Skiing: A Love Story that Ends in the ER

8 Mar

Skiing and I have endured a rocky relationship spanning two decades. It all started in high school when some of my best friends were avid skiers. They’d travel north on the weekends to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, arriving at school on Monday with lift tickets swinging off their brightly colored Columbia jackets like badges of honor. Skiing held an allure of exclusivity: It required special gear, hours of travel, and, not least of all, money.

There was another draw. No one in my family could ski. This would be my thing, a mild rebellion to our typical family activities. I was a teenager; I wanted to assimilate with the “in” crowd while breaking away from my parents.

I was determined to be a skier.

During my four years of high school, I signed up for as many ski trips as I could. The bus rides up to Killington, Stratton, Sunday River, Gunstock, and other mountains across the Northeast held anticipation and promise. The bus rides home usually consisted of ice packs and disappointment.

My mistakes were rooted in 16 year-old bravado–no lessons, no bunny hills. I became well known among the group, but for all the wrong reasons. I was a total hazard. With no ability to stop, I’d crash into classmates, ski schoolers, families, and most notably, trees. On one occasion, I arrived home with a fat lip and a gash under my eye from a wipeout during which my ski popped off and smacked me in the face. I was dreadful.

After high school, skiing and I took some time off. College, career, and marriage left little time, or cash, for snowy pursuits. But then my in-laws announced that they were buying a condo in New Hampshire near Waterville Valley ski resort. The familiar excitement returned. Maybe I could leave injury and idiocy behind. As many parents do, I shifted my attention to my children.

Sure, I was a hack, but my kids? My kids are going to be awesome!

Here’s the thing, it is hard to be awesome when you are four years old, you’re cold, and you can’t stand up because your parents have strapped what seems like torture devices to your feet. My husband and I were baffled. Why aren’t they having fun. This is so much fun! Isn’t it? Isn’t it?

It wasn’t, for a while. Then, with age and experience, the kids got the hang of it. And so did I. Now, our trips “up North” are the kind of family bonding experiences that once seemed out of reach. We ride the lifts together, sometimes three generations of us, criss-crossing each other down the trails and commiserating about the conditions of each run. The whole scene, including apres ski with beers (for us) and hot chocolate (for the boys), is idyllic.

That is . . . until last weekend.

As the title of this post portends, my discord with skiing abruptly returned on our most recent visit to Waterville. I decided, at 36 years old, that a trip through the terrain park on my last run of the day was a swell idea. A terrain park, for those readers who do not ski, is like a skatepark in the snow, full of jumps, rails, and other objects for doing tricks. It’s a lot of fun, unless…

I took a jump faster than I had intended, vaulted into the air, and landed in tumble of ski poles and snow.

A burst of adrenaline allowed me to make it down the mountain on a leg that felt all mushy and wobbly inside. A couple of hours later in the emergency room, I got my diagnosis: bad knee sprain and some pulled ligaments.

Crutches and pain killers in hand I left the hospital with a sobering realization. I am back in high school again, except this time it’s my kids I’m trying to keep up with. Sigh.

So skiing and I had another falling out, literally. But next year, when the temperature drops, I’ll run back into the arms of a sport I’ll never master, willing to endure the bumps and bruises. I may steer clear of the terrain park, though.

The Best Road Trip Apps

23 Nov

According to AAA, 42.5 million people are expected to travel 50 miles+ for Thanksgiving this week, a 4% increase over last year.

Whether you are driving for one hour or trekking hundreds of miles, there’s no doubt that having a smartphone on hand can be a lifesaver.

Here are some of my favorite road trip apps, some help pass the time and others are more practical. All were tested on a multi-state trip this summer.

Tripit

This app is awesome! We stayed at five different hotels on our summer trip, and I didn’t print out a single travel reservation email. Just forward your confirmations to Tripit, and it will build an itinerary compiling all your information. (Bonus: Tripit has a fun promo video.)

