We had been riffing on the Steven Wright joke, “When I was a little kid we had a sand box. It was a quicksand box. I was an only child… eventually.” Alpha’s ad-lib made the joke that much darker. I am quite proud.
Alpha and Beta put together a Halloween party with over a dozen on their friends. We’re not typically party people, but we do enjoy the chance to have people over. I especially like it because it means I get a clean house. 🙂
We had a great time planning for, shopping for, and decorating for the party. (Really. The house looks great.) Beta enjoys decorating, planning, and being surrounded by large groups; I don’t know how she came to exist in a family full of introverts.
Meghan and I tend to take a particular approach to events: plan very little and let things come together naturally. The kids were happy to follow our lead.
One little personal detail: this party happened to coincide with our anniversary. It couldn’t happen any other day, unfortunately: Halloween is mid-week; we had a birthday party to attend on Sunday; and Halloween parties after Halloween are just no fun.
Fast-forward to the appointed day, and a nor’easter bore down on us from the early morning onwards. This wasn’t such a bad thing: I had wanted to keep the fireplace lit for the duration of the party and cold, bad weather is very amenable to that. Meghan made a (gluten-free) cake that made the house smell fantastic. Beta and I rearranged the seats into one long couch, plus another smaller love seat back-to-back with the big one.
Guest started arriving promptly at one, and very quickly we had a dozen teenagers, not related to us and all dressed in costumes, in the living room of our house. For some reason they all packed into the living room and refused to spread into the kitchen, dining room, or even the front room. The decibels rose and Meghan and I retreated, occasionally checking on the kids, the fire, and the food.
The first movie of the day was Young Frankenstein, chosen through first-past-the-post voting. (I believe it had two votes, which was one more vote than any other option.)
Around 4 pm, as the first movie was wrapping up, I headed out to pick up pizza and more soda. I came back to a relatively quiet room watching the Blair Witch Project. You kind of have to pay attention to the movie to get the full effect, but I there was also an air of the forbidden – that movie has a reputation.
As people finished up pizza, the movie was just finishing the setup and was about to get scary, the power went out. Whoops! We checked with neighbors to make sure it wasn’t just us, checked the power company to see if they knew yet, and lit candles and lamps. The kids took all this in stride and got busy socializing. I was honestly impressed how they acted — sociable and comfortable, even though many had never been to our house before.
Power was restored in about an hour, and the movie resumed. The end of the movie led to discussion of what the hell happened, because not everyone had paid attention in the beginning.
Unbeknownst to us during the week, Beta had been telling people that the party was planned to go until 10 pm. The first kids dropped out shortly after pizza, and most kids had left by 8:30 or so, but a couple stayed for the duration and were picked up right at 10 o’clock.
All in all, it seemed like everyone had a lot of fun. Even at the end, with three kids left, everybody was in a good mood.
Lessons learned: Megh and I now know to double-check what the plan’s details are before it’s announced, and Beta knows that a) 10 pm is just too late and b) nine hours is just too long. (She was exhausted, we all were, and I think she was glad to wrap up.)
Biggest lessons of all, though: Megh and I still know how to throw a good party, and Alpha and Beta saw how to make it come together by being a part of it and seeing how it’s done from the inside.
Another change of venue this year: Wellfleet, MA. We seem to be creeping further up the Cape every year.
Day 0: Driving and Arriving
We left the house around mid-afternoon, planning to arrive fashionably late. Our intention worked as planned; we rolled into town around 6 pm and got busy making a pasta-and-meatball dinner for everyone.
After a short dinner, we took everyone to the closest beach to let the little ones burn off some energy. The Fox family had been on the road since morning, and rolled in around 7pm; the kids were exploding with pent up energy and excitement.
Day 1: Rain!
Meghan and I woke up on our usual schedule, 6am. (This continued for the duration of the week.) The weather was forecast to be poor, and it proved true for most, but not all, of the day.
We headed out to a full-size super market in search of a coffee maker (the house’s was AWOL) and groceries for dinner. I prefer to spend a little extra money rather than pack the car with perishables.
