About Us, Family Fun

Day 4: Celebrate a Family Tradition

This is Day 4 of the writing prompts on Sue at Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond’s advent calendar.  Today we are to celebrate existing family traditions and consider starting some new ones.

One Thanksgiving, when Iliana was a toddler, we ended up with no family to visit.  We had seen my parents the day before, and Rob’s parents were staying in Florida that year.  We decided to go to his family’s home on Lake Huron and have our own Thanksgiving.  We made all the traditional food and created a beautiful table.

It was very, very, very depressing.

It’s not the food that makes the holiday, it’s the people you spend it with.  It felt so empty to be going through the same motions, without the same fun we were used to having with everyone.

We thought of that Thanksgiving often when we first moved to Texas.  We realized this was a new chapter for us, and we would need to create some new holiday traditions, to keep them from becoming empty and lonely.

We spent our first Thanksgiving at a Yogi Bear Campground, and our subsequent traditions have been equally as non-traditional, at times.

Here are some Christmas traditions that our family enjoys:

Pancakes With Santa

When we lived in Michigan, there was a magical little house downtown, where you could go and visit Santa.  Ili loved the decorations, and the emphasis was on the experience, not on ordering photos.

When we moved to Texas, I could not find such a Santa House.  Our first Christmas, I took Iliana to the mall.  That was a big mistake.  After waiting in line for over an hour, she had a visit that barely lasted 2 minutes, tops.  There had to be a better way.

The next year we moved to the boat, and I became involved with a parenting group on Facebook.  This group hosted a Winterfest in November, and you could reserve a timeslot with Santa, for a price.  We did that.  It was more pricey than I would like, but it was much better than the mall.

Then, when I was driving past the Kemah Community Center, walkable from where we live, I saw an advertisement for “Pancakes With Santa.”  This was a free event, so of course I took Iliana that year.

There were elves, Santa visits with a tiny line (and free photos), photo opps with the mayor and other VIP’s, and, most importantly, Miss Kemah.

Iliana has participated in the Texas Miss Amazing pageant twice, and although she does not want to compete again next year, she always looks forward to talking shop with the reigning queens!  In fact, we refer to this event as “Pancakes with Miss Kemah.”

Advent Calendars

We love advent calendars!  When we first moved to Texas, we made Iliana a calendar that involved socks pulled through a cardboard board.  She would open a sock each day, and receive a toy or trinket.  We even drove to Michigan with this calendar, so she could continue the fun during that visit.

Nowadays, Iliana has discovered the cardboard calendars with the chocolates.  She chose her favorite design and helps herself to a candy every morning.

Additionally, for our craft tonight, we made a Christmas chain, and Iliana and I both wrote down activities for each day.

Christmas Eve

To prepare for the main event, we first make “Reindeer Feed,” with oats and glitter.  Then, before bed, we spread it on the bow, so Santa’s reindeer can find our boat.

As she is falling asleep, Iliana hears the “thud” as the sleigh lands on the boat.  Then she hears sleigh bells, fading off into the distance.

Christmas Morning!

Well, as soon as we all are up, it’s mimosa time!  This is a tradition we carried over from Rob’s family.  Iliana drinks orange juice and sparkling grape juice.

We open stockings first, then do gifts one at a time.

There may be a visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, if we did not visit them Christmas eve.

Then it is time to enjoy all the snacks that we prepared the day before.  With Rob’s family, Christmas involved no meals, just a huge snack table.  We enjoy ham roll-ups, dips, rum balls (adults only!), baked brie, and other treats.  It is a day of eating, lounging, and watching movies.

Now It’s Your Turn!

What traditions do you enjoy?  What would you like to add?

 

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About Us, Family Fun

Day 3: Deck the Halls and Decorate

This is Day 3 of the writing prompts on Sue at Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond’s advent calendar.  Today we are to “deck the halls and decorate.”

Our Christmas decorating fluctuates.  There have been years where we have gone all out, and years where we have kept it simple.  We always have a tree and stockings, but the rest will vary.

I know what I did not want to do, was allow Christmas decorating to become stressful.  Rob and I both have known people who have been so particular about the decorating of their tree, and so concerned with decorating their homes perfectly, that it took the fun out of the process.

