Archive | June, 2011

The Walmsley Family Road Trip: Part 1

28 Jun

The alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m., and I’m instantly cranky. Ten hours in the car with the kids should help. We can’t find Will’s birth certificate, and our chances of getting into Canada are now questionable. Whose idea was this anyway?

A Lifetime in PA

Route 80 in Pennsylvania is long, boring, and sprinkled with endearing attractions like dead deer in various stages of decay. Watching Sam with his headphones on rapping to Eminem provides some entertainment, but soon even that loses its charm. An iPhone app called Best Road Trip Ever alerts me that we are approaching the home of the World’s Largest Hamburger. Now it’s a party.

Football and a Pedicure

We arrived in North Canton, OH, road weary but cheerful. What do you do on a Saturday night in this land of strip malls and chain restaurants? We, um, went to the mall. Will got a haircut, I got a pedicure, Sam and Scott got smoothies.

On Sunday morning, we were at the Pro Football Hall of Fame before opening and tossed the ole pigskin (well, Nerf) around on the HOF field. I love football, but I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure how many game jerseys and commemorative films I could take. I needn’t have worried. The Hall was awesome—cool exhibits, lots of Patriots stuff, and blessedly few Jets fans.

From Canton we were on our way north to Sandusky, OH, home to roller coaster mecca, Cedar Point.

 

 

Cedar Point: On The Beach

The minute my feet hit the sand I knew I was going to like this place. On the beach, which was right outside of our hotel room, you could gaze out on Lake Erie, or face inland and see some the best roller coasters on the planet. It’s unique, for sure. We ate dinner at a lakeside restaurant, watched the sunset, and ended the night soaking in one of several, large outdoor hot tubs.

Roller Coasters Make Me Feel Young (and Old)

Good thing we spent some time relaxing the night before, because Monday was all about the rides.

Cedar Point has more roller coasters than I’d ever seen. They ranged from speedy to absolutely terrifying. Guess which ones Sam and Will wanted to go on? I’m convinced I lost years off my life, but it was worth it. Highest, fastest, longest—you name it, we did it. Zero to 120 mph in 3.8 seconds? OK. Spin, swing, and be flung hundreds of feet in the air? Why not.

It was an exhilarating day but exhausting. Scott and I started trading stories about our bodies in revolt by midday. At 7 p.m. we were searching for coffee and Advil. We limped out of the park past 9 o’clock with Will still begging for more.

No worries, we assured him, we’re doing it all over again tomorrow.

Five Ways to Survive the Family Road Trip

23 Jun

In two days, my family will embark on a summer road trip. We will drive across five states and into Canada–a first for the kids, ages 10 and 13. We’ll ride the best roller coasters in the US, Jet Ski on Lake Erie, get wet at Niagara Falls, and visit my alma mater.

We will also log 24 hours together in the car. That’s a lot of family time.

Luckily we’ve had some experience with kids and cars, and the highs and lows that come with the right of passage that is The Family Road Trip. Here are a few tricks to keep everyone sane and (reasonably) happy across the miles:

One of our favorite audio books.

1. The Activity Crate

Fill a milk-crate-style box with every unused activity book that has been sitting around your house for who knows how long. Pack crayons, markers, and blank pads. Stock up on new books from their favorite series. Throw in the iPods and PSPs. It’s a treasure trove of anti-boredom. It can even double as a barrier: nestle that box in between the kiddos to keep the “He’s touching me!”  and “She’s on my side!” complaints at bay.

2. Constant Updates

You might have been planning this trip for months, but the kids haven’t. Communicate the milestones along the way: “Only an hour until we are in New Jersey!” and “We’re half way there!” will help your passengers to feel involved and informed. You can even make a “bet” on the arrival time. Winner picks what’s for dinner.

3. The Snack Stash

Goodies are essential for everyone’s happiness. Guarded by the passenger-seat rider, your stash should include low-sugar, caffeine-free treats. Don’t announce all of the offerings at once. Strategically suggest that it’s time for some watermelon, then maybe an hour later bust out the Teddy Grahams. Be cautious with the drinks, unless you want to spend a lot of time in rest stops. Also, add one out-of-the-norm “special” treat to the mix. If you usually cringe at requests for beef jerky, let it slide just this once.

