Saturday, April 14, 2018

February was all about the 10 year old.

Mercer's school break aligned with mine and Isabella's; we decided to take a trip to Colorado. Mercer has been asking for years to see where he was born.  During this winter break, he was turning 10.  What a better gift than providing the opportunity to show him some of his roots?!  (Here are a couple of photos from the "reveal" -- an early birthday surprise.)

We flew into Colorado Springs late on a Saturday, then drove a few hours west to the place we were staying called Granby, Colorado.  It was really late when we arrived; we were pleasantly surprised to look out the windows at the first light of the sun to see the beautiful scenery in which we were surrounded.  

There were (snow-covered) farm relics spread out across the hill behind our hotel.  

The first day - Sunday - we did not have plans.  We got settled / unpacked / got groceries / got fitted for our ski gear / etc.  For fun, we got sleds from the front desk and went to play in the snow.  One thing we recognized right away -- how different the snow was.  It was DEEP and you would sink down when walking.  In fact, Isabella's boots kept falling off and getting stuck in the snow!  

We figured out that it was better to walk where there were already footprints and the snow was already compressed a bit.  There was an area behind our hotel that looked interesting (there was an old snow-covered wagon and an old farm combine)... so we explored that area. 

As it turned out, this was a golf course that was buried under close to 2 feet of snow!  (Todd and I would often sink into the snow up to our knees!)  We had a lot of fun sledding there with gorgeous snow-capped mountains & our hotel in the background.

 Monday, we had morning ski lessons at the nearby Granby Ranch Ski Resort.  We signed up for family lessons - although Todd did not really need them.  I learned on this trip that he skied for about 14 years in elementary, middle and high school.  He just needed a bit of a refresher.  I had only skied a couple of times and did not remember a thing (except that i zig-zagged to go slow).   This was a first for both of the kids.  Of course, Isabella picked it up right away.  Mercer had moments where he did well, then wouldn't do so great / get frustrated.  After the lessons were over, we had lunch and took a break... we went back out.  Isabella started going down the "bunny" slope with Todd -- holding onto one of his ski poles. 

Mercer and I hung out - testing out the shallow slope at the end of the bunny area, but ultimately went back to the ski school area.  He did well sometimes, however, by the end of the day he was done.  (We went in for an apres-ski hot cocoa while Todd and Isabella kept going down the slope.)

We had 2 days of equipment rental and 2 days of lift tickets... so decided that he needed additional time in ski school.  This time, he went into a youth class.  After class and a break - he was ready to go down the bunny slope and did not hesitate -- jumping on the lift all by himself.  There were several times he did well, but then he hit a point where he got frustrated and hung up / tripping a lot.  We took a break, but sort of forced him to continue.  The last few runs he had were great!   In fact - one of my favorite memories of the trip was on the 2nd to last run... Todd / Isabella in front, Mercer going down the slopes by himself and I was following.  It was fun to all be skiing down the bunny slope together as a family!  

As seen in this photo of Mercer and Isabella... the bunny slope is behind them.  It's a pretty decent slope!!  

Here are a couple of shots of Todd and Isabella in front of me at the top of the slope.  It is just beautiful to see the mountain ranges beyond the resort hotel and buildings! 

For the most part, she would hold onto one of his ski poles.  Sometimes when nearing the bottom of the slope, she would let go and navigate through people (gulp) and stopping on her own!

Mercer did say at the end:  "I learned how to go slow from mommy."  I was not trying to win any speed awards, so.... yes.  Slow.  

(But, knowing how to go slow IS important!)  :) 

Doesn't he look old in this photo?!  (Taken a couple days BEFORE he turns 10 years old~)

A couple of times, Todd broke away from us and was able to go to the Green slope (It looked plenty steep and was a long run, but they had more advanced slopes too.)  He was happy that he got a chance to do at least that one on his own.  Heres' the view from the top of the next level.  There were a couple of levels above what he did including a black diamond slope.

I accidentally booked the wrong ski resort.  I meant to book "Winter Park," but the day that I actually called, apparently the online search I did showed a different resort.  Our condo had links to two different resorts.  As it turns out, the slope that I originally planned to book was farther away from our condo, it was much more expensive AND it was a lot bigger.  The one we went to was closer, smaller and cost a little less.  In hind-sight - we are really glad that we ended up at the slope we did.... it was the "right" slope for us as we were new to this.  It was smaller (but Todd said still bigger than where he grew up skiing) and easier to get to since we were not used to driving in so much snow.  We would recommend it (Granby Ranch) and - if we go again - would definitely go back to that resort.

