A Mid-Week Getaway at Bear Creek Resort

IMG_4090All winter long, our boys have been begging us to take them snowboarding. They believed they had mastered sledding and all its nuances, and were ready  to move on to the big leagues. So, my husband and I thought we would indulge their Olympic dreams and take them on a ski getaway. Enter Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Macungie, PA.IMG_2160Recommended by a friend for its beginner friendliness and close proximity to Philadelphia, we decided to try one of their mid-week ski and stay packages, that start at $100 per night, and includes an overnight stay, free lift tickets, and discounted rentals and ski school, because lets face it, skiing is an expensive sport, especially for occasional skiers, like us.

We arrived at the hotel, Tuesday morning, and were immediately impressed with the decor and cleanliness of the lobby. The rest of the hotel lived up to its first impression. Our first stop was for skis. The hotel has a separate rental shop for its guests, which was very convenient and efficient. My husband even remarked that it was easiest rental experience he has ever had. The staff was friendly, helpful, and patient, and gladly obliged when, on the second day, I wanted to switch out my boots to try to find a wider pair. I did this on whim, when I took my son back in to take advantage of the rental shop’s one time swap policy, to trade in his snow board for skis, so I didn’t have my skis with me. Rather than making me walk back to get my skis, because walking in ski boots is just ridiculous (Seriously, I can’t believe no one has come up with a better design for ski boots?), the attendant gave me another pair of skis and told me to bring the other ones back later. Score one for customer service.

I don’t know if you’re like me, but getting everyone ready when there are layers of clothes, buckles, bindings, rentals, zippers, helmets, gloves, and hats is really hard and annoying. If I was bundled in layers, sweating, and trying to get my self ready at the same time as all my children, it would have been a disaster. A middle-aged woman having a melt down is never pretty. So, since, I have only been skiing a handful of times in my life, and my husband was, at one time, an avid skier, I made the executive decision to ready the boys first, because they were chomping at the bit, and send them out with my husband until their lessons started. Then, I got Little Lady ready and dropped her off at her lesson, checked into the room (which became available in the middle of all this readying), and then took care of myself. It worked out much better that way, but it also meant that I didn’t get skis on until a little after one that first day.

To be honest, I didn’t mind, I have mixed feelings about skiing, I’m not really a cold weather person and skiing wasn’t a sport my family participated in, so I have no history. On day one, my feelings could pretty much be summed up with the question I asked my husband, “Who thought of this, insert expletive, sport?” I mean it’s cold, you can’t walk in the stupid boots, you’re in seventeen layers of clothes. It’s kind of annoying.

But, by the second day, with rentals out of the way, I got my groove back, and by groove, I mean, I could ski successfully on the smaller hills without wiping out, I was having fun. And, then, I wished (if it wasn’t so damn expensive), that we could have stayed just one more night. We didn’t even get to check out the indoor, or outdoor pool, which was tempting us with the steam coming off it. Though, when I later thought about it, since my kids are still young, unless I was actually in the water, I would have had to have been outside in the cold, watching from the side, so maybe it was a good thing we skipped that one.IMG_4035Anyhow, the first day, we insisted the boys go to ski school for two hours, if they wanted to snowboard. It was worth it and they were happy they went. Little Lady, because she was under six, had to have a private lesson, which was good because it got her up and skiing immediately, but it was bad, because it canceled out the savings I got from having a child who is under six, because they don’t need a paid lift ticket.IMG_4069Little Lady took to skiing like a fish to water, but the first day she stayed on the beginners mountain and rode the magic carpet (picture a people mover), which meant she, and whoever she rode with, had to take their skis off each and every time. Torture!IMG_4012This, combined with the boots, was enough to make me never want to ski again. (See above comment to husband.)IMG_2207But by day 2, we were all about the ski lift, and she was all about skiing past everyone, so things got way better. I think my daughter may have had the best time of us all. We were also lucky enough to get some fresh snow that morning.IMG_2199As for the boys, snowboarding was challenging. On the beginners hill, they were doing well. Once they got on some other runs, and actually needed to make turns, it was a fifty-fifty mix of snowboarding to falling. And they fell hard.IMG_4055By day 2, my oldest had taken such a bad spill that he was willing to swap his board for skis. He never looked back.

