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June 2016 entries

Girls' Night: Late Hour Reflections

I spent a few hours with some of the very best women in the world tonight:  the Trapezoidal Hierarchy.  I'd explain that title, but then it wouldn't be much of an inside joke, now would it?  If you get it, good for you.  :) 

These women are three of my closest friends, and we have been there for each other through every possible thing life throws our way: the sudden death of a dear friend, two divorces, a marriage that has to stretch beyond state lines because of work demands, job frustrations -- you name it, we've conquered it.  Together.  

Here's what is on my mind tonight . . . or rather, this morning, as it's nearly 1 AM as I write this:  1.  Women need to be there for each other, and not tear each other apart over superficial and petty things that don't truly matter.  And 2.  Women need to not settle for less than what they deserve in their relationships.  

The first point -- women are too often guilty of tearing each other apart.  I know why this happens: we are too insecure about ourselves so we criticize each other so that we ultimately feel better about ourselves.   And, honestly, it starts way too early.  I see it with even Gabrielle's little friend group in elementary school.  Girls learn very early to judge each other by what they wear, how they act, even how much they weigh.  I try very hard to help Ellie see beyond what her peers can sometimes value.  Happily, I report that Ellie has a solid head on her shoulders and her friends are well-balanced and nice.  But, I think we all know what I mean.  

Even in adulthood, women can passive aggressively tear each other apart.  And why?  Again, we come back to insecurity.  Sometimes it's because it's easier to blame someone else for the situation we may find ourselves in than to take a hard look at what we may have done to cause the situation in the first place.  Sometimes it's because we don't feel confident enough about our own bodies or abilities so we criticize each other so we feel better about ourselves.  Sometimes it's because we want to maneuver for the best positions or promotions at work, and we think the only way to achieve those goals is to take other people down.  

Regardless of the age, regardless of the intention, it isn't healthy.  Women should turn to each other for support and encouragement -- and when that happens, they will find that they have a lot more in common than they once believed.  

As my girls and I talked tonight, I was struck by how often I heard a story about how, in the past, we had accepted less than what we truly deserved in our relationships.  Whether it is a neglectful partner or a toxic friend or an ungrateful boss -- far too many times, we work hard and honor our commitments and get the short end of the stick anyway.  The consequence is that life can become a chore, a miserable experience, as opposed to the beautiful and inspiring experience it can and should be.  

Without getting into detail, I just have to wonder how we get to the point where we gradually accept less than what we deserve until we start to lose ourselves.  I think of it this way:  would I want Gabrielle to settle for less than the very best in life?  No way.  So, why should I?  I need to lead by example, after all.  And I am just one person.  I truly believe that every person deserves to be happy in this life.  So, when a man tells you you are not thin enough, or a friend competes over non-existing scorecards, or a boss doesn't care if you can't wring one more drop of energy out of yourself -- don't accept it.  

You are better than that.  

We all are. 


"Did you see that?": Road Trip Day 5

Friday was our last day in Boston.  The kids decided they wanted a couple days to run around the neighborhood before going back to their dad's for next week, so we left Friday night.  But, before we left, we went out for breakfast around the corner


and rode the subway


back to Central Wharf, near the Aquarium.  


Why?  It was WHALE WATCH DAY!!!!!  

Going on a whale watch is one of those things that we've always wanted to do but never did.   So.  We.  Did. 


We rode the boat for about an hour before we reached the whale feeding ground.  The marine biologists on board were informative, and part of what they told us was that they had had great success in that area lately, but they warned us to be cautiously optimistic because when the fish supply was depleted, the whales would move on.  Because we are dealing with animals in their natural habitat, there are no guarantees.  The boat ride was great, and we were on the top level.  As the boat picked up speed, it became chilly.  (Mom of the Year packed sweatshirts, never fear.  Someone Read the Pamphlet.) 


(Yes, I am a total tourist in a New England Aquarium sweatshirt, but in my defense, I needed some non-Montoursville sweatshirts. :) )

When the wind became too much, Liam found a perfect place to take cover . . . 


