Summer Vacation in Colorado

We were out of town from July 3rd to July 18th on a big ol’ vacation. It started with the kids’ Grandpa, who wanted to take his family back to the mountains in Colorado where he used to camp and hike years ago. So he came up with a plan for a week-long family vacation, starting with 4th of July weekend in Cañon City, Colorado, then heading to Westcliffe to hike along the Rainbow Trail in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Since we were planning this way ahead of time and airfare is so, so expensive, Cute W and I figured that we might as well make it an extended vacation. We felt like the kids should see the Grand Canyon, and we set about putting together a trip that would take us from Colorado to the Grand Canyon before heading back home.

Cute W was born in Cañon City, Colorado, and we still have a bunch of relatives, some of whom live on a road named for his family. Our timing was excellent for baby-lovers, because there were two newborns to snuggle, and the kids had a great time playing with their cousins, second cousins, and cousins-once-removed at Cute W’s aunt and uncle’s house, where the kids alternated between exhausting themselves and recovering, often from moment to moment:

Canon tramp

For the 4th of July, we headed out to the Wet/Dry Parade, then barbecued. It was clear that our relatives take the 4th of July celebrations way more seriously than we do:

Canon fireworks cropped

In fact, between both girls’ exhaustion and M’s massive fire-phobia, they were practically begging to go back to the hotel and to bed.

The next day we visited the adorable and goofy North Pole amusement park in Colorado Springs. The whole thing is placed on the side of a mountain, so you’re running around up and down slopes the whole day, and at the top there’s a zipline that looks like Santa’s sleigh. The kids had a great time riding the rides. Although at one point after one too many times on something twirly, it really looked like J was going to barf. And then a complete stranger/fellow mama swooped in to the rescue with her brilliant solution: a small roll-on container of peppermint essential oil. One whiff and J instantly improved, taking her from green to chalk-white, which was a step in the right direction. The woman advised her to roll a little on her wrist so that she could sniff it as-needed. I think I need one of these for the car.

On Monday we headed out to phase 2 of our Colorado adventure, but even though we were running late and I was tense about keeping to Grandpa’s schedule, Cute W declared a mandatory scenic stop en route as we drove along the river. I was pretty much rolling my eyes as he pulled over, but once the kids started running around and exploring, I was glad he’d stopped. J pulled out her camera and got some great photos. Pretty good, right?

Canon cactus

I think I’m going to save phase 2 for the next post, but meanwhile, I have a bunch of reviews from later in the vacation now available on KidsOutAndAbout. You can check out my article on Preparing for a National Parks Vacation and my article on Visiting Moab, Utah, which links to a bunch of our adventures.

I Won’t Lie: I’m Sort of Missing School

I know: it’s been forever. I’ve written several posts that have been rejected right before I hit “publish” because I realized that they would annoy or embarrass my children. This was much easier when they were teensy. Ever since the kids have started school, I realize at the beginning of summer that summer is challenging. I am not one of those mothers who yearns for the cuddly, cozy infant-and-toddler days. I appreciate the space. This is especially true because I work from home, and losing that school time makes this more challenging. So here’s how the month of July has been:

Weeks 1 & 2: enormous vacation. And yes, I will post more about it, but I’d like to do it when I can also link over to my various review articles to give the basics. I’m hoping for later this week.

Week 3: no plans and a lot of recovery. I was laundering and writing review articles like a crazy person while my kids were watching too much tv.

Week 4: M was away at overnight soccer camp, J was mostly consumed with making me nuts in her own special J way. Mostly, she’s been bored, and with M away, lonely.  And this makes me crazy, because I would like her to be happy. In fact, I was thinking to myself that part of my problem is that I feel responsible for her happiness in the summertime in a way that (I don’t think) my parents ever did. Which was funny, because my psychic husband, Cute W, happened to send me a link to a TED Talk about this very issue.

Yeah, it’s a freakin’ high bar. At one point I made J a list of the many, many things that she could do with all of her free time this summer, and she seemed to like it, but then she set it aside and tried to go back to the tv before I wrangled her away from it. Sigh.

Now M’s returned, and even though the two of them were delightfully companions over vacation and they both missed each other, they’ve been bickering like crazy.

Basically, I’ve had altogether too much time with my beloved children. Yesterday, I drove off to Hannaford in a huff so that I could stockpile naan in our freezer because it makes me nuts to see my entirely privileged children fight over bread as if they were starving. In fact, if they were starving, they would probably be better at sharing. Or at least they would bicker more quietly. I also exited the car to walk home during the 5-minute wait outside of our local grocery store as Cute W picked up provisions. I need some space.

Luckily, I think next week will be better. M has a morning soccer camp with good friends, and I’m hoping that she’ll spend most afternoons continuing the fun with them. She is 13, and nothing is better than hanging out with her girlfriends. Meanwhile, I’ve found something to keep J happily occupied next week: Circus Theatricks Camp. She loves this–she’s done it at the Ciccotti Center for two years, and this is her first time at Sage Theatre Institute, but I’m just relieved, because I know it’s pure fun for her. I found out that there is still space at the camp, too, if anyone else is interested. They do an adorable show at the end of the week, too.

So I’m hoping that I will replenish my patience store next week and be a more chill mama for the following week, when we don’t have a dang thing scheduled. We’ll see how it goes.

Summer Traditions

A guest-kid recently asked me what kind of lemonade I buy. Because it is delicious. I’m telling you: it is delicious.

And my answer was smug: I make it!


