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. 

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.

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.

Our Family Trip

First Blog – Herrington Manor State Park, Maryland

Flash back a year, mid- July 2017. My first post has to be about the only trip we took as a family of five people and one lovable puppy dog. This was not the only place that we went with Malcolm, but the only place that we went by ourselves. Where we didn’t meet up with family or friends. And so I will always think of it as ours.

Each year our family participates in Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ (MDNR) Park Quest. A fun and frugal way to tour Maryland State Parks and perfect for an outdoorsy family. In this trip, Park Quest led us to Western Maryland, with popular Deep Creek Lake and several other great parks. I mean, great, too. That isn’t a throw away, ‘great’. Each of these parks has something to offer in serenity, adventure, or plain old breathtaking beauty.

We enjoy camping, but with a baby who was just sitting and popping everything he could into his mouth, we opted for a fairly rustic cabin rental at Herrington Manor State Park about 12 miles from Deep Creek Lake. Indoor plumbing, a stove and a fridge, yes please. The rental was 100/nt, which is very reasonable for the area in high season, but with recent renovations that may go up.

View of the neighbors

On our drive west we stopped at Fort Frederick and Rocky Gap State Park to complete Park Quests and got to Herrington Manor in time to wash up, change into our jammies and attend the s’mores smorgasbord at the community fire ring. This event forever changed how I look at s’mores. They are not just Hershey’s*, graham, and ‘shmallo any more! Graham alternatives were all types of cookies, fudge stripes appealed the most. Then for chocolates, use any chocolate…Reeses cups, peppermint patties…name your favorite! They even had Marshmello options of various shapes and flavors. My daughter was in sweets heaven. My older son, as usual, just snacked on some of the candy. Malcolm sat on his Daddy’s knee by the fire, still unfamiliar with any flavors beyond breast milk and baby cereals.

* will consider altering statement for lifetime supply of Hersheys.

So many choices!

Smore Happiness

The next morning we woke up to rain. A hard, driving, ruin-any-outdoor-plans sort of rain. We had 3 Park Quests planned for the area, but they weren’t happening today. The husband and I high-fived what felt like brilliant forethought in renting a cabin instead of being confined to our pop-up trailer with 3 small children and a dog. With two floors inside and an adorable covered porch with swing outside, we had plenty of space for the day. I confess, I had even downloaded a few episodes of Wild Kratts for my 6 and 4 year old for just such an occasion (The cabins do not have TV or WiFi or much beyond the basics). We scouted out wildlife and critters near our cabin, made some meals, and had fun/minimal squabbling.

Please ignore the towel in the photo …I didnt know I would be posting to a blog.

By mid-afternoon, however, we were all getting restless. It was still raining, but it was a warm summer rain, so we decided to explore Herrington Manor State Park, a bit. We knew there was a lake with a beach and a large, airy rec center that had games and food. We drove to the rec center (hiking is an option, on a nice day) and ordered many fried things and played some games inside while the rain continued outside.

All the fried things! Again, I didnt know I would be posting this, so it aint pretty 🙂

At last the rain lightened. It was no longer a soak-to-the-skin rain, and we had brought swimsuits. We explored the dam a bit then hung out at the beach, which was completely deserted thanks to the now intermittent rain. However, this beach rarely has more than a few families, as there are only 20 cabins to the whole park, and people who aren’t staying there flock to the more popular beaches at Deep Creek Lake. We stayed and splashed for a few hours, just the blowing off steam that we needed before winding down for the day. It was this day that I took some of my all-time favorite photos of Malcolm. We were so thoroughly happy.

So smitten with his Daddy

The following day the rain continued, but it was our last full day in the area and we wouldn’t be deterred. Fortunately, we ended up dodging most of the showers this day. First stop was our Park Quest mission and general trail hike/waterfall swim at Swallow Falls State Park. we had camped at Swallow Falls the year before and it is one of my favorite places to explore the outdoors. The trails were deserted when we got there, but visitors were flowing in by the time we left. After that we headed to another Park Quest at Friend’s Delight Farm and Store.

Our best family photo from this trip
Swallow Falls Trail to ourselves on a Summer weekend?? This needed documentation.

The adorable general store and Friends Delight, part of Sang Run State Park

 

We closed the day with pizza, arcade games, and a traditional mini-golf. For our first date, my husband and I went mini-golfing (it was right down the street from the Toys R Us where we worked), and so every year on our dating anniversary we mini-golf. It has been happy to share this tradition with our kids.

Dating anniversary # 17

My children learn that I dont play arcade games often, but when I do, I play Time Crisis.

The day we left we hit up one more Park Quest, this one at Deep Creek State Park. The nature center there is fantastic (I have visited a LOT of nature centers) and the beach a short walk away is very good, too. Again, we favor less crowds, but we had checked out of the cabin and did a quick stint at this beach since we were there for our Park Quest anyway. This was complicated because we had the dog with us, but we just set up shop back towards the grassy area.

Deep Creek Discovery Center

Next we packed up and went home. We were tired and we had had fun. Now, this is a trip I will always treasure with all my heart as our one true family trip. Just over 3 months later, Malcolm would be taken from us. I love and miss Malcolm so much, and will carry him with me always.