Balancing Summer

Ella and Annie started school a week ago – 6th and 8th, their only year in middle school together – and, amazingly, everything went off without a hitch. They were ready for this transition: supplies were purchased in early August. Discussions had taken place with friends regarding classes and lockers and sitting on the bus. (In case you’re wondering, siblings never share a bus seat – like, ever. It’s the law.) Lunches were considered the night before, their containers carefully arranged on the counter.

They even set their own alarms, got themselves up, and were ready to pose for obligatory first-day photos 5 minutes before the bus arrived (at 6:58 a.m.). Given that we’ve had first days where tears have been shed by 3/4 of the household, I will take this as an enormous win.
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In addition to just getting older – and more self-sufficient, self-confident, and self-aware – I suspect there’s another reason for Annie and Ella’s eagerness to get back to the grind: we had a wonderful, bucolic, dreamy, perfect summer.

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Arlington discovered how much he loved the boat

This may sound counterintuitive; I mean, doesn’t a marvelous summer beget never wanting summer to end?

Nope-ity nope!

To be certain, SUMMER! is uniquely glorious. It helped skyrocket the Beach Boys to fame, has cornered the sunscreen and ice cream and watermelon markets, and has inspired entire television programs (Phineas and Ferb, I’m looking at you). But this gloriousness exists in large part because it is temporary. While many a 4th grade persuasive essay has been devoted to convincing school boards and parents that summer should last forever and ever, amen, the fact remains that summer is only SUMMER! when it has a beginning and an end… and when we all return to normal life upon its completion.

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Visiting with their cousins in Minnesota…IMG_8459IMG_8594
… and splashing with their uncles in Canandaigua.

Plus, you know, seasons; running through the sprinkler when it’s snowing loses a certain je ne sais quoi.

A great deal of the joy we derived from this summer was due to it feeling like we were on borrowed time. “If this were a school day, I’d be in math right now, not just having breakfast…” “We can’t watch TV this late on a school night!” “If we ate ice cream like this all year long, we’d be dead…” The days – fleeting as they were – felt stolen, as though we were getting away with something, and that made it just a little bit more magic.
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Fabulicious doughnuts in Minneapolis

Much space on this blog has been devoted to my dissecting summer – how, for so many years (and especially as the mother of youngish children), it was a really difficult thing for me. Not enough structure. Nothing getting accomplished. Needing to entertain or supervise my offspring day and night with no time for solo caramel macchiatos. Depression and anxiety moving in. Relying on Xanax.

In my most recent posts about the season, I noted that, as my girls got older, much of my summer anxiety lifted. They could entertain themselves! I could run to Target unaccompanied! I won’t rehash that this time around (you’re welcome), but I will say that this was really the first summer where Ella, Annie, and I felt everything fell into place just so.

Some things we’ve learned:

  • GO AWAY FIRST.
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    Boarding a cruise ship in Barcelona 

    We’ve been fortunate to be able to take vacations the past few summers and have discovered that, for us, doing it really close to when school gets out is the best. Yeah, having something to look forward to after weeks of arguing over who gets the last icy pop is awesome… but for those of us for whom anxiety is a thing (HELLO!), sometimes a big, exciting plan in the future is actually kind of overwhelming – especially without school, sports, and elementary band concerts as distractions. Getting away right at the start of summer feels like a reward for making it through the year. It also doesn’t quite feel like SUMMER! – it’s not camp or barbecues or bonfires or swimming with friends – so, for us, SUMMER! is postponed by a few weeks… which means that summer boredom is postponed, too. It used to be that Annie and Ella made it till mid-July without trying to kill one another. Last year (our first time traveling early), they didn’t begin fighting like gladiators until August. This year? They pretty much made it all 11 weeks without slipping into mind-numbing ennui. Sweet fancy Moses! 

    Our travels took us to Europe. First, Barcelona, where we stayed with the friends we met on our first cruise in 2014…
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    … followed by a cruise that took us to Italy, France, and Majorca.
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    Europe is delightful.

     

  • LET THE KIDS DECIDE WHAT THEY WANT TO DO
    No, not all the time. This is not a democracy, people. We did, however, really talk with our girls to find out what they wanted out of summer – and then we made it happen, more or less. Ella chose to attend a one week, half-day pottery camp… and that was it. All summer. Nothing else. Which kind of terrified me (I mean, 13 year-old girls and their mothers sharing a space is totally a recipe for peace, am I right?)… but we did it anyway.