Road Hunt

This is the only “I Spy” type game I could find that worked for well for multiple players, and had things you might actually see on the road. A word of warning–the driver is at a great disadvantage (not that I’m still bitter from losing or anything).

Sit or Squat

While having the familiar I-Didn’t-Have-To-Go-Then argument with your kids (or spouse), use this handy app to find public bathroom locations nearby. And if you have a “crappy” experience, you can even leave a review.


 

Best Road Trip Ever

Using your location, this app will clue you in to the oldest, largest, and weirdest landmarks across the U.S. Without it we wouldn’t have found the “Home of America’s Biggest Burger Challenge” in Pennsylvania or the A Christmas Story house in Cleveland.

Gas Buddy

I’m one of those people who always pays too much for gas. Minutes after I fill up, I’ll see a station with rates five cents less per gallon. This app solves that problem by giving station locations and prices. You can also send updates to the app for a chance to win free gas.

TripAdvisor

This app is easy to use and navigate, just choose Stay, Eat, or See to find top rated hotels, restaurants, and attractions.With time to kill in Ohio, we used it to discover the Cleveland Botanical Garden–a totally unexpected highlight of our trip. I also found TripAdvisor’s reviews more helpful than Yelp.

Wishing everyone safe and happy travels this Thanksgiving!

My Favorite Place to Travel?

18 Nov travel-journal crop

I was browsing the racks at a little boutique in Meredith, NH, when a store clerk struck up a conversation. She asked if I was on vacation.

“Yes.”

“Do you travel often,” she continued.

“When I can,” I replied, offhandedly.

Then she asked a question that completely disarmed me: “What’s your favorite place to travel?”

To her, this seemed like idle chit-chat. But it struck me as deeply personal. If she had asked me my weight or if I believed in God, it wouldn’t have felt more intrusive.

I lied, said something about Arizona’s desert landscape (lovely, yes, but my favorite?), and made my way out of the store and into a neighboring bar.

While I sipped a beer, I wondered: Why had this simple question rattled me? And what is my favorite place?

Panicked, I searched my brain for an answer. Looking over London from the rooftop of St. Paul’s? Exploring the labyrinth of the Metropolitan Museum in New York? Winding up the California coast along US 101? Riding the ferry out to Block Island to spend day at the beach? None of it seemed quite right.

And the idea of choosing felt strange, felt wrong. Like picking your favorite child. Who could do such a thing?

Not me, I decided.

Maybe I haven’t found my favorite place yet. Then again, maybe I have. Either way, next time I’m asked, I’ll be better prepared.

I might say, “I’m not sure,” or perhaps, “My next trip is my favorite, I going to ________ this summer.”

Or maybe I’ll turn it around, and ask, “What’s yours?”

Because really, it’s not such a bad question.

Setting the Rivers on Fire

6 Oct crackle

In the late 1990s, Providence, RI, enjoyed a Renaissance.

Credited to the infamous and much-loved former mayor, Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, Jr., the capital city underwent a massive revitalization project, uncovering two rivers that were once buried below concrete. Cobblestone walkways along the rivers, quaint bridges, and the creation of Waterplace Park led to the sprouting of shops, restaurants, residences, and the mammoth Providence Place mall.

The biggest coup for the city during this period was the creation of WaterFire, an award-winning installation of 80-plus bonfires along the Providence rivers.

WaterFire is quite the event. The small state buzzes in anticipation of the dozen or so lightings between Memorial Day and Columbus Day each year.

A couple of weeks ago, Scott and I decided to take the kids to the penultimate lighting of the year.

First stop: Harry’s Bar & Burger for some delicious–and affordable–wings and sliders.

And a jalapeno bloody mary, ya know, for energy.

The threat of rain kept the crowds manageable, so we walked along the river pre-lighting and watched the gondoliers.

And the lighting begins . . .

We even got a preview of the Roger Williams Park Zoo’s Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular–WaterFire style.

The Realities of Girlfriend Getaways

22 Sep IMG_0446

As with many great ideas, it started in a bar.

