Exploring THE ROCK

Exploring THE ROCK

It’s a little heartbreaking that our vacation is well over, and with the exception of a 2 day firm retreat to Cleveland next week (full of meetings, not adventuring), I’m not going anywhere fun in the near future. As is typical after vacation, I returned to a chaotic workload and not nearly enough time to get everything done. Add on top of that the myriad tasks that go along with settling into a new house and selling an old one, I’m surprised I haven’t completely lost my mind. I’m close though.

The one activity I was looking forward to the absolute most on our vacation was our tour of Alcatraz Penitentiary, better known as THE ROCK. I’ve visited San Francisco many times in my life, but never have I had the foresight or organization to buy Alcatraz tour tickets in advance. You can’t just stroll in and buy same-day tickets. They sell out a few weeks in advance. As soon as I knew we’d be spending part of our vacation in San Fran, I booked our trip.

View of San Francisco on the boat to Alcatraz

View of San Francisco on the boat to Alcatraz



The first part of the tour is the ferry ride over to the island. My kid LOVES all modes of transportation, so she was pretty jazzed to be riding on a boat. The bay is extremely windy, and since it was a hot day, this felt pretty comfortable. The boat ride is only about 10 minutes, which is just enough time for it to be fun, but not long enough to get boring.

Happy campers on our way to prison

Happy campers on our way to prison


We got to the island and had a short orientation about where to find things. I was really hoping to tour the island and prison with a live guide, but instead the tour is self-guided with a headphone device. Fair warning: a self-guided tour with a 3 y.o. who refuses to wear the headphones is torturous. She quickly got bored, and I was NOT about to ditch this activity because she was bored/tired/bratty. So I guided myself through much of the tour, carrying her and gritting through my teeth “You WILL be quiet and behave or so help me.”

Child, I may leave you here.

Child, I may leave you here.

Touring the prison was fascinating. Alcatraz is a lot smaller than I imagined. There were only a total of about 1500 inmates who were housed here during its years of operation. The cells of course were very small, and the whole prison was designed in the panopticon model. Back in college, one of my literature professors had a couple lectures on the panopticon, so I was very excited to dust the cobwebs off of my education and feel s-m-r-t.


Alcatraz lighthouse

Alcatraz rec yard

More than anything, the tour made me sad. The audio tour gave the impression that Alcatraz’ conditions were barbaric and a thing of the past. It suggested that the modern penal model is focused on rehabilitation more than punitive measures. Given several cases I’ve handled recently dealing with inmate civil rights, however, I can tell you that the housing conditions at Alcatraz are fairly reflective of the modern conditions in many restrictive housing units (and in some ways Alcatraz may be a more comfortable living situation, in light of the Department of Justice’s recent findings concerning the Pennsylvania DOC’s use of restrictive housing on mentally ill inmates.) It made me sad to think that all the tourists don’t realize that these conditions aren’t actually a thing of the past, but actually a view of confinement conditions that still exist.

Alcatraz Prison

I was hoping that the tour would be ghost-story spooky, but unfortunately there were no such scary tales. Nonetheless, it was a tour absolutely worth taking. Had my kid been older and better behaved, it would have been a great opportunity to talk about social expectations, the need for law and order, and also the importance of treating every person with dignity and humanity.


Our charming trip to Boulder

Our charming trip to Boulder

We made it through the 3 weeks of insanity, and finally got our house on the market last Friday. We then promptly left for Colorado bright and early in the morning. My cousin was graduating from High School, and we were thrilled to have a family gathering to celebrate her accomplishments. My aunt and uncle have lived in Colorado for years and years, and I’ve always meant to visit, but never quite made it there. After this fantastic visit, we’re sure to make it back and soon. It’s a 3 hour direct flight from Pittsburgh, which is very easy travel-wise. The Boulder/Denver area is just charming. Microbreweries everywhere, HELLO. I really enjoyed our visit there, and to be honest, I rank the area up with Barcelona and Vancouver as an area I could imagine us potentially relocating to someday (but a very hypothetical someday, we just bought a new house in Pittsburgh. We’re not going anywhere for a long while).

PaeelaOur first day there was full of graduation festivities, including my Uncle Joe’s famous paella. LOOK AT THIS PAELLA. Is it not the absolute best? It tasted every bit as amazing as it looked.

