There & Back Again (Part 2)

When we last left our heroes…

We fared much better than the Griswolds...

We fared much better than the Griswolds…

After three days of driving and spelunking (not really), we reached our Mountain People. Crazy Aunt Linda and her slightly less-crazy fella, Big Uncle Willy, greeted us at the top of their very steep driveway. Their sweet doggies were in a state, because my children exited the car after hours and hours and began “exploring” the house post-haste. In the whirl of activity, I was handed a beer that I didn’t actually drink for at least an hour, because I needed to get the kids to sleep before they made the universe collapse on itself right there in the mountains of North Carolina.

CALi telling baby puppy Otis stories. Let's just pretend it was a bedtime story and not a morningtime story.

CALi telling baby puppy Otis stories. Let’s just pretend it was a bedtime story and not a morningtime story.

Over the next few days, we had us some adventures! While I’d been to North Carolina before, I’d never stayed in this beautiful wild and mountainous western portion before. The first day of our visit we went to the nearby Western North Carolina Nature Center, which was like a specialized zoo of sorts for rehabilitated animals native to the region. It was a great outing for our family, because it was a very manageable size for short legs and engaging enough for short attention spans. So it was great for Ollie’s running ahead/running back M.O., and he couldn’t really get lost. We got to see a wonderful little screech owl, and then the kids put on puppet shows that basically went like this: two animals fight. One wins. Then two more animals face off. One wins. I think you get the idea.

Cutest little owl ever. During Q&A, Seth just kept telling them things about himself.

Cutest little owl ever. During Q&A, Seth just kept telling them things about himself. I don’t think he understood that his job was asking questions to be answered, not answering questions no one asked.

Slapstick. With puppets.

Slapstick. With puppets.

After all this excitement, it seemed the only way to cap off the day was to go to the wonderful little park near Linda & Bill’s home for a good ‘ol fashioned hot dog grillin’. Chips and fruit and hot dogs galore, on a mild and sunny NC evening in the mountains, watching my kids play in the creek like they were born country boys? Perfection.

Like a fish to water.

Like a fish to water.

The next day we all headed out to Chimney Rock for a hike. It should be noted that, when faced with the many trail choices and their descriptions online, we opted for the “leisurely stroll” to Hickory Nut Falls. Um: not leisurely. Perhaps for national park service folk who live there, or the couple of show-off extremely fit families we saw jogging on the rocky, rolling trails but us? Well, it was manageable, which is about as much as I can say about it. Joe ran around like a mountain goat with various children on his shoulders, though, so apparently it was leisurely enough for him!

The scenery was pretty gorgeous, though.

View at Chimney Rock.

View at Chimney Rock.

After our hike, we could not climb this. Well, Joe could have, but didn't.

After our hike, we could not climb this. Well, Joe could have, but didn’t.

The falls.

The falls.

Obligatory family portrait where everyone is exhausted and giddy.

Obligatory family portrait where everyone is exhausted and giddy.

Our hosts enjoy a rare quiet moment...

Our hosts enjoy a rare quiet moment…

Lunch and treasure hunting in the “main street” shops just outside the park were our reward for a hike well-finished. It was fun to see what the boys would choose as their souvenirs. They kept trying to choose weaponry, and like a real drag of a mom I kept declining. In the end, Maxwell chose a straw cowboy-style hat, Ollie a Chimney Rock-emblazoned tambourine, and Seth an undulating wooden snake.

Later that night, my CALi and I snuck away at bedtime to see “The Fault in Our Stars”, which was fitting because I forced her to read it (she would agree it was maybe one of the best things she’s ever been coerced to do) and she loved the book as much as I did. And, indeed, she has come to know John Green’s parents because they live in Asheville and have similar interests/friends. The movie was great–not as genius as the book, by any means, but quite faithful and well-done. You can read–and SHOULD read–the amazing article my aunt wrote about it for her local paper here on page 11! It is such a great piece. Even though she says it better, it was perfect to see the movie with her…a full-circle moment, if you will, considering the movie was released just in time for our visit to NC.

The following day we had to get ready to leave. Our plans had changed, shortening our stay in Asheville and our stay at the beach by a day on each end to facilitate a trip home for Joe to attend Kristin’s memorial service. So after buying an outfit Joe could wear the following day for his travel and the service, eating one more meal at the lovely park (Bojangles!) and playing one more round of Nerf baseball, we had to say goodbye and set out for Raleigh.