Second Son, stayed with the snowboarding the whole time. He did well, but again, he took a lot of hard falls.IMG_2205I would have liked to have seen him try skiing, because I think he would have had a better time with it, but you know the old saying, you can lead a horse to water…

We skied until about five the first day, went back to our rooms and freshened up a bit before dinner. I tried to get some pictures of the room before we left our mark on it. I thought our room was great, clean, modern, and spacious with comfortable beds. The couch pulled out in the sitting room for another bed.IMG_3979

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IMG_3985We then headed down to dinner at The Grille, the nicest restaurant at the resort. We did not have a reservation, thankfully it was only a small problem. There was a forty-five minute wait for a table, but we could sit at an available high top in the bar, which was what we chose to do. Next time, I’ll be sure to make a reservation, preferably with a view of the mountains. IMG_2167The menu had plenty of fine dining options, but we opted for sandwiches, which were awesome, and the kids ate off the children’s menu.

Since food allergies are always a concern for me, I would be remiss not talk about it, and since, as a mom of a food allergic child, I specifically seek out online people’s experiences at places we intend to patronize, I always like to put our experience out there for our fellow food allergic friends. However, if you don’t care, feel free to skip this paragraph. For those of you new to these parts, my son has a tree nut and sesame allergy, so these are the foods we avoid. Eating in the cafeteria part of the ski resort was easy. The staff had a chart that showed what foods contained the eight major food allergens. However, as any food allergic parent knows, that’s not always the full story. The staff was very obliging in handing over packaging so I could read ingredients, which was very important, since their peanut butter had a tree nut warning on it, and hot dog buns often contain sesame. Their buns, happily, did not, so my son had that as an option. Also, we were told they do not use a shared fryer for their fries, so he was also able to have french fries with his lunch, which is always a bonus. It is also worth mentioning that you can bring a cooler into the Mountain Eatery, which would also save you from spending $15, every time your kids were hungry for snacks. In The Grille, because we sat at the high tops, the bartender took our order. I ordered pasta with butter for my son, and then told her my son’s food allergies, which seemed to leave her a bit confused because she asked me what (of what I ordered) those ingredients might be in. It was a reasonable (possibly tinged with sarcasm) question, I suppose, but I told her that I was more concerned about cross contamination in the kitchen than if the pasta contained nuts. It was the same thing in the morning, when we ate in the Trail’s End Cafe. The girl behind the counter clearly thought I was crazy when I asked her about the pancakes and what else was cooked on the grill where the pancakes were cooked. But you know what? I’m not crazy, because when we stayed at the Hershey Lodge, my son couldn’t have the pancakes there because they were made by Krusteaz, and that brand has a tree nut warning.  I don’t take much for granted when it comes to food allergies. All in all, though, I think there were plenty of choices for my child, though he would have loved to seen mac and cheese on one of the menus.

We skied until 3pm, our second day, and we were home by 5:30, happy and exhausted. Would I go back, again? Definitely. I really loved everything about this resort and it was especially perfect for novice skiers like my kids and me. It might be great for more experienced skiers, too, but since I’m not one of them, it would be hard for me to say either way.  However, we all agreed it was a great mini-vacation.IMG_4009

*After the glowing review, I just want to make it clear that I am in no way affiliated with Bear Creek Mountain Resort. 

The Fear of Food

The other day, I went into my son’s class to assist with a holiday service project. The students assembled and decorated gingerbread houses for a local nursing home. Joy, right? Not, really.

I don’t know if you are familiar with ginger bread house kits, but I am, because we received one as a gift, a few years ago, and never put it together because my oldest son couldn’t eat it. It has a tree nut warning, and if you are new around these parts, my oldest son has a tree nut and sesame allergy. He does not have a peanut allergy, which I make very clear to everyone, especially his teachers, because I don’t want someone to pass out as they watch my son munching down on a Reese’s, thinking they are about to have a major medical emergency on their hands.

So, I was a bit surprised when my son’s switch teacher (the lady who teaches two of his subjects) whose class was doing the project with my son’s class, approached me with, “Oh, good, you’re here. I have a student who has a peanut allergy, so I thought we would put the boys together while they do the project.”

I said “Ok, but you know my son is not allergic to peanuts, right?”

She said, “Yes, but there’s a tree nut warning on the box, too.”

