Well, this is long overdue. I've been back a week already and I have yet to mention a thing about my trip. It was really fantastic. I had a great time and hated to leave. It was great seeing IP and the fam. I wish we lived closer to each other. My first day was exhausting, although I did sneak some Wheat Thins on the plane so that I wouldn't starve to death. Security in SA was a breeze. Really, I expected worse. The thing that took forever was that they had to hand-search my bag of 35mm film. I wish I had a digital camera, but maybe someday I'll have the money. I looked into selling off my old cameras to buy a new digital SLR, but I wouldn't have made enough money out of all of them to compensate for a new camera. Oh well. Anyway, the flights went about as smoothly as you can expect. The commuter jet from St. Louis wasn't as small as the last one I'd been on, although my carry-on bag still didn't fit in the overhead bin (but at least the plane had an overhead bin--I've been on one that didn't) but we didn't have to descend from the jetway and climb on the plane via the door, so it was markedly better. I arrived in Philadelphia and tried to navigate to where I thought IP would be waiting for me, but I got there and so no familiar faces and I started to get nervous. Did I take a wrong turn? Luckily, I'd been smart enough to program her number into my phone, so I called her and she just said she'd been stuck in traffic and she was about 10 minutes out. Whew!
So I went down to baggage claim because that was where the exit was and waited down there on a bench and read. It didn't seem nearly 10 minutes before IP called and said she was outside, so I went out and found her. She gave me a big hug, and I waved to the kids, who were smiling big as well. I was really relieved to have made it and to have been found. IP was really apologetic, but I assured her it was okay. I was surprised at how big the kids were now. Natalie had been 4 when I saw her at R's wedding, but she was now 9 years old. And the little baby Ryan is now 6 because he just had a birthday! Wow. Before we did anything, we just wanted to get back into NJ, so we left Philadelphia and crossed the river. Then we thought we'd try to find something to eat that wouldn't be too unhealthy for me. First we tried Applebee's and followed the exit signs off the highway before IP remembered that it had burned down recently. So we tried to find something else and IP saw a sign for this place called Panera Bread, which is a chain, but we don't have one here in SA. But it was all soups and sandwiches, so I chose a bowl of French onion soup and an apple for a side. Poor IP had to run out and make a phone call, though, because she said her mom's friend passed away about 20 minutes earlier and she needed to talk to the medical examiner. This ended up taking forever as arrangements hadn't been made. I felt sorry for IP dealing with this, and it ended up taking up the next day with phone calls, too.
But that evening we were just talking and talking and it ended up being after midnight when we went to bed! Luckily that week she was on vacation. The next day we went to Grounds for Sculpture. It's really hard to describe. But it's this large park area where there are lots of outdoor sculpture that the kids could touch. Plus, there were indoor galleries there, too, which were housing glass exhibits at the time we were there. And the grounds were landscaped and there were hidden alcoves with sculptures and places to explore, so the kids loved it. There were other sculptures that were 3-D renditions of famous paintings like Manet's Dejeuner sur l'Herbe. There was a pretty water garden there, too, which was near the beginning.
That took a good portion of the day there, but it was fun and it was pleasant weather and not too hot.
The next day we had to go to Philadelphia to help IP's mom fill out some paperwork for the funeral home to do the cremation. IP's mom speaks English fine, but she's always afraid she's not understanding something right. So, we decided we'd go over there and help her out in the morning, then do something else while we were there. So the morning was spent at IP's mom's store, where we ended up helping a few customers in addition to the paperwork as Mom ran to fax the paperwork when it was finished. Then, we went to the U Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The garage was expensive, so we parked by meter and paid for 2 hours. The museum was really cool with a lot of Egyptian artifacts, but we realized it was going to take longer than 2 hours. So, we got something to eat and IP ran out to pay the meter. She could only pay for another hour as it was only 3 hour parking, though. So we had to skip a lot of stuff, including the Polynesian exhibit and some cool artifacts from Ur, which is one of the oldest cities. We ran briefly through China and Japan, then ran upstairs to where the mummies were, which is what the kids wanted to see. Overall, it was a nice museum. I just wish we could have seen everything. Then, IP drove me by the Rocky steps at the Museum of Fine Art (again, something else I would have loved to see, but it was getting toward rush hour and it was $7 to park, plus whatever the museum admission would have been--and the museum was HUGE--I doubt we could have seen much of it). I took some pictures of the steps for Dad, though, as I'm sure he'd wish he'd seen them, although I couldn't get any shots of the statue as it was hidden behind parked cars and pedestrians.
