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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

summer fitness: an exercise in creativity

I think I may have discovered one of the secrets to life itself.

No, it is not the complete mapping of the human genome, nor the formula for cold fusion.  I'm not talking zero emissions cars or solving the hole in the ozone either.

I'm talking about mom sanity.  For anyone who is a mom, you know that this is a secret worth knowing.

It is very simple.  It's called setting your alarm for an uncomfortably early hour. 

I have solved many of my time issues for this summer by just getting up around 4 A.M.  Lucky for me, I think summer mornings beat the pants off of just about everything (although as we turn the corner into August the sun is sleeping in more than I am) so getting up early is its own motivation. 

The early rising was born from a need to be creative about exercise time with Sandi's five day a week, 12 hour days at the hospital.  In order to not have to pay for childcare so I can exercise (I already have to so I can work), if I get up early I can usually run as little as 2.5 and as much as 4 miles between when it is early enough to see and Sandi's 5:20-5:30 departure time.   Often the sun doesn't even rise until I am sipping tea and scrambling for a few minutes to write before the early birds wake up anywhere from 5:30-6:30. 

Once a week I go to the gym, dragging a more than reluctant Ella to the gym daycare, so I can take a class, usually Body Pump, so I can build in some muscle training.

It is a total hodgepodge of an exercise schedule, but actually better than I had expected going into the summer.

The best part, and here is why it is a secret to life, is that I am SO much happier.  When I wake up early I am totally on top of my day, especially if I've also had time to write.  Summer is an incredibly fun and busy time of year and with all the recreation and traveling there is so much packing, organizing, and cleaning to do when we aren't having fun.  And, because I care that my kids eat well in the face of the constant summertime offerings of ice cream and other indulgences, I also carve out time to make zucchini bread, healthy muffins and other homemade snacks for our portable lifestyle.  If I didn't get up early, I would simply never have any time for myself. 

On the weekends I typically get in one long bike ride, usually with Emilie, because I find that I need one day of thorough physical exhaustion each week to keep my tenuous mental equilibrium.   I set out cereal for the kids and they get their coveted Saturday morning TV time while Sandi gets her coveted Saturday morning sleep time.  I am usually home by 7:30 or 8 and still have the day to go the beach or to camp and my day is full (mostly) with contentment.  Saturdays are Sandi's study day which puts me on day 6 alone with the kids and I seriously need a little contentment and some of my edge taken off at this stage of the week.

This weekend because I was on Beals Island Friday night, I was able to go out for an 8 mile run Saturday and do my long bike ride Sunday as well. I felt like I had hit the jackpot.

Emilie and I rode 50 miles in the wet through 9 towns on Sunday morning.  I had never ridden to Bucksport and was psyched to ride over this gorgeous new bridge (see its sorry looking former self off to the right?).  Often we ride lots of local side roads in big or little loops but this was a true destination ride (other than the Trek) on major roads and I want to do more of it.  Sunday morning is officially my favorite time to bike.  Hardly anyone is out on Saturday morning at 5 but the streets are deserted on Sundays. 

By some miracle, the flat tire I've been dreading getting occurred mere steps away from Emilie's driveway at the end of our ride.  There was nail squarely embedded in my tire.  Emilie slapped my bike on her car and drove me the 2 miles home, as our sweaty, wet, stinky bodies graced her upholstery and her dog Jackson, enthusiastically stood with his paws between us on the console trying to decide whose face to lick first.

Last summer Emilie and I said, "Hey, let's bike together!  Like maybe once a week!" and we never did, not once.  It was too hard to find the time.

So now we both just get up early and here we are, week after week.  I've decided you can't "find" the time.  I must MAKE the time.

It is a beautiful thing to have a friend who takes the same kind of pride and fulfillment out of being filthy and grimy and pleasantly exhausted. Out on the road you can cover all manner of topic and everything is open for discussion.  What's a little water falling from the sky when you have your friend peddling next to you?

There's lots of proud of regarding how I am handling myself as a person and as a mom this summer.  Being well-rested just isn't one of them and, with the help of copious amounts of iced coffee, I'm okay with that.

