No celebrating? No problem.

Nick and I stopped “doing” Valentine’s Day years ago. Actually, I’m not sure that we ever “did” it (although I do give him Valentine’s Day-themed boxers every year; I’m romantic like that) because Nick has always maintained that it’s a silly holiday drummed up to make money and “you should show someone you love them all the other days of the year, not just Valentine’s Day.”

Okay. I get his point. I mean, I was all girl-silent angry over it for a few years (“No, really, it’s FINE… Yes, I’m sure… Wait, you didn’t get me anything? WTF?”) but I’ve gotten over it. Really. For one thing, it’s been twenty years (OMG), so I’m either holding the world’s most fabulous grudge, or I’ve moved beyond. Also, once we had children, I had other ways to channel my Valentine’s Day energies.

(And, to be fair, Nick really does do a pretty good job of holding up to his end of the bargain. The girls get little tokens from every business trip he takes, and flowers will magically show up at the door if I’m having a bad day. He routinely buys stuff for us “just because” [occasionally to my chagrin – *cough* $40 Swatch watches five days after Christmas *cough*] and takes each of the girls out regularly for special Daddy-daughter dates. Our own dates are pretty good, too. So, he really does walk the walk.)

It’s not Valentine’s Day itself that is such a big deal; it’s any excuse to celebrate. I am all about taking anything and turning it into something more than just ordinary, not for any greater purpose (and certainly not to achieve some sort of goal or be Super Mom; if you’ve seen the coating of dust on all of the furniture, the Karo syrup that spilled in the cupboard at least two months ago but I was too lazy to clean so now it’s hardened into a half-inch layer of shellac, the boots my daughter wore to school this week that were DUCT TAPED together, or the rug in our living room that is literally threadbare, you know that I’m not Super at all that much). No, I simply do it because it’s fun. FUN!!

First day of school? Par-tay! Last day of school? Fiesta! St. Patrick’s Day? Let’s do a leprechaun-themed treasure hunt! Mardi Gras? Time to make beignets! April Fool’s Day? Better watch your step. Cinco de Mayo? Bring on the Mexican food! If I could think of a way to make Arbor Day more fun, you can damn well believe I would.

Life is just too freakin’ short not to find moments to celebrate, to break up the everyday activities, to be silly and make something special.

So I’m not at all upset that Nick and I don’t “do” Valentine’s Day… because I get to do these instead:

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The hearts are hung up after the girls have gone to sleep on the 13th, so it’s all VALENTINE’S WORLD when they wake up.

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Nick gets tired of bumping into these pretty much the moment that I hang them, but I think they’re fun. I don’t mind not getting chocolates so long as I can hang shit from the door frames – fair compromise, no?

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Lunch. With hearts. And lots of red food.

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No, the photo isn’t discolored; the pancakes are pink.
And I made them last night and then nuked them this morning. I don’t have that kind of time before work, people. 

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But I do have time for this, because it took maaaaybe three minutes. 
Such is life when you spent two years addicted to hair blogs.

What I did not have to do this year were the girls’ valentines. (Grammar tidbit of the day: it only has an apostrophe when it’s Valentine’s Day, as in the day belonging to St. Valentine. And it’s only capitalized when it’s a proper noun; the cards the kids bring home from school in droves are simply valentines. Just learned that last night myself; you’re welcome.) For the past several years, Ella and Annie have elected to send their classmates photo cards, meaning that I take photos of them, design the cards in Photoshop, print ’em out, and get ’em ready for the girls to sign.

2013
annie valentine card1
A mini Snickers was taped to her hands…

ella valentine card1
 She gave these along with Pop Rocks…

2012
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Yup. Taped a Hershey’s Kiss to her hand.

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Ella wrote her classmate’s names on the hearts.
Never mind that she looks naked.

2011
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Looks like I’ve had a thing for those decorative hearts fonts for a loooong time…

vday card front
I had to literally throw them into the center of the heart in order not to trample it, but whatever. It was done in the name of the art, man.

