Sep 012015
 
Memory full...an appropriate description!

Memory full…an appropriate description!

When I look back at summer 2015, this is the picture that describes it best. That moment at the swimming pool when I was incapable of capturing even one more shot of my adorable baby smiling, my children progressing in their swimming lessons. It has been a full, fun summer . . . . and I am in absolute shock that it is almost over!

Wasn’t it just yesterday when we were headed out to swimming lessons in the rain?

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And what about those July nights hanging out watching fireworks while eating barbecue.

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Has art camp really come and gone?

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I can just see my children lecturing me.

Mom, that was a long time ago!

Many birthdays ago.

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Several teeth ago.

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Pounds and inches ago.

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Adventures ago.

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Daring adventures ago.

There was a lot about pushing our limits this summer.

There was a lot about pushing our limits this summer.

Mothers always want to slow things down, to savor the time. Children are always eager to see what happens next.

And so it goes in our house.

It is time for change again.

The school year (and homeschool year) is ready to start again.

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The first leaves are changing.

The tulip poplar is the first to show its fall colors.

The tulip poplar is the first to show its fall colors.

I’m not ready yet!

I don’t think I will ever be ready to let this summer go.

More organization posts to come but first I have a story to tell you.

 Posted by on September 1, 2015 General Tagged with: , ,
Oct 102012
 

Checking in.

On our road trip across America, we spent a lot of time in hotels. Mostly, it was just to check in late at night, sleep, shower, change, eat breakfast and get back on the road. Occasionally, a pool visit was thrown in.

There were some definite organization trends among the hotels of various chains we visited. We generally stayed at mid-price hotels that were a step above the “bargain” level but lower than “luxury” offerings. Occasionally, we had a bargain stay or a luxury stay and it was interesting to see that the trends continued at all price levels, but varied in their execution. For example, a mid-price hotel usually offers a cook-it-yourself waffle machine, while a bargain hotel offers toaster pancakes.

Hotel trends are interesting because they sometimes foreshadow trends for the general home. After all, the hotel has made their selections to appeal to a broad variety of people while conveying a sense of luxury and pampering. Below are 8 trends we noticed among the hotels we visited.

1. Visual Room Numbers

Many hotels we stayed at used visual as well as numerical cues to designate their rooms. If you are on the road constantly, it is hard to remember what city you are in, not to mention your hotel room number. It is easier to remember that you are in the “cowboy hat” room or the “apple pie” room. Many hotels have added picture references next to each room number, usually showcasing tourist attractions in that city or tying in to the hotel’s décor but sometimes just an odd mix of “stuff.”

Room number with picture cue.

2. The Oatmeal “Sundae” Station

Two years ago, the “hot” item in hotel breakfasts was the cook-it-fresh waffle maker. This time, the new breakfast trend was a huge pot of oatmeal. Next to the oatmeal was a cute little caddy with varying toppings like raisins, craisins, walnuts and almonds. Each place added their own twist on the ingredients.

The oatmeal station, a healthy option for breakfast.

I liked this idea and often had the oatmeal instead of the waffles. The first time I tried them, I put a generous sprinkling of what I thought was wheat germ on my bowl. When I sat down to eat it, I was surprised to find how sweet the oatmeal was. I then discovered that my “wheat germ” was really some sort of crystallized sugar. Curiously, once my husband found out about the sugar topping, he started eating more oatmeal too.

Yeah, that stuff on the left is definitely NOT wheat germ.

3. Patterned Rugs
You would literally have to be blind not to notice all the wild patterned rugs. Often there was one rug pattern in the room and a totally different pattern down the hallway. In general, I like patterned rugs. They hide dirt incredibly well and they become instant artwork for the room. You don’t have to spend as much on your wall décor when all the interest goes to such a bold pattern.

Patterns and colors were bold and bright in most major cities. While I liked the artistic statement they made, I couldn’t help but think that the patterns would look dated very quickly. We wondered if the bold pattern trend would hold as we ventured to smaller cities in the center of the United States. Interestingly, these smaller cities did have patterned rugs but they tended to go for more subtle tone-on-tone patterns or more classical, repetitive patterns.

An example of a more subtle, traditional patterned rug.

Some hotels are still learning how to use these bold rugs. There are some situations where the busy-ness of the pattern can be distracting and dangerous. Take these stairs for example. You really had to watch your step going down.

The bold pattern of this carpet makes these stairs extremely difficult to navigate.

It is much easier to get your visual cues when walking down a staircase with plain carpet.

When it comes to stairs, less is more.

