Tag Archive | travel

Niagara-on-the Lake: Where to Stay, Where to Peddle, Where to Sip, Where to Sleep

Upon check-out at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Antique Slumber Inn, after a great breakfast of freshly cut fruit, homemade blueberry muffins and French toast, I was asked to sign the guest book that sat on an — antique — desk.

I flipped through the pages to see what other guests wrote. Our proprietor Cathy, a native of  Niagara on the Lake said, “you’ll find many folks from Rochester in there, it seems like we get a visitor from Rochester nearly every week.”

And why not?

Niagara-on-the-Lake (on Lake Ontario,Canada, that is) is 100 miles from Rochester, NY , but it feels  at some times as if you have gone abroad.  Canada  is another country, after all. You need your passport to get there. In Canada, where people say “aye” instead of “huh?” in conversation, things are measured in metrics, you will find a wine country that rivals Napa or Sonoma.

First, where we stayed

The Antique Slumber Inn has been in the same  family for five generations. While the house itself is 130 years old, inside it was gutted and completely new, you could still smell the newness of the paint.

The bedroom we stayed in had a cathedral ceiling, an octagon window and our own bathroom – all bright, clean and new. The location was right off the main strip but close enough that , once we parked our car, we didn’t drive it for our entire stay, chosing to walk or bike everywhere we needed to go.

At breakfast, we chatted with a young couple from Luxembourg. They were touring around New York and Canada and we asked them where they had been. As it turns out, on their visit to New York City, they went to the same Yankee game my parents attended, left at the very same time at the sixth inning as the skies opened and thunder roared.

Of course, I asked what else they saw and where they ate, and — if they had any good pizza.

They said that the pizza was very disappointing. I asked them, how could this be, disappointing pizza in Manhattan? Until they told me the only pizza they ate was

Completely mortified, I apologized to them whole heartedly.

As a New Yorker, my heart went out to them. I still think of them now, the poor young couple from Luxembourg who think that Sbarros is New York Pizza.

After consoling the folks from Luxembourg, we were on our way to rent bikes. Bike rentals in town go for about $50 a day, but at our B&B, Cathy rented them out for a nominal fee of $5, just enough for their upkeep. She also gave us coupons at selected wineries for tastings. We first peddled into town to stop to buy some sunglasses at the apothecary.


In the heart of downtown, Niagara-on-the-Lake can make the visitor also feel like they are back in time.  There are Victorian bed-and-breakfasts with vast porches, streets lined with gardens

There are even ladies on their way to tea after taking in a play from the Bernard Shaw Festival walking with gloves and parasols:

Where we sipped

The wine trail is clearly mapped out with signs bearing a grape logo. Some of our route took us along the Niagara River. Other parts took us along long straight roads called “lines” that went out into the vineyards and orchards.

After we cycled across town and through the Commons, our first stop  on our bikes as we traversed the trail along the Niagara River was  Riverview Cellars, where our pourer Greg did an impressive job of switching back from English to French as he  poured for us and a couple from Quebec.

This was our first stop on a WHOLE day of biking and sipping, so Craig took notes on which wine we liked from which winery. Copious notes. The Pino Grigio was a safe choice, but the Reisling and Cabernet, which had hints of leather (so we were told. Yes, it did taste like leather, but that’ what made it taste good) had much more character, and they were our favorites here.

We tried ice wine at Reif, a winery specializing in German varieties of grapes.

And then did more tasting at the Frog Pond, an organic winery:

I was really routing for the wine here. They use no pesticides on their grapes, rather they rely on a bird they imported from Africa that roam free in the vineyards to gobble up the pests. But really, this was the poorest tasting wine we sipped all day. It’s a new venture so maybe they’ll get it right in a few years.

In all, we peddled over 20 miles and sipped from seven wineries.

Be advised, that if you bike and taste, there are police on bikes to check the sobriety of bikers along the wine trail. After my fifth winery, located out on the “lines” – that’s way out in the vineyards, where each “line” road is separated by a square kilometer of vineyard – I was less interested in wine and more interested in water.

So I stopped to get wet by one of the many irrigation devices that sprayed plumes of water into the parched vineyards.

After a 20 mile bike ride, it was great to get back to our inn and rest in the hot tub.

But I still haven’t told you about the Ice Wine slushies. Yes. Ice. Wine. Slushies. I’ll save that for a later post.

