Saturday, July 31, 2010

Turistaventure #1; Faneuil Hall, Boston, MA

When the cuzzes are in town from Orlando, you gotta start off the weekend as touristy as it gets.  Go Faneuil Hall.  I mean, where can you get more square miles of "Boston" t-shirts anywhere else in Beantown?  Where else can you hit fried dough and oysters in the same stretch of crazy market hallway?

We started off in style with a revisit to the Commons.  Sydney reminded us of our last pleasant outing for the Walk for Hunger.  So we hit the Swan Boats again, and made sure to catch the carousel.  We breezed past the Frog Pond which looked like it was better suited to skating than swimming.  Then we rocked the Freedom Trail for a few minutes down to the Hall, giving a shout out to the Sam Adam's grave and the Revolutionary reenactors sporting it as tour guides.  Perhaps another day, in say ten years when they may care a bit more (see Williamsburg and Lexington).

Now before you enter the hall, it is important to plan a strategy.  Don't by any means get stuck at the pizza Bagel stop with kids.  They will think they want them (and they don't).   Make a bee line for the tables in the court to hold down the fort.  Then slowly plan out your attack.  All we cared about was the Walrus and the Carpenter Oyster Bar, a fav standby.  Most importantly though, we hit the shows.  This time we watched Lucky Bob, Prop Comic Juggler.  For a five spot in tips, out kids were amazed for over half an hour.  Best of all, he called on Sydney out of dozens of other little ones.  And my little man, he threw a perfect strike of a bowling pin to Bob while he balanced on a board. A perfect turista intro.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wild Horses, Great Biscuits; The Eastern Shore of Virginia, Chincoteague Island, VA

I have almost been run over by a moose in the Tetons.  I almost ran down a big brown bear in the Alaska's Chugach wilderness who thankfully took off.  But, I put my family at risk from a giant wild mustang who simply wanted an apple slice from a Subway kiddie meal.  You know those giant signs in Yellowstone that say “do not feed the wildlife!,”  and “do not get out of your cars!”  Why then, was my two year old out of the car with an apple slice in his hand within hoof kicking distance of his head?  I have no excuse but to say, “ I F’d up!”

Virginia just keeps getting better and better.  We did manage to join together in one of my Bucket List items; to walk amongst wild horses in the marshes of Chincoteague island.  Do I get points for hoisting the boys through the marsh to join me even though we had to leave wifey behind?    It was a mystical highlight of an eventful southern tour.  The beach here wasn’t too shabby either.

As we head across the Mason-Dixon I was terrified that I wouldn’t check off any southern trip must: Bojangles Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits.  Single-handidly the most terrible food for you and an almost near to G-D experience for the soul.  

I dedicate this haiku to Grandma Flora (F for the Finn in Liji Finn), who filled her fridge with a bucket every trip to Miami:

Biscuit’s dreamy flakes

Crisp, fried, salty, tender thigh

Slurp sweat southern tea…

Cradle of Liberty, watch out!

Dare to Play Indi League Ball; Kill Devil Hills Daredevils, Kill Devil Hills, NC

Kill Devil Hills, NC

Every summer is an opportunity to build my knowledge of our nation’s (and my boys) favorite pastime.  This summer I’m tackling the new biography of Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy by Jane Leavy.  Sandy was a kid of immigrants, a sandlot player from Brooklyn who left Lafayette, my grandparents’ high school for the big show.  As we sat on the bleachers at First Flight High to watch the Daredevils, you wondered whether these boys were headed their some day too.

Despite the DH, the perfect turf and Fox broadcasting, baseball hasn’t changed much in the last fifty years.  Independent summer ball teams here, like their colleagues in the Cape Cod League still give these boys a chance to hit college and get ready for the bigs.  It also gives my boys a chance to learn the fundamentals of walks, strike outs and the infield fly sitting behind home for free.  

The Daredevils drew a pretty decent crowd for a small park.  Perhaps it was their mascot, Homer the Wild Mustang, who was willing to offer up at least ten high-fives to Elijah.  Maybe it was the icee mascot who offered Sydney a chance to win a free one between innings by rolling giant dice on the field.  I am pretty confident though that it was the fine bbq pork sandwiches from
Pigmans’ (second night in a row baby, what luck!)  Either way it was a perfect end to a perfect week with our Carolinian friends.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Waves are Alive with the Sounds of Dolphins; Outer Banks Cruises, Manteo, NC

My kids are the ones you see at the Aquarium debating the merits of echolocation with their cousins.  Unlike their cousins, their mom isn’t the Curator of Marine Mammals.  Their mom didn’t train dolphins for a living either.  But like them, their mom loves her some animals.  Sydney hit his first whale watch in utero up in Maine.  Kam hit the boat’s bathroom, a lot.  She would do anything for her kids to catch some whales.  She made sure we got out last summer in P'Town.  At this point whale watches and beach vacations are a family tradition.

