The Mean Streets of Miami

The Mean Streets of Miami


As the song so eloquently goes:

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
Miami, uh, uh
Southbeach, bringin’ the heat, uh
Haha, can y’all feel that
Can y’all feel that
Jig it out, uh

Okaaaay, so Will Smith isn’t exactly Chaucer.  But we’ve decided to tack a couple of days onto Spring break and head for Miami, where VP has some meetings scheduled. I’m excited to visit a city with such a rich history.

That is, I assume it has a rich history. I have not researched Miami. My knowledge is limited to the one Will Smith song, plus Bugs Bunny popping out of his hole with a beach chair and umbrella, yelling, “Miami Beach at last!” Also that to get there you are supposed to turn left at Albuquerque.   Note: I probably should have researched it.

Take traffic, for example. A bit of research would have yielded the fact that every single driver in Miami is not at the pool or beach and is therefore angry and wants you dead. 

Water so clear you can see to the bottom
Hundred thousand dollar cars, e’ybody got ‘em

Well, not e’body,  Will Smith. After escaping the jaws of death on the highway, we arrive at the hotel. It is oceanside. It is fancy.  The cars in front are shiny and foreign. We, on the other hand are driving a ten year old mini-van that spills leftover Easter candy out the back the minute I open the trunk for the bellhop.  Jelly beans and chocolate eggs ping all over the driveway like a sticky pastel hailstorm. As I attempt to scoop up the errant candy, I see the bellhop’s gaze drift to the trash bags into which VP had stuffed the last load of clean laundry as we went out the door.

Yes, sir, nothing says class like using garbage bags for luggage. Cue banjo music.

I’m not sure how you say “Beverly Hillbillies” in Spanish but I have a suspicion that’s what the bellhop is muttering as walks away quickly, taking his cart with him. We are on our own.

Undaunted, we head for the front desk. Due to VP’s business travel he has some sort of Double Secret Plutonium Status, so we can always count on a room upgrade.  Which is important for a family of five, lest someone have to sleep in the bathtub.  But the front desk Nazi didn’t get that memo, and tells VP, “No upgrades.” Ditto when he asks if we can have a rollaway. “No,” she barks.

Something has gone terribly wrong.  First off, we have apparently forgotten to “bring the heat”. I mean, I thought my husband brought the heat, and he was positive I had grabbed it before we left the house, you know how that goes.  Also I’m not sure what “jig” means, except as it relates to cheerful leprechauns. And we definitely hadn’t peppered our room request with enough “Uh, uh’s” and “yeah, yeah’s”.   Or any, for that matter.

But we soldier on. After we stow our mélange of luggage -n- trash bags in our wee li’l room (by the size of it, it looks as if Keebler Elves are a big demographic for this particular hotel chain), it’s time for lunch.

VP decides we should go to a famous hotel he has heard about.  Apparently Frank Sinatra used to stay there. As you do, I make sure my son has on a collared shirt and that all of the children have their hair combed. I’m picturing white linen table cloths, and sipping iced tea with a view of the ocean.  Perhaps some tinkling piano music playing in the background. The hotel is called the Fontainebleau. I’ve never heard of it, but it must be fancy because it has a French name that you have to say with a cheesy French accent. (It’s like a law or something.) On the walk over, I start to worry that we are underdressed.  Again, a bit of research would have helped.

Because I soon discover that we’re overdressed in that we’re wearing clothes. The restaurant is between the pool and the ocean, so to get there we have to wade through six security guards, a record company party, and a sea of white cabanas, poolside beds, thong bikinis and stilettos.  I cannot hear over the pounding techno music. The clientele is more Kim Kardashian than Ava Gardner; plus it looks like someone accidentally fed Justin Bieber and his entourage after midnight, and now they have multiplied and are all bobbing around in the pool like some sort of baggy-pantsed evil mogwai.   In our preppy attire, we stand out like Mennonites at a rave. And my children just look frightened. 

So we sip a little somethin’, lay to rest the spill
Me an’ Charlie at the bar runnin up a high bill

VP goes to get drinks from the bar, and our hostess points us to a white faux-leather banquette where we can sit while we wait for the table. My eyes dart back and forth between the thong bikini clad patrons of the restaurant  and the leather banquette and I wonder if it would be prudent to request a bottle of bleach spray before we sit down.

