My daughter, the American

I am keenly aware of my quirks as an American. I can be giddy and boisterous. I am erratic and move too quickly. My table manners can be clumsy. My American accent is thick and my language skills, though I try, a jumble of words. Luckily, I’m cute. That rescues me on occasion.

Traveling with my 12-year-old daughter in Moscow has shown me the depth of my  daughter’s Americanisms. 

Some of these things are simply “kid-isms,” I suppose.

1. She has no concept of how loud she is. Ever.

2. Even when she tries, she still stabs her food, can’t properly use a knife and often talks with her mouth full.

3. She talks to strangers even when she doesn’t speak the language. Last night she tried to tell the Russian hostess in a Turkish restaurant in English that her dress was pretty. Poor woman thought we had a problem with the restaurant’s service. We eventually relayed the compliment.

4. My daughter has never dealt with real food. Now my daughter is a duck-in-orange-sauce, fancy meal girl. Not chicken nuggets and French fries. So imagine my surprise when she didn’t have the patience to pull the meat off a real fish or slice around the fat on a healthy portion of duck. Think about that: my daughter, raised as a foodie, has never dealt with real food. Bonus- she now adores fresh juice and real croissant.

5. She does not have the patience to remain at the table for a leisurely meal. She fidgets. She asks for hugs. She tried to put her head down. 

6. She points and screams “LOOK.”

7. In fear of making a mistake, she began this trip reluctant to engage with speakers of other languages and wouldn’t repeat phrases in foreign tongues.

8. She has classic American overconfidence. In our third and final airport of the trip, in Kazan, she tells me adamantly that she can meet us at the gate because she can read her boarding pass. Never mind that we are in a foreign country where she can neither read nor speak the language. Never mind that she is so adept at reading her ticket that she can’t figure out her row and seat on the plane.

9. Space. She’s not too bad with people in her space or how much space she occupies, but man oh man is she a disaster when it comes to realizing where her backpack is in relation to others and where her suitcase rolls behind her. And how to navigate on planes and trains without being a major disruption.

10. Math. She wanted slippers. First she read the wrong tag. Thought it was 800 rubles. It was 2500. I reminded her that the ATM was out of service (really, that isn’t mom code for “I am not your personal back”) and that I had 1100 rubles. So I told her to do the math. I know she has American money with her. And we keep explaining the exchange rate. And pointing out the sign outside the bank that lists the rate for the euro and the U.S. dollar.

I tell her if she wants to calculate the price in dollars she could give me dollars and I would get her rubles. She couldn’t determine the algebraic equation to calculate the cost. I told her to use 70 rubles for ease.
She wanted to divide 70 by 100. I told her that would allow her to figure out the pennies versus rubles rate. She wanted to then multiple that by 2500. I pointed out she was making this too complicated and suggested dividing 250 by 7. 

She didn’t get it. The logic. She could do the math, but not the thinking.

11. Ten minutes into dinner last night, she tried to sneak a game of Minecraft on her iPod under the table. That resulted in confiscation of the iPod (with us as camera and potential language assistant) and a stern, “I did not fly you 6,000 miles from home to sit on a Russian street and play Minecraft.”

“It was two seconds,” the child says.

“Because I caught you,” I retort. “The iPod is for pictures and in the hotel.”

Coffee and St. Basil’s

It is so wet in Moscow today.

We have been drenched to the bone several times already. Sigh.

So after our morning adventure, we decided on a cup of coffee and found a delightful shop with good looking pastry and the word that we recognized as Russian for coffee.

We speak a total of five words of Russian yet someone managed to order coffee and juice and cookies and a delicious poppyseed loaf. And a chocolate muffin cupcake thing.

After that it was more struggling with the rain… And dear daughter losing the hotel room key and the 500 rubles spending money I gave her.

IMG_3968Of course, I took a picture of her in the Moscow streets with her inside out umbrella.

And St. Basil’s was delightful. Gorgeous architecture. Art students drawing in the halls. Ancient coins and tools. Great music. Various examples of metal work and religious art.



Goodbye, Paris. Hello, Moscow.

