Sunday, August 30, 2015

Memories, 100% Cotton

And we're off and running into the school year. The kids' first week went great! Claire was delighted by her uniform each morning (I used to be sad that our public elementary school required uniforms because I have such fond memories of first day of school dresses, but we have both been very pleased by all the skirt/skort/jumper combos Claire is so preppy and adorable in them, I love it) and loves Kindergarten as much as we all expected her to. Landon is doing great of course and Cora is rocking the toddler room at Montessori. I thought she'd miss us after spending so much quality time together on the trip, but no, I had to literally drag her out of school one day last week.

James always closes the swim school for the first week of school which I love because he picks up the kids each day at 2:55 when the bell rings which makes me feel all old-fashioned and stay-at-homey. Sure, it's not me at home, but still, it's a parent picking them up and bringing them home and supervising homework and divvying out snacks. Of course, in reality they mostly go with him to the pool he manages in the summer and swim while he cleans things, but still, it's a nice way to ease into school, and I get to come home to dinner already made which never happens anymore in this version of our life. It's lovely.

We interviewed a TCU student on Saturday who will start picking up the kids from school this week. I am SO excited about this. Previously Landon did the school's aftercare program which he loved and we liked because it was easy and super cheap. But now with two kids in school, it costs nearly the same to pay a nanny to do pick-ups and, most important for me, I will have someone who can take them to activities when needed. Until now, I've just had to get to work at the crack of dawn or take annual leave to shuttle everyone around while James is in the pool all evening. We live less than 5 miles away from everything we do but there have been days I'm in the car for 90 minutes. Cora is dragged to all of it and no one is starting dinner and I'm usually still in the heels and a dress I've been wearing since 6:30 a.m. and it's why I deleted every email letting me know the fall soccer registration deadline was passing by. Oops! But now, we have Tara who will drop the kids of at swimming at 4:45, and on non-swimming days, I'll just pick up Cora and come home to Landon and Claire! They'll already be there! This is very exciting.

On Saturday I randomly decided to clean our closet. It's like a disease. I keep mine pretty well weeded, so I decided tackle James's section instead. He had about 30 dress shirts, all of which he's had since before we were married, none of which he wears in his current career. I have suggested donating these things before, but even though he lives in t-shirts and workout shorts and we have MANY discussions about not wearing t-shirts to parties and other events, he really likes nice clothes. He just never wears them. So I removed 75% of his clothing for him and then turned to his dresser, something I've never gone through at all. I found a receipt for the Kate Spade purse he bought me for Christmas in 2011. At least 30 unpaired socks. All the swimming t-shirts in the world. Khaki pants he's never worn and never will. A single pair of non-jersey shorts shorts I bought him in 2004 before we were even engaged. He got home from the pool to find me surrounded in his clothing and sighed. The time of reckoning had arrived.

The swimming t-shirts were the worst. Now I understand that Texas Swimming owns a large and special place in his heart and I have provided a giant plastic tub for him to put all the precious things he never actually uses or looks at but have Texas Swimming printed on them. We filled the tub back in 2005 before we moved to Chicago and it has at least 30 t-shirts in it. We have faithfully moved that tub from apartment to house to house and in our garage it sits. Apparently his drawers have been housing the rest of the collection. Forty-seven more. 47! They are all precious snowflakes and we spent several minutes per shirt talking about the memories, laughing, crying, and saying goodbye.

To twenty of them. The other 27 are being stuffed into the bin. Someday we'll be retired, living in a one bedroom condo surrounded with swimming t-shits. A few of our conversations:

Me: Ok, you have five of these and they're identical. Pick one.
James: But I got one each year I was on the team!
James: The memories are different.

Me: This one just says "Texas Swimming" with nothing else, it gets donated, right?
James: But I got this one at freshman round up the night they got us all drunk!

Me: This one isn't even for a year you were on the team yet.
James: But it's the first shirt I ever got with Texas Swimming on it!

James: But this one is for Olympic Trials!
Me: Fifteen years ago!
James: And it's made it this far!

Me: This isn't even UT, it's your high school club team!
James: Oh, it's a collector's item for sure.

I tried to explain the memories aren't taken away with the shirts, but he remains unconvinced. Twenty-seven more shirts now live in our garage. But his closet does look nice and I'm very proud of it. And excited to finally buy him some new clothes. I've tried in the past but he insists he doesn't need anything. Now he does. He needs clothes bought in this decade.

The whole weekend was lovely. I did some erranding (more plastic bins were needed for the closet, of course; plastic bins forever!), did some cooking and lots of reading (new book post coming soon but I am OBSESSED with the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. 6 books in 7 days, no sleeping, fried eyeballs, kind of obsessed). The kids played and played. James worked and mourned his t-shirts. We grilled chicken and veggies for dinner and then, in our endless quest to help tire Landon out before bed (he is a like a puppy, giant feet and all) James threw the frisbee as hard and far as he possibly could while Landon sprinted after it. Over and over and over again.

