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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?

We definitely played hooky.

I let the kids sleep in and even gave in to their request for homemade waffles (not a normal weekday occurrence). We opted out of the zoo since it was a record 92 degrees (and, if you’ve ever been to the Cleveland Zoo, you know it feels about ten degrees hotter than everywhere else). Instead we packed a picnic lunch and drove out to South Chagrin Reservation, which was shady and, save for a few random souls walking their dogs, completely empty. Hiking on the actual trail was much too ordinary for my boys so we instead waded through the creek. For about two hours.

We studied bugs and minnows and salamanders. We worked our way through grassy moss and slippery rocks, up and down small waterfalls. We marveled at the difference in water temperature depending on which spots were sunny and which were shady. We listened to woodpeckers pecking and other unknown birds calling and tweeting and singing. We scrambled up rocks and climbed over ledges. We (well, they) fell at various moments in various slick spots soaking themselves up to their waists, Austin three times over without one word of complaint.

 

And we had an absolutely wonderful time, two kids in the woods with their momma. No school, no rules, no hospital, no scans, nothing whatsoever to worry about.

 

A few more juicy tidbits from yesterday.

Before we had our walking plan in place, we had indeed called Mark from the hospital to see if he could “swing by” and pick us up on his way home from downtown.  Now that I’ve seen the news reports and heard the stories of twenty minute commutes taking five hours, I realize how silly that was. When I wondered aloud about what people did who had to go to the bathroom, he said it was possible to just get out of your car while sitting in traffic because it’s not like cars were moving slowly, cars weren’t moving at all. He sat for one 35 minute stretch in front of CSU without moving an inch, getting out every ten minutes to brush the newly accumulated snow off his windows.

We definitely definitely did the right thing by walking, not only for us because we actually had fun, but for the rest of the city by not adding one extra car to the roads.  Braedan was most thrilled with the idea of being faster than the cars. He was hilarious the whole way — when I asked if they wanted to stop in at a coffee shop to warm up, he insisted we carry on. “Raise your hand if you want to keep walking,” he shouted from behind me. And then, upon noticing that my arms were full with forty pounds of boy, he amended his instructions to, “Or if you can’t raise your hand but still want to keep going, just carry someone whose name starts with ‘A’!”

Our only real moments of drama came before we even left the confines of the hospital, while in the cafeteria.  Austin discovered the display of potato chips and Doritoes, located conveniently at the eye level of a four-year-old, and threw an absolute fit when I refused to buy them, laying on the floor and kicking and screaming. I then discovered that the hospital, as part of its new wellness initiative, is listing the nutritional values of all their prepared foods and I nearly lay down on the floor to have a tantrum of my own when I read the sodium content of Austin’s beloved grilled cheese sandwich. Chaos was swirling and it was actually a relief when we made it outside.

Aside from the lines of angry drivers, the night was pretty spectacular. A quiet beauty, the heavy snowfall blanketing sound on the abandoned sidestreets, the stark outline of trees laden with white against the blue and purple sky. I wish I’d taken a few more pictures, but here are my troopers on the last leg of our journey:

This morning, we awoke to plowed roads, to Braedan’s delight since he is performing in the much-anticipated first and second grade winter concert today and was most worried about school being closed. I pulled them to their respective schools on the sled and then ran to the hospital to retrieve my car.

And yet again in the Gallagher household, all is well.

This was the day last year when . . . oh no, don’t worry, I’m not going to replay every miserable moment of last winter. If you want to walk through that heartache and misery all over again, you can scroll down to “Archives” on the left and click December 2009.  In the meantime, I have a somewhat lighter story to tell, still replete with drama and suspense.

Braedan had an appointment with the psychologist this afternoon and Austin was scheduled to have labs drawn. After about five hours of nonstop snowfall, I briefly considered canceling but figured, “Come on, it’s Cleveland, I’m used to snow.  We can surely make it the three miles down to the hospital.” I was largely motivated by the fact that Austin and I had baked zucchini muffins and pumpkin bread to bring to the families on the oncology floor, along with fresh fruit and coffee, for breakfast tomorrow. Plus I was finally going to clear all the donated toiletries out of my mudroom (even my mudroom gets cluttered) and deliver them to the Ronald McDonald Family Room.

