A free hour appeared magically at the end of my day, and I was more than a little giddy about how I could fill it. I finally decided to be both practical and indulgent and go to Wegman’s.
After picking up two sunflower plants—those were on the list, right?—I found myself strolling, footloose and child-free, through the bakery.
Suddenly I heard a voice say, “That can’t be Rita Beyer.”
Beyer hasn’t been my name for almost 11 years. Standing behind the bakery counter was John, a former coworker I hadn’t seen since before my wedding day.
I was so happy to see him.
“I was just talking about you!” I said. Earlier that day while enjoying lunch with my coworkers, I had started talking about the workload John and I had shared all those years ago. I couldn’t believe my colleague from 13 years ago was standing in front of me.
From about 1999 to 2002, John and I were the entire Hanover/Adams County Bureau for the York (Pa.) Dispatch and Sunday News.
A boy I interviewed for a story made that balloon duck for me.
We had a tiny office with two desks, a kind elderly landlord, high expectations from our editors who managed us from afar, a vast geographic area to cover, and a bathroom with wallpaper so wonderful I photographed it—back at a time when people didn’t take pictures of everything.
I can't believe I can find this photo and not the one of us standing outside the building.
I was in my early 20s, so thrilled to be a real newspaper reporter that I hardly cared whether I was paid, and I was working alongside a reporter who was more than twice my age.
John was hoping to buy a Harley and I was covering my apartment walls with my flyswatter collection—but we shared a space, a sense of humor, and a passion for reporting and storytelling.
See how beautiful my flyswatters were hanging on the walls of my apartment way back then?
John and I hadn’t talked in more than a decade, and many times I have wondered how he was doing—and even looked for him on social media. It took a trip to the grocery store to find him. Here we were swapping updates on our families, our homes, our jobs, and our lives.
We reminisced about the Ice Cream Museum—a storefront full of empty ice cream containers—and our landlord, Mr. Murphy, who has since passed on. Then we talked about our newspaper work, which was rewarding and fun but also grueling and challenging.
“I’ll always remember what you said,” he said—and I was completely puzzled, wondering what insight I could ever have had that he would recall 13 years later. “You said, ‘This job is hard enough without them making it even harder.’”
Huh. I have no memory of saying that about our editors, but it was true. Isn’t it surprising how well your words and actions can be remembered by those you encounter?
My old press pass
As I drove home, I thought of how easily we connect and reconnect with former and new friends on social media. Yet, there was something so truly remarkable about meeting a friend again, after so many years, in person.
Even though John has been working at Wegman’s for years, and I shop there every six weeks or so, our paths have never crossed. And they shouldn’t have crossed that day.
John wasn’t supposed to be working that shift, and I never shop there at that time of day. Yet there we were, standing among the baked goods laughing and exchanging memories, as customers shopping for bread smiled and paused to chat.
It was just like old times. Still, as I was sharing pictures of our boys and we were talking about all that has happened in the past 13 years, I realized no, no, it's not. It's actually better.
July 28, 2015 11:16
By Rita Buettner
I love my birthday, but our sons were even more excited than I was this year.
They were excited to give me my gift, a rice cooker (hurrah!), and to take me to dinner at Buca di Beppo, an Italian restaurant in White Marsh, Md.
We hadn’t been at our table for more than two minutes when the wait staff marched by singing and bearing a lit candelabra.
“Meatballs, pasta, we made them fresh for you...”
Our sons were enthralled.
“Homemade marinara, lots of garlic too...”
Leo recognized right away that they were singing because it was someone’s birthday.
“It’s your day at Buca, so we’re here to say, have a happy birthday the Buca di Beppo way!”
“Will they do that for you, Mama?” Leo asked
“Um, probably not,” I said. “They don’t know it’s my birthday.” (Thank goodness.)
That was all Leo needed. When the waiter stopped by a few minutes later, our 7-year-old said, “Today is my mommy’s birthday.”
The waiter smiled and made a friendly response.
When the waiter came back minutes later, our 5-year-old repeated, “Today is my mommy’s birthday.” Another smile.
