Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Trophies for everybody!

NFL player James Harrison recently returned his kids' participation trophies claiming the league was rewarding mediocrity.  His kids are 8 and 6. He was also arrested in 2008 for allegedly beating his girlfriend. This makes him, in my estimation, a complete and total asshole. But please, by all means, let's take parenting advice from this guy.

I recently signed my twins up for their second season of baseball.  They have March birthdays.  This resulted in them just missing the cutoff for another year of T-ball.  They had to play in "Mini-Minors" which effectively put my kindergarteners, who were preemies, in the same league with second graders who were easily twice their weight.

The season started when there was still snow on the ground.  They played with real gloves under their baseball gloves.  They played on Mothers Day, and their coach gave them roses to give to us (another reward for mediocrity? Do all mothers deserve flowers on Mothers Day?  Or should we only reward the ones whose children make it to the NFL, or become President of the PTO, or get into Harvard?  Is the final product more important than the effort?). Our baseball season ends in late June.  Those last couple of games were played in 90 degree heat with sunscreen dripping in their eyes and the kids each respectively begging for their favourite flavour of Gatorade.

Antonio is teeny-tiny, weighing barely 40 pounds at his sixth birthday. He was by far the smallest kid on the team.  What he lacks in size he make up for in enthusiasm.  He was often the first kid in the field to make it to the ball.  Hitting posed a bit more of a challenge for him, but by the end of the season, he got a few good hits in.  Maybe he could have qualified for Most Improved or Player Who Gives His All, but probably he wouldn't be the one and only kid deserving of the title of MVP.

Mariella on the other hand was initially reluctant to play. She would have been just as content to sit in the stands and be a spectator.  We talked her into playing.  Nevertheless, as she played, the smile never left her face. While she started off as one of 2 girls, the other girl on the team didn't finish out the season.  Mariella played through the whole season as the only girl on the team, and one of only a handful in the league.  She has a hearing impairment, which makes coaching her from afar difficult.  On occasion, the coach had to send someone out to right field, where she was picking dandelions, to inform her the inning had ended.  She would then go up to bat.  She was afraid of the ball, and would close her eyes.  This resulted in her swinging a full 5 seconds after the pitch landed in the catcher's mitt.  She was adorable, but would admitably never get an MVP trophy, even if she was primed to shatter glass ceilings. 

Thankfully our league rewards simple participation and gave both twins simple, stupid, participation trophies. And they loved them. I wouldn't dare to take them away, even if they do only reward mediocrity. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Our Crazy Cross Country Trip South Dakota and onto California

We last saw our fair travelers in a corn field during some very severe weather.   

We did make it out of that corn field and back onto I-90, but we were still half a day behind where I wanted to be.  The original plan had been to see Mount Rushmore that afternoon, but it was unlikely we would make it there before dark, so the new plan was to see it first thing in the morning. We had our nice picnic lunch at Sioux Falls, where I had hoped to stay the night previous.  Sioux Falls is pretty, but a little smelly (I'm not sure why).

At this point the kids were starting to feel the trip.  My friend Moe suggested that I threaten to throw candy out the window as they whined.  I tried it, but then they started to threaten to throw each other's things out the window.

We quickly got back on the road, hoping to make up a little ground.  As we made our way through South Dakota and into the Badlands, I started my daily hunt for a hotel room.  Trouble is, we didn't realize the Sturgis Motor Cycle Rally was taking place.  Not one room was available on Hotels.com. We stopped at the Visitor's center by the Missouri River (really cool spot if you ever find yourself driving on I-90 in South Dakota) and their very helpful staff explained our predicament.  They armed us with several Penny Savers that had local numbers.

I started calling around and finally found a place with a room available. It was double the cost of anywhere else we had stayed, and had worst Continental Breakfast of any that were offered.  We did however meet some awesome bikers, one of whom encouraged the kids to try his bike out.


We headed off for Mount Rushmore.  First we needed gas, and also coffee.  We stopped at a gas station on the way up the mountain.  Leo pumped while I got coffee.  I came out to see my husband, in a polo shirt, pumping gas into our white minivan, surrounded on all sides by dozens of bikers.  I wish I had taken a picture of that! (Imagine the guy from the picture below, next to the minivan pictured above with about 100 extra bikes and beleathered bikers surrounding him)

We did make it to Mount Rushmore that day.  It is a sight to behold, though a bit smaller than I had imagined (Leo says it was way bigger than he imagined).  We got what is perhaps my favorite picture from our vacation.

