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Weather is a funny thing. When you’re in the midst of it, at least when you’re in the midst of any of its many extreme forms, you feel as if what you’re experiencing is somehow special, unique. That you’re the only one who’s ever been that cold. That no other walk to school has been quite as brutal as this one. In a capital-B, capital-D Big Deal kind of way.

It’s cold outside. And, you know, that sucks. That little meme going around Facebook with the small sad soul all bundled up in hat and scarf who says, “The air hurts my face. Why do I live where the air hurts my face?” Exactly. So, we talk about it and post about it, and moan and groan and wonder why on earth we live here. Just like we did last winter. And just like we’ll do next winter.

It’s all sort of silly, but it’s real. The weather is indeed significant in that it totally affects your mood. Especially this time of year, that post-holiday dead zone with nothing ahead but long stretches of work and school, accompanied by unshoveled sidewalks and unsee-through-able windshields (I really looked for the right word there, but just couldn’t find it: opaque? blocked? impermeable?). Whatever the word for my windshield, the weather is depressing. We have hit the doldrums.

But being anti-doldrum kind of people, Mark and I have found an antidote to the nastiness of January. And so, today, in just a few hours, we’ll head over to Fairfax and call the kids out of their classrooms (“Please send Braedan and Austin to the office, prepared to leave,”), plop their stunned little selves into the car and drive to the airport. Where we’ll meet up with our friends the Schuberts. And fly to Disney World.

I am squealing inside right now. Squealing. We’ve been keeping this under such tight wraps since last September that I’ve been afraid to even allude to it in any major way. But unless you’re reading this blog on your way to Fairfax School, where you might accidentally tell my children to have a good trip, I think the secret is safe.

I’ve been incessantly hint-dropping lately, just in a playful way that they would never let them guess. “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just magically end up somewhere warmer today?” “I have a feeling this will be a good week,” and on and on. But I’ve also talked about all the fun things we’ll do over this four day weekend, like clean their bedrooms and catch up on our rest. They are clueless, to say the least.

We’ve been to Disney once, after Austin finished treatment the first time, when he was 18 months old. But he was 18 months old and has no memory of it whatsoever. And even Braedan, then just four, can barely recall anything except what’s captured in pictures. That was the trip where, one evening as we strolled through the countries of Epcot, Austin ran along behind his brother in soft-serve-soaked pajamas, and some man walked past us and remarked, all calm and casual like it meant nothing at all, “Now there’s a boy who’s happy to be alive.” And I stopped dead in my tracks and wheeled around to watch him walk off in the other direction, completely unaware of the significance of what he had said. Happy to be alive? You. Have. No. Idea.

So now we’ll spend the next five days being happy to be alive, in the happiest place on earth (and one day in Hogwarts, my geek fantasy come true). Check Facebook for videos of the big reveal, which I’m at least as excited for as I am for the whole damn trip.

No doldrums for us.

 

 

Sometimes I don’t realize just how sheltered my children are.

My mom and I took the boys to Washington DC for a few days over their Spring Break. It was a great trip to a truly beautiful city, one the boys tackled with gusto on their Razor scooters as they weaved in and out of traffic on sidewalks and streets and covered a full seven miles on one day and six the next, my mom and I speed walking behind them. They loved the carousel and the Spy Museum, were massively disappointed that the paddle boats on the tidal basin were closed due to wind, and had mixed reactions to the war memorials. Braedan was old enough to be awed by the awe-inspiring list of names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, asking over and over again, “All these names, mom? All these people died??” Austin, only six, tugged on my hand and whined, “Can I ride my scooter now? Can I ride my scooter now?” as we tried to quietly pass those visitors running their fingers over the names of their loved ones.

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But the single thing that defined our trip above all else was Braedan’s reaction to the homeless people. He noticed them our very first evening, as we walked back towards our hotel after a nighttime viewing of the White House. There were three, huddled under blankets in the entryway of an office building, and he was stunned. I hadn’t realized before how infrequently we walk the streets of our own downtown and see anyone begging (not that they don’t exist in Cleveland, it’s just that my kids aren’t there to see them). He stopped immediately to question us and then eyed the bag I was carrying with the desserts my mom and I had been carefully saving til later. “Do you want to give one of these?” I asked, somewhat begrudgingly. But I forgot my sweet tooth as I watched Braedan rush back with a plastic fork and a slice of cheesecake to wish a homeless man a Happy Easter. “I get lots of treats for Easter,” he announced to us with a proud bounce in his step. “I told him this was his Easter treat.”

