VIDEO Diary Day 4 (Relaxing DC Style)

Today was a wonderful day.  Relaxing…and just what the doctor ordered!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZONGXOMwbQ8

Video Diary Day 1 (Leaving Rhode Island)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZS6Oo8SZ30

Remembering My Dad on Father’s Day

 

Remembering My Father on Father's Day

My dad and me

A few years back I bought some Concord grapes at the market.   I hadn’t tasted them in years and surprised myself  as the flavorful berry burst in my mouth and I burst into tears.   My father had cultivated Concord grapevines up the side of our garage,  when I was a kid.  My memory of him was apparently inside that grape.  He passed away when I was 13, so my recollection is gauzy…much like peering out from behind the bee nets we would wear to harvest our honey.   He was a beekeeper, among other things.  As a physician and small plane pilot, he had served as a flight surgeon in the Army.   He was a wood-worker, a craftsman, and gardener.  He was the father who had nurtured me until I became a teenager, and then was gone.   As an adult I realize, now,  that I missed out on truly getting to know him as a person, as only grown children can know their parents.  My insight comes from the clues I collected over the years.  He was an eccentric for sure, to house 5 stacked beehives in an urban ¼ acre backyard.  I remember him reading constantly, many books at the same time, and the thousands of books in our home were a testament to his love of them.  I discovered the mysterious root of my wanderlust when I found his massive collection of adventure travel books.  He was an armchair traveler, and that took me around the world.

I missed that feeling of security that having a father allows you.  Some umbrella of protectiveness shut with his loss;  I so envied those who had that.  Truth be told, I still do.  A father’s strong love is unique.

In time,  I was fortunate to gain an amazing father-in-law.  He is also a renaissance man, a physicist, artist and author.  Most importantly, he is father to my husband, also a renaissance man in his own right, and my equally amazing sister-in-law.  I can see how his influence has nurtured them both.  With the advent of our own children, these two new fathers in my life give us so much to celebrate on Father’s Day.

On a string I kept one of the enameled hearts my dad had made as party favors to give my friends on my 12th birthday.  Now I watch my own 12 year old daughter with my husband, as they tease each other and laugh.

My Husband & my daughter

My husband & my oldest daughter

I try to reach back to find those memories of that age to see him through her lens.  I know how lucky my children are to have such an amazing father and grandfather in their lives.  As we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day, no matter where your father is , or what your relationship may be, take this day to cherish just having him in this world.

Now when I eat Concord grapes I know what to expect ,and I let my beautiful memories flood back in.

 

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When Someone You Love Dies

My brother and I sandwiching two dear friends

Last year the unimaginable happened. I lost my youngest brother to a massive heart attack at the age of 49. Up until then I had felt secure in the natural order of things: the older ones go first and the younger ones get old. Our dad had died four years earlier, and while we wished we had had him longer, he’d lived a good long life of 84 years. We’ve attended several funerals for that age group over these last few years, and although they were sad occasions, we still felt sanguine about it; we even expected it.

The day my brother John died was a Sunday in late January. He had just texted his girlfriend that he loved her for the first time on his early morning ride home to his house from hers. He had planned to join us at our place for dinner that night to introduce his new love to his 15 year-old-daughter. This was a big day and he was excited. I’m sure he thought the heartburn was just a nit. After he mentioned it to his daughter on the way to her soccer game that morning he’d probably written it off as something he’d eaten. It wasn’t. He was having a small heart attack that led up to the one that took his life hours later. He never made it back to that soccer field. Hindsight is torture.

It’s the worst kind of shock and loss when someone you love, at the top of his game and happy, drops dead. My husband and I were bereft. After calling my immediate family and John’s girlfriend with the awful news, the urge to band together was strong, and we asked all the local family to come to our house that night. We knew that things needed to be done, decided, and organized. Three of my kids were at a good friend’s house, and so I called her to tell her that I needed to leave them a while longer and why. She likely started telling our other friends because by the time we arrived home, there was food being dropped off – lots and lots of food. It kept up like that for days. I personally couldn’t eat much, finding wine to be my temporary panacea, but the food was heated and consumed by others, and I was so grateful for that.

