Monday, June 28, 2010

Ranch recap: Katie's birthday

Tara, Katie and half of Cooper (photographer error) before breakfast in Santa Fe

We flew into Albuquerque on Saturday afternoon, just hours after Cooper came home from resident Webelos camp at Lake Texoma. (Betty was kind enough to take home all of his camp gear, sort through it and wash/rinse/toss as necessary.)

We met Aunt Ami, Uncle Rich, Sasha and Tara at a retro motel in Santa Fe and feasted on takeout food from Whole Foods.

Before we went to bed that night, I asked Katie to call my name the moment she woke up Sunday morning, her fifth birthday. It's our tradition to take a photo of the birthday child just after he or she wakes up.

Just-turned-5 Katie

We spent the morning in downtown Santa Fe.

Fun art at a show in the Santa Fe Plaza

Ami, the children and I toured the Georgia O'Keefe Museum -- the perfect stop before our drive north through rugged and beautiful northern New Mexico. We drove through the same region that inspired so many of O'Keeffe's landscapes. We especially enjoyed seeing Pedernal Mountain -- the mountain that O'Keeffe loved. ("God told me if I painted it enough, it would be mine," she once said.)

On the drive, we celebrated Father's Day by listening to two CDs I'd compiled of happy Steve music -- some of his favorite songs through the years.

By mid-afternoon, we arrived at Rainbow Trout Ranch, a guest ranch surrounded by the Rio Grande National Forest in the Conejos River Valley of Colorado.

Ami and her family have been guests at the ranch off and on for the past 11 years, and they invited us to join them this year.

During Steve's final months, he and I talked about what Cooper, Katie and I would do after his death. We agreed that travel in the first year or so would be a good way to create new memories and honor our shared love of exploring new-to-us places. I set aside some funds from the estate just for that purpose.

We've been looking forward to this vacation since December. (If I were giving advice on how to manage the grief process, I would emphasize the value of having something special to work toward. It doesn't have to be as elaborate as a weeklong vacation -- just something that the family agrees on and can anticipate and discuss over time.)

The first day at the ranch is all about settling in. Cooper and Katie explored our two-bedroom cabin (just two cabins down the hill from Ami's) while I unpacked. The kids didn't waste anytime shedding their sandals for cowboy boots.

Katie and Cooper on our cabin's front porch

We joined the other families for dinner in the grand lodge. As the meal ended, the staff surprised Katie with a candle in a dish of ice cream and a booming rendition of "Happy Birthday to You." She was shocked and tickled by the surprise and kept asking after, "But how did they know it was my birthday?"

Happy, surprised birthday girl

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