The next day was Ryan's belated birthday party. He didn't get to have his party on his actual birthday because he and Natalie were in Illinois visiting family. So he had his party that day and a few of his friends made it for a wading pool and sprinkler sort of water party. Plus there was pizza, a pinata, and cake and ice cream. So the kids loved it. One of the favors IP had picked were these temporary tattoos, so the kids put those on as soon as they got them. IP and I ran out later and got groceries at one point, and we stayed up talking a little more. I thought the kids would pass out, but they were excited because the next day we planned to go to New York. Natalie kept telling me about the cool Toy's 'R Us that's there and she hoped we'd see it. It was actually hard to get the kids to sleep at night. They were sharing a room so that I could have Natalie's room. Apparently, the only way they could do this was by putting a camp cot in Ryan's room for one of them to sleep on as Ryan only had a twin bed. I felt horrible that Natalie was supposed to sleep in the cot the whole week and a half that I'd be there, but the kids would actually fight over who "gets to sleep in the cot". So, I felt bad for nothing.
The next day, I was as jazzed as could be. We had to stop first at IP's hubby Travis' work. Poor guy had been fighting with this one air conditioner all week as it kept shutting down. As he's a manager it was sort-of his responsibility to take care of it. So we went over there on a Sunday and checked it, and it wasn't working. But there was a ping pong table in one corner of the warehouse, along with a badminton net. So IP and I played badminton a while and the kids played ping pong. Then we switched around until everyone got to play everything. We were thoroughly exhausted by the time Travis said it was time to go. I was hoping we weren't too tired to walk around Manhattan. But a cool sip of water was all we needed to perk up and the drive over wasn't too bad. We drove to Staten Island first. Then, we took the passenger ferry across to Manhattan. It was a great view, actually, and I took a few photos.
It's not actually 1998, of course. It's the stupid camera malfunctioning. I'd actually SET it to NO DATE.
We took the shuttle bus to the train station, passing by the WTC site. It's mostly blocked off, but you could see through rips in the plastic sheeting of the construction being done there. It's just sad that they have to do anything like that at all, though. All the buildings are so close together there, too. I mean, it must have been awful that day.
Anyway, Travis was the only one who could figure out the subway maps, so he took us to the right spot and told us to go up to 53rd street then turn right to get to MoMA. He was taking the kids to Central Park. I think we were on 8th Ave, but I could be wrong. No we were on Broadway, I think because we met there later and walked to Times Square. Well, whatever. We walked up to 53rd Street, then turned right and kept going and going and going past block after block after block. We finally came to the end of 53rd Street and we were in a questionable neighborhood. IP called Travis and he said the equivalent of "Oops, I meant turn left", so we turned around and walked all the way back, stopping to get something to eat. IP got a sandwich and I got a chicken pita. To save time, we ate as we walked. The great thing about Manhattan is that there are trash cans every so often, so we could discard our litter before we got to the museum. And the museum was this huge site with buildings across the street, too. But it had been blocked off from view because of this work being done next door and this huge wooden awning type thing to protect pedestrians. Anyway, we got in and we knew ahead of time that admission was $20 because we'd looked online. We also knew they closed at 4:30, so we wanted to be sure to see what we wanted to see. For me that was the paintings. The rest of it was stuff I don't really find all that interesting, like architecture and set design. So we went up and saw the painting and sculpture. There were some really famous paintings there, which I'd been hoping to see, including Van Gogh's Starry Night and some of Jackson Pollock's drip paintings. They had lots of Rothko, Stella, Judd, etc., too. But mostly, if you're a huge Picasso fan, that's the place to go. There are tons and tons of his paintings there. Really, I was never a huge Picasso fan. I can appreciate his work, but it doesn't really get to me the way other paintings can. But we saw what we came to see, then browsed the museum store. They had some cool things, but it was all expensive. I mean, I guess they're assuming only rich people go to museums or something, I don't know. I saw a cool keychain, but it was $12, whereas I wanted to spend about $7 or less. So I didn't buy it, but there was a sign saying there was more in the store across the street. We walked over there and looked around. It was stuff that was more expensive than we'd just seen, including some furniture and housewares. I'll admit, it was cool and all with unique styling and sometimes ingenious features. Really, if I could have afforded it, I'd have gone crazy in that store. But I finally splurged and bought the $12 keychain (one of the cheaper souvenirs). It's really cool, though, because it's designed in a ring and other smaller rings attach to it, but can easily be removed if you need to.
