Monday, January 1, 2018

2017: A Year in Review

2017 was our most eventful year in a long time! We took many trips: Florida, Williamsburg (twice!), Philadelphia, Lancaster, and for Thomas and I--New York. I started a new job and Luke began daycare. Jack played a season of baseball. Anna started piano lessons. The three older kids acted in a school play. We got a puppy.

We spent a lot of time at Six Flags, but not as much as we did in 2016. We weren't going to renew our season passes for 2018, but we had so much fun at the New Jersey park that we really wanted to go back. And, they were so cheap ($52/each) that we couldn't resist. I've written about our other trips, but I will say that New York was a definite highlight and as a family, it is hard to beat our spontaneous trip to Florida. I can't imagine we will ever make such a big trip on such short notice again!

The biggest change was me returning to work. It has been 5 months and so far the transition is better than I expected. I miss seeing the kids in the mornings, but our morning nanny is so wonderful that the kids don't seem to mind. And, the early start means that I am home by 4:30, so we don't miss out on much afternoon/evening time. Thomas is home even earlier and is able to greet them shortly after they get off the bus. Obviously, the biggest impact is on Luke since he has to go to daycare. But, there is an awesome program near our house and he has been very happy there. I think he would rather be home, but I also  think it is probably better for him to be at daycare. It was hard for me to find ways to entertain and provide stimulation, especially now that his naps are so short, or completely foregone.

For New Years Eve, we had our traditional cheese fondue. During dinner, we discussed the highlights of the past year and what we are looking forward to in the next. Here are everyone's favorites:

Kori and Thomas: seeing Hamilton in New York
Anna: being Tweedle-Dum in the school play
Jack: riding the tallest roller coaster in America (and one of the tallest in the world)
Kara: going to Philadelphia, and specifically the Franklin Institute
Luke: riding the Metro train

I'm super shocked that no one chose going to Harry Potter World, but maybe that was because we went in February and it was too far removed from memory. It was a pretty awesome family vacation where Kara gained some roller coaster bravery. Seeing their faces in Diagon Alley was priceless. And the frozen butterbeer--I'm itching to go back just thinking about it all!

And, what people are most looking forward to in 2018:
Jack: Can't decide between the cruise and starting his last year of elementary school
Anna: Going on a cruise
Kara: Having Thanksgiving on a cruise
Luke: Riding the metro train
Thomas: Celebrating our 15th anniversary
Kori: Going to Six Flags New Jersey and riding their awesome roller coasters

It's always fundue with this crew

On to our annual "report" on the kids:

Anna has made great progress this year. She had a strong finish to 3rd grade and was excited to begin 4th. We had a tumultuous summer while she was trying to decide if going into the STEM program was the right decision for her. Ultimately, she decided to return to her home school and is very happy with her decision. She made straight As on her first report card and was selected to join the math club. She is also in the gifted reading program. She started piano lessons about a month ago and is doing well. Her violin lessons last year helped her with some of the basics. Hopefully, she will enjoy piano more than she did violin and the lessons will continue throughout the year.  She still loves to play with Littlest Pet Shop and has a new found love for American Girl. Anna also really loves to read, in fact, she spent her Christmas money on books. My three words for Anna are: inquisitive, argumentative and helpful. Thomas said: impulsive, helpful and smart. When she grows up she wants to a veterinarian or marine biologist.

Jack also had a strong academic year. He was selected for the gifted program in math and added into the reading portion when he reached 4th grade. He is also in the math club and really enjoys school. He is very competitive and if his teacher has a prize for the first one to accomplish something, Jack is extremely motivated. He was the first to memorize some math facts and won a calculator. He is currently fighting for first in some other math game. He is an introvert and generally prefers to be inside with a book then outside with friends. He loves Star Wars and Disney Infinity. For the most part, he is easy-going (at least with Thomas and me--maybe not as much with his sisters). He rarely complains and does pretty much whatever we ask when we ask it. He is very sweet and kind-hearted. He still loves history and is always up for a trip to a battlefield or other historical site. My three words for Jack are: quiet, kind and smart. Thomas said: quiet, confident, and smart. When he grows up he wants to be a lawyer and then become a politician.

