Our 2,371-mile Summer Vacation

It’s snowing and almost Christmas so, basically, the perfect time to post about our summer vacation, no?

When we learned that Andy’s cousin, Julie, had gotten engaged, Andy and I talked about flying out, just the two of us, to attend her wedding. But then she sweetly asked Sophie to be a flower girl, and the boys to be ring bearers. (To illustrate how excited Sophie was with this request, let me just say that she practiced daily—and for months we had loose silk flowers all over our house.)

The rest is my fault.

I Google Mapped the drive from Fort Thomas to Dallas (where the wedding took place) and then decided I wanted to spend a day or two at the ocean (which is not at all on the way). And then I thought about how long it had been since we visited Andy’s sister, Liz, in Atlanta. So I tacked that on. I tried to add on a few days in New Orleans and Memphis, but Andy cut me off.

I’m pretty sure I packed all the kids’ clothes.

All of them.

First stop—Atlanta. We met Liz and Eric for pizza at Mellow Mushroom.

We had ice cream after. We let the kids share one bowl, picking whatever they wanted—which resulted in a chocolate-dipped waffle cone with orange ice cream topped with gummy bears. I said I was full.

The kids were thrilled with the hotel room. Considering most nights we have at least one-if-not-two kids in our queen-size bed with us we thought it would be no big deal to all pile in a king-size bed.

We were wrong.

Hotel cuteness.

After breakfast with Liz and Eric, we headed onto Pensacola, Florida. We stopped here for boiled peanuts. Turns out, I don’t like boiled peanuts. I do wish, though, I could capture everything about the man who sold them to us—he has been selling them on the side of the road for sixty-plus years, I think (June was a long time ago now). He and his stories were worth the stop.

Next stop: the ocean!

Turns out, Owen isn’t a fan of the beach. He is a fan of sitting in his beach chair eating fruit snacks all afternoon, however.

Later that day we discovered Quietwater Beach—which was basically a knee-deep, bathwater-temperature haven for the kids.

We wore them out that day.

And then promptly woke them up for a stop at Joe Patti‘s for fresh shrimp.

Andy made the most delicious shrimp scampi that night.

We spent the next day back at Quietwater Beach, this time walking the boardwalk and venturing out farther, which meant life vests.

We stopped for some homemade popsicles at a cute little place and then did one last walk on the beach.

Owen wasn’t a fan of the noise of the waves.

I loved that last walk.

This was our cute little cottage, which I found online.

There were two bedrooms—we packed bed rails, and this was how the kids slept.

Next we had two days of driving, first to Shreveport, Louisiana and then on to Dallas for the rehearsal dinner. We stopped at a high school for a picnic lunch.

We made it to Texas. I’m skipping so much. Details about how we didn’t eat any fast food, choosing instead picnic lunches or roadside diners (with some successes—who knew roadside Thai could be so delicious in Texas?—and some failures). Of will-they-ever-go-to-sleep-in-this-one-room-hotel bedtimes mishmashed with the late-night, slap-happy, all-five-of-us giggling I so very well remember from one-room-hotel vacations as a child. Of colossal van meltdowns. Of the most fantastic family bonding that only happens on trips like this. Of a thousand games of “I Spy.”

But I digress. The wedding was at The Cotton Mill in McKinney, Texas.

It was hot. And beautiful.

Here are the boys practicing pulling their wagon, which held the third ring bearer. I have to admit: When Julie told me her vision (that the boys would be pulling a wagon together, without an adult, down the aisle and that another living being would be in the wagon) I pretty much envisioned disaster. Turns out, I wasted a lot of time worrying. They were great.

Here’s Julie, the bride-to-be, showing the flower girls where to be.

Emmy and Sophie


waterfall watching

my groom

That night was Fourth of July. So after the lovely rehearsal dinner at The Pantry Restaurant, we surprised the kids with sparklers outside our motel room. This went splendidly—until Owen burned his thumb (great parenting, no?).

