Baby, Why Don’t We Go (Aka: Cruisin’ Part Deux)

And now, the thrilling conclusion to our Disney Cruise chronicles. I know you’re pumped!!

The first night, we sailed (is that the right term? Boated? Cruised? Went?) to Nassau in the Bahamas, where the ship docked for the day. Instead of disembarking (do you like my cool cruise lingo?), we opted to stay on board and take advantage of the ship’s offerings while everything was a little less crowded.dcl3
Nassau lighthouse that was just begging to have its picture taken. Hellllllllloooo, lighthouse!

We swam. We watched movies by the pool and got ice cream from the self-serve machine just for the hell of it. Twice. The girls went to the kids’ club. We tried the drinks of the day and went down this absolutely crazy water slide that sucked you through a tube and then swung out over the side of the ship. We ate more food. The girls went to the kids’ club. (Yes, I know I said that twice.) We explored the ship and got to know one of the bartenders and then ate more food. We saw shows and waved to the myriad Disney characters who were greeting ecstatic lines of kids. We donned bandanas and eye patches for pirate night. We ate more food. And we collapsed into our beds that night so fully exhausted, we could no longer keep our eyes open.

The following day, we arrived at Disney’s teeny private island, Castaway Cay (which is pronounced KEY; I know, it’s weird, but it’s a fact).dcl6
It really was small – that’s it in its entirety.

This time, we had no intention of remaining on the ship. As soon as we deposited our bags and towels on the gorgeous, pristine beach, we were off to our first adventure: petting, feeding, and snorkeling with stingrays. (I’d like to pretend we were stupid brave enough to do this with potentially dangerous stingrays, but these guys had had their stingers gently filed down so that they couldn’t harm us.)dcl11
Hungry, dude?

I’m not gonna lie… it was a little weird having these floppy, slippery beings suck the food out of your hand like an rabid vacuum (they don’t really have teeth, but their mouths are… knobby?). They were quite majestic, though, undulating and gliding through the water, so we soon got over our fears. Or, at least, Nick and I did; we couldn’t quite convince the girls to participate in the feeding. And, actually, Ella never quite worked up her courage to associate with the stingrays, period, but Annie was game to snorkel with them once the Hoover portion had concluded.

After our sixty minute sojourn was over, we donned our snorkel gear once more to explore the reef. Proving that her earlier trepidation was due to an extreme dislike of stingrays (who knew?), and not of snorkeling, Ella joined Nick in swimming as far out in the bay as was possible, ooohing and ahhing at the sunken ship (“Mom, I think Disney probably put that there… but it was still cool!”) and the many tropical fish.

Hunger soon got the best of us, so we eagerly piled our plates high at the BBQ buffet (more food!), listening to the sounds of the crab races that were being held only a few feet away. (I mean actual racing of crabs; Annie watched as the winning crab was crowned. It was pretty damn funny.) The rest of the afternoon was filled with highs (more snorkeling) and lows (a bicycle ride to “lookout point” that proved too arduous for Annie, who got partway before collapsing into a heap and declaring she needed to walk back. In the 85 degree Bahamian sun. Which I’d sworn not to complain about, given how freakin’ freezing it’s been at home, but which I might have cursed while hissing at Annie that she needed to get back on the bike and just pedal a little harder, for God’s sake. Absolutely my finest moment of the trip).

We splashed and swam. We ate and shopped. We snorkeled and played in the sand. We laughed and relaxed. And we promised, as soon as possible, that we’d take another cruise.
castaway cayA play area in the middle of the water? Why not! Yes, those are the girls, waving to us from the bouncy bridge on the right.

Everyone who’s gone on a Disney cruise can’t say enough about the ship’s staff – how welcoming they are, how friendly, how helpful, how gregarious. Although we’re terribly unoriginal here, we absolutely echo those statements: our cast members KICKED. ASS. We did not encounter a single employee – from the crews quite literally swabbing the decks to the performers to the waitstaff to the front desk people – who was anything shy of tremendous. Every single one – all of them! EVERY SINGLE ONE! – greeted us with a smile, whether it was at 7 a.m. or 1 a.m., whether there were screaming children all around or it was silent, whether it was the beginning or the end of their sixteen hour work day (I’m not kidding; these people work their butts off). In fact, not only did they greet us smiling, they seemed honestly happy to see us.

Our housekeeper even found the time to fold and twist our towels into adorable animal shapes every night when he turned down our covers, turned the sofa into a bunk bed, and laid out the chocolates and the following day’s itinerary. I know this is standard practice, but doing this for every room in his block has got to be tedious, man.

Even “Bolt” got the sunglass treatment!

We had the same waitstaff for all of our sit-down meals (hi, Emilia from Italy and Ilham from Indonesia!), and every time they saw us, they made us feel like we made their nights. Ordering more than one appetizer? No problem. You’d like to trade this for that so your menu can be gluten-free tomorrow? We’ve got it. They used steak knives cut the girls’ meat so we could enjoy our own meals. They refilled our drinks without us asking. They chatted with us and answered our never-ending questions. “No” was never an option; “I’ll see what I can do!” was.

In fact, that seemed to be the mantra for the entire staff: we’ll see what we can do to make this trip incredible for you. Case in point… The very first afternoon, while I ordered myself the spiffy (alcoholic) drink of the day, I spied a super-cute Disney Cruise Line cup behind the bar that was emblazoned with Olaf the snowman and the Frozen logo. My BFF had requested Frozen paraphernalia for her daughter, and I’d struck out so far (apparently, the Frozen merchandise disappears as soon as it arrives ; the cast member at the Disney Store in Downtown Disney – the world’s largest Disney Store – told customers they were all sold out and their best bet would be to check online…!), so this was a find! But, seeing as the only way to procure the cup was to purchase the non-alcoholic drink of the day and my daughters were currently occupied (see above: kids’ club), I figured I’d just pick up the Frozen cup at a later time.

Naturally, I completely forgot about buying the cup until the very end of our very last night on the cruise. At 11:50 p.m., I asked our server – at an adults-only club on the third deck – if he knew whether or not they had any Frozen cups at the bar. His response: “Let me see what I can do!” After bringing us our drinks, he informed me that, no, they didn’t have those cups, but that the bar up at the pool might – and that he would check for me. And so he trekked up to the ninth deck at midnight (which was after the poolside bar had closed) to look for a damn kids’ Frozen cup… and returned five minutes later carrying this:

cruise cup
Yes, this is the actual cup, which means – no, I haven’t mailed it to my BFF yet.
Surprise, Evie!!

I don’t even know if he charged us for it.

The reason I do not know this is because we did not buy our drinks that night (not that round, anyway). Which brings me to to the very best part of our trip: free drinks!

No, no. I jest.
The drinks are most definitely not free.
But I am in the dark about whether or not we were charged for the cup.

See, we didn’t pay for those drinks because the best thing happened: we made friends. (Slow claps all around. I’ll wait.) But hold on – hear me out, because this is really spectacular.

Nick, Ella, Annie, and I went on this trip as a little foursome, and were very happy to do so. We didn’t plan on “meeting” people beyond folks to say hi to near the pool, and we certainly didn’t expect to make actual, for real friends. We did know that we’d be seated with the same people each night for our sit-down dinner (each table “rotates” through the full-service restaurants, retaining both the same diners and the same wait staff each night) and, secretly, we hoped that we wouldn’t hate these people. No, truly – Nick and I discovered after the fact that we each had our fingers very, very crossed that we didn’t despise the thought of sitting next to these people night after night; anything short of outright loathing would be a bonus.