Leo wanted to make sure we got results. Next time the waiter came by, he asked whether people would be singing the song at our table. So the waiter whispered into his ear, and Leo sat there grinning.
Now you know that I didn’t really want them to sing. Everyone would turn and look at me! But I knew our boys would love it. And I am definitely at the point in my life where the birthday celebrations are more for them than for me. So I played along.
Soon enough the wait staff marched over and sang. I just sat there and soaked it in. It was impossible not to smile. Our children were jumping out of their skin with joy.
Then we blew out the candles and split some tiramisu.
On the way home, the boys sang at the top of their lungs.
“Meatballs, pasta, we made them fresh for you...”
Have I mentioned how much I love my birthday?
July 26, 2015 11:05
By Rita Buettner
I love Marguerite Henry’s books, especially Misty of Chincoteague. Chincoteague and Assateague aren't exactly in our backyard, so somehow I have never been to the annual Pony Penning event, which begins July 25 this year and is described with so much excitement in the book.
Still, I’ve always wanted to visit that part of Maryland and Virginia. So while we were on our beach vacation, we took a day trip to Assateague Island to see if we could catch some glimpses of the more than 300 wild ponies living there.
I wasn’t sure how many horses we would actually see, so I tried not to overpromise. Just before crossing over to the island, we stopped at the visitor center to get some information.
What we discovered was a nature center that may well have been worth the trip on its own.
Leo reached into a tank and carefully pulled out a horseshoe crab. None of the rest of us had the courage to do it, but he was so excited—and it was the highlight of his day.
We also saw an eel and some interesting fish, read about some of the area’s nature, worked on a free craft, and used telescopes to see the island across the water.
The visitor center staff was welcoming and told us that the lighthouse was too far away for a visit that day, that each of the horses has a name, and that one of them is a loner, a bachelor who spends time on his own.
As we headed across the bridge to Assateague, it felt as if we were entering a different world.
The sun was shining, the water was still and blue, and the simple natural beauty was stunning. At one point a horse trotted right past our car. We saw a few more nibbling grass near the road. I was driving, so I handed the camera to our sons and told them they could each take one photo.
For the first time ever when given a camera they each took only one photo—and not 15.
The perspective of a 5-year-old:
The perspective of a 7-year-old:
Then we found a spot where people were crabbing.
We saw a bald eagle—always a thrill. A college intern working at the park for the summer told us it was the first one he had seen there, too.
We watched the seagulls flying low above the salt marshes.
And our boys had the chance to talk with a man and his son who were crabbing from a bridge.
They even saw the man put a crab to sleep before throwing him back into the water.
Now, the truth is that besides seeing eight or nine horses from the car, this is as close as we got to actual horses.
That was fine with us. In fact, I think our boys thought the wildlife we saw was even more exciting than seeing the ponies. It was a magical day for our family, a day to experience God's creation first-hand, and we absolutely want to go back.
Next time maybe we can travel as far as Chincoteague, Va., to see where Misty lived. And, while I’m dreaming, I’d like a pony—or at least a trip to Pony Penning.
Learn more about the Chincoteague Pony Swim here and here.
July 24, 2015 11:23
By Rita Buettner
Today John is taking our sons to visit his parents. Last night I thought I would be a good daughter-in-law and send a homemade blueberry cake with him.
Sadly, the pans I picked were too small for the amount of batter I made. I put the cake pans in the oven, sat down to read with the boys, and smelled something burning.
Some of the batter dripped onto the heating element and started a fire in the oven.
I kept mostly calm and told the boys where to stand and that it would be OK. Then I did what any 30-mmph-mmph-year-old does when her husband is grocery shopping and there’s a fire in the oven.
I called my father.
He confirmed that I should leave the oven closed.
“Tell the boys to go put their shoes on, just in case,” he said. I did and they did.
Our sons were scared but amazing. They did everything I asked. After the flame burned out, we went through again what we do if there’s a fire and where to meet outside. They were very shaken, but we are all safe and sound.
Later when I went to check a very drowsy 5-year-old in bed, I told him everything was fine.
“I don’t want you to make any more cakes,” he said. “Never ever. I don’t want you to make a fire.”
So I am apparently giving up baking—for now.
