Tuning out and tuning in

I hadn’t realized I needed the break until we were there. That may sound a bit daft – how could I not know I needed to get away? That some time off would be a good idea? Wouldn’t I understand my own self?

The answer, apparently, was no. I knew I was looking forward to our trip to Puerto Rico, to sharing the island that Nick and I loved with Ella and Annie, introducing it to my dad and Meg, celebrating my dad’s birthday. I knew I was psyched to be on vacation for six delicious days(!). But I didn’t discover just how stressed and anxious I had become, nor how liberating it would feel to lose that stress and anxiety, until we arrived.
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Fresh tropical popsicles at check-in make everything better.

IMG_0161So does the local rum in your hotel room.

It wasn’t until then, when we were essentially forced to take a break from life as we know it, that I understood not only that I had been feeling tense, but why: politics. More specifically, the ever-present coverage of politics on the news, my Facebook and Twitter feeds, every time I turned on the radio.

Politics. Every. Where.

 

In our house, this is not business as usual. Until this last presidential election, Nick and I discussed politics basically never. (Obviously, social justice is a big deal in our family; I know that LGBT concerns, racial prejudice, and women’s rights have become political, but to me they’re just human issues.) It wasn’t that we didn’t care; we did. We had opinions. But, by and large, we trusted our politicians – even those with whom we disagreed – to take care of politics.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote in New York Magazine: “One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all.”

For the past 16 months or so, I’ve thought of politics virtually daily. And I don’t like it. It’s exhausting; it’s maddening; it’s disheartening; and, without my realizing it, it was seriously stressing me out.

When we got to Puerto Rico, we got out of the news cycle. I unplugged and breathed.
It was glorious.
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Yes, I still checked in; I was aware of what was happening on the mainland. But I didn’t take time to dwell.

Avoiding politics became a deliberate decision. My dad and stepmom, Meg, are often at opposite ends of the political spectrum from Nick and me, so it would have been simple to fall into a debate, even accidentally. We chose not to let it happen. This was a family trip to celebrate my dad’s birthday; that was our focus. (I mean, if I hosted myself a party and someone went on about how awesome the Red Sox are, or started dissing the Yankees, I’d be pissed, y’all.) On this – my dad’s birthday trip – I had no desire to do that to him, to us.

At first, it was actually somewhat challenging; for months now, politics has been dominating my daily life. (And if I believe the news or my Facebook feed, politics is the only possible topic worth discussing or contemplating.) I didn’t know what else to talk about. We began with some slightly pregnant silences…  but they soon abated. How refreshing and renewing it was to consider books, family, movies, school, work, music, travel, food… You know – life outside politics.

IT DOES EXIST.
Sweet fancy Moses!
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Some liberal folks might say it’s my duty to bring up politics, to continually acknowledge that our current political environment is not normal, not okay, should be challenged. I agree that we cannot sit back and do nothing. We must remain aware, engage, keep at it.

But sometimes, it’s okay to sit one out. My friends know how I feel. My family knows how I feel. My dad and stepmom know how I feel. Staying quiet for a few days was not only acceptable, it was necessary.

See, at some point, this political cycle will end. Change will occur. I don’t know how or when or what it will look like, but I do not believe, in ten years, that the world will look as it does today. What I do know is that I adore my family, both my immediate family and my extended family. We may disagree politically, but they’re good people; in fact, they’re some of the goodest people I know. I respect them. I love them. When all is said and done, I want them in my life; I need them in my life.
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Decked out in our matching night kayaking jackets…

Sometimes, the right choice is talking things out. Other times, the right choice is taking a knee. This time, we knelt.

It’s hard to draw a direct line between the awesomeness of our our trip and my taking a break from contemplating politics, but there’s no doubt that it played a significant role. How magnificent it was to not be consumed by fear and anxiety, to not fight the urge to check the New York Times homepage or refresh my Twitter feed – to just be, to enjoy the moments.

How delightful to savor my daughters running in the surf; my dad knocking on our patio door just to say hello; my stepmom being the first to brave the ziplines, despite her fear of heights; my husband being pooped on by a seagull (<– maybe savor is a strong word).

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IMG_0684Zipline-ready!

I ignored my timeline updates and instead presented my dad with his birthday video, discussing it for days thereafter. There was no news, no politics, getting in the way of hearing Ella’s delighted gasp as she dipped her hand in the glowing lagoon of the bioluminescent bay.

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I was able to revel in Annie holding an enormous, rainbow-colored conch during our night snorkeling adventure.

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Night snorkeling: awesome. Also: TERRIFYING.

I gave no thought to the latest headlines when Nick and I took everyone to our favorite restaurant in the world, our hopes high that they would enjoy it too, nerves dancing as we waited for them to take their first bites… followed by relief and glee (and ridiculously full stomachs) as they agreed with our assessment.
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It mattered not what the president was Tweeting when my dad and I got ridiculously tiny (but delicious) coffees at an Old San Juan cafe. I didn’t care what the pundits were saying as I immersed myself in Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography.

