That time I almost lost it at Great Wolf Lodge (but didn’t)

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There are several stages of Traveling with Children.

The first is, of course, excitement. We’re going on vacation! As a working parent, I especially look forward to this uninterrupted time with my family. It’s easy to fall into this trap of daydreaming about the perfect trip during the planning phase: finishing a book poolside, laughing with my perfectly-behaved children at a calm dinner, tucking them into woodland-themed bunk beds, watching HGTV in peace. Ahh.

Next comes getting acclimated. After three hours on the road, we’re here! “Here” was Great Wolf Lodge last weekend: a family-themed resort with energetic children at every turn. GWL has a cult following and festive vibe that gets even straight-laced adults to don the trademark wolf ears (myself included). Getting acclimated includes taking in all the craziness that a change of scenery entails. Our four- and two-year-old basically just … screamed and ran at full speed for the first six-plus hours on the Williamsburg property. Calling them “keyed up” is an understatement.

Once reality sets in, we hit the “ooh, was this a good idea?” stage — usually around bedtime. This phase includes being kicked in the ribs at 2 a.m. by a child who refuses to sleep in the bunk bed of the pricey “wolf den” suite, because bunk beds are cool strictly during daylight hours. Your spouse must sleep on the couch.

So, I mean, I’m not a monster; I realize that a change in sleeping arrangements can be weird for kids. And my son, an extreme creature of habit, greatly depends on his routines. The idea of crawling into the top bunk and actually resting there alone was … a hard no.

This shouldn’t have surprised me. In fact, I was a little annoyed with myself that it did surprise me. But every time, I think … this time will be different. The kids are older now, and more adaptable; we won’t have the fussing and issues we’ve had on previous trips.

While it’s true that we don’t have to worry about round-the-clock feedings and a truckload of diapers anymore, thinking that Oliver, in particular, is adaptable? Mmm. This is the kid that, on our first beach trip, screamed so long and so hard at being put in a pack-and-play that Spencer and I wound up driving the beach access road for hours to get him to sleep … then carrying him inside in his carseat. Also the same kid that required another midnight drive around downtown Bedford, Pennsylvania, because we were desperate to calm him down. We wound up finding a well-lit gas station to catch a few hours of rest ourselves, then cut our trip short.

My blood pressure climbed just typing all that.

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Sleep is at the heart of so many issues. And when traveling, of course, sleep is a major unknown … because the comfortable routines we have at home don’t directly translate. Hadley goes down relatively easy at bedtime, but Ollie is different. He struggles to settle on a regular day at home, constantly telling me that “sleeping is boring,” so traveling is just … next level.

So in the “ooh, was this a good idea?” phase, I beat myself up with big questions. Why is it so hard to enjoy something that hundreds of families are all enjoying at this very moment? Why does this feel challenging? Am I broken? Are my children? Why are we spending all this money to be exhausted and stressed in a different location? And, of course, why can’t I just relax and have fun? 

Thankfully, after the first night, this exhausting (and depressing) phase typically melts into a better scene: making the best of it and hey, this is actually enjoyable, which comes after the kids, Spence and I have adapted to staying in a hotel room — all four of us, together, with little distraction — and being out of our normal patterns.

Great Wolf Lodge has the advantage of being very obviously kid-friendly. Kids here, there, and everywhere. Kids shoving past you in Build a Bear. Just … kids.

While it got overwhelming at the end, it was refreshing not to have the added stress of feeling like we were disturbing everyone around us. Our crew never earned the familiar glares of nearby couples just trying to enjoy their crab dip appetizer in peace, thankyouverymuch. 

Camaraderie was in the air, actually — an “in the trenches” solidarity amongst the weary parents and grandparents. Wading through knee-high water in our similar tankini tops and skirted bathing suit bottoms, the thirty-something moms and I exchanged knowing smiles. These women got it. They, too, were wrestling toddlers into swim diapers and chasing sugared-up “PAW Patrol” characters through hotel halls. They were also in line at Dunkin’ because they would croak without another shot of caffeine.

