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.

DCIM100GOPRO

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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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10.04 sunset beach

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.

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack

Ahhhh. The snowpiles have been reduced to the ones we see, filthy and gray, pushed aside in parking lots. The birds are making enough noise in the morning to make it thoroughly hard to fall back asleep if one awakens at 5:30 a.m. to use the commode (and also if one has ADHD and notices every. little. sound). The dogs are darkening the kitchen floor with layers of mud, brought in from each trip out back because where we once had “grass” we now have “dirt.” The kids are beginning to wear shorts to school (despite the temperatures not making it out of the lower 40s). There are no buds on the trees yet, but I did glimpse three crocuses poking defiantly out of the ground at one of my piano student’s houses.

It would appear that spring is – finally – officially springing, which can mean one thing: it’s baseball season.

For… oh… as long as I can remember, I guess, I’ve enjoyed baseball. Or, should I clarify, I enjoy watching and cheering on baseball. (I am terrible at the actual mechanics of baseball, myself, although I did play softball when I was in fifth grade and my dad proudly said I had “the nicest practice swing of anybody on the team.” I couldn’t hit the ball to save my soul, mind you, but my swing was beautiful.)

I grew up in a staunchly Yankees-rooting house, and they became “my” team sometime in high school. Right around the time I graduated from college, the Bronx Bombers acquired some incredible players – Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte – and went on a hot streak, scooping up several World Series titles in quick succession, and it became even more fun to be a fan of the team. (That’s one of the benefits of rooting for the winningest team in all of professional sports; I recommend it. Although this year hasn’t started off quite so grandly. Hm.)

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Playoffs, 2004, with Ella on board. I’m normally an avoid-messing-with-the-pregnant-belly-at-all-costs-because-ew-gross kind of person, but how often do you get to get to dress up like a baseball when your team is in the playoffs??
Okay, it’s still pretty
ew-gross. Fair enough.

Nick had the misfortune, sports-wise, of growing up in St. Paul, which made it natural for the Twins to become his team. I married him anyway, and have grown to root for the Twins myself (so long as they’re not playing the Yanks). In fact, the only MLB game that either of our girls has attended was a Twins game, back in ’05 when Ella was new.
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It may have been a Twinkies game, but she’s still in proper Yankees gear. Duh.

My mom and stepdad have had season tickets to the Yankees for quite some time, but making it down at exactly the right time for Ella or Annie to see a game just hasn’t happened. Plus also, there are only two tickets, meaning only one of our girls could attend… and, given that the seats cost about as much as rescuing an endangered dolphin pod, it seems a bit of a waste, considering that our offspring become bored with baseball almost immediately after the first pitch has been thrown.

Enter our minor league team, the Rochester Red Wings (who are, funnily enough, the Twins’ farm team). What it lacks in terms of major league grandiosity it makes up for in just about every other way. The stadium is less than twenty minutes from our house and parking is a breeze. Every seat is a good one and there’s room for the kids (and antsy adults) to run around on the grassy areas beside the field. The food is dandy (for a ballpark) and no one minds if you switch seats mid-game, so long as the seats you move to weren’t already occupied. (Given the lackluster attendance rates, it’s a good bet that they weren’t.)

And, at $8 a seat (when purchased at the box office; they’re cheaper online), Nick and I don’t care if the girls last half an inning or all nine; either way, we’ve gotten our money’s worth.

That the baseball itself is pretty damn good is a lovely bonus.

The Red Wings’ home opener was supposed to be on Saturday but, due to poor weather, was postponed till Sunday. Nick and I asked the girls if they’d rather attend a local children’s theater production of Pinocchio or the ballgame and they voted enthusiastically for the latter. At first, I chided myself for not doing a better job of properly raising little supporters of the arts, but then learned that the reason they’d chosen sports over theater was because Dippin’ Dots were available at the stadium.

And that, my friends, is something I can get behind, because I will do almost anything to get myself some good grub. Look at my little foodies in the making! Amen.

We arrived only minutes before the game’s slated 2:05 start, just in time to catch the Boy Scout color guard and the fireworks that were set off just outside of the stadium. I’ll admit, it was the first time I’d caught fireworks in the middle of the day, and it was kinda neat; good on ya, Red Wings. We were easily able to get ourselves four tickets to the game – third base line so we’d be in the sun (because even though it was nice out, a sharp chill still hung in the air) – and watched the first pitch under 55-degree, cloudless skies.

It’s not the majors, but it was fantastic.
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See: Really lovely.

Within minutes, ironically, we discovered that our “sunny” upper-deck seats placed us squarely in the area that was overtaken by shadows as the sun moved across the afternoon sky, and suddenly 55 degrees felt quite nippy. Rather than shiver it out in our original seats, we simply moved forward one row… and then another… and another… always inching ourselves into the sun-warmed bleachers.

We were hardly the only ones doing so, either. Rather, it seemed that the entire stadium’s worth of fans was ebbing and flowing, amoeba-like, seeking out the sunny spots like a dog looking for the warmest place to lie down for a nap. Around the fourth inning, I noticed that the fans on first base side had not only moved downward, but inward, in their search of the sun, crammed into one thin sliver of un-shaded glory.

To wit:
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If we just move a bit to the left – yep, just one more, keep scootching down – we’ll all fit in here…

Can’t see what I mean? How ’bout if I move in closer?
opening day2bSqueeeeezed in. Such is the benefit of a minor league ballpark: empty seats are free game, baby.

