Monday, January 16, 2017

A Sudden Farewell

On our second day skiing, when it was -5 degrees out and dumping snow, I took a morning break in the Summit House at the top of the second peak. I thawed my hands and checked my phone - already down to 12% power because the cold temps were draining my battery now matter how many layers deep I buried my phone. I had an email from my dad, the title: MB in Hospital ICU.

MB is my mom's sister. My aunt and godmother. Her name is really Mary Beth; my dad has always - fairly exclusively - called her MB. She was 19 months younger than my mother. Child #2 of 4 in their family. Married for 23 years; mother of two, my only male cousins on my mom's side, currently in high school and college. She had been sick, in and out of hospital and care facilities for more than two months. Though we did not know it at the time, she had cirrhosis of the liver. My aunt was an alcoholic.

My dad noted that my grandparents were on their way from San Antonio to Houston and he was ready to drive my mom as soon as she could leave school. I wrote a quick response, asking to be kept updated, and went on skiing, pulling my phone out on every lift I could to check for updates. I didn't know what that meant. She'd just gone back home again from the hospital right before Christmas. What could have them heading to the ICU in an ambulance so suddenly on a Thursday morning?

My phone died after lunch, so I took a break at 2, tromping out to the parking lot in my ski boots to turn on the car and charge it up enough to check my messages. I had one from my mom- brief and heartbreaking: all Mary Beth's organs were failing, but they would keep her on life support until everyone could arrive to say goodbye. Most were already there and my uncle was on his way from Atlanta. I was shocked. Sitting in a car alone, half-buried in a snow drift, I called my mom to hear her cry for maybe the 10th time in my entire life. I said I was sorry, so sorry. Asked some inane questions, inquired about my grandparents, and let her go. Called my sister, did the same, taking turns asking questions neither of us could answer. I tromped back to the village to meet up with James before getting the kids from ski school. I didn't know what to do. "How do you feel?" James asked, when I told him. "I have no idea." I responded.

I've never had a death in the family. All four of my grandparents are alive and healthy. I think maybe it always feels a little bizarre, that someone can be here one day and not the next. My distance from the event made it even more surreal. Gathered around the table with James and the kids in Colorado, eating a cozy meal of Mexican Rice after a hard day of skiing, trying to chat with them about their days, my eyes riveted on my phone waiting for the news. I thought about the first time I ever had our family-favorite Mexican Rice dinner. My siblings and I were staying the weekend at my aunt's town home in Houston. She wasn't married- she married later in life and thus spent a lot of time as a doting aunt to the three of us, babysitting us frequently and bringing us special gifts. We loved her new town home- an apartment with stairs!!- and her complex had a very cool pool with a bridge over it. She made us this delicious Mexican dinner, with all the toppings, because she knew it was simple and tasty and we'd love it. And here I was, serving it to my three, because it's simple and tasty and we always love it. I started crying into my bowl. I got the text - "She's gone."

I told the kids. They knew her, but not very well; we hadn't spent as much time together in more recent years. I was shamefully thankful for that bit of emotional distance as they hammered questions at me in their curious way as we lay all together in Cora's big trundle bed. They spent a while trying to figure out the family tree; the fact that I have an Uncle Erik and they have an Uncle Eric and I have an Uncle Carl and a cousin Carl and they call my grandparents "grandma and grandpa" when really they are Gigi's (and thus Mary Beth's) parents all made for quite a bit of confusion. They were shocked she could have kids in school and still die. We talked about the disease of alcoholism. We talked about crying, since I was doing so off and on throughout, and about being sad and how it can make you feel funny inside to see other people so sad and that's okay- it's okay that they're sad, and it's okay if you're not. We talked about funerals and burials and I answered 55 questions from my resident biologist about what happens to bodies after death. I wikipedia'd things I've never wikipedia'd before. We talked about all of these things that night and for most of our car ride home. It was exhausting and therapeutic and still completely unreal. Like I was talking a hypothetical.