He was not so easily satisfied in his quest to make a difference though and began carefully planning what he would order in restaurants to ensure he had leftovers appropriate to give away. He would usually scope out the scene outside the restaurant prior to entering to determine exactly who he would return to with his take-away box (somehow, “doggy bag” just doesn’t feel right in this context). This became the main topic of our conversations as well, as Braedan asked careful and impressively mature questions on the subject at every meal, including “Are homeless people educated?” and “Where are their families?” My mom and I spent a lot of time talking about the many complex reasons people become homeless, the services available to them (especially for those with children), as well as the many issues to be addressed when trying to “solve” the problem. We covered everything from affordable health care to jobs with a living wage to access to high quality education, plus mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, and poor personal choices.

Looking to the future, he announced that after he makes millions of dollars for the app he’s planning to design (what this million-dollar app is going to do, he has yet to explain), he will give all that money away to homeless people. I tried to bring him back to the present by suggesting he use his role as a student council member to organize a school food drive, which he eagerly jumped on . . . until I told him there are homeless people and food kitchens in Cleveland too. “No!” he said with certainty. “I want us to collect canned food and send it to Washington DC!” Humph, I guess we need to head to downtown Cleveland and stroll the streets one of these nights. Under some bridges might help too.

One evening, after he gave his leftovers to a woman smoking a cigarette, which I commented was one possible reason people may choose not to donate to her, he said, “Yeah, but mom, even people who make bad decisions deserve food.” As for my job as a bleeding heart liberal mother, I have two words: mission accomplished.

I really am the luckiest. Not only do I get to visit exotic (and warm!) locations around the world, but I get to do it with a group of girlfriends that is fun, funny, smart, interesting, brave, adventurous, supportive, nurturing, loving, hilarious and — least I forget — gorgeous.

photo-6The view from our beachphoto(232)Um, yes, we are wearing the Mexican wrestling masks we all bought for our kids.

photo(233)The little beach bar next door to our house, perfect place for drinks at sunset

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The view from right outside our bedroom window

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Beach bar again

These pictures are really nothing compared to the much better ones I need to download off Shutterfly. The jungle adventure shots of us ziplining, rappelling and aero-cycling are must-sees.

Thank you, girls, for making our trip such a super fantastic fabulous wonderful restorative and all-around special experience.  Mexico should expect us back again soon.

And thank you, Mark, for taking such good care of the boys in my absence and never once complaining.

Did someone say lucky?

Aaaaahhhh, well, that was nice. Five days of

Biking

Hiking

Running

Eating

Tasting

Viewing

Learning

Celebrating

Chilling

Visiting

With my cousin at the Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park

Reminiscing

On the steps of my old San Fran apartment

And then there was the return home to our sweet boys, who spent the week with my parents.  They did a super job (both boys and parents), but poor Austin was missing his momma bigtime.  Every time I talked to him, his voice sounded funny and then finally, as I said good night to him over the phone halfway through our trip, he completely broke down and sobbed.  Heaving, heartbreaking, I want my mommy sobs. I stayed on with him for another ten minutes, trying to hide my own tears, singing his favorite lullabies, before my mom finally cut it off and let him sadly fall asleep in her arms. I knew he’d be fine and Mark insisted it was “good for him,” but it sure was nice to have him in my own arms again Saturday morning.

Mark and I are currently halfway through a five-day ten-year anniversary trip to Napa Valley. I know, are you just dying of jealousy yet? But do note that this little trip was five years in the making.

Five years ago, in the summer of 2007, Mark and I had the grand idea that we were going to travel to Napa in the fall, celebrating having made it through the first year of our second baby. I had done a bunch of research and had chosen a place to stay, whose name and contact information were scribbled onto my weekly To Do list, a room ready to be reserved with a single phone call.

