Foodmobiles

It’s no secret…I love cars shaped like food!

There’s the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, the Planters Nutmobile, the Hershey Kissmobile, and some lesser known ones…the Cadbury Creme Egg Car, the Pepperidge Farm Goldfish car, the Big Idaho Potato truck, and even a truck shaped like a can of Spam. It’s true!

I’m fascinated by them. Yes, I’m way too old for that nonsense, but I love automobiles shaped like food.

I thought about it again earlier today when I saw the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile had been in Charlotte this week, and I missed it. I still can’t believe it, but I have to let it go. It’s done. I’ve seen the Weinermobile before, but it has been a long time. It was late 1989 or early 1990, and I was fresh out of college and living in the Atlanta area. One morning, as I left my apartment, I noticed a new Wendy’s was opening across the street…and then I saw it…the Weinermobile! It was parked in the Wendy’s parking lot, just beckoning for me to come over and have a hot dog! Alas, I had to get to work, so I didn’t actually “meet” the Weinermobile, but I plan to meet it someday! You can see the Weinermobile website here , and there’s an app you can download too!

In 2016, I had an encounter with the Hershey Kissmobile. I did a fun road trip with my friend, Sara, and our daughters, and our last stop was in Hershey, Pennsylvania, before heading home. We were staying at a hotel that was not a Hershey property, but as we drove to Hershey Park, we spotted something special parked near our hotel…the Kissmobile! There were no drivers around, so our interaction with the Kissmobile was not very ceremonious, but we had a great time getting photos!

My most recent food-shaped automobile encounter occurred earlier this year. I was having lunch with some friends at a restaurant in the SouthPark area of Charlotte, and suddenly, I saw it…the Planters Nutmobile was driving slowly past the restaurant. Fortunately, we had a seat near a window, so I could see it in all its beauty. As I realized what was approaching, I said to my friends, “Oh my goodness! It’s like a dream come true!” I’m sure they thought I had lost my mind, and I refrained from running out the door and chasing down the Nutmobile on foot…but it wasn’t easy. After another half hour or so, we left, but as I was leaving the parking lot of the restaurant, the same Nutmobile drove right past…right in front of me! I made a quick right turn and fell in behind it…following it into a shopping center…around the back of the shopping center…past the dumpsters…and finally, it parked beside a store. I think the drivers were just looking for a place to have lunch, but I jumped out of my car and took a selfie with the Nutmobile, and then one of the drivers offered to take a picture of me. And of course, I promptly uploaded the pics to Instagram, knowing my teenage daughter would be mortified when she opened her Instagram account after school and saw that I had stalked the Nutmobile.

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So now I’m on a quest to get photos with as many food-shaped automobiles as possible. Lucky for me, the Big Idaho Potato Truck has a tour schedule online, and I see they are going to be in Hickory, NC, on August 20. Guess I’ll be getting ready for a quick roadtrip! You can see the schedule here.

It looks like I’ve already missed the Spam Tiny House of Sizzle tour for this year…they were in Lexington, NC, in May. You can see their schedule here. I’ll have to remember to check that one next spring.

As of right now, I haven’t been able to find any websites or social media sites for the Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Car or the Cadbury Creme Egg Car, but I’ll keep looking!

Hopefully, I’ll get some more good photo opportunities with food-shaped automobiles.

 

 

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The Perfect Christmas

Ahhh…the perfect Christmas.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, my friends.

What some consider “perfect” is completely different than what I consider perfect. Perfect family gatherings like we see in Hallmark movies? I’ll pass…they rarely measure up to the “perfection” they are meant to be. I’d rather gather with my family, friends, and neighbors over games and laughter, in comfortable clothing, with fifteen different conversations going on at the same time. I’m sure most of America disagrees with me, but apparently, I’m not like most of America.

My husband thinks I’m crazy every year at the holidays, but he goes along with me. I’m not into the “perfect” Christmas. I’m into the fun Christmas. Fun stuff to do. I’m not the person who has perfect bows hung on perfect chandeliers, perfect garland on the banister, mistletoe hung in the perfect spot, or fresh poinsettias perfectly placed all over my home. I’m not the person who prepares the perfect meal. I just don’t have the time or energy for that.

Today, we were watching football and talking, and my husband asked me why I like to do the fun/funny Christmas.

I had to think about that for a moment. And then, I answered, “I don’t do the perfect Christmas, because generally speaking, I don’t do perfect well. My strength is fun, not perfection. I do fun really well.” He looked at me, and then he laughed and said, “Well, you’re right about that!”

That tends to ring true with almost everything in my life. I don’t want to be the perfect mother…way too much pressure in that. I want to be a fun mom. That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover who lets my child run wild and unsupervised. That doesn’t mean I’m not checking up on her regularly. Our daughter is generally well-supervised, and we have a great relationship. We talk…and we talk…and we talk. But I remember fifteen, and I know fun is a lot more…well, fun. Do I strive for perfection as a mother? No. Perfection? That’s just not my strength.

