The characters of Little Xena and Little Gabrielle are borrowed through the graciousness of Lucia da Ascencao deNobrega: email- firstname.lastname@example.org. website-http://ausxip.com/xandg/index.html
The travel journal idea is borrowed with permission from Susan A. Rice: email@example.com. website-http://ausxip.com/bards3.html - rice
Timeline: Vacation to the Grand Canyon, USA. October 22 - November 3, 2000.
Author's Note: Talaria and Debbie: Thanks for all the encouragement you give me. It means more than I can say.
Comments and suggestions are welcomed and greatly appreciated.
DAY 1 - October 22, 2000 3:25p.m.
The plane taxied to the gate and I waited anxiously as the passengers filed one by one through the doorway.
'Are you sure about this, Court? You know they can be a handful.'
I could hear the motherly doubt in her voice. 'Oh Lu, don't worry. They'll have a great time.'
'It's not them that I'm worried about.'
Her laughter brought back memories of carefree summer days. 'We'll be fine. It's not like we haven't dealt with kids before.'
'All right, but don't say I didn't warn you. They're on flight # 402, arriving at 3:30.'
'Flight 402, 3:30; got it. You take care of yourself and get some rest. We love you.' I miss you more than you could know.
'Love you too.'
I heard them before I saw them as their voices echoed through the tunnel.
"I thought he was gonna grab Gabrielle so I just punched him. I didn't mean to hit him there. Honestly," Little Xena pleaded. I didn't know his stuff was in the box over our heads."
"He didn't say nothin when Little Xena said her sorry. He holded his breath and his face turned REAL red." Little Gabrielle looked up innocently at the stewardess who held their hands. "That wasn't very nice of him was it?"
The stewardess grinned, suppressing her laughter and squeezed the small hands. "Well, maybe he was having a bad day."
Little Gabrielle tilted her head as if thinking very hard on the subject. "Like that lady and my juice?"
"Something like that."
The trio took a few more steps and it was Little Gabrielle who spotted me first. "Aunt Courtney!" she squealed as the stewardess released their hands, both girls running and jumping into my arms. I wasn't really their aunt by blood relationship. Lucia and I had consulted on numerous projects together and our friendship had developed from there. For some reason, unbeknown to us, the girls had started calling me 'aunt' and it just stuck.
"Hey you rascals! About time you got here."
The stewardess followed closely behind and waited for a pause in our reunion. "Hello, I'm Macy. The children were placed in my care for the flight. I usually ask for a driver's license and I don't think there could be any more of a positive identification than what I just witnessed but security and policy requires me to ask for proper ID."
"Oh, no problem." I quickly dug into my purse and showed my driver's license. "I wouldn't want it any other way." Little Gabrielle had one arm wrapped around my thigh as she watched Little Xena trying to work the toy on my keychain. It was a miniature replica of a skill toy called BOP-IT?. You followed audible commands to twist, pull or bop an area of the toy. It could be quite addictive for anyone with a competitive nature. "I hope everything went well. They didn't give you any trouble did they?"
"No ma'am. Everything is okay, it was just a misunderstanding." Macy grinned again as she recalled the incidents. "Little Xena was just looking out for Little Gabrielle like a big sister does."
I cleared my throat and then whispered my next question so the girls wouldn't hear. "He wasn't hurt or anything was he?"
"I'm sure it was more pride than anything else, after all, how much of a punch could a child her size give?"
"Yes, well?" Change the subject. "I guess we should be on our way. Thank you for taking care of the girls. Little Xena, Little Gabrielle, say goodbye to Miss Macy."
"Bye Miss Macy," came the unison reply as Little Gabrielle waved to the stewardess and we turned and strolled toward the luggage terminal.
"I can get our suitcase, Aunt Courtney. I know what it looks like," Little Xena said with confidence. She hurried down to the terminal and watched as the luggage came down the chute.
"Yeah, it's got wheels on its bottom and you can ride it," Little Gabrielle said with excitement.
"Really? That's pretty neat. That comes in handy I bet."
"Yeah." Little Gabrielle agreed, then her expression changed to a sad frown and she shook her head. "But it doesn't go good on a 'eselator'".
Oh my! "You tried to ride it on the escalator?"
"Uh-un. Little Xena."
"I better keep my eye on her then."
"She can do lots of stuff," the tyke boasted proudly.
I closed my eyes, muttering under my breath, "That's what I'm afraid of."
After two false starts we were on the road for our first leg of the trip. Little Gabrielle had sworn that she didn't have to go to the bathroom before we left the house or when we stopped to top-off the van but after several choruses of 'Deep and Wide' she began to feel the need. Of course, it worked out for me as well because the coke I drank earlier was running through.
Little Gabrielle scooted forward in her seat and tapped Daniel on the shoulder. "We got to play with ducks while you told stories."
Daniel's eyes darted back and forth, a confused look on his face. I reached over and put my hand on his arm. "I took them to the park after we left the grocery store and while we were waiting for you to finish your class at church. I told them you were teaching a class but she insists that you were telling stories." He gave a short chuckle, finally understanding what we were talking about. "They've been cooped-up in a plane for two hours and I knew they needed to expend some energy before we left on the trip."
"Good idea. We should remember that for those longer stretches of road too." Daniel turned his head enough so he could glance at Little Gabrielle and still watch the road.
"Did you feed the ducks?"
"What else did you do?"
I watched as they started forming a bond, his voice and expressions almost as animated as hers. Kids loved him. He never minded getting down on their level or being silly. There was an honesty and innocence about him. Yep, those puppy dog eyes will get you every time.