 

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    IMG_E1022Annie, on the other hand, wanted to attend pottery camp – but also a two-week, full day acting camp and she wanted to go away with a friend for a few days. I worried this would be too much – that she wouldn’t have enough down time, that she’d be exhausted. But she insisted, and was totally excited, so we gave it a go.
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    IMG_E0547Both of their decisions could have turned out to be crap, and then we’d have had to reevaluate next summer. Instead? They were happy. as. clams. (I don’t actually know if clams are happy, but the girls were as happy as whatever is happy. Happy as puppies? Sure.) Letting them more or less decide how to spend their own summer time was pretty rad. (<– I just realized that this should probably apply to, like, their lives in general, not just summer. Hmmmm.)
  • SPEND A BUNCH OF TIME TOGETHER
    IMG_E0304This year, Annie, Ella and I hung out a ton. We started – and nearly finished – both seasons of Queer Eye. We went to Mamma Mia 2 and an ABBA tribute band concert with the Rochester Philharmonic. We made the annual trek to our local amusement park, walked in the Pride parade, and took the boat to Starbucks for breakfast. These were blissful, wondrous moments – made even better by the fact that, as the girls get older, we genuinely enjoy so many of the same things.IMG_E0467IMG_1002
    State Fair t-shirts

     

  • SPEND A BUNCH OF TIME APART
    Obviously, Annie was away from home more than Ella this summer, so that meant we had less time together… but even when it was just Ella and me at home, we often did our own thing. She read in her room and listened to music. I ran errands and read my own books. These were blissful, wondrous moments, made even better by the fact that, as the girls get older, they genuinely enjoy doing their own thing.IMG_9633
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  • EAT A METRIC TON OF ICE CREAM
    There is a direct correlation between the amount of ice cream consumed during summer break and how happy you feel. This is called science. We believe in science.
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I guess what I’m saying is that the key to an enchanting summer is balance. Days when you’re super busy and days when you watch an entire season of Modern Family. Staying and getting up late, but not so late that the whole day is off kilter. Traveling and visiting family but also plenty of time at home.

Back when the girls were little and summer started off so wonderfully but quickly dissolved into disconnected anxiousness, I don’t think I’d have believed that it could ever again be the joyous reprieve it was when I was a kid.
I’ll admit: I was wrong. It took a while (we’re talking years), but we’ve gotten there.

We will undoubtedly still have summers where I count down the days till Annie and Ella get on the bus (and then count down the hours till they get home; parenting is weird), but this one was damned good. And I’m grateful.

I’m also grateful that it’s over. We needed summer, but it really is only special when it’s SUMMER!
Balance, y’all. Balance.
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Opioid Bill – Coming to a School Near You!

Remember back in, say, kindergarten when special “characters” would visit the classroom? Like whenever a letter of the alphabet was introduced, its corresponding Letter Person would appear to herald the new sound? (If memory serves, my kindergarten Letter People were small, anthropomorphized inflatables in the shape of each cipher; according to my kindergarten journal, Miss A was my favorite because she “goes aaa-aaa-choo and I do too.” So introspective, me.)
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Please tell me your grade school also began with these fantabulous creations…

My own girls had the likes of Zero the Hero, who swooped in every tenth day and enjoyed unrivaled popularity on the 100th day of school. They also had Dirty Dan, about whom I expressed some concern on Facebook:

“Tomorrow, Mrs. B said she’s going to bring in Dirty Dan!”
Pardon me?
Dirty Dan! She says she really loves him.”
Shouldn’t Mrs. B keep these things at home, like, in her bedroom?
“What? No! Dirty Dan loves to do dirty things.”
I bet he does.
“He’s really fun to play with.”
Mmmm hmmm. Is he inflatable?
“I’m not sure. Mrs. B can squeeze him and his mouth comes out.”
Does Fifty Shades have anything to do with this?
“Fifty what? We haven’t done fifty. Zero The Hero has only come twice.”
Does Mrs. B’s husband know about this?
“Yes! She brings Dirty Dan home and shows him!”
Kindergarten is way different than I remember it.

I’m still not sure what Dirty Dan was doing, but I trust it was… special.

Although my girls have long passed kindergarten, I still encounter these characters as a substitute teacher. Plus, I have a gazillion teacher friends whose Facebook feeds keep me abreast of current instructional practices, like the wedding of the letters Q and U (no joke; how fun is that!). So this line of thinking is alive and well in my brain.
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Please tell me I’m not the only one who sees this and thinks of the movie Hercules

 

All of this might help explain why I was puzzled when, a few weeks ago, I noticed a headline titled “Opioid Bill Reframes Addiction As A Health Problem, Not A Crime” on my NPR news app and immediately jumped to some… unusual… conclusions:
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Opioid Bill.
Hm. That’s interesting. Never heard of him before.

It seemed a bit odd to be anthropomorphizing drugs and making them cutesy, but maybe schools decided that scare tactics don’t work? I mean, everyone my age sat through the “Just Say No” campaign and watched the “This Is Your Brain On Drugs” commercials (the one with the egg in the frying pan was particularly… memorable) and drugs were still, you know, available on my high school and college campuses, so maybe they have a point…

Heck, if a cuddly Opium critter can help kids avoid getting hooked on morphine, who am I to judge?

