Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tickety Boo to You Too!

Ahhh, yes.  My favorite time of the year...actually of every other year...or, in this favorite time of  every four get it.

It is Olympic Season!!  And last night was the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony.

The Opening Ceremony always sets the tone for the Games.  It is the "make or break" moment of the two week competition.  The Opening Ceremony is what determines whether we will watch the Olympics with rapt enthusiasm, or if we will snooze our way through the Games, waking only to see us receiving the Gold on the podium or to listen to Bob Costas' closing comments each night.

Judging from the Opening Ceremony two years ago, in Vancouver, I have to say I was a little apprehensive about how London would pull their party off.  Considering Vancouver's Opening Ceremony and that England is their Mother Ship...I believe I had cause for concern.  But the Brits didn't disappoint.

I think the greatest thing London had going for it's Opening Ceremony was the way they honored us.  That is us...US.  From their giant Liberty Bell over their stage, to the way they played "My Country Tis of Thee" (even though it was with a verse I don't remember singing in school....), to the way they included that American cult classic, Wayne's World with Queen's (the rock band, not the monarch...though that would have made it even BETTER!) Bohemian Rhapsody spot!  The Brits seemed to go out of their way to let the Americans know they are loved there!  I actually felt delirious encouragement that they might start construction on Piccadilly Circus to transform it from evil roundabout to American-friendly four way intersection! I even liked their cheeky nickname for Al Gore....Tim Berners-Lee.

Perhaps the biggest concession the British made toward the US last night was their glorification of the game of rugby in their opening film shots.  You may recall that the last time rugby was an Olympic sport was in 1924.  You may also recall that rugby is Europe's attempt at football,which may explain why the US has won more Olympic Gold Medals than any other country in the sport.  I admire how Great Britain gave us that nod...unlike the French, who when we won our second Gold Medal in rugby at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, discontinued the sport as an Olympic event.  The whole history of rugby at the Olympics seems to be an analogy for our European relations.  They try something, we make it better, the Brits become our big cheerleaders and the French whine.  I think I will really enjoy watching rugby in Rio in 2016!

But....I digress.  Back to last night.

The only time I had issue with the Opening Ceremony last night was when the Brits tried to actually do things...well...British.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I really liked the musical scores.  And I loved how they upcycled the set of The Hobbit for center stage, even casting Kenneth Branagh as Bilbo Baggins (that is who he was, right?), and how they used  Isengard as the setting for the Industrial Revolution...BUT...all that seemed to be overshadowed by Britain's shameful plug of illicit drugs.  Something always goes wrong when the Crown gets involved in a drug sequence.  Remember the fiddle playing, canoe riding, shadow dueling devil on the moon at the Vancouver Olympics????
Oh, I know they called it a DREAM sequence, but sky high Cruella DeVilles, Voldemorts, and Red Queens 
terrorizing little children in the Great Ormand Street Hospital could not be redeemed no matter HOW many Mary Poppins dropped in!!!!  At the completion of the dream/nightmare/drug sequence, my seven year old said, "That was scary.", just as Matt Lauer announced his agreement with, "Now that was CREEPY!"  I don't know if my kids could sleep last night after that, but I couldn't!  I mean, who thought THAT was a good idea??  At least the Canadians could blame Screech.
Ahhh...the things dreams are made of.  YIKES!

Hmmmm...who will win?  Umbrella Wielding Nanny or Evil Warlock?

Well, I guess the Brits efforts at being uniquely British DID pay off in one respect and that was the showcasing of their incredible music!  One of my favorite uses of their superb musical flare last night was ditching the boring dirges that seem to ALWAYS accompany the Parade of Nations and tapping the DJ to instead play some serious Rock and Roll, Disco and Punk!  I will admit, that when they began playing "Stayin' Alive", I was sure the person on the loudspeaker enthusiastically cheered, "BeeGees!"  It wasn't until I saw the procession of a small island nation, that I realized the woman had said, "Fiji".  I loved how so many nations boogied into the stadium that the Parade of Nations finished in record time!  I highly recommend that all future Olympics set the Parade of Nations to some sort of upbeat, dance music!  AND...if Nigeria and the Independent Olympic Athletes can teach everyone how to enter the stadium dancing like they did last night, I am pretty sure the parade could be complete in 20 minutes AND we just maybe could achieve world peace!

And is there anything more fun than watching our beloved Zazu in "I Just Can't Wait to be Bean"?  Yes, Rowan Atkinson's Mr Bean does Chariots of Fire was GENIUS!

Only one thing could top it.....and you know what that is!  Oh yes!

