Food + Wine, Fun

How to Plan to Weather the Storm

(Note-there is a video embedded in this post that will not show up if you’re reading this through a mobile device.  I cannot help that and I’m sorry for the inconvenience!)

Anyone who knows me knows I’m highly organized.  I Plan for everything.  I make lists in my sleep.  You know how they say to count sheep in order to fall asleep?  Well, I count the number of things I have to complete or pack or make, until the melatonin kicks in and forces me to sleep.  I could make a career out of Planning.  Most people who are as perpetually prepared as I am tend to not like surprises.  They don’t want something thrown at them to put a stick in their spokes, so to speak.  But I happen to like surprises.  Why, surprises are one of the things I Plan for!  You know how they say sh*t happens and there’s nothing we can do about it?  Well, I Plan on the sh*t to happen so I can do something about it.  I beat the sh*t to the punch, so to speak.

We left for our first family beach vacation of the summer last Tuesday.  And I had the kitchen bags packed 4 days in advance.  Considering I have duplicates or back-ups of almost everything, I can pack this far in advance and not have it ruin my routine.  When we travel with the whole family, we’re usually staying at a house with a kitchen, and most of the time we can count on some basic items already being in the cupboards, like a few seasonings, oil, some odd condiments, etc.  And there are always a few things that I will bring to make the stay a little easier on me.  In addition to cleaning out the fridge of perishables, herbs, fruit, veggies, etc, for the cooler, I always pack several bottles of water, some juice boxes, (a small bottle of vodka or gin for the guardians!), a box of whole wheat penne, some instant brown rice, a can of syrup-free fruit with the pop-off top, peanut butter, some pantry stable whole milk, plain instant oatmeal packets, dried fruit, and various crackers, cookies, and other packaged goodies.  Here’s why-I Plan for it taking a long time to get dinner prepared that first night of travel (or for the fact that we may not even be able to make it to the store at all that first day), so I like knowing that at least the kid’s dinner that night, and breakfast the next morning is taken care of, no matter what.  Pasta just needs some water and some salt, the rice and oats just need a microwave, the fruit just needs a thumb and everything else kinda fills in the gaps to get them through, if need be.

I also had a few new tricks up my sleeve for this particular trip.
This would be the first long trip we would be taking in our minivan, and
riding anywhere in that thing is such a breeze.  My 2 year old daughter
is also past that guessing phase, where she would just scream for no apparent reason, and she’s so much easier to travel with
now.  She understands things more, enjoys things more, it’s just a very
exciting and relieving new phase in our lives as a complete family.  In
the past, she has been so unhappy in the car, and I’ve had to be back
with her constantly to keep her happy, and since I get incredibly car
sick incredibly easily, the road trips have always ended in disaster.
But this time I was drugging myself up real good and I Planned a lot of fun stuff to help make this trip a lot better.  I bought new DVD’s for the kids, we had a bag full of fun
snacks and treats for the road, and a another bag full of something I
was super excited about…

I have always gone to the
dollar store and bought a couple new toys and/or games for our
vacations.  It’s where I get the candy and junk food for the trip as
well.  I’ve always done this before every big trip because having something new for
the kids to play with on the road makes the trip more tolerable, in my
opinion.  I mean, think about what we put our kids through on long car
rides.  They’re strapped into straight jackets, they can barely move,
and we expect them to stay quiet and be good for 4+ hours at a
time?  I can’t even do that!  So to any of those moms from another
generation who think the DVD players in the cars are cheating, I say think about how you used to ride with your kids when they were small.  Back then there
weren’t all the laws there are now about safety and car seats.  A lot of us just rolled around in the back of station wagons for years and years.  Things are
different now, and while I appreciate the new focus on child safety, it
still isn’t fair to young children to be expected to simply stay still
and count the trees for hours and hours.  So I believe in the ‘no holding back, do whatever it takes to make them happy’ philosophy when it comes to road trips and small children.  And my new idea was going to make it even better.  A week before the trip, I went to my good ‘ole faithful Dollar Tree, stocked up on tons of toys, games, books, and craft stuff, and got a few rolls of Sesame Street wrapping paper (one character for each child) and wrapped up those little trinkets, numbered each one, wrote myself a list of what each gift was, and stuffed them in a special bag to pull out during the trip.