Of course, we don't have many baked goods fans here, so we don’t need much cake. Last night, for example, Daniel was hunting for dessert in the kitchen when he came across a can of tuna packed in olive oil.
He was pleading with me to open it for his dessert, and he could tell I was hesitating. That, of course, only made it more desirable.
What would you have done? I let him have it—until his brother came in and asked for some, too. They split the tuna.
My birthday is this weekend. I love all birthdays—and especially mine.
Turning 4 a few years ago
I don’t know how we’ll celebrate. Apparently we’ll be cleaning the oven and not eating homemade cake. But as long as I’m with my husband and sons, I know it will be just right.
I won't be this dressed-up for my birthday this year.
I wonder whether we’ll be putting a candle into a can of birthday tuna.
We have a new mattress! This may not excite you, but I’m guessing that’s because:
- You haven’t been sleeping every night on our old mattress, which has been causing severe back and leg pain.
- You weren’t here to watch it being delivered.
The mattress delivery may well have been the highlight of our week. But then again, the other highlights were a “your son just vomited” call from day care, a fire in the oven, and two big blueberry cakes washed down the garbage disposal.
The only thing I don’t like about the mattress is that it is now even harder to leave bed in the morning. But Leo has my solution.
“You know how you can wake up more easily?” he says. “Get up earlier.”
Spoken like the cheerful morning person he is.
Sharing the iPad to play games can be hard for our boys. Sometimes I even set the timer to make sure they take turns.
The other day, though, I was pleased that they were playing happily without any issue.
I went to check on them and saw Leo playing on the real iPad and Daniel pretending to play the same game on his Hot Wheels racetrack box. I wondered whether he would sail through the levels and bring home a trophy at the end. How does it work when you play an imaginary game?
As I was watching, Leo’s character in Minion Rush died.
“Oh, no!” Daniel said. “I died, too.”
That’s just as well. If he just kept winning on that one, his brother would have wanted a turn and we’d be back where we started.
On my desk at work I keep a small victory glass. My colleagues and I fill it with our small victories—everything from media hits to well-written emails to projects completed despite challenges. Recently the glass served a secondary purpose when we filled it with caramel creams for an event.
I don’t know how many caramels were in it when I left for the beach two Fridays ago, but I know there were more than the two I discovered when I returned.
I’m just glad my co-workers had some fun while I was away. And I am wondering who will ever take that last one. Someone has to so we can get back to filling it with small victories.
Billy Joel is coming to Baltimore this weekend. The last time he performed in the city was in 1977 when he played at what is now Loyola University Maryland (where I work). My uncle, a Loyola graduate, offered to put me in touch with people who had attended the concert, and I had such fun writing this story.
As I was working on it, I started listening to some of his music and realized how much I enjoy it. I have not been to many concerts, but Billy Joel came to my campus when I was in college.
At the time he was taking requests during his concerts, and there was a rumor that he always played “Piano Man” last. I remember students were worried that someone would ask for “Piano Man” early on and the concert would end after only two or three songs. That didn’t happen—and I don’t think it was a legitimate fear, really—and it was an extraordinary evening.
Inspired by my friend Julie at These Walls, I've been blogging every day this week.
July 23, 2015 11:52
By Rita Buettner
Every year when we go to the beach we pick one night and get steamed crabs.
This year, though, the week got away from us and—as so often seems to happen on vacation—we ran out of times to eat. So we decided not to buy crabs.
Our sons were disappointed.
“But Mama,” I heard, “crabs taste best at the beach!”
Maybe so. They are also more expensive than a week of arcade games on the boardwalk. And we had spent a lot trying to win a Minion and a robot claw that is longer than a yardstick.
“We will get them one night when we get home,” I said.
It was an easy promise. Once we were away from the sand and the waves, no one would be thinking about crabs. And we could have them later in the summer when they are bigger and sweeter. Or we might just wait until next summer.
Back at home, I invited Daniel to come with me to the grocery store. And, wouldn’t you know, as we were walking past the seafood counter, he spotted steamed crabs for sale.
