Postcards from Southern California: Family Fun in the Hot Hot Sun

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

It was like a furnace. Temperatures ranged from 90 to 105 degrees. Too hot to do anything other than lounge; which we did.

Trying to find a cool spot and stay hydrated were the top of our activities list while visiting my family in High Desert. [Side Note: Mom’s house doesn’t have central air-conditioning.]

We spent time with the family we don’t see often enough. Shopping and bowling. Eating our favorite Southern California foods like In-N-Out.

We had the opportunity to catch up with life-long friends and hit the beach.

Plenty of ‘selfie’ style photos exist. My boys will have pictures with me in them as well as their cousins, aunts, and Granny. Usually, I take tons of food shots but this year I promised myself, I’d feature the people. Interesting how different this vacation slide deck will look.

I read 3 books:

  • A Better World by Marcus Sakey, exceeded my expectations. It’s better than book one in the saga, Brilliance. Trust me a must read.
  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, was amazing. Another must read.
  • The Secret’s in the Sauce by Linda Evans Shepard and Eva Marie Everson.

We saw 2 movies which were family dates with my sisters, niece and nephew:

  • X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction

We had 1 date without the kiddos. Just hubby and me. It’s hard to pull off when we’re home.

These are bonus tracks on the vacation album.

Cousins in the surf. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Cousins in the surf.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Seaweed Collection © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Seaweed Collection
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

There were lots of items on our ‘to do’ list that we never got marked off. We didn’t have our Read-A-Thon which the boys wanted to do in Colorado originally. I’m so glad we gave our books their own suitcase to travel with us. Oh well we will plan it for next month.

New meaning to book bag. © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

New meaning to book bag.
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Now we’re home, a little jet lagged and struggling with the return to routine, but color me grateful for the days we sat on the front porch in the setting sun with the people I love most in the world.

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Postcards from Colorado: Adventures in Thin Air

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Greetings …

Today is post Tuesday and I haven’t had a chance to slow down enough to organize my thoughts and experiences into a cohesive narrative. But instead of missing post day I decided to bullet some of the highlights and share some scenic shots.

BACKGROUND: Colorado, the first week of our vacation is thanks to Calvin Theological Seminary, my husband’s alma mater. They offer a seminar to pastors, Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching.

This opportunity is designed to allow said pastors to also have a family vacation i.e. sessions from 8-noon followed by time for family adventures.

The course hosted by Scott Hoezee and Neal Plantinga (author of Reading for Preaching), required my husband to do some serious reading:

  • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  • Enrique’s Journey – Sonia Nazario
  • Collected Poems – Jane Kenyon
  • The Poetry of Robert Frost: Collected Poems – Robert Frost
  • The Wednesday Wars – Gary D. Schmidt
  • Okay for Now – Gary D. Schmidt
  • Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy – Gary D. Schmidt
  • Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson – Robert Caro

Of course my reading list is a little longer now.

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

We had the pleasure of staying at Snow Mountain Ranch, the YMCA of the Rockies, which is a beautiful place to stay. AND it has lots of activities for everyone.

From a parenting perspective, I have to say my dudes surprised me. In particular, our oldest tried many things that if you’d told me a week prior that he would do so I wouldn’t have believed it.

  • He went on the zip line, some 30 feet off the ground, as did my husband. They each used one word to describe it. Dude said, “Fast.” Hubby said, “Fun.”
  • He climbed the rock wall. Again some 30 feet off the ground, even though heights make him nervous.
  • He also tried roller-skating for the first time; counting the number of times he fell as we went along. It’s been at least 15 years since I was on skates and I loved sharing it with my dude.
  • He navigated the cafeteria like a camp veteran, helping his brother along the way, making us think he’s ready for an overnight camp experience without us.

Both boys tried their hand at archery, which isn’t as easy as our favorite quiver-wearing-bow-wielding-heroes make it look.

