Tuesday, August 21, 2012

election time homeschooling

Just because I'm sending the older two off to public school in a few weeks, doesn't mean I've completely thrown in the homeschooling towel. There are certain things I've had to relegate to the public school system - who to vote for ain't one of 'em.

My deal with both kids was this: they can stay up all night and watch the election returns if they volunteer on a campaign that means something to them. I thought this could get sticky.  I really didn't want to push my political agenda on either of them, and wanted them to make their own decisions. Turns out - it wasn't sticky at all, because I'm not gung-ho about either major party candidate, and have decided that I am going to do a lot of research on the independents before casting my vote.

In an effort to make informed decisions, we each took this quiz: select smart.  By answering 24 questions, we were each given a list of which candidates were closest to our ideals. It was an incredible opportunity to talk with the kids about the issues, and how difficult it is to support just one guy, when there are so many different opinions on so many different subjects.

Our house came away with major party candidates as our front runners, and lots of independents close behind. One member of our family was completely, totally, absolutely gobsmacked at the results.  Not only the front runner, but the 8 people underneath him. Apparently, who you think you agree with - and who you should vote for - are not always the same person.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

what we'll miss

It's that time of year again.  Three weeks until school starts, and the kids are not the only ones dreading it. I loathe the start of school - we homeschooled for a reason (several actually) and this was one of them.

I hate the early mornings, the passing of another year, missing such a big piece of Punk and Kooka's life, packing lunches, evenings full of homework - ugh. Yoda will probably be homeschooled through college simply to spare me from ever having to make another wonderbread and turkey sandwich.

But instead of dwelling on the upcoming doom and gloom, I thought it might make all of us feel better to focus on the bright spots of summer - the things we'll miss.

• fresh blueberries
• kids in the pool every day
• late nights full of warm brownies and reality tv
• family hot tub nights
• fireflies
• road trips
• camps - pinnacle, ewac and olaf
• juicy watermelon
• the fountain in bridge square
• doing laundry when we feel like it - not because we need it
• the smell of Kooka's hair after a summer day outside
• no snow
• freedom

I don't know who I'm kidding - that just made me feel worse.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

the great american road trip take 4: missourri to iowa

The road home is always more subdued for us, not because we're worn out, but because we've travelled through the same areas so many times in an attempt to leave Minnesota. Today is no different. Knowing we'd end up in Des Moines eventually, we decided to detour through Missourri.

Our first stop was the Crown Center in Kansas City (KC is the home of Hallmark Cards). We had a chance to visit the Crayola Store - with a giant wheel of crayons in every color ever made, an incredible children's theater, Chip's Chocolate Factory, and a pretty cool Dinosaur Explore Area (on loan from our own science museum in MN).

But we were hungry and had some ground to cover, so we headed to Rico and my new favorite fast food joint, Taco Beuno. We had chicken tortilla soup, empanadas, brisket tacos, and enchiladas. I was terribly depressed to find that there are no Taco Beunos within 350 miles of our home. If Rico attempts a new business venture, expect to see Kooka in a sombrero and Punk frying up empanadas.

We hit the highway toward St. Joseph, MO. Part of Punk's history final this year was a two page portion on the Defeat of Jesse James, so we couldn't take this route without stopping to see his house. The needlepoint picture he was adjusting was still hanging askew on the wall, right next to the bullet hole where he was shot. The house was small, and took us maybe 15 minutes to tour, which was all we had planned anyway. 

But things don't always go as planned on a road trip and we soon found ourselves next door in the Patee House Museum. Another crazy mix of stuff from here and there - this 1858 hotel, also served as home base for the pony express, a courthouse for the Union when they overtook St. Joseph, and a boarding home for the Studebaker brothers while they developed their famous car. The kids had a blast in here. One of our favorite parts was the "Where's Waldo" type game that they've set up throughout the museum. For 25 cents we bought a scorecard and traipsed through every exhibit looking for the one item that was out of place in the 1800's recreation (for example, we noticed a digital camera chip in the photography studio). 

We were surprised by the sheer number of museums in St. Joseph. Rico and I really wanted to hit the Glore Psychiatic Museum, but Yoda was exhausted, so we drove by and headed toward DesMoines.