Because we visited GWL during their “Howl-o-Ween” festivities, we enjoyed nightly trick-or-treating. Spence and I wound up walking the candy trail with another couple whose kids were close in age to ours, and our shared jokes warmed me up with the recognition of kindred spirits. My husband and I joked that we should have asked where they were from. Everyone needs friends. And this couple — with the dad dressed like Rocky ready to enter the ring, and his playful wife continuously “dinging” a bell on her iPhone — were definite contenders.

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So … did we have fun at Great Wolf Lodge? Absolutely.

After our iffy first night, I faced a hard truth: Traveling with young children feels so challenging because I’m just as much a creature of habit as they are.

Understanding myself better as an adult, this is about anxiety. I get stressed when I’m out of my element. I thrive on predictability — and traveling with children has none of that. My anxiety kicks into overdrive and mostly-managed OCD issues flair up. The familiar fight-or-flight panicky feeling awakens, and I want to run away to feel normal again. By then? Well, I’m just a hot mess.

I’m working on all that.

By realizing it fairly early this trip, I could collect myself, pull it together, and coax my anxious brain back into neutral territory. Once I relaxed, we had a great time with my mother- and father-in-law at the expansive resort. There was plenty to do, and the water park was enjoyable even for a mom (and kids) who can’t swim!

Most importantly, Hadley and Oliver had a blast — and we have a new collection of fun family memories with their grandparents. I have a feeling that we’ll be talking about “the wolf place” for a long time to come. And who knows? Now that he’s four, maybe our GWL trip will be one of Ollie’s earliest memories.

Which brings us to the final phase: looking at photos and reminiscing about the great time you had. The hotel neighbors having a dance party at 1 a.m. and long lines behind indecisive middle schoolers at the breakfast buffet are all forgotten. We’re left with sweet smiles floating on a tube in the lazy river, joy when hitting the 1,000-ticket prize in the arcade, and happy, tired kids passing out within minutes on the drive home.

These are the days. The tiring, wild, haphazard days.

I have earned that pumpkin creme cold brew, friends … but it’s true that I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Bring on the wolf ears!

 

On the Irish Sea

Flags

Though our time in Ireland was brief, I think of Guinness and colorful flags and warm air.

Stone buildings, kind-faced people and shimmery green landscapes.

Castles and pubs, expansive seas, old cemeteries.


Guinness

Cemetery


I think of 2011: walking in a foreign country an ocean apart from Spencer, trying to find a way to call home . . . and somehow managing to exist without a cell phone.

For a week, anyway.


Irish sea


I think of waking up in Dublin to pull back the curtains in the tiny hotel room I shared with my sister, both of us bleary-eyed after an early wake-up call as we watched a buzzing city come to life.


Moss on stone


And I think of taking it all in with my family, laughing at how American we must have looked with our cameras, comfortable shoes and wide eyes.

I don’t mind being a tourist . . . or even looking like a tourist. So long as I’m soaking it all up, taking it all in, what does it matter?

We only live once.

And we should definitely spend part of our days on the Irish Sea.


Non-fiction to take you away (even if you want to stay put)

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With heat pulling my tender strands into frizzy curls already, it’s high time we talk about summer reading.

As a kid, I was the book geek already tearing through her assigned books before the current school year was over. I have fond memories of Dad taking my sister and me to Crown Books, the bookstore that sat where a Panera now resides, to thumb through their children’s and young adult section for the classics. We spent hours wandering the aisles — the first place I remember my parents giving us a tiny bit of independence. (Don’t worry: they were just around the corner, Dad in sports and Mom usually in magazines.)

I miss summer reading. That might be why I love reading review copies: it feels like I’m back in my English program in college, perhaps? With a stack of books I must read? At heart, I can be fairly indecisive about novels — and it often helps if I’m on a schedule. Who doesn’t benefit from a good deadline now and then?

