Eagles Game – London Edition

It is scary to feel like joy will never again truly touch your soul.  My 5-year-old son lost his first tooth and I was distraught….I started crying.  All I could think was ‘Malcolm will never lose a tooth.’.

Moments like this are a frequent occurrence.  Specifically, when this pertains to my son and daughter, I am very upset by it….fucking furious, actually.  I feel like aside from being desperately sad, Chris and I are being robbed of moments of happiness that are every parent’s right to enjoy (we, as parents, certainly put in the work!).

Look at that sweet, first-lost-tooth smile <3

Conversely, things that used to stress me out or made me sad, or frustrated, no longer bother me.  As an example, one morning Chris woke me to tell me our car was hit (eventually deemed totalled). I thought ‘so what?  This is a fixable thing.’ and I rolled over and went back to sleep.

One of the things both Chris and I enjoyed in our past life, our life before Malcolm died, was watching the Eagles play football.  It is one of the things we bonded over while dating and we have attended many games in many different stadiums over the years.

With Merrill Reese, the voice of the Eagles!
Being interviewed in Houston by Eagles TV!

When I was pregnant with Malcolm, we were having trouble agreeing on a name.  Our other two kids are M names, and we wanted to continue the tradition, but only if we really loved the name.  Then one night we were watching the Eagles and Malcolm Jenkins introduced himself and Chris and I looked at one another and said ’Malcolm’.  We must have come across this name before, but hearing Jenkins say it, it sounded good to us. Sure enough, a few weeks later, we had our Malcolm.

Babies are perfection….exhausting perfection <3<3<3
We were allowed 9 months of perfection.

 

Malcolm died September 25, 2017.  

 

So smitten with his Daddy

I don’t even remember the following months.  The holidays came and went…we went through the motions for the kids, but I couldn’t tell you one thing that happened.  Chris’ dad bought us all Malcolm Jenkins jerseys for Christmas, which made me cry and smile and all of it. We watched the playoff games cause why not. Sure they won, I sort of cared, but not really.

Chris, I and M and M in our Jenkins jerseys
I am lucky enough to count my brothers among my closest friends (you will find them and their families in many posts). My brother Dave and Emily, his wife, are Malcolm’s godparents. We love spending time with them.  They came down for the Falcon’s playoff game and we also watched the Super Bowl with them.
Decorating Malcolms grave-site for the playoff run.

Then they beat Minnesota and it changed.  All of a sudden it was everything. They had to win.  Chris tried to keep his emotions in check, didn’t want to tie in the meaning too closely, but I couldn’t help myself.

Back up in Philly, on the morning of the Super Bowl, I visited my Aunt’s grave…..she is one of the biggest Eagles fans I have ever known.  We have tailgated, cheered, screamed for and booed the Eagles together. I asked her to snuggle Malcolm during the game and to teach him the ropes.  While I was speaking to her it began to snow, which is Malcolm’s sign.

The Eagles were going to win…I could now feel it in every fiber of my being.  The first time I had really FELT anything in months.

    

Of course we all screamed like lunatics during the game and the Eagles won their first ever Super Bowl.  (last few minutes recorded below, hero bear celebrated with us)

I really don’t know what would have happened to me, emotionally, if it had ended any other way….I had been so invested.  We came back up for the parade and shortly after I sank back into depression.

A few weeks later when Chris casually mentioned that the Eagles were playing in London  I said ‘yes…..we are going’. We bought plane tickets before game tickets. It was when the idea of how traveling, reconnecting with something I always enjoyed, may help me.

So to London

HB ready for London Eagles game

So….many….Eagles fans.  I mean, they annoy the crap out of me, sometimes, but Eagles fans are the best fans.  I told this to every UK Eagles fan I saw….‘you chose the right team’. We waited at customs for 2 hours.  When we told our customs agent why we were there he said ‘I’m going to stop asking people their purpose of visit….everyone is here for that game.’

We swung by the Eagles pubs in town, but The Admirality was closed when we stopped by (we got there just passed midnight) and the next night Passayunk Pub had a 2.5 hour wait.  We met up with my friend Einar the Saturday night before the game so we went out elsewhere to experience the exciting city we were visiting. We walked about 10 minutes from Passayunk and hit up Fitzroy Tavern.  Even there, the Eagles fight song broke out and we had to join. I mean, it was our duty. Einar then leaned in and said ‘we don’t do that here’…haha. I did ask if we embarrassed him and he assured me we didn’t 🙂  After the pub Einar took us to Bali Bali in Soho, which cooked all of his favorite dishes well (Einar is originally from Indonesia), and we ate our hearts out. The Tahu Talor (bean curd omlette) was sooooo yummy.

The next day we headed to Wembley – the 1948 summer Olympics stadium (see general London post for more on my Olympic Stadium Goals) ….oh, and there was an NFL game going on as well.  

We enjoyed chatting up the UK fans and seeing why they chose to cheer for the Eagles (or another team).

Our buddy-for-the-game Pete from Coventry

The atmosphere was different than an Eagles game in the states for sure!  The Eagles were WELL represented, as Iggles fans always travel well, but all 32 teams were represented (literally, we were intrigued and so we kept track).  I still screamed for/at my team, but it was a more mellow vibe for sure….all part of the experience 🙂

Wembley

Sealed with a few big plays by Malcolm Jenknis and an Eagles win, 24-18, it will always be an emotional memory.  A memory forever tied to my baby boy.

#RememberingMalcolm – London Edition

It was in February, when we first decided to come over for the Eagles game, when the idea of #RememberingMalcolm really started to take shape.

This trip to London was special and different for Chris and I, so we wanted to find something particularly meaningful in the memory of our sweet boy.  While sifting through the internet we came across Brixton Soup Kitchen. There was a lot of positive vibes surrounding this grassroots organization by both the community and the press.  We had not come across Brixton in any of our ‘what to do while in London’ searches, and connecting to a different, less-touristy area of the city was appealing to us.

 

Brixton Villiage is a great market with lots of restaurant options.

 

The day we were volunteering the tube proved too efficient, again, and we were 15 minutes early (I’m punctual! :)).  We soon found out that mornings at BSK take off at a more relaxed pace.   

Fortunately, we caught Esther on her way in, or else we would have been waiting outside a while!

We got a brief tour and looked around while Esther and Ahmed went about their routines of starting the tea and coffee and preparing bread with cheese.

