The Vacation Report
I'm back and had a wonderful trip. Thanks for asking. For those who really care (such as our families), behind the cut is the extended blow by blow version.The family always takes a vacation together during the summer. We try and find new places to visit and make sure there's something for everyone. This year, we had a very narrow window of opportunity given the kids' schedules but we found a week that actually fit.On Saturday, we packed the car and were on the road at 9:20, which for Greenberger time meant leaving 5 minutes late. Our first stop, at kids' request, was the Bronx Zoo. In honor of the trip, Deb put together a small play list for the iPod featuring appropriate songs from Peter, Paul & Mary and Tom Chapin and sure enough, the four of us were transported back at least a decade if not more.It was cloudy and looked to remain that way keeping the heat and humidity and crowds at bay. This worked to our advantage since it wasn't overly crowded and we had a chance to wander freely. Interestingly, the kids first wanted to check out the Children's Zoo. So, we saw all the cute critters and let them feed animals in the petting area. Amazing how quickly we can revert to earlier versions of ourselves. Robbie heard all the animals we wanted to see and plotted our course and over five hours we managed to see just about everything we wanted. He also figured out that by buying one gigantic animal-topped souvenir cup of soda, with free refills, we'd actually save money by sharing. Conveniently, they both picked the tiger so a fight was avoided. The newly renovated Butterfly Garden happened to have its grand opening that day so it was a delight to check out.We finished up and hit the GW Bridge and into New Jersey. The road was crowded for late afternoon but not too bad and we worked our way through the state without incident. We then crossed over the Delaware Memorial Bridge and crossed through Delaware en route to Kennett Square, PA, which seems to be about a stone's throw over the state line.After a mere two wrong turns, we found Patrice and Beau's house. Patrice, Deb's sister, fell in love with the house right around the time they first visited us after relocating from Colorado and this was our first chance to visit. It's nice, with room enough for them, the two kids, and the two dogs. Beau has all sorts of projects he intends to do, improvements and maintenance but it looks nice and cozy. Upon arrival, Patrice was at work and the screen door was locked with no sign of Beau. He of course took that exact moment of arrival to take a shower and the kids followed their orders not to open the door for anyone. Including us. Once Beau found us, we had a quick dinner and then prepped to join Patrice. But first, the siren sound of the Mr. Softee truck distracted everyone and Kate insisted we buy ice cream. Colton (5) and Faith (2) thought this was great and we watched as they attempted to eat their cones before the heat had ice cream dripping down their hands. They managed pretty well.Meantime, Patrice works at Longmeadow Gardens, the largest showplace for plants and flowers in America. Built and funded by Pierre S. DuPont, the gardens are huge and sprawling with an amazing Conservatory with many attached green houses. It's easy to get lost in the mammoth structure (or to kill Miss Scarlet with the lead pipe, but I digress...) and the girls were thrilled. At night, the many fountains on the great lawn are turned into performers as the lights go down around the area and, set to classical music, the water gushes up in varying configurations with a selection of rainbow lights. Think wet fireworks set to music and you sort of get the idea. It was very sedate and very pretty and soon enough, I was nodding off.Sunday was a quiet day at the house. There was a lazy morning and then various families went to various places of worship as I stayed home to play on line and read my vacation novel (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell). When everyone returned, we made sandwiches and headed to Stroudsburg where we browsed outlet shops. There must be something about the way we plan our road trips because we are always stumbling over outlet stores and like moths drawn to the flame, we stop and shop. Fortunately, they had some thing Robbie needed for his new job so it wasn't just wasted time. We also stopped at an official Thomas the Tank Engine store so Colton could spend his birthday money on a new engine. After much deliberation, he selected Edward. Colton is five and I recall Robbie being much the same age when Thomas first reached the states and the fascination among young kids has never wavered. So, for two days now, we've been caught in an odd family time warp and it's more comforting than not.When we returned to the house, Deb, Kate and Faith sat at the picnic table and began doing watercolors. Deb has said for a while now she wanted to try her hand at watercolor painting so earlier in the day she picked up a bunch of supplies. She worked studiously on her first picture of a sunflower. Faith, at 2, showed remarkable concentration and enjoyed her own more freeform painting for quite some time. Beau