Tuesday, February 18, 2020

20 years ago

I walked away
from a life I thought I was supposed to want
from the plans I made because I thought I was supposed to
from the picket fence dream that was someone else's
from the expectations everyone had for me
and the ones I forced on myself

I walked away
from always feeling out of breath

my voice was always too loud
my clothes were always too bright
my ideas were always too outlandish

I thought what I wanted was not what I was supposed to want
I thought who I was was not who I was supposed to be

I thought I was not strong enough

I walked away
20 years ago
a lifetime ago
just yesterday

and walked into a life I never thought possible
a life I thought I was greedy for wanting
a life I thought existed only in movies or books or my dreams

I was strong enough to walk away
to refuse everyone's opinions
to trust my own
to trust you

I walked away from a life that was never mine
and walked into ours

I am still in awe

and although you still take my breath away
now I can breathe

Friday, February 14, 2020

I miss those little Valentine's Day cards

My knees barely fit under the table. It was my boys' coveted Little Einstein's arts-and-crafts-and-everything-they-wanted-to-do-table. There were accidental scribbles on it, and pieces of dried up play-dough. The cubbies underneath had mommy-assigned and boys-ignored designations: one was for the crayons, another for construction paper, and another for puzzles. (Needless to say, those cubbies were always a mess and it always drove me crazy.) I spent countless hours at that table. First with Ben, then with Kai, and sometimes with both. We drew. We colored. We made pizzas out of clay. When Ben had to decorate a t-shirt with 100 things of his choice to celebrate the 100th day of school and he absolutely insisted on making 100 paw prints (his school's symbol) in the alternating school colors in glitter, I sat at that table with him: I dribbled the 5 little globs of Elmer's glue with painstaking precision and he sprinkled the blue and gold glitter over each one. It took us days. But it came out perfect.

Today, the first Valentine's Day in which I have two middle school boys, is also the first Valentine's Day that I did not have to buy cards and candy for class distribution. Maybe if I had realized that last year would be the last year, I would not have complained so much about spending money on candy and cards for his classmates. (But isn't that the thing with parenting? You never know when those tedious tasks you rush through and sometimes dread...bedtime stories, bathtub battles, carrying them asleep to their rooms...will be done for the last time.)

I feel like it was simultaneously yesterday and a million years ago that I sat at that little table, for a few consecutive years, helping them form the letters of their classmates' names and making them fit on those teeny Valentine's Day cards. There were the years in which one or both would insist on finding just the right cards: they had to be Mickey, or Transformers, or sports, and we would have to go to multiple stores to find them. Doing those cards with them was one of those tasks that took forever, and I wondered over and over again why I wasn't doing what so many of the other moms would do: simply label the To/From myself. But it was one of those things that mattered to me. As a teacher and a mom, I felt that these were those important moments when your 2 year old kinda learns how to write and your 5 year old kinda learns some patience. It was tedious and tried my patience probably even more than it tried theirs. I don't really recall with absolute certainty the last time I did it with them. I think I was on the couch instead, and they were kneeling at the coffee table. It was more of a making sure they were following through and their handwriting was neat enough to fit within the card than actually doing it with them. I was probably a little impatient then, too.

This morning I excitedly placed their Valentine's Day gift bags and cards on the breakfast counter. Bags filled with nonsense that took me almost an hour to find at Target yesterday. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to find something cheap and Valentine-y to give a 14 year old who is now shaving?!?) As I roamed the store aisles, I debated skipping the whole thing. Why spend $40 or $50 on cards and junk and candy they really don't need? But the truth is, they're still my babies and I actually miss sitting at that little table and being annoyed and wondering how much longer it would take to go through that darned preschool class names list so I could go deal with dinner or watch TV or take a frickin shower. Those days felt endless. I felt like I was trapped in a perpetual fog of little kid responsibilities and mommy minutiae. And yet here we are now: I am spending my Valentine's Day remembering that little table and those little hands with the dimpled knuckles clutching the fat pencils and clumsily forming the letters of their names.

What I realize now, all these years later, is that all those hours I spent torturing myself by making all those Valentine's Day cards with them weren't just about their handwriting and spelling skills. It was about Me and Them Time. Days like today, when their time is spent in a whirlwind of adolescent distractions, and I am but a blip in their day, I can think back to the days at that table and sit with those memories. I can miss them. I can relish them. And I can know that even if they don't think that those days were particularly important, they were for me. Much more so, in fact, now that they are long gone. Don't get me wrong: I want no part of parenting little kids anymore. I love the young men they are becoming and the relationship and life we all have now, but those days filled with messy art tables and Transformer heart cards are forever etched in my heart. And those two big kids right there...they will forever be my little Valentines.

