Beach Etiquette 101

“Why do they need all that space?” my mother asked.

We had just arrived at the lake and while it was only 9:00 in the morning, it was already packed. To the left of us were four pop-up shade structures and two beach umbrellas all belonging to one group, which at the time only consisted of half a dozen people. When my husband and I were first living together, we rented a cottage about the same size as the real estate they were taking up.

I knew from experience that within the hour there would be many more joining them. In hindsight, I wish we had picked another place to lay our blanket down, even if that meant lugging our cooler and dragging the Wonder Wheeler filled to the brim with buckets, shovels, inflatables, and beach chairs a mile through the sand.

Come they did. Grandparents and aunts and uncles and mothers. Fathers, children, cousins, and friends. Babies in diapers and sulky teenagers. Elderly women who never left the shade and rowdy kids who tackled each other in the water. All of which was fine. After all, when at the beach, I expect that a small child will waddle across my blanket trailing sand in his wake. I expect that a couple of boys with water shooters will accidentally spray me. When you are at the shore, you are going to get wet.

What wasn’t fine was the way our new neighbors seeped out from their rather large expanse and began invading our small plot of sand. They seemed to think that as they swelled, we would shrink, but they’d clearly never met my mother.

They encroached, yet my mother refused to budge. It was the principle. To accommodate them meant that we would begin crowding our other neighbors, and my mom didn’t think that was right. She dug her heels in the sand, but at one point, I turned around and saw that she’d been surrounded.

There was an empty baby stroller on one side of her, a camping chair set up behind her, a blanket on which more people sat to the other side of her, and a couple of teenagers were hammering in yet another umbrella at her back while a chubby baby tried opening our cooler. My mother was barely visible in the sea of people who literally set up camp around her.

That day, we left the lake hours earlier than I normally would have. It was not my sanctuary. A place I normally go to relax, I departed irritated and annoyed; the cooler I had begun packing at 7:00 in the morning was still half-full.

When company visits, the trip to Lake Tahoe is usually the gem we offer them. Regardless what they think of Reno, they will suck in their breath and break out their cameras at the sight of those turquoise waters surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

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Unfortunately, the one day I had to share this with my mom was marred by beachgoers lacking etiquette.

Proper seashore decorum is not difficult to master. All you need to do is consider a few things:

Music: Not everyone has the same tastes, so if you bring music to the beach, think about volume. For the people around you, your music, like gentle waves, should become a subtle part of the background. It should not feel akin to standing outside a nightclub. Likewise, if you are next to a family with youngsters, please refrain from sharing your love of gangster rap, even if you have small children of your own. While your parenting decision may be early exposure to expletives, my parenting decision is Kidz Bop, so kindly save 2Pac for the ride home in your car.

When Your Child Won’t Stop Crying: Children cry. Sometimes they cry a lot. However, if your child will not stop crying, then may I suggest you try something besides ignoring them. I know you think that what they need most is a nap, but the truth is that there are other people at the beach who also like to nap, and your child’s blood-curdling screams are preventing that from happening.

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Maybe you need to take your child for a walk, or let them play in the sand for a little while longer. Maybe they’d like to splash in the water. You are not at home, your schedule has been disturbed, and it’s likely they won’t doze off till they are back in their car seat. For the sanity of all of us, the beach is not the right place to practice sleep-training your child.

Personal Space: At the very least, there should be twelve inches between my blanket’s edge and yours. This boundary makes it clear to your toddler which items belong to you and which are mine, that way I don’t come back from a quick swim to find your little darling sticking his finger through my kid’s PB&J or dumping out my purse while you talk on your phone.

And About Kids: They are going to splash and scream and run past blankets kicking up dirt. Children are oblivious to the world around them, but adults are not. If your offspring are acting like ass-hats, it is your job to discipline them. When your boy lobs a fistful of wet sand at my gut, remind him that isn’t cool.

A Note About Activities: If you are going to play in the water, try to find an area away from where people are swimming. When your volleyball smacks down on my daughter’s head as she snorkels, or you tackle me trying to catch a football, I might get a little upset.

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To the man who brought his drone to the beach and flew it above my blanket: I don’t know what you are doing with your footage of pasty moms in bikinis, but you and your drone need to go.

When Your Activity is Getting Drunk: Want to stand in the water guzzling cheap beer and talking about last night’s party that you’re still drunk from? Although your conversation does remind me of all the reasons I’m glad I am no longer in my twenties, try to remember that water carries voices, especially ones too plastered to realize they are yelling in the first place. Since you chose to come to a family friendly beach, your sordid tales are best kept to a whisper.

Additionally, if you have been sucking back Bloody Marys all day, it’s probably better if you didn’t initiate conversation with your neighbors in the sand. When you see my children with their summer tans and ask me, “What are they mixed with?” it is time to switch to water.

