Best Snow Day Ever (Really)

Six days ago, we were slammed by a ferocious windstorm. Not a series of tornadoes… Not a hurricane… Just wind. TONS of wind that barraged the region relentlessly for hours. Topping out with gusts at over 80 miles per hour (yowzers), these were no gentle breezes. Trees weren’t just snapped; they were uprooted, literally. Power was knocked out to over 150,000 homes. Utility poles bent and broke, sending power lines flying. (Amazingly, we never lost power.)
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These were just a few trees within a half-mile of our house; to see truly incredible images, check out this, this, and this.

Our district canceled school for two days; several schools remained without power, buildings were freezing, buses couldn’t be fueled. Ella’s middle school was turned into a weekend shelter; other local organizations (a community center, churches, the JCC, the Islamic Center) became warming stations, offering spaces to charge devices, get water, huddle up.

If you did venture out, everywhere you turned, you’d run into stately pine trees on their sides accompanied by gas and electric (and tree trimming) crews working overtime. We don’t get a lot of natural disasters in Rochester – the lack of hurricanes, tornadoes, avalanches, earthquakes, tsunamis, and forest fires is a definite plus of living here – so this was a rather unprecedented occurrence.

It was a damned mess.

On the second “wind day,” the girls and I did something I’d been wanting to do for ages: brought flowers and notes of support to the JCC and Islamic Center. When I asked about other places that might need assistance, a friend suggested that we spread a little cheer to local fire stations, who were fielding emergency calls left and right, and gas and electric linemen who were working feverishly to restore the area to power. We did both, to astonished appreciation. It was kind of rad.

The following day was Annie’s Girl Scout troop’s cookie booth sale, which meant three hours of 4th grade girls freezing their tushes off in 18-degree snow while hawking boxes of Thin Mints from the gas station sidewalk. It was kind of surreal, cheerily shouting about cookies while watching people load up on bags of ice and cans of gas; obviously, 72 hours post-windpocalypse, there were still a lot of folks without power.

As a means to both move the cookies along and give us all a greater sense of purpose (not that Peanut Butter Patties aren’t life-changing), we set up a collection for boxes of cookies to be donated to gas and electric crews. The response was overwhelming; our box was overflowing. It seems, when faced with times of crisis, helping feels really, really good.
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Although our troop leader was able to deliver the bulk of the cookies over the course of the weekend, five additional boxes were donated last-minute. I bagged them up and stuck them on the front seat of my car, assuming, one way or another, that I’d come upon some utility folks sooner or later and could hand over the goods.

Because Jesus loves me, school was back in session yesterday. Today, however, we are being walloped by the edges of the blizzard-y storm that is thrashing away at Philly, New York, and Boston. With the governor declaring a state-wide state of emergency that called for no unnecessary travel and 12-18″ of non-stop snow predicted over the course of 36 hours, the district called official snow days today and tomorrow.

Yes, this means four cancelled school days in less than a week. Yes, this also means we have spent a boatload of time together.
Ask me how well my daughters are getting along. 

By 8 a.m., I’d decided that a Starbucks run was definitely “necessary” travel; my survival (and sanity) depended on it. It took me three hours to accomplish the rest of the stuff on my list, but shortly before lunch, Ella and Annie and I braved the roads to make quick stops at Target and Starbucks.

The roads were bad. I would’ve felt really crappy if I’d slid off the side and, when asked by the first responders why I’d ventured out in these conditions, I’d responded, “A latte.”

After explaining to the girls why this would not be a leisurely shopping excursion, I sheepishly admitted we really should get back to the house ASAP, with one caveat: if we happened upon any gas and electric crews, we’d lengthen our sojourn to drop off the cookies.

The roads were all but deserted (yet another sign that perhaps a latte wasn’t really “necessary”). The Target parking lot was much the same, with one notable exception: eight large, flashing-light bearing vehicles, idling side by side. The moment I glimpsed them, I startled the girls with a hearty, “OMG ARE THOSE GAS AND ELECTRIC GUYS?? WE’VE HIT THE MOTHERLODE!”
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Can you see the trucks back there?

We drove slowly by to get a closer look; the cabs of the trucks were empty, save for one guy on his phone and another taking a snooze at the wheel. I didn’t recognize the name of the company (National Grid) but a quick Google search told us they were, indeed, a gas and electric outfit. Gleefully, we took the car back toward them, coming to a stop in front of the gentleman we’d seen on his phone.

He exited his cab as we rolled down the window. (Considering we’d basically stalked him in the Target parking lot, he was understandably wary.) “Can I help you?”

So we explained – about the booth sale, the donations, driving around with the cookies. When we handed over the bag, his face registered only shock.

“For me? For us? You’re sure?”

We told him we were – very sure, in fact – but he was still incredulous. “You don’t understand. We’ve been here for a week. We’re eight hours from home and still can’t go back yet. This is the first time anyone has done anything like this. I honestly can’t thank you enough.”

He looked, standing in the wind-whipped snowstorm, as though maybe he might break down. Over a bag of Girl Scout cookies. Over people showing gratitude.

