Friday, August 31, 2012


DAY 6 = A Pleasant Surprise

The next day, our morning started out with an overcast sky but an optimistic forecast.  Cue Google search.  Rather than head north that day, we went west-southwest to Tamworth.  We read some reviews about a farm out that way.

We ended up at Remick Country Doctor Museum & Farm.  We had zero expectations.  Turned out to be a pretty cute place.  The kids really enjoyed it.  Great excursion and definitely a destination slightly off the beaten path.  THE WIFE snapped photos like we were preparing to leave for prom.  We fed some sheep and billy goats.  We admired piglets until mama pigs snorted the kids away from getting closer.  We strolled among gardens of flowers and produce.  Very picturesque.

Across the street, we had a picnic in a sweet spot overlooking the Swift River then headed home. 

That afternoon, Mommy and Greta had their big date out on the town.  Though I heard the stories only second hand, it sounded like a nice adventure.  The ladies opted for mani’s and pedi’s, of course.  Then, the women be shopping.  After a nice dinner together, Gigi had an agenda: back to the toy store.

The night before during my date with Greta, she tried to convince me to buy a bunch of stuff that I resisted until we compromised on a Cinderella jigsaw puzzle.  Unfortunately, she was disappointed.  She kept talking about some jewelry box that I dismissed as being a purchase she really didn’t want.  I was wrong.

When the ladies arrived home from their night on the town, Greta strode into the house triumphantly with a large plastic bag.  Mom agreed to buy the “treasure box” that Greta had oohed and aahed over.  (During a visit by her pre-K teacher this week, Greta proudly showed off the pretty jewelry box with several secret compartments as they toured her bedroom.  Too cute.)  Score one for THE WIFE.  I schemed about how I might be able to retake the lead in the favorite parent competition.

DAY 7 = Icing on the Cake

                Let’s just skip directly to my attempt at father-daughter bonding to end the trip on a nice note. 

                On our multiple trips into town during the week, we passed by a studio in Conway.  I’ve only done yoga about three times total in my life, but it’s starting to grow on me.  Lately during Gus’ P.T. session with Kristie, both he and Greta do yoga as part of his therapy, though typically not longer than ten minutes or so. 

                Once Gus and Tilly went down for their naps after the beach, Greta and I headed to the studio to get our Namaste on.  We met Miss Dawn.  She generally teaches yoga to children with special needs.  I figured that just the two of us would make for a pretty eventful thirty minutes.    

Miss Dawn turned out to be quite a character.  She did everything possible to make Greta feel comfortable.  Miss Dawn opened introductions by giving a small teddy bear to Greta.  Soon, we walked around the studio pretending to be in a jungle looking at animals.  Then we did some poses pretending to be animals.  Miss Dawn had me barking like a dog, meowing like a cat, and roaring like a lion.  (As I was bent over on all fours howling like a wolf, a relatively quiet voice inside my head began to wonder if perhaps I had misread the studio’s sign.)

Despite all of the effort, Greta was still lukewarm.  Miss Dawn set up a little house of cushions and blankets for Greta to sit under.  She played the hokey pokey on a CD player.  Unfortunately, Greta hardly flinched.  Soon, the thirty minutes came and went.  It was time to leave.

Miss Dawn presented a bowl of fruit to Greta so she could choose a snack.  Greta actually nibbled on some grapes.  Miss Dawn and I chatted.  Considering her background, I talked to her about Gus, Tilly, and THE WIFE.  We hoped to reconnect during our next visit and to introduce the rest of the fam to her.  As we got ready to leave, I prepared to discuss what I owed because I never asked how much a half hour private session would cost.  I had $100 in my pocket to be safe.  Miss Dawn asked me for ten bucks.  I tried to give her forty.  She finally relented and took twenty.  What a sweetheart. 

So that was basically the end of vacation.  Greta and I picked up a pizza to bring to the house for dinner before our road trip home.  Then, we packed up, cleaned up, and locked up.  Finally, we drove away into the rainy night. 

As we drove home, we (naturally) encountered severe thunderstorms on the highway that just chuckled at the downpours we drove through previously on our way up to Madison.  After a few movies in the FUV, the three amigos finally fell asleep.  We inexplicably yet inevitably encountered traffic on Route 1 at 11 o’clock at night on a Friday.  We moved at a mile per hour as three lanes merged into one, yet I did not curse or even complain.  Somehow, I was relaxed. 

