You’ve Got Vail

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We were no sooner home from Vail Wednesday evening just long enough to peel off long-sleeved shirts and drop suitcases where they’ll no doubt sit unzipped for at least a week (cough*month*cough), and I was already in my office for a quick preservation of what I was feeling before it faded and folded back into cutting sandwiches for school lunches, gathering dropped underwear around the house for another round of laundry, and sifting through the Valupak envelope for coupons I’ll save but never use. From my suitcase, I pulled a Ziplock bag full of Colorado dirt and skinny pine cones I had collected from the creek we walked along last week, and poured it into an empty jar. VAIL, FEBRUARY 2017–I scribbled on a torn piece of paper, attached it to the outside of the jar and placed it on the memory hall of fame shelf in my kitchen where it joins jars of soft white shells from Dash’s first trip to the beach, red clay from the ground outside the sewing co-op in Rwanda, tiny pebbles from our writing retreat in Ojai, piles of coffee-colored snail shells from the Michigan lake where we’ve had so many summer adventures, and other Earth treasures from memories that stood out over the years, needing to be commemorated in driftwood, smooth stones and dirt dug from sacred ground.

And then I clicked around the Internet, collecting the songs we listened to on the trip, ones that will now always remind me of this tiny window in our lives and our family and how grateful I felt last week to be standing under the cold blue sky while the snow fell, surrounded by mountains, watching my kids with their red cheeks and chapped lips take up space in that immense scene–catching flakes on their tongue, forging trails on snowy paths, running back to me to get a glove adjusted, a boot tied, a nose wiped–and feeling so much love and peace and enjoyment for where we are right now. I collected songs just like I did dirt and pine cones and tucked them in a playlist where I can listen to them again when I want to revisit this feeling. I collected “If I Needed You”–the song that made me cry when I heard the musician start singing it as we walked into the old lodge Saturday night on the ranch where we made one of the best family memories ever.

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I tucked in an enchanting country version of “Twinkle Twinkle”–the song he sang for Nella that night–and “Hallelujah,” Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line” and, of course, John Denver, because–duh–Rocky Mountain High.

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When friends and I heard Deepak Chopra speak a few weeks ago, he talked about learning to separate ourselves from our experiences by thinking of them as a dream that we had…we wake up to a new day, and yesterday and the things that happened to us were just a dream. I’m not very good at separating myself from anything, so if we’re going to go that route, let’s just say I’m the BFG and I’m trapping my glowing vacation dreams in jars so I can save them and relive them and blow them to my children when they sleep. Because those glumptious phizzwizzards fuel us and remind us of what we seek–togetherness, an acute understanding of our presence in the world, and an appreciation for mountain creeks and beach sunsets and also finding a cool pub with cold beer in a new town. Come on, Deepak, you know that’s important too. Memory hoarder for life, I am. For the record, routine home days and stirring cream into our coffee at the same counter where we begin every morning also reminds us of what we seek–togetherness, an acute understanding of our presence in the world, and an appreciation for a spoon that clinks against your mug like a morning wind chime, good-smelling dish soap, a little granola left in the bottom of the bag and a still-sleepy kid on your hip. Going away to inhale new air, coming home to breathe it out.

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A rambling intro to say…come with me. Come with me to a small ski town nestled at the base of a mountain in a national forest full of magic.

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You don’t need to ski–we didn’t. It is enough simply to stand in that little town and look up; to see what is often viewed as an inconvenience–cold and snow and ice–in its greatest element, in unspeakable beauty that belongs in the world.

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It makes you feel small in the greatest way.

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Brett’s parents know this feeling of small greatness well as they are committed to traveling and drinking up as much as the world has to offer in landscapes and people and experiences. They are good at adding to their own memory jars and have tucked away adventures from Iceland to Africa and invited us to come with them for this one in the mountains.

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They also value family and little moments, and my favorite memories of this trip by far were made in pajamas and fueled not by scenery but by love.

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My kids got to experience the childhood thrills I know growing up in the Midwest–running–breath held, half naked–to feel the snow…

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…and hopping through the steamy cloud above a hot tub to sink in and warm up.

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Sacrificing dry pants to make a snow angel…worth it.

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Testing fresh snow for packability. Too powdery but so pretty.

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Searching for sledding hills and letting the incline from a barely there ditch qualify.

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Kicking snow off boots…

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…and huddling closer to keep warm.

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Vail was the perfect place for following the prescription our family currently needed–adventuring little and resting a lot.

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(Vail Village)

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My three favorite memories from the trip:

1) An evening sleigh ride dinner at 4 Eagle Ranch

…nestled in the little town of Wolcott, just outside of Vail.

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Brett’s parents planned the evening and, let me tell you–for years, I have talked about a hypothetical experience at the top of my bucket list. I dreamed it up in my head and imagined there was a big cozy lodge tucked in the snow in the mountains somewhere, and there was a crackling fire and twinkle lights and music–definitely music–wine, hot cider and family–all of us together. I have described this scene in bucket list conversations, even though I didn’t know where it would happen or if it really existed like I imagined, but when we arrived to the ranch, out there in the middle of the cold nowhere, and walked into the lodge and heard the music and saw the fire crackling, I started to cry. “This is it,” I told Brett. “This is what I have dreamed of for so long.”

