Free Ebooks!

There is a big summer promotion going on at Smashwords, the largest distributor of electronic books outside of Amazon.com. Many authors have offered their books at deep discounts, including free! I’m offering my book for free during the month of July. If you haven’t read about what it is like to raise a child with tricuspid atresia, a major congenital heart defect, you can do so for free for the next month by using this link and then entering the coupon code SFREE at checkout.

Raising a Heart Child

But my book isn’t the only free book! Check out the other authors who are offering cheap/free books for the month of July here:

Smashwords Summer Ebook Sale

#Smashwords#SummerWinterSale2016

Happy summer reading!

Top 21 Worst Baby Names of 2016

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You named me WHAT?!

According to http://thestir.cafemom.com/, these names were voted the twenty one worst baby names of 2016. Thus far. We still have some time, people! Some of these are head scratchers, but they are also real names that parents gave their children. If you find yourself thinking, “Wait, that’s a beautiful name!” – look again. You might have missed a letter. And no, they are not typos.

21. Britney Shakira Beyonce

20. Melanomia

19. Yunique

18. Gotham

17. Appaloosa

16. Reighleigh

15. Panthy

14. Jerica

13. Merica

12. Baby

11. Abcde

10. Colon

9. C’andre

8. Nevaeh

7. Beberly

6. Little Sweetmeats

5. Danger

4. Mhavrych

3. Aliviyah

2. Meldor

1. Elizabreth

Take me to the Caribbean!

DSC_4221A major blizzard was set to pummel our town last week, but we managed to escape the storm and head for the Caribbean island of Turks & Caicos. Snowzilla – a mega snowstorm that dumped 29 inches of snow on our neighborhood – nearly derailed a vacation that we’d planned for a year. Talk about timing! We bought our plane tickets in July, and the very day we were set to fly – Saturday, January 23 – BAM! Blizzard.

It’s a miracle we made it. Once the weather forecasters were close to certain that we were in fact in the direct path of a blizzard, we moved our flights up a day to Friday, January 22. Then we scrambled to book another night at our resort: Beaches, Turks & Caicos. The booking agent told me the phone had been ringing off the hook with people from the East coast trying to get in ahead of the storm. But! Our room was available, and we could have it for the extra night. Phew! I thought we were on our way. One extra day in paradise, and weren’t we so smart to get out in front of the storm? I exhaled and started packing.

I exhaled too soon. Those Friday flights were canceled on Thursday, leaving us in a mad panic. We were told that there were no flights until Monday. Monday! What should we do? Should we break our children’s hearts and cancel the whole vacation? Were there any other flights we could take? Was there any way we could get out ahead of this massive snowstorm and make it to Turks & Caicos?

American Airlines threw brick wall after brick wall at us. No, there were no other flights with 4 seats available. No, there were no other carriers who could take us. No, no, no!

I refused to take that no for an answer, though. This isn’t the 1980s. We’ve got the net. So I hopped on and prayed for a miracle. At that point, it was 8 PM on Thursday, January 21, and I was ready to fly anywhere to get my family to Turks & Caicos. If there had been a flight out of Oklahoma City, we would have been on it.

Expedia handed me the miracle I was looking for. I found a flight leaving at 6 AM on Friday, January 22 out of BWI with 5 seats left on it. This flight went to Toronto and then picked up a direct flight to Providenciales after a very short 75 minute layover. Air Canada. My new favorite airline. I booked it and then chewed my fingernails off waiting for a confirmation that the airline had actually accepted the Expedia ticketing. Not long after, they did.

We went to sleep for a few hours, got up at 3 AM, made our first flight – a tiny little plane with a row of 2 on either side of the aisle – and continued to worry that we wouldn’t make our second flight. We had to clear customs in Canada before we could board the flight to Providenciales, and I didn’t truly believe we were going to make it until we were successfully de-iced in Canada and that second flight was airborne. When we left the Toronto airport behind – and the East coast blizzard that would shut our area down for almost a full week – I finally felt myself believe that we were going to make it.

We made it to our CARIBBEAN ISLAND!

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And make it we did. The view of the changing turquoise-colored waters as we landed was breathtaking. I’d never seen water that shade before. We arrived on the beautiful island of Turks & Caicos early in the afternoon of Friday, January 22. Delirious, but blissfully happy. A shuttle from the resort met us at the airport and took us directly to our destination.

The RESORT overview – amazing.

The resort itself is absolutely gorgeous. The landscaping, the architecture, the layout of the 4 villages – just incredible. It’s paradise. The resort is divided into 4 villages, each based on a different geographical area. They include the French village – set at the back of the resort, away from the bustle of the beaches:

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The Italian village – the most beautiful of the villages, nestled at the heart of the resort:

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The Key West village – a beautiful tribute to Florida’s houses and condos:

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…and the Caribbean village – the least beautiful from the outside, but this village provides access to the beach and water sports:

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After reading numerous reviews, we opted for the French village. And it is gorgeous. There are only 2 or 3 floors in each villa, so it has a cozier feel than the larger villages. It reminded me a bit of the Royal Hideaway in Playa del Carmen in that sense, where we honeymooned. It also sports an Italian restaurant, a cafe/patisserie, a bar, and an adults-only fancy French restaurant offering a four-course meal. Our room was located on the lower level of one of the two-tiered villas, offering a walk out patio area where we could sit and enjoy the landscape. And the landscaping in that village is to-die-for gorgeous. I could just sit on that balcony and stare for hours. This is the view from our room:

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There is also a massive pool and hot tub, with a swim up bar serving drinks from 10 AM to 6 PM daily. The resort’s water park, featuring 5 water slides and a lazy river, was steps away from our room.