“No, you may NOT tip, Young Man!” And other things heard and seen in a Canoe in Muskoka

With absolute awkwardness, I got in the canoe, rented from Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville, at the front. I don’t remember canoes being so wobbly, probably because I hadn’t been in one in at least 20 years.

“Are you sure that this canoe isn’t extra narrow?” I called back to my teen son.

My son climbed into the canoe with ease. The one who earned his golden oar after canoeing for five summers straight at camp. I let him take the back.

It was the last morning together with the boys. It had been a blessing in disguise that we couldn’t drop them off for Session II of the summer at Camp Ramah in Canada as early as we planned. That way, we had this one more adventure before we dropped them off for a whole month at camp.

On the first half of our trip, we divided the boys per canoe: My husband and younger son, 8 in one, and myself and my 13-year-old in another. That worked well. My husband and my teen took control, telling the less experienced rowers (my youngest and I) which side to paddle, and actually how to paddle.

Before  that morning’s canoe ride  with my 13-year-old son, I did not know there was such a thing as a C stroke or a J stroke. To me, it was all one thing, put your oar on the left side or the right, put it deep in the water, and pull back. I also did not know that, several times a week at camp, my son would wake up extra early to go canoeing with a small group of campers. Imagine that, a teen getting up extra early, when at home on vacation, I can barely get him out of bed by 10.

He said at camp he also played his guitar in a canoe.

He also told me one of his most spiritual moments at camp was when he and his other campers brought their prayer books and conducted morning services on the canoe.

Prayer books. On a canoe?

Clearly, the campers knew there were times for tipping the canoe, and other times, carrying precious cargo, times to keep the canoe perfectly balanced.

We rowed along a calm lake that had many inlets and narrow passages, so much that it seemed to have a current like a river. We passed quaint houses with well cared for and decorated docks.

We passed under a freight train bridge where a man working on the rails shouted greetings (and advice) to us from above. (You’ll just have to use your imagination here. I didn’t photograph him. Taking pictures, managing an oar,and trying not to tip over proved to be very challenging!) 

“Great day for a canoe ride, Ay? You should steer a little away from the side, Ay? I say, Ay, I think you’re headed for a rock, steer clear, Ay?”

Was my ineptitude that apparent? All those “ays.” I definitely knew I was in Canada.

Things were going well until, exploring the second half of the lake,  my older son insisted we switch. My son wanted to take his little brother under his wing and show him the ropes of rowing. He offered the argument that his edah (Hebrew for group) of campers never socialized with my son’s age group on waterfront activities and this would be his only chance to have some brother bonding on a boat.

Begrudgingly, (but I knew it was a bad idea) we agreed.

First, they got stuck going around a curve in a bramble of branches.

Then, they kept turning in circles as they got stuck in a current.

My older son overestimated my younger’s experience with the  oar. In his mind, he had to be an expert by now. After all, little brother had been canoeing for  an entire hour with dad. It was a lesson in brother bonding, and resisting the urge to throw little brother overboard.

Now that I was in the canoe with my husband, I wasn’t doing much better. Apparently, sitting in the front of the canoe, I pull my oar out of  the water way too fast and was splashing my husband at every stroke. He was clearly the one in charge in this canoe, the backseat rower.

“Stop splashing me, please! ”

“Three more strokes on your left, please!”

When I was in the canoe with my son, his main suggestion to me:

“Mom, just sit there and let me do the rowing. We’ll be better off that way.”

I did do some rowing, at my insistence. I needed the workout. Was it my fault I didnt’ spend five summers learning how to canoe as a child?  Also, my son didn’t complain that I was getting him was wet when I oared in his canoe! Getting wet was half the fun, just as long as we didn’t tip. Actually, in the heat, I wouldn’t have minded getting tipped, except I had a new camera on board.

Finally, at a private cottage dock with a little white dog barking at us the  whole time, we regrouped and switched back to our original rowing arrangements.

Rowing taught  us several things. For one, when you are in a boat with someone, squabbling just makes you go around in circles. To get anywhere, you both have to paddle in perfect harmony.

Muskoka & Camp Ramah — It’s worth the schlep

When people ask me where I send my kids to camp, I tell them I send them to Camp Ramah.

Now, when you live in a town where traveling even 30 minutes to get somewhere seems like traveling to another planet (and I’m guilty of this as well), they then reply, Oh, the Camp Ramah in Toronto.

And then I say, “Nooo, it’s actually two and a half hours further. North of Toronto. In a region called Muskoka.”

