Monday, August 11, 2014

Adventures in Family Road-Tripping

When my husband suggested that I keep a journal of our vacation, I was skeptical.  Who wanted to tote around a notebook and constantly be jotting down notes about times and locations and miles per gallon?  And the first day or two, that's all it was.  But, after that, I began to record the memories that I wanted to hold onto and I was glad that he had suggested it.

Our vacation was craziness wrapped up in chaos with a side of what are we thinking?  In recent months, we had talked about various road trips that we would like to take with the kids.  My husband wanted them to see things like the Grand Canyon and Washington D.C. and Mount Rushmore and I wanted them to see where I lived and went to school and visit friends.  We had as many possible itineraries as there are directions.  As we had just sold off the pasture part of my husband's family farm, we thought we might buy a travel trailer and have a camping vacation.  I wasn't sold on the travel trailer by any means.  I don't call that camping, I call that parking.  But, I am no outdoors girl.  I have tried to be a sport about camping for my family's sake, but even they aren't all that keen on it.  I don't like dirt and heat and bugs.  I do like sleeping outside and hearing the locusts and frogs and seeing the stars and feeling the cool breezes off the lake.  But, our camping trips have become ridiculous.  I knew I was in trouble when my ex-husband bought a small air conditioner for our tent and we rented a U-haul to go to my family reunion.  It's not much better these days, though we certainly don't have an air conditioner.  We bought our own trailer and by the time we are done setting up our campsite, it resembles a small village--two tents, a screen house, and one or two canopies.  My husband LOVES to find camping "gadgets."  While I would be fine roasting weenies on a stick over a campfire or burgers on the provided grills, he buys camping stoves and a camp oven and comes up with camping recipes such as bagged omelets.  He has a whole kitchen setup, with a stand for the camp stove (complete with paper towel roll holder and hooks for your cooking utensils) and a shoe tree for holding various kitchen sundries--combined with tables and Rubbermaid tubs sorted, these things under a canopy become our "kitchen."  The funny thing is that my husband originally laughed at me when I wanted electric hookups so I could have a fan--both for keeping cool and because I always sleep with one on for white noise.  He said that I should experience primitive camping.  Yet, if you saw the tub of electrical cords, the trailer packed full of stuff, and him sitting in our tent at night, playing games on his laptop, you would know why I find his amusement at my fans ironic.

None of us particularly enjoy the heat or bugs.  I love camping when the weather is cool, but often we have gone out for a Labor Day camping trip and were melting with the extreme heat of the midwest.  Someone always ends up sick and puking, one year I had poison ivy, and last year I was recovering from stomach surgery, so the heat has not been our friend.  Or, we get stuck with constant rain and leaking tents.  So, the kids have been on-board with some sort of RV for a long time.  And though I poked fun at the idea of "parking", I was like my husband laughing at my fans while he plugged in his laptop.  I wanted to be able to take a shower and not step out and immediately get my feet dirty again.  I wanted somewhere to cool off if the weather was not cooperating or take shelter when the rains came.  I think we would go on more spur of the moment camping trips if we had everything ready to go in a camper, rather than having to load everything onto the trailer, unload and set up camp, take down camp, load the trailer back up, then unload when we get home.  It just isn't worth the trouble.  And like the meme I saw recently, it doesn't make sense: paying a fortune to live like homeless people....  NOT my idea of a vacation.

But, I went with my husband to shop for a travel trailer or two he had found on the internet.  After looking at a few, we found one that we really liked.  It was obviously used (we are not flush with cash), but seemed to have everything that we could want.  Master bedroom; pop-out with a breakfast nook that converts to a bed; a sofa that folds out to a bed; a small recliner; a nice kitchen complete with stove, oven, fridge, microwave; a "bunkhouse" with two bunkbeds; and a bathroom.  We always camp near the bathrooms with my intestinal problems and the idea of our own bathroom thrills me because I despise public restrooms.  We were ready to buy.  We had plans.  We decided that all of my husband's wolf decor would go to the trailer, so I set it all out.  I created some family photo collages that I could put on the walls.  We bought some new blankets for the kids' beds.  We bought some storage solutions.  We began shopping for towels that could be "camping towels" and TVs and pots and pans, etc.  We had whole lists.  And we started planning our itinerary.  We didn't want to do an Easterly road trip because the urban places we were going didn't seem to go along with camping.  I wanted the Southerly road trip to culminate in a short cruise from Miami, leaving our trailer  Northern would be ok, but really all we could envision with that direction was Mount Rushmore and maybe Chicago.  That left West.  We would pick the kids up at their dad's and go to Wichita to see the grandma's and do the kids' laundry.  Then we would head towards the Grand Canyon, stopping one night along the way.  Then it would be on to Lake Havasu, Sequoia National Park, a beach in California so the kids could see the ocean, Yosemite and visiting Scott's aunt and uncle, Phoenix to visit my friend Tiffany, Tucson to see my best friend of 27 years, then through Colorado to see mountains and drive by a college that Kimberly (at age 12) is interested in.  We found KOA Kampgrounds, which offer many amenities, all along the way.  We even went to AAA and got TripTix and maps and guidebooks.  We contacted my friends and his family and lined up our visits.  And then the trailer didn't happen.

Lawyers and banks being what they are...the money didn't come in in time.  My mother-in-law offered to buy the trailer with her credit card and we could pay her back when the check finally arrived, but the dealership said that they couldn't do that much on a credit card with a titled vehicle.  So, she thought she would take a out a signature loan at her bank, but they wouldn't loan that much.  So, she was willing to drive three hours all the way up here just to sign some papers to finance the trailer that we would turn around and pay off in a couple of weeks' time.  However, when we called the dealership to get the financing together, both the salesman and the business manager we had been talking to were gone...and wouldn't be back for two or three days.  I read online that the financing can take two to fours days and we only had four days until we were set to leave.  I finally accepted that God was blocking us at every turn and this trailer must not have been in His Will.  Who knows?  He might have been saving us from a bad sale, a piece of junk, something unsafe.  So, we decided to "let it go" and since the camping was out, we decided we would just scrap the whole westerly vacation.  We decided instead to go East and we threw ourselves into planning.  Day one to Indianapolis, Indiana for the night.  Day two to Columbus, Ohio for the Columbus Zoo and Zoombezi Bay Water Park.  Day three to Washington D.C.  Day four in Washington D.C.  Day five in Washington D.C.  Day six to Atlantic City, New Jersey.  Day seven to New York City by way of Hershey, Pennsylvania and possibly Philadelphia.  Day eight in New York City.  Day nine to Niagara Falls, NY.  Day ten to Chicago, Illinois.  Day eleven back home.  We looked into tours and museums and attractions.  We researched and booked hotels.  In the few days we had, we got things going.  We were ready!

