I’ve been checking travel guides out of the library. I love the thorough, encyclopedic nature of them. I love the way you can flip around, end up in a new Arizona city, and to read it about for a paragraph. I love the way I can read a concise page when I catch a few moments on the couch by myself.
I love the bright blue boxes offset from the rest of the text, summarizing a deeper topic. I love the way guidebooks feel parental, like shepherds. Concerned, but chipper.
Sam McFadden and I met when our oldest children were in the same kindergarten class at a fabulous Boston Public school. We both showed up with their younger siblings at pick-up, splitting snacks between the two and managing to watch both the playground-play and the fountain-play at the same time. Our kindergarteners became fast friends, built on a shared love of Minecraft, drawing, Star Wars and imagination.
In quick succession Sam and I both began showing up looking fatigued, queasy, and then subsequently announced/explained: pregnant.
Right around when we finished our lease on our North End apartment and moved to Vermont, Sam and her husband Aaron made the decision to follow a lifelong daydream and move their family onto a sailboat. They have been living and homeschooling on their 42′ boat since last year. After watching them spend this past summer sailing around Maine’s harbors, I had to follow up with her and ask a few questions about life these days!
A few best things from California last week. Right now I’m contemplating ordering food-safe five gallon buckets and how to go about filing them with beans and rice, so this is a nice thing to think about alongside. (Though if I read one more “bro goes grocery shopping” coronoavirus prepper article, well, I will be forced to write my own.)
So the plan was this. My sister volunteered to take the older two girls to Disneyland with her husband. First it was one day. Then they decided to go for two. Meanwhile we planned to settle ourselves with the two younger girls in Santa Monica. Then we picked the older girls back up for four more days after their Disney time. We rented a car and drove back into downtown several times, but always at off-hours to avoid the worst of the traffic.
Once it was decided that the older girls were going to Disneyland, that it was really happening, we turned our attention to playing catch up. As of last month, they hadn’t seen Cars, Toy Story, Snow White, Bambi…so many things!
We homeschooled that stuff and caught. up. It was really fun. I’m not sure we would have even tried to catch up at all, had not Disney serendipitously opened the vault at the beginning of this year, allowing unlimited downloads on (nearly) unlimited devices through Disney+. I couldn’t believe I could download Mickey cartoons from 1940s as a way to learn about Pluto.
Was it ok that you didn’t see Lion King? I asked them later. -Yes. It was fine, they said.
But I’m so thankful we didn’t try to do Disney ourselves with all four kids. And I’m so thankful my sister and her husband were willing to be excited Aunt and Uncle and take the girls. They just modeled how fun it could be for Joe and I. It was an incredibly special and memorable experience for the girls.
As part of the trip prep, I spent a strange amount of time looking for dresses that said *festive special* and *could be worn to other occasions.* I had the best luck with selection at Dillard’s. In case you happen to be in the market as well.
Here’s an itinerary scheme that I’m definitely going to use again in the future: my sister and I and our husbands had a shared note using the Notes app on our phones for weeks before the trip. This helped me suss through the itinerary and not feel so in-my-head like I sometimes do when travel researching. My sister had lots of good ideas, naturally, and this was an easy way for her to get them all to me concisely. Plus we could reference the note whenever one of us forgot what was coming next. Another tip: we wanted to use street parking around our hotel to avoid the steep valet fees. My sister suggested using the app SpotAngels which helped me find afternoon or overnight meters in convenient locations.
in no particular order…1 Meyer lemon pie in the park with Noelle. Noelle and her son and I met in the pleasantly dusty park at the base of the Griffith Observatory where there is a tavern that serves pie with fresh whipped cream on the side. Joe and the older girls hiked up on the hill to the Observatory without water, in the sun, only to find it closed, but that’s a story for another time.
2 Noelle suggested getting notebooks for the girls at Muji in Santa Monica. Now, we have a Muji in Boston. And we several times we have bought notebooks for the girls there. But I frankly have no idea where those notebooks are, and why am I being parsimonious about notebooks? What a fun thing to buy on vacation.
3 Here’s what’s really fun to put in vacation notebooks. Scratch-n-sniff stickers that smell like hot chocolate from In-and-Out. You can put them in while you wait for your food, so excited for shakes and fries and yet smelling hot chocolate, while sitting in the sun.
