Ten Reasons Why Lakes Are Better Than Everything Else

Okay, people: this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and it’s really earth-shattering, so I hope you’ll give it serious consideration.

After having spent time in many different bodies of water this summer, from pools to lakes to streams to ponds to the ocean, I have decided that, of them all, lakes are unequivocally better than the rest.

I think we can all agree that ponds, streams, rivers, and creeks are cute enough, especially as water features in backyards. They’re fun, too, what with ponds freezing over for ice skating and creeks containing all sorts of hiding spots for creatures that kids love to hunt, not to mention things like rafting and rope swings. And there’s, like, fly fishing in rivers and all that jazz. But beyond that, they don’t really count.

Which leaves us pools, lakes, and oceans as the only “true” summer water spots. I know there are people who will swear that a pool is the only way to go, or that the ocean is superior, but, well… how do I say this…

They’re wrong.

This is not just conjecture but has been determined based on evidence, research, and cold hard facts (which are totally my opinions, but after having thought about this so seriously, it’s basically irrefutable. Obvs). Allow me to explain further.

Comparison #1: WILD THINGS

So, yeah, the ocean has lots of amazing and fascinating animals that live in or near it. Penguins and sea lions and adorable pods of dolphins and herons and neat-o crabs and, like, an entire ecosystem. Oh, and whales! And sea turtles! Sea turtles are cool! The wildlife of the ocean is rad and vast and a marine biologist’s nirvana.

But there’s also plenty of wildlife to be found in lakes – fish and birds and crawdads and frogs and turtles and dragonflies. True, they may not be as varied as the ocean, but there is no shortage of creatures that make their homes lakeside.

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fish ella dragonfly

Pools have no wildlife at all unless you count the frogs and snakes and errant mice that accidentally fall in. You cannot (successfully) go fishing or crabbing in a pool. You will not hear a loon’s haunting cry from the oval in your backyard. Pools are wildlife-free.

On the other hand, unless you’re playing Marco Polo and you’re the Marco-caller with your eyes closed, you’ll probably never be standing waist-deep in a pool and suddenly feel something brush against your calf (omg what was that???), sending you running to shore in a frenzied panic. There’s something to be said for that.

Lakes: 2
Oceans: 2
Pools: 1

Comparison #2: DANGEROUS WILD THINGS

Yes, both oceans and lakes are home to fascinating animals, but there is one very important distinction between the two: the things that you find in lakes are probably not going to hunt you down and kill you. Did Jaws take place in a lake? Orca? Moby Dick? There are no sharks in lakes. Or crazy eels. Or jellyfish. Or any of the myriad other stinging, biting things that can come up out of the bottomless deep and scare the bejeezus out of you or swallow you whole.

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Like oh, say, this six-foot delight that a fisherman accidentally reeled in twenty feet in front of us on the beach in Kiawah a few years back. It was kinda cool, but are you kidding me??

I mean, sure, there are some potentially fear-inducing creatures in lakes – crayfish, small water snakes, really ugly catfish – but they’re harmless minnows compared to paralyzing jellyfish and freakin’ sharks.
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You know what my kids said when they saw this flock of birds? “Oh, look! A whole family of geese!” You know what they didn’t say? “I could feel the vibration of this entire shark gnawing into my skin. You could feel the whole body shaking as it’s digging into my torso.” BECAUSE THERE AREN’T SHARKS IN LAKES, OMG.

Likewise, because pools contain no wildlife whatsoever (not on purpose, anyway), they are void of life-threatening creatures as well. Hence…

Lakes: 1
Oceans: 0
Pools: 1

Comparison #3: COLLECTIBLES

The critters that swim and nest and frolic in oceans and lakes aren’t the only treasures to be found there. Who hasn’t gone to the ocean and returned home with beautiful shells, sand dollars, driftwood, or a starfish that was once alive and happy but ultimately suffocated and died so it could become part of a beachy display in the living room? Oceans are full of such riches, and there is little more enjoyable than walking along a flat stretch of beach and hunting for seashells; it’s almost mythical. After all, no one sold their shells by the pool deck, did they?

While not as prolific, lakes do have shells, too. And driftwood. And sea glass (lake glass?). And if you happen to be among the lucky ones who can visit one of the Finger Lakes in western New York, you’ll also find gazillions of fossils along the shore.fossils2fossils1These guys have stars on their ends – neat, no?

Despite the evidence presented here, the variety of fossils is endless, and my girls and I have spent countless hours combing the shoreline for them, marveling over their age (“These are really millions of years old, Mommy??”), and inventing stories about what they were like before they became fossilized.

You will not be finding fossils and shells in your neighborhood pool. As lovely as diving toys and foam noodles and floating beer coolers can be, they are not typically considered collectibles.

Lakes: 1
Oceans: 1
Pools: 0

Comparison #4: FAUNA

In fairness, one (small) plus to swimming in a pool is that you never have to worry that you’ll be happily swimming along and suddenly find yourself screeching like an octopus has ensnared you from below, entangled in a patch of weeds that have grown ten feet straight up from the bottom. You also won’t come out covered in algae (I hope) or that nasty, stinky seaweed with the little popper bubbles on them. Pools, while boring, are nevertheless devoid of slimy plants. Lakes and oceans? Not so much.

Lakes: 0
Oceans: 0
Pools: 1

Comparison #5: Visibility

There are a good many people who say they prefer pools to oceans and lakes simply because they can see the bottom. (Tip: if the pool is so murky you can’t see the bottom, swimming in said water is probably a bad idea. Unless you think a course of penicillin sounds like fun.) Yeah, I think those people are pretty much wimps and aren’t the type you’d invite to join your Amazing Race team, but still, I can’t deny that there’s something comforting about knowing what you’re getting into. Literally.

With that said, there are many, many days when the water at my family’s lake house is so clear and still we are easily able to see the bottom – even from the end of the dock. Sure, that’s not possible when you’re out in the middle and it’s deeper, but if you’re just looking to enjoy swimming near shore and you want to know what’s below you, you’re in luck.

