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Cape Crusading

by on Jun.24, 2011, under family, travel

Family vacation – 6 days, 5 nights in Cape Cod, bookended by a combined total of about 20 hours of driving.  Despite the latter, the trip proved to be a lot of fun and a welcome reprieve from the daily routine.  Sure the kids had their questionable moments and I’m coming to learn that there are some tensions that come with parenthood that will likely take years to uncoil (though I suspect the specific cause will simply shift over the decades until they are finally untethered and on their own), but all in all it was a great trip.

We started our vacation the day after school was out for summer – packed the car to the gills with food, toys and clothes (both for the destination and the journey), and headed out as early as we could with the hopes of being well past the major metropolitan areas before the afternoon rush.  As it turned out, Google Maps failed me in its default recommendation and led us most of the way there via I-95 – as a result we were moving at a rate between 10 and 40 mph from Northern New Jersey to mid-Connecticut.  We managed to get out of the congestion briefly just past New Haven only to hit rush hour shortly after and until Providence, RI.  Despite all of these transit setbacks, the kids were well-behaved, remained in good spirits, and generally kept themselves entertained for most of the journey.  For part of the trip I decided to stream Pandora through my iPhone – I had previously setup a number of stations to suit various tastes:  one with a variety of modern music that I like, one based on a number of feel-good songs that my wife likes, and one based on a playlist of songs that the kids have come to enjoy (containing songs from artists such as Ok Go, The Gorillaz, Pomplamoose, and “Give Up the Funk” by The Parliament Funkadelics).  I started by playing the kids mix and apparently got a stream of about 7 or 8 70s funk songs … which the kids seemed to enjoy much more than I would have expected.

The resort that we stayed at was a small collection of quaintly-sized homes (mostly single-story twins) that was situated right on a bay near Hyannis.  The unit we opted for had one bedroom with a twin and a full sized bed in it and a Murphy bed in the living room.  Initially the kids found the Murphy bed so fascinating that they opted to take that bed while my wife and I would get the separate beds in the bedroom.  But in less than a half hour they were fighting (Cricket kept whining because Grasshopper kept kicking her, Grasshopper kept kicking Cricket because she wouldn’t stop whining, etc.) which required them to be separated.  So the first night I got the bedroom with Grasshopper and my wife and daughter shared the Murphy bed.  For the rest of the week the kids took the bedroom and we took the living room and all was copacetic … except for the fact that the kids seemed to like to wake at the crack of dawn.

The first morning, Grasshopper was up at 4:30am.  He seemed unsettleable so I gave him some books and toys and told him to play quietly.  After about 45 minutes of that, he had to go wake up his sister, and by 6:00 they had my wife up and trooped on down to the beach.  At around 7:30 they returned so that I could take a shift and my wife could get in a little more sleep, so I took them back to the beach where the played happily until about 10 before we gathered to plan our day.  The rest of the week we got to sleep in until around 7 to 8 (one of the drawbacks to being somewhere with a wide horizon on some of the longest days of the year).

Most of our days were punctuated by day trips to various parts of Cape Cod.  On Father’s Day we drove up the National Sea Shore and spent the afternoon in Provincetown.  We managed to visit 2 museums (a pirate museum on the pier as well as a Cape Cod history museum at the base of the Piedmont Monument), climbed the tower, and I got Cricket to try seafood (which she insisted she hated, but after a bite of my lobster BLT, she ended up stealing a quarter of my sandwich and on a seafood quest for the remainder of our trip).   We spent the next day in Chatham enjoying the beach, perusing the shops, and watching the seals circle the fishing boats at the docks, and spent Tuesday enjoying the amenities closer to the resort (e.g., the pool, the beach, and various mini-golf courses) before finally packing up and leaving on Wednesday.

Looking back at the trip, I’m sure my wife and I would have had a more relaxing version of a vacation were we there without the kids, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.  Even when the kids were pushing their limits (e.g., hooting as they ran up and down the ramps in the Piedmont tower to hear themselves echo), we couldn’t help but take joy in their unbridled enthusiasm.  And the trip gave me a new perspective on all of the family vacations I remember taking as a kid.  In the end, I managed to relax and unwind a little and spend 6 days not touching a computer, not being concerned about deadlines or meetings, and not needing to know what time it was – at the cost of a little loss of sleep and a little sunburn.  And considering the kids (and my wife) wanted to know if we could move there, I’d imagine it was good for them too.  Now I have to figure out when we can afford to do it again.