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There was no newsfeed calling my attention away from watching the girls make memories with their grandparents: laughing as they sat on bubbling jets in the pool; splashing each other in the ocean; sharing dessert (or sometimes not sharing; hey – it’s dessert); exploring 400 year-old fortresses; .
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Instead of my pre-bedtime ritual of scanning the day’s Top Stories, I sat with my legs in the plunge pool, the ocean 25 yards away, listening to the omnipresent chirping coquis.

I can’t remember the last time I truly missed being on vacation; I’m always bummed to leave, but usually the relief of being in my own bed and returning to routine makes the trip a happy memory. This time, I actively missed it. I’d awaken in the night and think I was back in the hotel, feeling the crushing weight of disappointment when I remembered where I was. It took me several days to even want to look at our photos and videos; I was too sad that we were no longer there.

Looking back, I can easily pinpoint the reason for this: pure. joy. Remarkably, I enjoyed every single minute with my family, my dad and Meg. We had no arguments. No disagreements. For six whole days, we relished one another’s company. The entire trip! (Seriously, what were the chances?) What an absolute gift it was to be able to spend time with these people who I love so fiercely and cherish every moment of it.

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I know that experiences like this are few; next time, the girls may not want to look at us, much less have fun with us. So I’m appreciating the heck out of this one.

Maybe some of that was coincidental. Maybe some of it was luck. But maybe a lot of it had to do with making the conscious decision to tune out and tune in. Yes, it’s a luxury to be able to do so; I know many people cannot afford to turn off politics… which makes me so grateful that I can, and so glad that I did. (Plus, now I feel far more energized to continue persisting and resisting. WIN-WIN.)

In the end, I missed nothing – it was all waiting for me when we returned, believe me – but what we all gained by focusing in instead of out is immeasurable.

Yes, we’ll always have Puerto Rico… but even more than that, no matter what, we have each other. Muy delicioso, indeed.

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We Really (really) Had It All

To borrow from Lin-Manual Miranda, it was a bit of a weekend*.

Ten long months ago (looooong months ago), I’d been among the throngs of people hovered over their laptops and Ticketmaster apps to press the “Search for Tickets” button at exactly 10:00 on a Thursday morning in December with the hopes of getting to see Adele in concert. Amazingly, I got through and was able to secure tickets for the four of us to attend her final show in Toronto.

Thus began the waiting. And the secrecy. Nick and I knew ten months would be an eternity for the girls, so we deliberately kept knowledge of the concert from them until an unexpected Adele radio moment last month where we caved and told Ella and Annie that what they thought was merely a weekend getaway to Toronto was more than just seeing the sights.

(Cue ebullient mayhem.)

Ana so, at long, long last, after wondering if after all these (months) we’d be like to meet…
Hello.
img_7319Giddy outside the Air Canada Centre.

This was the Ella and Annie’s first concert (okay, first real concert; they did see the Laurie Berkener Band when they were about 1.5 and 3.5) and, after having watched 738 YouTube videos of other Adele performances, we knew it would be one helluva show, an experience that would be hard to top.

We never dreamed it would become a once-in-a-lifetime event.

We arrived at the Air Canada Centre with plenty of time to settle in. Knowing the kiddos would be uber-tired by the end of the night (and that we wouldn’t want to leave mid-show to shop), I took the girls to check out the souvenirs before the show. When we made it to the front of the line, Ella and I quickly chose t-shirts. Annie hemmed and hawed, saying that she wanted the black notebook tucked in the glass case and “a pencil.” Because pencils were only available by the $25 package and the notebook cost $40, I told her she would have to choose one or the other (even with the exchange rate, $65 for pencils and some paper wasn’t happening).

She chose the notebook.

As the woman who was helping us brought the book out of the case, the employee standing next to her leaned over and beckoned me close so I could hear him. In a whisper, he told me, “You’ve selected a unique and special item. Open the first page.”

My stomach immediately jolted. Why would he have us check the page if nothing was there? Holy shit. WHAT WAS THERE??? There was no way – NO WAY – that Adele had anything to do with that page… Omg…

My hands actually began to shake as I handed the notebook to Annie. “Open it!” I barked, startling her (apparently, my “filled with excitement and anticipation” voice sounds a lot like my, “you’re in deep doodoo” voice). She did… revealing what looked to be a signature.

Adele’s signature.

“Oh my God, Annie. Oh my God. OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD.” (We typically ask the girls to say “Oh my gosh” and try to do the same ourselves, but in this case, all bets were off.)

As she stared reverently at her autographed notebook, I handed over my credit card, half expecting the employees to tell us that our “unique and special item” cost $400, not $40… but no. They rang the transaction up as if nothing had happened. Growing skeptical, I asked the woman who was bagging up our shirts, “Is this for real??”