By the end of the 2nd day of skiing, we were happy to turn in the rental gear:  boots, skis, poles, and helmets.  It is unbelievable how much gear it actually takes to ski and how much work it is to unpack everything from the car / carry to resort / putting on all of the gear / getting out to the slope!!   In addition to the boots, skiis and poles we rented, we brought our own "neck gators," waterproof gloves, thin thermals, fleece mid-layer, waterproof outer layer that's not too thick, wool socks, waterproof boots, goggles.  

We tried to buy up a size what we could for the kids so they would have winter gear for another season - but whew - soooo much stuff went with us to Colorado!  We certainly needed it.  One day, we woke up and our phones said -7 degrees.    There were a couple of days when there would be a new fall to add to the 20+ inches of base that was already on the ground.

It worked out that we went skiing / spent the whole day on the slopes Monday and Tuesday, as it did get quite a bit colder Wednesday.  The only thing we had planned was a dog sled ride.  Here are the dogs rearing to go (but we weren't allowed to interact with them ahead of the ride).

We were in these big wooden sleds with foam and sleeping bags to cushion / keep us warm.  
Mercer and I rode in one sled.  Todd and Isabella in another.   The first few photos are Todd's - taken while riding.  

The masher took photos of Mercer and myself in our sled (you can see the foam and the sleeping bag set-up).  I snagged a photo of the masher bringing in Todd and Isabella’s sled next to ours.

Mercer got to drive our sled at the very end with no help from the masher.  (He is squatting down behind Mercer in the photo - you can barely see him!) Isabella got to drive as well, although the masher was in control of that sled.  

It had to have been a pretty cool experience for the two of them!!  

The scenery / the backdrop for the dog sled ride was beautiful!  Sometimes you would catch glimpses of the mountain ranges on the south side of the property.  A lot of times, you were riding through snow-capped evergreens.  And the trees would open up and you would be in an open field with the mountain range stretching along the west side of you. 

As mentioned, you are not allowed to pet or interact with the dogs before the ride, however, you are encouraged to praise and pet them afterwards.  

Included are some photos from the photographer that is at each session too.  (This is why we have the most pictures of this experience!)


Here's a photo sent to us several days after our ride.  There are only 3 sleds that go out at a time.  The 3 sleds that went before us were occupied by a family from Marietta.... but we did not know them.  When it was our time-slot, we were in 2 sleds and the 3rd was occupied by a mom and daughter from metro Atlanta.  The woman who runs the dog sled business is from south of Atlanta, so she wanted to get a photo of all of the Georgia families together.  Crazy, huh?!  

One final note:  the dogs go to the bathroom while running.... and you're downwind of them!   ha

We had lunch in the nearby town of Winter Park, then wrapped up our day with hot chocolate in our room, then play in the game room in the hotel.  Simple play.  Sometimes, I think we feel like the kids need "big" experiences, but honestly, they enjoy this family time too!

The next day (Thursday) we went tubing.  Soooo glad we did not spend another entire day on the slopes, as the wind was whipping around and I got wind burn on my face in the short 1 hour that we were out there.  

Todd took turns escorting Mercer and Isabella down the "black diamond" tubing slope.  I was happy enough on the main slope which was plenty steep enough!   The photo with the yellow and black flag shows the extra steep slope for the black diamond launch.  The launch where I was was only about 20 feet lower (and maybe with a gentler slope) but it's still high!  

It was fun, a little scary at first AND exhilarating.  Here's some context of the black diamond slope and a hut at the bottom of the hill.  

Next photo (so you get a sense of how big the hill is):  Todd and one of the kids is in one of the double tubes that looks like a tiny spec coming down the hill!

These hills were WAAAAY bigger than the "snow mountain" guided tubing we did last winter at Stone Mountain park. 

Somehow, Isabella fell asleep in the tube at the end of our session ?!  

You can see the full range of slopes beyond.  The black diamond to the far right.

We went out for hot chocolate to warm up from the tubing, then went out for bowling afterwards.  This was our last day in the Winter Park / Granby area.

Friday was Mercer's ACTUAL birthday.  We snapped a photo of the birthday boy (he looks sweet and innocent in the top one - which he is - and really old in the one below).  

After packing up the car, we checked out of our condo in Granby, drove through Winter Park, over and down the mountain (which was scary) towards the highway.  One thing that was crazy:  there were people who would park on the side of the road, hike up and ski down random sides of the mountain.  (Back-country skiing?!)  Lots of cars pulled off to the side and spotting of footprints for the trek upwards.

