People I never thought I’d be

I spent the first part of this week in Tampa for work. I had not yet unpacked my suitcase from the LAST business trip I was on (Minnesota) before I had to pack for this one. It was my third business trip in about 8 weeks. I felt – as I went through the well practiced shoes-laptop-liquids process – like a jaded road warrior.

Tampa did have some advantages over Minnesota
Tampa did have some advantages over Minnesota

I remember my first few times flying – Boston to Seattle in college – when I stared horrified a the people blowing off the whole “in case of emergency, your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device” speech. Didn’t these people care about their lives? I pitied them their calcified ways – eyes on the Harvard Business Review as this remarkable patchwork of humanity is exposed below them. Do they not know that their flight represents the wildest fantasy – never to be obtained – of generations of humanity? How can they so casually close the window and catnap?

Yeah. During the safety notification, I check to see which is my nearest exit. I wonder if there is anyone, anywhere who doesn’t know how to buckle their seatbelt. Then I open Harvard Business Review (ok, actually it’s usually a fashion magazine for a Technically Pretty fashion magazine review). I still like the window seat, and I still try to spot my house/college/guess-the-big-city as I fly, but the magic is indeed gone.

The training I took was on Pragmatic Marketing. Why I needed this training was a story for another day. It was excellent training – well delivered, thought-provoking, very educational. But there were a lot of identity-crisis moments for me in it. Here was I: liberal arts major, lover of medieval literature, classical musician, backpacker, mother, role-playing-gamer-who-wishes-she-could-talk-her-gaming-group-into-dungeons-and-dragons, baseball-lover, programmer, technical architect… in a marketing class. The word marchitecture was extensively and non-ironically used.

I learned a lot of extremely interesting things I had never previously imagined knowing, but wondered to find myself in such a place under such circumstances.

I am – at this moment – sitting at Chuck E Cheese. I know – I’m breaking form. Usually my now-weekly posts are written at the YMCA during basketball practice. But today Grey and Lincoln have a video game playdate, which would not be nearly as fun if the “little brother” was present. So I told the little brother type person to name his entertainment, and for two hours it would be his. He picked the rathole.

I’m lurking on a local wifi network (seriously, Chuck E, how can you not have wifi). I have a GREAT idea for a new type of business… imagine a big central play area for kids from 3 – 10 years of age. A big, bouncy-housed arcade. Imagine seating around the sides – maybe raised – with great visibility of the play areas. Maybe there would even be closed circuit cameras covering the blind spots. Then imagine this seating around the edge was a mix of 4 – 6 person tables and one to two person locations. There would be a light appetizers and drink service to the grownup section. There would be great wifi, tons of power, comfortable seats, lower noise (low enough that a phone call would be plausible) and someone at the door (like they have at Chuck E’s) to make sure there are no small person escapees.

Work-from-home parents and folks like me would come with our laptops, offer our kids some great exercise/fun (maybe with their friends). We could either catch up on our work/personal digital lives, or come with our friends (who are increasingly the parents of our children’s friends) and catch up on the latest together. It would be awesome. Maybe there could be a per hour (or per day) fee, or you could sign up for a monthly membership. Maybe they’d even mix in some enrichment activities, like sports/activities.

They’d rake it in, I tell you.

I find the process of being no longer young continues to surprise me on a regular basis. My latest “get off my lawn!” moment happened last weekend. I was making some pies. Now, you must understand that I know how to make pie. I was running some quick calculations in my head, and I figure I’ve made between 100 – 120 pies in my lifetime. Every single one of those pies was made with the same recipe, inherited from my grandmother, which is hard to make but deliciously flaky.

Then, a few years ago, Crisco changed its recipe in response to the backlash against transfats. As far as I can tell, Crisco was all trans fats. This pie crust recipe that my grandmother passed down to me is entirely made of Crisco. It took me a while to eat through the old pie starter and Crisco I had. But then I started having trouble. I blamed it on all sorts of things: not enough flour on the pastry crust, too much shortening in the pie starter, not cold enough, too much water, not enough water. Finally though, very tired on a Friday night and working on pie 2 of 6, I finally realized that it just. Wasn’t. Working. For the first time ever, I actually got a pie crust so bad I couldn’t make it work and I had to throw it out. (That was a pie crust that ACTUALLY didn’t have enough water.) Dawning realization hit: it wasn’t me. I wasn’t making a mistake. It was the pie crust. It was unworkable. Crisco ruined my recipe.

Depressed, I turned to America’s Test Kitchen and made a shortening-and-butter crust that came out much, much better. But I had that “Why do they go “improving” perfectly good things and ruining the way I’ve always done them?” I mean, in this case I understood. Transfats = bad for health. But a tie that went back to the early 20th century, and my bright-eyed great-grandmother, was just severed. I mourn its loss. As I move from youth to middle age, I better see the costs – not just the benefits – of the inexorable march of progress. I know how things once were (through the rosy tinted spectacles of youth, of course) and lament their loss. My sons will never learn to roll a pie crust using Grandma Finley’s recipe (unless some enterprising entrepreneur brings back the classic formulation – you never know.)

