Sunday, August 16, 2009

August 16 - Finally writing about our last day!

We've been home for two weeks, but I'm just now writing about our last day in Chicago. We got up fairly early and walked to the Sears (now called Willis) Tower, which was two blocks from our hotel. 
Since we arrived at the tower shortly after 9:00 a.m. the line to get to the top was very short. In the one picture the girls are standing beside a wall that showed how many of them it would take to reach the top of the Sears Tower. We watched a short film about the construction of the building. I enjoyed the informational movies, but the girls were getting tired of them, so they weren't too excited to be watching another movie. The elevator ride to the top took less than one minute, but they have a guide and a short clip to watch on a t.v. as you ride. One of the fascinating things at the top of the tower is that there are three glass enclosures that you can walk out on, and then you are looking straight down through glass to the street below. I was a little scared, but Jerry pushed me out on one. I stayed out for only a few seconds because it did give me a weird feeling to be looking so far below my feet!

It was also neat to see the river that runs right through the city of Chicago. 
We got back to our hotel by 11:00, packed up our things and got on the road by 11:30. We were 10 hours from home, so we thought that we would travel as far as we could, with the slight chance that we could make it home. 
The roads we traveled on had lots of tolls. We spent almost $31 in tolls to get into PA. Around 8:00 p.m. we stopped for dinner at this Mexican restaurant in a town a little north of Pittsburgh. As we were waiting for our food I asked if everyone would like to stay in a hotel here and make it home Saturday morning, or keep driving and try to make it home that night. Everyone said, "Go home tonight!" without any hesitation! 
So we continued on and made it home Saturday morning at 1:15 a.m. We did want to say that we weren't in Maryland for the whole month of July 2009, so around midnight we were getting close to the Maryland border and we were getting worried, so Jerry said that he would pull off the road and wait in PA until after midnight if he had too. I got the GPS which has a world clock on it, and as we were still traveling in PA we all counted the seconds down to the month of August! It was fun. 
Once we got inside our house, we kissed and hugged each other goodnight. It seemed so weird that we could all go to our rooms to sleep after being together in the same room and van for 6 weeks! No one really went to sleep until about 2:00 a.m. because we were all so excited to get home.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Home sweet Home

We're home! We got home last night around 1:15 a.m.  Nana, who lives next door, stayed up for us, and the first thing Brooke wanted to do was go say hi to Nana. She had put milk, juice and eggs in our refrigerator, and bread and no bake cookies on our counter. What a great surprise. Someone had left a Welcome Back note on our garage door. It's wonderful to be home. 

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thursday, July 30

We had a really nice day. After sleeping in and missing the continental breakfast, we walked across the street to have a Starbucks breakfast. Then we went back to the Navy Pier and took a ride on the ship, The Tall Windy. It's the only sailing ship at the Navy Pier. It was an hour ride and it was really nice leaving a ship and not feeling like you are going to be sick! (Last year's whale watch didn't go too well!). While we were sailing, we listened to pirate stories of pirates on the great lakes. Apparently, pirates in this area got away with a lot, as the area was too large to patrol very well.
Then we rode to Millennium Park. We enjoyed walking under the "the bean"
(Cloud Gate sculpture) and seeing the reflections. Then the girls splashed in the water in the fountains in the park. Then we walked to our hotel. After resting for a while, we got a taxi and headed for Briar Street Theatre to see the Blue Man Group. As the girls have written on the blog, it was very enjoyable.  The group is very entertaining, and we all laughed out loud at times.
We got free tickets to go to the top of the Sears Tower when we bought the Blue Man Group tickets, so we put that off until tomorrow.
We got back by  a little after 10:00. We are 10 hours away from home according to Google Maps, so after we go to the top of the Sears Tower, we'll see how far we can get tomorrow.

Molly - Thursday night

The Blue Man Group is awesome. It just is. You should go see it. I love it. It is beyond words so I won't even try. I would only waste your time. 

Brooke - Thursday night

We just saw the blue man group!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I love them so much!!!!!!!! They are so good!!!!!!!! I am really excited!!!!!!!!! They are the best band in the whole entire world!!!!!!! I know this sounds really weird but I got toliet paper from the show and a shirt. THEY ARE THE BEST AND FUNNIEST PEOPLE IN THE UNIVERSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You have to see how great they are because I can not tell you how great and funny they are. SO GET THERE PEOPLE !!!!!!!!!!!FLY THERE,DRIVE THERE BUT YOU GOT TO SEE THEM,JUST COME TO CHICAGO AND SEE THE BLUE MAN GROUP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay so just COME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Madison to Madison July 29 Day 40

Jerry...Got a late start again today because Brooke, Molly and I went to the pool while Beverly tried to figure out our La Quinta points. Do any of you get points or the equivalent when you stay in hotels, fly, etc? Our experience has not been great with things like that. The programs always seem to be designed to maximize the number of ways for you're not able to cash in. We were a few points short of a free night in a hotel last night, but were told that after we checked out of the hotel we would have enough (points are not credited until after checkout). Well, we checked out then Beverly tried to get us a free room for tonight. We were told that the points are not credited for 72 hours, so we can't get our hard earned free room until after we no longer need it. 

