Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wedding Day!

Today was the big day. Our good friend, Rene, was married today and her wedding was most of the reason for our visit to Colorado. It's nice, of course, that we got in some visiting with my Dad but we see him pretty regularly on the East Coast. Joseph was the ring bearer and Margaret the flower girl for this wedding and they have been looking forward to this day for months.

But before I get to the kids, I have to gush a bit about this wedding and the family that hosted it. I've known Rene for several years and heard lots about her family. They always sounded wonderful and creative and resourceful but nothing prepared me for this wedding. Rene wanted to be married at home so the first step was to build a barn. That's right. That beautiful building at the top of this post was built by her family in the last month. Her father owns a sawmill/lumberyard but, still.

The upstairs is a loft room that was used for out-of-town guest housing. The bride and groom exchanged vows on the deck there and Joseph is trying out the boardwalk that was built this morning. And lest you think that a wedding in a barn can't be wonderfully elegant, wonder no longer:
The entire setting was lovely. In addition to building the barn Rene's family also self-catered the reception (delicious Cajun food), made Margaret's dress and about a million other things that many people would have hired someone else to do.

Margaret was a lovely flower girl. After getting dressed and getting her hair done she spent a long time meticulously pulling apart roses to fill her basket with petals.

At the rehearsal Margaret had refused to walk down the aisle alone. She insisted that once she had her flower petals she was going to do exactly what was expected of her. But as anyone who knows Margaret could probably guess, she froze at the prospect of walking past lots of strangers so I had to personally walk her down the aisle and get her into her seat. Everyone loved her anyway, of course.

The ring bearer, on the other hand, performed flawlessly.

Joseph took his job very seriously, wheeled down the aisle beautifully and looked quite dapper while doing it. I was not at leisure to take pictures of the kids actually going down the aisle.

My favorite part of the day was after dinner. Margaret was in a bit of a funk, I think, and asked if we could go find her flower basket. We retrieved it from the house and she asked me to come with her back outside. She walked back to the end of the aisle and proceeded to walk slowly down the aisle scatter flower petals the whole way. The photographer caught it all. Then she walked back and forth up and down the aisle until her basket was empty. Then she asked to find Rene who was only too happy to take another trip down the aisle, hand-in-hand with Margaret, this time over flower petals.

Shortly after Margaret had completed her appointed task the dancing began and the shy flower girl became the life of the party. She wouldn't sit down.

She danced with me:

With the maid of honor:
With the bride:
The boys got in on the fun, too. Joseph raced across the room to ask the maid of honor to dance as soon as the dance floor was open to everyone.

And William, who is a dancing fanatic, couldn't get enough. We couldn't quite capture the sheer delight on his face while he bopped around with us. But William spent a good deal of time trying to get as dirty as possible. He spent the ceremony chucking fistfuls of mulch, most of which landed on himself.

He spent the toasts playing around this beautiful spot tossing stones at the Adirondack chairs.

And staring, entranced, at the huge dogs which he loved as long as they remained a safe distance away.

A lovely day for our family and a beautiful start to a marriage for Rene and Bob. Margaret is sleeping in her dress next to me.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day Four

We've finally arrived at our first destination in Colorado. Today was our shortest day of driving thus far and while most people would consider Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado as among the most boring drives in the country we enjoyed the novelty of the emptiness for today at least.

Early in our drive we were scanning the horizon and said, "What's that way ahead? Are those tall buildings?" After awhile we determined that we were coming up on a wind farm--the first we'd ever seen. When we first saw the wind farm we were 14 miles away and the wind farm was to our right for 30 miles of driving. Eric and I are lovers of history and have been talking quite a bit the last few days about the first settlers of the West. To put this wind farm sighting--and our speed relative to a covered wagon--in perspective, a settler in a wagon would have traveled almost two full days between first seeing the wind farm and getting to it and then would have traveled alongside it for three or four days. The wind farm, of course, wasn't there in the nineteenth century, but you get my point. I think the Kansas prairie probably seemed a lot bigger at two-miles-per hour.

We got off the interstate a little ways before the Colorado border and traveled on a fast but smaller road. The route had been suggested by my dad whose house we are staying at. It was amazing. There were several points where our vistas--for miles and miles and miles--included no sign of civilization other than the road we were on. Most of the time there were at least some utility poles or another car but not always. There was no place to get lunch so we ate cold leftover Chinese food from the night before, very grateful that we'd packed it in our cooler for the drive.

And here is Margaret at the "rest stop" mid-afternoon:

I took a ton of pictures of her getting blown to bits. She loved the wind and the prairie grass and was running all around. Even William seemed to be excited about the location. Joseph and Margaret professed a desire to live on the prairie in the middle of nowhere.

Colorado began as a continuation of Kansas but changed before long into a high-desert landscape. On a not-particularly clear day we first spotted Pike's Peak about 70 miles away. And, again, we reflected that a pioneer in a covered wagon would have seen nothing but flat land for weeks and weeks and weeks and then one day would see this mountain looming up out of the prairie and still take more than a week to reach it. And we did it in about an hour. Amazing.

