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Clearwater Beach, Florida

Now it’s time for the nitty gritty details.  The last post was a bird’s eye view, now we are getting down and dirty.  Here’s my take on what we did, what worked and what didn’t, on our recent couples trip to Clearwater Beach, Florida.

We have to start with food because the food here is simply amazing.  There is an abundance of fresh, local seafood offered at reasonable prices, often with the opportunity to dine al fresco.  Here’s the rundown:

  1.   Frency’s Saltwater Cafe.  There are a handful of Frenchy’s around the area.  We dined at the location on Poinsettia Road which is just a block off the main street.  There were a lot of locals eating dinner which is always a good omen.  This location offers open air dining but not really outside seating.  Service was really friendly and attentive.  The stuffed grouper entree is not to be missed.  Delicious and affordable and set just the right vibe for our trip.
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2. Lulu’s Oyster Bar and Tap House.  This is a classic beachside oyster bar in Indian Rocks, about 7 miles down the road from Clearwater Beach.  We biked here (which is another story) but you could easily drive, too.  Located just a block off the beach, offers indoor seating.  The raw oysters are amazing and reasonably priced. Lightly breaded oysters were also delicious.  I loved the sides here, sweet potato fries and coleslaw.  Service was excellent, once again.

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Breaded oysters and sides.
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Lulu’s.
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Raw oysters.

3. Bait House.  Oh, this is a good one!  Al fresco dining on the very small deck of a small restaurant located at the back of a bait shop at the end of the pier.  The catch of the day platter was a definite winner.  Sides of kettle chips, broccoli and coleslaw.  The key lime tart was utterly amazing.  Don’t miss this one!

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View from the Bait House.
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Catch of the day!
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Key lime tart. The best!

4. Clear Sky Café.  Another favorite.  We ate here twice for dinner and it was great both times. Located just one block off the beach with both indoor and outdoor dining, this cafe is funky and fun. Live music at night. Extensive menu is reasonably priced. Lobster mac and cheese, blackened seafood grill and key lime pie were all amazing. Reservations would be worth it although we walked in both nights and didn’t wait for long.

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View from just outside the cafe.

5. Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber. I love this place. It has an old school, supper club vibe that is somehow just perfect. It is a welcome respite from the beach themed cafes scattered all over Clearwater Beach. This is a place where the bartender knows your name, and your drink, and provides exceptional service all night. We stopped in here for drinks and appetizers and had an amazing time sitting at the bar. Oysters and crab cakes were delicious!

Nothing wrong with this plate!

6. Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill. This is one of the only restaurants that is truly on the beach. There is a large verandah that provides ample outdoor seating. The food is good but not great but the views more than make up for it.

7. Bobby’s Bistro and Wine Bar. This is the more casual, younger sibling to Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber. The wine list is really extensive, particularly if you want to buy by the bottle. Menu is not large and the service was slow. It was fine, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to go back.

8. Another Broken Egg Café. I love brunch and this place delivered! New Orleans inspired cuisine in a friendly setting with indoor and sidewalk seating. Crab cake Benedict and beignets were amazing. Variety of mimosas and other drinks. Cold brew coffee was the best I had in Clearwater (why are there not better coffee options here???).

Mimosa for the win!
Crab eggs Benedict.

9. Sandbar Restaurant and Bar. Hands down, the best place to watch the sunset while sipping a drink and eating snacks. Don’t miss it!

The sunsets here are unparalleled.

10. Clearwater Oyster Company. I hate it when my last meal on vacation is a bust. It happened here. First the good. The raw oysters were delicious and there was a good variety to choose from. And that’s where it ends. Service was slow. The ambience was totally lacking. We had to watch a manager and two young employees gossip in front of our table for most of the meal. The food was mediocre. Disappointing.

Two mysteries remain to me after eating my way through Clearwater Beach. First, why do so many restaurants serve water in plastic cups???? We are on a beach! If that doesn’t inspire environmentally friendly practices, what will? Please, please choose something reusable or recyclable.

Second, WHERE IS THE GOOD COFFEE IN CLEARWATER BEACH??? I had literally one good cup of coffee here, despite searching high and low. Untenable.