When Micah showed up our BSK history and tour went into full swing.  He spoke to us about how Solomon was drawn to do something for their community and aid those that need it the most.  To focus on what is truly important in life. Something to which Chris and I can relate. Just from that sentiment, we already felt a connection to BSK.  Of course we shared our story and why we had looked to volunteer. We showed Malcolm’s picture around, introduced everyone to Hero Bear and wore Malcolm’s shirt.

Originally, BSK had difficulty finding space as all their services, including hot meals, pantry food, clothing, and legal advice, free of charge.  The community has drawn together to make it a warmer (literally!) space. A friend installed the heating system, to make BSK a cozy place to come in the winter (London requires historical buildings replace old materials with similar materials, to maintain the historical feel of the city.  A result of this is the windows at BSK are single pane, and a functioning heat system was necessary).

BSK doesn’t receive government funding, but relies on volunteers  and donations. Their efforts have been recognized and aided by many different sponsors as well.  Capital One helped them clear the garden and make it a gathering place for warmer months (Micah dropped it in that he was BBQ champ this past year:)).  They get food donations from several local cafes, restaurants and grocers. BSK was even featured on the UK show Surprise, Surprise, a home reno show, that gave them state-of-the-art kitchen appliances!  Their website highlights and appreciates all the sponsors for helping them be able to offer such a pure community support.

Its no wonder the community appreciates this place 🙂 And their hustle is undeniable…even while we were there Solomon was taking meetings and pressing the flesh to get BSK the necessary facetime.

Also ANYONE can help their cause by donating to their GoGetFunding page, and look to purchase Solomon’s recently published book “The Solomon Success Story: Born Into a Dyslexic World”, about being born severely dyslexic in the tough streets of Brixton and overcoming.

As we were learning about BSK’s history other regular volunteers were arriving.  Charlie, BSK’s admin and our contact, was there with her daughter (Jada) and nephew (Corey) who had the week off from school.  Martin is a regular volunteer from the Netherlands who is studying the semester in the London. There were also two Jennifers who are a part of their regular rotation of volunteers. It was interesting hearing everyone’s stories and what led them to volunteer at BSK.

Then we were put to work.  We prepped, cooked, served and got to know one another a bit more.  

Corey and Jada are great, volunteering at BSK while their school was on holiday. Corey converted us to Glasgow Celtics fans, and we convinced him that the Eagles were the way to go, if he ever started watching the NFL. 🙂

After learning we were originally from Philly and there for the Eagles game, Micah and I crushed a rendition of ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’.  I wish I had video but I was sauteing onions. I still did the step out of the cab with the spatula in my hand.

Serve it up!

We served food to about 10 people, which is a very light day at BSK.  More people did trickle in eventually. With one big dining room table and a cozy setting, the environment is inviting and conversation flowed.

Micah and Corey took Chris on a tour of the neighborhood and to drop off some food at the library.  Similar to the US, some kids don’t get meals on a regular basis, and rely on their meal at school as a source of nutrition.  When they have a week off, they can go to the library for their lunch and BSK delivers food donated by Nandos Peri Peri. Have we mentioned BSK is amazing??  

A HUGE thank you to Brixton Soup Kitchen for having us participate in their daily routine and educate us about their community, their inspirations and their amazing efforts to provide some relief to those that need it.  Also, thanks for letting me take a bunch of pictures to remember our experience as we keep doing what we can in memory our Malcolm.

Solomon and Micah are so inspiring in their commitment to their mission. They are also a lot of fun to hang out with 🙂

London

London!  What a rich experience you were.  This trip was so emotional for us, and between our #RememberingMalcolm moments, the Eagles game, sightseeing, pubs and taking in a show in the West End it was all we could have asked for.

Approaching this trip was so different.  Everyone kept asking if we were excited. I kept saying ‘we are looking forward to it’.  Since Malcolm died, we don’t really get EXCITED for anything, any more, as outlined in my post about the Eagles.  Planning a trip is something I have always enjoyed, though, and hunting down a good accommodation and other must dos was a good distraction.

Location Location Location! Hyde Park across the street and an elevator that drops us off right at our room.  I really took the below video for the kids cause they would have loved it!

I found a wonderful Air B&B for two directly across the street from Hyde Park for around 120 USD a night.  I have used Air B&B a lot in the past, but this was our first time staying in a room in someone’s house, and not renting an entire space.  But London is expensive, so it seemed like a good time to try it out 🙂 We did have our own bathroom and the host, Marite, was wonderful. She had breakfast available and coffee, which we greatly appreciated.

Breakfasts are not a requirement of an AirBnB, so we fully appreciated this extra touch to start our mornings off right (and caffeinated)

You can definitely get rooms even cheaper if you don’t mind sharing a bathroom.  This was also an anniversary trip, so we sprang for our own toilet.

Day 1:  After over 2 hours in customs lines, we checked in and bought a picnic for Hyde Park. As we entered the park we saw an older man play hide and seek with his dog.  While his sweet little Scottie was sniffing a tree, the man casually walked ahead about a dozen yards up the path towards us and stepped off the path out of sight behind a bush. When the dog look up you could see the surprise on his face and it made us laugh….then the Scottie trotted towards us looking left and right off of the path until he spotted his owner and his tail went a-wagging 🙂

We wandered along checking out many different corners of the park, and then settled in for our picnic with views of Kensington Palace.   We enjoyed dog-watching as much as people-watching!

We came across one of Malcolm’s signs on our walk through Hyde Park.   Malcolm ‘spoke’ to me on Mother’s Day weekend when I was gently touched by dandelion seeds while having a very big breakdown at his grave.

The next morning was our #RememberingMalcolm appointment.  After our time at Brixton Soup Kitchen, we wandered through Borough Market and bought lunch.  Anything you want to eat, they got!

One of the few places we went to scratch that Harry Potter itch.  Borough Market was the setting for Diagon Alley

We tried the Scotch Eggs at Scotchtails….tasty!

Then we headed over the bridge and along the Thames with views of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.  

We didn’t go into the Tower of London mainly due to time constraints. While walking around the outside I had to use the bathroom and there were only pay toilets!  We hadn’t exchanged any money, and I wasn’t about to do so just to pee! We wandered a bit further and found perfectly functional, free toilets at the adorable St. Kathrine Docks Marina.