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

My youngest wasn’t as adventurous but he enjoyed:

  • Miniature golf
  • Volleyball for the first time. And,
  • Basketball, even though he told me, “I’m not ready for the NBA.” What a sweet boy!

Okay, I’d also like to say they wrote and mailed postcards to friends about our time in Colorado; giving a glimpse into our vacation. Yes, I am smiling for the handwritten correspondence, brief, as you have to be on a postcard. Their handwriting at 9 and 7 years old is priceless.

These moments made this momma proud.

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

My personal fave of our time was sitting in a small group around the fireplace listening Gary D. Schmidt and his editor daughter, Kathleen Kerr, as they talked about writing and publishing in today’s world. I didn’t say a word. Never asked a question. I was the weirdo in the back sporting the perma-grin.

My husband’s personal fave comes courtesy of Facebook. A friend posted that they were “camping in the Rockies” and the picture loaded the location of Winter Park, CO. Just 10 minutes down the road.

Hubby was able to catch up with three of his closest childhood friends and their families. Some we hadn’t visited in a couple of years, others in more than a decade. It was an unexpected and special surprise in our trip. Yay Facebook for bringing people together.

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

LAST NOTES:

  • Check out Snow Mountain Ranch. You may want to plan a trip there. If you go there,
  • Visit The Foundry which is a great place: movie theater & bowling alley mashup. Order the caramel corn which is to die for; comfy leather seats, where we watched How to Train Your Dragon 2.
  • Stop by Dozens Restaurant if you make it to Denver. Oh how delicious the food. See my meal?
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Thanks to the altitude, my oldest son and I suffered from headaches and bloody noses despite drinking as much fluid as we could. And the hubby had trouble sleeping. It was still one of the best vacations to date.

In two weeks I’ll be back in Colorado for work but I am grateful I was able to experience it on vacation, otherwise I would have missed out on so much of this beautiful state.

Happy summer travels … be safe.

Wanderlust and Writing

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .’

Confession: I’ve yet to read Charles Dickens’s classic, A Tale of Two Cities. It’s on my ‘to read’ list.

The famous first line, a run on sentence of contradictions, best describes my writing life in 2013.

Living in the gaps between the best and the worst … the wise and the foolish … etc. Never quite staying in one extreme or the other.

As I reflected on my creative process and writing specifically, I couldn’t help but wonder why I’d hit such a wall. Why was I blocked to the point of paralysis? What caused me to go off the rails?

Lack of inspiration. Lack of desire to chug along with my novel. Inability to craft weekly blog posts. Where had all the words gone?

I thought I’d nailed down all the reasons. I thought I’d reached understanding, named the big evil. I blamed it on:

  • Writer’s block
  • Capability / not good enough
  • Characters stopped talking to me
  • New characters were calling
  • Story wasn’t going where I wanted
  • Lack of time

Take your pick!

I blamed everything short of labeling myself a hack. Well, okay maybe I did that too.

But now I see one of the big issue that I didn’t notice before. You’re wondering what could be missing from this list?

TRAVEL.

My job requires that I travel 6-10 times per year. I typically go to the same corners of the continental U.S. Last year I only went on two trips; both within the first quarter. Shortly thereafter my writing slowed.

How does travel affect my creative journey? What are the benefits of traveling as a writer, even if it’s to Small Town America?

Change in venue
New places means new opportunities. A change that allows me to employ writing exercises where I can practice describing people, places, and things to which I wouldn’t usually be exposed. New perspective.

Different interruptions
This, for me, means no kids or hubby needs. My interruptions include clients and coworkers. But mostly it means a greater level of control over my time and energy. When I say “do not disturb”, guess what? No one disturbs me. Novelty.

New experiences
Airports are filled with diversity. It’s one of the best places I’ve found to develop characters: people watching, eavesdropping on conversations for dialogue, and assessing physical attributes, ticks and wardrobe. Amazing. I constantly think: if that person were in my story how would I “show” them. Great fun.

I now have an acute case of wanderlust; a desire to be somewhere else, new or familiar, just not here in my personal normal.

