Thursday, August 22, 2013

First Day of School

Today was the first day of Kindergarten for Lucy and the first day of fifth grade for Emma Jane.  It was our second year in the new building.  We were all a little less frazzled this year.  Lucy was much less apprehensive this year than last year.

We have been up there volunteering for about a week.  Mike built a closet/room for the Einstein teachers to store things in.  And Emma recently hemmed some curtains for the teachers.  So once again it was a team effort to get the school ready for the first day.

This is the last year that the girls will ever be in the same school together.  And Lucy is really attached to her sister.  When Emma takes a shower, Lucy sits in the floor of the bathroom and plays with her barbies.  She can't bear to be away from her.  I hope that as Emma's need for privacy grows, Lucy's independence increases.

Lucy was all ready to conquer Kindergarten.

And Emma was ready to be the leader that she already is.

Lucy gave her daddy a great big hug before her big day.

We practiced introducing ourselves last night to the teacher.  I was the teacher and I said hello to Lucy.  Then Lucy said, "Hello Mrs. Beckman, my name is Lucy, it is nice to meet you.  I am ready for a great day."  Emma Jane was pretending to be Lucy's mother and then started to cry and refused to leave the classroom and made a really ugly was really rather embarrassing and kind of funny in a 'hitting-a-little-too-close-to-home-kind-of-way".  My children apparently know me very well.

So, after snapping this photo, I ran off without making a scene and hosted a breakfast for the new Mayo parents and didn't cry one tear...or make a scene...or refuse to leave. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Seventy five years ago today my dad was born in Malaysia.  He has come a long way from southeast Asia.  He has seen a lot of things.  He lives alone on his own property outside of Poteau and takes care of his plants and trees and house and is master of his own domain.  He works very hard on his house.  He takes a great deal of pride in his home. 

He grew up in poverty in a country ravaged by war.  He was raised by his aunt in Ipoh, Malaysia.  He fell in love with America and has become enamored with the cowboy way of life.  He loves the rocky mountains and the American west. 

I used to think he was quiet but he is not.  He is a talker.  He likes to talk and will talk to anyone.  Once when we were in the slot canyons in Utah, he sat and talked to some hikers for hours while we explored.  When we came out of the canyons they said they knew everything there was to know about my dad.  I looked at my brother in complete shock.  (I wanted to ask them to tell me what they knew.)

He loves his family very much.  We had some of his friends over for dinner tonight and he brought the book that his sons bought him for his birthday.  He wanted to show it off.  Then he sat and talked about his sons to his friends and how they were living in the most beautiful part of the country.  (Greg and Tim, he loves you two very much and is very proud of you.  The book you sent was quite the hit of the party.)

He doesn't make plans.  He likes to just show up on his own time, without regard to your plans.  He has started to figure out that that might not be the best idea. 

My dad is old school.  It took me nearly a week to get in touch with him to invite him to this dinner for his birthday.  I called his house every day for 6 days.  Then when I finally caused the phone to ring when he was inside the house and was able to get him to answer it, he said he would just have to see what the day would hold on his birthday.  So I had to tell him that I had invited his friends over and that he WAS coming to Tulsa on his birthday.  He reluctantly made in premeditated, purposeful, thought out, non-spontaneous, actions.  It must have been really weird for him. 

My dad is seventy-five years old today and I am so grateful he is here and in my life.  Happy Birthday Daddy.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What to do in Arkansas (or what we did, anyway)

I am way behind in my updates.  July was the busiest month of the year.  After Lucy turned 5, I flew to Canada for a work trip and then I had my busiest week of work ever.  Tulsa was hit with a thunderstorm that blew down trees and power lines and knocked out our power for three days.  Then we left on vacation. 

We went on a road trip to the back country in north central Arkansas. The first day we took our time getting there.  It seemed our oldest daughter had swimmer's ear and we needed to stop and get a prescription filled in western Arkansas.  When we finally found our way to our cabin south of Yellville, Arkansas, it was early evening.  We went down to the Buffalo river to take a dip in the river and hunt for fossils along the shore.  There was a huge bluff on one side of the river and a rocky/sandy shore on the other.  The water was clear and cold.

 We found a lot of rocks with fossils in them.  None of which I can identify...yet.

We went back to our cabin and unpacked and made a campfire and cooked hotdogs and brats and roasted marshmallows for s'mores.  

We stayed in the Silver Run cabins in a cabin named Big Bell.  All the cabins are named after old silver mines and ours was a loft style cabin in the woods.  We went to bed happy and tired.

