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.

drawer debacle
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.

drawer debacle1
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.
drawer debacle3
We like to get all 
Home Improvement up in here.

drawer debacle2
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!

drawer debacle5
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?

drawer debacle6
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.

summer fun accomplished
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.

DCIM100GOPRO
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!

IMG_8452

 

The sounds of summer

This past week was our first entire “free” week of the summer – no camps, no visiting family, no visits from family. It marked the first opportunity for girls (and me) to be as lazy as they wanted to in the mornings, play to their hearts’ content, pull out long-forgotten toys and games that they’d been hoping to get to, and just relax and be. Before summer began and I saw that we’d have a whole week with absolutely no plans, my initial thought had been to fill the empty space. In the end, other thoughts prevailed. One day we went to a local amusement/water park, so that was kind of “scheduled.” But otherwise? Whatever struck the girls’ fancy.

seabreeze

Which meant that our week sounded a lot like this:

If you’d just strip your sheets for me, I’ll make the rest of the bed.
“Why do you have to make us work so hard?”

—————————————–

“There are no towels here!”
You’re in luck – I brought some down and you may use them.
“I GET THE STRIPED ONE!”
“No, *I* get the striped one!”
“You can have the polka dot one!”
“No, YOU can have the polka dot one.”
“I said it first!”
“But I SAW it first.”
IF EITHER OF YOU ARGUES ANY FURTHER ABOUT A TOWEL THAT YOU DID NOT EVEN BRING DOWN HERE, YOU WILL FORFEIT DRYING PRIVILEGES FOR THE REST OF THE AFTERNOON.

—————————————–

Since you can’t listen to music right now, why don’t you come up with a song to sing?
“Okay! I like this one: We will BURN DOWN the enemy! We will burrrrn dowwwwn the enemy! WE WILL BURN DOWN THE ENEMY!!”
What does that even mean?
“I don’t know. I only sing it to annoy you.”

—————————————–

I’d be happy to get you a snack. In addition to fruit, what else would you like?
“Doritos.”
*blank stare*
“Come on! Just a few Doritos??”
*blank stare*
“I’ll take pretzel Goldfish, please.”
That’s fine.

I decided to surprise you! You both have pretzel Goldfish and a few Doritos, too!
“But I didn’t say I wanted Doritos.”
*death glare*
“OKAY, okay… I’ll eat them… It’s fine, really… It’s fine… You don’t have to look at me like that…”

—————————————–

cad

On your way up, please put the yellow floatie back in the shed. Since you both used it, you can both put it back.
*begins dragging floatie down the dock* “I’ve got it this far! You can bring it the rest of the way!”
“But *I* wanted to bring it to the end of the dock!”
“But *I* grabbed it first!”
“But I WANTED it first. You’re the WORST sister EVER.”
“No, YOU’RE the WORST sister EVER.”

—————————————–

“I’m still a little bit hungry.”
You can have more cherries, then.
“Never mind. I’m not hungry anymore.”

—————————————–

It’s time to eat lunch! Please come to the kitchen!
“We’re busy! We’ll be there later!”

You left a big mess in the dining room! Come pick it up!
*crickets*

Which outfit do you think you should wear on our trip?
“Sorry, mom – gotta go. No time now.”
I feel like Harry Chapin. Since when did this become “Cat’s In The Cradle”? 

(**At long last, I pull up a stool and, for the first time all day, take a few minutes to answer emails or write a blog post while the girls are playing happily and do not need my assistance in any way, shape, or form…**)
“Mom? Can you help me with this?”
“Mom? I need to ask you a question.”
“Mommy? I think I hurt myself.”
“Mama? Mommy? Mom??”
WELL, LOOK AT THAT. HERE YOU ARE. FUNNY HOW THAT WORKS.

—————————————–

“Can I melt all of your chocolate on the stove and then freeze it just to see what would happen?”
The Godiva chocolate?
“Yes.”
I’d rather you not.
“You never let me do ANYTHING.”