The next day was wedding day. Aunt Susan made all the bridesmaids and flower girls cute towel wraps to wear while getting ready. And Jill made necklaces for Julie and the entire wedding party.

There was a lot of waiting.

Check out Sophie’s hair—one of the bridesmaids did it! I struggle with putting her hair into a ponytail so I thought this was just amazing.

Julie gifted the flowers girls with pink shimmer dusting powder, which, as you can imagine, was a huge hit.

Here’s Andy fixing the bow ties on our two handsome little boys.

I took a quick picture of the empty reception hall.


pink bow-tied brothers (love)

a few more pictures of the grounds and decoration

This is Blair, Emmy’s mom—she made both of the flower girl dresses. Not only can I not do hair, but I also can’t sew. So again—I was in awe.

Sophie, who loves all poof, couldn’t have been happier.

And here she is putting on more shimmer dusting powder—on her feet.

the beautiful bride and her beautiful mom

Aunt Fran (the bride’s grandma) and Jill (Sophie’s grandma)

the boys, waiting

Ross, the groom, built the cross.

I was in charge of moving the wagon and getting the boys back to their seat after their walk down the aisle, so I don’t have any pictures of it (Andy was in line with Sophie). I’m pretty sure I had more butterflies than they did over this simple walk but again, they were great!

the ceremony

Sophie and so-chic Grandma

Next up—pictures! I didn’t realize they had intended for me to be in a huge extended family picture and I missed it. I’d like to say it was for good reason but honestly it was a combination of 90°+ temperatures and Spanx …

fancy dress, glass of wine and a diaper bag

first dance

Of course we had trains at the wedding.

The kids loved loved loved dancing. Blair found lacy rompers for the flower girls to wear under their dresses, which both Sophie and Emmy stripped down to as soon as the reception started.

The reception was great fun and it was so nice to catch up with and meet extended family and friends.

This is pretty much how we all felt once it was over.

The next day we went to Tracy and Jeff’s house (Julie’s parents) for a cookout and swimming before the happy couple left for their honeymoon.

It was a fun, exhausting, beautiful, hard, memorable, completely worth it trip. Thank you, Julie and Ross, for inviting our kids to be in your wedding—it’s something they still talk about, to this day.

I’m already beginning to talk about our 2014 summer vacation. Andy just keeps changing the subject.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” —Helen Keller

That Look

Andy comes home today! Sophie has quite the welcome-home plans for him …

My parents came over and treated us to dinner last night. And earlier in my week of solo parenting Owen and James spent the night at my parents’ house, giving me time to tackle my piles while Sophie was at preschool. My mom took this picture of Pop Pop reading to them during their stay.

Also, the sun is shining today.

“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.” —John Denver

Solo Parenting

I took the kids to Skyline for dinner tonight. Randomly Owen and James started yelling out Reds baseball player names, including Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto, with great gusto. For Christmas, my dad gave James framed pictures of baseball players to hang in his room. My dad often reminds Owen and James the names of the players. I’m sure this is where the spouting of names came from but I have no idea why it happened in the middle of dinner tonight. But with the snow still falling as we ate, and all of us in dire need of baseball weather, it was insanely cute. So I grabbed my phone and recorded it.

I have no idea why there’s (a) no sound and (b) why it’s posting as a picture and not a video.

If Andy were here, I’m sure he could fix it. Just like he could fix the toilet upstairs that is suddenly constantly running. For now I open the lid and jiggle a wire forcing the stopper to close every time someone flushes. I’m sure there is a better (and easier) way to handle this.

Andy’s been out of town since early Thursday afternoon. And he won’t be back until late Wednesday afternoon.

Seven days.

Six nights.

It’s gone better than I expected. But it’s a long time.

He’s been gone for good reason. He spent several days in Florida, visiting with extended family. And now he’s in Denver, for work.