Another view of Tower of London and Tower Bridge. We walked all the way around the Tower, and we are so glad we did! St. Kathrine Docks Marina on the other side of the Tower is ADORABLE.  It is a quaint, quiet little area with lots of marina view restaurants and wine bars. Not much in the way of pubs, though, which is what I had on my mind by this time.

While walking around the Tower, I heard a man mimic  “‘Go Birds’ all over the bloody place…..some sort of rubber match or something’.  Made me smile. (‘Go Birds’ being the minimal amount of syllables to say ‘Go Eagles’) Clearly Eagles fans were annoying some locals already and it was only Friday.

We ended Friday sightseeing at  Covent Garden and enjoying a few pints at The White Swan pub.  

Fantastic autumn vibes at Covent Garden
This great little pub gave our feet a much needed rest.

Then back to our room for a quick change and to dinner at Gordon Ramsey’s Heddon Street.  It was fine. We were set to try the Beef Wellington and so we did…it was tasty (and for the price, should be!).  The dinner checked a box for us. I saw a mouse, which made me laugh (‘cause drinking) but, of course, caused the wait staff some horror.

Roller skate hangout at Piccadilly Circus shortly after midnight…

Saturday, Day 3, was first the The British Museum then London Olympic Park.

Not sure what to do? Hop in a queue! This one at the British Museum moved fairly quickly….and you always have to appreciate a hard working security team

 My bucket list is to visit all Olympic Cities. I have quite a few done, already, but there are many, many more out there!

We took the tour of the stadium, now home to West Ham United.  There were many good photo ops. Since we really have no grasp on non-American football, the tour was very educational!  

HB is always game
#gameface
Chris and I do NOT know a lot (anything?) about non-american football. But we both really enjoyed this tour.

We bought some souvenirs and then headed up the Arcelormittal Orbital sculpture right next door and took the SLIDE down!

The view from the bottom (always an attractive angle)
view from the top!

We both agreed this was worth the money.  We walked the Olympic grounds more (quickly, ‘cause it was cold) and got to see the velodrome and the Olympic Rings.

Another Olympic City down! Wembley, where the Eagles played, also hosted an Olympic Games.

That night was our attempt at Passyunk Avenue, which is a Philly-style pub, but because of the game the wait was 2.5 hours!  

‘Kelce’ photo ops waiting for Einar at Passayunk Avenue

We waited there for our friend, Einar, then headed out elsewhere in the city. We walked about 10 minutes from Passyunk and hit up Fitzroy Tavern.  After the pub, Einar took us to Bali Bali in Soho, which cooked all of his favorite dishes well (Einar is originally from Indonesia), and we ate our hearts out.  The Tahu Talor (bean curd omlette) was sooooo yummy.

Day 4: Sunday was Eagles game…which we made a separate blog post.  

After game we did an ad hoc stop at Kings Cross cause I wanted an HP pic. Alas, the line was sooooooper long, and we were exhausted. Long days and late nights were catching up to these two old heads, so we settled for a picture of a stranger.

Exhausted, that night we got some Moroccan food to go from Sidi Maarouf, ate in, and watched the soccer hooligan movie ‘Green Street’ inspired by our West Ham visit the day before.

Monday was ‘sightseeing day’.  Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms and a beautiful walk through St. James Garden to Buckingham Palace.

Dinner was at Chili Shaker Indian Restaurant (yummy….I ate toooooo much….jean-buster) near Piccadilly Circus and then we saw ‘The Book of Mormon’ at the Prince of WalesTheatre.  We knew what we were getting into with this play, and that it is not for the easily (or even not-so-easily) offended. As expected, traditional big-theatre boundaries were smashed.  We thought it was smart and funny and are glad we chose that play!

HB is very cultured

On our last day, the tube ride out of town saw us meet a lovely couple from New Zealand. They’re visiting for a month. The older lady next to us had a teddy bear (Mr. Potts, of facebook fame) sticking out of her backpack like Hero Bear was from ours. She said drop her a message on FB if we’re ever in New Zealand!  

Nice to meet you Mr. Potts!

Finally, we headed home to see our kiddos.  I thought the bathrooms in Reykjavik airport were super-cool, so I took a video for posterity!  They were empty, but I walked quickly cause taking a video in a public bathroom is weird.

One more #RememberingMalcolm moment. Helping children with illnesses travel? How could HB resist?

The rapid pace of our visit made it best for just the two of us, but we missed the kids like crazy.  They made us welcome home cards and there were hugs and tears and getting ready for Halloween the next day. Right back to it…and we wouldn’t want it any other way 🙂

School Supplies for Haiti – OC, NJ

I try to research #RememberingMalcolm things to do ahead of time.  Maybe I need to refine my searching skills, but for our trip to Ocean City, NJ I had difficulty finding something that felt like the right fit.  It is hard to identify a real area of need in this beach-resort town.

  

Our stay in Ocean City was just over a week, so it was long enough that we wanted to do something a bit different.  Then, on our second day there, my mom found a local church (St. Augustine’s) doing a school supply collection for the children of La Montagne Jacmel, Haiti.  We loved this idea, doing anything for children is the best.

Cute picture of Hero Bear and my nephew <3

We searched around OC’s boutique-y shops for items requested on the list.  Shoes were crazy expensive, and school supplies were hard to come by.  We finally found marble notebooks in a small book store on Asbury Ave….great!  Flip them over the the price tag was……$7.99?!  Well, off to Wal-Mart.  I just purchased my own two children’s supplies and I knew I could pick up 16 notebooks for the children in Haiti for that same amount of money.  We did pick up a few compasses and protractors at a reasonable price from the shop next door.  That night we found backpacks being sold on the boardwalk for $50.  Definitely going to Wal-Mart.  I know we were visiting a beach town, so that is to be expected, but we are looking to get the most bang for our buck for these donations!

When my brother’s family arrived Friday, we took the kids, our SIL, and Hero Bear and made the trek to Wal-Mart (~20 minutes, not bad) to get some food and stock up on a bunch of the school  supplies for La Montagne Jacmel.   We were able to get so many pens, notebooks and crayons as well as backpacks and shoes.

The supply request emphasized the importance of shoes for these Haitian kids to get to class…in their education even being an option.  Another moment to reflect on how fortunate we truly are, and impress that fact on my children.

Over-all, thanks to the generosity of my family, we were able to contribute substantially to this #RememberingMalcolm cause.

Drop-off at St. Augustines

As always, please contact us with any #RememberingMalcolm good you have done on your vacations and we will write it up on our site. 