"We played on the swing and the slide and the see-saw and the elephant and?" Little Gabrielle continued until she had told him everything we had done.
"Sounds like you had a lot of fun. Maybe I can play next time too," Daniel said as he looked in the rearview mirror, taking note of Little Xena's fascination and skill with the keychain. "She's better than I am with that thing."
"And she's only been playing with it for a few hours. Embarrassing, huh?" He darted his eyes my direction. "We may need a contest to see who's the best."
He winked his eyes in his playful way. "We just might."
"Can we play with the ducks tomorrow?" Little Gabrielle asked in excitement.
"I'll tell you what. We can't go to this park tomorrow but I'll take you to another by Nanna's house. Is that a deal?"
"Deal," Little Gabrielle said as she sat back and yawned.
We had not made it past Houston before both girls were sound asleep. Daniel had commented several times on what a good idea it had been to drive at night. I glanced into the back seat and grinned as I saw both girls curled up against each other. "Look at them. They're exhausted."
"Yeah, it's tough being a kid." Daniel snickered, taking another sip of his coffee and advancing the CD in the disc changer.
I gave a yawn of my own and stretched my arms and legs as best I could. "Did you tell your mom we were bringing the girls?"
"She's ready for them. She said they can sleep in the small den next to our bedroom. That puts them close to us and the bathroom. The air mattress will be inflated and it will be like camping out?with all the conveniences of home."
"They'll like that."
DAY 2 -- October 23, 2000 12:40 a.m.
We pulled into Nanna's driveway. The garage door began to rise and I saw her standing in the doorway with Toby, a miniature poodle, at her heels.
"You carry Little Xena and I'll get Little Gabrielle. We can come back for the rest."
Nanna gently patted the girls as we passed by and headed straight for their bed. Neither awoke as we quickly shed them of their clothes and dressed them in T-shirts for sleeping. The air mattress was a queen-size so it easily held the two small bodies and gave them extra room to move around as children often do.
"They're exhausted," Nanna commented as she brushed a few strands of hair away from Little Xena's face.
"Yeah, it's been a long trip but they slept most of the way."
I tucked the blanket around them and kissed each innocent cheek before whispering a soft goodnight. There was peace in the house until?
?a light tapping on my arm caused my senses to awaken and I raised sleepy eyelids to peer into a set of cerulean blue and emerald green eyes peeking over my edge of the bed. I started to speak but Little Xena quickly put her hand over my mouth.
"Move real slow Aunt Courtney," she whispered. The two sets of eyes darted from mine to something behind me.
Little Gabrielle's eyes doubled in size as the object of their attention shifted under the blankets behind me. All of a sudden, a hand reached across my waist and grabbed two small hands.
Both girls screamed in that shrill tone that only a child can vocalize. You know, the one that can pierce an eardrum. Yeah, that's the one. "It's got us! Run Little Gabrielle!"
"I can't. The bear's got me!"
Eager to join the fun I jumped in too. "Oh no. It's got me too. What are we going to do?"
Of course the 'bear' was still under the covers, growling something fierce until we heard a very distinct war cry and a body landed with a thud on top of him.
"Get him, Little Xena. Save us, save us," I called out as I started to laugh and toss Little Gabrielle on top of the bed with the rest of us. A wild tickle fight ensued and continued until we heard the clearing of a throat from the doorway. All eyes turned to the door and the only masculine voice in the room squeaked a guilty, "morning Mom," and ducked back under the covers.
We scrambled out of the bed and began our morning rituals. I grabbed towels, toiletries and the girls and headed for the shower. Toby followed closely behind jumping and licking Little Gabrielle with every opportunity making her giggled with delight.
"What's his name?" she asked.
Little Xena turned and looked straight at Toby. "Okay, you stand guard at the door while we take a bath. If you see that bear again, bark two times. Got it?"
I swear that dog looked like he understood every word she said. He sat outside the door of Nanna's room while we went inside. I turned the shower on and adjusted the water temperature and pulled the shower massage off its hook so the girls could reach it. "All right you two. Get clean and Little Xena, be sure and help Little Gabrielle wash her hair." I closed the bathroom door and layed on the bed, pushing the button on the TV remote. Their giggles and laughter filtered through the door and I reminded them that Daniel and I still had to take a shower and to not use all the hot water. After a few more minutes, two squeaky-clean children ran buck-naked out of the bathroom. "Hold it! Not so fast you two." I grabbed towels and quickly wrapped them around the girls. "Let's get you dressed and Nanna will have breakfast for us."
We walked through the bedroom and Little Xena stopped at the doorway to check on Toby, who unfortunately, was asleep. "Not much of a guard dog is he?"
I shrugged my shoulders in agreement. "Well, you can only expect so much from a poodle."
It was a short stroll to the park located on the east side of the housing development. The girls went wild when we topped the hill and they saw everything. Even I was impressed.
The motif was evidently the sea because there were monkey bars in the shape of a crab and a fish, and a large wooden structure in the center of the playground resembling a boat. The swings for smaller children had seahorses.
Nanna and I sat quietly and chatted about children and the innocence that had been lost through the years. I glanced back to the swings and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. Little Xena had shimmied up the pole of the tallest swing set, about twelve feet, and was proceeding to pull herself, hand over hand, across the bar. Adrenaline shot through my system and I was at the swing before I realized it.
"It's okay. Just let go of the bar. I'm right under you. I'll catch you."
