Back From the Great White North
We're back from Vancouver, and I'm still in the process of entering some of my hand-written notes about the games into The Ice Hockey Escapades, as well as adding photos to the entries I was able to post from Al's Blackberry. I moved to paper after a couple games for two reasons: (1) my hands were already sore from holding my stick, and typing with my thumbs made the pain worse; and (2) it was faster to just take notes on paper, leaving more time for hanging out with my husband and child between games.
me posting from Al's Blackberry with Austen by my side
I'm not sure what I was thinking when I booked this trip; was it that we didn't end up wanting/needing the extra day in Vancouver last time we went? Or was it that Al wouldn't want to take an extra day off from work? I can't remember, but for whatever reason, I had us coming in a few hours before the game on Friday, and leaving early Monday morning. I obviously didn't take into account that we'd be flying in from farther away this time and that the airfare would be more expensive, or I would have tried to make more of a vacation out of it. In any case, we did end up having a lovely mini-vacation. The weather was fantastic, all of us really enjoyed the hotel (as always), Al got his favorite MMMuffins at the Brentwood Mall, and I got my favorite snacks at the Canadian superstore across from the hotel. And of course, I got to play a lot of hockey. (What I didn't do was take a lot of photos, sadly; that's what the extra day would have been good for.)
We'd planned to offer Austen a solid food of some kind while in Canada, but it turned out to be difficult to find/prepare a single-ingredient food for him while on the road (you're supposed to introduce one food at a time to check for allergic reactions). We did give him a bit of Al's McDonalds ice cream cone during the three-and-a-half-hour layover at Chicago O'Hare, but I don't think the mono- and diglycerides agreed with him, because he threw it up not long after.
Remember how I was thinking I'd like for Austen to try a uniquely Canadian food? Michele suggested poutine (also mentioned on Jay and Donna's blog), but as that's definitely a multi-ingredient dish, Al ordered it for himself instead, and Austen stuck with his old standby, paper. He ate napkins, chopstick wrappers, and even the address tag on my hockey stick bag (and he seemed to enjoy them more than the spoonful of avocado I gave him this afternoon). He also tried to munch on the carseat straps, but we actively discouraged this as the (rented) carseat was kind of gross. (On the plus side, according to Al, it was easier to install than our Graco Comfortsport.)
We noticed that flying with Austen was slightly more difficult this time than when we went to San Francisco in April, mainly because he's bigger and stronger now than he was then. He was still very well behaved, but his habit of stretching out while nursing meant that his head and feet were always hanging over the armrests. This was awkward when I was on the aisle, and downright painful for me on the one leg where I sat in the middle. (All our flights were completely, totally full.) His increased strength meant that our arms really got a workout when he was awake and wanting to stand on our laps (which is why I had Al hold him more on the return flights—my arms were already sore from four hockey games in a row). I think next time we fly I'll seriously consider buying him a seat and trying to distract him with toys.
Also unlike our SF trip, which involved no in-flight poopy diapers, Austen pooped twice on the flight from PHL to ORD, and once on the flight from ORD to YVR. Poops #2 and #3 came close enough to the end of each flight that we were able to change him in the airport bathrooms. Poop #1 required a change on the floor next to one of the plane's emergency exits, since there was no changing table in the lavatory. (All of the planes we were on were older, and it's only the newer ones that have changing tables—and faucets that stay on for a few seconds so you can wash your one free hand.) Incidentally, he also pooped on the return flight from ORD to PHL—about 30 seconds after the fasten seatbelt sign went on prior to pushback. Lucky for the friendly twentysomething guy sitting on the aisle that we didn't succeed in starting solids for real this weekend, as breastmilk-only poop doesn't smell too bad. (Although the paper Austen's been eating *is* showing up in his poop, it doesn't seem to have affected the smell much.) That poop also required a change on the floor.
Anyway, we all made it back safely (although my hockey bag didn't arrive until this morning, and the idiots who screened it apparently left one of the zippered pockes open, allowing a few small items—though no equipment, thank god—to fall out), the Canadian immigration agent was kind enough to stamp Austen's passport so he has a souvenir of his first trip out of the country, and I'm primed for the summer hockey season, which starts in less than two weeks. Yay!
The Nightmare Scenario, Continued
So as I was saying, it's pouring here in New York, and pouring rain wasn't part of the plan. I am wearing a skirt and neoprene flipflops. I suppose as raingear goes, these choices aren't so bad; the skirt material doesn't absorb water, and neoprene is what wetsuits are made of, so that's something. At first I was a little weirded out by walking through NYC puddles in almost-bare feet, but when the curb cuts disappeared under 2' wide, 6" deep white-water rivers I figured there wasn't any use worrying about germs anymore. I was literally ankle-deep in them, with the non-absorbent skirt plastered to my calves.
Austen, meanwhile, was managing to stay mostly dry beneath the rain cover on his stroller. I had to tilt the seat back a bit to keep him from trying to pull the cover off and eat it, and the (as far as I'm concerned, unnecessary) airholes at face level let in some of the downpour, but for the most part he seemed to be enjoying himself. At least, that's what passersby told me.
I never did make it down to the Magnolia Bakery (though I did get a couple cupcakes at Billy's yesterday; I just wanted some Magnolia ones to compare) or to Tea & Sympathy to stock up on Typhoo Decaffeinated, and I never did find an Adidas store (I want to see if I can find some lime green sneakers). In fact, I only made it 10 blocks before I caved and came here, to the conference hotel. I am finally mostly dry (except for my feet), and Austen's on his second nap. Al's preso is over (I saw about a third of it before Austen woke fully from his first nap and wouldn't stay still and quiet), and he just needs to make some calls before we leave. Sadly, it's still raining, so there's not much we can do in the way of kicking around before we head up to his brother's.
It's a funny thing, rain. I grew up on the east coast, and I've been back here for almost two years now, but still I never seem to expect it. Instead, I expect the endless sunny (or at least non-rainy) days that grace Northern California from mid-April until November.
Chelsea, Saturday Afternoon
I'm not sure if I explained properly yesterday why a downpour in New York was the nightmare scenario, so let me address that omission before I talk about what we did today: Basically, a downpour meant that I was trapped—with Austen, and without any of the tools for entertaining him or giving my arms a break that I'd have at home. Being wet as well just made things even less comfortable.
Today dawned better and brighter (and cooler and clearer). Al, Austen, and I were up early, so we walked down to H&H Bagels and got some breakfast for the household. On the way there and back, we stopped to pet about a zillion dogs, and I remarked to Al that if we ever move to New York I'm going to get a dog just to ensure that I get out early every morning. New York is so cool in the morning before everyone is up.
After snarfing down the yummy bagels, we took the subway down to 14th Street and walked toward the Bleecker Street playground. On the way we stopped at Mary's Off Jane for a mojito limeade (a little too tart for me, but very fresh—a couple packets of sugar would have smoothed it out nicely) and a slice of devil's food cake with "American buttercream icing" for later. (I just tried it now, and it was excellent: The cake was dense and chocolatey but still cakelike, very similar to my Aunt Judy's Black Cake, and the frosting was fluffy and sweet, a perfect balance of butter and sugar.)
At the playground Austen got to try his first swing; he was a little wary at first of being released into the black rubber contraption, but after a few pushes from Al, he really got into it. I have to say, whenever I have the opportunity to visit a playground in New York, I think how lucky are the kids who get to grow up here.
After the playground we had a delicious lunch at Mi Cocina on
Hudson Jane. I had the Frijolades Oaxaqueños (spelling approximate) and a strawberry lemonade; like the mojito limeade, the lemonade was too tart, but the entree—two white corn tortillas stuffed with queso fresco and covered with a black bean sauce and a pepper-studded cylinder of scrambled eggs—was mouth-wateringly wonderful. I can still taste it in my mind. YUM. We then ambled over to a part of town I don't think I'd ever been to before this visit, surprisingly: Chelsea.
We crossed through the old meatpacking district to the bike/skate/pedestrian path that led to the Chelsea Piers and then walked out onto the piers themselves. Cool complex! If it weren't for the fact that I don't think we could afford to live in Manhattan on one (or even one and a half) incomes, I'd be scanning the real estate section right now. (Of course, I can picture myself living in lots of cities; our visit to Vancouver actually *did* spur me to scan a few real estate listings there. :) I love the West Village, what I've now seen of Chelsea is intriguing, and my brother-in-law's neighborhood up in the 90s between Central Park West and Columbus is also charming. I think it'd be as hard to narrow down what part of the city I'd want to live in as it was when I tried to move here back in 1995 (I overshot then and landed in Norwalk, CT).
We didn't get to stay in Chelsea long, as an approaching thunderstorm chased us back up to the West 90s (I'd left both the umbrellas and Austen's rain cover out to dry in the apartment, and I had my fill of rain yesterday, so I wasn't eager to get caught in another downpour). I hope to explore more of Chelsea and the West Village next time we come up. If nothing else, I'll be going back to Billy's for the cupcakes—and, if I have room, down to Jane Street for a giant slice of cake from Mary's!
All kinds of food items to share today, from the gastronomical delights of our last hours in New York this weekend to local Philadelphia finds. First, New York: Al and I got up early again on Sunday (though not quite as early as on Saturday) and made it out for another morning walk, this time with Al's brother Carl for company. We walked down Broadway to the Starbucks at 81st, where I ordered a cappucino and (as usual) got a latte. The coffee was smooth and the milk heated to perfection, however, so I didn't complain.
From there we crossed the street to Zabar's, but since it was only 8:30 and Zabar's opens at 9am on Sundays, we weren't able to browse or buy. Instead we cut over to Amsterdam so Al could get a bagel sandwich at Barney Greengrass. On the way there (at 83rd, maybe? somewhere between 81st and 86th, anyway) we passed what appeared to be a new outlet of Le Pain Quotidien and picked up a couple pain au chocolates, a blueberry muffin, and a banana chocolate chip muffin. Al then got his bagel sandwich ("for $11, this better be the best bagel sandwich ever"), an extra plain bagel, and a package of Tate's chocolate chip cookies, and we headed back toward the apartment.
Luckily the street we chose to walk down was the same one that Tris and Henry had taken to walk toward us, and we ran into them about halfway up the block. We determined that we had enough baked goods to have a breakfast picnic, so instead of going home, we went to the hippo playground (real name: Safari Playground) in Central Park to eat at the picnic tables.
I had the banana chocolate chip muffin (wonderfully dense and flavorful... but how did they manage to get the batter so yellow—and so completely devoid of those little brownish-black fibers that are the hallmark of banana bread?) and a couple bites of Al's bagel, which was piled with three slices of the freshest-tasting nova lox I've ever had. Al declared the sandwich to be absolutely worth $11. Austen, meanwhile, noshed on a bit of his first-ever NY bagel (the plain one).
After breakfast, we played with the kids for a while in the canoe and among the hippos, and then we climbed up to one of the treehouses and chased each other around. (Had to burn off breakfast so we could make room for lunch!)
And speaking of lunch... As soon as we'd had a proper rest back at the apartment, we trekked back down to 83rd and Broadway to eat at Artie's. We'd been promising Henry a bowl of matzoh ball soup all weekend, and it was time to make good on that promise. (All that promising had given Al a craving for matzoh ball soup, too.) Instead of the cheese blintzes I'd planned to order (and which I'd so enjoyed last time), I decided at the last minute to get chocolate chip pancakes instead. (I later completed the chip trifecta by having a Toll House cookie bar for dinner.) Al got the soup, a potato knish, and a chocolate egg cream, and both of us noshed on the communal cole slaw and pickles the water guy had brought to the table. We agreed that the cole slaw was excellent—creamy-tasting but not dripping with sauce—but we split on the pickles: I prefer the "new" (half-sour), and Al prefers the "old" (full-sour). I don't mind trading a little bitterness for extra crunch.
Artie's is popular with the stroller set
The chocolate chip pancakes were yummy, and the matzoh ball soup and egg cream very filling, so Al got the knish to go. We ate it for dinner when we got home, and I can say without reservation that it was the best knish I've ever had. As I said to Al, "this knish is to ordinary knishes what Mama's falafel is to ordinary falafel"... which brings me back to Philadelphia food news. I've been meaning to mention Mama's here (though Al has been begging me not to, lest it get more crowded than it already is :) for a while now; it's the best falafel I've had since college, when I used to haunt the Gyro Wrap on Broad Street in Athens, GA. Most falafel is dense, hard, and sometimes dry, while Mama's is crispy-crunchy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside. I could eat the falafel balls with no toppings or salads whatsoever and enjoy the heck out of them, but the fact that both the Mama's Sandwich and the Mama's Platter come with hummus, tahini, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a wonderful, slaw-like cabbage (not to mention a homemade pita baked in a special oven from Israel) make them absolutely heavenly. Try the sandwich or platter with a grapefruit drink (I forget the name of the one we like, but it's in a clear, nubby bottle with an orange cap), or make your own grapefruit spritzer with equal parts unsweetened grapefruit juice, Sprite, and plain or lime selzer. Very refreshing! Oh, and if you get a chance, try a "cigar"—a miniature egg roll-like snack that's filled with a potato mixture—for an extra $1. It was the perfect antidote to my knish craving on Monday night.
Sadly, I discovered yesterday that another Philadelphia food find (and hip hangout) is no more: Hamburger Mary's on Chestnut Street (and the Dragonfly Lounge above it, home of the city's best Lesbian dance party, according to Philadelphia Weekly) is now closed. We only got to eat there once, but I've been making a homemade version of their bleu cheese (veggie) burger ever since. HM's had avocado on it, but since a good, ripe avocado is usually hard to find when I have a craving for the bleu cheese burger, I make mine without. The recipe is simple: microwave a Boca burger for 90 seconds while you toast a sliced Kaiser roll. While the burger rests, spread bleu cheese dressing (I like Marie's) on each side of the roll, and then squirt a bit of ketchup on one side and a bit of mustard (I like a grainy horseradish version I buy in Canada) on the other. Stick the Boca burger in the middle, slice with a serrated knife, and enjoy. It's messy but oh so delicious.
Finally, I forgot to mention that Austen has also tried yogurt and ice cream in addition to his regular fruits and veggies. I've read that you're not supposed to introduce yogurt until 9 months and other dairy products until 1 year, but he seemed so interested in Al's ice cream on our trip to Vancouver and my yogurt last month that we let him have some. Both dairy products came right back up within a few hours, so we're going to wait until September to try again. In the meantime, Austen has lately been making a meal of his feet; I saw him try to shove his toes in his mouth last week without success, but on Monday he finally got the hang of it, and he's been noshing on baby toes and doggie shoes ever since. Yesterday he also tried a bit of my Kaiser roll and seemed to enjoy it. Ummmm, white bread: just like paper, only better.
After really enjoying my last (and first) Princeton visit on Father's Day, Al and I decided to spend a weekend here. We're staying at the Nassau Inn on Palmer Square. I chose the place for its location and hoped for a bonus of charm; I'm not sure we've really gotten the bonus, but the location *is* great. Our room reminds me strongly of the one we stayed in at the Jameson Inn in Lakeland, FL on our honeymoon, though I believe this is the original early American design that the Jameson was attempting to copy. I like the copy better; though the top sheet on the bed here is excellent, the bottom one, inexplicably, is scratchy, and the bathroom is a bit grim.
We've already been out for a little walk around town to scout dinner options, and while wheeling the stroller around in 95° heat we formed our plan for the rest of the weekend: go to bed early, get up when Austen does, walk around the town and the campus early in the morning when no one else is up (and the temperatures are lower), and hide in the room or in air-conditioned cafes when the heat is on. Oh, and to buy these pants:
Just kidding! I did buy a pair of pink capri golf pants recently because I thought they were funny as well as comfortable, but I draw the line at whales. Anyway, back to scouting dinner: We saw a place called The Ferry House on Witherspoon whose specials sounded yummy, but neither of us really needed a full dinner, and the idea of putting more dining room-appropriate clothes on our sweaty bodies did not appeal. Instead we opted for an ice cream pastry at Halo Fête followed by take-out from Olive's.
Halo Fête claims to be America's first ice cream patisserie, and they're probably right about that. The idea is interesting—traditional French pastries made with ice cream and sorbet instead of pastry cream, custard, and curd—and the execution amazing, but as someone who loves pastries and could take or leave ice cream, I'd rather have the regular pastry than the ice cream version. As it turned out, the pastry that Al wanted was the one I also would have picked (a cashew caramel dome), so we decided to share. I only had one bite; the caramel was a bit too sweet for me, and I hated the nuts. Al loved the nuts, but declared the dessert, on the whole, ordinary rather than sublime. Overall impression: Better to look at than to eat.
Next stop was Olive's, a mediterranean take-out/bakery on Witherspoon Street. Al went right for the carne asada sandwich with avocado, which they kindly heated for him, but I had a harder time finding something I wanted. I finally settled on a small container of cucumber, tomato, feta, and red onion salad and a slice of peasant bread. Al also got a blueberry muffin with lemon glaze, and I a miniature raspberry almond cake. Now that was sublime: yellow/white cake layers with raspberry jam filling, a traditional buttercream icing, and toasted sliced almonds around the outside. Really, really excellent. The salad too was very good, Al really liked his sandwich, and the muffin was on par with the Mmmmm Muffins ones Al gets in Vancouver, "only more homemade-tasting."
It's a Beautiful Day
Austen found his voice recently—and it's very shrill. Sometimes he babbles pleasantly, saying things like "ay ya ya ya ya ya" and "hey da da da da da", and it's super cute. Other times, he SHRIEKS. Loudly, shrilly, earsplittingly. It's annoying enough at home, but in public it's stressful in the extreme. I'm horrified and embarrassed that I might be bothering other hotel guests, restaurant patrons, and driving range golfers, and that I can't get him to stop. I used to think, "geez, can't you shut that kid UP?" when I heard toddlers shrieking in stores, and now I know that the answer is NO. I also understand why those mothers didn't even seem to be trying: Because as a parent, you have to tune some of the shrieking out in order to preserve your sanity. You know there's very little you can do, so you save the little amunition you have for when it actually might do some good.
So anyway, after collapsing, exhausted, onto the bed last night at 7:30 and failing to convince Austen to (a) sleep or (b) stop shrieking, Al finally took him and let me conk out. They apparently jumped up and down on the couch for a while, and then Al snuggled Austen in next to me for his bedtime nursing at 8:45, and then got in bed himself at 9. We got up early, as planned (though Al and even I could have used another hour or so of uninterrupted snoozing)—early enough to get into PJ's Pancake House on Nassau Street for breakfast before a line formed out the door. From about half a block away I saw a large guy standing in the doorway with a cigarette, and I muttered to Al, "who smokes in the doorway?" As we approached, prepared to dash around him quickly to avoid the cloud of stale smoke, he said, "two? You can park the stroller right out here..." Apparently this was PJ, or at least the owner or manager of the place.
He ended up letting us take the stroller inside, where we folded it up and stashed it next to the table to avoid blocking the aisle, and PJ (or whoever he was) brought us a little baby seat that attached to the table. (We'd seen one like it on our NYC weekend when a couple brought their own to a Korean BBQ place on West 36th Street.) It was totally perfect for Austen; he got to sit at the table right next to me, but the sides were high enough that he couldn't quite reach onto my plate. Instead he amused himself with my empty creamer containers while we ate. I said to Al that this could possibly be the best meal I've had with Austen in attendance, even though the chocolate chip pancakes weren't quite as good as (though they were more expensive than) the ones at Artie's. The best thing we ordered between us was on Al's plate: the "mashed browns", which contained peppers and onions. The coffee was also quite good, especially with cream.