The Outer Banks is notorious for their dolphins.  Several mornings we woke up, only to discover pods migrating outside our living room window while picturesque pelicans floated overhead.  We headed out to Manteo to get a closer look.  The Outer Banks Dlphin Cruises has only been following them for sixteen years, but their family had been fishing off the OBX since the eighteenth century.  It’s possible these dolphin and this family’s ancestors have been trolling these waters together ever since.

We seem to have a penchant for hitting homers on whale watches these days.  We spent an hour sliding in and out of a pod of over thirty bottlenose.  Little twenty-five pound babies crested over the backs of their mommies.  Daddies showed off their flippers, smacking the waves.  A few even jumped up and out of the water to show us their stuff.  It was the best showing this family outfit had seen in weeks.  Chalk one up to another successful cetacean outing and more fuel for the biologist in my boys. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Other Cape; Cape Hatteras, The Outer Banks, NC

Turtles and light houses.  Hmmmm….  The Outer Banks is a Cape-like juxtaposition of natural wonders and man-made fun.  There are bumper boats and bogs.  Kite stores and hundred-foot dunes.  Nowhere is this more true than Cape Hatteras.  Home to centuries of shipwrecks (including the infamous Blackbeard the pirate), this spit of sand should have featured in the Old Man and the Sea (atop the list of my Hemingway favs), because nowhere else has man versus nature played out more splendidly (not even on TV).

The Hatteras light; score one for the home team.  Nature won this battle so triumphantly that man had to move his creation hundreds of feet inland away from the shifting tides.  While this beacon saved thousands of lives, it is a wonder how many were lost in pursuit of glory.  Sydney and I were joined our Carolinian friends Brian and Ainslee on the one hundred and twenty step ascent up to the top.  Nature won again though and we were barred from the observation deck by the same winds that allowed the Wright Brothers to fly.

Score one for man at the conservation land at Pea Island.  We poked through a marsh full of snowy egrets and humongous turtles only to discover a bulldozer and backhoe.  Now my men love their trucks, but it was a little disconcerting to discover man’s machines in the middle of an otherwise pristine landscape.  We dug a little harder and found retaining walls constructed by Carolinians to preserve such beautiful and wild places.  Folks like Brian who directs the North Carolina Conservation Network are working hard to make sure that man works with nature to make this place a gem for generations to come.

The OBX Beach Experience; Nags Head Beach, Nags Head, OBX, NC

We are beach snobs.  We devour beaches like we do zoos.  We should be beach connoisseurs for the National Academy of Beach Assessors.  We drove over fourteen hours to join our friends Brian and Kaci and their three kiddos Ainslee, Chase and Lyla down on the Outer Banks.  And we studied this beach hard!  Six straight days at any beach is a record for us.  We didn’t even cheat on it with other more beautiful or rustic beaches like we usually do.  We couldn’t resist, it was so pretty and fun.

Boarding.  Our four-year old son learned how to boogie, wake and surf.  Clearly he is more coordinated than either of his parents.  Despite the jellyfish and beantown-like water temps this kid twisted and twirled, spun and dove through two and three foot waves for hours a day.  He was fearless.  Seven-year olds watched him in awe.  Blame it on the perfect four-year older waves.  Well, I noticed it didn’t help those other kids.

Elijah got into the wave act too.  Our little daredevil rode his daddy like Seabiscuit through the surf.  But his mojo was the sand.  The gentle slope was home to a million shells and millions more ghost crabs darting in and out of their holes all morning and evening.  Nags Head was that perfect balance of heat, sand and waves.  Even for dads.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Taking Flight on the Outer Banks: The Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, NC

Kill Devil Hills, NC

It was just about Sydney’s age that I began the wonderful pilgrimage every month via good ole Eastern airlines from Hanover, NH to my dad’s new home in New Jersey.  A four-year old flying solo?  Terrifying you say?  Oh no, it was the 70’s and I got first class treatment without the regs.  Tours of the cockpit on every flight.  Super, attentive flight attendants who who’d rarely met a kid of divorce.  I fell in love with planes. I was determined to get my pilots license by fourteen.