Imagine our delight, then, when we arrived that first evening to discover that we’d be dining with four other folks — a mom and a dad (I’m going to call them Miss L and Mr. D), their daughter, J, and Miss L’s cousin’s daughter, S. Both L and S – who are best friends – are in third grade, just like Ella, and they hit it off immediately. Although we’d arranged the seating so Annie and Ella would be next to Nick and me, by the end of the meal, we’d switched places so that the four girls could be next to one another and yuk it up.

Mom! Look who we found by the pool! Can we get more ice cream??

Disney is not stupid, y’all. It is exceedingly unlikely that we were coincidentally seated beside a family with two girls our own daughters’ ages. While that kind of engineering is great, there was no guarantee that it would manufacture actually liking one another; that was just wonderful serendipity. Nick and I were happy for the girls, but were even more surprised and tickled to learn how much we liked Miss L and Mr. D.

It started out gradually, as so many relationships do. As Nick and I fell into bed that first night, we remarked to one another how nice Miss L and Mr. D seemed. They were funny. They were smart. They were our age. They used correct grammar. They knew how to eat (and eat… and eat…). It seemed a good match; we assumed that dinner the following night wouldn’t suck.

When we found them by the pool the next day (see photo above), we were pleased to chat with them again as the girls ran off and terrorized the kiddie pools and slides. We further cemented our bond when Nick, Ella, Mr. D, his daughter J, and I went down the plunge-to-your-death-and-go-over-the-side-of-the-boat slide, leaving Miss L to watch Annie and her cousin’s daughter, S. I mean, when you’ve stared death in the face and left your child in someone else’s care, it’s hard to go back to casual again.

By that night, we were lingering just a little longer over dinner, and then splitting forces so that half of us saw the live “Villains Tonight” show (that would be Ella, satisfying her Maleficent fascination) while the other half attended a Frozen sing-along. By the next day at Castaway Cay, we found ourselves actively looking for Miss L, Mr. D, and the girls. By that night, we four adults had ditched the kids and were shouting out answers at a Music of the 80s Trivia contest and forming human pyramids on the floor to earn our team extra points. (I kid you not; Miss L and I got down on our hands and knees as Nick climbed on our backs and Mr. D – who is approximately 385 feet tall and might have a had a difficult time safely hopping aboard – gesticulated and called from behind.)

So, yeah. From strangers to human pyramids in just over 48 hours, because, hot damn, we really, really enjoyed these people’s company. (And also: alcohol. It amuses me that Miss L and Mr. D may think I always drink like this. Ah, well... Who am I to burst that bubble…) In only a few short days, they had become our dear, wonderful, true friends in that intense, we-shared-this-experience-together kind of way that’s typically reserved for retreats or summer camp. Or maybe prison.

As we docked again at Port Canaveral bright and early that third morning, we were not ready to leave – not the ship, not the weather, and especially not our newfound friends who were kind enough to buy the last round, which included the aforementioned Frozen cup (hence, why I don’t know whether or not we were ever charged for it).
ella annie cruise
Ella and Annie felt the same…

Alas, Disney frowns upon stowaways, so we had to disembark and make our journeys back home – us to New York and our new cruising family to Georgia. Not to worry, though; we were Facebook friends before we’d even left the port, and now regularly gripe to one another about how much we wish we were still on vacation. It’s good to have people who understand you.

I’m the king of the world!

So, there you have it. To say that it was just the very most fantabulous vacation ever really doesn’t do it justice, so rather than continuing to search for super grown-up adjectives, I’ll simply say that it was perfect. Not just Mary Poppins’s practically perfect in every way; no, actually perfect. I can’t recommend a Disney cruise highly enough – and not just because I’m a Disney fanatic. It is joy and laughter and fun and memories and magic, pure and simple.

We will absolutely be going on another Disney cruise.
Along with these crazy people, of course.

Next time, I call the top of the pyramid.


Come On, Pretty Mama! (Aka: All Aboard!)

* This began as a much longer post (if you can believe it), but I realized it’s so damn long, it’s probably best to split it into two parts. I know. The suspense is killing you. Check back tomorrow for the rest.*

I’ve been wanting to write about the cruise portion of our trip since – well, basically since we first set foot on the ship – but I simply haven’t had the time. To be honest, I don’t really have time now, but I’m going to write about it anyway because a) I promised I would, and I do hate to break a promise, b) I don’t want to forget any of the details, and c) if I write about it, I can finally stop being annoyed with myself for not doing so.

In any case, without further ado, let me tell you about our cruise:
It was incredible!!

The end.

Okay, okay. I’ll say a bit more. Nick and I had been toying with the idea of a cruise – specifically, a Disney cruise – for a couple of years now. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go because I didn’t know if our time and money should be spent getting the “Disney experience” outside of Disney World; I adore the parks so much, I thought perhaps I’d regret not going there instead. Nick was worried that we, as a family, might not enjoy going on a cruise – that it would be too confining, that there wouldn’t be enough to do, that (despite everyone’s assurance to the contrary) our girls wouldn’t like the kids’ club. When we found a truly unbeatable deal on a three-day cruise that aligned with the girls’ break, we felt the time was right to bite the bullet and go for it. Turns out, it’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made (vacation-wise, anyway. I mean, it’s not quite the same as choosing a college or giving french vanilla lattes a try, but still – a great decision).
The Disney Magic, as seen from Castaway Cay.

When we arrived at the Port Canaveral docks, we were absolutely astonished – and wildly impressed – by how streamlined and simple Disney had made the boarding process. Within minutes, we’d dropped off our luggage (which would appear outside of our stateroom a couple of hours later), checked in, had our photo taken, received our keys, and signed the girls up for the kids club. Within another half hour (during which there were loads of things to keep our attention), we were strolling onto the ship.
Just prior to boarding, I asked the girls if they were excited to get on. This is how they responded.

Our first stop was a buffet, which was piled high with goodies (and the chef even made me a side of veggies to ensure they were gluten-free; holla!). Next up was a trip to the pool deck, where the girls frolicked to their hearts’ content and Nick and I discovered the wonder of the daily drink specials.
At times, this pool, especially, was so crowded, you couldn’t really call it “swimming,” but the water was clean and warm and fun and NOT WINTERY.

Before the required safety demonstration (which was a lot like the ones on airlines but much more silent, in part because we weren’t all desensitized to them yet, and also because we’ve all seen Titanic. If I have to cling to a piece of wood for survival, I will, but I’d much rather use the life vest provided, thanks), we checked out the fabled kids clubs – in our case, the Oceaneer’s Club and Oceaneer’s Lab, which were set up for 3-12 year-olds.

Friends who’d gone on Disney cruises waxed rhapsodic about these mystical places; about how incredible they were; about how much there was to do; about how their children never wanted to leave. It’s not that we wanted to pawn the girls off – I mean, we hadn’t come all this way to dump them, and we’d chosen the very family-friendly Disney experience because we wanted to do things together as a family – but if there was really an awesomely exciting, safe place where the girls wanted to be and Nick and I could have some kid-free time… um, yeah. I WILL HAVE TWO FILLINGS. The moment we entered, the girls were in heaven. Ella gravitated immediately to the computer kiosk area which was set up with several programs for typing, writing, and creating little scenes with character speech bubbles.

kids club
No joke – she turned left and found these bays and was DONE.

I am not exaggerating when I say that she must have typed up – and printed off – at least a dozen of these over the course of our short trip. Sure, they wasted trees, but they gave her a creative outlet that she was very obviously craving (she doesn’t often type stories at home, but I’m thinking we’ll have to find a cool program that allows her to do so). Even more than that, though, they allowed us a fascinating peek inside her. It’s often like pulling teeth to garner a response that goes beyond “fine” or “good” or “not much” or (my favorite) “nothing” when asked how her day was or what she learned in school – so to be able to have this little window into her thoughts was a pretty fantastic thing.