My grandma’s caramel corn recipe requires corn syrup and brown sugar. Perhaps I’d better make it while I can!

Wednesday at Camp Gramp

Oyster Mountain
Oyster Mountain

The economics of Chuck E Cheese is fascinating, or perhaps it is the marketing. It is a study in inflation psychology. We got 120 tokens with our badly overpriced and mediocre pizza. That is 30 per child. All around us, machines screamed, “Play me.” There were lights and graphics and sounds. It is incredible noisy! You can shoot, drive, ride, or hit innocent small creatures on the head. You can have your picture taken. You can shoot basketballs and throw baseballs. Or you can try to drop your token into the slot for the jackpot. Grey ran around like mad and had finished the tokens before the pizza arrived. Thane likes putting the tokens in the slots but cares little for the tickets or the games. He likes the graphics, but he doesn’t need to interact with them. Kay likes cute things, but she did did spend quite a bit of time at a shooter. Baz is the most thoughtful of the players. He walks around looking, analyses each of the games to see what he likes best and what he is likely to get the most tickets from. He always finishes his tokens last.

After plowing through the 30 tokens Camp Gramp supported, Grey impulsively and Baz thoughtfully decided to invest their Camp Gramp spending money in another 50 tokens. It was unbelievably hard to let them do that! What a waste! But we didn’t say anything when Kay invested her Camp Gramp spending money in a blue bear clinging to a piece of candy and Thane spent his on a dinosaur egg — which when put in water actually hatched (actually, this was neat — but worth $3 not $10.) So all the spending money is gone now.

Back to Chuck E Cheese. The games you play spew out an incredible number of tickets. I picked up 26 of Thane’s. He wasn’t interested. Kay had 76 — she was interested. Grey got 140 — he was very interested. Baz earned an impressive 441 tickets. At the ticket “store”, each ticket is worth about a penny. Where do they find all that trash? You would think the children were starving because the candy was popular. Baz got a magic trick and a rocket, plus a bag of cotton candy. Kay got vampire teeth. She can hardly wait until her mouth gets big so they don’t hurt. Grey got CANDY! Thane got one of those packets of Koolaid type stuff with a little stick you use to dip in it. Don’t worry, he didn’t eat most of the pure sugar. He deposited it in the car seat. The vacuum cleaner took care of the mess.

What amazed me is that all the children were happy! They had a great time and they thought their prizes were wonderful. It was such trash! But they were happy. Is it the games or the tickets? What motivates the children to so deeply desire this particular Camp Gramp activity? And why don’t Don and I refuse? Amazing. We noticed the demographic is changing. There were more tweens and young adults there. The children’s section has shrunk and the adult games, car chases, etc., have increased.

The whole day was not consumed by CEC. We went to Hamma Hamma, an oyster farm on Hood Canal. It was very interesting! I know a job that will inspire you to go to college — oyster shucking! That looks brutal. If I can get them downloaded, there is a picture of the children on top of a pile of oyster shells. (The shadow at the top of the picture is not impending weather, but a finger!) They looked wonderful against the blue sky!

Speaking of college, our tour guide was wonderful. At the end of the tour, someone asked her if she went to college. “Yes” she said, “a little college in Vermont.” Class of 2004 — Middlebury. She is putting her degree in English literature to good use!

Then we went to the Olympic National Park — or a subsection of it — Seal Rock Camp Grounds — remember it, Matthew. The children played in the water for about an hour. It was a nice time. They don’t like the sun screen we have — I think there may be a little too much red on Thane’s face. Such bliss — water, rocks. It doesn’t get much better.

I would like to apologize to my children for making them take trips without DS or videos. It may not be the best interaction we can get, but it sure cuts down on the fighting and whining. I didn’t hear “are we there yet” more than twice.

Sleep is settling over our little camp and I am about to join them. It will never do to let them get ahead.

The health report: Baz feels fine. Thane spent the whole day coughing and informing us he was going to throw up — then not doing so. Since he revived in remarkable ways when something fun offered, we were not too worried. On the other hand, let’s not talk about the cuts. The rocks were a little sharp. Again, Thane won hands down! I love the therapeutic value of a little antiseptic wash! Medicine!

Camp Gramp Tuesday/Wednesday

Can you hear the exhaustion in my post. My oh my, we are all tired. Poor Thane, his tooth brushing was certain the sad way. He is one tired little boy.

Tuesday we went to Pioneer Farms. That is an amazing place. Baz got to use the blacksmith’s forge. Thane petted a pig and chased chickens. They all tried to milk the cow and got a ride on the horse. Doing the laundry was fun, and so was grinding coffee for their Aunt. Unfortunately, the trip to Sheila was cancelled. Good thing. We all took baths and played in the back yard. We all needed sleep.

