Monday, August 29, 2005

Our trip has begun...

Ian, here. We're in the Air France lounge in Dulles, awaiting our boarding call. We've got about an hour, so I'm having a beer (part of a plan to help me sleep on the overnight flight) and the kids are playing cards. Other than the pain in my shoulder from carrying my backpack and the laptop, we're all good. I've already met two other foreign service officers from my French classes, both going to their posts in Cote D'Ivoire and Mauritius. Looks like US diplomats will dominate business class.

We'll see when we get a connection again. I'm going to flip through the French-language edition of "Premiere" magazine and see if I still have any French skills. Hmmm, they love "Charlie et la Chocolaterie"...

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Thanks go out this week to Jerry and Julie for having us over for dinner on Wednesday. When we get back, perhaps you'll have a bambino for us to play with. And thanks to Jeff for coming over on Thursday to go bowling and eat at the Rainforest Cafe. I promise, next time we see you, no mall.

Last minute

Yesterday we took our first malaria prophylaxsis which actually went very well, considering getting the stuff was such a trial.

Since we returned from the beach last Saturday there were a few odds and ends to finish up. These weren't exactly inconsequential, for without getting our passports or tickets we couldn't even depart our homeland. But having the car picked up and starting our meds were important as well.
Everything was completed on schedule, but when Ian spoke with a specific FSI nurse... well, she's never been our favorite person. We'd decided long ago to choose Malarone as our prophylaxsis of choice. After looking it up in my drug book, reading the literature from the clinic and talking to those who have taken the various options, Malarone seemed the best choice for our family. While it's a daily pill, it has the least number of side effects. Our other options were Larium/Mefloquine and Doxycycline. The former is weekly and can have neuropsyhiatric side effects (depression, sleep disturbances, nightmares, hallucinations, and occasionally, convulsions). The latter is daily, causes sun sensitivity and is contraindicated for humans under the age of 12.
For obvious reasons, we didn't choose Mefloquine. For obvious reasons, we couldn't choose Doxy.
On Wednesday, Ian learned the clinic doesn't actually dispense Malarone, even though the clinic gives out information about it and lets the Officer decide. The nurse pushed Mefloquine but that was the last drug we wanted. Ian came home with adult dosage Doxy in unsplittable capsules... for the whole family.
We argued about whether taking it once would hurt anyone with the intent of switching to Malarone at post, we argued about pulling the capsules apart and guessing at children's dosages (though they're on the paper, we don't have a way to measure mg at home), we even considered relying on Off insect repellent until landing in Lome' and getting meds direct from the Peace Corps clinic.
On Thursday, after some sleep, we considered other options.
With a call, we knew SA-1 didn't carry Malarone either. My dad encouraged me to call his physician for a prescription, but they wanted to make appointments and register the entire family as new patients. No time for that, the office gave the number for Smart Travel (703-379-8645) on King Street, a spot for travelers to obtain travel meds. They're closed on Thursdays. Time was running out, so we bit the bullet and went back to FSI to exchange the Doxy for Mefloquine, with the understanding that if we all did OK with it (side effects usually appear within the first 3 dosages; there's a 5%-50% chance of having some form of negative reaction, so with a family of 6... you do the math) in three weeks we'll know whether to switch completely or stick with it. The clinic was closed when we arrived.
Friday, after the car drove off to Baltimore to get on a slow boat to Togo, Ian returned once again to FSI, spoke with the nice nurse on shift and aquired our meds. Finally.
You're supposed to begin taking Mefloquine 1-2 weeks before departure, but since we were so late already, another day wouldn't matter. The drug is effective within 20 minutes of entering the bloodstream. Dehydration exacerbates potential side effects and the nurse had anecdotal evidence that taking it in the morning lessens the chance of reacting badly, so our game plan:
Saturday morning
Big breakfast
Lots to drink
Think it'll work? I'm not certain. Last night Nicholas had a nightmare, tonight he's already woken screaming. It could be nerves, he's been anxious about this move for a while. I really hope it's nerves.
Oh, Rebecca and Nicholas get kudos for taking their pills yesterday. Down the hatch, no problem. Katherine had flashbacks to her INH days and gagged on them. Jonathon spit his out into his drink and just let it dissolve... then unwillingly drank the slurry.
P.S. My thoughts are with those in Katrina's path. Maybe building a city below sea level wasn't a good idea? I hope all stay safe.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Mmmm, ice chips

I finally got it done. My two upper wisdom teeth were removed today. In, no kidding, 20 seconds I was free of what has hopefully been causing mild by regular headaches the past few years. I opted for local anaesthetic (the referral was for general... why? Because I said I wasn't keen on losing my teeth?) and declined filling the prescription for Vicodin. A couple Motrin before the procedure and a couple more in the late afternoon and I'm pretty good to go. In fact, the left side doesn't hurt at all. The right side is swollen and achey, probably as a result of a rougher pull which broke the tooth, requiring fragment removal.

I may be sore, but hey... the assistant thought she called the wrong person. I look closer to 17 or 18, not 31 according to her.


Beachy Keen Day 6... yeah yeah, my days are off

Friday, the last day at the beach. It was nice in the morning, I came down with a cold in the afternoon and it rained while the rest of the clan was getting their PM sand and I packed suitcases. We cleaned out snacks as best we could, ate leftovers and did luandry.

