Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cottage 2017

The scent of the Northwoods is one that you won't soon forget, even after you leave the dense lodge-pole pine forests and wood-cabin-clad McDonald's.  You might try--but I have a feeling that after you visit, it will remain tattooed on your heart in the shape of a tall tall pine tree.  Or maybe a little black bear cub.  Or possibly a snowmobile or giant skido bumper sticker.  Whatever it may be, I guarantee you that something from the Northwoods will leave an impression.

For me, it's the air alone, and for the life of me, I can't really figure it out.  The upper peninsula of Michigan and the northern-most parts of Wisconsin are still the Midwest.  They aren't really out of earshot but they feel so different.  The air seems crisper, gentler, maybe a bit more relaxed.  The heavy pine scent is present everywhere-- and every giftshop seems to capatilize on it by offering candles and oil diffusers and eye masks containing "Northwoods" scent.  In the winter, the air is cool--not unlike ours at home, but it lacks the manufactured undertones that we seem to have.  Instead, there is a purity to the air that can't be compared to back home.

When we are at the cottage, I feel my best.  The air, the lake, the rutted Denton Road (that was recently paved and left me feeling all "old lady-ish" by realizing that times they are a changing...) all make it my happy place.  Things slow down when we are at the cottage and the daily grind seems to vanish like the morning fog rising above the lake.  Nothing is too different, yet everything is not the same.  It's as though a huge 'happiness charm' is cast over our family (sorry, we've been reading a lot of Harry Potter recently) and things just fall into place.  For this reason, we ventured up north for a few days over (a very cold) "spring" break.  Although we just returned from (semi) sunny Arizona, a trip North sounded like good food for the soul.  I packed oodles of yoga pants for me and comfy clothes for the kids.  We threw in some warm winter outerwear and for the first time ever, I didn't obsess about packing totes full of toys to keep the kid occupied, after all, it's the cottage! Our magical, relaxing place where things don't go wrong!  I looked forward to our break and the time it might allow me to play games with the kids, cook some hearty winter meals, and inhale the sweet pine scent outdoors and the sweet smell of raspberry shampoo on freshly bathed heads indoors.  I imagined flannel jammies and cozy fires and endless games of Bingo before settling down for bed.

In doing so, I made a fatal flaw.  I allowed myself to look forward to-- and be excited about our little vacation. Because, if you've read this blog for any amount of time, you remember that my number one strategy to dealing with (life, basically) a family trip is: Set incredibly low expectations.   Usually, this means my internal dialogue sounds something like this: "Someone will probably get sick-- please sweet Jesus don't let it involve throw up in the van.  The kids will be extra whiny. Anna won't nap and will have trouble sleeping at night.  Charlie will be bored without technology.  Mason and I will mostly be annoyed with each other.  This is going to be a long three days."  But as you already know, I had my rose-colored glasses on prior to the trip.

Big mistake.  Big.  Huge.  (Sorry, "Pretty Woman" was on the other day too.  Couldn't resist.)

This is not to say that we didn't have fun-- we had a great time once we adjusted our reality a little.  The kids were thrilled to stay in a hotel in Madison on Friday night.  This broke up our trip and allowed us to avoid pulling into the driveway at 2:00 am.  (Totally something we would do had we not been traveling with a spicy two year old.)

Anna constantly hijacked my phone.  

She also took the hotel phone and immediately stated that it was her puppy.  Although we tried to capture a video, it just didn't happen.  But imagine Anna pulling Puppy all over the hotel room and cuddling with it on the couch. 

Charlie wanted to sleep in the same bed as Anna so badly but she's just not quite there yet.  She thought he was hysterical and kept giggling and bouncing and laughing and slapping, etc. etc. etc.  Daddy put the ka-bosh on that as soon as I gave him the OK.  
On Saturday morning, we drove the remaining four hours to the cottage after eating breakfast and swimming at the hotel.  (I'm pretty sure both kids will tell you that swimming was the highlight of their spring break.) We arrived in the early afternoon, which gave me time to shop at Walk About while the kids and Daddy cozied up the cottage and watched basketball.  Sidenote: Is there anything better than a day fire?  Because I'm having trouble thinking of much...

The weather was much cooler than it has been in the past few years, but we did manage to get outside every day-- even if it was just a few minutes for a quick walk down Denton Road.

Sunday was by far our roughest day.  After a full afternoon in the cottage, Anna was ready for something new.  The hodge-podge of toys from generations ago was not intriguing, the original Chutes and Ladders game and "twirly" Bingo game held zero interest, and we hadn't bought nearly enough snacks to tide her over (in her opinion).  She cried and whined and wandered around the cottage until we declared an emergency outing to Shopko, where we would try to salvage our sanity.

As it turns out, Shopko not only held numerous toys and games that we found ourselves in desperate need of, but ultimately the key to our happiness as well. And while I wasn't quick enough to stop Anna from eating the orange tic-tack she found under the shoe rack, I was quick to find plenty of things to occupy our time for the next two days.  We dumped a few lego sets, new markers, games, movies, and some generic cheese puffs in the cart (oh, and new shoes too), lowered our expectations of this trip, and headed back to the cottage.

