Osmosis Love

We’re in South Carolina again, visiting Papa and Grand Meg on Kiawah Island, as we do every spring. This time, we deliberately scheduled our trip for later in the season (even pulling the girls out of school for a couple of days), hoping that we’d encounter weather that was warm enough for us enjoy being outside. (See also: swimming, the girls’ kryptonite.)

Although it’s been cloudy since our arrival, we were pleased to discover that it is, indeed, warm enough to swim. Yesterday, the girls hit up the pool. Today, we ventured over to the ocean. It was super low tide, leaving us with a vast expanse of beach in which to search for shells, play in tide pools, and collect hermit crabs. When we’d had our fill of exploring the sand, we took to the water.

To be more precise: Nick, Ella, and Annie took to the water.
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No sun… Low tide… Warm air… Empty beach… Happy kids.

As I’ve documented before, I’m not an ocean person. It’s not the ocean itself that’s a problem; I love the tides that are – fascinatingly – both ever-changing and constant; the rise and fall of the waves; the rush of the water as the swells crash upon the shore; the birds that fly just along the waterline, skimming the surface in beautiful unison; the soft, squishy bottom beneath your feet; the rainbow colors of the oceanic landscape; the endless horizon.

It’s just the sand and the salt that are a problem.
I like neither all up in my eyes or my lady parts.
If we could get rid of those, the ocean would be perfect.
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Having the water to themselves (and some blue sky).

Nick and the girls, on the other hand, love the ocean. Whereas I can’t get enough of the lake, Nick vastly prefers the sea. He can almost always be counted on to join the girls, swimming beside them, shaking the water from their hair, looking for waves. Although I will occasionally swim, snorkel, and bodysurf, when given the choice, I would almost always rather wait on the beach or wade in to my ankles (and then wash off the sand and the salt asap).

Today, I stood for a solid hour on the shore while Nick, Annie, and Ella were in the water. For some of that, my dad joined me and we engaged in lovely conversation. For the rest, it was just me – watching… listening… as they splashed, jumped the waves, called to one another, and scouted which frothy peaks would make for the best bodysurfing. They were pure joy and ebullience; their happiness radiated in all directions. Watching them, it was all but impossible to not feel that happiness, myself.

When anyone loves something that much, their love is bound to rub off on everyone around them. Or something like that.

Either way, it was a truly magnificent sixty minutes.

I may never fully enjoy frolicking in the briny deep, but today? I absolutely loved the ocean. (Bonus points: my lady parts were sand-free. SWEET FANCY MOSES.)
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No “fancy” camera today; just blurry iPhone closeups and crazy-happy family.

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We Have Been Chopped

If there’s one thing that can be said about our family, it’s that we love to eat. (It could also be said that we tend to sing a lot and that we always have dog hair on our clothes, but eating is more fun.) Rather conveniently, we also love to cook — all four of us. One of our favorite things to do together is watch cooking and baking shows, from Cake Boss to Restaurant: Impossible to The Next Food Network Star to MasterChef Junior.
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We stumbled upon Cake Boss in 2010 before the show’s popularity skyrocketed; the day we visited Carlo’s with my mom and stepdad, Buddy flew to Chicago to be on Oprah… and everything changed!
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Naturally, the girls are blurry so that the baked goods could be in focus…

We have also logged a lot of time watching Chopped, the Food Network show where the four contestants receive baskets containing “mystery ingredients” (i.e. rice cereal, squid, jelly beans, and cucumbers), all of which need to be incorporated into their final dishes to be presented to the judges… within 20 or 30 minutes. The moment those baskets are opened, we four backseat chefs get to work calling out what we think could/should be done with the ingredients, oohing and ahhhing and gasping and groaning at the chefs’ crazy and awe-inspiring creations.

Although Annie and Ella are very comfortable in the kitchen and, for years now, have been combining… unusual… foods just for the fun of it, they have long opined that it would be truly great to participate in their own version of Chopped — to be given mystery ingredients and then to create something, not only edible but delicious, out of them.

A good many years back, my dad and GrandMeg had gotten to know one of the chefs on Kiawah Island. Eventually, Chef Patrick left the restaurant business to focus on a more entrepreneurial, private chef approach; since then, he’s made several fabulicious meals at my dad and Meg’s house (on Kiawah) for special occasions. For Christmas this year, my dad and Meg very generously “gave” us dinner with Chef Patrick.