We wanted to end this trip with a bang (at least the biggest bang we could find in Iowa), so we booked a room at the Ramada Tropics Hotel in DesMoines. Our poolside room, cute little waterpark, two giant, room service pizzas and Dr. Peppers all-around made for some wonderfully happy memories and very sleepy kids. It's another Friends marathon for us tonight (I swear Punk is Chandler, and it's possible that Kooka will become Monica). Tomorrow we'll be home.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

the great american road trip take 4: kansas to missourri

Wichita was our fist rainy morning of the entire trip. Of course, being a dark and dreary day, Rico had to resort to dumping the big kids out of bed. Punk landed in the remains of yesterday's pizza, while Kooka managed to hang on somehow. Thirty minutes later we were on our way to downtown Wichita.

The Museum of World Treasures was a great way to spend a couple of hours.  A cross between Chicago's Field Museum and Ripley's Believe It Or Not, this three-story Kansas gem has an eclectic mix of everything. From fully reconstructed t-Rex skeletons, to a lock of George Washington's hair, a piece of the Berlin Wall to Hitler's personal family photographs, a crucifiction nail from the time of Jesus' death to a room full of shrunken heads and mummies.  There was even a generous play space for Yoda (she could only "rawr" at the dinosaurs so many times).

The highlights for us were probably the world war exhibits, the copy of the resolution desk, and the real pitchfork the scarecrow used in the Wizard of Oz. Kooka and I were also taken with the Berlin Wall exhibit, but Yoda kept climbing into East Germany and rattling the soldier's fully sharpened bayonet, so we were forced to move on.

The Monroe School was next on our list. This elementary school in Topeka is home of Brown vs. The Board of Education. I must admit to being a little disappointed. We really wanted the kids to see this part of history and be able to think about what part we all play in affecting change in society, but I don't think they got that here.  If anything, they got it during our discussion in the car, or when we first walked in and saw the "white" and "colored" signs, but the rest of the museum was just filled with written presentations, and video clips. There was no recreation of the rooms, or real delineation between the difference in the local elementary schools. I'm glad we went, but wouldn't drag everyone back again.

As much as Wichita was a pleasant surprise, Topeka was a turn in the opposite direction. Run down, and dirty, we decided to keep moving, and headed toward Kansas City, Missouri. 

We had ribs and burnt end sandwiches at Gates BBQ. Rico loved the ribs, but I preferred the ribs we had in OK City. We discussed why this was true and concluded that I really like the dry-rubbed, deep-smoked, fall-off-the-bone type of ribs.  Rico's fave is more along the lines of tying some beef jerky to a bone, bathing it in a gallon of sauce and burrying your face in it in a vain attempt to scrape off some meat. Tonight, he was in heaven.  Punk and I had the burnt-end sandwich -good, but I'd go back to OK City in a heartbeat.

the great american road trip take 4: oklahoma to kansas

When we started this 50 states adventure, our focus was to make sure we made a truckload (or vanload) of memories before the kids were grown, but we also had a larger goal in mind. We wanted to make sure that the kids had a broad range of experiences to draw upon, a sense of adventure, and knowledge of the best parts of America, and the not-so-great parts as well.

Taking that into consideration, I guess our day was a success.

A quarter mile walk from our hotel was the Oklahoma City Memorial.  I expected that our walk through the outdoor memorial would spur some discussion about militia, politics, gun control - much the way it did the night before, when I told the kids we were going.

But it didn't. 

There was no discussion whatsoever. It was just quiet, and teary and unbelievable. 

I've been to several memorials in my day, but nothing has ever hit me like this. We stood between the 9:01 entry gate and 9:03 exit gate. There amongst the field of empty chairs and the reflecting pool, we stood in the moment of 9:02 - the moment the explosion took 168 souls, the moment 800 people were injured, the moment our history changed forever. 

The memorial is so thoughtfully laid out, 9 rows of chairs representing which floor each person was on during the moment of the attack. Most of the second row is filled with tiny chairs - babies under the age of six. Even little Yoda was quiet when she followed us through the rows. She stopped at one of the small chairs, it belonged to a little girl named Ashley. I couldn't stop the tears.

