NYC, There’s Something About Ya’

The Best Weekend! I told my family that, for my BIG birthday, I wanted to wake up with my loves in a place we’d never adventured together before. We discussed the pros and cons of various locations and landed on: New York City.

How does a nature-loving, bookish homebody—easily overwhelmed and edgy in crowded cities and cold weather—choose November in the Big Apple as a celebration destination?

Because: art, architecture, design, history, science, technology, culture, music, food.

Because: The Met. The Guggenheim. Central Park. The Empire State Building. The Statue of Liberty. The 9/11 Memorial. Broadway. Times Square. Rockefeller Center. The Brooklyn Bridge. Grand Central Terminal.

Because: a life well lived is all about trying new things and making memories.

Any travel adventure comes with its own set of misadventures. Ours included: an unheated and less than clean AirBnB; an Uber ride with a non-English speaking driver and the app insisting that, instead of the Statue of Liberty ferry terminal, we really must visit a dentist (tip: choose Lyft); and a reservations mix-up that meant finding a day-of one-night hotel room in Manhattan—on a budget—for five people (grateful for The Stewart Hotel across from Madison Square Gardens for making it work!).

Still, we laughed and played and explored, walking on average ten miles daily. The City may never sleep, but from personal experience, people must: we collapsed from exhaustion at the end of each long day.

On my actual birthday, we started with The Met (The Temple of Dendur—an actual Egyptian temple order by Caesar Augustus; Greek and Roman antiquities; Tiffany glass; Rodin sculptures; 19th and 20th century European paintings; something breathtaking in every direction), then strolled through Central Park (fall colors and crunchy leaves underfoot, a perfectly sunny/crisp fall day).

Next up was The Guggenheim (surprisingly different Kandinsky’s), after which Guy made reservations at Candle 79, an upscale vegan restaurant where I had the best cauliflower of my life, za’atar roasted and topped with pesto. From there we took the subway to The Empire State Building, and ended my just about perfect day with artisanal ice cream at Kaylee’s Creamery (another surprise: black sesame seed vegan ice cream—tastes like slightly salty-unusual nut butter).

I won’t bore you with site-by-site blows, but a few highlights:

Looking for a show to appeal to all of us, we saw Wicked. Making her Broadway debut, Hannah Corneau kills it as Elphaba. And we have a list of shows we’ll see when they come to the West Coast.

Carlo’s Bakery, made increasingly famous by Buddy the Cake Boss from TLC, is an easy walk from Times Square and has truly delicious (though not cheap) pastries. We had a cannoli in Little Italy that couldn’t compare.

The American Museum of Natural History does not look like the set from A Night at the Museum. And if you’ve visited some world class zoos, the stuffed animals will disappoint (I cringed as one mom, taking a picture of the White Rhinoceroses, said to her daughters: “Look, girls, White Rhinosaurs!”). But they do have a one-page movie-based guide to seeing the exhibits you expect, including the Easter Island statue. I expected this museum to be our kids’ favorite; it wasn’t.

The Met won hands down for all of us. So much so that we went back for a second visit; so glad, because we’d missed a whole section of 19th century European masters (my favorites), including Monet and Van Gogh.

For tourist sites, City Pass is the way to go. Save your money and skip the lines.

I wanted all good memories of my 50th birthday trip: mission accomplished! I’m still not a converted big city gal and, admittedly, we experienced perfect fall weather, not NYC’s  muggy-heat or frigid-cold extremes. But now that I’ve been, I get it: the Big Apple tastes sweet. NYC cast its enchantments over all of us, and I expect we’ll be back sooner than later.

Note: I unplug when I travel, so the next few days my IG feed will be filled with trip highlights. Follow me to see more: @sivricketts.

Up Late with My Babies

Up late has never been my problem. Up early is always a problem.

A night owl by nature, I could easily do midnight feedings since I was still awake at midnight. Middle of the night wake-ups were hard, but the 6 am feedings were brutal; I sleep best in the early morning hours.

