Category Archives: travel

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day (Pre)Parade 2012

Having be born and raised in the suburbs of New York City, there are lots of touristy things I haven’t done.  I’ve never been to the top of the Empire State Building, I was never to the top of the World Trade before they were destroyed, never spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square.  While I have been to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade a few times, I’d never been down the night before to see the balloons being blown up in preparation for the parade.

That changed this year.

For several years, my sister has been working for a woman who lives just off Central Park West, on one of the streets used as a staging area for the parade.  The woman has been generous and offered to have us down to see the balloons several years in a row now, but with travel and other constraints, we haven’t been able to.

Until this year!

Thanksgiving 2012 mcphd

Now, the way it works is that all the streets being used as staging areas are around the Museum of Natural History.  The museum side of the streets are open to the public, but there are thousands of people, hours long waits, and general insanity.  The opposite side of the streets are residential and closed to the public- unless you are an invited guest of someone who lives on that street.  Thus, my sister’s boss’ invitation allowed us past the barricades, onto West 77th street- the street the marked the start of the parade!

Unlike the public access side, the residential side wasn’t crowded or crazy.  Mabel could walk around without even holding hands, without fear of us losing her in a crowd.  We got to see several balloons- Hello Kitty, Charlie Brown (and his football), the Paul Frank Monkey, a dragon, Pikachu, Kermit the Frog, Kung Fu Panda, and other assorted ornaments, stars, and bobble-headed presidents and pilgrims.

When we arrived, Kung Fu Panda was just fabric on the ground.  As we stood and watched, and walked back and forth, it was blown up.  Very cool!

There were big tanker trucks of helium up and down the street, nets over all the balloons, and it was really neat to watch how the teams work together to blow up each balloon in sections.  If you watched the parade, you probably saw that Pikachu had some ear problems- guess they missed that part!

The other cool thing was, because we were at the starting point of the parade, Mayor Bloomberg paid a visit!

We were waiting on the corner for Aunt Meg, when I noticed security and a fleet of black SUVs.  I said to Mac that somebody must be here.  Looking around there were lots of press and staff milling around.  Sure enough, by eavesdropping on conversations, I hear “Bloomberg”.  Since we were already waiting for Aunt Meg, we decided to also wait for the Mayor to make an appearance.

Sure enough, he did, and Mac snapped this photo.  I totally got a kick out of it.

Mabel and the Mayor

Mabel and the Mayor

After the Mayor passed by, Aunt Meg appeared and we actually got to up to her boss’ apartment.  Looking down on the balloons from 13 stories up was kind of amazing.  The picture on the bottom right was taken from the window- it definitely doesn’t do it justice.

Mabel had lots of fun- although she didn’t remember the parade from previous years, so I don’t think it really sunk in what she was seeing.

However, the next morning, she sat with Aunt Meg and watched the parade.  Once she saw the balloons floating down the street, she realized and got a big kick out of it.

The other thing she was excited about was the performance by the cast of “Annie,” the revival of which just opened on Broadway.  Aunt Meg and I made a really big deal of watching it because tonight, we’re taking Mabel to see it!  It will be her first Broadway show- just as it was for me almost 30 years ago!

With Mabel being so young, the fact that we only saw one street’s worth of balloons was fine.  Given how insane the opposite side of the street was (you can see in the bottom right picture that the crowds were a dozen people deep- which wouldn’t allow you to see much of anything), I don’t think we’ll ever do all of the balloons (our invitation only gave us access to the street on which Meg’s boss lives and not all of them).  It was so pleasant and fun on the residential side- no crowds, easy to see everything, nobody pushing or shoving, nobody rushing you to move on- that I think we’ll stick with that one street as long as we’re invited.

Aunt Meg- I’m sure you’ll read this, so thanks again for orchestrating this amazing opportunity !  We’re lucky to have you!

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Pumpkin Picking, October 2012

The day before Sandy hit, we went pumpkin picking.  It was Sunday, the 28th of October, and the pumpkin patch was pretty picked over.  The weather was blustery, damp, and chilly.  The staff were busy taking down all the tents and otherwise preparing for the storm.  It was less than ideal.

However, it didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves.  We met dear friends for breakfast and then headed to the pumpkin patch- Castle Hill Farm in Newtown, CT.

