Saturday, April 26, 2014

Spring Break in New York City

lobby wall
Whew!  It's a long drive to New York from Milwaukee.  We did the trip home in one straight shot, too, so between that and spending the first few days back desperately trying to catch up on the workload at the store I'm only barely feeling recovered, but I think I'm finally ready to get some of this down on my blog.  Brace yourselves for a long post of too many photos and a whole lot of everything while I still remember any of it.

The kids and I hit the road very early on a Saturday and drove as far as Ohio.  (Ian had classes to teach and flew out to meet us in New York later.)  There we stayed with my wonderful aunt and uncle and got to see my cousin's new house where we had a big family dinner.  Seen here is the cuteness that is Quinn playing on the piano with his cousin Kate:

We love visiting Ohio and hate that we don't get to do it more often.  Our family there is so loving and welcoming and we have equally generous and kind friends whom we're hoping to see sometime this summer.  It was too short a visit since it was really just an overnight stop to give me, the lone driver, a break, but it was great.  When I went to tuck Aden into bed and hugged her, she hung onto me as I tried to stand up and said, "We have to come stay here again."  I promised her we'd find a way.

The drive from Wisconsin to Ohio was dominated by getting through Indiana, which takes forever and is incredibly dull.  Usually there is at least the excitement of seeing lots of windmills a couple of hours in, but this time they were all still, which was a little eerie but mostly boring.

The drive from Ohio to New York was dominated by Pennsylvania.  It takes forever to cross Pennsylvania, but it's beautiful, so that helps.  My kids like to do a countdown as we come to state borders, and they couldn't believe how long we had to drive through Pennsylvania before we hit New Jersey.  (Wait until we eventually do a drive out West!  They have no idea how big some states really are.)

We arrived in New York City in time for dinner.  Kids were thrilled to be reunited with their cousin and to get to meet her new puppy, Pepper.  Pepper is adorable.  Teeth like needles and in a "must nip and chew on everything" mode, but adorable nonetheless.  Pepper needed frequent walks and frequent naps.

The kids all got to bed close to midnight, and the next morning after sleeping in a bit I managed to find enough things in the kitchen to make banana pancakes.

It's weird trying to cook in someone else's space.  You just can't assume certain things will be there.  At one point we put together cookie dough and then realized there was no cookie sheet.  They don't generally bake, whereas our house is set up for cookie and cupcake production at a moment's notice (because birthdays, bake sales....).  There also just isn't storage in a typical New York kitchen, so the little bit of flour in the canister was all the flour.  And feeding four kids at least three times a day is very different from feeding one.  Which means I visited Frank's Market a couple of blocks away at least once a day on my visit, usually twice.  That was fun.  (Expensive, though.  Everyone knows New York is expensive, but wow, the sticker shock every time I had to go pick up more fruit and bread and milk was hard to get used to.)

Kids climbing rocks on our walk
Anyway, our first full day in New York was beautiful.  Seventy-something degrees, sunny, gorgeous....  I decided it was easier to stick close to home since I was the only adult there, and I walked the kids up to The Cloisters not too far away.

The most famous thing in the collection at The Cloisters is the unicorn tapestries.  I took the kids there once years ago, but Quinn and Mona were too small to remember it, and Aden was in too grumpy a mood to appreciate it.

Now they were old enough to enjoy everything, and I was even able to teach them about symbols in the art so that when they saw halos in paintings they knew those people were saints, etc.  They learned that the only baby ever depicted in art seems to have been Jesus.  They liked the unicorn room best, but unfortunately the story being told there is all about unicorns being hunted, which the kids all found disturbing.

There's a narwhal tusk still on display in that room which Aden remembered.  A charming older lady tried to tell my kids that the tusk was something that came straight out of the whale's forehead, and they all creased their brows and didn't know how to respond without being rude, so I spoke up and said, "Actually, I'm pretty sure it's a tooth."  The woman looked surprised and said, "Really?" and then the kids (with their impressive command of animal facts) chimed in helpfully and explained about the narwhal and it's odd tooth.  They looked pleased to have set the record straight and the woman seemed happy to have learned something new.
Beautiful stained glass.  Lots of sculptures, most of which seemed to be missing hands.  The kids asked great questions and noticed all kinds of interesting details.  They got good at spotting Jesus.

Plus there was this crazy guy:
And this guy pointing to something but we could only speculate about at what:

A successful outing!  Followed by a stop for pizza, the fun of moving our car to a better parking spot for the week, some time in the playroom across the hall from the apartment while I cooked, and eventually a round of four square in a nearby park.

