Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Middle - Part 1

So, when I left off on the Baltimore part of the trip in my last post, we had to leave the hotel in Harrisburg rather early, around 7:30 or 7:45.  Our goal was to make the 10am tour at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles play.  It's normally less than a 90 minute drive, but with it being rush hour and us not being particularly clear on parking or how long it might take to get tickets, we wanted to leave some wiggle room.  In the end, the trip was very smooth, nearly no rush hour traffic!  We arrived by 9:30, parked in a lot near the stadium, and braved the bitter cold to walk over to where we needed to get tickets.  It was probably in the 40s that day, but there was a stiff breeze that made outside time less than enjoyable.

As we started our walk, this was the far end of the warehouse that is in right field at the park, the one that famously held the numbers that counted up Cal Ripken, Jr.'s consecutive game streak.

Eventually we found our way to the ticket counter, and then we had to wait out on Eutaw St., which is a pedestrian street that runs between the stadium and the warehouse that's open to the public except when there's a game. 

From there, you could access a restaurant and the team store, and see the back of the scoreboard.

Eventually our tour started, and our guide was a nice older man that seemed to be living the dream by working for the team in some sort of ticketing/fan experience role.  He gave us a ton of history of the ballpark (and its predecessor), then started walking us through the park.  We saw this gorgeous patio with statues of the Orioles' greats, which is also open to the public most of the time.

Cal Ripken, Jr.

We got to see the field from the back end, just above the bullpens.
Interesting fun fact: The green wall on the far left of the picture is a nod to Fenway Park's Green Monster, and the ivy on the wall to the right of that is a tribute to Wrigley Field's outfield wall.

The white above the seats behind home plate is actually the weatherproofed press box.

We visited the club level, saw the cool themed lounges that line the inside halls there, and visited a luxury suite.  From there you could see the wonderfully restored train station at the far end of the warehouse.

We also visited the production facilities (ahhh, brought back memories) and the press box, which was actually a bit more rudimentary than I expected given how amazing the rest of the facility was.  But you can't beat the press box view:

Then, we got the even more exciting chance to go down to the field and hang out in the home dugout!  It was such a cool feeling to be down there.
View from the front rail of the dugout

The boys on the warning track...and yes, it was cold.

In the dugout

Soon it was time to end the tour and head back toward the warehouse.  I liked this view of the scoreboard, warehouse, patio area, and the foul pole, which is an original from the old Memorial Stadium.
Funny note--see those little flagpoles on the patio?  They're all cushioned, just in case someone's running to catch a home run and doesn't look where they're going!

Back on Eutaw St., our guide pointed out little plaques for every home run ball that's been hit out there.  Interestingly, only one has ever been able to hit the warehouse--mostly because of wind currents--and it was only during the All-Star Game's Home Run Derby, courtesy of Ken Griffey, Jr.  We wandered around looking for favorite teams or players, like this one from Jacob's current team of choice, the now-defunct Montreal Expos.

Before we visited the team store, we went to another stadium area that's open to the public.  There was a statue of Babe Ruth, who was born in Baltimore, not far from the stadium, in fact.

Nearby were statues of all of the retired numbers, and both kids got their pictures next to significant ones...
For his age, of course!

Not his age...but his lacrosse number!
We visited the store and were quite disappointed to find out that the only stuffed mascot (as is usually our first choice, for whatever reason) was $35!  No thanks.  Carter desperately tried to find a souvenir...

And at the last minute he settled on one of those popper toys where the ball (in this case a little foam baseball) goes in the mouth (in this case, of the mascot) and you squeeze the belly to make it pop out.  It's pretty funny and it made him very happy to find something.

We walked back to our car to head to activity #2.  Along the way we saw a double-amputee marathoner passing through, as well as a cool war memorial.  Just across the parking lot was another stadium, M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens.  It actually looked even better when we passed by at night, when the upper seats were lit purple!

Our next stop was Fort McHenry, which was just a short way outside of downtown.  After our trip to Old Fort Niagara, we were eager to see another historical fort.  Fort McHenry, of course, is known as the home of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Francis Scott Key, spyglass in hand that he used to see the flag, and a version of the flag with 15 stars and stripes
The main building had a movie about how the Star-Spangled Banner came to be, and some artifacts, like this cannon.