Highlights included Mabel finding a pumpkin, riding a pony, feeding some cows and goats, a hayride, and riding in a wheel barrow.  In past years we had done the corn maze, but given the weather, the cost and the littlest kids, we opted to skip it this year.

The place definitely felt shut down.  We’d been 2 years before and had a lot of fun.  I think being so late in the season, there were very few people there.  To compound that, was the fact that most people spent that Sunday doing storm preparations.

While the actual pumpkin picking wasn’t ideal, it was still a nice day.  Getting to see our friends it great, even under sub-optimal circumstances!


PS- For those who are also mourning the loss of Picnik, I’ve found a viable alternative:  It’s my new preferred, web-based, collage-making program.  I typically use the Pixlr Express it’s basically half-way between their Pixlr-o-matic (which is similar to Instragram in it’s abilities and feel) and Pixlr Editor (which is similar to Adobe Photoshop).


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Weekend Getaway: Lewes, Delaware September 2012

A few weekend ago we went down to Delaware to stay with friends at their beach house.  It’s the same trip we made last summer, that I wrote about here.

It’s crazy to see how different Mabel is one year later.  We didn’t do much- another trip to the Farmer’s Market, a couple trips to the park, flying a kite on the beach, collecting shells and crab parts, board games, pulled pork, ferry rides, etc.  All around a good time (except for the motorcycle gang, see below).

It’s also crazy to think that the last time we went down to Delaware (in February to meet up with my in-laws over President’s Day Weekend) Nemo was still in utero.  This trip, he was able to enjoy the view from the ferry.

Nemo on his first trip on the Lewes-Cape May Ferry!

On the way down, there were about a dozen bikers (on motorcycles, not bicycles) headed down to some kind of rally.  As we were waiting to get off the ferry, in the enclosed space of the car park, the bikers started their bikes and revved their engines incessantly and unnecessarily.  Mabel complained about the noise (which was loud despite having the car windows closed).  I made the near fatal error of saying, “I know it’s loud.  There’s no need for them to do that.  Those guys are being jerks.”

I thought nothing of it, other than patting myself on the back for saying ‘jerks’ instead of ‘*ssholes” which would have been a more apt description.  (I mean if you have to rev your engine that much you are either showing off and being a jerk, you need a new carburetor, or you need to learn to drive.)

Fast forward to the return trip home.  The biker rally is over and now there are DOZENS of bikers lining up to get on the ferry with us.  We’re sitting in the car waiting for all of them to check in and proceed to their lanes and await the ferry when Mabel pipes up from the back seat, “That guy’s a jerk!”  I assured her that he was just driving his bike, which was loud, and not really being a jerk.  So, then, seeking clarification as another bike engine revved, “Is that guy a jerk?”

At that point Mac and I looked at each other and said, “Uh, oh.”  When a group of bikers pulled up Mabel stated, “Those are a lot of jerks!”  Mac and I then looked and each other and I said, “I really hope we don’t get in a fistfight on the ferry.”

As we boarded the ferry- bike engines roaring- I tried to explain to Mabel that just driving your loud bike doesn’t make you a jerk.  Only someone who is really inconsiderate is a jerk.  I shouldn’t have used that word, because it’s not a nice word.

Thankfully that seemed to satisfy her and she didn’t call anyone on the ferry a jerk.  No fisticuffs ensued, as Mabel did nothing but charm all the tattooed, beer drinking (the ferry opened the bar for the 11:15AM trip), wallet on a chain wearing bikers.

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Wordless-ish Wednesday: Mystic Aquarium

Been sitting on these photos for a long time!  So here they are as a Wordless-ish Wednesday.

Mabel REALLY enjoyed the aquarium and I was really impressed how willing she was to touch all the different creatures in the touch tanks.  She was a little scared by the Belugas that came right up to the glass, made eye contact, and “spoke” through the glass.

PS- We were able to get discounted admission!  A friend who lives in Connecticut was kind enough to borrow her local library’s admission discount pass.  Another option was showing a Big Y saver card, but we got a larger discount with the library pass.  We met friends at the aquarium and they are a military family (USAF) and their military ID qualified them for a generous reduction of the admission price.   So check your local library (always a good idea since they often have passes for a local museums, zoos, etc. in their area) and the aquarium’s site for info on discounts.

