Category Archives: family

The perfect Cape house

When I awoke from my afternoon nap to the sound of the wind in the trees, for a moment, I did not know where I was. I smiled that my response to that temporary state of being was excitement and not fear. Good. I prefer the unknown to be interesting instead of scary. I took a breath and, before opening my eyes, recalled where I was…the Cape, in the most perfect house I’ve ever stayed in the two decades since I began visiting this lovely area.

I’ve lost count of the number of other houses there have been over the years. The first few trips to Cape Cod were short getaways of just a couple of nights. My older boys were little guys and we were in the depths of daycare expenses hell which didn’t leave much of a vacation budget. We stayed in an adorable bed and breakfast/inn in Harwich Port and I fell in love with the adorable town and watching my babies enjoy the waves and sand. I was hooked.

We moved on to renting a tiny cottage for an entire week – a big leap forward. The lack of a dishwasher was a drag, but what really propelled us into getting a different house the following year was the need for a washing machine. Beaches + boys = laundry, and lots of it.

Our criteria for a rental now included the following: dishwasher, laundry facilities, dog friendly and an outdoor shower. We found a house a bit further out on the Cape that met each of these demands and rented the same place for the next few years, happily. I learned to immediately remove all the little throw rugs for the duration of our stay, thus avoiding the game of slide-around-the-oversized-kitchen, and somehow managed to sidestep any medical emergencies other than swimmer’s ear and the chicken pox.

During some exploratory drives beyond Chatham, I fell hard for Wellfleet and directed my attention to finding a rental there for the following summer. Fifteen or so years later, this remains my favorite spot on the Cape. The houses we’ve had have mostly been winners, but there were a couple of exceptions.

At this point a week on the Cape had become two weeks, sometimes divided between the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard. For a number of years there was an awesome “upside-down” house that featured a second story kitchen, dining and living room which gave the place a tree house feel. The deck wrapped around two sides of the place and there were turkeys in the back yard and a hammock the boys would swing in until someone reliably got unceremoniously dumped.

We switched things up the next year for a house with newer furniture and a better yard for the kids to play in, but these perks came with unexpected consequences – ants and mice. After a week of storing all of our food in Rubbermaid containers, we knew it was a one and done kind of situation. There was no looking back.

Honing in on our happiness took us closer to the water, near Lieutenant’s Island. The first year was a fail in a house that failed to indicate that going from the upstairs to the downstairs required walking outdoors and down an external staircase, not great with still smallish children. The stone fireplace on the deck wasn’t enough to get us back the next year.

We made the leap over the bridge, (which is inaccessible during high tides), to a decent house within a 10 minute walk to a calm bay beach. During our stay that first year, the kids made friends with a boy in a nearby house and I took the chance to take a peek inside. It looked perfect for us and was in fact an ideal set up with bedrooms and baths scattered over three stories with awesome decks, including one outside of my bedroom that attracted hummingbirds from early morning through dusk. Despite the tight galley kitchen, I really loved that place and we returned to it for the next 3 or 4 years.

As the kids got older, though, the bay didn’t appeal to wave seekers and we shifted our eyes to the other side of Route 6 where we found what is now my ideal house. Hidden in the woods with a semi-private pond directly across the rutted dirt road, the place I’ve visited the past three years is as close to perfect as I can imagine. A 15 minute walk gets us to the ocean and Wellfleet Center is a drive just slightly longer.

The house itself is ideal with a small footprint, but three stories tall. The kitchen and dining area are spacious and open directly onto a large screened porch with a view of the gardens and “our” pond. The separate cabin was perfect as a “crib” for the boys and avoided a whole lot of arguing about wet towels and swim suits on the floor, because I just didn’t have to see it.

The “boys” are older now, though, and no longer interested, or able, to spend a week away from friends or jobs. Last year, for the first time ever I spent a week away from my children at the Cape and filled the house instead with friends. The small cabin became an oasis for a couple and the bedrooms on the second and third floors were occupied with a fluid array of grown ups.

