Friday, August 16, 2019

Five on Friday: Reasons I Know She's Going to be Just Fine

I've been whining a lot about sending my daughter to college this weekend. I think I get a pass on this one, it's my first time. I'm sure it's going to get easier with each kid, just like I cried when she got on the kindergarten bus but I was kind of happy and relieved when the fifth kid did.

It's not so much that I'm worried about how much I'll miss her . . . I'm sure I will, but she's gone away without me before and I'm so excited for the adventures she'll be having. Also, she and I text quite a bit and I can't see that changing (more experienced parents: please don't tell me otherwise right now, it's all I've got).

It's more the symbolic end of her childhood that's punching in the gut this week. And, as a well-meaning person pointed out the other day, "It's sort of the end of your family unit as it was."

Great. Thanks.

I'm trying to remember that that's okay. Families are fluid. Kids grow, that's the whole point of this right? To raise them into successful adults?

I saw an article recently warning parents that their child might not be ready for college: just not emotionally mature enough to handle the real world. I felt comforted in the fact that I don't have any worries about my daughter in that regard.  I'm so proud of her every day; she's so very smart, creative, compassionate and amazing.

Looking back on memories from her  childhood, I realize she's always been this way and I really have nothing to worry about:

1. While other preschoolers were making mud pies, she'd wrap onion grass up in leaves and invite me to try one of her "Vegan Grab and Go Wraps."

2. When some older girls were teasing her cousin about her doll not being a real American Girl doll, my daughter defended and consoled by saying, "That's right. This one is a Canadian Girl doll."

3. When asked if she found any hermit crabs in the tide pool on vacation once, she answered: "No, but I saw a bunch of cool rocks and a lot of stories waiting to be told."

4. Some girls she was hanging out with had made up a silly song that included the lyrics: "Harriet Tubman, get on the bus! Kick the white man off!"
My daughter said, "I think you're mixing Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman up."
They replied, "Who cares? They're both Black!"
"Well okay," she said, "then Martin Luther King and my younger brother are the same person."

5.  "Sometimes when I have a wish . . . you know, like my necklace clasp is in front and I turn it around or something. . . I just wish it to go to someone that really needs it. I know it doesn't really do anything, but it's the thought that counts."

Friday, August 9, 2019

Five on Friday: Things My Son Will Let His Own Kids Do

 This week's list is brought to you by my 11-year-old son:

1. When I grow up, I'm going to let my kids put a dart board right next to the window. I'm going to have a totally sick house for them: a huge mansion with a helicopter landing pad on top and a six car garage.

Are you going to have six cars?

Probably. And mini golf that starts at the top of the house and goes to the bottom of the house. And a glass bridge that goes to a separate house for the kids. 

Wow, really? What else are you going to let your kids do?

2. I'm totally going to let them drive golf carts.


3. I'm also going to let them have, like, five dogs. Five Pomskies.

Is a Pomsky a type of dog?

Yeah, Mom, it's a Pomeranian and Siberian Husky.

Wow. And are you going to let your kids eat whatever they want?

4. Well, I'll make sure they eat their vegetables but I'll only make them eat carrots. And apples. I'm going to let them eat a lot of candy but I’ll make them work it off because I’ll also have a gym in my house and also a secret room and also an underground tunnel to the other house that has a treadmill in it. 

Anything else that you're going to . . .

5. Oh! Wait, wait! I know! I'm going to let my kids stand right on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Ha, ha. That's the one I believe least of all.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Five on Friday: Embracing the Vespa Lifestyle

My husband has probably asked me once a year for the past several years, "Would you still ever want a Vespa some day?" and I am pretty sure I answered, "I think that ship has sailed" a few times in a row now.

So naturally he bought me a Vespa for Christmas. Which is amazing and generous and fun but, really, I wasn't so sure about the whole thing. First of all, I did that "get your motorcycle license in a weekend" course nineteen years ago and then hadn't driven a motorcycle since. I kept renewing that little M on my driver's license because it's cheap and why not? But I hadn't actually used it.

