Category Archives: Travel

Pizza? Bedtimes? Whatevs, We’re on VACAY!!!

As you could tell from my latest posts, we’re on vacation. What started this 1,000+ mile tour de Midwest was my family reunion in Kansas City, Mo. I delegated to my husband to plan our trip. Next thing I know, a long weekend away turned into an eight-day adventure.

The boys outside Cracker Barrel.

But I’m not complaining, this escape from everyday is fun. I’ve spent much of the trip in the back seat between my boys. Not to mention all of the people who have seen my boobs by now. (Truckers along I-70, the old man at Cracker Barrel and Mizzou college students: You’re welcome.)

We left last Thursday and stayed the night at my best friend’s house in suburban St. Louis. Then we had lunch with my niece in Columbia, Mo. and moved on to Kansas City. After a few days there, we spent three days in Columbia. Hubby and I met at the University of Missouri, so we visited our old haunts, and bored Logan with stories of our youth.

Now we’re in St. Louis and will be here for a total of 3 days. The kids are totally off their schedules. We all go to bed around 11 p.m. (some nights as late as 1 a.m.!) and we have been getting up late in the morning. But we haven’t been stressing, just saying “hey, we’re on vacation!”

Same thing with eating. Pulled-pork sandwiches? Sure! We’re on vacation! Pizza? Yep! We’re on vacation! Dessert anyone? Uh-huh, we’re on vacation!

I’ll worry about getting the kids back on schedule and the excess calories later. I can’t think about it now, I’m still on vacation.

A Family Reunion: Laughs, Dancing and A Lot of Love

Ahhhh family reunions. Meeting new cousins, listening to stories about your parents/aunts/uncles and older people asking you “do you remember me?” The answer is always no and I never know how to politely say that.

I had my 96th Annual Tyler Family Reunion in Kansas City, Mo. last weekend. I can’t remember the last reunion I attended. Each year it’s in a different city, always on the Fourth of July weekend and it draws people from coast to coast. This year I thought that since it’s in Kansas City, about two hours from my hometown, let’s go!

It was Hubby’s first experience at a black family reunion, well any family reunion. (It’s not so popular to do those in Norway.) More than 200 people registered for ours and while walking through the Westin Hotel, if you saw someone black, we’d wonder, “Am I related to you?”

Logan was excited to meet new cousins because kids at his school have grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who live near them, but he’s noticed that he doesn’t. After the interesting drive to Kansas City, we got settled and connected with my uncle because his grandkids were staying in his room and the youngest was Logan’s age.

Shortly after walking in their hotel room, we hung out with those three kids and I fell in love with them. Two girls and one boy, between the ages of  7 and 4. There’s a total of five of them, but the two older girls were off hanging with the other teenagers.

With the 7-year-old, I tried my new thing of talking to young girls about subjects other than their looks. I got the idea from a piece on the Huffington Post about not talking to girls about how pretty they are, but for their thoughts and accomplishments. This was a rewarding venture that led to the 7-year-old reading One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. I’ll always cherish that moment.

I’ll also cherish spending time in the hospitality suite with my aunt, grandma and an older cousin. I talked about how it was a tough transition from career woman to motherhood. They nodded and smiled. I talked about my current work situation and the challenge of balancing family and a career that I love. They nodded and smiled wider. They looked at me like I was a teenager talking about teen angst. Listening compassionately, but with a look of “This too shall pass.” I didn’t find it patronizing, but it was comforting.

Some of the lighter moments include taking Logan to the dance, where my boy worked it out so hard, he got into a dance-off with another kid and my mom went upstairs to give him a change of clothes because he sweat through his outfit.

At the same party, there was another dance-off that would put Step Up 2 to shame. My favorite move was when a girl jumped in the air and looked like she was firing a shotgun, kickback included. Then a woman entered the ring who was in her early 60s? (Hard to tell with us, black don’t crack…) and she schooled all the young dancers. It was amazing.

The whole weekend was fun. My husband’s favorite part was looking around at the family picnic and just taking in that everyone who you see is a part of your family. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Wordless Wednesday: A Big Tree

Big Tree in McBaine, Mo.

This large bur oak is believed to date back to 1660. It stands 90 feet tall and its impressive canopy spans 130 feet. It’s considered one of the largest and oldest trees in Missouri and though it’s survived a 9 foot flood, a tornado, drought and lightning strikes, it is dying. Arborists have been working to slow the death of Big Tree.