We never ran out of milk. I didn’t drive for five days. We ate when we were hungry and drank when we were thirsty. There was a rager of a party, which we celebrated by taking a swim in the dark in the pond. It was dreamy.

This second year without my sons feels even more indulgent. I’m as infatuated with this house as ever, but I’m looking forward and thinking I’d like to explore some new beaches, maybe in Greece again. The price of the beautiful home I rent is about equal to the cost, I believe, of what I can instead spend putting together two weeks in Greece. It’s time to make a new tradition.

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Filed under beauty, Cape Cod, family, favorites, moms, musings, Observations, road trips, Summer, vacation

Love them while you have them

Traveling with my 20 year-old son made for an interesting trip. Because of the time he spent in Thailand last year, he has some experience with having to navigate his way from destination to destination. He may not have the same intuition as my oldest son when it comes to transportation, but he has grown to be helpful and developed some useful skills.

I’ve jokingly remarked a couple of times (maybe even to you, specifically) that the best part of our recent vacation to Greece was having someone with whom to day drink. With some sobering up reflection, I now recognize that what’s going to remain with me, even longer than the 5lbs of feta and dolmas I brought home, are the moments we spent talking, sharing thoughts, making decisions together (rosé or white?) and spending hours and hours outside together, under cloudless blue skies.

Over the years I’ve witnessed too many friends lose a child, most frequently, a son. I grew up in a town where a number of my peers died being physically reckless in a way different than today’s young people. Usually it was a car + alcohol + speed situation, not exactly the same kinds of substances to which our country is experiencing an epidemic of abuse and addiction to currently.  Narcotics have always been way too scary to mess around with to me, which initially made overdoses so incredibly shocking. Now, though, it is my presumed cause of death when anyone between the ages of 17 and 30 dies suddenly.

A few former colleagues of mine have lost children suddenly and at least one was directly related to substance abuse. That mom told me something that will always stay with me. In my whole life, I might have experienced two other instances in which words have had the same profound impact on my heart and thoughts. What she said was revelatory:

All you can do is enjoy them while you’ve got them.

During times of frustration with my sons, I’ve reached for that truism frequently. It helped me to accept that I couldn’t make my sons do, or not do, really much of anything. Whether it was attending classes at the High, writing a thank you note or washing their hair, it was on them. No amount of time spent arguing or in disagreement could force any of my children to do what I wanted them to do, if it wasn’t what they wanted to do. They are their own people.

After my friend’s loss and the lesson she gave to me, I  remember thinking “if something really horrible happened to my kid, I wouldn’t want his last interaction with me to have been a heated exchange about why he hadn’t handed in a required assignment for school.” I’d much rather it be a quick “love you” at the end of a call or text. I learned I needed to let some things go.

On Naxos Island, my son and I rented bikes for the day and rode about 20 miles to the beach and an abandoned hotel project that had become a destination for graffiti artists.  After we were fitted for bikes and provided with helmets, my son clipped the strap on his together and hung it on his handlebars. I said, “you’re not wearing that?” And he said “No.” I bit my tongue, clipped my helmet on and told him to leave his helmet behind if he wasn’t going to wear it. My helmet remained firmly in place on my head for the duration of the ride.

Over the course of the day, I suggested once or twice that my son might want to hit the sunscreen. He declined. I rubbed on my second or third application of the #30 spf I had purchased in Athens without comment. His decision. His eventual sunburn.

There comes a point in a parent’s life when they have to let go in ways that may be frightening, especially when their child’s approach is completely contrary to what they themselves had spent years teaching their offspring was the right or best or appropriate or safe way to conduct the life they had been given. It’s part of the process of separating from one another, isn’t it?

I returned to Albany last week to hear of the death of the child of a neighbor I had when I was in high school. Again, a son.  My assumption about the cause of the young man’s death was, unfortunately, correct. My heart hurt for those left behind.