A blurry picture I managed to find of THE Table

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

You can love being with your kids--AND without them

I was at a kid's birthday party once, discussing vacation plans and travel tips with another mom, when I asked her if the trip she was planning was a family one, or just a getaway for her and her husband. She--I kid you not--literally gasped, put a hand to her chest, and said "Oh nooooo, we never travel without the children. I don't have those kinds of urges." While I was busy trying not to respond inappropriately nor giggle at the use of the word urges, she then threw in the following statement, unprompted, just for good measure: "I asked my husband once. He said he does not have those urges either." *

*Fine print: no portion of the aforementioned conversation was exaggerated, tweaked, altered, made up, or misquoted for the sake of comedic effect.

I do have those urges.

I had them when they were teeny-tiny babies and smelled delicious and their presence in my life felt as tender and unexpected as the soft spots on their heads. I had them when they were bigger but still so little and called me "Mama" in their raspy little voices. I have them now when they are pre-teen and full-blown-in-my-face-teen and simultaneously awe and enrage me.

I love my boys. I love snuggling on the couch with them on family movie nights. I love listening to them tell me stories about how they handled a socially charged situation in school. I love climbing into our RV and spending a bunch of days with just the four of us making s'mores, riding bikes, and searching for adventure. I love that they both still expect (and enjoy) their bedtime songs and nightly rituals. I love being Mommy.

But I love being Liz, too. I love paddle boarding by myself at sunrise and discussing books over wine with my book club girls and reading the 704th book from the Outlander series in peace.

And I love being Hubby's Wife, too. I love strolling on the boardwalk in the afternoon hand-in-hand to decompress from our day and talking with him quietly over beers at our favorite local bar and spending an entire day at the beach drinking way too many Jack and Cokes.

I have urges. Lots of 'em.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to go on many getaways with Hubby, sans kids, thanks to amazing grandparents. Most of the trips have been little getaways, designed to help us reconnect and recharge so we could do Us better, but also so we could do Parenting better. These days, we go on way more family trips than Just Us trips, because we know we only have so many years left with the boys before they: a) are no longer able to take time away from their school/sports/schedules, b) grow up and move away, or c) no longer want to travel with us. Plus, now that they are not babies anymore, there are a lot of places we want to show them and lots of things we want to discover. So for now, if we can sneak in a long weekend once or twice a year without the kids, that's enough.

We are getting ready to take the boys on their first cruise in the next couple of months, and planning for that got me thinking about the last time Hubby and I were on a cruise. It was the first time we went away together after Kai was born. We were parenting an almost-4-year-old and a very high-maintenance 6-month-old so let's just say we were urging Reading that post made me relive both the desperation we felt to get away and the sweetness of feeling like we were leaving someone behind who would miss us with nearly equal parts desperation. Let's just say Ben's reaction, at age 4, was quite different to what his reaction would be now, at 14, if we were to announce we were going away for a few days. It definitely made me a little melancholic, but I guess the bright side is that as they get older and less dependent on us, the more opportunities we will have to satisfy those other urges.

So here's the Throwback post from that cruise getaway originally posted here on July 7, 2009:

Pina Colada, anyone?

"Four days?!? You and Daddy are gonna be gone for four days?"

"Yes, Ben, that is why (pause here for dramatic emphasis) you get to rent FOUR Blockbuster movies for grandma's house!! Isn't that gonna be cool?!?"

"But Maaaamaaaa, I don't waaaant you and Daddy to be gone for four days. I want to be with you guys aaaaall the time."

We have been telling Ben about our upcoming "Mommy and Daddy Vacation" for a few days now. I think it just hit him today that maybe, just maybe, he might have a problem with it. It seems that 4 rental movies do not cancel out 4 days of no Mama and Dada. Darn.

Hubby and I are big believers in spending quality grown-up couple time together. We do not think a fancy dinner can be romantic with 2 children sitting at the table with us (in spite of what some parents we know tell us...repeatedly). We do not think a family vacation--although wonderful in its own right--is as relaxing or as recharging for the marriage as a true getaway all alone. I realize that not everyone has this option. We do. We have my mom, Babysitter Extraordinaire. We are lucky. Really lucky.

So we will be leaving in exactly 40 hours (um, ehem, approximately), and we will tap into our Old Selves. The ones we were before we were Mama and Daddy. The ones we were when we met. And dated. And held hands. And kissed. And giggled. And flirted. And, uh, other stuff. It's hard to be Those People in our daily lives. It's hard to...and we try, Lord knows, we try. We reach out across the expanse of our family room, strewn with rattles, Hot Wheels cars, balls, books, and Nerf darts, and we try to reconnect as often as possible. With winks. With kisses. With smiles. With hugs. And after we put the boys down to sleep, we try to, with some regularity, open a bottle of wine, put on some music, talk (yes, really talk) and love each other. On the best nights, it feels like old times. On the worst nights, we're too tired to even bother with any of it. On most nights, we manage to steal an hour to ourselves before we collapse with exhaustion. This is Our Lives right now. It's what we want. But it's hard.