In some ways, I feel more on top of things. Knowing I’m in charge of everything, and I don’t have anyone else to fall back on, I make sure things get done. I worry too much to let things slide.

Still, Owen’s wearing a pajama top covered in heart stickers in the video/picture. It was a battle I chose not to fight. Owen and James also are wearing their snow boots (because it’s snowing, of course) but sans socks. I’d like to say that was another battle I chose not to fight but in reality, it was a shortcut I insisted on.

I think about all the mamas and papas out there who do this on their own, without any support from the other biological parent, always. Or the ones whose spouse/partner travels for work, or is away for months at a time, with the military. I admire you. And I’m sorry. I imagine posts like these are hilarious or infuriating (or, perhaps, both). It’s a week. One small week.

Still. I look forward to not being the only one running up the stairs every five minutes at bedtime. Sometimes, for good reason: a dirty diaper. Chapped/bleeding lips. A dropped Piglet. But the other times: “It’s important, Mommy!” “What’s important?” “I don’t know. But don’t leave.” Or, “Which engine is this?” while pointing to an engine in a Thomas book. Or, “I forgot to make a mask for Emma today!”

The calories I burn, running up those stairs … it’s how I’m justifying the popcorn drizzled with truffle oil and covered in parmesan cheese, which I’m eating right now.

And in some ways, it’s nice. Andy hates the smell of truffle oil. And now I can eat it without complaint. I can not watch basketball (although I should point out “Peach Baskets”—my bracket—is currently ranked fourth out of 240 entries). And not once in the past five days have I encountered a bathroom sink full of little hairs, which is what I always encounter after Andy shaves.

But then, I like arguing about the merits of truffle oil. And it’s weird to not have basketball on in March. And washing those little hairs down the sink isn’t all that bad, really.

There’s a reason they say absence make the hearts grow fonder.

I miss him. I miss us. All of us, all the ways we work and don’t work together as a family of five.

Soon. (And for that, I know, I’m lucky.)

“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” —Kahlil Gibran

San Francisco

In February I spent a long weekend visiting my brother, Kyle, in San Francisco.

He’s a transportation planner with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. After I landed, I took public transit (of course) and met him at work. Above is the view from the floor he works on.

That night we went to Oakland for a Shabbat dinner (my first) at Steve and Sierra’s, longtime friends of Kyle. We sat at a long wooden table that Steve built by hand, under strings of white lights, eating Steve and Sierra’s most delicious food, drinking good wine with the most interesting people while Joni Mitchell played in the background. It was, basically, my ideal dinner party.

The view from Kyle’s deck the next morning.

It is so easy to visit a city Kyle lives in. He seemingly knows everything. Like where we should get pastries (Arizmendi Bakery).

And where we should get coffee (Philz Coffee).

He explores, constantly.

After breakfast, we hiked Bernal Hill. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities and I’ve been several times. It’s nice to visit a place and not feel obligated to do all things touristy and instead, spend a morning discovering a treat such as this.

Next up, a farmer’s market to nibble on samples of oranges and nuts.

beauty found while walking the streets

Kyle at one of his favorite burrito joints. (He was ignoring the fact that I was taking his picture. Again.)

826 Valencia, a nonprofit founded by author Dave Eggers, dedicated to supporting students with their writing skills—it’s right down the street from where Kyle lives, and I’ve long loved its mission. Oh to be able to take my kids to writing workshops at a place such as this! Bonus: the storefront is a pirate supply store. My kids made out well.

Kyle and I had separated at this point. He had gone back to work to get his bike. I, of course, got lost. But along the way I passed the gorgeous Women’s Building, which I wanted to see anyhow.

Finally, after several phone calls to Kyle, I found his place (he shares the third floor with two roommates).