Mission accomplished, family vacation.  Thank you Madison, NH.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Vacation Part III of IV – Even Though We’ve Been Home For A Week

Day Four – Operation Dinner Out

I can summarize this day pretty easily.  Beach in the morning.  Naps after lunch.  Then, the main event of the day: our first sit down dinner as a family at a restaurant with a server.  Most everyone knows how I feel about eating in public when my children are misbehaving.  For those who don’t, the scale ranges from slight embarrassment to utter mortification to wishing I could be teleported onto the island from Lost.

We dressed ourselves as if we were appearing on The Today Show.  In other words, no suits or anything like that but I wasn’t wearing my Reese’s tee shirt.

We didn’t know where to go, so we just headed towards North Conway.  I was feeling anxious about how the kids were going to be.  I just cringe at the thought of ruining another table’s meal by having my kids screaming, hucking food, spilling drinks, leaving their seat, pulling tantrums, or doing what they normally do when we eat dinner at home. 

Suddenly, Applebee’s appeared on the horizon like an oasis in the desert.  (Never in my post-college, pre-children life would I have ever believed that I’d be typing those words.)  We pulled into the parking lot and put our name in at the dais.  We sat after a short wait, then ordered the kids’ food and margaritas immediately.

Turns out our waitress was a mom, which made me feel a little bit easier.  But then I immediately felt worse about the mess we were about to make.  (My neuroses are unlimited.)  I made a mental note to leave a good tip regardless.

About forty-five minutes later, our food had come and gone.  We managed not to offend anyone or cause a big scene, as far as I can tell. 

All in all, the kids were pretty well behaved.  Our server and the other staff were great.  We were in and out of there in a pretty efficient amount of time.  And the dinner was ridiculously inexpensive.  (I thought I was in Prague circa 2001.)  While the food was absolutely unhealthy (I think even the salads come fried there) and tasted terrible, I’d rate our experience as a B+ overall. 

To reward the kids for their acceptable behavior and to perpetuate the poor nutrition, we capped the night off with a stop at Smitty’s for ice cream.  High fives all around.

Day Five – Painting the Town Red

On Day Four, we met a family of five at the pond whose oldest son has DS.  Of course, we introduced ourselves and swapped histories.  It was great to hear from each of the family members and the young man himself (Brady) who is now 19.  We met one other nice family at the beach, and another local family who were out for ice cream at Smitty’s.  Just great peeps all around. 

 Anyway, Brady recommended that we go to the Christmas Loft as an activity for the kids.  The weather in the morning of Day Five was a bit sketchy, so we decided to follow his recommendation.    

Before we arrived at the Christmas Loft, I was imagining a local retail competitor to the Christmas Tree Shop.  Once inside, though, it was more like a low budget “It’s A Small World” with a yuletide flavor and holiday knick knacks for sale everywhere.  It was indoors.  It was free (minus the ornaments THE WIFE “had” to buy.)  And the kids loved it.  We killed a good hour or so in there.  By the time we left, the sun was shining. 

Next, we went back to Schouler Park for the playground and a picnic lunch.  This time, we were prepared for the splash area with bathing suits and a camera.  How much did Gus like this excursion?  So much that he fell asleep while sitting in the swing.  Eventually, we got Gus and Tilly home for proper naps at the house.  Greta and I got ready for a big night out on the town.

Our first stop was Cranmore, which is a small ski mountain (see that contains an outdoor adventure park in the summer.  I thought it was ambitious for us to go here because I assumed the activities were a bit on the intimidating side for Greta.  She was also tired from all the action of our week.  I knew there was a bouncy house so at least one activity would be a hit.  Everything else was up in the air.  Mini golf was our back-up plan. 

Long story short, mini golf was unnecessary.  I was floored by Gigi’s adventurous spirit.  (I should’ve known when she insisted on being the only kid in the park wearing only her bathing suit throughout the entire duration of our excursion.)  She went on every attraction where she was tall enough and even a couple more when the operator looked the other way: both of the bouncy houses, soaring eagle zipline (short but sweet with an unsettlingly loud whoosh noise at the end,) giant swing (I thought I might puke for a second,) mountain coaster (she wanted me to go faster the second time,) and chair lift (we held hands and chatted away on the ride.)  She wanted to do the bungy trampoline too but the park was about to close.  I was blown away at how she seemed to have no reservations about trying any of the activities.  I was so proud of her.  No sign of any timid little girl that afternoon.    

Afterward, Greta and I went to dinner, strolled for ice cream, relaxed at a coffee shop, and perused a toy store.  All things said, it was seriously one of the greatest dates in my entire life.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Days Two and Three

Day Two – Getting Into The Vacation Mode

The forecast called for a 50% chance of rain.  Since tomorrow's weather looked pretty good, we planned to go to the beach then. 