We headed out early on Sunday, July 27.  We drove three hours to where the kids' dad lives in a tiny town in Kansas.  After we picked them up, we ate lunch in Junction City, Kansas, and then decided that since we were going through Kansas City again anyway, we would stop at home because we might need a potty break and I had forgotten something.  The kids hadn't been home in two weeks, which is the longest they have been away from home, so they got to SEE home for a few minutes.  We stopped at QuikTrip for drinks and got back on the road.  We stopped for dinner in Greenup, Illinois, and then kept going.  At the Indiana border, we hit the Eastern time zone, so we arrived at 10:30pm our time, 11:30 local time in Indianapolis, 15 1/2 hours after we'd begun our trip.  We stayed at a Country Inn and Suites and it was a nice hotel, but it was just a place to crash for the night.  Almost all the hotels had two queen beds and a sofa bed.  I preferred to keep Billy in the room with us when it was a suite, so that night, he got the bed and the girls shared the sofa bed.

In the morning, we got up and headed out.  My husband was really in charge of breakfasts with the kids.  I never once went down to the hotel's breakfasts.  I know, I know, breakfast in the most important meal of the day.  However, I have a very difficult time eating early.  I don't get hungry at all until around lunchtime and often not until dinner time.  Not only that, but as aforementioned, I have intestinal issues.  I brought some enzyme pills to take before meals, but sometimes they don't help at all or don't help enough.  So, between my not wanting to have to worry about needing a bathroom during our roadtrip and knowing that I would be doing lots of walking and didn't want to be too full and bloated and hot to be able to move, I was skipping all breakfasts.  With all that walking and eating light, I hope I lost some weight over the course of the trip!

Even though we stopped for gas and drinks and lunch at a Burger King, it didn't take too long before we arrived at the Drury Inn in Columbus, Ohio.  We checked in and unloaded.  The problem with all of this traveling and changing hotels was the amount of STUFF we had.  The kids had taken a lot to their dad's since they would be there for two weeks.  I had only packed Billy limited clothing, figuring his step-mom could wash their clothes, but Arrena had decided to be a snot and pack the kitchen sink as a silent protest against being forced to give up her summer plans to go to her dad's.  I think she packed almost all the clothes she owned.  When I dropped them with their dad, he was struggling to get all their huge suitcases and duffle bags into his car's trunk when they had a table in there that they had forgotten to take out.  I packed a few outfits for them to be sure they had clean clothes for the first few days.  Then I packed a suitcase for each of us, travel bags for each of the kids (electronics and books for the girls and toys and coloring books for Billy), a fidget kit for Billy, a hotel toy bag for Billy, a bag of electronics cables and chargers, two toiletries containers, my clipboard with my notebook and paperwork, my crocheting bag, both our laptop bags, and my camera bag, etc.  Imagine carting all of that in and out of each hotel.  It usually took two trips or two carts. In Columbus, I took everything in and rearranged suitcases and organized everything.  Somewhere along the way, Scott and Arrena did some laundry.  There was a bit of silliness going on that day with our most favorite lines during the drive being, "Kimberly, what's your name?" and a little back-and-forth between Billy and Kimberly:
Kimberly: "It's called metabolism."
Billy: (pause)  "Does it hurt?"

After we settled in to the room, we jumped back in the van, and went to the Columbus Zoo.  We drove through Dublin, Ohio to get there and I thought it was just about the prettiest little town I have ever seen.  We had wanted to go to the water park that is part of the zoo, but the weather was cool in the 70s and we just couldn't see doing that.  We found that a membership was about the same as a one-day entrance and parking, so we went ahead and got one, so we can always go back sometime in the next year.  The Columbus Zoo is said to be one of the best zoos in the country and Jack Hanna is the president Emeritus.  We spent a few hours there, only getting to see about half to two-thirds of the zoo.  We wanted to see the aquarium and Billy wanted to see Dino Island, so we headed toward the Australia/Congo/Aquarium section.  Most of the animals I have seen before at other zoos, but I had never seen a manatee (I want to sing "Barbara Manatee", aka "Endangered Love" from Veggie Tales every time I mention that) or a koala before.  Though, I still really haven't seen a koala since both of them were asleep and curled up in trees so you could only see their backs.  Apparently they spend most of their time that way.

We left the zoo and ate dinner at Macaroni Grill and then we went swimming in the the hotel pool.

In the morning (Tuesday, July 29), we left and headed towards Washington D.C.  We stopped for snacks and to use the bathroom in Wheeling, WV and again in Keyser's Ridge, MD.  We passed through Ohio, West Virginia, D.C., and Virginia before arriving at our hotel, the Washington Suites in Alexandria, VA.  The dumb comment of the day belonged to me, unfortunately, when I was singing along with Alabama's Song of the South and somehow came up with "...sweet potato gravy and hush my mouth."  Immediately I knew something didn't sound right.  Hmmmm....  Sweet potato gravy???  I didn't want to get out again to eat out, so Arrena and I went to pick up dinner at a place called Shooter McGhee's which was recommended to us by hotel staff.  We were going to get drinks at the 7/11 in front of our hotel, but it had a tiny parking lot (seems to be a theme with 7/11's) and it was packed, with more people waiting on the street to turn in.  We ended up going down the block and finding a CVS, so we stocked up on pop since we had a kitchenette in our room.  We were really disappointed in the food, which was really expensive to be so blah to bad.

