Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How to Cultivate Wonder

Hold hands and wander the aisles of Rite-Aid, letting her smell all the deodorants until she chooses the Secret Powder Fresh that smells “just like you, Mommy!”

Take her to the grocery store for the sole purpose of buying ice cream. Let her choose the flavor. Bring it home and eat it immediately, out of the container, at 2:00 on a Monday afternoon.

Plant a garden on the side of your house. Teach her how to pull weeds out gently, how to get the roots, how to march around in the dirt without trampling the peas.

Let her drag a chair over by the stove. Let her stir the risotto. Let her stir the caramel. Let her stir the lemonade.

Watch her choose her own clothes. Praise her choice of rainbow heart-printed shorts with a polka-dotted shirt with bright orange socks. Let her wear her Tinkerbell dress to Costco.

Go into her room in the morning, when it smells vaguely like hamster bedding, and nestle down into her covers with her. Tickle her. Kiss her round cheeks. Ask her what she wants for breakfast.

Get her a balloon for no reason.

Give her the camera and let her wander the house, shooting her world from her perspective.

Put a blanket out on the lawn and dump out the art bin. Tell her to draw anything she sees. Read her books about Picasso and Monet. Hang her creations on the wall, the refrigerator, the nightstand in your bedroom.

Watch things together: parades, fireworks, fireflies, fountains, outdoor concerts, Olympics, soccer tournaments, waves, races, musicals, airplanes leaving their white trail in the sky. Let your eyes get big and wide.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Things Jemma Says: Half-Birthday Edition

J: "Mommy! Guess what? Mimi knows how to drive a car, too!"
Me: "Yep. Most grown-ups know how to drive a car."
J: "When will I be a grown-up?"
Me: "You'll be able to drive a car when you're sixteen."
J: "When will that be?"
Me: "Well, right now you're three, then four, then five . . ." and we count together all the way up to sixteen.
J, triumphantly: "That's only in FIVE WEEKS!"


Every. Single. Day: "Mom, put your hair in a ponytail!"


J, grumpily getting into her carseat, post-pool: "I am not happy!"
Me: "Why not? It was a lucky day! We got to get treats at the coffee shop AND go to the outside pool!"
J, scowling: "Well, OK, I am happy. But I am NOT overjoyed."


At 9:45 p.m., after she's been tucked quietly in bed for an hour and a half: "Mommy!!!! Come into my roooooom!!!! I have to tell you something!!!!!!!"
Me, reluctantly going into room: "What?"
J: "I looked out this window by my bed and I saw a firefly right there! And it lit up! It was really cool!"


She asks hilariously inappropriate questions about which meal is next - wondering aloud, for example, what we will have for lunch when in fact we have already eaten lunch hours ago, or asking if it is dinnertime when we are just coming home from a morning outing. She once asked if she could have some yogurt to eat while she was actually eating yogurt; Jason and I just looked at one another with a mix of alarm and amusement. She smothers us with hugs and kisses in the morning, at bedtime, and lots of moments in between. She spontaneously announces from the backseat that it looks like it's going to be a sunny day, or a great day for the pool, or a good day for taking a bike ride to the store, or a great day to have a picnic. If any book, television show, song, or person speaking references purple, she interjects, "I love purple!"

She turned three-and-a-half today, and we celebrated by taking a quick post-church trip to Kava House to let her pick out a treat while we drank some coffee. "This cookie sure looks like it has a lot of M&M's in it!" she said. We spent the afternoon at a family reunion in Grand Haven, and when people asked her how old she was, she said, "I'm three and a half!" with a sparkle in her eyes. Then she swam in the pool wearing just her underwear, because her bad mommy forgot to pack her swimsuit.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Yesterday and today were two more days in a string of magically rainbow-themed, sunshiney, glorious June days. As you can see, Annie and Jemma wanted to have a lemonade stand in the afternoon (this, after Annie's last morning of soccer camp and a couple hours at the pool, where I let them get Oreo ice cream sandwiches, which made it the luckiest day EVER). I told Annie to make a sign while I hauled the table and chairs out to the front yard, and this is what she came up with. It WAS a great day for a lemonade stand! We didn't sell much lemonade, but we did paint toenails with friends while waiting for customers.