I spoke with my mom on our drive away from the mountains the next day. She told me the story of the night before. That everyone was able to be in the room as she passed- all her siblings and spouses, her husband and sons, her parents, my brother and one of my cousins. Every single person who lives in Texas and two who flew in from Georgia. She understood what was happening and though she couldn't speak for the breathing tube, she was able to say goodbye. They sang her favorite songs, recited her favorite Bible verses. At the end, my grandmother was able to say "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" to her daughter as she passed. Constantly fearful of losing my signal, I tried to make some noise in acknowledgment of her words even as we were both crying and unable to talk. It was beautiful, my mom said. We all got to say goodbye, to tell her over and over how much she meant to us, to put her in the center and love her every minute of her last hours. I'm so glad for them. For her, for my uncle and cousins to have had that around them.

We pressed on with the trip, unsure of what else to do. I didn't want to say anything publicly, feeling like it was so much less my loss than my cousins' or mom's or grandparents'. It still felt surreal. Seeing her obituary pop up on my computer was a cold, sudden shock.

The funeral was Saturday. Having just unpacked from skiing, we packed for entirely different weather and left our house very early Saturday morning to drive directly to the Houston church. We all wore blue and yellow in honor of her favorite colors and beloved Swedish heritage and flag. I wore the beautiful pearl choker and earrings set she'd bought for me in Spain many years ago. Always one for occasion and tradition, she'd shown me the necklace when I was young - maybe 8 - and had told me she was saving it for me when I turned 18. And sure enough, she gifted it to me my senior year of high school. I wore them to my first job interview and on my wedding day and innumerable times since. The pearl drops she gave me when I graduated college. I was so glad to wear something of my godmother on Saturday, and glad I could tell my uncle the story, surprised he hadn't heard it, and glad again that he could smile and cry over something so very her. He'll know now that I think of her every time I wear them.

The service was beautiful and very personal. She was extremely involved in their church and it showed in the way the pastor spoke of her and the way the service was written. I read a Bible verse, along with my grandfather and cousin. She was a former English teacher and her sons read passages from literature. My uncle, her brother, read her biography and my mom read a story she wrote of the night she passed. It was beautifully done and I can't believe she got through it. The kids were very well behaved, even as the service went past the hour mark. We'd told them they could ask us any questions at any time, as long as they were discreet and quiet, but they couldn't ask anyone else. They're close to my mom and Grandma and I could only imagine what they might find appropriate to question right then. The church was completely full. I saw very personally what I have always read to be true- when someone you know dies, you go to the funeral. You show up. Just be there, hold space, fill the pew. I cannot tell you how much it meant to see so many people present, even if I had no idea who 90% of them were, and that feeling is amplified by 1,000 when I think of my bereaved uncle and cousins, of my grandparents and what it meant to them. Of my mom's face when she saw friends of hers she'd had no idea were coming. You show up. It doesn't matter if you weren't close, it matters so much that you are there. My aunt's high school boyfriend sent flowers. It gave everyone a smile to see the card, to know she was thought of after so many years, to be able to share stories of when she was so young and vibrant. A different Mary Beth than some of us knew.

There was a reception at the church after the service and we got to see many old family friends I hadn't seen in a long time. We went to dinner as a family- just the aunts, uncles, cousins, and my grandparents. My sister was there with baby Sky; it was wonderful to see them again even after only 6 days apart. A funeral isn't a good reason, but it is good to be with so much family, particularly as we are now increasingly far flung, with cousins of mine flying in from LA, Atlanta, and Boston to attend. That night, we finally headed to my parents' new house- a rather impromptu first visit. It is incredibly beautiful, and while maybe not home yet, it's lovely and warm and filled with them. All the rest of my family came too, to gather again, loathe, I think, to separate, even as we were tired and drained. I worried so much for my grandparents. My aunt was extremely close to them, calling them twice a day, every day. And I can't imagine watching your own child pass, and enduring their loss when they're gone. But they are strong. Hurting, but so strong in their family and their faith. It was good to see them surrounded by all of us and to know they felt the love for Mary Beth and for them.