Now that we’ve eaten our weight in oysters, it’s about time to contemplate a place to sit and rest while all that food digests. I really only have one recommendation here. If you can stay on the beach, do it. The views are stunning, the people watching is fabulous, and the ease with which you can pop out of your resort and hit the beach, or the shops or the restaurants makes the whole thing worthwhile. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach. The location is perfection. You can literally walk anywhere in Clearwater Beach from here. We booked a king suite which had a small kitchen. I love this convenience when I travel. It allowed me to eat a healthy breakfast every day and stock reasonable snacks and drinks, saving us money and time. I also love having a separate sleeping area and this suite did not disappoint. The pool is small but the surrounding terrace is lovely with amazing afternoon sun and views. Service was good. The spa was quite nice. There were multiple issues with the fire alarms during our stay. Presumably this is not an ongoing problem.

Now that we have eaten and rested, we are on to the final topic. What to do in this lovely seaside town? In this case, the obvious answer is the best one. Go to the beach! Sit on the beach, put your toes in the sand, walk from one end to the other (my personal favorite). I made it a point to walk along the beach as often as possible. It is simply restorative.

I also enjoyed hanging out by the pool with a good book and a glass of rosé.

Rosé and nachos. It must be vacation!

Shopping here is pretty minimal. There are the expected touristy shops and not much more. There is a well stocked grocery store right on the beach, about half a block from the Hyatt, for any necessities (snacks, wine, La Croix, sunscreen, etc) you might require.

Bike rental is a big deal here (like many beach towns). I had an idyllic vision of tooling around town all day on our rented beach cruiser bikes. However, we rented single speed, uncomfortable, prone to breaking down bikes which didn’t actually turn out so well. We did ride them a good 15 miles with a wicked head wind for half of that. The chains fell off six times. It wasn’t idyllic. Still, if I return, I would rent bikes again. I would just make sure it was something with multiple gears, or, even better, a hybrid bike.

The ill-fated beach cruiser.

Bottom line, this is a lovely little spot for a relaxing get away. The pace is slow, the food is amazing and the views are exquisite. Just plan your bike riding carefully.

Travel on!

Winter Escape

Winter in the mountains of Montana can be brutal.  It is, in unequal turns, cold, snowy, cloudy, grey and windy.  Occasionally, the sun peeks through the clouds and the blue sky sparkles. But these days are rare, and frankly, too few for me.  My husband and I learned long ago that the key to surviving winter in Montana is to leave.  Some day I’ll leave for months on end but as long as we have kids in school and bills to pay, I content myself with a week (or two if possible) in a sunny, warm locale.

In the past we have gravitated towards Mexico and Hawaii, ensuring sun, warmth and general feelings of contentedness.  With the kids getting older now, it has become increasingly difficult to sneak away with them like we used to so this year we set our sights on Clearwater Beach, Florida.  Kind of random, I’ll admit, but I had conference there I could attend and it is ranked the number beach in America.  I love a good beach so this last quality was hard for me to resist.

This was initially intended to be a family trip but forces of school, extracurricular activities, and economics conspired against us.  (Another not so pleasant reality about Montana in the winter is that plane tickets to get anywhere remotely warm cost upwards of $600.  Per person.  Times four people.  Sometimes it’s just too much.) So, much to their dismay, the girls ended up staying home with my mom while my husband and I fled from the dreary weather for five days in the Florida sun.

My husband went down a few days before me to work so I enjoyed the luxury of flying by myself.  Even though my girls are exceptional travelers, there is something quite decadent about traveling solo.  I literally have no one’s needs to meet except my own.  This is a rare occurrence in a mother’s life and I relish every fleeting opportunity to enjoy it.

Traveling to Clearwater Beach involves flying into Tampa then driving approximately 30 minutes across the causeways to the beach.  My husband collected me at the airport in the convertible he had rented (it is only possible to rent a convertible without children). After a quick stop for shopping and stocking up on food, we drove out to Clearwater Beach and settled into the hotel.  We haven’t traveled as a couple in quite a few years now and I’m telling you, it is pretty easy compared to traveling with children.  There is just so much less that has to be done, thought about and negotiated.