Again, the man beside her answered. “It is. She signed five of them after the VIP event this afternoon and we’re selling them randomly around the arena. See? They even have today’s date. Your daughter made a lucky choice.”

OH.
MY.
GOD.
img_7321Posing before the show with the world’s luckiest notebook.

I’m not sure that the girls fully appreciated the incredibleness of this (although my near-hyperventilating probably clued them in), but it certainly caused us all to be in a state of wonder as the concert began.

And the concert itself? Adele, live and in person and singing and talking and laughing that marvelous cackle?
Breathtaking. Hilarious. Astounding. Powerful. Triumphant. Joyful.

Amazing. Just… amazing.
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We had floor seats and assumed the rest of the floor-goers would remain seated for most of the concert. HAHAHA. For a few songs, Adele actually instructed us to park our tushes and sit, but for the rest? FULL ON STANDING for the entire show… which meant that Ella and Annie could see nothing but the shoulders of the people in front of us for the entire show.

We attempted to stand the girls on their folding chairs, making sure they weren’t taller than the folks behind us… but, since we were on the end of the row and, thus, easily accessible, the security guards put the kibosh on that quickly (By contrast, the family in the middle of the row ahead of us stood their children on chairs the whole time.) “Our” security guard (Richard) couldn’t have been nicer, explaining he felt terrible our kids couldn’t see; it was just a safety issue. It was frustrating to have the rules enforced only for those within reach, but we understood and readily complied.

Making the best of things, we watched Adele on the overhead screens and held the girls whenever possible. Midway through the show, as Adele made her way to the small, closer, middle-of-the-floor-seats stage from which she’d emerged at the beginning, Richard tapped my shoulder. “Would your girls like to come with me to a spot where they can see a little better?”

Um. YES?!?

Annie and Ella would later tell us they were brought to a clearing closer to the small stage, offering an unobstructed view. At the time, we had no idea where they were, only that Richard was in charge. Every so often, he’d catch our eye and give us the thumbs-up that all was well; we trusted that it was. Several songs later, the girls returned to us, all smiles.

Ninety-or-so minutes after she began, Adele disappeared from the small stage. Richard confirmed that she wasn’t quite finished, silently holding up two fingers and mouthing, “Two more!”

We were enjoying the penultimate number (“When We Were Young”) when yet another security guard tapped me on the shoulder. “Would your children like to see the last song from the front of the stage?”

The girls were actually hesitant – the stage was pretty far away – but when you’re offered the chance to see Adele from the freakin’ best spot in the arena, you do not turn it down. That said, I had no idea how we’d find them in the mad crush when the concert ended so I, too, became hesitant. Sensing my uncertainty, the guard leaned in again. “Mom, you’d be coming, too!”

Oh. In that case? LET’S GO!!

I took a moment to confirm with the guard that Nick was also welcome (yes), and then, t-shirts and notebook and bags in hand, we began following her down the outer aisle of the floor, past row after row… after row… after row. I kept saying aloud to the girls, “I can hardly breathe. Oh my God, oh my God. I can’t believe it! I can hardly breathe.” They probably thought I was insane.

When, finally, we reached a temporary barrier approximately ten rows from the front, we stopped… but were beckoned on by the security guard, who adroitly pushed the gate aside and continued to make her way ahead. When we reached the seeming end of the aisle several feet from the barriers in front of the stage and, again, it seemed we could go no further, the guard asked other people to move out of the way and told us to keep going.

And when we reached the metal barriers immediately in front of the stage and, again, it seemed we could go no further, the guards physically moved the people who were already standing there, instructing, “Let these little girls in!”

What alternate reality is this???

Thus it was that we found as close as humanly possible to Adele (without being on the stage) as she sang “Rolling in the Deep” for her final encore. Nick kept back a few yards, not wanting to crowd the space, while I remained near enough to the girls so when all hell broke loose at the show’s conclusion, I could easily locate them… which meant when Adele walked by and waved, she looked all three of us directly in the eye and smiled.

We made eye contact with Adele and she SMILED AT US.

So basically, we were privately serenaded by Adele.

SWEET. FANCY. MOSES.

img_7353Ella with her iPod to record this mind-boggling turn of events.

img_7355Annie waving madly to Adele – WHO FREAKIN’ WAVED BACK.

img_7357AND THEN ADELE WAVED AT ME. And I died and went to heaven right then and there.

No, for real – see?!

img_7363House lights on: final goodbye before the confetti cannons exploded.

On our way out, we made sure to pass Richard and thank him for – well, for making it the best concert imaginable. I have no idea what prompted him to do everything in his power to give us such an unbelievable night, but I am ridiculously grateful and awed that he did.

Although the girls managed to fall asleep almost as soon as their heads hit their pillows, I was up for at least three more hours, running on adrenaline and shock and kettle corn. Had that really happened? The notebook? Finally hearing Adele in person? Being escorted to the front? It seemed impossible… and yet, there it was. Videos and photos on my phone, confetti in my purse, smile plastered to my face.

