Looking at Penny’s school schedule and trying to coordinate travel plans around it has been a fun challenge of our hosting experience. For my money, I would like to give her the chance to see as much of the United States as is possible, or at least as much of the East coast. If I play my cards right, the only state on the eastern side of the country she won’t get to before she heads home is Vermont. We have a trip to New England planned in April for her spring break and I intend to take her to New Hampshire and Maine while we are there.
But I digress! I noticed in the school calendar a string of half days at the end of January. I thought it was strange, but I also thought it would be a great chance for us to get some travel in, if Penny would only miss a couple of half days of school instead of missing whole days, which I couldn’t support. I called my dad and we made plans that we would go up to his house near the Canadian border for a mid-winter holiday.
Unfortunately, we then found out that the half days were scheduled so that the kids could have mid-term exams! So we pushed our trip back to Thursday so Penny could take her midterms, only to have “severe” weather that caused her to have several days of delays and no school. Seriously, people, she had a 2 hour delay due to RAIN. Is that nutty or what?!
So we left on Thursday morning, having determined that the weather was favorable for driving, even though on Wednesday night, there was a bit of snow and things in the DC area were pretty dicey. I hauled Penny out of bed at 10AM and we were on the road by 11:00. We stopped off at a BK in Winchester for lunch and started driving. Penny was impressed once we got into Pennsylvania with the mountain scenery we were passing. She kept asking if we were going to drive on the mountains, and I said we were going through them to go to NY, so she was happy. She snapped a couple of pictures to remember the mountains by, while reminding me she is afraid of heights!
We made it to my father’s house around 8:30PM and he had prepared a full dinner for us. I showed Penny the house where I grew up and I felt very proud of it. She kept wandering through the house saying, “I don’t know, but I really like it here.” That made me feel like a million dollars! I showed her the room she was staying in, and she is but one in a long line of exchange students who have left their mark in the room, starting with Yuko and Cornelia, onto Sofia and Francisco, and now Penny. Hilariously, my dad has my old prom dresses hanging in there, so I showed her hot 90’s prom wear! We had a nice meal and then I was exhausted from driving all day, so we went to bed!
The next morning, I was up early with the little one, but Penny slept in a bit. When she did wake up, it was broad daylight and she could not get over the snow in the backyard. I do think it was the most rural place she has ever been (my hometown has a population of about 400 people), and she was kind of awed that the house is in the forest. She quickly snapped photos.
Dad made us a big pancake breakfast while and Leah tried on his War of 1812 re-enacting gear. There was lots of giggling going on while Penny tried looking like an early American soldier.
After breakfast, Dad took a quick trip up to town and then came back and got Penny who was dressed and ready to add a new country to her list of conquests. En route to NY, we had been through West Virginia and Pennsylvania as well as New York, so she had racked up some new states, but now was time to go to Canada! We had gotten all the paperwork straightened around to ensure she’d be allowed back into the country, so around 10:30AM, my dad gave me some money for lunch at the local diner and they took off. He had a full day of activities planned for Penny so she would get the most from her experience.
The first stop was at Parliament. They found a parking spot and when they came out of the parking garage, there was a Thai restaurant at the top of the stairs. My father decided it was a sign and they should eat there, so Penny later remarked that she went all the way to Canada to eat Thai food! :) But they had a great time. Then they went to Parliament and took a tour of the building. I don’t know how much Penny enjoyed it or didn’t enjoy it, but they both look happy in the pictures!
After touring Parliament, Dad took Penny to the Canadian Museum of Civilization, which clearly had more appeal to him than it did to Penny. I was informed that she was a “typical teenager” and so he kind of rushed his way through. However, since the museum is located inside the province of Quebec, Penny got to go to two different Canadian provinces too! After the museum, Dad decided that Penny should experience the joy of the Hard Rock Cafe, and frankly, I think he was just excited he could tell people that he took a teenager to the Hard Rock and lived to tell the tale!
