Throwback Thursday: Animal Lover

(If you’ve tuned into this blog because of my post about standardized testing, welcome! Although I’m passionate about that cause, I don’t write about it very often… but if you’re looking for stories about parenting, chocolate and wine, traveling, or people [that’d mostly be me] getting into ridiculous situations and blunders but still trying to find the humor in everything, then I hope you’ll stick around!)

The other night, we were watching TV and this commercial for Scrubbing Bubbles came on. In case you haven’t seen it, I’ll give you a play-by-play (you’re welcome): you hear delightful bathtime sounds coming from behind a mostly-closed (bathroom) door which, when opened (by the mom-lady) reveals two young girls using the bathtub to “wash” what can only be described as this… filthy thing. Okay, it’s a dog of some sort — a tiny, disheveled, exceedingly bedraggled-looking dog that snarls at the mom-lady as soon as she opens the door. (Her horrified gasp when she sees the creature staring back at her is maybe my favorite part of the commercial.) There is mud and dirt and soap absolutely everywhere and the girls are begging, “Can we keep him? PLEASE?”

Anyway, the dad-guy comes in and scares the mom-lady with his horrified gasp (actually, maybe this is my favorite part of the commercial…), and it’s mayhem everywhere, but no worries! Scrubbing Bubbles is what you need for this type of mess – cut to the clean bathroom (which the mom-lady has wiped down, of course, because stereotypes), all is well, the end. I pretty much love this commercial, not only because it makes me laugh… not only because I – like most parents – can relate to this chaos… but also because it reminded me of a little, um, encounter I had in my own mom’s bathroom with my own… thing… many years ago.

I’ve always had a soft spot for animals. I also had no problem getting dirty as a kid (who’m I kidding – even now, if I can only find one stain on a sweater, I declare it good to go). Add to those qualities my ADHD impulsiveness and, well, let’s just say I probably didn’t always use the best judgement when it came to critters and such.

There was the time in kindergarten or first grade when, walking home from the school bus, I found a squirrel carcass in the road, picked it up by the tail, and proceeded to bring it home to show my mom, unceremoniously plopping it on the kitchen table. There was also the time only a couple of years ago when I opened the garage door to find myself face to face with a raccoon. Not wanting to be attacked (it was hiding behind the storage bins and could have made a run for me at any moment), I called Nick from my cell phone – he was in the living room at the time – and told him to come and get rid of the raccoon. Well, that’s easier said than done; while Nick hit tennis balls its way and poked at it with a hockey stick, this fellow hissed manically and jauntily ran across every shelf, knocking over anything that got in his way like Steve Martin as Ruprecht the Monkey Boy in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Meanwhile, I’d nicknamed him Jasper (after the pet raccoon in a Little House on the Prairie episode) and kept calling out helpful advice like, “Please be good to Jasper! Don’t hurt him! Jasper just wants to be free!” At one point, Jasper essentially hurtled himself at Nick, practically foaming at the mouth, before finally scurrying out the door.

So, I have a very good track record with wild animals.

One fall (I think it was fall, although I could totally be making this up; the season isn’t important so let’s just go with it) many moons ago, Nick and I were visiting my mom’s house down in Westchester. I remember spending the night at her house, which means we were still living in Denver at the time and had just come back east to visit, either for a holiday or for wedding planning. Anyway, as we pulled into the driveway, I noticed this… cat… loping across my mother’s lawn.

You guys, this poor little fella was not in good shape. He seemed young – maybe young enough to still need his mama – but it was clear that he hadn’t been with his mama in a long time. He was filthy, with no collar, as though his owner hadn’t been taking very good care of him. He was unnaturally thin and his unusual spotted/striped fur was patchy – like maybe he had a disease? – and his tail was completely devoid of fur until the very end, where it poofed out in a little fur explosion. He was… meowing? Sort of? and seemed very hungry, so I immediately took pity on this sweet creature and concluded that we needed to show him a bit of kindness.