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Beach etiquette is fairly simple. A good rule of thumb is to try to not disturb your fellow-beachgoers, mentally or physically. If you think what you are doing will, then find a stretch of sand slightly more remote. After all, everyone comes to the beach for the same reason. In the end, we’d all like to return home a little more relaxed.

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The Universe is Speaking

I am 39 and The Universe is speaking to me. Or maybe, I am 39 and I have finally started to listen. Either way, there are signs all around me as of late; I am paying attention to them and they are leading me places I otherwise may not have travelled.

At 39, I have found my authenticity. I make time for myself in ways I never would before. I am learning to say no to others and learning to say yes to me.

Last winter I took a class in meditation simply because I wanted to. The email that informed me of the course came from the city’s recreation department, but The Universe hit send. Establishing a meditation practice has not been easy, but it’s been beyond valuable. Summer mornings, I roll out an old yoga mat and sit on my deck; I close my eyes, pop in my earbuds, and listen to guided meditations that remind me to breathe. I tell my children not to disturb me unless the house is on fire and for the most part, they don’t. I hear the chirping of birds in my back yard as I inhale and exhale to the voice of someone I’ll likely never meet.

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The more I meditate, the less I want to drink, and the less I drink, the healthier I feel. I can tolerate more and am better equipped at dealing with stress, which ironically is why I drank in the first place. I stopped coming home at the end of a long work day and pouring a glass of wine; I poured, instead, a cup of tea. For this unexpected gift, I have The Universe to thank.

When a friend of mine spoke of her newfound love for reflexology, I thought, I’d like to try that, so I did. Though the reflexologist kept telling me how healthy I was, I learned that it wasn’t reflexology that I needed–I needed to hear other things she had to say. The Universe had sent me there to receive those messages.

We talked about homeopathy and our casual banter led to her mentioning Arnica, a remedy used for healing. For my father, being scheduled for double knee replacements only a few weeks later, this message from The Universe was perfectly timed. I immediately bought and shipped him the small blue vial along with the instructions for him to begin taking it three days prior to his procedure. In the coming weeks, I felt more at ease about his going under the knife knowing that The Universe was looking out for him in ways I personally could not.

The reflexologist and I also spoke about our love of TedTalks. One of her favorites was by Brené Brown. Currently, she was reading one of her books on vulnerability but she mentioned another called The Gifts of Imperfection which sounded vaguely familiar.

It wasn’t until a few days later when I was searching for something that I pulled out that very book from my nightstand. A gift from my friend who, much like my mom, sends me links to articles and buys me books that she thinks I will benefit from; it had sat within arm’s reach of my bed untouched for several years. I blew off the dust and began reading. The Universe had spoken. (My friend would probably have you note that she had also spoken about three years prior, but I wasn’t listening then…nor was she “The Universe.”)

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It was within the pages of this book that I learned about shame. At 39, I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t fully understand what shame was or how it operated. Oh I struggled with guilt, but shame was not something I would have admitted to. I was prone to claiming no shame to my game…but there was, and now that The Universe pointed it out to me, it was abundant.

When I finished the book, I checked out Brené Brown on Ted where she said that, “for women, shame is do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you sweat.”

For so many years I have been a self-proclaimed perfectionist, but do I really want to be the woman who runs the vacuum before the babysitter arrives? Those gourmet sandwiches that I packed for the beach were delicious, but each time my friend suggested we menu plan for an outing, I felt my anxiety rise. All I needed was a PB&J and a juicy plum from the cooler but there was this pressure I felt to say yes, to do more, to be better.

Brown says, “Shame for women is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we are supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket.”

When I became a mother, my instinct was to put the needs of my children before my own, but I clearly forgot I had needs altogether. As women, we nurture and we please to the extent of our own detriment.

In a Dear Sugar podcast, The Power of No, the Sugars suggest only saying yes to those things that feel good, that light a spark within you. People shouldn’t feel shame or apologize for having their own needs. Later, when they interview Oprah Winfrey, she shares her own journey with learning to say no.

“I used to be spread so thin, there was no room in my life for me. There was No Room in My Life for Me.”

As a wife and a mother and a teacher, I felt like Oprah. It has only been in the past few years that I have started to make time for me—time at the gym, time to write, or simply extra time by allowing myself to serve chicken nuggets for dinner. Thanks to The Universe, I’m making room with shameless abandon because I want to raise children without shame and guilt, and I cannot do so without first modeling what that looks like.

I’m still practicing the art of no. As it turns out, the easiest person to deny is yourself. Yet as I learned with meditation, there are twenty-four hours in each day; you are worth ten-minutes.

In the preface of her book, Brené Brown writes, “People may call what happens in midlife ‘a crisis,’ but it’s not. It’s an unraveling… a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.” While I cringe to think that I have hit the mid-point of my life, I am certainly unraveling. After being wound tight for so very long, there is freedom in that.