After breakfast, the weather cleared enough that almost everyone headed to the beach — I stayed home and napped to catch up on a week of poor sleep, and missed seeing a Great White shark off Marconi Beach.
Dinner turned out to be an unpleasant adventure: we had picked up a pair of roasting chickens that morning, but after unsealing the packages we discovered that the fowl had gone very foul. Tim and Kelly started cranking out their dinner planned for the following night, and Meghan and I dashed back to the store to get our money back.
After dinner and the little kids had gone to bed, we sat down to play Cards Against Humanity —with Alpha and Beta. It was a night that they will not soon forget… nor will I.
Day 2: Chatham
I woke up early to a beautiful day and took a bike ride around the perimeter of Wellfleet. The ocean side of the cape was still socked in with fog, but the land and western side were clear.
After breakfast we took a ride down to Chatham for some shopping and lunch.
We introduced the Fox kids to Ponyo. Tim and Kelly don’t seem to be big on anime, but the kids were fascinated. (Sorry, guys!)
A documentary of Ted Williams premiered on PBS that night, which was important to Joan, so we cleared the deck, got the kids in bed, and watched with her.
Day 3: Marconi
We chose to go hiking around the Marconi Wireless Station on Tuesday.
Day 4: Biking and A Guest
Meghan and tried out the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which has a trail head in Wellfleet. Our goal when we started was Marconi Beach, but the ride was so easy we kept going and made it to Orleans before turning around.
While we were gone, the Foxes hit Mayo Beach in Wellfleet. When Meghan and I got back we headed to the beach with the girls as the Foxes were leaving. We stayed about an hour and a half, and came away with minor sunburns, but the water was warm and the swimming was easy.
We hosted a friend of Joan’s who lives on the Cape, and her young daughter, for dinner.
On this night an issue withe the youngest of the Fox clan, Kappa, not going to bed at bedtime became particularly troublesome. We pledged to find doorknob covers the next day so that he would have to stay in his room at night, even if he wasn’t going to go to bed.
Day 5: P-Town
After a very slow start to the day, we headed to Provincetown with Joan while the Foxes went back to the beach.
We started at the far eastern end of the main drag and worked our way westward. People watching in P-Town is always an adventure. The girls are still young enough to not really notice how bizarre the crowd is and have more fun shopping.
Day 6: Cape Code Lighthouse and Pilgrim Monument
Meghan, Alpha, and I spent the day being tourists.
We checked out the Cape Cod Lighthouse, where Meghan went up –and down– the spiral staircase of the lighthouse.
We then went to the Pilgrim museum and tower in Provincetown. I, however, was the only one to climb the tower.
After dinner at home, the adults stayed up to watch Jaws with the RiffTrax overlay.
Day 7: Leaving
We were supposed to vacate the house by 9 am. We missed the time by less than five minutes (WE were ready, but the Foxes have a small army to move.)
We ate an excellent breakfast at Laura & Tony’s kitchen, and hit the road for home. Others in the party were hitting the beach one last time, but we were all ready to be home.
We made an impromptu trip to Maine with our friends Sam and Joanne.
There’s a back-story: we were supposed to be camping this week with Sam and Joanne (and others) but a conflict with school forced some to cancel, and eventually everyone canceled. Since we all had the time off already scheduled I had the idea for a quick road trip with S&J. Meghan made the arrangements when they bought in, so game on.
Day 1: Foul Weather, Destination Southport
We left home on Thursday. S&J had the longer drive, but our house was on the way so we met up here and caravaned the rest of the way together.
A bundle of rain followed them from Connecticut, and would continue to follow us all the rest of the way.
Meghan and I neglected to pack until they arrived, as we were running around all morning doing chores, so they got in a short, much-needed break from driving in the rain.
We rolled into the Ocean Gate hotel around 5 pm. We had rented three rooms: one for S&J and their son; one for Alpha and Beta; and one for Meghan, me, and Butter-the-dog. We were spread across different buildings in the resort, but the girls were close to S&J so that was ok.
