Updated: Jan 8
Florida - Virginia - DC - NYC - Virginia - Home
The first trip is the hardest, but like I said in my first Blog, Just go.
As a family we had always been active and had a sense of exploration - I knew that I still wanted to live and adventure, I just wasn’t sure how to make that happen on my own.
This trip was inspired and encouraged by many people saying “come visit”, “come visit”, “come visit”! And I thought there is no possible way I can afford to do this - somehow it all fell together beautifully. Most of this was not planned ahead of time, and what was, was not well planned. Much of the journey was spontaneous and spur of the moment - but much needed. How incredible to be able to leave Florida packed with a couple weeks of belongings and go see everything we were able to experience. At the time I did not know this was the first of many long road trips we would make us a family. But this trip confirmed I COULD DO IT and we COULD ALL HAVE FUN.
Honestly, I was a little depressed. My divorce wasn’t final yet, I was somewhere in that strange in between of what was and what would be. Christmas was a financial strain, but we made it happen. I was restless, I was trying, I was off for almost 3 weeks, (I am a teacher so the benefit is a stable salary and time off with family) I wanted to enjoy my kids but my house felt a little empty even though I was managing. Barely...
I didn’t want to stay home. So the day after Christmas we left to go to NY.
I called my Uncle in Long Island and told him we were coming up. I didn’t ask. I just invited the family up to stay with him. I admit, although I know he loves us – he was reluctant. We’d never done that before. However, my Aunt had passed away that last spring and now he was alone, and his health was not the best. As a Vietnam Vet he has taken quite a beating over the years and has had several health scares. In my mind I could kill two birds with one stone: escape my house, and check on him, cheer him up, and visit.
I’ve lived in Florida since 2000, although we are from NY. We have driven back and forth, up and down the East Coast several times – but I’d never made the trip as the only adult. So this was to be a first.
In the past we'd driven straight through. I didn’t want to do that as the only driver. My girlfriend Kim, who was living in Virginia at the time was the selling point. She was insisting we come visit. In fact, every reason I gave for not being able to come – she had a response.
“We don’t have money” – “You don’t need money, just gas to get here we have food”
"We don't have winter clothes" -- "I will grab you some next time I am out the Good Will up here is amazing"
"Where are you going to put 5 extra people" -- "We already have 7 kids and 2 adults, what is 5 more? Bring your self up here I have the space!"
Well - I couldn't argue or resist. It would be so much fun to see our friends!
And by the way, she did grab a bunch of sweatshirts and scarves, gloves and warm clothes that we would not have survived with out!! Good friends make the world a better place.
So here is a story about a mom who is half out of her mind and decides to pack her kids in the car and drive 1200 miles for some fun. There are several mistakes along the way, we laugh now looking back but I learned so much and really didn't miss any of the lessons! AND we still had fun.... (Don't worry, all my mistakes went into better planning for future trips)
The morning of Dec. 26th with the roof rack packed up and the car loaded with cooler, snacks and necessities we locked the front door and backed out of the driveway. As we began the drive down our street I saw a dog that looked just like our Leo sitting on their grass. The kids began to shout, "Wait, that's Leo!" and I thought, no couldn't be we just locked him in the house. But, lo and behold it was our 4 month old Golden Lab and so after a little game of chase we managed to get him, drive back to our house, and put him inside, lock the doors (AGAIN) and set back off down the road. How he got out we will never know, but we still laugh about it to this day. Thank God we saw him before we left town!
I - 95 is a long boring ride. Flat roads, no real land marks and green everywhere, the drive gets old fast. I had some car movies to watch on our DVD player, but it wasn't long before we had invented the ROOF RACK game. This is a very competitive version of I SPY where the first person to call out each roof rack we pass tallies all their counts and is awarded a monetary prize for each state. I usually give the winner $5.00. This game gets all kids in on a common cause and keeps the conversation flowing, which for a driver makes the ride much nicer.
Our friend's lived in Chester Virginia at the time and it was a 10 hour drive. We were SO happy to arrive that night (around 8 PM) and be greeted by some of our favorite people! They did have a beautiful home and we all slept in different locations between kids that bunked up and couches and air mattresses we were all comfortable. Kim and her husband Roger have 7 kids! And while they are a busy family definitely - they are all easy to get along with and since all of our kids grew up together it was an easy mix.
Kim wanted to show us around Chester and her area in the few days we would stay with her before driving up to NY.
Here even in the cold of winter, are trails and pathways leading to beautiful gardens and decorative landscaping. I had said we would have to return in the summer to see it all in bloom (and we did) The kids climbed trees, skipped across the stepping stones, ran, jumped, and wandered all around just happy to be outside and spending time together. Each trip after we went to Maymont, as it was a fast family favorite.
The historic movie theatre was built in 1928 as a grand movie palace. You can still feel that extravagant chandelier lighting and red carpets feel, which add a very nostalgic excitement to the evening. We took the kids to see Minions, which was not my pick but as there were 11 kids we were outnumbered and agreed to their selection. It was a memorable experience.
Kim's husband, Roger offered to take us up to Washington DC to be our tour guide. 2 car loads of day trip family fun made the 2 hour trek up to the capitol. Roger knew where to park and where to walk, the whole day we followed his lead and had a seamless outing. Except that there was a police man directing traffic, and I was trying not to get separated from our friends in the car just ahead of me, and I blew the traffic light. The cop was blowing his whistle and I said "I'm sorry, I'm not from here!" and kept driving. He was so mad! I heard him say "you don't know how to stop at a light in other states?" The kids were yelling at me for blowing the light! But really the low street lights are not very visible, and I was not used to the traffic pattern. Ok, ok, not my best moment.
Our first stop was the Ford Theatre.
We got timed passes to the reenactment of Lincoln's assassination and first you see the whole show then walk across the street to the Patterson house where he died. As a teacher, I soaked up all the history. The kids loved the very engaging performance and dramatic display. This is highly recommended for anyone visiting DC. We got there early, the seats did fill up!
The National Smithsonian Museum of Natural History was our next stop. The kids were so impressed with all of the animal displays, but also some of the relics from the movie, Night at the Museum were displayed and they wanted their photo with all of those! Mother score! Kids who
want to be photographed always makes my heart happy!
We walked over to the White House, and it was cold! There were Christmas lights everywhere and it felt like a combination of hustle and peace on earth. From there we crossed back to the Mall area where we explored some of the monuments.
The monuments are huge, much bigger than they look on TV or in photos. Being there felt surreal. The kids were running all around and looking at everything they could see. They were grasping the magnitude of the Vietnam Memorial, and WW2 Memorial. We walked that path by the reflection pond. We went by the Washington Monument, although we were unable to get tickets to go up, and we ended at the Lincoln Memorial, and it had gotten dark. The sunset and sudden dramatic change of lighting was breathtaking. If it wasn't so chilly, and we weren't feeding so many hungry kids we could have stayed longer and kept exploring. Roger had done a great job pacing us and navigating where to park and move the car so we were not paying extra for parking or wasting time driving around. It had been a successful day!
We had passed the Bureau of Printing and Engraving and my son Josh had decided he wanted nothing more than to see how money is made. This is a place that gives free tickets for tours through out the day and unfortunately they were all booked for the day - but we made a goal to return and tour.
I'd been calling my Uncle to remind him we were coming up and he had not been answering the phone! It was time for us to leave our friends in Virginia and get back on 95 driving North. I was sad, but also committed to the schedule.
December 30 - we left after a good breakfast and I'd still been unable to reach my uncle. I was worried! We played the roof rack game and ate our favorite car snacks, I'd restocked the cooler and snacks, and we ate ham and turkey on Hawaiian rolls and sang every song on the radio. Finally, as we were driving through Staten Island my Uncle called! He said, "honey I'm not feeling so good do you think you could come tomorrow?" - I said, "we are two hours away, we just got to NY!" and he replied, "well stay in a hotel tonight and I will give you the money for it".
I was disappointed. But I didn't want my kids to see how deflated I was. I asked Wes, who was sitting up front with me navigating to look online and see if he could find a hotel by Uncle Bill's house, and then it hit me - we are about to drive through the city. Lets stay there and we can have a little city time! So Wes found the cheapest decent spot - the Hilton down in the Village and it was only $119/ a night! SCORE! (He did reimburse us later).
Do you want to pay for the parking garage? They asked me at the front check-in. How much is that? $69. No thanks. I will find a place. For all of my life I have had a real challenge paying for parking. I have been known to drive around for unusual lengths of time to find a spot rather than pay. And find a spot I did! It was a good spot too. Right on the corner of the hotel we were staying.
I could not leave our roof rack packed up with our things on top of the car overnight. So we very carefully took all of our belongings off the roof rack and put them inside of the car. In fact, many of them came up to our room for the night, this is always a bit of work! Good thing for strong sons! Once we got up to our room and had a chance to stretch, I had a great idea. Tomorrow night the ball drops. The city will be absolutely packed and there would be no way we could move anywhere. But tonight, I think that we can venture out let’s head up to Rockefeller Center! The kids were willing and I offered them pizza for dinner so we started our trek up to Midtown.
In Washington DC Roger had it figured out that if we park the car in certain places we would have an hour to return and not be charged. I was not so lucky in NYC. I did drive around and look for spaces but the way the new meter system works all the spaces are paid spaces! So I put some money in the meter and we started to walk toward Rockefeller Center. We were a few blocks away but it was cooooooold.
We quickly remembered what 13 degrees feels like. Omg it was cold!!! Brrrrr We were ducking inside of the huge mega hotels for a few minutes just to warm up. We’d take the rotating door into the lobby and sit for a few minutes and rub our faces, checking to make sure our noses were still there. It was freezing. I am not one for touristy apparel, and I’ve never in my life owned any New York gear... but we stopped into a street souvenir shop and I ended up buying everyone a warm fuzzy hat with the pom-poms on top. Of course, they say corny things like NYC but I was so cold I didn’t care LOL. And the kids were freezing. So it was a good move. I felt like I was breaking the #1 Rule of being a New Yorker which is DON'T LOOK LIKE A TOURIST. There is no don't freeze your ass off rule.
We made our way to Rockefeller Plaza and worked our way through the crowd taking a couple of pictures and barely stopping to admire the tree. My youngest, DJ, had never been in a New York winter before and was shivering. Around the corner at Gotham Pizza we went inside, sat down and ordered a pie. This was one of those mom highlight moments. Right in the middle of the freezing cold and craziness I just felt like I was doing the right thing, and was proud of myself for keeping it together. Of course that was the best pizza DJ had ever eaten in his entire life and that took the edge off :-) In fact, I can still taste it if I close my eyes. Happy Family.
The pizza trumped the tree but the M&M store was alluring and all of the Christmas lights were much easier to appreciate on a full stomach. We grabbed pretzels from a street vendor and happily made our way back to our Hotel, where I got a great free parking spot to retire for the evening.
Josh and I were the first ones up in the morning. We went down to check out breakfast. I got some tea, Josh got a complimentary bowl of Cheerios. We sat down in a big window with a view of a lounge area and talked for a few. Taking it all in. It was time to get everyone going. We all showered and dressed and made it down to the car and right there on my window was a ticket. And the ticket was for $69 for alternate side of the street parking violation. Had I moved the car when I had been downstairs with breakfast with Josh I would have been fine!! I forgot to move across the street. Of course the Hilton could’ve reminded me but, I’ll take that parking garage next time. Off we go. Same price at the garage.... hmmm. Point taken.
Bagels for breakfast? Yes!
