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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!

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.

Fishing with “The Skipper” on Martha’s Vineyard

5 Aug

When you are the mother of two boys, you do things you never thought you would, like judging burping contests, deodorizing football equipment, picking up dirty socks from every imaginable corner of the house . . . and fishing.

On a week-long island vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, it was only a matter of time before the fishing poles came out.

The rocky shoreline yielded only casting practice, so we were soon looking for open ocean and the chance at some real fish.

That’s when we found The Skipper.

For 24 years, Captain John Potter has been taking families out on his charter boat in search of the big catch.

Everything you need–rod, reel, and bait–is included, so we boarded The Skipper at Oak Bluffs’ docks bright and early with only our excitement.

After a short ride out to sea, the boat began echoing with cries of “Fish On!”–the signal to have the First Mate help de-hook a catch and make sure you have a legal keeper. We reeled in some black sea bass (Sam, above) and lots of scup (Will, below).

Flounder was another popular catch. And an angler right next to us even reeled in a shark:

Four hours seemed to fly by as the Captain moved us around to reliable fishing grounds, and our bucket of keepers started to pile up.

Soon it was time to head back to shore. After we docked, the First Mate cleaned our fish for us and it was home we went for a lunch of fresh–really fresh–fish.

Blizzard Beach vs. Typhoon Lagoon: If You Have to Choose

31 Jul

Last year, my family was lucky enough to enjoy an extended stay at Walt Disney World Resort, allowing enough time to visit Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, the two waterparks on Disney property in Orlando.

Both were great and provided a nice break from the major parks, but each had some distinct advantages:

Best thrill ride: Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach

I tried to beg off this ride, claiming picture-taking duties, but my kids (ages 9 and 12) wouldn’t hear it. So down I went on this very high (120 feet), very fast (60 mph), and super-wedgie inducing free-fall body slide. It was awesome.

Best pool: The Surf Pool at Typhoon Lagoon

This giant pool alternates between bobbing waves and a giant 6-foot kowabunga wave that is announced by a conch-shell whistle (followed by excited shrieks from the swimmers). The kids played for hours in the pool while we enjoyed a few Coronas on the “beach.” What’s better than that?

Best theme: Melting Ski Resort, Blizzard Beach  

Disney is all about theming, and Blizzard Beach is one of its best concoctions. The premise is that a ski resort was built up during a freak Florida blizzard and is now melting away. Mount Gushmore, a Chair Lift , Toboggan Racers, and a “Warming Hut” all play off the theme. It’s a nice chilly mind-play in the hot southern sun.

Best attraction: The Shark Reef at Typhoon Lagoon

The sharks may be small, but the cool factor is big. After quick instructions, visitors snorkel across a frosty, salt-water pool while getting a peek at tropical fish, sting rays, and, yes, leopard sharks. It’s great for major bragging rights when you return home.

Best for little ones: Blizzard Beach

Tike’s Peak (under 48 in) and Ski Patrol Training Camp (under 60 in) allow kids to splash, play, slide, and even zip line under the very watchful eyes of the Disney lifeguards. For the little ones, Blizzard Beach’s low-key wave pool (Melt-Away Bay) is also far better than its roiling counterpart at Typhoon Lagoon.

Shorter lines: Typhoon Lagoon

Blizzard Beach is newer, has a killer theme, and, with Summit Plummet as a huge draw, tends to have longer lines. Disney tries to keep you cool as you wait, but it’s Florida, and it’s hot, and crankiness can rear its ugly head after waiting 30 minutes for a 30 second slide. The lines at Typhoon Lagoon are shorter, in my experience, and the vibe is a little more laid back.

If you have to choose: Typhoon Lagoon

Both parks are amazing, but in my opinion the wave pool, snorkeling with sharks, a new Crush ‘n Gusher water coaster, and an overall more relaxed atmosphere has Typhoon Lagoon winning out.

Whichever you choose, arrive early, hit the big-draw attractions first, and make sure to leave some time to float around on the lazy rivers at each park.

It may be Walt Disney World, but you deserve a little downtime to float and relax at the happiest place on earth.

Three Generations Take a Hike in New Hampshire

11 Jul

When I mentioned going for a hike, my dad loved the idea. My children were not quite as enthusiastic.

We are at a cabin on Lake Kanasatka in New Hampshire.

Lake living has a lot to offer: canoeing, fishing, floating on the lake, loon spotting, and my personal favorite, hammock napping.

But “The Pines,” as our temporary home is called, happens to be located in the heart of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, between the larger Winnepesaukee and Squam lakes. As a result, there’s a lot to do in the surrounding area.

And Sam and Will have a Mom who likes a lot to do.

So off we went to West Rattlesnake Mountain, a 1200’ peak not far from the center of Holderness, NH.

Three generations of would-be hikers—my father (late 60s), my husband and I (mid-30s), and the boys (13 and 10 years old)—arrived at the easy, windy trail by mid-morning.

At the start of the ascent, my dad apologized in advance for being the weak link in the group.

Scott and I looked at each other knowingly; he had never hiked with Will before.

About 200 yards into the walk, Will asked if we were almost there and started to lag behind. When my dad called for a break, here or there, Will would exclaim, “Thank God!”

By contrast, Sam was bounding uphill, a blur in the distance. He was our off-trail explorer, crunching through leaves, climbing up rocks and over fallen logs.

“Wait up,” we’d call to Sam. “Catch up,” we’d plead with Will.