The boys have flown a lot.  Check out their recent jaunt to Rome or their semi-annual pilgrimages to Miami. I had hoped Sydney might catch the bug.  What better place to go viral than Kitty Hawk.  I tried with my poor physics skills (a D on my first test in high school = no more physics, ever, not MC squared) to explain how they created flight.  The museum does a decent job, for rocket scientists.  We spent a long time reenacting the first, second, third and fourth flights as he ran the distance between the markers.

The highlight of the day was by far the park ranger program.  Every park we go to they get more and more kid-friendly these days.  This one was kite flying, no joke!  And voila, Sydney asked all the right questions about flight.  Even Liji was able to figure out how to put a man on the moon that day.  Perhaps my boys will fare better in physics than either I did or those crazy Wright Brothers.

History Alive; Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, VA

As a history teacher, I love reenactments.  In fact, my friends and I got a grant one summer just to trail the civil war throughout the south.  We didn't get in one reenactment!  Perhaps it was my early experiences with Plimoth Plantation.  Maybe it was 7th grade when we got to reenact the trial of the Boston Massacre.  I got to be the lead bad guy, how cool. I think we may wait a little on that one for the boys though. In the meantime, we eased them in with Lexington and Concord this winter.   We were ready for the show.

I had always planned a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, but just never hooked east from Richmond.  On our trip south to North Carolina, the chance presented itself.  Sure it was 95 and humid as all get out, but we were ready.   We slid past the plantation (boy is slavery tough to explain) and started toward the shady gardens by the Governor's palace.  The kids loved the run through the intricately carved bushes.

We were pouring sweat and desperate for lunch (daddy, lunch!  Daddy, Lunch!)  Our options were the Tavern and…. The Tavern, so we picked Chowning's.  I wasn’t sure how we would introduce terms such as grog and wenches to our young kiddos.  Thankfully besides the dress and the d├ęcor we were given the choice of modern conveniences such as turkey sandwich and bbq pork sandwich.  But, the highlight of the trip was the reenactment.  FINALLY!  Sydney literally chased the pied pipers down the street as they paraded from the beautifully restored brick capitol building to the end of town.  Hot, sticky and a bit over their heads?  Perhaps.  An educational destination for their teen years sandwiched betwixt a stop at Water Country and Busch Gardens down the road?  For sure.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wild Rides, Wild Beasts: York's Wild Kingdom, York, ME

Ahhh Maine in the summer.  Picturesque rocky shore lines.  Pristine mountain lakes feeding into Poland Springs.  Beautiful white tigers. Tigers?  Wait, you mean lobsters?  Scallops?  Puffins?  No, lions, tigers, bears, ya know.  York's Wild Kingdom was like a beer run across state lines.  Not sure you actually went there to save the money, but it sure was fun to be in Maine.

We started off the day in the Wild Kingdom of Animals.  Marlin Perkins would have been proud.  There were cassowaries and sloths, lemurs and servals.  While the pens were small, and the service a bit dated, there were plenty of wild friends to meet.  We pet at least forty goats and a few deer.  We hung out at the elephant show and actually got to feed her (she had just finished painting a landscape - animal cruelty no doubt!). Our pachyderm friend was almost as old as my parents. 

After lunch we hit Wild Kingdom amusements.  The rides were perfect.  Sydney hit the giant slide a few times, while the young ones flew around on planes (with gunner positions, thank goodness).  The highlight though was the bumper mobiles.  Sydney loved the big kid bumper cars, driving for real for the first time in his life.  Lij and cousin Sky hit the bumper boats (let's just say driving was less crucial here).  After four and half hours we were so toasted that we skipped the clam shack on the way home.  It never really felt like Maine, but it was sure worth the trip.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Small Ball at the Yard: Futures at Fenway, Fenway Park, Boston, MA

Today was their big day.  Last Tuesday was mine.  Today they dipped a toe in the splendid grass that covers Fenway.  Tuesday I took the mound at the Y.  Minor league kids who dreamed of this day doned their Lowell Spinner caps and made adjustments.  Up until Tuesday I had been dreading/dreaming of coaching T-ball for my son some day.  Today it all came together.

Was the baseball good at Futures at Fenway?  Was it good at the Y with 4 and 5 year olds taking the field?  Do I really need to answer either of those questions?  All I know is that Sydney could ask me today why the runner stole second and the Fenway Franks tasted perfect.  When my buddy Leo and I debated why stealing home on a passed ball on the fourth ball was ok, I am fairly certain Sydney at least had an inkling of what we were talking about.  Maybe the guys behind us who was staying for the second game of to watch the Salem affiliate could answer us.