Lemonade condensed

But there’s really nothing to be smug about, because it’s unbelievably easy. I just mix approximately 1 cup lemon juice (I usually use ReaLemon) with 1 cup sugar and 6 cups water.

Cute W makes it a little bit more labor-intensive because he’s a bit of a snob: he squeezes his own lemon juice and heats the sugar and some water together to ensure that it’s all dissolved to perfection, but whether you go lazy like me or awesome like him, either way it beats the hell out of store-bought.

At our house we’re also big fans of adding fresh mint to our lemonade, and the effect is so inspiring that J wrote a poem about it.

Okay, I’m way behind in catching up with all of you, and I’m sorry about that! I spent the first week after my vacation banging out a bunch of different articles about what we did while we are away, but they’re not quite ready for the world. Meanwhile, I wanted to share a fun summer tradition that was completely new to me: the Wet/Dry Parade.

We were visiting relatives in Colorado for the 4th of July, so we attended the Wet/Dry Parade in the small town of Florence, Colorado. When I raved about how fun it was, my Mom informed me that they do it near where she lives, in Tybee Island, Georgia. But I’ve never heard of one around here, and I think it’s so much fun that someone should start one. Or, if one does exist, please tell me when and where! And yes, yes: a teensy part of me felt guilty about the water wasted. But I’d skip watering my lawn and quite a few showers to go to another Wet/Dry Parade.

Here’s how it works. The beginning of the parade is your basic parade, aka a Dry Parade. If you are a little old lady in your lawn chair, if your child is water-phobic, or if you just want to stay dry for whatever reason, you can watch along the Dry portion and just enjoy the parade. In fact, if you are Super Lame and want to march in the parade, you can choose to march in the dry portion of the parade only. Along the route, there’s an intersection where these folks can make a turn and avoid the latter, wetter portion of the parade entirely.

Spectators who don’t mind getting wet can stand anywhere along the latter, wetter portion of the parade route. Those spectators who really want to get wet tend to congregate near the intersection that forms the barrier between wet and dry. On one of the corners of the intersection, folks set up huge barrels and tubs of water so that parade spectators who’ve brought along water guns or pump-blasters or whatever can refill them. There’s a bit of a dramatic pause as vehicles and marches cross from the Dry Zone to the Wet Zone. . .


Wet Dry Parade

. . . and then suddenly they’re looking at an unruly mob like this:

Wet Dry

It’s kind of crazy. It’s not for the little preschooler who doesn’t like water in his eyes. But for your typical school-aged kids, it’s awesome. And what makes it even better is the folks in the parade procession. They vary wildly. Some approach the parade as if it were a regular parade and attempt to protect themselves from the water onslaught. They might wear slickers and hats. I saw one little girl on a float with a large umbrella. Others go on the offensive, packing their floats with portable water tanks and hoses and other do-it-yourself creative water weaponry. Others take the dousing with mock dignity: think ladies in evening gowns and fancy hats, motorcycle gang members in leather chaps, police officers in full dress uniform, all marching to their soggy doom.

The best part–or, at least, according to me–is the way it felt like a huge community builder. Before going to the Wet/Dry Parade, I couldn’t imagine a situation in which I’d encourage my children to, say, blast a stranger with water. The teenagers clearly loved water-pummeling town leaders and authority figures, and for the most part, the grown-ups played back. It was a fun, silly way for people to connect in a whole new way.

After the parade, a fire truck set up one last way for everyone to get soaked.

Wet Dry Spray from Truck

I heard the water was so cold that the kids got brain freezes.

Western Vacation

As you may have guessed from the crickets chirping on the blog, our family was away on vacation for two whole weeks. It was truly epic. We flew out to Denver, spent a week in Colorado hanging around with Cute W’s family and hiking in the mountains, then went on our own for a few days in Moab, then a drive by Bryce Canyon and to the Grand Canyon, then a last day at Zion before flying home from Las Vegas. We had an amazing time and completely exhausted ourselves. Just as an example of our crazy pace of awesome fun, on our last day we woke up early in our tents along the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, invested $6-worth of quarters so that we could each take a 6-minute shower, drove a couple hours to Zion National Park and hiked, then frolicked in the river, drove a couple more hours, stopped to eat a ridiculous amount of Mexican food, drove along the strip while trying to explain Las Vegas to our children, then returned our rental car and took an 11:30 pm flight into Chicago followed by a delayed flight to Albany that finally, finally got us home in time for a late lunch the next day.

So there will be more details and funny stories and such, but I just wanted to check in. Cute W took literally thousands of photos, and the girls and I took a bunch, too, but here’s one of each of the girls.

J at lake

Here’s J at a lake in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. She and Cute W hiked 12 miles round trip to reach this lake, where there was still snow, as you can see to her left. Over the course of the two weeks we determined that J and Cute W are definitely more outdoorsy than M and me. On this day, for example, Cute W and J started their hike before dawn while M and I chose to sleep in and take the poky-puppy hike, and later, I was already sitting out on the deck and well into my second vodka tonic before Cute W and J got back down the mountain. Truly, J was a superstar, and I’m glad Cute W was up for the hike, because I sure as heck wasn’t.

M at Canyonlands

Here’s M at Canyonlands at sunset. It was unbelievably beautiful. We basically dragged ourselves there because we were super-tired that evening, but I was so glad that we went. The girls perked up and had so much fun splashing in puddles together and taking “artsy” pictures of each other and themselves with all of that dramatic lighting. We loved Moab so much.

But it’s good to be home! Hope you’re all having a terrific summer.