Eventually we followed a tour group outside, but it was freezing and the kids' patience only went so far, so we alternated between doing our own thing and hopping back on the tour at times.  This was the view just outside the fort as we listened to the guide.
The flag was much smaller than usual that day because of the wind, but that was the position of the flag when Francis Scott Key saw it and wrote the anthem.
The view from the fort of the Patapsco River was beautiful.  And because this is all ultimately connected to the ocean, there were some really impressive ships in the water.

I could not get over the size of this freighter.  I don't think this picture does it justice, but it was so tall!

Before heading into the fort, we checked out the cannons.  This one was huge, over 8,500 pounds according to the impression around the opening on the end.  Although this fort was most famous for the War of 1812, this was a Civil War era cannon (again, per the impression) and the fort was used through WWII.

Ready to be sheltered from the wind, we walked to the front of the fort itself...

Just inside, there was a tiny stairway with a very low ceiling.  It led into a "bombproof" shelter.  It was basically a large bricked-in room with only small air holes going the long way through the brick to the outside.  Funny little spot, and the boys got a kick out of Carter being the perfect size for the stairs!

Inside the fort, it was much more modest than what we saw at Fort Niagara.  Just a few buildings, most of which looked like this--two story wooden buildings with porches.

We stopped into any open door as we walked, which mostly led to different historical accounts--artifacts, articles about the history of the fort, or even one set up like barracks, full of bunk beds and a fireplace. 
Looking back toward the entrance at the famous flag
I recognized one building from its shape after seeing something similar at Fort Niagara, the spot where they kept the ammunition.  This one was considerably smaller, though, and not as cool and creepy!  But this one did have the interesting history of being hit by a bomb that didn't explode.  It collapsed the roof but never set the ammunition on fire, which would have destroyed the entire fort.

One building had this statue and an interactive screen map, and I guess Jacob was helping him plan!  The detail on the statue was cool, right down to his epaulets, which were coiled wire to look like fringe.

We saw the flag-keepers quarters and another ammunition storage space, and then we decided it was time to walk back to the main building, let the boys look around the shop (of course) and head out.  Jacob got one inexpensive cannon to add to his army guys at home, and that was it for the fort!  It may not have been as impressive as Fort Niagara, though it may be more lively in better weather, but we were happy we went. 

This post seems to be long enough for now, but the day was only half over!  Stay tuned for part 2 of our fabulous day in Baltimore!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Before and After

So, this past weekend we headed to Maryland for Jacob's last lacrosse tournament of the year.  I didn't get to go to this one last year because of a long-planned concert that my friend Mary was coming into town for.  This year I was determined to do more than spend 7+ hours in a van to only watch a handful of lacrosse games before spending 7+ hours in a van again to come home, so I hatched a plan. I decided to take the day off Thursday, pick up the kids early, and then we could drive part of the way that night, which would give us an entire day in Baltimore on Friday.  Once I got a super cheap but very nice room in Harrisburg on Hotwire for $60 total, we made a list of to-dos for the day.  And because Friday turned out so full, it's getting a post of its today you'll get the "before Friday" and "after Friday" sections of our long weekend!

Because of the trip, most of last week was spent planning ahead and packing up as much as possible so I could maybe get some "me time" on Thursday.  In the end it was more like errand running with one quick stop for me, but I was packed and ready on time, which was a feat.  Wednesday night, Craig was in Canada for work, so it was me trying to do what I could while alone with two crazy boys.  While I was trying to make dinner, apparently our house turned into a tattoo parlor, because this the end result:

Yes, Jacob "tattooed" both of them with markers.  Normally I'd have freaked out a bit, but they were happy and getting along, so I let it go.  Those moments are rare enough, and if a washcloth and some soap could fix it, then why not?  Once the boys were in bed, I packed up as much as I could.

Everyone went off to their respective places on Thursday morning, and I got busy with some work from home and pre-trip errands.  I wasn't feeling great by that point--a little nauseated or just generally off--but I had a quick lunch, finished packing, and went to get the kids.  When we got home, ideally we would have hopped right in the car, but ever since Halloween the kids had been dying to do something that we just hadn't had the daylight or enough decent weather to do: destroy our pumpkins.  The pumpkins were starting to get a little funky and it was still light out, so we set the pumpkins up to be attacked with a lacrosse ball.