As I suspected, I was a bit timid on it at first, circling our neighborhood at 15 miles per hour and hoping to work myself up to slightly longer and faster rides. Early spring was kind of chilly, then it was really wet, then we went on a three-week vacation, so I hadn't gotten a lot of consisting riding in until recently.

Now I'm happy to report that I've been getting more comfortable driving Giacomo Prima Né (that's his whole name; I mainly refer to him just as Giacomo.) 

(Oh my god, I am such a weirdo*)

It took me a little while to really get over most of my old-lady-scaredy-pants-ness. I still don't like hills or sharp curves which is unfortunate since where we live is surrounded by roads that are both hilly and curvy, frequently at the same time (so fun!)

But now that I'm driving him several times a week, I've made several realizations:

1. I can go 45 miles per hour, but it is really fast.

2. Pink Vespas get a lot of attention. I've caught two people taking pics and I get a lot of smiles and waves.

3. Jersey Girls do pump gas!

The state of Oregon now allows pumping your own gas in certain circumstances but in New Jersey it is illegal across the board--or is it? Motorcyclists always pump their own gas. I decided to dig around on the Internet and see if that was a legal exception or just how it's done. An official-looking website only told me this:

So I think it's just how it's done. 

But seeing as how I'm a Jersey Girl I don't have much experience using a gas pump. Luckily the two young guys at the gas station were super into the Vespa, cracked up at the "No Pets" sign (found in the under-seat storage which is exposed to reach the gas tank), were happy to help me and truly didn't seem to care when I spilled a little gas on the ground. "That happens all the time."

Grazie, Piaggio.
Also, it only cost $5 to fill up!

4. Squirrels, chipmunks and deer are scared of Giacomo's ridiculous and completely non-threatening beep which is great since those animals are now my enemies. I had the opportunity to see if a large black bear would also be scared but I decided I'd just drive a different way instead . . . just in case.

5. My interest in studying Italian has been renewed.
Ciao, Amici!

*My other vehicles are named Overkill Jones and John Stamos. For the Vespa, I was initially torn between the names Giacomo and Louis Prima. I decided that as much as I enjoy Louis Prima's music, Giacomo would be a better name. I'd name him Giacomo Fee Na-Né to mimic the lyrics of that song by the Dixie Cups. But then my daughter pointed out we could swap out "Fee Na" for "Prima" and so really what I'm saying here is that she's a total weirdo, too. I think she gets it from her father.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Five on Friday: Reasons My Girl No Longer Has a Crush

I know, I know, I promised that last week was the last vacation-related post but this one is only marginally related. It has to do with a funny conversation that happened while we were driving.

I mentioned that even on all-day drives we limit the kids' screen time. I think it's good for them to be bored, figure out how to entertain themselves, create new games and beautiful artwork.

It also frequently helps make hysterical memories . . . like this one. What started as some rousing games of MASH (Remember that one? Mansion Apartment Shack House?) turned into a discussion about who our 9-year-old daughter had a crush on at school. After deciding to reveal the boy's name, she was silent for a few minutes and then declared, "Actually, I don't have a crush on him anymore."

Of course we were curious as to what led her to that decision, so she outlined these five reasons he is no longer crush-worthy:

1. She hates his best friend

2. He says bad words (I am shocked that this bothers her)

3. He doesn't pay attention to the teacher 

4. He's been sent to the principal too many times

5. He takes one shoe off in every special (This one is clearly the weirdest and the best)

After that, I decided to try to make up a new sort of MASH board (maybe Mom was a little travel-bored too, okay?) that was non-crush-related. I call it LOWS--Long weekend, Overnight, Week, Stay forever. 