Normally when Patrick does his private chef thing, he does all the cooking; occasionally, he gives basic cooking lessons. Seeing that we were going to be in close quarters with a top notch chef who might be able to really teach us a thing or two beyond what we already know, I sent Meg the following email proposing something a little bit different:

When we watch these cooking shows, what impresses us the most is how the chefs are able to think on their feet, how they understand foods and flavors and how to work with the ingredients to create delicious dishes with amazing flavors… We can cook any recipe well; we want more!
So, THAT’S what we’d like to learn. How food works. What ingredients go well together and why? What basic sauces go with what foods, and how do we make them on the fly? What are some simple ways to elevate basic meals to something more flavorful? If we’re getting dinner on the table in a hurry, how can we mix things up so that it tastes different even if we’re pressed for time and using more or less the same ingredients?
So, you know… Essentially Culinary School 101. 😉
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Meg then forwarded my rather, um, broad request to Patrick, who responded like this:
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I think a great place to start would be stocks, sauces and soups and then go into flavor pairings. We could cover the different areas of taste buds on the tongue which make different combinations of food taste so good together… Also covering ingredients you may have sitting in the pantry which could be used to whip up or add flavor to a dinner would be great.
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We could also get the creative juices going with a couple of surprise baskets with different ingredients in them like the show Chopped and see what y’all can come up with for dinner. You could all decide what you could make for dinner with whatever is in the basket. Of course it will be more like some blue plastic boxes. Sounds like fun to me!!
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I was dumbfounded. We get to pretend like we’re on Chopped? But with a real, live, uber-talented chef to guide us? Are you freaking kidding me?? When I read the email to Ella and Annie, they could barely contain their excitement. DREAMS DO COME TRUE, Y’ALL!
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For the first few days of our spring break, we simply took in Kiawah and Charleston, like always, and enjoyed hanging out with family… but really, we were barely containing our excitement for our dinner with Patrick. When at last the day arrived, Chef Patrick showed up and, as promised, lugged in several blue plastic boxes and set them on the counter. Once he’d gotten everything ready, he invited the girls to do the unveiling; they were more than happy to oblige.
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One box held proteins – chicken, sausage, etc. The others held vegetables, fruits, and starches – squash, carrots, parsnips, peppers, white and sweet potatoes, strawberries, raspberries, kiwis, fresh herbs. Additionally, like the contestants on the show, we could help ourselves to the “pantry” – a section of the counter on which Patrick had spread out staples like pasta, garlic, onions, cream, salt and pepper, chicken stock, etc.
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As soon as they looked everything over, both girls immediately had ideas about what to make. Rather than just listen to their thoughts, Patrick had the (genius) idea of inviting them to draw their finished dishes so they could really envision their creations as actual meals instead of just ingredients.
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Next, he checked out their illustrations asked them to describe their “recipes” while he wrote down the key ingredients.
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Yes, that coat does have the Super Bowl insignia on it because Patrick was one of the chefs at this year’s game. So, that’s not cool or anything…
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Once he’d gotten a feel for what the girls wanted, the fun really began. See, ’cause while their ideas were very original and creative, they weren’t necessarily… doable… in their original form. Not wanting to disappoint or discourage them, Patrick considered their suggestions and, working with each girl, tweaked them into something more polished.
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Or, in other words, the tables were turned and suddenly Chef Patrick became the Chopped contestant. Take these random ingredients and make something amazing out them HAHAHA GOOD LUCK.
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Annie’s idea was fairly simple: chicken and pasta with mushrooms and red wine. With Patrick’s guidance, they agreed upon pasta with grilled chicken and mushrooms in a sundried tomato, pesto, and red wine sauce.
