Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Robber's Cave State Park: Basically Perfect

Our trip to Jamaica consisted of five of the most magical days of my life- sometimes as I go about my day in Fort Worth I have trouble even believing they happened, and they were worth every penny to celebrate our 10th anniversary with each other and with the kids, but for good old fashioned Lag Liv family entertainment, nothing beats a few days at a state park. And this week, it was Robber's Cave State Park in Wilburton, Oklahoma.

of course

You might be like me and have no reason to think you'd ever want to vacation in Oklahoma. I've driven through the state many times on our way to Wisconsin or Colorado and my blurry memories were of a flat, dull place with the occasional gas station. But no, the northeast corner is lovely! You're basically in Arkansas, so it's Ozark-like hills, trees, lakes, and streams. I subscribe to the state park newsletters of Texas and all its bordering states and a few months ago Oklahoma's featured a picture of a family on top of a giant flat rock in this park I'd never heard of that involved the word "cave" and I was like bam, we're going there this fall. What do we love more than climbing on giant rocks and exploring caves?!


Claire, without pausing: Well a big bear PROBABLY lives here

I knew we were planning to stay in Fort Worth for Thanksgiving this year, so I made a reservation for a 2-bedroom cabin on their website (way easier to use than Texas's, I must say) for the first part of week and we were all set. We're planning to hike our way through 4 National Parks in Utah over Spring Break, so we needed to get our kids back in hiking shape! Our last real hiking trip was Palo Duro Canyon in August 2014 and I was concerned Claire might forget her legs can work for extended periods or that Cora would refuse the hiking backpack.

(She did in fact temporarily refuse the hiking backpack. You might not be able to tell, but she's sobbing in that picture. Luckily she came around and I was able to capture her expression of pure JOY every time James threw her up onto his back once she realized it was awesome.)

We packed up Monday morning and headed northeasterly for four hours to an Oklahoma town so tiny I didn't get cell service and my weather app refused to acknowledge it. There was a single stoplight and the nearest Starbucks was 65 miles away. We found the cabin office and checked in.

The kids were thrilled with their new temporary home, and even as a more discerning adult I'd highly recommend it. Two big bedrooms with queen beds, a nice living area, kitchen (stocked with pots, pans, dishes, utensils, towels, linens, and a few basics like soap and sponges, plus full size appliances), and huge wrap-around deck. This is how we camp. It's cheating, but it's all the feeling of nature with the comforts of walls, plumbing, and central heat and air. Also, for me it doesn't count as a vacation if I'm sharing a room with my children and luckily most state parks have 2-bedroom cabins that are very affordable. It's perfect, and because you can bring/make your meals, our whole 3-day trip came in at less than $300.

Kids' Room!

After we unloaded the food, taking great care with the homemade lasagna I'd lovingly prepared the day before, we headed out to climb on some rocks!

And climb we did!

I just love state parks. I love the wooden signs, the trail maps that looked like they were created on a type writer (and probably were), the friendly rangers and workers... every one we've visited has always been so charming. And this one had so many boulders and crevices and caves, it was hard to decide which way to go next!

At one point, Cora decided she needed to do her own hiking. She was so enthusiastic about it. There was a lot of hopping.

Landon always had lots of ideas for shortcuts, that were really never shorter, though he was always pleased with them. At one point when he was suggested another such short cut to Claire, she yelled back, exasperated, "Landon, I take the short cuts AND the hard cuts!". It was my favorite exchange of the trip.

There was another moment, when James leaped from one rock to another over a very deep chasm, and Landon went to follow, I had to hold myself back from shouting, "no!", but then he did it, and he was so proud and I remembered that James was right there and he wouldn't have let Landon jump if he didn't think he could make it and giving your kids room to test themselves in a (mostly) safe space is one of the most important things we're supposed to be doing as parents. For us, our hiking adventures area big part of that. And when Claire climbed up a tall rock and yelled "I MADE IT!" at the top of her lungs with a huge grin, I was reminded yet again. I have so many memories of getting to push myself on hiking and exploring adventures growing up with my parents, and those trips are some of my brightest memories from my childhood.