I want to hit the road and get outside of myself. Rack up miles and earn points. Buy postcards and key chains and t-shirts as souvenirs. I want the words to return from their journey as I embark on mine.

Can you relate?

Travel makes life interesting.

Would I prefer some place exotic: Australia, New Zealand, China, Greece, Japan, Spain, or Italy? Sure!

But for now I am thankful for six work related trips on the books already for 2014. All in the U.S. with some locations I haven’t been before. The first trip is at the end of this month.

Six scheduled attempts at jumpstarting my writing and digging out of my rut.

In addition to my work travel, we have some big family trips planned this summer and some day trips with new adventures built in. I am scheduled for a few writing events where other writers can rub off on me; their enthusiasm and expertise can influence me.

As much as I love to live vicariously through social media, it’s not enough. There’s something to be said for living life that revitalizes. I’ll experience these places for myself.

And, as much as writers may write about the solitary nature of writing, there’s something to be said for community, engaging people and being involved in the world outside of our heads that builds captivating stories.

To the writers among us … wander … live … roam … exist … tell great tales.

Postcard: Just a Glimpse of Canada

Postcards I purchased at the Duty Free.

Postcards I purchased at the Duty Free.

Thursday morning dawned sunny and warm; and found me packed and headed into the unknown in more ways than one. I experienced both trepidation and hope for what was to come.

My first unknown: What did I get myself into?

I was recently asked to serve on a board for a Non-Government Organization called World Renew. Before being asked to volunteer my time in this capacity, I didn’t know anything about the organization. After much consideration and a little research I agreed to participate, acting in faith.

My Second unknown: Where am I going?

The board’s annual meeting was being held in Schomberg, Ontario, just outside of Toronto. Thus, my first ever trip across international borders: Canada.

I didn’t know much about the country but the name conjured images of a red and white flag, maple syrup and Mounties. Now I have to say that my mental picture of Mounties is of Dudley Do Right of Rocky & Bullwinkle Show fame. Not, I am sure, what Mounties are really like. Sorry my Canadian friends for my ignorance.

More postcards

More postcards

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

I must say that like traveling for work all of my time was scheduled so I didn’t see much of the place I visited. Despite the limited sight seeing … this is my adventure.

We drove the 7 or so hours north in beautiful weather; watching new spring green roll by, interrupted occasionally by bodies of dark shiny water. The thrum of the tires was peaceful in the midst of the getting-to-know-you chatter.

Tucked in the seats of a 15 passenger van with 6 strangers, the forced companionship is taxing for the introvert in me. But, by the end of the trip I was grateful to get to know everyone.

We stopped and ate lunch at Mr. Sub. It was delicious. My soda pop was served in the can instead fountain style which was an oddity for me. And I never made it to Tim Horton’s.

Then we cruised through the city on the way to the Cedar Glen YMCA where we stayed. I noticed that the houses were so close together compared to the sprawling neighborhoods you see in the U.S. So close, in fact, it looked like you could reach out one open window and knock on the window of the next brick clad structure. And they were HUGE at least to me. One of my traveling companions labeled these Canadian subdivisions: McMansions.

Keychains I gave the dudes.

Keychains I gave the dudes.

My apologies because I forgot about roaming and didn’t take a regular camera so I don’t have any pictures from the trip, but it was beautiful. As a side note this meant I was disconnected in a way I’m not used to.

I digress … back to the unknowns. I still feel like I know little of Canada but feel like I know more about World Renew and what they do.

My reading list in addition to all I heard and saw:

  • When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Brian Fikkert & Steve Corbett
  • Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence by David A. Livermore
  • Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) by Robert D. Lupton

I left feeling overwhelmed with information and the passion of the individuals I met. Their zeal overshadowed mine. I felt like an “undecided: or “undeclared” college major; student still seeking.

I wrote these words in my journal the second and last night: “I am perpetually the reluctant volunteer. I don’t have a cause. I don’t sign up. I don’t get involved. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care. What does it mean? I need to find my place within the issues and advocate for those around me.”