We left yesterday afternoon after another family gathering at my parent's house for lunch. We drove home in a torrential downpour, with tornadoes touching down 20 miles away and lightning illuminating the whole sky. We had to pull over a few times because visibility was nil, but the kids weren't bothered and we eventually made it home okay, though James- who does all the driving- is pretty done with road tripping for a while. I'm so glad we were able to be there, that we all were. I still find it so impossible I've lost an aunt. My godmother. My mom's sister and my grandparents' daughter. I'm so sad for her, for my uncle, for my cousins. I'm thankful for the memories I have with her, particularly when I was young. The ones Eric can barely recall, but I remember so clearly- she was such a big part of our lives in those years and gave so much of herself to us. She introduced me to the books Heidi and The Secret Garden (both of which I loved); the movies The Princess Bride and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (both of which terrified me); and told me that animals can talk to you at midnight on Christmas Eve, something I was skeptical of but desperately wanted to believe (not that I ever made it to midnight to check). I'm thankful for the pearls she gave me, that I have something so tangible to remember her by. I'm deeply grateful for family and friends for their support of my grandparents, Mary Beth's family, my parents, and my other aunts and uncles. I think they have felt very held up right now; it has made me realize how much more I can do to support those in my own circle.

We made sure to leave before the kickoff for the Packers game yesterday (or tried to, we were like 5 minutes behind). My aunt was a huge Packer fan (and shareholder), as are my grandparents and cousins, and they take their watching very seriously. As I googled updates on my phone on our endless drive home- perhaps the first time I have ever googled a football game result, I smiled to see the game be so close- I could only imagine the tension at my parents' house- and then got a huge grin to see the Packers win it all at the very end. I'm quite certain my aunt was cheering them on from above, smiling to see her husband and sons on a couch surrounded by her parents, my mom, dad, and brother, her brother and his wife and daughter, all cheering together, all thinking of her.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Kamut Berries, Brussels Sprouts, and Other Culinary Adventures

First of all, did you know what I formerly knew as "brussel sprouts" are actually the always-plural "Brussels Sprout?" I did not! Google just told me. I declared google to be false, checked all the recipes I read on our drive to and from Colorado that involved this sprout and discovered, to my genuine shock, that it read "Brussels sprouts" in every one of them. I have been wrong my whole life. So wrong that I deliberately read them wrong over and over again. This is like when I discovered reindeer are real animals while talking to the reindeer handler at the Dallas Arboretum two Christmases ago. I kept trying to get him to tell me what the reindeer really was. Like, dude, I'm in on the secret. I know Santa isn't real and I'm just trying to figure out what kind of animal you have behind you wearing all those bells. "It's a reindeer ma'am." We did that about four times. He probably knew it was Brussels sprouts too.

But what IS it?"

In another moment of breathtaking genius, I decided to make three brand new recipes from scratch for dinner Monday night. I did something wrong to all of them, resulting in three totally mediocre components to a meal that took me three hours and a near paycheck's worth of organic ingredients to make. My big moment of redemption was supposed to come on Tuesday when I revealed the amazing chicken broth I was going to brew overnight in the crockpot with my whole roasted organic chicken carcass, big chunks of onion, carrot, and celery, fresh herbs, and lots of water. But when I came out Tuesday morning to smile beatifically over my concoction I found it cold and congealy because I never plugged the freaking crockpot in. So into the trash everything went, along with my tears, and what might as well have just been the money I could have spent on the new pair of snow boots I wanted.

But I remain undaunted in my New Year's Quest. I am cooking new things and they are going to be amazing! Or some of them will. It's going to be an adventure.

new books!

My cooking and our eating have been a long evolution. We've eaten dinner as a family every night since Landon turned 1, but my approach cooking has changed drastically over the years. In Chicago, recipe blogs weren't a thing yet, so my newly married self stumbled through some simple childhood favorites, casseroles full of cream-of-whatever soups, and a lot of frozen stuff from Trader Joe's. We didn't have any money and we never ever threw away a single thing without at least trying to make something edible with it. I remember making a bean stew that cost about $5 with all our leftover canned goods and eating it for 5 days straight. I had never heard of quinoa, but we were vegetarians much of the time because chicken was the most expensive thing I bought at the grocery store and I generally avoided it. Food was about enjoyment when we treated ourselves to a meal out and survival at home. I didn't put a lot of thought in to it.