 After Mount Rushmore, we went onto see Crazy Horse. The thing about Crazy Horse, it costs 3 times as much as it does to see Mount Rushmore.  It is also unfinished. So we pulled up, saw it from the base, then turned right around and headed out.  We had time to make up anyhow.  That was not to happen however.  We opted to cut down some back roads to meet up with I-80 rather than head back north to reach I-90.  This was not the best plan.  GPS via cell phone is apparently not a thing in Wyoming. Back Roads in Wyoming are not the best labeled, so good luck even if you thought ahead and got those paper maps from AAA. There are barely any towns or even intersections to guide you. We just kept driving, heading South and or East, and hoped to eventually hit I-25.

We made it to Cheyenne for dinner, and having not had lunch (we should have paid through the teeth to eat at Mount Rushmore) we were starving.  We found yet another good Mexican Restaurant and ate ourselves silly.  We got back on the road, headed West on I-80.  We made it to Rock Springs and found an affordable and nicely appointed hotel this time (My Review Here), complete with working Wifi (Working Wifi is less common than you would imagine!) even if they did take away their breakfast at 9am on the dot.

Since we now had more than our phones and paper maps, and we were now a full day behind, we decided to reevaluate our route.  The original plan had been to visit a friend in Reno, then head to San Francisco and make our way down the Pacific Coast Highway. We decided to nix the trip to Reno (sorry Jasen!) and head instead to Las Vegas, which we could easily make the next day if we made minimal stops.  

We woke up to the most amazing vista.  We didn't get to see it the night before, as we had arrived after dark.  Armed with our new plan, we hit the road, and headed towards Salt Lake.  We caught the I-15.  Utah is pretty, and I wish we could have enjoyed more of it, but we booked through pretty fast, with promises of pools to the kids once we got to Vegas.  There were some lingering questions of why there was a great big Y and B on the mountain sides.   As we Reached Nevada, I was amazed at the scenery.  It is quite picturesque, different than any place else I've ever seen.

We did make it to Vegas in good time and before dark.  We decided to stay at Circus Circus, despite Mariella's fear of clowns, with hopes that it was one of the more family friendly resorts. The thing about Vegas in August, it is HOT.  We were at the point in our trip where my practical plan of one suitcase per night rather than per person had reached its end.  My husband had been quite spoiled by this one suitcase scenario, and fought me as I told him to take more than one into the hotel.  He wanted to unpack and repack into one suitcase in the 105 degree parking garage rather than take a couple of suitcases in and reorganize in the air conditioned comfort of a hotel room. Sometimes I wonder about him. We did make it to the pool, which was most welcome.  We swam until they kicked us out of the pool, then headed out in search of food.  The kids about fell asleep at the dinner table, and all 3 were passed out as we drove back up the strip, unable to appreciate all the glitter and glitz of Las Vegas.


I awoke on the 7th day to find my toothbrush, MY TOOTHBRUSH, uncovered and left in a pool of water on the side of the sink.  My loving husband then proceeded to call me a princess because I insisted on getting a new one.  It is clear that the trip was starting to wear on us both.  We did however get to visit the spot where we got married, just in a nick of time to remind us of our origin story.  We were up and out of the hotel by 8am (the crack of dawn by Vegas standards) and we headed to the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel where it all began.

We then found some breakfast, and tried to do a little sight seeing, and souvenir shopping.  Mariella picked out a little snow globe with the Statue of Liberty (the New York, New York Casino's replica) in it, as she has quite the obsession with our lady in green (her brother would later destroy this beloved object and it would be replaced for double the amount plus shipping). The heat hit us and we hit the road.  One tip I will give you, if you ever drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, is to stop at the border. Stop even if you don't feel like you need to because there is little to be found on the road until you get to the suburbs of LA.  We encountered what may be perhaps the worst gas station bathroom I have ever seen somewhere between Baker and Barstow.  We got to LA in time for dinner on the 7th day.  And then we rested.  But not really.  Because vacation.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Our Crazy Long Cross Country Trip - New York to South Dakota

DAY 1 

We left on a Friday.  Our kids had day camp till 2pm, so we used that time to drop off our dogs, run some last minute errands and to pack the car.  We headed out on I-88 west, and had to make a stop for an early dinner at one of our favorite all time places, Brooks BBQ.  The nice thing about Brooks is they have a playground for the kids. Aurora had some fun with my decade old digital camera, but complained that the twins would not stay still for pictures.  Sister friend, welcome to my world.

With our bellies full of yummy BBQ goodness, we were back on the road.  Till they needed a potty break.

All of my lovely Bingo games had been played out. As darkness descended we brought out the movies.  From the back seat, Aurora asked if we are going in circles.  She kept seeing McDonald's golden arches every 5 minutes or so on I-80 and wanted to be sure we weren't lost.  We assured her we weren't.