We explained further that it wasn’t so much us delivering the cookies and our thanks; it was the community, everyone who had donated the boxes and wanted to help. He truly could barely believe it. We exchanged a few more pleasantries and thank-yous and then were on our way. (Hey – at least now, if I slid off the road, I could say that I’d gone out for a latte and to hand over cookies.)

After the girls and I finished our shopping, I was placing our Starbucks mobile order (what? You thought we’d skip out on the lattes?) when I wondered aloud if I could put in for one of those ginormous box-o-coffee dispensers to bring to the National Grid crew on our way back… but there was no sign of them. They’d gone.

The rest of the (slow, slippery) drive home, we talked about the kind of person it takes to leave their families and travel to help others in times of crisis… how we wished we could do more to thank them… And then, just as we turned into our neighborhood, less than a quarter mile from home, there they were.
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I kid you not: a veritable fleet of National Grid trucks were lined up behind one another, lights on, crews out. (We soon discovered two more trucks were parked in our cul-de-sac.) The very same guys! It was our turn to be astonished. This one little crew from eight hours away… working in the Rochester area for a week… less than 30 minutes after we’d seen them in the Target parking lot and wished we could do more… was working on our street?? WHAT WERE THE CHANCES?

Slim, I tell you. VERY, VERY SLIM.

Since Fate had clearly spoken, we knew what we had to do: get these men a warm beverage. Which is how we found ourselves dispensing hot chocolate to the National Grid crew in the middle of a snowstorm.
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The guy said to us, “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate this. Some people have been really rude to us. This is so nice.” WHY ARE PEOPLE RUDE TO FOLKS DOING THE HELPING?? WTF??IMG_1225

Best. Snow day. Ever.
(It’s also Pi Day and we have two chocolate pies for dessert, so there’s that.)

I know there’s a lot of scary, mean, selfish stuff going on right now. I know – I do – how easy it is to slip into frustration, anger, despair. But I also know a really easy way to feel better: thank someone. Help someone. Do something for somebody else. It’s clichéd, but it’s true. Doing good feels good. Really simple math.

No, it won’t solve everything (and with another snow day tomorrow, my cherubs might face off, Hunger Games style). But I am positive that if we were all just, I don’t know – NICER – that we really could change the world. Or at least our windy, snowy corner of it.

Oh Hell No

The unthinkable happened – or so I thought*.

(* see what I did there?)

As is well-documented, I love where we live. We moved to our cozy, tight-knit, western New York community because it is exactly where we want to be, and especially where we want to raise our girls. No, it’s not as diverse as I’d like, but we take as many steps as possible to help Ella and Annie understand that there is a world beyond what they know. Life feels good here – safe, supportive, inclusive.

Yesterday, in our cozy, tight-knit, safe, supportive, inclusive community, a man was seen handing out flyers in a residential neighborhood. The flyers were titled, “Make (Rochester) Great Again” and contained the link to a website that is being used as a recruitment tool for white supremacist groups.

According to one of our local news outlets, the website advertises a “network (of) like-minded Whites for the furtherance of the European white races… (It) promotes that European whites should not feel constrained in recognizing their ethnic and racial identities and in promoting its interest. It is thus taken as legitimate for whites to challenge attempts to turn whites into a minority. (The group) is an incipient initiative that aims to Make (Rochester) Great Again, by making Rochester Whiter.”

Um. Hell no. Fuck no.

I shared the story with Ella to get her opinion – she’s usually pretty good at framing things for me from a kid’s perspective (which is almost always better than whatever we adults are thinking) – but I could barely read the words aloud. I am of the European white race. My daughters and husband are not. Looking at my child and saying that my race should be furthered, but not hers… That I should take pains to recognize and promote my ethnic and racial identities above hers… That anyone attempting to promote equality and equity for non-white races (like, say, the Black Lives Matter movement) should be seen as a threat to me…

… was literally stomach-turning. I felt like I was going to throw up.

These are my children that this website is targeting. MY CHILDREN. In MY CUTE LITTLE TOWN. This is not happening in some big city or some podunk nowhere. It is happening in my own backyard. I knew, of course, that there was racism and hatred everywhere, even in my community, but to see it happening exactly here, exactly now, was absolutely chilling.

 

Thankfully, Ella found the article more amusing than alarming – she was so shocked that anyone in 2016 believes such drivel, she was basically speechless. But it still woke me up to the reality of what we in 2016 America are dealing with (I thought I understood; until tonight, I didn’t) and made me vow anew to make absolutely certain that our children are able to do better than we are.
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Our community; soccer game.

In fairness, it’s something I’ve been working at for my whole life.

In elementary school, my first Cabbage Patch doll was black. Her name was Guinevere Camilla and she smelled like baby powder and I adored her from the moment I saw her. I gave not one shit that she wasn’t white.

In middle school, I accompanied a Jewish friend in requesting that a menorah be included alongside the Christmas tree in the school office. The principal called my mother to ask if I was considering converting. The very idea that I, a Christian student, would be supporting this “cause” just because I was, you know, a friend who happened to believe in the radical idea of equality was absolutely beyond his backward brain. Even at age 12, though, I knew.