As predicted, the girls lost interest in the actual game as soon as it began, despite my whispered explanations (“See how that guy’s not touching the base? That’s called leading off…”), so we entertained them in the best way we knew how: by getting food. Yes, of course there were Dippin’ Dots — and also hot dogs, sausages, and some really nifty fresh-cut potato chips with dipping sauces.

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Some families like to take selfies of their faces while at the ball game. I prefer to catch us doing what we do best: eating.

It got exciting for a while – the Red Wings scored in the first inning and then had a three-run homer in the second (the girls’ first home run sighting) – but once the food had been gone through and my explanations began to fall flat, Nick did what fathers have been doing since the dawn of time to entertain their children at sporting events: he bought them silly trinkets and attempted to bribe them.

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Their first foam fingers! They were quite psyched.
I can’t even see the words “foam fingers” anymore without thinking disturbing thoughts (not like I was really seeing the words “foam fingers” a lot before). Thanks, Miley.

When Annie began poking us in the head with her finger (and, subsequently, Nick threatened to take it away for good) and Ella began muttering about how cold she had become (we finally reached a point where we could no longer move forward, and were swallowed in shadow shortly thereafter), we agreed that it was time to call it a day. Hey, they lasted five entire innings; that’s pretty much a double-header in our house.

Is our minor league park like attending a MLB game? Nope. Not at all. Everything’s pared down, the atmosphere isn’t quite as intense, and the fans are more subdued.

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Case in point: the crowd cheered the loudest when this sign came up on the field. 
This makes sense to me, though, because tacos are definitely something I support. WOLF WHISTLE, baby!

But that’s okay with me because, after all these years, it turns out that I just love baseball, any baseball. Some day, Ella and Annie will make it to Yankee Stadium (even if it’s not really Yankee Stadium anymore), and they’ll be able to sit through the entire game. With luck, they’ll even enjoy it. For the time being, though, being able to share baseball with my girls in a way that works for all of us is a pretty cool thing. Especially when the water is running and we don’t have to unzip our snowsuits to use the port-a-potties.

And it is the umpteenth reason why moving to Rochester was such a stellar decision those seven years ago.

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Yet another minor league ballpark perk… Bored? Looking for more sun? Just want to stretch your legs? Then get out of your damn seats and have a sit on the lawn, why don’t you!

If we can just make it through mud season and settle into spring that actually feels like spring, then I’ll really feel like giving Rochester a high five.

 

Baby, Why Don’t We Go (Aka: Cruisin’ Part Deux)

And now, the thrilling conclusion to our Disney Cruise chronicles. I know you’re pumped!!

The first night, we sailed (is that the right term? Boated? Cruised? Went?) to Nassau in the Bahamas, where the ship docked for the day. Instead of disembarking (do you like my cool cruise lingo?), we opted to stay on board and take advantage of the ship’s offerings while everything was a little less crowded.dcl3
Nassau lighthouse that was just begging to have its picture taken. Hellllllllloooo, lighthouse!

We swam. We watched movies by the pool and got ice cream from the self-serve machine just for the hell of it. Twice. The girls went to the kids’ club. We tried the drinks of the day and went down this absolutely crazy water slide that sucked you through a tube and then swung out over the side of the ship. We ate more food. The girls went to the kids’ club. (Yes, I know I said that twice.) We explored the ship and got to know one of the bartenders and then ate more food. We saw shows and waved to the myriad Disney characters who were greeting ecstatic lines of kids. We donned bandanas and eye patches for pirate night. We ate more food. And we collapsed into our beds that night so fully exhausted, we could no longer keep our eyes open.

The following day, we arrived at Disney’s teeny private island, Castaway Cay (which is pronounced KEY; I know, it’s weird, but it’s a fact).dcl6
It really was small – that’s it in its entirety.

This time, we had no intention of remaining on the ship. As soon as we deposited our bags and towels on the gorgeous, pristine beach, we were off to our first adventure: petting, feeding, and snorkeling with stingrays. (I’d like to pretend we were stupid brave enough to do this with potentially dangerous stingrays, but these guys had had their stingers gently filed down so that they couldn’t harm us.)dcl11
Hungry, dude?

I’m not gonna lie… it was a little weird having these floppy, slippery beings suck the food out of your hand like an rabid vacuum (they don’t really have teeth, but their mouths are… knobby?). They were quite majestic, though, undulating and gliding through the water, so we soon got over our fears. Or, at least, Nick and I did; we couldn’t quite convince the girls to participate in the feeding. And, actually, Ella never quite worked up her courage to associate with the stingrays, period, but Annie was game to snorkel with them once the Hoover portion had concluded.

After our sixty minute sojourn was over, we donned our snorkel gear once more to explore the reef. Proving that her earlier trepidation was due to an extreme dislike of stingrays (who knew?), and not of snorkeling, Ella joined Nick in swimming as far out in the bay as was possible, ooohing and ahhing at the sunken ship (“Mom, I think Disney probably put that there… but it was still cool!”) and the many tropical fish.

Hunger soon got the best of us, so we eagerly piled our plates high at the BBQ buffet (more food!), listening to the sounds of the crab races that were being held only a few feet away. (I mean actual racing of crabs; Annie watched as the winning crab was crowned. It was pretty damn funny.) The rest of the afternoon was filled with highs (more snorkeling) and lows (a bicycle ride to “lookout point” that proved too arduous for Annie, who got partway before collapsing into a heap and declaring she needed to walk back. In the 85 degree Bahamian sun. Which I’d sworn not to complain about, given how freakin’ freezing it’s been at home, but which I might have cursed while hissing at Annie that she needed to get back on the bike and just pedal a little harder, for God’s sake. Absolutely my finest moment of the trip).