In Austin it was all about what was fast. We didn't get home from work until 6:30, with 1-2 hungry kids in tow, so whoever got there first started cooking. We ate a ton of pasta, anything we could make in advance over the weekend, and once I got over the cost, we got a lot of prepared meals from local delivery services. I had now heard of quinoa, but I pronounced it wrong and didn't really know what it was. I didn't exercise, ever, though James still swam daily. I was getting more adventurous about recipes and starting to really enjoy the process of chopping and cooking, but only on the weekends when I had time.

And then we came to Fort Worth and I found myself in a job that let me be home with the kids by 5:30. Suddenly, as food shows and recipe blogs were everywhere, I had time to (try to!) cook whatever I wanted. So we started to get more creative. I didn't eat meat for most of college, and James has a terrifying family history of heart disease (no man has made it to 50 without a heart attack, and no man has made it to 70 ever; both his paternal grandparents died of heart attacks before he was born), so he's always been eager for heart healthy vegetarian meals mixed in with meatier dishes. I finally tackled quinoa and it's a staple ingredient in two of our family's favorite meals (Southwestern BBQ Quinoa Salad and Greek Quinoa Salad). The kids are older and don't need anything hands-on in the evening; we lost a wall of our kitchen so I can see them and chat with them while I cook and simmer. Cooking has truly become a fun hobby and enjoyable task. I know someday they'll have more activities and my precious evening time will get scattered, so I'm trying to savor it now. James coaches every night and gets home about 7, so I have everything ready to go and we sit down to eat the minute he steps in the door. He does all the breakfasts and packs lunches, two chores I strongly dislike, so it balances out perfectly.

But now I'm trying to branch out some more. I still need recipes. I'm not a good chef- I'm not a chef at all- but I'm an excellent follower of directions. Because of this, I rely more on one pot meals than I really want to. I love them, but I wouldn't mind a few nights of a protein + seasoning or sauce with veggies and grains on the side. But I don't know how to cook a protein just on it's own, so I rarely go that route. This is one of my goals in 2017. Conquer the chicken. Be the beef. Slay the salmon. Pump up the pork (if we ate it, which we don't).

Quell the Quinoa!

(Pictured because I FINALLY found a pre-rinsed quinoa available in large quantity for a reasonable price - Costco, of course.)

My other goal is to find more recipes with fuel-rich, energy-giving ingredients that are "light" in that they are not rich or heavy, but that aren't also too light in calories. No one is trying to lose weight; in fact James is constantly eating to keep it on, and I'm now a bona fide worker-outer, so I struggle to find recipes that are the kind of "light" we're looking for- more of a personal preference in whole food preparation than any kind of dieting plan.

On shu's recommendation, I bought "Run Fast, Eat Slow" which I greatly enjoyed and was the source of my three mediocre meal extravaganza on Monday (totally not the book's fault). Tonight I made their Kale Radicchio Salad with Farro and Lemon Miso Dressing and it was AMAZING. James devoured it and then ate all the leftovers I'd stored in the fridge. The farro was such a delicious addition to the salad- chewy and hearty while providing the extra much-needed calories to an otherwise pretty light and definitely very healthy salad. I'd never thought to add a grain like that to a salad before, and that's exactly the kind of recipe I'm searching for now. If anyone else has that book has any favorite recipes, let me know what I should make next.