Kara is enjoying third grade. She has her two best friends by her side, which made the transition easy. Like her siblings, she is a good student who enjoys school. She is still high-spirited, but has done a lot better controlling her frustrations as the year progressed. She loves to be helpful and is always asking if there is something we need, especially if it involves cooking or baking. She still loves playing with Littlest Pet Shop and being outside. She is an expert on her pogo stick. Like Jack, she is competitive and has a strong desire to exceed expectations. She can spend hours on a project, although she can also get very frustrated if things aren't going the way she wants or expects. When I started work, I asked the kids to make me something to decorate my office. Kara was the only one who was interested and spent hours making me a pointillism picture. She is very sweet and thoughtful, for Christmas she spent hours in her room working on surprise gifts for us, including a very clever ornament that has all our names.  My three words to describe Kara are: emotional, loving and determined. Thomas said: temperamental, hard-working and sensitive. When she grows up, she wants to be a lawyer or an author.

Luke is the perfect baby of the family. He loves his siblings and they are still very patient and kind to him. They are (almost) always happy to entertain him if Thomas and I are working on something and need a few minutes of peace. Anna and Kara frequently fight over his attention and have to be reminded that he is a person and not an object (thus, he cannot be "stolen" by your sibling). He is very lovable and makes friends wherever he goes. His teachers at school adore him and always seem genuinely happy when he arrives. They have made it a point to tell us how smart he is. Luke can also be a bit stubborn. More than once, he hasn't had a "project" for the day because he refused to cooperate. One day, that meant he would only write his name as ekul. Which, to be honest, I found pretty funny. After all, the kid is 3, if he wants to spend his work time writing his name backwards, I say, go for it! Luke only has one volume--loud! He loves to have light saber battles with Jack. My three words for Luke are silly, loud and funny. Thomas said cute, loud and rambunctious. When he grows up, he said he wants to be Spiderman.

Gus is pretty new to our family. We've only known him a week. But, my words for him are silly, loving and immature. When he grows up, I want him to be housebroken (sooner rather than later, please).

Thomas had a good year at work. He continues to receive great reviews. He was happy to go to lots of baseball games.  Although Jack didn't want to continue playing, he really loves going to games with Thomas and the two were able to take in several Nationals games. He is hoping to score All Star tickets in July. With me going back to work, he changed his schedule to arrive home a bit earlier. He has taken on all homework responsibility, which has made my life pretty pleasant. He is always looking for ways to make my life easier. Even with the new dog, he has taken over nighttime duties. When I protested, he admonished that I needed to let him do something nice for me. I am not sure why he thinks I deserve it, but I am very thankful for a husband who is so loving and kind.

As mentioned, there were a lot of changes for me this year. Sometimes, I feel true regret over my return to work, but mostly I am happy with the decision. The paycheck has provided us with more financial freedom and I like feeling intellectually challenged. It is fun to work in a building right next to Thomas'. Sometimes, we even take a quick walk (it's a 7 minute loop around our buildings) if one of us needs to clear our head. It has been a good crutch for me to have Thomas there, I frequently (like, multiple times a day) call him with questions and he is always patient and helpful. It would be much harder without him there. I still have to fight the negative self-talk over being so much older than my senior colleagues (my two supervisors are a bit older, but literally every other lawyer in my building is much younger). I frequently have to remind myself that the 7 years I stepped away from the workforce were both necessary and productive. But, it is hard to think of where I could be compared to where I am.

That concludes the annual year in review. There is a lot to look forward to in 2018. I expect Gus will make the most changes, at least I hope he will. Luke turns 4 this year, which is pretty crazy. I always think of 4 as that turning point from toddler to kid. He even picked his own birthday spot this year---the gymnastics center. Some of the birthday places fill fast, so we recently started talking to him about his birthday (which is in March). We told him his choices were the gymnastics center, a party at home, Great Wolf Lodge or Pump it Up. He thought by choosing the gymnastics center, it meant we were going right away. Like after nap. He was mighty disappointed, but we have it reserved. Not for the time we wanted, despite booking 3 months in advance, but we get to have it on his actual birthday, which is pretty cool. Kara's birthday is next month and she wants to have a Harry Potter themed party with a few friends. She wants to watch a Harry Potter movie and eat Harry Potter themed food. Should be fun! We have a big cruise planned in November, but may have to cancel to pay for a fence.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Our New Puppy!