Obviously we’re all older now and my kids rarely, if ever, wake me in the night. And I have learned to go to bed earlier since I have to be awake and alert with the sun.

Last weekend, though. I was in pj’s, in bed, watching a few minutes of a late night TV show monologue before lights out. I’d worked two long days in a row and had another even longer day coming up. I was ready for rest.

So of course my kids decided we needed to watch a movie. “Mom, won’t you please come watch Aladdin with us? Come on, Mom, spend some time with your children…”

What mama says no to that? So what if they started the movie at almost 11 pm? How many more chances will I get to snuggle on the couch and watch movies with my kids, considering they are now 15 and 20 years old?

I paid for it the next day. So tired, I still chuckled when the younger one asked which movie we watched; he fell asleep on the couch. And yet: I spent time with my kids and, though they may not remember the movie, they will remember that I spent time with them. That’s worth a little fatigue around the edges.

 

Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

Library Love

“A world of reading brings a bounty far beyond us, and we find it creates a legacy to stretch far past us into every next generation.” Kaitlin B. Curtice, Glory Happening

Yesterday I made a library pit stop to return two books and pick up another five waiting on hold. I left at home several more books I’m reading or will soon, but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on these new adventures. I also scanned the “Lucky Day” shelves, the ones that hold high-demand books, and found another contender.

The summer heat blistered our little town and the library felt blissfully cool, so I took my new stack to a corner chair to peruse my new finds. I chuckled as a little one holding his mama’s hand loud-whispered, “Hi, Library! Hi, Library!” When I checked out, I was surprised to discover that I’d whiled away an hour in cool bookish delight.

The Library is one of my favorite places on earth. It doesn’t matter which library, so long as it has stacks upon stacks of books and quiet nooks in which to cozy up between the pages.

My children rejuvenated my library love. Before they arrived, I had come to associate libraries not with the joy of my own childhood reading but with academic research, starting with my third grade research paper about mice. I felt particularly proud of my illustration of two little grey mice nibbling on a juicy red berry.

With my kids, we regularly visited the library. At only two years old, my first child knew his way around: where he’d find his favorite books, where he’d discover new animal documentaries, and where he’d locate Mom or Dad looking for books of their own. And all the librarians knew him (whether they wanted to or not).

One of the best things I did as a parent, I believe, was to teach my children the joy of reading. We read all the time. We read at bedtime, of course, but also throughout the day. We carried books everywhere. We read at the park and the beach, in the doctor’s waiting room, in the car between appointments, and at the dining table. When the big kid had to keep his own reading log for school, he regularly read perched in a tree.

At 20 and 15, these days my kids read mostly for school. I get that: when reading becomes a requirement it may lose its luster. Like PE class takes the fun out of playing games. My hope for them is based on both investment and experience, that someday they won’t “have to” read but will choose it for pleasure; and that someday they will  read with their own children, letting little hands drag them down library aisles in anticipation of new discoveries to share together.

Meatless Monday – Berry Muffins

Once a month I teach the preschool Sunday school class. Yesterday’s lesson was about being fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image, which means we are smart, and helpful, and creative (among other things).

We focused on the “creative” part and gave the kids lots of time to paint with watercolors, or color, or make paper airplanes. Some kids chose to create with play dough, while others created tree houses from blocks or created scenarios to act out with toy cars. We let the kids have a lot of free play while we noticed aloud their various creative efforts and how great it is that God made us all creative and unique.

I came home floating on cute kids’ creativity and decided I needed to express some creativity of my own. One of my favorite forms of creativity? Making delicious food for the people I love. Just the evening previous, I had come across a recipe for berry muffins that I knew I could vegan-ize, and I had some over-ripe bananas practically begging to become banana bread.

Muffins are a family fav because they make a quick breakfast, an easy lunch bag option, or a tasty after school snack. I’d wrongly anticipated this batch of 18 muffins would last most of the week, but today was a no-school day and the kids plowed through them with only a few leftover. Good thing they haven’t yet discovered the banana bread!