But this year? They wanted to do it ALL. And so, despite practically having to tie my hands down to keep from interfering, I let them… from Photoshopping their cards to cutting them out to attaching (and, in Ella’s case, making) the various accoutrements to stuffing them in their classmates’ bags.
Are they just how I’d have designed them? Nope.

They’re better.

annie's valentine 2014
Her Photoshopped card…

annie's valentine
The final product that made its way into her friends’ valentine bags.

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That’s still only some of the Rainbow Loom stuff she has lying around…

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 The actual finished cards, front and back.

Tonight, we’ll have a dinner that we *love* (get it? SO CLEVER) and either watch the Olympics or Despicable Me 2 (the only real gift I’m giving to the girls) and even though it won’t be romantic, it will be filled with fun and joy and love.

And chocolate. We have chocolate cupcakes. Don’t worry.

Flashback Friday: I can’t resist including this photo taken for Annie’s first Valentine’s Day, where I didn’t realize until after I’d uploaded it that Ella’s pigtail makes it look like Annie’s wearing a bodacious wig.
SO. AWESOME.

vday hair

p.s. You can bet your butt I’m putting this on my Pinterest page. I can’t begin to come up with any of these ideas on my own, so if this helps anyone else not to have to reinvent the wheel, let’s do it. I’m a giver.

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Like a fine wine (let’s go with Sauvignon Blanc)

Last Friday, it was my birthday; I turned thirty-eight. I’m neither ashamed to admit my age nor to admit my unabashed love of turning every birthday (even – especially? – my own) into a special occasion.

Being in the spotlight – unless I engineer it or am standing at the head of a classroom – generally makes me uncomfortable. I’m not one to go around to strangers blabbing about myself or my life. But on my birthday, all bets are off. Maybe it’s a mom thing, maybe it’s a primary caregiver thing, maybe it’s a female thing, or maybe it’s just a me thing, but for 363 days of the year, I do not come first. (No, I didn’t do the math wrong [although, given my history with The Math, I don’t fault you for thinking so]. Nick rocks at putting me first on Mother’s Day.)

That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes come first, or that my needs aren’t met, or that Nick’s not pulling his weight… none of that. I’m pretty good about speaking up for myself and taking time when I need it, whether it’s grabbing coffee mid-day or having dinner with a friend or telling the kids they’ll just have to wait a minute, I’m busy, for crying out loud. And Nick is really super about encouraging me to take time for myself and of helping to make sure what I need is taken care of. But, with the exception of Mother’s Day and days when I’m sick or have had surgery, I’m not the focus of the day (and, let’s be honest; when I am sick enough to actually be in bed, the girls are crawling in beside me, and when I had laparoscopic surgery a few years back, I was driving Annie to preschool two days later). And that’s as it should be – God knows I wouldn’t want every day to be about me; even I get sick of Starbucks.

But one day? Yep. It can be all about me. I’m absolutely down with that. Am I asking for attention on my birthday? You betcha. BRING IT.

(Except that November 22nd isn’t really the most fabulous birthday if you want a day that’s all about you. Every five or six years, my birthday falls on Thanksgiving, which is a big ol’ bummer, and for forever, the majority of Americans a generation older than I am have heard my birth date and said, “Ohhhh, that’s the day Kennedy was assassinated!” True, and yes, I read the news coverage of the 50th anniversary just like everyone else.

But also? It’s my birthday! HOLLA!)
Annie agrees:
annie's bday card to me

 Let’s go, 38 year-old Mommy.
H-H-Happy Birthday!
Love Annie

I know plenty of people who totally downplay their birthdays. (By people, I mean adults, because I have yet to meet any children who don’t practically wear a neon sign above their heads on their birthdays. AMEN.) It’s no big deal, they’ll say, just another day, I don’t want to celebrate. And that’s all well and good.

But me? No, man. I’m not shy about it; I’ll work it into any conversation that it’s my birthday. This is the day I was BORN, damn it, and being born is a mighty awesome thing. Even more awesome is the passing of another year – in part, as my dad likes to say, because it sure beats the alternative, but in part because another year under your belt, another year of things seen and done and accomplished and lived and learned and loved, is worth celebrating. 