barbecued some fine dinner and the evening devolved into relaxed hanging around.Monday morning had Beau head out on business while we started to put the house back in order, getting ready to leave for the next phase of the trip. Deb, Patrice, Kate and Faith headed back to Longwood Gardens to fully experience the wonders of the place and allow the artists some time amidst nature. I stayed back with Robbie and Colton. The two boys played and played and played and played. Colton didn't want me involved but also asked that we leave Robbie behind for a few more days. I busied myself with laundry and cleaning the kitchen and finally some more reading. The girls got back much later than expected and we were finally on the road by 4. Our first stop was a local Mexican ice cream store where we sampled some of their custom flavors such as guava and cream.The drive to Intercourse was uneventful and pleasant. Our hotel, the Best Western, was nice and clean and ideal for our simple needs. The hotel has a restaurant with good, old fashioned local PA cooking. We all delighted in trying some of the local fare from baked sausage to shoofly pie. Alone, relaxed, our family still finds things to talk about and ways to make each other laugh. These are some of the most cherished parts of the trip. After dinner we returned to the room and played one of the kids' favorite games, Munchkin. I managed to win and Deb remains largely baffled by the nature of play. One episode of 2 1/2 Men later, it was lights out.Tuesday morning had everyone up and moving early. We returned to the restaurant for a hearty local breakfast and then it was off to Hersheypark. We got there without incident and then entered the gates for a full day. Given how sore Deb's healing foot was after a few hours at the zoo, we decided the electric go-cart was in the family's best interest. She was zipping along, having a ride all to herself. The park is large but not as large as say Six Flags New Jersey or any of the Disney parks. Still, it was clean, well maintained, and crowded with options. Oddly, despite the warm, sunny day, everyone was somewhat lethargic. We went on a number of rides but for whatever reason, people were dragging. Robbie likes a limited number of rides and was frequently sitting beside Deb, plotting out our course, while Kate and I stood on lines for rides. One difference I noticed: the rides are shorter in duration than elsewhere. We hit most of the roller coasters with the Sidewinder or Great Bear the best of the bunch. Everyone changed into bathing suits and we hit the water rides but the water was cold and not all the rides were to everyone's liking so we changed back and moved on. Throughout the day this pattern continued, we'd walk around, see something to do and invariably Kate and I did it. After lunch, Robbie got tired so we attended one of the cheesy shows, Nerds: The Musical. As he napped, we sat enthralled in how awful the show was -- basically a geeks vs. cool college students story that involved singing many, many pop songs from "I Need a Hero" to "The Boys are Back in Town" to a horribly re-written "Born to Run." It had its moments and afterwards, Kate delighted in critiquing the singers.The day continued in this fashion, although the rest perked everyone up. We saw more attractions and got serenaded during dinner by a country western sextet that was energetic and pretty good. We continued to explore, going on the occasional ride. I turned to Robbie at some point and said, "I'm here for you and Kate. Whatever ride you want, I'm there." A little later, he said, "I'm here for you and Katie since you like more rides than I do." While I fretted about him, he was genuinely content at the park, as was Deb who went on fewer rides than I'm used to her joining in on. Finally, just before closing at 10, we left and drove back to the hotel and everyone crashed.Wednesday was a chance to explore Intercourse. After a hearty breakfast, we wandered into town, which is stuffed with quilt and fabric shops and other things. There's a tiny Edged Weapon museum a block from the hotel so we made sure Robbie got to see that. The owner has been amassing this collection for 48 years and has been in this location for 19. He has over 2600 weapons on display with pikes dating back to the Revolutionary War all the way up through today. It’s heavily concentrated on WW I and WW II but is well organized with some terrific history cards attached to each display case. Decorating the walls and even inside some of the cases were patriotic posters, postcards, and other memorabilia from each era. I was particularly fascinated by the spy tools from the O.S.S., having never seen any before. The girls had a fine time at Zooks, a world renown fabric shop. When we rendezvoused, we wandered some of the other nearby shops such as one that canned and sold their own items with plenty of samples on display. I’m a sucker for that stuff and wound up bringing home some salsas. We also checked out a pretzel factory and took the little tour in their kitchen where we all got to roll and twist dough.We hit a local deli and sampled some of the local wares, bringing them back to the hotel’s gazebo