I felt a little insane during that initial period. I couldn’t write the date, for instance, because that would mean we had left behind the time when I could save John. In a plea to God I offered up a limb in exchange for my brother’s return to the living. My husband was concerned about me, but I was desperate to reverse this horrible event. Sleep was a welcome respite, but it was just a temporary escape from reality because the morning brought with it the waking nightmare one feels when death has visited. One day, in particular, I awoke late and came running downstairs to tell my husband I had forgotten to get our preschooler to school, when he met me to say that my good friend had come to get our son earlier. A deep sense of relief set in…my friends had my back. I knew then I could let myself grieve, and they would help me get through it.

This April a friend’s husband succumbed to his battle with pancreatic cancer at 43 years old. He fought it hard, but this disease is a formidable foe. Only a very few survive it. They have four young children, as do I, and that’s a lot of people to take care of when you can barely put one foot in front of the other. A plan was put into place using the Doodle website: each night someone would bring dinner, help bed the children, and be with our friend through the evening. So far, two months of weekday visits have been filled in, and our friend has expressed how much this helps her.

A new day

a new day

It’s clear to me now that those of us over 40 are going to go to more and more funerals. What is also clear is the ever-increasing need for community and support through these losses. If you haven’t experienced someone’s death yet yourself, I’m sorry to say that it’s coming, and that you will need help through it. If you know someone in the throes of grief, then by all means reach out, bring food, send a card, make a phone call, arrange a lunch date. Don’t be shy; the grieving person can always refuse your overture, but you must still make one. The gaping hole of loss can never be filled, but the more love one feels the more hope they have. So reach out, tell them how sorry you are, hug them, and one day they’ll do the same for you. It’s the natural order of things.

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How our “Domestic Partnership” Morphed into a Marriage


As May draws near, I’m reminded of a strange and nagging feeling I’ve been getting every year for a while now: that I am forgetting something important.  I eventually figure it out by either having it dawn on me, or most often by my mother-in-law calling to wish me a Happy Anniversary.  It’s actually somewhat understandable because Doug and I have a back-story many of our friends don’t know: we married when I was pregnant with our third child.  In fact, we had originally intended not to marry. What!!!  Let me explain.  We both had what we lovingly refer to as our “starter marriages”, neither of which produced any children.  We also both had large, traditional and expensive weddings that ended in divorce five years into the union.  

When Doug and I fell in love, we mutually confessed to feelings of failure, and a lingering confusion on the subject ofGoldie Hawn marriage.  At the time there were famous couples eschewing the institution: Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell who are still going strong; Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins who are not – although I have to say that they had a long run, and there was blessedly no messy divorce to string out in public.  With those couples in mind, Doug and I decided to forego the marriage route for a Domestic Partnership agreement. Since we resided in San Francisco at the time, we were able to procure one fairly easily, and that was ideal because we planned to start a family right away. Although Doug and I had grown up together, we had not found each other again until our mid-thirties, and we wanted children before it was too late.  Doug wanted four, but I was a ‘one-at-a-time and we’ll see’ girl.  As it turned out, four was our lucky number.

So how did we get to be married midway through our burgeoning family?  Honestly, it was strictly an insurance driven issue.  Doug and I were very happy being co-parents and domestic partners, and would probably still be today were it not for a move to Florida in 2002.  While San Francisco had offered us an option, Florida is not cut from the same cloth.  Anyone remember Anita Bryant?  We were told in no uncertain terms that as far as the State of Florida was concerned, a Domestic Partnership Agreement was how you and your roommate divided your chores, and might as well be used to paper your walls.  We felt having children made us more married than most, and well, we both knew how saying “I do” didn’t necessarily mean it lasted.  But there I was, six months pregnant with our daughter, Olivia, and feeling deeply opposed to seeing her birthday arrive uninsured, Doug and I decided to meet during lunch at the Justice of the Peace in Delray Beach.  To this day, nine years later, we still have trouble remembering our anniversary, and often stumble over the question of how many years we’ve been married.  To us, it’s from when we pledged our love and commitment by cohabitating and starting a family together.

Us!

