States visited: 49!

visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800

Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Monday & Tuesday

More school, more swimming (one day Jake swam a mile and Caitlin did over 1/2 mile - VERY impressive!), more mini golf, a lot more jumping pillow, more chess, more playground, some reading, bit of computer know, your typical school day, tough life we have, LOL!

Unfortunately tonight we're packing up again, which is far from relaxing. Dave's been searching crazily today with the prospect of a new camper. It seems somewhat unlikely but it's kind of nice to dream.......a little extra space would be wonderful!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunday September 20th

The day started out well: an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast - Jake's idea of heaven, LOL! The wasps are a bit of an issue at this time of year and the pavilion didn't really keep them out particularly well; they were rather attracted to the syrup unfortunately. A stint on the playground followed breakfast, along with a standing chess game, with the huge pieces, for Dave and Jake. Jake's getting really good, he's pretty tactical when it comes to things like this, Dave gave him a chance in game 2 and he totally ran away with it; Dave could not claw his way back in. Watch out Grandpa, he's coming, you'd better hone your skills!

Next stop: mini golf. I managed a hole-in-one, thankfully witnessed by Becca, I'm sure no-one (especially me, LOL) would have believed it otherwise. It's an 18-hole, very well kept and put together, course; the kids have really been enjoying it each day.

Back to the camper to change into swimsuits and off to the heated pool we went. I stayed back to prep some lunch and headed down to meet them. They had the pool totally to themselves. The check-out time is 11am here so most of the weekenders had already left. There were still a good number of campers remaining but not too many with children. I guess, without kids, the lure of the pool towards the end of September, is somewhat lessened! It was heated (although we were later to discover, only at the weekends at this point in the season!) and 25yds long so Dave was happy to get some laps done.

Once again, we headed back to the camper and got ready to go and visit the Brunswick Visitor's Center of The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The Center is also a train museum so we figured that would be interesting. No doubt, it would have been wonderful, unfortunately the operator of the huge train display hadn't shown up and things were therefore not quite as spectacular as they might have been! We were able to wander around to see old pictures of the canals and locks, including one with girls in their bathing suits at the beginning of the 1900's - almost completely covered! The girls thought this was quite strange!

There was also a short movie, detailing the history of the canal. The Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet at Harpers Ferry and are extremely shallow and very rocky: totally useless for boats to carry goods along them. Before George Washington was President, he was trying to figure out a way to circumnavigate this area, thus the idea of the Canal was formed. Sadly, while it was being built, the railways were evolving and in time, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad actually overtook the building of the canal, so it was never completely finished. It was used for a time however, until it became truly obsolete. Mules would pull along the barges from lock to lock at a maximum speed of 4mph. The mules would be unhitched at the locks, a lock-keeper would keep the boat in position as the gates were closed and opened, to allow water to fill or escape, once the barge was level with the water again, the lock gates opened, the mules were re-hitched and on they meandered to the next lock.

We did go down to the towpath to look at lock 30 (Harpers Ferry has lock 33). This part of the canal is totally dry and overgrown with grass, however there is a section that still works and offers rides during peak season, presumably closer to the beginning. The highlight of being close to the canal-bed was its proximity to the railroad tracks. We saw two long trains go past, which Nathan totally loved, he even bought a replica train in the museum store; the boy does love his trains (and misses his wooden track which we had to leave at home due to weight.).

As we had spent so little time here, we drove the opposite direction of the campground - again passing from MD, through VA, to WV to Charles Town. This town was created by the youngest brother of George Washington, founded in 1786. Six of the Washington homes still stand and the Zion Episcopal Church Cemetery is the final resting place of 75 members of the family.

It is also home to a horse race track with live thoroughbred racing year-round. We stopped in to take a look at the track and unbelievably, a race was getting ready to start. We were able to see the horses warming up around the track with their trainers and then racing a lap around. It was great to watch, we totally lucked out!

As promised, we headed back to the campground and down to the jumping pillow. As predicted, there weren't many people around and for a huge chunk of time, we had the pillow to ourselves: SO much fun! It's quite the workout, wish we'd brought water with us! Despite the fact that it was late, no-one was complaining of hunger, hard to drag them away from such a fun location.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday September 19th

We were heading to another campground in West Virginia but much of our route was in Maryland (so bizarre, need to show the kids exactly where we were on the map, so hard for them to picture it, particularly when I’m shouting, ‘oh, now we’re in…. but soon we’ll be back in……!’). We reached almost 3,000ft at one point and Dave was dealing with some steep grades. The drive was far from boring and, for us, relatively short. As we neared our destination, we crossed over a bridge, leaving Maryland and entered Virgina, just a mile or so further on, we crossed the state line back into West Virginia!

See Harpers Ferry in the distance over the River.

We arrived at the KOA just in time for lunch (apparently Becca in particular was ‘starving’…). This is an amazing campground: smaller, much closer together sites, very much packed in and quite different from what we’ve been experiencing recently, however what we lack in space (I’m sure that will change after tomorrow and people leave for weekday school/work), is more than made up for in activities.

There is a heated pool – not yet closed, much excitement at jumping in there (not from me you understand), a jumping pillow (tried that out after dinner, so much fun!), miniature golf (Jake and Caitlin headed off to play a couple of rounds), Disney movies playing in the large theater (Nate and Becca spent some time watching Ice Age), an extremely well-stocked store (plenty for me to be tempted by), a fun, different playground, not to mention the ice-cream social, pancake breakfast, beach volley and basketball courts, games room, café….definitely a busy campground, but full of entertainment.

.....see the 2 little heads watching Ice Age?

Dave bouncing the kids off the pillows was the best game ever!

