Category Archives: Travel

Visiting the grandparents’ Florida gated community: Top 7 observations

Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

I took Aden and Eli to West Palm Beach last week to see their grandparents at the posh gated community where they live for six months of the year. It’s an annual tradition that’s always fun and relaxing.

It’s also pretty predictable. Visiting their community– which shall remain nameless so I don’t sully my mother’s good name and reputation, perhaps resulting in her losing the best tennis court on Round Robin days– is like Groundhog Day meets Edward Scissorhands.

After so many years of visiting I’ve gathered some notes on life in the land of roses and retirees…

The grounds are stunning, but all the same. There’s not a blade of grass out of turn. The roads are perfectly paved (potholes probably filled under the cover of night when all residents are tucked into their 1500 threadcount Egyptian cotton sheets)…the landscaping is rich with palm trees, exotic plants and animals, and lush ever-blooming flowers compliment meticulously manicured lawns.

Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

All exactly the same

But every street in the property of 1600 homes looks basically the same. They aren’t permitted to personalize their homes or landscaping. On the plus side, no one has to think about upkeep or aesthetics, and it looks beautiful and feels calmingly familiar. But after a week, I find myself longing for my overgrown bushes, chipping window panes, and cracked driveway.

Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

Bike riding in the hood

There’s always something to do. I can’t imagine anyone ever suffering a moment of boredom, especially if they’re seeking activities. In the week we were there, the boys played basketball, swam in the pool, soaked in the hot tub, hunted alligators on the golf course, rode bikes, and played pickle ball. They could have also played tennis, golf, bridge, canasta, or Mah jongg. There are book clubs, charity events and wine tastings. It’s like college with no homework. Not a bad way to live.

Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

No less than 5 different rules signs in the pool area.

So. Many.Rules. It’s probably most apparent to parents of young children– especially mine– who enjoy testing boundaries and resisting anything that restricts a good time.

Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

Within the week, there were kids kicked out of the hot tub for being too young, turned away from the clubhouse dining room for wearing jeans or short shorts, and scolded for climbing on a waterfall in the pool.

Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

I have adventurous boys. How can they see that waterfall and not want to climb in and jump off??

The pool takes strict to the extreme.

Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

You can’t throw a ball, float on a raft, or give your kid a snack on the lounges. I heard someone call it the “no fun” pool! Though my kids stayed in the water til the sun went down so there is fun to be had.

Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

More food than an Elizabethan banquet. It’s a constant feast– like cruise ship amounts.

Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

Only one third of the buffet line.

My kids love the overflowing bread baskets they bring at every meal and indulging in the buffet, where you can eat yourself silly. Hot gourmet, cold sandwiches, a salad bar with someone to chop it up if you like. Desserts are plentiful– the most popular being piles of large fresh-baked cookies and all you can eat soft serve yogurt with sundae toppings. Heaven!

No need unmet. On a bike ride with Eli, he got very overheated and tired and we were far from home. Within 2 minutes I found a water station near the golf course that not only had ice-cold water but a fridge packed with cold wet neck towels. Eli had an instant recovery. There are several water and “free” Gatorade stations near the tennis and golf club. Every locker room is stocked with every imaginable amenity and plastic bags for your wet clothes.  Many afternoons there’s an ice cream freezer by the pool loaded with tempting treats. (Of course you can’t eat them by the pool, but still!)

Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

Chipwich near the pool

We took a tour of the card rooms and there was a counter full of snacks, including M&M’s, and yogurt covered raisins and filling their fists with free goodies may have been the highlight of the boys’ trip.

Baci at Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

Learning to play baci

No shortage of competition. Besides the aforementioned sports and card games, my boys discovered Baci– allegedly the fastest growing sport in America– shuffleboard and Pickle Ball–

Pickle ball at Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

— a combination of tennis and ping-pong played on a hard court with small wooden paddles and a wiffle ball. We got hooked.

Pickle ball at Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

It has its own subculture. There are certain customs you learn when spending time at grandma’s gated community. Seats at the clubhouse pool are coveted, but can only be saved for an hour, so don’t linger at lunch!

Pool at Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

It’s ok to cram as many bodies as possible into a golf cart with no seat belts because you’re only going 20 mph with little traffic.

Golf cart at Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

Most golf carts here have the owner’s name painted on the sides.

You need to stop and say hello to every one of your mother’s acquaintances because she’s been telling them intimate details of your life over coffee all season. The friends need to check you out and mom needs to show you off. It’s a grandparent’s sacred rite!

I tease because it’s fun but in all honesty it’s a pretty fabulous place to vacation with kids and we are lucky to be invited every year.

Thanks Nan and Papa Pat! Can’t wait til next year…..