where we picnicked. From there, we drove to the outskirts of Intercourse where we took a horse and buggy ride through the area. While waiting for the ride, Deb realized she must have left her camera back at Patrice’s house. After a call or two it was settled that Patrice and the kids would bring us the camera and in exchange, we’d treat them to dinner. Our Amish tour guide, Amos, tried to engage us in conversation, told us some of his lifestyle but I was disappointed it was little more than describing the area and listing what they can’t do. Our other companions in the wagon were all silent. Twice, we left the road to ride through a home and a farm and both times we stopped so kids from the house could come out and sell us handcrafted or homebaked goods. I felt slightly sympathetic towards them and highly manipulated.After the ride, we hung out back at the hotel. The kids were watching some TV, I was reading and Deb was in the gazebo working on her second watercolor painting. I glanced up at one point to be surprised by her parents. Deb was even more surprised. They were coming to see Patrice for a few days and when they heard the new plan, detoured from their plan to stop in Intercourse to join us for dinner. It was, after all, their one real chance to see Kate before college. Everyone was thrilled. We went back to the horse and buggy ride, located by the Plain and Fancy Restaurant. They serve family style, with everyone picking three entrees from the menu and then having copious amounts of food brought out from salad to dessert. Patrice’s kids loved chasing after Kate and Robbie which lasted well after dinner.Once the relatives left and it was just us, we returned to the hotel. I flipped on the TV, looking to check the Mets’ score only to find the movie Witness playing. We stopped what we were doing and more or less settled in for the night, watching this well-timed film (and well recommended for those who never saw it).On Thursday, we were up and out on the early side since we had places to be. One final breakfast in the restaurant got everyone ready and we hit the road, leaving Amish country and headed for Maryland. But first, a stop at The Mannings. The Mannings is located in nowhere, PA. I mean, it’s so out of the way, that if you don’t know about it you won’t find it. The Mannings is a famous yarn shop with classes for knitters and weavers, selling a wide range of yarns, notions, books, looms and the like. Having been warned of this stop, I had my book at the ready and Rob had his Game Boy. The girls spent quite a bit of time there and I was surprised with how little they came out with but they were quite happy with the visit.Once more on the road, we figured we’d drive for a bit and stop for lunch before hitting Towson University. Well, that changed when we spied Tropical Treats, an old-fashioned lunch spot with curb service. The menu was fairly extensive and really cheap. We buzzed the shack, yelled our order into the microphone and then waited for girls to bring us lunch. All that was missing were the roller skates. The food was okay but the experience was certainly fun.The drive to Maryland remained uneventful and we arrived at Towson in mid-afternoon. Rob had heard about the school and its teaching program from people who run Shore Leave so he was intrigued. It’s a nice, pretty campus but the Office of Admissions was unhelpful. No tours. No one to talk to. Robbie had called the Department of Education before arrival and no one ever called him back. So, we drove around campus and he likes it so it’s now on The List.From there, we headed right into Annapolis and the Loews’ Hotel, which was quite nice. Once we unpacked, the kids wanted to hang in the room so Deb and I strolled into the downtown area by the state capitol, a few blocks away. Annapolis is a Colonial era town, with much of the tourist stuff down by the water with many small shops and a few chain stores spread over several blocks between the Governor’s Mansion and the water. It’s pretty.Since Robbie really wanted a crab feast and we felt we owed him something after the disappointment at Towson, we found him Buddy’s. Sitting outside, on the sidewalk, the rest of us had normal servings of food while Rob dug into the crabs with gusto. He was still whacking open the hard shells long after the rest of us were done.On Friday, we slept late; our last real morning to do so. Finally ready, we wandered towards the shops, stopping for breakfast and then exploring. Deb found more and more shops to check out. We stopped here and there for more coffee. Deb and Kate settled on the dock with their art supplies, freeing me and Robbie. He returned to the hotel for some stuff while I checked out a local bookstore. As time passed, they continued their art so I killed an hour in an internet café and finally headed back with Robbie. We stopped in Chick & Ruth’s Delly, a local business with a fine menu and long-standing reputation. The food was hot, good-sized and filling, which was consumed back in the room as we crashed for a while. The girls finally finished their work and headed towards the mall for pedicures.When we were all united and rested, we walked back