"The shark! It's gonna get you Aunt Courtney!" Xena cried out from above my head.
In that split second some my own childhood adventures passed before my eyes. I had done a tightrope act across our neighbors swing set to get over an imaginary swamp and I was continuously climbing onto our roof. Of course, the swing was only six feet tall and my body was actually only three feet off the ground when I would let go of the roof, but still. I remember that feeling of invincibility and the lack of understanding of the consequences should an accident occur. Accidents happened to grown-ups. I decided to stay calm and talk her down through logic.
"They won't get me, I'm invisible. Now come on down."
"They don't see ya, they smell ya," Little Gabrielle chimed in from her seat on the swing.
You're not helping matters Little Gabrielle. "Nanna told me there might be sharks so she gave me some shark repellant before we left the house. Isn't that right, Nanna? It was actually mosquitoes repellant but they didn't know that.
Nanna had followed quickly behind me and taken a position to assist if need be. "Works every time."
"Okay, we'll try it," Little Xena said, still hanging above my head.
"Good. Now come on down."
To my surprise she swung over, wrapped her legs around the chain of the swing, slid down the chain and landed with her feet straddling Little Gabrielle.
I tried to stop the grin but lost the battle. "Thank you."
DAY 3 - October 24, 2000 10:30 a.m.
After a hearty breakfast and a short visit to the park again, without shark infested dirt, we hugged Nanna goodbye and set out on the road.
"Do you want to play a game?" Both girls nodded their heads and I grinned back. "How about, 'I SPY'? I see something and then I say, 'I spy something blue' and then you have to quess what I saw that was blue. Understand?"
"Can I start?" Little Xena asked.
It was an ideal game to play when driving through a big city like Dallas. There were plenty of things to choose from such as billboards, stores and road signs. Little Gabrielle could spot the 'Golden Arches' from a mile away. She never quite understood why we always yelled 'McDonald's' ? when she spied yellow. Xena was a different matter. She was continuously searching for something in the background that no one would even consider. We were stopped at a rather long light when it came time for one of her turns.
"I spy something brown."
Everyone was looking and calling out there guesses as she sat back with her arms folded across her chest with that 'you'll never guess' look on her face. On previous times she had proven that expression correct because we'd missed on all four of her turns. But you know, luck doesn't last forever and even Little Xena loses sometimes.
"Ice cream cone!!" Little Gabrielle yelled.
Little Xena scrunched her face and balled her fists. "How did you do that?"
"Do what?" Little Gabrielle asked in innocence. "Can we have an ice cream cone?"
It was a good twenty minutes before Little Xena spoke to Little Gabrielle again. I tried to explain that Little Gabrielle had won fairly, albeit unknowingly, and that she was being unsportsman-like. I asked her how she would feel if it had been she who had won. That made her pause a moment or two and she turned to Little Gabrielle, who was curled in her seat hugging her wooden lamb, and I heard Little Xena's sweet voice.
Little Gabrielle brightened up instantly at the sound of Little Xena's voice and she grinned from ear to ear.
Little Xena pulled the BOP-IT ? keychain from her belt. "You want to play this game with me? It's really fun. I'll do this part and this part," she said, gesturing to the pulling end and the twisting end, "and whenever you hear it say 'bop-it', you hit it right there", indicating the center. "Okay?"
All was right with the world again, at least so far as the one in this van. We were making excellent time and the girls were occupied with sleeping, playing with the keychain or watching a movie. My friend, Val, had highly recommended taking a small TV/video player for entertaining the kids and I had jumped at the idea. Of course I hadn't planned on Daniel being one of the kids. When he was driving, he was asking Little Xena for a play by play account of the scenes and when it was my turn to drive he was sitting in the middle of the backseat with the girls nestled under each arm.
This leg of the trip ended in Amarillo. I called my sister on the cell phone to let her know we were about and hour out and asked for directions. You should have seen Little Xena's eyes when we pulled onto the property and she saw horses. Thank goodness for childproof locks.
"Can we ride them tonight?" she asked, sitting on the edge of her seat.
"Maybe tomorrow morning before we leave. If the weather is good we'll go for a sunrise ride."
"Promise. But only if the weather is good, okay?"
We honked the horn as we entered the driveway and Micah, my nephew, came running out of the house to meet us. Theresa and Allen followed shortly behind him and I introduced our two guests to my family. It seemed that I couldn't get the door open fast enough as two small bodies jumped out of the van. Little Xena's eyes were riveted on a mare and its colt that grazed about thirty yards from us. I turned to my nephew and whispered in his ear. Micah smiled and nodded his head.
"Hey, you want to go see the horses?" he asked, tapping Little Xena on the shoulder.
She turned around and I could see how hard she was trying to control her excitement. "Can I?"
"Yes, you may."
"Me too?" Little Gabrielle chimed in.
"Yeah, you too," I said, tousling her short hair and watching her as she ran off as fast as her short legs could carry her. "No riding though; just petting and looking. Okay?"
"Okay," came the distant reply.
We allowed the kids to play with the horses until dinner was ready. Of course, then we had to tear them away from the four-month old kitten named Precious. Little Xena kept calling it a panther and imaging that she was saving all of us from its ferocious attacks. We finally snared the 'panther' and secured it in a cage. Well, it wasn't actually a cage, it was more like a?a laundry basket turned upside down with a heavy book on top.
We sat down to a warm dinner and lots of laughter. You would have thought Little Gabrielle had been starving the way she kept asking for more beef and noodles. She definitely has a healthy appetite, a point I had forgotten. She even embarrassed Micah into eating his green beans.
