This Part Sucks

Today, we returned our third CCI puppy for Advanced Training. After seventeen months with us, we’ve given her back with the tremendous hope that she eventually graduates and changes someone’s life. We know that what we’re doing is good and worthy and helpful and all that jazz… but right now? It hurts a helluva lot.

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Jambi in her hilariously adorable matriculation cape – see the yellow tassels?

Everywhere we go with our CCI pups, someone we meet says the same thing: “I could never do that because I could never give a dog away.” Everywhere we go, someone asks the same question: “Isn’t it hard to give the dogs back?”

The answer is yes. Yes, it is hard. It’s enormously hard. You grow more than a little attached to a dog that has been a part of your family for almost a year and a half, a puppy you got at 8 weeks old, a pal and sidekick who went absolutely everyplace with you. It isn’t quite the same as when a pet dies, but yes – saying goodbye to a beloved pet is never easy.

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One last hug before she was on her way…

Today at matriculation/graduation, I noticed that another puppy raiser was wearing a homemade pin/button made out of Scrabble tiles. It read: This Part Sucks. I teared up and laughed at the same time, turning to her with an emphatic, “Damn straight”

So, therefore, we come to the other question that someone asks us everywhere we bring our dogs: “How can you do this?” That answer to that is easy.

We do this because of the little girl today – eight years old, maybe – who received her dog at graduation. When the Lab who would change her life walked across the stage to greet her, the girl’s face lit up brightly enough to be seen in the very back row, and she threw her arms in the air with ecstatic jubilation.

We do this because of the woman today – in her sixties, maybe – who received her dog, the one that will help her now that she’s had a stroke. But before this? The woman raised FIFTEEN puppies for CCI. Now, she has finally received her own assistance dog. Funny, how the world turns, isn’t it?

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Poor, long-suffering Jambi…

We do this because of the man today – in his forties, maybe – who proudly walked across the stage to greet his dog using his cane instead of his wheelchair. His wife said that even though he and his dog had only been together for a few days, already her husband was more confident, more secure, stronger.

We do this because of the parents today who said that their hope – now that their children had assistance dogs – was that people would approach their previously isolated sons and daughters more readily and they could make new friends. We do this because of the dog who will be working in a crisis shelter, providing comfort and much-needed joy to victims of domestic violence.

We do this because we get to have an adorable bundle of puppyness live with us for over a year. We get to snuggle with this bundle, receive kisses from this bundle, and scratch this bundle behind its ridiculously soft ears. We get to bring this bundle with us absolutely everywhere – to restaurants, on airplanes, to movies, to the grocery store, to the girls’ classrooms – and spread the word about what an incredible organization s/he’s training for.

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Chillin’ with her best bud, Langston, and our other dog, Joey, the night before we left.

We do this because we get to bone up on our obedience training skills. With each dog, we learn more about how to be good dog owners and caretakers and – we hope – to become better each time around. We do this because we get to work with all sorts of teachers and dog sitters, and to introduce them to the world of service dog training.

We do this because we want Ella and Annie to grow up learning what it means to be responsible for raising a pet – feeding, walking, training, keeping healthy. They get to experience the unconditional love that only a dog can give. We do this because they get to learn how to give back to others, even when it’s difficult. We do this so that they can understand that the world is bigger than what they see around them and that they are so very fortunate to have the lives that we live. We do this to show them how important it is to help those in need. We do this to show them that this is what life’s really all about.

We do this because it makes us feel incredibly good. No matter how our days have gone, no matter what mistakes we’ve made, no matter what we haven’t yet accomplished, at the end of the day when we’re raising a service dog puppy, we can know that at least we have done something right. Some good has come out of each and every day that our pups are with us, because there is the chance that these little furballs will change someone’s life for the better, forever.

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Proudly wearing their Jambi the Zombie t-shirts immediately before turn-in.