The title of this post are three words I never thought I'd write. Ever. Sure, we've thought about it, even discussed it on a superficial level, but we always firmly settled back on no. We have four kids, why the heck would we add more chaos to our house? We like to travel. We take frequent weekend trips. Jack is allergic to dogs. We both work, it wouldn't be fair to the dog. There were so many good, and completely valid, reasons to say no. Yet, somehow we have said yes.

Our neighbors decided in November to adopt an awesome puppy. He is an Aussiedoodle, half Australian Shepherd/half Poodle. That makes him an "Einstein of dogs" (or so the literature says). He is low shed, and fairly hypoallergenic (thanks to his poodle genes). I've been super excited for them. I've looked at the pictures of the litter, checked out the breeder and had one of those superficial conversations with Thomas, where we concluded it doesn't make sense for our family to adopt one. Kayce and her sister decided to adopt litter mates. However, the breeder was in Ohio. So, they arranged to meet in Pennsylvania. There was another Marylander taking a third puppy and they planned to meet on December 23rd.

But, the third person never showed up. On the morning of December 24th, we met Kayce's puppy, Bear, and he was adorable. The softest dog we've ever felt. And, very sweet. She told us the sad story of his abandoned brother and we thought maybe. As we drove to Mount Vernon, we talked and decided we'd throw caution to the wind and take him...maybe. We weren't 100%, then we heard someone else might be interested and they needed an answer (not in a used car salesman way, but we still felt burdened to make an immediate decision). So, we said 100% yes. And, I've regretted it since.

He's a great puppy, but he's still a puppy. He peed 5x in the house before 10am on Wednesday morning. We watched YouTube videos and learned some house training tricks. Then, he "only" peed in the house 1x all of Thursday, 2x on Friday, yet somehow has managed to go 3x already this morning. I feel like we are back to square one in that area. For some reason, he is waiting until we come inside to pee and peeing much more frequently (like we did with our babies, we are keeping track of food input and output). And, of course, we are losing tons of sleep since we have to take him out in the middle of the night. Puppies are just so much work! Oh, and that doesn't even count the money. Not just what we paid for him, but his crate, x-pen, toys, vet visit, etc. Why oh why did we agree to this???

On the positive side, he has a sweet personality and is good with the kids. He has already learned "sit" and (kind of) comes when we call him. And, Jack shows no signs of allergic reactions. I think once we get out of the puppy stage, he will be a great addition to our family. But, this puppy stage is not fun. Fortunately, I think it is pretty short.

Bear and Gus (Gus has the blue collar)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas Fun!

As usual, I am way behind on my blogs. I had a list of things I wanted to blog about, but I am going to have to compress it a bit.

First, Luke had a Christmas program at school. He did great! They sang for 15 minutes. His teachers somehow managed to get his 3 year old class to learn something like 20 songs. It was impressive and adorable! We are so thrilled with his preschool.

Thomas and I were fortunate enough to get invited back to the Darrow's Annual Christmas bash. We had a great time. Somehow Thomas won the "find a chocolate chip in the snowball cookie prize" again. I legit think he has won that thing for 4 or so years running. It used to be because he ate so many (they're his favorite), but the past two years, he's just gotten lucky and they've been in one of the two cookies he's chosen. He and Alecia must think alike. We chatted, ate, played games, and then did the white elephant exchange. We got a new Star Shower (which is much better than the version we bought a couple of years ago) and a Newton's Cradle, which is proudly displayed on my desk. A good time was had by all!

