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Nice post for me to leave sitting out there for more than a week, huh? Hope nobody accidentally stumbled across my blog or they’d never return!

I happened to be on vacation last week. Yes, a real, super fabulous, sort of random, lucky-for-me vacation. You know how my parents go on these bike trips every year? Well, my dad had his knee replaced in the spring and then his other knee scoped in August and my mother was suffering from bike trip withdrawal and pathetically requested my company so she wouldn’t have to go an entire year without a Backroads trip and I, being the good daughter and not wanting her to suffer too much, sacrificed myself and tagged along.

Okay, well, that’s not exactly how it went. It was really my husband who sacrificed me and let me go along. Thanks to short work days for Mark and long playdates for the boys, I had the distinct pleasure of going with my mom for a week of cycling through coastal Maine. I know when people think “bike trip,” images of roughing it come to mind. But no, this is quite the opposite. We certainly worked hard on our bicycles (there are no flat parts of Maine, as far as I can tell), but these trips are quite luxurious, with leaders taking care of every detail and van support in case you want to quit (needless to say, we never did) and lovely hotels and inns and fantastic gourmet dinners each night. For me, the combination of intense exercise, quaint seaside towns and delicious food and drink could not be more perfect.

Day One: Ready to go

The weather was iffy (and that’s an understatement) but the scenery was beautiful. We were quite close, in  fact, to where the boys and Mark and I went last fall.

Best of all, we had a great group of fourteen cyclists and two leaders, and spent a significant portion of our non-biking time just talking and sharing and laughing.  We knew we were willing to get to the heart of the matter when our second night dinner conversation revolved exclusively around religion, inspired by one lapsed Mormon and many lapsed Catholics.  So much for not talking religion or politics with strangers!

View from hotel

My favorite part was Day Two, the toughest by far, which included a climb up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. As our leaders described the route, they predicted it would take us 40 to 45 minutes to bike the 3-and-a-half miles up. Forty-five minutes for three-and-a-half miles? On a bike?! That seemed crazy to me and as soon as I thought, “I could run it faster than that,” I knew how I’d be spending my afternoon.

After cycling more than thirty miles on unpaved, trafficless paths, I met our van at the base of the mountain and handed over my bike, ready to  tackle a run up the mountain. “Oh-kaaaay,” my leader had said when I suggested it at lunch. “We’ve never had anyone request that before.” Which, of course, made me want to do it even more.

A few hundred yards into my run I had a brief moment of doubt — what was I thinking? — which quickly dissipated as random drivers and cyclists cheered me on. Every time I got a wave or a clap or a toot of a horn (or even a head shaking), I’d smile and just keep going. (It always helps, you know, like today as I ran down North Park and someone leaned out of a minivan window and shouted, “Run, Krissy, run!” I haven’t a clue who it was but I sure appreciated it.)

Partway up

Still going

The hardest part was not knowing how far I’d gone. Because I was slower than usual (and had forgotten to look at the exact time when I started), I had no idea if I was just around the bend from the top or only halfway there. It reminded me of those final weeks of Austin’s treatment when we were never sure of how much more chemo we had ahead of us. It’s always easier when you have a clear goal, an end post, to set your sights on. The not knowing makes it so much harder, both physically and emotionally. Do I push now and finish strong or conserve for all that remains ahead?

The whole run reminded me of the cancer journey.  Cancer’s like that, you know. One small step, one foot in front of the other. If you look up and try to take in the whole path ahead of you, you’d be too overwhelmed to ever even start. The summit would seem insurmountable. So instead you put your foot down and you take one step and then you take one more. Focus on the one tiny inch in front of you — that’s what my dad said before we started the second round of chemo. Just that one little inch. And before you know it, you’re there. You’ve done it.

And then it’s all downhill.

Aaaaahhhhh, now that was nice.

All in all, the trip was wonderful. Good slow family time, lots of hours spent playing Monopoly (Braedan’s new favorite) and doing puzzles (my obsession). The house was classic rustic Maine, with spectacular views of the water:

Our first full day started out dreary and overcast so we visited the nearby transportation museum and then had lunch in Rockland.  A quick walk around town and the harbor and then we were back home for football watching (Mark), a good hilly run (me) and model car building (boys).

Sunday was gorgeous, sunny and in the high 50s, a perfect leaf-peeping Maine day. We drove to the Camden Hills for a hike, one hour and fifteen minutes up Mt. Megunticook, with Braedan in the lead and Austin on Mark’s shoulders (well, partway at least).