On Wednesday, July 30, we took the hotel shuttle to the DC Metro station and rode the train into the city, getting off at Federal Triangle.  The kids had never ridden on a train before, though this is more like a subway most of the time.  We walked across the street to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  I think it's great that all of the Smithsonian museums have free admission.  Though, I was kind of disappointed in this museum.  I was a bit bored, as were the kids, and even Scott said it wasn't like he remembered.  Probably the best feature of that museum is the Star Spangled Banner.  After we left there, we went out front and bought some lunch from the food trucks on the street and ate on park benches.  Kimberly was enjoying feeding the bold sparrows and pigeons that would come right up to us, begging like my cat for table scraps.

We bought tickets to ride the "Big Bus" tour.  I think this is the best idea ever.  It's an open-top double-decker bus.  We rode on top most of the time and I was able to get pictures that I wouldn't have been able to get just riding in any other mode of transportation..  And it was nice to hear the tour guides tell facts and point out interesting places and share stories.  Even when they didn't have a live tour guide, they had recorded narration.  You were given headphones and the audio jacks gave the tour in several different languages.

I really enjoyed the architecture in D.C. and New York.  We don't see that kind of thing in the Midwest.  I loved the buildings when I lived in Germany because there were churches and structures that were older than our country!  It was amazing!  Though I had never really had much desire to visit New York City or D.C., I was really struck by the beauty.  It was also really interesting to see places that I have only seen on TV.  Seeing pictures of it just isn't a substitution for seeing it yourself.  I would see reporters standing on "the mall" with the Capitol building in the background and had this idea that the mall wasn't terribly big.  Whoa, was I wrong!  I think maybe if I had been by myself, I might have been more inclined to leisurely stroll around the mall, seeing the monuments and sites, or even rent one of the bikes (D.C. and New York have bikes you can rent, a lot the like the strollers in a shopping mall or the luggage carts in the airport) and just tool around.  One thing I learned is that if you want to tour the White House, you have to write to your Congressman and get approval and screenings months in advance.  The president was in Kansas City while we were in D.C., so we thought that was funny--was it something we said???

The other benefit to the bus tour is that they have numerous stops (and a couple of different circuitous routes), so you can hop off and visit something and then catch the next bus and continue your tour.  We hopped off at the Air and Space Museum.  Kimberly tried out a flight simulator while we were there and then Billy had a meltdown because he wanted to see an IMAX movie.  I had forgotten to bring his meds with me, so he and I sat on the floor by a wall and I tried to get him calm while Scott and Arrena and Kimberly explored a bit more.  When we left, we got an ice cream at one of the street trucks to cool everyone off and get a little snack to re-energize everyone a bit.  Then we hopped the bus to go to the Natural History Museum.  The kids really wanted to see "Dum-Dum" from the movie "Night at the Museum" and I was intrigued by the Hope diamond and the supposed curse it carries.  We bought a couple of souvenirs and then caught the Metro back to the Van Dorn station.  The hotel shuttle was there when we got there, but it was full, so we had to wait for it to come back.  We were so tired, we just ordered Domino's to be delivered to our room.

On Thursday, July 31, we went downstairs to catch the hotel shuttle.  There were a lot of other people waiting to catch it too, so we decided to go get the van and park at a Pentagon City shopping mall.  The tour bus picked up right outside and we rode it until we were almost to the National Archives.  I almost wish they allowed photography inside the room with the important national documents, but on the other hand, it's so touristy as it detracts from the solemnity and sacredness of these documents.  It's darkened in the room because it took them a while to figure out that light was causing them to fade.  The room is just as architecturally interesting as the rest of the city.  You almost want to whisper.  There's a semi-circle line of people bending over glass cases and guards all around, though the guards don't seem as solemn and alert as you might expect after watching National Treasure.  I asked one of the female guards if the cases are like on National Treasure and drop down below.  She said, "Girl, I don't even know!  By the time they do what they do, I've already gone home!"  Well-informed....  They told us if we didn't want to wait to see the extraneous documents, we could go to the middle of the line to see the three that we came for: The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights.  They are very faded and the only signature I could make out on the Declaration of Independence was John Hancock.  I was surprised that the Bill of Rights was more faded than the Constitution, though it is newer.  Of course, that can be a statement as to the content of those rights being faded figuratively.  Billy had to go to the bathroom and since Scott had seen them before, he took him.

Next, we walked a few blocks to the Crime and Punishment Museum.  We thought the kids would like this museum, especially Kimberly who is showing an academic interest in forensics and detective work currently.  In addition to display items like Ted Bundy and Bonnie and Clyde's cars and John Wayne Gacy's clown suits, there were interactive features like walking you through the investigation of a crime scene, driving simulators, and a shooting simulation.

When we left there, it was way past lunch and we considered stopping in one of the restaurants to eat.  But, we had tickets for a boat cruise that had been included in our tour tickets and we knew if we didn't get over there soon, we wouldn't have enough time.  So, we walked over to a tour bus stop to catch a bus.  We thought it would be any moment, but it ended up being about half an hour.  We could have grabbed some food and eaten while we were waiting, but we didn't know it would take that long.  While we were waiting, we saw a wreck happen in front of us where a taxi pulled a U-turn and hit a woman.  Then the tour bus took about an hour to drive to the waterfront through Georgetown.  When we arrived, we waited for about half an hour on the boat.  We were hot, tired, and hungry at this point.  When the boat pulled up, the captain informed us that he had a reserved party of 50-something people coming and he could only take 14.  We had been told that they usually line up on one side or the other of the boardwalk and there were other boats that had been lining up on one side, so we sat on the ledge on the other side.  People came and went on other boats and a long line had formed on the other side.  For one, we hadn't wanted to stand any longer than we had to since we were so exhausted.  For two, the line had seemed to ebb and flow and include people from other tours, so we didn't know where we were supposed to be.  The captain was speaking to the line and we were nearby to hear this and Scott told the captain that we had been there longer and he said that we could go and he attempted to shoo off other people in line.  A Spanish-speaking family (though my kids insist they were French) at the head of the line started throwing a fit.  Apparently they must have had more than nine people in their group and with us, were in danger of having to split up.  They started loudly, angrily protesting that they had been there first, not us.  I don't know for sure.  I didn't study the faces of everyone who was there when we arrived.  So many people had come and gone in the 30 minutes we were waiting, I couldn't tell who was there first.  And it was hot and I had forgotten sunscreen and I was turned away with my hand shading my face to try to avoid more sunburn (we had gotten a slight one already).  Kimberly started crying.  She said she didn't feel good and had a headache and wanted to go.  She does not like stress or confrontation.  I don't either, but I really hadn't wanted to give up after all that.  We wasted a large chunk of time that we could have been doing something else just to take this cruise and then to not get on the boat was beyond frustrating.  But, I quietly told Scott we needed to go.  Billy threw a fit.  It's next to impossible to change plans with him without a meltdown.  I was sorely tempted to tell those people, "Congratulations!  My kids gave up lunch and spent two hours getting here and waiting here getting sunburned to take this cruise, and now my autistic son is going into meltdown, but that's ok, you go ahead and enjoy yourself!"  But, I bit my tongue and turned away.  We got a cab and piled in.  I didn't think the cabbie would take us all since Billy had to sit in my lap, but he didn't seem to care.  We just couldn't take waiting longer for a bus to return in the heat and Billy crying and all that, so the air conditioning in the cab felt good and he took us to the Metro station near George Washington University and we rode back to where we parked our car at Pentagon City.

