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Posts Tagged ‘Chez Tison’

Day 18: Three Ring Circus

12 Jul

Remember that thing I said last night about Tina and Joe being the consummate hosts? And how Tina always has some amazing trick up her sleeve? Probably one of the funniest in the past was when she and the kids made a huge rice krispy cake decorated to look like my nemesis license plate, North Dakota. I still laugh thinking about that one. But this year’s treat was keeping in line with the thematic elements of CMRT 2019: US History Edition. Tina is heavily involved in the tourism industry in Connecticut, so she has all kinds of fun connections. Nearby Bridgeport, CT, happens to be the home of the fabulous Barnum Museum (https://barnum-museum.org/). P.T. Barnum was born in Bethel, CT, and lived in the area for much of his life, including building 4 different mansions in Bridgeport over the course of his life. Sadly, none of those are still standing today, but still in existence is his museum. From their own description, “The Barnum Museum in downtown Bridgeport, Connecticut is the last surviving building attributed to the American visionary entrepreneur and entertainer Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891).” The Barnum Museum is in the middle of a huge fund-raising push so they can renovate and innovate, to put more of their extensive collection on display for the public. They are also engaged in a full-scale preservation effort after the museum suffered major damage from a tornado in 2010, Hurricane Irene in 2011, and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. They are not only conserving and renovating the building that P.T. Barnum himself built to house his museum in 1893, but they are preserving more than 60,000 Barnum-related artifacts and counting!

Today we didn’t just go to the Barnum Museum, we got a behind the scenes look at artifacts that aren’t even on display! It was astounding. Truly jaw-dropping. The Executive Director (Kathy) and Curator (Adrienne) had pulled several amazing artifacts, and proceeded to show them off – telling stories of their origin and how they related to P.T. Barnum. There were costumes worn by Charles Stratton, better known by his stage name of “General Tom Thumb”, including the hat, jacket, and boots of one of his Napoleon costumes. There was a massive gold ring depicting one of Barnum’s mansions. There were paper dolls from the 1860s depicting Tom Thumb and his wife Lavinia. There was a photo album showing P.T. Barnum during his time in Connecticut’s General Assembly, including a hand-written letter from Barnum. There were photographs of a few interior rooms in his mansions. There were so many lovely, interesting, rare, and valuable things laid out on the table – a regular smorgasbord of Barnum treasures. And I could have easily stood there all day listening to Kathy tell stories, and Adrienne give details of the artifacts. But the kids were beginning to get restless after so much time standing still, and the grown-ups were delving a little deeper into the life of Barnum than strictly interested them, so it was time to head out. I highly recommend you check out the website for the Barnum Museum - https://barnum-museum.org/ - to learn more about P.T. Barnum the man (who may not have looked like Hugh Jackman, but was much, much more than a ringmaster), and take a look at their entire collection, which has been digitized. I would love to have heard Kathy’s entire presentation regarding the fact and fiction of “The Greatest Showman.” Because there was so, so much that the movie either ignored or flat out got wrong. P.T. Barnum is a study in perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit. No matter what you think you already know about him, you have so much more to learn. And while you are visiting their website, please consider donating to this worthy little museum who has taken on the spirit and charge of Barnum, and are insisting, even in the face of natural disaster, that the show must go on. After all, P.T. Barnum himself said it best: “The noblest art is that of making others happy.”

After leaving the Barnum Museum we headed over to a place called Brewport. They had amazing New Haven style pizza – very thin crust with a slight char on the bottom. So very delicious! They also had some rather delicious brews, as the name might suggest. I highly recommend their seasonal Summer Ginger Sour. Another nice feature was that while waiting for the pies, the kids were off in another area playing with their gigantic Jenga set. We stuffed ourselves silly on their delicious pizza – not a single slice left over! But there’s always room for dessert, right? Especially on a hot summer day when the dessert is Italian ice. We loaded the cars and headed over to Micalizzi’s, a place Tina remembered going during her childhood. Just a tiny little shack on a residential street, a few picnic tables out front on the sidewalk. It is a seasonal, cash-only business. And talk about authentically delicious. Yum! What a full and successful day experiencing the best of Bridgeport!

We then proceeded to have a beautiful, lazy afternoon in the Tison’s fantastic backyard. The kids hung out on the hammock, we played rounds of corn hole (Who’s the champion? That’s right, I’m the champion!), and we watched the fireflies come to life as the light died. The weather was clear, and the breeze was divine. Had the torches burning, but it was still too warm for the fire pit. Once we shuffled the kids off to bed, Tina, Joe, and I stayed up talking, like we always do. I do adore these people, and it is so refreshing to converse with people whose ideas, thoughts, and opinions you respect. Even when we don’t totally agree, we still have the common ground of friendship, respect, and shared experience. What a treat is it for me to spend time with these characters from my past – especially to know them now as a couple, when I knew them individually all those years ago at W&L. I wish I had the opportunity to interact with them more often. We drank, we talked, I educated them on what their dog’s bully stick was actually made of(!) And we stayed up too late. We always do that. And it is always worth it.

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Day 17: As per our previous conversation…

11 Jul

Today was fun day. Sheerly fun. No education being crammed down my children’s throats. No rush to make closings or appointments or tours. We had a leisurely departure from the hotel after our free breakfast – because I didn’t book a single hotel that didn’t provide breakfast! We weren’t in any rush, because Six Flags New England didn’t open until 10am and we were only 10 minutes away. It’s always so funny to go to a smaller amusement park like Six Flags when I am used to Disney World and Universal. Even the “far away” parking lot is ridiculously close. But one thing about Six Flags (New England and Atlanta) is the parks are hilly and paved with tarmac. Heat-radiating black tarmac. In no time at all were a sweaty mess! I don’t really have much to say about Six Flags except that Beau was an exceedingly good sport, considering he doesn’t care for either crowds or roller coasters. Avery loved the swing ride – remember the old fashioned fair swings, with the steel chains and free-floating chairs. And Harper, well, Harper is my high-intensity thrill seeker. She and I rode some crazy coasters, things I, as a roller coaster lover, was a little trepidatious about. Look up The Joker at Six Flags New England and you’ll see what I mean! We took turns choosing rides, paid a ludicrous sum of money for water and other refreshments, and played some carnival games, which ended with Avery getting a beach ball stuffed narwhal, thanks to the efforts of Harper and myself on the bucket toss game. I was thinking we might ride every ride in the park, stay to close the place down, but by 3:00 we were done. And because this was one of the included experiences on my GoBoston pass, I wasn’t feeling like we had to take advantage of every last second of the operating hours. So we happily said we enjoyed the fairly brief, but sweaty experience and shuffled off to the parking lot.

Of course, another reason we were not feeling sad about leaving Six Flags is because of our destination for the evening. No one rolls out the red carpet like the fine folks at Chez Tison. Those of you who have followed along on CMRT before know that the fine folks I am referring to are Joe Tison and Tina Hand Tison (holla at me W&L class of ’95!) Chez Tison is as much of a destination on CMRT as Maine is. Not only do they have a lovely home with a beautiful back yard, they are the consummate hosts. Tina always has a spread of food – tonight was her homemade red sauce and meatballs (YUM!) – and she’s always got a trick up her sleeve (to be revealed tomorrow). Plus, Joe is one of my guys. You know, like Pete is my omelette guy. Joe is my Beam & Coke guy. It might as well be called the W&L Nostalgia Cocktail, and Joe mixes a fine one, with just the right proportions. It was so lovely to just fall into conversation with them around the dining room table, as the kids ate dinner in the kitchen. Tina and Joe are two of my favorite people, and I always enjoy our late-night ranging conversations. This evening, among many many other topics, we discussed the grammar foibles that make us twitch, as well as a rather ingenious vocabulary prank Tina has played that I am dying to put into motion myself. Ostensibly, I am educated enough to pull it off. We’ll see. Of course, Tina, Joe, and I talked well into the night, which, despite my exhaustion of traveling, is harder on them than me, since they have a brand new puppy who still requires the amount of attention of a newborn. So excited to be here at Chez Tison and cannot wait for tomorrow’s treat!

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Day Twenty: Happy Birthday, You Little Firecracker! (And you, too, America.)

04 Jul

What can I really say about today, except:

Amazing weather!

and…

Best. Backyard. Party. Ever.

