Hadley’s Utopia & the Incredible Hulk

You know those people who have an aversion to public restrooms?

Bode has the opposite problem. In fact, we often joke he’s like a dog and needs to mark his territory whenever we go. Or, as Hadley so eloquently summarized it:

“The one thing that boy knows how to find is a bathroom!”

But his latest bathroom episode lead to Hadley’s greatest discovery ever. During our visit to YMCA of the Rockies, we were at the playground when nature called for Bode. The Mootz Family Craft and Design Center was adjacent so we walked in there.

A couple of minutes later, I raced out to Hadley screaming, “YOU HAVE GOT TO COME WITH ME, NOW!!!”

The reason for my freakout? I have never seen a craft center quite like this one. I had eventually planned to wander in there with her and expected to see your basic painting or drawing stations but this place was a crafter’s dream with wood and leather crafts, a jewelry area with thousands of beads, ceramics, tie dye with a huge wall of clothing options, silk painting and basket making.

 The prices range from $3-$35 per project with most people spending around $15. We dropped $50.

Some of the many craft projects
More crafts
Tie dye shirt designs

 Being a dude, Bode isn’t really into crafts but he opted to make a tie dye shirt, something I had never done.

It turned our marvelously well. Here’s a photo I took of him wearing the shirt on our camping trip a couple of days later.

We left YMCA of the Rockies early the next morning so they sent home instructions for washing out the shirt after it had soaked in the dye for 24 hours. I then ran it in the washing machine twice before letting him wear it. Evidently, this was not enough because it turned his shoulders green at the campout. Quite coincidentally, his old swim trunks (seen above) literally split open.

We called him the Incredible Hulk.

But back to Hadley’s crafting utopia at the Craft & Design Center. I encouraged her to select something she would keep forever and so she, of course, selected one of the most expensive items: a mosaic kitty clock.

I was excited for her to attempt something so intricate where a qualified staff could help her out. I don’t know if you’d ever done a mosaic but envision collecting tons of glass shards and piecing them together like a puzzle without a set pattern.

I hate crafting and puzzles so basically, it was my worst nightmare. But I loved working on it with her as she came to life.

Then came grouting. I let her tackle that solo.

But the finished product? Something she will always cherish and her avowal to spend the entirety of next summer at the Craft and Design Center.

My wallet may never recover from her discovery.


Other details of our stay:

Colorado’s Most Family-friendly Vacation

YMCA of the Rockies: Activity Capital of Colorado!

Colorado’s most affordable family vacation (at Mile High Mamas)

YMCA of the Rockies: Activity Capital of Colorado!

When I tout YMCA of the Rockies as Colorado’s most affordable and fun family vacation, I’ve got the goods to back it up and those include:

Free Activities

  • A new 27-hole miniature golf course
  • Sand Volleyball Courts
  • Tennis Courts
  • Indoor and outdoor basketball courts
  • Indoor swimming pool
  • Guided hikes
  • Skate Park
  • Disc Golf
  • Fee Activities

  • Zip Line
  • Rock climbing wall
  • Archery
  • Craft & Design Center
  • Concessionaires

  • Fly Fishing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Mountain Biking
  • See, told you!

    Most of the activities are included in your lodging cost (an Estes Park lodge room starts at $109, two-bedroom cabin $129 and 3-bedroom vacation homes start at $334).  The rooms are rustic and clean, though we stayed at the Longs Peak Lodge, which had been recently renovated to include granite countertops in the bathrooms. If you’re not staying at YMCA of the Rockies, you can buy an all-day activity pass for $15.

    Hands down, our latest visit to YMCA of the Rockies was the most fun we’ve ever had because the kids are finally old enough to participate in the numerous programs. Shortly after arriving, we headed over to the Sweet Memorial Building to sign up for a few of the many programs (most of which are free). Choices included Animal Detective, Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!, Aquatic Exploration, Bubbles, Capture the Flag, Family High Ropes, History Walk, Kickball, Knots, Scavenger Hunt and so many more.

    We opted for Nature Art (the kiddos made natural kaleidoscopes and rock necklaces), wiffleball and Family Adventure, a series of bonding activities with other families as we attempted to rescue ourselves from being stranded in Hawaii.

    Though I kept wondering if that was really a bad thing?

    When I signed up for the activities I put down all our names, assuming I needed to be there. With the exception of Family Adventure, most of the activities were for kids-only. And then I realized the glorious truth: I had an entire hour of freedom each time.

