"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

a changing conversation of Love

Jim and Peggie Louise met on a blind date. Set up by mutual friends only because Jim was the one guy in town taller than Peggie, no one expected the relationship to last. Jim fell in love with Peggie, his "long-stemmed rose," though and over time and despite Jim's deployment during World War II, Peggie fell for him, too.

In August of 1947, when Jim and Peggie were 23- and 21-years-old, respectively, they eloped. They had no choice but to wed in secret because, in that time and place, it was unheard of for a Protestant like Peggie to marry an Irish Catholic like Jim. It simply wasn't done.

Peggie and Jim were never ones to play strictly by the rules, though, and they had no reservations about choosing to spend the rest of their lives together. They did, however, fear telling their parents what they had done. After their private ceremony, they each returned to live, separately, at their parents' houses. For three weeks, they maintained their charade. Finally one night when Jim arrived at Peggie's parents' house to pick her up for a date, he could hold it in no longer. He asked Peggie's parents to join them in the sitting room.

As the story goes, once the news was broken, a tense silence filled the room. Without a word, Peggie's father rose from his seat and left the room. He returned a moment later with a bottle of champagne and four glasses. "To the happy couple!" he beamed, and poured his congratulations for his daughter and new son in a toast to Love. That's it. Forget the church, forget the naysayers and the pearl-clutchers. In that moment, all that mattered was Love. And it was celebrated.


Twenty-seven years later, Peggie and Jim received a letter from their daughter Sherry, who was a junior in college. Sherry was due to come home for Thanksgiving and she was bringing her boyfriend, Cliff. Although they were young, they had dated for a couple of years already and knew they wanted to spend their lives together.

Sherry knew, though, that her parents were more practical than romantic when it came to matters of their children (and their children's education). Before her visit, she wrote to her parents a very rational and unemotional letter detailing the logical reasons why it made more sense for her to marry Cliff the following summer rather than waiting until after she graduated. She knew her parents would be apprehensive and, this time, it had nothing to do with the fact that Cliff was Irish Catholic. It was 1974. Interfaith marriages were commonplace by that time.

It's not like Sherry was marrying someone of a different race, after all.

Still, Sherry was nervous heading home for Thanksgiving. She hadn't received a response to her letter and knew her parents would prefer that she earn her nursing degree before getting married. As she and Cliff approached the house, she prepared her rebuttal: She would still finish school on time. She would still pursue a career in nursing. Getting married early wouldn't change any of her goals or derail any of her plans. She took a deep breath and opened the door to her parents' house.

As the story goes, Jim and Peggie met Sherry and Cliff at the door, holding a bottle of champagne and four glasses. "To the happy couple!" Jim beamed and there were hugs and happy tears all around. In that moment, all that mattered was Love. Graduation and a career in nursing aside, what Jim and Peggie wanted most for their daughter was love and happiness. She found it with Cliff, so all that was left to do was celebrate. (To celebrate and, to Peggie's sheer delight, to plan the wedding she never got to plan for herself.)

Time marched on and, with it, a changing conversation about love and marriage and religion and race. Cliff and Sherry's oldest daughter, Katie, married an Asian-American man. No one thought twice about the fact that she was marrying someone of a different race. It was the year 2000 and the Gen-Xers were open-minded, far more so than their Puritanical parents had been. Plus, Katie and her husband had both finished college and had found great jobs. Love, happiness, and financial security? What more could parents want for their grown children?

Interracial marriages had been legal across all 50 states for 33 years by the end of the millennium. Those who opposed it, for whatever racist and backwards reasons they may have had, were in the clear minority. Marry whom you love, it doesn't matter where your parents come from or what house of worship you attend (or don't) or the color of your skin. Religion and Race don't matter when it comes to Love.

It's not like Katie was gay, after all.

The cultural conversation about Love was like a snowball racing down an incline, gaining size and strength and speed as it descended. If it doesn't matter that you're of a different faith than your spouse, and it doesn't matter if you're of a different race or ethnicity than your spouse, what does matter? Does sex?