And so celebrate, I did. Last Monday, the rebel moms and I finally made good on our promise to grab some dinner and have a “planning meeting,” and they surprised me with a birthday dessert. On Wednesday, some wonderful friends met me for lunch ’cause it was my birthday in two days, and what better excuse to get together in the middle of the week? Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were filled with some squeezed-in but much-needed me time, taking Ella and Annie out of school to eat lunch at a local restaurant (ooooh, the excitement!), some lovely gifts, phone calls and texts and video chats with family and friends, scads of Facebook well-wishes, a dinner out with just Nick (while GranMary was excellent enough to watch the girls), a birthday dinner in with the girls and GranMary and my own grandma (where I didn’t have to lift a finger), and even a homemade (and quite yummy) cake from Annie and Ella.
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Tilting candles make cake taste better.

It was a very good birthday. So far, thirty-eight is pretty rad.

The older I’ve gotten, the less apprehensive I’ve become about sharing my age. With a late November birthday, I was one of the youngest in my class, and was always one of the last to turn whatever age the other 1975ers had turned. As a teen, it bugged me that I was the youngest, so always hesitated to tell folks how old I was. In my twenties, I was constantly told that I looked young for my age (in fact, I still get carded; last week, a department store salesperson asked if I had the store card – when I said no, he asked if my parents did, and maybe I could use theirs?), so I kept my birth date to myself.

Now, I’m no longer embarrassed to tell people my age. Quite the contrary; thirty-eight feels really good. I no longer judge myself by my peers, but rather by my own set of standards, the majority of which include making sure that Nick, the girls, and I are happy, and that I’m choosing kind far more often than not. There are way more lines around my eyes, and when I see them, I’m reminded of the fabulous days I’ve spent outside in the sun (with sunscreen, no worries, I’m a bit fanatical) and of how incredibly often I laugh, even when I shouldn’t.

Thirty-eight means feeling more confident about who I am as a person, while recognizing that I still have a really, really long way to go to become the person I want to be. It means that I finally – finally! – understand that when someone is critical of me (or offers “advice” that’s really criticism wearing shiny clothes), they’re saying a whole lot more about themselves than they are about me. 

Thirty-eight means valuing friendships more than ever, especially as life gets in the way and it can be harder to get together in person. It means valuing family, near and far, and actively working to make the relationships in my life just as I want them to be. It means that my husband has never been more attractive or appreciated, despite the days when we hardly see one another.
ella's bday basket to me
Thirty-eight also means duct tape purses. Word.

Thirty-eight means feeling rooted and grounded and absolutely content, while simultaneously constantly looking to try new things and find the next set of adventures. It means that I’m a whole lot closer to fifty than I am to twenty, or even twenty-five, but that’s just dandy, because I have a heckuva lot of fifty (or almost-fifty) year-old friends, and they’ve shown me that things really do get better with age.

Thirty-eight means reaching the point where weddings and baby showers are replaced by memorial services and funerals, as we lose our parents and our friends’ parents and our parents’ friends. But it also means soccer games and Harry Potter and gingerbread helpers at school and (still!) the wonder of Santa Claus.

Thirty-eight means speaking in a British accent at the grocery store, even when you don’t realize you’re doing it (true story: I was asked today where I’m from, and only then did I realize I was speaking to the woman using a British accent… awkward…), twerking in front of the bedroom mirror when no one is watching, and cleaning dog poop off the wall when your dog has had explosive diarrhea in the middle of the night. It means gratitude and happiness, appreciation and doubt, love and desperate sadness, hope and vulnerability, juicing in the morning and wine in the evenings, and realizing that many things really do get better with a  little chocolate.

Last year was a helluva year, and I don’t know what this next year will bring, but I’m ready. Thirty-eight is where it’s at, and I’m so very glad to be here. It is a time to CELEBRATE, y’all.

Especially when it involves a massage and Caramel Macchiatosbday with my girlies
The best accessories when you’re thirty-eight? New scarf, new earrings, and one child hanging off of each arm.