Still incredible!  I think we would be hard pressed to find any better export from Britain than it's rock bands...but there is something about the Beatles that stand head and shoulders above the Stones, Zepplin, Queen, etc.  To have Paul there was AWESOME!  I am still not sure what "Hey Jude" has to do with British History or the Olympics, but if you add that song to the Nigerian dancers and the boogie antics of the Independent Olympic Athletes, I KNOW we could have world peace!  I was just a little sad about Paul's performance because there were no other Beatles with him.  I would have loved to have seen Ringo up there, too.  And I think, since Paul played "Hey Jude", it would have been cool to include Julian, too...but it was still amazing without them.  One thing that was NOT amazing was the fact that the US Olympic Team DID NOT KNOW THE WORDS TO "HEY JUDE"!!!!  Normally, I applaud our ability to maintain pride in our independence from Great Britain...but "Hey Jude"??  It is a classic!  And if you can nail the six primary words (Na na na na Hey Jude), you can sing along with the whole world!  Just sad (and it made me feel VERY old, until I noticed all three of my teenagers singing, it must not be was just poor parenting by the athletes parents!  I mean, WHO doesn't expose their kids to the Beatles???...rant over....back to the post)

In all seriousness, it was pure brilliance to end with Sir Paul McCartney singing such an loved song!  As I looked around at all the nations there, though....nations like Canada, Fiji, Belize, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Kenya, the United States...singing along, I could not help noticing how many used to be British Colonies.  And I began to think Paul should have instead sang....

You Say You Want a Revolution.....!!  

All in all, the ceremonies were great!  And everyone, from every nation, all over the world participated and seemed to overwhelmingly enjoy the festivities.  Well....everyone but one....

But, hey, let's give her the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe parachuting into the stadium was  just too tickety boo for her.

Let the Games begin!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wild Game Hunting with Jilly

When you travel and expand your cultural horizons, you learn a lot of lessons.  I am not an exception to this rule, however, I learned lessons that I did not expect.

I am a super market, Costco kind of food provider, so it is interesting to me to know people who hunt.  I actually envy them.  The thought of someone in my family actually providing food for us without a trip to the grocery store is empowering.  Alas, being raised in a somewhat metropolitan suburb, hunting is something that alluded my husband and I growing up.  We tend to live vicariously through all the teenage young men we know and their dads.

BUT...on this trip, I learned that I am a pretty good hunter.  After all, it takes real talent to kill animals without even trying!

I have never hit anything with my car.  Ever.  Well...okay...some bugs, but they don't count.  I mean that no human or animal have ever touched the front of my car, while it careened toward them at high speeds.

Until West Virginia....

Before I go on, I need to say that I was doing pretty well, because judging by all the roadkill on the sides of the roads in Missouri and West Virginia, every other car was hitting something!  I had not hit anything!  Not even close.  Not even a raccoon, which, according to their population of corpses on the roadside are either the dumbest or slowest animals in the country.  (maybe both!)  So, I should have suspected that sudden death was lurking just beyond the next highway turn.  I was due.

West Virginia is the most beautiful state that I have been to outside of Hawaii.  So, there I am...driving along, enjoying the gorgeous view of the green, green mountains and untouched nature surrounding me, when it happened.  My friend, Karri made a slight move in her super sleek new car ahead of me and I thought she was just testing her new precision steering.  But, upon closer examination, there seemed to be something lolling in the roadway.  I might add at this time that while West Virginia is extremely lovely, their highway laws are ridiculous.  At any given time I have been on their highways, I have shared the road with approximately, 4 other cars, and still they have a 55mph speed limit!!  EXCEPT on the stretch of road we happened to be traveling at the time this story took place.  At that time, we were traveling a stretch of 70mph highway.  But, I digress...

So back to the story: something is in the middle of the highway lane and as I come closer, I can see it is some type of woodland creature.    A sort of sasquatch, giant squirrel-rodent-thing.  As I approached it, I tried to slow down, but my other friend, Yvonne was behind me.  And OF COURSE at this time, the normally deserted highway has cars surrounding me on all sides, so swerving is not an option!!  As I got closer to the fuzzy obstacle, it stopped and met my eyes with great fear...and he FROZE in one place.  THANK GOODNESS, because this allowed me to aim my car right over him so I would miss him completely.  This would have been the perfect measure to save the rodent's life, but at the last minute, he darted....and I hit him.  In my rearview mirror, I saw him tumble in front of Yvonne's car, as she narrowly missed him, and off the road.  I spent the rest of the drive mortified, even though the teenage boy in my car espoused my great aim!  

I spent the following week at Regent University where I did not need to drive my car, and therefore, spared any other wandering forest animals.  But...on the way home....I was unintentionally on the hunt again.