From PJ's we started our tour of the Princeton campus. I already knew the stroller-friendly routes to the bookstore and the train station, and those for the most part also turned out to be the shady routes. We got a couple shirts for my sister's kids at the bookstore, walked down to the train station and had a rest on a bench there, and then walked back up to Nassau street via Alexander Street. By that time Austen had fallen asleep, so we sat on a bench between Mercer Road and University Place to give him time to snooze. From there it was to the CVS to buy a couple miniature notebooks for me to carry with me, and on the way back we passed the coolest little table and chairs outside Nassau Interiors. Both of us liked the set instantly, and the price was very reasonable, so we bought it on the spot. I'll drive back up on Monday to pick it up, as there isn't room in the car at the moment.
We detoured down Tulane Street on our way back to the hotel on the advice of a sign, which pointed toward The Little Chef pastry shop. An worthy detour, I'd say, as it led to a wonderful little shop full of French pastries baked by a gentleman with an actual French accent. I should have asked his name and where he was from, but I didn't. I did ask if he did all the baking himself, and he said yes. We purchased an apple-apricot brioche (a small bite of which I've just taken, and so far, so delicious) and a chocolate croissant for later, looked in another furniture store for a baby-safe ottoman/coffee table for our living room (the glass one with the pointy metal frame that we have now is really Austen-unfriendly), and then returned here to the room. We're about to go out again for lunch and a drive around the area, so there'll be more food news later...
With all the cute little restaurants that Princeton has to offer, we somehow managed to eat at the same one twice today. Just after I last posted, we went across the street from the hotel to Teresa Caffe, where I had the pasta special (it's a pasta that I can't pronounce the name of, but it looked like rigatoni) and a glass of Merlot (I know, I know—that line from Sideways kept running through my head about how "WE ARE NOT DRINKING MERLOT!", but I had a craving for a glass of red, and the choices were limited). Al drooled a bit over the linguine with clams but decided he wasn't hungry enough to eat it, so he ordered the salad special.
Both dishes were very good, on par with the kind of food I'd expect to get in Napa restaurants. The wine was OK, not stunning; I might have appreciated it more if it was the kind of wine I actually wanted. What I was looking for was a light red, the kind that's more transparent ruby than dense purple. I know I've had a wine like that in recent memory, but god knows what it was. [I know that any wine connoisseurs who happen to be reading this will probably be groaning at my ignorance; if you have any wine suggestions, feel free to comment.] Even better than the pasta, surprisingly, was the dish of olive oil dusted with Teresa's signature rub (apparently also used on their meats) that was served with foccacia, crusty white bread, and chips made from what I assume was day-old sundried tomato bread. It was amazingly tasty on the foccacia, and I dragged some of the white bread through it before dunking the bread in my pasta sauce. Yummy.
Though today was about as hot as yesterday, it was much less humid, so after lunch we modified our midday plan slightly and took a drive instead of holing up in the hotel room. Our first stop was the driving range in Cranbury, where we hit a couple buckets of balls and tried to keep Austen from shrieking (I discovered that letting him play with a club helped, as did the old standby—holding him).
From the driving range we noodled around a bit, taking the long way back to Princeton via a route that passed a Pennsylvania Dutch Farmer's Market. It was similar to the one that used to be in Westminster, Maryland, only a bit smaller, and we arrived just in time to buy two pretzels, some fruit, two jars of pickles for Al and two half-sours from a barrel for me, and an excellent root beer before the place closed. I ate the two pickles on the spot and about a pretzel and a half over the next hour, along with some Haribo raspberries that I bought yesterday at Ricky's Candy, Cones, and Chaos on Nassau Street. Not exactly the most nutritious dinner... but that's basically what it turned out to be, since about fifteen minutes after I finally stopped munching pretzels and raspberries, Al declared that he was hungry. He wasn't able to forget about the linguine with clams and wanted to go across the street to Teresa again.
We did just that, only this time I got the salad, and Al got the pasta (though it was me who got the wine again, this time a peppery Cabernet that also didn't fit my light cherry flavor craving). I had the Insalata Farrauto, a small spinach, granny smith apple, and gorgonzola salad (hold the pine nuts, since I'm allergic to them) which was perfect for my overstuffed-with-sugar-and-starch stomach. I think I would have sliced the apples rather than diced them so that it would be easier to get a little of each flavor on the fork at once, but other than that small criticism, the salad was very good. There was no foccacia in our bread basket at dinner, though there was some sundried tomato bread, so it seems that my assumption about the lunchtime chips was correct. Though I missed the foccacia, I'm secretly glad it was left out, since I don't think I really had room for it anyway (and god knows if it was there, I would have eaten it).
Al's Linguine Vongole, of which I had a small taste, was outstanding—so much so that I'm actually considering eating at Teresa a third time this weekend, before heading home tomorrow. Aside from the red pepper flakes, which were a pleasant surprise, it tasted exactly as Al had hoped it would, so he was very, very happy. Sadly, I have no pictures of super fresh clams on a bed of garlicky al dente noodles to offer; I was busy keeping the Boopster's hands off our plates rather than taking photos of them. (The high chair was not as appealing to him as it was at lunchtime.)
Since it was still early and we were too stuffed to go to bed anyway, we decided to take a walk down Nassau street to investigate some of the other restaurant options (for future reference; obviously, we couldn't eat any more tonight!) and hopefully burn a few calories in the process. Almost every place we passed was packed, every outdoor table filled with diners, interesting-looking plates, and buckets of BYO wine. On the return trip, as we prepared to cross the street in front of Ivy Garden, I had to resist the urge to poke Al in the ribs when we were passed by a gentleman wearing THE PANTS. I was just thinking that his looked like they had marlins on them instead of whales when I heard him say, "gah, I got a spot of duck sauce on my pants." I assume it was his wife who responded, "nobody will notice, dear—they'll just think it's a marlin."
It's time to clear my backlog of scribbled-on-hotel-stationery notes, most of which pertain to our trip to Boston on the 7th. Al had a meeting there on the 8th, and we decided to make a weekend of it so Austen and his godmother could meet each other, and so the three of us could have a little family vacation. The drive there was pretty easy; Austen didn't cry at all, and we made good time despite a stop at Stew Leonard's in Norwalk, CT to see the singing milk cartons and buy bagels and snacks. (Sadly, I don't think I took any photos at Stew's.)
Stout @ Legal
We stayed in Kennett Square, next to MIT, the first night. By the time we got all checked in it was nearing Austen's bedtime, so we ate dinner at the nearby Legal Seafoods rather than searching for a unique Boston eating experience. (I like Legal, so I didn't mind.) On our way into the restaurant, I saw two people drinking pints of stout at a patio table and said to Al, "oooh, I'm going to have one of those." So when our waiter came to take our drink orders, I said, "do you have a stout on tap?", knowing that they must, but not assuming that it would be Guinness (you never know when a local brew is going to be available.) He replied, "sadly, no." I looked at him for a second; surely those hadn't been pints of root beer. I know a stout when I see one. After a pause, he said, "the closest thing we have to a stout is Guinness." I think I was still looking at him with that slightly puzzled, slack-jawed expression when I said, "OK then, I'll have a Guinness." I'm still puzzled by this exchange, and now I'm craving a Guinness again...
No 2T at MIT/Pete's chocolate
On Thursday I had a chance to walk along the Charles River/Memorial Drive as well as down to Harvard Square while Al was at his meeting. The weather was warm but dry—lovely for walking, and for stopping at playgrounds to push Austen on the swings. I took a bunch of photos on the walk, including a couple that I can't bring myself to post of some hateful anti-Asian graffiti on a park bench along Memorial Drive. I was reminded of how racially divided Boston can be, and of one of the reasons I was glad to leave back in 1984. Aside from the bench bigotry, the views along the Charles River at 9am were beautiful.
After the walk along Memorial Drive, I stopped at the MIT COOP to get Austen a t-shirt to add to his collection of college swag. Sadly, Austen will not be aspiring to MIT at this age, as they had no sizes between 12 months and 3T. (Austen's somewhere in the 12-24 months range, depending on the brand of shirt. His Stanford, Penn, and Princeton shirts are all 18 months, and they're getting snug, but the 24 month Boston Red Sox T we got him later in this trip is kinda huge.) It made me wonder whether they didn't order very many apparel items in Austen's size, or whether parents start thinking of MIT for their children when the kids are between 1 and 2 years old, leading to the store selling out of those sizes.
After a decently long nap (by Austen) at the hotel, during which I wrote a few more 9-month observations down for posterity, Austen and I departed for Harvard Square. We found a playground on Broadway and stopped to play on the swings, but we didn't stay too long as the swings were in full sun. This was probably the first time I noticed that Austen understood some of what I was saying to him: When he tried to remove his hat, I said, "Austen, you have to leave your hat on if you want to play on the swings. No hat, no swing." He stopped tugging at it and left it on.
From the swings we continued on to Harvard Square, where I bought Austen two Harvard t-shirts in size 2T and something called Chocolate Caramel Knowledge for myself at the Harvard COOP. The latter turned out to be a gourmet chocolate made by the Pete of Pete's Wicked Ale, and it was DELICIOUS. Reminded me of the Kaluha truffles I used to get at the mall when I was a teenager. Well worth the $2.50 I paid for it, as the four fat discs of coffee/caramel-filled 61% chocolate will last several hours (or several weeks, if you're Al). After eating one disc of chocolate to tide me over until I could get some lunch in my stomach, I found the perfect spot to sit and enjoy an excellent spinach, goat cheese, and spiced pecan salad and a pint of Guinness while feeding Austen apples and blueberries (no high chairs available, so I fed him in the stroller). I wish I could remember the name of the place; it was on the corner of Mass Ave. and something, near the Adidas store. (The third photo below is of a different place on Mass Ave. that also serves Guinness; I thought the "cheaper than gasoline" sign was funny. :)
Al and I met up again after his meeting was over, checked in at our next hotel in Waltham, and then drove out to Needham (where I grew up) to meet my best friend (and Austen's godmother) for dinner at Not Your Average Joe's. I actually found the food to be very average, but the decor was nice—much nicer than Gino's Pizza, which is what was in the space when I was a kid—and of course the company was great.
On Friday morning Al suggested we go for a walk around Walden Pond in Concord. I wasn't super into it, but I also had no real objections, so I said OK. It turned out to be really lovely and peaceful, and carrying the boopster around the 1.25-mile loop in the Bjorn was good exercise. Al was a bit disappointed to see the wire fences lining the path, which weren't there when he lived in Concord back in the 80s, but I didn't find them too distracting. I'd rather have them—and preserve the woods around the pond for future generations—than see the woods and shoreline eroded.
We saw several people kayaking, canoeing, and swimming, and passed several folks strolling and fitness walking in the woods, but we always had more than enough space to ourselves. I think an important factor in our positive, peaceful experience was that we went on a cool, cloudy Friday rather than a sunny Saturday, when the beach on the pond is often mobbed, according to Al.
On Saturday we took the T in to Fanueil Hall, where we had a very underwhelming fried fisherman's platter and lobster roll. We decided that since we'd been to FH and the surrounding Quincy Market several times before, and the food this time had (literally) left a bad taste in our mouths, we'd walk somewhere else. Al suggested the North End, which I think I'd only been to—or rather, through—once before, when I walked the Freedom Trail as a kid. There we immediately found a bakery with a nutty, nougaty Italian delicacy that Al really likes, and not long after that we found the ultimate lemon slush. I am not a slush/water ice person, but this one was fantastic—exactly the right texture and flavor. I can't remember the name of the store where we got it, but it's at the corner of Salem and Parmenter Streets.
Walden Grille mussels
On Saturday night we cruised around the Concord area for a while, looking for a place to eat. We finally settled on the Walden Grille as the only real possibility after perusing the dinner and bar menus posted outside. I thought I wanted to order off the bar menu, and Al thought he'd like something from the dinner menu, so they seated us in the bar area, in which both options were available. As it turned out, I ordered from the dinner menu, and Al ordered from the bar menu. :) I got an arugula salad with grapefruit wedges, bleu cheese, and (I think) a passion fruit vinaigrette and an order of steamed mussels. I think Al got a french dip.
The salad presentation was a bit odd; instead of wedges, I got two huge slices of grapefuit. The taste more than made up for the basic, almost unappetizing presentation, however. Someone at the table adjacent to ours ordered the same thing I did, and she complained at first that there was no dressing for the salad. The waitress assured her that it had been tossed with the dressing in the kitchen. The patron insisted that it was missing, and asked for dressing on the side... only to discover that she had indeed been eating a dressed salad. "This dressing has NO TASTE. It tastes like NOTHING," she said to her companions. Personally, I loved the light flavor and thought the salad was dressed perfectly. The passionfruit really highlighted the arugula without overwhelming it, and it didn't clash with the cheese or the grapefruit.
Regarding the mussels, the woman at the adjacent table and I heartily agreed: they were EXCELLENT. The first time I ever had mussels, at Eastside West in San Francisco's Marina district, they defined the experience for me—and I've been chasing that perfect combination of tender, not-too-chewy, not-at-all-fishy mussel meat and savory broth ever since. Ladies and gentlemen, I found it at the Walden Grille. WG's version was different in many ways from Eastside West's, but both made me want to eat every last morsel and then soak up as much broth as possible with bread (I had to ask for an extra slice). I'm not sure if the woman at the other table was on a low-carb diet or just didn't want to fill up on bread, but I heard her ask for a spoon. Good choice, though Al's leftover batter-coated french fries also tasted amazing dipped in the tomato-y, garlicky broth. One thing you should note if you are semi-vegetarian/fishitarian, like me: The version of the mussels listed on the menu includes chorizo; I asked for mine without. I heard the woman at the adjacent table tell her companions that it was the chorizo that made the mussels so good (and it may indeed impart something special to the mix), but I can tell you that I was in as much rapture as she without it.
So to summarize: The presentation of the dishes at Walden Grille may have been careless, but the taste and quality of the food was excellent, and the service was fast. There was no baby seat for Austen, but neither were there any complaints when he made a total mess. Oh! And the prices were very reasonable. Give it a try.
It's important to know that when I say "leaf peeping", I say it the way Al would—in a sort of high-pitched, introducing-His-Majesty-the-King fanfare style. LlllLeaf PppPeeping! OK, now that the correct pronounciation of "leaf peeping" has been established, here's what we did today:
Austen and I drove from Philadelphia to Danbury, CT, leaf peeping all the way. Well, I was, anyway. Austen SLEPT the entire way—all 3+ hours—only waking as we entered Connecticut. Most of the areas we passed through were past peak, colorwise, but there were some pockets of vibrant color nonetheless. The clumps of yellows, browns, oranges, and greens in southern New Jersey and western Connecticut brought to mind spray-painted model train trees, while the deep reds and oranges mixed with leafless dark brown branches at the northern end of the Garden State Parkway reminded me of a dying fire.
I made a game of scanning for the most vibrantly colored trees that still had a full complement of leaves (like the amazing yellow-orange one that I admired—but forgot to photograph—in Schyulkill River Park yesterday), which made the drive more interesting. Also making the drive interesting were a discussion of Abraham Lincoln with his latest biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin, on WHYY's Radio Times, and an audio CD of Joseph J. Ellis' His Excellency, George Washington. So far I'm enjoying learning about George Washington's pre-Revolutionary adventures, though after reading/listening to David McCullough's John Adams and 1776, I think I prefer McCullough's measured revelation of colorful details to Ellis' ya-ta-da-ta-da-da, nudge-nudge, wink-wink style. Still, I learned a lot about Washington in about 90 minutes today; the most surprising detail for me was the pattern of others' deaths making room for Washington to advance. I do love a good history story, and I'm finding that listening to these epic histories on audiobook is very satisfying. (I only wish my car stereo had a 3-second jump back button like Tivo does so I could review what I missed when I was scanning my Triptik, reading road signs, or zoning out for a bit. Alas, the only option is to move forward or back an entire track at a time, and the tracks are each about 45-60 minutes long.)
In addtion to the audiobook, I also brought two hardbacks with me: The Search, which I'd forgotten to add to my Additional Reading list in the sidebar, and The Great Unraveling, which I picked up after hearing Paul Krugman on Fresh Air a couple weeks ago. I love business/technology histories as much as I do the more traditional kind, so I'm enjoying The Search. Battelle's writing style grated on me a bit at first, but I'm used to it now, and the narrative and details are interesting enough to keep me reading. The Great Unraveling I will start as soon as I'm done with The Search; I can tell already that I'm not going to finish it before its Nov. 9 due date (at the library). I've long enjoyed Krugman's editorials in the New York Times, but it really wasn't until I heard him (and another economist) discussing the Bush Administration's plans for dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that I really got interested in reading any of his books. Anyway, I hope to have that started soon (and reviews of the last few books I've read posted to my book reviews area soon, too).
I don't think I'll get much reading done tonight, unless I step into the bathroom; the Boopster went down an hour ago, and I don't want to risk waking him up by turning on the light next to the bed. I'm crossing my fingers that he'll stay down until at least 5am, since I don't have Al here to take him in the morning, and if he keeps me awake all night I'll be useless for driving tomorrow. With that in mind, I think I'll probably go to sleep myself in a few minutes. It's only 8pm, but with the sleep deficit I've been running for the past 13 months or so, I should have no trouble conking out right away.
Austen and I left Lexington, Massachusetts for Portland, Maine at roughly 8:45am yesterday. The tree colors as we traveled north moved more to the orange-umber end of the scale, with an occasional shockingly white birch trunk sticking out like an exclamation mark amid the brittle-looking browns. We made it to Portland at about 11am and headed straight for the Eastern Promenade (Valerie's "nice day" suggestion). Sadly, the nice weather only lasted long enough for me to get Austen out of the car seat and into the stroller (i.e., about 5 minutes of serious whining and wiggling). The sun went in as we locked the car and pushed off toward Casco Bay, and no sun + freezing wind = only 15 minutes at the playground along the Prom.
From our spot on Congress Street we backtracked to Cumberland and the Portland Public Market (Valerie's "icky day" suggestion). I bought two bottles of Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale at the Maine Beer & Beverage Company stand and then continued around the market looking for lunch prospects. After a few loops, I settled on a potato-leek soup from Stone Soup (I think that's what it was called) to accompany my one remaining cinnamon-raisin peanut butter sandwich on Metropolitan Bakery sandwich wheat bread (I made three of them for the trip). The soup was a little thinner (and therefore drippier) than I like, but other than that it wasn't bad.
We did a few more loops around the market just for fun, and then we went out into the chilly-raw air of downtown Portland. Since buying the Pumpkin Ale had put me in a beer mood, and I don't think it's legal to drink beer in the open market, I had in mind searching for a good pub. I never did find one, but I did find some cool graffiti, the Portland Pirates' store and administrative offices (where I bought a t-shirt), and other random local color worth photographing. At around 1:30 we finally decided to get out of the cold and head to Valerie's house.
Once we'd located the keys Val had hidden for us and then determined which door of her duplex she lived behind, we went inside and were immediately greeted by Bonita, Val's cat. More doglike than catlike, I'd say, and obviously not familiar with the whisker-pulling, eye-poking, fur-ruffling ways of toddlers. Even when she had familiarized herself with these toddler techniques, however, she still seemed more inclined to hang around Austen than to run away. Doglike, I tell you.
Val came home from school at around 2:20, and we hung out and chatted until her violin students started showing up at 3:45. Austen was mesmerized by Val's pre-lesson warmups, which included stretching on the floor and playing a few scales and short songs on her violin.
And... We're Back
Austen and I returned, along with Al (who flew up to Hartford to meet us on Sunday), from Maine on Monday. We had great weather every day except Sunday (which was foggy and drizzly), and especially on Saturday, when the air was brisk but not cold, the sun was warm but not roasty, and the wind was cool but not frigid. Perfect Dreamweaver fleece weather. Val, Austen, and I started the day with a hike around Mackworth Island just north of Portland in Falmouth, Maine. Fabulous and varied views and terrain; it was somewhat similar to our walk around Walden Pond, only with the water on the outside of the loop rather than the inside. (Walden, if you'll recall, was what prompted me to purchase the Kelty Kids backpack, and I wore it on this hike with pretty good success. I had considered going over to Walden while we were in Lexington, Mass, btw, but I went to a playground instead.)