Ready to Lead, Ready to Follow, Never Quit… Especially while Ghosting

I am writing this from the couch. With a glass of wine. While sitting on an ice pack. After having already taken two Tylenol. All because we tried to covertly spread a little joy to the neighborhood.

Note to self: we need more ice packs.

You see, it all began in October 2007, only a few months after we moved here. We’d come from a perfectly nice area about an hour outside of New York City, just a stone’s throw from the Metro North line, a lovely spot, really, except we didn’t have a neighborhood, per se. We had neighbors, and they were friendly and welcoming, but only a few houses nearby had young families. There were almost never any children ringing doorbells, nor roaming the sidewalks, nor leaving their scooters for you to trip over on the sidewalk, nor shouting joyfully from their backyards – not because it was a bad place, but because there just weren’t many young families. We had no idea what a true “neighborhood” felt like.

And then we moved here.

When we first met the neighbors in our cul-de-sac, we were told three things: that there was an annual block party coming up in a month, that our neighbors across the circle put on a really impressive Christmas display (with lights so bright, the next-door neighbors’ son actually switched bedrooms during the holiday season), and that, because our front yard has a slight upward slope to it, our driveway was home plate. Which meant that, not only were there boatloads of kids near the area, they were actually using our yard to play baseball. ROCK. ON.

When the doorbell rang that fateful October evening, I was a bit perplexed (despite living in a super kid-friendly neighborhood, we weren’t exactly in the habit of receiving after-dinner guests), but didn’t think much of it. When I opened the door to discover no one there, nor any hooligans cackling in the distance, I was officially stymied (ding dong ditch is infinitely funnier when you have to run, giggling, for your lives, y’all). Then, I noticed the two little plastic pumpkins on the doormat – each filled with Halloween trinkets that were perfect for toddler Ella and baby Annie – along with a drawing of a ghost and a note.

We’d officially been Ghosted.

ghosting3
You bet your sweet patootie we put that ghost on our door.

Okay. I know that for some of you – many of you? – this would be akin to having the mark of the plague drawn on your door. Having to actually participate in neighborhood tomfoolery – and within a specific time frame, no less! Plus spending money! And going all covert-op-crazy! – is asking waaaaay too much. Black Death would officially have descended.

But for me? Being Ghosted felt like having someone drop off steaming mugs of Starbucks on my doorstep, alongside puppies and unicorns, and then asking me which I’d like more right now, the massage or the pedicure. Given by Johnny Depp.

In other words, being Ghosted was like meeting Jesus (or what I imagine that would be like), and I could not wait to share the good news. As I drove to Target the next day (for the Halloween loot! The Ghosting loot!! Stickers and candy and pencils, oh my!), I noticed – for the first time – just how many houses in our neighboring streets had Phantom Ghosts attached to their doors. The Ghosting had spread so far and wide, it was actually difficult to find a house full of children who had yet to hear the good news. Happiness was being passed out around the neighborhood, one secret mission at a time. A little Halloween pay it forward.

And to think we’d moved here without me even having seen the house (true story). Hot damn, how we lucked out! I was giddy.

As the next few Halloweens passed and the girls grew older, they began to anticipate the Phantom Ghost’s arrival with ever-increasing glee. I began to gather goodies preemptively so that we could sneak about the neighborhood as soon as the buck had been passed our way. Each Ghosting night was filled with a mixture of wicked delight and abject terror, lest our honorees spy us dropping off the bounty. On one such occasion, as we crouched behind a large pine tree after ringing the bell and running like heck, the neighbors’ large and extremely exuberant Golden Retriever slipped out of the door as soon as they’d opened it. Not only can bees and dogs smell fear, they can also smell cowering Ghosters, and I had to swiftly pick up both Annie and Ella and kick at the panting, jubilant hound who was all too happy to tell his owners that here they are! I’ve found them! before I limped with the girls back to the car. Another year, Annie neglected to inform me that she had to use the bathroom before we left, and between her Ghosting anxiety and her desire to not miss a minute of the action, she opted to pee right on her carseat. Ah, well. That’s why they invented washing machines. There was only one more house, anyway. The Ghost must go on.

