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.

Last Day//Best Day

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

When you’ve vacationed in the same place for so many years, you count time in days and traditions and experiences. It’s not just “Monday,” but what did we do on Monday, new and/or traditional? For example, the Monterey Farmers’ Market takes place on Tuesday evenings, and we know we will sample all the fresh fruit and we will buy the biggest bag of kettle corn, and root beer, and Indian food from the vendors all the way at the end, and that will be dinner.

We have to do some of the same things, though they’re always different because we are different; and we have to vary things up just enough to keep things interesting. For example, during Mom’s coffee with a local friend, the guys rented electric fat-tire bikes, something they’ve never done before and now want to do All The Time! Aquarium in the morning: tradition. Bikes in the afternoon: variety, new joy and new memories.

Over the years, we’ve let go of some traditions. We used to spend lots of time at the park (Monterey has a fantastic park), but the boys have mostly outgrown park-play. And once upon a time, they needed naps. Now, the teenagers just sleep in.

As we anticipated our last full day, the guys made plans to hit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the evening, guys-only. Which left a whole day (and then some for Mom and me) to fill. The weather has been chillier than usual this trip, so we’ve had far less beach time. We had hoped for at least a few hours of blue sky and warm sun and sand between our toes…

I went to bed feeling blue—uncooperative weather, the last day, the passing of time… Because the last day could be the last day. Who knows what a year holds?—and determined to enjoy what time we had, even as I tried not to think too hard about time passing…

…and I woke up to seagulls squawking in a brilliant blue sky! It’s trivial to say, “God must have heard my melancholy prayers…” but that’s how it felt. I charged my batteries with an invigorating jaunt along the coast, and we did indeed get in some beach time. The guys put on wet suits and snorkeled along the rocks. We saw more sea lions porpoising. We climbed the rocky cliffs, explored tide pools, and searched for sea glass.

Only God knows what a year holds, but our last full day provided a picture-perfect day filled with memories.

His Mother’s Voice

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

Trying to wrestle three teenage boys out of the vacation house and into the vacation isn’t as easy as it should be. Because teenagers: sticky molasses-stubborn.

When they finally realized we were willing to leave them behind—that they might actually miss out on who-knows-what but something—they finally began moving. Like sloths. No matter that we were trying to catch the tail end of a coastal sunset.

Eventually two of three had shoes and sweatshirts; I asked one to tell his brother that we were all going. I meant: Tell him the rest of us are leaving. I didn’t want him to be surprised when he looked up and realized he was ‘home’ alone.

Instead, I laughed when I heard my son yell, “Hey, we’re all going! C’mon, staying here is not an option!”

Those are my words. Because vacation is about togetherness, we stick together. Although sometimes we split up guys and girls or grandma with grandsons, only rarely do we leave someone behind.

So the reluctant one sped himself up. We didn’t make it to sunset, but coastal twilight was still something. The guys hit the sand and discovered the shore littered with kelp bulbs—nature-made salty water balloons—and commenced a ridiculous kelp fight. They ran and tossed and dodged and belly laughed and hollered and shrieked and played.

As they get older, I’m trying to lighten up. If someone wants to stay behind, then someone just might miss out. I don’t want to miss out, so I’m out the door. But in this instance, my son echoing my words nudged his brother toward an experience that has already created a fun memory.

Turns out, Mom is right sometimes. And—evidence—I am the voice in his head.

Thankful Thursday – Road Trippin’ the American West

The longest road trip I remember from childhood took me to Disneyland, which seemed So Far Away, though now I have to admit that the hour-and-a-half drive from San Diego to Anaheim doesn’t truly count.

Guy’s family did real road trips: six weeks coast-to-coast in a Volkswagen Vanagon, a different route each way, every summer.

Our family has been road trippin’ since Guy and I honeymooned, driving from the Washington-Canada border to California’s central coast. We set a precedent on that trip, and most every vacation since has involved a drive (or many) of some length.

So. The Big Kid needed to get to college. With All the Stuff. And we wanted every member of our family of four to participate. Of course we drove.

We made a quick trip out, two days, because Kid needed to just get there. On the way back, we made it a vacation for Lil Bro. We made at least one fun/view stop each day, arriving home with barely enough time to pick up our farmed-out pets, do laundry, and regroup for the start of school.

The first few hours of our trip were beautiful, familiar NorCal roads. Guy and I talked. Kids wore headphones and stared at screens. Once we pulled out of Tahoe/Truckee, I realized we were in unfamiliar territory.

Before we left home, I’d done some reading. Years ago we visited Donner Memorial State Park so our kids knew that story. Our route east took us through historic landscapes, like the 40 Mile Desert, a portion of the Emigrant Trail which saw heavy traffic from 1848-1869. I read the linked article aloud as we drove, a humbling reality as we looked out our windows to the parched landscape.

What surprised me was the beauty. I hear the smack of “boring,” “desolate,” “lonely,” “bleak,” but I appreciated the changes in color and texture. I am so intrigued by the unheard stories of those who live here and there, by circumstance or choice.