Mmmmm...that's good!

Mmmmm…that’s good!

...but not the pole beans! (according to these two, anyway.)

…but not the pole beans! (according to these two, anyway.)

Biscuits! And sweet tea! And baseball!

Biscuits! And sweet tea! And baseball!

The North Carolina Nitwits versus...

The North Carolina Ninja/Nitwits versus…

The MN Marauders! A Most incohesive team, they were.

The MN Marauders! A Most incohesive team, they were.

Just look at that form!

Just look at that form!

Early the next morning Joe took a shuttle to the airport, and the boys and I had a day to spend in Raleigh. Good thing my Crazy Aunt Laura (are you keeping track?) lives in town and was brave enough to offer some adult company to me. After a diner lunch where Oliver was absolutely nuts, we knew the next stop had to be an energy-burner for the boys. We went to the park where they played while we gals chatted, and then we took it back to the hotel so the boys could swim and we chatted some more. I didn’t document much of this day because, to be honest, my heart and head were in two places and I felt so sad and disoriented. But I was very grateful for the time spent with my aunt, who I see altogether too little.

The little fish.

The little fish.

Maxwell trying to be helpful, while his brother tries to lick his face.

Maxwell trying to be helpful, while his brother tries to lick his face.

CALa had her own business to attend to later that evening (my guess is a lot of napping; just being near the atomic levels of energy the boys put out is exhausting!) and I had homework, homework, homework to do while I had some WiFi. I ordered pizza in because I could not face the thought of taking the three boys out for dinner alone after the crazy lunch. When everyone was asleep, I took my quiz and texted with Joe and my aunt, then reveled in HGTV before drifting off to sleep myself. By the time we woke up, Joe was back sleeping soundly, too, after a long day of travel and family and saying goodbye to our friend. Oh, how I wished I could have been there, too. But I was glad that Joe could go. And now that we were reunited, it was time to enjoy one last brunch with CALa before hitting the road and seeing the ocean…

With sweet CALa on our way out of town...

With sweet CALa on our way out of town…

Categories: Travel | 3 Comments

There & Back Again (Part 1)

We recently took a two-week, cross-country road trip. All five of us. In our Mazda 5. I know what you’re thinking…

On a pilgrimage to see a MOOSE!

But it was AWESOME. I mean, did we get sick of long days of driving? Sure. But the kids were absolute champs, we saw a ton of fun and interesting things, and I’m already brimming with ideas for the “next time”. In the now, though, I really want to share some of our stories and adventures…so those of you who feel so inclined can come along for the adventure, and so our family can remember the crazy 14 days we spent together.

Our route (roughly speaking) to North Carolina and back:

Trip route

DAY ONE: (plan) Drive from MSP to Hannibal Missouri, see Mark Twain-y things, and sleep

We set off early Saturday morning for our first leg of the drive. After lots of days of prep, we found ourselves in a bit of a rush, as always, to pack the final things and set off. This was an even more stressful and uncertain time for us because just the evening before we left, our friend and cousin-in-law passed away after years of battling cancer. Joe’s mom was staying at our house, and in retrospect I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t been there, because when we returned home the few remaining dishes were clean and food had been stowed in the freezer that I know I hadn’t remembered to put in there. Departing for the trip was such a strange combination of anticipation of something so long planned and profound sadness. The pouring rain as we loaded up the car and set off seemed fitting, really.

It rained. And rained. And just when you thought, surely, after seven hours of driving the rain will stop or we will drive out of it–it continued raining. Sometimes it crashed against the windshield with such force that I thought Joe would have to pull over and wait. We never did have to stop, save for lunch and a few stretch-and-restroom breaks. As we got closer to Hannibal, I said that if it was still raining when we got there we would just go straight to the hotel and try to see a few things the next morning instead, which is exactly what we had to do in the end. And hotel swimming is in no way hampered by a little rain, so that seemed like a good idea.

Rain swimming in Quincy, IL

Also, a lesson learned on our very first night of travel: if you are dangerously close to the hungry/hangry line, search Yelp for the nearest recommended Mexican restaurant. Chips and salsa immediately upon arrival? YES. PLEASE.