We made plans to meet my cousin Josh who lives in Denver.  We met for lunch (where we officially sang happy birthday to Mercer with ice cream and a candle), then Josh took us to the Denver Science Museum.  We spent the afternoon there.  

When it was closing, we headed to the other side of town to go to this place called "Casa Bonita."  It was quite an experience... it was made up of multiple levels of dining all focused on a 3 story water-fall.  

There were these cheesy short skits that took place every 15 minutes or so -- all which ended up with someone jumping into the pool of water.  

There was an arcade for the kiddos, a little maze through a cave, a puppet show and a mariachi band.  This place was DEFINITELY designed for kiddos.  Todd, Josh, Dan (Josh's partner) and I were all "over" it... not our scene... but Mercer and Isabella had a BLAST.   

Josh works at a group of hotels and he actually set us up for a night in Denver so that we did not have to drive the 2 hours back to Granby and back over the mountain, thankfully!  We saw him briefly the next morning, then took a quick driving tour of downtown Denver (including LoDo - Lower Downtown - where I spent some time / we spotted my old architecture firm's office near the Rockie's stadium.)  And - this big blue bear which Mercer and I read about in a book on Colorado.  We HAD to see him!

Finally, we headed south to Colorado Springs.  We were meeting Danielle's family there.  To be honest, we were nervous about meeting them.  As it turns out, they were nervous too - especially her dad who we met 10 years ago.  Danielle's step-mom (Connie) and I were messaging back and forth leading up to the meeting; she said that Mercer was Danielle's dad's only grandchild and he (Ken) was emotional the morning of our meeting and wanted to make sure we were going to come through.  


We did.  

And, we're glad.  

It was a bit awkward at first.  We met at a pizza restaurant in historic Colorado Springs.  We had some small talk before ordering, ate, then talked a long time afterwards.  They were really sweet and brought Mercer a birthday gift (an RC drone + a package with some light-up "shoe skates" from two of Danielle's friends). 

They also gave Mercer Danielle's Denver Bronco's jersey.  We were actually considering getting him one at one point because he says his favorite football team is Denver.  This one has WAY more meaning though.  (He needs to grow into it, of course, but just so so cool!)  

They were even so kind as to have brought something for Isabella:  stuffed animals, coloring books and crayons.  As it turned out, the crayons were the entertainment that day.  Isabella - with her sassy self - handed out crayons to everyone at the table and "demanded" that people draw pictures on the kraft paper table covering.  She likes to play teacher.  She likes to tell people what to do. Well, it was great and lightened up the mood!  Connie and Isabella went back and forth - Isabella putting an X across each drawing that she made.  It upset her (but seemed to upset her in a playful way).... that she kept trying and kept trying to gain Isabella's approval to no avail.  Isabella had her number!! 

After awhile Connie said "whew - you've got your hands full.  Good luck with that one!"

Danielle's brother (pictured here in a photo that Isabella took) supposedly had not laughed since last fall.  That day - it took him awhile to warm up, but he did.  Isabella was flirting so much with him.  During the drawing episode - the rudimentary drawings that he (Dustin) would draw, Isabella would put a check mark or star next to and give him the prize.   

Danielle's step mom was grateful to see that / thought Isabella had a heck of a lot of spunk but also had a gift to see that he needed the extra attention.  Here's what she wrote:  

[Ken] said Danielle could not have picked better parents for him.  Meeting him [Mercer] I think put a lot to rest with him emotionally.  I thank you and Todd for that.

Isabella did something yesterday that not many do and that's put a smile on Dustin's face.  Ken and I both said she had a gift of seeing when others are in need of some special attention and that's the one she chooses.  He talked about her all evening.  Most kids shy away from him because he's so much larger than them and so quiet but not her lol...

Not sure why Isabella is not smiling in these photos, but she does get in a mood sometimes!  The boy at the far end of the table (across from me) is Danielle's half-brother.  

He is the young boy seen in this sweet photo posted on the blog 10 years ago.  Now - he's in ROTC and is in high school! 

Mercer did not know them since he was so young.  The meeting was not for "him."   Going to Colorado Springs in the first place - and planning the whole trip out there - however was for him.  We showed him the hotel where we stayed the first 2 weeks of his life.  He got to see an Olympic training center as we drove by & he thought that was cool because the Olympics were going on at the time. He got to see the landscape and a little bit of the city.

This meeting at the pizza restaurant was really for Danielle's family.  The stress leading up to it and the awkwardness of the initial meeting was all OK considering that Danielle gave us such a beautiful, amazing gift.  

(Note - as soon as we landed back in Atlanta - Isabella promptly says... for my birthday, I want to go to Colorado!)  

I guess it was a successful family trip!!