This was our first go around booking a hotel room.  We decided not to book out our trip ahead of time.  We instead used Hotels.com to book as we got close.  That first night, I picked up a Penny Saver and saw the rates were cheaper than on Hotels.com.  I called a few of the hotels to be sure one of them had a room available, but didn't think to ask the rate.  When we arrived, we were told the rate in the Penny Saver wasn't available on weekends.  Being that it was one of the few hotels that said they had available rooms, it was past midnight, and we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, we took it. Lesson learned, trust that on the day of, Hotels.com has the best rates going.

DAY 2 

We woke up not to free breakfast, but kids free breakfast.  The kids were all thrilled to get hot chocolate and pancakes, except for Mariella.  Usually she is a happy little soul, but she did not seem to enjoy being taken out of her routine at all whatsoever.

We had found out that we would be passing near to Twinsburg Ohio where there is a large festival of twins.  I figured it would make a great pit stop.  What I did not figure was that there would be a large thunderstorm passing just as we got to the gates.  So we go to see the festival, but did not go in.  We did however get this great Shaggadelic picture.  (The theme of the festival in 2014 was Twinstock, so all 60's all the time baby).

We continued on our trek after a quick lunch at Dairy Queen.  The thing about Ohio, it is flat and there are a lot of tolls on I-80, a lot of dime and nickels here and there, but they have the most fabulous rest stops.

We popped up into Michigan for dinner, just to add to our state count and Leo wanted to drive through the mitten.  There we found some awesome Mexican food (Who knew?)

We bedded down for the night, this time in my Hotels.com find, the Hammond Indiana Super 8. It was cheap and  my review can tell you all you need to know.

DAY 3 

The next morning we headed to Chicago.  Leo always wanted to visit Downtown Chicago, especially since I got to go without him once. It was just like he dreamed as he grew up with Architect and Engineers and it showed quite the majestic buildings and such. We and brunched at the West Egg, home to the famous Mister Mister and then took a jaunt over to Navy Pier.  As I bought our tickets for the Big Ferris Wheel, the girl behind the counter spied my St. Rose ID.  She too was an alum. Who have thought over a thousand miles from home, I'd run into another Rosebud?

The Ferris Wheel is what eventually brought Mariella around.  I think she finally realized why we were doing this trip.

As fun as Chicago is, and I'd have loved to stay longer, the road was beckoning.  We got stuck in a lot of traffic near the airport, the roads under construction throughout the Chicago metro area, and there were a ton of tolls getting out of there (and not nickels and dimes this time).

It was smooth sailing once we got to Wisconsin however.  It was a little sad that we missed my dear aunt, who had lived there for years, but had just moved back to the east coast a few months prior.  I did take her advice and hit the Wisconsin Dells for dinner.  My goodness is that place a trip, it is so Wisconsin's Vegas, in the middle of nowhere for no good reason, but to separate tourists from their dollars. It does have a good atmosphere though, family feel for sure.  For those that are familiar with Lake George, multiply that by a factor of 10.  We had dinner at a great little spot complete with Gluten Free pasta for me (YUM!).  The kids would have loved to explore, but we had to make up some ground lost to the Chicago traffic.

We crossed the Mississippi River at dusk.  It was quite breath taking, even in the almost dark. What was even eerier to see in the dark was the windmills, thousands of them spread across the prairie, like monuments of technology upon the grasslands of mother earth and what not.

We stopped after a long day.  I had hoped to make it to Sioux Falls, but playing tourist and the traffic  (did I mention the Chicago traffic?) delayed us more than we had planned for.  We did find a wonderful little hotel this time with one of the friendliest staffs that I have ever encountered.  This hotel got a pretty good write up from me. The hotel offered laundry, which was clean and right by our room, so I took full advantage.  The pool, or lack thereof, was the only down side as it was closed for repairs.

DAY 4 

The breakfast at this hotel did not disappoint. Not only was it free, there was bacon, eggs, bacon and biscuits in addition to the cute little boxes of cereal the kids so enjoy along with bacon. The waitress was super sweet too and she kept bringing the bacon.

Before getting on the road, we stopped at Walmart for the makings of a picnic lunch.  They were out of ice to fill our cooler (and I had not thought ahead to take ice from the hotel) so I went into the attached Subway, offered to buy a drink to get ice, but the girl wouldn't take my money.  Love that Albert Lea, Minnesota.

It is true what the say about Minnesota. There are 4 seasons: Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter and Road Work.  We encountered plenty of road work.  At one point we were diverted off the highway and literally into a corn field, during a thunderstorm, like that movie TWISTER, Dorothy the robot was hanging out our trunk ready to take some weather readings.  We were all thinking "this is how it ends."

Will our fair travelers make it out of the corn field? Will they live to tell the tale?  Find out in the next installment. . .