Trip Pix from Sanibel and Captiva Islands: A Series from Life on the Road

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Tourist in my own hometown

Recently, my husband and I set off to be tourists in our own city. Fun! There were several reasons we took the day off, one of which was our 25th anniversary (we got married really young 😉 ).

Another reason was to play with my new camera lens. As a photographer, I run my equipment into the ground. One time the repair man said I “killed my camera” from taking too many photos. Ha!

My equipment has ways of meeting their untimely demise, like the elbow at Disney that sent my camera flying off the table and cracking on the concrete. Another time, I turned my head for a minute and a curious pair of hands picked it up…and dropped it. Once upon a time, my neck strap snapped and in a split second the camera spiraled to the ground. There was nothing I could do but watch in horror. Arg! I could go on. Needless to say, extended warranties are my friend.

Anyway, thought I’d post some fun shots of a super great day.

If you haven’t taken time to rediscover your city or town in a while, I highly recommend it. In our daily routines, we miss so much of the flavor that makes our hometowns unique.

Taking a day to see our city as a visitor gave me a new appreciation for where we live. Sometimes a new perspective in the same place is just what we need to feel like we’ve gotten away without ever leaving the city limits.

Wherever you live, embrace all that makes it home to you. ❤






















The secret to an awesome family vacation



As teachers, students and parents breathe a collective exhale at the end of another school year, families begin planning, packing and preparing for vacation.

It took me years to learn the secret to an awesome family vacation, but I’m going to share it in two short words.

Transition Day.

Each year as we packed up the van with suitcases, the dog, a hedgehog, pillows (and for the beach – every known piece of beach paraphernalia) a few extra items got packed as well as got left home.

What got left behind:

* patience

* joy

* laughter

* camaraderie

* perseverance

What snuck into our luggage:

* a bad attitude

* everything that goes along with a bad attitude

I just couldn’t figure it out. All of us were so excited to take a break, spend family time together and have an adventure. Why oh why were we fighting before we crossed the city limit? I was all over my kids nagging them for “plugging in” too fast to their technology and how we weren’t bonding as a family (at least not in positive ways).

Like summer thunderstorms in Florida where I grew up that we could set our watch by, bickering and arguing were predicable accomplices in ruining our first day of vacation.

To be honest, I could feel the fight swelling up in me.  Why?

One vacation, we were truckin’ down the road and I was biting my tongue. Why was my husband so annoying to me? Why could no one do anything right around me? This quiet moment became surreal as I stared out the window on a lonely stretch of highway. Without warning, it seemed that the mystery completely unfolded before my very eyes.

It was grace. Grace invited itself along for the ride. I stopped what was on the tip of my tongue, and grace spoke into my heart. I saw that my anger towards my husband was not at him at all. It wasn’t even anger. It was frustration. Exhaustion. Missing him.

He can say the same about me.

What happened in the car at the start of every trip was a lot of pent up stuff. Months or weeks of topics we had not had any time to discuss typically flew out of my mouth like bullets. Frustration over not having any time to discuss them was the trigger. A lack of communication during our exhaustive days led to feeling distant (a woman does not like to feel distant from her man). Hurt feelings ensued and so on. It’s a giant house of cards that is built one busy day after the next, blurry month after blurry month, and by the time vacation comes I’ve got my panties in a wad, he’s tired, and neither one of us wants to deal with the kids.

On this particular vacation I blurted out with wide eyes and a smile, Hey! Let’s try something new. Let’s have a transition day!


We’re all tired. We’re spent. With the energy left in our pinky toes we set off for an adventure. But, let’s be realistic –

Families need to time to adapt. We all need time and energy to mentally and emotionally leave our routines behind as much as we do physically. We need to have flexibility to do that in ways that are right for us. As much as it is uncomfortable for me, I need to let my kids unwind with their technology for the first leg of the trip if that’s what works. For my husband, it may be listening to tunes or simply not talking. For me, I adapt by catching up on all of the things I’ve wanted to share with my man that our routines rob us from communicating.