As it turned out, the same conversation that had previously taken a generation to change, this time evolved much faster.

Almost exactly 15 years after Katie married a man of another race (to precisely zero naysaying or pearl-clutching), the United States Supreme Court voted to legalize same-sex marriage. Anyone in the United States could now, truly, marry his or her true love. On June 26, 2015, all that mattered was Love.

***

It hasn't even been a year and that Love, it seems, has already been forgotten...

The snowball of Love that had been barreling down the mountain of Acceptance for the past three generations recently hit a Bathroom Bill Blockade that smashed that snowball of Love to smithereens.

As far as we have come in Loving our neighbors of different faiths, races, and sexuality, we must not forget to embrace our transgender, genderqueer, gender-variant, and gender non-binary friends, neighbors, and family members as well.

America, we are so much better than this.

I know this country isn't perfect. I know that, in terms of Racial Bias and Inequality Between the Sexes, we still have a long road ahead of us. I know that systemic racism and sexism are real and present and affect millions of people on a daily basis. I know that there will always be people who Hate. I don't like it and I don't understand it, but I know it.

The generations of people who came before us were forced to have Hard Conversations about Religion and Race and Sex. Things are far from perfect, but progress has been made. The progress (however limited) we've made as a people should have paved the way for us to have this Hard Conversation about Gender. We should know, by now, after everything we've been through, to rely on Compassion, Acceptance, and Love in our interactions with each other. We should strive for understanding.

It shouldn't, after so much time and so many tears and so many broken families, still be this hard. When will we learn our lesson?

***

Sherry and Cliff celebrated their daughter as she married a man (who happens to be of another race). They welcomed into the family, with open and loving arms, their son's partner (who happens to also be a man). They toasted (with beer, unfortunately, as no champagne was on hand) when another son announced that he and his girlfriend had eloped in a private wedding ceremony (an homage to his grandparents' eternal and forever love, perhaps?).

Most importantly, to me anyway, Cliff and Sherry haven't hesitated for a single second to love and accept my gender-nonconforming son, their grandson, just the way he is. (Thanks, Mom and Dad. But also, you're welcome. We can all agree that he's a pretty awesome addition to this family.)

I know I'm lucky to be a part of a family like mine. I know that it's not the norm to be surrounded by so many generations of people who, truly, are All For Love and Love For All.

Why the hell isn't it?

Lesson Learned:

It seems ridiculous, doesn't it, that fear of admitting their interfaith love prompted my grandparents to elope? I mean, they lived in the same town. Their parents knew each other. Their families weren't even devout; Jim's family were what they called "Christmas and Easter Catholics."

Can you believe that it was less than 50 years ago that Loving v. Virginia legalized interracial marriage in this country?

Imagine how our children are going to look back on this time. What will they think of us? At least I can say for certain that mine will always know that they are, have been, and will always be loved exactly as they are and for exactly who (not what) they are. They will also know that anyone they choose to bring home is welcome in our family (so long as they treat my babies with love, respect, and kindness).

Like my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents before me, I'll have a bottle of champagne ready. We'll toast to Love.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

the toll of picky eating

There are two things that, without medical intervention, you simply can not do for your children: You can't make them sleep and you can't make them eat. (You also can't make them use the bathroom, but we're actually all doing okay in that department for the time being.)

They're the two most stressful parts of having a newborn: Is he eating enough? Why isn't he sleeping?!

They're the two issues that have plagued Evan's life forever. The sleep was the first major obstacle to enjoying pure Baby Bliss. He didn't sleep for more than two-hour stretches EVER in infancy and, when he did hit that two-hour mark, it was because he was attached to my boob. Finally deciding that letting him Cry It Out was the only way to preserve my sanity at 10-months was the single biggest disaster of our parenthood (and yes, I'm remembering the time we took two kids in diapers, including an 8-week old prone to diaper blow-outs, on a four-hour long boat cruise WITHOUT A SINGLE SPARE DIAPER).