Both boys gave it a go, and after a few direct hits, we had this:
Note the little one in the background, completely away from the other two. 
Eventually we had pumpkin pieces all over our lawn and driveway, and then it was time to go.  We didn't get on the road until around 4pm, which meant we only had about an hour of daylight.  Trust me when I say that daylight car trips are far more enjoyable than night ones.  We did so much night driving on this trip, and I was so sad to miss all of the scenery.  Fall leaves are mostly done, but I bet there would have been some pretty areas...or at least something besides blackness.

I was still not feeling too great, but after a small dinner, some Pepto Bismol and some Dramamine, just to take the edge off whatever it was (I think it could have been the remnants of my Z-pak, or maybe a precursor to the cold that showed up by Sunday), I was feeling a little better.  We ended up needing to stop for dinner a lot earlier than I'd have liked, a little over an hour in. But Jacob really liked the comfy chairs in the Dansville Burger King...

The trip to Harrisburg was only about 4-1/2 hours, but because of the dark it seemed to take forever.  Both boys conked out sometime before we got there.  Of course, they woke up as we were getting into the hotel, and while Jacob went right back to sleep, Carter had a lot of trouble.  He was sleeping next to Craig that night and drove him absolutely nuts.  We had to be up early to go into Baltimore for the day, so the extra late night was not appreciated.  Fortunately, the hotel was nice and we were able to get a good breakfast before we took off the next morning.  It was actually a bit of a bummer that we had so little time there, because it was a really nice hotel!  We were back on the road by about 7:45....but what came after has to wait until my next post! to Saturday...

Jacob's schedule for this tournament had changed a number of times, and it appeared they were having trouble getting teams for Saturday.  In the end we only had two games, but the good news is that we didn't have to be at the field until around 10am.  That was good, because Carter spent the night flopping all over the bed and I barely slept.  When the alarm went off to get us up for our original start time, I cringed, but then I saw the message that the first game was moved later, so we got an extra hour or so of sleep!  The bad news is that our hotel was still about a half hour away, and it was supposed to be a really cold day, pretty firmly in the 30s to low 40s.  Fortunately, it was sunny, which took the edge off a bit, but we were all layered up.  Heavy coats, gloves, hats, boots, and blankets were all must-haves.

The first game was close but the boys played well and won 9-7. 
And yes, it does look like they're playing on hay, but the grass was just really brown.
The second game was...rough.  As we approached the field for the game, we saw that the FCA team a year older than Jacob was losing badly to a team from Annapolis, apparently the same organization of the team we'd be playing.  The FCA 2025s had done well otherwise that day but lost to this Annapolis team 18-2.  In the meantime, we noticed about four players with similar uniforms that looked to be about Jacob's age warming up off to the side.  We found it odd that the rest of the younger team was otherwise nowhere to be found.  And basically we ended up figuring out that the team we were going to play may have been cobbled together just to give us someone else to play that day.  Most of it was the same 2025 team that decimated our 2025 team, and those four kids were probably the only 2026s that could make it.  There was even a rumor of a 2024 player somewhere in the mix.  We have a very good team, but clearly they're not as good as 2025-level kids, and as a result we lost 9-2.  It was better than the 2025s did, clearly, but it was ugly.  They had us totally off our game.  It was definitely a character builder for a team that doesn't lose very often.

After the game, Carter--who spent most of the weekend holding a phone or my iPod (you do what you have to do)--finally got to go play!

Craig captured this shot of them while I was packing up.

After the game we had a late lunch at Chick-Fil-A, which wasn't particularly close (nothing was!) but was our best option (and others', as well, as we ran into some other FCA people there).  It was actually our second Chick-Fil-A day in a row, but it was fine because most of us had something different and it's all so good.  We can't wait to get our location in the next few months!  We headed back to the hotel without any plans, which was good because we were tired but bad because two boys in a hotel room is usually bad news.  Craig and Jacob ended up going out to play with one of Jacob's teammates and his dad, and Carter and I just laid low for a bit.  Eventually Jacob was running around the hotel with two teammates playing hide-and-seek between the rooms.  Carter really wanted to join in, and did for a little bit, but eventually the game came to an end and we all settled in.  Jacob ate leftover pizza we brought with us, and Craig ran out to get us Arby's (the only nearby place that wasn't burgers or pizza).  We watched Lego Batman on HBO and just relaxed, but we were all in bed by 9:30 or so because we had to be up very early for an 8am game.

