Thursday, August 25, 2016

Mixing Business and Pleasure (in NYC!)

For the past 4.5 years, Jeff has spent a lot of time on the road. We've adapted to this lifestyle (he has his own travel bag with separate toiletries that constantly stays packed, for example) and have learned how to cope without him when he's gone for long stretches. I thought his new position would mean less traveling, but it is actually just as much, and farther. There have to be some perks to this type of living, so whenever we can, the kids and I will join him. But since most of his travel is now by plane instead of car, that just isn't feasible anymore. Instead, we decided we would wait for a convenient time and fun location to come up, then leave the kids home and just I would go with him.

Which is how I ended up tagging along on a trip to New York City in early August! For the first day and a half, Jeff was in a conference and I was flying solo. I have always thought it would be super fun to go on a trip all by myself, and it really was fabulous. I spent the first four hours in Central Park. Every time I go to NYC I don't ever feel like I get to see the whole park. So with no one with me getting bored or tired, I explored the whole thing! I had my running gear on so I half ran, half walked around the whole thing. When I saw a side path that looked fun, I took it. When I wanted to stop and take a selfie, I did. When I saw a bench in the shade that just begged me to take a breather for a minute, I gave in. It was incredible. I saw so many things I never even knew were there! I started about halfway up and spend the first two hours exploring the north side of the park which was mostly unfamiliar territory to me. I ran along the reservoir with towering skyscrapers surrounding this perfect little lake. I hiked through the Ravine, where you can't even tell you are in a city because the trees are so thick and it is so quiet. I found arches, bridges and waterfalls. I explored the Conservatory Garden, which even in August still had gorgeous flowers and an amazing semi-circle pergola. I found the giant swimming pool full of New Yorkers taking mommy-and-me swim lessons. I watched families sail boats around the Conservatory waters next to a statue of Alice in Wonderland. I found the Hans Christian Anderson statue my mom and I took pictures with when I was 14. I did all this in 90 degree weather with crazy humidity! I stopped at every drinking fountain I came across and aside from sweating more than I ever have in my life, actually felt fine. I ran over 6 miles that morning and probably walked another 3-4 more. If only I could exercise like that every day!

I finally felt like I had gotten my fill of Central Park (for now) and headed back to the hotel to shower and clean up. Then I came back out for lunch. Where to eat when you are all by yourself?! After much deliberation, I chose a Thai place the hotel had recommended. It was delicious and peaceful. I could get used to eating alone.

Dog walkers. I don't know why this struck me as funny!

Then I walked over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Just like Central Park, I went in with no itinerary or map and just wandered wherever the wind blew me. I ended up spending most of my time with the impressionists, drooling over Monets, Renoirs, Seurats, van Goghs, and Signacs and trying to choose which ones to buy prints of for my house. I've decided I need to find a place in my piano room for Renoir's Two Young Girls at the Piano. By the time I made it to the American wing, I realized my "trip alone" plan was backfiring. I loved this art and was relishing being able to enjoy it at my own pace, but I missed having someone to share it with! I started texting Meg pictures of paintings along with my commentary. She played willing virtual travel buddy and shared the last hour at the Met with me. That's true friendship right there!

That night I met back up with Jeff and his coworkers. We ate dinner at The Writing Room, then went to an escape room. Afterwards, one of the local guys took us to the Doughnut Plant, where I ate way too many donuts (and took more home). My favorite was the Tres Leches doughnut.

The next morning, I walked my way across Central Park to get to the temple, with a slight detour to pick up some cookies at Levain Bakery. Although I had only walked across the narrow end of the park, the crazy humidity had caused me to sweat through every layer. Air conditioning had never been so welcome! In the temple, I asked if I could do baptisms or sealings, since I had brought some family names with me. They weren't sure if they'd be able to do either right that moment, but after a bit of a wild goose chase, a whole team of temple workers came down to the baptistry so I could baptize my ancestors! They were all so sweet and never complained or grumbled about the inconvenience. I baptized another 15 or so names in addition to my own two, and did a gazillion confirmations so I felt a little better about having them open up the baptistry just for me. They helped me see that it wasn't for me at all, but for the people who's work we were doing, and for that it is always worth it.

The line at Levain Bakery. This place is popular!

