Vacation Planning 

Vacation is a word that makes me simultaneously giddy with delight and overwhelmed by its importance.

For many years, we spent vacation time on holidays so that we could travel back home to visit our families. This is ironic since we couldn’t wait to move away from home. But we missed our parents and wanted them to be able to spend time with the grandchildren. 

Along came Facebook and Skype…we were able to stay connected virtually allowing us to squirrel away small bits of time to consider venturing into the wider world for a long weekend at a time while still making the major holiday pilgrimages home. Over the years, we have lost parents and stopped making the trips to our hometown all together.

One of our last visits home

There is a sense of being orphaned, untethered. There is also a new profound responsibility of showing our children the world around them. The only way I can convey this strange feeling is relate to the quote about giving your children both roots and wings. It’s like our roots have been dissolved. 

Vacations have taken on the transcendent quality of feathers on the wings. I plan these vacations  with reverence. How far could we travel in a few hours? What could we do that would keep both of our children (with a seven year age gap) entertained? Could we squeeze in something for Mom and something for Dad. How is it that there is not a single thing we have in common?

Vacation should be a time to relax, explore a new place and grow as a family. Since our family has only one precious week per year, I feel additional pressure to “double dip” by using this time to provide the kids with opportunities I don’t necessarily do the best job of providing at home.

What the heck does that mean? It depends on where my mommy guilt lies from year to year. 

Colonial Williamsburg 2016

This year, for example, I  wanted to hit something historically educational that didn’t come from a textbook to support 9’s new interest. She is not an enthusiastic reader, but her art teacher loaned her a book about the founding of our town  that really sparked her curiosity after a unit on the community bicentennial. She regaled us with facts about the first church, school and how our house used to be a farm field. She begged to visit a tiny cemetery a few blocks away to see four civil war soldiers graves. Not one to waste such an opportunity, I added to the mental planning list a historical site.

16 has expressed her desire to do some real hiking for several years. Not just walking paved nature reserve trails in our suburbs. She is testing her strength and fortitude as a budding adult in so many ways now. Knowing she will very soon need every ounce, on the list it went.

9 is a very cautious child and misses out on opportunities frequently due to fear. Chance to take a calculated risk went on the list. 16 wanted to explore an area she might be interested living after highschool – on the list. Mom wanted to add a new state to family map-on the list. Dad wanted to spend some time just relaxing- (you guessed it) on the list.

With all this in mind, I  set out to execute a vacation that fit as many parameters as possible and stayed in budget and timeline. While this might seem like a herculean task, it brings me more joy than actually going on the trip. 

While some people say that returning from vacation gives them the blues, I rejoice in how each vacation changes us and immediately start making a list of what to tackle for next year. Maybe someday the most stressful vacation choice I will have to make will be what beach hotel has the best swim up bar, but for now I am happy to add feathers to wings and pictures to the map.

Why So Stifling?

I frequently hear friends and coworkers lament on the misery of high school. They tell me horror stories of pimples and awkwardness that make me cringe. Dances with no show dates, scary teachers, missed assignments, and no one to sit with in the cafeteria are what they remember most vividy.

I remember high school differently. It was fun! I wasn’t in the popular crowd, but always had classes with friends. We plotted it that way. We went to dances, plays and football games together.  When I  look back, that’s what stands out to me. The sleepovers and picnics and days at the lake with my crew.

I wished with all my heart that my children would experience the same sense of belonging and joy that I had in high school.  We signed them up for sports teams, sent them to summer camps and scheduled playdates galore to give them the opportunities to make the most of youth. You know-all the things listed in the suburban mommy handbook.

I wish I could tell you this strategy has been successful.  Only it hasn’t- atleast not for 16. I  suspect if you ask her , she will have more horror than heyday stories to tell.

She will be entering her junior year of high school in the fall. She is a quirky kid that loves all things band, Harry Potter, and loose leaf tea. Not one of those carefully choosen playdate pals have turned out to be friends. In fact, she doesn’t have any close friends on sports teams either.

Her “crew” is actually a ragtag sort of group that I don’t entirely approve of. There is a hidden gem or two, but mostly they could have been lifted right from my “associate with caution” list. You know the kids that are generally ok but have loose parenting and too much unsupervised time. I suspect that is part of the appeal.

She tells me these kids “get” her. She can watch musicals and talk Doctor Who with them. They are okay with her comic book stuff and come dressed up to her theme parties. I’m glad she has them even if they are not who I would have picked.