We were supposed to be at the field by 7am, but a few technical difficulties got us there a bit later.  It was still below 30 degrees, and everything was covered in thick frost. 

Team huddle early on Sunday, courtesy of another of the reasons FCA is awesome.

We were once again bundled up, even though we knew the colder morning was supposed to get slightly warmer than the previous day ever did (mid-40s...woohoo!).  We were just willing the sun to come out and feel warmish!  This is how Carter spent part of the weekend, trying to keep warm and have his hands glove-free to play on the phone!
Yes, he's under there.
During the first game on Sunday, Jacob got a goal, and it was a beauty!  His team won that game 9-0.  The next game was against the same team from Annapolis, though this time it was clearer it was the correct age group of players.  Even still, we had a hard time against them and lost 9-4.  Apparently they beat everyone around there, so it wasn't really a reflection on us.  Most other teams only scored one goal or none, so we actually almost gave them some competition.  After a bit of a break, the next two games were both wins, 7-2 and 6-2, and after a very long day in the cold, we were done.  

The colors were pretty muted down there, but it was still pretty.

At the end of the last game

Team photo, courtesy of one of the other parents; Jacob is second from the right in the top row

We got in the car somewhere around 3:30 or 3:45, with a very long drive ahead of us.  We snacked, we ate cold pizza, we stopped a few times to go to the bathroom, we changed drivers twice, and after many long hours in the dark through Philadelphia, Allentown, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Binghamton, and Syracuse, we finally made it home just before midnight.  Carter fell asleep around 9:30 despite having napped for a while earlier in the trip, and Jacob was asleep shortly after 10.  Both went right to bed when we got home.  We did minimal unpacking and tried to get ourselves to bed ASAP, too.  It's been a sleepy couple days since, but hopefully we can catch up soon.  However, I realized this morning that Christmas season is just over a week away and I never get enough sleep then, so I probably should start now...and I'm failing again tonight.  Sigh.  The cold that showed up Sunday (probably from Carter) is still hanging in there, but it's been manageable.  Still, it's a busy enough week even if I was healthy, and it's hard to believe things are going to get even crazier in a week! 

But first...Baltimore!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

News and Notes, Lower Respiratory Edition

I finally went to the doctor on Friday.  I'd had enough of the coughing and when I woke up on Thursday I was exhausted, so I figured that might be symptom of things getting worse.  The doctor mentioned walking pneumonia, and while I don't think mine was quite at that level, it did get diagnosed as an unspecified acute lower respiratory infection.  I was prescribed a Z-pak, so we'll see if it works.  I felt pretty good early on Saturday and made it through Carter's first friend birthday party just fine, but when we got home I crashed on the couch for a couple hours.  I felt like my chest was hurting more when I coughed, and I got a dull headache, which I've had a few of in the past week or so.  I'm just ready for this to be done, particularly before I'm stuck in the van for many hours next weekend.

Jacob and Craig were in Canada for a couple days (Jacob had off school) so it was just Carter and me on Friday night.  We went for a haircut for him (so handsome!) and he picked Taco Bell for dinner, of all places.  He was such a good little dinner buddy (who has a newfound love of nacho cheese), and other than the bedtime antics that have been bugging him lately--he isn't tired, is afraid of the dark, and just generally won't go to sleep until 10:30--we had such a nice time.  He let me rest while he watched some shows Saturday morning, and then it was off to the party!

Carter's friend's birthday party had been eagerly anticipated, and Saturday was finally the day!  Carter had been asking for weeks, and literally counting down the days this week.  It was at Adventure Landing, our mini golf place, but clearly with temperatures in the 40s, indoor activities were on tap for the day.  Carter was so excited to see his daycare buddies, most or all of whom have moved up to Kindergarten, including the birthday boy, Elias.  They get to see each other at church sometimes, usually as we're checking into Sunday School, but then they go their separate ways.  But he had such a fun time seeing his buddies again!  We had a bag full of tokens to play games, and it was a lot of fun to let him play every game he wanted--all of the four-token driving games and every random ticket-generating game--since we usually try to avoid a lot of those when we're paying for the tokens.  He's not very good at most of them, but he's so cute trying!  With our teamwork, we ended up with 185 tickets before we even broke for lunch!

