Wednesday, August 31, 2011

home again, home again, jiggety jig

We're home again - safe and sound (well, safe at least).  And no, I didn't write anything about the last day, because after 4 long road trips, I have surmised that there is nothing to write about between here and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That is not an exaggeration - it is fact. The only thing that kept me from throwing myself out of the moving vehicle was the knowledge that Punk would eat the last of the licorice and Rico would have to deal with the ramifications of that all on his own.

I think the rest of our road trips will necessitate flying over the "corn basket" and parachuting directly into a rental car.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

the great american road trip take 3 - owensboro to st. louis




Rico and I ate fried chicken in Kentucky last night - we had to - it just seemed like the right thing to do. Of course, we pulled into the hotel late, it was from a chain (Zaxby's) and it was dipped in so much butter that we probably took a few months off of our lives. Then again, road-tripping like this has probably done the same thing.

We left Owensboro, Kentucky and made for St. Louis again. We had promised a stop at the City Museum. Yoda Nika's godfather, Bob told us about it, and her godsister told Punk that it was "the coolest thing he'd ever do." So of course, it was all we heard about from the minute we set off.

Alison knows her stuff. This place is like a giant, hand-sculpted, fully recycled, super-dangerous, how-the-hell-did-they-get-insurance, Chuck-E-Cheese. There were climbing tubes in the ceiling (with lead pipes right at forehead level), a 10-story-slide with nothing but a rickety fire escape to get you up all 10-stories, tunnels that led to god-knows-where and wire contraptions hanging over the balconies so you can climb down three floors if you feel like it - or simply slide your leg right through and FALL down three floors if you feel like it.

The museum is the work of an artist who purchased a warehouse, and used nearly 100% recycled materials to create the world's coolest jungle gym. The wristband says "use common sense - City Museum takes no responsibility for injuries you may incur." No kidding. Punk took a lead pipe to the head, Yoda fell through a hole under a tree (and I mean Riki-Tiki-Tembo fell - she was IN the hole - thank god there was a way out and she found it), Kooka flat out refused to go down some of the slides, but had no trouble scaling up a three story slinky.

Having said all of that - we hated to leave. It was the world's largest playground, and there simply isn't enough time to write about it tonight - but you really should check it out.





















Thursday, August 25, 2011

the great american road trip take 3 - charleston, knoxville, mammoth cave, owensboro







A day late and a dollar short - that's how today feels.

I missed yesterday - mostly because we spent so much time on the road. (It took us 2 hours to get through a 20 mile section of the Smokey Mountains, because we were following a triple-long semi carrying a long-range-ballistic missile - yeah we saw it, and yeah we all freaked out.)

Despite the long drive (and the 'holy crap' feeling of following a nuclear warhead down a winding mountain road) there were some nice stops along the way:
*A roadside peach shop, where we ate fresh South Carolina peaches, cider, bread and salsa. The kids were amazed to discover what a real peach tastes like.
* A sidetrip to Asheville, North Carolina, which I loved nearly as much as Savannah, Georgia. We stopped at the Woolworth's Walk - which had been converted into a funky artesian shop. The old soda fountain was still in full swing, and we stopped at the counter to share a chocolate egg cream.
* We camped at a Red Roof Inn outside of Knoxville, Tennesse, where we had our 5th pizza of this trip.







Today was more eventful.

After a 3 hour drive in the backwoods of Tennessee and Kentucky, we arrived at Mammoth Caves National Park. We all agreed that the short tour would be plenty for us (especially since no strollers are allowed, and we knew we'd have to trade off carrying Yoda the entire hike). After our tour, we all agreed that it wasn't enough (despite the fact that Yoda fell asleep in her carrier and I had to carry her myself the whole time). The portion of the cave we saw was unbelievably HUGE. The tour was peppered with just enough cool history and creepy facts to keep everyone wanting more. But the best part was when the guide turned off all of the walking trail lights and we were immersed in complete darkness and total silence. It was one of the strangest sensations we'd ever experienced.






