The boys slept rather fitfully on our first night together in a strange land. But after the first night everyone was so tired that we slept just fine. I was amazed and impressed by the flexibility of my children throughout the entire trip.

DAY TWO: (revised plan) See Twain-y things, visit St. Louis, drive to KY

We woke up to a gorgeous morning; good thing, because we had a full day ahead of us. The first of many rushed-and-chaotic hotel breakfasts under our belt, we hit the road back over the state line/river into Missouri and saw a few Hannibal sites. Everything was closed because it was too early, but we saw enough for this trip, I guess. I was the only one who was really bummed about it, anyway.

At the Memorial Bridge, the one that’s now just a memory…

Max and Huck and Tom

The last of the 240-odd steps to the lighthouse…

After all those steps, a few hours in the car driving to St. Louis was just fine with one and all. I had a destination in mind: The City Museum. And I must say, the pictures I’d seen online that sold me on going don’t do it justice, and neither do mine. In a few words: it is like a scrapper/recycler, an artist, and a playground enthusiast had a big, wonderful baby together. Which is probably the way it happened.


Dragon-y climbing thingy

My boys at play.


Down the hatch!

Mr. Mirth, Mystery, & Mayhem Himself.


In the teeth.

We spent two hours more than I thought we would at City Museum. I just couldn’t drag any of the four boys away from this place! I obviously also really enjoyed taking pictures there…so many interesting things to capture. I would go back in a heartbeat, and stay too long again, too…even if it meant we rolled into Cave City, KY at 10:00 (no, wait! 9:00, because WHY ARE THE TIME ZONES DRAWN IN ZIGZAGGY LINES THAT PANIC PARENTS) it was totally worth it to have so much fun. Even if our backseat looked like this:

Tuckered. And yes, I realize he’ll give me serious side-eye for posting this in the not-too-distant future…

DAY THREE: (plan) Visit Mammoth Cave and keep on drivin’ ’til we get to the mountain people

We woke up to another lovely morning in KY, thankfully with that bonus hour for sleeping in after our late-night arrival. Fortified by another chaotic hotel breakfast (seeing a pattern?) we were ready to check-out and head over to Mammoth Cave. National Park Service: you guys are seriously awesome.

On the bus on the way to the cave. “Remember: don’t touch anything! And stay close to Mom and Dad!”

Oooh, drippy!

Oooh, drippy!

We’d chosen the shortest (time AND distance) cave tour available because we didn’t know how the kids would do, honestly. It was a good call. While I might have enjoyed seeing more, the kids were pretty well over it by the end of our 45-minute trek to see the “dying” part of the cave, with the water making the stalagmites and stalactites grow the cave closed. Don’t worry if you want to see it before it “dies”…it’s going to take thousands of years. And if you’re a young person (or have one in your life), you can do some workbook pages and earn your Junior Ranger badge.

Never was a kid as proud as this guy was of filling out five workbook pages and getting a gold plastic badge...

Never was a kid as proud as this guy was of filling out five workbook pages and getting a gold plastic badge…

Cute related story…during the tour, Seth DID actually listen to the ranger as he talked. One of the pages Seth did to earn his badge asked the youngsters to circle things in the picture that wouldn’t be found in a cave. He knew to circle the snake because “it is too cold in caves for snakes; the ranger taught me that!” Then after posing for the proud Jr. Ranger photo, he took off running, trying to show his Ranger/guide his badge and thank him. Unfortunately we didn’t find him, but I thought it was the sweetest. Overall: a good side-trip with the kids, and the Niagara tour was very practical for an 11, 8, and 5-year-old.

The quintessential siblings-on-road-trip photo...

The quintessential siblings-on-road-trip photo…

Back into the car for many more hours of driving. I was in the driver’s seat, in order to stave off any potential motion sickness as we entered the mountains. Destination: Fairview (in the Asheville area) and the Craziest of Aunts and Uncles, Linda and Bill. Thank goodness we got there before dark, and I only hyperventilated a tiny bit trying to drive the car up their impossibly-steep driveway. Into the loving bosom of family we arrived, and in the next leg of the journey we reveled in the beautiful state of NC for a week. But those stories will have to wait for another day, because somebody (this girl) has homework to do. Whomp, whaaaaaaa.

Categories: Travel | 1 Comment