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A Curious Point of Perspective

by on Jun.12, 2011, under family

Cricket was recently using her laptop (a cheap netbook that I salvaged from being tossed at work that she and her brother share) – mostly to do her usual activities:  play games on NickJr.com, watch episodes of the Pink Panther on Netflix, or practice typing in Word.  But it seems she decided to be exploratory today.  Now we have already had talks about how exploratory she is allowed to get (she has been burned on her own before watching YouTube videos – just because it has Elmo in it doesn’t make it kid-friendly), so I generally don’t worry that she will find anything she isn’t supposed to see (and filters are set as explicit as I can manage short of setting up site-filtering).  But today she ventured in an unexpected direction – she Google’d herself.

Specifically she Google’d her name and the word family (I presume expecting to find information about her family or maybe our blogs or something – frankly I’m not entirely sure what she expected to find).  What was really interesting is what she found – she found an old online journal page that I used to sporadically write on up until shortly after she was born.  The last post I wrote on it actually was talking about her and her development so far (at that point being 8 months old), and then going on about how life-changing becoming a parent is.

I found myself reading through the old posts up there – I read the one about her to her before putting her to bed for the night, but then I came back and read the rest.  And frankly I was pretty boring and kind of dumb back that (aside from my parenting revelations).  The rest of my posts were indicative of how little I really had to say and how little I really had learned so far in life – mostly shallow introspection and occasionally misdirected frustration at things for which I had more control or responsibility than I took – that and some lame mixtape playlists and a weird attempt at poetry.

Anyway, I’ve strayed from my point (another thing I tended to do a lot … and probably still do now).  After reading my post to my daughter, she asked if she could have her own website.  At age 7 and a half she wants to start sharing her musings with the world.  Considering the behavior model, I’m not surprised (I’ve been blogging amateurishly for a few years and my wife more successfully for a little longer).  But alas I told her no, I’m not buying her her own website – which was a shock to her in itself, not that I said no but that there were costs involved.  What I did agree to, however (assuming she remembers having the conversation) is that if she felt compelled to write somethings, she could post them on my blog.  So don’t be surprised if you start seeing “Cricket’s Corner” posts in the near future … or not depending on whether it goes anywhere.

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From Flower to Chocolate Dessert?

by on Jun.06, 2011, under family, parenthood

This weekend seemed to be punctuated by my daughter’s Girl Scout events and the resultant aftereffects.  Cricket, being in first grade, was a Daisy this year (the lowest rank in the Girl Scouts organization – at least as far as I’m aware).  The weekend begun with me having a boy’s evening with my son because the Daisies were having a camp-out (camp-out = a dozen kindergarten and first grade girls sleeping in tents in someone’s back yard).  My wife hung out with the crew for part of the evening as well.  Apparently my daughter had awoken at around 5:45 the next morning and, as is characteristic, was a little jabber-jaw (to the chagrin of the councilor who was shushing her and hoping that she wouldn’t wake any of the other girls).

As a result of the short night’s sleep, Cricket was in rare form most of Saturday – breaking down in a handful of whining fits throughout the day and finally falling asleep mid-afternoon in my bed.  Ironically this happened while I was at the grocery store getting the makings of burgers to grill at her request.  I made the burgers nonetheless and hers still sits in the fridge to be eventually consumed or tossed.  My wife and I had considered eventually moving her to her own bed, but instead took advantage of her absence to get her room to an actual clean state.  Officially, we didn’t throw away anything except a few pieces of actual garbage, unofficially we filled at least 2 garbage bags – one with donation items.  We also collected a wardrobe’s worth of laundry and a classroom’s supply of pencils from her floor (and don’t even ask me how many hangers).  I then opted to sleep in her bed in her stead – it was fairly relaxing until the kids came in in the morning and were literally running circles on the newly clean floor.

Yesterday things were generally more even-keel.  The kids were in good spirits and properly rested.  They even played well together at times (not all the time, but some of it).  We enjoyed some time at the park and went to pick out some paint for the loft bed I plan to build Grasshopper.  Things only got hectic when dinner preparation ran long requiring us to eat fast – a feat that is nigh impossible it seems for children under 8 – so that we would make it to Cricket’s bridging ceremony on time (bridging ceremony = groups of Girl Scouts walking across a plank of wood situated next to a blue tarp resulting in the need to re-accessorize in a new vest color).  As my daughter’s troop marched up to the staging area, I couldn’t help but marvel at what the patches on the backs of their vests depicted as achievements (e.g., bowling, s’more-making), but I guess at the ages of 5 to 7 you can only expect so much.

