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Coming Home

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We’ve been living on campus for two years now. It is fully, now, feeling like home, for real.

When we came home at the end of the summer — after having been gone for seven weeks — what was most striking to me was this: it was upon driving onto the campus that Kyle, Owen, and Meera announced “We’re home!” It wasn’t as we walked in the door of our apartment, or even pulled up to Sayre. It was when we turned right up Mountain Drive and began to wind our way around South Mountain that they got excited; it was when we turned left into “The Hill” that they were practically jumping out of the back seat. “We’re home! We’re home! We’re home!”

Lehigh feels, to them, like home. It seems extraordinary to me.

And home, for them, feels really good. It is their familiar, their safe place, the axis on which their world turns. They were so happy to come home; to get back to Lehigh. This too seems extraordinary to me.

It has been quite a journey we’ve been on. I don’t want to forget the nuances of it.

As adults, Braydon and I are thinking about “home” on a different level. But as kids, Kyle and Owen and Meera aren’t thinking about it as much as they are just feeling it. It is so clear to me, now, as we embark on our third year here, that they feel that home is Lehigh. Lehigh isn’t just where Mommy works, or where they go to see a football game every once in a while. And Lehigh isn’t perfect. But Lehigh is their place, their world, and their place in the world. And it is a place that they are pretty realistic about, but that they like and feel good in. Our little apartment is, for sure, the center of their universe, but the whole of Lehigh — the entire campus — is their home.

After an amazing summer, we came home.

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7 Weeks of Summer, 2014

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The J-M’s Summer, 2014

Last summer was our first since moving onto campus. We spent the bulk of it traveling away from home (7 Weeks of Summer, 2013 post is here). We loved it. This is a major perk for us of living on campus: because we have no mortgage we can justify the financial cost to travel, and because we have no house/yard/property to maintain we have the freedom to travel. This is big for us.

Summer 2014 was the best summer of my entire life. It was crazy — yes. And it had its challenges — yes. (This kind of travel with 2 ten-year-olds, 1 six-year-old, and 1 puppy is sort of crazy-challenging!) But it was crazy good and challenging good. Oh my gosh, it was good!

We spent 4 weeks in South Carolina, 1 week in Mexico, and 1 week in New Hampshire. With travel days in between, it was a total of 7 weeks. We spent exactly 4 hours at home — only to unpack and re-pack once. We did not sleep in our own beds one night.

In fact, we didn’t sleep in our own beds for 10 weeks. On June 4th movers came and packed up all of our possessions from our tiny on-campus apartment. On August 12th we slept in that apartment again for the first time— but in a greatly enhanced, totally renovated, twice-as-big apartment. Over the course of 10 weeks, while we were (technically/literally) home-less, our apartment was completely reconstructed. That is a whole story that will be appearing soon in a separate post. It was a big summer, to say the least.

Technology is an amazing thing. Because of it, Braydon and I were able to work from wherever we were all summer long. With only one exception (a work trip that Braydon had to make, in order to be at some meetings in person), we did what we needed to do to keep all of the balls up in the air for an entire summer away from home. As a result, we got to spend an enormous amount of time bonding as a family, relishing our kids while we still can, re-grouping, and re-charging. I’ll never regret the time and money we spend on this sort of thing. All of the other sacrifices we have made, and continue to make, in order to be able to live this way are so worth it.

Thanks for following along on our journey.

I am sorry for my lack of posting in the past month. Since arriving home in mid-August I’ve been completely succumbed to an incredibly intense period of unpacking and re-settling our new home, starting school for me and the kids, re-establishing all semblance of routine, and starting up another year.

Our life is rich and full beyond belief. Thanks to all who find some reason to read here. You inspire me to keep on posting. And I promise I will be better about it in the days to come.

Happy Fall!

~heather

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“I am crabbing at the marsh.” ~Meera

NH Summer 2014. Grateful. (1 of 3)

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What could I possibly say that I haven’t said before? I posted about this trip for the first time in 2007, and have posted about it every year since. I looked back at the posts today and rediscovered — as I so often do — one of the things that I love most about keeping this blog: the archive that it has become for us, documenting some of the greatest parts of our family life. NH Summer Trips:

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

And now here we are, 2014. And everything I’ve said for the past seven years remains true. And there is so much more too.