From Falmouth we drove to the opposite end of Portland to visit Portland Head Light on Cape Elizabeth. The spectacular weather really enhanced the experience of visiting the lighthouse and the park around it. Austen fell asleep in the car on the way there, so he didn't get to admire the lighthouse or the amazing view, but I've shown him the photos.
After all the beautiful views and brisk weather, we went to Silly's, a local Portland eatery, for lunch. There was a Magic 8-Ball on the table, and Val offered to get an answer for any question I cared to ask, but I found that I couldn't come up with anything I really wanted to know. (Guess I'm finally living in the moment!) Austen was another story; he was very eager to know when he would be walking on his own, when I'd let him drive the car, and especially when he'd get to eat.
I fed him a jar of apples & blueberries while we looked over the menu. Val ordered some crab-stuffed mushrooms to share and a greek salad with the feta on the side, and I got a giant Harvest Burger with BBQ and bleu cheese sauces (yeah, I'm really that decadent) and sweet potato fries. The fries were EXCELLENT; I had no trouble finishing them, especially since Austen ate quite a few. They were fried with their skins on and tasted more like baked sweet potato strips than french fries. Yummy. The Harvest Burger was homemade and HUGE, and although it was delicious, I couldn't finish the whole thing. Ditto the pint of locally-brewed root beer.
After a sufficient interval, during which we played with Austen in the house and napped, Valerie made the most awesome zucchini-onion-broccoli-mushroom-tomato soup for dinner. How something so simple (and so vegan) can taste so delicious, I'll never know; credit Valerie's talent in the kitchen and experience with fresh fruits and vegetables.
On Sunday morning Austen was up at 6:30, as usual (well, he wakes up and wants to nurse before that, but he usually sits up and starts poking me—or Al, if available—around 6 or 6:30). Luckily Valerie also rises early, so we didn't interrupt her sleep routine too much by being in the house. We went downstairs to say good morning, brush teeth, etc., and then I took Austen back upstairs so I could get dressed and pack while Val cooked breakfast (wheat-free apple pancakes for me, and homemade applesauce for Austen; now that I know how easy applesauce is to make, I've made three batches since returning home :). This is when the crying started.
Val was being kind, or at least circumspect, when she said "Austen gave us a glorious example of the highs and lows of a day in the life of raising a toddler." She definitely got to witness highs and lows throughout the weekend, but the low I suspect she was referring to here was the non-stop crying jag-turned-tantrum that Austen threw when I put him down so I could pack. At first I set him on the floor, but he kept UNpacking the suitcase while screaming, so instead I put him in the Pack 'n Play not one foot from where I was standing, got dressed, and tried to pat down my sticking-up hair. This was when I realized that my arms were so sore from carrying him for the past four days that I couldn't hold them over my head, and when Austen decided that I was going to leave him there and never come back. Or maybe he noticed that I couldn't get my arms over my head, and despaired of ever being picked up again. In any case, the screaming reached a fever pitch.
I relented and lifted him out of the Pack 'n Play and stood him up at my feet. He hugged my knees and clawed my thighs and screamed even louder. With my hair still looking like shit and makeup on only one side of my face, I picked him up and tried to console him. He scratched my face, pushed against me with his feet, and tried to strangle me. These are indications that I have become both his tormentor and his savior. He wants me to help him, to fix him, to MAKE IT BETTER, but at the same time he hates me for any number of crimes I've committed against him. He ends up looking like the Exorcist baby, writhing, crying, and clawing, giving both "PUT ME DOWN" and "DON'T YOU DARE LET GO" signals. I got down on the floor with Austen and tried to snuggle him, to jiggle him, to kiss his forehead and tell him I love him, but he wasn't having any of it. And after 10 minutes straight of screaming, I called Al.
Usually I can last at least 20 minutes before going round the bend, but after four days of being the only parent on duty, I was already near my wit's end. (This happens at home sometimes, too, when I don't get enough of a break to completely regroup: My anger and despair stay just beneath the surface, waiting to be roiled up by a Difficult Child Attack.) I needed help, moral support, another parent. Unfortunately, when I reached Al he tried to comfort Austen via phone, instead of trying to comfort me. I think I said the reason I was calling was that Austen was throwing a tantrum, but I didn't make clear that it was I who needed soothing, not him. Austen threw the phone across the room as Al said, "it's OK, buddy, it's OK", and that was it for the call. Neither of us called back.
As Austen continued to thrash and scream, I started to wail, "Austen, you HAVE TO STOP CRYING!", and then I started sobbing. The initial shock of seeing me blubber caused him to dial it back a bit at first, but then he continued the tantrum where he left off. It was time for desperate measures: I was going to have to impose on Valerie. I brought Austen downstairs, tears streaming down both of our faces, and managed to whisper, "can you take him for a little bit? I need to regroup." Valerie gave me a hug and took Austen from me.
When I came down about 10 minutes later, dressed and packed, Austen was sitting on Valerie's hip while she made applesauce. I said to him, "will you give Mommy a hug and tell me all is forgiven?" He reached out for me, put his head on my shoulder, and squeezed me around the neck, lovingly this time. Then he struggled to get down so he could play with the jars and containers under Valerie's sink.
After snarfing down applesauce and pancakes, I loaded up the car with our luggage and a much-coveted jar of Valerie's blueberry jam, took some final photos of Valerie and her lovely house and yard, and Austen and I headed out for Springfield, Mass. The goal was to get to the hotel around 3pm, feed Austen lunch, and watch a little football until Al's plane arrived at Bradley International Airport at 5:50pm. We made it with time to spare, at around 2:30pm. Austen ate a bunch of cheese, some more baby food, and some of the applesauce Valerie sent home with us, and then both of us got restless. I decided to just walk to the end of the street to see if there was a Starbucks nearby, but I ended up going completely around the block (no mean feat while carrying a 24-lb. baby). Good thing I did, because I noticed that we were adjacent to the Mass Mutual Center, where the Springfield Falcons hockey team plays... and that there was a game at 4pm.
I realized that Austen probably wouldn't last more than a couple periods anyway, so it was probably feasible to take him to the game and still pick up Al at the airport. I went back to the car, got the Bjorn and a sweater out, strapped Austen in, and walked back to the Mass Mutual Center. We ended up getting a seat right in front of the visitors' goal, which was a mixed blessing; great view, but I had to worry about one of us getting beaned by a misfired puck.
Luckily we didn't incur any injuries, though we did have to endure some loud and inane screeching from the teenage girl behind us, and some scary shouting from a 50 year-old guy in the next section over who wanted a specific Springfield player to know just how much of a pussy he was. That, and some ridiculously over-the-top cheering every time a fight broke out. This is the thing I'll never understand about minor-league hockey: Why do the teams, the leagues, and the fans all encourage—even promote—fighting? Go to a boxing match if you want to see a fight, for pete's sake. I want to see skating, passing, and shooting, thank you very much. In any case, it made me re-think the idea of taking Austen to minor league games in the future, even though they cost a fraction of NHL games.
We did indeed manage to pick Al up at the airport, and we had a nice evening together before heading back to Philly the following day. We made the requisite stop in Norwalk to visit Stew Leonard's and stock up on everything from asparagus to scones, and we even got the perfect photo of fall foliage when we put on the four-way flashers, rolled down the passenger window, and pressed the shutter button exactly once on the Canon 10-D before continuing on our way back to I-95:
Back in the Saddle
Hello everyone! Sorry for the lack of blogging over here—Al, Austen and I have been in Hawaii for the past 10 days (as you might have noticed from some of the photos popping up in the Flickr badge on the front page). I jotted down some notes during the trip and will post a vacation summary shortly. I'll also be uploading a slew of photos to Flickr sometime today or tomorrow. Stand by!
Vacation Summary, Part 1
So I didn't mention that we were going on vacation before we left for a couple reasons, but now that we're back it's probably safe to say that we were in Hawaii with both my parents and Al's. Al's parents go every year for a couple months (they're retired), but my parents had never been. Whenever we mentioned it, my mom would say that Hawaii was a place they'd go "someday."
We pretty much had to demand that they come, and even once they agreed, my mom was a bit nervous about what they would do, what they should wear, how much it would cost, etc. About halfway through our stay, however, I caught both of my parents saying, "next time, we'll...", so I think there's a good chance they'll go back with us in a couple years. I hope they do, because having both sets of grandparents there for what was also Austen's first visit was so cool. We all got time with the beaner, time to play golf, time to ourselves, and time all together. It was awesome.
A few of the highlights (er, yeah, highlights):
We arrive in Kahului after a 9-hour flight from Chicago, during which Austen didn't cry at all. Yay, grandparents! While waiting in the Lowe's parking lot for Al to buy a HEPA filter, Mom starts playing a game with Austen that involves a Kleenex and ridiculous questions—to which the answer is always "nOOOoooo."
I catch Austen practicing "nOOOoooo" and angry face (aka Hulk pose) in the mirrored closet doors in our bedroom.
Al and I play our first round of golf, on the Village Course. I'm +30 through the first 9 holes; by the time we finish, we've lost 6 balls each. The Village is the easiest of Kapalua's three courses.
Austen signs "please" for the first time. It looks like he's making a slashing motion across his throat, or adjusting a collar that's too tight. Mom, Dad, and I take a golf lesson with Jerry King. I already love Jerry for what he's done for my game; by the end of the lesson, Mom and Dad love him too.
Austen says "grandpa" clearly for the first time while Al is changing his diaper at 6:15am. We play the Plantation Course at 6:50am with our dads; despite two errant shots (one into the road) on the first tee and the difficulty of the course (which I was playing for the first time), I improve by 8 shots over my Thursday Village score.
While our parents are out playing golf together, Al and I decide to take a drive so the beaner can have a nap. Al suggests taking the North road to a little artist colony to get banana bread for his brother; he denies that driving any part of the North road will violate our rental car contract. I swear I saw some red zones on the rental map of this area, but Al says no.
After several sharp turns (preceeded by signs instructing us to BLOW HORN) and major twists that have left me a bit nauseous despite the fact that I'm the driver, not the passenger, I ask Al if this banana bread recipe really differs all that much from my own. He replies that it's advertised as the best in the world, and that Carl has requested that we FedEx a loaf to New York.
After 20 minutes of twisting and turning, we round a bend and find ourselves on the downhill slope of a giant, one-car-wide U. There's a sheer rock wall on one side, and a sheer dropoff on the other. There is no guardrail, but there *is* part of a palm tree blocking 1/3 of the roadway about 20 yards further on.
Long story short: I make it to the bottom of the hill OK, but I burst into hysterical tears when a pickup truck with big tires and a lift kit meets us head on about 100 yards from the top of the U. I start screaming, "I CAN'T DO IT! I CAN'T DO IT! HOW DIFFERENT CAN THAT BANANA BREAD RECIPE BE FROM MINE ANYWAY???" and take my hands off the wheel. The driver of the pickup (whose right front tire is halfway over the edge of the road) waves me on, and Al encourages me to inch past her. I do, despite continuing to insist that I can't, and I manage to get to the pull-off at the top. I sit in the driver's seat screaming and crying for a full five minutes before Al talks me into moving to the passenger side for the return trip. We make it back OK and with only minimal hysteria, but there will be no banana bread for Carl (and no nap for Austen—I woke him up only 25 minutes after he fell asleep with all my screaming).
15 Month Update (and Vacation Summary, Part 2)
I think I'll remember month 15 as the one in which Austen learned to sign "please" and say "no". These two additions to his vocabulary have made a tremendous difference in his ability to communicate his wants and needs; when he points up at the kitchen counter and says, "uhhn," we can now hold up any items in the area one at a time (me: "sippy cup?" A: "no." me: "banana?" A: "no." me: "glass of water?" A: "no." me: "you want me to put on my glasses?" A: [smiles and makes sign for "please"]) and know for sure when we've hit on the one he wants. Of course, he also answers "no" to lots of questions to which he should really be answering yes, such as "did you poop?"
As I mentioned in the first (and so far only) installment of our Vacation Summary, Austen also knows how to say "grandpa"; we clearly heard him say it at least twice while we were in Hawaii. I also heard him say it the other night when he was looking through the latest issue of TIME magazine (Austen loves to read magazines, especially TIME and Martha Stewart Living). He'd gotten to the last page, which had an ad that showed a man of about 60 with close-cropped gray hair in a suit. He made the "I know that guy!" sound (it's similar to the "I want that!" uhhn, but with a different inflection) and pointed to the guy in the suit. I don't think Austen's ever seen my dad in a suit, but I suspected that that was who he thought the guy was. "Who's that?" I asked. "Grandpa," he said softly, staring lovingly at the photo. "No, that's not grandpa, but it does kind of look like him," I said. Oddly, he doesn't usually say "grandpa" when photos of my dad (or Al's) come up in our Mac screensaver rotation, but he does make the "I know that guy!" sound. I guess you have to ask him "who's that?" to get "grandpa."
I'll also remember month 15 as the one in which Austen had his first ear infection. It happened in Hawaii, and our first indication that something was really wrong was when Austen woke up on Wednesday morning at 3:30 am with a raging fever. I'd noticed he was a little pink (and warm) the night before and figured that despite our best efforts to keep him covered with clothing, sunscreen, and a hat, he'd gotten a sunburn while we were out whale watching. I'd given him some Tylenol in case it would help, and put him to bed as usual at 7:30. When he woke up with the fever at 3:30, his skin was a fiery red, and I was sure I'd been a rotten, irresponsible parent and totally sunburned my child. We were a little panicked; Austen had never had a fever (or a sunburn) before, and we were very far from home.
Luckily Al realized that with the time difference, our pediatrician's office would be open at that hour, so we called. The nurse who called back seemed to ignore my news about being out in the sun (maybe it's difficult to imagine getting a sunburn when there's 2' of snow where you are) and asked if he was pulling his ears or acting cranky. I said, "well, he's screaming now, but I suspect that's because it's 4am and he's burning up." She suggested that we go get some Children's Motrin (it's apparently better than Tylenol at controlling fevers), and while at the store, to pick up a thermometer. "It'll help put your mind at ease, for one thing," she said, "and it'll also help you figure out if the fever's going down. If it's not, or if you notice any behavioral changes—lethargy, etc.—then you should take him to a doctor."
We drove to Safeway and got an ear thermometer and some Motrin; the reading was 103.5. We dosed Austen with Motrin and let him sleep in the bed with us for the next couple hours, and when he woke his fever had broken. He also wasn't nearly as red/pink, which should have tipped us off that this wasn't a sunburn we were dealing with. So anyway, we went on with the day as scheduled and drove to Mama's Fish House in Paia, where we had an amazing lunch (with even more amazing views). After lunch Al and Austen played in the sand on the beach, and then we drove around Kahului and Wailuku for a while in a futile attempt to find malasadas. (Sweet Treats had closed, and The Home Maid Bakery only serves them from 5:30-9:30am and from 4-10pm; we arrived at 3pm.)
When we arrived back at Kapalua around 4:30 or 5, we noticed that Austen was really hot again. We took his temperature with our handy ear thermometer... and promptly flipped out when the reading was 104.5. I knew from reading nj and Morrisa's account of Miranda's high fever (I can't find the entry now, but it was when Miranda was less than a year old, I think) that brain damage wasn't necessarily imminent, so I was able to calm Al down a little. We called the Doctors on Call number and got the office in Ka'anapali (for some reason the one at Kapalua was closed that day), and we made an appointment for 6:20. We dosed Austen with some more Motrin and then headed out the door, figuring there was no harm in getting there early. On the way there I called Morrisa to see if she had any advice; she confirmed that while there was no need to panic, we were doing the right thing by going to see the doctor.
Getting to the doctor's office early did indeed work in our favor; we were seen a little before 6, and the young doctor (who told us he had a 17 month-old) quickly figured out that Austen's left ear was infected. (He also wasn't the least bit skeptical about our 104.5 reading, thank god—most doctors seem to think that the only readings that matter are the ones taken in their offices—and was pleased to see that the Motrin was already working, as the reading he got was 101.5.) He told us we could alternate Motrin and Tylenol (e.g., Motrin at noon, Tylenol at 4pm, Motrin at 6pm, Tylenol at 10pm, etc.) to keep the fever down, and he prescribed 10 days of antibiotics... plus a re-check on Friday to make sure Austen was OK to fly home that night. (He was, and he loved the strawberry flavor of the medicine; by day 3 he was bringing me the bottle and dropper first thing in the morning, so he never missed a dose. :)
Month 15 was also when I returned to work full-time. (I actually started on Austen's 14-month birthday, Jan. 30.) Obviously our arranged-last-August Hawaiian vacation interrupted work for a couple weeks, but the rest of the month went surprisingly well. Austen knows that I'm working—he's just as sad when I head upstairs to my office as when Al leaves out the front door in the mornings—but he really seems to like playing with Hannah all day, and of course he's always excited to see me when I come down for a hug break or some food. I miss the days of running errands when no one else was at the mall or the grocery store (now I go on weekends with all the other working people), but I'm glad to be working again, and I'm especially glad to have help. Al, Hannah, and I form a little child-rearing triumverate now; I don't feel like I'm shouldering most or all of the responsibility myself.
On the food front, Austen is still a really good eater. He eats just about everything, and he likes to graze. This month I introduced him to Jell-O, and though he was skeptical of the bright orange wiggly mass at first, it's now among his favorite treats. He especially loves it with fruit trapped inside. He also went wild for strawberries (organic, of course) this month, eating 5 or 6 of them at a time. Just to be silly I squirted some whipped cream on the one he had in his hand once, and he's now a total whipped-cream junkie. He begs to have whipped cream squirted on his hand, and more often than not he plays with it for a little while before he eats it (if he eats it at all; in the photo on the left below, he's smeared it in his hair like mousse).
Yesterday morning he begged me to squirt some whipped cream on his hand, so I gave him a small squirt. He pointed at the can, which I'd put back on the counter, and made the sound for "I want that!" I said, "I already gave you some. You don't need any more." At which point he made the sign for "please"... and smeared the whipped cream all over his chest. The look on his face when he realized he'd done it was priceless—a sitcom moment if ever I've seen one. I, of course, busted out laughing, which brought out the ham in Austen. He smiled devilishly and rubbed the whipped cream all over his stomach.
Finally, it looks like Austen shares my love of cozy little nooks; that triangular space between the baby gate and the wall at the base of the kitchen-living room stairs has become his favorite. It's where he goes whenever I give him a big enough piece of food to keep him busy for a while, and sometimes he just sits there when he wants some time to himself.
Missing A Game (And Missing My Kid)
I was planning on catching up on all my e-mail on the plane and then sending the messages once I got to the hotel in Vancouver, but as you all know, plans change. My flight to Chicago at 8:30 was cancelled due to mechanical problems with the plane, and after many tears, several phone calls, and lots of running back and forth between United in Terminal D and USAir in Terminal C, I got rebooked on a USAir flight to Denver. I won't make it to Vancouver until after 7pm, and my first game's at 6:15, so I'll be missing that.
At the moment, I'm also missing Austen (and Al) terribly. I'm usually a "make a decision and don't look back" kind of person—I hate it when Al agonizes over what could have been—but I now find myself wishing I'd had the presence of mind to get out my laptop and check the game schedule, suck up the extra $30 to turn around and take a cab home again, and just take the flight they'd rebooked me on leaving tomorrow morning at 6:30am. I still would have made the 5:15pm second game with hours to spare, and I would have had more time with Al and Austen. Of course, that flight might have been cancelled too, and then I'd really have been fucked. Bird—or boarding pass, as the case may be—in the hand...
