforts to earlier in the week because we had an event Thursday night.

We three attended the Saint Louis viewing of 3½ minutes, 10 bullets, a documentary of the shooting of 17 year-old Jordan Davis and the trial of Michael Dunn, the man who killed him for playing music loudly.  The story was tragic and heart-breaking and there was not a dry eye in the auditorium.  Jordan Davis’s parents were there with us – they are touring around the nation with the documentary – and, while they were clearly strong, they were visibly grief-stricken.  I cannot imagine the courage that’s required to grieve publicly, to watch the story of the murder of one’s son over and over again, to push forward for change in these circumstances.  His parents are heroes for ensuing that Jordan’s story was told.

On Friday, I removed painter’s tape from the walls – I learned too late only to use Scotch Blue, not any generic kind – and picked up the girls from camp.  The car was filled with camp songs and camp stories and two happy kids.  Friday night returned the battle of getting Lola in the bathtub, something we had not missed at all, I assure you.  

Friday was also the kick-off for the Michael Brown Memorial Weekend.  It has been one year since Darren Wilson killed Mike Brown, one year since Mike’s body laid in the street for 4½ hours, one year since the folks in this community said “ENOUGH!” and launched the Ferguson uprising.  Friday night, I participated in a rally filled with folks from across the nation and then joined a civil disobedience action planning session.

On Saturday morning, the carpet was delivered and installed and we marveled by how easy they made that task look.  We attended a Black Lives Matter vigil in Chesterfield and an adult birthday party.  On Sunday, we joined the nation-wide 4½ minutes of silence, attended the Black Lives Matter vigil at Ethical Society, and were inspired by Cornel West, Traci Blackmon, and Rev. Sekou at an Interfaith Rally. 

On Monday, I took the girls downtown to Christ Church Cathedral, civil disobedience headquarters for Moral Monday actions.  They watched as fifty-plus clergy began chanting “Show me what democracy looks like!  This is what democracy looks like!” and marched down to the local government building.  They met leaders and first-timers in the movement.  They marveled that so many other people were as passionate about this issue as I am.  (We talk about race and policing A LOT in the Whompton household.)  The girls and I discussed that I was participating in civil disobedience that day – that I might be arrested and placed in jail overnight, but I would be surrounded by all the people they saw right then, all these people who care like we do, good people trying to do good things.  Then I dropped the kids off with Samantha, participated in my action, was not arrested, and headed off to the Ethical Society for a Board meeting. 

In all, I anticipated that a week without daughters would be a calm and leisurely affair.  This year it was not …. And I am so grateful for it because it gave us opportunities we would have not seized otherwise.  The girls want to return to camp again next year; maybe the adults will take a vacation then!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Whompton girls love books

Did you ever imagine what attributes your kid would have that were from you, which would come from your partner, and hope, hope, hope for some in particular?  I did.  I hoped that my daughters would have Eric's calm reason, his natural intellect, and his easy-going personality.  And I wanted them to be readers, which definitely falls from the Krystal and Samantha side of the family tree.

I have worked hard to foster a love of reading.  First mission accomplished was access.  Growing up, I did not personally own many books and we went to the library not as frequently as I would have liked, so I continuously re-read books, which clearly is how I became an avid re-reader of stories.  The Whompton house is filled with children's and young adult books.  Each girl's bedroom has a full bookcase, in addition to a bookcase in the dining room and multiple in the basement.  We hit the public library once a week and the girls load up and resupply.  Access is so important, and we're lucky to have the financial means both to own and to store books.

Second action was modeling and positive associations.  Krystal and Samantha model reading for pleasure all year long.  Each time a kid would say, "Can we do something together?" I would counter with "Want to read a book?"  Eventually, the girls learned to come prepared with their stack of books, to plop down in a lap, and read with a parent.  Cuddling with a parent and cuddling with a story -- both sound so wonderful!

Third action was developing reading skills.  Becoming a fluent, independent reader takes many years of concentrated effort and learning.  Lola can read many books by herself now, although she prefers books with pictures as well as text.  She's currently fascinated with graphic novels and superhero stories, and she's getting lots of practice decoding words that she's not seen much before.  (Reading X-Men stories requires a different working vocabulary than Dr. Seuss.)  She's progressed tremendously this year.  The first video is from April, and she's reading Horton Hatches an Egg by Dr. Seuss; the second video is her reading The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein in May.   

Mythical Creatures Revealed

First and second-grade Raina loved reading the fairy books authored by Daisy Meadows.  Each is a 70 page chapter book which follows two girls and a ridiculously-named fairy on their given adventure.  Our collection of Daisy Meadows Fairy books is vast, and Raina bequeathed them all to Lola this week.