Click larger to read her delightful verbal explosion.
ella cruise
Think she was enjoying herself??

Annie, on the other hand, was interested in just about everything else that the clubs had to offer. Jumping from beanbag chair to beanbag chair? She’s on it. Joining in on a group game? Count her in. Participating in a dance-a-thon? She’s your girl. Watching old-school Disney movies and cartoons in front of the many ginormous screens? Absolutely.
kids club2
Hula-hooping while watching ‘The Princess and the Frog’.

Annie also – unsurprisingly – was captivated by the craft and drawing spaces. We came home with numerous pipe cleaner creations and more than one (read: enough to fill a coloring book) illustration that she absolutely couldn’t bear to leave behind.
annie cruise
Is that… Elsa? From ‘Frozen’? Gee, such a shocker!

As predicted by our experienced friends (that sounds wrong, but I’m going with it), it was, indeed, hard to pull the girls away from the clubs. They certainly weren’t the only ones, either; on more than one occasion, I heard a parent explain to a child (who was being physically dragged away from the club entrance), “Because this is a big ship, and it’s silly to spend all of your time in one place!” And, really, who could blame them? Every single thing was geared toward their age group; it was brightly lit and colorful and engaging; there were loads of ever-changing activities, and the counselors were warm, charming, and seemed genuinely interested in being locked inside a small space in the middle of the Atlantic with dozens of overeager children.

Nick and I hadn’t given too much thought about what we’d do while the girls were in the club… But there was no shortage of options. Some times, we just lounged by the pool. Others, we participated in some of the ship’s many entertainment offerings (including attending a magic show that taught us how to do some magic tricks; we’re basically like Mrs. and Mrs. Copperfield now). The best part of the girls being in the kids club, though, was having the opportunity to just be together, the two of us. More to the point, we were together, the two of us, knowing that our children were not only safe and well-cared for but having a blast… while we got to imbibe the drinks of the day poolside or show-side (or, hell, in our stateroom) and have conversations about anything we wanted but nothing having to do with who fed the dogs or who was going to pick up someone from some class, or what was for dinner, or whether the repairs on the tiles in the shower really required a second opinion. See also: sunny and warm in the middle of the Atlantic.

In other words, it was the biggest win/win imaginable, and we were all having the time of our lives. DOESN’T GET MUCH BETTER THAN THAT, people.

* To be continued… soon… Which is good, because I haven’t even talked about the best part yet. No, really.

Let’s get away from it all

If we took a holiday…
Took some time to celebrate…
Just one day out of life
It would be (it would be), it would be so nice.
– “Holiday”

Thanks, Madonna, for so eloquently summing up our recent vacation experience.

In my last post, I’d told you that we were heading out of town and I’d fill you in soon – today seems to be a good place to start.

We needed this holiday. No; I mean, we neeeeeeded this holiday. The months (years?) leading up to Bill’s death were not exactly easy. As anyone who’s lost someone important to them – especially to a disease like cancer – knows, it’s emotional whiplash. You can’t figure out which end is up, you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, you’re constantly on edge, every phone call is tinged with anticipation, you literally make yourself sick with worry, and then there’s the damn sadness that’s hovering around. It. Is. Exhausting.

Couple that with our completely insane autumn and winter, with work changes and school changes and after-school activities and work travel and birthdays and holidays and and and OMG MOST OF THIS IS GOOD STUFF BUT IT DOESN’T MAKE IT LESS TIRING. We needed a break. We needed to well and truly get away, just the four of us, to do something fantastical and new and inspiring and really freakin’ fun.

Nick and I had been toying with the idea of a Disney cruise for a couple of years. When we found an unbeatable deal on a three-day cruise to the Bahamas that perfectly aligned with the girls’ February break, we jumped on it – and then added a day at Universal to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, plus a trip to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Downtown Disney just to really gild the lily.

We don’t take family vacations very often – we travel a helluva lot, but the vast majority of that is to visit family (which, while great, isn’t always a “vacation” in the truest sense of the word) – and on the rare occasions when we’ve done so, “escaping the cold” hasn’t really been among our priorities. As a foursome, we live for winter, and the snow in Rochester is right up our alley, so I’ve never had a longing to go somewhere warm before spring finally blooms. Even this year with our endlessly, unusually cold days, I was excited to get away, but I didn’t think I was excited to be someplace warm… until we were surrounded by the Orlando heat and humidity, deliciously blanketing us with tropical bliss, and suddenly there was nowhere else I wanted to be. WARM WARM WARM. Amen.

Our trip is now complete, and… well… I can’t quite find the words (nor the time) to adequately describe how utterly incredible it was, nor how much it meant to all of us, at least not today. And so I’ll show you a few photos instead, to give you a glimpse into pure, unadulterated joy.
















There’s lots more to say – and I will, in the coming days – but for now, these will suffice.

While we were on the trip, it was as though time stood still; every minute was both magically extended and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quick, as though we’d been transported to another dimension. We are now firmly back to reality. When we landed last night, it was 18 degrees, and we had to shovel fresh snow off the driveway this morning. Today, it feels almost as though our six-day sojourn never happened, a very bizarre space/time continuum.

But it did happen. And it was so totes amazeballs.

Just six days out of life… and they were so so SO SO SO SO ridiculously nice.

New York… New York

When Ella turned eight, Nick promised her that he would take her on a business trip with him. He travels for work approximately five days a month, and Ella has long been asking just what he does on these trips; rather than continue to explain (“Meetings… a presentation… grabbing something cold from the lunch buffet… another presentation…”), he thought it would be fun to show her.

In reality, of course, it wouldn’t really work to have Ella attend any of Nick’s meetings and presentations (and lunch buffets), so we’d thought that he could take a short flight somewhere, meet some of our extended family, drop Ella off to spend the day with them, do his work stuff, pick Ella up once he was through, hang out with her wherever they were, chill in a hotel room overnight, and finally, fly home the following morning. Ella turned eight in December of 2012 – more than a year ago – but our 2013 was a bit… crazy… So the opportunity for the trip never materialized.

MBAs and new jobs and mourning and nutty schedules don’t really mean much to Ella, however, so she remained determined that such a trip would take place. At last, Nick decided that he needed to make good on his promise – and so, last weekend, a month after she turned nine, Ella joined Nick on a business trip to New York City.

With Ella and Daddy gone for just over twenty-four hours, that left Annie and me to hold down the fort. And, oh, did we ever hold down our damn fort.

Watching her walk to school and greet our beloved crossing guard – without her sister – was a little bittersweet…

special overnight a1
Oh, look: snow. Such an anomaly.

… But once we hit the new indoor trampoline place, all missing-of-sisters-and-daddies was soon forgotten.

special overnight a3
The kid’s got AIR.

special overnight a4
Oh, yeah. I got game.

special overnight a2
When you can’t play outside for ten days because of absurdly frigid temperatures, bouncing yourself into a frenzy is SENT FROM THE GODS, I tell you.

During the hour that we jumped, I think I lost 7 pounds in water weight: trampolining makes you sweat, man (and also maybe, um, lose liquid in other ways; those of you who have birthed a child and are over the age of 35 know what I’m talking about. The bathrooms in these places should come equipped with paper towels, tampons, and Depends).