—————————————–

“There’s nothing to do.”
You have an entire summer fun list you could check out.
“I don’t wanna do any of those.”
You could play outside.
“It’s too hot.”
You could read a book.
“I’m tired of reading.”
You could stop standing here and pestering me.
“Everything here is so BORING!”

—————————————–

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. In addition to the above, there have also been lovely moments, like when they created this incredibly detailed Harry Potter experience that utilized the entire upstairs of the house, or when we dropped the car off for new tires and then walked into town for breakfast at a wonderful dairy farm, or the terrific evening we spent picking beans and tomatoes at our farm share, or the marvelous new Pinot I discovered from one of our local wineries… Yes, there have been happy, giddy, quiet-Mommy-has-wine sounds, too.

But this week has been long, people. Turns out my kids actually do crave structure. I can’t imagine where they get that.

I do believe we’ve officially reached that point of the summer when thinking about the start of school elicits cheers instead of groans. Don’t worry – we’ve got plenty more to do and enjoy, and I plan to make the very most out of our remaining 3.5 weeks of summer.

But September is looking awfully damn inviting over that horizon.
That is, if everyone makes it out of August in one piece.

Ahhhhhh, summer!

soccer!
Taken at our first-ever professional soccer game; it’s one of my all-time favorite pictures, because it so perfectly sums up both girls’ personalities.

And the living is lazy

We’re halfway* through summer break, so this seems as good a time as any to look back on what’s already occurred and decide if the second half of summer should look like the first, or if some drastic changes should be made.

* We’re technically two days past the halfway mark. Close enough.
** I realize this only applies to those of us in the northeast and on the west coast; some of you have children returning to school in about ten minutes, which, frankly, is just crazy talk.

Upon reflection, it seems that summer has passed by in a pretty summer-like fashion: family visits, vacations, s’mores, camps, fresh veggies, swimming, humidity, and fruity cocktails. The girls have gamely checked things off of their Summer Fun List, but have also been happy to just hang out. Hell, Nick and I have even managed to have a good time along the way.

The problem with summer is this: it’s a total wasteland. Everything just floats about without any boundaries or structure, because hey, It’s Summer! Weekdays resemble weekends – no early bedtimes to enforce, dinner whenever it suits us, “exciting” activities that would typically be reserved for Saturday taking place any old time. I wake up each morning and have to check which day of the week it is. This past Wednesday, Annie asked me if it was Thursday and I told her yes – not to mess with her, but because I truly forgot which day it was – and she promptly burst into tears because Thursday is the day we pick up our farm share, and she thought we’d missed it.

garden girls
The haul from our garden, not the farm share…

I understand Annie’s freak-out. See, I’m someone who craves predictability (even though I’m wildly impulsive). I like to know when things will happen and how long they’ll last. The open days of summer don’t fill me with joyful anticipation; they fill me with anxiety. (It’s no coincidence that my Xanax supply wanes between Memorial and Labor Day, if you know what I’m saying.) I’m not necessarily unhappy at the lack of structure; it just feels really bizarre, like everything’s slightly off-kilter.

It’s kind of bizarre for my girls, too. The routine that they’d become used to is gone, and it’s exciting and unnerving all at the same time. They don’t see their school friends regularly during the summer. For a while, this is good – a much-needed break – but right about now they start to really miss their pals. With vacation and camp schedules colliding, though, getting together can be hard. Summer is challenging in other ways, too. We eat boatloads of crappy food, which is delicious (cheesy bread and Helluva Good dip, holla!), but also feels… well… crappy. In July and August, we spend as much time away from home as we do at home, which is a blast and all, but can feel somewhat shiftless. The girls have been putting themselves to bed early (whaaa?) because I’ve had to awaken them in the mornings for camp, and they’re tired of being tired.

Summer is weird, man!

aerial arts camp
All dressed up for their performance at their aerial arts camp.