Pool at Florida gated community grandparents visit on carpoolcandy.com

Holiday wrap-up: guilt and gluttony

I’m baaaaaack! Did you miss me? That was the l o n g e s t stretch I’ve ever gone without blogging people, and it didn’t feel good. But I had a lot going on with work and a new business, and there are only so many hours in the day!

Rockefeller Tree on carpoolcandy.com

The holidays only complicate things with all the customs and expectations to keep up. The gift-buying and wrapping, house decorating, party attending, family hosting, calendar/photo book making, card sending, cookie baking, good deed doing, and tradition keeping all make me want to OD on sugar cookies and eggnog and sleep for two weeks.

Something had to give.

I felt terribly guilty neglecting the blog and spent much of these holidays worrying that no matter how dog tired I was at the end of each day, I had not done enough. The to-do list loomed.

I hate that.

And I missed getting my ya-yas out in this space and hearing feedback from you guys. It feeds my soul! So please keep reading.

I have much to catch you up on so I’ll break it up into bullet points and photos.

–I started a college essay writing/editing business.  I’ve been doing alumni interviews for Tufts for 12 years and I’ve offered to help several friends’ kids with their college essays over the years so this year I decided to hang up a virtual shingle and make a go of it. I did a lot of research last summer on what colleges are looking for and interviewed several people involved in the admissions process. Then I sent an email with info on my background and experience to friends. Within two days of sending the email I had a few clients, and between October and January first, I worked with 12 students on more than 35 essays.

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I loved it. Working with someone else’s kids was a fun and enriching experience, I relish the editing process and helping kids express their bests selves, and I’m getting an invaluable education in the college application game before I have to worry about my own kid. Some of the students I worked with applied early and already have been accepted to Columbia University, Rhode Island School of Design, Villanova, University of Vermont, UC-Boulder, and University of Michigan!

Only down side was that every spare minute in the last six weeks– right up until December 30th– was spent reading and editing essays (hence the lack of blogging.) And now I probably won’t work with another kid until the summer!

— Hannukah came and went. It was all too early and too fast. I didn’t get a chance to properly shop and wrap. My boys don’t need anything so it was a challenge finding gifts that were fun, surprising, and useful.

Hannukah

Some highlights were Eli’s Kindle Fire for Kids, Aden’s video drone and a guitar, and Jacob’s Giants jersey and gift cards to Bagel Chateau and the sushi place in town.

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We also got to celebrate with family and friends, which is always the best part.

Hannukah

Family Hannukah party

— We saw the Giants’ season ripped away. Always fun and mercifully not subzero temps. It was an exciting and important game against the Panthers.

Giants game vs Panthers on carpoolcandy.com

It looked like a blowout before the Giants came back and went into OT…only to lose moments later.

Giants game on carpoolcandy.com

Lots of long faces in the car ride home.

Bergdorf Goodman holiday windows on carpoolcandy.com

–We honored our annual tradition: training into NYC to see the windows on Christmas Eve. While the warm December temperatures are a treat, they made getting around Manhattan even worse over the holidays.

Bulgari holiday windows on carpoolcandy.com

The area around my midtown office near Times Square was a nightmare and Fifth Avenue on Christmas Eve was a mob scene. You’d think the NYPD were giving away iPhones on every corner from the endless lines of people streaming through the streets.

Barneys holiday windows on carpoolcandy.com

We hit Barneys first… where they had an ice sculptor creating holiday works of art in the window. Eli could have sat there all night.

Barneys holiday windows on carpoolcandy.com

His brothers, not so much.

So we moved onto my favorite, Bergdorf Goodman.

Bergdorf Goodman holiday windows on carpoolcandy.com

Most of the fantastical scenes were made of Swavorski crystals. Divine.

Bergdorf Goodman holiday windows on carpoolcandy.com

Bergdorf Goodman holiday windows on carpoolcandy.com

Bergdorf Goodman holiday windows on carpoolcandy.com

Bergdorf Goodman holiday windows on carpoolcandy.com

Saks had an around the world theme, featuring the Seven Wonders… which was lackluster.

Saks holiday windows on carpoolcandy.com

But we do love Saks’ light show to Silver Bells music which lights up the entire facade of the 5th Avenue storefront.

Saks holiday windows on carpoolcandy.com

Macy’s had Snoopy and a message:

Macys holiday windows on carpoolcandy.com

We let the kids in on one of New York’s best kept secrets at dinnertime. Arguably one of the best burgers in the city, we snuck behind the velvet curtains at the Parker Meridien in midtown to try The Burger Joint.

Burger Joint NYC on carpool candy.com

It’s a hole in the wall smack in the middle of a posh hotel, that serves great burgers, fries, beer and wine. The boys loved the food and the down and dirty scene.