I had made it within 3.5 hours of home without mangling any other mammals.  That is when I switched to bird hunting which takes real skill.  I wasn't wasting my time with big birds like ducks, geese, pheasants, emu's....I was after more of a challenge...SPARROWS!  

I know we have all played Driving for Birds before but usually at the last moment, the bird excels upward and avoids impact with the car.  Birds tend to save real impact for more demanding objects, like sliding glass doors.  But not yesterday.  Yesterday, as I drove through a swarm of sparrows, one was a little too slow.  Ugh.  It was quite tragic.

Because I had become such an excellent markswoman on this cross-country jaunt, I actually employed quite  complex hunting proficiency.  I didn't just plow over the bird, I exercised real competence.  I first hit the poor, winged creature with the lower part of my windshield and bounced it to the hood of my car, where its remnants can still be viewed, and then trounced it with my wheels, where I left the bird flailing in the middle of the road for the next car to barrel over.  

While I admit my hunting prowess seems to have been taken to a higher level on this trip...before this, my hunting only included trying to find organic apples in a regular grocery is not a pastime I would like to continue.  I found myself sympathizing with the animals, and also feeling guilty and wasteful that I did not eat what I hunted.   And also, cleaning my car after using it to hunt is really gross. (I also think that my mouse experience in the Kentucky hotel..see previous blog post..may have been payback)

So, from now on, I intend to use a gun to hunt animals.  

I just need someone to hold the wheel while I aim out the window!

**This blog post brought to you by Dodge.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kentucky Yucky

I have traveled quite a bit in the last year.  By car.  Unlike a lot of people, I actually enjoy traveling by car several days with all of my kids, including two young boys cross country.  No, really...I do!  It is such a fun adventure!  Nothing ever goes as planned, and it always makes a great blog post!  Like last year's train trip TO Virginia, but not home FROM Virginia.  You can check last summer's posts if you are interested in that.

If you are considering some Road Trip Fun this summer, I think it is only fair to warn you that road tripping is not for the faint of heart.  You need to be flexible, polite...and...well....quite brave!

Yesterday, we left Williamsburg and headed to Norfolk where Cy was flying out of.  We stopped at a hotel to book a room and were surprised to find that the hotel had NONE.  This had never happened to us before.  When we asked if the hotel could recommend another place, they said anywhere NOT in Virginia Beach or Norfolk, as the Navy was deploying and everyone and their brother had rented every single room in every single hotel for miles around.  We sat in our car for the next half hour trying to find a hotel.  We finally got one.  Clear back in Newport News, near Williamsburg.  We went all the way up there, had dinner, and then I took Cy all the way back to Norfolk before driving all the way back to the hotel.

Travel Rule #1: Be flexible....and make sure you book in advance.  

Last night before I took Cy to the airport, we all went to a restaurant for dinner.  The hotel manager suggested Taco Bell.  When we asked if there was anything else, he told us if we were looking for "fine dining" we should try Luigi's.  We weren't looking for a fine dining experience, since that is virtually impossible to enjoy with 5 and 7 year old boys who have been cooped up in a car all day and really just want to go swimming in the hotel pool (because the one in Williamsburg was being repaired)...but our only other option was "Chinese Food".  That was the actual name of the restaurant....Chinese Food.   We were almost willing to ignore the complete lack of creativity in the name of the restaurant, but the description made us think twice.  Philippino (Filippino), Chinese and Thai.  Since my husband and children are Chinese, one thing I know is, not all Asians are the same.  Stick with one food and do it well...don't try to appeal to the masses.  So, given the choices, we opted for Luigi's Fine Dining.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into Luigi's is that one of the owners of the establishment looked a lot like my Great Aunt.  That is a good thing.  My Great Aunt Mary was an amazing cook!  The second detail that caught my attention was the overwhelming aroma of mothballs.  Ugh.  Everything about the restaurant smelled like it had been sitting in an attic somewhere for decades, but what are you going to do when you skipped lunch and everyone is starving?  Our waitress, Helen (not her real name), greeted us and was quite knowledgeable about what we would and would not like.  Such as her determination that we would NOT enjoy the Greek Salad, because it was "boring" and that instead we would want an Antipasto Salad.  Helen, our 5' 10" blond waitress then proceeded to educate me, the Sicilian, as to what Antipasto was!  I mentioned that since we were having a lot of the same meat on our pizza as was in the Antipasto, we probably were good with the Greek salad.  She insisted this was a waste of her time to make and of our taste buds.  We got the Antipasto.  Once Helen settled what kind of salad we would be having, we asked her what the "Sicilian Special" pizza was.  She answered with a burly, "You don't want that."  Really?  How did she know that?  She then explained that it takes 45 minutes to make the Sicilian Special because, "they have to make the dough".  Hmmmmm....what were they using for the regular pizza we were ordering?  I decided not to ask, as Helen had already made up her mind what was best for our family and how much would be required.  Once we polished off our salad and pizza, Helen continued to remark on "how much" we ate!  She told tales to us of every patron who came in and had to take boxes of food home because they couldn't finish all the food provided.  Now, I ask you, WHY was she surprised that we ate it all?  SHE is the one who told us how much to get to feed our family.  There was no choice involved.  She wrote it on the order pad and TOLD us what we were getting!  She went on and on about our ability to do what no one else could and I began to weigh the pro's and con's of Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and Nutri-System.  Surely she was saying I needed to be doing one of them!!  She remarked about "all the kids" I had, and was surprised to hear we had one more.  She asked about her, and as I started to tell her that our other daughter was our oldest she just walked off.  Clearly, there was no love connection between our family and Helen, which is why I was totally caught off guard when she brought us our check with a pouty lip about how sad she was that we were not coming back.  Pretty sure she was just trying to boost her tip.