But married we are, and with that came the specter of divorce.  Somehow when we were not married, we felt safer, buffered if you will, from the awful statistics of marriage dissolution. Doug’s parents divorced when he was 7 and it has always been complicated for him.  Somewhere deep inside he wishes it could have been avoided, remedied, although the circumstances brought a wonderful step-father into his life, so who can know.  With that in mind, we work, sometimes really hard, to keep our marriage healthy and together.  If something happens to rock our world, like death or job loss, we run to a counselor to hash out our feelings.  If we can stem the tides by good open communication beforehand, then we take that approach first.  I even found a website that sends me helpful emails on marriage fitness. I love the little nuggets of wisdom that Mort Fertel  sends me. I find them to be plain good sense, and truly helpful.  Honestly, we’d do anything to keep our marriage intact, but that’s what’s it’s really all about and always has been, both before and after the ceremony– commitment.  Anything worth having is worth working for.  Happy 9th or 13th Anniversary Sweetheart!

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How Raising Boys is Different From Girls

Sisters

Sisters

Sometimes I am surprised I have any feminine traits whatsoever. After spending my youth around two older male brothers and all male cousins, I could throw a decent spiral by the age of 8. Top that with a move to a rural farm area in Ohio at 12, and I was suddenly pioneering a large tractor and had some nice mulch growing under my fingernails. Thank God I had a sister to get sweaty with, but for the most part, I was a tomboy.

Fast forward a decade or two and my residence consists of two growing boys ages 8 and 6, a husband whose stomach never ceases to amaze me, a male Golden Retriever with an affinity for socks, and me, the lone female. Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch football, don’t mind going a while without showering, and can wrestle my boys with the best of them; but sometimes it might be nice to have someone ask me to paint my toenails. And God forbid if I call my boys “handsome” instead of “cool!”

I actually feel very blessed to be able to raise these boys to be great men, and I am blessed to have a great example in their father while doing so. My sister asked me the other day if I thought I did anything differently in terms of raising boys than I thought I would with girls and it gave me some pause. I think there are differences between the sexes in regard to how you teach them lessons, but I think the lessons overall are the same.

In a culture where I think women are often disrespected, either by fault of their own or as a result of a society where so much less value is placed on integrity and moral codes; one of my main concerns is that the boys grow up being very respectful of women. They are constant witnesses to their dad thanking me for dinner (every night), complimenting me on my appearance from time to time and opening the door for me. Some women are offended by such acts from men, and I guess to each her own, but when I think about how I want my boys to treat their wives, this is it.

Most women are more emotional than men.  A generalization for sure, but men tend to be more pragmatic and “get over things” faster than we do. The other day, I was trying to explain this to the boys. I explained that sometimes women and girls cry more–and not just when they are hurt physically, but when their feelings are hurt. I told them that they should try to be sensitive to this as they grow. For example, it is never acceptable to drop a girl off in the middle of the street during a downpour after taking her for a fine culinary meal at Arby’s and then leaving her stranded without even a kleenex or a coat. Okay, obviously a bad college flashback on my part, but you catch my drift.

Go Sun Devils!

Go Sun Devils!

I also strive to teach the boys manners, but I think I would do this in the same fashion as I would girls. One big difference. Burps and farts are funny to boys, they just are–and if you have spent any time in a high school, frat house, or locker room lately, it doesn’t get much better with age. At the dinner table and around grown ups, not acceptable. But in their rooms or outside with their friends?? Well, I could waste my time chastising them, but as the old adage goes, boys will be boys. Please and thank you,  and looking adults in the eye and answering them, are a must. If they need to engage in a little armpit humor from time to time, well, I may not join them, but I may just laugh.

Another big difference is the way boys engage or fight with each other.  Have you ever listened to how a group of men talk to each other, interact, and will even arm wrestle into their 40s? Yeah, I may not get it, but if I get huffy every time the boys break out in a wrestling match or the tackle football looks particularly gnarly, I would be wasting my breath. Call me crazy, but girl drama is not that fun, and lasts waaaaay too long. Most men would rather duke it out, shake it off and have a beer, and that’s pretty admirable if you ask me. (Of course, the beer part still has to wait). Sometimes, the more I intervene in these things, the bigger the problem becomes. Have at it, and let it be done.