However, before the kids got chance to really explore all of the on-site stuff, we whisked them off to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (literally a minute’s drive up the road) to complete the Junior Ranger program. The NP actually spans the 3 states we’d driven through as we’re really sitting on the corner of them all. Harper’s Ferry was such a key town in history, so much happened there. From the brochure: It is more than one event, one date, or one individual. It is multi-layered, involving a diverse number of people and events, decisions and actions that influenced the course of our nation’s history. Harpers Ferry witnessed the first successful application of interchangeable parts, the arrival of the first successful American railroad, John Brown’s attack on slavery, the largest surrender of Federal troops during the Civil War, and the education of former slaves in one of the earliest integrated schools in the United States.

Jake loves learning about all the wars and is full of interesting questions for the rangers, so this was a perfect program for him. Thankfully some of the requirements held Becca’s interest as well, so that helped the afternoon run smoothly. We were able to walk on a tiny part of the Appalachian Trail, across a railway/pedestrian bridge. While we were walking along the dried up canal towpath, a train rumbled past directly above us, Nathan was enthralled. We made it back to the cobble-stoned streets of the town, totally taking us back to the 1800’s (the kids had dressed up earlier in 19th century clothing), their shops, facades etc were all true to the era, it was very cool. They were sworn in as JR’s and added to the log book.

September 17th & 18th

This campground was a complete bargain, only $25 per night for full hook-up, including free wifi (Dave didn’t have to set up the mega dish, another bonus!), beautiful wooded sites, playground, including a volleyball net, which we played at a lot! The wonders of $store inflatable balls – this time, it was a volleyball, didn’t work so well in the wind but served its purpose and didn’t injure anyone when it fell on their head!

When one of the employees saw Nate collecting sticks for a fire, she brought over an enormous bundle of firewood for free. When Dave went to the office to pay, the owner had just been to the field to pick corn; she gave us a dozen ears, which were SO deliciously sweet, we had to eat two!

I love this photo of Nate looking to see what Jake's doing to shuck the corn, so adorable.

We found another geocache locally that was on a major intersection, easy one, small, just held the log book so no treats this time. We are getting addicted, such a great way to actually ‘see’ places you’ve never really noticed before. We’re having fun with them. On the way, we were noticing the odd red tree that he already turned, amongst the green ones. We also took a longer route back to the campground and passed a large number of deer, including a young buck (spotted by Nate).

It was a pleasant and relaxing couple of days, finished on Friday night by a raging fire, these are the times when camping ‘can’t be beat’.

Wednesday September 16th

Our plan had been to leave on Thursday but we realized that arriving late in the day and then packing up again to leave the following evening would be tough, so we changed plans. It didn’t effect too much, Dave just had to switch days off, we still did school in the morning before we left. It is much harder moving during the week though, even Jake mentioned it – the weekend days make for an easier transition, we prefer to get on the road pre-breakfast.

The drive to West Virginia was longer than I’d intended, no reason really, just took a while. We had to stop and eat, got caught up in rush hour traffic and it was quite a way. The scenery certainly changed, we definitely left the flat landscape behind us and hit the hills in a big way! We actually drove right by WVU where we caught a glimpse of their marching band practicing – it was huge! We keep telling Jake that if he sticks with the clarinet, it could be him out there on the field, so he was especially interested to see them. I wanted to stop, Dave gave me the: ‘you have got to be kidding me’ look (there were cars everywhere, not very practical to park and maneuver a camper.). At one point, we were in Pennsylvania again, just below Pittsburgh, still a long way from home though.

As we were driving over the hills and pot-holed roads to Pine Hill Campground, we were afforded another beautiful view of the sunset, we have been so blessed on this trip to see the amazing colors of nature. This journey, we also began to spot many trees with their leaves changing color as autumn approaches.

It was a tough set-up process in the dark, something we haven’t had to do in quite a while. The kids were wired, having sat in the car for 5 hours but of course, couldn’t run off to the playground as it was too late and too dark, it made for a challenging evening.

Monday, September 14, 2009

September 14th & 15th

These were shockingly great days on the school front. They all worked hard and mostly without complaint, even though Monday was a journal day. It made everyone so much more enjoyable and happy. There was time to build lego, play, bike ride, swim in the lake – Monday was a hot day – watch the US Open Men’s Final and catch up with a few things.

Nothing like sitting outside watching the sun go down......

Easy days, school work of course, fishing (only Jake managed to catch a fish – again!), basketball, playing, enjoying a bit of relaxation.

Off to fish, camper covered in laundry and sat dish in background, we certainly find a way to make our area 'home', even for just a few days!

After the geocache find in Illinois, we were hooked and determined to find another one. Dave figured out that there were two, not too far from each other, one promised to be easy, the other was a multi (follow a few clues to find the end treasure). The easy one wasn’t quite as simple as it should have been; we felt conspicuous in a beautiful, quiet neighborhood and thought someone might call the police due to our suspicious activity! When we did find the treasure box, it contained great bounty and there was excitement amongst the kids, again for our collect-a-maniac, Becca, these caches are just the best thing ever! We replaced it as we found it and went off in search of the next one, being careful to look around and retreat as if we were never there (picture spy spoof movie, it's pretty funny seeing everyone attempting to be inconspicuous!), can't let muggles (non-geocachers) get wind of what we're up to!

We were taken to an old one-room schoolhouse, long deserted, on an unused road (the cache was called: road to nowhere). We needed to find the year the schoolhouse was built: 1878, add the digits, walk that number of paces SW, turn 90 degrees, walk a certain number of paces and search for the next set of hidden coordinates – Nate found them, he was so happy, full of smiles, all the kids were ‘high-fiving’ him! Then, back in the truck to drive along the road to find the treasure. It was another box full of bounty. This time, the kids scoured the truck in search of their own little ‘treasures’, they just could not pass up ‘gem stones’ or a slinky (really?? A slinky, must we??), so exchanges were made and beaming faces abounded!

