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Archive for the 'Vacation' Category

Our blended family vacation


There’s always a unique kind of dynamic with these situations — in our case two parents, each with their own child. That’s our blended family.

Last week we all hauled ourselves upstate and settled into a lakeside cabin, and I came away with some observations.

The interesting dynamic is how a blended family operates in these situations. We did all of the family activities you would expect: Canoeing, swimming, toasting marshmallows, taking a hike to a waterfall, etc.

But, in the end, there’s always a bit of a division that happens at the end of the day. That’s not to say it’s in a bad way, necessarily. But, ultimately, I gravitate toward my son and my girlfriend towards hers. The inescapable fact is that I am ultimately responsible for my son and she for hers, much as we do generally function as a family.

Is that bad? As I said, not necessarily.

But it’s certainly a different component that you don’t find in your traditional family. The hope is that, with time, those divisions are minimized. But I suspect they’ll always be there in some capacity.

My question is does this happen in traditonal families also?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, July 13th, 2009 at 12:31 pm |

Recommended: Pacem in Terris


Pretty unique and rewarding Father’s Day for me this year, and something I’d recommend.

We shelved the idea of a cookout or a ballgame this time out, and instead headed upstate to Warwick to visit Pacem in Terris — six acres of sculpture and meditation gardens along the Wawayanda River.

The gardens are the life work of Frederick Franck, a Dutch-born sculptor and author who spent nearly half a century adorning the land around his home with sculptures, artwork and meditation spaces. The NY Times did a nice piece on it three years ago.

Pacem in Terris essentially translates from Latin to mean Peace on Earth, and it’s in keeping with Franck’s spiritual outlook on life. Franck, who wrote more than 30 books on Buddhism and other subjects, died in 2006 at the age of 97, and the property is now maintained by his son, Lukas, as a nonprofit corporation.

Pacem is laced with Franck’s message, and immediately alerts visitors that it is “neither church, nor chapel, nor temple.” He cites his associations with Albert Schweitzer, Pope John XXIII and Buddhist scholar Daisetz Suzuki with helping shape his world view — and homages to them abound throughout.

Franck, a dental surgeon-turned artist, also has his work on display at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Tokyo National Museum and St. John the Divine Church.

My girlfriend turned us on to the place, which she frequented in past during times when she sought solace and tranquility. It was also a hit for my son, who is 11.

I would note that younger children may not be as enthralled — the place is not a playground. But for older kids, it’s a worthwhile experience. My son was very taken by it and was very vocal about appreciating that he and I shared it on Father’s Day.

Anyway, Pacem in Terris is at 96 Covered Bridge Road in Warwick, and, while it’s a tad out of the way, it’s worth a trip. Most of it is literally in Franck’s back yard, so visitors are asked to be respectful.

However, it is also free, and opens to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jfitzgibbon

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, June 22nd, 2009 at 10:30 am |

Playing hooky: a parental judgement call


Well, I did it: I kept my son out of school on Friday even though he had two tests and a project due. And I hope I’m not getting him in trouble by posting on it.

Okay, so the truth is I arranged with his teachers to have him take both tests on Thursday, and hand in his portion of a team alegebra project the same day. So, the damage was minimal, if there was any at all.

But in the end I reasoned that he wouldn’t remember that day at school in years to come. He will, however, always remember our day: We went to the free Green Day concert at Central Park for the Good Morning American summer concert series.

Needless to say, it’s his favorite band, and pretty high on my list as well. And I can’t ask for a better day, nor a more fun outing for him (above). No, that’s not me on the right. I took the photo. (I still have a tad more “coverage” on my head — no offense to the man in the photo.)

Anyway, this has been a periodic judgement call for me, as it is for many parents, I suspect. I had the day off, so it was no issue on my end. But education is important, and occasionally parents may opt to keep the kid home. I handle it on a case-by-case basis, but it’s something I take seriously.

I spoke to a couple of other parents at the show who had done the same thing, and they had all made the same decision: That it was a treat worth cutting school for the day.

Is it something that can be abused? Certainly. I have friends who were periodically kept home from school for a “mental health day,” which I think is of limited value for most kids, depending on age and circumstances.

But the question is when do you think it’s okay to have your kid play hooky?

One final note on the show, it really was a treat. I’ve blogged on the music element of it on The Listening Room, our music blog. But for those that didn’t see it, here’s a clip from GMA:

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Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Sunday, May 24th, 2009 at 11:57 am |


When is Blended Family Day?