Yes, I planned on giving my children presents to open in order to keep them occupied
while we were on the road.  I didn’t tell them about it, they weren’t expecting it, I didn’t use it as a bribe, I just pulled it out when I noticed that they were getting a bit restless.  Think about it, what child doesn’t like to unwrap a gift?  They don’t care what’s inside, they just want something to unwrap.  And a surprise gift is the best kind of gift.

You either think I’m crazy or brilliant
right now.

Once Tuesday morning hit, we were
all packed and ready to go to Pawley’s Island, SC.  The trunk of our
minivan was packed to the brim, the family dog had the whole back seat
to herself and I had my secret gift bag under my feet.  The only problem is…the kids were so good and happy that I never really had the need to use them!  So after we went through some of the junk food, like the giant blow pops…

I pulled out a gift.  They had no idea it was coming and the looks on their faces when I said, ‘Who wants a present?!’, was priceless.   They ripped through the paper like it was Christmas morning and that cheap, plastic school bus and even cheaper, scary looking mermaid doll meant everything to those kids.  The family collectively named the mermaid Shelly Sparkle.  (My husband and I kept it to ourselves that Shelly Sparkle had to have been a stripper.)  My son played happily with his school bus and our daughter with Shelly Sparkle, until Shelly lost an arm…and her hair began to fall out.  (At which point Shelly Sparkle’s tips were drastically cut in half.)  But my daughter didn’t care, she got to unwrap a gift that I gave to her and she held onto that sad, pitiful little mermaid until the other arm fell off.  (Yes, the other one fell off.)

A little while later they opened another gift, a wooden puzzle this time.

(they used small, metal baking sheets as their trays…more about that later)

My car was a paper and plastic mess, but as long as my kids are happy and leaving me alone, I’m OK with that!

We only had to make a couple routine pit stops along the way, the girls and boys took turns so the family dog wouldn’t be lonely (or eat everything in the car)…

And it was the best family road trip I’ve ever been a part of since I became a mom.  No one complained, everyone was happy, no one had any accidents, I took a nap, my daughter took a nap…

(That’s a bandana, covering the window.  I keep one on me because the sun will always decide to shine directly on whichever child is trying to take a nap.  Just roll the window up on the edge of it to keep it in place.)

And we got to the beach safe and sound.  The boys unloaded the car as the girls did the shopping and, once we all were together again, I whipped up some guacamole (I brought the ingredients with me so it wouldn’t spoil while we were gone) as my husband whipped up some margaritas to drink and eat out on the patio that overlooked both the waves on the ocean and the boats on the sound.  The kids happily ate their pasta dinner that took no time to prepare and everyone was thrilled to be where we were.  So thrilled, in fact, that I remembered how awesome my kids were.  My son and I got to spend some quality time together and I was reminded of his delicacy.  He has to play second fiddle a lot because his little sister takes up all of my attention and it was nice to have some time with just him.

It was so much fun to have the time to just be silly with my son.  My awesome, awesome son.  I wasn’t having to tell him to hurry up or clean up his mess, I was just able to enjoy him at his best.  It was great and I will look back on these photos whenever he’s taking too long gathering up his 20 toys needed for the short car ride, ripping up tiny pieces of paper and sprinkling them throughout his room, or just plain driving me insane…whenever I need a little reminder of his innocence and awesomeness.

The next morning, as the clouds were looming and threatening to ruin our vacation, everyone suited up and we set out for the beach.

The kids built castles in the sand, threw shells into the waves, and my daughter learned how to keep her balance as the ocean floor kept changing its mind.

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My husband and I even took turns and fit in a beach run.  And as I was running, barefoot and bikini-ed in the sand, I realized I had never done this before.  How was this possible?  I lived at the beach!!  Then it hit me.  I was never confident enough to walk, let alone run in a bathing suit so I just never did it.  It was wonderful!!  It was like running naked as a child, back when you would just run because it was fun, not because you had to.  Who would have guessed that it would take me birthing two children and being in my thirties to be comfortable running barefoot in a bikini.  It was a big moment for me and I can’t wait to do it again.

