Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Roadtrip Day 8-10 - Atlanta, GA

We hit the road bright and early knowing that Atlanta traffic is notoriously bad.  Our friend lives in the middle of downtown, so at his recommendation we wanted to arrive by 3 pm.  We gave the kids a quick breakfast and then said our goodbyes.

We stopped for lunch at a barbecue place in Tifton Georgia.  I think it was called the Pit Stop.  My husband found it on line, and when we arrived realized it was a popular place with the locals - always a plus.  Lunch was good, and after seeing all the signs for pecans, we stopped and picked up a few bags of those as well.  Can't visit Georgia without getting some pecans.

We made it to Atlanta in good time and pulled up to his building shortly before 3pm.  He lives in a high rise condo - one bedroom unit. It's loft style so the walls to the bedroom don't go all the way up to the ceiling - this was going to be a challenge for bedtime.  We went to the pool for a bit to let the kids burn off some energy and then went to the Mellow Mushroom for pizza.  Before heading home, we stopped in Piedmont Park to let the kids run some more.

We decided the best sleeping arrangements were for our whole little family to sleep in the bedroom, and our friend offered to sleep on the couch.  We set up the pack n play, and two air mattresses in a horseshoe around the bed.  Knowing that the kids wouldn't fall asleep if we stayed in the apartment, we set up the cell phone monitor and went downstairs for a beer. Once we were sure the kids were asleep we headed up to bed.

The next morning we headed to Stone Mountain.  Our friend wasn't feeling well so stayed home, but we had a fun day. I didn't really know what to expect with Stone Mountain, and while it was more expensive than I had thought it would be, there was a lot yo do. We parked near the base of the gondola, and took that to the top of the mountain. As you ride up you are able to get a view of the carving on the mountain, which is great as it makes it easier to appreciate how big it really is.  There is a small restaurant on top and a viewing platform on one side but most of the summit us wide open for people to walk around on. The rest of the surrounding area is flat and you can see pretty far.

We had read before going up to the top that it's a mile and a third walk down, with some steep spots tgat have handrails. Seemed doable. In hindsight, shouldn't have done it with the kids. It was pretty hot at the top, and while we should have bought drinks for the walk down we didn't. There were a few trees here and there towards the top but for the most part we were under the blazing hot sun for a most of the walk down. The steep parts are slippery as they have worn down over the years from people walking down. The handrails are pretty slick too. Add to that that I wore flipflops that day, and the kids were wearing sandals. Not the best idea since we all had sneakers with us. My son was going pretty slowly and soon started asking me to carry him. I held off as long as i could but did finally end up carrying him the last third of a mile or so.

At the base is a exhibit hall with water fountain and bathrooms as well as a geologic exhibit detailing how the continents formed and explaining why there is a mountain in the middle of flat Georgia. There was a short movie on how the carving was made, but at that point our kids were thirsty and hungry and we didn't stop to watch it. We caught a shuttle to a different area of the mountain for lunch. The shuttles don't run very often but there is a schedule. Try to get one when you arrive so you can plan ahead. 

Fall has fallen

And I couldn't be happier. I know many people are lamenting the end of summer as Labor Day weekend comes to a close. Not me. I love fall. Fall to me is the crunch of colorful leaves, apple picking, pumpkin picking, kids jumping in the piles of dry leaves, leaves crunching under your feet as you walk, baking, cooking all that comfort food that you didn't want to make all summer cause it was just too hot. So after the temperature dropped from 100 degrees on Friday, to 65 degrees today I have just one thing to say. Bring it on!!!!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Roadtrip Day 5-8 - Jacksonville, FL

Our next stop was one where I knew the kids would have the most fun. We went to Jacksonville to see my husband's uncle. He has 4 daughters, 3 our age, one older and 9 grandkids. Two of the grandkids were 8 year old girls who the aunt and uncle sit for. We were all excited for some to relax and go to the beach and just let the kids play. Living in Chicago, we do go to the beach along Lake Michigan, but there's a world of difference between a lake front beach and an ocean beach.

As we crossed the stateline into the sunshine state we were greeted with a torrential downpour. I would have taken a picture of the sign welcoming us to the "Sunshine State" but I couldn't see it. When we arrived the two girls were still there and apparently had been eagerly awaiting my kids arrival. They quickly became friends and ran off to play as we unloaded the car.