We had to get a photo of a corn field, the last week, we've passed field upon field of corn. Corn and cows, we're certainly in that ther' farming country!

Sunday, September 13th

It’s my birthday! I got a Nintendo dsi, I’m sure I’ll lose it often to all 4 kids but I tried to keep it to myself today, there wasn’t much time to play with it but hopefully it will give me something else to do while we’re on our long drives. It has a fun photo distorting feature that we’re all glued to.

We had a relaxing morning, made lunch and went to Hopewell Culture National Historical Park for a picnic lunch. The Hopewell were the dwellers in this area in 500BC – 200AD and left a number of mounds, mostly used for cremations and burials. Most of what we learnt are mainly theories as there was nothing written or drawn of this era. I’m so glad we visited this park; it gave the kids a glimpse of really ancient history. The 20 minute movie we watched, giving details of this time kept their interest. Jake was amazed that all of this happened and the mounds have been around for 2,000 years – it is hard to even imagine.

The Junior Ranger program wasn’t overly challenging, thank goodness. I actually think that they learn more if these programs are do-able, rather than constantly having to ask for assistance, even Nathan was able to complete a couple of activities without too much input. It was exactly what we needed. Some of the items found in the mounds, buried with the bodies, were on display and came from as far afield as Yellowstone and the Gulf of Mexico, it is assumed that they ended up in Ohio from constant trading. It was all very interesting. The site was also used as a training area for 120,000 soldiers from 1917, as world war 1 was coming to a close. Many of the mounds were unfortunately disturbed by their presence but archeologists were still able to preserve quite a number.

Bizarrely, the National Park is located between two huge prison areas. Each time we passed the prisons, with their barbed wire fences, the kids were fascinated and asked lots of questions. We could see many of the prisoners out in the yard, playing basketball and exercising, hard to stress what a tough life the prisoners have when all the kids could see was guys outside playing! Good discussion starter though…..

We went out to dinner in downtown Chillicothe, the first capital of Ohio. The road we were on was clearly the capital of chain restaurants; we had quite an expansive choice!

It was a good birthday, so glad it was at the weekend and not on a travel day. The kids have now started working out which day their birthdays fall on and how they’d like to spend their birthdays ie: NOT schooling!

Saturday, September 12th

This was to be another day with many hours in the car, google had us leaving Illinois and heading to Ohio, traveling via Indianapolis and Cincinnati, taking over 7 hours.

Before we left the campground, I had to take a photo of the rig next to us: a huge class A, towing a hummer! This campground was obviously a good stopping point for many people. We stayed for 3 nights and had a different camper next to us for every one of those nights, they were usually gone by the time we were starting school. One was from Texas, another from Oregon and another New Mexico, you can’t say that we’re not meeting a diverse range of people on this trip! This was the first week when we really didn’t see any kids camping the same age as ours, school has started!

It was SO foggy when we left the campground at 8:45 on ‘our’ time, remembering we did not bother converting to central time for just a few days. The roads were surprisingly still pretty busy that early. It’s such a different landscape in this region, fields upon fields of crops and farmland, mainly corn it seems, punctuated with farms and homesteads and little groups of trees. For Dave, this makes the driving a tad uninteresting, miles of flat, fairly unchanging landscape, I enjoyed it though, passing fields of cows, calves, horses and pigs!

We finally arrived at Sun Valley campground in Chillicothe, Ohio around 6:30, it was a long day. Stopping to pick up groceries, eat lunch and buy all those little ‘extras’ that have been added to the ever-growing list, didn’t help timewise but were a necessity.

Friday, September 11th

We spent the morning remembering the events of 8 years ago, recounting the story for the kids, who’ve obviously heard about it each year since. We had landed in England that morning and watched everything on the news after lunch. The flight returning to the US a couple of weeks later was the emptiest we’ve ever traveled on.

Thankfully, this was another day with no specific plans. Obviously each week day, Dave works and the kids have school, so it is enjoyable to have a bit of free time here and there in the afternoons. I was able to catch up with the marking, chat with the kids about any problems they were having with school work, go over a few things and actually made scones – this is the best scone recipe ever, given to me years ago by my friend, Bekah, super easy to make and always receives rave reviews, I’ve given this recipe out more times than I can count:


3 cups flour
½ cup sugar
1½ tbspn baking powder
½ tspn salt
½ cup raisins
Mix these dry ingredients together.

Add 1¾ cups heavy (double) cream and mix until combined.
Knead gently, pat into large rectangle and cut into 18 triangles – obviously vary the number of triangles depending on size wanted. When making for a large group, potluck type of occasion, I usually cut into 32.
Brush with heavy cream, sprinkle with sugar.
Bake on 425ºF for 10-12 minutes. I usually bake on a stone and they take a little longer.

Instead of raisins, you can add chocolate chips, dried apricots or any other dried fruit.


Thursday, September 10th

This was a day of organization and doing very little – wonderful! We had an earlier dinner and went off in search of a geocache. The plan was to find a geocache each week, however, everything has taken a lot longer than I’d thought it would each day so this was the first opportunity we’d had to actually go out and search. We’d found one near the house a couple of months ago when Jake wasn’t with us so he was particularly eager to see what this was all about.

The first stop was the Illinois & Michigan Canal. This was so neat to show the kids, it was right by a lock. We were able to explain how a lock worked and let them see how a canal boat would sit in the lock and rise or lower with the water. This Canal was completed in 1848 and is part of the waterway that begins in NY’s Erie Canal, through Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan to Chicago, then from the canal to the Illinois River at La Salle, then to the Mississippi River and New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico.

