Saturday, August 30, 2014

Summer Vacation 2014: CousinPalooza #1

Welcome to the now annual blog post over at The Lily Pad.  Funny how my last post was exactly one year ago today - what commitment!  This happy little blog has many weeds growing on it now and is pretty much only dusted off once a year to record some vacation happiness.  So here we go....

After our fantastic 2013 vacation (which you can read about just by clicking "Last Post"!)  we decided that we had to come up with a reason to get the Nip cousins together this year.  We had pretty much run out of weddings for the time being.  Looking back, we had a pretty good run with gatherings: Kevin & Idela kicked us off with their wedding in '04, then our wedding in '05, Fred & Julie's wedding in '06, Pau Pau's birthday in '08, Mabel & Von's wedding in '10, Leslie & Kevin's wedding in '12 and Justin & Meghan's wedding in '13.  Now with nothing on the horizon we decided to do an old fashioned family vacation.

Gordon, as the oldest cousin, teamed up with Leslie to take charge and found an AMAZING spot that was pretty much equidistant from all of us.  We had cousins coming from Boston, Brooklyn, NewJersey, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. So we converged in the Adirondacks at this spot:

You can only see half of the cottages in this photo, but most importantly you can see the big yard and the lake.  The location was so amazing and the weather so cooperative that we never left.  Some folks went out to go food shopping, but as a group we arrived on Saturday and didn't get back in our cars until the trip was over.

I would have loved to have written about each day, but I didn't have a laptop with me and was far too busy relaxing.  We had 7 first cousins, 5 spouses and 7 second cousins, ranging from 6 months to 10 years old.  There was something to do for everyone.  Our days pretty much went like this:

  • Wake up and find breakfast (usually in Fred & Julie's cottage, though I did get up in time make scones twice)

  • Spend the morning doing whatever makes you happy.  Favorite activities included:  reading in the sun, playing catch, flying kites, playing board games, building forts, playing ping pong, slipping & sliding,  and chatting with each other.

  • Convene for an awesome lunch

  • Spend the afternoon at our own private lake-font beach

  • Convene for an awesome dinner

  • Head back to the beach for a bonfire, star-gazing, conversation, S'Mores and some music (courtesy of Gabe) and maybe some beer can popcorn (also courtesy of Gabe)
  • Wander off to bed eventually and repeat the next day.
As you can see food was an important component of the week.  Leslie organized us into food teams so that each person cooked one dinner and one lunch - that's it!  The rest of the time amazing food just appeared and you ate it.  It was the world's yummiest chain letter.  To add to it I have apparently married into a family of really talented cooks.  The food was outstanding.  Look, G even put together the menu to make you jealous  record for posterity (you'll need to click in and zoom to actually read it):

So aside from eating, relaxing and thoroughly enjoying each other's company - that's about it!  A few other notables:

  • Emma took the opportunity to record her ice bucket challenge video and enlisted the help of the little cousins.  She brought the squirt guns and armed then.  I have no sympathy for her.

  • The little cousins are adorable - here's a pic of the girls.

  • Mabel and Von produce adorable babies.  Those of us who had not met Mason yet were so excited to finally have the chance.  Here's some photographic proof that he did occasionally let Mabel have a (short) break.

 (yes, those are my pajamas - I told you - I was VERY relaxed there)

  • Puzzles can be hard.  Next time I will start earlier.  And Kevin will be there the whole time to make sure THIS SHIT GETS DONE!  (He gets a pass this time since Leslie was 36 weeks pregnant and my hero for driving 4+ hours to be with us at all.  Can't wait to have Baby Siu/Vlack there next time!).  Check out what the finished puzzle would have looked like.  I'm a bit horrified to find out I can buy it on EBay!

And pretty much - that's a wrap.  Here are some group pics.  First from Saturday night with everyone there.

And then from Wednesday as we were heading out.  Unfortunately Emma, Kevin and Leslie left a little early so this group is a bit smaller.

We are so looking forward to the next CousinPalooza: Destination Canada.  Hopefully we can get even more Nip cousins to join.  We're looking at you Kevin Siu, Justin, Derek and Matt!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

NL Day 3: Butterflies, Rocks and Newfie Hospitality

We've had really amazing weather while here in Newfoundland.  In fact, word on the street is that the locals are complaining about it being too warm.  However, for us Bostonians, the high-60 low-70 degree days with clear skies have been nothing short of fabulous.  But Tuesday was the one day it was cold and just a little wet.  After a quiet, mostly relaxing morning of playing games our thoughts turned to what to do.  And let me just clarify - when I say "quiet morning playing games" - I mean that Lily and Gordon played Settlers while Que and the girls played Scrabble and I did my sorry best trying to keep Quinn from sabotaging all the games while also keeping up with the email barrage from work.  But hey - at least I'm doing it from Newfoundland!!  I think really that the Onion captures the spirit of vacationing with young kids the best (as usual).  (to be fair though - in our house - it's not just me that deals with it - Gordon does his fair share of "housework away from home").

