Travel, travel with kids

New York City with Tweens and Teens

New York City has been a favorite destination of mine for decades and it’s fun for me to see how the city has changed over the years. I know a lot of people who don’t want to go to NYC today because they’re old enough to remember its not-so-distant dark past. In the 70s and 80s, the dangerous city warned people away as it hovered near bankruptcy, cutting firefighters and police officers to the quick and cautioning people that being out after 6 PM meant risking your life. Looking back, I should have been afraid, too, but having earned a lifetime membership in the International Thespian Society as a kid, MY New York got its heartbeat from its theatre. It never occurred to me that maybe New York wasn’t the place to travel with kids.

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Ellis Island – opened as museum in 1990

Luckily (and with a great deal of strong leadership and hard work), real change from a tourism perspective began to show around the late 90s. By the time our older (now 26 and 28 years old) kids were old enough to start appreciating travel, taking kids to New York was considered relatively safe, so long as you took certain safeguards. Interestingly, the first time I took my kids to New York was the first time I ever felt a pang of nervousness and a genuine awareness of which neighborhoods we visited at which time of day. We avoided Central Park and only used the subway once (just to show them what it was like).

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Keep predators away from kids when traveling

Today, I have no qualms whatsoever taking kids to New York. Obviously, parents must take the same general, common-sense precautions they should when traveling with children to any big city, but I would, and have, visit all five boroughs with kids. Perhaps a sign of the times, however — we had to have an impromptu Internet Safety lesson when we realized our stalker was tracking our every move on our son’s (now private) Instagram account. While we’re well-practiced at obscuring personal details to throw the stalker off our scent (I’m rarely where the Internet says I am at the time of my posts), we had neglected to share these good online habits with the kids. Once we got back off the grid, we all felt perfectly safe everywhere we went in the city.

Now we have learned over the course of many family vacations that life is easier of you settle a couple of things before you ever leave home. One, every child gets a set amount of spending money that they may spend however they wish. This eliminates any “will you buy me… (ice cream, toy, etc.)” conversations and meltdowns. Two, have each person select one “must-do” thing that interests them, and then fit in other small things around those plans as we had time and interest. This helps a lot with age differences and with the inertia that comes from trying to force everyone to agree on everything. Generally we find that everyone ends up picking something that everyone enjoys, even if it isn’t something everyone would inherently choose themselves.

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Central Park Zoo

Emma selected the Central Park Zoo. I absolutely adore Central Park – a love that grew out of my running hobby, but like a lot of “touristy” places in New York, I had never been to the Central Park Zoo. Tip learned the hard way: if you go to the self-serve kiosk, you can only buy the “Total Zoo Experience,” if if you just want the zoo (and petting zoo), skip the kiosk and get in line.

The zoo itself if pretty small so it only took us an hour or so to see everything. We spent the rest of our afternoon exploring the rest of Central Park. The kids enjoyed Alice and Wonderland, but seemed to enjoy climbing all the rocks the most.

Harwood said he wanted “food” – meaning anything ethnic and/or not easily found in the South, so Harwood got to recommend where we ate.  In addition to the massive amount of street food, Harwood also chose: Serendipity 3, Max Brenner’s, “real” NY Pizza delivery, Cafe Lalo, Sprinkle’s Cupcakes, and Tony’s Di Napoli. This was great fun, but be forewarned of the 10 pounds you’ll gain if you give a male teenager with no metabolism cap all food decision authority.

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My choice was a no brainer since my Yankees were playing the Red Sox. It was off to Yankee Stadium, baby! The lesson learned on this one: if you’re going to take kids, consider an afternoon game. Poor Emma feel asleep somewhere around the 6th inning since the game didn’t even begin until 7:30.

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Exploring the Hayden Planetarium

 

My husband selected the American Natural History Museum that, despite the crowds built up by the afternoon (driven indoors by the rain, I presume), was a huge hit with the tween, the teen, and the adults. In hindsight, we would do museums on weekdays and other not-as-touristy stuff on weekends. The cafe is expensive for not particularly good food, so I recommend hopping out to the slew of food trucks lining the streets around the museum for lunch instead.

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Family Time

Even at the fast clip we have in museums, we didn’t see but maybe half of all the museum has to offer and we were there when the museum opened. It really is worth carving out an entire day AND planning out what you want to see so you know what you can leave for the next trip.