Tina happens to share a birthday with America (or is that the other way around?) And what better reason to summon your best friends to your backyard with way too much food, and just enough alcohol? Celebrating freedom, and the birthday of a super cool person. Not that I should be surprised by this, but Tina & Joe’s friends are, well, in a word, AWESOME! Seriously. I was afraid that even though I felt certain that their friends would be great, that somehow I wouldn’t fit in, or I wouldn’t be comfortable. Well, that was a stupid thing to waste psychic energy on. I loved their friends, and I’m getting the feeling that maybe they loved me, too. It was such a fun party. The perfect kind of backyard relaxed. There were 16 kids between the ages of 7-14. They floated near us from time to time, but parents would answer questions or give reassurances, and then off they would go again. So the grown-ups (or perhaps I should just say, adults, as I’m not suggesting we were always behaving in a mature manner) had the chance to talk and tell stories and laugh our butts off. Harper Kate was the darling of the corn hole circuit, and Avery Cakes, with her brilliant hot tub-based rendition of Take Me Home, Country Roads, just blew everyone away. I cannot even begin to tell you how gratifying it felt to have these strangers, who felt like friends by the end of the night, tell me, “Your kids are awesome!” or “Your kids are so cool!” or maybe the best yet, “Great job with your kids.”

Anyway, I hope that Tina had a nice night, and it seemed while she was on the patio dance floor shaking it to the Indigo Girls, and pretending she was at the Buffalo Creek Music Festival while noodling to The Grateful Dead, that she did. I know I did. And I even got a piece of funfetti cake to boot! What a perfect weekend we have had in the company of friends. Grateful beyond measure…

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Day Nineteen: General Nostalgia

03 Jul

There is frequently a gap in my travelogue once we are in residence at Chez Tison. Is that because nothing noteworthy occurs, or there is nothing to report? Far from it! It is because we keep ourselves so busy, with activities, but also with the pure pleasure of just hanging out together. There is little I love more on a summer night than just hanging out around the fire pit (or sitting on a park bench!) conversing with these two. And since we stay up well past our old people bedtimes, acting like our college selves, I quite happily fall behind on documentation. But I also want to be sure to get everything down, because I don’t want to forget a moment of this. To that end, I will revert for today to a less narrative and more bullet point style list of our exploits in the fair town of Fairfield…

Breakfast: How do you know when your college friend still knows and loves you? When she buys you a box of Lucky Charms, and then forbids the 5 children in the house to touch it. Cannot even begin to fathom how many bowls (pounds?) of Lucky Charms I consumed in the Letitia Pate Evans Dining Hall from 1991-1995. But for the kids, Joe stepped up behind the griddle and cranked out batches of pancakes. Their kids eat reasonably portioned meals, mine fall on the things they like like hungry wolverines. But he managed to make enough to satisfy them all. Pro tip: when replacing the egg in pancake batter, sweet potato baby food makes an excellent binder, that turns out slightly sweet pancakes. And when you run out of sweet potato baby food, applesauce makes an reasonable substitute as well. The mango peach kind made for a slightly tropical and delicious pancake.

Outdoor Activity: A hike around Lake Mohegan. It was nice to head into the woods. Only time I felt vaguely bad about not having Remy with us because not only were dogs permitted, but there don’t seem to be any leash laws in Connecticut. He would have loved this place. It was a fairly easy (only a few uphills), not overly technical hike through the woods, along a stream. Nice to be outside breathing some fresh air and getting some exercise. (Relevant side note: Holy crap am I woefully out of shape. Ironic side note: I was wearing my Krispy Kreme t-shirt.)

Indoor Activity: A field trip to a little slice of heaven called Bass Pro Shops. I’ve been in a BPS before, but it was nothing like this one. They have really come a long way in terms of decoration and design over the years. It was AMAZING. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get a chance to look around much because I got stuck at the indoor catch-and-release kiddie pool. Seriously. There was an indoor pool filled with an assortment of fish, and they were letting little kids fish for them on little rod and reels. There were a bunch of employees baiting hooks with worms, and while Beau and Harper, Sam and Trey, rapidly caught their fish and posed for their picture, Avery was having no luck at all. And it wasn’t because she was doing anything wrong at all, no, her form was perfect, and her patience was that of a saint. But the guy baiting her hook just wasn’t doing a good job of it, so these wily, been caught a million times before fish, were able to steal her worm without a single chance of her being able to set a hook. It was frustrating. At least to me. But she took it like a champ, just shrugging and saying, oh well, sometimes you don’t catch anything. Meanwhile I wanted to jump in the pool and catch one with my bare hands just to shove it on to her hook. This particular Bass Prop Shops, also happens to have the most insane underwater-themed bowling alley. We didn’t bowl, but we did partake of a late lunch at the attached restaurant. Which was surprisingly rather good – at least they didn’t mess up my bison burger, and they had delicious fries.

Dessert: How could it be a trip to Fairfield without a stop at Sunny Daes Ice Cream shop?

Backyard Fun: Joe dragged the small bouncy house out of the basement and the kids went crazy. Some were in and out of the hot tub. There was a corn hole smack down (See, Tony, you’re not the only one who falls to the champion.) A gorgeous afternoon – sunshine, decent temperature, a little overcast, but it kept it from being beastly hot.

Dinner: Taco Night!! Tina puts on a serious spread.

Dessert: S’mores over the fire pit. I became the beneficiary of the children who love to roast marshmallows, but were forbidden by their strict parents to eat too many of them. Can I roast another marshmallow and give it to you? Yes. Yes, you can.

Celebration: After forcing the children to bathe for the first time in days, it was time for the Tison Family Backyard Fireworks Display in Celebration of America and Tina’s Birthday. It started with running around with sparklers in the backyard, as the fireflies flashed. Then it was time for the main event. Joe had picked up an assortment of ground-based fireworks. He and Beau went halfway up the backyard to set up, and the girls set chairs up along the edge of the patio for a viewing station. They also worked hard earlier in the day to make scoresheets for everyone. The idea was that before every firework was lit, Beau would, with a pithy comment, announce the name of it. We, the viewing audience, would find the firework listed on our scoresheet, and mark a score from 1-10 for each individual firework. At the end, there was also a space for us to name our favorite firework shown. It was quite an extensive list. The full display had some really cool fireworks, some that looked exactly like the three before it, some that were surprisingly good, and only one that was a dud. Then the girls tallied the votes, taking longer to do this than the actual fireworks display, and reported back the rankings. The clear winners were Razzle Dazzle and Pyro Fire. Or rather, the clear winner was me. I mean, really. How lucky am I to have friends like this to spend the 4th of July weekend with?

Once the kids were finally shuffled off to bed, it was time for an annual tradition. A very exclusive W&L reunion at a very exclusive location. About 4 years ago I created a check-in location on Facebook called The Firepit at Chez Tison. (Tina suggested that we also need a check-in location for their new hot tub – I believe we’ve settled on The Hot Springs Spa at Chez Tison.) But anyway, sitting around the firepit, drinking, laughing, reminiscing, to me, it is one of the sweet spots of summer. And there are certain things that are quintessentially Washington & Lee University. If you went there, you know. One of those things is a perfectly mixed Beam & Coke. Sure, other people drink them, but they are, or at least used to be in the early 90s, the signature cocktail of W&L. As I had my first sip of the cocktail Joe had mixed me in a Class of 1995 20th Reunion Tervis mug, I thought to myself, this tastes like nostalgia. Taking a look at the Trident on the mug, I said, “That’s it. Henceforth, this simple cocktail (a perfect proportion of Jim Beam & Coca-Cola with a wedge of lime) shall be known as a General Nostalgia.” It’s going to be a thing. Just you wait.

A few hours later, the readily available wood was burned, a few General Nostalgias down the hatch, and laughter all the way around, it was into the wee early morning hours and time to retire. But not before wishing Tina a hearty Happy Birthday, and determining that, indeed, what every PTA needs is a dad who looks like Rob Lowe…

 

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Day Eighteen: Departure/Arrival

02 Jul

I said I would have enough time in the morning, and I did. That waking at 6:15am thing helped immensely on that front. But I continued my parking process, began putting things in the car slowly, doing final cleaning tasks around the cottage, etc. I was originally shooting for a 10:00am departure. But I got a little distracted, and I decided that I deserved to sit down and have a decent breakfast while enjoying the insanely beautiful view from our table. So, the southbound leg of CMRT Summer 2016: K9 Edition rolled out of the driveway of our KPT cottage at 10:45am. But first, lemme take a selfie! I made the kids endure a final photo shoot in front of the cottage, including one of the group selfies that I am typically so terrible at. However, this one was an epic success, as included in the photo is myself, the faces of all three kids, the cottage, the minivan, and my gifted poodle making an epic photobomb. Perfection. Makes for a very happy Crazy Momma.