Needless to say, that phone call never took place. And, instead of an autumn trip to Napa, we embarked on a three-year journey to the center of hell. Otherwise known as the world of pediatric cancer. I could launch into a litany of “instead of this (wine tasting), then that (chemo),” but I’ll leave it at this: this trip’s been a long time coming. (And I can only laugh to imagine having left a recently weaned Austin with my parents for a week, when I went on to nurse him til 25 months.)

But oh my, are we enjoying ourselves. Talk about indulgence! I think I’m consuming as many calories at breakfast (fresh pastries from the famed Bouchon Bakery delivered to our porch) as I usually consume in a day. And certainly drinking as much wine in an afternoon as I usually do in a week. And loving every minute of it.

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Today’s tastings were part of a 30-mile bike ride, definitely the way to go (luckily the temperature had dropped from 100-plus to the mid-80s).

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And we are staying in just about the most fabulous and charming place I’ve ever stayed (and I’ve stayed in lots of charming and fabulous places!). It’s eight cottages, each with its own mini-kitchen, indoor gas fireplace, outdoor wood firepit, all encircling a small grassy field perfect for croquet.

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Mark and I seriously encourage seven of our favorite couples join us here for a repeat trip in the next five to ten years. Feel free to nominate yourselves!

The first day was a success.  Both boys came home beaming, happy with their friends and thrilled with their teachers.

Still smiling at 3:15

As we rode our bikes to the obligatory celebratory dinner at The Colony that evening, I asked Austin about the one boy I’d heard him mention by name.  “So, do you think you’ll be friends with Ben?”

“I already AM friends with Ben!” he shouted back.  After the bikes were locked and we walked out onto the patio to meet Mark, whose family should be seated at the very next table but Ben’s? The boys squealed and shouted and introduced each other to their families. I definitely think this little friendship is gonna work.

Unfortunately, the start of the school year for kindergartners is dragged out ever so slowly.  One third of the kids go on each of the first three days. And because they started on a Thursday  and because that Thursday was right before a long weekend, Austin still hasn’t been back!  He did wake up in the middle of the night last week and cry about how unfair it was that Braedan got to go the next day and he didn’t.  Let’s just hold on to that thought for as long as possible, kiddo.  Finally, tomorrow, he’ll have his second day of school.

But school or not, we were all sure to make the most of the last official weekend of summer. Another few days in Chautauqua with friends, spent waterskiing and tubing, hiking the caverns at Panama Rocks and roasting marshmallows well past bedtime.

It has been a good summer indeed.

 

The whirlwind celebration year continues.

We’ve just returned from nine days overseas, mostly spent biking in Holland and Belgium. I know, I disappear for two weeks from your inbox and that’s what I’m up to? Remember when you used to worry that blog lapses meant we were stuck in the hospital, out of computer range?  No, nothing so serious these days; just our first ever Family Backroads trip, accompanied by my parents and a group of 26 intrepid travelers, cycling from Amsterdam to Bruges.

I know when you think “bike trip,” you picture roughing it: bedraggled travelers lugging everything they own on their bikes, sleeping in tents exposed to the elements, nothing but ride, ride, ride. But Backroads is far from it, trust me.  There’s always a support van, for one thing, should you decide the distance or the rain are too much for you. Plus they carry all your luggage from fancy hotel to fancy hotel, leaving you with nothing but a day pack filled with snacks, camera and hopefully (but not in our case) rain gear.  And there’s so much wine, cheese and chocolate that even if you do ride 190 miles in six days, you might pack on a few pounds. But most importantly, they make traveling with kids feel like an actual vacation.

We would bike together in the morning, Braedan on his own (logging in a total of 120 miles!) and Austin on a piccolo attached to Mark’s bike.  Morning rides were usually about 20 miles long, on entirely flat bike paths along canals or cow pastures, passing many a windmill. Then we’d gather in a town or park for lunch, followed by an additional (much faster) ride for the grown-ups while the small set was whisked off on some perfectly executed kid adventure, including a trip to the beach, canoeing, and the highly anticipated Kid Olympics. One afternoon the adults got a tour of a 15th century brewery while the kids went on a chocolate scavenger hunt. And yes, if you so desired, all were welcome to go scavenging for chocolate; Mark and I opted for Belgian beer instead. Even the dinners, which took place at restaurants much too fancy for my picky eaters and which lasted much too long for my antsy boys, were made enjoyable by the ever-present Kids’ Table.