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Pre-kids, Braydon and I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ cottage on Winnipesaukee. The period of time when we were losing my grandparents (my grandfather’s death, my grandmother’s Alzheimers) coincided exactly with the same period of time that I was forming the foundation of my adult life. I was in my twenties, in graduate school, living in Boston, duking it out with Braydon to try to create a true-to-ourselves relationship that would be lifetime-lasting. The cottage at Lake Winnipesaukee became a place where we spent many a summer long-weekend getting away from two grueling doctoral programs and multiple grimy steaming-hot urban Augusts. At The Cottage we would plant plants and water them, we would mow the lawn, we would scrub the place and fill the motorboat’s gas tank and fix little things here and there — but mostly, we simply got to enjoy all of the pleasures of The Cottage. The crystal clear water of the lake, the motorboat and its endless adventures, The Cottage with its generations of storied history. We simply received the gifts of a beautiful place that became a refuge for us.

Mostly though, in our twenties, Braydon and I would sit at the end of the dock and talk. Mostly we were figuring out our past, figuring out our present, and figuring out our future. We learned so much about who we were and what we were becoming and who we wanted to be through those conversations at the end of that dock. What would have become of us if we hadn’t had the gift of that place to sit? It is a profound privilege that cannot be understated.

This was not something we earned or deserved. We didn’t work hard to get it, nor do anything special to receive it. It was something given to us with virtually no strings attached, something precious, and something we were always, always, always grateful for. All we had to do was respect the place and treat it with reverence — which we always did.

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There was history before that too. The cottage had been an important part of my individual trajectory. For my college years it was an escape — a place where I could run to and hide, thanks to my grandparents who seemed to somehow know what it meant to me and always made it available to me. Often I went there when I was needing solace and healing. I’d go there to retreat from the world and lick my wounds and recover. I don’t know why or how, but The Cottage always reminded me of who I was and wanted to become, and it always made me feel like I couldn’t give up. I always felt healed there and I’ve always been profoundly grateful for that. What would have happened if I hadn’t had that place to go to and hide?

As a teenager I can remember strapping my little sunfish sailboat — my most prized and valued possession in the world — onto a car and driving it over to the cottage. My Popop would help me get it off the car and into the water at Winnipesaukee (which was no small feat given the rocky ledges and the steep decline down to the lake). I spent most of my time on that sailboat at the lake where I grew up — Lake Ossipee — but I have vivid memories of sailing it at Winnipesaukee too. Winnipesaukee felt so huge and vast and unknown in comparison to Ossipee where I knew every single nook and cranny of that much smaller lake. As I think back on it now I wonder how much that had an impact on me? It seems so symbolic to me now: the bobbing along on my most beloved boat, all by myself, pushing the boundaries of my own horizons and expanding my known.

My grandfather would sit out front trying to keep an eye on me with his binoculars. But I was often out of sight, hidden by the islands or the jutting peninsulas on either side of The Cottage. I never liked to sail on the open lake as much as I loved to explore the coves and inlets. It made my Popop so nervous, but he always let me do it. In fact, to be honest, I felt encouraged by him. When I’d return to the dock my Nana would always have Swedish Ida Kaka cookies waiting for me. Those cookies are always thought of as Christmas cookies, but instead of rolling them in green and red colored sugar, in the summer she’d give them to me rolled in pink sugar. Still, I always felt a little strange eating them in flip-flops in summer. But she knew they were my favorite, so she’d make them in The Cottage’s little kitchen, and demand that I go home with the whole batch packaged up in a tin. And so, at Christmastime, whenever I eat them, in a strange twist, although they are indeed Christmas cookies, I always think of summertime at the Cottage.

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I have strong memories of The Cottage from my childhood too. As a young girl I learned to waterski there with my sister Stina and our cousins Karen and Eric. My grandfather would drive the boat so patiently and my parents and my aunt and uncle would all cheer from the shore, the back of the boat, or the lake. I remember my mom in the water, well past her waist, cheering for us. Now I know she stayed there because one of us would inevitably fall, and fall again, and it was easier to just stay in the water than to keep getting in and out to help us. I loved waterskiing. I always knew it was a treat. Not something for the everyday, and not something that most people could ever enjoy. Waterskiing was a privilege. I remember being profoundly grateful even at a very young age.

My mom and her sister learned to waterski there too. The Cottage was passed down to their aunt and their mother from my great-grandparents, who had built it as a replica of the country cottages in their homeland of Sweden. I’ve heard so many stories from my mom of her childhood and teenage summers at The Lake. And I remember my Nana telling me her stories as well. And my aunt, and my great-aunt.

The summer I was 28 years old, Braydon proposed to me one morning at the end of the dock at The Cottage. Believe it or not, although it was a marriage proposal, at the center of our conversation that day was the gratefulness we both felt for this place we loved so much and what it represented to us. It, for us, represented a history and lineage of one branch of our entwining family trees; it represented privilege and power; and it represented the idea of making the most of what you’ve been given.