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Annie’s drawing was… interesting…
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Ella’s idea was a bit more out of the box. Originally, she envisioned “sausage and potatoes with basil-stuffed raspberries.” After much discussion, with Patrick gently trying to figure out how the heck to incorporate raspberries with the sausage, he and Ella decided on Italian sausage and potato cakes with a raspberry basil balsamic glaze.
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You’ll notice the raspberry glaze drizzled nicely around the outside of Ella’s plate…
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Then it was time to get to work. Although Patrick absolutely ran the show, we helped out in every way that we could – chopping vegetables, chiffonading basil (I don’t know if you can  add -ing to chiffonade but I’m doing it anyway because it sounds way more chef-y to be “chiffonading basil”), browning sausage, boiling potatoes, cutting chicken. When we got to forming the potato cakes (a combination of Italian sausage, white potatoes, onions, basil, and olive oil), we were really winging it – even Patrick admitted he’d never attempted anything like this before, so there was little “advice” to be given.
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Over the course of the several hours it took to pull everything together, Annie and Ella grew antsy and would occasionally wander away to play. As their dishes were nearing completion, we called them back in to show them how things were looking — that Chef Patrick was nearly finished with turning their ideas into a real, honest-to-goodness dinner.
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Watching Patrick add salt to the sauce for the pasta.
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Checking out the nearly-complete raspberry glaze.
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Finally, after an evening of thinking and prepping and cooking, everything was ready. We set the table, gathered up the two main courses, and sat down, anxious to see if the final dishes would be anything beyond merely edible.
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Annie’s pasta with chicken and mushrooms in a sundried tomato, pesto, and red wine sauce. (Obviously, I’m not a food photographer… Carry on…)kiawah cooking15Ella’s Italian sausage and potato cakes (raspberry basil balsamic glaze to the side).
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You guys? They were more than merely edible. They were delicious.
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The pasta was light and fresh but filling. The sausage-potato cakes, the ones that Ella and Chef Patrick invented on the spot and then had to actually make doable? SO. FREAKIN’ GOOD. The potato and the sausage combined beautifully, the texture was just right, and the onions and basil added the perfect amount of flavor; even the raspberry sauce was fabulous, a sweet-ish (but not too sweet) complement to the saltiness of the cakes. We were in heaven; when Patrick joined us (we insisted that he eat with us because duh), he agreed, somewhat stunned, that their collaboration had turned out pretty damned well.
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Just a wee bit proud of herself… 
Oh! And you can see the raspberry sauce in the tureen, too.kiawah cooking17Thumbs up!
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After dinner, Annie helped Chef Patrick assemble two super-easy pudding fruit tarts. They, like the main courses, were absolutely dee-lish.
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It got late, so she changed into her jammies…
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It’s a month later and still we can hardly believe it: our girls created recipes off the top of their heads (recipes that were inspired by Chopped-style baskets!) and then a world-class chef took their ideas and turned them into dinner. CHEF PATRICK MADE THEIR RECIPES! It’s like we sent an idea to JK Rowling and she wrote a story based on our thoughts! Holy crap, people!!
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Or, at Annie succinctly put it:
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They say that, if you’re aiming to cultivate happiness, focus on experiences and not things; you’ll soon grow tired of the latest gadget, but the memories you make while doing something incredible will provide you with lifelong joy. I can say, without a doubt, that the memories of our evening spent watching Patrick make magic (and dinner!) with our girls will continue bringing us happiness for – well, pretty much forever. How unbelievably fortunate we are, and how grateful we are to Chef Patrick (and my dad and Meg) for making it so!
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We have been Chopped… in the best possible way.