Odometer reading 70,248, and that poignant, new Peter Pan/Neverland song “Lost Boy” playing on the radio, we headed out of town, making a final pass through Dock Square. I was trying very hard to just soak it in without letting it turn into melancholy. I’m not sure I was entirely successful, but every time my thoughts turned to how sad I will be if this turns out to be the last summer of the cottage on Turbat’s Creek, or the last summer we vacation in Kennebunkport, I was mostly successful in remembering how lucky we are to have had this magical place be a part of our lives for so long. To have so many wonderful memories, to have made new friends, to have a place to return to, perhaps one day with my children’s children. (Aww, damn it, starting to tear up again. Sigh.) Anyway, it felt emotional to leave, it always does, but this time it felt somewhat different. There was the typical melancholia with an extra layer. But also, there was a sense that maybe it’s okay, that maybe, sometimes a blank slate is exactly what you need. And so, if the house sells and is no longer an option, I’ll have to look into other options. If the kids decide that what they really want to do next summer, and all the summers after, is go to sleep-away camp, then that will become our new tradition. I’m not finished with Kennebunkport, and KPT isn’t finished with me, but I respect the way things ebb and flow, and especially now, in the Summer of Serendipity, I am going to try my best to roll with whatever comes my way, seeing change not as a tragedy, but an opportunity.

We breezed out of the state, making our final crossing of the Piscataqua River bridge into New Hampshire. Holy heck is this the first time I was ever glad that I was leaving Maine and not heading into it. The traffic bound for the state of Maine was incredibly dense. There were varying levels of stop-and-go traffic for tens of miles. The stretch of I-95 through the entire state of New Hampshire (which, full disclosure, is only about 14 miles) was stop-and-go. And then as we exited onto 495, the traffic was still exceedingly heavy for at least several miles. Insanity. Judging by the traffic I’m guessing the population of Maine will be doubling this weekend. And I felt sorry for all those people with the Massachusetts and New York plates, thinking they were just going to take a quick jaunt up to Maine on a Saturday morning. But hey, at least they had a final destination of Maine to look forward to.

We made a few quick pit stops – to pick up fast food lunch, one at a rest area to clean up some dog vomit (I think it may have been the anxiety of watching me slowly pack up and pack the car this morning that did in his tender constitution) only to discover that the human potties at this rest area were closed and people were queueing up for portalets (NOPE!). So, that necessitated a stop at the next exit for a legit human potty stop. And then we reached our first destination in Westport, CT – Remy’s dog hotel. So, here’s the deal, I am eternally grateful for the hospitality of my friends. And never has it been more apparent than this summer, as I am rolling up and down the coast with my 55b dog in tow, that, as Beau so succinctly put it in New York City, I do “have the nicest friends.” But for this next stop, even though my gracious friend said to bring on the kids AND the dog, I felt like I needed a break. I needed to relax without worrying about the dog’s feet as we came in and out of the backyard. I needed to not worry about the way he slobs his water all over a 10ft radius of his water bowl, and I needed to be able to come and go from the house without having to worry about where he could stay and whether or not I needed to crate him when we left. So, I found a kennel in the area strikingly similar to the one we use at home. Indoor/outdoor runs, lots of extra playtimes, engaged techs, seemed like the real deal, and I’m sure that we will all have a happier, more relaxed weekend for taking the responsibility of the dog off the table.

As I checked him in to Townhouse for Dogs & Cats, I felt very good about my choice. First, I had to fill out two forms, fairly comprehensive in nature, and they seemed pleasant and briskly efficient at the front desk, and the tech that took Remy back was very loving and engaged with him. Even asking him to sit before giving him a treat. I arranged the extra playtimes, the exit bath, and all the details. Then, right before I left, the girl at the front desk told me that I should feel free to call and check up on him whenever I liked. Say what?? Call? And check up on him? At the kennel? Wow. I mean, I love my dog, I truly do. And Remy is an exceptional dog. But, call and check up on him? He’s a dog. I’m boarding him for the weekend. I’m pretty sure if there is something you need me to know, that you will call me.

Dog secured for the weekend it was long overdue time for us to make our stop at CMRT annual fan favorite: Chez Tison! Seriously, this is one of the stops that, not only has been an annual stop for CMRT, but has become as much of a destination as Maine. Last year when CMRT was on hiatus, my children readily accepted that we would not be traveling to Maine, but wanted to know why that meant we wouldn’t be taking a trip to Chez Tison. And what makes this particular enclave of Fairfield, Connecticut, so appealing? The people, of course. Okay, so their home truly is lovely, and the third floor bonus room is unlike anything my children are used to, plus they have a wonderful backyard with cool things to play with, but it’s the hospitality of two of the most generous people I know that keeps us coming back. I have known Tina and Joe since I was 17 years old. (They were already 18, but let’s not quibble about the fact that I’m younger than both of them!) They are both funny and wonderfully  fun to be around, with the added bonus that I went to college with both of them. The fact that they eventually got married to one another, despite never dating, or really being particularly good friends in college, is such perfection I can’t even describe it. Tina is such a detail-oriented hostess, that there is nothing left unattended to. When we rolled up and spilled out into their home, Tina is welcoming us in, the kids were off and playing in the backyard with their two kids, meanwhile Joe presents me with a Schöfferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen (delicious!) while the pork butt he’s been smoking for 8 hours already smells like a slice of heaven. Suddenly, the perfect summer day is unfolding before us.

I’m not going to drill down the details here. That’s not what I do in regards to our visits at Chez Tison. Here we are too busy living life to properly document it. Especially since the kids take up a large portion of time and focus, so when the five total (11, 10, 10, 8, 7) are finally asleep, we like to spend our time, late into the night, reminiscing, philosophizing, and solving the world’s problems. You know, discussing the mundane and inane, side by side with the important stuff. But suffice it to say, the following words/phrases would have been used if I had taken the time to properly document our evening:

How many kids can fit on one hammock?

I like pork butts and I cannot lie. Especially smothered in Fat Henry Tison’s Sauce.

Hot tub, possibly a time machine. Or at the very least a rocket ship.

Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler, Joey. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you know this.

Summer Shandy

 

On a side note: Who did I get a message from today as we began our southbound swing? Fellow W&L ’95 classmate, Pete Tapley. Another of the gracious hosts who has played innkeeper to Crazy Momma & the Willim 3, he simply asked, “Do we get to see you?” As if it’s a privilege, or anything at all to get excited about. I phoned him to say that our original intention was to drive through Virginia on Tuesday, as part of our mega long haul driving day enroute from Fairfield, CT, to a hotel room in Weldon, NC. To say I wasn’t super excited about that day anyway, would be an understatement, but this is the Summer of Serendipity, isn’t it? And if Pete was (1) serious about wanting us to visit, and (2) available on such short notice for a drop-by overnight including 3 kids and a dog on Tuesday night, then by all means, I embrace the serendipitous change itinerary, and am very much looking forward to seeing the Tapleys again soon! So, that’s it, the #W&Lhospitalitywars are on…

FYI, as we were pulling onto the Tison’s street, what song should begin playing on the radio but “Lost Boy.” It was uncanny. The soundtrack to our departure 246 miles earlier, was also the soundtrack to our arrival. It seems like full circle. An ending and a beginning all at once.

 

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Days Six and Seven: Discovering the spirits and reaching the Creek

14 Jun

Our Friday morning in Fairfield began in a lazy way. Which was fan-freakin’-tastic in my opinion. I think that’s one of the reasons I love our stops at Chez Tison so much. Because it feels like home. No sense of urgency, or what we are “supposed to” do. So we lounged about. The kids watched tv. Tina and I chatted at the breakfast table. Good stuff. But I had promised my kiddos a visit to the nearby aquarium, and Tina had promised her kiddos she would pull them out of school a little early so they could spend some time in the afternoon hanging out with their “Florida friends,” so despite the late start (11:00am-ish – Wowza!), we headed out the door.

The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is a great little aquarium. Maybe a little pricey for what it is, but a good morning spent nonetheless. One of the kids favorite things was the “Jiggle a Jelly” exhibit, where they actually got to touch jellyfish! (Except don’t call it a jellyfish, because it’s not a fish, so call it a jelly.) My favorite part of the aquarium also involved jellies. They have a darkened room with a lighted cylindrical tank filled with jellies. It’s like a living lava lamp. So beautiful, and peaceful to watch them floating there. They also have some other nice tanks with some regional fish – cod can get pretty big! Out back they also have a lorikeet house. I refuse to pay extra for nectar, on general principal, but there are always enough other people feeding them that you can get a really up close look without getting your arm pooped on. As we were leaving, one landed on top of my head. It was a bit shocking, though I can’t really blame the poor thing for thinking that my rat’s nest of humidity frizzed hair looked like a comfy resting place. The funniest thing was, as I felt its little talons pricking my scalp, that none of my children had any reaction to the fact that a colorful, tropical bird was perched on the top of my head. When the bird flew off I raised my arms, and said, “What? No reaction to the bird on my head?” Beau and Avery just shrugged, but Harper cocked her head, stroked her chin, and responded, “It’s a step up from what you usually wear.” Touche.