I'm hoping that the 24 hours of wireless access I just paid for here in Philadelphia will be valid in Denver, where there's also an AT&T wifi network, but if not, I'll probably suck it up and spend another $8. I've got a 5-hour layover in Denver, and I am *so* behind on my e-mail and blog-reading (not to mention writing). Might as well make good use of the time.
Well, I made it to Denver—40 minutes late, but with a 5-hour layover, who cares? The wireless access I paid for in Philadelphia is good here too (yay!), so I've been able to do some website maintenance-type stuff while I'm waiting... like putting ads on my hockey blog. We'll see how that flies. I'm not sure I want them here at avocado8; there's plenty of stuff already on the main page, and I don't want to clutter it up further, but I might consider putting ads on the archives as an experiment. We'll see.
My flight to Vancouver wasn't even on the board when I got here, which kind of freaked me out, but United's website was reporting no delays or cancellations. It finally showed up on the Departures board at about 2pm local time, at which point it was reported as being delayed 15 minutes. I guess there's no hurry, since I'll be missing the game anyway...
I've talked to Austen on the phone about a zillion times since I left this morning, and he seems in good spirits despite the fever. This is what it was like in Maui when he had the ear infection: other than looking a little washed-out and running a raging fever, he acted normal. Al says the fever went right back up to 102.1 five hours after the last ibuprofen dose, so he called the doctor. They have an appointment for 1:15 tomorrow to get Austen checked out.
Al reported that Austen had a strawberry crepe with whipped cream for lunch (courtesy of Hannah), and that they'll be having chicken and french fries for dinner, followed by ice cream. I said to Austen, "boy, you're going to want me to go out of town more often!" Al said he's just trying to be extra nice because Austen's sick. OOOO! As I was typing this, Al actually sent me a photo of Austen eating said chicken and fries (how cool is that??):
Meanwhile I had lunch (dinner?) at—gasp!—McDonald's here in the Denver airport. I haven't eaten much today, and with the stress of the flight cancellations and delays (the Vancouver flight's now listed as departing at 5:50 instead of 5:15), I needed something quick and protein-filled. Filet-O-Fish and kid's milk did the trick. I'm just glad Austen didn't see me.
The knob on my butt shrunk a bit overnight; I suspect that the shrinkage has something to do with the fact that the blue-black area has spread upward and outward into the previously-swollen area. I still have a knob, but it's much less noticeable than it was.
I have another story to tell about the woman traveling with three kids on the flight from PHL to DEN, but my legs are falling asleep (I'm sitting on the floor, near an outlet), so I need to get up and move. More later.
I finally arrived at YVR, went through customs, grabbed my bag and stick off the oversize ramp, and picked up my rental car, and I was on my way to North Vancouver at 9:09pm local time last night. After a quick stop at the Safeway and a couple wrong turns (I was following a Google Maps route from memory), I made it to my hotel almost exactly an hour later.
I've already had my morning walk (though not my morning coffee) and a shower, and I'm about to go out exploring. I asked at the front desk for a good place for a photography nut to go poke around, he made a suggestion, and as soon as I get dressed, I'll grab my camera and go.
I noticed when I went out to the car this morning to get my hat out of my hockey bag that the bag has a huge gash along the seam at the bottom; luckily, everything I put in the bag seems to be accounted for, but I'll still need to get a new bag before I head home. :( Guess I'll be combing the hockey stores for a good bag rather than just picking up some sock tape at Canadian Tire...
Deep Cove (and Deep Bruise)
Before heading out to Deep Cove (the suggestion of the guy at the front desk) this morning, I took some more photos of the bruise on my butt. I think this one shows the damage pretty well, as well as the migration of the bruise into the previously-swollen area just above my tailbone. I think you can also see the knob pretty clearly, even though this photo was taken head-on (or butt-on, as the case may be...).
Meanwhile, Deep Cove was AMAZING. I should have followed my instincts and headed down there earlier; by arriving after 8am I managed to miss a bunch of seals playing close to the shore. If I'm up early enough tomorrow, I may go down there again. I'm uploading the photos I took to Flickr as we speak, so check the little thumbnails on the front page for the latest.
After taking lots of photos of the incredible mountain, water, and mist views, I followed the advice of one of the boat-rental employees and had breakfast at Honey's (actual name is Honey Doughnuts & Goodies, and it's on the right side of Deep Cove Road as you come down toward Panorama Park). The cranberry-peach bran muffin was excellent—really bran-y and not too sweet—and the small decaf latte was smooth as silk. Honey's also serves eggs (the special today was eggs benedict), french toast, and waffles in addition to their tasty selection of baked goods. Sandwiches and soups are also available at lunch, though breakfast is served until 4pm.
I'll be heading out in search of a new hockey bag as soon as I'm done uploading photos. More later!
No Seals This Morning
I had so wanted to get up early and go see if the seals were out at Deep Cove, but after two hockey games last night and a bedtime after midnight, I just couldn't do it. The only reason I'm up now is that Al called around 7:50am, and my mind clicked ON—a sure impediment to getting back to sleep. I hope to use the time between now and when I have to leave for this morning's game at 11:15 to upload some of the photos I took at the arena, and to write about the games we played yesterday. Check over at The Ice Hockey Escapades for updates.
On My Way Back
I'm on my way home now, between flights at Chicago O'Hare. I'm waiting to see if Orbitz' "air traffic advisor" is right about late-afternoon flights being delayed by 45 minutes or more. So far, no posted delays on my flight to Philadelphia.
Unbelievably, I got all my game summaries for the Vancouver Tournament written and posted over at The Ice Hockey Escapades before I got home. That might just be first. The *overall* summary is that my hockey skills are better than I realized—I guess there's just something about playing in Philadelphia/the HNA that makes me feel like a loser on the ice—and that the hockey bug is back. Hope I can find more time to play with fun people like the Spitfires and improve my skating and hockey skills in general once I'm home.
From Away to Down East and Back Again
Al, Austen, and I just returned from a lovely road trip to Maine. We took our time (a trick I learned when Austen and I traveled alone to Maine in November), spending a night in Springfield, Mass on the way up and one in Norwood, Mass (near my best friend Sandra's place in Canton) on the way back.
We watched a bunch of Red Sox games ("behball" is now part of Austen's vocabulary) on NESN, got to spend some quality time with Val, ate great seafood, walked the Eastern Prom Trail, hiked on Mackworth Island, rode in a narrow gauge railroad car, visited two lighthouses, explored the Old Port, and still had plenty of time for naps and relaxing and swimming in the hotel pools. Oh! And on our first night in Maine, Val and Matthew cooked us an awesome dinner of grilled salmon, dilly beans, amazing potato salad, shrimp and brown rice pasta salad, and a really neat coconut milk ice cream. I have already bought some brown rice pasta so I can try out the shrimp salad at home (it was a simple preparation with a bit of sesame oil and garlic oil), and I need to get Val to send me the potato salad and dilly bean recipes. (Al was dreaming about the potato salad on the way home.)
A few photos from our trip are up on Flickr now, but I still have a bunch more to post, so stay tuned. I'm already missing Val (and probably will even more when I head out for my morning walk alone tomorrow), and I'm wishing Sandra, Austen, and I could've spent more time at Millenium Park in West Roxbury (man, that park is gorgeous—and HUGE!), but I'm also glad to be home. Everything about this vacation turned out great, from the planned Monday departure and Saturday return (so we'd have a couple days to chill out at home before and after the trip) to the unplanned minivan rental and hotel stay in Old Port. What a fun week!
News From Our Busy Weekend
So as I mentioned in the previous post, we had a busy weekend. I probably should have spent the weekend doing laundry and cleaning the house and bleaching my hair and making packing lists in preparation for BlogHer (I only remembered last night that I'd be IN THE OFFICE on Thursday and not calling into meetings, and that I'd need to have everything washed and ready to be packed on Wednesday in preparation for the 6:20am flight on Thursday), but instead I spent it getting my hair cut in the suburbs of DC, rocking and romping in Baltimore, and riding the subways and running around the West Village in NYC.
First, the new haircut. (This isn't really news anymore, since I jumped ahead and posted about d:fi, but anyway...) Toni always does an amazing job, but I've noticed that the less guidance I give her, the more likely I am to get what I want. This time I just said, "I like it pretty short, except in front—I need something to hang some color on there." What I got was this really cool "pinwheel" cut that two other stylists came over to ask about. It's exactly as requested—short everywhere except in front—plus it's spiky, asymetrical, and interesting, three other things I love.
After the haircut we made a mad dash up traffic-choked I-95 to Baltimore for our first-ever Rock 'n Romp. I'd read about it on Tracey's site, and after clicking through to the sound clip of the Sick Sick Birds (who were scheduled to play on Saturday), I'd decided I wanted to go. The only thing that remained was convincing Al. He finally bent to my will when his brother proposed that they play golf together on Sunday; I think knowing that he could have a day to do what he wanted to do made a day of running around and being social bearable.
I think Al even had a good time playing with Austen and listening to the music. I really dug the Sick Sick Birds, as expected, and the lyrics to Danny's songs were hi-fucking-larious. I think even better than the music was meeting other alternaparents—though of course alternamusic was the reason for the plethora of alternaparents. I spent quite a while talking to a woman named Maryann (MaryAnn? Marianne? I should see if Tracey has her e-mail address...) who looked like a normal mom on the outside, but who turned out to be super cool. Her current haircut was deceiving; apparently, she used to have a bleached-white spiky do like mine. We also had our kids in common—or rather, the fact that we had to be talked into having them. For her, it took 7 years of convincing before she finally caved. We were also together in the "one and done" camp. I wish now that I'd introduced myself properly and gotten some contact info from her, even though she lives down near Annapolis (too far for regular schmoozing, sadly).
Austen's favorite thing in the back yard was the giant, three-wand, no-spill bucket of bubbles. Actually, now that I think about it (and look at the photos), this was almost every kid's favorite thing. Another big hit was the super-cool slide, though the platform at the top was rather narrow and pitched slightly away from the slide. After racing down a couple times, Austen climbed to the top again with Al's help—and then promptly lost his balance, stepped back to right himself, and found his foot striking thin air. He disappeared off the platform rather suddenly (I was standing at the bottom of the slide, waiting to take his photo as he came down), and for a moment, I froze. I think I instinctively knew I couldn't get there in time to catch him, so I stayed exactly where I was, trying to see what, if anything, he hit on the way down. Luckily Al had ahold of an arm, which slowed his progress until Al had to let go (the post was between them), and another mom broke his fall slightly (enough to keep him from getting tangled in a swing or striking his head, anyway). Still, it TOTALLY freaked Austen out, and after that the only word he said for a long time was "go". As in "let's leave," rather than "there's a car!" It was a little heartbreaking the way he pointed to the gate.
I finally convinced Austen that there was enough fun still to be had to make it worth staying for a little while longer (I *really* wanted to see the Sick Sick Birds, and Austen fell as Sarah White's band was breaking down). The butterfly bushes and other wonderful flowering plants in Tracey's yard really helped, as they attracted actual butterflies. Austen was enchanted by them, calling them "whys" and pointing whenever he spotted one. And of course, there was the big bucket of bubbles.
We left (after listening to a couple wonderful songs from Danny, his computer, and his accordian) when it became obvious that Austen was really done for the day. Quite honestly, we were too—the heat and humidity were tiring, and we still had a two-hour drive back to Philadelphia (in what turned out to be a scary series of thunderstorms). The triumph of the day for me was hearing Al say that he'd go to another Rock n' Romp event in the future.
On Sunday we all got up early (earlier than we usually do on weekdays) to drive up to NYC so Al could meet his brother for golf. My sister-in-law Tris, her son Henry, Austen, and I hung out and played in the apartment for a while—Austen and Henry had great fun chasing each other up and down the long hallway—and then we took the C train down to the West Village to visit Henry's favorite playground. We stayed there for at least an hour, maybe more; long enough, at least, for Austen to have several meltdowns every time he wanted to play with a toy that someone else was using (or vice versa). I literally had to pry him out of the extremely popular bug car a couple times, while he screamed and cried like he was being tortured. Several parents looked horrified and tried to interest their children in another toy, saying, "oh, no, it's OK, he can keep playing with it," but I just said, "he's got to learn how to share sometime!" while trying to fish him out.
Each time we gave another kid a turn, I'd have to hold Austen on my lap for a little while and talk him down. I explained about sharing, and how the toy wasn't his, it was for everybody to use, and that he could have another turn when the other kids were done with it. He finally sort of chilled out when I gave him a half a peanut butter sandwich (talk about weapons on the playground!) and he got interested in chasing Henry up and down the ramp and around the sandpit.
From the playground we walked over to John's Pizza for lunch. We ordered two small pizzas (one cheese, one mushroom), but when it came time to actually eat them, Austen refused to wear his bib. (Al later correctly identified the problem: Henry wasn't wearing a bib—he's 4, and much less messy—and Austen loves to copy Henry.) I insisted that he wear the bib if he wanted to eat pizza, and once I took that stand, I kind of wished I hadn't. It would have been so much easier to cave and just let him eat—we were in a public place, after all, with company, and he was totally making a scene—but once I pick a battle with my kid, I win it. Tris confessed that it made her a little bit happy to see other kids act out in public, as it made her feel less bad about Henry's antics, but I wasn't amused. I finally just ate my own pizza and left Austen alone until he started saying "UP! UP!" and motioning that he wanted to get out of his high chair.
I brought him up onto the booth bench with me, where he noodled about for a bit and then reached for some pizza. I said, "no, you have to wear your bib if you want some pizza," at which point he struggled and screamed and tried to twist away from me. I'd finally had enough, so I wrestled the bib onto him and then held it firmly in place so he couldn't yank it off, and then as he opened his mouth to wail—yes, there were actual tears rolling down his face—I shoved a little piece of pizza into his maw. He closed his mouth on it, sniffled, and then started to chew. "It's good, huh?" I said. He smiled sheepishly, and that was then end of the bib drama. He ended up eating two (small) pieces of pizza with the bib on.
After pizza we went next door to Cones, where Henry had a scoop of vanilla ice cream (his choice), and Austen had a scoop of watermelon sorbet (my choice). Since I wouldn't be eating the sorbet, I wasn't sure how to choose (usually Al and Austen share something, so Al chooses), so I just went with one of Austen's favorite fruits. He seemed to enjoy it well enough, though I could tell from the measured way he ate the stuff that he didn't like it as much as gelato from Capogiro. From Cones we moseyed back to the Bleecker Playground so I could change Austen's diaper on a bench outside the play area. Austen didn't want to ride in the stroller, and after a couple blocks Tris and I got tired of carrying him, so we assigned Henry the task of holding Austen's hand. Henry took this job very seriously.
After the diaper change, the plan was for Austen to fall asleep in the stroller while we walked back to the subway via the meat-packing district, but Austen was in no mood to nap. I honestly think he was afraid he might miss something (especially an opportunity to mimic Henry). When we got back to the apartment Austen still refused to lie down, instead resuming the game of chase-Henry-up-and-down-the-hall that the boys had abandoned when we went out. I'd never heard Austen pant before, but he was puffing pretty loudly by the time we announced it was time to go home (Al and Carl came back from golfing about 15 minutes after we came in). We left with a giant bag of toys that Henry'd outgrown, plus a few items of clothing from Tris and Carl, plus Henry's push-tricycle. Total bonanza! The only thing we didn't leave with were bagels and lox; we were too tired to see if Barney Greengrass or H&H were still open. I regretted that on Monday morning, but I was thrilled to have such a happy, eventful family weekend. Yay!
Earlier this week, when I heard from the Weather Channel that it was supposed to be cooler and drier this weekend—and cooler and drier still in New England—I proposed that we drive to Connecticut to enjoy the weather and restock my supply of Decaf Chocolate Truffle coffee. (I mix it 3:4 with Starbucks Decaf Verona for a rich iced coffee treat, in case you're curious.) My original idea was that we'd stay overnight and then drive back on Sunday morning, but as Al's Fantasy Football draft was scheduled for Sunday afternoon, he wanted to make it a day trip. The draft was later postponed, but our daytrip plans stayed the same. After all, it only took us two hours and 45 minutes to get from Norwalk, CT to Philadelphia when we drove back from Maine.
We planned to get up as usual on Saturday morning. I'd take my walk and have a shower, Al would feed the Beaner and get him dressed, we'd throw a cooler, some icepacks, the Beaner's DVD bag, and the camera in the car, and we'd probably leave around 9:30am. Everything went pretty much as planned, though I took the time to burn a couple CDs of tunes to try out on the Beaner, and I also checked the diaper bag to make sure we had at least two spares and some wipes. I noticed that the extra pair of shorts in the diaper bag was too small for the Beaner now, so I grabbed another pair and a shirt out of the dryer, thinking of the major diaper malfunction that struck Al in Princeton a couple weeks ago. We pulled out of the garage at 10:06, and that's when the fun began.
11:45:09 ~ Grover Cleveland Service Area, NJ Turnpike
Al, the driver, is ready for some caffeine, so we stop between exits 11 and 12 on the Turnpike to get a Iced Grande Soy Chai, a Decaf Short Latte, and a Horizon Vanilla Milk. Whee, this is fun!
12:49:50 ~ Somewhere on I-95, after the Geo Wash Br/Lincoln Tunnel split, but before the actual Geo Wash Br
Al catches me trying to take his picture and smiles. "Why are you smiling?" I ask. "I'm trying to get a photo of you looking defeated, exhausted, and annoyed at being stuck in traffic!" At this point the ridiculous backup we've been stuck in for about 30 minutes starts to seem funny. At the same time, it's so disheartening—so not what we had in mind—that we consider turning around. The only thing that's really stopping us is that traffic going the other way is just as bad.
12:56:20 ~ Still not to the bridge yet
Is this a good sign or a bad sign? Should we be encouraged that it's only going to take us 40 minutes to get over the bridge, or discouraged that holy freaking cow, it's going to take us 40 minutes to go about 5 miles?! Incidentally, it was pretty smooth sailing for us once the EZPass lane opened up on the left... about 5 feet before the actual toll booth.
OK, at this point, for some reason, I stopped taking photos for several hours. Maybe it ceased to be funny when we finally made it off the Cross-Bronx Expressway and over the line into Connecticut... only to be stuck again in stop and go traffic. The Beaner fell asleep at about this time, confounding Al's plans to have him sleep on the way home, and making us worry that even if we got there soon, we'd still be stuck driving around in an attempt to get him at least an hourlong nap. (What we didn't know at this point as that it was going to take us another hour to reach our destination anyway.) My theories about stupid Yankee fans were blown to hell (the first pitch of the game happened while we were on the bridge), and instead I started cursing all the people who were just out DRIVING AROUND because it's summer. Yeah, people like us.
The most likely reason I stopped taking photos was because Al had announced that he thought we should just get a room and spend the night. This announcement took much of the pressure to GET THERE off us, and so I think it didn't occur to me to document the crawl any longer. Instead of thinking about photos, we turned our minds to other topics: Was there anything we needed that couldn't be bought at a drugstore or mall? (Yes, some medications, but I determined that I could go a few extra hours without them.) And, more importantly, how were we going to find a hotel? We had no AAA Tourbooks, no laptops, and no Blackberry with us. (Funny that it's only occurring to me now that we could have stopped somewhere and asked for a Yellow Pages. :) I knew that there were some hotels in Norwalk because [a] I'd stayed in one for about a week in 1995 when I took a job in Westport before finding a place to live, and [b] I'd considered overnighting there on our way back from Maine last month (we ended up staying near my friend Sandy in Mass. instead). However, I couldn't remember where the hotels were or to which chains they belonged.