We finished Day 1 with the lasagna, sides, and s'mores. The kids were in bed and asleep by 8 and at 8:35 James looked at me and said, I think I might go to bed too. Since we rarely go to bed before midnight, I found this rather shocking, but without internet or TV, I shrugged and figured why not. Off to bed we went (though of course I read my new book till 11 after he went to sleep - LOVING the Edge series by Ilona Andrews; I need more!).

Day 2 dawned with breakfast and plans to do the "big" Rough Canyon Loop Trail. It was 2.75 miles, so, figuring we could do that in an hour, I didn't pack any snacks except water, and, figuring the trail would be marked, I didn't bother to bring the trail guide along with us. Oops all around.

But it was a fabulous hike. Beautiful, full of fall leaves and rocks and a wonderful canyon we immediately went off trail to climb down and use as our personal playground for an hour.

We jumped over rocks, used trees as balance beams, and generally had a great time.

I made James take my camera and decided to walk across a tree, only to realize the tree was WAY skinnier than I thought, and higher, and it was all water underneath instead of rocks and I really didn't want to get wet, so I only made it a third of the way across before deciding to backtrack. But I'm in a picture! That's a victory right there.

We pressed, following the blue dots sporadically painted on trees. I enjoyed the extremely "natural" approach to wandering in the woods that Robbers Cave takes for its official hikes, but there were many, MANY moments you'd start thinking, huh, I haven't seen a blue circle in a really long time... I'm really just walking in the woods of an 8400 acre park and the blue dots could be in a totally different direction and then, victory! a blue dotted tree would appear before you. It's like they knew juuuust how long to stretch it before you'd really start to doubt yourself and turn around.

Claire decided her legs were tired and though I insisted she was perfectly capable of walking, as did Cora (and Landon, silently), James is sentimental and way nicer than me, and countered, "but I won't be able to hold my baby girl for much longer."

Somewhere, about 90 minutes in, after 2 off-trail experiences, I started wondering if we'd followed the wrong path. Our dots were now a different shade of blue and it really felt like we'd walked our 2.75 miles. Of course we had, we just hadn't done it all on the trail, and jumping around canyons doesn't count. Luckily we came upon another family of five with a functioning GPS who assured us we were on track and had 2 miles done. That little bit of verification enabled me to enjoy the last part of the hike instead of being distracted by that niggling doubt of holy crap, I really hope this isn't the wrong way because we don't have any food. Yay for other families hiking on the Monday before Thanksgiving! They were the only people we saw pretty much all day.

We got to the car about 2.5 hours after we left (so much for my 1 hour estimate), totally ready for the delicious hot dog and PBJ lunch we had waiting back at the cabin a mile away, only to find our car battery totally dead. Again, snacks would have been good. Luckily a nice park ranger jumped us and we were back at our cabin in a jiffy, assuming we'd left something turned on in the car and ignoring potentially car troubles.

After lunch Cora napped, so James took the kids to a park (we counted 5 playgrounds sprinkled around the park) and the nature center and animal rescue house, and then I took them to the riding stables, petting zoo, and yet another playground. Seriously the best, most low key awesome state park ever.

At the petting zoo I met a donkey (?) and we became best friends. I named him Snowflake. There were other animals (mostly tiny goats) and the kids pet and brushed and loved them all.

When Cora woke up, we headed into town ("town") to the one restaurant with a rating on tripadvisor- a super cute Mexican place that was very good, very fast, and fed all of us all the food for $40. We finished up a great meal, got to our car, and boom. Despite working fine and driving us all around the park all afternoon during our naptime adventures, the battery was dead again. Our waiter (and cashier, and possibly the cook?) ran out and jumped us from his car and we were off again, now quite concerned about our car and its ability to drive us home. But! Ahead! Literally one of two stores between Main Street and the State Park was an auto parts store and an extremely nice man tested our battery and alternator and pronounced our battery dead. We got a bargain on a new one, he installed it while James paid, and in 10 minutes we were back on the road home again. It was a whole slew of feel good small town moments and the whole thing made my heart happy. And now we have a new battery and can start our car whenever we want all by ourselves!