I knew this, but since it was a “manufactured in the same factory warning” and not a product that actually contained nuts, I felt comfortable with my son handling the product as long as he didn’t eat it and washed his hands thoroughly before eating his lunch. Furthermore, I was there to ensure that my son took these safety precautions. I told her this. (To be clear, he would not participate in any project if he actually had to handle nuts.)

The problem, she proceeded to tell me, was that they weren’t sure about the other kids limits, and that from his mother’s note, it didn’t seem like she knew if her son could safely handle the ginger bread and candy, which pretty much all of had warning labels on it. Wonderful.

I never agreed to be this kids monitor, but then again, no one was asking me. The teachers had come up with a plan and I was the solution. I guess there is an assumption of solidarity when it comes to food allergies, and that would be true, to a certain extent. But let’s be clear, I am not a doctor, or a nurse. I think they know this about me. So, I  can only guess they anointed me the resident allergy mom.  Which meant, what? That I was supposed to monitor this child for signs of a reaction? Was I supposed to keep him from ingesting something? Jab him with an epi-pen if he started showing signs of respiratory distress? I’m not sure what they expected of me, but I wasn’t happy about any of it, real or imagined.

First of all, my son was unaware that his group was predetermined, so when he and his friends sat down at a table together, he didn’t quite understand why his friends were asked to leave the table and he was made to sit with two other boys that he did not know that well. Why two? Because the boy with the peanut allergy was allowed to bring a friend so he wouldn’t feel left out.

What?

With only three allowed to a table, my child was not allowed to sit with any of his friends so that the other kid wouldn’t feel left out. I know I sound petty, but my son shoulders enough burden with his own allergy, he doesn’t need any more. Every in-school birthday celebration (yes, they still do those), every class party, every birthday party, every social event he attends with food, which is pretty much every one, he is very aware that he cannot fully partake, and while this may not bother an adult, it does very much still bother a child, who does not want to be different.

Cheating, taking one bite, just this once, maybe it’s ok, could be a fatal mistake.

It’s that serious.

I struggled with sympathy for the peanut allergy kid, who wrestled with cumbersome gloves, as he was instructed by the teacher to just work on the base. And I say struggled, because he was a major pain in the butt. He spent most of the time fooling around, throwing stuff at the house that my son was working diligently on. He squirted gobs of icing haphazardly, taking his gloves off a few times, picking up licorice, only to look at me and ask if it was ok that he was touching it. I don’t know if the kid is always a pain in the ass, but I have feeling that his behavior had more to do with him being completely uncomfortable, and, fearful.

I don’t have all the answers to how to deal with food allergies. I can’t tell you what is fair and what is not, especially since I’m not of the ban all nuts from school type, but I’m pretty sure it’s completely wrong to have a CHILD participate in a project in which he thinks there might be a chance that he could potentially die.

I’m not saying the child could die, would die, or anything of that nature, because the truth is, I don’t know.  He may have been perfectly fine handling the food, but he didn’t know and either did his mother and that’s the whole point. All that was left in this boy’s head was a big question mark, which is a huge void when the worse outcome is death. As inflammatory as it sounds, it’s a potential outcome for any food allergic individual.

One time, I read any article about fear. The author explained that in order to face your fears, losing your job, being poor, not making a deadline, etc, you should just keep going through all the scenarios until you played out everything in your head. Sort of like, what if, and in the end you would realize that even the worse possible outcome was not the end of the world.

It doesn’t work like that for people with food allergies.

I’m always amazed by adults who still don’t get it. Because how many adults get a questionable medical test back and assume the worse? How many parents see a cold and think meningitis? How many people hear the phone in the middle of the night and think death? A lot.

Then why is it so hard to understand what a child with food allergies experiences, sometimes, daily. Except their fears aren’t far-flung or over exaggerated. They are real.

Kids shouldn’t have to worry about dying. Not from making a gingerbread house. But they do.

And probably because of this, my son is way more gracious than me. I never voiced any of my discontent to him or his teachers and you can be sure I kept and eye on the peanut allergy kid double checking that he washed his hands with soap. No, I smiled and kept my feelings to myself that day because I’ve always taught my son to make the best of a situation and he does. He never complained, never said that’s not fair, as he watched his three friends sitting together. The only mention I made of the day was when I was tucking him into bed that night. As we were talking about his day, I said sorry you couldn’t sit with your friends, today. He answered, that’s ok, I think our house turned out pretty good.

I think he turned out pretty good.