So, how does his not wanting to talk jive with my need to talk?  After 24 years of marriage, I found out that what I am really looking for is for him to listen. I decompress by exhaling my words, feelings, emotions, etc. I don’t regenerate by him wanting to solve or fix every issue I bring up. I just need to get it out. It’s beautiful, really. I talk and talk and talk. He listens. We both win because I am not asking for him to share equal words in the conversation. I’m not asking anything of him. Sometimes I am just venting or processing things out loud and would rather him not say a word. In order for me to embrace the vacation and be in the moment, there needs to be room in my heart and mind to hold the new memories we will make. I can’t do that if I’ve drug all of the muck from home with me. He feels no pressure to respond except for the occasional smile, glance, or head nod. It’s perfect for us! Meanwhile, the kids have tuned into their music and miss all of my introspective downloading.

Also, we’ve learned that the first day of vacation isn’t our best, so we need to extend intentional grace to each other. It’s likely my husband has just finished a conference call as we’re packing the van. Being it’s a time for a break, the kids have most often just come off of hard tests and papers and presentations. We all need grace to fill in the blanks when we are not enough for each other.

The vacation I mentioned above was a turning point in our family. We declared Transition Day (out loud) and all of the stress of regular life, the stress of travel, the stress of wanting to have a good time, and all of the other stress that keeps my shoulders and neck muscles rock hard began to melt away.

Now, we actually laugh about it. When someone’s attitude tanks on that first day, we just smile and say “Transition Day!” and give grace. This has helped to cut down how long the transition takes, because the pressure of performance is gone. We can show our weaknesses. We are not “on” like we have to be in so many venues of our lives. We don’t have to begin making scrapbooking memories the moment our tires leave the driveway.

Giving each other freedom to have a transition day has been very healing. I can stop being wife and mother and just be Kristi – whether Kristi is tired, emotional, happy or mad. Likewise, each member of our family can simply be who we are. The van is peaceful even if someone is bent out of shape. Odd, huh?

By the second day (or even that evening) we are all ready for fun! We have switched gears and truly let it all go – without unnecessary friction that is draining and spoils the fun.

I’ve now started doing a mini version of Transition Day on the weekends. It’s not a formula. It’s simply putting ourselves in each others’ shoes and remembering we are humans who are imperfect but are trying to be the best we can anyway.

Grace is now not only at the top of my packing list for vacations and weekends, but it’s becoming part of my daily to-do list. And as often as I need to give it, I realize I need to receive it.

Vacation Transition Day has become part of our family’s everyday moments and is a game-changer because in giving grace – love wins – and that’s the main goal no matter where we are.




Thanksgiving one-liners, oh my!

My family traveled to visit extended family for Thanksgiving week. When you put 12 people – ranging from 9 to 73 years old – a dog, and a hedgehog in one house, it’s bound to be interesting. Thought I’d recap some of the one-liners from the week. Enjoy, and I apologize in advance…

And for the spicy, jalapeno turkey I stuffed a bottle’s worth of Tums inside it.

We decided to have a bloodbath to end it. (Re: The annual testosterone-filled, “friendly” game of Risk)

(Worried about our fuel supply driving to our family’s house, I wanted to stop and fill up, but Bruce didn’t. On a lonely stretch of highway, in the dark, I looked out the window and saw a gas station off the highway.) To prove my point, I said, We just passed gas! Everyone busted out laughing. Took me a minute to get it. 🙂

I can’t help it. I hear the music for Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving and my eyes won’t stay open.

Do it again and I’ll take the keys to your car away.

We should’ve never teamed up. (i.e. Risk)

(Road trip stop at Chic-Fil-A) – May I have 4 grilled chicken nuggets…for my dog.


You’re in my personal space!

No! You’re in MY personal space!


It was me! Hey, everyone does it sometimes.

