Monthly Archives: January 2014

New Orleans

As we packed our car that warm balmy morning we were very excited about the westward adventure that lay ahead.  Things had gotten slow and easy down there in south Florida.  The weather always warm and humid makes you slow down a bit.

We bumped off from Grammy’s house and sped NW up the peninsula making one important road side stop for a huge bushel of Florida oranges and grapefruits.  Onward we pressed through Orlando where the temperature was still as much as 80 degrees.  About an hour North of Orlando I stopped for gas and received a chill.  Now down in the 50s we had driven into the more temperate winter air mass that had sunken as far South as North Florida.

That night we found a convenient camp ground right off of the highway only a few miles before the border of the central time zone.  The panhandle of Florida was forested, not what I expected – pine forests with not much undergrowth.  I had always pictured rolling farm country here but it looked more like the forests around Flagstaff, Arizona.

Our plan from here was fairly loose.  We wanted to get to Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico by Elias’s birthday on the 1st of January.  We very much wanted to spend time in New Orleans on the way out but we didn’t have an exact schedule for that.   We woke up that morning in the Panhandle.  I rushed everyone out of bed packed up and we were on our way by 7:30.  That was a record for the trip so far.  Towards the beginning, back in Montana it would take us hours to break down camp.  11am at first.  Slowly we pushed it down to 10am.  If the boys were motivated we’d bring it down to 9:30.  By the way, this is with me getting up before dawn and getting coffee going for Michelle and I, before taking on breakfast duties and so on and so forth.  But today we had to leave early and everyone was on task.

The following day, the 28th of December was calling for up to 2 inches of rain in New Orleans.   New Orleans was about 5 and half hours from where we camped.  The job at hand was to make the most of the great weather.  We didn’t want to have anything to do with that much rain.  So that’s what we had to work with:  Make the most of the iconic city for an afternoon and an evening and then move on.

Driving into the city you can’t help to have a reaction to the state of things.  So many neighborhoods with people clearly still living  in disarray.  Roofs ripped off with weeds comfortably growing out of them unchecked.  Unkempt neighborhoods, buildings run down to the ground, people living in desperate shambles.  This was everywhere.  The interstate ran above and you could look down in to these people’s lives like it was on display.  Were these places forgotten?  When did hurricane Katrina happen?  2005?  Up in Long Beach, New York we took morning strolls on this brand new and beautiful boardwalk.  Neighborhoods were in good standing there with only sandy roads a mile inland to remind everyone that the sea did try to claim that land just last year.  Why is New Orleans being forgotten?

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Once we parked we quickly found the perfect restaurant right on Bourbon Street.  A nice place with authentic Cajun dinning but also comfortable enough for the kids to squirm a bit.  Po Boys, Gumbo, Alligator Sausage, and all kinds of proper, authentic New Orleans food and adult drinks, we were having so much fun.  From there we picked up and walked the town.  If you are going to walk any neighborhood just for fun, than this is the one.  Your eyes are constantly being entertained and taunted.  The smells make you think of older places than the USA.  Voodoo is everywhere.  On the surface it’s for the tourists, but also around corners and in people’s  eye’s.

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My favorite part was the music.  The Jazz was not coming from restaurants, bars and clubs like I had thought it would.  It was all over the streets.  The Jazz bands were made up of all of the brass wind instruments you can think of…they were just jamming kids and adults alike.  High energy fun music that made everyone wanna move, and accompanied by drums so that you had to move.  Everyone danced whether they were walking by on their way to something else or you were like us, just there to soak it up.  The beats made everyone happy.

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As the sun began to set we made our way back to the car, but not directly.  We meandered because the little neighborhoods fill you with wonder and pull you in.  Weaving back to the car was fun, until it was too dark…then we hurried.

As we pulled onto the interstate and began driving west again we were filled up and agreed to come back and live it up more  probably with the kids once they were quite a bit older.  They loved the energy but it’s not really the place for kids.  For now we head west beyond the reach of the storm rolling in.  That night we made it to the border of Louisiana and Texas.  The following morning we only received a trickle of rain while New Orleans got well over an inch of rain.