Friday, July 27, 2012

moxie...and I'm not talking about the soda

Wednesday was road trip day (I say that like every other day isn't road trip day in the summer.  Last weekend I drove to Schoodic- an hour and 15 min- two days in a row and then an hour to Belfast the third day).  Emilie and I packed up our kids and headed to a beautiful part of Maine known for its wilderness and everything white water.  We went to visit Matt and Ange at camp in "The Forks" which is named so because it is where the Kennebec and Penobscot River meet and then fork apart.  The Forks is like a college town, pulsing with young raft guides, except that it surrounded by more pine trees than you can shake a stick at and the topic of the day is the class of rapids that you paddled. 

The trip is almost 2.5 hours for us which makes for a looooong drive with four kids but organized moms, novel snacks and fairly content children made is tolerable.  We met Ange and her bigger kids at 10:30 to hike into Moxie Falls, the tallest waterfall (90 ft) in the state.  The hike itself is more a woods walk and no one fell on any tree roots and skinned their knees and no piggy backs were given. (As if.)

We just drove 2.5 hours. WHEN are we going to see this waterfall??

You can hear the falls long before you get to water and the first sight you see is the river gathering steam. Here is a shot hundreds of feet before the fall itself:

In Maine (and maybe other places?) we have a nasty tasting soda called Moxie.  (This is a strong matter of preference but I think it tastes like Robitussin DM.)  This waterfall redeems the name.

Moxie Falls:

The drop is enough to make you fist the back of your child's shirt into a ball and hang on tight.

Me, Ange and Emilie (I love my girls)
Then we drove up the road to Matt's family's camp and spent the day lounging, chatting, eating, playing and swimming.  I had a near drowning experience two years ago in Lake Moxie at this very camp (an embarrassing event wherein I refused to put my feet down on the questionable bottom while trying to keep a two-year-old Maya afloat and began to take on water.  When I was ashore Matt kindly said to me: "Do you realize you almost drowned in water where you could TOUCH?") so I wasn't too keen to get in the water.  I hid behind the fact that it was windy and chilly and, since these are my people, no one called me on it.

The kids had a blast on an inflatable trampoline way out in the water that required the use of a life jacket and provided ease for the parents on shore. 

The view looking up from my camp chair:

Honestly, I didn't feel like documenting much. I just wanted to chill and be there. I'm not great at doing that so I've been practicing.  It was a really fun day and so great to visit friends when they are in their own personal heaven. 

And no one cried on the way home (I think) except that Skyler was mad at us when we tried to record a music video of us singing a Brandi Carlile song.  We are SO those parents whose kids are going to be rolling their eyes at us when we are doing the things they should be doing.  Skyler was yelling, "Turn it down! I can't hear my movie!" and Emilie was saying, "Just a minute, honey.  Suzanne and I are almost done with this take."

Monday, July 23, 2012


I took the girls on their first "real" hike up a (mini) mountain. It was more of a hill to be exact, but shhhhh...don't tell them.

Ella reminds me so much of me sometimes it is a tiny bit painful.  She was intent on packing food for the hike.  She wanted to eat lunch on top of a mountain.  (Which we did at 10:15 a.m.)  She wanted to have the right outfit on.  She wanted to tell me in excruciating detail about every physical experience she was having as we made out way uphill through the woods. 

But, and here is the hallmark of me, she couldn't resist talking about her (very recently acquired) big dreams for future mountains.   And what we would pack.  And when we would go.  And what it would feel like.
I found myself both craving the quiet hush of the woods and being thoroughly amused by her monologue.  I had initially felt nervous about the possible presence of bears (my momma brain likes to worry these things through when there is just me alone with the girls- would I make a lot of noise, crouch down with my body covering the girls, would I try to place them up in a tree?) but there was no need for fear.  Having Ella in the woods is like having someone blowing a whistle in scheduled increments. 