As a toddler, his sleeplessness continued. He would lie awake for hours in the middle of the night, quiet in his bed, twirling his hair. I'd watch him on the video monitor while I was up nursing Max. He didn't seem bothered by the insomnia, aside from the fact that his over-tiredness cast a terrible dark shadow on every aspect of his being from the age of 3 until he finally started sleeping again at 4 years old.

Throughout this time, eating was also a struggle. Picky by nature, compounded by his multiple and severe food allergies, and with a touch of sensory issues thrown in for good measure, introducing new foods was challenging, to say the least. Food scared him (anything that resembled milk or nuts) or made him squeamish (noodles, rice, cereal in hemp milk), or was too "spicy" (anything with any kind of flavoring, sauce, or marinade).

And so, Evan's List of Approved Foods was made early on, never amended (unless by deletion--we miss you, Sunbutter!), and impossibly short. Here it is, in its entirety:

plain chicken
plain hamburger
chicken nuggets, hot dogs
waffles
plain bagel/crescent roll/naan/or other bread with butter
bananas, apples, strawberries, mangoes, grapes
carrots
soy yogurt (vanilla or, if it has to be strawberry, with the strawberries strained out)
hummus
ketchup
hemp milk
water, juice
raisins
crackers, pretzels, popcorn
Annie's double chocolate chip bars

Plus a daily multi-vitamin and treats. That's it. Literally.

And he eats like a bird. Four bites of chicken and four carrot sticks and he's full.

Feeding Evan been a struggle ever since I weaned him. Somehow, though, he's managed to hug the bottom of the growth chart, maintaining a steady curve. At each yearly physical, his doc and we exhale a sigh of relief and cross our fingers until the next appointment.

Today was that Next Appointment we'd been dreading.

At his well-child check-up this morning, we learned that, despite continued height growth, he's actually dropped weight since his last appointment. His BMI is so far below the chart it looks like an ink smudge on the paper. His hemoglobin (iron) is in the Deficient range.

The doc gave him a You've Gotta Do Your Part and EAT, Buddy! pep talk (you can imagine how well that went over) and me a list of foods to get into his body....somehow. (To which he responded to me later with, "Well, I guess I can't trust any food you make for me anymore. What are you going to do, start putting avocados in my waffles?!" Well, I'm already adding flax and chia seeds, kiddo. I doubt you'd notice.)

She prescribed a multi-vitamin with iron and in-office weight checks every three months until we get back on the curve. She also gave me that Thoughtful Doc look that no parent ever wants to see as she wondered about the swollen lymph nodes all over his body. He had a slight fever a few weeks ago, so I'm telling myself it's just a result of that.

So now it's up to him. And me, of course, as the buyer and preparer of all of his foods. I dropped him off at school and went straight to the grocery store and impulse-bought every high-iron/high-protein food I *think* he might eat. Organic, grass-fed 100% beef burgers I can pull out of the freezer for him twice a week. Black beans to (yup, sorry Ev) hide in his brownies. But most of it was bought under the presumption of so much optimism that I'm practically living in a dream world. Edamame? Yeah, right. Sunflower seeds? Doubtful. Dried apricots? Forget it.

But do me a favor, will you? Think good, healthy, fatty thoughts and send them in his direction for the next three months...and beyond.

Lesson Learned:

Parenthood. I tell you: there is, literally, always something to worry about.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

An Army Party

Evan's the kind of kid who knows what he wants. When it comes to birthday parties, he wants the Real Deal: a theme of his choosing, decorations, games, activities, cake, party guests, the works.

He's also the kind of kid who knows what he likes. He's an introvert that doesn't really like big crowds (or even small groups of people when they're in his space). For birthday parties, then, that means that the "party guests" portion is a carefully curated list of a very small number of friends. We've tried a few variations on this theme and, this year, got it just right. He invited three kids...two buddies from his class and one neighbor...which was a totally manageable number for him (especially because, as you might imagine, Max and Molly wanted Full Participation Rights at the party as well).