Burger Joint NYC on carppolcandy.com

— I ate and drank a lot.  From candy canes to Cabernet…. latkes to honey-baked ham, I laughed in the face of moderation.  Hey, it’s the holidays! But my jeans say I’ve paid for it.

We watched Star Wars episodes 4, 5, and 6 before seeing The Force Awakens. When you’re the mom of boys– who happened to grow up with a brother who talked Wookie and had every single spaceship and action figure in the galaxy– you become versed in the ways of the Force. I’ve seen the movies multiple times and I know my bounty hunters and droids.

star wars force awakens movie poster

(LucasFilm)

We got tickets to see the new one on Christmas Day so we stayed up late Christmas Eve watching Star Wars and Empire, and then watched Jedi the morning before our afternoon showing.

Aden, Eli and I loved The Force Awakens, but Wilson and Jacob felt only lukewarm and left wanting more. One of my complaints about 1, 2, and 3 were they were too long and the stories were convoluted. I thought 7 captured the tone of 4, 5, and 6 and was well written and edited, funny, and fast moving. It was full of cool special effects and charming characters, and I loved that the protagonist is a badass woman. Harrison Ford was great and I can’t wait for the next one!

I’d like to say my holiday week was relaxing but I was working a lot and hosting family and friends so there wasn’t enough down time. I did manage to squeeze in two other movies.

The Big Short movie poster

(Paramount Pictures)

The Big Short is a compelling, well-acted story about the collapse of the housing market in 2008, but I don’t think it’s a terrific movie. There isn’t anyone to root for and it underscores everything tainted, greedy and shortsighted about this country. Sure, there’s Brad Pitt, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling (va-va-voom) but they all wear such terrible wigs it’s hard to remember how hot they are. The breakout star for me is Jeremy Strong, the tough, gum-snapping trader who doesn’t suffer fools and is probably worth $50 million. One to watch.

(Open Road Films)

(Open Road Films)

Also made Wilson take me to Spotlight— about the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the epidemic of pedophile priests and the major coverup by the Catholic Church, exposed in a 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning  investigative report. I’m always amazed when a filmmaker can take a familiar story with an ending we all know and still build tension and drive. The performances  (by Michael Keaton, Liev Schrieber, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo) are understated and the story is very powerful. Disturbing topic, but great movie.

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We’ve become obsessed with the Hamilton musical soundtrack. U.S. history set to cool rap music from a Broadway musical?! I’m in heaven and Aden and Eli are hooked. Nothing makes me happier than when my little sports junkies appreciate art and culture!

2016 cookies on carpoolcandy.com

–We spent New Year’s Eve with family and friends sharing cocktails, good food, and lots of laughs. Hope for more of the same in 2016!

Good to back sharing. Happy New Year all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California Thanksgiving: Top 7 favorite traditions

California Thanksgiving Hollywood sign on carpoolcandy.com

Are you still digesting turkey and all that pie? For me it’s the carbs that load me down: sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and irresistible stuffing that makes me feel like I swallowed a beach ball, even days later.

But I wouldn’t have Thanksgiving any other way.

My family made our annual southern California sojourn last week and it was grand. After visiting LA and Orange County more than 15 times, we’ve seen most of the tourist sights so now we pretty much do the same exact things every year.

My boys like knowing what to expect and keeping up our traditions, and we have some great ones. You’d probably rather see pix than hear every detail so here you go…

California Thanksgiving The Sixty on carpool candy.com

We stay at the boutique hotel where my brother works as a chef concierge. He’s worked at the Luxe and the W in Hollywood, but for the last several years he’s been at THE SIXTY (formerly The Thompson Beverly Hills,) which is centrally located for what we like to do and whom we visit, and has swanky flair.

California Thanksgiving The Sixty on carpool candy.com

I love the great service and poofy beds, and my kids love the fancy rooftop pool overlooking LA, with a view of the Hollywood sign.

California Thanksgiving at Laurel Hardware on carpool candy.com

We loved the comfort food and couture cocktails at Laurel Hardware in West Hollywood.

We see friends and family. Besides my brother and cousin in LA,  I have two close friends who live in West Hollywood and it’s fun to see their kids every year and hang out at dinner, shopping, and in their hood.

California Thanksgiving family on carpoolcandy.com

Getting cozy with the future in-laws.

We had the bonus of meeting Adam’s fiancé (he recently got engaged which you can read about here) and her family, which was easy and more fun than probably any of us expected. It’s like we had known each other forever!

California Thanksgiving Tree People hike on carpoolcandy.com

Tree People view didn’t suck

We go for a mountain hike– It’s hard to find a healthy, social activity for all ages and genders, and I’m always looking to get my kids off their screens so hiking is ideal. For the last several years we’ve hiked Runyon Canyon with all the beautiful people and their adorable dogs…

California Thanksgiving Tree People hike on carpoolcandy.com

….but this week we tackled Tree People park which also had some nice trails and views.