My mom and Nick, heartless miscreants that they are, wanted no part of rescuing this darling kitty, so I had to take him on all by myself. Now, I’m not entirely crazy, so I knew better than to just pick him up – rabies and whatnot – so, after donning a jacket and a pair of my stepdad’s work gloves, I gathered the pathetic furball into my arms and brought him into the house.

I remember two specific things about that moment: a) that he was a lot heftier than I’d anticipated (I didn’t know cats were so sturdy!) and b) that my mom’s dog, Jazz, began losing her mind the instant I set foot inside. Jazz, a beautiful Shetland Sheepdog, had many wonderful qualities, but being quiet wasn’t really one of them; still, she surprised me with the ferocity of her barking. I mean, frantic, maniacal, WHAT IS THAT THING YOU HAVE BROUGHT BEFORE ME barking.
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In true TBT fashion, this is not only a throwback photo of Jazz but of Nick and me, too, circa 1990-something. I could’ve removed the sticky notes that my mom added, but they’re my favorite part…

I was all, “Jazz, this is just a cat… A poor, abandoned kitten… Chill out…” and she was all, “WTF ARE YOU DOING I WILL DESTROY IT.” Fearing for the safety of both the dog and the stray, I decided to take my little lost lamb into the bathroom and lock the door. Once inside, I set it in the bathtub and leaned in for a closer look. I don’t know much about cats, but this one had obviously been through the wringer. His ears were pointier than I expected them to be, with little caps of black across their tips, and his face had this extra? fur that came down from the sides, like jowls. And he kept making this… noise? that was not exactly purring but more like low growling.

That seemed odd, but given that I have absolutely zero experience with cats, what did I know? He was obviously emaciated, so I knew I needed to feed him. I left him in the bathroom with a saucer of milk (my mom was thrilled with this decision) and called animal control to ask if there was somewhere we should bring him in because his owners must be missing his sweet face, duh. The woman with whom I spoke informed me that a) the whole cats-like-milk thing is a myth and I was probably hurting him (why are we perpetuating this terrible myth?? Poor buddy!), and b) that many cats are, in fact, outside cats, so the best thing to do would be to let him go so he could return to his family.

But you guys. What if he never made it home? He had certainly been out on his own for quite a while; what if he needed me?? Alas, my mom pointed out that, noble as my efforts were, Jazz and this wandering being couldn’t coexist; since Jazz had been there first – and since it was, you know, my mom’s house and she wanted nothing to do with it – I had to let him go.

And so I brought my growling little bundle out onto the back porch, put some tuna in a bowl (cats and tuna aren’t a myth, right? RIGHT?), and reasoned that if he was truly hungry enough, he’d be back for more and then I could sweep him up and bring him into an animal shelter. IF YOU LOVE SOMETHING, SET IT FREE! IF IT COMES BACK…

We never saw it again.

We did, however, see his likeness several months later. I can’t remember exactly where we were, but I know it was back in Colorado, in the mountains, in some kind of nature-y shop. Nick and I had stopped in because we thought we might find a suitable gift for his dad among the bird feeders, bird books, and wind chime-y things. As Nick was paying for our purchase, I picked up an animal guide and began flipping through it.

And that was when I saw him. Or, at least, when I saw a photo of an animal that looked exactly like the one I had carried into my mom’s bathroom:
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(It wasn’t this exact photo, but you get the idea…)

YES. THAT WOULD BE A BABY BOBCAT.

BECAUSE I BROUGHT A BABY BOBCAT INTO MY MOTHER’S BATHROOM AND ATTEMPTED TO GIVE IT MILK.

Well. That might explain the pointy ears with the black tips… and the mangled, matted fur… and the black puff at the end of its tail… and why he was heavier than I’d thought he’d be… and the unusual fur pattern… and the growling… and OMG I HELD A DISEASED BOBCAT AND IT GROWLED AT ME.

It might also explain why Jazz reacted as though I was bringing something more menacing than a kitten into the living room. Because, I don’t know, dogs have a really good sense of smell and can tell when you’re holding an animal that could SWALLOW THEM WHOLE??