Somewhere around Stamford I asked Al if he'd be at all interested in seeing where I used to live in South Norwalk. I also mentioned that if he was up for it, I'd like to see if Sunshine Pizza was still just over the bridge on Washington Street. He said sure, and I instructed my bladder to hold on just a little longer. Now this is where I should really have gotten out the camera, but in my defense, I had a full bladder, dammit, and it was making me stupid. I neglected to take ANY photos of Washington Street, which looks as it did when I lived there, only a bit more vibrant, and with almost none of the same businesses in residence; nor did I take any photos of the river, with its cool drawbridge and colorful boat traffic; nor did I take any photos of the humongous new condo building that's going up behind what was, in 1995, the newly-converted-to-loft-apartments Corset Factory, where I lived for the first six months of 1996. I didn't take any photos of the Corset Factory itself (though I did point out the seven 7-foot windows that bounded my corner apartment), and I didn't take any of the place where Sunshine Pizza used to be (but where it is no longer, apparently; either that, or my memory is faulty).
Since lunch at Sunshine Pizza was now out, we continued on to Stew Leonard's, arriving around 3:30pm. Had we not stopped to tour South Norwalk (without getting out of the car, mind you), we might have made it to Stew's in just over 5 hours. Woo hoo! Only 2 hours and a few minutes behind schedule! The Beaner was still sleeping, so I just ran in to Stew's to pee, though on the way out I had the brillant idea to check near the exit for brochures for local attractions. I hit on something better: A free tourist map of the area, which not only had ads for local hotels, but also marked their locations on the map. By the time I returned to the car with the map, the Beaner was awake and cranky, so I had a bizarre conversation with the reservationist at the Hilton Garden Inn over which phone number might be associated with my HHonors account (it turned out to be my old Macromedia # from 1997-2003) while the Beaner screamed in the background. Reservation secured, we went back into Stew's to buy the coffee we'd come for, plus a few snacks.
Next stop: The hotel. On our way there, we noted the location of a couple drugstores where we could pick up supplies after checking in... and we also noticed that Norwalk seemed to have more than its fair share of places named for their owners. I remarked to Al that we should get some photos of said places on our way out of town the next morning. We then found the hotel (it was in the same area as the one I'd stayed in 11 years ago, though every hotel in the strip seemed relatively new), checked in, spent $62.90 at the CVS (luckily, it was all stuff we can totally use at home, too, like diapers and toothpaste and moisturizer), and then headed for the mall that our checkout lady at Stew's had recommended. Al and I each bought something to sleep in (the Beaner would sleep in the extra t-shirt I packed for him and then wear it the next day), and then we went back to the hotel and gave the Boopster a bath. Yep, I know—you totally envy us our lives of excitement and adventure.
20:23:57 ~ Hilton Garden Inn, Norwalk, CT
The hotel had a pool, but CVS had no swim diapers in the Beaner's size. No matter: he prefers playing in hotel room closets anyway.
07:50:21 ~ Hilton Garden Inn, Norwalk, CT
Jeez, when did he get so BIG? Al and I were up before the Beaner, who slept soundly until after 7am. He woke up cheerful and tousle-haired.
07:50:33 ~ Hilton Garden Inn, Norwalk, CT
Yay, grapes! The Beaner appreciates hotel-room picnics as much as we do.
08:21:44 ~ Parking lot of Hilton Garden Inn, Norwalk, CT
Our first business named after its owner. I took this one out the driver's side window while at a full stop. Al took the remaining photos as we drove down route 123.
08:25:01 ~ Route 123, Norwalk CT
BOB'S STORES. I think there's only one here, though.
08:25:09 ~ Route 123, Norwalk, CT
Al's quick (and almost indescriminate) with the shutter button. You have to be around here, or you might miss another name. Hiding behind the Panda Pavillion II is Jerry's Artarama.
08:25:31 ~ Route 123, Norwalk, CT
Apparently beer, wine, and liquor aren't Al's only interests.
08:28:19 ~ Intersection of Routes 123 & 7, Norwalk, CT
Al curses the camera for not focusing fast enough. In the camera's defense, it was working under adverse conditions (namely, a moving car, a curved back window, early morning glare, and a trigger-happy operator). The object of this photo was Pasquale's Osteria, just to the right of the old chap taking his morning walk.
08:28:27 ~ Route 123, Norwalk, CT
Tucker's Cafe out the driver's side window. Who had this stupid idea of taking photos of businesses named after their owners?
08:28:31 ~ Route 123, Norwalk, CT
Bruno's Barber Shop (and my head).
08:30:37 ~ Route 1, Norwalk, CT
Stew Leonard's, the reason for the trip. We made one more stop for extra bagels, salmon cream cheese, and fried scallops before turning for home.
The return trip took the expected 2 hours 45 minutes (or would have had we not detoured to the King of Prussia Mall to pick up some pants at Nordstrom and a chair at the Crate and Barrel). Traffic was brutal on I-76 East, so we took Ridge Pike back home. Sadly, the camera was now buried under a mound of crap, and we couldn't dig it out fast enough to get any photos of the weird and/or interesting signs along Ridge Pike (like the billboard ad for a funeral home that showed a kid selling high-speed internet access for $.25 at a former lemonade stand and that said something about times changing... an example being that the funeral home had moved 7 miles down the road; and the bus stop bench that had a giant banner on it that said YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL). So I guess this entire boring story and its accompanying boring photos are by way of saying what I said to Al when he lamented that the Beaner wouldn't get to go swimming in the hotel pool: "Well, it's not like this is a real vacation or anything. It's just an errand that took too long."
What's Going On
I have a little list of things I've been wanting to write about, but which I haven't had time to address as of yet (and yes, I'm still behind on my e-mail—if I owe you one, hopefully you'll hear from me soon). Part of the problem—which isn't really a problem at all, given that usually we're homebodies who don't do much of anything—is that we're too busy DOING THINGS and HAVING FUN for me to keep up with, well, writing about the things we're doing.
Some of the things on my list:
- This one I don't need more than a bullet point to write about: I've been considering moving my about town and about town II photoblogs to Flickr for a long time because it's getting to be too much of a pain to edit and post the photos separately. (Consequently, the photosteams on the avocado8 home page—and the blogs themselves—are hopelessly out of date.) The only thing that's been holding me back is the thought of trying to find all the originals on backup CDs so I can upload those, rather than the medium-sized versions I've posted to the blogs. Now that Flickr has geotagging, though, I've finally decided to just bite the bullet, upload the medium-sized images, and move forward. I started the process yesterday and have uploaded about 20-30 photos from about town II (Philadelphia); obviously there are a TON more to get through, and I haven't done the geotagging yet, but eventually Flickr sets will replace the two about town blogs. (And if you're wondering why my photostream suddenly has a bunch of photos from 2003 in it, now you know.)
- Running toward the street. This is something I want to write about for PhillyMoms, but I'll probably cross-post it here. It's about how I've been acutely aware lately that we are raising a kid in the city.
- College towns: favorite haunts After our trip to State College (home of Penn State) last weekend, I've had college towns on the brain. Hopefully I'll get a chance to share my thoughts (and ask you to share yours, too)!
- Labor Day Weekend Yes, I'm aware that this happened almost three weeks ago now, but it sort of epitomized the busy-ness we're experiencing around here. On Friday Al, the Beaner, and I drove down to my parents' house in Westminster, MD so they could see and play with the Beaner, and I could ride with them up to Rochester, NY, for my Aunt Anna's 90th birthday open house on Saturday. Mom, Dad, and I left at 5:30am on Saturday, and Al and the Beaner drove back to Philadelphia a few hours later. Mom and Dad dropped me off in Philly on Sunday afternoon, about an hour before Al's brother, sister-in-law, and nephew arrived. We went to the Franklin Institute on Sunday afternoon, and Al and Carl played golf on Monday morning while Tris, Henry, the Beaner, and I went to Schuylkill River playground (something else I want to write about for PhillyMoms—the playground has been renovated) and picked up lunch. All in all, a crazy, wonderful weekend.
- And finally, we freecycled the high chair last week. The Beaner will still sit in high chairs in restaurants (occasionally), but he'd long ago started stiffening when we tried to force him into the one at home. He now eats at his little table for breakfast and lunch, and he sits in a regular chair at the dining room table when we eat dinner together. We looked for a booster seat a couple months ago, but we never found one we liked, and he seems happy to just sit in the chair, so that's the routine now.
- Oh, right, one more thing: Our morning routine has changed AGAIN. For a while there the Beaner was waking up between 6am and 7am and snuggling in bed with us until Al was ready to get up (often until I returned from my morning walk), but this week he's started demanding that Al get up and take him downstairs after only a few minutes of snuggling. In other words, we've returned to the routine of a few months ago. We're also experimenting with naps (no nap at all / changing the time / waking him up after an hour) and bedtimes to try to come up with a magic formula that will get him to go down quickly and sleep past 7am. Oh, how much better our mornings are when he sleeps past 7am!
We've been shouting "APPLE PICKING!" at each other for about a week and a half now. At first it was in anticipation of the event—the first of two we hope to complete this season—which was scheduled for this past Saturday in Stow, MA. Ever since we got back, it's been to remind ourselves what a great time we had, and how many wonderful apples are taking up all the space in our fridge. (By the way, The Beaner learned "apple picking" right away, and he repeats it as often as we do.)
We met my friend Suzanne (from junior high!) and her family at Honey-Pot Hill, where we were amazed to find that the rain had not deterred at least 50 other families from picking apples or going on hayrides. I think if I'd not been away from Massachusetts for so long, or if we hadn't been the only ones picking in a downpour in Pennsylvania last year, I wouldn't have been so surprised. Apple picking is just one of the things you do in the fall in New England; it's as normal and expected as raking leaves or trick or treating.
Suzanne and I hadn't seen each other in over 20 years (though we have corresponded on paper and via e-mail occasionally in that time), so it was really fun to get together. She looked so fabulous, and she was was just as warm and real and fun to be around as I remembered. The Beaner and Suzanne and Tom's son G had an absolute ball chasing each other around the trees while munching apples and feeding the goats near the farm store. I would have taken more photos, but I was busy chatting up a storm (and probably boring Suzanne and Tom to death) and occasionally filling our 20lb. bag with Empires, Macintoshes, Cortlands, and Liberties. We'll probably be eating apples and making applesauce right up 'til Fuji season in late October, when we hope to make another trip to Weaver's with our friends the Otts. Yay, apple picking!
A Weekend in Napa
Al, The Beaner, and I had a lovely weekend in California... and I'm still a bit heart-heavy about it. Truly, we had a wonderful, wonderful time: We got to see friends we don't see often, The Beaner got to play with new friends P and S, the weather was wonderful, my dress worked out great, The Beaner was more talkative than ever and used several new phrases, we got to eat great food, a good friend finally met and married the perfect woman for him, the plane rides went smoothly, and we all enjoyed each other's company immensely. The problem is, I'm now homesick.
I love our life here in Philadelphia. We have a GREAT house, a great neighborhood, two wonderful nannies, a city lifestyle, excellent working conditions, and we're living within our means. But oh, how I miss the Bay Area. I was suprised to find that my nostalgia and heartache were greatest when we were on the Peninsula, in Sunnyvale and Mountain View. I've always preferred the city, and when we lived in Mountain View I needed to go house-hunting in Palo Alto and San Francisco to cheer me up, to give me hope that we'd move out of the suburbs and into a college-town-near-a-big-city or into the big city itself. But here I was in the south-Peninsula 'burbs, feeling homesick. I knew the streets so well, I felt like we were just out running errands, and we'd be returning to Whitney Drive any moment.
I'm sure I'll get over it once I've been back here in Philadelphia for a few days, and I've had time to consider what a move back to the Bay Area would cost us (at least double what we paid for this house, for one thing). In the meantime, allow me to review some of my favorite things about this past weekend:
Spending time with my husband on our wedding anniversary (it was 4 years on 10.06.06). To celebrate, we staged a re-creation of our wedding night by having a picnic dinner in a hotel room. This time the food was from the Oakville Grocery in St. Helena (I highly recommend the tamales and the orzo pasta salad) instead of from our wedding buffet, and I refrained from eating any cake (Al got a cookie); also, the Beaner was around to join us, so we were three instead of two. Somehow, that made it even more fun.
The wedding, seeing Craig & Nico and Tony & Maria, and meeting P. It was so lovely to be among friends, to see Ken & Corinne get married, and for The Beaner to find a playmate (he really, really enjoyed hanging out with P and has been talking about him since we returned). There's a funny story about how The Beaner went looking for P while repeating the phrase "P____ new diaper" over and over with various inflections, but it really needs to be told out loud. Suffice to say that when The Beaner denies that he needs a diaper change, all we need to do to get him to submit is remind him that P got a new diaper. "P____ new diaper?" he'll say. "[Beaner] new diaper!"
Grapes! There was something so pleasant about driving by row upon row of grape vines. Everywhere, there were grapes—including at the wedding, which was held at a small organic vineyard. The Beaner and P helped themselves, which made for another of my favorite moments.
Fred reaching into the pool to retrieve The Beaner's toy Saab and coming up with his face dripping water. I really wish I'd gotten a photo of this, but I was so in awe of Fred's gallantry that I didn't reach for the camera. (This incident happened between the wedding ceremony and the reception, when we were all having cocktails around the pool. I'd been a bit paranoid that The Beaner or P would fall in, but in the end it was only the Saab—and Fred—that got wet.)
Hearing The Beaner say "excuse me." We've been trying to teach The Beaner to say "excuse me" when he wants someone to move and when he wants to interrupt a conversation, and although he's repeated the words back to us, he's never seemed to understand when it was appropriate to use them. We were in a cool downtown Napa toy store when he finally got the hang of it. We'd gone to the back of the store to play with the train tables, which were set up close to the Thomas and Brio displays (of course). The Beaner was moving around a table working the trains, and I was browsing through the Thomas paraphenalia when he suddenly needed to get by me, and couldn't. He pushed on my leg for a little bit, and I ignored him (not intentionally; it's more that because he's always hanging about my legs, I don't notice right away when he's actively trying to get my attention). Finally he said, "excuse me!", which got my attention right away. I moved, of course... and laughed delightedly.
One of the other things The Beaner said while around the train table was "Percy!", referring to the little green engine. I'm not sure whether he learned Percy's name from one of the other kids who came to play around the table (one little boy in particular named *all* the engines for me) or from a Thomas book we got for him at the bookstore recently (I think the latter's more likely, since Percy figures prominently in the story), but he said it so clearly that we couldn't help but buy him a Percy. We're suckers, I know. The day before, we'd bought him a little toy pickup truck when he correctly identified it as a Dodge.
Visiting John & Kathy down in Sunnyvale. Here's were the nostalgia really kicked in, since we were driving around our old haunts on the way down as well as when we went out to dinner. Plus, talking to John & Kathy was something I could have done for days... so many interesting topics, from parenting to sports to television to finance & budgeting and tons of other things that we only managed to touch on briefly. I had this moment after talking with Kathy where I thought, "hey, maybe I could stay home with The Beaner full-time...", but then I realized, as I talked it out with Al, that it really wouldn't work for me with our current setup. If Kathy and I lived in the same neighborhood, though, I think I'd be willing to try it. She's so wonderful with S, and it's obvious he's thriving in the glow of her love and enthusiasm. I think I would, too. :) I can't wait for them to come visit us in Philly, so we can continue the conversation.
Edited to add: Visiting the BCBGMaxAzaria outlet in Napa. The dress I wore to the wedding was by BCBGMaxAzaria, and the cargo pants I got a couple months ago and love are too, so when we popped over to the Napa Premium Outlets to see if there were any kids' shops there and I spotted the BCBG store, I begged to go in for a few minutes. I left with two pairs of pants that fit incredibly well, feel like butter, and make my butt look great. Like all of BCBG's pants, they run a little long, but having to buy a new pair of boots to keep them from dragging seems like a small price to pay to make me feel like I have a normal body. Just about every other brand out there makes me feel like a mutant, while BCBG clothes feel like they were made just for me. Yay! Oh, and the Gymboree outlet turned out to be next door, so we were able to get a couple cute things for fall for The Beaner and S, too.
I left for MAX2006 in Las Vegas early Tuesday morning, before The Beaner woke up, and returned last night a little before midnight, long after he went to bed. While at the conference, I attended a few CSS sessions; talked to a lot of customers (something I realized I hadn't done—face-to-face, anyway—in three or four years); took lots of notes and filed a few bugs based on what I saw and heard; battled a cold, dehydration, and noxious clouds of cigarette smoke; saw the feature I've been working on get sneaked to a crowd of about 3500; danced the night (or at least the evening) away at the Palms; got to wear the new shirt I spent a fortune on (because Al convinced me that I needed one good shirt, and damned if he wasn't right—the thing fit really well and made me feel great); walked to the Bellagio to see all the Chihuly glass and to Walgreen's to buy Airborne (both walks took waaaaay longer than I'd anticipated, due to map scale being nothing like reality and sidewalks being clogged with shuffling tourists); and got to see many old friends, many of whom I didn't realize would be at the conference. (I wish I had more photos of all the old friends and cool customers I met, but I was so busy talking to them I kept forgetting to whip out the camera.)
Meanwhile, at home, The Beaner was changing. When I called from the cab to the airport yesterday, he didn't want to sing the Happy Birthday song he'd been rehearsing with Hannah all day, but he was more than happy to tell me, "I painted choochoo train!" and "Bye bye, Mommy! I love you, Mommy!"
When I went to get him from his crib this morning (at 8:02am), he felt skinnier, and longer. He was even more talkative than when I left, and his enunciation had improved. "What happened to Baab?" he asked me when I brought him downstairs. "What happened to Buick?" I said I didn't know, I'd been away. "Here ya go, mommy. It's Big Bird," he replied, handing me his Big Bird doll, perhaps as a welcome home gift.
He laughed and made little jokey references to a new book he and Hannah got at the library while I was gone (it involves sound effects, and he'd try one out and then smile slyly, waiting to see if we noticed and could identify it). He counted his shoes for me. He yelled, "yaaay! chocolate!" when I unwrapped the 88% cacao chocolate bar that Hannah got me for my birthday (she also got me a cool mug with caricatures of women authors—including Jane Austen—on it, and some decaf Kona coffee beans). He kissed me and said, "bye, Mommy" when I left at 9am for a massage, and he gave me hugs and asked to be picked up whenever I came down to the kitchen throughout the day, seemingly more to make sure that I knew he loved me than the other way around.
It's been an amazing three days. It's good to be home.
A Weekend Away
We are leaving The Beaner. Not for good, of course, but overnight, for the first time. My mom came up on Friday to hang out with him and get used to his routine, to learn where the sippy cups are, which towel to use when getting him out of the tub, which jammies are his favorites and which ones he'll reject with tears of anguish, what he eats for lunch and dinner, and how to determine whether he needs a nap. Her sister (my aunt) will be arriving shortly to help out, and by the time anyone reads this, I hope we'll be in the car on the way to New York City.
This time away, alone together, is my birthday present. We'll be walking around NYC during the day, doing some shopping, taking some photos (oh, how I've agonized over whether to take the 10D—it's the first thing I think of when I think of New York: PHOTOS!—but I think in the end I will take the Finepix F30, since this trip's more about spending Grown Up Time with my husband than getting absorbed in shooting), and eating dinner at Nobu. Maybe we'll even get bagels and a New York Times on Sunday morning, and have breakfast in bed.
See you on Sunday afternoon!
Back From the Big City
We're back from NYC; I only wish I had enough energy to write about what we did. Our dinner at Nobu was excellent (and I have been craving lychee martinis ever since), we got to SEE A MOVIE sans kid, I finally got a chance to wear my black suede boots, and The Beaner had an awesome time with his grandmother and great aunt.
Tomorrow I'll write about what we ate at Nobu (I took photos of everything, but I'm not sure they captured the dishes very well—a point-and-shoot in macro mode with a flash in low light is less than ideal for capturing the beauty of well-plated yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño), and if I have time I'll also add my thoughts on the new Bond movie.
In the meantime, here's a self-portrait of us taken on 34th Street between 8th and 9th, I think.