That night the two girls Moms came over for dinner along with their other kids. Honey Baked Ham with all te great sides.  Yum.  When it was time for my little guy, I asked him what he wanted, and he said, "a buffet".  One of the cousins overheard that and laughed.  I explained that a while back when I was trying to get him to eat some of his leftovers, I lined up 4 different flavors on his tray and called it a buffet.

We quickly learned that in this house the door is never locked when they are home as someone is always stopping by. While I'm sure that can be hectic, we are so far from extended family that plans are made months in advance, I thought it was great. There was the typical joking that comes with being family, and everyone gave as good as they got.

The one thing that I knew would be different for my kids though is that pretty much everyone in that family had been divorced (most remarried), some had kids very young, one of the granddaughters is mixed race, and her mother is now married to a different black man.

These days our little family is pretty unique in that everyone is still married to their first spouse and no kids out of wedlock. Ok, that last one is pretty outdated but most kids believe that first you get married then you have kids. I haven't had the talk yet with my kids, so they think pregnancy is always a planned and happy event between two married people. We knew there would be some questions, but also saw no reason to bring up questions that really were irrelevant. Family's family in my mind. Doesn't really matter what connection got you there in the first place.

The next day a bunch of us went to the beach. Our oldest daughter wanted to play in the water (although needed a little encouragement once she saw the waves). My younger daughter was very excited to look for shells. We had told her you could find shark's teeth but we never found any. But we found plenty of scallops, a couple of broken sand dollars, sea urchins, and tons of clams in different sizes and colors.  My little guy still prefers to play in the sand but is slowly getting more comfortable in the water. My husband took the kids out to the water to play in the waves. It didn't take long before our oldest was splashing around with her cousins. Our younger daughter spent some time in the water bit really for her a day at the beach is all about finding shells. Little man split his time in the water and the sand. We saw dolphins a bit off shore jumping out of the water. My younger daughter thought they were sharks and though I tried to explain to her the difference between the tail fins of a dolphin v shark, I don't think she ever really bought it. So back to collecting shells.

At one point the kids decided to dig out a little ditch and fill it with water. My son though this was the greatest thing ever and declared it his pool and would stand on the highest part of the ledge, jump into about 3 inches of water yelling "cannonball". He did it over and over until finally the tide came in and washed away his pool. He tried to go to a different kids pool when they weren't using it, but they didn't like that, so I led him away.

That night we took the uncle and aunt out for dinner while one of their daughters watched our kids.  I had told her a few things in advance but didn't need to give too much of a download since she has kids of her own.  When we came back from dinner everyone was sleeping soundly and she told us that our little guy had gotten really tired really fast, and actually asked to be put to bed (unusual for him), she changed his diaper and was ready to put him to bed, and my oldest tried to insist that he needed his teeth brushed a story and pajamas.  They couldn't find the toothbrush and from the sounds of it, the poor guy was pretty tired so I would have skipped the pjs and story as well.  But that's my little rule follower.  If we usually make a point of doing all those things, then we must always do all those things.  No exceptions. 

The next day we went to St Augustine for the morning.  We wandered around the fort but it was pretty hot.  The kids thought it was interesting but we still went through it pretty quickly.  We headed to the walking streets and had lunch at a Cuban restaurant called Columbia.  It's a chain in Florida but the original location in Tampa opened in 1905. The food was good, but the decor was what made the place really nice.  We were seated in the main room which had really tall ceilings (maybe two stories) and were right by the fountain.  I've never been to Cuba, so don't know how authentic it is, but it felt very Spanish to me.

After lunch we went to the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse in the US. It's right on St George Street and a real quick but interesting place to stop.  Our kids liked seeing it, and got a little diploma at the end (just a xeroxed piece of paper with room to put the kids name in).  It would have been nicer if one of the staff had actually written the kid's name since they weren't really busy, but they didn't.

We stopped in a couple of gift shops, my oldest daughter bought a little ship in a bottle as a souvenir.  I wanted to check out the gift shop at Columbia as they had a lot of nice pottery, but at that point the kids were wilting, and close to meltdowns.  It was the hottest day of our trip, and not the time to go shopping.

That night everyone came over for dinner - good Southern barbecue.  Everyone got a kick out of our little guy.  He wanted his "buffet" again.  Then when he was finished eating, he and I were sitting at the table with one of the cousin's husbands and his son.  Littleman looks at them and says, "I like sports".  They laughed but at the same time, it started a conversation about the kind of sports everyone liked.  Very funny. 

All in all a great couple of days, reconnecting with people we hadn't seen in 13 years, and some of whom I hadn't met before.