First, I tried to imagine the various scenarios in which Opioid Bill might be useful in the classroom and what points he’d help to make. “Hey, kids! My name is Opioid Bill and I’m here to tell you about the rise in opiate use and how they’re being abused! Addiction is a serious issue, and there are consequences for doing drugs… but addicts need medical intervention, not jail time! Let’s sing the ‘Opes are for Dopes!’ song together!”

Next, I began to envision what exactly Opioid Bill looked like. A plush medicine capsule that giggles when squeezed? A flexible, dinner-plate sized Fentanyl patch that could double as a frisbee? A Vicodin bottle hand puppet? A rubber, foot-tall poppy plant with google eyes and a winning smile? ALL WOULD BE TREMENDOUS.

After pondering the physical characteristics of Opioid Bill, I then considered if he was a stand-alone guy or part of a team. Was there a Demerol Dan who discussed the dangers of injection? Narcotic Nellie, accompanied by crosswords and word searches that introduced kids to alternative pain treatment options? Did Stimulant Sam sing catchy ditties to warn children not to crush and sniff Ritalin?

SO MANY OPTIONS, SO LITTLE TIME.

As I ran through all of these possibilities, perplexed as to why my teacher friends had never shared the wonders of Opioid Bill and his Drug Brigade on their Facebook pages, I glanced again at the NPR story. It was only then that I saw the text written above the photo: the lower case b in “bill” and its article, “the.”

The bill about opioids.

Not “Opioid Bill.”

I actually laughed out loud.
Clearly, I have reached the B Side of summer. Only four more weeks (not that I’m counting) until the cherubs are off, life returns to normal, and my Summer Brain is put away until next June. NONE TOO SOON, my friends.

I realize that opioid addiction – and the terrible problems associated with it, including incarceration versus treatment – is a very real and complex issue. I can also see how maybe it would be have been a little… inappropriate… to use cuddly, animated creatures to discuss this subject with grade-schoolers.

BUT OH!, admit it.
If Opioid Bill did suddenly join Zero the Hero and Dirty Dan in kindergartens across the nation, it would be KIND OF AMAZING.

 

The Ten and Eight Summer: Just Right

Summer and I have not always gotten along well. As has been well documented in years past, there are two main problems with summer: 1) my own expectations, which are never quite realistic and, therefore, are never realized and then there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth and Xanax, and 2) my discomfort with the lack of schedule and predictability that comes with summer, also resulting in much wailing and gnashing of teeth and Xanax.

Basically, as soon as the kids head back to school, I split the time between my dentist and my therapist.

This year, I was hesitant to even attempt to envision what our summer would look like. I have learned from my past mistakes. As soon as I would I declare that I was going to let go! and enjoy! and just breathe!, the girls would be fighting again and I’d realize that my to-do list was getting longer, not shorter, and the familiar disappointment that summer was both too long and too short would settle over me. So this year? I just didn’t really think about it at all. I lay forth no expectations or dreams for The Great Summer Of 2015!! What would happen would happen.
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Also, I knew this year would be different. Given that we’ve spent virtually every single summer (since moving to Rochester) visiting my grandma at the lake, I knew that her not being there changed things significantly. It’s not that we couldn’t visit, but rather that it felt so very odd not having her there, so sad and just plain icky, we didn’t get down there as often as in the past; the change was noticeable and jarring.

And so I approached summer feeling… detached. I knew that the girls would be spending time with their grandparents while Nick and I went to Mexico, and I assumed that we’d all enjoy ourselves but I didn’t know if the change in routine would be a problem upon our return (as it has in the past). I knew that both Ella and Annie were signed up for only one week of half-day summer camp and I didn’t know if those few “free” hours would be enough for me to accomplish all that I wanted to, nor if only a single week of scheduled activity would be enough to entertain them.

I simply didn’t know.
So there seemed little left to do but take it in stride, one day at a time, and see how things went.

The result? Well, pretty much awesome. See, Ella and Annie are older this summer than they were last summer. I realize that this is kind of how life goes – miraculous informercial claims aside, people do tend to age – but still, I don’t think I was prepared for just how much their older-ness (yes, that’s a word) would impact things.

What I’m saying is, I think eight and ten are pretty terrific ages.
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Riding the Splat-O-Sphere (aka the Up And Down Ride) at the Mall of America.
Without me. Because I don’t like up and down rides. So they went, just the two of them, and loved it – while I got to sit on the sidelines and locate the nearest Starbucks. CAN I GET AN AMEN.
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We did, however, do the ropes course thingy together.

They’re old enough now to bike with friends around the block and to spend entire afternoons flitting between several neighborhood houses. When they’re hungry for a snack, they get one. By themselves. Sometimes, they even put the dishes away, too.

