Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My night with the Piano Man

 My whole entire summer was designed around this past Saturday night, July 26, 2014.  I needed to be in town and without kids in my care.  Back in January I reported on how neurotic I got trying to get the best seats I could for the Billy Joel concert. Here is my blog post from back then if you need a quick refresher on what I went through to get tickets.  Concert Tickets   All my other plans for the summer fell into place around being in town for the concert.  There was no way I was going to miss it.

I am so fortunate to have family who loves spending time with Ian and Samantha. Each year I bring them to Orlando and let the kids stay a few weeks without Jeff and me.  I took them down on Tuesday, July 22nd and came back to Virginia on Friday, July 25th.  The kids will come home either on August 7th or August 8th, depending on if Mom and Jim do the drive straight-thru or stop overnight.  The kids have split their stay among the 3 families; Mom/Jim, Dad/Rita and Lori/Ben/Rachel.  Each house offers them something unique.  I believe all 3 places are their favorites!!  It's a great situation and I feel so blessed my kids have amazing relatives on both their mom (me) and dad's (Jeff) side.

Jeff came up with a great plan for the hours leading up to the concert.  Park the car at Nationals Park and pick up the wrist bands (to access our FIELD SEATS!!!).  We would then take the metro a few stops away to Gallery Place and have dinner at Rosa Mexicana.  As I had given our first set of tickets I bought to Kelly, she and her husband were able to join us for dinner.  We took the metro back to the stadium and still had plenty of time to get to our seats (and of course, buy a t-shirt, a bottle of water and hit the bathrooms).   The timing was perfect and having a parking spot so close to the exit (that's what happens when you arrive at 4:45pm for an 8:00pm concert) made it easy-breezy to get out and home when the show was over. 

Getting our wristbands.
I felt like a celebrity going in the tent to pick it up.

I am embarrassed to admit I didn't know who the opening act was. Gavin Degraw is not a name I am familiar with and initially thought he was a country singer.  I asked Heather about him and she set me straight.  He plays Top 40/pop music.  It turns out that I do know Gavin.  In fact every song he played for his opening set was a song I knew very well.  Each song I thought was done by some other group.  Ha!  Gavin was great and  I now have a new appreciation for his music. 

That's Gavin Degraw.  Now I know. :)

Right before the show.

People will be in all those seats.  Wow!

At 9:00pm Billy came on the stage and played until 11:15pm, NON-STOP!!  He played all his hits and then some.  23 songs!!!   That's craziness!!!  I was in heaven!! At 65 years old, Billy has still got it.   The weather could not have been more perfect.  There was no humidity and at times, even a light breeze was felt.  We had two seats at the end of the aisle.  I think it helped greatly with Jeff enjoying the show too.  He didn't feel crammed in. 

When he sang the song "Big Shot" he put on the Washington Nationals hat.

During the song "Goodnight Saigon", Billy brought on a dozen or so veterans.
He is just that cool.

When he left the stage before his encore, I took a picture of all the people
holding up their cell phone flashlights.  How cool!

As we were walking to get the wrist bands I started getting nervous.  I so badly wanted to enjoy the evening. This summer has been amazing so far (it feels surreal all the fabulous events that have taken place and are still to come).  I always have high expectations and try not to get disappointed.  I can say with a big smile on my face, the evening was absolutely perfect.  The weather, the seats, my date, the music, dinner beforehand with great friends....I wouldn't have changed a thing.


A Matter of Trust
The Entertainer
An Innocent Man
New York State of Mind
Downeaster Alexa
Movin' Out
Goodnight Saigon (14 veterans came out on stage to sing along)
My Life
She's Always a Woman
We Didn't Start the Fire
Highway to Hell (sung by longtime roadie Chainsaw)
Don't Ask Me Why
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
River of Dreams (morphed into Summer in the City briefly)
Piano Man
Uptown Girl
It's Still Rock and Roll to Me
Big Shot
You May Be Right
Only the Good Die Young


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Amusement Parks and more!

With very little downtime between Ian's return from camp and my return from Israel (3 days to be exact), we had our bags packed and was ready for our next adventure! 