“She’s crying,” Brett laughed to his dad.

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It’s the kind of memory my kids will never forget but struggle to recall all the details thirty years from now, retelling the story when a  “Describe a memorable trip from your childhood” card gets pulled from the Table Topics box at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

“Wasn’t there, like, a cat roaming around in the bathroom?” Lainey will ask. “And there was a swing set, right?”

“Oh my God! Yes! Good memory!” I’ll laugh.

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“Dash, do you remember the names of the horses?” I’ll ask. And we’ll all smile because of course he’ll still remember after all those years.

“Nip and Tuck,” he’ll answer.

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And I’ll tear up remembering how little he was–mesmerized by the snow, those horses, hopping around the dance floor under the star lights with his stick horse.

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I’ll remember it like it was yesterday but wonder, as Deepak says, if it was all but a dream.

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And the sleigh ride. Brett’s dad has told us the story of one of his most precious memories with his own beloved grandpa–it was a sleigh ride late at night in the dead of winter. My kids now have their own sleigh ride memory with their grandpa.

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We stayed and danced far past the kids’ bedtimes because every song the musician sang was our favorite song and we didn’t want it to end. And when we finally called it a night, I hugged Brett’s parents, thanked them over and over and then looked back at that little place of magic lit up against the night and whispered my gratitude for what we shared there as we drove away and kids slumped into our laps falling asleep.

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And the takeaway of 4 Eagle Ranch besides–oh, I don’t know, one of the most magical nights of our lives?

A genuine cowboy hat for Brett from their trading post.

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He wore it for the rest of the trip, and now I’m trying to make cowboys hats in the Florida ‘burbs a thing.

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Favorite Memory #2: Nella’s walk.

I now have a sacred memory of a walk with each child far away from home, just me and them, when I felt so connected and in love with the moment that surely the world could end at that very second, and all would be well (Lainey’s was in Chicago, Dash’s–New York City). I had left the house for a long walk alone, and when I returned, Nella was standing by the door all bundled up. “She’s been waiting this whole time,” Brett told me. “She wanted to go with you.”

“I’ll go again,” I said, lacing my boots back up, “Just me and her this time.”

We walked a long ways–way longer than she’ll usually walk without whining or asking to be held–and much of it was uphill, in the cold. She never complained. We held hands, made sled tracks where the trail allowed and threw sticks in the creek and watched them slowly float away.

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We found a deserted playground, rode swings against the wind, watched our breath paint the air and finally trudged back home where she said “I love you Mommy” not once but three times along the way, for no good reason other than we had shared something special.

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And Memory #3: That same walk, that same path, repeated as a family. A bit more complicated with all of us and accompanied by some tears over falling in the snow, cold fingers, who got to ride the sled and “I don’t want to walk anymore,” but so very us, perfect in its own way…and led by the almighty cowbay hat.

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Think you have to be a big skier to have fun in Vail?

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Not if huddling up with family is your thing.

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Our lips are chapped…

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…but our memory jars are full.

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…and a huge thank you to my beloved in-laws who see the beauty past spilled hot chocolate, fighting kids and prolonged fits in the backseat over ill-fitting mittens. xo

Happy Weekending.

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The Art of Being Read To

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This post is sponsored by Audible.

I won’t deny that I became a teacher partly because I wanted to read books aloud to my class. I mean, also so I could write on the chalkboard and decorate bulletin boards and, heavens, let’s not forget about putting stickers on good papers and scribbling stars with red pens. But mostly, so I could read aloud. It’s just that I had studied how teachers read books aloud for so many years and how, if you were good at it, you could bring a story to life by a simple subtle shift in your voice. So, I kept a journal of books I wanted to read aloud to my class someday and put stars by the stories I knew would require all the passion of the read aloud commitment–to make my readers feel the words and feel a part of the story–to perform it well. Years later, during the fifteen minute block after lunch every day, my fifth graders would shuffle back in the classroom–still sweaty from recess–and settle down with their heads in folded arms at their desk and listen while I fulfilled my read aloud dreams, doing my best to bring to life the words of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars and Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins and the mystery behind Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember.

I still love reading aloud to my own kids, but what I really love these days in the trenches of school schedules and motherhood demands is being read to–taking the role of listener for performances of great stories and books I might not otherwise have the time to read given my “to be read” pile on my nightstand and the slow pace it’s taking me to attack it.

That’s why I love audiobooks. Not only do they allow me to catch up on reading during times I’m not able to hold a book–driving in the car, going for a run, cooking dinner–but they fulfill that need of my inner child–the one that still loves to be read to. Have you heard of Audible? Audible is the leading provider of premium digital spoken audio information and entertainment and offers customers a new way to enrich their lives every day. Audible adds new titles to their catalog every day and has an unmatched selection of audiobooks to choose from from childhood classics to the newest adult reads on bookstore shelves.