So we bundled ourselves in snow gear and picked Braedan up from school fifteen minutes early (mostly so we wouldn’t get stuck in the mad rush of parents swooping in to rescue their children from the first major snowstorm of the year) and down we drove.  It was slow going, visibility was negligible but it wasn’t rush hour or anything (foreshadowing, foreshadowing) so we made it just fine.

Braedan had a great session, Austin’s hemoglobin has actually gone up a tiny bit instead of down, delaying the need for a blood transfusion yet again, renal numbers held steady and all was well.  We lugged suitcases and backpacks full of goodies clear to the other side of the hospital (Braedan: “This place is like an underground city, Mom.”). The nurses were thrilled, happy to see their healthy, thriving little ex-patient. We chatted and wandered around the halls hanging up signs announcing the breakfast, when someone asked us how we planned to get home. Well, drive, . . . how else?

Then the nurses pointed to the line of cars sitting dead still on the road, not having moved for nearly an hour despite ambulances coming through in both directions. Total and complete gridlock. The line out of the parking garage alone would have taken more than an hour. So I fed the boys some high-sodium junk in the cafeteria, unloaded as much gear as possible into my car, piled on extra layers of clothing . . . and off we walked.

Thankfully, my parents live about halfway between the hospital and our home, so it was less than two miles but solidly uphill and through a full ten inches of snow. But my boys dug deep and turned the whole thing into a wonderful wintry adventure.  Austin needed to be carried on and off (mostly on) but Braedan didn’t complain even once, except when I tried to enlist him in a rousing rendition of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. Even Austin, safe in my aching arms, was smiling and catching snowflakes on his tongue.

We arrived after 45 minutes of hiking, tossed our pants and socks in the dryer while we warmed ourselves with hot chocolate (them) and wine (moi).  Mark had driven about five miles in two hours before finding a place to stop and eat while waiting for the traffic to thin.  We were all home and ready to plow the driveway before 8.

The little beans are sleeping soundly in their beds, the snow is still falling outside, the families at the hospital will fill their bellies with homemade treats tomorrow and I will return to find my car in the parking garage, where, as Braedan noted, “it’s used to sleeping.” Better than last year, that’s for sure!

Listen to his fabulous adventure Mark and I went on yesterday . . .

First of all, my parents took both boys to Chautauqua for the weekend, a first for Austin and a first for me (I’ve never been in my own home for two full days without them, ever). So, did Mark and I decide to party all night or sleep in late on our day off?  Nooooooooo. No indeed, instead we got up at 4:45 to drive a U-Haul truck an hour and a half to Youngstown to this Kraftmaid warehouse located there. I’m not sure if any of you have heard of this place, but apparently there are TWO in the country, one in Utah and one in my own backyard. All of the overstocked, returned and floor model Kraftmaid cabinets from every Home Depot and Loews in the country end up at one of these two places, where they sell them for outrageously low prices.

It’s quite a system too, let me know if you want the real nitty-gritty details (what to bring with you, what time to arrive etc) and I’ll post it all here because they don’t have a website and it seems to be a bit of an insider’s secret. I found some info online in do-it-yourself forums and remodeling blogs, so we were pretty well-prepared. We got there at 6:30 and stood in line to get numbered wristbands, #229 and 230 (which means that many people were in line before 6:30!). At 7:15, they randomly pick a number and then let in 150 people while the rest have to wait for the next number to be drawn a half hour later. The number they picked? 220! So we were the ninth and tenth people to walk through the doors! You then dash around and mark anything you might want to buy with a piece of masking tape with your name on it. If something’s already marked, you can put a #2 next to your name and wait a few hours to page the #1 person to see if they really want it. Once we found our way around and located the aisle with the particular wood and finish we wanted, and once we learned to read the SKUs to differentiate the Cherry Peppercorn from the Cherry Kaffe (which was probably the hardest part), we labeled like crazy. We ended up buying twenty-five cabinets–everything from base cabinets with pull-out drawers and special racks for pan lids to wall units with wine racks built in to a fabulous seven-foot high double french door pantry unit for $110!! All in all, we spent $1300 for what would cost almost TWENTY THOUSAND if we’d order them from Home Depot! Yes, you read that right. If you haven’t remodeled a kitchen lately, perhaps you’re not familiar (as I wasn’t until a few weeks ago) with how jaw-droppingly expensive new cabinets are.

