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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?

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!

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:

 

Some of you may have seen that beautiful picture of sweet Austin in the Plain Dealer last week.  It was just a short blurb in Tuesday’s Health section announcing him as one of St. Baldrick’s 2012 Ambassador Kids and can be seen here.

The funny thing is that we were away on vacation and had no idea it was being printed until I started getting random emails from people telling me they loved seeing Austin in the paper. I assumed it was about St. Baldrick’s since they’d sent press releases out to all our local news affiliates but wasn’t certain until I searched cleveland.com on my phone and found it.

The funniest thing was an email my dad received that afternoon from an old colleague saying that he’d just read about a little boy with Wilms tumor in the paper and it reminded him “of your grandson. How is he doing, by the way?” To which my dad replied, “That WAS my grandson!” And, of course, . . . “He’s doing great.”

We’ve been in Chautauqua for the past ten days. Each day I think I’ll go brrow my dad’s laptop and dash out a quick update but somehow my days are filled and by the time the kids are tucked into their bunks at night, I am done. Mark was here for 4th of July weekend and then it’s been a steady stream of my girlfriends and their children. At one point, we had seven kids in the house, all younger than Braedan. Between waterskiing and tubing, running and biking, shopping for, preparing and cleaning up after the never-ending mealtimes, we are all plenty busy … and plenty tired.

The kids are at such a better age for a trip like this without Daddy. They’ve got friends to entertain them day and night and, with Gram and Gramp right next door, there is always someone willing to go fishing off the dock or give an extra push on the swing. It’s really been quite nice and, according to Mark, we are very lucky to not be home since the painters are going full force, resulting in the entire house’s worth of windows being covered with plastic (not so nice when it’s 90-plus degrees out … and no, those hundred-year-old houses do not have air conditioning!). 

But I am super excited to go home and see firsthand the progress that’s been made. The pictures Mark texts me at the end of each day are pretty fabulous. The painting should be done by week’s end and I promise that as soon as I’ve seen it in person, I’ll post photos here.

But for now, I’ll fall asleep yet again with the waves crashing outside my window and I’ll have my morning cup of coffee out on the porch and then the kids and I will plan another day of chock full of relaxing.

 

What a great trip. First it was four days in Cape Cod, with beautiful weather and old friends (well, they’re really Mark’s old Peace Corps friends, but they feel like my old friends, which is really really nice). Long lazy days of bike riding on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, kayaking around the pond and indulging in Maine Wild Blueberry ice cream cones (yum).

Note the labels on the benches

Note which side we’re sitting on

Long lazy evenings of grilled dinners on the deck, kids playing happily and competitive puzzle-building (yes, puzzles can get competitive!).

Then it was off to Boston, a city filled with nostalgia for me. The kids enjoyed the swam boats in the Public Garden and the Duck Tours past all the historical sites, ending with Braedan steering the amphibious truck in the Charles River. A rainy afternoon at the New England Aquarium, followed by an always-too-short visit with my college roommate and her kids at Quincy Market. When we woke up to rain yet again on Thursday morning, we decided to hit the road early, skipping the planned visit out to Tufts, which was really just for me and would have only been a bunch of brick buildings and grassy hills to everyone else (and probably another ice cream cone for good measure).

All in all, it was a perfect blend of beautiful nature and beautiful city, from cartwheeling in the sand along the ocean to running down the path along the Esplanade. Friends and family, old memories and new memories, good food and, well, … ice cream.

My kids survived their first ever major road trip — Cleveland to Cape Cod, 708 miles and Boston to Cleveland, 633 miles.

Look how they did it –>

Who needs a shirt when you’ve got an iPad?

Details to follow …

We just returned from five days of spring skiing in Park City, Utah, home of my youngest brother Cory, who skis at least 120 days a year. The rest of us? Not so much. Mark and I took the kids twice this winter to the low but icy hills of Northeast Ohio to prepare them for this trip, our first out west since before we had children.

I wasn’t sure how it would all go, whether the kids would be able to handle the mountains, whether Mark and I would get to ski (or relax!) at all, whether the whole thing would be worth it. The first day, Cory hooked them up with a friend who’s a ski instructor for kids. He came to the house and geared them up like little snowy spacemen and off they went, looking ready for anything.

Mark and I got some time in on the mountain before heading back to await their return, set for 2:30. Cory was already back after having seen them and reported they were doing fine. 2:30 came and went, then 3, then 3:30. Cory was in touch with his friend so we knew everything was alright, but I was worried nonetheless that Austin would be stressed out. He’s one of those kids who can act all capable and independent when he’s forced to be capable and independent but then breaks down upon his return to me. So finally my dad and Cory drive out to pick them up at the base of the mountain (the rest of us could ski in and out of the house but it was at the bottom of a slope too steep for either boy).

I was certain Austin would have toughed it out all day only to fall apart in my arms with exhausted tears the second he walked through the door. Well, lo and behold, they march into the house still in their helmets and goggles giving high fives and exclaiming about what an “awesome” time they’d had. They proceeded to eat and drink and hop in the hot tub like the most experienced skiers around (they didn’t drink the same stuff as the most experienced skiers though!).

Apres ski

Next day, they got their boots on by themselves and were back out the door ready for more. Huh, who needs me anymore?

The day after, Braedan came out with me and I cautiously pointed up the mountainside and asked if he’d done a run like that before. He thought for a moment and said, “Yeah, I think so.” “OK, let’s give it a try,” I said not so sure this was a bright idea. But the kid is a skier. He skied along right behind me in the path I made for him, back and forth across the slope in a nice controlled snowplow. Over the next two days, he logged way more hours on the mountain than Mark or I did, always begging for more.

View from the house

Playing barefoot in the snow

Austin still needs one more year of practice, but I think we have a new family pastime. Although I dare say those five days in the Wasatch Mountain range will have already spoiled even the best slopes of Ohio or western New York. Oh well, that’s why we have frequent flier miles.

I don’t intend to make anyone jealous (I too am looking at my window at another winter wonderland), but here are some more pictures from our trip.

Enjoying the pool (nice view, eh?)

And the beach

The littlest Dietrichs

One happy boy

This old school merry-go-round gave me the opportunity to
explain the words “litigious society” to Braedan when he asked
why we don’t have any closer to home!

Sweet boys

Braedan in the bird cage

Proof of how much the kids have grown in two years: they actually survived the pony riding (and even asked for more)!

I guess I’m having fun too

Increasing evidence that we need to carry a real camera with us and stop relying solely on our blurry phones . . .

Really, how hard would that be?

Til next time . . .

Perhaps you’ve been wondering where I’ve been.

Maybe you worried that some medical calamity had befallen us and we were back in the hospital buried under tests and procedures and worries.

No, not that.  (You know I always find my way to a computer no matter how calamitous the calamity.)

Perhaps you thought I was on a self-imposed hiatus from blogging to focus on the “real” writing in my life: working on my book and polishing my oral pitch in preparation for the writing conference at the end of the month.

No, not that either.  Although that would be wise and is about to come.

But if you guessed that I was relaxing on the sunny beaches of Jamaica with my beautiful children, well, then you’d be right on (mon).

Yes, we have just returned from six days in paradise, a biennial getaway with the almost-complete Dietrich clan: my parents, two brothers, their wives and a grand total of five grandchildren.

Mark had wisely advised against advertising our absence on so public a forum as this, hence the quiet departure. It was all very lovely and we’re now trying to re-accilmate to winter life, with the boys returning to school (and all of us returning to reality) tomorrow after an extra week of vacation.

A few teaser pics below, with more (and more details) to follow:

 

 

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