Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Brace yourself, this is a long one!

It's a borrowed title - borrowed from one of my own does that count as borrowed? - but I felt it a propos for a couple of reasons. The first is fairly obvious. This post is a long one. The second is that I stumbled upon an old email this morning while searching for something else, and it provided the inspiration for today's post. It was a lengthy (obviously) description of our 4-day trip to London, England in the spring of 2007, and it was simply delightful to relive the experience in such detail. Which got me to thinking about the fantastic trip we just took to Burlington, Vermont over March Break and how, in a couple of years, I'd really enjoy looking back on a lengthy email of that adventure as well. And with any luck, you'll enjoy it right now. And so...

Imagine, if you will, embarking on a late-winter trip to one of the top 10 skiing destinations in America - or the world, depending on who you ask - with no intention of setting foot on the slopes, armed with nothing more than a pair of wellies and a smile. Well, that's exactly what the Cowfam did, with wildly fantastic results...

Day 1 - Monday (Packing wait...Go Time!)

We leave tomorrow. But wait, J doesn't have to work today on account of being banned from the hospital until he's been diarrhea and vomit-free for 48 hours after a touch of the why don't we start the vacation early? After a quick trip to have some stitches removed (poor Dr. J has had a rough go of it recently), and the most frantic and disorganized attempt at packing you've EVER seen, we were off! Time: 1:30pm. ETA: 4:30pm. Free food and drinks at the hotel: 5:00-7:00pm. We were in good shape.

Here's the route to our destination a la GoogleMaps:

View Larger Map

And here's how our (not so) trusty GPS took us:

View Larger Map

Moral? Short of removing your GPS from the safety of her holster and rubbing her nose in the asphalt of a Montreal highway at rush hour while you're stopped anyway with an hour to kill in a useless attempt to discourage her from any similarly brilliant ideas in the future, I recommend printing out that GoogleMap before leaving the safety of your couch and keeping one step ahead of that tricky trickster on your dashboard.  But I digress.

Naively assuming that Montreal would be our biggest problem, because of course once I realized my passport is expired we dutifully called a Customs official at the border crossing we thought we would be taking, and he assured us that it was maybe possible that we might still be allowed into the country, so what else could go wrong?? (yep, still on the same sentence), we breathed a sigh of relief once we left the city limits, tempered only by a vague uncertainty as to why we were still heading East, when surely by now we would have to backtrack to Burlington. After a couple of resets to ensure that, in fact, we were going to Burlington, VT and not Burlington, NS, we gave ourselves over to blind faith and plodded on. Speaking of deep breaths, those fumes we were smelling were all that continued to propel us forward as we had intended to fill up with gas as soon as we got the the US, on the other side of Cornwall, ON, and not Philipsburg, QC (you know you're deep in the middle of nowhere in QC when the towns names are English), a difference of about 190km.

So, a quick stop for gas and some more driving got us to the border, where only a couple of cars stood between us and...another half hour wait. Turns out the customs official wasn't concerned so much with my expired passport as he was with Ralph's questionable health status. After dutifully carrying all of Ralph's records back and forth for several years, we finally decided that - having never been asked for them - his vaccination records were not all that necessary. Actually, it may have had more to do with the frantically disorganized packing mentioned earlier than anything else. In any case, we pulled over and called the vet, asked them to fax his vaccination records, and chased each other around the office for, oh I don't know, 50 laps or so, and then continued on. Time: 5:20pm. ETA: 6:05pm. Estimated time remaining to consume free food and alcohol: 00:55. We were getting antsy.

But don't worry folks, it's all good news from here. We did, in fact make it to our destination and we did, in fact, partake in about 45 minutes of free wine, local beer, chowder and salad, and we did, in fact, get a dip in the pool and hot tub before completely abandoning any attempt at a regular bedtime for baboushka. After all, we're on VACATION!!!

Day 2 - Tuesday (I'm so full...what can we eat next?)

Did I mention the actual reason we came to ski country when there was no snow to speak of and balmy 60 degree temperatures? Why to visit friends, of course! Good friends from our medical school days L-dawg and A-money, their son A-monkey and brand new-ish daughter Squishy were violently ripped from their sunny California roots and transplanted to the harsh reality of the Northern East Coast for Dr. A-money to complete his residency in Neurology. There are obvious benefits to this arrangement, sad though they were to be taken away from family and the possibility of getting a natural suntan before June. The first is that it has cut down the distance between us by about 4200km, which definitely saves on gas. The second is that they have been fortunate enough to have been carefully deposited approximately a half hour from the front door of the home of Ben & Jerry. Who needs sun when you can have ice cream? I mean really. What would you choose on a desert island? Oh, shut up.

