Monday, June 30, 2014

Summertime and the Livin' is Easy

For a weekend with no plans ahead of time, it sure was jam packed.  It was one of those rare but great weekends where we didn't schedule anything ahead of time and got to just make it up as we went along.  Probably the only one we'll have all summer.

We started out Friday night with a BBQ to celebrate Holden's birthday next weekend.  All of his friends are out of town for the holiday weekend (a fate he'll encounter his whole life) so we had the usual crew - Maeve's family - over to honor him early.


What I was looking forward to the most was the one thing we did have planned for the weekend - brunch with an old family friend who was in town, Jimmy.  Jimmy's dad Jim, and my dad were best friends for over 50 years.  Jim and his wife Bonnie lived upstairs from my dad and his first wife Maggie in the Cole Valley neighborhood of San Francisco in the 60s.  I hadn't seen Jimmy in over a decade and it was so great to catch up with him.

After brunch we had that weightless feeling of having no plans and all of New York City at our disposal.  We hopped on a crosstown bus to finally check out the Frick Museum on the Upper East Side.  We've always wanted to see the Frick, another museum in the home of a wealthy industrialist turned art collector, filled with old master paintings.  But we quickly learned that we are not welcome at the Frick (see sign below).


Much to the kids' relief and delight, they do not allow children under 10 in the museum.  So guess what Kevin will be doing while we're away in Costa Rica and he's home alone...

Here are the kids pretending to be disappointed.

Well, with our plans foiled we regrouped and decided to play tourists.  What neighborhood have we not discovered yet?  We came up with the East Village and hopped on a subway south. 

But then Kevin remembered that the World Cup was still on.  So of course our first stop had to be a bar.


While in the bar I did a little research on my phone and discovered that there was a real live haunted house just a couple blocks away.  So after watching the end of the very exciting soccer match we walked over to the Merchants House Museum.  


The Treadwell Family lived in this house for almost 100 years from the early 1800s until the early 1900s.  They raised their 8 children there and little Gertrude was even born in the house, lived her entire 93 years there and died in the house.  Her ghost is the one which it is believed appears from time to time.  The kids said they were disappointed not to see her but I believe they were relieved. 

The house is a National Historic Landmark and is said to be one of the finest surviving examples of architecture of its period, complete with furnishings, artwork and artifacts.

From there we wandered the streets of the East Village, surprised by the nice cafes and restaurants that have popped up there.  Kevin says that when he lived in New York fifteen years ago you never would have come to this part of town.  While it's still dirty and probably not where you want to be after dark, it was more quaint than I expected.

We came across an amazing spice shop that had literally thousands of different spices.


We even stumbled upon a real cobbler.  After peeking in their window for several minutes we were invited inside.

It was really starting to feel like we were traveling in a different country, even in a different time.

As we were walking away from the cobbler, a man on the street noticed us (there are few children walking around in the neighborhood) and told us that there were children flamenco dancers performing in the garden on the corner.  We found the garden and unfortunately the dancers were just finishing up.  But we were able to wander around the beautiful grounds.  It turns out that many of the empty lots in the area have been turned into public gardens by the city.  This was the first of several that we discovered on Saturday.

After leaving this garden we wandered down the block and discovered yet another beautiful space.


At first I laughed at this sign - what harm could the children do in the garden?  Why did they need to be so closely supervised?  Then after one stint of hide-and-seek where instead of finding Holden I found a homeless man passed out with drug paraphernalia nearby, I quickly realized that the sign was to protect the children, not the garden.  That was our last round of hide-and-seek for the day.

Luckily, this garden was adjacent to another lovely wine bar that was playing game number two of the day for the World Cup.  Even I'm starting to question our parenting skills with the kids visiting 3 bars in as many days...

And again, several blocks away we discovered yet another hidden garden.  The secret gardens all throughout Manhattan are one of my very favorite things about this city.


As we walked through Tompkins Square Park, the heart of the East Village, we saw a group of people gathered all looking up into a tree.  We rushed over to see what was going on.

It turns out that some hawks had nested there and the baby hawk (which appeared to be a foot tall already) had just left the nest.  We watched for a while as the mama hawk came and went from the nest, bringing food back for the baby.  Wildlife in the middle of the bustling city.

Ella had only two things on her wishlist for the day: to hit an antique shop and eat ramen noodles.  The first one is as much a mystery to me as it is to you.  And while I have never seen an antique store in the city before, it didn't surprise me at all to come across one on our day of wandering.

Oh they crossed it.