Celebrity sighting in LA on carpoolcandy.com

We have celebrity sightings. Last year, we saw Will Arnett while eating lunch and was able to slyly take this pic…

This year, I walked by Nasim Pedrad (formerly of SNL and now on Scream Queens) outside a restaurant on La Brea. No photo. Had to play it cool.

California Thanksgiving Disneyland on carpoolcandy.com

We go to Disneyland. We go every year and the magic never gets old.

California Thanksgiving Disneyland on carpoolcandy.com

We got there early this year and made it onto Thunder Mountain….

California Thanksgiving Disneyland on carpoolcandy.com

Pirates of the Caribbean, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom all before 10:30am. We made the mistake of waiting to Fast Pass Space Mountain and the boys had to wait 90 minutes to get on the ride. (I skip Space as it makes me dizzy and nauseated.)

California Thanksgiving Disneyland on carpoolcandy.com

Cousins waiting to rack up the points on Buzz

Our collective favorite ride is Buzz Lightyear, where you have laser guns and have to shoot at targets as you go through a pop art spectacle of fun.

California Thanksgiving Disneyland on carpoolcandy.com

Buzz is my favorite ride of all

We are a competitive family so scorekeeping is serious. For the record, cousin Jeremy won this year. Better luck next time Space Rangers.

heads up2

We watch football and play Heads Up. When I say “we” watch football, I mean all the men– and there are nine–  watch football pretty much the entire time we are there. I’ve learned to let it go and enjoy the sunshine. But at night, after dinner and several glasses of wine we often play Heads Up on the patio and laugh until our cheeks hurt.

California Thanksgiving on carpoolcandy.com

Aunt Ruthie checks the turkey. We had 25 at the table but she makes enough to feed all of Orange County

We eat until we feel sick. Aunt Ruthie’s Thanksgiving meal is spectacular year after year. Her motto is more is not enough. She served three turkeys, butternut squash soup, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, stuffing, yams, asparagus, brussel sprouts, creamed corn, biscuits and dinner rolls.

Thanksgiving dinner plate on carpoolcandy.com

My favorites are the sweet potatoes with marshmallows and the creamed corn. Sweeter and richer than ice cream. Yum!

And you can’t load up too much on dinner because then there’s dessert….

California Thanksgiving on carpoolcandy.com

Only eight cakes, pies, and puddings to choose from– I needed to taste them all.     (Still working them off.)

Unfortunately, the trip has to end and we go home. But we are happy and full!

California Thanksgiving on carpoolcandy.com

How was your holiday? Tell me about your favorite traditions in the comments.

 

London with kids (part 2) more fun pix!

Sorry my London posts have been so s p r e a d   o u t!  I always want to be thorough in my travel posts and had to write about some other pressing news before I returned to our lovely trip across the pond.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Piccadilly Circus

My friend, MaryEllen and I took our 12-year-old sons, Pat and Aden to London for a week. Although we hit many tourist spots, their favorite moments were not museums or city walks. They loved getting left on a subway platform, spray painting graffiti on Abbey Road, and flying business class on the way home– all of which you can read about here.

But we did have some more traditional adventures in London that were fun and engaging, even for boys who like sports and video games a lot. My last post included our trips to see Big Ben, Parliament, and the Churchill War rooms. We also checked off the London Eye, the Aquarium, and the Tower of London (click the link for more deets.)

London is known for its wonderful theater so we got tickets to see “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” at the Royal Drury Lane theater.

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The show was terrific. Top notch production with beautiful sets and costumes and an inventive, modern approach to an old story. My favorite scene was the cool way they showed Mike TV getting shrunk and zapped into the atmosphere, and I loved the creative way they made the ensemble dancers into oompa loompas.

OOMPA LOOMPAS in Charlie Chocolate Factory London on carpoolcandy.com

My cousin’s friend who lives outside London hooked us up with tickets to a football (soccer) match between his hometown of Watford and the Albion team. We took a train and an Uber car to the game– which was a pain, but completely worth it because the boys had a blast.

Seeing an authentic European  soccer match was a cultural education.

boys at English soccer game on carpoolcandy.com

People dress rather nicely for games. Everyone gets there early and instead of tailgating, they belly up to the bar for wine or beer and a selection of greasy, traditional food like sausage rolls (a giant, fatty pig in a blanket) and “beef” potato pastries called “pasties.” MaryEllen was in heaven but the kids and I were longing for a hotdog or burger and fries.

boys at English soccer game on carpoolcandy.com

There’s no alcohol served after the game starts, and yet they were the loudest, most consistent and enthusiastic fans I’ve seen since college.  We were glad the boys couldn’t hear all the words to their naughty cheers!

boys at English soccer game on carpoolcandy.com

Although there were some exciting moments, the game ended in a 0-0 tie

Another day we visited the Tate Modern Museum of Art. There are so many wonderful museums it’s difficult to choose but we thought the boys may relate to the contemporary art better than portraits of 16th century royals.

