Category Archives: Travel

The games I play in my head that no one knows about. Until now.

You know that urban legend about gangsters driving around at night with their headlights off, just waiting for passersby to flash them, only to follow said passersby home and later murder them? Well, my story’s related. Kind of. Minus the whole gangster/murder thing.

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While it’s often one of the first things I do after starting the engine and buckling my own seatbelt, I sometimes forget to turn on my car’s headlights. I’m talking about daytime headlights here—a habit I’ve gotten into the past few years or so, deeming it safe practice to just keep the lights on all the time. (Nighttime’s another story. Then, it’s pretty obvious to me when the lights aren’t on, because I see terribly in the dark to begin with.)

Anyway. Back to daytime headlights. I sometimes forget to turn them on straightaway. I often won’t realize I’ve neglected to turn them on until I’m driving and I notice another car—one coming from the opposite direction—turn on its headlights. When I witness this action, I almost always look to my dashboard to see if my lights are on. If they are—yay! And if not, I turn them on.

This has happened enough times—I witness one car in a long string of others turn on its lights, then I turn on mine—that I figure it should work in reverse, right?

Like, say I’m driving along. I realize that my lights are off, so I switch them on. My own experience tells me that chances are good another car coming the opposite way and driving without headlights is likely to see me turn on my lights, and then do the same. Right? Right?!

Wrong! For three years—give or take a little—I have been having this competition in my head between me and other unsuspecting drivers. In fact, it has now become an official item on my bucket list, to influence another driver out there to turn on his or her headlights by initiating turning on mine, and be able to witness it all go down.

It’s not like I haven’t done all I can to increase my chances in those moments. When I realize I’ve not turned on my lights, I wait before turning them on, for a long line of unlit cars. I just figure, if there are several drivers who are able to see my lights spring into action, there are several chances for me to win my contest. One of those drivers should feel moved to do the right thing. The safe thing.

But no!

Alas!

They haven’t!

They elude me to this day!

I’ve attempted to coerce drivers with my actions at least fifty or sixty times thus far. Not that I’m counting or anything. It’s just a rough estimate. And all for naught. I’m telling you. The day I switch on my lights and cause someone else coming the opposite way to do the same, will be a day of grand celebration. I’m talking huge fist pumps in the air. Maybe a loud ‘whoop whoop’ and a thumbs up out the window to show my appreciation that finally—finally—someone had the good sense to follow my lead. And maybe—just maybe—a glass of bubbly to mark the occasion when I get home.

If this all sounds a little bit desperate and silly to you, don’t worry. It’s OK. It sounds that way to me too. This is what it’s like to live inside my head. Feel free to report back about your own experiences. If you are someone whose car-headlight-influencing skills are far greater than mine, do you have any tips or tricks to share? If so, I’d appreciate hearing them!

Living by the water.

For years the hubs had been telling me that my hometown—the place we lived for seven years together up until this past October—was growing on him. 

“I love Lancaster,” he’d say. “If I could just pick it up and move it near the ocean and my family, Id never want to move.” (I’ve found that people who grow up near the water always have a special place for it in their souls).

Well, now two out of his three wishes have come true.We are living near the ocean and we are much, much closer to his family. Like, a mile away from his brother, and not too much farther from both of his parents. 

Sadly, it means I’m away from my family, and also my hip hometown. Our new town—although charming and not lacking potential—is nothing like the thriving downtown we left behind. I miss Central Market, coffee shops, restaurants, and the constant buzz of local activity.

But I will say this: living by the water is pretty fantastic. 

I always thought I’d like to live in the mountains. My two favorite places I’ve ever lived EVER were in Vermont and New Hampshire, surrounded by mountains and fresh water. I’ve always enjoyed hiking and much prefer lake and river swimming to the salty ocean water.

However, this morning—along with many mornings since we’ve moved to the Connecticut coast—I enjoyed an early walk along a nearby road overlooking the water. There’s something so energizing about waking up and starting your day outside, surrounded by natural beauty. I admit, the salty smell of the sea and the funkiness of low tide is starting to grow on me.

It may never smell like my first home. Amish country and cow manure is pretty stiff competition. And while Liam may still fake retch and dry heave once we venture back and cross into Lancaster County, the fresh smell of cow shit spread on a farmer’s field will always bring on a slow an easy smile for me. Aahhh, home.

Maybe one day we will move back to Lancaster. Or have a home near some mountains. For now, though, I’m feeling grateful for our chance to experience life along this salty coast.

