Tuesday, March 26, 2013

NYC: Day 4

It was our last day in NYC, and we had to get up early in order to get breakfast at the hotel (which was a very expensive organic-based restaurant with $9 juices), and catch a cab to go Circle Line Cruises, where our "Statue of Libery Cruise" was taking off. They only had one tour a day that was a) specifically went around that statue and 2) was less than 2 hours long. And yes, NYC has a lot to look at, and yes, John, the tour guide was very informative about the history of events that took place on the Hudson River. But keeping my child in a seat for two hours, isn't an easy thing, particularly when you get there 30 minutes early to make sure you get a seat on the inside of the boat, because the temperature had dropped a bit and it was a big windy next to the river. The CityPass is good for a limited number of cruises, and it seemed like a good way to see the city (and New Jersey). :-)

X-man did really well though. He chewed some gum and listened intently. He tried not to get too bothered by the fact that the tour guide kept asking people to take their seats. John had explained that everyone on both sides of the boat would get equal time to see the same things. He explained that the boat would even be turning around at the statue so that both sides could get a good view. You couldn't actually go to see the Statue when we were there because it was closed following some damage to the island and the docks from hurricane Sandy last fall.

X-man and I had read all about the statue, so he knew it was built in France and got shipped over. He was also excited that in its heyday, over 98 percent of the people who came to America were let into America to be citizens when they came to Ellis Island (including his great grandparents).

After our boat ride, we walked right next door to the Intrepid Museum. The Intrepid is an air craft carrier that was in service from the 1940s through the 1970s. This is totally MacTroll's kind of museum. It was expensive to get into $22 for adults and $17 for children ages 7-17. The first exhibit we went on was actually a Growler submarine from WWII. It was tiny and held 90 guys, and as we were walking through it (you have to pass a "door test" before you board, because if you can't get through the sub doors at the beginning of the line, you can't get through the sub below), all I could think about was how it must have smelled. We saw only 4 toilets and a few showers.

X-man had specific questions about how long it took for everyone to learn what all the freaking buttons did. I could tell he was doing his best not to reach out and start pushing every one of them.

We made our way through the museum seeing all of the various aircraft on top of the carrier. The space shuttle Enterprise and the Concord exhibits were closed that day, but we had seen the Enterprise at her original museum home in D.C. when X-man was 2. It was never used to orbit space, so that made it "less cool" or something like that. But it was also recovering from Sandy storm damage.

Then we ate lunch at an Au Bon Pain down by the exhibits about the mess halls. Let me say that if you are in the Navy, and the Intrepid is any indication, you get a whole lot more space to sleep and move about on an air craft carrier than you do on a sub. I'm just saying... in case anyone was thinking of joining up.

We returned to the top area of the museum and found the "children's area." X-man played for over an hour at all the exhibits where he could pretend to be a helicopter pilot, attempt to put his hands in thick astronaut gear gloves and try to do things like attach valves or remove bungie cords or other simple tasks that are not so simple in giant gloves.

They also had a light signal for Morse Code and a "warning" alarm that X-man liked to set off and try to get other children to play with him. His favorite though was the astronaut cone that put two people in a very cramped spot for re-entry back in the day. It had a bunch of buttons that X-man could push all that he wanted.

After the museum, we walked a couple of blocks and hailed a cab. Metro fair was $2.50 per person each way. Taking a taxi down 42nd street was $12. We were good on the subway, except for a few people who were slightly annoyed by X-man's constant questioning on our second day. One moved two seats away from us, another switched seats to the other side. He was asking things like how people got into the tunnels to vandalize them with spray paint, and did they ever get hit by the trains because they were going very fast, and "Why is that man asking everyone on the train for money. He's a soldier, are we supposed to give him some?" when the man is 3 feet away. Or my favorite, "How many stops is it now?"

In the cab, he was fascinated by the fact that they have Touch Screen TVs, that are like airport TVs, they repeat the same news and game show questions every 10 minutes. I'm sure it would drive me nuts if I drove a cab.