4. Curved Shower Curtain Rods

The curved shower curtain rod is not a new invention and has been around for a very long time. What was new this year, however, is that every hotel has them now. From the least expensive to the most expensive hotels, they all had the curved rods. Once you get used to the extra space you get from a curved shower rod and the luxurious appearance it provides, it is worth thinking about how you can put one in your own home.

Curved shower curtain rods are everywhere!

Where you can start to separate inexpensive from more expensive hotels, however, is in the installation of the rods. Curved rods sit back about 4-5 inches from the holes where straight shower rods sit. Newer hotels install the curved rods from the beginning and drill the right holes. Cheaper hotels take out the existing straight shower rods, roughly patch the old holes and drill new ones for the curved rods. It significantly cheapens the upgrade.

The cheap way of installing a curved shower rod.

A good compromise for remodeling shower rods from straight to curved is to find a rod with metal cap pieces that cover up the old holes, like this example.

Classy. A curved shower rod with a bracket that covers up the prior straight rod holes.

Moen DN2141CH Double Curved Shower Rod, Chrome at amazon.com.

So, if you are attempting this yourself, take the extra time to either do a high-quality patching job on your drywall or find a shower rod with a bracket that covers the old holes. This double-rod from amazon.com might be an option.

5. Double Soap Dishes

Another shower trend was the presence of double soap dishes, one placed at tub height and one at shower height. I assume this is to accommodate the needs of both types of bathers. For our family, it was a great way to store more stuff in the shower. While many people are opting for shower niches with built-in shelves to improve storage, the double-soap dish method also works for this purpose.

Two soap dishes were a common find.

6. Plugs and Internet Connections

Two years ago, I don’t recall seeing many, if any, plugs and Internet connections in hotel rooms. This trip, plugs were everywhere, particularly in high-end hotels. They are a wonderful luxury! If you are reading your tablet/Kindle/iPhone in bed, you can just set it on the bedside table to charge. If you need to work late on your laptop, there is no wrestling to stretch the cord from the wall to your bed or to a desk. It is easy to find your phone in the morning and it is charged and ready to go.

People aren't the only ones who need to "recharge" at the end of the day.

At breakfast, there are plugs and Internet connections built into the breakfast table.

Once you get used to staying in hotels with these amenities, it seems like a real step backward to stay in one that doesn’t. I have yet to see any products oriented for the home that incorporate these design principles but I imagine it is only a matter of time before they are everywhere.

7. Washable Duvets

Hotels get a bad rap for the well-known fact that hotels tend to wash the sheets after each guest but the comforters and other bedding get washed less often. The Hampton Inn advertised heavily within the hotel that the entire bed gets washed between guests. Traditional bedspreads have been replaced with lightweight but warm duvets and sometimes the “duvets” look more like sheets. It is really a neat solution as you can alleviate any germ/bedbug concerns of guests, simplify the number of linens and possibly cut bedding costs as well.

Duvet-style bedspreads are now found in most hotels. Hampton Inn leaves you a note about them.

8. Incorrectly Installed Shower Water Controls

Not every hotel organization trend was a positive one. In many hotels of all brands we stayed in, a sad organizing trend was that the shower water control plate was incorrectly installed so that the “C” for cold water was actually the hot water and the “H” for hot water was actually cold water. While, ideally, the hotels would actually replace the plates with the water temperature in the correct place, a quick fix would be to put either waterproof stickers over these plates or write on them with a Sharpie. I hope any hotel owner reading this checks their own shower controllers and makes the appropriate changes to avoid safety hazards and injuries. If you are traveling with children, just be aware of this and check the shower before your children use it.

One of many examples of backwards water control plates we encountered on our trip.


Any other road warriors out there? What hotel trends have you noticed? Please share in the comments.

*I have no affiliation with Hampton Inn or any other hotel brand.

 Posted by on October 10, 2012 General Tagged with: , , , ,
Oct 042012
 

Last day! I like the contrast of the West Virginia sign with the ad for taking out a home equity line of credit that probably makes Suze Orman cringe.

The last day of a big adventure is always bittersweet. We were ready to go home in some respects, like sleeping in our own bed and stopping the unpacking, packing madness cycle. In other ways, however, like having the chance to have the whole family together 24-7, we weren’t ever ready to go home.

We awoke that morning in Ohio and, per usual, packed up the car for our journey home. After a short time on the road, we were in West Virginia. There are many ways for us to travel home but for some reason, West Virginia is always the route that draws us in with its natural beauty.

During our drive we crossed briefly into a corner of Pennsylvania, just long enough to capture this sign, then right back out again into West Virginia.