Downstate, it was a little warmer, so our other halves were able to venture outside and explore the city. My dad and stepmom – Papa and Grand Meg – had met Nick and Ella that morning, then spent the day with her while Nick took care of work business.

special overnight e3
Enjoying a muffin the size of her head at Papa’s office.

special overnight e1
Taking the A train.
(Not literally. They did go uptown, though, so I suppose that was possible…)

Although the temperatures were doable, they weren’t exactly fun, so Papa and Grand Meg decided that the American Museum of Natural History would be a dandy indoor adventure. Later, when she told me about her day, Ella couldn’t stop talking about how incredible the museum was – wisely chosen, Papa and Grand Meg FTW!

special overnight e2
My big girl in action…

Perhaps spotting a sucker when they saw one (or, more accurately, realizing that a grandma and grandpa were enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime one-on-one day with their eldest granddaughter, and would do anything to celebrate the occasion), the museum employees convinced my dad to purchase a photo package, to Ella’s delight and my great amusement. Maybe it was the cold… Maybe it was giddiness from the crazy-early hour at which they all awoke… Or maybe it was just the joy of spending this special day together, but my normally reserved, easily-embarrased nine year-old struck silly poses and smiled with abandon, while my normally reserved, not-too-silly dad pretended to see a flying dinosaur over his left shoulder.

In short, these are some of my most favorite photos, ever.

special overnight e7

special overnight e6Oh, look. A pterodactyl.

special overnight e5 This is the one Ella liked best, in spite of the neckpiece growing out of her cheek.

Knowing, especially, that Ella and Nick would be dining in Manhattan splendor, I’d offered Annie the opportunity to go to any restaurant in the Rochester area, just the two of us…

Instead, she chose to cook me dinner at home.
Could I find out the menu in advance, so I could supplement the meal with additional ingredients? No. Could I help her prepare? No. Could I offer suggestions? WHY WAS I BEING SO DIFFICULT??

And that’s how, on a Friday night in January, I found myself being served gluten-free pasta with jarred pasta sauce (with a little cream added for extra flavor), “the fluffy parmesan from the green container”, and broccoli sautéed with soy sauce.

special overnight a5
You may notice that she changed her clothes after the trampoline place – partially because she was a sweaty mess, and partially because she needed to dress up in order to properly make me dinner. Duh.

special overnight a6
Cutesie poses make everything more delicious…

For dessert, I offered – again – to take her out. Would she care to grab a piece of cake somewhere? Go to a candy shop? Get some ice cream? Indulge in Starbucks?
Or, if she’d prefer to stay home, would she like to bake some brownies? Make a sundae? Create a milkshake?

After some serious eye-rolling and a hissed, “Mom! I’ve GOT this!”, Annie returned with dessert…

special overnight a7
Why, yes, that is a carefully-arranged plate containing two Trader Joe’s chocolate
crisps, one jellied candy, and four Advent chocolates.

I know. She spoils me.

Meanwhile, back in the Big Apple, a slightly different experience was being had. Seeing that Nick had Ella with him (and, therefore, trying to make a kid’s day), the front desk guy at the hotel surprised them with an upgrade to an absolutely ridiculous suite (it had one and a half bathrooms and a 70″  flatscreen television, if that’s any indication of what I mean by “ridiculous”).

special overnight e4
Also? Two bathrobes. Per person.

And an equally ridiculous view.

special overnight e8
That’s Ella posing by the window, for scale…

special overnight e9
Yeah. Not bad.

Post-dinner at a delicious steakhouse (name: The Strip House. That won’t look strange on Nick’s expense report. Especially because he took his daughter there), Nick convinced Ella to take a swing through China Town, where they tried their first – and last – bubble tea.

special overnight e10
Tapioca balls just sound… weird…

Having awakened at 4:15 that morning for their flight, Ella was positively bushed, and passed out in the second of her hotel robes before 9 p.m. Annie and I, on the other hand, were still going strong…

There were nails to be painted:
special overnight a8
I didn’t notice until now that the American Girl doll’s hand had slipped into this photo.
Both super creepy and oddly appropriate.

And much snuggling before the two of us crawled into my bed for the night:
special overnight a9
She doesn’t thrash around but does keep the bed warm. No complaints from the mama!

In the morning, I offered to do whatever Annie wanted for breakfast: head out to one of her favorite restaurants. Enjoy a hot, toasted bagel from Bruegger’s (we could even eat there instead of bringing it home – the luxury!). Snag a doughnut – or two! – from Dunkin’ Donuts.

Instead – say it with me – Annie wanted to stay home and fix me breakfast.

special overnight a10
What? Your seven year-old doesn’t routinely pipe out A (for, you know, Annie) and M (for MOTHASCRATCHA) pancakes and hearts and blobs circles over the wildly hot griddle?
Mine neither. Hence, why I am six inches away in this photo, to Annie’s great chagrin.

To my surprise, the pancakes were quite delicious (and a lovely departure from my usual breakfast of only fresh juice), and she and I had a delightful conversation while we devoured our meals.
special overnight a12

By the time Ella and Nick arrived home (where Nick rushed himself to Urgent Care for a wicked cough, poor fellow), the girls were more than ready to see one another. They played together nonstop all afternoon and into the night, and although they would never admit it out loud, it was absolutely clear that they had desperately missed each other.

New York is a pretty fascinating state. From subways to the museum to bubble teas in China Town, snowy walks to school to devilishly fun trampoline centers, it’s really got just about everything you could need. Or, at least, everything that we need.

Nick and I had been mildly concerned that Annie might have trouble with Ella going on this trip – missing school, getting to stay in a fancy hotel, seeing Grand Meg and Papa… But, not only was she not jealous, she was genuinely excited for Ella (with more than a little sister bothering thrown in for good measure).
girls' text
Conversation between the girls on Nick’s and my phones.
Such love…

Even more to my surprise, Annie wasn’t upset that Ella would be having fun in New York City – because she was having such a blast right here in Rochester. It’s hardly a mecca of entertainment and excitement, but between jumping on the trampolines, having the opportunity to take over meal prep and make it her own, painting her nails, and sleeping in Mommy and Daddy’s “big bed,” Annie was in absolute heaven.

As we were eating our dinner, Annie leaned over and said, “This has been an amazing day, Mama!” I had just started to agree with her when she interrupted me with a grin, saying, “And it’s not even over yet!”

Similarly, Eleanor had a total blast. From the museum to the steakhouse to the hotel room (where she could have happily spent the entire day; she and Nick both agreed was the most incredible room they’d ever seen), it was one big blur of happiness and fun — but the best part, by far, seemed to be sharing the day with her dad and especially her grandparents, just the three of them, something they haven’t had the opportunity to do in the seven years since Annie was born.

It seems that the feeling was mutual; Papa and Grand Meg were heading out of town themselves on Saturday morning, and arrived at the airport early (where Nick and Ella were waiting to board the plane back to Rochester) to savor a few extra minutes with their granddaughter. I know I just said it, but I mean it: we may not live close to our extended family, but that has not diminished the closeness of our relationships with them – and the time we do have together, whether it’s at a large family gathering or on a private day trip, is all the more special.

Both Ella and Annie agreed it was one of the best days of their lives. In turn, it was one of the best of Nick’s and mine. Having one-on-one time with your kiddo is so important, but can be so difficult – almost impossible, sometimes. Having an entire day of one-on-one time is priceless. I know that neither Nick nor I will forget this weekend with each of our girls; having Annie all to myself was really pretty damn fabulous.

Next year, when Annie turns eight and is able to join Nick on a trip, I’m sure they’ll have just as much of a blast. I, myself, am looking forward to a little one-on-one time with my big girl; now, we have some catching up to do.

I bet I can convince her to join me at a local restaurant. Or order pizza. Or just get a bagel.
If not, I know where the leftover Advent chocolates are stored, and I’m not afraid to get them.

Where else would you go for a January vacation?

When we moved to Rochester in 2007, we knew what we would be gaining: a great job for Nick, a super-short commute, a very affordable cost of living, amazing schools, a wildly family-friendly community, a superb neighborhood, more time with my Grandma, and more snow than we could shake a stick at. We also knew acutely what we’d be giving up: living near family and friends. (Because we’re so awesome, we have since made more friends, but the family thing is probably never going to change.)

