The week of July 20th (over a month ago now), we set off on our first family vacation since the divorce (unless you count our giant family vacation to Oklahoma the spring break before last). I was nervous about a lot of things, like packing up the car without Bill's expert help, and planning the itinerary on my own. I chose a remote cabin in the Texas Hill Country, but beyond that I left it a little loose, figuring each of us could choose an activity from the Texas vacation magazine we'd borrowed from Bill. There were so many activities in the Hill Country region, all clustered around our little dot on the map, a town called Kyle.
I put the most planning into our meals. We had a limited budget, and I didn't want to blow the bulk of it on restaurant meals. Over the course of the preceding week, I'd made three oven meals for the freezer so that we could have dinner at the cabin each night. The frozen meals would keep the cooler extra cold for the eggs, milk, and fruit that I'd bought for our breakfasts. I felt so clever, and thrifty! Surely I would have made Dave Ramsey proud. But I'd forgotten what often happens to the best laid plans....
The Saturday before we left, Allyson was with Bill and Ethan was with his father, Byron. I picked up my niece, Savannah, that morning so that she could help me get ready for the trip and also help with some housework. We worked hard all that day, checking off one cleaning task at a time from the giant list I had made. Savannah was a huge help. I enjoyed spending a whole day with her, and especially going to the Saturday service with her. What a joy to worship together!
I spent most of Saturday evening packing and going over all my lists. Sometime around 11, Allyson and I sat down at the computer to map our route. We could scarcely contain our excitement as we looked at pictures of the cabin and read about the amenities, including a river running right through the ranch. But then I discovered something really awful: there was no kitchen, just a "kitchenette" including a tiny antique sink, a dorm fridge, and a small microwave. What? No oven? Nooo!
I ran to the kitchen and put two of the meals into the oven, and then pulled the frozen broccoli chicken casserole out of the deep freeze to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Now I'd have to get up an hour and a half earlier to bake it and let it cool a bit before packing it in the cooler. Argh!!
It was around 1 when I collapsed into my bed. After what seemed like only a moment, the alarm went off and I woke up cranky and stressed. I quickly hit my next snag. There was no way to fit all that food into our rather petite cooler, and now that the meals weren't frozen, I didn't feel good about leaving any of them out of refrigeration for the four-hour drive. I ran to a neighbor's to see if I could borrow a mini cooler but had no luck. So I thought hard and arrived at a great solution:
...a cake carrier and a Ziploc bag full of ice. It was the perfect size for the meatloaf and the casserole. Who says I don't have any common sense?
After I'd put together the makeshift cooler, Savannah helped me cram the real cooler, the camp stove, the electric griddle, our bags, and a few other things into the tiny trunk. It took a couple of tries, but we managed to get most of it in. Allyson and Savannah had to keep their bags under their feet, and the plastic bin of dry food took up the little space between them in the backseat, with the cake cooler perched precariously on top. (We soon learned that the cake cooler wasn't watertight. As I rounded a curve, the carrier tipped, and out poured a greasy yellow liquid, right onto Savannah's zebra blanket. Ugh!)
By the time we picked up Ethan, who was about 40 minutes in the wrong direction, it was nearly 11, and Allyson and I were already getting hungry. And that's how we ending up stopping just past the edge of the Metroplex, under an hour after we'd started out from Byron's house.
"This is the nice thing about not traveling with a man," I thought. "We don't have to worry about making time. We can stop whenever we want, and we don't have to leave at the crack of dawn." (Actually, when my dad was in charge we often left well before the crack of dawn.)
As I pulled off at a poor excuse for a rest stop, Ethan's indignant voice interrupted my reverie. "What?? We're stopping already? We're barely even out of town!"
"I know, I know," I said. "But we're hungry." I pressed my lips together to hold in the laughter; I'd forgotten that Ethan is a man.
"I'm staying in the car," he grumped. And that's exactly what he did. Unperturbed, Savannah, Allyson, and I sat at a cement picnic table and ate our tuna sandwiches and cheezies while Ethan pouted in the car.
Funny, Ethan wasn't complaining when we stopped in West an hour or so later for world-famous kolaches at the Czech Stop. Not even when we had to wait in this line that stretched along two sides of the large convenience store:
Well, all but Allyson, who thought her kolache tasted "weird." I was only too happy to take it off her hands.
Near Austin, we stopped at Natural Bridge Caverns, where we all marveled over the stalactites and stalagmites, and over the unnerving sensation of total darkness.
When we came back out, we found that the ice in the cake cooler had turned to hot water. My stomach lurched. What if the food had spoiled? After all that work?
"It'll be fine," Ethan said.
And he was right. We ate all of it, and we lived to tell about it. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
After we'd driven through tiny downtown Kyle and down a two lane road that tapered to gravel, and after Allyson had opened and re-latched two big gates, at last we came to our 1840s log cabin. All the females squealed with delight. (I'm not sure if Ethan made any sound because I was too caught up in the rapture.) See for yourself:
Oh boy. Maybe an oven wasn't the only thing missing in this quaint cabin! That church bench in the picture above was the only semblance of a couch.
"Oh, here it is!" Allyson said. Indeed, tucked in the corner was a wooden box of sorts, and inside that was a scary cross between a ladder and a stair case. Each step was a narrow slat of wood that creaked under our weight.
In this sharply peaked room, the original cabin owner had raised 17 children over the course of three marriages!