Unfortunately the location of the geocache was in the middle of a huge area of poison ivy. We were not dressed for dealing with poison ivy and weren’t that desperate to get to the cache! There was great disappointment from the assembled children so off we went, in search of another one. The next one took us to Oakwood Cemetery, another place we would not have visited had it not been for a specific purpose. We found the 1864 gravestone we were looking for (kids were fascinated by the older gravestones – we encouraged them to be respectful and limit their running!) and Dave braved more poison ivy to reach the hidden old metal box that housed this cache. There was great excitement as Dave opened the box and the treasure was revealed. Typically these things are filled with $ store type trinkets – just the kind of thing Becca loves, her eyes were wide with joy! We ‘admired’ all the plastic toys and each of us signed the log book before Dave returned it to its spot. I’m hoping now that we’ve done one on the trip, we’ll do more – hopefully also find one in the UK when we go at the end of the month.

Wednesday, September 9th

I really don’t enjoy the packing up process during the morning while we’re all trying to do school and work, much easier to pack up at night, but better for Dave on the work front, he can get a good half day done before we drive. I’ve tried to ensure that the long hauls are at weekends and ‘shorter’ journeys are during the week - of course, for this trip, shorter = 4 hours or less, again, that perspective thing plays a part!

After school, Dave dropped us off by the north shore of the lake, and then headed back to the site to finish work, packing up and hitching. The kids played in the water and enjoyed the beach, while I enjoyed a few minutes of peace – peace seems to be something that’s pretty hard to come by on this trip!

We collected the children’s ‘Wisconsin Adventurer’ patches. The State Park works in collaboration with the National Park Service to maintain the Ice Age trail, so the Junior Ranger books are actually these Adventurer books with a patch. My fingers are getting sore from all the sewing of these patches on their blankets. I tend to do the sewing as we’re driving on the longer journeys: something to do to pass the time, whilst listening to the dialogue of a movie but not being able to see the picture!

An uneventful drive back to Illinois, Hickory Hollow Campground was right by the freeway so was an easy ‘find’ and didn’t involve lots of little backroads. Each site was paved and flat with a neat little area of grass. The pool was already closed, so the kids were disappointed by that. However, the playground was one of the best we’ve come across so they were happy about that. Set up was pretty quick as the campground had free wi-fi, meaning Dave could get on and do some work as soon as we arrived.

Tuesday September 8th

We spent the afternoon completing the Junior Ranger program, which included a game of Echo – pretending to be a bat, wearing a blindfold and following the sounds of claps to locate the other players. Jake’s favorite activity in his book was ‘tricking a spider’ by placing a blade of grass in a spider’s web to entice the spider out of his hiding place, he was amazed that it worked. These JR programs are full of interesting ideas and activities.

After an early dinner, we went to the south shore of the lake to hike the ‘Balanced Rock’ trail. The JR program required that the kids hike a trail and this one looked the most interesting, although it was listed as ‘challenging’, we thought we could do it. I’m not sure we would have hiked a trail had the program not required it and we’re so glad we did.

As we got to the base of the trail, Dave said, “I guess we go up.” I assumed he was joking as all I could see was a steep face of rocks and started laughing. “No, I’m serious; the trail marker is this way!” Yes, the trail did indeed go straight up the side of the mountain, there were rock steep steps curving up in amongst all the rocks left from the glaciers. It was such a great path, part of the Ice Age trail. We climbed steadily upwards, being careful to stay away from the edge until we reached the balanced rock.

It truly is balanced, kind of looks as though someone just placed it there and it could just topple at any moment. It’s really amazing that it hasn’t fallen off during a storm but I suppose it’ll remain where it is, despite many people trying to push it over the edge!

We carefully hiked down; everyone did so well, despite the steepness. It was getting quite late but the kids really wanted to swim in the lake. Thankfully this time, I’d had the foresight to bring swimwear. It was pretty relaxing for Dave and I to just sit and watch the kids play and swim, they were so happy, therefore we were happy.

We headed back to our site to sit around the fire: a very pleasant day.

Monday, September 7th: Labor Day

The driving continued today, certainly labor for Dave. I am still yet to attempt driving the truck with the camper attached. I always offer but Dave is not a great passenger, can’t sleep, type or read and gets antsy to get back behind the wheel so he is happiest as the driver (I’m happy too actually!).

We left Sand Creek and headed northwards, back past Chicago, through Illinois, up to Wisconsin. It was a pleasant drive into the ‘state of cheese’ (this is what everyone said whenever we mentioned that we were going to Wisconsin!). We arrived at Devil’s Lake State Park late afternoon, having stopped on the way for groceries at a store called Piggly Wiggly – not your typical name for a grocery store!

The state park campground was beautiful, very spacious, we were reasonably close to the toilets and playground. We hadn’t remembered that we had no water hook-up until after we’d leveled and unhitched the camper, so Dave had to get creative with funneling water into the camper. It worked perfectly and we had a lovely couple of days.

Sunday, September 6th

We got a good early start to drive into Chicago, it was only about an hour away from where we staying. As we drove in, we were amazed at the train stations positioned in, what appeared to be, the middle of the freeway, quite bizarre. We were able to locate the parking garage we had found online, with ease – a definite advantage to arrive before the crowds hit, especially on a holiday weekend.

Our first stop was Milennium Park and the ‘floating cloud’ sculpture. When it was put in place, everyone thought it looked more like a giant jellybean, so it is known locally as simply, the ‘bean’. It was really cool; we could get some amazing reflections of the buildings in it - and of ourselves of course! We spent quite a while going around and under it, getting different pictures and reflections from different angles. We had a lot of fun. Further along, we watched the fountain bookends for some time; waiting for the water to spurt out of the mouths of the huge faces was pretty funny.