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The boys loved that water park. But they really loved the bar! The resort is all-inclusive, so we turned them loose on the bartenders and let them order any (virgin) drink they wanted. They tried Shirley Temples, tornadoes, icy lemons, strawberry daiquiris – you name it, they tried it. I was a little less brave – but I did discover that Jamaican rum is awesome. The resort is known for their rum, and my two new favorite words – after Air Canada – are rum runner. Delicious.

The resort also features 21 restaurants, and we let the boys order all sorts of food too. There are Italian restaurants, French restaurants, a Caribbean jerk shack, and American-style diner, a seafood restaurant, a sushi restaurant, a Hibachi restaurant, a wood-fire pizza grill – there’s even an English pub that is decorated like a true English pub and serves Guinness! Here is Cricketer’s, the English pub:

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The boys tried a lot of new things, which made me proud. Corey discovered that he loves mussels. Mason discovered that pizza is still his favorite food. He may have had more pizza than any other person on the resort. And ice cream. And french fries. But, like Corey said as a toddler, BE AT VACATION!

Off-setting the massive amount of food and booze that’s readily available are the included water sports. They offer snorkeling – not just the gear, although you can just borrow that too, but a trip out onto the ocean in a boat where they dump you and let you paddle around looking at the fish and coral through the crystal-clear water for an hour. There are wake boards, paddle-boat bikes, kayaks, sailboats – even scuba diving. Not to mention several pools, water slides, and, of course, the ocean for swimming. On a day when it’s green (i.e., very little wind), the water just laps gently at the shore and the water is ideal for swimming or just sitting and lounging. Also, the resort itself is so large that we walked a ton. Here’s a view of the beach from the pier:

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In any case, our first day we were delirious. We settled into our room, and then we found the nearest place to eat, which turned out to be an outdoor cafe called Dino’s serving pizza, salads, and such. It felt like an outdoor cafe in a city, but with people clad in swimwear and 80-degree weather. We hadn’t been far on the resort at that point, and we oohed and ahhed over the loveliness of the place. After a very late lunch, we let the boys explore the French pool (and French bar). That night, since the boys were still stuffed with pizza and fries, we talked them into hitting the sushi place. It was just beautiful, twinkling with white lights and rippling fountains, and they were full enough and intrigued enough by the landscaping of the place to agree to try it.

And, they hated the food. But they were game to try some rice and one roll each, plus whatever fun drinks they wanted, and they actually enjoyed themselves because they found the setting so intriguing. As did we. The evening was perfect for sitting outside and enjoying the weather. Damian and I split 5 sushi rolls, and they were delectable. We liked them so much that we resolved to eat there again later in the week.

Let’s EXPLORE THE RESORT!

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Saturday, our first full day on the resort, was our day to explore. The day dawned clear and lovely, and we suited up to take in the sights of the resort and dip ourselves in its many pools along the way. But first, we began with a breakfast at Guisseppie’s, an Italian restaurant sporting a full breakfast buffet and some gorgeous decorations. It was one of the few times we ate inside, because we were not yet aware of the excellent restaurants right on the water. The buffet was wonderful – those of you who went to the Royal Hideaway may remember Spices and the buffet breakfast there, which sported everything from champagne and chocolate croissants to coffee and made-to-order omelets.

From there we wandered next door to the patisserie for some fancy coffees. This is the Starbucks of the resort, essentially. But in addition to the cafe au lait and cafe lattes we ordered, there is a case full of mini treats. Little squares of cheesecake, chocolate ganache cake, carrot carrot, white chocolate mousse, red velvet cream cakes, espresso cakes, chocolate brownies, banana cream cakes – you name it. And order it. As many as you want. This was ideal for me, because they were small. Just little tastes. We went there every day.

Our travels around the resort after breakfast familiarized us with the different villages, their restaurants, the water sports, the beaches themselves, the many pools, and the cabanas that overlook the ocean where you can just relax and read your book while sipping that latte/mojito/rum runner/daiquiri/etc. Damian and I took full advantage of those places when we dropped our kids at Kids’ Camp. This is a shot of me and the boys in one of the cabanas:

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Oh yes, I said Kids’ Camp. Also included in the package is a camp designed to entertain kids, and it’s broken out by age groups. So the kids get to spend time with other children their own age. Corey and Mason fit right in the 8-10 year-old group. They were offered all sorts of fun activities, including trips to the beach, games in the pools, time at the water park, unlimited fun drinks, and lunch/dinner depending upon the time of day. They loved it. We loved it. Everybody loved it. This camp enabled us to have time apart while still being a family. Although we did meet people who dropped their kids off at 9 AM and picked them up at 9 PM. Which you can do. We preferred to drop them off at 9 AM and then pick them up after lunch, but one day when we came to get them, they told us to come back in two hours, because they were headed for the water park with their new friends! Ha!