    And so this Mama chose to do a quick (but steep) trek up Bible Point, a 1.5-mile round-trip hike with stunning views.

    YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park
    Overlooking Rocky Mountain National Park

    The kids also had a stellar time just kicking back at the playground.

    The tire swing of death

    And we were delighted to stumble upon a cossetted playground where a heated game of tetherball ensued.

    This is my favorite picture I took of the trip, which perfectly captured our many moments of sheer joy.

    So does this one of Bode’s dirty little legs, evidence of a well-played kid.

    And we can’t forget our beloved new friends as we sang along with Cowboy Brad’s fireside program.

    Bode & Ollie
    Swayin’ to the music.
    And bringing down the house to the Hokey Pokey

    And THAT, my friends, is what it’s all about.


    Other details of our stay:

    Colorado’s Most Family-friendly Vacation

    Hadley’s Utopia (the craft center) and the Incredible Hulk

    Colorado’s most affordable family vacation (at Mile High Mamas)

    YMCA of the Rockies: Colorado’s most family-friendly vacation

    I’m a longtime fan of YMCA of the Rockies and we have been going there since Haddie was one. I mean, just look at these little cuties!

    YMCA of the Rockies, Snow Mountain Ranch 2006

    YMCA of the Rockies, Snow Mountain Ranch 2007


     If you’re not familiar with this family resort and conference center, it is the most affordable family and fun vacation you will have in Colorado. Period. As my friend Julie described it: “YMCA of the Rockies is like summer camp for the whole family.”

    My family has stayed in lodges or cabins at their two locations–860-acre Estes Park Center borders Rocky Mountain National Park and Snow Mountain Ranch is a 5,100-acre family ranch located between Winter Park and Grand Lake. (Go here for info on each of their properties).

    I was ecstatic when we were invited to Estes Park on a blogger retreat last week. The last time I was at that location was for a Johnson family reunion when Hadley was 3 and Bode was 1. My, how they’ve changed.

    YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park, 2012

    But YMCA of the Rockies has not and is as fun as ever. Stay tuned for the details of the many activities we crammed into our two-day stay!

    The Details:

     YMCA of the Rockies: Activity Capital of Colorado!
    Hadley’s Utopia (the craft center) and the Incredible Hulk

    Colorado’s most affordable family vacation (at Mile High Mamas)

    The silver (or white) lining

    That’s right, Peeps. Denver has had FOUR record-breaking days this week with no end in sight.

    So, how have we been coping?

    An FHE jaunt to our favorite secret watering hole.

    Ralston Creek 2012
    Ralston Creek 2011
    Ralston Creek 2010

    You could say it’s a favorite tradition on sweltering days.

    And evidence I have the best friends EVER? My friend Lisa loaned me this air-conditioning unit for our bedroom window this summer. Judging me for being white trash?

    Call me “White” for short.

    All (Not) Quiet on the Western Front

    This is a sampling of what we’ve been enduring in Denver the past couple of weeks:

    I despise the heat but I’ve been coping with our record-breaking conditions rather well and have only complained very minimally about it.

    Until Saturday.

     Let me back up and say that due to our hot and dry conditions, Colorado is having our worst wildfire season ever with more than 100,000 acres burned and 10 wildfires going strong across the state. It’s devastating to watch so many family’s homes going up in smoke. Our firefighter neighbor is in the middle of a 12-day encampment on the fire line and I greatly applaud the sacrifices of so many.

    To say it grates on me whenever someone rejoices about the heat that is exacerbating a horrible situation is an understatement.

    There are three ways I’ve been coping with the heat: 1) Denial. 2) Daily outdoor swim lessons (what great timing) and 3) Air-conditioning. I won’t mention the fact our unit is too small for our house so our bedrooms upstairs feel like a sauna.

    But where was I? Ahh, yes, my heat meltdown. We went camping last weekend in this 100-degree heat. I’ll have more details on that later and though it had all the fixins for the perfect getaway (friends, kayaking, fishing, horseback riding), the heat rendered me numb.

    Bode’s first time fishing
    Hadley’s first extended horseback ride

    And not the good, cold kind of numb.

    Jamie had a Bishopric meeting at 6:30 a.m. Sunday so I encouraged him to hang out with us during the day on Saturday and then head home that evening so he wouldn’t disturb us. Though we had an AWESOME time, I suffered through the day’s heat and started to come to life that evening when temperatures dropped from the triple- digits. But it was still sweltering when the kids and I went to bed.

    9:30 p.m. Hot. Prayed at least kids would fall asleep and that I’d take one for the team.
    9:45 p.m. Baby in neighboring tent crying.
    10 p.m. Kids fell asleep. Realized being a team player sucked.
    11 p.m. Baby still crying. Don’t blame baby. Was right there with him.
    11:30 p.m. Parents take him home to his nice air-conditioned house. Consider stowing away.
    Midnight. All is finally quiet in the campground.
    12:30 p.m. Snoring begins at a neighboring tent and does not stop all night long.
    1 p.m. Musical beds. Bode is a wild sleeper and rolled around the entire tent, forcing me to frequently change my location.
    2 p.m. Still hot. And now exhausted.
    3:30 p.m. Grab my iPhone and email Jamie about my misery.
    Sunrise. Woken up by loud neighbors.

    That email’s contents are private but evidently convincing enough that Jamie had an ice-cold smoothie and also some limeaid with fresh mint sprigs from the garden waiting for me.

    It was the equivalent of drunk dialing, only it was “overheated emailing.”

    And with the way our summer is starting out, it won’t be the last time.

    Fear Factor: Disneyland Style

    My kids enjoyed most of the thrill rides at Disneyland with the exception of the Matterhorn (it was closed until June 15 for repairs), Indiana Jones Adventure (Bode didn’t meet the 46-inch height requirement) and the California Screamin’ roller-coaster (they wouldn’t go near anything with an upside-down loop-de-loop).

    However, there were a few surprising “I’m gonna die moments!”

    Splash Mountain

    For Hadley, it occurred during Splash Mountain and the prospect of kareening down the waterfall. She kept obsessively chanting, “I’m FREAKING OUT!” and when I pointed out we hadn’t even gone down it yet, she switched her lament to “I’m FREAKING OUT FOR THE FUTURE!

    What a great planner she is.

    Mickey’s Fun Wheel

    Doesn’t Mickey just look so happy and welcoming on that Ferris wheel?

    Do not be deceived.

    This time, it was Bode who was traumatized. You can ride one of the traditional gondolas mounted to the outer rim -or- board one of the 16-inch “free-mounted” gondolas that slip and slide back and forth along the inside spokes.

    We, of course, chose the most adventurous free-sliding gondolas and oh, the look on Bode’s face when that thing started rocking.

    Holy Crap!

    When that didn’t work to calm his fears, he tried another coping method:

    .And there he stayed for the duration of the ride.

    Golden Zephyr

    Hadley is a complicated little thing. Though she thrived on Space Mountain (which absolutely terrorizes me in the dark), she also freaked out about riding the Golden Zephyr in California Adventure Park. She hates swinging things but really? This tame spaceship that is geared to preschoolers?

    I made her go on it, just so she could save face.

    “What is the worst that could happen?” I queried.

    “I could fall out and die,” she countered.

    Note to self: don’t ask that question at an amusement park.

    The No. 2 Coolest Thing I Have Ever Done!

    Cars Land was phenomenal and Radiator Springs Racers is my favorite ride at Disneyland. Truly. (Go here if you missed my original post).

    But do you know what else was so astounding that it made my Top 2 List of Coolest Things I Have Ever Done?

    OK, so I just made up the list but the following experience I had at Disneyland ranks right behind my amazing opportunity to be Microsoft’s accredited blogger at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

    Following our preview of Cars Land, the media was set loose with their families in California Adventure Park for the entire day. What’s so cool about that? The park was closed to the public in preparation for its grand re-opening the next morning. That’s right, people. About 1,000 media and their families had California Adventure Park to themselves. Don’t believe me?

    It was like a dream come true to visit Disneyland without the crowds and worth every penny we spent to get there. Oh, and did I mention the weather was a moderate 70-degrees?

    I could not have picked a more perfect day.

    Our craziest moment was during one of our first rides on Grizzly River Run. Last spring, I waited 1.5 hours for the thrill of doing this white-water rafting adventure.

    At the end of getting tossed around by Grizzly River’s rapids, we prepared to get out when the ride operator glanced over at the line (or lack thereof; we were the only ones there) and asked the golden question: “Do you want to do it again?”

    And for the first time in my history of Disneyland, we went around yet again without even unbuckling.

    The novelty didn’t even wear off when we emerged soaking wet.

    That night, our big Disneyland sendoff was a private showing of Worlds of Color–a water spectacular that wove water, color, fire and light into a kaleidoscope of fantasy.