Oceans, on the other hand, are always mysterious. The ever-changing, ever-moving water provides little to no opportunity to see into the depths, meaning you’re totally taking your life into your own hands every time you venture in.

Lakes: 1
Oceans: 0
Pools: 2

Comparison #6: WAVES, TIDES, AND CURRENTS

Some would argue that the very inconsistent nature of the ocean makes it more appealing. To this I say, that’s crap. Sure, there’s a certain allure to having the tides come in and out, to the waves crashing about, to the fact that every hour will bring something different. It’s certainly never boring. But that doesn’t make it better.

Lakes, too, have waves. You can fall asleep to the gentle lapping of the water, brushing the shoreline. You can bob along medium-sized crests, floating gently on your tube. Or, if you so choose, you can crash around on white capped peaks. My point is, there are definitely waves on lakes, but they’re not usually the knock-you-about, overturn-your-boat, rip-your-bathing-suit-from-you kind.

My husband loves these kinds of waves, the ones big enough to turn you about and cover your head and send you on a nice, long bodysurf. I endure these kinds of waves, because I’m sensible enough to understand that it’s not fun to be pummeled in the face by water so hard that it hurts, to be unable to breathe, and to not be able to feel the ground beneath your feet.

This was taken while we were in Puerto Rico. Yes, it seems all tropical and lovely and bodysurf-y – and it was all tropical and lovely and bodysurf-y – but I had to fight like the dickens to keep my bathing suit on because the damn waves kept tearing it off. 

In addition to waves, oceans have tides – something having to do with the moon and magic and all that – which means that you absolutely never know how high the water will come up onto the beach on any given day. It’s like a constant surprise party, except without cake or alcohol. On Tuesday at noon, you may be able to launch yourself off the pier and into the (dark, mysterious) sea ten feet deep. On Wednesday at noon, the water may be out so far, the pier sits – dry, in the sun – and jumping off is only appropriate if one is hoping for an ambulance ride to the ER.

On a lake, there is no such variation, and dock-jumping is always okay.laborday48
It’s especially okay when you’re playing a game of “Categories.”

Also, tides wreak havoc on carefully built sand castles. After spending hours painstakingly constructing turrets and moats decorated with the aforementioned seashells and seaweed, your beloved masterpiece will be instantly washed away by a rogue wave as the tide sneaks up on you again (surprise!!) and your daughters will dissolve into hysterical puddles upon seeing their princess castle disappear.

Ask me how I know.

Because lakes don’t have tides, there are no AWOL waves to ruin your daughters’ childhood. There are also no currents – those invisible but ridiculously strong jets of water that run along the shore, waiting to drag unsuspecting beach-goers out to sea. Even the strongest of swimmers can be torn away by rip tides and currents, which basically means that no one is safe at the ocean, ever. SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK, SUCKERS.

Lakes, by contrast, do not have life-threatining currents, so you can wade in to your heart’s content and know that you won’t be yanked off your feet. Pools, of course, are static containers of water and do not have waves, tides, or currents… which, depending on your point of view, is both absurdly banal (unlike oceans and lakes) and appealingly un-deadly (unlike oceans).

Lakes: 2
Oceans: 1
Pools: 1

Comparison #7: ACTIVITIES

There are few of us whose childhood memories don’t involve a rip-roaring afternoon spent at a pool. Games of Marco Polo, hunting for “treasure” by collecting coins that were dumped from the jar on the kitchen table into the deep end, jumping off the diving board, playing “Categories” as you launched yourself in from the side, performing handstands in the shallow end and begging your mom to “WATCH ME! WATCH ME! WATCH ME!”, learning how to do a cannonball, floating in the inflatable lounge chair with the drink holder on the side… Those were the days, and they were damn fine days.

Admittedly, it would be difficult to play some of these games in a lake or ocean (where throwing buckets of quarters into the waves is typically frowned upon), but the open expanse of these bodies of water means that even more fun can be had. You can go tubing, waterskiing, and wakeboarding. You can fish and snorkel and scuba dive. You can jump on water trampolines, play King of the Castle on anchored rafts, and jump off of wooden towers into the water below. You can kayak, canoe, boat, windsurf, sail, paddleboard, and jet ski . You can (often) build spectacular sandcastles and sculptures; you can (often) dig a hole deep enough to hide in or wrap the grains around you like a sand sleeping bag. You can board a yacht or a rowboat and have a bonfire right on the beach. Simply put, there’s way more to do in an ocean or a lake than there is in a pool.

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We cannot paddleboard in a pool. Not that I’ve tried. But I’m pretty sure.

With that said, the irregularity of ocean waves oftentimes make it impossible to engage in a good many activities. Can’t nobody be sailing in 30 foot swells or having a bonfire when the tide has completely covered the beach. Because lake conditions are more predictable, you can almost always dive* right into whatever tickles your fancy (*see what I did there?), so that gives lakes a small advantage in this here category.10403338_10152552138420295_7294721342386609593_n
You think a seven and nine year-old could go on a solo kayak paddle hundreds of yards away on the open ocean? THINK AGAIN. #LakePower!

Lakes: 2.5
Oceans: 2
Pools: 1

Comparison #8: VISTA

“Man, the sunset over the lake today was just spectacular” – said regularly

“Wow, watching the sunrise along the horizon of the ocean was absolutely magical” – uttered with frequency

“Jeepers, the sky as seen from the pool this afternoon was simply breathtaking” – spoken by basically no one at any time, or at least not as often as the sentiments above

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You won’t overlook this scene from a pool. Unless it’s a lakeside or oceanside pool.

The view from lakes and oceans is magnificent.
The view from pools can be somewhat beautiful from time to time. Kind of.