I screamed for Nick, which kind of scared him, but he came over anyway and looked at the picture. For a moment, he was silent. Then he said something like, “Thank God you put on gloves when you picked that thing up, otherwise who knows what might have happened?” 

I married him anyway, despite the sarcasm.

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In addition to the dozens of deer who live near us, there have been some random fox sightings in our neighborhood. If anyone would like to get up close and personal with one, just let me know; I appear to have the magic touch. I’ll even buy new gloves for the occasion.

Our Frozen Oasis

Here’s the thing about having a skating rink in your backyard: it’s not for the faint of heart.

It seems so sweet and idyllic, right? Your own private skating oasis; gleaming ice ready any time you want to use it; no one rushing you or bumping into you, no waiting for the Zamboni to finish, no new-fangled music that’s all the rage with kids these days; a cozy house to warm up inside; hot chocolate simmering on the stove.

In reality, you do have your own oasis – that much is true – but you have got to work for it, from the moment you lay down the framing and the tarp to the day you call it quits for the season. It’s a commitment, this rink thing – one that, in many ways, must be undertaken by the entire family. (I remember a neighbor, years ago, telling me that they too used to have a backyard rink but they’d finally scrapped it after she got tired of her husband calling when he was out of town and asking her to shovel it. I laughed at the time.

Ignorance is, indeed, bliss.)

We’ve had our rink for four or five years now, and each year we learn something new: how and when to flood it (a layer at a time or all at once? Before the first big freeze or not until you’ve got several sub-freezing days in a row?), how deep to fill it, where in the yard to put it, how often – and with what – to clear it off, how to smooth out the inevitable bumps, how to avoid chips and cracks, what kind of tarp to use, how to secure the tarp, how large the frame should be, and so on.

This year, we wound up having to flood the rink in a hurry to take advantage of some particularly frigid temperatures…
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… which would explain why Ella and Nick are doing this at night in a snowstorm…

But, in the end, the hard work paid off because two days later: strong, skate-ready ice.
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We were so excited to use it, we couldn’t wait until the following morning.
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Who needs sun when you have floodlights??

What followed have been – absolutely – many many idyllic afternoons, evenings, mornings, and weekends spent on that rink.

We’ve skated…
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We’ve tried our hands (and skates) at hockey…
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We’ve invited friends over to share in the fun…
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We’ve gone through gallons (literally) of hot cocoa, seemingly never-ending bowls of popcorn, numerous skate guards, at least one broken hockey stick, and dozens of pucks – long buried in the snow. In a lot of ways, it really has been sweet and idyllic.
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This is pretty much my dream winter set-up: perfect rink, fire in the fire pit, path for friends and neighbors to join us.

Much to my dismay, however, a smooth, skateable, nicely maintained ice rink does not just happen by magic (no matter how many Harry Potter spells I try). First, there is shoveling.
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When the snow is minimal, we use our indentured servants to help.

Next, there is more shoveling.
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What’s more fun that shoving ten inches of snow off the driveway? Shoveling ten inches of snow off the driveway and the ice rink!

As we’ve learned the hard way, you can’t just let the snow sit on the rink, no matter how much you’d rather relax on the couch. It creates this insulated cover and blah blah insert something science-y here and before you know it, the ice is all melty and bumpy and weird and then you have to not only shovel but also scrape the lumps off and fill in the holes.

Exhibit A: the rink after our one and only day of sleet this year.skating rink27
This was after I’d already shoveled. It was basically very cold sandpaper.

Exhibit B: the wonders of a scraper toolskating rink28
That one corner took 45 minutes. THIS IS A LABOR OF LOVE, PEOPLE. A very labor-ful labor of love.

Long story short, it really works best to shovel that puppy clean as soon as you can – which, in our case, means removing snow from an 816 square foot surface. On purpose. Voluntarily. We choose to shovel 816 square feet of snow in addition to our driveway and front walk basically every time it snows – whether it’s an inch or a foot, whether Nick is home or out of town, whether it’s below zero or above freezing – because we have a doggone ice rink in the back yard and we’ll be damned if we let it go to hell in a hand basket!