Sure, they needed refereeing now and again – and if I never hear another one-finger piano rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” or another verbal retelling of the cartoon “The Amazing World of Gumball”, it will be too soon – but, for perhaps the first summer ever, they didn’t need me to provide entertainment. They didn’t even look to me for guidance; in fact, most days, they preferred that I not intervene at all. They can even stay home alone for short periods of time (let us all enjoy a moment of silence at this incredible advancement) should I need to run a quick errand.

All of this is pretty much a win-win for everyone. The girls are happier because they’re doing what they want, on their own, without me hovering over them. I’m happier because I actually can accomplish things in my To Do Book, so this summer was much less of an empty vortex than previous summers (meaning I spent less time writing here, too).

We still have our Summer Fun List, of course, and have checked off many items. Unlike in years past when, a few days prior to the start of school, I would glance at the list and panic because we hadn’t gotten to everything, this year it hasn’t bothered me nearly as much. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I still feel that familiar anxiousness catch in my chest when I look at all that hasn’t been done, all the wonderful crafts and adventures and foods (how have we not made root beer floats this year??)… But the girls have made it clear that they’re happy with their summer. They don’t care that we didn’t make root beer floats. If we don’t manage to hike up a glen, that’s fine.

If they’re content with not making glow-in-the-dark slime, why should I feel bummed that it never got crossed off the list?

The time we’ve spent together – and there’s been plenty of it – has been lovely, too. They’ve become some of my favorite shopping buddies; they are a true pleasure to take out to lunch. They are wonderful boating companions and Harry Potter audiobook partners. Our conversations are multi-layered and filled with giggles and shared jokes and sarcasm (which I speak fluently, so this is a bonus). They’re just really super people to hang out with, which makes everything more enjoyable, really.
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Playing with the moon.

Ten and eight have created something magical: the most perfectest summer. The perfect mixture of doing and nothing, busy and relaxed, planned and spontaneous, me-time and them-time and us-time and family-time. Our travels didn’t phase them. Only one week of camp was all that any of us needed. The Xanax has been untouched and my teeth are still in good shape. We have had ten blissful weeks of summer and in the end, it was all… just right.

Today is the first day of school. While, as always, I find that I’m dumbstruck and sucker punched by how quickly the days have flown by, this year – for the first time – I’m neither mourning what could or should have been nor am I gleefully shipping them back to class, embracing the return to routine. I’m just loving who Annie and Ella are at this moment, grateful for our Great Summer of 2015.

They’ve got two days of school and then four days off for Labor Day weekend (I know; it doesn’t make sense to me, either), which – I’m thinking – will actually be a nice way to ease out of summer and into third and fifth grade. Plus, if they have trouble with the transition, I’ve got some glow-in-the-dark slime supplies just waiting to be opened.
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We went to a local amusement park on the day before school as our Last Hurrah (we do one annually; the activity changes from year to year). A good time was had by all, even when I was totally holding onto the ride’s handlebar for dear life so as to avoid squashing my children.

One Day

It’s officially day two of summer vacation and I’ve already taken a break from the kids.

This was a scheduled trip, though, not a desperate attempt to flee – a trip out west with friends to visit another friend who we just need to see. It’s been far too long; I’m so looking forward to being with them, to sharing hugs in person, to laughing and crying and just being together.
And also the eating. I love me some eating.

With just one day between school getting out and my leaving, I wanted to make the most of it with Ella and Annie. I wanted summer to start off right, not with me running around like a maniac or everyone scattered in different directions or me losing my temper only three hours in and yelling at them for disagreeing over Legos (not that that’s ever happened, but I’ve heard it’s a possibility).

So, by gosh, we made the most of it.

The first thing the girls wanted to do was a craft off of this year’s Summer Fun List – using bleeding tissue paper to dye a canvas and then adhering additional tissue paper to the colorful canvases with Mod Podge.
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This was totally not my idea; Annie completed the very same project at a friend’s party a few weeks ago and her family was kind enough to share the instructions – and tissue paper – with us.
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Photo by Ella of her final creation.
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Photo by Annie of her final masterpiece.

While the canvases dried, we got to do the rarest of things: shop for something silly with no timeframe or schedule, just for the hell of it, because we wanted to. To be more precise, we searched high and low for specific names on Coke bottles as part of the Share a Coke With marketing scam genius promotion that has drawn in suckers sentimental consumers like me. We’ve been on the lookout for certain names for weeks, but we’re always frantically rummaging through bins and coolers while grocery shopping or picking up prescriptions at Target, so there’s never any time to just browse in a leisurely fashion. Annie and Ella were in heaven.
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This may look like chaos, but we have got a system, you guys.