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This idea is at the core of our lives to this day. The idea of receiving what you’ve been given with mindfulness and gratefulness, being aware of it, and making the very most of it. For us, making the most of it involves using every gift we have — material, intellectual, spiritual, and otherwise — to do good in the world. For us, it means maximizing advantage to contribute to the common good; using what we have fully and wholly; empowering others with our power; discerning our capacities and doing the most with what we have. To squander one’s gifts, particularly the gifts of privilege and power and — importantly — opportunity, seems, to me, to be the worst possible wrongdoing.

That — at the essence — is how we try to live our lives. This post is getting philosophical, and I don’t want to go on and on and on about it. But I’m putting myself out there here and I’m tired of holding back. For me now, at age 42, the essence is becoming the everything. For me now, at age 42, The Cottage is still symbolically representative of all of this when I look at it in the best possible light.

It is, of course, all much more complex than this. The Cottage too represents decades and generations of family tensions and old ragged histories that spin into today. If you look closely you see the rot in the wood, the rust on the metal, the wear and tear of five generations of use. I don’t know how much longer it can hold out. Which only makes me that much more grateful for it.

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I wish that my great-grandparents and my grandparents could read this so that they’d know how grateful I am. I am glad that, if they choose to, my parents and my aunt and uncle can read it now. And maybe someday my children and my niece and nephew will read it too. It is hard to talk about the depth of things at family holidays or birthdays or funerals. That, I think, is one of the reasons I write about things like The Cottage here… because it helps me understand my own thoughts and share them with others if they choose to read them.

The Cottage today is a whole other era — a new evolution different from each of my own stages and phases with it as I’ve described them above. Today, for the one week a year in August that I spend there, The Cottage has become mainly about my own kids — the youngest generation in our Engstrom-Johnson-family-lineage. I’m never there alone like I used to almost always be when I’d be there in my teens and twenties. Now, for me, it has swung back to something resembling what it was for me as a little girl: a family cottage on a beautiful lake where we come together as grandparents and parents and grandchildren for fun in the summer. Now, for one week a year, it is all-action all-the-time. It is all about the kids. It is the motorboat, and it is waterskiing and tubing, it is eating and swimming and kayaking and — re-introduced in 2014, my long-lost-love: yay! sailboating! — and I am truly, deeply, grateful for it all. I’m certain, too, because I know them well, and because I make sure they understand the depths of it, that my own kids are grateful. The 5th generation is grateful. The Cottage has been shared once again. And while so much changes over time, and while each of life’s stages morphs and evolves, the one thing that I know for sure has remained consistent about my experience of The Cottage is my gratefulness.

(for post 2 of 3 click here)

NH Summer 2014. Grateful. (2 of 3)

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MorMor and MorFar

Grateful. Grateful first and foremost for my parents and my aunt and uncle who have made a commitment to keep The Cottage, and all its riches, in the family. Grateful that for one week a year my parents share it with us. Grateful for the endless hours that MorMor and MorFar spend on the boat with us, all over the lake, obliging the ceaseless demands for “faster! faster! faster!” from the front of the boat. Grateful for the fact that my three kids know the sight of wide open spaces and the feeling of wind in their hair and the taste of crisp spray from a boat speeding along on the waves of a clear mountain lake.

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Grateful for the millions of dollars my parents spend on gas for the boat. (Ha! hardly an exaggeration: just about millions of dollars!) Grateful for the daily trips to the marina’s gas station. For the frozen ice pops that the bambinos are given from the college kids with the coveted summer job of dockside gas-pumper.

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In 2014, I am grateful for the new sunfish sailboat. My parents bought it used this past spring, and they cleaned it all up, and it is in excellent condition, and I fell in love with it — like, really, really in love with it — instantly the first time I sailed it. This is huge for me. It connects the dots all the way back for me in a deep way that I really can’t articulate. I am so grateful to my parents for recognizing that in some way and acting upon it, and for buying that boat. I am grateful that somehow they understand this little-sunfish-sailboat thing about me. So grateful.

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To be able to sail with my own kids is more than a dream come true. How amazing is this? Pinch me, I think I’m dreaming.

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Pinch me again. My 6-year-old daughter is learning to waterski. And she is loving it. But I am loving it more— seeing her expression from the back of the boat as I watch her do this thing. It is awesome. I am so grateful.