We splashed and swam. We ate and shopped. We snorkeled and played in the sand. We laughed and relaxed. And we promised, as soon as possible, that we’d take another cruise.
castaway cayA play area in the middle of the water? Why not! Yes, those are the girls, waving to us from the bouncy bridge on the right.

Everyone who’s gone on a Disney cruise can’t say enough about the ship’s staff – how welcoming they are, how friendly, how helpful, how gregarious. Although we’re terribly unoriginal here, we absolutely echo those statements: our cast members KICKED. ASS. We did not encounter a single employee – from the crews quite literally swabbing the decks to the performers to the waitstaff to the front desk people – who was anything shy of tremendous. Every single one – all of them! EVERY SINGLE ONE! – greeted us with a smile, whether it was at 7 a.m. or 1 a.m., whether there were screaming children all around or it was silent, whether it was the beginning or the end of their sixteen hour work day (I’m not kidding; these people work their butts off). In fact, not only did they greet us smiling, they seemed honestly happy to see us.

Our housekeeper even found the time to fold and twist our towels into adorable animal shapes every night when he turned down our covers, turned the sofa into a bunk bed, and laid out the chocolates and the following day’s itinerary. I know this is standard practice, but doing this for every room in his block has got to be tedious, man.

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Even “Bolt” got the sunglass treatment!

We had the same waitstaff for all of our sit-down meals (hi, Emilia from Italy and Ilham from Indonesia!), and every time they saw us, they made us feel like we made their nights. Ordering more than one appetizer? No problem. You’d like to trade this for that so your menu can be gluten-free tomorrow? We’ve got it. They used steak knives cut the girls’ meat so we could enjoy our own meals. They refilled our drinks without us asking. They chatted with us and answered our never-ending questions. “No” was never an option; “I’ll see what I can do!” was.

In fact, that seemed to be the mantra for the entire staff: we’ll see what we can do to make this trip incredible for you. Case in point… The very first afternoon, while I ordered myself the spiffy (alcoholic) drink of the day, I spied a super-cute Disney Cruise Line cup behind the bar that was emblazoned with Olaf the snowman and the Frozen logo. My BFF had requested Frozen paraphernalia for her daughter, and I’d struck out so far (apparently, the Frozen merchandise disappears as soon as it arrives ; the cast member at the Disney Store in Downtown Disney – the world’s largest Disney Store – told customers they were all sold out and their best bet would be to check online…!), so this was a find! But, seeing as the only way to procure the cup was to purchase the non-alcoholic drink of the day and my daughters were currently occupied (see above: kids’ club), I figured I’d just pick up the Frozen cup at a later time.

Naturally, I completely forgot about buying the cup until the very end of our very last night on the cruise. At 11:50 p.m., I asked our server – at an adults-only club on the third deck – if he knew whether or not they had any Frozen cups at the bar. His response: “Let me see what I can do!” After bringing us our drinks, he informed me that, no, they didn’t have those cups, but that the bar up at the pool might – and that he would check for me. And so he trekked up to the ninth deck at midnight (which was after the poolside bar had closed) to look for a damn kids’ Frozen cup… and returned five minutes later carrying this:

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Yes, this is the actual cup, which means – no, I haven’t mailed it to my BFF yet.
Surprise, Evie!!

I don’t even know if he charged us for it.

The reason I do not know this is because we did not buy our drinks that night (not that round, anyway). Which brings me to to the very best part of our trip: free drinks!

No, no. I jest.
The drinks are most definitely not free.
But I am in the dark about whether or not we were charged for the cup.

See, we didn’t pay for those drinks because the best thing happened: we made friends. (Slow claps all around. I’ll wait.) But hold on – hear me out, because this is really spectacular.

Nick, Ella, Annie, and I went on this trip as a little foursome, and were very happy to do so. We didn’t plan on “meeting” people beyond folks to say hi to near the pool, and we certainly didn’t expect to make actual, for real friends. We did know that we’d be seated with the same people each night for our sit-down dinner (each table “rotates” through the full-service restaurants, retaining both the same diners and the same wait staff each night) and, secretly, we hoped that we wouldn’t hate these people. No, truly – Nick and I discovered after the fact that we each had our fingers very, very crossed that we didn’t despise the thought of sitting next to these people night after night; anything short of outright loathing would be a bonus.

Imagine our delight, then, when we arrived that first evening to discover that we’d be dining with four other folks — a mom and a dad (I’m going to call them Miss L and Mr. D), their daughter, J, and Miss L’s cousin’s daughter, S. Both L and S – who are best friends – are in third grade, just like Ella, and they hit it off immediately. Although we’d arranged the seating so Annie and Ella would be next to Nick and me, by the end of the meal, we’d switched places so that the four girls could be next to one another and yuk it up.

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Mom! Look who we found by the pool! Can we get more ice cream??

Disney is not stupid, y’all. It is exceedingly unlikely that we were coincidentally seated beside a family with two girls our own daughters’ ages. While that kind of engineering is great, there was no guarantee that it would manufacture actually liking one another; that was just wonderful serendipity. Nick and I were happy for the girls, but were even more surprised and tickled to learn how much we liked Miss L and Mr. D.

It started out gradually, as so many relationships do. As Nick and I fell into bed that first night, we remarked to one another how nice Miss L and Mr. D seemed. They were funny. They were smart. They were our age. They used correct grammar. They knew how to eat (and eat… and eat…). It seemed a good match; we assumed that dinner the following night wouldn’t suck.