We might have pushed it a little by going to eight different establishments in search of our elusive bottles, but it was a lovely, frivolous diversion — a delightful way to pass part of a summer afternoon. And we found three more names we were looking for; holla!
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Fenwick was remarkably patient, but by the fourth or fifth store, he was starting to get more than a little tired of hopping in and out of the car.

After a brief swim next door, the girls asked if they could borrow my good camera to take photos of their projects (see their first attempts, above). While I prepped dinner, they then decided – for the first time ever – to try to take “real” photos of one another posing with their canvases on the lawn, in the tree in our front yard, on the back of Nick’s scooter… and, inexplicably, Ella’s bike (artistic vision. Respect).11403411_10153334445540295_4803402200932975868_n

The results were simultaneously awesome, cringeworthy, and hilarious; once I return and have their full permission, I can’t wait to share them.
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I love the intensity of their examination.

Following dinner, we participated in the most classic of all summer rituals: the procuring of ice cream.
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And the making of butter in a jar.
What? That’s not one of your summer rituals? Lame!
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In all seriousness, butter in a jar is both easy and fabulous. 
YOU’RE WELCOME.

I didn’t take pictures of me running or weeding the garden, the girls’ Lego and cardboard creations, the fort that they set up in the playroom, or the dog peeing on the rug… but it all happened, my friends. It was a jam-packed, relaxing day (yep, totally possible to be both) and just the way I’d hoped our summer would begin.

As I’ve talked about several times before, summer is hard for me. The lack of routine, the absence of structure, how nothing gets accomplished, my inability to relax; it’s just complicated. I guess milestones are complicated for me, period, even small ones like the end of school. Every year, I find myself wrestling with such intense and conflicting emotions, I feel like I’m being consulted for Inside Out (which is fabulous, BTW; do see it).

I’m elated that the girls loved their teachers and are sad to leave them and I’m bummed for them that they feel so heart-worn. I’m rejoicing not having to pack lunches for ten weeks and lamenting that now I’ll have to drag the girls with me when I buy groceries. I’m thrilled that the kids are older and we’re able to enjoy so much more together and I’m shocked and dismayed, as always, that the years are flying by so freakin’ fast. I’m delighted at the thought of all the fun we’ll have between now and Labor Day and I’m anxious because I’m already afraid that we won’t get to everything and I’ll be disappointed.

Thankfully, by now, I know what to expect. I know that summer will not be this perfectly idyllic experience, nor will it be a total disaster. It will be somewhere in between – dirty and messy and yummy and tear-filled and joyful and laid-back and exhausting and crazy and good – which, when you think about it, is just as it should be.

At least I can confidently say that Ella and Annie and I got one day of summer wonderfully, deliciously right.

Save for the mosquitoes. They’re like hummingbirds this year, y’all. Evil, buzzing, bloodthirsty hummingbirds.

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Tucking into bed last night. 
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Mud Creek

It is not yet officially summer here in Western New York – both because the calendar says summer hasn’t started yet and because our schools’ summer breaks don’t begin for approximately a bazillion years. (Okay, they only have two days left, but this past month has been particularly long.)

Still, it’s not so bad, because it feels like summer in so many ways. The kids are outside playing, every single day (well, every day that it isn’t raining to the point of flooding). It’s lighter, longer. We’ve officially left our winter gear behind for t-shirts and shorts and sundresses and flip-flops. There is little, if any, homework. After-school activities are finished. Peaches are in season. Our garden is growing like crazy. The house already smells like sunscreen and chlorine.

Now that I think about it, our kiddos may be the among the luckiest in the country: they essentially receive an additional month of summer before summer even begins.
I LOVE NEW YORK!

Despite the laissez-faire attitude, though, until last week, one critical component of our summer days was missing: our trips to Mud Creek Farm, where we participate in a CSA program. Last year was our first CSA summer, borne of a whim on my part – a thought that it would be nice to have fresh, homegrown produce every week; a wish that we would come to enjoy visiting the farm to pick our own herbs and veggies.
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I’d hoped we would find it fun, that the 15-minute drive would be worth it, that we might even appreciate our food a little bit more having participated in collecting it (the veggies from our own garden always taste better than anything we get at the store!). I hadn’t anticipated that we would come to adore it as much as we did. 

Every week, we would count and weigh our allotted assortment of goodies, discussing which peppers looked to be the sweetest and which zucchini would make the best soup. We marveled at foods we’d never seen before – orange-hued watermelon?! (hint: it tastes the same as the pink kind) – and foods we’d seen but had never tried before (bok choy, I’m looking at you; turns out, it’s one of Ella’s favorites).
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To her delight, bok choy was available at our first pick-up this year; score!

We carefully weighed our two pounds of kale or three pounds of beets, watching as the hand on the scale wavered until it nestled on just the right amount.
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Choosing just the right lettuce to bring home.

