Tuesday, August 30, 2011

the "vacation," part II

(read part I of the "vacation" here)

Kathy and I decided to make coffee and formulate a plan of action while the kids slept in.  We had gotten the camp stove for Christmas from Kathy's mom, and while we had never set it up before, it was similar to one I had previously owned, so although we struggled with it and almost blew ourselves up a couple of times, we got it going without too much hassle.  One thing we had managed to pack was the coffee pot -- an essential if you feel like we do about coffee.  I love coffee so much that I vividly remember the day I figured out how I like it best (2% milk, no sugar).  Kathy loves coffee so much that if she has a particularly bad day, she says to herself as she climbs into bed, "At least this day is over, and when I wake up, I can have coffee."  The only reason I don't like to work out first thing in the morning is that it interferes with that first sleepy taste of coffee, as it rolls down my throat and through my warm, sleepy body.  If you've already run three miles, that feeling is diminished.  On previous camping trips, before we owned the camp stove or our blue speckled percolator, someone had to get in the car and drive to the nearest town to buy coffee at whatever 7 eleven or gas station that town happened to have.  So really the whole point of the camp stove, for us, was coffee.

Monday, August 29, 2011

the "vacation," part I

Two weeks ago, I was on "vacation."  I haven't posted in ages as a result of this "vacation."  Although my intention was to just take the week off, it's kind of gotten out of hand. 

Typically, we try to take the kids to do something fun for one week each summer.  Last year we spent the week on Fire Island, and seven days of five people in our one room house proved to be a bit too much for some people (me).  So this year, we thought we would divvy up the vacation into two chunks, and spend part of it camping and the other part at the beach.  It turned out that the only weekend our friends from Pittsburgh could come visit this summer and go to Fire Island with us was the weekend right before our vacation.  Then, we found out that our friends from Michigan were going to be in New York the week of our vacation and wanted to see us.  So our week was planned to go something like this:

Friday through Monday - Fire Island with Pittsburgh friends
Monday through Thursday - Camping with kids while Michigan friends house sit and explore NYC
Thursday through Sunday - Fire Island with 3 kids and 2 Michigan friends in one room house

Sunday of the first weekend, while we were out on Fire Island, it rained.  It really, seriously rained.  I had flooding nightmares all of Sunday night, which I thought was a little weird.  But whatever, we came home and started loading up the car to go camping and I chatted with my Michigan friends.  I went into the basement to get the tent, and when I stepped onto the carpet, something weird happened.  It sunk.  I realized that the carpet was actually floating on top of about two inches of water in our basement.  I also realized that I had ESP or had some kind of prophetic dream the night before.

I said something to Kathy about how the water seemed kind of gross, grosser than usual when the basement floods, but we decided that the storm sewer must have backed up or something.  We called the clean-up company and scheduled an appointment for them to come dry out the basement and get rid of the carpeting.  We set up the sump pump to pump out the water and bring the level down.  We wondered where our box with extra tarps that we had ordered from Campmor was, since it was supposed to arrive Monday, but it never showed up.  C complained that he was hot, and we found he had a slight fever (one degree).  He was tired, but he had just gotten back from an RV weekend with his father where it sounded like he barely slept, so we chalked it up to that.  We hemmed and hawed and debated, then finally decided to just go camping anyway.  After all, the water was going down, and we had our friends there to meet the clean-up crew, and a one degree fever is pretty much nothing for an exhausted 5 year old. 

(the ceiling of our tent, which will make sense later)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

you can't hurry love

All summer, I have been lamenting my pitifully performing vegetable gardens.  Today, for the first time since our return from "vacation," (the quotes will be explained in a subsequent post!) I investigated what was going on with the green beans.  These lovely, forgiving plants had, in our absence, produced an enormous crop of green beans.  They are a bit over-mature since we were gone for so long, which probably means I will have to cook the heck out of them, but I don't care.  Because finally, FINALLY, I grew something which we can eat.