We do this because, when all is said and done, that’s really why we’re on this planet in the first place: to love, to laugh, to learn, to find joy, to spread joy, and to help out whenever we can. Sometimes, doing so is easy. Other times, helping those in need is really, really hard. Giving back a dog that we’ve grown to love is miserable – but that doesn’t make it not worth doing. On the contrary, sometimes, the more difficult something is, the greater the return.

Jambi (which rhymes with zombie; this is important) was an absolute delight to raise. She was playful, gentle, loving, and unusually calm. She had patience beyond her years, a wonderfully sweet disposition, and was unflappable even when faced with the loudest, craziest situations (often involving our own children). She was so overjoyed to see us after we returned from being away – even if only for an hour – that her entire body wriggled with elation; we called her Wiggle Butt. She also earned the nickname of Miss Piggy because she had a habit of snuffling like a pig whenever something interested her. Jambi had the best cold, wet nose of any dog I’ve ever met. I really miss that cold, wet nose tonight.

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My constant companion for seventeen months…

We have no idea how she’ll do in Advanced Training (which is typically six months long); most pups do not make it all the way through to become service dogs because they need to be perfect, and perfection is a difficult standard for any of us to attain (even me). Jambi is pretty damn near perfect, but you just never know. For now, we’ll cross our fingers and hope like crazy – that she isn’t lonely or homesick, that she makes fast friends with her new kennel-mates, that her trainers adore her as much as we do, that we’ll get another puppy to raise soon, that Langston isn’t too depressed over her departure (this is a real fear for us – no, seriously), and that the rest of our hearts heal soon so that we can focus again on why we do this in the first place.

(Hint: it isn’t the abundance of dog fur all over our house.)

Most of all, we’re crossing our fingers and hoping like crazy that she makes it – that she’s just the right material to be a service dog and that she’s able to change someone’s life forever.

Well, someone else’s life, that is. She’s already changed ours.

We love you, Beast! Go on and wiggle your way into someone’s heart – and also learn to turn on lights and pick things up from the ground, too, while you’re at it. You were the very best; thank you so much for being our girl and for teaching us all that you did.
xoxo

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Note: We are always looking for people who would like to become CCI puppy raisers, especially in the Rochester area (we’re the only ones! Come on now!!). I know, I know… you think you can’t do it. You could never give up a dog. I’m here to tell you that, yeah. This part sucks. It really, really sucks. But when you see that graduate cross the stage with the dog that is finally allowing her to feel human, to be confident, to be independent… You know you could give up a dozen more pups to help other people lead happier, more fulfilling lives. This is the good stuff – why we’re here on this planet in the first place – I promise you. Won’t you consider it?

And the living is lazy

We’re halfway* through summer break, so this seems as good a time as any to look back on what’s already occurred and decide if the second half of summer should look like the first, or if some drastic changes should be made.

* We’re technically two days past the halfway mark. Close enough.
** I realize this only applies to those of us in the northeast and on the west coast; some of you have children returning to school in about ten minutes, which, frankly, is just crazy talk.

Upon reflection, it seems that summer has passed by in a pretty summer-like fashion: family visits, vacations, s’mores, camps, fresh veggies, swimming, humidity, and fruity cocktails. The girls have gamely checked things off of their Summer Fun List, but have also been happy to just hang out. Hell, Nick and I have even managed to have a good time along the way.

The problem with summer is this: it’s a total wasteland. Everything just floats about without any boundaries or structure, because hey, It’s Summer! Weekdays resemble weekends – no early bedtimes to enforce, dinner whenever it suits us, “exciting” activities that would typically be reserved for Saturday taking place any old time. I wake up each morning and have to check which day of the week it is. This past Wednesday, Annie asked me if it was Thursday and I told her yes – not to mess with her, but because I truly forgot which day it was – and she promptly burst into tears because Thursday is the day we pick up our farm share, and she thought we’d missed it.