"Sure, I may have to take out a second mortgage on the house, but this margarita is totally worth it."

“Sure, I may have to take out a second mortgage on the house, but this margarita is totally worth it.”

Right when our table is ready, VP returns with our drinks, a Margarita for me and a Mojito for him.   Then he leans in to me and whispers the words every woman wants to hear.

“You’re not gonna believe how much these drinks cost.”

“Um, how much?” I ask, though I suspect I don’t want to know. He mumbles something that is hard to hear over the ear splitting techno music.

“What’d you say? Fifteen? Well, that doesn’t seem so bad for…”

But he interrupts me. “Fifty! I said Fifty!”

Fifty dollars for two drinks. Who knew Will Smith was practically a prophet? Sure, they are sizable. Sure, at this place Patron is  considered bottom shelf. But even so, sheesh. I make sure to drink every last drop.

But all is not lost. Because it turns out when it’s five hundred degrees out, you know what’s awesome? Taking a loooonnnng afternoon nap in the air conditioning, and who cares about the size of the room after you’ve consumed a Margarita the size of a Big Gulp?

Now that’s more my speed. I like to think Bugs Bunny would be proud.  Bienvenido a Miami, indeed, Mr. Will Smith.

Lessons for My Children

It’s that time again; time to vote for Blogger Idol. And by that I mean me. Vote for me.

This week’s topic was hard for me. The assignment was to write about a time you ended up doing something you didn’t want to do. Those of you who know me, know that I’m not prone to doing things I don’t want to do. I have had my share of difficult, painful life experiences, but I don’t look at those as choices so much as things that happened to me.

One experience stood out, though. One experience where I had to leave my comfort zone, and take a big risk. Or at least it felt that way to me at the time. Am I glad I did what I did? In the end, yes. But it was one of the hardest decisions as a parent I’ve ever had to make. I’d really appreciate it if you’d hop on over to Blogger Idol, read my post, and vote for me. My continued participation in the contest depends on every single vote. Seriously, last week the elimination came down to just a couple of votes.

There are lessons to be learned, both from the experience  I wrote about this week and from my participation in this contest.  Has my life turned upside down in the past few weeks? Yup. Have my kids eaten take-out Chinese and Indian food more than usual? You bet. Is my house in need of a cleaning? Yes.  Was it that way before I made Blogger Idol? Um, yes. But I’m pretending the cobwebs are festive Halloween decorations.  Overall, this had been really great for my family, and my kids in particular, and here’s why:

10 ways my Blogger Idol experience is great for my family:

  1. I’m showing my kids that they should go for their dreams. You never know where it might lead. And this year, for me, is all about shaking things up.
  2. I’m showing my kids that constructive criticism is a good thing, because every week I learn from it and use it.
  3. Taking a risk is sometimes necessary. My kids have seen me step out of my comfort zone by making my blog more public than ever before.
  4. My husband has stepped up to the plate beautifully, filling in for me with homework help and driving to soccer practices when I can’t. His support means the world to me, and the kids get to see a great example of true partnership in marriage.
  5. If I get eliminated, it’s okay… it won’t devastate me. I will be proud of what I accomplished. (But, see above. Vote anyway, please.)
  6. My kids are really taking an interest in their own writing now. One is working on a memoir and one has started her own “blog” (unpublished). I really hope they continue to write, especially into the teen years, because I know how cathartic it can be.
  7. Every week, there’s opportunity for improvement. They are seeing me excited about learning new things, even though I’m “old”. (Ahem. Their word, not mine.)
  8. My kids are seeing me look forward to the challenges, even if they’re out of my wheelhouse.
  9. My kids still come first, even if that means that I stay up until 2:00 in the morning to finish an assignment. Because even though this contest is a huge deal for me, I won’t write until they go to bed.
  10. I’m teaching my kids to work hard, do your best, and after that whatever happens, happens.


Thanks for reading!  Now please go vote, and make sure I get to the next round.  Happy Wednesday everyone!

Notes from the Shallow End

Paris 2012. And a hint as to my Blogger Idol post for this week.