If you're lucky enough to be parenting with someone you'd still marry all over again, then it can definitely be more rewarding, but in some ways it can make day-to-day life even more frustrating. Because when you actually like the person you're parenting with, when you actually miss him even though he's still right there, living with you, sleeping in your bed, making breakfast with you everyday, helping you turn little boys into men, well, then it can be doubly hard because it's the parenting that's keeping you apart. So to have four...count 'em...four whole days and nights to OURSELVES on a cruise ship...away from the Real World, away from Our Current Lives, away from...yes, The Kids...it will be heaven. But as I finalize my packing, as I count down the last few hours, as I get my passport ready, I realize that I am leaving behind 2 little boys...one who will notice our absence, really notice it, for the first time, and in spite of the promises of Blockbuster movies, special outings with the grandparents, no bedtimes, and extra candy, well...the truth of the matter is, fortunately or unfortunately, he still likes being with us best.

So when I heard the panic creeping into his voice today, I felt a bit of the same panic creeping into me. Not so much because I will miss him, but because I want him to behave for Grandma and Grandpa...I want him to have fun...I want him to be happy...and, I have to admit, I want to leave guilt-free. And if he is clinging to my leg upon my departure, it will take me more than a couple of umbrella drinks to unwind and really let go. And letting go is the whole purpose of this trip.

I think I'm gonna need a lot of singles for the bartenders.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Forty seven and happy (AF)

I am 47 today.


Definitely an age I used to think of as "old." Didn't we all? I mean, my parents were 47. My aunts and uncles...my teachers (gasp)...they were in their forties. Forties were old.

When I turned 40, I didn't really have an issue with it. I was distracted with fabulous birthday plans and stilettos and cocktails. Besides, Gwen Stefani and Sarah Jessica Parker were already 40, and they were awesomely cool and soooo not-old.

Then 41 and 42 and 43 got a little weird. I was like, "Waaaaait a minute...40-SOMETHING is not quite as fun as 40 was...I'm not going to Vegas and it's really not quite a novelty anymore and holy shit...I just realized I'm closer to mid-forties than 39...WTF?!?"

It was at about the 45 mark that I started to notice that there wasn't much of a difference in how I looked in pictures between, say, 32 and 41, but there seemed to be a sudden (and sometimes shocking) difference in the pictures between 41 and 45. It was as if all those years of sleepless nights due to early parenting had suddenly caught up with me. (Yes, I am sure that my obsession with the sun and booze has absolutely nothing to do with it.)

So let's just say there was a bit of an adjustment period somewhere in there. For the first time in my life, I started trying expensive skin creams. I looked into those crazy expensive laser treatments at the dermatologist. I upped the SPF. When I'd enter a nightclub I never, ever got carded anymore. (The worst was when we'd go with our still-in-their-30s-friends and they'd get carded ahead of us and as Hubby and I started looking for our IDs, the bouncer would just wave us in.)

Fast forward to now.

I don't know what happened. I'm not exactly sure when it happened. It just did, and I've realized it pretty recently.

I'm happy. Like, really, really, really, contentedly, unapologetically happy.

Let me clarify: Technically, I've been happy for a very long time. I've been married to my absolute favorite person for 17 years. I have two ridiculously awesome boys. I love where I live. I (usually) really like what I do for a living. I am surrounded by amazing friends. My family is healthy and nearby.

But I mean I am happy with myself...having nothing to do with all these amazingly lucky blessings. I feel like I woke up one day, looked around, and realized I am completely happy with Me. Don't get me wrong: I am still (and always will be) working on self-improvement in some area. But overall, I feel like for the first time--ever--I am no longer pining to be skinnier/cooler/better dressed/richer/ calmer/fitter/prettier/fill-in-the-blank-with-pretty-much-any-word. I know what I like now. I won't apologize for my music or drink of choice. I know I have waaaay too many ripped jean shorts that would never pass the "What Not To Wear" test, and I use the words "dude" and "fuck" way too often.