There are two shopping malls, one on either side of the street and when we got off the Metro, we apparently turned the wrong direction and came up into the wrong one.  I thought nothing looked familiar, but it took a while before we realized that the parking garage and mall we had been in earlier was across the street.  We ended up eating at a restaurant in the mall called Johnny Rockets.  It's a 50s-style burger joint and it was great food, but way, way, WAY too expensive for burgers and fries.  I think we paid a $90 tab!  We about choked!

After we got the van, Scott thought he would drive me by the Lincoln Memorial and pull over and I could scamper on up the hill to see the memorial and take pictures.  The traffic was yucky and as we were creeping along, we saw what looked like a small explosion up ahead.  Being in the Capitol, I was more inclined to believe that than here at home.  But, when we got closer, we realized that a car had slammed into the yellow barrels in front of the concrete dividers and the "explosion" had been sand erupting from the barrel when it was hit.  Several barrels were broken in pieces.

When we got near the Lincoln Memorial, we realized there is no place to pull over.  The only places are for buses, taxis, and handicapped people.  Most of the way around it, there's no way to stop at all or you get run over.  He would have had to have parked quite a long way away and then I would have had to have walked back and forth.  I really wanted to see Lincoln, but I was too tired for that.  I'd also wanted to take pictures at Arlington National Cemetery, so he drove over there (just across the bridge from the Lincoln Memorial), but they had just closed.  He pulled over and I walked about half a block and took a few pictures through the fence, but it just wasn't good enough and I wanted to go back in the morning before we left.

We stopped at CVS again for some Solarcaine and scrubbies (I had bought some, but we'd left them hanging on the door in Indianapolis on the first day!).  We went back to the hotel and changed to go swimming, but the pool was closed.  They said they'd only closed it a few minutes early due to problems with the chemicals, but when we checked the pool schedule, they had closed it over an hour and a half early.

Friday, August 1, Scott complained at the front desk about the pool closure.  They said they couldn't give us a credit on our bill, but they would comp us some snacks from their "store."  When I asked how much, they handed me a large plastic bag and said, "However much you want."  So, we got drinks and snacks and Kimberly even got a pint of ice cream.

We had planned on going to Hershey, PA, but since I had really wanted to see and photograph Arlington and the Lincoln Memorial and we were so wiped, we had decided to sleep in, then he would take me by those two places and then we would head straight to Atlantic City.  It was raining.  Scott dropped me off at the entrance to Arlington and spent his time avoiding security who wouldn't let him just sit there.  He'd said he thought there was a shuttle I could take, but I didn't figure that out until I'd already gone through the visitor's center and down the path a bit.  Plus, it cost $8 to ride and I was trying to hurry so I didn't want to turn around and go back in the visitor's center to pay.  Despite it being rainy, it was crowded.  I'm glad I didn't anyway, because the shuttle was like the tour bus, stopping at certain points.  It would have taken me a lot longer to get around riding the shuttle.  I had just wanted to see JFK's grave and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and then I was done.  I didn't realize that those two locations would be such a trek.  I was recovering from a back injury and the walking we had been doing was way more than I was ready for.  I had to walk down the block and cross the street just to get into the cemetery--I'd thought once I exited the visitor's center I was already there!  I had gotten a map and realized that the two things I wanted to see were a lot further than I'd bargained for.  I started walking as fast as I could towards Kennedy's grave, down a block and around a circle drive.  Then I realized that his grave was even further, up a hill.  I knew I couldn't get up there and then to the Tomb of the Unknown quickly enough, so I satisfied myself with taking pictures of what I thought was a building housing his grave.  But, now I have figured out that it is the Arlington House, a mansion that was built by George Washington's adopted grandson as a memorial to George Washington.  His daughter married Robert E. Lee, who took care of the property until it was seized by the government and the property became Arlington National Cemetery.  Looking at a map now, I realize that I was really only around the corner from the grave and totally missed it.  Duh.  So, I started hoofing it to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Occasionally I would pause to snap a few pictures.  I got to the Tomb and watched the guard make one revolution in his march, took a few pictures and turned around and left.  However, somehow, I got turned around and ended up walking the opposite direction.  When you see row after row after row of little white grave markers, it's easy to think that it all looks alike.  But, something didn't seem right or familiar, so I looked at my map and my surroundings and figured out I was going the wrong way.  I turned around and my husband was texting me to find out how much longer.  I had been in there almost an hour.  I hurried out and jumped in the van (he had pulled into the handicap drop off) and we took off before park police could start in on him again.  It had taken so long, I reluctantly gave up on going back to the Lincoln Memorial.  I don't think I would have had the energy to have made that walk after Arlington anyway!

I was really disappointed because the Lincoln Memorial was probably the thing I wanted to see the most.  Maybe we will get to go back sometime.  Even if it's just a long layover during a flight--taxis can get close!