After that, we met up with the rest of the fam, and we walked to Times Square.
Along the way we saw MTV Studios and a group of fans waving to a band as they were leaving the studio. I have no idea who the band was, but we saw them through the window. IP took this shot with me and the kids:
It was tons of fun, and we saw the Toys 'R Us that Natalie was raving about. It was HUGE. 4 stories! There was this ferris wheel inside that people were riding and lots of demonstrations in-store, plus the displays were cool. There was a huge mechanical dinosaur by a section of Jurassic Park toys. There were other sections, including some imported stuff from Germany or Japan or whatever (Diddles and Hello Kitty). We were tired by then as it was almost dinner. Before we got to the store the kids had been complaining about how tired they were. Of course, they had boundless energy when they saw the toy store. We literally had to drag them screaming out of the store, which I'm sure is a common occurrence to the employees there. Of course, upon leaving the kids resumed their complaining. Then, we reached the subway and got on a train and suddenly the kids perk up, wanting to stand up in the car. Then, they see someone cross from our car and walk through to the next car. Now they want to do that, too. Of course, we adults could barely move. Luckily it wasn't long in between trains when we had to change, and we were coming out of the station and IP was hanging back with the kids, who resumed being tired. Now they want water. Travis and I were at the top of the stairs already, though. Travis said he saw a place and we were going to stop. IP said there was water right down there. But Travis insisted. So they came up and we crossed the street right to my favorite place, Starbucks. I got an iced nf sfv caramel macchiato and Natalie wanted one, too. She'd tasted one that IP had gotten me on the way to Philadelphia. So Travis got her one, too. Ryan got little E's favorite vanilla milk. IP and Travis got Ethos water. Natalie raved about her drink. I think Ryan was cheered when I told him the vanilla milk was my nephew's favorite drink, too. Now the kids are happy. We get on the shuttle bus and have plenty of room to sit down (as opposed to the adults having to stand when we first arrived--I guess that's what made the kids want to stand on the train because they thought it was cool). When we arrived by the ferry, I saw people selling cheap t-shirts 2 for $5. I wanted to get some. The first stand wasn't really anything. So we crossed the street and I got one that said I Love NY and another that was cool. Natalie and Ryan both got the I Love NY ones and wanted to wear them immediately. The ferry ride was really pleasant. We got to stand at the front of the boat again and got the most perfect view of the Statue of Liberty, but my camera malfunctions wouldn't allow me to take a picture. I wasn't too happy about that, of course. But the weather was great and the kids had a blast.