The girls’ concert bar has now been set so high, they’ll likely never even glimpse it again. But that’s okay. For one night, we really had it all.

* this was actually two weekends ago, but life got in the way and so… here we are

Osmosis Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either way, it was a truly magnificent sixty minutes.

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

Flashback Friday: The Poopsplosion

Since I just wrote about our newest CCI puppy, Jitter, I thought perhaps now would be a good time to relay one of our all-time favorite CCI puppy stories about Diamond, the first puppy we raised.

Diamond was a great pup and we thought she was awesome. If she had one flaw, it was her penchant for counter surfing, a habit that we accidentally taught her by leaving her alone in the kitchen with one of our other (counter-surfing) dogs, who showed Di the ropes. Diamond would happily grab anything off the counter: leftovers, a pan of brownies that was awaiting book club, a freshly frosted cake for a friend who’d just had a baby… We had to be extra-vigilant.

This story takes place in April, 2011. Because we were visiting Minnesota right before Easter, we dyed eggs at home a few days prior to our trip. We dye a minimum of 18 eggs apiece, winding up with dozens of brightly colored hardboiled eggs, which are typically stored in the refrigerator until I remember to throw them away.
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Annie, concentrating hard…

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Emi and Ella, at work…

Except, of course, for the hours in between dyeing them and storing them (I don’t know why there’s lag time, but there always is), when they’re kept in their cartons on the dining room table.

Diamond had been with us for over a year and a half by this time, and we had learned not to give her any opportunities to access the kitchen counters. It didn’t even occur to us, however, that it might be a bad idea to leave 54 hardboiled eggs in the middle of the dining room table (I mean, if we were okay with this from a food safety perspective, clearly anything goes in our house).

Turns out? Dining room tables are easily reached by counter-surfing dogs.

We found the mangled egg cartons on Friday. One might think that consuming dozens of vinegar-soaked hardboiled eggs wouldn’t go over well, but Diamond didn’t act any worse for wear at first. Then, the mosaic poop began – legions of it. For 24 hours, Di positively Jackson Pollocked the backyard with rainbow eggshells. By Saturday afternoon, though, the poopsplosions were over, with Diamond behaving completely normally. Which was a good thing, considering we were getting on an airplane – all of us, including the dog – for Minnesota that evening.

My sister-in-law, Emi, had been visiting and was headed back to Minnesota that same night. Due to a flight problem, we all wound up on the same plane, which was lovely in terms of traveling camaraderie, but a bummer because our flight change caused us to land well past the girls’ bedtime. Knowing they would be super tired, I was adamant that we hustle off the plane ASAP so we could carry their still-sleeping forms into the car and then off to Grandpa Bill and GranMary’s house.

Which might have been well and good had they actually fallen asleep during the flight. Instead, they remained awake, with glassy, thousand-mile stares that told us they were likely to have exhaustion-induced meltdowns at any point. The flight was otherwise uneventful; even Diamond, who had flown with us before, did a bang-up job… except for the excessive panting.

But, hey. We figured she was just hot. Dogs pant when they’re hot, no?

They do. They also pant when they’re backlogged with Easter egg poop and know that popping a squat in the bulkhead section would probably result in, at the very least, some rather unhappy glances.

By the time we got off the plane, Diamond was in obvious distress, while Ella and Annie were seriously flagging, so we doubled down our efforts to hightail it over to Bill, who was waiting to pick us up. Emi and I each grabbed a girl and a stroller (they were too old for strollers but we brought them anyway); Nick took Diamond; we divvied the luggage up like sherpas; and off we went.

When the tram-train thing that was supposed to take us to the end of the terminal pulled into the station and just sat there for a moment, we were annoyed but didn’t worry. When it sat there for a full minute, annoyance turned to frustration. When the message was broadcast that the tram-train thing was no longer operational, frustration turned quickly to rage and despair. The girls were drooping, Diamond was frantic; we needed that tram.

(Our rage and despair were nothing, however, compared to the faces of the people who were on the tram-train thing when it became un-operational and were unable to get off of it. Yikes.)

Seeing no other options, we began hiking the length of the terminal – which, no joke, was about a mile from end to end. Emi and I were in the lead, moving as quickly as the strollers would allow, with Nick and Diamond following closely behind…

…until, suddenly, they weren’t. We heard a “HEY!” and I turned back to see them a good 25 yards behind us, rushing into a bathroom(??!). Seriously pissed (we were in a HURRY, for God’s sake), we backtracked to see what on earth he was doing.

Five long minutes later, they emerged, the picture of utter defeat. “I don’t know what to do!” he maniacally whispered. Seeing our puzzled – and furious – glances, he explained, “Diamond just shit all over the moving sidewalk!”

Oh. Well, then.

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Bunny Di.