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Categories: Adventure, cajun food, Car camping, family, Family camping, Florida Panhandle, jazz, New Orleans | Leave a comment

Florida

Recently while sitting at a Starbucks in Tucson, AZ I overheard two women about my mother’s age having a conversation.  I couldn’t help but to overhear them because they talked so loudly – ok maybe I eavesdropped a bit.  Most of it was about online dating younger men, something about their ex-husbands and they kept on referring to each other as cougars.  One said while referring to a mutual friend, “yes can you believe it, she gets so excited when her grandchildren come to town, she drops everything…you would think that is all she cares about…” The other woman clicked her tongue and they went on to discuss some of their other friends. Well they could have been talking about my mom (and if they are reading this blog, I want them to know that my mom is the kind of grandma that I want to emulate!)  My mom came to be with us after each child was born and most recently after Ila was born and stayed with us for a month!  She was instrumental in helping us prepare and sell our house and helping us to manifest this year.  She somehow makes each of her 9 grand kids think they are the apple of her eye and time spent with her feels priceless.  These are the reasons why we planned to spend the month from late November through late December in Florida with my mom and her partner Michael.

As we drove from Cumberland Island to Coconut Creek, Florida, the boys read off their food requests on the phone to my mom, watermelon, lox, cream cheese, bagels, mangos, hamburgers, ice cream. We arrived tired, filthy and so happy. Our time in Florida spanned Thanksgiving, Chanukah, my birthday and Christmas.  After months of traveling mom and I kicked off our time with a (much needed) massage and facial, so funny going from wilderness camping to spa and such a delight.  We visited the Keys right after Thanksgiving and upon our return we headed to Orlando.

 Now, we visit Florida a few times a year and rarely go to Orlando.  Elias and I just finished reading Harry Potter: The Sorcerer’s Stone and our family was set on visiting Universal Studio’s brand new Harry Potter World. This too is pretty funny after spending the last few months in the wilds of America but it was a blast! If you ever visit one of those big Disney like parks you may have had the experience of having to wait on line forever. We timed our visit just right – off season and before the December holidays as the lines were only 5 minutes or less.  This may not be worth mentioning except for the fact that Joseph and Jacob must have ridden the roller coasters 20 times literally doing laps!  Hogwarts was awesome and I felt like I was a riding a broomstick which was totally cool (although the 3D action slowed my mom and Michal down for a bit.) Ila rode on her first carousel in Dr. Seuss Land and was over the moon riding it 3 more times with her brothers and daddy.  Day two we visited the part of Universal with the movie rides. I think the highlight for Elias and Joseph was the live animal show where the animal “actors” do a bunch of tricks.

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As if roller coasters and Harry Potter weren’t enough excitement, we met Jeremy, Joseph’s friend who is now a helicopter pilot in Orlando. In all of my 39 years visiting Florida, I rarely see manatee. I have one memory from when I was a kid seeing the manatee amongst cruise ships in Fort Lauderdale but not a close and clear viewing of these gentle huge animals. Jeremy took us to a spring where the water stays a constant 70 degrees. The manatees float in and hang out as the river water gets cooler, leave to eat in the nearby river and then return to the spring. The clear blue spring was beautiful and stocked with fish and manatee.

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On our way back to Orlando Jeremy surprised us and offered to take the kids and I on a quick helicopter ride!  Jacob and Jeremy in the front, Elias and I in the back with Ila on my lap. Totally felt like Top Gun…I know they didn’t ride helicopters in Top Gun but I couldn’t get the image out of my mind.  It was a great end to the mini north Florida adventure.

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Between Orlando and the rest of our visit we focused on school, writing, sea turtles, beaches, family and exploring all sorts of cool animal sanctuaries. We spent many days with Mimi my almost 93yr. old grandmother and the boys went on countless dates with Aunt Libby my dad’s sister, always coming home with trinkets and smiles.  As my 39th birthday approached I really had everything I wanted and needed shy of my brothers.  My birthday wish came true as they came to visit and celebrate –  Simon and Susan and the kids from Asheville and Jack fleeing cold Long Island, New York sadly without his kids.  My heart was full!