Today, we packed up lunch and took an excursion into North Conway.  First, we hit up the Children’s Museum.  It was a cute little place that exceeding our expectations.

Understand that when we are at Pep’s house, someone has to constantly hover around Gus because he can fall down a set of stairs in almost every room.  Basically, we construct makeshift barriers to keep him contained in a safe space.  After a couple days of this routine, Gus was understandably beginning to grow restless at the constricted amount of room to roam.

The museum is comprised of about eight or nine rooms on one floor.  Once we got inside, Gus was a man on a mission.  He was just walking around everywhere non-stop.  We let him get into anything he wanted.  Greta was a little reserved at first but gradually warmed up and embraced the surroundings.  We spent about an hour and a half in there.  Let me summarize the kids’ opinion by asking Gus his thoughts on the museum.

ME: Gus, did you like the museum?
GUS: Wowwwwwwww. 

There you have it.

After the museum, we went to a park with a playground in the center of town.    It was only about 12:30 but Gus was sleep walking his way through swings and teeter totters.  The wheels started coming off for all three kids, so we banged out lunch in the hopes it would energize them. 

After we ate, there was a little concrete platform with water blasting up from the ground at various heights and widths.  A bunch of kids were running through the streams to cool off.  We let Greta and Gus check it out for themselves.  It was a comedy show watching them. 

Greta approached it like a timid cat, tip toeing her way up to the edge while holding my hand for dear life.  Gus, on the other hand, went full speed drunken sailoring into the abyss.  He didn’t want to leave.

ME: Gus, are you having fun?
GUS: Wowwwwwwww. 

There you have it.

We gathered up our crew into the minivan and headed for home.  Gus passed out immediately.  Once we were home, THE WIFE manned the fort with the Tills while Gigi and I headed down to the pond. 

The only other excursion worth mention was our trip to Smitty’s for ice cream after dinner.  A thunderstorm (with a flash flood warning, no less) occurred in the two minutes it takes to drive there.  Again, the Chantilly’s pinball machine crept back into my brain.  (See the entry from Day Zero if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

We made it safely and took over the ice cream shop.  (We had the joint to ourselves.)  Greta hammered back a Dino Crunch cone (basically vanilla ice cream colored blue.)  G-man wanted a cup of chocolate, at least according to Greta who ordered for her little brother.  THE WIFE went with a cup and a cone of coffee ice cream with the non-PC chocolate “Jimmy’s.”  I got a cone of the Maine Tracks, which was something awesome because it was overflowing with peanut butter cups. 

About halfway through his dessert, Gus started dancing like a tripping hippy at a Phish concert.  Seriously.  Picture a shirtless dreadhead smelling of patchouli with his head rotating in a figure eight while the arms flow like an octopus or Olive Oyl doing the wave.  I think the massive amount of chocolate and sugar suddenly overwhelmed whatever glands are responsible for production of endorphins.  Eventually, I acted as Gus’ trip guide so we went outside to stomp in puddles and work off some of the buzz.

It was a good day. 

Day Three – Sixth Month Old For Rent

I’m not sure what the qualifications are to qualify as a so-called “colicky” baby.  The term “colicky” itself makes me think (inaccurately I presume) of an infant whose bowel movements are more painful and frequent than someone who won a hot wings eating competition the day before.  Naturally, I can understand how a truly colicky baby would be legitimately unhappy.

If Tilly does not qualify for colicky status when it comes to assessing how unpredictable her mood can be from one moment to the next, then I feel genuinely remorseful that I’ve never extended the appropriate amount of sympathy to a parent with an actual colicky baby.  The frequency of Tilly’s unpredictable bad moods are enough to make me know I am definitely getting a vasectomy.  (Tilly, if you’re reading this many years from now, I still love you with all of my heart.  You were just a high maintenance baby.)

For the sake of staying true to recording our family vacations, today’s events were as follows: family beach day until nap time; Greta and THE WIFE got their shop on during siesta hours; I tried unsuccessfully to lull Tilly into sleep while we hung on the couch; THE WIFE returned and took all three kids to a playground while I cooked; we ate dinner; bath time; books and bed.

“Peach Pork.”  Combine fresh sliced peaches and red or white onions into saucepan with olive oil, salt, and black pepper over medium-low heat.  Get this going first because you want the peaches to absorb as much of the onion and salt as possible.  When ready, throw some pork cutlets (or chops if you prefer) onto the grill over medium heat.  I lightly buttered these babies for the sake of a little flavor, but my focus was primarily on not overcooking the pork.  Once the pork is done, throw them into the pan containing the peaches and onions until serving.