Tate Modern museum with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Aden found this famous Picasso

We got the boys on board by visiting the gift shop as soon s we arrived to purchase 15 postcards of works by famous artists (Monet, Manet, Kandinsky, Warhol, Mondrian, etc) and creating a game around who could find the art on the cards fastest.

Tate Modern museum with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Aden liked this wacky Dali

Boys love competition of any kind, so they raced through the galleries looking for specific works and learning the names of artists in spite of themselves.

Tate Modern London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Art can be fun!

We moms got to wander through more leisurely and take in the awesome loft space and impressive collections.

Some suggested we take a double-decker bus tour but we found it much more fun (and a fraction of the cost) to take public double-decker buses around town.

On the top of the double decker

On the top of the double-decker

Using our Oyster Cards to get on, we always sat on the top by the front window for an excellent view of neighborhoods all over the city.

Have I mentioned I love to shop? One day we took the bus to Oxford Street— which is kind of like 5th Avenue in New York– to check out the scene.

London's Liberty store on carpoolcandy.com

Aden got a pair of British Nikes and I got some snazzy snake-skin boots at Liberty.

Interior of Liberty London store on carpoolcandy.com

Liberty’s famous fabrics are set up like streamers in the grand entrance on the main floor of the store.

Known for its signature country French/Bohemian fabrics, Liberty is a gorgeous high-end department store that feels like tiny boutiques housed together in a large mansion, decorated by the best eclectic Etsy designers.

Interior of Liberty London store on carpoolcandy.com

I couldn’t go all the way to London and not stop at Harrod’s. I’ve heard the folklore about the shopping mecca my whole life and had to see it for myself.

Harrods London store on carpoolcandy.com

It’s certainly the fanciest store I’ve ever seen– with every major designer represented and modern, glitzy displays. The building has been redesigned since Princess Diana’s former boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed bought it and turned some of the floors into what looks like an Egyptian tomb with relics and giant sculptures lining the escalators, almost like a Disney ride.

Harrods on carpoolcandy.com

The food section is amazing and I brought home tea and chocolate– which was pretty much all I could afford.  The best part, of course, was the shoe department, which is called “Shoe Heaven.”

shoe heaven at harrods london on carpoolcandy.com

Posing at the pearly gates

That’s my kinda afterlife!

shoe heaven at harrods london on carpoolcandy.com

I’ve documented my love for the royals on the blog before, so a stop at Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard was obviously on our must-see list.

Buckingham Palace on carpoolcandy.com

We joined the throngs of thousands gathered for blocks around the palace. It was fun the see the Queen’s home up close and all the pomp and circumstance of her royal guard. 
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There’s not much action, but Aden liked seeing the horses and the stiff way the beefeaters march in unison in their funny hats.

Buckingham Palace on carpoolcandy.com

As for food, we were traveling with two picky eaters who ordered plain pasta and butter wherever we went, so gourmet meals seemed like a waste of effort and money. A pity as London has so many great restaurants.

If traveling with stubborn eaters,  I’d suggest the Wagamama chain of Asian restaurants which has a variety of noodles and soups and serves beer and wine. We had a good meal outside at chef Jamie Oliver’s Union Jack after theater near Covenant Garden.

fish and chips london on carpoolcandy.com

We also walked through the food stands at Borough Market, a short walk from the Tate Museum and had a yummy lunch at a cafe called Bill’s also near the Tate and the Shakespeare World Globe Theater. And you must stop in any neighborhood pub and order the fish and chips. It’s worth the extra miles on the treadmill!

We could have stayed another week and still not seen everything we wanted to see. I can’t wait to go back! Tell me your favorite London spots in the comments.

London with kids: balancing culture and fun (part 1)

Last month, I took Aden to London for a week with my friend, MaryEllen, and her son, Pat.  It was a terrific trip, but as I posted a few weeks ago, the boys will remember the funny moments probably more than the tourist spots.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Checking out Big Ben and Parliament buildings in Westminster.

There is so much to do and see in London, we had to try to force some culture down the throats of those little sports nuts! Without kids in tow, we probably could have jammed 3-4 sights into each day, but with kids you must pace yourself and keep expectations low or you’re doomed. We kept it to about 2 major activities per day, which worked well.

London is one of the easiest cities to navigate. There is no language barrier, the subway and bus systems are amazing, and they basically spoon feed you information. To ride the Underground, you will need to purchase an Oyster card and add money to it in machines at the station.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Waiting for the tube in the ultra clean underground

The streets are well-marked, and every tourist attraction and tube stop has a plethora of helpful signs (like MIND THE GAP.)