In the end, Gabe & Que and the girls set off with MaMa to hike Signal Hill and parts of the East Coast trail.  I had gotten caught in my usual packing paralysis before a big trip and didn't do so well bringing along clothes that would keep us warm on a soggy/cold day.  So we opted to move Signal Hill to later in the week and set off to the Geo Center with the kids and BaBa.  We started with lunch in downtown St. Johns at Pi Pizzeria, We really wanted to love the place for its clever name, cute atmosphere and the many digits of pi painted along the wall near the ceiling, but sadly the pizza fell flat for us.  The reviews are good and they've won many awards, so I have to wonder if maybe we got them on an off day.  Nevertheless we left nourished and Lily avoided eating yet another grilled cheese sandwich.

Like pretty much everything else here it was a very short drive from our house.  The museum is absolutely charming, interesting and accessible for all of us.  Although I do think that perhaps the adults had a bit more fun than the kids.  Contrasting it to the science museum in Boston it was just so much more approachable.  We paid one price for the family and that included everything - including the 3D films they were showing.  We got there just in time to catch the next showing of Flight of the Butterflies. If you have a chance to check this out I strongly suggest you do.   Even Quinny says the movie about the butterflies was the best part.  I may have enjoyed it more had it NOT been 3D (I have basically zero depth perception so trying to watch one of these things just makes me eyes hurt) - but despite that difficulty I love it.  The story of Dr. Fred Urquhart is so touching - I admit freely to crying by the end (though I was able to cover up all the eye-wiping in the guise of the whole "3D bugging my eyes" thing).

Hamming around with the super fancy 3D glasses

After the movie we ambled around the museum checking out the geology and space exhibits (OK that's pretty much what I focused on).  I enjoyed checking out the replica of the Canada Arm (or SSRMS as I know it).  I kept wishing that I had my EAPS friend Susan Lucas was with me to translate all the cool geology stuff.  It's suddenly even more interesting to me now thanks to our REXIS project at MIT.  They also have a very interesting exhibit about the Titanic.  I honestly had no idea the accident occurred just off the coast of Newfoundland.  The exhibit went through the events that played into the accident and was very cool from an engineering perspective.  Unfortunately it was all posters and reading so the kids were not that into it.  Gordon and I managed to get through most of it, but there were some moments of frustration in there for all of us.  We topped off the visit with a trip to the gift shop (after being hounded by Lily - she had 20 Canadian dollars from Yeh Yeh burning a hole in her pocket) and then headed on home.

Outside the Geo Center - my eyes are closed but the kids are adorable

That evening we were invited to a lovely gathering at the home of Meghan's Aunt and Uncle.  They had a great spread (including some very tasty crackers with smoked salmon, cream cheese and pepper jelly - I ate three!) and were wonderful hosts.  I was a bit stressed at the beginning as Quinn was having a bit of a hard time with the new "go all day with no nap" lifestyle, but we all settled in and had a great time.   It was fun meeting Meghan's family and friends.  We even found someone who lives literally BLOCKS away from us in Somerville - small world, eh?  The kids (older and younger alike) found a room to hang out in and contain the chaos.  It was a great start to the wedding festivities for sure.

Monday, August 19, 2013

NL Day 2: The Trek to Bell Island

On Monday we woke up to a full house.  MaMa and BaBa had arrived around midnight the night before with Gabe, Que, Valora and Sera.  The kids were delighted to see each other as always.  One perk of the house is that it comes with a grand piano.  So we get to be serenaded by Valora and Sera's musical talents whenever we're in the house.   Gordon's cousins Fred and Mabel - along with their families - are also here this week (for simplicity we'll call them: "the Chen Clan").  After a few failed attempts at skyping we finally connected with them via cell phone when Gabe took one for the team and signed up for an international plan.   The Chen Clan had been here since Saturday and were a few days ahead of us in terms of knowing what was going on.  They suggested a trip to Bell Island for some fish and chips and we said SURE!  While waiting for them to arrive, we talk a stroll outside to explore the neighborhood a bit.  We walked down to the harbor and hung out in a lovely little park by the water with some big statues of Newfoundlands and Labradors and great views of the working harbor.