Despite the inconvenience of the impossibly tiny fridge (concealed behind a curtain that kept getting shut in the door), the shallow sink, and the tiny microwave (behind the green shutters below), I had to admit I could see the appeal of this authentic 1840s kitchen.
I imagined myself cooking for 17 children in that fireplace (though I'm sure they didn't all live here at the same time). Her kids must have been way, way more helpful, I concluded.
|Allyson was pretty helpful!|
|Allyson insisted on the bonnet and apron, |
though I'm pretty sure they were just for looks.
One of my favorite moments came while I rocked in the cane-bottomed chair, wondering if that other mother ever felt as hopelessly worn out as I do most days. Just then, Allyson coiled herself on my lap, knees touching her chin, arms wrapped around me, with her cheek pressed against my heart. Did that mother ever experience such sharp sweetness when a little one crawled in her lap? A lump gathered in my throat as I recognized this as one of those moments that I always pray to enjoy, one at a time [in the Serenity Prayer, which I recite each Tuesday while we all hold hands in a giant, misshapen circle].
Allyson and Savannah's favorite moments were probably feeding the funny donkeys that followed us everywhere. Savannah even forgave this cheeky one for accidentally biting her hand while she fed it grain that the cabin owners had left for us.
We convinced ourselves that the one below was pregnant, though I bet she was just fat. We all pressed a hand to her side each day, feeling for donkey kicks, but we never felt anything. We did get to watch another mama nurse her adolescent baby, which was funny because when she wasn't in the mood for nursing, she nipped her big baby's bottom. Even funnier was the time when the cheeky donkey squeezed through the chained gate and into our cabin yard, and then all the others followed.
Aside from an amazing day at the giant Schlitterbahn waterpark, which even I enjoyed immensely, the rest of the vacation did not go as planned. Turns out that the Hill Country region of Texas is way larger than I'd imagined. Many of the attractions clustered so closely around the town of Kyle were actually two to three hours away!
It didn't really matter. It wasn't really the "memorable" touristy things that I will cherish. No, it was the odd, unpredictable moments:
- Dozing on two grassy beach towels in the shade of towering cypress trees at Blue Hole while the kids jumped in and out of the bone-chilling, spring-fed water. Only half hearing their muted shrieks, I savored the gentle sun as I remembered the jolt of that water after they convinced me to jump off the dock, and after I made myself jump off the rope swing just to prove that I could.
- Walking along the dry river bed and attempting to skip rocks in the brackish water that remained in one small hollow. And then laughing nervously over all three kids' fear when they ran from a boar that was rooting in the brush. (They all abandoned me, for the record.)
- Forcing the kids to help me wash dishes in that tiny sink. We made a great, if reluctant, team.
- Playing Dutch Blitz at the antique table by pale lamplight. Allyson wanted to quit after Savannah and I won the first two games, but after she won the third, she wanted to play again to break the tie. I said no; now we were all winners. (Ethan was up in the loft. He's too cool for games.)
- Reading the Bible aloud in the loft while simultaneously scratching both Ethan's and Savannah's backs, with a bit of help from Allyson.
- Window shopping in the picturesque town of Wimberley. I couldn't believe that even Ethan enjoyed that. I was even more surprised when he and Allyson enthusiastically dug through the clothing racks at a thrift shop and walked away with some crazy-cheap treasures. I'm glad they aren't too proud for thrift shop clothes.
- Sitting alone on the front porch in the mornings, with lowing cattle and joyous birds for company, surrounded by more trees than my eyes could drink in. God met with me there in the stillness, and He quieted me. The only fly in the ointment was being deviled by all the bugs in the great outdoors. On the last morning, I almost fell out of my chair at the approach of a whirring insect nearly the size of my fist... that turned out to be an exquisitely delicate hummingbird! As I watched breathlessly, it drank nectar from a bush just off the porch and then hovered over a bloom in the hanging basket above my little table. I don't think I'd ever seen a hummingbird in person, outside a zoo, and I was enthralled, warmed by this kindness from my Father. Again, I wanted to store up this one beautiful moment.
- Ethan's amazing helpfulness as we packed up on the last morning. He kept us on schedule for our 11:00 checkout and effortlessly loaded the trunk, with room to spare.
The best moment of all may have been a quick prayer that last morning with my sobbing daughter. Everyone else had gotten to choose a day's activity, but we couldn't do what she wanted to do because there just wasn't time to drive to the lake, and the rest of us didn't want to drive all the way home in soggy bathing suits. I held Allyson close on that church bench couch and prayed that God would lead us to an activity we could all enjoy, and that He would help us to appreciate this last day together. I asked that He would help Allyson let go of her disappointment so she could enjoy His plans for us.
In the car, I told her to choose between McKinney Falls (her original choice) and the Austin Nature Preserve, which was Ethan's suggestion. She pondered the choice soberly and then graciously agreed to the preserve. I was so proud of her.
I can't imagine anything we would have enjoyed more. There was a tiny, fun museum with hands-on science experiments and fossils we could touch. There were displays of rescued animals including an adorable raccoon and several birds of prey. There were rugged nature trails with amazing views. And it was all free!
Here we are atop a brick ledge overlooking downtown Austin, far below.
Do you see that? Even Ethan is smiling! And sweet, gracious Allyson is having the most fun of all.
As hard as it was to let go of our too-short vacation, it was a gentle joy to return to my beloved home and wonderful neighborhood. I am blessed beyond anything I could have imagined.