Kids’ Camp enabled us to enjoy a dinner by ourselves at the French restaurant, Le Petite Chateau. Which was fabulous. I ordered chardonnay, and then I never had to ask for another drink. The server just filled my glass whenever she noticed it was empty. Which could have been trouble, except for the fact that I ate all four courses. French onion soup, lobster, red snapper, a dessert plate with 4 miniature desserts for two. Amazing, relaxing, and the decor was so detailed and lovely that I felt like I was eating in France. Except for the Sesame Street show that was going on right outside the windows at the French stage.

Did I mention the French village stage? Not my favorite place. More on that later.

Kids’ Camp also allowed us to have a quiet breakfast at the Sky restaurant, which sits on a rooftop right at the water’s edge. Now that is a view I will never forget. We ordered eggs benedict, fruits, strong coffee, and beignets dusted with powdered sugar in a light tangerine sauce and relaxed while we looked out at the blue water. Amazing. What we didn’t realize is that this particular restaurant is adult’s only for dinner, but you can bring the kids for breakfast. We brought the boys back the next day, and they loved the view as well as the pancakes. The plain pancakes. Because God forbid they should try the pancakes with chocolate ganache or caramel sauce. I mean, those had to be horrible, right? This is me at Sky:

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Rather than detailing every moment of our trip on a daily basis, I’ll offer some highlights from here on. Partly because I didn’t keep a journal (like I did in France & Switzerland), and partly because my two new favorite words are “rum runner.” Ahem.

Let’s go with FOOD!

The meals were amazing. Absolutely terrific. It’s not food on the same scale as the Ritz Carlton, but I loved nearly everything I ate. From a creamy risotto with bacon at the Italian restaurant Mario’s, to the beautiful fish at the seafood restaurant Schooner’s. Mario’s is set inside the Italian village, but there is outdoor seating on a lovely patio, and we took full advantage of the views of the Italian pool and landscaping while we ate there. The seafood restaurant, called Schooner’s, was our favorite dinner spot. Located right on the ocean, it sports a patio that is covered and wonderful dishes. We ate there twice – the last night we ordered 4 appetizers and shared them, including mussels, which Corey decided are his new favorite food. Damian had tender beef and I had grouper for our main courses, Corey had steamed shrimp, rice & broccoli (from the kid’s menu!), and Mason didn’t try any of that. But he was still happy, so who cares? For dessert, we ordered all four desserts, and then I cut a slice from each and plated them so that the four of us could each try a bite of everything. Fabulous! And, like the Petite Chateau, the wine flowed freely. Here’s a daytime shot of Schooner’s:

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The Hibachi restaurant is the only one requiring a reservation, and it was the only meal I didn’t like. I’m not a huge Hibachi fan – stir-fried dinner with a bunch of strangers really isn’t my bag. But it’s the boys’ bag. And it was their favorite meal, so I’m glad we went. You don’t order there – they just give everybody steak, chicken, shrimp, and fish. Our chef showed up an hour after our reservation time, however. That’s a long time to wait with a table full of antsy little kids. My favorite moment of that evening was when our chef busted out with a hilarious rendition of Drake’s cell phone song.

We also discovered a breakfast buffet served right on the ocean at a spot called Bayside. Buffet is not my first choice, but the boys were in heaven, running around and grabbing muffins, pastries, pancakes and bacon. I feel like I said, “Go get some fruit” at least 50 times during each breakfast, though, because they’d invariably show up with nothing but sugary treats if I didn’t police the buffet. I enjoyed the restaurant next door a bit more for that reason – Neptune’s. It’s on the water too, but, like Schooner’s, we sat down and ordered from a menu for those meals. Their menu sports fancier breakfast options, too, from a banana’s foster french toast to a Caribbean-style eggs Benedict. Good stuff. And those water views – I just can’t say enough about the loveliness of dining in that setting. Here are a few shots from our breakfast at Neptune’s:

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There’s a steak place on the resort, too, called Arizonas. But we never made it over there. If we’d had one more night, perhaps then we would have. We did eat there for lunch, but it was a buffet, and we had some killer gyros and smoked pork tacos that day. And wine. I enjoyed having red wine with lunch – decadent and relaxing. I did hear some other folks saying the steak there was delicious, though.

There’s no room service, but we could find snacks at places like the Jerk Shack, home of super tender jerk chicken and pork, and they had the best sweet-potato fries I’ve ever tasted. Also in the snack category is a woodfire grill called Bella Napoli that serves pizza to order. The boys loved that place – just stroll up and order a personal pizza in between meals. I think they ate 20 pizzas between the two of them during the course of the week. They also hit Bobby Dee’s – a diner with American food that’s open from 11 AM to 6 AM – Mason’s favorite order there was a plate of fries and 2 scoops of ice cream.