In 10th grade, a friend asked if I believed gay people were going to hell, which puzzled me. I don’t even think I knew anyone who was openly gay, but I’d never heard or even considered such a possibility before and I was completely flummoxed as to what she talking about. She attempted to explain to me that her religion taught her that homosexuality was against God’s will. I told her gay people were born gay and God loves everyone, so no, they’re not going to hell, good grief.

When I was in college and finally saw, for the first time, racial profiling up close and personal, it rocked me so hard to my core, I never forgot it.

Basically, I think I’m hardwired to believe that we all are deserving of respect and love and kindness, regardless of race, gender, gender identity, sexuality, age, religion, dis/ability, or favorite sports team (although obviously the Yankees > Red Sox). I believe this so strongly, I talk about it – a lot – because one of the ways I think we’re going to combat and ultimately end the horrible cycle we’ve found ourselves in is to feel comfortable talking about this stuff.

Our girls have heard me talk about these things – a lot. They knew what it meant to be gay before they knew their uncles were gay; they never thought it was weird or taboo because they were familiar with it. Ditto gender identity and religion and, absolutely, race.

‘Cause my girls aren’t white. When strangers look at them, they don’t see white kids – even though they’re half-me. They see Asian. (And, if they’ve got eyes, they see awesome, but that’s neither here nor there.) And, apparently, some people in my own little town see my children as Other. As, What Is Stopping Rochester From Being Great. As something to be opposed.

My girls don’t see that. They think that’s insane – and I’m sure most of their friends do, too. But we need to do everything in our power to ensure that none of our children grows up thinking that these thoughts are even possibilities.

So? Have the damned discussions. No, for real. Actually talk about race relations, about what’s happening in America – today, 2016. These flyers aren’t from 1956; they’re from now, for fuck’s sake. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening. Don’t pat yourself on the back for being bummed that the Academy Awards didn’t honor any people of color this year while still shouting “All Lives Matter!” Don’t assume that your community’s goodwill is going to somehow override centuries of overt and covert racist programming.

Don’t be afraid of talking about people’s race. Use terms like white/Caucasian, black/African American, Asian, hispanic/Latino, Native American (“brown” is also widely used and accepted for people of color) to identify people – as you’d describe height or hair color –  not cutesy terms like “people with a tan” (seriously, wtf) or “darker-skinned people.”

Somehow, those of us in our sweet, affluent, mostly-white-but-genuinely-trying-to-do-the-right-thing communities seem to think that it’s, I don’t know, accepting? Supportive? Inclusive? to simply not refer to skin color, period. In fact, we’re doing way more harm than good when we teach our kids that discussing race is shameful. Skin color should not be whispered like cancer. It is not bad or wrong or offensive, and it’s certainly not racist, for the love, to refer to the color of someone’s skin –  any more than it’s wrong or racist to refer to the color of someone’s eyes.
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Our community: summer sunset

I know many people are sick of discussing race; others think it’s still not an issue. To that, I would say, Ask yourself – and really be honest here – how you’d feel if you were pulled over. If you’re white, like me, I imagine that you’d be a bit nervous, a bit pissed that you were caught, the tiniest bit contrite (’cause you recognize that you must’ve done something wrong even if you don’t want to admit it). You might be considering what you could do to talk your way out of the ticket.

If you’re white, like me, there is almost no way that you’d be concerned even a little bit that your pull-over might result in your being shot by the police officer who stopped you. You could yell at the officer. You could swear. You could dance. You could tell them that you’re secretly rooting for ISIS and maybe even Donald Trump. Hell, you could show them the handgun that’s sitting in your lap… and you know damned well that you’d still come out of it alive.

And deep down, you know the same would not be true if you were black. You know equally damned well that people of color, and especially black men, are not afforded this luxury. You’d be scared to death because you know in your heart that these black lives are not treated the same as yours.

We need to talk about these things openly and honestly and without shame. We need to acknowledge the problems that exist – and not be so defensive. Yes, these flyers are repugnant; instead of ignoring them or wishing them away, we need to confront them head on. We need to say FUCK NO and come together and show people who believe that diversity is the problem that it is actually the freaking answer.

Turns out, I wasn’t wrong; Ella did have some words of wisdom after hearing the content of the article (which I had to explain to her, because the very concepts were so foreign). She asked, for the millionth time, why people don’t get it — that WE – all of us, every last black, brown, white, gay, straight, bi, male, female, transgender, able-bodied, disabled, neurotypical, differently-abled, old, young, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, Yankees-loving, Red Sox-loving, sports-hating one of us… ALL of us – are what makes America great.

We, in our diversity, ARE America’s greatness. We, in ourselves, are our greatest strength.
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How Is This Still A Thing?

On Saturday, Nick and I saw a local theatre production of To Kill A Mockingbird. It was a wonderful performance, beautifully staged and marvelously acted.

Seeing the stage production, I was struck by how powerful Harper Lee’s novel had been when I first read it and how powerful it remains now – not because it brings to mind the struggles of a bygone era, but because of how real those struggles remain today.

The story’s message is simple: black people are not treated the same as white people; they are not given the same chances or opportunities, they are killed for unjust reasons, their very existence is seen as a threat… but we all have the power to make it different and better.

