River Trail Nature Center


If I was keeping up my blog you would know that Canyon and I spend Tuesday and Thursday’s going on adventures. River and Raven have co-op on those days and it makes for the perfect one on one time for me and Canyon man. Usually that means outdoor fun-as long as it is above 19 degrees. We have learned over this beautiful, brutal winter that the children are happy outside as long as it is 19 or above. Below that and it is stay in the van and observe from warm comfort time.

Yesterday I wanted to try something new-always a risky proposition with Canyon. I follow a family on Instagram and they seem very similar to us. Well, they are way cooler than we are but our kids are similar ages and they do lots of outdoorsy stuff. This weekend the Dad posted photos of the kids at a Nature Center that I had never heard of so I mapped it and it was only about 25 minutes away. So we gave it a go.

First cool thing-we saw a coyote as we were turning into the area. I love coyotes. Second cool thing. WE FOUND A HARDEE’S! I can easily resist fast food from the typical establishments but Hardee’s is my favorite. Up until yesterday I thought we had to drive to Wisconsin or Indiana for the pleasure but now I know that they are making a move into the Chicagoland area! When I turned the corner and saw the restaurant I gasped, “HOLY. SHIT.” And from the backseat I heard, “SHIT.” Have I forgot to mention Canyon is starting to use more words? Well add that to the word count! So we ordered lunch and enjoyed it down by the Des Plaines River. Canyon is not a big meat eater but likes the occasional cheeseburger. Well he LOVED this one and was sitting in the backseat munching away and smiling and showing me how happy he was with this food. I was happy too. Hardee’s!!!

So we finished lunch and headed to the River Trail Nature Center. It is wonderful. I can’t believe I did not know about this place. Situated right on the river with lots of hiking trails to explore.


The center itself is beautiful. You walk in and to the right is a huge, light and airy room with fish, snakes, a brain damaged squirrel, a screech owl and an American Kestral. I kept giggling and saying, “American Kestral Maneuvers In The Dark”. Canyon didn’t get it. All the animals and birds that live at the center have injuries that make it impossible for them to be returned to the wild. Poor things.


But the greatest thing in the live animal part was the huge pond of turtles.


Red-eared Sliders, Painted Turtles, Aquatic Turtles, False Map Turtles and Musk Turtles.


Canyon was mesmerized. Also a little frustrated that he couldn’t splash in the pond. Which is totally understandable since so many kids play areas now have water ponds and splash areas. How do you explain the difference? I kept saying “this is a looking toy, not a touching toy!”

The turtles seemed as fascinated with Canyon as he was with them. I always wonder what Canyon’s autism superpower will be. I like to think he communicates telepathically with animals.


The second favorite thing was the ceiling fan up in the skylights. I took a video of it so he can watch it anytime he wants. I am going to admit I like it too! This kid is rubbing off on me.

The other side of the center is perfectly designed for toddlers. A huge play area with nature books and stories, art supplies, games, a felt board and a giant Eagle’s Nest to sit in and a Fox Den to climb around and hide. So much to do and see!






When we left the ranger guy said, “Bye Bison Boy!


Tuesday we barely scratched the surface of all the preserve has to offer. I look forward to exploring it more!


Getting Dirty, Meeting Deer-Part Two Of Our Maple Syrup Adventure!


Small crowds for the Maple Syrup Festival meant room to roam and make new friends!


Canyon tried to join the herd. Maybe he should have worn antlers instead of his bison hat.


I love places where I feel safe letting Canyon, River and Raven have space and freedom to explore on their own.





I also don’t care about mud or dirt. That is part of the beauty of hand me downs and buying used clothes and boots. You don’t have to worry that your kid just destroyed something expensive! I let my kids dress cute and splash in the mud!




This was by far the best outing we have had as a family without the safety net of the stroller. It gives me hope that someday I will be able to take all three of them out by myself! Sigh. That is a long way off but a Mom can dream!


Cold Temps But Warm Syrup!

Sunday we ventured out into the chill for one of our favorite traditions, The Maple Syrup Festival at North Park Village Nature Center!


Saturday was a good 12 degrees warmer so I bet the crowds were huge then, but Sunday was about 26 degrees and an inch of snow had fallen that morning so we rewarded for our cold hardiness with room to roam and not having to shove people out of the way to keep tabs on our fast moving children.

Our friends Kelly, Letham, Owen and Viv joined us too!



Canyon loves it when they fire up the big outdoor stove so he wanted to sit and watch them make the syrup.

And River and Raven wanted to lick the syrup! River would have just sucked down the whole test tube if we had let her. Syrup junkie!





We made little necklaces. I managed to let River decorate hers without also decorating her face. I might question the wisdom of letting children draw with Sharpies. But all well that doesn’t end up permanently on my child’s face.



It was also a great day to watch the trails…


Preserving My Sanity


This fall I started exploring some new forest preserves and wild spaces in Chicago. Fullerton Woods Forest Preserve was near enough to Canyon’s school that I could drop him off in the morning, drive to the cheap gas Costco in Melrose Park and still have time for a good walk in the “woods”. I use the quotation marks because while I get trees and sky and the Des Plaines River I also get roads and traffic. I do my best to pretend I am alone.

This forest preserve is also on the way to Loyola Medical Center where my mother was. It was the perfect spot to stop and ground myself before my visits. It was hard to see her in the Intensive Care Unit and taking a moment from myself before my visits was a wise, wise choice.