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The haul from our garden, not the farm share…

I understand Annie’s freak-out. See, I’m someone who craves predictability (even though I’m wildly impulsive). I like to know when things will happen and how long they’ll last. The open days of summer don’t fill me with joyful anticipation; they fill me with anxiety. (It’s no coincidence that my Xanax supply wanes between Memorial and Labor Day, if you know what I’m saying.) I’m not necessarily unhappy at the lack of structure; it just feels really bizarre, like everything’s slightly off-kilter.

It’s kind of bizarre for my girls, too. The routine that they’d become used to is gone, and it’s exciting and unnerving all at the same time. They don’t see their school friends regularly during the summer. For a while, this is good – a much-needed break – but right about now they start to really miss their pals. With vacation and camp schedules colliding, though, getting together can be hard. Summer is challenging in other ways, too. We eat boatloads of crappy food, which is delicious (cheesy bread and Helluva Good dip, holla!), but also feels… well… crappy. In July and August, we spend as much time away from home as we do at home, which is a blast and all, but can feel somewhat shiftless. The girls have been putting themselves to bed early (whaaa?) because I’ve had to awaken them in the mornings for camp, and they’re tired of being tired.

Summer is weird, man!

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All dressed up for their performance at their aerial arts camp.

People don’t return phone calls in the summer. You, me, the aquatics director at the Y – messages are left but no one seems to care. I don’t know why this is, but people lose the ability to call anyone back the moment the kids are out of school. Actually, I do know why this is: because our Call Back Time no longer exists. That portion of the day when you’d routinely sit down and make sure you got in touch with folks? Gone. We’re on Summer Time now, which essentially means we’re like the contractors in The Money Pit who keep insisting that Tom Hanks’s house will be repaired in “two weeks” and then taking twelve million weeks to actually complete the job.

That may be the biggest kicker of them all: in summer, there is ALL THIS TIME, and yet NOTHING GETS DONE.

During the school year, Nick will come home at the end of the day and ask how my day went, and I’ll be all, “Oh, it was fine. I’m really glad I was able to take the dogs for that walk before it rained, because after I subbed this morning – four kindergarten music classes, really cute but lots of nose pickers – I got completely soaked when I went to Wegmans, but at least I remembered to pick up the toilet paper. So I was still soaked when I went to the Y, but that was okay, because I was sweating, you know? And then I put the groceries away and got cleaned up, but while I was in the shower I noticed that the tiles were looking kind of gross, so I re-grouted the lower three layers of tile and decided I might as well reorganize the linen closet as long as I was in there. After the girls and I walked home from school, they had a snack and we went to Target – they did their math facts in the car and I picked up the prescription – and while they were finishing the rest of their homework, I spoke to the insurance agency; they said we just need to resubmit the proposal and they’ll take care of it. Watch out in the dining room, I just mopped in there – hey, while I’m thinking of it, are you able to come home early tomorrow night? I’m teaching piano late and the babysitter cancelled. Oh, and I finally got the mango chutney when I went to the store, so we’re having that new chicken recipe we saw on TV the other night. How was your day?”

Now, when Nick comes home and asks how my day went, I’m either, “Where have you been? Why are you working on Sunday?” (and he’s like, “It’s Tuesday”), or “It was so good. We made brownies and the girls showed me their new dance routine six times and I actually managed to sort through the mail. Oh, and the leftover mango chutney chicken should be thawed in about an hour.”

Some of this, I understand, because I impose limits on myself. “Yeah, you should be answering those emails/editing those photos/cleaning out the art cabinet/eating something other than Starbursts… but it’s SUMMER! Will you get the chance to sit on the dock/play with the kids/do a crossword/stuff your face with Starbursts once the school year rolls around? No, you will not.” 

And that’s kinda good, right? The Letting Go and Being In The Moment?

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We went to a local ropes course…
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… and it rocked. 

