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Posts Tagged ‘Chez Tison’

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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The end of the beginning

19 Jun

It’s Sunday night and I’m sitting here shaking my head, wondering where the heck the time is going. Did I really leave home a week ago? How is that possible? And how is it possible that as of 7pm yesterday when I pulled into the driveway of the rental cottage in Kennebunkport that I had logged 1,374 northbound miles behind the wheel? It is all going too fast. Too fast for me to even keep up with apparently. Because here I am, three days behind on my blog. And I know this is going to sound utterly ridiculous, but I’m a little sad to have arrived. It’s what I was talking about in the days before I left home. I am looking forward to having this lazy week in Maine. Looking forward to long days on the little beach at our practically private cove. Looking forward to visiting Mecca, er, I mean LLBean in Freeport. Looking forward to possibly taking a little day trip for some light hiking in Acadia. But the fact that we’re here, that we can get started on all of that other fun, means that the northbound leg of the road trip is complete. Our arrival in Maine signals, quite simply, the end of the beginning. And the beginning was so very sweet. Visiting old friends – a huge shout out of thanks to Megan & Jack Deppe and Tina & Joe Tison! Having new adventures – Maymont Park, the Liberty Science Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Children’s Museum. Revisiting old memories – Hamilton Park, traversing the streets of Manhattan, Stepping Stones. It has been such a wonderful adventure thus far that I wish it would last, like how I felt sitting outside in the cool Connecticut air by the Tisons’ fire pit – I want to linger and savor and hold on so tight to the feeling that it never leaves me. But time marches on, and it’s not like I’m marching into hell or anything, so I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining about my week on the southern coast of Maine. But I’m already sad to leave behind the first chapter, no matter how excited I am about this one.

When last I left you, we had arrived at the Tisons’ house in Fairfield, CT. That next day (Friday), the hardest working woman I know, actually took a day off to play with us. So after a leisurely morning, which included manna from heaven (otherwise known as a fresh, new box of Lucky Charms) we took off in a caravan – Tina & her two, me and my three – for Norwalk, CT, and the much exalted by my children Stepping Stones Museum for Children. My kids thought it was super fun to have ready made playmates other than their siblings at the museum. And it was nice for me to be able to chat some with Tina and play zone defense while the kids scampered off to play. After meeting Joe for lunch, we then took off with an even better grown-up to child ratio on an adventure that I am still having difficulty processing. If I tell you that we intentionally went to a grocery store with 5 children in tow you’re going to think I’m insane. Or maybe that you heard incorrectly. But that is exactly what we did. We went to a grocery store. But it wasn’t just any grocery store. It was Stew Leonard’s. It is the Disney World/IKEA of supermarkets. There are costumed characters roaming the store, live shows, a vast array of food/drink sampling, a uni-directional set-up that forces you (but not unpleasantly so) to traverse the entire store. It has a rather farmer’s market feel to it, with individual stalls that carry a specific type of item. Yet it is huge. I certainly would not want to do my everyday stock-up shopping there, but it was wildly entertaining for the kids and they had some of the best looking produce I’ve seen. Rarely do I say that grocery shopping with the kids is “fun”, but this time it most certainly was.

After a long day, we headed back to their house and with a thunderstorm rolling in it was time for the kids to have some down time (read: veg out and watch a movie). And I must say, it was a nice respite for the parents as well. A dinner of some delicious delivery pizza chased with sweet treats for the kids and cocktails for the grown-ups was a delightful way to wind down the day. And then sitting by the glow of the fire produced by CT’s finest kiln-dried wood was the ultimate night cap. Was that the elusive Fairfield mountain lion in the back yard? We may never know. It might just have been the Summer Shandy talking.

