We've run out of adjectives to describe the day. Amazing, incredible, awesome. A celebration. A love-fest. It would have been special and meaningful any time, but coming after the pandemic, it was profound.
After a quick breakfast in the cottage, we headed straight to my mother's place. She lives in a retirement / assisted living community in Ashland, about 15 minutes from where we're staying -- and more importantly, 15 minutes from the rest of the Oregon family (all transplants from the eastern US).
This was the first time I had seen my mother since she stayed with us in the summer of 2019. We were set to make this trip in April of 2020, postponed because of covid. It's the longest I've ever gone without seeing my mother, and throughout the pandemic, in the back of my mind, I wondered if I would ever see her again. What a joy and relief to hug her!!
We saw Mom's apartment for the first time, which is simply amazing, with huge, spacious rooms, and a balcony with a view of the mountains. This was just a brief visit to say hi. Nephew M and spouse J were coming over to take her out to breakfast, for some special Grandma alone time. So we got to see them, too.
After that, we took Cookie and Kai to the Ashland dog park. It's a really nice park, large, grassy, with a good water supply, some shade, and lots of friendly dogs. We knew it wouldn't be a great day for the pups, so I'm extra glad we did this.
In the lovely little neighbourhood near the dog park, we saw a moving Black Lives Matter display, and I stopped to take pictures (to be shared in the future).
Next up, another stop at the Medford Food Co-op, and we were off to my brother and sister-in-law's place in Talent, only a few minutes from where we're staying.
M and M live on 50+ acres of land with a storybook view of a valley and mountains. They are Land Stewards; their land is used for grazing pasture, a vineyard, beekeeping, and other sustainable uses. They have an amazing house, and on the same property, our nephew D, partner R, and their daughter S live in a small cottage.
Also staying at their place: nephew J and spouse C, and niece E and spouse T, who all live in northern California.
We last saw brother/sister-in-law M and M when they visited us on the Island in 2019, and last saw their adult children and partners in 2016 -- our Vancouver/Oregon trip. That was the first (and until now only) time we saw our grand-niece in person! Pretty amazing! At that time S was 14 months old; now she is 6!
The only wrinkle for us is M and M keep their house pet-free, and there would be no way to keep them safe, loose on the property. This is Cookie, after all! We set up our tether-stake in some shade near the house. Cookie and Kai could see the house and anyone on the deck or patio, but weren't part of the fun. It was also very hot out, so we had to make sure they were always in shade and had plenty of water.
We periodically checked on them, and Cookie's line would be tangled around trees and bushes, and she'd be straining on a tiny bit of tether. They'd be super happy and excited to see us, we'd untangle Cookie and get them both settled... only to disappear again into the house.
After a few hours, the rest of the crew showed up: my sister J and partner J, niece C and spouse J, and nephew M and spouse J. I hadn't seen since these folks, my sister's adult children, since the last family weddings in 2018! They brought with them the guest of honour, my mother C.
Once everyone was assembled and a lot of the barbecue preparation was done, champagne (both regular and alcohol-free) was poured all around. My brother made a beautiful toast, the perfect mix of earnest and humourous, and we all lifted a glass to Connie.
We also toasted to other milestone birthdays, which my brother announced by birth month: 70, 65, 60, and 40. Pretty cool!
As the internet says, "you won't believe what happened next". Nephew J stepped up to toast, and he announced that he and C are pregnant, expecting their first in January 2022! Everyone gasped and cheered and exclaimed! Tears of joy and hugs all around. It was an incredible surprise: only their parents and the west-coast siblings knew. Our grand-niece S has been the first of the next generation of our family; now there will be two.
After more talking and hugging, and checking on the dogs, we assembled everyone for a big surprise for my mom: I had coordinated a Tribute video. All of us who were present, plus some extended family and very dear friends, had recorded videos telling C what she means to them, what they love and admire about her, and sharing special memories. Doing this through Tribute gave people incentive to create lovely videos, and made it easy to coordinate and assemble the final product.
For my mother, this was a complete surprise, and for everyone else, the first time they had watched the completed video from start to finish. It was... indescribable. Loving, meaningful, very moving. I totally lost it, weeping, more than once. No surprise there!
Allan and I ended the completed Tribute with this short video showing all our dogs through the years, over a jazz-piano version of the Happy Birthday song. Our nephews and nieces, and of course my mother, all remember our first dogs, Gypsy and Clyde, and everyone gasped and exclaimed to see their pictures. That turned out to be a really nice touch: everyone mentioned it to me later in the evening.
After a while we went outside to the deck and patio to eat. I felt Cookie and Kai had had enough. The temperature was cooling and there was plenty of shade, but being tethered... not so much fun. Allan walked them around for a while, then we brought them up to the deck, and tied looped their leashes around deck-posts to secure them, putting them much closer to the action. We moved a few chairs to their corner, so we could visit and gab with each other while including them.
After eating, we had one more surprise for the day. We brought with us some small gifts from the U'mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, for everyone there. (All the purchases pay royalties to Indigenous artists.) We're not huge on material gift-giving, but this was something I really wanted to do, to show my appreciation and love, and to share a little bit of Indigenous Vancouver Island culture with my family. Everyone was very happy and appreciative, which made me feel great. We gave grand-niece S a puppet (very culturally relevant to the Kwak'wala-speaking peoples), which she promptly named, and didn't take off her hand for the rest of the evening.
By the time it was growing dark, Cookie, Kai, and I were all beat. It wasn't hard to leave, knowing we would all see each other the next day, for the next round of celebration!