From the aquarium we made our way to meet the Tisons at Our Backyard Play Place. (Side note: That name really bothers me. I don’t know why, but it’s so corny it’s creepy.) Name aside, it was an awesome place. It’s one of those huge, warehouse type spaces filled with inflatables – bounces houses, obstacle courses, etc. With the addition of several climbing structures and a horizontal climbing wall, maybe 7′ in height. Of course, immediately after we pay our $10 per kid for 90 minutes of play time, every single one of our kids immediately requested money to play video games. Le sigh. No. That’s right, kids, the answer is no. And in other news, 90 minutes of play time is a really long time. But at least I can feel good about my road tripping, sitting on their butts much of the day children getting some quality physical exercise!

Tina cooked us an amazing dinner that was super yummy – pulled pork, homemade mac’n'cheese (no, not Lindsey baked linguini and cheese, but baked cheesy cavatappi), and a vinegar based slaw. So. Good. And I was super proud of Beau for cleaning his plate. They were small portions, but he ate everything. I’m so proud when we make positive strides with food. Bath time was an adventure, and then the kids split up for some slumber party fun. Beau got the entire bonus room to himself, which pleased him to no end. Harper shared Sam’s room, and Avery shared Trey’s. They made cute pairings, and were so exhausted from our long day that they even fell asleep early enough to get a good night’s sleep. But the best part about them being in bed was….

It was time for the Annual Retreat at the Chez Tison Fire Pit. Since Saturday was National Bourbon Day, we did what any observant people would do, start celebrating on National Bourbon Day Eve! And if a group of W&L folk are gathering to drink bourbon, you know it’s going to be Jim Beam. After a few pre-firepit Beam & Cokes, we switched to Leinenkugel Summer Shandy. Ahhhh, summer + Chez Tison = summer shandies. Luckily the fierce rain storms that swept through in the early evening had made their way past, and we had clear skies, if dripping trees, for our fire pit rendezvous. And while nothing could possibly compare to the epic all-nighter that we pulled last year , we weren’t even trying, because it wouldn’t be possible to recreate something that happened organically. This was the year of passionate and heated discussion, and nothing was off the table: religion, guns, politics, books, movies, and, obviously, the Rangers. But there was still plenty of laughter and frivolity (that’s what she said!), and much reminiscing about our W&L days, and eager anticipation of our 20th reunion next spring. There is little I look forward to as much as our annual retreat around the fire pit. And this year, once again, did not disappoint. And that four hours of sleep I got after going to bed at around 3:00am, well, it was 4 hours more than I got last year, and it made all the difference in the drive I had to take today.

So, we were up and at ‘em, got ourselves all packed up, enjoyed a great pancake breakfast for the kids & yummy egg sandwiches for the grown-ups. (Side note: Here’s a helpful life hack – if you eat an egg sandwich with Tabasco on it, try not to rub your eye. You’re welcome.)

We set off from Chez Tison (after I stamped my foot and said, “I don’t want to go to Maine!) at 10:17am. The odometer read 24,319. It was a much easier drive this year! Amazing the difference a little sleep can make. But we took our time, stopping once for lunch and once for pit stops, and arrived at the Boston Children’s Museum around 2:00pm. The BCM has the most amazing climbing structure right in the center of it. And I wish we had more time to spend there so that the kids could spend more time in it. But there are lots of other exhibits that the kids love there, especially the construction zone. Beau built an amazing creation out of the shaped wooden blocks, Harper and Avery constructed a house out of the large building pieces. Another cool thing that was happening just today at the BCM was a visit by schoolchildren from Kyoto, Japan. They were set up in a large common room teaching visiting children games they play, and doing crafts like folding newspaper hats, origami of all varieties, making necklaces and decorating hair clips. It was fun to watch the kids interacting with other children who had a limited grasp of English, and being exposed to children from another culture in general.

We had a really nice afternoon at the museum, and we stayed longer than I had originally planned. The kids’ dad was originally scheduled to fly into Boston at 9am this morning, but JetBlue (I freakin’ hate that airline!) cancelled the flight on Friday afternoon, and rescheduled him for the 7:15pm flight out of JAX. Grrrrrrrrr. The kids were disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to meet us in Boston, but they understood it wasn’t something either of us could control. Still, I was inclined to let them play longer, even if that meant delaying our arrival in Maine. We left Boston at around 4:30pm, and leisurely made our way north. We made a stop at the New Hampshire Liquor Store. Um, I think its required when a liquor store has it’s own exit off the highway that you make a stop. Then we stopped at a grocery store for a few morning essentials (with the weeks’ shopping to be done tomorrow with a comprehensive list). And at 7:00pm we rolled up to the cottage in Kennebunkport. It was like returning home. Just put the milk in the fridge and headed down to our beach. The tide was out, so the kids could climb on the rocks. Beau was disappointed to see the beach strewn with kelp (or some type of marine vegetation – sorry if I’ve offended any locals who know exactly what the brown stuff is. I welcome education!) But they are definitely looking forward to tomorrow. Time on the beach, with old summer friends. We got the van completely unpacked, even got the suitcases completely unpacked. Everything is squared away. The house is set up. The windows are open – thus the reason I’m wearing a sweatshirt right now! (YAY!) Time to start phase two of CMRT; Ahhhhh…. Maine. The way life should be.

Final odometer reading for the northbound portion of CMRT: 24,570. That’s 1,335 miles behind the wheel, folks. As for the license plate game? Missing five. Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and, you guessed it, North Dakota.

 

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Day Five: Discover the Spirit

12 Jun

Who would have thought that we would find the license plate for the great state of North Dakota in Fairfield, CT? And much less in the kitchen of Chez Tison? Okay, let me back up. Last year we had great success with our license plate game. It kind of becomes an obsession for me. The kids like it, think it’s fun, but I am obsessed. I swear that one of these years we are going to find all 50 plates. Last year seemed like that year. By the end of our week in Maine we had spotted 49 plates. All except North Dakota. (Stupid North Dakota.) But it got to the point that friends who were following along with the trip would text me daily to ask, “Did you find North Dakota yet?” Alas, it was not to be. But this year? This year I don’t even care if I find another stinking license plate. Because I found North Dakota. Tina Tison, hostess extraordinaire, has out done herself once again. Which is really saying something, because every year we come here something happens where I think, this is the best thing that ever happened. But then we had dessert last night. The best. dessert. ever. EVER. Homemade Rice Krispie Treat shaped like in a rectangle and decorated to be the state license plate of North Dakota. Colored icing, personalized to say “CMRT 2014″, even chocolate chips to recreate the bison. It was epic. Truly amazing. And hysterical. I was blown away. It takes a lot to make me speechless. I was speechless. Tina Tison for the win.

Best dessert ever - North Dakota RKT

Best. Dessert. Ever.

But now I’ll back pedal because before we found North Dakota, we woke in midtown Manhattan. Even slept in until about 7:30 (bless you sweet blackout curtains, I’d marry you if I could!) And really nothing cooler than throwing open said blackout curtains to reveal Times Square in all it’s glory; glorious especially from the 32nd floor. We packed up our stuff, and hit the streets, walking around the Theater District, snacking on a soft pretzel (rule of visiting NYC: must purchase food from a cart.) We had pre-purchased tickets for an exhibit at Discovery Times Square. It was the Marvel Avengers: S.H.I.E.L.D. S.T.A.T.I.O.N. It was pretty cool interactive exhibit. Lots of props from the Avengers movies, interactive games and tests of strength. All in all, the kids loves it. For my taste (and outrageous ticket price!) it was too short, but maybe it felt that way because in every room of the exhibit at least one or two of the interactive exhibits was broken. Not great. Especially since we were the first group of the day. Literally four of the first 10 people through the door. Sigh. But the important thing is that the kids loved it. Especially because part of the exhibit was being issued a plastic id card with their names as probationary S.H.I.E.L.D. agents printed on it. Avery especially is excited about this keepsake.

Once we finished there is was almost time for our noon checkout from the hotel, so we grabbed a quick New York slice for lunch. I taught them to fold their slices in half, and not be scared of the grease running out. Now, after almost getting run over by a cyclist yesterday as we crossed the street, and eating a slice today, they are really racking up the quintessential New York City experiences. We pondered other city activities, but really the kids were more excited about getting to the Tisons house, and leaving the city before rush hour appealed to me, so we headed out of the city once the van arrived (with a scratched up passenger side mirror, mind you) from valet. Tina had warned me of lane closures on the George Washington bridge, so I asked Fiona (my GPS) to route us in a way that avoided the GW bridge. This sent us up the west side on the Henry Hudson Parkway. A fortuitous route, because I saw a sign for the Cloisters and immediately exited. Despite multiple visits to NYC, and being a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I had never been to the Cloisters. Medieval art isn’t really my thing, but I adore architecture, I heard the gardens are beautiful, and the location magnificent. This was a completely unplanned, but wonderful stop. It really was quite cool, and definitely beautiful. Now I can check that box. And I love it when things serendipitously fall into place.