Thomas has wanted to go to Mount Vernon on Christmas Day for many years. However, we are worried about a massive revolt from the kids if we ask them to postpone the enjoyment of their new toys. So, this year we went on Christmas Eve. We got there around 9:30 and toured the house, let the kids play on the ha ha wall, paid our respects at the tomb and then looked at the animals. By then, it was lunch time. We ate at the food court, then headed to the education center. We really wanted to see the new 4D movie, but it was getting late and we still had a lot to do at home (all I can think of now is bake Santa's cookies, but I feel like we had a considerable list). So, we left around 1. During this time, we were negotiating the purchase of our new puppy. He will definitely get his own blog, but it was by far the biggest on-the-fly decision we've ever made. And, for future reference, I will never again make such a big decision without at least sleeping 1 night on it. The crowd was fairly light and we had a good visit. We hadn't toured the house in a while, so that was nice. I feel like I learn something new everytime we go. It is also amazing how much of the stuff in the house is original. For example, in the dining room, you get to stand on the same floor the General and his guests stood on, while looking at paintings he personally chose and viewing actual chairs he sat in. How cool is that?!?!?!

Luke wouldn't be in the picture, but Kolten came with us and was happy to pose. I wish they'd stood closer together, I love this picture.
We got home around 2:30 and decided it was too late to make our big Christmas dinner. We had something quick and easy instead. We baked two types of cookies, wrapped presents and cleaned in preparation of the Christmas mess. The kids put out the reindeer feed from school and opened their traditional present of matching pajamas. Thomas read "It was the Nigh Before Christmas" and the kids were all in bed at their usual time. It was a nice, but busy day.

Everyone loves to roll out the dough!

Not a creature was stirring...
We put out the rest of our presents (way too many!) and went to bed around 9:30. Only Anna was alseep. We had told them they could wake us up at 6:30. Of course, I was too excited to sleep much. I woke up at 3, 4, 5 and finally got up for the day at 6 and was showered and ready when the kids came in. Jack said he had woken at 5:15, Kara at 5:45 and Anna and Luke right around 6:30.

I love that moment when the kids see the plethora of presents waiting for them. I know Christmas is not about gifts, but it's still pretty fun. And, my excitement is always over what people will think of the gifts I lovingly chose. I was super excited to see the reactions of my beloved family. As tradition dictates, we emptied our stockings first. This year we tried something new and chose names randomly from a hat. We let that person choose a gift, open it, and then pick the next name. We did that for a couple of rounds, then moved on to our breakfast of cinnamon rolls. Then, we finished opening and moved on to the relaxing part of the day when everyone goes off to enjoy their gifts.

Favorite gift:
Thomas: Christmas truce box, an old newspaper, and a Nationals Jersey
Kara: her American girl Saige and her horse and accessories and the LPS cruise ship
Luke: "I like the chubby puppies. I like the pogo stick and the last thing is I like my Daniel Tiger karaoke machine"
Anna: McKenna and her gymnastics set, the JoJo book and the birdsongs book
Jack: his books, Mario Kart 8 and his Disney Infinity
Kori: a new watch, tickets to see Adam Corolla (I love an event and Thomas has even coordinated with the babysitter!), and my fun Lego sets (which, thanks to the puppy, I haven't been able to start).

Anna and her favorite gift



And, Luke, who showed great restraint while waiting for others to open their gifts (much to my and Thomas' surprise)
Part of the reason I like to write gifts out is to see how the kids tastes change. Also, because I know next year they probably won't be able to remember what they received. Then, it is nice to remind people of what they loved and also how irrelevant the stuff really is.

On December 26, Thomas and the girls drove many hours to pick up our puppy. Stay tuned for that exciting story! Also, Luke wanted to entice Santa back by leaving out more cookies last night, but we explained Santa needs to relax before he starts his prep for next Christmas. It is sad to see the holiday season come to an end. Of course, we still have our New Year's Eve cheese fondue to enjoy. But, I hate the lean months of winter once Christmas passes.

One last thing to add--Luke has been a huge fan of the song Silent Night this year. He just loves it! He wants to sing it, sit in my lap while I sing it, listen to it on the radio, watch YouTube videos of various people singing it, talk about it. He is kind of obsessed and it has been pretty cute.