First a big SHOUT OUT to Jeff's parents for watching both kids the last four days before I got back from Israel.  It took a village of coordinated childcare coverage and it wouldn't have been possible without Jen Wilson, Anna Persky and Susanne Oshry, plus wonderful Gramps Camp at Marcia and Harold's house.  I am very grateful how wonderful everyone was to Jeff and the kids in my absence. 

From Monday, July 14th to Wednesday, July 16th, it was 3 days at Dutch Wonderland and Hershey Park with our friends Susanne and her 3 kids.  We did a mini-trip to Philadelphia last Summer and had an awesome time.  We continued with our tradition and picked a new spot to visit. 

We made it to Dutch Wonderland on Monday with time to enter the park for their preview period from 5:30pm to 8:30pm.  For the most part we dodged the rain and only ended up getting a bit wet.  Not too bad and we left at 7:00pm to head for dinner outside the park.  I was a bit worried that we were hitting the upper age limit for the boys to enjoy being at this park.  Dutch Wonderland is geared to younger kids.  This is most likely our last year visiting this park.  Fortunately, there were plenty of rides still peaking their interest.

On Tuesday we had a full day at Dutch Wonderland. We started out doing the dry rides and then in the late afternoon, the kids put on their swim suits and invaded the water park.  By the time the rain had come again, everyone was ready to call it a day.  Dutch Wonderland was pretty empty both days and the kids walked on each ride with no wait.  Of course, it also looked like it could rain at any moment.

Wednesday we hit Hershey Park.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day and therefore, the park was PACKED!!!!  It took us close to an hour just to get through to the parking lot.  Yowzer!!  Despite the enormous amount of people inside the park, it wasn't that bad.  We made a beeline for the water park and started our day getting wet.  What fun we had doing the lazy river, wave pool, water slides and more.  It took us until about 1:30pm before we were ready to change into dry clothes and get some lunch.  From 2:00pm until 7:00pm we did the dry rides and then headed home.  What a great 3 days!

Ian eats an ice cream cone as big as him!

Next year for Summer 2015 we've talked of doing NYC with the kids.  We're crazy like that!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Israel, Part 6

Let's wrap this trip up, shall we?  We now have our last full day.  We are going to visit three of the Washington, D.C. Jewish Federation's programs they helped fund.  We will see in action where the money goes.

Our first stop is a small business that got its start through a small business loan from The Jewish Agency.  It is a personal training facility owned and operated by this very beautiful couple.  The husband was Mr. Israel 2012.  No joke!  Of course we all have fun taking our pictures with him. 

That's Mr. Israel 2012 in the middle.
Since we had a little extra time, we squeeze in a stop to The Promenade.  It is a gorgeous park that overlooks all of Jerusalem.  More reasons to take selfies and pose for pictures.

I love this picture of the women taking selfies of themselves.  Too funny!

Next up is The Center for Independent Living.  These are people who have special needs (either mentally or physically) and are given the help and resources needed to live on their own.  One of the women sang us a song and one of the gentleman played the electronic drums. They were so proud of themselves for performing.  We gave them a very loud round of applause.  A staff member showed us some of his inventions he has created to help those with physical impairments navigate around easier.  We tried to tell him he needs to patent these inventions and go on Shark Tank.  He definitely didn't understand the bigger picture and what we were trying to tell him in marketing these really amazing devices to a larger audience.  Let me tell you, The Center for Independent Living is very lucky to have him.

Our last stop had us arrive in Tel Aviv.  What a stunning setting for The Peres Center for Peace.  It was this ultra-modern building made entirely of concrete and glass.  The entire building faced the ocean.  It was gorgeous and we are not entirely certain how any work gets done with the view from their offices. One of the coolest things was an interactive screen/monitor (the thickness of a sheet of paper) hanging on a glass wall.  It gave all the history, timeline and background on The Perez Center. One of the main things The Peres Center does is develop and implement sports programs between the Israeli and Palestinian youth.  Have the young people develop a relationship and hopefully create peace that continues over the years. 

We made it to Tel Aviv!

This is their 200 seat conference room. 
Seriously, how can you concentrate with this view?!?!

The front of the interactive monitor.

The back of the cool monitor.