4 The Santa Monica farmers market felt otherworldly. The trays of strawberries covering the table felt like virtual reality. Surely they couldn’t be this beautiful and edible and real? I thought of the pirate captain in Pirates of the Caribbean who longed only reverse the curse and eat an apple. We ate mid-winter, post-curse strawberries. And we peeked into the crates and crates of vegetables labeled to head to the city’s best restaurants.
5 I loved all the “gentle handle with care!!!” signs propped around the ripe avocados. The precious babes of the market.
6 Artisan doughnuts are safely a nationwide thing at this point, but having them within a drive of the beach like Sidecar Doughnuts does is really something else. Their coffee is excellent as well which was lovely because the baby woke up between 3-6am PST every morning. Over the years people have asked me if the babies sleep well when traveling and no, they never do. It’s not really the point of travel, I’ve found, to hope to sleep well. Set that idea aside and it won’t bother you.
7 With doughnuts at our side we alighted on El Matador Beach for a morning. So gorgeous, a beautiful beachfront with giant stone sculptures strewn across it. I expected Ariel, with fins, or her sisters (whatever happened to her sisters?) around every corner. We had no problem finding parking in the tiny beach lot because we were there so early! Grateful to Ashley’s perennial favorite travel posts for this idea.
8 On this trip we visited the Getty Villa for the first time. The Villa is modeled almost exactly on a Roman villa excavated in Herculaneum. It is framed by a modern building and has incredible views of the ocean. You are supposed to make free reservations ahead of time (we didn’t, and it was fine on a slow Monday), and parking costs $20.
9 The girls were thrilled by their Percy Jackson themed audio guide. And I was super impressed with how fun their their family activity room with Greek shadow play and look-alike ancient ceramics for coloring.
10 Brown rice porridge at Sqirl. But you probably knew I’d say that. I have to try it at home!
On one of the days that the older girls were at Disney, we decided to visit the rather incredible retail of Venice. Abbot Kinney has become startlingly hip, but the Rose Avenue area is still calm and pleasant and Gjusta takeout is just around the corner from the shops mentioned below.
11 Here it is 2020 and I’ve never been to a Jeni’s Ice Cream! This was such a treat. They have a tasting tray available, with the flavors selected and annotated by Jeni herself. I would not have ordered the brown butter almond brittle on my own but it was my absolute favorite!
12 After visiting Rudy Jude, Parachute, and Jeni’s, we continued our allstar stroll down Rose Ave to Moon Juice. I loved the vibes in there, and it wasn’t just the fungus-based adaptogens in the air. All the lattes have a coconut-almond milk blend base with cacao so they are incredibly delicious, moon dust or not (moon dust doesn’t hurt though!).
13 We bought snacks—-fruit, kefir, avocados (precious!), bread and extremely good butter—for the hotel room at the farmer’s market. We also bought things like cheetos for the pool, and those cheddar-and-club cracker packets for random times in the car. Grocery snack novelties are so satisfying when you’re traveling.
14 Without a highchair, every morning I would put a towel down and feed Esme on the floor, which allowed me to see the amazing way she prefers to sit away from her plate and reach, yoga-style, over to the food.
15 We stayed relatively true to our time zone and often tucked into bed with books around 8pm. Once or twice we caught the sunset on the beach before heading to bed.
16 The girls played with the built-in gymnastic equipment at “muscle beach” in Santa Monica. They love monkey bars and gymnastic bars at home, so it was fun to be out with the workout adults in the morning and doing our thing together.
17 I packed minimally for all of us but Alma ignored everything I brought and wore the same outfit every day. It was a brilliant move. She fit right in and it’s an outfit she tries to wear at home but, old house in the winter in Vermont, it never works.
18 My sister and her husband babysat all four girls one morning so Joe and I could go to a museum and out to lunch. It was a time filled with lots of silent contemplation and reading all the paragraphs on the wall at the art museum, which is something I dream about doing on family-museum-visits. When we came back to their apartment they’d gone out to a playground, and so we sat on their porch and read our books. When they came back, her husband made margaritas and we ate take-out from the taco stand down the street and watched Jeopardy together. An amazing memory.
A few notes on our wonderful time as guests of Huttopia–they offered us a tent for free and we paid for a second one for Joe’s parents who came with us. There is so much elegance to this crisp camp set on a former Boy Scout campground. That may be because the company is a French one, and they have their method down pat. So much so that there were many European and Canadian visitors at the camp with us during our time. In talking to one fellow camper, I learned that Huttopia has something of an enormous following in Europe and is effectively a lifestyle brand there. So it’s pretty fun to encounter their first USA location in New Hampshire.