As a result of living near none of our parents, siblings, or extended family (save for my aforementioned stupendous Grandmother – hi, Phoofsy!), we do a lot of traveling and hosting-of-guests – averaging at least twelve visits a year, both here and there (and everywhere). We try to see everyone fairly equally, but sometimes that’s just not possible.

To whit: Nick’s mom (whom the girls call Gigi, rhyming with jiggy) and stepdad (whom the girls call Grandpa Ray, rhyming with Grandpa Jay), who live in Minnesota, kind of got the shaft in terms of visits over the past several years; we were seeing as much of Grandpa Bill (and GranMary) as we could – quite understandably, and we’re damn glad we did. But still… although they’ve never complained (or even mentioned it), Gigi and Grandpa Ray definitely got the short end of the visitation stick.

But wait! you might say. They could have come and visited you, instead! And yes, technically, that’s true. They’re certainly welcome, and they have visited us, indeed – but it’s not quite that simple. You see, in the fall of 2008, Gigi earned superhero status when she beat the (almost unbeatable) odds and survived a ruptured brain aneurysm. Yes, you read that right: she had an aneurysm. That ruptured. In her brain. And she kicked its ass.

The aneurysm did its share of ass-kicking too, however, causing Gigi some rather significant problems – including making it difficult to travel. Complicating things, Gigi has been battling Multiple Sclerosis for nearly fifteen years; her symptoms have worsened recently, and have effectively prevented her from being able to visit us and Nick’s sister (and her family) as often as we all would have liked.

When it became clear that Gigi and Grandpa Ray wouldn’t be able to head out to New York any time soon, it became equally clear that we needed to book a trip to Minnesota. The long weekend in January provided us with the perfect opportunity for a quick jaunt west, and so we found ourselves headed from one frozen, snowy suburb halfway across the country to another.

Come on. When you think, Where should we go in the dead of winter to escape all of this Rochester cold and snow? the Twin Cities are SO the first place that comes to mind.

Although the purpose of our visit was to spend time with Gigi and Grandpa Ray, Annie and Ella had another mission: to get to know their Aunt Emi’s fiancé, Matt, and decide whether or not they approved of their upcoming nuptials. I bet Emi and Matt are thrilled they asked the girls to be in the wedding.

Turns out, they needn’t have been concerned: Matt (who, by the way, is a freakin’ neurosurgeon. So he’s not smart. I can totally talk music theory circles around him, though, don’t worry) jumped right in and assumed his soon-to-be-uncle role. He carted the girls around on his shoulders, shared his sweet dance moves, watched kid movies, sprung for ice cream, and braved amusement park rides with nary a sigh. He was earning it, you guys.
jan mn visit1
Ready for lift-off at the Mall of America.

Not to be outdone, Gigi took her grandmother role equally seriously. Waking up early because her granddaughters were still on east coast time? Done. Smiling and laughing through lunch at a St. Paul restaurant, despite fighting wicked nausea from her MS medications? Absolutely. Resting in the afternoon so that she could trek to Emi and Matt’s downtown Minneapolis apartment for dinner on Saturday night, then playing an epic game of Go Fish with Annie and Matt, fighting through dizziness to see the cards? Her granddaughter asked her to play; of course, she would.

jan mn visit3
Getting clarification on Annie’s “rules,” which were ever-changing… which might explain why Annie won this round.

jan mn visit4
Come on! It’s not brain surgery!
Yes, I went there. For both of them. Awwww, snap.

Watching the girls with Grandpa Ray so that we could go with Emi and Matt (and also Molly and Molly’s sister, Katie) to a Wild game? Wouldn’t miss it. Braving the American Girl store in her wheelchair so that she and her sister could take the girls to lunch with their AG dolls? You better believe it.

Then finally, on Sunday night, searching through her sewing materials to find an adhesive backing that I could take home with me to sew up Annie’s hole-filled, most favorite silkie blanket, all the while apologizing that she didn’t feel well enough to actually fix the silkie herself… then holding the wall for balance so that she could ransack her fabric to locate an appropriate silk-like piece that I could bring back with us, admitting sadly that if she weren’t so nauseated, she could mend it in no time flat… then explaining that her medication often causes her to awaken super-early, so perhaps she could repair the silkie at 4 a.m. before our flight… then drawing herself up and visibly steeling herself and saying with determination, “No. I can cut these silk fabric patches myself. I’ll make them the right size and you can bring them home and iron them on – it’ll be simple”…? YES. I BEAT A DAMN BRAIN ANEURYSM AND THIS EFFING MS MEDICATION WILL NOT STOP ME FROM DOING THIS FOR MY GRANDDAUGHTER.

Except she didn’t say “damn” or “effing” or actually any of that, but the sentiment was there. And I know reading this will make her laugh. Hi, Karen!

… and then deciding, Screw it, I’m in, and not only cutting the silk patches and adhesive backing, but getting out the iron and the silkie and having everything ready to go to repair Annie’s damaged blanket… When Annie appeared, sobbing, from the bedroom, saying that she couldn’t go to sleep without her silkie, and she just had to have it back.

In spite of all of the superhuman effort she’d just put in to cut the fabric and the adhesive and get the iron ready to repair the blanket, Gigi simply said No problem, she understood perfectly, and handed Annie her silkie, who wiped her eyes with it, then trundled back to bed. The silk circles and adhesive backing were meticulously put in an envelope for me to take home so that I can repair the blanket at a later date. Gigi shook off her nausea once more to climb upstairs just in time to watch Downton Abbey with Grandpa Ray, making sure to get to bed early so that they could awaken at 5:30 a.m. on Martin Luther King day to say goodbye to us before we headed to the airport.

As I looked at the envelope containing the patches, the circles that Gigi had used sheer willpower to make, I was struck, almost physically, by the depth of love involved in their creation. We may not live near any of our extended family, but that hasn’t diminished our relationships with them; if anything, it makes the time we do spend with them all the more sweet. How incredibly lucky Annie and Ella are to have grandparents – from Gigi and Ray to GranMary and Grandpa Bill, Grama and Pops, and Papa and Grand Meg – who adore them so.

jan mn visit2

It was a marvelous visit. Even if we did go from one winter wonderland to another.

Oh – and the girls gave Matt two thumbs up. The wedding can go ahead as planned.
Thank God, because otherwise, the black and white (“formal”) Rainbow Loom bracelets that Ella has made for the bride and groom to wear on their wedding day might just go to waste. And that would truly be a tragedy.

* Gigi’s story – of her aneurysm and her battle with MS – are shared with her permission and blessing. Although she may change her mind in the future…

Safety First!

If you haven’t been on an airplane in a while, it’s likely that you have not recently examined the safety instructions in the seat back in front of you. Conversely, if you’re a frequent flier, you may have been on a plane so often that you feel like you’ve got this, so haven’t picked up that safety brochure in forever. And if you’re like 95% of the rest of the travelers on the plane, you’re listening to something through your headphones or talking to your seat mate or rooting through your carry-on for some Altoids or perusing the Sky Mall catalogue when the flight attendant is speaking, so it’s probable that the safety card has not made its way into your hands.

But I can fix that for you!

See, even though we fly a lot, and even though our kids can practically recite the safety procedures word-for-word, we still make them put away their iPads and books and actually look at the flight attendants when they’re speaking because, oh, I don’t know, it’s polite to look at someone when they’re talking to you (especially if they’ve asked for your attention). And because they’re giving you instructions about how to, like, save your life in case of an emergency. An emergency in the sky while you are not on the ground. And they’re not getting paid boatloads and other passengers treat them like crap just for doing their jobs and they don’t see their families for days at a time because they’re bringing Diet Cokes and miniature vodka bottles to the folks in row 24… So, anyway, we make the girls pay attention when the flight attendants give their spiel, or at least act like they’re paying attention.

