This site has no agenda, and its author has no chip on his shoulder. He promises not to whine about "fatherhood equality," and he'll do his best not to sound superior. He is, afterall, just a dad. Instead, he promises to tell good stories about his three kids. That's about it.
After getting in late on Tuesday night, we started our day at a decent time and borrowed a car to drive to downtown Seattle to Pike Place Market. I ended up parking in the wrong place, which meant we had to climb about a thousand steps to get where we were going, but once we got there is was worth the effort. The market is an indoor farmers market full of artisans hawking crafts and farmers selling fruit and vegetables. We bought t-shirts for the kids, gifts for friends, lotion for Leslie, and a piece of honeycomb for Alison and me to share.
The highlight, of course, is are the fish mongers atthe end of the market. You've seen them, of course, as they're famous for tossing salmon and sturgeon and halibut from one end of their stall to the other, much to the delight of the crowds of camera-toting tourists encircling the shop. We stopped for a while, and the kids were fascinated by the monk fish, intrigued by the bin of live cray fish (or baby lobsters, according to Kate), and terrified by the octopus. Here's a short video of the flying fish.
From there we stopped in at the original Starbucks, and guess what? It looks just like the Starbucks in your town. Henry started running a bit of a fever, so we called it a day and drove back to West Seattle.
Since it's the holidays and the kids have two weeks off of school, you figure it's the ideal time to take off for a family vacation. (You do this because you've forgotten about all the arguing and fussing from your last vacation, choosing only to remember the smiling faces you see in the pictures you brought back.)
So you stop the newspaper, put a hold on the mail, and arrange for Santa Claus to drop by a day early (Santa can be surprisingly accommodating, considering how busy he must be during the days leading up to Christmas Eve). And even though you forgot to stop the milk from coming, and you're marginally concerned that a gallon and a half of curdled low-fat milk will be waiting for you upon your return, when you really think about it you realize that's not worth worrying about.
And so you pack up the kids, take a week's worth of crickets and your daughter's pet frog over to the neighbors' (even though your daughter is terribly worried that her frog won't survive the week), and head off to the airport where you'll hop on a plane that will take you to a White Christmas in Colorado. (Yes, you realize that what you're doing is completely backwards. People in Southern California do not usually go to Colorado at the height of winter, Christmas or no. People in Colorado usually go to places like Southern California at the height of winter. (People in California usually head off to the sunshine of Hawai'i, but since you did that last year, you figure the snow might be nice.)
And so you arrive at the airport, pull three bags out of the back as your three kids spill out of the car, and you hand your info to the skycap. (You always check in with the skycap, because it just makes more sense than dragging your bags (along with your family) through a long, twisting line of humanity, and if you're going to stand in a line like that with three fussy kids, there had better be the Matterhorn or Space Mountain at the end of it.)
But here's where things start to get interesting. First, the skycap informs you that the airline you've chosen (and you chose this airline not because it promised the finest tasting peanuts but because they offered the lowest fare) charges twenty dollars per bag. You hand over your credit card, realizing that there is no other alternative. (And since you're an idea man, you realize that it might be a good idea to start a new airline which offers free air travel but springs a surprise $300 per bag charge once travellers arrive at the curb.)
And then things get more interesting. Just as you've finished paying sixty dollars for your three bags (and included a ten dollar tip on top of that because you're certain that the airline's new policy has taken a serious bite out of the skycap's tip income), your daughter sits down on the sidewalk and starts scowling like an angry badger. She's watching the skycap wrap her car seat in a plastic bag before setting it next to the three suitcases, and she's staging a one-badger sit-in to protest the idea of sitting on the plane without her car seat. Just like paying for the bags, you realize you have no choice (even though a voice in your head is telling you that you're just showing her how to get her way), so you pick up the badger and head for the gate.
But as you're walking you suddenly realize that you're about 97% certain that you've left the heat on at home. You picture your house, empty for the next seven days, but still a toasty warm 70° (and yes, you know that it's environmentally irresponsible to have the thermostat set above sixty-eight). For about five minutes you wonder whether or not you should call your nephew and have him drive over and turn off the heater (and this time the voice inside your head sounds suspiciously like your dad, who always kept the thermostat unreasonably low since you could stay just as warm by putting on a sweater). But then something completely unexpected happens -- you mention to your wife that it might be a good idea to call your nephew, but then your daughter hears (not the badger, the older one) and tells you that SHE had turned off the heater. And then you smile.