The memorial wall was filled with mementos and notes from friends and families of the victims, the children's wall covered with tiles from young well-wishes from around the country. Our whole family was absolutely morose by the time we reached the front of the museum. Punk could not bring himself to write or draw anything on the slate bricks leading to the door (there is colored chalk available to leave a note, a prayer, or whatever you'd like as a temporary addition to the memorial).  We couldn't go into the museum - we just couldn't. If we had, we would have heard the blast, visited a room that recreates what one of the rooms was like seconds after the blast, seen photos in a mausoleum type tribute to all of the victims. We were already heartbroken, so we decided on turn back to the hotel.

We packed up the van, and headed to our next stop. 

We'd planned ahead. After a rough morning, we took off towards the happiest stuff on earth - at least if you're Punk. Our oldest child is absolutely in love with soda of all types. So we took a slight detour to Arcadia, OK, home of POPS restaurant and store. 

We didn't stop for lunch, just for drinks, but it still took us quite awhile. Pops has over 600 varieties of soda for sale - including some you can't imagine ever letting pass your lips (like cat urine and swamp water). We each selected a bottle and toasted outside the store. Yoda insisted on tasting them all and promptly spit each one out.

Two hours later we were in Witchita, Kansas. 

I am starting to feel slighty guilty for making these towns an afterthought to our cross country ventures. 

First Oklahoma City, now funky little Wichita. We ordered pizza from Picassos, with slices bigger than our heads, went for a walk in charming Old Town Marketplace where we nabbed gellatos from Cafe Moderne, and played in the neon-lit fountains until the sun set behind us. Kooka danced in the fountains and threatened us all with soggy hugs, Punk dove right in as well, and Yoda let us swing her feet through the fountains. Maybe next year she'll be braver.

Monday, August 13, 2012

the great american road trip take 4: texas to oklahoma

I am beginning to think, that the secret to a good road trip, is to not listen to anybody else before you go. 

If we had listened to all of the advice we'd heard about the best route back from Taos, we would have missed three of our favorite stops: Albuquerque, Cadilac Ranch in Amarillo, TX, and perhaps the biggest surprise of all - Oklahoma City.

We woke up in Amarillo. Our brand-new Comfort Suites hotel had a free breakfast, which included omlettes, sauasage and Texas-shaped waffles. After packing up, gassing up, and a brief stop at Michaels craft store for paint, we were ready to hit Cadilac Ranch. Unfortunately, the late hours, limited wi-fi, and the breakneck pace of our trip with three kids, doesn't allow me to go into the history of the place, but I can tell you this - it was cool.  

Grafitti is not only legal at Cadilac Ranch, but enouraged, and there is no escaping the feeling that you are a part of Americana. Punk loved making his mark on all of the cars, Kooka took her time creating a masterpiece, Yoda had a great time painting with her brush. Despite the high winds, and swallowing enough red dirt to qualify as lunch, it was difficult to leave. We knew our artwork wouldn't last, and even if we ever venture this way again, the place would never be the same. Maybe that's why we took over 40 pictures.

Lunch was a McStop in Clover, Texas. It took an extra large tea to wash the grit from our teeth, and a chile' cheeseburger to wash down the tea (they serve them with jalapeƱos down here). We also stopped at the old-fashioned Clover gas station, just because it was so cool.

We knocked another state off the list when we hit Oklahoma, and much to our surprise, Oklahoma City is so cool, we wish we had more time.

It was a short walk from our hotel to Earl's Rib Palace in Brickown. The ribs were huge, tender, smoked to perfection and accompanied by loaded baked potatoes, sweet tea and grilled corn on the cob. No wonder the food was delectable - according to locals, and the info at the restaurant, Earl was the personal chef to one Mr. Elvis Presley. If we had to pick three of our too restaurants on this trip - this would be one of them. 

Our tour of Bricktown continued with a sunset water taxi ride down the canal. Apparently the route used to be a street, and the city decided to dig it up, add water, and viola' - instant tourist attraction. Our captain, Brian shared stories of city history,the land rush, the sooners, and the boat ride was landscaped with gorgeous mosaics, larger than life statues, and plenty of ducks for Yoda to admire. All five of us agreed that it was the best part of the day, and a perfect way to cap off our first night in Oklahoma.

