Surprise, We’re Goin’ to the Beach!

The thousands of poetic descriptions of the beach, its waves, familiar and comforting, sound and scent, and no need for me to reiterate all that’s been noted far more eloquently by others.  It’s our final morning here as I write on our balcony, so grateful for an ocean-front room, laptop resting on my at least five pounds bigger belly, and I just can’t will myself away from the waves as my backdrop and the continual warm breeze kissing me.  The happy seagulls are calling out, such sweet sounds as light as my children’s giggles the first time feeling the cool water splashing over their tiny toes.  The tide inevitably intensifies then recedes, and the mortals that we are must be carried away, despite our occasional protests.

Nine days ago, we piled in the truck, Nikolas and Elizabeth were fighting before we’d rolled out of Northfield, and picked up Nikos from work along the way. We were slow as usual, a million pee stops and fires extinguished, and two hours later we faced a snowstorm. Our truck was sliding, darkness had swiftly fallen at a mere 4:30 as we trudged on. Our goal was to make it to Illinois before stopping for the night and well, we never made it out of Wisconsin!

Nikos said we’d die if we didn’t stop, and conveniently, like a mirage in a sea of pummeling snow, a Holiday Inn Express appeared!  The oh so clever/compassionate manager who had given us the “Snowstorm Rate”, was all hyped up, announcing to the flood of guests that the storm was expected to drop ten more inches.


Even if the manager’s discount was questionable, he had been fairly accurate with his forecast, once morning arrived. It would be a long day;  our goal was to get to WV in time for Ava’s birthday party at 7 pm.

The drive was grueling as we slid, silently prayed that no one was hurt based on the numerous accidents left and right, while we barely missed sideswiping cars, ourselves.

I whispered to Nikos, trying to communicate “the big surprise” until three nosy bedhead faces stretched their necks like turtles to eavesdrop. Exasperated, I told Nikos to just stop at the next rest area.  We were somewhere in Indiana, and Nikos and I would’ve burst if we’d held  the big news any longer.

We piled out of the car and instructed the kids to hold up so I could get a picture of them in the snow.  As we shivered in our sneakers, I yelled out while ready to capture the kids expressions, “It sure would be nice to go someplace warm like the beach!”  Elizabeth rolled her eyes and wailed, “Yeah, too bad you’re forcing us to go back to WV when we were just there two months ago!”  Nikolas chimed in, “Yeah seriously, why’d we even move to MN in the first place?!”  Katerina’s little voice squeaked out, “Mama, I’m fweezing!”  I ignored them and announced, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be at the beach?  Because that’s where we’re going!”  The kids mouths dropped, all properly shocked and confused, and Nikos yelled out, “Surprise!”  Wahoo, we got em’!  Many of you know how we live for surprising the kids!

The cheer level for the rest of the drive increased by tenfold.  Elizabeth begged to see a Broadway style show, Nikolas lamented that he wished he would’ve brought his boogy board, and Katerina was just happy.  Nikos and I were most excited to eat.

We were forty-five minutes late for Ava’s party, but it was at a gymnastics center and absolutely perfect for a ridiculously long drive!  We had an awesome time visiting with family.  The cupcakes were loaded with yummy buttercream frosting and what?  There was a party?  Oh yeah, it was great!

We stayed at the Gain Ranch, except they’d left with Nancy from the party to pick up Alex from the airport.  It was a quick visit when they returned, because we were headed to Myrtle Beach!

Our traditional stop back when we used to travel to Myrtle every Thanksgiving was the Strawberry Stand.  They truly have the best boiled peanuts and fresh-squeezed lemonade, and it is also the largest strawberry-in the world. It felt blissful shedding our coats, and enjoying the quenching sunshine and boiled peanuts!

The last hour before Myrtle, we passed the time playing a version of Headbands, in which we assigned an object or food to a person and then they had to guess what it was by asking questions. Nikolas was alarmingly bad at the game, but made us laugh till our bellies ached! Poor kid, my mathlete and science nerd just couldn’t figure it out.

Approaching the Island Vista Resort, we belted out a made-up song Elizabeth used to sing when she was three, “Let’s Fly to the Beach!”  Our five was the cheesiest bunch of hyperventilating dorks and most embarrassingly excited family that’s ever graced the sands of Myrtle!  That’s what happens after spending three harsh winters in MinneSNOWta!

The moment we entered our condo, all of us grinning goofballs charged out on the balcony, inhaled the sacred fresh ocean air and I nearly cried. Grumbling tummies coaxed us back in the car and we headed to the Sea Captain’s House, a culinary must. Nikos’ was the favorite-jambalaya.

I jogged with Nikolas and Elizabeth-oh whatever!  My obnoxious two told me I fake-jogged!  I was moving my arms and breathing heavily!  I walked miles daily, and imagined what great shape I’d be if I lived at the beach.  We hunted seashells and I feigned excitement every time Katerina presented yet another cracked piece of a shell, a proud grin on her upturned hopeful face.

