Monday, January 23, 2017

Virginia, Numero Dos: Hiking the Cascade

Now that we live in MN, we make it a point to order unseasonably warm weather when we visit VA ;). So we were able to go for a hike a couple days after Christmas to the Cascades, located in the Jefferson National Forest in Giles. Even this time of year, the moss, laurels, and ferns make a bold stand, providing enough green that you don't feel like it's winter yet after all.

Photo creds to Dave and Dad and myself. It was a very pretty trail.

So you can see the sun was setting as we approached the falls. I'm so proud of our little hikers - they are enthusiastic and energetic. Of course, after the 2 (3? No I think it was 2. Felt like 3 though.) mile hike up, they were getting a little tired and trying to hurry back in the waning light was...a tad difficult. We sang a lot of peppy Christmas songs to up the pace. And the Noble Duke of York. We actually made really good time and got back to the trail head about 6:30 - well after dark, but in one piece (no bear attacks!).

Tim had dinner waiting for us at Lora's house, which was so warm and inviting. They really blessed our lives that night. Haha it might sound a little...overstated. But add up the relief at getting everyone home safely, having worked up a healthy appetite, and getting out of the cold, dark December night...well, it made for an especially pleasant dinner with the family. How I miss those informal gatherings with family! I am so, so, so glad we got to do that.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Virginia Christmas

The journey:

We left about 8 pm Wednesday night and drove through the night (and by we I mean Dave). The kids did great. Note to self: next over-night road trip, make some kind of stretchy, padded forehead cradles to attach to car seat. Their floppy little heads and occasional moans in their sleep made me sad. But they woke up perky the next morning, so I guess they were alright.
Anyway, we stopped only for gas and baby feeding. Pop Tarts for breakfast (much rejoicing) and we met Dad for lunch in Bluefield, VA, about 1:30 on Friday. We looked haggard I'm sure ,and Riley's hair was rat's nest from car-seat friction, but it was  a joyful reunion, nonetheless.

When we got home we showered and then celebrated Ander's birthday! Party! Party all weekend! Romp and Roll! Caroling at the nursing home! Cousins arrive and the house is filled with joyful children at play and Star War's noises!
Birthday cake (Artfully decorated by Riley and Joe, made my Tim)
Snowball fight. The kiddies are on the run!

Cheese-steaks at Sals (And a tired Ms. Ari cradles Lora's hand to the side of her face, because Lora is her comfort object and it was the cutest)

Christmas Violin recital at Heritage Halls (many thanks to Ander for making one of Mom's Christmas traditions happen.) I don't have pictures of the violinist :( but took a few on a rounds after. The nursing home residents are always enthusiastic about welcoming the little ones and laughing at their antics, lending ear to their tales. Joe was using his exceptionally long Santa hat to stow peppermints in he collected from Santa and his admirers. He was brazenly "passing the hat" till a stern rebuff from me, but his hand kept slipping up to shove more in there.I acted like I didn't notice.
Christmas Eve we welcomed Grandma and Aunt Mel, and Danny and Jenni's family.  Riley campaigned, and won, an early bedtime for the first time in her life. She really wanted to give Santa ample time. Surprisingly, I was the first one awake Christmas morning. So I crept downstairs and started breakfast: cinnamon rolls and baked Olaf (hash with eggs cracked on top). The kids rose around 7, 7:30 and were thrilled to open their stockings and Santa gifts.

Then we tore them all away from their presents and headed to church.  We sang carols and heard beautiful testimonies about Christ and I couldn't hold back the tears as I thought about how much we all missed Mom this year, and tried to focus my thoughts on our Savior and the message of comfort and eternal love that he brought. Dad shared a poem she loved: "Touch of the Master's Hand" - one that appealed to two major loves in Mom's life: violin and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It isn't Christmas-specific, but the message that we are all of infinite worth, and saved by our Savior, Jesus Christ, is poignant, and very Christmas-appropriate. Basically, even though our hearts are still broken, we have hope because of Christ. The world could be so much darker. Grief is awful, but I have to say I have felt the warm light of Christ even in this very difficult past year and I am truly grateful for that.

Well, and when you have such vibrant, energetic distractions as we have (those kids and cousins) you can't help but cheer up a little. They say and do such funny things, and are awash in innocence and excitement - Christmas! They left Santa a funny little note and all the best cookies. They asked if we were decorating sugar cookies till the only option was to do it already. And the joyful chaos that ensued when they were unwrapping Christmas gifts took me every bit back to my own childhood and the magic I felt on Christmas. 
Reading Luke 2

The combined efforts of many took a stab at what Mom used to orchestrate for our huge crowd every year, and we turned out a wonderful Christmas dinner. Grandma and Mel did the turkey, ham, and pies, the rest of us did sides, and we ate by candlelight. A silver lining: I feel like a treasure time with loved ones more now than ever. It is an honor to have so much love in your life, that makes partings so very painful. Not everyone could be there, but we held each other close in our hearts, and exchanged phone calls with those we could. Some of us went to the cemetery to feel close to Mom and reflect on Christmases past and be there for each other.

We got through. I am grateful for this more somber but maybe more meaningful Christmas this year. The traditions that were "nice" before now serve as connections and reminders.

*One more note: We participated in the Light the World initiative, and participated in various advent activities. There was one day that was "honor your mother" and I tried to do activities and make choices the way I thought Mom would, and it was such a reminder to me of what an exceptional being is Mom! I practiced viola (I don't have a violin, but viola works) and I quilted, made a nice meal for my family and served our neighbor. I talked to family on the phone and tried to listen with an empathetic ear. It was exhausting ;)  Basically, it was an exercise in living a full life. I'm so grateful.

And that, my friends was Christmas.

*although Part 2, maybe 3, of our Virginia visit pending*