How to Change a Tire
... and you'll have to figure out the rest by yourself, because the smaller partner had to pee, and the photographer had to take him.
It's been a VERY long day, and though I am slightly more coherent now that I've eaten some Paneer Tikka Masala and rice out of separate cartons (with a spork!) and had a shower, I am minutes away from crashing on the hopefully-comfortable hotel bed.
Before I do, can I just rant for a moment about how the stupid liquid-and-gel rules are forcing me to waste time hunting for soap and shampoo I'm not allergic to whenever I get where I'm going? At least in Boston I was only allergic to half of the hotel toiletries; as long as I stuck with the shampoo and bath soap and avoided the hand soap and lotion, I was fine. Here at the Hilton in San Francisco, I'm allergic to every single one of the Crabtree & Evelyn products. Luckily, I was able to find a travel size mint and rosemary shampoo at the nearby Walgreen's that, while much more strongly scented than I would prefer, at least didn't give me a migraine or a sneezing fit.
I'm wondering: How does the quart-size plastic bag rule stop terrorists? Banning the stuff seemed extreme and reactionary, but the bag thing just seems stupid... I mean, none of the stuff is being tested, so it could be anything. Why not just let travelers take as much as they want? OK, definitely not coherent enough to argue about this right now. Going to bed.
A Little Color
Oy, it's been a busy week here in San Francisco. I thought I'd packed the USB cable for the camera so I could upload photos as I went, but alas I did not. Might be in the suitcase I'd planned to bring but then switched out when I realized my final item didn't fit. Anyway, that's just my way of saying "the post about what I've been doing this week will come later, when there are photos to go with it."
In the meantime, I wanted to mention that I didn't sleep particularly well last night, what with the ferocious leg cramps (wtf? did I drink NO water yesterday? hmmm). It felt like I never got into a deep sleep... and yet, I just remembered that I dreamed that I dyed my hair pink. It was a weird dream, in that I could feel myself lying in that hotel bed, not really sleeping, and the next thing I knew I was throwing back the covers, marching to the bathroom, and combing pink and purple dyes through my hair.
I think I only remembered this dream because I noticed this morning that my hair was decidedly *not* pink, and it seemed odd. Perhaps I will have to get out the dye when I get home and go to town.
Winsha is Short, Lori is Tall
OK, obviously I'm behind on blogging—after a week running around San Francisco meeting friends and former work colleagues for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and meeting current work colleagues for, well, meetings, I have a gazillion photos to upload and a few stories to tell. I also have the day off, but I chose to get a massage this morning to help mitigate the after-effects of Friday's migraine, vacuum the remodeling dust off every surface in the house, get caught up on laundry, file my expenses, deposit some checks that arrived while I was gone, upload some of the gazillion photos, sync my personal Outlook, work Outlook, and kitchen paper calendars with Al's hockey and my travel schedules, and have a beer rather than blog... until right now. Yes, with about 15 minutes until the Beaner and his sharecare nanny come through the door, I've decided to tell one of my SF stories.
On Thursday I had lunch with my friend and former colleague Winsha (she's now on the Flex Builder team, while I stayed on the Dreamweaver team). After lunch we stopped at the new-to-me Starbucks at Townsend & 8th, where Winsha ordered a short latte and I ordered a decaf double-tall latte.
The friendly woman behind the counter said, "can I have your names?" with Sharpie poised. I replied, "Winsha—W-I-N-S-H-A—is short, Lori is tall." And then Winsha and I totally cracked up. I proposed that we take a photo of ourselves and then the finished drinks, so everyone else could get the joke too. My self-portrait mojo was totally missing on this day, sadly, so this is the best I could do:
The missing self-portrait mojo wasn't the worst of it, though. It turns out that the lovely woman behind the counter stomped on the punch line by reversing the drinks. (Geez, that was the point: that the mnemonic was so EASY!) Oh well.
Greetings from SUNNY Seattle! We flew in yesterday to lovely cool spring weather, had a late lunch across the street and totally didn't care when the waitress forgot to put in part of our order and ended up serving us 20 minutes apart, went swimming and soaking in the hotel pool and jacuzzi, and toured the neighborhood a bit before putting the Beaner to bed early (we'd gotten him in his jammies before the walk so he could fall asleep in the stroller if he wanted, and he did). Travel was smooth and delay-free (in fact, we arrived early to both Chicago and Seattle), and we had the most relaxing and white knuckle-free cab ride the airport ever. The only bumps in the road were a bit of difficulty getting the carseat into our rental (a Toyota Highlander because they didn't have the Equinox we'd reserved), and the incredibly stupid move on our part of staying up to watch the LOST season finale after only getting 3 hours' sleep the night before. (Oh well, at least those two hours could also be used to upload the remaining 8 images from the Freeze bowling partly last weekend; while downloading via the "high-speed" internet in the hotel room is relatively quick, uploads happen in 30-40k bursts every 4-5 seconds.) Luckily we managed to convince the Beaner to go back to sleep for 3 more hours this morning after we woke up at 5:30am clawing and elbowing me until I shouted STOP IT! in sleep-deprived frustration.
My first instinct on getting out of bed at 8:30 this morning was, "oh, we'd better hurry and get to the market for breakfast!"... but then I thought "hey, this leisurely thing is working for us. Whatever is available when we get there will be the right thing." And it was: We stopped first at Three Girls bakery and ordered vast quantities of baked goods, continued on to the original Starbucks Coffee & Tea store for coffee, chai, and soymilk, and then crossed the street to the park to eat at a picnic table overlooking Puget Sound.
Being leisurely doesn't mean we weren't being calculating; the idea behind eating breakfast first, aside from satisfying hunger, was to keep us from shopping hungry and buying more than we could possibly eat later. Having been to Pike Place Market before, I had an idea that this strategy might not work, but it was worth trying. Looking at the array of brown bags that I helpfully labled DONUTS, PRETZELS & BROWNIE, CHERRIES, NUTS, PEACHES, CHOC. CROISS., and MAC & CHEESE on the desk here in front of me, I'd say that we were about as prone to buying things that looked yummy as ever. (I didn't even list the bags that *aren't* in front of me, which contain the leftover scones from breakfast, the most delicious red grapes I've had in a long time, blackberries, cheese curds, smoked salmon, and apple chips.) Most of these items we'll be saving to eat in the car on the way to Vancouver tomorrow, though I ate the Mac & Cheese from Beecher's cheese shop for lunch, and the Beaner has already had a bunch of grapes while watching Dora.
Anyway, as you can tell from our purchases we had a lovey morning at the market, poking around several t-shirt and craft booths as well as the food stalls. I got a cool t-shirt that was designed for a friend of the seller's 45th birthday (I'll upload a photo if it later, and the connection to 45 will be obvious to anyone old enough, like me, to remember 45rpm records). For the Beaner we got a Pike Place Market T and a kid-sized apron with a lobster on the front (his choice of design). After posing with the pig and watching the fishmongers throw and catch salmon (and learning from another fishmonger that the enormous halibut we were looking at was just a 20-lb. baby), we walked back up Pike Street toward our hotel. Al pushed the Beaner in the heavily-laden stroller (sadly, my ankle is VERY sore again today thanks to a couple tweaks yesterday) and continued on to what the Beaner calls the hotowel while I stopped at Rite Aid to buy some new toothbrushes (the Beaner used ours to clean a spot on the carpet when we weren't looking) and Borders to get some Dora and Diego books for the Beaner to read in the car tomorrow. I'm very much enjoying the mosey time with my family, but perhaps the best moment so far today I spent alone, on the corner across from our hotel, waiting for the walk sign and marvelling at the absolutely clear blue sky.
So I'm starting to freak out about my business trip to Hamburg... mainly because I leave next Wednesday, I have a bunch of laundry and packing to do (plus some house-cleaning and preparation for my parents' visit while I'm away), and our entire weekend, from Friday night to Sunday night, is full. (Also, I haven't done any Father's Day shopping. I totally suck.)
I'm ahead of the game in one respect, though: I finally looked on a map to verify that Hamburg is where I thought it might be—namely, in the northern part of Germany, close to Denmark. I also started trying to memorize the subway stops I'll need to know, though that's kind of a lost cause at this point. Too many German street and place names jammed into my head at the moment make for Uptbahnhofkerflufflestrasse soup.
It also occurred to me (days ago, actually, but I haven't gotten around to it until just this minute) to check the weather forecast, so I'd know what to pack. Heather mentioned that there was a heat wave going on in Berlin, but I wasn't sure if Hamburg, being both farther north and on the sea, would be as hot. The answer is no, it seems. It's just like here at the moment, only a heck of a lot rainier.
Yeah, I Know What I'm Doing
Arrived in Hamburg yesterday and made it to the office without any trouble. The cab driver was astonished when I gave him a 40% tip, though, so maybe that's not done here. (I was feeling a bit generous because he'd made such a great effort to chat with me after stating up front that his English was nicht gut.) I dropped my tip to 30% for the ride from the office to the hotel at the end of the day, but when the driver practically jumped out and kissed my hand, I decided that perhaps 30% was also on the high side.
Unfortunately the internet connection in the hotel was down, and I wasn't able to connect via wireless from the lounge, so my plan to send a number of e-mails, upload photos, video chat with Al and the Beaner, and, most importantly, get information about how to navigate the subway here were totally shot.
I now realize what a sissy I've been, traveling mostly to countries where English is the native language. Knowing a little bit of German from college doesn't help much when you're trying to figure out (a) where the subway is, (b) where to buy a ticket for it, and (c) what kind of ticket you need. Even once I found the button on the ticket machine that switched from German to English, I was lost; the instructions converted to English, but the ticket names did not, and subtle differences between them were not explained. I knew that one was a 6-hour ticket for 1 adult and up to three children, one was a 9-hour ticket, another was a 3-day ticket, and so on. I basically just pressed random buttons to see how much I would be charged for each option and figured that anything over a couple Euros couldn't be right.
I finally settled on a short-haul ticket that cost €1,30 and made my way down to the subway platform for the second time. (The first time I went down I assumed there would be a way to buy a ticket on the platform, but a policeman who knew a little English pointed me back up the stairs.) I thought I did a rather good job of figuring out which side of the platform to stand on, but I won't give myself too much credit for getting on the right train since all the trains that stop at Haupbahnhof go to Landungsbrücken (my stop).
I was two or three deep waiting to board, but finding a seat wasn't difficult. At the next two stops several people crowded the doors to get off, but at Landungsbrücken I was the only one getting off. I got out of my seat before the actual stop and stood by the door. When we pulled into the station, I waited for the door to open, but it didn't. I figured the train just needed to inch forward a bit. Next thing I knew I heard the "door closing" sound coming from another car and frantically looked around for a button to push. There was one on either side of the door, but I only had time to push one, so I opted for the one on the left.
A woman in a seat adjacent to the door noticed my distress and said something to me in German—I'm assuming something along the lines of "you have to push the button to open the door," but she was pointing away from the button I'd just pushed.... and the train started to pull away from the station. At least this gave me a second to notice, at groin level, the button that actually opened the doors, which was on the door itself.
By the time we arrived at the next station, I'd figured out the system. I pressed the button, the doors opened, and I crossed to the other side of the platform. This time there was only one person in front of me waiting to board the train back to Landungsbrücken, and I saw him press a similar button on the outside of the door to open it. Good to know for next time.
Anyway, after a 15 minute walk in which I simply followed the Elbe so as not to get lost, I arrived at the office... around 10am. Not exactly bright and early, but hey, I made it!
Yeah, I Know What I'm Doing, Part II
I have figured out the subway. I am a pro at ordering a decaf cappucino in German. I can ask whether a sandwich has only cheese in it, and I know how to get only steamed milk out of the coffee machine at work. And I just took a second birth control pill rather than my thyroid medication. Yep, I'm a regular whiz kid here.
After an intense two-day wind and rainstorm, during which the Elbe overflowed its banks around the Adobe office (a not-uncommon occurrance in spring and fall, but much rarer in summer), the sky still looks a bit threatening, and it feels more like a fog-shrouded San Francisco evening than a European summer morning. I chose to walk from the subway yesterday just in case the bridge at the Altona ferry landing was flooded, to the peril of my umbrella and the complete soaking of my pants and shoes. I would have been better off crossing a flooded bridge.
This morning the water level seemed lower, so I opted to wait for the ferry rather than walk. I guess the ride was bumpier than usual, because as soon as we took off from Landungsbrücken the front windows of the ferry were obscured by heavy sprays of water. Another indication of a turbulent ride: I'm sitting at my desk, and I can't seem to shake the feeling that the building is rocking back and forth. Reminds me of the days after our Last Hurrah Cruise, when I couldn't keep my balance on the sidewalk.
I swear, it's not the beer.
I'm Back (and Kind of All Over the Place)
After a long layover in a smoky, under-construction terminal at Frankfurt airport and a 90-minute flight delay, I finally made it back to Philadelphia on Friday evening. I arrived home to a startled Beaner, who gasped, "Mommy!" when he saw me, but then froze on the spot. I scooped him up and snuggled him, so he'd realize it was really me.
He was trembling, either with disbelief or excitement (or possibly shock). "Look!" he said to Aura, "I said I wanted to snuggle Mommy, and here she is. I said I wanted to talk to Mommy, and here she is," as if he'd conjured me out of thin air with the power of his wishes alone.
I think I've finally posted all the photos of Hamburg that I want to post; a few I've saved just for Al and the Beaner because they're the only two people who would appreciate them. You can view the set as a slideshow here (click on the "i" icon that appears when you mouse over the current photo to see titles and descriptions as the slideshow plays):
This is not Chicago.
(The above would be an in-joke with the Beaner were he able to read it; for some reason, he keeps telling everyone that I was in Chicago last week, that I bought the sandals in the photo below at a shoe store in Chicago, and that I brought him gummi bears from Chicago. I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that he only has a U.S. map in his bedroom; it occurred to me while chatting with one of my colleagues in Hamburg that I was off the map. Imagining me in Chicago may have been the Beaner's way of pulling me back from the edge of the world.)
On Saturday we took the Beaner to see Ratatouille, but during the usual Pixar pre-feature short he announced it was "too scary," and then he repeated that mantra for the next 20 minutes, even from the safety of my lap. When it became clear that the movie was entirely over his head (though it was great fun for Al and me) and that the shouting chefs and flying kitchen knives were likely to be an enduring feature of the next 90 minutes or so, we finally agreed that it probably was too scary for him and made our exit. Al and I are now scheming over when we can get out to see the rest of the movie for ourselves.
It's been interesting to observe how well Al and the Beaner survived—nay, thrived—in my absence. I'd even go so far as to say that the Beaner only *really* needs one parent, and that parent is Al, though I am of course useful in certain areas. I am the preferred bedtime snuggler and teeth-brusher, for one thing. I also have a knack for figuring out what the major transitions are, and when to make them. (For example, I had a sense that we'd left him in night-time Pull-Ups too long, mainly because we didn't want to be forced to do laundry if there was an accident. This suspicion was confirmed for me when, after weeks of waking up in the morning with a dry Pull-Up, the Beaner suddenly had a spate of accidents that left his Pull-Up, pajamas, and sheets completely soaked. It might sound counter-intuitive, but that's how I knew for absolutely sure that we had to move to underpants once and for all. He hasn't had a night-time accident since.) I'm also the one who pays the bills every month (and by that I mean that I arrange for payments to be made, either through online banking or by check; I do not mean to imply that I am the sole—or even the primary—breadwinner).
Still, there is no doubt that the Beaner was *happy* to see me, and we've been having a great time playing since I got back. His imagination and pretending skills are getting quite sophisticated now, which makes spending long periods of time with him more fun. They're also useful for distracting him from something I don't want him to do or have; for example, rather than giving him the actual batteries he wants for the remote, I can say, "here, have a pretend battery!" and off we go into the Land of Make Believe. Wonderful.
We've had an amazingly cool, sunny, and dry couple of days here in Philadelphia, where it's usually unbearably hot and humid this time of year. I opened my office window today to enjoy the fresh breeze, and after a couple hours it became apparent where the pile of leaves we discovered in the corner of our back deck yesterday came from: A pair of sparrows is building a nest in the bend of a downspout just above and to the right of my window, and they've been using the leaves to line the nest. They work very hard to pack them in, but inevitably, many fall out... and land on our deck.
The two sparrows have stopped to rest on my window ledge several times today, sometimes with a sprig of leaves clutched in their beaks (on the way up), sometimes just to fluff and shake (on the way down). Unfortunately by the time I've turned on the camera and reached for the shutter button, they've fluttered away, so I haven't gotten a photo of them. They haven't seemed to mind the sound of my voice, however, and have cocked their heads to listen when I've said hello and asked how their work was progressing. I hope to have another chance to capture their efforts with the camera tomorrow.
Guess Who's Wearing a Strapless Dress Tonight?
I swear, I put on two coats of Coppertone Sport SPF 50 before going outside. But two hours of this:
And this (only with me fishing the Beaner out of the drink instead of grandpa):
Sadly, the tops of my shoulders are much worse. Guess who'll be spending the day looking for a shrug or wrap to wear with her strapless dress to the formal wedding we're attending tonight?
Bleah, and Random Blah Blah Blah
I don't think I even had time to mention that we were back from Denver (and that I sort of solved my strapless dress + sunburn problem) before I took off again for Seattle. I arrived home again tonight hot, nauseous, and not wanting to go on another trip again for awhile. (Hopefully the two roadtrips we have planned for later this month won't be as tiring as all the timezone-crossing plane travel I've been doing lately. Also, only one of them involves leaving the Beaner behind—with my parents, with whom I know he'll have a blast—so there are unlikely to be heart-wrenching phone calls at random times of the night.)
While I was in Denver I got news that my friend Jim of The Rittenhouse Review had died. I hadn't spoken to him as often after he moved out of our neighborhood, and he hadn't been updating his blogs regularly, so I was a bit out of touch—and the news came as a complete shock. I stood there with my mouth in a drooly "O", looking like someone had just punched me in the stomach, for several minutes after reading the e-mail from Susie M. I still can't quite believe it. Jim, I hope you're happy and healthy and whole again wherever you are now, and that someone's taking care of Mildred.
As I just got back from Seattle tonight and need to catch up on some of the work I missed over the past three days of preparing two presentations on CSS-related topics, getting incredibly anxious over having to actually deliver those presentations, and then not quite knowing what to do with myself after I gave them (the post-performance anxiety is only slightly less severe than the pre-performance anxiety, but luckily my friend Jeanne stepped in with drinks and dinner at three of her favorite places near my hotel, and we had a fabulous, hedonistic evening of eating, drinking, and gabbing), I probably won't get a chance to upload the few photos I took while in Seattle until tomorrow at the earliest. I did, however, get a chance to upload my favorite photos from the wedding we attended in Steamboat Springs last weekend in the one day I had between trips. The set is here:
The Man Has a Point
Me: These billboards are starting to freak me out. It's like Atlantic City is where all the bands we grew up with go to die.
Al: Yeah, all the twentysomethings are probably like, "George Thoroughgood? Who's that???"
Lori: I know! Look, there's one for Aerosmith and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. I remember doing modern dance to "I Love Rock and Roll" in my 8th grade gym class. Who knew she was still around?
Al: I remember driving to the shore with my parents when I was a kid, and there'd be all these billboards for Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, and I'd be all, "who'd want to see Tony Bennett?" Now I get it: they were catering to the middle-aged folks looking to relive their youth...and now we're the middle-aged folks they're trying to lure.
Lori: Oh my god, you're right.
Al: I mean, tell me Pat Benatar isn't the Liza Minelli of our generation.
It'll become obvious in a minute, when your RSS feeds get flodded with posts, that I'm in the process of clearing out the blogjam I'd intended to clear out last week. Yay for moving Tuesday's drama off the front page with more frivolous things!
