Journal

THE TRIP: Our Annual Summer Road Trip with the Grandchildren

by | Dec 21, 2014 | Editorial

Every summer my husband, Michael, and I are blessed and delighted to take a road trip with our grandchildren. Just us and the grands – no middle generation allowed.
We started when the oldest was five and her brother two. We drove forty-five minutes and stayed for two nights at The Grand Californian Hotel overlooking Downtown Disney. We had bunkbeds awaiting us at naptime and a kiddie pool for the heat of the day. “It’s A Small World” was a great favorite. So was “Winnie the Pooh,” which we were allowed to ride over and over after 9pm. Our granddaughter A loved the princesses and her brother J worshipped Buzz Lightyear and was petrified of the Tiki Room.

The trip was such a hit that we did it again the next year. By then we instituted The Souvenir System. This has two parts. One is that souvenir buying begins on the very first day. We discovered that their loot for the day provides endless fascination in the hotel room at night when the adults are near collapse. The second part is the budget. Very young children don’t understand money, but they can understand concepts like:

“You can get these two princess dolls or just this one.”

“If you buy all three of these superhero figures today, you won’t be able to buy anything tomorrow.”

The one that’s most difficult to get across, but that we keep working on is:

“That piece of plastic is going to break in about three minutes. Let’s find something else.”

The Souvenir System grew as the kids grew and we added more to our troop. But the basic principle stays the same, and it’s led to great pleasure and some interesting teaching moments. A has acquired a great collection of figurines – one each year to commemorate THE TRIP. S has been into decorative boxes. Now we’ve got four girls with us, and jewelry is always high on the list.

With the boys it’s all about action heroes and weaponry, needless to say. It’s been interesting. Z always wants a toy gun. He finds exactly what he wants. I say, “Your mother doesn’t allow guns. You know that. Find something else.”

“Call my mother,” he insists.

I call. She says no. He enters into negotiations and bargains down to a sword. Or at least a dagger. Every year. He’s very interested in history and especially likes authentic-looking replicas.

J, by the way, has long since outgrown the sword-and-shield genre. For him it’s all about electronics. Sometimes that’s a bit of a challenge in the touristy places. But we manage, even if we have to sneak in a little side trip to do it.

N impressed us last year when he was six. The first day he picked out an expensive, elaborate, soon-to-be-broken plastic monstrosity. We explained that if he bought that he would use up his entire budget the first day. Instead he agreed to buy a smaller toy and each day evaluated the choices, trying to decide if this or that was worth it. Finally, on the last day he chose a build-it-yourself motorized toy. He set it up in his living room when he got home and was so proud of himself for waiting for the right toy. Wow!

But back to my timeline. After the two Disney trips we missed a year because of conflicting schedules. But after that, since 2006, we’ve had, thank G-d, a straight run. A, now sixteen, is not only the Organizer-in-Chief of these trips, but the Archiver as well. She remembers everything so I know my history is accurate.

S joined us for the first time in 2006 when she was three and a half. That year was my husband’s fantasy come true. We borrowed an RV and camped on the beach at Mission Bay, San Diego. It was beautiful. And sandy. The kids had a blast. Michael was in heaven. However, a few comments about RV’s. Yes, it’s convenient with little kids and efficient to carry your house on your back. And for us, needing kosher food, having our own kitchen was great. But it was not our RV. A friend who rarely used it was happy to lend it to us. We, of course, had to stock it. With everything from linens to toilet paper to food.

So we made lists and shopped and spent twelve hours stocking and arranging this 27-foot land-boat. We thought of everything. Well, almost. At the end of the first day we had three happily exhausted, very sandy kids ready for showers and bed. I had the towels, shampoo and PJ’s all ready. And then I realized what I had forgotten. The one thing that I desperately needed. I had forgotten…soap!

My husband suggested I wash them with shampoo. The kids were horrified. “You can’t wash your body with shampoo!” they cried. So we did what any grandparent would do. We undid the water and electrical hookups and drove our entire, lumbering house out of the campground in search of an open market.