Finding one’s way through life isn’t easy, despite the maps with which we are provided.  We hope that our children make good choices, but when they don’t, we can only wish for the consequences to be negligible – a sunburn at worst, certainly not the loss of their young life.

Love and enjoy them when you have them.

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Filed under aging, Boys, drinking, family, friends, Greece, musings, Observations, relationships

Winds of change

There’s been so much talk this spring about the rain. Many people seem to feel that we’ve had an excessive number of stormy and wet days. Until recently, I believe, there hadn’t been more than an instance or two of our stringing more than three rainless days together since March. Or something like that. Rain doesn’t bother me too much, especially since I’m finally having some necessary work done to my house to ensure it remains dry when it rains. The wind, though, is a different story.

I was thinking about wind and why it makes me uncomfortable and I think it’s because wind is 3-D. I mean, if 3-D is defined as being discernible with three different and unique senses, that is. Is that what 3-D means? Wind is audible, visible and physical, which is kind of a lot, don’t you think? I don’t know if it’s a childhood spent watching The Wizard of Oz every year or what, but wind frightens me. It’s powerful.

It’s going to sound completely ridiculous, but I’ve been working on becoming more comfortable with the wind. For a long time, actually. I know wind and change are partners in moving life along and I’ve gotten better at swaying when in a gust, instead of going with my usual response of digging in and refusing to let go. I’m a work in progress. Mid-gust, shall we say?

One recent change that I’m trying to relax into is the diminishment of family dinner nights. I think it’s more a function of the season than a complete breakdown of family time, so I’m tolerating it. Time will tell, but for now I’m going to cook when I feel like it and continue to make an attempt to prepare meals that can be reheated or repurposed. Case in point, last night’s baked ham with scalloped potatoes and broccoli, became the foundation for a pasta with cubed ham, peas, arugula and grated cheese. Tomorrow I plan to eat some leftover scalloped potatoes with poached eggs. Is it morning yet?

Has the rain or wind impacted your mood? How old were you when your parent stopped regularly cooking dinner?

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Filed under aging, Boys, breakfast, Cooking, DelSo, Dinner, Eating, family, Food, moms, musings, Observations, Spring, upstate New York

Greece is the word

Planning my upcoming trip to Greece was a formidable task. I struggled with the incredible array of options in terms of where to go and how to get there. After polling some friends and seeking some assistance on the Fodor’s Greece Forum, I came up with a loose itinerary and booked our flights (from Montreal) and accomodations (all Airbnb other than on one island). At that point, I shifted my focus to Easter in Ireland and took a break from the remaining details of our Greek adventures.

Now that the end of the school year and Greece are finally in view, it’s time to get a little more specific about what the trip is going to look like. Here’s what we’ve got so far –

Flying out of Canada is going to be a new experience. I booked the tickets primarily because the flight was nonstop and the fare was approximately $900 r/t, a fairly reasonable price for summer travel in my opinion. The drive to Montreal is admittedly further than NYC or Boston, but it’s a straight shot and I don’t anticipate much traffic along the way. I scored a park and stay package that provides us with 15 days of parking and a room on our return for just over $200, which I think is a good deal. An overnight in Montreal is never a bad thing and we’ll definitely score some croissants and bagels for the ride home.

We land in Athens and will spend two nights there at the beginning of the trip, as well as a single night at the end. The time difference is 7 hours and since I imagine we’ll be whooped from flying (and personally, that valium) I made no plans for that first afternoon/evening. We’ll find our way to our apartment, unload our bags and do our best to acclimate. My goal is to stay on my feet until at least 9:00 or 10:00 and score a few food items for our breakfast.