Lakes: 1
Oceans: 1
Pools: 0

Comparison #9: THE WATER ITSELF

It always amazes me that this is actually up for debate and doesn’t automatically push lakes right up to the top every single time, but apparently some people are insane feel differently than I do about lake water being superior to pool or ocean water. I don’t know that I can say it any more plainly than this, so I’m just going to go for it: salt and chlorine suck. Salt stings your eyes and makes your nose hurt and gets all up in your hair, but not in a cute tussled way – in a this-needs-to-be-washed-immediately way. It coats your skin and everything that comes into contact with it, even if you’re only coming close to the ocean and not actually entering it. (For example: we drove our rental car in Puerto Rico all around the island, but never directly into the water {duh} and it was still coated in a thin layer of ocean salt that was so thick, we were unable to see out the back windows. Side note: we could find absolutely no washer fluid bucket thingies at Puerto Rican gas stations, so we had to cross our fingers and hope it would rain. It finally did.) Also, saltwater tastes absolutely horrible and, ironically, makes you thirsty. Saltwater is nasty.

Chlorine has more going for it than saltwater, but only by default. Being near a pool will not cause your car to be coated in any substance that needs to be chiseled off with an ice pick, but all the rest hold true – albeit often to a lesser degree. Chlorinated water irritates the heck out of your eyes, can get all up in your nose and make you hella uncomfortable, and is absolutely horrible for your hair, turning it into a tangled, thick, smelly, green-hewed mess. It also tastes like crap. After being in the ocean or a pool, you need to shower – to get wet again – in order to clean off. HOW CRAZY IS THAT.

Lakes, on the other hand, are often so pure and lovely, you come out of them even cleaner than you were before you went in. Your hair is in good shape, your car is not covered in anything except bird poop and whatever your kids spilled from their lunch boxes, you can open your eyes underwater with absolutely no difficulty, and you don’t need to get yourself wet again after coming out of the lake for the final time that day. In fact, lakes are so clean, you can sometimes drink from them with absolutely no side effects.

Post-shampoo jump in
See? So clean, we actually bathe IN the lake.
I know, I know… putting stuff like shampoo into lakes makes them less clean… but we use only fully biodegradable products and don’t bathe too often; so far, so good.

Lakes: 1
Oceans: 0
Pools: 0

Comparison #10: SAND

I have already mentioned that one of the things you can do at oceans and beaches is play with – and in – the sand. What I did not say, however, is that doing so is fun, nor did I refer to it as one of the benefits that oceans and beaches have over pools. This omission was not accidental.

I think sand is evil.

Okay, so it can be fun. It can feel delicious under your feet, sometimes spongy, sometimes rock solid, sometimes slippery. It is mesmerizing when poured gently from your fingers. It can, indeed, be used to create hours of entertainment; I have very happily built many a sand castle – without my children, even – poring over the details of the design. I have buried myself (and others) beneath the beach, marveling at how much cooler the sand is one foot below the surface. I have ridden bikes and gone running beside the water during low tide and have carved messages along the shore, watching wistfully as the waves creep in and erase my words piece by piece. Yes, sand can be fabulous – mesmerizing and addictive, even.

But, like so many mesmerizingly addictive things, there’s a downside to sand. I mean, crack is addictive, but that doesn’t make it good for you. At first, sand is like movie popcorn, all buttery and warm and heavenly and you can’t stop shoveling it toward you. But then, before you know it, that familiar feeling settles in: dread. With movie popcorn, it’s because you know you just consumed your entire day’s worth of calories and now your mouth is coated in the weird filmy nastiness and you’d really like to go to the bathroom because you kind of feel sick but you’re so damn full of popcorn, you can’t even move.

With sand, it’s because you know that there will be hell to pay for even going near it. Sand, like my nemesis, superfine glitter, gets everywhere and is nearly impossible to remove. Trying to eat a nice picnic beside the shore? I hope you don’t mind a little extra grit in your food. You brought water with you so you can refresh yourself after an hour playing in the sun? Good luck brushing off the tiny grains of sand that have adhered themselves exactly on the mouth of the bottle. And don’t even think about eating anything sticky beside the ocean; I still remember how my soul died a little death the day I dropped my Ring Pop in the sand when I was about eight. THE HUMANITY.

You can lay a towel on the beach so that you have somewhere clean to sit and declare it a no sand zone, but we all know that sand, like guerrilla fighters, infiltrates everything without you even knowing it. Long after you’ve left the shore, you will be finding sand in places that never even made it out of the house. And let’s not forget the havoc that sand wreaks upon your body. Trying to walk across it barefoot on a hot day is like stepping on lava. It gets in your eyes like tiny shrapnel. It gets in your hair and then stays on your scalp, often through several washings. You’ll still be chewing on sand three days after visiting the beach.

But it’s the sand that gets stuck in your suit that creates the biggest problems. Have you ever bathed a baby and found, like, a raisin stuck in the folds of his chin and wonder how on earth it got there but then realize with horror that it must be from when he ate raisins two days ago? That’s how it is with sand, especially the sand that is trapped in your bathing suit; it creeps into every crevice, every crack, every hidden space. And I do mean EVERY space.

Because of our anatomy, sand infiltration is even worse for girls. A girlfriend of mine told me that when her daughters were little, they were driving home from a visit to the ocean when four year old complained that her vagina was crunchy. Because that’s what happens when sand gets all up in your business. IT IS NOT PLEASANT, nor is it easy to remedy. So, yes, sand is delightful, but it is also my enemy.IMG_7699
This is what our rental car looked like as we dropped it off at the airport in Puerto Rico. That’s just the sand that I was able to shake out of the top of my bathing suit. EVIL.

With all of that said, you might – understandably – think that I would prefer pools, with their lack of sand, to lakes and oceans. It is true that pools are sand-less, so one point for pools. But, as happy fate would have it, Canandaigua Lake – the one on which we spend so much of our summers – is sand-less, too, as are many of the Finger Lakes.
lakeshale
Look, Ma – no sand!

A lake without a beach?, you say. How can that be? Well, in the case of Canandaigua, the beaches are made of shale – flat stones that have broken off of the larger shale beds surrounding the lake and, over time, have smoothed out. They make perfect skipping stones, can be “written” on (by drawing with another piece of shale), and can be pushed around to create mounds and piles and holes, much like sand… except with absolutely none of the evil properties associated with sand.