After arriving back at the cottage equipped with random toys and fresh attitudes, our remaining days were exactly what we had hoped for.  (Perhaps our expectations were even surpassed as I beat Mason's record on the "Bop-It").

She plead her case to go swimming time and time again, before taking matters into her own hands.  
Now that we're back in our house, suitcases strewn around the house, clothing half-washed/ half- dirty, dried-up markers that sat out for an 8 hour car trip, half-eaten snacks and no groceries in the house, it's easier to reflect on our time away.  Honestly, whatever our adventure, at this exact moment in our lives our truth is that traveling is hard.  Toddlers are such wild cards-- always giving us what we don't expect, which can provide extreme angst and anxiety or the biggest belly laugh we've had in days.  And while it's hard, it's something that we value and know we must continue.  I want our kids to move and explore and discover the joy of 'getting away'.  They need to learn that things aren't always the same as home and adjustments (even our attitudes, Mama) need to be made.  And honestly, the truth is that in giving our kids these mini adventures, we're learning and re-learning these lessons, and writing our own grown-up adventure as well.

Monday, March 6, 2017

There is an Arizona (super pic heavy!)

"Please don't get sick, please don't get sick, please don't get sick..." This was my mantra each and every day upon waking for the past 30 days, maybe more.  The area elementary schools have been battling the flu like children battle for longer iPad time, with classroom attendance falling victim to the rampet virus of 2017.  Normally, I understand that we are just as likely as anyone else to come down with the crud, but this time around we had plane tickets in hand that were burning holes in my pockets, begging to be used, and I was NOT going to let the flu stop us.

So last weekend, when Anna was ignoring food and complaining that her tummy hurt, I was sure that we were kissing our Phoenix trip goodbye and trading the warm southern sun for warm beds and Saltines.  But fortunately, she held on, never getting sick... and we were rewarded with our highly anticipated trip to Arizona!

The trip was a surprise to the kids, as we had told them this was just a trip for the grown ups.  Charlie figured things out quickly when he realized we were taking the stroller and kid backpacks on our trip, and he could hardly contain his excitement (mostly because the ipad was packed and fully juiced up).

And here we are, heading to the wrong gate (which isn't really a big deal in Cedar Rapids) but silly, none the less.

Let me introduce you to Gumdrop, the newest stuffed member of our family.  I purchased her as a travel companion--someone to accompany us on all our future trips and have visions of looking back on our family excursions when I'm 90, fondly remembering this little stuffed animal tucked into backpacks, posing next to monuments, and sitting next to teenagers wading in the ocean.....

Gumdrop checking out the first views of Arizona...

While Mason took care of the rental car, the kids and I waited for luggage.  Charlie took his job extremely seriously-- giving me the thumbs up signal when one of our bags was spotted.

And while the temps were cool by Arizona standards, Charlie shed his jacket the instant we landed, claiming "It's SO hot here!!"

After loading things up, we headed to Kelly's house to let off a little steam and run around.  (Actually, they jumped around in the bounce house while the grown ups drank a beer and relaxed in between owie reports) Kelly cooked for us and then we headed up to Fountain Hills, where we were staying with Lisa for our trip.

In the coming days, we were able to relax and yet pack plenty of little adventures into a short amount of time.  Nearly every morning we greeted the day with a morning swim as local golfers clad in their windbreakers and stocking caps teed off from the Tee box behind the house.   Goosebumps and chattering teeth weren't going to stop two Midwestern kids from a morning dip in a heated pool!

Because Sunday was the only day with a sunny and warm weather forecast we decided to head over to the zoo.  We grabbed a bite to eat and instantly, Anna started complaining of a tummy ache and refused to eat her food (????).  Mason and I, both suckers for a schedule and also both painfully conservative (with regards to adventures) in times of sickness hesitated about our plans.  Do we go ahead with our plans? Do we abandon our plans and head back home?  In the end, we decided to live dangerously and head over to the zoo, taking what comes and hoping that it didn't involve throw up in a rental car.  (I might have been chanting "please stay healthy please stay healthy please stay healthy" as well...)  Anna took the car ride as an opportunity to catch up on sleep so we deviated from the plan just a bit.  Charlie and I hiked around Papago Park while Anna snoozed in the car (don't worry, Mason hung out in there with her).

Charlie and I don't have much one-on-one time these days, so this hike was extra special for me, and something I can't imagine forgetting any time soon.  We chatted and hiked and felt very adventurous as we turned a ten minute hike into a 50 minute activity.  As we were heading down for the last time, we saw a family hiking to the top.  Charlie stopped and said, "Are you guys just coming up?"  They answered that yes, they were on their way to the top. To which Charlie replied, "Oh, it's pretty nice view up there!"

After we wrapped up our adventure, we checked on Mason and Anna and decided to forgo the zoo, hoping that the weather would cooperate well enough the following day for us to enjoy it with Kelly and Jay.  Then, we headed back to Fountain Hills to take a peek at the big fountain, which claims to shoot water 300 feet into the air.  As we arrived at the appropriately named Fountain Park, we noticed road closures and plenty of extra people milling about.  We wondered if there was a race of some kind but were pleasantly surprised to realize that a large art fair was taking place, complete with live music and plenty of food and beverage vendors.