When we moved to Texas, we did not have room to bring our ornaments and Christmas decorations.  So that first year, in the apartment, we made new ornaments for our tree.  The ornaments we have now are all either hand made or acquired since we made the move nearly 6 years ago.

While boat have ample room for lights, finding room for a Christmas tree was challenging when we lived on a sailboat.  On our first boat, we removed a cushion from the settee.

On Loco Lobo, however, we have room for a full-sized tree!

Iliana still placed the star.

Rob enjoyed some coffee.

And we played the fireplace video on the TV!

We chose to forego lights this year, but we did put a wreath on the bow.  I’ve set up a decorating activity for Iliana each evening.  Last night she made snowflakes.

And, noticing that our larger tree could use some more ornaments, I had Iliana make sandpaper ornaments tonight!

We will continue making decorations in the evenings, and I still need to pick up some more stockings from the dollar store.  Otherwise, our halls are decked!

Now It’s Your Turn

How are you decking the halls this Christmas season?

About Us, Boat, Family Fun

A Black Friday Story

We have a very cushy life, even though we live on a boat.

We have apartment-sized furniture and appliances, Iliana has her own bedroom, Rob and I share a queen-sized bed, we have our own shower, and, once they are repaired, we will even have our own laundry facilities.  Living on Loco Lobo is a lot like living in a small mobile home.

Yet our lifestyle is not without adventure.

We lose electricity whenever the tide is too high, which usually happens at least once a year during a storm surge.  Last winter we had a deep freeze, which caused us to lose water for many days after the pipes froze.  We take these challenges in stride, because they are just a part of living on a boat.

However, this Thanksgiving, we had an adventure that was equal parts horrifying, baffling, and, in the end, kind of funny.

Meet Popcorn, the (Somewhat Lazy) Cat-of-Prey

This story begins with our kitty cat, Popcorn.  We rescued Popcorn when she was about 4 weeks old, in the Amish country outside of Mount Pleasant, Michigan.  Her mother had been run over, and she was sitting, lost, in the middle of the road.  We posted ads, but nobody claimed her.

After a few years of being an indoor kitty in Harrison, Michigan, Popcorn joined our family on our move to Texas.  A year later, she was living on a sailboat, and we started allowing her to go outside.

At first, Popcorn enjoyed hunting.  Everyone on the pier loved her, because she killed a large number of wharf rats.  Occasionally, she would leave a rat by the door, for her family.  Rob tried to humor her, and pretended to eat the rats, but that was not enough.

In order to better feed her family, Popcorn decided a more aggressive approach was necessary.  On Easter morning, while Iliana was hunting for hidden eggs, Popcorn triumphantly jumped through the open hatch, delivering a dead rabbit and depositing in in the middle of the floor.  Luckily, Iliana was just starting to get into science, and excitedly proclaimed, “Popcorn has captured her prey!”

As Popcorn got older, we moved onto Loco Lobo, on the marina’s very laid-back island pier.  Everyone adored her and started leaving out snacks for her.  A family on a catamaran nicknamed her “Poppy,” and she became somewhat of a celebrity.  Our neighbors keep a box with a blanket in it out on their aft deck, so she can come over for a nap and a snack whenever it suits her fancy.

Loco Lobo came with a cat hole cut in the companionway door, so Popcorn frequently enjoys going outside.  Instead of hunting down rats and bunnies, however, she likes to lie down on the main pier and wait for her admirers to come over the pet her.

In the winter, however, there are fewer people staying in the marina.  So Popcorn has been keeping herself entertained by playing with the rodents once again.  One morning, she surprised us by leaving a litter of dead baby rats on the side deck.  More recently, when Rob came home for his lunch break, she had brought in a still-alive rabbit.  She had lost interest in it before killing it, so Rob let it go and boarded up the kitty door.

The fall is a lovely season in Texas, where we need neither air conditioning nor heat, and we love to leave the companionway door and hatch open most of the time.  Our aft deck has doors on the sides, so our dog can’t escape.  But Popcorn is nimble enough to come and go as she pleases.  We enjoyed a number of pleasant nights, with the boat open as we slept in the fresh, fall air.