I took the girls to the Christmas Spectacular, a British version of Broadway, and such a treat!  The boys meanwhile, had gone to drive go-karts which was closed, and then raced our clunky truck with a Ferrari. Besides the jambalaya, the highlight of Nikos’ trip was beating that Ferrari.  Nikos bragged about it for days, how he’d outwitted the driver, and I imagined that the guy had simply taken a right-hand turn.  Nikolas sure was worked up as well and mighty proud of his daddy. Yes, I married a dude who is a perpetual 12-year-old!

What a wonderful Thanksgiving we had!  I made the entire meal in our full-sized kitchen, set the smoke detector off only twice, Elizabeth remained glued to the Macy’s Day Parade on TV, Nikolas started complaining that he was starving by 9:30, and it was perfect.  I truly mean that the day was perfect.  I made four pies, not sure why we’re the biggest piggies in America, and we ate till we were food drunk.

Nikos and I took a nice autumn nap, and finally, we took a family walk on the beach. If I hopped on a boat and headed straight, the Atlantic would carry me to Africa.  There’s no place like the beach that ignites my chronic wanderlust to nearly unbearable levels.

The kids shimmied in their cold damp swimsuits, and I plunked down in my chair on the beach, as the ocean breeze swept me away in a lovely nostalgic trance.

I thought about my dear friend Scott Wise, whose greatest wish is to get back to Myrtle Beach. Scott, this article is dedicated to you, buddy! I thought we could set up a GoFundMe account and get you to Myrtle.

We remained on the beach long after the sun had begun its evening descent, until cold shivers won out, and then reveled in the hot jacuzzi-that’s right my faithful readers who know me, germ-freak me hung out in the jacuzzi all week long!
Suddenly, fireworks penetrated the black sky, giant mushrooms of light, my favorite always red.  Right then, right now, our little family collected tangible joy encased in a precious memory.

Goodbye, Myrtle Beach.  Thanks for the immense joy, and happy lingering memories with my precious family.  Thanks for the gratitude and fresh ocean air that washed inside my soul lest I forget during foul weathered days.

Echo…Echo…at Spook Caves

It was MEA days here Minnesota (no idea what the letters represent), and every year, the third week in October, students get Thursday and Friday off from school, and most folks head up to the North Shore.  We’ve now lived in MN for three years and since, I’ve felt the pull of the masses, beckoning our little truck containing two fighting kids and the third talking incessantly to herself because she’s a bonafide Little Pony, up to a cozy cabin along the majestic North Shore.

I’d hoped that we’d finally head north over MEA days and revel in autumn’s finest foliage. Nine calls later, every cabin sprawled out to Canada Continue reading “Echo…Echo…at Spook Caves”

Baseball From the Lower End of the Lineup

A long time ago, I cheered for my adorable smiling preschooler as he hit the tee, and finally the ball after his fifth swing.  The following year, I asked Nikolas if he’d like to play T-ball again and he replied, “No, baseball is a waste of my life.”  A few years passed and Nikolas announced he’d like to give the sport another try.

Nikolas was no natural at baseball, and he observed many games in the shade of the dugout.  Nevertheless, over the years, Nikolas’ adoration of the game has only grown.  My sweet boy has an amazing attitude, listens intently to his coach, and even enjoys climbing on his bike with his baseball bag dangling from one shoulder, and heads Continue reading “Baseball From the Lower End of the Lineup”

Clueless Mom of a 16-Year-Old


Swishing red sequins, tap-shuffle-wing-tap, “Don’t Rain on my Parade” blaring, while my dancing butterfly fluttering before me on the stage.  How swiftly time had crept in and danced its own, nearly sinister score, causing dizziness with the flood of memories, a triple pirouette inside my mind.


One January evening in the Arizona desert,16.5 years ago, a tiny Elizabeth was placed in my arms.  I’d had a c-section and while woozy and confused, and even if she really looked like a squirrel, my baby girl seemed remarkably beautiful to me.  I marveled at her tiny blinking eyelids, the sweetest little cheeks, dumbfounded by the immense love that filled my heart.

My husband, Nikos, and I were alone in Arizona, so bringing Elizabeth home was daunting, if not downright terrifying. My mom had passed away when I was a baby, and I hadn’t the first notion what it was like to be a mother.  I remember sitting on the couch after returning from the hospital, holding my tiny angelic baby girl, and suddenly thought, I don’t have one friggin’ clue what I’m doing! Two seconds later, Nikos accidentally dropped a lotion bottle on my head from the upstairs loft ledge.  I panicked a little more realizing that Nikos was equally as dumb as me.

I was a neurotic new mom, wiping down carts at the grocery store with anti-bacterial wipes, carrying those wipes along while shopping, just in case a doting elderly lady smooched on Elizabeth’s tiny hands.  It had taken a good eight years before I realized how harmful anti-bacterial anything was.