We left Madison, WI at about noon and drove toward Chicago. Upon entering Illinois we started to hit tolls. I don't know what they do with the money because they don't appear to use it to fix the roads. Anyway, we missed paying a toll so now we have to go online to pay it or get a ticket. I tried to pay extra to the next toll attendant after the missed toll, but she told me that can't be done. Great system.

We ate lunch/dinner at another place from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, a barbecue place called Smoques. It was good food
 and a third cheaper than the barbecue place in downtown Frederick. We made it to our hotel on Madison Street in downtown Chicago by 5:00 PM. After resting for a bit Molly, Blair and I walked around looking at things for an hour or so. We found the Millennial Park and saw the old Marshall Fields store. We returned to the hotel and got Beverly and Brooke then went out to the Navy Pier. We walked around until 9:30 then watched the fireworks. They were only ten minutes long but very intense and loud because they were
on the water. The large crowd clapped, and boat blew their horns when it was done.

I checked out getting tickets to the Cubs game tomorrow against the Astros. Wow, talk about expensive! The cheapest tickets here are about the same price as the most expensive in Pittsburgh. The Cubs aren't as expensive as the Yankees, but they are comparable to the Red Sox.

Tomorrow we plan to go to the top of the Sears Tower and go out on a boat on Lake Michigan.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

SHOES!!!!!!!!!!!!- Molly, July 29th

Yesterday... We went to Mall of America & shopped & shopped & shopped! It was lots of fun. I got a dressy peasant shirt, a nice art shirt,  a Queen shirt, 3 knee high socks (1. grey with all color peace signs 2. black with all color polka dots 3. blue/black checker board),  1 necklace, 2 headbands (1. black bow with small black polka dot mesh 2. blue/yellow plaid bow) & THE SHOES. They're amazing knee high Chucks (look at pic for more, I can't even describe the awesomeness of them. They rock.) This is the shoe story, it happened today. Okay, since I got the shoes a lot of people have looked at them, & 7 people have talked to me - about them 3 of which have been pros at Nordstroms. So any way this is the best. Mom was looking for boat tickets for tomorrow on Lake Michigan and I hear this guy who must have worked one boat company and he says in a very loud theatrical voice "Those are the greatest Converse I've ever seen! Where did you get them!?!?!!?!!!?" He gets down on 1 knee to look at them, so I respond with "At mall of America yesterday in a place called Underground Station." As he starts to walk away he goes "My girlfriend is going to freak!".  We laughed about this for an hour. 
 Shout out to Nana & Pap whose anniversary it is today.

July 28

We went back to the Mall of America this morning. The first stop was Starbucks! Jerry and Blair had gotten a reusable coffee mug in Seattle, so they filled their mugs and enjoyed their coffees as they walked around the mall. Brooke and I enjoyed the Old Navy store. Blair and Molly enjoyed Underground Station, the Garage, Charlotte Russe, Ragstock, and Heritage 1981. Jerry enjoyed a place where he got 4 new ties. We all enjoyed Nordstroms and Barnes and Noble. Brooke made a puppy at Build-a-Bear. She named him Bartles. 

We were shopped out by 4:00 p.m., so we traveled on. We left the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and headed for Chicago. The distance between the two cities is 425 miles, so we thought we would try to make it part of the way. We drove to Madison, WI and got a hotel around 9:00. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

July 27 - The Big Mall

We're sleeping in more these days, having a hard time getting going in the mornings. Today we left Watertown, SD and headed to Mall of America. First we drove up to North Dakota and took a quick picture to say that we had been in that state! Then we headed to Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes. We didn't get to Mall of America until around 4:00 p.m. Even after all of this driving, we're still surprised how close things look on the map, and how far they actually are when you drive.
We shopped until 8:30 and then found a hotel near the mall. We hope to head back for more shopping in the morning and then start driving for Chicago.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Drive time - day 37, July 26

Slept in today until after nine, yesterday being so exhausting. We headed down route 90 looking for a late breakfast, then we quickly hit the central time zone so it became an early lunch. We picked a diner that looked nice, but everyone's food was lousy, except for Molly who had some excellent coconut cream pie.