While these friends are available for movie dates on weekends and camping trips all summer, there is a distinct void in her day to day life. She is often in situations where she must go it alone. It is in these times that I notice the change. My boisterous and opinionated princess becomes meek, deferring to others when decisions are to be made. Usually bursting with enthusiasm about the latest thing, she casually shares ideas only when addressed.

Maybe it is shyness, I  worried…seven years ago. She has spent more hours with these girls than with her own parents since then. Surely shyness would have been left behind in the sweaty trenches of five mile runs, bloody soccer battles, or muddy softball drills. I don’t believe it was ever that at all. More like just a muting of personality- as if she has to turn her volume down.

16 is planning to attend a USA woman’s soccer game as a daddy daughter group event. Hubs pointed out a red, white and blue tutu as something that she would probably like to wear to the event. I agreed then immediately back pedaled when I  remembered it was a group event. She would want to wear it, but probably wouldn’t. 

Talking it over recently with a coworker,  she says she experiences the same thing. It’s a natural part of growing up. She says she often stifles her enthusiasm to overshare love for things. 

“Dont you ever do that?” She asked.  Hhhmmm. Do I?

I would have to say yes. I attribute it to the dreaded phrase “being appropriate “. My kids hate this admonition.  I pull it out for lots of reasons. Why we can’t  ballet twirl through the grocery store or wear those shorts to school. They chime back: a time and a place, the sure to follow second sentence to the lecture.

Perhaps this is her way of finding her own time and place to let her enthusiasm shine, but  I worry she will find less and less places to turn her volume up. Perhaps there should be more opportunities to twirl before she forgets how important twirling can be.

What do you think? Do you find yourself muting your own enthusiasm?

Plant Murderer

While I have been successfully able to keep some of the most frustratingly delicate climbing roses alive for more than 10 years, I regularly murder every houseplant unfortunate enough to come into my home. Now I have had a couple of scares with the roses oweing to serious midwest winters and late frosts. I also pruned too viciously once and then over fertilized the next year.

Mr Mike, our sweet, long suffering,  neighbor finally gave me the best advice a few years ago: cut off the dead stuff, cover them if it frosts…then leave them the hell alone. I have mostly followed it since with good results.

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The same cannot be said for the plants living inside.

I love all things green. I attribute my proclivity for house plants to growing up in rural West Virginia surrounded by trees and mountains and wildflowers at every turn. I spent much of my time as a kid running in fields of waist high grass,  picking bundles to put in a coffee can on my dresser beside the jar of lightning bugs that would all be dead in the morning despite the holes in the lid.

Now these experiences did not lend themselves to the care and keeping of potted plants, just to the desire to have them. This means there are several victims of my neglect a year. I forget the water them or over water until it spills out and runs all over the floor. There are several scattered around right now in various states of dying.

My inability to keep them alive has become quite a joke in my family. They regulary send me articles about “impossible to kill” specimens with notes about the very same kind dying in my care. I get tagged in posts reminding me of plants they have brought to me that were quickly replaced by new ones after untimely deaths.

My very funny sister in law just told me to steer clear of this game.

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She is hilarious.  This was a jab about a 30 pound jade plant she gifted me last year. Can you guess where it is now? Yep, plant heaven.

Now Hubs has tried to be a savior for the condemned.  He gifted me several of those glass watering globes and even filled them when I forgot. He painted a lovely plant stand for the patio, so I  could rotate them outside for some sunlight and fresh air. He chases the cat away when she tries to dig all the soil out of the pots. The ones with any green remaining owe their survival to him.

But as with other such things like laundry and dinner, plants require lots of attention and upkeep.  Stuff like homework and activities and overtime at work get in the way. He forgets, I forget…they die.

Maybe if they screamed for water in the same whining, nerve grating tone 9 uses when she has to have a snack or she will die right on the floor in front of me they would have a better chance. In fact, you could say that I am conducting important evolutionary experiments. It’s the plant version of roman gladiators.  Only the strongest survive to breed the next generation.

From now on, just call me Darwin.

Ask Me If I Want To Go To Target

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Asking me if I want to go to Target is like asking a starving child if they want ice cream. The Hubs rarely volunteers to go along, and almost never suggests it. When I received a text suggesting that we do just that…together…on a week night, I was understandably surprised. 

