Monday, July 25, 2016

A Month In

We've been on vacation for a month now. I've gained a bit of my Texas accent back. I'm not as pale as I used to be. And amazingly, I haven't gained 5 pounds from my Mum's cooking.

The girls have run around with a cousin and some neighbor kids. They've been taking swimming, horseback riding, and piano lessons. They've devoured books. And lots of sugar. They've played games and horsed around with Nana and Pawpaw. One of them even managed to give him a bloody nose and a cut on the eyebrow.

We've done a lot of driving. We've seen friends I haven't seen in years. We had to introduce new children. But it was like we'd never left each other. I was at home. In their home. Far away from my home.

I just feel at home in Texas. The sky is big. The horizon is far away. There are animals and plants that are wild and a little dangerous. Life is not tame and safe out here. Some ruggedness is still appreciated. People drive nicer. Strangers chat with genuine friendliness.

Tonight we girls are in a hotel in Oklahoma City. The drive was pretty easy. LittleFritter only cried for about 2 hours of it. But the roads were straight, wide, and rural. We've been watching a never-ending string of thunderstorms with strobe-like lightening. The girls are mesmerized. We don't get these in Boston.

Tomorrow we meet up with family in St. Louis. We transition to the next phase of family bonding. I always enjoy time spent with family in Minnesota. I'm looking forward to the next week.

But it's not Texas.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Moonrise in my Rearview

It's 1:30am. I'm deliriously tired. But not sleeping. Maybe it's all the coffee I drank to get us here. Maybe it's the adrenaline from driving winding country highways in the dark. With deer roaming everywhere. Maybe it's just the residual high from visiting friends I haven't hung out with in years. Whatever the reason, I'm awake. And thankful to be safely back at my parents' house.

Over 2 days, the girls and I logged over 400 miles in a loop from San Angelo, TX to Round Mountain, then Dripping Springs, then back to San Angelo. During the daytime, we were treated to stunning Hill Country views. Tonight, leaving after LittleFritter's bedtime, we were treated to stars. Lots of stars. They really were big and bright.

I'm too tired to be very eloquent. But I was reminded of some things on this little trip.

Visiting old friends nourishes my soul.
Getting all of our kids together is a special kind of fun. Especially with pools involved.
I love driving Texas highways.
Big open horizons make me feel free.
Seeing the Milky Way makes me feel small.
But I enjoy feeling insignificant compared to the majesty of creation.
Scorpions creep me out.

I'm grateful for good friends who extend their hospitality to my chatty brood. And remind me that moving away isn't a complete loss. It just gives us fun get togethers in more places.

I need sleep. Goodnight.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Playing Catchup

Umm, I've lost track of what day it is. We're still on vacation. We've been busy. Here's some proof. 

Reading at the library. 

Playing in the sprinklers. 

Climbing on trains at the Railroad museum. 

Marveling at the model train setup. 

HeyMama petting Benny the donkey after a horseback lesson. 

Pawpaw making the big girls sick at the playground. 

MeToo's first day in the saddle. 

What else have we been up to? Swim lessons, piano lessons, reading, writing, trips to the neighborhood pool, playing with the neighborhood kids, staying up late watching movies... We've been busy! Next week our cousin will be around to play with, and we'll take a mini road trip to see some old friends. Let the fun continue!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Day 6

We spent Day 6 in Hot Springs, AR. We fed gators. We held gators. We visited Hot Springs National Park. We drank mineral water fresh from the earth. We napped. We found Barbies at the grocery store. We visited the hotel pool. It was a good day. Here are some pictures to prove it. 

Alligators enjoy chicken for lunch, too. 

HeyMama fed a gator. 

MeToo fed a gator. 
HurricaneDebbie was skeptical of everything gator-related. 

There were some sad overheating wolves, too. 

Other random inhabitants included monkeys, peacocks, turkeys, a raccoon, a bobcat, and some turtles. 

A trip to a historic bathhouse provided some Edwardian decorating ideas for our remodeling project. 
Maybe I need a stained glass ceiling. 

Or a giant statue in the middle?

Tomorrow promises to not be educational at all. After trying out a local MegaChurch, we're taking the girls to a water park. We'll head towards Dallas after dinner and see how far we get. We're crossing our fingers that Laura will cooperate. Please cross your too!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Day 5

Somehow I missed a day. Today is Day 5 of this trip. We did a lot of driving. It was a whole day of driving. With some stops. LittleFritter can go about 2 hours before she needs out of her car seat. So when we stop, she needs feeding. And then changing. And the big girls need toileting  and feeding. And the chance to run around. And the grownups of course need all of this too. And then there's some minor van repacking and reorganizing that needs to happen. And then, an hour later, we're back on the road again. So we played with a travel frisbee at one stop, and did cartwheels in the soft grass at another. And some toddler-led yoga. The big girls have been great. We usually hold off on the electronic devices until around 4 or 5pm. Traffic is more tolerable without bickering and whining. And the girls can usually manage themselves until then. LittleFritter becomes a disaster around 5pm. She despises her car seat. And that time of day is when she's usually awake and cranky. If I sit next to her and do everything I can think of, she just mildly cries and fusses instead of full-blast screaming. But it's still pretty noisy. And exhausting. In evening traffic. I have learned that she really likes zerberts on her feet. And being sung to, but only if you do it very earnestly. 

