Bahama Drama

Remember when said that I’d tell the story of how I got hypothermia – in the Bahamas, of all places? Well, then I went and described visiting the homeless shelters, and after that there is really no appropriate segue into something as absurd – or unrelated – as Bahamian hypothermia, so I figure I’ll just go from the sublime to the ridiculous and run with it.

I do so like to keep people on their toes.

When we signed up for this cruise, one of the things we were most excited for was the day that the ship would be spending at Disney’s island, Castaway Cay (sounds like “key”). Hence, when Ella opened the curtain to our stateroom on the morning we landed and announced, “Wow – it’s really cloudy. Actually, it looks like it’s… raining…?”, it was not exactly welcome news. We slid open the door to the balcony just far enough to confirm two things: 1) it was most definitely raining and 2) it was most definitely not warm by Caribbean standards.

The forecast called for occasional showers, so we decided to take our chances (that we’d find some dry pockets in the afternoon) and head to the island after the original siege was over. As we’d hoped, the ship virtually emptied out as other sea-farers disembarked. Having the place to ourselves, we shuffleboarded… We explored… We watched Ella and Annie as they delighted in riding the water slide four times in a row with absolutely no line… We thanked our lucky stars that they were tall enough to ride without an adult because it was really freakin’ windy and there was no way we could brave the slides even once without being chilled to the bone.

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Note the rather ominous-looking clouds in the background…

Soon, the wind was accompanied by rain. When the thunder rumbled, the lifeguards hustled everyone out of the pools (to our relief; even fully clothed, we were cold); the folks at Castaway Cay had similarly been ushered out of the water and away from the shoreline. Knowing that we’d soon be joined by – literally – thousands of wet, grouchy beach-goers, we made a beeline for the buffet.

Nothing says “relaxed vacation” like stampeding for the all-you-can-eat shrimp!

By the time we’d finished eating, the rain had mostly stopped. Seeing that the beaches were virtually empty, and seeing as how we’d been looking so forward to our day on the island, Nick and I told the girls that we were going to brave the elements, take our chances, and see what adventure awaited us ashore; they – and GranMary – were welcome to join us. Annie, having become entranced with the ship’s virtual, interactive detective game, opted to stay behind and solve another mystery with GranMary while Ella chose to come with Nick and me.

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As we exited the gangplank (I have no idea if that’s actually what it’s called but it sounds way cooler like that), we passed wet towels that were piled at least six feet high on wheeled carts, cast off as people had boarded the boat and ditched their unnecessary gear. It became apparent the island was, indeed, all but empty the moment we boarded the tram and were the only passengers on it. Soon, we were standing on the beach, ready to do what we’d come here for: snorkeling.

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See? Empty. Emmmmp-teeee.

Or, at least, that’s what Nick – and, more importantly, Ella – had come here for. Nick has loved snorkeling since he was a kid. Ella took an immediate shine to it when she tried it last year and had been itching to go again ever since. I, on the other hand, distinctly dislike snorkeling… but I decided to be a good sport and join them, if only to say that I’d done it.

When Nick picked up the snorkeling gear, he requested some towels and was given… two. Thankfully, we’d thought to bring one with us, so we had three to go ’round. Although it was no longer raining, the wind was still racing; at maybe 65*, I was chilly before I’d even stepped foot in the water, but I hoped that the shallow reef would be warm enough to feel comfortable.
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Thumbs up! Let’s do this!

As I hesitantly waded in, the water felt… okay. Certainly warmer than the air, but hardly balmy. Nick and Ella swam farther out and it became difficult for me to locate their bobbing heads on the horizon, so I decided that if I actually wanted to catch up with them so we could say we’d officially snorkeled together, I’d better get going, no matter how chilly I felt.

You guys. I am just not meant for snorkeling. There’s not one specific thing that bothers me; it’s everything about it. I do get the “Oh, look – beautiful fish!” appeal, but really, I can do that at an aquarium. Or the fish tank in our living room.

Eventually, I made my way over to Nick and Ella, motioning to them so that they’d see it was me – Hey! We’re snorkeling together! Isn’t this great! MEMORIES! – but then quickly reversed course and slogged through the swelling currents back to shore. In order to try to ease the flipper-induced pain in my feet and ankles, I briefly kicked while floating on my back; it did hurt a little less, but it was also much colder than facing downward, so I turned facedown again after only a couple of minutes. Those minutes were enough to chill me from the inside out, however — by the time I (finally) schlepped ashore, I couldn’t stop shivering.

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We pretty much had the lagoon to ourselves…

Given that we possessed only one towel for each of us, I was hesitant to dry myself off just yet (I KNOW, I know). I had no idea how long Nick and Ella would be snorkeling, and if Ella wanted to do something else in the water afterward, I was determined to join her and not be a spoilsport, shivering or not; it seemed prudent, therefore, to keep my towel dry so I wouldn’t have to wrap myself in something soggy later on.

A mistake, in hindsight? Hell yes.
BUT I WAS TRYING TO BE A GOOD MOM, PEOPLE. Surely that earns me some points.

I did understand that I needed to get dry and that just standing around, freezing, was pretty stupid – plus, the shivering was becoming almost violent, not to mention a nuisance – so I hobbled off in search of more towels… only to be told by more than one cast member that there were no dry towels left. NOT ONE SINGLE DRY TOWEL ON THE ENTIRE ISLAND (hence the mountains of wet towels by the gangplank), unless we wanted to purchase one as a souvenir (which, given that I’d already brought an extra towel from home for Nick’s birthday, seemed dumb).

Another thing I don’t like about snorkeling is getting sand all up in my business, so I decided that, at the very least, I could take a warm shower and try to simultaneously clean out my business and raise my body temperature. Turns out the only shower available was outside, with no temperature gauge – so although I did rid my bathing suit of sand, and although the water was warmer than the air, I didn’t exactly get nice and toasty. And I was still soaking wet.

For the record: electric hand dryers do a piss poor job of drying off your entire body.

By the time I limped my way back to our lounge chairs (see: shivering), Nick and Ella were coming out of the water (THANK YOU SWEET BABY JESUS) but I could barely carry on a conversation with them – my jaw felt so heavy, almost numb from all of the chattering.

“Why on earth didn’t you dry off, babe??” Nick – understandably – wanted to know. When I explained that I had tried to warm up but that I was saving my towel in case Ella wanted to do anything more in the water, she piped up that, no, she was cold too, so no more water activities for her… or any of us. ENOUGH WITH THIS WET RIDICULOUSNESS. While changing into dry clothes, I was relieved to see that I was no longer shivering*, but I was growing annoyed at my increasing inability to speak clearly.

* Later, I learned that stopping shivering is actually a sign that your body is shutting down unnecessary motions in order to save energy. So efficient! Go, me!

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Since we’d brought sand toys with us, Ella’s one other request – aside from snorkeling -was to build a sandcastle. Wish granted!

Our favorite gift shop was on the way back to the tram, so we ducked inside for a few minutes to do some shopping. As we sorted through the I Love Castaway Cay! paraphernalia, the oddest thing happened: I began to lose feeling in my fingers. First, my pinkies went entirely numb; that numbness gradually crept into my ring fingers and then to the base of my middle fingers.

Now, I’ve gotten cold hands before. More accurately, I get cold hands all the freakin’ time; Annie and Ella laugh at how my hands are almost always like blocks of ice. Despite living in Snowland, USA, I have yet to find single pair of gloves or mittens that actually keeps me from losing feeling in my fingers, so I am more than familiar with the stinging, painful stages of early frostbite.

This numbness was entirely different; I’d never felt anything like it before, as though each finger could be pierced with something sharp and I wouldn’t even notice. I wiggled them around, clenched and unclenched my fists, but the bizarre numbness only continued to grow. When we’d finished shopping (side note: we bought a towel. I AM NOT KIDDING), I stopped Nick and slurred, “This is going to sound like I’m being overdramatic, but I’m losing feeling in my fingers and I can’t figure out why.”

He looked at me with a combination of WTF and That’s Not Good, suggesting I go to the restroom to try and warm them up under some hot water. I heeded his advice but it was no use – they remained feeling-less. As I told him about my lack of success, it became apparent that my mouth was becoming as numb as my fingers. My tongue felt heavy, my lips felt the way they do when I’m having an allergic reaction (thick and uncomfortable), and I was slurring my speech as though I’d downed several Mai Tais too many or just had a shot of novocaine (in other words: very sexy).

“This is just so weird,” I lamented. “It’s like I’m having an allergic reaction. I don’t think I ate anything unusual, though… Maybe I got stung by a rogue jellyfish?” Obviously, my head was working as slowly as my fingers.

Thankfully, Nick could still think clearly, so after a moment of consideration he postulated, “Um… actually, I think you’ve got the beginnings of hypothermia.”

This seemed preposterous, given that we were on a tropical island in the middle of the Caribbean, but Nick went on. “Somehow, snorkeling and the wind and then not getting warm afterward really messed up your core temperature, so now your body is removing heat from your extremities – like your fingers and your mouth – so it has enough to keep the rest of you going.”

The more I thought about it, about how different the numbness in my fingers felt than it ever had before, about the uncontrollable shivering, about my heavy jaw and sloppy speech, the more it appeared that Nick was probably right. Guess someone’s been paying attention to the Discovery Channel!

“Well, what the heck do I do about that??”

“I think we should get you back onto the ship as quickly as possible and then have you take a shower until you warm up.”

All in favor? AYE.

After running to catch the tram (have you ever tried to run while you’re tingly and numb? Very, very weird), we made a hasty return to our stateroom… But not before I whipped out my phone to take a group selfie, because there is always time for selfies.