Now they’re not perfect, mind you. Some have scratches but most of that will be hidden when they’re mounted to the walls or flush against one another. And some of the door styles don’t match but we can switch them out and buy new matching ones from Home Depot for a fraction of the cost of the entire cabinet. But all in all, it was an incredibly worthwhile trip, even after including the cost of the U-Haul and the storage unit we had to rent to hold it all! Now I’m going to work with our contractor to lay it all out and see what other pieces we need to complete the space. I think we’ll go back one more time to buy molding and toekicks (which cost $5 and $3 for eight feet versus $75 and $50 at the stores). You can also buy all the interior kits like roll-out trash and recycling bins or cutlery dividers for $5 a piece.

It was pretty incredible and everyone was surprisingly civil to one another. There was no shoving or racing past competitors and I never saw anyone take someone else’s tape off of a cabinet. If you’re doing  a kitchen (or bath, they have sink vanities too), I definitely recommend it and would be happy to provide you with more details. I even read on one forum a post from a woman in New Hampshire who drove here and said it was totally worth it. If you come from afar, maybe we can put you up in our new house!

And yes, once we’d recovered from our cabinetry adventure, we did go out last night and did sleep in this morning.

This one cost FIVE DOLLARS because it doesn't have a door!

This one cost FIVE DOLLARS because it doesn't have a door!

 

A double door wall unit for $60 (it's upside down)

A double door wall unit for $60 (it's upside down)

 

We're going with a very dark cabinet (obviously) with white and gray marble countertops, white trim around the windows, wood floors and lots of natural light.

We're going with a very dark cabinet (obviously) with white and gray marble countertops, white trim around the windows, wood floors and lots of natural light.

 

I love this shot. The color shows up so nicely in the natural light.

I love this shot. The color shows up so nicely in the natural light.

My dad is a guy’s guy, a man’s man. Men love him. They form a circle around him, drawn to the aura of excitement and adventure and success, hoping to soak a little of it up. He’s a thrill-seeker, you see, a champion skydiver and a downhill skier and an old battered college athlete. This past spring he went heli-skiing with some buddies in Alaska and none of us batted an eye. Like, “Of course, what else would Dad do but take a helicopter up the ski mountain near a volcano in Alaska?”

He flies airplanes and has a long history of fights on the soccer and lacrosse fields. He’s traveled the world, speaks fluent Italian and French, and has a dramatic story for just about everything.  He loves to spin a long tale over a glass of good scotch, maybe the one about the famous Italian opera singer he and his brothers saved from drowing in Italy when they were teens or about jumping out of airplanes in the 60s with some French soldiers. And you would never doubt that these are true stories . . .  this is just the kind of guy he is.

Cycling in Tuscany

Cycling in Tuscany

He’s also the guy you want around when something goes wrong, a natural in a natural disaster. My mom used to say if there was a nuclear war, he’d be one of the few people who could actually survive and figure out what to do and help restart civilization. You feel safe with him, when he’s teaching you to drive a car or pulling you behind a boat on a waterski or piloting your aircraft. You know he knows exactly what he’s doing and is always in control, even — or perhaps especially — under pressure.

So when you see my dad tooling around Cleveland Heights with his little grandsons, pushing them on the swings at the playground or drinking milkshakes at Tommy’s, you should know there is a hint of greatness, of glory, beneath  that ordinary exterior. 

He has spent a lot of his life seeking greater adventures and greater thrills and greater success, driven by a need to do more, be more, have more. But he has learned, I think the hard way, that what matters most is the little things: family, home, togetherness. And I think, if you asked him today, he would say he has every single thing he needs to make him happy.

And then some.

Happy Father’s Day, dad.

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February 2020
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