On to WATER SPORTS!

I went down a lot of water slides after carrying up my own raft in an effort to burn off some of the food/drink I was consuming. The slides were awesome, and the boys loved them. Some required a tube, others did not, but they were all a lot of fun. We spent time there daily.

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Damian took the boys on a bike that is essentially a paddle boat on the water. This is something we almost weren’t able to do, because the weather was too choppy. Red flag means too windy for most water sports, yellow “use caution”, and green means you’re good to go. We finally got a green flag on our last full day, and we pulled the kids out of Kids’ Camp so they could do this. And it’s a good thing we did, because Damian was literally the last bike out before they changed the flag to yellow and pulled everyone off the water. Phew! Corey would have given us the cold shoulder had it gone down any other way, because he wanted to do this activity from the jump.

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Snorkeling is also included in the water activities, and we signed up to take a boat ride out on the ocean and snorkel for an hour off shore. Here’s the boat off shore with the snorkelers (the yellow spots in the water are the snorkelers – Mason & Damian among them in this shot):

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The morning we chose to do this was a yellow-flag day, so the ride out was choppy. Those of you who know me well know that I puke on boats, and it was a minor miracle that I didn’t puke up my beautiful breakfast on that boat ride. Once we got out there, Damian and the boys jumped off the back of the boat like they’ve been snorkeling for years. I, on the other hand, waddled off the back like some kind of penguin/duck hybrid. It was sad. I could see the amusement in the eyes of the captain and crew, but really, I’m sure they see dorks like me all the time. I waddled my way in, gracelessly, and immediately discovered a few things.

First, I can’t snorkel. I know this sounds ridiculous. Who can’t snorkel? You just put on the mask, stick your face in the water, and flipper all around. The flippers just felt wrong on my feet, and I couldn’t stop myself from breathing through my nose, which meant my mask was a total fogged-up blur, so I couldn’t see anything. I did not panic, which I think is another minor miracle. But! I am a good swimmer, and I was determined not to give up on the outing, so I took off all the gear, hurled it back onto the boat, and I just swam around for the hour enjoying being so far out in the ocean with the gorgeous clear water.

The second thing I discovered is that Corey can’t snorkel either. After I unloaded my gear, I looked around for my guys, and I spotted Corey. He was doggy paddling and looked really upset. When I swam over to him, he told me he couldn’t do it either. We had a bonding moment. Two non-snorkeling dorks in the water together. So I got him out of his gear, and he swam around with me for the remaining time, which he really seemed to enjoy.

The third thing I learned is that Mason is a natural at snorkeling. He dove right in and just went for it. He and Damian were way off in the distance, faces in the water, fins kicking behind them, finding all sorts of colorful fish and beautiful coral. I almost passed out from the surprise. There are so many things that scare Mason. The Snow White ride at Disney is too dark, and he won’t ride it. When I think scary, the first thing to come to mind is not a glittery Disney princess. But this was a moment like the helicopter ride in Hawaii we did years ago. He just got right on and started reading the safety manual. Same thing here. He just jumped right in and starting reading the ocean’s wonders. Go Mason!

Damian also took the boys sailing, which they loved, and I declined, because the water was choppy and I don’t like puking. Had it been a green flag day, I would have gone, but it was a yellow flag, and I opted out in order to enjoy some time relaxing with my book and a rum runner. Ahhhhhhhh.

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We didn’t wake board, but only because it was too choppy – I would have like to have tried that, though. Finally, we spent a fair amount of time swimming in the pools

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….and on the beach, which sported lovely white sands and mostly very calm waters.

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There were rafts located just off shore that we swam to, and that was quite a bit of fun. Sitting out on the ocean, bobbing up and down and looking around. I thought that was a particularly cool feature.

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Damian and Mason enjoyed the snorkeling so much that they went again together, just the two of them, the last day of our vacation. Corey and I were left up to our own devices, so we opted to have a late lunch at a restaurant in the sand right on the ocean, called Barefoot by the Sea.

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Corey and I ate in our swimsuits while curling our toes in the sand, and it was wicked fun. I had barbecued ribs, and Corey tried one, declaring it “great!” before deciding to have a little fun with daddy’s camera. We got really silly during that lunch, and it was just wonderful to have some time alone with my oldest child in such a spectacular setting. I learned later that it was his favorite lunch. What a lovely way to enjoy our last lunch on the island. The first shot is proof that Corey tried a rib:

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While we were running around taking pictures with daddy’s camera, Corey bumped into these guys, who said, “Hey mon, can you take our photo?” Corey said, “Sure!” And then pointed our camera at them. I said, “No, Honey, they want you to snap a photo with THEIR camera.” But they were great sports and let Corey snap some shots with our camera too. Cracked me up.

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And finally – OUR ROOM UPGRADE!

From the French village to the Italian village. If you recall, I didn’t care for the noise of the stage in the French village. After 3 nights, I’d had it. We asked for a change, and they offered us a room in the Caribbean village. Fine. Whatever – it’s the least nice of all the villages, but I wanted to get away from that noise, so we agreed.