The response I hear is: Isn’t that far?

And truthfully, Yes.

Yes. It’s very far.

Yes, I send my kids for a month, and now for my oldest two months, six hours away.  Many see this as a sign of bad parenting. Many cannot fathom why we’d want to get rid of our kids for a month or even two. But, I have a friend who has five boys. Once, when we ran into each other grocery shopping, she spoke to me about the beauty of summer camp.

“Everyone for one time a year gets to live in their own space. It’s really very healthy.”

I’ll remember this produce aisle advice forever.

To get to camp, they travel across an international border and this requires they all need passports.  But that means they are truly away from home, broadening their horizons and meeting kids from many countries and cities who are all bound together by a common heritage and a way of observing this heritage.

This is what I keep reminding myself in the hours my husband and I find ourselves in bumper-to-bumper traffic on our way to visitors day.

The first time I drove up to Muskoka, what surprised me most of all was the traffic. I mean, I can accept traffic in the New York Metro area, but traffic in Canada?

Yes, this is my American arrogance shining right through, because I never imagined such a huge population can exist North of the United States.

In reality, the Toronto-Muskoka corridor is packed. If you want to put it in terms of an SAT verbal analogy question, then  Muskoka is to Toronto as the Jersey Shore is to the New York Tri State area.

So, picture yourself on the Garden State Parkway on a Friday or a Saturday and you now completely have an understanding of the traffic scene of “cottage country.”

Except, instead of terms like the GSP, you have roads that start with “the”.

The 400.

The 407.

And at last, The 11.

On the 11, suddenly the traffic opens up, and you find yourself on a road that ambles along sparkling lakes and pine forests.   A road that’s dotted with honky tonk motels and camper parks, kayak rental places, and fruit stands. And you know you’re almost there.

So, getting back to the “why.” Why do we schlep all the way to Muskoka to send our kids to camp?  Why do we send our kids so far away when there are closer camps from which to choose?

For many reasons.

Friendship and Kehilah Kedosha (holy community) It’s the smile on the kids faces that I see on nearly every photo that is posted on the camp website. The photos where nearly 600 children, freshly showered and dressed and arms linked, make their way down to the waterfront for another Shabbat service, that gets me every time. I know that we are doing right by our children for parting with them for a summer of this:

My children are developing deep friendships and in turn, we are also making friendships with the families of these children, all within the framework of an immersive Jewish education program that is nearly impossible to duplicate outside of camp (but I keep trying).

Inclusion: When we arrived at camp for visitor’s day, the very first child my 15-year-old daughter talked about and wanted us to meet was her new friend Julie:

Julie, who has Down’s Syndrome,  is participating in Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program.  Each day, Jolie meets with Julie to tutor her in Hebrew and through these lessons a friendship has blossomed. I am sure the girls will keep in touch long after camp is over.

Family – In truth, campers, and in turn their families, become one extended family. But I have actually reconnected with extended family members on my grandmother’s side that before our Camp Ramah years, I have not seen in decades. Now, the great-grandchildren of my grandmother and her eldest sister attend the same camp. We stay in touch during the year over Facebook and we’ve got plans to visit them in Pittsburgh at the end of the summer.

New Hobbies: Because of his summers canoeing and kayaking in Skeleton Lake, I got into a canoe with my son with confidence. I sat in the front of the wobbly canoe, knowing he would be the one to give me direction on how to stroke and where to steer the boat:

My daughter also took up a hobby, making her own boat in woodshop:

She also painted the sets for and was one of the angels in “Beauty School Dropout” in the Camp Ramah production of Grease.

And all plays at camp Ramah – the lines and the songs –  are performed in Hebrew.

I don’t know how to sing “Beauty School Dropout” in Hebrew just now, but I bet my daughter will teach me when she gets home.

Finally, off camp, there is the town of Huntsville with the world’s most amazing candy store and ice creamery, great restaurants, art galleries inside and out,

and nearby Arrowhead Provincial Park where you can swim in a pristine lake, hike to a waterfall and climb in and see fish swimming around you in the current:

And, at night there is darkness. A rarity in our increasingly lit up world, the skies are dark enough to see THOUSANDS of stars, and even spot a fast-moving satellite:

Really, there are stars in this photo. If you don’t believe me, you’ll just have to go up there for yourself. I’ll even tell you which field to stargaze.