Dave said there was no way we were coming to Chicago without seeing Jordon’s statue outside the United Center, where the Bulls play. This meant a train ride out to one of the afore-mentioned stations in the middle of a freeway! It was a bit of a trek to the arena but Dave was happy. We tried to get a photo of him blocking Jordon’s shot, have to check the pic to see if it came out well or not.

Our next stop was the pier. We were able to get the free trolley from Michigan Avenue out to the pier, after a brief stop in Starbucks for sustenance, a cereal bar can only get you so far!

There are a lot of touristy things going on at the pier: rides, shows, shopping, food etc. The lines were long for tickets so we weren’t able to spend the time we wanted there. We made a quick stop in the Children’s Museum and met Patch, the dog promoting the 2016 Olympic bid ((I think it’s still just a bid)..

We had a 2:30 reservation at the American Girl Store for a late lunch. This was a total surprise for the girls. We had sneaked Julie and Molly (their American Girls) into our bag and they were absolutely thrilled, firstly when we walked trough the door and were overwhelmed by the sheer size and amount of AG ‘stuff’, and secondly, when we showed them that we’d brought their dolls. Caitlin was initially so upset when she realized where we were and that Julie wasn’t with her, and then beside herself with joy once she saw we’d brought Julie. Clearly this store wasn’t quite as exciting for Jake and Nate but they suffered through with the promise that their treat location would be coming up next.

The AG store IS overwhelming! All the historical dolls have their own display cases on the first floor, there’s also a photo area. On the second floor, there are shelves filled with more AG clothes, matching girl clothes and general accessories. As you carry on through, there’s a craft area, special AG salon for the AG dolls with tiny salon seats – adorable. The highlight was the dining area, where each doll has their own seat so they can sit and eat with their friends, it was awesome. The room was totally decked out with flowers, the girls were in heaven. The food was good (Jake was somewhat appeased!), 4 courses, we all received a hairband and a flower to keep as a memento. Caitlin bought Julie’s basketball uniform and accessories, Becca bought a beautiful purple dress and accessories for Molly – they left the store absolutely thrilled. I think they could’ve stayed for the rest of the afternoon.

Our next stop was the large LEGO store. As we walked towards it, we could see an enormous lego spider and various other animals, people and buildings. Jake and Nate love lego so they were incredibly happy with this stop. There was a life size lego Darth Vadar in the store, among other things. It was a great place to hang out. There were a number of building tables so Nate really wasn’t interested in choosing anything to buy, he just wanted to build and play. Jake toured the entire store and had a terrible time choosing what to get. He ended up with the 3 in 1 convertible set, personally I think he made the best choice. The 3 in 1’s really give great options for building and re-building. One of the employees was raving about the sets, he was so animated, clearly truly loved his job – I really like chatting to people like that – might as well do something you love, life’s too short: a great asset to their store.

We were torn as to whether we should leave the city or go back to the pier. The decision was made by Becca, I realize many of our decisions are actually made by Becca! So, back on the trolley and back to the pier we went. We bought tickets and rode the Ferris Wheel, the cars were somewhat enclosed which was a great relief to Caitlin. We had wonderful views of the city from our vantage point – unfortunately, we also had views of the other rides, which meant more tickets for kiddie rides afterwards. Nate and Caitlin opted for the less adventurous carousel, Becca and Jake, our daredevils, swung around on the dizzying swings.

The line and wait for the trolley was awful, we had obviously hit prime exit time. We chose to get off a little earlier and walk back to the truck, it was quite a way and at 9pm, after such a long day in the city, it was a tad taxing for some. We did come across a really cool tall metal wind-chime water feature, which has given Dave another idea of something he could create, it sounded really good, very melodious.

So, we spent a long day in Chicago, but it was very much worth it. It’s a really neat city and we barely scratched the surface of the places we could’ve visited.

Saturday, September 5th

We wanted an early start to avoid the crowds heading to the beach today. However, the Bulman’s came online as I was checking emails so Becca had a skype conversation with Maddie; she was so happy to be able to ‘see’ her friend. Skype is such a fantastic way for the kids to keep in contact with their friends (and ours too of course! Dave has also managed to figure out a way of keeping our local number and having calls forwarded to a regular phone via skype – he’s very creative with his gadgets and this is useful for giving our number out to campgrounds!).

When we eventually did get going, we went straight to Mt Baldy to climb the high dune there. It was our intention to return to the truck to collect lunch, swimwear etc, however, the dune brought us out directly above the beach – it was way too tempting for the kids to run all the way down the dune, as opposed to turning around and walking back the way they’d come, no surprises there! Unfortunately for Dave and Jake, it meant they then had to trek back to the truck to collect everything and carry it back – thanks boys!

We spent a wonderful few hours on the beach, playing in the water, building in the sand, heading up and down the dunes, digging holes and completing as much as they could of the Junior Ranger program. It was wonderfully relaxing. We left Mt Baldy and drove to West Beach to follow the trail there, a requirement for Jake’s JR program. The other kids just weren’t in the mood and tiredness was setting in, so we sat and watched the butterflies instead.

We went to the Visitor’s Center to receive their patches. As well as the JR booklets, they’d also worked at the beach to complete the Beachcomber patch (more sewing!). Once again, they raced into the play area to dress up, stage a puppet show and complete more insect rubbings – a good day.

Friday, September 4th

Dave received an email from his boss, letting him know that he could finish early today to get a jump on the holiday w/e – fantastic! We worked and schooled in the morning, then spent an hour after lunch, helping the children complete their Junior FIRE Ranger booklets. These were great, not overly challenging, do-able in a short space of time and complete a requirement for fire safety required by our school district!

We made a stop at the Visitor’s Center to receive the Fire Ranger patches and play in the interactive children’s area. This was an awesome room: many stuffed animals relevant to the area, clothes from the early 1900’s that they could dress up in, computer games, brass rubbings, books, puzzles, a puppet show area with animals you’d find in the National Lakeshore, among other things. We thought this would be a quick stop to watch the informative 10 minute dvd, however we ended up staying for almost 2 hours, chatting for quite some time with Ranger Julie. The kids had to interview a Ranger for their booklets anyway and she really shared some great and interesting information.

We had promised the children a trip to the beach, there were many choices, we opted for Porter Beach as that was closest. Lake Michigan is not quite as clear here, compared to how it was further north, however the kids were not deterred, quickly putting their suits on, despite a breeze. As we were looking for shells and rocks, a lady came over to share her finds and chat with us about the area. She was looking for croinoids and gave us a few that she’d found, they’re really cool and certainly would’ve been hard to find by ourselves. She told us that on a clear day, you can get a great view of Chicago across the lake. Today was hazy, far from clear and Chicago was totally invisible!

Thursday September 3rd

…and on we go….

We left Sleeping Bear Dunes and north Michigan, after a couple of hours of school, heading south to Indiana. Thankfully we had an uneventful journey, with a lunch stop for eating and grocery shopping.

We arrived in good time, enabling Dave to set up his ‘dishes’ in the light – this process is thankfully getting quicker as he gets more adept each time he has to do it.

I wanted to get the Junior Ranger booklets so we could assess what needed to be done over the next couple of days. I called and they said the Centre would be closing at 6pm, giving me 30 minutes to get there, plenty of time as we were camping very closeby at Sand Creek Campground. When I checked the time though, somehow we’d gained an hour, the cell phones had switched time. This is the first time we’ve driven through a time zone, it was quite bizarre. For the purposes of work and knowing that we’d be driving back to EST in a week, we decided to stick with ‘our’ time and just get up and go to bed early!

When I went to the Visitor’s Center, a wonderful man explained the time zones. Most of Indiana is on EST, however the little area around Chicago is on Central to match up with the city. Evidently, there’s also a little pocket in southern Indiana that is on Central Time to match up with Kentucky, so strange, must get confusing.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore offers 3 Junior Ranger programs: Fire Ranger, Beachcomber and regular Junior Ranger – all come with patches, so I figured they’d probably want to complete them all. The National Park programs are so educational and will comprise a good amount of our curriculum this school year, giving us wonderful information on history, geography, geology, science and general social studies.

Wednesday September 2nd: Happy 42nd Anniversary MUM & DAD! Happy Birthday KAREN!

Hope your day was as good as ours!

Well, to be honest, it really didn’t start off that fantastically. Becca remains fairly resistant to schooling for anything longer than 20 minutes. This is challenging as I am a ‘get it done’ kind of personality. Jake definitely has this trait. He loves to get his work assignments, buckles down and gets them all done in a far quicker time than I’ve allocated. This is not the case with Becca, so things tend to take a little longer with more breaks – oh well, thankfully not everyone has my personality, what a stressful world that would be, LOL!

As lunchtime approached and we’d just begun math, Nate was sitting opposite us, snack in hand, when he says: “Oh, there’s an owl.” He’s quite nonchalant about it, so I assume it’s another ‘tall story’ (he tends to compete with the big kids by embellishing things….) and pay no attention until it flies directly past the window and lands on a branch right in front of us.

Picture us all now pressed up against the window, me, with camera in hand, trying desperately to get a good angle before it flies off. Instead, I went outside and clicked a quick photo but there it remained, gazing down at me. I beckoned the kids out and we all stood there, transfixed while it preened itself and continued to look down on us. The kids got really close to the tree and were in awe. It was such a cool experience. Eventually it did fly off but the kids begged me to go to the ranger station to tell them and show them the photos. The Rangers were as equally enthusiastic (love that!) and showed the picture in the nature book of which owl it was: a barred owl.

Sadly for Dave, he missed our morning excitement: work, such a huge inconvenience! He took the afternoon off though and we completed the Pearce Stocking Scenic Route in the car, admiring the spectacular views of Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear dunes (no longer looking quite so much like a sleeping bear as in the past as the dunes move at an alarming rate each year). One of the main lookouts informed us that the lake stretched 55 miles from our viewpoint to Wisconsin but you could not see land due to the water following the curvature of the earth, we all thought that this was pretty cool.

We learnt a few more things along the drive, which helped complete the Junior Ranger program. We headed over to the Dune Climb again, Dave definitely wanted to complete that before we left and we wanted to climb a little higher. First though, we checked the wooden marker, detailing the number of feet the dune has moved over the past few years. The marker was placed in 1985, since then, the dunes have progressed 57 feet, amazing to see the forces of nature at work in such a dramatic way.

After dinner, we went back to the shores of Lake Michigan to watch the sunset. It was neat to have the full moon on one side and the sun set on the other. It was a beautiful sight, the colors were gorgeous. We meandered along the beach, dipping our toes in the lake and enjoying the peace of being by the quiet lake, lit by moonlight – this day was certainly one that reinforced our decision to stay on the road and continue this journey around the country. As challenging as some things are, the positive moments far outweigh the negative.

Tuesday September 1st

Once again, Dave left us for the morning, returned for lunch and then we dropped him off on the way to the shipwreck program. The old coastguard station was north of the Lakeshore and, unbeknownst to us, also by a secluded beach. The shipwreck program was neat; we learnt how ships were rescued in the late 1800’s. The re-enactment required audience participation and all but Becca volunteered to help rescue Raggedy Anne and Andy from certain doom! It’s amazing what the coastguard went through and the risks that were taken to save drowning sailors, using a pulley system from the shore to the sinking ship.