The highlight of our first entire day is a 3.5 hour walking food tour, an Airbnb experience, I booked. My son is an adventurous eater and we’re excited to explore some places recommended by a local guide and sample authentic and traditional Greek cuisine. Since we’ll depart the next morning for our first island, Naxos, the tour will also give us a chance to gather some sundries for our island stay. The temperature could be a real factor in how active we’ll want to be and I imagine the day as pretty relaxed, with some day drinking. Yum, Assyrtiko!

An early morning four-hour ferry* ride gets us to Naxos, which we’ll have the next few days to explore. I imagine that we’ll spend our time visiting the windmills, eating, walking and checking out some beaches. The only plan we have is to take a small, private boat excursion that includes grilled octopus on the beach, a remote grotto swim and an on deck bar-b-q aboard on our way back to Naxos. Ok. I’m in.

Our next stop is a single overnight in Mykonos. I understand it isn’t much time, but it’s a very expensive island filled with people who have no limits on their budgets. That’s not how I travel but I do want to see the beautiful things without getting jaded from the extreme and obvious consumption. Kind of how I feel about Chatham, MA. We’ll stretch the time by arriving before noon and departing the following day in the late afternoon for Paros, our last island.

I’m picturing Paros as the quietest spot we’ll be and I’m looking forward to just savoring the last nights of the trip in a place that looks and sounds beautiful. I found a 5-hour farm to table experience, again on Airbnb that I went ahead and reserved. It involves picking produce on a farm and then preparing a meal whilst we sip local wines and beers and sample small dairy cheeses as the sun sets over the nearby Antiparos. I’m practically there already.

Our last night will be in Athens. We’ll have time to hit any last sights before our return home. Maybe you might have some suggestions?

*I went ahead and booked all of our ferries in advance spending about $300 total for two. That seems remarkably cheap to someone accustomed to paying $100 to travel r/t to NYC from Albany on Amtrak.

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Filed under beauty, Boys, drinking, Eating, Europe, family, Greece, ideas, Summer, travel, vacation

How to turn a Claddagh ring into a Celtic knot necklace

On a visit to Ireland maybe 10 or 12 years ago,* one of my father’s sisters gifted me with some euro. I felt inspired to use the money, along with some of my own, to buy a lasting souvenir for my boys…Claddagh rings for all!

                                                                   

I visited a well established jeweler on the St. Stephen’s end of Grafton Street and selected 3 gold rings, in adult sizes, with the intention to put them away for when my boys were grown. Upon my return to the States, they went into the fireproof box where they sat in their sturdy green boxes for nearly a decade.

       

In recent years, two of three rings have seen the light of day. Middle son decided to wear his and promptly lost it. Way to go, G! Youngest son, the one with the serious Donegal McMenamin genes, has been wearing his ring on his rather large hands for about a year or so and seems to cherish it in the manner that I had imagined when I initially purchased them. Good job, Q! As for oldest son, he had no interest whatsoever in wearing his ring, which left it in the lockbox for the foreseeable future. L just wasn’t feeling it. Somehow he’s an Anglophile of all things. 

                         

As I prepared for my most recent trip to Dublin, I decided that I was tired of leaving this meaningful piece of jewelry in its box for eternity – or until Donald Trump causes the world as we know it to end with his insane policies. Like each of us it needed to be appreciated and enjoyed.  I went online and located the McCormack’s website https://celticdublin.com/ and sent off an email explaining the situation and asking if they might consider taking the ring back and providing me with store credit. It can’t hurt to ask, right?        

                   

A number of days later I received a polite response advising that after such a length of time they were unsure what they might be able to do, but I was welcome to stop in when I was in town. Perfect. I packed the ring. On my first day in Dublin, I stopped in the shop and spoke with the same man who had both sold me the rings and responded to my email, Robert. After hearing my story and giving the ring a lookover, he offered me a more than reasonable store credit which I promptly put towards a beautiful and sentimental necklace. For myself. Isn’t it beautiful? 