People don’t return phone calls in the summer. You, me, the aquatics director at the Y – messages are left but no one seems to care. I don’t know why this is, but people lose the ability to call anyone back the moment the kids are out of school. Actually, I do know why this is: because our Call Back Time no longer exists. That portion of the day when you’d routinely sit down and make sure you got in touch with folks? Gone. We’re on Summer Time now, which essentially means we’re like the contractors in The Money Pit who keep insisting that Tom Hanks’s house will be repaired in “two weeks” and then taking twelve million weeks to actually complete the job.

That may be the biggest kicker of them all: in summer, there is ALL THIS TIME, and yet NOTHING GETS DONE.

During the school year, Nick will come home at the end of the day and ask how my day went, and I’ll be all, “Oh, it was fine. I’m really glad I was able to take the dogs for that walk before it rained, because after I subbed this morning – four kindergarten music classes, really cute but lots of nose pickers – I got completely soaked when I went to Wegmans, but at least I remembered to pick up the toilet paper. So I was still soaked when I went to the Y, but that was okay, because I was sweating, you know? And then I put the groceries away and got cleaned up, but while I was in the shower I noticed that the tiles were looking kind of gross, so I re-grouted the lower three layers of tile and decided I might as well reorganize the linen closet as long as I was in there. After the girls and I walked home from school, they had a snack and we went to Target – they did their math facts in the car and I picked up the prescription – and while they were finishing the rest of their homework, I spoke to the insurance agency; they said we just need to resubmit the proposal and they’ll take care of it. Watch out in the dining room, I just mopped in there – hey, while I’m thinking of it, are you able to come home early tomorrow night? I’m teaching piano late and the babysitter cancelled. Oh, and I finally got the mango chutney when I went to the store, so we’re having that new chicken recipe we saw on TV the other night. How was your day?”

Now, when Nick comes home and asks how my day went, I’m either, “Where have you been? Why are you working on Sunday?” (and he’s like, “It’s Tuesday”), or “It was so good. We made brownies and the girls showed me their new dance routine six times and I actually managed to sort through the mail. Oh, and the leftover mango chutney chicken should be thawed in about an hour.”

Some of this, I understand, because I impose limits on myself. “Yeah, you should be answering those emails/editing those photos/cleaning out the art cabinet/eating something other than Starbursts… but it’s SUMMER! Will you get the chance to sit on the dock/play with the kids/do a crossword/stuff your face with Starbursts once the school year rolls around? No, you will not.” 

And that’s kinda good, right? The Letting Go and Being In The Moment?

ropes course1
We went to a local ropes course…
ropes course2
… and it rocked. 

Yes, yes, it is, and I’m glad I’m enjoying myself – and now that I think about it, my Xanax intake has been pretty nonexistent lately – but I seriously don’t know which end is up. The hours blend together and time passes both slowly and wicked-fast and suddenly it’s dinnertime and I realize I haven’t been to the store in over a week. I’ve got at least a dozen potential blog posts in my head that I really, really would like to write, but nope. No writing. My children often wash their hair in the lake, but we’re not at the lake every day, so I seriously cannot tell you when the last time was that they bathed.

Does that matter? Does hair need to be washed in the summer?

We had new neighbors move in next door yesterday – the former ones had lived in their house for 35 years, with us beside them for the last seven – and it was bittersweet. We were sad to see our awesome neighbors go, but Ella and Annie are excited because the new ones have young kids, including two girls. We haven’t met them yet, but I’m hoping we make a good impression. I’d debated pulling up the weeds that were growing on our side of the fence – you know, to show them how tidy our yard is so they don’t think they moved in next to people whose yard is a mess – but then I was like, “Ehhhh… Why give them the wrong idea?”

That’s what happens when you move in during the summer: you meet Summer Emily. I mean, it’s not exactly like I’m Weeder Extraordinaire during the school year, but I’m somewhat more put together, you know? Then again, maybe this is a good thing; they can meet Summer Emily now, and then when September rolls around and, like magic, the yard is properly maintained and the children leave the house with their hair fixed and I actually know what day of the week it is, they’ll be all, School Year Emily is really impressive!

Yep. That’s probably exactly what will happen.