If we’re going to be stuck in the Holland Tunnel much longer, I’m going to use this empty cup.

It’s never a good idea to hit bumps on the road while drinking hot chocolate…just look at my shirt.

Let’ play a game…everyone close their eyes. I’ll hide the turkey and you guys try to find it!

(At the movies with our motley crew with a very annoyed candy clerk) Hey! Would you look at this! We have coupons for free popcorn, free soda and cheap candy. It’s our lucky day! Oh, and can we have 4 little drink cups and 5 popcorn trays? (Tacky, I know.)

I’ll moon you!

The dog is on the table… again!

Get the plunger!

Do you realize all our men have left us wives, children and grandmother alone in Chinatown, in the dark, without our car?

I think the dog did it.

Totally worth it! (Re: Lombardi’s pizza and Ferrar’s desserts)

Screaming and crying – My pet hedgehog’s paw came off and there is blood all over the place!*

Sister-in-law after returning from the vet with me – It’s interesting to see what a day in the life of your family is like…

We’re in Kahootz!

There’s a reason why the bathroom has a fan and a can of apple cinnamon spray.

Yeah, I couldn’t eat my breakfast of sausage, eggs and ketchup after the hedgehog incident.

(Regarding the hedgehog to cousins) So, do you still want a hamster?

Roll down the window!


So…um…my watch caught the edge of the table that had Uncle’s chocolate frappacino on it…sorry!

Get the carpet steamer…QUICK!


(On Sunday) When is it a good time to do some of our laundry?

Saturday… when you go home! 😉


Conversation –

Do you have any Sprite?

No, I’m sorry we don’t.

That’s okay. (Spontaneously found one in the garage fridge and drank half the bottle. Sister-in-law returns to the room.)

I replied, Hey! I found one!

Really? Let me check the expiration date because we never buy this. (Pause)

I can’t read this…does it look like 2010 to you?

(Pause) Yep, as I nearly spit it out.


Conversation taking family pictures –

Now that I’m 18 can I be in the adult’s picture?



You forgot to wear deoderant again, didn’t you.

I need a nap.

(Re: the Macy’s Parade) Hurry up in the bathroom, you’re going to miss your favorite floats!

If everyone would just stand still and smile, we can get this photo over with sooner.

Eww, he swallowed his loogie!

Someone left rocks from the river in the bathroom sink and it freaked me out cause it looked like something else!!!

Stopping for a restroom break on the way home, one person took longer than usual. Questioning if they were okay – the response…Sorry. I fell asleep on the toilet.

(At 4am) Help! I have a booger stuck in my nose and can’t get it out!


Should we tell them the bread was molded?



(Madden Football on one tv, Wii playing on the other and the women want to watch “Say Yes to the Dress.” We women stood united and outnumbered the male Wii players) – Estrogen has entered the building and we’re taking over the t.v.

Hey! It’s the Naked Cowboy! (In NYC)


(Sitting on icy cold, metal bleachers outside watching the cousins ice skate)

I can’t feel my butt.

Me either.


Is that snow?!?!?

Yes, and never eat yellow snow.


On a long stretch of dark highway – Uh oh. My braces just broke.

I’m glad I can’t smell.

Seriously, how long can you wait till we have to stop?

My feet are bigger than yours!

Keep a watch for Sasquatch! (While changing drivers in the pitch black middle of nowhere.)

(Re: metal folding chairs at the Thanksgiving dinner table) – Why do I have to sit in a fake chair?

Do you have any household disinfectant?

With a pouting chin resting on the kitchen table, I don’t want to go home.

I’m going to miss you.

And the award goes to the best one-liner of the week – Someone needs to wipe.