I loved that Baby Beez had the opportunity to play with some of the younger members of our family. I have such warm memories of going to my grandparents and hanging out with my cousins, whether it was splashing in the jacuzzi, or pretending that the garden hose was a microphone and putting on performances in the backyard. We are lucky to have many many friends in Pittsburgh, but not very many relatives, so it was lovely for Baby Beez to get to have time with family.

Boulder run

On Saturday morning I hit the roads for a 5k run. The land is so very flat that it’s such a strange experience for me. It was such a calm and beautiful landscape. I wanted to run the 10k Bolder Boulder while we were there, but Mr. Beez nixed that. I didn’t argue with him, since we are there for just a short time, and wanted to spend that time visiting family and having fun, instead of spending half a day on a race. I suppose we might have to go back next year for Memorial Day weekend so I can do that run!

16th St Mall

We spent a few hours on Saturday walking along the 16th Street Mall in Boulder, checking out the shops, restaurants, and Baby Beez’ favorite- the fountain.

photo 1(2)

We stopped for a bite at Pizzaria Locale for some thin-crust Neopolitan style pizza. I started things off with the frutti di mare salad. It was so briny and refreshing, I just loved it.

Primavera pizza

My mom and I shared the Primavera pizza, topped with asparagus, peas and dippy eggs. It was such a unique taste, mildly salty and so richly flavorful. It’s not what you would typically think of if you’re craving pizza, but it was amazing.


Boulder has some good food, and for Saturday night we ventured out as a very large group to Cyclhops Bike Cantina, which is one of the breweries for Dale’s Pale Ale. Our table was piled high with all kinds of nachos and guacamole and other goodies, and I picked three delicious tacos for my entree. One thing I loved about Colorado dining- avocado on everything. So yum.

We left Boulder on Monday evening. On Monday we had a short visit with family, followed by an outing to the Denver zoo. My mom took me there once when I was a kid, but I have no memory of it. Baby Beez had such a fun time there during this visit, and with all the pit stops that are necessary for traveling with a three year old, we only made it through a small part of a zoo. I guess that means we’ll have to go back and finish it, right?

Andean Condor

I love how the Andean condor was showing off for everyone, spreading her wings and strutting about.




I can’t believe that we’re back to Friday again. Last Friday feels a million years ago. And since we’re busy with showing the house, we’re living this strange existence where we have to make sure the house is spotless and in tip-top shape every time we step out the door. Our weekend is full of activities and playdates, since it’s just not fair to Baby Beez to keep her cooped up in a house with no toys and not much to do.

Our trip to Boulder was a whirlwind one, but we had a wonderful time visiting family and checking out the town. I only wish we had made our trip longer. Colorado has a laid back, friendly vibe to it, and I would have loved to go for a hike, check out a yoga class, and generally just hang out for a while longer. Lucky for us, my aunt and uncle have plenty of room in their house and love to have visitors, so another trip will be shortly in order!


I’ve totally cracked. I’m dreaming of Greenland.

I’ve totally cracked. I’m dreaming of Greenland.

Either the prolonged cold or my kid’s incessant obsession with Frozen has finally made me crack. I’m dreaming of vacation, but instead of beaches, I’ve suddenly become mildly obsessed with the possibility of visiting GREENLAND.

What’s in Greenland? Pretty much nothing. Well there are mountains. There is ice. There are lichen. In my mind there are lots of tiny ponies, but I don’t know if there really are tiny ponies in Greenland. I really hope there are.

Obviously the first step in planning my imaginary vacation to Greenland is to secure airfare. There are a couple of tiny airports, all of which are indistinguishable to me because they have crazy names and I don’t know anything about Greenland. There is like one flight a millennium out of Ottawa, occasional flights out of Iceland, but most of the flights are out of Copenhagen. So Copenhagen it is, and I’m picking my flight to Narsarsuaq. Because why not.

Flight to GreenlandAccording to the internet, that’s about $2,600 for the Denmark to Greenland part of the flight. I still gotta get from Pittsburgh to Denmark, so this flight is going to be PRICY. And look at me, how nice, I’ll even invite Mr. Beez along.

Step two of the trip, pick a hotel:

Greenland HotelsTHE SELECTION IS BAFFLING. It is hard to resist the party that is sure to be DiscoBay, but honestly, the “sadest hotel in the arctics” is just too enticing to pass up. The reviews characterize the place as having a “barracks” ambience. It even has a cafeteria (who needs a dining room, anyway?). Although TripAdvisor suggests the lodging is somewhat rugged, the hotel’s website makes the place actually look pretty nice.

