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 sports 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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My Favorite Road Trip, Part 1…and favorite car entertainment

If you’re lucky, there will be families like the ones we met, and your kids will leave their electronics in the wigwam while they play on the playground, run through the misting station, play games on the sidewalk, and share s’mores with new friends.

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Road trips. Spring break is fast approaching, meaning lots of families will load up their cars and set out on an adventure. Lots of people know I believe experiences are far more valuable than things, and I love making memories with my daughter.

In summer 2015, my daughter and I loaded up in a Ford Expedition with my friend, Mary Ann, and her three kids. Two adults and four kids…in a Ford Expedition…for 10 days. It was incredible.

We refer to our 2015 trip as the Epic Road Trip. I was the driver; Mary Ann was the navigator. Today’s post is about the first part of the trip. I’ll have some future posts about other parts later.

We loaded the car with entertainment, hoping to keep mayhem to a minimum. We started with I Spy Road Game, something adults and kids could play and enjoy. We broke up into teams. Mary Ann and I were a team…a very competitive team…the kids didn’t stand a chance. You can purchase it at Amazon here. It’s playing cards with pictures of objects you can see riding down the road. The player who collects the most cards wins. We also played the License Plate game collectively, trying to see how many different state license plates we could see. You can purchase boards for it at Amazon here. Mary Ann loaded her phone with lots of silly Ray Stevens songs before we left, so we had some goofy music to listen to…the kids were especially amused.

It’s essential everyone stays hydrated, so we had small bottles of water. Kids drink whatever is provided, so big bottles were off limits…too many stops afterward. We didn’t have snacks…too much mess for a long road trip, and Mary Ann I didn’t want to spend our time cleaning out the car at each stop. We would all eat together whenever we stopped…and we tried foods or restaurants we couldn’t experience in Alabama or North Carolina.

Don’t forget hand sanitizer, baby wipes, and garbage bags. A fun hand sanitizer I’ve mentioned before is Maybe You Touched Your Genitals Hand Sanitizer…kids will remember to use it just because of the name. You can purchase it here. Baby wipes are good for any small cleanups. Garbage bags are essential in the car for a number of things…water bottles, paper scraps, used tissues and/or baby wipes, carsickness, and they can be used for dirty clothes.

From Charlotte we drove to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and spent a couple nights before going on to Cave City, Kentucky, home of Mammoth Cave National Park (for more info click here) and Wigwam Village #2 (for info click here). In the early 1900s, seven Wigwam Villages were built across the US. Three remain: one in California, one in Arizona, and this one, which was completed in 1937.

We were going to sleep in a Wigwam.

We arrived in Cave City mid-afternoon. As we approached Wigwam Village, Mary Ann and I got excited. My daughter, however, was apprehensive. She took one look and said, “Mom, please! Can’t we just go sit in the wigwam and sleep in a hotel?” From the road, it was obvious the wigwams had seen better days, but we were determined.

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It was a night we will never forget.

Wigwam Village #2 is set up as a semicircle of white wigwams with a big wigwam at the road serving as the office/gift shop. The open area in the center of the semicircle is a grassy playground with monkey bars and other equipment, plus a misting station.

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We checked in, got our REAL keys (not key cards), parked between our wigwams, and unpacked. We had wigwams #7 and #8, the middle ones. The wigwams are concrete (see photos) with window unit air conditioners and aren’t particularly spacious. They have what seems to be the original louvered doors, and inside, the beds are clearly “antiques.” The bathrooms are basic, but the water pressure in our shower was amazing. However, because of the way the village is set up, we didn’t spend much time in the wigwams, except for sleeping and getting dressed.

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Soon after we checked in, other families began arriving. The family in the wigwam next to us had a daughter about the same age as our kids. Two wigwams down, a lady and her husband checked in with their grandson.

The children played for a while on the playground, and then we decided to check out an old theme park nearby, previously known as Guntown Mountain, but renamed Funtown Mountain by new owners. Sadly, the park was still undergoing repairs, so the only things open were a gift shop and the Haunted Hotel, both at the front of the park.

We visited the gift shop first. It was filled with old toys and a few new things, but mostly, it was junk.

We decided to take a chance on the Haunted Hotel and purchased tickets in the gift shop. At the entrance (see photo), a young man took our tickets. I was the last of our group to enter, and as I handed him my ticket, he said, “Have fun. This is the oldest haunted house in Kentucky, and it ain’t never caught on fire or nothin’.” I thought nothing of it and went inside.11709620_10207224665599785_9102713117535772104_n

We quickly learned it was in disrepair. No special effects were working, and the deeper we went, the passageways became more narrow and darker. It was at this point I started thinking about what the guy had said, and all I could think was “fire, fire, FIRE.”

We were trying to find our way in a dark, narrow hallway, and all I could think was, “If this thing catches on fire, we don’t have a chance.” Right then, I HAD TO GET OUT. I won’t go into detail about the language I used, but we had our phones out trying to provide enough light to GET OUT NOW. Finally, my daughter found an emergency exit, pushed it open, and we all rushed outside into eight inches of mud, but frankly, I DID NOT CARE. Panic over.

*Side note: one week after our visit, “Funtown Mountain” and its Haunted Hotel were condemned. I guess my fears were warranted. Afterward, the owner destroyed the gift shop. See a news clip from 2015 here

When we got back to the wigwams, our new friends were sitting outside and making s’mores over a grill. Children were playing on the playground and running through the misting station. Our kids joined them.

When it got too dark to play, Mary Ann’s kids brought out Beanboozled, a jelly bean game with good flavors (tutti fruity, fresh pear, coconut) and nasty flavors (sweaty socks, vomit, dead fish) that look alike, but you have to chew them to find out which one you have (more info here). The children gathered around and played for an hour or so on the sidewalk while we visited with new friends.

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When it was time to turn in, my daughter was still begging me to take her to a “real” hotel. She wasn’t sure about sleeping in a wigwam. John, the grandfather of one of the kids, assured her he would hear if anything happened, and he’d get there fast. His wigwam was two doors down from ours, and our other new friends were next door, while Mary Ann and her kids were staying on the other side of us. Before turning in, we went to Mary Ann’s wigwam to wait till midnight, so we could celebrate her 40th birthday at midnight. She turned 40 in a wigwam. We sang and called it a night.

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My daughter and I returned to our wigwam and slept remarkably well.

The next morning, we were surprisingly sad to say goodbye to our new friends. We felt as if we’d stepped back in time for 24 hours. It was a brief journey to a simpler time. If you decide to visit Wigwam Village #2, know in advance it’s not a luxurious experience, but if the people are half as nice as the people we met, you’ll have a great time. More info here.

While I can’t guarantee you’ll have the same incredible experience we had at Wigwam Village #2, it’s worth a visit. If you’re lucky, there will be families like the ones we met, and your kids will leave their electronics in the wigwam while they play on the playground, run through the misting station, play games on the sidewalk, and share s’mores with new friends.

What we learned is that sleeping in a wigwam isn’t just about the wigwam. It’s about the experience of spending time with new people in a simple place.

Our trip continued to Louisville, then through Indiana to Chicago, before driving east through Indiana and Michigan to Sandusky, Ohio. We detoured through one small town in Pennsylvania on our way from Ohio to North Carolina, but that is for a later post.

While so many parts of the Epic Road Trip of 2015 were special (more posts later), we loved Wigwam Village #2 so much, it deserved a post all its own.

Happy trails,

Kelly

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