Today we woke up, packed up, and went on one last hike- a more modest 2 mile loop down a different side of the park, around another lake, a dam, and up a rocky ravine. This time we actually did go the wrong way for a little while (there were red dots going in two directions and we chose poorly), but we figured it out and made our way back. We checked out and were on our way back to the Fort, getting hung up in various bouts of Thanksgiving traffic, but still home in time for me to do our Thanksgiving shopping and James to go to swim practice (and our chimney/fire place to get checked out by a professional chimney sweep; this year is the year of on-time Christmas decorations and our first ever in-house Fort Worth fire!)

It was the perfect way to kick of our Thanksgiving week and I really can't recommend Robbers Cave highly enough. The cabin was clean and perfect, the park was huge and varied, the rocks were glorious and the biggest mess of them is right off the Cave parking lot (i.e., you don't have to hike and follow the blue/red dots), there are a bunch of playgrounds and horses, a great nature center, a cabin office that sells wine openers if you forget yours, and a white donkey named Snowflake!

We loved it all and now I'm back to researching which state park to head to next!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Holiday Prep, Recovery, and Cora is Two!

I've been sick since last Friday. I pretty rarely get sick- we seem to be the rare family that never cycles through illnesses, so I know I'm lucky that kids are healthy and no one else has gotten it, but ugh it has been ten days of no voice, bad cough, and general blech and stuffiness. I finally went to the doctor on Friday and now have some antibiotics and a better mix of over the counter drugs. I am feeling a bit better- I was able to teach barre yesterday, but I would really like to stop coughing myself to sleep and to look forward to food again. Anticipating delicious food is normally a big part of my day.

On the positive side, all my time off work enabled me to stare at the TV and get my Christmas shopping done. I even went to a store or two, figuring shopping didn't require talking or thinking very hard through the cold medicine. I'm now done with all Christmas shopping and wrapping, except for James's gift, because I'm still marinating on a few ideas. But the kids, extended family, and Santa are all done and that feels very nice. Christmas cards are also here, waiting to be addressed and written in, and all our holiday decor, including the tree, will go up the day after Thanksgiving. After the last two Christmases with newborn and snow storm craziness and then kitchen renovation hellishness, I'm determined to soak up every single day of twinkling lights and Christmas cheer from Nov. 27 - Dec. 26.

On that note, tonight we head downtown for the Parade of Lights, and then we're off on a camping trip for a few days before returning to have a nice cozy Thanksgiving at home, basically all ensuring we can get ready for Christmas immediately following. I have two meals simmering and cooking to bring along on our trip and am only barely holding back from kissing my counter tops and telling them I'm so glad they're here. A year ago my house was a dusty messy renovation disaster area and I will never stop being thankful that the kitchen reno project happened and that it is DONE. Mostly that it's done.

I finished Cora's first year photo book a few weeks ago and now I'm stalling on starting the big kids', which is very disappointing and yet I just can't get going. I give one to them every year for Christmas and they're already talking about receiving their next installment so I'm not sure why I stare at Shutterfly for hours as if it's both impossible and yet will somehow be no problem to whip through in two weeks before Christmas. I really don't know how they're going to get done. Cora's first year book took a lot out of me- I pulled in my favorite facebook quotes and blog posts and added picture after picture of the incredible JOY she brought to our family and I just felt kind of wrung out by the end. As I kept telling James over and over again with each page, she's just such a BLESSING and I am really struggling with the fact we aren't having any more. Every time I think I'm at peace with it, something else happens and my inner reaction reveals me that no, it's still raw. Okay, but raw. So I try to give myself space inside to feel it while also moving on and squeezing every drop of joy out of each day with the three that I have.

Because oh man have we reached an awesome place with them. Landon and Claire have been in the easy, play with each other for hours without adult intervention phase for about 4 years, but Cora just got there and watching her "play" with the big kids is hilarious and makes my heart so happy it aches in a whole new way. She's just so THRILLED to be part of it all and she takes on a whole new swagger when she walks around between them. She loves to hold hands and usually just stands still with a hand out until someone picks it up and she can take off. She adores accessories, animal sounds, and occasionally, her new baby. She has also taken up wearing Claire's panties around her waist which is hilarious, even as she stretches them all out and I have to buy Claire more.

She turned 2 on the 12th, right before we left for our San Antonio trip, and while she remained wary of the birthday candle (no cake though, just cookies), she was delighted by the birthday breakfast table and her presents.