She then adds, “The universe is not short on wake-up calls. We’re just quick to hit the snooze button.”

I am 39 and The Universe is speaking to me. It hasn’t suggested I grow out my hair or buy a Harley, yet the other day, after I told my friend about my upcoming Reiki appointment, she jokingly questioned: Who are you? Rhetorical or not, I responded: This. This is who I am. And I felt confident in that answer in ways I never had before.

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Pro Kadima and My Marriage

On Friday, my husband and I celebrated eleven years of marriage. Thursday night we went out to dinner and spent the night at a local resort casino. While romantic, it was nothing like last year when we went to Maui for the big ten. If you don’t remember, I wrote about that trip here.

Eleven years is an accomplishment, but it doesn’t feel like one of the milestone anniversaries. Even so, as I pause to reflect on our marriage, I realize that most of what’s important can be found in a simple game played on the shore.

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When my husband and I go to the beach, there are a few things you can count on. The first is Doritos. There’s something about Doritos and the beach that just go together. The day my husband proposed to me we were at The Secret Beach in Southampton. That’s not really the name of the beach, but it was the moniker my friends and I used for it. This stretch of sand was harder to find than most and therefore less crowded. It was one of my favorite spots on Long Island which made it the perfect place for him to have gotten down on one knee. The problem was that I wouldn’t stop reaching my hand into that bright red bag…and he was attempting to slip a ring on my finger. I guess his nerves got the better of him when he finally snapped, “Would you put the chips down for a minute? I’m trying to do something here!”

The engagement ring was so beautiful I am certain no one noticed that my fingers were stained orange with nacho cheese powder.

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Champagne toast after I said yes.

The second thing you can count on are sand castles. My husband could be a professional sand artist. The kids and I love this about him, but truth be told, he was building sand castles long before we had children. We spent our honeymoon in St. Martin and even then, his sculptures were on display. Nowadays, he will enlist the kids in helping him, but eventually they’ll get bored and go play in the water while my husband sweats it out and finishes his creation.

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Mike’s “Ancient Ruins” in Maui.

The final guarantee is Pro Kadima, or paddle ball.

I could take or leave most games involving a round object, but bring me to the beach and put a wooden racket in my hand and I am in it to win it. My husband will play anything and so if we are in our swimsuits, we are playing Pro Kadima. We stand in the water, no matter how cold it is, and volley that ball for hours.

Paddle ball is more than just a sport played for amusement; for me, it is a metaphor for my marriage: We are in this game together for the long haul.

I never knew that there was more than one way to play paddle ball, but apparently, there are some who adhere to the same rules used in tennis. There is a net, some form of boundary lines are drawn in the sand, and the two players are opponents. We’ve never played that way.

For my husband and I, we are teammates, competing together to keep the ball in play. We both must give it our all if we want to be successful even if that means diving for the ball and face-planting in the sand. This level of commitment does not go unnoticed. We congratulate each other while we offer a hand to pull them up to their feet.

Sometimes our volleys get so intense that I feel like we are ready for the Olympic team should they ever have one. There is a dedication to our play as I mentally count our number of passes….61, 62, 63, 64, 65

When the going gets good, I eventually begin to laugh which inevitably hinders my ability to play well, but it wouldn’t feel like my marriage if there was no laughter.

This is usually when I start to imagine the other beachgoers watching us in awe, but I can’t look to see if we are, in fact, the center of attention; I’ve got to keep my eye on that ball. It’s too bad that no one applauds for us. In our marriage, we need to keep our focus on one another and what we are doing. Those times when we don’t, when we get distracted and look away, that’s when we drop the ball.

Not every volley is a good volley. Sometimes one of us serves and it comes up a little short; the other person doesn’t even reach for it. Sometimes we can’t even get to double-digits. Sometimes one of us wants to keep playing and the other person wants to lie on their towel and take a nap. Sometimes there is bickering, and sometimes there is blame. You could have gotten that. What kind of serve was that?

When we realize that we aren’t playing our best, we frequently decide to switch sides. This simple change in position is often all we need to see things from a new perspective. And then, we set a small goal. OK, we are going to play till we get to at least 20. With renewed energy and concentration, we change our mindset. Often, we are surprised to see how easy it is to surpass that score.

Throughout my marriage, there are distinct moments when I look at my husband and think: I love this man so much.

The day he asked me to marry him—Dorito breath and all– I felt it. It coursed through my veins after the birth of our first child. I feel it when I watch the curve of his back as he works to craft towers out of sand. I feel it when he wraps his arms around me and stares in my eyes for just a moment before offering me a kiss. And always, I am reminded when we are knee-deep in translucent waters, the sun shining down on us as we send a one-inch sphere back and forth between us in the bluest of skies.

Eleven years. One number in the volley of our marriage.