After looking at the calendar, the second half of our summer looks really similar to the first. All things considered, it seems to have been a nice balance thus far, so I don’t really know that anything needs to change in August. Which is a good thing, ’cause let’s face it – they’re not going to change, because Summer Emily has absolutely no momentum. Except when it comes to eating ice cream; I am a whiz at that.

So, welcome, new neighbors. Welcome to our cul-de-sac, to this fantastic neighborhood that we could not be luckier to call home. We plan to formally meet you once you’ve settled in (and might even bring baked goods, if I can manage to cobble together the ingredients), and we’re looking forward to getting to know you. I hope you like dogs.

Oh, and if you need anything, I’d recommend just ringing the doorbell and asking for it. Whatever you do, don’t call and leave a message; Summer Emily is apparently not returning calls until after Labor Day.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 10.16.01 PM

Ten Reasons Why Lakes Are Better Than Everything Else

Okay, people: this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and it’s really earth-shattering, so I hope you’ll give it serious consideration.

After having spent time in many different bodies of water this summer, from pools to lakes to streams to ponds to the ocean, I have decided that, of them all, lakes are unequivocally better than the rest.

I think we can all agree that ponds, streams, rivers, and creeks are cute enough, especially as water features in backyards. They’re fun, too, what with ponds freezing over for ice skating and creeks containing all sorts of hiding spots for creatures that kids love to hunt, not to mention things like rafting and rope swings. And there’s, like, fly fishing in rivers and all that jazz. But beyond that, they don’t really count.

Which leaves us pools, lakes, and oceans as the only “true” summer water spots. I know there are people who will swear that a pool is the only way to go, or that the ocean is superior, but, well… how do I say this…

They’re wrong.

This is not just conjecture but has been determined based on evidence, research, and cold hard facts (which are totally my opinions, but after having thought about this so seriously, it’s basically irrefutable. Obvs). Allow me to explain further.

Comparison #1: WILD THINGS

So, yeah, the ocean has lots of amazing and fascinating animals that live in or near it. Penguins and sea lions and adorable pods of dolphins and herons and neat-o crabs and, like, an entire ecosystem. Oh, and whales! And sea turtles! Sea turtles are cool! The wildlife of the ocean is rad and vast and a marine biologist’s nirvana.

But there’s also plenty of wildlife to be found in lakes – fish and birds and crawdads and frogs and turtles and dragonflies. True, they may not be as varied as the ocean, but there is no shortage of creatures that make their homes lakeside.

fish annie
fish ella dragonfly

Pools have no wildlife at all unless you count the frogs and snakes and errant mice that accidentally fall in. You cannot (successfully) go fishing or crabbing in a pool. You will not hear a loon’s haunting cry from the oval in your backyard. Pools are wildlife-free.

On the other hand, unless you’re playing Marco Polo and you’re the Marco-caller with your eyes closed, you’ll probably never be standing waist-deep in a pool and suddenly feel something brush against your calf (omg what was that???), sending you running to shore in a frenzied panic. There’s something to be said for that.

Lakes: 2
Oceans: 2
Pools: 1

Comparison #2: DANGEROUS WILD THINGS

Yes, both oceans and lakes are home to fascinating animals, but there is one very important distinction between the two: the things that you find in lakes are probably not going to hunt you down and kill you. Did Jaws take place in a lake? Orca? Moby Dick? There are no sharks in lakes. Or crazy eels. Or jellyfish. Or any of the myriad other stinging, biting things that can come up out of the bottomless deep and scare the bejeezus out of you or swallow you whole.

kiawah90
Like oh, say, this six-foot delight that a fisherman accidentally reeled in twenty feet in front of us on the beach in Kiawah a few years back. It was kinda cool, but are you kidding me??

I mean, sure, there are some potentially fear-inducing creatures in lakes – crayfish, small water snakes, really ugly catfish – but they’re harmless minnows compared to paralyzing jellyfish and freakin’ sharks.
summer geese
You know what my kids said when they saw this flock of birds? “Oh, look! A whole family of geese!” You know what they didn’t say? “I could feel the vibration of this entire shark gnawing into my skin. You could feel the whole body shaking as it’s digging into my torso.” BECAUSE THERE AREN’T SHARKS IN LAKES, OMG.

