Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Graduation! And New York.

I've been wanting to go back up to NYC for years now, and thought that at the ripe old age of almost 6, Josie would at least be old enough to have fun on the trip, although I expect she won't remember too much of it. So, using her graduation from kindergarten as the excuse, we went to NYC back in June. But first - graduation :)

I took some truly stellar pictures of the girls on their last day of school. I knew the pictures weren't coming out well, but for some reason I thought it was funny and didn't bother trying, say, a different location, so these are the pictures of the conclusion of their 2016-17 schoolyear to be saved for posterity. :-\

Josie had her graduation ceremony later that afternoon, where her class sang a modified version of "Dynamite" that addressed how they were "going to rock this school" (which she had been practicing at home for weeks), she got her diploma folder, told everyone she wanted to be a ballerina when she grew up, and got a certificate for being a "Future Author".

Then, a few days later, we headed out on our trip. Due to various circumstances, we were going up on Sunday and coming home Wednesday, which was not my first choice but ended up working out pretty well, I think. After mulling over the different options of getting there (bus was out of the question, given our motion sickness, and trains were a maybe since we both tend to handle them better... until I realized just how miserable it could be trapped in a train for hours on end if we did end up getting sick), I finally decided to drive. I am not at all comfortable driving in cities, so I also tried to account for that by choosing to stay in Brooklyn, driving during non-rush hours, etc. I checked the route Google Maps was taking us on before we left, and there was only a little bit of city driving once we got off the highway in Brooklyn that I figured I could handle, and then I planned to ditch the car for the rest of the trip until it was time to head home.

So it was a fairly uneventful drive as far as New Jersey, where I then mindlessly accepted a rerouting to save some time, not thinking to review where we were being rerouted to. By time I realized that we were not, in fact, going straight into Brooklyn, we were basically about to enter Manhattan: the exact place I did NOT want to drive. Other options would have added a bunch of time to the drive by that point, so after getting super shaky and nervous about the drive, I somehow seemed to have managed to get through my anxiety and come out the other side. Because I was feeling quite zen and calm by time I got through the Holland Tunnel, and actually feel like I conducted myself pretty well driving through Lower Manhattan. Not that I wanted to, but I guess it was nice to start off our adventures with a sense of accomplishment. :-\

Speaking of accomplishments, within minutes of us arriving at our Airbnb, Josie lost her first tooth while eating an apple.

After Josie and I finished shrieking about her tooth, we then got on the train for what was supposed to be our first trek to Manhattan (if not for the fated rerouting). Josie was a huge fan of the train, and seemed perfectly happy to ride it for a total of at least a couple of hours each day. Granted, she got to stand on her own if it wasn't too crowded (and dance around a bit), and play games on my phone if it was, so that certainly seemed to help her tolerance of it. I was also backpatting myself again since we managed to take the subway all over the place and I didn't once get off at the wrong stop. My first trip to NYC (during the blackout in 2003, which made for a uniquely memorable trip), we apparently just could not figure out the right train to get on, since literally every single time we rode the subway, we ended up just having to get off and walk when we got within the general vicinity of wherever we were attempting to go. A couple of additional trips, more research, and a GPS appear to have made quite a difference in our success rate ;)

Anyway, we got back to Lower Manhattan, walked around for a bit, looking at all the tall buildings, and went over to see the Charging Bull / Fearless Girl sculptures near Wall Street. It was completely overrun with people, so we moved on fairly quickly... to an ice cream truck, where I quickly realized that only bringing $6 cash was not my brightest move ever. So no food trucks for us, and alas, it also limited us from going to truly hole in the wall restaurants.
[Josie and some tall buildings]
[Josie and the closest we got to the Statue of Liberty (i.e., Battery Park)]

I had researched a few activities and restaurants for each day so that I wouldn't have to worry about making too many uninformed decisions on the fly, and while most of the activities were geared towards things I thought Josie would be interested in and have fun doing, there were a couple of things for me on the list too. So although we skipped the Tenement Museum this time, we did go up to the 9/11 Memorial. I wasn't really planning on explaining too many of the details to Josie, but she started asking about all the names on the memorial, and so I made an attempt at explaining that day to her in an age-appropriate way. Not sure how successful I was because I ended up in tears and she seemed a bit upset, but then she started making shadow puppets so I guess she wasn't too traumatized by what I told her. It's a balancing act, trying to explain the world we're living in to her but to also let her be a kid.
[One World Trade Center, Josie's choice for her favorite building in NY]
[One of the reflecting pools]