Fish Stories

A few weeks ago J attended a marathon bat mitzvah in which we dropped her off at our local neighborhood temple and picked her up roughly 3 weeks later up in Saratoga. Okay, you’re right, it wasn’t three weeks later–I’m exaggerating–but it was, like, seven hours later, which seems to be a truly courageous length of time to willingly assume custody of a passel of adolescent girls. I mean, doesn’t it? I suppose that, with enough chicken fingers, inflatable guitars, and a very loud deejay, one can avoid restroom weeping and/or rioting. And I’m only supposing because we barely slowed down the car at drop-off and pick-up.

Anyway, we hardly ever get to Saratoga. I don’t know why. It’s a lovely place. I guess that we’re too close to be tempted to act as tourists and too far for a casual lunch. So when we needed to schlep up and retrieve J in the evening, Cute W and I decided to treat ourselves to an early dinner date at The Merry Monk.


Okay, yum. I didn’t intend to write about it, necessarily, but then everything was delicious and I could not, in good conscience, continue eating without taking a photograph first. Cute W very patiently disengaged his hungry hands from shellsville while I tried to make things look presentable for an image to share. Ta da.

Our picks from the menu were the Americana mussels,  with bacon & blue cheese; and the Classic Meuniere mussels, with butter, garlic, and white wine. We went with the Chipotle and Roasted Garlic mayos for dipping the frites. I think that whenever we go back next time, I’ll want to order the exact same thing. Not because there aren’t other great choices, but because it was all so very delicious, I don’t think that I could return and not want them all again.

I don’t know what it is about Moules Frites that makes me love them so. Part of it, I think, is that Belgian food was enjoying a minor heyday in New York City when we were living there, after we both left school and started working and actually (barely) had enough money to eat out once in a while. So those frites aren’t just dipped in mayo: they’re lightly salted with nostalgia.

I also love, love, love mussels. Pretty much anytime we go out on a date, if mussels are on the menu, I want them. Which is peculiar because I can be a little bit fussy about seafood. I like a tuna fish salad, but only when it’s more celery than tuna. I keep trying–and failing–to like clams, oysters, and salmon.

Talking about fishiness that I love and fishiness that I hate reminded me of a couple of fish stories. First, fish I hate. Salmon. I know,  you guys. It’s really good for us. Normal adults like salmon. I would like to be a normal adult. I’ve tried and tried, but ewwwwww. No. So, long ago, when Cute W and I were dating, we went on a trip to Colorado so that I could meet his extended family. At one dinner, his grandmother served salmon, and I did an amazing job of eating it all and smiling and chatting and acting like I thought it was delicious. And then the next day we sat down to lunch, and guess what was on the menu? Salmon loaf, made with the leftover salmon! My reward for an excellent performance.

And now: fish & chips. I like fish & chips, but only if it’s really excellent fish & chips. You won’t find me picking up those frozen fish sticks, like ever. Same thing with crab cakes: I often find that I like the idea of crab cakes more than actual crab cakes, but I think that’s because they’re often not cooked well. I’m spoiled because my Dad is so good at making seafood, so I can’t just eat average stuff. Come to think of it, I’ve spoiled my children for most cookies for the same reason (if I do say so myself). But, anyway, back to the fish & chips.

When we lived in Brooklyn, along with enjoying the Moules Frites Heyday, we were fortunate to live just down the street from The Chip Shop. Oh, it is delicious. Oh, my gosh. The Park Slope location, the original location down the street from our old apartment, has shut down. Apparently the other location is still open, but I need to take a minute here. A moment of silence, if you will.


I’m alright. [Wipes eyes.] No, really. It’s fine. I’m fine.

Where was I?

Okay, so The Chip Shop was a favorite of ours. Now, for our last months in Brooklyn, I was pregnant with M. Backstory here, if you don’t already know it. At the time, I had a job working as a museum educator at the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum which is approximately way to hell and gone, otherwise known as a one hour and fifteen minute-long subway ride from our place in Brooklyn. I loved that job and I had a wonderful time, even when my boss was sure that I was going to go into premature labor from climbing too many stairs. But the subway ride became difficult. I was always starving by the end of my busy workday. Sometimes I’d run across the street and pick up a snack at the grocery store so that I could scarf it down on the train. But as time progressed, reasonable snacks just weren’t enough, and the meals that I would try to juggle along with my book and my belly just got too unwieldy for the train. I remember one embarrassing episode that involved a massive baba ghanoush spillage. So then I tried to hold out until I got home. In the train, I’d fantasize about whatever food I was going to eat, then I’d arrive home and eat a massive feast, then I’d fall asleep until Cute W arrived home from work, at which point I would act as if I hadn’t just eaten a meal, and we’d start cooking our dinner. Once I spent the entire train ride home thinking about the leftover Chinese food in our fridge only to discover that Cute W had dumped it. He trashed my Chinese food, and Oh Hell Yes He Knew My Wrath. To this day, Cute W is afraid to throw things away without checking with me first.

