Chloe and Sidney Turn 7 – Head for 1st Grade

I think this year it is really hitting Julie and I that our girls are getting older. My babies are fading away as little girls now take over with little teenagers just around the corner. Freaking us out just a little.

They turned 7 this last week and what a week it was. It started with a fun family dinner at Chili’s the night before, then they had a “girls party” with their friends, followed by a family fun time at Babe’s Chicken. Presents and fun times were at hand for sure and they sure were happy.

They are growing right before our eyes. First grade starts tomorrow.

Sigh.

Vegas

Have to admit. I love me some Las Vegas.

And if’ you’re like me, then you know what I mean. If not, well, you likely hate the place. It’s usually one or the other.

For me Vegas is complete getaway. It’s Disney World for 18+. So much to see. So much to do.

My first time was in 1999 with long time friend Greg…aka Grasshoppa. Since then, Vegas has been a near annual ritual and every single time the trip is different from the last. We already have our sites set on yet another casino hotel and things to do for next year.

If you have never been, put it on your bucket list. If you like fun, crowds, and action, you will be glad you did. Even peace and tranquility can be found at one of the amazing resorts. I know people that go, hit the pool and never even spend time on the rest of the Vegas. 

There’s just so much to do. Magicians, concerts, impressionist, Freemont Street, amusement rides, incredible shopping, the Hoover Dam, amazing architecture, golf, mountains, comedians, the Strip, M&M World, beaches and pools, the animals at Monte Carlo, spas, freaks to watch, sounds, lights galore, clubs, games, and food you could not even begin to comprehend.

Is it sin city? Well, sure more is allowed to go on here than most places, but there are dance clubs, women in bikinis, strippers, escorts and drug parties all over Dallas each week too and yet we haven’t packed up and moved. Vegas is just a city that’s a little on the A.D.D. side.

I’m certainly not a big gambler, not a shark or a whale. I’m not a minnow either. I guess I could be considered a guppy. I love me a little craps and roulette, and every now and then some blackjack or a run at the slots. I’ve left more than a few bricks with my name on it over the years. Don’t fool yourself, few come back “ahead”. But that’s not the reason to go there anyway.

For me it’s all about the action and touching this crazy side of the world here and there. It gives me pause and helps me realize, I’m really not that weird. Then again, maybe I am which is why Vegas is so compelling.

Thankfully Julie likes to go too and we have friends that enjoy the grownup getaway. It’s one place we can all go, let our hair down, and spend some of that money on us. We just got back from our 2012 trip in which we enjoyed 2.5 days of desert fun.

One thing to remember though. What happens in Vegas….gets tweeted and stays on Facebook.

First Family Road Trip – the Journey to Colorado

We always wondered just how this road trip thing would work for us. Three kids around the same age cooped up in a minivan for more than two days?

Well, surprise, surprise, we lived to tell the story.

My best friend and his family live in Denver, Colorado and it was time to get our butts up there to see them. After all, it was a week of 105+ temps in Dallas and summer was only going to get hotter, so why not?

Day one was Chick-Fi-La appreciation day 2012 (a story all unto itself that will truly make one gay reading it – by gay I of course mean, real happy). So we stopped at a location in Fort Worth around 1pm and a quick 1.5 hours later we were on the road to West Texas – sweet teas in hand. Julie was annoyed but we had to do our part – and, I wanted some nuggets.

Now, I have to say, the drive between Dallas and Amarillo is about as exciting as sitting near a grass growing plant. Actually, the grass factory might be a tad more exhilarating. It would be close. Anyway – holy cow. That is one long, boring stretch of highway. What made it even more exciting for me was my plan to listen to streaming audio files and the Michael Berry show out of Houston quickly vanished when I learned ATT doesn’t have data service along most of the entire drive in front of us. Very. Nice. Thanks ATT for the love you always find a way to show me. I had a big fat “E” (if I was lucky) instead of a “4G” most of the way to Colorado. I was not happy.