He wanted an Army Party, which, at first, had me imagining a Nerf battle. I didn't love the idea, though, and didn't know how the guests' parents would feel about that (or how Evan would feel about all of his Nerf darts being used outside...he has enforced a Darts Stay Inside rule for his Nerf stash...like I have said before, Evan is a pretty particular kind of kid).

So instead of a Nerf party, I talked him into an Army Boot Camp party. There was a little running and a few push-ups involved but mostly, this was an Obstacle Course birthday party. And it was awesome.

Here's the course we came up with:

#1: Run a Lap around the house.


#2: Drop and Give me 5, Soldier



#3: Quick Step

I wanted tires for this activity but didn't have any lying around and, frankly, didn't really feel like going to the trouble of finding any (or hauling them in and out) just for an afternoon. String and dowel rods worked just as well.



#4: The Beam

We live in a new and growing neighborhood with a lot of construction happening all around us. Sam did some dumpster diving and found a ton of perfect wood being thrown away. We put it to good use.



#5: Barbed Wire Crawl


The "barbed wire" is actually star streamers, but the effect was perfect.



#6: The Wall



#7: Laser Cross

During the walk-through of the course, we talked about how, after boot camp, some soldiers go on to be Infantry Guys. Some, however, go on to become Special Ops Guys. (I actually have no idea how boot camp or the Army or anything military-related works, but the kids all nodded in agreement on this distinction, so we went with it.) If you're going to be a Special Ops Guy, you'd better know how to do some super sneaky maneuvering (again, just go with me here, I'm literally just making things up). 


We strung crepe paper streamers all throughout the play house. Their mission? Enter Door #1, maneuver through the "laser beams" and exit through Door #2 without getting zapped.


 #8: Hurdles

More string and dowel rods could have worked here, too. But we just happen to have a little bit of an online shopping problem a few boxes lying around, so we put them to work.



#9: Grenade Launch

I found these great grenade water balloons on Amazon (here). Once armed with a water balloon, the kids aimed for a target 10 yards away or so. I was pretty impressed that the kids stuck to the task...this definitely could have turned into a water balloon free-for-all.



#10: Target Practice

Finally, the kids picked up a Nerf and aimed for the target.



Then, run around the front of the house and start over again!

After the kids ran through the course a few times, it was agreed upon (by the party guests) that they had graduated from their training and had achieved Army Man status. They continued to use the course, but it had now become a battlefield rather than a Training Facility. It was then decided (by the birthday boy) that his (unloaded, of course) Nerf guns were just what real Army Men needed. So it turned into a Nerf party after all, but happy kids are the goal at any party, right?

They were so happy, in fact, that I had to beg them to come inside to eat cake before their parents came to pick them up.


Evan, the Goofball, gave us a Birthday Song Dance before blowing out his candles.



And then, cake for everyone!

Thanks to Duff for this awesome Camouflage Cake Mix! I found this on Amazon, too (here--although when I went to grab this link, the cake mix was listed at $11!! I certainly didn't pay that, so wait it out for a better price!).


Lesson Learned:
If you have to do an Army Party, I totally recommend doing it like this. The kids had a blast and (aside from the wall-building that Sam had to do and the hours I spent filling water balloons) party prep was a breeze. I kinda doubt either of my other kids will request an Army Party, but I'd be thrilled if they did.

Mostly, I'm proud of Evan. He knows who he is, what he wants, and what he can handle. Self-awareness is huge...and he's nailed it.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

9 and 9

"Mommy, you know what?"

"What, babe?" I called back. It was Monday afternoon and we were on our way to pick up Max from a friend's house. I was walking Jake while Evan pushed Molly in the stroller a few paces behind me.

"In exactly nine years and three days, I can enlist in the army."