I posted this recipe because it was such a hit at dinner time.  Greta said she hated peaches, Gus threw his pork in several directions, and Tilly cried throughout the entire duration of the meal.  THE WIFE didn’t even take a bite of her food until about twenty minutes into the meal.  I can’t even remember if it tasted good or not, but I’ll try again several months from now. 

Here’s hoping that the easy version of Tilly shows up tomorrow.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Uh Oh, Looks Like Rain

Day Zero

Soon after one crosses the Hooksett-Manchester border traveling south on D.W. Highway, the commercial establishments that pop up (at least in the 1990’s) were all to a driver’s left because Dorrs Pond, its surrounding woods, and Livingston Park were all on the right leaving no room for any business developments.  The landmarks on the left that were of any interest to me were basically just Luisa’s (damn good calzones), Cheung Kee (great chow with plenty of MSG), Chantilly’s, Puritan (ice cream), and the Backroom (chicken tenders.)  Chantilly’s was a pool hall, for lack of a better term I guess, which was in the Maple Tree Mall.  It might still be there.  I have no idea.

Anyway, there was a pinball machine in Chantilly’s that had something to do with rain storms or weather disasters.  A voice used to say, “Uh oh, looks like rain” and another one said “The storm is coming.  Go back to your homes.”  The pinball game wasn’t really fun.  The voices weren’t really that funny.  But of course my buddies used to (and continue to this day) to quote this pinball machine at random moments, which makes me smile because it reminds me of being 15 years old.

So what does pinball have to do with the price of tea in China?  Well, T-Family Vacation version 1.0 (with the full Party of Five) kicked off on Friday and I found myself saying these two quotes repeatedly during my inner monologue.  Let me back up and set the scene.

Friday afternoon.  Easton.  By the time we’ve completed packing up the family truckster, rush hour has begun.  Traffic maps on the Internets showed swaths of bright red to indicate that highway travel was gridlocked.  Obviously, the most sensible option was to wait and do dinner at home.  We could bathe the kids, put them in PJs, and hop in the FUV when the traffic has subsided.  If we left at 8, we’d probably get to Madison by 10:30 p.m.  Naturally, we decided to leave at that moment instead.

I ducked and weaved (yes I was driving – I’ve surrendered) on and off the highway to make decent time as far as the Ashmont exit of 93.  Unfortunately, the inevitable crawling pace of traffic stymied our merge onto the highway.  Ever so slowly, we passed through the tunnel and hit the Tobin only to somehow move more slowly.

Right around Kappy’s Liquors on Route 1, Greta announced that she had to pee really bad.  All I ever associate with Route 1 are the ubiquitous chain restaurants, chain stores, and independently owned exotic dancing small businesses tucked in between.  I figured we could go a little further and pull over any second into a semi-decent eating establishment before Greta really had to go.  Worst case scenario, we might crash an amateur hour at the Golden Banana to use the bathroom, but of course, that was only a worst case scenario.

Cue the rain.  And the pinball machine quotes.

After we encountered what seemed like a ten mile stretch at 1.5 miles per hour with literally zero eating establishments (does such a void actually exist on Route 1?) Greta started to ring the alarm.

GRETA: My belly hurts really bad. 

Yikes.  I decided internally that “I’ll just pull into the next establishment I see, whatever it is.  If it’s the Cabaret, so be it.  Greta and I will just run in there, pause only slightly at the stage, then continue running into the bathroom.”  Or maybe not.

Finally.  Signs of life.  Great.  I was just gearing up for the turn into a parking lot.  If only we could move faster than a half mile per hour. 

It started pouring around then, by the way.  Hard.

Just as I activated the blinker, THE WIFE and I encountered our worst travel nightmare…  The Golden Arches.  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

We’ve made it almost three and half years without resorting to eat with any of our kids at McDonald’s or the like.  Was this our moment when we finally gave in?  Was I about to order a quarter pounder with cheese, enjoy the four minutes it took to inhale, then regret the decision for the next three hours as it wreaked havoc on my intestines?  Scenes from Braveheart flashed behind my eyes.  Mel Gibson/William Wallace yelled.  “Hold.  Hooold!  Hoooooooold!”

I kept driving.  Greta yelled openly in discomfort.  Soon we were driving in a typhoon.  My cell phone beeped with a severe weather alert text message.

“This is ridiculous,” I said to myself in the echoing space that my brain should occupy.  “I’m seriously pulling over in whatever stop is next that may have a toilet.” 