A quick thought on being there when it opens: don’t bother. The line is deceptively long (seriously the place is gigantic) and if you wait another 30 minutes, you’ll walk right in. We experienced the same at the Smithsonian Museums in Washington DC.

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The Tall Lady

In addition to our pre-selected “must-dos,” we all agreed on a couple of places we wanted to see. In all the times I’d been to New York, I’d never seen the Statue of Liberty, so we carved out a morning to visit, along with a trip to Ellis Island. We enjoyed the boat ride and did a small amount of sightseeing, but I have to say, like with many places that solely exist to draw tourists, I can probably live the rest of my life without feeling the need to do it again. We had intended to look up my grandpa who came through Ellis Island from England as a kid, but found out you can access all the same information online for free without waiting in line (no, there’s no giant book you flip through – it’s on the same Internet you have at home).

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Forbidden Planet and Strand Books

We had much more fun wandering through the stores selling all the things the kids love. We hit Dillon’s Candy Bar, the Nintendo Store, The Lego Store, Strand Books, and a group favorite, Forbidden Planet. We collectively chose to skip stuff like the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, and the 9/11 Memorial. I’ve been to each of these and can say I’ve never seen a kid who didn’t look bored there. With so many (fun!) kid-friendly things to do, there’s really no reason to stick to tourist traps.

One of Emma’s favorite local amusements was the Hippo Playground in Riverside Park, since hippos are her favorite animal. We thought about making the trip to Coney Island to hit up Luna Park, but that train ride takes OMZ fo-ev-ah, so we decided to wait for another time when we could see the mermaid parade. The list of things we did not get to do is long and the kids are already asking when we’ll go back. I go at least 3 or 4 times a year for various reasons, so I’m sure they’ll get another chance soon. I’m thinking they need to see New York at Christmastime – that’s when the city is REALLY magical.

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Travel

South Carolina’s Coastal Towns

It’s almost time to say goodbye to summer, so we’re taking one last trip to the beach. I hesitated a good bit before agreeing to the trip — so much suffering going on in Houston and Florida from Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. My friends in these areas insist they’re okay, including the ones in Avon Park who are still without power. But they won’t leave because of the looters and there is little good I can do down there right now other than be completely in the way. My husband convinced me to take a romantic weekend getaway to relax and shake off the worries of the world for a few days.

We’re going to one of our favorite places, Hilton Head. While packing, I started thinking about the big coastal towns in South Carolina and how they all have completely different personalities. If you’ve never been, allow me to introduce them to you.

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From www.destination360.com
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Myrtle Beach Boardwalk

At the top of the state is Myrtle Beach (and North Myrtle Beach). Since so much of our family is from that area, we end up spending a lot of time there. Myrtle Beach is a tourist town. Think Pigeon Forge, Branson Missouri, or the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, but with an ocean instead of mountains or a giant waterfall as its focal point. If you get bored, there’s no helping you.

The major draws are Spring Break, Biker Week, family vacations, and golf (boasting an incredible 102 golf courses). There is a cheesy gift shop on every corner (Gay Dolphin FTW!), a great boardwalk, and tons of things to do with the kids. Head just south of Myrtle Beach and you’ll find Pawley’s Island and Litchfield Beach, where we prefer to stay.

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Isle of Palms Beach

Charleston sits just south of the center of the coast and if you’re looking for someplace that oozes Southern, this is it. I prefer the beaches over Myrtle Beach simply because they’re less crowded. The charming downtown area has a crazy number of amazing restaurants and some touristy stuff, but not like the loud “WELCOME TO VEGAS” feel of Myrtle Beach.

Some of the fun things to do in Charleston include the Battery, Patriots Point, the Charleston City Market, and of course, Fort Sumter. If you’re into dollhouses, one of the best I’ve seen is Memories Gifts & Antiques. I have definitely contributed to the local economy in this arena.

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The Omni Hilton Head

The southernmost spot on the South Carolina coast is Hilton Head Island and easily my favorite of the three. My husband and I visited a couple of times when we first dated, but then my husband had a horrible experience there and refused to go back for several years. Thankfully, he eventually disassociated the place from that experience and we returned, loving it even more than we did before.