Last but not least, and this is a big hot button. I want my boys to become men. I don’t care if they play sports or instruments. I don’t care if they can recite Whitman or know the NASDAQ, but for the love of all that is holy and true, let’s not turn them into women. I see women, I love women, I engage with women, but I want to be married to a man. I want them to be able to listen, to be sensitive, to not be threatened by a powerful woman; but in the same breath, I want to feel protected (even though I am strong!), I want to show you love by making your food and washing your clothes (and be respected for my brain and my work too!), I want to take care of you (and feel worshipped and adored!). I want to know how to change a fuse or a tire (but have you offer anyway, while you praise me for my  knowledge!). Call it sexist, call it unfair, call it whatever you want; but when I picture my boys taking care of their wives, I want them to be like my husband.

Do you have boys, girls, or both?  Do you raise them differently?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

From Exhaustion to Efficiency: Or, How I Make it through My Week with Minimal Crying!

Whether you are a busy working mom trying to balance the scales without having anything fall off, or  a Stay at Home mommy in charge of all the littles and praying for an iota of conversation that does not involve high pitch inflection or anything Gerber related; we are all just doing the best we can, right? While I am a working mom, another important thing for me is that my family eats together, and that the meal is nourishing and healthy. As a result, I have to find extra time in my day to plan and prepare dinner, and as tempting as it is to order in Pei Wei (Spicy Korean, anyone?), I make sure we eat in 5-6 nights a week at least. Between kids’ homework, school schedules, my work and fitting in Grey’s Anatomy, that leaves little time for messing around.  People question my ability (and sanity, but that’s another post) to get it all done, but in reality, it isn’t that big of a deal. Eating healthy and together is important to me, and we tend to make time for the things that are important to us. Here are a few tips that have helped me along the way.

grady family

My taste-testers

 

1. Prep early. There are several things I do as soon as I get home from the store that help me later. I wash and bag my lettuce in a ziplocks with a paper towel inside to soak up moisture and keep it fresh. If I have bought celery and carrots, broccoli or green onions, I wash and chop those to throw in salads or other meals. I don’t pre-chop onions, because who needs a fridge that smells of pico de gallo all week, but once I use part of one, I wrap it in a wet paper towel and put it in a ziplock and voila! No smelly fridge. I also buy berries in bulk from Costco and although my kids inhale this fresh fruit, I usually freeze a quarter of the amount and use them for after school smoothies. Berries also get the tupperware/paper towel treatment and make sure they are dry so they last longer.

2. Have a well-stocked pantry. In my dream world, this means smoked oysters, truffles, artichoke hearts and Lindt Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt,  but those may or may not be so family friendly. Instead, I make sure to always have the following: white beans and garbanzo beans that I use to make hummus or throw in a salad, black beans and pinto beans that are yummy and go with anything Mexican and in lots of casseroles, tomato products (diced, sauce, crushed, whole, paste) to use in virtually anything or as a base for sauces of all kinds, brown and white rice, whole grain pastas (penne and spaghetti or angel hair), Cream of Chicken and Cream of Mushroom soup and Quinoa (which I pronounced /kwin o ah/ until it became popular and I figured it out), couscous, Lipton onion soup mix (as a marinating agent for pork or potatoes), canned tuna, canned corn and loads of chicken broth or stock. Even if you can’t make it to the store for a week straight because of consecutive bad hair days or temper tantrums, if you are stocked in this way you don’t have to! It is also important to have a few oils (Canola, olive, coconut) and some vinegars (balsamic, red, white and rice) and maybe some cooking wine (or some for drinking that you can toss in the cooking!)

3. A little planning goes a long way! For the most part, I know that we will have one to two chicken dishes, a pasta dish, some pork or beef, and some fish throughout the week. If I am in a hurry, I can grill one of those, add a veggie sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic, and a starch and I am good to go. I like to get a bit more creative for the sake of my family, but if I have this stuff, it is very easy to create different combinations. I also use a few different food blogs for inspiration. If I have the  ingredients mentioned above and a well-stocked fridge, I can sometimes stop on my way home to grab the one or three things I may not have and then make a new meal that night. I also have a binder in my kitchen that is broken down by section: apps, salads, meat entrees, seafood entries, pasta’s, sides, desserts, cocktails (my favorite section), where I have printed out recipes or torn them out from magazines and organized them into a solid recipe book. I may or may not suffer from OCD, but whatevs! It gets me through, people. One thing I do is that the recipe doesn’t go in until I make it and it gets a score of 8/10 from me or the powers that be in my home. Otherwise your reliable book becomes not so reliable and filled to the gills!