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Audible made our summer road trip to Michigan a lot more fun last year  as we listened to Swing Sideways on the way up, and the narrator (Tara Sands) delivered a wonderful theatrical performance of the book that held my kids’ attention much like a movie.

We are currently listening to Audible’s presentation of Harry Potter, and I love the way it’s giving both my kids and me the opportunity to listen together before bed and the riveting presentation (and British accent!) the narrator Jim Dale delivers.

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But my favorite recent audiobook experience has been a revisit to an old favorite, Anne of Green Gables, one of Audible’s star powered listens, read by Rachel McAdams.

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I started it on our trip to Vail, and it’s been the perfect accompaniment to a vacation dedicated to relaxing, nourishing and huddling in. I did take it out with me the other morning though, on a walk alone in the mountains, and let me tell you–the experience was unforgettable. It was as if one of my favorite storybook characters came along with me, and if there’s one person you want to take with you on a winter walk to appreciate the snow-tipped branches and majestic mountains against the cold blue sky, it’s Anne Shirley.

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If you’d like to try Audible and want to download a book you’ve been wanting to read, Audible is giving readers a 30-day trial with a free download. Click here to try it out, browse their incredible collection of titles and see for yourself how good it feels to be read to. Play it in the car, tuck ear buds in your purse so you can listen in waiting rooms, bring your narrator along for evening walks or sneak in a chapter while you’re chopping onions for dinner.

I still love to hold books, follow words and encourage my kids to do the same, but we can read so many more titles with Audible and enjoy the experience of listening and being moved by a great performance of a story. As any kid who’s ever experienced the comfort of falling asleep to their mother’s voice reading Goodnight Moon or Ramona Quimby knows, being read to is one of life’s great pleasures.

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible. The opinions and text are all mine.

Enjoying: One Painted Hand

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Over a year ago, I regressed back to a bad childhood habit–biting my nails–but strangely, only my right hand. I justify my habit with the fact that it’s only a halfway relapse and don’t consider myself a true nail biter because my left hand is still groomed with nails that are perfectly filed and shellacked with a nice shiny clear coat to compensate for the jagged cuticles and fingertip skin show on the right. This counterbalance pops up in other areas of my life as well–like my clean kitchen with the shiny counters and the candles and the diffused lemon oil to distract you from my office, the current designated room for hiding laundry baskets and mail piles and random objects that can’t seem to find their place in our home. I’ve always been a self-deprecating compliment deflector, armed and ready to show you my failing side lest that clean kitchen tip the scales toward a too put together image (“That’s because everything’s hidden in the junk drawers!”). But right now, perhaps simply for self preservation when things are inevitably going to be imbalanced, I’m trying to look at the left hands in my life.  The kitchen I take time to keep clean, the hours we spend reading with our kids, the french braid I nailed the other morning, the fact that I stacked the lunch boxes on their designated shelf and haven’t had to go searching for them for the past five mornings in a row. It is a given that there’s always an untidy corner, a place we could be doing better. But look! That left hand, man. It looks good.

I haven’t done an Enjoying post in a while, and it’s funny–Brett and I were talking the other day about how we used to do so much more with the kids before school schedules and how much we miss those moments. I don’t pick up my camera as much as I used to, and sometimes it feels like the small things I love so much get lost in a sea of responsibilities. When I finally made time to go through some photos I had been saving from the past couple weeks, I was reminded of how much love and creativity and color and light and small beautiful moments are still there. Look at that left hand, man.

Lately enjoying…

Taking time to color something. On paper…

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Or cement…

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…and my own stash of “mama’s chalk”

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Bravery for new tasks. He wants to learn how to skate so bad. He falls every time but never fails to put those skates back on and try again.

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A house for Latte.

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Afternoon walks to the lake like we used to do.

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George the dinosaur who accompanied us everywhere we went for one full day, then flew away.

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Our repeated failure with picking strawberries in Florida (picked over, got nothing, still had fun).

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Dirty feet as measures of how much fun you’ve had on a weekend.

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His weirdness that makes him awesome.

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When they play games and don’t throw the pieces everywhere.

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Morning light.

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New drama in Barbieland. Apparently, Paquel was mean to Kiki this week, but then they worked it out because they went to Target where Paquel bought Kiki some goldfish crackers and Nutella. But then they had a sleepover where Dash pulled Paquel’s leg off, and things got real bad. She’s recovering after a reattachment though so, I’m sure they’ll be back at Target soon. Whew. It’s a like our own live soap opera.

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When he’s not pulling legs off Barbies…

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Breakfast on the run.

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Catching lizards (and yes, letting them go).

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Going through her Valentine box with her friend from school.

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Getting as many beach days in as we can before Florida turns hot and humid soon.

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And an afternoon spent alone with my three at Botanical Gardens.

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Nella pushed Lainey into a rocky pond at the end of our trip, and it was NOT PRETTY.

But we’re focusing on the left hand with the painted nails.

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We are off to Colorado today for some family fun. Happy almost weekending.