Annie liked soccer much more this time around. Last fall, she'd mostly stand around, do some random hugging, and complain about how she was HOT or TIRED or THIRSTY or HER SHOES HURT. This week, she was in soccer camp with three of her buddies from kindergarten, and when I stayed to watch for a while yesterday, they were actually dribbling the ball downfield with an amount of skill that impressed me. I think she might be hooked.

This morning was the Reed's Lake Run. I headed out the door early to do the 5K with a couple neighbors and loved the gray, overcast skies for the start. We took it easy for the first half, then I sped up for the last mile or so and finished right at the 27-minute mark, feeling like I could have easily gone faster. I went back home, and we gathered the girls up to head to the track so they could participate in the kids' run. We pinned bib numbers to their shirts, led them in a few stretches, and dodged various mascots while we waited for the races to start. This little crew was all set to do the 400; I can only imagine what they were talking about here:

Jemma was sort of . . . pissed at the whole idea this morning. Numerous times last week, when we asked her if she wanted to do the run, she emphatically said yes. But this morning, when it was time to put shoes on and head out the door, she threw a little fit. She didn't like the shirt! Her socks made her feet hot! She was NOT going to run! We sort of ignored it, hoping that she'd see the fun the other kids were having and decide to line up at the start and go for it.

She changed her tune. Ran the whole lap around the track with a big, proud smile on her face, too.

After hitting the post-race party for a while, we headed to Holland for the rest of the day. We were planning to attend my cousin's graduation open house and since it was gorgeous weather, we decided to go a few hours early and spend the afternoon at the beach. It was perfect beach weather and, as a bonus for June, the water was warm(ish!) and just wavy enough that it was fun to jump them. Annie kept swimming all the way out to the buoy and doing somersaults under water (a trick she taught herself this week at the pool), while Jemma was happy just messing around in the sand at the shore.

I really like this photo, mostly because of the way that it captures Jason sleeping in the background - mouth slightly open, old towel covering his body, sunglasses on so as to get a nice raccoon-eye sunburn on his face. Priceless!

We brought two very tired girls home tonight, endured the requisite bathtub screaming meltdowns, and sat on the beach sheet on the front yard, freshly showered, drinking homemade margaritas, and talking about how great of a couple days it had been - for lemonade stands, for sandcastles, for playing frisbee and doing underwater somersaults and running races and playing soccer with friends.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Of Wetsuits and Padded Bike Shorts

I tried on a wetsuit on Tuesday morning. Annie was at soccer, Jemma was at gymnastics, and I had approximately 47 minutes before picking them up to figure out which of Gazelle Sports' available rental wetsuits was going to be the one the best fit me, the one that I would be reserving for the triathlon I am hoping to do in September.


When I signed up for the triathlon training program last week, I was having one of those Life Is Short/Seize The Day/Anything Is Possible sorts of days caused, I think, by an especially good run and a decent night's sleep. I was feeling very sure that I could do this.

Since then, I've woken up from a deep sleep two separate times and lain awake, envisioning myself standing ankle-deep in Reed's Lake on an early September morning, thinking, I have to get in that murky water and swim half a mile; thinking, What am I thinking?

In the dressing room, wedging my feet into plastic baggies so they'd fit through the narrow ankle holes and then, later, trying on padded biking shorts that made me feel as though I had a giant diaper between my legs, my lack of confidence may have been apparent. While I was checking out and filling out the wetsuit rental forms, a salesperson asked tentatively, "So, are you excited for your triathlon?"