We spent our time there enjoying amazing seafood, epic sunsets, relaxing pool time and one ill fated bike ride (to be discussed in the next post).  I ran every day, got lots of quality education at my conference and enjoyed an afternoon at the spa.  We spent time together as a couple and we spent time apart pursuing our own interests.  Our marriage has struggled recently, as marriages are apt to do, and we haven’t spent time together as a couple for a really long time.  I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had some trepidation about this trip.  As it turns out though, we can exist outside our children.  We can spend time together and it can go okay.  We can even have some fun, and laugh together and enjoy each other’s company.  And if we have to fly across the country and find some sunshine in order to start finding ourselves again, I can make my peace with that.

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Sunset off Clearwater Beach.

Piedmont to Genoa or Getting Lost and then Found Again

Some travel days have themes.  Some of these are fun, others, not so much.  Almost all are amusing in retrospect.  Our third full day in Italy was apparently designed to test my navigational skills.  I basically failed but I had a lot of fun doing it.

I started the morning by waking early and decided to get in a run before we traveled to our next stop.  I set off on the winding country road, sure I couldn’t get too lost with a simple out and back route.  I intended to run 3 miles so after heading down the road 1.5 miles, I turned around.  After about a mile or so, I realized that the scenery didn’t look all that familiar.  I was in a foreign country, though, so maybe that was it.  After another half mile it was pretty clear that I wasn’t back at the agriturismo.  Luckily, I had brought my phone with me and pulled my map which indicated that somehow, on my simple out and back route, I had taken a wrong turn and ended up WAY off the beaten path.  Perhaps some day I will learn to embrace this type of situation but at the time all I could think was that my children were expecting me back at a certain time and I had no way to call them and that we had a train to catch in Genoa and a pretty tight time schedule.  Damn.

I thought through my options, hoped and prayed that my Google Maps were actually going to be accurate this time in a foreign country, and began hiking up a rustic trail through an orchard.  Eventually I came to the top of the hill and from there navigated my way back home.  Phew.  We ate breakfast, loaded the car, and set off for Genoa.  However, the navigation system in the car decided to be a bit finicky and had us going up and down a rural path multiple times.  We were hopelessly turned around, going in circles and getting later and later for our train.  I had about lost my mind when fortuitously, the correct road appeared.  It would seem that it was always there and I just didn’t see it, but who really knows?

After getting on the correct road we enjoyed a stunningly beautiful drive through mountain passes and along the coast to the seaside town of Genoa.  Total time in the car was about 2 hours.  I was anxious about finding the car drop off at the harbor in Genoa but it turned out to be really easy thanks to my eagle eyed backseat navigators who spotted it immediately after getting off the autostrada.  We dumped the car and hiked 20 minutes to the train station where we met my husband who had purchased train tickets for us.  We had a few minutes to wait and then boarded our train to Monterosso.

The train ride was less than an hour and deposited us at the train station in the new town section of Monterosso.  From there it was a 10 minute walk to the old town where we were met by our Air BnB host and showed up five flights of steep stairs to our apartment overlooking the neighborhood square.  The apartment was ideally located in the center of old town.  It was a bit noisy, though, and without AC we had the windows open all night and the noise of the town was definitely noticeable.  The long hike up and down the stairs was a bit of a pain, too.  We knew about it ahead of time and weren’t surprised but I think next time we will find somewhere a little more peaceful (which in Monterosso would mean moving only a few blocks up the street).

We had lunch at Belvedere (good pesto pasta) and then met our friends at the Monterosso beach.  One of the luckiest parts of our Italy trip was convincing our good friends to join us in Monterosso for nearly a week.  The girls had friends to play with and the adults had good companions for a variety of activities.  If you’ve read my earlier posts you know I love traveling with friends and having our friends with us on this trip was indescribably amazing.

Anyway, I digress.  The kids hit the ocean, we lounged on the chairs and drank prosecco and soaked up the Italian sun.  Life is good!

At the end of the day it turns out that we got lost a few times.  But we also got found.  And at the very end of it all we found ourselves with our dear friends on a beach in Italy, enjoying the good life.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

A few logistical details: the main beach in old town Monterosso is a pay to play operation.  You rent lounge chairs for the day.  You can also rent paddle boats which were a big hit with the girls.  There is a small walk up restaurant and you can order at the counter or from your chair.  There are sandwiches, salads, etc as well as snacks and drinks.  Beach loungers with umbrellas were 20 euros for the day, lower cost for a basic chair.  The food and drinks were very reasonably priced.