In a separate "new year" type venture, we're on a credit card crash diet for the month (2 vacations + Christmas in 6 weeks was a bit much, even if they were all carefully planned, saved for, and within budget; my credit card is just tired and wants to be left alone), so I've planned all our meals for the whole next month (NO restaurants, except a date night here and there, because marriage is important. and also sushi) and unsubscribed from all store emails. There will be emergencies, but there will be no discretionary spending. James never buys anything or cares that I buy everything, so he doesn't even know we're on a diet, but I am COMMITTED. Today was Day 1 of the new credit card cycle. It ends February 10th, conveniently before Valentine's Day and my birthday, because let's not be ridiculous.

never ridiculous

This week's menu:

Monday: Whole roasted chicken, Zucchini quinotto (like risotto, but with quinoa and a bunch of grated zucchini; I love the idea, but didn't find this one to have enough flavor; this could have been my fault and I want to try again, but with more stuff added in), Roasted BRUSSELS sprouts, Costco's seeded wheat bread. All from Eat Fast, Run Slow; all will be made again, just in a more informed manner than I made them the first time.

Tuesday: Whole wheat pasta (another change going forward!) and Bolognese sauce. The sauce was really good (I omitted the bacon step and the ground pork, using 1.3 lbs. of organic ground beef from those magical Costco packages I always have in the freezer), one of the best bolognese's I've found so far, but I did not read the part that said simmer 2-4 hours in advance so we simmered for 30 mins. It was still awesome and I look forward to finding out what 4 hours will do.

Wednesday: BBQ quinoa salad! A family classic, this time with leftover chicken from Monday's roasted chicken, chopped and tossed in a little bbq sauce.

Thursday: Grilled tuna steak, Kale Radicchio Salad with Farro (and an amazing Lemon Miso Dressing that had me searching "what is white miso paste" on google; for the salad I used a bagged blend of shaved kale, radicchio, brussels sprouts, and broccoli from Trader Joe's because it was easy, and I subbed out the walnuts for toasted cashews because I hate walnuts and love cashews), whole grain bread.

Friday: leftover pasta bolognese

If you have any favorite recipes, books, or blogs in the "healthy and hearty but not heavy" long-worded-vein of what I'm looking for above (or something I don't even know I'm looking for!), let me know! It's a year of new things. Brussels sprouts yesterday, farro today, Kamut berries in our breakfast tomorrow. Who knows what madness next week will bring.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Snow, Sky, and Home

We got home late last night after a full day of driving. Eight days gone, seven nights in three different cities, a lot of packing and unpacking and a whole lot of fun. We only stopped twice on our drive home from Denver. We meant to stop for dinner, but the kids never asked and once you pass Wichita Falls there's basically nothing until Fort Worth so we just pushed for home. Within minutes of pulling in the driveway I was hip deep in unpacking and the kids were eating the finest organic spaghettio's our pantry could provide. Everyone was thrilled to be in their own beds last night, though we were sad to leave our baby (cousin/niece) Skyla behind.

She was SHOWERED in affection from her big cousins.

And was bemused and incredibly tolerant of all the fuss.

The guided tours of her own toys.

The fact that four people needed to feed her one bottle. (Seriously, we all took turns. I got to go first.)

That a strange lady had to snuggle her before bed and hold her at every opportunity.

I've mostly healed but my heart still aches sometimes when I think about the 4th baby we couldn't have. Before she was born, I wondered if seeing Sky would help or hurt. It does neither, it just feels good to be her aunt.

And it feels extra good to watch my kids get to be cousins.

They LOVE babies. This was the highlight of Cora's whole trip.

Also, and this is big news, Cora LOVES snow.

At least once it stops hitting her in the face.

We woke up on our first morning in Denver to fluffy snow that was on the ground instead of in the air, so we took our hyperactive children who'd been in a car or house all day the day before (it had been 0 degrees; even in ski clothes, the shopping and hiking we'd planned to do in our fave mountain towns just wasn't possible for long) to a nearby park.

It was a toasty 15 degrees, so I got to bring my real camera along and get some pictures.

Because everyone looks good in bright white snow.

James and I were done long before the kids (frozen feet; frozen hands; frozen everything), but I loved seeing them play the way I hoped they'd get to play when we'd decided on a winter Colorado trip.