I don't know if I'll keep up this daily journal of our travels but I know at least a few readers are enjoying it. The kids are in a wedding this weekend and we will be busy with that for a few days. But I promise to be back before too long. And next Tuesday we'll be back on the road again and headed to Minnesota.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Day Three

After my post yesterday about how we keep the kids happy on long road trips I briefly considered capturing some video footage for tonight's post. About fifteen minutes before our lunch stop Margaret shifted into full meltdown mode while William just wailed and wailed and Joseph basically sang as loudly as he could in an effort to tune them out. All they needed was a nice lunch break and a nap but it really made me wonder for a bit what we were thinking when we embarked on this adventure.

Today I crossed two states off my "to see" list. Missouri was a first for me. The most frustrating thing about long-haul car trips with kids is that there is very little time to get out and sight see. Urban community and urban development is a definite passion of ours and we would have loved to see St. Louis but we had to keep moving. Fortunately the freeway affords a great view of the city's most famous landmark.

The kids especially loved this huge geyser at the park near the arch. And, yes, we were definitely seeing some weather. We watched but did not personally experience a lightning storm over Kansas City a few hours after this.

Kansas was another first for me but Eric was born there. We've stopped for the night in Manhattan and it has been incredible to watch the Kansas landscape change so quickly just in the distance we've come so far. I'm pretty sure it just gets more desolate from here on ourtuntil we reach Colorado Springs.

The kids are more or less holding up. Joseph, as I said yesterday, is a great traveler. He is just loving the geography of everything. He was fascinated by the Eastern Continental Divide. He loves to see the rivers. He is really excited about seeing the prairie. We finished up a couple months ago a year-long journey through the entire Little House on the Prairie series. He is excited to see the prairie Laura Ingalls lived on as a little girl and we'll be headed through South Dakota next week where she lived as an older child and young adult. Unfortunately her books have also instilled in him a real fear of tornadoes so he was a little on edge during the storm today.

William is really excited about dancing lately so whenever he starts to fuss we turn on some music and get him moving. He's sort of Pavlovian about it--he can't not dance when he hears music. It is very cute.

Margaret is struggling the most but she (and we) are learning how to keep her feeling balanced. She likes to have her window down for large sections of the day so she can get blown to bits by the wind. She has discovered gum chewing as a way to work off nervous energy. And, for some reason, she has developed an odd ritual about making coffee at hotels. She finds the mini coffee pots so inviting and spends an hour or more tinkering with the pot, the sugar packets, the powdered creamer, and the stirrers making us a coffee concoction that we can barely stomach.

There has been some reported disbelief about us fitting into our small car so tomorrow I will try to get a shot of our intricately packed trunk for those of you just love logistical details like that.

Good night!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day Two

Hello from Dale, Indiana! Today was our longest day of driving for the entire trip. We managed ten hours of actual driving which translated to a roughly 12-hour day after factoring in all the rest stops required with three little kids. After noting that there were at least six affordable hotel options at every exit we pulled in to the town we wanted to stop in and found . . . two. Eric and I are not hardcore fitness enthusiasts but when we've spent all day in the car we really, really like to get in a swim and a run, respectively. The obviously-more-affordable place offered us nothing along these lines so we tentatively went across the street and found that the rooms were about half price. Amazing! It is very nice to stay in a comfortable place with a chance to work out all the muscle stiffness from a day in the car.

A few observations from our travels today . . . Northern West Virginia is prettier than Southern West Virginia. The ride was pretty today but nothing like we'd seen on previous trips west.

Kentucky is gorgeous. I've been to almost every state that borders Kentucky but never even passed through a corner of the state. We loved driving through the rolling hills and horse farms. We passed an exit for the distillery that makes our favorite bourbon and we were so tempted to stop. But we didn't. I doubt there'd be much for kids at a distillery.

And almost immediately after passing into Indiana we saw a sign for a winery. Oddly enough, we weren't at all tempted to stop and sample Indiana wine.

I know I'm a dork for taking pictures of the state welcome signs but it is hard! I don't know why a sign looming so large in front of me turns out so tiny in the pictures.

My friend Sarah asked how we keep the kids busy in the car. We are far from experts on this. This is the third year in a row we've done a multi-day road trip like this and this year's is much more involved. We are good enough at maintaining sanity all around that we do this every year but there are definitely tense moments. The biggest thing is that we have drastically different parenting standards in the car. I all but ban noisy, battery-operated toys at home but they don't bother me in the car. We pack lots and lots of snacks trying to strike a balance between novelty and healthfulness. I bag them into serving sizes before the trip and the kids can have pretty much as many as they want. I save new books or magazines for the road. I hit up the dollar store for novel and highly entertaining trinkets. We sing, we dance, I act like a total goof ball to keep the kids laughing. William is generally happy if everyone else is happy. Joseph is fantastic at entertaining himself with the slightest occupation (he can draw for hours with a white board, for example) and Margaret requires pretty much full-time attention.