Since when do they sell steamed crabs in the grocery store? I hesitated. Then I realized that at $1.99 a crab, I could buy six crabs, not go bankrupt, and no one could complain that we hadn’t eaten crabs.
So we brought them home, took out the mallets and knives, and enjoyed our crabs.
Were they the best crabs ever? No.
Were they hot? No.
Were they crabs? Yes. And they were from our very own Chesapeake Bay.
This morning Daniel and I were leaving the house when he spotted a rolled-up newspaper in our driveway. It’s not a real newspaper, just a bunch of ads, and we usually don’t read it.
“Mama!” said our little boy. “Don’t throw that away! I want to eat crabs again!”
So I guess I’m not completely off the hook. And maybe we need to talk about other uses for newspapers.
July 22, 2015 10:58
By Rita Buettner
Last week we were enjoying a family trip to the beach with a few dozen of our closest relatives. I spent more time scrubbing sand off of our beach boys than I did working in the kitchen.
This week we’re home. So I’m back to my part-time job as a chef. But who wants to cook on a hot summer night?
The other day, though, a Facebook friend shared a recipe for chicken shawarma. I knew it wouldn’t be exactly like a dish with the same name that John and I have enjoyed, but I decided to give it a try.
The ingredients were easy to find, and I added a few boneless breasts with the thighs to stretch the recipe. Our boys had a great time helping make the marinade, and we left the chicken marinating in the fridge all day.
Raw, marinated chicken
When we came home, I moved it to a pan in the oven with some chunks of red onion and cooked it for 40 minutes. It would be worth it to cook this just to inhale the scent of the chicken cooking.
While the chicken was in the oven, Daniel and I grated cucumbers to try to duplicate the white sauce we have had with chicken shawarma.
As it happens, friends of ours are away and they had offered to let us pick up their CSA of vegetables and farm-fresh eggs.
My boys are so excited about those eggs.
So instead of buying English cucumber, which is seedless and supposedly the preferred ingredient, I used ordinary, locally grown cucumbers. I didn’t even notice the seeds.
This is what we mixed together:
1 cup grated cucumber (about 2 ½ cucumbers), leave some of the juice
1 5.3 oz. container nonfat Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
By the way, I had never bought tahini before and it took me a while to find it. Our store keeps it near the olives.
When the chicken came out of the oven, I cut it up in small pieces and sautéed it for a few minutes while I heated some store-bought pitas in the oven for 3-4 minutes at 425 degrees.
The chicken before I cut it up
I served everything with diced cucumber, tomato, and chopped romaine.
It looks so fancy, I know.
The verdict was yum, yum, yum. Our 7-year-old announced that it was “the best chicken ever!”
Then my family decided we could open a restaurant at the beach: Rita's Pitas.
And that, my friends, is why you should never make a really great dinner.
The chicken shawarma recipe is here.
July 21, 2015 11:09
By Rita Buettner
Dear New Kindergarten Mom,
As we count down to the first day of kindergarten, you’re probably worried about getting your child ready for this significant life transition.
I’m going to let you in on a secret. Far more difficult than becoming a kindergartener is becoming a kindergarten mom.
Your son will figure out how to write his full name and buckle his belt. Your daughter will learn how to hang her jacket in her cubby and recite your address. And kindergarten itself is actually a rollicking good time.
But you? You are wondering what lies ahead. Here is what I wish I had known:
You can do this. There are rules for carpool lanes and lunch packing and which side of the folder holds worksheets that stay home vs. go back to school. One day you'll realize you can do them in your sleep.
This is a learning year. No mother—or at least not the one writing this post—can remember to return the library book on Thursday, to send $2 for pizza on Tuesday, to pack the right lunchbox with the right child, or have the gym outfit ready for gym day. Cut yourself some slack. And never forget to send in an apple.
For homework time, seat your child at the table, set a timer for 15 minutes, and stop when it goes off. If your child comes home tired, skip homework. There’s a good chance that coloring page won’t be part of his college application.
Elementary school has so many days off. There are snow days and professional days and President’s Day and spring break and winter break. Then there are half days. If you’re a mother who works outside the home, you have my sympathy and understanding. School is magical, wonderful, and we are so fortunate to be able to give our children this opportunity, but it is simply not designed for families where both parents work outside the home.