down the block to stop at an Irish Pub for dinner. It was timed so we’d be eating when the live music was to begin. The band was in the next room, but loud enough to hear and sure enough, as time passed the pub filled. Still, our excellent server told us, after the meal was cleared and paid for, that we could stay at the table as long as we liked. Hearing that, Robbie whipped out his deck of cards and we sat there, enjoying the music and playing Palace for quite some time. The night ended when Deb read to the kids from a book she found in town, Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, which she thought was appropriate given Robbie’s recent performance in Into the Woods.Saturday was gray and the threat of rain remained all day, sort of like the previous Saturday oddly enough. Undaunted, we were excited to drive just outside of the city to attend the opening day of the Maryland Renaissance Faire. We met up with our friends Jim, Paula and Clarissa Rhule, who joined us for the day. Kate, through her Boogie Knight cohort Linda, had gotten a job at the Festival, selling hats, but wasn’t due to start for two weeks so this gave her a chance to check out the place. It’s nice set-up and certainly well spread out, not as large as Tuxedo Park in NY, but still good-sized. Plenty of choices for food (very reasonably priced) and some fine shops. Robbie came with a fistful of cash to buy himself a souvenir and something for his girl friend. He also borrowed from Linda a kilt so came somewhat dressed for the affair.Entering the fair was like being the new kid in school. So many people knew one another, came in costume, and were part of a large club. They knew the bands and comedic performers, knew when to chime in and where to be without looking at the schedule. It felt great and not at all exclusionary (unlike, say, high school). The Rhules took us to see some of their favorite performers such as The Rogues (an instrumental, bag pipe heavy group) and Hack and Slash (two comedians). We sampled other stuff along the way. Kate got herself shoes, a corset, earrings and a drum, stuff she will need to complete her Boogie outfit for both performances (such as this weekend’s trip to Dragon Con) and for selling at the Faire. Robbie, with Kate’s help, got a necklace for Stephanie and then bought himself a finely made wooden katana and hilt.The Faire ended with a pub sing where two different bands jammed in the band shell. Lyric sheets were handed out and we spent an hour or so in fine company, enjoying the music — some familiar, some new — and had a great end to the event. Kate’s going to love working there through the fall.We returned to the hotel and chose to stay in. I ran back out to pick up KFC for dinner and we ordered our first hotel movie of any vacation. After much debate we settled on National Treasure which was well-made and fine entertainment for winding down.On Sunday, we headed back down the block to a coffeehouse for breakfast, then loaded the car and left town. We found a Safeway and loaded Kate up with lots of food for the dorm. Then we headed to Washington, D.C. and the end of the vacation. By arriving Sunday, we avoided the freshman move-in madness of the day before. Still, parking was an issue so we pulled in front of her dorm, unloaded and I went to park. Deb guarded the goods while Kate and Robbie began hauling things to the room. Her new sophomore set-up is much nicer than the freshman dorm. It’s really an apartment: two bedrooms, two bathrooms, closets, a kitchen and a common area. The dorm is air conditioned and each dorm room has a mini washer and dryer so laundry is much easier. Her three roommates were out so she could drop her stuff and put things away without distraction.We brought along one prop to complete the trip. Deb has taken First Day of School pictures of the kids, all standing front of the mailbox. Since we replaced the mailbox the day before vacation, we added it to the car – much to Kate’s surprise. The final thing we did as a foursome, was have Kate pose in front of the mailbox by her dorm. She thought it was cheesy but indulged her mother. I swore, though, we wouldn’t bring it to Cairo for Kate’s junior year abroad.After hugs and kisses, three of us returned to the car and hit the road. Last year, the trip home took 8 hours. I was hoping to cut it down closer to the Should Be 5.5 hours. Well, it took 7.5 hours given all the volume through Maryland and Delaware and then the Garden State Parkway and Tappan Zee Bridge. Robbie and Deb napped a lot, I listened to the Mets give away a game to the Giants, and we got home around 8 p.m. The car was quickly unloaded and everything put away within an hour (which is how I like it).And that was it. Nine days of lots of fun and family bonding. As I talked about the trip a little to people at work, it was noted by the listeners that we must have done something right raising the kids if we could still have this much family fun while they were 17 and 19. They’re right, and I take a lot of pride in that. It was fun. Everyone got to do things they wanted (except for not playing mini-golf) and we did plenty together. It was a terrific way to end the summer.