I did a driving tour of the city for the kids - which is the most annoying way to see Manhattan. It was so cold and we had some time to kill so I was willing to deal with the traffic and crazy people. At least we had the heat on! I didn't mind because I was soaking it all in - I LOVE the City. Yes the hustle and bustle speak to my soul. The creativity and history make me feel alive - there is so much to see! We drove by South Street Seaport and Wall Street Areas and of course we drove by Ground Zero, which was being reconstructed.
The I had a brilliant idea... I couldn’t be in the city and not take advantage of going to the MET and the National History museums. My two favorite museums growing up and I wanted the kids to experience them. Although Wes and Jazz had both been there before, neither Joshua nor Darrien had been experienced the grandeur. We went to the MET first. Yes, I lied and said we were New York residents to take advantage of the Suggested donation price. I donated very little (none of this was budgeted for and I was mad about the parking ticket) but we were in! I skipped all the other stuff and went straight to my favorite area, Egypt. Ahhhhhh, it all just made sense. We saw the pyramid and Sphinx and while the kids weren't sure about all of this, I was definitely alive with joy. Of course it was freezing outside and inside being heated we were all lugging around our clothing as the layers peeled off. Now we were carrying coats and sweat shirts and bags!
A couple hours later we were back in the car to drive across Central Park and into the Natural History Museum. Parking got trickier over there. The street signs were very confusing to me. I parked in a place that seemed too good to be true, so I asked a police officer who was sitting in her car nearby if I was able to park in that specific space. She gave me a redundant answer like does it say no parking? And I said no I don’t think so but I’m not sure. And I believe she nodded her head.
I was saving this stop as I knew the kids would really love the dinosaurs on the fourth floor. Wes, my oldest, kept asking if we could go to the place with the dinosaurs... we made it! I let them check out some of the animal exhibits downstairs which were reminiscent of those days earlier in DC, and then we made our way up to the fourth floor. It didn’t take long for the total mania of prehistoric life to hit them. They were running all around looking at everything excitedly, and Wes was eyeballing the megaladon shark tooth. It was huge. Everyone was happy. Then it was time to go...
... I wanted to beat the traffic and get to my uncle's house. Long Island should not be as long of a ride as it often is!
We walked outside and just like that it had started to flurry. It was pretty cold and a little bit of snowfall just made everything seem perfect. The cold's not bad when it's temporary.
The city was a beautiful mix of Christmas lights and clean white snow.... happy pictures in a perfect world - Until I arrived at my car and there was a ticket on the windshield for parking in a no parking zone for $80.00. I wondered if the police officer I asked have been the one to ticket me. I was mad. I was now out almost $150 just for not understanding the parking rules. It never used to be like this. I wasn’t sure if I was mad that I had left or if I was happy to not live here anymore. Definitely feeling conflicted we drove over to 59th St. bridge which is the free way home!
I called my uncle and let him know we were a couple hours away and he was anxious to see us. That was much better :-) we got to the house and received open armed welcome but within a few minutes I was running back out to go get some pizza down the street. Phil’s, the best pizza in Massapequa was a 10 block drive.
The following few days were awesome.
We drove around and would sight see during the day. I took the kids by all the places I’d loved growing up. All my schools. All my favorite food places. It was nostalgic being there. I hadn’t been home for so long. And since my grandmother had passed it all felt different. Then my aunt passed away just earlier in the year and I was feeling disconnected. Being back was strange. We were able to catch quick visits with some friends, and see some family.
We spent New Year’s Eve in front of the TV with my uncle toasting with fake champagne and eating more pizza. Of course I didn't tell the kids it was fake so they were acting drunk! LOL....
I’d gone to the food store and got some of the staples but was finding it hard to cook when all my favorite foods were all around me. Egg sandwiches on the morning, bagels in the afternoon, pizza at night. We were eating so good!
My cousin Chris came to visit while we were there. We drove down the street to the grocery store and he fussed at me about how bad my brakes were. I ended up going to Pep boys the next day to get them fixed. And they pointed out my tires were bald. That was a small fortune, and took forever! The kids got bored of waiting and took the train back to my uncle’s house (two stops) and I just sat there reading a book I'd found at my Uncle's passing the time.