Michael really loved that trip. And to his credit he was right there with me for the full fourteen hours it took to unload and clean that RV when we got home. (Did I mention that RV’s, unlike hotels, do not come with maid service?) I have since learned that as he looks back, J says that that was his favorite trip, too. What is it with guys and RV’s?

The next year we took A, J and S back to Disney. We still avoided the Tiki Room, just in case, but went everywhere else. We had our photo ops with Buzz, Mary Poppins, Snow White and whomever else we could corral. I think the bunk beds and massive pool slide at the Grand Californian were just as bit a hit. And there is nothing like strolling down Main Street in Disneyland or through California Adventure as the summer sun is setting and Dixieland jazz or California surfing music fills the air. I really love Disneyland!

My all-time personal favorite ride, by the way is “It’s A Small World.” I love the colors and sights and sounds. It brings me back to my childhood. No, not at Disneyland. The original “It’s A Small World” ride was the Pepsi Cola Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It was fabulous then and still is!

In 2008 Z joined us. He was four and it would be his first time away from his parents. They were all a bit nervous, so we again decided to stay close to home. This time we spent several nights aboard the Queen Mary. The one-time luxury liner is now a hotel in Long Beach. We stayed in one of the original royal staterooms, with mahogany paneling, portholes and lots of space. It was a wonderful, welcoming place. The staff encouraged exploration of the ship and the kids loved it. One of the highlights – wholly unexpected – was the engine room. It was endless – with tunnels and bridges and fascinating gizmos to climb over and under, and self-guided tours. And it wasn’t just a guy thing; I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Right next door was a Soviet submarine from the Cold War, available for tours. Amazing that so many grown men could spend so much time in such close quarters!

There was a fascinating movie explaining how the Queen Mary was converted into a troop ship during World War II. The footage of the magnificent ballroom being transformed into the soldiers’ mess hall reminded me of one of my father’s war stories. He was in the Army in World War II and sailed to Europe on another converted luxury liner, the Ile de France. He described how the grand ballroom was outfitted with long rows of high tables. The soldiers would stand up to eat – there were no chairs. When the ship pitched, he said, your plate might slide and someone else’s plate might end up in front of you. And you just kept eating. Didn’t matter. Dinner time was short.

Another interesting note on the Queen Mary. The first day while Michael and I unpacked, the kids went out to explore the corridors around our stateroom. They came running back to report that they found kosher dishes in a glass showcase. My husband and I followed them and there, indeed, were beautiful dishes on display. A placard showed the Glatt Kosher menu that was served. Then it went on to say that these dishes were used in a crossing from Germany to America in 1938. Michael and I looked at each other. The kids just thought it was cool to find kosher dishes on the Queen Mary. We knew differently. Germany to America in 1938. Oh my.

On a lighter note, the ship had some delightful shops with more interesting souvenir offerings than you usually find in tourist spots. And right across the street was the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. You can spend more than a day there and not see it all. The kids loved the sharks as well as the petting pools, where you can touch living, breathing, wiggly creatures like starfish and horseshoe crabs. There’s also an outdoor aviary where you can buy a cup of nectar and feed the colorful, exotic birds.

The kids also loved the enormous gift shop (naturally.) By this time, the older kids were keeping track of their souvenir budgets, and that became part of the fun. And this was the year we started the tradition of the kids helping us pick out gifts for the younger cousins or siblings who weren’t there with us.

In 2009 we decided to be more ambitious and venture farther from home. We went up to Solvang, California, about three hours north. Depending on your viewpoint, Solvang is either a quaint little town full of Danish architecture or one big touristy tchotchke shop. I vote for the former. My husband’s comment about that trip was that “It’s amazing how much there is to do in a place where there’s nothing to do.” Actually, it was a fabulous trip. One of our best.

We stayed at a lovely inn with a full kitchen and a large ground floor patio where we could bring our own barbeque. Since we keep kosher this was most welcome. We always bring or make most of our food when we travel, unless we manage to be someplace where there’s a kosher restaurant. Solvang is, alas, not one of those places. It is, in fact, famous for its Danish bakeries. The tantalizing aroma of pastries we can’t eat fills the air. But no matter. The kids were thrilled to find an old-fashioned candy shop with plenty of kosher wrapped candy. They also loved the small town atmosphere, and the fact that they could venture out a few blocks from the hotel as a group but without an adult.