Since I’m writing this blog post fairly late at night, and I am feeling less ambitious about my online travel-planning, I’ll rely on Greenland’s travel website to figure out what to do while I’m there.

First things first: Food. It looks like Greenlanders like lots of fish, mushrooms and various green things. Those sound good to me. I just hope they don’t like rotten shark, Iceland-style.

Arctic Char Fishing

I would also be sure to take an excursion to the ICE SHEET. I’m not much of a rugged outdoorswoman. In fact, once the temperature dips below 40, I would prefer to stay indoors thankyouverymuch. But in my adventure to the Greenland-thats-not-green-but-rather-icy, I would for sure check out the ICE SHEET.

Ice Sheet

Also I would absolutely go on a wildlife excursion. It looks like the tiny ponies in my imagination aren’t really in Greenland, so that’s too bad. But they have polar bears, and that’s cool. Also, Reindeer. Hello, Sven!

Greenland Animals

And then I will return back to a warmer clime, and remain puzzled over how anyone could be OK with being that cold ALL THE TIME.


VACATION, all I ever wanted

VACATION, all I ever wanted

This winter is killing me. Even with my SUPER BRIGHT light box blasting in my face for an hour every morning, I’m still suffering the winter blahs. 2013 was a banner travel year for me, but after August, the only other traveling I did was a quick trip to California in October for my Grandpa’s funeral. It’s been going on 6 months since I’ve had a proper vacation. No wonder I’ve got cabin fever.

This year isn’t going to be a big year for vacation for us. We’re traveling to Oregon in July to visit my dad, but that’s all we’ve got planned. There are some whisperings about a girls weekend to Bedford Springs in the fall, but that’s still so far away.



It wouldn’t even have to be tropical. Honestly, my dream vacation right now would go like this: Me, going to a hotel. By myself. I love my family and love spending time with them, but for me, feeling relaxed means being left alone.

I would watch Say Yes to the Dress All. Day. Long. And ordering ridiculous things over room service. Like pizza, a hot fudge sundae, and a bottle of champagne. And then I’d go to the spa and have a seaweed wrap and a mani-pedi with a paraffin dip. And then go back to my room and read books all afternoon. And if I’m lucky and this hotel was in a tropical place, I’d go sit outside in the sunshine for a few hours and sun myself and drink frosty drinks. And then I’d go to bed. At like 7pm. And it would be amazing.

What vacation are you daydreaming of right now?


Number 4 in 10 to 10, getting closer!

I wrote this post during our 2011 vacation to Myrtle Beach. Baby Beez was nearly a year old then, and the vacation was simple and lovely. Lots of sand, sun and time for snooze. Traveling, even getting around town, is SO hard during the first two years. Now that she’s three, it’s infinitely easier. No more diapers or food to carry. She has the self-restraint and maturity to sit still…if we bribe her. Even today, I’ve been terribly sick all day, but I’ve been able to convince her to sit next to me in bed and watch Disney’s Hercules over and over and over on the ipad while I sleep. My number one piece of advice to new parents: it starts off awful and hard and you won’t believe it at first, but it will eventually get easier. Really it will.

10 Thoughts on Vacationing with a Little Peanut

August 20, 2011

Traveling with a small child is difficult. I’ve got a good handle on packing and coordinating all the millions and millions of things you need to care for a baby, but even with an entire suitcase of toys and enough graham crackers to feed an entire kindergarten class, it’s hard to keep the wee one in a consistently cheery mood while traveling.

The last couple of years Mr. Beez and I have been fortunate enough to take some nice international vacations. This year, in part because of money and in part because of Baby Beez, we pared things down considerably. We visited my family in California in February to celebrate my grandparents’ 60th Wedding Anniversary, we had a long weekend in Orlando in July, and then we had a long weekend last weekend in Myrtle Beach.

The Orlando trip was so-so. We had a day in Daytona Beach that was fantastic.

Baby Beez loves the sand.

Other than driving out to the beach, Orlando doesn’t have much to offer for kids under 3. Myrtle Beach was much better for us. Our hotel was right on the beach, we went to the Outlets for a bit, and we also went for a stroll on the small boardwalk.