But on another day, somewhere around 49th Street I decided that I needed fish & chips and nothing else would do. Which was about par for the course, except that this time, Cute W unexpectedly arrived home early. He opened the door to see me hunched over  a massive spread of greasy newspaper covering the entire coffee table, malt vinegar spotting my smocked belly, cod becoming oily and rank as the remains of my feast cooled, and fists clutching limp fries. Cute W recounts the story by saying that my expression screamed, “Don’t look at me! I’m hideous!” I remember his expression clearly, too, and the best way to describe it is: imagine that we’re both characters on the Walking Dead and Cute W stumbles upon me feasting on a small child’s intestines. Of course, he recovered himself quickly and slapped a smile on his face because, of course, He Had Done This To Me and he was still terrified after the Leftover Chinese Food Incident. At that point, the jig was up, and he knew about my 4th Meal, which came well before Taco Bell’s. Luckily, we moved shortly thereafter. And a good thing, too, because that 90-minute commute was getting way too long for my nine months’ pregnant bladder.


On Father’s Day, we’d planned a visit to Ramblewild, a new tree-to-tree adventure park in the Berkshires, right next to Jiminy Peak. I was super-excited for some family-bonding fun, and then. . . I wasn’t. It was a horribly rainy day, remember? I was concerned that perhaps I had ruined Cute W’s day by committing us to a rain-drenched activity.

I didn’t need to worry. First of all, hello? It’s in a forest. That means plenty of leaf cover, and honestly? Hardly any rain reached us. Yes, things were a bit wet, but it was much better than I’d anticipated. And this is one of the aspects of Ramblewild that I love, that they are open year-round and rain or shine (only an electrical storm will shut them down). I do feel, sometimes, that we’ve got such an indoor culture that people tend to say, “Ugh, it’s January, I don’t want to be outside,” or “It looks like rain, so we can’t go for a walk.” And okay, yes: sometimes I do that, too. But I like the idea of embracing whatever’s outside and jumping into it. Kids love to jump in puddles and hunt worms in a rainstorm, and we only truly loved winter as a family once the kids started skating and skiing. So I was excited that Ramblewild is open even during the winter, complete with snowshoe rentals and fires outside to keep people toasty.

Okay, I got off track. So I arrived worried, and pretty soon I was psyched again. First because the place is fabulous. It’s only recently opened, and the lodge is gorgeous and smells like wood, and everyone is friendly and helpful.

It’s a bit of a hike from the parking lot/lodge area to the actual tree park, and we spent it getting a little tour of that patch of forest, with our guide giving us a quick natural history of the area and pointing out different varieties of trees. We also heard more about Feronia Forests and its other projects. Feronia Forests finds sustainable ways to make trees profitable without cutting them down. Along with Ramblewild, there are Mission:Maple products and Vertical Water, a water produced my maple trees, as well as the nonprofit Feronia Forward, which works with schools to get kids connected to nature. So, yay! Now, not only do you get to have fun, but we each get to feel like we’re The Lorax for having that fun. It’s a win-win.

hub from left of ladders

Okay, I already wrote an official review for KidsOutAndAbout, which you can find here. And, actually, I also read a couple of awesome reviews of Ramblewild here and here. I realized that I was doing quite a bit of basic introductory stuff, but here’s the stuff that you really don’t need to know, but maybe it will make you laugh.

Basically, I came into this experience perhaps a bit too cocky.  As I remember saying that time in college when I was drunk and casting off from the rail above a large flight of stairs, uneven-bar-style, my attitude is sometimes, “Don’t worry! I used to be a gymnast!” Alas, I used to be a gymnast a long time ago. It doesn’t feel like a long time ago, but if I count years. . . never mind. Shut up. But also, I felt cocky because I trusted the system. They have this Smart Belay system which makes it literally impossible to not be hooked onto something, and they do a little introduction on a mini ground-level course, and I was feeling good! And competent! And I was mostly competent. But also, arguably, the least competent member of my family. But I choose to argue that it was all cockiness and not lack of skill. Wait, have I ever told you that I used to be a gymnast? I have excellent balance. . . .

My first Fail was at the first zipline I encountered. I guess, come to think of it, that the only other ziplines I’ve ever done landed on the ground. Incidentally, the ground is a profoundly sensible place to end a zipline. But this zipline ended on another platform, set right into the middle of the course. Now, for our first foray, we’d decided to have me go last. And I was looking around, having a good old time, and not noticing the Ramblehands, helpful staff members who are always nearby, ready to assist, coach, or cheer you if needed. In fact, one thing I really loved about Ramblewild is that you  feel like you’re off on your own. There are eight different courses to explore, all starting from a central hub (that’s a view of the hub above), and while the Ramblehands are around, you don’t have to stick with any particular group or have a guide lead you. That’s excellent. Loved it. But at the beginning, I didn’t really realize that the Ramblehands would offer up words of advice. And since I was the last of the four of us, I missed a crucial little piece of advice that was offered when the first of us approached. This was that it’s a good idea to grab something in order to stay on the platform. That, if someone failed to do this, she would  start a slow-and-steady backslide into nowheresville. Oh, yeah. Maybe it was common sense. In any case, I could have ended up stranded there for the rest of the afternoon, but luckily a staff member threw me a rope and yanked me to where I was supposed to be. Phew.

Okay, next: observe, if you will, this delightful little “element,” as they call it. It looks like a bunch of upright logs attached to wires. Now, as we approached this little beauty, some staff member called up some coaching. He suggested that the easiest way to get across was to wedge your foot between the side of the cylinder and the wires. Well, I thought, that might be easier, but it seems like cheating. Wouldn’t it be more challenging and fun to actually trip from log-top to log-top, lilypad style?


aerial element where Katie fell

Well, it was absolutely more challenging, but since I am not, actually, a tree frog or a butterfly, I managed to flip one of the logs and fall (thank you Smart Belay system for saving me!), and because of the nature of this little element and the, umm, dramatic nature of my fall, I managed to get seriously tangled up in multiple logs-on-a-wire. And of course Cute W is right behind me and the Ramblehand below has been joined by a second one, because they are pretty sure that they’re already going to have to bail this lady out. But just like drunk-at-college Katie, I waved away all offers of assistance and managed to disentangle myself and proceed with as much dignity as I could muster. Which was, of course, not much. But more than if someone had to, I don’t know, get a ladder or something.