And now that we have Cora on board, Colorado remains a favorite of the Lag Liv family, though it is awfully good to be home.

Even if I crafted an overly ambitious meal after reading 4 cookbooks during our car ride and thought it would be a good idea to make 3 totally new dishes from scratch: roasted chicken, roasted Brussels sprouts, and zucchini quinotto . I cooked for 2.5 hours, spending too many dollars on organic ingredients and it all turned out too mediocre for the effort, but my drive for new meals from good ingredients has not waned. I'm just glad I'm making things I already know and like for the next two days. A blog post on food is coming next!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Skis Up!

Here I sit, fleeced out once again after an invigorating and freezing day of skiing. Today's high temp was 15 degrees, with a low of -7, and it snowed another million inches (or 14). It has actually never stopped snowing for a single second since we walked out onto the mountain on Tuesday morning. Apparently Colorado really needed it, but I'm not sure we needed quite so much all at once. Thank god for four wheel drive, Cora's spot in childcare, and the fact that the rest of us really like skiing.

I love tiny skis, though Landon's are a lot less tiny than they used to be. Both he and Claire had great days in ski school, each skiing precisely to their personalities. Landon, enthusiastic and driven, skipping ahead several levels by the end of Day 1 and dying to get out and ski on the "really big slopes." Claire, equally enthusiastic, happily motoring down her bunny hill, refusing to be graduated to Level 2 where she might be in any way challenged.

And Cora. Cora loved childcare, her teacher said she had a great day and is "just a joy." It was noted on her daily report that she cried during their "outside play time" which involved a walk through the snowy woods. Consistent with her feelings about snow forts and tubing, Cora used tears as an escape vehicle, this time crying for "mommy and daddy," making her sweet teacher think she was homesick instead of just manipulative and snow-hating.

James and I had a great day. I remembered how to ski, which is always a relief after a 3-year break and we went down some lovely and powder-covered blue runs to head to the Outback mountain. James loves the back bowls like he loves the Manitou Incline and I tolerate them with the same fervor. I popped off my skis at the top and gave them to James to carry as we hiked to the summit and start of the South Bowl run. I had promised to do it once, and I've done it lots of times before, but my enthusiasm waned with every step into powder and up the edge.

James's grew.

We finally got to the bowl and I went to put on my skis, only to have them immediately sink about 9 inches into the fluffy powder. I looked at the bowl, looked at the trees and rocks and SO MUCH DEEP SNOW and decided, this no longer looks fun.

And so I said goodbye to my sexy snowboarder, told him to be as careful as he's capable of being, and began the long sloooooow walk of shame through the deep snow, carrying my skis back UP the bowl and then down to the lift. It took me 30 minutes and it was terrible. Why in the hell does anyone want to climb Everest? But at no point did I wish I had skied down the bowl, so I was okay with my gasping breaths and burning legs. We'll call it my New Year's workout. At high altitude, even.

And James did make it down, and then he did the bowl 5 more times because, as discussed, he is a crazy person.

But he's my crazy person.

We met up occasionally at the lift, with me coming down the blues and him coming down from another black bowl. We ate lunch together and then ran into our friends and neighbors who were also here skiing with their kids. We live about 8 houses away and our kids are in the same classes at school and now they're in the same class at ski school - it's a small world. Our run-in gave me a buddy to ski down the blues, James got to continue his back-bowling without feeling like I was lonely (I was not), and our other friend got to ski the greens as he preferred. Everyone was happy!

me and my friend Kim, or really, anyone

After a few more hours of being pelted in the face with freezing snow, I decided to call it a day at 2:30, maybe my earliest ever, but damn. The snow beating was starting to feel personal and I discovered there were ice blocks forming in my hair.

I fixed this with a hot toddy, which is a magical combination of whiskey, hot water, lemon, and honey, and it is delicious after a snow-slapping. James called it a day not too much later (clearly we're getting old) and we got the kids from ski school and childcare and headed home. Claire and Cora fell asleep before we left the parking lot which is maybe the best part of a family ski trip - total happy exhaustion.

