On the Road

Recently those Nerdy Chicks, Kami [link] and Sudipta [link], shared their family vacation traditions that took us from Folly Beach, S.C. to India. My family’s vacation tradition was that our vacations were not traditional—we’d go somewhere different every year.

Living during the golden age of American road trips, we’d drive off from our New Jersey home to experience the great northeast—the Jersey shore, a Rhode Island beach, Mystic Seaport, Cape Cod, Vermont, Maine, Niagara Falls (twice), Washington, D.C. (also twice), a Canadian odyssey from Montreal to Quebec City. I have a photo of myself as a toddler with my Italian-speaking nonna and my Polish-speaking babka at Daytona Beach, Florida—I can’t imagine what that road trip was like.

family_beach

One year, my father sat at our dining room table with AAA maps and railroad timetables planning a trip to the Grand Canyon by train with connections in Chicago to all points west (my mother had a confirmed fear of flying). I was so disappointed when that trip never happened. Eventually, my mother overcame her issues with flight, and we made our trip to the Grand Canyon, continuing to Las Vegas, ending in LA and my first visit to Disneyland—but by then I was already 24.

Lincoln_annaWTC2001_anna_momAs an adult, I continued in the family tradition of wanderlust and saw the world. My last big trip was to Moscow to adopt my daughter. Then Anna and I began our own trips—the Jersey Shore, Washington, D.C., Hershey Park, a New York State dude ranch, a North Carolina beach, DisneyWorld.

3dogsLoRezBut then our family dynamic changed—we began to adopt dogs. First one, then two, then three. We loved them so much we didn’t trust anyone else to care for them (plus they tended not to like people other than us). This caused a vacation challenge for our family.

cabin_duskSo I bought a summer cabin in a lake community in northwest Jersey bear country and that solved the problem for a few years. It was the perfect place for us and our three dogs. But when Anna got her drivers license, she preferred being with friends, and the cabin lost its appeal for her. I struggled through the pangs of empty nest syndrome until I recommitted to writing and drawing for children. The cabin became Studio del Lago—my creative refuge.

Anna is now a certified professional pet sitter [link]. Her weekends and weekdays are spent lovingly caring for pets in their homes while their owners are on vacation. My weekends are spent at the cabin writing (like today) and napping (also like today).

But last weekend, we were both home and decided to have a Staycation together—having fun in our own hometown. We went garage sale-ing, shopped for beads at a craft store, had dinner at a Japanese restaurant, and saw Jersey Boys in our village theater. Sunday morning, we had pancakes at our local diner, and shopped at our favorite antique/junk store (she scored a cement replica of our dog Princess and I added an Italian vase to my collection).

staycation

Anna and I dream of going to Italy someday. I hear there’s an airline that lets your pets stay in coach with you. If it flies to Venice, you can bet we’ll get a photo of our dogs in a gondola.

Arrivederci!

Mary

 

www.maryzisk.com

 

 

Vacation Traditions, Part 2

Two weeks ago, Kami blogged about her family’s vacation traditions. Well, I just returned from my own family vacation, and thought it would be nice to share my reflections.

For some families, like Kami’s, the vacation traditions survive generations. For me, on the other hand, it’s a little bit different. Being the child of immigrants, my childhood summers were spent doing basically one thing — and my parents wouldn’t have called it vacation. No, for them, it was going home.

Aunts, uncles, parents, cousins...even a sister!

Aunts, uncles, parents, cousins…even a sister!

When I was younger, almost every significant school break was spent traveling back to India where my parents grew up. It was so common that I think I may have been in elementary school before I realized just what a journey the flight from JFK to Calcutta truly was! But the long flight and the inconveniences of travel faded as soon as we touched down on Indian soil. Because just as my parents were going home, for me, India became a home of sorts as well. Whenever I was there, I was surrounded — in fact, flooded! — with family. Uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents — you name it, I had a dozen. in Indian culture, we don’t hugely differentiate between first cousins and second cousins, or even between cousins and siblings. The word for older brother and older male cousin is the same — “dada” — just as the word for older sister and older female cousin (“didi“) is the same. Therefore, in India, I had family everywhere I looked.