So, we’re back. I try not to think about how far away my kids are, kind of how an extreme rock climber just keeps looking up and doesn’t think how high off the ground they are. But we are happy in our space, and they are happy in theirs.

And the schlep is completely worth it.

Photo Challenge: What is Blue?

I haven’t posted a photo challenge in a few months, but if you are a blogger, this is a great way to draw eyeballs to your site.

And what a better blue than the blues I saw in Israel? (If you know me, you know I will not miss an opportunity to show you my pictures or tell you about my latest trip to Israel.

I could have portrayed the impossibly clear blue skies of Jerusalem.

But no, I wanted to take you to the Grottos of Rosh HaNikra, one of the northernmost spots on Israel’s coastline, just on the border of Lebanon.

I hope you enjoy this photo. But even more, I hope you get to visit this very spot someday soon:

Window Shopping in Tel Aviv, Windows Shattering in Ashdod

As the violence between Israel and her neighbors in the Gaza strip heats up, I have been glued to not CNN for updates, but the news feed on my Facebook page from The Jerusalem Post. I am relying on the Jerusalem Post and accounts from my friends in Israel to give me the scoop on the latest to what is going on there. I have given up on US media on getting any story related to Israel right. The latest picture on the JPost newsfeed brought back memories of my last nights in Israel spent in Tel Aviv.

When you think of Israel these days, I bet that fashion does not come to mind. No, no, you say, nothing is ever reported from Israel except conflict and war. What else can possibly be going on there? 

A lot. Fashion, for one. Israel is entering the international stage for its fashion design. Israeli designer Ronen Chen’s can be found all over the world. Tel Aviv Fashion exec Molly Grad is one of Israel’s top female executive at Gottex Swimwear.

Tel Aviv designers teamed up with designers from Milan, its sister city, to put together Tel Aviv Fashion Week last November Some Milan designers included Milan’s Roberto Cavalli.

On our last nights in Israel this past December, we spent time wandering the streets in Tel Aviv, particularly the fashion district on Northern Dizengoff Street. The stores were closed, and that was a fortunate thing for my wallet because I knew I had no need to buy any of these clothes. Never mind my suitcases must have been already over the weight limit because of all the artwork, books and souvenirs I already purchased.

But the styles were oh so beautiful:

So, this is why this morning’s picture of a bombed fashion boutique in Ashdod really resonated with me.

Rockets from Gaza hit clothing store in Ashdod, 40 kilometers south of Tel Aviv. Photo by Jerusalem Post staff photographer Nir Elias

This is a picture that I bet will never make it into US papers.  It is not until you walk the streets in Israel, until you drive along her crowded yet modern highways, feel the beauty and the utter vulnerability of the land that you can really understand what is going on there and what Israel needs to do to survive. And thrive.

Israel,  I stand with you.

America, if you want to know what is going on in Israel, do yourself a favor and get your news from The Jerusalem Post.

Acre Eye Candy

Acre, or Akko, is an Arab port city in the north of Israel. It is a city that was built and rebuilt by the Crusaders, and then the Ottomans. Parts of the old walled city are being excavated til this day.

You can look up the history of Akko. I’m just going to show you some nice pictures that will speak for themselves.

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Country Mouse Visits City Mouse

we haven't changed in 20 years, we're still dancing!

The title of this post is somewhat inaccurate. Because Rochester is not the country, it is a city. But it is not New York City.   And calling this post “Former City Mouse living in Small City visits Big City Mouse,” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Whenever I go back “home” to the New York Metro area, I make my best effort to try to break away from both sides of the family to see at least one friend from my past life. This is not easy. There is first the six to seven-hour drive back to New York, crammed with kids and DVDs and suitcases, snacks and backpacks.  Then the juggling of arrangements with two families. Attempting to see friends who are flung all over the Metro area further complicates the logistics.  Sometimes, when I come in, I don’t bother to get in touch with old friends. It’s not that I don’t want to see people, it is just a recipe for disappointment.

But in the end, spending time with old friends is what my soul needs most. Even if the visit lasts no more than an hour or two.

So there I was this Passover, rushing out the door of my in-law’s house to catch a Long Island Railroad train meet a friend for lunch in the city.

Back before I was Transpantednorth, public transportation was a way of life. Now, we go most places by car and the only public transportation my kids know is the school bus. 