I'd love to tell you how I got here. I am well aware that I sound like one of those essays you'd find in a "Forties" book or in the Oprah magazine: "Oh, now that I'm in my forties I have arrived!" Puhleeze. I would be totally eye-rolling too. Truth is, I'm not sure. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that my kids are a little older and more independent, so I can spend more time on myself without feeling guilty. Maybe some of it is that I have put so much effort into my eating and exercise choices over the last few years, that I finally feel like I'm good with what my body's doing. Maybe the two knee surgeries I had to have over the last couple of years taught me how truly disciplined and bad-ass I can be when I need to.  Maybe it's the meditating. Maybe it's the big life move we made a few years ago that freed up so much of our money and time so we could go to the beach any damn time we please.

I am sure it's some of that and some of this. The point is I'm here now, and it's an incredibly peaceful feeling.

It took me nearly 47 years. It's a good thing I didn't know that going in, because that's a long ass time. So, today I'll celebrate, because...dude, I'm happy as fuck.

Friday, November 29, 2019

...but then her kids became people

I fell in love with the power of a perfectly-crafted sentence when I was in second grade.

Ms. Davis was one of my least favorite teachers ever. She rarely smiled, had a raspy, nicotine voice, and had some sort of scarring on her neck that scared the hell out of my 7-year-old little self. But every day after lunch, she would perch herself upon a wooden stool and read aloud a chapter from Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I fell completely in love with mischievous little Ramona. When Beverly Cleary wrote about the pink eraser Ramona's father gave her as a little gift, I felt like I, too, could feel its rubbery smoothness in my palm and smell that perfect new-eraser smell. I didn't know that I could fall into a book in this way simply because a writer could write a good story. (Remember, I'm old...my kindergarten reading memories consist mostly of sitting in front of a giant chart and reading sentences about a girl named Meg, her dog, Spot, and all those Dick and Jane bores.) After Ms. Davis finished Ramona, and I found out there were more books about Ramona and her sister, I made my dad take me to the public library, where I had the librarian teach me where I could find the rest of the them. I then proceeded to methodically check out, read, return, repeat until I had read all of the Cleary books (yes, even the ones about the mouse and that Henry Huggins kid). 

A bit later, cheesy pre-teen paperbacks came into my life. Whenever we visited the cousins, I spent as much time as possible in my older cousin's room, admiring all her uber-cool, teenage paraphernalia. She had a closet door covered with posters and high school football ribbons and a book shelf filled with paperbacks that had pouty, preppy-looking girls looking wistfully towards mannequin-handsome football player types. I was fascinated. She would lend me any book she deemed not too racy and I could never wait to go back. It was like my own little teenage-themed public library. I still have the book she lent me that made me want to write. I can't, for the life of me, remember what, exactly, it was about, but I remember finishing it and feeling something really important that I could not name. It sits on my bookshelf, still, among Hemingway, Outlander, Tuesdays with Morrie, and my poetry books. Every time I do one of those house purges, I pick it up, look at it, feel a bit sheepish for keeping it, think about putting it in the "donate" pile, and then put it back on the shelf. I am pretty sure it was right after finishing that book that I really started to try my hand at "chapter books." I still have a huge box in my guest room filled with rubber-banded, typed chapters of unfinished "novels." My ages when I started them probably range from 11 to 17. I have not read them in years. They take up a ton of space in my nearly-tiny house. I still can't get rid of them.

I started this blog because early parenting made me feel stifled and overwhelmed. I had a hard time figuring out how the life I had before I had kids would transform into the life I was living now. Don't get me wrong; I always wanted kids. In fact, Hubby and I had quite a few struggles having Ben, so I was quite grateful we managed to have 2 healthy boys. This, however, just contributed to my feelings of guilt and confusion in those early years: I wanted this, so why am I not feeling like those "happy-happy-joy-joy" women who came before me and told me things like "Becoming a mother was the most fulfilling thing I've ever done" or "I knew the moment they put my newborn son on my chest that I loved him more than anything."

The boys grew up on these pages, and really, so did I. I suspect if I look back and count, I wrote more posts venting about the bad stuff with a bit of humor mixed in than gloriously gushing. I was totally, completely honest. And the response was overwhelmingly positive. Suddenly, I was hearing lots of "Me too!" and "Ohmigod, this parenting thing sucks!" and "I didn't know it would be this hard!" One of my most statistically popular posts was called "Sometimes I don't like my kid." I never felt like I was betraying them. Really, they were barely people then. Ben was 3 1/2 and Kai was a few months old. I complained about potty training and preschool playground drama and my toddler flipping me the bird. My readers either related to it or they didn't, but if they judged, they were judging my parenting and perception of it, not my kids.

It's different now.

