Tag Archives: summer

Only the Unlonely

It happened just the way I’d pictured it. We waved goodbye to our girls; one tall, one small, hand-in-hand, backpack-strapped, escorted by a flight attendant aboard a plane headed for Nana’s house. And, as anticipated, tears were spilled. We sat at the gate long after it had emptied, awaiting departure, and, an extremely somber 30 minutes later, they were gone.

A few blocks from the airport we dined at our favorite sushi place and gradually I felt the mood begin to lift. Clouds rolled backward, heavens opened up, and to our mutual amazement, something like a choir of joyous angels descended unto earth, banishing sorrow in a sweet falsetto, “Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found theeeeeeee,” and all at once it hit us: we were FREE!

Two seconds after arriving home the mister was naked. Simply to be naked. And, unless forced to be in public, he ceased wearing clothes altogether. At some point I found him standing in the backyard, basking in the setting sun, a warm breeze blowing through his…chest hair. We giggled like loons. We agreed to have naked breakfast on the patio that weekend, because….what neighbors? Neighbors who? We’re a childless couple now. We’re naked old people in our backyard now; top o’ the morning to ya!

Nudey-dudey breakfast time never came to pass, however, for we did something far greater with our mornings; we slept in. We stayed out late, we woke late, we lounged in bed, snuggled like it was an Olympic sport, made each other laugh, made each other smile, made out, napped, watched t.v., ventured outdoors only for food, came home and did it all over it again. We stocked the refrigerator with kale, fish, coconut Thai tomato soup and stinky cheese. We hatched a plan to scope out recipes; alternating nights in which one would surprise the other with an exciting new dish. We didn’t purchase a single frozen toaster pastry, shitty chemical-flavored cheese cracker, or any product with a character from Frozen on it. It was like living in a dream.

By Sunday I, too, had kicked the habit of wearing clothes. Had we ever gotten along so well? Ever been more in love? Was it as magical back when we were dating? I didn’t think so. And the house! We’d cleaned it just after our daughters left, and days later…it was still clean! I turned to my beloved, bald, giant, hairy nudist and cried, “It’s THEM! It’s always been THEM!”

But at the close of our refreshing weekend, around 10 PM, he learned his father had been hospitalized in Michigan. He spent Monday morning gathering info, Monday afternoon making travel arrangements, and by Tuesday morning I was once more at the airport waving farewell (though I’m relieved to report, his pops is presently on the mend and recovering well).

My 37th birthday followed, the very next day, and every member of my household was in a different state; one in Florida, one in Washington, one in Michigan. I was a little bummed out by this, until I reminded myself how I’d kicked them all out, on purpose, just three weeks prior – for Mother’s Day. That was my gift request: GET. OUT. I only wanted time to myself, without having to go anywhere to get it. I sent my little family out to dinner and just kicked back in silence, soaking in the stillness, and ignoring texts like, “If you change your mind, we’d love for you to join us” and “I wish you were with us mama.” Perhaps the opposite of leaving me in peace, but I didn’t mind. I also didn’t feel bad. I told my preteen, “Someday, you’ll be all grown up and out on your own. Someday you might live a zillion miles away and I will miss you like a crazy person. And someday I’ll thrill to get a phone call from you, I’ll ache to spend time with you, and I’ll count the minutes until I see you again. But NOT today.”

And thus, Life, being funny the way Life insists it’s very funny, said, “Happy Birthday, Niki! Here’s some of that mega-extended ‘me time’ you value so much. We left the cat. Cheers.”

But joke’s on Life, for once, since I’ve been enjoying myself. Between my husband making surprise birthday arrangements before he left town and my co-workers/friends rallying around me, I’ve been quite content. In the week and a half since the fam deserted, I’ve discovered this weird, yet incredible thing called “do whatever you want.” I make whatever I want for dinner, rent whichever movie I please, go to bed at any ungodly hour suitable to my fancy, and I leave the house without announcing where I’m going, or when I’ll be back. I answer to no one! Except the cat.

Dr. Pickles disapproves, but he’s not the boss of me.

Dr. Pickles

The entire scenario has caused me to reflect on the fact that I’ve never lived alone. I talk a lot about growing up alone in the woods – and minus a pack of wolves raising me, it’s mostly true. Between the ages of five and twelve I lived smack-dab in the middle of 17 acres of forest, and because my stepfather hated children (and being that I was a child, sucked to be me) I was forbidden to have friends over. I spent A LOT of time alone. With a cat.

