Sunday, July 31, 2011

Roadtrip Randoms

Just a few "Roadtrip Randoms" for you to enjoy!

Notice the empty bottle and changed diaper?  This is heaven for a baby.
 Lots of smiles and coos from our Marilyn
 A few nights we opted on take-out from a restaurant and just brought it back to the hotel and ate it in the downstairs breakfast area.  No restaurant stress.  Nice.
 Abby got up early from her nap and I was still blogging... guess who wanted in on the action?
 Abby got a hold of a small tissue box one day on the trip.  Needless to say the box was empty in just moments.  Did I mention she had a great time (and was quiet).
 This is the day we had all the tornado/severe weather stress in North Dakota.  Here are the boys napping when we stopped off at that roadside hotel for a few hours to dodge the storm.
 Just cuteness!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ride 'em Cowboy

Video Clip - You can tell that this cowboy LOVES to ride on this Merry-go-Round!

Alaska or Bust - Day 9 & 10

Day 9 & 10 – Edmonton, Alberta (Canada)… Weekend Stay!

There is nothing like sleeping in when you have been traveling approximately 2,500 miles around North America. Make no mistake about it, in our family “sleeping in” means until about 6:30 AM. No complaints here… all my munchkins slept well and we didn’t have to shuffle everyone into the truck each morning. Amen!
Friday morning we decided to check out what all the hype about West Edmonton Mall was about. I mean really… how different was this mall (the largest in all of North America) compared to any other mall? Ha. Let me say that again more clearly. HA-HA-HA. When the entrances to this mall are marked by what Avenue you park at, one of 8 entrances and then broken down by what phase within that entrance… you know this is a big A$$ mall.

We decided to venture to the Deep Sea Adventures and the Sea Life Caverns (which is like a mini aquarium). We got to see a Sea Lion show, touch stingrays and watch big Sea Turtles. Of course those were just the highlights… it was certainly worth it to see the kids’ face light up and enjoy themselves today. We have also enjoyed the indoor pool here (baby pool that has a mushroom waterfall, big pool which is a bit chilly for us Floridians but we still swam in it, and finally a hot tub which is a definite kid favorite).

For dinner both Thursday and Friday night we have eaten at the same restaurant because it was soooooooo good. Believe it or not, Brian and I both thoroughly (lip smack’in and finger lick’in good) enjoyed Bison meatloaf, Bison roast and Bison burger. Those of you who are familiar… Bison is Buffalo. So good.
Saturday morning was another gorgeous day and the morning was spent at the Edmonton Zoo. What a perfect day for it… sunny skies and the temperature in the upper 70s. We started in sweatshirts and then shed them down to our short sleeves. Although the Zoo wasn’t huge and is undergoing some expansion, it was just the right size for our 3 little ones to enjoy. Matter of fact, 2 out of the 3 of them crashed out in the truck on the way back to the hotel for naptime. Score!

The weekend has definitely been a needed rest.  We have all enjoyed and needed it tremendously.  Tomorrow morning begins the last 6 days of driving that starts with another truck load up and an early morning rise.  I consider the kids experienced travelers at this point and so very proud that they have not only done as well as they have but made it pretty entertaining as well (at least part of the time... other times I wanted to pull my hair out but that is not something I want to focus on). 

Day 9 & 10 = NO MILES (only in town driving)
Total trip = 2,425 miles

Friday, July 29, 2011

Alaska or Bust - Day 8 (Finally a Break!)