Ocean City, NJ

Classic.  Ocean City, NJ is stuffed with summer childhood memories.  One of my first vacation memories is staying in a dingy motel just off the boardwalk (vibrating bed and all!  I thought it was the most fun thing ever.) and my parents letting us stay up very late to actually finish a game of Monopoly. It is a great memory, full of laughter and that special feeling of getting to stay up late as a little kid.  Since then we have had big family reunions, vacations with friends as well as other trips with just our family (the accomodations gradually improving from that first memory…haha.).

Classic!

When I met Chris in the early 2000s, his aunt and uncle had just purchased a house in Sea Isle, about halfway between OC and Cape May.  It made sense for Chris and I to start staying and visiting with them on our shore trips, instead of heading into Ocean City. We would occasionally come back for family reunions or day trips, but our connection was now being built to Sea Isle (which is also fantastic, but not what this blog is about).

This year, my parents wanted to gather all of their children under one roof in Ocean City once again and reserved a house for us all to stay at.  My kids and I stayed for over a week. As soon as we crossed the bridge into town and started driving the streets, the memories came flooding back.  The house was just a block and a half from the beach and boardwalk – so the stage was set.

The day we arrived the weather was beautiful.  We settled into the house and then headed straight for the beach.  Crossing the boardwalk made me stop in my tracks….Jilly’s arcade, the Surf Mall, Kohr Brothers all right where I left them.  The Surf Mall takes me back to Senior Week, which is a right of passage for High School graduates in the Philadelphia area. Graduate HS and head to the beach for the week to blow off steam with your now former classmates. During SW I hit up the Surf Mall, which is a collection of vendors and an oxygen bar, to purchase some washout hair dye, a fake nose ring and fake tramp stamp to give my mom a shock when I got home (I was raised in a conservative Catholic home, so this was shocking).

Jilly’s is 24 hours and still has skee-ball games for 10 cents….11 games for a dollar…..classic!

We crossed the boards to the beach.  For the first time my 7-year-old was eager to play in the rough surf, and quickly became an expert boogie boarder. Watching her laugh, even when she got knocked down hard made me smile and think about how much I loved learning to ride the waves in when I was a kid.  During a family reunion in the early ’90s I finely tuned my body surfing skills and would stay in the water for hours with my mom, aunts, uncles and cousins.  And just like my daughter did, we would all emerge water-logged, pruney, happy and exhausted.

That night, after my husband left to go back to Baltimore to work for a few days, I took the kids to the boardwalk for their first time ever.  I mean, is there anything cooler than that to a kid? The ocean and all the lights and arcade noises and rides and mini-golf and and…and!  I walked them along to show them our options for the upcoming week. We laughed at the animated gorillas jamming out in their helicopter in front of Congo Falls mini-golf.  My son jumped and ran to the other side of the boardwalk as a realistic robot alligator on tracks charged forward with its jaws open at the entrance to Pirates of the Golden Galleon mini-golf.  We stopped for ice cream and talked about what we wanted to do during the week. We watched seagulls launch coordinated attacks on unsuspecting tourists to separate them from their crab fries.

The next day my mom brought home an excellent Remembering Malcolm candidate from church.  School supplies for children La Montagne Jacmel, Haiti…sounded perfect (I had trouble identifying a good volunteer opportunity ahead of time).  See separate post on this activity.

During the week we had so much fun at the house doing our puzzle (for my family this is essential beach downtime activity), chatting and being silly.  Beach in the afternoon, boardwalk at night, repeat.

HB hitches a ride
Sand pit and being buried….classic!
Getting your picture taken with Mummers while on a pirate ship? Just another night on the boardwalk.
Pizza is one of my faaaavorite boardwalk activities

Chris joined us again Wednesday night, and by Friday morning my brother, my SIL and nephew arrived.  On Friday it was colder and overcast, so we went to the boardwalk earlier on and did some rides, and by that night my other, youngest brother and other SIL were in town….whole family together!  

On the caboose at Castaway Cove
My daughter eventually had fun, but the first time around wasn’t so sure…haha.  The pirate fun house in the background ended up being the kids favorite thing…

The next day was surrey rides and beach again, fueled by a healthy cheeseball pizza lunch.  Determined not to repeat the mistakes of our Cherry Springs trip, where we ran out of cheeseballs way to quickly, each family brought a barrel…..challenge accepted.

Chris also made a cheeseball breaded chicken parm the next day, which was actually quite tasty. Cheeseball pizza isss…….crunchy.

 

That night my brothers, SILS, Chris and I got to go on a date while my parents watched the kids! It was so much fun. My daughter was super upset and couldn’t understand why she couldn’t come.  I remember feeling that way! During a family reunion my older cousins got to go with the adults to Atlantic City to see David Copperfield and I SO wanted to go with them. Yes, I was 11, but I was an old soul….bring me bring me briiiiinnnng mmmeeee!

Sib date night!

We ate some great BBQ at Back Bay BBQ, a BYOB over the bridge. (Ocean City, NJ is a dry, family-friendly town.  You can bring booze in, but in town there are no bars and no liquor stores) Followed up by walking the boards and the beach and beating one of the boardwalk escape rooms extremely easily.  I’ve never done an escape room before, but I don’t think they are supposed to be that easy (we did the ‘hardest one’ and beat it with 10 minutes to spare of our half-hour time limit). I get it, though, good for a quick turn around on the boardwalk.  It makes them more family friendly, also. Moral of the story, if you are looking for a very challenging escape room, go somewhere else.

The next morning my parents took everyone out to a family breakfast and then we hit the beach and arcade once more.  

My breakfast date <3

Finally, it came time to say goodbye to my sibs. As we were wrapping up the evening I got really sad. This tends to happen on vacations now, and the longer the vacation the worse it seems to be.  I get sad to go back to our house and routine because it doesn’t include Malcolm. He should be here. Every time I start to think about this gaping hole in our everyday lives I can’t shake it and I have a breakdown.  This vacation was no exception. This night it was compounded because we were celebrating my sweet nephew’s one-year birthday. I love him so much, but all I could think about is how Malcolm never got this day. I eventually scraped myself off the bed, with the support of my amazing and loving husband, to hug my sibs and nephew goodbye.

One of our only photos of Malcolm at the ocean. We do feel fortunate that we were able to take him so many places <3<3<3

My family stayed one more day with my parents and aunt and took it at a relaxing pace.  So many new memories to add to the old ones:

Candy anyone?