Almost three hours later, we pulled into our hotel in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Tomorrow we head back to St. Louis and The City Museum. the kids have been waiting for this museum since the day we embarked on this journey. We better catch some Zzzzs.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

the great american road trip take 3 - charleston




Soaking up a bit of the old South was on our list, so we decided to spent 2 days in Charleston, South Carolina. We had breakfast at the hotel, before heading to Boone Hall plantation in nearby Mount Pleasant.

After touring the mansion (the same one used in the movies The Notebook and The North and The South), we toured the slave cabins, where up up 16 people lived at once. Kooka seemed to be the most taken with this side trip, wondering how people could live in such opulence, at the expense of others. She noticed the receipt for a bag of sugar, a teapot and one Negro girl. We were all quietly scanning the advertisements for slave sales which listed the name, age and attributes of each human being. (Jane, age 14, house girl, bad leg).








Punk got up to leave shortly after the Gullah speaker gave a pointed look at both kids and announced that most people wanted to buy slaves between the ages of 9 and 14, because children were easier to break. Kooka listened to the rest of the talk, while Punk headed down to the cotton docks to be alone with his thoughts, and about a thousand crabs scuttling across the rocks.


Nobody could shake the deep sense of history after this, so after a quick lunch at Chik-fil-a for lunch, and a walk through the City Market, we pressed on.





We drove past the Slave Mart - a sobering visit to one of the only places left in the U.S. where slaves were actually bought and sold. We were all pretty quiet as we pulled away.

Next we headed to the Old Provost and Dungeon, which held pirates before they swung from the gallows. The animatronic pirates looked Disney-esque (circa 1964), and were more distracting than informative. And while the dungeon was creepy the third floor was beautiful, and we all had fun dancing on the exact same floor that George Washington waltzed upon during a visit to Charleston.











Dinnertime was spent at the Early Bird Diner. Homemade meatloaf, fried-green-tomato sandwiches, cheesy mashed potatoes, buckwheat pancakes and home style mac and cheese.

A swim in the pool, packing up for tomorrow, and bedtime for everyone.
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Monday, August 22, 2011

the great american road trip take 3 - savannah to charleston

There were so many good things that happened today. There is really no time to write - but here is the top ten list:

1) Waking up to giant pretzels for breakfast. Punk slept with his so the rest of us wouldn't eat it.

2) A trip to Savannah's Candy Kitchen, where the choices were astounding: candied apples as big as Yoda's head, fresh pralines, gellato, fudge, and warm saltwater taffy - delivered to the barrel in some rube-golbric/willy wonka like contraption, that not only pulled the taffy, but twisted it, wrapped it, lifted it to the ceiling, and sent it over our heads into the next room, where it dropped neatly into a little tin bucket ala ever-lasting-gobstoppers.












3) Another stop at Ellis Park Fountains, where the four big kids got drenched.






4) A walk around Mercer house. (read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - just do it).



5) A slow drive through Bonaventure cemetery. Even punk declared it "beautiful" - and he has a tendency to call things like this "creepy".




6) A drive on the backroads heading to Charleston, including stop at the sweetest little roadside shop, where they gave free samples of everything, including Georgia Peach cider, deep fried peanuts, bene cakes, glazed pecans, pickled garlic, and fresh blueberry jam. We bought a small pecan pie and shared it in the car.



7) An afternoon dip in the pool at our hotel - the Best Western Sweetgrass Inn. Surprisingly charming, with wonderful hospitality.

8) Dinner at Andolini's pizzeria. The pie was gigantic, and even Rico (who's incredibly picky about his pizza), proclaimed it to be "good". Punk and Kooka loved it as well, but christened Rico a blasphemer when he told them it was better than Casey's.



9) A short drive through Charleston at night.

10) A stop at the Piggly Wiggly, where of course there is a pig photo-op as you walk in the door.






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Sunday, August 21, 2011

the great american road trip take 3 - vero beach to st. augustine to savannah





I think I'm in love.

Vero Beach was gorgeous, St. Augustine was quaint, but Savannah, Georgia is everything I imagined it would be. I could stay here for weeks and never run out of places to wander and things to wonder.