I think this Christmas is going to be so much fun. She's juuuust grasping the concept of unwrapping and was so thrilled with each of her new toys- the Fisher Price animal sounds toy, a baby doll, purse, and a stroller. And a giant unicorn, though that has mostly been adopted by Claire. Cora is too busy haphazardly caring for a baby to bother with mystical creatures.

At 2, Cora is finally stringing words together and the results are cracking us up a near constant basis. She is fiercely affectionate and greets any family member who comes in the door with a screaming, arm flapping, thunderous run through the house before launching herself at your legs and yelling your name while hugging you with all her strength. I have to get it on film; it is nearly impossible to describe. She needs hugs "HUGS!!" and "KISS!!" from everyone before bed and sometimes just wanders around the house saying "mama" over and over again while smiling and waving at me, like yes, I know where you are, I just like saying your name because it makes me happy. I don't know that any age loves quite like a toddler.

Birthday girl on her birthday

She is like a pure source of joy on tap and she very much remains our family mascot. Every time she does something with the big kids we get a full report of her activities from her beaming big brother and sister like they just couldn't be more proud that she was able to do whatever they were doing. She is also very into dancing and uses a complex series of unintelligible hand motions for songs we don't understand. I keep forgetting to ask daycare, but I enjoy her interpretive dances to something that is probably just Twinkle Twinkle or Old MacDonald.

So all in all things are quite awesome. I sort of have my voice back. The big kids are playing outside while the littlest kid naps, my lasagna sauce simmers, James works, and I think about starting Landon's photo book though I'll probably go make cookies instead. Hmmm, maybe my appetite is finally starting to come back! Cookies for sure. I need to celebrate.

Monday, November 16, 2015

60th Anniversary Diamond Jubilee Hoedown

So Cora turned 2 on Thursday, I presented at Career Day at the big kids' school, and right now I'm home and blogging because I got super sick on Friday just as we were packing to head to San Antonio for a much anticipated family reunion weekend celebrating my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary. So while I'm home and feverish, sniffly, and voice-less, I can at least catch up on some blogging. We'll go in reverse order and focus on the anniversary weekend first. Because even while feeling crappy and rapidly losing the use my vocal cords, it was super fun.

These two crazy kids got married November 26, 1955. James and I got married the year of their 50th wedding anniversary when they had a Hawaiian themed party near their summer home in Wisconsin. And so this year after James and I celebrated our 10th, they hit their 60th, this time around with a Western themed shindig in San Antonio where they live mostly year-round. Both places are special to them- my grandpa was born and raised in the tiny Wisconsin town, and San Antonio was the first Air Force base they were stationed at after they got married in Michigan and my mom was born in San Antonio precisely 9 months later.

At the 50th Anniversary Party in 2005; don't we look all young and adorable?

The whole Nordin clan descended- the four original siblings, their spouses, nine of the ten grandkids (we missed you Emily!), two of three of the grandkid-spouses (sorry Sean!), and all the great-grandchildren (all mine; though my sister is pregnant! I'll have a niece in May and the kids are very excited to get their first cousin).

We were mostly all at the same hotel, so I'm sure we drove everyone with rooms near the lobby crazy while we chatted and caught up on Friday night. On Saturday morning, my parents and my family of five headed to the Alamo downtown. James and the kids had never been, and since 3/5 of us were born in Texas, it seemed the thing to do.

Cora was unimpressed, though Landon enjoyed it quite a bit.

While Cora napped at the hotel with James, the rest of us stopped by the retirement community to visit the grandparents and chat before the festivities got underway in the evening, plus the big kids needed to feed the birds and the fish.

I followed along to capture this sacred tradition and just love this picture so much. My Aunty Kirsten got them the jerseys- my grandparents are HUGE Packers fans; my grandpa even has a share of the stock from their IPO and he has the Packers logo on every type of clothing that exists- and I just love this picture of them with L&C.

We also visited my dad's parents who live in the same community. We'd also met them for brunch after the Alamo and this time the kids walked out with some very awesome goodies they were THRILLED with. Cora also got a talking Elmo that scared the crap out of her, though they're friends now that I've switched off his battery pack. We'll reintroduce him slowly.