Mid-Summer Vacation

Oh, summer vacation!  Nothing like packing up your whole house, driving long hours, sometimes through crappy weather (the ride down), and miles, and miles, and miles, of traffic (the way back), to spend a week cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, breaking up fighting siblings, staying up late, and crashing in uncomfortable beds, all while paying through the nose.  It’s an experience, to the say the least.

Last week, I took, what I think, was my first official summer vacation, ever.  I know a lot of people covet summer time as a time to travel, and maybe if I had an unlimited budget I would feel that way, too, but I like to save my vacations for the winter, when it’s cold, and I can escape to somewhere warm. Maybe, this is because I grew up at the shore, and still live fairly close. We didn’t need to go on vacation to go to the beach, we could drive there any time we wanted, and still do.

However, this year, my in laws wanted to vacation with us (clearly, they weren’t thinking straight), so we headed to Ocean City, MD, to a place called Sunset Island, a gated community along the bay.

We left on Saturday, packed to the hilt, because when you stay at a summer rental, you need sheets, towels, paper towels, toilet paper, food, blankets (because if they aren’t providing clean sheets, than I’m guessing the blankets never get cleaned), fans (because we’re weird), boogie boards, scooters, our whole house (and Little Lady’s hat, just in case she got asked for tea)…you get the picture.  IMG_0941 We hit some pretty good rain on the way down. IMG_0946After a long ride, we made a quick stop at the condo to drop our bags and headed to the pool. We we’re greeted with this. IMG_1043I really liked the community we stayed in, it was small enough to be walkable, gated and out of the way, so the kids could scoot around with no worries, close to the beach, and we could easily walk to where my inlaws were staying. IMG_1040There was a pool, clubhouse, with workout facility, and a little restaurant overlooking the bay, where we ate, one night, as a guitar player entertained the crowd. Why does Second Son look so pained when he smiles?IMG_0998In the center of the community, were fountains, that were a huge hit with not only my kids, but all the kids, that we stopped at frequently. IMG_0952And there was a general store, across the way, where Little Lady and I snuck some time to enjoy a mid-afternoon treat.IMG_0963Most nights we spent with extended family, eating together and basically just hanging out, but we did venture out to the boardwalk, twice.

The Ocean City boardwalk reminds me a lot of Wildwood Boardwalk, which I guess will only mean something to you if you’ve been to the Wildwood boardwalk.  So, for those of you who don’t get the reference, I would say, the crowd can be a little rough, the rides a little expensive, the boardwalk, congested, and the games, as well as their attendants, a little annoying.  Of course, we didn’t venture down the rest of the boardwalk, which looked much more peaceful, but peaceful equals not much to do, for my people. This is more their speed. IMG_0966Second Son’s on this one, First Son, who was too chicken the first time around, gave it a whirl the second time we went, and called the double loop, corkscrew that you rode both backwards and forwards, “epic.”

The biggest disappointment of the trip, for my kids, which meant the biggest pain in the ass for me, was that our room had no wi-fi. (Here’ some pictures of the room, btw.)IMG_1055IMG_1058I swear, you would have thought that my kids didn’t have electricity from the way they were acting. After this trip, I think I need to do some major reevaluating of how my kids are spending their summer, if a week without iPod brings them to desperation. Luckily, their grandfather’s place had wifi, so they could get their fix at night, and I could get some peace from all their complaining.

But all in all, it was a good week. The kids enjoyed playing with their cousins, hitting the water park, one day (not my favorite), and just hanging out.  Hands down, though, Little Lady, does this the best. She can entertain herself, like no other, and just as easily play with anyone.  She is my traveling champ.IMG_0961And, unlike her rise at the crack of dawn brothers, she knows how to adjust, after a late night.IMG_0950We spent our final day at Assateague Island, which was about twenty minutes from OCMD (where my kids spent more time fighting). IMG_1080Our goal was to see some horses. People told me that they’ll walk right by you on the beach, but this was not the case for us (though we did see a lot of horse poop). We had to go looking for them. This is the closest we got, which might have been a good thing after the numerous signs warning people to stay away from the wild horses that they say will kick and bite you.IMG_1093It was still pretty cool.

Our final night, we ate at Dead Freddies. They were able to accommodate First Son’s food allergies (tree nut and sesame), which is always a must for us, and it was a great spot for families. They actually have a pirate ship, in the sand, where the kids can play while parents eat or grab a drink. IMG_1039Swords and patches come with the children’s meals. Pretty cool!