Day 8 – Saskatoon, SK to Edmonton, AB (Canada)

Yesterday was another beautifully, cool (60 degrees) Canada morning. The weather report called for a high of only 70 degrees; how delightful and how different from our steamy and humid Florida summer days.  Yesterday was the last day of the 1st leg of our roadtrip… we will be staying for a long weekend in Edmonton for rest, relaxation and to do some exploring around the capital city of Alberta. I know for one that I’m looking forward to being out the car and seeing what kind of fun stuff we can get into. Some attractions that we have our eyes on are the Edmonton Zoo and the West Edmonton Mall (largest mall in all of North America – includes 800 stores, 2 waterparks and 100s of restaurants)… surely we can find some fun there as well as many other local places. For Brian, I know he is looking forward to NOT loading/unloading the truck for several days. We will have a chance to sleep in (hopefully), do some laundry and just have a fun time with the kids outside of the traveling we have done.

I know my former IB Senior students will find this funny and maybe even a little ironic, but here I am traveling through Canada and I hardly know any Canadian history and I’m wishing I did. They know what this means and may even laugh at me for this. I am vowing to learn as much as I can in the coming week as well as the 3 years I am living in Alaska.

So far, I’ve noticed in Canada that:
• There are Subways and McDonald restaurants everywhere… even in the smallest towns.
• Many people here say, “For sure,” when we like to say, “OK!” I can’t help but smile each time I hear it. I’ve even been tempted to repeat it back to them.
• There are many, many, many Co-Op businesses. If I understand this correctly, Co-Ops are when the employees have a stake in the company they work for and earn small profits quarterly/annually + their salary/wages. I’ve seen gas stations, food stores, and restaurants that are Co-Ops. Interesting.
• Major economic activities include the RR industry, the Oil industry, and farming.
• I don’t think too many people wash their vehicles; they all look dirty from flooding/mud, snow (in the winter), dirt roads, construction, etc.
• Near the major cities there seems to constantly be construction on the roads. We heard/read that during the summer months the roads are “fixed” from all the snow & ice during the long winter months. Seems awfully redundant, but I guess it is a necessity.
• Everything is much more expensive than in the US. *Sigh*

I will give an update from our Edmonton Weekend stay later.  My hopes are that we are refreshed and rejuvenated for the second part of our journey to Alaska as we travel through western Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon Territories of Canada.  There will certainly be some very remote places along the way, but I'm sure it will be overlooked by the beauty of the mountains, wildlife and frontier that we are sure to see next week.

Day 8 = 335 miles
Total Trip = 2,425 miles

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Alaska or Bust - Day 6 & 7

Day 6 – Fargo, ND to Estevan, SK (Canada)

To date, we have traveled through 10 states + Florida. Holy Crap! I’m dumb founded by how much of the United States I have not seen until now (although I was a military brat growing up and traveling) or rather have not remembered seeing until now. We live in a beautiful country people!

As you can imagine, things could get a little boring/stale as you drive all day long for as long as we have been driving. However, we really haven’t let boredom set in. Usually, Brian has some off the wall comments or Abby is doing some randomly cute or annoying thing that has us all laughing or pulling our hair out. But after all these miles, the one thing that has been said that still makes us all chuckle is when we see some huge hay bales for the cattle/horses in the fields, one of us says, “Hey!” and it continues to catch the other off guard and we think the other is just saying “Hi.” When we realize he/she is talking about “Hay”… we start laughing. If you don’t get it, I guess you would have to be in the truck with us. But if you heard it, as Larry the Cable Guy would say, “I don’t care who are – that is funny stuff!”

Today we are leaving the United States and heading into Canada. I’m excited. I’m hoping to get the token “Welcome to Canada” picture that all tourists want to have. I know… very cheesy.

[Writing this last part of the blog entry tonight after we arrived at the hotel and have finally tucked the little ones in bed]… UPDATE FROM THE DAY! This has been the longest, most stressful and exhausting travel day to date. Why you ask? Here are the Cliffnotes version for a brief understanding:

1. The weather – by lunch time there was a fast approaching severe storm with potential tornados. Not having any experience with this gift from Mother Nature, we decided not to chance it. Honestly, I was down right scared when the gas station lady informed me that if/when we saw one, we needed to grab the kids and get out of the truck and find a ditch and crawl into. Holy s*%t is what was running through my mind.