Suddenly, a beacon of light flashed like an oasis in the desert, or at least a potty for a small child whose bladder is on the verge of bursting like a water balloon.

WIFE: There! 
ME: It’s not open.
WIFE: Yes it is.

Fortunately, she was right and I pulled over.  We arrived at the Mexican restaurant chain whose name makes me repeat it incessantly while wondering what it means and whether I’m pronouncing it properly: Chipotle.  [“Chee-poat-lay,” is where I’m leaning, for the record.]

As we skidded the mini to a stop in the parking lot, the rain began to fall Hollywood-style when star crossed lovers run towards each other to apologize about whatever transgressions they’ve committed because they just want to be together forever.  Greta and THE WIFE parted the Red Sea as they flew through the entrance.  I ferried G-man and the Tills inside.

Long story short, we averted disaster.  Gigi evacuated.  We ate fairly healthy food.  We also had our very first dinner as a party of five in public.  And we didn’t seem to ruin anyone’s meal.  No meltdowns occurred in public.  Granted, Gus ate only tortilla chips, pulled the old arch-your-back-while-sitting-on-my-lap move, and licked a ground-level window after watching Greta do the same, but overall it was a success. 

We pushed off from the dock and steered north.  After hydroplaning through the “Nohth Shoah” of Massachusetts, the deluge began to subside once we caught Route 16 in Portsmouth.  And traffic finally relented.  Before long, all three of our peanuts were snoozing.  We arrived at Pep’s house about an hour earlier than if we left at 8 o’clock.  But we made it. 

Day One - Is It Bedtime Yet?

I opened my eyes.  Greta was beaming beautifully next to me.  It was 6:40 a.m.  I was desperate for more sleep.

ME: Greta, it’s too early to get up.  Get into bed with me and mom.  Let’s cuddle for a few minutes.  I’ll buy you an SUV, only slightly used, when you turn 16.
ME: Please.  I’ll pay your first year of college.  No strings attached.
GRETA: No, daddy.  I want.  To go.  Downstairs. (strong intonation on the last syllable and possibly stomping a foot)
ME: (seeing that THE WIFE is awake) Can you please handle this?

Amazingly, I didn’t wake up again until about 7:45.  THE WIFE was a rock star and apparently took Greta somewhere out of the house because they were both gone.

Like a morning rooster, the Tills-inator beckoned me to wake.  Dazed, I stumbled up the carpeted stairs to get her.  I missed the last step and shanked my back.  Still cursing under my breath while rubbing my back, I looked over the pack-n-play.  Tilly-Vanilli was grinning ear to ear.  I grabbed her, changed her diaper, and laid her in bed next to me.  Suddenly, THE WIFE appeared again like an angel from above and grabbed our baby.  I went back to sleep.  (Rock star status, continued, for Mrs. T.)

At 8:15, guilt and a Tilly cry got me out of bed.  I rejoined the family.  G-man got up not long after.

We breakfasted.  THE WIFE and I decided to divide and conquer.  I’d take the older two to the beach.  She’d take the baby to the grocery store. 

Rather than wait for a ride in the FUV, I decided to walk.  Seeing that I was holding Gus, our bag, two floaties, a foldable blanket with shoulder strap, and a basket of toys, Greta graciously offered to carry something.  Two minutes later, she complained the toy basket was too heavy.  I was relieved she at least agreed to walk on her own.

For the next two hours, I ran closely behind Gus as he drunken sailored his way around the beach.  He ate about four mouthfuls of sand and packed another handful or two in his bathing suit.  Greta dumped a shovelful of sand into my ass crack for good measure, too.  The three of us played in the water, built sand castles, sat wrapped in towels after our dip, etc.  You know the drill.  Once Gus’ lips began to blue and shiver, I packed up our gear.

Back at HQ, we rendez-vous’d with M&M.  After lunch, Gus went down for his nap.  In light of our vacationing status, I decided to nap too.  The girls decided to take their own adventure to the beach.

Two and a half hours later, I woke up stunned and confused.  The siesta did me right. 

Downstairs, I could hear the girls in the bathroom after returning from their excursion.  Once G-man woke up, I took the killer bees (my term for the two younger kids, more on this another time) out of the house for a drive so that THE WIFE could cook dinner.  (Rock star status for her part III on the day.) 

After steak and a birthday cake, we skyped Nana and Aunt Carol.  Next, baths, books, and songs followed.  Finally, the beasts fell asleep.  THE WIFE watched Toddlers and Tiaras Dance Moms, which blows my mind on so many levels but I can’t even comment.  And here I am.  Typing these words. 

I think I’m finally relaxed.