Today, Lola picked up Sophia the Snow Swan Fairy (I'm serious, that's the actual title) and gave it a go.  In the opening pages, the author recaps previous adventures.  "This week, they were helping the Magical Animal Fairies find their lost animals because Jack Frost had stolen them.  The girls had already helped the fairies find a young dragon, a magic black cat, a phoenix, and a seahorse ... but there were still three animals left to return to Fairyland."  

Lola stopped reading and jumped into her questions.  "What's a phoenix?  How would you rescue one if it's on fire?  Aren't dragons dangerous?  Wait, are dragons even real?  Aren't they mythical creatures?"  (I was excited about her word choice -- we had seen a mythical creatures exhibit earlier in the summer.)  I assured her that phoenixes and dragons are not and were not real, as best as we know, so they are mythical creatures.  Dinosaurs were real -- we have plenty of evidence for them -- so they are not mythical.  She seemed satisfied with this explanation and kept on reading.  I went back to working.  

And then she asked me if fairies were mythical creatures.  I assured her that, yes, fairies are mythical and the book she was reading was fiction.  Then her next question made me both marvel at her brain associations and curse myself for not associating as much.  "Then is the Tooth Fairy a mythical creature?"  Uh, uh, damn.  I made a non-committal sound and then she added "The Tooth Fairy must be real.  It can't be a person.  No one would trade a tooth for money!"  

That was a close call.  Her reasoned skepticism kept her belief system intact... at least for a little while at least.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sex Ed in Unexpected Places

Raina had a 5th grade bowling party tonight, which was filled with excited kids, cosmic disco lights, and loud pop music.  The Maroon 5 song “Sugar” was playing as we left, and then it came on the radio again as we drove home.  Raina sang along and then said “I wish I knew all the words to this song.”  Admittedly, I had not listened to the words much before – Raina had to tell me the song was called “Sugar,” for instance – so I wasn’t much help.  But I listened carefully to the chorus, heard statements about “needing your love” and I suspected the closing line was “….down on me.”  I listened to the chorus and became pretty confident about that line in particular.

So I told Raina that’s what I thought the line was.  She paused, thought, and asked, “What does that mean?”

Well, there’s only one reference that makes sense here.  Clearly the song is about sex and I suspected it is about oral sex based on the wording.  (I’m not fully confident now that I’ve read the full lyrics, but it was what I thought at the time.)  So that’s what I said.

KSW: “Go down on me” is a phrase people use that means they want to have oral sex.
Raina: Uh, I know what sex is.  What does oral sex mean?
KSW: Oral sex is when a person puts his mouth on another person’s genitals.
Raina: EW, GROSS!  Why would anyone do that?
KSW: It is a little gross.  But lots of people have oral sex because it feels good.  … There are lots of ways to have sex and people should do what makes them happy.
Raina: Sometimes you ask for information and then you find out you didn’t really want the answer. 

I had to laugh -- she’s absolutely right – and then I told her this story:
When I was 5 years old or so, I loved to go out on my backyard swing set and swing, swing, swing.  About that same time, John Anderson released the song “Swingin” and I LOVED to sing this song while on the swing set.  My mom was horrified; she forbade me from singing the song, but she refused to tell me why it was bad.  I knew she thought “swingin” was bad, but “swinging” was fine -- she didn’t object to my being on the swing set – so, for the longest time, I thought she objected to the grammar.  It wasn’t until I was older and heard the word “swingin” in context that I knew exactly what the big deal was about. 

Raina found this story to be hilarious.  It is pretty funny, and it’s also rather sad.  My mom had a chance to share some information and help normalize a topic, but she clearly wasn’t ready to have her first sex talk with 5 year old Krystal. 

I don’t remember when I had my first sex talk with Raina, but it was a long time ago.  My hope is that being direct and honest with her at all times will keep our communication lines open during times when she might have questions and, also, show her that sex is not taboo.  I want to arm her with knowledge and power so that she understands what she’s getting into when she eventually becomes sexually active.  I want her to know and love her body, to know and love what her body can do, and, honestly, I don’t trust that positive messaging to come through in sex education class.  So, just like all the conservative pundits say, sex ed should start in the home.  Sex ed just starts really early in the Whompton home.  J

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Getting Married & Staying Married

At this point each year, I’m cursing Saint Louis heat and humidity and recognizing that the school year is just a few weeks away.  And then it occurs to me, “oh yeah, our anniversary is coming too.”  Eric and I celebrated year 14 of marriage this week. 