Wednesday was a three adventure day.

First, Wilcox Farms, which is now an egg farm. They have 1,000,000 chickens on the place. As you can imagine — there were a lot of eggs. Unfortunately, the guide was not kid oriented and although he talked to the kids, he was really long winded. But the school house was cool, and so was the heavy equipment to climb on. Grey’s favorite part was lunch. I do wish that boy would eat breakfast.

Adventure two, Nisqually wildlife refuge. It is a beautiful place to walk. We watched a frog eat an insect and heard lots of birds. Baz read all the informational signs, but all three of the older kids could handle all the headings. They just didn’t have the interest that comes with a little age. While the wildlife refuge is a place that we all want to go, the primary purpose of this stop was to let Thane finish his nap before the final adventure of the day, Chuch E. Cheese. The pizza was better than the last time we were there. It is still a parent trap, but it does entertain the kids nicely. It was facinating to see the kids use their tokens.

Baz. He used his tokens very slowly. He took Thane around for some time. He is so patient with him. Then he chose challenging driving games and things like that to do. They all took longer. He didn’t get too many tickets, but he got good play value for his time.

Kay. She was extremely thoughtful about her use of tokens. She like rides with video on them. She came back to the table to check with us the most often. She was a little panicked that she was not with us all the time. Her pictures is very cute.

Grey. Grey used his tokens first by half the time. He would come dashing back with pickets and put them in his cup, then fly off to do more. Grey got a very creative collection of pictures in which he had different emotions, mad, scared, happy, etc.

Thane. We could give Thane no tokens and he would be happy. He puts tokens in the slots of the most colorful game, then runs away without playing it. He is perfectly happy with the demo screens on most of them. We almost made it out of CEC with him happy, but there was an epic meltdown at the prize redemption area.

Great days!

Checking out Chickens
Checking out Chickens
Camp Grampers
Camp Grampers

Istanbul & Camp Gramp: Day 3

We asked where we could get a cup of coffee... and ended up here.
We asked where we could get a cup of coffee... and ended up here.

August 3

Following fine Byzantine tradition, our feet are launching a palace coup against the work being asked of them. Istanbul is a city, like Rome, built on seven hills. I think we walked all of them today. Notably, we saw the Blue Mosque (it was blue), half of the Museum of Archaeology (it was not air conditioned and today got up to 38c), and walked to the Spice Bazaar where we bought very expensive tea and peanuts. Then we walked back by way of the city walls.

The Blue Mosque - one big room
The Blue Mosque - one big room

We had to scrap plans to visit Ephesus as too expensive, so tomorrow’s itinerary is as yet undetermined. My feet are voting for sleeping in and lounging, but I never listen to the proletariat. How can it be Wednesday tomorrow? We just got here!

It was great to talk to the boys today. We see so many Turkish families wandering around, it makes us miss them even more fiercely. Adam has had to restrain me from buying balloon pants, an embroidered vest and a fez for Grey…. I think he’d look dashing!

Marble sarcophagi at the Archaological Museum
Marble sarcophagi at the Archaological Museum

Keep the updates coming mom. I’ve already heard from my blog reading faithful that Camp Gramp updates are obligatory.

Love to you all,


Meanwhile, back in the states…

Today we stayed home until after afternoon naps. Actually, only the Boston boys napped, and the older ones under strong objections, but we all had a rest. The early part of the evening was spent trying to find Chuck E Cheese. My map reading capabilities again failed me. Chuck E Cheese lives NE of the 95-3 intersection, not SW. There is a difference. I finally stopped and asked.

I can’t decided if I think Chuck E Cheese is brilliant or evil. The incredible excitement displayed in winning those miserable tickets . 60 tickets for a little candy bar. Yet they love it. Even Thane enjoyed himself. He likes to put the coins in the slots but isn’t interested in the rides themselves. And boy is he fast! He bolts and you better be wearing your running shoes. Kay had two horse rides and got a CSI identification ID. Grey got 40 tickets and loved them. He ran all over the store looking for members of the family with a long string of tickets flying out behind him. Baz is the air hockey champion. He beat everyone but me — we had a headed battle in which I pulled out a narrow victory. They seemed to really enjoy themselves. The food, on the other hand …. they should be ashamed of themselves for serving such food!

After Chuck E Cheese, bedtime snack was at the Dairy cone place in Stoneham. Thane was like a little bird — mouth raised and open – I ceam.

Tomorrow, pictures and then a return trip to the ocean sans the littlest lemming. Brenda and Adam, you are right. I have never seen a child so gleeful about water and the way he throws himself in the surf is terrifying! The next day is supposed to be hot. It has been growing steadily warmer — so we are not looking forward to hot. We are thinking Science Museum. That sounds air conditioned.

We are all well. I am off to bed — just one more check of the troops.

Love, Gramama