Berry Muffins

1 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/4 c organic sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 flax egg (1 Tbsp flaxmeal + 3 Tbsp water, set aside 5 min)
1 c non-dairy milk
2 Tbsp agave
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1 c fresh or frozen berries
cinnamon sugar, optional

Preheat over to 350. Grease or line with paper 18 muffins cups. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine flax egg, milk, agave, and applesauce in a small bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined. Gently stir in berries. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. If desired, lightly sprinkle cinnamon sugar on each muffin before baking (the recipe itself isn’t very sweet). Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Talking with Teens

My sons have temperaments on opposite ends of the spectrum. One wears his heart on his sleeve. He’ll tell me anything (sometimes more than I want to know). The other holds his cards close, and I have to pay special attention for the times when he might feel more talkative.

Still, over their lifetimes we’ve cultivated an openness as a family. We talk about what’s going on in each of our lives–our joys and hurts, our successes and failures–so that no topic will be off the table. Our kids know that nothing they do or say will ever change our love for them, though some actions may result in consequences. They know they–and their friends–will always be welcome and safe with us, warts and all.

Recently I watched a sitcom in which two parents lamented that their teenage children had started to pull away from them. The idea arose to “date” their kids, to intentionally spend time with their kids doing things their kids liked (good idea), and to treat their children like “friends” rather than their children (bad idea).

Mom went on a shopping/lunch date with her teen daughter; Dad went with his son to hear his favorite motivational speaker. Misfires and mishaps were meant to be funny, but they made me sad.

I get it. Families are funny, and the teen years are hard on everyone. It can be terrifying to realize that the tiny you birthed and held and fed and doted on every minute is now independently in charge of their own sleep and feeding and transportation.

Teenagers change. It’s in their job description, but it’s in the parental job description to be available to help them through the changes.

I paused the TV and went to the kitchen for a cup of tea, where Q14 was reheating leftovers. I asked if he thought parents and kids truly had that much trouble communicating. He rattled off a bunch of his friends and their parents and how easily they engage, which makes me grateful that my kid knows a bunch of well-adjusted families.

Parents, please don’t wait until your kids have become teenagers to try to have  important conversations! Talk to them all the time. Listen to them, hear their fears and insecurities, help them deal with their smallness in a big and broken world. Ask them questions every chance you get. Listen without an agenda, and don’t freak out if they confide in you something you didn’t want to know. They will face situations you wish they didn’t have to (think back to when you were a teenager). Thank them for sharing. Help them find appropriate and healthy boundaries and escape routes when necessary.

Some questions to get you going:

What are you looking forward to today (tomorrow, this week or month)?
Who did you sit with at lunch? How did you choose that person/group?
What one piece of information stood out to you today?
What is going on with your friends?
What do you like about your friends?
What made you laugh today?
Which class/teacher/lesson was your favorite (or least favorite) today?
What are you grateful for?
Did anything make you sad or uncomfortable today, and if so, what and why?
What makes you glad to be you?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would you change and why?
What scares you?
If anyone ever put you in a situation that made you feel uncomfortable, how might you handle it?
What do you imagine your life might be like in five years? Ten years? 20?
How can I help you take another step toward fulfilling your dreams?
Is there anything you’d like to tell me?

Google “questions to ask kids” and you’ll find so many more options. You probably already have a quiver filled with your own favorites. Just get talking. Those conversations might be life-changing for both of you.

Found It!

Most visitors to Año Nuevo State Park this time of year are looking for elephant seals. Our family went in search of a snake. The San Francisco Garter Snake, to be exact, an endangered species that makes its home in that area. C20 has been desperate to find one.

We decided to make this President’s Day holiday a family day which, for us, almost always involves a trip to the beach. Facebook memories showed me a picture from our last trip to Año Nuevo, years ago, and that influenced our destination.