Looking into this mirror that is Ella is humbling, self-reflective, humorous and heart-warming.  Despite the parts of me that she may find difficult to manage, she is indeed her own person and is blossoming into incredible young girl.  Lost are the tendencies toward insecurity and tenuousness.  They have been replaced by a sure footedness, a growing understanding of her place in the world and a want for more things she can do on her own.  I'm incredibly proud of our girl.

We hiked up little Chick Hill in Clifton and I was impressed by the girls' speed. This hike takes Sandi and I probably 15-20 minutes.  It took the girls and me (with Maya on my back for about half of it) about 40 minutes.  Not too shabby.

Chick Hill is a perfect beginner hike because it isn't too long and is only steep at the end for which little eyes are rewarded with sweeping views.   The girls were SO proud of themselves.

My mom gave them this book recently.  It is kind of a how-to on fairy house making, something the girls thoroughly enjoy doing.  We decided to put it to good use with the limited amount of natural debris atop the windy peak.

Luckily the fairies aren't too picky.

Zucchini bread, sliced nectarines, cheese sticks and chocolate chip cookies never tasted so good.

When we got to the bottom, Maya, who had ridden the whole way down on my back, said, "Well, that was fast."

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Last week my sister, Kathryn, her partner Brian and I took our kids to one of my favorite places: Storyland.  (And yes, we felt awful that Sandi was stuck in the basement of the hospital while we went out and had fun.)

Storyland is an adorable mini-Disneyland for the ten and under set, nestled pristinely in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  Our girls have been lucky enough to go nearly every year.  Normally when we take the kids Sandi and I rent a condo and stay for a few nights (it is about 3 1/2 hours drive time from our house) to visit Storyland and nearby Santa's Village (also an amusement park) on a different day.

Both parks are very family oriented. Admission is only $28 per person and they have special deal that allows you to enter after 2 pm and then come back the the entire next day (or any other day in the season) all for that same admission price.  You can bring your own lunch and they have tables set out for the picnicers.  They also have free kennels for pets (lots of their guests are traveling and just stopping on their way through) and free strollers.  Food is reasonably priced and even the trinkets in the stores aren't bad.  All of this allows us a lot of hours of fun at these little pockets of the world where childhood is protected like a secret.  If childhood had a backdrop, it would look just like one from Storyland.

This year, because of Sandi's schedule, the girls and I went down and stayed at Kathryn and Brian's house overnight with a plan to make it a day trip.  Since they are an hour closer, we just got up early, stayed all day and then drove back late.  All seven of us packed into our van (it wrecks my image but it's mighty handy) with snacks, music, toys and LOTS of coffee.

Brian did some route comparison on mapquest and wrote out these tidy directions for me.  I don't know the reason he didn't print them, but I'm glad he didn't because I just love the effort put in with the lines dividing turns and the symbols.

Each year we get a picture of Humpty Dumpty.  It is heartbreaking to see their growth.

Michaela, age 9.5, struggled a little to get into the groove of Storyland for understandable reasons.  We tried to make it really fun despite the young age the park is geared to and it worked in the end.  But it was hard for her, Kathryn and I had to acknowledge that she was outgrowing this magical place.

Case in point, she didn't want to be photographed with Clifford:

We totally did Storyland on a budget.  We shared the cost of gas, paid for admission, packed lunch and got Subway for dinner on the way home.  The only extraneous things I bought were these licenses for the kids ($20-  I wanted them to have the comparison from last year to this year) and ice cream ($6).  The girls each had $10 spending money from their grandparents and didn't ask for a thing.

But those licenses can only mean one thing....yep, look whose driving:

Braeden was content to ride in the back and contemplate his future and whether or not the car really was on rails and just how much he was at Maya's mercy.

Brian and Kathryn:

Milking this cow the highlight of Storyland for many kids and these two were no exception.  What they really loved was squirting each other with the water.

Lot's of stuff is child-sized at Storyland which is, as you would imagine, a riot for children.

Often it is the parents that are the biggest kids among the crowd. It would be hard to describe the enthusiasm my sister and I have for Storyland and our innate planner's minds know how to make the most of the day. 