My heart stopped and then so did I. I turned to look at my little boy, his too-long hair flopping down into his eyes, his bright, wonky, mis-matched tooth-y smile gleaming.

"Technically, you're right, bud. But you know you need to finish high school first."

"I know, but Mommy! I'm halfway there!"

Today he is. He's nine years old today. Halfway to "adulthood." (But we 30-somethings know better than to think an 18-year-old an adult, right?)

But he IS halfway to being eligible to enlist in the army.

How is that possible?


I swear it was just yesterday that I sobbed in quiet, helpless, desperation while rocking my inconsolable, colicky newborn. Has it really been nine years? I went from high school freshman to Master's Degree in nine years. How can one nine-year stretch feel like a lifetime, the other a breath? Especially when one actually IS a lifetime: his.

I swear it was just last night that I read aloud to him while he snuggled in close beside me and twirled the hair on the crown of his head around his finger. Actually, it WAS last night. He's still my little boy. My little big boy. My medium boy. Hmm. I guess he's right...halfway there.

They're right when they say the years are short, you know. These nine? Like lightning. But, though the journey is fast and furious, it's a beautiful one. And, to be honest, I don't really miss the stages we've outgrown. I love babies. (At least I think I do. I was pretty sleep-deprived for a long time. It's hard to remember.) I love toddlers and little kids, too. But medium kids? Medium kids, I LOVE. Medium kids make you laugh, not in a "You're so cute" kind of way, but in a "Holy cow, kid. You are FUNNY!" kind of way. Medium kids can have Big Conversations about Big things like "The Truth about Santa" and literature and social justice and politics and, yup, love and marriage and babies. And, not only can they handle these Big Conversations, but they can contribute to them in ways that make YOU think.

This one? He makes me think.


Medium kids are the sweet spot. Medium kids are old enough to do everything you want to be able to do with kids: travel, sightsee, eat in restaurants, share jokes, hike (like, for real), read GOOD, thick, meaty books, watch good movies, stay up late talking after lights out, play board games that don't involve color recognition, spinners, or that damn Gumdrop card that gets me every damn time I'm about to reach the Candy Castle....and Medium kids are young enough to still want to do those things with you.

You, Evan, are the Sweet Spot.

Halfway to the military? No way. This is the boy who still takes his syrup "on the side" so each waffle bite can be dipped to mapley-perfection.

This is the boy who still needs his back tickled before he falls asleep.

This is the boy who still plays with his Playmobil Pirates and construction trucks.

This is the boy who still dances around our living room without the slightest trace of self-consciousness.

This is the boy who still laughs until he cries upon hearing his brother say "butt cheeks."

This is the boy who still calls his Mommy and Daddy down to the basement to show off his latest tricks (most recently, spinning a couch cushion on his head like a Harlem Globetrotter in a pillow fight).

This is the boy who, just this year, finally agreed with us that he was ready for live-action movies.

This sweet, sensitive, goofy, hilarious, clever kiddo, who is still a little boy but who is getting so much bigger faster than with which I can keep up.


There have been countless moms who, on their children's ninth birthdays, were halfway there. Halfway to their children enlisting. Did they know? Nine and nine. It's too fast. How do you send your 18-year-old baby to war? How do you send anyone?

But maybe Evan, The Fact King, The Steel Trap Memory Kid, The Knower of All Things, is wrong. (It doesn't happen often, but it's been known to now and again.) Maybe, nine years from today, he won't be visiting his local army recruiting station after all. Maybe he'll be poring over college acceptance letters, trying to make the biggest decision of his young life. Or maybe he'll be applying to a higher education program that isn't a traditional four-year college. Or maybe he'll be starting his own business. Or maybe he'll be traveling the world. Any way you slice it, there will be a Good Bye...or, at the very least, a See You Later.


Maybe this boy will grow up to be a historian or a teacher or a writer or a stay-at-home dad.


Maybe an accountant or a scientist or a wind farmer or a pilot.


Maybe he'll be a pediatrician. Maybe he'll be a bartender.