The ramen took a little effort.  Not that there aren't dozens of ramen shops in the city, but this being New York, then can have very strange hours.  Like Midnight Ramen for example -

Since we weren't going to be staying up past 10pm waiting for this place to open, we headed to a new, very popular ramen house with very long waits - Ippudo.


We all slept really well that night after our day of adventure (and walking several miles).

Sunday was a completely different kind of day.  We were invited by some friends to go over to a wealthy New Jersey suburb to spend the afternoon poolside at our friend Brian's parents' house.  It made us a little homesick because spending a warm Sunday afternoon by our parents' pool is exactly what we'd be doing if we still lived in California.


And no perfect weekend would be completely perfect without wrapping it up with a BBQ in our backyard.  Complete with World Cup soccer showing right on the table. 

At least we didn't take them to another bar.

Friday, June 27, 2014

School's Out For Summer!

Well, it was a long, sometimes painful school year.  And I can say that we're all thrilled to have it behind us.  The last few weeks the school sort of imploded on itself - PTA members filing grievances with the district, teachers filing grievances with their union, groups of parents trying to get the principal fired.  It was a toxic environment that we're very happy to be getting out of.

But we spent the week celebrating anyway.

Holden's first grade teacher Ms. Santana

Ella's third grade teacher Ms. Schmieder

Ella's class had their end of year African dance performance.  She had a small solo.

The class parents in Holden's class hired some soccer coaches to come and have a fun afternoon with the kids (everyone has World Cup fever).

We also organized an ice cream party for his class.

And once school was all over yesterday, we headed down the street with several of Ella's friends and their parents to watch the U.S. play Germany in the World Cup.  Nothing like bee-lining for a bar to celebrate the last day of school.  I think all of us parents really needed that drink.

And I couldn't resist snapping this 1950s moment: Kevin with his martini, reviewing the children's report cards.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cape Cod

I finally made it to the Cape.

I have been friends with Sara since 1997.  Ever since then I have been dropping hints that I would love to go with her someday on her annual trip back East to visit her mom in Cape Cod.  It only took 17 years of friendship but I finally made it.  And boy, was it worth the wait.


I think it made it to my top 5 favorite places in the world.  Absolutely gorgeous.  And to be able to spend 4 days with one of my very best friends and her awesome family was just the icing on the cake.

It's a five hour drive to her mother's house from the city so we decided to break it up in Providence, Rhode Island where we stayed in a hotel on Thursday night.  In the morning we drove around town and checked out Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and Brown University.  We told Ella we'd love for her to go to Brown but I think she has her sights set on RISD.


We arrived midday on Friday to Eastham, Massachusetts where Sara's mother Norma (aka Mac) lives.  When she retired she moved full time into the cabin where Sara grew up spending her summers.  She has since added on a great room so we had plenty of space for our family of four added to Sara's family of four (Leo, 9 and Dexter, 6).  We wasted no time getting to the beach.

Ella made a friend, Ada

When you have the urge to take a swim while at Cape Cod, you have three choices: the ocean side, the bay side or what they call "ponds" which are really lakes apparently made from glaciers.  We hit all three, each day.  Can you see Kevin's wedding band behind us?  No?  Neither can we.  It now lives in the ocean off Cape Cod.

On Saturday we rented bicycles and toured around miles of bike trails, out to the ocean, up to lighthouses, through wooded areas.  All of it was breathtaking and so fun to whiz by on bikes. 

No summer weekend at the beach would be complete without a round of miniature golf and ice cream cones.

After a nap and some World Cup soccer watching Mac generously babysat the four little ones while the four big ones went out on the town to celebrate Sara and Doug's 12th wedding anniversary.

Kevin and I were at their beautiful wedding in Berkeley.  We started by watching the longest day of the year come to an end on the beach at sunset.  And then we hit the town and ordered fried clams and pale ale like any good local.

After mountains of pancakes for breakfast on Sunday we were led on an amazing hike around an estuary and back along a coastal beach.  The kids found crabs and crickets and slid down sand dunes.


We were shown the adorable little town of Wellfleet and its harbor and yes, got more ice creams.  Next time we're staying at the Holden Inn.

We were all so, so sad to leave on Monday morning.  Not only did we have such a fun weekend with our friends and an amazing time visiting Cape Cod, but we had to get our minds out of summer vacation mode and back into end-of-school mode with two and a half days left this week.  We drove straight through the five hours back to the city this time but did make a pit stop for lunch in the town of Mystic, Connecticut.  It is a beautiful town along the Mystic River and most famous for Julia Roberts' break out movie, Mystic Pizza.  We couldn't resist getting a slice.

The frown is because Ella wanted raw oysters instead of pizza for lunch.  No joke.

Back to reality.