What great material public transportation provides for the writer: people watching, eavesdropping. Time to think.  Even on this trip, I had a great conversation with an older, retired CUNY professor about a Wall Street Journal article that discussed plans to turn the area around the Flatrion Building on 23rd St. into the country’s next high-tech “Silicon Alley.” That conversation led into a talk about the architect Frank Gehry with the professor and a mom sitting next to him who was taking her kids into the city to see The Adams Family on Broadway.

Sitting on a train affords you the opportunity to strike up such conversations with strangers. Would the same topics come up in the produce aisle at Wegmans? Probably not.

And after the LIRR, it was onto the NYC Subway. Ah, the subway!  To this day, I always have a Metro Card somewhere in my wallet, though I am nowhere within commuting distance to even 242nd Street, the northernmost subway station. And, if I did still commute by subway, I am sure it would get old very fast.  I now only ride a few times a year and it sends me reeling in nostalgia. Even the dank smell of the subway air, combined with the sounds of a musician playing a steel drum for a few coins or bills right there on the platform, makes me want to jump and scream for joy “Hey New York! I’m HOME!” And, if I know most New Yorkers, my outburst would barely bat a glance of attention. A true New Yorker rarely looks up from his newspaper — or now, his smartphone.

Nearly two hours later, I finally arrived at my friend’s apartment, the friend who had after so many years working and struggling had finally arrived as a true Upper West Side Manhattanite.  She lives in a beautiful doorman apartment with her new husband and their blended family. My college friend, the one who got nasty looks from our professor because she could not stop turning around to talk to me in class, the one who I helped kill a cockroach the size of a Volkswagen Beetle with a bottle of hairspray in her first Manhattan studio, now has a corner living room with a wrap-around curtain of glass that offers views of Broadway, Lincoln Center and a front row seat to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I am so proud.

Old friends like this can go for months at a time without speaking, but can pick up right where they left off. The last time I saw city mouse was December 2009 at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. The time before that was the summer before at her second wedding. Needless to say, we didn’t have much time at either of these occasions to catch up. But we sure did dance!

So this time? We sat in at her table that overlooked upper Broadway, drank some red wine from Spain and ate – Matzah Lasagna. Okay, the last part did not sound all that glamorous so what else  could we eat?

We talked. We talked about work and not working, kids who had crushes on Justin Beiber and kids who melted their $300 transition eyeglasses (more on that in another post).

Before I knew it, it was time to catch the train back to Long Island.  So, she walked me back to the 72nd station. On the way, we strolled in her Upper West Side neighborhood, a neighborhood that could have been mine, maybe with a similar career track,  if I would have been her roomate all those years ago instead of following my heart out to California. We walked through the Lincoln Center Plaza where she proudly pointed out the new patch of grass. This may be very exciting to city dwellers, but us country mice get to play in grass whenever we want!

We passed her old apartment building on W72nd street and also saw her very first apartment building, the one with the cockroach, the one I almost moved into almost 20 years earlier.

And on the train ride back to suburbia, staring at the stillframes the train makes of unsuspecting children playing in yards or workers unloading trucks onto loading docks, I wondered what life could have been like if I lived it as a Big City Mouse.

Under the Purim Moon in Israel – 2008

It was just St. Patrick’s Day in America this week.  I couldn’t help but notice all the people decked out in green, so publicly and outwardly showing their Irish pride. People were wearing the green and donning shamrocks in schools and restaurants and supermarkets.

Strangely enough, this visible expression of pride in one’s ethnic identity reminded me of the revelry and costumes of the people of Israel as they celebrate Purim.  Purim is a story of kings, queens, and villans. A holiday of reversals. A holiday of masks, costumes, and feasting. And like St. Patrick’s Day, there is some drinking involved too!

In America, Jewish holiday celebrations take place mainly inside synagogues and Jewish community centers. But in Israel, the planet’s only country with a Jewish majority, all Jewish holidays spill onto the streets and shops. And Purim in Israel is one big nationwide party.  A party celebrating a victory over wickedness that could hold true today. There was a wicked man in Persia back then that we defeated. There is a wicked man in modern-day Persia, or Iran now. Both of these men pledged to destroy the Jewish people. One wicked man defeated. Many more to go.

What could have been a day of great sadness for the Jews turned out to be a day of great joy. And, we are commanded to be joyous, intoxicated even, on Purim.  So drunk in fact, that on Purim in Israel there are special parades called Ad Lo Yada, meaning in English, “That you Shouldn’t know,” meaning on Purim you should be so happy (drunk) you should not be able to distinguish between Mordechi or Haman (boooooo!). Friend or Foe.

