The World is Ending and All I Have to Wear is this Chambray Shirt

I don’t mean to sound apocalyptic, but stuff is getting real. Hurricanes, fires, floods. Rampant overt racism. Plans to round up groups of people and ship them off to who knows where.

Even if you are not directly affected by these events, you can feel the many different holes that are slowly tearing themselves open in the everyday fabric of society. Those who previously existed hidden within those holes are now feeling emboldened to come out and bully others for no other reason than they now feel empowered to come out of their holes and bully others.

Meanwhile, life goes on. I get my kids ready for school in the morning. I put on a happy face and greet the other parents and teachers, wishing everyone I see to have a good day. They return the sentiment to me. Kindness goes a long way.

After dropping the kids at school, I return home to check my Twitter timeline, which consists of a healthy mix of protest tweets against the latest outrageous act of the Trump regime, disaster tweets documenting the newest natural disasters, and moms asking you to answer their poll about whether you would prefer to drive or fly to Disneyland this year.

So what do I, as a middle-class, white, suburban mom, do? Do I continue to play my fiddle as Rome burns? Do I put on a false face and act like the erosion of common decency, the manifestations of climate change, and the scarily backward time-lapse of America isn’t bothering me? Do I put on my chambray shirt and post of picture of myself on Facebook asking people to comment on whether they like it or not?

Or… do I try to close one of those many holes that’s opening? Do I try to block the way, standing strong, chest out, feet wide, hands-on-hips, like some middle-aged wannabe Wonder Woman?

It’s risky (and, yes, sometimes embarrassing not to fit in with the model of what I should be doing as a white suburban mom). But if I posted my own personal Twitter poll about how I would prefer to get from this point in time to some time in the future, I would choose to be a middle-aged Wonder Woman. I’m putting my whole mom-self out there with my needlepoint skills and my Wonder Woman attitude, and I’m going to try to sew up as many of those holes as I can. The future that my kids inherit is worth both the risk and the embarrassment.

I dressed up as Wonder Woman for Halloween one year when I was a kid. Maybe I can find my old mask packed away somewhere and wear it with my chambray shirt.

Not Anymore

This year, we have received many compliments from friends, neighbors, and teachers about how our children behave. We are told that they are kind, they listen, they are creative and thoughtful, they are calm and patient. Compliments like this fill my heart to overflowing and I’m so appreciative of people who go out of their way to make me feel good about my parenting skills.

I have to say this about how we go about our lives. We, as parents, make sure that kindness, thoughtfulness, and creativity are the foundations upon which we build everything else.

But also, as parents, we make sure we don’t put up with any behavior which affronts our standards or doesn’t meet the mark of what we would expect of a common, decent human being. I am convinced that our unwavering strictness when it comes to a common, decent standard has made our children the wonderful people they are turning out to be.

That being said, we find it very hard (impossible) to tolerate the behavior of adults that falls below what we would expect of our own children.

For me to stand down in the face of behavior that falls far below any common, decent standard, is tantamount to going against every fiber of what I believe to be true, and right, and good.

My children are a product of my husband and me. And if my kids are valued and appreciated for exceeding expectations, then I and my husband need to be equally valued for our approach to parenting, and life in general.

We are a family of strong people. I’m proud of the strong family that we’ve created. I’m proud to stand up for myself. I’m proud to stand up for my children. I’m proud to stand up for anyone who feels that they don’t have a voice. I’ve been that voiceless person.

Not anymore.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore – Maple Sugar Time

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is part of the National Park System. Being from the Chicago area, I’ve been visiting the Indiana Dunes since I was a kid. This year, we took the kids to Chellburg Farm (part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore) for Maple Sugar Time, where we learned first-hand how maple sap is harvested and turned into maple syrup.

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We started with a ranger-led hike down a trail from the visitor’s center. The ranger made sure we all understood how trees got their nourishment. Early spring is maple sugar time because the trees have sucked all the nourishment from the ground and haven’t used it yet to make leaves or start growing in the new season.

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Continuing on the trail, we saw a demonstration of how Native Americans made maple sugar from the sap of the maple tree. They would tap the tree with a wooden spigot and collect the sap in a bark basket. The sap would be transferred to a rock with a bowl-shape, into which a fiery rock would be submerged to boil off the water, leaving the syrupy sap behind. This was further processed into dry sugar for easy transport.

Bark basket

charred wood

Further down the trail we saw how early settlers boiled the sap down to syrup in a succession of hanging cauldrons.

maple sugar time

We were then given an opportunity to “tap” a tree just to see if we could do it.

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We then visited the boilery that the Chellburgs used to process the sap into maple syrup. They used a succession of metal pans.

In the Chellburg farmhouse, we were given a taste test to see if we could tell the difference between real maple syrup and the fake stuff from the grocery store. We could definitely taste the difference!

After learning all about the process of making maple syrup, the children earned their Junior Ranger badges.

Junior Ranger Indiana Dunes

And the family took a hike to enjoy the natural beauty and history of the Indiana Dunes.

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LA to Chi-Town Part 2: Somewhere in Middle America

Goal: Get home! Check out our Route 66 trip from the beginning here!

Our goal after leaving Utah was to spend two more nights on the road and then be home to sleep in our own beds.

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What happens on the last leg of a 4,000-mile road trip.

It’s funny, because when I said spend the night on the road, I did not mean it literally. BUT, I let my husband book the campground just east of Denver for a one-night stay. He booked a campground on the side of the highway. And I do mean that literally. There was nary a mountain in sight. And all night we felt like we had set up our tent on the median in the middle of the interstate.

After an interesting night’s sleep, we packed up and were on our way.

The next night, we treated ourselves to a Hilton in Omaha, NE. Omaha is quite a happening little place with a bustling downtown area. We didn’t get to enjoy too much of it, though, because we were very tired (see campsite on the side of the highway above), so we retired early to get a good night’s sleep for the last drive day back home.

“Get me out of this car!!” Somewhere in Middle America, USA

And make it home, we certainly did. The trip was wonderful and well worth it.

Can’t wait to take another Epic Family Trip!

LA to Chi-Town Part 2 Goal: Accomplished

LA to Chi-Town Part 1: How I Learned to Love Diarrhea in Las Vegas and Altitude Sickness in Utah

Goal: Find somewhere to sleep in Utah

We started back home on day 7 of our 11-day cross-country excursion. The plan was to camp two nights at Fishlake National Forest in Utah, then camp one night just outside Denver, and play it by ear in Nebraska, before returning to good old Illinois. Well, you know what they say…

“The best laid plans of mice and men” and families on road trips “often go awry.”

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Brian Head Peak, Brian Head, UT

By day 7 I think we had a little too much road food and the two boys (one 44-year-old and one 6-year-old) started having tummy troubles. My poor little boy went through several pairs of undies before leaving an indelible impression in a McDonald’s restroom in Las Vegas. You would think that, as travelers, we would have a multitude of pictures of this interesting American destination (Las Vegas, not McDonald’s), but we spent our time looking for potties as we passed through, feigning some oohs and aahs at the plastic recreations all over town. (Don’t get me started on my feelings about Las Vegas. They are not positive. We’ll leave it there.)

Anyway, after surrendering yet another pair of kid undies to the diarrhea gods, we got the heck out of Dodge.

Continuing on our way northeastward, we happened upon a lovely rest stop in Utah. Seriously, this rest stop was perfect for conjuring the fantastic adventures you are sure to have as you pass through Utah. Seriously. But I can’t remember what it was called. Anyway, we fell in love with this rest stop so much that we decided we should just get a room at the Holiday Inn across the street. Unfortunately, there were no rooms available.

So we searched Expedia for nearby places to stay. We checked out several hotels before happening on the perfect spot for us – The Grand Lodge at Brian Head.
First off, Brian Head is billed as the “Highest Resort Town” in the U.S., sitting at 9,800 feet at its base and 11,300 feet at the peak. Who knew? We had never heard of this place before. We just knew, thanks to the internet, that there was a lovely lodge there with an affordable overnight price.

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It was so affordable because it was off-season, as it is a ski-resort town and we were visiting in the middle of the summer. We even got upgraded to a beautiful 1-bedroom suite because they had quite a bit of availability. Our stay there was so lovely, we decided to book a second night.

We couldn’t figure out, however, why we were feeling so run-down and tired. I thought I was just hungry, or maybe just exhausted from the trip. Talking to the waitress in the lodge restaurant, we figured out that we were suffering from altitude sickness! But that didn’t stop us from exploring the area. After a nap, of course.

Unfortunately, some of the activities (ski-lift, rock climbing wall, kids’ trampoline and toboggan track) were only open on the weekends, as this was the off season, so we didn’t get to enjoy these adventures. But we did get to do some hiking.

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We made it up to the 11,300-foot peak (with the help of our car) and also hiked a trail that took us to actual snow on the mountaintop in the middle of July!

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It was all worth it when I heard this little guy say, “Life is awesome!”

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We loved Brian Head so much that we were considering investing in a condo there. It hasn’t happened yet, but we’ll see!

LA to Chi-Town Part 1 Goal: Accomplished

Route 66: Day 6, End of the Road

Goal: Santa Monica Pier and dipping toes in the Pacific Ocean

Isn’t it fitting that we made it to the end of our journey on Route 66 on day 6? And what an epic day it was.

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After fueling up on breakfast at our motel, we headed out on the road for a very quick drive to Los Angeles and, finally, Santa Monica Pier – the end of the road. What a monumental day this was for us. An epic statement that we, as a family, can accomplish a whole lot if we work together, keep our minds open, and just shut up and enjoy the ride. (In fact wouldn’t we all be better off in every day life if we followed those 3 simple tasks?)

Work together, keep your minds open, and just shut up and enjoy the ride!

Anyway, we reserved a parking spot at a hotel garage across the street from Santa Monica Pier, and when we got there, all we had to do was show the attendant our phone reservation and the car was valet parked for us. We even were welcome to use the hotel restroom for a little potty break before we embarked on our very busy day.