Sleek tents, tidy campsites, a pretty and warm swimming pool, a generously stocked camp store, and fun daily activities for kids. I didn’t grow up camping, but my best friend did, and I always enviously listened to her stories of cavorting around the campground nearly parent-free for the week. At Huttopia, I totally got a sense of that freedom for the girls. Because there were no cars allowed at the campground beyond the parking lot, they felt free to roam the roads. They liked walking to the playground on their own, and getting sent on errands to the camp store. And they LOVED the evening showing of Moana on the baseball field that got a sprinkle of rain, the better to cuddle under their blankets for. If we had planned the trip with a couple family friends they would have had a blast just running to each other’s campsites and checking in.
Joe keeps a hatchet in the back of our car (such soccer moms!) for all our fire needs, so he can make spiffy designs like this on the go. The Huttopia camp store sells firewood, but unfortunately the firewood for sale when we were there was not aged enough and did not burn well. We recommend picking some up on your drive, nearby grocery stores stock older wood.
That flip-grill thing is on all the fire pits and is genius. Love it. Practically eliminates the need for cookware over the fire.
Diana’s Baths nearby is an easy (and extremely popular) adventure. The trail to it is practically stroller friendly. For two year olds it takes one adult with them at all times as the rocks are slippery, but for ages five and above, there’s lots of independent play to be had.
A few items I might suggest you bring along:
-your own pillow, always a nice luxury
-coffee ground for a French press (the press is provided)
-a tea kettle–just easier to deal with than a pan
-fan, in case of hot & humid temps
-bug spray for the evenings after dark
-cozy food supplies, like bacon, hot coco mix, wine, and these all natural cheetos rip-offs that I find to be insanely good.
-fire wood, see note on this above
-it always pays to bring your own hammock, we have this brand and bring it everywhere!
Some of you told me you were going after I posted on instagram that we were there, how was your trip?
Grace Farms in New Canaan Connecticut is on the way, or very close to the way, from Boston to New York. It is 3.5hrs from Boston, and 1.5hrs from New York. It is completely unmarked up until you find the driveway, then you will see a sign that you’ve found it. Parking is free, there is a cafe that is open until 3pm serving easy dishes, like one delicious huge house salad, a bookstore/library with just a few quixotic concentrations (art & beauty, justice & ethics), and a tea room where pots of tea are served for $5-$10.
The property grounds have trails are open for wandering but the building is hard to wander away from. Its elegant river shape somehow evokes a mother guiding her hens, you don’t want to walk out from under from her wing.
The Japanese male & female partner architects Sanaa also designed almost all the chairs that you’ll see on the property, like the lovely drop chairs that look like floating mercury thumbprints (your children will ask to get one for home, its better not to google the price).
Stopping by for a couple hours is a chance to luxuriate in beautiful thoughtful design, for free! We had a hard time leaving and ended up coming once more on our way back from Philadelphia. The cafeteria, in particular, is a joy to sit in. Closed on Mondays. And, it’s Connecticut, so do check for ticks before you get back in the car.
Dear New Hampshire, we barely delved into your beauty and depth! Booking this trip a few weeks before, we intended to drive to the White Mountains to smell alpine air, let the girls stretch out with more room, and hike a bit. But we were surprised to find ourselves surrounded by the most pleasant vacation atmosphere everywhere we went. We are stalwarts of Maine trips, accustomed to claims of “Vacationland!” on every roadside sign. So humble, gorgeous New Hampshire with cheerful Hi-Way roadside diners and 40s of beer for sale at gas stations, surprised us.
There were adorable clusters of cottages (1/2) with stone chimneys and miniature yards draped around kettle ponds. The ponds were stocked with paddle boats and lazy canoes. The restaurants had a view of the mountains and the trip advisor reviews, scanned quickly on my phone, said things like “dated, but the pool is heated year round and the food is excellent.”
I was further entranced by the boy howdy tourist attractions sprinkled about the White Mountains. There are railroads everywhere. Some of them serve lunch and ice cream. Others’ climb steep mountains. There is a place called Storyland, a land celebrating stories of the untrademarked variety.