From there, it was a flurry of bag packing and getting ready to be out of the room for the day so that they could handle the change for us. We were told that our room would be available at 3 or 4 o’clock, but we headed over to the Caribbean check-in early in order to let them know we were ready – “don’t forget about us!” We were then told that our room had been changed, and that in fact we would be in the Italian village.

What?! I hardly dared to hope it would be true. The Italian and the Key West villages are newer and by far the nicest villages on the resort. I’d seen some of the ground floor Italian rooms and felt a bit of room envy, so I held my breath and didn’t truly believe we were going to be so lucky until, at around 3 PM, they handed us the keys.

WOW! Our previous room was okay, the landscaping was what made it special, but this new room was SPECTACULAR. It was a suite with a king-sized bed, a walk-out balcony, huge windows overlooking both the Italian pools, landscaping, and the ocean, and – AND! – there was a separate kids’ room, complete with a door and wooden bunk beds. Not to mention the ginormous bathroom. It also featured a bottle of champagne, 2 bottles of wine, and a full range of liquors from rum to whisky. BAM! We were in heaven for the last two nights – I wasn’t sure I even wanted to leave the room. I’m so glad we spoke up. I learned later that this room was actually $800 more PER NIGHT than our room, but it was a free upgrade, so lucky us. And thank you Beaches! Here’s a peek at our room and the view from the balcony:

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Before I sign off, I just want to add one more quick story. The resort sported giant chess sets for the kids to play with. The moment of utmost hilarity for the boys happened when I grabbed a giant bishop and announced “I’ve got the pawn!” Whoops. The boys still bring it up daily. “Remember when mom called the bishop a pawn. Har har.” Nerds. Like their mother.🙂

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Then we had to go home. Which stunk. Boo. I’d like to forget all the details about that, so I will wrap this up by saying that this was an absolute dream vacation. It exceeded my expectations, and we had a wonderful time. You should go.🙂 I’d like to see your pictures and hear your stories too. I’ll leave you with these family shots:

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What happens when you swing a sledgehammer at a car on college game day?

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Well I’ll tell you. In just a bit. But first….

When you yell “O-H!” at the top of your lungs like a screaming banshee in the horseshoe, the home of the Buckeyes, guess what happens? Everybody around you, regardless of their age, gender, or ethnicity, screams right back at you “I-O!” The pilot on the airplane did it. An 8-year-old did it. A 70-year-old lady did it. It’s infectious. And I caught it as I watched the Ohio State Buckeyes take on the Penn State Nittney Lions during Dark Night in the Shoe last Saturday night. It was a blackout event, which was a publicity stunt, but it did look pretty cool to see the sea of fans decked out in their dark colors supporting the team. Usually the stadium is awash in scarlet and gray. But not Saturday night. I donned my black and fit right in.

