Saturday, April 30, 2016

Unique New York

(A bit overdue at this point, and with fewer details than I originally wrote, but at least I got something down while I remember anything.)

We had a great trip to New York for spring break!
We didn't stop in Ohio this time, so it was a long drive in one shot from Wisconsin.  Thankfully my kids all continue to be excellent travelers, making 15 hours in the car together possible--even pleasant.

In any case, here is a summary (with lots of pictures) so I won't forget:

My kids' spring break didn't line up with my niece's this year.  She only had off the Friday before Easter, and we had from then up through the beginning of April.  So we decided in order to get the most time for cousins together that we would pull our kids out of school a day early and drive to New York all that Thursday.

The car ride was (blissfully) uneventful.  We finished reading the book Wildwood (which we enjoyed) and started Birds, Beasts, and Relatives, which is part of the My Family and Other Animals series.  I really like reading to my kids in the car.  (It's amazing how much faster it makes the time seem to go.)

We arrived around midnight in New York City where my sister-in-law had an air mattress already set up for the girls and the trundle bed pulled out for Quinn.  My brother was out of the country for a business trip, so it was "just" the seven of us (plus Pepper the dog) for the first few days.  I am amazed every time we visit that they are able to find space for us in that apartment, but they do, and we're grateful.

Our first day in New York the kids just wanted to entertain themselves in and around the apartment.  For them New York has always meant their cousin's room, the play area across the drive, Bennett Park, and egg hunts in the little rose garden.  If we didn't insist on actually seeing other things I think they would happily settle into their insular routines and never venture farther than Ft Tryon Park a few blocks away.  But for the first day after so much travel whatever they wanted to do was fine.  They played outside in weather that was warmer than what we'd left behind in Wisconsin while Ian and I took a walk.

We decided to go see the High Bridge.  Originally an aqueduct, the High Bridge was closed for 40 years and recently reopened to pedestrians.  It takes you from Manhattan over the Harlem River to the Bronx.  It was a beautiful day for a walk, and time alone with Ian is always good.
view from the Bronx to Manhattan
Afterward I took the kids down to Ft Tryon Park to play on the volleyball courts with the ball Aden brought.  On the way there and back we waved to the solar powered Queen.  She sits in the window of a bank and is greatly faded, but the tiny solar panels in her purse keep her hand moving year upon year.  We love her.

After dinner we all took a walk down to the little red lighthouse underneath the George Washington bridge.
You can kind of see the lighthouse off to the right in the dark
The next day we spent entirely in Central Park.  We ate churros, watched street performers, admired all the flowering trees in bloom, and enjoyed seeing all the little sailboats in the little sailboating pond.
Of course, the only photo I've got at the pond has a dearth of said sailboats
By the time we made our way to the Central Park Zoo, Quinn and Ellora were wiped out.  Ian found them a bite to eat and then took them back home.  Aden and Mona joined me in the zoo where we squealed at the red panda, were fascinated to see a large rat scurrying along the edge of a display, and marveled at the snow leopards.  The best part, however, was the aviary.  It's easily one of the best we've ever seen (and we've been to a LOT of zoos.)  The birds were incredibly beautiful and everything was very close.  We even saw a fruit bat climbing about in one of the trees!
 


I loved having time alone with my girls.  We even had fun looking at the wildlife outside of the zoo!  We never get tired of pigeons--we don't see many back in Milwaukee.
Sunday was Easter.  It also happened to be my dad's birthday.  He used to have a customer who brought him fancy chocolate covered doughnuts to the gallery on his birthday.  He liked all chocolate doughnuts, though, even those weird waxy ones from Entenmann's.  I gave my mom a call and was glad to hear she had interesting plans.  For myself, on the one hand being in New York was full of good distractions, but on the other, my dad was from New York, so it was hard not to think of him at every turn.