A Nighttime Visitor?

The first time it happened, Rob noticed a horrible cut on Iliana’s pinky finger, when he woke her up in the morning.  There was blood all over her sheets.  She had two puncture wounds on the front of her finger, and one in the back.  We googled “rats” and learned that rats  do not carry rabies, but they can carry other bacterial infections.  Iliana had just finished an antibiotic for an ear infection (one of the few antibiotics she is not allergic to), so I continued giving it to her, until we decided what to do.

Our boat has a headliner, like a car, for the ceiling.  In Ili’s room, it was torn in two places, where she had kicked it from her bed.  We in in the process of replacing it.  We figured that the creature who bit her, must have come in through the tear, since it was so cold outside.  There was no evidence of a rat living in our boat, so we figured that it was a freak incident.

We repaired the tear and had Iliana sleep facing the other direction.   We all figured that the problem was solved.

Until Iliana woke us up at night, screaming.

Right next to her eye, she had two deep bites on her face, bleeding a great deal.  Horrified, we immediately cleaned it with an antiseptic wipe and gave her a band-aid.  She brought her favorite stuffed animals into our bed and fell asleep quickly.

In the morning, her face was bruised and swollen.  Which meant that whatever bit her was strong.

Stronger than a bat, was my immediate thought, because bats are the primary carriers of rabies in our area.

That day was Thanksgiving, and we called every urgent care clinic in our area.  Nobody was open until Friday.  I gave Iliana some antibiotic ointment and another dose of her antibiotic.

Black Friday, Part 1

We allowed Iliana one trip into her bedroom during the day, so she gathered up every single one of her Beanie-Boos.  Then we set up rat traps and closed the door.  Iliana surrounded herself with Beanie-Boos and fell asleep in the middle of our queen-sized bed.  The dog and cat took their usual places at the foot of the bed, leaving Rob and me a miniscule amount of real estate.

Which is fine, because I couldn’t sleep.  I woke up at night a couple times, and continued researching rats, rabbits, bats, and rabies.  Which didn’t make sleeping any easier.  What I did learn, is that whatever we did, we had a little bit of time to decide.

Urgent care opened at noon, and Iliana had her heart set on shopping at Black Friday.  In my minimalist blogging years, I extoled the virtues of Buy Nothing Day and urged my readers to “rethink Christmas.”  I encouraged them to make it about more than the mountain of gifts.

And then, in the wee hours of the night, I would make sure that Santa delivered a mountain of gifts to our house.  Because….Christmas….

Back in those days, I also said that only children were not spoiled.  So I was wrong about a lot of things!

Grateful that Urgent Care opened so late, and that an animal bite was not an emergency, I excitedly took my only child to Black Friday.  We scoured the ads ahead of time, and just ended up overwhelmed by it all.  Then I remembered that I had gift cards for Macy’s and Nordstrom’s.  I saw that Kohl’s had a sale on toys, so Iliana agreed that we would look for Beanie Boos there, and if they didn’t have any, we would go to Five Below.

Together, we eagerly hit the mall!

Iliana’s first find was a sequined pillow at Macy’s. She has wanted one for a long time.

Before heading to Nordstrom’s, it was time for some Dipping Dots!

And, of course, a mirror selfie on our way out.

Here is Iliana, all gussied up with her new hair and fashion accessories!

We ended the day with a Happy Meal, and got ready for the next leg of our adventure.

Black Friday, Part 2

While Iliana and I were shopping, Rob texted me, saying that he had done some investigating and found lots of rabbit poop throughout the bilge…and a few newly deposited next to the dog food dish.  His googling told him that rabbits in the wild are very aggressive and territorial.  So it still looked like we were dealing with a non-rabies carrier that was unlikely to spread infection.

We made plans to set a live trap, baited with dog food, and after lunch, I took Iliana to Urgent Care.

Iliana had a lot of health problems early in life, but, before this year, she had only been to the doctor twice since we moved to Texas in 2013.  One of those times was for a check-up and vaccines.

