Writer's Retreat/My Weekend Alone

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Windsor VT to have weekend alone at the Snapdragon Inn. I've done these types of escapes every year since the twins were born. This time, I brought 3 notebooks and told everyone I was going on a writer's retreat. I did write a little. I filled about 15 pages in one notebook. But mostly I watched every episode of Between Two Ferns on my phone, walked in the woods until I was scared of bears, and bought a few postcards from an antique store downtown. I didn't want to leave. It was the perfect mix of work and play.

I highly recommend it to anyone wanting a break from the city. The train ride was 6 hrs long and the Inn was walking distance from the station. For me, 6 hrs in a car is torture, but in a train it's great. I wrote a short fiction piece about train travel where the characters don't find train travel so delightful. But before that, some pictures of Snapdragon Inn and Vermont. Go!
For breakfast, I ate anything that had the word Vermont on it. Yogurt, bread, maple syrup, and peanut butter.
The Snapdragon Inn in winter.
They put me in Room 9. I had the bed all to myself! 
Bonus feature: heated floors in my bathroom. An unexpected luxury I could get very used to.

Took this picture before I was attacked by lions, tigers, and bears.
The fiction story inspired from my writer's retreat below. Thanks for hosting me Snapdragon Inn.

The Train

Sarah’s been sitting behind a man with a chronic cough ever since the train left Penn station. He wasn’t showing signs of sickness at first, but when he fell asleep, he began hacking unconsciously. Not even covering his mouth. The chair in front of him is absorbing every known germ.

Sarah presses the button on her armrest to lean back as far away from him as possible. It doesn’t budge. She braces the armrest, digs her feet into the floor and presses her back into her chair hoping to unjam it. Nothing. Defeated, she goes to plug in her laptop and notices the outlet is missing. She looks under her seat and the armrest. Nothing. She’ll have to use the 10% battery she has left very wisely over her 6-hour train ride to her dying grandma’s house. Unless she moves.

During a lull in his coughing episodes, she peers over the man’s chair to see if he’s still there. He is. She notices he has extra legroom. The free Wi-Fi sticker is missing from the window giving him an unobstructed view of Hudson Valley. There’s an outlet. She sits back down and looks at her seat in disgust. The train starts to slow.

With a red face and 10 coughs into a tissue, the man stands up to stretch. She wants to move to his chair for the legroom. The views. The outlet. But all those germs. Is he leaving? He gathers his pillow and bag as a mom and child enter the train. The man offers his infested seat to the mother and boy. Sarah holds her breath as he sits next to her. The corner of his pillow is touching her neck.

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Do Twins Run in Your Family?

People often ask me if twins run in my family. Apparently they do. Presenting my long lost twin brother. Who could have guessed we've been going to the same hair dresser all these years?


Continuing Ed Writing Class

I signed up for a fiction writing class at NYU this semester. Last week our assignment was to write a 250 word character sketch of someone by using appearance, action, speech, and thought to show what the character is like. We had the choice of a nerd, priss, flirt, snob, or bully. Luckily I chose nerd because I got 90% of what I needed by observing Ella at the library. Without too much effort, I brought out her nerdy side.

Deb hunches over her spelling assignment at a table in the public library. Her shoulders are pressed into her ears, and she has a firm grasp of her pencil as she writes the words 3 times each. 
 “Look!” she tells her mom, “One of the words is ‘thousand!’ I love this word. Thousand.” Deb sighs and looks out the window. She thinks about making up a thousand jokes someday. Having a thousand friends. Getting a thousand words wrong on a spelling test. The thought forces her to bite her middle finger nail until it bleeds. The taste of blood jolts her attention back to her assignment. She finishes while she singing softly, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Stronger.” 
 Deb’s little brother brings over a stack of Roald Dahl books for her. She picks through them saying, “Already read it. Read it. Read. Read them all.” She pushes them back to him and looks around. “Where’s Mia Cooper?” she says, “I saw her earlier. Mia Cooooper!” 
Mia turns slowly a few tables in front of Deb. Deb blurts out, “Mia Cooper! Did you ride the subway here? I did. The B train. It was so crowded. I actually said 3 swear words out loud and no one heard me!” Mia looks down at the ground straight faced. Deb starts laughing hysterically until the chair she’s sitting in tips back completely. And on the way to the floor with her arms flailing, Deb shouts, “Fuuudge.”

Most of these events happened. I made up Ella's thoughts on the word thousand (she did say she loved that word), biting her nail until it started bleeding, and her friend not being nice. She's actually one of Ella's dear friends. I also made the part of Ella laughing hysterically. She told me she said bad words on the subway. She also fell off her chair but the two events were unrelated in real life.