Back in the dressing room, I had to dry my clothes with a blow dryer because they were still damp from my sweaty walk over. If the dry Utah climate has caused me to sweat less this summer, I made up for in just in those 4 days we were in New York! As I came out and went to retrieve my family names, a temple worker asked if I would like a tour since I had come all that way and only seen the baptistry. Well how do I say no to that! He took me up to the 4th floor where the clothing rental and offices are, the 5th floor to see the endowment rooms and celestial room, then up to the 6th floor to see the sealing rooms. The decor is very pure and white, something I feel like a lot of temples lately are (very tastefully, granted) straying from. He also took me over to the meetinghouse side to see some art on display, and the window where you can see the angel Moroni from inside the building. I felt like I had struck gold with my temple trip that day.

By early afternoon, Jeff's conference had ended and we rendezvoused at our new hotel, the Marriott Essex right on the south side of Central Park. The location was so ideal that we never ended up buying a subway pass like I had intended, but just bough a pass to load up as needed. I think we only rode the subway three times, and each time we could have walked almost as fast. We did use Uber a few times, which was a first for both of us, and generally a good experience, although we had one driver that had us fearing for our lives and the lives of every pedestrian on our route with his crazy maneuvers.

From this point on we switched into show gear. I was determined to see as many Broadway shows as we could, and we packed three into a 24-hour period. The first day we tried our hand at TKTS and ended up with tickets to Fun Home. I'll review all the shows we saw in another post. After getting our tickets, we walked over to Eataly to explore the indoor Italian market full of fresh pastas, meat, breads, gelatto and anything else Italian you could possibly want. We bought some lemon blueberry dessert foccacia that was heavenly, then stopped in the Lego store to send Logan some teaser photos. Now and then throughout the trip I would text or Voxer Logan, since I knew he'd be glued to the iPad while we were gone. It was fun to have that communication channel open, and gave me an idea of what's in store down the road. For dinner we ended up at Tappo, a pizza place recommended to us by the AT&T employee. It was really, really, really good.

The next day we basically just killed time waiting for shows to start. We started off with a quick breakfast in the concierge lounge (where Wolf Blitzer served himself at the buffet right next to us!) then headed over to the theater district to wait for rush tickets to Finding Neverland. With our $32 2nd row tickets in hand, we walked back to Central Park and rented bikes. We rode all over the park, making a few detours to show Jeff the places I had discovered earlier. This made three days in a row I had spent a good chunk of time in Central Park. I loved this trip!

To recharge after our bike ride, we settled in for our matinee show, then decided to revisit a stop from our last trip, Max Brenner's Chocolate Bar. Our mole burrito was good, although not as good as I remembered, but our Chocolate Mess Party for Two made up for it. (Description from the menu: warm chocolate mud cake in milk chocolate ganache, piles of whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, chocolate chunks and toffee sauce. Served with strawberries, bananas and Choco-pops.) After dinner we went to our third show, The Waitress.

Drunk on chocolate and showtunes, we walked back to our hotel to rest up for our flight home the next morning. As an example of Jeff's crazy travel schedule, he couldn't even fly home with me, but parted ways at the airport to fly to Pittsburg for his next set of meetings. I am so lucky to have him. How many husbands would support their wife's travel obsessions and encourage them to come along on business trips, then let them dictate the schedule for his time off even when it means window shopping and musicals for two days straight? He's one in a million.

Unplugged Week

The week of our Bear Lake reunion, Logan had a complete melt down. We made him put away his Kindle and come downstairs to be with the family, and he burst into tears. He started telling me that he was afraid of people and just liked being by himself. Say what?? It was then that I decided we needed an intervention!

For seven glorious days after the reunion ended, we had an unplugged week at our house. No TV, no movies, no tablets, no phones, no computers. It's crazy to realize how many of these things have come about just in my kids' lifetimes! It shouldn't be so unrealistic to power everything down for awhile. The kids actually took it really well. They understood that it wouldn't be forever, and accepted the week for what it was: a chance to reconnect with real life!

I loved their creativity during our unplugged week, albeit the accompanying messes were larger than usual. They were building forts, playing games, making up plays, reading books, setting up battle grounds, playing with the hose in the backyard, and getting crafty, to name a few. Since the rule was simple and straightforward, we didn't spend a lot of time in negotiations. They just found other things to do. It was wonderful.

