Norman, Oklahoma (Round Three) + Chicago, Illinois (Thanksgiving)

Lake Thunderbird State Park + Cleveland County Fairgrounds

November 18, 2021

The route from Tahlequah to Norman is pretty much burned into my subconscious after dozens of trips over my 32 years on this planet, making this one of the very few trips along our journey which didn’t require the use of Google Maps to help us get from A to B. Once Sam got off work, we made the easy three-hour drive down to Norman and the Lake Thunderbird State Park where we would be staying for the next two weeks – another one of my old stomping grounds from my youth. I spent many a summer afternoon out on this lake, however, I had never spent much time out here during the fall/winter months once the trees had shed their leaves and all the plants had gone dormant. I honestly can’t say that it was the prettiest park that we’ve stayed at given that the color palate of the scenery during this type of year ranged from reddish-brown to yellow thanks to the muddy water and dead grass. That being said, this campground was perfectly serviceable during our time there. As any long-time readers will know by now, we will never turn our noses up at a full-hookup campground – especially when it is within a short driving distance of so many friends/family!

Although we normally move on weekends, we opted to make this drive on a weekday so that we could attend the OU-Iowa State football game on Saturday! Once again, this marked another hallmark of my youth that I was able to show Sam while we were in Oklahoma. There was about a 10-year period when I was growing up that I didn’t miss a single OU home game, so although this was Sam’s first OU home game, it felt like I was right back in my element – especially with the Sooners doing everything that they could to give the game away and making us sweat it out until the final drive. But hey, a win is a win!

Since we would be spending Christmas in Norman with my family, Thanksgiving was to be spent with the Murphy clan this year, with Miranda and Eric hosting at their apartment in Chicago. After dropping Charlotte off at my parents’ place, we made our way to the airport and on to the Windy City!

Navigating into Chicago from the airport is always an ordeal, but after a relatively uneventful train ride, we arrived at Miranda’s neighborhood where she was generous enough to pick us up and drive us back to her place, where the rest of the gang was already gathered. It was great getting to catch up with everyone and check out all the new things going on in Miranda and Eric’s lives – from the new apartment to their new puppy, Rowdy!

After getting our fill of pizza, beer, and comradery, Brian, Char, Sam, and I made the half-mile walk over to the AirBnB where we were staying for the weekend. Although it was a roof over our head and we were glad to have it, I can honestly say that this was the worst AirBnB that I have ever stayed in. Not only was it loud thanks to being right off a busy street, but it was also absolutely soulless. You could just tell that it was owned by a corporation of some kind – from the bland, lifeless art on the walls, to the paper-thin bedding, to the missing kitchen goods that would be staples in any American household (salt and pepper to name just a few). In fact, this place was so bad that it has apparently caused Brian to swear off AirBnb’s in general!

Following a not-so-great night’s sleep, Thanksgiving Day was upon us, and we had another big day of sports, eating, drinking, and laughing ahead of us! Miranda and Eric did an amazing job as hosts, and put together a delicious meal with all the fixins – in addition to a well-stocked fridge full of beer…

Our final day in Chicago was punctuated by the Iowa-Nebraska football game and given that Brian is an Iowa alum and diehard Hawkeyes fan, naturally we made our way down to the nearest Iowa bar – which just so happened to be right next door to their apartment. Once again, we had a wonderful time hanging with the Murphy clan and enjoying the game as well as the bar atmosphere which was complete with a raffle giving away Hawkeyes gear. We were also fortunate enough to be joined by Sam’s good friend, Emily, who was living nearby at the time and decided to make the walk over.

The trip to Chicago went by in a flash, and before we knew it, we were saying our goodbyes and Miranda was driving us to the airport. We had a blast getting to see everyone, and I could finally say that I had participated in one of these famous Murphy family Thanksgivings!

Once we were safely back in Oklahoma, we spent a couple more days out by the lake before our two weeks were up and it was time for us to move a little closer to the Norman peeps ahead of the Christmas festivities. Our new campground for the duration of our Norman stay was the good ole Cleveland County Fairgrounds. For long time readers, you’ll know that this was where we stayed the following Thanksgiving during our first stay in Norman with the RV. This “campground” is really just one big parking lot with RV sites around the edge. BUT it has full hookups, is dirt cheap ($20 a night), and is in a nice central location, which makes it good enough in our book.

Speaking of location, it is actually within walking distance of Paige and Austin’s house, so we decided to make the trip over there one evening to hang out for a bit and check out the (most recent) litter of kittens. Let’s just say that Sam was smitten, and it took all of her will power to not bring one home with us!

If you know my dad, you’ll know that he has gone through hell when it comes to medical issues over the past few years – first with a botched knee surgery which has led to multiple subsequent knee surgeries as well as a back surgery in more recent months. Due to this, he has become quite the cyclist because it is one activity that allows him to get out there and explore without too much wear and tear on his knee. In fact, he inspired us to pick up a few e-bikes of our own which I have mentioned in previous blogs. And since we all had our bikes and the weather was nice, we decided to take the bikes out a few times while we were in Oklahoma. One of these outings was to Lake Stanley Draper which is about 20 minutes northeast of Norman and features a nicely paved route which goes all the way around this smaller lake. We had a blast getting out there and doing some cruising – hard to beat getting to take the bikes out in mid-December!

Once we started getting close to Christmas we opted to move out of the trailer and into my parents’ house for a couple of weeks to cut down on commute times between all the holiday gatherings. As was expected, this was cause for some anxiety amongst the kitties, as neither Charlotte nor Jasper/Dottie adjust quickly.

Once Christmas was actually upon us, the festivities proceeded along the traditional schedule – Christmas Eve dinner over at Meme’s…

Christmas morning with the immediate family at mom and dad’s house…

Then Christmas lunch/dinner back over at Meme’s so everyone could show off all the new toys that Santa brought them! Overall, it was a great Christmas. Although we wish everyone could have been there, we still had a great group with plenty of Christmas cheer to go around!

Our last event of note during our time in Oklahoma was a trip out to the Hefners’ farm which is located about an hour north of Norman outside the town of Guthrie, OK. The Hefners are family friends of Trudy’s, and she has come to love the farm after many girls trips out there over the years, so she figured that we needed to make the pilgrimage out there since we ourselves are considering getting some land one day and starting a farm of our own. Our hosts were so grateful to show us around their property and answer all our questions, plus we got to take in all the beautiful views that are normal for them around the farm!

This was our longest stop in one area during our time on the road, but it still managed to go by in a flash. Always good spending time with loved ones, especially around the holidays. We love all of y’all and can’t wait to see you again soon! 😉