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Weekend Getaway: Rehoboth Beach, DE

Over President’s Day Weekend, Mac, Mabel, and I headed down to Delaware for a weekend with Mac’s parents.  They live in North Carolina, so Delaware is a good halfway point.

While it was chilly, it was remarkably warm for February.  We were able to visit the Indian River Lifesaving Station, fly a kite on the beach, eat lots of seafood, do some outlet shopping, and generally enjoy spending time with my in laws.  Another perk- a friend of mine from high school and her husband drove up to their family’s beach house in Lewes for the weekend and both couples were able to leave kids with grandparents and go out to dinner!  A lovely restaurant, adult conversation, and an evening of board games.  What more could I ask for?!

Well, I could have asked that Mabel not get sick.  She started running a fever on Sunday morning.  So, we spent Sunday mostly in the hotel.  Thankfully Saturday had been a really full and fun outside day.  Sunday Mabel and I took a dip in the pool (a great fever reducer), then Mac and I wrestled some children’s Tylenol down Mabel’s throat, and while she was down for a nap, left her in the capable hands of Gramma and Grampa to hit the outlets for a little while.  We returned before she woke from the nap- so she was none the wiser and I was none the guiltier for leaving my sick toddler.  It wasn’t too bad, and as long as we kept her on the Tylenol, she was none the worse for wear, really.

In all honesty, a part of me was grateful that if she was going to get sick, it was on a day that I was around.  I miss so much- even comforting my sick kid- because of work.  Having Mac as the stay at home parent, as capable, kind, and loving as myself (and infinitely more patient than I am), means that there really isn’t a NEED for me to stay home when Mabel is sick.  Mac handles it all, takes it all in stride.  I’m left to go to work and save my PTO (paid time off) for better days.  A part of me feels guilty about never being the one taking her to the doctor.  Just last night, as she watched the goldfish screen saver on my computer she said, to the ‘baby’ goldfish, “Mommy’s at work.  It’s just you and daddy.”  (Cue knife to my heart).  So, on that chilly Sunday in February, in that hotel in Delaware, I was happy to stay in with my sick little girl.

While this wasn’t our first trip to Delaware, we went down back in August to stay with the aforementioned friends for the weekend (I wrote about it here), it was the first time we met my in laws there.  It worked out really well (even with Mabel’s fever), and we plan to do it again in the future- saving either party from having to make the 12 hour drive.

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Conference travel with the fam

Back in January I wrote about being invited to speak at a conference– well that conference was last week.  Since the conference was taking place in Boston, and we lived for 3 years in the Boston area and still have many friend up there, Mac and I decided to make it a family trip.

Overall it went really well.  The conference was interesting (even if few of the talks were particularly relevant to my work), my presentation was well-received, the hotel suite was comfortable for the three of us, Mac and Mabel went on lots of adventures, Mac and I took turns having nights out to catch up with friends, Mabel got to swim in the pool, travel to/from was easy, and since it was a DoubleTree, there were lots of chocolate chip cookies.

A shot of Mabel in front of the conference poster during an evening exploration of the hotel.

I’ve written in the past about traveling for work, in general, but also specifically as a scientist, wife, and mother.  However, on that particular trip, it was just Mac and I, Mable was home with her Nana and Pop.  This time around we went as a family, so it’s a lot harder to break it up so cleanly into those kinds of categories.

Scientifically, I think it was good to have Mac and Mabel for company.  I was presenting at this conference, and I was more nervous for a presentation than I had been in a long time.  It was my first opportunity to present my work outside the company and I was presenting on aspects of the project that had been done before I arrived- so I was not as familiar with that material.  Also, having had to prepare the talk far in advance (so that it could be approved  by Project Management) and having to incorporate someone else’s slides, made it harder to prepare.  Mabel was an excellent distraction from my nervousness, and Mac was an excellent person to practice my talk on.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much at the conference that was directly germane to my work.  The conference was small, less than 100 people, and while they did cover a lot of topics, I was the only talk on my type of research, both in terms of model system and research focus.  While I did find all the talks interesting, it was a little disappointing not to return with some concrete information that I can apply to my work.