Over the last few years, they've turned into actual human beings with opinions and passions and their own mini struggles. Almost every time I thought "I gotta write about this..." I stopped myself. If I wrote about my teen's social struggles, there was a really good chance someone who knew someone who knew him was going to read about it. I knew my son did not want his pre-teen dramas unfolding on my pages, because no matter how insignificant or typical they were in reality, they were neither of these to him. My 11-year-old is just now entering those years of social trial-and-error and trying out different personas and becoming interested in girls. Although he does not have the intensity of his older brother, I know he is easily embarrassed and hates it when I talk about nearly anything that is even slightly-possibly-maybe-personal in front of just about anyone else.

So. This blog sat here silently and I tried repeatedly to silence my words inside my own head. I told myself I was done and that it had served its purpose and that really, who the hell even uses the word blog anymore and they weren't babies anymore and there was no need. But here's the problem: the theme of this blog might have been my kids, but what it really always has been is a space for my words.. And now that my kids are (almost) their own people and I am (almost) feeling like an actual person who is way more than just a mom in survival mode, I still have (almost) perfectly-crafted sentences left to write. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

I am a writer

I am a writer

always have been

I remember
when I was little
I did not covet
my sister's clothes
so much

it was 
her typewriter

I could not
get to it


it lies dormant
for whatever the reason
I can not
tend to it

and I think
It is done
I am good
that part of me
I've had enough
I've done enough
I'm good


it comes back
it gnaws at me

I ignore it
push it away
eye roll
it will recede
that feeling

but then the feeling
becomes a need
and I am
irritated and relieved

it's there
it won't go away


I have to write again
I am a writer
always have been

and so
I am back
here I am 
you can only ignore
who you are
for so long

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

You are ten

I remember

when the nurse called out
across the room
you were okay
we heard your cry

"A redhead!" she announced

"A redhead?!?"

the relief
we felt
the relief
I saw
on your daddy
it crumpled upon him
folded him in

you were okay

then your baby years
you were loud
chronically agitated
(we were, too)

you toddled around later
with your little blue rectangular glasses
a little professor
those dimples
on your cheeks and your little fists
those curls
now blonde
now chronically happy
chronically sweet

this little boy now
growing up
the freckles sprinkled across your nose
in love
with elephants
in love
with me
"wrapped around your little finger"
the cliche
repeated to me

it has not taken us long
to realize
you have this effect
on many

you give hugs so freely
you play
with toys
sleep with stuffed animals
(a million)
you ride
the scariest rides
arms up
never flinching
always ready
for the party
for adventure

there is a softness
a sweetness
on your face
in your eyes
in the
of your hugs

you came into this family
you carved your own space
with gentleness and giggles
with expectations of love and affection
to what you give

you are
your own person
and we are
so lucky
the 3 of us

Happy 10th Birthday Aidan Kai...
You have our hearts.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Last Stop: Destin, FL

Our last stop on the road trip was Destin Beach, Florida where it was just playing on the beach all day, every day. There were no giant bounce pillows or organized campground activities or a pool with slides or other kids to run around with (a la OBX), so instead there was a lot of family time and a lot of "Whattaya wanna play now?" Here is evidence (and my favorite shot!) of some of the silliness that ensued during our free time: 

"Look at what we can do with our hair, Mommy!"

The first time we camped in Henderson Beach, Destin was in 2012 during that first "long"short trip. I had been completely amazed by it: no mosquitoes, a gorgeous campsite that was super clean and private and spacious, a beach with water so clear and sand so white that it looked straight out of a postcard. I referred to it as the "Marriott of Campgrounds."

And we loved it this time, too, for the same reasons. Not to mention that we were exhausted from the last few weeks and all the activities, so a few days of consecutive "just beach" days were very appealing. However, believe it or not, we chose to leave a couple of days earlier than planned. We had all been missing home (even when you're "glamping" in your own RV, some comforts and joys of home can't be matched), and...brace yourselves...here's a sentence I never thought I'd say...ready...? 

I just could not face one more day of hot sun and alcohol. 

I know.

But it's true. 

By this point of the trip, Hubby and I were getting to the point where we were actually craving acai bowls, water, and vegetables. (You know life's good when you almost have too much vacation time.)

Plus, I think after so many years of traveling and camping, I've come to realize that although I'm happiest on any beach, some beaches make me happier than others. The bliss and connection I felt in Hatteras in Outer Banks was missing. If OBX was all Roxy and Quicksilver, Destin is all Lily Pulitzer and LL Bean. Nice...but not our thing. 

We spent the days walking on the beach, slathering on layers and layers of SPF, playing in the sand, body surfing, being silly, going crabbing, playing family ladder toss tournaments, stand up paddle boarding, boogie boarding, drinking, and eating. 

That's Kai's head sticking up out of the sand...LOL

Poor Hubby...we called him the Family Mule the whole trip.
Here he is carrying my SUP the nearly half a mile walk from the beach back to our campsite!