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I get such a kick out of the fact that she, after years of watching her brothers and her cousin waterski, had the hand signals all down pat — memorized perfectly — without ever having been officially taught any of them. I am still laughing out loud, right now at my computer as I write this and look at the photo below… She did the signal for “around again” over and over and over and over…

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…and after all those years of being solely in the waterskiing spotlight, with no competition, now the three big kids are the ones watching from the back of the boat! It all comes around kiddos! And now we’re going “around again!” and “around again!” and “around again!” for the little one! And now it is your turn to watch and watch and wait and wait for your turn to come again. I am so grateful.

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Oh believe me, they got their turn. The big three still dominate the waterskiing spotlight. They got new water-skis this year because they’ve outgrown the ones they learned to waterski on. They’ve graduated up and they’re becoming really decent water-skiers. This year they continued on their mission of mastering the art of going in and out of the wake, holding on with only one hand, and beginning to move toward their ultimate goal of slalom skiing. It won’t be long ‘till they are up on one ski. Beyond grateful for healthy, able-bodied, ambitious young bodies and minds.

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waterski O out of the wake

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Grateful for tubing. MorMor and MorFar’s Christmast present to their grandchildren this year was a brand-spanking-new big-and-crazy tube. It didn’t come out of the box until August. But it was a huge hit, well worth the wait!

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That tube was a wild and crazy ride—

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Some might say a little too wild and a little too crazy—

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So grateful for so much fun.

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Grateful for the relative calm of kayaking.

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Grateful for swimming.

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Grateful for swimming in the moonlight with glow-sticks—

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Grateful for good food. Among other things, New England lobsta’ and steama’s to be precise—

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Just so grateful.

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(for post 3 of 3 click here)

NH Summer 2014. Grateful. (3 of 3)

Posted by | BAMBINOS | One Comment

Above all, during this stage and phase of the place, I am grateful for a 5th generation spending time at The Cottage.

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I don’t know what the next evolutions will bring, or not bring. I don’t know what any of it really means. What I do know is that I am just really grateful for what The Cottage has been for me, and what it is for my own bambinos now.

I’ll say it again: to squander one’s gifts, particularly the gifts of privilege and power and — importantly — opportunity, seems, to me, to be the worst possible wrongdoing.

I know that very few people have something like The Cottage. I will not squander it. It fills my soul when I see my kids — and I must admit, especially my two Haitian sons — reap the benefits and opportunities The Cottage offers them. I am happy to see their lives’ fullness and their unconstrained capacities, especially knowing what could have become of them, and what challenges lie before them, and the stark contrast those things present when viewed against the backdrop of a week at The Cottage.

Seeing Kyle and Owen waterski really drives this home for me. This summer while I watched my boys waterski behind the boat, I was also cognizant of the tragic drama unfolding in our country with the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri. Last summer it was the trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Despite the gut-wrenching realities of what I know could happen, I hope and pray that my boys will live long blessed lives. But even if they do, I have them for such a short time. Whatever gifts we have, they are fleeting. For me, it is an important part of the story of The Cottage: the sharing of this privilege while we have it, the passing down of our own empowerment while it is still there, the gifting of opportunity. We have to make the most of what we have.

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I try to imagine what the first and second generation would think of the fifth generation at The Cottage — of Kyle and Owen especially. I think that in their essence — in the realness of who they truly were, and what they believed in, and the kinds of people they wanted to be — that my grandparents’ generation and my great-grandparents’ generation would be glad with what they’d see. It is a new day, a new generation, a new time for opportunities to be received and used wisely. “With great power comes great responsibility” — we say this often to our three kids. We mean it.

Like I said, at this point in my life, the essence has become everything.

And so it is that in 2014 I am grateful for our annual summer trip to The Cottage. I am grateful for the whole thing, and for all of the details.

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Grateful.

Mexico 2014 (1 of 3)

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Mexico

We made the drive straight from South Carolina, got home to Pennsylvania only to unpack and re-pack and drive to an airport hotel in Newark, then woke up the next morning to get on a plane to Mexico.

We spent the first week of August at the decadent Azul Beach Hotel resort in Puerto Morelos, Mexico. This was a special trip, and it marks an important time for our family. It was the (hopefully) First Annual RVibe Founders’ Retreat.