All the Pioneers Really Needed Was a Good Cabernet

View of the lake


There was a book written a few years back called The Last Child in the Woods. I haven’t read it yet, but I love the title. It speaks to me. And anyway, I’m happy to say the last children  in the woods just may be mine. Okay, that came out wrong. Anyone else picturing my kids as Hansel and Gretel? Just me? Okay.  As I’ve mentioned, our kids are outdoorsy types already. They play outside way more than inside. And every summer, for two weeks, we’re “unplugged”, so to speak.

Our vacation destination each summer is a cabin deep in the north woods of Michigan. Kind of like camping, except with electricity and indoor plumbing. If you know me, you know I don’t “rough it”, so this is as close to camping as I get. Which is to say not at all.  Anyhow, the place has no TV reception,  and no internet connection.  I’ll let that sink in for a minute. No. Internet. Connection.  It’s never bothered me much before. There’s something calming and transformative about disconnecting from everything going on in the world.

I know, I know, two weeks doesn’t sound like much. But for us, it’s a step in the right direction. It lets our kids know that they can live without the electronics, that the world isn’t going to come to an end if they haven’t seen the latest Instagram of someone making a duckface or Youtube video of a kitten sneezing.

Ever gone on a vacation to a place where you’re disconnected to the outside world? It’s strange to re-emerge after a couple of weeks  and hear about things that happened two weeks ago that are already old news to everyone else, but are new to you. “You didn’t hear about that? Have you been living under a rock?” Well, as a matter of fact I have, in a way. Not under a rock, but in a log cabin in the woods, Thoreau-style except with killer iced coffee and some fabulous wine and cheese that we picked up from Zingermans on the way. Please. I’m not a heathen.

And I usually don’t have a problem being away from the internet. But wait… I’m doing this blogging thing now. Don’t I need to be connected? What if I miss something? And there’s a royal baby on the way! A babieeeee! I’m gonna miss the 24/7 news coverage of the birthin’ ! And Lindsay Lohan is probably gonna be  released from rehab early, upon which she is going to… drumroll please…  attend her own birthday party.  Oh, the shenanigans  that will ensue!  If anyone needs to pre-emptively get the lawyers on retainer, it’s her.  Amanda Bynes has been sort of quiet as of late, so she’s primed for another round of Bonkers Pong  any minute!  And I’ll probably  miss all of it. Well, at least I got to have access to the interwebs for the birth of the Spawn of Kim and Douchebucket Kanye. So that was fun.  Okay not really.

Speaking of which, I kind of sort of think the name “North” is cool. And by that I mean it could be worse. But with “West” as a last name? Goes from cool to cruel before you can say “Imma let you finish”.  What the hell were they thinking? Oh, right, I forgot who we’re talking about. Idiots. 

Anyway, the cabin. My great-grandfather built it in the 1920s.  I’ve been going there all my life. My mom has been going there her whole life. My grandfather grew up going there. You get the picture.

It is my rest. It is my sanctuary. It is my place to unplug and disconnect from the world, including celebrity train-wrecks.  And since I fully expect my kids to unplug as well, I’m going to have to set a good example. Probably.  Which means no sneaking peeks at celebrity gossip websites on our rare trips into town. Goodbye Gawker. Ta-ta TMZ. What? This People magazine peeking out from under the cushion? Oh, I bought that back in Ohio before we even crossed the border, so it totally doesn’t count. Shut up.

The rule is the kids aren’t allowed to bring any of their electronic devices. That means no DS, no iPod touch. The adults will have non-functioning  cell phones (no reception in that part of the woods.) The adults will also have laptops, but until we make the twenty minute drive to town (the closest internet connection) the laptops will mostly  function as expensive paperweights.

So yes, my kids will be completely disconnected from computers, TV, and electronics for two weeks. But they’ve been going to the cabin every summer  since they were born. They’re used to it. And they’re not complaining.

They’ll play in the woods, swim in the lake, kayak, fish, catch frogs, and look for wildlife. At night we’ll toast marshmallows, read, and play board games or cards.  Secure on the screened sleeping porch, we’ll fall asleep to the sounds of the forest. (“Did you hear that noise last night? What was that?” Is an oft repeated line in the a.m.). In the morning, we’ll wake up to the chill in the air, the call of the loons on the lake, to the smell of bacon cooking and coffee brewing.  After  the fog on the lake lifts, we’ll spend the rest of the day on the water or lounging lakeside. And our biggest decision will be what kind of sandwich to make for lunch.