For the most part our day was dominated by eggs.  I saw an idea online for dying eggs by wrapping flowers and leaves on them, then boiling them in either red cabbage (for blue) or onion skins (for brown).  Mona and I went out together to find the supplies.  We were supposed to wrap the eggs with pantyhose, but there were none to be found at the local markets so we used cheesecloth.  (The funniest thing about the cheesecloth was the set of illustrations on the package with suggestions for use, and one of them simply said "Outside" and it looked like cheesecloth outside.  Inspiring!  Actually, when it comes to pantyhose times have changed, because none of the kids had any idea what I was talking about.  I had to explain they were like sheer tights.  Anyway, no longer a staple item.)

The onion skins worked, the cabbage did not.  And we learned you have to wrap the leaves and flowers on very tightly or you just get a smudgy effect.  It was fun, though, and we may experiment more with it next year.


We didn't hide the real eggs on Easter.  We broke out the supply of plastic eggs from last year and I asked Quinn to organize them.  Normally what we do is assign each kid a color and everyone hunts only for what is theirs.  That works out well because not only does it keep things even, but we can avoid putting anything with nuts into Aden's eggs, we can make sure Quinn's are all low enough for him to reach, etc.  Unfortunately, Quinn came up with some confusing system where everyone got four green eggs in addition to their color plus there were some eggs that looked like bugs that didn't open well so they were empty.  Nobody could quite remember exactly which ones they were supposed to be looking for without consulting a list Quinn made.

The most unexpected thing, however, was that there had been other families hiding eggs in the rose garden earlier in the day, and they weren't as efficient as our crew at finding them.  Our kids came out ahead finding more eggs than Ian and I had put out there.  (Plus they had help from Pepper, who was surprisingly good at rooting eggs from under bushes.)
all around the rose garden
helpful Pepper
Mona's homemade basket!
My sister-in-law had an event to attend that evening, so instead of eating at home Ian and I took the kids to Kismat.  It's an Indian restaurant in the neighborhood that my brother takes Ellora to periodically, and when he does he emails us a photo of her doing homework or playing SET and asks us to guess where they are.  The answer is always Kismat, and our whole reason for going there was simply to take our own photo and ask him "Where?!" ourselves.
And yes, I do keep Uno cards in my bag for when we have to wait in places like restaurants
After dinner we walked up to Ft Tryon Park and the kids played ping pong and volleyball and I got to just sit and read.  It was a lovely Easter.
The next morning Ellora left early for school while my kids slept in, and I went with my sister-in-law to drop off her car for servicing on her way to work.  It was actually fascinating to see the car sales and service area of space-challenged Manhattan, and when the GPS sent us in circles around the dealership I was able to spot the studios for Last Week Tonight and The Nightly Show, so that was fun.

But as good a time as dropping off a car for servicing was, the real reason I was along for the ride was that my sister-in-law wanted to treat me to a mani-pedi as a belated birthday present.  I had a manicure once for my wedding, but I've never had a pedicure, so that sounded like a great present!  Unfortunately the spa where she made the appointment had some unexpected construction work going on that was not only noisy, but forced them to block off the entire pedicure area.  I still got my hands done, though, and they at least put fresh polish on my toes.

The really funny thing was that the woman doing my hands was wearing a mask as protection from whatever dust was getting kicked up behind the plastic sheet in the construction zone, and she gave one to me, too.  Which was fine, I appreciated her concern, but we were the only two people in the place wearing masks.  Not even the workmen doing the construction were wearing masks.  We looked like we were our own mini-quarantine, and that maybe the masks were protecting others from us somehow.

Shiny!
In any case, my fingers and toes all look pretty!  I was amazed at how many steps there were, and the light boxes for your hands were new to me.  (That can't be good for your hands, can it?  All that UV light?  Finger cancer!  But then it's probably not as bad as all the turpentine and varnish I soak my hands in regularly, so who knows.)  Whatever she did I'm impressed that my hands still looked good even after I went back to work.  Normally when I put polish on my nails it's decimated within the first hours of returning to violin repair.  But this was durable and fun and not as expensive as I imagined it would be, so it's something I'd like to do again one day.

When my hands were finished and they moved me across the room to stick my feet under the toe lamp to dry, I realized we were directly across the street from the Nintendo store.  My kids make a pilgrimage to the Nintendo store every time we visit New York, and we had a loose plan for my family to meet me somewhere near Rockefeller Plaza around that time, so I called Ian (who was on the subway and called me back when he came above ground) and told him to just take the kids straight to Nintendo and I would see them.