Waiting for our table at the local restaurant...a wait time of an hour did not seem that long when I had beer and beach!

Night time crabbing

It feels like forever-ago that we took that first summer road trip in our first RV. That had felt like such a daring adventure. And now here we are, all these years later...the boys are so much bigger, the trips are so much longer, and the adventures are so much more daring. We are already planning our next summer road trip...this time to the national parks and the Grand Canyon. As much as I joked above about having too much vacation time, don't get me wrong: Hubby and I do not take these days for granted. We're lucky; we know. We've worked at this life, though. We've made changes and sacrifices and every day we work at setting up our lives so we can go on these trips, have these experiences. It is our hope that these days help bond the boys to each other (and to us) even more...that they look back on their childhoods and remember these days...and even more importantly, that those memories help shape them into men who value family, each other, nature, and adventures, because after all..."Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing."

...and now

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Stops 7, 8, & 9: Nashville, TN; Lynchburg TN; and Florida Caverns State Park, FL

Before heading back to Florida, we wanted to make a couple of stops in Tennessee for two of our favorite things: country music and Jack Daniels Whiskey.

Stop 7 was Nashville, TN. We knew this was not a particularly family-friendly town, but we wanted to scope it out and see if it was somewhere Hubby and I would want to go back for a mini getaway in the future. Plus, the kids could say they saw a super popular city, even if they hated it (which, by the way, they did). The campground where we stayed, despite a million excellent online reviews, was a bit bizarre and quite disappointing. What we thought was going to be a cool, family campground with a country theme, turned out to be a clean, but super hot and shade-less parking lot filled with really old and serious folks listening to even older people perform on their little stage at night. I felt like I was stuck in a parody of RV traveling. One of the perks of traveling this way, however, is the flexibility it allows, so we cut this part of the trip short and only spent a couple of days there. We went into downtown Nashville for a few hours on the first day, ate dinner at the Florida Georgia Line House, longed to go into one of the many smoky and totally kid-inappropriate bars we walked by where excellent live music was playing, and watched the city prepare for its huge July 4th festivities.

Downtown Nashville

Celebrating July 4th at the bizarre campground
Disclaimer: No children were harmed in the taking of these photos

The next day was Stop 8  Lynchburg, TN...a town that seems frozen in time. Seeing my truck with all the boards parked in front of the Jack Daniels Hardware Store in "downtown" Lynchburg was quite amusing.

We toured the Jack Daniels Distillery, which, even for non-whiskey drinkers is a major tourist destination, so for us...well, if you know us, you understand.

The excellent reviews we had read did not lie: this tour was super cool. Even the kids tolerated it. They especially enjoyed the part when they found out that Jack Daniels died of gangrene infection brought upon by a broken toe from kicking his safe in frustration.
Dramatization of the fateful moment when Jack Daniels kicked his safe

And if you've ever seen any of those Jack Daniels commercials on TV....well, all those people really do work there. We hung out a bit with this guy and got some cool stories.

The distillery is to Lynchburg what Disney World is to Orlando. The entire area (which, ironically, has been a dry county since the days of Prohibition) is completely dependent upon the distillery, which is the only place in the world Jack Daniels whiskey is made.

We spent quite a bit of money in the store, which sold everything from key chains to furniture made out of the recycled barrels. We have been enjoying some of our souvenirs already...

After saying goodbye to Nashville and Lynchburg, it was time to start heading back to our home state. Stop 9 was Florida Caverns State Park in Florida. 

Back when we were rookies at all this RV stuff, we took our first "long" road trip: 8 days in Florida, and the caverns was one of our stops. We wanted to take the boys back there, especially since Aidan Kai didn't really remember much.

Here we are in the caverns in 2012 on that first trip:


And here we are in 2018:

One of my first RV-ing memories is of pulling into that campground, late at night, opening the door, and being a bit intimidated and awed by the height of the trees and the darkness in that park. It felt so isolated and "in the woods." It was interesting to go back now, all these years later, and see how the trees weren't really that tall, and it wasn't any darker than other parks.

We toured the caverns and were once again amazed by them and their natural history. We also did a mini hike that took you by and through some caves which were used by Native Americans and returned to a natural spring recreation area which we had visited in 2012. We had a lot of fun jumping off the diving board and into the cave opening of the spring, and after all those frigid water temperatures in the mountains, 72 degree water did not shock us quite as much as it did the first time around.

Aidan Kai's cannonball

Ben's dive of joy

Super cool spot but it's no beach...