Our first stop was Morgantown, West Virginia for lunch. We hard about Mountain State Brewing Company online where it was well-reviewed. As we pulled up to the restaurant we saw numerous people walking out of the restaurant with smiles and to-go boxes and knew we were in the right spot.

First, we had to park the car in a nearby garage. In stark contrast to the sticker shock we experienced in Chicago, here garage parking was a rock-bottom $0.50 per hour!

Mountain State Brewing Company’s menus were printed on these great clipboards. It was a great organizational and stylistic choice. The clipboard makes it easy to swap out pages for specials, update prices or replace soiled pages. It also ads a little bit of edge and lets you know the restaurant doesn’t take itself entirely too seriously.

Other touches in the restaurant, like these sawhorse bar stools added to the edgy creative vibe.

The menu was full of fantastic and clever recipes. I especially liked their salad and dessert offerings. Here is a sampling:

The chef was hand-tossing pizza crusts high in the air and they were baked in a wood-fired oven that took up most of the center of the restaurant.

After a delicious lunch, we took a brief stroll outside. The restaurant overlooks the Monongahela River in a section where an old railroad bridge has been converted to a walking path.

We got back in the car and began a serpentine route through the mountains. The roads curved sharply left and right as we zig-zagged up one mountain, then down another.

From the back seat, our girls squealed with delight around every corner of this homemade roller coaster:

“Here we go again! Woooooooooooooooooooooah!”

There were numerous warnings along the road about steep grades, especially for trucks. When my husband saw this “Runaway Truck Ramp” at the bottom of a very steep grade, he commented,

“That’s not a runaway truck ramp. It looks more like a launch pad!”

Sure enough, it appeared that if you hit it with enough speed, you would become airborne.

As we wound along our route, we saw beautiful mountaintop farmland.

Our drive recalled numerous country songs about “winding mountain roads.” Yet, as we drove we saw signs of the future as well. An enormous highway bridge is being constructed that will create a direct route from mountaintop to mountaintop in a curvy area.

This development is also a bit bittersweet. While I understand that it must be a major pain to have to wind through those roads on a routine basis for truck deliveries and I would be very afraid if the ambulance taking me to the hospital had to take that route, it takes something away from the journey to flatten out the road. After you wind through all those mountains, you feel like you have been somewhere.

Alongside the highway construction, we saw more and more wind turbines in the landscape as well. As I understand, there are few, if any, wind turbines in Virginia at the moment but if West Virginia is any indication, they could be headed our way as well.

After a lot of winding, we hit the final tourist destination of our trip. We walked down some steps.

And some more steps. . .

Until we found our roaring surprise . . .

Blackwater Falls is claimed to be one of the most photographed sites in West Virginia. The colored water in the falls comes from tannic acid produced by fallen spruce and hemlock needles. The wooden path leading to the falls is lovely in itself and we practically had the entire park to ourselves, sharing it with only a few fellow hikers.

After gazing at the falls and bidding farewell to our time on the road, we headed back up the 214 steps to the car.

We drove out of West Virginia, into Virginia and were very nearly home when we encountered yet another frustrating traffic backup. We sat for probably half an hour or so.

This time it was for a fallen tree on some power lines.

At last, we were home and what do you think our children were most excited about?

Pizza Pizza!

We heard a hilarious laudation from my 6 year old all the way to Little Caesars about how wonderful their pizza, breadsticks and sauce were. You would have thought we were buying a fine diamond.

It was an amazing journey and an incredible bonding experience for our family. I hope that everyone has the chance to make an epic voyage like this during their lifetime and that every American takes the opportunity to see our great country beyond the popular tourist destinations.

I hope you have enjoyed the ride at least as much as I have had fun sharing it with you. Thanks for reading!

Oct 032012
 

Chicago awaits!

We woke up day 16 of our journey just outside of Chicago. My husband described our hotel as the “largest and busiest Hampton Inn” he had ever seen. The breakfast area was huge and a large crowd of Sunday morning diners descended for waffles, eggs and oatmeal.

After breakfast, we hit the road and traveled in to Chicago. Driving Chicago’s highways can get expensive quickly. There are numerous toll stops and we were constantly digging for change. The tolls were of varying amounts ranging from $0.90 to over $3! By the time we got into downtown Chicago we had paid over $16 in tolls, which seemed astronomical at the time.

To add insult to injury, check out the fee for garage parking in downtown Chicago.

After this cash hemorrhage, we were not in the best mood but most of us were still excited to be in Chicago. After we exited the garage, we were in Millennium Park. Millennium Park is (thankfully free to visit) enormous and beautiful with expertly landscaped and manicured gardens, interesting sculptures and, best of all on a hot summer day, fountains!

