Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Labor Day camping with friends, year 3

The gang, minus Anna, who's taking the photo
Friday morning the forecast looked questionable. Josh went so far as to live-chat a state park reservation agent to see if we could get any of our money back if we canceled our Labor Day camping trip to Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine State Forest -- Southern Unit.

But our friend Megan cheered us through and I'm so glad we didn't chicken out. Yes, it rained hard Friday night. But the deluge didn't start until our tents and our canopy were up. We'd already eaten and had a campfire. Heck, Ada had already turned in for the night and she complained more about us talking and listening to music than she did about the downpour!

Saturday morning we woke up to sun, but the sky clouded and drops started falling as we changed into our swimsuits. We quickly detoured from lake plans to an outing at the nearby tourist site Old World Wisconsin. We had no idea what to expect, but is was fabulous--kind of like a Midwestern version of Colonial Williamsburg, but cheaper ($43 per family) and with far fewer crowds.

Ada bought a Laura Ingalls inspired bonnet for $7
The three families who were only up for 1 night of camping joined us Saturday around lunchtime and we spent some more time at Old World Wisconsin, riding old-timey bicycles, signing up for the Union Army, sitting for a lesson in a one-room schoolhouse and touring farms and farmhouses--most of which were original buildings moved to the site and restored. There were interpreters in costume (and character) in every building, and while the place is quite spread out, trams circle through, bringing visitors from one settlement to another.

The teacher had a quiz prepared for students
By mid Saturday afternoon, all 20 campers (10 adults and 10 children 10 and under) were set up across three campsites and the wicked thunderstorm that had been predicted fizzled out. We had beautiful weather Saturday night and Sunday morning. And as the adults sat around cooking, eating, drinking and cleaning up, the kids ran around exploring and generally having an awesome time on their own.

The campground wasn't anything too special. It was nicely wooded, but our campsite was directly across from a squeaky-doored pit toilet that someone conveniently left off the map. It was a 5 minute hike to the water fountain and about a 10 minute walk to the showers/flush toilets. One parent--he knows who he is--managed to get lost on the walk back from the showers and nearly spent the night in the woods.

Anyway, I'm so glad we went. The irony of camping is that it's a whole lot of work for the pleasure of being inconvenienced. And yet, it's so much fun.

Also, my ankles itch. So. Many. Bug bites.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A death in the family

Joel, on left
Last Tuesday night I was at a meeting at a friend's house in Oak Park. My phone buzzed and it was a text from Josh, warning me that we should be prepared for a funeral. His father was in the hospital and things weren't looking good.

Wednesday morning I stepped out of the shower and Josh was on the phone with his mom. There hadn't been any improvement and our weekend getaway with friends--a repeat of the previous year's Outstanding in the Field trip--was in jeopardy.

By the time I'd finished my first cup of coffee, my father-in-law, just 71 years old and suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's, was dead.

Time, it seemed, stopped. Between 8am and 2pm I'd called American Airlines, updated my mom, gone into work to sort out coverage, packed suitcases and found a cat sitter.

And then we were on the road, driving east. Even though the drive took 16 hours (split into two days by an overnight in Youngstown, OH), we arrived in plenty of time to talk with the rabbi and prepare for Thursday's funeral and Shiva. I even found a moment to buy appropriate dresses for the girls to wear.

My mom and stepdad, who'd planned to fly to Chicago on Friday to babysit Zoe and Ada, gamely canceled their tickets and took the girls home with them Thursday night (Thank you, Mom!). That left us free to sit Shiva and generally be available to Josh's mom. I kept busy triaging the refrigerator and sorting through Joel's clothes, all of which are going to charity. I also learned that, while Edible Arrangements are both lovely and delicious, they are monster refrigerator space hogs and eating them before the fruit goes slimy is like a race against time.

Suffice it to say, I existed on deli tray cold cuts, egg salad, sliced melon and chocolate covered strawberries for 5 days.

Because my mother took the girls home with her, Josh and I were able to drive back to Oak Park without a single "are we there yet?" We even treated ourselves to a decent hotel in Cleveland and a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Tuesday morning I was back at work, and while I'd missed a number of days, I couldn't shake the feeling that time had stood still. I guess I'm still feeling that way because our childless house is so quiet and clean.

You can read my father-in-law's obituary here. He was a leader in the field of pediatric infectious disease, a huge baseball fan and a really funny guy. He had the gift of connecting instantly with others and making them feel like he genuinely liked them. I recall meeting him when I was first dating Josh and thinking, yeah, I think I know what Josh will look like as an older guy and I like it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Belated birthday interview with a 7 year old

Continuing my semi-regular tradition writing about and interviewing my children  on their birthdays, here's an overdue interview with Ada, who turned 7 in mid-July. We celebrated with a birthday party for friends at a local pottery studio and again with extended family in Colorado.

But before I let her speak for herself, a quick note to my second-born.