The next day, Travis had to go to work, but IP was still off, so she took us all to the beach. The weather was beautiful. It was 72F, the water was 70F, which seems cold but really wasn't. We meant to stay there a couple of hours. This was at Ocean City Beach Park or something like that. I can't remember the name. But it was a park, and the beach was beautiful, with waves almost as high as the ones in Hawai'i, but not quite. The water was beautiful. Natalie and I collected shells. Ryan was looking for crabs because he used to have some as pets. Then, IP saw what looked like a shallow place in the water and wanted to take the kids over. I rested with my sunglasses to take a break and hoped to not get a migraine from all the sunshine. But it was relaxing just to be there. IP came back after a while and said it was actually a sandbar out there and it was really pretty. So I went back with Natalie (the water was too deep for me to take Ryan as I'm not tall enough to carry him). It wasn't too steep of a drop, but then, as soon as you were down it was time to go back up. I guess it was low-tide because IP said she's been there lots of times and the sandbar was never there. But the sand was firm and the waves were lower there. On top of the sandbar it was only about ankle deep water. But it was nice and Natalie and I found a lot more shells. After that, IP and I took turns resting and going out to the sandbar. Before we knew it, we'd been there 4 1/2 hours! So we went to the bathhouse and showered and changed so we could get something to eat. On the way out of the park, we saw a sign advertising "Kids Eat Free", but the sign didn't say the name of the restaurant. So we went to the one that looked closest to the sign, only to see the menu by the door and the prices indicated that kids did not actually eat free. And everything was $20 and UP! I don't think I've ever paid that much for a meal in my life (of course, I'm poor--maybe that isn't that much to other people, but it is to me). I told IP to go somewhere else, but she said it was okay. I argued a little, but she insisted, so we went in. The restaurant was upstairs. Luckily when we got the menus there were some less expensive options, but all the healthy dishes were the expensive ones. I wasn't about to let IP pay that much for a meal for me, so I picked a fried fish sandwich, thinking it wouldn't be that much. It was. It was a big sandwich, with 4 fillets of fish. Of course, that doesn't excuse me because I still could have saved some of it, but I didn't. I was starving. I ate the whole thing. It used up every flex point I had that day and I never use all my flex points. Usually I use about half of them tops. Oh well. I was on vacation. So then we got back home and talked and relaxed. It was just a really beautiful day. We all ended up with sunburn, though, especially IP. Her back was beet red. We were all slathering ourselves in aloe that night.
The next few days, IP worked and I stayed and watched the kids. They didn't require a lot of supervision, just making sure they didn't fight too much or bother the dogs too much as Ryan has a tendency not to let them go when they're tired of him. He's been bitten before, but that doesn't stop him for some reason. Wednesday, IP and I went to pick up IP's delivery of vegetables from the organic farm. They deliver to one person's house as she went in threesies with two of her friends for a CSA membership. Then, they divide up the delivery between themselves. So IP went to her friend's house to get her share, which included some heirloom vegetables and an heirloom watermelon, which IP said wasn't enough for 3 people to share and she got one last week. So she let her friend keep it. Her friend let us taste it and it was super-juicy and delicious, though. IP was hoping there would be others so she'd get one to herself. Then, Thursday night was supposed to be the mother-daughter book club meeting, but when we got to the woman's house for the meeting, she had canceled it as her toddler had fallen in the bathroom and was bleeding from his privates. She wanted to rush him to the emergency room as she didn't know how bad it was and the bleeding wouldn't stop. Of course, IP said that was fine and she'd watch the kids for her as the woman had 3 other kids. The woman didn't want IP to do that and said her husband could take the little one, but IP said that wasn't good. She knew they'd both rather be there. So when the husband got home they both rushed out with him and took him to the ER (where there was supposed to be quick admittance for children's injuries). Her kids were no trouble at all to watch, although the baby cried for about 45 minutes instead of the promised 5 minutes at bedtime. The other two kids were older and went to bed exactly at their bedtimes with no fuss whatsoever. When the parents got home, it was thankfully not too late and they were relieved that there wasn't any serious injury and all he needed was bandages. He was happy because he had a hospital bracelet and thought of the whole thing as an adventure once he found out he was going to the hospital. That made him forget about everything else, actually.