We woke up to the sound of rain on the metal roof.  It was magical in many ways, not the least of which was keeping our early riser from discovering the sun was up until around 8:45.   

After a yummy breakfast of pancakes and bacon and amazing coffee, we set out on our twisty drive through the mountains southwest about an hour to Blanchard Springs Caverns and the Ozark St. Francis National Forest   It was an overcast day and the rain was intermittent.  It seemed like a great day to spend time underground.  But there was another activity we wanted to do in the area and timing was important.  So after stopping by to check out the cave tour times, we decided to head over to The Ozark Folk Center State Park to do a Ropes Course and Zip line adventure.  When we arrived it started to rain again but Emma Jane was so excited she didn’t care.  There is this smile that Emma gives you.  It is her 100 million kilowatt smile.  I have seen it at the helm of her grandpa’s boat.  I have seen it when she is creating art.  I have even seen it when she is telling a story to a group of people and has the room in stitches.  I saw that kilowatt smile so many times today.   The first time was on the tree canopy adventure challenge.   

Mike stayed with Lucy on the ground and Emma and I did an adventure challenge course through the trees that ended with a zip line to the ground.  It was in one word, awesome!  She loved it.  I loved it.  The rain made the wires slippery and made things a little more interesting.  After the tree canopy course we suited Lucy up and tried to get her to zip line with us, and got her to go up in the tower, but in the end she decided not to.  I secretly was thinking it was a terrible idea.  If she hated it and started to cry, I could see myself jumping out on the line after her and that would have been a disaster, so I am glad she decided not to go out there.

After the adrenaline rush above ground, we headed back over for two tours through Blanchard Springs Caverns.  The first tour took about an hour and the second about an hour and a half.  I had never heard of Blanchard Springs until about two weeks ago.  This is the best-kept secret in all of Arkansas. 

We got into an elevator and dropped twenty-one stories into the earth.  After going through the air lock doors we came out into the most spectacular cavern I have ever been in.  It took my breath away.  It was humongous.  It is 180 feet wide and the length of 4 football fields.  I cannot do it justice with words or photos.  I felt tiny and insignificant.  The natural beauty that is encased inside this mountain that a couple of boy scouts discovered is miraculous.  There were other parts to this cave that they have known about for centuries but just discovered this part in the 1960’s when two boys crawled through a hole from another room.  

The second tour we went on followed the natural underground stream.  The watershed from 18 square miles funnels down to where we were.  We also saw the natural entrance where early explorers used to rappel down into the first level to get in.  They rappelled 90 feet down into a sinkhole to get to the stream and followed the stream to get to the caverns.  We were the only participants on the second tour so we had our own private tour guide.  While it was less spectacular, as far as flow stone and stalactites and stalagmites, it was more historical and more interesting because he turned out all the lights for us and we got to sit there in pitch black and we also got to hear the water running through the flow stone.  I can’t remember how many times I said “wow”.  

After exiting the cave we went to a nearby town and got carryout dinner and took it back to the same park where the caverns are.  We had a picnic by the creek and the girls waded for a bit.  Then we drove over to the Blanchard Spring.  This is where the spring exits the side of the rock from underground after traveling through the caverns.  The walk down to the spring and the spring itself were beautiful.  Equally as beautiful as anywhere I have ever been.  The overcast rainy day had left the forest humid and there was a fog rising on the cold spring fed creek.  There was not another living soul on the trail or at the spring.  We were in the midst of nature in all her wonder and I was sharing it with those I hold most dear to my heart.  And they were as moved by it as I was.  The girls seemed to grasp that this was a special memory making moment.  

We made one more stop on our way out at Mirror Lake, which had a couple of spillways.  There was a layer of fog floating just above its surface.  Having just been to Lake Louise in Canada two weeks ago, I can safely make the comparison; this was equally beautiful.  And the difference for me was, I got to share it with my family.  And as with almost everything else we had experienced thus far, we were all alone.  There were no people other than us.  Just our family and nature.  

When we finally loaded up to drive home for the day, I thought the girls would fall asleep quite quickly.  Boy was I wrong.  Lucy was punch drunk on cave juice.  She was literally so tired she was delirious.  She talked and talked and talked and talked and then after that she talked some more.  The reoccurring theme was her loose tooth but in between that topic were non sequiturs that made us laugh until we cried.  Finally, when we were 10 minutes from our cabin, she said “my tooth just fell out”.  I swear that girl talked that tooth right out of her mouth.