But I digress.

Thankfully, even if you haven’t examined the safety brochure that’s nestled in the seat back in front of you (between the barf bag and Sky Mall and the in-flight magazine, plus whatever treasures were hidden there by the passengers before you), I have. And it is full of fascinating and critical information, let me tell you.

Better yet? Let me show you.

The airlines know that, unlike me, you’re not going to spend a whole lot of time poring over the emergency procedures – plus also, you might not be able to read very well or you might not speak English – so they’ve decided to make things easier for you by illustrating their instructions rather than writing them out. These illustrations can sometimes be a bit confusing, however, especially if you’re looking at them for the first time while in a descending spiral… so I’ve decided to help you out by providing some handy translations and explanations beforehand.



airplane safety rules1
That’s why jet bridges were invented. Use your head, man.

airplane safety rules11
Just reach behind your ankles and grab hold.

airplane safety rules15
That’s what she said.

Is that really her arm? Is that even a woman? Things are so confusing up in the air!

Plane going down? Water landing ahead? Just pull out your orangutan limbs and follow the arrows! No instructions necessary!

airplane safety rules12
Does it count as x-ray vision if you’re looking through something clear?

airplane safety rules24
I don’t know why there’s a colon after “OK”, but this is a fine view, let me tell you.

airplane safety rules23
She may have a totally androgynous hairstyle, but she can see RIGHT THROUGH this porthole.

airplane safety rules21
He looks like he’s taking a dump. Even his face is contorted.
I guess that’s what he gets for fastening that seat belt so low and tight across his lap. 

Airlines can only be inclusive and accepting up to a point.

airplane safety rules14
I’m not sure why this is a rule, because you might suffocate  your baby, but it appears to be true. Then again, this lady’s got a spare infant in the seat next to her, so maybe she’s doing something right. She’s also wearing very comfortable shoes. And a skirt from 1983. 

airplane safety rules3
In the case of a water “landing” (why don’t we just call a crash a crash, hm? Unless your plane is piloted by Captain Sully, you’re not “landing” on the water), a bald specter will appear and hand you a mysterious yellow package. 

airplane safety rules4
Once the vest is on, your baby may begin to kick his leg. See illustration 4.

airplane safety rules5
And violently flap his arms.
Not sure what he’s more upset about: the vest, the water “landing,” or his bizarre, widow’s peak hairstyle.

airplane safety rules6
You can soothe him by blowing gently in his ear. Your balding specter-ness will not bother him; he’s already pissed off.

airplane safety rules7
Your little Eddie Munster will just LOVE his floating light! LOOK HOW HAPPY HE IS!

airplane safety rules8
OMG, honey! She has no hair AND no legs!

airplane safety rules9
Peace out, yo. 

Embracing diversity… or a really disproportionately drawn three year-old?
Either way, secure your mask before helping others!

airplane safety rules10
She hasn’t been watching
Game of Thrones for nothing!

airplane safety rules13
The lady breastfeeding above could show this hussy a thing or two about shoes.

If you can’t have a little fun after a crash landing, you’re taking things too seriously.

airplane safety rules25
Is this really necessary? Don’t get me wrong – I’m about as anti-smoking as you can get – but if your plane has just landed anywhere other than the runway, and you’ve had to launch yourself down an inflatable slide to safety, I’m pretty sure that someone lighting up is not going to be your highest priority. But, hey, I don’t draw these pamphlets… I just translate them.

airplane safety rules16
This rule really applies to life in general, not just airplane safety. For all of you still carrying a flip phone, a pager, a portable DVD player, or a hand-held television… NO. Just no. 

airplane safety rules17
Come on! It’ll be a blast!

AND ALSO ROSE FROM TITANIC.airplane safety rules20
It all worked out for her in the end, didn’t it? YOU’LL BE FINE.


So, there you have it. If you find yourself in an emergency on a plane, you’ll know what to do. You’re welcome.

But still, do give the flight attendants your attention the next time you’re on a plane, okay? Or at least look in their general direction. When they’re down to their last Sprite Zero and they give it to you, you’ll be glad you did.

Like the corners of my mind

You think they forget. The don’t talk about it often, so you think they’re not thinking about it.

But then suddenly you’re rising over the clouds, spread out below you like rolling fields, and your oldest says that way off in the distance she can see Grandpa Bill. His house is there – fluffy, big like a castle – and he’s just chillin’ with Maddy and mommy’s grandpa, Great. It’s neat up above the clouds, closer to where he is.

After hearing this story while waiting for dinner in the C concourse, your youngest becomes uncharacteristically quiet. In a moment, she is leaning in close, and you don’t even realize that her face is wet with tears until she pulls you close to whisper, “We’re just not complete without Grandpa Bill here.”

And you understand that they do remember, after all. It is woven into the fabric of themselves, worn and frayed but making up their DNA, these people and pets they have loved and lost. Most of the time, they do not even mention them… But when the memory bursts forth like a sunbeam, they cannot stay quiet.

We are on our way to Minnesota to visit Gigi and Grandpa Ray, Aunt Emi and soon-to-be-Uncle Matt. It promises to be a fantastic weekend; we are excited and very much looking forward to it.

And if the trip there brings us closer to Bill and Maddy and Great, then so much the better for us all.



Are We There Yet?

Greetings from the highway.

Two days after our truly magical Christmas, we’re off to begin the second half of our holiday festivities, this time visiting my mom and stepdad in Westchester County outside of New York City, where we used to live before we moved to Rochester. And, due to the wonders of modern technology, I can actually write about it live – from my computer, not my phone. I know you’re thrilled.


Nick and I have a long history of road trips together, starting back in college when we thought it was no big deal to jump in a car and drive five or six hours just because, and continuing on our trips to Colorado and Minnesota, plus literally dozens of sojourns around the Northeastern USA. Many of them come off without a hitch and fade into a blurry mesh; others are much more… memorable.

There was the time, as college students, when Nick and I were visiting my family’s condo in Okemo, Vermont and decided to drive to Montreal – a good eight-hour journey – to see the Canadiens play. We left early enough to tour the city a bit, then scored tickets to the game that night. When the usher guided us to our seats, speaking in rapid French, we were to embarrassed to admit that we hadn’t quite understood what he’d said, so we  muttered, “Oui!” and hoped it would suffice. Disgusted, the usher glowered at us and reprimanded – in English – “You didn’t understand a word I just said, did you?” Um, nope. “Then why did you say ‘yes’?” Merd.

Newly married, we made a similar one-day round-trip trek to visit my BFF, Kiki, for her dad’s 60th birthday. My mom was out of town at the time, and we were watching her dog, a Sheltie named Jasmine, who got along just fine with our Madison. Knowing we’d be gone for, oh, fifteen hours or so – with no one available to let the dogs out mid-day – we opted to take both hounds along. Jazz was used to traveling in her crate, so we set her up in the back of the car, with Maddy chilling on her dog bed nearby. All went well until Mads got up to shift positions and a low, menacing growl emanated from the kennel; it seemed that Jazz didn’t so much like being cooped up in a moving vehicle with another dog encroaching on her territory, and began snarling viciously, snapping at the crate’s wire walls, each time Maddy so much as breathed. I managed to crawl over the seats and into the way back, where I draped a blanket over Jazz’s kennel to block Madison from her view, which worked nicely until we rounded a corner, and the blanket would slip, and Maddy would move, and suddenly it was Wild Kingdom all over again. The dogs were more than a little frazzled by the time we arrived in New Hampshire for the celebration. Surprise! Happy Birthday! We’ve brought dogs! Let’s party! 