Kyle bikes. A lot. When living in Brooklyn, he regularly biked to Manhattan for work. Biking with him is something I’ve always wanted to do. But I’ve also always been nervous. I haven’t biked in years (transporting three kids while on a bike isn’t easy). I’ve never biked in traffic. But he had a bike for me. And a helmet. And he promised to go slow and watch out for me (which he oh-so-patiently did). I was a bit of disaster at first, but only got laughed at by bystanders twice. And then, I loved it. We biked for miles through the city and all the way through Golden Gate Park, ending at Ocean Park.

A coffee break (I like a travel companion who likes coffee).

And then, a quick bike ride to Lands End for a glimpse of Golden Gate Bridge.

That night we had south Indian.

The next morning our aunt Janeil who lives in Sacramento picked us up and we drove to Half Moon Bay for whale watching with the Oceanic Society. It was so great to see her.

We boarded our boat, Salty Lady.

And Kyle and I got so, incredibly, seasick.

(Janeil fared much better.)

our captain

I managed to take a picture of some otters on a buoy while gripping a rail on the boat and singing “Alouette” softly to myself over and over in an attempt to not throw up (I don’t know why that song, in particular, helped, but it did).

blessed land

That night Kyle and I had dinner at Dante’s Weird Fish. The food was good. Really good. The conversation was good. Really good. It was a perfect endcap to a great trip.

The next morning I said goodbye to Kyle, as he had to go to work. He suggested I try Tartine Bakery. It resulted in, what I’m pretty sure was, my first use of “OMG” on Facebook. I now understand the line.

Then, I wandered.

I took transit back to the airport. While waiting for BART, I saw a bouquet of white roses lying on the tracks. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. Who did they belong to? Why were they thrown? What love fell apart because of them? So I took a picture. Self-conscious, I looked around me. The guy standing next to me was taking a picture of the same bouquet with his cell phone, too.

I love this city.

And then, I flew home.

Thank you, Kyle, for a most lovely trip. And thank you, Andy and Mom, for help with the kids therefore allowing it to happen.

“San Francisco has only one drawback—’tis hard to leave.” —Rudyard Kipling

Thanksgiving in Baltimore

This year we traveled to Baltimore for a long Thanksgiving weekend with Grandma and Paw Paw, Aunt Lizzie and Great Aunt Fran. Thanks to the help of a second portable DVD player, the kids did well on the trip and it was so nice to be surrounded by family, especially family we don’t get to see very often.

The weather was unusually warm—we spent much of Thanksgiving morning outside, at several neighborhood parks.

As usual, Thanksgiving dinner was delicious. The kids especially enjoyed their own kid table this year.

Later that weekend we went to Baltimore’s Festival of Trees—Owen and James loved the train exhibit; Sophie loved the indoor carousel and tattoos.

Andy found his old Battleship game in the basement. Sophie played a good game against him, but Daddy won.

Thankful for family, and being able to travel and spend time with family. Thankful, indeed.

“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.” —Cicero

Kyle’s Graduation (7 Months Ago)

I only get to see my brother Kyle a couple times a year. He lives in San Francisco where he’s a transportation planner with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. He was in town for the holidays. As a child, it never occurred to me that someday, the chance for me and my siblings to all be together would be something special rather than ordinary. Sometimes I ache for the ordinary. He’s gone again, as is my sister and her family, as is what happens when holidays end.

This May he graduated from Rutgers University after earning a Master of City and Regional Planning, and Transportation Policy and Planning degree. My parents gifted my sister, Katy, and I plane tickets so that we could see him graduate.

all dressed up

the quilted map wall hanging my mom made for Kyle



Kyle and his grad school friends

me, Mom and Katy

Kyle and Christine



Rutgers in the spring

walking the High Line in NYC on Mother’s Day

street musician

Brooklyn Bridge Park

Kyle misses New York City—we miss visiting him there. But San Francisco isn’t too shabby. Today I booked a plane ticket to visit him on the other coast, over a long weekend in February.

I can’t wait.

“A sibling may be the keeper of one’s identity, the only person with the keys to one’s unfettered, more fundamental self.” —Marian Sandmaier