If you passed by our group, you would think we were in a football game huddle.  "How about if we hit the Polar Coaster and the Dutch Shoes and then swing by the Whirling Whales on our way to the tractor ride?"  Pause for consideration.  "Well, we could do it that way OR because the lines for the Flying Fish get really long after lunch, we could do those first and make our way through the same loop in reverse."

I'm not even kidding. 

I will say that adult enthusiasm and joy for a child amusement park isn't without risk.  I was getting in line for the ballon ferris wheel with Maya, Ella and Braeden.  The cheerful music that comes from colorfully painted mushrooms nestled in the gardens was playing and there was no line.  The sun was shining, the mountain air clean and invigorating. I had a flash of joy and excitement and I ran a few steps ahead to kick my heels up.

And I cleaned poor Maya out at the knees.  She feel down hard on her bottom without warning (luckily on wood).  She cried with the shocked betrayal.  I guess the moral of the story is that even joy, unchecked, can me hazardous to your children's welfare?

It was obvious to see there were same changes in our bigger girls this year.  As I said, Michaela was having a hard time finding her fun groove.  Ella had some preconceived ideas about rides she thought were too scary for her.  (None really are and Maya went on all of them this year.)  When Ella was 2 we came to Storyland with a very pregnant Sandi and Kathryn and Michaela.  The four of us rode the log flume over and over again while Sandi took pictures of our screaming faces on the drop.  Ella had a stuffed toy puppy that she clutched for dear life and she screamed her little heart out and asked each time it was over to go again. 

Then for the past 4 trips to Storyland, she has refused to go on it, saying it is too scary.  I didn't push her but this year I did tell her that she was so much bigger now and that what might have seemed scary at 3 or 4 wouldn't be at 7.  After just one ride down the chute with me, she and Michaela were on their own.  Tall enough to ride without a parent, off they went in those floating logs.  This is Ella: from petrified to brave in a five minute span.  I went from encouraging her to take a risk to riding alone with the little kids, wondering how my girl got so big as to not need me on the "scary" ride anymore. 

Ah, such is parenting.

Michaela, Braeden, Maya and me: 
(I screamed each and every time we went down and, because there were no lines, I think it was like 18 times.)

At the end of the day we packed the tired kiddos into the van and tried to keep them happy for the ride home. As usual when exhaustion hits, my kids take to opposite ends of the spectrum.  Maya gets crazy and increases her volume ten fold and Ella cries.  Braeden was asleep and Micheala content and I had one carrying on like a screech owl and the other wailing to beat the band.  We played music and car games to stem the tide of dissolving children, and even had a family round of kareokee,  making up verse after hilarious verse to the tune of "On top of Spagetti" and that finally got some laughs. 

At one point in the chaos Kathryn turned to me and said, "Wow. Now I totally get why you say you need to get your kids to bed on time."

Okay, girls, I love, love, love you like this.  You are so fun and we can do so much now.  You have stamina and you are well behaved and you get along as friends (finally!) so pretty please, slow it up a little now?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

make it so

"Love is a human experience, not a political statement."   -Anne Hathaway

You know the little subject that you keep hearing about? The one that polarizes individuals, churches, families, politicians and states?

Gay marriage. 

Conservative or liberal, young or old, fat or thin, single or married, rich or poor, church go-er or not, vegetarian or meat-eater...if you live in the state of Maine you get to vote on this issue in 18 weeks. 

I'm not sure I said that clearly enough. 

In a mere 18 weeks you get to decide for me and my family.  You get to cast your opinion on our love and commitment.  You have the power to determine if our girls get to know equality for their family.

Does this make you sweat?  It does me.  That is a lot of power to have over someone else's life.  Over OUR lives.

How would you like it if it was up to the voting public, the majority, to decide if you had the right to your job, your housing, your children and your love?  These are all rights that we have fought for in the past many years.  In Maine, after two failed attempts on the ballot, non-discrimination for gay people was written into law in 2005.  Anti-gay groups got it put on the ballot as a people's veto to take away our "special" rights but it was upheld and we got to keep our civil rights to be treated like anyone else.  In 2008, through the court system, it became legal for us to adopt our own children.  (Thank goodness that was not left up to the public or we wouldn't be proudly displaying our girls' adoption certificates on our walls.) 