After holding it in for the entire flight and then waiting as the tram-train thing broke down, Di could apparently no longer contain herself – literally. Nick said this became apparent when the people behind him on the moving sidewalk began gasping and saying things like, “Oh, dear God!” Unbeknownst to him, Diamond – still trotting along – had begun leaving rainbow-colored poopsplosions on the sidewalk, causing the other travelers to jump out of the way to avoid them.

Funny/horrible thing #1: Although everyone was horrified, no one felt they could say anything to Nick… because Diamond was wearing her service dog-in-training cape… and, apparently, they thought Diamond was Nick’s service dog… and how do you politely explain to someone who needs a service dog, “Um, sir, I’m so sorry, but your service dog is crapping all over the moving sidewalk”?

Funny/horrible thing #2: Because the sidewalk was, indeed, a moving sidewalk, there was nothing that could be done about the Easter egg poop – no way it could be cleaned up in time – and so it just… wentaround… as the sidewalk ended and mechanically went back underneath.

With (literally) a mile to go to the exit, Nick decided that the best option was to take Dizey into the men’s room and tell her to do her thing; at least it would be contained and he’d be able to clean it up. He chose the handicapped stall so that they’d both fit, which turned out to be wise because the moment he told her to “hurry,” she looked at him as though he had three heads (Hurry? INDOORS? Are you insane?)… and so, remembering that a little movement often speeds things along, Nick began walking Diamond in tiny little circles around the stall to see if her could get things going.

Omg. This is one of the best mental images I’ve ever had, of them circling the handicapped stall with him stage whispering to her to “hurry” and her thinking he was nuts.

(It should be noted that, during this time, I became so upset about the girls still being awake, I offered each of them five dollars if they could fall asleep in their strollers before we reached the car. I PAID MY CHILDREN REAL MONEY TO GO THE EFF TO SLEEP. 

It should also be noted that BOTH OF THEM FELL ASLEEP. If you need parenting advice, don’t hesitate to ask.)

When it became apparent that Diamond would absolutely not disgrace herself by crapping on the bathroom floor, he came to find us. I became rather less pissed and rather more desperate to give Diamond the chance to finish her business.  It was at this moment you could (almost literally) see Emi switch into high gear. She dropped the bags she was carrying, physically grabbed the leash from Nick’s hand, and took off running – calling back to us that she’d meet us at the car – not stopping until, many minutes later, she’d reached the terminal exit where Diamond could finally relieve herself in peace.

Accordingly, Diamond sat down and glanced at Emi as if to thank her for the lovely jog.

We saw no more rainbow mosaic poop, and Dizey had an entirely uneventful Minnesota visit. She would go on to make it through 4.5 of 6 months of Advanced Training; counter surfing was not the reason she was let go, although I understand that she has taken her forever family on a few adventures in this department.

We imagine that the cleaning crew who dealt with the moving sidewalk is still telling the tale of Diamond’s adventure in the airport, too.
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The girls and Diamond in Minnesota. ALL SMILES.

Unexpected Duet

Last month, we visited Minnesota as we do every summer to see our extended family. This trip included attending a minor league ball game with GranMary, welcoming my sister-in-law, Nelle, and her family back to Minnesota (they’re moving home! Woo hoo!), spending time with our hilarious and awesome nephews, visiting with Gigi and Grandpaw Ray, and getting to meet and hold and hug and oooooh and ahhhhh our new nephew (baby of my other sister-in-law, Emi), who is an absolute shoe-in for the CUTEST BABY IN ALL THE UNIVERSE OMG WITH THE CUTENESS award.

It was a superb week – family-filled, relaxing, fun – and although we were sad to leave before the state fair (and Baby O’s 100 days party), we were looking forward to meeting the girls’ teachers when we got back home. We arrived at the airport relatively early; it was crowded but not too crazy. After getting the girls some breakfast at one of the to-go restaurants, I decided to grab a coffee for myself before we headed to the gate.

Although it’s no secret that I’m a Starbucks devotee, I try to patronize Caribou Coffee whenever we’re in the Twin Cities. I like the local-ness of the chain, and the Caramel High Rise is particularly delicious. The line at the airport Caribou was fairly long; they were brewing more decaf, which caused a bit of a back-up, so there were a lot of people milling around. Factor in that the patrons were, you know, due to leave on airplanes soon, and you get a relatively tense and impatient atmosphere.

The cashier asked for my order in a no-nonsense manner (not rudely or brusquely, but she was definitely trying to just move things along) and I was about to reply when one of her coworkers – standing behind her – leaned toward her (and me) and sang, with a tiny, sly grin, “Whaddaya want from me?”

I haven’t watched American Idol in years, but I was quite the fan many seasons ago and immediately recognized the barista’s query as a line from the chorus of (season eight runner up) Adam Lambert’s pop hit, “Whataya Want From Me?” (I never knew before right now that it was spelled like that. Hm.)