Yes, yes, it is, and I’m glad I’m enjoying myself – and now that I think about it, my Xanax intake has been pretty nonexistent lately – but I seriously don’t know which end is up. The hours blend together and time passes both slowly and wicked-fast and suddenly it’s dinnertime and I realize I haven’t been to the store in over a week. I’ve got at least a dozen potential blog posts in my head that I really, really would like to write, but nope. No writing. My children often wash their hair in the lake, but we’re not at the lake every day, so I seriously cannot tell you when the last time was that they bathed.

Does that matter? Does hair need to be washed in the summer?

We had new neighbors move in next door yesterday – the former ones had lived in their house for 35 years, with us beside them for the last seven – and it was bittersweet. We were sad to see our awesome neighbors go, but Ella and Annie are excited because the new ones have young kids, including two girls. We haven’t met them yet, but I’m hoping we make a good impression. I’d debated pulling up the weeds that were growing on our side of the fence – you know, to show them how tidy our yard is so they don’t think they moved in next to people whose yard is a mess – but then I was like, “Ehhhh… Why give them the wrong idea?”

That’s what happens when you move in during the summer: you meet Summer Emily. I mean, it’s not exactly like I’m Weeder Extraordinaire during the school year, but I’m somewhat more put together, you know? Then again, maybe this is a good thing; they can meet Summer Emily now, and then when September rolls around and, like magic, the yard is properly maintained and the children leave the house with their hair fixed and I actually know what day of the week it is, they’ll be all, School Year Emily is really impressive!

Yep. That’s probably exactly what will happen.

After looking at the calendar, the second half of our summer looks really similar to the first. All things considered, it seems to have been a nice balance thus far, so I don’t really know that anything needs to change in August. Which is a good thing, ’cause let’s face it – they’re not going to change, because Summer Emily has absolutely no momentum. Except when it comes to eating ice cream; I am a whiz at that.

So, welcome, new neighbors. Welcome to our cul-de-sac, to this fantastic neighborhood that we could not be luckier to call home. We plan to formally meet you once you’ve settled in (and might even bring baked goods, if I can manage to cobble together the ingredients), and we’re looking forward to getting to know you. I hope you like dogs.

Oh, and if you need anything, I’d recommend just ringing the doorbell and asking for it. Whatever you do, don’t call and leave a message; Summer Emily is apparently not returning calls until after Labor Day.

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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!

 

 

Way down south in Dixie

We really did have a delightful time while we were away in Kiawah. Last year, our April break had been quite early, so the ocean wasn’t swimmable yet and, despite being rather far south, the coastal air was even a bit too chilly to do much pool swimming. Hence, high on the girls’ list this year was being able to get thoroughly wet.

Mission: accomplished.

Our first afternoon was gorgeous; not too hot, not a cloud in the sky, and an ocean at our fingertips. Er, toes.
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Thank you, iPhone panorama.

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Ahhhh, late-afternoon sun…

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This fellow was still alive. Nick returned him to his home, accordingly.
And Ella, with her video camera, taking it all in? Fantastic.

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I still can’t stop with the ocean-from-behind shots. They’re my kryptonite.

The following morning proved equally delicious. We spent pretty much the entire day at the beach and the pool.
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The tide was suuuuuuper far out, leaving us with an enormous stretch of beach upon which to play.

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If you click on the photos, you can see them bigger… That’s a bit more fun, just sayin’.

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My girl was so ready to take on that ocean.

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Yes, this means I waded out while still holding my good camera, just to catch her glee as she skipped over the incoming wave.

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It was worth it.

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Getting ready to bodysurf, something they learned how to do during this trip…

Not pictured: me, bodysurfing for the first time. To hear Annie tell it, “Mommy bodysurfed for the very first time ever – and she had the LONGEST RIDE OF THE DAY! It was a least FIFTY feet!!” I’m not one to brag, but I’m also not one to lie… It’s true. I rocked it.