Our traveling companion M took us on a walk through Barbès where my daughter made some French/Algerian friends in one of the shops. The people there tried to get her to speech French and Arabic and gave her a piece of candy. She noted the difference between standard touristy Paris and the so-called immigrant presence in the outer districts, seeing Africans and Arabs. I use the term so-called immigrants because of how the French consider even second generation citizens “immigrants.”

We walked up to Sacre Ceour. Lil Miss didn’t realize it was on the top of a hill. She just thought it was tall. But she was a trooper walking up the hill. And M showed her the Eiffel Tower in the distance.We wandered half way down the hill and she spotted the funicular. We had a metro ticket for the day so we actually walked back UP to Sacre Ceour and rode the funicular down.


Funicular to Sacre Couer


View from Sacre Coeur

Dinner was at Le Magenta, another place where I have eaten before. I ordered a two course meal for each of us, with Lil Miss trying to overcome her fear of using French words. I suggested the restaurant based on past experience and as soon as she saw they served escargot she was in.  She ordered six escargot in a bourgogne sauce. In the photo, she looks a tad intimidated but in reality she was merely focused on getting those snails out of their shells. I asked her why she liked them and she said it was because she loved getting them out of their shells. I suppose she’s like a cat and needs to play with her food.


She also had a duck thigh which came artfully arranged on potato wedges and slivers of tomatoes that resembled flower petals.

The walk back to the hotel was exhausting, not because it was far but because of the jet lag and the nine miles we had walked. Lil Miss showered, collapsed into bed. In the morning, we were on the RER early returning to CDG-Roissy.

In the Air France lounge, Lil Miss made an amazing discovery. 1. She LIKES croissants. She has insisted for years that she doesn’t like plain croissant. I have countered, for years, that it’s because she hasn’t tasted one in France.

She ate five or six plain croissants and two pain au chocolat. She also learned how to read French jam labels, though she thought the “orange” was orange marmalade and it turned out to be bitter orange. An adjective makes a big difference.

IMG_3928.JPGThe plane from Paris to Moscow was on an Airbus A318, a big change from the Boeing 777. I discovered this morning a lovely note from the TSA that apparently gave my bag a check before it left the States. Not that I noticed.

We navigated the Moscow airport with no problem and child kept trying to compliment the female customs agent on her pretty eye makeup. Overall, she’s a good kid but we’re working on NOT spurting out every thought in her head to the entire universe.

We even navigated the Moscow subway. The majestic tunnels, architecture and details in the stations. Every train looks completely different. Some old, some new. Very colorful.

We had Russian-style beef dumplings with a butter and sour cream sauce for dinner in a little restaurant off Red Square where to Lil Miss’s delight they had American music videos playing. Calvin Harris and the Disciples: “How Deep is Your Love?”

Child compared Moscow to an urban New York feel. Paris seems smaller and offers more recreation. She thought Moscow was more exotic while Paris felt more like an American town.

And the best so far–

“All I know about Russia is what I see on CNN and they don’t have nice things to say.”

That’s my baby. Now when you go back to school, set them straight.



The Easter basket parenting win

My daughter will turn 12 in June. We have a lot of tween meltdowns. We have difficulty communicating sometimes. 

This morning I stepped outside to write in my journal. I’ve been working a lot of extra hours, making my part-time retail job a full-time one.

So I needed some peace and sun.

My daughter approached me one paragraph later. She wore her mopey face. I asked what was wrong.

For the sake of brevity, I will skip the pleading and cajoling that went into getting her to reveal her complaint.

My friend Gayle had said to her that her mother always said you didn’t buy something until you had the money for it.

“I have a savings account,” she says, “and it has a lot of money in it, but I can’t touch it.”

I explain to her she can touch it, but that money is for big purchases: summer camp, someday when she wants a car or needs a security deposit for her first apartment.

I also ask, “what are you pining for?”

“Well, it’s stupid,” she says, “but I told you months ago that I wanted a new doll and you said you would consider it and you haven’t said anything.”

Months is an exaggeration, for the record. The doll in question is a $10 Draculaura Monster High Doll.

Now I know I bought her that doll and a Frankie Stein doll as the focus of her Easter basket. But she’s in full drama and feeling dejected.

I go in the house and get the shoe box containing her goodies. I haven’t wrapped them or retrieved her literal basket. I hand her the box.