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     I’m a Terp, but I attended this game with two Buckeyes – my husband Damian and my cousin Megan – and my cousin’s SO, Mick. I married into the Buckeye crazy, but I’ve earned my stripes as a Buckeye fan, as I’ve watched almost every football game for more than a decade. My three companions and I made a weekend out the event. Starting with an 8 AM flight on Friday morning, even though the game itself didn’t happen until 8 PM on Saturday night. Go big or go home, people! Or, if you’re Megan & Mick, make every effort to miss the plane. Those two rolled into the airport at 7:15 for our 8 AM flight and squeaked onto the flight at the last minute. I give them props for cutting it close and making it, though, because that’s how they roll. Unlike Damian and myself – super nerds who were in line at security by 6:30 AM and strolling around with our bagels by 7, periodically checking our pocket protectors to make sure our pens weren’t leaking.
     Given that we got to Columbus eons before game time, we had a full day Friday to enjoy the area, and we spent the time well. We began with some fabulous coffee from a French bakery followed by a wonderful lunch at a small quaint restaurant called The Whitney House. We were the first to arrive – literally every table was empty – and the host asked us with a deadly serious face if we had a reservation. I almost asked him to repeat the question. Then I considered telling him that we would each like our own individual table, because we do like to spread out, and clearly they had enough open tables to accommodate us. I need my space! But I wisely kept it zipped, although I’m pretty sure my eyebrow shot up of its own accord, and we were seated without further ado in a lovely window table. The food was great and very reasonable. We enjoyed various salads, burgers, and crispy french fries while we chatted and looked around at the adorable decor.
     From there we hit Wolf Ridge Craft Brewery, and that was a blast! The tap room sports rustic decor, with beautiful woodwork and hanging light bulbs from the ceiling (hey Megan – spell “ceiling”). We tried some beer flights, and all the flavors were intricate, the pours were nice, and overall it was a really fun experience.
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     Nap time!
     Friday night we went to J. Alexander’s, mostly because it was right next to our hotel, but also because it sports good reviews. We loved it. We started with double appetizers, because, like Corey used to say when he was little, “Be at vacation!” That’s right, son! When on vacation, just eat it, drink it, swing a sledgehammer at it – whatever. Just do it. More on that sledgehammer thing later. We ate deviled eggs and roasted artichokes, which were delicious. Damian and I split two entrees – a tender filet cooked to perfection with a side of rich Bearnaise and scallops over lemony orzo made for the perfect pairing. The house special wine was a red blend for $28, but it tasted like a much more expensive bottle of wine. Everyone shared a bite of their dessert with me at the end, so really, I win! Key lime pie, not too sweet, chocolate cake, beautifully moist, sundae with multiple toppings and a glass of port. My companions had to roll me back to the hotel.
     Saturday it was on! Game day, baby! And game day on campus is no joke. It’s all football all the time. We hit the fraternity and sorority houses to see Megan’s old stomping grounds at Kappa Delta – what a beautiful house they have! Here’s a shot of Megan and me outside her house:
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     From there we met some Delta Chi Fraternity members who were ratcheting up the pre-game wildness, but for a good cause – cancer. A donated car – I’m not sure this thing ever ran it was such a hunk of junk – painted in Penn State colors was being offered up for whacks with a sledgehammer. For $5 a swing, you too can get your cave man on. Mick took a video of one the boys standing on the car swinging at it, asking the kid, “Hey, my friend Jim is a Penn State fan. Tell Jim what you think of Penn State.” In the same voice that Leonard McCoy said, “He’s dead, Jim,” on Star Trek, this kid picked up the sledgehammer, raised it over his head, and said, “Penn State sucks, Jim.” And then he let the car have it. I laughed hard enough to send myself into a coughing fit, and now Damian and I will just randomly look at each other and say, “Penn State sucks, Jim.” We’re very mature. Very.
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     We walked around campus some more, shopped, and then hit Eddie George’s where we saw the man himself! And, we got a photo with him! I think Damian can die happy now.
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     That experience was definitely a major party flavor – we waited in the bar for an hour for a table for lunch, despite the fact that there were literally at least 5 empty tables. But during that time we watched some football, some people, and even experienced a troop of marines that blew by in just shorts and backpacks despite the 40-degree weather. Yes, they are bigger badasses than we are. No question. And they were sporting a blowup doll on a stick. This was a stunt to raise awareness for suicide prevention. What a giant used-looking blowup doll has to do with suicide prevention is beyond me, but you know, I’d say the stunt was effective, because it got the attention of everybody in the bar. I’m trying to figure out how I can work a blowup doll into my next attempt to raise awareness for CHD. I’m taking ideas if anybody has one.
marines
     We (finally!) ate, it was great, and then we cleaned up and got ready for the main event. But first we had to party like we were students tailgating by hitting the Varsity Club. I couldn’t get the name right and called it the Victory Garden all weekend. So we bussed our way onto campus and then smashed ourselves between the walls of people at the Victory Garden (my name is better!), where we saw some shenanigans, probably the funniest of which was a woman in her 50s dancing with a college kid to “Back that Thang Up.” And I’m here to tell you, she backed it up. I hope I’m having half that much fun in my next decade.
     After a brat on the street we smashed our way into the stadium, found our killer seats (thank you Mick!) on the club level in the end zone, and made it just in time for kick off. The atmosphere in the shoe was electric. Energy pulsating through the stands that you could feel, sound slamming through the chairs loud enough to vibrate your buns – if you were sitting down, like me – it’s a high octane experience, to be sure. I love watching the game on tv, but you just can’t feel the crowd unless you’re there.
     It was butt cold, though. High 30s, low 40s, hat/gloves/boots/3-pairs-of-socks cold. Except for those marines, because, you know, clothes are just overrated. I think my nose got frostbite. The game started out as a nail biter, because Penn State looked good in the beginning. Like the rest of the season this year, the Buckeyes just don’t have their stuff together in the first half. Magic apparently happens in the locker room at half time – possibly a result of head coach Urban Meyer whipping them into shape, I don’t know – because the team invariably looks better in the second half. And this game was no exception. Penn State kept it interesting, despite the fact that they suck, Jim, but in the end the Buckeyes pulled out a sweet victory at 38 to 10.
     The bus ride home took an agonizing hour. Gah. Enough about that.
     The next morning Damian and I rose at 7:30, checked out at 8, and had our first Uber experience driving to the airport where we picked up our rental car for the (long, long) drive back to Maryland. Megan and Mick chose a 9 PM flight, because it was the only flight that wasn’t outrageously expensive, but that was too late for us on a school night with the boys. Unfortunately, Enterprise didn’t open until 9 AM, even though the location was an airport, so we had to wait around for a bit. Then their printer didn’t work. More waiting. Luckily our guy opted for plan B, wrote our information in, and handed us the keys to a Dodge Charger that might have been on the road in the 1980s. This thing was ready to hit the junkyard. The climate control was busted, and we alternated between arctic freeze and hatching baby chickens. This was extra fun in the mountains of West Virginia where it was snowing. In October. Let me say that again. It was snowing in October! Can you feel the flakes hitting the windshield? And my face, since I had to leave the window open to avoid passing out from the blast-furnace heat.
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     We eventually found a tiny mom & pop restaurant in the middle of nowhere on the edge of PA and WV which was FABULOUS. Dr. McCarthy’s Kitchen – it’s an old house, converted to a restaurant, and there was only one option on the menu – the brunch buffet. But it rocked. For $20, you got all-you-can-eat buffet, which included such fine items as salmon and pulled pork, in addition to roasted pumpkin soup, fruit, coffee and juices, and made-to-order omelets and pancakes. I had an egg white omelet stuffed with mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, and onions, and Damian had a crispy chocolate chip pancake with butter and syrup. Our table sat on aged wood floors beside an old rustic stone fireplace. I wish we lived closer so that we could go again.
     We made it home by 5 after one fabulous trip! Cheers to Megan and Mick for making it one fantastic weekend of fun.
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Customs