Some #RememberingMalcolm Aaaamazingness

Hero Bear (HB) appears all over this site and Instagram.  Hero Bear was given to us by Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland when we made the very difficult decision to donate Malcolm’s organs.  Something that we could hold onto as we were coming to grips with Malcolm’s death was that there was potential to save a life.

We bring HB with us on trips (Living Legacy gave us another HB so we don’t have to bring the one that Malcolm had with him in the hospital) and is with us when we do a kindness as a physical representation of Malcolm.  We hold him in our hearts and one way we  approach our pain is to embrace how perfect and sweet and good Malcolm was and try to put something good back out into the world for him.  I’ve tagged all of our travel posts with #RememberingMalcolm and they can be found under the Remembering Malcolm tag.

In addition to these posts, friends and family have been sending messages on how they have done some #RememberingMalcolm goodness and it really makes our hearts swell with happiness and I wanted to make note of them.

 

                          

 

My college roommate was in Costa Rica, chaperoning a school trip.  She shared our website and #RememberingMalcolm with her amazing students, whom she cannot say enough about, and they have decided to do a photo fundraiser to benefit a camp in Costa Rica in Malcolm’s name.  School just started and there are logistics to figure out, but we wanted to share this exciting development!  I plan on posting updates on this project later as it emerges.

She also took a more immediate approach and tipped generously at the hotel in which their group stayed.

 

                          

 

Our kids were being watched by their MomMom one week this summer, who decided to do some #RememberingMalcolm with them on her travel in Baltimore.

Our church community was collecting for the needy, so MomMom took the kids and HB to round up some goods and deliver them to our church.  This is also where Malcolm is buried.

The kids love collecting nature for Malcolm’s grave.

Lucky HB, covered in cicada shells, knows this is how the kids show their love.

 

                          

 

@kcolleen6 #RememberingMalcolm in Ocean City, MD.

Another mother whom we have met through this grieving process, took time to remember our sweet boy while she and her husband were in Ocean City, MD (she took the snowflake picture on a following trip….too sweet).  Their perfect baby, Tommy, was born into heaven this past January and is buried near Malcolm.  She is one of the first people I talked about Remembering Malcolm with and gave me support by saying she thought it was a fantastic idea as well as mentioning it to friends and family and doing some #RememberingMalcolm love on her trips.

On their trip to OC, MD they left a great tip to brighten their waitresses day as well as making a donation to hurricane relief through the local church.

 

                          

 

Saving the most adorable for last, the 7-year-old daughter of one of my closest friends gave money to a homeless man during a family trip to Buffalo Wing Festival  (Go Bills!….as long as they don’t play the Eagles!)

This is what a good time at Buffalo’s Wing Fest looks like…this kid is whip smart with a fierce but kind heart….love her so much.

 

                          

 

I also want to thank SO many family and friends who have done things for us/for others in Malcolm’s name.   Malcolm’s grandparents bought a beautiful bench near his grave site.  Malcolm’s Grandad also had a slide at his church’s new library dedicated to Malcolm. The kids’ school donated the proceeds of a 50/50 raffle to Living Legacy. Two friends who have been so supportive over the last year have collected donations for Johns Hopkins Pediatrics for their birthday or their children’s birthdays.  Everything helps and it is such a kind and selfless thing to do and makes us so appreciative to have such amazing people in our lives.

Cherry Springs State Park, PA

The reason people flock to Cherry Springs State Park,  and the reason we and my brothers’ families agreed to drive 4.5 hours for a few nights together, is to see the stars…all of the stars…to infinity and beyond.  To Malcolm.

My brother and sister in law, some of our closest friends and Malcolm’s godparents, bought Malcolm a star so we can look for him in the heavens.  This was our Cherry Springs Quest.
Fortunately, prior to coming on the trip, a very thoughtful astronomer friend of ours sent us some photos of Malcolm’s star from different telescopes around the world, and gave us information about his star (distance, brightness), so this really took a LOT of pressure off of the trip.  And since we didn’t get to see it with our eyes, I’m even more grateful to have the pics.  Malcolm’s star is the bright star in the center of this photo.  We will track it down another time!

Cherry Spring State Park is one of the best places on the eastern seaboard to see the Milky Way.  It carries an International Dark Skies rating (who knew?).  There is a campground for regular people (vault toilets only) with a telescope (that’s us) and a campground for astronomers (flush toilets, la-ti-dah!).  The ladies walked to the astronomers side during the day to take their fancy flush toilets for a test drive.  The gates close there at dark so dust won’t be kicked up by cars to block the view.  Also, all lights had to be red, no flashlights allowed anywhere.  Even the lighting in the bathroom was red.

Weeding out the people that think ‘the sky is pretty’ –>

So with all this in mind, we were ready to see some stars.  Even though we were lumped in with The Norms, there was an enormous field behind us (the top of the mountain -2500 ft up- had been cleared in the 1930s when it was used as an airport) and we were prepared with my brother’s big ol’ telescope.

And then clouds.  Clouds, clouds and more clouds.  The first night it rained, ah well.  The second night looked promising until around midnight.   We went to a Ranger talk on what to look for in the night sky.  Unfortunately, we were there during a waxing, 1/2 moon phase (Note: try to go during the new moon phase) and the moon didn’t set until 1am, so while we saw some nice, non-Baltimorian sky, it wasn’t what we came for.  We did get to see four planets arcing across the sky: Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars.  I didn’t even know you could see four planets, with the naked eye, at one time.  We also got to peek at the moon through the park’s powerful telescopes, which was interesting.  We saw many of the moon’s features: craters, channels, mountains.  It was so cool that it looked unreal.  But, as the clouds moved in, you could feel the optimism being sucked out of everyone around the campfire.  We decided to go to bed and set alarms for 3am to see if conditions had improved.  They hadn’t.

Although the stargazing was a disappointment, we had fun family time during the day.  On day 1, after a pretty drive through PA, we all arrived within an hour or so of one another and set up camp.

On of my legit favorite road trip things is stopping in a diner (Twilight Diner) in The Middle of Nowhere.  The far sign over the door says ‘save your spoon, the best is yet to come’.
Tent Pic!

Then there was the ceremonial consumption of the cheeseballs.  We almost brought a second barrel, but then reasoned we were only there 2 nights…surely that was excessive.  They were gone in hours.