Trying Not To Kill My Child On Our Family Road Trip

It was around mile 454 that I first had the urge to strangle my child. It was Day 2 of our weeklong family adventure on the open road. I was in the backseat, sandwiched between two car seats, my feet were perched on a carton of juice boxes and my eldest was tapping my arms.

I logged many miles sitting in this seat between my two boys.

Incessantly tapping.

On the surface, tapping someone on their upper arms doesn’t seem so bad. Then 30 tappity-tap-tap-filled minutes go by and I start to wonder if my husband would mind if I break our no-hitting policy. (We don’t spank.) Tap tap.

Then I wondered how much time I’d serve for wrapping my fingers around his scrawny neck. Tap. Tap. Tap.

I threatened to take away his iPod and put him in time out. As the words left my lips, I knew it was an empty threat. Tappy-tap-tap.

The whole reason I was back there was to keep my overtired 6 month old from shrieking. (T-t-t-t-taaaap.) Following through on either threat meant that we’d soon have two screaming banshees in the backseat as we torpedoed down Interstate 70. That, tap, also was not a sustainable option.

Yet there I sat trapped like a caged rat, in the back trying not to kill my son.

“I have an unwarranted amount of rage right now.” I told my husband. He laughed. His son tapped.

“C’mon. You pride yourself on creative parenting solutions. Come up with one!” A little voice in my head said.

“Why do you want to tap my arm when you know I don’t like it?” I asked in the fakest nice voice that I have. (It was either that or hissing through clenched teeth.)

“Because your armies are so softy and I love to touch them.” (He calls my arms “armies” and is always petting, kissing or, as in this case, tapping them.)

I sighed. Then asked him if he could rub my arms instead since I liked it when he did that. “If you don’t want to rub them, then I’ll go sit up by Dad where you won’t be able to touch them.”

The tap-tap-tapping stopped, he kissed my arm and slowly stroked my bicep. We both smiled. I was still cramped in the back seat and my feet remained atop the carton of juice boxes, but at least I was no longer plotting my child’s death.

Wordless Wednesday: The Fountain of Youth

My husband and I just revisited this yummy well this weekend. We call it the fountain of youth because it’s soooo good. Even better, it’s free and all natural.

This is called the Flowing Well. Adam Channing hand dug the well to 55 feet deep in 1895 and it’s been flowing steadily since. The water in this well flows from aquifers where water at a higher elevation puts pressure on the water below it causing it to flow out readily when given an outlet.

Hubby and I love tasty water. Some might say that we’re water snobs. Our favorite is Voss, followed by this well near Whitewater, Wis., next is Norwegian tap water (essentially it’s melted virgin icebergs), then Fiji water and Evian comes in fifth place. We first stumbled on this place when we went camping in the summer and we were happy to find it again, since it’s in a rural area along Clover Valley Road in Whitewater, Wis.

A Little Norwegian Help On Taking A Vacation

My husband complained to me that it’d been too long since we’d gone on vacation. I thought he was being ridiculous since we last had a weekend getaway in November. Then I remembered ah yes, it’s the Norwegian in him.

The view of Lake Como.

Hubby was born in Norway and moved here when he was 19. In his “muthaland” as he calls it, the law requires that workers have at least 25 paid vacation days and there’s 10 public holidays.

In the U.S., employers are not required to provide any paid vacation and usually large companies allow for 15 vacation days and 10 paid holidays, according to Mercer Human Resource Consulting. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the U.S. was dead last when it comes to the world’s richest countries. Twenty of the richest countries require companies to provide paid vacation days. Not ours.

I don’t mean to bore you with statistics, but wanted to give some perspective on our different viewpoints. Our trip in November was the last hurrah as a family of three and my seven-month-pregnant-self rocked a bikini at a waterpark in Lake Geneva, Wis. (Me to hubby: “You can tell I’m pregnant and not fat right? <insert eye roll.>)

This past weekend we went back to Lake Geneva. We like the area because it’s close to our home, yet the culture is so different that it truly feels like a getaway.

Our cabin at Duffy's.

This time we returned to a privately owned batch of cottages steps away from Lake Como. It’s called Duffy’s and Hubby and I were excited to go back because we had a great time there with Logan two years ago, plus across the street from the cottages is Duffy’s pub, so being the lushes that we are, we were happy not to have a designated driver.