Here’s a built-in problem in blended families: You never have the whole family together for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

There’s a simple reason for it. Namely, my son will always be with his mom on Mother’s Day (as he was earlier this month) and my girlfriend’s son will be with his dad on Father’s Day. So, we’re inevitably incomplete when celebrating our respective parenting days.

Kinda makes it hard to have the ideal family day.

Or does it?

Bethany Grey, editor at eHow.com, offered a list of suggestions for dads and stepdads to celebrate Father’s Day in a blog titled “How to Celebrate Father’s Day in a Blended Family.” I don’t agree with all of it, but some of Grey’s suggestions make sense, including the idea to shop for Father’s Day cards with the child. It’s a good stepdad experience to share.

Mostly, I like the idea of doing something the day before, something Grey didn’t hit on. This year, we grilled hot dogs and steak the day before Mother’s Day and had a picnic outside. It was fun and we did the family thing. I’m thinking we’ll do the same with my girlfriend’s son the day before Father’s Day next month.

One thing I’ve never wanted to do is give my girlfriend’s son the notion that I’m replacing his dad, at least not that way. This makes for something of a juggling act at times. But that’s a blog for another day.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 at 10:35 am |

Vote in our poll on vacations!


What are you Parents’ Place readers doing this summer? Vote in our poll in the right column of the page to share your plans.

balloon.jpgWe’re heading to Sesame Place next week in what Pumpkin is already expecting will be the time of her life. We’ve been looking at the brochure and she keeps touching the picture of the Big Bird’s Balloon Race and saying, “I’ll be BIG happy when I’m on there.” Let’s just hope <a href=”http://www.sesameplace.com” target=”_blank”>Sesame Place</a> lives up to expectations.

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Friday, August 1st, 2008 at 8:52 pm |
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It’s vacation negotiation time….again


Is it that time of year already?

Seems to me that every year my ex and I do this vacation juggling act with our son: Who gets him which week, who has to compromise their plans, who put in for a particular week first, and so on and so on. Frankly, it’s when our amicable custodial agreement is most tested.

This year, my girlfriend and I have plans to head south to spend a week at a beach resort with our two boys, although our departure is delayed one day because of a scheduling conflict with my ex. My ex, meanwhile, has to interrupt her week away to drive back and drop my son off for my scheduled weekend with him. Well, it happens. We’ll work around it. The real tricky part comes with the bartering for weekends. It’s inevitable that we have to swap our weekends for this or that three-day getaway: I want to fly out and see my brother and my nephews on her weekend; she wants to extend her vacation by keeping our son over my weekend.

Let the negotiations begin!

We always end up working it out, and have somehow managed to keep our post-divorce friendship intact. But it leaves me wondering if there isn’t a system we could put into play, or some process that would make this whole juggling act function more smoothly in years to come, particularly as it’s not just the two of us that are affected by our scheduling: There’s her husband and his son, and my girlfriend and her little boy — our blended family. Everyone is potentially inconvenienced if it tips the wrong way.

So, does anyone have a fool-proof formula for this stuff?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, May 14th, 2008 at 1:18 pm |


What to do for February break?


My kids have 15 days of school for the entire month of February and that’s counting Leap Day! There’s that pesky Superintendent’s Conference Day that will keep them home this Friday. (Do they really have to schedule that in February???)

Then one week of school before the week-long February break. What’s a working parent to do? I’ve registered one child for a one-day program at the West Nyack Library, but I’m still looking for options to keep them occupied. Any ideas?

Posted by Jane Lerner on Thursday, February 7th, 2008 at 9:48 am |

The iguana video


There’s not much parenting advice coming out of this entry, nor am I going to share any single-parenting experiences or share the lessons I’ve learned as a divorced dad with a 10-year-old. But hopefully this will make you laugh, as it did my son.

The two of us spend time on the Internet, and part of that has involved tons of time on “youtube.com,”:http://www.youtube.com particularly as I share music videos from my youth with my son, and as we both whittle away time playing online games. It is part of our bonding experience.

Recently, a colleague of mine at The Journal News returned from a vacation trip to Costa Rica, where he shared with us a video he shot. It’s probably one of the funniest things I’ve come across in a while, and my son and I had a great laugh over it when I showed it to him. My colleague has now been so good as to put it up on youtube.com, so I’ll share “the iguana video”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhxrrieAfNg with you all and hope it gets a chuckle out of your kids as well. Enjoy.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, December 3rd, 2007 at 1:39 pm |

A long trip in a small space


Family vacations could be a recipe for disaster. First of all there are the high hopes of a family adventure,  shared experiences and, in this instance, a college visit for my oldest son, who at the time of our trip, was just about to start his senior year in high school.