SHALE BEACH FTW.

Lakes: 2
Oceans: 1
Pools: 1

Thus, after tallying up the points above, the final standings are as follows:
LAKES: 13.5
OCEANS: 8
POOLS: 8

After this exhaustive, thorough, and completely unbiased analysis, it’s plain to see that, when all is said and done, lakes far outshine oceans and pools. This does not mean that oceans and pools are bad, nor that I’ll stop visiting them any time soon. Nothing can compare with the mystery of the ocean, and the humid, briny smell that washes over you the moment you get close is positively enchanting. Jumping into a pool on a roasting summer day is one of life’s simplest pleasures, and watching Ella and Annie play water games till they drop makes me smile every time.

It’s like milk, white, and dark chocolate – they’re all marvelous and yes, more, please… but when all is said and done, one stands out above the rest.

I’m a lake girl at heart.
And I’m particularly grateful and fortunate to be spending so much time on one.

Maybe I should have been a researcher instead of a teacher. This fact-collecting thing is really fun.

summer vista

 

 

 

 

 

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Puerto Rico: A beautiful paradox

This whole Writing About Our Trip To Puerto Rico thing has me kind of stumped. On the one hand, I want to tell you about everything – all of it – in detail, both because it was wonderful enough to document it and also because maybe I’ll convince you to go – and oh, you should. It’s fabulous.

On the other hand, this isn’t really a travelogue kind of blog, and frankly, reading blow-by-blow accounts of peoples’ travels can get a bit tedious, even if you’re a read-about-travels kind of person.

I’ve been pondering this conundrum for the past few days, this contrast between two approaches – and, after going through my photos today, it finally struck me that it is precisely this contradiction that I want to write about. (Not my own personal narrative, but rather the island as a whole.)

The entire time we were in Puerto Rico, Nick and I marveled at how fascinating it was – the disparity between new and old, modern and antique, Puerto Rican and American, sleek and rundown.

We got off the plane and were immediately bowled over by the heat; I’ve been in some damn hot places, but Puerto Rico was a different kind of all-encompassing, steamy, can’t-escape-if-you-tried, walk-for-five-minutes-and-your-shirt’s-soaked-through hot. But it was also tropical and somehow fresh and reminded you that you weren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto, but that you’d spun your house and landed in a (muggy) little slice of paradise.

As we exited the main terminal to pick up the rental car, we expected to see “traditional” Puerto Rican scenes and sights and buildings…
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I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m not sure what this is, but it’s in Old San Juan and it’s over 400 years old and it’s really, really cool.

… and were instead greeted by a Buffalo Wings restaurant.pr01
If we’d wanted wings, we could’ve traveled 60 miles to Buffalo instead of 1800 to Puerto Rico. IRONY, my friends.

Actually, that was a pretty good introduction to the juxtapositions we’d be seeing throughout the rest of our vacation. When we got to Old San Juan, we found ourselves driving down narrow, blue-bricked streets with rainbow buildings…
(Note: you can click on any of these to make them larger; the horizontal ones are especially small on the blog and are more interesting up-close)
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… but also past long-ago abandoned buildings…pr64

 

… often just steps away from one another.pr59
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That’s not a potted plant – it’s a tree that’s grown out of the building.

 

Never before have I been in a place in the Western Hemisphere where the past and present mingle so cohesively – where orange cars are parked outside of centuries-old forts.pr2

The Castillo de San Cristóbal was one of the most magnificent creations I’ve had the privilege to visit, perched high atop the hillside, nobly guarding Old San Juan…pr27

… and the cruise ships and hotels just beyond its imposing fortress walls.
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Looking back out at the fort from our balcony – when I wasn’t busy terrifying other hotel guests – was pretty freakin’ rad.

Out some of the castillo‘s windows, the view of the city was so warmly old-meets-new inviting, we might as well have been in Tuscany.
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(Or what I imagine Tuscany is like, having never been there. Work with me, y’all.)

Other vantages, at first glance, looked almost identically inviting…
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… but, upon closer inspection, showed how the city is courting growth and decay simultaneously.
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The fort itself, like so much of Old San Juan, was insanely windy, which provided its own interesting dichotomy: crazy hot meets constant breeze = hotter than hades but also sometimes not hot.

At times while walking around the property, I thought I might actually melt into a puddle, Wicked Witch of the West style – but inside this gun turret (last used in World War II, how awesome is that), it was so dark and breezy, I was positively refreshed. 

Old San Juan proved to be an absolutely delightful city; we could easily have stayed there for the duration of our visit and been perfectly content. It is entirely walkable (although the hills are no joke; San Francisco is mildly bumpy compared to OSJ), taking you along those aforementioned blue-brick-lined streets and past shops, restaurants, memorials, historic sites, crumbling city walls, gleaming new buildings, tourist traps, and residential apartments. The diversity was both startling and fascinating.

One street was lined with gorgeous, enormous, well-tended planters in which lovely tropical flowers and plants were flourishing…pr11

… while another was so poorly maintained, with peeling paint off the bars surrounding the doorways, that I didn’t even realize the building was occupied until I spied the soccer ball on the stairs inside…
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… while this one left no doubt that prosperity had long ago come and gone, despite the beautifully hopeful mural painted on the wall.
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Sometimes, we found ourselves so deeply within the confines of the city, winding down tiny side streets and in and out of shops, that we could only assume that the ocean was nearby. Others, we stood right alongside the shoreline, palm trees and tile-roofed buildings meeting with blue-green water.
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Similarly, these houses had completely unobstructed views of the ocean, a location that would make beach lovers green with envy…pr12

… until you noticed that they were falling apart, hole-y roofed, barely standing. It was sobering and curious and somehow lovely all at the same time.pr12a

 

This curious contrast was not only present economically in Old San Juan, but in virtually every other aspect of Puerto Rico (that we noticed, anyway. After 3.5 days there. We’re probably experts). Wide, inviting, breathtaking beaches were everywhere we turned, with water warm enough to fill a bathtub.pr41