And when we’d collected our “official” share, we’d head out into the fields to take advantage of the you-pick options — beans, tomatoes, loads of herbs, peppers, gorgeous flowers — our bags growing fat and our arms weighted down (truly; one week, we picked more than five pounds of green, purple, and yellow beans). As the girls would walk gingerly between the rows, I would stop, every time, and watch the sun behind them, breathing in the very smell of happiness and freshness and freedom and summer.
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July 2014

The farmers and employees are super friendly and helpful, and the fellow shareholders are genuinely happy to see us – it feels like a community. I’d hoped we’d enjoy the fresh produce, but I’ve been most excited by how much the girls and I just adore being there. It’s so serene and warm and lovely, truly a highlight of each week.

When our season ended last October, I missed it… but, quite frankly, life was so busy between sports and travel and work that it was almost a relief to not have to drive to the farm. As June approached and the days — and our attitudes — lightened, I found myself longing to be back at Mud Creek. When at last the first pick-up day arrived last week, Ella and Annie and I could hardly wait to be back again.
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On the (very, very muddy) hunt for snap peas…

Summer.
We can literally taste it.

As our attitudes have lightened, however, our hearts have been heavy; first, my beloved grandma. Then, the massacre in Charleston (which felt strangely close to home because it is a place that is very special to us). I’ve struggled to make sense of things, to explain them to the girls, to help them find meaning and answers when I don’t even know what they are, myself. (As an addendum, this post by my wonderful friend, Liza, is an amazing guide to how to be a white ally to the black community.)

In absence of answers and in an effort to not become completely overwhelmed, I’ve been clinging to the little things, the ones that bring me hope and ground me; the way the dogs lie at my feet, sleeping contentedly; the sound of my daughter’s voice, bursting with confidence and joy, as she sings in the shower; the shy satisfaction of my other daughter as she shares a secret with me; the gleeful recognition of Nick’s number on the caller ID, meaning he’s checking in with us even when he’s not in town; watching So You Think You Can Dance and marveling at how ridiculously handsome Jason Derulo is (come on now, it’s not just me…).
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Yep, a few more in-the-fields, sun-behind-us photosmud creek7

And our weekly visits to Mud Creek, which allow the girls and me some glorious downtime, an opportunity to laugh and talk and share, with the sun at our backs and fresh food in our hands. I know we are very fortunate to even have such an opportunity, and even more fortunate to love it as much as we do.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that wind up being not so little at all.
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After receiving an absurd amount of rain recently, the fields last week made the Mud in Mud Creek particularly true. 

Jurassic Kitchen

Now that we are finally back to life (back to reality), the process of de-summering the house has begun in earnest. Beach towels that hung on the hooks in the front hall have been folded and put in the closet, making way for fall coats. Stale snacks that never got consumed (because of the ice cream, duh) have been pitched, with fresh school-year snacks taking their place. Toys that had been left on the counter since June were finally shelved, replaced by a new caddy (on sale at Target, score!) filled with school supplies (that must remain in said caddy under penalty of death because, for the love of God, how do the scissors disappear so quickly up in here and did you really need to use the entire roll of tape for your “special project”?).

The art closet remains on my to-do list; stay tuned.

While happily helping the orphaned items find their homes, I was reminded of another (perhaps the only other?) time this summer when I reorganized a portion of the kitchen. Except it wasn’t really reorganizing; it was more excavating. Back when Nick and I went away to Puerto Rico in July, my sister-in-law, Emi, came to watch the girls… which meant I had to do a serious house-clean. Okay, I didn’t have to – but I really wanted to.

You see, Emi is one of those uber-organized, super-clean people (yes, we get along extremely well; stop laughing). Whereas my motto is It’s Time To Vacuum When The Dog Hair Starts Rolling Across The Dining Room Like Tumbleweeds, Emi’s motto is Why Vacuum Three Times A Day When You Can Vacuum Four? Nearly every time she comes here, she re-sorts and reorganizes the Tupperware and makes sure our counters are always nice and shiny.

Although this is, indeed, lovely – and, one might think, motivation for me to not tidy up before she arrives, since she’ll do it better than I would, anyway – I nevertheless want to at least try to have things in some semblance of order before she visits, not because Emi judges me (she doesn’t at all), but because I like to prove to myself that I’m capable of holding to a higher standard. For a couple of days, anyway. This time, I went for shock value and actually went through the Tupperware on my own (ah ha!) and made sure the food in our cupboards was safely accessible (by which I mean re-stacking the canned goods so they didn’t conk you on the head when you opened the cupboard to get yourself some cereal).