Braedan does AmsterdamOn the ferry

The boys in Gouda

The view from atop the brewery

The other view from atop the brewery

Lots of cheese

Lots of bikes

Lots of windmills

Austin picnicking with Grampy

The view from my hotel window in Bruges

The super cyclist

When the kids are happy…

the grown-ups are happy.

 

We polished off our adventure with a quick trip to London to stay with friends for two nights.  It was a little hectic and a lot crowded but nice to catch up with my dear college friend after ten years. And the kids were beyond thrilled to ride the London Eye, a definite trip highlight, and to make yet another set of new friends. I think it’s time to set Braedan up with his own email account so he can keep in touch with all his new besties.

“Look kids, …” (you know what that is, right?)

Now it’s home for laundry, more laundry and back-to-school shopping. Oh and parents, if you’re ever looking for a quick way to shift your kids from their late-night summer schedules to a more school-friendly early bedtime, I’ve found the magic bullet: just drag them along on an eight-hour overseas flight with a six-hour time change. Piece of cake.

I’m baaaaccckkkk.

We’ve just spent two weeks in Chautauqua and the boys are now finally at an age where vacationing with them feels like, well, a vacation. Even when my husband is back in Cleveland.

They made some new friends up there who happen to live just two doors away and it was play, play, play from morning til night. I love that kind of freedom, reminiscent of the 70s and 80s (and surely earlier) where the kids can just wander off to knock on someone’s door: “Can Taylor and Amanda come out to play?” The unplanned, unstructured playdate is not dead, I assure you!

So much of being there feels like stepping back in time. From the rocking chairs on the front porches to the unique thrill of sparklers to the carnival-like amusement parks.

Remember these old school rides?

Of course, they’ve been modernized with the addition of a rock climbing wall:

 

We even got Braedan up on water skis, which brings me further back into my childhood.  Hours and hours out on the boat, circling around as the latest water skier masters their craft. He was fabulous and so so proud of himself.

So, now I dig my way out from the piles of mail and laundry … and the stifling heat of Cleveland in July. With images like this in my mind:

 

My dad and I balanced on our skis at the top of a mountain in Colorado and watched. In front of us, a little critter all bundled  up in his snowsuit and helmet went whooshing by, in a classic “pizza” snow plow, heading confidently down the blue square. His big brother, taking a break from his newly tackled black diamonds, zoomed in front with near parallel skis.

“Not bad,” my dad said, “for a kid who should be dead.”

Sounds crass, I know, but he’s only putting words to the thought that runs through my mind each and every day. As I watch Austin ride his two-wheel bike all the way to school or execute a perfect front flip on the trampoline or master the Rocky Mountains.  “Not bad,” I can’t help but think ….

I prefer the less certain “could be dead” though. Because he should be doing exactly what he’s doing: biking, flipping, laughing, skiing, living.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the kids did great without me. It was the longest I’d ever gone without seeing them, by quite a lot. But they stepped up to the plate and behaved beautifully and Mark said it was good for all of them to have that time together. He did also say that he’s not cut out for single parenthood (which is probably a good thing). And that the thing that surprised him most was how much laundry I do!

I did fine without them too, mostly because I was off having a great time.  But the second I finished my last bike ride on Friday morning, I could not get home quickly enough.

And sorry to those of you I scared with my “Downhill” title posted on Facebook. I obviously meant it in only the best possible way, but I can see where it was reminiscent of these two posts, “The Fall” and “The Quickening Descent” (neither of which was meant in the best possible way), especially after a week of no updates.

On a separate note, please visit the website of Cleveland’s Red Cross  over the next two days to vote for local heroes. Austin’s oncologist, Dr. Jeff Auletta, has been nominated in the Medical category and is most deserving of the honor.  You can only vote once and it’s very simple and quick.

That’s it. Now I’m off to put away some of that laundry Mark didn’t get to….

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