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Jambi wasn’t so impressed with the Atlantic – she’s the weirdo Lab who doesn’t like water – but she gamely tagged along for the ride anyway. Not that she had a choice.

Alas, we couldn’t spend all of our time at the shore – partly because we needed to do things like eat, partly because there are other things we love to do when we’re in Kiawah, and partly because the weather took a turn for the cold. Still, we found plenty with which to occupy ourselves.

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Miss Annabelle awaits her entrée.
I love how her fork is turned the wrong way.

 If there’s a flat surface, we’ll bike on it.
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Go, Papa, go!
Because of the basket, I totally hear the Wicked Witch of the West music right now.

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Don’t worry – she wore a helmet. We just took a 20 foot spin because I asked Nick to take a pic of us on the tandem bike.
Check out her camera-ready grin.

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I was taking pictures of the rest of the family arriving on their bikes, so 
I told Jambi to sit.
She did.

We’ve been talking about visiting a local plantation for years, but wanted to wait until the girls were old enough to appreciate it at least a little. A couple of weeks prior to our trip, Ella serendipitously brought home a book titled Show Way, a marvelously-voiced story that segued nicely into talking about plantations (“The characters in the book are even from South Carolina, mom!”). Coincidentally, the cooler weather provided the perfect opportunity to make a day trip, and it was just as we’d hoped. To quote the girls, “Who knew a plantation could be so interesting?”

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I guess I really do have a thing about shots from behind…
Grand Meg and Nick did enjoy the gardens at Magnolia Plantation, though. We all did, actually.

Plantations aside, we also just hung out… a lot. It was good.

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Annie attempted to pass off Uncle Taylor’s hat as her own.

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He got it back before he left.
For what it’s worth, this is our first sibling shot in quite some time. Holla!

Sure, we go to Kiawah for the weather. And the beaches. And the pools. And the spanish moss-lined trees hovering, canopy-like, over the one-lane road out to the island, just waiting to grow stealthily and wrap us all up in Southern hospitality. We go for the humidity in the air, enveloping us in velvety warmth. And the fresh fish and sweet tea, brimming with enough sugar to make the tooth fairy weep. And the ever-present sound of the ocean, rushing in and filling the world with a pleasantly rumbling echo.

This was taken off of our balcony on the night of the blood moon.

So, this may seem like the world’s least-exciting video… but that’s kind of what I love about it. The white-noise-rumble of the ocean in the background, the wind through the trees. It’s unexciting, sure… but it’s also peaceful and calming and relaxing and basically heaven.

Yes, we go to Kiawah for all of those things. But most of all? We go to be with family. To be with my dad and stepmom. To spend time with my brother and his boyfriend, Gary. And, best of all, to give Ella and Annie the opportunity to enjoy their Papa and Grand Meg, their Uncle Taylor and Gary.

It’s one thing to think your own kids are awesome (when they’re not driving you to drink fuzzy navels while you prepare dinner. Not that I would know). It’s another to see your friends and relatives enjoy them. But it’s a special kind of deliciousness to behold your dad and stepmom and brother and his partner (and also my fantastic cousin, Laurie, and her husband, Keith – who live in Charleston – although I don’t have any pictures of them this time around) just absolutely adore not only spending time with your children, but genuinely liking them as human beings.

I know that they like hanging out with Nick and me (to a certain degree, anyway), sure. But they cannot wait to be with Annie and Ella, to play games with them, to be silly with them, to get down on the floor and pretend with them, to ride bikes with them, to feed them treats that would otherwise be forbidden, to joke with them, to read with them, to listen to them, to laugh with them. They allow the girls to crawl into bed with them at ungodly early hours in the morning, to steal their sunglasses and shoes and pose with them, to ruffle their hair and call them goofy names. They cheerfully tolerate them putting on countless dance shows and singing exhibitions, asking the same questions for the thousandth time, and never giving them a moment’s peace.

Watching my family love my children for exactly who they are is… well… incredible.
And that is why we come to Kiawah.

