Grandma Dearest


My son Lewie is a unique kid. About four years ago, he started referring to hubby and me as Father Dearest and Mother Dearest. My mom, who lives right next door to us, became Grandma Dearest. I'll admit I wasn't a fan of the names at first, but like all things, they grew on me. Now I refer to my mom as Grandma Dearest, too.

Lucky for me, Grandma Dearest will be entering her eighth decade in October, and she's pretty phenomenal (knock on wood). She works virtually from home for about 20-25 hours per week, cooks, and spends hours outside tending the yard. She remembers every holiday, birthday, anniversary, and graduation, and she makes it her mission to ensure that all her family, friends, and work friends know how much they are loved. I often wonder how she seems to have twice as much energy as I have on most days!

Last October, I announced I was laid off from work. I hoped to find a job after the holidays, but January came and went, just like February, March, April, and May. With each passing month, I felt like staying in bed sulking over my fate, but I do know, in all reality, I have it good. Both Father Dearest and Grandma Dearest have come to the rescue. It's because of them that we can still afford to pay our bills while having a little left over to do fun things. It's because of them that I'm still able to attend job interview after job interview with my head held high even when I've lost all confidence. (Getting enough rejection letters can do that to you.)

It is for the reasons above and more that I dedicate the month of May to Grandma Dearest. The fact of the matter is that my mom has been there for me for my 47 years of life, but in recent years, I've been too busy with my own "professional career" to notice. I took for granted all the nights she made dinner for Lewie, all the holidays she made dinner for us, and all the home repairs/projects she supervised while I could put in long hours at work. I took for granted how often she helped set up and clean up after family gatherings. And I certainly forgot how often she covered a house bill without asking us to pay our share. The list can go on and on and on...

This month, I wanted to make my mom feel special, and since I had more time than usual, I scheduled three events (while keeping to a budget, of course). On Mother's Day, we had our special dinner at the Hopkin's Inn (now a family tradition). However, two weeks prior, we attended a performance at the Goodspeed Opera House (a first for us), and a week ago, we took a bus trip to see the beautiful Blithewold Mansion in Bristol, Rhode Island. My mom fretted over the cost, the weather, and her health, but in all areas, faith and hope carried us through. (We hadn't been on a bus trip together since the start of the pandemic in 2020.)

Here are just a few photos of our recent adventure to the Blithewold Mansion (with a stop at the Imagine Gift Store in Warren, RI first.)  If you haven't been to either, they are worth the trip. The Imagine Gift Store is located in the historic Lyric Theater Building with three floors of unique gifts for everyone in the family--check out the welcome (dog) mat below. The first half of the store is an ice cream parlor and a penny candy store (with over 500 candies). For anyone nearing 50, like me, do you remember candy cigarettes, Pop Rocks, or wax lips? They have everything--even when they are no longer "politically correct." The second half of the store has cascading umbrellas with tons of quirky, heartfelt, and souvenir items. We LOVED it.

The Blithewold Mansion is a 33-acre summer estate on Narragansett Bay with 45 rooms. Like most of the mansions (summer estates) in Newport, R.I., this one, too, was built in the late 1800s by a coal baron. (Remember, they didn't have to pay taxes on their properties back in the day.) This estate, however, doesn't have the "grandiose" feel like the Newport mansions. Instead, it is a romantic, English-style, manor house surrounded by a rare collection of trees, shrubs, plants, and flowers. (For example, their eldest daughter Marjorie grew several Giant Sequoia trees on the property--similar to the type of behemoth Redwood trees only found on the West Coast. My mom, who has never been out West, was so enamored by the size of the trees!)

Our tour of the mansion included a tea lunch on their back patio, a tour of the house (including a collection of dresses worn by their two daughters), and a stroll through their gardens. Having gone the first weekend of May, we had already missed the splendor of their thousands of Daffodils on the property, but we were able to see some of their other early budding May flowers along with their unusual trees, shrubs, and "Moongate" rose garden. The day, honestly, was as lovely as it could possibly be... 

One of the Giant Sequoias on the property.

These special days with my mom were needed--not only to remind my mom that she's still young enough to travel but to remind me that better days are coming; I just need to trust in Divine timing. I feel blessed to have this amazing time with Grandma Dearest.

Canyoneering - Freedom from Fear


During our stay at Capitol Reef National Park, the three of us took a few short hikes, including a stop at Fruita (you can read about our previous adventures here), but we knew the only way to make this visit truly special was to try something new--something we never did before. In this case, that something "special" was hiring a private guide from the Capitol Reef Adventure Company to take us on our first "canyoneering" experience. 

When I contacted the company to book the experience, I honestly didn't know what came over me. It's almost as if I had an "out of body" experience where I was watching myself from above make the reservation. Having a fear of heights, I never saw myself hiking down a small hill, let alone propelling down a canyon wall. Yet, I read the GLOWING reviews on Trip Advisor for the Capitol Reef Adventure Company, and my fear somehow melted away. In an email, I explained to Tim, the co-owner, that we wanted to take a guided hike and that we'd be open to learning more about canyoneering. His response was straightforward and reassuring..."I can arrange an adventure with an early morning start, a short hike, and a couple of rappels for a taste of slot canyoneering--4 hours."

I reread their Trip Advisor reviews, and everyone said the same thing--"I was afraid of heights, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, but Tim had a way to calm my nerves and talk me through it..."  I thought to myself, if Tim could help them, he could certainly help us. I forewarned him, though--"We're a bit out of shape and not athletic at all!"

