Posts tagged ‘vacations’

The Books We’re Carrying

The reading material we bring on a trip is always a good snapshot of the boys’ current interests. For our summer vacation, we brought a couple books in the DK Eyewitness series– Titanic and Flying Machines — plus The Seven Silly Eaters, and although I brought many other books for the boys to read, that’s really all they wanted. So this trip, I let them each choose two picture books, plus one chapter book:

Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building

This Is New York

Henry Huggins

The Secret of the Unicorn (Tintin)

The Daylight Limited

Meanwhile, I’ve just started Andrew Sean Greer’s beautiful The Story of a Marriage, which is set in our neighborhood of San Francisco in 1953; Tony is also getting some historical perspective on current events by reading The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market’s Perfect Storm. If only his book were fiction, too…

image credit

A Tale of Three Restaurants

A blog post — with lots of pictures! — about eating out with the boys in France, over at the Learning to Eat blog. Check it out!

Mission: Eiffel Tower

The first time we’d tried to visit the Eiffel Tower, we traveled via the batobus, which offers a scenic ride down the Seine.

Too scenic, as it turned out.

We arrived at 7pm and faced lines that snaked from the entrance back and forth all the way across the plaza. We were without sufficient food or line distractions to survive the wait, so we risked – and faced – the boys’ loud and bitter disappointment by turning back and regrouping.

The next day was stormy and windy and Eli didn’t nap. We debated: on the one hand, the weather might be keeping the crowds down; maybe a tired boy would be a docile and patient line stander…. But probably not, on both counts. We stayed home and cooked dinner.

Finally, we planned our ascent of the Eiffel Tower like mountaineers plan for Everest. In this case, Tony and I were the Tibetan sherpas, and the boys were Sandy Hill Pittman, who show up and have every desire met, needing only to put their bodies where they’re told and not use up too much oxygen. I was grateful they didn’t want cappuccino (although come to think of it, at the base of the Eiffel Tower, that would be easy to provide).

We’d been advised that the lines are shorter in the late afternoon, so we waited until after Eli’s nap, hoping that the boys would be well-rested, the lines a little easier, and that we’d get up to the top and out before it was way too late for dinner (or even bed). We brought Eli’s view master and discs, Ben’s journal, 2 cameras (since Ben’s a big photographer now), and windbreakers in case it was cold at the top. More importantly, I spent Eli’s naptime packing up food:

carrot sticks, water bottles, baby bell cheeses, 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, 2 nutella sandwiches (never underestimate the motivating power of chocolate), 2 Z bars, and a ziploc bag of almonds and raisins. We set off at 4, arriving at the base at 5pm. Tony grabbed a bench with the boys while I staked out our place on line.

We didn’t make it out without any tears (from Eli, when I started walking down a flight of stairs holding his hand rather than letting him hold the banister):

But, we made it up, we made it down, and we made it back home, our backpacks empty, four and a half hours later.

cross-posted at Learning to Eat


There were many things we loved about our two weeks in France. I got to meet my long-time computer friend, Susannah, and her family; Ben got to practice his newly-acquired French (which was charming except when he was frustrated with us, and would shout a begrudging “D’accord!”); we all got to eat lots of ice cream and crepes and nutella and pain au chocolat.

But perhaps our favorite thing about France was the carousels. It seemed like every park, every plaza, practically every wide spot in the road had a carousel plunked down in it, and the boys rode them all. They learned to distinguish between up-and-down horses and rearing-back horses; they learned to look for leather belts that weren’t too worn down to buckle (because those rearing-back horses reared waaaay back!); they learned that sometimes it’s pleasant to ride the carousel on a bench swing, or a stationary, climb inside (rather than climb aboard) animal, or even a bench.