When Eric and I got engaged, his aunt Ginny gave us a “how to get prepared for marriage” book that listed out a bunch of questions for us to answer and discuss.  According to the book, disagreements about finances and children were the top reasons that folks divorce, and folks generally disagreed because they assumed their partners thought exactly the same way they did so they never initiated a conversation.  Well, avoiding divorce seemed like a good plan, so we tackled the book and its difficult questions. 

Having that first financial conversation, back when we were 22, was really hard – at least for me.  We talked about debts we had, the few assets we could claim, how we tended to spend money, how we wanted to spend money, what our savings plan was, what we wanted our savings to be, and what our parents had modeled for us.  I remember being ashamed that I was poorer than Eric and I wanted to be less-than-honest regarding my debts, but I answered truthfully.  It certainly didn’t help to hide something so important, and my debts were now our debts, so to speak.  Even so.  I understand why folks shy away from financial conversations rather than starting with them.

The conversations have gotten easier the more we’ve practiced; we’ve spent substantial time over the past 15 years discussing and revising our financial plans and priorities.  Each year we sit down and review last year’s priorities and determine whether they hold true for this upcoming year.  Some of those conversations are more heated than others, but we both have to agree on the final outcome.  We revise our budget so that it matches the new priorities.  We manage investments.  We evaluate personal, college, and retirement savings.  We plan for philanthropic giving.  And, just as important, we trust each other to stick to the plan. 

Having a plan and sticking to it have resulted in some pretty amazing feats and we’re really happy 
and privileged financially.  (We used Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method to get us going, if anyone is interested.)  I doubt we would have made much progress without prioritizing each individual goal and then consistently working together to achieve it.  Thank you “before you get married” book! 

Potential marital conflict #1 was averted by honest, upfront, and regular communication about goal setting and with deliberate follow-through.  Potential marital conflict #2 actually came to a head for us.  We had conversations about children, back in the wedding planning process; we agreed to have two kiddos and we attempted to craft a parenting plan.  (Speculating about what kind of parents we would be was even more challenging than talking about finances.  We were so young and inexperienced.)  Time passed.  We became parents at 27 and blissed out with our daughter Raina.  One year later, Eric started dropping hints about having kid #2 and I started dropping hints that I no longer wanted to have a second child. 

Eric and I rarely disagree, so being fundamentally on opposite ends of this issue for multiple years was incredibly challenging.  I understand why disagreements about children can break relationships.  Eric knew that I had to choose to have another biological child and he couldn’t respectfully force the issue because it was my body, my choice.  He felt a genuine sense of grief and loss as he gave up his dream of having two children; he was rather heartbroken and resigned about it.  And I felt terrible that I caused him such pain and sadness and that I could comfort him by changing my mind but I really didn’t want to change my mind, which resulted in more pain and sadness for him.  Ugh.  Add in new parenting struggles and it’s not hard to imagine that those two years were difficult for both of us. 

In the end, having Eric happy was more important to me than not having a second child.  He cried tears of joy when I changed my mind, when I became pregnant, when we saw the ultrasound and found out we were having another daughter, and when Lola Kai arrived.  Lola is a spectacularly wonderful person, who loves deeply and lives life fully, and I’m so glad she’s here with us.

I'm sure potential marital conflicts #3, #4, and more are in our future, but Eric and I have been together for a long time and our marriage works before we choose to make it work, by putting in the effort to partner each day.  Huzzah for communication and conversation, compromise, shared planning, trust, common interests, consistent support, gratitude, appreciation, and togetherness!  

Friday, July 31, 2015

Problem Solving

I'm an educator -- a math teacher of middle school students -- and I live in the world of kids giving up on a subject or problem.  There are a ridiculously large number of reasons why a student may back away from a problem and it is my job to coax and coach him through it, help him identify the resources and strategies at hand, and encourage him to try the next problem independently.  

Then there are the questions I refuse to answer in any helpful manner, ones that any amount of self-initiative would have taken care of independently.  My answer to all of these types of questions is the same: "I think you can problem solve this one on your own."  

Raina and Lola have heard that line from me more than a few times themselves, so I was delighted today to hear this exchange between my girls while they were in the kitchen.

Raina:  You'll need a bowl.
Lola (standing underneath the cabinet with the bowls):  Will you get me a bowl, Raina?  
Raina: (pointed look at Lola and then the cabinet)
Lola:  Oh!  I can problem solve this one myself!  

She then fetched the step stool, stood on tip-toe, reached far back, and grabbed her bowl.  I didn't expect to hear my words repeated back with meaning and understanding, instead of mockery or disdain.  Excellent!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Tooth #6

Lola lost four teeth this summer.  She looked like a vampire and now looks like a jack-o-lantern.  She's excited about the progress and bummed that she cannot eat corn on the cob.  Next summer, Lola.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Reclaiming Running, Reclaiming Myself

In theory, I like to exercise.  I know it is good for me and I’m proud of myself for getting out there and doing it.  In reality, I don’t exercise as much as I should.  I let work and meetings and time-of-day push exercise aside and it doesn’t take too much of those actions to make it a habit and then a way of life.  I used to exercise on average two hours a day but now I feel good if I average 30 minutes a week.  Something had to change.

