A Bad Idea Gone Good

Q: When four adults confront a 5-day forecast that includes thunderstorms Monday afternoon and sunny skies the rest of the week, what activity do they choose for Monday?

A: Floating down the Delaware River for three hours in innertubes.

Emboldened by our rain-free bike ride yesterday, and with a mantra that “those forecasters are always wrong,” we set out for Frenchtown, New Jersey, site of Delaware River Tubing. Leaving no margin for error, “we” (by which I mean, of course, not me) reasoned that if we started by 10 a.m., we’d be out before the predicted storm.

The friendly kids at Delaware River Tubing gave us an innertube, a smile, and a ride to the river.

Our floating parade began under sunny skies, moderated by clouds that kept us thankfully cool. The river was as lazy as they come, making me laugh at myself for thinking this might be a dangerous endeavor.

Then the thunderstorm caught up with us. Suddenly no one could remember whether it was safer to be exposed in the middle of the river, or sheltered near the river banks and all its trees. We strenuously paddled to a happy medium, appreciating that the storm added drama to what otherwise would have been an uneventful pleasure ride. What better than a brush with danger to sear a memory into permanence. The lightning caught especially caught Emmett’s attention.

Tonight, however, safe at home, rejuvenated by warm baths, soft pajamas and a delicious dinner of corn, tomatoes and chicken any locavore would love, Emmett stated his opinion of the day in simple but clear terms: “Let’s do it again tomorrow.”

Hot enough for ya?

Let me warn you: if you want to find a heat wave in summer, follow us. Two summers ago, our arrival in Barcelona ushered in one of that fair city’s hottest summers ever. Now in the birthplace of our own country, we are at it again, but this time with the blessing of central air conditioning awaiting us at home.

Even sitting inside with a fan blowing on me, simply reading The Weather Channel’s weekend forecast from two days ago is enough to make my skin shimmer with heat goosebumps:

Trenton, NJ: Daily record high of 106 degrees.

Philadelphia, PA: Daily record high of 103 degrees.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, really. (See aforementioned air conditioning.) There is plenty of great local ice cream (hello Zebra Striped Whale!), our great-aunt and -uncle’s swimming pool is right around the corner, and tomorrow — barring the arrival of predicted thunderstorms — there will be tubing in the Delaware River.

This morning, we got an early start for a bike ride along the D&R Canal. The clouds that carried the idle threat of thunderstorms kept the bright sun at bay.

With bikes rented from Greenway Bikes at The Nelson House, just inside the entrance to the Washington Crossing State Park (on the New Jersey side), we rode along a tow path that for most of the 19th century was the “freeway” for commerce from Philadelphia to New York. (I mention this fact to our kids in the hope that some history will seep in, anticipating the 5th grade American history curriculum, but mostly I think they’ll remember the chocolate croissants they later got at the Lambertville Trading Company in Lambertville, New Jersey.)

(An ironic history sidenote: When we arrive in Lambertville, what do we see but the “James Marshall” house? Lo and behold, it is the house where a young James Marshall lived before setting off for California and igniting the California gold rush with his discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill.

So it seems we are still meant to be reviewing 4th grade history.)

 

 

 

As we continue our bike ride, we pass a pair of joggers or bicyclists only every five minutes or so. It is peaceful enough for me to hear the loud whoosh of cicadas in the trees. Emmett offers me the exoskeleton of one.

As we ride I catch glimpses of the calm Delaware River through the thick green foliage on my right. I can’t help but think of the very different bike ride I took just last Sunday, along the Pacific ocean from Pacific Palisades through bustling Santa Monica, crowded Venice, along the oft-graffitti’d Ballona creek all the way to Culver City, trying to keep up with my father’s quixotic goal of riding to his “ancestral home,” where he lived until he was nine years old.

As we rode along that beach bike path, the spray of the Pacific at our side, my father kept saying, “feel that natural air conditioning” and beaming his widest smile. He knew that those ocean breezes would not be accompanying his daughter, son-in-law and grandsons on our trip, and he wanted to be sure that the refreshing air would be a vivid, sweet reminder of what we have to welcome us when we come back.

Until then, I’m on this path with my family, and we may be sticky, but we’re still smiling.

How To Celebrate A 7 Year Old’s Birthday

Easy. Start with dinosaurs, finish with giraffes.

We have two summer birthdays in our family. My son Emmett and my mother-in-law Joyce have back-to-back July birthdays, which we frequently celebrate together during summer vacation. Before you shed a tear for the poor child who never gets to bring cupcakes to school for his birthday, please know that he ends up with multiple celebrations of his joyful birth each year – one with friends in California before our trip, and another celebration with Pennsylvania family on the real day.

This year his dream was to have a sleepover at L.A.’s Natural History Museum in its New Dinosaur Hall. I don’t know how brave you are, but I would be skittish sleeping with a T.Rex triptych – baby, juvenile and full grown – hovering over me. So I didn’t expect a single friend to jump at this idea. Instead, we told Emmett we’d take him to see the dinosaurs, and another day he could have a party with friends at home. That is how he ended up with three birthday celebrations: those two events and on his actual birthday, a Six Flags Wild Safari V.I.P. Tour in Jackson, New  Jersey. All together now: Life is good.

As an Angeleno, I’m particularly proud of our new dinosaurs. The Natural History Museum keeps getting better, far surpassing my childhood experiences of it. For years we watched scientists patiently build these dinosaurs, and they have finally come to fruition, along with a lot of interactive exhibits. My favorite is a video of the self-taught paleontologist whom L.A. County long ago sent to Montana in search of its own T. Rex, rather than purchase one already unearthed by another institution. Later they may host birthday parties, but until then, just bring a picnic and a soccer ball and have a party outside on the massive lawn. Happy Birthday Part 1.

The only animals involved in Happy Birthday Part 2, were the dozen six-year-old boys running around playing Red Light/Green Light, jumping on a trampoline and eating pizza and cake, so let’s skip ahead to Happy Birthday Part 3.

We all use Emmett’s passion for animals to connect us to our own animal instincts. While most visitors to Six Flags Wild Animal Safari in Jackson, New Jersey drive their cars through meandering dirt roads throughout 350 lush acres, past 1500 animals representing 52 species from 6 continents, ogling creatures from bison to Bengal tigers, and from emus to elephants, those guests are required to stay in their cars with the windows rolled up – just in case. We splurged for the V.I.P. tour, which allowed eight of us to get in and out of our two guided Land Rovers (painted like zebras), stand within three feet of lions and tigers, pet Roosevelt Elk, giraffes and a rhinoceros, and feed various animals fruits and raw vegetables as we went.

I have never seen my children voluntarily let a raw sweet potato touch their teeth, until today, when they decided to feed the giraffes mouth-to-mouth. I think they would have taken them home with them if we could have sneaked them out.  Animals aside, Emmett was over the moon simply because he got to sit in the Land Rover’s front passenger seat, another birthday perk.

And so the first day of our two-month travel adventure begins with a theme we hope will carry us through: experience the unfamiliar, get out of our comfort zones. I must confess, however, that as I write this, I am quite comfortably sitting in the air-conditioned home in which I became engaged to my husband nearly 14 years ago. So there you have it: a perfect balance of creature comforts and wild creatures – and another birthday to remember.