2. We spent $55 getting a hotel room at lunch time to hopefully avoid the storm. We only needed to stay there for only a few hours, but were lucky enough that everyone got their nap in during that time. By the way, it was one of those hotels where it looks desolate on the side of the road, but in a state of fear and worry it just had to do.  However, that also means we paid for two hotels in one day. Might sound like a waste of money, but it was instead – peace of mind.

3. We found out that the Canadian border entry that we wanted to use was closed due to flooding so had to be re-routed . On top of that, we realized that even the borders have closing hours. At this particular entry, their hours are 9am – 10pm. So, because of the lunch time delay, we had to make up some serious time.  That was stressful in itself to get there on time.

4. And when you try to make up time, usually 9 out of 10 times you end up cranking up the speeding notch. We are no exception. However, in North Dakota, when you try and make up time, you end up getting a speeding ticket. I know… crazy, right? Here we are in the middle of nowhere and the Heck Family gets a speeding ticket on a day we are trying to make up some ground.  I'm happy to report that I was not the offender.

On a different note...There have been a few things that Brian and I have done that has made this roadtrip go a bit more smoothly and in all truth, we would probably have gone insane, strangled each other or left a child behind at a previous stop had we not done these:

  1. As previously talked about, the kids’ “bed divider.” Everyone has their own side and no one has fallen out of bed. Thank god. At least no yet.
  2. Bought big gallon sized jugs of juice and put one in our small cooler and then as we are driving, I can easily fill up their drink cups and it ends up being just plain cheaper.
  3. I prepacked all of the kids clothes in 2 gallon zip lock bags to eliminate the picking and choosing each morning and night for clothes.  In each bag was a set of PJs and clothes for the next day for each of the 3 kids.  I have to say that it is one of the best decisions I have made about this trip.  It has just made things so easy.

4.  We made sure we packed somethings that the kids and us could enjoy doing while we stopped at rest areas or in the afternoons once we arrived at our hotel for the night. A soccer ball and also some little trinket toys we found have really done the trick to burn off some energy after spending the day in the car.

Day 6 = 335 miles
Total trip = 2,090 miles

Day 7 – Estevan, SK to Saskatoon, SK (Canada)

We awoke to a beautifully clear day and a cool 65 degrees in southern Canada. Thank goodness because if we have another day like yesterday, I’m going to have an entire head of gray hair and will have chewed off all of my fingernails.

I’ve been the front seat passenger on this road trip since we dropped of the VW Routon in New Orleans. I’m not used to be the non-driver, but if Brian is enjoying/wanting to drive, who am I to change his mind. However, I think secretly he doesn’t want to have to be Abby’s personal attendant. It’s ridiculous how needy she is in the car each morning. I must have to reach back (and often times take my seat belt off and turn around and practically crawl in the back seat) at least 50 times in the first hour of driving each day to give her something, take something from her, or turn something on/off. Combine that with how much whining she does for things… no wonder Brian has driven almost 2500 miles of the trip.

Thomas continues to talk with practically everyone we see and lets them know we are moving to Alaska. He also proceeds to tell them about the toys he has chosen to take with him, who his sisters are, what the weather is outside, blah, blah, blah. He cracks me up. The boy wakes up talking. I’m hoping that is indicative of him learning to read? He is so sincere and innocent with his intentions, except maybe when he is frustrated at Abby for taking his toys. But I can certainly understand that being the older sibling in my family. As kids, my younger sister Jennifer used to drive me crazy too. But I know all too well that one day he too will grow out of that.

Abbigail, in my opinion, has two sides/personalities. She is super sweet and loving (especially to her baby sister). She has a smile that will make you melt. She is energetic, competitive, super smart and very independent. However, she is very persnickety, argumentative, determined to do things on her own time and in her own way (even at bedtime and meal time). At times, she makes me want to pull my hair out. But I love her. I love her for all of her “I’m-almost-two-years-old” attitude.