The real surprise came when my sister brought in a cake with one tall candle that played 'Happy Birthday'. I had not told the girls that it was my birthday and they were egging me on to make a wish and blowout the candle. After several moments of laughter, I closed my eyes and made a wish, then blew-out the candle.
"Whadya wish, Aunt Courtney?" Little Gabrielle asked as she swiped her finger in the edge of the whipped frosting and licked her finger.
"If I told you, it wouldn't come true." She giggled as I tickled her along the ribcage, then took my finger and attempted to sneak a taste of the frosting myself but my hand was batted away. "Hey!"
"Hay is for horses, and you are suppose to be an example," Theresa said, smirking as she put dessert plates and forks on the table.
"Yes, mother," I replied playfully, getting another smirk.
We spent the evening lounging around and chatting about what was happening in each of our lives as our world was continually being saved from various creatures and monsters that all came in the disguise of a gray kitten. I was certain the kitten would be relieved when her 'hunters' left the next morning.
DAY 4 -- October 25, 2000 6:05 a.m.
"Aunt Courtney, are you awake?" came the whispered question.
I groggily opened my eyes and focused on the faces on my side of the bed. All the while wondering why they came to Daniel during the day and me during the night. Why DO they do that?
"What is it honey?"
"It's not raining or nothing outside. Can we go riding like you promised?"
I did promise that, didn't I? "Um?yeah?just let me get up and get dressed. You help Little Gabrielle."
My brain finally kicked into gear and I noticed both girls standing fully dressed in front of me. "Oh, okay. I'll just be a minute. Wait for me outside so we can let Uncle Daniel sleep a little longer."
We saddled two gentle mares, Little Xena and Little Gabrielle riding on a golden palomino and myself on a chestnut quarter horse. It had been a perfect morning for a ride. I was glad for the girls?and myself?that the weather had held.
The sky was a bright, clear blue and the sun was breaking the horizon, casting a pink to orange to yellow tint on the scattered cirrus clouds. Never a camera when you need it. I loved watching sunrises and sunsets. There was a peaceful, no hurry, no rush feeling about them.
The girls had spotted a small fox and were giving chase until it ran under the fence and escaped to the adjoining property. They looked so cute bouncing up and down in the saddle, hair flying and laughter echoing over the breeze.
We were almost to the corral when I heard a familiar cry and the palomino and her two riders broke into a dead run. There was nothing I could do at that point except cry out and pray that the horse had the good sense to stop no matter what the rider wanted. Instinct told my eyes to close and listen for the crunch of wood and moans from injured bodies, but somehow I managed to watch through the gap between my fingers as the palomino jumped through the V-shaped opening in front of the water trough.
"Woo-hoo, let's do that again," Little Xena yelled as she turned the mare around to make a second charge.
"Did you see us Aunt Courtney?" Little Gabrielle asked excitedly.
Oh yeah, I saw. "Yeah!" I said, trying to disguise my fear.
I spotted Theresa leaning on the gait to the corral and I'm sure all the color had drained from my face. "It's okay. Micah taught her how to jump last spring. That's one of her favorite stunts." I eased my horse beside the fence and dismounted.
"You didn't happen to see my heart land anywhere around here did you?"
She put her arm around my shoulders. "I felt the same way the first time Micah did it. You have to have a little faith. They'll be fine. She's a good horse."
We stood back and watched as the girls took several more jumps.
"Why don't you try it?" Theresa teased.
"No, that's okay."
"Oh, come on. Are you chicken?"
"Fine. I will."
I took her out an easy distance and sat quietly for a moment, wondering if my pride was worth the price of a broken limb. Yep, it was. Stupid as it sounded?even in my own mind.
I rubbed and patted the mare's neck. "Okay girl. Make us look good." We came down the ridge, picking up speed and I could feel the strength and control she had. I took my sister at her word and released control to the mare. I kept my eyes wide open and felt our bodies floating over the fence and trough and the small jolt as we landed safely on the other side. Awesome! What a rush! I patted her neck again as I brought her to the fence where I realized we had a complete audience.
The girls were sitting on top of the fence on either side of Daniel and all were clapping and cheering. "Didn't know I married a cowgirl," Daniel said with a playful smirk.
I leaned down and gave him a small peck on the lips. "I have many skills."
We said our goodbyes and hit the road for Albuquerque. It was only a four to five hour trip so the time passed quickly. Of course, since I had brought all of our Disney? movies we had plenty of choices to keep the girls?and lest I forget, Daniel?entertained.
We arrived at the hotel and took our luggage to the room before setting off to see Sandia Peak. Friends had told us that it was the place to go to get the best view of the city. I had forgotten that Little Gabrielle was afraid of heights but we found ways to distract her as the lift slowly made its way up the side of the mountain. We talked about the different type of animals that we might see and she got caught up in the excitement when we spotted a couple of squirrels scurrying through the trees and a mountain goat. Once we got to the top and entered the restaurant she was fine. There was a large panoramic window facing the west and the waitress escorted us to a booth with a perfect view.
"Just wait until the sun sets. It will be gorgeous from here," Daniel commented as we took our coats off and laid them aside. We ordered and ate dinner and were getting ready for dessert when our eyes were pulled to the changing of the colors in the sky as the sun began its descent behind the distant mountains.
"How come the sun is red now, instead of yellow," Little Xena asked, "and the clouds are orange and pink instead of white?"
I turned to Daniel with a look of question myself, prompting him to respond. He was the science major, not me.