We left on Friday early afternoon and came back Monday afternoon. We didn’t do anything fancy, but we enjoyed ourselves. We grilled yummy grub, went on walks, stayed up late, played board games with Logan, and after the boys were down Hubby and I talked.

It felt so good just to talk about nothing with him. We’re so rushed with responsibilities and pressed for time that our conversations can seem task-oriented and feel more like a business meeting. “I’m working late on Wednesday and Thursday this week.” “I’m going to the store, what do you need?” “The bathroom sink is wonky again.” “It’s time for an oil change.” “Logan has soccer on Saturday…”

And it was a good vacation. We got away from our To Do lists, focused on our family and we’re all better for it. We all recognize the importance of getting away, but all of us can’t, won’t or just plain don’t do it. I’m glad I’ve got a Norwegian to help me to stop and enjoy life.

My New Year’s Resolution: A Chicago Bucket List

Each year I make a New Year’s resolution and as I’ve said before, I take it quite seriously and pride myself on not breaking it. For 2010 I did Christine Kane’s exercise of picking a word that’s your theme for the entire year. Mine was reclaim and I loved it.

I figure I’ve got too many life-changing adjustments to make in 2011 with the new baby, six months of maternity leave and other things to adequately pick a theme for the entire year. So I chose to make a bucket list of Chicago sites that I want to visit this year.

For the record, I’m not dying or anything like that, I just think living in such a fantastic city, it’s easy to take for granted all the great experiences at our fingertips. I want to make a focused effort on hitting up some Chicago favorites.

My list consists of some personal faves and other ideas were gleaned from my friends who told me about what they love to do in the city. I consider my friends to be fun, smart and pretty damn cool but unpretentious, so I added the rest of their suggestions at the bottom of my bucket list in case you’re curious.

  • Millennium Park. I want to come here on a warm summer day, let Logan splash around in the oversized television fountains and enjoy the rest the park has to offer.
  • Art Institute of Chicago and Museum of Contemporary Art. Spend the morning at the Art Institute, my favorite Chicago museum, then have lunch at the MCA and tour the exhibits.
  • Take the family to the beach. Logan loves the water and this would be a guaranteed great time.
  • Go to a sing-a-long movie at The Music Box Theatre. I’ve always wanted to do this, but never have. I’ve lived here since 2001, it’s time.
  • Run the Chicago Half Marathon. Chicago is a great racing city, the running community here is so supportive, it’s amazing. I am a novice runner, but one year my New Year’s resolution was to run a marathon and the support I received from running friends and strangers was stupendous. Besides having children and getting married, the marathon was the third best event of my life. I don’t feel committed enough to carve time for a full, so the half is much more manageable.
  • Afternoon tea at the Drake. I never considered myself an afternoon tea kind of gal, after all I don’t even like tea. I recently went to a baby shower that was afternoon tea at the Peninsula and had a wonderful time, I want to duplicate the experience.
  • Lyric Opera House. I’m 33 years old and I’ve never seen an opera, but I work across the street from the opera house. I’m long overdue. I even know what dress I’ll wear, it’s a vintage black dress that I’ve nicknamed “Jackie” after Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and we bought it at a Michigan boutique, though it was handmade in Evanston, Ill. in the early 1960s.
  • Dim Sum in Chinatown. It’s been five years since I’ve done this. Again, long overdue.
  • Second City. I’ve seen a fair amount of live theater and comedic troupes while here, but I’d like to go to Second City downtown. The troupes in the suburbs that I’ve seen have been great, but I’d like to go to the heart of the storied institution.
  • Dessert at Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center. I used to go here after dinner with girlfriends or when visitors were in town. Hubby and I need a night out where we end our evening about 1,040 feet above the city. (As a side note, clearly these are *the* best bathrooms in the city where opposite of the stalls is a glass wall with a spectacular view.)
  • Garfield Park Conservatory. I’ve never been here, but have heard how it’s so beautiful with its six large greenhouses and two grand exhibition halls. Parts of it are very ornate as it’s 100 years old and on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Cubs game. Sure they’re losers, but it’s always fun to give Wrigley Field some love.