Family time. It may be crowded. Loud. Cluttered. Chaotic. But it’s also so much FUN! Put the whole shabang together and you gotta love it. Happy Thanksgiving from our crazy family to yours. 🙂

* Hedgehog will be fine. The vet determined that she ran her paws raw on her spinning wheel. It was a horrible sight of blood everywhere, but her paw was in tact. It was a wood ship covered in blood that was mistaken for her paw. She is on 10 days of bed rest with no spinning to recover. She’ll be fine, but my nerves won’t be for a while!! Sheesh! :O

Sand and Water #2 Intuition

While packing for this trip, I contemplated what we really wanted to schlep bring with us.  After getting all 5 bikes out, I looked long and hard at our helmets.  We obey helmet laws on a regular basis, but at the beach, you seldom see people wearing helmets on the sand.  I remember our last beach trip, and the helmets were in the way more than anything.

I threw them in the van, but then considered taking them back out for more usable space for luggage.  In a moment, I decided to leave them.  Something inside me told to let them come.

Yesterday, the kids were riding their bikes on a slippery street where we are staying.  My daughter’s handle grip slipped off recently at home, but we stuck it back on and never thought about it again.

She turned a corner, the grip slipped off, sending her front tiring spinning sideways.  Down she went.  We got her back in the rental and cleaned up the many scrapes, cuts, etc.  Her elbow and hip were hurt.  After a triage assessment by my husband, I helped with some band-aids, pain reliever and ice.  We bought her a sling and she wore it the rest of the day.

At bedtime, she said her prayers and thanked God for her helmet several times.  When she finished praying, I asked her about the helmet because my back was turned when she fell.

Mom, that helmet saved my head.  When the tire turned, I fell directly on my elbow and head – my head bounced several times on the road.  My stomach sank and my heart rejoiced.  The thought of her fall upset me, but knowing she wore her helmet was a saving grace.

At her age, many teens don’t think it’s necessary, or cool, to wear a helmet.  Not wearing one would have badly hurt her and abruptly ended our trip.    Rules are there for a reason, and I am SO thankful God nudged me to pack these bulky things.  I now recognize it was the Holy Spirit who convinced me to literally remove my hand from the helmets and leave them in the van.

My baby girl showed me her helmet today, and it’s noticeably banged up.  That would’ve been her.  She’s out of the sling today, and her hip is a little bruised, but it hasn’t slowed her down one bit.  In addition to the sling, I bought a brand new pair of handle grips which have been successfully installed. 🙂

God spared her and the trip.  Watching her splash in the waves and dig in the sand, I am so very grateful for God’s hand of protection through some common sense and obedience at the small cost of inconvenient packing. 🙂  Party on…

Sand and Water #1 Rest

Stand at the crossroads and lookask for the ancient paths,

ask where the good way is, and walk in it,

and you will find rest for your souls.

~ Jeremiah 6:16

I am sitting in what feels like a painting.  We’re at the beach, and it is lightly raining.  I’ve perched myself on the balcony of our rental, and as I write it’s hard to imagine this is real.  Quite comfortable on the large, swinging bench, my dog leans against me – head up, ears cocked, eyes alert – she is protecting the alpha female…me.  On the swing, I’ve got with me my Bible, my camera bag, a devotional, this blog and black raspberry sparkling ice.  The only thing missing from the big rocks in my jar is my family who are delightfully playing in the ocean – despite the rain.

Not a sound.  Just rain falling softly on tin roofs and palm fronds sleepily swaying in the wind.  A beach vacation certainly assumes time in the sun, but as much as we anticipate that, we need rest.  I’ve learned that in life, sometimes the rain has to fall to make us stop and rest.

We’ve vacationed so hard sometimes that we were exhausted when we returned home.  That was more of a trip than vacation.  This time is intended as a respite.  A reconnect.  A refreshing as we gear up for a busy school year.  Let the rain fall if it means I don’t feel the pressure to plan activities or bring out the exasperating person in me who feels the endless need to be everything to everyone.

The breeze is beautiful.  The scenery divine.  It’s all good.

Reminding myself it’s all good is why I am writing today.  I have said goodbye to one season of life and am anticipating a new one.  It brings a lot of change with it, and although no life is perfect, this new season has perfect timing.