The Phantom Ghost graced our doorstep for four delicious years… until two years ago, mere days before Halloween, when we realized that he’d yet to appear. Cruising the neighborhood, I discovered that no houses bore the tell-tale Ghost on their doors, and it finally became clear: whoever had been the Ghost starter had opted out. Whether they moved away or simply outgrew the antics (or got tired of buying random crap from the Target dollar bins), I don’t know, but the end result was the same: the Phantom Ghost didn’t show.

BOO.

And so I made the only sensible move I could: I Ghosted us. Having saved the little poem from previous years (okay, let’s be honest: I’d long ago re-typed it, because there were a couple of small grammatical errors in the original), it was easy enough to drop trinkets off at our door and feign ignorance when the girls heard the doorbell. From there, we went Ghosting as usual, and as the Phantoms appeared throughout the neighborhood. And children’s choirs sang and Johnny Depp smiled and all was well with the world.

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Neighborhood togetherness, one Halloween pencil at a time.

Last year, rather than wait until it was nearly Halloween to see if the original Phantom Ghost starters would get the ball rolling, I decided to take it upon myself to be the official Ghosting initiator. The girls were all too keen to oblige, and we took off through the blackened streets, approaching each house like the SEALS from Zero Dark Thirty.

See, Ghosting is not for the faint of heart. First, you have to sneak up to the doorstep like a ninja, careful not to alert the occupants of your approach. Secondly, you have to drop off the bags with the agility of a Stealth Bomber, making sure not to make a sound and set a dog barking before you’ve had a chance to make your escape. Third, you have to ring the doorbell… and wait to be sure it’s actually gone off (because, unless you’re a traveling salesman or selling popcorn or on your Mission trip, you might be unaware that loads of people have for-show-only doorbells). If the doorbell fails to emit any sound, you then have to summon your courage and knock on the door hard enough to let them know you’re there – which basically means banging with enough force to karate-chop a block of wood – but with lightning speed, so you can zip out of there before anyone actually comes to the door. And finally, you have to make your getaway, running to the pre-determined safe zone with speeds usually reserved for Usain Bolt or people being chased by knife-weilding murderers.

Like I said: Navy SEALS. Just like that.

Ella and Annie had chosen tonight to start the annual Ghosting ritual, but they’d decided to change one detail: instead of driving from house to house, we’d bike around the neighborhood. I was game because, while faster, driving hadn’t exactly worked in our favor. A) We had to drive with the lights off, so as not to draw attention to ourselves, B) driving without lights is a bit like driving blindfolded [not that I’d know], C) we had to turn off the inside car lights so as not to give ourselves away when we opened the doors and climbed inside, which always resulted in frantic, hissed admonishments that no one could find their seat belts, and D) it was kind of a losing effort anyway because our neighbors recognized our car. Plus also, see above, E) Annie peeing in her carseat. So we happily strapped head-lamps to the handlebars and were on our way.

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Stealth. Silent. Deadly.

Except… turns out, I must have skimped on the SEAL training this year. Without a car to hide behind, we chose to park the bikes a few houses down the street from our targets and find another spot to conceal us. Most of the time, our bikes were the chosen spot, with us figuring that no one would be on the lookout for marauding hooligans on bikes at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday. At one house, however, I failed to make it to the bikes on time – the door had opened and the owners were looking out – so the only possible solution was to throw myself to the ground. And by “throw myself to the ground,” I mean instantly and violently throw my entire body flat onto the ground. Like avoiding a land mine. Or sliding into third. ‘Cept that there was no third, there was only ground, and I’ve still got dirt on my palms three hours later.

The girls found this particularly hilarious. I hope they find it equally hilarious when I short-sheet their beds tomorrow.

Also, there’s the running. Evading detection requires fleeing like banshees from the doorsteps to the safe spot, and then collapsing in a heaving, out-of-breath heap until the door has been safely closed again. Because the bikes were parked a considerable distance from our intended recipients, tonight’s missions required a ridiculous amount of not only running, but flat-out sprinting.