I have to mention that all over New York City people were polite and helpful (one man even getting out of his car to come tell me in my van while stopped at a light with my blinker on that you can't turn right on red in New York and he didn't want me to get a ticket) and the only strangely rude behavior was in the park.  Not by the people using the park, but the people cutting across it.  Dozens of adults had no qualms about walking directly through the kids' game and disrupting it.  It was weird.  I can understand adults being dismissive of kids who have set up a game in a space where it doesn't belong, but in the park?  I'm sorry, but whatever games the kids are playing in the park take precedence because that's what the park is for.  The kids looked surprised every time it happened, and only three people (Quinn kept a tally) made the effort to step around the chalk square on their way to the gate.  I'll never understand adults who don't respect children as people, especially since those same adults often feel entitled to unearned respect in return.  So odd.

Aden and Mona, 2009
That was the end of our perfect weather until Easter weekend, and the rest of our week in New York was cold and sometimes rainy.  (It even snowed one evening and my kids nearly cried from the trauma of YET MORE SNOW.)

The next day we decided to venture out on the subway and visit my sister-in-law for lunch and for our pilgrimage to the Nintendo store to see Pikachu.  I think the last time we were there was 2009.  Aden couldn't understand why I wanted her picture next to Pikachu again since I already had at least one, but I told her that was the point.  Isn't it sort of shocking how much she's grown?  I can hardly believe it.
Aden 2014
We ate lunch at Rockefeller Center while watching people ice skate in the rain.  Then we visited the Lego Store (we all liked a Lego dragon that wound its way around a few of the walls and ceiling) and finally headed home.

I can't begin to express how much easier it is to navigate the subways of New York with children old enough to walk themselves around.  In the past when we required a stroller strangers would help us carry it up and down the stairs, but it's impossible not to be self-conscious about how much room it takes up in the cars themselves.  Even on trips when we didn't have to have it, Quinn was little enough on previous visits that he would pass out and become a heavy lump that we had to carry from train to train.  This time all I had to do was say, "This is our stop!" and the kids were ready.

When we had a fairly empty car there was lots of spinning around poles, but when the kids had to remain contained they played several games, including one that involved keeping your hands around the pole without touching it.  Usually when the train would start everyone lost at once and they'd laugh and begin again.

On long rides where they had to sit we'd play verbal games.  I usually suggest Preacher's Cat or Crambo, but the kids have a funny game that I didn't know (maybe they made it up?) called The Egg Game, which is essentially a guessing game about animals where you have to figure out what's in the Egg, and if you guess right you get the Egg and get to think up the next mystery animal.  My kids have lots of games they do with their cousin, many of which I can't follow, so it was fun to watch them entertain themselves with The Egg Game and even take part once in a while.

The next day we had a lazy morning before heading off to the American Museum of Natural History.  It's a favorite of ours because my brother, Barrett, used to be a model maker there, and we can look for examples of his work, along with surprises he's shown us.  (Few people probably notice the dung beetles in the jungle display, but far fewer ever spot the face of Dr Zaius from Planet of the Apes in the dung.)  We love the blue whale in the Ocean Life display, we love the battle between the giant squid and the sperm whale, and of course we love the dinosaurs, but it was a pretty packed day at the museum so we didn't stick around the crowded rooms very long.

On our way to the dinosaurs we took a wrong turn and ended up at a single display at the end of a hallway that was the most depressing thing we'd seen all day.  An extinct species of bird related to the prairie chicken, all alone in the corner.  I thought the kids might cry, but happiness was restored by pigeons.  And churros.

I think if all my kids did in New York was feed and chase pigeons they'd call it a successful trip.  (We don't seem to have many pigeons in Milwaukee for some reason.  A few under an occasional overpass, but mostly we have seagulls and geese.)  Ian told Mona once years ago that if she caught a pigeon she could keep it.  She continues to try.

In the evening my sister-in-law treated us to a performance of Cirque du Soleil's "Amaluna."  It was amazing.  It's an expensive show, but I came away feeling glad that it's possible for people to make a living while dedicating themselves to impossible looking pursuits.  There was one woman who did an astonishing act with balancing sticks that was slow and beautiful and nerve wracking.  The hours it took to master it are hard to fathom, but I'm glad she did.  The acrobatics were astonishing.  I don't quite understand how any of it was possible or how anyone can be that strong and graceful, but the costumes were great and I love that all the music was live.

On Thursday my husband arrived and he helped me get the kids down to the Empire State Building.  I hadn't been there since I was a kid, and my niece had never been.  It was about three hours of standing in line to get to the observation deck, but the kids kept themselves entertained the whole time and I think it's something they'll remember their whole lives.