Readers may know that ten years ago Braydon started a business venture. It began as an independent “project” — an internet technology concept — then morphed into a serious business start-up, then evolved into a full-time serious company with an entire infrastructure, a whole slew of employees, responsibilities, and the whole-nine-yards. We’ve been investing in RVibe for a decade now. And when I say ‘investing,’ I mean fully and entirely investing, our hearts and our souls investing, in a big-big-big way investing. Investing financially, emotionally, and psychologically, as well as investing our time, our energy, our mental space, and our entire selves into what has become this larger-than-life part of our world. RVibe has been an uphill battle from Day 1, and we’ve shed plenty of blood, sweat, and tears over this thing. But recently — and I mean really just in the past year or so — we’ve begun to finally see some of Braydon’s sheer determination come to fruition. It has begun to bear fruit and we’re just starting to get some perks out of it. This trip (hopefully) marks the start of a new era for us with RVibe. We are (hopefully) entering an era of seeing some of the (ridiculously-over-the-top-insane-amount-of) hard work we’ve invested over the past decade begin to pay off.

The concept for this week of the summer was two-fold: 1) for Braydon and his business partner, Chris, to have some designated, devoted time to do some significant and substantive strategizing and brainstorming together. Braydon is in Pennsylvania, and Chris is in Chicago, so while they spend an enormous amount of time everyday on the phone and online together, they spend relatively very little time together face-to-face. When they are together it is always for large events, conferences, business deals, and with a lot of people around them. Day-to-day they are trouble-shooting and/or in crisis mode, trying to run a company from the ground-up. The idea was for the two of them to go far away, to a place out of reach, and spend some heavy duty blocks of time together planning the future of RVibe. The other part of this trip was: 2) for our two families to spend a week together in a fun, relaxed environment where we could enjoy each other without stress or distraction or the pressure on any of us to be hosting. We went into the week with a very clear plan that we were all committed to: every day Chris and Braydon would spend 7am-1pm working (while their wives and kids enjoyed the resort), we would spend our afternoons with our own families to give the guys a break from each other, and then we would meet up for drinks before going our own way again for dinner.

We had never done anything like this, and we really didn’t know how it would go. By the end of the week, every single one of us agreed that it had gone extremely well. The RVibe founders worked hard and played hard, the rest of us just played hard (!), and we all had a fabulous semi-working vacation in beautiful Mexico.

I’m going to write this post just like any of my ‘Trip Reports,’ but — because of the nature of it — it wasn’t actually like any other trip we’ve taken. I’m posting about it from my perspective (for me this was a vacation! I was along for the ride!), but this would be a very different post if written by Braydon or his business partner (who would surely focus significantly on the work that was accomplished). While I’m not Braydon’s business partner, I am his life partner, and I am so gratified and so thrilled — for all of our sakes — that we got to do this Mexico trip. The First Annual RVibe Founders’ Retreat was a smashing success!

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The bambinos love to travel. It is their favorite thing. Owen could watch airplanes all day long. There is no place in the world that he is more enthused than in an airport. We flew Newark to Cancun and it was smooth and uneventful (which was amazing for us because we’ve seemed to have had a string of bad airline fiascos recently). The trip from the airport to the resort was quick and easy. And then… suddenly… we were there.

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The Azul Beach is an all-inclusive resort. We can critique these sorts of places with the best of them. But we can also let it go, and from time-to-time thoroughly enjoy what these places have to offer. And, wow, they have a lot to offer. We hadn’t been to an all-inclusive together as a family of five since 2009 (for that post click here). I think we had sort of forgotten how intoxicating (literally and figuratively), and indulging, and incredibly enjoyable they can be. The Azul Beach was like none other we’ve been to — it was a small, “boutique,” “Gourmet Inclusive” that catered specifically to families with young kids. The place was luxuriously dripping in gorgeousness.

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below: Power Breakfast with a View.

B and Chris Meeting

We did just as we had planned. Braydon and Chris met for breakfast and spent the first half of the day together. The afternoons and nights we were with our own families. But every afternoon we all met up for drinks at the pool bar by our rooms. Chris and his wife have an adorable 9-month-old baby named Gus. He was such a good sport and we loved hanging out with them in the pool.

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The idea of going away together — as business partners and families — is a really good one. I highly recommend it for anyone in any sort of similar position. We really bonded during that week and I’m sure it will help to strengthen RVibe, not to mention strengthen our two families both independently and together.

For Braydon and Chris, it was some work. It was also plenty of play.

And, for all of us, I think, it was pretty darn heavenly.

Here is Kyle, in Kyle Heaven:

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The snorkeling was awesome. The resort is located along an area of the Mexican/Caribbean coast that is National Park. The reef is preserved and protected and, thus, it was the best snorkeling we’ve seen in a long, long time! Kyle was in his glory and spent most of the week underwater!

Here is Meera, in Meera Heaven:

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The swimming pools were beautiful, warm, crystal-clear, and plentiful (there were so many of them!). Meera could spend her whole life in a pool, I swear!