Then there is all that time cooped up in a car, which can’t be good. And finally there are the memories of your own childhood vacations, which seemed to take place without tantrums and theatrics from children old enough to know better.  

Does anyone know what I’m talking about, or am I the only person who is part of a couple with peridically impaired parenting skills?.

We didn’t leave for our 10-day vacation at 7 a.m. back on Aug. 23, as I had hoped. We got on the road about 10:30 a.m., and then I made the mistake of following travel advice that recommended going through Jersey and Pennsylvania  on the way to Niagara Falls – a big mistake, There were times in these two states when the cars just stopped and we stayed put for at least 30 minutes at a time. With 2-3 other stops for food and bathrooms along the way, we didn’t get to Niagara Falls, Canada, until 9 p.m.  

We also traveled to Toronto, a city in which I could imagine living. In someways it seemed American, but with a somewhat disorienting difference.  The subway there still uses dime-sized, the kind that disappeared in New York City about three decades ago. The kids really liked the tour of the Skydome, now known as the Rogers Center and those all-day breakfast places that seem very popular there. They were very useful for a family has trouble getting out of the hotel before noon. And then there are all the Tim Hortons, a chain of doughnut/sanwhich shops founded by the late Toronto Maple Leaf hockey player. I recently read that there are more Tim Hortons per Canadian than there are McDonalds per American. Score one for the Canadians.   

Our final stop was Ithaca, a great college town with a four-block center that’s closed off to traffic, but still seems quite lively. It was our jumping off point for a visit to Binghamton University, a school that is now on my son’s list of possibles.

At Niagara Falls we visited an amazing butterfly center, Fort Niagara, which I remember from my first trip there when I was eight, and stumbled upon a free jazz festival in Lewsitown, N.Y., where John Pizzarelli was about to perform.

And then there was Niagara Falls, itself. Though my wife wanted to visit them for years, I resisted. I think it had something to do with its old image as honeymoon capital and the tackiness that had been described to me as creeping up too close to what is truly a wonder of the world. 

Right after a quick dinner, we walked off to find the Falls. I pointed out to wife and kids what seemed to be a pretty huge waterfalls and off in the distance what seemed to be a second smaller falls. Having studied the tour books, I explained the big falls were the Canadian/Horseshoe Falls and the smaller ones were the American Falls.

But as we walked through the mist the smaller falls were getting bigger, huge in fact, monstruously huge. They were the Canadian Falls. One of the tour guides later explained that 20 percent of the world’s fresh water went over the falls. I don’t know how they measured that, but I didn’t doubt it. 

The next day we put on the raincoats they handed out on the Maid of the Mist boat and headed into the Horsehoe Falls, where the pilot seemed to park the boat. It  seemed like were standing in the middle of a rainstorm. It was great.

Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

Posted by Len Maniace on Monday, September 17th, 2007 at 11:35 pm |


An early start for a vacation


We hope to leave early this morning on our vacation trip; well,  early for our family.

In anticipating our departure, I’m reminded of a favorite movie, The Great Santini.  For those who don’t know the film,  it revolves around Bull Meecham, a Marine fighter pilot played by Robert Duvall, and his often-abusive relationship with his family.

Meecham is far from a fatherhood role model, but as our family gets ready for the trip, I wish we could emulate the Meechams’ travel schedule: hit the road before dawn to beat traffic.

We hoped to leave today at 7 a.m. on the first leg of our Niagara Falls- Toronto-Ithaca trip. That’s after dawn, but before the morning commute. We planned to install the roof rack and luggage container on the car early yesterday evening and then load up the car.

A 7 a.m. departure is a major undertaking for a family that couldn’t get away for one trip until 6 p.m., some years back. Things have changed since then. My oldest son, 17, hates to leave late and is an ally in moving the family along. He is a big help with the roof rack/luggage container installation.

Who knows, maybe we might even sing at the top of our lungs as we head down the road. It could help me stay awake.

Have you ever tried to leave before dawn on a vacation trip? What was that like? 

Posted by Len Maniace on Thursday, August 23rd, 2007 at 10:00 am |

How old are your kids?


Thursday morning we will set off on a family trip to Niagara Falls, then Toronto and on the way back, Ithaca. The last stop serves two purposes: to explore the Finger Lakes and to visit Binghamton University, known for many years as SUNY Binghamton.