Oh sweet Marilyn. I can’t believe how wonderful you have been about roadtriping across the country at the ripe old age of 2 months old. I’m not sure how you have been able to nap through Abby’s whining and Thomas’ singing, but kudos to you. You are the 3rd (and final) ray of sunshine in our family and we can’t wait to see your sweet personality shine through. But if Marilyn's coos and smiles are indicative of who she is, she will be as sweet as her big brother and big sister.

On a different note, I’m very surprised with the fact that we have driver almost 2500 miles, 6 days and we have not gotten to any real hills yet. I know the mountains are coming (God knows we will be in some seriously high elevated mountains), but I expected rolling hills and such. Instead, the Dakotas and now Saskatchewan, Canada are flat. Flat as a pancake. The Dakotas had corn. Saskatchewan has fields of beautiful flowers – yellow, blue and purple. But no hills. Huh.  Learned something new.

Day 7 = 285 miles
Total trip = 2,375 miles

Monday, July 25, 2011

Alaska or Bust - Day 5

Day 5 – Sioux City, IA to Fargo, ND

For the record, most of my typing for these blog entries are done while I’m riding in the car. If I didn’t do that, I would never have time once we got to the hotel.

I realize this might sound slightly crazy, but it really doesn’t seem like we have been on the road for 5 straight days. Yes, the days and nights seem to be all the same, but maybe because it has a certain routine to it that makes the time go by. Of course, we are only about 1/3 of the way done with our roadtrip of a lifetime. I hope it continues to go well.

As I mentioned from yesterday’s travels, we witnessed a lot of flooding along I-29 which parallels the Missouri River. It was pretty unbelievable and sad to see what so many farmers and entire towns were dealing with in this region of the country. Even this morning when we headed north towards Sioux Falls, IA there was more flooding that had overtaken parts of towns right along the interstate. Needless to say, I was in awe.  And apparently tomorrow we will see flooding again and will more than likely be detoured again in NW North Dakota and at the Canada border.  Here's hoping for no rain and an easy detour.

We continue to see what seems like a gazillion miles of corn fields. Now that I see how much corn is grown out here, I’m wondering why corn on the cob isn’t 25 cents an ear ALL the time. Another thing that we have passed a lot of is Indian reservations as well as casinos.  Coincidence? Not sure.  I have lost count how many but we are certainly in Sioux Indian country.

I’ve been a little surprised that we have not utilized any of the rest areas along the way, but that’s not because we have ignored them… there hasn’t been a need yet and it has been too stink’in HOT. Anyway, yesterday we passed a few rest areas that had road signs saying, “Modern Rest Area Ahead.” As we passed the exit/pulloff, it became very apparent that their definition of “modern” is different from our definition; there were no rest rooms, no buildings, no snack machines… NOTHING. The rest area was indeed just that… only a place to rest (in your car). I guess you just pee in the grass/bushes.

On a different note, I’m in denial that my sweet Abbigail is going to be 2-years old in just two weeks. Where has the time gone?  It seems she has grown so fast especially in the recent months as she has become a big sister and taken on a new role.  I hope to have a blog dedicated just for her in the very near future.

Day 5 = 325 miles

Total trip = 1755 miles
And just a few cute pics...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Alaska or Bust - Day 3 & 4

Day 3 – Blytheville, AR to Columbia, MO

The morning got off to a great start with the kiddos having a rock solid night sleep (thank you pool) and then a great breakfast before we got in the car. Speaking of breakfast, we chose to stay at Hampton Inn & Suites as much as we could because of their awesome HOT, FREE breakfasts that are included in your stay. Heck, anytime some is going to include freshly made waffles, fruit, eggs and sausage along with cereal, pastries, bagels and hot coffee when I wake up… well, you have my money and I’m staying. So, all the way through the “Lower 48” we are staying with Hampton/Hilton hotels.