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Now that I’m a bit more sane, I guess my lips do look kind of blue…

Once in the shower, it took a good ten minutes for my fingers and jaw to return to normal; it was actually kind of interesting, because I could feel the warmth spreading from the inside out, one little bit at a time, like lava. Not wanting to take any chances, I pulled on every layer I’d brought and hopped under the bed covers for the rest of the hour until dinner; Nick and Ella had ordered hot chocolate from the room service menu, which absolutely sped my recovery.

Upon returning home, I Googled hypothermia and found the following:

Mild hypothermia

Signs and symptoms of mild hypothermia include:
– Shivering
– Dizziness
– Hunger
– Nausea
– Faster breathing
– Trouble speaking
– Slight confusion
– Lack of coordination
– Fatigue
– Increased heart rate

Shivering? Check. Dizziness? Check. Trouble speaking? Slight confusion? Lack of coordination? Fatigue? Check check check check. 

No, I didn’t take my temperature, nor did I visit the ship’s doctor, so I can’t be 100% certain that it was hypothermia… But people? It was hypothermia.

So, it wasn’t quite the “adventure” on Castaway Cay that we’d envisioned, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it – especially because it makes me ridiculously badass… or an incredible wuss. At the very least, it makes an excellent ice breaker or Two Truths And A Lie factoid. I GOT HYPOTHERMIA. IN THE FRICKIN’ BAHAMAS. Not everyone can say that.

————-

I do realize that writing this is a bit outlandish, considering my last post. I’m just going to get this out of the way, then. YES, it is CRAZY that we live in a world where some of us cannot afford rent or food while others have so much “extra” money, they have fabulous vacations on cruises and islands and seeing Big Ben and the Great Barrier Reef. AND THEN those of us who have vacationed come home and gripe about the parts of our vacations that were less than stellar. “What were you doing last week? Struggling to keep your home? That really, really sucks. Oh, us? We were at Disney’s private island. It was cold, though, so I can totally relate – I mean, sometimes life hands you lemons.”

CRAZINESS.

Does that mean that we should never take vacations if we can afford them? No, I don’t think so. Does it mean that we can never complain about disappointments that we encounter on said vacations? Nah, especially if you do it with humor and grace.

With that said, I do think that perspective and gratitude go a helluva long way. You can bemoan life’s little hiccups – even while sipping a daiquiri on a beach in Hawaii – while still being tremendously grateful that you’re on that beach, period.
Even if you get hypothermia while you’re there.

 

We Soared; aka Epcot in a Day

So, hi there! Long time no see!

I could try to make excuses about not writing, but really we were simply out of town, so there was no writing during that time, and before that I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off getting ready to go out of town.

Woe is me. I know. I’ll just stop there.

Like last year, we went to Florida and on a Disney Cruise… and, like last year, it was fantastic.

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That time, it was the Magic – this time, we sailed on the Dream.

Before we got there, however, we made a detour to Epcot in Walt Disney World (Nick’s and my favorite Disney park – and, we figured, a relatively easy one to “do” in only one day without running ourselves ragged). YOU KNOW YOU ARE EXCITED FOR A PLAY BY PLAY OF OUR VACATION. Get ready, folks.

Because I’m a bit of a Disney freak fanatic, I knew that we’d need to arrive early if we wanted to do our very favorite ride, Soarin’, without waiting in a ridiculously long line (we already had FastPasses for TestTrack but couldn’t double-book two “top tier” attractions, so Soarin’ had to be a walk-on). Good sports that they are (and not wanting to wait in an interminably long line; their mama didn’t raise no dummies), the rest of the fam agreed – and so we greeted the Epcot gates prior to the park even opening.

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Oh, what a beautiful morning!
That’s Spaceship Earth peeking out behind us…

My evil plan thoughtful preparations worked: we walked right on Soarin’, and Nick and Ella even got to ride it again with hardly any wait at all. Score!

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Truly the most perfect way to start a day…
By 45 minutes after the park opened, the wait for this ride was over an hour. THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM, FOLKS. Or at least two no-wait rides.

When my three housemates had okayed my early morning plan, they’d done so in part because I’d promised that, once we’d finished with Soarin’, we’d be free to just wander the park and take things in at a leisurely pace – something we rarely, if ever, have the time to do when we actually visit WDW for any length of time. But this time, we did – ambling through The Land pavilion (where Soarin’ is housed), riding one of the other rides, spending a looong time at the aquarium tanks there (we’ve never taken that opportunity before; it was refreshing and lovely).

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I love this photo of the girls and the sea turtle.

We rode rides when the mood struck. We had a relaxing breakfast. We shopped (picking up the Mickey ears that Nick thought were merely to surprise GranMary, who would be joining us for the cruise; they were – but the girls and I had a master plan to get him a special, surprise set of ears for his 40th birthday occurring two days later…).

At last, our TestTrack FastPass time arrived, so we headed over and were through with the line and the ride in less than twenty minutes.

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Ready to ride!
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This is really a terrible shot – I snapped it with my phone off of a computer screen after the ride’s end – but I love it for Ella’s absolutely giddy face.

With our Future World dreams fulfilled, we grabbed a bit to eat at a couple of the pavilions in the World Showcase.  Eleanor was beyond thrilled to stand inside the phone booths at the United Kingdom pavilion… JUST LIKE IN HARRY POTTER OMG.

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‘Ello, guv’na!
(Is that really a thing? Did I just offend all of Britain?)

She also insisted on shadowing me as I shopped in the UK pavilion specifically so she could listen to everyone’s accent (“They sound like they’re in the movies!”) and read the names of their hometowns (“That man is from Oxford! THAT’S WHERE EMMA WATSON IS FROM!!”). At last, hot and tired from walking, we walked back to our hotel, which – mercifully – was situated right outside of Epcot.

Truth be told, by late afternoon the pool was a bit chilly, but the girls loved splashing and running in the sand and Nick and I loved sitting idly beside the pool, beverages in hand.

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Adding to our enjoyment was the moment when I checked my phone and discovered that it felt like 75* by the pool… and -21* back home. For those of you bad at The Math (like me), that’s nearly a 100 DEGREE DIFFERENCE, y’all. ONE. HUNDRED. DEGREES. We could not even wrap our brains around that absolute insanity, but we certainly appreciated our breezy, sunny afternoon by the pool, let me tell you.
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That night, as planned, we headed back over to Epcot to take a tour around the world for dinner. This is one of Nick’s and my most cherished rituals – grabbing a bite to eat at the various “countries,” poking through the shops, trying the drinks. As people who have yet to truly travel the world but who would absolutely love to, there’s something wonderfully satisfying about Epcot’s World Showcase; we couldn’t wait to share it with the girls.

Alas, as we’d feared, they’re a bit young yet to really appreciate it (“Do we have to walk all the way to China? What’s so special about Norway? Can’t we just eat caramel corn at home?”), and by that time Ella had developed a killer headache (for which she refused to take any medication, so our sympathies largely went out the window; we are excellent parents), so it wasn’t really the blissful Around The World experience we’d hoped for.

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Still, it was a beautiful night. We ate ourselves silly. The caramel corn really is that good. (And, best of all, Nick had a brilliant idea: to celebrate my 40th birthday this fall, he and I will come back to Epcot for a day to attend the annual Food and Wine festival – HOLLA!!) We went to bed exhausted, slightly cranky, but overall happy and extremely excited for the cruise to come.

(No, I won’t go into that part here; this post is long enough, don’t you think?
Besides, who doesn’t enjoy reading several blogs’ worth about someone else’s vacation?? Stay tuned…)

We Bought It

To school, or not to school… That was the question.

For the past two days, both Annie and Ella have been home, sick… but it was that kind of sick where you wonder if they’re pulling early Ferris Buellers on you or if they’re really down and out enough to stay home.

Don’t get me wrong – I would not wish serious illness on either of my children – but when that temperature rises over 100*F or there’s vomiting going on, at least you can be sure of whether or not they really need to stay home. Other times – like these past couple of days – it’s a lot more nebulous.

On Friday, Annie began showing signs that she was coming down with something. As we went out that night with a few other friends and their moms, I told them that I suspected that Annie’s cough was more than just an annoyance. Sure enough, 36 hours later we found ourselves in our pediatrician’s office during their Sunday morning emergency visiting hours with a diagnosis of bronchitis (or possibly walking pneumonia).

Y’all, Annie was miserable. There were times when she coughed so hard and so uncontrollably that I was actually worried she might break something. Two inhalers, Delsym doses, Benadryl, pain relievers, honey, tea, and Vicks VapoRub did almost nothing to alleviate her symptoms. The poor girl was coughing too much to sleep; after crawling into my bed at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning following a horrible night, she caught only an hour of fitful sleep before awakening and rushing to the bathroom to be sick. She coughed so much and so violently during the day, she became totally exhausted; she physically hurt. We knew she wouldn’t be in school on Monday.

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Little sleep on Saturday night leads to napping on Sunday.

{Side note: is coughing not the absolute worst? I mean, it’s not quite plague or pestilence or freakin’ measles (I can’t even begin to get into that whole fiasco; the selfishness of these people completely astounds me), but coughing is an enormous pain in the ass. I hate coughing, I hate coughs, and I hate listening to people cough. Mark my words: the person who develops a cure or an effective treatment for your plain old run-of-the-mill cough will become a gazillionaire. Or at least be Time‘s Person of the Year.}

Ella, by contrast, did not have anything so easily diagnosed. Her throat hurt and her nose was crazy stuffed but the pediatrician confirmed that it didn’t look like strep; lack of a fever or any other strep symptoms all point to a regular head cold. Colds are tricky, though; like prairie dogs or TV shows on Nick Jr, they’re deceptive – one moment, you think they’re harmless, and the next they’re destroying your lawn, causing your children to speak in nonsensical and exceedingly annoying catchphrases, and making your nose run so much you go through an entire box of tissues.

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When I picked up Annie’s antibiotics on Sunday, I decided to stock up on any and all accoutrements we might need to get the girls through the next few days. The pharmacist asked if I was purchasing the entire OTC aisle; I said I was and he agreed it was wise.

