Miami Beach Part I

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One of my favorite things about young mothering is the impromptu adventures. Before school, we had the liberty to do it as often as we liked, and I can’t tell you how many precious memories I have of calling Heidi at 8 a.m. with “Hey, want to pack up bags and go somewhere?” and hearing her answer an enthusiastic YES before I ever elaborated on where we were going or how far we were driving. Back in the day, I could break down a stroller in less than six seconds, pack an overnight bag in two minutes and have the kids buckled in their car seats in less than one.

It had been a while since one of those adventures, and a day of hooky was calling. I noticed a couple of weeks ago that the famous Museum of Ice Cream (basically a colorful Children’s Museum built completely around the theme of ice cream) had a Miami pop-up. That was all I needed for an adventure invite, so I bought tickets, booked a hotel and planned a day of hooky.  Two days later, the Museum of Ice Cream announced that the Miami location was sold out of tickets for good, so perfect timing. I’ll post about the museum in Part II of this post next week. The kids loved it (like a giant interactive playground with free sweets), but it’s such an interesting concept, built heavily on the Instagram generation. I’m wondering if twenty years from now we will laugh when we look back and say, “Oh my God, do you remember the Museum of Ice Cream?” like we remember 24-hour streaming of music videos on MTV.

But on to Miami…

Here’s how we do Miami: full throttle.

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Miami is colorful, diverse, loud, electric, and about as extra as you can get. I love it, I love it, I love it, but at the pace at which we hit the city, I get my fill quickly, so 24 hours is usually how we do it. Basically, we ride a unicorn through South Beach–and forget the saddle: we go bare back. Full speed, until the unicorn passes out. Let’s put it this way. If Miami was a massage therapist asking how much pressure I wanted on my shoulders, I’d say, “Make it hurt.” We go to the most electric part of the city though, which is just a portion of what Miami really offers in terms of culture and opportunities. I’d like to explore some of the other areas in the future.

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Is Miami kid-friendly? Absolutely. We love South Beach and found a little boutique hotel on Collins, one street behind Ocean Dr., which feels a step removed from all the middle-of-the-night partying and yet still part of the scene we come for.

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First stop: The Wynwood District which is probably where I’d stay next time if I came without kids. Wynwood Walls, an outdoor museum showcasing large murals by some of the world’s best known street artists, is definitely the highlight of the area, but the surrounding streets are just as colorful, full of warehouses that have been converted into craft breweries, art galleries and hip bistros. Even the sidewalks are covered in art.

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Wynwood Walls was like a giant playground for the kids with several outdoor “rooms” to hide in.

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They played Camouflage Hide-and-Go-Seek which was so much fun. Can you spot the kids in the two photos below?

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Lainey went through two rolls of Instax film and put another photo in our Handstands Against Cool Walls collection.

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Another great Wynwood find: Cielito ice pop shop. Oh my God. The popsicles don’t have any added water, so they’re just pureed fruit, cream, etc.

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The big kids got unicorn pops (some creamy/sprinkle concoction with candy ears and a horn), Nella got watermelon (soooo good!), Dash got chocolate, and I got what quickly became the best popsicle I’ve ever eaten–pineapple jalepeno with some sort of chili salt.

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We happened to book our trip during a Florida cold front, but thankfully the sun wasn’t shy, so the beach still felt warm and inviting.

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Walking the beach is always a fun experience in South Beach as the lifeguard stations are all designed and painted differently, but all of them representative of Miami’s art and style.

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We found a decent kids’ menu at The Beacon Hotel on Ocean Dr. (where Brett and I stayed a few times before we were married :o) for dinner, and Dash was cracking us up with his night time shades that he refused to remove.

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Notice Dash’s store behind him. :o)

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I know it won’t be long before I look back and wish I would have done more of these adventures. I fell asleep in a tiny hotel room Wednesday evening with Dash and Nella cuddled next to me, listening to Lainey and her friend laugh and play Uno in the bed beside us, and I felt so grateful for this little window of life, the way the kids are growing, the times we have to squeeze in crazy little adventures like this.

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I’ll share the carnival that is the Museum of Ice Cream next week. The kids are still talking about it.

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(past Miami trips:  2010201120142015)

Happy Weekending!

Deja Vu: Christmas in Chicago

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I knew last year at this same time–thirty minutes into our winter trip to Chicago–that I had done a dangerous thing–stumbled into a kind of magic that would be hard not to want to return to every year. If tickets were astronomical, it would be easier to say “not this year,” but Spirit’s $105 round trip bare fares called us like the sirens, leading us to the Town of Christmas Magic while we forgot about the fact that bare fare means bare service.

Brett says this “Howdy” must be a hand paint job because Spirit would never spring the $$ for a custom job. “Like a flight attendant must have crawled up there with a magic marker.”

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Listen, I am thankful for the option of an airline that keeps their prices low.  But Lordy, do they ever set us up for the jokes to follow. I think they had two employees running a check-in line of about 937 people at O’Hare, and one of those employees was practically watching everyone while eating a sandwich on break. I swear I heard him look out, laugh and say to everyone, “You suckers.”

I don’t care. It was worth it.

Why yes, I did give my kid a balloon on the plane to keep him entertained. Except it was a wubble balloon, and the little blow-up part that is supposed to stay inverted flipped out to clearly resemble a nipple so that it looked like I gave Dash a giant boob to play with. And why yes, he did toss it into air so that it floated two rows back behind us. “Excuse me, sir, could you hit that breast back to us? K, thanks.”

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There are certain things that will take your breath away in life–a beautiful landscape, new babies, an incredible act of kindness. Let me add to the list walking into a city apartment one late December night, after lugging kids through the cold, to find this scene waiting for you.