Our vacations are fun. Are they perfect? Well, if they’re fun, they’re perfect for us! Do we visit every perfect museum tourists are supposed to visit when they go somewhere? Nah…we might visit one or two, but my teenager just isn’t impressed by museums. She’s impressed by fun places. She is her mother’s daughter. It doesn’t make us shallow. It’s just a different approach. I try to make sure we get a little culture on vacation, but we always want to have fun. Visit the hometown of John Mellencamp and try to find Jack and Diane’s Tastee Freeze when we’re passing through Indiana? Yep. Plan our dinners in LA and New York based on where we are likely to see a celebrity or two? Sure! Have lunch at places with gigantic mojitos and milkshakes? You bet! Struggle through a rock scramble and finish it by climbing straight up 60 feet and pulling myself out of a rocky crevice? Done that! Jump into a bioluminescent bay at night, not having any idea what the water around me looks like? Yes, I did. Climb a waterfall, including wading through murky chest-deep water? Check! Drive halfway across the country in 10 days with a friend and four kids? Yes…and we slept in a wigwam along the way! Volunteer to eat fire with the entertainment on stage? Pick me, please!

And so, I guess that’s why I go the fun route on Christmas. Maybe my love of the fun Christmas started when I was a little girl and my grandparents had aluminum Christmas trees with color wheels! I absolutely loved them…I was fascinated by them! Sure, I could be all serious now, but that’s just not who I am. I simply don’t take myself or life too seriously. My parents taught me many years ago that life is short. I remember Mother and Daddy telling me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Enjoy it.” And that’s exactly what I try to do…enjoy life.

If I’m leading a meeting of volunteers, there will be prizes at the end. Passing through a city with a great rollercoaster at a great amusement park? I’m in! Silly photo op somewhere? Get your camera!

So, if you want to drive past the perfect Christmas house, don’t drive past ours. If you want to see the perfect Christmas tree, chances are you won’t like ours. If you want to eat the perfect holiday meal, our house is not where you want to be.

But if you want to take photos with a leg lamp from A Christmas Story, come on over! If you want to see a 10.5′ inflatable Christmas elephant, visit us! If you want to dine on hamburgers, hot dogs, Cuban sandwiches, beer bread, spicy fiesta dip, buttermilk pie, and other fun food during the holidays, we’ll be happy to set a place for you. If you want to drink champagne with breakfast, drink up, baby! If you want to see our “perfect” artificial poinsettias, then we’d love to have you over. If you want to play card games on Christmas Eve or “Who’s Most Likely To…” on Christmas Day, you’re welcome at our house. Just bring a positive attitude and be ready to laugh.

Perfection is not my strength, but fun is!

 

 

 

My Favorite Holiday Gifts, Part 1: Books

Christmas is two months away. I know! I know…it’s early to be thinking about it, but there was a time in life I had all my shopping done by the end of October. Those days are behind me, I’m afraid. I haven’t purchased the first gift this year. I have, however, been looking at possible gifts for a few months, and I’ve talked with friends and family about gift ideas. Because I’ve found so many awesome things, I’ve broken them into categories that I will feature over the next week or two: Books, Apparel, Accessories, Home, Travel, Men, and Stocking Stuffers…and maybe Kids & Teens. Today is BOOKS. These are nonfiction, with the exception of one, a collection of fiction short stories. I find it’s more difficult to gift fiction than nonfiction, but I have listed some popular authors’ recent fiction releases at the bottom, in case you have a friend or family member who is a fan of a particular author. I’ve read a few of these selections, but some were recommended by friends. Without further ado, here are some books, in no particular order, I think would make great gifts:

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Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon. If you were lucky enough to see her when she visited Charlotte last month promoting her book, you know Ms. Witherspoon is truly southern and truly adorable. This lovely book contains some of her southern grandmother’s recipes, and some great stories behind them. She includes party hosting tips, book club info, “do gooding” info, and more. Plus, the cover looks really pretty on a coffee table! Great for friends or sisters! Purchase through Amazon.com here.

 

order-book-tourHungry Girl Clean and Hungry Obsessed by Lisa Lillien. It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of the Hungry Girl brand. Lisa Lillien is the busiest woman I know, and she is always providing great info…by book, magazine, podcast, magazine, TV appearances, and website! And she’s really sweet too! If you need gifts for folks who want ways to cut the calories and fat in their lives, this is it. Purchase at Amazon.com here.