(If this makes absolutely no sense, check out Adam’s video…)

The barista looked pleased with her sing-song joke but seemed positively stunned when I sang right back, matching my new words to the melody of Lambert’s tune: “I’d like a coffee, please!” Looking up, she grinned back at me without missing a beat and crooned in kind, “I’ll get that right a-way! I’ll get that right a-way-ay!”

No one else seemed to pick up on the barista’s attempt at humor (and song); we didn’t care. Neither of us really knew the melody beyond a few lines of the verse (or, if she did, she preferred the verse because that’s all she mimicked), but it didn’t matter.

“I’ll take it with caff-eine! I’ll take it with caff-eee-eine!”

“Right now she’ll give you change!”

“Hey, I ap-prec-i-aaaate that!”

Nick had asked me to get him a decaf (which I had to wait for), so our “conversation” lasted longer than it otherwise would have. The cashier – the one who was actually taking the order – looked mildly annoyed at first that her coworker and I were slowing down the transaction… by singing… but as we escalated our back-and-forth duet, a slight smile began to tug at the corners of her mouth.

“Would you like a muffin, too? Or maybe a croi-sa-aaannt?”

“No thanks, I’ll be okay! Don’t want the cal-or-ieeeees!”

When I moved over to allow the person behind me to place their order, the cashier could no longer hide her smile. By the time I finished adding sugar and cream, she was laughing out loud at the goofy audacity of the barista’s and my exchange. SINGING. MADE-UP WORDS! ABOUT COFFEE!! AT THE AIRPORT, FOR THE LOVE!!!!

“I’m going to add some cream!”

“Hope that your flight’s on ti-iime!”

“Thanks, have an awesome day!”

“You too! I hope it’s grea-aaaat!”

In a moment, Nick’s coffee was ready and it was over; I was walking to my terminal, backpack on, coffees in both hands. There were planes to be caught, miles to be traveled, bags to be unpacked, dogs to be petted upon our return.

But for that moment? In that moment? It was awesome.
I mean, does it really get much better than an impromptu, ridiculous musical exchange with a complete stranger about coffee? No. No, it does not. 

I hope that barista is still singing to her customers, and I hope at least some of them are singing back. Maybe she’ll still be there the next time we’re in Minnesota. I’ll be sure to brush up on my pop tune knowledge, just in case.
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We Soared; aka Epcot in a Day

So, hi there! Long time no see!

I could try to make excuses about not writing, but really we were simply out of town, so there was no writing during that time, and before that I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off getting ready to go out of town.

Woe is me. I know. I’ll just stop there.

Like last year, we went to Florida and on a Disney Cruise… and, like last year, it was fantastic.

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That time, it was the Magic – this time, we sailed on the Dream.

Before we got there, however, we made a detour to Epcot in Walt Disney World (Nick’s and my favorite Disney park – and, we figured, a relatively easy one to “do” in only one day without running ourselves ragged). YOU KNOW YOU ARE EXCITED FOR A PLAY BY PLAY OF OUR VACATION. Get ready, folks.

Because I’m a bit of a Disney freak fanatic, I knew that we’d need to arrive early if we wanted to do our very favorite ride, Soarin’, without waiting in a ridiculously long line (we already had FastPasses for TestTrack but couldn’t double-book two “top tier” attractions, so Soarin’ had to be a walk-on). Good sports that they are (and not wanting to wait in an interminably long line; their mama didn’t raise no dummies), the rest of the fam agreed – and so we greeted the Epcot gates prior to the park even opening.

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Oh, what a beautiful morning!
That’s Spaceship Earth peeking out behind us…

My evil plan thoughtful preparations worked: we walked right on Soarin’, and Nick and Ella even got to ride it again with hardly any wait at all. Score!

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Truly the most perfect way to start a day…
By 45 minutes after the park opened, the wait for this ride was over an hour. THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM, FOLKS. Or at least two no-wait rides.

When my three housemates had okayed my early morning plan, they’d done so in part because I’d promised that, once we’d finished with Soarin’, we’d be free to just wander the park and take things in at a leisurely pace – something we rarely, if ever, have the time to do when we actually visit WDW for any length of time. But this time, we did – ambling through The Land pavilion (where Soarin’ is housed), riding one of the other rides, spending a looong time at the aquarium tanks there (we’ve never taken that opportunity before; it was refreshing and lovely).

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I love this photo of the girls and the sea turtle.

We rode rides when the mood struck. We had a relaxing breakfast. We shopped (picking up the Mickey ears that Nick thought were merely to surprise GranMary, who would be joining us for the cruise; they were – but the girls and I had a master plan to get him a special, surprise set of ears for his 40th birthday occurring two days later…).

At last, our TestTrack FastPass time arrived, so we headed over and were through with the line and the ride in less than twenty minutes.

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Ready to ride!
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This is really a terrible shot – I snapped it with my phone off of a computer screen after the ride’s end – but I love it for Ella’s absolutely giddy face.