I love Target. They are right around the corner from my house. I can breeze over to buy school supplies, wine, a pair of sandals desperately needed at the last minute for tomorrow, wine, lunchbox goodies… did I mention wine? I can wear my yoga pants and feel right at home amongst my wine carrying, yogapants wearing fellow shoppers.

Our Target employs many differently abled workers. The store has family and gender neutral restrooms. The clothing racks and isles are arranged widely enough to maneuver my cart around without getting stuck. They make using coupons easy. They are friendly to my kids in the checkout line even when they are whining and on my last nerve.

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From @targetdollarspot

Could Target get any better? Maybe if they put employees in yoga pants too?

Now the hubby does not feel this same attraction for Target. He will go if dragged as long as I promise to steer clear of bedding or curtains.  He is a little gun shy after we painted our bedroom a few years ago and I launched a two week navy seal worthy expedition to find accessories that fit the new color scheme and grownup ambience. Purses, sunglasses and anything requiring a fitting room is also strongly discouraged. 

Call me crazy, but I  can’t think of a single thing that would prompt such a suggestion. Unless he is hoping to spark my interest in something outside the stretchy pants and granny panty realm. Considering my fashion choices as of late, this is a very real possibility. 

I waited with bated breath through dinner to ask if he still wanted to head out. Not a word as to the purpose of the request. I had run down the mental list in my head of anything he couldn’t wait until the weekend regular grocery trip to have: toothpaste, deodorant,  must have daily gatorade… All supplies seem to be in order.

We like to play this game of withholding information from each other to see who will break down and ask/give details first.  This happens with kids schedules, appointments, packages that come in the mail, the results of internet research, you name it.  We like to play curiosity chicken.  It’s how we keep the spark alive.

I made it all the way to the entrance doors before buckling under the suspense and whisper- shouting “What are we here for?”  Hubs gives a side eye smirk before replying to let me know that crossing the threshold before asking still means I lost. “Slippers ”

Disappointment that I broke first courses through me. I folded for slippers. Wtf? As a conciliation prize, I  choose some lovely patriotic decorations for my office door from the dollar spot. As an added bonus, he didn’t find any slippers. Target’s selection of man shoes is woefully small right now. This means he will need to give in and order from Amazon or make another trip out. Either way, I  will not be some easily fooled next time.   I can already taste victory.

Artist For A Day

We love small businesses. America was built on small business.  When you come from a small town, small businesses are often all you have. There is no Giant Eagle around the corner. You shop at Garden Fresh where the produce is local, and you eat what’s in season. If the tomatoes are small this year, you can ask Tom if the drought is making his crop small at church on Sunday.

Moving to the burbs changed the way my family shops. We frequent Target, the mall and Mr. Williams doesn’t pump your gas and add the total to your account at our neighborhood Exxon. Now we hit the farmers market as many Saturdays as possible,  and shop local when we can.

It was during Small Business Saturday last November that I trudged through the snow to buy a gift card for 9 to Artist for a Day, a locally owned paint it yourself pottery shop.

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The paint palette on the front window had been beaconning to our little Picasso for some time. Studio time is only 8$ which includes paint, brushes, tools and firing.  You purchase your item to paint separately.  I took a quick look around and saw many items under $20.

Now I am not a fan of tchotchkes around the house, but I want to support the business. A ceramic puppy to clean around is a small price to pay to see 9 light up with joy, so in I went. The gift cards turned out to be beautifully painted tiles perfect for wrapping.

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Aren't they pretty?

I purchased a $25 tile and headed next door to buy some cookies from a local bakery. As predicted, the gift was a huge hit. Unfortunately the tile accidentally got tossed out with the trash in the excitement of Christmas morning.

This is the secong time this has happened during a holiday.  We really need to figure out a better way to keep track of tiny things. Predictably there were many tears and promises to visit anyway during the summer. 9 is the elephant that never forgets and has reminded me of this promise every time we passed the plaza- which can be several times a week.

With a rainy afternoon ahead of us today and a desperation to see the floor in 9’s messy bedroom, I struck a deal. Clean bedroom would allow immediate redemption of the Artist For A Day promise. I have never seen a kid clean so fast.

The studio was busy but the girls working took their time with us explaining how the process worked. We selected our items and then were taught how to choose colors and tools.

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The paint bar was cool!

