Saturday, November 30, 2013

No one makes babies to make travelling easier..embrace it.

When Jason and I started adventuring together the general impression was that I brought adventure to the table. That might have been the case, but Jason taught me how to go wandering in the greatest of luxury and that luxury didn't necessarily entail champagne at every meal (just breakfast).

He brought the luxury of safety, time, space and a mutual respect for each other's boundaries; a treat bottle of champagne at the end of a day doesn't hurt either.  I think that until I started travelling with Jason and then with my girls, adventuring had always been a single minded pursuit of experiencing other cultures besides my own. Rushed, unnecessarily risky, tightly scheduled and mostly solitary.
At which point (the beginning) Jason is calling me Mrs. Griswald
So, while I might have brought the spark to go wandering Jason brought the quality of life that made the hardest parts of travelling...some of my favourite memories.
It's because of Jason that I started respecting the need for grown ups and children to run every few hours (napping baby time is excluded from this schedule - one must drive like the wind while the baby sleeps). Which meant road trips became less about the driving and so much more about the State Parks. Travelling to other countries became about renting a quality apartment that had some semblance of a neighbourhood structure nearby so we could enjoy a playground or park when the girls got rangy or when one of us needed a nap.
That isn't to say that a road trip adventure with two children isn't exhausting even with safeties built in but when Jason suggested that it might be less exhausting if we flew I wondered if it would be as pretty. Also, airplanes and airports sort of require tranquilizers for normal healthy kids...
Every choice has a cost right?
What I really loved about this particular trip was that we had the luxury of stopping at our friend Judy's home midway in both directions.

Here's the thing about Judy. She is a gentle, generous, home loving, foodie woman with a whole lot of brains. This means that having respite at her home took care of both of Jason's and my hearts, minds and everyone's stomachs.
The space of her property and surrounding area let the girls get their Wild on and gave me a place to run.
It also had its fair share of grave rubbings and hide and seek - scratching Jason's itch for strange activities.

We are lucky that she loves us so much as to let us invade like this. Judy's home has always been a point of respite for me and this trip was no different. It was the perfect pitstop to restore before hitting DC. That champagne was a great way to cap of the first day as well
Travelling as a family means a bit of a different trip now for the adults. We get our kicks in completely different ways. For example, as a working Mother about to turn 40 I feel like I have unlimited energy and an inability to cope without expending it.

I have never pictured myself as someone who exercised while she travelled but there was a ton of satisfaction in seeing these sights while flexing. Our flat was 5 blocks way from the National Mall route - I couldn't not enjoy it.

Korean War Memorial
West Wing run
There are certain aspects of city that we notice more now than we might have 10 years ago. As a carless family - cities with great public transit, pedestrian routes and bike share programs are endlessly charming to us.

Travel as a family is not about dining and drinking out every night anymore either. Gone are the days that I tour a city through it's restaurants and trip through the small empanada joints instead. In fact our key to success is minimizing the number of restaurant meals with the girls. Our one night out was a dinner with a local friend at a great recommended restaurant called Founding Farmers.

Spacious, delicious and distracted as the girls only have 90 minutes of sitting capacity. It is deeply satisfying to me that we got to see one of our favourite Toronto friends so far away when we have a hard time connecting locally.
We rented bikes and enjoyed the Tidal Basin with the girls. DC really has nailed the monument to men down.
When leaving Judy's on our way back home I stopped at one of my favourite New Jersey cheese makers to stalk up on great food for the longest leg of this trip.  The last 9 hours.  Always the hardest on everyone - fresh bread, homemade cheese and cured duck sausage.  We had tons of fruit to complement the car smorgasbord. 

It's our final and critical strategy to keeping sane on adventurous family trips.  Great whole food. Simple fruit, vegetables, cheese and bread.  Homemade is always better because nothing makes us all feel physically and emotionally unstable like roadside attraction food.

For what it does to us it is cost prohibitive.

Friday, November 22, 2013

So....whatcha been up to?

I was finally back in my office space on Thursday morning this week after almost 2 weeks away from the space. One of the regulars was asking me where I'd been so I said that we drove down to Washington, DC.

She asked me why sort of expecting the standard answer of monuments and museums when I mentioned that the purpose of the trip was to see the only Giant Squid on display in a museum. We had high hopes that we could introduce F to a scientist working at the Smithsonian; one that she had been writing to and reading up on for almost 9 months but he had not confirmed that he would be there so we weren't betting the farm..

When I tell people about this their reactions are like Christmas to me. Especially in Toronto. Faces change from a somewhat protective grown up expression to one of earnest, open, honest, true curiousity.

How did she hear about Giant Squid? Then what happened?  Your husband did what?  You knit what?  He wrote back? Then what happened? Did she like him?  You paid for it with your TTC money by biking to work?  She's how old?!

Around about 10 months ago or so, CBC Radio ran a short story about how a Giant Squid had been captured on film - FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER.  Fenner was immediately curious and expressed it to Jason, since we live in the future he looked it up and watched it.

And so it began.

They began to take books out from the library on sea monsters and giant squid. Giant Squid: Searching for a Sea Monster by Mary Ceruillo became her favourite book. What was most surprising was that she loved everything - even the stories that were more graphic than normal kids books. Whale disembowelment?  Really?! I found knitted patterns to cater to the fascination.  Knitters are true nerds.
Soon, they started recognizing Clyde Roper's name in a number of different videos, stories and news reports so Jason looked him up and got his address at the Smithsonian.  They started writing notes and Fenner drew pictures - she's got a mean squid and whale motif going.
Then he started writing back...and that's when she said the fateful words. "I must go to the Smithsonian. I must see the squid."  That night when I got up after bedtime I found someone had googled directions to our friend Judy's house and from there to DC.