This is out of my comfort zone:

  • Traveling out of the country
  • Joining a board for which I am ill equipped
  • Signing up for a cause that I haven’t given much thought

This is something I will grow into.

As unknowns become known, I continue to wonder: What did I get myself into? Yet, I remain hopeful. Likewise: Where am I going, has become metaphorical instead of literal. I am on a journey. Trepidation lingers. And I pray that I serve well and that the world will be made better with the work I do here.

What moments in life caught you by surprise and found you going down a path you didn’t expect? 

Postcard: Wichita, Kansas – There’s No Place Like Home

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

Early last week, as I prepped for my weekend business trip, the tune “Kansas City” from The Jacksons: An American Dream TV mini-series played in my mind. It played till I realized I wasn’t head to Kansas City but to Wichita. My mistake…

Of course, when I remembered where I was headed, it made me think of Dorothy and Toto. It made me think of the quest for home and the journey to courage, wisdom, and heart.

If you’re in need of another Jackson reference, consider The Wiz movie adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. Then just ease on down the road.

Or maybe, you want a different literary reference all together. In which case I have this one for you: The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverley Cleary which my dudes and I just finished reading before my trip.

In the story our protagonist, Ralph Mouse, gets trapped under a water glass by two school teachers (kindergarten and second grade). They debate whether or not they should take him back to Wichita, Kansas with them to sit in a cage on the windowsill of their respective classrooms.

Regardless of the reference that says: “Wichita” to you, I have to say it’s not a place I enjoy visiting, at least not usually. I’ve been both for business and personal reasons. The city doesn’t appear to have a lot to offer.

It doesn’t help that my work trips are short with specific constraints. I mainly see the inside of a conference center. The only view of the city and its tourism happen through the window of a moving vehicle.

We stayed at the Drury Place which had all the charm of centuries gone by with the modern amenities of our techie society.

My favorite thing was the fact that there was a mail chute or tube system that ran to every floor. In its heyday the letters would fall to a black cast iron box in the lobby with the words: US Postal Service painted in gold. It was sealed but it reminded me of my love of handwritten letters. I wish I’d taken some pictures.

The hotel offered a program called: Kickback. Essentially an appetizer buffet that you could make into your evening meal: hotdogs, pasta, baked potatoes, and other snackable items like nachos. Also, included were three alcoholic beverages. A nice way to thank guests for choosing their hotel I’d say.

The beauty of my job is that each event gathers large groups of people together. A Petri dish, if you will, of human behavior. A writer’s dream. And this trip was no different. The people of Wichita, both guests and staff, were friendly and warm with ready smiles.

And I met a couple of characters along the way:

The chef who said he needed a hug and a kiss on the mouth (really?) in order for us to continue enjoying the freshly popped corn. (Part of Kickback which means it’s complementary.) Needless to say I offered the hug but I don’t kiss on the first date.

And then there was the cabbie who insisted on calling me baby, like we were a couple. Ha … we skipped right to terms of endearment? Yes, as I said, friendly people.

Side note: my experience taught me, if you go to Wichita, rent a car. Cab service is practically obsolete. (You have to call ahead by at least an hour.)

The weather was windy yet sunny and warm. A far cry from the snow and sleet my family had to contend with while I was away. And bonus … no tornados.

Saving grace of this trip: Redrock Canyon Grill.

Service was impressive. Watching the servers was like watching a well timed dance performance. As wait staff glided in and out, maneuvering around one another to clear plates and drop off refills and ask what we needed. It didn’t matter that they weren’t our server, if it needed to be done and they were near by, they handled it. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

And the food? AMAZING. We had the Shrimp Cargot to start (I didn’t get a picture); followed by salad with a signature sweet ranch dressing (so delicious); then the main dish of steak and redskin mashed potatoes (oh the mash with green onions and garlic … yum); and of course the end of the meal … a dessert called Something Chocolate (truly divine).