My next big challenge was this bad boy:


The Ramblewild folks figured you might get bored by just doing ziplines, so they offer other goofy options, like a skateboard or a trapeze.  This one was a saddle that traveled over a stream. Super fun. Now, I mentioned before that grabbing onto something is a key element of tree-to-tree zipline success, and this one was a doozy. M was the first in the family to do it, which might have been a miscalculation if she weren’t totally and completely awesome. She somehow managed to jump off her pony and onto the platform, then stood ready to help her little sister J, who was next in line and didn’t quite have the arm length to manage it on her own. I was next. Now, if you’ll look closely, you’ll notice that the saddle is suspended with two horizontal poles attached to cables. The bad news is that I totally slammed my shin into one of these poles as I made my clumsy dismount. The good news is that, even though I slammed my shin, these moments were possibly my favorite of the entire day. M was yelling out orders, telling me what to do, grabbing the saddle, hustling me onto the platform, and giving me the update on J’s progress, all almost simultaneously. She was in full-on, adrenaline-filled, crisis mode. It was really adorable. And impressive. She was so awesome and helpful and Team Family that I got a little teary-eyed. Although, that could have been related to the massive swelling that was rising from my shin.

And. . .  oh, okay! Here’s another crazy zipline, on a toboggan!


aerial element tobaggon

And I put this one in here because, after I formed a massive bruise on my shin, I stood in just exactly the right place so that, when I waited on the platform to help J off the toboggan, it knocked directly into my bruise. Oh, that hurt.

Also, it was only on the drive home that I learned that I was supposed to be bicycling my feet the entire time I was hanging from ziplines.  That explains why I kept spinning around. “Mom,” M said, exasperated, “She told us that at very beginning!” Apparently I hadn’t been listening properly. “Wait,” I said, “I thought that they just meant at the end. You know, like the whole ‘Hit the ground running’ thing?” All three members of my family looked at me like I was crazy. Then Cute W launched into an explanation of how it was “simple physics” that he thought was common knowledge to most adult people. Like how that’s a bicycle works. I don’t think I ever, ever really considered how a bicycle works. This is one of the differences between my husband and me.

But we had a terrific time! It was so fun. We only managed to make it through the four easiest courses during our three-hour visit. Then we had time for one more, and J wanted to re-do a favorite, and M thought she’d try the next level, and I was all, “Bring it!” because in spite of it all, I remained cocky. And then she literally climbed up the ladder to the next-level course, took a look at the first element, and changed her mind. At which point the kids went with Cute W one last time. In fact, J was a little bummed, because every time M was behind her she’d spend half the time saying, “Are you done yet? Can I go yet?” Which is annoying. And unnecessary, because you’re allowed to pass each other on the platforms. I chose to ignored that mild Sister Drama, and instead, I ran for my camera. Well, eventually I ran for my camera. First I had to climb down from the hub, and due to the Smart Belay system, which doesn’t allow you to completely unhook yourself until you’ve finished the course, a Ramblehand had to come and release me. Now that, folks, is some security!

I’d absolutely love to go and try the tougher courses. Because I’m cocky! And because it was fun! I think it would be a great moms’ outing, too. And if you live close enough, they do memberships, like go play outside instead of going to the gym. If we lived closer I’d love that.

Here we are enjoying a picnic I’d packed. I’m looking smug, because I’d totally planned an awesome Father’s Day, after all.

Katie and girls eating

Now, go over and look at the review on KidsOutAndAbout. Even if you’re tired of reading, there are more cute pictures!

J’s World

One of J’s great pleasures these days is berry picking.


Our next door neighbor installed a little patch between our houses, and for the last week or two we’ve been picking piles of berries. Here’s one day’s yield, and ended up picking another bowl later the same day:


Yumma. Our yield inspired Cute W to make his Good Fruit Pie Stuff. Which is delicious.

Why, yes. It’s berry-picking season. If you want to go, here’s the KidsOutAndAbout list of Summer Fruit Picking in New York’s Capital District: Strawberries, Cherries, Berries, and more! and here are my 10 Tips for Berry Picking With Kids.

Meanwhile, J’s creative pursuits could bankrupt me if I don’t watch out. Back when she working on her entrepreneurial project, which involved making a bunch of clothes pin dolls to sell, one of the characters was an army guy wearing camo and sporting a parachute. When it was time to make the parachute, J bypassed the massive pile of vaguely khaki-colored Hannaford bags and some bright green newspaper delivery bags and went straight for the recycled plastic bags. The ones I just use as wastebasket liners and leave in there unless there’s something super-gross, because even though they are trash bags, they’re too expensive to just throw away. I swear, it’s an uncanny sixth sense that she has.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across an unauthorized craft-in-progress that J was working on in the kitchen. “It’s a birdfeeder,” she explained, happy and proud. I checked out what these lucky birds would be eating: organic hemp seed, organic flax seed, sesame seeds, all stuck together with almond butter. . . . ummm, no. My friend Ms. Google suggested that oatmeal would work just fine, thank you very much. If those birds want fine dining, they’ll have to check somebody else’s backyard. Unless they like strawberries. Then they’re all set.