We went back to the hotel to wake up a crabby Cora who needed at least two hours more sleep and got dressed in our Western finery. My grandpa, who sent out the save-the-dates for this party TWENTY-ONE MONTHS AGO (funny store; he didn't put the year in the email, so I, being a normal person, assumed the February 2014 email for the November party was intended to take place in 2014, but no, a few weeks later I realized it was for 2015. I was holding a tiny snuggly 3 month old Cora and I remember looking down at her and thinking, my god, you'll be a walking talking 2 year old when we attend this thing. And yes she was!), wanted us all there by 5:30 for our briefing of how the 6:00 party would go down. I get my need for organization naturally.

They had a great band, about 100 guests, and a lot of boots and bolo ties. It was wonderful. I love being able to be around my extended family, most of whom we don't see nearly as often as I'd like, and even Cora warmed up to a few select individuals by the end. Landon and Claire adored everyone and danced like crazy, running my poor cousin Sarina nearly to the ground. She was a trooper and L&C loved every second.

My grandpa gave an opening speech introducing all the family and then he turned to my grandma and said something along the lines of, "and Mary, there are no words for how I feel about you. I love you so much-" and then his voice cut off and they both just looked at each other and she patted his shoulder and managed "I feel the same way" and they just kept looking in the other's eyes, unable to talk, and everyone got tears in their eyes and it was just perfect. They sing "You Are My Sunshine" to each other every morning, hold hands when they sit down next to one another, and I'm quite certain they make out when we're not looking. I love them so much.

I love James more than I can possibly describe and I know how much deeper and stronger that love is now compared to when we got married 10 years ago. I can only imagine what it could be at 60. We have great examples.

Cora spent much of the party eating the tiny hotdogs out of more than a dozen cocktail wienies, demanding books be read to her, and dancing with my mom. At one point the band was playing a slow song and she saw me dancing with James and immediately demanded to cut in, literally pushing me out of his arms. So I got some video instead.

Father Daughter Dancing from Lag Liv on Vimeo.

I had completely lost my voice by the end of the party, so I gave up trying to communicate with anyone and just drank my seltzer waters and laughed at the kids running my cousins and Uncle Phil ragged. There was a lot of dancing. I got a selfie with my grandma, who was perpetually surprised to see her face in the camera. She's a giant ball of love and optimism and joy wrapped in more love and I'm so glad they got the fun night with friends and family that they'd been planning for all 21 of those months.

Now we can look forward to #70! I expect the save-the-date any day.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

My Community

Yesterday was Veteran's Day. It's always been important to me- my uncle served in the Air Force and both of my grandfathers were career military fighter pilots for the Air Force and Navy, and I always think of them and their service and the service of my grandmas and aunts/uncles in living the military life, but now that I'm a federal government employee, I must superficially admit that Veteran's Day is one of my favorite of the whole year. It's a day I have off work, but my kids don't have off school. And 6 weeks out from Christmas, that is a beautiful BEAUTIFUL thing. So I honor Veteran's Day, and we talked about what it means with the kids last night, but the rest of this post is 100% going to be about me and my magical Veteran's Day Off.

I got up with the kids, but didn't have to do my hair or makeup. I wore yoga pants. I took Cora to school. I got to be a student at the barre with one my favorite teachers. I came home and took a long shower, read some of a new book, and played with Cora's birthday party pictures. I went out on a sushi lunch with James. I sat on the couch for 2.5 hours watching the Food Network and completing 75% of my Christmas card shopping. I went to Target to complete another 10% and then went to yoga. BARRE AND YOGA! I haven't been to yoga in months, in part because my favorite teacher left my former studio, but yesterday when I searched for an afternoon class I saw her name on the 4:30 class of a different studio that I'd just bought a discount pass to! So I got to get back into yoga, back in Kaci's incredible, dynamic, super athletic class and it was AMAZING. I picked up Cora and brought her home to a crock pot meal I'd gotten to start at 11 a.m. instead of 7:30 a.m. so the chicken wasn't dried out. We enjoyed dinner and books and tickles and cuddles and two more episodes of Orange is the New Black and ohmygod it was the BEST day.

But it was even better than that. At nearly every stop I made yesterday I saw someone I know. A neighbor at the grocery store, a fellow PTA Board member at Target, one of James's swim school families at lunch, a barre student next to me in yoga class, a former colleague walking out of the building next to the yoga studio... we've lived in 4 cities in 10 years. Everywhere we go I feel surrounded by people with decades-deep roots and lifetime friendships and family down the road. We meet people, but you're never the first phone call or closest friend. You're on the periphery. It's not that people don't want to let you in, it's that that often don't think to because they assume you're in somewhere else.