4. Stick to a Schedule. I almost always start dinner the same time every night. I have left play dates early, picked the kids up from practice if it isn’t over on time or skipped things entirely if they get too much in the way of sticking to what works for me. This leaves me able to be spontaneous and either order in or have a GNO if I want to. However, if I didn’t make dinner and eating together a priority–well,  between exercise and work and the circus/shuffling that is our lives, I would just be another person in the take-out or drive through lines. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have a few trusty numbers memorized that can solve my problems in 20 minutes and I like to use them from time to time to feed our family, but for the most part, we are just used to saving that money so I can buy some Manolos. Kidding. Mostly. I do want some before I die, though.

5. Balance is Everything. Some nights I may not want my menu broadcast over the internet because it seems embarrassingly simple. Other nights I want to take a picture of the meal and frame it. Some nights my family of men swoon, and reward me with hand and foot massages and scented oils.  Okay, Oreo kisses and some satisfied belly pats. But still, I will take it. Some nights I fix stuff for my carb loving 6 year old blue eyed funny guy, some nights I cater it toward my freckled, good-natured 8 year old protein lover, and finally, sometimes it is for my 40 year old garbage disposal wonderful man that thanks me after every single meal I prepare. Sometimes I succeed and feel like a rock star, and sometimes I fail, but I always try, and it is always made with love. And that, ladies, is all that matters.

 

Looking for Love in Unusual Places

     As single ladies this day and age… we look for any sort of clue or sign that love is coming our way soon. Well, at least my friends and I do. So while in Las Vegas for a girls weekend… my jaded single New York friend and I took our search to a “higher” level…a psychic!  We called our hotel concierge to see if they could suggest a somewhat reputable psychic… they told us about someone way off the strip… which sounded like too much work for us. We then casually blew off the idea and decided to continue on our search for love on our own. However, the higher powers had another plan for us. We went into O’Shea’s which,  if you don’t know,  is a cheap sort of college way to gamble in Las Vegas… and low and behold… there was an in-house psychic. It was a clear sign… or a coincidence… but I am going with a sign!

psychic

     We each sat down, dropped $40 bucks and were ready to find out when/if we are going to find love!!   Kileen (our psychic) sat us down… we meditated and then she started flipping her cards. Kileen had an accurate reading about me. She told me I was hurt in the past and I was still getting over a bad relationship… blah, blah, blah. Yes, somewhat true. I did have a bad relationship in the past,  but I think I pretty much over it. I mean do I hold grudges… yes, but what girl who was burned by a boy in the past doesn’t hold him in a negative light??

     I starting to think my psychic reading was more like a therapy session… shouldn’t I be at least laying down on a couch or something. Every time I tried to throw out a question she continued to ramble on about finding the true me and being more self-confident. Good point.  I will definitely work on it but tell me if my Mr. Right,  father of my future adorable children is out there!! Long story short… my fifteen minutes of psychic fame were over and I had zero answers about my future! Was this a sign I am meant to be alone… FOREVER?!

     As Kileen tried to politely kick me out of her beaded tent I asked the questions I needed to know.  Is he out there for me and will I have kids???  Her answer: Yes and you’ll have two kids. That was it. Whatever, I will take it. My silly girl brain needed that reassurance (even if it was forced and very brief) that maybe happily ever after is out there and waiting for me. I guess time will only tell!

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Raising your kids in a “sports family”

 

Sports are important in our family. One can tell how important by seeing our cars with our respective schools on the plates or the basement painted in my husband’s alma mater’s colors of maroon and gold, complete with Boston College logos on the wall.Of course, the other side of the basement is “my side” with Gator orange and blue accessories.

 

I was raised in a sports family and some of my fondest memories are summers spent in the pool for swim team or at Bollettieri tennis camp in Bradenton, FL. My parents always raised me to value being part of a team, whether it was the softball team in high school or the equestrian team for the University of Florida. My husband also has a sports background, having grown up running track and playing basketball.