So we've covered about 1500 miles, and have about 500 more to go. 
God help us. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Day 3

I'm sitting in our room in the dark, eating half-frozen iceberg lettuce. Because, ironically, my dinner salad was oddly devoid of vegetables. Some would argue that iceberg lettuce doesn't really count as a vegetable. But whatever. It tastes really good right now, and it's helping to absorb the two frozen margaritas in my belly. I had to chug the second one because LittleFritter was melting down, as we've changed time zones, and it's past her bedtime. We bought a pitcher as part of a happy hour special. Wouldn't want it to go to waste...

I'm sitting next to her travel crib. My phone has doubled as her white noise machine and my computer. I'm really thankful for the auto-correct feature. I don't tolerate two margaritas like I used to. Wowzers. 

So we were at a "Mexican" restaurant in Cave City, Kentucky. Staffed by actual Mexicans. (Trump would be horrified. Although I bet his Trump Tower Mexicans make better taco salads.) Watching Canadian football. I can't make this stuff up. Trip Advisor ranked it the #1 restaurant in Cave City. I'm glad we didn't try the others.   

They say that traveling can teach you a lot about yourself. What have I learned? I'm a food snob. A serious food snob. I expect vegetables to be fresh and plentiful. Baked goods to be fresh and/or contain whole grains. And food to not be slathered in sauces made with ingredients I can't pronounce. What else have I learned? That this kind of food can be hard to find traveling across the U.S. We were thrilled to find a Sonic for lunch yesterday when we bopped off the interstate for a potty trip. But I noticed a rather linear relationship between the size of their tasty beverages and the waistline of their consumers. Oh I don't want to be judgemental. If I had a Sonic in my neighborhood, my waistline would certainly be larger. (Oh cherry and cranberry limeaids, how I love thee...) But there was no (non caloric) flavored seltzer to be found in the local grocery store, and the produce section was sad and unappetizing. Experiences like these help me understand the incidence of obesity and diabetes in our country. Especially when my dinner "salad" resembled no salad I'd ever eaten. 

We did do more than eat questionable Mexican food today. We went down into Mammoth Cave. BestestHusband and HeyMama went twice. (I and the younger 3 girls went back to take a nap in the afternoon.) We toured Dinosaur World. We saw a lot of Dino models. In their "natural" environment. It was kitschy, but moderately educational. 

So we learned a bit about geology and prehistoric life today. And the food time warp we're currently in. "Mama, can we eat in tomorrow night?" Translation: can we find "normal" food at a grocery store instead of eating at a questionable restaurant? Sounds good to me!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Day 2

Wow. It's only been 2 days?

Day 2 was all about chocolate. We spent the bulk of the day in Hershey, PA. 

The girls started their day with a mug of hot chocolate. Then we went to the Hershey Museum. The big girls and BestestHusband got tickets to the Chocolate Lab to make chocolate bars. While they were learning about where chocolate comes from and how it's made, I was managing a grumpy toddler and a hungry and poop-covered infant. After a trip to the car for a feeding, cleaning, and attitude adjustment, we tried the museum again. They have some great exhibits, including a "factory" where you get to "try out" the jobs done before mechanization replaced the heavy lifting. Wear the aprons. "Roast" the beans. Move bathtubs full of chocolate. Wrap and pack the chocolate. It was a cute way to teach the girls about how the chocolate was made in the early 1900's. 
They also had a cute "I spy" game to get kids to look through the artifacts of Milton Hershey's life. They had an impressive collection of artifacts, as well as info about his ongoing philanthropic endeavors. His legacy includes a school for orphans, hospital wings, much of the town of Hershey, and a solid economy of dairy farming. A chocolate that is based on a recipe of sweetened condensed milk needs a lot of milk. And being perishable, a local source requiring minimal transport is handy. 

I had no idea that he was such a huge philanthropist. Apparently, he had booked passage on the Titanic, but had to change plans at the last minute. Lucky for him. I also didn't know that Hershey used to make soap and other products out of the discarded cocoa fat. 
I really learned a lot, actually. The staff was knowledgeable and very engaged. They seemed to be a mix of older specialists and teen summer interns

The cafe had tasty food. The international hot chocolate tasting was delicious. The gift shop had multiple options for our obligatory Christmas ornament purchase. It was definitely a winner of a destination

Hershey's World of Chocolate was the opposite of the Museum. It was enormous. It was flashy and animated. Singing cows! People in candy character costumes. (The girls got to high-five a Jolly Rancher!) There was a free ride that showed how chocolate was made. (Singing cows! Talking chocolate bars and kisses!) Everything else required tickets. Much of the complex was a giant souvenir shop. HeyMama finally found her perfect memento keychain there. We had already done a chocolate tasting, and the girls had already made candy bars. Since we didn't have time for a trolley tour of the town of Hershey or a trip to the amusement park, we cut our losses and headed out to hit the road

We still had a lot of driving to do. LittleFritter does not love being in her car seat. Me sitting next to her helps a little. But not for long. So traveling at the end of the day is very wearying. We got off the highway to Take a break and found a family restaurant with a soup and salad buffet. It looked like a nice restaurant.

The cheese in the ham and potato soup tasted like nacho cheese. But everyone got to eat fresh veggies, and LittleFritter found a gaggle of staff to dote on her. So I call it a win-win. 

We got to our hotel after 9:00 . So another night without the chance to use the pool. But we front-loaded the driving in the trip, so the days should get easier. After tomorrow. Tomorrow's our longest driving day. Wish us luck!