We are finally, finally winding down with school. In fact, on Friday morning I let J play hooky with me to visit miSci’s new exhibit, “Earth Exposed: Discover Our Planet’s Hidden Secrets.” She was mesmerized by the tornado.


Our visit was super-fun, and the exhibits were terrific for real interaction and experimentation. Along with the cool exhibits borrowed from San Francisco’s Exploratoreum, miSci also pulled out a bunch of their pretty minerals:



I highly recommend going for a visit. You can read my complete Review of “EARTH EXPOSED: Discover Our Planet’s Hidden Secrets” at miSci over on KidsOutAndAbout.

Tuesday is the girls’ last day of school. Hooray! We’ll be continuing the tradition of having a few of J’s friends over right after school. I’m getting them completely conditioned to come over to our house after school, and I have high hopes that our house will be the hangout when she hits middle school. Sure, M never wants to invite anybody over, but by golly, it’s going to be a whole different story with J and her little crowd (I hope).

I’m excited for the girls to have some serious free time. To do the important stuff, like practicing the balance-an-umbrella-on-your-palm trick.



Niagara Falls

I mentioned that J had a big gymnastics meet recently, but I don’t think that I mentioned that it was all the way near Buffalo. That’s a massive schlep, plus I wasn’t sure how the meet would go, so I decided that we should try to work a mini-vacation in. Before Sunday’s meet, J and I spent Saturday in Niagara Falls. Cute W and M stayed home so that M could go to her friend’s bat mitzvah.

I had somehow never visited Niagara Falls. The closest I came was on a visit to my aunt & uncle’s house. They planned an outing there, but since I was massively phobic about rain and it was a drizzly day, I believe I stayed home. Either that or I blocked it out entirely due to being traumatized by excessive mist. Have I mentioned that I had. . . issues as a child? Many of them have resolved themselves.

Now I know that many will say that the Canadian side is better, but Cute W, who represents cities and villages across New York State, made an impassioned defense of the American side, which is a beautiful free state park, even if they strongly encourage you to buy a $38 Discovery Pass to their many special attractions. He was practically chanting U-S-A as I considered my options, but I was happy to stay on the American side. With my tragic sense of direction and my keen awareness of how cars can kill people, I’d be working hard to act breezy and stress-free without having to worry about reading and speaking Canadian. Yes, I’m kidding. But anyway.

After a little research (including a review of KidsOutAndAbout), I decided to spurn the Discovery Pass but planned to do the Maid of the Mist boat ride and the Cave of the Winds attraction.

I had planned our trip so that we’d arrive in the area in time for lunch and spend the afternoon at the falls. After consulting Yelp, I offered J a choice of well-reviewed places of some of her favorite kinds of food, and she chose Indian, so we headed to Spices of India. This was basically a grocery store with a casual eating area and buffet. We loved the buffet, and we had fun wandering around the grocery store finding many, many items we’d never heard of before. We were tempted to buy them, but knowing that everything would be sitting in a hot car for the rest of the day helped us confine ourselves to a jar of mint chutney. Then when we arrived at Niagara Falls State Park I felt pretty silly, because the place is pretty much surrounded by Indian food–yes, you can pick up a hot dog, but you can also grab a samosa and curry just as easily. Who knew?

The place was also crazy-busy when we arrived, so the park’s parking lot was full, and I headed for a city garage a couple of blocks away. Since I had no idea where I was going, I was tremendously pleased to ditch the car, but J really hated the parking garage. The stairwell we descended to get to street level smelled strongly of sweaty hands on metal (think, playing on old-school monkey bars and then smelling your palms in August, but then imagine you’re a 14-year-old boy and make it six times stronger). In fact, when we walked back at the end of the day, J actually started gagging and convinced me to walk up the car ramps. So, you know: there’s that.

But the falls were lovely! J was impressed.


There was quite a sea of humanity, but they’re clearly experienced at taking care of bulk piles of tourists, because it was easy to find our first activity, the Maid of the Mist. As we approached the boat, J loved looking down at everyone getting ready to go on the boat with their blue ponchos.


There’s nothing like putting on a poncho to whip up a ton of excitement. Once we were on the boat, J was jumping up and down trying to see beyond taller passengers, but of course she’s way too old and mature to allow me to lift her myself. She managed to survive the embarrassment of me asking some guys to let her stand in front of them at the rail.


Our favorite part of the boat ride was afterwards, when you can climb up alongside the falls (if you click on the photo above you can see a snaking trail of blue-poncho-wearing tourists). We got very, very wet.


J, in her thin white shirt, was not super-psyched. I thought that the ponchos would be sufficient, but we ended up lingering on the observation tower to air dry for a while.

Next we headed across the pedestrian bridge to Goat Island on our way to the Cave of the Winds attraction. If I were to go again, I’d plan to arrive early enough to park in the lot, go on the boat ride in the morning, and then linger over a picnic lunch on Goat Island. It had some really lovely and serene spots that were, as they say, far from the maddening crowd. Here’s a map of the park. It’s genuinely a pleasant place to lie on a blanket or throw a frisbee.

Okay, so the Cave of the Winds attraction is really just a spot where they’ve built boardwalks and staircases right among the falls so that you can get up close and personal with the water. J and I had loved getting wet climbing the stairway after Maid of the Mist, but by the end we were feeling water-logged and red-eyed, even with our sunglasses and ponchos. Again, if I were planning another visit, I’d leave a little more time for hanging out and playing, maybe getting hot, before doing the attraction, because J was pretty much done as soon as she arrived. This also may have been because she was annoyed with me. More on that later.