He started into this long clinical dissertation about atmosphere and particles and meteorology and suddenly stopped as we looked at him with total confusion on our faces. "Stuff in the air," he finally said.
"Oh," came the unison reply.
"Pretty sparkles," Little Gabrielle said as she leaned further toward the window. "Where do they come from?"
"Those are lights in peoples' houses," Little Xena said confidently.
"Some are street lights and the ones moving are cars," I added. I think she gained complete understanding of where she was because I saw her pull back from the window and scoot closer to Daniel. I saw her face light up though when they brought dessert to the table. It was a large slice of apple pie topped with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream, served on a sizzling hot skillet. The waiter then poured a hot rum-butter mixture over it, making it sizzle even more. We told the girls to be careful because the pie would be hot. Little Gabrielle would barely finish the bite she was chewing before diving her spoon in for another. Of course Daniel was getting his fair share too.
"Maybe we should have gotten two, one for us and one for you," Daniel teased as he attempted to wipe her chin.
"I like this," Little Gabrielle said, using her tongue to clean her lips and chin before he could get to them.
I grinned at the two of them and nudged Little Xena. "Next time we'll order one for us and one for them. Let the two of them battle while we enjoy ourselves." She giggled and spooned herself another helping of the dessert.
We finished dessert and headed back down the mountain. Unfortunately, we couldn't watch for any forest creatures on the way down so Little Gabrielle decided to take a short nap for the return trip. She looked so cute straddling Daniel's chest; her head nestled close under his chin. It had been years since our children had been small enough to hold in that manner and it brought back fond memories.
After arriving back at the hotel, Little Gabrielle stirred only long enough for me to strip her of her clothes and pull a T-shirt over her head. Little Xena stayed up for awhile lying between the two of us on our bed as we watched the World Series.
She had held up through most of it and had commented about her abilities to hit the ball as well as the players but sleep took her during the seventh inning and Daniel carried her over and put her in the other bed.
DAY 5 -- October 26, 2000 9:00 a.m.
After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and stopped off at the grocery store for some assorted fruits and snacks, then filled the van with gas and headed for the interstate. We fell into a normal routine with Daniel driving first and the girls watching a movie or two. By the way, I introduced the girls to one of my favorite movies, "The King and I". They were amazed that I knew all the lyrics to the songs. We were sitting together on the seat during the song, "Getting to Know You" and we just started mimicking everything we saw. That caught Daniel's attention.
"You three realize you're making the van rock? If a trooper spots us he'll pull me over for drunk driving."
Did we stop? No. We just rewound the tape and sang it again, this time with four singing and swaying to the music.
We passed through Flagstaff and arrived in Tusayan about 3:30 p.m.. Tusayan is located about a mile outside the park gates. It was like a small town made up of five nice hotel/motels, and the IMAX ?. Our reservations were for the Arizona Suites, a part of the Holiday Inn ?. With a sleeper-sofa in the living area and a king-size bed in a separate bedroom, it was perfect.
DAY 6 -- October 27, 2000 7:35 a.m.
I awoke to the sound of rain. I opened the curtain and looked across the expanse of cloud coverage and whispered my own comments about weathermen. "I hate it when they're right." Turning back toward the bed I saw the frown on Daniel's face as he looked out the window.
"So we do the IMAX ? today. It will probably be clear tomorrow. No big deal."
"That sounds good. We can take it easy this morning, no traveling, and go to the IMAX ? after lunch," Daniel suggested as he flopped back on the bed. "Are the girls awake?"
"I think so or else someone is humming the theme to 'Little House on the Prairie', but I'll go check."
As I thought, the girls were lying on the bed watching Laura, Albert and Jonathon playing a practical joke on Mrs. Olsen.
"Don't you two get any ideas." They had been so engrossed in the episode they hadn't even noticed my entrance but Little Gabrielle quickly got excited trying to tell me about the trio dressing up like a sea monster and scaring 'the bad lady'.
Due to rain, we drove the short distance to the IMAX? and found seating, placing the girls between Daniel and myself. I don't think either of the girls were ready for the vividness and enormity of the scenes. I heard little giggles as the movie revealed the history behind the natives who first inhabited the canyon.
"They're naked," Little Xena whispered in my ear.
"No, they're not; they're only?half?naked," I whispered back.
I'm not certain how much of the movie Little Gabrielle saw because every time I glanced down at her she had her hands over her eyes. Little Xena on the other hand was totally involved in the movie. Everything she saw, she wanted to do. I told her most of it we would have to put off for another time because Uncle Daniel couldn't swim and his knees weren't in shape to do that much hiking or climbing. It sounded reasonable and best of all, she bought it.
We walked out of the theater to the outside door and believe it or not, the rain had turned to snow. The flakes were huge. I couldn't believe it. I hadn't seen snow in years. We just don't get that in southeast Texas. Sleet and ice, yes, but not snow. The girls acted just as excited as me. We drove the car back to the hotel and walked the short block to the food mart, picking up milk and snacks to go along with our fruit. Walking around in that snow was like being live in a snow globe. Little Xena was doing a good job of catching the big flakes on her tongue. Every time Little Gabrielle tried it, they fell more in her eyes than in her mouth. But that didn't deter her. At one point I looked over and Little Xena was helping her. Little Gabrielle had her mouth open, head tilted toward the sky and Little Xena's hands covering her eyes. What a sight.
I'm not certain what came over me but when we returned and I saw all that snow piled on the cars I started heading for ours.
"Where are you going, the room is this way?" Daniel asked.
"I just wanted to see."
SPLAT!!! "What it feels like to hit you with a snowball." It caught him right in the back of the head, disintegrating down his collar.
"Oof?AAHHHH!!!" He turned back to me. "Feel pretty good?"
I wiggled my eyebrows and gave him a wicked grin. "Oh yeah!"
Daniel looked down at both the girls. "What are you waiting for? Defend our castle," he said like he was King Arthur standing at the entrance to Camelot and they were his knights.
That was all they needed. The fight was on, me at the back of the car and them at the front. After several minutes of trying to hit me, Little Gabrielle decided that Daniel was a bigger and closer target so she began throwing at him.
"AAHHHH?she's the enemy," Daniel cried out as he pointed toward me.
"Uh-un, that's Aunt Courtney," she protested.
SPLAT!!! "I heard that," I yelled, watching the snowball hit him on the chin.
I thought maybe the tide would turn but I noticed Daniel and Little Xena were working a very efficient system. Daniel would throw the first snowball and Little Xena would follow with one as we ducked. Her throws were quick and accurate. I lost count of how many times she knocked my cap off.
I grabbed Little Gabrielle and we formed a new game plan. "I throw first, then you throw, just like them."
It started working in a backward sort of way though. Little Gabrielle's throws weren't going completely over the car but skimming the snowdrift and spraying snow on them both. At one point we had to declare a truce because our sides were aching. Whether it was from all the laughing or the ducking I don't know. But I do know that it was the most fun I'd had in a long time.
DAY 7 -- October 28, 2000 8:30 a.m.
A light mist was still falling as we left for the short drive to the canyon. We were doubtful as to what we would be able to see but felt the need to see something for fear the weather would continue to be uncooperative and we would leave the canyon disappointed. The roads were well marked and we found an area less trafficked which was ideal for some quality time with the girls and nature.
We stopped at the entrance to the trail and I knelt in front of both the girls so our eyes would be level and there would be no mistaking the rules for our adventure. "Little Xena, you hold onto Daniel's hand and Little Gabrielle, you hold on to me. No exceptions. This is very important because we don't want anyone to get hurt. Okay?"
"Okay," Little Xena agreed, nodding her head.
"Okay," Little Gabrielle said as she gave me a big hug. "I don't want no one to get hurted either."
Daniel and Little Xena had decided to take the lead. There were many times when the trail would shift and I would lose sight of them but that didn't pose a problem because they were leaving a trail in the snow and usually within a matter of minutes we would spot them again. Little Gabrielle and I crested a small incline and paused when we couldn't see Daniel, Little Xena?or their footprints.
Our vision and bodies were quickly covered by a shower of white flakes as snow from an overhanging branch dropped on top of our heads.
All doubt as to it being an accident came to a halt after hearing two familiar voices laughing from behind the base of the tree. "Gotcha!" they said in chorus.
Little Gabrielle looked up at me with a big smile on her face, snow falling off the hood on her coat. "They got us good, didn't they?"
"Yeah, we walked right into?uh...under that one." It had been an excellent good-natured prank that I wished I had thought of.
Within a few minutes we had reached our destination. We were standing on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, looking at the wonderful splendor of?fog.
"Is this what we came to see?" Xena asked with blunt openness that seems to come during childhood.
"Well, not exactly," Daniel answered as our eyes locked on each other. "Let's not pass judgment too quickly here. Remember what the Ranger said?patience is a virtue."
Don't you just hate it when husbands are right? "Well, Crystal said to get a view that she didn't have and I would think this would be it. How many people have pictures of the canyon with snow and fog?"
There was an eager tug on my hand and I looked down to see Little Gabrielle pointing at something to our right. "Look Aunt Courtney."
I followed her line of vision and standing quietly on a small ridge, not more than ten yards away, was a doe and a fawn. Little Xena and Daniel turned around and spotted the deer at the same time. We had to hold tight as both girls tried to break loose and run to the deer but we quietly explained that it was against park rules to feed or hunt the wildlife. They were both insistent that they merely wanted to pet the animals but I told them it was still not possible.
About thirty minutes and ten snow angels later, once for Daniel and myself and four times for each of the girls, the fog and clouds began to dwindle and we viewed one of the most magnificent wonders of the world. The rays of the sun reflected off the walls of the rock formations in a way that was truly beyond description. It had to be experienced. Emotions overwhelmed me and I felt the tears begin to track down my cheeks. "Oh, my," was all I could utter. I reached down and picked Little Gabrielle up in my arms and held her close, thanking God for the miracles he gives us each and every day.
"Why are you crying? Are you sad?" she asked, studying my face in that innocent childlike manner.
"No baby. It's just so beautiful and it makes me think of all the wonderful and beautiful things in my life that make me happy." I hugged her tightly again and felt Daniel and Little Xena come closer.
"She gots happy cries Uncle Daniel," Little Gabrielle informed them.
"Yeah, I see that," Daniel said, putting his arm around my back and pulling us all into a big hug. "And that's why I love her so much."
"Cause she cries?" Little Xena asked in confusion.
We both chuckled at the innocent question. "No?because she finds beauty in everything she sees and that makes her happy. And when she's happy, I'm happy."
DAY 8 -- October 29, 2000 5:15 a.m.
We had been keeping a close watch on the weather and felt this morning would be our best opportunity for catching a sunrise in the canyon. It had been a wise choice to wear several layers of clothing because the wind would have cut through any single layer. I made sure the girls kept their gloves on and we stayed close together to share in mutual warmth.
