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.

A Peek Under Edinburgh’s Kilt

24 Jul

Years before the world ever heard of Harry Potter and Platform 9 3/4, I stood in King’s Cross Station waiting for a train to take me to a castle. Though I was on my way to Edinburgh and not Hogwarts, the trip promised to be just as magical.

A Chilly Weekend in Scotland

Margaret's Chapel at Edinburgh Castle

It was 1995, and I was studying abroad in London when two friends and I decided on a weekend trip to Scotland’s capital.

When we arrived in Edinburg after our five-hour train ride, I was in need of a bathroom. What I found was a Superloo. Before the U.S. was supersizing, well . . . everything, Scotland was giving its train-weary patrons a giant W.C.

I loved the place immediately.

Admittedly it might have been the McEwan’s Scotch Ale that endeared me to the city more than the Superloos. Either way, by the time we were headed back to England two days later, I was smitten.

It was characteristically blustery during our March visit, and I think it suited the city perfectly.

Shaking off the cold every time we entered a pub. Pulling scratchy wool blankets around ourselves each night at the hostel. Shopping for beautifully woven Scottish sweaters. Exploring the stark, stone enclaves of Edinburgh castle. The experience wouldn’t have been quite the same if we had more temperate weather.

Mary King's Close, 1995.

The Most Haunted Place in Britain

The nip in the air was matched by the chilling stories of Edinburgh’s gruesome, often bloody history.

There may not have been any wizards in Edinburgh, but there were plenty of stories of witches and ghosts.

One night my friends and I stumbled upon a ghost tour. We joined in and learned about the public witch hangings at the Mercat Cross. As we passed by ancient cemeteries, our guide told us of the city’s history of frequent grave robbings and body snatching, a profitable practice since the University’s medical school paid well for cadavers in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Perhaps the most disturbing story is that of Mary King’s Close. The narrow street, or “close,” is rumored to have been hit particularly hard by the plague. To limit the spread of disease, as the story goes, officials walled up the close allowing doomed occupants to starve and die. (Mary King’s Close was opened to the public and is now a tourist attraction.)

Hooray for Scotland, or Ireland?

After seeing people around town wearing team colors, we discovered that our trip coincided with a big Scotland v. Ireland rugby match being held in Edinburgh.

I don’t remember who won, but the night after the final game provided the quintessential U.K. pub experience. Remember the scene in Titanic when Rose visits the peasants’ quarters? Well, that’s what it was like: arms linked to strangers, singing Molly Malone (Cockles and Mussels), and dancing as broken pint glasses crunched under foot.

The age-old kilt question

Well, now we know.

Before leaving the city, we stopped at one of the dozens of stores that were draped in Scotch paid and filled with every imaginable type of country-themed souvenir. It was like stepping into the old Mike Myers’ “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!” skit.

We made a few purchases and the store clerk asked if we wanted a photo with him. Why not? As we posed, he said to us, “You know, Scotsmen don’t wear anything under our kilts.” The camera flashed, and so did he.

I’m sure many things have changed in the 15-plus years since I traveled to Edinburgh. But hopefully, not too much.

The next time I go, there’s still one thing that I know won’t change. I’m still not trying the haggis.

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.

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.”