Beginning-mid cheeseball crush
Et tu, cutie pie?
HB???

We explored nearby, admired some nature, and ate spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.  We each brought a different meal or two, and honestly, each meal outdid the last.  Creativity in packing meals can keep camping fun….and it doesn’t have to be complicated at all.

My brother’s Coleman stove is sweet!  Wish I got a better pic.  Note to self: may have to upgrade.

This is the first of 5 catepillar pets this weekend.  This one’s name is Dave because he was originally hosted in my youngest brother’s cup, labeled ‘Dave’

I hung out with my bros and our spouses that night and on the way back to our trailer came within a few feet of a skunk.  I jumped and retraced my steps and waited for said skunk to scoot off….but this would not be our last encounter….

Day 2: Slow morning with breakfast of coffee, chocolate chip pancakes, sausage and some laughs.

Walking around camp in the morning….has she found a bear track??
She loves seeing her uncles for many reasons, and shoulder rides is definitely high on the list.

Then the Chris and I and the kids and my youngest brother and his wife went into town to explore and get some coffee and ice cream.  Coudersport, PA is an adorable mountain town on the Allegheny River with antiques, book stores, taverns and an adorable ice cream parlor….and McDonalds and IHOP.

HB vision: Coudersport, PA
Super cute coffee and ice cream parlour: Cream n’ Sugar in Coudersport

My son was asking where all the alligators were in the river.  What?  The alligators.  ummmm… (I start feeling nervous….what is he saying?  He has a quick fuse when you as ‘what’ too many times, and I don’t know what he is talking about)…there aren’t alligators here.  ‘Isn’t this the Alligator River?’  We all got a chuckle.  Allegheny.  Ah, 5-year-old cuteness.

Drive back to camp
She loves critters

When we got back we ate a PBJ lunch and then went over to explore the astronomers campground.  As mentioned earlier, there are some pretty serious restrictions once the sun sets to guarantee optimal viewing.

It was here that we saw the opportunity to donate to Cherry Springs Dark Sky Fund, and my sister in law suggested that as Hero Bear’s #RememberinMalcolm contribution to Cherry Springs….and that’s what we did!

 

We also wandered down a different path near our campsite.  I didn’t bring a camera, but it was a beautiful hike with great views from the top of the mountain and wild turkey’s gobbling across our path.

Tonight’s dinner was cheesesteaks cooked on the grill over the fire and they were DELICIOUS.  Yumyumyum.

Cousins pic. I love seeing them together but we can never help thinking about who is missing. 
Love this pic….

After dinner we did get to see a beautiful sunset through a brief moment of clear sky.

Pretty sunset. On the bottom right is an outdoor classroom set up to give visitors an introduction to the night sky. Several park rangers used laser pointers to give us a tour and point out interesting features. This is also when they told us that moonset was around 1 in the morning, which is when we would get to see many more stars. However, the weather didn’t cooperate that long.

We had s’mores and waited for the arrival of moon set.  But around midnight, when the clouds rolled in with no end in sight, we decided to catch a few hours sleep and set alarms for 3.

SILs <3

At 3am, I snuck out of the trailer, careful not to wake husband, kids, or SIL and baby who were bunking with us.  I crept towards the bath house.  When I got far enough away from the trailer I flicked on my flashlight.  And there, strolling around the corner of the vault toilets, was my skunk buddy.  Same one (his back was mostly white, which really made him stand out, fortunately).  We locked eyes.  I said ‘FINE’ aloud, and stalked away to pee behind a tree.

For our last morning at camp my brother again used his great stove to cook us up some omelettes and sausage, with toast prepped over the fire.

He could throw sticks into a fire all day….

 

This is what we would have looked like if we had seen stars
Not that kind of party

In the end, Chris and I were quite disappointed we didn’t see Malcolm’s star.  But we did get to spend time with family that also happens to be our good friends, and that is such a gift.

The photo credit for this and several other pics go to my brother…..the one really close to the camera…

Natural Bridge, VA

There were some fun things that lured us to Natural Bridge, VA.  One was a classic American roadside attraction….FOAMHENGE!!! Chris and I had been here before, but absolutely wanted to share it and take photo ops with the kids.  A few days before we left I was doing some quick recon on details and saw that…..what?… Foamhenge had moved?!?! Guh. I guess we’ll just have to track it down in Centerville, VA another time.

Foamhenge circa October 2014
Foamhenge circa October 2014
As we were leaving a couple was arriving to get their engagement photos taken. What a fantastic idea.

Another attraction that I had my eye on for awhile was Virginia Safari Park.  I thought it sounded like fun for the kids, and safe to say, it was their highlight.  The price for the 4 of us plus 4 buckets of food for the animals ran just shy of 100 bucks, but it was money well spent.  

No wonder we ran out of food…
HB being shown the ropes

If you arrive early enough, you can book a spot on one of their wagons that will drive you through the park while you feed the animals.  I highly suggest this option.  It costs $6 a person, but includes a bucket of feed ($4) and not having to worry about damage to your car is more than worth it.  Having a buffalo stroll right by your car windows makes you flinch! We were not early enough to get seats on the last wagon of the day, and while our car wasn’t damaged, I did have an emu poke his head in and nip at my seat (silly emu).  Also, as the driver, I was worried about turning animals into roadkill (though most of them scooted out of the way, a few lingered in front for awhile) and didn’t fully enjoy the experience. Another plug for the wagons: there were off-the-beaten-path roads marked ‘wagons only’ that meandered by watering holes and around the far side of hills, so they get better access than cars do.  Still, it was a cool experience seeing some very large creatures up close. One other tip, try and ration the food! Or buy more buckets (I wish we had done this) We were out towards the end of the safari, when we saw a magnificent elk buck that we would have loved to have fed (he saw we were out of food and wouldn’t give us the time of day).

After the driving part of the safari, there is a walkthrough portion that also exceeded our expectations.  You can look at reptiles and monkeys (several with babies on their backs!) and feed goats. There were also several more unique experiences.  You can stroll through a kangaroo enclosure and walk through a parakeet aviary where you can have several birds land on you at once while you offer them seed from sticks.  This was my daughters absolute favorite.