There’s a reason I was terrible at track in high school, and it wasn’t just because the shorts gave me a wedgie. I don’t sprint. Or, at least, I shouldn’t sprint… because this body just isn’t meant to move like that. Not even to avoid being spotted by the enemy.

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Bike helmets make awesome disguises.

Once we’d Ghosted our final house, I managed to ride home, but the moment I stepped off the bike, I knew that the sprinting had been a terrible mistake. (Okay, I already knew that sprinting had been a terrible mistake, but the dismount confirmed it. The throwing myself to the ground probably didn’t help, either.) I have pulled not one but both hamstrings, tweaked something in my lower back, and can’t feel my legs from my knees up.

Was it worth it? You bet your (sore, sprained, aching) butt, it was. WE WILL NEVER QUIT* IN SPREADING HALLOWEEN JOY, PEOPLE. Pay it forward. RIGHT NOW.

The Tylenol seems to be doing some good; the wine, even more good. The ice pack has made me numb, but I already couldn’t feel anything, so the verdict’s out on that one. Tomorrow, I’m going to be paying a visit to my chiropractor to see if there’s anything he can do about this little sprinting mishap of mine.

Good thing the reason for my visit isn’t completely and utterly embarrassing or anything.

I’ll just tell him it was a combat injury. But I’ll keep it vague; when you’ve got a covert op going on, it’s better not to share too many details.

* for the record, I think SEALS are some of the most awesome, bad-ass, incredible, awe-inspiring, strong, and inspiring individuals, anywhere, ever. I am profoundly grateful for all they do for our country, and could not admire them more. Not even if they looked like Johnny Depp.

The family that plays together

My family has always been into playing games. My brother and I preferred classic board games like Life (oh! to land on the twins space and fill that plastic car with two more pegs!!) and Monopoly (my brother was always the banker; it took me until I was in college to realize that this might have contributed to his winning every single game). Given how rarely I could claim victory, the simple act of playing the game was what drew me back time and time again.

When my extended family would get together, our focus turned away from board games and toward dice (Yahtzee) and cards. Our perennial favorite is Cad, a less-intense version of the card game Thirty-One, which is so basic in concept that Ella and Annie have already begun to play. Do not mistake simplicity for a lack of intensity, however; even the most hastily thrown-together Cad games require a monetary ante-in, and the “simple act of playing a game” is not what draws everyone to the table. No, my extended family possesses an innate desire to wipe the table with the other players, and showing mercy is definitely a sign of weakness. (We still talk about a Spoons game from years back when my cousin wrestled my then-80-odd-year-old grandmother to the floor because neither of them would relinquish the spoon and concede defeat.)

It was a happy fate, then, when I discovered that Nick and his family are also game lovers, with Monopoly and Life as childhood favorites, too, and cutthroat rounds of Hand and Foot as today’s game of choice. Many moons ago, when my brother turned twenty-one, Nick and I got our collective game geek on and created an alcohol-themed board game called Chug It — laminated board, logo-printed game cards, instructions page, and game pieces — and shipped it off to him at college, where, I’ve been told, he and his fraternity brothers got quite a kick out of it (and, yes, chugged it). Not wanting our gaming legacy to end there, when Nick’s middle sister reached the legal drinking age, we created Absolut Game – whose layout was shaped like an enormous bottle of vodka (duh) – and shipped it off to her, too. (Alas, we tapped out after that and so Nick’s youngest sister got the shaft… When she turns forty, we’ll really have to step up. Chardonnopoly, anyone?)

Last weekend, as Nick and I were relaying the wonders of these games to my youngest cousin (who turns twenty-one next year; BOOYAH), we realized, with all of the inane and crazy extended family quirks, surely there was an awesome game in the making. And so, combining our childhood love of boardgames, my extended family’s love of cards, and inspired by our Chug It and Absolut Game masterpieces, we created The Lake Game.