Here is Owen, in Owen Heaven:

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This is Owen at one of the resort’s restaurants. It was an Asian theme and it had a “sushi river.” This was pure heaven for Owen. This is worth some explaining.

Once we got over the oddity of eating sushi in Mexico, and we just accepted it for what it was (totally decent — like, actually, really good — sushi!), we quickly came to love the ‘sushi river.’ Now, we had heard of all-you-can-eat sushi places (Owen is a big fan of them), but we had not heard of a “sushi river” (maybe we’re just pathetically insulated people? I don’t know). It blew our minds — especially Owen, because he is a Lover of sushi. This boy can eat sushi. He’s the kind of kid that these all-inclusive resorts lose money on big-time when they do their pricing!

The sushi river was a circular sushi bar with, literally, a river of water, with a strong (somehow motorized) current, running through it. Little boats were floating on the water circling the bar. The sushi chef was in the center constantly placing all sorts of sushi, on little trays, onto the boats, all night long. You sit there and just take what you want as it comes around. This whole thing — the sushi river — is a crazy amazing thing for a sushi lover.

It is impossible to put into words the extent to which Owen was enamored with this whole entire thing. He insisted on taking some photos of the experience. He took about 40 of them. Here are my favorite three {nothing quite makes a foodie mommy blogger as proud as when her 10-year-old son feels compelled to grab the camera and take pictures of his food!} ~~

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And, not to be left out, here is Mommy-and-Papi Heaven:

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Nothing says “heavenly” like mimosas by the pool with Kindles loaded up with pleasure reading. It was such a glorious treat.

(for post 2 of 3 click here)

Mexico 2014 (2 of 3)

Posted by | BAMBINOS | One Comment

Owen

The photo above is one of my favorite photos of Owen, ever.

Here are some other favorites from this trip:

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K and BO and H

M beach night

I know that there are lots of people who read this blog specifically for the trip posts. And often these posts are used by people as actual travel reviews (to plan vacations). I want to plug this resort a bit because it was such a great one (I was truly impressed with it, in a way unlike any other all-inclusive we’ve experienced), but I want to say up-front that this is not a paid advertisement and I am getting nothing (absolutely nothing!) from the resort or anyone else for this review!

The resort was beautiful ~
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But the most amazing part, to me, was the food. They label themselves a “Gourmet Inclusive” but I have to be honest: I was pretty skeptical before going. And I have to be honest again: I was pretty blown-away by the food once we were there.

gourmet inclusive

margaritas

Braydon and I love Mexican food (and margaritas!). It is probably our favorite food category (and drink!). And this place did not disappoint. This is especially noteworthy because it was an all-inclusive (not typically known for the quality of the food). What I loved most, though, was the fact that our kids got to try so many things — and really experience and enjoy their food explorations in a stress-free environment where we weren’t concerned with the cost of every one of these high-end items. For us, as a family, food is a shared experience — just to reiterate: it is an experience — that we all enjoy sharing together. It is fun for us to explore it and experiment with it together. This resort made that part of our time so pleasurable, which, for us, is huge. In addition to us all eating a huge array of really good, fresh, light, and delicious Mexican food all week, our kids also got to try so many things on this trip that were new to them. Some of the highlights were octopus ceviche; beef carpaccio; tuna tartar; watermelon gazpacho.

My serious foodie, Owen, was particularly enamored with the “Gourmet Inclusive” concept. He loved the sushi river, but he also learned that he loves eggs Benedict, coconut ice cream, and shrimp tacos. He also loved that it was always all-you-can-eat (a big win for him; he can eat a lot). One night he ate four salmon dinners. Four. They just kept bringing them, and he just kept eating them. It was stunning. (Then he asked to have the chef come out to the table so he could thank her. Which happened. And which he did (thank her). And I think the chef got a little teary with joy and happiness over this 10-year-old boy describing in great detail how perfectly rare she had grilled his salmon and how “most and flaky” it was, and how “usually chefs don’t know how to cook salmon so perfectly for him,” and on and on and on and on.)

Meera discovered, much to her delight, the Mexican tradition of eating sweets for breakfast. She fully embraced that part of the Mexican culture (!) and enjoyed the heck out of eating cupcakes, pastries, colored marshmallows and all sorts of other sweets for breakfast every day. She has bemoaning ever since that the American cultural breakfast tradition does not include cupcakes and cookies.

Kyle re-affirmed his life-long love of the bean-and-cheese burrito. And he rediscovered his love of drinking Bahama Mamas at a swim-up bar.

Speaking of swim-up bar… Our room. Our room was beautiful. And… get this… it was a swim-up room! It had a regular door to it. But it also had a porch/balcony with a ladder that went directly into the pool.