Today was much the same, except even colder, and even snowier. I know everyone loves fresh powder, but simple turns were becoming feats of strength and power. The Outback Bowls were closed (sad?), so James stuck with me and humored me with blue runs all day. He loves me so.

It was so, so cold (SO COLD), but the snow was great and we got a lot of great runs in. The big kids had another great day, with Landon jumping to Level 5 and Claire even allowing herself to do her turns properly so she could go up to Level 2. Cora had another fabulous day in childcare, made more fabulous with the temperatures being too cold for "outside play." Her teacher noted that "Cora didn't miss mommy and daddy today!" What a coincidence.

Landon surprised us by wanting to go down another run with James after ski school was over (the look on James's cold tired face said maybe it was an unpleasant surprise), so they headed back up the mountain for a final run of the vacation while the girls and I headed to the village Starbucks to drink hot beverages and pretend we weren't still wearing ski boots. The boys made it back to the bottom 40 minutes later without any tears or falls and James said Landon did awesome. They both looked as pleased and proud as they did frozen. I suppose we'll be letting him ski with us on our next trip!

We trudged to the car, the girls immediately fell asleep, and we dropped off our rented equipment-- another successful family ski trip under our belts.

I love skiing, but next time around we may push it back to Spring Break. I've only just now regained feeling in my toes.

We head to Denver tomorrow, assuming the snow stops like it's supposed to and the roads can be cleared, to see my sister, brother-in-law, and baby niece. Cora is SO excited to see "her" baby Skyla, so she'll finally have something going for her on this trip besides wrapping her daycare teacher around her little finger and looking amazing in her superfluous snow suit.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Snowed Up and Fleeced Out

Is there anything better than putting on fleece pants, fleece socks, and a fleece top, and pouring a big glass of red wine after being in ski clothes tromping around in a snow storm on top of a mountain? There is not. Unless you're on your second glass of red wine and all your kids are sleeping. Then that's even just a little bit better.

~ ~ ~

I wrote that yesterday after our day of tubing where we spent a whole 2.5 hours in the snow. Today was colder and WAY SNOWIER and we were skiing in the snow for 8 hours and the fleece and the wine feels EVEN BETTER. But we'll get to the skiing in the next post, now we're finishing what I was too tired and fleeced out to write about last night -- the first 3 days of our trip!

Day 1: So our trip began bright and early on New Year's Day. Cora was super excited about the trip- she had packed days earlier and every time it was time to go anywhere she'd grab her "packpack" and say "we goin on our trip now?!", so she eagerly got dressed, donned her ear muffs, put on her packpack, and flatly rejected the snow boots I had left out for her for her sparkly heeled Rapunzel shoes. She would book no argument on this. This portended things to come.

The drive went really well. It's only 10.5 hours to Colorado Springs, so we stopped twice, ate our bagels, fruit, and PBJs, and arrived in time for dinner at a downtown brewery by 6. The kids were great and we rolled into our $85 hotel room (we're big fans of The Academy Hotel; indoor pool and a fabulous free breakfast) in time to wish I'd remembered to pack the kids' swim suits.

The next morning it was all about the Manitou Incline. James loves the Manitou, it is seriously on his top five favorite things ever. I am generally less enthused about 2,744 steps straight into the air, but we all have our quirks. After a hearty (free!) breakfast we found ourselves in charming Manitou Springs, a town I didn't remember at all from our last encounter with the stairway to heaven. I wished I had more time and dollars and fewer children so I could poke around in all the shops, but to the base of the Incline we went directly instead.

And the children were off. It was in the 30's, but sunny, so we expected it to be a nice climb. It broke James's heart to leave the hiking backpack behind on our first road trip in 6 years, but Cora is too big and he has to let it go. (Not physically- he refuses because of "the memories," but at least he lets it live in the garage), but he got to carry her for a bit anyway. As Claire said, "See Mommy! Daddy is happy because he's carrying a baby again!"

And it was true. Then the boys abandoned us to begin their ascent in earnest. The girls and I goofed off. Cora didn't like it because she took her hiking very seriously. Montessori speaks to her soul and right now her work was hiking.