That night, we took the metro to Times Square. X-man liked that when he looked up at the sky it was dark, but down on the street it was like daylight from all the screens and lit up billboards. He was, however, dismayed that that's all it was. A bunch of people with some lit up advertising. So, we ducked into a Disney Store (after noticing the trend of regular people to dress up in really old superhero and Sesame Street costumes) and charge a couple of bucks for folks to get their pictures taken with them.

In Disney, X-man looked around and keyed up Phineas and Ferb shorts and a Jack and the Neverland Pirates short on their big TV screen, and then we walked a couple blocks back toward the Metro and got dinner at The Counter.

We were seated next to two NYPD cops. X-man was excited to see them and said hello. Halfway through dinner as we were talking about all the places we'd been that week, one of them leaned over and handed me some fun playing cards. They were three "baseball card" like items that featured three of the dogs in their K-9 unit.

We read all about the dogs, which required me to research what the heck "Vapor" detection was. (Gotta be impressed with a Chocolate Lab that can smell an explosive 15 minutes after it's left the area and then track it down.) The owner of the restaurant kept offering them steak to take their dogs. But the officers refused. The dogs ate a specific kind of kibble. They didn't touch anything else.

After dinner, we took the subway back to our room. X-man was excited to watch the show Tanked! While MacTroll and I packed up to leave for home the next day. It was a very busy trip, but it was all the fun a 7 year old could muster. He wants to go back in the summer and play in Central Park and visit the penguins to see if Tango and her fathers are still alive (even though he knows they're not a couple any more).

NYC: Day 3

On Day 3, we totally slept in. I worked out in the gym and the boys watched some TV, until I returned and showered. We headed out around 11:15 a.m. and walked up to Rockefeller Square.

X-man was excited not just because he could watch the ice skaters (he's only gone once, and decided he didn't want to skate that day) but if you look in the back corner of the photo by the flags, his favorite store is right there!

We ate at a 'wichcraft, and then I left the boys to use the Citypass at the "Top of the Rock" and tour the Lego store, while I walked further uptown to meet my friend George at his office to catch up.

On my way to 6th Avenue, I heard this very loud music. An RV passed by blaring it. And then there were four more RVs. A police car sped by. I looked down street to the south and realized there several dozen RVs in some sort of parade. On the side of each RV was a sign wishing everyone a Happy Passover. And little Jewish children inside were shouting the message into microphones as they went down the street. Shopkeepers came out and waved at the parade. It was noisy, but very sweet. I managed to sneak across the street to the other side in a gap between slow moving RVs.

When I was done visiting my friend, I met up with the boys at the Museum of Modern Art. X-man was excited because he knew of some of the artists in the MOMA. He was most excited about Vincent Van Gogh, because they had studied him in art class at the beginning of the year. He was also fascinated that this was an art museum that had an exhibit all about the design of video games, and that there would be 14 playable games on exhibit (including PacMan). At the Natural History museum, we had to exchange our CityPass book coupons for tickets, which included standing in a short line. But at MOMA, you just walk right up to the ticket guy and he scans the back of your book and you walk right in. It was awesome. However, unlike the history museum, you have to check in any bag larger than a purse. I was thankful X-man was no longer in a stroller and required a diaper bag.

We picked up a map at the 2nd floor information desk and was told about a Child Art Activity being done on the lower floor. X-man wanted video games first, so we went to floor three to check out the design exhibits. He identified the wall discussing the design of SimCity 2000, and the original Sims game, first. He and MacTroll were like book ends traveling from exhibit to exhibit.

Me, I went and got in line to play PacMan. I felt bad that I finished the first two levels without dying, where as most of the people before me killed all three of their guys on the cherry level. Sim when I finished strawberry, I totally let the person behind me take over. :-)

Then we ran up to the fifth floor to seen Vincent. X-man searched and searched and searched. And when he found Starry, Starry Night, he asked me to take a photo of him with it and e-mail it to his art teacher. I have to admit... seeing this picture in person was totally worth the journey to New York. Its so bright and expressive. I have a thing for swirls. In comparison to MacTroll and my trip to Paris two years ago to see the Louvre, it made the Mona Lisa look dull and very boring. Her you can check out in a text book (she's not much bigger), but the Van Gogh was awesome.