I’ll admit that, you know, going rogue with my reading was definitely exciting post-college; I loved choosing books at random, especially when I worked at Borders, because it felt almost . . . illicit. After being handed a syllabus for so many years, doing what I wanted was exhilarating.

Now I’m tired and often cranky and don’t know what I want. I want someone to tell me what I want. Isn’t it funny how that works?

Anyway. Summer reading. Traveling! Adventure! With no one telling you what you must read, here I go giving you a list of sorts. But it’s a short one. Whether you’re readying for a plane ride or staying perched in your air-conditioned living room through September, don’t we all love a little escape through reading?

Flip-flops and sunscreen optional.


Awesome Non-Fiction
That Takes You Away
(Even If You Want to Stay Put)


Paris LettersParis Letters by Janice MacLeod — Bored by a humdrum advertising gig, Janice scrimps and saves enough to leave her desk job and book a flight for Europe. Falling hopelessly in love with Paris wasn’t part of her plan — and this artist’s journey was just beginning. Enchanting, romantic and fun, I’ve thought of this story often since finishing in the winter. It’s the perfect book in which to lose yourself — and live vicariously through another. (And then you can check out her blog to continue the fun.)


Walk in the WoodsA Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson — Though I’m late to the Bryson fan club, he certainly has a new member. I inhaled most of this book coming back from California and wanted to don hiking boots by the time we touched down. The story of Bryson’s epic journey hiking the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods manages to weave history, environmental issues and self-discovery into one moving, humorous package. Bryson’s language is evocative; you can almost feel the mosquitoes. (Better him than us.) Full review of this one to come once I’ve collected my thoughts!


The Lost GirlsThe Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner — All at a crossroads, three friends climb off the corporate ladder to go and explore the world. Their year-long journey takes them to Brazil, Kenya, Australia and more, and their story of friendship and living for today was inspirational. A heavy dose of armchair travel with this one: you’re all over the place!


Bank of BobThe International Bank of Bob by Bob Harris — Featured in my reading honors for 2013, Harris’ account of traveling to meet those he has assisted with microfinance loans bears mentioning again. A travel writer, Harris has an open mind when he begins making $25 loans through Kiva.org — and his story is heartwarming without drifting into condescension. Funds are paid back by small business owners: hardworking men and women whose lives are changed forever by the money Harris once spent on coffee. We journey with him to Nepal and Morocco, Cambodia and India. The lessons reach far beyond the page.


Any favorite travel reads to recommend?
Just summer books you love?


Lilac and spring daydreams

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It’s spring!

I know, I know . . . another post about winter being over. But seriously: this one was one for the record books, and I’m just so thrilled it’s over. As temperatures reached (and have stayed) above the 60-degree mark since Monday, I’m prepared to declare the cold vanquished and prepare for some sunshine, sandals and ice cream.

(By the way, these photos are totally of my mother-in-law’s stunning lilac from last year . . . but let’s pretend, shall we? The buds of trees are only just starting to open now, and I have absolutely zero photogenic shots to share.)

In less than two weeks, Spence and I will be taking our first non-honeymoon trip as Mr. and Mrs. — up to spend time with his parents in Western New York! And to pop up to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a few days of walking, talking, eating, hanging and photographing. I am so excited to be spending time with them, and so happy to be on the move. As the cold held us all captive in our own homes, I’ve felt caged and listless and suffocated by winter.

Must go.

I also just bought a really cute, barely-used suitcase in an all-over London-themed print from a coworker for $30, so. Bargain and a new bag . . . win/win.

Nothing renews the spirit like travel. Even with the impending home purchase and floating $$$$ signs following us everywhere we go, we’re going to get away twice before summer — and I’m so ready to get out of dodge. Maryland, I love ya, but I need a change of scenery.