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The bambinos seriously thought they had died and gone to heaven.

You could jump off our porch right into the water…

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…and swim from our swim-up room to the swim-up bar…

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…which we did. Many, many, many times.

Fabuloso!!!

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(for post 3 of 3 click here)

Mexico 2014 (3 of 3)

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H and kids

Most of all, we relaxed. Like, really, genuinely, totally unplugged and unwound with no agenda. We don’t do that very often, and it was a beautiful thing for us to get a chance to do that together.

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We even got massages! All five of us! The resort had a truly great spa. And the best part about it was that even the spa catered to kids and families. They had an entire spa menu just for kids (so cool!). K & O had had massages once before (when we went to the Dominican Republic with them), but this was Meera’s first time. It was a tiny bit scary how much she loved it!

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And I need to mention the Kids Club. We had not planned on using it, but once we were there and the bambinos discovered it, there was no getting them out of the place. They absolutely adored the staff and made lots of friends. I don’t know who enjoyed that Kids Club time each day more — them, or Braydon and me — because I will admit: Braydon and me really loved having some downtime without worrying about the bambinos. Even now, when we talk about our Mexico trip, the bambinos always talk about the Kids Club.

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In addition to all of that, I also have to mention one of the highlights for Meera: painting on the beach. I mean, really: painting. And: the beach. That is pretty much a magical combo for our girl. It doesn’t get much better than that! She spent a little time each day during the first part of the week working on a kitty:

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And then she and I worked together on a vase on our last day:

vase painting

That vase is our family’s one memento from Mexico 2014. I am sure it will be with us for a long time, reminding us of that very special week.

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Before we knew it we were back on a plane, this time headed north up along the Mexican coast. Even the plane ride out was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful:

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What a summer we have had! The Mexican portion of it was really exquisite.

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Note: For good deals on all-inclusives, we really like using Liberty Travel. We booked this trip through a great Liberty Travel agent, Annie Schlegel. You can contact her at schlegelA@libertytravel.com

*This is not a paid advertisement for Azul Beach resort, or Liberty Travel*

To Be Aware of Happiness: The Closing of Another Grand Chapter

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A sign, in a window, downtown Charleston.

Right now I’m reading a book called Delicious!. The author is Ruth Reichl, the famous foodie and editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. The book has received mixed reviews, but for me this is a summer novel (a rare treat), and I am thoroughly enjoying every page of it. It is actually the book that my book club is reading (hello Swain School moms!), chosen by the hostess of the month (hello Andrea!), and I’m missing this month’s get-together with my good friends because I’m here in South Carolina. Here’s my favorite quote from the book so far (I’m about 2/3 of the way through it) ~

“How lucky I was to be aware of happiness. Most people don’t recognize their own good fortune until it has departed. And then it is too late.”

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Above photo: I snapped this from my beach chair, as I sat at the edge of the water yesterday, at Hunting Island beach, watching my dear little ones (growing so fast to be big ones), as they played in the waves. I sat there, just me in my bathing suit, with nothing but my camera, the sun soaking me, and I absorbed the moment. I felt it — like, really felt it — the happiness that it was. The profound and deep happiness of that moment.

I am so lucky. I can be —and often am— fully aware, fully present, to savor my happiness. I can recognize happiness when I experience it. I live my life fully, knowing that life is too short, understanding that everything is short-lived, and aware that we only live once. Nothing should be wasted. I recognize my good fortune, my privilege, my luck, and I also recognize the hard work — hard work on so many varied levels — hard work that is daily and in the minutia of living, and hard work that is huge decisions at big forks in the road, and hard work that is numerous multi-layered sacrifices made in small and big ways.

Sitting there, watching them, in the moment of this glorious summer, I allowed myself to feel it fully. I got choked up, then started crying, tears of joy, sitting there in that beach chair. The salt water, the salty breeze, the salty tears, all mixing together. It was, and is, a profound happiness. I just felt it, and clicked the camera, hoping to get a shot that would allow me, someday, to remember.

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Braydon and I have worked so hard for what we have. This is not just in the traditional sense of “hard work” (our jobs, our careers, many years of strategic navigating), but also in the arenas of emotional work, psychological work, relational work. We have done the work that is involved in forging a life that travels off the beaten path; the work of choosing an unusual lifestyle; the work of plowing ahead in the face of challenges and challengers, failures and naysayers, histories and personal dramas. There is no such thing as a charmed existence. Behind the scenes, maybe years in the past, were decisions made and strategies employed and lots of stuff that was hard. That moment for me, there on that beach with my bambinos, was 20+ years in the making.