Monkey baby!
Kangaroo Walkabout
Chris keet-less

There is also the opportunity to feed giraffes.  The ‘giraffe food’ is romaine lettuce and sold for 5 dollars a cup.  A little over-excited, I bought us each a cup. The giraffes (perhaps over-fed…it was the very end of the day), completely ignored us and we gave all our lettuce to some chill tortoises that were hanging out waiting for giraffe leftovers.   Other animals included a white tiger and two pacing cheetahs.

The ONLY negative we had was the snack bar staff would not refill our water bottle with tap water, stating it was the park’s policy to not refill, but we could, of course, purchase.  There also weren’t any water fountains, that I saw.  I can’t recall being refused water at any family friendly location before, and it did not sit well with me. We ended up buying, which, aside from costing money, defeats the purpose of us carrying around a reusable bottle.

After the Safari Park we went back to finish setting up camp.  Camping is work, but also such a great experience. After we were set up and cooked dinner on the fire, I swayed in the hammock with my son, talking about our day and watching the light fade through the trees and enjoyed one of those perfect moments.  I didn’t have a camera to capture it, but it will be in my memory forever.

Photo taken during a much crazier time the following morning.  This hammock was one of the best 20 bucks I ever spent.
5 year old laughing and saying his cheese looks like VA.  The geography nerd in me is super proud.

The next day we set out to send out some positivity in Malcolm’s memory at Natural Bridge State Park.  The kids love nature and learning about nature (they hold snakes without batting an eye), so volunteering at the park seemed like an good way to start our Remembering Malcolm experiences.  I wanted to make sure it was something that would keep the kids engaged, and tried to have them understand why we are doing what we are doing.

Gently handling Thom Hiss Jefferson and looking through some of Liz’s wildlife photos

In all honestly, my son was bored (and said so many times).  I wanted to tell him to suck it up and do it for Malcolm, but quickly reasoned that would push him away from our ultimate goal of doing something like this on every trip. There was plenty of space for him to occupy himself (which almost always consists of him pretending to tackle/be tackled/dodge a tackle), and Liz (our extremely helpful and kind park ranger) supplied him with a coloring book about caves. He ended up talking to Liz for quite some time about cave life (impressive, since he is my shy guy). He was fascinated that some animals have adapted to cave life by not having any eyes at all! We were visiting the Caverns at Natural Bridge the next day, so he could get the cave experience.  Natural Bridge State Park is beautiful, educational and FULL of wildlife, especially snakes.  We ran into several rather large water snakes and queen snakes along the rock wall at the river path.

After the park we headed back to camp for a hike with the dog and went swimming at the lake.  Cave Mountain Lake campground is SO GOOD. Away from the summer craziness of the Shenandoah, it has nice facilities and lake access for just $15 a night. A quiet place to camp in during prime summer days.

Beautiful Cave Mountain Lake
Everyone helps around camp
Doggies love camping
Kid was born to camp
Picked up for dinner at the local general store.  This photo is such a classic camping pic with checkered table cloth, Coleman thermos and trailer and some yellow mustard 🙂

It was supposed to rain on our last full day, so we had planned the caverns for that day.  However, when we poked our heads back out from the underground, it was sunny, so we hopped back over to Natural Bridge State Park for a more relaxed stroll through the park.  A different experience from the day before.

Testing out the games kids on the Monacan Tribe used to play
I mean, finding snake skin makes her a happy camper.
2 big snappers sneaking up on a frog
#watchyourhands #thisisafamilyshow

We enjoyed our last night of camp and then packed up (in the rain, as seems to be our tradition) and drove the 4 hours home through occasional squalls.  This trip was so much fun and we are already planning on making it part of a larger camping trip next year.

see how much fun we are having?

Video version of fun below

Healing Through Travel

It has been a long road we have walked since Malcolm died, and it continues to stretch out in front of us in daunting valleys and peaks.  Though I often still feel hazy and lost, I have also made an effort to focus on how to find myself/ourselves. One thing I have always craved is travel, and I fully believe it is good for the soul.  As I planned a flurry of trips this year, I still simply cannot work up the excitement I once had for wandering the world. Something was missing. We can’t just run away from Malcolm, we had to bring him, somehow, leave a mark, no matter how small, on where we have been.  It is our family’s personal #RememberingMalcolm campaign, and we have already had family and friends who have supported us and seized on the idea and are helping us spread love through the world in Malcolm’s memory. It really, truly means the world to us that people think of him and sprinkle a little love and positivity wherever they go.

Back when we realized Malcolm wasn’t going to pull through, we had to make the difficult decision to take him off life support.  One of the more harrowing aspects of the situation was being asked if we’d consider making Malcolm an organ  donor.  How could we not?  The possibility to offer hope to another family in pain was one we could not let pass by.

The Living Legacy people walked my husband through the process.  They gave us a teddy bear with the word ‘HERO’ on it.  This bear is the representation of our lost son we take to bed with us each night and carry  with us when we travel.  A squeeze on Hero Bear (HB) or Malcolm Bear can calm frantic nerves or just is there when we need to cry.  It was in his hospital bed the night before his organ donation, his skin felt the bear, it touched his lips, Hero Bear has some special attachment to him.

Though I don’t feel we ever undervalued time together before losing Malcolm, we definitely bask in every moment that we all get to spend together more than ever.  We love being outside, exploring nature and bonding through experiences. This past weekend we went to Natural Bridge, VA, on our first, official, #RememberingMalcolm trip.

On the Road
Crazy morning hair….wanted to document hitting the road with HB!

One of the tourist stops in Natural Bridge is the beautiful State Park.  I had envisioned our volunteer experience to be something along the lines of trash cleanup or similar, but once I explored the Virginia State Park volunteering process we found out our options were limited to assisting with one of the day’s programs.  One-time volunteers do not need the background check that routine volunteers require, which is great (I hadn’t allowed enough time for a background check!), but it also limits what you can do that day to being supervised assisting the Park Rangers with their work.   Volunteer Coordinator Megan Meadows made sure that we had our opportunity that Saturday!

Megan provided a list of the day’s programs.  Several nature-related and another called ‘Legends of Natural Bridge’, which educates visitors on the history and geology of the area.  Finally, that evening, they had ‘Rockin’ the Creek’, which is a family-friendly concert with food trucks and local wines in a beautiful location on a summer evening.  Volunteers there would help hand out cups and bracelets and enjoy the festivities, themselves. I read the volunteer options to my daughter, since I want the kids to be involved, and she (not surprisingly) went with the nature route.  