In a big way.


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Have you noticed the lack of Wordless Wednesday posts around here? It’s pitiful, I know. I feel guilty every time we reach midweek, desperately wishing I had something — anything! — to share. I like consistency, organization, routines. And WW has absolutely been a routine through the years. But if I’m being honest, I just haven’t been out doing anything worth photographing. I have nothing new. I haven’t been creative enough in our tiny apartment to branch out, and Spence and I have basically just been hibernating and signing paperwork.

Paperwork is kind of our thing.

On the home front, there’s not much to report as yet. Our closing date got pushed back, which is not a bad thing; it gives me more time to emotionally prepare, for one! And . . . well, I’ll need that. I think we’re both alternating between wanting to just move and get it over with and wanting to soak up the vibes in our first shared place together as long as we can. I love being in the center of town, so I’m hoping we’ll be able to go on a few evening walks before we go.

But with the first bursts of sunshine, the first warm breaths of spring, I feel so revitalized and ready for a new challenge. I’m still scared, still worried, but I know this is a good thing. A grown-up thing. A family thing.

And I’ll find plenty to photograph very soon.


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The cities of my heart

Left my heart in . . .


It’s been exactly a year since Spencer and I wandered the streets of San Francisco at the tail end of our California vacation. In some ways, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long . . . but in others, so much has changed in 12 months. Good things, bad things, great things — and just thing things. I feel like I’ve done a lot of living and changing and growing in a year. And like all travel, I didn’t come home the same person I was when I left.

California has a special place in my heart. My dad went there on a college trip — his first time away from the East Coast — and promptly became enamored with San Francisco. His new love for the city ran so deep that, when my parents married shortly thereafter, he returned with her on their honeymoon. I grew up hearing stories about Lombard Street, that crooked one, and Alcatraz. The Golden Gate Bridge. The cable cars.

When Spence and I were trying to choose where to go on our OMG-I-won vacation, California came immediately to mind. And we had a fabulous time and ate awesome things. I know I babble about Yosemite, but that’s only because I loved it so deeply. I felt the same way after I visited London for the first time in 2007 — and then when I returned in 2009, and in 2011. (And since I’m apparently on an every-other-year schedule, I’m due for another English excursion.)

We all have a place that feels like . . . home. It may not be the town in which you grew up or have family, or really a place with any ties that bind. But you arrive and set your suitcase down, breathing in the cool or salty or humid air, and something about this destination just feels like it. You see another world and you change.

What’s the difference between a place you love to visit and a place that burrows into your heart? A sense of tranquility, maybe. I’ve visited many amazing towns, taken in the views and felt like a better person for having seen such beauty. But only a few places actually imprinted on my soul, for lack of a better explanation: London and San Francisco. Daydreaming about either place is my go-to having-a-bad-day fantasy. If my Flickr photo files were tangible objects, they’d be worn and threadbare from handling. I look at those pictures more than I’d care to admit.

Part of my attachment is, of course, due to where I was in my life at the time. In 2007, I was a freshly-minted college grad on a big trip with her family. In 2009, I was fresh out of a break-up and ready to take big chances. In 2011, I was in love again — and better this time — and going abroad with my parents and sister before Kate and I both became engaged and strengthened our family to a unit of six. And last year, in 2012, Spence and I were on our first trip together: just the two of us.

When I flip through my favorite shots from each of those trips, I’m remembering less of what I did and more of how I felt. That’s why I travel: to feel both closer to and farther away from myself. To allow myself to experience child-like wonder before a waterfall, or to try an exotic food I could never find at home.

I travel to come away with stories. Ones I can tell for the rest of my life.

Which cities or places hold a special place in your heart? Do you remember more of what you did, or more of how you felt? What’s a city you’re dying to see? (And if you have city recommendations, here or abroad, I’m all ears. I love travel suggestions.)


Now accepting: mini-moon suggestions

Travel the world


I’m going stir crazy.