One thing we've found really helpful is to preserve our routine as much as possible. We do family prayer at the same time but in the car. I brought a few school books and we do a short school time in the car. The after lunch stretch is rest time. At the hotel we read the same chapter book we've been using for bedtime at home.

It all works pretty well for us. We'd much rather drive and be on our own schedule and actually see the country than fly and deal with luggage and juggling car seats and getting a wheelchair on a plane. And Eric and I always pack a nice beer to drink after the kids are in bed. So with that I'm off to enjoy a Belgian Ale before trying to finally get caught up on sleep.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Day One

The epic 2010 Summer Road Trip begins. Today's progress was somewhat unimpressive:


We had originally planned to leave yesterday morning but Eric discovered a fantastic academic conference "on the way" that he had to go to. Sounds a little nuts, perhaps--hitting a conference at the outset of a long road trip--but I agreed that he should go after hearing the roster of speakers. So we left this morning instead and drove a mere five hours to Emmittsburg, MD. Eric actually interviewed for a job at the seminary here so we are familiar with the area. The town is also home of the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton shrine. Mother Seton was the first American-born saint to be canonized. The school where Eric currently teaches was founded by her nephew who named it after her so we definitely feel a connection. While Eric went to his conference the kids and I played outside at the Shrine which was, of course closed. We've been to the Shrine about six times and found it closed four of those times. The schedule is posted, we just never check it.

Emmittsburg is just a few minutes south of Gettysburg so we drove around there for awhile as well looking for cannons. Then we spent some downtime at our hotel in Thurmont which you have probably never heard of even though it is the home of Camp David. Our hotel really plays that up and we are in the "Associated Press" room though from the looks of it the Reagan Room would have been more comfortable. We haven't had any presidential sightings.

Despite my record two blog posts in one night I don't promise a daily log of our wanderings but it should be an interesting trip: Colorado to Minnesota and back to New Jersey. We are driving 4300 miles over nine days for a total trip of almost one month. We'll be hitting five states I've never been to and I hope we'll do enough sight seeing to warrant at least a few more installments here.

Road trip prep AKA Mother's Day

Mother's Day began quietly this year and without any specific plans. We got to Mass early and then decided to just go for a drive. We've been having fun exploring New Jersey. Prior to living here my entire experience of the state had pretty much been confined to cursing holiday traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. We've found that we actually live in a pretty neat place. In April we spent one misty, foggy day driving through the small mountains in northwest Jersey. So beautiful. So for Mother's Day we headed south towards the "Pine Barrens."

This area of the state is pretty undeveloped and we were just starting to wonder what we could find for lunch, "Live Bait" seeming like our only option when we stumbled across the Red Barn Cafe. It proved to be the most perfect and delightful location for Mother's Day brunch I could have wanted. A tiny, rustic dining room attached to a plant nursery. The food was incredible, the pies (which are locally famous) were among the best we'd ever had, and when it turned out to be a cash-only establishment the owner handed Eric her business card and told him to mail her a check (we found enough between us once we emptied our wallets).

From there we decided to drive down the coast a bit but we wanted to find some shoreline apart from the beach town culture. We ended up all the way down at Cape May which is the southernmost tip of New Jersey. The beach there is protected and beautiful and there was something for everyone.

Eric caught me on camera pointing out the huge ship off the coast to Joseph.

William still hates the water but is loving the sand.

If you ask, Margaret will tell you she's a "beach fanatic." She loves everything about the beach and will go into the ocean water in May, will lie on her stomach and army crawl through sand and loves running around like some kind of seaside nymph.

Joseph loved the long boardwalk. You can see his hair blowing back from the speed he was using to careen down the ramp. Joseph is doing his best to turn my hair gray.

And the requisite unimpressive shot of my oh-so-photogenic family.

At the end of all these adventures we realized we'd spent about 13 hours traveling which was a much longer day than any we'd planned for our summer road trip. So we ended the day feeling optimistic.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

She can sleep anywhere

When I took William up to bed this evening both kids were outside playing. Our Brazilian neighbors have a six-year-old boy who had finally come home after being out all day and we let them have some rare after-dinner playtime to celebrate.

From the upstairs bedroom I could heard Eric say, "Time to come in, kids. I'm going to bump Joseph up first and then it will be time for Margaret to come in." I hurried downstairs as soon as William was asleep. Margaret has been begging for my presence at bedtime recently and I indulge her while working on knitting projects.

Downstairs I saw Eric and Joseph but neither heard nor saw Margaret. I said, "Margaret didn't fall asleep already did she?" Eric responded, "Check the camera."

This is what I found:

Don't worry, she'd been relocated to her bed by the time I saw the pictures.