Elizabeth had been easy to breastfeed, thrived in spite of us.  She was a wild toddler, climbed in the dryer, stood on top of the table and threw dishes (I guess it was the Greek in her-Opa!), stole shoes at the mall, cried in earnest upon their return, seemed to be a genius at every new word, but then ate crayons instead of coloring, bringing her adoring parents’ pride down a few notches,


Elizabeth read at an early age, because I was a psycho.  I wanted her to be the best, impressing the world. Yes, I was the most annoying mom ever.  I wish I could go back and smack that mom upside the head right about now.  Poor Elizabeth was so bored in kindergarten, she learned the entire alphabet in sign language and all of the bus numbers her first week of school.  I didn’t allow her to take the bus until first grade, because I was and still am Finding Nemo‘s dad afraid.

I dreaded picking Elizabeth up from school, because her kindergarten teacher never had a good report.  Finally, the teacher put Elizabeth in the gifted class, probably just to get rid of her, and to swell the head of a mom who needed stupid labels and compliments because she felt entirely inadequate. That same teacher told me that she didn’t envy me, that my daughter had a long, hard road ahead, and that I’d better find a channel for Elizabeth’s energy or she’d be a disaster.

I had to be the perfect mom-classroom parent, Girl Scout leader for five years, all baby food had been homemade, and tried to achieve this idyllic notion of Carolyn Ingalls,yet fumbling, while also acknowledging its unattainability.

Presently, I’m a mom of three and while no longer a germ freak, screw-ups happen daily, I forget that a kid needed to stay after school for a makeup violin lesson or Geometry test, and they’re the last kid standing (not good during a Minnesota winter!), roll my eyes more than Elizabeth, get mad and say mean things, never have a spotless house and love my precious darlings intensely while continuing to flounder.

Elizabeth and I argue what seems incessantly, a battle of control between two highly strong-willed people. We’re still dancing around that mother/daughter relationship, unsteady and tip-toe fragile.

I love that energetic, sweet to cats, crazy fireball, yet I’m endlessly trying to garner respect and tame her, which is as futile as her unruly hair. She says I pick at her, perhaps I do.  Elizabeth’s room is usually a scary mess, and during my “good mama” moments, I remind myself that inside that hyper-emotional teenager, with clothes strewn all over her furniture, seven water bottles ready to be knocked over by the cat, there is a little girl inside the chaos, one who needs to be told she’s loved and special, and that these years are not the best of her life.

If I tell Elizabeth that her shorts are too short or tight, she screams back at me with tear-filled eyes, “Mama, what exactly are you implying?!”  Doors slam, exasperated groans follow, yet she seeks me out at her dance competitions and gives me a wink. While we’re in a screaming match and I’m grounding her for a week and we can’t stand one another, what I really want to do is pull her in my arms and tell her how incredibly much I love her and never let go.

According to Elizabeth, I’m backwards, have succumbed to the oppressive role of a mom since I don’t work full time, and my sense of style is frightening.  I’m everything that Elizabeth is striving mightily not to become. I am grateful for Miss Emily, owner of Division Street Dance, who has been a wonderful role model during these years that everything I say is crazy and nonsensical.

Elizabeth never runs around, goes to dance, school, and then home again. She’s terrified of driving, says she’ll help the environment by sticking solely to public transportation.  She wants to run away and dance on Broadway, with dreams of attending NYU.  She makes As except for French, considers cooking as sexist, and she can’t stand her brother.

As the years have swept by and somewhere along this zig-zagged dance, I stopped worrying about impressing others, abandoned the notion of perfection, stopped being an annoying psycho and try my best to allow my kids to be who they are becoming without looking at the kids on their lefts and rights.  It simply doesn’t matter. I embrace their imperfections, relieved that I don’t have to be a perfect mother.

Occasionally, I quietly peer in her room, early in the morn, and gaze down at Elizabeth sleeping.  If only I could express the fierce love I have for her while praying, Dear God, protect this child, help me not to screw up too much and forgive me in advance for what I’d do if someone ever harmed her!

This past weekend was the dance recital.  Not only did Elizabeth dance eleven numbers, she’d also been the lead teaching assistant, and knew all of those dances without missing a leap or twirl.  To witness Elizabeth gently guiding and encouraging those little girls is heartwarming.  Elizabeth is patient, sweet, and born to teach, even though this is the last thing she wants to do with her life.  Those little girls look up to Elizabeth, greet her with hugs and hand-made cards.  Gazing at Elizabeth on stage, filled with more confidence than I’ll have in a lifetime, sincere joy and passion, not a lick of the credit is due to me, more so, despite me,

The haphazardly-choreographed dance with its most challenging steps is bewildering to me, I never know the right steps to take, wisest words to teach, nor the move that follows. I do know that her every fall will be caught, and every leap, applauded, wherever I am. It was Elizabeth who taught me the true meaning of unconditional love, she forgives, loves and accepts my inexperience.

Slowly, I’m heeding my desperate grasp, and allowing my dancing butterfly the freedom to soar, while reaching out to clasp an antenna.