Despite the early hour, traffic on 95 in Connecticut, not so serendipitous. In fact it was plain awful. Truly. But at least I wasn’t doing it at rush hour as usual. And fighting 20 miles of traffic is worth it to get to Chez Tison. So, it was a little bleary with exhaustion and frustration that we arrived at 3:48pm. Perfect timing as Samantha had just stepped off the school bus minutes before. The kids rushed out of the car and up the driveway. It was then that I noticed the crack in my windshield. Almost in the exact same spot as the windshield crack I discovered while parked in from of the Tison’s house two years ago, just a different minivan. Sigh. I had a chip in my windshield “repaired” (use of quotes seems appropriate since the repair was obviously an epic fail!) on May 29, just the week before my departure. They said the repair would keep the damage from spreading, and maintain the structural integrity of the windshield. Yeah. Maybe not so much. So, I noted the crack, grabbed the paperwork I was smart enough to stick in my glove compartment, and figured I’d call to schedule the windshield replacement sometime tonight. (Side note: Do they still call it a glove compartment? Or has it evolved to be called what it really is – the car registration and assorted random crap you want to keep in your car box?) Anyway, the kids got right to playing, including a new game that the Tisons gave us as a gift, Qwirkle. I swear I’m going to be pestering my children to play with me any chance I get. I don’t know how I’ve gotten this far in their childhoods without owning this game. (Another side note: At Chez Tison we get gifts for being here. Um, seriously? The mother of all hostesses this girl is. I get a gift for descending upon your home like a plague of locusts? She likes me, she really likes me.) Speaking of gifts, for Crazy Momma herself, Tina gave me a Fairfield Christmas ornament. Which is also epically awesome. Because I collect Christmas ornaments on my travels. There is something so delightful about unwrapping them all and reliving travels and memories, wallowing in nostalgia as we decorate the tree.

When it was time to head out to the local Mexican restaurant for dinner I noticed that the crack in my windshield had grown probably another 6 inches while it was just sitting parked in front of their house. Yep, definitely time to schedule the replacement. Sadly, the first available appointment in this area was Monday, so it wasn’t going to be an immediate replacement. But I did manage to schedule a mobile replacement for Wednesday at our rental house in Maine. Yep, this will now be my second windshield replacement while on vacation in three years. Two separate vehicles. Same rental house. Sigh. If it’s not one thing, it’s rocks on your head…

After our epic dessert – I’m still flabbergasted and amused and grateful – bedtime went smoothly. Trundled all kiddos off to bed and sat on the back patio with Tina and Joe to talk, to relive some of our funnier moments, to craft new euphemisms, and generally enjoy one another’s company the way we always do.

Tomorrow: Chez Tison – Round two. Might take the kids to the aquarium in Norwalk. Hoping the weather doesn’t curtail our annual firepit rendezvous…

Total mileage: 24,280 (1,045 total miles traveled)

** Disclaimer: No editing of this post has occurred. I’m sure it’s rife with typos and grammatical errors. Maybe I’ll correct them later. Maybe I won’t.

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Days Six, Seven, & Eight: Sitting on a park bench, behind the wheel, and on a beach

30 Jun

Where on earth do I begin? Perhaps the epicenter? Which for Day Six (and the beginning of Day Seven) was the back deck at the Tisons house in Fairfield, Connecticut. Or maybe just at the beginning. It is, after all, a very good place to start.

Day Six started off innocuously enough. My children were up early, but not obnoxiously so, and they managed to wake without bringing the rest of the house out of slumber with them. We kind of had a lazy morning as Joe & Tina got ready to go to work. Then mid-morning I loaded my three, plus the Tison’s 7 year old daughter, into the van, and took off for the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport. Yet another science museum at which I receive reciprocal free admission. This was a small museum, but fun, mostly because they had an indoor ropes course-like obstacle course. Anything that gets the kids climbing, stretching, moving their bodies is great in my book. But before that makes me sound all pious and health-conscious, please allow me to confess that I then turned right around and took them to McDonald’s for lunch. After we had all ordered I sent them to a large booth to sit and wait while I paid and collected the food. They sat at the table, chatting excitedly, but in no way disruptively (shockingly enough, my children do actually have and were actually using their inside voices!) It took me all of four minutes maybe to complete my transaction at the counter, with them in view the whole time, and as I entered the dining room area an older woman snarls at me, quite loudly I might add (definitely not her inside voice), “THOSE children are being TOO LOUD!” Now, at this juncture I had several different routes of response: (1) I could totally ignore her. Not really my style. (2) I could have turned to the kids and said, hey, let’s show this lady what it really means to be loud. Very tempting, but, see, unlike her, I do have some class, so I decided instead to go with, (3) Laugh derisively in her general direction, and say, to the children who are looking at me silently and with great expectation, loudly enough for the other patrons to hear, Well, kids, that lady seems to think you are being too loud, so let’s remember to continue using our inside voices. I’m sure the irony was lost on her. Because nothing says “I’m a reasonable person” like someone who goes to McDonald’s at 12:30pm and then gets upset that there are children present.

After our lunch we headed on to Norwalk to make our annual visit to the Stepping Stones Museum for Children. For whatever reason, my children never get tired of Stepping Stones. Avery especially loves the water room, but Beau especially loves the outdoor space. There they have all kinds of hard foam blocks and shapes for building and climbing on. Of course it is tragedy waiting to happen because Beau has a very specific creation in mind, sets about trying to recreate it in three dimensions, and then some three year old comes by and finds great joy in knocking it to the ground. It is definitely a test of Beau’s self control. And sometimes he handles it better than others. He did fairly well, but his temper was definitely rising to the top. (Poor kid, comes by it honest. Crazy Momma feels you, sweet boy.) But it was out in that play space that I encountered the sassiest, most ill-behaved child ever. She was adorable. About 5 years old. And every time she opened her mouth I wanted to turn her over my knee. I cannot even imagine what her home life is like for her to have learned to speak to and interact with other people in such a way. She was hands on hips, bobbing her head around, what’choo gonna do about it, getting up in Beau’s face. Honestly, part of me wanted to let him haul off and knock her block off. Her behavior was so ugly and antagonistic, for no apparent reason. And as Beau, with my prompting, continued to say things like, can you please move back from my building so I can finish it, and can you please stop talking to me like that, she at one point spit in his general direction. At this point I was interacting with her, as well. Not discipling, but definitely being cuttingly sarcastic. I was hoping that her mother/father might overhear and approach me, or that she would run off and tell her mother/father, because I had some choice words for them. But clearly there was no guardian in sight, nor hearing distance. Eventually I realized that she and her equally as ill-behaved little brother belonged to one of the nannies that was sitting together at a table across the courtyard. Eventually she left Beau alone, and it didn’t come to anything else, but I weep for the future as I watch this latest generation of entitled children age. I tell my kids that one day they’ll appreciate how strict I am, that they will be much better adjusted and highly functioning members of polite society. That may not seem important now, but as adults, when they are prepared to handle disappointment, when they are capable of understanding and moving past the word no, they’ll thank me. Of course they already thanked me when on the way home from Stepping Stones we stopped in at Stew Leonard’s, like you do whenever you’re in Norwalk. Part grocery store, part sideshow, part excuse to eat ice cream for snack, we wandered the aisles pressing all the buttons, watching all the shows, and generally having a great time. I especially loved the interaction we had in the fruit aisle. We were chatting with another mom as we stopped for our sample of lemonade, and singing and dancing in the aisles (impromptu dance party!) to the Chiquita Banana song, when the other woman turned to Samantha, and said, “Your mom’s a good dancer.” To which Samantha promptly said, “Oh, that is not my mom.” I don’t think she was meaning to be rude, just factual, because what are the odds (I guess 1 in 4) that the woman would chose to address the one child that actually wasn’t mine! But it made us grown-ups laugh so hard. Because it was such a teenager thing to say. That is not my mom. Especially when it was directed toward the crazy momma that was dancing in the aisles of the grocery store!

But the real crown in the jewel of Saturday was the post-slumber-party-bedtime socializing. As I’ve said before, Tina and Joe are some of my favorite people on the planet. And while it makes me sad that I don’t see them more often, the times when we are all together are magical. I’m not going to recreate our night for you all here. It’s too personal, too you-had-to-be-there, the memories too ethereal to translate. But let me give you the brief, stream of consciousness recap here: The night started at about 9:30pm on Friday and ended at about 7:30am on Saturday. We drank Beam & Coke, we shared a 40, we taste tested summer shandy. Yon distant light did nothing to repel mosquitos. There was the fear of imminent, collective demise due to a mountain lion attack; luckily it was only a tiki torch that was attacking. On several occasions we all almost wet ourselves laughing. I’m pretty sure Tina used to be a DJ, just ask her, she’ll tell you, and her “fire” playlist was one of the best things that ever happened. I will forever be unable to see a park bench without thinking of Tina and Joe. We took a short course in the proper identification and naming of Indigo Girls. We discussed our love of Bill Murray, no, not him, the other guy, a W&L legend and mutual friend. We saw the sun rise, and sang morning has broken. We cried. We laughed. We cherished our friendship. I honestly don’t recall the last time I pulled an all-nighter, but I’m assuming it was law school. But I can say that I don’t believe I’ve ever had as much fun pulling one. And how do you end an epic up all night experience? With a run to McDonald’s, of course. Never has a trip to acquire breakfast sandwiches involved so much giggling.