The week ended and what a week it was. Perhaps we can do it again in a couple years time.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Beachy Keen Day 4

18 August 2005: Happy Birthday Jonathon!

At nearly 10 a.m., Jonathon was the only kid awake, so he went to the beach for one-on-one birthday time with dad.
He loves to spend hours in the sand, digging holes and creating pools to fill with bucket after bucket of ocean water. Over the course of the week, he must have carried 100 bucketfuls of water to various sand pits.
Seagulls and sandpipers successfully evaded him.
He's the only one of the kids who wears his hat the entire time at the beach.
After the morning spent seaside, we deposited the younger kids with grandpa and movies for the hot part of the day, while Ian, my mom, Katherine and I went out to pick up a birthday cake and some last minute gifts. We found an awesome cake with fighter planes on it; fitting for being so near Oceana and watching the F-18s fly over the water. The planes are diecast, so very playable long after the cake is done.
After dinner we shared cake and chocolate pudding, and Jonathon showed everyone his presents.
Now, he's 4. He's ready to take on learning to swim and tying his shoes.

Beachy Keen Days 2 & 3

The beach, continued.

16 August: Today is the kids' first day of school in Togo and we're at the beach in Virginia. What's wrong with this picture? Mandated vacation, that's what's "wrong."
The whole family hit the surf and tried out the new boards. Our eyes sting and we have more sand in our suits than any human should. And I've discovered that two piece swimsuits don't belong -in- the water.
17 August: No beach today. It stormed last night and this morning was overcast and drippy. A red flag day. The kids spent the morning watching cartoons while mom and I made cream puffs. Nothing like the ones at the State Fair, but yummy nonetheless. We cleared out leftovers for lunch then had everyone play a rousing game of Cranium. it's labeled teen and up, but with 4 players to a team, the kids acted out Cameo cards and did some Sculptorades and Cloodles. I think even grandpa had fun. My favorite act was my dad and Jonathon acting out a snake charmer. Guess who was the snake. My favorite act was trying to be a lava lamp. After the first few minutes of trying to be a blob of goo rising up, popping and sinking down, I should have resorted to regular charades... 2 words, 1st word... *act like lava* Think Ian would have gotten it then? Me neither.
The sun came out and we were ready to drive to the VA Beach strip. It's beacoming familiar haunting grounds for us over the years with the haunted houses, shops and olde tyme photo shops. We did go through a 3D funhouse which really was pretty neat, and I found new clip-on sunglasses for both Katherine and me. The ones I've had for a few years are all scratched up.
We had dinner oceanside at Simply Italian (skip it, it's not good, the best part was the pizza crust) then had a fun 18-hole pirate minigolf game. As usual, Nicholas won. The kid has a knack for minigolf. Jonathon does not. Not sure if it's his handedness, but he can't get a good whack in. He had a similar problem with skeeball at Flipper McCoys. While the other kids were playing a little of everything, Jonathon was taking 6 shots with a ball and not getting it over the rim.
After Nicholas's not-surprising win, we strolled the streets listening to the performers. They're out every night during the summer, paid for by the city. We stopped to listen to The Stick People, a la STOMP.
We gorged on Dairy Queen blizzards before finding a great spot for fireworks. By that time it was after 10 and the kids were collapsing. Oh, OK, so were the adults.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Beachy Keen Day 1

Sunday, August 14th...

14 August: What is there to do at the beach but play in the sand and get soaked by the water? Number 1 on the list of things we miss from Manila is the gentle beaches where no one had to worry about being sucked out into the ocean. the waves here are strong and the sand dips quickly so there's only about 15 feet of playroom and that's only with an adult right near by. It doesn't help that Tropical Storm Irene is off the coast somewhere, increasing the riptides and wave height. No, they aren't Hawaii surfboard waves, but it's not snorkeling water either.
The house is perfect for us. It's open and airy, with more than enough beds. It can actually sleep 17, so we have two bedrooms closed off. There's a "secret" shower outside so no one traipses in a large quantity of sand and we are oceanfront. Not that we keep the doors open at night, the water is way too loud.
Today is Sunday, so we played at the beach, cleaned up, went to church, had lunch, after which Jonathon and I took a nap while the others watched the Batman and Robin movie (with Adam West) followed by a couple more hours at the beach in the late afternoon. We grilled hamburgers for dinner then sent everyone to bed.
Nicholas isn't feeling well. Since we arrived he's been out of sorts, and last night he was up with a fever. Today he's playing fine, but during dinner he had a hard time warming up from the cold water. Even being buried in the sand several times didn't get rid of the chill. He's coughing a lot at night and generally just feels bad. We've put them through a tough couple weeks, so it's not too surprising that we're dealing with headaches and sickness now.

Getting to Beachy Keen

We're at the beach, and have been since Saturday. Here's the beginning of the journal, starting Saturday, August 13th...