And, to end--my favorite Christmas picture.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Jamestown and Busch Gardens

On Sunday, we opted to check out and visit Jamestown. The weather was beautiful and we were excited to explore both indoors and out. Like its sister museum at Yorktown, it has a very impressive museum. We had a good time exploring all the exhibits and learning more about life in 1607. It was much harder and more miserable than I realized. I can't imagine being with those early settlers. Over the winter of 1609/10, the population went from 500 to 90, which meant that even if you were a "lucky" survivor, you were a witness to starvation and death all around you. It was also interesting to read about the business side of the colony, which I had never given much thought to.

After about an hour inside, we went to the outside portion. They have three distinct areas. First, the Powhatan area, where we explored huts and learned more about the Native Americans. The volunteers were very friendly. We heard about early food preservation and saw a basket maker working. That was another thing I hadn't considered-- they had to make absolutely everything. If they wanted to gather food, they needed to make the vessel in which to carry it. And, before they could even begin that process, they had to get the fibers and strip them down. It is crazy to think about!

Next, we went to the ships. One was in dry dock, but we walked around the other two. Once again, I couldn't fathom living aboard one of those ships for 3+ months! Particularly with the rat problem, which we learned about. From there, it was on to the settlement portion. Once again, there were lots of interpreters who were happy to discuss early life. We saw food preparation and artillery demonstrations. Anna and Kara got to play a dice game of chance. Anna proved herself very lucky and cleaned up!

Everyone likes trying on the armor.
Anna was super lucky!

After a couple of hours outside, it was time to get lunch and head to Busch Gardens Christmas Town. We arrived at Busch Gardens just after they opened. We took the kids (Luke mostly) to the Sesame area. He rode everything that was open, except the Grover roller coaster. Baby steps. Then, we did a few more rides before heading into 1 of the 2 shows I wanted to see--Scrooge. We had told the kids the basic story and they were excited for it. The show was a great production. Me and the kids really enjoyed it. Finally, it was starting to get dark. We walked around more and enjoyed the lights.

The only bad thing about the night was we couldn't find a place to eat. We tried one restaurant and the line was incredible. We asked someone who was coming out how long they had waited and he said over 30 minutes and the line had been half the size. So, we opted for a corn dog stand and got popcorn, corndogs, pretzels and drinks. $55 NOT well spent. That was the only frustration. Everything else was wonderful. The lights were beautiful, the music was nice, the rides were good. Everyone had a fantastic time. We saw one other show, an ice skating spectacular featuring Elvis Stojiko. He was amazing! They all were. Busch Gardens definitely knows how to put on a show (so much better than Six Flags)! Poor Luke had fallen asleep during the show, it was a long couple of days for him; he slept in his stroller as we walked to the car. Then, he woke up when we put him in his carseat and he was completely disoriented. He kept saying he needed his dad, who was driving. He last memory was probably sleeping in Thomas' lap during the show.

Ride partners!

Waiting for Scrooge to start. Luke was cranky and didn't want to watch--until it started and he found he liked it.

On the Peace on Earth bridge.

The picture doesn't do this justice, I loved this area of lights though. It was stunning!

When I asked everyone their favorite part of the weekend:
Kara--GWL slides
Jack--Visiting Jamestown
Anna--The first hotel we stayed out
Luke--Christmas Town
Thomas--being in the December winter snow
Kori--Christmas Town lights

A December Weekend in Williamsburg, Day 1

Following our busy weekend in New York, we decided to follow it up with a busy weekend in Williamsburg. We had planned for quite a while to surprise the kids with a trip to Great Wolf Lodge. We heard the decorations at Christmas were really pretty and it seemed fun to be inside a lodge swimming when it was cold outside. The base had a great deal for Saturday, December 9, so we made the reservation.

However, the weather forecast was not good for Saturday morning and we were worried about driving up. GWL was booked for Friday night, so we found an alternate hotel--the Powhatan Resort. By booking at the very last minute (Friday afternoon) we got an awesome rate of $130 (including taxes and fees) for a 3-bedroom apartment!!! It's a timeshare resort, but you can also book single stays. We picked the kids up slightly early from school and left around 3:30. Unfortunately, we timed it completely wrong and hit all the snow on the way. So, in our quest to avoid bad weather, we drove right into it! But, it was too late to turn back, so we pressed on and fortunately made it safely. We stopped for dinner along the way and got to the Powhatan around 8.