Ada, you've lost all your baby fat. You're lean, brown from the sun and you still possess those big brown eyes and long, long lashes. You learned to read with fluency this year and you loved school and your first grade teacher. You also love every camp and every activity we've ever signed you up for. You thrive on novelty outside of the home and routine within. You happily eat the same foods over and over again (your favorite meal is black beans, cheddar cheese, a tortilla and an apple); you play with your LEGOs for hours on end and you need to be tucked in just so at night. And yes, you still sleep with Funny Bunny.

On to the interview!
What's your favorite color? Teal.
Your favorite animal? Pig.
TV show? LEGO Friends and Littlest Pet Shop
What's your favorite toy? LEGO!
What's your favorite book? The Best Birthday Party Ever, Just Grace, Ivy and Bean and Judy B. Jones
Do you have a favorite song? No.

What's your favorite thing to wear? Shirt and shorts or DRESSES!
What's your favorite sport? Soccer.
What's your favorite restaurant? Salernos.
Your favorite cereal? Corn flakes.
Your favorite food? What kind of food? Food or desserts? I'd pick any dessert. And pasta.

What do you like to do at school? Recess.
Who are your best friends? Jessica and Amelia.

Where would you like to go on vacation this year? Colorado, again. I loved it so much.
What do you want to be when you grow up? An illustrator or artist. Well, they're the same thing.

Where do you want to live when you grow up? Here.
Do you plan to have children? [Holds up two fingers.]

Boys or girls? Girls.
Will you have pets? [Holds up one finger] Cat.
If you could change your name, what would you pick? Violet.

What do you love about Mommy? That she smells good and she's very cuddly.
What do you love about Daddy? That he cleans things up for me.
What do you love about your sister? This is very hard…I know! That she does what I want.

What would you like to do when you’re 7 years old? I want that Zoe takes me to get ice cream ALONE!

Do you have a birthday wish? I can't tell it to you because that's going to break my wish.

And now, for a trip back through time...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Steamboat Springs family reunion

Steamboat Springs is not a convenient vacation destination for Chicagoans. We drove to Midway, flew Southwest to Denver, rented a car, and drove 3+ hours through hills and thunderstorms to get there.

However, we were greeted by a rainbow as we turned into town. And while Steamboat might not be easy to get to, our family reunion in a rented 5 bedroom ski chalet/townhouse made the trip worthwhile.

So what is there to do in an upscale Colorado ski town in the summer? We took the gondola to the top of the mountain and walked through hills of wildflowers. We hiked to waterfalls, rafted down the Colorado River, rode tubes down the Yamba River and soaked in natural hot springs. We also enjoyed a little local color at a professional rodeo, where big buckled cowboys rode honest to goodness bucking broncos and my 5 year old Australian nephew chased a bewildered sheep for a chance to win a new pair of Wranglers.

We also jogged, cooked, ate out, celebrated Ada's birthday, swam in the community's private pool and negotiated the wild and wooly moods of four children between the ages of 5 and 9.

Colorado is just as stunningly beautiful as people say. There are miles and miles of forest and flower-filled meadows between each small town and everyone there seems to be out enjoying it and generally living a healthy lifestyle: biking, hiking, swimming, running and walking their dogs. It, however, isn't a terribly diverse place. We ate lunch at a highly recommended local sandwich shop that listed the "Jewish" as one of its sub sandwiches. It was a pastrami and cheese, something no observant Jew would ever eat.

And while it rained at least once every day we were there, the atmosphere is remarkably dry. My skin, nose and throat were continually parched. My hair, however, enjoyed a break from the humidity. Below are a handful of pics from the trip. You can see more here.
View from our dining room window
Most of the gang at Fish Creek Falls
Zoe and Eliza photograph me and Eleanor

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Ada the Fish
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Me and Ada, before the rapids
Mom and Rick at Strawberry Park

Monday, June 23, 2014

One step closer to being prepared

B*72: Supplies for 2 people for 72 hours
Let it be known that Josh and I are lousy preppers ("prepper" being a popular nickname for those who actively stockpile for disasters). Once, about a year after Ada was born, we took it upon ourselves to prepare an emergency rations box. I rediscovered the container while readying our house to be sold last summer, only to discover that the water bottles had burst, soaking through the graham cracker boxes. Everything inside the box was covered in black mold, right down to the expired jar of peanut butter.

We're not even well prepared for power outages. Whenever a severe storm is forecast, Josh runs around gathering candles and pilfered restaurant matchboxes like he's getting ready for a seance. And given that an actual fire burned down three neighbors' homes a block north of us just a couple of months ago, I don't think its wise that we court disaster with our disaster preparations.

So when Boltwell (get it, bolt well?) introduced me to their line of fairly-mainstream prepper packages (I say mainstream because they don't talk Doomday prophecy and their packaging is hip and modern), I was happy to take a look. I got to try out a number of their most popular products, including a first aid kit more substantial than any I currently have (and regularly raid for Band-Aids), a handy multitool, a super lightweight pocket lantern (batteries included!), and a fantastic weather/AM/FM radio that can work with AAA batteries, a hand crank or solar power. Best of all, the hand-crank radio has a USB port so you can use it to charge your mobile phone--the hardest thing to do during an extended power outage. They also sent me a dense, 400 calorie raspberry energy bar that could likely be weaponized and a disposable, portable toilet bag, I guess for the kind of emergencies I don't think preppers are terribly worried about.

Feeling 100% more prepared than before (if still not 100% prepared), I took it upon myself to also purchase fire extinguishers for the house. After the incident with the exploding water bottles, I'm not sure I'm ready to restock those. Maybe I'll just get some purification tablets and plan to drink out of our rain barrel.

Friday, June 20, 2014

I am a warrior

Three days before I turned 38 years old, I ran the Warrior Dash, a muddy, Viking-themed 5K race with a bunch of hair-raising obstacles (think fire, razor wire, rope climbs and mud pits). I had been convinced to go with some some girlfriends from Derby Lite back when tickets first went on sale in the winter, but I'd forgotten all about it until May. Realizing there was an actual 5K to be run in addition to muddy hills and massive slides, I kicked up my jogging schedule from very rare to occasional.

Fortunately I'm in pretty decent shape. I skate once a week for 2 hours, take a weekly ZUMBA class and log 10,000+ steps most days on my fitbit. That was enough to manage the Warrior Dash, but barely. I definitely had the strength and agility to master the obstacles, but running between all of them, in the sun and on uneven surface, was a challenge. I might have had to walk if there hadn't been bottlenecks at 2 or 3 of the obstacles.

Did I mention it was also exhilarating fun? It's been a long time since I've pushed myself to my physical limits. Combine that with with temperate weather, ample sunshine and wonderful people to keep me company, and I didn't even mind publicly sticking a hose down my pants to wash mud out of my underwear.
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Friday, June 13, 2014

Ups and downs in Pennsylvania

Josh and I took Zoe and Ada to his parents' house for a 4 night visit. We pulled the kids out of school two days early and looked forward to hitting either Dutch Wonderland or Hersheypark for a day of fun before the summer break crowds descended.

Before things got ugly
We made it to Dutch Wonderland, but it turned out spending $120 on amusement park tickets did not buy us happy children. We left after nearly 3 hours of line-free rides, but both of the kids were a sickly combination of overstimulated, underfed and queasy from being spun around. Not a good combination. Our Amish meal at the tasty but touristy Good 'N Plenty was miserably tense and we spent the rest of the afternoon in Lancaster checking out the outlet stores in the pouring rain and telling our kids how disappointed we were in them.

Ironically, they were fantastic for the rest of the trip, which consisted of sightseeing at the more "grown-up" destinations I wanted to visit and checking in on their ailing grandfather, who moved to the memory ward of an assisted living home the day after we arrived. I think I learned a valuable parenting lesson: Do what you want to do instead of catering to your children's wishes.

Here's what we saw (and enjoyed) aside from visits to Grandpa, which would have been depressing if it wasn't for the patience, love and tenderness Zoe and Ada showed for him…

Colonial Plantation Pennsylvania
We visited Colonial Plantation Pennsylvania, which wasn't very far from my in-laws' house in West Chester. There we met all of the animals being raised humanely and sustainably on the farm and saw what an 18th century farmhouse was like. The girls figured out how to play with a wooden hoop and stick and we got a Revolutionary War era rifle demonstration from a guy dressed like a member of the Union army. Loading and reloading took a long time and a great deal of effort back then.

Eleutherian Mills, Du Pont home
We also spent a full day at Hagley, an enormous 235 acre property near Wilmington where E. I. du Pont founded a gunpowder factory and built his estate back in 1802. A tour guide walked us through the ancestral home and gardens and we got to see some of the other historical highlights (the machine shop, water wheels and workers' hill) before ended at the visitor's center museum, which had two fantastic exhibits. One was a temporary exhibit on the history of nylon (a DuPont invention) and the other is the permanent, hands-on exhibit of DuPont engineering. I had no idea that they'd created so many familiar synthetics--Kevlar, StainMaster, Dacron, Corian, Neoprene and Lycra. I also didn't know that some of their earliest innovations, like car and house paints, were based on their gun powder heritage.

National Museum of American Jewish History
On our last day, we headed into Philadelphia to check out the National Museum of American Jewish History, which was built in 2010, and had a fascinating collection that traces the paths and fortunes of the Jews in America from colonial times (1654) to the present day. The exhibits are a mix of artifacts, imagery, sound and video, and each floor has a hands-on area that appeals to kids. Mine dressed up as settlers in a Conestoga wagon, sat down at a Shabbat table like tenement residents in the first half of the 20th century, and watched TV in a 1950s rec room. They also discovered photos and pictures of OSRUI, where Zoe is headed in a few days, in a room dedicated to the role of sleep away camp to the American Jewish experience. And, appropriately enough, we stopped at a Famous 4th, a Jewish delicatessen, before heading to the airport.*

*We flew in and out of Trenton-Mercer, which may very well be the tiniest airport I've ever been to. One airline. Two gates. It's a bit less convenient for my mother-in-law, who picked us up and dropped us off, but it offered terrifically cheap fares and the novel opportunity to exit the plane directly onto the tarmac. Then it was up one flight of stairs from the baggage claim barn and there was Shirley's car.