I take yet another lesson from my dog.  She drove with us many hours and miles, never having a clue where we were going.  She was patient in the car though she didn’t understand the GPS or our may stops.  Once here, she just wanted to know where her food, water and bed were.  After that, she is content just to be with us no matter what we do.

We are each on a journey of our own.  Only God knows where we are going – and He controls the GPS.  Are we patient traveling along the long roads, in traffic, in rain, at night, when we’re tired, when we take an unexpected trip to urgent care en route, when we are bored and are really done with this part of the journey?

When God leads us to our appointed destination, are we content with the basics of trusting Him to provide for our needs – or do we automatically begin foraging for ourselves?  Do we have and exercise faith that He knows what we need and will help us?

Once we are convinced He has our best at heart, are we content to simply be with Him throughout the days, following Him without complaint regardless of where, when or for how long He walks the sandy shore?

Is His presence enough to satisfy us without asking, “Yeah, I know God, but what else are we going to do?”

Lots to think about as I look down at my dog who involuntarily sways back and forth to the rhythm of the swing.  She’s just happy to be with me.  I want that blissfulness with God rain or shine, beach or home, good days or bad, rough waters or smooth sailing.  That is the desire of my heart.

Psalm 139…Amish-Country Style

Psalm 139 has been my life Scripture.  While in Ukraine, I relied heavily on God’s message in this Psalm for courage and strength.  For instance, I don’t mind flying, but it’s not on my list of favorites by far.  When I fly, I always recite verses 9-10, and it helps me remember who is in control of the plane and the journey.  Or, when I walked 32 flights of stairs to visit with some precious Ukrainian people in their apartment because the building’s elevator was iffy, I heard verses 2-3 roll around in my mind.  God continues to speak to me through this collection of verses, so thought I would share this post again and hope it speaks to you, too! 🙂

This passage has shared mountain-top highs with me and pulled my soul out of the pit.  It is a joy to offer a visual perspective of David’s incredible, tender heart seen through the eyes of the Amish country.

Psalm 139: 1-18, 23-24

Oh LORD, you have searched me and you know me.

You know when I sit

and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out

and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

you know it completely, O LORD.

You hem me in – behind and before;

you have laid your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place.

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

When I awake, I am still with you.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

Test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

Sunday Selah

One thing I ask of the Lord,
    this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

In Psalm 27, David reminds himself of God’s strongarm against his enemies.  He reiterates God’s mercy, goodness and safety.  Yet, in the middle of wrestling with fear, weakness and unstable circumstances, David breaks away in his heart and seems to pause mid-thought.

He is in crisis.  He feels unsafe of where he is and unsure of what the future holds in the hands of his enemies.  However, I can almost see David stop his heart’s plea and set his gaze on the horizon.  Although his feet stand on a place of longitutde and latitude, his heart escapes to another place and time.  There it is peaceful, quiet and restful.  Indeed, God’s house is a respite, a place of refuge.

Until God calls His chidlren home, we are called to seek Him now – every day.  Where do you find rest in God?

One place I find Him is at the beach.  I am reminded of His greatness of strength, creativity and control.  The rythmic waves crashing on the shore slow my own racing heart, and I come to a place of surrender.

I’m not at the beach today, but I can still find my way to God’s house – in my heart.  His children are His temple, and He dwells in us.  When I surrender myself to Him, I find rest, peace and stillness not found anywhere on this earth.

I encourage you, also, to look and listen for God today whever you are.

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. ~ Psalm 29:11

Lord willing, I’ll see you tomorrow back here for more real…deep…stuff.

Have a wonderful Sabbath,


Family Travel Review – New York City, Part 1 of 2

With summer around the corner, Another category is being added to the blog that I’m excited about…Family Travel Review.  Here, I’d like to offer our family’s two cents advice on what has worked, and not worked, while traveling as a family.  It’s a compilation of our trips and others who have shared their experiences.  Feel free to add posts with what works and what to avoid.  Everything below is family-friendly!!