In order to be effective, we decided this had to be a family effort. So Jeff and I swore off our screens as well. I found I didn't miss the TV, but it was super hard not to grab my phone or jump on the computer. I had to make exceptions now and then (bills have to be paid), but for the most part, stayed off as much as possible.

At the end of the week, I found myself torn. On the one hand, I think I could live just fine without iPad, Kindles, Netflix, YouTube and Minecraft competing for my kids' attention. But on the other, I was sure glad to just sit down and watch a movie together as a family when our week ended. I don't know for sure if Logan overcame his "fear of people" during the week, but I think there was definitely progress made.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Choir Camp

I am definitely living vicariously through my oldest daughter right now. She's shown an interest in singing since, well, she could talk, and now I am finally finding outlets for me, er her, to use her voice. I'm treading carefully, since as of May she wanted to quit her children's choir, went through multiple auditions but didn't make it into a more "fun" choir,  and chose not to audition for Annie Jr. But when her choir director told us about a summer symposium choir directed by Ryan Murphy, associate director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I couldn't let her pass that up!

As we walked in on the first day, Savannah pulled out her rare shy side and clung to my arm a little more tightly than usual. I told Savannah to go make a new friend and she balked at first, but I fed her some conversation starters and the next thing I knew she and another little girl were all giggles. By the end of the week, she was so sad not to see her new friend every day anymore. Every day she would come out with a big grin and tell me how much she loved singing in this choir. Phew!

On Saturday after the camp had ended, they held a concert to showcase their work. I probably need to clarify a bit. The camp was actually an orchestra camp, with the campers separated into three orchestras based on ability. The choir was a 1-hour enrichment in the middle of the day that the orchestra attendees could chose to go to.... or you could just sign up for that one enrichment class. So most of the concert was an orchestra concert, with just a short interlude by the choir. The instrumental parts of this showcase were a rare treat for us. The last (and most advanced) orchestra was absolutely incredible. They played an original Rachmaninoff, and the score to E.T. It was gorgeous and now I want all my kids to played stringed instruments.

This video is really long, but if you need some background music sometime, just turn it on and listen. So cool.

The choir only sang three songs, but I was so impressed by all of them. They were accompanied by a professional orchestra (brought in to supplement the children's orchestras), which really brought an added depth to their performance. The last song, Brazzle Dazzle Day, from the original Pete's Dragon, was arranged by none other than Ryan Murphy himself. It was announced that he had composed the orchestration to the song just two days earlier! What a privilege to experience such talent. I hope one day Savannah can appreciate what a rare thing it was to sing under him.

Brazzle Dazzle Day: (Savannah obviously could have used a potty break before going on)

How Can I Keep From Singing:

Bear Lake Reunion Continued

More fun from our Bear Lake reunion:

Silly cousins in the pool! I hope these three always stay as good of friends as they are now. They will need each other in their teenage years.

Jumbo kerplunk!

Isabelle is a very dramatic game player.

 Just before this turn, Izzy said sternly, "Uncle Joe, whatever you do, don't drop the balls!" Whoops!

How many kids can you fit around one tablet?

Stories with Grandpa on the deck.


Service project with Aunt Ashley.

Cheeto heads. What a riot!

The last night the kids were being extra sneaky. They invited all the adults to the loft where they'd set up a date night for us! They had snacks set up and had made a dance floor out of foam pads. We all danced for a good while and had the best kind of fun of all, the spontaneous kind!

The required grandchild picture. I only had to swap five heads to get this one!

You can't go to bear lake without stopping for some burgers and raspberry shakes.

Our third day, we decided to head back to the lake for more water fun, but didn't want to pay the $10 parking fee for three cars. Since it was a super short trip, we packed seventeen people into a 7-seater minivan! (Coincidentally, the same van we piled in after the Speedy Spaniard.) It was super crowded, and we made the kids duck as we drove through the guard gate. As soon as we had paid and started to pull away, Savannah yells, "SHE LET US IN!" Way to give away our cover, Savannah!

The whole gang.

This postcard photo op was cracking us up!

The last morning I dragged myself out of bed to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful and so peaceful. Goodbye, Bear Lake. You've been good to us.