The guys in Pep boys fussed at me for driving from Florida with the brakes and tires bad like they were.
Then my son fussed at me for how much they charged me because if we had been home he could have done the job for half the price!
But when my uncle woke up in the evenings we were there. Eating, watching movies and tv shows. He had us watching every episode of “so you think you can dance” and we were laughing and talking about all the different moves. Even practicing a few ourselves. Lots of good talks, reminiscing, catching up... this was what I'd been looking forward to. I was able to clean up the house a little and organize some things he'd been neglecting, which made me feel useful.
Snow!!!! It was great to get snowed in. The kids were outside making snow angels and snowmen.
It sure is pretty when you don’t have to go out in it. My Florida babies were learning how to put plastic bags over their shoes to keep the snow from getting in them and how to layer up!
Ok, the next day we learned there was a blizzard warning coming. It was already snowy. I told my uncle we would have to leave a day early to avoid being stuck there forever. This last day we had a ball. My uncle (Who has every channel available to optimum) played us some music videos and we all got up and jammed out dancing to Heavy D and the Boys “Now That We Found Love” as well as a few others... but man were we all a riot.
Then around 12 noon we got on the road to head south to Kim’s in Virginia. It was already snowing. LAter than we should have left. I didn't care. People were skidding out around me. I was driving super slow (with my new tires feeling confident) and just taking my time. We actually pit stopped in Hoboken and visited our cousin Rochelle briefly, stopping for a potty break. Her house was a good place to get out of the car and get some hugs!! Of course the ride was longer than it should’ve been but we didn’t get to Kim’s until almost 11 PM that night. She had saved us some dinner and made our beds for us so that we could all just eat and sleep when we got there. Now that’s a true friend! We did not stay very long the next day as we had to get back on the road. We were able to get up, eat breakfast, and I took my tea to go! I still have that mug from her house... woops.
One long (10 hour) car ride and we'd be home - it was hard not to speed. But I'd collected enough tickets....
At home the dogs were happy to see us. It was late when we arrived. After midnight. I was a whirl wind of emotions. Happy to have been back home to NY and equally happy to have made it back home to Fl - but so glad we made snow memories as children when it is still magical. We were grateful to make it there with a car that needed a tune up BEFORE leaving! We got 2 parking tickets on this trip, but also a free Hotel night in NYC, and we ate ALL our favorite NYC foods. We saw great art, learned some history and put some miles as a family who was going to not just be fine - but be great. I was dizzy from the long drive and felt like I was still moving when I laid in my bed. MY BED. Ahhhhhh :-)
On following trips I would plan better (and better every time) and fortunately most things do go according to plan. Our following trips I would check out the car better before leaving and line up scheduling with the people I really hope to see. I would even print maps and actually budget for traveling... but this trip was just to lift our spirits, get us out the door, and provide some quality family time - and that is exactly what we got!
-I believe travel is good for the soul. Getting out of your circle may help you out of a funk (if you are in one)
-Seeing something new reminds you there is so much left undiscovered. This is exciting :-)
-Being around people who love you is also good for the soul. Need a lift, find people who care. Spend more time with them!
-Road trips.... Be sure to check your tires, fluids, and brakes before leaving.
-I always gas up the night before leaving.
-I always pack the trunk the night before also.
-I leave at the crack of dawn to get ahead of the traffic and let the kids sleep for a few hours while I make the first leg of the trip quietly.
-The drive is part of the vacation, make it fun. Play games. Eat. Rock out.
-Food in a new area should be recommended by the locals.
-Plan ahead for stopping points. Don't try to push yourself. Don't drive tired.
-Be realistic. Know your kids, and be ready for the most common complaints. Have a response.
-Don't let anyone ruin YOUR vacation. You are on vacation too. HAVE FUN!