We headed towards Atlantic City, stopping at 7/11 and Burger King along the way.  We went through Virginia, obviously D.C., Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.  We checked in at the Country Inn and Suites in Absecon, New Jersey and once we were settled, we headed to the boardwalk and beach.  I was a little surprised, driving through Atlantic City.  I expected a really nice place, but it seemed seedy and run down.  Of course, the casinos were nice and pretty.  We arrived at the beach about 6 and the sign posted said that there is no swimming after 5 or 6, I can't remember which, since there is no lifeguard on duty.  However, we weren't the only ones out there and we had come too far to not swim.  This was one of the times that I hate being the photographer.  My choices are to leave the camera in the car and go swim with my family with no pictures of this or take the camera, which I can't leave unattended, so I have to watch them swim unless one of them decides they want a break and will watch my stuff.  Since this was their first time seeing the ocean, I couldn't NOT take pictures!  I had a cheapo disposable waterproof camera, but I wanted good pictures.  I decided that I will have plenty of chances to swim in the ocean when we go on our anniversary cruise in December, though it won't be with the kids.  Gotta say, though, that that was some of the softest sand I have ever walked through!

It was really foggy and overcast and the waves were really big.  The kids kept getting knocked off their feet by the breakwater.  I even lost my footing when I went out.  Scott finally coaxed the girls out a little bit, so they could just ride the waves and not deal with the breakwater.  Billy wouldn't do it, even with Scott, even with a life vest.  He stood there most of the time with his hands behind his back, like he was standing guard.  Occasionally, he would run if he saw a big wave coming at him.  At one point, I was taking multiple pictures of him, holding the shutter button down and a large wave came up and knocked him down and under.  I ran over and grabbed him.  I was wearing a towel around my waist, so he was blowing salt water out of his nose and mouth.  He was done after that.  He sat by our towels and built sand castles and chased sea gulls.  It started raining about the time we decided to check out the shops on the boardwalk and then leave to get dinner.  We got thoroughly soaked as we went from shop to shop, getting souvenirs.  Come to think of it, I think that was the one place I forgot.  I hadn't thought much about souvenirs for myself until later and ended up ordering some from online instead.  I think I got everything except for Atlantic City.  Darn!  Arrena and Kimberly got two because theirs were so inexpensive.

We left the boardwalk and stopped at a local Chinese place, which turned out to be not so good.  We were trying new, local things, but we were striking out almost every time!  The pool was closed when we got back, so the kids took turns in the Jacuzzi tub, which was in our room!  Kimberly later confessed that she felt awkward in there and put on her swimsuit to take her Jacuzzi bath.  I'm wondering how she washed all the sand away...

Saturday, August 2, the kids and Scott got up and went swimming in the hotel pool while I took a leisurely Jacuzzi bath.  The kids came back, wanting to use the bathroom, so I pulled the curtain and there were jokes about "pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain!"  I threw their swimsuits in the hotel drier for a while and then we checked out, ate some McDonald's and hit the road.  It didn't take long for us to arrive at the Courtyard Marriott in Lyndhurst, NJ.  That's the cool thing about New England states--that everything is so close!  You drive a couple of hours and you're at a major city.  Not like the Midwest or even the West where you drive for hours and hours and see nothing but livestock and wheat or corn.  Or desert.  We ordered dinner from an Italian restaurant called Foschini's.  Scott loved the stromboli he ordered, but I was not impressed with my food, a wrap and zeppolis.  I took the kids down to the hotel pool to swim (I just sat and watched and took pictures), but it was cold, they said.  Billy discovered a shower in the corner and stayed there pretty much the whole time.  The girls swam anyway, but there was a whole gaggle of stick-thin tweens that were running back and forth between the pool and the treadmills, so I think they got tired of the giggling and girls so thin that Arrena and Kimberly said they were afraid they'd "fall through their butts and hang themselves", so we went back upstairs.

Sunday, August 3, I was completely losing track of what day it was.  We should have at least done a family devotion or something, but we forgot.  We drove into New York City and parked in a parking garage that Scott found on Groupon.  We walked a block or two over to Times Square and found the same tour bus company that we had used in D.C. and bought tour tickets.  We rode around to the Empire State Building, which I wanted to go up in.  We had made a reservation for a ferry to the Statue of Liberty and after seeing the routes and guesstimating times, we were wondering if we were going to be pressed for time.  But, the two things I really wanted to see were the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.  Otherwise, I have very little interest in New York City.  I had looked up tickets and was amazed at how much they charge for you to go up to the observation deck.  To get up to the 86th floor, all of us, except Billy (who was $23) would pay $29.  Scott was questioning if it was worth $139.  If you want to go up to the 102nd floor top deck, that would run us $224.  And then there are the express prices, if you want to skip the lines...  Even the kids were agreeing that that was too expensive.  So, we had pretty much decided that I would go up alone and get the express pass to bypass the lines and pay $50 or to the 102nd floor for $67.  I really wanted them to have the experience, but they weren't as excited about it as I was.  When we got off the tour bus, we ran into a street vendor-type guy that sells tickets to go up to the Empire State Building and he started trying to sell me a ticket and print it right there with his little machine.  He was very nice and all and even walked us down the block and a half to the building, but I think we got scammed.  He was talking about a "fast pass" that would get me up there quick, no need to pay high price for "express" tickets.  So, then when we get almost there, he says that it would be affordable to take someone else with me, basically the same as buying one express, yada, yada.  Then all of a sudden all the kids want to go, so I said let's all go and pay the guy $174, thinking this is more than the "regular" tickets, but less than the express, so we're doing good.  Problem is that we still had to wait in lines.  There was nothing fast about it.  It's not like they have three lines: regular, fast, express.  They have regular and express and guess which one we were in.  So, we overpaid by $35.  And now I see all kinds of things online about beware of this type of thing.  Should have researched better before.  So, that trip up took forever.  I think we were there about an hour and a half.  Don't get me wrong, it was a great experience and I am glad the kids ended up going too, but when we were done, we had to run.