To save enough vacation time for our wedding extravaganza and mini-moon this fall, I have no big trips on the books. We’ll be heading to the Outer Banks for a handful of days in June, as per our family tradition, and also trekking to New York in August to see Spencer’s lovely family before the wedding. But other than that? No epic journeys. No life-affirming itineraries. No jaunts to other coasts or other countries . . .

. . . just uninterrupted hours at my dusty desk.

To compound my stir-crazy-ness, Spence and I are planning to take our “real” honeymoon next summer — when we have a fresh cache of time. And, more importantly, when the weather will be nicer. All of our potential honeymoon destinations wouldn’t be too pretty in November, so we made the executive decision to wait until it’s warmer to take our big vacation — and not go straight from a trip into the holidays. I also felt it would be less stressful to not rush out of town immediately after such an epic event — and more fun to have something to look forward to after all the wedding excitement dies down.

We are going to get away, though — preferably to somewhere fairly quiet and drive-able. Planes are out. I was thinking a bed and breakfast in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia, but lo and behold: everything I’ve researched closes for the season the weekend before our wedding. Because of course.

Planning a trip is half the fun, but I’m at a loss as to where we could go for our “mini-moon” (don’t you love that term?). I entered a contest to win one from the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, D.C., which would be sweet, but I realize I can’t exactly count on that. (Though I have won a trip before. So, lightning: strike here twice?)

Here is my slightly-OCD list of things we’re seeking in a mini-moon:

• Must be within 7 hours’ driving distance from D.C.;
• Would preferably be in/near the mountains, because they’re my favorite;
• Must be relatively quiet (no family resorts, etc.);
• Would preferably include meals or be near restaurants (no cooking ourselves);
• Be picturesque in some way; y’all know I need to take some pictures; and
• Not cost approximately $1,826,834 a night.

Simple.

My mom suggested the Poconos of Pennsylvania, a spot we visited on many spring breaks growing up, and I’ve found a few adult-oriented resorts that sound interesting. I say “adult-oriented” because I fear checking into a hotel with children running down the halls, screaming and splashing each other everywhere we turn, because I have been that child and the whole point of the trip is to decompress. Love kids, can’t wait to have ’em, but don’t want ’em sharing our dinner table during our relaxing getaway. Just sayin’.

So: the Poconos. Interesting. Reasonably priced. Not too far away. But nothing I’ve looked at really grabs me as the place. I’m getting antsy that the place seems nowhere to be found.

This is obviously not at the top of my priorities list at the moment, but for someone who sees vacation as lifeblood? Well, daydreaming about this mini-moon gets me through some long days. I’ve spent way too much time on TripAdvisor, combing through endless reviews of East Coast hotels and resorts, but I feel like my list is accompanied by a full-body shrug. Nothing is really exciting me.

So this is where I beg for your assistance. Where have you vacationed on the East Coast? Can I get there easily from Washington? Do you have any recommendations? West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware . . . heck, even North Carolina: I’m looking at you. Take pity on me — and give me a mini-moon to fantasize about. I’m all ears.


Where the heck was I reading?


We all know I’m slightly OCD about many things — among them lists and record-keeping. Being both an avid reader and an obsessive traveler, armchair and otherwise, I decided 2012 would be the year I kept track of all the places I “visited” through my reading.

Inspired by Aths, I kept a running Google map with the main locations of every book I read. Because some novels spanned several towns, states or countries, I chose to catalog the “main” setting and discard the others. If an exact location was never named, I “rounded up” to the state or closest town I could find. There were exceptions to that, though, and some places had no discernible setting — or more than one place was critical to the story. So I made allowances where I wanted.

In keeping this organized tally, I was most interested to see how diversified my reading was this year. Were most of my books set in New York City or London, as it often feels? Did I read novels set in any foreign countries? Were my characters of varying racial backgrounds, descents and interests?