So I committed some money and I signed up for a half-marathon.  Even better, I convinced Eric that he wanted to run it too.  I have not trained for a race in a long time and Eric never has, so we looked for a race that would get us some lead time for training and would also be weather suitable.  Eric has asthma, so he does not run outside when it’s cold.  He’s willing to run during Saint Louis summer afternoons with heat indices over 100 degrees.  Me, I’m not willing to do that.  Like, ever.  I will suit up and run in wind chills of 8 degrees, though.  We compromised and chose a half-marathon in October. 

Running 13.1 miles in one go isn’t easy but it’s not impossible.  I’d wager that many folks could walk a half-marathon without training – they’d hurt the next day and it would be unpleasant but they could do it.  The event is done in a day and you move on.  My point here is that the half-marathon itself is challenging but not overbearing.  The race is a means to an end; it’s a motivator to put in the real work of training.  Most training programs are 12 weeks long, at least, with the minimum expectation of running 3 – 6 miles twice a week and then an increasingly longer run once a week.  In theory, being this disciplined and running this often is something I could do without the end-goal of a race, but having the race certainly helps me push for longer distances than I would otherwise choose to do. 

Signing up for the race was my birthday present, so we registered in early May.  No one has a training schedule that’s five months long, so I devised one myself and then did something incredibly important.  I scheduled all the runs in my calendar.  Tuesday morning, recurring, 3 – 6 miles.  Thursday morning, recurring, 3 – 6 miles.  Sunday, recurring, increasingly longer runs.  My awesome Google Calendar scheduled my Tuesday and Thursday running events and, with the click of a button, I ensured that they continued indefinitely. 

I’m surprised by how convincing this one action is.  My calendar says it’s a running day, so I run.  Time-blocking for exercise is not something I really tried before, but it’s amazingly effective.  The regimen matters.  I plan for the run, lay out sports bra and shorts the night before, get up early, and get out there. 

And I’m really enjoying it.  I somewhat have a love-hate relationship with running – as many runners do – but I’ve reclaimed a small part of time for just me, a moment for movement and reflection and meditation.  Eric and I rarely run together so the mornings tend to be mine.  I’ve lucked into many long runs in the rain – I’m convinced there’s nothing better for a Saint Louis summer run – and I’m slogged through some heat and humidity that I never imagined enduring.  But I’m keeping at it, and that’s what matters.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Something's different!



Welcome to the multiple-years-agony that is braces, Raina!  She called it her bud (thing she was looking forward to) and her thorn (thing that was bad, bad, bad).  She accurately captured the experience.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Slides from our Mountain Vacation

Daniel Kahneman, renowned psychologist and author of Thinking Fast and Slow, is my most cited authority.  One of his findings is that mentally revisiting experiences -- by telling stories, looking at pictures, etc. -- locks in the emotional connection to the experience.  The remembering self is stronger than the experiencing self; how we remember the experience has more impact than the experience itself.

The Whomptons went into our Colorado vacation with that mindset: well, if it's terrible, at least we'll have some funny stories to tell once we're done!  Chances for those stories were high.  We five drove from STL, through Missouri and Kansas, to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  We slept in the same tent for three nights, hiked lots, didn't shower for four days, and experimented with outdoor cooking.  We also jaunted over to Boulder and Denver and played tourist before driving Denver to STL in one day.  We had quite an adventure.  Would you like to hear the stories?  Read on ....


Eric purchased a minivan last month so that the family could take trips, like this one, in comfort and without much screaming.  The minivan totally delivered.  We jam packed it with gear, food, books, and people, and started our journey west.  Saint Louis to Colorado is a straight drive west on Interstate 70; beginning our drive with the morning sun at our backs, we excitedly anticipated adding new states to our list (no one had been to Kansas and Samantha, Raina, and Lola had never been to Colorado) and we planned an easy start to our drive by breaking it into two days.  Everyone told us that Kansas was totally and completely flat, which I'll point out is a lie.  Eastern Kansas is absolutely gorgeous with green rolling hills and interesting rock formations.  Then you get into the Kansas farm land, which is uniformly boring to look at, and where the flat descriptor comes to play.  It's not so much that Kansas is flat as it is huge plots of uninterrupted farmland.  Few houses, communities, or even trees break up the monotony of great plains farm views.  We arrived in Colby, Kansas, "the oasis on the plains," and happily checked into our hotel and pursued dinner.