Everyone we met was boisterously friendly, each practically shouting “Hi!” when we passed them on the trails. A restaurant had taped up a sign that read “30 minute wait for food.” This sign was visible the moment you walked in. Were Boston to follow this trend you would see “30 minute wait for water,” and “30 minute wait for acknowledgement” signs tacked up everywhere. Because we’d fallen for the faux-treehouse vibe and this endearing sign upon crossing the threshold of the building, we ordered anyway and had a delicious meal 30 minutes later. As we left, I noted that a new sign had replaced the old one: “40 minute wait for food.”
hiking a 3.5 mile Mount Pemigewasset round trip.
The three-year-old found an 1000 piece puzzle of a Victorian Christmas scene involving unfurled red ribbons with messages written in a German-style font, framed above and below by a sky and snowy field that were exactly the same color. She spread this across the table and spent thirty minutes twice a day furrowing over the pieces, perhaps matching one or two together by the end the hour. “Who can help me with the puzzle,” she asked us many times. “Mom, will you help me?” Our Little Red Hen, except she never did get her vindictive loaf to have for herself. We would take turns sitting with her, managing to piece a few more bits together before the toddler climbed up to sit on our lap and swept them to the floor like dead flies.
“Maybe we’ll get one for home” I said when we had to put the fragments away at the end of the weekend, “only with a more fun picture.”
“No, I want a Christmas one just like this,” she said.
The road up Mount Washington is privately owned and not managed by the National Parks system. This was very curious, and it was not well run. The line to get in was slow, though once you got to the front you realized that genial grandfatherly types were running it, and forgave them the wait instantly. Gravel had washed off the edges of the already narrow road, and the observation center at the top was rundown and clearly over-stretched. There is an option to send a postcard from their post office, a charming idea, but all the postcards for sale are ugly with almost no photos of the mountain itself. The design of the observation deck felt like a soviet-90s buildout. After sharing two toasted hot chocolates (the weird way industrial chocolate powder burns to taste like peanut butter), we sat outside where there was one weary sign about the scenery.
There is one thing they do that is perfectly done: the red and blue bumper sticker that is included with every single price of admittance: This Car Climbed Mount Washington.
Driving back to the rental, we noted that savvy New Hampshirites had flocked to places named things like The Basin and Land of Many Uses. We resolved to do the same next time. As we drove through the trees I could see merry babbling creeks through the trees. To be there on an 80 degree day and poke creek pebbles around with your toes must be heaven. Hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail would also be amazing. And maybe someday seeing one of the huts! (if you want to fall deeply in love with the White Mountains from afar, follow btonevibes.)
Lux is beginning to read on her own. I’d brought up an early reader with a silly plot that we love, Moose Goes to School, and it was special passing moment to get to watch her read it over and over again to herself on the couch. Vacation at its best!
We watched Hello, Dolly twice. I memorized most of the songs as a kid, unbeknownst to the girls and Joe until the movie started, and I did not hesitate to sing along. I had totally forgotten this connection, but the five-year-old immediately recognized the music from the movie Wall-E replays in the evenings on his makeshift projector. The girls fell hard for Dolly. “Everyone knows Dolly,” they whispered as Barbra Streisand danced around the restaurant. “That looks terrible on him and really good on her,” speaking of the feather boa Dolly wickedly drapes on her distracted love interest. “That looks like something Dolly would wear,” they remarked once back in Boston as we walked past a hat shop.
Everyone got spider bites and there were ticks of course and strange hiking blisters. Buoyed with vacation spirit beforehand, I bought delicious strawberry artisan marshmallows that melted right off the sticks at the first sign of toasting and thus had to be plied carefully onto the graham cracker, at which point the girls declared them “too sticky,” and asked for the “the normal ones.”
We were so fortunate to be hosted by my mom and my aunt Anne in Rhode Island a few weekends ago. My sister Joanie and two of my brothers were also able to come. My mom had reserved rooms at the Ocean House and we managed to squeeze everyone in together.
On the way down we stopped at Monahan’s for a classic clam shack experience, tables outside near the water, fried oysters or clams (you don’t always see both, actually) and lobster rolls. We should have stopped off at Matunuck’s Oyster Bar on the drive as well, but we regrettably decided to wait until later that weekend (and never made it). My mom from Michigan, and my aunt from Denver, kept exclaiming over the smell of the ocean.
In the fall, the Ocean House puts boxes of apple varieties on the front steps for guests to sample on their way in or out. It was this small perk, and the adorable downstairs candy and doughnut shop, that topped the girls’ memories of the place.
