A Nudge and a Hug Say So Much

From the moment I met her, I knew she'd be my person. That person who gets you, loves you unconditionally and becomes part of your inner self. As my first grandchild was gently placed in my arms at three weeks old, I felt it. A spark, a magical spell, a connection of souls. It was in her eyes and mine, we both just knew.

For almost twenty years we’ve gravitated together every chance we can. She was two months old when my son said to me, “we want you to be part of her life.” They packed up, drove a car and rental truck all day and moved in with us for several months. She’d be there on the floor learning to scootch, crawl and pull herself up when I’d get home from work each day. When they moved to their first home, she sat on her stool in the doorway watching for me to pull up the driveway. She stayed overnight at grandma’s house, but could never manage it with her little friends…calling home at midnight for mom or dad to come get her.

She was my buddy at age three, wanting lots of grandma time when her little sister came along. She rode in the back of my car buckled in her pink car seat, singing me songs and telling stories that made my heart soar. She would repeat movie or cartoon lines and we’d both be in giggles cracking each other up.  

At age six, her family moved cross country again. My devastation was softened by my daughter’s first born…a grandson. I cuddled and babysat as often as I could, but took time during school breaks to visit my girl in California. It was paradise…her home and school were both on the beach. Sand and sea were their new way of life and we made them ours as well.

This bald, inquisitive baby girl who spoke in sentences by age one and continually kept us all on our toes grew into a smart, confidant, beautiful young lady. At age twelve, she wanted to see snow, to learn about husky dogs and dog sledding. Grandpa and I made it happen. Flying across the snow on a magic carpet-like sleigh, my grandgirl and I laughed and squeezed hands knowing this was one of those memory-making moments in time. In Alaska. In deep snow and freezing temps. Dog mushing.

Retirement meant grandpa and I could head west and spend months in our own little beach house to be near the kids. Sunshine girl was my playmate. We rode bikes, learned to paddleboard and built sand castles together. She’d come over after school, do homework, watch movies, sometimes spend the night. For ten years we did this, sharing birthdays, school events, graduations and winter holidays with our first grandchild. 

Summers brought both girls back east to spend vacation time with Gramcracker and Gramps. Swimming in our pool, playing with the cousins, horseback riding, tea parties with blue Kool Aid were top-of-the-list things to do. They loved grandpa’s kitty-shaped pancakes, sprinkler fun, the secret pathway through our yard, chasing fireflies at night and two bedtime stories. One from a book and one about their daddy’s childhood.

As they grew older, the girls took turns coming alone for a week. She came one summer with her driving permit. Oh how grandpa loved riding along as she learned to drive. She was now in high school, but spending time with us was still a priority.

And then suddenly…she was there when I needed her the most. A month after grandpa died, she spent her fall break with me. She sat on my bed and listened. She asked how he and I had met. She held my hand and hugged me. She knew what to say and when to stay quiet. The best kind of person does that. She was there the following year when I decided to sell the house. The ‘Grandma and Grandpa House’ that also embraced four other grandkids had to be sold. She knew it was hard. She felt my pain and sadness. It’s okay, she said, “because I can tell you’re at peace with this decision.”

Her family’s cross-country move to Michigan inspired me to move back too. Leaving my daughter and young grandkids was hard, but I felt a pull to return home. To return to where my story began. To be closer to my son’s teenagers. 

I found a condo and soon number one person was my roommate. A college student now, she stayed with me to be closer to campus. I drove her to classes, she took over the kitchen…a far better cook than grandma. We rode bikes on the trails, walked the neighborhood, discovered favorite restaurants and places to shop. A young woman now, she’s intelligent, creative and fearless…a Katniss warrior to this Pollyanna nana. Opposites in many ways and yet we mesh and muddle through things together as only best friends can. 

An art student, her painting of my blue beach cruiser with years of salty-air rust forever captured on canvas hangs on my living room wall. Most recently she’s put her creative talents into writing and completed a time travel mystery. Now we count the days. I cherish these moments with her as we face change once again. She’s moving back to California. It’s time. 

Her wings are more than ready to leave the family nest. 

She’s eager to go and do and be…all on her own.

Go sweet Sunshine Girl. 
Go follow your dreams. 
Listen to your heart, chase the waves again, feed your soul. 
You’ve brightened life for me all these years, 
the greatest gift I give you now is a nudge and a hug.
 Ich leibe dich.  