Our room, unlike the others, had a full kitchen — indeed, that was one of the selling points for us. It was billed as “not having a view” but that was a lie: the view was, in fact, beautiful.
We went out to dinner at a tiny-but-tony restaurant called Oliver’s at Cozy Harbor. The food was excellent, btw. Joanne went high-end and got a “lobstertini,” lobster meat served in a martini glass, but most everyone else went basic with burgers or fish-and-chips.
We did check out some of the “traditional” Maine sight-seeing, which is to say we took pictures of the fog:
Day 2: Swimming, Shopping, Dinner at Home
Sam and I started Friday off with a bang: we went biking. The kids started off with fun: they went swimming in the pool. Meghan and Joanne started off with style: they took a dip in the hot tub.
After everyone felt ready to start their day, we packed into the cars and took a short ride to Boothbay Harbor. It was hot so we had an ice cream lunch. The girls shopped, while I took Butter on a walk up and down the main drag. She’s truly an adorable dog and we stopped to talk to several people that wanted to “say hi” to her.
We all took a siesta in the late afternoon back at the hotel, except for Sam who ignored the impending thunderstorm and went kayaking.
After a brief downpour and a bit of lightning, we got going on our planned “traditional get together” dinner: spaghetti and sauce. This is why the in-room kitchen was important, you see.
For years, when we lived near each other, we would gather at one house or the other and feed everyone with a simple pasta, meat sauce, and garlic bread dinner. From time to time we do it even now, but the drive is much longer.
I made the pasta, Sam made the garlic bread, and the kids watched TV. This was about as traditional as you can get without being home.
After dinner I washed up while everyone else played a game at the table until bedtime.
Day 3: Freeport and Home
Our stay was intentionally short because we were trying a too-good-to-be-true hotel and everything came together last-minute. Much too short.
After a big breakfast we packed up and rolled out, destination: Freeport. Sam had only passed through Maine before, never stopping, and Joanne has never been at all. Both wanted to see the main L.L. Bean store in Freeport. Meghan is always game to go there. I walked around with Butter while everyone wandered inside the store for an hour because I just can’t even. We also made time for the Ben and Jerry’s store, of course.
We made our final leg home, where S&J paid us a final visit before making their way home as well.
Bought some new patio furniture on a lark today, now I just need to finish preparing the patio.
We stuck it on the deck in the meantime, where it attracted some squatters almost immediately. I think they like it. They should, as the human children gave me puppy-dog eyes until I caved and agreed to buy it. (Butter had nothing to do with the purchase, but she spent the most time of anyone on it today.)
Alpha loves the Newsies. Alpha had Christmas money, and bought herself suspenders. Alpha asked me to sew buttons on to her pants so they wouldn’t snap off. Since we took her phone away, she’s got the time to pester me, so here we are.
Also, reading glasses help with the threading of needles.
Grandpa died over a decade ago. I found out about the Cobia several years after he died. Grandpa never mentioned that it still existed, though he had attended crew reunions there. I think he considered his service to be very personal and never spoke of it much. I’ve wanted to visit, to make a pilgrimage if you will, but I wanted to take the girls when they were old enough to remember and appreciate the history of the thing.
I took advantage of a confluence of events this year to do it: 1) Alpha is old enough, 2) an impending total eclipse would pass (relatively) close by, and 3) I wanted a vacation and a road trip. Alpha was agreeable to going, and she too wanted a road trip, so boom it was on.
As a side note, Alpha handled this trip with aplomb. She has a bladder of iron, remained agreeable even when things went sideways, and is generally helpful around the car.
We chose to leave on a Friday. I put in enough of a day at work to count it as a full day and avoid using another vacation day, which meant leaving around lunch time. Alpha and I were packed and ready to go by 1 pm. A final stop to see Meghan at work, and we hit the highway… and traffic.
I made the mistake of assuming that traffic would be moderate at mid day. Friday afternoon rush hour tends to be nasty, especially so in summer, but it begins earlier than I know.