When I left my job, Iliana qualified for Medicaid.  We have been navigating the bureaucracy of that, trying to figure out how to keep her current doctor (which we likely will be able to do).  In the meantime, Iliana has been to Urgent Care twice, with pink eye and with an ear infection.

Doctors become very stressed when Iliana needs an antibiotic, because she is already allergic to Penicillin and Clindamyacin.  She had a mild reaction to the first one, and a serious reaction to the second.  For her ear infection, she was given a Penicillin derivative, which did not cause any problems.  That is what I continued giving her, after the bites.

So off we were, to our third Urgent Care visit, the day after Thanksgiving.  I expected it to be quick, which maybe a Tetanus shot, but not much else.

Of course I had to tell the story about how she got bitten by a feral rabbit in our home.

I told the story to the receptionist when we checked in.

And the nurse who took Ili’s vitals and triaged us.  She was very concerned, and said that this sounded like a rabid animal, and we may need to go to the ER.  She said she would be right back.

Twenty minutes later, we had still not graduated to seeing the doctor.  The nurse returned with a map and Mapquest directions to the nearest pediatric ER, which also happened to accept Medicaid.

Iliana was very displeased.  As we pulled into the hospital parking lot, I reminded her that she used to love going to the hospital.  She went there a lot when she was younger, and she would start smiling and laughing when we pulled into the parking lot.  She loved the nurses who paid attention to her.  I used to joke that she wanted to have her birthday party there.  When we lived in Michigan, Iliana had three ER visits and two hospitalizations, all of which she enjoyed.

Ili wasn’t buying it.  We were scheduled to visit her best friend at 5:00, and Ili remembered how long ER visits often took.  It was already 3:00.

We were triaged as soon as we walked in, and they directed us to a gurney sitting against the wall (next to pirate decals!) in front of the nurses’ station.  I took it as a good sign, that they didn’t expect us to stay long enough to even get a room!

Iliana was unhappy, but I did get her to put on her sunglasses for one “diva” picture…

It was 10 minutes before the (rather attractive) doctor arrived.  I got to tell yet another person our bunny story, and he seemed unphased.  “Well, you did the right thing,” he told me. “We would have prescribed the antibiotic she is taking and given her antibiotic ointment.  You don’t have to worry about rabies with rabbits and rats in this area.”

He made sure there was no bat evidence in the boat and directed me to keep giving Iliana the antibiotic until it runs out.  And he gave us the name of an infectious disease specialist to call if Ili starts having any symptoms, which he said, she likely will not.

10 minutes later, a nurse showed up with our discharge papers, and Iliana and I were on our way!

Here she is, ready to visit her bestie!  She ripped off her hospital bracelet as soon as we arrived!

Meanwhile, Iliana is banned from her bedroom while we try to catch the crazy bunny.  Stay tuned…

 

 

About Us, Family Fun

A Birthday Weekend in My “Happy Place”

This post has been a long time in the making.

I turned 40 on September 30, and I wanted to share my celebration at Elijah’s Retreat, in Jacksonville, Texas, with all of you shortly after.  However, I have also been getting settled in at my new job and working on balancing work, family, and myself.  

I am getting there, so today I am writing.

The First Visit

Somewhere in our second year living in Texas, I spent a night Googling activities for children with special needs.  I had seen a Facebook post about a special needs amusement park in San Antonio, and while I was looking for that, I stumbled across a website for Elijah’s Retreat. This was a resort, located about 3 hours away from us, for autism families.  It cost $30 a night and had 3 cabins.

Of course I was interested, but I was dismayed to find that the calendar was booked for the next year.  I followed Elijah’s on Facebook, and when the calendar for the next year opened up, I jumped on it.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break were full by the time I made my way to the site, but I managed to book two nights on a weekend at the end of summer vacation.

That weekend, Rob ended up having to work, so Ili and I headed out on a mother-daughter road trip!  Rob had looked over my Jeep, and found it to be in good working order.  However, the randomness of life had other plans.

As we were approaching Cleveland, Texas, the car started shaking, badly. I pulled into a gas station and noticed a large goiter on one of the tires.  I filled it with air and hoped for the best.  However, the tire had other plans.