X-man was getting tired from all the walking, so we found a bench for him to sit on. MacTroll sat with him, while I walked around taking in Matisse and Van Gogh and Monet and Seurat. I spotted Mondrian, which reminded me of our art unit at MMO. Then MacTroll took his turn. Suddenly, X-man got his brain back and saw the giant Waterlilies of Monet, and asked MacTroll to take him to see them. He was excited that it took an entire wall. 

After looking so much, X-man really needed to "do" something. So we headed down to the children's art exhibit. Because it was a weekday, and there weren't any school groups there at the time and most of the MOMA visitors were ages 20+ the kids area was pretty empty. The art study was about "people." And so there were magnetic shapes you could make into faces and this cool idea that I think would go over great in a pre-school room. You put up a dry erase board and then make three doors to cover a head area, a body area and a leg area. Then you take turns drawing in them. X-man went first and made a head. Then I made a body, and then MacTroll made the legs. We covered up what we made so the other family members couldn't see them. Then when MacTroll was done, we uncovered our bodily creation. 

X-man moved on to the another great idea for pre-school. It was three clip on desk lamps pointed at a semi-transparent piece of thick paper. There was a magnet board in the back that held pre-made shadow puppets, but you could also make your own. X-man spent a good 45 minutes down in the art area experimenting with various projects.

But then it was snack time, so we bought and shared a pretzel and some bottled water from a street vendor outside, and walked X-man to his reward for being so awesome: FAO Schwarz

It was right behind the big glass cube that is the entry to the 5th Avenue Apple Store. We walked in and X-man found some stairs that you could climb to look over the first floor of the toy store. He went up there and was delighted at how he could take in everything. And then he looked over his right shoulder and saw someone waving at him -- Iron Man! He waved back, and then ran down the stairs and got on an escalator to go to the second floor. There was a magician showing elements of a magic kit, and a woman with a colorful no mess drawing board. I hadn't seen that kind of "salesmanship" in forever. X-man cruised through the train section, the Mega Blox, the dolls, Barbie, until he found a mini Lego store inside the bigger store, where he found his newest hero waiting for him. 

Then there was a Lego minifigure movie showing the guys playing the large $250,000 piano at FAO (like in the movie Big). And through the other side was that piano. I asked X-man if he wanted to go over and play on it because the line was very short. He was too shy. But he kept staring and staring. And then suddenly, he walked over and waited for his turn.

He got around 3 minutes on the piano, which he said was not long enough. But he though it was cool.

We grabbed the Lego set he wanted and went down the stairs to finish the first floor. The escalator dumps you off right into a massive candy shop. X-man got some Gummi Angry Birds and some Gummmi coke bottles. Then we walked for 45 minutes back to our hotel room and ordered Thai food for dinner -- delivery. :-)

As we waited for it to arrive, X-man and MacTroll put together Legos together, and I totally iced my foot.

NYC: Day 2

On our second day in NYC, we got up and walked two blocks to Grand Central Terminal. It's the 100th anniversary of the train station (and also a key NYC subway stop). We went down to the food court and got breakfast and then sat in the station on very old wooden benches and people watched.

After breakfast, we went up to the main area where X-man discovered the Apple Store within the train station. He thought that was pretty cool.

Then we got on our subway train to go down to the Museum of Mathematics. At the MoMath, X-man was in heaven. We arrived shortly after 10 a.m., paid for our tickets ($15/adult, $9 for a child) at the computerized kiosk and whisked him into a wonderland. Like most kids, X-man enjoys museums where he can do things, and that's all there is at MoMath. He rode a tricycle with square wheels on a special grooved floor. He painted in patterns on a computerized screen, he played with the coolest version of tiddlywinks, where the connector pieces had different shapes in them to match up the long beams for a more complicated build. He danced on a Math Square lightup square, put fractions together to create an electronic connection to make a sound go off and played a plethora of math games. It's a small museum with floors 0 and -1. We were there for two hours, and after the first 15 minutes, we shared the space with a number of children there on school trips. It's a museum mostly for the elementary and middle school-aged.

After the museum, we walked down to Eisenberg's Diner near the Flat Iron building and had lunch.