For Cave of the Winds, your timing is key. They actually rebuild all of those wooden walkways and staircases every year (or so the staffer told me), because everything get dislodged and destabilized with the winter ice. So when we went, the so-called “Hurricane Deck” was not available. If that access is important to you, you should call ahead. Second, we were fortunate to arrive as roughly a gajillion gulls were nesting and tending to their eggs, and in some cases, their chicks. These birds were very close to the walkways, and it was great fun to watch them. It was by far our favorite part of the attraction. If you’d like to see them, too, keep in mind that we went the last weekend of May, and there were mostly unhatched eggs and just a few chicks when we visited, so early to mid-June is optimal time to visit and see them.


And that’s why J got annoyed with me. Because of this bird:


Well, not exactly because of the bird, who, you’ll see if you click on the picture, is taking care of an egg. It was the tourist guy who, moments later, was trying to touch this bird while this bird was freaking out and flapping its wings to protect its future chick. And the guy just kept trying to stroke the bird and then I told him to stop and then I said it again and then I yelled at him until he backed off. In retrospect, I don’t believe that English was his first language. And I don’t endorse shouting at strangers. But I was definitely on Mama Bird’s side. J, meanwhile, quickly moved a discreet distance away from me so that she wouldn’t be seen with me.  I meanwhile, stood there next to the bird with my bitch face on until the man moved along. J was embarrassed and unmoved by my argument that since everyone was wearing hooded yellow ponchos, we already pretty much blended in with the crowd. Frankly, it put a damper on the next half hour or so, which was unfortunate, but it was not like I made a conscious choice to be humiliating to my daughter. It was pure instinct. I am instinctively humiliating. Oh, well.

We ended up staying at Niagara Falls much later than I expected, but not so late that J wasn’t begging to jump into the hotel pool as soon as we checked in. I let her go because I thought that we might meet up with teammates for a group dinner, and by the time I realized that that wasn’t going to happen, it was well after 7 pm. Sadly, my plan to eat hotel food was foiled by the lack of a hotel restaurant, and when J requested Chipotle, I was so starving that I agreed. I left her at the hotel chatting with friends and then watching tv in the room, because it looked like a quick trip.

The GPS said 3 miles, but the drive was a hop on-and-off the highway, just the kind of stuff I hate. I arrived and there was an enormous line, and luckily I’d only waited on line a few minutes when I realized that I’d accidentally put my wallet into my overnight bag instead of my purse when I checked in. That’s right: back to the hotel. I retrieved the wallet, navigated back to Chipotle with one fewer wrong turn than the first time I’d driven there, and arrived to discover that the line was almost exactly as long as it had been twenty minutes ago. When I finally got up to order, I found out that J’s favorite meat was unavailable and I almost started crying right there. Instead, I got two different kinds of burrito bowls made to J’s specifications, then begged them to dump all the other delicious toppings in another bowl so that I could throw them onto whichever bowl she rejected. For the record, J is willing to accept steak, too, albeit grudgingly.

Oh, and the meet went fine. Some successes, some disappointments. It was good to get home.

It’s off topic, but I wanted to let you know about a giveaway for a trip to Rochester. I’ve been to many of these places (see some reviews here) and they’re super-fun, so if you’re looking for a quick family vacation, you should enter.


Day Out With Thomas® Giveaway!

Thomas logo

Are you and your kids huge Thomas the Tank Engine™ fans? Then here’s a giveaway for you!

Peep! Peep! Thomas the Tank Engine™ is celebrating friendship at Day Out With Thomas®: The Celebration Tour 2015, and families across North America are invited aboard! Little engineers everywhere are invited to join Thomas when the #1 Engine pulls into Utica’s Union Station June 19-21 and June 26-28 for Day Out With Thomas®: The Celebration Tour 2015, presented by Fisher-Price and sponsored by MEGA Brands and all inclusive Hard Rock Hotels.

This fun-filled event offers little engineers and their families the opportunity to take a ride with Thomas the Tank Engine, star of the popular Thomas & Friends® series. In addition, children will meet Sir Topham Hatt™, Controller of the Railway and enjoy a day of Thomas-themed activities including arts & crafts, storytelling and more.

This year, Thomas & Friends celebrates 70 years of friendship.  All aboard the Best Friends Express for an unprecedented year of Thomas-themed programs and activations as the #1 blue engine celebrates friendship with fans around the world.

Tickets for Day Out with Thomas: The Celebration Tour 2015 are on sale now and available by calling Ticketweb toll-free 866-468-7630, or by visiting  or  Ticket prices are $24.00 plus tax (peak times, 11:00am – 2:00pm Saturdays and Sundays) and $20.00 for off peak times for ages 2 and up (service charges and fee may apply).

You can enter to win a family four-pack of tickets to Day Out with Thomas: The Celebration Tour 2015 for Sunday, June 28th at 3 pm leaving from Utica Station (likely 1 to 2 hours west of many of you). To enter, just comment below by Wednesday, June 17th at 6 am with answer to one of these questions:

1) Who’s your child’s favorite character from Thomas & Friends?


2) What quality do you most value in a mama (or dad) friend?

I’ll randomly select the winner when the drawing closes.

Good luck!

Thomas train

4th Grade is Tough

I should have asked this before, but can you do me a HUGE favor and fill out this KidsOutAndAbout survey about your favorite local kid-friendly places? I appreciate it!