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And they lived happily ever after…

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Summertime Rules

Listen up, Kids–

We all know that summertime rules, but there are also some new and improved rules for summer–rules like sometimes the only thing that really needs to be washed before bed are our feet. My advice to you is to roll with it. Before you know it, we’ll be back at Target stocking up on Ticonderoga number two pencils and jumbo glue sticks.

Having a mom who is also a teacher means that you are way more likely to get a yes out of me in the summertime when requesting frozen yogurt for dinner or asking to sleep outside on the trampoline. You can pretty much guarantee that if it means less work for me, I’m in. After all, I’m off for the summer, and sometimes I can get a little carried away with that.

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{courtesy of Imgur}

So in case you were wondering, these are our Summertime Rules:

  1. Bedtimes are Flexible

Some nights you might be in bed by 8 pm, questioning why you must sleep when the sun is still up; some nights we won’t walk in the door till after 9 or 10. As a result, many mornings, I’ll get to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee when the air is still cool and the sun is just peeking over the back fence.

  1. For the Time Being, French Fries are Considered a Vegetable

As a mom who tries to make sure that you consume a fruit or vegetable with every meal, from the months of June through August, the French-Fried potato is perfectly acceptable for fulfilling that requirement. Bonus points are awarded for choosing ketchup over ranch.

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  1. If it Weren’t for Beach Towels and Bathing Suits, the Washing Machine Might Never Run

I’m not one of those moms who does laundry round the clock so that it is always under control; I’m more of the weekend warrior. During the school year, my washing machine starts on Fridays at 4:00 and runs till Sunday night when the both of us are officially off-duty. You had better hope you got enough clean underwear for the week otherwise you’ll be turning those suckers inside-out.

Come summer, you may find the washer running mid-week, but only because we need towels for the beach. Be thankful for the warm weather as you will get considerably more use out of that birthday suit.

  1. And Speaking of Cleaning…

I might run a Lysol wipe over the bathroom counter. I might clean the toilets from time to time, but not before there is a visible mildew ring. Yes, I’ll drag out the vacuum, but the primary purpose is to suck up a spider that is crawling along the ceiling. Speaking of which, have you seen the impressive cobwebs in the kitchen? Is anyone going to take care of that? 

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During the summer months, I find myself asking deep philosophical questions like: If one is not home to see the dirt, does it exist?

  1. Naps are In

The day after a sleepover, in the car on the way home from the lake, or on the couch mid-afternoon for no other reason than your eyes needed a break from that book you can’t put down, naps are a thing. These naps can happen at any time of the day or night and it’s not going to interfere with anyone’s schedule, because there is no schedule.

It doesn’t matter if you are going into the fourth grade or your fourth decade, naps are for everyone.

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  1. Most Meals will be Eaten Out of Doors and Out of Coolers

Summer is a picnicker’s paradise…except for the fact that like cleaning, I’ve also stopped making any regular trips to the grocery store, and when I do go, it’s for a box of Bomb Pops and a bag of Doritos. This brings a fun element of surprise to every meal. You may find yourself eating a slice of cheese sandwiched between two different types of bread.

You thought your school lunches got pathetic at the end of the year? Just wait till you see what constitutes as dinner come August when we’re at Music in the Park.

  1. Books, Books, and More Books

Summer is for devouring all the books I wanted to read during the school year, but couldn’t. The Amazon Prime account will be used to its full potential as will my library card. Pretty much everything we do is covertly planned around creating time for my own selfish reading. Yes, we are going to the water park again because throughout the day, I can get through a good five chapters in between frolicking in the wave pool.

Likewise, if you tell me you are bored, you know what my suggestion will be.

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  1. Running Around = My New Workout Program

I know I started the summer with good gym intentions. I know I said I was going to attend yoga class three to four times a week, get in a couple long runs, and lift weights in-between. Those first couple of weeks, I did go to the gym practically every day, but now that it’s July, I’ve decided that running from one activity to another is my exercise.

At the very least, I can say that I’ve mastered my corpse pose.

  1. I’m So (Not) Fancy

On the rare occasion that I shower, blow-dry my hair, apply make-up, and put on anything other than a swimsuit, cut-off jean shorts, or yoga pants, my youngest will invariably ask me why I am so fancy.

Note taken, Kid.

  1. We’ve Got Time to Kill 

The other day, we dropped off my oldest at golf, and then my youngest and I went to Starbucks where we ordered and then sat at a table. I found a penny on the floor and we used it to play games that we made up on the spot, like seeing how long we could balance it on our noses while calling out tricks for the other person to do. Now take a sip of your drink. Can you wink with the penny balanced on your nose? Now wink with the other eye.

We giggled and we got some strange looks, but it was all made possible due to that glorious thing called time, which for once, was on our side.

Every day in the summer is another opportunity to wake up and ask, “What shall we do today?” And that, my friends, is the beauty of summer.

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