 

 bushtwavail.jpgGeorge and Barbara Bush: A Great American Love Story by Ellie LaBlond Sosa with Kelly Anne Chase. Through letters, photographs, and stories, Sosa tells the story of the enduring relationship of her grandparents, George and Barbara Bush. You can purchase on Amazon here, or *I received word that The Buttercup Gifts and Stationery in Charlotte will be hosting the author on Saturday, November 3, from 10:30am to 2:00pm for a book signing. Call The Buttercup for more information at 704-332-5329.*

 

510oZZ5X3DL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_-2Sean of the South, Volume 1 by Sean Dietrich. Deitrich is a humorist, storyteller, and writer with roots in south Alabama and a connection to a small town where I once lived, Brewton. He is plain-spoken, funny, and if you grew up in the south, you will relate to his experiences. If you grew up elsewhere, you’ll enjoy his stories too. Raised mostly by a hard-working single mother, he shares stories of his life and people he meets along the way. My mother loved reading Sean Dietrich, and we often talked about his Facebook posts. He has several books. This one is the first collection of short stories, so it is not newly published, but it’s a good place to start reading his work. See all his books at Amazon.com here.

 

 

caddyshack-book-cover-1-1525443738Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story by Chris Nashawaty. For those who were old enough to enjoy this movie in the theater or those who were too young and had to sneak to watch it on HBO, this book is a fun look behind the behind the scenes of the one of the most surprisingly beloved comedies of all time. Starring Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray, those of us who remember the film know it was comedic genius. And the candy bar will never be forgotten. I was in Target recently, and two young people ahead of me in line were discussing 1980s movies they wanted to see. I recommended a few, and Caddyshack was at the top of the list. Purchase from Amazon here.

 

sons-of-cain-1534874929Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers From The Stone Age To The Present by Peter Vronsky. This one was recommended by a friend who knows my fascination with serial killers. Having an interest in serial killers does not make me a serial killer.  According to my unnamed friend, the book is entertaining while examining the psychology behind serial killers and examining certain cases. She said the author includes too many statistics, but aside from that, she thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was released in August of this year. This one is on my short list for me, and I think my friend, Mary Ann, would like it too. Purchase from Amazon here.

 

 

NMHBQJZ_mzBruce W. Talamon Soul R&B Funk Photographs: 1972-1982. A collection of photographs by Bruce W. Talamon, this book features “legends such as Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder…” and more. For the music lover you know, this is a lovely gift that will likely bring back lots of memories or familiarize him/her with groups he/she has only heard and never seen. I’m getting one for my husband. Purchase at Neiman Marcus for $70 here.

 

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You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld. Ms. Sittenfeld is a successful Charlotte author with whom I was not familiar until she interviewed Reese Witherspoon onstage last month. Though I haven’t read them yet, she has hit the bestseller lists with previous novels, including Prep and American Wife. My friends sing her praises. Her latest, You Think It, I’ll Say It, is described on her website: “With moving insight and uncanny precision, this first collection of short fiction pinpoints the questionable decisions, missed connections, and sometimes extraordinary coincidences that make up a life.” I can hardly wait to pick it up for some friends! Purchase all her novels and this new short story collection through her website here.

 

Road-Swing-By-Steve-Rushin
Road Swing
by Steve Rushin. I spoke with a friend about what books he would recommend for sports lovers, and this one was the first one he mentioned. An obsessed sports fan takes a road trip through the United States visiting every major sports “shrine” and shares his insight. It will make any sports fan want to do the same road trip to the same epic places.  Perfect for the sports fan on your list…especially if he/she is a fan of road trips too! Purchase through Amazon here.

 

41f1eA1LEoL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time by Ian O’Connor. Even if you don’t like the New England Patriots. Even if you think Deflategate was a terrible football scandal. By all accounts, this in-depth look at the most successful football coach of all time is compelling. Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe called it “a must-read for football buffs and anyone who appreciates leadership.” Purchase through Amazon here.

 

 

41EQr37Py+L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_All The Way: My Life in Four Quarters by Joe Namath. Last but not least, the one I’m most looking forward to…this autobiography is actually not available yet, but you an preorder it on Amazon here. I’d be thrilled to receive a card at Christmas telling me I will be receiving this book as soon as it is released. Scheduled for release in May of 2019, this book is the football icon’s life in his own wordS. He has lived a life like no other, so I expect an exciting read. Honestly, I have to admit I don’t really care what it says…I love Joe Namath so much that I’d be happy just looking at photos of him. Till that book is released, you can gift Namath by Mark Kriegel, a biography of Broadway Joe that was released in 2005, which you can purchase here.

POPULAR FICTION AUTHORS WITH NEW RELEASES:

Jodi Picoult, A Spark of Light: A Novel, purchase here.

Nicholas Sparks, Every Breath, purchase here.

Dorothea Benton Franks, By Invitation Only, purchase here.

John Grisham, The Reckoning, purchase here.

****Next time, more gift suggestions: ACCESSORIES.****

 

 

 

 

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Back to Reality

Ahhhh…vacation. If only we could feel as relaxed in daily life as we do on vacation.

We returned last night from what is likely the last big vacation of the summer for us. I love vacation. I love vacations of all kinds…active, outdoors (but not camping), water, city, lazy, big, small…just vacations in general. I love visiting new places and familiar places.