The apartment was amazing! It was 3 stories and had a bedroom on each floor and a little sitting area loft. The kids loved it! Luke was going to sleep in a big bed with Jack (he sleeps in a regular bed at home, but has still been using his pack and play when we travel, which he kind of outgrew about a year ago). But, there was some strange noise that scared him, so he wound up in our room in his too-small pack and play. He still sleeps well in it and I imagine it gives him a sense of comfort, but we are ready to travel without it.

The weather was rainy and cold on Saturday. Thomas and Anna went out to get breakfast and we enjoyed eating at the dining room table in our apartment. On our last trip to Williamsburg, we bought annual passes to the museums at Yorktown and Jamestown and decided to take advantage. Even though we couldn't enjoy the outdoor area, we decided the indoor part alone was worth the trip. It is a fantastic museum with tons of hands-on activities. Now that our older kids are all great readers, museums are much more interesting to them, but they still like the hands-on stuff too. They also have a great movie in a surround theater that we all enjoyed.

This is one of those interactive exhibits, you could write what Independence means to you and they projected it on the Liberty Tree. Very cool.

We spent about 2 hours there and decided to see if GWL would let us check in super early. And, they did! They actually gave us our room at 11am. We brought all our stuff in and then went to lunch at Taco Bell. Apparently, Taco Bell is our new Williamsburg go-to.

We returned and changed into our bathing suits. It was snowing outside and we enjoyed being in the pools with the view of the snow peacefully falling. As expected, it was crowded, but still manageable. Like our visit in October, Luke was really into all the big slides and we rode them repeatedly. We were surprising our neighbor's son who was there celebrating his birthday. He and Jack are best friends. He is only 6, but he loves Jack and Jack loves his back. They live across the street from us and we spend a lot of time together. Fortunately, I love his mom almost as much as Jack loves their son, so it all works out. We swam all afternoon and then had pizza and cake to celebrate Kolten's birthday. There were several other people we knew there, who had also booked the great MWR deal, but we didn't get to spend much time with them. For example, their good friend Ireland (Summer's daughter) was also celebrating her birthday and it was fun for the girls to see her, but our times didn't quite match up in the waterpark.

After dinner, I took the girls back to the waterpark and Thomas took the boys to the arcade. Jack apparently had a run in with a bigger kid while in the lazy river that afternoon. The kid got mad at Jack for bumping him and he knocked Jack's float over and then dunked Jack. Jack didn't tell us until later, but it had soured him on the park that day. We were upset that he had that experience and especially that some kid had put his hands on him and put Jack's head under water. Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do.

The girls and I had a good time. The lines were very short and we rode the slides over and over again. Anna said it was the best time she'd ever had at GWL. Meanwhile, the boys enjoyed the arcade. Luke probably would have preferred to return to the waterpark, but it was nice to have some time alone with the girls. Plus, we knew he was exhausted and wanted to try and get him to bed at a decent time.

We didn't take many pictures. One of the girls wanted a picture of this unicorn tree.

Luke thinks he is the center of any photograph.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

New York, Day 2 (Hamilton!)

Our plan for Saturday was to see the Saturday matinee of Hamilton. They have a cancellation line where they sell unsold seats (released by the cast, not picked up by the online lottery winners, reserved VIP seats that go unused, etc.). There is a 100+ page forum devoted to the topic and I read everything written in the last year. To increase our odds, we hired a linesitter. It felt a bit like cheating, but we only had one shot to see the show. There was a bit of confusion with the linesitter and on Friday night we though the deal was off, but to our surprise it all worked out. The guy, who I think was homeless, sat in line all night! We had agreed to $20/hour and they told me to expect 8 hours for this time of year. We did not want to pay for 16 hours and felt like they were trying to cheat us after the agreed upon deal. We told him to come back and do the 8 hours or forget it (all of this was done via texting, we hadn't met our linesitter yet and didn't know he was homeless). But, he ended up staying in line all night anyway and just charging us for 8 hours. He was, of course, first in line. We relieved him around 9am and the line was about 7 people long. There were two professional line sitters (ours was there all night, the next one arrived around 3am), a mother and daughter who had done the line 4 times already and had arrived around 530, a guy and his girlfriend (got there around 8), another mom and daughter (all the way from Australia, arrived at 845), then it would have been us if we hadn't paid the linesitter. Although, if we hadn't had the linesitter, I was thinking of getting there around 6,which would have made us the 3rd pair in line. After us, about 5 more people showed up before the box office opened at 10.