We were stranded at the Love’s in Cleveland.  I called Rob, who would walk me through a tire change, if I could find a jack.  I could not, so I called AAA.  While I was waiting, an employee at the store said that his friend could put on a new tire for $120.  A bit steep, but that would get us to Elijah’s that night, rather than a hotel.

I told Rob, who cautioned me to ensure that the tire is new.  And sure enough, the f, riend showed up with a used tire.  I apologized for wasting his time, and put the AAA guy back on call.  He showed up, put on my spare, and shook his head at the “country bumkins” who were trying to “take advantage of the city girl.”

Rob had found a nearby Motel 6, where Ili and I spent the night.  She likes hotels, so this was fine.  In the morning, we arrived at Walmart as soon as they had opened.  The said my Jeep would have a new tire in 30 minutes.

Ili and I headed to McDonald’s to eat breakfast, then we returned to Walmart.  They were not ready.  Two hours later, my Jeep was still up on a hoist.  They said that oil changes take priority, and that they would not work on my Jeep as long as there were oil change customers.

Rob called, and I loudly explained that I could not take my daughter, who had autism, to an autism resort, because they were holding my car hostage.  Before I could finish my conversation, a manager appeared.  I hung up, and he apologized.  He said I could get my Jeep back right away, with the old tire, or I could wait 15 minutes for a new one.  I got the new tire and was on my way.

When we arrived at Divine Acres Ranch, Iliana was greeted by a volunteer, who took her on a horseback tour of the property.

At the time, the resort was still being run by its founder, Jeff Moore.  He was happy to see us, and offered us an extra night, since we arrived a day late.  Unfortunately, we both had school on Monday.

We had reserved cabin #2, but there was a mix-up, so we stayed in cabin #3, which I refer to as “The Palace.”  In the morning, I woke up before Iliana and enjoyed my coffee on the porch swing.  I was new in my yoga practice at that time, but during savasana, we were always asked to think of our “happiest place.”   To this day, I think of the swing at cabin #3.

Iliana had a great time.  There was one other family staying in the other two cabins, and their oldest drove Ili around in the barrel train.  I called it her “chariot.”  We both cried when it was time to leave.

Visit #3

We did not take any pictures of our second visit, but we had the resort to ourselves.  Elijah’s was struggling financially and in danger of closing.  The price increased to $100 a night, but I knew Rob needed to see it.

Then, the Torres family purchased the property, and we returned last spring, right after I went on leave from my job.

Here I am, on the swing, in my happiest place!

Lots of new changes happened with the “changing of the guard.”  The price went back down to $30, and the “little ranch hand” program was started.  Every morning, Miss Cheryl would drive by with the hay ride, and Iliana could jump on and feed all the animals that morning.  She also had the opportunity to ride a pony everyday, mid-afternoon.

And while attendance was down, Miss Cheryl’s children would come out to the playground and keep Iliana entertained!

Our Most Recent Visit

30 pounds less and one year older, I decided to issue in my fourth decade of life, at Elijah’s Retreat!

The obligatory kitchen picture…

Enjoying cabin #2…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hanging out and feeding the animals!

There was a news crew there that weekend, and here is the segment they aired, which included Iliana!

https://www.easttexasmatters.com/news/local-news/local-autism-retreat-serving-families-as-a-home-away-from-home-/1501423719?fbclid=IwAR0Y0kEBDmw24sOrLZW-kiEGdfAnp0oS3wySG0D_AjmePOC-YqbVD_770rA

Thank you to to Torres family and everyone else who has kept Elijah’s Retreat alive!  We had booked again for Iliana’s 12th birthday.  See you there!

 

Family Fun

The World’s Greatest

When I was teaching full-time, one of my colleagues approached me while we were waiting for the buses to arrive.  “We just listened to a man speak, from Be An Angel,” he told me, referring to the professional development he had attended the day before.  “You have got to look them up.  I think they have a camp that your daughter would be able to go to.”

Always curious about new activities for Iliana, I did look them up that night.  I filled out an application, and, sure enough, she did qualify for their weekend family camp.  So in February, 2016, we made a mother-daughter road trip to Camp For All, near Brenham, Texas.