We drove across the state on route 90. As we drove it changed from the Great Plains to the Prairie. Things got greener and leafy trees became more common. We drove all the way to the Iowa state line, took a few pictures, then drove north on route 29 until we got to our hotel in Watertown. We drove a total of 409 miles, but it was almost all on good highways so it didn't seem to be that long.

The highlight of the day was the hotel. It has three pools and a huge sliding board. The kids really enjoyed going down it over and over.

Tomorrow we plan to drive to the North Dakota line, then head into Minnesota to the Mall of America. 

Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 25 - Day 36

We started by driving to the Crazy Horse Monument.  Jerry had thought that we would make it the day before, but since we stayed until 9:30 p.m. at Mt. Rushmore, it didn't happen. Our hotel was only 2 miles from Mt. Rushmore, which was really convenient. 
We got to Crazy Horse by 11:00 a.m. The size of the project is enormous. It's going to be a 3D monument instead of a relief sculpture like Mt. Rushmore. It's also a lot bigger than Mt. Rushmore. In fact, all of Mt. Rushmore could fit in the hair section of Crazy Horse (which is not yet complete). I got a book that is written by a Native American with whom I spoke. What was interesting about the book is that he said that the stories are told from the Native American
viewpoint. I think he self-published the book, but I was interested.
We also ate while we were there. Jerry had a buffalo burger and Molly had a buffalo sausage called a Buffaloski. They both said that their meals
tasted like beef. It made Jerry wonder why they didn't just domesticate the buffalo instead of importing cattle. 
Then we drove to Mammoth Site at Hot Springs, SD.
about 12,000 years ago, a huge sinkhole formed that filled with hot water from a spring below, and mammoths fell into and then couldn't get out. The land was to be developed which lead to the dis
covery of this site that seems to be filled with bones. Most of the sinkhole area is enclosed in a building and exavation of the bones is occurring currently and will continue for years. It was really interesting. It's hard for me to imagine such big animals, so se
eing the skeleton of one mammoth as it was found in the sinkhole was fascinating.
We drove south to the Nebraska state line. We drove to the state sign, took a picture and then turned around. We took some wrong turns and took forever to get back to 90 east. I thought that we were going to be stuck in SD. It became one of those car moments where the kids had to go to the bathroom in the middle of nowhere, we didn't know where we were, and we were both silently blaming the other! In fact, we stopped at this one place that seemed to be a live ghost town. The GPS said that there was a restaurant/bar and across the road seemed be a gas station. The gas station was locked, but the prices were current.
The saloon looked like it hadn't been painted, ever. The was no one around except for one guy who appeared to be
passed out on the steps on a shack beside the saloon. I told the girls to get back into the van and we took off. Yikes!
We drove past the Badlands. We didn't stop, but took pictures from the van. They looked neat. The girls were glad that we didn't stop and watch the visitors center's video on how they were formed! We also saw some huge cows, really black cows, and antelope along the way.
We made it to Wall, SD. That was fun. There were old type of billboards for at least 30 miles before Wall for the drugstore, which apparently was the drug store for miles that people would go to back in the day. One billboard said "Free donuts and coffee to newlyweds!"
We ate dinner, and then the girls stopped in a shop and tried on cowboy boots, gloves, and hats. They had a great time, and Brooke bought herself the pair of pink boots that she tried on. She looks adorable!
Around 9:30 we started looking for a hotel in Wall to stay the night. We tried about 5 hotel that were near the interstate and all of them had no vacancy signs. So we drove about 30 miles to the next town of Kadoka, and found a place there. We took our suitcases in and went straight to bed.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

July 24, Day 35

 We got up and out early, for us - a 9:00 AM check out! Had some McDonald's breakfast, then started driving toward Devil's Tower. We enjoyed looking at the last of the Rocky Mountains as we moved into more and more plains.  At one point we were driving up route 25 and could see the mountains on the left and the high, dry plains on the right. We saw a huge herd of antelope along the way.

We ate lunch at a place tha
t had a horse tied up out front, along with two motorcycles and a few cars. There was one employee who acted as both waitress and cook.  We finally made it to Devils Tower by about 3:00 PM. Like everything else in the west, pictures fail to do it justice. It is a huge part of a forty million year old volcano. People were climbing it. It did look easier than El Capitan in Yosemite, but it is still an enormous climb. The top is about the size of a football field, and has some mice, snakes and birds that live up there. How the mice and snakes got there I don't know. Huge columns have fallen off of the tower over the years and they the are at the bottom of the tower. It was neat walking past them.