Volunteer if you are able and interested. Don't feel guilty if you can't or don't want to. When you do go, he will beam and run to hug you, and your eyes will swell with tears of joy. When you don’t, she will still have a great time.
Fundraisers happen. Let Aunt Maude buy wrapping paper if she wants to. Don’t feel you need to sell 500 candy bars. Do what you can. Know that there will always be another fundraiser—and that you can support your school in many ways.
Befriend other parents—especially the ones whose children remember what the teacher says about the upcoming family project.
Find time to pray for your child, your child’s teacher, and for the other students. And slip in a little prayer for your fellow new kindergarten moms.
Pack your tissues. You’ll need them that first day. And maybe the second day, too.
Most important of all, remember that kindergarten is fun. Your child is about to make memories he will actually carry with him through life. She is going to learn material that will be the foundation for the rest of her education. And you are going to be watching in the wings—and trying to remember where that library book went.
I’ll be right there with you. Two years after our first son started kindergarten, we're about to begin it all over again with our younger son. So I’ll be feeling a little new all over again—and trying to remember my own advice.
I hope you and your child have a great year.
A Not-So-New Kindergarten Mom Who Never Remembers that Library Day Is Thursday...or Maybe It’s Monday?
July 20, 2015 09:33
By Rita Buettner
“You are going to LOVE Inside Out,” my 8-year-old niece told me. “It is the best movie!”
So I took her, two of her siblings, and our two sons to see it. Our boys claimed they didn't like it, but they laughed many times and asked enough questions that I'm not sure that's true.
I asked my fellow reviewers why someone should go see Inside Out. Here are their answers:
8-year-old niece: “It’s funny.”
10-year-old nephew: “Because it’s absolutely hilarious.”
12-year-old niece: “Because my sister likes it. OK, OK, because it sends a good message.”
I liked that it gave us another way to talk about our emotions. I’m in favor of anything that recognizes that it’s perfectly natural to have both sorrow and joy—and also shows the importance of family.
Have you seen it? What did you think?
The main reason you should go see Inside Out, though, is that you can see the marvelous Pixar short beforehand, Lava. It’s adorable. I loved it. And when we went to the beach the next morning, we made the volcanoes from the film.
It is amazing to me what children can find to entertain themselves. While I was making breakfast yesterday, Daniel balanced two pennies on the counter.
How is this summer flying by so quickly? Our boys’ school emailed their school supplies list this week and my heart sank. I’m really enjoying this summer. Even though I still work during the summer, I have been able to take some time off here and there, and the general pace for our family has been wonderful. We have no homework or school projects to deal with and everyone is more relaxed.
I refuse to look at the school supplies list until mid-August. I don’t even care whether the stores are all out of red or green folders.
Have I mentioned that our sons adore playing miniature golf?
Well, they do. And I have realized I am not doing well supporting them in this learning experience. There is so much to figure out.
We have to teach them how to keep things moving so the people behind us get their turn. But we can’t move too quickly and start on the next hole until the people there have moved. And let’s be honest. I’m expecting a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old to learn this etiquette when many mini golfing groups have not yet mastered this.
We’re also trying to get them to focus on the game enough that they aren’t trying to hit it into the waterfall on purpose, but without caring so much that they are miserable when they aren’t playing well.
As if that’s not enough to manage, our boys now insist on choosing the same color ball—yellow for Minions.
Good thing it’s just a game. And it’s fun, right?
In fact, it’s almost as much fun as riding in bumper cars. Truly, there’s nothing sweeter than hearing your little boy say, “I want to go on bumper cars with Mama.”
And so, even though bumper cars have never been your thing, you climb into the bumper car and pull an uncomfortable and obviously useless bar over your shoulders. Somewhere in the middle of the cars a bored teenage girl is yelling safety instructions—or something, you guess—but who knows what she’s saying.
Then the cars start moving, and your son is grinning and giggling and yelling, “Let’s go hit Baba’s car! Come on! Hit Baba’s car!” And you’re just trying to get your car to go, but the steering wheel seems to steer some other car instead of yours.