My childhood memories of vacation are all strongly associated with layers and layers of extended family. And I always thought that that was a lovely way to grow up.

P1060527Except when it comes to my own children…well, I don’t have the same kinds of family layers to share with them. Sure, my kids spend oodles of time with my parents, and last year’s vacation was to go out to California to see their aunt and uncle (my sister and brother-in-law). But this year? It was just us at the beach.

As I was leaving, I remember thinking about how to make our solo trip about FAMILY in the same way my childhood trips had been.

I’m a silly person.

A few months ago, I took a trip to Paris with my daughters. There, I learned that getting MY way wasn’t how WE were going to have fun together. On this most recent trip, I learned something, too.

Even though it was “just us,” the trip felt as full as any of my childhood vacations (and I swear the drive was as long as the New York to Calcutta flight!). I learned that FAMILY with a capital F is not about the number of bodies you squeeze into a tiny space, but how much love you cram into it.

Here’s to great family vacations for all our readers!

The Minimalist Challenge

The first item to go. I got these down to decorate for a party and never put them back in the attic, so do I really need them?

The first item to go. I got these down to decorate for a party and never put them back in the attic, so do I really need them?

The Minimalist Challenge. I’m doing it. I’m totally doing it. Who wants to meet my challenge? Wait. Did you hear that sound? That primal cry? Don’t be alarmed. It’s just  the sound of unadulterated joy escaping my husband’s surprised lips. He’s wanted to clear out the house for years. See, he knows I have a problem getting rid of the following:

1. Anything sentimental, which means anything that belonged to my grandparents, AND
2. Anything my children have ever made, worn, read or played with.
3. Anything that can be made into any other thing by way of crafting.
4. Anything  that used to work, and could possibly work again.
5. Clothes that I might fit back into some day.
6. Books.

Hey, that’s not such a long list. I mean, how much stuff can you really accumulate when your “to keep” list is only six items long?

Turns out a ton. Maybe a few tons. With stuff spilling out of every closet and across the floors, my home has reached its saturation point. Which is why when I heard about the Minimalist Challenge, I knew I needed to embrace it.

What is the Minimalist Challenge? Basically, you get rid of one thing on the first day of the challenge, two things on the second, three things on the third, etc.  So before I become a candidate for the next episode of Hoarders, I’ve decided to pick up the gauntlet.

The bloggers who originally issued the challenge (aptly named The Minimalists) designed it to begin on the first day of the month, but I say you can start it any time you get desperate enough to get rid of potentially useful or desirable stuff.  For me, that day is today.

The Minimalists explain on their blog that they were both making six figure salaries but found they were unhappy with their cluttered lives, so both gave up their butt loads of crap (sorry, I really did have to go there) to  become minimalists and seek happiness from living more, writing more, and accumulating less. You can read more about them HERE.

Unlike the self-proclaimed Minimalists, I am not leaving a six figure job to claim minimalism and thus happiness. Anyone who has ever met me knows I’m a pretty happy person already. (Hey, maybe that’s because I don’t have a six figure income! Maybe living on a dime is a GOOD thing. What a relief.) So while I don’t fear that my possessions are getting in the way of my happiness, they are getting in the way of my sanity.

Rather than go happily insane, I’m accepting the challenge. If you want to meet the challenge with me, (or offer encouragement) comment below or send me an email.

Ready. Set. Let’s minimize!

Day 5: Still on target and plowing through the stuff. I decided to count both big and small items... otherwise the clutter doesn't really get cleared.

Update -Day 5: Still on target and plowing through the stuff. I decided to count both big and small items… otherwise the clutter doesn’t really get cleared.

 

 

 

Vacation Traditions

 

 

We take our beach umbrellas seriously. We buy them from life guard equipment suppliers, and we've had the oldest two for over 40 years!

We take our beach umbrellas seriously. We buy them from life guard equipment suppliers, and the oldest two have been in the family for over 40 years!