customs

By customs, I don’t mean that it’s customary to say “thank you” when some one gives you a gift. Although if you don’t, then you’re kind of a jerk. I’m talking about the customs agents at the border of a country who inspect your passport, ask you questions, and decide whether or not they’re going to let you enter their country. I have a few friends who are serious world travelers, and they could speak to this subject with much more knowledge than I can, but I can talk about what it’s like to go through customs in 6 different countries, so I figured, why not?Let’s start with a simple question: how do customs agents in the USA compare to customs agents in other countries? The answer: we’re total prigs. Getting back in to this country, as a US CITIZEN, is a pain in the butt. Every US customs agent I’ve ever met has grilled me before letting me come home. Coming back from Canada was the most ridiculous example of this. My husband and I drove across the Canadian border to see Niagra Falls. We drove back the same day. The US customs agent asked us at least 20 questions – including “How do you know this guy?” – “Uh, he’s my husband?” – before he finally waived us through the checkpoint. I started wondering if somebody had hidden a body or some drugs in our car – the way we were being questioned, I thought for sure he was going to search us and find a dead guy in the trunk. The agent was the definition of by-the-book, and it was a tense situation.

The Canadians, on the other hand, didn’t stamp our passports (damn! no proof I was ever there!) or ask us anything other than, “Here to see The Falls? Coming back today? Have a nice time.” So my advice is this: go ahead and drive that dead body into Canada, but for Pete’s sake, don’t drive it back into the US. I don’t have any other advice on body disposal, though – sorry.

The Germans scared the crap out of me. I flew into Stuttgart, just me, alone, and they asked me about a thousand questions. I guess American girls in their twenties don’t travel alone to Stuttgart. So the German customs agent looked at my passport, looked at me, looked back at my passport – back at me. Me. Passport. Me. Passport. This went on for what felt like hours. No smiling, no talking, no nothing. I just stood there and tried not to twitch too much. Here’s how the conversation went after that:

German Customs Agent: “Why are you visiting our country?”

Me, “Uh, I’m visiting a friend.”

GCA: “What friend?”

Me, “A friend who lives here. She used to work with me.”

GCA: “How long have you known this friend?”

Me, “Uh, several years?”

And on and on and on. What is this friend’s name? Where will you be staying? When will you be leaving? What kind of food are you going to eat while you’re here? Okay, so he didn’t ask that last one, but man, I thought at one point, this guy could really give the Gestapo a run for their money! I wanted to yell, “Look! I am not a sketchy character. I even have a German last name!” Which I did at the time. Finally, he let me in. I’ve never been questioned that extensively since, but the US customs guys definitely come in at a close second.

What about the French? Ah, the French. Viva la France! I was fully prepared to answer all sorts of questions about my reason for visiting, length of my stay, etc. They didn’t ask me one question. They didn’t even look at my face as they stamped my passport and waived me past. It was great! I’d go back just for that reason alone.

And the Swiss? They just wanted money. “It’s 40 Swiss Francs to drive onto our highways. Pay up. No I don’t want to see your passport.” We just bought our way in, and that was that. Again, no stamp on the passport though. Rats!

In Mexico they were super friendly. They just smiled, asked us a few questions, and welcomed us into their country. Come! Spend your money here! So happy to have you! Free lobster dinner if you listen to a time share sales pitch.

But every time I leave the US, I come back. Which means more US customs agents. And they just don’t mess around. I haven’t even tried coming from somewhere that’s actually dangerous – I mean, we’re talking about Europe and North America! What countries were you visiting? How long were you gone? What are you bringing back with you? You know, I tried to fit that dead body from Canada in my suitcase, sir, but I just couldn’t cram him in, so really, just some wine and chocolate.

Next on our international travel list: an island, and we’re bringing the kids. Can’t wait to see what kind of questions they get hit with. I am sure of one thing, Corey can’t keep his mouth shut, and he will confess to everything. “I ate 20 hot dogs, I’m bringing an illegal piece of fruit with me, and my parents have a dead guy in their suitcase.”

At the end of the day, I am very glad that these people are doing their jobs and keeping world travelers safe. I do find a lot of humor in their differences, but I’m glad they’re present to stop the people who really are trying to bring in drugs, dead bodies. Or worse.