But maybe he'll grow up to be a soldier. And though it will worry me to my core to send my little boy out into this big, dangerous world, armed and ready to defend freedom and our country and to help protect those who cannot protect themselves, I'll do it. I'll support his decision.

Because that's what moms do.


But, if he's committed to serving and protecting and he asks for my advice, I'll remind him of his Uncle Jack. A police officer in a major metropolitan city, Jack puts on his uniform and works every day to keep the peace and to offer safety and protection to those who need it. He's brave and he's Good and he's committed to serving and protecting...but he's close enough to go home and have dinner with his parents once a week.

Because, in addition to supporting their kids' dreams, moms also negotiate. It's about compromise, right?


Evan, on your ninth birthday, I want to say for the record: Whatever path you choose to pursue in your life and in your career, we will support you.

(Especially if that career is as a tenure-track history professor at the highly-ranked public university just down the road....)

but even if you choose to be a soldier. You rough, tough fighting machine.



Lesson Learned:

Evan, on this birthday, and on all birthdays, may all of your dreams come true...even the ones I don't understand. You are bright and creative. You are clever and kind. You are a total goofball. You have a tender heart and a mind built for sound decision-making. I love you and I trust you to know how you can best spread Good around this world....because you have so much Good to share. HBTY, my love.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Asheville, North Carolina: Magic and Happiness

The fact that, the day before our trip, he had a fever didn't surprise me. A measurable rise in body temperature is how Evan responds to all major life events or transitions. Holiday? Birthday party? Field trip? Switching out the long sleeves for the short-sleeved shirts in his closet? He'll have a thermal spike before or after the big day nine times out of ten. I was unfazed. 

The fact that he woke up the next morning at 4am, vomiting, four hours before we were to hit the road, did worry me. A lot. Our town is experiencing the hard-hitting effects of a Super Bug: a stomach virus so violent and relentless that it will knock an entire family out, one person at a time, sparing no one, for a four or five day stretch. Before Spring Break, some classes were down to a 50% attendance rate. My neighbors have had it. My kids' friends have had it. My kids' teachers have had it.

And now it looked like we did, too. Just in time for a five-hour car ride and a quick Spring Break getaway that, if we didn't get on the road now, would be over before it began.

What to do?

Skip it? Hunker down at home and deal with the Super Bug?
or Just Keep Moving...get on the road, cross our fingers, and hope for the best?

What choice did we have? We made up our minds. We steeled our resolves. We, Evan especially, muscled through. It wasn't our favorite car trip but, without having to stop too many times and while having the sense that the worst, for Evan at least, was behind us, we made it to Asheville, North Carolina.

Our first stop was the Botanical Gardens of Asheville

As soon as we stepped out of the car, stretched our legs, and breathed in that Appalachian Mountain air, I could feel it. There was magic in that air; healing magic.

While Max, literally, ran circles around us, Evan slowly but deliberately made his way through the park. He was able to keep down a few sips of water (a huge improvement from the previous 9 hours), breathe deeply, and let the healing magic soak in.


He needed to stop a few times to take a break, but after an hour or so, he was even eating pretzels.


Life was good.


At the end of the trail that winds through the gardens, there's a creek. It's probably the best creek we've ever found. There are huge boulders on which little kids like ours can play, and big kids like the UNC-Asheville students surrounding us, can study.


In my next life, I think I'd like to be a UNC-A student. 

Or maybe one of my kids will be and I can visit.

Like, all the time.




Creeks are mostly for playing, but there was geology to be learned in that creek, too. Evan noticed that the rocks were sharp and jagged, unless they were under water. It was a great opportunity to talk about erosion.


Water is powerful in its yielding, yet persistent nature. The gentle flow of the creek showed us the quiet power of water at its finest. It continues on its course gently, slowly smoothing rough edges, patiently clearing a path of easier flow over time, without acting destructively or in violent opposition to the world around it. Water, in Taoism, symbolizes wu-wei, or non-action. But don't mistake wu-wei for sluggishness or inactivity. It's working in harmony with the world. It's taking the path of least resistance while refusing to relax your moral standards. We could all take a page from water's book.