See what I mean about the whole commitment thing?
A (functional) backyard ice rink is a really bad idea if you’d rather hibernate in the winter.

Beyond needing to keep the rink clear of snow, you need to remove everything else from its surface, too, be it paw prints (the dogs do not respect the sanctity of the rink) or twigs or errant pucks. (One time, the dogs knocked a goal and some pucks onto the rink overnight and when I found them in the morning, they’d already created little ice molds for themselves.)
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I’m melllting! What a world!

In addition to shoveling and clearing, there is also the flooding of the rink – sometimes with the hose, sometimes with buckets of hot water; sometimes a thin layer over the entire surface, sometimes just a bit here and there. If you do it when it’s snowing, the snow can freeze into the ice layer and cause bumps. If you wait until it’s warmer, the ice won’t set properly. It’s a science, but a very inexact one; maybe this is what it’s like to be a meteorologist.

Oh! And there is also… shoveling.
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There’s a rink out there somewhere…
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First step: clear the edges and divide into fourths.skating rink19
Next: make sure someone has a bottle of Aleve waiting inside.skating rink20
Or a glass of wine.skating rink21
At least you won’t need to go to the gym today!
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Finally! If you’re not too sore, you can skate!

You might think, with all of the work – with the backaches and the frostbitten fingers, the late nights spent waiting for just the right time to lay down another coat of water – that it’s somehow not worth it.

But, oh. You’d be wrong.

It’s quiet in the backyard. You can barely see the cars in the cul-de-sac; for all you know, you’re the only people around. Your skates sound so crisp as they scrape along the ice, carving pathways and messages. No matter what else is going on – the vomiting dog, the broken car, the fighting children, the burned dinner, the crazy project, the looming deadline – everything seems to fade away the moment you step foot (skate?) on the ice.
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With a backyard ice rink, everything you need is right there. In an instant, you can go from stressed to calm, worried to serene, simply by venturing out over those boards. (Or you can get out your aggression by slapping some pucks around. Either way, it’s a win.)

You see beauty, too, in places you hadn’t before – the ice takes on different hues depending on the time of day, how sunny it is, how much snow is surrounding the rink. It’s like looking out onto an ever-changing portrait… except nothing has changed at all but your perspective.

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See what I mean? 8 a.m….

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… and 3 p.m.
(I could have Photoshopped out the dog pee but I decided to keep it real. #NOFILTER, baby.)

As I mentioned earlier, this winter started off relatively mildly; we didn’t have much snow (for Rochester) through January. As February wore on, we saw not only the coldest month in Rochester’s history but also an additional 50″ of snow. Although we normally see that much snow (twice it, actually) over the course of each winter, it typically falls in a steadier fashion rather than a lot at once. This was, therefore, the first year where we had significant snow build-up around the outside of the rink.

Personally, I think it added to the isolated, idyllic feel.

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Early January was pretty slow.
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By mid-January, the ground cover was solid.
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By early February, the rounded edges had begun to form.
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Then came… OMG SO MUCH SNOW.
(See: piles along our walkway as tall as the girls.)
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By the end of the month, the rink was completely encircled.

All of our previous rinks have been just fine, but there’s always been at least one problem with each of them. Some never properly froze over. Others were inadequately flooded, resulting in chipping ice and exposed tarp (we prefer more modest tarps over here). Still other years we didn’t get ourselves out to the ice quickly enough to clear away the snow; when you don’t commit, it isn’t pretty.

This year, the stars aligned. The cold February made for fantastic ice conditions. We finally understood how and when to fill the rink. We purchased portable floodlights so we could skate after dark. We learned from our past mistakes and were bound and determined to make sure that we took good care of the surface, to keep it clear and shoveled and smooth so that, any time – day or night – we can pop on our skates and go for a spin.

Quite frankly, we’ve all been loving it so much, it’s almost been easy. (In the emotional sense. Physically? NOT SO MUCH.) We’ve skated ourselves silly on that rink.