So we were there to visit friends. We couldn't give a whoop about skiing. Take that, Vermont.

On Tuesday morning A-monkey had his first day at a weekly farm class, so we met L-dawg and Squishy at the farm for a roam while A-monkey tapped trees for syrup and cuddled baby animals. E showed Squishy some baby sheep and chickens and sang Christmas songs while Squishy practiced enunciating her vowels, and the ladies and J caught up with each other. When class was over, E and A-monkey hugged and chased each other and pushed and pulled and fell down and got muddy all the way back to the cars. It was love at second sight. We had only met him once before at graduation in June, but about 2 minutes after our reunion he turned to me and said "I missed you!". That's about as sweet as it gets. Unless you count Squishy McGigglepants and her perpetual smile. The two of them together damn near made my ovaries explode. Throw them in with E and...well, that kind of has the opposite effect of solidifying my I WILL NOT HAVE THREE KIDS rule, but cute nonetheless.

I missed you!

By the time the Calvalcade of Silliness made it back to L-dawg's residence it was time to wake up a sleepy Dr. A-money from his post-night shift slumber and make our way to Stowe. Not for skiing though, as I think I have already established, but for the most delightfully not-at-all-relaxing-but-excessively-fun-in-an-oh-my-god-why-are-we-always-missing-one-kid kind of way culinary scavenger hunt. First was lunch at a cafe in downtown Stowe, followed by some foot measuring in a nearby shoe/clothing/toy/gardening/souvenir shop. With full bellies it only made sense to continue on to the town of Waterbury, where we followed the apples on the floor to free apple cider. If I could just make one suggestion to the proprietors of the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, it would be that while I am immeasurably impressed by and grateful for the giant vat of apple cider that is available to patrons for free in unlimited quantities of tiny cup refills, I would advise placing the spout at a height above 24" from the ground to avoid the irresistible temptation of young ones to pull the tap just to watch the cider flow down into the overflow grate. Yes, I know that it is my responsibility to supervise the under 4' set in their unending quest for entertainment, but they really do start to move pretty quickly around 3 years of age and when there are multiples of them and I would just like to sample this delicious-looking apple butter and my husband is distracted by his search for coffee and maybe it wouldn't be so hard to just elevate the damn thing a little, no? But again, thank you for your generosity and my, those cider doughnuts really are as good as I imagined. Also, swinging benches really aren't as relaxing as I remember them to be. Although that might be down to user error on A-monkey's part.

Apple cider addicts.

Even more full than before but spurred on by a surge of glucose in our collective bloodstream, it was time for ice cream. Just down the road was Ben&Jerry's, complete with hippie bus and giant playground in which to deposit children and adults experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of sugar-induced mania. I enjoyed Phish food, while E sampled a bit of everyone's including her own Strawberry Cheesecake and J stuck with his weakness, Milk & Cookies. Imagine my exultation when E tired quickly of the ice cream-a-thon (What the?) and I was left to finish two bowls on my own. Wheeee!!! We then followed the kids up the hill to the playground and let the dads manage injury prevention while L-dawg and I did our best impressions of negligent gossipy playground moms. We were naturals.

Eventually we had to grab the kids and go as, though we had just spent the last 2 hours eating, we realized that it was almost time to hit the free food and booze party at the hotel.

Have I told you about our hotel yet? Let's talk about that.

Part of me doesn't want to tell you, because if everyone finds out about it and starts going then maybe they'll raise their prices or get so booked up we won't get a room next time. But I'm a sharer, so I'll risk it.

Green Mountain Suites. $119/night on Expedia. Two rooms, two TVs, kitchen with full-size fridge, stovetop and dishwasher. Pool and hot tub. Pet friendly. Free hot breakfast every morning with apple and cheese-stuffed crepes, spinach and feta scrambled eggs, danishes and just about everything else you could want for breakfast. Freaking dried cranberries for your granola! And real Vermont maple syrup. Obviously. And then. Oh, and then: every weeknight evening from 5-7pm there's an open bar serving wine and beer, and free dinner. Yes, dinner. Something different every night. With a salad bar every night. All delicious. Don't tell them that we brought our friends two out of the four nights and we saved a bundle on eating out at restaurants. But man, did we get our money's worth.