Yesterday morning, Eleanor bemoaned her achy throat and can’t-breathe nose but, without a telltale fever or spreading rash or oozy eyes, Nick and I couldn’t really see any reason not to send her to school; just not feeling good is hard to quantify and even harder to use as a definitive get-out-of-school-free card. We told her that we believed in her – she would be okay! Ibuprofen and kids’ generic Cold And Sinus medication would help her out! – but if she really felt awful, she could go to the nurse and have her call me (I’d be home with Annie, after all) and I’d go and get her.

When the phone rang at 10:08 a.m., I knew immediately what was up.

Admittedly, she didn’t look so good; she was droopy and her eyes just looked off. For the rest of the day, while Annie hacked up a lung and essentially went on a hunger strike, we three lounged around the living room — watching TV (we expunged NBC’s live version of “Peter Pan” from our DVR where it had been lying in wait since early December), using iPads, reading books, listening to audio books, playing games. When I texted Nick to tell him that Ella was coming home, he asked if I needed him to leave work to help – I told him that I appreciated the offer, but the girls really weren’t that sick and I had plenty of things around the house to keep me busy, so I’d be fine.

FAMOUS LAST WORDS.

Oh, I mean I was fine. It was well and truly fine, really. But those things to keep me busy? BWAHAHAHA. I did manage to do everyone’s laundry and send out a couple of necessary emails, but otherwise… NADA. The least productive home day of all time . I don’t know what kind of vortex pulled me into the living room and onto the couch next to the girls – maybe some weird sort of mostly-sick kid voodoo? – but I accomplished basically nothing except emptying garbage cans when they overflowed with tissues.

By the time Nick arrived home at 5:00 so that I could go to the grocery store, I felt like I was seeing daylight for the first time after a prison sentence. Or maybe leaving the theater after viewing Titanic. Given that Ella and Annie remained fever-free yesterday, I held *very* high hopes that they would return to school today.

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This was basically ALL DAY yesterday. Note that the laundry in the basket to the left is folded. BOO YAH.

Okay, wait. That’s true, but there’s a caveat.
I did hold high hopes that they would return to school this morning, but last night there was a not-so-small part of me that kind of hoped they would be home again today solely so that I wouldn’t have to pack either of them a lunch.

Yep. Packing lunches is so odious, I would (almost) rather that the girls stay home sick just to avoid it. IT HAS COME TO THIS.

Nick and I agreed that Annie should probably remain home for at least a couple of hours this morning; the last few days, she has sounded so awful after awakening, you’d think she’d escaped from the TB ward. I thought that Ella, on the other hand, was destined for school… until I saw her this morning and she looked even droopier than she had yesterday.

When I asked her how she felt compared to the day before, she said she felt the same – or worse – but definitely not better. Meaning that if we opted to send her to school anyway, she would likely just wind up in the nurse’s office again and ’round and ’round we’d go. SO THEY WERE BOTH HOME AGAIN TODAY but with fingers very crossed that they’d return this afternoon. Alas, by lunchtime – the witching hour in terms of taking Annie to class – both girls said they just felt so tired, they didn’t think they could go to school.

Cue the tiny violins.

I don’t think I’m a sucker. I run a pretty tight Don’t-Take-Any-Sh*t ship. But damned if I didn’t feel like I was being played by these little hooligans!

It also wasn’t quite as simple as, We’ll just stay home and cozy until you both feel hunky dory, the three of us looking lovingly at one another in the living room – thank goodness there’s nothing else going on! Because I teach piano on Tuesdays. And our awesome babysitter comes and watches the girls. And the students come to the house (where the bronchitis and super-cold germs have been marinating). And tonight we were supposed to have my grandmother over for dinner – which, in itself, was a raincheck from Sunday when Annie was first diagnosed.

This is the chapter of the parenting manual that is missing. (It’s entirely possible I ripped it out one night while tiny baby Ella was up screaming because we hadn’t yet figured out that she was lactose intolerant and I kept trying make her feel better by nursing her after I’d consumed heaps of the frozen lasagnas and creamy chicken casseroles I’d dutifully prepped before her birth.) How do you make these decisions? How do you know when your kid is really “sick enough” to stay home, when it isn’t cut and dried? How much do outside factors – job, babysitter, determining just how germ-infested your house really is and if it’s okay for piano students to be in it, desperately wanting to see your grandma but desperately not wanting to potentially give her bronchitis or a cold – come into play? What about missed school days? And how do we weigh in Ella’s chorus concert tomorrow (and missed practices yesterday and today)?

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My view for much of today: coffee table (clean!), vaseline for chapped lips, thermometer, tea, TV remote, and a tissue box to which the girls have taped a dirty tissue bag. So industrious, they are.

On the other hand… when it comes down to it, if the kids are sick, they’re sick – period, the end. I mean, how the heck was I supposed to argue with, I don’t have the energy to go to school and I feel the same as I did yesterday… when you decided I should stay home ? Sure, I could have forced them to go in – even refused to pick them up should the nurse call – so that I could teach piano and see my grandma… but in the end, what would it get me? Daughters who don’t trust that their mom is in their corner, who think their mother doesn’t believe them when they say they feel like crap? Teachers who looked sideways at my potentially ill offspring? At few hours of sanity?

Okay. That last part was seriously tempting.

In the end, we felt that, since they haven’t played this card before (that we know of), we needed to listen to them; they stayed home. I cancelled the babysitter and the piano lessons. Nick and I decided, if we didn’t think it wise for anyone else to be around the girls, that it would be really dubious to ask my grandmother over for dinner — we will take (another) raincheck.

And so it was that the girls and I spent another day at home, cozied up against the winter chill and snow (although not the blizzard that much of the Northeast received) – a sort-of snow day that was not a snow day. (Annie did ask if she could go sledding; that request was quickly nixed seeing how sick she was and all.) There was still television watching and iPad using and book reading, but there was also working out (OH MY HECK I AM SORE), cleaning, photo sorting, and cooking – so it was certainly more productive than yesterday.

I will say, however, that shoveling the ice rink – the only occasion I left the house all day – was just about the most glorious experience of ever.

Well, that and having Annie try to explain that her knees hurt when she walked because the doctor said she had walking ammonia.

And Ella finally getting around to reading some of the books that she hadn’t had time for.

As of right now, we are definitely a go to send the girls to school tomorrow. They’ve steadily felt better all day and, given the general level of tomfoolery that they’ve engaged in, I think they’re both as stir crazy as I am to get the heck out of dodge and back to their routine.

Maybe best of all, because Wednesday is much-beloved pizza day, I DO NOT HAVE TO MAKE ANY LUNCHES TONIGHT EITHER — can I get an amen! 

Once the girls are off and running, and after I’ve attended the yearbook meeting, taken photos of the school’s choruses, and climbed a monstrously tall ladder to take photos of every fifth grade homeroom (with the students formed into the numbers 2-0-1-5; it’s as brutal as it sounds – send good vibes, please) — but before Ella’s chorus concert tomorrow night — I plan to sit down with that parenting manual to see what we might have done differently, ’cause this stuff is hard. If you’ve got the missing chapter, I’m all ears.

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Given our recent Clean Eating push, I’ve been almost entirely avoiding alcohol since New Year’s – but tonight? Tonight I had a glass and I AM NOT SAD about it. (The goblet was a Christmas present from one of my aunts. It is plastic and largely unbreakable and awesome.)

 

 

This house is clean

(Please tell me I’m not the only one who totally hears that woman’s creepy voice from Poltergeist when you read those words.
Also, the house isn’t clean yet. DON’T BE RIDICULOUS.)

When I say that we go all out for the holidays, I mean it in every way possible, especially with food. And drinks. And more food. I’d love to say that I’m one of those people who is able to effectively moderate exactly what goes in my mouth between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but with honesty being the best policy and all, I can’t.

Usually, I don’t mind. Without getting into the gory (or, more specifically, boring) details, I will say that I’m generally a pretty healthy person. I’m mindful of my diet but I don’t actually diet and I am strong and (more or less) fit. Because of this, I don’t normally sweat what I eat in December ’cause I know it will balance itself out in the end.

This year, it did balance itself out… but it balanced out on my end. Throughout autumn, I’d noticed that my pants were getting tighter – nothing monumental, but a little more snug. I told myself that, once the holidays were over and I was eating my usual fare and exercising my usual amount, everything would be good again. But when the waistband of my pants actually began to hurt, I knew that just “going back to normal” might not be enough. The pounds had packed on so slowly, a subtle adjustment was unlikely to make much of a difference.

Simply put, I felt gross. I was uncomfortable. Yes, I want to make long-term lifestyle changes to what I’m eating, but I also wanted to jumpstart the year with a more radical change so that I could, quite literally, be happy in my own skin again.

Nick, too, was feeling pretty blech after the holidays, so we decided to do something together to kick ourselves into gear. Having completed the disastrous juice cleanse last year that left us both feeling like angry, starving lunatics, we knew that pure juicing was out of the question… but we liked the idea of a strict eating regimen aimed at removing the extra crap from our systems and putting in only good stuff. Just without the rage. And all the juice.

Long story short, after some research, we decided to go for a ten day cleanse that combined aspects of the Reboot Lite plan (I appreciate how it tries to let us off the hook by saying that this reboot is good for people for whom straight-up juicing isn’t right, “maybe due to health issues or a rigorous workout routine”… or maybe because JUICING MADE ME A BITTER, MURDEROUS HAG) and the 21-day cleanse that is outlined in Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet book (we condensed it into ten days and didn’t fast at all, but whatever).

More specifically: fresh fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, veggies, fruits, nuts, beans, and certain grains (quinoa, brown and wild rice, lentils) were in. Dairy, meats, sugar, breads, carbs, anything processed, any beverages other than water and herbal tea, and basically all other foods were out.

PARTY ON, AMIRIGHT??

I’m sure, to many, this sounds like pure torture. Before the juice cleanse, I probably would have said the same – but after that week from hell, even Nick agreed that this looked like a veritable smorgasbord. We also knew that we really wanted this; we wanted to feel better. We wanted to stop craving foods we knew weren’t good for us, to stop eating so much, to get a head start on a healthier lifestyle, so we felt pretty darned motivated to see this through.

And you know what? It really wasn’t bad at all. We were “allowed” to eat plenty of food, so we never really felt hungry. Just as importantly, the food tasted really good and completely filled us up — and not merely acceptable-for-a-cleanse food, either, but recipes that we’ll happily turn to again now that the ten days are up.

(For the record: I have discovered that I can’t get enough avocado or quinoa. I could eat them both every single day maybe for the rest of my life. Sweet potatoes and kale, on the other hand, start off well but don’t feel as good by day ten.)

Best of all, the cleanse did what we’d hoped it would. We became full much faster, meaning that we were no longer consuming too-big portions. I “reset” my sweet tooth so that almonds and dried cherries satisfied my desire for something to chew after dinner, rather than a handful of chocolate chips. I lost around five pounds and, even better, my pants finally fit comfortably again.

To be fair, this cleanse thing wasn’t without its drawbacks. Planning for it – what meals we’d eat and when, making the grocery list, making sure we had the necessary tools – took hours upon hours because I refused to have us consume the same thing day in and day out. Groceries were monstrously expensive because purchasing enough fruits and veggies to juice and to eat costs an arm and a leg. Also, when you’re consuming heaps of fresh produce, it runs out fairly quickly, so I made four trips to the grocery store in ten measly days.

Hardest of all, the girls weren’t participating in the cleanse but they still needed to, you know, eat, so I wound up preparing three separate breakfasts and lunches (one for Nick and me and one each for Annie and Ella because do you think they could possibly agree on a single breakfast or lunch choice? OF COURSE NOT) and two different dinners every single day. Nick helped as often as he could, but I was still in the kitchen – chopping and dicing and peeling, juicing, blending, cooking, cleaning, dismantling, doling out into containers, washing Tupperware, etc. – for two-and-a-half to three hours every day.

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Just *some* of the dishes, pots, bowls, etc., required to do all of the peeling, juicing, blending, cooking, cleaning, dismantling, and doling out into containers. Every night, for ten nights. Not pictured: the freakin’ juicer.

Three hours in the kitchen is way too long to not come away with at least one batch of brownies or a glass of wine, y’all.

So, it wasn’t really the most practical of “diets” because I absolutely cannot devote that much time to food prep day in and day out. For ten days, though? It was doable.

I’d planned to come off of the cleanse very gradually, easing back into some of the foods we’d been avoiding (hello, Starbucks)… but, as luck would have it, the culinary arts center that’s only 30 minutes from our house was offering a gluten free baking class on the ninth day of the cleanse, and I had a gift certificate to the center that was begging to be used, and Nick could stay home with the girls because it was a Sunday so…

Really, there was no other choice. I was practically obligated to attend.

The baking was a blast and the recipes were spot-on, but – to both my delight and my frustration – I quickly learned that I was not able to consume the fabulous goodies that we’d prepared in class. I don’t mean that I didn’t want to (oh, I wanted to!), but that I couldn’t: after eating just two bites of the quiche and one bite of pizza, I was so stuffed, I felt sick to my stomach. Over the course of the week, the girls and I slowly made our way through the bounty and all was well, but it definitely felt strange to become so full after eating just one baked good.

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A small portion of the delectable spread that awaited us after class…
From left: pizza, quiche Lorraine, pumpkin whoopee pies (OMG SO GOOD), chocolate-covered macaroons, and flourless chocolate chip cookies.

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Additionally, in back: double chocolate brownie, lemon poppyseed muffin, English muffin.

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I had so many leftovers from the baking class, I needed four to-go containers.

This past weekend was our ultimate test when we went away for two nights with some of our best friends and their children. Although, by that time, Nick and I had introduced meat and dairy back into our diets, we’d kept our portion sizes reasonable and snacking to a minimum. By contrast, each night that we were away, we deliberately chose to throw caution to the wind and eat whatever we damn well pleased – pasta and burgers and cheese and wine and beer and dessert. We did become full more quickly than we would have, say, a month ago so we didn’t really eat all that much, but still – it was more than we had been eating, and it was certainly food that would be considered “unhealthy.”

The good and the bad news is that it caught up with us big time, sending both of our stomachs into knots, causing tremendous pain and discomfort, and costing us a lot of time in, um, the bathroom. Apparently, we did such a good job shocking our systems back into order that, upon being fed the “wrong” food, they revolted. Which is neat, in that the cleanse obviously worked and now it’s pretty clear what constitutes “good” food — but which also sucks because if I want to eat a piece of cake, damn it, I’m a grown-up and I don’t need my body giving me hell for it. (Likewise, darling offspring, I do not need to be accused of “using drugs” each time I pour a glass of pinot . Thanks, D.A.R.E.)

So, here we are – post-cleanse, feeling better, knowing that eating poorly will result in feeling poorly, but also seeing that the level of diligence (and amount of produce) we’d been maintaining isn’t possible long-term. Hence, we’ve decided to compromise and… wait for it… eat better. Crazy, I know. But, now that we’ve gotten started, it seems much more reasonable – even enjoyable. More veggies and salads. Less dairy and meat. More “clean” snacks that don’t come out of a package or a box. (Much) less processed food. More tea. Less “low fat” food. More real food, full fat and all. Less sugar. Fewer carbs. More water. Less soda. Lots of quinoa and avocados.

And, of course, some bacon and chocolate and wine and Starbucks thrown in there, too – just maybe not in the same night. Except for birthdays and weekends with friends and evenings when the girls are in bed and asleep before 9:00 and there’s no hockey on and a fire in the fireplace; then, all bets are off.

 

Throwback Thursday: Never lose hope!

You know the saying: when you’re a parent, the days go by slowly but the years go by fast.  This was never more true for me than the girls were really little – say, under five years old. I would look back on each passing year absolutely astonished that so much time had passed and they were so much older… but in the thick of things, some of those days really did drag on agonizingly slowly.

I fully understood why some animals eat their young.

It was just… hard. Everything had the potential for turning into a disaster. Meltdowns could occur at any moment. It took thirteen hours to get out of the house to run to the grocery store and an additional forty-three minutes to buckle them into their carseats. I know there are lots of parents who looooved those early years, but for me? They were awesome. They were hilarious. But they were really effing hard.

Mercifully, as the years changed and the girls got older, a lot of things became easier. When kids are young, you never, ever have a moment to yourself, not even – nay, especially even – if you’re in the bathroom.6 of 52What is this ‘privacy’ thing you speak of?

Admittedly, I still receive very little privacy and I am a ninja when it comes to multitasking while on the toilet, but it’s gotten better. Annie and Ella can entertain themselves. They are capable of reaching higher and making their own sandwiches and changing the channel on the remote, so I actually can have a few minutes of peace. Granted, it’s not like I’m using that time to read or practice yoga, but having a little breathing room is a godsend.

When your kids are young, there are moments – lots and lots and lots of them – when you need to be right there beside them. They are simply incapable of managing on their own, whether it’s in a swing (that day when they learn how to pump is the day you win the lottery, my friend) or at the sink.ridingsolo  ridingsolo2 (1)
I’m pretty sure there was a rule that all children under a certain age had to be accompanied on the carousel, but even if there hadn’t been, you don’t want your kid to be the one who falls off and makes the ride come to a screeching halt, so there you are.  Beside them. Spinning. Around… and around… and around…

You look longingly at the parents who can send their children to the playground by themselves and you practically break down and cry at the thought of not having to join them in the bouncy house.
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Ahhhh, wading pools… Adorable inflatable death traps.

But then, little by little, they become more capable. You can step back as they navigate the  dress-up exhibit at the museum. Birthday parties become drop-off parties (thank you, sweet baby Jesus). You gingerly test their ability to use the restrooms by themselves in public places. And then finally, you can send them into the pool – the real one, not the inflatable pool of death – without even putting on your own bathing suit (oh happy day!). Do you believe in miracles? YES.

When your kiddos are young, they’re messy, so their clothes need changing constantly. Even as they become slightly less messy, they still want to change their clothes all the time – well, mine did, anyway. Three outfits a day, minimum, and that doesn’t include dress-up. It is maddening and creates laundry piles the size of small countries, so it is truly wondrous that day when they…

… no, scratch that. My girls are still changing their clothes all the freaking time. If yours eventually stopped, please tell me when so I can mark it on the calendar and pre-order a celebratory bottle of champagne.
115eveningdressupJuuuust your typical daywear…

And the food – oh, the food! This may come as a shock, after watching Animal Planet and all that and seeing how many wild creatures come out of the womb (or egg or whatever) with fully functioning mouths and stuff, but human children are not capable of feeding themselves. They can drink just fine (most of the time), but alas, milk does not just fall from the sky into their waiting mouths, so you need to nurse or formula-feed them. Which comes with the bottle washing! The sore nipples! The holding of the bottle at exactly the right angle so your little cherub doesn’t choke or swallow air… until that glorious moment when she is able to grasp that bottle herself. Independence!!

Then, you eagerly set out to start them on solids – how exciting! – which is fabulous and new and such a treat… for the first six months. Eventually, doing The Airplane with the spoon becomes just a wee bit tiresome, and cutting food into itty bitty morsels becomes grounds for insanity. But I can tell you with certainty that it does not last forever. One day, your darlings will be able to eat like grown-up people – they’ll even cut their own meat! – and you can say goodbye to sippy cups and skinned grapes forever.
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Annie held her sippy cup sideways until she stopped using it. I didn’t like the cups, but her akimbo hold was pretty damn cute.

Shall we discuss getting small children dressed? Let’s just say it would probably be easier to squeeze a goat into a wetsuit than it is to get a wriggling child into his onesie. Babies, of course, cannot help at all (have you ever gone back and dressed an infant once your own children have grown beyond infant-hood and you just sit there waiting for the wee one to slip his arm through the sleeve the way your 13-month old does but all he does is lie there, thrashing about, and it finally dawns on you that he is actually incapable of putting his own arm through the sleeve? Is that just me?), but it is not necessarily better when your toddler learns to dress himself because it takes FOR.EVER. and he will need to do it HIS. WAY. which often does not resemble your way even in the slightest.
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Ella (3) is “helping” me dress Annie (1) before going into the snow. The amount of time spent getting ready definitely exceeded the amount of time we spent outside.

As your toddlers become pre-schoolers and, eventually, grade-schoolers, the dressing thing becomes way less physically demanding. (Note that it does not necessarily become easier.) They can put on their own clothes! They can zip their own coats! They can tie their own shoes! There will still be clothing battles and tears and meltdowns, and it might still take you thirteen hours to get out the door, but at least you can be sitting in the car waiting instead of trying to thread a belt through toddler-sized belt loops.

And then, perhaps more than all of the other things that can make those early days creep by so slowly, there is the sleeping. SLEEPING WAS MY BIGGEST ENEMY. If they woke up too soon, it could spell disaster. If they fell asleep too soon – say, in the car on the way home – it could spell disaster. If we slept anywhere other than home, it could spell disaster.

(I noted in my previous post that Nick and I were militant about sleeping, especially with Ella. That was partly because we were first-time parents and didn’t know any better, but it was also because Ella was a notoriously specific sleeper. If we put her to bed between 7:00 and 7:15, she would sleep through the night until 7 a.m. the following morning. If we put her to bed at 7:30 (or later) – just fifteen minutes more! – she would awaken at FIVE A.M. every single time. So, we had a curfew – because of our fifteen month old. It was super fun. Have I mentioned that sleeping was my biggest enemy?)

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They look adorable, but don’t be fooled. 

Our biggest nightmare was when the clocks turned forward or back because, as parents of young ones know, children do not use the clock to determine when to get out of bed. No, they just wake up when their bodies tell them to, regardless of whether it is an hour earlier or later or even three o’clock in the morning, and then they get you up. When those clocks fall back in November and people talk about an “extra hour” of sleep, you want to punch them square in the nose because you know that it will mean an extra hour of being awake… and then an extra torturous hour at bedtime when your children are exhausted (because their bodies tell them it’s an hour later than it is) but you don’t want to put them to bed quite yet because you know that if you do, they’ll continue to awaken at an ungodly hour the following morning.

Basically, “falling back” can suck it.

Well, y’all, I was afraid to mention it earlier because I thought I would jinx it, but it’s been five days in a row and I’m confident enough to say: THE END OF DAYLIGHT SAVINGS WAS JUST FINE THIS YEAR!! I have no idea what time Ella and Annie awakened on Sunday morning because we told them that when they got up, they needed to play quietly and not bother us… and they did. I actually awoke before my alarm to find the girls chilling out in their rooms. HALLE-FREAKIN’-LUJAH.

And then – and then! They became tired that night earlier than normal, so they went to bed earlier than normal (which meant Nick and I had more time to ourselves that night)… but they did not awaken super-early on Monday morning. No! They awoke only slightly early, which meant they had extra time to get ready for school (amen), and then they went to bed a wee bit early that night, too. By Tuesday? Fully adjusted.

AND SO, my friends with young children. Don’t lose hope. Eventually, your littles will dress themselves. They’ll brush their own teeth (but don’t count on nicely brushed hair). They’ll make their own beds (when you nag them). And, one very, very fine day, they will even take “falling back” in stride and that mythical “extra hour” you cherished in college will become part of your life once more. Keep the faith!!

As for your children still being cute when they’re older and maybe still being one another’s best friends? Yep. That happens, too.
Most days.

hug

Lucky Thirteen

Thirteen years ago today, Nick and I were married and – if I may be so bold – our wedding was pretty freakin’ awesome. I’ve already written here several times about what it means to be married, about how our relationships has grown and changed over the years, about Nick himself and who he is. So today, as promised, I want to talk about our wedding itself and why it still makes me smile after all these years.

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I have no idea why we’re laughing, but it pretty accurately sums up the tenor of the evening.

If I got married today, I’d be all over Pinterest – Ooooh, let’s serve those at the reception! These are fabulous invitations! Who knew you could do that with a ball of twine and some feathers?!  When Nick and I were planning our wedding, there was no Pinterest. The internet, although definitely part of our lives, was not the place to go to get information and ideas about your upcoming nuptials. The sources that were available – gen-you-wine old-fashioned books and magazines – provided us with bunch of ideas, a few of which we adapted, but mostly we were on our own.

Which suited us fine, because we knew only three things for sure about our wedding: we really wanted to get married to one another, so that was, you know, kind of the focal point; we wanted our guests to have a kick-ass good time; and we wanted the wedding to really represent who we were. Meaning it would be musical, fun, geeky, loud, joy-filled, a little different, and enormous portions of delicious food would be plentiful.

Knowing that the musical aspects of the wedding were really important to us, we got started early by arranging two songs to be sung a cappella (see: geeky), recording the different parts and burning them onto CDs (again, not so easy to just email the files; and also again: geeky), and mailing the CDs to our extremely good-natured and supportive friends – members of the a cappella groups Nick and I had been part of in college – who’d agreed to sing with us over the course of the weekend. To their credit, every single one of ’em learned those parts; when we got together to rehearse for the first time (less than an hour before performing), it was like turning on a stereo.us wedding11
I Can’t Get Enough of You Baby” by Smash Mouth, what else?

For the rehearsal dinner itself, which was hosted by Nick’s family, we decided to bring a little Minnesota flare into our New York festivities. Nick’s mom and aunts hand-dyed the tablecloths and created the table centerpieces themselves, using preserved local Minnesota flowers and cattails and then shipping the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle all the way out to the Big Apple. It felt homey and warm and special and I was so grateful to them for putting so much effort and love into every detail. Nick’s dad created a slideshow of photos of Nick growing up, while my mom created a video of photos of me growing up, and the whole night felt like the perfect combination of his family and mine.

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That there would be the hand-dyed tablecloth and really cool Minnesota flowers.

Naturally, there was singing. We sang a cappella with our friends – a mix of old songs (including an old-school ditty called “Daddy” whose lyrics begin, “Daddy, let me stay up late… for tomorrow is my wedding date…” I know!) and the ones that Nick and I had arranged. Nick performed on his guitar, I sang with my forever BFF, Kiki, and Nick and I did a few songs together, welcoming everyone into this crazy world of ours.

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The morning of big day dawned cloudy and rainy, but the skies had cleared by the time the festivities began. I’d asked my singing pals to join me and my bridal party just prior to entering the church so that we could sing “Going to the Chapel” (in harmony, duh).

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Going to the chapel… literally.

The wedding ceremony itself was lovely and vibrant, nodding to tradition while turning things on their ends. Although we got married in a church, I refused to walk down the aisle to the organ because I think organs sound like something out of a horror movie (and yes, I was a music major and studied Bach and all that jazz [pun intended!] and I still can’t stand the organ; hey, you like what you like), instead choosing Offenbach’s “Barcarolle” from The Tales of Hoffman (after falling in love with it in the movie Life is Beautiful) for the processional and Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” (yes, the march, like you’d hear on the Fourth of July) for the recessional.

At the reception, we wanted everyone to have an absolute blast, to dance and eat themselves silly and enjoy the hell out of the whole affair (in part because, c’mon, how often are we going to do this? and in part because of the timing of the event). To begin, we had our first dance; nowadays, I’d be scouring YouTube for fun and charming First Dance Videos, but then, YouTube wasn’t even a blink in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye (I know he didn’t invent YouTube – Google tells me that it was created by three former PayPal employees – but it’s the first name I came up with, so there) – so it was just up to us to come up with something a little unusual. Ultimately, we decided to add a bit of whimsy to the dance (“The Way You Look Tonight”, a longtime favorite of ours) and incorporate a “choreographed” section complete with pat-a-cake clapping and doing “the swim”; it was very dignified.

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What? You didn’t rock ’50s and ’60s hand motions during your first dance? Pity.

Since this was, we figured, our one shot at sharing a bit of ourselves with this collection of charming guests who made their way across the country to join us, we wanted to include some of our favorite family traditions – including Christmas crackers (you know, the kind with exploding snaps at each end that are filled with a paper crown, a small slip of paper containing a joke or bit of trivia, and an itty bitty toy), which my family has opened at special dinners since I was a kid. Except that any old Christmas crackers wouldn’t do, so we – along with my mom – spent hours upon hours filling empty crackers with music-themed items: piano erasers, quarter note pins, and the like.

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The crackers, ready to go at at the tables…

us wedding3 Naturally, we put the crowns on as soon as we opened the crackers. Duh.

Our love of music was woven into all areas of the reception. Our band had told us they’d learn one song of our choosing – and so we chose a relative unknown, “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” by Hurricane Smith, because it was one of my grandfather’s favorite songs and we used to listen to it while roasting marshmallows at the bonfires along the lake; we invited our entire families to join us for the dance. Our seating cards were written on music staves, sending people to a table not named by number but by a place that was important to Nick and me (Denver, Disney World, Canandaigua…).

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My cousin, looking to figure out which table he was at. (Hint: he was with us.)

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Dramatic reenactment; you get the idea.

Our a cappella friends joined us once more for a performance. Our wedding favors were CDs featuring our favorite songs. And, of course, there was the whole sing-a-song-with-the-word-‘love’-in-it thing, which turned out to be one of the best aspects of the entire day.

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We oh-so-cleverly did a mashup of Lyle Lovett’s “She’s No Lady (She’s My Wife)” and the George Gershwin classic, “Boy! What Love Has Done To Me!” (as sung by the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald). #MusicGeeks
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Yep, our buddy B is still wearing his crown. Because he rocks.

In short, everything was just as we’d hoped it would be; we had the perfect wedding (for us). I realize that not everyone can say that their wedding was everything they wanted, and that ours was makes me tremendously grateful. (Grateful, as well, to my – and Nick’s – parents, who never played the role of overbearing in-laws, instead deferring all important decisions to us so that the day could go exactly as we’d imagined.)

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The first few shots were staged – no actual plunging – but then we really did jump in at the end, which scared the heck out of my stepdad, who was taking the photos.

We wanted the food and drinks to be abundant and delicious; it was. We wanted the band to play songs that everyone would get up and dance to; they did. We wanted people to come together to sing and be silly; they did. We wanted autumn to be fully incorporated into the wedding – the decor, the food, the colors, the flowers (I believe that I’d asked for the reception locale to be “dripping with flowers,” a statement that, in hindsight, might have been just a bit overboard – but, gee, they sure were pretty!); it was.

We wanted to share our love of our home states with our guests; we did. We hoped they would join us in celebrating some of our families’ most cherished traditions; they did. We tried to ensure that music, and its importance to us, was felt at every turn; I believe that it was. We wanted everyone to feel welcome and happy, to be able to relax and just kick back and enjoy themselves, to know how grateful we were that they were there; I think they did.

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Laughing about something different this time; yes, Nick is wearing his crown, and yes, I’ve got a yellow plastic treble clef pinned to my wedding dress.

Even now, thirteen years later, people who attended our wedding tell us that it was one of the best weddings they’ve ever been to. Although that’s certainly a kind and flattering sentiment, I believe that it wasn’t so much the wedding itself that was memorable; it was that, for one day, we put ourselves wholly out there: this is who we are. We love music. We love our families. We adore our friends. We live for good food and laughter. Traditions matter. Levity is a must. Humor is essential. Laughter is the best. We really, really dig one another’s company. We believe in fun. And we are so, so glad that you’re joining us.

Our wedding wasn’t a one-off celebration that marked a complete departure from our personalities; it well and truly started our lives together because it was a representation of who we are as individuals and as a couple. Today, we’re still living by those values, right down to the geeky a cappella love and the continued use of Christmas crackers.

I feel so thankful – and lucky – that our marriage started off the way it did, with a wedding that was everything we’d dreamed of. I’m even more thankful – and feel even luckier – that our marriage itself is only somewhat like what I’d imagined; actually, it’s better.

Happy baker’s dozen anniversary, Nick! Here’s to dozens more – and to more laughter, more singing, and more cake and wine.

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Throwback Thursday: I remember the love

Whenever I think of September 11th, 2001, I am – like everyone else – immediately transported back to that morning. Nick and I had recently moved to New York from Colorado, and our apartment was absolutely fantastic. With its two bedrooms and two baths, it was pricey by any standard other than those found around enormous metropolises, but man, did we get bang for our buck — parking, storage, hilarious and helpful old-school Italian landladies, a washer/dryer right in the apartment (those stacking miniatures that could hold three socks and a sweatshirt without overloading), and best of all, it was in a tremendous location thirty minutes from Manhattan in the heart of a darling little village right on the train tracks.

I do mean right on the train tracks. When a Metro-North train pulled into the station, we could be inside the apartment and still make it out the door, down the stairs, onto the platform, and into the train on time. This did mean that there were commuter trains going past our windows at nearly all hours of the day and night but really, it didn’t bother us. In fact, we scarcely even registered that they were there.

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That Tuesday began like any other, except that Nick was preparing for a job fair so he was getting all gussied up. It was, of course, a picture-perfect September morning, topaz blue skies unblemished by clouds, warmish but not hot, the just-right segue from summer into fall. (It still strikes me as odd that I took stock of the weather at all. I can’t recall what the weather was on other important days, but I so vividly remember staring at the expanse of blue later in the afternoon that day and being dumbfounded that the world had fallen apart on such a beautiful day.)

We were going about our routine when my mom called around 9:00 – unusual for her, as she is truly a night owl – to ask if we’d heard the news that there was an accident and a plane had struck the World Trade Tower. In an attempt to save money, Nick and I didn’t have a television (and internet news wasn’t really happening yet), so we turned on the radio in an attempt to get more information. There was confusion – was it a small, personal plane? How had the pilot not seen the tower? – until the second plane hit, and then we all knew that this was no accident; something was terribly wrong.

Although we didn’t have a regular television, we did have a miniature one that fit right in your hand, so I pulled out its antenna as far as it would go until I was finally able to find – and keep – a televised broadcast of the unfolding attack. It was on that itty bitty set, no more than 3 inches across, that we watched the towers fall, disappearing into enormous gray clouds at the bottom of the screen.

I remember covering my mouth in shock and horror. I remember crying. I remember the desperation and frenzy as we attempted to make contact with the great number of people we knew who lived and worked in the City – including my father and stepfather – only to be met with maddening recordings informing us that all lines were busy. I remember the relief and hysteria upon finally hearing their voices, which was echoed by the relief and gratitude that we heard in the voices of our out-of-town friends and family who had been desperately trying to reach us to see if we were okay.

I remember the silence; for the first and only time during our tenure in that apartment, the trains stopped running.

Twenty five days later, Nick and I were married in a small, charming stone church thirty minutes from Manhattan. In the few weeks since the attacks, the United States had – understandably – discussed little else, and we had briefly considered marrying privately and celebrating more formally later. Ultimately, we decided to go ahead with the big day as planned; it would be a shame to change things up so late in the game, we reasoned, but more importantly, we figured that we could really use a reason to celebrate.

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That everyone came is the most humbling experience I’ve ever known. On one level, it’s always pretty amazing that people are willing to show up and support you. But this? This was different.

We all remember those This Can’t Be Happening weeks following September 11th – the omnipresent sense of uncertainty and fear that crept into every area of life, unfurling like fog in the night. We were on edge, tense, scared. For many of us, the mere thought of pursuing “normal” life was overwhelming; traveling – by plane – was inconceivable. And yet, that’s what our guests did. Very few of our friends and family lived locally. To get to us, they had to travel – a good 80% of them, nearly half by air. That they had the courage and strength to get on those airplanes and highways remains utterly awe-inspiring to me.

As for those who were local? Well, these were the folks who lived and worked in Manhattan, the ones who could smell the still-smoldering ruins from their apartments, the ones whose vistas were now missing two anchors, the ones with apartments on the train lines like us, the ones who were surrounded, every minute of the day, by the aftermath of the attacks.

So, yeah. Our wedding guests pretty much kicked ass.

We didn’t talk about September 11th during the wedding, deciding instead to focus on why everyone had so generously come together, but we didn’t have to. It was everywhere – the faces of the people we had lost or who were still missing, the news “crawl” that began on CNN, the feeling that nothing would be quite the same again. But at the wedding, there was joy. There was music (lots and lots of music). There was laughter.  There was seriously delicious food and seriously raucous dancing.

Maybe it was because we’d all been followed around by clouds for the past twenty-five days, but we were here and it was fun and we were celebrating and there was singing and eating and alcohol and holy crap did everyone let go and have a freakin’ blast.

The most poignant moment of the night didn’t come during the ceremony, however, nor during any of the letting-loose afterward. Instead, it was a surprise moment that perfectly honored the somber-but-celebratory mood, forever linking our wedding with September 11th in the most wonderful way possible.

Given the musical theme running through the wedding, Nick and I had informed our guests that we would not kiss if glasses were clinked but rather when an entire table stood up and – in unison – sang a song containing the word “love.” It didn’t take long for people to get into the spirit of things and we found ourselves serenaded by the likes of The Beatles’ “She Loves You” and David Cassidy’s “I Think I Love You” – all cute, all light, all sweet.

By several hours in, one of the few tables not yet to stand was the one at which my grandparents were seated. This was reasonable, perhaps even expected – requesting octogenarian participation was maybe reaching a bit. But then my grandfather stood and, in his booming voice, began to sing “God Bless America”.

God bless America
Land that I love

Within a few words, his table had joined in. Within a line, the entire room sang together. By the end, everyone was standing, hands on hearts, as the band accompanied us. It was, quite simply, one of the most moving and beautiful things I’ve ever been privileged to be a part of.

———–

No other tables stood after that.

When we decided to go ahead with the wedding, I knew that it would be somehow joined with September 11th. I never anticipated that one of my strongest memories of one of our country’s darkest days would come from our wedding reception, nor that it would be so lovely.

Despite our collective haze and shock, there was something special about the place we found ourselves immediately post-9/11, something connecting and almost comforting. While I certainly wouldn’t wish for another terrorist attack to bring us all together, there are times when I wish we still could feel that camaraderie, unity, and collective determination to rise, rebuild, and heal.

I will never forget, but I will also always remember. I will remember the sky and the silence, the “Missing” posters and the fighter jets overhead. I will remember the way so many people joined together, at Ground Zero, at makeshift triages, across bridges and over dinner. I will remember those incredible family members and friends who chose strength over fear, joy over sadness. I will remember the hope we shared, the laughter, the hugs.

I will remember the singing.
I will remember the love.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Cheesy Souvenirs

Nick is going out of town again next week, which is always a little hard on the girls. He travels often enough that we can get into our own groove pretty easily, but they still miss him when he’s gone. One of the ways that Nick works to ease their sadness is to check in with them at least once a day, but more often twice – in the morning before school and at night before bed. He also tries to bring them back some sort of trinket or souvenir, which they can’t wait to get their hands on – even if it’s just a Washington D.C. pencil or a Welcome To Kansas City keychain.

When Nick and I went away to Puerto Rico, we knew that we’d be bringing back some kind of memento for Annie and Ella (in this case, little packages of cookies that we can’t find on the mainland and some cute seashell jewelry boxes that broke pretty much the moment we handed them over). In order to help us stay more connected to them while we were gone, we also knew that we’d be sending them photos of a figurine posing at many of our destinations.

Enter: Coqui.
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Remember back in July when I’d mentioned this little guy and told you I’d explain more later? Well, it took me 6 weeks, but here I am.

It all began three years ago when Nick and I went to Jamaica for three days to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. This was the first time I’d been away from the girls for more than a night and, honestly, I struggled. It wasn’t that Jamaica’s gorgeous beaches didn’t hold my attention or that my fabulous husband wasn’t good company, and it certainly wasn’t that the “free” rum drinks at our all-inclusive weren’t delicious; I just plain missed the kids. I didn’t want them with us – oh, no – but it took me a good 36 hours to relax and stop aching when I thought about them. (Ironically, having become accustomed to being away from the kids more often than I, Nick was able to settle in immediately… but 36 hours later, he began to get antsy and homesick. So we kind of met in between – and, man, were those middle four hours amazing!)

Calling home wasn’t easy (and even if it had been, I was adamant that I at least try to pull away), but we were able to use the wifi in the resort to send a few communications back and forth each day with our babysitters. It was the promise of these connections that caused me to pick up this little fella and decide to make him a part of our trip:

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He’s a little cross-eyed but rum will do that to a person cat…

We named him MoBay (after the local nickname for the Jamaican city of Montego Bay) and after texting our sitters a photo of him along with a caption – “Here’s MoBay the cat sitting by the pool!” (or something like that; it was three years ago, folks, so I’m exercising creative license) – we were told that Ella and Annie loved it, so we kept taking photos and sending them along once or twice a day. What began as a bit of whimsy wound up making the transition to Vacation/Enjoy Time With My Husband Mode much easier. I got a kick out of posing MoBay at various hotspots, knowing that the girls would be tickled and, even better, the hot sting of missing them began to dull as soon as I’d taken the photos. Win/win!

We brought MoBay home with us – after all of the photos, it was like meeting a celebrity – and he was promptly gnawed to a little pink nub by one of the dogs, ending his illustrious career… But the memories (and out-of-focus cell-phone photos) remain.

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Nick and I knew that, this trip, we would do the same – and so as soon as we left the hotel and began to explore Old San Juan, Nick hightailed it to a gift shop and returned with an itty bitty, glum-looking ceramic frog that we named Coqui (ko-KEY) after the native Puerto Rican amphibian.

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We were starving, so Coqui’s first photo was beside food.

Our serious-faced green dude did, indeed, connect us to our girls, and I had a blast deciding where to take the pictures – but to my surprise I found that he didn’t ease the missing of them… because I didn’t really miss them. I thought of them, sure – a lot. But they were smile-inducing thoughts, never tinged with sadness. Whether that’s because they’re that much older, so I knew they’d be okay… or because I’m that much older, and I knew I’d be okay… or because we’ve had a little more practice being apart from one another… I’m not sure. But I do know that it was awfully damn fun hopping onto that airplane and being all, “LATER, DUDES!”

MIssing the girls or not, Nick and I loved placing Coqui in his photo spots. There were the obligatory This Is What We Ate Today pictures, of course…

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Puerto Rico’s signature dish, mofongo. Deeeelishus. 
Is that a plantain in your dinner or are you just happy to see me?

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 Fantabulous coffee at the delectable Caficultura.

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Dessert following the best meal we’ve ever eaten, at Marmalade.

Coqui also joined us on all of our adventures, from ziplining…
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Yes, I kept him in my pocket while we zipped.

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Nick’s nod to Where’s Waldo… ¿Dónde está Coqui?

… to the bioluminescent bay…
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It was pitch black (sort of critical for this excursion) plus also we were in kayaks and I had this waterproof case-thingy over my phone, so this was the best I could do.

… to the incredible forts and Old San Juan sights.
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 Looking slightly pensive about having to board a plane in a few hours…

If we did it, Coqui was with us.
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Perched atop our favorite restaurant’s sign.

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Taking in a little native culture.

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Chillaxing at the beach.

We knew that this trip would be good for us – getting away, spending time together, finding us among everything else that life throws our way – despite friends saying how difficult it would be for them to leave their own children. How could we do it? Wouldn’t we think about them constantly? Would we forbid all talk of the kids and focus solely on other things?

Ummm…. hell, no. If we did that, we’d have about five minutes’ worth of things to talk about; there’s only so much we can say about the situation in Ukraine and discussions about how much we’d love to redo the basement but can’t find the time/money usually end with at least one of us leaving the room. Okay, so this is an exaggeration (not about the basement but about not having anything besides the kids to discuss), but we absolutely talked about the girls; they pretty much dominated our conversations.

It was in a good way, though. When we visited the dungeon at the Castillo de San Cristobal, we remarked that the kids would love this place. As we walked the tiny streets of Old San Juan, we noted which stores the girls would have wanted to browse, but how grateful we were that they weren’t trudging around in the heat. We considered whether or not they would actually enjoy ziplining and if they were old and mature enough for the nighttime kayak adventure. We heaved sighs of relief that they didn’t join us on our epically failed coastal drive and clinked glasses blissfully noting that we were enjoying the best meal ever without small children who would not appreciate the food.

And, of course, there was Coqui and his photo series, which connected us with one another any time we wanted. Ella and Annie were everywhere – and, next time we visit Puerto Rico, we intend for them to actually come along – but that didn’t take anything away from our vacation. In many ways, talking about them as often as we did made it easier to unwind and relax because we weren’t trying so hard not to think about them. Coqui helped being apart be even more fun, in spite of his contemplative nature.

Because I hadn’t desperately missed the children, I expected that returning home to them wouldn’t be all that big of a deal – oh, look. We’re home. Here’s a seashell box that you can break. When Annie came running into our bedroom the morning we were back and threw her arms around me with a monstrous hug, however, my expectations took a backseat. When Ella then crept into the room – cautiously, so as not to wake us – and glimpsed me for the first time in four days, her face widened into a smile so broad, so deep, so joyful, I thought I might be knocked off my feet just by looking at it. To receive a smile like that from a kid who hand-holds but is not terribly effusive… well, that was just about the best part of the whole trip.

That is, until we introduced the girls to Rock Star Coqui… and this other colorful creature we’d found in one of the gift shops.
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This little guy really gets around the Caribbean…

We’ve pretty much been granted their blessing to go away any time we’d like.

Good For Us

“I don’t really care about any of this anymore. I think I just want to give up and go back.”

We’d been driving for nearly two hours to reach a restaurant that was supposedly 90 minutes from our hotel – a restaurant that we were only headed toward because I’d read that it had a fantastic gluten-free menu. It didn’t have an official webpage; I’d gleaned everything I could about it from reviews I’d read on TripAdvisor and Facebook, and I was essentially operating on faith.

Still, it was in Isabela, which was in the direction we already wanted to head that day – west, then south, toward Rincón – so I figured that we could find it easily and simply be on our way. At worst, we could just check our phones and use one of our navigation apps and BAM!, we’d be there in no time.

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Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and uses the American dollar as currency, delegates English as a second official language, and seems, in so many ways, to simply be an exotic 51st state, we had naively assumed that our cell phones would work just as they had on the mainland. Turns out your phone won’t just magically function and we actually had needed to configure things before we left, because although we could make (expensive) calls, we had no internet or email access unless we could make a wifi connection.

At first, I thought that my mad map-reading skillz would save us (not to brag, but I’m basically like Magellan with maps), but – hey! Whaddya know! – the roads in Puerto Rico aren’t so well marked. You don’t rely on signage as much as intuition to determine when to make a turn or if you’ve long since passed your destination or even which town you’re in. Likewise, assuming that a numbered street – Route 451 or whatever – will be larger or more important than their non-numbered counterparts (as they are back in the States) is an enormous mistake. Route 724 may sound important, and it could be a well-marked four lane highway… but it also could be a partially paved street with absolutely no painted lines whatsoever that technically is designated as two lanes but which is actually barely wide enough for a Radio Flyer.

Additionally, given that we were app-less and had to rely solely on tangible, old-school, omg how the hell do you fold this thing up? maps, we really needed the ones we had to be super-clear, up-to-date, and detailed. Naturally, the maps we did possess were either entirely missing the streets that our directions called for or wildly inaccurate, indicating that roads began and ended when they absolutely did not (as we discovered more than once when we were certain we’d be coming to an intersection only to find ourselves at a dead end). This made driving exciting and certainly kept us on our toes, but did little to actually help us get anywhere.

What began as a smooth, well-maintened freeway suddenly, and without warning, turned into a meandering suburban highway a la the Boston Post Road but with four times as many red lights and only half as much asphalt. I’d hoped to be on the road by 9 a.m. and digging into my gluten-gree breakfast sandwich around 10:45; instead, we’d left at 9:30 and, although it was nearly noon, were nowhere near our destination but instead were coming to a stoplight-ed halt every thirty feet. It was at this point that Nick uttered the words at the head of this post, and I began to contemplate whether or not to acquiesce and turn the car around.

Instead, we stuttered along in silence, creeping down the coastline but unable to see the ocean at all. When at last we found the road that the directions had listed and followed it as it wound its way toward the shoreline, through hairpin curves and up and down impossibly steep hills, passing cars that surely should have hit us because there was simply no room for the both of us (but somehow there was – we were on the automotive equivalent of the Weasleys’ tent at the Quidditch World Cup), we expected to be at our destination momentarily…

… but failed to find it at all. It simply wasn’t there. Whether the directions were incorrect or our maps were wrong or we just had no idea where the hell we were going and didn’t know who to ask, it didn’t really matter. It was just no use.

Two and a half hours in the car for nothing.
AND we were still starving.

We’d known all along that this third day of our vacation would involve a lot of driving; we’d expected that much, had planned for it. When we’d told Annie and Ella our itinerary, they had balked at a day that included so much driving, saying it would be boring, but my sister-in-law chimed in that adults enjoy that kind of time because it allows us to just talk to one another, check out the scenery, etc.

As Nick and I headed back on the road toward Rincón (after throwing in the towel and admitting defeat on the GF breakfast) and 2.5 hours became 3 (after stopping at the only skating rink in the Caribbean) and I contemplated the caloric content of our poorly printed maps, my sister-in-law’s words came back to me… and it was all I could do not to laugh. Or maybe cry.

To say that Nick and I were not enjoying this little jaunt was a ridiculous understatement. Our blood sugar was so low, it was barely measurable. We had no idea where we were, where we were going, how to get there, or if we even wanted to get there. There was no “checking out” of scenery because a) sometimes there was no “scenery” save for strip malls and red lights, b) when there was “real” scenery, it was hardly noticeable because were were scanning every road sign for possible directional clues, or c) we couldn’t even attempt to look at the scenery because we were focusing on staying alive and not being driven off the pavement, in part because of the tiny twisted roadways filled with crazily confident drivers, and in part because the rain clouds that had been off to the north were now causing torrential downpours that overwhelmed even the fastest setting on the windshield wipers.

And talking with one another?
Um, no.
Unless swearing and muttering under one’s breath counts. If it does, we are communication experts.

At last, we essentially gave up and settled at the first restaurant we found that was even halfheartedly mentioned in our Fodor’s guide, where we watched the rainstorm slide down the beach. We also purchased food that could, at best, be considered mediocre (is chicken salad supposed to contain gristle?), but that was pretty much the only thing keeping us from dying a low blood sugar death, so we devoured it as though we hadn’t eaten in sixteen days, not sixteen hours.

On the way to Old San Juan – three-plus hours back exactly the way we’d come, except slower – we decided to stop and see these amazing-looking petroglyphs that I’d been dying to explore. Which meant that we drove out of our way for another thirty minutes, still couldn’t find what we were looking for, realized we didn’t have enough time to take the time to find it and still make it to our dinner reservation (on time), and just headed back to the hotel.

Whiiiiiich meant: seven hours in the car. Essentially an entire day of our vacation. Seven frustrating, exasperating, disappointing, hungry, soggy, exhausting, uncomfortable hours. They were not the highlight of our trip.

While we drove the final hour to Old San Juan (or, if I’m getting the facts right, while *I* drove; Nick gave up 2.5 hours in so I drove the remaining 4.5), sitting in brooding silence beside one another, I heard my sister-in-law’s cheerful words in my head once again, and noted that we were hardly the picture of marital happiness, or even a moderately content couple. Not only were we not talking – we weren’t really enjoying one another’s company, period. The more I considered topics we could be discussing, and the more I decided that I didn’t want to be discussing any of them at that moment, thank you very much, the more disheartened I became. We came on this trip to celebrate twenty years of being together and we can’t even take a little adversity and laugh it off? We can’t even manage to hold a conversation? WTF is wrong with us?

It was only after we handed the car over to the valet (a little too eagerly, but I don’t think they noticed) that I realized my entire upper body hurt. Yeah, some of that was due to the (incredible, once-in-a-lifetime, not-to-be-missed) kayaking we’d done the night before in the bioluminescent lagoon, but the majority of it was due to the tremendous stress from our drive. I’d been so busy trying to navigate, read nonexistent street signs, avoid potholes, see through the wall of rain, and evade drivers who wove in and out of lanes like pinballs, I hadn’t considered that my fingers were permanently welded to the steering wheel. Uncurling them was physically painful; my shoulders hurt to the touch.

So, hey. Perhaps when you’re that stressed out, cheerful conversation isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Maybe not talking is just fine. Maybe nothing is wrong with us.

When we’d told friends that we were taking this trip, the most common response was, “Good for you!” Sometimes, this meant exactly what it sounds like: “I’m genuinely happy for you guys that you’re able to take this vacation together! That alone time is really important. I hope you have a great trip!” Other times, it carried a slightly snarky edge: “Oh. How lovely that your boss doesn’t mind you taking time away from the job. Interesting that you’re comfortable leaving the kids like that. Would that we all could be fortunate enough to take such a trip.”

But most often, it was said with an air of envious but dubious incredulity. “Wow. I’d love to take a trip like that, but we don’t even take the time to go out to dinner together. Good on ya for making it happen.”

Every time I heard it – “Good for you!” – I was surprised, because not taking the time to do stuff just the two of us simply isn’t an option for Nick and me. It’s not that we think our relationship comes before our family (although plenty of people do, and that’s dandy), and, in fact, most of the time it’s the exact opposite; it’s more that we know that our family won’t exist if we don’t put our relationship first sometimes. That, and – for as fabulous as our daughters are – it can be awfully nice to not be actively parenting every so often. The time we spend away from our kids is important and awesome. Plus, we genuinely enjoy one another’s company. (As evidenced by our blissful Puerto Rican drive, duh.)

It doesn’t have to be a full-on VACATION, just the two of us – the last time we did that (which was only our second solo vacation ever after having kids) was three years ago. Mostly, it’s not. But, when we are fortunate enough to afford it, it is leaving the girls with a babysitter and going to a concert or a game or a show. Or even just Barnes and Noble and Starbucks. Or it’s leaving the girls with their grandparents overnight while we go to a hotel. Or it’s a lunchtime date while the kids are in school. Or, when time and finances and life’s curveballs don’t allow for anything more, it’s talking and watching TV after Ella and Annie have gone to bed. No matter what it is, it’s something, and that’s what’s important.

Back when the girls were three and five, we were driving home from a (family) trip to Vermont when Ella threw up. All over. In her carseat. After stopping and getting things cleaned up (and the girls quieted down), Nick and I engaged in a lengthy and heated conversation as the girls napped. It was just a difficult time, with the butt-wiping and the crying at the drop of a hat (the kids, not me; not most of the time, anyway) and the refusing to eat broccoli one day and gobbling it up the next. He adored the girls, but this stage was hard. I asked him how I could help and expected to hear any number of solutions except for the one he gave me: He wanted to eat dinner with just me one night a week after the girls went to sleep.

BOOM. Of all the things, that was what he wanted: a little more alone time. A little more conversation. A chance to hear and be heard without having to cut somebody else’s meat or refill sippy cups.

We had those dinners for years, albeit not at regularly scheduled intervals, up until last year when the girls’ sports schedules changed our dinnertimes. Although we rarely eat together anymore after the kids are in bed, the premise remains: we two are important. Spending time together, alone, is important. Even if it’s driving aimlessly down the Puerto Rican countryside.

After our day spent ziplining and food kiosk-dining and kayaking in a glowing lagoon, I actually said to Nick that such a perfect day would be impossible to top. I didn’t anticipate being stuck in our rental car for seven hours in torrential rain, but indeed, the previous day proved un-toppable.

As we ate our dinner that night – the greatest meal of our lives – we discussed our disappointing day and what it symbolized… and what it didn’t. Upon reflection, we realized that there was nothing we could have done to prevent it; we were going on the best information available to us, using the resources at hand, and we got stuck. It was no one’s fault – it just happened. No, it hadn’t been how we’d wanted to spend the day. In fact, it sucked that fully one half of our sightseeing days in Puerto Rico had been wasted driving to nowhere. But it was what it was, and it was over now, and next time, we’d know more and could make better-informed choices. In the end, it was a small portion of our total vacation, and our tremendous meal – and subsequent, unexpected performance of native Puerto Rican music and dance – far overshadowed the bad parts of the day.

Which, the more we thought about it, pretty much summed up our twenty years of being together. Yes, there have been bad times – days and weeks and months of them. Sometimes, they’ve been avoidable, but more often than not, they just happened – no one’s fault. Rather than giving up, we’ve chosen to continue the journey – and some days, that brings us to something delicious. Others, we drive around in circles. We can become so stressed, we can scarcely communicate, but we don’t realize that’s what’s happening while we’re in the thick of it.

Sometimes, life throws crap at us that we don’t want, that we didn’t ask for. We are prepared for it to be tough and long, but sometimes it’s different than what we expected, and that sucks. Still, we’ve kept on – in silence, if need be – knowing that the other one is there. And, when all is said and done, the bad days are outnumbered by the good ones time and time again. There is rain, but there are rainbows. There is silence, but there is so damn much laughter. There are peanut M&Ms and Skittles purchased at the only gas station in Puerto Rico where the attendant doesn’t speak a word of English (not that I’d know), and there are singular meals that make an entire vacation worthwhile. The journey isn’t always easy, but in the end, it’s so totally worth it.

I knew that I was excited to go to Puerto Rico with Nick, but I didn’t realize how much we needed this trip together until we took it. It was, indeed, “good for us” — in every possible way.

Especially where plantains or wine were concerned.

That night, after we returned from our epic dinner and native dance/music watching, I asked Nick to please take a “real” picture with me…
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Picture 1: VERY NICE, NICK.

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Picture 2: He goosed me *exactly* as the shutter went off.
“Em, don’t worry… maybe it didn’t actually take the photo then…”
OH YES, IT DID.

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Picture 3: Nick cooperates; I look like a hunchback.

At last, I declared that we’d taken enough of these, but we should try one more – sitting on the chair, just for good measure…
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 annnnd that’s, like, the creepiest picture ever taken.
Plus my ass looks enormous.
I guess we’ll quit while we’re ahead. Or whatever. 

 

 

Puerto Rico: A beautiful paradox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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