Now, as road trip strategies go, pulling an all-nighter before driving approximately 250 miles, doesn’t really fall under the category of best practices. It tends to hamper the efficiency of travel. Having to stop every 50 miles because you need to get some blood flowing and mainline caffeine, that is. Yeah, I would feel myself starting to get drowsy, thus necessitating another stop. I can only wonder what my children thought was wrong with me. But even if the trip that should have lasted 2.5 hours took us 4 hours, I made it safely to Boston, where we went directly to the Boston Children’s Museum. The irony of this whole thing being that I became a member of the BCM due to their fantastic reciprocal agreements with both other children’s museums (50% off) and science museums (free), but of all the museums we visited on the northbound route, BCM is the one we spent the least time in. Of course, it was my shenanigans the night before, necessitating the stops, that lengthened our drive, that shortened the amount of time we could stay, but… I’m not even the tiniest bit remorseful, and I wouldn’t trade that all-nighter for the world. And frankly, my kids have outgrown many of the exhibits there. So, I sent my crew straight up into the BCM climbing structure to burn off some energy, and we went into the construction exhibit room they all love so much, they once again participated in a scientific study that some grad students were conducting, and they managed to slip into the art room for a quick painting project. Could we have done a little bit more if it wasn’t getting quite so late? Sure. But I was ready to make the final push to Maine, so at 4:30pm, we loaded up and put Boston in our rearview mirror.

At this point, even though it was later in the day, I was feeling more alert, but I was so anxious to get to the cottage I didn’t even stop at the NH Liquor Store! There is something physiological that happens to me as we cross the Piscataqua River Bridge. An easing of the mind and spirit, a relaxing and release of the stress in my body. Maine makes me happy. Plain and simple. And yes, I realize that I am visiting at a halcyon time. I’m not shoveling snow, or dealing with ice on the roads. I’m experiencing blue skies, fairly low humidity, and evenings cool enough to require (at least for my thin Florida blood) a sweatshirt. So, I’m willing to amend, to add a word or three, so I’ll say, Maine in the summertime makes me happy. Because it does. And how can you argue with their state motto? Maine: The Way Life Should Be. We made our way up 95, off the interstate, through Dock Square, down Ocean Avenue past Walker’s Point, and down to Turbat’s Creek Road. And there it was, our rental house, waiting for us as always. Just pausing long enough to throw my purse into the house, and notice the awesome kitchen renovation, we immediately walked the 50 feet down to the beach to soak in our favorite view. Then I immediately turned back around and walked back to my car to grab my sweatshirt! Ah, Maine in the summer! Of course it was probably only 70 degrees, but when you’ve been used to high 80s and high humidity, it felt downright chilly. After throwing some rocks and poking around, it was time to come back in and unpack. But what a relief to be here, especially after all of the bizarre automotive incidents we were plagued with, it was lovely to end the northbound leg of CMRT: Summer 2013 Edition with an event-free roll into Kennebunkport.

Thankful that the children let me sleep in a little – after all, I was operating on a fairly severe sleep deficit – we had a very lazy first day in KPT. Just lounging around the house in the morning, we didn’t even make it down to the beach until almost noon. But remembering my mistake from last year, when I neglected to apply any sunscreen to my children because I was wearing long-sleeves and a hoodie,  this year I made sure to lather the children up. Then I sent them down to the beach by themselves with strict instructions that no one went deeper than their knees, and they stayed together. This is one of the things I love most about this house. The beach is so close that with all the windows open I could hear them if someone screamed. And they are getting old enough that as long as they roam as a pack, I feel like I can loosen the leash a little bit. The most dangerous part of our beach is the rock formation on which they like to climb and explore. But guess what? If someone is going to slip and fall, my sitting 20 feet away from them on the beach isn’t going to prevent a broken arm, or a need for stitches. So might as well give them some freedom to explore without my watchful eye. Lovely to have a place to do that. Their dad went down to join them first, but I wasn’t too far behind and we ended up spending several hours down there. It was low tide, so we walked across to Vaughan’s Island, which is part of the Rachel Carson Wildlife Preserve. This is our lobster hunting ground. Last year a teenage boy showed us how to flip over rocks and spot baby lobster. Under his expert tutelage we found tons of them. This year our first expedition brought us only two lobster, though one was rather large, and tons of hermit crab. I even saw several larger hermit crabs dragging smaller hermit crabs. I found this to be curious. Why were they doing that? For the purposes of mating? Were they going to eat them? Was it mothers taking care of babies? Odd. (Maybe one day I’ll Google hermit crab behavior, but for now I’ll plunge ahead with the end of my boring story because I’m still rather tired and should go to bed.)

When the tide started coming in we walked back across to the mainland, and I parked myself in a chair with a book while the kids played on the rocks, and lounged in the tidal pools there. There were some admonishments about not throwing rocks with other people nearby, but mostly the kids were free to explore. At one point, when he woke from a nap, John was nice enough to head up to the house, and return with sandwiches for everyone, and a beer for me. Not a bad little beach day, all in all. But the sun began hiding behind the clouds, making it cool enough for me to slip on my cover-up and drape a towel across my legs. The kids had kind of wound down on the whole beach experience, especially since we said we weren’t dragging out the kayaks today. So, after a brief check of Fandango, we quick-stepped it up to the house and got cleaned-up. Usually we are just wrapping up our week in Maine during the annual summer Pixar movie release day, but since we traveled later this year, we missed the big event and Monsters University has already been in theaters for over a week. So we headed up to Portland and got our Pixar on. My brief review: I liked it, but I’m kind of surprised that the kids did. Though come to think of it, Avery didn’t have much to say about it, and it was Beau who said he really, really liked it. I felt like the themes were really rather mature (disappointing your parents, trusting your friends, second careers), and that slowed the pace a bit. But I always appreciate a kids’ movie with adult humor, and I loved the references to Monsters, Inc. And the brilliant thing about taking your kids to a 4:45pm movie is that you don’t have to feed them dinner afterwards! So, after eating a popsicle in the driveway after returning home the kids were happy to jump into their jammies and get into bed. And now, it’s about time for me to do the same. Not eat a popsicle, I’ve been sipping a rum & Coke (Now I only drink bourbon when Joe Tison mixes it for me), but time for me to rest my weary head.

Coming up tomorrow: Another beach day, this time with some friends of my friend, Jen Hughes Manley. We don’t know each other yet, but we all love Jen, so I’m positive that we’ll get along gangbusters. When we’re all together we’ll have 9 kids ages 10, 8, 8, 8, 8, 7, 6, 5, 5. Good times, good times. I think I’ll keep that rum handy…

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Day Five: Didn’t I go to college with you?

27 Jun

You people know that I rarely have much to say on Thursday nights because this is not only NYC day, but also our arrival at Chez Tison, the Connecticut home of my dear friends, Tina & Joe. But, despite the late hour, since you are kind enough to follow along, I’ll bang out the quickest of summaries of the day’s events.

For the first time in our four year tradition, I did *not* take the kids into Manhattan today. Mostly I think because I was kind of out of ideas of what to do with them there. Last year touring the Intrepid was absolutely amazing! And I adore watching them ride the subway, or in taxis, like little urban kids. But usually the thing they ask to do most often in NYC is “go to that big toy store in Times Square.” Um, you mean Toys’r'Us? Like the same exact toy store we have at our local mall? Sigh. Someone please tell me that my love for architecture, that my appreciation of people-watching and the pulse of the city, are genetic. That at least one of my children will one day feel the same swirling mix of emotions as I do just walking down the city sidewalk in Manhattan. Even if it’s just one of them, it would be nice to share a city, in particular, this city, with one of my children. But this year we took a different approach to our NYC day, and headed out from our Secaucus hotel (same one every year!) for a different borough. This year, the Willim 3 took the Bronx! Yep, headed out to a place I’ve heard about my entire life, but never visited – The Bronx Zoo. And let me tell you, it does not disappoint. Wow. Wow! It is huge. HUGE! And so very, very beautiful. As we exited the George Washington Bridge I said to my kids, “Welcome to the Bronx.” Beau, looking out the window, paused for just a poignant second before responding, “It’s not exactly what I expected.” I laughed, assuring him that the zoo would be much different. But I think I was wholly unprepared for how different. What an amazing piece of property, tucked away in such an unassuming manner. It was a bit pricey, but worth it. The habitats were cleverly designed and well-maintained. The assortment of wildlife was impressive. And with all the shady walks, it was very spread out, but nice to get around (though I will comment that the paths could be a little better marked). We could have easily stayed well more than the 4.5 hours we ended up having there (stupid traffic coming in from NJ.) I think I could have easily stayed more than 4.5 hours in the gorilla exhibit alone. The Bronx Zoo definitely gets a CMRT thumbs up. Plus, the prices in the gift shop were reasonable, and while I could have done without spending $3 for a bottle of water, it was easy to refill it at one of the many water fountains. Plus I brought in from snacks from home, so I can’t comment on the prices or quality of other food/beverages. Once we took off from the zoo, exactly on my designated departure time of 3:30pm, I was expecting a smooth ride up 95 to Fairfield, CT. Wow did I ever get that one wrong. Stop and go traffic the entire time. Which turned that 44 mile jaunt into a 2 hour slow burn. And by slow burn I mean the pain in my right knee from driving in stop and go traffic for so long.