This most recent trip was to a familiar place, Los Angeles, but we had people with us who had never been, so everything old was new again. We had a great time…three moms with three teenagers. One mom was my awesome sister-in-law, whom I adore, and the other was my college friend, Angela…also adored. As we all started to depart the hotel yesterday, I could feel “reality” hanging over our heads like a fog.

I always get a little sad when I know the final big trip of summer is over. This year, because of high school sports, the final big trip of summer had to be a little earlier. (Note that I keep saying our final big trip, because I keep hoping for a couple of small adventures.) Our daughter is starting 9th grade and trying out for high school teams this year. Those tryouts start in early August, so no more vacations…back to reality.

Reality means it’s time to start getting prepared for the next school year. I get queasy just thinking about it. I don’t know if my daughter is nervous at all, but I am. It happens every year, but this year, more so, because she is going to high school. I’ve never had a child in high school, so this is a new experience for us. Deep down, though, I know she will settle in just fine, and eventually, I will settle down.

The most immediate thing on the horizon is the “assigned summer reading.” That is reality at our house right now, and that is the part I do not like. It’s not really my reality; it’s my daughter’s reality, but I will have to listen to her complain about it. I’m not the mom who helps with homework or nags about assignments. Most of the time, I don’t even know what the assignments are…and that’s how I’d like to keep it. I’ve talked with my friend, Maureen Paschal, about assigned summer reading on Been There Moms. You can see the video here. I simply do not like assigned summer reading. I feel like it is encroaching on my family time, and it’s like a cloud hanging over summer for us. I love to read, and I hope my daughter will eventually love it too, but even as a reader, “assigned” reading was tough for me as a student. At some point in the next couple weeks, she will take a couple days to sit down and read that book. She will complain about it, but she will get it done.

Personally, I think, if the school is going to require summer reading, I think they should also require outdoor exercise. There are some students who love reading all summer, and there are some who enjoy being outdoors all summer. Sure, there are some who fall between the two, but my daughter loves moving around and being outdoors. Sitting still? Nah. There’s no fun in that. But I really believe that if the school is going to have assigned summer reading, they should also have required outdoor exercise hours. If we are trying to enrich the whole student, let’s build their minds and their bodies.

Another reality is getting prepared for my daughter’s freshman year, meaning I need to make sure she has everything she is going to need. Right now, though, we are one month out from the first day of school, so seeing school supplies in the stores just makes me nauseous. I will get everything in advance with time to spare, but I don’t look forward to it.

And then there’s this reality: a month of back to back trips means things in my closet (and my home) are in disarray. I came home from the beach in June, and I’ve had several back-to-back trips since. I won’t get into listing all the places we visited, but it has been a lot of packing, unpacking, and packing again. And in some cases, I didn’t even unpack and repack…there wasn’t time. I just packed other stuff in a different suitcase. I need to take the time to straighten out all that, and it is one of my least favorite things to do. It means pulling out everything from closets around my house and purging. I’ve found some good “purging” advice in an article from the Huffington Post here. I dread it. But I will do it…maybe while my daughter is doing her assigned reading!

Today, though, I choose to ignore those realities. I want to enjoy the last fun, lazy days of summer…hanging out in the pool, spending time with family, harvesting tomatoes, spending time outdoors, and possibly, taking a little road trip or two. I’m on my way out to the pool now…

 

Joe Namath Lived Here

My friend, Mary Ann, and I had been traveling in a Ford Expedition with her three kids and my daughter for ten days. We had spent the last fun night at the Great Wolf Lodge in Sandusky, Ohio (click here for info). We were headed home.

After driving to the shores of Lake Erie to get photos with another of the Great Lakes (we’d visited Lake Michigan in Chicago earlier in the trip), we plugged in my home address as our destination. I was driving, and Mary Ann was the navigator. Did I mention Mary Ann is a really good navigator? She had her phone and an atlas, and she would use the Roadside America app (highly recommend) to find fun things to do. We had a nine hour drive ahead of us. We were just getting started when Mary Ann said, “If we go 40 minutes out of our way, our kids can add Pennsylvania to their list of states they’ve visited.”

I looked at her and said, “If we do, will it take us anywhere near Beaver Falls?” Mary Ann looked at the map and said, “Yes. Why? What’s in Beaver Falls?” I got excited, because I’m a crazy Joe Namath fan.

Immediately, I said, “Joe Namath is from Beaver Falls! Look and see if they have any kind of monument to him anywhere in Beaver Falls!” She looked it up and learned there is a plaque honoring Joe Namath at the Carnegie Free Library in Beaver Falls.

We were on our way.

Of course, Mary Ann made fun of me for knowing Joe Namath is from Beaver Falls. “Only YOU!” she said. Any self-respecting football fan knows Joe Namath (aka Joe Willie, or Broadway Joe) is from Beaver Falls! He had played quarterback at The University of Alabama; of course I knew he was from Beaver Falls. Growing up in Alabama, I heard about Joe Namath my whole life, and I remember, as a child, getting to stay up to watch him as a guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I’ve had a crush on Joe Willie my whole life.