Water break

We made it!

Love this shot

With the whole world in front of them

Almost done

The following day we dragged the boys all the way back to Freeport for some outlet shopping. They didn’t mind a bit because the minivan had a DVD player — a definite trip highlight — plus we had burgers at Johnny Rockets which they loved.

No time for views, just movies

Two thumbs up, baby!

Another kid favorite was the trapdoor in the back bedroom complete with a ladder down. This was the only way they went up to the second floor the entire trip:

On our last day, we visited the Marshall Point Lighthouse, located just three miles from our house and famous for being in the final scene of Forrest Gump, as he runs across the country.

Run, Forrest, run!

Searching for seashells

As we were driving back to Portland yesterday, I dared to say that everything had gone remarkably smoothly for the entire trip.  Of course we then arrived at the airport to find our flight to Newark was so delayed that we’d miss our connecting flight so they instead routed us through Charlotte, NC (not quite along the direct path from Maine to Cleveland). That flight then sat on the runway for an hour and we arrived in Charlotte a mere ten minutes before our second flight took off. Luckily we were only one gate away and made it just in the nick of time. The kids were troopers, having eaten nothing for dinner but NutriGrain bars, and we arrived in Cleveland safe and sound by about 8pm.

Twenty-five minutes later, we pulled into our driveway and all started squealing and screaming, “Oh my god!” when we saw . . . well, I’ve gotta save something for tomorrow.

 

So, I couldn’t wait to show you the pictures (and know I’ll have so many more by next week) that I figured I’d post these before we left.

Here is the treehouse, after a mere two days of work (one — today! — that involved hail):

It’s more of a house built on a platform than an actual treehouse, but either way, it’s very cool.  It’s designed to look like the house from Up and will be tilted slightly as if it’s taking off.  The Amish guys were joking today that they’d get fired from most jobs for building a crooked house!

Turns out there might be some volunteer opportunities, like painting and other finishing touches, available to friends. If you’re interested (and you certainly should feel NO pressure, but some of you have asked and offered), you can contact our wish coordinator Virginia at gina2491@aol.com.

And now . . . to sleep and then . . . to pack (oops, haven’t started that yet!) and then . . . to Maine.

Well, the work has begun. And my, what a lot of work it is!

We woke up yesterday morning to an army of Amish carpenters in the backyard, laying the foundation for Austin’s treehouse. I mean, his tree-village. It is enormous. I can’t quite picture how it’s going to end up but I can definitely tell that it is going to be very very large.

The boys are thrilled, of course, and eager for it to be finished. Looks to me like it should take weeks and weeks but the men said they’d be done in another four days. Which works out perfectly because we leave for Maine tomorrow (yay, finally!) until Tuesday evening, so there will be quite a sight awaiting us upon our return.

I spoke with the workers yesterday and introduced them to Austin, who smiled shyly from my arms but refused to speak or make eye contact. They asked about his story and after giving them a brief version, one man said to another, “That sounds just like your son.” Turns out one of the carpenters has a son who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in his kidney when he was nine months old. He said for the first day or two (which happened to be Christmas Eve and Christmas), the doctors thought he had Wilms. He lost one kidney and had a full year of chemotherapy and is now a healthy and normal third grader.

One of the three brothers from the contractor company also had leukemia as a teenager and his family was sent to Disney World as a gift from Make-A-Wish. So you see how this all comes full circle. I can’t wait for the day, well into the future, when Austin or Braedan make a wish come true for some sick child and get to tell the story of their own dream treehouse and all the magical childhood memories they made in it.

Pictures to follow, I promise . . . when we return!

You know we’ve become mighty good at seeing the bright side of otherwise dark situations.  It’s a survival mechanism, I suppose. So, we’re now looking forward to a “leaf peeping” trip, sometime in October.  Still trying to find the perfect set of days, in between class pictures and field trips for the kids, a very unpredictable trial for Mark (as in, the jury should be able to decide this one pretty darn quickly, but common sense doesn’t always prevail. . .), doctors’ appointments, board meetings, and so on and so forth.  Combine that with the fact that direct flights from Cleveland to Portland happen maybe once a week (and layovers with kids should be avoided at all costs), and we’re having trouble settling on the exact dates. But we will definitely go on this trip.

We are hoping (silver lining here) that either of our two sets of friends, one in Boston and another in New Hampshire, will be able to visit us during our newly planned getaway. Plus the kids will be more settled in their school routines (and more ready for a break).