Favorites from my friends:

  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Children’s Museum on Navy Pier
  • Chicago Architectural tour
  • The DuSable Museum
  • Gourmet restaurants
  • The Polish American Museum of History
  • Eating the best Mexican food ever in the Pilsen neighborhood
  • Eating the best soul food ever at Army & Lous or Pearl’s Place on the South Side
  • Dancing under the stars in Grant Park
  • Jokes and Notes Comedy Club
  • The Backroom Jazz Club
  • Lucky Strike
  • Green Farmers Market in Lincoln Park
  • Walking through Michigan Avenue shopping area with hot coffee on early summer morning
  • Walking through any Chicago park after a snow fall
  • St. Patrick’s Day Parade on the South Side
  • Coffee/pastries and/or sandwiches at Pastoral or Julius Meinl
  • Browsing books and wine at The Book Cellar
  • Find great half-price shows on Chicago theater web sites

*Updated to note that unfortunately Army & Lou’s recently closed, check out the article here. Also one of my smart readers pointed out that the South Side parade was canceled because it got too rowdy.

Because You’re Worth It

I blogged a couple weeks ago about going on a babymoon and how great it is to get one in before your child is born. I was bound and determined to go on that last vacation as a family of three and it seemed like destiny was equally bound and determined not to let it happen.

Story time at Timber Ridge Lodge

First Hubby and I had trouble finding a weekend that worked for us, he was traveling and I had my own work schedule conflicts. Once we settled on a date, all of my friends decided to do something fun that weekend.

A good friend from Philly was visiting Chicago, a great gal pal was having a birthday party and my best friend who lives in suburban St. Louis was coming to town. I wanted to cancel our babymoon.

Then Logan got sick. So sick he stayed home from daycare for two days, which *never* happens. My kid’s hacking up a lung, has a fever and I really wanted to cancel our babymoon.

Finally, it became clear that I’d have to work late on the Friday that we’d planned to leave. I proclaimed our babymoon was cancelled.

But we never picked up the phone to scrap our reservations. Largely because deep down we knew that we needed a break. We needed to hit the pause button on our crazy lives so we could catch our breath and for us that’s not possible unless you get out of Dodge.

Nevertheless I kept telling myself it was a mistake not to break our babymoon.

Friday night came and I was running even later than anticipated. After racing home, rushing through dinner and finishing off the packing, I was wound so tightly that I didn’t want to go anywhere except for bed. But I stuck with it, we were having this babymoon.

After an hour’s drive to Lake Geneva, Wis., we got to the Timber Ridge Lodge and Waterpark at 10 p.m. and Logan thought it was the greatest adventure ever. He was bouncing off the walls, the couch, the bed, everything. Finally, he passed out on the bed, Hubby went to the store to fill the suite’s kitchen and I sat on the couch as I felt the stresses of the day melt away.

The next day, we had a blast at the waterpark, spent some time in the cozy downtown area and enjoyed story time in our PJs in the hotel’s lobby with about 50 other kids. I even got a few hours of peace and quiet alone in the bedroom and that was heaven.

All in all it was a tough road to get to our babymoon, but the biggest hurdle was in my mind. And that’s how it is for many of us, we have to push ourselves hard to take time to get away. Often we decide there’s just too many other things that need taking care of, so we neglect ourselves.

Honestly, that weekend the laundry didn’t get washed, the grocery shopping wasn’t done and the house wasn’t picked up. Yet we came back feeling more rested, ready for the upcoming week and even a little closer as a family.

I’m so glad we took a break to be with just each other and I blog about this since I’m hopeful you will do the same for you and yours because you’re worth it.

Expecting a Little One? It Must Be Time For a BabyMoon

We’re going on a babymoon. “A wha?” you may ask. A babymoon, you know kinda like a honeymoon but you do it before the baby arrives. It’s so you can have one last hurrah before life as you know it drastically changes.

On a bicycle built for two in Door County, Wis.

When I was pregnant with Logan we had one, well two actually, but those where in different economic times. We couldn’t agree on what to do, Hubby wanted to do a road trip in the two-seater. I wanted to lie on a beach, which was tricky because I also didn’t want to be the beached whale surrounded by a bunch of hot sexy bods.

We took a five-hour road trip to beautiful Door County, Wis. We had a cabin a stone’s throw from Sister Bay and it was great, the cell phone coverage was just enough to eek out a 911 call if we needed it and that was it. So very relaxing. Weeks later, we hopped on a plane to Richmond, Va., rented a car, drove down the coast to Kill Devil Hills, N.C., where we rented a condo. Now *that* was wonderful, fresh seafood, walks on the beach, quiet small town. The whole nine. I remember being excited to lie on my belly again because I dug a hole in the sand for my basketball and napped.