When we found them by the pool the next day (see photo above), we were pleased to chat with them again as the girls ran off and terrorized the kiddie pools and slides. We further cemented our bond when Nick, Ella, Mr. D, his daughter J, and I went down the plunge-to-your-death-and-go-over-the-side-of-the-boat slide, leaving Miss L to watch Annie and her cousin’s daughter, S. I mean, when you’ve stared death in the face and left your child in someone else’s care, it’s hard to go back to casual again.

By that night, we were lingering just a little longer over dinner, and then splitting forces so that half of us saw the live “Villains Tonight” show (that would be Ella, satisfying her Maleficent fascination) while the other half attended a Frozen sing-along. By the next day at Castaway Cay, we found ourselves actively looking for Miss L, Mr. D, and the girls. By that night, we four adults had ditched the kids and were shouting out answers at a Music of the 80s Trivia contest and forming human pyramids on the floor to earn our team extra points. (I kid you not; Miss L and I got down on our hands and knees as Nick climbed on our backs and Mr. D – who is approximately 385 feet tall and might have a had a difficult time safely hopping aboard – gesticulated and called from behind.)

So, yeah. From strangers to human pyramids in just over 48 hours, because, hot damn, we really, really enjoyed these people’s company. (And also: alcohol. It amuses me that Miss L and Mr. D may think I always drink like this. Ah, well... Who am I to burst that bubble…) In only a few short days, they had become our dear, wonderful, true friends in that intense, we-shared-this-experience-together kind of way that’s typically reserved for retreats or summer camp. Or maybe prison.

As we docked again at Port Canaveral bright and early that third morning, we were not ready to leave – not the ship, not the weather, and especially not our newfound friends who were kind enough to buy the last round, which included the aforementioned Frozen cup (hence, why I don’t know whether or not we were ever charged for it).
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Ella and Annie felt the same…

Alas, Disney frowns upon stowaways, so we had to disembark and make our journeys back home – us to New York and our new cruising family to Georgia. Not to worry, though; we were Facebook friends before we’d even left the port, and now regularly gripe to one another about how much we wish we were still on vacation. It’s good to have people who understand you.

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I’m the king of the world!

So, there you have it. To say that it was just the very most fantabulous vacation ever really doesn’t do it justice, so rather than continuing to search for super grown-up adjectives, I’ll simply say that it was perfect. Not just Mary Poppins’s practically perfect in every way; no, actually perfect. I can’t recommend a Disney cruise highly enough – and not just because I’m a Disney fanatic. It is joy and laughter and fun and memories and magic, pure and simple.

We will absolutely be going on another Disney cruise.
Along with these crazy people, of course.

Next time, I call the top of the pyramid.

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Come On, Pretty Mama! (Aka: All Aboard!)

* This began as a much longer post (if you can believe it), but I realized it’s so damn long, it’s probably best to split it into two parts. I know. The suspense is killing you. Check back tomorrow for the rest.*

I’ve been wanting to write about the cruise portion of our trip since – well, basically since we first set foot on the ship – but I simply haven’t had the time. To be honest, I don’t really have time now, but I’m going to write about it anyway because a) I promised I would, and I do hate to break a promise, b) I don’t want to forget any of the details, and c) if I write about it, I can finally stop being annoyed with myself for not doing so.

In any case, without further ado, let me tell you about our cruise:
It was incredible!!

The end.

Okay, okay. I’ll say a bit more. Nick and I had been toying with the idea of a cruise – specifically, a Disney cruise – for a couple of years now. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go because I didn’t know if our time and money should be spent getting the “Disney experience” outside of Disney World; I adore the parks so much, I thought perhaps I’d regret not going there instead. Nick was worried that we, as a family, might not enjoy going on a cruise – that it would be too confining, that there wouldn’t be enough to do, that (despite everyone’s assurance to the contrary) our girls wouldn’t like the kids’ club. When we found a truly unbeatable deal on a three-day cruise that aligned with the girls’ break, we felt the time was right to bite the bullet and go for it. Turns out, it’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made (vacation-wise, anyway. I mean, it’s not quite the same as choosing a college or giving french vanilla lattes a try, but still – a great decision).
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The Disney Magic, as seen from Castaway Cay.

When we arrived at the Port Canaveral docks, we were absolutely astonished – and wildly impressed – by how streamlined and simple Disney had made the boarding process. Within minutes, we’d dropped off our luggage (which would appear outside of our stateroom a couple of hours later), checked in, had our photo taken, received our keys, and signed the girls up for the kids club. Within another half hour (during which there were loads of things to keep our attention), we were strolling onto the ship.
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Just prior to boarding, I asked the girls if they were excited to get on. This is how they responded.

Our first stop was a buffet, which was piled high with goodies (and the chef even made me a side of veggies to ensure they were gluten-free; holla!). Next up was a trip to the pool deck, where the girls frolicked to their hearts’ content and Nick and I discovered the wonder of the daily drink specials.
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At times, this pool, especially, was so crowded, you couldn’t really call it “swimming,” but the water was clean and warm and fun and NOT WINTERY.

Before the required safety demonstration (which was a lot like the ones on airlines but much more silent, in part because we weren’t all desensitized to them yet, and also because we’ve all seen Titanic. If I have to cling to a piece of wood for survival, I will, but I’d much rather use the life vest provided, thanks), we checked out the fabled kids clubs – in our case, the Oceaneer’s Club and Oceaneer’s Lab, which were set up for 3-12 year-olds.