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Those thoughtful English don’t want you to step off the curb and get squashed since they drive on the other side of the road.

On our first day, we took the Underground to Westminster and walked around. As soon as you exit the tube station, you’re standing in front of Big Ben, and the Parliament buildings are in the next few blocks. Westminster Abbey is also very close. We wanted to look inside and maybe even get a tour but there was a long line to get in and we feared the boys would wilt if we started the day waiting on line to see a church.

Instead, we walked a few blocks to the Churchill War Rooms. This was an easier sell because — although the rooms open up to an extensive museum on former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s life — the word “museum” is absent and therefore made the activity much more palatable.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

When you enter the museum, you go underground to walk through the actual bunker of rooms Churchill and his men used during World War II, sometimes not emerging for weeks at a time.

Churchill War rooms London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

There’s a situation room decorated with maps, sleeping quarters and a kitchen, all preserved to look exactly as it had in the 1940’s.

Churchill War rooms London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Each number you dialed on this period phone started a recording of a person who knew Churhcill commenting on his personality and leadership skills. I had to help Aden dial!

The interactive museum is very kid-friendly and full of memorabilia and historical exhibits. You don’t have to be a war buff to be fascinated by Churchill’s life, and we wandered around the place for at least two hours without much complaint from the peanut gallery.

London Eye with kids on carpoolcandy.com

The Eye is in the background

Now we were feeling ambitious so we crossed the Westminster Bridge to the London Eye. The giant, slow-moving ferris wheel is a total tourist trap but one of the highlights of the vacation for all of us.

London Eye with kids on carpoolcandy.com

It’s fun to be up so high for such a long time, and you can see the layout of the city from every angle, which made explaining our locations easier for the rest of the trip.

London Eye with kids on carpoolcandy.com

People on the next car brought snacks and champagne and looked like they were on a party ride (note to self for next time!)

We didn't go selfie crazy but some shots were a must!

We didn’t go selfie crazy but some shots were a must!

When you buy your ticket for the Eye there are several other attractions you can combine with it to get more for your money. There’s Madame Toussoud’s Wax Museum (we skipped because we have in NYC)  and a London Dungeon tour that is supposed to scare the crap out of you– no thanks– so we chose to add the London Aquarium. 

London Aquarium with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Aden loved the sharks swimming below our feet….

London Aquarium with kids on carpoolcandy.com

…and the touch tank.

Aden is an animal-lover and expert so we’ve visited zoos and aquariums in many cities. I’d say the aquarium in London has a lot to offer in variety, but it’s not a standout. It’s located near the Eye and several other tourist spots and probably great for little kids, but you could definitely skip it if you’re not into fish.

London Aquarium with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Was this sea turtle waving hello?!

On Day 2 we headed for the Tower of London— a must see.  It’s an original  stone castle/village that dates back to the 11th century and has been used as a royal palace, a fortress, a vault for the crown jewels, a zoo, and a prison. Now it’s a historical landmark where you can learn about England’s often dark and bloody history.    
Tower of London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

I highly recommend you take a tour given by the Yoeman Warders — an extremely elite crew of guards that are presently serving at her Majesty’s service.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

They provide all the history, gossip and literally gory details of English royalty and culture as they take you through some of the main buildings.

Tower of London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

The Yeoman telling us about the Bloody Tower (left) where many executions took place and two young princes were believed to have been murdered.

MaryEllen and I found our guide informative and funny, and the history lesson fascinating. The boys thought there was too much standing and found the tour a snore. But it’s worth persevering!

After the hour-long tour, we visited the Crown Jewels exhibit. Seeing millions of dollars of blinged out crowns, scepters and jewelry was cool, even for boys. Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside, but I bought post cards to show Wilson in hopes he’d be inspired.

crown jewels Tower of London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

You could easily spend a whole day at the Tower of London — there are many buildings and exhibits to wander through….

Tower of London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

A real torture rack where they separated the bodies of traitors by stretching their limbs!

…but the boys were getting antsy so we let them stand in the main square and watch the British soldiers guarding the jewels.  The boys stood for nearly 30 minutes waiting for the guards– as stiff as toy soldiers– to show any humanity.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

A facial expression or sneeze made the boys giddy, but they were really hoping for one of the guards to switch his rifle from one shoulder to the other.

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You just never know what will engage a kid.

Stay tuned for my next post to see how we engaged the boys the rest of the week!

Shout out again to our friends, Raquel and Chris, who opened their flat to us and helped us plan our daily itineraries.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Cheers to Raquel, our Julie McCoy of London!