Because of this dreaded end of the beginning feeling, I was in no rush to get on the road Saturday morning. So it was an even more leisurely morning, with Joe manning the waffle iron and the kids arguing that it was perfectly reasonable to eat Pop Tarts and waffles with syrup at the same meal. But that’s okay, because before shoving the kids in the car for the final leg, we tossed them all in the backyard to play on the bouncy house (I am so going to have to get one of those!) After packing up our stuff and wearing out the kids, we were in the van and ready to roll out to Boston at 10:15am. Not bad, and totally in the wheelhouse of my original plan. My plan when I thought that Boston was only two hours from their house, that is. When I originally looked at the Mapquest routing I had printed out, I saw that the segment from the Tisons’ house in Fairfield, CT, to the Boston Children’s Museum should be approximately 2 hours in duration. I just neglected to notice that 56 minutes after the 2 hours. Oops. Okay, so it’s going to take us a little longer and I’m wickedly sleep deprived, but that’s okay. Here we go. I cut some time by getting lunch to go and having them eat in the car. And I was helped along by listening to a great book on tape. Er, well, on CD, but no matter how much I’m supposed to call them audiobooks or whatever it is I’m supposed to call them, I still want to call them books on tape. And Gabriel Allon better watch out. I may be transferring my affections to a new spy/hero, Mitch Rapp. I’m only halfway through this, the first Vince Flynn book I’ve ever “read”, but I am liking Mitch Rapp immensely. He’s yummy. Anyhoo….

We made it to Boston by about 1:30 or so. And I’m just wondering, does Boston have a hockey team or something? Just kidding. Wow. There must have been some kind of Stanley Cup celebration downtown on Friday because the streets around the Boston Children’s Museum were jammed with people wearing their black & gold Bruins garb. But I have to admit that I am almost totally ignorant when it comes to hockey and my first thought when I saw all the fans was, is there a game today? Then an inkling at the back of my brain said, no, the Stanley Cup was just played. And finally it clicked together that, oh, maybe it was the Bruins who won it. Ignorance + sleep deprivation = slow on the uptake.

Once again Erin would be accusing me of making sacrifices to the parking gods because I scored another sweet on-street parking spot less than half a block away from the entrance of the museum. The good thing, only cost a couple of quarters in the meter. The potentially bad thing, the 2 hour limit. Hmmm. But I just couldn’t see us staying longer than that, so we fed the meter and went on in. I mentioned in an earlier post that we are members of the Boston Children’s Museum. I’m going to assume that seems strange to all of you who know that I live in Florida and have no family in the Boston area. We don’t travel to Boston, well, ever, except to pass through on our annual CMRT. So here’s the explanation. I found a loophole in the system. Well, not technically a loophole. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I’m just an outlier in the expected participant pool. The Boston Children’s Museum is one of over a hundred children’s museums that participates in an ACM (Association of Children’s Museums) reciprocal program. What this means is that members of the BCM receive free admission at over a hundred other children’s museums throughout the country. Of course you may be wondering why I didn’t become a member of a children’s museum closer to home to receive these same benefits. Well, first off, because Jacksonville, despite being a major metropolitan city, does not have a children’s museum. Secondly, the closest children’s museum I’m even aware of is the wonderful Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry in Charleston. It is a great museum, and I considered joining there just because I wouldn’t mind giving them the money and I may be able to get back up there with the kids sometime in the next year. But to me, it didn’t really matter where I joined. I was really just in it for the reciprocal benefits. And the agenda for the entire CMRT includes no less than 9 children’s and science museums. So, no matter what children’s museum I joined (with the exception of the museums in the NYC area which placed some restrictions on reciprocal benefits) I could get in free to all the children’s museums we visited along the way. But, notice that I also mentioned some science museums. Well, after a little research I discovered that the Boston CM also participated in the ASTC (Association of Science and Technology Centers) travel passport program. So, by joining the BCM I would get free admission to not only over 100 children’s museums across the country, but until the end of October I would also get free admission to over 200 science museums across the country. So, let’s figure out the math on this one. No, really. Let’s do the math. By purchasing the $125 family membership I would have covered all admissions to the following museums (with the cost of admission for 1 adult + 3 children listed in parentheses): Liberty Science Center ($50.25), Children’s Museum of Manhattan ($44), Stepping Stones ($48), Boston Children’s Museum ($48), Portland Children’s Museum ($36), the Franklin Institute ($51.50) and the Please Touch Museum ($60) in Philadelphia, Discovery Place ($42) in Charlotte, and Fernbank ($64) in Atlanta. Um, so $125 up-front investment = $270.75 in savings. Seemed like a no-brainer to me. Especially since those savings figures are based on this trip alone and the reciprocal membership to the children’s museums lasts an entire calendar year and the reciprocals for science museums lasts until the end of October. So, me and my suburban Florida kids, the ones who have no reason or occasion to be in Boston at any time other than CMRT, are now members of the Boston Children’s Museum. And oh how I wished we lived near it! The BCM is awesome. Filled with great active and imaginative play spaces and enough science of the kind accessible to small children. I really loved it. And so did my kids. They did not want to leave, and frankly I didn’t either. Metered parking space be damned, it was worth the risk of a ticket. We stayed at least 2 hours and 45 minutes, and could have happily stayed longer, except that whole I still have almost 2 hours of driving to get to the Maine cottage nervousness that was sneaking in. But it was a hit and I will quite happily keep it on the agenda for next year.