That just leaves marriage.   And Maine is rather fickle when it comes to gay marriage. 

To me, the arguments against gay marriage are like a bucket full of holes trying to hold water.  They are so flawed they are impotent in their power to convince.  Except that they are powerfully, frighteningly convincing to many.  The notion that gay marriage is a threat to the institution of marriage is so curious to me considering the current divorce and infidelity rate.  The argument that marriage is a sacred, religious institution is not even factually accurate given that marriage originated as a way to secure property, family dynasties and lines of inheritance.  Sure, people got married in churches but marriages themselves were a civil matter, not a scared one.  Until very recent history, and even still in some parts of the world, love was not a prerequisite to marriage. 

But, truly the most frustrating tactic of all is the one brought by the religious angle that homosexuality is an abomination because the bible says so.  This often thrown about quote comes from Leviticus in the old testament where it also says that eating shellfish, wearing mixed fabrics, eating or touching pig carcass (football anyone?), cutting your hair or your beard are abominations. You know what else is?  Divorce.

I hope all those divorced, bacon and lobster eating folks who are sitting in their chairs in their polyblends watching football will not be hypocrites when they cast their vote in November.

I'm guessing I'm preaching to the choir here but I kind of can't help myself.  With all the talk from both sides, I want to listen patiently and not have a knee-jerk emotional reaction when I hear people say, "I just don't think we should call it marriage" but I get kind of pissy when the voting public has this much say in my life.  I guess I should be glad that so many people are saying, "I think they should have the rights of marriage but let's call it something else" since this is a FAR cry from where we were 8 or 10 years ago, yet I tire of it nevertheless.

For us, it is all about equality.  If you give us marriage and call it something else then we are not equal.

As Robert Owen said: "It is a very simple issue.  You either believe in human rights or you don't." 

You can imagine just how much we appreciate that so many straight allies have joined the fight.  Sandi's family to be exact.  Her Aunt Suzie, Uncle Buck and their son Noah from Beals Island are sweeping their conservative Downeast Maine community with their passion for marriage equality.  I can tell you that it is only about 100 times more effective to have straight people saying, "hey, it's time we did the right thing and granted equal rights" than just having us shouting, "hey, we deserve some rights." The majority speaks louder than the minority every time. 

I really and truly can't express the outpouring of love from these, and others, in Sandi's family.  It is wonderful, astounding, touching.  We traveled to Jonesport-Beals the first day of our vacation to participate in the first of the Fourth of July parades and I felt like it was a holiday in our honor.  I never, EVER thought I would see rainbow colors flying in this small island town.

Sandi, her dad and the girls ready for the parade:

 Uncle Buck, Aunt Suzie and their extraordinary prodigy of a child (who also happens to be blind), Noah, in front of the float they built.  Uncle Buck built these cabinets to hold the TVs (four in all) and the video Sandi made. 

Uncle Buck, Me, Sandi and Aunt Suzie
It is hard to describe what marching in this event means in this small community. This is a place where people are fiercely loyal, astonishingly opionated and not known for their open mindedness. Once they are on your side, they will stay by you forever, but if you represent an unknown you will not be in the fold. If you are embraced, you are done so physically with hugs and affection and you receive the typical teasing of Downeast humor that lets you know you are family.

She doesn't like to talk about it too much, but Sandi is a bit of a hometown sweetheart and there couldn't be a better person to make people question their preconceived notions about something like gay marriage. Her family is not one for the spotlight and yet they marched alongside us with rainbow colors and overwhelming pride and support. Sure a few people gave a thumbs down or turned their back or even just looked at us stoically, but many, many people gave cheers of agreement and encouragement. 

And I am convinced that the float was received 100 times better being put on by local people, known and respected in the community, than a group from "away" coming in and trying to change the minds of these strong natured Mainers.