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Florida was an important anchor for each of us. After months on the road even with family and friends we were a bit tired and the boys needed a sense of predictability and structure. Grammy (my mom) represents this as well as unconditional love and support. We have spent important time with her over years especially since my dad passed away 4 years ago. Somehow she makes sure that she is present in our life and in my brother’s lives at all of the most important times. The long visit also gave us a chance to improve our Rumikub game and hang out with and get to know Michael.

Right before we left Florida we celebrated Christmas.  Growing up Jewish my first experience with Christmas was with Joseph’s family when we were dating.  I love celebrating with him and with his family in Charlottesville.  The years of celebrating Christmas in Bellingham and having our own tree still feels weird to me and against the grain. The kids are growing up with a sense of Jewish identity and we celebrate Christmas as well.  For us these celebrations are more about family and coming together than it is about religion.  We see Christmas as more of a welcoming of a winter celebration. So here we are in Florida where my mom has NEVER had a Christmas tree but as she said “there is always the first”. We enjoyed a “Jewish inspired” Christmas, stockings and gifts in the morning, movies in the afternoon followed by a great Chinese dinner…take out!

 Gifts packed up, hugs and kisses all around, Dec. 26th we packed up the car, said our goodbyes to the warm humid air, pulled up the anchor and hit the road…destination New Orleans!

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Categories: Car camping, Family camping, Florida Keys, Homeschooling, Play | 1 Comment

The Keys

As we drove south of Miami we passed the last turn offs to Everglades National Park and continued south.  Eventually the road kept going but the land did not.  The Over Seas Highway continues traveling 127 miles jumping from island to island or key to key via a series of very long bridges all the way to Key West.  Instead of a landscape panorama we’d been watching through the windshield up to this point now it was all Ocean Blue.  “Where are we?” “I want to live here!” Elias hollered out as we cruised along like a ship at sea.

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The lower Keys are technically part of the Caribbean in several respects.  The climate is considered tropical and is the only tropical climate in the contiguous United States.  The history is well tied into that of the infamous pirates of the Caribbean which included Key West’s strategic location as an ideal staging ground for the US military to fight and eventually defeat piracy in the region.  Then there are the people and pace of life which is totally Caribbean, meaning laid back and friendly.

We had reserved our camp 6 months ago which was for the next 7 days.   It was located around mile marker 95 which is below the 25th Parralel on Bahai Honda key, a quiet and undeveloped State Park reached soon after the Seven Mile Bridge.

When we pulled into Bahia Honda State Park the gals working behind the check in desk were stoked to hear about our trip, very friendly.  Our camping spot was just perfect on a very quiet lagoon with the back side of our camping spot tucked aside mangroves.  The Mangrove forests that make up the bulk of the trees in The Keys actually extend throughout much of southern Florida’s coast and estuaries’ making up the most extensive Mangrove forest in the western hemisphere.  During high tide at night, the sea came in just shy of camp surrounding the site by water on either side.  There was definitely an organic sea grass odor that wafted in and out of the tent and our dreams.  Even with the highs every day in the low 80s there were no mosquitoes.

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We began each day sipping coffee and watching the many different types of shore birds on the Lagoon and in the Gulf but then spent most of the time on the beaches on the other side of the island in the Atlantic Ocean.  We would home school, cook and eat dinner right there next to the beach as well.  Lovely.

Through the entire week we made one trip to Key West  for an evening of wacky sunset fun with Grammy and Michael (our Key guests for a few days) and a one day trip to Big Pine Key to see the tiny Key Deer species endemic to the area.  Other than that we stayed very busy with an intentional meditation of soaking up the tropical sun during the last few nights of Hannukah… We called it “B’Chai Chanukah” on Bahia Key.  Bathing suits were just about all we wore for the week…snorkling, throwing frisbee, swimming, home schooling , learning about the place and so on.