13 August: We skipped breakfast this morning, but for some fruit snitched from the continental buffet. Lunch was at the Michie (pronounced Mickey, he was from Scotland) Tavern at 11:15, so it made no sense to fill up on breakfast at 9:30. No one even bothered to wake up until 8:45.
Packed up once again, we arrived at the Tavern. Lunch was good for "food from yesteryear", but I'm glad the boys ate free and the girls were reduced. Nicholas ate a roll. But he's not feeling well today, with a headache that comes and goes. Poor kid is probably still suffering from his encounter with the law.
The beach house was waiting for us, but we didn't want to arrive before 3 p.m., so we stayed at Michie and took the tour of the original tavern, moved here from it's original land 17 miles away, about 80 years ago. A basket on the deck provided dress-up clothes for the kids and our guide gave us and a couple other people a fun tour. The kids tried the dulcimer and wrote their names with a quill and ink in the ladies parlor. I finally learned that to use a quill, the point goes on the bottom so the feather ink well is above the point, then the pressure applied to the point releases the ink. Why I never knew this, I don't know. But all the kids wrote their names really well with the right technique. Upstairs we visited the ballroom and saw a map drawn of eastern Virginia by Peter Jefferson (Thomas's father) and Mr. Fry. While in the ballroom, our guide taught us part of Virginia Reel. Now that was fun. Back downstairs in the keep (the room where cooked meals were kept until it was time to serve them, the kitchen was elsewhere) was an assortment of nifty tools. Often I've wondered why some great ideas have disappeared over time, like the corner china cabinet with butterfly wing shelves so items in the back could be easily reached. Or the table that could be pushed against the wall and flipped up to expose a bench underneath.
One question though... out in the Necessary, are the corn cobs for what I think?
Before eating lunch, the kids had each received a treasure hunt. One sticker from the Ordinary (restaurant), and one from the Tavern, left the Clothier and the General Store. If they answered questions for each place and collected all four stickers, a prize awaited them. We scooted through the clothier and got caught in the store with a table sized chess set. Rebecca and Nicholas faced off and ended in stale mate. The others were bummed they didn't get a turn. I want a chess set like that whenever we have a house of our own, something that takes up a corner of a room.
The kids received their bags of gold coins, a real treasure.
Time to leave, and four hours later we pulled into the Beachy Keen driveway at Sandbridge.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Today we head to the beach and I don't know if we'll have any sort of connection there for the next week. If not, see you after... we'll have one week left stateside before flying out.

The heat was too much

With temperatures hitting 95 and a heat index of over 100, it was too hot to be outside for long yesterday.

But we went to Monticello anyway, with the hazy sweat-soaked view of Shenandoah. It was worth it to take the family tour of the house and the plantation tour. Guides moved slowly in the heat and the plantation tour especially ambled part of the way down Mulberry Row before disbanding. It was hot.
The family tour of the house is designed for kids to ask questions and have a hands-on experience. They sat on the floor of each room, counted clocks, learned about macaroni (Jefferson brought a macaroni machine back from France) and figured out Jefferson's connection to Lewis&Clark. I highly recommend taking this route if you have kids under 12. The plantation tour was adult oriented and focussed on slave life at Monticello, but since it was outside the kids could play on the lawns as we moved along.
We bought a few souvenirs, but didn't find a full version of the game "Fox and Geese" we played at the Visitors Center. Oh right... at the Visitors Center there is a room for kids/students/teachers to try out board games (Fox&Geese, 9 Men Morris), try their hand at quill writing (messy messy), catching a ball on a cup (I can't do it, Rebecca can), and building with blocks (if all pieces are together right it built Monticello, I believe). Jonathon and I sat down to play the Geese game. As the fox, I quickly wiped out his geese. As the geese... he won. Twice I felt I was a step away from surrounding his fox entirely, twice he escaped through a hole I didn't see. At the gift shop there was a travel peg board version, but I think we'll be ordering the full board game at The store looks like it has loads of great games you won't find in a ToysRUs.
We were roasting by 2:30 and went back to the hotel to swim. One problem we discovered quickly, the hotel has no pool. While it's cool in the hotel room, it's also boring. Ian checked on-line and found Sky High playing at a cinema near us. It's a cute movie, and the kids enjoyed it though Jonathon did ask several times when it would be done. Not exactly geared for the 4yo crowd and we knew that, but the other three thought it was great. One day we'll stop taking the boys to see superhero movies; I'm a little tired of them leaving the theater amidst freeze rays and death punches.
Don't attempt Applebees, Chilis or any family restaurant on a Friday night.
Right by our hotel is the Mellow Mushroom. It's a pizza place with really great pizza. Highly recommended for the yummy crust and great toppings. The sauce is OK, but a medium really is a medium and two of them fed us perfectly. We skipped lunch (we've done nothing but eat continuously on this trip so our constantly full stomachs didn't even notice) and everyone was in bed by 9.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Hello Ms Police Officer

I can't believe I forgot to write about this yesterday.

And no, we didn't get a speeding ticket.
Yesterday Nicholas got in trouble for not listening (again) and play fighting with his brother (again), so we had everyone watching TV in one room, banishing him to the other by himself. Ah, the joys of suites.
The phone rang an odd beeping, which Ian answered, and the line was empty. He hung up. I had an idea to check on Nicholas and guess who was playing on the phone. Reminded harshly (again) that phones are not toys, I left him in the room again.
*knock knock*
Find two out-of-breathe employees asking if there's an emergency. Someone from our room had called 911.
Feel the anger boil... I trotted Nicholas out to the door and had him apologize directly after we explained what happened. They were relieved it was nothing, but not pleased overall. Nicholas went back to solitary. He cried hysterically before daddy calmed him down.
Ten minutes later another knock revealed a police officer standing at our door. She was understanding, kind and patient. Nicholas apologized directly and promised he'd never call 911 again unless it was a real emergency and someone was hurt. The officer gave cards to each of the kids with a picture of the potbelly mascot, and we chatted a bit about travel before she left. I told Ian she was too nice and should have pulled out her handcuffs or taken him down to her car. Yes, it was out of Nicholas's earshot.
Ian asked Nicholas why he called 911. He said it was because he wanted to see what would happen. He knew it called the police, but I guess it wasn't enough to know it.
It didn't help any that we had just been talking about how in Manila, 911 calls Pizza Hut.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