All they asked for in exchange was some boxes of Aunt Jemima’s Complete Pancake Mix, which is unavailable in the U.K. Who knew?!

 

You know you’re on vacation with 7 boys when….

Last week, our family was invited to spend nine glorious days at our friends’ house on Long Beach Island. LBI is the ultimate Jersey shore experience: beautiful beaches, the old-fashioned Fantasy Island amusement park, plenty of lobster shacks, and enough salt water taffy and fudge to put you into a diabetic stupor.

All boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

The main crew

Our friends, Tony and Carmela*, have three boys, plus our three boys, and half the week we added a friend, to make 7.  That’s SEVEN BOYS, between the ages of 8 and 15.

Throw in two husbands and that’s a lotta testosterone.

When you have that many boys gaggled together, it attracts other boys, like a flashmob. We spent time with a couple of other families whose boys were eager to join our pack, ballooning our numbers up to 9 or 10 boys at a time.

beach football in LBI on carpoolcandy.com

Not great odds for the ladies to have influence. So what happens when you’re traveling with that many boys? Let’s just say it’s difficult to motivate them to do anything quickly. Getting them up and out for any activity other than Xbox or mini golf is like herding cats, or trying to move sandbags off a couch.

There were too many of them. Their group power and loud voices were often too strong to fight. So Carmela and I did what mothers of boys do: kept them fed and aimed for only one activity per day. We survived, but it was certainly a unique experience as you can see below.

You know you’re on vacation with 7 boys when….

All boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

….the surface of every bedroom floor is covered in Under Armour and Nike Elite socks.

boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

…..you need a group rate at Mr. Tee’s and the only morning they rise before 10am is mini-golf tournament day.

swimming on LBI on carpoolcandy.com

…..they insist on swimming in the ocean after the lifeguards have blown their last whistle, despite the crazy current and worried look on Carmela’s face.

swimming on LBI on carpoolcandy.com

swimming on LBI on carpoolcandy.com

…..ESPN is on 24/7 and double speak on fantasy football trades is flying.

boys vacation on LBI on carpoolcandy.com

……more than half your party leaves a gorgeous beach day to watch the Mets defend a 7-game winning streak.

water park boys vacation on LBI on carpoolcandy.com

…..no one wants to stop at any of the scores of t-shirt shops and craft stores you pass as you run to the water park for the second time in 5 days.

……the boys drink nearly two cases of Gatorade in a week

…..you drink 10 bottles of wine, and almost finish bottles of vodka and gin in a week. (Remember: SEVEN BOYS!)

water park boys vacation on LBI on carpoolcandy.com

…… you rent 3 paddle boards for two hours and the boys immediately take off into the bay without life jackets, a map or a plan for return.

boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

Serious game of beach Boggle

…..the interest in any activity is heightened by competition, be it football, cards, Boggle, or who gets the outdoor shower first.

…..no one goes to bed before 1130pm, purely out of pride, even if they’re falling asleep in their clothes while thumbing a game controller.

late night snack at Chicken and the Egg LBI on carpoolcandy.com

……one of the highlights of the trip is playing football on the beach at midnight and then ordering more chicken wings than will ever be eaten at Chicken and the Egg diner at 1245am.

boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

…..you take about 200 photos and not one has all boys smiling or looking at the camera at the same time.

boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

Never figured out what this gross spongy thing was….

….they squeal in horror if you dare put red sauce on their pasta or spill ice cream on their favorite shirt…. but they have no problem wiping greasy, sticky hands on their shorts in lieu of a napkin… or carrying some disgusting piece of black, slimy moss crawling with bugs and crabs across a beach.

boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

……you can be jammed into a narrow house, switch sleeping arrangements every night, and basically spend every minute together for nine days without any hair pulling, crying, or drama.

boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

Truth is, I’d do it again, quicker than they can deny dripping pee on the toilet seat. I love me some boys.

Special shoutout and thanks to Tony and Carmela for their hospitality. Hope your summer vaca was equally fun!

 

*names changed in hopes we’ll get invited back!

Our brilliant trip to London (in photos)

I’m back from a week across the pond and already missing London. When Jacob was 12 I took him to Paris with a friend and her son, so I promised Aden and Eli I would take them somewhere special when they turned 12 and this year was Aden’s turn.

I had not been to London since a family trip when I was 8 and was eager to see it as an adult. My friend, Raquel, has been living in London as an ex-pat for four years with her husband and 9-year-old son. She was gracious enough to invite us to stay with her in her North London apartment for a week. My friend, MaryEllen, and her son, Pat– Aden’s pal-  joined Aden and me on our English adventure.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

At the Tate Museum looking at St Paul’s Cathedral

I’m a researcher so I bought a guidebook and map and was online for hours in the weeks leading up to the trip, trying to plan the best itinerary and find great places to eat near all the sights we wanted to see. But like the saying “man plans and God laughs,” I planned and the kids laughed. I quickly learned it was better to keep expectations low and go with the flow or I would end up very frustrated.