On the day of our adventure, we took a short hike of our own (even spotting some cool petroglyphs). It was a cool 40 degrees, so we dressed in layers. His last email gave us a few brief details:  "The canyon that I am thinking of doing involves crossing a creek at the beginning and the I will bring a pair of flip-flops and change into my hiking shoes. The crossing can be done barefoot or in shoes...stuff dries quickly. Otherwise, bring a small backpack, hiking shoes, some water, and a snack. It will be fun."

Can you see the whole in the rock?

We met Tim at the Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center and followed him a few miles down the road to a more remote location with no noticeable trail markings. Dressed for warmth, I didn't realize until seeing my photos afterward that I looked like a purple woolly mammoth; yes, this day would be a reminder of how "not cool" I am...

Our canyoneering experience was FUN! While we were nervous and definitely out of our element, we laughed and laughed because all of our maneuvers were awkward, clumsy, and more like the act of a three-ring circus instead of expert trapeze artists. If we had any "coolness" at all, it was lost right at the beginning when we needed to cross the creek. We balled up our socks inside our shoes, balanced ourselves on rocks, and clumsily stepped with arms flailing to help keep steady. Hubby crossed first, stomping in the water like a herd of elephants with no worry in the world. Then he and Tim proceeded to help Little Lewie and me cross since we were both taking too much time and likely to fall into the water. (We repeated the same spectacle when crossing the stream at the end of our excursion, too.)

After the creek, we began the CLIMB. Getting to the slot canyons was no easy task, and Tim helped coach us as we had to climb from rock to rock, ensuring we had stable footing along the way. It was soon apparent that this adventure would be something other than our typical low-key hiking experience. We sometimes needed to grab onto rocks and brush to help hoist our bodies up. I also had to stop looking down for fear that the sensation of pure terror would paralyze me. Little Lewie did better. Although he gave me a few angry glances, which appeared to say, I can't believe you signed me up for this, Mom!, he was a champ. He listened to Tim's calming words and moved his feet with the flow and cadence of Tim's voice.

There was prickly stuff we needed to look out for, too!

Our fearless leader, Tim!

After Tim, Hubby was always the first to finish any of the climbs, and he offered a hand or words of encouragement wherever he could. The funny part of this adventure is that Hubby and I were bickering about some irrelevant thing before we left; by the time we finished our first climb, we not only forgot about the argument, but we both gave each other hugs and high-fives.  

I don't know how much time passed before we came to our first rappel, but that first cliff was a doozy--about 80 feet down to the bottom. Tim secured the ropes, ensured our safety gear was in place, and explained how we would be inching ourselves down the canyon wall (backward) taking one small step at a time. The instructions were detailed, and Tim made sure to answer all our questions before proceeding. Come to find out, he was not only an experienced climber but a certified counselor, too!  We had a two for one bonus!

Hubby, who was "over-the-moon" excited about the experience, was the first to go; Lewie was next, and I was last. After I saw Little Lewie do the first rappel without a hitch, I knew I had to be brave and show my two Lews I could do it, too. As I started to inch downward, I felt a rush of excitement. Hubby was right; it was an AMAZING feeling. My feet felt firmly planted against the canyon wall while Tim carefully fed me the rope to inch downward. The boys were cheering me on from below.  I was doing it!  I was being adventurous and COOL...until...I moved my right foot down one notch and no longer felt the canyon wall!  Uh oh!!!  There was a gap in the wall and suddenly the entire right side of my body swung into the wall. SMACK!  It wasn't horrible, and I quickly got control of my footing again, but I knew I'd have a mean black and blue the next day.

I made it down, of course, but that loss of control for one split second made me lose my confidence--so much so that the second rappel was not as high but I still had to be "talked off the ledge."  By the time the third rappel arrived, Little Lewie and I chickened out.  We had the option to climb down a steep trail instead, and we took it.  Meanwhile, Hubby, the bravest one of us all, did the third rappel happily. He wasn't afraid of a few scratches or a few bruises. Heck, he's lived through multiple broken bones, one back surgery, and four knee surgeries, so this was nothing!

At one point I was a little disappointed in myself for not going down the third rappel, but then again, that steep trail was no joke; Little Lewie and I had to coach each other--physically and mentally--as we made our way down. We needed each other. In fact, during the entire four-hour excursion, we all needed each other. We relied on Tim the most, but there were numerous times that Hubby came to our rescue, too. By the end of the adventure, we had crossed a roaring creek twice, climbed up cliffs, rappeled down lopsided canyon walls, slithered through slot canyons, and balanced ourselves on some very scenic but scary ledges. I was grateful we had Tim because he taught us the adventure wasn't about athleticism and skill--it was very much about breaking down the mental chatter in our mind that told us we couldn't do it over and over again. If it wasn't for him, I would have quit right after the creek, but instead, he showed us how to channel our inner monkey to stay flexible and nimble on our feet while quieting the voice in our head that wanted us to stay fearful. (I look back at this exercise now and realize that Tim wasn't just teaching us to climb--he was teaching us a valuable life lesson. Are we going to let that voice of fear hold us back every time we find ourselves in a challenging or uncomfortable situation, or are we going to reach for that voice of courage--that voice of trust, faith, and inspiration?)

We crossed the creek one last time overjoyed by our accomplishment. While fear did rear its ugly head on multiple occasions, our teamwork--that is, our praise, encouragement, and high fives--drowned it out again and again. In the end, it was love and trust that prevailed. We were so grateful for Tim's very patient and gentle nature that we didn't want to say goodbye. Couldn't he come back with us to Connecticut, so he could be our own personal life coach? Well, he couldn't come back with us, but instead, he taught us how to lean on ourselves and each other. We spent the rest of our Utah vacation cheering each other on, and we returned home feeling richer than the wealthiest person in the world. 

From now on, whenever a challenge comes my way, I only need to think back on this day to remember while a ledge can be scary and deep, our love for ourselves and each other is much deeper!