Inappropriate homeschooling and a case of mistaken bad parenting.

I’ve been beating myself up lately because I had all of these notions about how I would work with the girls—Nora especially, since we pulled her from her Montessori school when we moved—on literacy and math skills, now that I’m home. Nora’s been reading simple words for almost a year and delights in finding sums to simple arithmetic problems. And Frances is starting to recognize and write some of her letters. With my background and experience it makes sense that I should work with them at home.

I’ve found, however, that I lack the patience and discipline it takes to run a proper homeschool. The girls are definitely getting solid skills in playing make-believe, which I know is really important. They’re into building with blocks and legos. They help me bake, do dishes, and clean up. And, we’ve been spending loads of time outdoors and reading library books. So, they’re certainly not suffering from lack of enriching activities. I just feel guilty about not working more on academics because Nora seemed to be thriving cognitively in her school environment.

On her last day of school, Nora brought home a composition book. Apparently, she had been spelling words as part of the Montessori work she chose to do. In order to continue to fit the practice in, I encouraged Nora to bring the book into the car with her. This is the only place I’ve found that works for us right now. So, while I drive us around town, I give her words that have some common phonics patterns. For example, she spells lists of /st/ words. Or /ip/ words.

This afternoon, while the family was driving home from a weekend spent in Newport with cousins, Liam and I took turns calling out /ut/ words. We began with nut. Then, rut. I challenged her with shut and she got it. I tried to get her to spell butt, knowing she would neglect the second letter t, but wanting to get a reaction from the silly word. Nora just giggled nervously and said she didn’t want that one. She’s much too wholesome to be dealing with her mother’s potty-mouth.

Not her sister. Frances, who’d been listening up to that point, chimed in next with, “I’ve got a silly one. How about vaaa-giiiii-naaah.”

Should’ve seen that one coming. Needless to say, the family was on a roll. Which is why, I’m guessing, my husband decided to throw out the next word: slut.

I mean, it did fit the phonological pattern, but come on. Of course it was this word she had difficulty hearing, so he and I had to repeat it—shout it, really—about five times. We confessed it was a nonsense word. And then giggled ridiculously each time we said it. So immature we are.

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Which brings me to the second story involving the same word. Again with slut. Those of you who know the family—my family—may very well have heard this one before. It’s a favorite.

When my sister, Melissa, was in first grade, she also had a composition book in which to record spelling words. Typically, the teacher would assign words, my sister would write them at home, my parents would check that they looked OK, and then the book would go back to school to be examined by the teacher.

On the evening of the /sl/ words, my sister wrote a bunch of words and my parents forgot to check them. The next night, when my parents were flipping back through the pages, they noticed that she had written the word slut the night before. And, while the word had been marked correct by the teacher, they became concerned. How can she know this word? Where did she hear it? What must her teacher think of us for not having caught this? 

My parents called my sister over to read her words.

When Melissa got to the word in question, without missing a beat, she read, “Slute.”

Slute?” my parents said.

“You know,” she replied. “Slute. Like when you slute the flag.”

Gotta love kid writing.

 

 

 

 

Vacation withdrawal.

The kids and I just returned from a five-day whirlwind vacation to a lodge on a lake somewhere in Georgia, about a mile and a half outside of Atlanta, for a family reunion of sorts with my dad’s side of the family. Whew! That was a long sentence.

And although I was happy to arrive home last night to see Liam, get out of the car (we logged about 25+ hours in that thing), and have access once again to the Internet, I discovered this morning that I had a bad case of the post-vacation blahs.

The kind of blahs that happen when you wake up to ninety degrees of humid mugginess, but realize there’s no longer a lake in which to jump in and cool off. That there is no high quality leather furniture in your house upon which to recline and snooze while other people hold and care for your children. There are no other people to hold and care for your children. No sleeping in. No insta-Keurig-coffee-drinking while looking out floor-to-ceiling windows at the natural beauty that surrounds you. No walking with your sister for miles and chatting about whatever. No middle of the day boat rides. No family style meals and conversating with other adults.

Just some whiny-ass kids (whiny because they spent eleven hours on the road the day before and didn’t go to sleep until after ten, and woke up prematurely at six), and a home full of shit that needs laundering and unpacking.