Back on the road for the final stretch. Those miles flew by. A quick stop for gas and Coca-cola. Another quick (and oh so classy!) stop at the New Hampshire Liquor Store. Nothing quite says classy like a single mom taking 3 small children into the liquor store to pick up a bottle of whiskey. (Perhaps the C in CMRT can also represent Classy.) Before we knew it we were crossing the Piscataqua River and into the state of Maine. My reaction to crossing that state line is a visceral one. I experience physiological changes. My shoulders relax, my heart rate slows, I involuntarily grin. And when I see that sign that says: “Maine, The Way Life Should Be” it makes my smile even bigger. (My brother, who is back home in Florida, dealing with ash from a far away forest fire falling from the sky suggested that Florida’s state motto might be: Have a beer, things might get better. This made me laugh.) Once we got to the house in Kennebunkport we immediately went out onto the mud flats that are left behind in the Turbat’s Creek cove at low tide. Climbing the rocks, squishing through the mud, running about – happy kids. Happy Momma and happy kids.

I am sad for the first segment of road trip to be over. Do I really have to wait another year to try it again?  As much fun as we had, we have finally arrived. A mere 1,374 miles logged. Holy crap. That seems like a lot. And now, it’s time for the rest of the fun to be had. And I’m going to get right to that. Right after I get some sleep…

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Into the belly of the beast

18 Jun

New York City deserves its own post. I mean, it’s the Big Apple. The City. Gotham. Manhattan. And we took it. Just like the Muppets. Me and my three spent all day Thursday in the city. And it was glorious.

Stayed Wednesday night in a hotel in Secaucus, NJ. The same La Quinta Inn we stayed in last year. Not because it is a particularly good hotel, just because it was a known quantity. And the access to the city was incredibly easy. My original plan was to drive into the city and park in the parking garage at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Last year we parked in the garage at the Museum of Natural History. Reasonably priced for Manhattan, guarded, underground garage – what’s not to love?) This year’s NYC stops were to include The Children’s Museum of Manhattan, the Metropolitan, and FAO Schwarz – so we’ve got Upper West Side, Upper East Side, and Central Park South. A decently tight little triangle that should be easy to navigate via cabs with an obligatory subway ride thrown in for fun. So we got up, ate our free lobby-served breakfast, and were ready to roll from the hotel by 9:30am, which was perfect timing because the museums opened at 10am.