It was the perfect ending to the perfect day. But we were so excited about the "gone tooth" as Lucy called it that we forgot to put it under her pillow that night.  The next morning she remembered and we made a decision to try the next night and see if the tooth fairy comes on vacation or if you must be in your own home for her to find you.  We were not sure as Emma Jane was always home for these types of events.

This day was dedicated to floating the Buffalo River.  We were on the eastern part of the Buffalo which is supposed to not be as scenic but the only part that is float-able this time of year.  The water levels are too low farther to the west where the more scenic bluffs are said to be.  So we set out to get our canoes and float the Buffalo.  

The bluffs overhead and clear green water were beautiful.  There were all sorts of birds singing.  They have done a remarkable job of keeping it clean.  I saw no litter.  Once again we saw very few people on the river with us.  We stopped often and in fact the girls floated in the water a good part of the way while Mike and I paddled the canoes.  Mike even captured a photo of Lucy floating down the river sucking her thumb.  What a peaceful little thing she is floating down the cool river sucking her thumb with her gone tooth...

Towards the end Lucy got tired and laid down in the canoe for a little rest.  Poor little girl.  Then it started to rain on us.  Emma Jane and I were delighted by the rain showers and started to sing something about "paddling in the rain".  The sun was still shining and the rain was pouring down and hitting the river and the leaves of the trees and making the most beautiful pitter patter.  But Lucy was not happy about the rain and said it was making her cold and got in the river to get warm.  But the shower was brief and we were weary.  Then we rounded the bend and saw the bridge where we would leave our canoes and walk to our car.  We were all ready to head back to the cabin.  

After a quick regroup, the girls and their dad headed back down to Buffalo Point to get a little more swim time in.  This would be our last night in this area and there were more fossils to be found.

One last night in our cabin and Lucy wanted to hide her tiny tooth under her pillow to see if the tooth fairy knew we were on vacation.  It took forever for her to fall asleep that night I we were weary from a long day of paddling so it was difficult to stay awake.  But finally she fell asleep.  I knew before I left Tulsa that she would probably lose the tooth while we were gone so I had packed three dollar coins in my pocket of my purse.  Only I had dropped them into the same pocket at my Canadian coins from the week before.  So just as I was heading up the stairs I turned on the flashlight to discover that I was about to give her two Canadian coins and one US dollar.  That would have been tough to explain tomorrow morning...

The next morning at 6:30 a.m. I heard her in her loud Lucy whisper say from the loft above our bed, "Sissy! Sissy!  The tooth fairy came!" 

That morning we left the Silver Run cabins and the Yellville area and drove west to Ponca, Arkansas.  The road was windy and poor Lucy got carsick.  We checked in with the Buffalo Outdoor Center which is in Ponca and who we rented out cabin through.  They are a great guide to the hikes in the area and what is doable with children and what hikes have water and what hikes do not.

We arrived just past noon and knew we wanted to do the several of the trails I had found from this website.  But the folks at BOC really helped us narrow down what was manageable in our time frame.  And their directions were better than those I found online.

The first hike we set out to do was called Lost Valley.  It started out easy and then got steep and difficult at times.  But it had lots of climbing around rocks and some caving.  There are a lot of boulders and bluffs with cave-like openings to explore along this hike, and a waterfall if the season is right, but the final destination is the real pay off.  There is a cave at the end of the trail that IF you bring flashlights you can crawl back into and then you skim on your belly for a bit and it opens up into a thirty-five foot room with a waterfall.  You can only see it with a flashlight, though so visibility is limited to however good your light is.  But it makes you feel like a real explorer.  

This is the gigantic rock overhang they call the amphitheater.

This is the entrance to the cave.

The natural bridge and you can crawl all around this (and we did!)

After this hike we went swimming again and cooked out again at our cabin.  If you ever decide to do a trip like this, pack your own food.  If you don't, you won't eat.  There are not any restaurants around.  There were no grocery stores in Ponca.  We also saw elk and wild turkey and played charades...  But this post is long enough.

The next day was our final day and we had one more hike to do.  We packed up and said goodbye to our cabin and headed out to the most photographed spot in all of Arkansas...Whitaker Point.

For those friends considering doing this, you MUST!  It was amazing.  It was an hour-fifteen out and an hour back, and that was with a five year old.  We packed our lunch and ate it out on the rock.  The entire trail was shaded except for the point.

Just as we were arriving a man and his son were leaving the point.  So once again we were all alone with nature.  But we were lucky enough to encounter another human who could snap a family picture of us!

Get out there!