When we arrived at the feeding area, the biologists taught us how to watch for the whales -- how to identify the blowing air,  how to look for the green circles of bubbles -- and instructed us all to watch and to use the clock system to let each other know where we saw any movement.  ("Over there!"  isn't very precise, of course.  But "3 o'clock!" helps immensely.)

I honestly expected to maybe see 2-3 whales.  We saw at least 20, including TWO mothers and their calves.  Rich, one of the biologists, said, "This is some National Geographic stuff today!"  




Needless to say, the day was absolutely amazing.  Gabrielle told me, "I will remember this my entire life."  Aidan chatted up the biologists until they all knew his name.  Liam thought it was so exciting to see so many whales.   I honestly teared up.  I'm kind of a sap in my advanced age, but it really was stunning to see these beautiful creatures in real life.  

Was it a bit of splurge to take this trip? Sure.  But I am glad that we did.  We made memories that will last forever, and the kids and I so needed this time together.  


Some. Mer.

Maybe I've not made it clear to you . . . but I LOVE SUMMER.  I may need to move to where it never snows. 

And, I took 20 photos of these kids jumping into the pull, machine-gun-fire style.  (Yes, that's a professional photography term.  Just go with it.)  Here are some highlights. 













"Everything is Awesome": Road Trip Day 4

I apologize for the delay in writing these last two posts, but as you will soon see, it's been a busy few days for us!

After we settled into our small apartment, we decided to go for a walk to explore the city around us.  We found ourselves at an Asian supermarket and behaved like utter tourists, gawking over the aloe drinks and the large, open tanks of king crabs and lobsters.  We settled on some snacks, which were met with varying degrees of acceptance.  The "hawthorne" fruit is pretty darn gross, but the milk and honeydew lollipops were decent.  And we had to get our favorite soda drinks that involve popping the plastic piece into place to release the carbonation (we've had these at a local restaurant before, but this place had a lot of flavor options).  


We finally headed to bed around 10, and the kids woke up at 6 (pretty much their normal routine) with great excitement... for today was LEGOLAND DAY!!!!  You know, the ENTIRE REASON WE CAME TO BOSTON.  They were just a LITTLE EXCITED!!!!  

We decided to leave for Somerville (the part of Boston where Legoland is located) early to beat the traffic and to find a place for breakfast before Legoland opened at 10 AM.  We found the place easily, and since it was so early, I snagged a metered spot right in front of Legoland.  We were practically the only ones walking around the outlet mall where Legoland is.  We are pretty good at keeping ourselves busy, though.  We found a place for breakfast with really good coffee (high priority when one is taking three children on vacation . . . and Legoland is on the agenda for the day!). 


After we ate, we took a walk along a nearby path and discovered a kick-butt playground, complete with this crazy spinning contraption that not only moved as a large unit, but also had separate spinning jungle gym pieces.  (I played on it for a while, but I really don't like being dizzy anymore.  Must be an age thing?  I used to love spinning rides when I was kid.)


As it drew closer to 10, we walked back toward Legoland, pausing to take a picture in front of a place called "Sugar Heaven."  Gabrielle says this could be my Christmas card photo.  :) 


Time will tell!

When we reached Legoland, a small crowd of children had formed, their little noses pressing up against the glass.  The employees opened 5 minutes early, and a cheer rose up from the kids.  Liam turned to me and said, "This is my dream come true!" 

Outside, there is an enormous giraffe constructed of Legos:


Inside, there were Lego figures everywhere, and the experience started with a guided tour.  


We went through a virtual tour of the Lego factory and then on a ride where we had to shoot bad guys and save the Lego princess.  We won, of course.  ;)  Then, we were deposited into the main part of Legoland.  There were stations for building all over the place, a large jungle gym with oversized Lego pieces, a Ninjago center, a princess castle, and Liam's favorite, a place for building and testing race cars. 


I am not joking even a little when I say he spent an hour building and testing cars.  Ellie and Aidan soon found friends their own age to play with (though Aidan did spend a lot of time building cars, too!), and I built some too, but as the place got busier, I gave up my seat to you know . . . kids.  As the kids played contently for over 4 hours, I quickly realized that the seasoned moms brought books to read.  And this is not because they were neglectful in any way.  It was because their kids were completely immersed in the world of Lego and creativity.  