My oldest son, 17, is entering his senior year in high school and it’s time to check out yet another college. Binghamton, the college’s brochure crows, is “the premier public university in the Northeast.”  OK, now how do I convince him to go there and how do we get him in. (Just kidding. I know, I’m supposed to let him decide.) 

Now this brings us to the title of this post. My oldest son cannot be 17. As best I can figure it, he is about 12. And my youngest son, who everyone including the calendar says is 12, can’t be more than seven, OK, maybe eight. I’m not talking about maturity or intelligence; I’m referring to kids-age-in-parents’-brain time, the time scale that moves along at a more reasonable pace. 

As best as I can tell, someone or some group is tampering with time. I suspect they are slipping anywhere from five to 10 seconds out of every minute – at least double that at night, which explains why I’m always tired.

At the risk of sounding a lot like my parents, their friends and my adult relatives when I was growing up - this parent thing is going way too fast.  So how old are your kids, and how old should they be?

Posted by Len Maniace on Tuesday, August 21st, 2007 at 10:14 pm |

Family survives vacation-planning dinner


We conducted an experiment in family planning Friday. No, not that kind of family planning. My family planned its vacation for the last two weeks of August. The agenda now calls for a drive across New York State to Niagara Falls and then to Toronto. This is how we did; How do you handle your vacation planning?

My sons, 12 and 17, and I met my wife at her office in Manhattan, stopped at a bookstore to pick up travel books and then went to a diner for dinner and vacation discussion. Everyone looked at a books, and perhaps even read a little about our destinations and we even talked about it briefly. We didn’t actually plan the vacation, but it was a start in getting the kids on board with the trip.

The kids would have liked a trip to California with visits to LA, San Francisco and the country in between. And so would I, but my wife has real problems with flying these days, which limits the trip. Eliminating the cities and towns we’ve already visited, and considering my wife’s interest in seeing Niagara Falls, we came up with this trip. There’s also an added bonus for traveling to Canada this summer by car – you don’t need a passport, though you probably will sometime next year.

The trip could include a stop in the Finger Lakes and a visit to a state college for my older son who will be entering his senior year in high school next month. So for the next two weeks I’ll be checking out our tour books, scouting baseball schedules in Toronto and minor league cities along the way. We survived our vacation planning and, with any luck, we’ll survive our vacation.

Posted by Len Maniace on Monday, August 6th, 2007 at 11:35 am |
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Anticipating a vacation: the ups and downs


I’m taking my two sons on a little vacation trip up to a friend’s country house in northwestestern Connecticut tomorrow. It’s just the boys and me through the weekend – some much-heralded, male-bonding – because my wife can’t get away from work.

I’m eager to take to the open road. Come to think of it, though, Connecticut doesn’t seem to figure prominently in many road movies, and it’s perhaps the only state Jack Kerouac skips in his frenetic national tour, “On the Road.” (Let me know if I’m wrong.)

And once we get there we’ll play catch, throw a football, swim, maybe even fish, see a minor league ball game and a movie. And then there’s making pancakes for breakfast and cooking dinner on an outdoor grill, and for me, spending an hour or so at the end of each day reading a fascinating about Theodore Roosevelt, “Rising Like a Rocket” – if I have the energy left. Pretty idyllic.

But I’m also anticipating disputes between my two sons, ages 17 and 12, that can turn the outing sour – confrontations that would set Supernanny’s stiff upper lip aquiver and send her fleeing the premises in her black British-made auto.

Without pointing blame in this public forum, one of them is usually the instigator. I’m trying to get him on board in advance. In fact, I’ve been trying to get both on board by asking them what they would like to do during our trip – a suggestion that has not yet elicited a response.

And then there is the question of helping out on the trip. As in packing, shopping and other chores that need to get done. I think kids need to share these jobs. If today is any sign, I’m wary. One of my sons (not the instigator of the aforementioned confrontations) has been more interested in playing his Nintendo DS than walking over to his doctor’s office to pick up his medical form that he needs for his summer camp. The 11 a.m. deadline went, as did the noon deadline, and now they are closed for lunch at 1 p.m. He says he’ll go at 2 p.m. We’ll see.

So, obviously I’m a horrible parent. That said, I’m forgetting all those expectations in the preceding paragraphs and just going to play as it comes. Here’s hoping that your summer vacation provides the recharge of spirit that every parent needs.

Posted by Len Maniace on Tuesday, June 26th, 2007 at 1:43 pm |