So one of the things that was more topical a couple weeks ago but that I'm going to persist in writing about now was our weekend adventure to Atlantic City. Earlier that week the Beaner was raving about the maroon convertible Mini that Aura's husband had bought for him, and it occurred to me that perhaps the car share had a real convertible Mini that we could reserve for an hour. I looked it up, and it'd only about $15 to rent one for an hour on Sunday, so I made a mental note to mention it to Al.
I forgot to mention it, of course, and as the weekend drew near, Al told me that the team off-site he'd be attending in Atlantic City on Monday and Tuesday started at 8:30am Monday morning, and that some people were getting hotel rooms for Sunday. I said, "maybe we could go with you, just for the day!" It was kind of a goofy idea, but I was thinking: seaside resort, two swimming pools, woo! The Beaner would love it, and it'd be a fun family adventure. That's when I remembered about the convertible Mini. I checked the carshare website to see if we could reserve the Mini for Saturday instead, but it was booked.
Meanwhile, Al and I were trying to figure out how to swing all of us going to AC on Sunday -- either he or the Beaner and I would need to take the train back -- when it occurred to us to see whether a non-convertible Mini was available. The idea of driving two cars down there seemed a bit wasteful to me, but it appealed to Al, and the Beaner would get a longer Mini ride. Long story short: the Mini was available, the price was affordable, and off to AC we went.
The adventure required that we get an easy-to-move-from-one-car-to-another booster seat, which we'd been wanting to get anyway, so that was a nice bonus. It cracked me up when the Beaner asked, "Where did we get this boopster seat?" We used to—and still sometimes do—call him The Boopster, so it seemed fitting to call it the Boopster Seat. He's not totally sold on the lap belt—he prefers the 5-point harness on his old seat—but once we discovered the pop-up arm rests, his other objection to it was silenced.
We ended up having a nice day at Seaview in Galloway, NJ; the Beaner got to swim with me in the outdoor pool and with his dad in the indoor one, and he even got to try out his putting. The drive back to Philly on Monday morning was easy, and I was able to drop the Beaner off at sharecare, drop off our bags and boopster seat, return the car, and stop at Trader Joe's on the walk home, and still be at my desk before 11am.
I did wonder why my shoulders were so sore for a couple days afterwards, however; finally it dawned on me that it was from catching the Beaner as he jumped into the pool oh, about 100 times. The belly laughs were worth the shoulder aches, though—I found that I couldn't help but bust out laughing every time he made the leap. As I pulled him out of the water for about the 12th time, I said, "you CRACK ME UP!" He said, "no, YOU crack ME up! Hee hee!" Joy.
Just a quick post tonight (because school starts on Wednesday, and we're preparing for the new routine—which involves an earlier start in the morning—by going to bed a bit earlier, and according to my schedule I should have been in bed two minutes ago) to say that we went to Dutch Wonderland this weekend, and I've posted photos of the outing to Flickr.
Also, I can't remember if I mentioned here that I started a Flickr set for our family adventures in and around Philadelphia (of which many of the D.W. photos are now a part). In case you're looking for family-friendly activities in the Philadelphia area, it's a good place to see what's going on. I'll obviously be adding to it over time, especially now that the Beaner is getting older and we really are doing more activities together.
So... I'm In San Francisco
Yeah. Title says it all, really. I didn't explain in my last post that one of the things that cheered me up on Friday was the decision very late Thursday night, after the disastrous work day, to fly out to the SF office for a week. I used frequent flier miles, I was so desperate to get out here and see my colleagues. So far it's helping; I'll have a better idea of where I'm at when I return to Philly and see if I can keep it together.
Today's actually Work @ Home Wednesday on the Dreamweaver team, so aside from two other colleagues who came in because it's quieter than at home, I'm here by myself. Not that different than working at home as I usually do, except that there's more room to roam around, and it's only the Dreamweaver team that works at home on Wednesdays. I can go visit my friends on the Flex team across the hall if I get lonely. Mostly I'm trying to use the quiet time to do some intensive bug-fixing that's hard to do when I'm in face-to-face meetings all day.
Because my body clock is a little messed up and I don't have the regular schedule I do at home, I've been walking/MUNIing to work in lieu of my normal morning walk at home. I've of course been taking photos while I walk, so my morning walk and about town: san francisco sets have been growing. My plan this morning was to finish up the roll of expired 400MAX that was in the Vivitar on my way in, drop it off at the Walgreens on Townsend for processing, continue on to work, and then pick up the CD and negs at lunchtime.
Sadly, however, it was rather dark when I left the hotel at 7:18am (I checked the time when I realized the streetlights were still on), and the low clouds meant that it hadn't brightened much by 8am. I knew I wouldn't get much, as the Vivitar doesn't seem to do well in low light—something I'd mostly chalked up to the expired film, but without really knowing why. Then Bob said something in the comments on this photo about a pack of expired film not even coming CLOSE to its stated speed rating, and I had an "aha, that's the reason" moment. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the expired 400MAX is more like 100 or 200 at best.
So anyway, as predicted, the shots I took with the Vivitar this morning did not come out. Or rather, I can tell in most of them what I was photographing, but they're otherwise unsalvageable. The ones I took on Saturday at the Beaner's school picnic came out relatively fine (with a couple double-exposures), as did the ones I took here yesterday. The only problem was that the photo guy at Walgreens clipped the black mask out of the frame. It never occurred to me that he'd do that, so I didn't think to specify NO CLIPPING.
I'm now trying to decide whether to put the last roll of expired 400MAX (which I brought with me) into the camera, or whether I should buy a fresh roll to shoot with and compare. I could also test-shoot the camera I bought for the Beaner this morning for $8; it's a film camera, and every time you bring the film to Walgreens for processing, they reload the camera with a fresh roll. I think that'll make more sense to him than the disposable camera I gave him when we went apple picking; he keeps asking me, "where's my camera? you gave me a camera, mommy." He doesn't understand that we exchanged the camera for the prints, and now he won't have to.
Oh, and I also brought the Finepix with me. As much as I love the 10-D, it's quite nice to have only pocket-sized cameras to manage.
Pittsburgh might seem an odd place to visit over the holidays, especially given that we have no family there, but visit Pittsburgh (or Pittspoop, as the Beaner calls it, not because he didn't like it, but because "poop" is the funniest word in the world to him right now) is exactly what we did for the last weekend of our holiday break. Why? Well, several reasons: (1) Al's very good friends Craig & Nico and their three kids were there visiting family for the week, and we wanted to see them; (2) Al was born in Pittsburgh and lived there until the age of 5, and he wanted to show me some of the things he remembered from his childhood; (3) I'd never seen it; and (4) why not?
I think I can say unequivocally that Pittsburgh is not a city I'd dream of moving to, but that's not at all to say that I didn't have a fun time while there. If I could live in the Pittsburgh Children's Museum, I might reconsider. (More on that in a minute.) I'm realizing as I write this that after using the word "unequivocally", this post is going to be all about the buts and althoughs. For example, one of the things that keeps me from wanting to live in Pittsburgh is that it's too cold, although we enjoyed winter temps in the 40s during our stay, and I think it might even have gotten up to 50 on our first day there (of course, it was raining cats and dogs). See what I mean? One overt and one implied "although" in a single sentence!
Two more things that put Pittsburgh in the "I Think Not" category before I move on to the highlights of our stay: (1) Smoking. It was everywhere. So everywhere that I forgot to actually photograph the smokers for my new a dying breed set. Perhaps because they're NOT a dying breed in Pittsburgh? Anyway, I was so taken aback that not only were people allowed to smoke in restaurants, but in many cases there wasn't even a non-smoking section, that I could only gape and cough and feel slightly nauseated (and once, turn around and walk out). (2) In the downtown area where we were staying, at least, everything closed early. There were CVS stores everywhere, but they all closed at 5pm or 6pm (and only the 24-hour store in Oakland had a machine that could make a photo CD in-store). None of the stores, including Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue, opened until 12pm on Sunday. One of the things I love about living smack in the middle of a city is that you can walk anywhere, anytime, and get what you need or want. That wasn't true in the part of Pittsburgh we were in.
OK, now for the good stuff. The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh puts our Please Touch to SHAME. I honestly don't remember what the Boston Children's Museum was really like from my childhood—I only have vague sensory memories of it being large, and of loving it—but this, THIS is what I think of when I think "children's museum". Our Please Touch membership was due to expire on December 31 anyway, so when I renewed this year I opted for the Super Six package, which gives us reciprocal entry rights to tons of other children's museums around the country. I figure we'll do a Grand Tour of children's museums and compare them all.
The Pittsburgh museum was attractive to us because of its standing Garage Workshop exhibit, which we figured the Beaner would like. Honestly, though, the rest of the museum was so cool that it took us a while to even get him back to the Garage Workshop (though once we did, he didn't want to leave). We spent a wonderful three hours there, and would have stayed longer if we didn't have a date to meet Craig & Nico at Schenley Park.
It felt like I took (and posted to Flickr) a ton of photos from the museum, but I'm realizing that there's so much that I missed. I'd go back to Pittsburgh JUST to go to the Children's Museum (regardless of whether I took any more photos :).
We had gone to Schenley Park on Friday after our arrival to meet up with Craig & Nico, but since it was pouring rain, we didn't go ice skating as planned (or even really get out of the car). An attempt to visit the dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Natural History also failed due to the weather (and the holiday—it was mobbed, and tickets were sold out), and we had some problems with our GPS, which disagreed with Craig on how to get to Vincent's Pizza. On Saturday our GPS was still as flaky as ever, but the weather was better, and a second attempt at skating outdoors at Schenley Park was successful. I was so happy to skate that I didn't get out my camera while on the ice, though, and the 1/4 lap I did with the Beaner was too strenuous to allow for picture-taking anyway. He insisted that he could skate by himself (I'm sure because Craig & Nico's two older children, who are 6 and almost 4, could), all evidence to the contrary. The muscles in my back and arms were burning by the time we made it that 1/4 lap and back, and my patience was a bit thin. I hadn't really noticed how loud the music was until the Beaner fell down right in front of the speakers and I couldn't hear whatever it was he was trying to tell me (turns out it was "I'M DONE!"). I got a few more laps to myself, however, and then we quit and went to play on the swings.
When the Beaner was done swinging and sliding and running around with sticks, we drove over to Al's old neighborhood to look at the house he used to live in. There was a deer munching away at some low bushes in the neighbor's back yard; Al thought it was fake until it moved its head. As we continued down the street to make a U-turn, I said, "now THAT one down there is fake..." just as it, too, turned its head. You can forgive us for our mistakes, given that many yards still had holiday decorations in them, and these guys looked like nothing so much as reindeer (minus the antlers, of course; they were does).
The Beaner fell asleep in the car and missed both the house viewing and the deer, but we didn't mind much because we knew he'd be up later than usual (WAY later, as it turned out) that night. Why? WE HAD AWESOME SEATS AT THE PENGUINS-SABRES GAME, that's why. And when I say "awesome", I mean Row A on the glass, 3 seats over from the penalty box awesome. (Actually, we only had two of these; we had a third seat in equally-awesome section B22, where Al sat for the first period. He said you could see the whole game really well from there, but I forgot to ask him for his ticket when he left with the Beaner before me, so I only saw the game from THE GLASS.) Al joined me in Row A for the second period because there was plenty of room for the Beaner to either sit on our laps or stand in front of us, and he seemed to enjoy both the freedom and the attention of both of his parents. (He said, "I want to go back to the hotel" shortly after the first photo below was taken—i.e., about 3 minutes into the game—but I managed to bribe him into staying with some mini M&Ms brought from home specifically for this purpose, and with tales of the TWO Zambonis that would clear the ice between periods.)
Al and the Beaner took the car back to the hotel (which was like .5 mile away) after the second period, and I was free to try to shoot photos around the linesman for most of the third. Al called with about 9 or 10 minutes to go with the details of the room service menu, and I put in my requests. I left the game with about 3 minutes to go and the Pens up 1-0, made the easy walk back to the hotel, and arrived just ahead of the room service cart. Al, the Beaner, and I had a picnic of fish and scallops and gumbo and fruit, and then at 11pm (!) we finally told the Beaner it was time to go to bed. What a day!
On Sunday we slept in (thank you, black-out curtains) and then drove over to the Strip District to check out the Italian shops and a fish market that Al thought he remembered from his childhood (which turned out to be Wholey's). We got some biscotti and a scone from Enrico's, a "junior" fish sandwich from Wholey's to share (since we were meeting Craig & Nico for lunch at a fish place in about 90 minutes anyway, we saved the baked goods for later and called the fish sandwich breakfast). Sadly, many of the shops were closed because it was Sunday, but it was still nice to walk around and take some photos.
From the Strip District we drove over to the Southworks (I think that's what it was called), a shopping area that reminded me a bit of some of the box store-outdoor mall amalgamations I've seen in San Jose, CA and Exton, PA, among other places. We were a few minutes early for lunch, so we walked over to what turned out to be a fabulous independent bookstore called Joseph-Beth. We bought one book before lunch and then returned afterwards to pick out a couple more, along with some games. This was my favorite stop after the Children's Museum, firstly because I love being surrounded by books, and the space these books were in was amazing, and secondly because it afforded us some nice moments interacting with the Beaner.
We were rather lazy for the remainder of the day on Sunday, and because the room service food was pretty decent (and fairly inexpensive, too), we had another room service picnic for dinner. I got to spend a lot of time reading, the Beaner and Al played on the floor with his new Block Buddies game (a big hit), and when Al needed a break (and wanted to watch football), the Beaner watched a little Calliou on the DVD player. It was lovely and restful (a good thing, since all of us had colds).
Since we were leaving on Monday afternoon, we packed most of our stuff up on Sunday night before going to bed, and then put the remaining items in our bags on Monday morning. We checked out of the hotel around 11am or so and convinced the GPS that we really did want to go see the Monongahela Incline and not just drive around in circles all day. (My job is to pay attention to the initial route the GPS suggests, and then to keep us basically heading in that direction as the GPS recalculates the route ad nauseum and tries to send us all over Hell's half-acre. Usually after we've made the third or fourth turn at my direction, it gets back on track and follows *us*.)
After a brief but exciting trip up a very steep hill and several minutes spent admiring the amazing view of the city from the observation deck, we took the Incline back down, retrieved our car, and went over to the Strip District again to get another scone for Al and have lunch at the original Primanti Bros. The latter was one of those places that didn't have a non-smoking section; you seated yourself, and you smoked if you wanted to.
I'd actually gotten Al a sandwich at another Primanti Bros. location fairly close to our hotel before the hockey game on Saturday night (that's when I discovered that all the drug stores in the area closed at 5pm or 6pm); when I called to tell him I'd found it and to ask what he wanted, he said, "they have a famous sandwich with french fries and cole slaw on it. I want that." I replied that *all* the sandwiches had french fries and cole slaw on them, so I just got him the first thing on the menu, which at that location was the Deluxe Double Egg and Cheese. It turned out to have no meat, only eggs and cheese (and fries and cole slaw), which isn't quite what Al had in mind.
So after looking at the menu at the Strip District Primanti Bros., he asked the waitress, "what's your most popular sandwich?" Waitress: "The cheese steak." Al: "But it says on the menu 'No. 2 seller'." Waitress: "Number 1 is beer." Al then inquired whether they had any hamburger-like items, the waitress said no, and there was some negotiation over soda water and cheese and a pickle. We got a side of fried eggs for the Beaner because nothing else on the menu was going to work for him (the sandwiches were just too big). The cheese steak actually turned out to be more like a hamburger than a Philly cheese steak, so I think Al got what he wanted. I got the Jumbo Fish and Cheese, which was fine (the fries and cole slaw were the best part), but it was nothing compared to the sublimely fresh fish sandwich at Wholey's.
We finished just in time to get some cash, pick up the last-minute scone and biscotti, and head to the airport, where Al and the Beaner got to pose with one of Al's childhood heros before forgetting the news and going shopping, as we were urged to do on the tram.
All in all, a really nice trip. It was great to spend so much quality time together as a family, to see Craig & Nico and their kids, to do things that the Beaner wanted to do (rather than just dragging him around on our errands, as we often do—though Al realized that most of his childhood memories of Pittsburgh involved being dragged around on *his* parents' errands, especially his memories of the Strip District).
The other thing that I loved about Pittsburgh? It's a really short plane ride away. We were only up at cruising altitude for about 10 mintues before we began our descent (I think the total flying time was about 50 minutes), so the Beaner didn't get bored. In both directions we spent most of the flight going over the safety information card, which the Beaner found fascinating. He's now obsessed with the red circle with a slash through it, "which means NO". He had lots of questions about the life jackets, and why the plane was in the water, and why there was a red circle with a slash through it over a suitcase. I explained about leaving carry-on luggage behind in case of an emergency evacuation, about how you have to brace for an emergency landing, how to inflate one's life vest and use the seat cushion for floatation, and how and when oxygen masks might appear. He was very interested, but didn't seem at all worried about the possibility of a crash landing. He studied the symbols and correctly identified the one for no smoking. He wanted to know why the baby's life jacket had a light on it, and why one method of jumping onto the inflatable slide was OK while the other was not ("you need to slide down quickly so everyone can get off and away from the plane," I said, "and jumping onto the slide propels you down faster." I don't know if that's the reason, but it's what I've always assumed; I figured it'd also prevent you from getting your feet tangled under you.)
We arrived home in time for a quick dinner, a bath, a few games, and an early bedtime, and we had the luxury of one more day off (which we shared with the Beaner's friend M and her family so the Beaner would have someone to play with while the grownups chilled out) before returning to work and school. It was a nice cap to a lovely holiday week, and it made me look forward to our next family trip!
Al asked me for ideas for a family vacation this summer that can be accomplished (a) within a week, and (b) by car. We have friends in Boston and Portland, ME; cousins in NYC and Connecticut; and parents/grandparents in Maryland & DC, and we could just pick one of these constituencies and visit them... but we're kinda looking for something different. I think Al has a destination between DC and Florida in mind, while I would not be opposed to Canada (Toronto and Montreal both have their appeal).
Since aside from Canada I don't have any specific ideas, I thought I'd throw the question out to the wider (by about four) audience of this blog. Any ideas for a kid-friendly driving vacation with a starting point of Philadelphia, PA? Bonus points for golfing opportunities and the road less traveled.
We just returned from a lovely vacation to Disney World (the Beaner's first time there!), and I hope to write about it soon. My parents, Al, and I kept saying all weekend what a good time we had, and I had a whole bullet list of what we enjoyed most in my head to post, but this morning I was hit with a bit of post-vacation depression (not to mention a huge pile of e-mail, a buglist that doubled in size in my absence, and a new feature to implement). Hopefully I'll be able to get the vacation joy to come back to the fore and let it propel me through the pile of work... and the blog post.
I'm writing this longhand (because blogging from my iPhone when the post is longer than a Twitter entry is tedious) and will post it when I get home tomorrow night. We're in NYC visiting Al's brother's family for the weekend; Cousin H's school fair was this afternoon, and we drove up to join in the fun. The roasted corn was tasty, the fishing in the Little Mermaid blow-up pool was fruitful, the cupcake decorating was a sparkly, sugary hit, and we came home with two toys that I would have said were a little young for the Beaner, but that he and Cousin H have been playing with ever since.
After some bike-riding in the park by the boys (supervised by the dads), we had a yummy dinner at Graciela's on Columbus, marred a bit by the Beaner's harrassment of his cousin and his refusal to listen to me when I told him to stop. "How many times do I have to tell you to STOP IT?" I demanded. "Three," he said petulantly, and was instantly dragged outside for a time out. (I asked Al to do it, because I was too angry to do it myself. This was the final escalation point of a long "keep your hands to yourself!/no bathroom language at the table" battle.)