Slowly the sun crested the eastern ridge and shed its rays against the formations of the canyon. Some glowed a brilliant yellow while others a burnt red.
"Why are there different colors?" Little Gabrielle asked.
Daniel opened his mouth to answer but our eyes met in a knowing glance and he quickly rethought his answer. "Stuff in the rocks."
"Oh," came the reply.
We took the remainder of the morning and toured the east and west rims. Though we didn't see the full brilliance of the canyon, we still felt the awesomeness of its presence and our insignificance in contrast. Tears welled. I felt a small tug on my hand and looked down to the bright faces of two very precious girls.
"Happy cries," Little Xena said confidently.
I swallowed the lump in my throat. "Yep."
DAY 9 -- October 30, 2000 10:00 a.m.
We began our journey home with a side trip to Bedrock. It was a tourist attraction in the Flintstones motif. We entered and to my surprise, Daniel went wild.
"Wow, look at that." He pointed to different items and statues. "I remember that car and Dino."
"Did you use to live here?" Little Xena asked innocently.
I had to laugh at that. "No honey, he's not that old. These are characters from a cartoon we watched when we were children." I looked around and pointed things out. "See there's Fred and Barney, Wilma and Betty, Bam-Bam and Pebbles?."
They quickly took up Daniel's enthusiasm and followed him around, playing and testing everything.
It never ceases to amaze me how a return trip can seem so much faster than the trip to somewhere. We unloaded our luggage at the hotel, and then headed for the Macaroni Grill?. I figured both the girls would enjoy Italian food. Neither seemed to be picky eaters. The waitress placed our orders and before too long our appetizer came.
Little Gabrielle rose on her knees and looked at the plate. "Oh, what's that?"
I didn't think much about it because both had eaten off my plate of seafood fettuccini on a previous night. That had included mussels, crab, salmon, scallops and shrimp. "Calamari. Try some," I encouraged as I dipped a ring in the marinara sauce. "It's kind of like fish onion rings."
Both girls ate some and seemed to enjoy them until Little Xena pressed for what kind of fish.
"Squid," Daniel stated matter of factly as he dipped his ring then placed it in his mouth.
You know, I have never seen faces turn that shade of green before. Needless to say they were extremely happy to see the entrée of spaghetti and meatballs placed in front of them. I thought we had really lost them after the calamari but their appetites returned quickly. They were even willing to try some of our cannelloni and veal parmesan.
We returned to the room and the girls and I changed and went down to take a dip in the in-door heated pool while Daniel stayed and watched a football game. Those two swim like fish. There wasn't anything that Little Xena did that Little Gabrielle didn't try. And of course you know me, I'm not about to be outdone by someone so I had to try the little flip they were doing. BIG mistake. The first time I landed on my back and the second time I landed on my butt. I was ready to stop there but the girls kept encouraging me.
"Come on Aunt Courtney; you can do it," Little Xena cheered. "Jump high and hold your knees while you flip; like this." She demonstrated the technique again. Little Gabrielle ran up and demonstrated her style for me too. The only difference between them being that Little Gabrielle still held her nose.
"I will not be outdone by two children," I mumbled to myself. "Okay, here goes." Step, step, bounce, tuck, flip?. I broke the surface to the applause of the only two people who mattered at that moment.
"You did it!" they yelled together.
"I did, didn't I?"
"Yeah, Uncle Daniel should have seen you," Little Xena praised. "Let's do it again."
"No, no. Third times a charm, forth means harm."
I let the girls play a little longer as I relaxed in the whirlpool at the shallow end. Okay, I was easing the pain of muscles I hadn't used in years; are you happy? Who would have guessed you lose it that fast?
We walked back to the room and as soon as I got the door open the girls ran in, jumped on the bed and started bragging about my feat. Did I get a big head? You betcha.
After quick showers we dressed for bed and I stretched out on the bed with the girls for what I thought would be a short time. I awoke the next morning with Little Xena curled up against my left shoulder and Little Gabrielle sprawled on my right with her feet resting on my chest. How do they get so turned around? Good thing we had showered.
"Morning," Daniel whispered, grinning broadly as he typed something on the laptop.
"Why didn't you wake me last night?"
"The three of you just looked too cute?and it brought back memories of you and the boys when they were that age."
Daniel got up from the chair and knelt down beside the bed. He lightly brushed his fingers through Little Gabrielle's golden strands.
"They're really good kids and I've enjoyed having them with us. I was afraid they wouldn't like me."
I giggled softly. "Kids always like you. It's one of your gifts."
"You mean one of my 'many skills'," Daniel teased.
"One of them," I said with as sexy a voice as I dared in our present company.
DAY 10 -- October 31, 2000 3:45 p.m.
Amazingly enough, Precious was happy to see her tormentors when we arrived at my sister's house again. It was even early enough that we all took a ride on the horses. I let the girls ride together again and couldn't help but laugh at Little Gabrielle bouncing around on the back of the horse. How she stayed on or didn't have a sore bottom is beyond me. I kept a close eye on them though. We had gone too far to have any accidents now. I remember numerous times during our tour of the canyon when the girls would ask if they could get closer to the edge and my answer was always the same, "No, this is close enough."
By the way, we found this really cool website for jig-saw puzzles called 'jigzone.com'. The pieces vary in size and count and even Little Gabrielle was able to do some of the puzzles. Little Xena beat me sometimes. You're going to have to watch that one. She's really smart.
DAY 11 -- November 1, 2000 10:00 a.m.