 

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Seaside in Monterosso

 

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End of the day

Piedmont Day Two

The day dawned sunny and peaceful which was more than I could say for the night prior which saw me awake for 3 hours wrestling with the jet lag demons.  We enjoyed breakfast at our agriturismo then hopped back in the car to journey to our second winery, Ceretto.  Ceretto is a family run vineyard located just outside of Alba and produces glorious Barolo wine in addition to Barbaresco and a lovely Arneis. They offer typical wine tastings as well as a wine trek which allows you to explore the entire property.  I was intrigued by the idea of wine trekking so booked the experience months in advance (absolutely necessary).  This turned out to be a very enlightening, educational experience both for myself and my children.  We toured the vineyards, hazelnut orchards, and greenhouses which provide produce for the family owned restaurants in Alba. We received a rich history of the land and family as well as the wines that are produced there.  An absolute experience of terroir.

Side note: bring comfortable, closed toe walking shoes.  The paths are dusty.  If the day is hot, also bring along a water bottle, sunscreen, hat, etc.

The trek lasted for approximately an hour and was followed by an hour long wine tasting in the air conditioned tasting room with magnificent views of the vineyards.  The staff very graciously accommodated my children who enjoyed the views and the snacks of grissini and hazelnuts.  We tasted a variety of exceptional wines during the tasting and before leaving I purchased a multitude of bottles.  A few to keep and consume during our trip but many, many to send home.  The Arneis was a crisp, refreshing white, perfect for summertime drinking.  Cases of Barolo were also sent home to age in the wine cellar.  I also purchased two special bottles of Barolo Prapo.  This was first produced by Ceretto in 1976, the year I was born.  These bottles will kept and one will be opened on each of our daughters’ 21st birthdays.  (They will be ruined for mediocre wine!)

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View from the Ceretto property.

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View of the gardens and greenhouses.

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Destined for the restaurant!

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So many choices!

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Vines of nebbiolo.

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From the vineyards looking up to the tasting room.

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Following the tasting we went back to the agriturismo for a lazy afternoon of lying by the pool, snacking and napping.  Dinner was enjoyed on the patio as we snacked on our assorted meats, cheese, fruits and vegetables, played games and enjoyed each other’s company.

Books 2020

A new year provides the opportunity to evaluate, set goals, imagine what could be done differently.  I have long wanted to keep a tally of the books I read in a year so have decided to accomplish that this year in this forum.  It may be interesting, or it may not be, no telling until it is done.

So to start the year I have read two books that are light and entertaining and seasonally appropriate.  These are exactly the right books for those times when you need something mindless and entertaining.

  1. Winter Stroll by Elin Hilderbrand
  2. Winter Storms by Elin Hilderbrand (These are books 2 and 3 in a series.  The first is Winter Street).

Now onto the stack of books that has been sitting by my bedside for an undetermined amount of time.

3. Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy.  A compelling, impossible to put down, engrossing read.

4. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.  This is a heartwarming read that reinforces the goodness (and quirkiness) in humanity.

And just when I thought I was going to make progress on that stack of books, my library loans for my Kindle finally became available.  Back to the stack another day.

5. Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown.  An authentic read about marriage, the compromises made, and the real story behind the images portrayed.

6. The Long Run by Matt Long.  Admittedly, I started this in 2019 but just finished it in January of 2020 so I think it still counts!  This was an audiobook I listened to during many long runs of marathon training.  Very inspirational story about a hard core, NY firefighter and endurance athlete who suffers horrific injuries and makes his way back to endurance sports.  I had tears running down my face during the last two chapters. This guy is incredible!

7. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.  A relevant story about race, class, entitlement, marriage and parenting.

8. Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center.  An entertaining, engrossing read about a young woman’s coming of age and the power of love (of many different types).

Brief reprieve from library loans so I’ll return to the bedside stack.  This stack of books is monstrous but I’m determined to make head way this year!  Many of the books are in the stack because I kind of want to read them (or think I should read them) but they just haven’t pulled me in.  This is the year to either read them or give up on them.  I’ll try to make my peace with that.

9. The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo.  A mildly suspenseful mystery about a murder in Glacier National Park.  This author has written a number of similar stories and although I have enjoyed her previous works, I had a hard time getting overly excited about this one.  I felt like it was just too similar to her other works.

And…..back to the Kindle.

10. Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates.  I listened to this in audiobook format which was the perfect way to fully absorb all the great concepts Melinda writes about.  If you are a woman, are raising women, or know women, then this book is a must read.

11. I’ll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie.  A family centric mystery that explores the sequelae of group dynamics and dysfunctional intrafamilial communication.

12. Older, but Better, but Older: From the Authors of How to Be Parisian by Caroline De Maigret and Sophie Mas.  Entertaining, witty, hilarious, relatable.  A must read if you are lucky enough to be getting older.

13. Whisper Network by Chandler Baker.  An in depth examination of women in the corporate world, the bonds they form, the sacrifices they make, and the unspoken ways in which they are frequently undervalued and unfairly treated.

14. The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda. A psychological thriller with layers of complexity.

15. Untangled by Lisa Damour, PhD.  This is a must read for anyone who has teenage or nearly teenage daughters.  Dr. Damour clearly understands adolescent girls. She deftly provides parents with insight into the teenage brain and shares her wisdom for how to approach adolescent girls.  The book is sprinkled with relatable stories and applicable suggestions about the gamut of issues parents and teens will face.  My husband and I both listened to this as an audiobook on Audible and it quite literally changed the way we interact with our daughters.  (As an aside, it also changed how I approach adolescents in my pediatrics practice and how I counsel their oft bewildered parents.)

16. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo. A multigenerational story of a (still) happily married couple, their four adult daughters, grandchildren and assorted significant others.  As the story transpires, you come to realize that even in happy marriages and seemingly happy families, there are secrets, and lies, and insecurities.  None of us are immune to the human experience.

17. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. I resisted reading this book for awhile because I thought it would be too heavy and dark. It is heavy and dark. But in all the right ways. A compelling, heart wrenching read. I couldn’t put it down. If I had a list of must read books, this would be right at the top.

18. Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. An entertaining, illuminating examination of a man in the midst of an unraveling marriage. The author weaves marriage, divorce, online dating, professional life and full time parenting into one really fabulous story.

19. The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor. A psychological thriller that explores one man’s return to the scene of the crime that changed his life.

20. How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics….by Michael Pollan. My sister suggested this book to me and I have to admit, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the whole thing if she hadn’t told me to read it. It was fascinating for me from a scientific and mental health standpoint. It also offered a really unique lens into the world of illicit substance use (something I am admittedly judgy about). It is not a light read, however, and definitely demands (and deserves) some thoughtful interaction.

21. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. A deep dive into the multifaceted sexuality of three American women. A thoughtful and worthwhile read.

22. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. I wanted to love this book but in all honesty, I just didn’t. An exploration of friendship and romantic love and youthful naivete. I just didn’t find it all that relatable and while I finished the book, I didn’t love it.

23. All This Could be Yours by Jami Attenberg. An exploration of dysfunctional family dynamics brought to a head by a dying family patriarch. Enough said.

24. Everything is Under Control: A Memoir…by Phyllis Grant. A sweet memoir told through food. There is a collection of recipes at the end of the book, which, frankly, ended too soon for me.

25. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. This was a good one. I always love Elizabeth Gilbert and this was no exception. A genuine coming of age novel that explores all the complexities of what it means to be a woman.

26. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. Another absolute favorite. Literally could not put this one down. A story of strong women, subtly shifting cultural perspective and finding one’s true self all woven through with adventure and purpose.

27. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. A story of a family, defined for too long, by the house they lived in. An intricately woven story of home, family, hurt and love.

28. Big Summer: A Novel by Jennifer Weiner. If you need a light escape from the reality of our current times, this is the novel for you. There are some worthy themes that are explored in this entertaining story. A perfect summer read.

29. Separation Anxiety: A Novel by Laura Zigman. Oh man, this one spoke to me! An exploration of a marriage well past it’s prime and the sequelae of staying in a relationship you need to leave but can’t get out of.

30. All Adults Here by Emma Straub. A well told, mulitgenerational family tale with exploration of parenting, childhood, relationships, sexuality, trust and betrayal. This one didn’t grab me the way some of the other books this year have but I think it is relatable and most will find something familiar in this story.

Commitment

I just finished a one minute plank.  Why, oh why, would I choose to do such a thing???  Everybody knows that planks are hard.  And boring.  And sometimes painful.  They are also apparently really good at improving core strength.  Core strength happens to be important if you want a Boston Marathon qualifying time.  And I want a BQ time.  So I’m doing planks.  (This is an oversimplification but it’ll do for now.)