Pigeon on the 86th floor!

I happened to read a quote the day before that kept coming to mind while we were waiting to get to the top of the Empire State Building.

"Happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember." – Oscar Levant

My version of this has long been, "It will be fun in retrospect."  As in all the annoyances and effort put into a typical outing with small children will be edited in memory to resemble something of a good time, even if the reality was riddled with difficulty.  The line for the observation deck was not fun, but it wasn't bad, either.  We got through it, now that part is just a blink in the past, and we can focus on remembering the views and having been in an iconic place.

Aden, at age twelve, is struggling with the shlumpy kind of motivational ennui that comes with being a teenager.  She's frustrated by it, and isn't sure what to do, but we'll ride it out.  In the meantime she's given me permission to force her to participate in things I think she'll like even if at first she protests.

She complained about going to the top of the Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago at the time (mostly because her ears are sensitive to changes in elevation), but now remembers it fondly.  So it took everything in my power not to laugh in front of her when we got to the top of the Empire State Building and she said to me glumly, "The Willis Tower was better."  (She immediately apologized because she knew how much the tickets were, so she wasn't trying to be rude, but it's hard.  I remember all too well those crushing waves of bleah at her age, where it's hard to remain bright about anything.  She's doing her best, but it's going to be a long adolescence.)  The gift shop cheered her up.
After the Empire State Building we walked to Times Square (where we had to try and explain the Naked Cowboy and all the creepy Elmos), popped briefly into the M&M store, and eventually found 99¢ pizza near the theater where they do The Late Show and got everyone fed.
More churros at Columbus Circle (which were three times as expensive as the pizza, but worth it), then back home for overdue showers and a game of Clue.  (Has anyone seen the new Clue?  It's not "Colonel Mustard" or "Professor Plum" anymore, everyone is simply reduced to a color--Green, and Peacock, etc.--and the pictures of the people all look the same!  Just slim, twenty-something hipsters.  The kids could not figure out why we kept referring to the yellow game piece as "Colonel Mustard," and Quinn kept saying he wasn't that old and wanted to be referred to as "Mister Mustard," please.  There's not even the silhouette of a body in the stairwell anymore!  And it's a pistol instead of a revolver.  The game was already not much fun, so to suck any charm out of it by making it completely bland seems dumb.  But the kids were happy, and the invented rules they were using made it go faster, so there was that.)

At this point in our trip I thought it would be nice to try something new.  I messaged a blogger in Brooklyn whose writing I really enjoy and asked what her own kids would recommend.  She was kind enough to give us a brief list, and based on the weather we decided to check out an indoor option from it.  So the next day we headed down to Soho for a day at the Children's Museum of the Arts.

The museum is a hands on place where kids get to make things, which is right up my kids' alley.  It was crowded because of the holiday, but we were able to reserve seats at the Clay Bar for about an hour after we arrived, and the kids painted and made projects with yarn.

Hand washing station
The funniest part was that the predominant feature of the project room was the elaborate hand washing station, and Ian said he watched nearly every parent walk right by it to ask people where their kids could wash their hands.

The thing we loved best was the Clay Bar.  It's a space set up with limited seating and two instructors and apparently each day has a theme.  That day's theme was "Dogs."  I like that there are people there to actually assist with techniques if necessary.  My kids spend a lot of time with modeling clay (they have an on-again off-again long term project to make a Bunny Western claymation film that should finally happen this summer), but it's always good to get ideas from new places and see what other people do, too.

After a few hours of art making we visited China Town.  I think my niece was confused as to why we were there.  New York is simply her home and things that strike us as unusual she just takes in stride.  We told her we wanted to see it just to see it, but that we would be eating soon, so she was happy.

We ended up at a Chinese buffet where you point to what you want and they add it to your tray.  Quinn was curious about the squid and ended up with a heaping helping of tentacles on his plate.  He tried a tentative taste before declaring he didn't like it.  (Luckily there were also fries.)

None of the kids got quite enough to eat, but since China Town runs into Little Italy we all got gelato before we headed home and life was good.

I was hoping to find Easter baskets and plastic eggs while we were out and about, but there was no real Easter stuff available anywhere in Manhattan.  Not a Cadbury egg, not a stuffed bunny, nothing.  I managed to find my baskets and eggs at the local pharmacy, but no special candy, no jelly beans, no chocolate bunnies....  It was weird.  Except for one sign on a dry cleaner that read "Hoppy Easter" you wouldn't know it was a holiday weekend.  Thankfully any candy you stick in a plastic egg becomes Easter candy by default, but still.  I expected picking up treats at the last minute for an egg hunt on Easter morning would be a breeze, and I was definitely wrong.  (Maybe all the goodies were out in Brooklyn?)