Let’s start with a favorite – New York City!  This is a city that we just love to visit.  We’ve been going there for years and have some favorites to share.  Maybe they’ll become favorites to you, too!  As we continue to go back to the city that truly never sleeps, we’ll update the blog.  There’s a lifetime of things to do here.

New York City with the family:

Yes, it is possible to take children to NYC and have a ton of fun.  Some tips on how to make the most of your time there…

1. How old should children be to go to NYC?  We waited until our children could carry their own small backpacks and have good walking legs.  We didn’t want to bother with strollers or carry anyone, no way!  The more people in a group, the more water bottles, snacks, wallets, etc., which makes for a back-breaking experience.  When every can carry their own stuff, it’s so much easier on the parent.  We bought “travel backpacks” that are used every trip.  They are simple, inexpensive school-like backpacks.

2. Plan ahead.  There is so much to do there, make a wish list – then cut it in half.  Hey, it’ll give you an excuse to go back!  In an ideal world with no lines, no traffic, no oversleeping, and no crowds one could attempt to check everything off on his or her list.  But, that’s just not the case.  Realizing an activity really takes 1.5 – 2 times as long as it ideally should, helps a family go into a busy trip to NYC with more realistic expectations and cooler attitudes.  It’s vacation, after all, and should be enjoyed. J

Keep in mind the group with whom you are traveling.  I remember our most recent trip last fall, we wanted to check out the Guggenheim.  We took a subway as close to it as possible, with the idea of walking to the Gugg, then walking to our favorite ice skating rink (I’ll share that later).  Once we finally got to the Gugg, the majority of the crowd (children) were less than impressed.  We wound up touring the gift store and leaving.  Ug.  Then we walked a LONG way to ice skating. By the time we got there, the adults were too tired to skate.  The walk was gorgeous, and made for great chat time, but to do it over again, we would’ve skipped the Gugg with the kids and saved that for a later date.  So keep in mind what and where you want to spend your time.  View online maps and arm yourself with hours of operation, reservations, if needed, and subway strategies.  Your homework will pay off.

3. Restaurants:  There are a bagillion places to eat in NYC, and many are very kid-friendly.  We are pizza connoisseurs – okay, pizza snobs.   Our family’s favorite?  Lombardi’s.  Oh man.  It’s a small joint that serves up big pies.  Pizzas are coal-fired with a sweet sauce and real mozzarella slices melted on top.  There is no other pizza anywhere like Lombardi’s.  The waits are never bad (we beat the normal dinner crowd and get there before 6pm) and there is seating on the roof for spillover.  People there say NYC pizza is the best because of the water that is used in making the dough.  Whatever it is, it’s so good!  John’s Pizza is good too, and one location is a renovated church with stained glass ceilings – which is really cool.  If you’re looking for a traditional pie, this is a great place.

* Junior’s.  The serve a rockin’ breakfast!  Actually, all of their food is really great.  If you like cheesecake, you have to try Junior’s.  They have indoor/outdoor seating, very cool atmosphere, casual, and it’s right down the street from Broadway so often people watch a show then head to Junior’s.  My children’s favorite memory of this incredible restaurant is when we went to just have dessert.  For a family of five, it was less expensive to order an entire cheesecake than by the slice.  So we did.  But, we had leftovers, obviously.  We took the other half back to our hotel room and stuck it in the mini fridge.  We were checking out the next morning, so yes, we had cheesecake for breakfast.  The kids still remember – the day Dad & Mom let us have cheesecake for breakfast!

* Street vendors.  Some of our best meals have been on the street.  It’s hard to walk by and not be taken in by the smell of hot dogs, curry chicken, peppers & onions, pretzels, etc.  It’s mouth-watering.  It’s also affordable.  We like to grab a meal, take a break and people watch.  It’s almost better than sitting inside a restaurant because we can see all the action outside.