Naturally, we stopped to enjoy the surf… but, paradoxically, also checked out the only skating rink in all of the Caribbean.
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Driving around Puerto Rico was an adventure in diversity in and of itself. The streets in Old San Juan are relatively clearly denoted, once you know where to look for the street names…
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… but all of the other roadways throughout the island were essentially unmarked, making for some rather difficult traversing (which might have tested our togetherness just a wee bit more than we’d intended, but whatever. We made it). We went ziplining in the rainforest at a place that was completely contemporary, safe, and wildly fun…pr36 DCIM100GOPRO

… but was accessible only by a potholed “road” that was technically two-lane but – like many Puerto Rican roads – was really barely wide enough for one car, ending at a collection of dilapidated, candy-colored buildings that apparently once belonged to the YMCA. It was otherworldly (and completely awesome).pr34
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One evening, we were fortunate enough to happen upon a performance by a local music/dance group that showcased some native Taino songs and dances. They whirled and sang songs that were hundreds of years old…pr50

… while wearing store-bought clothing and – if you were three years old – sparkle shoes.pr54

Throughout our trip, we saw animals everywhere, from dogs looking at us out second-story windows in updated, crisp-clean city apartments…
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… to wild chickens wandering aimlessly in and out of the driveways of barely-still-standing rural homes.
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We explored buildings that had been constructed (or whose construction had begun) before the oldest structures in the United States even existed…pr25

… but we also ate dinner at the most state-of-the art, ultra-modern (ABSURDLY DELICIOUS) restaurants imaginable.
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I’ve considered doing an entire entry just on this one meal, but I’ll never do it justice. Also, you’d be bored. And hungry. Suffice it to say it was magnificent.
This is dessert, which means espresso for us both, caramel corn creme brûlée with peanut brittle ice cream and Sparkling Frangelico for Nick and gluten-free organic carrot cake with some kind of ginger-flavored sorbet, plus a white wine from Hungary.
SOSOSOSOGOOD.

The juxtapositions weren’t unsettling, but they definitely made us realize we were in for more than just a simple vacation on a tropical island. There was a wonderful thread of cultural heritage that was woven into every city and location, but there was evidence of attempted growth all around us. Traditional Latin music blasted through car speakers as motorists navigated congested highways and itty bitty side streets with equal parts daring and insanity. English and Spanish were spoken almost interchangeably, a nod to their roots in Spain and their current status as a United States territory. Everyone we encountered was exceedingly friendly, but, strikingly, there were still bars on every window and door, from the cities to the suburbs.
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Note the dog peeking out from the second story of this home, too.

Even the weather was inconsistent – sunny one moment, downpours the next, and then instantly sunny again. As we stopped for lunch in a beachfront restaurant along the western coast, we happened to notice a storm rolling in from the north. It’s not every day that you get to see a storm glide in across the ocean and swallow you up.
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Our favorite, most incredible part of the visit – a kayak tour to a bioluminescent bay – couldn’t be documented, because it was pitch black and also glowing microorganisms don’t show up so well in iPhone videos (lame). It capped off a perfect day that we knew would be unbeatable; and indeed it was, with the following day being overwhelmingly disappointing as we got stuck in horrible, unpredictable traffic for seven hours (yes, really) and wound up missing out on the things we’d hoped to do and see. But that night, we ate the best meal of our lives (see above), and all was forgotten – contrasting experiences that bumped right into one another, ultimately creating something amazing.

And, in the end, that’s how we felt about Puerto Rico: that it was spectacular. Inconsistent, yes. Confusing, yes. Simultaneously beautiful and worn down, yes. Interesting, yes. Worth a return trip? Oh hell, yes.

Even before we’d left the island to make our way home, we were talking about going back and bringing the girls. It’s so accessible for us as Americans, both because it doesn’t require a passport and because the people and culture are so welcoming and affable. It felt familiar but foreign, expansive but contained, exciting but comfortable, relaxing but invigorating, crazy but chill. After 3.5 days, we felt like we’d really seen the island, but that there was still so much left to explore.

Which means that we’ll have to visit again.
Can’t wait!

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The island of enchantment… and laughter

A few days ago, Nick and I got back from a trip to Puerto Rico; it was amazing and fabulous and I would go there again in a heartbeat if only to eat at this one restaurant that served us a dinner I’m still salivating over.

There’s so much I could write about it, that I want to write about it, that it’s getting all squished together in my head (which doesn’t have much thinking space in it these days, anyway) and I can’t decide what should come next, so although I definitely plan to document it more in coming weeks, I will start with this one absurd story.

We stayed at this nice little Sheraton in Old San Juan right on the harbor in a lovely room with three itty bitty balconies – one of which, in the mornings and evenings, afforded us a rather industrial view…

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… and throughout the rest of the day overlooked the cruise ship docks.
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Although we did not spend a great deal of time in our room, on the last night of our vacation we found ourselves with a few minutes to spare before heading out to dinner. It had rained heavily, bringing in slightly cooler air (anything less than melt-your-face hot felt positively arctic), and so we opted to open up all three sets of French doors. I walked out onto the balcony overlooking the docks and took in the evening unfolding around me: the rainclouds rolling away, hints of sunlight dappling through and onto the buildings, the rolling hills in the distance, the tourists strolling the street below.

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This was taken minutes before I stepped out onto our balcony – from the floor above ours, but it’s essentially the same view. Minus the frog. More on him later.

While taking in the scene, I looked to the right and happened to notice that there were no balconies on the floor below us, but that all of the lower floors contained them. I also happened to notice that there was a gentleman standing on one of said balconies – one room to the right, two floors down – and that he was also looking to the right, which meant that I was standing behind him. To my knowledge, he didn’t even know I was there.

Without warning, a gust of wind blew through (then again, “without warning” is a bit inaccurate, because Old San Juan is ridiculously windy) and I heard a BANG!! behind me that startled me so much, I jumped violently, all but throwing out my back. I also screamed like nobody’s business – that brief burst of fear that escapes you when you have the absolute shit scared out of you.