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To the north the entire country was cold.  We heard about snow in Asheville, we heard that it was even in the teens in Bellingham, which is rare.  We heard that temperatures were getting well below zero  in parts of the Rocky Mountains.  Places through Montana and Wyoming where we began our trip were under a blanket of frigid air.  The important thing is that we weren’t there.  We were here where cold only existed in form of an evening beer and an afternoon ice cream.  Not that I don’t like cold.  I’ve made a career of being in the cold.  But I seemed to have hit a threshold, perhaps it was last winter and I haven’t been able to warm up.  It was not sudden though.  It was year after year –  there I am in the snow, in the winter, year round.  Granted, there’s always the reward of cold smoke spraying my face, there’s the crystal sublime landscape that’s all mine, but there have been one too many arctic chills setting in further than my down clothing could protect.  Too many hours, days trudging in white out, snow, rain, wind….lots and lots of wind.  Not normal wind, wind that bites and doesn’t care. Then there’s the cold rain.  The rain soaks in beyond my gortex jacket and this is my second jacket….the rain should only last for two more days; day after day of cold rain; drizzle; snow ; blizzard; My fingers are still numb, numb from cleaning out gear with cold, numb fingers that make me want to scream….and barf; But I can warm up.  I am slowly warming.  Here in the Keys the water and the air temperature are both in the 80s.  The wind is warm and tropical and I am starting to thaw.

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At the end of the week as we drove back towards Grammy’s house we were gritty from sand and browned from sun.  The mood in the car was quiet and happy.  It was a satisfied quiet that comes from days spent slowing down time.  The evening sunsets with pelicans drifting by and the boys wrestling on the beach while we make dinner are forever imprinted on my mind.

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Categories: Bahia Handa State Park, Camping, Car camping, Ecosystems, family, Family camping, Florida Keys, Homeschooling, Snorkling | 1 Comment

Cumberland Island

As we drove south out of the mountains we entered into a VERY different climate.  Asheville being at 2,500’ elevation in the southern Appalachian Mountains was starting to receive cooler weather by late November and there were no longer any leaves on the trees.  By the time we reached the coast of southern Georgia the air was warm and balmy which made it feel like we rewound the seasons back to late summer.  The following morning we woke up in the sub-tropics and we would remain in this climate for quite some time.  Our job for the day was to organize our camping gear in order to catch the pedestrian-only ferry that would take us to Cumberland Island, the southernmost island off the coast of Georgia.

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Cumberland Island was something I knew nothing about.  Michelle set it up, she made reservations for the ferry ride and the few nights of camping on the island.  I didn’t really anticipate or think much at all about it.  I did know there were wild horses, I knew that there were no cars permitted on the island, and I knew there were miles upon miles of wilderness beach line.  But that’s all.  Stepping onto the island was like entering a different world.  The forest had a deep dark green and quiet feel too it.  All of the trees were Sand Live Oak trees, an evergreen species of oak, and the undergrowth was Saw Palmetto, a species of palm which is only waist high.  The oaks were draped with long hangings of Spanish moss while the ground was soft, packed sand that was comfortable with bare feet.   Their was a common feeling among all of us as we landed:  This was going to be fun!

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We hauled our stuff a quarter mile down the foot path to the other side of the island to the campground on these funny garden type carts and on our backs.  The camp ground was nestled in the dark forest adjacent to the beach.  As soon as we set up we started exploring.  On the way there I had over heard a ranger talking about the most likely place to see the wild horses.   From camp we set off on a network of wide dirt roads/trails south to the ruins of a large mansion at the edge of the island’s southern marshlands.

Although the known human history of the island began 4,000 years ago with various native tribes followed by Spanish settlements in 16th and 17th, and then the English in the early 18th century, what remains on the island are a  series of very large estates in various stages of ruin sprinkled around the otherwise wilderness landscape.  These remaining ruins were built by the Carnegie Family.  The oldest and largest was a huge plantation that burned to the ground before the Carnegies rebuilt it even larger than before.  After the Great Depression it was burned to the ground once again.  As we walked onto the estate a heard of deer tending to the well trimmed grass stampeded off followed by a bunch of wild turkeys.  Soon after that the famous wild horses of Cumberland island started showing up.  One by one they would walk in from the forest or the marsh.  Ila was very pleased.  Even with Michelle and the boys beginning their stroll back towards camp, Ila would not leave.  The two of us stayed and watched the horses for quite some time. We were used to the well kept, well groomed horses living on the horse farm at uncle Frederic’s house. This was an entirely different animal. These horses were wild, a bit shaggy and breathtakingly free…sort of how we were feeling at this point in the trip.