Travel Rule #2:  Be polite to the locals.  And never bet against a Sicilian in a food war!

And that brings us to today, where our ride was completely uneventful and easy.  No problems or challenges.   And then we got to the hotel.

Our hotel tonight was wonderful!  Two queen beds that are actually QUEEN size beds and not doubles.  A lovely vanilla smell.  Comfy quarters and Little House on the Prairie playing on a continuous loop.

So....imagine my surprise, when late at night after all my kids have bathed and gotten into bed, I pull out the nightstand to search for an outlet for my phone charger and find a MOUSE TRAP instead!!!!  WHAT?!  It was a glue trap, not the conventional snap-o-the-neck kind.  I could see little droppings!  YIKES!  I refused to look inside the torture device.  Of course I called down to the desk to see if there was any way I could move to a room that did not have a mouse issue.  OF COURSE, every room is booked!  REALLY???  Is the Navy deploying from Kentucky, too????  I hung up the phone and the kids and I flipped every mattress and checked every single square inch of the room looking for more signs of rodents.  At this point, I find it necessary to tell you that we have been listening to Redwall with the boys on this drive and Sam thought it was quite sad that there might be a chivalrous mouse stuck inside a rodent tent trap.  The girls and I worried more about Cluny the Scourge being on the prowl.  The kind desk gal did tell me that they would discount my room....DISCOUNT?  It better be FREE!  I am stuck in a strange, small town in Kentucky for goodness sakes!  Too late to go anywhere else!!  Discount???

I called back down to the desk and asked them to send someone up to at least take the trap out of the room.  The girl at the desk kindly offered to come get it herself since she was "not afraid of it".  I am not afraid of it either...I just don't think I should have to deal with it!  Gross.  Once she came upstairs, she removed the trap and looked inside and pleasantly said, "See?  Nothing inside." that supposed to comfort me?  Because it doesn't.  Doesn't that mean there is still a mouse on the loose????  I have nowhere to go and it is too late to pack the car and head for who knows where.  I is Kentucky!  The place that as we crossed the state line, inspired my seven year old to say, "Welcome to Hellburg!" because "that's what it looks like!"  It isn't like there are a lot of choices close by!  Ugh! I sit.  Unable to sleep.  Listening for the pitter patter of tiny feet.  Which brings us to....

Travel Rule #3:  Challenges on the road grow your character and your courage and make GREAT blog posts!

Just can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Awful Waffle

I cannot believe it has been 11 months since I last posted to this blog!  I love my blog, but it has been a busy year.  But...I am on a road trip, and that is where my best fodder comes from and I couldn't wait any longer to post!  With that said:

Welcome to my Summer Road Trip 2012!

The kids and I drove out to Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA for the Institute for Cultural Communicators International Convention.  All the kids except Catey, who after traveling as an ICC intern, has vowed never to travel with more than 6 people for more than 500 miles again in her life.  Ever. No matter how big the vehicle is.   She flew to the ICC Training Center before us to help prepare for the Convention and  then met us at Regent last week.

It was a wonderful 15th Anniversary Celebration and I hope to post about it soon...but I had an experience unlike any other and that commentary has to come before I write about anything else.  While the Convention and Tournament were exciting, informational and fun, breakfast this morning was something I cannot keep to myself.

This morning, for the first time in my life...I experienced the phenomenon known as 

The Waffle House.