Friends who’d gone on Disney cruises waxed rhapsodic about these mystical places; about how incredible they were; about how much there was to do; about how their children never wanted to leave. It’s not that we wanted to pawn the girls off – I mean, we hadn’t come all this way to dump them, and we’d chosen the very family-friendly Disney experience because we wanted to do things together as a family – but if there was really an awesomely exciting, safe place where the girls wanted to be and Nick and I could have some kid-free time… um, yeah. I WILL HAVE TWO FILLINGS. The moment we entered, the girls were in heaven. Ella gravitated immediately to the computer kiosk area which was set up with several programs for typing, writing, and creating little scenes with character speech bubbles.

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No joke – she turned left and found these bays and was DONE.

I am not exaggerating when I say that she must have typed up – and printed off – at least a dozen of these over the course of our short trip. Sure, they wasted trees, but they gave her a creative outlet that she was very obviously craving (she doesn’t often type stories at home, but I’m thinking we’ll have to find a cool program that allows her to do so). Even more than that, though, they allowed us a fascinating peek inside her. It’s often like pulling teeth to garner a response that goes beyond “fine” or “good” or “not much” or (my favorite) “nothing” when asked how her day was or what she learned in school – so to be able to have this little window into her thoughts was a pretty fantastic thing.

Click larger to read her delightful verbal explosion.
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Think she was enjoying herself??

Annie, on the other hand, was interested in just about everything else that the clubs had to offer. Jumping from beanbag chair to beanbag chair? She’s on it. Joining in on a group game? Count her in. Participating in a dance-a-thon? She’s your girl. Watching old-school Disney movies and cartoons in front of the many ginormous screens? Absolutely.
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Hula-hooping while watching ‘The Princess and the Frog’.

Annie also – unsurprisingly – was captivated by the craft and drawing spaces. We came home with numerous pipe cleaner creations and more than one (read: enough to fill a coloring book) illustration that she absolutely couldn’t bear to leave behind.
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Is that… Elsa? From ‘Frozen’? Gee, such a shocker!

As predicted by our experienced friends (that sounds wrong, but I’m going with it), it was, indeed, hard to pull the girls away from the clubs. They certainly weren’t the only ones, either; on more than one occasion, I heard a parent explain to a child (who was being physically dragged away from the club entrance), “Because this is a big ship, and it’s silly to spend all of your time in one place!” And, really, who could blame them? Every single thing was geared toward their age group; it was brightly lit and colorful and engaging; there were loads of ever-changing activities, and the counselors were warm, charming, and seemed genuinely interested in being locked inside a small space in the middle of the Atlantic with dozens of overeager children.

Nick and I hadn’t given too much thought about what we’d do while the girls were in the club… But there was no shortage of options. Some times, we just lounged by the pool. Others, we participated in some of the ship’s many entertainment offerings (including attending a magic show that taught us how to do some magic tricks; we’re basically like Mrs. and Mrs. Copperfield now). The best part of the girls being in the kids club, though, was having the opportunity to just be together, the two of us. More to the point, we were together, the two of us, knowing that our children were not only safe and well-cared for but having a blast… while we got to imbibe the drinks of the day poolside or show-side (or, hell, in our stateroom) and have conversations about anything we wanted but nothing having to do with who fed the dogs or who was going to pick up someone from some class, or what was for dinner, or whether the repairs on the tiles in the shower really required a second opinion. See also: sunny and warm in the middle of the Atlantic.

In other words, it was the biggest win/win imaginable, and we were all having the time of our lives. DOESN’T GET MUCH BETTER THAN THAT, people.

* To be continued… soon… Which is good, because I haven’t even talked about the best part yet. No, really.

It’ll do magic, believe it or not

One week ago, we’d just attended the mandatory lifeboat information session and were watching Mickey and crew shimmy across the deck stage as we were about to depart Port Canaveral for the Bahamas.

Right now, we’ve just come from visiting Jambi at the vet (she’s in heat, and is required to be boarded so she doesn’t get knocked up; CCI frowns on that), it’s 16 degrees out, and we’re about to have sloppy joes for dinner.

Am I asking for sympathy? Oh, hell no. FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS, people.

Okay, so they’re not even problems. And saying that I miss being on vacation makes me sound like a special kind of asshole.

But I do. I miss being on vacation. (Special, that’s me.)
I miss the entire trip, which was just… absolute magic. (And, no, not just because that was the name of the ship.) For the first time in maybe ever, every single minute of our vacation was just as we’d hoped it would be. It took us away from the cold and the snow and the exhausting grind of daily life and into something otherworldly, where only joy and simple happiness existed.

Bibbidi Bobbidi BOOYAH.

Nick’s travel schedule can take its toll on everyone, but one of the bonuses is that he racks up crazy amounts of hotel points. To make the trip more affordable, we’d chosen to use some points to stay at a hotel in Orlando that was near both Downtown Disney and Universal. The hotel itself was great, with several fun pools and condo-style units that you could buy into as part of a timeshare (not for us, but thanks) that featured kitchenettes and washer/dryers that Ella found endlessly fascinating. “We could do our laundry if we wanted. We can even wash dishes. This is the best hotel room EVER.” (Which is really something, considering the palatial estate she and Nick stayed in last month…)

But even greater than the building was the sense of relaxation we all experienced the moment we got off the plane. Okay, that and the weather. We rolled down our windows just because we could (and, would you look at that, the windows didn’t freeze open!) and continually marveled at how fantastically warm we all were.

IMG_6268 Just 24 hours earlier, we’d been standing on water

Although we had reservations for dinner the following night, we’d decided to wing it that first night – assuming that, with the ridiculous plethora of restaurants at our fingertips, we would have no trouble finding a place to eat. And, in fact, that might have been true had I not blithely looked at the map on my cell phone and told Nick to take a left, thus bringing us to the front gate of SeaWorld at 6 p.m.