We were supposed to have tickets for the Statue Cruise at 2pm and it was about 1:15 and the bus tour guide was saying it would take about an hour to get to Battery Park.  So I was worried we would miss it and be out of luck.  At least I had done my research with the Statue of Liberty.  I knew that there was only one boat company that was licensed to dock at Liberty Island and I had already purchased tickets online.  I had tried to get tickets to go up in the crown, but that was booked two months out!  I tried to enjoy the tour but I was so worried about the time and losing out on $72 tickets.  More affordable than most things we did, but still!  We arrived at 2:30, but we still went to the will call window and they didn't even bat an eye.  I guess it really doesn't matter what time you pick.  We got in a huge line and went through security.  There were two lines, one for people that just showed up and bought tickets and one for those who had reserved tickets ahead of time, so our line was shorter and moved faster.  Seeing the Statue from a distance and from the Empire State Building, it looked so small, but as you approach it in the ferry, you finally realize just how big it really is.  I mean, I realized that people go inside of it and I read online how many steps there are, etc., but she still looks small from a distance, compared to the massive skyscrapers around her.  The ferry was packed and we squeezed around to one side to try to find a place to sit rather than standing and also have a good view for picture-taking.  We took pictures of the New York skyline and of the statue and then we got back on the ferry, which also stops at Ellis Island.  We didn't get off there, but it was interesting to see where so many immigrants came through.

We got back on the tour bus.  By this time, it was late afternoon and we knew that by the time the tour got us back to the beginning, the tours would be done for the day.  We had bought tickets to both the downtown and uptown loops, but had only had time to use the downtown loop.  I was disappointed because we had wanted to see Central Park, Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building, Grant's Tomb, and the American Museum of Natural History, where Night at the Museum takes place.  We did enjoy seeing the 9/11 Memorial Tower and where the Titanic would have docked if it had made it, a trapeze school, the Wall Street Bull, The New York Public Library that we see in The Day After Tomorrow, and one very well-informed tour guide pointed out where none other than Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman, lives.

We had wanted to get souvenirs and Scott wanted some New York pizza, but everyone was getting tired and cranky and annoyed and having bad attitudes, so we scrapped that.  I had held a bit of a hope that we might be able to drive the other tour and see what we missed along with maybe the United Nations, but it was time to go back to the hotel.  There was so much fighting that we really started to rethink our itinerary.  We thought for a bit about staying in New York another day to finish up what we had missed, but our reservation at the hotel in Niagara Falls was non-refundable and not exactly cheap, so we couldn't just abandon that.  Scott was tempted to, but I didn't want to waste money.  We knew we had tried to cram too much into this vacation and it was overwhelming everyone, even us.  We were tired and we still had a lot left to do.  We started thinking that maybe we should scrap going to Chicago and instead of trying to push the return trip after Niagara in two days, take three days so we weren't spending as much time driving each day.  And we thought we'd go back through Columbus and Indianapolis again, which was a more direct route.  And Scott found a hotel with a water park that he thought everyone would like, rather than my boring Chicago plans of the Field Museum (I wanted to see the lions of Tsavo, the Ghost and the Darkness) and the building formerly known as the Sears Tower.  We got the car and got some Wendy's on the way back to the hotel.

We considered going back into the city before we left on Monday, August 4, but I said no because the arguing and bickering needed to stop and they needed to know I was serious and not be rewarded with getting souvenirs despite their bad behavior.  Of course, I probably ruined this by getting souvenirs later after the trip was over.  But, I also thought it was silly to pay the toll to drive the tunnel and fight traffic and pay parking just to get some t-shirts and some pizza.  We got Sonic for breakfast, detoured to Hackettstown for Starbucks and gas, unexpectedly finding the headquarters for Mars Chocolate, and got lunch at McDonalds in the Poconos.  After that, I drove for the first time in the whole trip.  In Scranton, I missed a highway exit and my GPS re-routed me through town.  Since I was already off the highway and would be passing by Clarks Summit anyway, I decided to try to find the Baptist Bible College, one of the three colleges I had been considering after high school (the other was in Chicago and would have been on my list to see if we had gone there).  I figured when was I ever going to be driving through Scranton, PA again and be able to see it???  But, I couldn't find it!  The streets were so tiny, I thought they were alleys or driveways and the GPS was having trouble keeping up so it would tell me to turn AFTER I had passed the street.  I had to turn around a couple of times and finally just gave up and got back on the highway.  Phooey.  We stopped in Elmira/Horseheads at a McDonald's for a potty break and snack and Scott went back to driving, refreshed after his nap in the passenger seat while I meandered.

We arrived at the Holiday Inn Express in Niagara Falls, NY around dinner time.  We got settled and went to Niagara Falls State Park.  It was about sunset.  From what I read online, it sounds like the better view is from the Canadian side, but none of us have passports, so we had to settle for the New York view.  We parked and walked down to the water's edge.  I kind of wanted to cross the bridge to the island and get a different viewpoint, but no one else seemed to want to.  I had contemplated coming back out later because we were told that they light up the falls at night and that it was some sort of Canadian holiday and there would likely be fireworks, but I was tired and decided that was too much trouble.  We went to find a gas station and a pizza place.  We must have been a little punchy because everything seemed funny.  We saw a shrine to the Infant Jesus and were jokingly praying, like Ricky Bobby, that little baby Jesus would guide us to a gas station before we ran out of gas.  We just kept driving and driving.  We had passed one or two gas stations, but Scott had said he wanted a 7/11.  When I saw one whiz by, I shouted, "There's one!  Baby Jesus answered your prayer!  Now, for the love of GOD, can we stop driving around?!"  The kids were cracking up.  They thought I'd lost it.  We turned around in the parking lot of a WalMart in Tonawanda, across the street from the Wurlitzer headquarters.  At the gas station, Scott got a recommendation for Pizza Shack, which we got and took back to our room.  Another bomber.

We had for sure decided on our change of itinerary by Tuesday, August 5.  We went back to the Wal-Mart by the Wurlitzer building and picked up a few things, including some DVD new releases that I knew the kids would like to see/own.  We stopped for lunch and potty and a bit of shopping at a roadside rest stop, which had a walkway over the highway.  They had everything in there and everyone sort of spread out and got the food they wanted: McDonald's, Subway, and Auntie Anne's.  We stopped again at a TA truck stop so I could drive while Scott took a nap.  Then again at a Taco Bell for a potty break and for Scott to drive again.  We finally arrived at the Embassy Suites in Columbus, OH.  It was too late for us to take advantage of that zoo membership.  The Embassy Suites was really nice, more like a big apartment building.  There was a youth leadership conference going on for disabled teens and they were really partying in the common area and the conference rooms!  We got Chipotle for dinner and drinks at a gas station and I started doing laundry in the hotel laundry room while Scott and the kids went to the hotel pool.  Not long after they went down, I had gone down to the front desk to get more change for the washers and driers when the fire alarm went off and they evacuated the hotel.  For a little while, I was worried that my clothes had caught on fire. Scott and the kids came out, wet and wrapped in towels. The fire department came, but it had been an electrical socket smoking and the all clear was given and we went back to what we were doing. It took me forever and more than $20 to get all of our laundry done. But I was able to rearrange the packing so we could leave most of our suitcases in the van at the next stop, and just take in one bag that had a change of clothes and pajamas for each of us.