At 10, the box office employee came out and offered premium seats at $849/each. Everyone in the line declined. Around 1030, I went to a nearby Starbucks for hot chocolate. It took about 30 minutes because the line was so long. I came back, handed Thomas his hot chocolate and sat down in our other place in line.  I stayed there in case people got upset that we had paid a line sitter, which is technically against the Hamilton rules, figuring we would still have a good chance at getting in. By this point, I knew no one cared, but I had a comfortable spot on the steps and enjoyed talking to the fans around me. Anyway, I looked up a few minutes later and didn't see Thomas; then, he came out with tickets. Victory! Everyone in the line cheered for us (and their ability to move one spot closer, I'm sure). We went into the Marriott next door to warm up and then back to the hotel to hang out before the show.
The spoiles
The show was amazing! Our seats were in the second row on the aisle of the center orchestra. We could see everything, including the spit coming out of the actor's mouths as they enunciated the lines. It was everything we had hoped for, combining our great love of American history with innovative theater. We saw the understudy for the title role, but he was fantastic, very similar in style to Lin Manuel Miranda. It was a definite A+ and the hassles were all worth it. I am hoping to see it again when it comes to DC, perhaps from seats further back so we can get more of an overview approach. And, even with the linesitter, it worked out cheaper than buying the tickets from Ticketmaster like I had done for the February show (thanks to their exorbitant fees). Definitely a win/win! When we left, we were happy to see that the cancellation line did not include anyone who had waited with us that morning. There were new faces, presumably waiting for the evening show, but no one from that morning.

You can't see it on our faces, but boy were we excited!

Standing right next to our seats :)

After the show, we went to Times Square to see if we could squeeze in another show that night. We checked the half off board and decided on Avenue Q, which ran on Broadway for a long time, and even won a Tony for best show, but had since moved off-Broadway. Our plan was to try and walk to Rockefeller Center to see the tree at night, but we couldn't get close. I have never experienced anything like it. You legitimately couldn't move at times. It was worse than leaving a crowded concert or sporting event. Seriously wall to wall people. I couldn't help but think this is how people die in stampedes. If you tripped, you ran the risk of being crushed to death. We decided seeing the tree was not worth dealing with crowds and headed away from the Rockefeller Center area.

We thought Times Square was bad...

Then, we tried walking near Rockefeller Center. Insane!
We stopped and bought souvenirs for the kids and then went to dinner at a delicious little Mexican place, visited a comic book shop and then went to Avenue Q. We were tired, and kind of regretting the ticket purchase, but the show was good. Definitely more adult than we expected (songs included, Everybody is a Little Bit Racist and the Internet in for Porn), but it had a good theme and we really enjoyed it. Thomas actually put it in his top 5 Broadway list (Hamilton is #1 for both of us, I think we also agree on Jersey Boys for #2, then there is a great divergence in our preference).

We spent like 8 hours waiting in line or in shows and still managed to walk 11 miles!
We got back to our hotel around 10:45pm and went to bed. We woke early the next morning, packed and headed to the train station. Five hours later we were home and our adventure was over. It was an awesome weekend in New York, although I don't want to return at Christmas ever again (unless it's midweek). It was a good experiment for us and not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Parking the car in NJ worked out well and I think I would even venture in with the kids during an off-season. There was lots we would like to see, like The Statute of Liberty or One World Trade Center, that we did not have time for this trip. It was another fantastic getaway with my wonderful husband who was kind enough to humor me in undertaking this crazy adventure.