As the mostly-vegan one in the group, finding a restaurant for me can be challenging.  We ate at Chipotle for lunch earlier in the day -- success! -- but finding a place in Colby was harder than expected.  We called all the restaurants in town, and selected the one that seemed the most promising. Upon arriving, we noticed their decor was of dead, mounted animals, which was distressing, but they balanced it out with historic images of Colby and the prairie.  Food is food, and we were grateful to be out of the car.

A brief stop at the Colby Wal-Mart prepared us for the next day's trip.  We went back, took our last showers for multiple days, and enjoyed sleep in a bed.


The Colby continental breakfast was awesome, and we were on our way to Colorado!  We crossed the border and stopped to check out the Colorado Visitors Center, but we were 20 minutes too early.  Alas.  Back in the car, then, and straight on to Boulder.

We stopped off in Boulder to get lunch -- BreadCo, woohoo! -- and to explore the Boulder REI.  I had a Rocky Mountain fold-out map, but I wanted books too, if possible.  The Saint Louis REI was remarkably under-equipped in comparison to the Boulder store and we enjoyed browsing the larger store.  With bear bells and books in hand, we drove to the park.

Estes Park is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park from the east side.  It's a tourist trap from hell.  (Have you been to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, the gateways to the Smoky Mountains?  It was just the same.  Why come huge distances just so you can souvenir shop at the outskirts of pretty mountains!?  Ugh.)  Driving through Estes Park when folks were out-and-about was one of my least favorite parts of the trip.  We escaped Estes Park's clutches and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park.

Oh, my.  The Rockies are just stunningly, breathtakingly gorgeous.  We were thrilled to be in such beautiful country.  We set up camp in Moraine Park (nice view, cool climbing boulders, easy access to the restroom and water spigot) and the girls delighted in climbing all over and exploring our campsite.  Bouldering is so much more fun than sitting in a car!  :)

At this point, it was mid afternoon and time to begin our hiking adventures.  Eric and I had done this once before, and we effectively retraced our steps.  Moraine Park + hiking to Emerald Lake = win!  (Want pictures from that trip?  Head over here.)  So we drove to the Bear Lake shuttle stop, grabbed a shuttle up to the Bear Lake trailhead, and then hiked to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes.  (We did not have cameras with us until later in the week, so I stole images from the interwebs for this.)

Nymph Lake

Dream Lake 

 Emerald Lake

The Bear Lake trailhead trails are always super packed with people.  (RMNP runs shuttles every 3 - 5 minutes to the trailhead each day.  Wow.)  Even so, we saw elk and plenty of cutesy chipmunks in addition to beautiful views.  We experienced the typical afternoon thunderstorm but we were well supplied with waterproofs and happily made our way through the hike.  The distance was easy and the climb exceptionally minimal; all in all, it was an excellent acclimating hike for our first day.  Samantha and Krystal wandered to Bear Lake in the rain; everyone else ran to the potties and to the shuttle stop shelter.

We grabbed firewood on the drive back into Moraine, started our campfire with the candle kisses Lola made at home, and enjoyed our meals on sticks (hot dogs, veggie dogs, marshmallows, and s'mores).  Our night sky view was blocked by clouds and an almost-full moon so we turned in for our first night of five people in the tent.  


Tent sleeping the first night was not the greatest.  However, we had a great reward the next morning, as we watched mule deer graze in our campground.  Wild animals having breakfast next to our tent!  Awesome!  Eventually they traveled off, Samantha and Krystal began making breakfast while Eric, Raina, and Lola did a morning walk around Moraine.  They saw more mule deer and some elk.

Moraine Park, riparian area

After our tasty oatmeal breakfast, we cleaned up, packed up, sunscreened up, and readied ourselves for our morning hike.  We were headed to the Calypso Cascades in the Wild Basin.  We exited out through Estes Park, drove south for a while, and re-entered RMNP at Wild Basin.  Goodness, this was a significant change from Bear Lake Road!  Instead of a paved road that was so popular that shuttles are required, we bounced along a dirt road that barely seemed wide enough for the van and twisted at curves that made me curse.  I began hyperventilating as I imagined driving out of the park later and encountering a car going in the opposite direction.  Oh goodness.

We stopped at the Finch Lake trailhead (which had parking, which wasn't guaranteed at the next stop) and walked up to the Wild Basin trailhead and ranger station.  Now, it bears noting that potties are at a premium.  We had ample opportunity to practice peeing in the woods, so we quickly learned that if a potty is made available, one should take advantage of it.  No question.  In fact, I computed the price of our RMNP entrance ($20 for 7 days), divided that amongst the 5 people ($4 per person), and divided that by the number of days in the park, and determined we were each paying $1 per day for the park to provide us with potties and toilet paper.  It was money well spent.