Now, I’ve been here before.  I’ve committed to “doing planks” no less than a hundred times in my running life.  I’ll do them for awhile (3-5 days, max) and then I’ll fall off the wagon.  After three days in a row of once daily planks I pretty much have a six pack and my core feels invincible.  I stop before I get too carried away.  The end result of all of this on again, off again planking is that I never really make any progress with my core strength.  My core looks and behaves the way it did ten years ago.  The other, perhaps more important end result, is that I’ve made 100 promises to myself that I haven’t kept.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  I’m not going to claim that this an original thought.  Certainly others have talked, blogged and written about this difficulty that most of us have with keeping the promises we make to ourselves.  It has recently struck me, however, that these promises we make to ourselves are really, really important.  I make commitments to other people all the time.  I make commitments to my children, my family members, my coworkers, my friends and my patients.  And I keep them!  I don’t want to be the kind of mom, daughter, coworker, friend or doctor who can’t keep promises.  Unfortunately, I don’t give myself the same importance.  Somehow, the commitments I make to myself seem negotiable.  I allow myself to be treated in a way I would never tolerate from a friend or family member.  And I think it’s holding me back.  Because of my inability to keep promises to myself, I set and fail to achieve, the same goals over, and over, and over again.  And this makes me feel ineffectual and impotent.  So I’m trying to change this but I know it’s going to take time and effort and I know it’s not going to be easy.  I’ll have to work really hard to resist the urges to cheat on myself.  So I’m starting small.  Small but measurable and meaningful.  I’m starting with a plank a day, for at least one minute, for the remainder of the month of October.  That’s 28 days for those of you who are counting.  And I’m writing it down both here and in my BuJo to hold myself accountable.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.  Until then, here’s to promises made, and kept!

Crunch Time

I don’t know about the rest of you but this back to school business is brutal!  It’s no small undertaking to transition from the lazy, unscheduled days of summer to the whirlwind of school, band, piano, gymnastics, swimming, packing lunches, and getting to bed on time.  This year we have one child in 4th grade and one in 6th grade (first year in middle school).  This is the first time in four years that the girls have been in different schools.  It is also the first year that both girls have semi-serious athletic pursuits outside of the routine school demands and piano lessons.  The juggling of this barely organized chaos is a full time job.  Oh wait, I already have a more than full time job.  But, no matter.  I have made it my personal mission to master this chaos.

If you want a front row seat, much of this chaos happens on Tuesdays and Thursdays between the hours of 3:30 and 5:30.  It’s what I fondly refer to as “crunch time”.  As in, “All hands on deck, folks!  It’s crunch time!”  On Tuesday swim practice starts at 4:00.  But the lovely folks who run swim practice don’t have kids.  Because if they did, they would realize that when school ends at 3:30, it’s pretty difficult to get to practice at 4:00.  It’s also difficult to get a child to practice at 4:00 when you work until 6:00.  Enter the stay at home dad and the nanny.  So my husband picks the swimmer up at school at 3:30.  She grabs a snack in the car and heads to practice.  My husband then heads home to get dinner ready for our oldest who has practice starting at 6:00.  Our nanny picks up the swimmer at 5:00 and brings her home.  My husband leaves at 5:30 to take the gymnast across town to practice.  (If you are still counting, yes, it takes two people to properly perform “crunch time”.)  My husband and I then meet the swimmer back at home and have dinner.  Then we do homework, reading, reading logs, homework sign off, etc, etc, etc.  At 8:10 I leave the house to pick up my oldest at the end of practice.  Unless we need groceries in which case I leave at 7:40 and play the game called “Let’s see how fast we can conquer Costco!”  Then we bust a move home, grab a snack, brush teeth and fall into bed.  Ahhhh.