As I attempted to sort through the baking supplies, I discovered that some of them didn’t move, and was mortified when I remembered the reason why: they were still stuck in the Karo syrup that had spilled. When we were making Christmas cookies. Last December. I mean, it wasn’t a surprise; I’d known that the syrup was there all these months. In fact, I’d deliberately left it there when it spilled, sloshing its thick sweetness all over the drawer, because how in the heck does one even begin to clean up that much Karo syrup? (For the uninitiated, Karo is a brand of corn syrup that is occasionally used in baking. It is dense, like molasses, but clear – and sticky, like… syrup – and makes an excellent ingredient in cookie frosting because it causes the icing to harden to a glossy finish. For this same reason, it is a complete nightmare when it, say, spills and covers a drawer.)

By the time I realized what had happened (back in December), the other baking supplies were nestled in a bed of syrup at least a quarter inch thick. It made my head spin just thinking about removing everything – dragging strands of syrup through the air like tacky mozzarella – and then getting the Karo off of each box, bottle, and bag. And then there would be the mess of syrup in the drawer that would need scrubbing… I simply couldn’t even.

So I did what any other (procrastinating) person would have done: I just left it there. Another day, I’d tackle it. Another time, when I had the energy. But then the syrup, um, hardened, creating its own little veneer, and suddenly cleaning it up became far less urgent. The baking supplies were still stuck, of course, but they were relatively easily pried out – and when I did, I was met with a thin layer of sugary plastic rather than sticky terror, so I just kind of forgot about it.

Until I knew that we’d be gone and Emi would be here and she’d see the fossilized remains in our drawer and would be all, How the heck did this happen? and I’d have to explain that it had been there since December and I’d been too lazy busy to clean it up, and, well, that was just too much, even for me. It had to be taken care of.

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Yup. Just a little bit of a mess down in there.

After removing everything that broke free without a fight, I was left with what essentially amounted to an archeological dig. Remember in Jurassic Park when the mosquito is trapped in the amber? That was basically my kitchen, except with Anise Extract and a rubber band instead of a fossilized bug.

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You can’t really see it here, but the things that I’d pulled from the resin-y bottom left impressions behind, so it was totally like an archeological expedition. This was right above the mesozoic layer.

I tried to remove the remaining veneer by hand but soon discovered that doing so was impossible because it was, you know, stuck to the drawer. As it had hardened, it left no room between itself and the laminate, so I couldn’t reach beneath and pry it loose. I considered removing the drawer and filling it with water to, I don’t know, melt it down but that seemed to be pure folly.

“You know,” I informed Nick, “I’ve decided that it really isn’t a problem. I mean, it’s been here for seven months. Do we really have to clean it up?”

He just gave me a look.

“Okay, fine. Be all sanitary. Whatever.”

It became clear that the only option would be to chip away at it – literally – using some sort of chisel. We don’t happen to have chisels lying around, but we do happen to have my grandfather’s old toolbox filled with all sorts of random utensils, including this delightful file-like thing.
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We like to get all 
Home Improvement up in here.

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What, like you don’t ask your husband to snap photos of you chiseling away fossilized corn syrup in case you ever decide to blog about it. Psh.

It was tedious – and surprisingly tiring – work but eventually the veneer came up, one little plastic bit at a time. Twenty minutes later, the drawer was filled with shards of see-through rock candy, which was fairly easy to dump into the trash. A few paper towels and some GreenWorks squirts later, and voila – good as new!

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Please ignore whatever schmutz is on the front of the drawer. It’s always what’s on the inside that counts anyway, right?

After re-filing the contents, I stood back and admired my handiwork. Quite amazing, really. THIS DRAWER IS SO WONDERFULLY ORGANIZED. Surely you would feel welcome in our tidy, cozy home, Emi. Would you like to put leftovers in some Tupperware? BOOM. Right there. How d’you like me now?

I’m pretty sure it was the methodically catalogued baking cabinet that allowed Emi to not totally lose her mind when all three dogs got into the trash and wound up recycling its contents – out both ends – on her bedroom floor. I hope we left the carpet cleaner out, because if not, she’d have to have waded through the cupboards containing the cleaning supplies, and let’s just say they’re not exactly as easy to sort through as the Tupperware, if you know what I mean. One can only order so many areas of the house, no? Plus, I appreciate the irony of untidy cleaning supplies. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

So, in closing, if you were concerned that the stash of Easter candy you just found – in September – was horribly negligent on your part, allow me to assure you that you are are in very good company. Also, by way of a Public Service Announcement, I can now say with confidence that if a bottle of Karo syrup spills in your baking drawer, it is much easier – and more fun, in an archeological kind of way – to just let it harden before attempting to remove it. True, you could probably chisel the stuff out sooner than seven months later, but hey, why rush it?

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I could try to convince you that, seven weeks later, the drawer is still this neat… but I prefer not to waste anyone’s time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the Here and Now, Yeah

* you’ve totally got that song stuck in your head now, don’t you?

So, yeah… It’s been awhile… We had this thing going on – summer, they call it? – and there just hasn’t been much chance to sit down and type. Or clean. Or get organized. Or do anything remotely productive.