After dinner, he took Penny to his dancing class. My dad is big into English Country Dancing (you know, the kind you see in Jane Austen movies) and so he thought Penny would enjoy seeing it and trying it. The group at the class was considerably older than she was, and I can’t really get a straight answer about what she thought of the class, but she came home in an extremely introspective mood.
They got home long after midnight. Leah and I were already in bed. Penny stumbled out of bed around 9:00, bleary eyed and tired. She told me she had spent much of the night crying, that she was starting to realize she only has 4 months left here and that she is going to miss our family so much, and she is going to miss her friends at Stafford High. I felt like she finally made a big breakthrough. She said she wanted to really start putting the time in to make an effort with the people around her now. (remains to be seen! in my opinion, her head is still stuck in Thailand and probably will be till she gets back there, but I am proud that she’s at least having a change in thinking!)
So anyway, after a busy day and then a night of crying, she was exhausted. PopPop, however, was not to be deterred! He had a full day planned for us on Saturday which included going tubing at the local golf course, baking chocolate chip cookies, and I had invited a friend over to play Skip-Bo with us.
Penny had never seen this amount of snow before, so the idea that she could go sledding/tubing on it was a bit strange. I decided to take her on a tour of my hometown by car, and we stopped in to show her the school I had attended for many years. They have made some major renovations to the place and it really looks incredible. I am proud the community is supporting the school to do such great things even though the population of kids has seriously decreased (the current 5th grade—I think it’s the 5th grade—has a grand total of 16 children in it).
I also showed her the hospital where I was born, which has also undergone major renovations. There is a whole new wing where a doctor’s practice has been added and other things. The new wing is huge, when I was born there and through my formative years, there were only 17 beds in the whole hospital. It now functions as a nursing home and medical center. Anything serious happens, you have to go somewhere else, unless it can be fixed in the ER.
Going to the golf course was a lot of fun. Penny was terrified so we put her on a “bunny slope”—namely the small hill from the parking lot to the course itself. We got a hilarious video of her going down the hill screaming—which brought rave reviews from Penny’s mother back in Thailand. She was terrified of the big hill and flatly refused to go. There were some guys there using snowmobiles to transport kids up and down the hill and they offered me a ride. Believe it or not, it was my first ride on a snowmobile, so I was very, very excited to try it out! The ride up was as thrilling as the ride down. Finally, I put the two tubes we’d brought together, and I had Penny sit on one. I told her to hold onto the handle of my tube and I was holding onto one of the handles on hers and I started to push us towards the edge of the hill. She put her foot down and tried to stop me, so I said, “Pick up your feet, Penny, we’re going!” and so she finally did and we went down, her screaming the whole way. Once was plenty, however, and Leah and PopPop were getting cold, so we got our lift back up the hill on the snowmobile (which also terrified Penny!) and then headed home. After naps and hauling Leah up and down the street on a tube, we baked chocolate chip cookies and played lots of Yahtzee.
After dinner, my friend Linette came down with her husband Tom and their son Hayden. We introduced Penny to the joys of Croghan bologna and played Skip Bo for hours. It was pretty awesome.
Sunday was a relax and take it easy day. PopPop prepared a big Polish dinner, Linette’s sister Kim came over with her husband Bruce and daughter Natalee, and we watched TV. Lots more Skip Bo, lots more Yahtzee. :-) In the late afternoon, a local girl, Emily, stopped over to meet Penny. She was going to be Penny’s escort for the day at the high school on Monday. They agreed to meet up around 7:50 to go to school. Penny then asked me what would happen if she didn’t feel well in the morning. She was very nervous about going to school, but I told her she had to go anyway!!! So consequently, she was up, dressed, and ready when Emily arrived.
And you know what? She LOVED it! She had a great time giving a speech about Thailand to all the kids in various grades, she enjoyed meeting the kids there, and came away with such a favorable impression that she really talked so much about it to her parents that they would now like to find a similar private school to which they can send Penny’s brother.
After she got home, I took her up the hill to visit my high school librarian, Rosie, at her house on the lake. We had a nice visit and Penny got to see the lake really well instead of fleeting glimpses as we drove past it.