The craziest thing is, half a century later, we haven’t heeded that message. Today, minorities are still not given the same chances or opportunities as white folks, they are still killed for unjust reasons, and their very existence is still seen as a threat – albeit less overtly than before. That so many (white) people are offended by the Black Lives Matter campaign (which, of course, does not proclaim black lives to be more important than other lives but merely asks that they matter equally to white lives) and that they feel the need to counter this movement with All Lives Matter underscores how little progress we have made.

It’s been a long damned time.
How is this still a thing?
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The Geva Theatre production is really outstanding.

For concrete examples of how people of color are not valued equally to white folks, you need look no further than the movies. The overwhelming majority of “regular” people in cinema are portrayed by white actors; black (and other minority) actors are typically relegated to the role of Sidekick, Gang Member, Slave, Athlete. Just a normal ol’ suburban family? Pretty much always white.

This is not because there aren’t enough talented black/minority actors to fill the roles. Rather, producers (the vaaaast majority of whom are white) don’t usually cast black people in “regular” roles… because they feel that we  – the white audience – don’t want to watch movies with people of color playing the starring, everyguy role.

Minority lives matter less. Even on screen!

To Kill A Mockingbird was fresh on my mind as I sat down to watch The Academy Awards on Sunday night. More to the point, I sat down to watch Chris Rock host, to see what he – a black actor – would bring to this year’s all-white celebration.

Simply put: I loved it! I thought Chris’s commentary was biting, real, thought-provoking, and hilarious.

Yes, sometimes it fell flat or didn’t work. That whole Stacey Dash thing was just wrong. The Asians-are-always-nerdy-number-crunching-types joke didn’t belong, period, especially in a night that was (supposedly, according to the host) dedicated to diversity.

And, personally, I didn’t like Chris’s jab at Jada Pinkett Smith. If you want to protest something, boycotting can be a very effective way to do so. Participating anyway and then attempting to change how things are done is also an effective form of protest.  Jada chose the former; Chris, the latter. I understand his desire to explain his choice, and his decision to address Jada directly, but it could have been done without taking a swipe at her.

So, no. His hosting wasn’t flawless. But overall? I think he rocked it. (Sorry.)

I was still a little rattled from hearing the words “lynch” and “rape” in To Kill A Mockingbird when I found myself confronting them only one day later – in Chris’s opening monologue. Only this time, raping and lynching were made into jokes.

I laughed and then covered my mouth, slightly horrified. Was I supposed to be laughing at jokes about raping and lynching? It was very uncomfortable.
Which was clearly his intent:
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That’s what I enjoyed so much about Chris’s hosting: he made me laugh and think at the same time. He made me uncomfortable. Which is okay – good, even – because so often, it’s only when we’re made uncomfortable – when we’re faced with the reality of a situation and asked to view it head-on instead of turning away – that change can occur.

Rape and lynching are not remotely funny. But they were the (horrible) reality for black people in the United States; they are part of our country’s history – a part that, quite frankly, I’d rather not think too much about because I’m ashamed of how minorities were treated by people who look like me. But that’s exactly why I should be thinking about them and why I should be reminded: Hey! Times were REALLY BAD. After that whole Civil Rights thing, y’all said that racism was over… And it’s better, it is. But it’s not over yet. Not by a long shot.

Yes, those lines were over the top. They might have been inappropriate. But they sure as hell got my attention and made me contemplate. If Chris hadn’t gone there – if he had just made expected, appropriate jokes about how black people are treated by Hollywood – I can basically guarantee you that most (white) viewers wouldn’t have given him a second thought. “Look – a black person talking about racism. Again. At least he’s funny!”

No. By making me cringe, I thought about what he was getting at, about why I was uncomfortable. When Chris told the audience that black actors in the 60s didn’t boycott the Oscars because they had “better things to protest… When your grandma is swinging from a tree, it’s kind of hard to get worked up about best foreign film,” I thought looong and hard on that.

By Chris’s reasoning, black actors who boycotted the Oscars in 2016 could have been protesting other, bigger things. I agree with him: there are clearly other, bigger things to protest. I also disagree with him, because all of the other racial inequities and atrocities don’t make it unimportant to speak out against – or boycott – one of the biggest nights in entertainment when minorities have been entirely ignored.

Another take on that statement is that black actors today don’t have better things to protest (unlike their 1960s counterparts) — I mean, public lynchings and rape boasting are no longer acceptable. We’ve come a long way! Yay for tolerance and equality! Except if that were really the case — if today is different from the 1960s — why, just like then, were there still no minority nominations?

How is this still a thing?

Well – for the same reason we don’t see black (and other minority) professionals in numbers that correspond with their percentage of the US population: they aren’t given the chance, because their contributions, their efforts, and – ultimately – their lives are less important than those of white people. We don’t have black or Asian or hispanic or Latino or Native American doctors or lawyers or teachers or stock brokers (or actors ) equal to their percentage of the population; things are skewed ridiculously in favor of white folks, regardless of education or performance or ability or productivity or intelligence.

It isn’t that people of color don’t want those jobs. It’s that, from the time they are born, they are not given the same opportunities as their white counterparts.