Although the weather was perfect, Mason and I felt a toddler meltdown rising to the surface.  We took the cue and headed back 'home' for a a little downtime before heading out to dinner with Lisa. 

The next morning, we greeted the day with more morning swimming before gathering up our things and heading to the zoo.

And a little morning yoga...

As I was tidying up a few things, I overheard Charlie in the closet with Anna, "Here you go, Anna! Want some help with your swimming suit?  Here you go, right here, now put your foot in here..." These are the memories they will likely forget and the ones that I'll never get out of my mind.

The zoo is across the street from Papago Park, so we hiked to the top to get a picture we will consider using for our 2017 Christmas cards....

Anna was attached to her dad the entire time.... and never once did I hear him complain about it.

The cooler temperatures and overcast sky (not to mention the fact that it was a weekday morning) made for a great day at the zoo, definitely keeping the crowds at bay.  The bonus?  We were able to meet Kelly and Jay, who served as local tour guides and Kelly and I had a tiny opportunity to catch up in between animal sightings.

Anyone notice what the bears are doing?  We weren't sure which was more entertaining: the compromising position the bears had found themselves in or the many hilarious comments coming from the parents of excited young onlookers.

Oh, and we shelled out ten bucks to ride around on a camel named Dale.

My favorite part?  The fact that Charlie can read well enough to teach us the little bits of information near every exhibit.  He was especially interested in learning about these Golden Eagles, and pleased to find out that the zoo has rescued this pair, whose wings are injured and will never allow them to fly again.

I valiantly tried to capture a photo of the kids by one animal exhibit, but by this time Anna was not interested in anything other than being carried around on her daddy's shoulders.

And two minutes into the car ride back....

The next morning, were awakened on Charlie's birthday to the sound of gentle rain hitting the large floor to ceiling windows on Tuesday morning, and while we loved a little down time (aka: ipad time), we kept our fingers crossed that the skies would clear in time for the Cubs game at 1:00.

After a minor anxiety attack over the fact that we left our baseball tickets back in Iowa (who has printed tickets anymore?), Mason made everything alright by magically finding the tickets on his phone.  We ignored the light rain and headed over to Sloan Stadium, home away from home for our beloved Cubbies.  We also ignored the dark, ominous clouds and heavy winds heading directly for the stadium. 

But, the storm front passed and the sun came out-- giving us a great day at the ballpark (surrounded by plenty of retirees doing the same thing).

And the highlight of the day?  Charlie received a bat from Ben Rivera of the Angels!  While Anna and I were just returning from (another) walk around the stadium, Charlie was being handed a 'real life' bat from the Angels centerfielder.  Apparently, he walked up to the railing, got Charlie's attention, and asked him if he wanted a bat.  And that my friends, is how Charlie became an Angels fan for life.

We might put this one on our Christmas card too...

After leaving the stadium, we met Kelly & the boys for pizza and games and a little birthday celebration (only a little late after taking a wrong turn due to the fact that both of our phones were dead and apparently we don't know how to deal with life without our phones and google maps).  And can I just add here that I need to write a post about how much I love the fact that our boys are growing up with each other in their lives, despite the fact that they live a million miles apart.  

Then someone (of course, it was me) had the great idea to get a group photo and this is what it looked like for ten minutes...

And this is the best one we got-- which is my favorite too.

Our early morning flight out the next day meant getting to bed at a decent time (whatever that means when you're on vacation) but not before we celebrated Charlie's birthday (and Lisa's too!) with cake and ice cream.

And the next morning, we were blessed with a flight delay-- which meant we had time to give plenty of hugs and kisses to sweet Lisa, who made this whole amazing stay possible.  (And did I mention that Anna has not stopped talking about "my Weesa" since we returned?  Total love affair with that one...)

Our flight home was uneventful and gave me time to reflect on our trip.  It was busy and a lot more work than had it really been a grown-ups trip.  It involved car seats and kids menus and missed naps and mini-tantrums.  But it was also a little adventure, a deviation from the norm and something that our kids will remember (albeit in that foggy, hard to recall way) for years to come.  And while traveling with kids is a total hassle, it's something that is important to me and something I want my children to experience at all phases of their lives.  Plus, there is nothing cuter than a toddler snoozing away a plane ride....

As we drove back to Grundy, I glanced out the window and saw this sky.  Maybe I was feeling sappy and sentimental or maybe I was just exhausted, but as I looked at that sky, it reminded me of the beauty that always surrounds us.  It's wonderful to get away, to travel, to see different sights and sounds and environments. It's great to see different plants and trees and landscapes and to be around people who consider 40° winter coat weather, but it's great to come back home to this slower pace, traffic-free, overcast place we call home.  

Oh, and we stayed healthy until Friday night... when finally, we too, fell victim to the giant flu bug of 2017.

Video recap: