Friday, August 19, 2011

Roadtrip Day 5 - Savannah, GA

On day 5 we drove from Columbia to Jacksonville.  Pretty much half way is Savannah.  I had never been but had always heard it was beautiful.  Even though we wouldn't want to spend a ton of time, it seemed like the perfect spot for lunch.  Yes, I managed to convince my husband to take a detour.  But to be fair, I also thought it was right off of 95.  In reality we had to get on another highway to take us to the coast, but still not too far.  For lunch we stopped at The Pirates House based on a recommendation from a bloggy mom.

It was perfect.  We made a reservation (just because I like to earn Open Table points whenever I can) but on a Tuesday afternoon I don't think we needed them.  My husband and I got the buffet and my oldest duaghter ordered a grilled cheese off the kids menu.  The buffet had probably 10 items so not huge, but covered everything we expected from a "Southern Luncheon buffet".  My husband loves Southern food, so he was in heaven, even I went up for seconds of the barbecue pork and rice.  My daughter was happy because we were able to get her mac and cheese from the buffet.

We were seated in one of the rooms that was connecting the two main buildings.  The whole place is a maze of various size rooms and has been around since 1753. They do have "pirates" who come by your table and pose for pictures.  Usually that kind of stuff bugs me, but they're not trying to sell you photos, you use your own camera if you want a shot.  My kids I think were a little put off by it though cause they were hungry and didn't want to stop for a picture, so we didn't get a really good shot. Oh well.

I had read some reviews by people saying that they were disappointed because they were expecting something more like "Pirates of the Caribbean" but honestly that's what I liked about it. It was old, but maintained, there were little signs posted around telling the history of the house and what the rooms were used for in the past.  In the room we were in, there was a sign over a tunnel that had been discovered maybe 30 years before that had never been on any plans and they're not quite sure what it was used for.  Makes for good lunch conversation, was it where they hid their treasures? a dungeon?

There is a gift shop upstairs which has some cute things but a lot of it is typical kitschy gift shop stuff but pretty reasonable prices.  My daughters each bought a necklace and bracelet set, and we got them each a "gold pirate coin" - the coins were only 50 cents each.   We didn't spend a lot of time exploring the other rooms, but still the kids liked it and I would definitely recommend it to others. 

After lunch we decided to take a short walk along the water and back towards our car. It was really hot so they kids didn't have much patience for it, but I still enjoyed our brief stroll.  I love the trees in this area with the spanish moss growing on them.  So pretty.  My daughter was fascinated with the streets that were paved with brick or ones paved with seashells.  All in all a great stop.  I would have liked to linger a little longer but it was just too hot, so after our walk we filled up our water bottles at the cooler that the Pirates House very nicely has for public use in their courtyard and headed down to Jax.

This is the fence of a private home next door to the Pirates House. I just thought it was really creative instead of the standard old fence where all the posts are the same. I don't know if they were left over from another project, salvaged from somewhere, or purposely made this way for the fence, but whatever the case, it caught my eye, especially the way it played off the blue house.

Roadtrip Day 3-5 - Columbia, SC

Day 3 was our shortest drive.  Only 180 miles.  Easy peasy.  I was hoping to do a drive by of the Biltmore on the way, but apparently that wouldn't really work with the direction we were going in.  (My husband is not a fan of detours).  Oh well, maybe our next trip whenever that may be. That's one thing about traveling you're never going to be able to see everything you want, so always good to leave something for the next time.  Our next stop was outside Columbia, SC to stay with a golf buddy of my husband's and his family.  This was the stop I was most nervous about as I had never met these people.  All my husband really told me was that the husband was a cool guy, he and his wife were both doctors, and they have two kids, a 10 year old girl and a 7 year old boy.  Oh and they have a nice house with a pool and it's only for 2 nights.

We got there around lunch time so went to a restaurant for lunch as they had just gotten back from their own one week vacation the night before and had no food in the house. I have to admit I was surprised to learn this and then really appreciated that they agreed to have us stay. I know I wouldn't be ready to have people stay after being gone for a week.  I'm still getting my house back in order, and we've been home for 5 days.

When we sat down for lunch the kids were all looking at the menu and one of the kids asked what Michael was going to eat.  Before I could say anything, he responded, "I don't eat cheerios".

Yep, my stubborn little two year old is still just eating purees and I've basically given up trying to get him to eat table food or even the stage 3 foods with the chunks in them.  He's healthy and growing well, and the doctor doesn't seem concerned, so neither am I.  But I am looking forward to the day I don't have to bring food for him anytime I think we may be stopping for a meal somewhere.  I brought 100 containers of food on our trip and he went through most of them over the course of 10 days.  I know it's purely a control thing for him, and one day he'll just decide he wants to try something of ours food.  Occasionally he will make chewing motions with his jaw when he's eating so I think he's getting close but then he's been doing that for a while and nothing seems to change.

Ok, back to our story.  After a nice lunch we went back to their house and everyone got in the pool.  SC was the hottest of all our stops topping out at over 100 degrees.  The kids all got along well, and my little man loved being in a house that had a boy as there were tons of cars, trains, etc to play with. We barbecued for dinner and the kids went to bed, and then we all settled in pretty early too.  Monday the parents had to work but their nanny came and we all took the kids to the Edventure Children's Museum in Columbia.  It's a really cool museum and in many ways better than the one we have here in Chicago. They have this big two story model of a boy in the foyer that you can climb through and see the different organs and how they work.  Really cool.  They have a full size fire engine and outfits for the kids to wear.  My son loved that.  They have a construction section with a mini bulldozer that the kids can pedal and move padded "bricks".  There was a farm section with a tractor to climb on, and a TV studio where kids can pretend to do the news and weather.  They all had fun doing that.

At this point the kids were hungry so we left to go to lunch as the museum didn't really have much in terms of food.  Why is it that children's museums have such lousy food options?  Don't they realize people would stay longer if they had good food?  So where did we go?  Chick-fil-A. Ok, maybe not the best option, but since I'd never had it, and it's what the locals wanted we went.  We pulled in right around lunch time, and couldn't get a parking spot.  There was a long line for the double barrel drive thru.  We ended up parking in the tractor supply store next door.  The funniest part though was that the McDonalds across the street was practically deserted.  Anyway, we had our lunch which was better than I had expected.  The kids got kids meals and each got a book with their meal.  My daughter received Wind in the Willows which she has already read.  Somehow she found out that she could trade in her book for ice cream, well that was a no-brainer.  And of course once she did that her sister did the same.

We headed home and my kids wanted to get in the pool and the local kids thought they were nuts.  Why?  Because it was too hot.  Too hot for the pool?  Didn't make sense to me at first until I dipped my toes in the water and realized it was like a nice warm bath, not a refreshing place to cool off.  So the little man took a nap and the girls all played school while we waited for the sun to go down behind the trees and the pool could cool off.  In the time my son napped they had spelling, math, Italian, and art.  Finally the little guy woke up and they had "recess" in the pool.  Our oldest is getting pretty comfortable swimming, but the younger ones spent most of the time in the hot tub (without the jets on) which they referred to as the "kiddie pool". Before dinner they played school some more, and they even got report cards.  They both passed :)

Once the parents got home, we went out to dinner.  We got home around 8 and their kids had been promised that they could watch a movie in their home theater.  Unfortunately this was already decided without running it by us, so we kind of had to allow ours to watch as well.  They were ready by 9 (their usual bedtime) and settled in to watch Cars (which was longer than I thought).  They didn't get to bed until 11, but enjoyed the movie. Overall it was a good stop, very relaxing, everyone recharged and I after spending the previous couple of days in a house with no kids or toys it was good to just be able to let them play.

The next morning we wanted to leave by around 9 as we had reservations for lunch at the Pirates House in Savannah before hitting Jacksonville.  Unfortunately nobody was packed so it was going to be tough, but at least tonight the kids went right to sleep.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Roadtrip - Day 1-3 - Waynesville, NC

The best part of this trip for me was the variety of places we got to see.  The first stop was Waynesville, NC (close to Asheville).  A small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. One of the highlights was as we were winding through the mountain roads my daughter was looking out the window and said, "I'm falling in love with this country." Comments like that make the whole trip worthwhile.

We visited my husband's uncle.  He's 75 and a widower, and lives in a great house on one of the mountains. He has a great deck on the front part of the house with lots of birdfeeders.  We saw a whole bunch of hummingbirds, woodpeckers and other birds while we were there.  He has seen wild turkeys, raccoons and even the occasional bear but none while we were there. We arrived fairly late on Friday night, but Saturday set off to explore the mountains. We stopped for waterfalls and other scenic spots, and stopped at the highest point of the Blue Ridge as well. It was a little cloudy most of the day but we only got rained on for a little bit, and another highlight quote was at one point when we were driving through the clouds at the top of the mountain, my daughter said, "I totally have to tell my friends at school about this."

In the afternoon after a good barbecue lunch, we went over to Cherokee which is a pretty touristy section with Indian souvenirs. My daughter is in Indian Princess so she was interested to see what they had of real Indian stuff.  A lot of it was kind of cheesy honestly, but the kids each bought something. My oldest bought an arrowhead, and her sister bought a worry stone.  She loves rocks especially ones that are smooth or sparkly.  This one was both. They also each bought a thermometer/compass on a keychain to put on their backpacks.

Outside one of the stores we saw a guy do a hoop performance where using hoops about the size of small hula hoops he dances to a drum beat and intermingling the hoops in certain ways forms outlines of various animals that were important to the Indians.  Hard to explain but pretty neat. Our son thought it was really cool and was giggling and clapping through most of it.

After a stop for ice cream we headed home to relax for a while.  The kids explored the forest behind their great uncle's house and marveled at the trees.

This is a view from the deck where I sat for a while and read, disturbed only by the occasional hummingbird.  If I ever get a vacation home, it will definitely be in the mountains. It's so peaceful.

We had dinner in Waynesville, which was quite a cute little town and I have to admit much nicer than I had expected.  I was expecting something similar to Cherokee, but it was really quaint and had lots of cute shops and galleries that unfortunately were all closed.  Had I known I would have asked to go there after lunch to explore. As much as I would have liked to see it, I knew the Biltmore was a no-go.  My 2 year old would definitely not have tolerated being in a place like that, and even his sisters probably would have gotten bored easily.  Oh well, maybe on a different trip or when they are older.

We Did It!!!

When we told people our plans for our summer trip, most of our friends thought we were nuts. 10 days and 2200 miles around the Southeast visiting family and friends. Up until then our longest roadtrip was 3 hours over a year ago. Now we we were going to go 600 miles on day 1, 730 miles on the last day, and on days in between anywhere between 180 to 300 miles. Ambitious to say the least. But last Friday with our new roofbox loaded up, kids with bags full of books and travel games, fresh batteries for the headphones for the DVD player, and a few snacks off we went.

We gave the kids a couple of rules as we set off...
1. When 1 person goes to the bathroom everybody goes to the bathroom.
2. Do not ask, are we there yet, we will be as honest as possible about time and distance remaining any time we make a stop
3. If anything you are doing is bugging anyone else in the car you must stop doing it.
4. When you are staying at someone else's house you have to go with the flow when it comes to meals and bedtimes.

We rationed the movies and overall they did very well. My daughters sit in the back row and spent most of the ride reading, but also playing travel bingo and playing with their Barbies.  They did get a little punch towards the end of the longest days, but overall were good.  Our youngest my 2 year old son was the challenge since it's harder for him to sit in the car seat for that long. For a large part of the first day I was leaning back reading stories to my son and trying to show him the pictures at the same time. Once I got bored of rereading the same books I played ispy with him in the books. He had a couple of crying jags when he was getting tired but couldn't fall asleep, but it really was just a couple of minutes of crying.

So this doesn't become a really long (and potentially boring) I'll break it up into smaller chunks of our different stops including some pictures of what we did along the way.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder

We're back from our roadtrip, but before I write about that I wanted to do a quick post on the book I read during the trip.   

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder  is by Rebecca Wells who wrote the Ya-Ya books.  I enjoyed all of those, and didn't know she had written a new book, so when I saw it, it was a must buy.  As usual with Rebecca Well's books, the main character is a girl growing up in a small town in Louisiana.  We meet Calla Lily when she's in grade school in the late 50s and the story takes her through high school and into adulthood and finally ends in the 80s.  Along the way we get to know her friends and relatives and the rest of the close knit community that is La Luna.  Rebecca Wells' descriptions are always very well written and I often felt I was a fly on the wall for the parties thrown by Calla's parents, or when she and her first love shared their intimate moments.  This story is much more of an emotional roller coaster than some of her earlier books.  I won't go in to the ups and downs as I don't want to spoil it, suffice it to say in the course of those 30 odd years, Calla goes through a lot.  I really sympathized for Calla but in the end felt better knowing that her relationships with her friends and family were so strong.

In many ways the story could have been set in any time period, there are some parts that keep the book true to the period whether it be the young black boy who gets beat up and arrested for using a white roller skating rink, or her good friend, Sukey, becoming a Playboy Bunny.

In the end it is a book about relationships and family and how people overcome the obstacles that may stand in their way. I really enjoyed it and hope she writes another one soon.

I've started Lush Life  by Richard Price and so far am not really enjoying it.  It's one of those books though that introduces a lot of characters in the beginning and I think once I get them all straight I think I will enjoy it more.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Norway Massacre

 I've had a hard time wrapping my head around the massacre that took place in Norway.  I'm glad that the death toll has been reduced from 92 to 77, and hope that those who have been hospitalized recover fully.  This was an act of terrorism, no doubt.  What made it more shocking was the fact that the terrorist was home-grown.  This was the equivalent of the Oklahoma City bombing for Norway, although proportionally much worse.  Norway is a small peaceful country of under 5 million people.  If you compared the victims in proportion to the whole population and then compare that to the US population, it would be the equivalent of a massacre of 4,777 Americans.  That's more than all the people who died in the 9/11 attacks. It's no wonder the Norwegian people are in such a state of shock.

As the news continued to stream in I kept hoping for some uplifting heroic stories to be brought to light, but never did hear any.  After a while I just assumed that I missed them.  Then today a friend posted a link to a story of two women who were staying (and dining outside) on the shore opposite the campsite.  They heard gunshots and screams, and instead of taking cover in their home, they sprang to action, got in their boat and went to the campsite and picked up injured kids and brought them to safety.  Not just once, but 4 times.  All told they were able to save 40 people. I never heard this story before, never saw it mentioned in the news. 

Why not? The going theory is that mainstream media squashed the story because the two women are a married lesbian couple.What does that matter?  To me it is completely irrelevant.  These women did something incredibly brave and their heroism should be celebrated. Now just to be clear, because when I commented on my friend's post she misunderstood me, I have no problem whatsoever with gays or lesbians. I'm not saying you should leave out the fact that they were lesbians, because I have anything against lesbianism. I get infuriated by all kinds of discrimination, and I feel to even mention their sexual orientation is discrimination. They wouldn't print that a "straight couple" saved 40 people, so why even mention it at all? Another theory is that the American news media has been so caught up in the debt crisis that there was no time to mention this story. I hope that is true, but with a 24 hour news cycle, I find that hard to believe.  For what it's worth, below is a link to the story via blog post from "Talk About Equality"

Lesbian Couple Saved 40 people in Norway

 I hope that someday we can live in a world where people no longer revert to discrimination and prejudice and just accept people no matter what their differences.  A person should be judged by their character not their sexual orientation, race, color or creed.

Breastfeeding doll

I am absolutely a believer in breastfeeding. I do believe mothers milk is the best thing for an infant and if asked by a new or expectant mom I will certainly share my opinions and experiences. I do not condemn women who either choose not to breastfeed or for whatever reason are not able to. That's their business, but I will always promote breast over bottle.

Having said all that I found this new doll, ridiculous. In all fairness I'm not a fan of the dolls who talk, coo, pee or poo either. I think the point of pretend play is to pretend, not to do what the doll tells you. The price is absolutely ludicrous too. $118 on Amazon.  I have yet to buy any of my children one toy that cost that much, and this would certainly not be the one.

When my second daughter was born my oldest was 2. When it was time to nurse the baby, my daughter would often come and sit next to me and nurse her Zoe monster (from Sesame Street). She would actually put Zoes face to her belly button because that was easier but would still do all the same things I was doing - gently rubbing her back or her cheek, gazing down at her, burping her, and even switching sides when I did (by flipping her over and cradling her in the other arm :)

My point is, this doll is completely unnecessary. Children learn from our example.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Page It Forward - Part II

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a book drive taking place near where I live called Page It Forward It's a book drive being organized by the United Way of Lake County, IL to get books to children here in Illinois who don't have access to books. According to a recent study 40% of 6 year olds in that area had never held a book or had a book read to them. I'm sure all you Mommy bloggers out there read regularly to your kids, can you imagine how different your kids would be without books? 

When we dropped off our books back then I was entered in to a raffle for a $50 gift card, and last week they called me to tell me I won.  I received the gift card over the weekend, and decided that the best way to use this free money is to Page It Forward again.  So I took the kids to Borders and had them each pick out books that they think kids their age would enjoy, and I picked a couple too. We got a total of 8 books - one of my favorite board books ever Hug by Jez Alborough a couple of Golden Books, a Dr. Seuss book, a chapter book (as this book drive is for kids up to 6th grade), and a couple more board books.  Now I just have to find the time to get back up to Lake County and drop them off.

And one last appeal to all of you.  Their goal is to collect 100,000 books by September.  I don't remember the exact date and I can't find it listed on their website. At this point they have collected about 37,494 books so obviously they have a ways to go.  I admit I'm not sure if all the sponsor donations are included in that number or if that will be tallied at the end, I think the latter is the case, but don't know for sure

At the very least I ask everyone to just go to Page It Forward Facebook page page and like the page - 1 book will be donated to a child at no cost to you. If you want to help more, sort through your kids books and drop them off at a drop box, or text a donation. All the details are on their site (check the link above).

Thank you

The Piano Teacher

The dust jacket synopsis of this book is very short, and purposely doesn't give many clues to the story you're about to read. Yes it is the story of an Englishman and a Eurasian socialite in 1942, and begins as a story of socialites and the parties and the intermingling of the Europeans and the Asians in this dynamic colony. Then as the story progresses World War II escalates and the Japanese occupy Hong Kong. Non Chinese were seemingly given ample warning and opportunity to leave Hong Kong but many including Will did not and ended up bring detained and confined to a former brothel (now internment camp) packed to the gills with foreigners. Trudy, being half Chinese, is still on the outside and has befriended the Japanese and even manages to get Will out of the confinement periodically.

So where is the piano teacher in all this? Her name is Claire. She is a recently married Englishwoman who has moved to the Far East with her husband, Martin. They met briefly before he was sent to Hong Kong for
business and they seem to barely know each other when they get married. She starts teaching piano to Locket the young daughter of a wealthy Chinese family to help pass the time. Will is their driver. This part of the story takes place in the 50s but the author goes back and forth between the two time periods, Will being the connection between the two women. For most of the story I wondered why an Englishman would be the driver for a Chinese man. While I understood that for the Chinese man this was quite a status symbol for him, I didn't understand til the very end why Will had agreed to do it. And I won't give it away.

Overall I enjoyed the book, but in some ways felt that the ending was a bit rushed, tying up loose ends. There were a couple of passages I had to reread to make sure I hadn't missed something, as the author continued on as if she had revealed some explanation of these intertwined relationships, but often it was a very basic sentence.

There were many times I wished she had developed certain characters further, but for a debut novel, I enjoyed it, and look forward to reading more of her work in the future.