That is what absolutely has to change.

I’m just going to quote Chris here because he says it far better than I could:

“It’s not about boycotting anything. We want opportunity. We want the black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors. That’s it.”

I understand that there is still fear. I understand, somewhere inside, in a place that many of us cannot even fully imagine because it is so deeply ingrained, that (white) people are nervous that there is not enough for all of us – that if we truly shared everything, if we were all equal (like for real), somebody would miss out. Having been the ones benefitting from this centuries’ old system, this is freakin’ scary, so we – subconsciously (much of the time) – continue to allow discrimination to continue, to perpetuate it, because it benefits us.

So, I guess I get how this is still a thing.

The thing is, though: there is enough. There always was. We can create those opportunities for everyone – and, instead of some of us losing, we’ll all win.

I’m confident we’ll get there someday. Not this year (the racism coming to the fore in the American election is appalling, to say the least)… but someday. I really believe that – if only because my daughters genuinely do not understand how this is still a thing.

“But mom. Everyone is the same inside. Do people honestly not know that??”

Until that someday, I’ll be grateful for To Kill A Mockingbird and Chris Rock opening Oscars-watchers’ eyes and the ensuing discussion of his effectiveness as host. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we need to keep talking. We need to keep thinking. We need to create opportunities. We need to stop being afraid.

We need to make this a thing of the past.

We Really Did It

It was cold tonight. I worried that the girls’ hair – still wet from showering just ten minutes ago – would crackle and freeze.

After the first tentative glides, grins spreading across our faces, I looked in disbelief from one to the other. “Oh my God. We did it. We really did it!”

~~~~~~~

It’s been a weird winter. A few cold days, sure. But the snow? It’s just not happening. Seven measly inches so far (compared normal average of 40″ by this time). While this is actually lovely in many ways, it has not boded well for one of our most favorite winter pastimes: the ice rink.

After our warmest December on record and not even the slightest chance of getting the ice to set, Nick declared shortly after January 1st that he just isn’t feeling the rink this year. Too much work, too few days when the ice might be skate-able; maybe next time.

I was crushed. I’m not sure if that’s because I actually love skating (given that I’m a terrible skater, this seems a bit unlikely) or just because I love the idea of skating, but the thought of not even having the chance to skate made me really freakin’ bummed. I decided to ask the girls what they thought; if I was the only one who wanted the rink, it was probably silly to have it. If they wanted it too, it was probably worth it.

They wanted it.

When I said I’d build it, they were incredulous. You’ll build the rink??” As though maybe I was suggesting that I’d capture a caribou and ride it across the lawn, Chuck Norris style. (I doubt that Chuck Norris has ridden a caribou, BUT HE COULD.)  I told them I most certainly could – and would – build the rink.

So I did.

I sized up the spot in the yard, conferred with the girls on how big we wanted it (smaller than last year so it would freeze more easily and be simpler to maintain), set up the planks (with the girls’ assistance), and put ’em together. With bracket-y things. And screws. And a drill. It was beautiful.

IMG_3532Exhibit A: NO SNOW. Nope. Nada.

Three days ago, the moment for filling the rink came: at least a week of lows in the teens and highs below freezing. It was time.

IMG_3568Exhibit B: January 10th. Still no snow.

I knew what I was doing; I’ve watched Nick for years. When I turned on the hose, it was 50* but was predicted to drop to the teens by nighttime – perfect.

While all of my plans went exactly as – well, planned  the weather decided to be… difficult. Oh, it dipped into the teens, all right. But it did so in the span of 90 minutes (rather than many hours), ushered in by a wind storm so violent, it knocked out power in our neighborhood for over three hours that night. Almost instantaneously, the once-pristine rink was filled not just with standing water but gazillions of leaves and several dozen sticks and branches.

In case you were wondering, an ice rink with the consistency of a thick soup doesn’t make for very good skating.

With Annie’s assistance, we removed as much junk as possible. Then, we waited. I hoped that by today – three days after filling – it would be frozen enough to go.

Things started off well (freezing as scheduled!), then took a turn for disaster (snow melted into the surface and turned it into very deep sandpaper). Disheartened, I had all but decided that maybe Nick was right to skip this year; maybe, with this bizarre weather, it was just impossible.

I wasn’t quite ready to give up, though. We were this close… So I crossed my fingers that maybe a few buckets of hot water would fix things up.

Six hours later, with just enough time to skate before the girls went to bed, I held my breath and examined the earlier repairs.

The ice was smooth.
Not perfect – some bumps remain – but absolutely skate-able.
Thirty minutes later, we were on it.

By God; I know how to make an ice rink. SWEET FANCY MOSES!!

~~~~~~~~~~

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The girls and I just kept laughing. Annie – ever the daredevil – took one hesitant step (slide?) onto the surface and then was ready, cutting curves around our little rink. Ella – ever more cautious – was surprisingly sure of herself. “Mama, we made this! So I know it’s good. I’m going to work on gaining confidence so I can skate more.”

We made “fishies” and practiced crossovers, spun and glided. At their request, I played Adele from my phone; we circled and soared to “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” and “Sweetest Devotion.” We watched snowflakes – huge, glittering – fall to the ice in the floodlights. The air was refreshingly crisp; we didn’t even notice the cold.

