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:: Cape Cod

(Once again, Amy picks up the slack and writes.. Tons of pictures are also posted here and here in our Kodak gallery.)

For the past few years we've made a trip to Cape Cod every summer. In general, we try to time it to coincide with my brother's trip to Cape Cod so we can all hang out on the porch drinking beer together. This year my brother's trip happened to coincide with Craig's trip to Las Vegas. Which left me with 3 options:

  • Stay home with 6 month old Benjamin all by myself for a week.
  • Hang out in Craig's Vegas hotel room with Benjamin while Craig attends the conference.
  • Fly by myself (with Benjamin) to Cape Cod, and hang out with my extended family while waiting for Craig to finish his conference and join us.

None of these options particularly appealed to me, but I thought option 3 would be the most fun. At least I wouldn't be alone with a baby all week. The only really hard part would be the plane trip. I managed to work myself into a panic over this 5 or 6 hour flight. What if Benjamin was inconsolable? What if he didn't sleep at all? What if I had to breastfeed while sitting next to a huge and unpleasant man? What would I do with Benjamin if I needed to pee? How would I carry all the stuff and the baby?

I made it through the trip without any horrible incidents. Benjamin didn't sleep as much as I wanted him to, but he also didn't scream (much). And there was a woman seated next to me, not a leering pervert. And I worked out a system for the baggage. You know, you would think at some point someone would have offered to help me, but no one did. I'm not sure I would have accepted help anyway. It's a strange society we live in.

My parents met me at baggage claim and we took a shuttle bus to the hotel. There was a truly upset child on this shuttle bus, one who had had enough traveling for a lifetime. Boy could he scream. It made me feel lucky that Benjamin was taking things in stride.

The next day we made our way to our beach house in Falmouth, with a stop in Worcester to visit one of my aunts first. It's always great to be at this house, because I grew up coming here every summer. It's just a happy place. I was excited to be bringing my child to the same place I had such good memories of. We all worked on settling in and getting ready for my brother and his family to arrive the next day.

Benjamin was starting to get a little freaked out by this point. I think he missed Craig. And he had a little cold. And was just generally out of sorts. But really, he was doing pretty well, and so was I. My parents were helping me out, but still, it's hard to be away from the routine and familiarity of home. And being away from Craig made me realize just how much he helps, even though he's only home for a few hours before bedtime.

The next day Dave, Gretchen, and the 3 kids arrived. The house was suddenly a whirlwind of activity. I can't really remember much of this week. Except that Benjamin got harder to put to sleep, and I missed Craig and his help more and more. I didn't even take any pictures, even though Craig had sent the camera with me instead of taking it to Vegas. Which is why Craig had to make a (very cute) drawing of an air conditioner.

After much pleasant hanging out on the porch and walking to the beach with Benjamin in a backpack carrier thing (Ergo!), it is finally time for Craig to join us. Poor Craig takes a red eye. On his birthday. And then upon arriving in Boston, he gets on a bus to Cape Cod. Poor Craig. But Benjamin and I are very happy to see him!

Next comes the weekend, which brings lots of visitors. The annual pre-4th-of-July Block Party is on Saturday. So my cousins and their kids show up to enjoy the fun. And Kelly, Stephanie, Trey, and Zoe also come! And so do Todd and Laura! Lots and lots of people in the house. For dinner, we (Craig and I, Todd and Laura, and the Kellegouses) decide to try take-out from a barbecue place I saw an ad for in the Yellow Pages. Amazingly, they had pretty good pulled pork. It may be easier, from now on, to convince Craig to visit Cape Cod, now that he knows he can get a bbq and sweet tea fix.

On the night of the fireworks (which was not on the 4th of July for some reason, though I can't remember why or when they actually were), there was something crazy in the air and none of the kids would go to sleep. We had intended to have Benjamin sleep through them, if possible, but we tried and we tried and he would not fall asleep, not even for a second. The same thing was happening with Gus, though I think Ari and Milo were allowed to stay up on purpose. Then, when it was dark enough, the fireworks began, and we saw that there would have been no sleeping through it. The whole house vibrated each time another one went off. We walked down the street to the water so we could watch the show. Benjamin wasn't scared at all. He was actually having a great time! It was more fun to watch his delighted face lit up all green, red, and white, than it was to watch the actual fireworks. When an especially loud one went off, he would giggle.