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Through much time spent at the incredibly wild beach as well as exploring the island, we soaked in the pleasures of Cumberland Island, but not without incident.  Jacob acquainted himself rather intimately with the most poisonous caterpillar in North America.  As we were walking in to the forest to our campsite from spending time on the beach I saw Jacob up ahead standing there grimacing and holding his arm in pain.  As I walked up to him he was moaning and he pointed down to the bizarre thing he claimed had just stung him.  It was one of the weirdest little things I had ever seen.  About an inch and a half long this well brushed wisp of fur could only be identified as some sort of alien caterpillar.

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At the Ranger station on the other side of the island Jacob’s pain seemed to subside a little as we spoke to the ranger on duty.  He had no idea.  He called the head ranger who had the day off.  The head ranger said two years ago someone had gotten stung by the same thing.  Nothing terrible happened, just very painful up his arm and down his side.  We didn’t evacuate and his pain subsided.  It turns out this caterpillar is called a Puss Caterpiller, as in Pussy Cat, in reference to the cat like look to it’s hairy coat.  It’s found in the southern US with most activity in Texas.  It’s sting is known to be very painful and goes from a localized reaction to systemic through the lymphatic system.

That evening, as we shooed away some of the most aggressive raccoons I ever encountered Michelle jumped onto the picnic table and the boys started swinging what ever was around and yelled. Ila watched in amazement as the raccoons ate up her “doodles” (noodles). Every now and then she will tell us this again…”raccoons eat doodles”! The racoons were followed  by a few opossums and armadillos.

On the ferry ride back to the mainland the five of us were all gathered on the bow of the boat.  Soaking in a beautiful ride Elias yelled “Hey, look down”.  We looked down at the water 8 feet below us and 3 dolphins were right there riding in the wake so close to us and the boat we could almost touch them.  It was so cool.  Up and down and occasional jumping out of the water they entertained us for quite some time before they veered off.

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Now onward to south Florida.

Categories: Accupuncture, Cumberland Island, Family camping, Puss Caterpillar, wild horses | 7 Comments

Asheville

About 12 years ago after Jacob was born, Sunder was still a puppy and the world was feeling the reverberations from 9/11, we moved from Durango, CO to Asheville, NC a magnificent place smack dab in the middle of the Appalachian mountains.  We moved to be closer to family and specifically to my brother Simon and sister-in-law Susan.  Jacob was 2 months old and life was so fragile.  We didn’t know what the world would bring next.  In those days we hardly knew what it meant to be adults and marriage was its own adventure.  We moved in with Simon and Susan and their 2 dogs Pascha and Chelsea for almost half a year before finding our own place. Thank goodness for their wide open arms.  By the time we left two and a half years later we had emerged from the amazing chrysalis Asheville had provided and moved to Bellingham.  But there are still roots there…. roots and memories.

When we were considering moving out west our criteria was to live near the ocean for me, near big mountains for Joseph and close to large airports to see our families. Bellingham took the cake on all fronts but this is the thing, visiting family a few times a year just doesn’t cut it. After years of living out west, we needed to be immersed in the family soup for a while, we needed to set the itinerary for plenty of family time on this adventure, New York, Virginia and now North Carolina.

We arrived in Asheville November 1st and moved in again with Simon and Susan for three weeks. This time we were down 3 dogs but up 6 kids, our 3 and their 3, Arielle (age 9), Noah (age 6) and Iya (age 1 ½). The first week and a half Joseph was taking his WFR course so we were also down a dad.