We had to do a group picture, and for some reason Carter was completely refusing to get in on it.  I don't know what his deal was--maybe he was just intent on doing something else, or maybe he's just painfully shy--but he would not sit down with everyone else.  And then when all seemed lost, Elias got up and asked him to come sit with him, and Carter went right over.  It was simultaneously the cutest and most frustrating moment! 

It's not as clear as I'd like it to be, but Carter is in the lower middle.
He ate lunch well and then it was time for cake.

And yes, all the boys are helping the birthday boy blow out candles.  They already got blown out once by another kid when they were trying to light them!
The highlight for Carter was getting into the Wow Factory, which is a basically ball pit gone mad.  It's a netted, three-level play area full of small nerf-style balls and a bunch of air features--air guns, vacuums that suck balls up into guns, or areas where you can play with air to make the balls float.  There's also a giant spiral tube slide and canvas strap mesh climbing/crawling areas.  Carter had so much fun running, climbing, and shooting. 
Trying out one of the shooters

Like he looked half the time he was in there, carrying as many balls as possible to load into a gun.  Silly boy!
By the end of the party, we had over 400 tickets to spend!  He got a pack of army guys, a slap bracelet, a silicone shark ring, an alien parachuter, and one of those propellers on a stick that you have to spin through your hands and it takes off like a helicopter.  We had to grab a picture of Carter and Elias before we took off.  They are so stinkin' cute.  They do this every time they see each other.

While I was having this pleasant little 27 hours with Carter, my parents were in Kentucky for my cousin's son's funeral.  There was a huge part of me that wished I was able to be there.  But between being sick, Craig being gone, busyness at work, and the logistics of getting myself down there and back (my parents are tacking on a couple extra days to visit friends and check out some extra stuff, so going with them wasn't really an option), it just wasn't meant to be.  But my heart was there and is still so sad for all of them.  My brain is still battling me hardcore to not let me think about it too deeply, but it is still sticking with me.  I am really trying hard to use the perspective of this tragedy to balance out my parenting a bit.  I can't say it works all the time, but I'm trying to maintain a little more patience--not only picking my battles a little better, but also just remembering that our problems are nothing compared to what some people have to deal with.  Ours are tough, no doubt--but it can always be worse.  There may be a time (God forbid) where this seems like the easy stuff, and I'm trying to remember that.  We just never know what is ahead for us, and this tragedy was a sobering, close-to-home reminder of that.  I'm still struggling a bit, faith-wise, with how all of this fits into God's plan.  I mean, surely God can't like watching his people suffer so greatly, but He allows these things to happen, somehow.  How can a great, godly kid like Ryan be of better use in heaven than here on earth?  He clearly touched so many hearts in life, and is still doing so in death, but I feel like his potential was enormous and can't quite wrap my brain around why he's no longer with us.  It sounds like the celebration of life at their church was phenomenal, and I know the family has great support there, but at the most basic level of human emotions, no matter how strong their faith, they are going to miss their son and brother so desperately.  They can be completely content knowing that he's in heaven, but the void on earth has to be completely overwhelming.  I was talking about it with moms at church this morning and we agreed it would be seemingly impossible to come back from.  Prayers will continue, especially now that family is leaving and life will have to get back to a new normal rather quickly.

So, another week begins for us.  It's a terribly dreary, thundery, rainy evening tonight, but the good news is we only have to get through a few days this week before we leave for Jacob's tournament.  I have Thursday and Friday off, and we'll be heading out after school on Thursday.  We have a lot of packing to do before then--fall tournaments seem so much more complicated, for some reason--and now I'm totally out of the groove so it will be that much more challenging.  I'm going to have to do a little each night, and if I'm really good, maybe I can get some "me time" on Thursday morning instead of last-minute packing!  I just need to hope my medicine kicks in by then and we manage to have a wonderful time despite predicted cold and rain.  We'll see...