As a mom, it was as hard as a typical week just about.  While I was at the talks, Mac and Mabel were off adventuring and exploring Boston.  Tuesday they hit up the New England Aquarium, Wednesday it was the Children’s Museum and lunch with one of Mac’s friends, and Thursday they hung around The Common.  So, as it is on any typical week, I missed out on all the fun by having to be at work.  Every morning I gave out hugs and kisses and disappeared.  However, unlike a typical week, I got to see more of them.  I was able to run up to the room during breaks- bearing the ever present chocolate chip cookies, even share lunch one day, and since the conference was just downstairs, I didn’t have to commute.  It was also really nice to relax on Thursday after my talk in the morning and the conclusion of the meeting in the afternoon.  A dear friend from college came to our hotel with her 3 kids (between the ages of 5 and 16 months) for a swim in the hotel pool and a pizza party in our room!  It was great to catch up and for the kids to get to play.

A couple of photos Mac sent me so I could see what I was missing.

As for the practical aspects of traveling for work as a family, the hotel was a good fit.  The DoubleTree has suites, so our suite had a bedroom with a desk, TV, 2 twin beds and a pack n’ play for Mabel, then the front room had a microwave, minifridge, table with 4 chairs, and a pullout couch (which was so comfortable I tried to find out the manufacturer).  We were able to put Mabel down in the bedroom and stay up doing as we pleased.  It stunk having 2 twin beds at first, however, on the second night there, Mabel climbed out of the pack n’ play, so the rest of the week was a game of musical beds- with Mabel either in her crib or in one of the twins and one parent on the couch with the other on the second twin bed.

I was so glad that Mac was game to come with me.  I don’t think I would have gone if he hadn’t.  I don’t like being away from him and from Mabel.  On Wednesday night, when I was fighting nerves and trying to get to sleep, he was there to help me relax, remind me that I would do well, and have our typical nightly talk before bed (even if he then had to go sleep by himself in a twin).  I don’t think I would have been able to get to sleep without that- and a late-night phone call doesn’t always cut it.

Mac is so good at being a dad all the time, but especially when we travel.  Mabel had a tough time sleeping in the hotel, and Mac handled it much better than I did- even handling it entirely so I could sleep.  (If he hadn’t been comatose at 6am  Tuesday morning, after being up in the night with Mabel for hours, I’m pretty sure he would have objected to me putting her in the pack n’ play in the front room and turning on Cartoon Network so I could go back to bed for an hour).  He was also gracious when I ditched him one night to meet up with grad school friends for dinner.  Thankfully I was able to return the favor, and happily encouraged him to ditch me on Thursday so he could catch up with his buddies until the wee hours of the morning.  I feel like it’s so rare that he gets time for himself- being the SAHD/WAHD- that I relish the chance to give him some time and parent solo for a change.

A couple more photos Mac sent me so I could see what I was missing.

It was Restaurant Week in Boston last week and I had entertained the idea of taking advantage of it.  However, without a babysitter on hand, we were reluctant to take our toddler to a fancy place.  As it turned out, being at the conference all day then working on my talk in the evenings left me too tired to go out, and taking Mabel on adventures all over Boston during the day did the same for Mac.  So, we opted for ordering in Thai food to our hotel room and just took it easy on the one evening we had free.

I have one more work trip to take before my maternity leave- it’s a one-day conference, again in Boston, and I’ll be 38 weeks pregnant.  Mac and I are entertaining the idea of a mini-babymoon the weekend before, but the logistics might prove too much of a hassle.  So, I may go solo, but will probably only be spending one night away from home.

Overall, last week was a great trip.  I’m glad we went, and I’m glad we went as a family.  I don’t know what the likelihood is of us doing this again in the future.  We’ll be a family of four, and 2 kids in a hotel room might not be as conducive to work travel.  I guess we soon shall see!

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Family Vacation: Lewes, DE

Happiness is… old friends and new beginnings.

Facebook is a wonderful thing.  It’s put me back in touch with my best friend from middle school.  As chance would have it, she’s also married with a baby.  There are other similarities- our husbands have the same first name, our babies are both January babies, her husband is a scientist, and a bunch of other things that make their family a great match for ours.

Anyway, she invited us down to their family’s beach house in Lewes, DE for a weekend.  It was a really long drive from NY, but so worth it.

Lewes is gorgeous!  I love the old houses, the architecture, the sidewalks, the little shops, all beautiful.