On the beach in Kill Devil Hills, N.C.

Now that we’re preggo again, naturally we want to do another “last hurrah” before Bean arrives. Nevermind the other trips we’ve taken lately, oh no, for some reason in my Hubby and mine’s crazy minds, those didn’t count. Camping Trip No. 1 was his idea, Camping Trip No. 2 was my idea to make up for Camping Trip No. 1. And the recent visiting of family and friends in other states didn’t count either.

This trip has to be a trip just for the family for the expressed purpose of being together as a family of three. I know, I know, we get to be a family of three every day, but not someplace *else* where there’s no errands to run, phone calls and emails to return, other mind-numbing responsibilities…

What can I say? My Hubby and I have always been the work hard/play hard kind of people and I’m determined not to let my kids slow us down too much. Besides, Logan seems to love our adventures.

And honestly I’m not really sure that our next trip constitutes “playing hard” as we decided to take a swing up to the lovely, family friendly Wisconsin Dells. To the very same hotel/water park that Hubby took us after Camping Trip No. 1. But I’m excited, the place is great, the suites are awesome, I’m going to go to the spa, they deliver yummy food to your room, there’s fun activities in the area, the water park is a blast and the people who are there aren’t shaped like Hollywood starlets so I don’t mind rockin my bikini with my big ol’ belly.

You don’t hear people talking about babymoons like you used to, again, it’s the economy stupid, but the want is still there. Before, there were chats of trips to Europe, Club Med, short cruises. Now, if moms and dads take a babymoon, it’s more modest: indoor water parks, a couple nights at a nearby hotel, having grandma come over so mom and dad can spend a night away. All of this is totally fine, I’m always going to advocate that people take a break from their daily grind to simply enjoy life a bit more. It creates new memories, strengthens bonds and helps you keep focused on what’s really important: each other.

Keeping The Door Open On The Wonder Years

Teenagers. I gotta admit, I’m not a fan of them. I didn’t always care for them when I was a teenager and now that I’m grown, I find the ones in my neighborhood annoying. They clog my Panera and Starbucks, fester in my mall, and let’s not forget the string of stupid comments they spew during the movies.

Sheesh, I’m getting old and cranky.

My niece and nephew

But I’ve got a niece and nephew who are very, very close to me. My niece is the one we visited as she’s a freshman at the University of Missouri (M-I-Z!!!) and my nephew is 16 going on 17. Sure they have the same teenage traits as the other teens I don’t like, but to me, in them, it’s endearing. Maybe it’s because I love them so fiercely.

Each year we try to plan a trip for them to visit us in Chicago, now that they’re older, they’ve started to come separately and last weekend was my nephew’s first trip solo to Chi-city. I admit I was anxious because I really wanted him to have a fun time and it was important to me that we connect and have honest conversations because I always want them to know that they can come to me for whatever and I’ll be there for them.

But how do you reach out to a teen? Get them to trust you? For me, I’ve just tried to be there, which is hard hundreds of miles away. I talk about my frustrations, my hopes, my fears, my mistakes, thinking that in sharing more of myself with them, they will in turn do the same with me. Is that the right thing? I don’t know, but it’s what I’ve tried to do. And it’s so much easier just being me than trying to show that I’m “perfect.”

Besides, I can only imagine what it’s like being a teenager these days, the hypersexuality of everything, the constant cliques, which can only be exacerbated by Facebook and texting, the normalizing of drug and alcohol use, not to mention just general pressures of life. No way would I want to be a teen now.

One of my mommyfriends loves teenagers, finds their still-evolving minds interesting and their viewpoints of the world refreshing. Before my nephew came, I decided to try to see the world through teen-colored goggles.

While he was here, we had a blast. He spent a half a day at Shedd Aquarium’s Trainer for A Day program, where he worked with dolphins, sea otters, penguins and beluga whales. The worst part? He said it was handling the dead squid for the mammal’s lunch. Best part? Petting the dolphins. He also spent the day with Hubby at Northwestern’s homecoming, where at the alumni tailgating party he said it was interesting to hear all the guys talk about life at their jobs. We also took him out to Indian food, where he thought the food tasted good but the music was weird. 🙂

And for me the best part of the whole visit was that he opened up. We did talk like I had hoped and I felt so lucky to be let in. I’m already looking forward to next year’s trip.