In Paris, we found carousels outside Sacre Coeur and in the Tuileries, and in the Jardin du Luxembourg. The one near Sacre Coeur was double-decker, the first we encountered (though we went on to see them in Montpelier and Avignon, too):

The carousel in the Jardin du Luxembourg doesn’t look like much; it’s not as sparkly bright and bejeweled as the others. It’s a single decker, rather small and delicate, there’s no music, and the animals, who are all sorely in need of a fresh coat of paint, don’t move up and down, or rear back, they just sway genty back and forth.

But none of that matters, because here, after the carousel operator checks each rider’s buckle and gently pats each animal’s head, he hands each child a short wooden stick, and as they spin round and round, picking up speed as they go, they get to try to catch a brass ring on the end of their stick.

The kids love it, and the parents all cheer their kids on — suddenly carousel-riding became an exciting spectator sport, and we all had a ball.

Automatic Pilot

Years ago, when I was studying for my PhD exams and thus doing a lot of procrastinatory reading, I indulged in one of those fabulously long New Yorker articles about something you don’t particularly think you’re interested in, but the writing draws you in despite the topic (I lost the better part of a week in college to a 3-part piece about interstate trucking).

This happened to be a piece about pilots, and how airline pilots learn to fly, how difficult it is to get the hours in the air required for a commercial pilot’s license unless you’re in the military first (or independently wealthy). And while I was absorbed in the piece, I mentioned it to a friend, whose dad was a commercial pilot at the time, and he said that while of course there’s a lot of complicated work involved in flying a plane, in some ways, once you’ve got that big bird up in the air, it’s kind of like driving a bus. And I found that so comforting, somehow. I’ve never been terribly afraid of flying, but it always used to make me feel a bit anxious, like I needed to concentrate very hard to keep the plane aloft. But now, after the take-off is accomplished and the plane’s leveled off, I tend to relax and think, “Automatic pilot. Like driving a bus.”

Having spent 11 hours on planes yesterday, and today feeling the effects of the 10-hour time difference I crossed, I’ve been thinking a lot about automatic pilot, and how much I wish I could engage it right now. Of course, pilots don’t use it when they are tired, but to avoid getting tired. They can set the course and relax a bit, knowing that they don’t have to concentrate for five or ten solid hours on each little adjustment required to keep a plane in the air. Now I’m not saying that my life here at home is quite like keeping a plane flying, and I’m not responsible for 300 people in this house, but the two people I do share responsibility for are reacting to their jet lag with an astonishing relentlessness, requiring continual food and drink and books and thoughtful responses to incessant “why” questions (Eli will not be brushed off with “Because” right now) and tape and markers and help with lego creations. They are very happy, and very energetic, and –unlike most days when they will go off and play by themselves for a little while and even (Eli anyway) nap for a couple hours in the middle of it–requiring a lot of participation and witnessing to their play, while I just want to curl up in a ball and nap. Why don’t they? That’s my why question for the day.

I guess the auto-pilot system for parenting is called a babysitter. With all the plans I made for this trip, that’s one that slipped through the cracks. Next time.


We’re leaving for a big vacation in a few days, and so Tony and I have been reading a lot of guidebooks:

Apparently, Ben thought he could do just as well:

End of the Road

This is how the backseat looked after we’d extracted the two sleeping boys from their boosters.

And here are some road trip notes:

$4/gallon gas does help keep holiday drivers off the road, so we managed 300 miles today in 5 hours (including a stop for morale-boosting ice cream).

The ice cream sandwiches in King City, California, are so big even Eli can’t finish one (believe me, he tried).

Speaking of ice cream, drumsticks are “a great example of fossil layers,” says Ben.

We passed truckloads of garlic and broccoli, fields of romaine and artichokes, oil rigs (both off-shore and on land) and wind farms.

Visiting family is terrific (especially when there are young cousins to play with and a new book –no, for a change I don’t mean mine! — to talk about), but it’s always good to be home.

Train Heaven

Amtrak + California State Railroad Museum = two happy boys.

Ben: “I almost forgot that after the train ride, there’s still the whole train museum!”

Eli: “I love this train. I want to stay on this train forever.”