Highlights of the trip (according to me):

  1. Using call signs Eagle One and Sparrow One with walkie-talkies among the two traveling vehicles.(Each time we stopped to fuel up, my lovely, but impatient father, would drive off to hit the road before all of the passengers traveling in our vehicle were inside and ready to go. Someone in our car would inevitably shout, “Eagle One is out! Eagle One is out!” Then, we would all have to clamber inside the car, buckle up, and peel out to keep up with my pops.)
  2. An early morning walk with my sister talking about everything. And nothing.
  3. A late evening solo swim.
  4. A village to help care for my kiddos while I was able to…wait for it…relax!
  5. Catching up with cousins I love and hadn’t seen in awhile.
  6. Watching my kids and their cousins and extended family play and interact together.
  7. No one drowned, wrecked, needed stitches, fell off of anything or down anything, cut or scraped themselves too badly, or got hit in the head by a wild-swinging golf club (there were many of these).
  8. Also, the ride on the road with six young kids went great!! They were super travelers!

The girls’ highlights (according to them, but with some editing and rephrasing by me):

  1. Eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch each morning for breakfast (they woke up earlier than I did and someone else always got them what they wanted).
  2. Lake swimming.
  3. Boat riding.
  4. Getting stung by a wasp (OK, this was definitely a low point for Nora, but still memorable).
  5. Having the freedom to roam between houses (and floors of houses), and pretty much do as they pleased with little adult supervision.
  6. Riding in a golf cart.
  7. Bathing in a giant jacuzzi tub that held four cousins and likely could’ve held two more!
  8. Eating Gigi’s birthday cake (we celebrated my dad’s mother’s 90th!)
  9. Watching movies in the car.
  10. Eating snacks in the car.

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I had these grand plans to carve out some quality time with my oldest since she and I don’t get much bonding time at home these days, what with two needier little ones about. Instead, I discovered she didn’t really need or want much mothering from me (apart from the whole wasp sting thing). She and I would spot one another from time to time on the grounds while she was playing about, and wave wildly at each other, or offer big smiles. And that was it. Instead of being sad about it all, I’ll just be proud of the little independent person she’s become and becoming, and take the moments, large and small, as they come.

And, in the meantime, I’ll be busy thinking about and planning our next vacation. Because I don’t think we will make it on our own this summer, without another one or two thrown in over the next eight weeks, during which we can once again take advantage of “our village” and a setting more serene than that which exists within the walls of our own home. ‘Cause things are pretty wild and crazy here right now.

My husband asked me if I could make a strawberry rhubarb pie today while he was at work, and other ridiculous requests.

Just last week my daughter was in the car talking about how much she missed her Grandpa Jim (Liam’s dad, who lives in Connecticut). I told her that we couldn’t make a trip to visit him because daddy didn’t have time off from work. She suggested that I take her and her siblings, without her father, as if this were the obvious and easy choice. And, she suggested that we leave immediately.

I told her we would not be leaving immediately, but that I would consider making the trip without Liam. And so, this past Sunday, I rallied the troops, packed a small boatload full of stuff, and hit the road. It should be noted that my husband, as he was seeing us out of the driveway, was simultaneously loading his golf clubs into the trunk of his car and donning his golf rain jacket, hoping to make a scheduled tee time at 10:00. He sure wasted no time starting his bachelor weekend events. 

The ride north went somewhat smoothly. We stopped for the first time about an hour and a half into the trip, still in Pennsylvania, at a fireworks store. After I peed behind a tree near the parking lot, I pulled Nora’s old potty chair from her potty training days (an absolute necessity for long road trips with small children!) and plunked it down onto the asphalt in the lot. After she did her business, I nursed both little children while sitting on the floor of the car in front of and in between the two captain’s chairs, and changed their diapers. The new minivan is proving to be an excellent investment! Lots of room for road-tripping shenanigans inside her. Because there was no way this mom was trying to drag three little ones into a rest-stop restroom! Firstly, it would have added too much extra time on an already long trip. And secondly, I have nightmares imagining the four of us crammed into a crowded bathroom stall, while I have to negotiate peeing as well as holding a baby and making sure two little ones don’t put their hands all over every stall surface and then put their fingers in their mouths.

The middle part of the trip was a little stressful. The baby screamed off and on for awhile. Frances napped, but older sister Nora refused. Instead, she whined a lot, asked 326 times how much longer until we got there, and twirled knots in her hair like a nervous wreck, something I’ve never seen her do before. I think it was a mixture of being exhausted, excited, and stressed out; the baby crying was rough on us all.

I think I was finally able to relax and drive comfortably with shoulders not hunched up around my ears after our second pit-stop, just inside Connecticut, once the baby fell asleep. Unfortunately, our second stop was in a less private place than the first. Nora did her business on the potty seat inside the car. And, I may have too. Yes, I’m sure you’re visualization of a grown-ass woman squatting down, pants around her ankles, inside a cramped minivan to use a child’s potty seat is spot on. Especially when I add in the details that the girls were giggling like crazy and screaming, “I can see your booty!” the entire time. So humiliating. Thank goodness for shaded car windows!

I made the oldest promise never to tell anyone what she had seen.Yet, here I am revealing it all. Oh well. It was either use the potty seat, or drag the kids inside someplace, which I’ve already mentioned I was reluctant to do. After I confessed the above to my husband, and listened to him laughing for a few minutes, he admitted it was a brilliant idea, really, and that we should probably invent an adult seat to be used on road trips for just these kinds of situations. I’m sure there is already one out there somewhere. I will have to look into purchasing it for our next journey.

We made the four-and-a-half-hour trip in about six hours, stopping twice for about a half hour each time. Not too shabby. And, I only had to use my 130-decibel-level voice a couple of times to ask everyone to shut the hell up, but in slightly more polite terms than that.

The afternoon we arrived proved to be the nicest in terms of weather, and the only real beach day of the four we stayed. So, even though the water temps were in the high 50s, the kids put on their suits and headed down to the water to splash about in the surf and dig around in the sand.

Some other highlights over the next few days included spending time with grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, eating lots and lots of desserts (always a fan favorite at Grandpa Jim’s), playing on a playground at the beach (I just can’t get over how cool it was that the kids could slide down the slides and land in the sand), and having a seafood dinner with Grandmère (Liam’s mom) while trains rolled past on one side, and boats rocked calmly on the other. I also enjoyred a quick visit with my college roommate. Although, between the chasing after and minding of children, we really just got to see what the other looked like these days, exchange a few smiles and laughs, and document the whole blur with a bunch of photographs.

And now, for the lowlights. Mostly, these happened during the night. I knew they would. Co-sleeping works great for us at home, but not so much when we travel. At least, not when we are limited on space.

Our sleeping arrangement was an air mattress on the floor next to a twin bed. I told Nora to expect that she wouldn’t be able to sleep next to me. She accepted this, at first. And then, in the middle of the night, she fell out of the twin bed and onto the air mattress at my feet. She then refused to climb back up into the bed, and so, slept in a small crack of open floor between the mattress and dresser instead. This seemed to work out well. Frances also managed to roll off the air mattress a couple of times and got banged up by the piano pedals on the floor. Only my kids.

And so, nearly every bedtime was a complete disaster. At home, Liam and I usually take turns putting kids to bed, one or sometimes two at a time. Never all three. However, each night in Connecticut, I managed to have all three awake at 9:00 p.m. or later. Not a good scene. I just didn’t have enough body parts or bed space to nurse, hold, and comfort all three at the same time. This was a time when I certainly wished we had the kind of kids we could just tell to go to sleep and they would, while I sat out in the living room nursing a beer and enjoying some alone time.

As it is, over the past six days, I have enjoyed only an hour-and-a-half of alone time, a world record for me. The thirty-minute car ride home from my parents’ place on the tail end of our trip home from Connecticut (it went about as smoothly as the ride up, except I used the potty seat twice, as I’m an old pro at it now), when I insisted Liam meet us there and then drive the kids home in the minivan, while I drove home in his car in SILENCE. The thirty-minute bath I enjoyed two nights ago, even though the middle girl yelled, “I watch you, mommy!” nearly the entire time from outside the locked door.

And the past fifteen or more minutes that I’ve been writing this post, which I began many hours ago, and have only just neared the end, after I put the baby to sleep. Other than this time, I have been holding a baby in my arms, or had a baby strapped to me in a carrier, or, I’ve been in the presence of one or more of my children, within a five-foot radius or less, for the past 144 hours. I’m in need of a vacation from my vacation.

Which is why, when my husband asked me this morning, before he left for work, if I had time, could I make a strawberry rhubarb pie, I gave him a look that said: You’ve got to be effing kidding me, right?

I don’t think he was kidding, but I think he read me loud and clear, that there would be no pie making happening. At all. Likely ever again. Perhaps he should have scheduled his baking plans in between rounds of golf and dining out, while I was in Connecticut visiting his family.

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Eating fried seafood with her uncle. Incidentally, she looks more like him than her own two parents. Funny how that happens. Love this photo.


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Testing out the frigid waters on a frigid day. Crazy girl.


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The kids and their Grandpa.


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Cousins waiting on ice cream!


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Girlfriend time at the beach.