After, we took the subway to the upper west side to play some more at the Children's Museum of Manhattan. As a first grader, X-man is somewhere between big kid museums and children's museums. He's find ing that more and more children's museums are geared toward the 2-4 crowd, and the Children's Museum of Manhattan definitely fit this mold. Tickets were $11 each. There was one entire floor that he could not access because he was too old. He did, however, enjoy his time on the first floor doing all of the "body" activities. His favorite was the "Royal Flush," which showed you what a healthy pee and healthy poop were supposed to look like. (They showed the unhealthy versions, too.)

He also liked the basement where they had a number of building elements. He and I sat down with a bunch of blocks and began to build skyscrapers while MacTroll checked out a small exhibit on the history of NYPD mounties. In the middle of our build a three-year old wandered over, looked at X-man's building and then knocked it down. The tears welled in X-man's eyes. But I stayed calm, this is something that happens at my workplace every day... a child is building something and a friend has a hard time resisting the urge to knock it down to watch it fall. I said, "Uh oh!" And then I invited the friend to help rebuild the building. The mother came over looking very worried and apologetic. I told her not to worry about it. X-man realizing that the child was so much smaller swallowed back his tantrum, and said, "If you want to knock down someone's building, you should ask first." I smiled. He smiled. Then he set back to work, and the little boy watched and bent down and picked up two blocks and put them on top of X-man's new building, lost interest and wandered off.

Since it was about 3 p.m., we decided to walk around the corner near Central Park and make it a three museum day by visiting the American Museum of Natural History. It was included on the City Pass, and unknown to me, included a movie at the Planetarium. Nothing wrong with dinosaur bones and a space exploration to close out our day.

It's a big, museum, but X-man was mostly interested in seeing the bones and learning about space rather than seeing a lot of "dead animals and fake peoples." We attended a movie in the Planetarium called, "Journey to the Stars." It was narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, and it was awesome. We've read a lot about planets at our house, but not a lot about stars. X-man got to learn how the sun was born, and that in 5 billion years, it will burn out (or perhaps go supernova). This scared him, but then I pointed out how long away that was. About how just millions of years ago there were dinosaurs on the planet, and that Earth changes a lot in much shorter periods of time.

But besides learning about our sun and smaller stars, X-man got to learn about "dark matter" and the beginning of the universe 13 billion years ago (or 13.8, if you read the news last week). He was also really excited to learn that each of us contains about a teaspoon of elements made from stars. (Turns out the singer Moby was right...)

We left the museum at 5:30 and were exhausted. It had been a long day on our feet, and my surgically enhanced foot was doing great, but the plantar fasciitis in my left heel was terrible. So, we cabbed it back down to midtown and ordered pizza from Two Boots. It was nice that they had a choice between cheeseless pizza and vegan cheese for me and regular for the boys. But we ordered smalls thinking they'd be individual sized. Alas, as all things in NY pizza, the smalls were gigantic.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

NYC: Day 1

Our trip to New York City with X-man was a success. He's a kid who thrives on constant stimulation, so being in the city that never sleeps was definitely exciting for him. It was non-stop adventure. We purchased our tickets, so we drove to Chicago to fly out, because they were cheaper than other areas. But we did get our hotel using MacTroll's travel points.

We arrived on Tuesday night and took the cab from LaGuardia Airport to the Westin at Grand Central Terminal. They surprised X-man with a Westin Kids Club bag that contained colored pencils, stencils, a sunhat and a postcard coloring set. We got a suite on the 41st floor, so it had a fold out couch for X-man to sleep on. We unloaded our stuff and looked out the window. We had a perfect view of the Empire State Building from our room. We pointed it out to X-man and then we walked over to it. Luckily for us, the line was minimal. The one thing X-man really hates is line waiting. It's hard for him. He can focus on a game on a phone for little while, but often times his body just turns to goo and he sits on the floor and crawls along. Sigh. It was the same at Disney World almost a year ago.

We had purchased a Citypass for New York when it was on sale in February. So we paid $89 for each adult (usually $106) and $64 for child admission (usually $79). It covered admission to the Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the only one we didn't use), The Top of the Rock (NBC) or the Guggenheim, a circle line boat tour of the Statue of Liberty and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). If we had paid for these out of pocket, it would have cost us $179 for each adult and $135 for our child. So, it was a good bargain.