Perhaps you have seen these establishments before.  They are small restaurants that appear more frequently at every single freeway exit, on both sides of the freeway, the further east you go.  For example, in Colorado we have a Waffle House about every 4th or 5th freeway exit on one side of the freeway.  By the time you reach Tennessee, there are 3 to 4 Waffle Houses on EACH SIDE of the freeway at every single exit...usually right next to the Cracker Barrel.  (for a unique perspective on THAT eatery, please see this link to my Summer Road Trip from 2010)

I must admit, after our trip to Tennessee last summer to visit Catey for Intern Commissioning Weekend, I was curious about the little yellow huts. I should have known better.

While Waffle Houses are everywhere, I had never been to one. I had never even MET anyone who had eaten at one.  Then I went to Tennessee last summer.  I stayed with my friend, and her charming father spent a bit of time with us as well while we visited.  He always came over in the morning, but he never ate breakfast with us.  He had already eaten at the local Waffle House.  In fact, he ate at the Waffle House most every morning he proudly told us.  

So as I remembered my friend's father eating at a Waffle House every morning, I bravely thought, "How can you mess up breakfast?" and we made our way to the yellow diner.

If you have never eaten at the Waffle House, I need to tell you that you are missing a unique breakfast experience that has nothing to do with food!  

Upon our arrival, Sandra (NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT THE BUMPKINS) greeted our party of 6.  She seemed to have difficulty counting past one handful of fingers because I THINK she then asked us how many were in our party but it was hard to tell through the whistling sound of air passing through the blank spaces in her mouth where her teeth should have been.  In any case, The Waffle House was bustling with all kinds of interesting patronage and Sandra eventually did enough math to know she had to seat our party at two different tables.  

As we sat,  Kevin asked CynThia if she would like the opportunity to serve us.  She naturally answered, "Not really," because our tables were separated by one table.  At this point, I need to explain the layout of our Waffle House.  There were three booths all in a row and CynThia stands behind the counter to take the order.  Therefore, instead of taking ONE step to take an order, she would actually have to take two and that seemed to be more than poor CynThia could handle this morning.  So, Kevin was the chosen wait staff for our two booths.

Cy and the boys and I waited a long time for Kevin to take our order.  This was awkward, because, the set-up of the Waffle House means Kevin was standing right in front of us on the other side of our booth.  He seemed to be avoiding eye contact.  Finally, he set some coffee cups down and said he would be right with us.  Then he added, "I am trying to find some clean silverware somewhere around here."  HUH?  This begged a whole new answer to my original, simple question, "How can you mess up breakfast?"

As we awaited "clean" silverware (and I use that term, oh SO loosely), I looked around at the rest of the greasy spoon.  I lost hope of ever seeing clean silverware. Sandra kept leaving her trash can at everyone's table and forgetting where it was.  I found this amusing since the Waffle House only has about 6 tables in it.  Until she left the trash can near our table.That wasn't so amusing.  The waffle irons sported caked on, baked on "dark waffle" batter.  And Jocelyn assured me I did NOT want to see their back room which she kept getting a good view of when the workers on break would throw out another carton of hash browns to the waiters.

I never did find out what a dark waffle was.  Honestly, I was afraid to ask.  Waffle House has its own lingo and I couldn't tell what ANYONE was eating.  CynThia was just standing behind the counter barking out demands for dark waffles, hash browns that were scattered, smothered, covered and diced, while Kevin pleaded for hash browns "all in a ring".  While my brain was busy trying to decipher how a dive like this made enough money to bribe the health inspector to overlook the lack of clean silverware and anything else clean, my boys were thrilling to the aroma of their waffles and bacon!  Gecko said the waffles smelled and tasted like marshmallows, and he meant that in a good way.  I put aside my reservations and tried to see things through my niece's eyes.  She thinks it would be fun to work there.

In the end, we were well fed.  The boys were never happier over eating breakfast out.  And I remembered something I wish I would have thought of when we were making our morning meal plans.  And that is:

My friend's dad affectionately referred to the Waffle House as the Awful Waffle.  He got a biscuit and gravy for a buck (maybe he is the health inspector and that is the bribe.  I don't know).  And my friend?....She and her husband make moonshine in their bathtub.  I probably should have taken all those things into account and found an IHOP, where the classy people go for breakfast.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Lost of Art of the Family Road Trip

Generally speaking, it is not a good sign when your house is an hour and a half behind you as you forge ahead with a two day drive ahead of you and from the backseat you hear a voice say, "Are we in Minnesota yet??"  This is unfortunate not only because you still have a full two day drive ahead of you, but because you aren't planning on being anywhere NEAR Minnesota!

Call me a romantic, or an optimist...or even crazy, but I believe that the Art of the Family Road Trip is being lost and it makes me sad.