Saturday morning, we packed up and headed home. All in all it was a good vacation, but I think we’ll save our future vacations for the winter, where housekeeping and clean sheets come with the deal. I think I’ll be doing laundry for another week!

 

The Intrepid Air and Space Museum

On Thursday, my husband took off, and along with my mom and kids, we headed to NY City, to the Intrepid Air and Space Museum.

Traveling into the city from the south, we decided to take train.  Whether this is the most economical way to travel is debatable, but it’s definitely the easiest since you don’t have to deal with traffic or parking. As an added bonus, NJ Transit is currently offering a buy one get one free ticket voucher to the Intrepid on their website.  I printed out three vouchers, paid separately and saved close to $50.

Once we arrived at Penn Station, in NY, we took a cab to the Intrepid, which is located on the West Side of Manhattan, at 12th and 42nd streets.  This was decided after a man on the train overheard us debating our modes of transportation, and informed me that it would be cheaper to take a cab from Penn Station ($13.50) than to pay $3 per person to take the subway, one of the suggested routes on the Intrepid’s website.  It was good advice.

Our first stop, because my family seems to be eternally hungry, was Au Bon Pain, which is located inside the ship on the mess deck.  Our lunch was decent, but choices were limited for my picky eaters, and the prices, a little over the top.  Second Son’s lunch, oatmeal, chips, and a drink, and my salad cost $17.  Ouch.

Since I had read online that the lines for the submarine could get long, later in the day, we decided after lunch, to go there, first.  We waited about ten minutes. Not bad.I liked the tour, but found the beginning, when the tour guide told us about conditions aboard the submarine, the best.  Did you know the men on the ship did not shower the whole time they were on tour?  Sometimes, that meant ninety days!  The rest of the tour was and independent walk through, that at times, felt a little rushed, because depending where you are in line, there may be people behind you, who might be more eager to move through than you.

Next, we headed to the flight deck and perused the various air crafts parked on top. Very cool.  We also got to see the rear end of the Space Shuttle, which was pretty neat. The pavillion that houses the space shuttle was damaged during Hurricane Sandy, preventing us from seeing anymore of it, but we got a good view from the side when we were pulling up.  It’s expected to reopen in the spring.

We toured the rest of the decks, the highlight, probably being the hangar deck, which is the heart of the museum.  It houses interactive exhibits, including a flight simulator and 4D movie, two rides not included with general admission.  My husband and the boys watched the 4D movie and enjoyed it.  I think the flight simulator would have been cool, too, but I’m prone to motion sickness, so I opted out of both.

Can you imagine circling the earth in this little thing?There are two movies on the hangar deck, one explains the history of the ship and the other is called “Kamikaze: Day of Darkness, Day of Light,” a multi-media experience (notice the smoke).  We enjoyed both.Our final tour was of the lower deck, which I liked, but wished was more extensive, and would have definitely been enhanced with an audio tour option.  In fact, the whole experience would have been enhanced with an audio tour, which is usually available, but  the headsets were damaged in the flooding that resulted from Hurricane Sandy and have not yet been replaced.

Nevertheless, it’s a great place to visit.  My oldest son, who is nine, enjoyed it the most, but my other two had a good time, too. I found the Intrepid Air and Space Museum to be incredibly interesting and definitely plan on going back again, when the kids are older, so that I can take more time to examine the memorabilia, and tour the Concorde, which was on the pier.

At around four, we called it quits and headed off to dinner.  If you are looking for places to dine around the Intrepid, you may have to do a little walking.  We did A LOT of walking!

The original idea was to head to the Empire State building after leaving the Intrepid, but a quick Internet search revealed that it closed at two (what did we do before smart phones?). So, instead, walked towards Rockefeller Center in an effort to do just a little more sightseeing before eating dinner.  However, after three hours of ship touring, that idea turned out be a little unrealistic.

Exhausted and complaining children in tow, we ditched the sightseeing and dined at Ted’s Montana Grill.  I know there are a million places to dine in the city, but we stayed with this restaurant because we had dined there before and they were excellent at managing First Son’s food allergies, a must for our family. The food is good, too!

It was getting late and we knew we had at least an hour train ride and then short car ride before we were home, so we skipped dessert, high-tailed it to the train station, and barely made the express train home.

It was a day well spent.