During an impromptu gathering of college friends, the conversation turned to a familiar topic: We should see more of each other.

It had been ten years since we’d graduated from Syracuse University together. Remarkably, we’d stayed in touch and liked each other even more than in the days of dorm food and keggers.

We also were enjoying the self assuredness that comes with being 30 years old, and the bonus of having a little financial security to boot.

There was only one logical thing to do–plan a weekend getaway. Little did we know that our first trip would turn into an annual tradition.

It’s been six years now, and over that time I’ve discovered these realities of girlfriend getaways:

1. Planning is half the fun. 

Our trip always falls on MLK Day weekend, but discussions about locales, flights, hotels, what to pack, and what to see last all year long. E-mails with links to indulgent spas, highly recommended restaurants, and top-rated attractions bounce back and forth. So what if there are days we barely make it past the hotel bar.

2. There will be tears.

At any given moment, it is not uncommon for one or more of the five of us to break down. Whether it is over entrees in Arizona or walking down Sixth Street in Austin, there’s something about being around girlfriends who validate your feelings and love you unconditionally that spurs an emotional release. Bring tissues.

3. You’ll miss home.

Most of the time during our girls’ weekends I’m giddy with the joys of leaving it all behind. Pets, kids, laundry–not today! But then I’ll get a little twinge, wonder what’s going on back home, and need to check in. It’s OK, just try to avoid calling at 4 a.m. from a dance club. Husbands don’t love that.

4. Be flexible.

Plans will be made, and plans will be broken. It will rain. Planes will be delayed. That don’t-miss thing you must see, forget about it. Crankiness is inevitable (and usually caused by hunger, by the way). In the end, it helps to remember that girls’ weekends are about being together, no matter if it is waiting in line for an epic brunch at the Bellagio or dealing with the inevitable delays caused by five girls and one bathroom.

5. It will end too soon.

Before I know it, bloated from too much food and drink, wallet empty and laughing to myself over some silly happening, I’m on a plane heading home and wondering where the time went. Inevitably, I will open the inflight magazine, flip to the map of the U.S., and start thinking about next year.

Why I Brought My Three-year-old to Ground Zero

10 Sep

On September 13, 2001, I stood among the thousands gathered on the Rhode Island State House lawn for a vigil in honor of the 9/11 dead and missing. My 20-month old was on my back in a carrier, flags stuck in its straps.

Standing beside me, my three-year-old son, Samuel, was tugging at my shirt with his free hand (his other hand was clasped around a thin, white candle).

“Look,” he said, pointing skyward. I looked up to see a plane passing overhead, a foreign sight in the days immediately after the attacks.

“Is that plane going to crash into a building, too?” Sam asked.

“No,” I told him, my heart breaking. “That’s never going to happen again.” Of course, it was a promise I couldn’t keep, but I made it nonetheless.

In the hours after the planes hit the Twin Towers, Samuel watched the video of the crash over and over again.

The collapse, the devastation, the people crying and holding missing persons flyers—his bright, quick little three-year-old mind took it all in.

We should have turned it off, but we were scared, confused, and hungry for news and information. In the end, my husband and I knew he saw too much.

It’s strange, then, that I wanted him to see more.

St. Paul's Church near Ground Zero.

Three months later, I visited Ground Zero for work. I stood on the viewing platform next to a grieving widow who had lost her husband, a firefighter, in the towers’ collapse.  I returned home convinced that my husband, Scott, needed to go, and we decided Sam would join us.

At the site of the towers, we saw the striking sculptural wreckage . We went to St. Paul’s church, which had become a makeshift memorial to the victims. Baseball caps, photos, favorite sneakers, letters, poems, and flowers covered the iron gates around the church.

Sam asked questions. We answered them, warmly and honestly. To this day I don’t know if bringing him was the right thing to do.

Samuel is 13 years old now. Mostly, he doesn’t remember the trip except for one small detail: “Remember when I asked the cabbie if he wanted my candy?”