My last post was originally going to be called Yin & Yang, because sometimes I feel like my daughters grow up as if they’re playing a relay race, passing the baton back and forth. “I’m feeling really low-maintenance,” one might say, and the other one will sigh and reply, “Well, in that case I better bring out my inner uber-bitch.” You know, because it’s important that parents stay challenged.

And with M in a delightful stage, the pendulum has swung over to J. I blame too much work with just a splash of pre-pubescent hormones.

Except that I realized that her high-maintenance phase isn’t misbehavior. She’s just stressed, and it’s hard to be around. In the mornings she is frantic to get out on time, which can be aggravating because her “on time” means “one of the first kids to arrive at school, always.” In the afternoons, she is moaning over homework, then she makes me feel like I’m shipping her off to a gulag when I’m politely telling her that she can’t watch tv because we need to go to one of the activities she (theoretically) loves. In the evening, she’s overtired, but it takes forever to get her to settle in and sleep. And then, especially since we sprung forward, she’s up at the crack of dawn and doing things when she could really use a little more rest. I have told her not to get out of bed before 6 am, but I can’t enforce this rule properly because I am always fast asleep at that time.

Fourth grade has been brutal. I expected this, because in our school, especially, all the parents talk about how demanding 4th grade is (and how 5th grade is a vacation afterward–fingers crossed on that one!). The kids had their huge New York project, and way back on April 30th I’d said that “I’m hoping that J can go into coast mode.” And then, instead, we jumped right into another huge, anxiety-causing project. It’s not that I hate the project so much, except that we could have used a week of normalcy before kicking back into high gear. So once again I’m hoping that the worst will be over after today, when the latest project wraps up. Although we’ll still have her reading book, which means she’ll want to take notes while she’s in bed. I really can’t believe that all of the kids in her class are taking the ridiculous number of notes that she’s taking while reading her book. I want to wrestle the little lapdesk away from her and shriek, “Just enjoy the damn book!”

It’s interesting, though, because this whole year I’ve felt like J’s been a little bit less joyful about school. Then, yesterday, we had a conversation in the car. I asked her, now that the school year was almost over, how she thought her current teacher ranked among the others that she’d had. She thought for a long stretch, and then she said, “Well, most of the other teachers are meaner to the other kids and nicer to me.” After a little probing, we figured it out. This year’s teacher doesn’t play favorites. Which is great, in theory, unless you’re the kid who is always, always teacher’s pet. J behaves well in school, making her an instant magnet for teachers’ affections. Then she walks to and from school, which offers her a little bit of extra time with her classroom teacher. She loves to  do little jobs or chat with her teachers about favorite tv shows or their kids’ antics at home. This year’s teacher is terrific, but what feels like standard professionalism to grown-ups feels, to J, like he’s aloof. J summed it up: “You know I really like being the teacher’s pet slash friend, and that aspect was lacking with [my teacher].” Funny, huh? But you’ve got to think that all of the kids who tend to get ignored or labeled naughty had a terrific year.

Beyond school and homework, J’s been a little bit stressed because she’s feeling torn about her activities. She does a long gymnastics practice three times a week, and lately she’s been interested in field hockey. She did a field hockey clinic over the winter in a gym, and we were eagerly awaiting information about more field hockey in the spring. And, of course, it turned out to be scheduled in direct conflict with gymnastics. Now, gymnastics is long enough that even though field hockey takes up the first hour of practice, I could still drive J over to gymnastics afterwards. In fact, the way traffic works, it means a smidgen more free time for her. I was okay with her missing some gymnastics, and so we went ahead and signed up. But then J started fretting about missing practice before her last meet of the season, the “states” meet. Except that she was fine missing gymnastics for her friend’s birthday party and Niska-Day. This is in contrast to M, who has skipped the most fun things possible (overnight camping parties, excursions to Great Escape, etc.) without hesitation because she’s so devoted to soccer.

And here’s the deal: J’s had a tough gymnastics year. In previous years she’s had moments of glory on the podium, but this year? Not so much. So I really, truly didn’t think that an extra ten hours (or 30 hours, for that matter) of practice was going to bring her medals  at a meet that would have stronger competition than all of the other meets where she hadn’t placed this year. Not that I said this to her, of course. But if I thought that she had a good chance of placing really high, I might have urged the practice. Instead, my attitude is: where’s the fun? This is a little stress-puppy who needs some fun. Part of this, too, is colored by witnessing how much M loved being on her school soccer team this year. There’s no school team for gymnastics and no one from her school is on the team, so a back-up sport would also offer a back-up social group at school. Yes, middle school looms. And the thing is that gymnastics has been great at teaching J to persevere and to use her perfectionist tendencies for Good instead of Evil, and I think her coaches are terrific, and they do a wonderful job of getting the girls to cheer each other on. But I also hate that someone feels like they have to specialize so much at 10 years old. And, with field hockey, I was really proud of J for trying something new (I wrote about how nervous she was on that first day).

J ended up skipping most of the field hockey before her big meet, which was last weekend, and now she’s attending field hockey again. But when I picked her up after her field hockey-gymnastics combo yesterday, she was bemoaning the fact that she’d missed a couple of really fun things at gymnastics. And I said that she could choose what she wanted to do, so we’ll see what happens.

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I have a feeling I’m not alone about the homework fatigue. I shared this post about homework on the KidsOutAndAbout Facebook page, and commenting teachers and parents agree that we wish the kids would just go play outside, dammit. So if we all agree, why aren’t we doing it?