Everybody remembers the story about Joe Namath being heckled at a Pre-Super Bowl III press conference. A Baltimore Colts fan yelled some smack about the New York Jets, Namath’s team, at him from the back of the room, and Joe responded, “We’re going to win the game. I guarantee it.” And he was right. The Jets won. During his football career, he famously wore a fur coat on the field, and he did pantyhose commercials. He owned a nightclub called Bachelors III in New York, much to the dismay of NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. I spent some time with Rozelle in 1989, and we talked about Namath. Rozelle seemed to like him by that point. Namath had swagger as a player, and he has swagger now, at age 74.

While I love Joe Namath most of all football players, I just love football. I told Mary Ann a story recently about meeting another of my favorite football players…totally by chance…and I said to him, “You’re from *****! I worked for the newspaper there for a while when I was in college!” Mary Ann said he probably thought I was a stalker, because a 50-yr-old woman shouldn’t have such knowledge. Well, I do have the knowledge, and I’m not a stalker. It’s just the kind of useless information I tend to remember about people.

In fact, just this week, Mary Ann called me, saying, “Don’t fail me now. My son and I have a bet.” Then she put me on speaker phone and asked, “What town is John Mellencamp from?” I immediately responded, “John Mellencamp is from Seymour, Indiana.”I heard her son groan in the background. She had bet him I would remember, and that crazy kid doubted me. (We visited Seymour earlier in the same road trip.) Bahahaha! Again, I am a walking wealth of useless information.

It was raining when we arrived in downtown Beaver Falls (for more about Beaver Falls, click here). It was gray and dreary, and while a city doesn’t show as well in the rain, we could tell Beaver falls was a quaint, charming town. It’s a beautiful, historic town on the Beaver River. Lots of very nice people live there.

Joe Namath lived here.

It was easy to find the Carnegie Free Library (for info, click here). Mary Ann had put it into the navigation system, but it was right on what seemed to be the main street through town, Seventh Avenue.

We pulled up in front of the library, and the rain was not letting up. We parallel parked (I have mad parallel parking skills)right in front of the library, hoping the rain would pass over.

After  a while, we knew it wasn’t going to clear up. Mary Ann and I took turns getting out of the car to take selfies with the plaque honoring Joe Namath in the pouring rain… but we got the selfies! We had driven to Beaver Falls just for Broadway Joe! In case you don’t know this about me, Joe Namath is on my short list of people I want to meet. If you’ve met him, don’t tell me. If you meet him, you can tell him about the crazy lady who drove to Beaver Falls just to get a selfie with the plaque honoring him.

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In front of the Joe Namath plaque in downtown Beaver Falls, PA, at the end of a 10-day road trip, standing in the rain. Good times!

As for the photos, Mary Ann and I laughed at how terrible we looked and got ready to drive back to Charlotte. I don’t remember what Mary Ann looked like, but in my selfie, I look like a mom who has been on a ten day road trip with four kids…standing in the rain.

We turned around to go back through town, and as we drove, we noticed Oram’s Donuts. Mary Ann and I wanted to stop and get some donuts, but the children were ready to get home. To this day, we regret not going into Oram’s. As we drove past, we caught a glimpse of a woman ordering a doughnut…the same woman had asked me for bus fare a few minutes earlier. I guess she decided she didn’t need a ride more than she needed a doughnut. I regularly look at the Oram’s website just to torture myself. According to their website, they have been in business for 77 years, and they make their donuts “the old-fashioned way, concentrating on quality and taste.” You can see their website here. While you can’t order donuts for shipping, you can torture yourself with the pictures. You can purchase Oram’s coffee mugs. Mary Ann and I have declared we will return to Oram’s in Beaver Falls.

I’m guessing Joe Namath knows all about Oram’s.

We stopped at Sheetz in downtown to fill up with gas, and according to the computer, we could drive 530 miles on that tank of gas. According to the navigation system, we had 490 miles to travel to Charlotte. I planned to make it without stopping again, unless someone needed a bathroom break.

We passed to the west of Pittsburgh and headed south. Darkness fell while we were in West Virginia, with hours to go. At some point, Mary Ann was getting sleepy, and we all sang a rousing rendition of “99 Bottles of Beer” from beginning to end…the kids thought it was hilarious to sing about beer…inappropriate, of course, but funny.

I was driving, and I wasn’t remotely tired. The kids dozed off while we were in Virginia, and Mary Ann made it to the North Carolina state line before nodding off.

We made it home on that tank of gas and pulled into the driveway at about 2:30am.

If I ever get to meet Joe Namath, I’ll have to tell him about the detour we made just to get selfies with his plaque beside the Carnegie Free Library in Beaver Falls. And who knows? Maybe one day, Mary Ann and I will make it to Oram’s. When we do, I’ll post lots of photos and reviews of every doughnut flavor they have!

Till then, we’ll have to keep torturing ourselves with the pictures on the website.

And Joe Namath…well, I’ll just have to keep crushing on him.

Safe travels!

Kelly

Eastvale Bridge over the Beaver River, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania

To read about other parts of the road trip, see previous posts. 

Let’s Hit the Road

As the end of the school year approaches, it means the summer travel season will be gearing up quickly. It’s one of my favorite times of year…the summer I mean, not the last weeks of school. Any time we have extra days, weeks, or even months to go somewhere, I’m happy.

I have one daughter, who is now 14, and travel is pretty darn easy with her.

Of course, there was a time it was a little more difficult, but that didn’t stop me!

Frankly, there’s not a lot of fun in traveling with an infant, so there weren’t lots of great vacations in that year, but things ramped up after that. I did take her to visit family regularly, though.

Infant travel was always a crap shoot. I vividly remember one flight when my daughter was about ten months old, and she wasn’t happy about being stuck in a car seat on the plane. She wanted to get out of that seat, and she let everyone know it. She cried. She fussed. And she cried some more. The man sitting across the aisle from me had the chutzpah to reach over, tap me on the arm, and tell me she needed a bottle.

I wanted to throat punch the guy, but I resisted the urge.

I gave him my legendary stinkeye and didn’t say anything. As a former flight attendant, I am aware that sucking on a bottle will help open a child’s ears at takeoff and landing. My child didn’t take a bottle. She was breastfed, and I knew she wasn’t needing that. Her ears weren’t bothering her. I knew what she wanted. She wanted to get out of that seat. If I had taken her out of the carseat to breastfeed, she would have wanted to get in the floor, and the crying would have gotten louder.

Stupid, stupid man. Bless his heart.

We all survived it. And every time I’m on a plane and a baby cries, I sympathize with the mother. I remind everyone around me that we’ve been there before…we were all babies at one time, and lots of us have survived it as parents.

When our daughter was a toddler, we traveled. We traveled by plane, and we traveled by car. I even traveled alone with her on a regular basis. My husband doesn’t like to travel as much as I do, so often, we were traveling on our own. I remember regularly trekking through airports, pushing my one-yr-old in a stroller with the carry-on bag in the bottom of the stroller, all while carrying the car seat strapped to my back. I felt like a warrior, and I must have looked like one too, as I would hear multiple times, “You go, girl!” or “Wow! You know what you’re doing!” I felt tough, and frankly, I was…and still am.

That carry-on bag that was tucked into the bottom basket of that stroller held all the tools of airplane survival. Keeping a toddler happy on a plane is the key to your own happiness and the happiness of the passengers around you. I always had “special treats” in that bag. I would go to Target and arm myself with lots of little things from the Dollar Spot…anything that would keep her entertained, and I would take cards and books with pictures of animals, cupcakes, and babies. My toddler loved pictures of animals, cupcakes, and other babies. Any little trinket she had never seen before was fun.

Often, I shared those “special treats” with other families on the flights who were not as prepared. I clearly remember sitting behind a family with their toddler daughter. She was whining and restless, till we started sharing our animal picture cards. She got happier, so her mom could relax, and we were happier too!

I also learned early to let my daughter wear whatever she wanted. When she was two and three, she flew many times wearing a Snow White costume top, a yellow costume skirt, and a pink plastic grass hula skirt pulled on over that, but she was happy…and she was proud of that crazy outfit she had put together. She loved all the compliments she received. I have a friend whose daughter wore her Daphne costume (from Scooby Doo) for months on end…but she was happy.

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My 2-yr-old daughter wearing her Snow White top and grass skirt while enjoying ice cream with my daddy.

Two and three- year- old girls also love to play with makeup. I discovered this one time when we were flying to visit my parents. You know how grocery stores have those tiny toy sections? I had been in the grocery store the day before we left, and I saw this cute little makeup palette for little girls. I grabbed it, thinking it might be entertaining for her on the plane.

Was it ever! We were only taking a one hour flight, but it kept her entertained the whole time! It was like “peace in a packet” for me! She put on eye shadow. She put on lip gloss. She put on blush. And of course, she overdid it…all of it. But it kept her happy and occupied, and therefore, I was happy. She looked like a two-dollar hooker when we landed, but I didn’t care. I had been able to relax for one full hour!

Traveling by car with an infant or toddler can be more tricky. Road trips less than four hours were OK. In 2004, when Hurricane Ivan was threatening the Gulf Coast of Alabama, we were visiting my parents, who lived near Mobile Bay. We had flown down, but we ended up renting an SUV to drive back to Charlotte, because flights were cancelling. We opted to drive overnight, so our 11-month-old would sleep all the way home. It worked out fine, till we got home, and she was wide awake, but we were groggy. We took turns taking care of her that day.

I discovered age five was the golden year…the year travel became super easy. Kids are more self-sufficient and can entertain themselves really well at five. Plus, they can manage their own carry-on bag of “stuff.”