When you finally get to the plane (after spending fifty bucks on two burritos, two tacos, and a quesadilla), you settle in and get ready for your two-hour flight. Sitting next to you is a kid in his twenties who's doing his best Justin Timberlake impression even as he sleeps. (You don't have anything against Justin Timberlake, by the way, and you have to admit that if you were a twenty-something-year-old kid on an airplane you might do a Justin Timberlake impression too.) As it turns out, Justin probably looks a bit more like Toby Macguire, and he's also a pretty nice guy. He asks what you're reading, and here's where things get upside down. You've got a collection of writing by Chuck Klosterman, which is pretty cutting edge, while he's reading a battered old copy of The Lord of the Rings, which is pretty dorky. You slide your book towards him, and you're certain that Justin Toby wants to be just like you when he grows up.
It's at about this time that you look across the aisle at your wife. (You're in charge of your son, who is usually the tougher of the three kids to wrangle, while she's got the two girls.) She mouths the words, "I'm hammered!" as she pours her second miniature bottle of Bailey's Irish Creme. (She's joking, and it's a good joke.) One day, you remind yourself, you'll be able to sit next to your wife again on a plane flight without a bag of snacks, books, crayons, and video games taking up all of the space at your feet and make clever jokes like that.
You turn back to Justin Toby who tells you about his girlfriend, and you realize that if the person sitting in the row ahead of you were listening or maybe peeking between the seats, he might see the two of you, you and Justin Toby, and make an assumption. He might look at Justin Toby, the hipster lifestyle oozing out of every pore, and then look at you, with your fussy son beside you, a badger-girl a few seats away, and he might think you'd like to change places with Justin Toby.
That guy in the seat in front of you might think that, but he would be dead wrong.
So we came up to Pleasanton to spend the week with my parents, and as pleasant as things are in Pleasanton, we decided to pack up the kids and spend Thursday in San Francisco.
Now, here's the thing. I've been down on San Francisco for about twenty years, mainly for questionable reasons. I went to college in the Bay Area, and every once in a while someone would get the bright idea of going into the city (and it also irritated me to no end that the locals insisted on calling it "The City," as if it were the only city in the world) and everyone would into a car, sit shoulder to earlobe for an hour or so before spending almost as long looking for a parking spot. And in the end, nothing good ever seemed to come of the trip, and those negative feelings stuck with me for two decades.
Our day today was so perfect that all that was washed away forever. We convinced my parents to join us, so the seven of us hopped on the BART and arrived at the Powell Street station forty-five minutes later, rested and ready for action.
We walked a few blocks to Chinatown and spent an hour or so wandering in and out of souvenir shops and gawking at ducks hanging in windows. For lunch we popped into a place called the Far East Cafe. The broccoli and beef was good, but better than that was my mon's realization that she had eaten in that same restaurant with my father forty years ago.
After a few more trinket shops (Alison bought some ceramic frogs, Henry chose a trolley car, and Kate picked up a stuffed kitty) and a detour into a tea shop, we sat down for some yogurt and gelatto in a yogurt place which sat right on the border of Chinatown and North Beach.
At that point my parents had had enough of the hills and eighty degree heat, so they headed home, but we bravely soldiered on, catching a bus to Ghiradelli Square where we picked up some chocolate. From there we headed down to walk along the water towards Fisherman's Wharf. We passed a young hipster sitting on a curb, smoking a cigarette, and Kate announced at the top of her little lungs, "I see someone smoking! He's gonna die!" A good laugh for all. We avoided the siren song of the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, and stopped instead for dinner at the Boudin Restaurant. The kids had pizza, but Leslie and I got what everyone else in the place had come for -- sourdough chili bowls. The chili was marginal, but dishwater would probably taste pretty good in a sourdough bowl. I'm still kicking myself for not getting a loaf or two to go.
Next we meandered through the Pier 39 tourist trap, took a peak at the sea lions, looked across the bay towards Alcatraz Island, and watched the sun disappear behind the Golden Gate Bridge.
We walked a bit more to get to the south end of the Powell-Mason Street cable car line, which was probably Henry's favorite part of the day. (It would get even better when the driver let all three kids ring the bell at the end of the line.) So as I hung off the side of the trolley I thought about how much the day had reminded me of our time in New York City. San Francisco is a city with a personality that L.A. will never have, and although I can't imagine leaving SoCal for San Fran the way I could for NYC, I'm still looking forward to our next trip to The City.
I was never much of a sweet tooth as kid, not like most of my friends. I was always excited about Halloween, but I'd just end up giving ninety percent of my candy to my mom, picking out the boring Hershey bars and Three Musketeers for myself. And when my mom would offer to take me out for a sundae after a day of shopping, I'd usually agree, but when it came time to order I'd always ask for a hamburger and french fries instead.