We determined that she would travel by dolphin with Alan Walker (a Norwegian DJ or YouTuber or something? Both?) to China where they would eat peanuts, stay in an Airbnb, spend time roller skating and buy a stuffed animal unicorn as a souvenir . . . oh, and stay there forever. I will sure miss her funny conversations when she goes.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Five on Friday: Last of the Epic Road Trip Posts: Eating on the Road

I hope you consider me less of "that person who can't stop talking about her vacation" and more of "that awesome Mom who is providing a service to other families" (as well as "that woman who has no other ideas for a post this morning")

How do I keep my family of seven fed on the road? We have a few guidelines that might not work for everyone, like we generally don't let them eat in the van and we don't do fast food. We do frequently eat lunch on the side of the road and sometimes what constitutes a meal is pretty weird:

Keeping everyone full, happy and relatively healthy while on the road can be a challenge. We definitely eat out frequently, it is vacation after all, but there's no way we're going to purchase breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner every single day. So here are a few tips that have helped for us:

1. We pack the seltzer maker. I know this sounds a little crazy because when my husband announced, "We have the van and lots of space now, I'm packing the seltzer maker!," I thought he was a little crazy. 

However, we're a family that drinks a lot of water and all enjoy seltzer. We also hate spending money on water when we can just refill our bottles at sinks and water fountains. The only problem is that even if the water is potable, it might not be palatable. We've found when you "zizz up" weird-tasting water it becomes bearable.

2. A second modern supply that we traveled with for the first time this year: an electric cooler. Not having to deal with buying ice, keeping food dry, etc., was a total game changer for me. If you're traveling for more than a week, I highly recommend buying or borrowing one.

3. We frequently use tortillas. Bread is nice but too easily squished. Tortillas are so much easier to pack and make nice wraps. The best part though is that they almost always come in resealable bags that  can be used to pack sandwiches or cut up fruits or veggies in!

4. Speaking of cutting up foods . . . I keep the cutting board and knife (I've got a nice one  that has a carrying case/sharpener) much handier than the other kitchen supplies. I won't frequently need a can opener, for example, so that can stay in the big bin o'camping kitchen supplies . . . but a knife and cutting board are kept in the more easily accessed snack and food bin.

5. We hit the prepared foods at supermarket delis. Eating out is expensive and unhealthy but cooking every night isn't exactly a vacation for the family chef. Every meal can't be gas station snacks and apple slices, so what's a Mom to do? 

Head to the supermarket! They have so many options now that they haven't always had before . . . my favorite this past trip was buying some grilled chicken breasts to make a sandwich with (I was getting sick of cold cuts) or to throw on top of a salad (from a bag, of course, I was on vacation after all). 

Hope these tips can help someone considering a family road trip. Next week we will (most likely) be back to our regularly scheduled programming.


Friday, July 12, 2019

Five on Friday: Helpful Traits for Family Road Trips

Five kids. Two adults. One van. Nineteen days. Ten National Parks. Over seven thousand miles . . . how did we do it? 
Several people have mentioned to me a desire to do the same sort of trip with their own kids and that they'd love some pointers. I've got a book's worth of advice to give but a blog post's amount of time to work on writing it so I narrowed it down to my top five traits needed for a successful family road trip. They are:

1. Creativity! Super helpful for things like:
a. Looking at a random assortment of leftover/boxed/canned foods and whipping up some  semblance of a meal
b. Getting seven people to fit comfortably in a spot designed for four at the most

c.  Keeping kids entertained in the car (Remember how I said I was a meanie when it came to limiting screen time at home? Believe it or not, the same applies to car rides, even when they’re 4-12 hours long. Yes it’d be easier for them to stare at their screens the entire time but I think providing them with a  few basic activities, siblings and a window to look out of forces them to hone their own creativity. That being said, sometimes they need some help getting started.)
d. Improvising. Who needs to dig plates out from the camping supplies bin and then have to wash them later when this perfectly good cracker box  can be ripped into two disposable plates? (True story)

2. Flexibility! Needed for:
a.  Changing plans as needed. This trip was heavy on National Parks and our kids did GREAT—but we also knew when they really needed a break. So one day we skipped the planned daytime hike and let them chill for a few hours at an aquatic center. Later that day we got to take a shorter sunset hike that they were then recharged for. 

b. Being comfortable in a wide variety of accommodations . . . we’ve slept seven squeezed into one tent and stayed in hotel suites. We’ve had kids on floor and in hammocks strung from trees. We’ve had Airbnb rentals turn out to be not exactly what we expected . . . luckily we’re all pretty flexible.
3.  Organization. Absolutely essential to keep the trip running smoothly. For me, this includes things like:

a. Having camping gear already assembled in bins with notes to myself on what needed to be replenished (scouring pads, glow sticks)
b. Thinking ahead and saving some disposable take-out containers for a few weeks before our trip and then packing them in with our food supplies. They were great for packing lunches, storing leftovers, mixing salads in . . . and then we could get rid of them.
c. Packing everything* needed and knowing where it is. I started to count how many bags I had with us—from plastic food storage bags to small zippered pouches to hanging toiletry kits to mesh silverware bags to bags for games and books and dirty underwear and van garbage and clothing—but I gave up after awhile. Nobody can count that high.

Bags and bins are my friends for keeping things organized on the road. Several times it was tempting to throw something into the wrong spot when were done with it but I knew it would get forgotten or misplaced so I took the extra thirty seconds to do it the right way the first time.

*Contrary to the packing parent's pre-travel freakout, in most travel situations, one can purchase toothpaste, underwear and other forgotten necessities while on the road.

d. Making sure our accommodation plans included a place with a washing machine (usually a house rental) after several days on the road, particularly after camping.
 4. Experience: We couldn’t possibly have successfully taken this trip without several years of shorter road trips under our belts. I’d suggest the same for anyone else, too. You need to know things about your own family, like:
a. Can you all get along together for that long in such tight quarters? (If not, organization and flexibility are going to come in handy for scheduling in breaks or taking impromptu ones)

From a day we decided to divide & conquer: Daddy-O and the younger three were at an awesome park while the teens and I went to a museum.
b. Is everyone comfortable with being dirty? I mean that in a smelling-like-campfire-and-not-having-access-to-a-shower sort of way to a we-have-to-sleep-in-a-room-that-smells-sort-of-like-a-wet-dog sort of way and about a hundred ways in between.
c.  What keeps your kids happy in the car? There are so many great games out there but my experience has taught me that ultimately the things my kids like the best are simple paper and pens with some storytelling podcasts and then some occasional Wikki Stix thrown in.

d. For the adults in the car: how many hours can you safely and sanely drive? (Me: not too many. My husband: way more than the rest of us can stand.) Plan accordingly.
d. Does your family do better with camping or cabins? National parks or amusement parks? Museums or malls? Hiking or biking? Only experience can answer these questions.
5. Gregariousness: National Parks, museums, cultural centers, cities, small towns, gift shops, pools . . . all played a role in making our trip amazing. Photos and videos pale in comparison to the real thing when it comes to natural wonders like the Yellowstone paint pots  and the sunset from the top of Bryce Canyon. I am awed, humbled and grateful that we could share these experiences with our children.

But equally important to me was all of our friendly interactions with people from all over the country. Asking the small town shop owner about the best places to visit or the waitress about her favorite foods on the menu not only provided us with helpful tips, it opened up conversations with people we never would have met. Questions about the pulled pork sandwich somehow morphed into conversations about our kids and her grandchildren.
Joking with the retired couple who offered to take our picture turned into a half hour discussion about selling their home and traveling the country in their RV.
Maybe this one's just me, but I feel like I'm doing my children (and myself) a disservice if I expose us to the sights but not the humanity. It seems more important than ever to make sure my kids learn firsthand that every single person in this world has feelings. They all have families, friends, pets, life experiences to learn from, stories to tell and corny jokes to share (okay, maybe that's just some of them).

These interactions were instrumental in making our trip exponentially more memorable and enjoyable.

I know I said I only had time for a blog post but you've got to admit, this is a pretty hefty one. Regardless, this list is still pretty broad but I think it's a good general guideline for anyone considering a big road trip with their families.  I am happy to answer any specific questions anyone might have.

Happy travels!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Five on Friday: Epic Road Trip Part 2: Lessons Learned Thus Far

I don't remember why I first decided to keep sidewalk chalk in the hiking backpack, but I discovered it came in handy when the youngest was all hiked out one day.
The Most Epic of the Family Road Trips Ever Attempted continues into week two! For this week's edition, I'll be sharing some lessons I've learned thus far.

I have learned that:

1. Evidently we still don't have a hammer in the camping supplies bin.

2. I seem to derive a perverse pleasure out of hearing other people's children being fresh. Also, when a kid asked his Mom for some of *her* water on a hike at Arches National Park and she flat out said "No" I might have laughed a little. Because you know there's a backstory to that . . .

On this spot in 2019 a kid asked his Mom for water and she said no and I laughed.

3. Apparently it's been awhile since we've discussed "what to do if you get lost" with the younger kids. (Bringing our total "kids almost lost in National Parks" to two in the past twelve years. Not bad? Or terrible?)

Contrary to appearances, this is *not* when we almost lost a kid.

4. Having the kids call out my first names instead of "Mom"  in crowded places really does work much better in helping them to locate me.

5. The mountains, cliffs and hoodoos (my new favorite word), the flora and fauna we don't see at home,  the Yellowstone paint pots and geysers, the petroglyphs, the sunsets viewed from mountain tops are all breathtaking natural wonders that I hope my kids appreciate and remember forever.

But earlier this week I danced outside of an ice cream parlor with three of my kids and I was reminded of a lesson I seem to learn over and over again: these are the moments that make vacations special and are the memories I hope to keep forever.

Also I may have learned that I just keep getting sappier as I (& my kids) age.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Five on Friday: First of the Epic Road Trip Posts

We're big fans of the summer family road trip. We usually spend lots of time driving in Overkill Jones, see a ton of sights and have loads of fun in ten days or less.

It's cute how our van looks small in this picture.  It can seat fifteen, thus the name Overkill.

Until this year.

Daddy-O has wanted for years to take us all across the country, something he's done twice but I've never done. I was unsure about a nearly three-week road trip but agreed this was the right year to do it: with our oldest going to college in August, it'd be a great "last hurrah" of sorts.

We are one week in and everything is going really well so far. We left New Jersey last Friday and I'm now checking in from Moab, Utah. We've been sightseeing in cities and National Parks, have stayed in hotels, campgrounds and cabins.

Naturally this week's list is going to be five highlights of the trip so far and I hope you like it because surely I'll be doing similar posts for the next two weeks.

1. We love taking "family selfies" (aka felfies) everywhere we go. People frequently offer to take our picture for us but we enjoy the challenge of trying to get seven people in one selfie and we give ourselves bonus points for creativity. Also, every time I said "we" I meant "my husband and I." Not all of the kids are as enthusiastic about this habit.

At the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, we pulled up the "Corn Cam" on my phone and took a screen shot of ourselves on the Corn Cam! That's at least five extra points for creativity.

2. Ranger at Badlands: "What group is this?"
    Us: "Our family."

3. Another creative felfie (look closely!)

4.  Van ride conversation between 11-year-old Z and 18-year-old B. It's gross and hysterical: 

      Z: Ever have booger spit?
      B: Uh, phlegm?
      Z: Booger spit.
      B: Phlegm.
      Z: Booger spit.
      B: Phlegm.
      Z: Okay, phlegm. I *love* it.

5. Best part of any road trip is lots of sibling snuggling. The cold overnight temperatures at Yellowstone really helped encourage this and I'm glad:

Tune in again next week for more laughs, pictures and maybe something else gross one of my kids says!