I’m going to tell you a secret. I love driving in New York. Yes, driving my minivan into the city via the Lincoln Tunnel. It was fun. Of course, I do have a rule that the minute we leave the tunnel the children are not to speak directly to me or otherwise behave in a distracting manner. And I fully admit that I map out my route the night before. But I love the aggressiveness. There is no time for fear, no place for hesitation. You just go and you trust that the other people are as skilled at driving as you. If there is a gap, you slip it. If there is a lane, you ignore it. It makes me feel powerful and in control in a way that little else does. And I dig that feeling. But I digress. I was telling you about the plan. Into the city and directly to the Met garage on the Upper East Side. Except that the last time I was in NYC I dropped by the Children’s Museum of Manhattan to see if it was a place the kids would enjoy and I remembered there was some street parking available. So, altering the plan, I just winged it a bit and drove straight to the CMOM on the Upper West Side. And sure enough, I scored sweet street parking on 83rd, right in front of the museum. As I deftly parallel parked the van in a spot that was just big enough, I thought of my dear friend and college housemate, Erin, who once accused me of making sacrifices to the parking gods because I always scored one of the 2hr spaces right in front of the D-Hall.

The Children’s Museum of Manhattan is pretty good. The traveling exhibit there now is Curious George and it was really cute. The kids certainly seemed to be having a great time. But I admit that I rushed them a bit. I mean for goodness sakes, we’re in New York City! And the weather is beautiful! Let’s get out there! Or, at least, go to the art museum! But I have to give it to them. The kids were having fun, but when I told them it was time to go, I got no arguments, no attitude, just happy compliance. Awesome.

We piled back in the van, went through the park on the 86th Street Traverse, and down 5th Avenue to the garage entrance at 80th. Avery delighted in telling the ladies at the membership desk that “we are members” and “we drove from Florida to get here.” Beau said that he wanted to see “mummy art,” so first things first we went to see the Temple of Dendur, which elicited a few wows. Then we traipsed through the Arms & Armor and the Musical Instruments. I wanted to show them my favorite painting (Pygmalion & Galatea by Gerome), but when I was in New York at the beginning of May it wasn’t on display. Apparently it had been loaned to the Getty for a Gerome exhibit and had since been returned, but was still languishing in the basement. I was hoping it was back on the wall in its rightful place, but alas, no. Harper said she wanted to see some “princess paintings,” so we went over to the European paintings and found a few pretty girls in fancy dresses. By this time it was past noon and the energy was starting to wane. Given the neighborhood surrounding the Met, I wasn’t likely to find a slice shop or the type of food my kids will eat, so I just sucked it up and took them down to the Met cafeteria. Figured it would be expensive, but there would have to be something they would eat, even if just a bag of chips. Um, yeah, it was expensive. But my one eater, Avery, got a kids’ meal hot dog and it came in the cutest cardboard taxi. She was so excited about it and spent the rest of the day carrying it around. It’s a little battered now, but nothing a little scotch tape can’t fix.

During lunch I tried to map the rest of the afternoon. A friend had tipped me off that there is a Lego store in the shops of Rockefeller Center, so I knew I had to find a way to fit that in. And I really needed to manufacture a ride on the subway. But I preferred to work it in to our actual travels, not just take a ride. So we exited the museum by the front entrance, giving the kids the opportunity to see the scope of the facade, and caught a cab to the Lego store. Okay, yes, we spent too much time in there, but they had some really cool sculptures and hey, Beau had some of his own money to spend, and frankly I’d rather him spend it on Legos than on random stuff at FAO just because he wanted to spend his money. And I may or may not have bought a set of my own. I saw one of the hard-to-find sets on the shelf in the Star Wars section and picked it up. I had to have it, because as Beau said, “it reminds you of your childhood, doesn’t it?” We walked a few blocks and went down into the subway. Caught an uptown train, went 2 stops, and then we were on Central Park South. Took the obligatory pictures with the toy soldier in front of FAO. I even bought the commemorative shots since that darn toy solider is just about the only thing that differentiates it from a regular Toys’r'Us. Again, we spent far too much time stimulating the economy. Though I will admit that I was highly amused to see the Barbie section. And if I only had $25k laying around extra, I would have picked up the Barbie foosball table. That’s right. A foosball table where the players are actual Barbies. Ridiculous. But awesome.

