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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School Picture Day Success!

Ella as Lisa Loopner
When my kids showed me their proofs from school picture day, I was not prepared to see such startling images. The photographer had a rare talent of capturing children at their most uncomfortable and unnatural moments. You can't be taught that. They went from cool city kids to nervous nerds in seconds. We spent a half hour laughing over these pics yesterday. The best part: It's not a joke, just honest bad photography. And I'll take an 8 x 10 of each. I can't let these pictures go to waste. Too good.
Oscar as Carlton Banks
Owen as Dwight Schrute

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Cautionary Tale: Dressing Boys Like Hipsters

This is a cautionary video. It starts with Oscar in a cuddly blue outfit with soft curly hair. I want to squeeze him. Then Owen comes along with his tight skinny jeans and spiky mohawk. I want to squeeze him too, but I'm scared of getting chafed. I thought I was being so edgy when I dressed Owen up like a hipster/punk rocker/adult. He ends up looking ridiculous and uncomfortable. I wish I could say this was the only time I did this to my boys, but it's not. I found another example of my misjudgment a few years later. My deepest apologies to Owen and Oscar. Sorry for projecting my need to look like a hip! young! cool! mom on you.

I'm shocked there is no fighting over the ball in the entire video. They don't always get along this good (proof).
Oscar "accidentally" threw those cut off shorts out window. I got the message. 
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I Can't Tell My Own Identical Twins Apart

No, computer, that's Owen making his signature fart noise face. 
When I was pregnant with the boys, I remember fantasying about having twins on a car ride with Rob. At the time, I hadn't even gone to the doctor yet, but it was always something I thought about in the early weeks of pregnancy. I told Rob identical twins were so weird, like why does it even happen? And if I were to ever have twins, I would want them to be fraternal. I told him I would be the worst person ever to have identical twins because I have the hardest time with faces. I often question whether I have a slight case of facial amnesia. You know that phrase: I can't remember a name, but I'll remember a face? I can't remember either. 

I feared if I had identical twins, I wouldn't be able to recognize my own kids. Instead of listening to what they were saying, I would be trying to figure out who I was talking to the whole time. When they boys came, of course, I recognized the differences in them immediately. Owen's ears looked slightly different. Oscar's head was rounder. It was a huge relief.

Problem is, while I could recognize them as babies, now I look back at pictures and can't tell who's who. I feel awful. With a few exceptions, they all look like Oscar to me. Round head after round head after perfectly round Charlie Brown head. I never labeled the photos because it was so obvious at the time. Big mistake.

I'm banking on the fact that they get a kick out tricking people of their identity. I hope they find it just a humorous when I explain to them that their own mom doesn't have the foggiest who they are in baby pictures. I suspect they were splitting into two at that very moment I said the fateful words "identical twins are weird." Just in spite of me. Those boys are always finding ways to drive me crazy. Love them anyway. 

Here's my collection of pictures of Oscar and Owen. I mean Owen and Oscar. Either way, they are both somewhat represented in these pictures. 
These pictures are too good to be bothered with the details of identity.
Also the last and only time I dressed them the same. 
Not me. A model mom and dad for a catalog shoot.
I wonder if model mommy and daddy label their fake twins pictures for future reference? Probably.
Who's going to claim those lashes? Beats me.
I made this picture as a challenge for relatives and friends. I have to dig up the results in an old email because I stumped myself.

A million mystery pictures after the jump . . .


Flashback: Short Hair on Girls

Up until my daughter Ella was around 5 years old, I kept her hair really short so I wouldn't have to brush it. One less thing I had to do or worry about. I was in survival mode the first three years with the twins and this is one solution to a huge problem in my house. She liked going to Supercuts and I was tired of hearing her and the brush fight each morning. I know there are ways to avoid tears like braiding before bed (noway), spray No More Tears until it was sopping wet (tempting) or chop it all off (ding ding ding). I think it looked amazing. If only I could convince her to go this short now.
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