Sure enough, about ten minutes later I saw them all arrive on the corner and walk into the building!  The whole thing is a big glass box, so I watched them look around the lobby, and then Ian must have granted permission for the girls to explore because I saw them hurry up the stairs and start looking at Pokemon merchandise.  I waved and waved and waved to no avail, so I called Ian again and directed him to keep turning and looking out windows until he finally spotted me.  It wasn't until I went across the street myself and looked back on where I'd been that I realized what a cluttered sea of lights and distractions I'd been competing against while trying to get their attention.  Seeing Quinn and Ian eventually wave back to me was one of the highlights of my trip.
Quinn and Ian at Nintendo
The Nintendo store is arranged differently every time we go, and this year the Pikachu sculpture was not on display so unfortunately I couldn't get a picture of the kids with it the way we usually do.  But Aden in particular was very happy there, and she left with some Legend of Zelda mints and a Pokemon scarf, and Quinn got a small Glaceon toy.

From there we went out to eat (white pizza!) and then on to the MET.  The girls remembered it, Quinn did not.  This is becoming a common theme lately.  There are many things on our general checklist of things to do with the kids that Quinn was simply too young for when they happened, or that we feel like he must have done by now but hasn't.  (For instance, we were stunned to realize recently that Quinn had never seen Finding Nemo or Mary Poppins.  My girls knew them by heart, but those movies had fallen out of the rotation by the time Quinn was old enough to absorb them.  I'm making a point to ask him now what he's seen or what books he remembers before just making assumptions.)

The MET is a place you could never visit enough, though.  I was glad to have the chance to see certain things again, such as this Tiffany column that I love.

My kids got to see all the armor, and the Temple of Dendur (which they know from an old Sesame Street video called Don't Eat the Pictures), and many wonderful paintings.




Quinn and Ian at the Temple of Dendur


Quinn liked this skinny cat

Wisconsin Landscape by Curry, a little glimpse of home
We even came across a display of Faberge eggs which brought me back to show of them we saw in Detroit when I was a kid.  That was my first lesson in scale, because the Faberge creations looked gaudy when enlarged in the introductory film we sat through first at the museum, but they were charming at their true diminutive size.  (The other thing that's funny about Faberge creations is that the materials listed on the description cards seem like something a small child would make up to sound super fancy:  "These flowers are made of pearls! and diamonds! and gold!")
However, the best part of the day was that my brother Arno returned from his trip to China.  I've missed him.  And he, apparently, was missing some electronic device that he'd left in his hotel, so he spent a good chunk of the evening trying to describe to a woman on the phone what he wanted her to look for.  She kept saying something about pants.  So he decided to install something called WeChat on his phone (which is what the Chinese use for social media) and after he texted her she sent him a photo of a pair of his boxers that had been left in the room.  He tried to send her an appropriate emoji, but accidentally sent her a face with hearts for eyes.  I can't even tell you how hard we all laughed at my brother and this whole exchange with the underwear and the lovey dovey face and WeChat.  (I can crack Quinn up now just by saying "WeChat.")

Entrance to the Transit Museum
The next day (after spending some quality time moving the cars around to accommodate the parking regulations) we headed out to Brooklyn to see the Transit Museum.  The last time Ian and I were there (before kids, so, like, millions of years ago) you could gain admittance with a regular subway fare which was kind of fun.  Now there is just a normal fee.

The Transit Museum is inside the old Court Street stop, and still has a working third rail to power all the old cars on display.  I remembered enough from the tour we got a long time ago to pass on some of what I thought was interesting to the kids, and of course Ian could probably lead tours himself.  You can try all the old turnstiles and see the old tokens and walk through cars from different eras and get a real sense of being in the past.  A lot of the evolution of subway car design came out of the need to thwart vandalism and to accommodate changes in fashion (high heels, hats...)

I liked being able to show the kids things from the subway that I remember from when I was a child, although they did not have a car on display like I remember riding that looked like it had been burned and the only fresh element was the new graffiti.  New York really is a much different experience now.  My memories are of a lot of grit and grime, and what my kids see is more akin to an amusement park.

Arno and Ellora met us at the Transit Museum, and then we got a bite to eat at a hip and healthy burrito place that Aden declared to be the smallest restaurant she has ever seen.  I'm not sure what she's thinking because it wasn't that small, but I suppose this means I need to take her to Soup Brothers when we have time in Milwaukee.  (I don't know if they'll have room for all of us, but it's worth it even if we have to get our soup to go.)

The next day we headed downtown.  There was a new and shiny transit stop Ian wanted to see
that felt like a visit into the not-too-distant-future.

After that I wanted to show the kids the lobby of the Woolworth building nearby.  It was a place I stepped into once many years ago with my dad who remembered it was beautiful.  Now there is a sign out front saying no tourists are allowed in, but my brother and I decided to feign ignorance and walked past the sign with the kids and asked when the next tour was.  The men at the desk said we'd just missed one.  I asked if I could take a photo, and the guy looked at me and kind of laughed and said, "Well, you could take a photo..." as if maybe there was a rule but he didn't particularly care, so I snapped a quick (and not very good) one of the ceiling.  The whole lobby is gorgeous--all mosaics and sparkling tiles.  I'm glad my kids got a glimpse of it.
Woolworth building lobby ceiling








From there we wandered over to the Freedom Tower.  That's an area of town I really haven't had a desire to visit since the terrorist attacks, but I was curious, and it's been long enough it seemed time.







hallway to the Path Train



Ian wanted to see an embarrassingly over-budget subway station that lies underneath the Freedom Tower.  It was designed by Calatrava, who also designed our art museum, and my kids recognized his work immediately (and wanted to know why this part of New York looked so much like Milwaukee).




Milwaukee Art Museum









The line was not long to go up to the observation deck, but the prices were high (and Aden's ears are sensitive to altitude changes) so we abandoned that idea.

Next to the Freedom Tower, of course, is the 9-11 Memorial.  I wasn't sure what to expect but I was impressed with it.  Each of the footprints of the Twin Towers is now a reflecting pool of sorts, built of black stone, with water cascading into it from the edges, and then out of sight into another space in the center.  The waterfall itself is comprised of thousands of individual small streams.  Around the perimeter are the names of people who died there.  The whole area is beautiful with lots of places to sit, and trees that will fill out the space nicely as they grow.  I liked how the rushing sound of the water helps block out a lot of the surrounding noise of the city, making the experience more contemplative than I had anticipated.

There was something both disturbing and appropriate about the fact that the footprints of the Twin Towers are perpetually falling now.  It made me uneasy even as I found it comforting in its own way.

Talking to my children about 9-11 is strange.  They were all born after it happened, so they only know a world with cumbersome screening procedures at airports and perpetual distant wars that their father has been called on occasion to help fight.  The narrative of that day seems like something they should somehow know already simply because the adults around them lived it.  It's as ridiculous as expecting Quinn to recognize movies because his sisters have seen them, but sometimes when you love someone you feel as if parts of you and your memories and your beliefs just bleed over to them somehow without having to say anything.  I forget they need to be taught about 9-11 as history, the same way I was taught about WWII or the Civil War.

So I tried to recount bits of what went on that day, first when we were sitting at a display in the Transit Museum that depicted the impact the terrorist attacks had on the transit system, then again at the memorial.  I told them how our cousin who worked for ABC News at the time was haunted by footage he witnessed while trying to determine which images were too disturbing to air, mostly of the many people who had chosen to jump from the towers.  I told them of the number of first responders who had died while trying to save others.  Of the impossible amount of dust and debris.  Of how people prepared at hospitals and gave blood and that nobody came.  I told them about the plane that hit the pentagon, and the one that went down in Pennsylvania.  I was not able to tell them why all of that happened.  I can repeat basic facts, but I don't really understand why.

I asked the kids if they wanted to go into the museum there at the memorial, but they said they were already too sad and didn't think they wanted to know any more right then.  I don't blame them.