The frigid temperatures and unrelenting snow persisted well into March like a stubborn child’s tantrum – until, just like that, they’d exhausted themselves and were done. This week has brought forty degree temperature increases and days of glorious sunshine. Because the past month has been so brutal, the return of spring feels nothing short of miraculous.

But I am sad to say goodbye to our rink.

Yesterday morning, we awoke to temperatures in the 20s for the first time in five days – meaning that the ice, which had been evaporating and bump-filled all week, had somehow glazed over, leaving the surface just smooth enough to skate on. With the forecast calling for continued above-freezing days, I knew this was probably our last chance to go for a spin… and so, before school, the girls and I did just that.

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An hour later, I texted Nick to tell him that he’d left his lunch in the fridge – and that if he wanted to come back and get it, the ice was still good enough for him to take one last skate. It was an offer too good to pass up; for thirty minutes, he and I went around on the rink, savoring every moment.
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He came straight from work; note his dress shirt and bow tie. That’s how we (he) roll(s).

Soon enough, the remaining ice will turn to water. We’ll dismantle the boards and let it drain, carefully storing the pieces for the summer. I don’t know what next year’s winter holds; it’s certainly unlikely to be as record-settingly cold as this. No matter what happens, though, we’ll be ready to make backyard memories again – come hell or high water ice.
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The Big Four-Oh

If you’re a 39 year-old heterosexual American male considering how to ring in your 40th birthday, doing so aboard a Disney Cruise probably isn’t at the top of your list. But that’s exactly where Nick found himself after we booked our cruise and then realized that his big day fell smack dab in the middle of the trip.

Given that our choices were to embrace it or ignore it, we chose to go with the former – and by “embrace it” I mean that Nick worked on not being bummed that he would turn forty while trapped with surrounded by gazillions of screaming, hyped-up children and adults either taking advantage of the poolside bar by 10 a.m. or dressed in life-size princess and pirate costumes. Meanwhile, the girls and I worked on coming up with as many ways as possible to draw attention to Nick and let everyone within a five mile radius know that it was his birthday.

We’re sweet like that.
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Nick had refused to open any birthday-related paraphernalia prior to his actual birth date, citing bad luck (umm, okay?), so we knew we’d either have to wait until we returned to give him his “real” birthday presents or we’d have to bring them with us. Given that we were already lugging several suitcases, that we planned to purchase more than a few souvenirs and gifts for family and friends, and that our stateroom – while lovely – wasn’t exactly palatial, we decided to give him the bulk of his presents back home… but that just meant we could go overboard* with the “fun” (read: embarrassing) stuff on the cruise.

* see what I did there?

The preparations began weeks before our sail date. I thought it might be neat to surprise Nick with some snacks, beverages, etc., in our stateroom, but I didn’t want to haul all of that stuff with me. I’d read about an awesome company that crafts custom-made gift baskets for folks in the Port Canaveral area; it seemed perfect, but unfortunately, Disney no longer allows off-site companies to deliver directly to their ships. Long story short (you’re welcome), after several weeks of phone calls and emails between that company, our taxi company, and myself — all without Nick’s knowledge — the gift basket lady met us at the entrance to the cruise terminal parking lot, our driver slyly pulled over and took the “delivery” into the front seat, and the porters quietly loaded the basket in with all of our other luggage, to be hidden away until the next morning. THAT’S what I’m talking about!

Nick’s sister, Emi, and her husband, Matt, had also sent a surprise wine and cheese platter to our room – but because of the whole “bad luck” thing, I knew I’d need to keep the goods out of sight until the following day. It was easy enough for me to enter our stateroom before anyone else (Nick was busy waiting in the interminable line to get a ticket so that Annie could meet Anna and Elsa), and it was easy enough to stash the wine and wine glasses in a cupboard… But the cheese plate a) would not fit in our tiny fridge and b) was super fresh and would have been, um, poisonous inedible if I’d tucked it away in a drawer or something… So, after conferring with Annie and Ella, we all dug right into lovely cheese plate that had been given to us by Disney as a way of thanking us for being repeat cruisers. (This was slightly less far-fetched than it sounds because there actually was a thank-you-for-going-on-your-second-cruise tote bag from Disney awaiting us on the bed.) Nick was skeptical (“They do this for everyone? Fresh cheese? Isn’t that kind of expensive?”), but with no one to say any differently, he had no choice but to buy into it.