The hotel is absolutely stunning. Its restoration was a labor of love by a local man who wanted to save the land from turning into condos. I could not stop taking pictures of it, and I often found myself hiking around the long way just to see it from another perspective.
Not surprisingly the beauty of the property, the time with my family, all their help with the girls, the extra undisturbed time to put Alma down for a nap, and the long dinners together, were totally restorative!
We were all able to sit on one of the giant teak porches for dinner both nights, watching the slow sunset, eating local oysters, and catching up on all we’d missed in the past few months.
The town of Watch Hill is a five minute walk from the front steps of Ocean House. The tiny carousel was closed for the season, but cozy wood-raftered St. Claire’s Annex was serving breakfast with fresh squeeze mimosas, Huxter was stocked like a slim closet for an elegant east coast surfer with a taste for nice dinners, Ten Sandwiches had espresso and sandwiches, and the iconic pink walls of the Olympia Tea Room were visible through the spotless glass windows.
Ocean House has a free borrow-a-car ahem, borrow-a-Mercedes-Benz, program. You show up at the front desk and ask if any cars are available at that moment. If there is one, they pull one around for you right away. Thanks to all the devoted volunteers, Joe and I were able to go for a short (FAST) drive together. I wanted to show him the rolling green farmland-n-pond drive to the Weekapaug Inn. Then we drove on for a bookstore date to The Savoy. I found the hardcover of a book I’d read on the kindle, Fates and Furies. I loved that book and it was fun to see its beckoning presence in a real live bookstore. (We bought Commonwealth, Substitute, and for the whole family: Thing Explainer.)
After we got back, we handed the car on to my brother and his girlfriend for their own tour.
Oh, let us remain fearless in the face of school calendars. Let September and October always be dotted with crossed off long weekends of refreshment! Let late beach visits and still-long sunny days and hotels that feel peacefully abandoned flourish alongside neatly packed lunchboxes and clean uniforms.
This is just a silly easy post to write! But it’s still useful to keep a list around.
What we packed for Alma for her six-week-old vacation:
a sun hat (mostly useless, poolside umbrellas were a must)
a swim diaper (ended up keeping her out of the sun/water altogether)
two blankets (one warm, one light)
diapers (forgot wipes and bought them there instead)
single-use packets of formula, a bottle, two pacifiers
a warm sweater
two carriers, one nice, one form (see below for detail)
a scarf to drape for nursing privacy or block the sun or for warmth
fun summery clothing inherited from her sisters!
I like to use a form carrier, like the becco or ergo, in airports. You can leave it on through security and my girls often napped in it right up until we sat down on the plane. They ask you to take it off before takeoff.
And I like to use a sakura bloom silk sling, especially in restaurants or going to events, or generally when I’m not trying to lift children/grocery bags/walk long distances.
Alma’s hotel sleep style:
Mostly she slept like this on our bed because I found the condo crib too deep to be useful–all that bending over and reaching! She is the first baby of mine who likes swaddles, this is my make-shift way of swaddling her. A week after taking this photo, I realized I could simply tie the aden + anais blanket and skip the binder clip altogether. At a second hotel I didn’t even ask for a crib, and used a couch cushion as her bed.
Flying with Alma, I remembered how delightful it is to fly with a baby that age, compared to say, a nine month old. They just curl up, nurse, and keep you company. Of course I had my corner seat to nurse in, with Joe and Joan as my bolsters (Lux was across the aisle, with strangers). I have nursed from a middle seat, with strangers on both sides, it is doable but it’s awfully nice to have a row with your people, if available.
No matter what seat you are in, bring one of those airline pillows that don’t actually do anything for adults; the ones you can buy in any airport gift shop. They work so well for infants. It is my favorite thing to rest her head on that instead of my balanced elbow or propped arm.
Permit a few photos that are by no means a tour guide to this beautiful island. Looking at these, I keep thinking of Frederick, the mouse who didn’t work at the harvest but instead stored up smells and the feeling of the sun so he could tell the other mice how it felt, come winter, and remind them summer would return.
This was definitely one of our best days in Puerto Rico. The Watermill is a water park designed to look like an old sugar mill. A bit of an odd theme, but after floating lazily around it several times, I was quite taken with the faux stucco plastering and craggy architecture. It was built by the Dorado Beach development and is available to people staying at the Plantation Village condos (which we were, having booked through inspirato-–a condo timeshare service by American Express), people with membership at the Encanto Beach Club, and Ritz Carlton Reserve guests.