Y’all, Shamu himself couldn’t have found a table.

After passing a Red Lobster and several sushi joints (I wish I were kidding), we began to get hungry enough to consider consuming the seats of the rental car, and drove blindly into the only not-completely-packed strip mall we could find, swearing that we’d eat at the very first place that presented itself to us. Which was… Hooters.

And also some Margarita-ville-esque restaurant across the lot, where we managed to score ourselves a table before the onslaught of SeaWorld refugees arrived a few minutes later. The next morning (after drying our bathing suits in the dryer right in our hotel room, holla!), we were up bright and early to make it to Universal for the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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The girls marveling at the (warm!) sunrise outside our balcony.

We’ve been fortunate enough to visit Orlando several times in the past few years, and each time we have ardently avoided Harry and the gang. In part this was because we’re so devoted to All Things Disney, we didn’t want to take time away from The Happiest Place on Earth – but it was also because we didn’t want to take the girls there before we thought they could really appreciate it. I mean, it’s an amusement park devoted to magical things, so we knew they’d enjoy it, but until they were really familiar with Harry and his world, we didn’t think they’d truly get the park.

Since Ella bleeds Gryffindor crimson, we knew that the time was right for her to visit. Having not yet read the books, Annie is unfamiliar with all things Harry – but given that we wanted to arrive a day ahead of our cruise’s departure anyway (to ensure we didn’t miss getting onboard, not that that ever happens *cough*), we thought we’d give it a go, anyway. And so this trip was for them – to show them Harry’s world, brought to life. To share in their enjoyment of the park. To witness their jaw-dropping amazement. I mean, yeah, I knew it would be cool, but I really felt that this was about the girls.

Until we walked through the gates of Hogsmeade and I began to cry.

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It was… incredible. Perfect. Just as I’d imagined it would be. You guys, we were STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF HOGSMEADE. Muggles. IN HOGSMEADE!

And it only got better. We went inside Hogwarts – HOGWARTS!! – and flew around and watched a Quidditch match.

hogwarts1 Imposing, no?

We tried pumpkin juice and butter beer.

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A wee bit sweet for Nick’s and my liking, the Ella and Annie drank that shit up.

We saw Buckbeak and rode a silly roller coaster, followed by the best roller coaster I’ve ever been on in my life (except Nick and I had to ride it one at a time because the girls are not tall enough yet and it took me, like, two hours to be able to walk a straight line again after I got off). We browsed shops – quills! Potions! Exploding snaps! Cauldrons! Chocolate frogs!  – and gaped at the absolutely exquisite detail that was put into every aspect of the park.

universal6 There’s even bird poop in the owlery!

I think all of us could have spent the afternoon browsing the shops and pretending we had British accents, but by eleven o’clock the park was so crowded it was hard to move, and instead of feeling nostalgic and awe-struck, we became angry and who’s-touching-me?, so we decided to get some lunch and head back to the hotel for the afternoon.

Whenever we go to the Disney parks, we (very purposely) follow a fairly tight schedule. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but to be able to just relax and go with the flow was novel and pretty freakin’ fantastic. The girls spent hours in the pool while Nick – to his surprise and delight – discovered that the poolside bar was showing the Women’s USA/Canada gold medal game.

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Yes, of course he brought his jersey along. Duh.

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And yes, the final score was a major bummer (if you were rooting for the USA), but it was still pretty righteous to watch the game while the girls frolicked about in the pool and I drank a mai tai.

Our last hurrah before heading to Port Canaveral in the morning was a session for each of the girls at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Downtown Disney. I’d wondered if Ella was a bit too old for such girly frivolity… But I shouldn’t have worried.

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She was so pleased with herself, I was willing to ignore the use of my arch nemesis, superfine glitter.

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So her hair is a little bit 80s diva meets Belle meets beauty pageant star meets trailer park. ‘What? I am happy for you, sweetie. Of course I love it! Why wouldn’t I love it?”

Annie was absolutely tickled.
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Put ’em together, and what have you got?
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Homecoming queens gone sparklingly awry…

They wore their ‘dos onto the cruise the next day, which meant that our official family photo was taken with them looking like this, which subsequently meant that every time we picked the girls up from the kids’ club, their pageant-greatness was flashed on the screen for all to see. Awesome.

For dinner, we ate at a Downtown Disney spot (sorry, Hooters) that had paper tablecloths, and Annie promptly took to filling up her entire space. She drew coasters for her glasses, napkins for her silverware, and a little bit of everything in between.

annie's dinner drawing

If you click on the drawing to make it larger, you can see also: “home” (with the person dressed in winter gear amongst fields of snow) and “here” (with the person dressed in short sleeves under a bright sun). Have I mentioned that it was warm??

I like all of the crazy things she drew, but my favorite part is the “I love my family” that she added, not because she was coerced or writing an assignment for school or asking for a pony, but because we were all having such a genuinely rockin’, kickass, wonderful time, she kinda couldn’t keep it to herself anymore.

I get it, kid. I really do.

Re-entry has been hard (see: it’s cold here), but just looking back on these pictures makes me smile. Do I realize how damn lucky we were to have gone, period, much less to have had such a magnificent trip? You bet I do, and I am ridiculously grateful that we could make it happen.

And to think… I haven’t even gotten to the cruise yet.
But that’s another story.