“Should you chose to open that, it’s the contents of your Easter basket. There will be nothing for Sunday. It’s your call.”

She opened it.

 She found the dolls.

So I told her, “You need to have faith in us, we are listening. We just don’t always do what you want when you want it.”

Gettysburg Road Trip

I work retail. This means I rarely get predictable patterns in my schedule, several days off in a row or a regular weekend off with my family. My husband works at a local college. He never has an easy time with vacations in the summer or January because there’s always a new semester around the corner.

My daughter has reached her preteen years and we only have a certain amount of time before she won’t want to spend time with her parents.

After our very successfully trip to Barnegat solo Monday, I thought a family road trip could be a great way to spend this weekend as it may be the only weekend left in the summer where no one in the family has commitments.

We ended up in Gettysburg, using TripAdvisor to book our hotel at more or less the last minute.

The drive went smoothly. We arrived at the Gettysburg YWCA around 1 pm and (after using the restroom) retrieved the directions for the local Volkssport walks. Gettysburg has 3. We took directions for all three. Even signed up for one of the award patches since daughter has decided she would like to collect them.


We immediately embarked upon Walk 1. We knew we needed to find lunch. We walked to the armory, through a residential neighborhood and into town. Gettysburg was having a town wide yard sale today so that made the initial walk very colorful.

My friend Gayle had recommended eating at the blue building in the center of town. We departed from the 5k directions to view our dining options (especially since “the blue building” had a twenty minute wait at 2 in the afternoon). We had narrowed it down to Eddie’s Texas Lunch or Thai. The family agreed on Thai, Thai Classic IV to be precise.



Very tasty food. Child had cashew chicken. I had panang curry. Darrell had something with noodles and broccoli. And very delicious shrimp cakes and dumplings to share.

We also picked through the merchandise at the army goods store. We followed a military convoy on the way down and enjoyed seeing the various trucks and equipment in various camo patterns. At one point, child said, “there are a lot of hot guys in those trucks.”

Yup. That’s my girl.

By the end of our meal, child was very anxious to see the hotel. She’d only every stayed in a hotel once before with her girl scout troop. So, armed with cupcakes from Jimmy Cuomo’s we finished our first 5k of the weekend.

My husband and I decided to share our cupcakes, one caramel latte and one Boston creme pie. Similar to the people walking around in Civil War costume, we had our own reenactment. We repeated a scene from our wedding. But I look so much more “badass” now.


My daughter can’t believe the luxury here at our two-star America’s Best Value Inn. A hairdryer. A bathtub. A closet. Extra pillows. An ice machine. A pool. She thinks this is the best place ever.


As soon as I can extract her from the pool, we have a candlelight ghost tour scheduled for tonight.

And we’re walking

Since my trip to Niagara Falls with the Liberty Bell Wanderers, my family has joined me as official members of that group and the American Volkssporting Association. With their help, I recently finished my initial 10-event book and will now have my own walker number.

I am thrilled with this activity. Volkssporting is non-competitive walking or bike riding, typically for 5k or 10k distances, though sometimes 6k or 15k. The local group that sponsors the walk will have a start location posted on the AVA website. At that location, usually a hotel or a YMCA because of the flexible hours of the facility, there will be a “start” or “walk box.”

In the walk box, there’s a registration form, a start card and a stamp. You fill out the registration form, stamp your book(s), and fill out a start card. Also in the box are directions and envelopes. The envelope allows you to mail your completed start card and payment to the walk administrator (otherwise known as point of contact.)

From there, it’s like a walking tour/scavenger hunt. I usually ask my 11-year-old to read the directions and the map because it’s a good skill for her to practice.

We have recently done North and South Bethlehem, New Hope PA/Lambertville NJ, and Doylestown, PA.

In Bethlehem, we visited the grave of poet HD.


In Doylestown, we hob-knobbed with the history.


Apparently, Doylestown has concrete castles similar to the Edison-inspired concrete house neighborhood in Phillipsburg NJ.

New Hope had lots of artsy views.


Not to mention a mansion that could have belonged to one of my husband’s relatives…


But Lambertville NJ had the most amazing falafel and kufta…

My daughter, who’s struggling to transition from her active elementary school years to a more sedentary middle school life, is outside again and moving so that makes me happy. My husband likes to walk and likes our adventurous day trips. I am so thankful for such a fun family activity.