9 took about 20 minutes to decide. There are shelves and shelves of choices. She eventually settled on a cupcake shaped dish that she planned to keep earrings in. I had not planned to paint, but once I got there I changed my mind. There were so many  tempting choices! I settled on a spoonrest since it was my first time.  I  really wanted to do a serving platter or pitcher, but the size and lack of desgn plan intimidated me.

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Painting our items took about an hour and a half.  9 went back to the paint bar several times getting refills and just the right tool to ensure her cupcake was perfect. We really had a nice time chatting and painting. I saw lots of families come and go during the afternoon. Many had been there before and brought snacks and drinks which is a lovely practice.

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Then tragedy struck- 9 dropped the carefully painted bottom which shattered into a million pieces all over the floor. Tears were instantaneous.  She was heart broken.

Someone came quickly to help us cleanup the mess. We were able to get another piece to replace the broken part and after some serious sobbing 9 revamped her design and got back to work. Other littles dropped paint or other things while we were there and the staff responded in the same no nonsense manner which allowed parents and kids to move quickly past any mishaps.

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Ready to fire

At the end of our afternoon, we were both satisfied with our work and had a nice time. We spent about $50 with discounted Sunday studio rates ($6) and the purchase of 2.5 ceremic items. 9 was begging to go again before we even got to the car. Usually after an activity I am not ready to consider a return trip before the first one is over, but I caught myself thinking I would try that platter next time. Lookout Artist For A Day, we maybe seeing you again soon.

Water Terror

With summer just around the corner,  many of us are prepping for fun in the sun. While children, mine included, are gleeful at the prospect of donning a swimsuit and heading to the water, there are parents who quake at the idea.   I am one of those parents.

I grew up with parents who couldn’t swim. Because they never took me to any body of water, I never learned to swim either. I inherited a fear drowning instead. This is a terrible way to live. I stayed firmly planted in the sand while my friends splashed and played in the surf, canoed, skied and otherwise frolicked in the water. As an adult, I  sent the kiddos to swim lessons thinking this would break the cycle of water fear. It didn’t because I never let them use their skills. I restricted them to waist high water. If something happened,  I  couldnt save them. Over time they took on my same fears.

Finally fed up with the shallows, I asked a friend at work to teach me to swim. We spent several evenings at the indoor pool in her parents building.  It was humiliating at first learning to blow bubbles under water and practicing strokes and floats in the shallow end. On the way home from the first lesson, I cried. She encouraged me to stick with it, and in a few weeks I was swimming the length of the pool.

I feel brave in the water now. Last summer, we made an effort to allow our girls the same freedom. During a camping trip, we rented a boat and intertube. I was able to leave the sidelines for the first time in my life. It was exhilarating. 

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My terror is only partially swimming.  I despise everything about wearing a bathing suit including the self esteem damaging process of shopping for one. I have two plain black tankinis that I have been recycling for many years. They are plain utilitarian numbers that hide the worst of my stretch marks. My husband hates them both and has encouraged me to try shopping for an update the last three years in a row.

I finally relented to subject my fragile ego to the chore.  I am always torn about taking him with me when shopping for any clothes. His opinion about what is attractive relies largely on how much of my boobs are visible.  He cannot understand why this is not helpful.

I tried instead to face the dressing room alone. I found two possibilities. Turns out, like my taste in men, I have a type. They were almost identical two the ones I already own. Now while there is something to be said for tried and true, I  was shopping for something fun and new. I returned them both to the rack and went home to evalute the process.

Many body positive blogs later, I was asking myself why I was worried about the stretchmarks and stomach fat.

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Need a little body positive in your life?
Love the skin you’re in: 9 uplifting body-positive blogs http://mashable.com/2015/02/28/body-positive-blogs/#VcskpcQKi05c via @mashable

Maybe I was ready to show some skin. Don’t get excited, Hubs-not that much skin. This weekend a 50% off swimsuits ad came through my email from Old Navy. Casually I mentioned that I might be in the market for a bikini. I flashed him the ad and suggested he help me pick one out. With visions of supermodels in string bikinis dancing through his head, we headed out.

Trying to be brave, I avoided trying one anything that looked like a grandma suit. I picked out only two pieces and even let Hubs choose a couple. Ignoring dressing room limits, I took the haul in and spent probably 20 minutes trying to figure what suits could magically meet all the criteria: boobs controlling cups, secure ties or straps, bottoms that stayed in places when jumping or running around, and made me feel both comfortable and confident.