Last night I looked up and saw the Supermoon.  While this moon was indeed one of the fullest full moons I had ever seen, it did not surprise me that there was a full moon. Purim,  always falls under a full moon in March. Or, more precisely, the 15 of the Hebrew month of Adar.

As I gazed at this body of luminescence, I took a deep sigh and reminisced about where I saw it three years ago. This was the moon I saw hovering over Jerusalem’s Yemin Moshe neighborhood. Okay, from my amateur photo, it was not as big as the supermoon, but it was special all the same.

I thought about all I saw and ate and felt when I was in Israel. I thought about the people who opened their homes and families  to me who hardly knew me. I thought about waving the American flag in a Purim Parade and listening to the cheers from the people along the route. I thought about the traffic jam I got caught in. The reason for the traffic jam? Israelis were clogging the streets because they were delivering baskets of Purim food to their neighbors. That’s the kind of country Israel is – one big family.

Then, I caught a bit of CNN’s Piers Morgan’s interview with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  During commercial breaks, the same old images were shown to the world of Israel: The Kotel, The Dome of the Rock.

Excuse me, Piers, but you were in Israel during PURIM!

Are these tired images all you really can show about Israel? Must Israel always be covered with conflict in the backdrop?  If you got out on the streets of Tel Aviv or Modi’in or Jerusalem, if you could do one sidebar story, you would have wandered the streets and been treated to the following faces:

Halvah for sale for the Purim Feast

my friend's brother, decked out for Purim, celebrating with a feast at his home

teen girls dressing up and having fun in Tel Aviv

mom and kids wait for bus outside of old city, Jerusalem

Will showing these images make Israelis seem just too normal, too human for media coverage? Would it portray Israel too much for what Israelis are, a people who love to live, who love to celebrate?

Until the media in America show photos like this of Israel, I’ll just have to share my own. And I’ll be taking more. Because we just booked our next trip for this December. Even though it is the first day of spring, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can’t wait until the winter.

Stuck at the Airport with Kids? Here’s what to do!

As I write this, the curse of the Philadelphia International Airport has struck my family once again.  I last saw my husband through half-asleep eyes as he kissed me goodbye at 4 a.m. last Sunday. A conference out in California was taking him away during our February “vacation.” My vacation home with the three children. He is now stuck in Philadelphia.  I’ve shoveled nine inches of snow off our driveway. I really don’t know when he will be home.

I am sure that the curse of delayed or canceled flights due to the weather is not reserved just for those in the Philadelphia airport. No, with this winter, and this winter vacation coming to a close at the same time another snowstorm rattles our air traffic patterns, our story is not unique.

So this blog post is dedicated to all of you out there who have been stuck at an airport with children.

I really think that going away to get a few days of sunshine over February break is just not worth it in our age of “Welcome to the Hellish Skies.”  Indeed, we did a few years ago make an attempt at a Florida getaway.  But due to storms, we instead had a 13-hour destination vacation to the Philadelphia International Airport!

My son, an avid New York Mets fan, was dressed head to toe in Orange and Blue Mets paraphernalia. He cowered the whole time in his jacket, hood pulled up all the way. He actually believed that because he loved the Mets and hated the Phillies, someone in the airport of the City of Brotherly Love was going to kill him.  

Our efforts to escape the cold of Rochester for just one week had failed. We missed our connecting flight from Philadelphia to West Palm Beach.  Every flight to southern Florida was booked and overbooked for the next three days.

As we looked at the flight board, we slowly came to the harsh realization that the palm trees of our vacation dreams had been yanked out by the roots. We could stay in the airport as standby refugees, or head back to cold icy Rochester. We were not going anywhere.

But then I had an epiphany. I realized, Hey! We are still on vacation!  Vacation can be a state of mind, even if you did not make it to the Sunshine State.