We then called it a day, since we had both walked far more than normal and it was so hot out (and we didn't have any ice cream). So we went back to the apartment, where I quickly realized that I am spoiled from having central air. I sent the below picture to Ryan at 9pm, after blasting the a/c unit for several hours. So 88 degrees was better than the mid-90s it had gotten up to in the apartment, but still made for a not very refreshing night's sleep. At least I didn't have to worry about sleeping through the night and missing my first Tooth Fairy duties ;) 

The next day we went to the Empire State Building. Lines weren't too bad on a Monday morning, so we made it up to the top pretty quickly. Josie was surprisingly excited about looking at every single view on each of the two floors we went on, and talked about this excursion the most out of anything else we did in New York.

This was supposed to be our full day in Manhattan, but we ended up leaving the ESB a bit later than planned, and so we skipped going to Times Square and instead got back on the subway for the long trip up to the Natural History museum. Given our cash issues with the ice cream trucks (it was seriously so hot while we were there, so I was right there with Josie in craving ice cream), I had told Josie we would go to the Shake Shack right by the museum for some shakes. Only once we finally got there around 2pm, the line was out the door and around the corner. So we had a moment of reckoning on a park bench there as it was apparent there was to be no ice cream or shakes in our immediate future... and we had somehow not even had lunch yet. So our trip to the museum ended up being a trip around the museum, as we basically just walked around the outside of the thing and got right back on the subway, went almost right back to where we had just been in Midtown, and went to the Shake Shack location there. The line was much better, we got food and milkshakes, and life was good again.

We made it to about 3:30 that day before throwing in the towel again and going back to the apartment. Have I mentioned how hot it was there? So even though we were going back to a crazy hot apartment, that also meant we could get the a/c cranking so that maybe it would be a reasonable temperature by nightfall :) We also had a little mini-adventure brewing with our Airbnb, since the smoke detector kept going off due to a low battery, and our host and I hadn't been successful in connecting to resolve it. So I offered to go pick up batteries and take care of it myself, which was much easier than many phone calls and texts to coordinate a time she could come over to change the battery since she worked nights.

It was actually pretty fun to take care of this little task, though - I already felt like we were experiencing more of the city by staying in an apartment vs a hotel, and so doing some shopping helped add to that feeling too. So, we ran errands: stopped at the international market to pick up some groceries, the hardware store to pick up the batteries (which we then got to repeat later, as I realized I got Ds instead of 9V...d'oh), and a Spanish restaurant to pick up some food to bring back for dinner. We then got back to the apartment and watched the only kids' movie there, The Princess and the Frog (Josie tolerated watching her first "grown-up" movie the previous night - The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - but wasn't enthusiastic enough to continue down that path).

The next day, Tuesday, was our Brooklyn day. On the agenda was a trip to the Brooklyn Zoo in the morning and the Brooklyn Children's Museum in the afternoon. So first up, we went to a Cup of Brooklyn (apparently we only could go to places with "Brooklyn" in the name), which Josie decided was "our" coffee shop because she loved it so much. I attribute this primarily to the fact that I got her a muffin there rather than the egg croissant I had gotten her at the previous day's coffee shop.

Then we headed out to the Brooklyn Zoo. This was probably the one excursion that really made no sense to not drive to, since it was maybe a 15-minute drive from our apartment and taking the subway was closer to an hour... and that's not even counting the rather long walk from the train station to the museum :-\

But we finally made it there mid-morning, and basically settled in for the day. This was sort of the theme of the trip - we had our rough agenda, and then we did maybe half of it each day and that was fine. My plan for the trip was to try to let Josie stay wherever we were for as long as she wanted, so that's what we did at the zoo. So we went through all the exhibits inside, wandered around outside, had lunch there, did more wandering outside, had ice cream there (they took credit cards ;) ), got the cutest little red panda stuffed animal for Audra, and then finally made our way back to the train just at the beginning of rush hour.
[A split second after Josie finally saw the peacock that I had kept asking her to watch out for]
[Under the octopus]
[Josie the turtle]
[Josie the prairie dog]
[Josie the frog]
[Josie the bird]

The apartment was a million degrees when we got back because, again, IT WAS SO HOT THERE. One of the reasons we went in June is because I thought it wouldn't be that hot. I was wrong. But besides the heat, I did love our apartment - hopefully we'll get a chance to stay there again sometime :)
[Can you find the slightly creepy Josie?]