We began our hike through Wild Basin.  We walked along streams and waterfalls made by the melting snows and glaciers.  I do not have an adequate vocabulary to describe the beauty and wonder of quickly running water as it pounds the rocks and flows downstream.  It certainly was captivating and we gawked appropriately at Copeland Falls and then at Calypso Cascades.

Each stop near the water had the same sign:  "Warning.  Icy water will incapacitate you.  The swift currents and boulders will kill you."  The sign had a helpful picture of someone slipping.  We stepped carefully!

Along the walk up to the Cascades, we stopped at a sunny overlook of the stream and ate an apple snack.  Raina and Lola sat on a freestanding boulder and gnawed on their apples.  (Lola particularly struggled at this, since she's missing her two top teeth.)  Pretty soon, a friendly chipmunk scampered our way.  I pointed it out to the girls, which turned out to be unnecessary, because the chipmunk climbed on their rock, stood up to look at the apple, and then climbed up on Raina to get it.  The girls squealed with surprise, the chipmunk ran down, and the girls sat down again.  Then our friendly chipmunk came back, climbed the rock, and climbed on Raina again!  (It's illegal to feed the wild animals in RMNP, but clearly folks do it.  If we had less restraint, we'd have been feeding that chipmunk all of our apple snack!)  The chipmunk ran off to explore a patch of space occupied by other hikers, discovered a piece of beef jerky, and packed it away.

At this point, we had hiked 1.8 miles up, which was a relatively okay endeavor.  We had a choice.  We could go back down and head out, or we could continue the loop back to the Finch Lake trailhead where we had parked.  We had packed sandwiches, snacks, and lots of water, so we voted to do the loop.

In the end, we signed up for more than we had bargained for, but we had an experience worth telling stories about!  (I'm looking at you, Kahneman.)  Partly, this was due to an extreme underestimation of the loop length and altitude climb.  Looking at the map now, it's clear that Calypso Cascades is about 1/3 of the distance we covered, but we thought that the distance was about half.  So the hike was longer than anticipated in distance.  It also was substantially higher up, because we climbed a ridge.  The girls literally climbed a mountain.  Everyone's legs complained about that.  In the end, though, these were minor issues.  The real problem would come later.

We knew that the Ouzel Falls trail had washed out due to flooding.  What we had not considered was that other areas would be affected by the flooding as well.  At a certain point in our climb the trail effectively vanished.  More accurately, it had been washed away by the flood.  We could slide/climb down a 12 foot dirt wall and try not to land into the rushing stream or we could turn back and retrace our steps.  (This was about 2/3 around the loop for distance purposes.)  The situation was rather terrifying.  Samantha voted to turn back and Lola hysterically cried when looking at it.  We all were nervous about scaling down the wall.

Eric went first.  I had him toss his pack down so that it wouldn't be a hindrance for him.  A water bottle bounced out of the pack and landed in a crook near to the drop-off.  This was not reassuring.  If a person landed badly, she too could end up in the water, injure herself seriously and/or cascade down the cliff.  Eric slid down and landed safely.  Next it was Lola's turn.  Lola's hysterical crying escalated -- there was no way she was letting go of the ridge.  In the end, I had to circle the narrow ridge around Raina, reach Lola, lift her off the ridge, convince her to let go of the rock and branches, and somewhat drop/push her down the side.  She went belly-to-the-wall which was smart.  She reached the bottom and cried some more.  I climbed down, then Raina, then Samantha.  Next we had to cross the water and climb up to the trail again.  Once all five Whomptons were safely back on the trail, we all whooped and hollered and high-fived each other in relief.

We then met a very nice couple who told us that all hard parts of the hike were over and we were headed to some gorgeous wildflowers.  We climbed a bit more along the ridge, enjoyed the views, and marveled at the wildflower variety.  We saw the rare calypso wild orchid and the Colorado columbine, which were cool and unexpected.  Lola easily found all the colors of the rainbow in the wildflowers.  And then, about six hours after we started, we reached the Finch Lake trailhead and our van.  Woohoo!

Another family was leaving at the same time, so I quickly pulled out behind them so that THEY could be the ones to encounter a car on the drive back.  We had a a near miss on a one-car wide bridge, but otherwise came out unscathed.  We drove back through Estes Park, scowled at the people, and rejoiced to be back at our campground in Moraine.  We were physically exhausted and ready for a break.  Then we realized just how flipping hot it was, and we immediately went looking for shade and shelter.  We ended up at the Moraine Park Discovery Center, which had really interesting information about the history of RMNP, the geology, and the animals that lived there.  Evening was pasta with beans, which no one really enjoyed, marshmallows and s'mores, which were much more delightful, and a small walk around Moraine.  We tried to stay up late to look at the stars, but we were all too exhausted to do much of it.  Everyone slept hard that night.