They still remember tooling around town in a bicycle built for six, complete with a surrey with a fringe on top. Going up and down the inclines was more scary than a roller coaster any day.

We went blueberry picking and visited an ostrich farm. You don’t realize how big and strong those birds are until you get up close and personal. You buy a plate of food for them. They gobble the food, knock the plate right out of your hand and then lunge for that very same hand. The fence in between you is a great idea.

The highlight of that trip was a performance of Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man by the PCPA Theaterfest at the outdoor Solvang Festival Theater. The Music Man is one of my favorite musicals and my husband and I have seen a number of revivals. This was one of the best. It was beautifully done and one of the most exuberant performances I’ve ever seen. The kids were mesmerized. They loved every minute. And J, then eight, regaled us with his endearing rendition of “The Wells Fargo Wagon” for weeks afterward.

The success of the Solvang trip emboldened us and the next year we went even farther north, to Carmel and Monterey. Our oldest granddaughter A was now twelve, and this would be her second year as my right hand person. Michael was the driver and head of the Appropriations Committee, but by this time, I couldn’t have done it without her. I would gather tour books and do research, and then we would begin a delightful series of planning lunches and dinners. The next thing I knew, she would show up with spreadsheets. Everyday would have several activities and menu plans. Then there would be night activity. And there would be suggested clothing lists for the moms. She had become Planner-in-Chief, and has been ever since.

By the way, sometime ago she outgrew the Souvenir System. She now takes a commission in the form of a trip to the nearest outlet mall with me after we get home.

Something else happened round about this time. The kids began referring to our annual excursion as THE TRIP, with great emphasis, as if it were some sort of institution requiring capital letters. They began asking, right after their January winter-break, where we were going on THE TRIP, which would not take place until August. This prompted one of my daughters to comment, “You’d think no one in the family takes any other trip all year.”

Well, of course they do. But this entailed grandparents, cousins, no parents, no real bedtime, endless amusement and sightseeing and, of course, the Souvenir System, otherwise known as Shop Till You Drop. This was THE TRIP.

We started when the oldest was five and her brother two. We drove forty-five minutes and stayed for two nights at The Grand Californian Hotel overlooking Downtown Disney. We had bunkbeds awaiting us at naptime and a kiddie pool for the heat of the day. “It’s A Small World” was a great favorite. So was “Winnie the Pooh,” which we were allowed to ride over and over after 9pm. Our granddaughter A loved the princesses and her brother J worshipped Buzz Lightyear and was petrified of the Tiki Room.

The trip was such a hit that we did it again the next year. By then we instituted The Souvenir System. This has two parts. One is that souvenir buying begins on the very first day. We discovered that their loot for the day provides endless fascination in the hotel room at night when the adults are near collapse. The second part is the budget. Very young children don’t understand money, but they can understand concepts like:

“You can get these two princess dolls or just this one.”

“If you buy all three of these superhero figures today, you won’t be able to buy anything tomorrow.”

The one that’s most difficult to get across, but that we keep working on is:

“That piece of plastic is going to break in about three minutes. Let’s find something else.”

The Souvenir System grew as the kids grew and we added more to our troop. But the basic principle stays the same, and it’s led to great pleasure and some interesting teaching moments. A has acquired a great collection of figurines – one each year to commemorate THE TRIP. S has been into decorative boxes. Now we’ve got four girls with us, and jewelry is always high on the list.

With the boys it’s all about action heroes and weaponry, needless to say. It’s been interesting. Z always wants a toy gun. He finds exactly what he wants. I say, “Your mother doesn’t allow guns. You know that. Find something else.”

“Call my mother,” he insists.

I call. She says no. He enters into negotiations and bargains down to a sword. Or at least a dagger. Every year. He’s very interested in history and especially likes authentic-looking replicas.

J, by the way, has long since outgrown the sword-and-shield genre. For him it’s all about electronics. Sometimes that’s a bit of a challenge in the touristy places. But we manage, even if we have to sneak in a little side trip to do it.