Spontaneously, I began taking pictures. Hightailing it down the highway, through my spotty passenger window, click click click. The view, to me, seemed continually remarkable.

The view mesmerized me.

I know, taken via iPhone at speed through a dirty window, that these won’t be great pictures. But they help me remember how much I like road trips, and our country.

The Good Ol’ US of A may be a friggin’ hot mess. But I saw beauty as we drove, and kindness in the smiles and small talk of strangers. Beauty inspires hope. As a people, we are as diverse as our landscape. Others may see us–ahem, we may see each other–as “boring,” “desolate,” “lonely,” “bleak,” [insert your adjective here…]. But we are so much more than labels.

Fallon, NV

Lovelock, NV

Coalville, UT

Fort Bridger, WY

Hannah, WY

Idaho Springs, CO

Rangely, UT – and yes, the “highway” became a dirt road!

Talmadge, UT

Wendover, UT – The Bonneville Salt Flats/Speedway. Snapped as the minivan hit 100mph!

Truckee, CA

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Recreate, Re-Create, Create

Ah, family vacations…! Since my dad traveled for work, our family didn’t take a lot of vacations. At the other extreme, my husband’s family shared annual adventures, each year a new version of the Great American Road Trip. A few years ago we took our kids on a two-week camping road trip–nine states, five national parks and many more state parks, 5,000+ miles–in which we shared experiences much like today’s guest blogger. The power of the family vacation, family recreation, to re-create and re-energize the individual and the family cannot be underestimated. I’m looking forward to our own summer adventures, just days from now.

re:create recess #9: Donna Schweitzer

When this year’s guest blog series topic was announced, I felt a little stumped but jumped on board anyway, knowing I would somehow figure something out. I put Create/Recreate in the back of my mind and kept playing with the words, figuring out how it applied to my life and how I could write about it.

Our family is the typical busy family. With three teenagers, two of whom are in high school and involved in multiple sports and activities, we are continually on the run. Summer doesn’t provide much of a break, either. It seems we are constantly in and out of the house, rarely getting time to sit down together as a family.

We’ve had a rough go of it this year–I had no idea raising teens would be more difficult than parenting toddlers, but that’s the simple truth. The first few months of 2017 were particularly challenging to me as a mother. I had to figure out myself and my children all over again. I felt lost, adrift, untethered. For awhile, I thought I needed to change, become a different mom altogether, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. I muddled along, withdrew, stumbled through days and weeks. I talked to friends who have been through this process already. I read books on parenting, something I haven’t done in years. I cried. I yelled. I gave up. I fought on.

Spring Break blessedly arrived in early April. We’d been planning a trip to Utah since fall, so early on a Saturday morning, we loaded the kids into the RV and headed towards Moab–our first stop on this week-long vacation. Originally, other families were going to come along, but it ended up just being the five of us: a blessing, I would realize.

We spent three days at Arches National Park in Moab, then moved on to Bryce Canyon, and finished our week at Zion National Park. Our days were full of hiking and biking. The beauty of Utah exceeded all expectations. We challenged ourselves with scary activities, like climbing up a steep rock and scooting back down (I have a huge fear of heights, particularly of falling off heights). We talked, played board games, cooked together, watched movies every night, made s’mores over fire pits, laughed, and shared experiences.

Yes, we ran out of patience with each other at times. We argued some. We got frustrated, and not everything was perfect, but we had an amazing time. My teens–who, even when they are home, usually are in their rooms or have their faces in screens–hung out with us, and (gasp!) seemed to enjoy it. We added to the fabric that is our family story/history.

It was a healing week for all of us. We reconnected, re-engaged. I discovered I didn’t need to become a new type of mom just because my kids are entering a new phase. I rediscovered myself. I learned a lot about them. We re-created our family through that week of recreation. We created memories we will carry with us always.

We took a LOT of photos during the week, over 500. But I didn’t take all of them myself. Typically behind the lens, on multiple occasions I gave up control of the camera so I’m actually in many of the pictures. I love the perspective gained from seeing what each child chose to photograph; I learned about them just by seeing what they chose to document.

Next month, I will take those pictures on a scrapbooking retreat and will memorialize our trip. I am frequently asked why I don’t just do digital books anymore–so many sites make it so easy to create photo books. I love the process of putting glue to paper, deciding on layouts that best show the selected photos. I relive each day, each memory of each trip, as I scrapbook. I love holding the photos in my hands, the feel of the paper, the texture added by ribbon, tape, stickers, letters, and embellishments. I love holding the finished book, and bringing it home to share with my husband and children. I love watching their faces as they turn the pages, and remember those moments from our trips. I love being able to re-create memories through creating those scrapbooks.

Recreate, Re-Create, and then Create.. It’s been a year of learning, a continual process.

Donna Schweitzer has been married to her husband, Michael, for eighteen years. They reside in San Diego, CA. They have three children, ages 16, 15, and 12, who, along with three dogs and two cats, are affectionately known as The Herd. They travel, watch more sports than is probably healthy, laugh frequently, love much. You can find her blog at threesaherd.com.