Likewise, because pools contain no wildlife whatsoever (not on purpose, anyway), they are void of life-threatening creatures as well. Hence…

Lakes: 1
Oceans: 0
Pools: 1

Comparison #3: COLLECTIBLES

The critters that swim and nest and frolic in oceans and lakes aren’t the only treasures to be found there. Who hasn’t gone to the ocean and returned home with beautiful shells, sand dollars, driftwood, or a starfish that was once alive and happy but ultimately suffocated and died so it could become part of a beachy display in the living room? Oceans are full of such riches, and there is little more enjoyable than walking along a flat stretch of beach and hunting for seashells; it’s almost mythical. After all, no one sold their shells by the pool deck, did they?

While not as prolific, lakes do have shells, too. And driftwood. And sea glass (lake glass?). And if you happen to be among the lucky ones who can visit one of the Finger Lakes in western New York, you’ll also find gazillions of fossils along the shore.fossils2fossils1These guys have stars on their ends – neat, no?

Despite the evidence presented here, the variety of fossils is endless, and my girls and I have spent countless hours combing the shoreline for them, marveling over their age (“These are really millions of years old, Mommy??”), and inventing stories about what they were like before they became fossilized.

You will not be finding fossils and shells in your neighborhood pool. As lovely as diving toys and foam noodles and floating beer coolers can be, they are not typically considered collectibles.

Lakes: 1
Oceans: 1
Pools: 0

Comparison #4: FAUNA

In fairness, one (small) plus to swimming in a pool is that you never have to worry that you’ll be happily swimming along and suddenly find yourself screeching like an octopus has ensnared you from below, entangled in a patch of weeds that have grown ten feet straight up from the bottom. You also won’t come out covered in algae (I hope) or that nasty, stinky seaweed with the little popper bubbles on them. Pools, while boring, are nevertheless devoid of slimy plants. Lakes and oceans? Not so much.

Lakes: 0
Oceans: 0
Pools: 1

Comparison #5: Visibility

There are a good many people who say they prefer pools to oceans and lakes simply because they can see the bottom. (Tip: if the pool is so murky you can’t see the bottom, swimming in said water is probably a bad idea. Unless you think a course of penicillin sounds like fun.) Yeah, I think those people are pretty much wimps and aren’t the type you’d invite to join your Amazing Race team, but still, I can’t deny that there’s something comforting about knowing what you’re getting into. Literally.

With that said, there are many, many days when the water at my family’s lake house is so clear and still we are easily able to see the bottom – even from the end of the dock. Sure, that’s not possible when you’re out in the middle and it’s deeper, but if you’re just looking to enjoy swimming near shore and you want to know what’s below you, you’re in luck.

Oceans, on the other hand, are always mysterious. The ever-changing, ever-moving water provides little to no opportunity to see into the depths, meaning you’re totally taking your life into your own hands every time you venture in.

Lakes: 1
Oceans: 0
Pools: 2

Comparison #6: WAVES, TIDES, AND CURRENTS

Some would argue that the very inconsistent nature of the ocean makes it more appealing. To this I say, that’s crap. Sure, there’s a certain allure to having the tides come in and out, to the waves crashing about, to the fact that every hour will bring something different. It’s certainly never boring. But that doesn’t make it better.

Lakes, too, have waves. You can fall asleep to the gentle lapping of the water, brushing the shoreline. You can bob along medium-sized crests, floating gently on your tube. Or, if you so choose, you can crash around on white capped peaks. My point is, there are definitely waves on lakes, but they’re not usually the knock-you-about, overturn-your-boat, rip-your-bathing-suit-from-you kind.

My husband loves these kinds of waves, the ones big enough to turn you about and cover your head and send you on a nice, long bodysurf. I endure these kinds of waves, because I’m sensible enough to understand that it’s not fun to be pummeled in the face by water so hard that it hurts, to be unable to breathe, and to not be able to feel the ground beneath your feet.