The only thing memorable was a small “wind farm” on 287, which was way cool by the way, and our dinner at the Big Texan in Amarillo. That is one neat place to eat and the kids loved it. It gave us a good break for sure. (Apparently we were in there at the same time long-time friends Bunky and Linda McMahon were there and somehow we did not see each other. They were on the way back from CO. Talk about small world. We literally passed each other in the night.)

Heading out from Amarillo we pushed our way late into the night and made it to Clayton, New Mexico, for our stay at a pretty nice Days Inn. I woke the kids up when we crossed over TexLine and made them stand in front of blinding headlights for a photo in front of the very low-budget “welcome to New Mexico” sign. Not sure they remember any of that and geez the sign did not feel welcoming at all. Spend a few bucks people. We finally crashed around midnight and were thankful our 8 hour journey for the day was over. The CFA ordeal and the dinner at BT cost us about 2.5 hours of unplanned travel time. We were tired mothers and the family was ready for some shuteye.

Day two the terrain got even more exciting (tongue firmly planted in cheek) as we pushed through eastern New Mexico. I have to say, outside of the very northern part of NM, that state ranks right up there with Kansas as far as appealing. Mars photos give it a run for its money. One interesting thing was this mountain looking apparition we drove past. I pointed it out to everyone and Chloe made the call saying “it looks like a volcano”. We quickly Googled it (yes it took 13 minutes but we finally got the returns loaded) and sure enough it was the Capulin Volcano. After that everyone quickly returned to their leapsters, drawing boards, or blank stares into the endless horizon of nothingness. Julie was drugged out of her mind with car sick meds (those long, straight roads can really get her going) and I was left counting cars coming the other direction, which I think totaled about…11 in four hours time. Some real fun.

After a brief pee stop in Raton, we headed north and about the time the landscape became something to look at, we had made it to the much nicer “Welcome to Beautiful Colorado” sign. We stopped, and of course ran into two Harley bikers from, where else but Tyler, and took photos and shared a moment with them. They even knew where Flint was…really?

After another quick pee stop in Trinidad, Colorado, (I think this time we made it 45 whole minutes), we started seeing some big mountains off to the west and realized our destination was coming into view. Our plan was to stop and visit the Royal Gorge then kick over to drive Pikes Peak. That was our plan anyway.

We made it into Pueblo and drove over to Canyon City, past the super max prison located there, and zigged our way over to the Gorge area. I had been there as a kid (thanks mom and dad!) and couldn’t wait to see it again and experience it with Julie and the kids. It’s just such a cool, high place. After doing the mini-train ride that takes you out along the gorge for a distant view, we headed to the bridge itself and wiped out a few more hours of fun at 1053 feet in the air (that’s over 100 stories). That bridge moves a little too. If you’re not careful and think about it too much, you might just kick up and run off screaming like a school girl. But I maintained my manhood and we walked the entire length, found the Texas flag and proceeded to discuss how there was no way in hell Julie was going to get me on the Skycoaster swing that swung over the gorge itself, which the proudly described as the scariest swing on Earth. One look at that up close and I was “I don’t even think so.” Of course this is my wife that rode the X-Scream coaster on the top of the Stratosphere at 1200 feet, in tears by the way. Quinn got a little queasy on the bridge too and the girls were half paying attention to what was even going on. They were in giggle mode most of the trip.

We took the incline tram down to the river bottom underneath the bridge and decided then and there that white water rafting was now on our family bucket list. What fun that looks like! Looking up at the bridge really brought back memories. I still have a photo I took when I was like 10 from down there. I took another at 42. It started thundering which made it even nicer. It even started raining which of course was a welcomed event for us. When we left TX it was 106. This 80 degree weather was a nice change to say the least.

I quickly realized as we were leaving that my Pikes Peak plan was toast. We still had a good two hour drive or more to Denver and it was already 5pm. I was a little bummed because I had told the kids all about us going up to the top of a very big mountain. Oh well. On the drive through Colorado Springs (that is one cool city!) and up I285 we ended up seeing 5 total rainbows and 2 double rainbows. (yes, I had the strong urge to post another YouTube “double rainbow” video, Brady style) but Julie insisted I keep driving for some reason. The sunset was amazing too. We were in love with Colorado.