We came in, took a family shower to get rid of the sand, and I cooked up burgers and roasted french fries for lunch before nap time, my favorite part of the day.  Anyone who currently has or has ever had small children knows that this is the only time of day when normal mother breathing can occur…

OK, OK, I must be fair and confess.  Before I let that photo make you think I was all easy breezy and pulled together the whole time, this is what the other half of me looked like most of the time…

(nursing a preexisting quad injury)

…kinda like a human mullet- party on the top, business on the bottom.

But while my kids rested, I read on the patio, watched the clouds roll in and thanked the gods for allowing me ample time to do it.  And, hours later, after my daughter woke up we all headed into town to walk along the boardwalk for some important business.

Almost 10 years ago my husband’s father passed away suddenly and his memorial plaque is posted somewhere on the boardwalk, along with many, many others, all honoring great men and women who have left us.  This beach was his happy place.  This beach was the beach that my husband grew up going to with his family and he has a lot of fond memories of his dad there.  His dad worked very hard at his job and could only truly relax and sleep without guilt in that big, burgundy colored chair by the window that overlooked the sound, the same chair that held my body close as I nursed both of his grandchildren years after his passing.  We had never been to see his plaque before, didn’t know exactly where it was, so we walked and looked at each and every plaque, got all the way to the end of the very long boardwalk and never found it.  A little discouraged, we headed back and looked again, maybe we missed it?  I politely looked under and around people as they leaned and relaxed on the pier.  We got back to our starting point and suddenly realized there was a whole chunk of pier that we had completely missed before.  We knew we were close.

I had told our son that he was looking for his last name, and he took the job very seriously…

And when we stumbled upon the right one, he was very proud.  He turned to me and asked what it meant and I paused.  This is a tough moment in a parent’s life.  You get so used to making up excuses to give to your children, to glazing over answers to their questions, giving them some Disney explanation of why things happen until one day you realize they’re old enough to need the truth.  I looked down at my son, wide eyed and curious, and realized that he is now at the age where he can understand things like this, and it broke my heart a little bit.

It broke my heart a little bit because he understood it.

We had our moment with the plaque and I felt like I got to introduce my children to their grandfather for the first time.  Before we left, and it must have been the Al Droege in all of us, we needed to lighten the mood a bit…

(a shipmate statue on the boardwalk…not a real man we were heckling.)

Mission completed.

We initially had planned on stopping by the fish market and getting the traditional grouper cheeks that my husband always fries up when we’re there but the market was sold out of cheeks.  We decided to designate tomorrow as Grouper Cheek night, and tonight cook the chicken that I already bought.  The afternoon had begun to take its toll on all of us and everyone was in desperate need of some refreshments and a change of scenery.  So we headed back to the house, freshened up a bit, and waked across the street to the local restaurant.  The kids had their first shirley temple…

My daughter turned into a french fry…

She got a little jealous of the photo shoot I had with big brother earlier so we had our own in the restaurant…

And mommy and daddy drank the first of many glasses of wine that awaited us that evening.

That night the kids slept like babies and I threw together a dinner, one of those meals that had no direction until the very end, and, just like the day, it somehow ended up being amazing.  We drank our delicious wine and ate our delicious meal and talked about how amazing our children were.  How lucky we are to have them, the fact that they were soundly sleeping in the next room, having had a fun-filled day of lots of new experiences.  It was the perfect beach day, from start to finish.  We soon went to sleep, slept like little babies ourselves, and woke up to lots and lots of coffee.

…And lots and lots of dark clouds.  Turns out all that gloomy weather was for a specific reason.  There was a tropical storm heading right our way, and as I sipped through my second cup of coffee, we hurriedly decided to pack up and head home.  The rain began to fall, the wind began to blow and we got the house cleaned and the car packed in record time before beginning our journey back home again.

The ride home was just as smooth as the ride there, we drove through a lot of storms, I took a nap (or three), my son took a nap…

My daughter tried…

And the kids opened several new presents.  They actually opened a lot of presents since it took us 2 extra hours to drive home, thanks to both the bad weather traffic and the fact that the President was in our area.

They opened up a flashy, bouncy ball…

plastic links to make necklaces…

They had a fun snack break with edible necklaces I made out of thread and various types of cheerios, and anything else I saw in my pantry with a hole in it!

And finally, my favorite present of the bunch, the one I had been waiting for a week to see them open- magnetic letters and numbers to use on their metal sheet trays.

