I am bursting with travel tips now that we’ve come back from a quick visit to San Fransisco. I’m not going to share any here (except for this: leftover Hillshire Farms kielbasa ended up being a good idea for our early flight back home).

There were many differences between my first trip out to SF in 2009 and last weekend’s, most notably the almost four-year-old we had to bring with us. She is a fine traveler, and had a good time. San Francisco provided her plenty of chances to talk loudly about strange (to her) people she saw on the streets, including:

  • A dwarf (or “a little adult”)
  • A homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk (she mentioned this a couple times afterwards)
  • A total of five off-work street performers covered in metallic paint (she also claimed to see one at the pool back home, but it was just a woman wearing an all-white ensemble including a weird white hat)

I really like visiting there. I think it’s a beautiful city, and even the residential areas are fun to walk around.  We did mostly kid-friendly things. We went to Fisherman’s Wharf a few times (Musee Mecanique again, sea lion watching, the Aquarium of the Bay) and took a couple of dog walks on the beach. It’s so awesome having the Golden Gate bridge on one side of your view and Alcatraz on the other. As someone pointed out to me, I already live in a place with landmarks everywhere you look* but it was still cooler.

Other things of note:

We used Uber for the first time. Once from the airport, and twice just to avoid walking another mile uphill carrying a small person (which is really, really challenging — a stroller wouldn’t have helped that much). When we first got an Uber car after getting groceries, we ushered our child into the back seat and buckled her in (no car seat, don’t judge, we were tired and achy and they really are very steep hills). She looked nervous and kept her hands in her lap.

“You look nervous,” we told her.
“Well I am a little nervous,” she said. We asked why. “We just got in the man’s car.”

I guess that must have seem weird that a car rolls up to us (Uber is pretty quick) and we all get in there without explaining anything to her.

Also, we went to Santa Cruz for the day and went to the Mystery Spot (it’s a crazy house that defies logic. Up is down, tall is short!) . R explained the mystery to us after the tour (it wasn’t revealed in our tour, but when he went ten years ago it was). Bubble blown and burst. It was still cool and we saw a bunch of hummingbirds while waiting for our tour. Then we went to the Santa Cruz boardwalk and while we were walking on the beach by all the rides I was reminded of The Lost Boys. And it turns out it was because the Lost Boys was filmed there! I was so excited about this. The beachy carnival was a good giveaway. So was the beefy greasy guy playing the saxophone. And all the damn vampires.

We walked a million miles (or, less than two, after I mapped it later) from Golden Gate Park down to lower Haight looking for some place to eat (it’s so strange to see people dressed like hippies there — it’s like it’s a Disney World attraction). We asked a fellow with a kid where we should go and he pointed us to the Little Chihuahua, and it was a great meal. Then later, when I told my brother-in-law about it, he said he’d never heard of it, and I was like “what is this amazing city where you don’t know about every restaurant that opens because your local news isn’t 80%  food stories about the same places?” We also had really good pizza at some place I don’t remember. But I ate a lot of it.

R ventured off on his own to see some tattoo-things, and sweet talked his way into a tattoo from a legend. I had never heard of the guy, but after reading about him, it seems like a pretty big deal.

Also my daughter watched hours of “Dora the Explorer,” so she probably thinks California is the best place on earth. And we watched the first episode of “The Knick” and all I can think about are white shoes.

*Oh I just decoded the “Full House” theme song.

star fish and non-star fish

star fish and non-star fish

That bridge that Godzilla ruined

That bridge that Godzilla ruined

Santa Cruz. Not pictured: Blood-sucking Brady Bunch

Santa Cruz. Not pictured: Blood-sucking Brady Bunch


It took me years post-school to shake that August anxiety/excitement about school starting up, and even though kindergarten is a few years away for our kid,* I’m already starting to get that feeling again. But since we don’t have a school schedule, we have summer as long as we have summer weather, so I can’t fret yet that it’s almost over. Some things of note for family fun:

♣ We live about 1 mile from the river and until last year I hadn’t bother to visit it in years (I will save all those reasons for the book on Richmond I am not writing), but this year we’ve pumped up our river visits. While I still imagine that our not-yet-swimming toddler will get swept up in a rapid or bitten by a snake or get a beer can chucked at her, it’s been more pleasant than not. Plus it’s beautiful and free, and the river is never closed (except when it is. Because of flooding).

I have been taking walks to the river on my lunch break and that’s been great, and I found the entrance to the flood wall and finally walked on a small part of it.  We saw a million herons and other birds. So pretty.  Keep it up, James River. Don’t let the catfish with PCP keep you down.