I do remember. We were in a taxi headed back to midtown when Sam pushed his paper bag of gummies through the open hole in the divider. “Do you want to share,” he’d said, “They’re really good.”

Maybe this is why I needed him there. Even in the face of a generation-defining tragedy, it’s the small acts of kindness that help us to believe in humanity.

Five Things Not to Miss in Syracuse, NY

6 Sep

I work at a small university in Rhode Island where students are back to school this week. At this time of year, I can’t help but be reminded of my own first days on campus at Syracuse University.

Central New York is probably not on the bucket lists of many travelers, but over the six years I logged in Syracuse, NY–first as a student, then working at my first job, and later as a new mom–I discovered some gems.

Here are a few of my favorites:

M Street (Marshall Street) 

Introducing the next generation to The Varsity.

This is the college hotspot, where students go to buy something orange, grab some food, and, especially, drink. Order pizza and Labatt’s at The Varsity–an M Street institution for slices and pies. Pop into Faegan’s for a pint or stop by Chuck’s (Hungry Charlie’s) for a pitcher. Tearfully walk by the spot where 44’s once stood. And don’t forget to get yourself a “Go Orange!” foam finger at Manny’s before heading up the hill to campus.

The Carrier Dome 

The “Dome” is one of the largest and coolest college sports stadiums in the country. Try to score a ticket to an Orange football, basketball, or lacrosse game. If you can’t, stop by when the box office is open and you can usually talk your way inside for a look around. You may even be able to sneak onto the field to try out your end-zone dance. On the outside of the dome, jump in between the columns to hear an echo that sounds like it came straight from the Star Wars editing room. (Yes, you’ll look silly, but you won’t be the only one.)

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Oh yeah, that's right.This serious rib joint, with a string of Harleys in front and a line out the door, is what I miss most about Syracuse. Yes, you can buy their hot sauce at many markets around the U.S. And yes, you could visit the Dino outpost in New York City. But there’s something about this downtown Syracuse spot, with its cluttered dining room and dinged up wooden bar, that just feels genuine. The ribs, the brisket, the mac salad, the bbq chicken, and the cornbread–it’s all incomparable, with an atmosphere to match.

Armory Square

After pigging out at Dinosaur, or if the wait time is too patience-testing, walk past the art deco Niagara Mohawk building down to Armory Square. The Museum of Science and Technology (my first paid gig out of college) is housed in an old armory that anchors three blocks of shops, dining, and nightlife. The Blue Tusk has an eclectic beer list and is always packed. Empire Brewing Company and Syracuse Suds Factory are also great places to drink. Lemon Grass and Pastabilities (known to locals as Pasta’s) have maintained a solid foodie following over the years. And Provisions Bakery has huge delectable brownies. The shopping is great too, with Eureka Crafts as my favorite.

A bit of culture at the Everson Museum and Syracuse Stage

The Everson, designed by I.M. Pei.

The Everson museum is a sculptural work of art in itself. You’ll find changing exhibits inside, but the Everson is best known for its vast collection of pottery and ceramic arts. If you are in Syracuse during the holidays, visit the museum for the annual Festival of Trees–a popular event that features uniquely decorated trees donated by local organizations and businesses. If you prefer the theater to art museums, Syracuse Stage, the professional theater-in-residence at SU, produces six shows every year. I saw Angels in America here, among other plays, and was always impressed by the acting and the production.

Whether you are just passing through, or in town for some college hoops, give Syracuse a good look. After you shovel out your car, I promise you’ll find something you like.

Goodnight, Irene: Photos from Narragansett, RI

31 Aug

Tropical Storm Irene ripped through Rhode Island on Sunday leaving downed trees and power lines throughout the state. Luckily, we escaped with only a split tree and a yard full of branches:

Ironically, the day after the storm was a perfect 10–sunny, 70 degrees, no humidity, and not a cloud in the sky. After a quick yard clean up, we drove down to watch the surfers take on the waves at Narragansett Beach:

Wipe out!

