Monday, July 20, 2015

saying goodbye

The worst part of birthdays is saying goodbye to the old year. Four was great. Happy 5 Yoda.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

living the dream

Punk and I got to shoot a movie with two famous actors today.  We were extras on location, so it wasn't much, but it was pretty cool watching Punk live his dream - even if it was a 14 hour day for a 5 minute shot.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

road trip 2015

It was something like this - but longer, with more stuff.  Thanks for following our adventures - for all of the texts and pictures and comments and good mojo.

Friday, July 10, 2015

show me

The Show Me State.
I'll tell you what you can show me Missouri:

A summer day without menacing wall clouds following my van all day.
A restaurant without a smoking section (the half wall dividing your Denny's is pointless, we can smell it in the parking lot).
A highway without two-hour traffic delay.
A rest stop not swarming with gnats.
Something to do on the interstate. Seriously - anything. 
A van full of people who don't feel bitter about this place being the last leg of our trip.
A clean sidewalk.
A breeze - lord have pity, just a breeze without it turning into an F5 tornado.
Something to eat besides chain restaurants.

Show me a reason to love you Missouri.
Even a reason to like you.

memphis and missouri

Not gonna lie - yesterday was a little intense.
First there was Birmingham. Then there was this warm greeting we recieved at our Memphis hotel:

"Do not go outside. If you need something a security guard will escort you."

"You mean outside of the fence?" (the 15 foot locked, steel gate enclosing the entire property)

"No. I mean don't walk outside. Period. And park over there where the security cameras can get the best view. Do not walk outside. Lotta people don't pay attention to that fence, or anything else. Lotta windows get smashed, lotta people get hurt."


We knew that Memphis was recently named the most dangerous city in America. We didn't know we'd booked our hotel at headquarters.

Regardless, the people were great and we had no problems, but since we were all a little worn out from the day, we decided to have a quick dinner, swim and head to bed.

We try to incorporate a little history into our road trips, but this is also a vacation, we don't want to cry every day. Which is why Rico and I sidelined our planned trip to the National Civil Rights Museum today. 

Located at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, the museum is probably most famous for room 306, the location of Martin Luther King Junior's assassination. We did stop at the site, which means at least one of us cried anyway.

Instead, we took our crew to Sun Records, also known as the birthplace of a Rock-n-Roll. Elvis cut his very first records here. So did Jerry Lee Lewis. Johnny Cash recorded here, as have U2, B.B. King and Maroon 5. 

Rico loved the tour. Kooka was also impressed. Punk and I thought there were too many people squished into too small of a space for too damn long while somebody talked too damn much. Yoda was firmly in our camp without the d-word.
As far as we were concerned, the 12 dollars paid off when we got to stand in Elvis' spot and rock out with his actual microphone.  We didn't play Jerry Lee Lewis' piano or U2's drums, but we could have.

Lunch was, in a word, disgusting.
There are no pictures of the completely unsanitary, fly swarming McDonalds we were forced to contend with for lunch.
You're welcome.

We've been doing this a looooooong time now, and regardless of what the travel brochures will tell you, there ain't nothin but nothin between St. Louis and Rochester. Quite frankly, there isn't much between Memphis and St. Louis either. Thank heaven for our mandatory frisbee breaks. Punk should qualify for some sort of frisbee scholarship by the time we've made it through Iowa.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

mississippi and memphis

I know I gave Alabama a lot of love.
I don't want to be unfair, so I'll just say this: 
Mississippi seems to harbor a lot of neck tattoos and vats of boiled peanuts.
Draw your own conclusions.

We landed in Memphis for the night.
No Beale Street for us tonight, just a trip to Gus's for southern fried chicken, pecan pie, and fried green tomatoes.

One of us can't wait to get home. The rest of us hate this race to the finish.

better than I remembered


It's not like my new Nashville or anything, but until today I had sort of written this place off.

Sure the dragonflies are plentiful and the size of small birds, the millipedes are still Jurassic size, and it feels like living inside of the sun, but there is a lot here to love.

Let's start with the Waffle Houses. You can't drive five miles without stumbling across one, and if I could live on Texas Toast egg melt sandwiches for the rest of my life, I'd swear off Chipotle in an Alabama second.

Then there is this chick:

Sometimes our road trips make me feel like a time traveler. History gets to me - it happens every time - on the Gettysburg battlefield, the bathroom in Graceland, dinosaur trackway, the Ford Theater, everything shuts down and it's like I'm there, caught in that moment on the very spot where it happened. This was exactly the same. Standing at Rosa Parks bus stop in Montgomery, Alabama, with tears rolling down my face, I felt her exhaustion, her resolve, the unfairness of it all. 