My brother's apartment in New York is beautiful, but, by standards almost anywhere but in New York, it's small.  Fine for the three people and the nippy puppy who live there, tight when you add the five of us, and tighter still if you add another family of three from the Boston area, which is what happened late on Friday.

Luckily we all like each other, and the bigger crowd just meant more fun.  My sister-in-law was wonderful at hosting eight extra people in her home, and somehow fit all eleven of us at her dinner table.

For me, Saturday was the day of egg decorating, the Easter Play, and ping-pong.

I saw something online for dying eggs that looked fun, and we gave it a try, but it didn't work.  You put drops of food coloring into shaving cream, swirl it around a little, roll the eggs in it, and supposedly you get a nice marbleized effect.  But it all just wiped off no matter how long we let the eggs sit.  We got slightly tinted, very clean-smelling eggs.  But who doesn't like playing with shaving cream?  (I could keep my kids in the bathtub for hours if I let them use up a can of shaving cream in there when they were small.)  The kids enjoyed it thoroughly, whether it worked or not.  They were happy just mixing food coloring into more shaving cream until all the foam came out beige.  We ended up just drawing on the eggs for the most part, and that was fun, too.

The Easter Play is something the kids like to do in New York because between the kitchen/dining area and the main bedroom there is a curtain.  Where there is a curtain there should be a play, apparently.

In the past the plays were somewhere between endearing and excruciating.  The last one took over an hour and just devolved into the children essentially playing some game amongst themselves while we watched from our seats.  In fact, they eventually admitted they didn't have an ending, so it just dragged on and on.  There are costumes and props and the whole thing takes a lot of planning and there is friction and compromise and it's a lot of boring punctuated by moments of adorableness.

This year went better.  Partially because they are older, partially because Aden and Mona have been taking little theater classes at school which may have organized their thoughts about how to put such a thing together, and partially because they cast my brother, Arno, as the villain, and that couldn't help but be entertaining.  (He wound up sticking a stuffed Darwin doll into his shirt so he had an old man head sticking out of his collar as part of his costume, so that was worth watching.)

Easter Play meeting the rose garden
The kids worked hard plotting everything in secret meetings in the nearby rose garden.  We told them Saturday was the only day they would have for their play, so they titled it "The Play in a Day" and it was about bunnies in an Easter factory whose leader is captured by a weird man (who inexplicably has two heads) but the leader bunny is rescued and restored and the villain run out of town.  (I think.  The end was sort of, uh, let's call it fluid.)

Easter Play in action
One of the best parts of the Easter Play was in the beginning they set up a bustling factory scene, and Quinn was sitting at a bench that they'd rigged with a roll of paper so that it operated like a conveyor belt.  Toys would pass by him and he'd pick up each one and do an inspection before sending it on its way.  The funniest part was when one child dressed as a chick was done saying her lines and the bottom half of her paper beak fell off.  (Still cracks me up just thinking about it!)  The kids did great, the play was much better than in the past, and if you ask them they will rank it as one of the highlights of the whole trip.

(Technically, you should know, I'm not supposed to have that photo of the play.  The children literally auctioned off exclusive photo rights before the curtain went up, so only my sister-in-law was allowed to take any pictures.  But then the other parents and I said amongst ourselves, "How can they stop us?  They can't!"  So that's a bootleg photo.)

Ping pong, baby!
During the play preparations, Arno, his fellow brain scientist friend, and I, headed to the park for some ping-pong.  I know I've mentioned time and again that my brothers are both among the funniest people I've ever met, but it's just so true.  Arno's friend is the world's greatest sport, and whatever Arno did, his friend good-naturedly went along with.  We used all the balls at once.  Arno used a stick inside his sleeve to extend his paddle's reach.  We kept trying to play with a broken ball.  Since we only had two paddles and three players our friend wound up playing ping-pong with his phone while it was recording video.  The paddle's-eye view of our game was probably only hilarious to the three of us, but was wild to watch later.  It captured many of Arno's impressive antics.  Children passing through the park begged their parents to let them stay and watch.  Arno was on the table, and beside the table, and I think my favorite part was when my brother was still on my team but was standing next to our opponent and disrupting everything with the ball from there.  It's a wonderful thing to laugh for hours.  (And in this case the earlier quote is not apt, because happiness was definitely an experience during that "game.")