The morning drive went quickly. Before I knew it, we had traveled 200 miles and the kids hadn’t even batted an eye (except for some occasional whining from Abby… but she is getting better). Arkansas indeed had lots of fields – apparently lots of corn and rice. My girlfriend Beth sent me an Arkansas fun fact: more than 50% of the rice grown in the US is grown in Arkansas. The average American eats 25 lbs of rice per year while in some parts of Asia the average is over 200 lbs! Wow! The other thing that we saw plenty of was steel bridges. There is something to be said about an old, authentic, historic bridge. Loved it. 

We did something a little different today for lunch. Instead of stopping at some restaurant for about an hour and then getting back in the car to finish off the second half of the day’s drive… we stopped at one of the top attractions in the St. Louis area – Grant’s Farm. Operated by Anheuser-Busch, it is the historical home of President Ulysses S. Grant, as well as home to the Budweiser’s Clydesdale horses. Despite the heat, we had a good time running around and getting a car break. It really was a beautiful park with lots of animals for the kids to see, pet and even feed. See the pictures below for proof.  And the best part, as soon as we got back in the air conditioned truck and pulled out… 3 kids were fast asleep.

Speaking of sleep… I thought I would show you what our sleeping arrangements look like each night in the “big beds.” This idea came from my hubby and then my fabulously talented mother-in-law created it and to date it is worth its weight in gold. I’m not sure what we should call it, but anyone who is traveling with 2 small children who need to sleep in the full or queen sized hotel beds… this is for you!  Now if I could only figure out what to call this invention?

We ended up resting our heads in Columbia, MO right across the street from the University of Missouri. It was a bit busy for our liking due to a huge soccer tournament there – it was loud, busy and crowded everywhere. Oh well. We might appreciate how busy it was come next week when we are in the sparsely populated towns of Canada.

Day 3 = 351 miles
Total trip = 1026 miles

Day 4 – Columbia, MO to Sioux City, IA

A few things have become apparent in the 4 days we have been traveling:

• Doing this roadtrip is a huge team effort… even from the kids.

• Thomas would prefer to talk with no one while he is in the car; Abbigail, on the other hand, wants to each of us ALL the time.

• The kids are playing with each other more and more. My hopes have always been that my children grow up playing with each other.

• I think we officially left the South when we got to Missouri… there was no more sweet tea.

• Taking the truck on this roadtrip really was the best decision; everything fits without having to have a trailer or roof rack which ultimately means an easier time for my hubby to pack and unpack each day and night. Additionally, we can reach each of the kids from our seats. That is priceless right there.

• Brian has lied to me for the last 8 years I’ve known him about driving on a roadtrip – he does like to drive (his truck) because he hasn’t relinquished the driver’s seat since the first day. That means I have been the navigator/gopher/child-pleaser for the last 1000+ miles.

• Thomas LOVES to tell anyone who we pass that we are moving to Alaska. Once people hear that, their first question is always where are we traveling from? Needless to say, we get a lot of surprised looks. Not sure if that is because of the distance we are traveling or the fact that we are doing it with 3 very small children. Do they think we are insane?

A final word about today.  The afternoon was marked with constant detours due to flooding from the Missouri river along I-29.  We had no idea that it was this bad this far south... we had only expected the flooding to be up in North Dakota.  We added an additional 50 miles and about 2 extra hours of travel today.  Not fun.  On top of that... we were in awe of what Mother Nature can do... and it was devastating to this part of the country.

In the pictures below, every where that is covered with flood waters was farm land with corn, houses, silos and barns.  Truely unbelievable.

 Even a local McDonalds was preparing for more flooding with sandbags piled everywhere.
So glad the long day is over.  We will hit the ground running tomorrow as we make our way to our last overnight stop in the lower 48 - Fargo, ND!

Day 4 = 404 miles + 50 extra detour miles
Total trip = 1480 miles