A little bit down the road from the beach is a hidden outcropping of rocks called Black Point where we got a great view of the waves and some water birds:

Our thoughts are with all those still without power and flooded. Please be safe.

A Quickie in South Beach, Miami

25 Aug sobe 069

With four days to celebrate our 10-year anniversary, we left the autumn leaves of New England behind and hopped a plane to South Beach.

From our first mojito, Scott and I knew we picked the perfect kid-free getaway.

These are some of our favorite spots:

Stay: The Hotel of South Beach

Todd Oldham’s geometrical patterns and sea-foam palate were everywhere in this art deco, boutique hotel. Just a block off of busy Ocean Drive, the location was perfect. If we wanted to escape the Miami Beach crowds we went up the elevator to the secluded roof-top pool and Spire Bar. (Even if you don’t stay at The Hotel, its restaurant, Wish, is worth a visit for the romantic atmosphere and great food.)

From our rooftop pool at The Hotel

 

Get Pampered: The Spa at the Shore Club

In an attempt to live the celebrity lifestyle, we decided to treat ourselves to the spa at the Shore Club, one of Miami Beach’s swankiest hotels. After a full body scrub and hydrating treatment (me) and a 90-minute massage (Scott), we relaxed on the spa balcony overlooking the palm trees and waves below.

Post-spa treatment at the Shore Club.

 

Explore: Posh hotel lobbies

The hottest hotels in South Beach may have untouchable room rates and bouncers guarding the pools, but the lobbies are open, free, and offer views of art and architecture to rival some of the world’s best museums. Don’t miss a walk through lobbies at The DelanoShore Club, The Tides, and the Sagamore.

The lobby of The Delano hotel.

 

Drink: Love Hate Lounge

Operated by the same guys who own Miami Ink, the Love Hate Lounge feels more like a local bar then a place to be seen. You can dance, you can drink, and there was no cover or intimidating velvet rope.

Eat Dinner: Nemo

No one has to walk the sidewalk in front of this restaurant to talk patrons in off the street–a common occurrence in South Beach. We got a table by the hammered copper bar in this crowded eatery located in the stylish South of Fifth Street (SoFi) district. Perfectly cooked sea bass, lobster hash browns, and warm ocean breezes made for a memorable 10th anniversary dinner.

Making it on My Own in London

17 Aug Trafalga Square

When the customs agent at Gatwick Airport asked me how long I planned to stay in London, I could hardly believe my answer. “Four months,” I said.

At the time it seemed like an eternity to be away from home, away from my college buddies, and away from the boyfriend who would later become my husband.

I was a year ahead of my closest friends at Syracuse University, so when I decided to study abroad, I was doing it solo.

Though there were 100 other students in the program, my loner status was marked by the choice to travel to London on my own (cheaper flight) and live with a family in a bed-sit (again, to save money).

Portabello Road, a block from my bed-sit

Getting lost on the Tube one day, I ended up who-knows-where. With friends, it would have been cause for laughter. By myself, I cried.

During those first few days abroad, my loneliness consumed me. In a city of millions, would I need to find my way through London life without the camaraderie of others?

But then, suddenly, I stopped thinking about being alone.

Not because–I assure you–of some great internal pep talk or any pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps inner fortitude. It’s because London, itself, became my greatest companion.

I shopped on Portabello Road, weaving through the antique dealers, fruit and veg vendors, and bootleg music hawkers.

View from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral, London

I climbed the steep, narrow staircase to the top of St. Paul’s, never seeing another person on my ascent.

I lingered over the Van Goghs and Rodins at the National Gallery, at my own pace without interruption or any hurrying up.

Of course, I eventually met some great friends, and we went on unforgettable adventures through the city and to places like Edinburgh and Brighton.

But when it came time to choose a Spring Break trip, when friends encouraged me to join them in Ireland or Italy, I decided to travel to Spain by myself. A trip that was truly unforgettable, not in spite of it being a solo quest but because I did it on my own.

One of the biggest gifts I took away from my time in London is learning the joys of solitary exploration. My guess is that I’m not alone.

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