Where do you start, you may ask, when you only have one day to spend in LA with two little kids? Well, I took some advice from one of our family’s favorite travel shows, Travel with Kids, and sought out one of the hop-on hop-off buses. These buses seem to be a fixture in many major cities. And taking one of these bus tours is a great way to get a lay of the land in an unfamiliar city. After perusing the bus map, we decided to take the route that would bring us by the La Brea Tar Pits, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and around Beverly Hills.

IMG_1094Our first stop was the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. The tar pits themselves are free to visit and absolutely fascinating, especially for the little ones. We had not planned on visiting the museum, but the kids had so many questions that I could not answer, we decided that it would be an invaluable learning experience to spend a bit of time there. Be advised, however, that there is no food in the museum, no cafe, no nothing, so eat before you go in. It’s easy to find food on Wilshire Boulevard, though. There was even a line of food trucks there to amuse an adventurous palate.

As we thought, the museum was well-worth the stop. The kids learned a lot about the Ice Age(s) and how animals got stuck in and were found and excavated from the tar pits. In fact, the excavations are continuing to this day. Fascinating stuff.

Coppin' a squat on Wilshire Blvd while waiting for the hop-on, hop-off bus, Los Angeles, CA
Coppin’ a squat on Wilshire Blvd while waiting for the hop-on, hop-off bus, Los Angeles, CA

Our next stop was Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I have to say, this was way less exciting than it sounds… and it really doesn’t sound that exciting. We got off the bus, pushed our way through throngs of tourists, snapped a few pictures, then got back on the bus.

The most interesting thing about this particular stop was finding out that my children had no idea what a celebrity was and why all these people were hovering about looking down at people’s names on the sidewalk. I love the minds of these children and hope they never lose their sense of puzzlement or incredulity (neither of those words is the word I want to use – maybe I’ll come back and edit this post later) at the insanity of celebrity culture.

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Kermit the Frog’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Los Angeles, CA

After taking in the sites around LA from the comfort of the top tier of the hop-on hop-off bus, we found ourselves back at Santa Monica Pier, the end of the road. The sun was setting and we seem to have brought a cool Chicago breeze with us to California. In other words, we were freezing by the time we made it onto the pier. But what a great opportunity to purchase sweatshirts to not only keep us warm, but also to commemorate our epic and amazing journey.

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Warm sweatshirts, Santa Monica Pier, CA
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Santa Monica Pier
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Making the most of our 10 minutes on the freezing cold beach

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With our nice, warm sweatshirts on, we explored the pier and then made our way down to the beach to dip our toes into the cold Pacific Ocean.

We made it!

Relishing in the success of our journey, we ended the night with pizza and craft beer at the Pizza Press in Pasadena.

Route 66 Goal: Accomplished (now we just have to make our way back home)

Route 66: Day 5 – Mojave Desert

Goal: Pasadena, CA

We made our way to Pasadena on the Fourth of July. The temperature as we drove through the seemingly endless Mojave Desert exceeded 112 degrees Fahrenheit.

It kind of speaks to our mood and how much energy we had at this point, that none of us took pictures on the road this day. I have looked through each of our cameras (including the kids’ cameras). There is not even a back-seat selfie featuring a backdrop of the desert.

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404 Error, No pictures found for this leg of our journey

Also, when it comes to staying true to following the Mother Road, we kind of fell short a bit this day. There is a stretch in Arizona where Route 66 takes a steep path northward. I have to say we did not follow the road at this point. Unfortunately, we missed a planned stop in Oatman, AZ, where there is an old west town and wild burros that you can feed in the street. But we were more concerned with making it to our destination safely and early enough to be able to enjoy the Fourth of July. And keeping in mind that Route 66 is all about the freedom of the open road and the freedom to explore the country (see Epic Route 66), we made our decision to push through the desert to our destination.

Important footnote: WHEN TRAVELING THROUGH A DESERT IN AMERICA, MAKE SURE CHILDREN UNDERSTAND THAT THEY WILL NOT SEE ANY CAMELS! My daughter was disappointed that there were no camels in the Mojave Desert.

Important travel tip: Make sure to gas up your car when the opportunity is there. Gas stations are few and far between on this leg of the journey.

Another important travel tip: Make sure to feed yourself and your family when the opportunity is there. Restaurants are few and far between on this leg of the journey.

Route 66 Saga Motor Hotel Pasadena
Pool at the Saga Motor Hotel, Pasadena, CA

We pulled into our motel (the HIGHLY recommended Saga Motor Hotel – see Preparing Adults for an Epic Family Trip) early in the evening, with big plans to experience the Fourth of July fireworks from the Rose Bowl celebration. After a quick dip in the pool, however, we retired to our beds, ordered a pizza (from the delicious Pizza Press located next door to the motel), and enjoyed watching the fireworks on TV. Needless to say, we were all exhausted and slept well that night.

Day 5 Goal: Accomplished