Finally you lurch forward and bang into someone not because you want to, but because why in the world is she headed the wrong way? Then you’re in a pack of cars that are all stuck and cars are slamming into you as your son laughs and says, “Let’s go get Baba!” and you’re thinking, “I PAID MONEY FOR THIS?”
And you just want it to end, but of course it won’t because everyone is clearly having the time of their lives—even that child there who looks like he might be 8 and obviously wore shoes with really thick soles just so he could drive his own bumper car.
“What parent would let a child that small drive a bumper car himself?” you’re asking yourself, even as your car gets hit yet again and again by the best—or the worst?—drivers who are there.
Then you think of how your son is only an inch away from being able to drive himself. And you ponder how great life without back pain can be. And you realize not only do you know why parents send their children in these cars alone—but that someday very soon you will be one of them.
But you have to get out of your bumper car intact first.
Then you climb out, and your son is high fiving you and yelling, “We were great!” and you realize how incredibly lucky you are that he wants to ride in a bumper car with you.
And you know you’d do it all over again and enjoy every minute...or at least the part when it’s over.
Spotted on the boardwalk on our recent beach trip: a man holding a sign that says, “Are you going to heaven? Free test.”
“What do you think the test is?” I asked my 12-year-old niece.
Without hesitating, she said, “He’s going to kill you?”
Wow. Too bad I didn't stop to chat.
July 17, 2015 12:24
By Rita Buettner
Because Leo is interested in Garfield comics, I made lasagna for our Sunday dinner. He was excited to eat it, but he mentioned more than once how good it would taste without the meat and cheese.
So the next night I took cooked lasagna noodles and a jar of spaghetti sauce, layered those two ingredients in a baking dish, and cooked the custom-made lasagna for 20 minutes at 350.
It seemed rather bland to me, but our sons loved it. They came running to the table to eat it—three nights in a row. I think I’ll call it Blah-sagna. Maybe it will catch on.
John took a work trip to the Newseum in Washington, D.C., and he came home with a bumper sticker for me.
He knows me so well.
During our 10 ½ years of marriage, John and I have lived in four places—two apartments and two homes. All that time, I have always slept on the same side of the bed—until about a month ago when we switched. Our mattress is past its prime, and John just couldn’t get comfortable on his side of the bed. I have a theory that I can sleep anywhere. So I took his side and he took mine.
So far I’ve learned:
1. Yes, I can sleep on the wrong side of the bed.
2. Yes, we need a new mattress.
It's probably time to go mattress shopping. Don't ask me why I find that so intimidating.
What is easy to buy is a chair. Leo and I were out shopping the other day when I turned around and saw the ugliest kids’ chair. I thought of how much Daniel would like it, shuddered, turned around, and walked away. Then I reconsidered, went back, took a picture, and emailed it to John.
“Is it too hideous?” I asked.
“It’s so ugly,” he said. “But he’ll love it.”
Right on both counts.
The other night Daniel had a nightmare. The whole next day he was talking about it—though he wasn’t able to describe much of what actually happened.
But more than once yesterday he said to me, “Mama, is this a dream?”
And I would say, “No, this is real.”
For a while that satisfied him. Then last night as I was tucking him in, we had the same conversation.
“Mama, is this a dream?”
“No, this is real.”
This time he said, “How do you know?”
Um. Well. Because in my dream you wouldn't be this good at delaying bedtime.
This summer I have been determined to take some time with our boys and have some fun. I just have this sense that we should be making the most of the time we have together. They love hanging out with me and with each other, and they like going on adventures—as long as we aren’t out too long, don’t walk too far, and don’t get too hot.
That’s not hard to do in Baltimore during the summer, right?
Yesterday we joined friends for a trip to the Wings of Fancy exhibit in Montgomery County, Md. We had talked about going last summer, but the exhibit was closed. But this year we have raised our own Painted Ladies. I loved that when we walked into the exhibit Daniel pointed at a butterfly and said, “That one is just like ours!”
I don’t think it was a Painted Lady, but it was pretty.
Within minutes, one had landed on Daniel’s back, and then another paused on his shoe.