But, maybe for the first time ever, you know what? It’s been okay.
Actually, it’s been really, really good.

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Missions: accomplished!

If you’ll come a little closer, I’ll tell you something: I didn’t really believe it was possible. I know, I said back in June that I was looking forward to summer, to having the time off from teaching, to taking the break. I know, back in July, that I said I had already become annoyed with how little I was accomplishing, how the lack of routine was jarring. As I wrote both of those posts – as the days of summer ticked off, one by one – I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for School Year Emily to emerge from my sunscreen and bug spray-encrusted shell (butterfly-like, not Sigourney Weaver Alien like, that’s gross), assuming I’d be so done with all of this No Structure nonsense that I’d ignore my children for two hours straight while I attempted to feel human again.

I’ve just never been good at relaxing, at doing nothing. Not ever; even back in elementary school, I would come downstairs in the morning and ask my mom, “What fun thing do you have planned for me today?” (No joke. I was a riot.) But for some reason, this summer was different. I wouldn’t say it came naturally to me – I essentially had to force myself to try to chill out, which I realize is both ironic and oxymoronic – but, by God, I did it.

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Previously, I would have hidden this photo because of my rather, um, unflattering stance. Now, it reminds me of the helluva good time the girls and I had this summer. #GirlPower!

It’s been weeks since the garden was weeded, but every time I thought about doing it, I saw that I’d have to not do something fun with the girls in order to make it happen. This summer, I chose fun. “Reorganize the Art Closet” has been on my To-Do list for three months, but each time I considered taking it on, some (completely foreign, believe me) voice in my head reminded me that there were crossword puzzles sitting in my bag, just waiting for me, and would I really take the time to do crosswords once the school year began? I would not. And so, very uncharacteristically, I did those damn crosswords, dozens of them, and I loved it. Posting here has been sporadic at best, not because I haven’t had anything to say (oh, ho! Come now!). I have probably twenty ideas for blog posts that I really, really want to write… but doing so would have meant less singing with Nick in the dining room after the girls have gone to sleep (we’re totally like Sonny and Cher except not at all), and so – quite to my shock – I opted not to write.

For ten straight weeks, I ignored everything that normally takes up my “spare time” – tidying, editing photos, getting together with friends, exercising, writing, making sure we have enough toilet paper – and focused only on the absolute necessities (food, sleep, wine) and just enjoying the hell out of summer… and what do you know? The world didn’t come tumbling down!

It did start to crack a little at the foundation, however. Don’t get me wrong; it was a blast going with the flow, really taking each day as it came, savoring the moments, for real and not like on a motivational poster. But it was a bit of a battle with myself to HAVE FUN and RELAX DAMN IT, and after 70 days? I’m plumb worn out. I’m tired of damp bathing suits. I’m done with unwashed hair. I’m over not being able to find a single crayon because the freakin’ art closet is completely overflowing with yarn and tangled Christmas pipe cleaners. I’m through with not seeing my friends. I’ve had it with the girls’ epic bickering (to their credit, they were amazing playmates and buddies for the vast majority of summer, but given that they basically haven’t played with anyone else since June, they are sick of one another; believe me, I get it).

back to school2014a
I took this last night because I was so giddy to be have our systems back on track, but looking at it now, all I’m seeing are the piles of shoes beneath the bench,the random Fourth of July decoration lingering above the white boards, the games that are in total disarray… I’m not sure how it’s possible to be so simultaneously on top of things but also messy, but HERE WE ARE.
Omg, tangent – can you even imagine what a hilarious disaster it would be if this were an organizational/ house decoration blog? HAHAHAHA.

This summer, I kicked back with the best of ’em, and I’m so very glad I did, but today? SCHOOL BEGAN TODAY AND I COULD KISS THE GROUND THE CALENDAR WALKS ON. Real life starts again, SIGN ME UP! Sure, it’s only been one day, but already I feel more like School Year Emily. The laundry has been done (times three), the sheets have all been laundered (and the beds done up perty), the towels have been washed and rehung (it was okay that they weren’t really washed all summer because we were out of town so much, right?), and errands have been run. Plus also I exercised and then cancelled out the burned calories by going to Starbucks, so it’s a total win.

Next week, I’ll be back to subbing. Our home will (hopefully!) be in better shape, along with my thighs (too far?). The art closet will be sorted through if it kills me. Blogs will be written (maybe even about What We Did This Summer) and photos will be edited and emails will be answered. I might even throw in a crossword or two, if I’m really on the ball.

For now though? These girls have started second and fourth grade (THANK YOU SWEET BABY JESUS but also HOW DID THEY GET SO OLD??) with hearts full of awesome summer memories (and more than a few bug bites)… and for the first time ever, I can truly say I loved it, right alongside them.

Especially now that they’re back to school, holla!

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