Then we hit the shade. And the ice. Soooo much ice. After carrying Cora for far too long I realized it was already going to be hard enough to go down, so we needed to turn back now before my arm gave out (I have no hips; I'm carrying her full 38 lbs. on my right arm because my left arm is useless). Cora was displeased and crying "no, I want to go UP! UP!" as I took this picture.

See that ice behind us. Yeah. Teeny tiny sideways shuffle steps for hundreds of stairs. Meanwhile, James and Landon made it to the top!

And the girls and I (f-ing finally) made it down! Then, after an exciting girls' trip to take Cora to a port-a-potty at the base of the trail where she refused to let me assist her in dressing and undressing and made ALL KINDS of unnecessary and un-recommended contact with the pee-covered floor, the boys made it down too!

James owed me all the beers, so we went to our favorite Colorado Springs Brewery on our way out of town. It's an old school (built in 1916!) that was converted into a brewery, bakery, and restaurant a few years ago. We love it.

After a beautiful, 2-hour drive into the mountains, during which we both tried to figure out why we don't live here (seriously why don't we? there's even an SEC office in Denver), we checked into our rented condo and headed to the grocery store. It was as packed and miserable as always, but we made it home in time to make my chicken barley chili and go to bed early. Tuesday was our family play day. We headed to Keystone nice and early with plans to ride the gondola up to play in the snow fort and enjoy an hour on the tubing hill, which was a favorite memory of ours from Skication 2014.

Unfortunately, this time the weather was a little different. Less bright blue skies and more dumping snow. Cora, who was signed up for ski school for the next two days, and had been SO excited to go skiing and be in snow "just like Anna and Elsa!" was NOT a fan.

Claire was reunited with her "magic bubble" - her FAVORITE thing from our last ski trip and the first thing she mentioned when we told the kids we were going again.

Cora continued to be unimpressed with the whole situation.

Once at the snow fort, we tried to tempt her with the slides. It did not work.

Turns out, Cora does not like snow when it is shaped into forts where Anna and Elsa don't live.

The big kids loved it though.

Including the biggest one.

When Cora decided to cry until we removed her from the snow, we took her to the tubing yurt early. Turns out life is way better when the snow is outside and you and two granola bars are inside.

Then it was time to tube! There was SO MUCH SNOW.

We'd planned for Cora to hang out with us at the top, chilling in her mini tube, occasionally going down the kiddie hill while James and I took turns riding down the big hill with Landon and Claire.

But fuck no said Cora, so she was soon ensconced back in the warming yurt, stripped of all snow-related outerwear, sitting happily on the bench in her thermal underlayer and socks, eating a full sized Snickers bar because why not. James and I took turns hanging out with her and tubing and made plans to pull her from ski school immediately upon reaching the village at the base of the mountain.

As an adult, I've learned that sledding isn't always as fun as I remembered as a child. It's bumpy and my bones don't like it. But tubing? Tubing is like gliding over air - just really fast, and preferably while spinning. And then you get to take a space age magic carpet ride back up!

And our magic bubble ride down, which Cora enjoyed more than the ride up because she knew it meant we were closer to returning her to the indoors where she can wear princess shoes as she was meant to do, we got her ski school refunded and raced over to childcare to put Cora in the LAST spot for "preschool play" for the next two days. We've had unequivocally amazing experiences with ski school and I think if she'd just started there on Tuesday she would have been fine, but the weather was only supposed to get worse (so much more snow being dumped down with extreme prejudice from the skies) and colder so why push it? We want her to like skiing, and we save $200 by letting her play indoors where she can paint and work and play princesses to her heart's content.

She fell asleep 1 mile into our 6 mile drive home. Hating the snow really wore her out.

We'll get her on board with snow eventually, I'm sure. It's like cake, she just needs some time. We're still just delighted to be here- all together, in one of our favorite places in the world.

And if she could wear a tutu on the slopes, I think we'd get here there that much faster.