And over and over, we kept coming back to the same idea: We made this. We did it. We built it and it worked and now we are on it and it is glorious.

“Mom, how come everyone always asks if we have figure skates?”

“Yeah! It’s not like only boys can play hockey! Why couldn’t we have hockey skates?”

“Besides! Hockey skates are way more comfortable than figure skates!”

“Right! Girls can wear hockey skates, too.”

“Girls can do anything!”

~~~~~~

Tonight? We really felt like we could.

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So very proud of themselves.
Also? Wearing hockey skates. Because we can do anything.

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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You know you live in a snow belt when…

On Wednesday, I volunteered as a Parent on the Playground at my daughters’ school (which essentially amounts to being a referee for ninety minutes). There was snow up to my knees as far as the eye could see and the students had been prohibited from actually using the playground equipment (too slippery to navigate in bulky snow gear) or throwing snowballs (a byproduct of today’s Safety First! approach to childhood), but that didn’t stop the kids from racing around like maniacs, trudging through snow as deep as their thighs, building forts and snow piles, gleefully throwing themselves to the ground both forward and backward (because neither hurts when there’s enough snow to cushion the blow), burying their friends up to their chins in fluffy white goodness, and challenging one another to see how far they could plunge their heads downward before succumbing to the cold.

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Supposedly, this is fun…

To be sure, these are the types of games that all children would play if sent out for recess when there’s a crap-ton of snow on the ground; these kiddos are not unique in this respect. But, as I watched them traverse the snowbanks, tug their mittens on and off, and zip in and out of their snow gear quickly enough that no class was late for recess or lunch, it occurred to me that these youngsters don’t treat playing in the snow as a novelty; no, they are experts at it.

Living in Western New York, we are part of region that annually sees the most snow of any metropolitan area in the nation. Add to that the fact that we also experience a great deal of lake effect snow (that same stuff that drowned Buffalo in up to SEVEN FEET of snow in November) and, well… we know snow. Admittedly, we rarely get dumped on the way that Boston and the northeast have recently – our snow typically comes bit by bit and adds up over time – but still, we are super tight with Old Man Winter.

Nick and I have lived in Denver, which certainly sees its share of snow, and Nick grew up in Minnesota, which is known for its winters – so we are not strangers to frozen precipitation. But, after being completely flummoxed throughout most of our first couple of winters in Rochester seven years ago (It’s snowing!! It’s snowing!! OMG it’s snowing! Will you be able to get to work? How much will we get? Why are the forecasters so nonchalant? Why is nobody panicking? Why does no one care? People! It’s snowing!), I’ve come to learn that life in a snow belt is just a little different from other places. Snow is a way of being, woven into our culture in ways that just don’t happen when you get snow here and there (even in large amounts) rather than almost daily (24 out of 31 days in January alone).

And so, in thinking about those kids on the playground and how, unlike me, they know nothing else, I began to consider just how living in a snow belt – whether it’s Western New York or Northeastern Pennsylvania or Maine or Alaska or higher elevations in Arizona – is its own, special thing. To wit…

~~~~~~

YOU KNOW YOU LIVE IN A SNOW BELT WHEN
(in no particular order)…

1) It’s considered an annual romantic gesture every Thanksgiving weekend when your spouse makes sure you’ve got an ice scraper/snow brush in the car.

2) You don’t take that snow brush out of your car until mid-May.*

3) You can use a four-wheel-drive vehicle year-round… for the snow and ice in the winter and for the potholes in the summer.*

4) Children learn to put on their own snow gear – including the “tricks” for tucking mittens into coat sleeves and making sure the inner lining of the snow pants properly covers the boots –  before they are potty trained (this does not mean that they actually dress themselves, nor that doing so is anything other than a production… but they know how.)

5) Your neighbors use their snowblower to create a path for your kids to use so that they can more easily walk to school.
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6) You have an opinion on salting versus sanding and a well-honed, definitive shoveling strategy; you will silently eye neighbors who approach their driveways and sidewalks differently than you.

7) You receive a reminder from your child’s elementary school that appropriate snow gear is necessary every day because, unless the temperature is below 13*F, it’s raining, or the wind chill makes it feel like -10, the students will have outdoor recess.

8) You have mastered the art of smooshing snow onto your car’s headlights, license plates, and rear window as a way of wiping off the perma-salt.

9) You buy your daughter a beautiful Easter dress for tradition’s sake but know that it will likely never see the light of day; under that bulky winter coat, she could be wearing a potato sack — only you know the truth!*

10) Your employer – the largest in the region – sends an email to all staff asking that they bring shovels to work with them since they never plan on closing when there is inclement weather and they cannot guarantee you won’t need to shovel yourself out due to snowfall.*

11) You give up fighting the chalky white salt stains that decorate your shoes and jackets.
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It gives them character.

12) There’s no reason to bother checking for school closings or delays because they pretty much never happen.*

13) You carefully construct your child’s Halloween costume to make sure that heavy layers can go under it… or you simply assume that it will be completely covered by a coat and maybe snow boots.