As we crawled our way down the turnpike we witnessed an almost-crash in front of us. We mostly idled our way until Charleton. I guess that house rentals in Maine must run from Saturday to Friday, since a large portion of the cars around us were from NY, NJ, and PA and they all peeled off at the I-84 exit.
The rain moved in as the traffic cleared. We made fair time for a couple of hours as we skipped into New York state under showers.
Skies cleared by mid-state, with a few hours of sunlight left. After dark we cruised through the Seneca reservation. All of the road signs were translated into Seneca, which was kind of neat. They also have a casino that, much like Foxwoods, rises out of the forest in a jumble of incongruence.
We made Erie at about 9:30 that night – a Motel 6 alongside Interstate 90. It was a plain, but clean and serviceable hotel. We turned in sans dinner and slept well.
Central and western New York are very boring. We didn’t get cell phone service anywhere and the highway just seems to go forever. There are some peculiar town names in western New York, ‘Horseheads‘ was a particular favorite.
Along the way we found some sites and some sights. The day was warm but a little cloudy, which meant that it never got too hot. I was looking forward to rolling with the top down on this trip and I was not disappointed. We hit the sweet spot for a convertible: 50 mph @ 72 F, moderate humidity.
Before we left Conneaut, Ohio we stopped at a lemonade stand; the kids even served us in the car. (I’ve made it a policy over the years to always stop for lemonade.) The roads were beautiful, alternating between showing us the lake and just being green.
Lake Erie itself is gorgeous. The towns that border the lake are a mix of quaint, middle-America, and gaudy: some reminded me of Cape Cod, some reminded me of the over-commercialized beach town of Misquamicut, RI, and some reminded me of any number of nondescript towns that I’ve encountered along my travels.
We switched over to the highway around Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, as we became conscious of the time: I wanted to get into Chicago before sundown. Being Saturday we didn’t have to worry about rush hour. We rolled into town around 5:30, which was perfect.
Our hotel in Chicago was right next to Chinatown, so we took a walk to find some dinner. We found a hole-in-the-wall with some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had.
We turned in no long after dinner; we had a full day ahead. We spent a little time unwinding and calling home. Earlier in the day we had found out that the USS Indianapolis had been located, and shared the news with Meghan and Beta. They proceeded to watch Jaws (with the Indianapolis scene) and brag to us about doing so.
Route 531 along the coast of Ohio is beautiful.
The Indiana turnpike is bumpy as hell, and boring, until you approach Elkhart.
Day 3: Destination Cobia
This was the main event. We arrived around lunchtime.
There are regular tours of the submarine, from forward torpedo room to aft torpedo room. They’ve restore the submarine to about 80% working condition.
We found at least three, possibly four, photos with Grandpa in them. The questionable photo is from a reunion photo, not everyone was looking at the camera and, sad but true, old men all start to look alike after a certain age. One other photo that we saw him is from a reunion, the final two are from his time on the submarine.
Our tour guide was new – his first day! – and he wasn’t familiar with any of the crew besides the captain. Grandpa, being an officer but not the captain, wasn’t a name he knew. The tour was about twenty minutes from bow to stern.
Being a real WW2 submarine the quarters were very cramped; I’m not sure how my grandfather, being a few inches taller than I am, was able to fit through the tiny intra-compartment doorways.
The submarine part of the museum is a little small; there’s a somewhat larger section devoted to boats on Lake Michigan and the various wrecks. Alpha and I agreed that we’d like to come back another time to view the lake history in more detail.
We ate dinner in Chicago, a pizza place of course. After we got back to our room Alpha wanted to veg out. I felt cooped up by the car all day, so I went out for a walk around the neighborhood. I took some photos but they were terrible; I need a new phone with a better camera.
The state of Wisconsin replaced a large section of the pavement on Interstate 43, both northbound and southbound, with a concrete washboard.
The car’s computer calculated our average MPG to be north of the 30 mark sometime this day.
Day 4: The Eclipse
Alpha and I got going a bit later than I had originally planned, and had a smashing breakfast at a market that’s a block from the hotel.