The next day, IP only worked a half day, so we went to the organic farm to pick our own produce (you can go once a week to pick your own in addition to the delivery with a CSA membership). The kids loved it as they were snacking on raspberries and blackberries while we were picking. It took a fairly long time as it was near dinner time when we finished and IP wanted to take me to dinner to thank me for babysitting. When we got home, though, we'd found a thank you card and a couple of bottles of wine from the mother of the injured toddler. She said she appreciated us helping her out the night before. Really sweet of her, but of course IP can have all the wine. We had to put the berries in a container as they were mashing in the bag we were carrying them home in. Then we went out to Applebee's for dinner so I could stick to the WW plan. The kids liked it, and I got to thank IP and Travis for everything as they'd paid for all my food, transportation, museum admissions, etc. while I'd been there and I said it didn't feel like anything more than a vacation and I had a lot of fun. They said they'd enjoyed it, too, but they did appreciate me helping them out. Really, I didn't feel like I did them that big a favor, but it was sweet of them.
The next day, I flew home. The Philadelphia airport is confusing as hell. There's no clear signs saying where the terminals are. Really, it actually pointed to the right, when the entrance was on the left. Makes no sense at all. AND, not only did they need to hand search my film, but they needed to search my bag. So I waited in a little glass-enclosed room while they checked my film in this little machine. It took longer than hand-searching really, because the machine had to do whatever it needed to do for each roll of film when they could easily have just looked themselves and seen what was in there. Then she had to look in my bag, and she saw all my little bottles of pills and realized that was what had shown up in the x-ray. The x-ray couldn't tell if it was liquid or not, and I guess they thought I'd be smuggling tons of itty bitty bottles of liquids to San Antonio. It took forever and seemed to really be overkill. But anyway, the flight from Philly to Dallas was long, but nothing awful. The only thing was that I was hungry and I planned to get something in Dallas when we landed as the pilot said we'd arrive early. Not so. We arrived late. I had no layover at all. We landed as my other flight was supposed to be boarding. AND I had to run through 3 terminals to get to the one my flight was leaving from. There was a tram, but it was slow. Really, I expected to hear the last boarding call as I ran to the gate (if they held the flight for me), but they were late departing as the plane hadn't arrived yet. Okay, so there was a little relief. I looked around to see if there was something quick I could grab to eat, but there were nothing but stores and sit-down restaurants, which I doubted I had time for. Great. So I'm holding on to my suitcase for dear life as I'm so light-headed I feel like I'm going to pass out. That's what happens when you don't have time for breakfast and planes don't serve free food anymore. So I'm changing my mind about the paying for food and deciding I'm desperate to pay too much for a tiny bag of peanuts or whatever the plane is serving. By the time we board, I'm exhausted and can barely stand. Then, I find out there's no snack on this flight. I took another dose of dramamine and ordered a diet Sprite. But instead of giving me the can as the flight attendants had done on ALL the other flights I'd been on, she filled this little thimble-sized plastic cup and moved on. Great. The day I need some energy, I get the tiny cup only. So then, I'm waiting until San Antonio. I arrived and ran out of the plane as fast as I could. The San Antonio airport is small, so I didn't expect trouble finding Mom, but there was this huge party waiting for a soldier coming home from Iraq and I couldn't see anyone else. Of course, I wasn't thinking clearly and I missed her completely. Then, we go outside and it's sprinkling, but stuffy and hot and nothing like the beautiful weather in NJ. Still, I couldn't wait to get home. Mom promised Sonic, but I didn't want to be that bad. She reminded me I'd had nothing to eat, and I remembered that a chicken strip dinner is 17 points and I had 18 points to use. So yes, Mom go to Sonic. It was delicious, but I ate it way to fast and made myself sick. Still, I hadn't been bad like that in a long time. Plus, Bucky missed me tremendously and it felt so good to hug him after so long. He felt tiny after petting IP's dogs, though! But I missed his sweet little face. But if he'd been with me up there I wouldn't have wanted to come home. Maybe he and I will move to New York someday. Who knows? : )