Change Is Good

For as long as I can remember, my dad and his job have always gone hand in hand. Sure, there were other ways that he filled his time – for example, he loves to golf. He plays tennis. He enjoys history books (I believe that the Civil War and presidential biographies are particular favorites). He golfs. He sips a glass of wine with his wife in the evenings. He reads The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal religiously (and frequently sends me links to articles with nary an introduction). He runs and works hard to stay healthy. He loves being a total goofball with his granddaughters. And have I mentioned that he likes golf?

But, alongside all of that, my father worked. Every morning, he would awaken at the crack of dawn (for real, like four- or five-something a.m.), put on his suit and tie, and take the train into Manhattan. He would walk to his high-rise, almost always arriving to his desk before 8 a.m., work all day, and then reverse the process back home, usually pulling into the station around 6 p.m. When I think of him commuting, he is always wearing a long tan trench coat, smooth and crisp. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the rush of air that accompanied him in the door – clean and leathery – and feel his cool cheek, chilled from traveling in the autumn air, against my face.

He took a briefcase with him, too – when I was a kid, one of those hard-backed kinds, the ones with the brass-colored latch that would snap and lock into place, and more recently a briefcase that was more like a leather satchel (although never, ever a backpack or man-purse). Growing up, I didn’t really understand what he did – something with stocks? Assets? Investments? (Not a trader, but he did work in the investment industry.) I did know, however, that he was good at it – really, really good.

I remember a math assignment in 5th grade where we had to pick three stocks from the NYSE – any stocks we wanted – and follow them for a few weeks to see if the prices went down or up. (I’m using very technical terms here, I know; do try to keep up.) The top three individual stocks – the ones that had earned the most over the course of those weeks – would receive a prize, meaning that three different students should have received top honors… except that I swept the awards because my three stocks – chosen with my dad’s advice – were the most successful. (Lest you think this was a fluke, three years later when my brother and a friend tapped my dad for his advice again on this very same assignment, they each swept their class’s awards, too.)

Work defined my father. I don’t mean this in a negative way at all, but simply that his job was an incredibly important part of his life, of who he was. He put in long hours, sometimes traveling around the country and the world, but although the commuting was a drag, he truly loved what he did. He came alive at the office  – not more than when I saw him at home, but different. It was challenging and fulfilling and you could just see it in his eyes, that spark of curiosity and intelligence. Although I didn’t visit him at the office very much when I was younger, as an adult I loved watching him interact with his coworkers; he spoke with authority and honesty, and they so clearly respected him.

There were times when my dad’s job was hard for me – when he had to travel and missed piano recitals, when he had to work late and wasn’t home for dinner – but I was proud of him and what he did. I couldn’t imagine him not doing his job; it was woven into his fabric. For forty-three years, dad and work were practically synonymous with one another…

… until this past June, when he retired.

I’d long known it was coming. He’d made the plans well in advance, rather giddily – he even had an app on his phone that counted down the days and hours until he was done. He’d loved it, had put everything he had into it, but enough was enough. I understood – he wanted to live life while he could, it absolutely made sense, I was so happy for him – but it felt weird. You mean you’re not heading into the office today? You don’t have any meetings scheduled? We don’t have to wait to call you until after you get home? WHAT IS GOING ON??

The first day of his retirement, my dad called us at 8 a.m. and asked to speak to Ella and Annie. “Do you know why I’m calling you right now?” he questioned; they were stumped. “Because I’m not working, so I can! How about that!” When he said that part of what he hoped to do when he retired was visit more often, I nodded politely but didn’t really put too much stock (oh ho, a pun!)  in it – not because I doubted him, but because the idea was so foreign. (Just come visit? Not during a holiday or school break? For no reason other than because? Really?) But then last month I got a call from him saying that Grand Meg was going out of town for a few days in September, and he would also like to take a trip… to Rochester. To see me. And the girls – because he wanted to, because he could.

It happened that Nick was slated to be out of town then, too, and so this past Sunday the girls and I found ourselves being paid a visit by my dad – just to hang out. Although he’d visited me in college (making a point of arranging business trips nearby so he could check out my dorm room and take me out to dinner), this was really the first time that it had been just me and my dad in, maybe… ever. I will admit, there was a small bit of me that was concerned – what would we do all day??

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.

We played with Ella and Annie. We went out for dinner. He walked the girls to school.   IMG_8600

We took the dogs for long walks around the neighborhood. He threw the ball for Langston. We visited the girls at school and ate lunch with them.
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It tickles me to no end that my dad – the former super-duper investment guy – ordered a school lunch. 
He chose the fruit and yogurt option and totally cleaned his tray.

 

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We talked. He patiently occupied his time while I did work. We went to one of the girls’ swim practices. He peeked into their classrooms and they showed him their desks.

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We drove around town. We checked out some TV. He looked over the girls’ school papers and listened while they read to him. He endured watched as they attempted to perform magic tricks. We ate dinner at home and tucked the girls in at night.

In short, we did a whole bunch of stuff but also nothing at all except be together, and they were some of the best two days I’ve ever had.

