The first weekend of November we booked a cabin-ish room at the Big Meadows Lodge at Shenandoah National Park. We loaded up the car Friday afternoon and made a two hour drive west. The further we drove away from home, the better we could see the stars. This was Phinneus’ first vacation with us, so we made sure to stop along the way for him to get out, stretch and do his dog business. It was on those stops that I’d really stop and look up at the sky and take it all in. The quiet. The enormousness and smallness of the universe. And the simple and normal bits that are my everyday life that connect me to it. I looked over from where Phinnus was leashed and doing his business to see Levi popping a squat in the bushes. Oh the joys of being with Mother Nature.
On Saturday we woke up, ate a hikers’ breakfast at the lodge and then drove a little ways to a trailhead that permitted dogs and was supposed to be easy enough for kids to cover. The first part of the trail went along easily enough. It was 1.3 miles. We saw a waterfall and worked with Phinneus on healing when he walks with us on a leash. It took us a little over an hour to reach our first stop but when we did get there, everyone was happy to sit down and have a snack.
Just love his peanut butter crumb face.
And his annoyed faces.
Annabelle was stuffing her face too.
And Phinneus snacked a bit too. He loved being out there on the trail.
On another note, I have to admit that the last month or so has really been an adjustment phase for all of us with our new pup. He’s still learning to be house trained, though he is getting better everyday. There are days when I feel like adopting a puppy is almost as much work as bringing home a baby. Of course, then I remember that caring for a puppy doesn’t require breast feeding, diaper changes, lots of crying, etc. Phinneus is definitely a people person, so he doesn’t like to be left alone, so I think we struggle with that a bit because we need to be sure to come home every 3 hours to let him out and play. The other big adjustment is Phinneus’ getting along with our cat Toby. For the most part, that never happens, so I’ve found myself spending a lot of time cleaning up poo and pee, hiding Toby’s food from Phinn (and ushering Toby into a Phinn free zone so he can eat, and breaking up fights between the two. Phinneus so badly wants to play with Toby but Toby isn’t interested. I should also point out that Toby is old by cat standards at age 13. He seems pretty annoyed with the new pup, but I will say that it looks like Phinn’s obsession with Toby’s food has brought about a little weight loss for Toby, which isn’t such a bad thing considering that Toby weighs 15 lbs.
Anyhoo, that little digression was all to say that Phinneus is lots of work and requires lots of patience, but just look at him. Isn’t he a handsome dog?
But Matt has been a big help. He’s the calm one who helps with clean ups and reminds me that all the hard work is a phase and that it will get easier. Thank goodness for my patient Matt. I certainly find myself short of it now and again.
Meanwhile, Annabelle was not shy about being photographed. She would run ahead of me and ask me to take her photo. She’s at a funny stage right now. I say funny because it is amusing to watch her transform from a little girl obsessed with Hello Kitty to an older little girl who tells me that princesses are for babies and no she doesn’t want pink boots anymore. Black deerskin boots are just fine by her. Oh, and she has lots and lots of crushes. And comes home with all sorts of rainbow loom bracelets and rings made by her many friends and boys who she likes or who like her. Who knew that all of this birds and the bees business would start so soon?
And Levi. Oh my goodness. This little guy has an opinion about everything. And isn’t afraid to tell you about it. When he isn’t telling us all how it is, he’s usually planning something. He recently built his first booby trap. Designed to catch yours truly. Little devil. He makes me laugh but oh my goodness, the last few months with this guy have been lots of work. I am crossing my fingers that that magical moment that happened with Annabelle when she turned five and suddenly became super nice and lovey dovey will happen with my favorite little boy. I lately find that I am the target of lots of not nice feedback from him. And it hurts, and I’m still trying to figure out what to do about that. On my days off, I’ve been doing special activities with him like building, doing crafts, playing at the park, going to the library. I really hope he and I figure something out.
So it seems that Phinneus loves to sniff things out. In the woods he had the scents of so many beings though he was very good about keeping an eye on the four of us and making sure that we were nearby him.
If you can’t tell by all the pictures I’m sharing here, I just love this puppy. Love his eyes and his floppy ears.
And of course, love this little guy.
The waterfall was pretty though once we arrived and had a snack, we decided to go further on to the copper mines. Along the way we saw the most beautiful streams with large flat rocks and fly fisherman wading among the waters. Levi and Annabelle stopped and asked one of the fisherman all sorts of questions and he didn’t seem to mind. He said he had grandkids their age.