Thursdays are slightly better only because it’s early out day.  Which is hell if you’re a working mom but, again, enter the stay at home dad and the nanny.  (The world is not kind to working moms, by the way.  But more on that later).  The girls can ride the bus home, take a break and then reenter the practice shuffle.  One of the trickiest things for me this year is that my oldest starts practice at 6:00 and ends at 8:30.  Which, coincidentally, is her bedtime.  Again, coaches without kids.  There’s probably a hashtag for that.  (Sidenote….my kids have the greatest coaches.  They really do.  It’s just the practicalities that kill me).  So on the nights she has practice she has to eat before I even get home and the rest of us have to eat an hour later.  It would be pretty easy to just have her grab something quick and easy like mac and cheese or some peanut butter.  But, my girls are cursed by a mom who cares passionately about what they eat.  I believe with all my soul that what they eat affects how they feel, how they learn, how they perform as athletes.  So, I set about to find a way to feed her good, nutritious, quality meals before practice.  Some meals, like bison burgers with veggies are pretty easy to pull off in shifts.  I prep her veggies and side dishes the night before and then her dad can grill her a burger a few minutes before she eats.  Other nights are trickier.

Enter the beauty of the pre-made individual meal.  Over the past two Sundays I have set aside a few hours to make meals for my little gymnast that can be frozen and reheated in a short period of time.  I’ve managed to make three helpings of chicken noodle soup, 7 individual chicken pot pies and 9 individual quiche Lorraines.  (That’s 19 meals!!  So exciting!!)  She can reheat them all in about 30 minutes and with the addition of some veggies, have a well rounded meal.

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Start with fresh garden vegetables and herbs.

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Chicken pot pie in cocottes.

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Quiche Lorraine made in mini pie tins.

You see, when the %^&$ hits the fan and life gets crazy and chaotic and jumbled and feels out of control, feeding my family good, healthy food helps me feel a little more in control and a little more connected.  I can’t physically be there to feed my daughter dinner before practice but I’m with her anyway.  I put my heart and soul into making her food and she can feel it and taste it when she eats it.  I can love her ahead of time, putting good food for her in the freezer and depositing good feelings in her emotional bank.  Food is nourishment, and fuel, and love, and caring.  It is a way of connecting us even when we feel scattered.  It’s my way of reigning in the chaos a bit, and it works.

You Got This

There are some things that I swore as a parent I would never do.  If you’ve ever raised anything, you already know that most of the things I swore I would never do are things that I have, by now, actually done.  I was a really superb parent before my children were born.

One of the many promises I made was that we would never, under any circumstances, be part of a traveling sports team.  We were not going to spend our time, our money, our WEEKENDS, traveling around to other towns watching our kids play ball or shoot a puck.  While I understand why some families choose (or are coerced) to do this, I’ve never really understood the appeal.  I’m not a natural athlete and didn’t really grow up playing sports.  Plus, I love my weekends.  A lot.  They are necessary to my ability to unwind and catch up after a long week at work.

But something unexpected happened last spring.  My oldest daughter tried out for the competitive gymnastics team at the local gym.  At that point, she hadn’t really found her niche.  She had things she liked to do, friends she liked to hang with.  But she hadn’t found her thing.  And I really felt that she needed a thing.  Something she could work hard at, fail at, succeed at.  I didn’t really think that gymnastics would be her thing but figured that if she wanted to try out, she might as well.  And as fate would have it, she made the team. Fast forward a few months down the road and now it’s competition season.

Our first meet was a three hour drive and two states away from our home.  We were total meet rookies so I was glad to have our good friends there with us.  They showed us the ropes, talked us through the events and scoring and cheered for and encouraged my daughter.

As is my nature, I was worried about the whole thing.  Would she remember her leotard and warm ups?  How would we do her hair and get it to stay in place?  Where was the gym, how long would it take to get there?  More importantly, how would my daughter respond to the pressure of competition?  Would she get terrified and freeze?  Would she just phone it in and give a mediocre performance?  Would she, could she, rise to the occasion and shine?

I was a nervous wreck.  There is little that is more terrifying for a mom than sitting in the bleachers and watching your child mount a balance beam with the intent of staying on it through cartwheels and dismounts.  I literally held my breath through every event as if by not breathing, she would magically be able to hold on, stay on, carry on.  I didn’t want her to know how nervous I was, though.  Before she marched in for open warm ups, I wanted to pull her aside and give a lifetime’s worth of wisdom.  I wanted to tell her to try her hardest, do her best, hold on tight, focus, focus, focus.  But I knew that would be the wrong move.  I knew it could throw her into a tailspin and, being my daughter, she was already nervous enough.  So I settled on a single phrase.  Just one sentence.  That’s it.  No more, no less.  I met her in the athlete’s room, gave her a hug, choked back my tears of pride and said, “You got this.”