Spring Break: Plan C

Plan A: 5-day road trip to visit cousins in Santa Barbara and Long Beach. The kids play, the adults talk books and art, we all curtsy to the Queen Mary and enjoy the warm weather. Canceled due to illness.

Plan B: Ride Amtrak for a day trip to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. The kids play, the adults enjoy the scenic train ride, we all enjoy the warm weather. But, we get to the train station bright and early, our bags packed with camera, picnic and coloring books, only to discover that the trains aren’t running due to an accident on the line.

Plan C: It’s 9 AM Monday morning, a day when most of the Bay Area kids’ museums are closed (why, why all on the same day?), all our Berkeley friends had spring break last week so they’re in school, and it’s a little too early and too chilly to go to a playground.

But we’re near Berkeley, and I spent long enough there to know a couple things to do. So, we visit the T-Rex in the Berkeley Paleontology Museum; we go to the Campanile, hoping to ride to the top (but it’s closed on Mondays, natch) and then we go to the Lawrence Hall of Science, where there’s an exhibit involving build-your-own Lego race cars (did they know we were coming?)

After a picnic lunch, we call an old friend from the city who’s moved to Berkeley. School’s out for the day and the family is free! The big kids make scenery and rehearse scenes from The Magic Flute (somehow, both of their kindergarten classes have recently learned the story) and the littler kids play trains. The moms catch up and drink tea. After a couple hours, we’re treated to a short and well-rehearsed performance of excerpts from The Magic Flute. We head out for Chinese food, follow it up with some gelato, and finally head home after the evening rush hour’s over.

Thank goodness for Plan C.


When astronauts come back to earth, they spend a period of time in limbo, back on earth but not yet quite home. They get their muscles back in earth shape, and the doctors make sure they’re ok. I like to think it’s a little bit relaxing for them, this in-between time, but realistically, it’s probably about as relaxing as being a hospital patient. After that time in their space capsule, working through a busy schedule of experiments and projects, they’re probably longing for some real downtime, hanging out with their families and friends, eating real food and watching tv. I imagine the re-entry limbo must drive their families a little bit crazy, to have their mom or dad or husband or wife back, but still out of reach.

Re-entry has been a mushy kind of limbo for me this week, which is why it’s taken me so many days to write about our visit. I don’t have much to add to Elrena and Libby‘s posts about it; they cover most of the highlights (the food! the Mama, PhD conversations! and more food!) Of course neither of them could write with detail about Eli’s ER visit, but neither can I — all three of us missed it, busy with the Mama, PhD round table. But Mariah knew how to get Tony and the boys to the ER, and when I got home, Eli came jumping down the hall to show me his hospital bracelet. “Stitches on my head!?” he exclaimed, “That’s crazy!” You said it, buddy.

We went to the Air & Space Museum the last day of our trip and wandered around marveling at the planes and space capsules hung from the ceiling. We looked closely at the Spirit of St Louis, which is fabric-covered, and carried Lindbergh across the ocean even though it has no front window. Eli climbed into the cockpit of a Cessna, which was roomy for him, and we all squeezed into SkyLab. I cannot imagine climbing into one of these vehicles if it weren’t safely bolted to the museum floor, but Ben and Eli are at that explorer age, and the prospect of zooming suddenly off into space, like the boy in their beloved Planetron book, or Jimmy Zangwow, delights them. I like that in both stories, the boys are home in time for dinner.

Now we are home, and the boys have each built and rebuilt their new Air & Space Museum lego sets many times (space shuttle for Ben, airbus for Eli). We continue to read Planetron every night before bed, and have just started another boy-in-space book: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Ben has suggested a Virginia field trip to his kindergarten teacher (“It’s a pretty long trip,” he conceded); meanwhile, Eli has announced that he is a dog, and so sleeps with a ball (as well as with his patch blanket, his bear, his two doggies and his bunny). Life is returning to its normal orbit, quirky though it may be.