Dude Ranching With Boots and Bravery

 I chose the bridge over troubled waters in this muddy, fast-melting-snow-causing-rapids river. Everyone else including my grandson was fine with riding their horses across. Option B was a wooden footpath..so yes, the riderless horse is mine.
I  sniffled back tears of fear and snapped a picture as our guide ponied Prism across. Finally in the saddle, we caught up with the others and headed to Meadow Lake.

My grandson and I spent a week near Big Sky, Montana at the Covered Wagon guest ranch. I'd taken my older grandkids on vacation and now it was his turn. Look at his calm, cool confidence as I met him at the gate. Almost 13, he's still okay hanging out with Grandma and old enough to navigate airports and highways. The hardest part was keeping me brave. The churning river was day four of our adventure; he didn't even try to shore up my sagging courage...but he did high-five me when I rode Prism across on the way back. After two hours with a horse, you can trust the word sure-footed.

We arrived in Bozeman around noon and picked up our rental car. Fifty-five miles to the ranch; good thing I put him in charge of directions. After questioning myself, "Is this the first stop light or the second? I need to turn left somewhere along here," his voice assured me I was making the left turn exactly as instructed. 

We drove a two-lane road surrounded by open sky and sweeping land. Land that continually rose as we climbed higher and around and then higher some more. Snow-capped mountain peaks straight ahead, a sunny afternoon and country music on the radio. With a sense of reverence, we quietly pointed out how beautiful Mother Nature can be with shades of green and blue arranged just so. "Feels like being in the middle of a post card," I whispered. Sure enough, a few days later we found postcards in a Big Sky grocery store and exclaimed how much they looked like the photos he'd taken.

Located in the canyon of the Gallatin Range, the ranch dates back to 1925.The original cabins have been updated for plumbing and electricity, but are otherwise as authentically rustic as the good old days. Our welcome was as warm as greeting an old friend. Here they believe folks arrive as guests and leave as family.

The owner offered to start our wood burning stove the first night. We declined, preferring the chilly nights bundled in blankets.

Attention to the little things was evident everywhere. How delighted my boy was returning to our cabin one afternoon to find our housekeeper had made his bed by adding Blue Bear for a personal touch.

Attention to detail was big in the kitchen too. Ray, the breakfast and lunch chef, served bacon and eggs, fresh fruit and a variety of regular and gluten-free cereals and baked goods each morning. Chef Roy took charge of dinners and put great care into making sure everyone's needs were met. Months earlier I'd noted on Food Preference paperwork little or no salt. The family-style meal included roasted, seasoned-potatoes as the guests and crew gathered around the table. How impressed I was when a foil-wrapped, salt-free baked potato was placed in front of me our first night. Roy also offered my grandson a burger or mac and cheese on nights he wasn't crazy about the main entree.

The main requirement for guests planning to ride is proper footwear. Boots must have a smooth sole and at least a one inch heel to protect your foot in the stirrup. I've ridden horses my whole life in sneakers or hiking shoes, so I wasn't prepared at my age to shop for real cowboy boots. I checked styles on line and at local western shops and decided I wanted short, tan, round-toe and cute.

I also knew comfort and walk-in-them-all-day fit were most important. Imagine my surprise when these black pointy-toes felt the best. So not me. A dude ranch is not a place to ride around the corral or a trot through the back woods. This was big-league time and I needed to feel safe on the horse as well as steady on my feet on any kind of ground cover. These were super comfortable and gave me can-do confidence! 

Riders are matched with a horse according to age, height, weight and experience. As novices, Drew and I were assigned two older geldings with easy-going personalities...meaning gentle and dependable. Each morning guests were asked if they wanted a whole or half-day ride and what kind of landscape they'd prefer. The variety of trails and terrain horses can traverse is amazing! Steep ups and downs, forested foothills, flat grassy meadows, gnarled sagebrush and rocky riverbeds.

In three days of riding, we experienced all of them while learning about cowboy life and old west traditions. What a great time we both had. I'm so grateful my grandson wanted to go, adapted to horseback riding so quickly and was the best kind of travel buddy...making me laugh and welcoming quiet times.

Realizing we were only 50 miles from the entrance to Yellowstone National Park, we took a day to check it out. Neither of us had ever been. Oh what a magnificent place it is. We spotted elk, bison and bear as we followed the lower loop around and watched in awe as Old Faithful performed on schedule to the cheering crowd. 