We had learned our lesson.  Waterfalls and streams are gorgeous, and we wanted more.  We also needed to have a better idea of what we were doing before we set out.  The next day, after our oatmeal breakfast, we drove to the shuttle pick-up and were deposited at Glacier Gorge trailhead in the Bear Lake area of the park.  We hiked from Glacier Gorge to Alberta Falls, then to Bear Lake, then to Bierstadt Lake, then back to the park-and-ride to reach the van.  This hike was mostly forested and moderately populated with people, with Bear Lake being insanely crowded.  The altitude change wasn't as much, and no one's legs complained anywhere as much.

We climbed all over the boulders at Alberta Falls to get closer to the water and the spray.  Glacier water is COLD and gorgeous and Raina and I could have stayed there all day and watched it.  Eventually we trekked over to Bear Lake.

Bear Lake at sunrise (not by us)

Bear Lake

While walking around Bear Lake, I encountered someone in a Centre College t-shirt.  I chatted with him a bit, only to discover that his mom was also from Owensboro, and that she had taught at Daviess County High School when I was there!  Mrs. Braswell-Leahey looked different from what I had remembered, but then again it has been 20 years.  I certainly look different!  We had a nice chat, marveled at serendipity, and headed out again.  Bierstadt Lake, we were coming for you!

In a nice shady spot along the way, we stopped to eat our peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.  Pretty soon thereafter we were greeted by a caravan of folks riding horseback and trying to control the horses and make it up the path.  The horses showed significant interest in our sandwiches and one horse tried to grab mine and then Raina's!

Bierstadt Lake was pretty but buggy and we did not linger.  The path from Bear Lake to Bierstadt was mostly downhill, which was nice, and we had views of communities and nature scenes both.  It was a very different hike than the two previous days'.  Lola was disappointed that we ended at the van, so she, Eric, and Raina grabbed the shuttle to Moraine and walked back to the campsite.

Once back at home, we prepared for another brutally hot afternoon.  Samantha and I strategically placed chairs in spots with shade and access to breezes, and all the girls enjoyed quiet time with books and snoozing.  Afterwards, we popped back in the van and drove to the Beaver Valley Visitors Center so we could write and mail postcards.  While there, we discovered the Junior Ranger program, watched a cool video, and got hike recommendations from the rangers.

The evening saw beans and couscous for dinner, rain and thunder, campfire and s'mores, rain, thunder, and lightning, and everyone cuddled up in the tent.  The wind during the storm was really blowing and we were happy to be inside and dry.


Wednesday was our last day in the park.  We spent the morning drying out the tent, packing up the van, and preparing for our last major hike.  The ranger had recommended we try Lumpy Ridge and Gem Lake, with the warning that it would be strenuous but rewarding and different from everything else we had done.  He was absolutely right.  The boulders were huge, the incline was steep, and the views were gorgeous.

We rewarded ourselves with granola bars at Gem Lake and were greeted by more friendly chipmunks.  Chipmunks are adorable.

We also watched teenagers climb up the lumpy ridge with Eric noting that the teens were idiots.  I decided that I too wanted to be an idiot, and I bouldered up to the top of the ridge.  I could see in all directions and I really wished that I had a camera because the mountains on one side of the ridge looked different from the other side.  Oh well.  I scrambled back down without injury, greeted even more chipmunks, and joined the family for the hike down to the van.

Driving along Trail Ridge Road was our final activity in RMNP.  We hoped to see elk and bighorn sheep but eagerly wished to see pika and marmots.  We did all the hikes in the arctic tundra -- including one in 46 degrees, wind, and sleet -- and we definitely heard pika chirping.  Samantha saw a creature scurrying across a glacier which we like to think was a pika but was probably a marmot based on size.  In the end, we all were disappointed not to see pika in the wild.  To console ourselves, we can rely on David Attenborough to show us pika whenever we want.  Bless you, Sir David.

We stopped off at the Hidden Valley Junior Ranger center and later at the Alpine Center.  Lola earned her Junior Ranger badge at the Alpine Center and she proudly displayed it for the next three days.  (Did you know that adults too can be Junior Rangers?!  I restrained myself from claiming Raina's Junior Ranger booklet as my own and stealing her badge.  But just barely.  If we ever go back, I'm getting my own badge.)  We drove along Trail Ridge Road, stared at beautiful mountain vistas, crossed the continental divide, made it to the West End of the park, and exited on the Grand Lake side.  Happy 100th anniversary, Rocky Mountain National Park!  Thanks for the memories!