We made it to southern Denver (technology sector) and ate at an eclectic Italian café and then headed to our La Quinta for the night. We caught up on the 2012 Summer Olympics and then went to bed. We had made it. A journey of over 800 miles that took us more than 20 hours. The kids were great and we were alive, plus we got our 4G back soon after entering the state. Go figure.

Day three was setup to be real special. We spent the morning driving through the Denver metro area and into downtown. Luck would have it we found ourselves at a red light with the Democratic Party on the corner beside me. What were the odds I asked Julie. I was so tempted….but I maintained control. Denver is such a nice city despite being more liberal than I like. Actually, living there might change things. I could do some real damage. Anyway, there are just so many cool things to do in the area and neat places to see. I love the sports complexes too. The Broncos stadium looks unreal. We have plenty on our list to do in our next trip there.

Our next step was to meet up with the Drew family for one special occasion. See, Peter and Amanda were strangers to us until earlier this year when we connected on Facebook regarding our adopted children. It turns out Quinn and their daughter Piper had the same foster mom (Mrs. Kim) in Korea…at the same exact time! We even had photos that had a girl in it that we had wondered about. Talk about a God thing! So, in essence Quinn has a “foster sister” and we got to meet her and her parents and older sister, Summer. We are now new friends for life that is certain! What a blessing to know them and have that history and connection!

After a nice visit with them, it was time to head out for lunch at Casa Bonita, a neat Mexican restaurant in Denver that is really geared towards kids. My parents took me as a kid and Julie and I visit back in 2004 when Clint and Alisa first got married and we were all still kidless. This place is over the top fun for the kids. Features shows, divers, fun caverns and walk ways, and more. The kids loved it too. Food was a tad better than Taco Bell, but that wasn’t the point.

Finally around 3pm we made it to the Locks house. Their town was so nice and their home was perfect. Most importantly we finally got to spend some much needed time together. The kids immediately bonded and picked right up where they had left off a year prior while us adults talked about the plans for the next few days. Soon we packed up the cars and drove up to El Dorado Canyon for some real rock climbing and outdoor fun. Clint and Alisa climb huge mountains all the time and Clint is a rock climbing instructor and former park ranger, so the kids were in good hands. Chloe, Quinn and Sidney, along with Bri and Addie of course, did about an 80 foot climb! The canyon itself was so peaceful it was almost surreal. We spent a few hours there just taking it all in and running around the canyon, the river and even some neat caves. I could have spent the night there…then again, Bigfoot certainly would have found me, so nevermind.

As dusk came upon us we headed from there into Idaho Springs for dinner at BeauJos – probably some of the best pizza I have ever put in my mouth, and most know that is A LOT of pizza. Seriously. I think it was reason number “9”, that by the end of the trip had grown to a reason list of “37”, for needing to move to the area. It was insane good. After sharing some toasts, we made the rest of the trip up I-70 to Silverthorn, where Alisa’s parents owned a neat condo. What a blessing they were to let us stay there at no cost. Their condo is like a slice of heaven nestled up against the Rockies. In…cred…di…ble.

Day four started out with amazing cool air to breath, humming birds in the windows, with a backdrop of the incredible Rockies off in the distance. A friend even commented on my facebook photo post “you’re killing me”. I smiled and muffled an evil clown laugh when I read it too. Poor fella.

The kids were already truly enjoying each other and were ready to have a big day. It sure was fun to see our little tikes enjoy each other. Generation to generation. Not sure there is anything more joyful to watch than seeing your kids enjoy your best friends’ kids. Way cool.

After breakfast, we prepped for a mountain hike near Buffalo Mountain up to Lily Pad Lake. It was about a 3 mile round trip journey at 10,000 feet. The day was just unreal weather wise and after an hour or so of some decent inclines and forest navigation, we made it. Things looked “squatchy” for sure. I was hoping to finally “find bigfoot” then yet again, I was certain he could have been watching us. At the lake we saw a beaver working on his home, some neat Jay birds and a family of ducks. Buffalo Mountain was in the background and it was just awesome. Colorado is just amazing this way, even if you find yourself out of breath all the time from just walking up 5 steps.