All caught up

11 August and we're back in Virginia. Our trip is almost complete.

We went swimming this morning in a bathtub-warm swimming pool before departing Charleston as quickly as possible. Maybe if we'd spent an extra day and done white-water rafting on the Kanawha River it would have been fun, but we didn't (figured the boys are too small yet, though I think they'll love it when they're about 5 years older) so we left.
We divurged from our regular drive along I64 and took Route 60 for a while through the foothills of the Appalachians. By the end Ian and I were both considering throwing up with all the twists, but it was a route with little towns and interesting stops. Early on we climbed rocks to reach "Cathedral Falls", a tiny spray of water with great photo opportunities. Unfortunately I'm still not adept with the new camera so all the photos we've taken are OK but nothing special, which really bums we out. What I did realize is there is greater zoom on the tiny Canon S400 (that Katherine is using) than on the Canon Rebel lens I have currently. Since I greatly prefer close photos to vistas, this presents a problem for me. Nothing is coming out the way I want. I'll either get over it or beg Ian for a new lens for Christmas. Of course, if the photos still don't turn out right, then I'll know it's lack of talent and not the wrong technology. Won't that be a blow to the ego?
So, I didn't get great photos at the waterfall. Can't fix it now. We continued on and stopped again at the The Mystery Hole. Don't think it's something cool like a gravitational oddity with water swirling the wrong way. The kids liked it, which is all that matters, but the 10 minute "tour" is entertainment for the 10 and under crowd only.
Honestly. Not that everyone is swarming to visit, but if you have the opportunity, save your money. The website is misleading and it's a carnival sideshow without anything mysterious or amazing. What you're given is a room where water runs uphill. That might seem cool, but the entire room is tilted. It's a vertigo nightmare where everything is built on a slant to throw off your balance and make hanging items seem to hang on an angle and shelves seem to tilt up while the actually are geographically tilting down.
We didn't buy a souvenir.
Lunch was at a scenic overlook, the Hawk's Nest State Park, where we also bought a bottle of blackberry wine (to drink at the beach this weekend). The view wasn't that great, as it hasn't been for most of our drive through the mid-south. There is a haze hanging everywhere, I assume from the oppressive heat, and without any promised rain it seems we'll miss seeing the true beauty of the Shenandoah Valley as we pass through.
But for tonight we're in Charlottesville, Virginia. Back home... kind of. The Hampton Inn is right on Main Street so we walked down the street for dinner to a string of little restaurants. Rebecca wanted a sub, Nicholas wanted pizza, so we chose Basil Mediterranean Cafe. Not until the end did we learn that it opened yesterday and today was our waiter's first day (and he was considering making it his last). The food was excellent and even though it was much too hot inside and took nearly and hour to get our meals, we were happy and left a hefty tip.
While waiting we all chatted about college. Nicholas simply won't accept that one day he'll move away from home. He said it would be OK to go to a college next door to home, but there's still the problem that he can't read. I told him that he'll learn in Kindergarden and not to worry about it. Rebecca, Nicholas and Jonathon were all discussing what they'd like to be (Nicholas said a waiter... every day of this trip he's said something different for what he wants to become, I think it's great) and we talked about how many years until they even need to think about it. I asked Rebecca if she would be a rebellious kid, climbing out of windows, wearing black eye make-up, smoking and getting tattoos. She looked frightened and offended at the thought. I'm not out to frighten and offend, but I do want her to know that we're not going to be surprised by or accepting of certain things. How did the topic get so heavy? Sometimes it just does. I worry about Becca. Katherine was talking to Ian and she thought the college kids in the restaurant were SO cool. She's already getting herself worked up about making a group of friends. Ian's worried she'll be tempted by peer pressure to fit in.
Do they have to go?

Horse Country

10 August, Lexington KY: Horse country means horse farms, so we spent our morning at the Kentucky Horse Park just north of Lexington. Lexington itself is about 5 miles across so even with our Homewood Suites on the south side, the Horse Park was just a few minutes away.

It was a hot and sunny day... horses in the paddocks and barns swished their tails batting lazy flies to a neighboring stall.... a whicker broke the quiet stillness... outside, a trainer swam through the heat, and led a bay round in circles with dust trailing from its shiny shoes...
OK, not quite novel quality, but you get the idea. All that's missing is sipping a mint julep while rocking on the front porch, right? The guest shop sold mint julep and sassafras but we passed.
We saw the parade of breeds, which entailed a show of just 6 of the horse breeds at the park; a tiny fraction really. I wanted to see the Zonkey in the ring, a zebra/donkey cross, but sadly it doesn't count as a horse. We spoke with a farrier and learned about why some shoes are so heavy (to force show horses to pick up their feet in short jerky movements), how often horses are reshoed (every 6-8 weeks), that plastic horsehoes are coming into favor as sturdy lightweight alternatives, it takes 30 minutes to 2 hours to shoe a horse and that different shape shoes are used therapeutically to reform hooves.
The boys rode ponies in a ring and the girls went on a 45 minute horsetrek... without us. They had docile creatures and didn't go above a walk, but they had fun and that's all that matters.
The rest of the day wore on with the drive to Charleston.
Charleston is not very exciting. There was a Kenny Chesney concert next to out hotel which brought out all the West Virginia, uh, chicks who looked IDENTICAL to each other. The city must survive on blue jeans sales, followed closely by spaghetti strap skin-tight shirt sales. With the requisite boots and cowboy hat sales. There were swarms of girls/women with the same hair, same makeup and same attitude. It was disturbing. We ate dinner at the Outback (yeah, I know, adventurous), and skedaddled out as fast as we could.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Oops, missed a day.