It wasn’t busy on the Sunday we were there, which made it feel like we had stumbled on an enchanted theme park, perhaps one that had just floated to the surface from Atlantis-like depths. The girls ran from one spot to another, but there were plenty of no-swimmer spaces that made it easy for us to relax while they played. Most of the pools were 3ft depth, the perfect depth to empower a four-year-old. Joe and I loved the lazy river that circled the property, tubes were provided. And the kid-powered pull-across boats–so easy and fun for them!
It was practically essential to have my mom there with us–one of us stayed/relaxed with the baby in the shade the whole time.
After we’d played in the water most of the day (and applied, and reapplied sunscreen) the girls started climbing the rope bridges and ladders that wove into the pools and through the trees. They were challenging just enough to thrill the girls with their successes each time.
I took most of these photos as the golden hours began in the late afternoon–we finally pulled ourselves away from the place at 5pm, sunburned and joyfully exhausted.
Adulthood is when you make your own vacations and decide what they will be from the beginning. So much about vacation is inherited or shared with family, which is a great thing. But it’s nice to see the thing that evolves when you decide to make your own vacation. Book it, schedule it, pay for it, anticipate it all yourself.
We caravanned up after first stopping at the Palace Diner just outside of Portland, where we stop as often as we can and have astounding good meals. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Palace Diner, the thing that leaves you dazed when you finally wander out, is that their menu appears very standard when you read it through, other than canaries like brown butter banana bread and caramelized grapefruit listed casually under SIDES. Their french toast is listed on the menu as challah french toast, no details added, but once it is set in front of you, you realize the two enormous square pieces have been bruleed, and the crust cracks as you cut into it, the eggy custard of the challah softening around the crisp dark caramelized pieces. But it’s also the type of place where you swear to yourself that next time you’ll order lunch, as you watch the waitress place a triple decker burger or a lush freshly-made-tuna melt in front of someone down the bar.
David and I texted about the meals a little bit ahead of time. We stopped at Whole Foods in Portland on the way up and already had a good list in mind before we got there. Joe and I lived with David during one of our summers on Nantucket, he and I often traded off who made dinner, along with our other roommate Pete. Years later I still have a good idea of what type of thing he enjoys cooking–namely impromptu, very satisfying dinners, tossed together with experience savvy instead of a recipe. And he knows I can manage a more complicated dish using my obsessive devotion to recipes. We spent an enormous amount on supplies for the week, splitting the groceries between us. That was perfect because it left us able to make pretty much anything—squash pie, mussel and bean soup, meaty spaghetti, biscuits and gravy, fresh whipped cream, pie crust—once we were up there. We got take-out one time from the local burrito spot, but all the rest of our meals we made together in the big kitchen.
You know, I’ve started buying those tubes of Immaculate Baking Co. cinnamon rolls and they are just stunningly good. I’ve made cinnamon rolls from scratch, and I don’t think it is worth it when you can have these ready in 20 minutes with your eggs. And I’ve certainly had much worse tasting cinnamon rolls bought fresh from bakeries. Treat yourself.
Dave made fresh pasta noodles and Joe carved a pumpkin to look just like Darth Vader, as Lux had hoped. I bought ribeye steaks for Joe’s birthday, salted and peppered and unwrapped them when we got to the house, and let them age for two days in the fridge. I’m not accustomed to ordering $70 worth of meat from the meat counter, but when four people get to settle down to an amazing steak dinner, it all becomes clear. I did that steak house trick of putting a stick of butter on a plate, flinging salt at it, piling shredded parmesan and chopped parsley on it and then mashing it together until it was one pale green flecked soft pile of butter. We put half loaves of baguette on the grill for a few minutes and then spread all the amazing butter magic over it.
After a couple nights of watching us eat mussels, the girls realized they too loved mussels, loved plucking out the small cooked creature out and flinging the empty shells into the bowl with a tiny clang. Lux ate faster than everyone and adapted a strange third person request, “Any more mussels for Luxy?” eyeing the plates of the adults with desire. I stopped giving her the mussel broth because she wasn’t using it, and we all added more unplucked shells to her pile.