I helped by sipping my wine from a safe distance on the porch and yelling out encouragement. There was a nice breeze and the temperature dropped below 90. It was a lovely lovely way to end the weekend and start the next week.

Monday, August 24, 2015

School Is in Session!

One day two or so of our trip I asked Claire, "wouldn't it be great to just stay here forever?" And she turned to look at me and said very seriously, "Mom. It is very important that I start Kindergarten."


And so today she did.

Claire has been ready for Kindergarten since the day that Landon went two years ago. I remember walking out of the classroom and looking back to see little Bear sitting on the carpet with the other kids, legs crossed, waiting expectantly for class to begin.

She was so excited about everything- the classroom, the teacher (the same one we adored when Landon had her for Kinder), the uniform, her new shoes, new socks, new headband. She was dressed and ready to go minutes after waking and we had a fairly orderly breakfast and just enough time for a few pictures before heading down the street to school.

We got to her classroom and once again I was overwhelmed with my happy memories of school. It is just the best. And Kindergarten classrooms are a special combo of primary colors and earnest learners. I love it.

Claire was a pro, saying a cheerful hello to her teacher, giving Mrs. C the now traditional first day of school poppyseed bread I made for each teacher, and finding her desk.

I did capture her one little moment of uncertainty, or maybe just the realization that this thing she'd looked forward to for two years was really happening, when she gave James a hug goodbye.

It's my favorite picture of the day. Daddy and his girls, with Claire seeking a little comfort before taking a deep breath and facing her day with a smile, and Cora clinging on tight because she was definitely not ready for Kindergarten and had no wish to stay. She needs to rule the roost at montessori school a little longer. Like four years longer. (Landon will be in 6th grade when Cora starts Kindergarten; this boggles my mind).

Speaking of Cora, it was her first day of school too!

Swinging her unicorn lunch box around like a weapon, cell phone ready to text her babies- Cora was ready to rock it.

Landon started 2nd grade. He's an old hat at this first day of school business and dutifully smiled for pictures, gave Claire her traditional handshake, and marched to his classroom like a pro.

Tonight found two cheerful elementary schoolers working on homework at the kitchen bar. And a cheerful mom because she could see her two elementary schoolers sitting at the bar while she cooked dinner. The open kitchen remains a constant source of joy.

Cora assigned herself some reading, just to fit in.

School is the best.  Summer is fun, but I think we were all ready for the school routine to come back and rule us once more.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Jamaica Wrap-Up: A Trip Worth a 10 Year Wait

If I close my eyes, put on the white noise app ocean setting, and don't write this blog post, does it mean we're still in Jamaica? A part of my brain refuses to believe Miss Ro isn't here to whisk Cora off on a nature walk when she gets up from her nap while I snorkel or read by the ocean or disappear with James. But it's 3:00 and I haven't had a daiquiri OR a glass of champagne yet today, so that must mean we're home and I am responsible for my children for all of the hours of the day. Ugh.

Our travels back yesterday went as well as they could go.

It was still a long day- we left the villa at 8:15 a.m. and pulled up in our driveway at 6:30 p.m. Our plane was delayed in Jamaica (thank god for the VIP lounge with open bar, buffet, wifi, and kids' playroom behind soundproof glass). Customs in Dallas was long and full of lines. It took forever for a bus to arrive to take us to our offsite parking spot and then we live an hour from the airport. But the kids were troopers and there weren't any fits or tears or really anything I can complain about. And though we're sad to have to pay for 5 plane tickets for every trip in the future, we're also super happy to never have a "lap baby" again. Cora was great, but she really doesn't fit in our laps for a 4 hour plane ride.

She was skeptical from the beginning.

~ ~ ~
It is now 8:30 p.m. and I'm finally getting to write again, proving that my home life does not involve enough nannies. Claire told Miss Tash she wanted to bring her home in her suitcase, but that didn't work out. The kids are as sad about this as we are. On the upside, one Bluefields amenity did come home with us- all of our clothes were washed and folded nightly throughout the trip, so I had all our bags unpacked about an hour after arriving home with only one small pile of laundry. Five people went on vacation for six days and I didn't even have enough for a small load. Bluefields is a place of magic.

Let's go back.

We stayed in Cottonwood Cottage. I can't think of any place more perfect. It's cozy, really just two bedrooms and two bathrooms, with a living room in the back connecting the two, and small kitchen of on the side, but the rooms were huge and both had spectacular views and 100% Cora-safe bars across the open windows.


They added a beautiful wood crib to the kids' room and all three fit perfectly in the space.  They had their own bathroom and dressing room that they loved and we barely saw since we didn't bathe or dress them.

One of the best parts of Cottonwood is the tree house midway down a flight of steps to the beach where we ate our meals, lounged midday, and sometimes sat at night after the kids went to bed. In addition to the big table and casual seating area, it had a beautiful bar with more of my tea in the morning and champagne the rest of the day, plus a bathroom so you didn't have to trek up to the house from the beach.

If you took the steps the rest of the way down, you landed directly on our beach, complete with hammock, lounge chairs, and a beach attendant with towels, cooler of drinks, and blender for daiquiris. And kayaks and paddle boards and snorkels, masks, and fins. And that blender.

The pool was steps away, to the left of the house behind a little row of bushes. The view was spectacular. Cora loved it and I drank champagne on a float most afternoons. I miss all of those things.

We ate all of our meals in the tree house. Views all around, the ocean crashing, amazing food arriving over multiple courses that I did not prepare. Maybe I miss the tree house the most.

The food was really wonderful. Each night the head of house would go over the next day's menu with me. We don't have any allergies, but I have annoyingly long list of foods I don't like, including coconut, curry, anything spicy, and shrimp, all of which popped up on the suggested menu, but the staff was awesome at suggesting substitutions and alternatives. I loved how many local dishes and ingredients we got to try- ackee, salt fish, callalloo, chocho, breadfruit, and more, but there was always something familiar and approachable about each plate.

For example, in one day we had ackee and saltfish egg scramble with crepes and fruit (breakfast; probably my favorite one); spiced beef crepes, roasted vegetables, Jamaican fried rice (lunch); cream of zucchini soup, mango salad, roasted rack of lamb with a red wine sauce, scalloped potatoes, roasted vegetables (dinner); and always a dessert made from scratch like grilled mango topped cheesecake or pineapple crumble. Our chef Sheldon tweaked the menu for James once he learned how much he likes things spicy, saucy, and large in quantity; they would joke through the kitchen window as we walked in and out of the house throughout the afternoon and Sheldon would always promise, "oh am I making something for you Mr. James!" and he always did.

The kids had virgin daiquiris with always changing fruit combinations nearly hourly. Since breakfast wasn't served until after the house staff arrived at 8, the chef always left some muffins or breakfast bread on the bar in the living room to have first thing. And most importantly, the night butler brewed a giant pot of fresh black tea at some mysterious time, always right before I walked out in the morning.

6:30 a.m. on day 1; feet in sand, tea in hand

No one made me tea this morning.

It was so wonderful because it was so seamless. Easy, never stilted or formal, always with the waves crashing in the background and spectacular views beckoning from every direction. Within 24 hours we had a rhythm and general familiarity with the 8-10 people who worked in and around our villa and everything just worked. Like when you're at a high end resort, but without ever having to interact with other guests or wait for a certain schedule for anything.

We did a few extras- the glass bottom boat and coral reef snorkel trip on Monday and the Black River and YS Falls on Tuesday. On Wednesday we took advantage of the free "nature walk" up the "hill" behind the resort. The walk was more of a climb up a small mountain in a tropical jungle full of humidity and bugs, but I'm so glad we did it. One, because it was my only exercise of the trip and I'm still sore, but mostly because we got such an interesting look at "how Jamaica lives" (as our guide described it).

As we rambled through the woods, we saw ackee and breadfruit trees. Our guide climbed up one, cut down a breadfruit, and carried for a while before handing off to a man to deliver to his mother to use for lunch. We saw houses scattered haphazardly throughout the hill and even got a tour of one from a friend of the resort- our guide was chatty and we learned a lot about daily life.  We saw goats, chickens, and even a pig roaming freely and we went from dark forest with caves to breathtaking views in mere steps.

3 miles, 90 minutes, a lot of vertical feet and mosquito bites later and we were back across the street from our villa and very ready for breakfast.

Wednesday was also my favorite night of the trip. After a day of snorkeling (as it turns out the coral right off our beach was just as amazing as the reef we boated to on Monday; we found a stingray, eel, a trio of lionfish, and a TON of big starfish; so fun), swimming, throwing Cora around in the pool, drinking beverages, and napping, we found the kids eating dinner in the living room at 6 p.m. This was new and the staff said they had a surprise for us for dinner.  And oh did they.

We got ready and came down to the tree house at sunset to find a trail of balloons and candles leading all the way to the beach where a candlelight dinner for two was set up near the water for our anniversary.

It was amazing.

So sweet, SO good (chilled watercress soup, garlic toast, filet mignon and lobster, twice baked potatoes, and veggies). And then our chef brought down a chocolate cake he'd made and decorated that afternoon. We were so touched and invited him and our butler to share- extra plates were produced immediately and then we sent the rest of the cake back up to the house for everyone else. We lingered over our cake and champagne and the ocean and I just can't imagine a better way to celebrate 10 years of marriage with my love.

And then it was made even better by our nanny arriving by 6 the next morning to whisk the kids off for a walk on the beach before we even knew they were awake.  Perhaps the biggest luxury of the trip was how often and easily we eased between making memories with our kids to not knowing where they were and not having to care.

A decade ago we were in Jamaica for our honeymoon.

And 10 years of changes with four moves, two graduate degrees, and three babies later, we were back with our whole party pack.

We'll never forget it.

~ ~ ~

Previous Jamaica posts
Paradise Perfection
You Jump?!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

You Jump?!

On Wednesday, our second full day in Jamaica, we decided to go on an excursion to the Black River and YS Falls. Once again the ease of Bluefields shown through as we told the manager we'd like to go and two hours later we had a van and driver to take us, a nanny along for the ride, another nanny staying home with our about-to-nap little Corabunny, a picnic lunch, drinks, and towels packed up in a hamper, and no need to worry about or research anything. I threw my camera and some changes of clothes in a bag and off we went!

The drive was lovely- so fun to see small towns along the way and hear stories of the schools, cities, and more from our nanny. We did the Black River tour first- the driver took care of the arrangements and next thing we knew we were on a pontoon boat looking for crocodiles. We found one immediately and Claire shocked us all by volunteering to give it a pet.

We saw several more, along with lots of birds and cool plants and trees in a environment so different from the coast we'd left only 30 minutes behind.

The water in the Black River is actually crystal clear- our captain filled a plastic bottle with it and it looked like something from the tap, it's just the silt on the bottom that makes it look brackish. Very cool.

After the river tour we got back in the van and continued on to YS Falls. This is probably the most touristy thing we did, but August is Jamaica's off season and Bluefields always tries to direct you to Tuesdays or Thursdays when cruise ships aren't docked. We took a tractor up to the grounds- there are natural springs in the area that feed two pools and lots of places for picnicking. Our driver set us up on a table and we had amazing cold fried chicken and salads and banana bread (and a Red Stripe, of course). Then, just as we were getting ready to climb up to the falls, a giant thunderstorm opened up and POURED rain and sent huge forks of lightning right over our heads. We found this disconcerting, but the swimmers in the pool weren't bothered at all. James the lifeguard kept looking like he wanted to blow a whistle (as did me the lawyer).

what liability?

We waited about 30 minutes under the cover of a picnic cabana and then the thunder lessened so the driver ran off to get Bluefields' favorite guide. He arrived and asked if we wanted to go up- we looked at the dark skies, still pouring rain, and the rows of people climbing down the falls, then back at our expectant guide, and shrugged- "okay." He wrapped my camera in a plastic bag and up we went, shivering in our water shoes and swim suits. The falls were ROARING. Apparently they're usually quite calm, but the storms up in the mountains had filled them with way more water than normal and they were so loud we couldn't hear each other talk.

We got to the top, took a picture by the sign that said no swimming, and then our guide took us to another ledge, grabbed a rope, and said (or rather, yelled over the roaring water)- "you jump?!"

James and I looked at each other and shrugged, what the hell? We're strong swimmers, surely we couldn't drown?

Though I made James go first.

He survived, so I went next.

It was crazy- so much higher than it looks, and very fast, but surprisingly easy to put your feet down and stop on the rocks after you traveled a few feet.

And then we did it three more times. There certainly wasn't a line!

Landon asked to go, impressing even our nonchalant guide, so we said okay, as long as we were in the water to snag him in case he couldn't put his feet down fast enough.

Go Lanman!

James snagged him, and then we all did it again.

Claire hung out with Miss Tash on the side path, but did come in for a quick dip with me near the end.

We climbed down and then our guide pointed to a rock in the middle of the falls so, figuring things had gone well so far, James and I walked out to where he indicated.

The current was actually much stronger here, further down the falls, and it was much harder to push through the rushing water to stand up after the landing, so we wouldn't let Landon go, but the jump was fun!

Lovers Leap

We did that a couple times and then my legs were shaking from the effort of walking through the currents and it had finally stopped raining, so we decided to call it a successful Lag Liv family adventure and take break in the blessedly warm and blessedly still natural spring pool.

We were back at our villa around 4:30 and arrived home to a squealing Cora on the swing with Miss Ro, a tray of lime daiquiris, and a goal to snorkel and swim in the pool before a sunset dinner. And so we did.

Sometimes I still can't really believe we're here.