8 August 2005: Chicago is a big city, just too big.

Even though we had over 4 hours to spend before checkout time, it was morning hours and anything we'd wanted to squeeze into the time wouldn't really have been squeezable. So we took the easy way out and stayed in our hotel. No Navy Pier, no Hancock Building, no Sears Tower, no museums; just us, breakfast and the swimming pool. Breakfast was a little crazy. For a downtown hotel filled with guests their breakfast area was much too small to accommodate the numbers and their "cooked to order" really wasn't, as they precooked omelettes in one of three choices. And there was one toaster. When there's a line for "self serve food", a line for "cooked to order", a line for the toaster and a line for drinks, someone needs to reconfigure the place.
Anyway, enough complaining. The kids were already dressed for the pool so we enjoyed about an hour swimming and in the hot tub before washing up, packing and hitting the road once more. Katherine's keychain collection is growing rapidly. I wonder if someone sells keychain shadowboxes, much like those spoon boxes. She's going to need one or she'll remain the Worst Spy Ever with her constant jangling. Keychains cost a fortune now. I remember collecting them and they were $1 or $2 for a retangular plastic bubble with a picture in it. Now, they're anywhere from $6 and up for spiffy metal designs. Buying these have rapidly wiped out her savings. But don't tell her... we'd planned on giving the kids traveling money anyhow.
On the road again, lunch was (finally) at Arby's. The food was so-so, but the kid pack toys are cool, there was a lego table in the restaurant, and the chocolate chip cookies are really really good. It was worth the stop for both lunch and a gas fill-up. I'm used to washing the dust off the windows, but the bug splats I can live without. Especially the big, sticky multi-colored ones that make an audible noise with their demise. Ew.
Another couple hours and we made it to Indianapolis and the home of Ian's aunt Vivian. We haven't seen her in 7 years so again it was nice to catch up. She has 2 little dogs the kids adored. We collectively arrived at Dara's home (Ian's cousin) a short while later and even though Dara's 5yo son Noah wasn't home, the kids had a wonderful time in the basement of toys playing with 2yo Zoe. Dara's home is huge, beautifully designed and so comfortable I can't imagine why they'd ever want to move.
The Embassy Suites is easy to find and we remembered how much we liked the city of Indianapolis. It really is a small Big Town, with beautiful neighborhoods and a 2 story Borders. What's not to love?

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Ian does his thing

9 August: The time zone thing is wacky in Indiana. In order to assure we'd arrive in Cincy by 11 Ohio EDT, we had to get up in Indiana at 6:30 Indiana EST, which is the same currently as Chicago CDT. It's why we arrived at Vivian's house early and didn't even know it. I had changed my watch to EDT and forgotten to switch back, so as I woke repeatedly to check the time and finally go myself dressed... I was up at 5:30 confused why it was still dark out. I caught the error before waking the kids but too late for me to go back to sleep. The kids still were grumbly at 6:30.

All that to say, we got up early and didn't like it one bit.

But we drove out of Indianapolist right on time and arrived in Cincinnati without incident and with enough time to see Ian's childhood home. Someone else is living there, of course, and happened to be outside, so no photos for us. Along the roads we saw where Ian did pizza delivery, which stores had changed and which hadn't, and other snippets.
But there wasn't that much time, so he dropped us off at Burnet Woods park right next to the University of Cincinnati campus and took off to give a lecture to a college class. The kids and I played at a playground, walked around the park and snacked our way through the next 3 hours. Lunch was quick, easy and good at Skyline Chili.
Traffic caught us getting out of Cincy. And caught us again in the middle of Lexington. A 2 hour drive turned into 4 and we were more than ready to order room service. The hotel doesn't have room service. We hit the mall searching for a restaurant better than food court offerings. There were none. But Katherine did score a couple new jeans that actually fit. She's grown again.
We ordered Chinese which took an hour to arrive, and watched Episode 3 on Pay-per-view. It ended up being a much longer day than we'd anticipated but generally a good one.
Regret for the day: Rather than spending 3 hours at a park, we should have gone 2 blocks up and spent 3 hours at the Cincinnati Zoo. Why didn't we? I don't know.

Monday, August 8, 2005

We're back in Chicago.

Here I am with another short and to the point entry about our trip. We're back in Chicago for an overnight.