How cool is that?!  They loved that one and played quietly for a long time.  The sheet trays obviously held on to the magnets because they’re made of metal, but also because of the high sides.  It’s just a metal sheet tray and magnets…that’s it. But placed together, in the car, it was the best game ever.

We continued our vacation at home for the next few days and it remained fabulous.  We all needed some time away from the outside world and some time to focus on each other.  It was a lucky thing that we did everything we wanted to do in that one day at the beach because we only had that one day at the beach.  It was a lucky thing the fish market was out of grouper cheeks so we had to eat the food I had already bought and turn it into such a great meal.  We weren’t Planning to go home yet but it turned out to be OK.

You see, what I know is that I can (and will) Plan for everything that I can possibly Plan for, but there will always be those things that will happen that no one could ever be prepared for.  My husband lost his father, his mother lost her husband and no one saw it coming, no one Planned for it.  The President comes and holds up traffic the same day we’re trying to get home.  Mother nature decided to plop a tropical storm right smack in the middle of our best family vacation.  Things happen every day that nobody Plans for, but it’s what we do after those un-Planned moments that shape us.  My husband is an amazing father because of the father he knew when he knew him and his mother found love again.  Because I travel with an arsenal of ‘what-if’s’, all of that extra time spent in the car just ended up being more quality time spent together.  And we still had the best family vacation, even though it was shorter than we had Planned.

So no, I won’t stop my Planning, I won’t stop my list making and meticulous
packing routine, but I will always leave room for the tropical s**t storm.



This meal is delicious, very easy, and taught me a lot of things about how I cook at home.  I didn’t have all of my usual stuff, so I made do with what was at the house.  Turns out generic cooking spray can roast vegetables to perfection, you don’t need white wine to cook with as long as you have some dijon mustard and some vinegar, the roasting pan that comes with the oven works perfectly fine if you don’t have a large sheet tray, and baking chicken thighs, covered with foil, instead of pan-searing them/roasting them (if you’re unsure of the smoke alarm situation and have a toddler sleeping in the next room) renders them just as tasty.  So the recipe below is telling you exactly what I did because I had to, but feel free to sub the usual fair!

*Easy Baked Chicken Picatta with Roasted ‘Ratatouille-Caponata’
(serves 2 hungry adults, most likely with some veggies leftover)

Grease a large roasting pan or sheet tray and add the following vegetables, chopped into bite sizex pieces:
-2 zucchini (yellow squash works as well)
-1 medium eggplant (I don’t ever bother peeling or soaking/salting mine)
-1 (10 oz) package of grape or cherry tomatoes (kept whole)
-1/2 large red onion
-the naked cloves of 1 head of garlic (either sliced in half or kept whole)

Season well with salt, pepper, a bit of sugar and some crushed red pepper flakes.  Coat with enough oil to lightly cover it all (or use more cooking spray if that’s all you have!)

Roast in a preheated 450 degree oven for 30 minutes before removing and stirring.

Drizzle with several good splashes of balsamic vinegar and a bit more sugar.

Place back in the oven for another 20-30 minutes, (this was all in an electric oven so you may need to check it both times after only 15 minutes if you’re using gas) and remove it when it looks like this…

You’ll know it’s done when it smells like you think you’ve burned it.

While the veggies are roasting, you can prep the chicken and throw it in the oven while their cooking…

In a greased skillet, place 4 chicken thighs (I used skinless and bone-in) and season them on all sides well with salt and poultry seasoning, (or poultry seasoning and some random seasoning salt blend you find in someone’s cupboard).  Place the other half of the red onion used in the veggies, sliced, on top of each piece of chicken and top with a few handfuls of capers (I was so happy to find capers in the fridge!!!) Add several spoonfuls of dijon mustard around the chicken and a good splash of apple cider vinegar, stir to break down the vinegar (or a few splashes of dry, white wine).

Cover the skillet with foil and place in the same 450 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes, or a 350 degree oven for 30-45.

When the chicken has been cooked through, remove the foil and baste with the sauce.  Place the pan back in the oven to thicken it a bit.

Serve the chicken with the roasted veggies and top everything with lots of fresh, chopped parsley leaves.



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  • Reply Gail June 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    A wonderful vacation album, Abbey!
    I hope all this was as much fun as it looks!

  • Reply Everyday Champagne June 17, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks Gail! We did have a really good time.

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