 

*I’d have to look at an old passport to be exact

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Filed under Boys, family, favorites, Ireland, Irish, Recommendations, travel

Don’t let a beautiful day get away

I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks since I spent Easter in Ireland. It feels like it was just yesterday when we stayed in the back garden until Easter Sunday became Easter Monday when the wine finally became more persuasive about us going to bed than the air was about begging us to stay awake.  In my heart it was just a moment ago.

The weather in Dublin Easter weekend was, in the vernacular, brilliant. The morning I arrived there had been a chill in the air that manifested as a moody fog, but as the hours, and days, passed the sun became stronger and the skies a more saturated shade of blue. Perfect holiday weather.

I spent a couple of days walking for hours and hours on end, to the point that I felt myself limping. I stayed fairly near Phoenix Park, which is a tremendous plot of land that sprawls into an irregularly shaped garden with a zoo, playing fields and picnic areas. There are gorgeous trails, soft underfoot, that beckon to be run upon and explored.

Perspective

One day, I took the northern piece and wound my way through meadows and wooded areas, seeing blooming trees and flowers, herds of wild deer and a cow-filled pasture. The next, I ran the southern piece on some of the most beautiful terrain I’ve ever experienced, wide paths lined by leafy trees with wood chips to cushion my feet. Magical, even with the nearly constant discomfort in my hips and feet forcing me to rein it in and not push myself too hard.

The slower pace left me with plenty of time to reflect. How lucky was I to have these hours that belonged only to me? To be outdoors breathing and smelling and seeing? Are there people who take this gift for granted?

It’s been a week now since I left Ireland.  In an odd way it feels like it was forever ago that I boarded the bus to the airport to come back to the life that I know and love. Or maybe I should say “return.” There’s no going back, just forward with appreciation and knowledge.

What you don’t have you don’t need it now

Don’t need it now.

It was a beautiful day.

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Filed under beauty, Europe, Exercise, family, favorites, holidays, Ireland, musings, Observations, running, Spring, travel, vacation

When foreign is familiar

I travel as much as I can. It’s more important to me than  new furniture, a 2000 square foot house, a fancy car or piece of jewelry. It’s what I need to do on many levels and I’ve arranged my financial life so I can get on a plane or train, or even a bus, numerous times a year to see something new or visit a place I’ve only read about in books. It is the biggest priority for me beyond my children and the career that make it all possible. It helps me breathe.

It’s a funny thing when you’re born to people who have a combined total of nearly 30 siblings. Yes, thirty. My mom is one of 15 and my father one of 14, which means I have a lot of family. Since neither of my parents were born in America, their our families are all essentially still in Europe. As a child, that was isolating but, as an adult, it has provided me with some wonderful places to see while getting to know my aunts, uncles and cousins of various degrees of separation. It also gives me a sense of home as clearly being in more than one place.

During my most recent time in Ireland, I’ve rounded countless corners only to realize that I know exactly where I am. I’ve been here before. This place is familiar to me in a way that makes my heart full. The neighborhood where I’ve spent the last four nights is a bit beyond where I’ve stayed my previous two visits, but on my first morning I searched out a grocery store to pick up a few items for my lovely Airbnb. Google maps directed me to a nearby market in close walking distance and as soon as the store was in view, I immediately recognized it as being the same store I went to in 2013. I knew it.

When I’m in Ireland, I hear my vocabulary shift to a different gear. I use words like “delighted” and phrases such as “thanks a million” and “that’s grand.” The vernacular finds its way to my lips and I feel myself softening into a different version of myself. Granted, I’m on holiday,* and don’t bear any responsibilities here for children or work or household tasks, but it’s beyond that, I think. It’s a sense of belonging to a family, to a culture and to a place that, while it may not be my place of birth, feels like home.

I haven’t yet left for the airport for my return to the States and I already miss Ireland and everything it means to me. Until next time. xo

 

*holiday rather than “vacation” is how we say it in Ireland.

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Filed under aging, Europe, family, favorites, girlhood, Ireland, Irish, musings, Observations, road trips, travel, vacation