Come to think of it, we’ve done a heckuva lot of driving with dogs, from our cross-country disaster with Madison to taking our CCI pups with us anywhere and everywhere. On one such occasion, we had our first CCI dog, Diamond, with us as we again made our way to Vermont. About halfway through the trip, we began to notice this… odor… enveloping us any time Dizey stood up to circle and lie back down again in, in that dizzy-making way that dogs do. Yep, Di had gone into heat and was making a mess all over the floor of the minivan. Awesome. 

In case you’re wondering, WalMart does sell doggie diapers. They’re gross, but effective.

Diamond isn’t the only one of us who’s had… trouble… in the car. Sure, we’ve had our fair share of kid-vomit moments, but those are a dime a dozen, no? More unique was the time we were driving with a potty-training Ella who desperately needed to make a pit stop. Careening off the highway, we looked for a gas station, restaurant, or anyplace with indoor plumbing, only to be met by the northern Massachusetts wilderness. We decided our next-best bet was to find a safe spot to pull over and have Ella let loose on the side of the road, but everywhere we turned, the road either had no shoulder, or we were in a residential neighborhood. As Ella’s pleading became ever-more dire, we finally found a field-like area and skidded to a halt. Vaulting out of the front seat, we undid her carseat buckles with lightning speed and placed her on the ground to take care of business, careful to hold her hands and help her squat down…

… when this man appeared out of nowhere. “What are you doing here?” Um, sorry, but our daughter really needed to go to the bathroom… “Well, you’re on my property.” Right. Our daughter is now peeing on your lawn. Super. Reeeally, really sorry about that. We’ll just clean her up and get on our way.

There was also the time when we were visiting my sister- and brother-in-law in Colorado, and Nick was working all day, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to drive the girls up into the foothills, because when you’re this close to the Rockies, you can’t not see them up close, right? Ella had said she didn’t really feel well – and, in fact, she did have a fever – but after a dose of Tylenol, she perked up considerably. By the time we’d cruised west out of Denver and were winding our way amongst the peaks of the mountains, the Tylenol had begun to wear off, and Ella started to fade. Not wanting to let this first-in-a-lifetime moment pass by, I found a spot with a beautiful view and had the girls get outside for a photo op.

Best mom, ever.


We flew home the following morning with the sickest, most feverish, vomiting, hacking kiddo, then raced her to urgent care as soon as we landed, where they immediately proclaimed she had severe pneumonia. But at least we have the photos.

Most of our road trips these days are taken with just the four of us (and our hounds), but occasionally, friends or family will join us. On one such occasion, when Ella was about two, we were dragging my sister-in-law, Emi, along with us, and things began to go south. Both of our kids have always hated being trapped in their car seats (you know how people say they’d go for a drive to calm their kids down? HAHA. I would rather take a 12-hour flight than a 3-hour drive with our girls), and have generally been miserable travelers after the first hour or so. On this particular trip, Annie was screeching like a banshee despite my attempts to calm her (ever tried to breastfeed a kid from a moving vehicle? NOT EASY, MY FRIENDS), and Ella – who was growing ever-more agitated with being stuck in her own seat and listening to her sister’s wailing – requested “Daddy’s song.”

And so Nick began singing “Faith” by George Michael, a song he’d sung to Ella countless times before, but whose lyrics he’d never really contemplated. “Well, I guess it would be nice… if I could touch your body… I know not everybody has a body like you…” Emi’s head whipped around so fast, I thought she’d injure herself. So this is how it is with your family. Not awkward at all.

Today, it’s just the four of us again – the dogs are happily home with our fantabulous house sitter – and, three hours in, it’s already been an adventure. The moment we closed the doors, Annie began watching newly-downloaded episodes of Sofia the First, oblivious to everything around her.


Ella, preferring to wait till halfway through the drive to watch the 6th Harry Potter movie, began chatting with Nick and me, laughing out loud about that time when every single one of us forgot something and we had to turn around and return only minutes after we’d departed. The chuckles had barely escaped her lips when Ella drew a startled breath and confessed, “I left my American Girl doll at home.” Another time, we’d have said too bad, but this trip, her brand-new, much-beloved doll might actually be… important… so Nick and I both took our own deep breaths as we turned that car right around. At least we were only twenty minutes from the house – let’s add forty minutes to the trip! It’ll be fun!


As we rounded the bend in the park near home, Ella poked her sister to show her the mushroom house, and Annie – still wearing headphones, looking up from her screen for the first time since sitting down – clearly registered that we’d been in the car for quite a while (so we should be well on our way to Grandma’s), did a double-take, and stage whispered, “Why are we going home??” 

Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!

Family bondage bonding is the best.

Skyward Bound

Yes, it’s true. I’m on a flight, heading back to Minnesota, updating this blog from 30,000 feet. Technology, you sexy vixen, you.

Yes, it’s also true (for those of you who have been keeping track), that Ella, Annie, and I returned from Minnesota a mere 48 hours ago. Nick is the frequent flier in the family, not me, and my immediate return to the land of 10,000 lakes is not for pleasure, nor for business, but borne out of necessity and love. Without being ridiculously vague, I will simply say that our family is going through a very difficult, private matter, and we have been traveling a lot lately. I have been asked to discuss this in future posts, but for now, it is enough to say that I need to be on this plane, to travel across the country once more over these cotton candy clouds, to be by my husband’s side.


I also decided, given that the cost of an emergency cross-country ticket is already larger than a mortgage payment, a tiny splurge would be appropriate, and I needed – for the first time ever – to purchase a first class seat. Yes, needed. I felt it in my bones, just how I knew our current house was the right one for us (despite having never set foot inside before purchasing it) or how I knew that Milli Vanilli was too good to be true. When you know, you know. I needed first class.

Thing is, despite flying at least a half-dozen times a year myself, first class and I are not exactly familiar with one another. Have you ever seen Big Business, the 80s comedy with Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin where they play twins (each named Rose and Sadie) switched at birth, with one set growing up in the country and the other in the city, and then the country twins show up in the city and act like the bumpkins they are, ogling the sky scrapers and taking about “Goin’ to the meetin’”? No? Well, you’re not missing much, but the point is that right now I am country Rose and Sadie, and first class is my meetin’, it could not be more obvious that I am not in my element if I taped my Disney World “First Visit!” button to my forehead.

As is absolutely typical of me, I arrived at the airport later than I’d planned, which made me more disheveled than usual (although, considering it’s Rochester and the airport is totally small and manageable and I had first class priority – can I get a what what! – it took me a mere twelve minutes from the time I stepped foot in the airport to go through security and arrive at my gate). Still, I even found time to purchase my travel standby – a bottle of water – and sauntered onto the plane feeling quite smug… until I saw the lovely mini water bottle waiting for me at my seat.

You get water bottles in first class. Who knew?!

I was aware, of course, that you get free drinks in first class, and I decided to take advantage of that immediately. I asked what white wines were available, and the lovely flight attendant immediately brought me two bottles for my perusal, including my favorite, Pinot Grigio.

I know it’s not actually possible to drink your troubles away, but hey, this isn’t a bad start…

What I did not realize is that the lovely flight attendant would serve me the wine in the plastic cup rather than in the mini wine bottle, which meant that I reached out and tried to take the bottle from her, resulting in a very awkward tug of war across my seat mate. Keepin’ it classy.

After receiving my wine, I made myself comfortable, doing the crossword in the Delta Sky magazine (yes, I’m that geek) and adding items to my never-ending To Do book. I vaguely registered that someone was standing in the aisle, talking, and paid her no attention – because who would be talking to me – until my seat mate gently tapped me on the arm and I realized that the “someone” was the lovely flight attendant, and the “talking” was actually her saying, “Ms. H? Ms. H? Can I get you a beverage for after we take off?”, which totally weirded me out, because since when do flight attendants refer to you by name? Considering that I had downed the Pinot before the plane even left the ground (truly so unlike me, but hey, desperate times, right?), I decided that perhaps a Diet Coke would be more appropriate for my second drink.