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My dear friend to whom this apartment belongs speaks the same language as my heart. We text throughout the year about all these secret little moments of motherhood and life hidden behind the obvious–the things we recognize and know the other one does too. She surprised me and ran into the city the day before to put up a tree in the corner. It is an act of kindness that went so far, I bottled up what it felt like so that I can pay it forward. My kids immediately found the toys, I lit candles and turned on music, and then I scanned the room slowly, drinking up every inch of the scene and tucking the happiness overflow into pockets of my brain to save forever.

(this little window–our favorite corner of this place and the perfect nook to people watch)

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We wanted snow and got just enough tiny flurries Friday morning to say we got it…

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…yet keep the temps up enough so that we could comfortably walk around and enjoy the city.

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While it is hard not to create great expectations for this weekend–I look forward to it for so long–it is easy to have those expectations met, even if everything goes wrong. Because no matter if you get to cross off all the things you want to see and do in the city on your list or don’t get to do any of it…you have the city which, stripped down to the bones, is still excess–drenched with this electric festive energy, dripping with beauty, filled with people who come to be happy simply to stand in the middle of it and drink it in. I am one of them.

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And then you add to the mix these other bits of magic–a home base where my kids want to hang out, a dad who comes along and loves all of this stuff as much as I do. He even bought a light-up Christmas hat just for the trip.

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Siblings who arrived from Michigan…

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While we did get to pack in so many adventures in a short amount of time, everything we do hinges around flexibility. In fact, I had bought tickets to White Christmas at one of Chicago’s oldest theaters but quickly traded plans to spend the evening out with my siblings one night while the kids stayed with my dad, and our time together delivered more than a theater ever could. We were walking around the city together, looking for a place where we could huddle and spend the evening together and were, of course, disappointed by all the long lines and wait times. We were about to take a table by the door at one restaurant when we made the call to look for something better. We get together maybe twice a year, and we were all in Chicago a week before Christmas–settling for ambience was out of the question. As we were walking, I saw a Christmas tree in the window of a step-down we almost didn’t notice. “Guys, wait! Look! There’s a fire in there. And a tree! And that bar!” We all crowded around the window and peeked in. “This is it. I can feel it.” We walked in to this charming scene and were given the table right by the fire. The rest is history.

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As for the rest of the adventures…

Butch McGuire’s.
A friend told me we had to go there at Christmas, and when we walked in, I was all “Son of a NUTCRACKER!” Christmas Lights everywhere.

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And two trains circling the ceiling, pulling Christmas cars…

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Dash was mesmerized.

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Willis Tower.
Last year, we did John Hancock, but we wanted to stand on the ledge with the glass floor this year. We got there when it opened, and Lainey requested that we repeat what we did last year–complete a puzzle at the top. So we huddled in a corner, overlooking the city, scrambling to connect the pieces of a Christmas puzzle with 100 pieces (I regret that part).

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That ledge though. Took me a minute to not want to puke looking down.

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Because it wasn’t blistering cold this year, we did get to experience ice skating at the McCormick Tribune rink in Millennium Park, most likely an experience we won’t soon repeat because it isn’t as charming as it looks when you are pushing the entire weight of a child who wants to “ice skate” but refuses to do any of the work. Dear God, my back. And then while every cell in my body was focusing on not dying, there’s some Brian Boitano out there, circling the rink, looking for every opportunity to throw in a triple lutz.

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My sister and I took the girls for afternoon tea at The Allis at Soho House which was pure city perfection–a mix of cozy/glam so inviting we didn’t want to leave, and a scone that set the bar high for all scones to follow.

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The slightly warmer temps also allowed us to experience Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo (completely free!) which turned out to be enchanting–very North Pole-ish. We rented a double stroller so Dash and Nella could huddle together with their hot chocolate, and we walked forever under lights as far as you could see and amidst a crowd of other young families doing the same. All these little babies and kids bundled up in strollers, enraptured by the lights–heaven.

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Other simple city favorites my kids love:

Riding the subway…

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Visiting Macy’s for their Holiday Lane and Christmas window displays…

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Hailing cabs.

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The rest of the weekend was filled with walking–popping in little cafes for hot cocoa when we needed it, shopping, holding hands, getting our family fill.

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My winter bunny looking so big this year.

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Everywhere we walk feels special, and my senses sponge it all up.

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We’ll take this same picture another year and measure it against this one, pointing out how much she’s grown but that her magic dimple has stayed the same.

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And I will, like other trips, slowly forget the details over time…

The funny things he said…

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The way she still held my hand…

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The sound of her giggle when she noticed she could “blow smoke”…

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…but I’ll never ever forget the way this weekend made me feel.

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…completely aware of every good thing that brings me happiness–a street performer passionately singing “Joy to the World”, a cozy restaurant packed with tourists at brunch, fur hats, colorful mittens, a stranger who gives up his seat on the train, holding hands, the sound of bells, the sound of coffee being poured, the sound of a horse and carriage on city streets at night, feeling the cold and knowing they’re happy and warm…

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…my kids in my arms, my kids on my lap, my kids sleeping soundly beside me…

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…possibility, excitement, wonder, love.

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This city delivered once again.

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(
my friend left a bowl of ornaments and paint pens for us to decorate…so thoughtful)

We returned home completely filled up and so ready for this coming week of family time. Brett stayed home because he lived near Chicago for years and does not love returning to the cold. “Tell your family the Bahamas is our next trip.” And I smile because when it comes to winter in the city, it’s like the bell in Polar Express. Some people hear it, some people don’t. But for me, it always rings loud and clear.

Six more sleeps.

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(See last year’s Christmas in Chicago trip here.)

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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