Incidentally, all four of the tomato plants have tons of flowers and unripe fruit.  So it turns out that I was lamenting all my non-producing vegetables, when really I just didn't wait long enough.  Next year, I'll plant a week or two earlier, and also be sure to include some early-producing vegetables (peas, I think?) so that I can enjoy those instead of obsessing over what isn't happening.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Early this summer, one of my next door neighbors called to me from her deck when I was out working in the yard.  She pointed out a dead tree in the garden that separated our two back yards, and asked whether Kathy and I would be willing to split the cost of replacing the dead tree with her.  Of course, I said yes.  We left it at that, which left me to contemplate what kind of tree to put in the dead tree's place.  Which left me dreaming of stewartia pseudocamellia.

(this photo from awaytogarden.com)

Look at it, with it's mid-summer blooms, big beautiful buds, gorgeous peeling bark, and bright fall foliage.  It's so much more interesting that the same 5 things you can get from the local Home Depot.  So it seemed to me that convincing the neighbor that this tree was the way to go would be easy, right?  Nonetheless, I was nervous about the confrontation.  Finally, after weeks of agonizing over it, A said to me, "Well really, Erin.  It's not like she can say no."  She had a point.  If I went over there and made a pitch for a particular tree I wanted, and offered to be the one to put it in, it's not like she could say no, could she?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

packing list

Next week, we are going on our family vacation.  Last summer, we spent the week on Fire Island.  As each member of the family has gotten bigger, and our one-room house has stayed the same size, we thought a week in one room might be a bit much for us.  So this year, instead, we are going camping for four days.  I love camping.  So.  Much.

I am generally terrible at packing.  I can't remember the last time that I went on a trip where I didn't show up missing something essential.  When we went to Europe in July, I did not bring a single sock with me.  I've forgotten my toothbrush at least 100 times and have gone on trips with no underwear.  I don't know why, I just can't seem to keep it all in my head.  Making a list does not help, especially since, for some reason, I make the list then ignore it.

The exception to this rule is that I am a hyper-organized camping packer.  We already have a staging area set up in the basement, and the non-perishable food items are organized into bags that have the day we are supposed to eat them written on the side.  We have three separate lists going (food, gear, and clothes).  I'm not sure where this mentality comes from.  Maybe it's from miserable rain-soaked weeks at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival where I wished I had brought just one more emergency poncho.  Maybe it's because, even though I know we are going to a state park under 2 hours away, I feel like we are going to be in the "wilderness" and unable to buy anything we forget.  But I am in organization overdrive.

None of this changes the fact that last time we went camping, we forgot matches.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Date Night: South Africa

Okay, so we did not actually go to South Africa, I'll put that out there right away.  But as we are beginning to have one childless night a week, last week we decided to take advantage of our much-needed alone time, and went out to dinner in New York City.  As a fan of South African wine, Kathy located Braai, a gem of a South African restaurant in midtown.

Main Floor

Maybe because it was 90 degrees out and they had the doors and windows propped open. Maybe because of the thatched ceiling.  Maybe it was the music.  I don't know.  But I actually felt like I was in South Africa as I was sitting there with Kathy -- or at least, what I imagine South Africa would feel like, having never been there.  It inspired me to try all manner of food I would have ordinarily have shied away from, and I was not disappointed.  It appears they change the menu weekly, and this post is a bit overdue, so I can't tell you exactly what we ate.  A portobello with goat cheese and chakalaka, squid, truffle oil-laced mac and cheese (perhaps not so traditional), and an African road runner steak all made an appearance.  And of course, the wine.  It was heaven.  Although it's a bit pricey (though not much more than many NYC dinner spots), I'd highly recommend this restaurant to anyone who is looking for something out of the ordinary.