Thirty years later, not much has changed. I could easily go the rest of my life without having another piece of candy, and I still don't understand why so many people go all melty just at mention of the word chocolate. What I do like, though, are desserts. A simple piece of cheesecake is always good, and few things can top the hot fudge cake at Bob's Big Boy, but my favorite has to be apple pie.
My mom -- just like yours, maybe -- makes the best apple pie out there. The apples are finely sliced, there's just the right amount of cinnamon and sugar, and the crust is crumbly and crunchy at the same time. It's the pie I grew up with, the highlight of Thanksgiving and Christmas every year, so it's the pie that I'll always love.
I found a close second yesterday at the Julian Pie Company. Historic Julian is a tiny little town about thirty minutes from an only slightly-less-tiny town two hours south and east of Long Beach. Since we make the trip about once a year or so and my sister and her family happened to be vacationing nearby, we packed the kids into the van, slid SpongeBob into the DVD player, and hit the road.
You can walk Julian's main street from end to end in about five minutes, which might make you wonder about the sense of the two-hour drive, but there's enough to do to make it worth your while. Our first stop was for lunch at the Cowgirl Cafe, a tiny little place with a friendly woman who served up burgers, hot dogs, and chili with a smile. She suggested a place down the street for wine tasting, the Witch Creek Winery. The four of us (Leslie and I, my sister and her husband) did our best to savor the bouquets and tastes of the various wines presented to us, but we were more than a bit distracted as Alison, Henry, Kate, and their two cousins bounced off the walls and eventually out the door. We ended up buying two bottles, a white and a red.
After spending thirty minutes swishing wine across our palates, we had apple pie on our minds, so we walked five blocks to the other end of the main drag and bought pie and cookies at the Julian Pie Company. (My slice is pictured above, if you're curious, you can order a pie through the mail.) Sure, the pie was sinfully delicious, but the best part was the outdoor dining area hidden behind the pie shop. Protected by the overreaching branches of dozens of mature trees, we sat sheltered from the ninety-degree Julian heat. I'm guessing at least twenty to thirty diners could have sat comfortably there, but we had it all to ourselves -- our own private oasis.
We four adults sat peacefully, savoring the quiet conversation as much as the pie, as the five cousins finished their chosen desserts and then actually played quietly for a while on a backyard swing before everything exploded into a raucous game of hide and seek. Really, though, the day wasn't so much about wine tasting or apple pie, it was about these five cousins, laughing and playing and getting to know each other again after being apart for much too long. Mission accomplished.
If you're like us, your kids are about to get out of school, and summer yawns before you, waiting to be filled with memories. You could spend a few thousand dollars to fly the whole family to the Bahamas, or you could do something more sensible, like taking a family road trip.
When my wife and I were married ten summers ago, we spent our honeymoon driving from southern California to New Orleans, and as much fun as we had in Nawlins, getting there, as they say, was at least half the fun. We stopped in places we never would've planned a direct trip for. We drove long stretches of historic Route 66; tasted ice cream at the Blue Bell Creamery in Brenham, Texas; took the tour at the Tabasco factory on Avery Island in Lousiana; slept in a teepee at the Wigwam Motel in Arizona; and watched millions of bats fly out from beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas. Sure, if we had hopped a plane in LAX we could've gotten to Bourbon Street in about four hours, but just think what we would've missed.
Road tripping is an American tradition, and if your kids are old enough to sit still (or young enough to sleep) for long stretches of open road driving, the good people at Reader's Digest have just the book for you. In Off the Beaten Path, they've put together a collection of travel destinations that might appeal to a family that wants to take an adventure without taking out a second mortgage.
The book describes more than a thousand scenic locations and points of interest, all divided by state to make your trip planning easier, and each entry includes an in-depth description complete with intuitive icons representing the different amenities available, ranging from picnicking to campfires to WiFi access. As for the variety of locations, the book's title tells you all you need to know. You won't find anything about the Grand Canyon, Fisherman's Wharf, or Mount Rushmore, but a random flip through the pages gives you a peek at the SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota; Snake River Wine Country in Idaho; the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial in Red Cloud, Nebraska; and dozens of state and national parks.
As odd as it might seem, the best thing about this book is that it is still a book. In an age when trips are planned with a few clicks of the mouse, there is something comforting about curling up on the couch and flipping through the pages, looking at places you might visit someday and others you never will. With each turn of the page you imagine yourself and your family in the picture making memories that will last a lifetime.
Our resort is designed to be a destination unto itself. I'm certain that some guests come here straight from the airport and don't leave the resort until it's time to fly home. With the exception of a short trip to the store yesterday and visits to family in Pearl City, we spent most of the last two days here. We left our room by nine o'clock each day divided our mornings between the pool and the nearby lagoon. Kate spent much of her time playing in the sand, but Alison and Henry were much more adventurous. We were especially proud of Henry, whose swimming lessons have made him much more confident in the water.