We went to the beach and were in awe at the beauty of the Lake. The water was SO clean and clear (if cold in my opinion!). We relaxed on the sand and paddled at the water’s edge. Jake and Caitlin really wanted to go into the old coastguard home that had been converted into something of a museum. The younger two had no interest in being torn away from the water so the older two took the camera and shared their finds with us later. Keeping Becca and Nate out of the water, despite a lack of swimwear or towels, was impossible so I had two very wet children by the time we collected Dave for dinner.

Once again, we attended the campground Ranger Program, this time learning about the stars. The Ranger’s stories were entertaining and, as with most stories, held the children’s attention. We learnt some interesting information and the kids were absolutely desperate to stay up really late and gaze at the stars. The star gazing each evening was good but we were unwilling to deal with even tireder children the next day, so they had to be satisfied with what they’d learnt at the program and pictures I googled for them online a few days later!

Monday August 31st

Dave left us ‘schooling’ and headed off to the local café. It turned out to be a 50’s style café, staffed by a lovely family who also owned and operated the large drive-in movie ‘theater’ next door. The upside of the café was the yummy goodies and coffee available, the downside: 50’s music running on a continuous loop. Dave came home randomly singing: ‘lollipop, lollipop….’ for the next few days!

He returned for lunch, we dropped him off afterwards and drove to the dune climb area. This was the highlight of this National Park that the children had seen photos of online and could not wait to get to. They spent a long time going up and down the dune, racing down, pacing up, it was a lot of fun. Jake thought it’d be a good idea to roll down but halfway down, had to stop, as it made him feel really sick. I wouldn’t have made it one roll without feeling terrible so I totally understood!

Given the length of stay at the dune, we were quite late collecting Dave and decided to stay at the café for dinner. The kids thought it was fantastic, so much space and at the end of the room, some old style school desks were set up by a large blackboard with lots of chalk. Caitlin went into total teacher mode and gave a great lesson to Becca and Nathan, until they too wanted to write all over the board. It was hard to persuade them away to actually eat something!

The campground offered a Ranger Program each evening, which could count towards the Junior Ranger program. We attended the ‘Hoots and Howls’ program and practiced calling owls and coyote, which was fun. Jake guessed some of the sounds and came up with some good answers to the questions. I think the highlight for the younger two was biking to and from the amphitheater!

Sunday August 30th

This was to be our longest travel day so far. Google had our drive time as almost 8 hours, we’d prepped the kids and added snacks to the truck, along with a good stock of DVD’s, we didn’t need to worry, they were fine. We left before breakfast and got a good stretch of driving done before lunch. We had no problems crossing the border, other than the customs official’s request to see the grapes we’d purchased in Canada – they were originally from the US apparently, and we were allowed to keep them!

We arrived at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Platte campground) in time for dinner. We had to stop on the way in to fill the tanks with water as this was to be an electric only site – our first non-sewer of the trip, which meant no washing machine and lots more visits to the restrooms and showers.

Our campsite was beautiful, lots of wonderful tall trees, plenty of space and fairly private. The downside, Dave quickly realized, was that lots and lots of tall trees everywhere do not suit the satellites very well. He spent quite some time moving the dish to various locations within our site to no avail: next stop: ranger’s office to find out where the nearest wi-fi location was!

Saturday, August 29th

This was a day of rushing, running and waiting. We thought we were leaving the campground with enough time to make the train into Toronto, as we began driving and time was passing, we realized that perhaps that was not the case. Dave pressed the speed limit and was blessed with green lights, enabling us to make the station with minutes to spare. We ran through the station to the track, just in time to witness a fast train speeding by, Nate practically jumped out of his skin, it was so loud!

Our ‘double decker’ train arrived and we had a relaxing 45minute ride into Toronto, promising Becca that on the return journey, we’d travel on the top deck!

The day, unfortunately, started out extremely hazy. When we came out of the station, we could only see the very bottom of the CN tower, the skypod wasn’t even visible. We wandered over to look around the harbor before heading into the main part of town and attend the Buskerfest that was filling the streets. We were able to watch a number of different acts as we walked around. Becca volunteered to join in with one and got a $10 Canadian bill, she was thrilled!

Sidewalk stalls covered the streets, offering very tempting eats; lunch was a delicious filled crepe, followed by toffee apples and candy floss in the case of the kids. They got some cool balloons, of course, Nathan’s burst before the day was out and he was SO upset.

By this time, the CN Tower was finally visible so we made our way over there, passing the Hockey Hall of Fame, no time to visit though. There was some kind of weird fancy-dress event going on, we weren’t quite sure what we’d walked into when we used the restrooms in the underground mall. We saw these costumed people all day in various parts of the city and still have no idea why they were dressed that way.

At the CN Tower, we quickly rode the elevator up to the 1,100ft observation deck. We looked around for a while before making our way (cautiously on the part of Caitlin and I) over to the glass floor. This was not a fun area for me, I wanted to drag the kids well away but they all, bar Caitlin, were having such a good time; I was trying desperately not to show my apprehension. Eventually Caitlin did step on the floor and I barely managed to put a foot on the glass tiles, unwillingly I have to admit but there’s no way I could be there and not at least attempt to look down. It is not necessarily something I would ever rush to do again, one of those: ‘been there, done that’ type of experiences, tick it off the list and be done. Now, Dave, on the other hand, having read of our friend, Bob’s, fun when he visited, felt the the need to run onto the glass floor at full pelt and jump up and down. I thought I was going to be sick, my heart leapt and I had to walk away, I just couldn’t watch as the kids began to copy him!

As per Craig and Erica’s suggestion, we also included a visit to the skypod in our ticket. Unfortunately the line for this elevator was rather long and we had quite a wait until we could ride the elevator a further 300+ feet up. The skypod has a very small deck area with floor to ceiling glass and frankly was not at all enjoyable to either Caitlin or I. We went out onto the deck, with our backs firmly against the middle wall, inched around for a few feet and then returned to the elevator line! Meanwhile, Jake tried the ‘close your eyes, stand still and feel the sway of the pod’ as explained by the elevator operator. This turned out to be a bad choice on his part, he ended up feeling very queasy! Dave walked around and took great pictures while the younger two climbed the railings and hung out to the windows – I gave up looking and just prayed! Where is their fear?!