Rico said, "Why the tears? Is it just knowing that people could be so brave?"

"No. It's knowing that people could be so terrible to each other."

I'm sort of a pacifist. I've always admired people who stood up for what is right, not by shouting or fighting, or peppering Facebook with hashtags, but by standing, or in this case - sitting, with grace and dignity in a way that implores people to listen, to see the real humanity in everyone. It's still what I hope will save us all.

But Alabama has some recently cool stuff as well.

The Roadtrippers ap has been a huge help to us this time around, and today it led us to an unexpected treasure. The movie/broadway musical, Big Fish has always reminded me of my dad, and the film set is still standing on Jackson Lake Island on the Alabama River. Since Tim Burton is Punk's favorite movie director, we couldn't pass up the chance to explore a real Burton set, even if it is a ghost town inhabited by wild goats.

The fictional town of Spectre has seen better days - the film is 20 years old and the set, which looks authentic, was actually contructed of plywood and foam. But several of the buildings are still standing. 
Our favorites were the church, some of the enchanted forest, and the line of shoes hanging above the trees.

 The island is private property, so you have to call to have the gate opened, and pay a small touring fee. Apparently Tim Burton didn't want to dismantle the town of Spectre, so he paid the owners to allow him to leave it up. Yoda loved sharing her puff corn with the outgoing leader of the wild goat gang. I was cool with that, because I'm pretty sure goats aren't the only thing living on this island, and I was counting on his stamping hooves to keep the cottonmouths away.

Our lunch stop was Sneaky Pete's in Birmingham for hot dogs and Grapico drink (a southern classic, which Punk recommends and I do not). I can, however vouch for the chili cheese dogs and seasoned fries - excellent.

We took a walk through Kelly Ingram Park, which was the site of the children's protests in 1963. When Birmingham Public Safety Comissioner Bull Connor ordered 200 black children to be jailed for skipping school, 1000 more children showed up in protest at Kelly Ingram Park. Since the jail was already full, Connor ordered firefighters to unleash attack dogs and full pressure fire hoses on the children! Who continued to stand their ground. Statues throughout the park commemorate these moments in civil rights history. The cell phone guided your points out specific areas of the park, as well as the 16th street Baptist Church where the KKK killed four young girls when bombing the church. 

Would I recommend Kelly Ingram Park? No, not unless you want to think about the worst things that humanity can do to each other. Should everybody go? 
Everyone should see, so they will never be blind to it.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is across the street from the park, and was our final stop in Alabama. Our tour group included a black woman who'd grown up in the Deep South. She lived it. "Lord, I remember that too well," she said as we passed by the separate but "equal" drinking fountains. 
She turned her head away at the KKK robes and said, "It's too real."

"Did you live this?" Rico asked her.
"More times than you can imagine."
They held hands for a moment before we moved on.

Yoda asked why this place is sad. I showed her the white kids school room versus the black kids school rooms. 
"Wow, those rooms are small," she said, "and neither of them have markers, iPads, or toys. They're both bad."

Rather than try to explain her daddy's inferior third grade education, I put it ths way, "OK, remember when we went to Disneyworld?"


"Remember how much you wanted to meet Elsa and Anna?"


"What if, when we got there, the workers said, 'Sorry, but little girls with brown hair and brown eyes can't meet the princesses, only girls with blonde hair and blue eyes like Kooka."

"It wouldn't be fair. It would be mean. I would feel really sad." She paused and looked at the drinking fountains with new eyes. "I'll bet those people felt really sad."

Me too.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

home stretch

Well, today's whole entry was somehow magically erased . . . .
Since it's bedtime and we still have no hotel for tomorrow, I will sum it up like this:
Lightning storms
Lion King
Baby rhinos
Frank and Sharon
Uncle Marty
Waffle House

Monday, July 6, 2015

day 8,9

It's cousin's day - or week- or something like that.

Though only one of the six has a birthday this week, they were all born within a two-month radius, so we celebrate once for everyone.

This year's celebration brought us to the Westgate Resort in Orlando.

It sounds fancy, but don't be deceived. Sure there are swan shaped paddleboats, swimming pools, and dinosaur-themed mini golf courses, but the triceratops hasn't seen a dermatologist in decades, and there are two lifeguards manning a pool area filled with over 500 people.

Ooooh, I forgot the best part - for only 8 bucks a crack, you too can get foot-long piece of twine and seven plastic beads during arts and craft time. Elisa will walk by your table and say, "you gonna use all of those beads, or can I put them back in the bucket yet?" After that you'll be the proud owner of a hand-crafted surfer's necklace.