We ate dinner in Grand Lake, and then began the long drive back to Boulder.  We desperately wanted to be clean again, and Boulder guaranteed us a shower.  Around 8 p.m. we reached the hotel, popped Lola in the shower, noted that the shower didn't exactly drain, tried to call the front desk, noted that the hotel phone didn't exactly have a dial tone, called the front desk with a cell phone, and then waited and waited and waited for someone to come fix the drain.  The service man arrived after 9:20 p.m., said nothing was really wrong with the drain, and left.  He was wrong, but we showered anyway.  We were mostly clean and in bed around 11.


What to do in Boulder?  Well, we enjoyed the hotel's continental breakfast and its automatic pancake maker, deplored the televisions and FoxNews that was blaring from them, and decided on another hike with the emphasis on non-strenuous.  We traversed from the hotel up to Chautauqua Park (which felt pretty strenuous) and the kids played on the playground as we awaited our friends Ben and Meredith to join us.  From there we hiked up on a path with steps at least as large as we found in Lumpy Ridge and we gave up before reaching the top Arches.

We excitedly had picked a hike and did not bring packs, which meant that we were hungry and under-prepared.  We found food in the park and ate at the Chautauqua Dining Hall, which was tasty, and then folks went to collect the van so we could make our next activity on time.  We were taking a tea tour!

Celestial Seasonings Tea Company has its factory in Boulder and they invite folks to come in, sample ridiculous amounts of tea, and then come out to the factory floor and see the tea being processed.  The tour was really interesting, the space smelled fantastic, and they provide cool hair nets!  We were lucky enough to stand in the Mint Room, literally a closed off room filled to the brim with spearmint and peppermint.  Oh my goodness, it smelled so good and I would have stayed there for hours.  The gift shop was cool too.  I cannot encourage folks enough to try the tour on their own.

Lola greets the Sleepytime Bear.

A Whompton family photo.  These are rare.

You get other rewards for taking the tour.  First, your ticket is a packet of four tea bags, which is creative and fun.  Second, the drive to-and-fro has fields filled with PRAIRIE DOGS IN THEIR NATURAL HABITAT!  If you haven't figured it out already, the Whomptons are fans of cutesy burrowing creatures, and we LOVE prairie dogs.  The van filled with giggles and belly laughs as we found more prairie dogs running around.  Oh man.  Prairie dogs are awesome.  We capped off the day with a delicious tapas dinner, walk along Pearl Street, terrifying experiences in a parking garage, showers, and bedtime.


Following another round of continental breakfast fun, we loaded up the van, drove to Ben and Meredith's home, transferred some gear to their truck, replaced it with a seat for Ben, walked along Boulder Creek, and then began our drive to Denver.  The Denver Museum of Nature and Science was on the agenda today.  Even better, Joanne, Brian, and their kids were joining us for the morning.  It was great to spend time with them, to reconnect, and to see how their kids are growing.  Joanne has always impressed me with her gentleness and wisdom, and she readily uses both when parenting.  Her boys are extraordinarily lucky.  Together, we explored space, gems and minerals, taxidermy animals, mythic creatures, and a health zone.  Dragons also attacked.

There was far more there for one day and it was ripe for exploring around.  After the kids and adults got antsy in the museum, we headed over to the Denver REI.  It seems a little weird to go shopping on vacation -- at least, it's not a typical Whompton thing to do -- but the REI really was a jaw-dropping place.  If I impulsively spent money, I could have dropped a sizable amount of credit card cash there.  We gawked appropriately at everything, and then headed over to The Ale House for dinner.  It was delicious.  

The Whomptons parted ways with the Pursers and drove out to our hotel in Aurora, the eastern-most suburb of Denver.  We inadvertently chose an extended stay hotel, mostly because it had larger rooms, but to call it a hotel is misleading.  They did not have a welcome desk to check-in, the long-term residents (of which there were many) were grumbling and dissatisfied with the service, and the manager walked in on us while we were all in bed.  We were lucky to be able to leave the space the next morning bright and early but the folks who live there are not.  It was incredibly disheartening to be there and to recognize that the worst part of our vacation was the way of life for others.  


After waking from nightmares of folks breaking into our room, I got us up and we got out.  We were on the road starting at 6 a.m. and we drove east, east, east, until Saint Louis.  We sang along to all the Disney musicals we could find, Les Miserables, and the Decemberists, while the kids read books and slept.

We made it back home in time for bed, which was wonderful.  There's nothing like sleeping in your own bed after a long trip!