But we finally arrived at Chez Tison, the kids bounding eagerly out of the car to see the young Tisons, and despite the aggravation of traffic, I couldn’t help but smile and forget all my troubles. We were at Chez Tison! Which has become one of the ultimate highlights of CMRT. I don’t want to make Maine jealous, but this two night visit with Tina & Joe has come to be something I look forward to every bit as much as my time in The Pine Tree State. Tina truly is the consummate hostess. I was taught never to arrive at someone’s house empty-handed, but Tina greeted us at the door with a basket full of goodies. And oh what lovely, thoughtful things they are! One of which honest-to-god made me tear up. Because nestled there in the basket with its lovely handmade “Welcome CMRT” sign (depicting me sporting a side ponytail & a rocking minivan) was a Tervis tumbler, an exact replacement of my beloved goldfish Tervis that was lost when left behind at the hotel the morning of Day Two. Tina Tison has to be one of the most thoughtful women on the face of the planet. And it very nearly made me cry right there in her entryway. Of course, also appreciated was the fact that we immediately sent the children off to play, and cracked open a shandy. Ahhhhh…. The very taste of summer!

After a bit we rounded everyone up again, and set out for dinner at their local Japanese steakhouse. I happen to love the teppan/hibachi/I’m never sure what I’m supposed to call it style cooking. I gorge myself every time on salty yumminess fresh off the grill/table. But this was a first-time experience for my picky-eating, food-allergic children. Egg allergy resolved by having them cook the fried rice not on the table, but in the kitchen instead. (Like I was going to go without fried rice!) Picky-eating vaguely resolved by my threatening the loss of dessert. And my kids are conditioned enough to remember that Mrs. Tison always has the best dessert treats planned. So they managed to choke down just enough to make me happy, and after dinner we walked across the street to the fro-yo shop, 16 Handles. This has become a bit of an obsession for my kids – the frozen yogurt places that offer many flavors of yogurts, tons of toppings, and then sell you this addiction by the ounce. Some of their combinations are too disgusting to even contemplate. Beau’s tonight ranks pretty high – mango sorbet with gummy bears and Captain Crunch. Ewww. But I digress, I was discussing the Japanese steakhouse experience. Let’s just say that Avery was less enthused about the “lighting the table on fire” aspect than the others. She soldiered on bravely, but mostly pressed to my side with her hands ready to cover her eyes. And every time the chef poured something on the table, like even the water to clean with at the end, she flinched and drew back. But Beau was especially excited but the pyrotechnics, and Harper, who chose to scoot back way, way, way from the table, was still excited and watching with rapt attention.

But really, aside from being happy that our kids get along so well and play so nicely together, these visits for me are about the after-bedtime-hours. The long conversations and remember whens. The time when Joe Tison mixes the perfect (and I do mean perfect) bourbon and Coke. I shouldn’t have to tell you what kind of bourbon. But I suppose some of you might not have gone to Washington & Lee University. If you had, if you have any connection to W&L at all, you know that bourbon = Jim Beam. And standing in the Tison’s kitchen, sipping a Beam & Coke, laughing so hard I cry, well, that’s like the mental equivalent of slipping into a warm bath after the most stressful day of your life. I just feel good. And if the rain holds off tomorrow night, allowing us to gather ’round the firepit, Beam or shandy in hand, then I will be in one of my ultimate happy spots. Because nothing says New England summer like sitting around a fire wearing a sweatshirt, drinking, reminiscing with dear friends. And nothing says happiness like laughing with dear friends when they are the kind of friends who knew you then, and still love you now.

With that, I’m off to bed. Hopefully to sleep a few hours before my early-rising children terrorize the entire house. Tomorrow (er, later this morning) I’ll take my three, plus the Tison’s 7 year old daughter, to a local science museum (The theme you’re recognizing here, Kevin, is that I get into science museums free with a reciprocal agreement with my Boston Chidlrens’ Museum membership!) So at least a few hours sleep would probably be a worthwhile goal.

 

Total miles on the trip odometer: Aw, man, I wrote it down, but then left my notebook in the car. I think it was something like 1,081. Whatever. We’ll just call it a whole bunch of driving.

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Now, where was I?

16 Jun

No. Really. Where was I? Everything kind of seems like a blur. The past two days have been a sleepless haze of happiness and I’m all discombobulated. It has been the culmination of the northbound leg of CMRT: Summer 2012. (How is that even possible? It can’t be over yet!)

But, we’re here! In Kennebunkport, Maine. In “our” lovely little cottage on Turbat’s Creek. We have arrived. And it feels good. In an e-mail this week a friend who I am only vaguely in contact with, and that mostly through our mutual facebook stalking, said, and I quote, “Looks like you’ve been driving a lot lately.” Uh. Yeah. You could say that. In the past six days I have put 1,536 miles behind the wheel. Holy crap. That’s a lot of miles. And it’s strange because I said “we have arrived,” but to me the journey is the destination. Now that we’re in Maine, I want to freeze time for a bit. I wish we could stay for more than a week. But if I’ve learned anything this past week it’s that I apparently *hate* money. It’s the only logical conclusion I can come to considering the way I’ve been giving it away – at hotels, gas stations, tourist attractions, gift shops, and most especially restaurants. And while the rent here at this cottage is definitely reasonable, it’s not something I can float indefinitely. So one week it is. Come next Saturday morning we’ll be packing it all up again, departing on the southbound leg. But for now, we kayak, we hike, we explore, we lounge, we visit my Mecca (LL Bean in Freeport). This particular year, we also visit with a new old friend. Two years ago, the first year we rented this house, we wandered down to the little cove at  the end of the street and met some people who were visiting from Massachusetts. But they weren’t tourists. The woman, Mandy, was a Kennebunkport native who had moved away, but frequently came back to visit friends and family members who happened to live on the same small residential street as the cottage. She had two kids who were almost identical in age to Beau & Harper. It was awesome! The kids had a blast playing and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with her. Through the power of Facebook we’ve kept up a friendship & at this point feel like we’ve known each other for years, despite the fact that we’ve really only ever spent a few days together two years ago. Anyway, it just so happens that Mandy is back in KPT this weekend for a wedding. So I just had the pleasure of sharing a glass of wine with her, laughing and catching up. It was awesome. And tomorrow morning, going to turn our collective 5 kids loose on the beach while we lounge in our chairs. More talking and laughing. What a fun way to “start” a vacation.

But I am being remiss. The past two days may be a bit of a blur – mostly because I didn’t go to bed before 2am on either night, and was up at 5:30am Friday and 7:00am this morning. But they happened, and they need to be recorded. I guess I managed to catch us up to speed on Friday morning. So let’s start there…

You’d think, with all the driving I do to get us up here, that I would shy away from things like driving an hour north to then drive an hour south the same day. You’d think that, wouldn’t you? But that would be giving me way more credit than I deserve. But sometimes, that’s the way things work out. And if I were home, an hour each way to a worthwhile attraction would be an easy day trip, a no-brainer. And I would never, ever, ever (ever, ever, ever) miss out on a Friday night at the Tison’s house. So, Friday morning I piled the kids into the van and we took off heading north from Chez Tison to Mystic, Connecticut. I promised Beau that we would visit an aquarium on CMRT this summer, and I delivered on that promise. I considered a few different possible aquariums, but went with Mystic for a few reasons. One, just because I had always wanted to see the town. Two, because of a very specific exhibit they currently have: “Titanic: 12,450 feet below”. Beau for a time was rather obsessed with the Titanic. And to be honest, from a very early age, I’ve also been rather obsessed with it. Perhaps it was an early childhood trip to Colorado where we visited the home of the unsinkable Molly Brown. Anyway, this particular exhibit at the Mystic Aquarium included many of the images and videos from Robert Ballard’s latest expeditions to the wreck, as well as some really fun, interactive, computer-based activities for the kids. Okay, and for the adults. I tell you, I just can’t get enough of this topic. The exhibit also included several large scale pictures of people onboard the ship – some survivors, some casualties (including an entire family with 6 or 7 kids aged 16-1.) It was really moving. They did a nice job of blending the science of the shipwreck with the human element of the tragedy. And to see video footage of shoes, and a suitcase, still sitting on the ocean floor, in the place where they landed 100 years ago, that’s, well, only vaguely within the scope of comprehension to me.