We check into our hotel in Tel Aviv.  As this had been added on at the end special just for us, I don't think many of the women in our group were big fans of it.  Given the choice, we would've paid more and stayed some place bigger and more modern.  For just one night it was fine for me.

As we check in, our Madricha tells us what it means when we hear an air raid siren go off.  We have 90 seconds to make it to the closest bomb shelter.  This is the first moment when we realize that the political unrest happening in Gaza is starting to hit close to home.  Up until this point in our trip, we've been insulated from the news and only hear bits and pieces from our calls back home.  The first air raid siren we experience is when we are all together doing our closing circle.  That evening we meet at the Sheraton Hotel (right on the beach...gorgeous hotel!) and have drinks and appetizers.  As we are pouring ourselves wine, the siren goes off.  We make our way downstairs to the hotel's bomb shelter to wait it out.  We are told after 5 minutes we will be given the green light to go back out.  A few of the women in our group are visibly shaken.  While I feel completely safe and protected (the IDF soldiers are AMAZING!!), it is a very unsettling feeling to know missiles are being fired overhead.  The Iron Dome is phenomenal and its protection it provides gives peace of mind that we will be okay.  Still, this is not something any of us are used to.   I call my dad and Jeff to let them know I am safe.  I don't want them to worry if they hear reports on the news that air raids are now happening.  My dad says without hesitation, there is no place safer I could be.  He says I have more of a chance of getting hit by drunk driver back home than get hurt in Israel.  His reassurance makes me feel better.  Jeff is so nonchalant on the phone that I am not sure I even called the right husband. 

Instructions on what to do when an air raid siren goes off.

Beautiful sunset in Tel Aviv

It is hard to go to sleep at night.  I keep thinking the siren could go off while I am asleep.  I want to be alert and ready to head downstairs.  90 seconds doesn't seem like that much time to get out of our hotel room and down 5 flights of stairs.  The next morning I meet two of the women in our group at 6:15am.  I want to make the most of my last few hours in Israel and experience the beach in Tel Aviv.  It is so peaceful at this hour and hardly anyone is out on the beach.  We go for a nice walk and then grab some chairs to sit on the beach.  I can't pass up the opportunity to get in the water.  It is delightful. 

Tel Aviv is the complete opposite of Jerusalem. While Jerusalem is all stone and so very ancient looking, Tel Aviv reminds me of a mix of NYC and Miami.  In my short time in Tel Aviv I didn't see any religious people.  They were all very secular and didn't even wear a kippah. 

After about 2 hours we head back in to take showers and get ready for the flight home.  I am not out of the shower for more than 5 minutes before the next air raid siren goes off.  All I can think of is thank G-d I was not in the shower.  How horrifying to have a head full of shampoo, no clothes on and realize you have to get to the bomb shelter in 90 seconds?  In my mind I am thinking my mom would never take a shower until their was peace again in Israel. 

We get downstairs and there is a man there in just his underwear.  No shirt, no pants, no shoes, nothing.  Yes, just underwear.  In my urgency to get out of the room, I grab my iPad.  Why couldn't he grab pants?  Or, maybe what he did grab was his underwear.   The women in our group who are still with us are getting more shaken.  One woman decides to end her trip two days early and get a flight out the same day Dawn and I are leaving.  Two of the other women in our group are on an earlier flight and get caught in the cab on the way to the airport when this air raid siren goes off. The cab driver pulls over and three of them take cover under the overpass.  One of the women was able to capture the missile overhead on her camera. 

At the bomb shelter.

It's not often you see this sign at the airport.
I think there is a part in all of us that is happy we are getting out of dodge and making our way back to U.S. territory.  It pains me to know that the situation in Israel is getting worse.  But it will also be harder to get out of the country if things go in the direction they seem to be. 

We get to the airport 4 hours early.  There is an added layer of security where we are drilled on what we were doing in Israel and what we do back home (do I go to synagogue?  how often do I go?  what is the name of it?  when do I go?  what reasons am I there? etc).  It is a good 10 minutes of being asked questions before I can make my way to the Air Canada counter.  All 4 hours of pre-flight time is used to make our way to the gate.  It's strange to think that it was easier to get to Israel than it is to leave it. 