It’s still a little strange thinking of my dad without his job, but I believe I’m liking this retirement business. It seems to be suiting him well, too. Whereas there was a time – all of the years, really – when he didn’t seem too interested in pop culture (save for what’s discussed in the WSJ and NYT), now that my dad’s days are a little less busy, he has the opportunity to explore certain cultural touchstones that were previously off limits. Just yesterday, he emailed my brother and me to express his concern that Cameron Diaz is dating Benji Madden. In what quickly became one of my favorite email exchanges of all time, he then explained that he had read this news… in People magazine. MY DAD IS READING PEOPLE, Y’ALL, AND IT IS AWESOME.

Yes. I’d definitely say that this retirement thing is working out quite nicely.

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Way down south in Dixie

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

Mission: accomplished.

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

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Ahhhh, late-afternoon sun…

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

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

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

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

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My girl was so ready to take on that ocean.

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

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It was worth it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially if we throw some in sweet tea, too.
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Throwback Thursday: Carolina in my Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2010
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We also eat lollipops as big as our heads.

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

2011
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10.04 sunset beach

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

A Very Harry Christmas

Sometimes, things don’t go the way you’d planned or hoped. Maybe your expectations were too high, or the circumstances just don’t pan out, or something goes wrong.

Other times… It goes exactly the way you’d imagined.
Amazingly, our Christmas was one of those times.

My dad and stepmom – Papa and Grand Meg – joined us for the fourth year in a row, and although they were accosted by the girls the moment the came in the door (and barely made it home in one piece, having been thoroughly climbed on, jumped on, hugged, shouted at, danced with, and sat upon for the past three days), it was, as always, a marvelous way to spend the holiday.

We ate.
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Looking for some decorating tips?
Dog beds, unwrapped packages, and Swiffer WetJets are magnificent accessories.
Cute black Lab not included.

We got ready for Santa.
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What? Santa doesn’t get cookies, milk, and whiskey at your house? PITY.

The big guy came…
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Apparently, the whiskey went to his head…

And brought Annie and Ella just what they’d asked for.
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In our house, we eat a big ol’ Christmas breakfast before digging into the bulk of our gifts – but, to keep the Ella and Annie sane, we let them open a few presents in advance of the rest. For the third year in a row, the girls requested that the first gifts they open be the ones they’d picked out for each another.

They were a hit!
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Not to be outdone by a guy in a red suit who breaks and enters, Nick and I had a few gifts up our sleeves – including Harry Potter wands.

The girls were…
well, these speak for themselves.

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(These are the best pictures ever, are they not?)
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(Yep. Best ever. Definitely.)
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christmas joy

A couple of weeks ago, Nick had mentioned that he and his siblings had played a game called Trac Ball with their dad when they’d visit the North Shore of Minnesota. Lo and behold, Trac Ball still exists – and it so happens that it’s a blast.

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Not sure why I have no photos of Nick playing Trac Ball… but my dad took Ella on this morning.

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Grand Meg plays to win, yo!

I won’t bore you with the details… but the rest our Christmas was pretty damn fine.

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Don’t mind Annie’s nervous smile; we were in the middle of a lake effect snow squall and the flakes were really flying.

It wasn’t entirely sunshine and unicorns. Annie has a cold, Langston ate the entire wedge of brie right off the coffee table, we missed Bill an awful lot, and the lasagna I’d so carefully made ahead of time (so that we could just pop it in the oven on Christmas day and eat it 90 minutes later, no fussing or fretting necessary) might have not really cooked so well, leaving us with delicious sauce and lasagna noodles that were still crunchy. Oops. 

But it was still pretty fantastic.

Growing up, I’d assumed that the best part of Christmas was being a kid. Turns out I was wrong: the best part of Christmas is watching your kids experience it*. The wonder… the awe… the joy… the exhaustion… the seven extra bags of trash that had to be dragged to the curb…

This year was a really good one. Magical, really.
Hoping yours was the same.

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My BFF, Kiki, sent us these Harry Potter glasses with the instructions that they were for “the entire family, even the dogs, with the hopes of a PHOTO!” How could we not oblige?

Side note: not sure whey I look like Professor Trelawney.
Side note two: Jambi totally rocks the glasses Very studious.

* That is, when they’re not crying or hitting one another or ripping through the packages so fast, you’d think they were competing in an opening contest – five year-old Annie, I’m looking at you.

** Thanks, Grand Meg, for sharing some of your photos!