Wednesday, August 6, we were getting ready to leave the hotel. Everybody was tired and grouchy and fighting with each other and yelling and carrying on. That's when mom had her meltdown. Oh, I had had my say before this, but this was the first time I had broken down into tears during the trip. At least, I think so. I was sobbing about how the kids hated Scott and Scott hated the kids and the kids hated each other and I was sick of the whole mess and my family fighting all the time and I just wanted to have a nice vacation, etc., etc., etc. Scott actually laughed at me and said, "this is what family vacation is supposed to be like." If he's right, I don't think I want to do another family vacation.

We packed up and left, and headed to Indianapolis, Indiana. We gassed up and ate at Boston Market before we left town. We had a break for a potty stop and to change drivers but got there fairly quickly. We checked into the hotel called Caribbean Cove, which was a indoor waterpark hotel sort of like Coco Key or Great Wolf Lodge. Only not as nice. It really could be a nice hotel if somebody spent some time and money fixing it up. The layout is great and the rooms have potential, it's just old and run down and neglected. When we got to our room, we decided this room was way too small for us. The beds were double beds instead of queen size beds which are too small for Scott and I both to sleep in. The girls could share one but they would be in each other's space. We'd had another hotel that had only had double beds and I ended up sharing a bed with Billy and leaving Scott to the other bed. The girls shared the fold out couch.  However, we figured out with this one that the couch did not fold out. So we had the five of us and two double beds. Not going to work. Scott had thought this said a suite and it was definitely not. He called down to the front desk and they said they had a suite available for an up-charge. We decided to go ahead and take it. We moved our stuff up to the new room which was a corner room and connected on either side to two adjoining rooms if you wanted it to. It was a huge room. When you walk in, you're in the hallway.  You turn right and you follow the hallway down to the bedroom/living area which is a huge open room. In the living room, there is a foldout couch. When you turn the corner you go into the kitchen area which has a window that you can see through to the hallway that you just came from. Taking a left from that hallway, you end up in a huge bathroom. I'd say it was probably bigger than our bathroom at home and we have a good size bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub in it. It had a separate shower and tub. The only problem with the bathroom is that there was a missing ceiling tile and I had the eerie feeling that someone could be spying on me.  Around the corner from the bathroom was another sink, giving it a total of three sinks! When we went down the hallway, one of the vending machines or ice machines was leaking and there was a huge wet puddle stretching all across the hallway. Which was really bad if you were walking around barefoot. Or in your socks as my children are wont to do. We had decided that since mom was stressed out she needed some TLC. So, while Scott took the children down to the waterpark, mama went to the nail salon for a mani-pedi. While I wanted my break from everybody and needed a relaxation time, I was a little jealous of everybody being at the water park, so I kind of wanted the mani-pedi to go quickly because I had told them after it was done I would come over and join them after a quick stop at Walmart. However, it took a lot longer than I anticipated. Normally that would be a good thing to get a longer break but when I wanted to go swim, it started to make me antsy. I ran over to the Walmart to pick up a few things including some flip-flops because the kids hadn't brought anything to walk back-and-forth to the pool with and I was considering a waterproof camera. Last year when we went to the lake for our vacation, I went looking for a waterproof camera in the disposable section. I didn't even realize they still had disposable cameras anymore. They were expensive (around $12) and I bought two of them but only used one. I brought the other one with me on our vacation but I used it all at Atlantic City. So I was going to go pick up another one at Walmart for the waterpark. But while I was standing there contemplating the thought of a $12 disposable camera and the cost of processing and developing the film, I decided it would probably be more cost-effective to buy a digital waterproof camera. They have some for fairly cheap, around $59. I figured if I had bought that in the first place I would've saved myself money already considering the film developing I was having to pay for the disposables I already had. And, considering we are planning on going on a cruise in December (an anniversary gift from my mother-in-law), I figured I could use a camera to take pictures in the water. I love taking my other camera but something happened to it in Atlantic City and it hasn't been the same since. I don't know if it was the rain and moisture got inside of it or if it was sand. There was sand in my camera bag. I've been having trouble getting it to focus ever since and when I turn the lens, it catches. I'm guessing it's sand. So I bit the bullet and bought the digital waterproof camera. Then I headed back to the hotel and ran up to the room and got changed into my swimsuit. I turned around to grab everything to go downstairs, when my family came through the door. They were done swimming and I was disappointed. There was some discussion about whether I could go downstairs with a couple of the kids again anyway but everybody was getting hungry so we discussed me taking them downstairs to go swim in the morning before we left. Just across the parking lot from our hotel, there was a Texas roadhouse and we decided to eat dinner there.