If you ever make it to Wichita, this place has to be on your list. Warning … go early because this is the spot. People were wrapped around the bar, spilling out of the waiting area and teeming around outside by the open fire pit.

Thanks to the memorable dining experience (I now need to lose a few more pounds); and the friendly people, Wichita has climbed a few ticks up my list of places to visit.

But despite all of this, I have to agree with Dorothy: “There’s no place like home.” And for me home isn’t Wichita but at least now I would look forward to going back.

What place has surprised you and ended up on your favorites list? If you’ve been to Wichita and have suggestions of places to see or go, let me know because I’ll be headed back at some point for work.

Where Have The Friendly Skies Gone?

Friendly Skies

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

Remember when flying the friendly skies meant:

  • You received a meal with the price of your ticket instead of a meal for purchase.
  • You checked your luggage for free unless it exceeded 50 pounds instead of the flat rate of $25.
  • You received complimentary headphones to watch the in-flight movie instead of supplying your own.
  • You received a full can of soda with a cup of ice instead of a plastic cup of soda.

Plus there were these added services like:

  • During descent the flight attendant would announce the gates for all the connecting flights of passengers so you didn’t have to look for it when you landed.
  • If there were delays and it was possible that you would miss your connecting flight, the attendant at you arrival gate would call the departure gate of your next flight and request they wait for you.

If you don’t remember, you missed out on a golden age in air travel.

But the friendly skies went the way of safer skies which can be traced back to a single moment in American history. 9/11 is my generation’s equivalent of “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” It changed the landscape of America literally and figuratively.

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint Model in the lobby of my hotel. Only sight seeing I got in.

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint
Model in the lobby of my hotel. Only sight seeing I got in.

Usually the changes in practice don’t bother me but my recent trip to DC on business found me longing for the convenience of quality customer service while traveling. Don’t get me wrong, I value the safety of our nation. It’s just created a deficit in courtesy.

Still, I make it a rule not to be rude to flight attendants or ticket clerks. I employ manners … using my “please” and “thank you” words; letting my smile reach my eyes. They don’t have an easy job.

But the pursuit of safer skies over friendly has made airlines apathetic to the travelers’ plight. Essentially were held hostage to these skies; accepting our rations in our cold cramped spaces with grateful smiles.

My desire for the friendly skies to return started when I checked in for this trip. There was a request for volunteers to give up their seats. I opted not to and thought nothing of it.

However, my coworker who came to the airport later than me wasn’t given an option. She was booked on a later flight. Then was grounded at her layover spot and missed our first event session …

While sitting in the gate area, they announced that our plane was late but only by 10 minutes so “it won’t affect any connecting flights.” Really?

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint Before take off ...

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint
Before take off …

We landed and I had less than 15 minutes to get to my next gate, which of course required me to run (and I’m out of shape, so picture me huffing, puffing, and wheezing; lugging a backpack and a purse).

Surprisingly, I got there in enough time … I held out my boarding pass and the attendant at the gate took it and scanned it without meeting my gaze or interrupting her conversation with another attendant. They had NO concern for me or my near miss. It added to my heaviness.

On the return trip … I handed my checked bag to the TSA agent for scanning. He didn’t make eye contact or ask me the standard safety questions … you know:

  • Firearms or other weapons?”
  • Lighters or flammable chemicals?
  • Film or batteries?”

Instead he was scrolling through his Facebook feed on his iPhone. He didn’t even speak to me.

So much for safer skies. In that moment “friendly” and “safe” were on a break. We all lost.

Bring back the friendly skies! Who’s with me? I am hopeful for my next trip …

Seriously, though, there has to be a way to marry the two; so we can fly the safe friendly skies. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your stories good, bad or indifferent about traveling the [insert adjective of choice] skies …

FUN FACT: The “Fly the Friendly Skies” ad campaign and tagline were used by United Airlines from 1965-1996. If you’re interested you can check out some of their old commercials on YouTube. Below are links to a couple that I enjoyed:

Friendly Skies – Nice Flight

Friendly Skies – Friendship Service

Friendly Skies – 1982 Commercial

Postcard: Seeing Seattle

The skyline of Seattle, Washington at dusk. In...