See, the wind had sent a draft through the open doors of our hotel room, causing the ones behind me to slam shut, thus scaring the pants off me. In addition to being terrified by the BAM! from behind, I whirled around to face the now-closed doors and then became concerned that they had locked and I was stuck on this teeny strip of a balcony with only a railing stopping me from plunging to my imminent death below. Also I was hungry, so things were dire.

Meanwhile, Nick had been in the room getting ready for dinner when he, too, felt the gust of wind, and then – so says he – registered three sounds: a loud bang, me shrieking, and then an unidentifiable “HUH!” immediately thereafter. Bump! Aaaahhh! Whoa! Rather than ponder the third sound’s origin, he (wisely) chose to come to my aid and open the door to let me back in, thereby saving me from plunging to my death.

Just as I was wondering if perhaps this was some very twisted plot by my husband to strand me out on a balcony during our 20th anniversary getaway (a perfectly reasonable explanation, naturally), the doors opened and Nick gestured for me to come inside, which I did posthaste. I then recounted the story, explaining how the slam of the doors had scared me poop-less, and how glad I was that he wasn’t trying to play some weird trick on me and had come to rescue me instead.

After catching my breath and being reassured that everything was okay, I remembered the man who’d also been standing out on his balcony and realized my yelp and subsequent disappearance into our room might have been a bit disconcerting. Shaking my head, I lamented, “I bet I scared the heck out of that other man out there.”

And that’s when Nick put two and two together and realized that the third sound he’d heard – the “HOAH!” – came from the man on the balcony below, who had, indeed, been completely startled by my escapade. So startled, in fact, that he, too, had yelled out – so loudly, Nick had heard him from inside our room.

We then began to imagine this poor guy, stepping out onto his balcony… on vacation, likely, wanting to check out the view after the rain. He was there, relaxing – maybe for the first time all day, having traveled God knows how far to get to this little corner of paradise; maybe this was his first-ever vacation; maybe he’d always dreamed of spending the sunset on a balcony in Old San Juan – taking in the first hints of twilight, looking out over the utterly peaceful, calm scene unfolding before him…

… when CRACK!!! something slams to his left and “AAAAAHHHHHH!!” a woman screams, scaring the ever-loving crap out of him, which causes him to scream, too, like an unsuspecting guest being pranked on Ellen. He undoubtedly turned toward the source of the sound – to me whirling around in terror on my balcony, practically clawing at the doors to be let back inside – and then witnessed me magically being pulled through said doors (which were then shut behind me), never to be seen again.

Little ruins a tranquil twilight balcony moment like a fellow hotel guest shrieking and then being kidnaped. Worst. Vacation. Ever.

Bump! Aaaahhh! Whoa!

The more we pondered how my antics had obviously stunned the poor man, the more absolutely hilarious the entire farce became. We basically didn’t stop laughing for thirty minutes straight, until our sides hurt and we were gasping for air, and we essentially forbid one another from mentioning it again, lest we lose it during dinner.

That didn’t work, of course, because one of us would begin giggling – just the tiniest of bits – and then the other would see, and then it was all downhill from there. We laughed thinking about it the following morning .We laughed on the plane. We laughed during our layover. We laughed when we told the girls about it the day of our return. We’re still laughing about it now.

So, to the man I surprised and stunned on the balcony of the Sheraton Old San Juan: I apologize. Given the gale-force winds that whooshed along the streets all day and night, you’d think I might have anticipated the doors slamming, but I did not. I assure you that I was just fine – my husband was not up to anything nefarious, no matter how it seemed – and the rest of our night went on as scheduled. Except for the laughing fits. Those were not originally planned.

Puerto Rico: La isla de muchas risas.

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This photo has absolutely nothing to do with my story, but Old San Juan sure is perty.

 

 

 

 

I think Mother Nature is just a little bit tipsy this week

We’ve had kind of funny weather at the lake recently – a bit windy, a bit choppy, a hint of rain here, a wickedly hot breeze there, a chilly wind over yonder. The threat of a severe thunderstorm kept the girls inside most of yesterday afternoon and evening, so by this morning, they were in rare (read: drive-you-insane) form.

In an attempt to curb their insanity (and preserve the rest of our sanity – or whatever little of it is left, anyway), I offered to take them for a boat ride. Ella, my most avid boater, immediately agreed, and although I couldn’t convince Annie to join us, my grandma, Phoofsy, decided to come along, too.

Upon hearing this, Ella was momentarily concerned. “But Mom – we won’t be able to go fast if Phoofsy comes with us!” I assured her that it would still be a lovely ride, and she conceded that it would be fun to have Phoof with us… especially if I took Ella out again for an even faster jaunt. After procuring life jackets and towels, we were ready to go. While hardly glassy-smooth, the water in front of our dock looked nicely suited for a simple, pleasant boat ride. Easy, peasy – let’s do this!

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A few light waves, but otherwise lovely, right?

The clouds, on the other hand, did not appear so benevolent. One of the coolest parts of living on a large-ish lake is that its open expanse allows you to see myriad weather patterns coming and going – rolling up from the south, sailing over from the west, very occasionally creeping down from the north. Even cooler, the size of the lake (1.5 miles wide and 15.5 miles long) means that it’s entirely possible for multiple weather phenomena to occur simultaneously. Today, the northwestern portion of the lake was blanketed in clouds with the potential for rain, so I opted to take us southward, where it was perfectly sunny.

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See: dark and stormy to the right (i.e. west); sunny with puffy clouds to the left (that’d be east).

As we made our way down the lake, it was, indeed, bright and shiny, but – for some inexplicable reason – choppy as all get-out. The peaceful landscape in front of our dock gave way to a roiling, jagged roller coaster of hell. One moment, we were bobbing happily along, all “Ooooh, what a beautiful summer morning!” and the next I was looking around for George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg to see if they, too, were struggling with their vessel.


 It may not look like it here, but trust me, it was totally Perfect Storm-esque.