We spent a lot of time hanging out on the porch, and going for walks down to the beach. Every now and then my mom would watch Benjamin and Craig and I would go for a quick swim. We were also able to go out to eat without Benjamin a couple of times. One rainy afternoon the three of us tried to drive to Wood's Hole, but of course everyone in the area had the same idea, as Wood's Hole is full of cute little shops. So instead we went to a Thai restaurant in Falmouth, and then ran over to Dunkin Donuts and bought a dozen to take home for the rest of the gang. The doughnuts were well received. When aren't they?

As any trip to the Cape that doesn't include the Island Queen is a failure (in the wise words of my grandfather, Hampie), we made sure to make the round trip to Martha's Vineyard one afternoon. Benjamin loved it when I held is head over the edge of the boat so he could stare down at the water. Dave and family met us on the return trip, and my father was waiting on the jetty to wave hello as we came back into the harbor.

Then it was time to say goodbye to my family, and we headed for Boston. We had a hotel for a night there, so we managed to have dinner (burritos!) with Todd and Laura, and lunch the next day with the Kellegouses. Then we took a cab to the airport and began the trek back across the country. It was a good trip, but traveling with a baby is exhausting.

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:: Broiling in Vegas

"On behalf of the whole flight team here at Southwest, we thank you for flying with us to sunny Las Vegas. Have fun while you're here, but remember to drink water every chance you get because the current temperature outside is 114 degrees." Jesus. What am I doing back here in Vegas? Every time I find myself in this soulless overglorified truckstop I tell myself it'll be my last. Like always though, something came up. This time I'm here to present a paper at a half-baked conference on work I did with an intern of mine last summer. I don't know if the conference makes this trip better or worse.

As I step off the plane into the walkway that feeds you into the airport I'm reminded of just how hot 114 degrees really is. You can feel the heat radiating off the metal walls- it's like some hotbox they'd use at Guantanamo to cook confessions out of prisoners. Half way down the pipe I start hearing the slot machine chatter that is the inescapable voice of Las Vegas. The first time you visit this town the chatter sounds like opportunity, so cleverly broadcast through the city in a single rumbling voice. However, the more trips you make to this town, the more the chatter reminds you of the gurgling noise a hose on septic service truck makes, as people's souls are sucked out of their backs, one coin at a time.

I get my bags and walk outside into the shaded heat to catch a van to my hotel. The other riders in the van are excited to see what their respective hotels have to offer. At each hotel stop, our numbers become smaller, with the remaining riders sizing up the recently departed by the quality of their hotel. MGM? Well, someone has money. Excalibur? Ok, dungeon master. Hooters? How sleazy. My stop this week is New York, New York. Maybe my grumpy mood matches what the rest of the people on the van think of as New Yorkers. Heh.

While I've walked through it before, this is the first time I've actually stayed in the New York, New York hotel. On the outside they have small versions of famous NYC sites and make the hotel rooms look like they're part of the NYC skyline. The inside has movie-like versions of central park and the narrow streets of NYC. Walking through the twisty maze of NYNY's casino labrynth, I couldn't help but think that the whole thing really was a lot like NYC, just without the constant smell of urine. My room was pretty high up, facing towards the Vegas strip. In addition to a view of all the hopeless ant-like people streaming along the streets in 114 degree weather, my room has a fine view of the Coney Island rollercoaster that's been built on the roof of a lower building in the NYNY casino. As I would learn later on that night, the roller coaster goes by every ten minutes or so, until a little bit after midnight. I guess late night noise just adds to the NYC ambience.

Since my last visit, Las Vegas has finished its cross-town monorail. As a connoisseur of public transportation, I braved the heat and wandered across the street to try to find an enterance. It took a lot more walking than I thought was required, but I finally found the station and paid my $9 for a round-trip ticket. The ride was pretty awful, snaking along the backside of hotels and jotting around properties where the hotels did not want the monorail. Similar to other monorails, it was a shaky ride that made me wonder how structurally sound the whole thing was.