Getting close to or under the eclipse path was a bonus, so we didn’t have any specific destination to reach, just “as close as we are able or choose to get.” I picked Marion, Illinois as a target and we started driving.
We hit some traffic along the way, not due specifically to the eclipse but around construction along the highway. I don’t know if traffic would have been lighter and we would have slipped right through if it hadn’t been for the eclipse. We probably spent an hour and a half sitting in various stand-stills, and 30 minutes more finding detours, and were about an hour outside of Marion when we decided to stop to watch the eclipse in Effingham. It was a fair place to stop, with fuel and food, and we weren’t the only ones peering up at the sun. While it wasn’t directly in the path of totality the sun was reduced to a tiny hair-like sliver.
From the stopping point, our next destination was Lexington, Kentucky.
We got into Lexington late, due in part to rain. A large part of our drive was on country roads which, more than the interstates, are long, straight, and surrounded by corn.
We arrived in Lexington after 7 pm. It’s a college town and we ate dinner at a joint that caters to the college crowd. It was delicious. Alpha had breakfast for dinner and I had a burger. As we walked out the door Alpha remarked how good it was. The person walking out behind us was, unbeknownst to us, one of the cooks heading out for a break; she flashed a huge smile and said “thanks!”
Alpha stayed in our room while I took a swim in the hotel pool. We were in bed and lights-out before 9 pm, as we were leaving very early the next morning.
Midwestern seasons seem to be like New England: almost-winter, winter, still-wintery, and road construction. The side roads are much better for driving than the interstates, and almost as fast and direct.
Indiana doesn’t seem to understand the concept of interstates. They have traffic lights and intersections on I-64.
Day 5: Destination Home
This was the longest, hardest drive of the trip: almost a thousand miles in one day. Under the best of conditions it would be a fourteen-hour trip. Alpha and I discussed doing it in one day or breaking it into two, and her answer was firm: lets go home today. So we did, come hell or high water.
We didn’t take any scenic routes or make any unnecessary stops, it was just pounding the pavement (so to speak). We left Lexington at 7:30 am and made it home around 11:30 pm. We texted Meghan every time we crossed a state line, and she was reposting our updates to Facebook.
Somewhere in eastern Kentucky we passed a field that could have been straight out of a Bob Ross painting, with a shed or small barn, happy little trees, and a small mountain in the background.
West Virginia is beautiful, even from the highway, though cell phone reception is non-existent. We suddenly had great coverage when we entered Maryland, even though the mountains didn’t stop, so it seems to be a political issue not a geographic one.
We reached a peak mileage of 31.8 MPG, according to the car’s computer. My back-of-the-envelope math came up slightly lower at our last fill-up, but close enough.
The climate control system lost it’s mind somewhere in Kentucky and was alternately blowing cold and warm, regardless of actual setting, for the rest of the ride. Things got a bit warm and sweaty, but not the worst I’ve ever had.
Pennsylvania doesn’t know how to manage traffic around construction, of which the was plenty, including some standstills well before rush hour. Neither does Connecticut, where we were hitting standstills at 9 pm. That shouldn’t happen on a Tuesday night.
Sixteen hours of straight driving is very, very tiring.
Well, ok not a whole day, just a few hours. We didn’t go to bet, though Meghan did bet $3 and is now up by $3. We went to watch the horses.
Our destination was Suffolk Downs. It is an eighty-something year old horse-racing track just outside Boston. Its days are numbered but they’re still holding a few races per year in the meantime.
Our Alpha child loves horses. She’s loved them since the first grade, when she abruptly gave up a love affair with dinosaurs to fall madly in love with horses instead. When I found out about the races, I realized I had an opportunity to make one very happy child.
We bought a program as soon as we arrived and set Alpha loose. She immediately headed over to the paddock, started matching the horses to the program, and figured out pretty much everything on her own. She picked her favorites and apparently has a good eye because, of the two she picked, one was a winner and the other placed at #2.
We stayed for three races before heading back home. The siren song of chores beckoned us home, plus Beta child was in a mood, one that didn’t include horses or racing. There’s another race weekend this year, and I think Alpha and I will attend again.