Perhaps the best part of the evening, however, is the re-emergence of a sorely needed regular date night.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


(the Cherry Grove beach, in the spring)

Yesterday, I woke up and kind of... needed a break from the kids.  Kathy and I had anticipated this happening, with the kids' summer vacation and me being home all day, not to mention A being with us full time instead of 60% like her siblings.  But yesterday's feeling was different than the run-of-the-mill feeling of "when does school start again?" that parents who stay home often experience as summer begins to wane.  It was like I woke up with a wet blanket on my chest.  I felt like I was being smothered.  Usually these days come after weekends where there has been a lot of family togetherness, so the manifestation of this feeling is a complete intolerance for the kids.  In the time I've been living with the kids, we've worked out sort of a vicious cycle. Usually, I cope with my intolerance by locking myself in my room and "reading," which also involves long periods of staring at the ceiling mentally cataloguing their faults.  Then, because I have been locked away, when I emerge to get food or go to the bathroom, they are ready to pounce, wanting to know what I'm doing in there, why I'm doing it, and how much longer until I can come out and play.  As if they have ESP, they can also throw in an innocent, offhand comment, that somehow sets off all of my anxiety and insecurities.  Something out of the blue like, "You know, I think it's important to have a job you really like."  Or, "Why don't you have as many tomatoes on your plant as so-and-so?"  I'm not kidding.  I reply to these comments with some barbed comeback, and then stomp back off to the bedroom. 

I realize that this is not their fault.  That doesn't mean I can grow patience where I have none or force myself to interact when all I want to do is hide.  I just... can't.

So it was with a deep-seated melancholy and some desperation that I decided to go out to Fire Island and have some time on the beach by myself.  Kathy didn't like it.  She observed, correctly and with disappointment, that I was running away from my own life.  But, I argued, when life feels like more than you can handle, there's nothing wrong with trying to escape your own life a little bit, right?  RIGHT?  And since it was supposed to be a high of 88, the sun was blazing in a perfectly clear sky, and I was 3/4 of the way through a book I really liked, the beach seemed like the perfect place to hide (from) myself.

I set off to the city with Kathy as she headed in to work, thinking for some reason that taking the Long Island Railroad would be more efficient than driving to Sayville to catch the ferry, although we typically do drive down.  I took the Metro North train to Grand Central, then walked across to Penn Station to catch the LIRR.  By the time I arrived in Penn Station, my t-shirt was completely soaked with sweat and my back was aching from carrying my 97 pound laptop from 2003 around.  I had a newer laptop, but I put it on the floor next to the bed after ordering stuff of Netflix one night, and the next time I went to use it, it turned out that someone (likely me) had stepped on it and cracked the screen.  Never mind, I thought, I will use the ancient and incredibly heavy laptop I used for most of law school.  All our computers have the same cord, so I wasn't worried when I couldn't find the actual cord that goes with that computer -- I just had Kathy give me the cord out of her briefcase and off I went. 

I got on the LIRR train to Sayville.  Did you know it's on the same line as Westhampton, Hampton Bays, Southampton, Bridgehamption, and East Hampton?  That's right, the Hamptons.  Directly in front of me were several families, all with children, headed out to the Hamptons.  I quick survey of the people getting on the train assured me that there would be no escaping massive numbers of children on the entire train.  It was like the Hampton Express.  So much for my break from kids. 

Never mind, I thought, I can sleep/read my book.  Which I did, for the most part ignoring the shouting and wrestling around me.  At least it wasn't up to me to shush them.  It's remarkable, though, that their parents didn't think it was up to them to shush the kids either.  I arrived in Sayville, gratefully got off the train, took the shuttle over to the ferry stop, and got on the boat.  The sun was shining, and the wind cooled me off as I rode the 20 minutes across to Fire Island.  I started to feel some tentative optimism about the day stretching in front of me, in spite of the fact that it was 1:45 and I had left the house at 9 am -- and driving only takes about an hour.  Oh well, I thought, I would still have my beach day.  I also had sentences spinning around in my head, and was looking forward to coming home from my day on the beach, getting carry out, and writing and writing until it was time for bed.  The next day, I would return to real life, with sentences written and darker tan lines, and hopefully some peace displacing irritation.

I went to our beach house, put on my swimsuit and sunscreen, and made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I grabbed my towel and book and headed toward the beach, eating my sandwich and delighted with how weightless I felt not carrying sandcastle making toys, a football, a frisbee, a blanket, enough water for 5 people, and all the other accoutrements that going to the beach with children requires.

Then, I encountered possibly the worst string of luck I have ever experienced in my life.