We ate lunch both days at a restaurant overlooking the lagoon, and on Monday we even saw a pod of whales swimming by in the distance, apparently some of the first of the season.
Tuesday night was the highlight of the trip so far. We attended the Fia Fia Luau, just steps from our room. The food was delicious, especially the kalua pork, but the kids really loved the show. It featured what you usually see at a luau, an assortment of dances from various Polynesian islands. But it won't be all this cultural education that the kids will remember. I'm guessing that they'll never forget when they were invited to dance on stage with the other children in attendance and then got to watch their father and a few other men doing the same. I haven't yet seen the photos that Leslie took of me, but I'm sure she'll be using them for leverage purposes in the near future.
On its surface, the idea of a vacation is delightful. For a week or two weeks you'll be leaving your regular life behind, perhaps even escaping frigid weather to frolic in the tropics. Even the plane flight sounds relaxing. You might finish that book you've been nursing for the past several weeks, or you could watch a movie, or you could even indulge yourself in that darkest of sins, the afternoon nap.
And then you remember that you have three kids, and the dream comes crashing down around you, the shards of your peaceful vacation left to mock you as they lay scattered at your feet.
Our reality, I suppose, is somewhere in the middle. Looking back at the five-hour flight, it was relatively uneventful, even though there were a few stressful fussy moments for Kate and Henry. (In flight video was an unexpexted salvation.) Our fellow passengers were probably the most interesting part. First there was the lady in front of us. When she noticed Kate sleeping with her head on the hard plastic armrest, she folded her own coat into a pillow and gently slid it under Kate's head. Later I noticed an odd woman sitting a row behind us and across the aisle. Even though it was an afternoon flight and the plane was well lit, she was reading with a light strapped to her forehead, as if she had just emerged from a spelunking expedition or open heart surgery.
Thanks to some good luck and the generosity of my parents, we're staying in a little corner of paradise called the Ko Olina Beach Club. (I'll try providing a link later.) Even the check-in desk is like a three-dimensional post card, and our room has a beautiful view of the golf course and surrounding hills.
Yesterday afternoon we visited Leslie's father's grave for the first time since we buried him two summers ago. It was emotional for all of us, even young Kate whose memories of Howard are regrettably few. As we stood by the grave she spoke for all of us when she announced, "I miss Buppa Howard very, very hard."
The last day of our vacation was long, but still seemed to go by much too quickly. We went back to Katz's Deli for breakfast, and the waitress remembered us from our first visit on Monday. Better than that, one of the managers, an older Jewish grandmother type, bonded with Henry over a plate of pancakes. When she overheard us asking for one order of pancakes for each of the three kids, she immediately advised against it. "Too much," she said. "Better just one for all three." We split the difference and ordered two. Henry, afterall, has a man's appetite. When Kate bumped her head on the table a few minutes later, our new grandmother listened to Kate instead of us and scurried off to the kitchen to get some ice. Later, when the food came and she noticed that Henry was waiting while Leslie and I tended to Alison and Kate, she jumped right in to butter and cut Henry's pancakes. In the week we were in the city, we didn't see any of the yelling or rudeness so often associated with New Yorkers. People obviously recognized us as tourists, and they were universally pleasant, welcoming, and helpful. The deli manager was only one example of this.
After breakfast we took the train out to the American Museum of Natural History. The museum has a subway stop on the bottom floor, so you go straight from the train to the museum in about fifty steps. We weren't sure how much time we wanted to spend there, so we went straight to the dinosaurs in the fourth floor. As much as Alison and Henry have read about dinosaurs, there's nothing quite like seeing an actual Tyrannasaurus Rex skeleton up close. Even I was impressed.
We made the time to wander around the rest of the museum, but soon enough we were walking through Central Park again, and it was just as beautiful as it had been on Monday.
After we left the park to emerge back on the east side, we stopped at a sidewalk bookstore, watched some street performers, and bought Henry a new cap at the Yankee Store. Finally we arrived at the Roosevelt Island Tram. Roosevelt Island is a tiny stretch of land in the middle of the East River. Its isolation was once used to house a prison, a small pox hospital, two mental institutions, and a virus research facility. Thirty years ago, though, all of that gave way to residential zoning and the tram was put in. The kids loved the short tram trip, which was our fourth different mode of public transportation after cabs, the bus, and the subway.
We finished the day with a trip to Serendipity 3, a restaurant favored by Oprah Winfrey and known for Its Frozen Hot Chocolates. After a quick stop at Dylan's Candy Bar, we finally headed home.