Next (and last) stop: Destin, Florida!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Stop 6: Smoky Mountains, NC

If Outer Banks was all decadence and bliss, then the mountains were all ass-kicking and adventure. Base camp was a KOA campground in Cherokee, North Carolina, but we pretty much covered everything from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Asheville, North Carolina. The mountains portion of this trip was awesome and exhausting. We had 6:00 am wake up calls almost every day, and pushed our Florida flatlanders' asses to the brink pretty much constantly. 

Adventure #1: Get over my fear of white water rafting.

I had only been white water rafting once, and if I had the picture with me now, I would post it here so you could see the proof of my terror: I literally threw myself into the bottom middle of the boat in the fetal position in such a way that you can not see me in the picture. At all. So, needless to say, when the boys all said they wanted to do this, I was not looking forward to it. I'm not sure if it's the fact that the kids were with us this time, but somehow I managed to put on my Big Girl Pants and get on that raft. Because Hubby was certified in white water rescue back in the days, and because he actually knows what he's doing about 99.9% of the time, we opted for the self-guided ride. The deal was this: Whatever he said to do on that raft, the three of us were going to do it. This was one of the very rare times in the history of this family when there was no arguing about who among us is the Alpha.

Most of the river was class II, some III mixed in, and one class IV drop at the end. We managed to get through that last one without anyone falling out of the boat (or dropping to the floor in the fetal position and missing the photo op entirely), but boy, were we ever not graceful...

We watched other boats do that rapid later on, and every one either went straight through the line expected, around it, or even zig zag...a few people did fall out...but everyone pretty much was facing forward somewhat. Not us. Nope. Forward was too easy. We went up and over the main rock and ledge...backwards. Let's just say our Alpha Guide was shouting out some expletives amidst his orders of "Paddle hard right! Paddle hard right!"

I think we were all so relieved when we realized we had made it without losing anyone, that the look on our faces was pretty priceless in some of the shots.

Amazingly, this little adventure completely eradicated my fear of white water. I actually, for a moment, debated doing it again. And talk about family bonding...

Adventure #2: Hike the 6 mile trail of  Looking Glass Rock in Pisgah National Forest.

We hiked 3 miles up to an elevation of 3,970 feet, to a stunning overlook (with a scary-looking drop) that made the work worth it for a 9-year-old, a sometimes-surly preteen, a middle-aged woman with a somewhat-still-busted-post-op-knee, and an ever-optimistic and uber-athletic Hubby who got stuck carrying about 30 pounds worth of all our water, lunch, bug spray, and just maybe, some baby wipes I snuck in there. I'd like to say that the 3 miles down were a piece of cake, but we were passed by quite a few people, during which I wanted to yell "We are from the very flat, flat state of Florida!"

View at the top after the first 3 miles

After that, we drove a few miles to Sliding Rock, a place we  had seen on videos online, but, as South Floridians, had a hard time wrapping our heads around. Hubby and I were actually not too excited about this one, but the boys really wanted to do it, and since they managed to complete the hike without ever complaining once or admitting they wanted no part of it, we figured we owed them one. 

Boy, am I glad. It turned out to be one of the funnest things I have ever done.

Adventure #3: Slide down a 60-foot waterfall

Sliding Rock is a natural boulder that has been smoothed out over time enough that people can slide down the 60 foot waterfall relatively unscathed and plunge into an 8 foot deep "pool" of 50 degree water. Words to describe: freezing, thrilling, silly, butt-scratching, bumpy, fun. I sincerely thought, before I got there, that maybe I would do it once, just to say I did it, but I felt like a little kid wanting to go back "again and again" and "one more time." It wasn't until I bruised the right butt cheek on a wayward rock ledge and scratched the left on that one-damn-rough-spot-that-pretty-much-no-one-else-managed-to-slide-over-except-me that I finally called it quits. The best part was that you were allowed to slide in groups, pairs, train formations....so the four of us had a blast. I literally could not stop giggling the entire time we were there.

Daddy and the boys after their "train" came apart

Me and the boys...we started out together holding hands but inevitably would always come apart

Hubby and me...of course, I'm holding my nose while he is all arms in the air woo-hooing

After Sliding Rock, we drove into downtown Asheville for a pizza dinner and the best ice cream sandwiches we've ever had. That was one of those days...from morning to night...when you just go to bed with a smile on your face, feeling grateful and exhausted all over.

Adventure #4: Aerial Park (or, When the hell did I develop a fear of heights?!?)