4. Technology is Your Friend

If you are lucky enough to have a car with a dvd player, this is the time to use it. If not (we don’t), books on CD can be a nice shared experience to pass the time. In our car, Tuck Everlasting, A House Called Awful End, and the Harry Potter series have been well received by both kids and adults. And though I’m not a fan of too much “screen” time, handheld video games can be a lifesaver on the road. It’s not like they could be outside riding their bikes, so charge up the Gameboy and enjoy the peace.

5. Know Your Route

Some say that getting lost is the best part of traveling. Not with two hungry, fidgety children who have found kicking your seat to be highly entertaining. Plan your route well, plot out possible stopping points for gas, food, and bathroom breaks. And be very cautious of going “just one more exit”–on major turnpikes and thruways, that could be upwards of 30 miles.

Also, enjoy it. When you arrive at your destination, the days are likely to be busy, filled with plans.

Embrace the time you have to just sit still and be together.

For My Father, The Traveler

18 Jun

In the small Sicilian town of Tusa, travel-weary but excited, my father walked into city hall. With help from my cousin, an ex-pat living in Florence, my father began to explain about the letters. Recognition lit up in the desk clerk’s eyes: “You’re the one! Yes, we’ve been waiting for you.”

Dad and I in matching visors on a cross-country trip in 1976.

Months before, my father had started a letter-writing campaign to anyone in Tusa with the last name matching his maternal great grandfather’s. His letters had inspired many inquiries: “Am I related to this mysterious American?” In one case, the answer was yes.

My father met his second cousin that day. He saw pictures of his great-uncle, and learned about his Italian heritage.

It’s how my dad always travels–with purpose, with enthusiasm, and with an insatiable curiosity for the world and its history.

He served in the Air Force in the mid-1960s, assigned to an intelligence post in Germany. For a kid who grew up poor on the wrong side of the tracks in Providence, RI, he took advantage of this opportunity to explore Europe.

After the service, my father brought his new-found wanderlust and a passion for history stateside. It was time to see his own country.

Ron, Dad, and I on one of our many Maine trips.

When he married my mother, they honeymooned in Gettysburg. After my brother and I were born, we spent our childhood on the road: posing for pictures at historic sites, singing around the campfire, helping to fold the map.

We weren’t always easy to travel with. We complained . . . a lot. Our feet hurt. We were hungry. And we were always, always b-o-r-e-d.

Except that we weren’t really bored. We were having the time of our lives.

My father is the reason I’m always planning two (or three, or four) vacations ahead. He’s the reason I studied abroad in college. He’s the reason I started this blog.

My father is the reason my children will see the world, as much as I can show them, and they will pass this legacy of exploration on to their children.

It’s a gift from my father that I will never be able to repay. But I’ll try, by embracing every opportunity to get away and to learn from the places I visit.

And when my own kids complain of being bored, I’ll smile. I know better.

Thanks, Dad.

The Ultimate Summer Playlist

16 Jun

There’s nothing like a song to bring you back to your favorite summer memories and get you excited for the hot days ahead.

Whether roadtripping or just hanging out in the backyard, these are my favorite summer-inspired tunes.

Hard Sun by Eddie Vedder

“When she comes to greet me, she is mercy at my feet. I see her inner charm, she just throws it back at me.”

Tripping Billies by Dave Matthews

“We’re wearing nothing, nothing, but our shadows, shadows falling down on the beach sand.”

Toes by Zac Brown Band

I got my toes in the water, ass in the sand, not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand.Life is good today.”

Centerfield by John Fogerty

Just to hit the ball and touch ’em all – a moment in the sun; it’s gone and you can tell that one goodbye.”

Summertime by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince

“As I think back, makes me wonder how the smell from a grill could spark up nostalgia.”

On the Road Again by Willie Nelson

“Seein’ things that I may never see again, and I can’t wait to get on the road again.”

Summer Wind by Frank Sinatra

“Like painted kites, those days and nights, went flying by.”

Mexican Cousin by Phish

“The conversations I forget, you’ll tell me about tomorrow.”

Get Out the Map by Indigo Girls

With every lesson learned a line upon your beautiful face. We’ll amuse ourselves one day with these memories we’ll trace.”

Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen

“Hey what else can we do now? Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair. Well the night’s busting open these two lanes will take us anywhere.”

Fruitcakes by Jimmy Buffett

“Half-baked cookies in the oven, half-baked people on the bus, there’s a little bit of fruitcake left in every one of us.”

To Camp or Not to Camp?

12 Jun

When I was 12 years old at an impromptu family meeting (always a sign of bad news), my parents announced that they were planning to sell our camper.