With our Future World dreams fulfilled, we grabbed a bit to eat at a couple of the pavilions in the World Showcase.  Eleanor was beyond thrilled to stand inside the phone booths at the United Kingdom pavilion… JUST LIKE IN HARRY POTTER OMG.

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‘Ello, guv’na!
(Is that really a thing? Did I just offend all of Britain?)

She also insisted on shadowing me as I shopped in the UK pavilion specifically so she could listen to everyone’s accent (“They sound like they’re in the movies!”) and read the names of their hometowns (“That man is from Oxford! THAT’S WHERE EMMA WATSON IS FROM!!”). At last, hot and tired from walking, we walked back to our hotel, which – mercifully – was situated right outside of Epcot.

Truth be told, by late afternoon the pool was a bit chilly, but the girls loved splashing and running in the sand and Nick and I loved sitting idly beside the pool, beverages in hand.

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Adding to our enjoyment was the moment when I checked my phone and discovered that it felt like 75* by the pool… and -21* back home. For those of you bad at The Math (like me), that’s nearly a 100 DEGREE DIFFERENCE, y’all. ONE. HUNDRED. DEGREES. We could not even wrap our brains around that absolute insanity, but we certainly appreciated our breezy, sunny afternoon by the pool, let me tell you.
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That night, as planned, we headed back over to Epcot to take a tour around the world for dinner. This is one of Nick’s and my most cherished rituals – grabbing a bite to eat at the various “countries,” poking through the shops, trying the drinks. As people who have yet to truly travel the world but who would absolutely love to, there’s something wonderfully satisfying about Epcot’s World Showcase; we couldn’t wait to share it with the girls.

Alas, as we’d feared, they’re a bit young yet to really appreciate it (“Do we have to walk all the way to China? What’s so special about Norway? Can’t we just eat caramel corn at home?”), and by that time Ella had developed a killer headache (for which she refused to take any medication, so our sympathies largely went out the window; we are excellent parents), so it wasn’t really the blissful Around The World experience we’d hoped for.

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Still, it was a beautiful night. We ate ourselves silly. The caramel corn really is that good. (And, best of all, Nick had a brilliant idea: to celebrate my 40th birthday this fall, he and I will come back to Epcot for a day to attend the annual Food and Wine festival – HOLLA!!) We went to bed exhausted, slightly cranky, but overall happy and extremely excited for the cruise to come.

(No, I won’t go into that part here; this post is long enough, don’t you think?
Besides, who doesn’t enjoy reading several blogs’ worth about someone else’s vacation?? Stay tuned…)

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Cheesy Souvenirs

Nick is going out of town again next week, which is always a little hard on the girls. He travels often enough that we can get into our own groove pretty easily, but they still miss him when he’s gone. One of the ways that Nick works to ease their sadness is to check in with them at least once a day, but more often twice – in the morning before school and at night before bed. He also tries to bring them back some sort of trinket or souvenir, which they can’t wait to get their hands on – even if it’s just a Washington D.C. pencil or a Welcome To Kansas City keychain.

When Nick and I went away to Puerto Rico, we knew that we’d be bringing back some kind of memento for Annie and Ella (in this case, little packages of cookies that we can’t find on the mainland and some cute seashell jewelry boxes that broke pretty much the moment we handed them over). In order to help us stay more connected to them while we were gone, we also knew that we’d be sending them photos of a figurine posing at many of our destinations.

Enter: Coqui.
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Remember back in July when I’d mentioned this little guy and told you I’d explain more later? Well, it took me 6 weeks, but here I am.

It all began three years ago when Nick and I went to Jamaica for three days to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. This was the first time I’d been away from the girls for more than a night and, honestly, I struggled. It wasn’t that Jamaica’s gorgeous beaches didn’t hold my attention or that my fabulous husband wasn’t good company, and it certainly wasn’t that the “free” rum drinks at our all-inclusive weren’t delicious; I just plain missed the kids. I didn’t want them with us – oh, no – but it took me a good 36 hours to relax and stop aching when I thought about them. (Ironically, having become accustomed to being away from the kids more often than I, Nick was able to settle in immediately… but 36 hours later, he began to get antsy and homesick. So we kind of met in between – and, man, were those middle four hours amazing!)

Calling home wasn’t easy (and even if it had been, I was adamant that I at least try to pull away), but we were able to use the wifi in the resort to send a few communications back and forth each day with our babysitters. It was the promise of these connections that caused me to pick up this little fella and decide to make him a part of our trip:

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He’s a little cross-eyed but rum will do that to a person cat…

We named him MoBay (after the local nickname for the Jamaican city of Montego Bay) and after texting our sitters a photo of him along with a caption – “Here’s MoBay the cat sitting by the pool!” (or something like that; it was three years ago, folks, so I’m exercising creative license) – we were told that Ella and Annie loved it, so we kept taking photos and sending them along once or twice a day. What began as a bit of whimsy wound up making the transition to Vacation/Enjoy Time With My Husband Mode much easier. I got a kick out of posing MoBay at various hotspots, knowing that the girls would be tickled and, even better, the hot sting of missing them began to dull as soon as I’d taken the photos. Win/win!