At the end of the ride was something that made this whole trip worthwhile. There, just before the exit turnstyles of the hot open-air station was a monorail security guard sitting on a stool. In order to make this outdoor job bearable, the guard had brought an air-conditioning window unit and placed it on the stool next to her. When she stood in just the right position, she'd be in this tiny stream of cool air while the rest of us suffered just a little bit more from the heat produced by the other side of the unit. It was a scene that perfectly captured the whole Las Vegas mentality, but one that I couldn't bring myself to take a picture of. Las Vegas, I've got to never come back here.

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:: Cutting Cable

Bills.. bills.. bills.. And not the kind that's known for losing the super bowl either. No, today I'm complaining about all of the monthly bills that have been clogging up the Noodles' mail box. Land-line phone with long-distance: $50. Cell phone with roll-over minutes: $40. Basic Cable TV: $15. Cable-based Internet: $45. Two-movie Netflix: $15. Pickle-of-the-month membership: etc.. While nothing really stands out as a bank-breaker (besides our mortgage), they all add up and make you feel like you're being nickle-and-dimed into middle-class oblivion.

Throw in the fact that there's a lot of service redundancy and it becomes even more annoying. Ideally, we'd ditch the land-line and switch to making all of our calls on the cell phone. However, Cingular doesn't get great coverage out here, so I often find myself standing outside whenever we're home and someone calls us on it. Another option would be voice over IP. However, I don't put much faith in the 911 handling of voip. Plus, we'd still be stuck with cable-based internet, which is the most bill we think is the most outrageous.

The lack of an obvious optimal solution has resulted in us doing nothing for quite some time. But then.. out of nowhere, the TV shows we watch on a regular basis (Lost and 24) all had their shocking season finales. Once those shows ended, it was clear that there wasn't going to be anything good on for several months. So.. we decided to take the plunge and cut cable service (TV and internet) all together. And that's why we haven't updated the web page in a long time. It's because we've adopted an Amish life style.

Ok, not really. We in fact ordered DSL Internet service through SBC/AT+T before the cable went away. The price was unbeatable for the area: they had a deal where it's $18/month for 1.5Mb/s DSL with free equipment. They also gave us three free months because we switched from cable. While cable was a little peppier (3Mb/s), we hardly even notice since we really don't move that much data these days.

I have to admit that living without cable tv has been kind of rough for me. You never know how addicted you are to something until it gets taken away. As a means of getting my tv fix, I've rigged up an indoor antenna that brings in about 10 fuzzy channels. Unfortunately, seven of those channels are in Spanish (Telemundo!) and one is in Korean. The one English channel that comes in really well is Action 36, which has a tendency to alternate between COPS and Tyra! reruns (no joke- they show two hours of back-to-back COPS every Monday night). I'd like to say that the endless COPS programming is a deterrent to watching TV, but like I said, I'm hooked. No, I don't watch more than a few minutes at a time, but I have to admit there's that spark of hope in the back of my mind that I'll turn on the tv at some point and there will be an episode where COPS is driving through my old neighborhood in Atlanta.

We'll see how long we can go without cable. I feel that my tv standards can't drop any lower, so maybe we can survive or learn how to live without it. Bah..

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:: Yosemite

Yosemite National Park. Check.

[ Blink blink blink goes the cursor in my editor. What exactly did we do there? Amy volunteers to write this one, if I agree to watch Benjamin for an hour. While tedious, watching Benjamin sounds a lot easier than writing, so Amy's taking this post. ]

So yeah.. after three years of living in California we finally made it out to Yosemite National Park. And not just us, but all four of our parents as well. We figured Benjamin needed to see all of his grandparents at once so he doesn't get them confused with each other later on.

Craig's dad found a really nice "cabin" (actually a fully-equipped house) on the far side of the park. It had 3 bedrooms so we all piled in together. We arrived around dinner time, so the first order of business was to drink several whiskey sours each. Well, Craig and Amy went easy on the booze, knowing Benjamin would be waking them up several times in the night, as well as bright and early the next morning. Hahaha. Guess who was hung over the next morning? Not Craig and Amy! Not Benjamin! It was then that somebody read the cabin's "high altitude orientation" pamphlet, which basically advised no alcohol for the first 24 hours, lots of water, and plenty of rest. It didn't mention whiskey and wine as recommended ways to adjust.