Matt has a new special friend in Phinneus. Unlike me, he grew up surrounded by dogs. His grandma bred and trained them and his dad always had a good dog. He’s taken the lead a bit with training Phinn, though we did just start a puppy training class so I can learn how to do this whole puppy care thing. I love my Phinneus but I really am a little clueless when it comes to taking care of a dog. I tend to fluctuate from treating him like a helpless newborn to being furious with him when he leaves a poo in the middle of our bed.
But as wandered further along into the woods, our hike extended longer and longer. One hour turned into two hours, until we were close to being out in the woods for four hours.
To keep up the kids spirits, I made up a game. They’re a competitive little pair so I told them that they’d earn points for noticing something unusual along the trail. I also awarded points for their spotting the trail marks on the trees. We talked about dead trees, scratched tree bark and what that meant (bears), moss, tracks, fish, wildflowers, and different shapes and patterns in leaves, rocks, etc. Every time Annabelle earned a point, Levi would push to find a way to earn his own point so they’d stay even with each other.
And that game is pretty much how I got the two of them to ignore the fact that we’d been hiking all day long and still had a way to go before we returned back to the car.
Matt would stop along the way and have the kids toss leaves into the water. Phinneus would lap up the water (though I did worry whether or not it was okay to let him drink it). I guess so because he did fine at his vet visit a few days later.
When we had just another mile to cover, we stopped at another beautiful pair of waterfalls where the kids could climb down among the rocks.
And my two little hams begged to have me take their photo. Which makes me laugh because I can remember a time when I was constantly taking photos of them (before I was working so much photographing other people), that they’d get annoyed and look away when I’d try to photograph them. But these days, they’ll both say, “Take my picture Mom!”
Just before we reached the car, I grabbed my macro lens and took a few photos of the wispy wild flowers along the path. It was the end of the day and the light was just so soft and gorgeoeus.
On Sunday morning, just before the lodge closed up for the winter, we headed down to the dining hall and had a good breakfast. We debated going out for another hike but the temps had dropped to 30 degrees and we hadn’t packed gloves and hats. I was also pretty exhausted from our day long hike the day before. So we packed up and drove home early taking in the beautiful fall scenery out in Shenandoah.
But it wasn’t all zen. At one point I heard myself lecturing my kids, my words dripping with guilt. As they complained about having to be in the car for two hours, I said to them, “Look out your window! Do you know how lucky you are that you get to see this?” Matt and I often say to ourselves that our kids don’t know how lucky they are that they get to see so many places with us. Not that our families didn’t go on vacations, but growing up, Matt and I both spent week long vacations at the beach. Our parents didn’t (and weren’t necessarily able to) fly us across the country to see national parks, try different foods, and explore museums. And maybe my kids will grow up and think that all of that is boring and resent us for trying to share that with them. I know that I shouldn’t expect t my children to grow up to be replicas of Matt and me. Nor do I want that for them. I always tell Annabelle when she says she wants to grow up to be like me, “Well, I hope you grow up to be better.” And by that, I mean that I hope she keeps on the path she is on and avoids all the missteps I’ve made along the way. Matt and I both hope that they’ll grow up to be smarter, more generous, more loving and do more in their lives to help other people and make the world a better place. Isn’t that what most parents want for their children?
Still I struggle sometimes because our children have so much. They live in a safe home in a safe neighborhood and attend a good public school. They have one parent with them most of the time (aside from our babysitter who works two afternoons a week). They can ride their bikes up and down the street and they have a big yard to run around in. They live in a community that hosts so many warm events (I often joke that our town feels a little bit like television’s version of the fifties). My kids are living this beautiful American dream, and sometimes I wonder whether this childhood is going to be good for them. My kids are growing up viewing the world through a very different lens than many kids do. Let me be clear. I don’t want my kids to suffer. I want them to be provided for and have enough so that they are in a place where they can give. But. I want them to appreciate that there are many people who are suffering and who don’t have so much and who need help.
As I write this, I think that one way to clear the path to understanding different walks of life is for our family to participate in a program where we help the homeless or adopt a family during the holidays who doesn’t have enough.
So that is what we saw outside our windows as we drove home from Shenandoah. I stopped the car and grabbed my camera. And felt so lucky to be standing there.
I will do my best to share photos from my recent gig as our town’s Santa photographer and from Annabelle’s new adventures as a girl scout. I’m also logging lots of hours at the kids’ schools, so between that and work, I’ve been busy but I’ll do my best to get back over here when I can.
Until next time. I hope everyone has a very happy Thanksgiving.