N impressed us last year when he was six. The first day he picked out an expensive, elaborate, soon-to-be-broken plastic monstrosity. We explained that if he bought that he would use up his entire budget the first day. Instead he agreed to buy a smaller toy and each day evaluated the choices, trying to decide if this or that was worth it. Finally, on the last day he chose a build-it-yourself motorized toy. He set it up in his living room when he got home and was so proud of himself for waiting for the right toy. Wow!

But back to my timeline. After the two Disney trips we missed a year because of conflicting schedules. But after that, since 2006, we’ve had, thank G-d, a straight run. A, now sixteen, is not only the Organizer-in-Chief of these trips, but the Archiver as well. She remembers everything so I know my history is accurate.

S joined us for the first time in 2006 when she was three and a half. That year was my husband’s fantasy come true. We borrowed an RV and camped on the beach at Mission Bay, San Diego. It was beautiful. And sandy. The kids had a blast. Michael was in heaven. However, a few comments about RV’s. Yes, it’s convenient with little kids and efficient to carry your house on your back. And for us, needing kosher food, having our own kitchen was great. But it was not our RV. A friend who rarely used it was happy to lend it to us. We, of course, had to stock it. With everything from linens to toilet paper to food.

So we made lists and shopped and spent twelve hours stocking and arranging this 27-foot land-boat. We thought of everything. Well, almost. At the end of the first day we had three happily exhausted, very sandy kids ready for showers and bed. I had the towels, shampoo and PJ’s all ready. And then I realized what I had forgotten. The one thing that I desperately needed. I had forgotten…soap!

My husband suggested I wash them with shampoo. The kids were horrified. “You can’t wash your body with shampoo!” they cried. So we did what any grandparent would do. We undid the water and electrical hookups and drove our entire, lumbering house out of the campground in search of an open market.

Michael really loved that trip. And to his credit he was right there with me for the full fourteen hours it took to unload and clean that RV when we got home. (Did I mention that RV’s, unlike hotels, do not come with maid service?) I have since learned that as he looks back, J says that that was his favorite trip, too. What is it with guys and RV’s?

The next year we took A, J and S back to Disney. We still avoided the Tiki Room, just in case, but went everywhere else. We had our photo ops with Buzz, Mary Poppins, Snow White and whomever else we could corral. I think the bunk beds and massive pool slide at the Grand Californian were just as bit a hit. And there is nothing like strolling down Main Street in Disneyland or through California Adventure as the summer sun is setting and Dixieland jazz or California surfing music fills the air. I really love Disneyland!

My all-time personal favorite ride, by the way is “It’s A Small World.” I love the colors and sights and sounds. It brings me back to my childhood. No, not at Disneyland. The original “It’s A Small World” ride was the Pepsi Cola Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It was fabulous then and still is!

In 2008 Z joined us. He was four and it would be his first time away from his parents. They were all a bit nervous, so we again decided to stay close to home. This time we spent several nights aboard the Queen Mary. The one-time luxury liner is now a hotel in Long Beach. We stayed in one of the original royal staterooms, with mahogany paneling, portholes and lots of space. It was a wonderful, welcoming place. The staff encouraged exploration of the ship and the kids loved it. One of the highlights – wholly unexpected – was the engine room. It was endless – with tunnels and bridges and fascinating gizmos to climb over and under, and self-guided tours. And it wasn’t just a guy thing; I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Right next door was a Soviet submarine from the Cold War, available for tours. Amazing that so many grown men could spend so much time in such close quarters!

There was a fascinating movie explaining how the Queen Mary was converted into a troop ship during World War II. The footage of the magnificent ballroom being transformed into the soldiers’ mess hall reminded me of one of my father’s war stories. He was in the Army in World War II and sailed to Europe on another converted luxury liner, the Ile de France. He described how the grand ballroom was outfitted with long rows of high tables. The soldiers would stand up to eat – there were no chairs. When the ship pitched, he said, your plate might slide and someone else’s plate might end up in front of you. And you just kept eating. Didn’t matter. Dinner time was short.

