This year is a milestone year for me in many ways. Suffice it to say, I've been going through a rough patch since...October. Yes, that's right, October. It's been a very difficult year for me. Getting through that rough patch has meant starting a new chapter in my life.
Since my life is now looking up, I decided it was time to celebrate. My birthday is usually a one-day event (or actually, an event that takes place for a couple of hours on that one specific day each year). This year, I decided to celebrate for five days straight. In order to make that possible, I took a vacation. Now, I would like to share my vacation with you.
My daughter and I began the day with a shopping spree at a local bookstore. I had a number of gift cards for that establishment, so I didn't have to spend a nickel. Then we took our treasures and drove up to a cabin deep in the north woods where we met my parents. This place has been in my family since my great grandmother and great grandfather bought the land and built on it ages ago, so it felt sort of like coming home. This is where I wanted to spend my birthday week, in a place I love with the people I love most.
After we unloaded the car and ate a small lunch, we went down to the boathouse and put the rowboat in the water. This was a very big deal because it was my daughter's first time ever to go out on the lake in a boat. Last summer, she sat in the boat while it was tied to the dock, and that was a big enough thrill at the time...that and dropping pinecones, leaves, twigs and rocks into the lake to see which sank and which floated. This time, we were ready for more! A tiny orange and black butterfly (about the size of a quarter) flitted all around us on the dock. It seemed to enjoy my dad's company the most.
Then we saw one bald eagle over in the bay sitting on the shore while its mate sailed high up in the sky. When we finally got out on the water, we saw a loon at a distance. We rowed all around the bay, circling the loon. On our way back to the cabin, straight across the deepest part of the lake, we watched as the loon disappeared beneath the surface of the water. I took the opportunity to explain its diving expertise to my daughter. But our wildlife adventures had only just begun. While my dad started up the grill and my mom got dinner started, my daughter, our dog and I took a walk along the twisting and turning road. We saw another butterfly, a bigger and more beautiful one (according to my daughter). It was black and white. We also stopped when we noticed a tiny green caterpillar that was dangling by a thread and watched as it began to form its cocoon.
And THEN...the most amazing part of the day... On our way back to the cabin, just as we turned up the drive, I heard a rustling noise in the leaves. I wandered off the drive to investigate and found a turtle. At the time, I wasn't sure of the type of turtle it was, but I could tell it was a turtle and not a tortoise because of its webbed feet. I now know that it was a western painted turtle. It was a small one but not tiny, about the size of my hand with my fingers spread. Its shell was a dark green, and there were red marks on its belly. It did not try to bite me when I reached down to pick it up, so I knew it wasn't a snapping turtle. Why is a turtle so amazing? I've been coming to this cabin since I was a baby, and the only places up here I've ever seen turtles, are on logs sunning themselves out in the lake, and that has only been on occasion. My daughter and I brought the turtle up to the cabin so my parents could see it. My dad said he'd never seen one up here either. Then we took it down to the lake and released it near the water. We watched as it slid beneath the surface, and I learned why I've never seen a turtle here before. When the turtle was less than a foot into the lake, he virtually disappeared. Now I'm sure that there are turtles all around us, in the lake and marsh areas in the forest, hidden in plain view.
After dinner, my parents left and I spent a relaxing evening with my little girl. She watched as I popped popcorn on the stove top, a treat we got to enjoy together while she cuddled with me, and we watched The Rescuers.
The day began overcast and rainy. What a soothing sound at 6:30 A.M. The rain let up by 8:00, but continued to threaten our plans to go out for a longer boat ride, so just before noon, we decided to head into the nearest town for an afternoon of shopping at the Christmas Shoppe with Rainbow Dash (one of the new items my daughter had chosen at the book store) followed by playtime at the local library. Then we picked up some ingredients for M&M cookies. By the time we returned to the cabin, it was nice enough to spend more time down on the dock and in the boat rowing across the lake. But first, we had to return to the grocery store (a 40 minute round trip) because Rainbow Dash had been left behind on one of the grocery store shelves. The highlight of today was watching a large dragonfly, as it studied us, while we rowed across the middle of the lake.
So was the morning wasted? Heck, no! Remember about our shopping spree yesterday? The watercolor book was painted in, the Summer Bridge Activities book was well used, and I even had a chance to read about famous women in the latest National Geographic special edition.
I guess I'd classify day one of my birthday week as primarily a nature day, day two as a mother/daughter day, and today as a kid day. We finished The Rescuers last night before bed and began The Rescuers Down Under. We'll have to finish that one tonight. That will be a nice conclusion to "kid day."
We began the day by getting up bright and early...wonderful sunlight woke us by streaming through the bedroom window. After a quick breakfast, we drove into town to look for a nature class I'd read about. Ends up, it was a half hour drive north. Yes, of course we went! My daughter spent a fabulous two and a half hours learning all about different animal adaptations. They observed wildlife, they played games, they created mobiles; it was a busy morning. Then we drove back to town for lunch followed by an afternoon at the beach. As I was spreading out a towel, a little girl approached me and asked, "Can your little girl play with me?" I said, "Why don't you ask her?" She did, and they had a blast playing in the sand and jumping off the dock into the water. The highlight for me, in addition to watching my daughter interact with other kids today, was an amazing sight at the beach. A full grown bald eagle started circling above the children. I walked across the beach and pointed it out to them. As soon as they noticed the eagle, it spotted a fish in the lake and swooped down to capture its dinner. So cool!
