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An unplanned 'planned' trip

Posted: September 16, 2010 4:12 p.m.
Updated: September 20, 2010 5:00 a.m.

Earlier this year, my wife and I thought about taking advantage of a long Labor Day weekend plus vacation days to visit a number of historical sites in several East Coast states. We looked at places to go in both North and South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York where her family lives.

Unfortunately, we quickly came to the conclusion that we couldn't afford such a big trip.

Unfortunately, again, we ended up having to make a trip to New York anyway. For various reasons, my mother-in-law ended up in a Syracuse hospital and we decided to go so my wife could see her and support her family.

We left the Friday of Labor Day weekend, stayed overnight in Virginia along I-81 and then made our way to Syracuse. We visited the hospital first. One of the funnier, but scarier things of the trip was after the visit when I turned the wrong way down a one-way street. Keep in mind, I was a student at Syracuse University, oh, 28 years ago. However, I never drove there and while the hospital is near the campus, I don't think I even walked down that way.

I was immediately pulled over by SU police officers who, graciously, didn't ticket me and even provided me with a map of the area in case I got lost again. The really funny part: I have a GPS system but had it set to our hotel in my wife's hometown of Pulaski, not the hospital.

We spent the better part of a week going back and forth between Pulaski and Syracuse. Most days, my wife went with either her dad or another family member to spend the day with her. Sometimes the boys and I stayed in our hotel room, other times we went to Syracuse, too.

The first night we were there, we realized Spike TV was showing one of the Star Wars movies. Am I good father? You be the judge: thanks to all the commercial breaks and the number of commercials in each break, we were up until almost 1 a.m. watching just one movie. Sheesh! (We watched most of a marathon of the "prequel" trilogy a couple of days later; took almost all day.)

Upstate New York weather in early September is very different from here in Camden. Try cold and rainy. There were two days, however, where the weather wasn't too bad.

On a particularly warmer and dryer day, we went to Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnett Park. This is a pretty good zoo, although I would say it's smaller than Riverbanks, despite Syracuse being about the same size as Columbia. There are indoor and outdoor components. Inside, you can "board" the U.S.S. Antiquities, home to all kinds of aquatic life. There's an aviary, where we saw a pretty spectacular peacock up close; an adapation section, home to mostly nocturnal animals; and the lion corridor, where we saw not only lions, but various primates, too.

Outside, there's an outdoor bird sanctuary and the "penguin coast." That was where we had the biggest laugh of the day. One of the penguins kept swimming right up against the glass. My older son began tapping on the glass. While that might seem like an annoying thing to do (and it was at first), the penguin started following his finger everywhere he went! We then followed the half-mile wildlife trail. We saw white-lipped deer (one of the stags had the most incredibly large antlers I've ever seen), mountain big horn sheep and red wolves. The trip ended with a walk past Rosamond's Asian elephant exhibit where we saw Indy, one of the bulls.

Two days later, we returned to Syracuse and visited MOST -- the Milton J. Rubinstein Museum of Science and Technology, a hands-on place for kids. It took me hours to get my younger son to stop playing in the Science Playhouse. You know those playing areas at fast food restaurants? This is like three of those put together and on steroids! He absolutely loved it in there. Both boys enjoyed playing on a flight simulator and my older son enjoyed watching and even interacting with Technotown, a "kinetic sculpture." Think of this as the old Mousetrap game, also on steroids.

For me, the best part of the day was looking over Toothpick City II. It was stunning, with absolutely huge toothpick-by-toothpick renderings of temples and towers such as the Vatican, Bahrain World Trade Center, Eiffel Tower, Salt Lake City's Mormon Temple and the Empire State Building. The most magnificent piece, to me, was Munro's rendering of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. While not the tallest, it appeared to be the largest in square feet, complete with thousands (millions?) of white toothpicks representing everyone praying.

We left Syracuse and Pulaski a week after we'd left Camden and headed to my father's in Maryland. We spent a day visiting Oxon Hill Farm, an historic site run by the National Park Service; and the Prince George's County Fair. At the fair we watched a 4-H judged sheep breed/handling contest. We also let the kids have some cotton candy and hot dogs and try a few of the rides. My younger son tried out the Sea Ray, a pirate ship-looking thing that swings high on a pendulum. We thought he was enjoying himself at first, but then realized -- he was hanging on for dear life with his eyes closed. But he made it!

We’ve been home for a week now, but my wife has already gone back to New York. Her mother passed away late Thursday night. She hjopes to arrive Saturday with my own mother for support. Hopefully, she’ll be home soon. September’s been a rough month; here’s hoping for a better October.

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