The hours on this hotel were very strange. Check-in was not until 4 PM whereas with all of our other hotels, it was 3 PM. Check out time was 11 whereas all the other hotels were noon. The water park closed at 9 PM and it opens again at 10 AM. So from check-in to time the waterpark closes was only five hours. And from the time the water park opens to the time you're supposed to check out is only one hour. Unless you were staying multiple days, it's not worth staying there for one night. We thought checkout time was noon, so we decided to go downstairs and swim for an hour and then come back and have an hour to get dressed, packed up, and leave. When we got downstairs we found that the lazy river and the slides were closed. They were having a mechanical malfunction. The primary reason I even wanted to go to the waterpark was for the sole purpose of the lazy river, so I was highly disappointed. The only things that were open was the kids' area with the jungle gym-type water playground which has a large bucket that dumps every few minutes and fountains and water sprayers, the hot tub, and a pool with a basketball goal and basketballs. Even parts of the playground were closed such as baby slides and things to climb on. We were very disappointed. We sort of took turns between the three areas we could be in. Billy wanted to play basketball, but the other boys that were in the pool were a little aggressive. They were trying to play some form of streetball and were in Billy's face and covering him so well that he couldn't get a shot off at all. He was getting really angry and upset. At one point he told one of the kids he was a brat and threatened to hit him. I pulled Billy aside and explained that this was the way they were playing basketball and if he didn't like it he should go play somewhere else. But, me and Billy's sisters decided to get in the pool and keep an eye on things to make sure that nobody was hurting Billy and that Billy wasn't going to lose his temper on another child. The other boys were pretty rough and at one point I told one to back off and get out of Billy's space. It's really hard because you don't want to say in front of Billy that he has special needs. And I'm not even sure that these kids would understand that but you'd like to explain why he reacts the way he does, and how you should act around him, and how he likes to play. His sisters were getting very protective of him and Kimberly was posing as the "bouncer." Arena decided to jump in on the game to school these boys and show them a thing or two. She also wanted to play on Billy's team, so he could have a chance. She would get the ball and pass it to him so he could shoot because they were never letting him have a chance. Even when he would get the ball they would cover him so well he couldn't get it anywhere. Being taller and older, Arena scored several times on these boys. There was also another boy there who seem to pick up Billy's distress. He was very nice to Billy and kept passing him the ball. Rough teams had sort of formed with Billy, this nice little boy, and Arrena against the rough mean little boys. I really wish I had looked for this nice little boy's parents and told them how great their kid was and thank them for his kindness to Billy. He would get the ball and be clear for a shot but instead of taking it he would pass the ball to Billy. Finally, our hour was up so we went back upstairs. We were just getting ready to change when housekeeping knocked on the door. They informed us that checkout was 11 not 12. We were not dressed and we were not packed. We hurriedly got dressed, grabbed our stuff, and headed out. Scott had tried to take a shower before we left, but the water was ice cold. And Arena had been very creeped out by something crusty on her sheets on her bed. So Scott went to the front desk to complain and apparently there was something wrong with all of the hot water in the hotel. They said there is been no water at all the day before. This hotel had some major issues. But they credited back some of the money we paid for the hotel room. It ended up making the suite that we were in almost the same price as the original tiny room we were supposed to be in.

We ate lunch at Rally's. It's exactly like Checkers which I loved when I lived in Tennessee. I still buy the fries in the frozen section at the grocery store. I drove until we got to a truck stop in Effingham Illinois. Billy started throwing fits. Since we had stayed an extra day, and Billy's dad had not taken him to his psychiatrist appointment, and told the psychiatrist he didn't agree with his ADHD meds and she refused to fill them, we were out of that med. He threw an empty pudding cup in my seat and splattered pudding remnants after I'd given him his PRN dose of Seroquel. Then when he called me an idiot, I took my DS that he was playing with away from him. This made him mad and he threw his cup of ice and what was left of his drink which got all over me and the car. I said no more food and drinks in the car since he couldn't handle it so when he didn't get a pop at the truck stop, he got mad and threw a shoe at us as we were driving down the highway. I gave him the other half of his PRN dose, and traded places with Kimberly so I could sit next to Billy. He kept trying to push buttons and grab things and I was having to restrain him. After fighting him for quite a while, I had Scott stop and we wrapped him in a blanket and buckled him where he was sort of laying down. I knew it was just a matter of time before he fell asleep. The Seroquel would make him tired and he was fighting it so it was a matter of waiting him out. But almost immediately after we got going again and he was wrapped in the blanket, he calmed down and went to sleep.

At some point we passed the state border and the time changed forward one hour. We decided to stop in Columbia Missouri to go to the Olive Garden for dinner. Everybody had to go potty and Scott said when Billy walked into the men's room where Scott already was, Billy said in a very creepy way, "hey stranger, fancy meeting you here."  After we left Olive Garden, I gave Billy his bedtime meds and thought I could sit in the front seat again, but he was hitting and kicking Arrena, so I put her in the front seat.  At first, Billy was grabbing things and pushing buttons, but then he just started fiddling with sunflower seeds.  I had a fidget kit I had brought for him, so I put some interlocking plastic chain pieces in his hand and let him fiddle with that and some other things from his kit.  He was in his own little word, making little noises to himself, but he was aware of what was going on around him, still.  Scott was listening to a Chiefs' game on the radio and after they scored, Billy quietly and almost absent-mindedly cheered and said, "we're on a roll."  He and I ended up playing a game of hot potato and Kimberly actually joined in.

We arrived home at about 10pm.  George, our cat, nearly knocked us over and welcomed us loudly.  His brother, Shadow, was nowhere to be seen.  Their auto feeder had malfunctioned (argh!) but they had been able to get the top off and were able to get to the food.  It didn't look like they had eaten as much as I had expected, but they didn't appear to be starving either.  Arrena, who gets very irritable and grouchy after a certain hour, got in trouble for throwing bags at Kimberly and mouthing off to Scott.  After they all went to bed, Scott found Shadow in the couch where he was hiding.  It took a lot of coaxing to get him to come in the house after he took off to the garage.  George, on the other hand, was following me everywhere and when I shut the bathroom door, he stood outside, yowling loudly.  He doesn't yowl.

Another funny gaffe from the trip: I don't remember where we were, but Kimberly saw the word "perms" and thought it said "penises."  That kid.  Reminds me of the time she talked about giving up her vegetarianism, but (hopefully not) Freudian slip, and she said she was giving up her virginity.  She spluttered and turned red faced and insisted that was NOT what she meant and she had no idea where that had come from!

We enjoyed the trip and a little time and distance and I am sure we will primarily remember the good parts, not the fighting and crying parts.  I need a long time before the next vacation to wipe this memory away before I haul kids around the country again.  I always said that I didn't really care to see New York City or Washington, D.C. and that if I did, once would be enough.  But, there are some things I would like to see that we missed, so maybe someday.  Maybe a long layover during a flight somewhere else.  I do want to see Hershey, Pennsylvania too.  And maybe next time at Niagara, we would have passports and could see it from the Canadian side.

After we got home, we purchased an even better trailer than the one we had originally looked at.  So, the next trip will definitely be camping/parking.  The plus side there is that we won't have to haul our luggage back and forth from the car to a hotel room and vice versa!

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