We board our flight on time.  There is no mention of a delay. We sit on the tarmac for over two hours.  Every 20 minutes or so the pilot makes an announcement that we will take off in about 15 minutes.  Every runway but one at Ben Gurion airport is closed.  We are all thinking the same thing...missiles are being fired at us and they have to wait until it is safe to take off.  We finally take-off and land in Toronto where will make our connecting flight to Washington National Airport.  As we are entering Canada we hear from the pilot that he had a decision to make and could either cancel our flight (which he was very close to doing) or take all of our luggage off and add more fuel.  No one blames him for making the choice he did.  There is a collective sigh of relief to be in Toronto.  The pilot also tells us that everyone on the flight making a connection (which is almost every single person) has been "protected" on another flight leaving the next day.  He doesn't tell us what "protected" means and doesn't give us any additional information.  All he says is to check with the agents at your gate and they will be able to assist you.  We land with 15 minutes to make it to our connecting flight.  There are no agents at our gate.  The 6 of us in our D.C. group, along with all the others making this connecting flight to DCA fly through the airport.  We clear customs in record time.  We make it through the next check point in record time. We get through security in record time.  Sweat is dripping down my face as I run like I am in the race of my life to get to the connecting gate in time.  We make it in time!  Our 8:55pm flight has been delayed until 9:15pm.  They haven't even started boarding yet.  This was a miracle!  We will actually get home tonight.  We are all cheering and so excited.

Our excitement quickly turns to anger and frustration when we find out that our seats had been given away.  Air Canada picked only our group to take off the plane and give our CONFIRMED seats to stand-by passengers.  Apparently the computer system thought we wouldn't make the connection and gave our seats away.  However, everyone else who had this connecting flight from Tel Aviv got on the plane and made it home.  We were outraged and made sure the supervisor knew.  The 6 of us had to spend the night in Toronto with no clothes or luggage.  This trip now feels like the trip that would never end.  It is a long, long day and getting longer still having to deal with Air Canada get us checked-in to a nearby hotel. 

I will say the hotel we stay in could not be nicer.  For an airport hotel, the Sandman Signature Hotel is fabulous.  The lobby bathroom is the nicest I've ever seen anywhere.  It has a two-sided gas fireplace in it.  Really!  And there are these leather chair pods with make-up mirrors in the middle of the bathroom, complete with large size tv screen.  Gorgeous!

Yes, this is in the bathroom!!  It is two-sided.

One of the funniest moments came when I got out of bed in the morning and said to Dawn, "Ok, I am going to get ready now."  I put on my pair of pants and said, "Yep, I'm ready to go now."  Not much else you can do when you have none of your stuff. 

We get on the plane from Toronto and land in D.C. 1 1/2 hours later.  It felt so good to be back home.  I was missing Jeff and the kids big-time and couldn't wait to see them.  It took an additional day and a half for our luggage to catch-up and make it to Burke.  Kudos to Dawn for calling the delivery service company directly.  Air Canada kept giving us the run-around over and over again.  Dawn make the impossible possible and managed to get our suitcases picked up special and delivered. 

It took a good 3 days before I felt like I was no longer walking around in a fog.  My body needed a lot of time to adjust back to eastern standard time. 

So that is the 'abreviated' version of what my trip to Israel was like.  There was obviously many more stories to tell, pictures to share, and lots of hilarious mishaps/adventures that Dawn and I will look back on for years and reminisce about.  There was even a thing or two that I didn't report on that our itinerary included because we broke free from the group and needed to do our own thing together.  Dawn and I were together for 11 days, 24 hours a day.  We traveled really well together and was constantly cracking each other up.  It was nice to have a bestie to go through this with. 

Now that the trip is over and I've had time to think, it is true that the experiences we had, things we did and the people we met are truly amazing.  I wouldn't have done half this stuff if I had gone on a family trip or planned this on my own.  I love that this was my first introduction to Israel. I very much want to go back with Jeff and the kids.  We need to wait a few years, when I no longer fear Sam melting down throughout Israel.   And I will encourage Ian and Sam to do Birthright.  It is a fantastic opportunity to get to experience what I did. 

I am so fortunate to be given the opportunity and wish all my Jewish mom friends apply for the trip.  Just one word of advice, start taking plenty of vitamins!