I wound up taking the day off from work the Friday we were heading down (I wrote about it here) which meant we arrived around 7:30pm.  We rather quickly got the little ones to bed and settled at the huge dining room table for some Wits And Wagers"".  It was a lot of fun.

The next morning we got an early start and headed over to the Historic Lewes Farmers Market for their Tomato Festival.  It was really lovely.  If we didn’t have such a long, unrefrigerated, drive back to NY, I definitely would have stocked up.  Instead we got a pint of cherry tomatoes, the variety I cannot recall, and a gorgeous bunch of flowers that I just could not pass up.

As usual, Mabel was a big hit.  Using her adorable looks and charm to get a free flower and a taste-test of a cherry tomato.

Seeing as we’re now boring parents with a toddler, the afternoon was rather low-key, with some splashing in the yard, followed by naps.

After naps, we had plans to head for the beach.  We’d packed our lawn chairs, umbrella, and other beach paraphernalia; however, the weather wasn’t cooperating.  It was quite overcast and threatening rain.  So, we decided to just walk down to the beach and enjoy what we could.  It was about 1 mile to the beach, and a pleasant walk through the quaint town.  Mabel loved the water, and it was hard to keep her out of it!  We made it back to the house just as the raindrops started to pour down.  Perfect timing!

Dinner that night was had after the littles were put to bed.  We dined on burgers and hot dogs, grilled veggies, and a delicious orzo salad that I should post the recipe for soon.  A meal with adults, and no kids was such a nice change of pace!  If only my friend and her hubby weren’t in DC!

We stayed up late playing more Wits And Wagers as well as Balderdash The Game"" (which is different and more fun than the old Balderdash that was just about bluffing word definitions).  Mac and I really enjoyed both games and put them on our wish lists for future purchase.  We laughed so much that our sides hurt.  If we hadn’t all been imagining waking up at the crack of dawn with our kids, we probably would have been up all night.

The next day was departure day, and we had a long drive.  So we took a quick stroll through town, did some window shopping, and said our goodbyes.  The drive back was hard- even taking the Cape May-Lewes Ferry didn’t feel like much of break.

However, we had so much fun that it was completely worth it.  It was so nice to find a couple that we meshed with and be able to get away for a weekend.  They’ve invited us down again, and I can’t wait to take them up on the offer.  We hope to return the kindness and have my friend and her family up to our cabin in the Catskills.

I’m planning to print up a few of the photos to frame and send as a thank you.  I have to hurry up since it’s been almost a month since we were down there!

It’s so funny to remember back to the 5th grade girls we once were- now both moms and wives.  Thanks Facebook!


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Family vacation: Rangeley, ME 2011

Just like the previous 21 years, I spent the first week in August in Rangeley, Maine.  In 1990 my family rented a cottage on Rangeley Lake alongside two other families.  We had so much fun that first year, we’ve been back every year since.  They are like our aunts, uncles, and cousins that we only see once a year (except for big events like weddings).  Thankfully with e-mail and Facebook we keep in touch throughout the year, but we all look forward to that week together.  That week is sacred, some of us have missed a year here or there due to school, a new job, etc. but by and large, we’re all there every year.

We’ve added people over the years- girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, and now kids.  Two years ago was Mabel’s first trip to Rangeley.  It was fun, but at only 7 months old, she couldn’t really do much.  While the main occupation of the week is sitting on the porch looking out over the lake, see below, there’s lots of other fun to be had.

This year was different.  This year I had a walking, almost talking, adventurous toddler!

We stop in Gorham, NH on the way up to break up the trip (and avoid arriving exhausted on our first day) from New York to Maine.  We stay at a little motel with a gorgeous swimming pool.

From Gorham to Rangeley is a mere 2.5 hours, and with a toddler who wakes at 5am, that meant arriving in time for the Logging Festival Parade!

I’ve left out the photo of the septic truck in the parade towing a trailer with a portapotty on it, occupied by a ZZ Top-esque bearded man reading the newspaper.  However, you can see it here.

Once the parade was over, we could get on with the real vacationing!

We went out on the lake…

We splish-splashed in the water…

We admired the wildlife…

We spent an evening on Mooselookmeguntic Lake having a delicious dinner…

We had an all around fabulous time!

I’m already looking forward to next year!

Do you have a favorite vacation spot?


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