This was taken while we were in Puerto Rico. Yes, it seems all tropical and lovely and bodysurf-y – and it was all tropical and lovely and bodysurf-y – but I had to fight like the dickens to keep my bathing suit on because the damn waves kept tearing it off. 

In addition to waves, oceans have tides – something having to do with the moon and magic and all that – which means that you absolutely never know how high the water will come up onto the beach on any given day. It’s like a constant surprise party, except without cake or alcohol. On Tuesday at noon, you may be able to launch yourself off the pier and into the (dark, mysterious) sea ten feet deep. On Wednesday at noon, the water may be out so far, the pier sits – dry, in the sun – and jumping off is only appropriate if one is hoping for an ambulance ride to the ER.

On a lake, there is no such variation, and dock-jumping is always okay.laborday48
It’s especially okay when you’re playing a game of “Categories.”

Also, tides wreak havoc on carefully built sand castles. After spending hours painstakingly constructing turrets and moats decorated with the aforementioned seashells and seaweed, your beloved masterpiece will be instantly washed away by a rogue wave as the tide sneaks up on you again (surprise!!) and your daughters will dissolve into hysterical puddles upon seeing their princess castle disappear.

Ask me how I know.

Because lakes don’t have tides, there are no AWOL waves to ruin your daughters’ childhood. There are also no currents – those invisible but ridiculously strong jets of water that run along the shore, waiting to drag unsuspecting beach-goers out to sea. Even the strongest of swimmers can be torn away by rip tides and currents, which basically means that no one is safe at the ocean, ever. SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK, SUCKERS.

Lakes, by contrast, do not have life-threatining currents, so you can wade in to your heart’s content and know that you won’t be yanked off your feet. Pools, of course, are static containers of water and do not have waves, tides, or currents… which, depending on your point of view, is both absurdly banal (unlike oceans and lakes) and appealingly un-deadly (unlike oceans).

Lakes: 2
Oceans: 1
Pools: 1

Comparison #7: ACTIVITIES

There are few of us whose childhood memories don’t involve a rip-roaring afternoon spent at a pool. Games of Marco Polo, hunting for “treasure” by collecting coins that were dumped from the jar on the kitchen table into the deep end, jumping off the diving board, playing “Categories” as you launched yourself in from the side, performing handstands in the shallow end and begging your mom to “WATCH ME! WATCH ME! WATCH ME!”, learning how to do a cannonball, floating in the inflatable lounge chair with the drink holder on the side… Those were the days, and they were damn fine days.

Admittedly, it would be difficult to play some of these games in a lake or ocean (where throwing buckets of quarters into the waves is typically frowned upon), but the open expanse of these bodies of water means that even more fun can be had. You can go tubing, waterskiing, and wakeboarding. You can fish and snorkel and scuba dive. You can jump on water trampolines, play King of the Castle on anchored rafts, and jump off of wooden towers into the water below. You can kayak, canoe, boat, windsurf, sail, paddleboard, and jet ski . You can (often) build spectacular sandcastles and sculptures; you can (often) dig a hole deep enough to hide in or wrap the grains around you like a sand sleeping bag. You can board a yacht or a rowboat and have a bonfire right on the beach. Simply put, there’s way more to do in an ocean or a lake than there is in a pool.

DCIM100GOPRO
We cannot paddleboard in a pool. Not that I’ve tried. But I’m pretty sure.

With that said, the irregularity of ocean waves oftentimes make it impossible to engage in a good many activities. Can’t nobody be sailing in 30 foot swells or having a bonfire when the tide has completely covered the beach. Because lake conditions are more predictable, you can almost always dive* right into whatever tickles your fancy (*see what I did there?), so that gives lakes a small advantage in this here category.10403338_10152552138420295_7294721342386609593_n
You think a seven and nine year-old could go on a solo kayak paddle hundreds of yards away on the open ocean? THINK AGAIN. #LakePower!