I found myself talking to a mother from Rhode Island whose (very tall!) 7-year-old son was playing with my kids.  She brings her son to Legoland once a month as a reward (the train system makes that very easy!) and he absolutely loves it.  We talked about our trip to Boston, and she gave me some tips about using the subway system.  As women usually do, we ended up talking about our lives -- she's 7 years ahead of me in the single-mom game, and she shared some of her experiences with me.  I told her a little about the transitions in our lives this past year, and before we parted ways, she assured me that I am doing a great job and that my kids are great.  Again -- thank you for the affirmation, Universe!  I told her the same: her son was well-mannered and creative and friendly.  

While I was making a new friend, I kept a watchful eye on the kids and migrated to the various places they were playing.  Ellie had assembled a team of girls to build a wall in the jungle gym . . . and Aidan had assembled a team of boys to attack it.  


Before leaving, we watched a 4-D movie about the Lego characters from the movie being tricked by Lord Business's brother, Risky (complete with a joke about cheaper voice talent).  We hit up the gift shop and emerged from Legoland happy, tired, and hungry.  We went to lunch nearby, where Liam had -- you guessed it! -- grilled cheese; Ellie had pasta; Aidan had fish and chips; and I had a chicken bruschetta sandwich (I don't even want to know how much weight I've gained this week!!! And I don't care!!!).  I threw in an order of fresh chips and another Boston IPA for good measure. 


As we ate, Liam spontaneously hugged me and said, "You maded all my dreams come true today, Mom."  Uh, WIN!  I know he's little, but I think he really will remember this trip . . . or at the very least, LEGOLAND!!

We had decided to spent the afternoon in nearby Concord, so I could visit Authors' Ridge of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Thoreau, Emerson, Alcott, and Hawthorne are buried.  


This is Henry David Thoreau's grave.  The kids were confused by all the "litter" there, but I explained that many people bring tokens of what his writing means to them, or how he inspired them as writers or thinkers.   The graveyard was a little over Liam's head, but Aidan and Ellie thought it was very interesting.  We even had a conversation about Transcendentalism and how believing that each human is a new expression of the Divine would shape our interactions with each other and the planet. 

We ventured down to Walden Pond, to see Thoreau's cabin site (perhaps you can tell I love Thoreau by now?) and happened to see that the beach was open.  And, we happened to have our swim stuff in the back of the van.  And so it happened that we spent the rest of the day swimming in Walden Pond.  If Legoland was a dream come true to Liam, this was a dream come true for this English major.  

There is a replica of Thoreau's cabin (his actual site has concrete posts which mark where it stood), and a statue of my boy.  While I am not so sure Thoreau would approve of my carrying an electronic device around with me, I think he would like my "Carpe Diem" approach to this entire vacation.  Is the beach open?  Let's go.  Are you hungry? Let's eat.  After all, we went on this trip to "live deeply" and to "suck the marrow out of life."  We don't want to get to the ends of our lives and realize we haven't lived, either.  


The water was too cold for my old-lady circulation system, but I happily sunned myself on the beach as the kids played.  As I watched them, I noticed how each of the big kids are such natural leaders.  Ellie decided to build an Aquarium on the beach, and her steady, quiet work soon drew other kids to her.  They asked if they could help, and she politely put them to work.  Aidan, on the other hand, is more of an extrovert and I heard him say to some older kids near him, "Follow me!  We'll go to the deep area and mine for oysters."  And they did.  

And perhaps it goes without saying that Liam enjoyed himself too!  Such a great day.  



Making a Splash at the New England Aquarium: Road Trip Day 3

Pictures have been added! 

We left Plymouth this morning after having breakfast at our hotel.  The drive to Boston took 1.5 hours, mostly because of city traffic.  At one point, my GPS was reading that it was going to take us 30 minutes to drive about 8 miles.  This, by the way, would be the biggest "con" on my list of pros/cons of living in a major city, if I were to make such a list.  I love nearly everything else about cities -- the diversity, the arts, the culture, the excitement, the energy.  But that traffic!  Yikes.  

Our destination was the Central Wharf, and I was really proud of myself for driving through Boston.  That may sound silly, but it's true.  I've never been the one to drive on previous trips, and I wasn't sure what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised by the stress-free experience.  Once we parked, we made our way to the New England Aquarium.


Similar to the Baltimore Aquarium, there is a large center tank that spans four floors of the New England Aquarium.  Along each floor, you can visit various exhibits.  Among the kids' favorites were two "touch tanks" offered: one was for sting rays and sharks; the other was for starfish and crustaceans.  

One ray that I touched snuggled up to my hand like a puppy, nuzzling in to be petted.  It was downright adorable.  Maybe I need one of those instead of a llama. 



We also watched an IMAX movie about the Galapagos Islands (wow!  Fascinating to say the least!) and spent about 4 hours at the Aquarium in all.  We booked seats on a Benton Trolley which we could hop on or off at our leisure.  We jumped off at the Boston Market area and had lunch at America's First Tavern, where Liam had . . . you guessed it!  Grilled Cheese #3.  Aidan ordered a haddock sandwich; Ellie had a grilled chicken sandwich with cheese, BBQ sauce and bacon; and I honored a Founding Father by having the Sam Adams burger (medium well, bacon, swiss, BBQ sauce) and a Sam Adams Rebel IPA.  


Again: delicious!

By the way, I have been sending my outlaw sister and outlaw brother pictures of my noontime beers the past few days because 1. They love beer, and 2.  They have normal jobs so they are getting these pictures of awesome beer while they are working.  And yes, I am fully aware that Karma will have my number when they are at the Garth Brooks concert and I.  AM.  NOT.  

Following our lunch, we walked back to the trolley stop and stopped at a beautiful Holocaust Memorial.  The tall glass towers that you will see were engraved with the numbers given to prisoners at different concentration camps, with each tower representing a camp location.  There were statements from survivors engraved in marble and glass, and Gabrielle especially spent a lot of time in thoughtful contemplation.  There was engraved on the ground a statement that the infants and children were often killed right away, and that over 1.5 million children died in the Holocaust.  Tears welled in my eyes as I watched my children, blessed by Fortune to be born in the right time and place in history to be skipping along the streets of Boston instead of being led to their deaths.  Before we left the Memorial, we took stones from the bin next to the entrance and built a small pile on the monument.  A woman before us explained that the piles of rocks symbolize prayers for the dead.  




Next, we hopped back on the trolley and toured more of the city.  The trolley tickets also came with a 45-minute boat cruise on the harbor (Hah-bah, as the locals say), but we missed the last one of the day.  We may try to get back to do it another day, but tomorrow brings LegoLand Discovery Center and Friday will bring a whale watching tour. We are trying to decide if we travel to a different part of Massachusetts on Friday (Concord maybe?) or head home.  The kids definitely want some time in our neighborhood this weekend to visit their friends, and we already have a movie date set with our beloved Miss Hopkins for Sunday -- we have to find Dory, after all!

Our room for tonight was supposed to be a small suite with 2 beds and a kitchenette, and when the clerk saw it was a mom with three kids, he upgraded us to a two-bedroom apartment with 4 beds and a living room and kitchen.  We are just outside of the City center, and we are going to venture out for a walk now to grab a bite to eat and to see whatever there is to see.  

This has been a great Wednesday! 


Plimoth Plantation, Mayflower II, and Plymouth Rock: Road Trip Day 2

Another great day in the books!  We awoke early (of course!) and headed out to Plimoth Plantation, an incredible place which is part 17-century English colonial village, and part Native American village.  On the Native American side, modern people who are from either the Wampanoag tribe or other Native tribes work the land and educate visitors about the way of life for indigenous people in 1620.  

(In case you, like my Auto Correct, are wondering about the spelling of Plymouth/Plimoth . . . Plimoth is the spelling that is often found in the early documents about the settlement.  Plymouth is what we ended up with as our language evolved.) 

We began at the "Gathering Circle," a place of meditation featuring four rocks that "point to the four directions understood as elements of Creation carrying meaning and power," and paused at the white quartz which faces East "to greet the first light of day."  


Once in the homesite, we learned about farming, longhouses, and tanning (did you know they boiled the brain to rub into deer hide to make it supple enough to wear?).  


The fires smelled so good, and the people were fascinatingly well-informed about their culture and history.  We moved on to the 17th-century English village, in which actors portrayed actual colonists (talk about your Method acting!).  When we told one woman we were from Pennsylvania, she replied, "Is that a forest somewhere?"  They often have to think on their feet to answer modern questions (improv!) and explain their daily life.  (So THIS is what people do with theatre degrees!)





We spent a LOT of time in the colonial village.  The people were wonderful about asking all of our questions and telling us stories.  One woman told us to be sure to ask Mr. Billington about his son . . . and when we did, he said that his son disappeared for a few days when he was 19 and was found living in the Native homestead, among the young people.  Among the young women, to be specific.  Billington tossed a wink my way and said, "He was 19.  You know know what that means.  But I told him he couldn't stay there, so he came home." 

There were plenty of other attractions at the Plantation (aside from the Native women, of course!) and we visited the Craft Center and a small barn with some goats and a llama.  The village side also had some cows and the chickens that Liam loved to tease -- I mean, play with.  

The kids and I were impressed by the resilience of the colonists -- nearly half of the original 103 people died during the first winter.  Families of 6-8 people crowded into small houses (I pointed out that the boys sharing a room shouldn't look too bad now!); they worked the land with their hands; they built everything themselves.  They survived because they believed in something larger than themselves, and because they invested in their communities.  

The pass that we bought at the Plantation also granted us access to the Grist Mill (built 12 years after the time that the actors were portraying) and the Mayflower II (a replica of the ship that the Pilgrims sailed to America in).  


We had already learned about how the colonists ground their corn by hand, using mortar and pestles.  The process was tedious and time-consuming, to say the least. The Grist Mill alleviated some of that because it could grind larger quantities of corn and grain for the people.  Just like at the Plantation, the employees at the mill were very happy to spend time with the kids, teaching them all about the mill.  




By the time we were done at the mill, it was after 1 PM and our huge breakfast was spent and we decided it was time for lunch.  There was a pub near the mill, so we decided to check it out.  It was a non-chain place which reminded me a little bit of a place we have near us called "Haywoods."  Sports memorabilia on the walls and cleverly named pub food on the menu.  They gave us a bowl of fresh popcorn while we waited for our meals.  Liam stayed the course with another grilled cheese sandwich (he said it came in 2nd place, for those of you keeping a tally at home!); Ellie ordered a personal pizza; Aidan asked for the "Yawkey" -- a sausage sandwich with peppers, onions, and mustard; and I ordered the French dip -- a sandwich I haven't had in a very long time.  Oh, and I had to wash it down with a "Mayflower IPA."  I mean, how could I not?  (Oh, and that's a root beer bottle by Liam, lest you think I am starting him early!) 

In a word, lunch was delicious. 


With full bellies and happy hearts, we drove to the waterfront to check out Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II.  While I could not stomach a New England winter, I sure do love a New England summer and time near the ocean!


And I am not the only one!


The Mayflower II was staffed by actors in period costume who, like those in the colonial village, told us about the treacherous voyage from England and answered our questions.  As my dad pointed out when I texted him a photo of the ship, the Mayflower was not a very large vessel -- can you imagine spending months aboard with 100 other people?  Once the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, they lived on the ship until the houses were built and ready for them.  It is speculated that the winter spent aboard was the cause of so many of the deaths that first year.  




The famous Plymouth Rock was nearby . . . and evidently, not as famous as I thought.  Ellie asked, "Uh, Mom.  Why are we looking at this rock with a fence around it?"  HA!  She did know the story once I told her what the rock was, so way to go, Public Education (and/or Charlie Brown)! 





Before we left the town center, we HAD to stop for ice cream.  I had "Death by Chocolate" with -- this was the best part -- "Chocolate Jimmies."  Yes, "Jimmies."  Not "Sprinkles," Central PA.  Get it right.  


So, that was a pretty full day for an 11-year-old, a 9 year-old, and a 5-year-old.  We came back to the hotel and swam.  We are currently chilling, showered and ready to check out and head to Boston tomorrow.  And "Shrek" is on TV, and we are going down memory lane together.