I love being surrounded by people who give me so much material for class. This week we have to write character sketches about a domineering wife or a timid husband. Rob's turn to get turned into a character! It won't be easy to find his timid side, but I'm sure I'll find a way and love every minute of it.


Last Minute Trips from NYC: Pennsylvania Amish Country

Around this time of year, it's customary for us to book a cheap hotel with an indoor pool for a weekend getaway out of the city. We call it urban camping. It's never planned in advance. Usually around 2pm on a Friday we'll figure it out. 

Last weekend we decided to drive 3 hours to see Pennsylvania Amish Country and stayed in what felt like the Presidential suite at this Best Western for $143/night. That included a full continental breakfast, 2 bedrooms, a fire place in the living room, kitchenette, 3 color TVs, and 1.5 bath with a spa tub. It's humiliating to think that the Best Western is a step up from our apartment in the city, but it was. 

The locks on the bedroom and bathroom doors were my favorite luxury. Our NYC apartment has old door knobs without locks, leading to absolutely no privacy. Actually, the door knob on our bathroom fell off months ago. I keep meaning to put it back on, but I can't find it now. It's either buried in a pile of laundry or under a stack of toys in the kid's closet. Instead of cleaning, I did what any faithful consumer would do and bought this other one from Etsy for $10. If I learned anything in from the Amish, it's that more possessions, more junk, more conveniences definitely makes life more fulfilling and awesome.     
I asked our Amish tour guide about the laundry situation. In this community, they are allowed to have washing machines (this family used solar power), but not dryers. It's different in every community though.   
We took a buggy ride out to a real Amish farm. This was their dog.  Puppies were in the barn.  
I took this photo while Rob was driving. Their buggy was going into the gorgeous Lime Valley Covered Bridge. It was so picturesque. Except I didn't actually capture a picture of it. It all happened so fast. 
Another covered bridge.  It was really hard to find the bridges using the map the hotel provided. We got tired of searching after we saw 2. This Google map of the covered bridges would have been so much better. I know for next time.
Our Amish tour bus vs NYC tour bus. 
It's red and double decker just like the tour buses driving around NYC. Practically the same.
This is a donkey's eye, not a horse. I'm so sorry if this information disappoints anyone. Donkey's are pretty cool, too.
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Owen's Favorite Food of the Winter Session

While Ella was busy ruining my life and Oscar was teaching me the meaning of life, Owen was gorging himself on snow. When I tried to stop him, he grabbed me by the neck and yelled, "Lay off me I'm starving." I had no idea the dirty slush he's been seeing on the Manhattan streets have been depriving him of his favorite food. Bon appetit at the New York Botanical Garden. Come for the gardens, stay for the delicious snowballs. They are finger licking good.

But not all of it. He has a very discerning palate for this type of thing. 


Ella's Notebook, My Pen

After Ella wrote 2 poems, drew 5 trees, and played 4 games of tic tac toe in her journal, she lost the pen she was using. My pen. It sank under a pile of snow in the forest at the New York Botanical Garden. It wasn't a fancy pen, but it had a nice weight to it. 

For the past week, I've kept that pen and a few small notebooks in my jacket pocket. My continuing ed writing teacher at NYU suggested we write down any thoughts and observations we make throughout the day. She was very clear she didn't want us using our iPhones to take notes. It's too easy to edit yourself on your devices, she said. The act of writing on paper is suppose to free me up from over editing.

I bought the pen from the gift shop at the Met last Saturday in hope of writing down something so amazing that I would get into NYU's masters program, which would lead to me write the great American novel, and I would eventually die in faculty housing at Cambridge University. This pen gave me hope. Maybe my life wouldn't turn out to be so bland. Then I let my kid use it.  

After it disappeared beneath all the slug and ice, Ella turned to me and said in her cheerful voice, "Yikes. I just dropped the pen! It's nowhere to be found." And skipped off. 

I was furious. The forest felt empty, so I yelled as loud as I wanted without any restraint, "You lost my pen! How could you lose my pen? Where is it? You constantly complain about the brothers ruining your things, but you do the same to me. This is the second pen of mine that you lost. I should have never let you use it. See this pen here?" I pulled out another pen out of my pocket, "This is the shitty pen you should've been using. Now I'm stuck with it. I hate this pen. It totally sucks. I'm taking the $2 the tooth fairly gave you and buying myself a new pen."

She pushed her notebook into me and told me to keep it. Her eyes were red, her arms were folded in front of her, and she kept her distance as we walked over a gorgeous footbridge and down to the waterfall. I let her feel bad for way longer than was necessary.

I wanted to go home.

Then Oscar started jabbering on about something, "At church I learned about a girl who woke up in a bad mood. She kept poking her brother. And then her mom made her breakfast she didn't like. She kept being grumpy. She didn't eat it. And then her teacher at church told her she had a choice to be happy. She kept poking her brother. The next week, her mom made her that same breakfast she didn't like. But she ate it. She stopped poking her brother. I don't know the rest, something about choice . . ."