You can find us on any given Saturday in the fall at a college football game, in the winter it’s basketball and during the summer we are on the golf course or tennis courts.

I believe sports instilled the principles of teamwork, hard work and dedication in our foundations. We are raising our son with these same values and hope he has a love of sports like we do. I can’t wait to see what he will love as an older child and adult. One of his first words was ball (pronounce ba-all) and he can spend hours throwing and chasing down the ball for himself. I am counting down the days until he can enroll in tee ball, tennis or golf. I can’t wait to be a true soccer mom! Until then, the weekly swim lessons will have to tide me over.

I hope that being involved in sports while growing up will teach him the importance of teamwork and give him the self-confidence he needs to reach his goals in life.Some people have asked us what we would do if our son hated sports and chose   another activity completely unrelated to sports. My answer is always “completely support him!” If it made my son happy to sing in the glee club or be a Thespian instead of quarterback, good for him! I can guarantee you my husband and I would be in the audience for every performance, you’ll be able to spot us wearing the BC and UF gear.

I’d love to hear what you do to help instill your family’s core values in your children, please leave a comment letting us and the other readers know!

How a Family RV Trip for 6 Became one of our Best Vacations

Have you ever thought of taking a family vacation in an RV?  Did you end up doing it?  Last year we were coming off the “year of unemployment” and taking the idea of any spending very seriously.  So when April vacation was being considered we tried to think of a fun and inexpensive way to see a lot of places in a week.  We figured it would be wise to stay on the east coast so as to minimize the amount of miles logged and to maximize our destinations.  The first task at hand was finding an RV.  There are websites that exist for just that purpose.  One of the biggest is: Cruise America.  We ended up using Craigslist and found a local man who rents his RV by the week.  Perfect.

The cost for a week using Cruise America for a large 7 person RV is roughly $1050 with mileage costs at about $.32 a mile.  700 miles is easy to do in a week, and that would run another $224.  We paid the private owner from Craigslist $1000 and no mileage fee – just brought it back with a full tank of gas.  One of the options our guy gave us was to rent his kitchen equipment for $150, the items of which he listed in detail.  In an effort to be frugal we passed on the offer and used his list to create our own ‘kitchen to go’.  Personally, I will always prefer my own utensils and pans to someone else’s unless maybe it’s Martha Stewart.  Cruise America offers a Kitchen Kit for $100 and a Personal Kit (towels and a sleeping bag, etc.) for $50.

Our trip began to take shape.  We decided to pick up the RV and leave our car at the owner’s house for the week.  When we arrived to “move in” there was a binder of all kinds of information he’d compiled over the years of renting, and we referenced that often.  At first the rig was very intimidating, especially in its width.  It turned out that the RV was a little on the quirky side maybe due to its older age, and responded to its Master’s Voice better than ours, but we managed.  There were a lot of gadgets and buttons to activate to get a shower, or to cook, so there was a steep learning curve in the beginning.  There’s nothing like a cold shower to motivate one to figure out the system, though.Cold shower

The fun part was narrowing down all the grand ideas we had for our destinations.  The kids lobbied hard for a stop at Hershey Park, PA, so my husband and I wove that into a generally educational itinerary (sneaky, huh?) including Gettysburg, PA and Washington D.C.  We eventually headed back to RI through NYC.  The trick was to find decent RV parks near the cities, and public transportation into them.  We tried RV parks with public bathrooms that had showers and pools, laundry and miniature golf, as well as ones in the dark woods with nothing but water and gas hookups and lots of crickets.  AAA has excellent RV books that tell you just what to expect from each park.  We played a lot of board games at night, and each of us probably read a book or two that week.  All the parks have grills, so cooking was a breeze, and s’mores were the staple dessert.S'mores

If you ask the kids, this trip was epic, and if you ask my husband and me, this is one we would definitely do again.  There’s a lot to be said for staying on terra firma, besides just the significant savings on airfare.

Echo Caverns

Echo Caverns

An interesting road sign could turn into an impromptu adventure, like the awe inspiring Echo Caverns we happened upon, or at least a good ice cream cone.  We’re thinking of a summer RV trip through Canada next.  Well, we’ll see you on the road, and happy trails!

Are there any of you RV adventurers out there with a good tale, tip, or destination to share?  I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.

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