14) You have serious doubts about the ability of your softball season to start on time… on May 1st.*

15) In discussions about the likelihood of a snow day, a friend declares – without a hint of irony – that she doubts school will close because, “It’s only supposed to snow 10 inches.”

16) There are debates about how many seasons your region actually has. Two? (Winter and construction/pothole season… Winter and summer…) Four? (Before-winter, winter, after-winter, and July 17th…) Five? (Spring, summer, fall, winter, and mud season…)*

17) Even pre-schoolers know one of the most important questions to ask about a snowfall: Is it packing snow or not??

18) You can’t help but chuckle at the national meteorologists as they warn about the latest “Snowpocalypse” or get blown into a slushy puddle while dramatically demonstrating just how treacherous the conditions are. (Sure, logically you understand that if a region isn’t accustomed to snow and doesn’t have enough equipment to clear things up quickly, it can be a disaster [likewise, everyone you know would positively melt if temperatures soared above 90*F in June – unthinkable!]. And, yeah, two storms that dump a couple of feet of snow at a time… in a one week stretch… would make for a helluva lot of snow no matter where you live…)
But still? You find the hysteria hysterical.*

19) You can sleep in a little bit later from December through March because your morning routine has shortened; why bother fixing your hair when it will just be wet/ icy/ flattened by a hat/ covered with a hood, anyway?

20) Except you can’t actually sleep later. Because shoveling. Because of course your employer will expect you to arrive on time and the school buses will be running on schedule, regardless of the five new inches of new snow on the ground.

21) You can take a break from any kind of yard care, however, because you won’t see the ground for at least four months.
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The dog can’t find his ball, either, but that doesn’t stop him from plunging his head into the snow as though he is looking for it beneath the surface of a pond.
Note: Labs are built for WNY winters. Smaller dogs will require that you shovel before they can do their business.*

22) As soon as the temperatures hit 40*F, virtually every child in the neighborhood can be seen playing outside… in short sleeves.

23) There’s never a run on bread and milk before a storm because no one’s terribly worried that they’ll get snowed in.

24) You can practically determine the date by the size of the snowbanks lining the sidewalks. “Calf-high? Almost time for Christmas!” “Up to my waist? Must be early February.”

25) You think of wading through snow up to your knees on playground duty as your exercise for the day.

26) Large, blackish mounds of snow remain in parking lots well into “spring.”

27) You appreciate spring and summer more than anyone else, anywhere, ever.

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Don’t get me wrong – I love living here, even with its snow insanity. I’m also not trying to diss other wintery areas where people know cold (hi, Twin Cities!). But there’s no denying that living in a super-snowy place has its own… peculiarities.

With that said, if we do manage to have another snow day on Monday and my girls miss five consecutive school Mondays, “peculiarities” may not be the word I’ll choose… But for today, come on over! The snow is fine!

 

 

* taken almost word-for-word off Facebook from my friends HWK, MGD, PCS, MK, SRW, AML, SLR, CB, and MLM, respectively. Thanks, all!

 

Summer Vortex

So.

Remember when I said that I was totally looking forward to summer? To all of us finally having a true break, to days with nothing on the docket, to really kicking back and just enjoying?

And remember how I said that I’d undoubtedly look back on that post and chuckle at my naiveté?

Well, HERE I AM. Looking back. And laughing my ass off. With also some tears maybe thrown in. This has only taken seven days*, which is actually a little longer than I would have predicted every summer prior to this one.

Now, let me qualify: this has been a good summer so far. All seven days* of it. And, to my pleasant surprise, I am still continuing to enjoy the doing nothing aspect of it. Which is kind of a misnomer, because we have definitely been up to a lot more than nothing

We have picked snap peas at the farm at which we joined a CSA.IMG_7355Those tasted infinitely better than the ones from the store. Go figure.

The girls created their Summer Fun List….summer fun list
… and have already checked off a good many items.

We, alongside my cousin, Andrew, celebrated my grandma’s 94th birthday by taking what might have been her first-ever selfie.IMG_7373And then I posted it to Facebook. And tagged her in it. Because of course she’s on Facebook.

We’ve been swimming in the lake, which is finally warm enough to not kill the girls.
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‘Cause anaphylaxis would be a bummer of a way to start summer.
Hooray for global warming!

Our garden has already yielded food for the harvesting.
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Those would be radishes.
Annie’s lost another tooth since then, so her smile is even more wonderfully gap-filled now.

The sprinkler has been pulled out and run through…
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… while fully clothed, of course.
In their/my defense, it was a bazillion degrees out that day, so whatever.

First-time sleepovers have been realized.photo_1
And she was still standing the next day, so – success!

Whilst said sleepover was occurring, Annie and I made butter in a jar (de-lish) and fresh-squeezed lemonade.
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We are enjoying said lemonade. Also de-lish.

We picked deliciously ripe strawberries at the little farm just five minutes from our house.photo_3
Yup. They were as good as they look here. And as big, too. 

We have slept beyond our normal school-day wake-up times. We have enjoyed gobs of ice cream (yes, already). We have plans to make zucchini bread (with zucchini from the garden, holla!) and to see a concert and to hurl water balloons at one another with abandon.