When we got home from Rosie’s, I put in a call to my high school English teacher and he and his wife came down to visit us. It gave our visit an extra personal touch that all these people dropped in and out. I think it gave her a real slice of small town life, unlike life in the suburbs where everything is scheduled to death and no one bothers with each other most of the time.
But a storm was a-brewin’! We started getting reports that the weather was going to be real lousy up and down the 81 corridor on Tuesday, our scheduled day of departure. We evaluated the situation until 9AM, because Penny needed to get back to school and make up her midterms that she missed. But ultimately, we decided it would not be safe. I promised to take her to the “local” mall (by which I mean the mall 50+ miles away) and to the movies, so I packed her and Leah into the car since PopPop had some appointments for the day, and we drove to Watertown. I actually slid through a stop sign at Fort Drum, so I knew we had made a good decision. We stopped off at the Super Walmart—Penny was thrilled to find this outpost of civilization!—and procured supplies, as it seemed we’d be snowed in till Thursday. We picked up DVD’s, snacks, soda, cereal, fruit, a couple cheap new toys, washer fluid, and the like. My cell phone worked for about 15 minutes until the battery died after days of searching for a signal (I’d forgotten and left it on!).
Supplies procured, we headed to the Salmon Run Mall, and I was pretty surprised by how much it had changed. But one thing hadn’t changed: the perpetual motion machine. And Leah was totally enthralled by it. That kept her busy while Penny was able to look around. She was shocked at the fact that we used to drive all that way to go to the mall, but as I pointed out, there weren’t any other options closer and it gave us a lot to do! Unfortunately, the movie theater was closed down for renovations, so we had lunch and then were on our way home before the weather got any worse (it was snowing pretty good!).
After dinner, which PopPop left for us, PopPop got home and we put Leah to bed and took a break from cards and dice to watch The Hangover. This is one of Penny’s most favorite movies ever, she laughs hysterically whenever it comes on and I even gave her a copy at Christmastime. I had a funny feeling my father would like it, so we got him a copy while we were at WalMart. In essence, we needed to thank him for putting up with us for a couple of extra days since there was no way we were leaving on Wednesday. True, as I thought, he did love it, although not the language, and I had to give Penny the eye once when she repeated some pretty racy parts of the dialogue. (She has a tendency to curse like a sailor, which I am attempting to curb, but if that’s the worst form her rebellion takes, as long as she doesn’t drop the big two, I can’t get TOO upset about it).
Wednesday was really spent with serious cabin fever. We plugged into my father’s dial up, made more cookies, watched more movies, played more cards and dice, kept Leah entertained. But I was so happy and relaxed that I really didn’t care all that much about the fact that the snow was continuing! Penny was really worried about all the school she was missing, so we sat down and composed an email to all her teachers, all of whom emailed and told her not to worry, to relax and enjoy herself and she would catch up in no time.
The snow finally stopped on Wednesday night, and looking at the radar and maps and track of another storm on its way, we decided to head home on Thursday morning. It was a looooooooooooooooooooong trip home. My washer fluid was frozen and didn’t work until we hit Maryland, so I had to keep getting out to clean the windshield. Leah knew there was a long car ride ahead of her and was supremely unhappy about it and let us know it. We finally stopped at Wegman’s near Wilkes Barre for lunch and we were in Warrenton, 40 minutes from home, when Leah had a total meltdown and so we stopped there for dinner and let her play at BK. We finally made it home after 12 hours, and I was so exhausted I just about fell into bed.
It was a fabulous trip indeed, and it was a joy to share my humble roots with Penny, who is a pretty cosmopolitan girl in the end and from a well-off family. So I think it was pretty eye opening for her to have the experience of a place with no cell phone coverage, limited internet access, no Walmart, no major restaurants, and tons of trees. She loved it there, and I loved showing it to her, and I think it did give her a lot of time to think about a lot of things. We’ve had some pretty deep conversations about family, friends, and the future since we’ve gotten back. I think she is starting to really change some of her mindset, so the break did her some good! We will see where she goes from here!