Sydney was willing to sit through the rain out and "watch the tarp."  He even decided to shoot down the ride to our car, parked over as always by the "cheap lot" at BU so that we got get drenched.  We drove home shirtless through a monsoon with class IV rapids on Route 9. It sure beat driving home from Pawtucket.   If today wasn't an adventure, well hell, what is?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ummm People's Republic: The Taste of Cambridge, Cambridge, MA

Alright.  In case you haven't already guessed we both work in Cambridge.  And while we love it with all of our hearts, the People's Republic just ain't NYC.  Now that wasn't true when I was at NNHS and we hit the square every summer evening cruising like Coloradans revvin' their pickup engines down Main Street.  For all intents and purposes, this event was the a late twenty-something version of the same thing, but this time it was for a gerat cause.  CitySprouts.  And we were ready to eat.

Now my best friend Foodie Mommy might argue that Cambridge got it going on in the culinary world, but you'll notice she sneaks off to the Apple every chance she gets.  There was some good stuff here at the Taste, but it was point in case why being a Foodie in Beantown is tough.  The boys?  They didn't mind.  They stuffed their faces. The girls?  They didn't mind either, each ticket came with four glasses of beverage included.

For $50 (free for the kiddos) we got to surf Boston's finest.  Lij particularly liked the fruit gazpacho.  The higlight of the evening though was the message.  The fine folks at City Sprouts have made an amazing garden with the staff, families and kids at my school.  You should check them out.  Even better throw them a few bucks (yeah, that cutie with the tomatoe is one of my boys). The evening reflected their excellent work all the way down to the compostable silverware.  So if you are single and surfing and wanna help some kids get fresh veggies, check out the Taste of Cambridge and bring my boys for free.

Jersey in the Berkshires: Play Bousquet, Pittsfield, MA

After a lifetime of staying out of the Berkshires, we are back for pass two of three in less than six months.  Needless to say, last time was in a foot of snow and a day of crazy downhill at Butternut. This time it was 90 degrees and we needed to cool down after a morning of horseback at Undermountain Farm.  Yesterday we hit the lake, today we had our sights on the water slides.

Bousquet is a local fav amongst the ski set.  While Butternut was either too flat or steep, Bousquet seems to have made out better in the glacial age.  This winter we will try out their 22 lovely trails.  For now, we worked the mini-golf.  Oddly enough, Sydney seems to like golf.  Meemaw got him a set of "clubs" and he hacks away at home.  After hacking away off the greens at Bousquet, we got bored at hole 15.

I can't believe he waited this long for the slides.  The big kid/adult slides were tempting.  I almost took a Dadbreak.  Instead we watched in glee as Sydney shooshed down the kiddie slides.  It brought me back to my summers in Jersey at Action Park or down on the coast at Wildwood (thankfully pre-"Situation", but still Jersey Shore baby).  So I was delighted to see that the parking lot was full of Jersey plates.  You can take the kids out of Jersey, but you can't take the Jersey out of your kids.

What Lovely Horsies: Undermountain Farm, Lenox, MA

I like to think of myself as a bit of a risk taker.  I pride myself on the fact that my boys are willing to try anything.  I also love horses. Like with most large animals, some urge comes over me to scratch their ears, pat them, smile at them.  But, my last real experience riding was not a good one.  With little training I was at a cantor with a friend ahead of me who trained horses.  We started to race up a hill at camp and my horse shot ahead of hers.  As she tried to catch me to settle my horse, her ride threw her head first at a tree.  An hour later an ambulance made it to the rural spot in Maine with her eyes closed and slow breathing.  Thankfully a neck brace for her, but not a lot of riding for me after that.

So, the boys seem to share my love of large farm animals.  We hit the pony rides at Belkin and Davis, but that was just a tease.  Today, we met the coolest horse trainer I've ever seen.  She managed our party of five and two others, while calming gearing up the horses, directing her staff and generally holding court with kids ages two to fifteen.  "If he's over six months old and can sit up on his own, he can ride."  So as our two closest girlfriends (or 3rd grade super heros as the boys like to see them) led the horses, the boys took the mounts.  For thirty minutes they replayed every fantasy I had since watching Black Stallion in the seventies and reading the entire series (I know, I know, I was the only boy doing this, but at least the main character was a boy too).

This place is more than just rides though.  It is set over Tanglewood admist the mountains and trees.  It was a perfectly clear day with a bit of heat, and they were full up.  Some kids were getting ready for jumps, others like ours were on their first real outing. They run everything from trail rides to day camps.  They have it all.  But in the end, the have one most important factor to my boys; a love of animals.