And she did.  She had it all under control.  She stepped out there with confidence in front of a bunch of strangers and she performed her routines.  It wasn’t perfect.  In fact, she was dead last in her group.  But she didn’t care.  She held her head high, conquered her nerves, stayed on the beam, and she did it.  All I had to do was trust her, and hold my breath.

You got this.

Unexpected

By now you probably know that I’m a planner.  I plan everything.  EVERYTHING.  When I travel I know where I’m going, when I’m going, who I’m going with.  I have it all planned down to the smallest details.  This is how I roll.

Sometimes, though, plans just don’t work out.  Sometimes we finds ourselves journeying at unexpected times to places we never thought we would go.  I don’t love these kinds of journeys, I really don’t.  But sometimes I’m forced to go on them.

I took one of these journeys recently with my oldest daughter and our oldest dog.  It was a gut wrenching journey.

Our oldest lab was approaching 13 years old when he began to show signs of slowing down.  Nothing specific really, just a little slower, a little weaker.  But he still seemed game for his daily walks and twice daily meals.  He still loved to be petted and eat ice cubes.  He was still the patriarch of our three dog pack.  This was the dog that had grown up my oldest daughter.  He was only two when she was born.  When I brought her home from the hospital, I told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to protect her, look out for her, and keep her safe.  He took those instructions to heart.  As a toddler, she would take her naps with her head rested on his belly.  Once she was out of the crib, he would sleep in her bed. Every night.  The muddy bedding made me crazy.  But the two of them loved it.  When she went out to play, he went outside, too.  When she went down the hill to her playhouse, he went too, and sat on the porch.  He walked to the bus stop with us every single morning, even on his last day of life.  He went to school with a Santa hat on.  That girl and that dog were best friends.

Over time, though, his weakness increased.  He had to be lifted up off the floor.  He needed help navigating the stairs.  His appetite waned and his muscles atrophied.  He made multiple trips to the vet.  He was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease and prescribed a lot of medications.  He took them all but still, he didn’t get better.  He developed large, weeping sores on his torso.  His weakness worsened.  We watched him get worse and worse, spending his days lying on the floor.  I prepared the girls that his time with us was coming to an end.  Either he would die soon or we would have to make the difficult decision to put him down.  They received the message well, took it in quietly.

Another week passed and he worsened still.  My husband and I talked about it and made the incredibly difficult decision that it was time to put him down.  He no longer had anything he loved in life.  I called the vet and we scheduled a time on Thursday to take him in.  Wednesday evening I told my daughters that it was time to put down their beloved pet.  There were tears.  There was sobbing.  There were heads buried under blankets.  I asked them if they wanted to come with me to the vet’s office when he was euthanized.  My youngest said no.  She wanted to stay in school.  She was sad but she and this dog had never been particularly close.  My oldest, though, that was a different story.  She said she wanted to come with me.  I wasn’t sure I could handle that.

She never wavered, though, in her desire to come with me and be with her dog at the end.  So, I picked her up at school at noon on Thursday.  We took the long way to the vet’s office.  She snuggled her dog in the back seat and held his paw.  She helped me get him out of the car and into the vet’s office.  She sat with him while he ate treats and had a sedative injected.  She wrapped her arms around him while the catheter was placed in his left front leg.  She buried her face in his neck while the lethal drug was injected into the catheter.  She held him tight while his heart stopped beating and his soul left this earth.  And she sobbed.  She sobbed, and sobbed and sobbed.

I told her we could stay with him as long as she wanted.  After a while she said, “Mom, I can’t leave him”.  So we stayed longer.  And still, she couldn’t leave him.  So we talked about how sometimes you can’t leave because you just need more time.  And how sometimes you just have to leave because more time isn’t going to make anything any better.  A few minutes later she kissed him one last time, said goodbye, and we walked out the door.

The ensuing days were filled with intermittent bouts of sobbing.  At bedtime when would lay in bed and cry for her dog.  I know with time this will get better.  I know she will move through her grief and come out on the other side.  I know that I’m incredibly proud of her for doing the hard thing and being with her first best friend all the way to the end.  I also know this was a journey I never wanted to take to a place I never wanted to go.  But I’m heartened, at least, that I had the best traveling companion ever.

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