After recouping for a bit in the condo, we made our way down to the town of Frisco where we walked the streets, visited some historic log cabins and finally made it down to a local brewery for a good burger. We ended the day with a magic show put on by our little Chloe (yes, she is dead serious about this magician career she has going!) and watched Michael Phelps win his 22nd medal to end his career. History.

Seeing Clint and Alisa and their girls, Brianna and Addison, was certainly a highlight of summer 2012. It’s been over 20 years of friendship between him and me. To watch our kids play like best buddies and to get time to talk about parenting, life, God, and just be together made it worth it all. Standing on the roof of a parking cover that last night before we were to leave, Clint and I watched an amazing storm brew over the mountain tops that glistened with the colors of a Colorado sunset. It was just like us. It wasn’t Purina from the good old Howard Payne University days 20 years prior, but it was close. “You did good God”, Clint said. I agreed. He sure did.

Day five was our last day and I was excited to learn Clint had plans to lead us up to the top of Mt. Evans, via the Mt. Evans road – the highest mountain road in North America. My promise to the kids was gonna be kept! We were going up to the top of a BIG mountain after all. I just had no idea what was in store for my nerves and our little, paid-for Sienna. Oh my. The good thing was Clint prepared us by giving us a CD of “poop goes in the potty” to bang into our brains on the drive up. That was nice…

After stopping to see “Smokey the Bear” about half way up the mountain road, I became a little concerned when the road no longer had a middle stripe and one slip of the tire meant the family was going to see Jesus a tad earlier than expected. I think I cussed just a few times during some turns and wondered if I would need to change undies when we got to the top, but after 15+ miles of the most winding, scary road EVER, we made it. And wow, was it worth it! We were at 14,200 feet and words cannot even describe it. The mountain goats gave us some crazy looks but after a quick hike up another 300 feet, we were officially on top of one of the highest peaks in the continental U.S. I could have stayed there all day long too. Few families can say they have done that and in the words of “Judy Moody” it was certainly another 100 thrill points added to the summer totals.

The drive down was scarier than….well…. hell itself (that is really the best way to describe it – sorry) and despite nearly loosing it with the kids acting crazy behind me, we finally made it down – though I burned through a pair of lifetime brakes in the process – guess by lifetime they mean “Texas lifetime”. We made it back into the town of Idaho Springs and grabbed a last meal with the Locks at another quaint place called the Buffalo Bar. The sinking feeling of a 14+ hour road trip was giving me heart burn but the trip ended perfectly. The drive to the top of the world while cranking out some kids worship music just couldn’t be beat. What better way to enjoy a Sunday morning and end the summer vacation of 2012?

We said our goodbyes and made our way south around 4pm. Texas was home even with its flat, mountainless views and so I pushed everyone real hard and made it all the way to Amarillo around 1am. We tossed and turned all night until I finally had had enough and loaded everyone up into the van at 6:30am. By noon we were on the outskirts of Fort Worth and temps were giving us a big fat “welcome home”, hitting us in the face at about 102. Finally, at 1pm we pulled into the drive way knowing our two puppy dogs were desperate to welcome us back with kisses.

At one point during the weekend Clint and I found ourselves driving up I-70 into the mountains while the wives were in his car all alone talking it up. The kids were singing “jingle bells” and Clint and I both chimed in with a great holiday classic of our own to equal things out. A little later the silence kicked in as summer Christmas tunes faded away to tiredness and I looked over at my buddy and said: “If someone would have told us…’one day you both will be married to some hot women – one of you will be a teacher/mountain climber and the other a financial advisor. And one evening you will both be together in a MINI-VAN, with 5 kids that belong to you in the backseats, driving through the mountains of Colorado in your early 40s, singing “Silent Night” in early August, headed to a condo in Silverthorn for the weekend calling each other “dad” all weekend,’ what would we have said?”

I would have never beleived it and that just about describes it all.

We had survived and boy did we have some fun. We sure miss “beautiful Colorado”!

Life is Good. God is even better.

posted by Brady Speers. www.bradyspeers.net