Monday, June 30, 2014

day 2: iowa to nebraska

We haven't given ourselves much time to get to California, so after a quick breakfast at the hotel, we were back on the road by 8 am. We were returning to a place that Punk and Kooka have dreamed about for the past six years, a place that they have begged to see again, a place that they both insist should be on everybody's bucket list:

Omaha, Nebraska.

It's not the corn, or the sweeping prairies, or the never ending tornado watches that has the clamoring for more, no, it is the simultaneous splendor and terror that is The Henry Doorly Zoo. If you've ever been, then you know what I'm taking about. If you haven't, then forget what you think you know about zoos - seriously, forget it. Henry Doorly is the most bad-ass zoo you'll ever see. From the moment you walk in, you have the feeling that you're not alone - because you aren't.

It's the only zoo we've ever been to that has signs up apologizing for having the occasional fence (because god-forbid there should be a barrier between humans and wild, sometimes venomous animals). The scarlet macaws fly free, as do the giant fruit bats. Don't get too close to the signs, because sometimes they are simply directions to look up, reach into a crevice or watch your step, whereupon you'll find a large spider, a bevy of bats, a pissed-off peacock, a sloth within arms reach, you name it it's there, and it's less contained than you'd expect.

The Lied Jungle allows you to sit right down in the Asian ponds and make friends with the spotted sting rays. Hell, you could probably put one in your backpack and take it home if you want, this is the Henry F-ing Doorly Zoo after all.

We don't even know how deep the "bottomless" pool is, we just know there's no gate to keep your stroller or three-year old, from tumbling into it.

We weren't sure what type of plant has two-inch thorns growing from it, we just know that it appears right at eye level with no warning in the desert dome.

Walking across the boardwalks in swampland, you're greeted by seven foot gators, hissing manically an inch from your toes, separated by only plastic netting and a four-foot high metal fence. It's not enough to keep out a curious pre-schooler, but the hissing was enough to keep most of us (except for Punk) at a distance. All I could think about is that in case of another tornado, this was supposedly the safest place to duck and cover. The though of huddling in the dark with a dozen large gators, several possums, snakes and an undisclosed number of bats, while high speed winds destroyed what little barriers there were between us, was enough to send me heading for the butterfly garden. Better to be cut to ribbons by flying glass than devoured in the dark by a thousand vampire bats.

The icing on the cake was watching not one, not two, but three zoo employees chasing god-knows what with a 5-foot pincher claw, a net, and a broom. The best part isn't that they were frantically chasing something near the food cart, it's the fact that after about ten minutes, they GAVE UP - just shrugged their shoulders and all walked away like, "screw it, this is the Henry Doorly Zoo."

And despite the fact that these may sound like complaints, these are all of the reasons we love this place. It looks and feels like you are walking through the jungles, the desert, the swamp, a'la Steve Irwin. We only had hours, but this is easily a day-long adventure, just maybe not for the squeamish, or people that freak out when bats dive-bomb their heads.
For tonight we are chilling out with a bucket of fried chicken at the Comfort Inn in the cowboy capital of the world - Ogallala, Nebraska. We haven't seen a cowboy yet, or a horse for that matter, but we have over a thousand miles left, and we're patient.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

day 1: minnesota to iowa

Ahhhh Iowa. This state has been the bane of our road-tripping existence for as long as we've been doing this. Then again, as Rico says, "We've chosen to live in Minnesota, we have to get out somehow." So basically, we endure Iowa to get to the rest of the world.

The day started with house sitters and dog sitters and packing and repacking. Punk, Kooka and I are coming off of three weeks of camps and workshops, so I feel much less organized than usual. We've literally been running from one thing to another. As a matter of fact, the first stop on this trip was picking up Punk after ten days of acting camp. He starred as "Claude" in a remake of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," performed a musical selection from "Guys and Dolls" and played a Russian guard in a combat performance. 

The show was longer than we anticipated, which put us a little off schedule, which would have been fine, if not for Iowa.

Seriously, it's always something with this place - construction, unidentifiable aromas wafting into the van, the sheer "nothing-to-do-ness" of the place, crashing Buddy Holly's plane and today - tornadoes.

Yep, after a stop at the Albert Lea truck-stop McDonald's for dinner (a road trip tradition that I would happily relegate to "back-in-the-day" status), 

we headed into Iowa. And while I'm not usually one for having people all up in my business, I thanked heaven for big brother and the weather alerts we all received on our phones. A tornado had touched down 15 miles from Nowheresville, Iowa, and the national weather service had managed to find us - and about a dozen other people who huddled together at a rest stop until we were in the clear.

It got pretty nasty, but I will at least say this for Iowa - they own it. The rest stop was built like a nuclear fallout shelter complete with touchscreen podium with various satellite images and dollar radar animation, showing just how much danger we were facing. But no worries, because the lone employee, a woman all of 85 years and 85 pounds, saw the flash flood warnings, and calmly took two yellow "caution wet floor" sandwich boards outside.

Thirty minutes later, we were back on the road, dodging two other warnings on our way to The Wildwood Lodge in Clive, Iowa.

On the upside, Yoda saw her first ever rainbow in Iowa, which was a pretty great start to our adventure.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

road trip

It's about that time again . . . road tripping.

We'll take off as soon as we pick up Punk from acting camp, and head out for a month. We'll have updates and pictures for friends family, and whomever that one dude in Canada is that keeps stalking our blog.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

birthday week

Sometimes it seems like there is just no time to write, but if I'm going to make time, it should certainly be during birthday week.

We celebrated Kooka's birthday on the 5th, with a family dinner at Bucca's. She still had one day of school left, so we held off on inviting friends until the next day. We celebrated on Friday with a CLUE-inspired murder mystery party. Although I will not dedicate paragraphs to how much effort went into hand making invitations, writing out a murder mystery myself, creating blood stains on everything, hand-wrapping a pound of tiny potato chunks in bacon, or making sure that everyone had just the right costume - including a marijuana pipe, that we never intended to be a marijuana pipe and had to break apart just so it didn't look like I had gifted my 14 year old with his own ganja tool - I will continue to remind my eldest daughter of these things if she ever tries to crap out and buy a cake from the bakery on her own kid's birthday.

But it was quite awesome. Kooka was Miss Scarlet of course, Punk was bumbling Inspector Tweed, who led the guests through tasks, and kept the mystery building by randomly blurting out things that other people were trying to keep secret. Yoda was the completely adorable screaming maid, and Rico served as both a reporter from the London times, and a butler.  It looked something like this:

Punk on the other hand, had a a more low-key affair.  If you can count 5 guys, four pizzas, a hot tub, two liters of root beer, 36 cans of Dr. Pepper, 2 boxes of donuts, half a gallon of milk, chromcasting youtube videos, and playing "5 second rule" all night - low key.  We don't have any pictures of this.  That's a lie. We do have one, but it consists of three shirtless guys sitting at the dining room table eating donuts. It's looks like they're in a Turkish spa. I promised Punk I'd never publish it.  He'd spent the earlier part of the day volunteering to help some younger actors by playing Zazu in a children's production of the Lion King, so I'm surprised he was able to stay awake at all.

He did, however, enjoy his gift to Shrek the Musical and Smashburger the next day - which I really do have no pictures of.