I made my annual business trip to Seattle. This is the first time in four years that the weather was truly rainy and grey. All the other trips have been filled with green scenery and sunshine; a little misty but never rain. Imagine my surprise to have the reality of Seattle touch my personal experience. Fortunately, I was indoors most of the trip attending a convention.

In spite of the cooler temperatures I loved my five days in the city. On the one and only clear sunny but wet day, I had a bounce in my step and a smile on my face as I walked the two short blocks to a local eatery, 13 Coins, for a meal with a friend I haven’t seen in over a decade.

13 Coins had floor to ceiling studded brown leather booths. It made me think of dining cars in old train movies. There were alcove tables where couples could sit rubbing elbows on the same side of the table watching passersby.

The ambience gave us a stately privacy to catch up over a fabulous breakfast. Sorry I forgot to take pictures. But if you ever make it to Seattle, I encourage you to put 13 Coins on your food tour.

But wait there’s more tales of fine dining…

Usually when I travel for work, my cohort and I hit the local Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse for the purpose of a perfectly cooked filet mignon. This time we abandoned our own tradition and ventured a try at a new steakhouse:  The Capital Grille. Yummy!

I won’t compare the two restaurants . They’re both delicious. It just depends on the kind of delicious you want on any given day.

My favorites from the meal were the cream corn with bacon (to die for) and the coconut creme pie (heavenly). My travel companion’s vote would be for their lobster mac and cheese.

If you don’t have The Capital Grille near you, put it on your list to experience in your travels.

But rich food isn’t all that Seattle has to offer. This city is vibrant and alive; always awake. As we left the grille, we were amazed by the number of people roaming the city streets. People who seemed to be window shopping in the city’s thriving downtown area without any concern for the late hour.

Picturesque hotels and bright neon lights which were just as busy as the foot traffic. The highways were congested as residents made their way to adventures unknown to us. It’s this hustle and bustle that has us committing to tacking on extra days during our next visit so we have time to sight see, hit the tourist traps, and experience Seattle leisurely.

We had lunch in our hotel the last day before heading to our final business stop. The best part was the tomato bisque in an asymmetric bowl. After which we packed up the car and headed to the gorgeous Suncadia Resort, an hour or so outside of the city. Breathtaking landscape … Snowcapped mountains … Autumn colors touching the trees. Pictures don’t do it justice.

We arrived late for our presentation due to snow. Thankfully, our clients were gracious; inviting us to stay the night. But we’re Michigan girls so we know how to handle driving through snow; our first snow event of the year. And despite our love for the Seattle NW area, we were ready to get home to family and friends. So we caught our red eye flight and left the dynamic city behind.

Tell me your Seattle stories. Or, give me the names of some other Seattle restaurants to try. My travel partner is a foodie and up for new places.

So long Seattle, see you next year … I’ll be ready for a new escapade.

Postcards from Chicago: The Comic Con Event I Missed

Chicago Skyline 2008

Chicago Skyline 2008 (Photo credit: TomC)

We’ve been planning this trip since last year when my husband took my oldest on a “Daddy & Me” date to Comic Con 2011 in Chicago.

They had so much fun we though it would be a great 2012 family getaway. You know, one last hoorah before school starts. One last weekend road trip to bid farewell to summer. But it didn’t happen the way I envisioned, the way we talked about it.

Why?

Well first off, it was a gray cold rainy day. And then there was the fender bender with a black SUV. Maybe it’s payback for a certain post relative to a black SUV.  But I don’t believe in karma. Or maybe it was the mix up with our room reservation where they only had single king beds left when we reserved a two bedroom.

Maybe I’ve mentioned before that my youngest is petrified of people in costume? I believe I briefly talked about an incident with Ms. Green M&M at the M&M store in Las Vegas?