Before we knew it, we were at the summit.

As the guide books promised, the views of Squam Lake were breath-stealing, almost unreal.

The glassy lake was dotted with tiny, pine treed islands. Motor boats cut short scars of white across the expanse of blue. Quintessential New Hampshire.

We sat on the rocky outcroppings and silently enjoyed the reward for our efforts.

When the kids started threatening to throw each other off the ledge, we decided to head back down. Thirty knee-pounding minutes later we were back in the car.

“That was cool,” the kids admitted.

“Yeah, I’m glad we did it,” my dad said. The sandwich generation agreed.

Now back to the lake. My hammock is waiting.

When the Vacation Ends: Burning Up On Re-entry

6 Jul

A new art installation in our bedroom is called "I'll Unpack When I Need The Suitcase."

When the alarm went off this morning I was in denial. The dog scratched at the door, and I pressed my eyes shut. The cat pawed at his food bowl, and I yanked the sheet over my head.

There is one universal, no-good, sucktastic thing about all vacations. They end.

A mere eight days ago, I was so naive. Full of joy and anticipation for the upcoming trip. “Stressed” about which bathing suit to pack and which winery to visit. Smugly, I told co-workers, “Oh, sorry. Can’t make it to the meeting. I’ll be away next week.” I didn’t even try to suppress a grin.

Away. Sigh.

Clearly not thinking about how the house will get painted.

Away is such a lovely word. When you are away, lunches for summer camp don’t have to be made. Weeding and lawn cutting can wait. Someone else can walk the dog and feed the cat. When you are away, your time is your own. And there feels like there is an abundance of it.

Until you have to come back.

Back is just no damn fun. “Oh, you’re back,” everyone says cheerfully. What are they so happy about?

Back is doctor appointments, and checking account balances, and responding to overdue emails. And, gasp, eating and drinking in moderation. Back is unpacking (eventually), exercising (well, maybe tomorrow), and laundry.

Did I really expect to eat this and still fit into my clothes?

I tried to cheer myself up by reading posts from travel bloggers about how they’ve made “away” their everyday. It helped a little.

Maybe someday, but for today I’m here.

I’m home, where there’s a comfy bed with no chance of bedbugs and a fridge stocked with non-indigestion-inducing foods. There’s a pool where I can float without being splashed or bumped, or forced to listen to Margaritaville for the seventieth time. There’s time for my blistered feet and sunburned shoulders to heal.

Ah, well. Maybe it’s not so bad. At least I have reliable Internet–so I can plan my next trip.

The Walmsley Family Road Trip: Part 2

2 Jul

After a second day of coasters (see Part 1), a few water slides added for good measure, and a Parasailing adventure, we left Cedar Point in the rear view. It was an awesome ride, to say the least.

Grilled Cheese and Beer

When we got to the greater Cleveland area we stopped at Melt Bar and Grilled for their famous grilled cheese sandwiches. The menu has 20-plus artery clogging, but delectable, sandwich choices. Beer and fries rounded out the meal perfectly, or so I thought. The boys insisted on getting a deep-fried Twinkie to finish things off. Gah!

Somehow we were able to get up from our seats and make our way to Cleveland’s next cheesy offering.

You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out

Every year on Thanksgiving night we pop in the A Christmas Story dvd and Ralphie Parker rings in the holiday season for us. Imagine our delight when we found out that the exterior shots of the house from the movie were filmed in Cleveland.

We stopped by and snapped a few shots of the fish-net-adorned leg lamp in the window (It’s a major award!), and, luckily, the Bumpus’s hounds stayed away.

Cleveland Rocks!

After an unplanned but exceptionally beautiful stop at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens (who knew?), we arrived at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

It has six floors of everything a music lover could ever want to see from Janis’s Porsche to MJ’s jacket from the ’84 Grammys, and from Lennon’s grammar school comics to Hunter Thompson’s letters to Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner.

I made up for not being able to take pictures in the Hall by taking tons of shots of its architecturally awesome exterior (designed by I.M.Pei). You can imagine that the kids exhibited an abundance of patience during this indulgence.

Somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge

The next day we were off to Canada and Niagara Falls. We stayed in the Clifton Hill district which is dripping with touristy schmaltz—wax museums, arcades, houses of horror. Naturally, the kids were in heaven. Eventually we were able to turn their attention to the giant water fall down the street.

We went on The Maid of the Mist, hung out at Table Rock, and saw the nighttime illuminations at The Falls.

‘Cuse and BBQ

The next day, we left Canada and drove down to Syracuse–home to my alma mater, the first apartment Scott and I shared, my first “real” job, and, of course, the place where we welcomed Samuel into the world. A trip down memory lane incited many eye rolls: “Look over there! It’s Wegmans. That’s where we grocery shopped!”

After a walk around the university’s campus, we ate at Syracuse’s number-one, can’t-miss, worth-enduring-the-New-York-Thruway-for rockin’ rib joint: Dinosaur Bar-b-que. The ribs. The brisket. The mac salad. It’s crazy good, unspeakably delicious, and it will take a month in the gym to work it all off.

Home Again

It’s time to go back to Rhode Island. We’ll return with sore feet, sun burned noses, and a lots more miles on the car. There was some whining, a few wrong turns, a little less “downtime” than was probably needed, but we undoubtedly had a blast.

The past seven days flew by, but so have the past seven years. The time for family road trips is far too short. I’m thankful we made time for this one and all the memories.

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.