August 7th, yesterday, we checked out of the Milwaukee hotel with every belonging and 8 people in our Sequioa. I compared it to driving with a whale on one's back. At least Ian was driving and not me. It was only for the morning though, as after church and lunch we dropped my parents and their suitcases off at the airport. We had also given 4 bags of ourgrown and/or winter clothes to my uncle, so come the afternoon we could all stretch in the car again.
After breakfast (if you are traveling through hotels and aren't packing enough food of your own for the trip, I strongly encourage folks to stay at places that have breakfast. On -normal- trip days, this would be plenty to get us through to the early afternoon for lunch, but seeing as family get-togethers are all about sharing food, it got us through until about 11 a.m. each day, before someone (not our kids) declared they wnated to eat something) we crossed all of Milwaukee to attend Mass at St. Augustine, the church we went to every summer I visited, and the same one my parents were married at. The pastor is ancient, with a tendency to wander in his prayers, but the service was heartfelt and a little sad as they wished one of their altar boys farewell. He's joining the Marines this week.
Not too far away is my uncle's house. We went in circles for a bit (there are several street with the same name, none of them connecting) but finally followed the stream of kids who had parked themselves at different corners as guides, much like glowing algae in the ocean. We did finally arrive and met with a fantastic picnic. My dad cooked steaks, and my aunt and uncle made rice and chili, with plenty of fruits and veggies to go with. We all ate out in the garage which surprisingly was not chaos with 19 people moving about. Ian and I had a little tour of their house and saw the created submarine bunks and the crazy amounts of toys and storage for the kids. And to think they homeschool too. Amazing.
Our kids had a fabulous time. There were so many toys and kids to play with I'm surprised we got them away as easily as we did. Katherine and Nicholas especially are going to miss them.
A quick farewell at the airport to my parents, and we drove the short distance to Chicago. Jonathon took a very long nap while the rest of us vegged before having dinner with Anne (from Manila) at Ed Debevic's down the street from our hotel. The food was good, but the kids were still worn out, so it wasn't long before we tossed them into their beds for the night.

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Beer, Science and Picnic

Yesterday we spent the entire day with "the family".

We met the crew at the Miller Brewery factory for its free tour. Has the tour changed in the past 15 years? I seem to recall seeing more of the process of -making- beer, rather than a lengthy chat about packaging beer and how much is made each day. The 15 minute movie aka commercial shown before the tour is roll-on-the-floor funny. If nothing else, you should take the tour to see the film. Maybe someone else knows if the creators were serious, or realized just how ridiculous they sound...
Since the Dawn of Time, man has waited for... Miller Time.
Ian had the requisite sample and all the kids got beer can coin banks. Not too shabby.
We scooted off to the Milwaukee Public Museum with the adjoining Discovery World hands-on science center. The kids had an absolute blast at Discovery World with all the exhibits and playing with my 11 cousins. My dad bought tickets for everyone to see the "Mystery of the Nile" IMAX movie which was brilliant, and we were just in time to catch a live show with a Disovery World fellow who did experiments with fire and liquid nitrogen. All the kids made their own water squirters afterwards in the craft center.
After about 4 hours there, we descended on my aunt's home and enjoyed a full picnic. Along the way we stopped at a farmer's market and picked up the freshest of fruits to share, which thankfully were gobbled up by all the kids. I'm still trying to detox the family by moving away from bratwurst and everything fried. The kids played the entire time on the large lawn with squirters and soaker balls; by the end Nicholas was thoroughly soaked. Thank goodness I'd brought laundry to do because by the end of the picnic we had clean, dry and -warm- clothes for everyone to change into. Elllie (one of my cousins) had also been sprayed and was miserable, so Katherine shared a clean, dry shirt with her.
By 8 p.m. we were exhausted and ready to go. Presents were passed out (Teresa, a cousin, and Jonathon both have birthdays coming, bu we also brought little gifts for all the kids) and we went back to the hotel. Some of the laundry wasn't done, so Ian and my dad went next door to the laundromat to run the dry cycle.
Cute moment: As we were leaving Irene's house (my aunt), Nicholas looked a little glum. I asked him what was wrong since he'd been playing so hard with his favorite cousins, Josh and Issac. He hung his head and said "I had too much fun." He was worn out.

Saturday, August 6, 2005

I'm sure there's a song somewhere about the State Fair

Yesterday we sort of struck out on our own. The point of being in the flat land of concrete roads is to see my mom's side of the family, so when my uncle decided that his family wasn't going to the Fair, my mom was in a pickle.

Milwaukee, August 5: My aunt, a cousin and my grandmother did come with us, so it wasn't a total loss as far as family time. We didn't spend all that much time (the fair is a lot bigger when you're a kid), but we did walk the center market, meandered through some animal barns, saw some Wisconsin products, watched a circus and did about 1/2 the Expo center, while completely ignoring midway. The last is obvious, right?
The center market should be renamed Fried City. Deep fried cheese curds reigned supreme. It's quite sad to see huge people in electric wheelchairs, eating from a huge pile of fried cheese. I can only hope it's a once a year fair indulgence. We all enjoyed the Birthing Barn with a newborn calf and hatching chicks. The girls felt the need to share details of balut with the incubator kid. The Wisconsin products building was interesting. The kids participated in a veggiecar race (you figure it out) and we all got free fridge thermometers. That's 1/2 the fun at a fair, right? All the free stuff. The Expo building should have been renamed "As Seen on TV" building. We spent a large chunk of time at the Polish stall. Ian picked up an Intro to Polish book and spent about 5 minutes getting his mouth to form My name is Ian. The Polish word "sie" is pronounced closer to "sh-ow" with a swallowed n at the end. Even with my grandmother there, he tried to make some sounds match the spelling. All the kids went wall climbing. Jonathon made a good attempt.
Lunch was, of course, brats/hot dogs/burgers. But most important, dessert was cream puffs. That's the one reason -I- wanted to go to the Fair, and they were so worth it. Huge and fluffy with -real- whipped cream, none of that Cool Whip or Dream Whip junk.
Then we were off to the circus. Which, of all things, was free! The kids enjoyed it, but everyone's favorite was the cats. Trained cats walking along tightropes, weaving between poles, and doing other cat type tricks. Immediately following the circus was Kids Circus. Nicholas and Jonathon volunteered to go up and they were costumed dogs among the kid horses and elephants. It was so cute! I'll put those pictures up when I can.
We met up with my uncle at my aunt's house, and the 22 of us had dinner at Golden Coral.
Today is a Miller Brewery tour, a museum and a picnic at my aunt's house.