The rest of the aquarium is pretty good, too. Considering the price, which was not cheap, it was a little small. But they do have some impressive specimens, including several beluga whales, and a giant octopus. And I really did enjoy the seal lion show. As an interesting side note, their male seal lion, Coco, gained over 400lbs this past winter. Yes. Four hundred. Apparently the reason the males get so fat right before mating season is that during that time they need to be up on land protecting their females. They can’t be out hunting and eating. So they load up & eventually burn through most of the extra blubber because they aren’t really eating much during the season. I found this to be really funny. Maybe because in human, we’re the exact opposite. While we don’t have a specific “mating season, we’re usually concerned about slimming down and tightening up before finding a mate. Must be nice to be that arrogant; loading on the weight as a measure for keeping your mates!

The only problem with driving so far to Mystic was that we got a bit of a late start and we still wanted to be back at the Tison’s not too late in the afternoon. So we had a choice to make. Do we walk around Mystic Seaport? Or do we hit the Pez factory, which just so happens to be about 20 miles from their house. Well, anyone who knows me knows what I’m going to pick. Don’t get me wrong, I love boats. I love history. The idea of walking around the seaport is very, very appealing to me. Nautical motifs are kind of my thing. And I adore nothing more than a quaint fishing village. But come on people, the Pez factory has a visitors center! And a collection/extensive display of vintage Pez dispensers! So we sort of compromised. I drove to the seaport – I felt kind of obligated – and we parked and walked into the gift/book store. I couldn’t resist. I love stories about boats, especially real life stories, so I got a book called Overboard! about a sailboat caught in a storm and the parallel stories of two crew members who were swept overboard and the remaining three who were onboard while the ship was slowly being torn to bits by the storm. Huh. Now that I’ve written that description I’m not sure what it says about me that I’m so excited to read it. Anyway, a five minute stop in the gift shop does not a visit to the seaport make. But at least I know where it is the next time I want to visit!

Back in the car and on the way to the Pez factory. But not without driving through downtown Mystic. Yes, I snapped the obligatory pic of Mystic Pizza. Figured it was the least I could do given the fact we weren’t stopping for a slice. But really, I doubt Julia Roberts works the day shift, so what’s the point? We were running a bit later than I wanted, so we didn’t linger at the Pez Visitors Center, but man was it a cool experience! First of all, brilliant marketing ploy. Put a combination museum/gift shop at the front of the factory floor, charge admission, but for each admission ($5 adults, $4 kids) give the visitors $2 credit to spend on retail items. And considering the basic character Pez dispensers + 3 candy bricks are $1.99, you’re basically getting one of those for the price of admission. As if that’s the only thing you’re going to buy. You can’t actually take a tour of the manufacturing facility, but from large plate glass windows you can watch the packaging process. Plus they have a really cool video that goes through the entire process of Pez manufacturing. Wow. Those things are just pure, compressed sugar. No wonder they go down so smooth. The displays of vintage dispensers is really cool. I especially like how they have them grouped by themes. And I sure would have liked to have had one of those ray gun dispensers from the 50s. After letting everyone pick out a dispenser and added bricks, plus picking up quite a few gifts, we were once again proving my point about how much I hate money and ready to head back to Fairfield. Due to accident-related traffic we got to the Tison’s about an hour later than I wanted, but that just meant we had to turn it around quickly, because we were off to eat dinner at the beach. Tina liked to joke about their beach, and how different it was from Ponte Vedra (she was part of the crew that descending on my parents’ beach house for Spring Break of our senior year in college. I was about to tell you how many years ago that was, but it would have required higher math I’m just not capable of in my sleep-deprieved state.) And it was different, but better in some ways. I gotta admit, it was kind of nice to have that big, solid picnic table right there on the beach. With a trash can and recycling can right nearby. Plus the lack of waves/current made it easy to just let the kids roam, into the freezing water if they so chose. Plus, who can argue with pizza from Colony Grill? Thin, different, yummy. Talk about going down smooth. Wait, maybe that was the cold summer shandy I’m talking about. Nah, it was the whole deal. Just felt like a perfect summer night. Different for sure, but right for right then. After some pizza & letting the kids play in the sand for a bit, the setting sun was bringing on a bit of a chill, so we packed up and headed across the street to the playground. And who can argue with an awesome playground in such close proximity to the beach?! But this perfect summer night wasn’t over yet. We loaded back into the two cars and headed over to Sunny Dae’s for ice cream. It was fun to go to an ice cream parlor that Tina used to go to when she was a kid. That sort of place is what makes America great. Mom & Pops who have not just sustained, but thrived, and grown. And on the ride home? Torturing our kids, and Joe (via cell phone) with a full volume sing along to Cher’s I Believe In Life After Love, well, that was jus a shining golden moment for me & Tina.

Kids bathed (a necessity to remove sand from places sand shouldn’t be), we packed them all off to their beds and retired to the fire pit. A Friday night tradition. That kiln-dried firewood burns hot and clean. And while the ice cold summer shandy was perfect with pizza on the beach, it was Beam & Coke that fueled our college nostalgia. And I must give props to Joe for making the perfect Beam & Coke. Seriously. I have a friend who is so adept at mixing Seabreezes, that I only drink them when he makes them. I love a Seabreeze. It is the perfect summer cocktail. But I don’t trust anyone but him to mix them the way I like them. And now, Joe has just claimed that same status, but for Beam & Coke. Perfect pour, Joe, perfect. And what better drink for W&L reminiscing? Especially when Joe pulled out the empty special label Mock Convention Beam bottle. Pshaw! I still have mine, too. But mine is full!! Yep, my full 1992 Mock Con Beam bottle sits in my china cabinet with my W&L graduation tassel wrapped around the neck. Yes, there is no better libation than Beam to stir memories of W&L. And there is little I enjoy more in terms of relaxing than sitting around the fire with friends. We laughed and laughed and laughed. Being with Joe & Tina is just so easy, and I mean that in the best possible way. Every time I get together with them I wish I could spend more time. And today, when I changed into my jeans they still smelled like woodsmoke. One of my favorite scents and today especially equated to a lovely evening with dear friends.

But the nature of CMRT is that it rolls on. Even places we want to linger, are only short stops along the path. But every year I seem to grow more relaxed in my timetable, because we slept in, watched a child-produced show, took our time in our departure, not hitting the road until at least 10:30am. Which doesn’t seem too late, until you put into perspective that we had a 3 hour drive to Boston where we intended to visit the Boston Children’s Museum, then another 2 hour drive to the cottage in Maine. Eh. We’ll get there, it’s vacation! So we didn’t stress. Or rather, I didn’t stress. The kids never really seem to do much stressing about our schedule. And we rolled into the Boston Children’s Museum sometime after 2pm. The BCM has the most amazing climbing structure right in the center of the museum. And this may sound familiar, since I mentioned the climbing structure in the middle of Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore, but this one is different. And better yet, this one only has one entrance/exit – on the first floor! So I could sit in one spot, turn all three loose, and not worry about them accidentally getting separated from me and confused about how to find me. I was sitting right there at the bottom while they exercised and played and engaged with other kids. Perfect. And we wandered around the museum some, too. Harper, of course, went straight to the little lateral climbing wall. Beau is rather fond of the Construction room. Avery especially loved the small city exhibit, complete with barber shop, grocery store, etc, chock full of imaginative pretend play. But as the afternoon wore on, I began to get more anxious about the rest of the day. Still needed to get to Kennebunkport. Then unload the car. Then unpack the bags. And get the kids to bed. And at some point in there, go down to the beach and play/relax/soak it in. But I’d say it all worked out beautifully. We left Boston just before 5pm (thankfully not a weekday!) and easily made it to the cottage before 7pm. Plenty of time for the kids to explore the rocks on the beach after I unloaded the car. And the way I pack the kids bag made it easy to unpack their stuff into the dresser. Do I still have some unpacking to do? Yeah, I’ll say. And a grocery run tomorrow morning is imperative. But for now, I’m here. And I’m tired. But I’m excited for tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that…..

 

** You should just assume that I still haven’t gone back to edit yesterday’s post. And I’m just too damn tired to edit this one. I’ll get around to it. Maybe tomorrow. Or the day after that. Or the day after that…

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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim