Date with IKEA

Yesterday afternoon, having about an hour to fill with my two youngest children and deciding that to bring them home, remove them from the car and then put them back in again would potentially ruin the afternoon, and perhaps my whole life, I asked a question I haven't in quite a long time: "Hey. Who wants to go to IKEA?"

I remember when I first learned you could take your young children places like this, keeping them occupied, running errands and helping parents not to lose their sanity all at once. The first time I took baby Nora to Target one cold, weekday morning, my soul suffered a small death, but was lifted, too. Yes, I disliked being a new mom at Target in the middle of the day, why the hell wasn't I in an office instead? But I also found some sweet camaraderie in those well-lit aisles. And I bought some new hand soap.

Our days are different now; we're busier with work, the kids are busier with school and there's less free time that needs to be filled (plus, when it appears on the schedule, I almost always go grocery shopping, and Aidy almost always, somehow, inconceivably, convinces me to let her eat like three granola bars while we are in the store. THREE! JESUS!)

Yesterday, however, with Nora occupied at her after-school program and nothing to do, me and the two children who tend to terrorize me the most headed to IKEA for no reason at all, besides the fact that it is paradise.

At the base of New Haven's famed and abandoned Pirelli Building, next to IKEA.

At the base of New Haven's famed and abandoned Pirelli Building, next to IKEA.

I know. You have to complete the maze, containing every strangely-colored sofa and paper lantern hanging lamp, to get to whatever it is you're there for, but I love the amble. In fact, I've ensured that my children have never figured out you can cut directly to the kids' section at the top of the escalator, opting instead to stroll slowly through every other area - bedroom! office! bathroom! -  before we arrive and they get to go in the exact same tent and tunnel play structures that we have at home for half an hour like they have never experienced such joy in their lives.

I like furniture stores in general. It's something about the license to peruse without feeling guilty about a lack of purchase; after all, it's not as though people snap up entertainment units left and right on a daily basis. It's also so comforting to be in a home setting that isn't your own, that isn't anyone's, so you don't feel badly that you aren't succeeding at keeping your own living environment so festive and organized. 

IKEA is especially wonderful because everything is affordable and you can't beat trying to read the Swedish names. J finds the crowds there intolerable but I like it. All those people at all those stages of life getting excited about kitchen fixtures and bunk beds. So much possibility. It's inspiring.

As we walked through yesterday, Aidy kept breaking her trusty little grip on my hand and running towards all the comfy, colorful beds, exclaiming "This one! I want this!" Buying her a new bed was absolutely not happening but it was fun to observe her fickle excitement, and it was clear that she got the draw of the place. At one point she looked up at me and said, meaningfully, "This is fun." And I nodded in agreement, so happy that I got the rare chance to indulge in one of my favorite parenting getaways, and that the only impulse buy was a very soft, slate grey blanket. "I know," I replied. "This is the best."

Remember that? When I used to run all the time?

When I set out to complete a list of 10 goals last year, one thing became immediately obvious: the more defined the goal, the more likely I was to accomplish it. Not the easier it was to accomplish. Just that when I gave myself an aim with clearly designed steps by which to achieve it, the result was that I completed the steps, and the most obvious example of this was running the NYC Marathon.

Of all the things I did last year, the marathon was the one that most defined everything else. I was having the time of my life writing and making friends at Bread Loaf, but also had to go for a few hilly runs and deal with my fear of woodsy areas being natural havens for murderers because of the marathon. I was reading bedtime stories to my kids while a blister on my heel throbbed because of the marathon. I was starting my day not with coffee - NOT WITH COFFEE - but with pre-dawn neighborhood five-milers, and showing up to school pick-up in running clothes and constantly taking hurried showers and throwing my hair up in a ponytail because of the marathon.

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After I finished training, I made sure to note that being able to find time for all those training runs meant that in the months ahead I could look back at the experience and remind myself that when I think I have "no time" to get anything extra done in my busy days (whether that's writing or basics like the laundry, seriously, I have a getting the laundry done problem) I do. I must. I must have the time because I had the time to somehow fit in those hours and hours and miles and miles of runs over 18 weeks and that time is still there.

And the reason I'm writing this post now is because in the past couple months, I haven't exactly done a good job of rediscovering that time. Sure, some of it was very early in the morning, and some of it took up large portions of the weekend, and I don't want to be beholden to that schedule anymore, not on such a regular basis, which is why I'm considering some shorter races, like half-marathons in upcoming months (let's do it, Jen!), but not a full one anytime soon or probably ever.