As we were walking around the tower, we noticed the bark had been chewed away. We asked a ranger who told us that porcupines chew the bark off of the trees to get to the sap in the trees. The sap is their primary source of food. Who knew?

Prairie dogs live in the fields at the entrance of Devils Tower. They're not
 really tame, but do get pretty close to people. The were fun to watch. Two little pups were wrestling each other. The one that I posted the picture of, seemed to be an old guy who just sat by his hole and watched what was going on. 

840 miles after entering Yellowstone two days ago we finally drove out of Wyoming. I had no idea it would be that much driving in the state. We entered 
South Dakota and the Black Hills, going through Rapid City down to Mount Rushmore. We enjoyed
seeing it in the evening, and then saw the movie on how it was made (lot
s of dynamite and drilling). We returne
d after dark to see a patriotic program on the four presidents, then they lit the mountain for a night view of Mt. Rushmore. When the program ended they introduced every vet and current military person in the audience, about 100 of them.

Today we plan to see the Crazy Horse sculpture, some mammoth remains, and then head east across South Dakota.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thursday, July 23 - Driving

Today we drove.  We had a hard time getting going this morning, so we didn't leave the hotel until 11:00 a.m. We drove across Wyoming for five hours and then stopped for the night at Casper, WY. Jerry would have liked to have gone farther, but some of us were just too tired. (Me!) I didn't sleep well last night. We were so tired by the time we got to the hotel, then I had a hardtime falling asleep. I felt like my pillow was the size of a large suitcase and as hard as one too. You know those nights where you exaggerate everything in your sleep. 

We saw some neat things while we were driving. Casper has four aches around it's town square made from Elk horns. Hopefully, they were antlers that were found as Elk shed them each year.
We saw antelope standing along the road as we drove. We've seen so much wild life. Then we saw the Grand Tetons. They are neat to see. They are the youngest of the Rocky Mountains and even though it's mid-July, they still have snow. In fact, some the snow has become glaciers because it never melts. Then Brooke noticed this beautiful rainbow in the sky. It wasn't a typical rainbow, but one that had colors swished through the sky. And we observed irrigation at work in the west. The picture of the corn growing at the base of a dry mound of dirt shows how much water is used to grow stuff. We've seen such long water irrigation pipes watering the field as we've driven along. I hope that we can remember.

We stopped at Casper, WY, for dinner, and then decided just to stay here for the night. We ate at this diner which was fun. The owner talked to people as they came in, and he had a train that ran around the perimeter of the ceiling that he turned on for us before we left. It reminded us of a diner at home where the food isn't too good, but they give you lots of it! After eating we decided to just get a hotel here. These are the times when it's nice that we don't have reservations that we have to keep pushing to get to. Jerry, Brooke and I went to the hot tub and pool, while Blair and Molly surfed the web. We also got some laundry finished. This should be the last time that we have to do laundry in a hotel for the summer! Yea!

Tomorrow we're hoping to see Devil's Tower and Mount Rushmore. But first a good night's sleep.

Yellowstone July 22

We drove into Yellowstone through the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Arch at the North Entrance. Five miles later we were at Mammoth Hot Springs where we saw hundreds of geothermal hot springs bubbling up and creating lots of different colors and mineral formations. From there we drove down to our first geyser, Steamboat Geyser. It erupts very often, every few minutes. The geysers and other formations have an interesting sulphur smell, stronger in some places than others.
We saw a variety of things throughout the day, lost of geysers, mud paint pots (muddy, bubbling springs, some of which are so hot and acidic that they will take off skin), and steam vents that make lots of noise. The two most interesting were, of course, the Old Faithful geyser and the Dragon's mouth, a cave like thing that made a roar and spewed sulphuric steam.
In the evening we saw lots of wild animals; bison herds, elk herds, white pelicans, wolves 
and a grizzly bear. They were all in an area near the Yellowstone River. So many people had driven to Hayden Valley to watch the animals in this area. People had lawn chairs and binoculars, just hanging out to see the animals come out for the night. People were so nice talking about what they were seeing and letting people look through their binoculars or telescopes. It was really cool. Driving out of the park we enjoyed seeing Yellowstone Lake at sunset. 

We got a hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, so we had quite a drive to get there. At 11:30 PM we were in the middle of the Grand Teton National Park when we stopped to look at the stars. There was no artificial light around and no moon. The stars were incredible, more than we had ever seen, and we could see them all the way to the horizon. We could even see the Milky Way. Amazing.

We made it to our hotel at about 12:30 PM after a total day's driving of 330 miles. Now we must drive across Wyoming to Devil's Tower. Unfortunately there are no direct roads there, so it is eight hours on the road,all in one state. People complain about driving across Kansas, but at least the road is direct.