As usual, there has been a lot of fun but also a lot to process -- can you imagine traveling across the known world because of your beliefs? (Even if you didn't exactly want to extend the religious freedom you sought to others...but that's another topic for another day!)  Maybe the world is smaller these days.  Maybe it's bigger.  Maybe our known world is across town, or across barriers of anger or resentment.  Maybe we should take more risks, however frightening they may seem. 

Summer Road Trip!

The kids spent their first week at their dad's last week (the plan is one week at a time with each parent), and I'll be honest: it was a really long week for me!  I missed them a lot, and I kept myself busy by running a lot, spending time with friends, and seeing three theatre productions in three days.  

But their week with me begins today, and we are off on a road trip to Plymouth and Boston.  Why Massachusetts?  To be honest, it happened like this -- we were watching the Lego movie when an ad for Lego Discovery Land came on.  Liam excitedly proclaimed, "I want to go there!" so I started researching . . . and figured out that while there WILL be one in Philly in 2018, the closest one to us is in Boston.  I've traveled to Boston with two different school groups: as a student in my college English Club (Yes, I said English Club #nerd #likeyouaresurprised) and later as a chaperone with a combined History and English department excursion.  And so, the kids and I decided we'd travel to Boston this summer. 

My first step was to drop off Gingersnap at the puppy spa.  I don't know what you think, but she looks confused to me . . . 


After we thumb-wrestled over who got to drive (ha! Ginger has no thumbs!  I win!), I picked up three very excited kids and away we went!  We decided to take our time on the drive and to stop whenever we felt like it.  And so we did!  Our first stop was for lunch at an Italian restaurant outside of Wilkes Barre.  It was between their lunch and breakfast hours, so Aidan had a waffle with fruit; Ellie had spaghetti with sauce; Liam had a grilled cheese; and I had a cheesesteak wrap.  We decided we really like the non-chain places -- you know, the kind of places that hand you a can of whipped cream and tell you to have at it. 





Over lunch, and actually over the course of the entire day so far, we practically tripped over each other to get caught up on the past week apart.  We talk a lot in general, and even though the kids and I texted and/or Face Timed throughout the week, it was never really with any consistency because of our different activities.  

And, there is something about a road trip that brings out the deep conversations:  

"Mom, do you think you will ever get married again? Because I really don't want that to happen."  (No, I really don't see myself ever getting married again.  We never know who may come into our lives and share part of it in some way, but for now, I am very happy the way things are. )

"Look at the rainbow flag on that [government office] building.  It's really pretty.  Why do you think they are flying it?" (Because a deranged man went into a dance club with a G-U-N and S-H-O-T 49 people.  The dance club was where a lot of gay people went, so it looks like he attacked them just for being gay . . . followed by outraged reply about how no one deserves to be S-H-O-T especially for just having fun with their friends and being born gay.)

"Mom, I think you really could do anything.  You are amazing.  You are a fighter, and you can do anything you put your mind to at all."  (I was practically speechless -- one of those "Here's a message from the Universe in the form of your child telling you something you needed to hear" moments.) 

"What do you think happens when we die?  I mean, how can we really know?"  (If we could easily understand God, then he wouldn't really be God, right?  What do YOU think happens?  . . . followed by discussion about the literal vs. metaphorical interpretations of the concept of Heaven found in the Bible.)

We also made a point to stop at as many state lines as we could, though the Massachusetts line didn't have a welcome center for us. so we stopped at Dunkin instead! 





We made it to Plymouth around 8 . . . just in time to spend an hour at the pool, and now I'm listening to the sound of three angels snoring gently as I write this post.  Truly a wonderful day, and a fantastic start to our road trip!  

Lunch Date

My 7th period AP English 11 class was a small, close-knit group of kids who always had insightful discussions and genuine interest in the class.  We always joked that we should go out to eat as a group because the class period was just not long enough for us to talk.  

So we did.  

With the exception of a couple of people who were out of town, this is the class!  We had a great lunch at the Olive Garden, and it's exciting to think that these kids are now seniors!  What a wonderful world is out there, waiting for them!