We checked in at the Empire State Building cashier and picked up our Citypass booklet. (You pick them up at the first attraction you go to, and then they're good for 9 days.) Then we got a free audio tour speaker and went up to the 86th floor. There were huge chunks of white stuff falling from the sky. Like as big as my palm. I then identified that "stuff" as snow. It was in the cloud that was pretty much right on top of the building. We were inside staring out, but the audio tour instructs you to go around to numbers that are posted on the outside railing so that it can tell you what part of the city you're looking at. X-man wanted to go out and do this, but the only outdoor portion that was open at dusk was the West End. We waded our way through a lot of people and went out on the deck. I had to grab onto X-man's coat to keep him from blowing away. It was cold, windy and snowing. We were outside for exactly one recording from the audio tour before I hauled him back inside. We had gone during dinner time, hoping for a low attendance night. And it wasn't bad when we got there, but about 30 minutes later, people were pouring into the building. And others were waiting and waiting for elevators to go down.  You're required to go to the 80th floor (which is another waiting area) before transferring to a second elevator up to the 86th floor. In a stroke of sanity, the guards opened the stairs. We were allowed to walk down from 86 to 80 to get on a elevator faster. This worked great.

When we got down on the street, X-man looked up and was very impressed. He expressed his sadness that our Citypass did not allow us to use the "express" line to go up, or go to the "premium viewing floor" (102), but we had read the book "Sky Boys" from his school library and the amount of work and how high those guys were walking on top of iron totally impressed him.

On our way back to the hotel, we decided to pick up dinner, because we were wiped. The real challenge of our family vacations these days is trying to find some place where we can all eat. My child, who used to eat everything turned 4, three years ago, and has been a finger food kind of guy since. I don't eat meat. And I can't eat dairy without being sick. 

But in a city as large as New York, you can find places that serve to all. So we settled on picking up dinner at Bareburger. It's not at all healthy, but it did have stuff X-man would eat and stuff that I could eat. So we took it back to the hotel, turned on the TV and reminded ourselves why we haven't had cable since 2004. There was nothing on worth watching. But X-man focused on Chopped! and Tanked! (I made him turn off Swamp People.) 

Then we all curled up in our beds to get ready for our week of city life. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Winding down

As a family, we're starting to realize that our time in Chambana is limited. We're talking about parks we want to play at before we leave, restaurants we want to visit and friends we want to see.

X-man has made playdates in the last week with two of his favorites from school. He and Bubba went to the Y pool on Saturday and enjoyed playing Marco Polo with me and some of the big boys. And when we return from NYC after spring break, his favorite friend that's a girl is coming over to play for a few hours.

Most of the time, X-man is pretty okay with moving, but now that the sign in front of our house says, "Sale Pending" it finally seems real. I'm glad we've spent so much time talking about it with him. But he delivered me a note the other day that said, "I don't want to move. Love, X-man."

Today, I went to the dentist and got two old fillings drilled out and replaced. Next week Clawdio goes in to Dr. Mary to get a dental and a tooth removed. X-man has visited Dr. See, his pediatrician, and gone to get his eyes checked and he got his tooth cleaning last January.

It's like we're taking care of all the stuff we can now, so we can take our time finding doctors and what not when we move.

Tomorrow, we drive up to Chicago and catch a plane to LaGuardia. We bought a Citypass and plan on taking X-man all around New York City. He's very excited about the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Mathematics and going to see the Empire State Building and taking a ferry around the Statue of Liberty (since it's still closed). I haven't packed our bags yet. I may do that earlier in the morning, because I'm tired. I swear I've been taking my iron and my vitamin D, but I feel so sluggish!

I could use some sunshine, along with everyone else living far above the equator...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Run without busting my move

Tomorrow, I'm going to try to do my Couch to 5k run outside in the neighborhood on concrete. It's a walk/run mix, so it's not high intensity. There are no hills in my neighborhood or uneven farm roads. It's part of my attempt to be back to being able to run 20 minutes without foot pain on concrete for the first time since April 2011. It's been a long road. And I even signed up for a 5k the second Saturday in April, so I'd get myself out there to do it.

It's very exciting, and, yet, it makes me feel highly anxious. Every other run has been done on a rubber track, indoors.