Friday, August 5, 2005

Are we there yet?

Yesterday was designated Driving Day. We traveled from Toledo to Milwaukee with a stop for lunch in Indiana and a painful trek though early rush hour Chicago.

With plenty of...

Are we there yet?
How much longer?
My legs are stiff.
How many more hours?

Thank goodness for car games.

When we were in Maine, my aunt gave the kids two sets of simple magnetic games like Chutes and Ladders and Checkers. Everything fits inside the metal box and all the pieces stick to the box, so (in theory) it's all contained. We also played a lot of catchphrase, some hangman, and car bingo. The girls have binders of page protector covered mazes, word searches and quizzes with plenty of white board markers. Katherine is still working on _1/2 Blood Prince_ while Rebecca listens to _Chamber of Secrets_ on her iPod shuffle. Jonathon took a long nap in the afternoon, but the boys also have magnet books (farm and trucks) to play pretend, along with twistable crayons to color with and their own music players.
The kids are busy in the car.
But leaving Toledo at 10 and arriving in Milwaukee at 6 (Eastern) is still a long day. I mentioned the traffic, that we certainly could have done without. But what really gave a sour note to the day was lunch. We have the Roadfood book and decided that we wanted to try something different than a fast food place at a toll plaza. Our first mistake was not choosing something -after- getting through Chicago. Waiting the extra time before Chicago pushed us into the start of rush hour at 3 p.m. There's always construction going on too, which encouraged more crankiness.
Anyway, we picked a place called Phil Smidt and Sons (, a renowned seafood place known for its "mess of perch" and froglegs. That would break up the day! The Roadfood guide said it was in a renovated part of the Michigan Lake coast, which turned out to be in an area with plenty of empty dilapidated warehouse types of buildings... and a brand new casino. The restaurant itself has no view of the water, or view of anything for that matter and there's no outdoor seating. I suppose we should have scrapped our plans as soon as I called up the place and asked for directions from the 80/90 fareway and was told "I don't know where that is." Uh... it's 5 miles past where it becomes the 90 tollroad? "Oh... get off at Calumet, go north until you hit the water." Ooookay. We found it without trouble.
We should have turned around when it took 10 minutes to be seated into a nearly empty dining room. We should have left when it took 30 minutes to give our order. And again an hour later when everyone else in the room who had arrived before -and- after us had been served while we sat and asked several times "How much longer.. we still need to get through Chicago." The staff gave the kids balloons and frog toys. We were told "a few more minutes" four times. The waitress never asked if we needed anything, never refilled drinks, and in fact -removed- all the premeal snacking stuff before our food ever arrived (one of the draws for this place are the coleslaw, cottage cheese, kidney bean salad, etc. for every table, the kids were snacking relatively happily while coloring until then).
Then when the food finally did arrive... ugh. For a place featured in Gourmet magazine I expected more for $6, than 1/2 a box of Kraft mac&cheese for Jonathon. I'm not kidding, it was exactly the same as the stuff you and I make in our own kitchens. The girls pasta? Spaghetti noodles with boring red sauce. By boring I mean.. no meat, no deep red color, more like a warm tomato salsa. Nicholas had chicken nuggets that he barely touched. I think they were overdone. And Ian and I had the 'specials'. The perch was tasteless and the frog legs were greasy.
Don't. Go. We ate so fast and left feeling yucky. just down the street was a huge grassy area with a big playground, right on Lake Michigan. If we'd been fed like normal people, we could have spent a half hour burning some serious energy and having fun. But we left cranky and skipped the playground to try to get through Chicago.
Which we did, and found our hotel in Milwaukee, and picked up my parents at the airport, had dinner at Ponderosa and put everyone to bed by 10:30 local time.
Today will be a lot more fun. And no more Roadfood.

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Take me out to the ballgame

I'm not a fan of baseball, but last night we were part of the cheering Toledo fan pack.