So here are my hard-earned tips of what to do you if you are on a 13-hour standby hoping in vain to get your flight to paradise:

  • Immediately go to the “customer service” line and demand you get a pillow. Take two or three and don’t feel guilty. The airline has ruined your original vacation destination and they owe it to you to make you as comfortable as possible.
  • Forget the food court. You are on vacation and deserve the best of airport dining. In our case, it was Applebees. Any frugalities of ordering from a restaurant menu with children- like sharing – should be lifted. We were on vacation. Kids, if you want a beverage other than water, go for it! That naturally blue-colored smoothie? Go for it!
  • As far as the adults in your party, order an alcoholic beverage. You are going to need it.
  • After your meal, order dessert. Those desserts that stare at you all throughout your meal from those triangular placards placed strategically on the table. Remember, this may be your only vacation meal!
  • After your meal, don’t bother checking on your flight status. You know you are not boarding any time soon, if you board at all.
  • Find out if the airport you are stranded in has a Sharper Image or a Brookstones. Loiter there for an hour or so. Spend most of this time on one of their massage chairs. Ignore looks from salesperson.
  • Is the hot stuffy airport getting to your children? Do what my kids did and let them pretend that the bathroom is their own personal water park. Cool off by dunking your child’s head in the sink. Just like dunking into the pool at grandma and grandpa’s condo. How refreshing!
  • Around 10:00 p.m., entire sections of the airport should be clear enough to let your kids run completely wild. Make sure you pack a jumprope and maybe some in-line skates in addition to some healthy and sugary snacks.
  • At 11 p.m or later, if you are still waiting on standby in a nearly empty airport, abandon the rule about indoor voices. And the no running rule.  And the no climbing and jumping on furniture rule.  Moms, that glass of wine at Applebees must have worn off by now. Use the extra space to do a little yoga stretching to relieve the stress.

Airport authorities, if you cannot tolerate the wildness of unruly children, who have spent over 10 hours cooped up in your airport, you should have done more to get good, hardworking parents to their original vacation destinations. Airlines, you should have done the decent thing and not have overbooked your flights. So go ahead kids and parents, make all the outdoor voices, and screams, and wild laughter you can conjure up.  This is family time!


Parenting on a tube

Last week, my family stayed two nights in Lebanon.  We sat on one of the world’s biggest harem pillows eating halvah  as we watched a belly dance performancee. After that, we saw a fireworks display over a river. That day, we also picked raspberries as we hiked through the wilderness and swam in a pristine lake, and sampled some of the best guacamole this side of the Rio Grande.

Where were we?

New Jersey.

I know. I’m starting to sound like one of those tourism ads of the 1980s starring Bill Cosby.  But I can’t help it. My family and I had a great mini vacation in The Garden State, the place of our former residence.  New Jersey is conveniently sandwiched between visiting the family back in New York and our home in Rochester. Between our old life and relatively new life.

Ten years later and I still feel a pang when we drive by the exit that we used to take to go  home when we lived in Central New Jersey.  Every return trip to Rochester, when I see the exit for S. Plainfield off of Rt. 287, I think, we could have been home by now.

My kids are getting older. They have no memory of our tiny Cape Cod in Fanwood.  I think they are getting to the point that they are actually enjoying parent-free time (demonstrated by the camp countdown that started 40 days ago) more than hanging with parent time.  That’s to be expected. But, damn it to hell, I wanted some happy family memories before we shipped them off.

Now, the highlight of our just-the-five-of-us mini vacation was a four-hour tubing excursion down the Delaware River. A time of family bonding. Togetherness.

tubers enjoying tubing down the Delaware

Do you see these happy people in the picture to the right? That is not us. It is a picture from the Delaware River Tubing Co., the nice family-run business that supplies the tubes, the mid-river hot dog (or veggie burger) lunch, and the bus ride back up river.  We did buy a waterproof camera from them, but I broke it. I would have had much difficulty navigating my tube and photographing the family anyway.  On the course of the river, I lost my hat, and nearly lost both of my shoes.

The water was warm. The currents were minimal. It was like a lazy river ride at a water park. Only, the river was real.   The kids were – bored.

Floating down a river for four hours with the family taught me many lessons that can apply to being a family:

  1. You can only control so much. You have to go with the flow.
  2. Children need solid boundaries. Encourage them to stay in their tube as much as possible.
  3. You can try to stick together. You may float away from each other from time to time, but eventually, we all come out of the river together.
  4. Try to go against the current to stop, or go backwards, and you will capsize your tube.
  5. Always make sure your shoes are securely fastened, or you can lose them in river mud.
  6. Facing rough waters is always a little better when you hold someone’s hand.

Back on dry land, the next day, on  a bridge between New Hope, Pa., and Lambertville, NJ, we watched an impressive fireworks display. Last year, Toby cowered at the booms of fireworks. This year he cheered them on, the louder the better.

“I sure wish we lived in New Jersey!” He said.

I guess he was 10 years too late.

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