Although I have flown first class once or twice before, I have never done so alone, meaning that Nick has always helped me navigate the ins and outs of the seats. This may sound unnecessary – they’re airplane seats, after all, how complicated can they be? – except that the tray tables don’t fold down from the seats in front of you like they do in coach; they magically rise up from the armrests and fold across your lap. When the flight attendant brought me my Diet Coke, I nonchalantly attempted to pull the tray table up and out of the armrest, because I have so done this before, especially one-handed while holding a drink that’s in a cup made out of glass instead of plastic, this is no big deal, I have totally got this… Until my armrest wrangling and Diet Coke sloshing became so disruptive, the gentleman beside me pulled out this nifty little tray thing and said, “Why don’t you just put your drink here?”

Mini drink holders! How cute is that! First class, you are so clever!

You totally know this guy is thrilled to be sitting next to me.
Especially because I thought it was so awesome that the lovely flight attendant offered us snacks, including a banana, I decided to take a photo of it. A photo. Of my banana.

They really let anyone into first class these days, don’t they?

I also chose a little bag of peanuts, which I decided not to photograph because, hello, boring… But that’s kind of a shame because, as I opened them, they flew across my keyboard and skittered onto the floor below, so now I can never document my bag of first class peanuts. If only they had popcorn, I could really make a good showing. The cleaning crew will really appreciate the work I’ve done here.

When the lovely flight attendant came around again asking me – by name –  if I’d like anything else to drink (good grief, they are so attentive up here!), I decided to get my mortgage payment’s worth, and ordered a margarita. This may ultimately wind up being a bad idea, but I have  both a) successfully used the little drink tray and b) finished the drink without spilling, so that’s something, anyway.

Surprisingly delicious!

We still have an hour to go in this flight, so only time will tell what other disasters adventures I will encounter, but so far, first class has certainly proved to be an enlightening experience.

In a few days, I’ll be flying coach again, but for now, I will sit back, enjoy the Great Lakes out my window, and try to not act too much like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she first encountered the opulence of Richard Gere’s life.


On second thought, feeling like Julia Roberts, even for a moment, isn’t such a bad thing. Just this once, I want to forget it all, and feel like Cinderfuckin’rella.

p.s. Did you know that the seat pockets in first class are held on by velcro? And that, if you root through your enormous backpack mid-flight and then attempt to put said bag back under the seat too vigorously, you can peel the velcro entirely away from the seat, resulting in all of the contents — including the in-flight magazine, barf bag, Sky Mall magazine, safety card, two water bottles, a camera, and an iPad — to fall out onto the floor? Well, consider yourself warned. You’re welcome.


Last week, the girls and I flew to Minnesota to visit Nick’s family (and to go to the state fair – yeah!). It was the first time in quite a while (maybe ever?) that I’d flown solo with both children, and although Ella and Annie are seasoned fliers, I was a bit nervous about how things would go.

Based on outward appearances, I certainly can understand why other, (usually) childless fliers look warily at my children – or any children – when we travel. I have been both the parent of a sobbing, thrashing little beast and a bystander, watching a toddler melt down and fling Goldfish at the passengers in row 24. Kids and flying can be a disaster, especially when their parents blatantly ignore them or don’t seem to be aware the Little Junior is speaking at a volume generally reserved for sports stadiums. I get it.

(Ranty tangent: That said, flying with disastrous children is no worse than – and often vastly preferable to – hordes of middle schoolers on a band trip, anyone attending a bachelor or bachelorette party [hi, Bridesmaids], the business traveler who has 100 decibel “work” conversations on her cell phone every second that we’re on the ground, the giant in the seat ahead of me who reclines his head into my lap, the passenger next to me who thinks that not one of our 94 minutes together can be filled with silence, the passengers who raise the volume of their conversation so that they can be heard above the safety instructions, the guy whose music is so loud I can hear it through my own headphones, the person who hasn’t bathed in at least a week, the man who did bathe – but in cologne, the person who brought the vat of Chow Mein, the poor lady with the cold who sniffles and clears her throat every 46 seconds, the arm rest hog, and anyone who finds the tiny bottles of liquor “cute” and decides that it’s a good idea to drink four or five or ten. At least crying babies aren’t deliberately being rude. Plus… Benadryl, people.)

Anyhoo, I get that the mere sight of kids can cause other passengers anxiety, perhaps none more so than the frequent fliers who are Important and have Somewhere To Be and don’t want to be held up by anyone who is not an Expert Flier like themselves. Nick, actually, is a frequent flier (although he has empathy for families with kids… okay, probably mixed with some dread…), and so we are usually fortunate enough to use the priority security lane. The look of annoyance and disgust when we join the other “important” travelers in the faster lane – and then proceed to dump our shoes and sweatshirts and computers and Seat Pets and liquids into six plastic bins, ultimately placing a minimum of fourteen items on the conveyor belt – is priceless… But not as priceless as the look of bewilderment and shock as we snag our scanned items back off of the rollers, put them back on our bodies, and load them back into our carry-ons before the guy ahead of us has had time to put his belt back on. We are security line ninjas, people.

One of our flights had seats three abreast, meaning we could all sit together, but the other had only double seats. Despite being ninjas and generally very well behaved on flights, Ella and Annie are hardly perfect, and I was wary of them sitting beside one another rather than beside Nick or me. They, however, were not only not wary; they were psyched.

If we give you thumbs up will you leave us alone?

After we all got settled in, I tried to relax and just let them be, and my attention turned to the conversation being held by the passengers in front of me. The woman in the window seat was maybe in her mid-sixties, petite, and white. The gentleman sitting beside her was younger, quite tall, wearing an awesome straw hat, and black. It struck me immediately what – in our current American society – an oddly matched pair they were. Not that it should be odd, or unusual, or uncomfortable – or anything at all – for a middle-aged white lady to be conversing with a younger black man… But, let’s be honest, it often is.

As I eavesdropped on their conversation (truthfully, it was more just listening, ’cause they were chatting quite loudly), I learned that she was returning home to Minnesota for a high school reunion with dear friends. He was from Alabama, headed to Minnesota on business. From what I could hear, they had nothing in common – no obvious shared interests, no shared hometown, no children of the same age, no professed mutual love of baseball or movies or rescuing kittens – but, man, were they enjoying talking with one another! One of them would say something and the other would physically rear back to have enough room for a full-bodied laugh, their joyous sounds rushing into the space above, settling playfully over all of us around them.

Our flight had already been delayed for over two hours due to mechanical delays (asked the girls, “Does anyone ever leave O’Hare on time?”). Now, sitting still longer on the runway, the collective passenger anxious-seat-shifting began. As I admonished Annie for the second time to stop opening and closing her window shade (“But Mommy, at least I’m not kicking the seat!” True, baby. But you’re going to make everyone around us have a seizure), the man in front of me raised his hands to the ceiling, verbally pleading, “Come on already! I just want to get up in the air!”

His newfound buddy laughed, chiming in, “Me, too! Let’s get going already!”

They both paused for a moment; then she added, more quietly, “I like going up, but I hate coming down. Landings scare the daylights out of me. I always pray that it’ll be all right.”

Without missing a beat, her seat mate reached over and put his large black hand gently on top of her small white one. “You go on ahead and pray, but I promise everything will be all right.

It’s okay. I’m here. I got’chu.”

Minutes later, we began to taxi, and the rest of the flight passed uneventfully, just as he’d said.

Would that we all could have that experience, no matter where, no matter why.
Would that we could have someone, anyone, who says – and genuinely means – It’s okay. I’m here. I got’chu.