My grandfather owned a beach house in North Myrtle Beach so when I was growing up we went to the beach a lot. Like every spring break, the first two weeks of June, and several weekends during fall and winter. And the entire month of August.  This worked out great for my blond-haired, blue eyed, olive-skinned siblings, but my pale freckly skin was perpetually burned and I’m sure the fallout is not going to be pretty. Still…what am I complaining about? It was a free vacation, and one that my family has become addicted to. So although granddaddy’s beach house was sold over thirty years ago, my mother and her sister are committed to sharing a beach house at least one week of every year so that their grandchildren can have the same experiences we did.  Except now instead of ten of us there are twenty one which makes everything a lot louder and more complicated.

IMG_20140703_144019_768But we have our traditions and most of us really look forward to our yearly get together. Of course with twenty one people there have to be rules (right?), so this year’s beach week started with a new set of rules laid out by my mother and her sister, the grandmoms.  You can see by the photo how seamlessly the rules were enacted.

And some of us have developed special skill sets for coping with the large in-house crowd. My father disappears into a book. My sister heads out to the beach during the hottest part of the day when everyone else is inside, and my aunt and cousin have picked up the habit of putting together jigsaw puzzles in the corner of the room while the extreme extroverts among us play loud games. This year’s favorite is BANG.

My daughter found the one on the left, my mother found the one on the right. I found the one in the middle. I'm afraid my reputation is about to change.

My daughter found the one on the left, my mother found the one on the right. I found the one in the middle. I’m afraid my reputation is about to change.

So, okay, the cramming all of us into one house can be less than 100% perfect, what makes us want to keep doing it? Well, time spent together in the sand is one reason.  A lot of us (okay, mostly the males) enjoy daily games of petanque, which is similar to Bocce and played in France. We still have the set my husband bought when he was an exchange student living there. Others of us (okay, mostly the females) enjoy looking for shark’s teeth. I usually enjoy this the most of all because over the years I’ve developed a reputation as the best shark-tooth finder. Here are some that we found this year.

Grits and salmon patties with beefsteak tomatoes.

Grits and salmon patties with beefsteak tomatoes. A beach house favorite

The school aged kids all love swimming in the ocean despite what finding the large sharks’ teeth proves, their fearlessness amid the breakers evoking fearfulness in their parents.  We usually build at least one big sand castle, play at least one after-dinner game of Spoon, and cook some of the same favorite meals.

Petaque!

Petanque!

Every year is the same, and every year is different. I am thankful for all of our traditions, both important and trivial. And I think, no matter what your traditions are, the simple tradition of etching out time to spend with family is one of the most important parts of growing up. Happy summer everyone!

The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Character

Character is essentially WHO we are. Which is why characterization is so important to writers. We’re celebrating the creation of great characters over on our sister blog, Nerdy Chicks Write.  In the meantime, I hope you’ll find these quotes about character relative, no matter what your profession. After all, we all have character!

Quotes about Character:

 

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT:

“People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.”

 

RICHARD REEVES:

“Character is a word that seems to define almost all human activity and then some…”

“Power is what you do and character is what you are…”

” All leaders must face some crisis where their own strength of character is the enemy.”

 

HELEN KELLER: 

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

 

HERACLITUS : 

“A man’s character is his fate.”

 

SAM SHEPARD:  

“Character is an essential tendency. It can be covered up, it can be messed with, it can be screwed around with, but it can’t be ultimately changed. It’s the structure of our bones, the blood that runs through our veins.”

 

 

Get it WRITE This Summer!

We are so excited to announce a new kidlit writer’s workshop through our sister site, Nerdy Chicks Write called

SUMMER SCHOOL!

badge

Kidlit Summer School is a four week writer’s workshop that will run from July 21 through August 15. Because we (Kami and Sudipta) both enjoy teaching writing classes, we wanted to find a way to offer craft-based writing advice on a particular topic each summer. Our 2014 course is going to focus on writing great characters.

It’s fun! It’s fabulous! It’s FREE!