Lakes: 2.5
Oceans: 2
Pools: 1

Comparison #8: VISTA

“Man, the sunset over the lake today was just spectacular” – said regularly

“Wow, watching the sunrise along the horizon of the ocean was absolutely magical” – uttered with frequency

“Jeepers, the sky as seen from the pool this afternoon was simply breathtaking” – spoken by basically no one at any time, or at least not as often as the sentiments above

summer sunset
You won’t overlook this scene from a pool. Unless it’s a lakeside or oceanside pool.

The view from lakes and oceans is magnificent.
The view from pools can be somewhat beautiful from time to time. Kind of.

Lakes: 1
Oceans: 1
Pools: 0

Comparison #9: THE WATER ITSELF

It always amazes me that this is actually up for debate and doesn’t automatically push lakes right up to the top every single time, but apparently some people are insane feel differently than I do about lake water being superior to pool or ocean water. I don’t know that I can say it any more plainly than this, so I’m just going to go for it: salt and chlorine suck. Salt stings your eyes and makes your nose hurt and gets all up in your hair, but not in a cute tussled way – in a this-needs-to-be-washed-immediately way. It coats your skin and everything that comes into contact with it, even if you’re only coming close to the ocean and not actually entering it. (For example: we drove our rental car in Puerto Rico all around the island, but never directly into the water {duh} and it was still coated in a thin layer of ocean salt that was so thick, we were unable to see out the back windows. Side note: we could find absolutely no washer fluid bucket thingies at Puerto Rican gas stations, so we had to cross our fingers and hope it would rain. It finally did.) Also, saltwater tastes absolutely horrible and, ironically, makes you thirsty. Saltwater is nasty.

Chlorine has more going for it than saltwater, but only by default. Being near a pool will not cause your car to be coated in any substance that needs to be chiseled off with an ice pick, but all the rest hold true – albeit often to a lesser degree. Chlorinated water irritates the heck out of your eyes, can get all up in your nose and make you hella uncomfortable, and is absolutely horrible for your hair, turning it into a tangled, thick, smelly, green-hewed mess. It also tastes like crap. After being in the ocean or a pool, you need to shower – to get wet again – in order to clean off. HOW CRAZY IS THAT.

Lakes, on the other hand, are often so pure and lovely, you come out of them even cleaner than you were before you went in. Your hair is in good shape, your car is not covered in anything except bird poop and whatever your kids spilled from their lunch boxes, you can open your eyes underwater with absolutely no difficulty, and you don’t need to get yourself wet again after coming out of the lake for the final time that day. In fact, lakes are so clean, you can sometimes drink from them with absolutely no side effects.

Post-shampoo jump in
See? So clean, we actually bathe IN the lake.
I know, I know… putting stuff like shampoo into lakes makes them less clean… but we use only fully biodegradable products and don’t bathe too often; so far, so good.

Lakes: 1
Oceans: 0
Pools: 0

Comparison #10: SAND

I have already mentioned that one of the things you can do at oceans and beaches is play with – and in – the sand. What I did not say, however, is that doing so is fun, nor did I refer to it as one of the benefits that oceans and beaches have over pools. This omission was not accidental.

I think sand is evil.

Okay, so it can be fun. It can feel delicious under your feet, sometimes spongy, sometimes rock solid, sometimes slippery. It is mesmerizing when poured gently from your fingers. It can, indeed, be used to create hours of entertainment; I have very happily built many a sand castle – without my children, even – poring over the details of the design. I have buried myself (and others) beneath the beach, marveling at how much cooler the sand is one foot below the surface. I have ridden bikes and gone running beside the water during low tide and have carved messages along the shore, watching wistfully as the waves creep in and erase my words piece by piece. Yes, sand can be fabulous – mesmerizing and addictive, even.

But, like so many mesmerizingly addictive things, there’s a downside to sand. I mean, crack is addictive, but that doesn’t make it good for you. At first, sand is like movie popcorn, all buttery and warm and heavenly and you can’t stop shoveling it toward you. But then, before you know it, that familiar feeling settles in: dread. With movie popcorn, it’s because you know you just consumed your entire day’s worth of calories and now your mouth is coated in the weird filmy nastiness and you’d really like to go to the bathroom because you kind of feel sick but you’re so damn full of popcorn, you can’t even move.