♣ Also to keep cool, we’ve gone to the water play area at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. And since I ruined her baby pool by making it a rock box/mosquito hatchery, I just spray my daughter down with the hose and that’s also just as fun to her as anything.

♣ We took a short trip to Pittsburgh to visit best pal Nichole, my favorite place/person to visit. Even getting lost is a fun way to pass time because it’s a great looking city. We went to a Pirates game, and because I spend 80% of time kid-wrangling and concession-getting, I only caught about two plays (but a home run!) and a pierogi race between innings. We also went to an aviary, which was cool (though things like that are always a little depressing). Our kid loved a person-sized penguin/collection bank and for the first time in her life asked to have her photo taken, and kept posing with it with her arm around the penguin. Later she threw up on a sidewalk while we ate pierogis. Vacation!

♣ The major league game was her second baseball game. We went to see the Flying Squirrels earlier, and that was fun, too, but she wasn’t that interested in anything but eating hot dogs and sitting under the seats playing with stuff.  She saw and immediately fell in love with Nutzy, and although both of her parents are terrified of everything including giant fake animals (ugh, Shoney’s bear), her dad chased Nutzy down so she could get a photo. Nutzy is her friend.

So, between all that and working and grocery shopping, that’s been our summer.


Searching for river monsters.


*I almost wrote LO for “little one,” as found in parenting-related comment sections. I had to look up what LO means, and I still don’t know what DO means in Internet shorthand, but I like to think it means “dumb one” (“My little one and dumb one both love zucchini fritters!!!!”)

We just got back from a four-day vacation in Albuquerque to visit pals, eat chiles, and see lots of hot air balloons.  Our daughter was a champ on the plane, the kids got along well, and I saw a roadrunner.  Success!


Top row: Balloon Fiesta (find Darth Vader in the third photo)

Bottom Row: Tinkertown, a roadrunner, and a polar bear at the BioPark.

I have zero interest in going on a cruise.  At least not until I’m old and the only thing left on my life’s to-do list is to go whale watching, then I’m going on one of those boring Alaskan ones and I’ll die in my cabin after spotting a sufficient number of whales.

I recently found out about a “Saw”-themed cruise and about bands from Weezer to 311 having their own cruises.  It’s a weird niche-market thing and has led me to wonder what kind of subject/artist could I love so much that I would want to be stuck on a boat with that idea for most of the week.

Those things are:

Fried chicken

David Wain-directed movies

The new Fiona Apple album

The “Flirt” fit Old Navy pants

Trader Joe’s.



I would probably find out about those cruises after they happened, though. Will wait for whales and death. Also have not seen a “Saw” movie, but I hope that little guy bikes into every room at night with margaritas.  That’s what the movies are about, right?

We have a plane trip planned for the fall, and since it’s too early to buy tickets or pack, I have instead started to create responses to irate passengers’ possible comments like “control you kid” and “you shouldn’t fly with babies” (inspired by the comments in a New York Time’s article about air travel with family).  While we are good with timing outings to minimize meltdowns (new favorite word) we won’t have as much control during flights.  Of course we will come prepared with snacks and diversions, but if she’s awake she will not happily sit down for four hours.

Here are my comebacks to variations of “learn how to control your kid”:

  • “Here are two more kids I can’t control — Lefty and Righty,” and I lift up my fists.  Or just one more kid and one fist if I am  handling a crying baby with the other arm.  Also, depending on the situation I might pop up the baby’s dukes.
  • “She’s not my kid.  She was on the seat when I got here.”  Cue laughter, the melting of hearts, and the clunking of plastic airplane cups being raised in a cheer.
  • Deliver a monologue like, “I’m doing the best that I can as a woman in a society that wants to run the reproductive system like it’s a prison, then offers no support to parents once their children are born, and continually fails the children in their education, then leaves an unhealthy planet and faulty, debt-soaked government as inheritance.  The least you can do is have patience for this girl whose future you’ve already ruined.”  Hopefully by the time I’m done the plane will have landed.
  • Or say “WHAT?  I can’t hear you — my baby is too loud.”

I’ve also read that lollipops, phone apps, and Play-doh helps, too.

I will eventually get to my past weekend — one last getaway before we become parents — but I keep getting distracted by the crime stories that are e-mailed by the neighborhood association or posted on our neighborhood blog.  These events qualify as a wave.  People are being robbed by gunpoint walking from car to house.  Bikes and tools have been stolen from sheds.  Cars and houses have been broken into.  It’s enough to make me come up with a crazy plan of carrying a chef’s knife in my glove compartment, and run from the car screaming when I get home from work.  I have a (terrible) theory that the probability of me being murdered (by my husband, anyway) increases with pregnancy, so of course any sort of crime seems more devastating when it happens to a pregnant lady.  You know, like how it’s sadder when a dog is robbed than when a cat dies?  Richard (who will most likely NOT murder me) is under strict orders to not let that Jeff Rossen from NBC news report on me if I do die tragically in a knife-related accident while defending our bikes.  That guy sucks.