So, summer? It’s going splendidly. That Fun List is getting checked off left and right.

You know what’s not getting checked off left and right, however? Anything on MY to-do list. Every night, I glance down at the ever-growing scrawl of things that need accomplishing — weed the garden, mow the lawn, sort through the art cabinet, remove the dried-up highlighters and discarded stickers from the bottom of my piano bag, make phone calls, vacuum — and notice that none of it has been crossed out. And so it’s moved over to the next collection, carefully laid out and rewritten, and when I wake up the following morning, I look at the list and promise myself that today – today, by God! – I will groom the dogs and reorganize the Tupperware and purchase the bathing suit online that I’ve been meaning to get for, oh, an entire month so that I have something that isn’t at least four years old and, like, see-through to wear to Puerto Rico.

Given that it’s summer and all, I have not had to make any lunches. I have not had to run around taking kids to practices or managing homework or planning lessons and organizing childcare.

And you know what else I have not done? ANYTHING.

In just seven days*, the yard seems to have taken on a jungle-like persona and the floors on our main level look as though they’ve never been cleaned. It’s amazing what falls to shit when you’re off berry picking and refereeing and running through sprinklers.

Well, just do that stuff on your list while the girls are occupied, you may think. How quaint!! Let me tell you, it’s damn hard to take care of anything when the girls are around and wanting it to feel like Summer! Yay! all the time. It’s difficult to make phone calls when they are reenacting the climax of Maleficent – in period costume – in the background. It’s not easy sorting through boxes of old clothes when they run through the carefully crafted piles while playing particularly raucous games of “baby.” It’s damn near impossible to do the dishes when slingshots are being fired in your direction (trust me, I’ve tried). And let’s not even talk about the sibling sniping that occurs at regular intervals throughout the day; they are taking button-pushing to levels I did not know existed. In some ways, it’s actually quite impressive.

Simply put: it is neither “fun” nor “easy” for anyone when real-life crap has to be accomplished while the children are tagging along. Not for the girls, not for me. And so very little gets done until it has to or something terrible will befall us because it’s just not worth it making life hell for everyone.

Plus also, I don’t want to be the summer ogre. Come on! Lighten up! SUMMER! SQUEE!!!

Today*, when I announced to the girls that, so sorry, they needed to accompany me to not only Target but also the grocery store AND the pet store, Annie announced that I must think it’s my job to torture them all day long.

She had me. Right on the nose. BINGO.

When I attempted to reason with her, explaining that, on Monday, we did not leave the house for even one minute – despite being woefully out of every essential pantry staple and subsiding on stale dried cherries and shriveled baby carrots – and, instead, made tinfoil rivers and chilled out in the playroom because she and Ella really just wanted to lounge around for a bit, Annie piped up,

“Yeah, well. It’s summer. That’s what’s supposed to happen.”

I then tried to explain that, although it may, in fact, be summer, that does not mean that we can survive without groceries or prescription medications or dog food, and because such goods do not magically fall from the sky (not even Amazon Prime is quite that magical), we occasionally need to go and fetch them. Meaning that they need to come with me, because staying home for hours at a time is kind of, like, illegal… And, unless they’d prefer to live in filth, the house needs to be tidied from time to time (they opted for filth, but this is not a democracy, people) and the laundry needs to be done and all that jazz… So, every so often, Summer Fun Squee!! needs to include real life, too.

This went over very well.

So, to recap: summer is great for laziness and eating and splashing and getting freckles on noses, but can kiss my rear in terms of anything even remotely productive. You gain time laughing but lose sanity. Somehow, in the fresh delight of SCHOOL’S OUT FOR ALL OF US! I actually thought my days would be perfectly balanced between tie dyeing, water slides, reading lakeside, paying the bills, and cooking a nutritious dinner with ingredients grown in our own weed-free garden (because I’d have all sorts of time – and a burning desire – to weed).

Which is kind of like how, pre-Ella, I envisioned Nick and me sprawled on our bed on weekend mornings, our newborn cooing between us, while we read the Sunday New York Times, sipped decaf, and ate lightly toasted bagels. In other words, I’d basically imagined giving birth to an iPad. (I’ve always had a very lively, if completely ludicrous, imagination.)

Instead, summer it is a vortex of disorientation (what day of the week is it again??), mysterious dirt stains (have those socks been changed since school got out?), unidentified rashes (is that poison ivy or a mosquito bite gone awry?), and boxes of popsicles. And flying kites.

So, if you’ve sent me an email since school got out and have been waiting for an answer, or if you noticed that I didn’t “like” your photo on Facebook, or I haven’t managed to pay that bill in time (I think I’m pretty much up on this, but vortex and all), I apologize. Summer Fun! is taking way more brain power and time than I’d anticipated, and even if I attempted to reply to your query, it would probably come out jumbled because of the children putting together a marching band in the kitchen.

* To wit: I began this post nearly a week ago, aka seven days after school got out, and it has taken me an additional six days to find the time to write. I still can’t promise it makes sense, and the items on my To-Do list have not yet been crossed off, but I do know that the glens we hiked this morning made for some great photo shoots. Summer Fun. Squee!