Friday, December 15, 2017

New York City, Day 1!

For many years, I have wanted to visit New York. In April, I bought tickets for us to see Hamilton on Broadway for February 1, 2018 (you have to buy them that far in advance or pay way too much). Thomas and I were super excited. The tickets were for a Thursday night and I figured it would be the good start to a long weekend. Then, I started my job on July 24. They told me that some time in early 2018 I would need to attend a new employee orientation. In the past it was held anytime from February to April. I felt fairly sure it wouldn't interfere with Hamilton. Obviously, you can see where this is going. The mandatory orientation is being held the same week as our Hamilton tickets.

So, we needed a plan B. We sold the Hamilton tickets (for a slight profit!) and worked up some alternate arrangements. Thomas thought New York at Christmas time would be pretty awesome and I agreed. We talked with Summer about babysitting the kids and the plan was formed. We went up the first weekend in December. On Thursday after work, we drove up to a Marriott in New Jersey. We got in around 9:30, so basically just slept there. The hotel had one of the best free hotel breakfasts I've had, I felt a little bad the kids weren't there, since they love hotel breakfast (not sure why, but they do). They had turkey sausage and eggs, fruit, waffles, baked goods, oatmeal, yogurt, etc. The morning was off to a good start! We drove to the train station, which was about 10 minutes away, parked the car and bought our tickets. The train ride to Penn Station was about 45 minutes.

First picture in NYC!
It was pretty amazing to leave the train station and be in New York City. It was definitely an amazing site. Buildings as far as the eye could see! We picked a hotel near the train station to make luggage easy. We dropped off our bags and started walking. First, we went to Macy's. It was awesome! The decorations were beautiful. We rode the wooden escalator all the way to the 9th (I think) floor and enjoyed seeing all the holiday displays.

The iconic Macy's sign!

Very well-decorated inside (and crowded!)

I loved the wooden escalators

Their Christmas area reminded me of Elf, so many paper snowflakes!
After Macy's, we walked through Times Square on our way to Central Park. Central Park was pretty and we enjoyed walking around. They had a little craft show going on in the park and we liked walking around. The crafts were actually more affordable than the art shows in Southern Maryland (I've always been shocked by how much the artisans around here charge, so much more than anywhere else we've lived). We bought some lunch, but nothing else, partially because we didn't want to carry anything around all day.

A nice green oasis in the midst of a giant city.
After lunch and Central Park, we worked our way to Rockefeller Center. We went into the American Girl Store to take pictures for the girls and saw the Christmas tree and skating ring. It was crowded but not unbearable. From there, we went to St. Patrick's Cathedral. It was amazing! Definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Of course my pictures don't do it justice. Google St. Patrick's Cathedral and see the wonder :)

Rockefeller Center!

After St. Patrick's, we walked by the windows at Saks (impressive) then went to Grand Central Station and took a train to the Wall Street area. I appreciate the simplicity of the DC metro as compared to the NYC system. I think it would take some time to figure it all out. Fortunately, people were friendly and helpful and we somehow managed to find the right train (or, at least followed the directions of others well). We visited Trinity Church, where Alexander Hamilton and some other famous Patriots are buried. It was also very beautiful.

Trinity Church

They are doing construction, but I loved the ceiling and all the stained glass

Burial site of the amazing Alexander Hamilton
Trinity Church was about 4 miles from our hotel and we decided to walk.  It was nice to see some of the different Manhattan neighborhoods. We passed by NYU and stopped in Georgetown cupcakes for a treat. We got back to our hotel around 6 and went in for a few minutes and then decided to go back out for dinner. I wanted either NY Pizza or Chinese food. There were plenty of pizza places nearby, so we tried one. It was just okay. It was a long, tiring day and I ended up walking 13 miles!

A new daily record for me
Some initial observations--1) the architecture of NYC is amazing! I loved all the unique buildings. 2) There are a lot of smokers; 3) after a short time (for me) the novelty of a city wears off. I was crazy impressed when we walked up the stairs from Penn Station. But, after a while, I felt like it was any other large city I've been to (DC and Chicago come to mind).