Sandi's sister, Kristi, with her daughter Makenna

Sandi and I

Kristi, with her kiddos Brevan and Makenna, the four of us, Aunt Suzie, Uncle Buck and Noah and Sandi's dad, Dwight.  (Sandi's mom and her other sister, Tricia, were out of town.)

Beth, who is doing a kick-ass job working for Equality Maine and having many of those difficult yet persuasive one-on-one conversations with people all over the state about marriage equality, with her partner Val and their daughter Oakley:

Kelly and Tracey and their son, Kane

The kids, decked out in rainbow and ready to throw some candy.

Sandi's grandparents, who are in their 80's, came to support the cause


Katie, whose cheeks hurt from smiling (mine too)

Music blaring, voices cheering, flags waving we were a colorful sight to behold.

proud dog
Sandi, waving the flag proudly:

A few days later, on the Fourth of July itself, we headed to Eastport, a town right on the boarder of Canada, for their parade.  With thousands of spectators, this was by far our most successful parade with people cheering and even crying on the sides of the street.  From there we made a run for it to get to the Machias parade a few hours later.  This meant we had to decorate and dismantle the "pridemobile" as Aunt Suzie dubbed it, twice.  No small feat, but many hands made light work. 

One of the highlights of our day happened first thing as we were waiting in the Eastport parade line-up.  We were second to last since we had gotten there late and so we met the front of the parade as they circled back around to the beginning.  (It is a LONG parade.)  This group of cheering teenage girls hopped down from the fire truck they had been riding and asked if they could march with us.  We gave them leis and flags and they started the parade all over again just to show their support.  And they weren't the only ones.  We figured in Eastport alone we picked up about 15 supporters.  In conservative, downeast Maine.  That is SO cool.

LOVE this picture of Sandi's dad:

Me and my own personal fashionista.

Indeed it is.

Katie, Alex and me showing our muscles.
Is this not the most beautiful picture of Sandi and Noah?

Sandi, flanked by her bright orange marriage equality t-shirt wearing parents. 

A good picture of the float with the adorable candy throwers in the back.

Katie and Alex

Beautiful sisters

This picture of Sandi's dad, Dwight, says it all. Here he is with us in Machias holding back tears.

At the end of the day, we really do it for these two:

Here's to hoping that we have a bunch of Macy's gift cards to buy for all the weddings we will be attending come November. 

A massive thank you and lots of love to all who marched, cheered, put money and time into this endeavor.  The energy and passion of it, the celebration of love, was one of the highlights of my year. 

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about relationships: "To be fully seen by someone, then, and be loved anyhow-this is a human offering that borders on miraculous."

How right she is. Love and commitment is a whole lot like a miracle when you think about it.  In this giant world to find one person who can put up with you and your wonders and flaws, and yours with theirs, day in and day out...this is a celebration.  And maybe not one that requires the focus on white tulle dresses, the perfect arrangement of roses and the decision between surf or turf. 

 To me marriage has nothing to do with the ideal wedding and everything to do with loving someone who leaves toothpaste smudges on the bathroom sink and forgets not to put your delicates in the dryer.  Marriage is acknowledging that life won't always be easy and some days anger and hurt may be stronger than our feelings of love but we are in this together and we will work out whatever comes our way.  Marriage is showing someone all the parts of you, even the ones you yourself are afraid of.  It is a safe harbor, a sanctuary, a lighthouse in a storm.  Longevity comes by holding hands and jumping into the fire and expecting to get burned sometimes but knowing the other will put salve on your wounds, even if her or she was the one who burned you.  Marriage is the beautiful, the ugly, the proud, the forgiven, the beloved, the challenging and the wonderous. 

This is what we have built after 11 1/2 years.  It is marriage in every way.  I cannot for the life of me understand how it could be a threat to anyone else.  We will have this regardless of the vote in November since we do not need society to validate our love. 

But living in a world where we are equal would sure be nice.

As Aunt Suzie says, "Make it so." Please vote.  Please talk to people you know who might be unsure.  Tell them our story. Show them our picture.  We are counting on you.

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