We did walk down to Battery Park where we saw the pummeled remains of the sculpture that used to sit between the towers.  We admired the Statue of Liberty in the distance, wished we had time to visit the impressive looking museum of Native American history, and looked at the famous bull statue in the heart of the financial district.  (Aden was stunned to learn that Wall Street was an actual street!  She thought it was just an expression people used.)  We walked into St Paul's chapel and saw where Hamilton is buried in the Trinity Church Cemetery.  A lot of those gravestones have worn to mere slabs now.





After that we picked up Ellora and a friend of hers at school.  I was glad my kids got to see what her school looks like and experience what a different environment it's in compared to their own.
At that point we split up because I had to get back to the apartment to change and then meet my sister-in-law for an evening out together.  Arno took the kids to some sort of waffle restaurant, and Ian helped me navigate the route back home (with one stop at Katz's Deli for a bagel with lox that was super yummy).

My sister-in-law took me to an exclusive concert sponsored by some people she knew through work.  Unfortunately, despite the obvious high skill level of the musicians, it wasn't a genre of music I relate to so I can't say it was enjoyable.  We did go out to dinner with some of her colleagues at an upscale hotel restaurant nearby and that was more fun.  I wasn't particularly impressed with the food, but the lobby of the Mark is quite striking:
In the end it didn't actually matter to me where we went or what we ate afterward, I was mostly just flattered that someone I care about wanted to share an evening with me.  That meant a lot, and I feel really lucky to have had such a memorable night on the town with her.

The next morning we got up early, packed the minivan, and hit the road again.  Many states later we stepped back through our door where my children all admitted it had indeed been worth it to clean the house well before we left because it was nice to come home to a space that was welcoming and orderly.  The next day we picked up our dog from the kennel and we settled quickly back normal.

We're so fortunate to get to explore a short tongue twister of a place like "Unique New York" and have it also feel homey.  But there really is nothing like home.





Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Knee Jerk NO

Before I begin, let me say that I started writing my NYC post again, and Blogger randomly lost about two hours of writing.  Not the whole post this time, just back a day's writing, but what is going on?  I am beyond frustrated.  I don't know how many times I can try to recreate that work and not go insane so I may have to scrap it.

Some people don't understand why I don't just write blog posts on my desktop and then copy and paste when I'm ready to post, but there's something irritating about that that is hard to describe to someone who doesn't blog.  It's not like regular writing.  It's more immediate and I want to arrange something as I'm thinking about it in the format where it will live.  I've started copying and pasting from Blogger to email as a backup in addition to hitting the ineffective "save," but I still don't understand why now I have to do that.

Anyway.

The other day when we were all in the car together, Ian was telling a story about how in Iraq there was a point where he and another officer were in charge of a group, and the other guy was the picture of a big tough military guy, and Ian by comparison was not imposing.  But Ian was the one everyone considered the hard ass really in charge because he was the one who would say, "No."

I laughed and said, "Which one of you was the parent?"

There is a lot of knee jerk "No" when you are a parent.  More than there should be, and I make a conscious effort to stop and reassess before I simply say "No."  Many times when my kids make a request and my first instinct is "No" and I take a moment to really think about it, I wind up saying "Yes" instead.  Because many times the request is harmless.

I think the automatic "No" comes from exhaustion.  There is so much responsibility and so much to get done in so little time that deviating from whatever plan is in action feels like one thing too many.  And so much of parenting, particularly of small children, has such a meandering pointless feel about it that it can get frustrating.  Adults usually like to feel they are accomplishing something.

Monday, April 11, 2016

AAAARRRrrrggggghhhhhh!

This is just a quick, anguished cry in the middle of the night to say that I worked for DAYS on a blog post about our trip to New York for Easter and right when I finished it tonight my computer blinked out and rebooted for no apparent reason and the whole post is GONE.  Gone gone gone.  I don't understand why Blogger only has the intro I started a week ago and not anything I hit "save" on since.  None of the photos or the links.  Nothing.

I have so little time as it is, and to have all that work disappear making that writing effort a waste....   I don't know if I have the energy to write it all again.

Ugh.  



Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Volleyball's End

Girls in their last huddle after the award ceremony
Aden recently had her last volleyball game of the season.  I'm so pleased she decided to give playing on the team a try and that it worked out well.  Participating in a sport can be good or terrible.  I only experienced the terrible at her age.  I'm glad my daughter got to experience the good.

The Fernwood Pirates 8th Grade Girls' Volleyball team wrapped up the 2015-16 season with 42 wins and 2 losses.  It was really fun to go every week as a family to cheer Aden and her team on.  I enjoyed watching all of the players steadily improve.  It was moving to see how consistently encouraging and kind the coach and the players managed to be.  Aden was not one of the power players, but she got better with every game, and by the last one her energy and commitment made us really proud.

There was a lot to learn by suddenly being a family that did sports, though.  The first was keeping track of the shifting schedule.  We missed the second game of the season because we didn't realize at first that the game times moved so much.  Games could start anywhere from 5:30 to 9:00 (which still seems shockingly late to begin any activity with kids), and if we missed an email about a change it was easy to not show up at the right time.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

At a Loss

Some days you don't get to pick your attitude.  I know there is many a pithy quote to be found on Facebook about choosing a positive thought and about how all you can control is yourself so you have only yourself to blame if you are not happy.

Well, when things are on an even keel, sure.  Some days, though, we need to cut ourselves some slack if we don't have the energy to force some more noble perspective.

My birthday is this week and I'm not feeling good about it.  It's my first birthday without my dad.  His birthday would have been on Easter this year and it's the first one of his since he died.  I don't like these kinds of firsts.  I keep tearing up unexpectedly.  I can go weeks at a time at this point where I don't think of dad in terms of loss, just in terms of pleasant memory, but not this weekend.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Entertainment Evolution

I'm often surprised when talking to my children how little I really know about their lives anymore.  We have such a tight grip on everything about them when they are tiny that it's hard to shake that impression of our role even as it changes.  I used to have responsibility for every detail of their days, and now they select their own entertainment, seek out their own books, enjoy inside jokes with people I've never met, and eat foods I had no hand in. Like most of parenting it's bittersweet.

But every once in a while I make a point of grilling them past the one word answers I'm used to getting and try to find more information so I'll understand them better.  Most recently I did that with Aden and her latest computer obsession and I learned a lot.

Compared to most of the kids we know, mine own a fairly limited amount of technology.  They share a single iPad that they got as a Christmas gift a few years ago from their aunt.  (They have about a dozen apps on it, which their friends with pages and pages of apps to scroll through find amusing.)  Aden has a laptop we got her with schoolwork in mind, and a DS thingy that I don't quite understand, but it wasn't expensive and she mostly uses it as an awkward means of creating her own animation.  A few months ago we hooked up an old Atari to the TV, and Quinn enjoys playing Frogger and Pitfall II.  We have Netflix streaming but no cable.  None of them own phones.

Despite this limited access to modern devices, my kids are well-versed in current video game culture.  Aden is obsessed with the Legend of Zelda and can tell you when the latest version of GTA is out.  My kids are all into Minecraft and make many small items in its image out of perler beads.

I've offered to my kids to get them a modern gaming system if they feel left out among their peers.  Same with phones, actually.  Just because something doesn't interest me doesn't mean I want them to be out of step with what the culture they live in is up to.  But they insist they are fine.  They don't mind sharing the iPad.  They don't need video game options beyond what the box of vintage Atari cartridges offers.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Portioning Out Fairness

My children impress me.  I'm biased, I know, and I love them on a level that has become my reason for being, but still.  There are moments when they surprise me with something new and unexpected where I just stop and wonder how I had a hand in creating such lovely people.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I made the kids breakfast.  I don't often make them breakfast anymore because I stay up very late to work so I sleep in a little while Ian gets the kids off to school.  We're in a habit of making them a hot breakfast every morning, and Ian is out of town for Army work this weekend, so I decided to make crepes for the kids before I went to work.  (That sounds fancier than it is but crepes are easy when you make them regularly.  All my kids can make crepes.)

Mona and Aden were still in pajamas upstairs, but Quinn was available to help me.  He emptied the dishwasher and set the table while I stood at the stove.  When breakfast was ready he rang the bell and settled in to eat.