Now about our lovely weekend in Washington, D.C.


-saw Superchunk.  They were really good, but we left after hearing them play for one hour because someone (busted, me) could no longer stand up comfortably after two opening bands.  The show was up on NPR, and we didn’t miss much of it.  It was another of those shows where the crowd was great, and most likely were dressed exactly the same way they were the last time they saw Superchunk play, except now they were able to capture the show on their cell phones (whereas eight years ago they just had to remember that they saw a concert). Also, I assumed that I would naturally be able to locate the 9:30 Club since I spent about seven years of my life driving there on a weekly-to-monthly basis.  Nope.  We got a little off course before finding it.  At least we remembered where to get on-street parking.

-went to the Spy Museum.  I had been before.  It was good the second time around.  The guard said “no food or drink” to everyone coming in.  I walked by him and he said “you can eat all you want.”  I then pulled out a six-foot sub from my tiny purse and got mayo all over Ethel Rosenberg documents.

-ate at Ben’s Chili Bowl.  It was crazy busy, and pretty good.  Richard wants to have all of his meals sent to him via DHL from there.  I think that will get pricey, but we’re going to try it out for a few months.

-stayed at a fancy hotel in Old Town Alexandria.  I’m not going to look up whether it’s called Olde Towne, because that’s stupid.  But it was a nice hotel.  I got to swim in the pool and I had a great night’s sleep.

Also: We met up with my father-in-law, ate ice cream (um, twice), ate a couple other good meals, and brainstormed more disaster-named restaurants like Thai Tanic, which we drove by in D.C.  I’ve only come up with Hindenburgers and a bakery called the Challa-n-ger Explosion.

I tried not to get emotional about how much things will soon change and how little energy I had to make the most of the weekend.  I enjoy our day/weekend trips very much.  It’s the foundation of our relationship in a way (I’m talking about my associate, not Superchunk).  But, try not to get emotional when you’re in your third trimester.  I get teary-eyed looking at American flags or listening to traffic reports.  We will have weekend trips again, just with a little nugget squirming around in a Baby Bjorn.

Ben's Chili Bowl

Nothing is as motivating as having parenthood on the horizon. It’s like part of us is dying, but in the most pleasant way possible.  My associate and I are crossing things off a “to do before baby” list, and although pleasant, a lot of these things are taking place of Sunday naps.

Recent accomplishments include:

–  A trip to the Ukrainian meat market in Lower Manhattan.  The butcher has another name, but all I remember is the MEAT MARKET sign and piles of sausage.  Richard didn’t get 32 lbs of kielbasa, but only because they didn’t have that much.  I spent the entire visit trying to think of good Ukrainian jokes, but all I really know about them as a people is that they appear to have a great selection of mustard and like Swiss chocolate, and I learned that just by waiting in the store.

– My pants have been unbuttoned for four months.

– Visited pals in Brooklyn.  Thanks A & B!  You’re excellent hosts and your home is beautiful.  I hadn’t been to Brooklyn before.  The neighborhoods we stomped around were really nice.  And people offered me seats on the Subway.* I immediately bought a fedora and a romper upon return to Richmond so that people can admire my Brooklyn style (just kidding — but I did immediately eat an entire bag of Temptation trail mix from Trader Joe’s as we drove away from the place we were staying).

-We’re in the process of watching Bunk slowly eat a tiny painting.  It’s weird that I made that a goal of things to do before I had a baby, but I guess I have done so much with my life that I don’t have much else to do.

– Discussions are ongoing, but we’re also in the process of figuring out how the most popular child’s toy (according to is not actually a dog toy.

Babies = dogs.

Still so many things to accomplish before November, including:

– Finish first draft of my novel.  This is a real thing!  And I’m so close!

– DC, Baltimore visits.  One is already planned and involves Superchunk.  The other is unplanned but would involve  Bergers and crab cakes, of course.

– Have the people over for dinner that we have been saying we’ll invite but still haven’t (I’m looking at you, uh, everyone).

But, honestly, at this stage, just a Sunday nap looks pretty good to me.

*I feel like I’m saying everything wrong — is it called a subway?  Is is called lower Manhattan?  Is New York Pizza really just pizza that you can get anywhere but just say it’s like what you get in New York?  Did New York-style pizza marketing happen before a New York-style of pizza was invented?  I DON’T KNOW.

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