Friday, August 31, 2012
If September were a stand-alone month, it would be my favorite. It's still summer, but the scorching heat of August tends to let up. There are hints of fall in the air and cooler evenings perfect for dinner outside or a walk, yet it's still warm enough to wear short sleeves and flip-flops or maybe squeeze in a late summer trip to the beach.
However, September isn't a stand-alone month. After September comes October, then November and the dark cold days of winter that I dread. September is the nail in summer's coffin, and for this reason I have a love-hate relationship with the entire month. I realize that winter is still officially four months off, but come September, the panicky feeling that winter is just around the corner starts to kick in. The days get shorter and I enter survival mode, hoping I will make it through until the following April when life becomes more bearable again. (Yes, I realize I probably need one of those sun lamps or maybe just to move south - really far south, where there is no winter. Is hibernation an option?)
Anyway, this post isn't about seasonal affective disorder, it's about September, which starts tomorrow. (RIP August. Where did you go?) One of the things I love about September is Back To School. Yes, it's been a long time since I've actually been a student, and no, I have no intention of ever going back to school again (The thought of doing another thesis makes me feel pukey. So does calculus.), but when I was a student, I used to love this time of year. It was a chance to start fresh - a new school year, a new teacher, new friends, new shoes, a new backpack, and most importantly - new pens and notebooks! Yes!
So in the spirit of Back To School, I'm going to use the month of September as an opportunity to start fresh, set goals, and (since I'm not actually in school - sorry, suckas kids) squeeze every last drop out of summer. I'm going make some positive changes and enjoy this month to the maximum:
ENJOY THE MORNINGS.
I know, I know - tried that, failed at it. Remember back in March when I vowed to get up at 8 am every day for 30 days? Yeah, that lasted maybe two days. Just couldn't do it. But I'm going to try again. Miraculously, during my entire week vacationing in New Jersey, I got out of bed between 7 and 8 am every day - to go canoeing, take an early morning walk on the boardwalk with Dad, or just sit on the porch with a bowl of blueberries and a book. It actually felt pretty great to be on the beach in the mornings. Sadly, I don't live at the beach year-round and as soon as I returned to Virginia, I fell back into my old habits of staying up late and sleeping in. (I'm currently typing this at 2 am - looks like I won't be getting up early tomorrow!) My method this time is to plan an enjoyable activity for each morning - something to look forward to and a reason to get out of bed. This will be tougher than it sounds because I'm pretty sure if you offered me a freshly baked caaaaaaaake at 6 am in exchange for getting out of bed, I'd tell you that sleep trumps cake and I'd go back to sleep. Actually, I'm pretty sure if you offered me a million dollars to get out of bed at 6 am, I still wouldn't do it. So I've got my work cut out for me...
Pretty soon it will be time for boots and parkas, so I'm going to make the most out of the sundresses hanging in my closet and wear them every day until it's too cold to do so any longer.
DO SOMETHING OUTSIDE EVERY DAY.
Again, once it's dark/freezing/snowy, I won't be spending time outside, so I'm going to squeeze in some outdoor activities and hopefully get some exercise while the weather is still nice. On the agenda: lots of walks with the pups, yard work, hikes, exploration, outdoor meals, photo walks, and hopefully a kayaking trip.
MAKE EVERY MEAL SPECIAL.
When things get stressful around here, I find myself eating breakfast over the sink, lunch at a table covered with junk mail while reading e-mail on my phone, and dinner in front of the television. Unacceptable. While every meal we eat doesn't need to be gourmet, every meal can be special with good face-to-face conversation, taking the time to enjoy the meal, unplugging, and maybe lighting a candle or two.
I realize I make these goals all the time and quite often I don't follow through, but if at first you don't succeed, try, try again...
Monday, August 27, 2012
It's been a long time since I shared a collections photo. Today's collection is the contents of my grandparents' card cabinet in my Dad's beach bungalow in New Jersey.
One of the first things that comes to mind when I remember my grandparents, Mimi and Papa, is playing card games. Though they were avid Bridge players (which I still have no clue how to play), they never turned down their grandchildren's repeated requests to "Let's play a game!" - even if it was something as simple as Go Fish. Happy hour would commence, martinis would be poured, and cards would be dealt - my grandparents sipping on their cocktails while I munched happily on cheese and crackers and drank OJ. They taught us how to play Gin Rummy and Hearts. We taught them how to play Uno, Skip-Bo, and Kings in the Corners.
Also, in the cabinet - the rules to several games (including OH SHIT - which they evidently played for cash!) written in my Mimi's own handwriting:
Evidently, they were also teaching us how to play poker, as here is list of poker hands written by either me or my brother:
I no longer remember what a meld is, how to win a trick, or the rankings of poker hands (thankfully, I still have my cheat sheet!), and the cards in the cabinet probably haven't been touched in 15 years, but yet they remain, a relic of decades of summers spent playing cards in a tiny bungalow by the sea.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
While I was visiting my Dad and vacationing at the Jersey Shore, I got to cross #72 off my Life List: Paddle an outrigger canoe.
I don't actually have pictures of me in the canoe since it's quite difficult to paddle and take photos at the same time (and protect your camera from water and sand!), but a few days before my maiden voyage I went down to the beach to check out the boat, observe my Dad and his paddling buddies, and of course take pictures. Dad goes paddling three mornings a week with a group of guys (and gals) who meet on the beach in the neighboring borough of Spring Lake, New Jersey. Some of the guys are retirees, while others just like to take an early morning paddle before work. Must be nice!
This is my dad:
This is the boat:
This is the guy who owns the boat:
Getting ready to launch:
And they're off!
That's Dad in the bow (front) of the boat. It's actually a four-person canoe, but they only had three paddlers that day.
They quickly disappeared from sight and were out on the ocean for a long time. So long, in fact, that I was wondering if I was going to have to call the Coast Guard! These guys are in good shape!
While they were gone, I kept myself entertained taking self-portraits and photographing the beach:
They weren't the only paddlers out that day - there were stand-up paddleboards and kayaks out, too:
Dad after a paddle. Did I mention he's 77?
A few days later, I got the chance to go out for a paddle myself. I've loved boating and water all my life, but this was the first time I'd been in a paddle-powered vessel on THE OCEAN. I've rowed racing shells and rowboats, and paddled canoes and kayaks on lakes, rivers and reservoirs. I've been on power boats, ships, and catamarans on the ocean. But paddling a canoe among waves and launching the boat off the beach through the surf? That was a definite first for me! It was a total adrenaline-rush.
And it wasn't easy. I was so focused on trying to match the technique of my experienced boatmates and not screw up, that I didn't pay much attention to the fact that we were paddling in the ocean or have the chance to really appreciate my surroundings. In fact, I think my experience rowing crew in high school put me at a disadvantage since my rowing instincts were the exact opposite of the technique used to paddle a canoe: with crew the boat moves backwards (therefore bow/stern and port/starboard are essentially reversed from the rower's perspective and the stroke of the oar through the water is also reversed) and the power of your stroke comes from your legs, whereas in the canoe it's all upper body strength (of which I have none). My post-surgical gimp legs didn't help me maneuver into and out of the boat with grace either. Those retirees sure put me to shame! Just a short paddle left me completely whipped. But it was great fun and I'd love to do it again (after I lift weights and obtain some muscles and stamina!).
1. Paddling is thrilling, tiring, and fun.
2. My arms have the strength equivalent to two pieces of wet spaghetti.
3. My dad is awesome.
4. I need to live at the beach. And be retired.
Also? Life List #72: Paddle an outrigger canoe in the Atlantic Ocean? Check!
Monday, August 20, 2012
The Jersey Shore is one of my favorite places on earth. I've been coming here since I was a tiny tot - first to visit my grandparents who spent every summer in Belmar, New Jersey since the early 1940s, and now to visit my father who inherited their beach bungalow.
I love the Jersey Shore more than words can describe. For the past decade, I've been going to North Carolina beaches with friends, and as much as I love the uncrowded beaches and the fact that dogs, fires, and beer are allowed in Nags Head, my love for the Outer Banks will never come anywhere close to my love for the Jersey Shore.
It's a shame that the Jersey Shore gets such a bad rap (thank you, stupid reality shows) and is victim to so many stereotypes and negative news stories (the Syringe Tide happened 25 years ago and now New Jersey beaches are cleaner than ever), because it really is a beautiful place.
The Jersey Shore, the tiny town of Belmar, and Dad's little bungalow are the only things from my childhood that haven't lost their magic. Food tastes better, sleep is deeper, fruit is sweeter, stress is non-existent and my relaxation levels? Off the charts. Seriously, I'm like a puddle of melted butter as soon as I walk in the door. (Incidentally, that is exactly what happens to butter that is left out in the unairconditioned bungalow kitchen!)
True, some things have changed - many of the tiny beach bungalows have been knocked down and replaced with huge houses, Evelyn's Seafood Restaurant is gone, and the boardwalk mini-golf course from my childhood blew away in a hurricane many years ago, but the flavor and character of Belmar still remain and the rhythm of my days there remain unchanged:
+ breakfast on the front porch (always blueberries, a slice of cantaloupe, and a bagel from Freedman's)
+ reading the paper and doing a crossword
+ a walk down to the lake
+ a late morning nap in the chaise
+ a sandwich for lunch
+ the gathering of beach chairs and umbrellas and the three block walk to the beach
+ an afternoon reading with toes in the sand followed by a late afternoon swim in the ocean
+ wading next to Dad on the shore and staring out to sea as we're dried by the afternoon sun
+ the walk back from the beach and the familiar rhythmic squeaking of wet flip-flops
(or zories, as we called them growing up)
+ a shower in the clawfoot tub while dinner's in the oven
+ wet swimsuits hanging on the backyard clothesline
+ happy hour on the porch and enjoying that awesome post-day-at-the-beach feeling
+ a good meal - which always includes sweet New Jersey corn-on-the-cob and plenty of wine
+ an evening walk on the Spring Lake boardwalk or a trip to the ice cream shop for a cone
+ retiring in the brown velvet recliners while watching evening television
+ tumbling into bed under the whir of the ceiling fan
+ falling asleep to the sound of crickets and the whistle of the train in the distance
Repeat for a week and never get tired of it...
Some of Dad's neighbors surf before going to work in the morning. Awesome:
This is Lake Como, which separates Belmar from Spring Lake (the borough to the south). Dad's bungalow has a view of the lake and one of my favorite things is to sit on the front porch and enjoy the view and the sea breeze. Good book and cocktail optional, but highly recommended!
This photo was taken with my back to the lake looking down Dad's street (his house is behind the big one):
True story: As I was walking back from the beach one day, I passed a couple standing by the lake. "Excuse me?" asked the girl. "Do the big white birds bite?" (Do you mean the SWANS?) (And yes, they are kind of mean.)
The Shark River Inlet separates Belmar from its neighbor to the north, Avon-by-the-Sea (which has much more crowded beaches):
My favorite ice cream on earth: Hoffman's Ice Cream in Spring Lake Heights. When I was a kid, I used to make my dad take me out for ice cream here every single night:
I've spent a long time trying to decide whether I am a beach or mountain person. We have friends who are decidedly beach people (and who will spend every chance they get with their toes in the sand) and we have other friends who are definitely mountain people (camping and hiking are their true loves), but the truth is, I love both. I love the beach. I love the mountains. I like the salt air at the beach, the breeze, the walks on the boardwalk, the day full of activities, and tumbling into bed dead-tired each night only to wake up completely rejuvenated. I like being surrounded by nature and the solitude and breathtaking beauty of the mountains. Please don't make me choose between the two. But after this past week at the beach, I finally realized that I am a water person. Whether I'm sitting the beach listening to the waves, swimming in the ocean, boating on a lake, or hiking along a river at the base of a mountain, water is the element that creates a near-perfect vacation for me...
Thank you, Belmar. You're still magic to me - 33 years and counting.