Where one visits Myrtle Beach to play and Charleston to “experience,” one goes to Hilton Head to relax. Everything runs a little bit slower in this calm and laid back place.We like the Omni Hilton Head Resort, but there are plenty of fantastic resorts to choose from. Savannah Georgia is only an hour away, making for an awesome day trip. Among my top suggested Hilton Head to-dos: The bike trails, Pinckney Island, shopping the outlet malls, some of the most challenging golf courses I’ve ever seen, and my favorite — absolutely nothing. That’s our plan for this weekend. Hang out by the pool, spend some good quality time together, read a book, maybe write some, and a whole lot of napping. Bon Voyage!

Random Thoughts

How Responsible Tourism Can Challenge Patriarchy in India.

I would love to go see what difference, if any, a year has made.

The Shooting Star

Over the course of my travels in India, I’ve found myself in some strange predicaments. Once, I was in the home of a middle class family in the mountains, ready to pounce on delicious local food after a long, back-breaking journey. But when I arrived in the dining area, I found myself joined only by the men of the family, as the women served, and then waited on us from a distance.

I sat in awkward silence, not sure if I should join the women in the kitchen and further the house’s patriarchal traditions, or eat with the men as the women waited. I could imagine the same scene playing out in hundreds of households across the country.

At the end of the awkward (though delicious) meal, the elderly male head of the household said to me with a disconcerting confidence: I think I’ve figured out why you ate so little, it was probably because…

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Dollhouses & Miniatures, Hobbies

The Next Project – Miniature Coffee Shop

IMG_5216While it’s entirely possible that I suffer from too many hobbies already, I decided to start building my 1:12 scale dollhouse. This is the first one I’m building totally ground up, and I can only find time to work on it in spurts, so I expect it to take a LLOONNGG time to finish. My husband just moved all of my craft stuff into the family room so I could still hang out with him and the kids.

My last house, a 1:24 scale pre-built, I didn’t enjoy as much I think mostly because of the difficulty in working with that size having long fingernails. (How precious can it get? IKR?!?) I still have quite a bit of decorating to do on it, but I’m setting it aside until the granddaughters are a little bit old so they can help me finish it and then have it to play with, since I already have all of the furniture for it.

 

IMG_4261The plan for this next dollhouse is a coffee shop / bakery — largely because I’ve already bought most of the accessories and need someplace to display them. 🙂 I couldn’t help myself. Cute stuff is cute. I have a couple favorite shops. When I’m in New York, I can’t resist The Tiny Dollhouse on East 78th Street, which is where the coffee shop idea started. Long story short, I fell in love with an espresso machine. I didn’t buy it when I first saw it due to a bit of sticker shock (I mean seriously – how can something so tiny cost that much??) combined with having already overspent my shopping budget for the trip. I couldn’t stop thinking about, tho, and went back to pick it up a few months later, along with a host of other coffee shop awesomeness.

Closer to home, I love Miniature Memories in Charleston, SC. There I found some more accessories to bring the coffee shop to life. Inspired by my favorite coffee shop here in Columbia, SC, The Local Buzz, I picked up some more books and puzzles and games. I’ve been ordering little things here and there from online shops, too – and perhaps planning the next few projects while I was at it. I put a lot of my ideas and inspirations on my Dollhouses and Miniatures Pinterest board.

Between visits to Charleston and my last couple trips to NYC, I have collected close to 50 pieces. If I don’t get around to building this house soon, I suspect my husband may ban me from bringing any more of this adorable stuff home.

I have plans on building some of the accessories myself, but we’ll see how ambitious I feel after I get the house built. This weekend I’ll be dying the shingles and varnishing the floors so they can dry all week. Over the next couple weekends, I’ll tackle the giving the exterior its first coat and sanding. Today the kids and I picked up an awesome family room present for my husband’s birthday this week — He’ll be nicely occupied for a while, LOL.

Reblog

Between Mom and Stepmom

Lovely intimate piece by @SarahMenkedick

Longreads

Sarah Menkedick | Longreads | May 2017 | 15 minutes (3,743 words)

 

Meg first appeared to me as a nimbus of curly red hair, looming above my top bunk late at night. The hair, backlit and aglow, was so remarkable that I reached up and patted it as though it were a rare creature. Meg offered the nervous, extra-buoyant “hi” of the girlfriend meeting the boyfriend’s kid for the first time. In reply, I stroked the hair.