I know not everyone feels this way.  Most people would rather be to their destination by any way other than car travel.  Most people would love to go to sleep and wake up at their desired location.  Most people would rather have a separate room in their car for their kids.

Most people would miss out.

But, the art of the Family Road Trip is not in how you do it.  It is in what you come away with.  Anybody can play movies from Colorado to Tennessee, but what does anyone come away with (okay, besides a bit more sanity in the short run)?  There are so many observations to be made when you are trying to engage your kids and keep them from pulling each others' hair out!  The Family Road Trip is the ultimate catalyst for creativity.  It forges the strongest ties that bind us together.

And it can be unbelievably eye opening.

Here are my Techniques for Mastering the Art of the Family Road Trip:

*Make sure you drive through Kansas.  Yeah, I know what you are thinking, "Kansas?  Why on earth?  It is flat!  It is boring!"  Boring you say?  I am sorry, but I must beg to differ!  Where else in the whole US can you visit Prairie Dog Town?  Home to "the Largest Prairie Dog in the world - 800 Pounds!", or see a REAL "5 legged Cow" , or buffalo pheasants (though I am pretty sure that one was just an error in signage)???  Only in a state so boring, it has to rely on freaks of nature to spice it up!  Also, while you and I think a state FULL of cornfields is boring...young children are amazed to know that that much of their favorite vegetable is so bountiful in ONE state!  And, I realized why some folks refer to Kansas as God's Country. Something about that state increases your prayer life.  As I drove through it, I found my prayers to be constant.  "Lord THANK YOU for delivering my Lichty people from this land.  And God, PLEASE don't ever make me have to come live here!"

*Never underestimate the power of Bribery.  My friend, Jen, taught me this one!  I always buy a BIG bag of chocolate goodies and keep them on hand.  When people start losing it, you would be amazed how fast they can pull it together if there is a promise of caramel and chocolate for being polite for the next 15 minutes!  This actually IS a powerful tool.  My kids now know they will get MORE treats if I DON'T have to bribe them.  The only two times they had treats today was just because they were traveling so well!

*Drive through the MidWest during a summer heat wave.  There are several benefits to this lunacy.  First is that I don't care how much you dislike your car....if it has air conditioning, you will have a new-found love for it!  You will also make great time because just getting out of the car and walking into the convenience store for the restroom will make you feel like (in the words of Gecko) you "are walking right in a fire"...thereby encouraging you to make less stops so that you can stay in the AC comfort of your car!  Also...when you DO walk through the fiery heat to the convenience store and find that THEIR AC is NOT working, you will have absolutely NO guilt about having a root beer float after sitting your butt all day in the car!

Guilt Free Floats!

*Stay at an aesthetically challenged hotel.  What else makes the Cracker Barrel seem gourmet?
Yes, that is our room number TAPED to our door!

*Talk to the locals.  Not only is every state different in geography, but the people in each state have their own unique attributes and wisdom.  Such was the case tonight, as our waitress at The Barrel was Renee.  She  was born in Colorado, now living in Missouri and had some special insight for us regarding Tennessee.  According to this food service sage, we might be able to get quite a bit of Christmas shopping taken care of while visiting the Volunteer State.  Renee assured us EVERY person in Tennessee has SOMETHING for sale in their front yard.  Including and especially El Camino cars!  Whew!  Cy's Volvo is getting pretty old, so I am thankful that we can do a little yard sale hopping and maybe find him a cherry truck-car.

In other words....things that drive so many people crazy when venturing across country with their kids in their cars are actually the things I think we will laugh about tonight and for a long time to come.  We are not staying at the Ritz.  We are not eating at swanky resort restaurants.  But we are laughing a lot.  Come on....AN 800 POUND PRAIRIE DOG?  What's not to laugh about?!

So, Missouri or Minnesota, who cares?  As long as we are all together.

We are in Missouri, right?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Would You Like a Lemonade with that Road Trip?

How many of you talked to me before my trip to Virginia for ICC's National Convention?  Do you remember how excited I was about our train trip?  And if you read my post before this one, you can see that while traveling by train wasn't was FUN and it was definitely an ADVENTURE.

Funny, what a difference a week makes.

Thursday night, we returned, exhausted from the Theme Party, to our room.  As we got on Facebook, I noticed that Amtrak's page mentioned that some of the trains in the midwest were being cancelled due to flooding on the Great Plains.  The California Zephyr, our ride home, was one of the trains.  We went to Amtrak's website and confirmed it and began to plan our escape travels home.

Since we had about a thousand pounds of luggage, and also informative boards, chapter boards, and YSG boards, flying was out of the question.  What are girls to do?