We arrived hour prior to our scheduled time and checked in and said hi.  Then we had about an hour to explore the park before we started volunteering.  A perk to volunteering is that you get into the park for free! This was not something I was aware of when I pursued the volunteer opportunity, but it was nice.  When I saw that the main trail (the Cedar Creek Trail) was paved and only 0.8 miles long each way, I thought we could easily make it. I was wrong! Between pausing to take photos at the bridge and exploring little stops along the way, we ended up rushing back to the visitors center and skipping the Monacan Village completely!  We ended up coming back the next day.

Natural Bridge

After our slightly rushed park visit, we assisted in 2 hour education session on ‘Skulls, Skins and More’.  Our super engaging and very smart Park Ranger, Liz, gave us a quick education on the animal pelts laid out, as well as the skulls, snake skins, minerals and other display items.  It was then up to us to share this information with visitors that stopped by, and engage them in further discussion. Liz was there when the questions got too detailed, and by the end of the session we all felt like mini-experts.  ‘Yes, mink are native to Virginia, two were spotted in the park, yesterday!’, ‘that sounds like a queen snake that you saw. Let’s look at our snake book so we can make the identification.’, ‘that is an adolescent bear skull. It isn’t intact because it was found by a ranger, and had already had several animals gnawing on it.  See these teeth marks? See how they are similar to the teeth in this squirrel skull? Some rodents had been nibbling on it.’  Watching my daughter answer questions and offer information made me super proud.

Animal pelt education with M1 and HB. When we returned the next day she surprised a different ranger by reciting them all 🙂
Checking out the minerals! Liz has her masters in geology.

We also got to meet, handle and show off Thom Hiss Jefferson, the little, sweet tempered corn snake, which thrilled my daughter to no end.

Gently handling Thom Hiss Jefferson and looking through some of Liz’s wildlife photos

Liz showed us how to use the clicker to count up visitors with whom we had engaged in nature-specific discussions.  These counts are used to maintain/adjust funding for the parks for the next year. My daughter was very diligent at making sure we were counting everyone.  

We will continue to travel, live life for our departed Malcolm, and look for meaning when we do.  It is an exciting and rewarding process that we can’t wait to get to know. 

Healing.  Having family time is healing.  Relaxing is healing. Being in the moment is healing.  Giving back and giving love is healing. Travel is healing.

This is one of the biggest/fanciest nature centers I have ever seen. This pic was downstairs, upstairs they have a large gift shop and cafe. Back in the day (50s) they even had a swimming pool inside! It is in discussion to try and make the pool functional again.

Park Questing

Once we had two children we had to be  creative in finding cheap fun. We enjoy hiking and being outdoors, and while looking into Maryland State Parks I stumbled across Park Quest.  Park Quest is a cost effective and creative way to explore Maryland State Parks. I’ve looked at surrounding states, but have not found anything quite like it.  Many other states offer passports, which is a one-price-all-access offer and a great opportunity, but the Park Quest passport offers family challenges and educational opportunities at 20+ MDSPs, including popular Assateague Island and Deep Creek Lake.  

Registration for Park Quest is early May and is limited to 1,000 participants, first come first serve.  Participation in the program is only 10 dollars for the entire family. This gets you the passport, which you get stamped at the completion of each task (completion of 10 quests gives the participant priority enrollment the following year).  The kids love collecting the stamps! The passport gives your family free entry to any MDSP that is participating in Park Quest, and more than pays for itself in one park visit. You do have to be a family, in that there must be at least one adult and one child under 16.

Did I ask them to pose for a picture, or did I threaten them with torture….I can’t remember because the expressions are always the same.

The quests vary in scope and include anything from hiking several miles and then hopping in a canoe, to a short, paved half mile loop learning about pollinating insects (usually includes solving a puzzle or making drawings about what you learned).  The passport rates the difficulties of each park’s quest (a ‘3 hat’ rating system), and there are usually a wide variety of options for simpler quests. Some parks will include 2 quests, a basic quest to be completed and then a ‘bonus quest’ for families looking for more of a challenge.  When we started participating our children were 4 and 2, so we targeted the simplest quests and were able to complete 10 without encountering anything too stressful or traveling too far outside of central MD. We have been misled by the hat system once, where we thought it was going to be simpler than it was (ended up on a long hike at Patapsco Valley State Park with a bit of simple rock scrambling with a 3 and 5 YO and me pregnant), so now we make sure to not just look at the hats, but carefully read the quest.  The quests are outlined in the passport, and more thorough details and printouts can be found online.

This was the park quest that caught us off guard with its length. We found nice spots like this to take breaks, but after many miles it became hard to motivate the kiddos.
Completing the ‘human pyramid’ part of our quest at Susquehanna State Park. Note: saw many families throwing tubes into the river at this park and drifting down the Susquehanna for several miles. My kids were a bit too young, but I am keeping this in mind for next time.
This was a crafty quest, where you design with, study the beauty of, and sketch nature (the older you are, the fancier you can get).
Get close to nature (I could have put in a zillion different pictures). Frogs, deer, butterflies, groundhogs, fish, etc.  This was at Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary.

Though MD is a smaller state, it is long, reaching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian Mountains.  And so the quests are spread out, accordingly. As I mentioned, we live in central MD and were able to access many of the parks in an hour or so drive (many less than that).  In our second year, we started centering some camping trips around Park Quest. We took two camping trips that year, one to Assateague Island and the other to Swallow Falls State Park in Western MD.  Each time we were able to complete a handful of quests and explore a little more of our state.

View of the Bay Bridge spanning the Chesapeake from Sandy Point State Park
Rain couldn’t keep us from exploring the beach when we arrived in Assateague.
Swallow Falls State Park in Western MD. We have been here twice and it is a favorite.

Besides the quests, many of the parks have nature centers and educational programs, not to mention playgrounds, picnic areas, beaches, trails, and creeks to explore.  We usually brought a picnic and would spend more time eating and playing after our quest was complete. 

One of her many faces
Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary
Patapsco Valley State Park, tire park Hilton Area
Many MD parks have bird sanctuaries, where they nurse owls, eagles and hawks back to health. If the animals are injured too badly, they remain in captivity and brought out for special nature talks. This was at Soldiers Delight.
Nature Center at Soldiers Delight

It is great family bonding time. I was too late on registering us this year (losing Malcolm has been so hard) and didn’t get a spot, but fully intend to participate in the future.  We are still camping this year….nature and time together is so important and so healing.