I’ve been boating on the lake more times than I can count, and I am not exaggerating when I say that these were the roughest waves I’ve ever encountered. Ocean-like, they were taller than the boat, cresting with white, frothy peaks and dipping crazy low to draw up steam again. Ella hung on, white-knuckled, for dear life and Phoofsy (someone who is most definitely not a stranger to going out in the boat) sat, stern-faced, determined to – quite literally – ride things out as we flew up into the air and then plummeted down into the trough, water spraying at us from all sides. There seemed to be no speed at which the ride was any less formidable; too slow and we thrashed about like ping-pong balls. Too fast and we risked breaking our teeth from all of the machine gun-esque chattering.

Is it legal to send out the SOS signal because you’re worried that you might break your coccyx? What about your grandma’s coccyx? Should I stop mentioning coccyxes?

For as good a sport as she is, I knew that Phoofsy was hardly enjoying the brutal pounding we were taking, and it hadn’t really been my intention to torture her on our easy peasy ride, so I finally cried “uncle” and turned the boat around. (I might have said something other than “uncle” but thankfully it was too windy for Ella to hear me.) As we bounced our way north, the waves began to ease up a little, and I was thankful that the storm clouds remained mostly to our west.

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 Yep, just off to our left… there they are…
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Still looking relatively hospitable, no?

Things had just settled into a rhythm that didn’t make all of us feel as though we were rumbling over a rock quarry, and I had finally breathed a sigh of relief that, at last, this ride was taking a turn away from water boarding and toward relaxation… when it began to rain. Turns out that the clouds “just a bit to the west” were a little more “east” than I’d thought and, despite my attempts to outrun (outboat?) the droplets – despite the fact that it was STILL SUNNY – it was hopeless.

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By this time, even the CCI pups we’d brought along were like, ENOUGH.

Thankfully, the rain was not particularly strong, so none of us got soaked, but the message was clear: Nice try. Go home. With a sigh of defeat, I turned the boat back to the house, barely managing to ease it back into the hoist without doing any damage. Naturally, by now it had stopped raining, and the water surrounding our dock was as calm as it had been before we began our accursed journey. Rather than tempt fate, Phoofsy ambled out of the boat (“ambled” is generous, but hey, if you can climb out of a boat, perch on the edge of the hoist, and then traipse over a handmade, unsteady wooden bridge to the dock when you’re 94, I get to use the word “ambled”) and called it a day.

Ella, on the other hand, was bound and determined to take me up on my promise of a more raucous ride, so we lowered the hoist and motored back out into the open water… where Ella immediately refused to allow me to increase the speed any faster than we’d gone during our first ride. Without a hint of irony, she looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m fine with going slow, thanks. I’m so glad Phoofsy was with us the last time or else we might really have had trouble in those waves.” 

Given that the weather patterns have been changing so rapidly you could get whiplash trying to keep up, it was no surprise that the water that had been filled with white-capped breakers fifteen minutes earlier was now barely rolling. Our ride was as easy peasy as I’d hoped the first one would be as we took the boat across the lake and nearly all the way down to the south end, then back up and home again. Ella’s hair billowed behind her as she sat up front, arms outstretched horizontally as she “conducted” the air each time we crossed another boat’s wake.

As we approached the shore once more, I joked that she’d better brace herself because, as we all know, docking is not my specialty. She obliged and then waited for me to turn the dial and raise the hoist (and the boat) out of the water, but as I did so, nothing happened. The metal coil refused to budge, wouldn’t even make a sound, as the boat bobbed along beside the dock and we waited… and waited… for the motor to engage…

And then our neighbor called over from their beach to me to ask if our power was out, too, because theirs was – and wasn’t this just the strangest weather we’d been having?

Before I cursed her, I did thank Mother Nature for at least allowing my grandmother to get out of the boat earlier when the power was on, because without a functioning hoist, Ella and I were now floating a good three feet lower than the dock, and ain’t no way Phoofsy could have “ambled” her way out of this one. Unable to park the boat as usual, I realized I’d have to back it up and tie it to the dock cleats – while not banging it up against the posts and also while locating and attaching the bumper buoys – which is super fun if merely docking the boat is a significant challenge.

Well, it took me at least ten minutes (several of which were spent pulling the boat back in line with the dock after Ella realized that I’d attached the wrong end of the rope to the cleat and the rear of the boat had come unmoored – oopsies!), but by God, y’all, I attached it and set out the bumpers and managed to clamber up and onto the dock. Ella, of course, was already a good many yards ahead of me, having breezily climbed out of the boat and skipped her way up the beach without a care in the world.

“Mom? Once we have the power back and get the boat up, can we lower it again tomorrow and go for another ride with Phoofsy?”

Sure, kid. I’m sure she’d love that. Easy peasy.

Summer Vortex

So.

Remember when I said that I was totally looking forward to summer? To all of us finally having a true break, to days with nothing on the docket, to really kicking back and just enjoying?

And remember how I said that I’d undoubtedly look back on that post and chuckle at my naiveté?

Well, HERE I AM. Looking back. And laughing my ass off. With also some tears maybe thrown in. This has only taken seven days*, which is actually a little longer than I would have predicted every summer prior to this one.

Now, let me qualify: this has been a good summer so far. All seven days* of it. And, to my pleasant surprise, I am still continuing to enjoy the doing nothing aspect of it. Which is kind of a misnomer, because we have definitely been up to a lot more than nothing

We have picked snap peas at the farm at which we joined a CSA.IMG_7355Those tasted infinitely better than the ones from the store. Go figure.

The girls created their Summer Fun List….summer fun list
… and have already checked off a good many items.

We, alongside my cousin, Andrew, celebrated my grandma’s 94th birthday by taking what might have been her first-ever selfie.IMG_7373And then I posted it to Facebook. And tagged her in it. Because of course she’s on Facebook.

We’ve been swimming in the lake, which is finally warm enough to not kill the girls.
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‘Cause anaphylaxis would be a bummer of a way to start summer.
Hooray for global warming!