Now, I can’t go to the city without seeing my friend, Kris Pollina, the one and only Crazy Yankee Chick. And since she stayed with us for a night when down in Jacksonville for a friend’s wedding, the kids were clamoring to see her as well. But she works for a living, apparently really hard, so if we wanted to see her, we had to go to her. But hey, that’s why there are so many cabs roaming the city, right? So from FAO we grabbed a cab and went down to the historic Daily News Building, where she, and by happy coincidence, her sister Lauren both work. We visited with the Misses Pollina for a few minutes and then realized how late it was getting. It was already almost 5:00pm and I still had to not only get out of the city, but drive to Fairfield, CT. Hopped another cab and I have to say, this might have been my favorite part of the day. Harper spent the entire ride holding onto the strap and staring out the open window. It all seemed so natural. Avery fell asleep resting against me. We were all quiet and contemplative. I was basically in awe of my children. Their wonderful behavior. Their adaptability. To watch Beau and Harper strolling down the city street, sharing a soft pretzel, they just looked like little urban kids. As if the city bustling around them didn’t faze them. Like I said, it just felt so natural, all day long. And they were total rock stars. Aside from some whininess right before lunch, when everyone’s blood sugar was dropping, including mine, they were brilliantly well behaved. They were great listeners, they used their nicest manners. It made me feel so happy and proud.

Of course we still had to get to the Tison’s house, so our adventure was not quite complete. As I was getting everyone strapped into their seats in the garage at the Met I wanted to give them a little snack. And when they asked if they could just have some of their candy they got at FAO, I agreed. This was a spectacularly bad idea. It didn’t really affect Harper and Avery. They were both so incredibly tired that after munching on their candy, they were asleep within about 15 minutes. And it was all going so smoothly, the traffic thinned quite quickly, we were making spectacular time, I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. And in this case, it did involve shoes. As in Beau puking on his own. Yeah, he started complaining that he felt bad, and then he got more specific saying he thought he might throw up. So, I immediately pulled off at the Larchmont exit and found him a side of the road place to empty the contents of his stomach. There went all that expensive bulk candy from FAO Schwarz! Now, what the heck caused that? Was it just too much candy? I don’t think so. But maybe that in conjunction with some motion sickness? Perhaps there was egg in one of the candies? I have no idea. But it was sudden and out of the blue. And not at all the way I want to arrive at someone’s house. But hey, what are you going to do?

And arrive we did. Finally. And the whole Tison family was sitting out front waiting for us. It was great! With the exception of Beau being down for the count for about an hour (he threw up once more then rallied and was totally himself by bedtime), the Willim and Tison kids just started playing immediately. Of course the girls shared a mutual love of dress-up. They were so happy and so engaged, that I couldn’t bear to ride herd and tell them it was bedtime. So we just ignored it and let them play. To round out the evening, right before they finally went to bed, the kids put on a show together. It was called “Pajama Dance” and the best I can tell, Beau was freestyling a called dance (kinda like a square dance) and the older girls were showing off their ballet moves. Avery was just smiling and spinning in circles, but it was clear her heart was in it. Thankfully they did eventually go down and I was able to sit around talking and laughing with Tina and Joe.

It was a long, exhausting, wonderful day. And while I could have done without the sick boy, it was superlative in every other way. I was happy. The kids were happy. It was a big adventure. But it was also like a lot of days we have at home. I’m hoping they’ll remember it. Even just one moment of it. Even if it’s just a cardboard taxi holding a hot dog. Or a two stop subway ride. Or the way the city looks from the backseat of a cab. Or even the cool Lego sets they have at the New York City store. At least I know it made an impression. Just today, as we were driving to Boston, Avery asked me: “When are we going back to New York City?” Not soon enough, baby girl, but one day. I promise.

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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim