As some of you know (or notice from our return address), the highlight of our year has been our move to Jackson Hole Wyoming! A few years ago, we bought a vacation home and fell in love with the beautiful and vast landscape, majestic mountains, and refreshing lifestyle of Jackson Hole. Our intent was to move in a few years when the twins graduated high school. But, last spring Marena and Vivian decided that they wanted to come along for the ride. Even though John suggested they make the move with us, we never thought they would seriously consider it. I asked the girls every day for weeks if they were sure. Finally, Vivian said “no matter how many times you ask us, the answer will still be yes.” So, because of these ever-adventurous girls, we packed up 25 years of memories and moved at the end of the summer. Since then, it has been an exciting array of new experiences in this small rural town of Wilson, which is part of Jackson Hole and where the elevation (6,000ft) is higher than the population (1,500). We have a view of the Teton Range, with Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone NP nearby. Moose, elk, deer and other wildlife roam our neighborhood. In the summers, I sit on the backyard porch to watch cows grazing and two beautiful white horses playfully meandering among them. In the fall and early winter, I wake up to see herds of elk migrating for the winter, some getting caught on our side of the fence and trying desperately to rejoin their herd. (These elk are part of the longest elk migration in the US, coming to Jackson to winter at the National Elk Refuge.) It has been a big change, but an exciting adventure we have all embraced. I have been wearing a necklace with a compass pendant and on the back it says, “Life brings us to unexpected places, love brings us home.” Since I left New England after college, I’ve moved many times – Michigan, Northern CA, Philadelphia, Southern CA and back to the Bay Area. Leaving the place that John and I started our married life 25 years ago and where our four kids were born and raised was hard, but I held fast to that pendant during our move, and lo and behold — Love brought us home.
This year the update starts with Marena and Vivian. At 15 ½, they are sophomores at Jackson Hole Community School, a small private high school very similar to their previous one. But, instead of 150 kids, they have 24 in their grade!! (I’m looking forward to graduation ceremony which should only take 25 minutes.) They really like their classmates, teachers and classes; and participated in a week long school trip where they learned to rock climb in Idaho. They enjoyed playing on the golf team where the boys and girls practice and travel to tournaments together. (Students participate in sports and extracurricular activities with the public high school just across the street. Although, we did not realize that golf, along with other outdoor fall sports start at the beginning of August because of the potential for cold, snowy weather and the long distances to matches means overnight trips and missed school days.) As much as Vivian and Marena were happy with their lives in the Bay Area – they loved their school, their friends, and the great shopping (here the nearest mall is 90 miles away) – I think they knew they had a unique opportunity to experience something different. John and I are so impressed with their open and dauntless attitudes. Also, for twins the risks are pretty low – they will always have someone to sit with at lunch. They are taking full advantage of these opportunities; downhill and Nordic skiing on weekends; and when they were bargaining for new ski equipment they reminded us that their school is less expensive than their previous one so getting all these things was still a bargain. I drive them to school since they won’t have their licenses until May. Heading out to the car the first time after an overnight snowfall and not factoring in the time it would take to clear the car covered in snow, I realized that getting the moving boxes out of the garage was a top priority. Although I loved the convenience of the older kids being able to drive, I enjoy every minute with the girls. We are in awe of the scenery and each day gives us something new to admire – the sun peeking through the mountains to catch the yellow and orange aspen leaves shimmering in the wind; the sight of the first snowfall sticking to the Teton peaks; slowing down for elk and moose as they cross our street. These car rides allowed me to finally feel part of their world. As twins, their closeness is enviable and sometimes I feel like a third wheel. But, during the car rides, I have taken Eva’s place – listening to music and singing along to Dixie Chicks, stopping after school for a snack or getting groceries for dinner. I feel like one of them. When I let them practice driving, one is always the literal and figurative back seat driver. One day, as Marena was waiting for cars to pass at an intersection, I hear from the back a loud “Send it, Marena!” My mind panicked in horror at the image of these two driving, feeling like an extension of each other and screaming instructions shotgun like they were finishing each other’s sentences, as they are prone to do. Days later, as we again wait to turn onto the main road and Vivian is driving, I’m feeling good about my camaraderie with the twins. I say “Send it!” like a teenager instead of the Mom phrase “Okay, you can go now, sweetie.” They both respond like they’ve eaten something bad: “Ya, Mom, no. Just… no.” They were right – it didn’t sound quite the same coming out of my mouth. There’s only so far you can go to be part of their world.
Eva is 18½ and a freshman at Vanderbilt University. Like Jeffrey, she applied early decision and found out last December that she would be a Commodore. Unlike Jeffrey, her packing and preparations for college were much different. Eva had a detailed checklist, she coordinated bedding with her roommate, made numerous trips to Bed Bath & Beyond, and we spent days trying to fit all her clothes & shoes into 3 duffle bags. (Jeffrey had one duffle of computer wires, cables, switch splitters, integrated amplifiers; then shoved shorts, golf shirts and golf pants into another duffle – and we spent 15 minutes at Bed Bath & Beyond.) Eva is thriving and loves everything about Vanderbilt and the city of Nashville. She loves her roommate who is from Indianapolis; really likes her classes, plays club volleyball, does Glamour Girls club (they go to elderly homes and paint ladies’ nails), was accepted into the Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity, and will be sorority pledging next semester. Concerts there are plentiful. The whole freshman class got to see Beyoncé & Jay-Z during orientation and her roommate won tickets to see Ed Sheeran. As usual, Eva is drinking from the firehose – perhaps that’s why she’s had tonsillitis twice this semester. Eva still loves to cook, and preparing for her homecoming means finding recipes for us to try. I just texted her to wish her well on her last final and she texted back, “I can’t wait to come home and cook!”
Jeffrey is 20 ½ and a junior majoring in computer science at Amherst College. (It feels like just yesterday I wrote 2 ½ and said “Jeffrey started preschool this fall and loves to ride his bike and scooter and anything that moves, which sometimes includes Eva.”) Music and food are still big interests of his. We both enjoy the Netflix series Chef’s Table and for Thanksgiving, in addition to his usual mac and cheese (which was his best recipe yet), this year he smoked the turkey. He and his roommates shared Thanksgiving by making their own meal together. Like our family, everyone made a side dish. I asked about the turkey and Jeffrey said “we could only rent the dorm kitchen for 2 hours so we bought rotisserie chicken from the grocery store.” Improvising at its best. As the kids get older and move away, their updates are shorter. The meaningful things I have to share are not what they’re doing and where, but the everyday moments and stories that provide a glimpse into who they are. I have much less of those everyday moments with Jeffrey and Eva; they’re having their own with others who are fast becoming family to them; I used to think this transition would break my heart, but if anything it warms my heart.
John still travels during the week, but mainly commutes to Avetta’s office outside Salt Lake City, which is only a 35 minute flight from Jackson. With John’s Wisconsin roots, the move has been a smooth transition for him and he is in heaven here in Jackson Hole. On the weekends, he goes up to the mountain early for some downhill runs, comes home around 12:30 and then goes Nordic skiing on our neighborhood golf course’s 16km of trails — then he takes a 3 hour nap. John used to Nordic race in high school, so he can lap me, but I’m working on my technique. Every year I have at least one story that fittingly captures John’s personality. This spring Jeffrey asked to go to Manresa, a Michelin star restaurant in Los Gatos for his 20th birthday present. We were worried about the twins being finicky with the food and the overall highbrow experience, but it was John we should have been worried about. Our family of 6 can be loud, with John leading the way – Olive Garden is usually a more appropriate choice. The twins did great, giving one mushroom dish a pass which Jeffrey and Eva were happy to take; they were all in awe of the overall experience. John, while he appreciated the food, was ready to go home to bed after 3 hours of restrained good behavior and no off-colored jokes, but he persevered. He did ask if anyone wanted to go to In-N-Out on the way home. Once John hits his threshold, which is about 9:30pm, it’s hard to stop the downward slide. During the 43rd President’s touching eulogy to his father, he said something about his dad that also applies to John: “he was born with just two settings – full throttle, then sleep”.
For me, this move has been a whirlwind; and sometimes I feel like Dorothy in the Land of Oz. Although I miss my friends in the Bay Area, I have tried to make “new and different” equate to “fun adventure”. Things like hiking in the Tetons, learning to Nordic ski, training the dogs not to chase after moose and elk and eat their poop, all qualify. I am well known for not being a cold weather person so I am taking this winter on as a survive and thrive challenge. Sweaters, wool socks, Stio, Patagonia, LLBean, Smartwool are my new best friends – and my credit card’s best friends. Recommendations for warm socks that don’t itch are welcome. Taking the trash out is a test of endurance and strength. These bins are industrial weight, with chains and metal hinges so that wildlife cannot easily get to them. Since the trash needs to be out by Thursday morning and John does not usually come home until that afternoon, we have negotiated that I will only lug these monsters out to the end of the driveway if it’s above zero degrees. If we get into negative temps – trash stays in the garage. There are four Uber drivers in the area – four. The same number of people I have given birth to. The twins said all the teenagers know who they are. Going to the DMV was like a visit to Grandma’s house. “Sweetie, what can I do for you?” I had to look up at the sign to make sure it said Wyoming Dept of Transportation – and there were a total of 3 other customers. The only line I’ve seen in town (during shoulder season) is the one for the cash register at TJMaxx. Saturday post office hours are 10am-12pm. Open for two hours. Two. You get caught behind some slow moving moose or elk and you might not make it in time. The yellow traffic signs caution drivers not about road conditions but to “Watch for migrating wildlife” or “Open range, loose stock”. Late September towards the end of tourist season, I drove into town to do some errands before picking up the girls from school. During that time I saw 22 different state license plates. Almost half of the United States was represented in this little town on that day. It was so exciting, I felt like I was on a treasure hunt; I started driving aimlessly around town to see if I could find more. Christmas shopping has been exhausting – for my UPS and FedEx drivers; and I have discovered some amazing values on Costco.com. Shh, don’t tell John. So there you have it – we’re not in Kansas or Silicon Valley anymore; some differences are good, some a pain and some are pretty amazing. But, John is here, Marena and Vivian, Willa and Gus are here; Jeffrey and Eva are a Facetime and plane ride away from here, this wonderfully unexpected place where life has brought us. And, I am home.
We wish you and your loved ones health, well-being and unexpected new adventures during the coming year!
(By the way, today is Thursday, Dec 13, trash day and it’s -4 degrees. ☺)
May, John, Jeffrey, Eva, Vivian, Marena, Willa & Gus