A kingdom of isolation

I love winter. There is no sarcasm involved in that statement – I truly love it. I love the white blanket that the snow drapes over every tree branch and vista, filling our world with crystalline glitter. I love the excuse to drink hot chocolate any time you feel like it, and the chance to cozy up on the couch in one of our absurdly thick, warm blankets. I love fires in the fireplace just because, I love the way fresh snow squeaks under your boots, I love velvety red scarves tucked into jackets. I love the way fresh snow smells, the crispness of your breath on a cold morning, and finding new, hot Starbucks drinks to add to my menu. I love not having to shave, not having to worry about your hair because it’s going to be smooshed under a hat anyway, not picking up dog poop for weeks at a time because it’s hidden under the snow and I can’t find it (which means no one can see it so it’s not really there, la la laaaaa), and not washing the kitchen floor, like, ever* because it’s just going to get mucked up again in three minutes.
*exaggeration. Slightly.

Love. Me. Some. Winter.

This Rochester winter is on-track snow-wise (nearly 80″ so far, on our way to our typical 100″), but in terms of temperatures, it has been SO DAMN COLD this winter. Yeah, we get snow, and I’m used to that (hell, I’m one of the weird ones who even enjoys that), but this winter’s bitter, biting cold — the cold the keeps the kids from playing outside, the cold the unexpectedly closes schools, the cold that leaves you chilled to the bone nearly all day long — has really been a challenge.

In case you’ve been wondering just how cold it is (and, oh, I know you were), Canandaigua – the lake on which my family has a house – has actually frozen over this year. Big deal, you think (sarcastically, I might add). But it is a big deal. When my grandmother, who grew up in Rochester (and who, you may recall, is nearly ninety-four) says she cannot remember a time when the lake has frozen completely over, you know that it’s a pretty crazy thing. Even without my grandma’s extensive knowledge, you’d know it’s a big deal because Canandaigua is not only long (15.5 miles) but deep — 276 feet at its deepest spot, to be exact. For that much water to freeze over, it’s got to be effin’ COLD, y’all!

Tuesday was a bit nutty at our house; Nick was finishing up a whole slew of things at work (having not been at work on Monday due to our country’s festive celebration of our Presidents’ many achievements) and the girls and I were in a manic packing frenzy to get ready to go out of town on Wednesday. (More on that later…) Still, we made a point to find time in the afternoon to pick up Phoofsy and bring her down to the lake with us so we could see this tundra-like spectacle for our selves.

To say it was otherworldly is a ridiculous understatement.

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Taken at the north end of the lake, looking out over the vast expanse of white…

The wind was absolutely wild.


Couldn’t keep it  in heaven knows I’ve tried*

*if you have no idea what’s going on here, you need to see Frozen. Or at least google “Let it Go”. Fo’ real.

We then decided to attempt to venture to our house, because passing up the chance to see our own beach redone in Elsa’s magic was just not happening. I say “attempt” because our house sits at the end of a long private road, half of which is unplowed, and the last part of which is uphill. We knew it would be an adventure, but hey, if you can’t add a little adventure into your February break, what good are you?

When we got there, we discovered that there was still a good foot of packed-down snow on the road, but forged ahead anyway… until the car got stuck. We managed to back up and re-drive and inch our way forward, with Phoofsy, as usual, being an extremely good sport about our “exploring.” When we were still two houses away, it became clear that we could go no farther – but there was no way that we were going to come this close and not go down and check things out. And so, despite the snow being up to the girls’ mid-thighs at some points, we hiked the remaining distance to the house (this time, Phoofsy wisely chose to take the pass, and remained in the car).

After arriving and checking things out, the girls soon announced that they were getting awfully cold, and their cheeks were becoming really itchy – as their stellar mom, I’d forgotten to give them their antihistamines that day. Whoops. If you’re allergic to the cold, falling through the ice is probably a pretty quick way to go into anaphylaxis. So, we didn’t stay all that long… But, hot damn, am I glad we made it.

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For perspective, here’s our typical summer view…
lake
boats at night

And here… is Tuesday.

A kingdom of isola-e-tion…

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Here we stand, in the light of daaaaaay!

In the end, the cold did bother us anyway, so we hightailed it out of there and back up to the warm car where Phoofsy was waiting. I later learned that this was the first time in her life that she’d had the opportunity to see the lake like this, so to say that I’m glad we took her… doesn’t quite cover it.

This brutal winter’s cold may not have been good for much, but it did bring us this potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And that is pretty freakin’ cool. Literally.

Where else would you go for a January vacation?

When we moved to Rochester in 2007, we knew what we would be gaining: a great job for Nick, a super-short commute, a very affordable cost of living, amazing schools, a wildly family-friendly community, a superb neighborhood, more time with my Grandma, and more snow than we could shake a stick at. We also knew acutely what we’d be giving up: living near family and friends. (Because we’re so awesome, we have since made more friends, but the family thing is probably never going to change.)

As a result of living near none of our parents, siblings, or extended family (save for my aforementioned stupendous Grandmother – hi, Phoofsy!), we do a lot of traveling and hosting-of-guests – averaging at least twelve visits a year, both here and there (and everywhere). We try to see everyone fairly equally, but sometimes that’s just not possible.

To whit: Nick’s mom (whom the girls call Gigi, rhyming with jiggy) and stepdad (whom the girls call Grandpa Ray, rhyming with Grandpa Jay), who live in Minnesota, kind of got the shaft in terms of visits over the past several years; we were seeing as much of Grandpa Bill (and GranMary) as we could – quite understandably, and we’re damn glad we did. But still… although they’ve never complained (or even mentioned it), Gigi and Grandpa Ray definitely got the short end of the visitation stick.