We chose a daytime flight because we figured the boys would be too excited to sleep on the plane and then the first day in London would be spent sleeping (that’s what happened when we flew overnight to Paris) so we arrived in the evening.

Flying to London on carpoolcandy.com

The boys were great travelers and with the help of iPads, a well-stocked snack bag,  and a deck of cards, they managed the 12 hour journey with little complaint.

The first day we were all a bit groggy and got a late start. I tried not to be impatient despite my eagerness to seize the day in a new city. Rushing 12-year-old boys to go see historical sights in a foreign land is not advisable. Better they move at their own pace and eat a hearty breakfast.

Big Ben London on carpoolcandy.com

Our first day was rainy so we decided to go to the Churchill War Rooms and Museum. We took the Underground to Westminster and as soon as we stepped out, we were in awe of Big Ben.

It was starting to feel real for the boys, who even agreed to dodge raindrops to pose for several pictures.

London phone booth on carpoolcandy.com

(We had to)

Big Ben London on carpoolcandy.com

We hit several tourist sights the first day and were impressed with the boys’ stamina.

Having an apartment to return to every evening was a huge bonus.

North London apartment on carpoolcandy.com

Raquel and Jonas (and MaryEllen) on the balcony of their London flat

We had space to move, there were several bathrooms, and we had friendly faces eager to hear about our adventures and help plan our next destinations.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Hanging with Jonas

One of the best parts of the trip was watching Aden soak in a new culture. We took several rides on the top of the famous red double-decker buses, where he always wanted to sit in the front seat to check out the city. His eyes were wide open and his curiosity buzzing as he commented on the architecture, cars, and people.

London bus on carpoolcandy.com

Riding a red double decker bus

Wilson has indulged me twice, supporting these one-on-one trips and I am grateful. As I explained to him, most of our family life is spent playing, watching, and talking about sports. I live in a virtual ESPN Zone.

I didn’t grow up in a house with sports fans and rarely watched a game on TV. I have a mild interest in sports from a pop culture perspective and I love watching my boys play. But it’s not my thing, and they know it. So they don’t strike up conversations about college football stats in the car or call me in the middle of the day to discuss a Mets trade. Only Wilson makes those daily connections.

So I wanted to do something with each of my boys that took them completely out of their scene, and exposed them to a new environment that would open their minds about their place in the world. These trips allow us to share new experiences– learning about history, seeing amazing sights and eating different  food– while building memories that hopefully they’ll look back on warmly.

One day on the trip we were on the Overground and missed our stop. The boys correctly said we needed to get off at the next stop, but MaryEllen and I doubted them and looked up at the map to see which stop we missed, and in the confusion the doors closed and the boys were standing on the platform outside, and we were locked inside the Tube!

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

The boys on the Overground right after surviving 10 minutes alone on a London platform

Luckily we had already discussed what to do if this ever happened and they knew to stay put until we returned. But that didn’t stop MaryEllen and I from screaming “STAY THERE!” ten times as the train pulled away. There were 3 or 4 people in the car staring at us– the irresponsible, loud, stupid Americans–  aghast… as we burst into giggles. Parenting skills at their finest, we left our children at a tube stop in a foreign country.

We got back to the boys within 10 minutes and they were also laughing hysterically and didn’t stop talking about it for the rest of the trip. It was absolutely one of the best things that ever happened to them.

Abbey Road Studios in London on carpoolcandy.com

Abbey Road Studios in North London

Raquel happens to live across the street from the famous Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles made magic. All day and night tourists come to graffiti the walls outside the building and take photos on the iconic cross walk, like the cover of the Abbey Road album.

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One night, in the cover of darkness, we went down to the studio in our pajamas  and spray painted our names on the wall.

Graffiti on Abbey Road studios wall on carpoolcandy.com

It felt naughty and thrilling all at once.

Graffiti on Abbey Road studios wall on carpoolcandy.com

We also got incredibly fortunate when we got bumped up to business class on the flight home. It was the most luxurious 7.5 hours of Aden’s life, as he stretched out on a cozy bed, watching movies and ordering snacks from an eager flight attendant.

FLying business class with kids on carpoolcandy.com

We did a lot of amazing things in London– as you will read in my next post– but it’s the funny and unexpected adventures that they’ll remember, more than the Crown Jewels or Picassos at the Tate Modern.

I’m cool with that.

Huge thanks to Raquel, Chris, and Jonas for being terrific hosts and enhancing our trip! Stay tuned for the next post about all the fun things we did and many more pix.