I cannot get over how it feels to wake up in the trees. With tree branches fully surrounding you, like you’ve been suspended in a soft down blanket of pine boughs. Our room was freezing when we woke up each morning. Of the four cabins, the girls’ cabin has the best insulation, and for the the three other cabins, the adults wake to a room that is fully 45 degrees. No matter if you made a fire at midnight, no matter if you plugged in the supposed space heater. If your arm snuck out while you were sleeping, it now feels like a different entity from your body, and you tug it back under the blankets with alarm.
We told the girls to knock on their cabin door when they wanted us to come get them in the morning. It was the first time they shared a double bed. Welcome to your vacation setup for the rest of your life! I wanted to say to them, thinking of the hundreds of beds my sister and I shared growing up. Joan probably woke Lux up earlier than she otherwise would have, but it was swooningly sweet to watch them snuggle in together each night. Joe has been reading Lux The Hobbit (in fact, they’re on their second read-through of it) so he would build a fire and then read them nearly to sleep each night. Then we would wake to the sound of their chipper knocks pounding on the glass across the deck from us. Joe would bound out of bed, out from the warm covers and into the freezing room, to go check on them. A funny switch-up, as of the two of us, he usually wakes the slowest back in Boston. I would force myself to change into some of my stiff freezing clothes, pick out some warm clothes for them to put on, and then we all tramped over to the main house together. The main house has the kitchen and the living room, and the coffee maker!, and is fully heated.
It was so wonderful to have the company of two non-parents, two people who could comment on the weather, the day, the water, and make plans for general amusement. Two people who haven’t rote-memorized the strange rhythms of their children’s moods and begun to anticipate them at certain times of day with vague dread. Probably the best part was the presence of two adults who wanted to play board games after bedtime or tell old stories, instead of slump on the couch as Joe and I typically do. It was really good to watch the girls play and scheme with someone else who could delight in them. Not to mention help them craft face masks, help them climb rocks, help them get a snack, answer a question.
As for the four of us, the adults, there were times when it felt like—oh yeah, college! Here we are, just kids, we’re all the same and together again. And other times when I felt so different and far away from them, the three men—I’m not drinking, not smoking an occasional celebratory cigarette, not skinny-dipping into the ocean jumping from the sharp rocks, not staying up late into the night to watch stars fall. I’m sleepy and oversized, preoccupied and awaiting the next small child’s request, remembering the soft tang of whiskey with bemusement, remembering the self indulgent rush of a nicotine drag with, well, I can’t remember it at all anymore. It’s been so long; maybe five years? I’m grumpy for no reason other than persistent thud of a small heel against my rib cage. The girls are mine and they cling to me when they’re sleepy, and want me to hold their hand, and arrange their food, and nod in affirmation every single time when they say they need to go potty. you don’t need me to do this, anybody can do this for you, I think to myself here and there, but it’s not really true, is it? Not true in the satisfying nearly trademarked way that mom does it. And the next girl is mine too, and I think about her when I make almost any decision for my day. It was that time, 31 weeks. She’s gone from a quiet swimmer to a nearly omnipresent tangle of limbs, waking me up with her flips and kicks, settling into odd positions that makes my abdomen feel like a couch too full of elbows.
But there’s also that male-ambition thing? The thing that stirs men to memorize long ballads so they can play them at the foot of stone towers? To chop and haul wood, build warm fires, frame houses over their families heads? That infects them with the idea to teach themselves to fix a car when there is a mechanic just down the road? Meanwhile I’m puttering around, baking bread from the exact same recipe I’ve used 300x times? I don’t play an instrument, and I didn’t attempt to memorize the lyrics to Lava, as they did (pixar, look it up, it’s cute). I didn’t want to. I probably could have jumped into the ocean, had I told Joe I wanted to and asked him to stay with the girls. But I didn’t want to. What I’m saying is–don’t feel too sorry, or fall too much for my oh if only. And, I suppose, I was a little jealous of their drive and adventurous ambition? I picked up Annie Dillard’s The living while there, a novel of many stories framed around the families who settled the pacific northwest. What were they doing there? Women watching their children die from various freak threats, is what it felt like to me. It’s obvious the glass on my maternal goggles is rather dense right now, that I can’t even read a historical novel without being nearly flattened by the idea that these people risked their children’s lives for a new adventure.
I made a pie from this squash. It’s quite a satisfying thing to take a hearty heavy vegetable, so thick you can barely cut it in half with a knife, roast it until it’s weak, then blend with all sorts of good things and turn it into a dessert. Great recipe right here.