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Not a bad way to start the trip!

When Nick awoke the next morning (aka HIS BIRTHDAY), we presented him with our contraband gift basket, Emi and Matt’s bottle of wine, and the real story behind why “Disney” had given us a lovely cheese platter. The basket was a huge hit – Nick and the girls had Milano cookies right there at 7:30 a.m. – but we were just getting started.
disney51 Also inside: the beach toys Ella used during our “adventure” on Castaway Cay.

First, I presented Nick with… the shirts (found here; Etsy is a mystical place, you guys). There were four matching ones for Annie, Ella, GranMary, and me, but Nick had his own… special… version.
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In case you can’t see them, our shirts say “This Girl Loves The Disney Dream” and Nick’s says “This Guy Turns 40 Today!”. VERY CLASSY.
Also, I’m just noticing now that Annie’s blue ears look like… my boobs. Very, VERY classy.

After putting them on, we headed up to breakfast — but not before stopping to admire our stateroom door, which looked slightly different than it had when I’d snuck out the night before to decorate it. (The doors are metal, meaning you can stick magnets on them. Many cruisers go all out with door decorations; it’s like an informal competition or a strange, impromptu art show.) The custom magnet (found here) was awesome, but even more fun was the white board – because as the day went on, fellow passengers left Nick birthday messages.
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This is the “after” shot, taken upon returning to our room at bedtime…

As we arrived at breakfast, I pulled out our next birthday treat… our Mickey ears. Nick had known that I’d purchased ears while we were in Epcot — it had been his suggestion, actually, to get some embroidered so that GranMary could have her own, personalized pair — but he didn’t know that I’d snuck in a different order for his ears.
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GranMary… Emily… Annie… Ella… 40 and Awesome!

Our big plans for the day began shortly after breakfast: while researching things to do in Nassau, we had decided upon a “dolphin excursion,” something that’s been on Nick’s bucket list for as long as he could remember. We were excited, but didn’t really know what to expect; the thirty minute boat ride over to Blue Lagoon was beautiful, but the girls were growing restless and Nick and I shot one another This Had Better Be Worth It looks.
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Upon our arrival, we sat through a brief – and interesting – information session about dolphins, dolphin conservation, etc. Following the session, we were split into groups and sent out onto the docks to meet with our instructor/trainer and the dolphins. Our small group consisted of us and another family; they went first, allowing us to see just what we were getting into.

There was no doubt about it: this was going to be incredible.

When it was our turn, we could hardly wait to scramble down the ladder and onto the submerged platform where we’d hang out with the dolphins. The first group had warned us that the water was cold; still, we were unprepared for just how chilly it would be. There was no time to ease in, however, because “our” dolphin – Missy – was being instructed to pose for a photo with us… so we gathered our courage, bent our knees, held our breaths, and smiled.
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Notice how the girls’ shoulders are up to their ears because there was no way they were ready to get that wet yet…

Missy – short for Miss Merlin – was fifteen years old, a nursing mama, blind in one eye, and just the absolute coolest, most fascinating animal I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. The trainer working with her was sarcastic and bold and more than willing to embarrass us in order to get a laugh; we liked her immediately.

I don’t quite know how to describe the excursion. I could tell you what it entailed: we – each of us, one at a time – got to hug Missy, dance with her (holding onto her front flippers and bobbing around together), run our hands along her back and head and belly (dolphins are unbelievably soft – there is little to compare her to that would make any sense because it’s a wholly unique feeling), kiss her (which may sound weird but which was SO VERY COOL), feed her (Nick was cajoled into feeding her by dangling a dead fish from his teeth – for real, yo), and sing with her (“Happy Birthday,” of course). We watched as she leapt into the air, doused us with water (at the trainer’s mischievous instruction), disappeared for a moment or two to check on her baby (who was hanging out in a separate, protected area so Missy could visit), scooted backward along the top of the water using only her flukes, blew bubbles under the surface, and made myriad crazy and amusing (to us humans) noises.
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What I can’t put into words is the sheer joy, awe, and delight that coursed through all of us during the 15 minutes we spent with Missy. It was something that transcended happy and blissful and slid into a kind of euphoria – but contained, special, magic. We felt it; it was almost an out of body experience, except we were so incredibly present.