* Smith & Wolensky.  You gotta get the seafood tower (big enough for the whole table).  It’s out of control and the rib eye is one of the best steaks you’ll ever have.  Career wait staff – excellent service!  Pricey.  A total NYC experience. (Submitted by my husband who went their while on business.)

* Ferrara Café.  This jewel of a find is in Little Italy.  The atmosphere is busy and the ambiance very NYC Italian.  The desserts are mouth-watering.  They offer just about anything Italian you can imagine.  Pricey.  But, it’s worth the splurge.  We usually go there once while there.

* Peanut Butter & Co.  We haven’t visited this establishment yet, but we buy their products in our local grocery store.  VERY delicious!  White chocolate, dark chocolate, maple, cinnamon swirl – all varieties of peanut butter.  Next time in NYC, we will definitely go there and check it out.

4.  Things to do:

* Carriage ride through Central Park.  You gotta do this once.  It’s pricey, but my family really enjoyed this.  The clip-clop of horses meandering through Central Park, breathing the familiar NYC air, it’s part of the experience.  Afterward, we chatted with the SPCA division of the police force giving an impromptu check on the horses.  The horses are clean and well-cared for, but it made me feel even better to hear that from the police force.

* Empire State building.  Another must!  Buy tickets early or be prepared to stand in line half a block long (at least).  The main tickets get you to the main viewing floor (think Sleepless in Seattle).  An additional ticket takes you to the very peak on a separate elevator.  We did both.  We found that the additional money to the tip top wasn’t worth it.  It’s small, cramped, and the windows are fogged up.  It felt just like being on a boat in the cabin underneath.  And, there is only one elevator, so once you’re ready to leave, be prepared to wait a very long time.  But the main floor viewing was awesome.  Great photo op, windy, and even King Kong makes an appearance for a photo op.

* Statue of Liberty.  Yes, you must.  It’s patriotic! We took the ferry from the Jersey side, which is less-traveled.  Very good idea.  What we didn’t realize was the never-ending security process.  It took us about 3 hours to get through it (albeit it was July), then we could actually begin enjoying Lady Liberty.  People are no longer allowed to climb up it like they used to, but there is a museum experience inside it that’s cool.  Bags are not permitted, so what we didn’t realize when we skipped lunch to catch the ferry, was that we’d have to wait hours and hours to eat – not good with smaller children.  All in all, glad we did this!

* Broadway show.  We splurged once and saw The Little Mermaid.  Unbelievable!  The props, acting, the whole shebang.  Such a great experience.  I was surprised at how casually everyone dressed.  Everything from jeans to dresses.  Catch a show if time permits.  Tickets, sometimes reduced, are on sale in Times Square for same-day shows if you feel the mood.

* Metropolitan Museum of Art spectacular.  No way to see it all in one visit.  Better for older children.

* American Museum of Natural History  – so worth it!  Great for kids of all ages.

* Enjoy the go! by Charmin.  Nicest bathrooms in all of NYC.  Big-screened tv’s, music, lots of wait staff standing around.  This sounds ridiculous, but bathrooms can be really hard to come by.  Most times there is a line down the street to get in Charmin’s.  If you pop into a restaurant, be prepared to purchase something for the privilege of using their facilities.

* Toys R Us versus  FAO Schwartz.  Definitely Toys R Us.  FAO is small, over-priced, and not as conveniently located as Toys R Us (in Times Square).  Skip the huge piano keyboard at FAO (which has very long wait lines and kids don’t know what to do on them after 5 seconds anyway).  Toys R Us is 4 stories, complete with indoor Ferris wheel.  They have live demos of the latest toys, bathrooms, and every toy imaginable.  I never thought we’d take time to visit a toy store in NYC, but this is more of an attraction.

<<Check back tomorrow for part 2 with more attractions, accommodations, etc.!!>>