And the very heart of Comic Con … the fun of it … is seeing the fans and enthusiasts dressed as their favorite characters. But for my littlest dude it would wreak havoc on his fragile psyche… it would be a fear filled emotional experience. Forcing him to attend would equate to zero enjoyment for the family.

So we decided that Comic Con 2012 would remain a “Daddy & Me” date for my husband and oldest son. However, we will all traverse to The Windy City together.

Dare I say I am disappointed about not getting to attend the main event:  Wizard World Convention – Comic Con 2012. Sigh. So much for getting my geek girl on.

“How’d I spend my time?” you might ask.

Having a “Mommy & Me” date, which included lounging in our lovely hotel room with a 5 (and a half or is it two-thirds) year old. We watched movies, played Nintendo 3DS, and ate snacks that aren’t particularly good for us. I also had the chance to read and write and rest. Not a bad way to spend a day.

And we managed to do some family fun things as a whole. We went to the LEGOLAND to indulge the boys’ current obsessions. We ate at the Cheesecake Factory to indulge one of my obsessions:  Dulce De Leche Caramel Cheesecake (Sorry I didn’t get photos of it but trust me it was good. I did get a picture of my Over the Top Meatloaf Sandwich.)

Keep in mind though that the trip to LEGOLAND ended much like our trip to the M&M store in Las Vegas i.e. with a little one scream for an exiting. Blaming us for not knowing about the mascot which was celebrating his 4th birthday and making a special appearance. Don’t’ get me wrong there were some really cool things to see there:

The important thing is that we found ways to connect as a family. It really isn’t about what we did but the fact that we did it together.

We listened to the sounds of the city, the hustle and bustle of the people, the airplanes taking off from O’Hare and cabs zooming to and from. We enjoyed the smooth silver buildings against the golden sunset.

I hated the traffic and having to drive through the city but all in all a wonderful trip … I love Chicago for its fast pace, shopping and food, and gorgeous skyline. Next year I hope to add Comic Con to the list of Chi-Town loves.

Vacation 2012 Postcard: Fast Food Tour

Whenever I visit my childhood home I make sure to visit the restaurants, usually fast food restaurants that we don’t have where I live.  I create my list and systematically make my way through it.

I am highlighting a few of the favorites from the list (my meal choices and some pictures)… This is the first trip in which I didn’t hit everything on the list. Disappointed about it but I still ate really well.

Del Taco – My favorite meal here is a combination burrito (ground beef, refried beans, and cheese) with a salsa Verde. The meal comes with a drink (Cherry Coke) and fries. I request “secret sauce” which is a mayo sour cream blend.  I have to dip my fries in something.

Not only is the food good but Del Taco is the first place I ever worked that required me to fill out a W-2. Thanks to my older sister who worked there and was a good employee for recommending me.

I worked the drive thru window wearing my jeans and turquoise blue uniform polo top and baseball cap. Not attractive but that was also the first year I purchase ALL of my own back to school clothes and supplies.  I was 16 years old going into my junior year.

IN-N-OUT Burger – I order the Double Double with cheese no onions with fries and a chocolate shake. Yummy! It’s so worth it.

When I was in my teens I sang in the church choir and we’d travel to other churches to perform. One night we were getting back really late and our choir director stopped to get us something to eat. I hadn’t eaten at IN & OUT before but was grateful. They ordered cheeseburgers for all of the young ones. I inhaled mine I was so hungry. This garnered the comment:  “We should have gotten you a Double Double.”

Can you guess what my nickname was that Summer? If you’ve never had IN-N-OUT make sure you add it to your list when you travel to California.

I made the mistake of telling my husband about being called:  Double Double and now he and the boys call me that just for fun. My husband says, “After eating all these things on vacation we’re going back ‘Double Double’.”

Carl’s Jr. Western Bacon Cheese Burger, which has onion rings and BBQ sauce.