After a brief talk with Auntie Karen we found out that one did not take a ferry and walk around Bell island.  You took the car over there on the ferry.  Phew - glad we sorted that out ahead of time.  We drove on down to the ferry and found a line of cars waiting to get on.  We consolidated from 3 mini-van type contraptions down to two and got in line.  We were also told by the guy at the ticket counter that there was "no way" we would make it on the 1:10 ferry.  SO we decided to abandon our vehicles, leaving Que, Von and Mabel behind to inch us forward in line to go get some fish and chips before the kids melted down from lack of food.  We were parked right across the street from Wild Horses Pub & Eatery so we headed over there on masse.   

While sitting in the enclosed porch waiting for our food we noticed that Que had disappeared with the van and then come back.  Whatever was she doing??  Turns out the ticket dude was completely wrong - we would have easily made it on the ferry.  Poor Que and Von now began this dance of driving forward and then jumping the line a number of times to keep us in position for the NEXT ferry. We all ate, grabbed takeout for the drivers and then headed back to the car.  Somehow we managed to miss the loading for the next ferry as well.  Fred and I strolled leisurely across the street joking about being left behind when we saw Que waving frantically with a "what the heck is wrong with you people" look on her face.  We jumped in the cars only to have the ferry workers cut the line off DIRECTLY in front of our car.  We're almost certain they were just messing with us at this point.  So, we decided to get serious and you know - STAY WITH THE CARS. So we did and eventually made it on to the island.  Go us.

Here's that long line of cars - NO WAY we're going to make it... NOT

Proof that we did indeed get on the ferry. P.S. it was windy

But it was all totally fine because: THIS VIEW.  Also vacation and cousins.

Once on the island we followed some signs to the #2 Mine Tour.  A discussion ensued about if this was the #2 mine in a series of mines (what happened to #1??) or is this the second attraction to visit on the island.  Turns out, it was the former.  The tour was actually quite awesome.  We were almost warned away from it with kids by the high school student in the visitor center, but we were not to be deterred after the effort required to get on that ferry!  The tour was fantastic and may have just got a few members of our party thinking about Indian Jones (not me of course.... okay totally me, but whatever I'm sure there were others).  If you are in Newfoundland I highly suggest checking them out! 

Some obligatory "Kids posing as miners" shots

Getting good shots down there was tough, but Sera makes everything look good

After the ferry adventure and the mine tour we were all pretty done.  We headed back to St. John's, regrouped at our house and went out for dinner on George St.  The restaurant was not good - I would not recommend it.  Let's just say that if you're planning on dinner on George St with families do consider hitting up The Works.  We ended up getting take-out burgers from there  to compensate for our rather sub-par dinner and they were yummy.  The crew hung out at "our place" that evening, but I went to bed early.  Because apparently that's just how I roll on vacation.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Vacation 2013: St. John's Newfoundland

Hello out there!  Well it seems I've fallen into the somewhat dismal cycle of only posting once/year - when we go on vacation.  But for now I'm going to go with "better than not at all".  This year we packed ourselves up, got on a plane and flew to St. John's Newfoundland.  The catalyst for getting us here is the wedding of one of Gordon's younger cousins, Justin.  I really love visiting G's family in Canada - it's always a fun time, his family is full of super nice, fun people and we get to visit Canada at the best time of the year - spring and summer.  I actually am not quite sure I believe all these stories about "terrible winters".  From where I sit Canada is fabulous every time I'm in it.  So when we found out Justin and Meghan were getting married here in Newfoundland we were excited to explore a new part of Canada.

Gordon did pretty much all of the arranging and found us a fantastic rental house that we are sharing with his parents and his brother and his family.  There are ten of us staying in this awesome home in downtown St. John's.  The house is close to everything, has plenty of space and a backyard.  It's been a really fun home base for all of us and a nice way for the young cousins to get a lot of together time.  The four of them even get to figure out how to share a room with two beds! (see what I did there - I made that sound fun, didn't I?)

We arrived in St. John's Sunday afternoon after flying through Halifax. Did you know St. John's is 1.5 hours ahead of Boston?  I certainly did not.  In my sheltered, Boston-centric world there are NO time zones eat of Boston that aren't in Europe.  Horizon-broadening lesson #1 - and only about 5 minutes into the trip.   The kids were really awesomely-behaved on the first flight from Boston to Halifax.  Our biggest accomplishment was getting all four of us from Union Square Somerville to the Air Canada gate in under 30 minutes.  I'm pretty sure we couldn't do that twice.  Feeling nice and smug about that -the transfer in Halifax was a little dicey for Quinn.  He was just tired and a bit excited, but ended up being a bit of a handful.  I will say though - flying with a 4 year old an a 6.5 year old is WAY easier than any other stage.  It's so nice that some things do really get easier.  