"I think what you're trying to say is that I have a choice right now to be angry at Ella. And I'm choosing to be angry."


Ugh. 6-year-olds and their bounty of wisdom. I went up to Ella and gave her a giant hug and told her I was sorry. It's just a pen. I over reacted. I was wrong. She starting crying and telling me how bad she felt for losing it. And in that way that kids are so good at, she forgave me. We moved on to other things like following animals tracks in the snow, throwing snow balls into streams, and watering the indoor plants on the Children's Garden.

But she never asked for notebook back. Or for that sucky pen in my pocket. There were no more poems, no more trees, no more tic tac toe games for the rest of the day. The fear of losing another one of my sacred pens out weighed the joy of creating something. Here's the 2 poems she wrote before I messed up. They are terrible. Truly terrible. Not as terrible as all the blank pages in her notebook though.

It may not be pretty
when snow falls but
It's pretty after it
is fallen and fun
Once you bundle your
self up

Spring has
the flowers
But winter
has snow
But fall has
leaves falling
But summer
has sun
But winter
is the best

I'm guessing the pen flew out during one of the tumbles she had with her brothers pictured here. If someone ever finds my pen, I hope they throw it away. It's not lucky. It's not filled with hope. It's probably broken anyway. And besides, it isn't going to make life less bland. I don't know the rest exactly, but I'm sure it has something to do with choice . . .


Underline Coffee Made It All Better

So we're down in Chelsea and we all hate each other. I brought the kids here to check out a gallery that looked cool. I've never done a Chelsea gallery walk thing before, but I thought why not try it with a few cranking kids carrying heavy backpacks? The one I wanted to see needed reservations, which we had for 4:30pm. We arrived 15 minutes early. In the wait time my kids proceeded to have fist fights in the lobby. I start to wonder if instead we are actually 10 years too early? I knew this wasn't going to work, but I held out until 4:30 just in case. No. To the delight of the gallery girls, I gave up and walked out of the building. They didn't try to convince my family to stay.

Here we are on 20th Ave. and Ella is sprinting away because she doesn't want to be with us. Owen and Oscar are yelling at each other. I'm feeling defeated and stupid for thinking they could handle this activity.

As we proceed down the street, I see a small coffee shop called Underline Coffee that looked cool. And because that worked really well for us the last time I saw something cool, I brought the kids in to check it out.

The first thing I barked to the guy behind the counter was, "You guys accept credit card?" I still wasn't over my bad mood.

And with the biggest smile ever he responded, "Yep!"

The way he said it was so welcoming. It was like how my cousin greets my family at a family reunion. He even looked similar to him. It was time to make one thing clear to this guy so I told him straight up, "I'm the worst mood right now."

It felt good to get that out of the way. Now I could order the 3 hot chocolates for the kids, a few yogurts, and ask him for a recommendation.

And still with that bright smile of his, he says, "A classic cappuccino." Still smiling. And still smiling.

He must not be from around here, I thought. I've learned costumer service in the city is not what it is everywhere else. NYorkers tend to have a direct, almost abrasive interaction with costumers at first. The rule is that no matter how snotty they are, I must not sass back. It's hard not to mimic their behavior, but it's just the wall I have to break down before they give me a chance. This cafe guy didn't have the wall. He was just nice from the start. So much easier to deal with.

My kids could sense it too and wouldn't leave him alone as he made our drinks. Once they got their hot chocolate, they talked with him for a good half hour. I was in no mood for chit chat, so I sat as far away as I could from my kids. I couldn't help but listen their conversation. My boys were practically grilling him over his life details. They needed answers like Miles needed answers from Uncle Buck.

I overheard him say his name's Brandon. The coffee shop is only 2 weeks old. He moved here 6 months ago from Maryland to help get it ready. He now lives in New Jersey. He used to work at Dominos, then Starbucks, now here. Oscar wanted to know if he got fired from Starbucks. He did not. He quit.

"You said, 'I quit.' to your boss?" Asked Oscar, as if it's a bad word.

And again, with with a large grin, Brandon said, "Yes, I said, 'I quit!'"

Oscar responded, "You're smiling so I know your lying."

This made him laugh, so he gave a serious face and said, "I said, 'I quit.'"

Oscar responded, "You're still smiling."

And finally the mood in me switched. And I realized this time, I was that direct, almost abrasive NYorker I loathed in stores. My kids and I eventually left the shop and walked the Highline then had dinner in Chelsea Market. While the night wasn't a perfect after our stop to Underline Coffee, I can definitely say it changed the mood of the evening. It's all due to Brandon not mimicking my behavior. He may have moved here only 6 months ago, but he's learning fast how to deal with us grumps.

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