So we had some leftovers as our final dinner in New York, watched The Princess and the Frog AGAIN, and went to bed.

Next morning, we took our last walk down past the school and the police station that was on the way to the train station. Josie seemed to enjoy ditching the car more than I anticipated, and she did great walking for miles all over the city every day, and was super excited every day about getting to walk to places and take the train. So the sight of her skipping through all the (parked) police vehicles at the police station was not a one-time occurrence.

We went back to "our" coffee shop again, and Josie was apparently especially adorable that morning because she managed to get a free cookie from the barista. So we had breakfast, did some people watching until it seemed that rush hour was dying down, and then we headed home... and of course, my GPS routed us back through Manhattan, but it was no big deal this time ;)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Baltimore & Lancaster

I'm clearly behind on things again, so maybe I'll have Josie's kindergarten graduation pictures up by time the next school year starts ;)

So the week after we got back from Michigan back in May, we went to the Baltimore Aquarium for my mom's birthday. The girls were pretty excited about their first trip to a full-fledged aquarium, and I think my favorite parts were petting the jellyfish, seeing all the different kinds of jellyfish there, and... really, anything related to jellyfish.

The next trip was to head back to Lancaster, PA to go to Dutch Wonderland with our friends. Their two girls are close in age to Josie and Audra, so it worked out really well for the big girls and the little girls to pair off for the rides. The plan had been to drive up Saturday, go for the 3-hour "preview" that's included in a 1-day ticket that evening, and then go back to the park on Sunday from opening time until 3ish before heading home.

After the weather forecast showed some nasty weather expected for that Sunday, though, we made a quick change of plans and drove up Saturday morning instead and just went to the park the one day, from just about opening time to just about closing time. I actually think it worked out much better that way, since it was nice to just spend most of a day there without breaking it up over a couple of days (assuming we could have motivated ourselves to go back twice in two days anyway), and then we still had a good chunk of the day to get everything in order for the week once we got back on Sunday. I'm realizing how much more I like to come back from vacation at least half a day prior to a work day, so a vacation that ends on a Sunday morning and doesn't wring out every last second of available vacation time is fine by me ;)
[The inaugural ride for the littles]
[Sno-cones were a highlight of the day]

Since Josie and Audra loved the water show so much our last visit, we made a point to do it again this time. It really is a lot of fun, and I'm pretty sure even Ryan chuckled on occasion. 
[Pardon my goofy smirk, but Audra's facial expression - and concerned brows - were too cute]
[Despite the squinting, Josie's vision is apparently 20/20... for the moment]

Audra begged to get to ride a real horse, so I forked over some ridiculous amount of money (more than $3, which is what I would have been good paying) for her to be led around for 5 minutes... but then it seemed worth it after seeing how excited she was. I say I don't want the girls to get into horses due to the time and money required for that particular hobby, but I also still refer to 2002 as the year I "retired" from horses... and see where I am now. Not quite as horse crazy as before, but 30 years in, I'm still riding (albeit less frequently) and it's still my happy place. So we'll see - the plan is to assess the potential of starting lessons for the girls after they each turn 7. My money's on Audra being the one who gets bitten by the horse bug :)

Although the girls were still holding up pretty well by the end of the day, the adults were fading a bit... especially the guys. So we called it quits around dinner-time, and headed out to Ryan's choice: Lancaster Brewing Co. It turns out a brewery with kids' menus was exactly what we needed to end a fun weekend :)
[Ryan was mostly awake here, and at least in the vicinity of the girls - so that still counts as quality family time ;) ]