I won’t even bring my Nook. I considered it, after all, the point of its purchase was so I wouldn’t have to lug so many books on vacation that they needed their own suitcase. But… there are games on the Nook. Game that my kids are going to want to play if it is available. And my kids all have advanced degrees in pestering.  So, guess what? The Nook will stay at home. I’ll be lugging a stack of good old-fashioned books with me like always. No charger needed.

Full disclosure, though: As I mentioned, I will have my laptop with me, since that’s where I write.  Posting will present a challenge, obviously.  I may have to coordinate posting with going into town for supplies, kind of like the pioneers did.  Er, like they would have done if they had blogs. What? I can compare myself to pioneers or to Laura Engalls Wilder or Thoreau if I want. Just because my clothes aren’t all scratchy doesn’t mean I don’t suffer hardship, too. Once when I was up there I ran out of French Vanilla coffee creamer. That was a rough day, my friends.

Quick favor, though. Can someone just, I don’t know,  send up smoke signals or something  if Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes has a surprise  kid and names it something like  “Scrambled Eggs Haiku”? Because I’m pretty sure even Thoreau would have come out of the woods for that. Happy summer!




Spring Break by the Numbers

I-75 sign

Our 900 mile yellow brick road to warmth and sunshine.


The little cast of Notes from the Shallow End escaped frigid Ohio temperatures and  headed south  last week, just in the nick of time as we were all on the verge of turning into the Donner party. Great fun was had by all. Here’s a summary of our trip, by the numbers:


Number of Miles Traveled: 1800

Number of electronic devices brought on trip: 10

Number of DVDs brought: 12

Number of minutes the DVD player actually worked: 2

Number of times I was asked “Can I use your Nook?”: 56

Number of times phrase “How many more hours until we get there?” was uttered: 6,418

Number of sibling squabbles: 446

Number of times “He’s/She’s touching me!” was yelled: 209

Number of times Taylor Swift cd listened to: 6

Number of times VP thought it was okay to stop: 1

Number of actual stops: 9

Number of bags of snacks eaten: 10

Number of different hotels stayed in: 4

Number  of times my sandal-clad toes were stepped on by my children while waiting in line for rides at a theme park: 32

Number of tween girls at theme parks spotted wearing  t-shirts with inappropriate slogans: countless (These were t-shirts that said things like “I Got Crabs from Dirty Dick’s” and “It’s Not a Party Until the Sausage Comes Out”.  Um, darlings, did no one check to see that you were appropriately dressed before you left the house? I suppose not. See you on the cast of Teen Mom Season 9.)

Number of water slides I went on: 2

Approximate decibel level of my screams on said water slides: 125

Number of water slides I will go on in the future: 0

Number of times my son was told not to run around the pool: 5

Number of band-aids used on my son after he fell as a result of running around the pool: 5


Make no mistake,  in case you think I didn’t have a good time, I did. More importantly, my kids had a great time, and seeing their joy at going on  roller coasters, eating cotton candy, and playing in the ocean more than makes up for some of the minor headaches of traveling with children.  So in that vein I’d like to add…

Number of vacation days I was blessed to enjoy with my family: 10

And I’d do it again tomorrow if I could. Happy Spring, everyone!


The Bagel from Hell


It's a bagel, not quantum physics.

It’s a bagel, not quantum physics.


Scene: Hotel, spring break.  Continental breakfast bar. 8:00 a.m. I haven’t yet had coffee.  This fact is important.

Five: Can I have a bagel?

Me: Of course you can.

Five: I don’t know where the bagels are.

Me: I’ll come with you and help you find them.

I get up to search the breakfast bar.

Me: Oh, look, here they are.

Five: That has seeds all over it. I don’t want it.

Me: That’s the only kind they have. They’re just sesame seeds. If you want a bagel, that’s your only choice.

Five: Okay. I’ll have it.

Me: It’s really big. How about you just have half?

I glance around for a knife. Meanwhile, the line behind us grows longer. The person next in line offers his knife.

Using an elaborate system of tongs and butter knife, I attempt to remove half of the bagel without touching it so it doesn’t go to waste, while the line of impatient breakfast eaters behind grows even longer. Finally successful, I am unsure what to do with the guy’s knife. I attempt to hand it back to him but now he looks at the knife like it is carrying the Black Death  so I put it down.