But who cares. The company is fantastic, the twin cousins are having a ball at the watermark, the mini cousins are having a ball just holding hands wherever they go, and the boy cousins enjoy knocking back sodas, playing games and sarcastic comments with Uncle D.

Lunch day was at T-Rex cafe in downtown Disney, where a food fight may have been started by someone over 40. The first shot was whipped cream in Kooka's hair, and the offender may have ended up with caramel drizzle all over his football jersey.

We couldn't say goodbye until we checked out the Lego Store, took a few more pictures and everyone made a wish with pixie dust - yes everyone.

worth it

Two days ago, we received a call that Punk was cast in a small, but featured role in a movie.

Today at Disneyworld, both he and Kooka were cast in another project.

Needless to say, we can't get back in time to shoot, and all three offers had to be declined.

Me; "Well, what do you guys think? Is it still worth it to go on long road trips?"

Yoda: "Um yeahhhhh. Anna said she loves my pigtails. It is totally worth it."

Friday, July 3, 2015

day 8

Two words - sand fleas.
Three more words - WTH?

I researched the crap out of every place on this trip, and not once did Trip Advisor show me this:

Watch Your @$$, Or It'll Be Covered With Flea Bites
I loved our stay at Sanibel Suites. It was so much fun to paddle board and watch the sunset over the surf, while Miguel served me giant margaritas. Too bad I had to head home to Dubuque looking like an unvaccinated smallpox victim. #paradise #bennadryl #hopethesescarsdontshowoninstagram.

I didn't even know sand fleas existed. 
I still can't figure out why.
What the hell is so delicious out in the sand, that fleas feel the need to congregate there in the first place? Fish don't get fleas. Crabs don't get fleas. It's like they're just sitting there waiting for tourists.
I'll spare you photos, because the only thing worse than plague-like, white hot welts cropping up on your legs, is pictures of plague-like, white-hot welts cropping up on somebody else's legs.

Thankfully, only Kooka and I seemed to be of interest to the little blood suckers, and once we got to Orlando, Aunt C, shared her prescription strength something-or-other that seemed to cool the burn.

The evening was filled with games and cousins and dinner together and trips to the arcade, and sleepovers - things we'd do much more often, if we weren't half a country away.

(Full disclosure - our hotel was not Sanibel Suites, I didn't want our lovely seaside resort to get blamed for this vile pestilence.)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

sanibel love

One of our kids loves the ocean. 
One of our kids loves the beach.
One of our kids loves the air conditioning.

Regardless, we all got up this morning and enjoyed the island before things got too toasty.  Punk and Yoda took a dip in the pool, Kooka and I searched for shells and took a morning kayak trip, Rico mastered the paddle board in one try. (Yeah, he really did. But I still love yesterday's pictures).

We had just enough time to dry off and grab a slice of leftover pizza, before heading to the marina for our tour on the Sanibel Thriller. The Thriller is a large speedboat that circumnavigates the entire island for a two hour tour - a two hour tour.

Seeing as my seat mate was basically Gilligan in a Mickey Mouse hat, Rico's repeated renditions of, "If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Thriller would be lost . . ." started to rustle my jimmies. Looking around, I was clearly the "Professor" in this adventure. I mean, if anybody was going to be charged with rebuilding our motor out of two scallop shells and a coconut, it was either up to me or pod of dolphins following us.

Which brings me to:

(Insert sound of angels singing) 
Dolphins. So many dolphins.
Much dolphin.
Such happy.
Much wow.

Yoda loved the babies and the waves that lulled her to sleep.
Punk loved the loud music on the boat.
Kooka and I loved the salty spray in our faces and the fact that, in case we haven't mentioned it, there were freaking dolphins!!!

Rico picked us up at the dock and we headed out for an early dinner at Cheeburger Cheeburger. He's sort of a food genius and never disappoints. Cheeburger allows you to choose from over 40 free toppings, and has over 1 million choices of milkshakes. 1 MILLION! Plus, they have loaded chili fries that look like this:

This place just keeps getting better.
Rico, Yoda, Kooka and I headed back to the beach to build bug houses and shoot some dance-y pictures, while Punk caught up on some sketches and Fresh Prince re-runs in the room.

After a quick swim, Rico and I got to take a long walk on the beach. 

There are no lights on Sanibel beach due to sea turtle nesting season, so I did manage to get us a liiiiiiiiitttttle bit lost on our way back.  Bit it was worth it. Everything here is worth it, even getting lost.