Saying goodbye to Rico's friends in Vero was bitersweet. It was wonderful to meet them, to hear Rico laugh and reminisce. But the kids were sun-soaked, Yoda was clingy, and it was time to move on.

We made a short stop in St. Augustine, at the Castillo de San Marcos fortress. Punk loved it, because the entire place was like an incredibly authentic set from Pirates of the Carribean. We watched the cannons fire, and even saw a pirate ship sailing into the bay. But the heat was unbearable, and it was not long before we headed to St. George Street for ice creams.

It's a bucket list thing for me - to see the deep south, and Savannah is exceeding my expectations in every way imaginable. The streets are lined with great oaks, dripping with spanish moss. Homes pre-dating the civil war surround our hotel. Rico's brother Paul lives here, and after treating us to heaping plates of soul food (fried chicken, spicy collard greens, mashed potatoes, candied yams, yellow rice, smothered shrimp and cornbread) at Sisters of the New South restaurant, he took us on a mini-tour of his hometown.

We saw the Mercer house (the lights were on inside which sort of creeped me out). He pointed out the candy shop, where we plan to stop tomorrow. Punk and Kooka had a blast navigating the rainbow fountains in Ellis Square (both kids say it was one of the most memorable moments of the entire trip - completely unplanned, and completely wonderful - they were soaked head to toe and happily walked back to the hotel that way.) We watched the horse drawn carriages, listened to live music, and soaked up as much Southern life as we could in one night. Tomorrow we are off to Charleston, but I really wish we weren't.











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Saturday, August 20, 2011

the great american road trip take 3 - vero beach again







Rico had another early morning swim, and after that we met up with the gang at Mulligans for breakfast. Punk had the french toast, Kooka and I had giant pancakes, Rico had the bagels, and Yoda had - some of everything.

After breakfast, it was more of the beach. Punk took the boogie board and followed schools of fish in the surf. Kooka and I surfed the waves, and Rico's friend Stephanie, watched Yoda for a bit, so we could all swim together for a while.

We met up at the pool, where Kooka swam for another three hours, while Punk and Yoda took naps.

Rico and crew hosted a beach-side pizza party. Punk managed to coax a wild bunny into eating romaine lettuce right from his hand. Kooka nursed a wicked sunburn - despite reapplying the sunscreen several times, and everyone fell asleep full of good food, and warm memories.

Tomorrow we are off to Savannah, GA. There is so much to do, I hope we'll remember it all.





























the great american road trip take 3 - vero beach




Rico woke me up with a half gallon of fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice - icing on the cake is that Yoda didn't wake me up at all. All three kids enjoyed sleeping in, while I sipped OJ and Rico went for an early morning ocean swim with his buddies.

After croissants at a local sweet shop, we walked back to our resort, and headed to the beach. It was only steps from our door, and we spent most of the day there. Punk spent hours rolling in the turquoise surf. Kooka was his willing accomplice for most of the day, but the big waves coaxed her to shore where she spent some time building sand castles.

While Yoda napped, Punk, Kooka and I, took a stroll to Kilwin's chocolate shop, where Punk and I had chocolate covered pretzels (white chocolate for him, salted milk chocolate for me), and Kooka had caramel covered, chocolate drizzled marshmallows.

At 6, we were off to dinner at Frank and Sharon's house - which is the whole reason we took this trip in the first place. Frank lives here in Vero Beach and is one of Rico's oldest friends (as well as one of Yoda's godfathers). He invited over a dozen of his childhood friends for a reunion dinner. There is not much that can rival Frank's Italian cooking, (ask Yoda - she ate half a pound of pasta, and Kooka would eat a dozen meatballs if we let her), except seeing Rico re-connect with his friends.

Punk and Kooka spent the evening in Frank and Sharon's pool - only stopping for macaroni and meatballs, eggplant parm, and cake - which Frank had specially made to look like the stoop in Flushing NY, where all of the kids used to play.

We fell asleep late (after one more moonlit walk on the beach).

(Sorry about the writing - it is disjointed and I know it. Blogging and roadtripping with a toddler is a daunting task - one that doesn't leave me much time to process my thoughts, let alone my sentences.)