Pre-registration has already begun! If you’d like to find out more about Summer School and sign yourself up, please visit Nerdy Chicks Write by clicking the badge above (designed by the fabulous Zachariah Ohora), or on the link in the header above, or simply click HERE. Register now and

Get it WRITE This Summer!

We want to see YOU at Summer School! Be there, or be square!! (Can you tell I was not one of the cool kids in school?)

Nerdy Chicks Go To Paris

Last month, I took an incredible trip. To Paris.

9J7A0516

What made it even more incredible was that my companions to the City of Light were my two daughters. The girls are 12 and 13 now, and I just knew what the trip would be…deep conversations about life and philosophy as we sat in Parisian cafes sipping coffee (or Evian, as the case might be)…long strolls along the Seine contemplating the things in life that change and the things that stand the test of time…visits to the world-class art museum of Paris absorbing culture and history…indulging in the gastronomic pleasures of the greatest city on earth. A memorable experience.

SPOILER ALERT: None of those things happened.

9J7A0055As it turns out, 12 and 13 year olds don’t view Paris in the same way that their 30-something mother does. This is how the trip started: after a red eye flight and two hours of recovery sleep in the hotel, we left for the Eiffel Tower tour I had pre-booked for us. We skipped right past the 2 hour line and climbed to the summit. We gazed out at the breathtaking view of the city.

And then five minutes later, the girls said, “Can we go now?”

OK, I got that. It’s not like the view was changing, right? We saw everything you could see, and it was time to move to the next thing. So I asked them what they wanted to do.

“Dunno.” Times two.

But wait! I’d specifically asked them to each look up three things they wanted to do in Paris before our trip. So I asked for their lists.

“Eiffel Tower,” said one.

The other agreed. “That was on my list, too.”

Well, what else?

“Dunno.” Times two. 9J7A1268

I’ll admit, that’s when I lost my temper a little bit. After all, they hadn’t researched a single cafe to visit for philosophical discussions? Not a single monument to admire?

“Dunno.” Times two.

By the way, it was right around then that it started to rain. Not a heavy enough rain to send us back to the hotel, but just enough to get us wet and cranky.

There is literally no answer more frustrating as a parent and as a Nerdy Chick than “Dunno.” So I made an executive decision: we were going to the Musee D’Orsay.

I can’t tell you how the thought of that excited my girls. No, really, I can’t tell you. There are no words. Because they had no words.

We got on the train from the Champs de Mars (just soaked enough to be aggravated) and headed to the Musee D’Orsay. This involved a double decker train, which is when the girls finally showed a little excitement about the Musee D’Orsay. Though I’m pretty sure riding on the top level of the RER should not have been as exciting as seeing some Monets and Van Goghs.

When we finally got to the museum, there was no line for entry. Score! Right?

Yeah, well, there was no line because the Musee D’Orsay was closed. So, there we were, wet, tired, unable to experience the cultural depth of a Parisian Museum.

That’s when one of my daughters said, “This is great!”

Huh? “Why?” I asked, “The museum is closed!”

“Well,” she answered, “we can totally say we went to the Musee D’Orsay, and we don’t even have to go in and waste any time.”

At that point, I did exactly what I should have done from the start.

I laughed out loud. And I let go of all of MY plans for OUR trip.

9J7A0747They don’t know this, but right then, I felt like my entire parenting experience was being reflected in that moment. Because isn’t that what we do as parents? Make grand plans of what our lives with our children will be — then spend the rest our lives realizing those plans were all for naught?

I wanted OUR trip to go a certain way. But it was MY way I wanted. And that wasn’t fair to the other people in my OUR.

For the rest of our time in Paris, other than making the girls go to the Louvre (they had to see the Mona Lisa), we made no other specific plans. In fact, we basically just walked around the city as we pleased. And we had an amazing time. Once I let go, WE were able to make the trip a memorable experience.

wpid-1400967908302.jpgWe even got a rainbow over the Eiffel Tower. If that’s not the universe showing it’s approval, I don’t know what is.

At the airport coming home, I asked the girls if they would remember the trip the way I will?

“Dunno.” Times two.

What can I say? Incredible.