You guessed it.  We rented a car.

Do you know it takes THREE days of CONSTANT driving to get from Virginia Beach, VA to Colorado Springs, CO???

It does.

Here is one thing I will say about Angi and I (and our incredible daughters):  I am pretty sure we could sell lemonade anywhere.  'Cuz that is what we do when we get lemons!

We decided not to get bent out of shape.  What could we do?  We decided to enjoy the ride.  And what a fun ride it was!

Here are my observations from the road:

*He who holds the keys...holds the power.  I did NOT want to stop at Colonial Williamsburg on the way home because I love history and knew we didn't have time to get out.  Unfortunately, I was not driving and found our car hijacked by Angi.  Do you know how it KILLS a history lover to DRIVE through Colonial Williamsburg??? Who DRIVES through Williamsburg?  Oh  Good thing I grabbed the wheel before she could get to Jamestown!!

*There is nothing greener than the Appalachian Mountains....or ALL of West Virginia in general.  What beautiful country.

*Where's the Beef?  It is in Kentucky where it comes in every form....but try to find a KENTUCKY Fried Chicken ANYWHERE and you will be sadly disappointed!!!  Seriously....I think that at the border of KENTUCKY, there should be little white haired men passing out free KENTUCKY Fried Chicken and biscuits!!  Know what you get instead?  A glimpse of Hell.  I hate to belabor a point....but seriously, is a maze and tangle of fire breathing, smoking pipes and tubes really the first impression you want to give people of your state?? (Apparently it is....Kansas had FOUR fiery refineries!)

*Indiana has a lot of wineries and a Wine Trail.  Kentucky cuts to the chase, ditching the wine and going straight to the hard stuff with their very own Bourbon Trail!

*Instead of the Bluegrass State, Kentucky should be the We Don't Need No New Fangled Ideas...Like Cities State.  Because don't EVER ask someone in Cattletsburg, KY what CITY you are in.  I took a 10 minute tongue lashing from a WENDY'S employee about how I was NOT in a city, I was in a TOWN.  Well, excuuuuuuuuuuse me!

*Sure the Gateway Arch was impressive....but the best thing about Missouri?  TRADER JOE'S!!!!

*Salina, Kansas sounds innocent but it is SCARY.  Just one, big truck stop.  In effort to make me feel okay about having to stay there (and yes, we HAD to stay there because there is nothing else in Kansas, anywhere.....ever) my husband cited a study he read saying Salina was supposed to be one of the best places to raise kids.  Really?  I think it depends on what you are raising your kids for.  If it is to drive a semi or a tractor....Salina is awesome!  All others....move to Colorado.

*Kansas should not be the Sunflower State, as I never saw one.  BUT...they have a museum every 5 miles.  They should be the Look-at-the-Old-Houses-of-Dead-People-we-have-Here-in-Our-State State.

*Double Shot Espresso - The Patron Saint of all 12 hour day Road Trippers

*Pretty sure Angi and I know every Starbucks from Virginia Beach to Colorado Springs!

*And Kansas has TWO Starbucks.  ugh!

*Flat Kansas needs LOTS of Starbucks!

*There are NOTHING like the Rocky Mountains!!

So, all in was 30 hours of travel by car.  We couldn't see out the back window because we were stuffed to the gills with luggage and Informative boards!  But, we would do it again in a minute!

Oh wait....I AM doing it again!  Next month!  Driving to Tennessee!!!  I need a Starbucks app!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Long Train Runnin'

Well, I am on my way to ICC’s National Convention in Virginia Beach, VA….and you know what that means.  Fun and adventure on the high rails of Amtrak with Jill!

Some of you may know that I hate to fly.  That is a gross understatement.  I mean I REALLY hate to fly.  So this year, as something “fun”, I decided taking the train would be a better travel choice.  I love to travel by train.  I have done it several times, including a long trip through Canada.  And it has been fun.

Well, if you consider Hell fun, that is.
Oh yes, did you know that is an actual Amtrak stop?  It is!  I have been there.  But perhaps I better back up a bit.

Angi, KK, Joss and I began our adventure back in Denver.  Amtrak spares no expense at keeping things rip-roaring from the very beginning.
I have been so excited to travel from the historic Union Station in Denver and became quite disappointed to find out that it is being overhauled and we had to leave from a temporary station.

Which also happens to be invisible.