The answer to all of the above, I’m happy to say, is yes! Though I did read many books set in New York (16), only one (!) was set in London. I know, I’m just . . . I can’t get over it. I read others set in England, of course, but only one book set in London? Really?

I scarcely know myself.

Of the 71 books I read this year, some of the more exotic locations included:

• Beijing and Shanghai, China
• Amsterdam, The Netherlands
• Gowna and Dublin, Ireland
• Vietnam
• Ghana, Africa
• Nagoya, Japan
• Madrid, Spain
• Porto Vergogna, Italy
• Kingsbridge and Milton, England
• Mumbai, India

Back stateside, my reading was pretty centered around California — not too surprising given my trip there last May. I read eight books set in the Golden State, several in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and also journeyed to destinations in states I’ve never seen in person. Among my American reading were spots in:

• Boston, Massachusetts
• St. Mary’s County and Annapolis, Maryland (home!)
• Atlanta, Georgia
• Hawaii
• Portland, Maine
• Wiscasset, Maine
• Chicago, Illinois
• Cleveland, Ohio
• Provo, Utah
• Kansas City, Missouri
• Malvern, Pennsylvania
• The Cascade Mountains of Oregon
• Dalhart, Texas
• Indiana
• Seattle, Washington

And for all the numbers fans out there . . .

28 percent of the settings were international
72 percent of the settings were in the United States

In 2013, I hope to expand my literary horizons and journey to many new and interesting locales! We’ll see how exotic I can get.


So what did I read in 2012?


1. Across The Universe by Beth Revis
2. History Of A Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason
3. What Came First by Carol Snow
4. Faith by Jennifer Haigh
5. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
6. Fatal Mistake by CB Lovejoy
7. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
8. Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney
9. The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene
10. Compulsively Mr. Darcy by Nina Benneton
11. Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris
12. How To Eat A Cupcake by Meg Donohue
13. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
14. The Civilized World by Susi Wyss
15. Gossip by Beth Gutcheon
16. Another Piece Of My Heart by Jane Green
17. All The Flowers In Shanghai by Duncan Jepson
18. The Singles by Meredith Goldstein
19. S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim by Cynthia Sass
20. Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
21. Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer
22. Apron Anxiety by Alyssa Shelasky
23. These Girls by Sarah Pekkanen
24. Bossypants by Tina Fey
25. Japan Took the J.A.P. Out Of Me by Lisa Cook
26. A Vacation On the Island of Ex-Boyfriends by Stacy Bierlein
27. Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson
28. In The Bag by Kate Klise
29. An Object Of Beauty by Steve Martin
30. Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner
31. Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon
32. Where We Belong by Emily Giffin
33. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
34. Between You and Me by Emma McLaughlin, Nicola Kraus
35. We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han
36. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
37. As Always, Jack by Emma Sweeney
38. And Laughter Fell From The Sky by Jyotsna Sreenivasan
39. Birthday Pie by Andrew Wooten
40. Heaven Is Here by Stephanie Nielson
41. Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks
42. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
43. The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate
44. The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar
45. Point, Click, Love by Molly Shapiro
46. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
47. Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
48. Populazzi by Elise Allen
49. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
50. The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns by Margaret Dilloway
51. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
52. Sad Desk Salad by Jessica Grose
53. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
54. Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski
55. We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier by Celia Rivenbark
56. Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond
57. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
58. Harvest by Richard Horan
59. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
60. Lip Service by M.J. Rose
61. Love On the Big Screen by William Torgerson
62. I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert
63. You Tell Your Dog First by Alison Pace
64. The Good Woman by Jane Porter
65. Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas
66. Moranthology by Caitlin Moran
67. Lunch With Buddha by Roland Merullo
68. Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole Georges
69. I Kill Me by Tracy H. Tucker
70. The Wedding Beat by Devan Sipher
71. The Truth About Love and Lightning by Susan McBride