We are also extremely lucky that we were both born to privilege. We have maximized our advantages, and we have tried hard to use our privilege wisely. We have never taken our unearned advantages for granted. We have always tried to be careful with how we employ the advantages that we have.

It is an unexplainable mixture of hard work and pure luck and structural circumstances that explains where we are in our lives right now — living the life that we are — a life that we’ve built, from the ground up, despite the odds that have —oftentimes, and in many ways — been against us. We’ve built it from nothing but a dream in our minds. And it is a dream come true.

With the right circumstances, and some luck, what you dream in your mind can — sometimes — be built in your life. It just might take decades to get there. And it will often feel like you are in the dark trenches with no end in sight.

But then, you’re sitting on the beach one day and there it all is right before your eyes.

As our time in South Carolina comes to a close I feel desperate to preserve the memories, the moments, the precious fleeting feeling of pure and extreme happiness. This is the closing of another grand chapter.

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Wrapping Up Our July in South Carolina: Snapshots

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Three of my favorite snapshots of my bambinos— Meera, crabbing at Hunting Island Pier; she caught a blue crab! ~

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Kyle, reading by the pool ~

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Owen, swimming in the deep end ~

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And, some of my favorite snapshots from the past four weeks— The view from the back porch of the beach house, at high tide ~

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Playing bocce ball at the beach ~

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Owen, checking the crab trap at low tide ~

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M, K, O, checking the crab trap at high tide (we check the crab trap every time we pass it by, which is often!) ~

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Beware of Alligators ~

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Vegging out/Chillaxing/Unwinding with the iPads. Boys, by the time you ever get to reading this old blog some day, these things will be total relics of the past, and completely obsolete, but let me tell you: in the summer of 2014 you guys loved these things! iPads. Your favorite way to relax. What did you do with them? Mostly, played baseball and basketball (apps) on them ~

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Trying to draw the marsh at sunset ~

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Papi’s hand, on Kyle’s beautiful head. Father and Son. This is love. ~

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Sunset view from the back porch of the beach house at low tide ~

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Early morning coffee and — yes, Meera too — iPad! It is so quiet and still, the photo does not do it justice ~

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Shrimp boats off the beach at Hunting Island ~

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Food Friday II: Meera & Shrimp / K & O & The Hot Dog Man / Gratuitous Beach House Food Scenes

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My last Food Friday in South Carolina has come, and here we are. Food riches abound here in the Lowcountry. I could do a “food” post every day. And so, today, I tack on a Food Friday II because I have three food-themed-things I don’t want to forget about July 2014:

1. This is the summer that my Meera fell in love with shrimp. She suddenly, the summer she was six, loved shrimp — fried shrimp, Lowcountry Shrimp Boil (aka peel-and-eat shrimp “cocktail”), shrimp scampi — she loved it all! {note: yes, princesses dining with us in two of the three photos below.}

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2. We discovered “The Hot Dog Man” at Hunting Island’s South Beach this year. Actually, only K & O call him “The Hot Dog Man,” his business is actually officially called “Sea Side Hot Dogs.” He’s been there in the past, but we’d never given it a go. But we went for it this summer, and it was love at first bite for K & O. They swear that The Hot Dog Man’s hot dogs are 2nd only to hot dogs at Fenway Park (whoa, if you know my boys you know that this is a huge statement!). They quickly became The Hot Dog Man’s two biggest fans (and I think this guy became as much a fan of K & O as they were of him). This was a fun summer lunch for us this year and I know that K & O will want to visit The Hot Dog Man for as long as we are spending July in South Carolina, and as long as Sea Side Hot Dogs stays in business.

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3. July in the South Carolina Lowcountry is an embarrassing abundance of riches where food is concerned. I adore cooking here. And even shopping for food here is a pleasure (the roadside produce stands! the seafood sold right from the dock! the Publix grocery store that I absolutely love!). Growing up, I lived at a summer camp and ate “camp food” all summer long every summer. I think that might be partly why southern summer cooking is such a joy for me. I don’t want to forget the absolute joy I found in these days of cooking for my little family of five. We savor every moment of these gorgeous spreads and we never take this beauty for granted. I know I’m spoiling my kids with this — and I can’t imagine what sort of food lives they’ll have down the road — but I cannot help it: feeding them is a big part of how I do my love for them. It is an expression for me. I am always surprised when I go through the camera cards and discover what Braydon has documented — so often, it is food. He takes pictures of it. Which says something to me. I know he feels the love and appreciates every morsel. Which is what makes all of it oh so worth it.

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food summer

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porch dinner 2

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food drinks

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