I was five; she was 25. Just a few weeks before, she had met my dad at an art opening. He was up-front about the fact that he was 37, divorced, with a 15-year-old and a five-year-old. She was working the second shift at a hospital, reading dense Buddhist texts, hanging out with a band of artists whose blue velvet berets and psychedelic hand-stenciled trunks would later color our house. They met…

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Reblog

Meet and Greet: 5/20/17

Check out some great new blogs to follow!

Dream Big, Dream Often

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It’s the Meet and Greet weekend everyone!! Strap on your party shoes and join the fun!

Ok so here are the rules:

  1. Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post.
  2. Reblog this post. It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!
  3. Edit your reblog post and add tags.
  4. Feel free to leave your link multiple times! It is okay to update your link for more exposure every day if you want. It is up to you!

  5. Share this post on social media. Many of my non-blogger friends love that I put the Meet n Greet on Facebook and Twitter because they find new blogs to follow.

See ya on Monday!!

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Human Issues, Random Thoughts

Spammers, Stalkers, and Trolls – Part 2 (or possibly Part 947 :::rolls eyes::: )

Since getting called out in January for trying to comment on my blog, my stalker, Melissa David, has been so quiet we started hoping she had finally gotten help and moved on. She’s blocked from our Facebook accounts and we’ve stopped updating profile and cover pictures to try to make her lose interest. Our Instagram accounts are set to private, we stopped using Tumblr all together, and we don’t put family pictures anywhere she can get to them, since she really loves attacking our children and grandchildren.

sorryEven still, I can see when she lurks on my blog thanks to WordPress analytics, and my Pinterest analytics show a disproportionately high number of visits from the New York area. This inspires me to try not to post anything that might accidentally provoke her. Unfortunately, she’s perpetually convinced everything we do has something to do with her. I had to stop tweeting anything that would indicate where we are traveling at any moment, especially trips to New York, because those really set her off.

I do still haveimg_3454 her name on regular rotation for morning prayers. I can’t shake a lingering feeling she’s really needs all the prayers she can get. The IP address she used during the last comment spam harassment episode indicate she’s using Dunkin’ Donuts free wifi to appear she’s living in a respectable neighborhood instead of a shelter or the projects, which just makes me sad for her on so many levels. Single and alone, destitute, no family, childless, alcoholic. Wildly obsessed (for seven years) with someone she’s never met. I pray for her for all that and in general; however, I have to admit, she has rarely come to mind otherwise.

IMG_6572Then, a week or two ago, totally unprovoked and out-of-the-blue, we started receiving random letters and packages. At first, it was just a catalog here, a free sample there. Obviously it was her (using random homophones of my name is typical of her often middle school like tactics), but again, feeling more pity for her than anything, we chose to ignore it.

Unfortunately, narcissistic sociopaths do not like being ignored.

IMG_9318The mailings increased every day. More types of junk mail, more weird name spelling, more Jr. High obnoxiousness. Plus-size clothing catalogs. Religious brochures. Adult incontinence product samples.

She must have enjoyed some pretty intense drunken binges and several late night Google searches accompanying her daily visits to my social media sites. How miserable does a person have to be? I cannot even imagine how much time it would take someone to do all this. All just to get my attention? I might feel special if it weren’t so incredibly creepy. Of course we still ignored her. I’d still be ignoring this if it hadn’t continued to get worse and worse.

IMG_0900 3-downThe past two days, I finally reached the point where I decided to publicly call her out (and hopefully shut her down again) because of the OTHER victims in this ridiculous stalker prank. All of this costs people money to send, but the bulk magazine and bulk mail advertising is one thing — but making people send us things using Next Day Fed-Ex is something totally different. Especially when it isn’t a regular envelope. In just the past two days, we’ve received three books that cost the senders between $4.00 and $8.00 each. Why would someone do that to people?

IMG_7865The other victims are our postal workers. Today alone we received 14 POUNDS of junk mail. The mail carrier had to get out of his delivery car and make two trips to bring it all to the door. The ONE DAY pile is 9 inches tall.

Seriously? These poor people have to work hard enough every day. I could not possibly care less at her pathetic attempts to garner my attention, but I’m pretty irritated that she’s involving total strangers. It’s just so immature and gross.