Even with this impossible list, I managed to find a cute green bikini top and black booty shorts that seemed both daring and reliable.  Its certainly not the flag printed string suit Hubby hoped for, but a step in the body positive direction. I intend to wear it at the first opportunity and cross another milestone off my list.

Five Secrets To Loving The Drive In

On our last visit to our hometown, we drove by the place that used to be “The Drive-In”. It closed two years ago. I  am not sure if it had a real name as no one ever used it. There were exactly three places for entertainment in the entire county: The Pool, The Bowling Alley, and The Drive-In. No need for identification beyond the obvious.

It broke my heart to see the dilapidated screen holding court to an overgrown lot of weeds and the aging snack shack. I have fond memories of cart wheeling down the hill below the screen with hordes of other children who all came early with parents to get front row parking. The smell of buttery popcorn hung heavy in the air. It was a special treat for my family and maybe one of the rare occasions my sister and I would sit side by side without trying to tear each others eyes out.

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We are very lucky to live near a drive-in now. Many have closed over the years as result of light polution encroachment,  increasing land values, decreasing profit margins and technology advancements that allow families to stream movies at home or to mobile devices with the touch of a button. 

A few years ago, the few surviving drive-ins had to commit to an outrageously expensive projector upgrade as film companies moved to digital and stopped producing films in the reel format. Those that decided to take the risk had to invest upwards of $75,000 per screen. Many of these family owned small businesses had to take out loans or close.

Ours is another one of those family owned businesses. They have been able to survive 50+ years of changing times, and I hope they will survive 50 more. We try to visit a couple of times a summer to share the simple joy of drive-in magic with our children. I am always happy to see the next generation of cartwheelers playing under the screen.

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Drive-in date with 9 to see Angry Birds

We have learned a few tips and tricks along the way to get the most out of the experience. Hopefully one might encourage you to find a drive-in treasure and give it a try.

Go Early and Bring Entertainment
Our box office opens at 8, but the movie doesn’t start until dark. This might mean an hour or more to wait. Going early is worth it to get a prime spot and have plenty of time to play. Playing under the screen is a right of passage for littles. On rainy nights we bring a board game. I  like to read or chat with families around us while we wait. It’s fun to hear stories about childhood visits. We bring camp chairs and get to know the neighbors. You will often find grandmas and grandpas in camp chairs beside moms and dads. Lots of “I used to bring my kids here in the 70’s”.

Visit the Snack Bar
Who can have a movie without popcorn? Hotdogs and sodas are some of my best memories. Nostalgia aside, many places do not allow outside food. Visiting the snack bar is important to the business. Most of the admission price goes to pay for the film. The business pays its people and makes its profit with food. I like to think of that box of snow caps as a small business investment and it usually costs less than what you would pay at a theatre.

Wear Your Pajamas
Our kids love to get dressed in pjs and leave the house. It’s like breaking the rules. We always wear long pants and bring a sweat shirt because even summer nights can get chilly. 9 has had some serious reactions to mosquito bites so long pants and sleeves provide some extra protection. We bring  Off clip ons https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DF970FQ/ref=cm_sw_r_em_apa_8ZiqxbE9F034D

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along for added protection for her but the rest of us are never bothered. The bonus to being comfortable is that they often fall asleep and can be put right to bed when we get home.

Bring Lots of Blankets and Pillows
I can stress this enough. The minimum should be one per person. When we are sure of a clear night, we take Sam the Ram, my husbands truck, and pile every blanket in our house in the bed. Nothing better than snuggling in and watching a movie under the stars. If there might be rain, we just take one per person for the car.

Bring a Battery Powered Radio
Gone are the days of searching for the best speaker or fighting over whose window to hang it on. Most places have switched over to radio broadcasting the audio which makes for a sound better experience.  There are a few drawbacks to this. If you want to sit outside your car, it can be hard to hear even with the windows down. The second is that your car has to be on auxiliary the whole movie. If you have a large digital display on the dash, this can be distracting. It can also leave you with a dead car battery. To avoid both these pitfalls, the Hubs suggested a battery powered radio and it has been great. You can move it to where ever you are sitting and never have to worry about finding a jump afterwards.

Are you convinced?
There Are 338 Drive-In Theaters Left in America — Here’s Where to Find Them http://www.nerve.com/entertainment/drivein-theater-open-find-location