After a post-dinner swim and hot tub, we called it a night and E made it to bed about 2 hours after bedtime. I had a fleeting thought before nodding off that I wasn't sure I could handle another 3 days of so much excitement. But then I had to get to sleep because my next free meal was in a few short hours.

Day 3 - Wednesday (aka Midpoint Meltdown)

Wednesday was the day we checked out the town of Burlington. We went downtown and, after a delicious lunch with two delightfully behaved 3 year olds and one blissfully unconscious infant, we were schooled on the effects of disregarding the importance of naptime. Think screaming in race cars and elevators, writhing while screaming in Macy's and parking lots, coupled with the general exhaustion that accompanies vacations with kids, beer at lunchtime and only one cup of coffee a day. We wisely decided to dial down the evening to include a short walk/ride on mom's back to the grocery store for Ben&Jerry's and an early bedtime. Mom and dad each had an extra beer and a pint of ice cream to wash away the humiliation.

Tantrum in 3...2...1...

Day 4 - Thursday (aka Back in the Saddle)

The day mama had been waiting for. Lunch date with L-dawg. As rare and lovely as Cowfam family vacation time is, there is an occurrence that may be rated even lovelier by it's sheer near-extinction-like scarcity, and that is girlfriend time. And not the playdate kind, where you can usually paste together 5 minutes of conversation amid the mayhem, or the fragmented Skype conversations sprinkled with frozen screens and even more toddlerific disruptions, but pure, unadulterated, uninterruped one-on-one girlfriend time. Preferably with food.

But first - skating! L-dawg told us about a fantastic kiddie skate where they put little toys on the ice and the kidlets push crates around and fill buckets with toys. What a super-awesome way to burn some energy and do a little skill-building without breaking mama's back or cracking one's skull! Plus, there was a zamboni!

Look at that form! 

 And skill!

After skating, we returned to wake up Dr. Sleepy around noon. Then we warmed the kiddies up with The Gruffalo (A Gruffalo! Why didn't you know?) before handing off three dubiously obedient offspring to two overly-confident dads - who tried to apply reverse psychology with their zen calmness - and getting the heck outta dodge. We arrived at a cheerful little bakery/cafe whose sandwich selections were exceeded only by the dessert case, and complimented with free coffee and iced tea refills. My kind of place. We dined on pork sandwiches with pineapple chutney and greens followed by rich fudgy chocolate heaven and light and fluffy peanut butter and chocolate meringues, and lingered over our limitless beverages. When the vacuum cleaner switched on, we took it as our cue, more out of being afraid of being put to work than anything else. Two moms sitting for long periods of time, chatting idly and clearly enjoying themselves must be entirely too tempting for your average adolescent cafe employee. So we scooted off, returning to the glorious scene of a smiling baby, 3-year old #1 playing gleefully in the yard and 3-year-old #2 napping blissfully in a nearby stroller while two intact dads chatted amicably. Purrr-fection. And just what this mama needed.

I'll give you one guess about where we headed from there. Italian sausage night at the hotel! Avec beer. Followed by swimming, where A-monkey and E showed off their newly honed and terribly impressive swimming skills.

Day 5 - Friday (Adieu, mes amis!)

Not satisfied with limping away from our vacation, we decided to pack as much fun into the last few hours as possible. And what's more fun that bowling with toddlers? Nothing! Except maybe using the toddlers as bowling balls, but you might not be with me on that one. In any case, I beat the pants off of my husband (who failed to break 100) with my score of 113, while A-money and A-monkey each earned turkeys. (It's worth noting that the kids' lane had bumpers, which, somehow, didn't stop my little E-monkey from getting a few gutterballs. Must take after her dad.)

Hug-a-baby. This went on a lot. 


Then we were starving and not satisfied with bowling alley fare, and so we stopped at one more cafe before hitting the road. Then there was some picture taking (until the battery died) and lots of hugging (until the kids got antsy) and just like that, we were off.

If you are ever in the Burlington area feel free to print out this hefty missal and follow in our footsteps, insofar as you can follow them from my descriptions. If you shoot me a question about it I'll even do my best to answer it accurately. I guarantee that (as long as you adhere to naptime where appropriate) you will have an awesome time. We were lucky to have had great friends who made it even awesomer, but they're mine and I won't share them with you.

Miss Squishy

A-money and L-dawg

Constant motion

Hold-a-baby...sing-to-baby...Miss Squishypants was very accommodating


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