As my mother tells the story, in true preteen fashion I burst into tears and exclaimed dramatically, “Camping is my life.”

Melodramatic, yes. Inaccurate, not really.

Prepping the perfect campfire

I spent my childhood in and out of KOA campgrounds, gathering kindling for the campfire, cranking up the pop-up, lugging ice back from the camp store. Hotels were never an option as we explored the Smoky Mountains, Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Quebec, and Maine’s Moosehead Lake.

Today, 20-plus years later, camping is decidedly not my life. Give me 1,000-thread-count egyptian sheets, room service, and a concierge, and I’m a happy girl.

What warranted such a change of heart?

It could’ve been the wayward drunk that tried to crawl into our tent on our first-try camping trip with our son Samuel, then 2 years old. Or the very loud, 3 a.m. domestic dispute at the neighboring site on the same outing. Oh, and it rained the entire weekend.

But one bad experience does not break a seasoned camper.

A few years later, two kids in tow, we arrived at Hershey Park campground at twilight.

By the time we confirmed that the tent poles were, in fact, back in our garage 400 miles away, it was dark and the kids had learned a few choice phrases.

The solution? Three nights with 4 people in a 2-person tent . . . I didn’t say it was a good solution. Did I mention Will was potty training?

Still I persevered. Camping is (was?) my life!

The last straw was a girl’s get-a-way to Martha’s Vineyard. After check-in and non-refundable payment, we discovered why the campground seemed deserted for a summer weekend. Gypsy moth infestation. The suckers were everywhere: covering the picnic table, dropping from the trees, invading our sleeping bags.

And so it is that camping and I have parted ways. Though, we stay in touch occasionally.

Near Santa Barbara, I discovered a luxury tent campground where the store sold s’mores fixings and wine country’s best. At Point Sebago Resort a few years back, we set up “camp” in a Park Home with a full kitchen and two bedrooms. And . . . um, cable TV and air conditioning.

At least I didn’t have to worry about forgetting the tent poles.

Favorite Vacation Spots to Go for a Jog

8 Jun

Vacation is for relaxing, sleeping in, maybe overindulging in good food and fancy drinks.

So why would anyone want to put all that on hold to lace up their sneakers and go for a jog?

I’m not a hardcore runner. I do a few 5Ks a year and I’ll occasionally challenge myself with longer race. But when I’m packing my suitcase, no matter the destination, I always make room for my running clothes and sneakers. I like to explore my new surroundings on foot and get a little endorphin-boosting exercise in while I’m at it. A jog always cheers me up and helps me to appreciate the atmosphere of my location.

Five of my favorite spots to go for a run:    

1. The Las Vegas Strip

If you are up and out early enough, the bleary-eyed all-nighters still stumbling down the strip make for great entertainment. Plus, the many overpasses that criss-cross the boulevard make it a great workout. (Hello, stair climbs.) Add bright lights, the Bellagio fountains, and a (mini) Eiffel Tower, and you barely recognize you’ve worked up a sweat.

2. The Reservoir in Central Park  

There are so many wonderful places to explore in Central Park, and this is one of my favorites. The 1.5 mile loop is one of the best spots in the city to feel like a local. It’s free of pets and strollers, and you can enter and exit the dirt pathway at different points. Obey  the rules, enjoy the sun off the water, and take a minute to remind yourself you are in NYC.

3. The Desert in Arizona

I’m from the East Coast, so the idea that I could go for a 4-mile run and not be dripping in sweat is bizarre, and awesome. Welcome to the desert. I was in AZ in January, so the temps were cool when my friend Beth and I started out. We wove through cacti and other desert plants on our jog, and I think the  signs warning of rattlesnakes helped boost our pace a bit.

4. Port Orleans Resort-French Quarter in Walt Disney World

The Florida climate is not ideal for running, granted, but with 9 days of Disney madness ahead of me, I knew I needed it. Luckily, the French Quarter at the Port Orleans Resort had a great running trail that took me through its sister resort, Riverside. Just me and the birds out by the river, a moment of peace in the happiest place on earth.

5. Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas

The promenade deck of a cruise ship can get pretty crowded with s-l-o-w walkers, so I waited for the morning we were scheduled to disembark to try it out for a run. While others were haggling over their “sea pass” bills, I was happily circling the ship. All the while I was breathing in salty air and thinking, “How cool is this? I’m running laps in the middle of the ocean.”