In January we'll have lived in Fort Worth longer than we've lived anywhere else. And slowly over that time--through the SEC, PTA involvement, barre teaching, and the swim school (mostly the swim school), we've become woven into the fabric of this wonderful community in a city we never imagined we'd live. Fort Worth is home. It's been home since the day we moved- home is truly anywhere I'm with James and the kids, but maybe for the first time Fort Worth the larger city feels like home. Like it's ours. And as I drove home from yoga, feeling more grounded and loose than I have in months (basically since I stopped going to yoga), I just felt overwhelmed and grounded in that feeling of community and the connections I never realized we'd made to so many- not one person I ran into yesterday knew each other, I was the link. I'm never the link! It was lovely and I'm going to try to hold on to it when I feel like I'm on the outside again.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Rainbows and Unicorns

Cora turns 2 on Thursday. I have thoughts and FEELINGS about this, but since none of my imaginary pagan sacrifices have slowed down her aging AT ALL, I decided to channel my energy into making a birthday party instead. I really love birthday parties.

My original plan was to keep it simple and let Cora do her two favorite things- color on furniture and eat pizza. Last year's rainbow theme seemed appropriate, and rainbow themes are my new favorite, so I stuck with that and added unicorns because I have recently developed a fondness for the noble imaginary creature and the tinyprints card above was too adorable to resist.

Then on Thursday afternoon I accidentally googled "unicorn party" on my phone and BAM. All these ideas exploded out! Next thing you know I'm downloading a template to make unicorn horns, hunting down Bugles to make a funfetti unicorn horn snack (I had to go to FOUR stores! Bugles have lost a lot of real estate in chip aisles), and getting weird looks from Children's Place employees when I ask for a dressing room to try on a sparkly rainbow unicorn t-shirt at 8:30 p.m. on a weeknight without any accompanying children.

But I love it- unicorns and rainbows! What could be better?

Except maybe a rainbow cookie decorating table. Cora, who stole a cookie while I was baking her cake in the kitchen, seemed to agree.

We still had Cora's coloring table (huge hit; I'm covering a table in paper on our next rainy day), and there was pizza, in addition to this ridiculously amazing Funfetti Bugle Mix, regular Bugles, aka Unicorn Horns (I had never had one; they are delicious), a veggie tray, and some rainbow candies. And champagne. And lemonade. And lots of rainbow colors.

Cora found this all to be super wonderful and decided birthdays were maybe the best.

Then our guests arrived- just four close family friends she knows well, sees often, and who have kids her age- and bam, she's clinging to my leg and crying if I manage pry her off and move more than 6 inches away. She just remembered that birthdays are actually the worst.

Pizza was served and she blissed out for a bit. Cora loves her some pizza.

More playing ensued, Cora allowed me to set her down from my now nearly broken arms, and everyone had fun- big kids playing outside, medium kids testing all the toys in the play room, tiny kids enjoying their open access to markers, and parents minimally supervising while drinking champagne.

Then it was time for cake. And the showdown began.

First, Cora decided my unicorn horn was freaking her out. I was quite attached to it and pretended not to understand.

Then, as I lifted her closer to the table, she seemed excited! Could cake avoid hurting our feelings this year?


Overcome with feelings (horror, betrayal, etc.), Cora took a TO.

She rallied and we approached with caution.

Then there was singing. Cora was not impressed.


A birthday cookie was given instead and Cora ate it while judging everyone who took a piece of my delicious delicious cake.

At least now we know she likes cookies. Cookie cake next year for round 3!

We opened presents. She got a 64-piece crayon set and did not let go of it for a very long time. Not even to open it. Don't try to open it for her. She'll cut you.

Everyone played more and we parents reluctantly parted when all of our youngest children made very clear they really needed their now very late naps. And as the last car drove away, Cora decided she'd had a fantastic time and birthdays are the best once again.

It really was a super fun afternoon. Happy almost birthday you cake-hating weirdo. We love you so much- rainbows and unicorns (and pizza and cookies) forever!