Leo wanted so badly to have one land on him. We knew it might not happen—but a big brother can hope.
Still, we enjoyed walking around and pointing out butterflies, and seeing what plants they were visiting.
You could even watch them eat rotting bananas and watermelon—just as ours did not so many weeks ago.
Then I saw a butterfly in a puddle of water on the floor. Knowing they can’t be in water, I told Leo to put his finger into the water near the butterfly to see if it needed help getting out. It climbed onto his finger.
I learned later that we weren’t supposed to touch the butterflies, which absolutely makes sense. Somehow I missed that on the way into the exhibit. I am fairly sure this butterfly wasn’t going to live much longer, but at least it didn’t drown.
The butterflies were magnificent and so diverse—large, small, so many different colors. We saw a number of chrysalides hanging and waiting for new butterflies to emerge.
I especially liked talking to the people there who care for the caterpillars and butterflies.
We will definitely be back.
It’s a fantastic playground, and there’s a carousel.
There's even a train ride.
We did it all.
Then we ended our trip with orange soda, which we never, ever, ever give the boys—well, unless it’s a special occasion.
You’re probably a stronger person than I am, and you know how to say no in these situations, but I always freeze up when our children look up at me and say, “Mama, today’s a special day, isn’t it?”
Because, after all, it is a special day. Or it will be once we’ve had some orange soda.
Read more quick takes at A Knotted Life—and thank you, Bonnie, for being our gracious host this week! P.S. Bonnie has exciting news!
July 10, 2015 12:02
By Rita Buettner
My favorite picnic spot is probably our backyard. No planning needed, and our boys can simply carry plates of food to a beach towel on the grass.
When we feel more adventurous, we pack dinner and head to a local park with a playground.
But when we have out-of-town cousins visiting—and sometimes even when we don’t—we fill the cooler with food and drive to Fort McHenry. My parents, who live in Baltimore, started taking us there years ago and it has become our family picnic spot.
Now, I know that Baltimoreans often think Fort McHenry is that place you go to on a third or fourth grade field trip and again years later when an out-of-town friend who’s an American history buff comes to visit.
But Fort McHenry is actually the prime picnic spot in this fantastic city.
It's full of history. You can picnic in the place that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. It’s a fort. There are cannons. Sometimes there are even people in time-period garb who will explain to you about parasols or spinning or cannonballs.
Just try to pry yourself away from the view. Fort McHenry is, of course, on the water. You can watch boats go by, including tugboats and fireboats and sailboats and motorboats and tour boats.
You can also look across the water and watch industry in action. One time we saw a tugboat turn an enormous freight ship. This weekend we watched dump trucks and a crane work alongside another ship.
You can always find a seat. There is a huge lawn, and you can choose shade or sun. Just pack your blanket and pick your spot.
Every visit to Fort McHenry is different. When we went this weekend, there were even more soldiers than usual.
The U.S. 3rd Infantry Regiment marched in and performed for us.
We could have found out that was scheduled, but what’s the excitement in planning ahead?
Oh, and the Pride of Baltimore II was there, anchored in the water. We climbed aboard and explored.
“How do you turn it on?” one of our sons asked. Well, you don’t.
The wind does.
But get this. The ship has a GPS on board just in case.
The price is right. Picnicking and parking at the Fort is free. You can eat and enjoy yourself and even see a few cannons without spending a dime. (You can even pretend to use a crab chip to revive your brother, who is pretending to be ill.)
But it’s worth paying the cost of admission to go inside the fort, and children 15 and younger are free. Even better? Take a senior citizen along. The senior membership lets him or her bring three adults and unlimited grandchildren into the fort.
If you have too many adults there, send your children in with an uncle or aunt or Grandpa and take a nap on your picnic blanket or eat the leftover cookies. Victory. If the cookie is so good that you feel inspired to write an anthem of your own, so be it.
Now that I’ve let you in on our secret, tell me yours. Where’s your favorite spot to picnic? Keep in mind that my parents once took us on an 11-hour round-trip on Easter Sunday just to picnic in New Haven, Conn., so it doesn’t even have to be in Baltimore.
July 06, 2015 11:31
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By Rita Buettner