But the time it is there for the taking and, good news, if I'm doing something that's not running during that time (working on a writing project for instance) I can have coffee before and during. And the other good news is that while not every task or project comes with a defined training plan like the marathon, you can make them up as you go, breaking up seemingly vague and impossibly time-consuming tasks (apply to a writing residency...do enough laundry so that Gabriel doesn't have a tantrum about his available clothing options every morning) into smaller to do items that aren't so intimidating.

Which, I know, J, I know, is exactly what you've been telling me for years after listening to all those productivity podcasts and whatnot, and my difficulty taking that advice is exactly why when I broke the closet the other day, I took one look at the slanted shelves and rows of clothing on hangers that had come crashing down and thought, "I guess I should try and fix this. But where would I even begin? I can live with it." And why you, on the other hand, assessed the damage, decided on the best course of action, and got to work.

Now we have a functioning closet again. Although my clothes are still all on the floor, of course. Working on it. Step 1: pick up a dress. Step 2: Put it where it belongs.

Wine review with my kids: Francis Ford Coppola Director's Cut Cabernet

Tonight I decided to open some wine and see if my children might like to help me write a review of it for today's post. Wait, before you call the authorities, I did not let them drink it.

We checked out Francis Ford Coppola's Director's Cut 2014 Alexander Valley, Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon. Our good friend Nate thoughtfully gave it to us when he visited us this weekend. Thank you, Nate!

I asked the kids to smell the wine, which presented a delightfully bold and intoxicating scent right out of the bottle.

Nora helpfully suggested that it smelled like: "EWWWWWWW. Ew. Grapes that have been run over by a truck."

Gabriel pointed out that its deep color was like, "red and blue and black and purple all mixed together."

I explained that it tasted wonderful. Velvety. But by that point my fellow reviewers had engaged in a new activity, where they lie on the top of the couch and then slowly roll down to the floor...at the same time. Gabriel said that, "the point of this game is to get hurt." Please lord let it be spring soon.

Things that immediately signify vacation

1. Reggae pumped through the speakers at a swimming pool

2. No children taking baths ever, instead just regularly getting in previously mentioned pool

4. Midday drinks with zero guilt

5. Rum

6. Conch fritters

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7. Hotel coffee

8. Chatting with strangers over hotel coffee about how "good" your kids are, because they catch you in an unlikely moment when your son is playing quietly which is not even remotely like real life

9. Not watching the news obsessively

10. Not having art supplies available for your kids so they can't mess up a room as quickly as they usually do, and nobody misses being able to make like 15 pictures of monsters in rapid succession, by the way

11. Walking, not driving

12. Constantly misplacing sunglasses

From palm trees to pine trees: a mini report on our road trip

This year for our annual President's Day get together with friends, we decided to go way, way off the deep end, taking our tradition to "do something presidential" to new heights by traveling to Little Rock, Arkansas, to visit the Clinton Library. I was a little wary of this idea, imagining that, sure, Little Rock would be cool, but...Arkansas for a February weekend? What about checking out flights to Bermuda? Or Miami?

Plus, we had plans to take the following week off and go to Vero Beach, Florida, where my sister-in-law and her husband currently live. The kids have time off for February break every year, and after last year's trip to Key West, I realized how crucial it is to get out of town for a bit in the winter, especially when the kids have days off from school. I mean, staying home with your children and trying to get work done in the middle of the winter in New England sounds fun...wait, it doesn't sound fun. 

The Florida angle made this trip a tricky one. When I looked at flights from here to Little Rock, then to the Vero Beach area, then home, I realized we'd be spending thousands on airfare alone. All five of us need tickets now that Aidy is two, and air travel for five people, especially when you are going a very weird route that includes Arkansas, is not only brutally expensive, but incredibly inconvenient. And that's when J and I got a crazy, great, but mostly crazy idea - as we are inclined to do - and thought, "What if we went on an awesome road trip?!"

So that's what we did. And despite some sibling-on-sibling fights, some fitful sleep in a few Holiday Inn Expresses and the fact that the minivan looks like a warzone, and I may never recover enough energy to clean it up, I am so glad we did it. We drove through parts of the country we'd never have seen otherwise, logging miles across the farmland of Mississippi and getting stuck at the end of a Mardi Gras parade in Mobile, Alabama. We had dinner and stretched our legs in beautiful Lexington, Kentucky and stopped at the famed Ron Jon surf shop in Cocoa Beach as we were sadly departing from the pool life and sunshine of Florida.

I'm hoping to write much more about our trip soon, and why I think everybody should hit the open road once in awhile. And also, I must admit, about why I am ever so grateful that there are airplanes.