When my daughter was seven, I took her on her first transcontinental trip. We went to Los Angeles, and it was one of the best trips ever. Not only could she entertain herself on the flight, but she could keep up with me all day without fussing! My friend, Leah, and her daughter met us there on that trip, and we still talk about that fun trip. I had learned years before on other trips the the secret to keeping a child moving is food. When my daughter was under age ten, I always tried to stop, sit down, and get her something small to eat every couple of hours…maybe an ice cream cone…maybe some yogurt…maybe some fries…maybe some peanut butter crackers…maybe a banana…anything that would give her energy so she could stay on the go. Now that she is older, she knows when she needs to grab a little something to eat, and she lets me know.  Also, stay hydrated…crucial.

Now that she is fourteen, we have taken countless trips together by plane and by car. We have walked many miles in lots of different cities and locales. We have climbed waterfalls, zip lined through rainforests, climbed a rock scramble, hiked a mountain, visited landmarks, toured cities, climbed lighthouses, and made lots of great memories.

We have made lengthy road trips with friends, and we’ve learned a lot along the way. We’ve learned about this great country in which we live, and we have learned what is necessary for a pleasant road trip…snacks, minimal packing, beverages, lots of quick stops, games for the car, and lots of laughter.

I no longer have to take a carry-on filled with treats for flights, but now, she always wants to take a friend or two. That’s perfectly fine with me. I truly have a “the more, the merrier” approach. I have found that if there are more people around, more events get locked into long term memory. Funny things are funnier in a group. Exciting things are more exciting with other people.

Now, our summers are shorter as she enters high school. Starting in ninth grade, varsity and junior varsity fall sports start practicing at the beginning of August, a few weeks before school starts. So, we have to cram in a lot of fun in less time. This year, all new adventures await, and I can hardly wait to get it started. I’m counting down to the last day of school.

Travel safely and have fun this summer!

Chicago! Chicago! (Epic Road Trip, Part 3)

For years, my friend, Mary Ann, and I talked about going on a “crazy road trip.” What we really want to do is drive Route 66. My friend, Neill, wants to go too. We haven’t figured out the particulars yet, but if we take all the kids, we’ll have to get a big ol’ Partridge Family bus, which actually could be pretty fun. I think I’ll look into that. I wonder if anyone rents Partridge Family buses? (And before you think I’m wrong there, “buses” IS the plural form of “bus”. “Busses” would be the plural form of “buss,” which means a kiss.)

Three years ago, Mary Ann and I loaded up her three kids and my one kid in a Ford Expedition, and we took a different crazy road trip, saving Route 66 for another time. It was a kid-friendly, casual clothing road trip…totally about seeing Americana. I’ve written before about the fun we had on the first two legs of the trip, and here is Part 3. Every part of the trip was exciting and fun. Every part of it was not perfect, but sometimes, that’s what makes the best memories.

In my post a few weeks ago about Part 2 of our epic road trip, I told you we made it to Chicago safely. We made it there in pouring rain, but we must have brought the sunshine with us, because the rain stopped soon thereafter.

We had only planned to be in Chicago for roughly 36 hours, so we hit the ground running. We checked into the hotel, and as I said in Part 2, our room looked out on the John Hancock Center, making it easy to find our way back from anywhere in the city!

We stayed at the Hilton Suites Magnificent Mile…not a luxury hotel, but perfect for a family stay, as every room in the hotel is a suite. It is conveniently located near good restaurants, Lake Michigan, tourist spots, and luxury shopping (which we were not doing on this trip). To see the website for the Hilton Suites Magnificent Mile, click here. The rates were good, and the staff was incredibly helpful. I wrote one of my most raving TripAdvisor reviews about this hotel, because the employees there are helpful, courteous, and friendly. You can see my review and the manager’s response here. (Scroll down to my review, titled “Wowed by the service!”)

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We let the valet take the car (he came down the street in the rain to get it when I waved to him) and had the bellman bring everything up to our suite, and then set out on our first adventure in the city. After traveling all day, we had four hungry kids on our hands. Since this trip was casual, we needed to go somewhere that would welcome us casually dressed and with four kids in tow.

The concierge recommended Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen on Walton Street, which was just a few blocks from the hotel…an opportunity to stretch our legs after being in the car all day. The food was good, and the atmosphere was perfect for our motley crew. Located in the Magnificent Mile area, this restaurant was most accommodating for us. If you’re in Chicago and looking for a casual dinner place in the Magnificent Mile area, this could be the place for you. See their website hereMary Ann had the Tennessee Hot Chicken and said it was “OK,” but I had the Backyard Burger and thought it was fantastic. Even more special was the service. Our waiter, Taylor, took the time to write down the kids menu for us, since there wasn’t one available. We would definitely return with kids!

We turned in early that night, but the next day, we wanted to cram in as much activity as possible, because it was the only full day we had in Chicago.