The beach was followed up with two long-standing traditions: a stop at the local ice cream store and after returning to the cabin, a walk to the end of the road.
Today was my actual birthday. It began with a "Happy Birthday" text from a close friend, and rain followed by a thunderously loud storm. I read for a little while, but when the storm began in earnest, I returned to the bedroom to cuddle with my daughter until she woke up. Then we began our day together with more indoor activities, one of which was watching Disney's Tarzan (another first for my daughter) while we cuddled for another 90 minutes at her request. (She's not afraid of storms; she just loves the cuddles!) Nana and Gran'pa arrived at the end of the movie. They brought a chicken salad lunch, a card and chocolate cake, but before eating, they asked what we wanted to do. The rain had mostly fizzled out by that time, and my daughter really wanted to go back to the Christmas Shoppe with her grandparents, so that's what we did first. Then we returned for lunch and cake. Later in the afternoon, after the rain had completely stopped, we went down to the dock and bailed out the rowboat.
My daughter and I took one last trip across the lake and back. For the second time ever, she tried her hand at rowing and quickly caught onto the rhythm of it. We again saw the loon and watched as it dove for fish. The cool wind kept the mosquitoes at bay but another dragonfly checked us out in our little boat, and we found a few white and dark brown feathers floating on the surface of the water. When we returned to the dock, my dad helped me put the boat back in the boathouse before they left. The day had begun with a text from a friend, and it ended with "Happy Birthday" phone calls from another friend and from my brother and his kids. I was also told that there are birthday wishes for me on FB, but FB will just have to wait as I have no Internet access at the cabin.
I'm counting this as the last day of my "birthday week." Tomorrow will be the start of a short road trip with a good friend, but since that was planned months ago, I don't think I can count it as part of my birthday fun. Today, I'll be taking my daughter into town to participate in a class for young children at the local library. They'll learn all about air or so I've been told. She's really looking forward to it, so I'm sure we'll have fun. Then we'll close up the cabin and head back to my hometown. While Nana and Gran'pa watch the little one, I'll be hanging out with my friends at a local bowling alley/pub/pool hall, and we all know how that ended last time...
Wait? You haven't heard that one? That was when I suffered not one, but four, yes, count them...four head injuries in the span of about two years.
The first was when I tackled my escaping beagle as we were leaving the house for a Memorial Day lunch at my parents' house. My husband chased the dog and yelled for me to block the pass; I ran forward through the gate; heard the dog coming down the pass alongside the garage; saw a brown, black and white blur leaping for freedom; and on instinct, I leaped too. I was nearly eight months pregnant at the time. My forehead slammed into the cement retaining wall to the neighbor's property, but I caught that dog, and thank goodness, the dog cushioned the baby.
The third head injury happened during the winter. (I'll get back to the second one later.) I was shoveling the drive early one morning after a winter snowstorm, so I could get my car out for work. As I worked on the end of the drive, I didn't see the ice hidden beneath the snow. My feet went right out from under me, and the back of my head crashed against the cement. As much as it hurt, I was not about to pay for a visit to the ER or to miss a day of work. I simply monitored myself, making sure my mild headache didn't get worse, checking my pupils periodically for proper dilation, and letting my assistant know to call 911 if I were to pass out, throw up, etc.
The fourth incident caused an instantaneous and intense headache. It happened at a local pub that housed indoor sandpit volleyball. That winter, I played on a co-ed league there. I should be clear that we didn't play to win, we just played for the camaraderie and to have a great time. Our server hit the ball over the net. It sailed right to the middle of the opposing team's court. As I was leaping to block the ball, the full grown, very muscular man across from me, spiked it as hard as he could. The ball smashed into my forehead, causing my head to snap back and leaving a red circle on my forehead. The jerk didn't even apologize.
Okay, so now we all know what happened the last time I had a birthday party at the bowling alley/pub/pool hall, right? No? You want the details? Oh, all right! A group of my friends, my husband and I were all bowling at the time. My nearly-two-year-old daughter was with us because my parents couldn't watch her that night and anyone else we would have asked to babysit was at my party. So...we simply took turns watching her while we bowled. At one point, she bolted forward and ran straight down the lane. On instinct, I ran after her. As I reached out to grab her, her feet slipped out from beneath her and so did mine. We went down together, but thankfully, her head landed on me while mine hit the bowling alley with a loud "thwack!" Don't worry, this year, I think I'll stick to the pub and pool!
S. L. Wallace has been taking a break from writing, but she plans to get back to it very soon as she is anxious to continue her current project, a supernatural compilation. Ms. Wallace is the author of a dystopian trilogy, a supernatural/historical fiction novella, and a speculative fiction short story.