With sand, it’s because you know that there will be hell to pay for even going near it. Sand, like my nemesis, superfine glitter, gets everywhere and is nearly impossible to remove. Trying to eat a nice picnic beside the shore? I hope you don’t mind a little extra grit in your food. You brought water with you so you can refresh yourself after an hour playing in the sun? Good luck brushing off the tiny grains of sand that have adhered themselves exactly on the mouth of the bottle. And don’t even think about eating anything sticky beside the ocean; I still remember how my soul died a little death the day I dropped my Ring Pop in the sand when I was about eight. THE HUMANITY.

You can lay a towel on the beach so that you have somewhere clean to sit and declare it a no sand zone, but we all know that sand, like guerrilla fighters, infiltrates everything without you even knowing it. Long after you’ve left the shore, you will be finding sand in places that never even made it out of the house. And let’s not forget the havoc that sand wreaks upon your body. Trying to walk across it barefoot on a hot day is like stepping on lava. It gets in your eyes like tiny shrapnel. It gets in your hair and then stays on your scalp, often through several washings. You’ll still be chewing on sand three days after visiting the beach.

But it’s the sand that gets stuck in your suit that creates the biggest problems. Have you ever bathed a baby and found, like, a raisin stuck in the folds of his chin and wonder how on earth it got there but then realize with horror that it must be from when he ate raisins two days ago? That’s how it is with sand, especially the sand that is trapped in your bathing suit; it creeps into every crevice, every crack, every hidden space. And I do mean EVERY space.

Because of our anatomy, sand infiltration is even worse for girls. A girlfriend of mine told me that when her daughters were little, they were driving home from a visit to the ocean when four year old complained that her vagina was crunchy. Because that’s what happens when sand gets all up in your business. IT IS NOT PLEASANT, nor is it easy to remedy. So, yes, sand is delightful, but it is also my enemy.IMG_7699
This is what our rental car looked like as we dropped it off at the airport in Puerto Rico. That’s just the sand that I was able to shake out of the top of my bathing suit. EVIL.

With all of that said, you might – understandably – think that I would prefer pools, with their lack of sand, to lakes and oceans. It is true that pools are sand-less, so one point for pools. But, as happy fate would have it, Canandaigua Lake – the one on which we spend so much of our summers – is sand-less, too, as are many of the Finger Lakes.
lakeshale
Look, Ma – no sand!

A lake without a beach?, you say. How can that be? Well, in the case of Canandaigua, the beaches are made of shale – flat stones that have broken off of the larger shale beds surrounding the lake and, over time, have smoothed out. They make perfect skipping stones, can be “written” on (by drawing with another piece of shale), and can be pushed around to create mounds and piles and holes, much like sand… except with absolutely none of the evil properties associated with sand.

SHALE BEACH FTW.

Lakes: 2
Oceans: 1
Pools: 1

Thus, after tallying up the points above, the final standings are as follows:
LAKES: 13.5
OCEANS: 8
POOLS: 8

After this exhaustive, thorough, and completely unbiased analysis, it’s plain to see that, when all is said and done, lakes far outshine oceans and pools. This does not mean that oceans and pools are bad, nor that I’ll stop visiting them any time soon. Nothing can compare with the mystery of the ocean, and the humid, briny smell that washes over you the moment you get close is positively enchanting. Jumping into a pool on a roasting summer day is one of life’s simplest pleasures, and watching Ella and Annie play water games till they drop makes me smile every time.

It’s like milk, white, and dark chocolate – they’re all marvelous and yes, more, please… but when all is said and done, one stands out above the rest.

I’m a lake girl at heart.
And I’m particularly grateful and fortunate to be spending so much time on one.

Maybe I should have been a researcher instead of a teacher. This fact-collecting thing is really fun.

summer vista