I paused, looked her in the eye, and said, "No. I think terrified is more like it." People laughed, assured me I would be FINE, just FINE, while I tried to explain that I haven't swam for exercise since SEVENTH GRADE and even then I could never, ever finish all the "4 x 50 sprint" and "2 x 100 easy" written on the whiteboard. I don't own appropriate goggles, or a swim cap, or a road bike, or sporty sunglasses, or any of the (expensive) one million little things you need to do this crazy trifecta of a competition. In short, I have no business doing this. I am actually, truly unsure if I can swim half a mile, then bike nearly twenty, then run around the lake without an appendage falling right off.

But last night, padded diaper spandex securely in place, Jason and I got a babysitter and biked out to Ada and back. The ride involved more than a few hills and a decent amount of riding right next to cars speeding down Fulton, and I did not die, nor did my legs fall off, though I thought they might during the worst of the hills on the way back home. We were going as fast as we could because the sky looked dark and scary, and I kept up with Jason as well as I could (though I know he could have been going much faster), and even though I started the ride thinking, This is not for me, being on an apparatus like this instead of just my own two feet, there was one particular swoop of a downhill that led right into a rolling climb and for a single minute toward the end of the ride, I felt amazing. Which is how I hope I'll feel about three months from now when I celebrate my thirty-third birthday by finishing something I almost didn't dare to start.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Eleven years ago right this minute, Jason and I were dancing at our wedding reception. We took a cruise to Bermuda for our honeymoon, spent the 4th of July up north, and then moved in to this apartment in Ann Arbor, which we photostalked this weekend in a one-night anniversary getaway. We went to almost all of our favorite old haunts:

Pinball Pete's for video games;

Cafe Zola for breakfast;

the Arb for a meandering mid-morning hike;

the alley where - to our delight and astonishment - the same guy who's been doing his Michael Jackson impersonation complete with boom box blasting Thriller and Beat It was STILL breaking it down when we walked by on our way to lunch;

Ashley's for some serious beer-drinking;

Zingerman's for world-famous sandwiches and lots of bread and brownies to bring home;

Kerrytown and the farmer's market, which is still my absolute favorite place to be on a Saturday morning;

and the townhouse on Spring Street we called home for the last three years we lived there. We also peeked into some of our favorite galleries and stores, bought Michigan shirts for the girls for fall football games, went to the art museum and really enjoyed the new modern wing, had dinner at The Prickly Pear and ice cream at Stucchi's, and watched a huge thunderstorm roll into town just as we were getting back to our hotel last night.

Walking around the city, absorbing the sights and sounds and noticing what's changed and what's stayed the same, sparked so many conversations and memories about all the things we did during those first years of our marriage. We talked about whether we were happier then or now, whether not having money or having money makes a difference, whether the time we spend together keeping our marriage strong has changed. We laughed a lot and even managed to learn a few new things about each other that have somehow never come up in conversation before. We missed our girls but not their noise and needs. We weren't in a hurry or on a schedule. We got away for just a night and came back totally refreshed and awfully amazed that so many years have gone by so quickly.

We didn't give each other anniversary gifts (usually don't, and instead spend the money doing something celebratory together, like eating and drinking our way through some fun city), but I did give Jason something I began writing a few weeks at at Bear River. It's anniversary-ish, I think.


After I kissed you that night –

Midnight, New Year’s Eve, 1995 –

I went ahead and kissed someone else

Just moments later. You saw this

And did not appreciate it

And I am sorry,

Though I blame the Solo cups of Miller Lite and the darkness

Of the basement party.

It was not a memorable kiss. It did not fill me

With hope

Or magic

Or the strong conviction that we would live happily ever after.

I was eighteen, and I mostly wanted to dance,

To laugh, to stumble home with my friends.

But when you came and knocked on my door,

Months later, I remembered

Dusty Springfield had been playing and you had been wearing

A green plaid shirt

That hangs in the back of our bedroom closet,

Two kids, three houses, fourteen years later.

Tonight we are sprawled on the couch,

Our legs tangled together

A bottle of wine open on the coffee table,

Puzzle pieces and a stray pink shoe littering the living room.

We watch the sun go down out the window,

Have long, wasteful conversations,

Eat warm brownies straight from the pan,

Kiss healthy children asleep in safe beds.

I think it is enough. I think

It would be wrong to ask for anything more.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Best! Night! Ever!

The girls stayed up the latest they have every stayed up in their lives last night (later than Disney World! Later than Christmas Eve!), and it was a total party.

We had tickets to the Whitecaps game. Even though the skies had been cloudy and gray for what felt like days and days beforehand, the sun started peeking out right as we got to the stadium, and by the time we'd gotten our food and settled in, it was full-on sunny.

Let's talk about the food, shall we? It was stuff I only really eat at ballparks and fairs, so even though part of my brain knows it's disgusting and full of horribleness, part of my brain just goes to Awesome Childhood Memories, and that's what was happening last night while we ate hot dogs and cotton candy and a giant sleeve of popcorn and french fries and pop. The girls spied the cotton candy as we were still eating our "dinner" and they began clamoring for it because we had said we could get some, and Jason did that thing where you flag down the guy who walks around with a tower of cotton candy bags. I watched their faces as cotton candy guy approached and I remembered how it was when your dad could summon magic like that and make your very dream come true with a few dollars at the ballpark. I remember hardly daring to ask for those things, sometimes, and how lucky I felt when my parents said yes.

I've resolved to say yes to more things this year, but don't think the fact that Jemma skipped her nap yesterday and we were in it for the long haul for the fireworks last night wasn't giving me a teeeeny bit of anxiety. The actual baseball game was over a little before 9:00, which I thought was pretty great until the announcer came on to say that we'd have an hour wait until it was dark enough to start the fireworks. I admit, part of me wanted to bail then. Jemma had done well at first, but had then spent from about 8:30 to 9:00 actively trying to find a way to fall asleep stretched out on the bleacher beside me, and my sleep nazi tendencies were prowling just beneath the surface. Jason prevailed though, and I'm glad he did, because we filled the hour with running the bases and watching some hilarious on-field dance competitions until finally, finally it was time to settle back in the darkness and hold little girls on our laps while fireworks exploded above our heads. It was quintessential summer, and I'm so glad we didn't miss it.

Annie and I held hands and skipped to the car. We drove home with the windows down, watching for fireflies on the lawns of houses where people were mostly already asleep. At 10:45, we tucked in two little girls full of cotton candy and popcorn and a little summer magic. And we slept in a little this morning, too.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

June Tradition

We went to my mom's house to make strawberry jam this morning, just like we do every year in June.

This year, the girls were really able to help with every step of the process - washing and de-stemming the berries, measuring the berry puree and the sugar (!), stirring, and pouring stickily into containers. They loved it, especially once Jemma got over the fact that I was making her wear a big, old t-shirt and she "didn't look cute!"

The best part of the morning, though, wasn't even the jam-making or the playing or the lunch we ate with my parents, but the part where, after lunch, the girls wandered into the front room where my parents keep a bunch of books and got out the ones that they love. Some of these books are ones my mom has gotten at garage sales, but some are from my childhood. Some have my name or my brother's printed neatly inside the front cover. So while we were clearing up, Annie sat down with one of those, a Halloween story called Popcorn, and read the whole entire thing. My parents stopped what they were doing and stood in the doorway while she read. She turned page after page, looking up through her eyelashes every few seconds to see if we were all still listening. We were.

Then my mom sat down with them and read Go, Dog, Go! and Johnny Appleseed and Snuggle Puppy and Ira Sleeps Over until it was time for us to go.

The girls are resting now and I am crossing my fingers that at least one of them naps because tonight we're headed to a Whitecaps game, and if they are hanging in there, and if they are very lucky, we will try to check "fireworks" off our Summer List today in addition to "make strawberry jam" and "go to a baseball game."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Annie's Last Day of Kindergarten (Cue the Tears)

Nobody at this house can believe it, but today was Annie's last day of kindergarten. She is sad. She loves her teacher and can't imagine first grade being any good without her. I am sad. I love the half-day schedule and wish there was a way to have her go to school just in the mornings for, oh, four or five years. I was OK with saying, "I have a kindergardener." I do not want to say, "I have a first-grader." She is already getting so much taller; her cheeks have lost their chubbiness.

When I picked her up from school today, it was pouring rain, and we ran to the car sharing the single princess umbrella I grabbed on my way out the door. Our plan was to go out to lunch, to have some special Mommy/Annie time, but her heart wasn't in it. Instead we came home and she moped around and wrote her teacher a sad, sad letter about how much she will miss her. I watched, remembering that feeling, a little, and wondering what to do to make it better.

During quiet time, I snuck out to run some errands. I came back in the door with a pile of little chapter books to sustain her this summer and some new art supplies so she can keep a journal and make little chapbooks when she wants to write about things. Stickers, a stapler, some new colors. She cheered up.

Even better, the sun was shining again, and it was hot and steamy, so we all packed up and went to the pool for the rest of the afternoon, where her head was hardly ever visible because it was either underwater diving for rings or running by in a flash to go down the waterslide again. A little more cheer.

We came home, threw together a turkey sausage-spinach-garlic-pasta thing for dinner. While we were eating, Annie said, "Raise your hand if you want to talk about going to Jersey Junction!" and waved her hand wildly in the air, and what could we say but yes? So in spite of the fact that it was already 7:00 and we were still in our bathing suits, we walked to get ice cream (rainbow and lemon sherbet for the girls, coffee and butter pecan for the grown-ups) and we didn't hurry either. We ran into friends and let the kids trade licks and walk balance beams around the ice cream store for a long time before finally walking back home and tucking very sleepy little sleepyheads into bed way past bedtime. A kindergarten graduate gets to stay up late and party with ice cream at least once, right?

And now the summer stretches before us, so full of unscheduled promise and possibility, and I want to do so many things with them this year. I want to make plans and be intentional; I want to leave days and weeks wide open and be spontaneous; I want to make time for them to dig in the dirt and create art and tell their stories and dance and swim and swing and run up and down the sidewalks and catch fireflies and have lemonade stands. It is June, and it all feels possible.

Tomorrow, we are going to make a list of all the summer things we want to do and see and experience. But tonight the clouds roll in again and I want to take a minute and sit here, a little wistful, and be amazed that my daughter, who in my mind's eye is still just a scrawny newborn, or maybe just on the verge of turning two or three, is done with a whole year of real school. She is nearly six. She is a first-grader.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


This week, we've returned to regularly-scheduled programming, which has included the second incarnation of this awesome Smitten Kitchen shaved asparagus pizza (onto which some prosciutto jumped - oops!) as well as our first CSA delivery (TONS of lettuce, plus bok choy, radishes, spinach, and green onions, 75% of which we've gobbled up already, so bring on next Tuesday, and the one after that, and . . .). I made this ginger-cilantro rice - which the girls ate happily! - and, tonight, a big arugula salad topped with carrots, radishes, grilled mahi-mahi, and this Smitten Kitchen carrot-ginger dressing, which the girls would have nothing to do with.

Our week was book club and mountain biking, pool and bike rides, running and gardening. It was a rainy afternoon of baking banana bread, painting toenails, building forts, and breaking out the watercolors to a little Brandi Carlile. Our back-to-normal has been about little girls dreaming up Playing Restaurant after dinner tonight, complete with Menyou: Pesea or Habegre koms with Apelesos or Fesfriz; Dozrt is Ise Crem. Our week was little girls eating Pinkalicious cupcakes after a picnic lunch on the lawn

and Annie creating new and bizarre tableaus during her quiet time. I loved this one so much I had to photograph it. Notice how each Polly Pocket at the tea party brought her purse, and how bride Minnie Mouse is at the head of the table.

Today we went straight from school pick-up to the pool, where the girls ate lunch on the grass between bouts of swimming and playing in the sand. We got a late start to quiet time, and when Annie came out afterwards with this, I couldn't help but admire her tenacity. She's been begging me, wishing on dandelions, throwing pennies in fountains, and now writing directly to Tinkerbell, all in the hopes of getting her ears pierced.

For those of you who don't read Five-Year-Old, it says: "Dear Tinkerbell, Could you please please make me a pair of earrings and make my ears pierced. Please. I love you. Love, Annie. And I will leave you a special present in my room. I will make it right away."

This week, I'm feeling particularly lucky to be living a life so full of these two little girls. Also, it's 10:04 p.m., and I'm still wearing my bathing suit, so life is pretty good.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bear River 2010

I'm back (been back since Sunday night, actually) and I've been avoiding writing about the conference. Ironic, right? I'm having a hard time writing about the writing conference . . .

It was pretty great. In the mornings, there were workshops, and I was lucky enough to be with Jack Ridl again for the first time since my senior year of college. He is a master of creating a safe, warm, happy space for people to write and share and talk without judgment. I wrote some new poetry for the first time in a long time, and I wrote the beginnings of a few other things that don't feel finished yet, but that I know I'll return to at some point this summer.

We had free time in the afternoons, time for writing in an adirondack chair with a view of the lake, hiking up to a meadow, going to a craft talk or panel on publishing, or driving into town to buy Tom's Mom's cookies. I usually snuck back to see Jemma for an hour or so then, too, before returning for dinner and the evening's readings.

The readings! Each night, three of the workshop leaders (real-deal, published authors who have won Guggenheims and Pulitzers and other fancy awards) took turns giving readings to the group, and it was spectacular. We'd grab a beer or a glass of wine, sit back, and listen in awe to stories and poems that haven't even been published yet. I was particularly enthralled by a story called "Chance" by Peter Ho Davies (developed a little crush on him after that, actually, mostly because of the story but partly because of his beautiful accent). On Saturday night, we all drove into town and the night's reading was held at The Perry Hotel, with Jack Ridl, Thomas Lynch, and poet Jane Hirshfield reading to us before we milled around eating and drinking together.

I made a friend (Hi, Beth!), I seized a few hours here and there to sit and think in the quiet that is so rare around these parts, I ate breakfast alone every morning at a picnic table just outside the dining hall that looked out at the trees and the lake. It was just me, my oatmeal and coffee and fruit, and a little pad of paper, which I wrote on when I felt like it.

The last afternoon, I gathered all my courage and read something I'd written to the group. About thirty participants did the same, so we were treated to little 2 or 3-minute blips of story, or poem, or essay - work that had been generated just in the last couple of days in this little camp on Walloon Lake. After I read my poem (and after I stopped feeling like I might pass out), I was thinking about how everyone has a story to tell, and how fortunate I was last weekend that I got to spend some time doing just that.

Here's the piece I read aloud, but before you read it, if you don't know much about Jane Hirshfield, please look at this link first, and click on one of the audio links of her reading a poem. Know that in person, reading in the Reycraft Room of The Perry Hotel, she gives off an aura of soothing Zen perfection. I wrote the poem later that night, in sincere awe, but the people in my workshop thought I was being a little snarky. See what you think.

Driving Home from a Poetry Reading in the Rain

I don’t imagine that Jane Hirshfield has recently

had a fight with her mother

about whether or not to leave the dryer running while she isn’t home. I don’t imagine that she runs out of gas

in the middle of the street and swears at

her husband’s car. I don’t imagine that she glares

at the person ahead of her in the preschool pickup line,

scribbles hasty grocery lists on the back of a receipt while she drives,

leaves the dishes in the sink all day,

the oatmeal hardening onto the edge of the bowl,

the coffee making a black ring on the bottom of the mug.

I don’t imagine that she lets the celery rot in the refrigerator drawer

every time she buys it.

I imagine Jane Hirshfield in a sparse and airy apartment

on the Upper East Side, or perhaps a tidy bungalow near the ocean.

I imagine her slicing one ripe peach,

stroking the fur of a cat,

making tea while a little jazz plays on the stereo.

I imagine her smiling in line at the post office, smiling

as she buys a single jade bracelet,

smiling as she waits

for the person to answer her phone call.

I imagine her sitting down at the desk,

plucking perfect jewels of words out of her mind, arranging them on the page

just so, leaning back and smiling.

I imagine her lulling herself to sleep at night

with the sound of her own voice

while the rest of us muck around in the rain,

careful not to squelch each other’s words,

or dreams.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Like Summer Camp, Only Nerdier

I'm leaving in an hour to drive up north and spend the weekend immersed in the Bear River Writer's Workshop. I'm taking Jemma with me, unloading her on the in-laws for a weekend of spoiling, and then proceeding directly to Camp Michigania on the shores of lovely Walloon Lake for what I hope will be a few days of reading, writing, and being inspired by some gifted authors to do some good writing of my own.

I've spent the last day or two packing a little here and there, trying not to forget sunscreen or a great necklace, but the thing that's taking up the most space in my brain is Will I like it? Will I make a friend? Who will I eat my meals with? What will I write about?

I used to go to sleep-away summer camp for a week each summer, and this feels like that, only this time I won't know a single soul there, whereas back then I always went with at least one friend and sometimes a pack. I want to push past this adolescent insecurity and focus on the time - the time! The solace! Nobody needing anything from me! - to think, to write, to dream big dreams for myself about the direction I want the next few years of my writing life to take. I want that, and a friend with whom I can eat lunch.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

One Last Weekend

As of today, we are renting the South Haven house. Again. The house has been on the market for almost five years now. The first, we lived in it while hoping it would sell. The second, it sat empty. Then we rented it twice, first to a family for a whole year, then to a friend of ours who was going through a divorce and needed a place for the summer. Last summer, we used it as a "cottage," and this past weekend, we did that again, possibly for the last time. When we pulled the front door shut until the lock clicked yesterday, we knew we might never sleep in it again.

Our friend - the one who went through the divorce two years ago - is renting the house for the next year, with an option to buy it at the end of 12 months for a pre-agreed-upon price, with a portion of the lease money going to the sale price. We'll see if that happens or not (we're not holding our breath, at this point); but either way, we won't be using it any more this summer, and we've given our permission for bathroom tile to be laid and woodwork to be painted, so the house won't look the same next summer, no matter what.

Truthfully, we had such an amazingly wonderful weekend there last weekend that a tiny part of me - the economically-challenged part, apparently - is secretly wishing that we'll get it back next June first. What if, I think, instead of losing money on the sale, we put that money into the house (new roof, some cute-but-cheap furniture, cottage-y paint colors and prints on the walls) and committed to really using it for the next five or ten years? The girls love it there. They don't care that it's mattresses on the floor, camp chairs on the deck, plastic and paper dinner utensils and a lot of take-out food. They love tracking sand everywhere, swinging in the backyard, blowing bubbles on the deck while we drink our morning coffee, driving two minutes to the beach, getting ice cream every day.

I love it, too. I'm sad to say good-bye to the house where Annie was born and where we've had such simple fun with them these last two summers. This weekend, we had three perfect, sunny days in a row and we filled each one with as much summer fun as possible: coloring at the breakfast table; 80's dance party; playing at the park; splashing and digging and flying a kite at the beach; the relief of a grape slushie at 3:30 in the afternoon, when you've been in the hot sun for hours; watching a movie all together on the biggest mattress after we've cooled down and gotten the sand off in the tub; driving to Redamak's for the best burgers and fries; eating on the back deck; pushing them on the swingset; eating ice cream while we walk along the shore; reading, talking and drinking a beer on the deck after the girls fell asleep. When we're there, we're forced to step away from Real Life for a few days. There's no phone, no TV, no schedule. We slow down and focus on each other.

A year from now, we'll either be signing closing papers and bidding an old house good-bye or exploring the possibilities of keeping it for at least a little longer. Either way, it'll be okay with me.