Finding The Beauty In Everything

When I was with my mother in Indiana I had to spend the night and her house. It was my first night away from my children since they had returned home from the hospital. It was my first time spending a night alone in a house in I don’t know how long. It was scary. And sad. And lonely.

In the morning it was raining and foggy and depressing. I took my mom’s dog Lucky out for a walk in the backyard. And saw the fog and the trees and remembered that there is beauty and grace in everything. And went back for my camera.




I am having these enlarged and printed on canvas. A good friend shared with me how much she loved the one with the orange leaves and she may purchase a print. I think she was afraid that I might be offended that she asked, like the pictures might be depressing to me. But no, it made me happy. And the whole experience reminds me of this poem from Mary Oliver.

by Mary Oliver

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had his hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel,
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

Yep. It’s not the weight you carry but how you carry it. I like to think I carry it well.

And by the end of that long, hard day I was back home with my children in my arms.



Everything Changes

I’ve been a bit hung up on this post so I guess it is what it is. I will take one more stab at it before posting and moving on. I am torn between too much detail and not enough.

So there we were cruising through our holiday season and boom. Everything changed. On Wednesday, December 18 my mother suffered a severe stroke. Her husband Jack found her collapsed in the bedroom and called an ambulance. She was brought to her local hospital in Indiana and calls were made.

I didn’t quite understand how bad it was. Or maybe I wasn’t ready to understand yet. But I waited for more info and made plans to drive to Indiana on Thursday after Canyon’s school day was done.

My sister needed to drive to Northfield, MN to pick up my niece and her boyfriend for holiday break so I went alone.

This was the first time I have really been away by myself in years. I know it sounds crazy, but I have never spent a night away from River and Raven only brief hospital stays kept me from Canyon-and even then I would see him during the day.

The weather was warm and wet for December but the roads were clear. I listened to music and tried not to panic. But the closer I got to Plymouth the more anxious I became. I stopped at a Burger King to use the bathroom and fill up my water bottle. I took a paper crown to wear as inspiration.

A few miles from Plymouth and things started to take an ominious turn. Cruising along the divided highway, a pickup truck travelling the opposite direction lost control and came barreling down through the sloped grass median, kicking up snow and finally regained control just before crashing into traffic. I watched this all happening in what felt like slow motion, the sad news story already playing in my head-“Mother of three dies while trying to visit her own mother in hospital”.

A mile later a large, black wolf-like dog was eating a dead deer in the median. What the hell Universe???

And then I was at the hospital.

I took photos of my mother when I arrived. I know she would not appreciate my sharing them so I won’t. But I will post a photo of her lovely holiday nails.


The first few hours I was just happy to be there with her. She could recognize me and nod to acknowledge that she knew who I was. But she was unable to speak and her right side was paralyzed. It was scary.

The rest of the story is long and exhausting so I will fast forward.

We were not happy with the quality of the care we were receiving in Indiana and I made that clear. They also were not happy with the assertive, intelligent and demanding me so Mom was transferred to Loyola Medical Center in Chicago. This was great for everyone.

She spent a few weeks at Loyola-first in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit and then on a step down floor. Because she can not swallow she can not eat so she had surgery to implant a Gastronomy Tube (G-tube or Feeding Tube). Jenny and I had to then find a suitable care facility for her more long term care. I researched on the internet for a great Rehabilitation Center in my zip code. Lucky for us we found a great place near my sister and I with great ratings and a wonderful facility. And that’s where Mom is now.

While she is getting stronger and we are encouraged by her progress, there is still a long way to go. She is still paralyzed on her right side, can not eat or speak. But she is mentally aware and we get laughs, smiles and some vocalizations. She works hard in her therapy sessions. Recovery from a severe stroke is hard work with no guarantees. We hope for the best.

If you would like to follow along with her recovery please come over to her Caring Bridge site under Gloria Cummins. I post photos and updates.

And we welcome your prayers, mojo, blessings, thoughts, intentions, etc.



Gingerbread Houses and Classroom Fun

Thursday Dec 18

Canyon attends pre-school in the morning. The school does not do two separate morning and afternoon holiday programs so instead of Canyon getting up and “singing” a song or performing in an assembly the morning kids and their families made gingerbread houses. A fun compromise!





One of our homework assignments was to make a Gingerbread Boy for Canyon. I think even without the name you would guess it was his. Wild blonde hair, tie dye Yo Gabba Gabba t-shirt and lots of glitter!


We also made a house of our family traditions. I love these assignments! Reading our list of Holiday Traditions now I see that we did do all but one-Zoolights never happened for us this year. We hit a giant road bump this holiday season which I will share in the next post so I feel lucky that we experienced as much as we did.


After school Canyon played in the snow for a bit and then we were back home.



Our Annual Visit to Frank’s House

Dec 17 continued…

After the holiday program and the extremely long wait to see Santa we were all super tired. But, we were also all dressed and in the card so we headed over to one of the Major Must Do’s on our Holiday Priority List. Visit Frank’s House in Logan Square.

Frank’s House is this beautiful old house that goes completely over the top with holiday lights and decorations each year. The only reason we know it is Frank’s House is because one year WGN did a story on it and how they still had the decorations up in March. So we know it is Frank’s House and we know that we love it and we know that we have to go. So we went!





Nature added to the light show with a stunning full moon.