Near the end of our visit, the trainer told us to wait a moment – and, at her hidden command, the dolphin swam out of sight. The trainer explained to Nick that Missy would be bringing him something to commemorate his big day, and when she returned he had to take it – but if it was alive (!!), he’d need to put it back. A moment later, Missy resurfaced and swam to Nick holding something in her teeth. Stunned, Nick giddily took it from her; it was a rock (which, thank God, is not alive), collected from the bottom of the lagoon.

To put it another way, a dolphin specifically selected a gift for Nick and then gave it to him. NICK GOT A 40th BIRTHDAY PRESENT FROM A DOLPHIN.
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When we returned home, he ordered a plastic box from Amazon in which to store/display his gift. I am not even kidding.

There was lots of other stuff to do at Blue Lagoon – sea lion greeting, dolphin watching, a gorgeous Bahamian beach with inflatables on the water – but, agreeing that our experience with Missy couldn’t possibly be topped, we chose to simply head back to the ship.

It felt as though we didn’t touch the ground for hours. We ate lunch and got ice cream; the girls swam and rode the water slide; Ella got her hair braided all fancy-like; Nick and I relaxed and enjoyed the Drink of the Day. He was on such a high, he even proudly posed with the girls’ and my last gift of the day: a towel that my aunt had embroidered for him, loudly declaring his age. (The rest of his presents awaited him at home.)
disney94This is maybe the softest towel in existence. I’ve totally stolen it for myself even though I AM NOWHERE NEAR 40, ahem.

I’d been informed that, at dinner, our waitstaff would present Nick with some kind of birthday treat; since he doesn’t really like dessert (or any sweets, for that matter; I KNOW), I decided not to order him a cake (see also: fridge too small to store leftover cake). It turned out perfectly.

Disney is nothing if not enthusiastic, especially when it comes to celebrations, and birthdays are certainly something to be celebrated. As such, when I stopped by the front desk the night before, the concierge eagerly forked over “I’m Celebrating” buttons for GranMary, the girls, and me as well as an “It’s My Birthday!” button for Nick. Those drew us some attention, but it was really the shirt that turned people’s heads. Nick insisted on wearing it all day (until dinner), explaining that it was the only day he could get away with it. I’d chuckled when I found it online, giggled when it arrived in the mail, laughed out loud when he actually put it on… but seeing other guests and cast members take notice of it, do a double take, and then stop to say, “Happy Birthday, man!” all day long was pretty much the most amusing best thing ever.

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Speaking of cool things…

After dinner, GranMary presented Nick with his final gift: a clever and funny reworking of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” (complete with mouse ears and dancing grandchildren); it was a delightful capper on a pretty damned terrific day. When we got back to the room, we discovered that our attendant had folded our bath towels in the shape of a birthday cake.
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Do you think they keep the ribbon on hand, just in case?

If you’d asked Nick what he envisioned doing on the day he turned 40, I doubt that he’d have described the day that he wound up having. Still, he was a tremendously good sport about everything – and, by the end, even he had to admit that as far as birthdays go, it wasn’t really so bad… In fact, it was pretty freakin’ great. We were in the Bahamas. It was a perfect, sunny day. He got some dorky fun swag, including a present from a dolphin.

He even got to check an item off his bucket list.
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This photo makes me ridiculously happy.

At the very least, I hope there’s no doubt in his mind that he is pretty freakin’ adored by the rest of us. (Adored… and seen as fodder for embarrassment.)

But hey – you only turn 40 once. Might as well kick back with a Yellow Bird, soak in the sun, kiss a dolphin, and look out onto the incredible horizon stretching before you – in every possible way.
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Awesome, indeed.

 

 

 

 

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.