Another interesting note on the Queen Mary. The first day while Michael and I unpacked, the kids went out to explore the corridors around our stateroom. They came running back to report that they found kosher dishes in a glass showcase. My husband and I followed them and there, indeed, were beautiful dishes on display. A placard showed the Glatt Kosher menu that was served. Then it went on to say that these dishes were used in a crossing from Germany to America in 1938. Michael and I looked at each other. The kids just thought it was cool to find kosher dishes on the Queen Mary. We knew differently. Germany to America in 1938. Oh my.

On a lighter note, the ship had some delightful shops with more interesting souvenir offerings than you usually find in tourist spots. And right across the street was the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. You can spend more than a day there and not see it all. The kids loved the sharks as well as the petting pools, where you can touch living, breathing, wiggly creatures like starfish and horseshoe crabs. There’s also an outdoor aviary where you can buy a cup of nectar and feed the colorful, exotic birds.

The kids also loved the enormous gift shop (naturally.) By this time, the older kids were keeping track of their souvenir budgets, and that became part of the fun. And this was the year we started the tradition of the kids helping us pick out gifts for the younger cousins or siblings who weren’t there with us.

In 2009 we decided to be more ambitious and venture farther from home. We went up to Solvang, California, about three hours north. Depending on your viewpoint, Solvang is either a quaint little town full of Danish architecture or one big touristy tchotchke shop. I vote for the former. My husband’s comment about that trip was that “It’s amazing how much there is to do in a place where there’s nothing to do.” Actually, it was a fabulous trip. One of our best.

We stayed at a lovely inn with a full kitchen and a large ground floor patio where we could bring our own barbeque. Since we keep kosher this was most welcome. We always bring or make most of our food when we travel, unless we manage to be someplace where there’s a kosher restaurant. Solvang is, alas, not one of those places. It is, in fact, famous for its Danish bakeries. The tantalizing aroma of pastries we can’t eat fills the air. But no matter. The kids were thrilled to find an old-fashioned candy shop with plenty of kosher wrapped candy. They also loved the small town atmosphere, and the fact that they could venture out a few blocks from the hotel as a group but without an adult.

They still remember tooling around town in a bicycle built for six, complete with a surrey with a fringe on top. Going up and down the inclines was more scary than a roller coaster any day.

We went blueberry picking and visited an ostrich farm. You don’t realize how big and strong those birds are until you get up close and personal. You buy a plate of food for them. They gobble the food, knock the plate right out of your hand and then lunge for that very same hand. The fence in between you is a great idea.

The highlight of that trip was a performance of Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man by the PCPA Theaterfest at the outdoor Solvang Festival Theater. The Music Man is one of my favorite musicals and my husband and I have seen a number of revivals. This was one of the best. It was beautifully done and one of the most exuberant performances I’ve ever seen. The kids were mesmerized. They loved every minute. And J, then eight, regaled us with his endearing rendition of “The Wells Fargo Wagon” for weeks afterward.

The success of the Solvang trip emboldened us and the next year we went even farther north, to Carmel and Monterey. Our oldest granddaughter A was now twelve, and this would be her second year as my right hand person. Michael was the driver and head of the Appropriations Committee, but by this time, I couldn’t have done it without her. I would gather tour books and do research, and then we would begin a delightful series of planning lunches and dinners. The next thing I knew, she would show up with spreadsheets. Everyday would have several activities and menu plans. Then there would be night activity. And there would be suggested clothing lists for the moms. She had become Planner-in-Chief, and has been ever since.

By the way, sometime ago she outgrew the Souvenir System. She now takes a commission in the form of a trip to the nearest outlet mall with me after we get home.

Something else happened round about this time. The kids began referring to our annual excursion as THE TRIP, with great emphasis, as if it were some sort of institution requiring capital letters. They began asking, right after their January winter-break, where we were going on THE TRIP, which would not take place until August. This prompted one of my daughters to comment, “You’d think no one in the family takes any other trip all year.”

Well, of course they do. But this entailed grandparents, cousins, no parents, no real bedtime, endless amusement and sightseeing and, of course, the Souvenir System, otherwise known as Shop Till You Drop. This was THE TRIP.

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