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Gary’s GoPro captured Ella with him underwater… along with Ella’s underwater camera, filming them both. A two-fer!

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I just love these two photos – one taken by me, poolside…
… and the other taken by Gary from within the pool.

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You totally know that I’ve asked for a GoPro for Mother’s Day.

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Okay, so – truth be told – the weather at the end of the trip made things a little tough. You hate to complain about the weather on your vacation (I mean, it’s a vacation, after all, and it’s damn lucky you’re even on one), but when you go someplace so that you can swim – or at least enjoy being warm – and it winds up being much too cold or rainy to be outside, it’s a wee bit crummy. Next year, our spring break is monstrously early again (thanks ever so much, Easter), and we may try to head a way down south in Dixie a little later in April (even if it means pulling the girls from school for a few days; shhhh…) so that we’re more likely to encounter warm weather.

No matter what, though, these folks’ll be there.
And that’s the bestest part of all.

Especially if we throw some in sweet tea, too.
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Breaking news

It really was a lovely trip to the Lowcountry – adventures and photos and stories that I want to share, memories I want to revel in.

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But right now, all I can manage is a teaser.

With just these few days left of break, I need – I want – to focus on other things. Bill-paying, yard-raking, grocery-getting, Easter shopping (kind of forgot that Sunday is Easter; oops), suitcase-unpacking, email-answering, house-cleaning, phone call-making… Okay, those are more needs than wants.

What I want to focus on is this:
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Not necessarily the swimming part (although it was remarkably refreshing), but the kid part. I’m already feeling the same stress start to creep in that was present before we left (which is particularly annoying, given that we just got back and you’d think my brain would suffer relaxation-lag, like jet-lag), that overwhelming sense of too-much-not-enough-time… but I am deliberately trying to ignore it, to push it away, because I want to spend the rest of this time enjoying my girls, really enjoying them.

The food will be purchased. The errands will be run. The yard will… well, I’m not sure there. Easter will happen. Everything will get done.

Or it won’t.

Either way, there are pancakes to be made and an all-girls grocery run to be had, and then I don’t know, but I am looking forward to it.
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4.18.14 breakfast pals

It’s still spring break, and I want to enjoy every day of it.
I’ll be back next week…

Throwback Thursday: Carolina in my Mind

Nick and I have been coming to Kiawah Island for the past thirteen years. My dad and stepmom own a house here, less than an hour outside of Charleston, South Carolina, and we’ve been wonderfully fortunate enough to be able to visit almost every year.

2006
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That’s one year-old Ella, in case you were curious.

It’s a spot where time seems to stand still, where we know each curve of the road and every tree, where we feel ourselves almost physically settle in as soon as we arrive.

2008
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The girls looooove hanging with their Papa and Grand Meg.

Because we don’t live near our extended family, we spend most of our “vacation” days visiting parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. It is always superb to see everyone, but between seeing friends and seeing the sights and getting special time with each grandparent, the trips are whirlwinds – happy, delightful whirlwinds – but not relaxing “vacations” in the traditional sense of the word.

2009
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I can’t quite stay away from the beach-from-behind shot.

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Coming to Kiawah is truly a vacation. There is nothing to do here but unwind, let go, explore, and take it all in; and so… we do. We breathe more deeply. We sleep a little better. We eat deliciously. We get too much sun on our noses despite copiously reapplying sunscreen. We ride bikes. We get wet. We enjoy grandparent spoilings. We laugh a lot.

2010
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We also eat lollipops as big as our heads.

We have been in Kiawah for the past five days; today, we head home. It’s never easy getting back on that plane, leaving the sand and the water and the spanish moss and the magnolia trees and the giggles and the hugs behind… But I know that we will be back.

2011
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Until then, I have scads of new photos to go through, plus hundreds of old ones to tide me over (see what I did there?), and more memories and blessings than I can possibly count.