I just have to add - I almost feel guilty for blogging on the road. It seems that my thoughts are so scattered, my writing incoherent, and that all I am managing are the barebones details, so that we don't forget them later. Hopefully whe I get back, I'll have more time, and gett back to my "real" writing.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

the great american road trip take 4: new mexico to texas

What a surprise.

After hearing from various sources that Albuquerque is quote/unquote - a dump, we were thrilled to find it one of the hilights of our trip.

After the artsy, touristy, nearly pretentious atmosphere of both Taos and Santa Fe, it felt like we had finally landed somewhere authentic.

We spent the morning in Albuquerque's Old Town District, and fell in love. The buildings were genuine, the church and courtyard were gorgeous (and still in use - Punk and I inadvertently walked into a funeral), the streets were linked with brick and adobe, the people were friendly and casual. 

One of our favorite stops was The Poco Loco magic shop in Old Town. The owner, Tony showed us some magic tricks and made balloon animals for all of the kids. 

We listened to a live Mariachi band playing in the square, ate frybread and tri-tip steak skewers at Jamon's Frybread Cabana, checked out the fire ants scurrying around the fountains and met/shook hands with/thanked three Navajo Wind Talkers who happened to be sitting together in full military dress.

Rico and agreed that Albuquerque was a place that the two of us could explore for days, bit since we only had hours, it was onward ho.

The drive to Amarillo, TX was tolerable but uneventful - until dinner. We planned on stopping at the Big Texan - home of the 72-ounce steak challenge, but after reading some pretty poor reviews, we changed our plans, and decided on the Country Barn Steak and BBQ. Kitchier than a Cracker Barrel, and much better eats, we all ate until we were stuffed. Punk had his obligatory cheeseburger while the rest of us dined on tender, juicy ribeyes, fried okra, cole slaw, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and hot rolls. The complimentary peppermint taffy topped us off, and we waddled back to the van, and motored toward our hotel.

Friday, August 10, 2012

random pics

Random road trip pics that I love:

the great american road trip take 4: new mexico

Today was a wandering kind of day, a completely unplanned kind of day. Since neither of us were terribly familiar with the Santa Fe/Albuquerque area, we decided to roam around, hit a few things we'd heard about and get to the hotel early.  Here are a few of the highlights:

* If you've ever seen the giant drum we keep as a coffee table, you'll probably recognize the merchandise in this place- the Taos Drum Company.  My dad bought an honest-to-goodness pow-wow drum here about 20 years ago. We inherited it when he moved, and whe the kids found out that this was the birthplace of the drum, they insisted we stop, "for pa."  So we did. Yoda had a great time banging away on $2000 drums, while Punk and Kooka admired the little beaded knicknacks. We stopped for a teepee picture out front (which was right next to what I am quite certain was a huge rattlesnake hole), then we were on our way.

* Next stop, Santa Fe, where we ate tamales and fajita wraps from a street vendor. Completely, totally, wonderfully, perfect southwestern food. We browsed through the open air plaza, where the natives sold handmade jewelry. I didn't buy any - but really wanted to.

* Before we left town, Punk, Kooka and I made a visit to Loretto Chappell, home of the miraculous stairway. The miracle is not just that there are no supports holding the double helix built stairway, but also how the stairway came to be in the first place. I won't spoil the surprise - you can google it - but I will say that all three of us were awestruck. We took a moment to light a candle for Pa, and say a few prayers in the sanctuary. It was a nearly surreal experience, and we couldn't help but feel moved. 

* Next on our route was Albuquerque. We checked into our hotel for a short swim before heading downtown to the Route 66 Malt Shop. Our waitress, Dawn brought us hot shoestring fries, juicy burgers, spicy homemade root beer - and for me, the green chile cheeseburger, which may be the only kind of burger I will ever eat again. Kooka said it was the best burger she'd ever had, and Punk even gave up the promise of dessert for a second cheeseburger. It was that good.