Our garden has already yielded food for the harvesting.
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Those would be radishes.
Annie’s lost another tooth since then, so her smile is even more wonderfully gap-filled now.

The sprinkler has been pulled out and run through…
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… while fully clothed, of course.
In their/my defense, it was a bazillion degrees out that day, so whatever.

First-time sleepovers have been realized.photo_1
And she was still standing the next day, so – success!

Whilst said sleepover was occurring, Annie and I made butter in a jar (de-lish) and fresh-squeezed lemonade.
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We are enjoying said lemonade. Also de-lish.

We picked deliciously ripe strawberries at the little farm just five minutes from our house.photo_3
Yup. They were as good as they look here. And as big, too. 

We have slept beyond our normal school-day wake-up times. We have enjoyed gobs of ice cream (yes, already). We have plans to make zucchini bread (with zucchini from the garden, holla!) and to see a concert and to hurl water balloons at one another with abandon.

So, summer? It’s going splendidly. That Fun List is getting checked off left and right.

You know what’s not getting checked off left and right, however? Anything on MY to-do list. Every night, I glance down at the ever-growing scrawl of things that need accomplishing — weed the garden, mow the lawn, sort through the art cabinet, remove the dried-up highlighters and discarded stickers from the bottom of my piano bag, make phone calls, vacuum — and notice that none of it has been crossed out. And so it’s moved over to the next collection, carefully laid out and rewritten, and when I wake up the following morning, I look at the list and promise myself that today – today, by God! – I will groom the dogs and reorganize the Tupperware and purchase the bathing suit online that I’ve been meaning to get for, oh, an entire month so that I have something that isn’t at least four years old and, like, see-through to wear to Puerto Rico.

Given that it’s summer and all, I have not had to make any lunches. I have not had to run around taking kids to practices or managing homework or planning lessons and organizing childcare.

And you know what else I have not done? ANYTHING.

In just seven days*, the yard seems to have taken on a jungle-like persona and the floors on our main level look as though they’ve never been cleaned. It’s amazing what falls to shit when you’re off berry picking and refereeing and running through sprinklers.

Well, just do that stuff on your list while the girls are occupied, you may think. How quaint!! Let me tell you, it’s damn hard to take care of anything when the girls are around and wanting it to feel like Summer! Yay! all the time. It’s difficult to make phone calls when they are reenacting the climax of Maleficent – in period costume – in the background. It’s not easy sorting through boxes of old clothes when they run through the carefully crafted piles while playing particularly raucous games of “baby.” It’s damn near impossible to do the dishes when slingshots are being fired in your direction (trust me, I’ve tried). And let’s not even talk about the sibling sniping that occurs at regular intervals throughout the day; they are taking button-pushing to levels I did not know existed. In some ways, it’s actually quite impressive.

Simply put: it is neither “fun” nor “easy” for anyone when real-life crap has to be accomplished while the children are tagging along. Not for the girls, not for me. And so very little gets done until it has to or something terrible will befall us because it’s just not worth it making life hell for everyone.

Plus also, I don’t want to be the summer ogre. Come on! Lighten up! SUMMER! SQUEE!!!

Today*, when I announced to the girls that, so sorry, they needed to accompany me to not only Target but also the grocery store AND the pet store, Annie announced that I must think it’s my job to torture them all day long.

She had me. Right on the nose. BINGO.

When I attempted to reason with her, explaining that, on Monday, we did not leave the house for even one minute – despite being woefully out of every essential pantry staple and subsiding on stale dried cherries and shriveled baby carrots – and, instead, made tinfoil rivers and chilled out in the playroom because she and Ella really just wanted to lounge around for a bit, Annie piped up,

“Yeah, well. It’s summer. That’s what’s supposed to happen.”

I then tried to explain that, although it may, in fact, be summer, that does not mean that we can survive without groceries or prescription medications or dog food, and because such goods do not magically fall from the sky (not even Amazon Prime is quite that magical), we occasionally need to go and fetch them. Meaning that they need to come with me, because staying home for hours at a time is kind of, like, illegal… And, unless they’d prefer to live in filth, the house needs to be tidied from time to time (they opted for filth, but this is not a democracy, people) and the laundry needs to be done and all that jazz… So, every so often, Summer Fun Squee!! needs to include real life, too.

This went over very well.

So, to recap: summer is great for laziness and eating and splashing and getting freckles on noses, but can kiss my rear in terms of anything even remotely productive. You gain time laughing but lose sanity. Somehow, in the fresh delight of SCHOOL’S OUT FOR ALL OF US! I actually thought my days would be perfectly balanced between tie dyeing, water slides, reading lakeside, paying the bills, and cooking a nutritious dinner with ingredients grown in our own weed-free garden (because I’d have all sorts of time – and a burning desire – to weed).

Which is kind of like how, pre-Ella, I envisioned Nick and me sprawled on our bed on weekend mornings, our newborn cooing between us, while we read the Sunday New York Times, sipped decaf, and ate lightly toasted bagels. In other words, I’d basically imagined giving birth to an iPad. (I’ve always had a very lively, if completely ludicrous, imagination.)

Instead, summer it is a vortex of disorientation (what day of the week is it again??), mysterious dirt stains (have those socks been changed since school got out?), unidentified rashes (is that poison ivy or a mosquito bite gone awry?), and boxes of popsicles. And flying kites.

So, if you’ve sent me an email since school got out and have been waiting for an answer, or if you noticed that I didn’t “like” your photo on Facebook, or I haven’t managed to pay that bill in time (I think I’m pretty much up on this, but vortex and all), I apologize. Summer Fun! is taking way more brain power and time than I’d anticipated, and even if I attempted to reply to your query, it would probably come out jumbled because of the children putting together a marching band in the kitchen.

* To wit: I began this post nearly a week ago, aka seven days after school got out, and it has taken me an additional six days to find the time to write. I still can’t promise it makes sense, and the items on my To-Do list have not yet been crossed off, but I do know that the glens we hiked this morning made for some great photo shoots. Summer Fun. Squee!