Uncle Simon helped us unwind from this crazy journey adjusting us at his Network Chiropractic office. We then spent evenings and nights with him catching up, downloading endless amounts of books and music on the boys’ respective machines, watching movies and reconnecting.  Each day was an adventure, we drove the Blue Ridge Parkway and went hiking, we went to Rumbling Bald for rock climbing and visited The Western North Carolina Nature Center (which has some of the last surviving Red Wolves).  Elias, Jacob and Noah went to evening classes at our friend Michael’s new Tae Kwon Do school. One of my favorite trips was to the Arboretum, which is affiliated with University of North Carolina, Asheville with Nana Carole and Papa William, Susan’s mother and step father. The gardens and grounds were scattered with installations created by a Lego sculptor. After visiting Noah’s Lego entry in the city wide contest we saw real sized Lego bison, super sized fox and a hare, hummingbirds, flowers and butterflies.  Susan and I set an active itinerary for the trip but really we only needed to be together and hang out to feel fulfilled – kids and adults alike.

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Every morning for three weeks, Elias and Noah woke up at the crack of dawn to scurry downstairs to the crazy play room. They literally had toy “worlds” throughout the entire room (which was the length of the house) and in every corner incorporating Uncle Simon’s stacks of books and tools…Legos, trains, matchbox cars, hero factory guys, more Legos. Upstairs, the little girls woke up searching for each other.  Ila and Iya – two kin spirits ready to play with their babies, Arielle’s toys and books.  Jacob and Arielle, the big cousins played on the periphery of the young ones.

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Funny how cousins work, no matter how long it has been between visits or how young they are, they reconnect – just fit together, some crazy cellular DNA connection.  Elias and Noah were seriously connected at the hip – no fights, no fusses just 2 peas in a pod. Same with the little girls to each other and to Arielle their bond seems to reach beyond the short time they have been on the Earth.

While on the family topic, there is something to be said about co-parenting.  Most of our days with the kids incorporated 2 mommy/aunts and much of the time included one kick ass nanny “Ninja nanny” (as Jacob named Alyssa). Parenting, cooking, playing and homeschooling seems so managable with 2 moms on duty! Our time moved quickly and alas Jacob was reunited with Lily Mae.

Alaya and Michael and baby Lily Mae are dear friends whom we spent most of our time with 12 years ago. As young mothers Alaya and I were inseparable for 2 ½ years and likewise the babies were together all of the time. Now a decade later (and 12 years old) Lilly and Jacob reconnected and were immediately great friends.

Right across the street from Alaya and Michael lives Jill.  Jill is my oldest friend on the earth.  We grew up down the block from each other in Oceanside, New York.  Our mom’s were friends while pregnant and we have known each other ever since… -play groups, nursery schools, elementary and so on. She moved to Asheville when we lived there to be close to us. We moved and she stayed. We haven’t spent enough time together in the last few years and she has been dearly missed. The time hiking, cooking and hanging out was so sweet and too short.

It was strange and sweet dropping back into a place and a life that we left 10 years ago to see how everyone’s lives, careers and families have unfolded.  This trip so far seems to be just that. We are reweaving the early threads of our life into a more complete tapestry, less space between the threads, more connections and sharing it all with the kids.  I think that is the gift of being older and intentionally touching down on places, moments and people, this time working out the kinks and knots with open hearts and the wisdom that comes from a clearer vision of what it’s all about.

It was difficult to leave Jill, Alaya, Michael, Simon, Susan and their families at the end of the visit. Maybe they too will visit us somewhere out west or back in Bellingham.  Pulling away from Asheville, Ila did her normal role call,

“Mama?”

“Here Ila”

“Dada?”

“Hi Ila”

“Bebop?” (Jacob)

“Hi Ila”

“Yiyis?” (Elias)

“Yes Ila”

But this time she included her extended family, “Susu? Uncle? Arielle? Noah? Iya” I tell you if anything pulls at the heart strings this is it! Thankfully we would see the cousins in Florida at the end of December so parting from them was a bit easier, such a sweet visit.

Now on to run with the wild horses, Cumberland Island bound…

Categories: Adventure, Asheville, Blue Ridge Parkway | 1 Comment

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