The wait once we returned to the observation deck, to get back down, was awful. Jake was highly frustrated that we might miss the 4:30 train and then have to wait another hour, meaning a lot less time playing with Heather and Rachel. There is a limit to the number of times you can repeat yourself and say: “There’s really no choice Jake, we have to wait, so make the best of it!” Patience is indeed a virtue, one not possessed by our oldest child!

We did finally make it down with 6 minutes to make the train. I don’t think any of us have ever run that far or that fast in a really long time! Thank goodness we’d worn our sneakers, it was quite the workout. Each time we passed a clock, we were spurred on again: maybe we’ll make it, maybe…. Unbelievably, we did! It probably took another 10 minutes for our breathing to return to normal (for the somewhat unfit parents anyway!).

We, once again, headed to Craig and Erica’s for dinner and, given that the weather had improved somewhat, decided to return to our campground for a fire and s’mores. We forget that s’mores are not a common ‘dessert’ in the UK, the Lawton’s had never had them before. They all had fun roasting the marshmallows over the fire (thankfully we’d had the foresight to buy firewood in advance. We couldn’t bring firewood over the border and in fact, most places prefer you to buy firewood at the campground or close by to avoid transporting the dreaded emerald ash borer beetle into new areas as they are destroying so many trees.).

It was a late night again but I’m so glad we got to spend time with friends and also that the kids got to hang out with someone other than their siblings. Despite the fact that the last time they were altogether was 4 years ago at Debbie and Jonny’s wedding, you certainly would never have known it. They all got along so well, it was another wonderful evening, made even better by the fact that Erica left us with her wonderful flapjacks and banana muffins – those flapjacks were delicious!

Friday, August 28th

Over lunch, we went to the supermarket and came back with way more stuff than was on my list. It was kind of tempting to buy more because there were so many different things on the shelves, there were more ‘Englishy’ things too so Dave and I weren’t really helping matters either! Managing to fit everything we bought into the fridge and cupboards was a serious challenge when we got back to the camper. The area under the bench seats is really being filled to capacity!

It was certainly a chillier, duller day than we had been having. Despite these lower temperatures, the children were not deterred from donning their suits and jumping in the pool. The allure of the pool was a slide, perhaps if that hadn’t been there, their enthusiasm would’ve been a little dampened. The younger two got out pretty quickly, a testament to how cold the water was! However, the older two were really enjoying having the large pool to themselves. They were challenging themselves by swimming lengths and being timed. Jake was doing medley loops – apparently this is fun for him!

Craig (Dave’s Mum and Craig’s Mum, Anne, met in hospital when the two boys were born) and Erica were supposed to be coming over for dinner with the girls but with the dubious weather forecast, they suggested going over to their house instead. They emigrated to just outside of Toronto earlier this year and are enjoying their move. Our kids were thrilled to see other kids their own age, Rachel and Heather played so well with them. We barely saw any of children, they disappeared into the basement to play wii, paint and create, watch TV and chat – perfect for everyone!

We stayed way too late considering our plan for heading to Toronto the next day, too much fun to see friends!

Thursday August 27th

We ‘enjoyed’ (clearly I use this word loosely!) a brief morning of school before finishing the packing up process. While Dave finished working, I took the kids to the pool for one last swim; once again, they claimed warmth until they got out!

I have to admit, I did not like leaving mid-week, it’s far easier to pack everything the night before and leave pre-breakfast. Unfortunately we have no more week-long stays ahead of us, something I plan to change for the longer leg of our trip.

There was a bit of a wait at the border crossing into Canada, which added some time to the journey, meaning we did not arrive at Milton Heights Campground near Toronto until almost 8:30pm. We did end up stopping for dinner, after passing the rows of grapes in the vineyards near Niagara, in St Catherine’s. By some fluke, we were given a table at an enormous window, overlooking the harbor, with an amazing view of Toronto in the far distance, across the lake: how perfect. Dave wasn’t impressed at the amount of time it took to eat dinner (there was a buffet, complete with chocolate fountain, need I say more?!) but he grudgingly admitted that was one of the reasons for doing this trip: unscheduled stops at non-touristy locations.

The campsite we were allocated was close to the entrance, small and had an enormous concrete slab directly in front of where the door would be. I’m one of those “Oh, it’ll be OK” types of people, however Dave decided to go ‘his way’ and managed to get us another, without question, far nicer, site.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

So behind, sorry!

Will hopefully catch up with this a bit at the end of next week. We were in Northern Michigan at the beginning of the week at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, on the shore of Lake Michigan (truly beautiful, we plan to return at some point) and didn't have internet connection, prior to that, we were in Canada for a few days and were too busy having fun and seeing Toronto, to do anything! We're heading to Chicago tomorrow and then up to Wisconsin on Monday (have a wonderful day off U.S. friends!). I'm not expecting too much by way of satellite connection, having seen our campground on the Ice Age trail, it looks wonderful but reasonably 'tree-y' - not so great for the satellite to find its connecting dish!

Anyway, all of that means possibly no time until next week when we head back down down to Indiana and Ohio - have to check where exactly, I'm losing track! I know that Saturday, we're in Southern Ohio and will only be 10 or 11 days off heading home - it's going too quickly!

So, check back in a few days and I'll see what I can do! I'm desperate to post pictures, we've really taken some wonderful ones, it's just a 'time to upload' issue - always time, or lack thereof!

Thanks for the comments, love to keep connected!