Alberto’s – My husband only makes one request for the list (every trip) because he has to have authentic carne asada burritos. So of course I accommodate the visit to Alberto’s. This time around I ordered the nachos.

Weinerschnitzel – I always get 2 corn dogs and the chili cheese fries.

 

Jack-in-the-Box – Jumbo Jack with cheese, no onions.

 

 

 

 

 

The full list for Vacation 2012:

  • Del Taco
  • IN-N-OUT Burger
  • Carl’s Jr.
  • Alberto’s
  • Weinerschnitzel
  • Baja Fresh
  • Jack-in-the-Box
  • Lee’s Donuts
  • Yum Yum Donuts
  • See’s Candy
  • Gloria Jeans Coffee
  • Rio Buffet

Sorry if you’re not a foodie but I had to share. Let me know what your favorite fast food haunts are … especially if you have to travel to get them like I did.

This, I believe, is the last of my 2012 summer vacation postcards. Thanks for letting me share some of my trip with you.

Vacation 2012 Postcard: Las Vegas

Las Vegas, Nevada is an amazing place. It’s a city that never sleeps. Bright, bold, boisterous, and busy.

If you’re into people watching, Las Vegas provides an abundance of free entertainment. People from all walks of life make their way to this place. But people watching is only one of the many things to do in Vegas. There are wonderful sights to behold. You don’t have to gamble to enjoy what this town has to offer. There is truly something for everyone.

That’s why we thought it would be a blast for our boy; a pit stop on our journey to see their maternal grandmother.

I know I am breaking the widely advertised rule, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” But I have to share.

We chose Excalibur for its theme. The boys were geeked to stay in a “castle”. Our oldest was most impressed with the door handles fashioned as swords, reminding us that the Excalibur was King Arthur’s sword.

We figured we could have dinner at the Round Table Steakhouse and watch an authentic joust. There’s the arcade called The Fun Dungeon where out gamer boys could spend some quality time.

We also had a list of non-Excalibur related adventures:

  • Hoover Dam Tour
  • M&M World
  • Circus Acts at Circus Circus
  • Fountains of Bellagio

Despite the available options, tears and disappointment marred our two and a half days in Vegas.

The five year old was sick, running a fever.  Strep throat we found out later. A visit to the med center, picking up medicine, ensuring naps and adequate hydration, altered our itinerary.

Our youngest who loves to be plugged in and a gamer at heart, hated the arcade on the first visit, and would not “go in there”. Who would have thought? Not us. He said, “It scares me. Those sounds scare me.”

Unfortunately, it meant our seven year old had limited time in the Dungeon, which made him say of this trip to Vegas, “It’s not as fun as I remembered.”

Our gamer guy was enthralled though by the adult arcade (aka the casino):

“Mom, can you teach me how to play these games?”
“No, they’re adult games.”
“I know but I want you to teach me how to play them.”
“That would be illegal. Do you want Momma to go to jail?”
“No.”
“Okay, please don’t ask again.”
“When I’m bigger can I play these games?”
“Sure. When you get older if you want to play these games you can. Please just do so in moderation.”
“’Kay.”

Cute right? Not when you’re living in the moment. It’s endearing and funny when you recount the story though.

But it got worse from there.

We tried M&M World but the five year old is afraid of people dressed up in costume like Chuck E. Cheese and the Red Robin bird. So when Green showed up there was a monumental melt down. Lots of screaming, “I want to find an exit.”

By the time we checked out of the Excalibur my husband and I were both drained, emotionally and physically. We’d had to split up to manage the needs of both boys. My husband took my oldest to the Dungeon and for meals while I stayed in the room with the littlest dude nursing him back to health.

Vegas didn’t turn out to be the fun filled stay we envisioned. I pray this isn’t an indication of how the rest of vacation is going to go. Hopefully, the return trip to Las Vegas will yield a better experience.

So, I will retract the statement:  “There is truly something for everyone.” Because clearly there wasn’t anything positive for my five year old, at least not this time around.