Between these three trips, I’ve learned a few things about traveling with infants (or at least about traveling with my infant).

1. Get a hotel room with a balcony and a nice view. Unless you’re traveling with a babysitter, you’re not going to be able to go anywhere after the baby goes to bed. Mr. Beez and I lead hectic enough lives that spending an evening watching TV in a hotel room is welcome and relaxation, but it was especially nice to sit on the balcony and watch the ocean.

2. Expect to get take out for dinner. Baby Beez usually crashes out between 7 and 8 pm. During our Orlando trip, we made a few foolish attempts to go out to dinner with Baby Beez in tow. Her meltdown inevitably came right around our entrees being served. This resulted in us taking turns shoveling food in our faces as fast as possible, and rocking and soothing the baby. Mr. Beez and I both have a very low tolerance for fussy babies, including our own, in restaurants. This was no fun. During our Myrtle Beach trip we mostly did take out. Aside from an episode where I called the wrong location of a restaurant with our order and we unnecessarily spent an hour in the car, take out worked much much better. We were able to get Baby Beez into bed when she was tired and eat like grown ups, and without the stress over disturbing other diners.

3. Expect your sleep will be interrupted. Baby Beez has been sleeping through the night probably since she was like 16 weeks old. She’s almost a year now. I’m not used to this wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night garbage anymore. When we’re traveling, she wakes up and gets disoriented and upset. I wish I had brilliant advice for coping with this, or better yet avoiding it, but I don’t. Mr. Beez and I pretty much split the middle of the night childcare, but it still sucked.

4. Bring what you need for the airplane, and buy the rest there. Unless you’re going to an all inclusive, there’s probably going to be a Target, Wal Mart, Walgreens, CVS, grocery store, whatever nearby. You can get the diapers, wipes, baby food, etc you’ll need for the whole trip once you get there. It makes things a lot easier, and you don’t have the stress over forgetting something, because you’re already planning that you’ll have to get most things there.

5. If you’re visiting family, see if they’re willing to ask around to borrow baby stuff. Smaller babies need a lot more stuff than bigger babies. When we visited my family in February, Baby Beez was small enough that playmats and exersaucers were a big part of her activity. My mom asked around and was able to borrow a pack & play, carseat, playmat, infant tub, and exersaucer. It was such a help. We could have made it fine without most of these things, but bringing them with us just wasn’t an option, and having them available made life so much easier.

6. Umbrella stroller. Best invention ever. It’s so light and easy to transport, and they’re so cheap that you don’t have to worry about it getting stolen or broken.

7. Don’t expect do a whole lot. Baby Beez naps a lot. Most babies do. She usually takes 2 naps a day that are 1-2 hours each. We can consolidate them into one nap with little objection from her, but that nap is going to be a long one. As much as I like to go-go-go-go during vacation, that’s just not an option. I used her naptime to nap, read, look at the internets, and watch TV. Going into the trip knowing we were going to have a large chunk of mandatory downtime helped me feel like we weren’t missing out on something.

8. Remember to bring the swim diapers! Swimming is probably the easiest and most accessible vacation activity. Almost every hotel has a pool. Baby Beez loves the water, and I love our swimming time together.

9. “Kid friendly” doesn’t necessarily mean “baby friendly.” I didn’t really think it through when we decided to go to Orlando. I assumed that since Orlando’s such a kid-oriented place, we’d easily find tons of things to do with Baby Beez. Well, babies can’t really do much. She’s too small to ride on much of anything at an amusement park, she’s too small to watch any kind of show, and she’s too little for most of the kid activities you’d find in hands-on kids places like children’s museums, etc. We had much more success in planning activities on our Myrtle Beach trip, because I had a much better grasp on what she can do– pretty much go swimming with me, play on the beach, ride in the stroller, and play with her toys. We focused our time on those activities, and had a much nicer trip. Here we are riding the (enclosed) Sky Wheel in Myrtle Beach!


10. I want this list to be 10 items long. But I can’t think of anything else. Oh yeah, remember to take pictures. We got super cute pictures of Baby Beez when we went to Daytona Beach, but when we went to Myrtle Beach I completely forgot to take any pictures of Baby Beez on the beach. Whoops.

But here’s a super cute picture I took in our hotel room when someone was very tired but did not want to go to sleep. This picture makes me smile so big