But wait! you might say. They could have come and visited you, instead! And yes, technically, that’s true. They’re certainly welcome, and they have visited us, indeed – but it’s not quite that simple. You see, in the fall of 2008, Gigi earned superhero status when she beat the (almost unbeatable) odds and survived a ruptured brain aneurysm. Yes, you read that right: she had an aneurysm. That ruptured. In her brain. And she kicked its ass.

The aneurysm did its share of ass-kicking too, however, causing Gigi some rather significant problems – including making it difficult to travel. Complicating things, Gigi has been battling Multiple Sclerosis for nearly fifteen years; her symptoms have worsened recently, and have effectively prevented her from being able to visit us and Nick’s sister (and her family) as often as we all would have liked.

When it became clear that Gigi and Grandpa Ray wouldn’t be able to head out to New York any time soon, it became equally clear that we needed to book a trip to Minnesota. The long weekend in January provided us with the perfect opportunity for a quick jaunt west, and so we found ourselves headed from one frozen, snowy suburb halfway across the country to another.

Come on. When you think, Where should we go in the dead of winter to escape all of this Rochester cold and snow? the Twin Cities are SO the first place that comes to mind.

Although the purpose of our visit was to spend time with Gigi and Grandpa Ray, Annie and Ella had another mission: to get to know their Aunt Emi’s fiancé, Matt, and decide whether or not they approved of their upcoming nuptials. I bet Emi and Matt are thrilled they asked the girls to be in the wedding.

Turns out, they needn’t have been concerned: Matt (who, by the way, is a freakin’ neurosurgeon. So he’s not smart. I can totally talk music theory circles around him, though, don’t worry) jumped right in and assumed his soon-to-be-uncle role. He carted the girls around on his shoulders, shared his sweet dance moves, watched kid movies, sprung for ice cream, and braved amusement park rides with nary a sigh. He was earning it, you guys.
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Ready for lift-off at the Mall of America.

Not to be outdone, Gigi took her grandmother role equally seriously. Waking up early because her granddaughters were still on east coast time? Done. Smiling and laughing through lunch at a St. Paul restaurant, despite fighting wicked nausea from her MS medications? Absolutely. Resting in the afternoon so that she could trek to Emi and Matt’s downtown Minneapolis apartment for dinner on Saturday night, then playing an epic game of Go Fish with Annie and Matt, fighting through dizziness to see the cards? Her granddaughter asked her to play; of course, she would.

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Getting clarification on Annie’s “rules,” which were ever-changing… which might explain why Annie won this round.

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Come on! It’s not brain surgery!
Yes, I went there. For both of them. Awwww, snap.

Watching the girls with Grandpa Ray so that we could go with Emi and Matt (and also Molly and Molly’s sister, Katie) to a Wild game? Wouldn’t miss it. Braving the American Girl store in her wheelchair so that she and her sister could take the girls to lunch with their AG dolls? You better believe it.

Then finally, on Sunday night, searching through her sewing materials to find an adhesive backing that I could take home with me to sew up Annie’s hole-filled, most favorite silkie blanket, all the while apologizing that she didn’t feel well enough to actually fix the silkie herself… then holding the wall for balance so that she could ransack her fabric to locate an appropriate silk-like piece that I could bring back with us, admitting sadly that if she weren’t so nauseated, she could mend it in no time flat… then explaining that her medication often causes her to awaken super-early, so perhaps she could repair the silkie at 4 a.m. before our flight… then drawing herself up and visibly steeling herself and saying with determination, “No. I can cut these silk fabric patches myself. I’ll make them the right size and you can bring them home and iron them on – it’ll be simple”…? YES. I BEAT A DAMN BRAIN ANEURYSM AND THIS EFFING MS MEDICATION WILL NOT STOP ME FROM DOING THIS FOR MY GRANDDAUGHTER.

Except she didn’t say “damn” or “effing” or actually any of that, but the sentiment was there. And I know reading this will make her laugh. Hi, Karen!

… and then deciding, Screw it, I’m in, and not only cutting the silk patches and adhesive backing, but getting out the iron and the silkie and having everything ready to go to repair Annie’s damaged blanket… When Annie appeared, sobbing, from the bedroom, saying that she couldn’t go to sleep without her silkie, and she just had to have it back.

In spite of all of the superhuman effort she’d just put in to cut the fabric and the adhesive and get the iron ready to repair the blanket, Gigi simply said No problem, she understood perfectly, and handed Annie her silkie, who wiped her eyes with it, then trundled back to bed. The silk circles and adhesive backing were meticulously put in an envelope for me to take home so that I can repair the blanket at a later date. Gigi shook off her nausea once more to climb upstairs just in time to watch Downton Abbey with Grandpa Ray, making sure to get to bed early so that they could awaken at 5:30 a.m. on Martin Luther King day to say goodbye to us before we headed to the airport.

As I looked at the envelope containing the patches, the circles that Gigi had used sheer willpower to make, I was struck, almost physically, by the depth of love involved in their creation. We may not live near any of our extended family, but that hasn’t diminished our relationships with them; if anything, it makes the time we do spend with them all the more sweet. How incredibly lucky Annie and Ella are to have grandparents – from Gigi and Ray to GranMary and Grandpa Bill, Grama and Pops, and Papa and Grand Meg – who adore them so.

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It was a marvelous visit. Even if we did go from one winter wonderland to another.

Oh – and the girls gave Matt two thumbs up. The wedding can go ahead as planned.
Thank God, because otherwise, the black and white (“formal”) Rainbow Loom bracelets that Ella has made for the bride and groom to wear on their wedding day might just go to waste. And that would truly be a tragedy.

* Gigi’s story – of her aneurysm and her battle with MS – are shared with her permission and blessing. Although she may change her mind in the future…