And unlike bowling, it doesn’t require heavy equipment or ugly shoes.

Back to School shopping

My daughter enters the fifth grade tomorrow. In her district, this involves moving to a new school and riding the bus with the big kids. I have never really taken her back-to-school shopping. Instead, I quietly purchase the necessities and her grandmother buys her an outfit or two and that’s the end of it.

Not this year.

She’s older so I thought I’d make back-to-school shopping a lesson in how to handle money. We started by taking $200 out of her savings account. I had already purchased the sneakers, jeans, new coat, backpack and school supplies required. We also had cleaned her drawers, sorting everything by size and removing the items that were too small, soon to be too small or just not her style any more. Those will be passed on to another child.

At the bank, she filled out her own withdrawal slip and we headed to the counter where the teller asked her how she preferred her money. She left with an envelope of mixed bills. We kept the receipt so she could keep that inside the envelope and track her purchases. I took a “mommy” envelope for the times where she would need me to pay with my credit card.

She made a list of items she wanted. With our list in hand (and eventually forgotten in her wallet) we went to the thrift store. The thrift store I frequent is a little… shady. I told my daughter not to bother trying anything on, that we’d buy it, wash it, and then try it. If it didn’t fit, we’d donate it away. We arrived during 65% hour.

We found a pair of Ralph Lauren corduroys, skinny style, with snaps at the ankles. We found two tank tops with the built-in shelf bras. We found a camouflage tank top and a polka dot long sleeve shirt. By far, her favorite discovery was the black cropped sweatshirt, zipper down with a hood, covered with Muppet style fuzz. Total spent: $8

Next, we headed to Target. Since I work at Target, we have my employee discount plus an additional 5% off if we use my RedCard. Hence, the Mommy envelope. And this particular sales week had $5 off a $20 Target brand underwear purchase. We bought two bras, ten pairs of underwear, four pairs of socks, and a pair of buckle laden black ankle boots. Total spent: $50.

After Target, we went to the mall. I have a Gap visa which I opened one year when I wanted to buy the child a coat. The extra percentage off made the deal sweeter. This summer, the financial company offered 10X reward points on purchases outside the Gap. So, when typically it requires $1,000 in purchases for a $10 Gap gift card, this promotion meant you received a $10 gift card with only $100 in purchases. I “earned” $50 in gift cards for making the Gap card my primary card for the summer (which I pay off in full every time the bill arrives).

My daughter found a cropped sweater, a cropped red zipper down sweatshirt and a sweatshirt dress with pocket in the front. She paid $9. I put it on my Gap card and she gave me the cash for the Mommy envelope.

Now a Mommy-daughter shopping trip is never complete without lunch. Child wanted wings. She loves chicken wings on the bone. Her first thought was Buffalo Wild Wings. But after consideration, she decided on the pub near our house. I’m sure Shruty’s Pub appreciates that she chose to support the local, family-owned business.

Our final stop was The Crossings Premium Outlets. I explained to dear daughter that her money wouldn’t go nearly as far here. Her first stop was Charlotte Russe. She bought two shirts for $23. Then we visited Forever 21. She found a leopard print skirt, a nice blouse, and an umbrella for $38.

“Mommy,” she said, “this place really does eat your money.”

She had grown tired at this point. But she really wanted shoes. Women’s shoes. We went to one outlet and it was athletic shoes which didn’t interest her. We had several shoes stores lined up in front of us: Merrill, Easy Spirit and Bass among them. But those are all sensible shoes. The one at the end of the row interested me most and I knew it would appeal to her too. Nine West. We entered and I think my daughter found nirvana.

Now, my daughter is ten. She wanted some heels. She can’t wear heels to school, and she’s spending her own money, so I don’t want to tell her what to buy. I allowed her to pick out one pair of ridiculous sparkly strappy shoes. She wanted two. One pair was platform. She didn’t keep those. She decided on a beaded pink pair and a pair of leopard pumps. She spent $45.

The depletion of her envelope made her visibly sad. She opted to stop shopping and bring home the remaining few dollars.

I asked if she understood why we shopped in the order we did.

“What would have happened if we came here first?” I asked.

“I would have spent all my money,” she said.