As an adult woman, though, not so much. I’ve lived with my mother, a roommate, a significant other, or, later on, my first born – but never alone. Good thing I got so much practice at solitude when I was small, it made the last several days doable. Pleasant, even. Definitely an interesting and introspective journey, but I’m done now. All done. All caught up on the “me time.” If this is some “It’s a Wonderful Life” kind of shit, go ahead and hook Clarence up with those wings, Universe, because I got the message. I’d like my family back now, please.
Posthaste, tout de suite, and hurry the lonesome hell up.
They are my life, and my God am I a lucky woman for it.


Merry In Maryland

Flying Monkey

cruising altMy husband grew up outside of Baltimore and I grew up outside of Seattle, so every summer we haul our kids east and west. Recently returning home from two weeks in Maryland, we had a layover in Denver. Our kids were famished so we grabbed a late dinner at Jimmy’s. Their kiddie menu depicted a cartoon rabbit flying a plane. My husband spent the next 20 minutes attempting to convince our littlest daughter that actual bunnies were flying our aircrafts. But like her sister before her, our littlest is quick and by 4 ½ years she is completely onto her daddy’s full-of-malarkey ways. Unlike her sister before her, she will call daddy out on that malarkey at every opportunity. When we boarded our last plane home, she glanced into the cockpit and triumphantly shouted, “See, Daddy! There’s no bunnies! There’s real people pilots!” The unspoken punctuation being “DUH.”

It's going to be okay, Mr. Whiskers.

It’s going to be okay, Mr. Whiskers.

This was not the same four year old monkey who began her travels two weeks earlier. That little girl barely made it through Tucson International Airport security without a meltdown. First they took her beloved suitcase at check-in, followed by 15 minutes of parental calming and explaining that it would be stowed safely in the belly of the plane; that she would get it back in Baltimore. Then they made her remove her Dora backpack AND her magic silver sparkle shoes. She inched her way through the metal detector, slouched over, clutching her stuffed cat, chanting, “It’s okay, Mr. Whiskers. It’s going to be all right, Mr. Whiskers.”

During that first voyage she was a darling on the plane. She was a mess during layover. But on the way back, heigh-ho, the pint-sized seasoned traveler! No hello from a flight attendant went unanswered, no adoration from a fellow passenger went without an eyelash-batting thank you from our thoroughly at-ease little air-ess.

Both our girls were so well behaved. Even so, when it was dad’s turn to sit with the children on the last flight home, he turned to them and said, “There’s an old James Brown song called ‘Pappa Don’t Take No Mess’. That’s in effect as of right now.”
Plentiful laughter plane-wide.


MLKDuring our MD stay my dear friend Kathleen traveled from upstate New York to visit us. We took our eldest daughters on a monument tour of DC. It was 82 degrees and humid that day. I remember this because my 11 year old mentioned it, roughly, 4,000 times. The Washington Monument was wrapped in scaffolding, which was a photographic bummer, and by the time we left the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History it was 7:30 PM and no one felt like stopping by the White House. But we hoofed it to the Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, MLK and WWII monuments and enjoyed them all.

I’m not sure what the girls will remember most about that day, but they seemed deeply moved by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Kathleen’s 8 year old daughter stared at the wall and asked, “What was the war about?” Her mother then worked to explain, in the shadow of 58,000 dead men’s names, the inexplicable. Meanwhile, I’d lost my husband. I turned back and found him leaning one hand upon the wall. I snapped a photo, approached and quickly noticed tears. His Uncle Bob had fought in Vietnam and passed away last year. My husband had found the name of his Uncle’s buddy who’d passed long before, over there. Properly somber moment in an otherwise fun and touristy day.

The Wall


36We stayed with my mother-in-law in her designer magazine worthy condo while she showered us with love. We visited family and friends. I spent my 36th birthday among them. We took walks. We ate food. We ate so much goddamned food. I went on walks to combat all the food (the food won). Years ago I mapped out a picturesque walking route in my mom-in-law’s neighborhood and I inhaled every gorgeous step of it. I also tried to get my girls to partake in the greener side of mother nature, the one Arizona hides from them. The mister and I walked them through a wooded creek, pointing out places we would have built forts or trees we would have climbed as children. Our four year old openly despised it and our 11 year old was terribly bored.

The desert has ruined my children.

The Walk: Fall & Spring

The Walk – Bel Air, MD

But they enjoyed walks in the grass, at least, and followed bunnies everyday – naming them all (Banana, Stripes, Coconut). They also spotted squirrels, foxes and gophers. All cute and fuzzy. All convincing me that Maryland is where Disney’s woodland creatures go to die – happily, of course.

I really love Maryland. And if I could buy a bottle of wine past 7 PM on a Sunday (without having to venture into a dubious liquor store for that single purchase; making me feel less like a wine aficionado and more like an official wino) I could totally live there.

Atlantic At Last

And then there was the Atlantic Ocean. I’d never seen it. Eight years of trips to the east coast and we never actually hit the coast itself. Incidentally, I’ve also never been to New York City. Upon learning this a friend said, “Wait. You’ve been to Seoul, but not NYC?” Yeah, I know. It’s on the list. But the ocean…that’s a must.

Good Morning, Mr. Ocean

Good Morning, Mr. Ocean

My grandparents owned a condominium on the beach in Ocean Shores, WA. I grew up in love with the sea. When I was 22 I moved to Oceanside, CA. A very different beach experience from the cold, grey Pacific in WA. I remember being a little horrified that the 1999 Californian shore looked a lot like a scene from Baywatch. But, in time, it grew on me. And my favorite moment of any Pacific Ocean day is watching the day end and the sun sink.

Ocean CitySo we planned to visit Ocean City, MD with our friends Ben and Lauren and I was very excited. I’d only ever seen photos of northeastern beaches lined with boardwalks and sand dotted with rainbow colored umbrellas. And even though a tornado had passed through the day before, and hurricane winds caught up with us in the car in Salisbury, and even though I’d never before seen tree branches flung furiously through sideways rain, I was excited. And when we set out the morning after the storm it was chilly, drizzly and overcast – and I was maybe a little less excited.

All ladies and little girls in our party wore bathing suits and sundresses. We faithfully froze our asses off for several hours. I was no longer anywhere close to excited. But by 1 PM our faith was blessedly rewarded with sunshine. Halle-thawed-out-lujah.

beach bunniesThe afternoon was warm and wonderful. My husband and eldest spent hours in the water. I was none too pleased to hear they’d been frolicking in waves so strong one had ripped the goggles from their heads – both pairs swept away and never to be seen again. The littlest monkey and I took our turn at gentler water play and broke sandy ground on castle construction. At some point I was lying on my towel, monkey atop me and nearly napping, sun soaking us, my head resting to the right, watching the other half of my family cavort in salt and seafoam, and I was sure I’d never felt more peaceful, more fulfilled.beach bums

After our friends left we toured shops and dined deliciously as the sun set. The mister and the miniature strolled the boardwalk back to our car while the eldest and I walked the beach. We held hands, free hands carrying flip-flops, and we occasionally glanced back to watch our footprints wash away. We talked. I told her what the ocean meant to me when I was her age, and that the only times I’ve ever felt like I can actually see “God” are when I look into the eyes of infants and when I gaze long and hard at the sea. She thought about that, and she said, “Today was best day of my life.”

And despite that lovely moment, something felt off. It wasn’t until later that I figured out what it was, and laughed.
The sun…..it wasn’t setting on the water.
And that’s just wrong.

Niki’s Not-So-Secret Sangria Recipe (Pictionary Juice)

Niki’s Not-So-Secret Sangria Recipe
A.K.A. Pictionary Juice
(2 quart recipe)

1 bottle of Merlot or a table red
2 cups ginger ale
2 oz. brandy
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 lemon sliced
1/2 orange sliced
1/2 sliced Gala or Fuji apple
1 cup sliced strawberries

While you don’t have to break the bank on your choice of wine (especially if you plan to double or triple the recipe for entertaining – because running out of sangria is just about the saddest thing to happen to a party), I do suggest staying in the “it was originally 12.99 but is on sale for 7.99” region of wine. But even a six dollar bottle of Yellow Tale Merlot will work out okay. Just don’t try a Cabernet. Cabernet laughs at your sugar and your very silly sweetness.

Speaking of sugar, that table spoon of the stuff is wholly optional. It’s the last ingredient I add, and only after having tasted my concoction. Whether it’s needed or not is usually reliant upon the choice of wine.

Leaving the rinds on the citrus, which is standard of sangria recipes, I cut mine into half circles (apples as well) to more easily serve the fruit in glasses. I have it on good authority that fishing out yummy booze fruit is half the fun of my sangria.

And then you’re supposed to chill it overnight. Mine has never known a life so lengthy. It chills for approximately five hours (if that) and is but a savory memory within ten. Such a simple, almost effortless recipe for such rave reviews.

Lastly, special thanks to my dear friend Justin who deemed this recipe “Pictionary Juice.” We semi-regularly get a group of friends together, bust out the Pictionary, partner up, drink more sangria than anyone else in the room, until we’re no longer Johnny-on-the-cognitive-spot, until every drawing is “Clearly Forrest Gump eating a box of chocolates! Clearly!” (shout out to Brenda), and when we stop laughing long enough notice we’re losing, he yells, “We need more Pictionary Juice! Drink up, bitch!” – and we win.

Sangria: The Pictionary Juice of Champions.

pictionary hitler