Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gettysburg -- Ghosts and Growlers

    This summer's adventures, so far, have had fireworks, good food and friends, and several road trips.  The latest one being a family reunion in Gettysburg, PA.  This was the first reunion for my wife's side of the family.  Several relatives drove cross-country from the West and Midwest.  Most came from various towns throughout New Jersey.  We all met at a KOA campground near the historic Gettysburg battlefield.  Luckily for the kids, my wife and I had scouted the campground last year, so they had already experienced the enormity of the battlefield and heard the tales of soldiers on both sides of the war and toured the old farm homes turned rustic inns.  Our weekend trip this time around consisted more of old family stories and meeting long, lost relatives that seemed more like strangers.
      My wife spent the day catching up while the kids valiantly fought boredom.  The older kids of the other families (mostly teenagers) graciously played campground games with my kids, keeping them busy while the adults tried to fit years of living into a few short hours.  There were plenty of the older generation represented, grandmothers and great-aunts, some who had never met before.  The teenagers and twenty-somethings were more than happy to participate in a road trip to see parts of history and share their own family's history.  The middle generation, the 30's and 40's, the growing families of younger children, 'tweens, and even some teens, was disappointingly absent.  They all were too consumed in their own universes to take the time to make the trip and possibly the sole chance to see and meet family from across the country.  My wife was especially disappointed that the kids did not get the chance to see some of their unknown or little-visited cousins.  I think she wanted some more interaction with family her own age to recount old family legends.  She, however, found great joy in her time with her westerly relations.
       The reward for being a good husband and minding my P's and Q's was a stop at the local brewery.  I had looked forward to stopping at Appalachian Brewing since our visit last year.  It is one of life's little pleasures to return home from the road with a fresh gallon of quality crafted beer.  Three varieties were enough to keep the cooler partly full (I was secretly planning on passing a few other breweries on the way home, so a partly filled cooler was mandatory.) 
       Down the road from the brewery is the "main strip" of Gettysburg, a short run of craft, souvenir, and period clothing stores with a few "ghost-hunting" tourist traps sprinkled in.  The kids would never allow us a trip to Gettysburg without stopping at Gettysburg Paranormal.  They love ghost-hunting and they love to be scared silly, even if it's not right at that moment.  Last year, they enjoyed a family-friendly adventure through the outskirts of the battlefield with a Paranormal guide, Cori.  She was a wonderfully informative guide filled with old Civil War legends and a knack for keeping the kids interested.  Unfortunately, she was already booked for the evening and the kids really wanted to try something a little more intense.  So we made a reservation for the the night-time, adult tour and GPA made an exception for our kids to participate because of their prior experience.  Some of the teens from the reunion joined in and the ghost hunt was on.  Without getting into details, some kids bailed out halfway through due to eerie feelings and chills and our kids needed "some air" at the last room (In their defense, creepy mannequins in a dark room dressed like Civil War soldiers hidden in bushes was a little unsettling even to the adults).  In the light of the following morning, tears of fright and scary goose bumps were replaced by smiles and timid requests to return next year to be scared again.
        The road home led us through Amish country, and we were able to catch plenty of glimpses of horses and buggies.  The farmland was therapeutic, ever-flowing waves of green across the landscape.  We somehow needed gas right outside Lancaster and the Lancaster Brewing Company seemed the logical stop for lunch.  Their food was excellent but their beer sampler was a little extreme for road trippers (14 5oz. glasses of everything they make seems a little excessive in the middle of a three hour tour).  The wife and kids voted on six of the best sounding brews to sample and the food followed shortly thereafter.  The Turkey Hill Experience was a roadside attraction the kids begged to see and it gave me time to peruse the map and local attractions brochures.  The two lane brought us past more farms, more buggies, and, mysteriously, another brewery, Rumspringa.  What a quaint little place, very airy, rustic and filled with beer worth a return trip, a gem of sorts among the crop fields.
        We were all happy to have our own beds underneath us by the day's end but a new reunion, a couple of years off, is already in the works.  Hopefully, this time, everyone can make the effort, take the time, to visit.  But, if not, I'm sure a brewery or three will mysteriously pop up along the route along with some ghosts of time gone by.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Spanish Flair

    For Macy's spectacular fireworks display on the Hudson River, we had decided to go the more extravagant route and dip into the bank account.  We secured reservations to a restaurant offering VIP parking and seating right on the riverfront for the 4th of July.  The kids excitement was not only contagious but well worth the effort.  The day might have been blistering hot but the warm summer breeze as the sun faded on the water was comforting.  We were able to drive right down to the waterfront with the windows open, soaking in the sights and sounds of the city electric.  The kids were bouncing from window to window in the back seat as we were waved through each successive road block and check point.  The roads were empty of traffic as we cleared the final barricade and headed for the valet stand.
    We needed to arrive nearly an hour ahead of our reservation to ensure passage through the multiple checkpoints and building traffic for the anticipated fireworks.  No one seemed to mind, however.  And once we left the car behind, the hour of waiting for our reservation time to come seemed to only be part of the adventure.  The kids spent their time watching all the boats bobbing on the river, jockeying for the best spot on the water.  It was like a giant floating city of partying and BBQ.  The NYFD was well represented on the water and their firefighting ships were putting on quite a display in their own right, blasting multi-colored water in every direction.  Somewhere above us music drifted through the summer air and added to the atmosphere.  Our table time was a distant thought when it arrived.
      Our outside, riverfront dining was exceptional.  We watched formations of helicopters fly over head as we sipped sangria at our table.  The kids experimented with lobster ceviche and picadillo as the last rays of the day turned the river a magical purple hue.  Our main course was brought to the table in spectacular fashion, as the NY skyline shimmered with fiery blasts.  Sparks and booms filled the night sky and paella, arroz imperial, and sole del alma filled our table.  Each forkful was celebrated with its own bursting spectacle.   Taste buds exploded with flavor and new found favorites as eyes were filled with the wonder of fire in the sky.  As a dad, I had captured lightning in a bottle, and an unforgettable dining experience, an event not soon to be replicated, boyfriends beware.  The crowd began to dwindle as dessert arrived.  Plates were traded or placed in the middle of the table so all the selections could be sampled by everyone.  Trio of flan was hard to come by as my oldest somehow hid it away.  An enormous helping of tres leches bested my little one, ensuring a taste for everyone.  Churros were an afterthought, a dessert after dessert, to be nibbled on as I enjoyed a cafe con leche basking in the success of this special evening.
         The ride home was quiet, everyone sleeping with full bellies.  I creeped home in the waning traffic, smiling the whole way. Son Cubano was a the perfect restaurant on the perfect day.  In the end I silently thanked my Spanish friends for the spattering of phrases that impressed both my waiter and my family and for the experiences they have opened my children to.

Big Thanks

....to Verizon for finally getting my internet service back, or was it just the weather cooling off slightly to allow the infrastructure to resume working?  (THe favorite excuse of Verizon, service that does not operate during heat waves.) Either way I have been backlogged long enough.  The words will now continue to flow.