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The premise is very straightforward: move your piece around the board, complete some assigned tasks, and be the last player holding any (poker) chips. In reality, the game verges from slightly odd to downright absurd. While it’s true that “all” you have to do is move your game piece around the board, you probably don’t want to get too comfortable because The Lake Game makes you work for your victory. Land on “Hugs Not Drugs” and you’ll give every other player a squeeze… or lose a chip. “Who’s Sleeping” requires that you find someone who’s asleep (human or canine), take a photo with your phone, and send it to the other players… or lose a chip. You might find yourself throwing away a mystery item from the fridge (we collect leftovers like we’re preparing to stock a bunker) or running outside and up the driveway to touch our converted-garage/ storage space/guesthouse (aka “Up Top”), a feat which elicits monstrous groans because of its propensity to reduce you to a gasping-for-breath heap.

up top
The view of Up Top from the lake house. It’s difficult to get an accurate photo, but I can assure you that going Up Top could be included as an end-of-session, now-you-will-die Boot Camp activity.

“Up Top” aside, it’s the “Draw a Card” squares that are the most arduous… and hilarious. Some are just annoying:

BRUSH YOUR TEETH
or lose a chip.
Pretty self-explanatory.

Others require dexterity and getting off your duff:

FROM THE RAFTERS
Go do the to the beach. Stand on the shore and throw a piece of shale at the raft. If you don’t hit it in three tries, lose a chip.

Given that we often play at night (and you never know who’s had a cocktail or three), this is more challenging than it seems.

Others demand little physical exertion but do test your mettle (and your iron stomach):

TURKEY TET
Take one bite of leftovers from either fridge, or lose a chip.

When the choice is between losing a chip or consuming a mystery food – that may have been in the fridge since this morning or since last month (just tonight, I threw away some soup we’d brought home from a restaurant that, I kid you not, bore the date 07/01/13) – it’s not an easy choice.

And still others are both a combination of exercise and game-long torture

LIFE JACKET
Go get one from the shed. Wear it for the rest of the game.

THERE ARE SPIDERS IN THAT SHED, people. Losing a chip may be vastly preferable.

So, clearly, The Lake Game is not for the faint of heart… which makes it perfect for those of us who, say, enjoy scuffling with our grandmothers over a spoon and playing card games that require six year-olds to ante up.

We began working out the kinks to the game, trying to determine just how many chips each person should begin with, which squares were the most fun/embarrassing/absurd, and asking other family members to contribute their ideas. During our practice games, Annie somehow managed to win every time, despite the ridiculous scenarios she found herself in.
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She was stuck wearing a life vest, holding an old family jacket, sitting on a clam pot, and having to utter an infamous family phrase at the end of each turn… but that didn’t stop her from becoming the victor.

After the children had gone to bed, we invited my grandmother to play the final game of the night, but weren’t sure if she’d actually join us, given the craziness of the game. In true family style, however, she was totally in – but we gave her a whole bunch of extra chips, assuming that she’d forgo many of the more arduous adventures in favor of simply giving up a chip.
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BIG. MISTAKE.

No matter what was thrown her way, Phoofsy was up to the task.
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“Throw out a leftover? Oh, this minced ham is at least two weeks old!”

When faced with the exhausting challenge of having to go Up Top, and given that she might not have trekked there yet this summer, we knew – of course – that she’d hand over one of her chips. Instead, she looked us straight in the eye and said, “If I don’t do this, I lose a chip? Well, certainly I can go Up Top. Why would I waste a chip for that?”
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It took her about five minutes, but by God, she touched Up Top.
The Force may be strong with Luke, but the Competitive Drive is strong with this one.

After well less than an hour, and despite our very best efforts, there was nothing we could do: Phoofsy was the champion. We have since introduced The Lake Game to more of my family members and have taken great pleasure in watching one another make fools of ourselves. To make it even more competitive fun, we think we’ll now require an entry fee (because I’m far more likely to sing a Christmas carol – after having just changed my shirt and gone down the dock ladder in the dark – if there’s money on the line).

Money or no money, one thing is certain: Phoofsy is going down.
And, really, she can’t complain that I’m taking the game too seriously… As a true family grandchild, I learned from the best.