    Of course my pictures don’t do it justice so check-out Disneyland’s official ones:

    Do you know what was mind-blowing? We were each given our own light-up Mickey ears and once the show started, we realized they were perfectly synced to whatever colors were on display.

    At least it was the coolest thing ever once I decided Disneyland wasn’t trying to control our minds and take over the world.

    There was only one drawback to the entire experience. When you’re a Disneyland newbie like Jamie, the bar has been set waaaaaaay too high.

    Cars Land’s Luigi’s Flying Tires

    But we’re happy to just do the limbo the next time we visit Disneyland.

    My night as a celebutante (or not)

    I’m not a fan of celebrities and can count on one hand how many I’d really like to meet, Matt Lauer, Jon Stewart and Anderson Cooper being among them.

    I’ve had a thing for news anchors since my broadcast journalism college days and they kinda count, right?

    So when the media attending the Cars Land preview were invited to cover the Red Carpet festivities, I opted for a back-row seat. Or rather, square of carpet.

    It was standing-room only.

    When I checked in, I was assigned No. 50. If you’ve ever wondered how the Red Carpet organization works, each media outlet is assigned a number and that is where they are stationed (often with a bunch of other journalists). I was originally supposed to be with some Utah outlets but migrated over to where my posse–a fun group of bloggers–was hanging out.

    There were some bloggers on the front lines battling it out for the interviews while the rest of us had a lot of fun sitting back and pretending to know who half of the people were.

    Fortunately LeAnn Jakubowski, Disney’s Director of Social Media, had a cheat-sheet of all the celebrities who’d be attending. This is just one page of many.

    Normally I’d feel really awkward about sticking a camera in a celebrity’s face but that is what the Red Carpet is all about.

    Cheers’ John Ratzenberger, the voice of Cars’ Mack the truck. Hot blonde included.
    Everybody Loves Raymond’s Brad Garrett

    Brad was h-i-l-a-r-i-o-u-s and hammed it up for the bloggers. Let’s just say he’s not an introvert.

    Larry the Cable Guy (voice of Mater) made several appearances during the grand opening. Dude is down-to-earth and funny.

    Here’s someone who blew me away. Recognize her? I didn’t either, though she’s from my favorite comedy, Modern Family. A glammed up Arial Winter plays the brainy Alex Dumphy.

    Speaking of Modern Family, who doesn’t love Manny?

    There were plenty of other celebrities but I was often too late or my camera was too slow to capture the moment.

    I got a lot of good backside shots, though.

    Don’t ask me who this was.

    I wouldn’t cut it as a paparazzo. Though it was fun to have caught a glimpse, I’ll gladly stick with my day job.

    Disneyland at last!

    If you’re not a fan of Disneyland, come back next week because I’ll be singing the praises of the Happiest Place on Earth the next several days.

    When I got invited to the media preview of Cars Land, I asked Jamie if he’d finally like to go (he has been threatening to sue his parents for years re: never taking him). It took him only a moment to decide “YES” and so we bit the bullet and bought tickets for the entire family.

    And I’m so glad we did.

    I mean, just look at this dude.

    I’m glad I had a do-over, too. The kids and I went for one frenzied day last spring break and between the crowds, the heat and the zero research I had done (my tour guide friend had to pull out at the last minute), it was stressful.

    Not this time. A friend told me January and early-June are great times to visit Disneyland and she was correct. A lot of schools weren’t on summer break yet so the lines were more manageable–we never waited more than a half-hour for a ride.

    Once upon a time, I would have thought waiting that long was dreadful. Now I know that’s a good thing! We stayed at the gorgeous Grand Californian Hotel and you pay for what you get. Namely, it’s pricy (particularly on the weekend) but being located inside the park made for easy access and frequent breaks and dips in the pool.

    We also had NO IDEA about the Downtown Disney District, a 20-acre admission-free area right outside our hotel that consisted of about 50 restaurants and shops.

    We were a wee bit excited to be there!

    We started out at Space Mountain which, if we’re being honest here, scares the bejeebers out of me. I’m fine with rollercoasters but not in the dark. We then spent a truly fabulous day exploring the best of what Disneyland has to offer.

    Star Tours
    Thunder Mountain
    Hadley freaking out before Splash Mountain’s Big Plunge
    Bode, our very serious navigator with the map
    Jambalaya, clam chowder, beignets & mint juleps to drink at French Market


    Did we overdo it? You betcha! I literally could not drag the kids out of bed the next morning but a brisk breakfast on our balcony helped wake them up a bit.