We drove into Tennessee for an Aerial Park Adventure. We had done this before in New Hampshire on a much larger and higher scale, so I wasn't worried. Little did I know that, apparently, while I wasn't looking, my mind decided to develop an unnatural fear of heights. We listened to the safety spiel, harnessed up, clipped in, and climbed the tower. I wasn't nervous. I wasn't worried. I, in fact, was the one who insisted on doing this particular activity. Then I stepped onto the first "challenge" as they call it: a log suspended about 20 feet in the air. Complete and utter panic. Tears welled. Heart drummed. And I thought for a second that I couldn't do it. I would simply go back the one whopping step and go back to the ground. I think the only thing that stopped me from doing just that was the disbelief: I have never been afraid of heights! What the hell is wrong with me?!? So I pushed through...did a few while literally holding back tears...had to go back to the ground to center myself a bit (I insisted I just wanted to take pictures of the boys to everyone but Hubby). Then I made myself go back out there. The boys didn't even find out I was freaking out the whole time until almost the end. In fact, once Ben found out, he was so kind and protective, it made the whole experience worth it. At one point, I was making it to the end of a particularly challenging obstacle, and he was standing on the platform waiting. I started to fall (which really means I would have fallen about 2 feet before my harness caught me), and he grabbed my rope and kept saying (in the same exact tone we would have used with him or his brother) "It's okay. You're okay. I've got you." 

We spent three hours on the course, which ranged from a minimum height of 14 feet and soared to over 50 feet up at its highest. The boys did a couple of the highest, while I completed most of the ziplines and  challenges on the first level, all the while literally hugging the trees as I arrived on each platform. I think I did more of my meditative breathing at this place than I have in all my yoga and meditation sessions combined! (That breathing shit really works. FYI.)

Would love to say this was a silly, posed shot, but nope...that is literally how I would stand on the platforms while waiting for my turn.

Aidan Kai on one of the lower challenges while Ben and Daddy wait on the side platforms

One of the easiest challenges that didn't scare me so much so I managed a smile

 Adventure #5: Tubing (Lazy river, my ass!)

Don't let this serene pic fool you....

Perhaps we should have known we were in for a little more than some lazy tubing when the teenage girl returning her tube declared it as "eventful" and the lady at the desk chuckled as she declared that "the river is really high and fast today, so you're gonna have some class IIs in there..."
Give us an ocean filled with sharks, jellyfish, waves, and rip currents and we are good to go. Put us in a river on some giant floaties and watch us nearly drown.

Most of the river was either calm, like the picture above, or fun little rapids, but there were a few spots where overhanging trees along the edges and rocks made for a couple of close calls. Incident #1 happened when the rope we had used to tie our tubes together got caught up on a tree limb right over a super strong current, trapping Aidan Kai right over the rushing water and nearly flipping Ben, who I saw panic for one of the first times. Hubby managed to get everyone unstuck and onto dry land, but it left the boys (and me) a bit shaken. Incident #2 happened after we decided that the rope was a bad idea, and Aidan Kai fell out of his tube. Watching your kid floating down a river with no life vest as he desperately tries to swim to the shoreline where his brother is reaching out to grab him is no joke.

Incidents aside, we did have a ton of fun on our first tubing adventure. We felt kinda silly that we had found it so rough, but felt a bit validated when, back at the campground, one of the local "mountain people" told us he wouldn't let his grandkids do it because the river was a little too high and dangerous.

More reason to love the ocean...

After Incident #1

Adventure #6: Hike 4.6 mile Alum Caves Trail Hike

We decided to do one more hike after reading about the Alum Caves Trail Hike, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. The trail is 4.6 miles and has an elevation of 4,955 feet. This hike had more to see the whole way, as opposed to just the one breathtaking view at the top. As we hiked, the kids stopped to explore little pools in the streams and build rock cairns. There were pseudo-bridges made of logs with "railings" on only one side, rock stairs with cable handrails along Arch Rock, panoramic mountain views, and Alum Cave Bluff, a massive concave overhang that towers 80 feet high. 

Entering Arch Rock (you can see the "cave" and the rock stairs to the right of the bridge)

Arriving at the Bluff

Prior to this one, I had never really enjoyed my mountain trips very much. We had either always had bad weather or other glitches that made me wonder why so many people loved traveling north for these kinds of vacations. And I'll be honest: green mountains just do not impress me. (Put 'em up against a backdrop of clear turquoise waters, however, and I'm sold.) But this trip was just pure fun, and I found myself wearing a shit-grin most of the time. It was just the four of us. Just playing. I can finally say I loved a trip to the mountains and want to go back. BUT...I still spent a lot of time at the campground drinking Coronas, missing the beaches, and listening to Kenny Chesney's Pirate Flag song, completely understanding why he sings:  "I come from a little bitty, homegrown small town, Smoky Mountains, nice place to hang around...but I jumped on a greyhound bus one night and took it all the way to the end of the line..." I guess you can take the girl out of the beaches, but you can't take the beaches out of the girl...even when she has an awesome time playing in the mountains. 

Next stop: Nashville, Tennessee