Clyde sent us his schedule for the next six months and that was the last we heard from him...until we arrived.  Turns out the day we got there was his first day back since June.

"I am Freaking Out."
He asked Fenner to sign the picture of the squid and the sperm whale that she had drawn him. Then, he asked her if he could have her permission to display it in his office. Adults that speak to small people like people with private lives and boundaries like the rest of us are exceptional and he was so thrilled to be meeting her.

That's when he had my heart. He noted that she had drawn the whale's teeth and sockets so perfectly. Isn't it cool that they are engineered perfectly to eat squid.  They discussed it for a minute and then moved on to real business.
Giant squid.  Here they are talking about how they preserved the squid. 
Discussing why the feeder tentacles didn't seem as long as she was expecting
Vampire squid!
Clyde, hoping that she will be a marine biologist. Fenner, committing to be curious about things that interest her. Me, hoping that this experience will reduce the possibility of her growing up to be a crack whore with an intense interest in the natural world.

There by the grace of the Fates go Mothers doing their very best with what they have everywhere.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Day 4 - The day everyone hits the pavement

The trip to New Jersey (Google estimation 7:41 hours) went as amazing as we hoped. Jason did the talking at the border thus ensuring we got through and the pit stop in Niagara Falls meant that the first three hours after we crossed were during Marlowe's prime nap cycle. We were crossing the border to Pennsylvania when the girls finally needed a good solid flexing of the muscles. 
We are of the belief that a 45 minute break in driving to run is so much more worth living through than the 45 minute scream and whine fest that will ensue if none of us get the hell out of the car.

My good friend Judy had the home fires burning when we arrived with delicious food, wine and a warm home.
Talking chicken with the pros
 Early Morning + Bird Conservatory + 10 hours driving = TKO
We were in a glorious part of New Jersey for a couple of days before we drove to DC.  I don't get to hang or even catch up with my friend often enough so the days were spent wandering through the town, exploring the 'Towpath', and for Fenner, enjoying the freedom of leaving the house to fool around in the enormous back yard.  We will be breaking up the trip on the way back in the same way.

Judy and I have a date with a bottle of red that cannot be pushed out any further.  I suspect that it's because we decided 'it wasn't the right time' that our first night in Washington was the FUCKING NIGHTMARE that it was.

We broke up the drive to DC with a hike in the Susquahanna State Park which was spectacular. All the pictures are on my camera except for interrupting about a dozen massive vultures from an early Thanksgiving feast.
The rest of our time hiking was breathtaking but clearly this was a sign for what was to come.

I have taken to renting spaces from Airbnb for these family trips. The price points make family trips on a budget possible and the fact that we get access to fully loaded kitchens most of the time means that we aren't forced into bankruptcy by bringing travel weary children to restaurants - an expensive and SUPER UNSATISFYING dining experience for everyone.

I thought I'd booked a great location studio apartment - 5 blocks from the National Mall, walkable distance to all the Smithsonians, in a great University oriented neighbourhood. It had everything we wanted...except for the fact that I missed the repeated note that it was a SHARED studio space. That means there are NO WALLS OR DOORS.

The owner of the studio was awesome - kind, well informed, welcoming but well, he was there. In a one room studio apartment...with a family of four. One of whom was still nursing (WHY GOD WHY IS SHE STILL NURSING?!)

Guys, I drank two glasses of wine, had a stroke, and went to bed. I am too old to be so...public and flexible. This morning was spent working out an alternate arrangement, and our host was fantastic and have nothing but good things to say about him...especially now that we're flying solo...

Thanks sweet jesus.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Pre-Travel To Do List

Yesterday was the culmination of almost two weeks of coordinated effort between Jason and I to get the hell out of Dodge as cleanly as possible. By clean I mean, without outstanding work, without four boxes of produce rotting in our fridge, and with enough prep that we wouldn't have to pay for stupid shit on the road...shitty food and water mostly.

Two weeks is a long time but four boxes of produce take a lot of planning and Halloween was thrown in for good measure and I had a midterm exam scheduled for the day we were planning to leave.

Here's what this week's to do list looked like.

Pie Contest
- Jason: bake killer pie and win pie contest. Fend off Wife and hot single babes looking for a Pie Man
- Jen: Encourage trash talking in the neighbourhood

Ryerson Class
- Jen: review 2 modules of reading every night to avoid having to study on Halloween (for the record I did this)
- Jen: regret mediocre study habits but do nothing to effect change. Ride the spiral of self hatred until Friday night.

- Jason make soups for friends and family coming to visit.
- Decorate front porch (because he gives a shit and I, do not)
Jen: Roast three butternut squash for soup - make it thick so that the parasitic but inspiring children will deign to eat it. Recipe from a co-worker who had this to say: "..that one turned out well". The fucking mushrooms became a staple on everything for me because of this recipe.

 Jen: recover from hangover but eating my first successful Challah weave

Jen & Jason: Make an seemingly impossible amount of car snacks to avoid the obscene fast food options on the road. Expensive and questionable food that doesn't help us feel less 'worse' after spending more or less 10 hours in a car on a highway.

What has been left off this list is my work to do list which was off the charts in the past two weeks. I wish I could complain about it but it has been straight up fun to be slammed and excited about new projects again.

Basically, pulling this trip off in a way that ensured we didn't bankrupt ourselves, leave the house to rot in a big pile of compost or that I wasn't obsessed with work the entire time has been a full time job - worth every second of planning.