Think major league baseball is competitive? Try little league.

baseball

“It’s the bottom of the last inning, The Rays are up by two runs, and there are two outs. Can they hold on for the win? Here comes the pitch. And it’s strike one! Here comes the next pitch. Strike two! This kid is on fire! Here comes the next pitch and….it’s strike three! The Rays win it!”

That wasn’t the end of the last Oriole’s game against Tampa Bay. That was Corey’s second playoff game, the game his little league team, The Rays, played against the number one team in the league, the White Sox. At the end, Corey was the catcher, teamed up with a boy who is the best pitcher I’ve seen in this age bracket – he’s the closer, and together he and Corey make a lethal duo. The Rays were clearly the underdogs, but they played hard and never gave up. The win sent every parent and grandparent on the sidelines to their feet in a standing ovation, and almost all of us had tears in our eyes. The win sent our underdogs to the championship game.

When Corey was diagnosed with tricuspid atresia, his father’s first heartbroken words were “no sports.” He’d grown up playing baseball himself, and now we thought our firstborn son would have no chance to experience this part of growing up. If he lived at all. But in time we learned, from Corey’s pediatric cardiologists, that he could “self regulate.” So we tried soccer. Too much running. We tried t-ball, and he loved it. And he was good at it – right from the beginning. He’s smart, and he’s got great hand-eye coordination. It didn’t take long for him to decide that baseball was his sport.

That was six years ago. Once Corey switched from t-ball to baseball, that was the end of participation trophies. He hasn’t earned a trophy in years. Last night, at the championship game, he finally had a crack at being number one and bringing home that trophy. And oh, he wanted it. And we wanted it for him.

Our boys went into last night’s game against the number two team. Still the underdogs. Still with great attitudes. They stood up to the pressure, including all of their wild banshee screaming parents (ahem, guilty – I am THAT parent) endlessly cheering on the sidelines. We were all glued to our seats, calling out “good eye” and “good swing” and “nice hit” and “great pitch” and on and on and on. These kids are nine and ten years old, and they just went out there and did it.

But did they win? Or did they crush our dreams of victory and a shiny trophy for the mantel? That’s right I said “our dreams” – at the beginning of the season, we were losing left and right, and I wasn’t particularly invested in anything other than just a learning season. By last night I was all in – I wanted that trophy for my kid like a junky wants his next hit. I think the only person who wanted it more was Damian. All that sports intensity that just lives inside him came right out last night.

It all came down to the last inning once again. In little league, a maximum of five runs are allowed in any inning except the last inning, when a team may score unlimited runs in order to win the game. We were up 13-7, but they shut us down and stopped our boys from scoring even a single run in the last inning. We had to hold them, just like the previous game. Out came Corey as catcher and the closer to pitch.

I sat on the edge of my chair, bit my nails, and watched the umpire. They allowed one base hit. But no more. In no time flat, the closer struck out three kids and the crowd roared to its feet in a victory cheer! They did it! The boy with a half a heart played a banner game and helped his team to win the championship game. Did I mention that the trophy sure looks nice on our mantel? Nothing quite like the words “first place.”

And did I mention that Corey, along with two of his other teammates, made the all star team? Practice starts tonight…. One last thought – IN YOUR FACE, CHD!

Happy Fontanniversary, Corey!

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Can’t find a chair? Just hop in the trunk.

This is Corey’s 6th Fontanniversary. We are 6 years post-op! And he’s 10 – how did that happen? It’s also my Grandma Anne’s 92nd birthday. My other grandmother, Fran, is about to reach her 93rd birthday next month. Damian’s Grandma Jeanne just hit 93. So basically I’m surrounded by a bunch of willful, stubborn people who just plan to keep right on living indefinitely. Corey came into the world that way – I guess he came by these traits honestly. I’m so glad he did.

How is the heart child doing 6 years after the Fontan? Kicking butt and taking names, that’s how. It’s baseball season, and he plays catcher on defense, a role he loves, because the catcher is involved in all the plays. And, just like everything else Corey does, he’s all-in or he’s not in at all. His speeds are “on” and “off” – nothing in between. This is absolutely inspiring and utterly exhausting.

In school, his grades are As and Bs. More As than Bs, and his Maryland State Assessment test scores for math were off the charts. He creamed everybody. In his school, in his county, even in his state. His dad’s got a master’s in math, though, and I used to tutor college algebra and calculus, so again – good genes. (See what I did there? I just tooted Damian’s horn, Corey’s horn, and my horn too. Toot toot!) Also, through school, he plays the violin, and he loves it. And he’s good at it.

There is no Rubik’s cube that Corey can’t solve!

Yes that statement requires its own paragraph. Let’s see, what else? Oh! We are teaching him to play poker – Texas Hold’em. The Easter Bunny picked him up a set of cards and chips – given his proclivity for math and his luck at cards (his Uncle Dave used to be a professional poker player, so clearly this is genetics again!), we think he could have a smashing good time at this. We plan to get some lessons from his uncle when we visit him in California this year.

Anyway, in summary, the kid has exceeded all our expectations. We hoped he’d be somewhere on the spectrum of normal and quasi-intelligent, but he’s turned out to be a brilliant little being. He’s my miracle. Today and always.