Al brought him back in about 10 minutes later, but he refused to apologize and immediately started in with his cousin again, so Al did an about-face and took him outside again. When I realized that Al hadn't finished his dinner and I had, however, I went out to relieve him. After a couple minutes more of silence, I asked the Beaner what he needed to do differently. "Be responsible," he said, which is nice and all, but it's a stock answer that wasn't exactly appropriate to the situation. "Being responsible is good," I said, "but you need to CONTROL YOUR BODY AND YOUR MOUTH, and above all, you need to do what?"
"Listen," he said, correctly this time. "To whom do you need to listen?" I asked. "What?" he responded. "Who are you going to listen to?" I rephrased. "H____!" he giggled. I spun him around by the shoulder and up against the wall again. "WRONG. We're going to be out here until you get it right." I then surreptitiously took two photos of him, one with my film camera, and one with the iPhone. He was so petulant and put out that he didn't even notice, which was perfect for my purposes. I wanted to capture his defiant, bad-boy persona.
After a few minutes he turned his attention back to me, and I said, "who are you going to listen to?" "Mommy," he said. "Right," I said. "And Daddy." "And Uncle Carl and Aunt Tris," he added. "Yep," I said. "And while we're at it, Ms. Erwin and Ms. Beck as well." I took his hand, and we went back inside, and the rest of the evening went a bit better.
Well, until the cousins tried to sleep in the same room, that is. After going in a couple times to tell them to get in their own beds and GO TO SLEEP, and a couple living room visits from Cousin H to report that the Beaner would not be quiet or stop saying he was thirsty, I finally separated them. Al is now sitting with the Beaner in our room, waiting for him to fall asleep.
I brought my MacBook with me so I could participate in NaBloPoMo if I decided I was up to it, but the hotel wireless isn't working. Rather than taking that as a sign that I should give up on the notion that I am capable of blogging every day for a month right now, I'm posting from my iPhone. That means no photos, and probably a shorter post than otherwise would have been.
We're in a hotel because I decided last week that this might be the right weekend to finally visit my grandmother. She has seen many photos of Al and the Beaner, but she'd never met them. (I think the last time I came up to visit I had just gotten pregnant.)
Of course, as soon as I got on the phone with my grandmother to tell her we'd be coming up on Friday night, I realized Friday was Halloween, and we could do no such thing. Rather than disappoint her yet again—there are no other free weekends until late March—we formulated plan B: Finish trick-or-treating by 8, get the Beaner ready for bed, throw him in the car, drive halfway to grandma's, and spend the night in a hotel.
[This is where the cute Halloween photo would be if I could copy & paste on an iPhone.]
The second part of Plan B involved driving the rest of the way to my grandmother's house this morning. The Beaner was excited to leave the hotel in NJ and get to grandma's, though he also expressed some apprehension (both "I'm a little afraid" and "I'm a little shy") because he didn't know my grandma.
He ended up enjoying himself quite a bit. He read the Little Golden Books grandma read to me as a kid, he and Al made a snowman in the yard (it melted rapidly once the sun came out, making it look more like a ghost than a snowman by the time we left for dinner), ate grandma's homemade cookies, drew pictures, played Blues Clues with me, diirected grandma what color scrubbers to make for us, and tried to rearrange her furniture.
We had dinner at our hotel's restaurant with grandma, and then I drove her home. We weren't planning to go back over before heading home tomorrow—I was hoping to take an hour in the morning to show Al around Hunter and take a few photographs—but I may rethink that now that I've realized that I forgot to take a photo of grandma and the Beaner together.
Whether I get that snap or not, I have no doubt that coming up was the right thing to do. Although the Beaner calls refers to her as "Mommy's grandma" as if she's no relation to him, I think he'll remember the visit. I know she will.
Accidents Will Happen
At 2:40am on Saturday morning, Al and I were awoken by about six twentysomethings chatting loudly outside our hotel room. Despite two frustrated SHHHes from me and a "dudes! I'm serious! My kid is asleep in here," they didn't shut up until they'd all piled into the room across the hall and gone to sleep themselves.
When I saw that we were the only guests at this hotel aside from a large wedding group, I figured we were in for another night of the same.
Despite the clocks rolling back an hour, the first loud group came back at 2:35am EST. I couldn't get back to sleep with a semi-full bladder, so I got up to pee. Unfortunately, in the extremely dark room I misjudged where the toilet was by about 3 or 4 inches. I know, it sounds hilarious—and I'd be laughing right along with you if my back hadn't crashed into the toilet bowl on the way down.
The bruise on my butt from hitting the ceramic tile is nothing compared to the knob-bruise on my spine. It burned for a couple hours, which is how I knew the bruise would be a bad one. I could walk back to the bed, however, so I was pretty sure I hadn't done any serious damage—and I *was* able to fall asleep with an icepack that Al helpfully fetched for me pressed against my back.
That icepack was still cold when I heard the Beaner yell, "Mom! Where are you?" and responded "in here, buddy!", which woke Al. "Who are you talking to?" he asked. Me: "Oh, I thought I heard the Beaner say, 'Mom, where are you?'" Just then the Beaner made it clear that I wasn't just dreaming by saying loudly, "Mom, I'M WET."
Well, crap. I'd asked Al after the Beaner fell asleep whether he'd peed before getting in bed, and Al had responded that he'd peed after swimming and before getting in the tub. He normally pees before getting in the tub, but we'd had some extra time between bathtime and bedtime, and my mind calculated that he'd been due for one more pee before going to sleep. Add in the fact that we were in a hotel, and it was practically guaranteed that he'd wet the bed. (He hasn't wet the bed at home in six months or more, but he has accidents in probably one out of every three or four hotel rooms.)
The good news is that Al totally took care of everything. He washed down and re-jammied the Beaner, who got in bed with me for a few minutes, and then made up the pull-out couch (this was a lucky stroke; the suite had a queen bed for us, a queen murphy bed—which the Beaner had been sleeping in—and a queen sleeper sofa).
It was while the Beaner was snuggling me that the second group of wedding guests tramped noisily down the hall, stealing Privacy Please hangers off of doorknobs (actually, it could have been the first group that had done the stealing; I don't know for sure). I think by this time it was about 3:40am EST. I thought, "thank god for small favors"; they could have easily come when I wasn't already awake, and in that case there might have been another accident in the hallway. An accident involving strangulation by icepack.
Hey Now, You're an All-Star
I have such a backlog things to write about that I kind of wish I'd brought my laptop with me on vacation and blogged daily. Instead I'm playing vacation catch-up, still uploading photos from the Beaner's and my trip to Disney World and Al's and my trip to Annapolis, and I haven't even begun the writing yet. Well, I guess technically I have now.
I have lots of favorite photos and stories from the trip, but this photo is perhaps my favorite of all:
It's a self-portrait taken just after we arrived at our hotel—Disney's All-Star Movies Resort—on Tuesday morning, June 9. I've stayed at Movies before by myself (in 1999?), and at Sports three times (once with Sandra, once with Al on our honeymoon, and last year when we took the Beaner to Disney for the first time). I like the budget All-Star resorts, which offer a full measure of Disney whimsy for a very reasonable price, but they're starting to show their age a bit, and the housekeeping has gotten more and more spotty each time we've stayed. Example: At around 5pm on our second day (i.e., after our first night's stay), we returned to our room to find that the housekeeper had made my bed with the extra pillow in the center, making it look like it was pregnant. And it looked like she'd been interrupted in the process, because the coverlet was pulled up and tucked in on one side, but not the other.
The Beaner had just spotted the bottle of spray cleaner and the travel-size bottle of shampoo (I'd *thought* there was usually shampoo in the room in addition to soap!) on top of the TV when there was a knock at the door. It was the housekeeping supervisor, who'd come to make sure that our room had been serviced, because the housekeeper hadn't punched it in. "Um, sort of," I said. She looked at me quizzically, so I waved an arm toward the bed. I knew her first thought was, "ok, so you pulled the covers down...," so I explained that we'd just returned to find the bed like this. "And I suppose you'll want your spray cleaner back," I said. She was very friendly and apologetic, and said that she'd speak with the housekeeper. I told her it wasn't a big deal, and we wouldn't have mentioned it if she hadn't asked.
I didn't think much of it until our last day, when we finally got pool towels in our room (we'd been going to the front desk to request them)—but no hand towels or washcloths. We also got a new liner bag for the ice bucket, plus two mosquitoes floating in the melted water from the day before... and cups. Every day, we got a new stack of cups. It was the one thing we could absolutely count on, even though I don't think we used a single cup during our whole stay. There were so many of them that we were constantly knocking them off the sink.
I'm thinking that a room-cleaning checklist is probably in order (and I say this knowing very well that there must be one): Shampoo, check. Soap, check. Bath, pool, and hand towels, check. Washcloths, check. Ice bucket emptied, used liner discarded, new liner provided, check. Mildew removed from around robe hook, check. Bed that doesn't look like it swallowed a watermelon, check. And so on.
Remind me to tell you about the really great parts of the All-Star Movies resort in the next post, including the pool, the front desk staff, and the wonderfully helpful food court manager, Erick.
Disney Day 1: Swimming and Suitcases and Sticky, Sweaty Sleep
So a bit more info on our trip to Disney: (1) It was meant to be shortish, so it wouldn't be too expensive, (2) the Beaner and I went by ourselves, and (3) again to save on expenses, we only got 2-day non-Park Hopper tickets for a 3-day stay.
I made meal reservations before leaving Philadelphia (and about 8 weeks in advance, before I'd started eating a largely raw diet), and since two of the restaurants I knew I wanted to eat at were in the parks, it was pretty easy to figure out our park schedule once the dining reservations were in place.
Our plan was to arrive around 9:30am on Tuesday, have our main suitcase brought to our hotel room by the Disney's Magical Express service, spend the day swimming, shopping, mini-golfing, and then have dinner at the Cape May Cafe over at the Beach Club resort. We'd purposely used the Beaner's Lightning McQueen suitcase as our carry-on and filled it with swimsuits, sunscreen, medications, and toiletries. (I remember well when Lightning was lost by the airline last year and arrived a day late, and I wanted to make sure we could brush or teeth and stay on our meds if the luggage disappeared again.)
When we checked in we were told that we'd be in Love Bug 7, and that I'd receive a call on my cell phone when our room was ready. (Technically checkin is at 3pm, but sometimes rooms are ready before that.)
Our first stop was the food court, where the Beaner got some oatmeal and an orange juice, and I ate a few of the nuts and dried fruit I'd brought in my backpack. Next we went outside to inspect a life-size model of the RC car from Toy Story, and then we visited the playground. The Beaner didn't stay as long as he normally would because there were no other kids to play with (the playground, for him, is all about making new friends). After about 10 minutes we went to the bathrooms near the pool and changed into our swim suits.
We must've stayed in the pool for 2 hours at least; after about 10 minutes, I realized that no matter how much sunscreen I had on, without some kind of cover in addition to my hat, I was going to FRY. I ended up using one of our towels to cover my shoulders, back, and most of my arms. I didn't care that it got soaked in the process, making it useless as a drying mechanism—as long as I didn't end up with angry red patches like just about everyone else in the pool, I'd count myself lucky.
I finally convinced the Beaner that we should get out and have a snack (we ate crackers and fruit from my backpack), and we also dressed at that point. It was about 1:30, and I hadn't heard that our room was ready, so I checked Lightning at the bell stand, and we took a bus to Downtown Disney. (In retrospect, I should have asked at the front desk about the room; I'd really been hoping to drop off our bags and rest a bit before going anywhere else.)
The main reason for visiting Downtown Disney was to transfer to a bus that would take us to the Boardwalk area, where we'd be having dinner. The Boardwalk area is also where the Fantasia Gardens mini-golf is, and I thought the Beaner would want to play. He didn't, however, so we ended up staying at Downtown Disney for a while instead.
[At this point I should probably mention that it was HOT. Very hot. 92 degrees and humid hot. After a very chilly, rainy, April-like start to June in Philly, the heat was kind of a shock. This is why most of the photos you'll see from now on feature sweat and lots of it.]
I'd heard there was a LEGO store at DD, so we went in search of that. It turned out to be a very big hit, and we spent almost as much time there as we did at the pool.
There was a play area next to the outdoor LEGO brick pits, but a sign warned that the play equipment might be very hot, and it was right. We opted for a bit more fun with some Duplo-sized blocks, and then we walked back to the bus stop at around 3:30.
I was trying to decide, as we rode on the bus, whether to get off at the Swan/Dolphin and walk around the Boardwalk to the Beach Club, or whether to get off at the Beach Club itself. If we did the latter, we'd be very early for dinner, but the Beaner was looking floppy and tired. We'd gotten up at 4am to make our early flight, he had not slept on the plane, and as I mentioned, it was very hot. He made the decision easy for me by falling asleep on my lap.
The bus ride ended up taking an excruciating hour and 20 minutes. Do not ask me what took so long (I know that loading a scooter passenger—and the resultant malfunctioning door—was part of the delay, but I have no idea about the rest of it). Disney Dining always reminds you to allow at least 90 minutes of travel time if using the bus system to get to a meal reservation, and I certainly did leave that much time, but MAN—to actually be on a bus for 90 minutes, especially with a super-hot, sleeping kid stuck to you, absolutely sucks. (I was not the only one with a passed-out kid on me, btw.)
The bus stop was a couple hundred yards from the entrance to the hotel, and I carried the still-sleeping Beaner to the door, at which point he woke up. It was 4:50, and I still hadn't heard about our room. I tried to get the number to call to inquire from the front desk staff at the Beach Club, but they were extremely confused about what I was asking, where I was staying, and where to find the number. They ended up giving me the fax number of All-Star Movies, and I didn't go back to correct the problem. Instead I spotted a house phone on the wall and picked it up.
Our room was indeed ready, and I wondered for how long it had been, but I didn't ask. Instead I sat and enjoyed the air conditioning and called Al, to whom I'd been sending regular photo updates by iPhone, until the hostess started checking people in at the Cape May Cafe at 5pm. I gave our name and explained that we had a 6:05 reservation (which was a bit late for us, given the lengthy ride we'd have back to our hotel). We were seated at 5:30, right when the restaurant opened, praise Mickey.
[L] an all-yellow meal; [R] the Beaner hinted that he wanted one of these cups about 8 times before I asked the waiter to put one on our tab but to bring it to the table empty. The "lite" raspberry lemonade that was supposed to come in it was unsafe on three counts: artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners. I filled the cup with the apple juice from the photo on the left instead.
I had several small plates of (cooked) mussels, but what I was truly grateful for were the salads. I had two servings of mixed melon and three huge plates of greens. I have to say, I'm enjoying the heck out of eating so many raw fruits and vegetables, and they're particularly refreshing in the summer heat.
We took our time over the meal and ended up leaving around the time I'd originally calculated we'd be done if we were seated at 6:05. We decided to take the first bus that came along, since all the parks are transportation hubs and would offer a ride back to our hotel. The first bus happened to be Downtown Disney, so we returned there and transferred back to All-Star Movies, where we finally shuffled back to our room.
It was a long walk to the back of the resort from the bus stop, and at first I wondered why they'd put us back there when I knew I'd booked a preferred room (which usually means by the pool/main building). Then I remembered that I'd noted on our reservation that the Beaner loved Cars. I'd noted this because I wasn't sure if they'd added a Cars building since my last visit here, and I would've hated to hear the Beaner moan that he'd rather be in the Lightning McQueen building. Instead, I heard him ask questions about Herbie (whom he referred to as "she") over and over for three days straight. :-) He doesn't like the Herbie movies, but he really did enjoy being in the Herbie building.
I ended up getting the Beaner bathed and in bed only about 30 minutes behind our usual schedule, and he fell asleep quickly. I showered and set the alarm for 7am, and then I went to bed too. We had a reservation for breakfast at the Magic Kingdom on Wednesday, and I wanted to have time to go on a ride or two before breakfast if possible.
Show Excitement or Emotion
Enjoyed a lovely, if bitterly cold, day in Princeton with Al and the Beaner. We spent the morning exploring and photographing the Princeton University campus (photos to follow; I shot a few with the 10D and a couple with the Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim), then warmed up with tea and apple cider at Starbucks.
We stopped for picnic supplies at Olives (nicely remodeled since our last visit); spent an hour at our favorite toy store (Jazams!), where I made a long list of books I plan to buy for the Beaner in the next couple years (The Mouse and the Motorcycle, FTW!) and bought one from the young adult section for myself; admired the recycled goodness at the Terracycle store (the Beaner was in HEAVEN); and then made our way to the well-hidden Hobey Baker Rink for the highlight of my day (and this was a very good day!)... a Princeton womens hockey game!
It was awesome! The rink was nice, the view was great, and the hustle the Princeton players showed was fucking inspiring. Even better, the Beaner didn't get bored until 15:00 in the 3rd period (woo!). He wasn't too thrilled with my yelling and cheering (too loud), except for when I yelled "OHHHH!" on a shot that hit the crossbar. He said, "hey Mom, did you know that you just said an interjection?"
Why yes! I did know that. :-)
After the game (which Princeton won 1-0 on an amazing centering pass to DiCesare driving down the slot), the Beaner showed off his new dog paddling skills at an indoor pool. More interjections ensued.
Detroit Road Trip: An Introduction
I didn't want to blog while we were away—heck, I haven't wanted to blog in a while!—but I found myself wanting to share our Spring Break road trip to Detroit (yes, Detroit!) as it was happening, so I ended up pecking out emails to my mom and sister from the car, hotel rooms, rest stops, and even a Ford factory. Since I was doing this on my iPhone and iPad, I came home with a pretty severe case of tendonitis in my right hand, but feeling like I'd gotten a bit of my narrative mojo back. About halfway through the trip I decided to post the emails to my blog upon our return, when I'd be able to properly link to the photos I took in context.
Over the next couple hours I'll be posting the emails and photos the detroit road trip 2012 category. Since the front page of the blog puts the posts in reverse chronological order, I recommend reading from the category page, where they will appear in chronological order. I'm going to post the emails with their original dates, so it's going to look like there are suddenly a bunch of posts appearing from earlier in the month. I thought about back-dating this one so that it would appear first there, but I think I'll leave it as is so it stays at the top of the front page as a sign post.
So why Detroit? I think the idea was first planted by my hockey teammate, carpoolmate, and friend Shelly, who took a vacation entirely by Megabus back in the fall, making a stop in Detroit. I remarked that I'd never been, and I was intrigued by the bus road trip concept. Al and I started talking about doing something similar, and the Beaner put in that he would really like to go to Detroit to see where cars were made. We were a little nervous about heading north for spring break rather than south, but since the Beaner's spring break was relatively late, we thought there was a decent chance the temperatures would be above freezing, and possibly well above.
When Megabus tickets finally went on sale for the first week of April, Al waffled a bit on the itinerary, I think failing to fully grasp that the biggest benefit of Megabus, aside from not having to drive ourselves, was that if you were the first to book, you got the cheapest fare. He also wasn't fond of the inflexibility of the departure/arrival times (in fact, this may have been the biggest factor, rather than indecision). Within a couple days, the fare for the three of us had gone up to about what Al figured we'd spend on gas, and we decided that if it wasn't going to save us any money, we might as well have the flexibility to stop when and where we wanted by driving ourselves. We considered changing destinations as well, but the Beaner was pretty set on Detroit.
It may help to know when reading the first email that Al was in a car accident not long after we'd decided to drive instead of bus; he wasn't hurt, but our car was totaled. We ended up buying another used car, a few model years newer than our old car, to replace it. I thought it was a really nice car, a practical car for carrying hockey bags and golf clubs and teammates, but it was also a small SUV, and I had trouble adjusting to the fact that I was now an SUV driver. It felt a bit surreal, like it couldn't possibly be MY car. I did suspect, however, that it would make a great road trip car. (One of my mental criteria while we were car shopping was, "can I see myself driving to Detroit in this car?")
When we returned, Shelly asked, "does it feel like your car now?" I think the first email answers that question.