Five carries the  bagel to the table. Sits down. And then…

Five: Can I get it toasted? I want it toasted, Mom.

Me: Yes, you can toast it.

Five: But, I don’t know where the toaster is!

I point out the toaster, and he goes off to toast his bagel.

A minute later, he is back, looking glum.

Five:  Mom, I don’t know how to use that toaster.

Husband gets up to help him toast the bagel. They come back in a few minutes. Victory! Oh, wait…

Five:Mom, I want butter on my bagel!

At this point I’m growing slightly impatient with the whole process of the bagel. This next bit may have been said with clenched teeth, but I’m not sure.)

Me: Then. Go. Get. Butter.

He goes to get butter, comes back. Attempts to put butter on bagel unsuccessfully.

Five: Mom, I can’t spread this butter!

I reach over and put the butter on the bagel. Kid settles in to eat buttered, toasted bagel. Happy, he swings his feet while he chews.

One minute and two bites later:

Five: Mom, I don’t want this anymore.

Aaaaand, scene.


Happy Spring Break, everyone! May your week be sunny, or at least less complicated than a kindergartener ordering breakfast.

Cancel My Order for Buffalo

Coming soon to a suburb near you!

Coming soon to a suburb near you!

Dear Livestock Supplier,

I am writing to ask you to please cancel my order for the herd of buffalo I recently placed while in a jet-lagged stupor.

Allow me to explain. I just returned from a trip to Italy, and it seems Italy does funny things to your psyche. Probably something to do with a lack of pasteurization, but I digress. While in Italy, I had the most amazing buffalo milk mozzarella, the kind of thing that, once you eat it, you just know that once you go back to the United States all of the food is just going to suck. Life changing, this stuff.

So of course, me being me, I started to think, “Hey! How can I get this stuff into the U.S.?” but of course I never even considered smuggling it back in my suitcase packed in dry ice and wrapped in many layers of sweaters so the customs agents wouldn’t find it. Because that would be wrong. (Whoo hoo! Shout out to the USDA! I love you crazy guys!) I mean, we have buffalo mozzarella here, but trust me when I say it’s not even in the same league as the stuff in Italy.

Again, me being me, I started to think, “Hey! I can learn to make it myself! That’s it! I will become an artisan cheesemaker, specializing in fresh buffalo mozzarella!” This was possibly after having an espresso. Like drinking paint thinner, but really gets the thought process jumpin’, ya know? Oh, it was going to be fantastic! We would of course have our own small farm, and I’ve always wanted a farm.

And of course, to learn to make the cheese, we would have to move to Italy for a few months, where we would rent a small farmhouse somewhere near Campania, and where a local cheesemaker named Luigi would take us under his wing and teach us his traditional, secret, cheesemaking ways, but only after we cracked his irascible exterior, which is a result of his beloved wife Carmela being killed in a bizarre cheese-making sort of accident, and he blames himself, but we help him see that it IT WASN’T HIS FAULT and then there is a heartwarming scene with hugs and tears and then he teaches my kids some Italian. (Aaaand scene.)

Or something like that. Where was I?

Oh yes, I had it all worked out. Until I realized that in order to make buffalo mozzarella, you need buffalo milk. From an actual buffalo. Which would involve milking buffalos. Buffali. Anyhoo. That’s where you came in. After I placed my order for said buffalo, I read the fine print. I find it necessary to reverse my decision, and here’s why.

Aside from the obvious size issue (buffalo aren’t exactly space-savers, amiright?) It turns out they’re not docile at all. Buffalo (buffali?) are incredibly cranky animals, and being milked pretty much makes them want to kill people. I saw the pictures – there’s hate in those eyes, people. (Cut to scene of my children fleeing to the house in a panic with an angry, snorting buffalo on their heels.) I’m not envisioning many people lining up for the job, is all I’m saying.

Also, we don’t have an actual farm yet, and these animals need to be surrounded by a 6-7 foot fence. Therefore our attractive split rail fence which contains the dog so nicely might not work out so well. I can just imagine the calls from the neighbors: “Um, hi, it’s Brenda, from down the street? Yeah, I just wanted to let you know your buffalo herd is out again. They’re heading toward Mrs. Miller’s… Whoops! They just trampled Mrs. Miller. Oh, that’s a shame. Anyhow, see you at the block party! Toodles!”