Toledo, August 3: After breakfast in Pittsburgh we had a 3 hour drive to Toledo, Ohio. There's not much to this city, it's like an overgrown small town. The small part we saw was composed of ancient brick buildings, most of them empty and all of them needing TLC.
We drove in around 1 p.m. and went straight to Tony Packo's for lunch where we ate the spiciest food we've had in a while. Jonathon had his standard Mac&cheese which might seem a sacrilege in a place as famous for hot dogs as Packo's, but he wouldn't have made it far with any of the normal toppings. Nicholas and Rebecca did have plain hot dogs, but what fun is that? Katherine chose the chilimac (chili and toppings on a pile of mini dumplings) but she didn't eat more than a few bites. I guess it was't quite as impressive an experience for our family as it should have been.
I admit I took a photo of the M*A*S*H crew photo, surrounded by signed hot dog buns. I didn't quite -get- the signed buns... but someone thought it was cool and now there are hundreds of them lining the walls.
The Hampton Inns and Suites is right near the Michigan border and our room is fabulous. The kids have room to run around and I honestly think it's bigger than Jeff's apartment, complete with kitchen area and separate toilet and sink areas. It's really comfortable for us. We checked in a few minutes before our room was ready and went across the street to Meijer to buy some forgotten items to pass the time. Rebecca treated herself and siblings to the best deal in the U.S., the penny ride. For a penny, they rode a mechanical horse for a minute. For the adults we saw an even better deal in the parking lot, a sign for a TARTA shuttle to Mudhens games. At the hotel we looked it up on-line (the front desk didn't have a clue) and for $1/person or $2/5 people there's a shuttle for ever Mudhens game. Even better, yesterday was Ozone Day or something, so the shuttle was free. OK, so it was only $3 we saved, but everything counts... that's the cost of postcards or yet another keychain. Katherine collects keychains. You can imagine what her collection looks like already.
Back at the hotel, everyone changed into swimsuits and went to the pool. The kids burnt energy for an hour with Sharks&Minnows. You should see Nicholas, he can swim half the length of one of these hotel pools and tries to do somersaults and swim to the bottom. Once we're in Togo, he'll turn into a fish. Katherine and Rebecca's strokes have gone to pot, but we'll fix that later. Jonathon is still a fraidy cat.
Washed and dried, we took the shuttle to the game, checked out all the food options and took our seats in the front row along the 3rd base line. The game was a blast, ending in a nailbiter top of the 9th with a score of 9-8 Mudhens. I've never been to a small hometown game and wasn't expecting to have such a great time. The kids enjoyed themselves thoroughly with yelling, doing the chicken dance and primarily trying to catch baseballs. Jonathon set up his hat on the wall in front of us and assured me he was ready when a ball came down. It would land right in his hat. We had two near catches, one to the right and one to the left, but no real chance of catching our own. We bought one in the gift shop instead.
We ate huge nacho grandes, gyros, pepsis and ice creams while we sat for three hours and yelled ourselves hoarse. 1st base line: MUD! 3rd base line: HENS! And boy did we encourage the Braves Pena to strike out. Every time he did, a random row in the stadium would get free ice cream.
Yeah. I guess you could say we had fun.
Chuckles: Nicholas really wanted to root for the Braves. They were, afterall, the Rich Men Braves. The music would periodically start "We Will, We Will Rock You" and the screen would show King Kong or dinosaurs from old B movies stomping their feet. Every time, Jonathon would search Fifths Third Field to see where the monsters were stomping. We could see the dancing Mudhens, why not King Kong?

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Greetings from Pittsburgh

This past weekend we flew up for a weekend in Maine. More on that later. Yesterday we started our midwest driving trip. You'llhave to pardon my typing since this is all on the laptop and my usually bad typing will only be worse.

Tuesday, August 2: We left my parents' house about 8:45 a.m. and drove into the DC to drop off our passports to attain visas for Togo. Wish us luck. Weeks ago the guy Ian talked to said it would be fine, yesterday the woman there says she sure hopes they get back in time. We have the last week in August to butt heads if need be.
By 10 a.m. we were back on the road to Pittsburgh and made it without incident by 2:30 to Station Square, a hot tourist spot in town with a great view of the city skyline across the river. Freight trains pass every 15 minutes and a choreographed water fountain soaks bystanders every 15 minutes. The kids promptly were drenched from head to toe, fully dressed. (I'm really hoping this morning their shoes are wearable, at least for breakfast.) We split a couple brownie sundaes in the Hard Rock Cafe, then climbed into the 1945 Ducks for a Pittsburgh tour by land and sea. My favorites tour notes were about the buildings. Because Pittsburgh was created as a blue collar steel and coal town, one of the buildings was created from sheets of steel that the builders -wanted- to rust as it provided a tough protective layer against the elements. Another building was built from aluminum, another had glazed terra cotta that rinses clean with every rain (unlike sandstone that soaks up all the pollution filth from the air). And the "wall street" of Pittsburgh is a glass island castle. Pictures are easier to explain that one.
Once we switched to boat mode, all the kids on board were given the opportunity to steer the boat. Of course each one wanted to go their own direction, Nicholas wanted to turn the boat around, but our captain kept a steady eye on our path.
After our tour we ate at Joe's Crab Shack. The food was OK, the decor was not so great (lots and lots of plastic children's toys hanging from the ceiling and attached to the walls) and it was really loud. Both Ian and I came out thinking yet again that restaurants simply give out too much food. The size of the people here in Pittsburgh is a testament to that as well. Ian asked if I wasn't hungry, but I'd eaten plenty... and only 1/3 of the dish. It is wasteful, I know. Next time I need to make a better choice. Do any places still offer 1/2 portions?
So now we're at our temporary home, the Embassy Suites, and today we'll be driving over to Toledo, OH. Just need to get the crew up, dressed and breakfasted.
Oh, a couple notes: If we'd had a full day, we would have played at the Carnegie Science Center, and taken the tram to the top of Mt. Washington (rated the 2nd best view in the nation, after the Painted Desert... by some magazine. Why do I find that hard to believe though?).