But I must admit, I totally miss being outside. I watch this older man run his same route every day. He's run it since we moved here in 2003. It's like clockwork to see him coming down Rt. 45 in his bright yellow jacket.

I miss being one of the regulars.

Injuries suck.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Worn Out

So, I'm just gonna say it. Selling your house is not for wusses. Especially when you put it on the market the weekend of your son's 7th birthday party.

I at least had enough foresight to hold the party NOT at the house. We had two calls on Friday morning about showing the house on Saturday.

One buyer said the house just didn't fit their needs right now. The other put in a very low offer that we said no thank you to.

That Saturday night, MacTroll and I got all dressed up and went to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank Prom fundraiser. Some of my friends were there and it was fun to finally be old enough not to feel like being a wallflower. We all got out and danced and danced.

MacTroll saw that they were auctioning off trips in the silent auction. He got on his phone and found out which one of the Caribbean Islands worked easiest with his miles on American Airlines. And then he had me put in a bid. I upped the ante once and ended up with a 7-day, $2,200 package to St. James Resort on Antigua for $800. We'd been talking about going on a vacation at some point after all this house selling was figured out. And the places we were looking at were all $300-400 a night. So, this seemed like a pretty okay deal. It's an all inclusive resort, so it's not as remote as what we're used to. But we've never been to Antigua before. :-)

On Monday, we heard back from the buyers we had declined with a new offer. We weren't able to make it work out. And then they called me at work on Wednesday and asked to see the house again. They went by and said that they were still worried about a smell of gas in our HVAC room.

We have two water heaters and a furnace all that run on gas, so they all have pilot lights. I wondered if maybe the couple were first time buyers and just never had their own appliances before. But I called a plumber to be safe rather than sorry (because I couldn't smell anything abnormal, but this is gas...). He came and inspected all the mechanicals (even though they had just been inspected via our home inspection that we did before going on the market in January) and did a gas leak test on each of them and found nothing. It was $89 well spent to be sure.

Anyway, as it turns out, we got a call today that we have a new showing with a new couple today. I like that we're getting action. On the weekends, people have been driving by our house and taking the flyer out of the box. The first weekend we had over 200 hits online (and Joel and I swear they weren't just from us) at Realtor.com.

But this getting up and making the bed and wiping everything down every day is -- ugh! I feel like I'm living in a museum. We keep eating out, which isn't a good health or financial choice, because I don't want to have to be in a rush if someone calls and wants to see the house. Maybe the longer that we're up, the less anal retentive I'll feel about it. But right now, it feels like everything has to remain perfect.

X-man had a ball turning 7. He celebrated with six of his friends at the Savoy Recreation Center. He had an R2D2 cake from Cake Artist's Studio and gets to set to work writing his thank you notes today, since in less than 20 minutes, he starts spring break!

As for me, I've been having trouble sleeping. So much so that this morning as I'm finishing the house clean up and getting ready to go work out some stress at the Y, sleepiness hit me like a brick. Instead, I set my phone for 10:20 a.m., laid down on the couch with our dog and fell asleep. I woke up and took a shower and felt a bit more like myself. But honestly, I don't know if it's the gray cloudy day or me averaging 5-6 hours a night over the last two weeks, but I feel like if I could, I would have just hit snooze forever.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Lovely Letter...

Yesterday, we got a letter from Unit 4 telling us that X-man has been accepted to the gifted program. He did very well on all the tests they gave them.

Today, we sent the letter back declining. We were asked to say why, so I told them about our potential move to California, the fact that I don't like self-contained gifted programs and that we were very happy at Carrie Busey and didn't want to move.

When I went to volunteer at the library at the school this afternoon, I saw the principal. His first words were, "Did you check your mail?"

We were both very proud of X-man. So he's gifted and socially awkward. And in Mr. Scott's words, he just has different strengths than other kids. I wish it was that easy with other people. People recognize him as being different and they make comments or offer suggestions, and it's infuriating to me. Mostly because it's usually from a stranger...

Lately, I've been feeling boxed into the idea that we have to have some sort of diagnosis for him. That for some reason it will help him. But today, I'm bouncing back the other way. I guess we're still thinking about it.

As for the house... we are now on sale.