Lastly, according to your website, it only takes 3 to 4 generations of calving to make them docile enough to milk. And that involves lots of blecchhy artificial insemination, of which I am certain I want no part. Of. I just wanted some cheese!

In closing, please cancel my order. I may be interested in some goats, however. Everyone loves goat cheese, right? See, I have this idea, that involves a small farmhouse in the French countryside, and an irascible goat cheese maker named Pierre…

All the best,


Kicking and Screaming

Venice. Yep, this actually happened!

Venice. Yep, this actually happened!

If you noticed, The Shallow End went dark for the past couple of weeks. Turned out the lights, put a little “Gone Fishin’ ” sign in the window, locked the door, and left. Left for Italy for two whole weeks. Yes, I said Italy. I still can’t believe it myself.

Let’s back up. The VP had an important birthday this year. And it has always been his dream to go to Italy for this milestone. He works hard, and has to travel a lot for his job, so he’s been saving up his airline miles and hotel points for years to make this trip happen. He was firmly of the opinion that this was the right time in our lives to go. Me? Well, let’s just say it took some, uh, persuasion.

We have never been away from our kids for this long. As a matter of fact, we have rarely been away from them at all – just a handful of times over the years. So the prospect of leaving the children with a sitter and flying overseas completely freaked me out. I’m talking the hysterical, panicky, can’t breathe kind of freaked out. For months, I have been falling to pieces on a regular basis just thinking about going away.

I’m a mom. That’s my role. It’s what I do. I take care of my kids, and no one can do it like I can. They need me, and I need them. So for me to contemplate leaving them for two weeks was excruciating. Not to mention the horrible things that could befall me on the trip and cause me to never come home at all, like a plane crash , terrorist attack,  or being run over by a Vespa. (You laugh, but those things are speedy, I tell ya).

Since I am a nervous flyer under the best of circumstances, mostly I was imagining the plane plummeting into the ocean. Yep, I went there. In my mind I recalled every horrible plane crash I could think of, and the reasons the plane went down.  I even started reasoning with God that, if the plane was to crash, at least let it be on dry land so they could find parts of me.  Why yes, I am a ball of fun. Thanks for asking.

Oh, and here’s what not to do if you are getting ready to take an international flight: Google search “odds of dying in a plane crash”.  I did this thinking that it would make me feel better. Guess what? It didn’t. The first results were not what I expected, so I foolishly went to another website. Those odds were higher than the first ones. WTF? So of course I went to yet another sight. You guessed it, higher still. I continued to click on websites and watch the odds of me dying in a plane crash increase, until I think the last website said something like “kiss your fanny goodbye”  and by then I had my head between my knees and was breathing into a paper bag.

I spent months explaining to the VP why we shouldn’t, and couldn’t, take this trip. He in turn spent months ignoring my protestations, and instead doing inconsiderate things like making hotel reservations, buying plane tickets, and learning Italian. Bastard.

And it didn’t help that every time I told someone we were going to Italy, they were supportive and positive until they asked how long we were going for and when I said two weeks there went the raised eyebrows, a well-placed pause, then a “Wow. That’s a really long time.”  Thanks. Thanks for that.

And then, as a final safeguard against me backing out, VP brought out the big guns. He decided to make it a family affair, and to do the trip with his brother and sister-in-law (aka the Rock Star and the Supermodel). As soon as they had their plane tickets, the deal was done, and any feeble attempt I made to whine, “But I just don’t think we should leave the children!” was met with the response “Well, they already paid for their tickets. We can’t back out now. Sorry.” Bastard.

So we went. Two weeks in Italy. And it is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen. The most incredible tradition and history, palpable in every step, visible around every corner.  Not to mention the food and the wine. Turns out the Italians have this thing with food and wine. What do you know? So do I. Some time on the first day there, I was all, “Italy, where have you been all my life?” and Italy was all “Um, I’ve been here for over two thousand years, dummy.” Except it was in Italian so it sounded way better.

We Skyped  with the kids every day while we were gone, and talked to them on the phone, and it turns out they can get along without me for a couple of weeks after all. What’s that? No, I just have a thing in my eye.

And now we are home, safe and sound, and the kids are just fine. So I had that much more to be thankful for this week.