We got up and starting securing reservations/tickets for the things we wanted to do. We knew we wanted to see as much as possible in one day, so we opted for an architectural tour by boat, a two hour bus tour of downtown, and a visit to the top of the John Hancock Center.

Everything started great. Our first order of business was the architectural tour by boat. We all loved it. Not only did if offer beautiful views of the city, but it also offered an opportunity for the kids (and adults) to see how the system of locks works from the river to and from Lake Michigan…fascinating for all of us. We highly recommend this tour, which you can book here.

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Going through the lock

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Chicago Skyline

After disembarking, we made our way to the nearest restaurant with a menu we liked. That restaurant was Sweetwater Tavern and Grille on Michigan Avenue…kid friendly. We all tried fried cheese curds for the first time there. Surprisingly, I had never had them, even though I’d spent a lot of time in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the late 80s and early 90s. We unanimously declared them delicious! We also ordered beignets, and these two gulf coast girls who grew up eating beignets gave them two thumbs up! You can check out the Sweetwater website here. To try fried cheese curds in the Charlotte area, you can visit Culver’s just off Carowinds Boulevard in Fort Mill. Check out their website here. If you decide to visit, go on an empty stomach and try their Butterburger and fries too. Then, top it all off with their frozen custard or a shake…all delicious.

After lunch, the bus tour took us on another architectural expedition…all very impressive in downtown Chicago. We purchased tickets and boarded the bus tour very close to the boat dock. Anyone can point you in the right direction. We visited the world-famous bean and Navy Pier before heading up to the John Hancock Center. The observatory there is now called 360 CHICAGO and offers breathtaking views of the city and Lake Michigan. When we were there, the TILT, an added attraction at the top of the center, wasn’t working, but we loved all the photo ops we had. This is a must-do, and if TILT is in working order while you’re there, you have to do it too. Check out the website and purchase tickets here.11221940_10207249962952203_752868439303655523_n

And this is when things got wonky….Mary Ann wanted Garrett’s Chicago-Style Popcorn, which I hear is amazing but I didn’t want to stand in line (over an hour!) for popcorn. You can see their website here. I knew my daughter wanted to visit Sprinkles for some cupcakes (click here) while we were there, so we split up, and Mary Ann took her kids to Garrett’s while we went to Sprinkles. We had planned to meet up for dinner, but my daughter wanted to go to Dylan’s Candy Bar and Cafe, while Mary Ann had a special place in mind for some Chicago-Style pizza.

In the midst of all this, Mary Ann’s daughter broke her flip flop and had to have new ones. Fortunately, when that happened, my daughter and I were in a cab headed for Dylan’s. We missed out on that “fun.” Since the American Girl Store was nearby, Mary Ann went there and paid a terrible sum for some flip flops for her daughter. It has been three years since this trip, but I feel pretty sure Mary Ann is still making her daughter wear those flip flops to get her money’s worth out of them…never mind that half her foot hangs off the back of them now!

So, while Mary Ann and family picked up a Chicago-Style pizza and brought it back to our suite, Milly and I enjoyed Chicago-style hot dogs at Dylan’s. She also ordered a mocktail called the Pink Cloud Lemonade…fun presentation and delicious! You can see their website and menu here. I should probably thank Mary Ann for letting me try the Chicago-style pizza and the popcorn after we got back to the hotel.11063784_10207249651824425_7273607532132704225_n

After a crazy busy day, it was time to pack up and turn in. We had another busy day ahead of us.

The next morning, we got up, checked out, and started our drive to Sandusky, Ohio, where we would be meeting friends from Columbus, Ohio, at Great Wolf Lodge. Of course, Mary Ann and I can’t drive straight through. We absolutely could not drive through South Bend, Indiana, without stopping in at Notre Dame. While there, we visited the stadium for some photos and shopped in the campus bookstore. We also got some photos with “the dome.” If you’re a Notre Dame fan, you won’t like this: we also pretended to take photos with the “girlfriend” of former Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o. See below. She’s standing between us…haha. Also, it was a road trip, so we were wearing comfortable attire…don’t judge.10438925_10207256465434761_5891661285876443717_n

Upon leaving South Bend, we traveled a little north, just so the kids could say they’d been to Michigan, and then we continued on to Sandusky, where my friend, Jennifer, and her daughter were waiting for us at Great Wolf Lodge! For information about Great Wolf Lodge Sandusky, click here. It doesn’t get any more kid-friendly than Great Wolf Lodge, and fortunately for us, they also have a bar!

Great Wolf Lodge was the perfect place for us to relax for the night before our big trip home. The kids all played in the water park, and the moms all relaxed next to the outdoor pool.

The next morning, we were homeward bound…but we took a little detour to a small town in Pennsylvania…for a funny reason. Read about that later in the final post about the road trip…coming up soon.

We highly recommend a trip to Chicago with your family. Our stay was so brief, it was just a teaser, but we will be going back.

Maybe one day we will make that Route 66 trip too. Know anyone with a Partridge Family bus?

Happy Trails!

Kelly

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