…And had such a great time, that we made the trip once again in September….

…And three more times.  We didn’t even let Harvey stop us (camp was two weeks after)!

This September was our sixth time attending camp, and it was as wonderful as the past five!

Camp Be An Angel is a family camp for children and teenagers with disabilities and their families.  The camp is free for the families who are selected to attend, and a parent must attend with their child.  The camp is run by Be An Angel, a charity run out of Houston, that also provides services and equipment for children with profound deafness and multiple disabilities.

The camp is held at Camp for All, a barrier-free camp in Burton, Texas.  Both the Camp for All staff and the Be An Angel volunteers facilitate the activities during the weekend.

So here is the story of our latest Camp Be An Angel adventure!

Friday: Early Arrival!

When I was working full time, we always arrived after dinner on Friday.  This year, since I was not yet working at all, I picked Iliana up from school early, and we made it there right before dinner!

The first order of business, was getting settled into our cabin.  There are usually two families per cabin, although once there were three in ours.  Our cabin-mates are usually in the same group as us, and we spend a lot of time together during the weekend.

We were the first to arrive at our cabin, so we found a set of bunk beds and got settled in!  (In order to be accessible, most of the beds in the cabins are not bunk beds).  And yes, that is a yoga book on my nightstand!

Pleased with our work, Iliana was ready to play in the dining hall, which is one of her favorites pasttimes at camp.

And then it was time for the bonfire!

Iiana was very happy to see her beauty pageant buddy, Madison, with her new service dog.

And they sang my favorite camp song, “500 Miles.”

Saturday: Very Busy Having Fun!

We always sleep well at camp, and morning meant breakfast, followed by–of course–dancing!

We saw our friend, Myra, who has been at camp with us all 6 times!

And happily, our cabin-mate was Kimberly, who shared a cabin with us last time as well!

Our day began with horseback riding, which meant that was got a hayride to the barn…

Catching up with some old friends!

Iliana was very happy that some of her friends from previous camps, were in our group.

Everybody can do everything at camp, and they are equipped to make sure that the kids with wheelchairs are able to do any of the activities that they choose to do.  So everybody rode horses!

Then it was off to the barn, to spend time with the animals!

Dali Llama is a very special animal in the barn, because he loves selfies!  Ili and I aren’t that skilled though, so we have someone else take our picture with him.

Here is September, 2016…

April 2017….

September 2017…

April 2018, but a goat was standing in for him!

And here is our latest portrait with Dali!

After the barn, it was time for canoing…

Then everybody caught a lot of fish!

Then it was time to visit the nature cabin…

And everybody had fun in archery!

Iliana always enjoys photography…

And arts and crafts!

It had been a rainy week, but we were lucky to have good weather at camp.  But Iliana got worried when it started raining right before her favorite activity, the zip line.  Luckily, they had an indoor contingency plan.  I had no idea that Iliana could Hulu Hoop!

Time to suit up!

Some kids climbed the rock wall while they were waiting.

Travis, who uses a wheelchair, went around the course first!

Then it was Iliana’s turn!

Zip line time!

In the dining hall, Iliana recounted her adventures and played with her friends…

And we got our very cute picture!

So after all that, it was time for bed, right?

Wrong!

Sunday: Still More Fun to Be Had!

Sunday morning meant picture time with our cabin-mates!

And, of course, more dancing.

Sunday’s singing and dancing always ends with the song “The World’s Greatest,” which always has the effect of making me cry.  Here is a video from September, 2016:

After breakfast, there is an optional chapel service.  And Iliana and I have our own tradition–a walk to the Tree House.

And then, the main event:  the camp talent show!

Iliana sang “Champion” by Carrie Underwood.

Then it was time to return to the dining hall one last time, where Mr. Russ, the camp director, said “Good-bye” to everyone.

 

The end of camp is always bittersweet, but we will be back in the spring!  And Iliana and I have one more tradition, on the drive home…

We always stop at Freezy Frenzy for Thai rolled ice cream!

It was the perfect ending to a perfect weekend!