Speaking of school, Austin finally started this past week, after a painfully drawn out orientation schedule for pre-schoolers (which I found brilliant Braedan’s first year, but now, in my fifth year as a preschool parent, I’m not so thrilled with). He is doing fabulously, by the way, so much more ready to separate from me this year than he ever was last.  He is becoming more independent and talkative by the day, and is in an extremely happy place.

Braedan, too, is doing better. His complaining about school has quieted to the usual murmur, louder at breakfast when he’s still half-asleep and I’m nagging him to finish his breakfast, put on his shoes, get out the door. His teacher, if not exciting, is really quite nice, something he has begrudgingly admitted. He started tennis lessons at school on Tuesday afternoons, which is helping.

He will also meet with the psychologist at Rainbow next week for a one-on-one session.  Mark and I met with her last week and we feel very fortunate to 1) have someone so readily available to help and 2) to have such a ready-made reason to seek help.  I think most six-and-a-half year olds would benefit from having a grown-up to talk to, to help them learn how to express their emotions in a healthy way, to teach them skills for de-escalating anger or handling disappointment.  In fact, I think most people any age would benefit from that. It’s not like they’re gonna sit around and talk about cancer for an hour; that just happens to give us a great excuse to get in the door.

So, all in all, things are fine. We have the wake tonight and funeral tomorrow; the kids will sleep at Mark’s parents since all the services are on the westside. They’re as happy about that as anything else. And Maine still stands, awaiting our arrival. Silver linings abound.

Oooooooh, things just don’t always work out the way we expect them to. Like we needed more proof of this, right? The father of Mark’s best friend died yesterday afternoon and the funeral is on Saturday. Soooooo, we’re not going.

I’m on hold right now with Continental, trying to re-deposit my miles for use on a future (and hopefully soon) trip, although our flight was set to leave in less than 24 hours so I’m not sure I’ll be successful. If I am, we’ll try to go within the next two weeks or so.

Oh, I’m so so bummed. And now I feel guilty because I was actually mad at Mark for wanting to be there for his friend. Nice of me, huh? I was just so ready, so eager for this special family time. But of course, the world does not revolve around my travel schedule and a lovely woman has lost her husband. And our three dear friends have lost a father. And three more friends have lost a father-in-law. And six beautiful children have lost their beloved grandfather.

So, we’ll stand beside Scott and Cathy and all the rest this weekend, right where we should be. And Maine will be there in a month, standing beside the sea like it always has. The air will turn cooler and the leaves will turn colors and we’ll have our special and needed family time soon. Soon.

The party went off without a hitch. Well, except for that rain storm that conveniently began right at six o’clock and didn’t let up for hours. (The weather forecast was spot on . . . imagine that.)  But we left the candles sputtering outside and managed to fit more than one hundred people inside. It was really a lovely evening: an abundance of food and drink and an abundance of love and celebratory words for Louisa.

There was such an abundance of food, in fact, that Austin and I drove down to the hospital yesterday to deliver trays of gourmet treats to the oncology floor. I’d called the nurses’ station ahead of time to ask them to set out a table for families and staff to partake of our leftovers. It is such an extra burden on families to have to purchase their own food, for parents as well as the healthy siblings who often spend hours if not days if not weeks on the floor. (So, if you ever have tons of extra food that you don’t know what to do with, let me know . . .)

And now, did I mention that we need a vacation? Oh, and did I mention that we’re getting one? Our next door neighbors here on Wellington have an old farmhouse on the coast of Maine that they visit for long stretches each summer and then rent out when they’re not there. Well, there were no scheduled renters for the month of September and (knowing we could use a break) they offered it to us. And we, prone to living life to the fullest, jumped at the chance.

So, we are heading to Tenants’ Harbor, near Penobscot Bay, this Thursday morning to stay for a long weekend, returning Monday afternoon.  The kids will both miss a few days of school, but it just doesn’t matter.  This is an incredible opportunity for us to step out of our usual rat race and simply be together for a few days, exploring a new environment and savoring slower simpler ways.  We have trails to hike and seals to view by boat, there’s a pond to catch frogs in and charming New England towns to explore. I’ve long regretted that my children have had few authentic travel experiences; they’ve been to Disney World and Kalahari, fancy (but exclusive) resorts in Jamaica and Puerto Rico. But they haven’t seen our country and its grand variability; they haven’t witnessed other ways of life, those dictated by oceans and their tides.

Although I have to admit that the thing they’re most excited about is that we rented a minivan!

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February 2020
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