The local den mother (or whatever you call the senior officiant for all of the levels of troops) took a moment to point out that the Girl Scouts was undergoing a drastic program change next year, thus making the patches and honors currently awarded soon to be ‘collector’s items’ (i.e., it’s a profit deal).  Once the ceremony of it was over and my daughter was officially promoted to the Brownies, the kids all got sugared up on cake and then shortly thereafter were literally running around the auditorium at top speeds.  Incredulously there were few if any injuries and we were able to drag our kids home without any complaints for them to settle to bed without too much hoopla.

It is easy to see that very little of my life as a father any longer revolves around me.  But I’m perfectly content with that.  I love my kids and I couldn’t imagine things any differently.  Among the various kid-centric events of the weekend, I got to spend rare one-on-one moments with my son, and I got to take pride in the continuing growth and accomplishment of my daughter.  I can ask for little more in life.

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Date Night

by on Mar.06, 2011, under family

Once again, my wife and I had one of our seldom attainable nights out (see the following for our last such encounter).  Once again, a coupon was the catalyst to our taking action – this time in the form of a half-off certificate from TravelZoo.com for a fancy 5-course meal at a fancy French restaurant in the city.  And once again, it was nice to have a night where our children were a background concern at most – where we could have an adult conversation with each other without constant interruptions.

The date night came on the heels of a busy week where my in-laws (our would-be sitters for this event) were out of town and thus we had at least partial sitting duty throughout the week for our 9-year-old nephew (that topic can be a post all to itself, but I’ll leave it alone for now).  As a thank you for our services, they offered us an opportunity to enjoy a kid-free night – even insisting on having them overnight so we wouldn’t have to operate on a curfew.  We dropped the kids off at  4 and headed back home to doll ourselves up (I in my one nice shirt and slacks that I break out once or twice a year for holiday parties, weddings, and/or funerals) and then head downtown.

The restaurant we went to was called Bistro St. Tropez and is right on Market St. in Philadelphia (not far from 30th St. Station).  The place had a very nice atmosphere with avant-garde corrugated metal walls, dim lighting, and large  picture windows displaying the spread of the city (albeit topped off with a neon-lit sign declaring the place’s name complete with a blinking, purple palm tree).  The seating was a little cozy (it felt a bit like we were having dinner WITH our neighbors to either side), but otherwise the ambiance was pleasant.  We enjoyed their prix fixe, 5-course dinner (I encouraged my wife to enjoy the wine pairing, but she opted out), and when I say enjoyed, the food was very good.  I can’t say that  I’d rush back there anytime soon to pay full price for their food, but if another similar deal came up at a time when their menu has shifted, I might consider it.

After dinner, we decided to try and catch a movie.  So we headed to a theater about halfway back home, gave a call to the in-laws to say good night to the kids, and caught an evening showing of The Adjustment Bureau.  The movie was enjoyable and I may do a separate post reviewing it.  What I will say is that it was amusing to hear the couple behind us who seemed like they might be there on a date – the guy kept ripping off lines from the movie in order to sound romantic – to give an example, I’d imagine that if we were watching Jerry MacGuire, he would have turned to his date after the deaf-people-in-the-elevator scene and said, “YOU complete me.”

After the movie we headed home and enjoyed the silence and the freedom to go to bed without having to tuck anyone in.  And this morning we continued our brief adventure in couple-dom by sleeping in and then casually going out to breakfast at the local Bagelworks.  Then we finally concede to our parenthood duties by going to pick the kids up and bring them home.

It was good to remember what life was kind of like before we had children.  Mind you we both love our kids and we both find ways to get breaks from them when we can, but what seems to be elusive is having such break time together as a couple.  I’m thinking we should probably do this more than once every 2 years.

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Happy Holidays!

by on Dec.27, 2010, under family, health, home & stuff, money, technology

Clearly I need to improve upon my time management – the fact that I’m writing a Christmas-related post 2 days after the holiday notwithstanding, it has been over 6 weeks since my last post.  I know this without checking because my last post was about my kidney stone removal and I had my 6-week follow-up appointment last week.  I’m fully aware of the negative impact this inconsistency may have on what little audience this site has, and I’ll have to live with it.  This blog is more of a personal journal or online diary than any pertinent subject-matter forum.  And I’m happy with it being so, readers or not.  But for those readers still interested, here is how my holiday season has been panning out.

To be honest, the sprint to Christmas has been mostly a blur with a few incidents of note spattered among a long grind of work and preparations (with any gaps remaining filled with sigh-filled collapsing on the couch/bed/floor).  Since I mentioned my kidney stone, I guess I should touch on it.  After readjusting to not having any foreign objects within or protruding from my body, things have been pretty smooth.  I haven’t had pain in my back since the week after all was removed.  I did my follow-up tests of getting another x-ray and collecting my pee in a jug for a day, and the result seems to be that while there is no longer a big bad stag-horn lurking in my gut, there are numerous tiny candidates waiting in the wings if I don’t make some adjustments.  Luckily for me those adjustments are small and non-dietary in nature – I just need to drink more fluids and take a few supplements (my citrate and magnesium levels are apparently low).  So I have another 6 weeks to follow those instructions before redoing the pee test, getting another x-ray, and taking another hour-long drive to see where things stand (if this becomes an on-going thing, I may need to move).  Unfortunately even these small accommodations have proven to be difficult as my pharmacy has been unable to fill one of my prescriptions for over a week.  Supposedly they should be able to work things out today with my doctor – we’ll see.

Speaking of health matters, my wife has since been on her own medical roller coaster – specifically of the dental variety.  After having numerous visits with a dentist who arguably seemed to be doing a variety of unnecessary procedures in her mouth, she ended up needing extensive work done in her mouth – specifically a few root canals, some new crowns, and at least one possible extraction.  And it seems that despite going back to this guy 4 or 5 times in 2 weeks due to increasing amounts of pain, he seemed to miss the fact that she had multiple abscesses around some of the teeth he had been treating (diagnosed by an endodontist not 2 hours after leaving his office with a diagnosis of ‘I don’t see anything that would be causing such pain’).  After a couple weeks of antibiotics, more methodical work on her problem teeth by the endodontist and a more trustworthy dentist, she is gradually getting to a better state (no thanks to our crappy dental coverage – any work from here to May will be out-of-pocket).

As for the holidays, we seem to have been spoiled both by ourselves and others.  For one, my mother has been especially generous this year (I’m guessing only having one house to pay for has left my parents in a more financially solvent position) – she bought us an early Christmas present (and by early I mean when she visited in October) of a 88-key, fully-weighted electronic keyboard.  With that I expected little else from my parents, but then when my mom came to visit again this month, not only did she have a suitcase full of gifts for all, but on an outing intended for me to finish our shopping agenda she buys us an area rug for our living room.  All I can say is thank you and hope that at some point we’ll have the opportunity to return the favor somehow.

While she is visiting, we get side-swiped by a visit by a long-time family friend (hence the last-minute shopping trip previously noted) who also seems to have found his pockets deep and his funds semi-combustible.  While I know we got him and his sister and niece some decent gifts that they will enjoy, I know that dollar for dollar we ended up and the favorable end of things.  But it isn’t really a contest, and if it were I’d settle for losing because I’ve got bigger bills to pay – literally.

Speaking of which, we somewhat spoiled the kids this year (though surprisingly frugally).  Each of them got 6 big presents and stockings stuffed to the brim – all toys and games that were hot on their wishlists – and all for easily less than $100 a piece.  My wife and I had considerably less spoils under the tree (by design), each with only 2 gifts and modestly filled stockings.  And while the $700 new laptop she got trumps the $50 worth of stuff I ended up with, I ended up with just what I wanted and cannot complain in the least.  Besides, I also now get the gift of not hearing any more complaining about computer problems (at least for a while) – and that is a gift that keeps on giving.

My only complaint that I can offer regarding this holiday season (which I feel is a legitimate complaint, albeit to whom I cannot say) is spending most of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day bowing to the porcelain gods.  I don’t know if it was something I ate or a bug that had been going around, but for about 24 hours – with exception to about an hour where I was able to keep it together enough to watch the kids open gifts – I was in no position to be jolly.  After making it through the kids unwrapping things (which was I believe all complete before 9AM), I spent most of the rest of the day in bed occasionally interrupted by kids fighting over their new toys and games.

But now the holiday is behind us, our living room has mostly recovered from the carnage, and our children are gradually coming down from their candy cane-induced sugar high to resume semi-normal behavior (though now it seems being pent up due to snow is re-contributing to their vigor – luckily they have plenty to entertain them).  And tomorrow I’ll return to the slightly less sophomoric environment of the office and back into the swing of all the things that keep me from finding the time to do things like write on my blog.  I’ve considered using my commuting time to dictate posts, but I fear they would end up even more tangential than usual and much more heavily riddled with expletives.

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