Our last morning there was Easter Sunday.  My sister-in-law made crepes, and my brother managed to find enough frozen blintzes from somewhere that morning to make them for everyone.  (There must not be a big enough Jewish community on our end of town in Milwaukee for the stores to stock blintzes so my kids have only had them when we visit New York or Detroit.)  Aden really had her heart set on blintzes, so my brother, being the good uncle he is, obliged much to her delight.

After breakfast we packed up the car and got down to the serious business of the egg hunt.  As far as my kids are concerned, the only proper place for and Easter egg hunt is the little rose garden by their cousin's house.  They were thrilled to get to do it there again.

The way we do egg hunts is to have the kids hunt specifically for whatever eggs they each decorated, and also for plastic eggs of a certain color for each child.  This works out to be the most fair because they each end up with the same number of eggs, and we can hide all the eggs in the same area while still making the level of difficulty appropriate for each child. 

Arno hid 65 eggs this year in that little garden!  I filled most of the plastic eggs with various candy, and then gave Arno two eggs per child to fill with whatever he wanted.  Quinn got a business card from a local broker and a pin with a brain on it, as well as a small lemon that was way past its peak.  One of the girls got a clove of garlic and a marble.  The kids enjoy the weird things in the eggs from their uncle, as long as they also score good stuff, too.
Egg Hunt in the rose(less) garden

Quinn with weird egg prizes
The egg hunt went really well this year.  It's the number one thing all of my kids will tell you they liked about their Spring Break.

I didn't get to visit with some friends the way I had hoped I might on this trip, and we didn't get to go into the Statue of Liberty as we had originally planned (earliest reservations available weren't until June 4th!), but what a great trip.  It was sad to see it end and I hated saying goodbye to everyone.

We hit the road after the egg hunt a bit after noon, and except for bathroom breaks and gas didn't stop until we arrived home an hour or two after midnight.  Weren't able to get our silly dog whom we missed out of the kennel until Tuesday.  (Didn't quite feel like home without him.)

It's good to be back, and it's good to be blogging again. 

Hope all of you have been well!  And if you got to the end of this ridiculously long post, congratulations!  Your prize is one more picture of the cute puppy:


  1. Kory -- So much fun to read and recount. It was nice to see what you were up to in New York before I was able to fly in from Seattle.
    Thank you for this post -- what a nice record of a super-fun visit!

    1. Thanks for having us! Your wife was a marvelous hostess, and there is nothing like seeing all four kids together so happy all the time. I love our New York memories.

  2. I enjoyed reading it all! We just got the new Clue in the smaller box - my 4 year old joined in the game and I didn't do too well explaining murders and answering questions on how to kill someone with a lead pipe:(

    1. We tried to soften things by saying Mr Body (is there even a Mr Body in the new version?) maybe just passed out, but the kids cared less about MURDER (dum dum DA) than they did about playing with all the cute little weapons. My grandmother hated Clue, so when Aden declined to play I assured her it was fine and she was in good company.

  3. I loved this "ridiculously long post"! It was the next best thing to being there with you.

    1. Glad we got to see you, even if it wasn't in the New York part of the trip. Next time come with us!

  4. Aww, sounds like a fun trip. The kids' play sounds so creative / adorable and yes, that puppy is cute! :)

    Also, yes. Driving through the west coast will shock them. It takes me four and a half hours to drive to my parents' house, pretty much a straight east-west line, and it only covers about 2/3 of the state. And that's a teeny bit over the speed limit, too :)


    1. I remember when we took a train across Montana and I realized how many Pennsylvanias would fit in it it kind of blew my mind because PA was the epitome of an endless state for me as a child. I can't wait to figure out a road trip out West, though! Not sure when or how yet, but it will happen.

  5. That IS a ridiculously cute puppy.

    I loved reading your account of your trip. That quote is so true! If we remembered the awful as well as the fun, we'd only have one child. ;oP

    Seriously, though, what a wonderful visit you all had. Having never been to NYC, it was a delight to visit through your eyes. There's so much to comment upon I could hijack your comments. :o)

    Glad you're home--I've missed your posts.

    1. It really was a great trip. Just wish NYC weren't so hard for us to get to!

  6. What an amazing trip! Your kids are so lucky to get to experience all of these great trips...I'm assuming there are no mold a ramas in the NYC :) Your brothers totally crack me up...the crazy eggs are hilarious.

  7. Aww this is amazing ! it would be awesome for me to visit such places and watch movies and shows like wicked or enjoy live concerts with extra thrill of sports :)