But seriously. The visible geology in western North Carolina is nuts.

Just look at this rock.


We hadn't been in magical Asheville for more than a few hours and it had already won us over.



From the Botanical Gardens, we headed south to our cottage.

Again...Magic.

If you're ever in Asheville, which you should try to be, you must stay at Asheville Cottages. This is not a paid review. Trust me when I say that I have received no compensation from writing this:

This place was perfect. 


This little cottage is one of 14 on a private, 5-acre piece of property just 10 minutes south of downtown Asheville and minutes from the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. (It was also only about 20 minutes to the Biltmore Estate and 45 minutes to Chimney Rock State Park.)

We stayed in The Chestnut, which overlooked the common green space (and this great swing!). Our one-bedroom cottage had a king bed, a sleeper sofa, plenty of room for the kids to play, a hot tub, a grill, and every amenity you might need while on vacation. We packed everything we would use while on the trip, but we didn't have to: The kitchen came fully stocked with coffee, cream, juices, sodas, sugar, butter, condiments, spices, and cooking supplies. There was a complimentary snack bowl filled with muffins, granola bars, popcorn, and candy. Even little extras, like Ziploc baggies, were included. The bathroom had full-size shampoo and conditioner dispensers, as well as extra toothbrushes, hand soap, and lotion. There was a hair dryer, plush robes, tons of extra towels, and HEATED BATHROOM FLOORS. The sheets on the (sleep number!) bed were spa quality and I wanted to steal the pillows. I didn't...but I wanted to.

It was, by far, the cleanest rental we have ever stayed in. It was immaculate.

The front porch was pretty nice, too.


So after we spent some time expressing all the ways we loved our little cottage, we ventured back out again.

This time, we headed to West Asheville to check out a beer and burger place I had heard about called Universal Joint. In a renovated garage, the place was just as it was described: no frills, just good burgers and beers. (It was here that Molly decided she would no longer willingly be in photos, making the documentation of the rest of the trip...Fun. We'll go with "fun.")


Evan successfully ate a few bites of dinner and we all breathed a sigh of relief and knocked on wood that we had avoided the worst of the Super Bug. 

On the way to dinner, I remembered that I had recently seen a photo of a tucked-away, West Asheville gem called "Christopher's Garden" on one of my favorite Instagram accounts (Jean Van't Hul, The Artful Parent).

I mapped the intersection I found for it in this fascinating article about Christopher Mello, the mastermind and creative director behind the garden. We were only a few blocks away. 

It's on a lot in the middle of a residential neighborhood. "Can we just walk right in to someone's yard?" the kids asked...


Yes, we may. And we did. And it was magical.

The garden itself was just beginning to come back to life, but the found treasures, sculptures, and architectural elements throughout the space were begging us to come in and explore.





In the center of the garden, there was a table covered in loose parts...rocks, strings, pieces of sharp, rusty metal, you know... play things. The kids were immediately drawn to it and decided to create ornaments of their own to hang up around the garden. "Can we use these?" Max asked. Evan answered: "Remember what Christopher Mello said, Max: Yes, you may."


And so, they did.


And they ran.


And they relaxed.


And they explored some more.


And we love Christopher's Garden.


I didn't sleep much that night, lying in bed between Max and Molly, listening to their every sigh and sleep sound, noticing their every twitch and shift, waiting for the proverbial next shoe to drop.

But we got through the night without another Stomach Virus victim and headed out early the next morning for The Biltmore: The grand estate of the Vanderbilt family.

I had heard that, when in Asheville, The Biltmore Estate is a Must See. I can tell you this: these pictures will not do the grandeur and opulence of America's largest private residence justice. 