Gordon's aunt and uncle, Karen and Peter, met us at the rental house soon after we arrived here.  They took us to the large, nicely stocked grocery store complete with a separate escalator for shopping carts and free covered parking.  Then we went to their house for dinner.  Lily and Quinn spent a good long time picking and then consuming raspberries from their back yard.  Karen and Peter were such gracious hosts, feeding us and very kindly putting up with Q's over-tired rambunctiousness.  We had a yummy dinner complete with home-made "dan tat".  We got a brief cameo appearance from Justin's younger brother Matthew and then went back to our home for the week to get settled and go to bed. Well, I went to bed with the kids and G stayed up waiting for his brother and parents to arrive.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

NH 2012: Midweek

I'm a day behind and my parents are arriving tomorrow.  Robin & Jeff and the kids left this morning, so I'm taking this chance tonight to catch up. I'll do it by covering two days in one since we did a bunch, but didn't get a ton of pictures.

Wednesday we woke up after staying up a little too late, eating too much cheese and drinking a little too much wine (well me at least).  I made dutch babies for everyone (after setting off the fire alarms by trying to use a springform pan for one.  Shockingly you can't really melt butter in the bottom of one of those - take note).  Then we got ourselves ready (no small feat with 4 children under 6 in the house) and went off to Attitash for some climbing and sliding.  I remember going to the Alpine Slide with my parents when I was a kid, but wasn't sure how much else there was to do there.  Turns out going mid-week on a beautiful day at the end of the season is a fantastic idea.  We basically had the place to ourselves and had a great time.  We started off with the Alpine slide - all the kids loved it.  Then we got in some climbing on the rock wall - well Lily, Cybele and Gordon did at least.

Next up was lunch and then we decided to be the only crazy fools at the water slides.  It was a nice day, but not really a hot, jump in freezing-cold water kind of day.  Lily LOVED the water slides, but she was the only one.  I went down once and was pretty freaked out by how fast they were - I had forgotten that.  Also - they were cold.  Quinn walked up to the top took one look and decided to use his feet to get back down.  There are no pictures from the slides since the camera was tucked away in a locker. So here are some pics of the boys being goofballs at lunch instead.

Despite the chilliness we spent some time at the kiddie pool area and Lily discovered the water slide that you go down on tubes.  She and Gordon did it a bunch and then she got me up there. It was SO MUCH FUN.  The only issue was that I had a hard time lugging the double tube back up to the top - so we only went down 3 times.  But man, that was definitely my favorite thing in the park - Lily's too.  She was so excited that I wasn't afraid of it.  The whole way down she'd chant "Mommy likes it! Mommy likes it!"  Totally cracked us up.

We wrapped up the day there with some bungee-trampoline action - well the girls did.  The adults were too wiped out to be bothered.    Dinner that night was burgers on the grill followed by a lot of tired people finally making their way to bed.  All in all Attitash was a huge win.  Lily told me today that it was her favorite thing we've done so far, with Santa's Village coming in second.  And we didn't even make it onto the mountain coaster!  Oh well, next time I suppose.

Thursday morning we said goodbye to our pals - they're staying up here but doing activities on a slightly different schedule and moving lodging to make room for my parents (who arrive tomorrow).  The kids hugged each other goodbye and we took off in our car to visit another of the area waterfalls.  We drove a little way up 302 to Pinkham Notch, parked at the AMC camp and hiked a short, but pretty 0.3 miles to Crystal Cascade - a two-tiered waterall over about a 60 foot drop.  The hike was nice and short and included a little pre-falls action with a nice rushing stream and little bridge - a perfect photo spot.  Here are some cute - and goofy - shots we managed to get.

We came back to the house after the short hike, changed into bathing suits and drove down to North Conway to do some kayaking on the Saco.  We rented a couple of kayaks from these guys and took a short - 3 miles - trip down the river.  The water was cold, but the weather was perfect and we had a great time.  We even stopped about half-way down and the kids took a little dip.  At first Gordon was in a double kayak with both Lily and Quinn while I had my own.  Then we swapped and I propelled the double along with Lily with Gordon and Quinn took the single.  Man the double kayak was MUCH harder to move.  My arms were thankful we chose the shortest of the three trips.  We'll try some longer trips when the kids can paddle themselves - or at least help out (though Lily did try).

We wrapped up the day with a quick round of mini golf at Pirates Cove. Make no mistake, mini-golf with a 3 and a 5 year-old is something just a little shy of fun. Thankfully it wasn't very crowded so it was totally fine that Q was wandering around dropping the ball into holes and generally making a nuisance of himself.  Lily managed to play a game, but had a bit of a hard time with the rules and tended to break down in tears when her stroke count went above 3.  She cheered up when she managed a hole in one though and that seemed to keep her happy through the rest of the game.  Gordon won, of course.  We had dinner down that road at Muddy Moose and ran in to Robin, Jeff, Cybele and Jake there - a perfect end to a somewhat lazy, but fun day.