After a low-key breakfast, we all headed out to see the natural wonders we were supposedly surrounded by. Ever since moving to California, we had been hearing about how breathtakingly amazing the Yosemite Valley is. It's only 3 hours from Livermore, so we figured we would get out there one of these weekends. It turns out everyone was right, and Yosemite really is one of the most beautiful places we've ever seen. Why hadn't we come here sooner? Why are we such slackers?

We hit all the major sights that were accessible by very short hikes from the main road. Bridal Veil Falls, which was impressively torrential from the spring thaw, Yosemite Falls, an overlook of the whole valley, and various views of the mountains towering over us, including the ever-present Half Dome. We kept trying (with no success) to find rock climbers on the face of the cliffs with the zoom on our camera.

The second day we drove up to Glacier Point, which provided even more breathtaking views, this time from a very high altitude. We lingered at the two overlooks all morning. There's really not a good way to describe how impressive the valley is. We didn't want to leave, but after some restorative ice cream, we wound our way back down the mountain. After lunch at the cabin, we decided Benjamin needed some time to roll around on the floor and play, rather than continue being strapped into his car seat. So we stayed behind while the grandparents went to see what was yet another natural wonder, the giant redwoods of Mariposa Grove.

That night we had a very good dinner at the Mountain Room, which is the Park's second-nicest restaurant. We weren't completely at ease with the thought of taking a 6 month old to the Ahwahnee Dining Room, which is described as "the crown jewel of Yosemite dining." Yeah, not with a baby, no thanks! The Mountain Room was awesome, not too formal with great food.

The next morning we went our separate ways -- Craig's parents continued going north, on their way to Glacier National Park in Montana, while the rest of us made our way home. Maybe next we can all go to Hawaii together!

Amy thinks Benjamin is a more compelling sight
than the gorgeous panorama in front of her.

More pictures can be found in our Kodak Gallery. Check out Yosemite Day 1 and Day 2.

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:: S.F. Ferries

Amy's mom was in town and it was a beautiful day out, so we headed down to San Francisco to try something different- the bay ferries. The four of us (Amy, Benjamin, Amy's mom, and I) drove down to Jack London Square (near Oakland) and caught the ferry to Embarcaderro. The ride was a little chilly, but it was a lot of fun to arrive at the city by boat.

At Embarcaderro we caught the tail end of the morning's farmer's market and met up with Genevieve. While we were there, Frontier Airlines had a weird advertising thing to promote their new comfortable seats. A troop of six people dressed in airline seat costumes walked around and did a little dance while a flight attendant talked about how great their seats were. Occasionally the seats would walk up behind a kid and pretend like they were going to scoop them up. Oh yeah, and they'd swing their little armrests around as part of their dance. Weird.

After reviewing the ferry schedules at Embarcaderro, we realized that we needed to go down to fisherman's wharf if we wanted to go anywhere anytime soon. Fortunately, we'd bought the extra ($1) "short hop" tickets for the ferry to the wharf, so we didn't have to take a (packed) trolley. At fisherman's wharf, we waited around for a long time and then caught the ferry out to Tiburon (Tiburon is across the bay on the peninsula that the Golden Gate Bridge connects to, and is the town next to Sausalito).

Due to poor planning, we stranded ourselves in Tiburon for a long time. We thought we'd be able to just stay on the ferry and ride back without getting off at Tiburon, but that didn't work out and we were forced to hand around Tiburon for a couple of hours. Outside of a train museum, there wasn't that much to do in Tiburon, so we just found a cool spot in the shade and played with Benjamin.

The ferry finally came and picked us up (plus about a hundred bikers) for the trip back. We jumped ship at the wharf and climbed aboard a boat taking us back to Jack London Square. Overall, the ferries were a great way to kill some time around San Francisco (especially if it's warm outside). However, I think we'll spend a little more time plotting out ferry schedules before we set off next time.

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