We brought MoBay home with us – after all of the photos, it was like meeting a celebrity – and he was promptly gnawed to a little pink nub by one of the dogs, ending his illustrious career… But the memories (and out-of-focus cell-phone photos) remain.

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Nick and I knew that, this trip, we would do the same – and so as soon as we left the hotel and began to explore Old San Juan, Nick hightailed it to a gift shop and returned with an itty bitty, glum-looking ceramic frog that we named Coqui (ko-KEY) after the native Puerto Rican amphibian.

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We were starving, so Coqui’s first photo was beside food.

Our serious-faced green dude did, indeed, connect us to our girls, and I had a blast deciding where to take the pictures – but to my surprise I found that he didn’t ease the missing of them… because I didn’t really miss them. I thought of them, sure – a lot. But they were smile-inducing thoughts, never tinged with sadness. Whether that’s because they’re that much older, so I knew they’d be okay… or because I’m that much older, and I knew I’d be okay… or because we’ve had a little more practice being apart from one another… I’m not sure. But I do know that it was awfully damn fun hopping onto that airplane and being all, “LATER, DUDES!”

MIssing the girls or not, Nick and I loved placing Coqui in his photo spots. There were the obligatory This Is What We Ate Today pictures, of course…

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Puerto Rico’s signature dish, mofongo. Deeeelishus. 
Is that a plantain in your dinner or are you just happy to see me?

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 Fantabulous coffee at the delectable Caficultura.

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Dessert following the best meal we’ve ever eaten, at Marmalade.

Coqui also joined us on all of our adventures, from ziplining…
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Yes, I kept him in my pocket while we zipped.

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Nick’s nod to Where’s Waldo… ¿Dónde está Coqui?

… to the bioluminescent bay…
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It was pitch black (sort of critical for this excursion) plus also we were in kayaks and I had this waterproof case-thingy over my phone, so this was the best I could do.

… to the incredible forts and Old San Juan sights.
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 Looking slightly pensive about having to board a plane in a few hours…

If we did it, Coqui was with us.
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Perched atop our favorite restaurant’s sign.

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Taking in a little native culture.

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Chillaxing at the beach.

We knew that this trip would be good for us – getting away, spending time together, finding us among everything else that life throws our way – despite friends saying how difficult it would be for them to leave their own children. How could we do it? Wouldn’t we think about them constantly? Would we forbid all talk of the kids and focus solely on other things?

Ummm…. hell, no. If we did that, we’d have about five minutes’ worth of things to talk about; there’s only so much we can say about the situation in Ukraine and discussions about how much we’d love to redo the basement but can’t find the time/money usually end with at least one of us leaving the room. Okay, so this is an exaggeration (not about the basement but about not having anything besides the kids to discuss), but we absolutely talked about the girls; they pretty much dominated our conversations.

It was in a good way, though. When we visited the dungeon at the Castillo de San Cristobal, we remarked that the kids would love this place. As we walked the tiny streets of Old San Juan, we noted which stores the girls would have wanted to browse, but how grateful we were that they weren’t trudging around in the heat. We considered whether or not they would actually enjoy ziplining and if they were old and mature enough for the nighttime kayak adventure. We heaved sighs of relief that they didn’t join us on our epically failed coastal drive and clinked glasses blissfully noting that we were enjoying the best meal ever without small children who would not appreciate the food.

And, of course, there was Coqui and his photo series, which connected us with one another any time we wanted. Ella and Annie were everywhere – and, next time we visit Puerto Rico, we intend for them to actually come along – but that didn’t take anything away from our vacation. In many ways, talking about them as often as we did made it easier to unwind and relax because we weren’t trying so hard not to think about them. Coqui helped being apart be even more fun, in spite of his contemplative nature.

Because I hadn’t desperately missed the children, I expected that returning home to them wouldn’t be all that big of a deal – oh, look. We’re home. Here’s a seashell box that you can break. When Annie came running into our bedroom the morning we were back and threw her arms around me with a monstrous hug, however, my expectations took a backseat. When Ella then crept into the room – cautiously, so as not to wake us – and glimpsed me for the first time in four days, her face widened into a smile so broad, so deep, so joyful, I thought I might be knocked off my feet just by looking at it. To receive a smile like that from a kid who hand-holds but is not terribly effusive… well, that was just about the best part of the whole trip.

That is, until we introduced the girls to Rock Star Coqui… and this other colorful creature we’d found in one of the gift shops.
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This little guy really gets around the Caribbean…

We’ve pretty much been granted their blessing to go away any time we’d like.