Family Fun

Yes, We Are Still Alive!

Happy weekend, everyone!

I know it has been two weeks since we last checked in. The end of the school year is always crazy, and the pandemic has added extra craziness this year.

Oh, and Ili and I went to camp last weekend!

This was our first time returning to camp since the beginning of the pandemic. Things were definitely different, but it was fun to be back!

As always, our adventure began with the bonfire. We had to socially distance, but there were s’mores involved!

Because of Covid, each family had their own cabin. Ili and I chose bunkbeds on opposite sides, and we made the most of our space!

In the morning, we had (socially distanced) energizers, and then we got to meet our group.

And guess which activity Ili and I got to do first…

Thanks to yoga, I scaled the rock wall in record time. My hip range of motion has definitely increased–noticeably!

After the rock wall and zip line, it was time for the giant swing. This was new at Camp Be An Angel, but it had been one of Iliana’s favorite activities at summer camp two years ago.

And, of course, I took a turn as well!

After we recovered, Ili surprised me by knowing how to steer a canoe.

Fishing was next, and Iliana persisted in spite of the bait-stealing turtles. She caught fish after fish, and was the last to leave when it was time for lunch.

Lunch was a time for Ili to draw and relax. Due to social distancing, each family had their own table in the dining hall.

After lunch, it was time for horseback riding! Much to my surprise, I could move my leg the right way to dismount correctly. More yoga magic, I suppose!

Then it was time to see the barnyard animals. Unfortunately, Dali the Llama is now “retired.” (I suspect he is taking selfies in the big farm in the sky.)

After that it was time for some disc golf.

We definitely worked up an appetite by the time we arrived at the dining hall!

Previous years, we have gone swimming Saturday evening, or if the weather was too cold, we would have a dance. This year, they told us to gather in the dining hall to get ready for an activity.

This activity involved having each family carry one glow stick to the “Star Place” on the opposite side of the camp. The staff would be walking around with flash lights, and if they shined one on us, we had to freeze. If we moved or talked, they would take our glow stick and we would have to go back to the dining hall to get a new one. The game was surprisingly a lot of fun! And Ili and I made it on the first try.

Morning brought us breakfast and our picture from the day before. I bought us matching Camp for All shirts (and a coffee mug) from the camp store.

Previously, Sunday was a very low-key day at camp. We would have free time in the morning, with an optional church service, followed by the talent show.

This year, however, the day was filled with even more activities! We began our day with arts and crafts.

Ili and I always went to the “Tree House” during our free time on Sunday, and this year we had just enough time between arts and crafts and the next activity. Feeling too cool for this tradition, my 13-year-old reluctantly indulged my nostalgia.

After that, it was time to visit the reptiles and go on a nature walk/scavenger hunt.

Our walk ended at the archery range! With the smaller groups, Iliana and I both got some individualized help from the staff. By the end of our time there, we were both hitting the target consistently. We felt like Katniss Everdeen!

Ili was not excited when they sang the tear-jerking song at lunch (they have replaced “The World’s Greatest” with an equally tear-jerking song!), but she was happy to stop at Freezy Frenzy on the way home. Clearly, she does not share her mother’s enthusiasm for taking selfies, however.

So that was our adventure! We were both a bit wiped out after the busy weekend, and Iliana developed a fever and aches for a day and had to stay home from school on Monday. However, it was completely worth it.

We are now looking forward to more adventures! Iliana will turn 14 the day after school gets out, and we will need to celebrate. June will bring a camping trip with my parents, as well as a visit to Elijah’s Retreat. In July, Iliana will spend a week at Camp Blessing. And I plan to order my new lipstick for the fourth of July!

P.S. Rob and I finally ate at a restaurant tonight! Like indoors, at a table. It was crowded, with music and craziness. Normalcy approaches…

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!