I can also tell you this: most of the history I learned about the Vanderbilt family and the Gilded Age throughout the exhibits was lost on me because, while walking through the Tapestry Gallery, just beyond the Music Room and before the 12,000-book Library, Molly looked at me, positively green in the face and said, "Mommy. My tummy hurts."

I spent the rest of the time holding her in one arm and her jacket cupped inconspicuously in front of her in the other. She didn't get sick, but man, was I worried that we would be Those People to puke on Edith Vanderbilt's purple and gold silk coverlet. 

But here are two little tidbits for you:

1) Maybe I've been living under a rock, but did you know that Anderson Cooper is a Vanderbilt? His mom is Gloria Vanderbilt, whom I've heard of, of course, but never knew the connection. His grandfather, Gloria's father, was apparently quite the playboy and squandered his share of the fortune, so no trust fund for Anderson.

and

2) The chess set pictured in the library below belonged to Napoleon!


The house, to say the least, is impressive. 


And the lower level was so Downton Abbey I couldn't stand it. I could practically see Mrs. Patmore bustling about and Carson holding court.


Just like in Downton, the Cecil family, who currently own the estate, has had to work creatively to bring in the necessary funds to keep the house running. In addition to the $50/adult entry fee (!!!), they have converted the stables into gift shops. The confectionery may or may not have been a highlight of the tour.

It was.

The gardens were in full bloom.


And we even stopped by the petting zoo and playground for a bit. There's a winery, several inns and restaurants, canola and sunflower fields, and a solar farm on the property as well. 

All in all, The Biltmore Estate is well worth the price of admission (especially since kids 10 and under are free) and we had a wonderful morning. Without the kids, we could have stayed all day wandering the grounds but they were ready to move on.

To Downtown Asheville!

After a quick 10-minute drive to downtown, we walked around a bit, popping into cute little shops here and there. The highlight of the afternoon, though, was a late lunch as this fabulous restaurant, Tupelo Honey Cafe. The fizzy lavender limeade hit the spot and the homemade biscuits with blueberry jam (and honey, of course) were amazing.  


We awoke Wednesday morning with no firm plans. We had left it open thinking we'd want to do more sightseeing in Downtown Asheville, but we felt like we'd seen it properly the afternoon before. We packed up, bid adieu to our lovely little cottage, and headed east to Chimney Rock State Park.

It was a stressful drive up the mountain on a winding, narrow, cliff-hugging road, but we made it to the top...or rather, the bottom...from the parking lot it was a 499-stair journey to the top of Chimney Rock.



The kids were such troopers.

Evan bounded ahead, unafraid and full of energy. 

Max, nervous about the height and the safety of the stairs, clung tight to Sam's or my hand most of the way up. (For those of you who have been in the past, the stairs were replaced last year. They are constructed of steel and wood, are comfortably wide, with hand rails and wire mesh on the sides. Very safe. Very secure.) 

Molly took turns walking and when her "little legs are too tired, Mommy" she rode in the pouch, first with me, then, when I couldn't climb another stair with a 30-pound weight on my back, with Sam.

Half-way to the top!

In the Grotto

Hanging on for dear life.

We made it to the top!


I swear they weren't the ones to carve the E and the M!



The return trip down the rock, of course, took no time at all, so we decided to squeeze in one last little hike before heading home.

Chimney Rock State Park has five hikes in all. The stairs to the top of Chimney Rock is The Outcroppings Trail. The Hickory Nut Falls Trail, a trail ending with a spectacular waterfall and which was featured in The Last of the Mohicans, looked awesome, but we didn't think we had it in us to do a mile-and-a-half trail at this point in the adventure.

Instead, we opted for the half-mile Great Woodland Adventure Trail, which was designed with the youngest hikers in mind. Quick and easy, with stops along the trail to learn about the native flora and fauna in western North Carolina, it was the perfect end to our little vacation.





Lesson Learned:

Thank you, Asheville, for your beauty, your delicious food, your eclectic residents, your art and imagination, and, most of all, for your magical healing powers.

We'll be back!