We couldn’t have ordered a more beautiful day. First stop: Santa Cruz, where we picked up lunch at Pizza My Heart to eat on the West Cliff Drive seaside bluffs. From there, we drove to Natural Bridges State Beach, hoping to see wintering Monarch Butterflies; we only saw a few flitting on the breeze and not the thousands that sometimes shelter in the eucalyptus groves.

Back in the car, we took Highway 1 to Año Nuevo, with ocean views to one side and fields of fluorescent yellow mustard and sour grass flowers on the other. On our way home, we stopped to take a picture in one of those fields and sank ankle-deep in mud. Wet and smelly, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

As we paid our park entrance fee, the ranger asked if we had a reservation for a guided seal walk, the only way you can access the seal breeding ground area. We said no, we were looking for a snake. She cocked her head in amusement and explained that snakes don’t often come out on chilly days, but that they’d be near the pond if anywhere.

Walking the path towards the pond, I muttered to Guy, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I was the one to find a snake?”

Guess what? I did!

I stopped to look at a vine with a distinctly violet hue–I’ve never seen a naturally purplish thorn bush before. As I leaned forward for a better look, I saw a tail slither away. I shrieked in surprise, which brought Guy and C running.

The shriek shook my Cool Mom I’m-so-good-with-snakes vibe, but I honestly did not expect to find the snake. I didn’t even expect that C would find one, though if anyone could find an endangered and elusive wild snake in the thorn bushes along a pond, it would be him.

The rest of us went to the beach while he just about crawled along the path. We saw a number of sleeping elephant seals, and someone did tricky aerial maneuvers in a biplane–disruptive to the beach-calm, but cool nonetheless.

When we had walked the length of the beach in both directions, photographed the log-like seals and some beautiful pebbles, and breathed in deep the salt air, Q14 came down the stairs to wave us back up.

Because he’d done it: C20 had found–and caught–a San Francisco Garter Snake.

Two surprises: 1) the snake is far more stunning than I could have believed, and 2) the snake appeared super chill that this strange dude was holding him and showing him off to passersby. C said the snake knew he wasn’t a threat, and it sure looked like the truth.

The snake may have been calm, but my kid buzzed with happiness. To all the detractors who think I’m nuts because I encourage his passion for creepy-crawlies, we do a lot of things that might seem crazy for the sake of love. And today we got a crazy-fun family day out of it.

P.S. No snakes were harmed in the making of this story, and we left snakey-poo right where he’d been before.

Surprise!

Parenting can be So Fun!

For example, today, when I told Q14 I would pick him up mid-school day but didn’t explain why. And he didn’t remember or figure out that TODAY is the day he gets his braces off! And I got to surprise him with one of the best surprises an adolescent can receive.

I texted him to meet me outside the band room after class and, as he got in the car, I smiled and handed him his toothbrush. Confused, he accepted it and looked at me for further explanation.

Despite the fact that the only times I’ve taken him out of school this year have been for orthodontic appointments. Despite the fact that, at his last appointment, they told him he’d get his braces off at the next appointment. In February. He still didn’t get it.

I laughed and explained, and he laughed in relief that Mom’s odd behavior didn’t signal something scary. Right, because I’m such a scary mommy…

It’s raining and our house was being cleaned, so I stayed in the car with the dogs while the almost two-hour process took place. He did let me take a before picture…

I raced to the upstairs office when they were done for a quick chat with the doctor and to confirm next week’s retainer appointment. Oh, let’s be real: I raced upstairs to see my kid’s sweet smile.

He tried to play it so cool, I’m sure processing this seismic shift in self-image through the pervasive fog of adolescent insecurity, but inside I know he has to be as excited as his mom who simply can’t stop ridiculously beaming at his pearly whites. He indulged me with an after picture…

We picked up Guy from work and hit Chipotle, our regular post-ortho appointment lunch spot, for a congratulatory burrito before dropping him back off at school for his last class of the day.

The only thing that makes me a little sad? I won’t have a built-in to the schedule excuse for playing hooky with my kiddo. Still, I think now and then I might just pull him out of school anyway. Time together, especially in these critical teen years, is way more important than a PE class on a rainy day.