Friday night was celebration time-a cookout with steak and bison burgers, live music, dancing and roasting s'mores 'round the campfire. Following another ranch tradition, the wranglers branded our boots with a BAR over W. Just before dark, as we'd done the other nights, guests and crew walked down to the barn to check on the horses. Our pals Prism and Emerson quietly grazed, stretching through the fence to munch the dandelions. We said goodnight, but this time we also said goodbye, knowing our visit was over come morning.

Dude ranching is awesome! Definitely a bucket list item. Take your best pals, your kids or your grandmother. Just make sure they're ready to ride with clothes for layering, cool boots for comfort and bravery for the unexpected. 

Unexpected Pleasures in Indiana...Another Awesome Road Trip

I drove from Kalamazoo to Louisville, KY a few months ago to pick up my youngest granddaughter. She lives in the Atlanta area and my daughter and I met halfway after an early morning start. A six hour drive each way and plenty of daylight left, I could have headed straight back home. But by 3:30 in the afternoon, Paige and I were getting tired and I was sick of the Spring Break traffic.

 We decided to stop and spend the night somewhere in mid-Indiana. After stopping at two of my favorite chain motels and being told "no room at the inn," I called a couple more. No luck. I tried one more, a Hilton Garden Inn. I hadn't stayed in one since long-ago business travels with my late husband. The front desk said yes, the senior rate was $125 and to watch for exit 76 off the interstate.
The Hilton Garden Inn Columbus/Edinburgh was pretty upscale in my road trippin' book! A restaurant and bar on site! Every staff member was personable and obviously loved their job...especially the assistant manager who checked us in. He informed me my husband had had reward points; that I could get them transferred over to my name. Bonus!
Ray was the kind of person-in-charge  I'd learned about while getting my Masters in school administration. Walkabouts and client contact are the hallmarks of a good principal or manager of any customer friendly service. I believe my husband watches over me and led me to this place. Ray graciously gave condolences for our loss and made us feel welcome and comfortable.

Indiana hosts a lot of antique shows and offers lots of antique store offerings.
Paige and I needed some exercise, so we walked over to the nearby Antique Mall and browsed for a couple of hours. Saw lots of things we liked, nothing we needed. Mostly it was a walk down memory lane as I recalled childhood days and the way things used to be. Paige was delighted to see "old toys" she played with as a baby eight years ago.

The Garden Inn having a restaurant and bar was perfect....a margarita with dinner and no driving! Their chicken fettuccine was both reasonably priced and absolutely delicious! Paige had chicken tenders and fries. She'd snagged a fresh baked cookie from the lobby to save for dessert. As we finished our meal, Ray strolled through the restaurant, stopping to chat with guests and shaking hands with others. At our table, he asked Paige if there was anything she needed. Usually shy, she spoke right up..."More free chocolate chip cookies!" He immediately checked with the kitchen staff, but the chocolate chip were all gone. He offered her peanut butter or oatmeal cookies, but she declined. I took care of the bill and we headed to our room. Back at the registration desk, Ray waved and beckoned us over. He handed Paige a snack-size package of Oreos and asked politely if they might do. She said yes, giving him a big smile and thank you that made me proud. Small gestures can have big impacts.

Next up was the pool. Luckily we checked it out first....it was packed with running, jumping, happily whooping kids of all ages. Too crowded and loud, she decided. This was spring break and family travel time, not to mention a Saturday night...otherwise it looked quite inviting. Agreeing to let her play games on my phone, I had a happy girl right up to bath and bedtime. We both slept well, waking early to get on the road. She was excited to get to Grandma's house, see her cousins and settle in for seven days.

We had a yummy breakfast in the restaurant. Set up as a buffet with many choices, it was pancakes for her and a made-to-order omelette for me. With full tummies and a full tank of gas from the day before, we were all set for the easy three and a half hour ride back to Michigan. Paige called her mom along the way, raving about our little side trip. The free cookies were at the top of her list, followed by the super comfy king size bed we shared. She carried on conversationally with mama as I drove, telling her about the toys she'd seen at the antique store and that grandma was passing lots of trucks. "Those truck drivers are probably not happy that an old lady is passing them," I heard her say. So nonchalant, so innocent, so hilarious!

Thanks to Ray and the Garden Inn for getting my week with this sweet girl off to a great start! We rode bikes, had manicures and saw Beauty and the Beast. She had a surprise day of snow to play in and another adventure getting home...flying back to Georgia! What started as a quick pick-up trip ended up being a memorable night spent in Edinburgh, Indiana.