Yeah, I know….what?  But after following direction from both Mapquest, and Angi’s iPhone’s GPS app AND my husband’s surprisingly good sense of direction, we drove all around Coors Field yesterday (or the day before, I don’t remember, it has been a long haul….it was Thursday, if that helps) without being able to find the train station.  After wandering aimlessly, we finally happened upon the station.  The station with parking for Mini Coopers only.
After 15 minutes of trying to maneuver our Durango into VW Clown Parking Only, we were able to park and get our luggage out and check in just in time to be late!  And to find out that the GIGANTIC suitcases we packed for checked baggage, could not be checked! 
The fun continued as we had to run, wheeling our GIGANTO-BAGS and lugging ALL of our carry on luggage (which consisted of at least 2 twenty-five pound bags of snacks) ACROSS THE STREET (because what sense does it make to build a temporary train station NEAR the train itself?), up the stairs to the platform and then onto the second story of the train.  (I am just saying….workout for the week is done)

As we stowed our luggage and found our seats, we settled in and SAT on the track for an hour.  Sure am glad we rushed to get to that train!

Finally we got moving, made some PB&J sandwiches, washed up and went to sleep.  Thankfully, we slept through Kansas and awoke to a beautiful sunrise in Nebraska with sights set on getting to Chicago that afternoon where we would endure a FOUR hour lay-over before hopping our next train, the Capitol Limited, to Washington, DC.
Our first night of sleep was a little restless, but we were having fun.  REAL fun this time.  On the California Zephyr (the first train we were on), the snack bar is run by a phenomenal guy named, Frank!  He kept things light and funny.  He also used to do hair, and couldn’t keep his hands off Jocelyn’s “GREAT hair cut”.  For those of you who know how humongous Jocelyn’s person space is….you can imagine how this was NOT a fun part of the trip for her!

We traveled on, enjoying Frank’s antics and the ride, but slowly, we became acutely aware of “the smell”.  Oh yes, it was not pleasant for any of us, but Angi sprayed a whole bottle of Bath and Body Works Sanitizer Spray all over the train car to try to get rid of it.  She even threatened to throw up…but I am still not clear if it was because of the putrid bathroom smell, or the overdose of Brown Sugar Vanilla spray she was inundating us with!  

No matter, we would be in Chicago soon and onto a different train.

But, see, that is where more Amtrak fun comes in…..
Unbeknownst to us, but apparently known to everyone else, including Amtrak employees, there had been a DERAILMENT involving an Amtrak train in Chicago’s Union Station that morning.  This is not fun.  Not for the train involved or any other trains trying to get in and out of Chicago that day.  The rail authorities were not letting any trains depart of arrive at Union Station.  Our Zephyr staff actually suggested we get off BEFORE Chicago since we didn’t know when in the world they would actually let us into the station.

As it turned out, we got right into the station.  Union Station in Chicago is actually a stop in Hell.  Once you get off your train, you get boxed into a small space between two fire breathing engines and stand.  And Stand.  AND STAND!  Sweating, stinking, parching and STANDING!  Hot, sulfurous…I am telling you…dark and steamy….it was HELL! Finally, they let us out and into the Big Mess in the Great Hall of historic Chicago Union Station, where we got some FAB pictures. The Big Mess took a lot of sorting and we stood in line for a long time waiting for boarding instructions.  But, Amtrak must have a Disney mindset.  You know…make sure your visitors have something fun to watch/do so they won’t notice the wait.

Our in station entertainment included, but was not limited to the following events:
*The Mad Dash – This event consists of Amtrak employees telling you that you have to get out of the boarding area because you will not be boarding for a looooong time.  And then waiting for you to hear through the grapevine that, indeed, you now need to be in the boarding area because you will be boarding at any moment.  The Mad Dash ensues.
*The Great Wait – This event follows the Mad Dash and is what you do for the next  two hours while you wait to board the train.
*The Strip-Tease – This entertainment seemed to be just for the stripper, as I didn’t see anyone else enjoying it, especially the sweet little Amish women who had a front row a seat.  The Stripper danced a jaunty jig, while unbuttoning his leopard-print shirt and then REMOVING his pants and slowly (way too slowly for me and the Amish gals) putting on a new pair.  He continued with his dancing for the next hour, much to the bonnet clad women’s horror.
*Pot Stumping – During the Great Wait and after the Strip Tease came the Pot Stumping.  This involved a very small, little, “different” (think Deliverance) man eyeing our girls up and down and expounding on the benefits of marijuana while showing us the lovely tattoo of the pot leaf on his arm.  He freaked us out a bit.

After all the lively entertainment, we finally boarded the train.  And this train is GREAT!  Lots of leg room…no invasive, offending odors, just a comfy, cozy ride. 
And good thing too.  It is good to be relaxed when Amtrak tells you that they have brake problems on your train and you will not make your connecting train but will be in Washington DC possibly overnight.
Fun. (still beats driving a roundabout any day!)