We loaded our van and said our goodbyes. The girls thanked Theresa for letting them ride the horses and she told them that they were welcome anytime. We headed east toward Dallas to Nanna's house.
This was going to be the long leg of the trip again and so we moved back into our traveling routine. They may start singing songs from 'The Sound of Music', which is my most favorite movie. And again I was able to impress them with my knowledge of all the lyrics. Little Gabrielle's favorite part was when the kids were singing the goodnight song and the younger ones would lean out and say 'cookoo, cookoo'. You'll have to watch the movie. Trust me. If she hears the song, she'll sing it. It was so cute.
I think I got the girls hooked on pecan praline ice cream. We had stopped at Braum's, an ice cream/hamburger place, after leaving Dallas the first time and introduced the girls to our favorite pit stop. They tried every flavor before coming back to the first one. In fact, Little Gabrielle asked for it this morning but I told her that ice cream was not a breakfast food. Daniel took exception to that and started relating about a vacation that we had taken several years ago where I had indeed eaten ice cream for breakfast; pecan praline, to be exact. I told him that he was not helping matters and he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, "you did."
Nanna was really happy to see us; you should have seen her face though when the girls talked about all the snow we had and walking on the canyon rim. To hear it from the girls, we were walking right on the edge itself. She always worries about us when we're on the road. Toby remembered the girls and they kept each other busy while we talked about the trip.
DAY 12 November 2, 2000 11:15
After a late start we left Nanna's and headed home. Home, that sounded good and yet not. I was ready to get back to the familiar but that also meant that our time with the girls was growing short.
I heard some stirring from the backseat and noticed the girls had awakened from their short nap after lunch. Little Gabrielle scooted forward and tapped me lightly on the shoulder.
"Can we watch that lady sing again?"
"Which lady?" I asked since she had described both of my favorites and virtually any of the Disney ? movies we had in the van.
"The one with the king."
We put the tape in and this time they both knew the words.
"I like this movie."
"Yeah, me too," I said as I hugged them both tightly.
We stopped at Cheddars for our last dinner together. When the waitress brought the onion rings to the table I saw two sets of eyes grow larger and if not for the low lighting I could have probably seen a tinge of green in their cheeks.
"It's okay. They REALLY are onion rings."
There was an audible sigh of relief as I passed small plates around.
"Is your potato soup good?" Daniel asked, catching a drip running down Little Gabrielle's chin before it landed on her shirt.
"Un-huh," she replied before dipping her spoon in again.
"You know, that's Aunt Courtney's favorite."
She looked up at me with those emerald eyes that lit up as she smiled. "Me too."
Little Xena was busy concentrating on an order of chicken fajitas.
"Need some help?" I asked, watching the ingredients drop out the end of the tortilla before she could really get a bite.
"I can do it," she replied in a confident, 'I'm gonna beat this' way.
After the third attempt she got up from the table and disappeared for about twenty seconds. Daniel stood quickly and followed her bobbing head until it stopped then turned around and she returned to the table. In her hand she held approximately ten toothpicks. We were in total confusion until we saw her stick a few of the toothpicks through one side of the tortilla and out the other. She then proceeded to eat the fajita, pulling the toothpicks out as she came to them.
Daniel and I looked at each other, then back at our little genius. "That'll work."
Little Gabrielle clapped her hands and that got a big grin out of Little Xena.
Daniel had run to Wal-mart while I was unpacking and picked up 'Toy Story 2' so we could all watch it on our last night together. We got ready and climbed into our king-size bed, the girls lying between us. We laughed almost as much as we did during the snowball fight. Somewhere during the news and weather the girls dozed off and I waived my hand when Daniel asked if we should move them to their bed in the other room.
"No. Let them stay."
He smiled in understanding and I was thankful.
DAY 13 - November 3, 2000 6:48 a.m.
I awoke lying on my side with Little Xena tucked close in front of me and Daniel tucked behind me. We looked like three spoons. I glanced over Daniel and spotted a small body, arms spread wide and one foot resting on his neck, just below the ear. How do they do that?
Planes landed and took off as we waited for their flight.
"Did you have fun?" Daniel asked looking at both the girls.
"Uh-huh. Can we come back next week?" Little Gabrielle asked.
We both laughed at the thought.
"Well, maybe next year if you're not too big and grown up," I answered tears welling in my eyes. I was hugging them tightly when the speaker announced their flight. I recognized the stewardess as she exited the tunnel and walked the brief distance to join our group.
"Are you girls ready?" Macy asked. "Don't worry, I'll take good care of them."
Little Gabrielle touched one of the tears as it rolled down my cheek. "Happy cries?"
I swallowed the lump in my throat and gave them both a kiss before letting go. "Yep. Now you two rascals hurry home 'cause I know Momma Lucia misses you."
They both turned and waved before disappearing. I heard their sweet voices as they walked through the tunnel telling about their grand adventure.
"We played snowballs and rode the horse and sang songs and ?
We try our best to deny it sometimes but we miss the love and security that children unknowingly demand from us. They trust without question and love without reservation.
I had forgotten that.
What was my birthday wish, you ask?
That we never forget this journey of love we shared. There's beauty in the most simple of acts we do each day. Our lives are a gift to others around us. Thank you for my wonderful gifts.
To my loyal fans: Yes, I'm working on my other stories so hang in there. I just couldn't resist writing a story with Lucia's precious characters, and in truth, the story almost wrote itself. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. As always, let me know what you thought. Any comments or suggestions are greatly appreciated. You may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org