Sadly, outside of calling her out on her obnoxious stalking, I imagine there is little we can do to help the other victims. We’ll cancel what we can, obviously, and we’ve reported it to the Postal Inspection Service. Will they be able to do anything? I doubt it. It’s not like anyone is going to set up a sting operation at Dunkin’ Donuts.

I used to wonder if my husband exaggerated her crude and bitter ugliness when he told miserableme stories about her, but I realize after years of her torment that he was actually generously flattering. What right does an uneducated, homeless, unemployed prostitute have to do this to people?

This tasteless prank illustrates how very basic she really is. The epitome of classlessness. These hardworking folks – just trying to make an honest dollar hauling mail in the South Carolina heat. WTH?

Just because someone she doesn’t even know is living the life she thinks she wants but doesn’t think she can have? If she would just get a job and take her meds regularly – plus get a sponsor and stay on her AA program – I’m sure she could find some guy to marry, get a little house in the suburbs, plant a garden, learn to cook. I’ll even unblock her on Pinterest so she can repin my life to her heart’s content – I would wish anyone a wonderful life like mine… even her. I am the first one to say I’m blessed far beyond what I deserve.

I guess I need to keep praying for her. Maybe I need to take her off rotation and add her to the daily list.

Luke 6:27-30 – 27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

Romans 12:20 –  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

If you feel so inclined, please pray for a woman named Melissa David.

UPDATE 5/21/17:

Sadly, the harassment continues. She must have wanted to make absolute sure I knew it was her since she’s using calling cards. “Ericunt” is, apparently, her favorite pet name for me. The fake email addresses she keeps using to order stuff online (from the U.S. Government!!) follow the same pattern she has used on all of her fake profiles and her personal gmail address (erroin76heroin – anais77nin).

Only someone with absolutely nothing to lose would risk felony charges for stalking, mail fraud, slander, and identity theft over and over again. It’s so sad! Continually attacking innocent people demonstrates a complete lack of morals.

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Just for Fun, Random Thoughts

Painting, Pinterest, and Procrastination #redecorating

We’re getting ready to redecorate. Well, I say redecorate, but we never really got around to finishing the decorating when we bought the house three years ago. Recently, my husband and I have started feeling artsy and inspired to take on the redecorating ourselves. I have a vision of a warm, inviting kitchen with a Tuscan color scheme and old world / southern country French accents and my husband is determined to master the Tuscan faux paint technique.

Innocently but inevitably, this drove me to Pinterest. The vortex. The black hole. The incessant time suck addiction which has, of course, taken over my every conscious free moment. A thousand pins on 20 boards later, we haven’t bought any paint brushes, but I’ve planned out my next 5K, 10K, and half marathon; created a reading list through 2023; and planned the next three vacations (India, Germany, and Budapest – I didn’t even know I wanted to visit Budapest).

Like most women, I pretty much planned my wedding on Pinterest. And our vow renewal ceremonies every five years until we die. You did it, too. Don’t lie.

Pin pin pin pin pin.pants

I mean, seriously. Look at these gold jamavaar cigarette trousers with diamanté embroidery that I now have to buy!! —————>

Even with all the distractions, I managed to find a lot of great decorating ideas. The husband has at least four different painting techniques he’s going to try out and we actually landed on a color for the kitchen (three shades of color, actually) that will complement the living and dining rooms nicely (if we ever get around to finishing them).

Thanks to Pinterest, I also located my two artful contributions – hand-painted ceiling medallions and stenciling for the archways. Right now, since it’s all in my head and no where near a reality, the project will be easy, not at all exhausting, and a wonderful fun bonding experience for me and my husband. Aren’t you excited for us? Wanna help?

Random Thoughts

9 signs he loves you for who you are #Blessed

My husband and I will celebrate our anniversary in a couple days and today this timely article popped up in my blog feed. All these years together and we still look forward to seeing each other every day after work. These are my sweetie to a tee, and I can definitely say I am one lucky lady. I wish all my readers this kind of love… if not now, then in the near future. Cheers!

1. They love the things about you that you don’t necessarily love about yourself. When you’re running around your apartment like a chicken with its head cut off because you forgot where you put your keys only to realize they’re in your hands, your SO isn’t annoyed, they’re one part amused, and two…

via 9 Signs Your Significant Other Loves You For Who You Really Are — Thought Catalog