    I won’t point out sleepy Bode actually put his coat on upside down if you don’t.

    It’s called opportunity-cost.

    And the sleep deprivation for our first day at play was so very worth it.

    Next time: tune in for details from the red carpet!

    Why Disney California Adventure Park’s billion-dollar overhaul and Cars Land will send you into overdrive

    As the early-morning rays oozed through the blinds, my husband Jamie rolled over toward me in bed and sang, “When you wish upon a star.”

    That’s when two things hit me. 1) We were going to Disneyland in a few hours and 2) He sings really off-key in the morning.

    This wasn’t just any trip to the Happiest Place on Earth but Jamie’s first visit ever. We planned our trip around the opening of Cars Land, the culmination of a five-year, billion-dollar expansion of Disney California Adventure Park.

    I’d only visited California Adventure Park for a few hours last spring and though the attractions were fun (favorites include Grizzly River Run and Soarin’) it lacked the magic of nearby Disneyland.

    That is no more.

    Cars Land’s new 12-acre spread makes you swear you were plopped onto Route 66 during its heyday. In addition, the premiere of the many shops and entertainment on Buena Vista Street (California Adventure’s equivalent to Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A.), offers a nostalgic step back in time to 1920s Los Angeles when Walt Disney arrived.

    Cars Land First Glimpse

    Though Jamie kicked off our trip with Disney’s iconic song, he would have been more accurate in belting out “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” because that’s what happens in the re-creation of Radiator Springs.

    The 300,000-square-foot Cadillac Mountain Range in Ornament Valley is the awe-inspiring backdrop (4,000 tons of steel were used to erect it). From the moment you step onto the property, you’re on sensory high-drive with 16 neon signs in luminous colors, three new rides and a number of eclectic food and merchandise locations. (Click to enlarge)

    We gobbled up the lip-smacking food from the Cozy Cone Motel’s cone-shaped huts. Choices included ice cream, popcorn, churros and I was delighted when, as the staffer handed me my chile “cone” caso, he proclaimed, “That cone-pletes your order.”

    I’m a sucker for corny puns…and great food.

    The Rides

    Radiator Springs Racers, 40-inch height requirement

    I predict this will become one of the most popular attractions at the park (the six-hour wait on opening day confirmed it). Six people pile into a convertible cars and start on a leisurely road trip through Radiator Springs.

    Prior to our trip, my kids were not huge fans of Cars and I made them do their research by re-watching the movie. As we wound around on a leisurely road trip through scenes like Luigi’s Casa Della Tires, they fell in love with the characters as they came to life.

    But then the real fun began.

    We pulled up beside another car on a parallel track, engines were revved and we zoomed nose-to-nose through the desert as if vying for our own Piston Cup. Speeds reached as fast as 45 mph as we squealed around corners and over bumps in a thrilling finish that is different every time.

    Except for us—we lost all three runs.

    But that didn’t stop us from sprinting to the back of the line to do it all over again.

    Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree—32-inch height requirement

    Cars tow truck Mater has his very own herd of 22 runaway baby tractors in his junkyard and they “tow-si-do” around in a figure eight.

    I had high hopes Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree would play out like a tilt-a-whirl but it was much tamer and geared to the younger set. Though you have a safety bar, you’ll do a lot of sliding around so make sure to hold onto your little ones—my 5-year-old got a nice goose egg when his head hit the side of the tractor.

    Larry the Cable Guy (the voice of Mater) recorded seven hillbilly songs for the attraction.

    As we hee-hawed along to the music, I wasn’t quite sure if that was a selling point or a drawback. :-)

    Luigi’s Flying Tires, 32-inch height requirement

    The concept of this ride is cool: Huge tires double as hovercraft bumper cars as you float two inches above ground on what seems like a giant air hockey table. To move, we shifted our weight to guide the direction and bump into other tires.

    Over-sized beach balls were thrown into the mix because there’s nothing quite like bumping into and bopping complete strangers on the head.

    Here’s a word of caution: don’t wear a skirt like I did. When you’re walking to your tire, those 6,714 air vents will make you feel like that famous picture of Marilyn Monroe when her skirt was blown up by the subway vent.

    And not in a good way.
    (What a giant beach balls looks like before hitting your face.)

    But you’d better believe with the panoramic views of Ornament Valley, the three new attractions and immersive interactions with your favorite fuel-driven friends, life at Cars Land is all good.

    Photos: Disneyland and Yours Truly