There were terrific views of the Chicago skyline from the park.

Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, designed by Frank Gehry.

One of the biggest draws in Millennium Park is a sculpture by Anish Kapoor called “Cloud Gate,” but commonly known to everyone as “The Bean.”  It is extremely shiny and mirrors every object around, including a large number of tourists taking self-portraits.

Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate sculpture at Millennium Park, a.k.a. "The Bean."

The kaleidoscopic ceiling inside "The Bean."

Another huge draw in Millennium Park, particularly on a hot July day is the Crown Fountain by artist Jaume Plensa. Wikipedia indicates that this fountain has an interactive video component where it appears that water is spouting from people’s mouths on a video screen on the fountain’s surface. However, when we were visiting there were signs out that the fountain was under repair. All we could tell was that it was a regular water fountain but every kid for miles around was thoroughly enjoying it, including our own.

Crown Fountain at Millennium Park.

Splashing in Crown Fountain.

After our fountain visit, we took a few photos in the park and then sat down in a quiet corner of the park on some cement steps leading to some shallow channels of water about 4 inches deep. These water features are designed to allow you to dip your feet in but every tourist takes it one step further and starts wading in the water. We were guilty of this too and were quickly advised by a park volunteer who seemed to appear out of nowhere:

“Hey, you can dip your feet in the water but you can’t stand up.”

“Oh, sorry!” we apologized and pulled the children in to sit back down.

“No worries,” the cheerful man replied and went on his way.

As we were sitting relaxing and soaking our feet, other tourists also began wading in the water. We didn’t have to tell them not to because suddenly a singing security guard appeared!

“No standing in the waaaaater . . . . No wading in the waaaaaater . . . No boating in the waaaaaaater . . . No jet skis in the waaaaaaater,” he sang, with the lyrics getting increasingly silly as he went on.

Chicago has to win the award for friendliest rule enforcement. In DC (and Fredericksburg) the most common disciplinary phrase for this situation would be either a stern, “Ma’am, don’t stand in the water!” or “Sit down!” It seemed like Chicagoans were really trying to preserve a friendly, fun peaceful space.

After our water adventures, I wanted to explore The Art Institute of Chicago nearby. My 4-year old was a bit soggy but quickly dried off enough to be suitable for a brief tour. The Art Institute has a truly impressive collection of extraordinarily famous works of art, including Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece, A Sunday on La Grand Jatte, which seemed extremely appropriate for our Sunday visit to Millennium Park.

The Art Institute is enormous and could occupy a visitor for days. Fortunately, the Art Institute provides a 1-hour tour outline in its standard brochure, highlighting about 16 works of art that the museum considers its finest. With young children in tow, we knew our clock was ticking fast so we followed the 1 hour route, which took us very quickly through just about every exhibit the museum had to offer from Asian pottery to African masks, to Impressionist paintings to modern works. My daughters loved that it was basically an art scavenger hunt. About the time we hit Grant Wood’s American Gothic halfway through our tour, my son decided to exercise his vocal cords and was promptly evicted from Gallery 263!

Just before eviction from Gallery 263.

Fortunately, my son calmed down enough that we could finish our tour, although his lung capacity surfaced again as we were trying to get lunch in the rooftop café and we decided not to press our luck further. We made our way to the car and drove on into Indiana.

There was some beautiful farmland scenery.

Finally, we arrived in downtown Indianapolis. Since we had so much success in Des Moines and Omaha walking around public parks to get the wiggles out while getting a quick flavor of the city we were in, we continued the trend at the Indiana War Memorial.

Before we started making these cross-country trips, I had no idea how many cities and towns have huge monuments honoring veterans from World Wars I and II. When you see them, it really drives home what a tremendously sad and difficult time period that was and how so many people must have needed an outlet for their grief. The War Memorial is enormous and has large stone steps, stone lions, obelisks and brass orbs. It provides an incredible view of the city.

As we drove out of Indianapolis, we hit our first major traffic jam of the trip. We were stuck on the highway for roughly an hour, just sitting in the car. Despite all the advances in technology and communication we have, it is still really hard to get information about local traffic. After hunting websites and Twitter, I finally came up with a vague Tweet indicating “crash clean up.”

I wish the traffic news would at least entertain us with a few juicy details while we are waiting. What kind of vehicles were involved? Was anyone badly hurt? Have the police/fire/EMS arrived? How long are we going to be sitting here? Alas, “crash clean up” was the best we could do.

We finally drove past the accident . . . a U-Haul and an SUV had some sort of terrible collision.

We lost quite a bit of time waiting for the accident to clear. By the time we reached the Ohio border, it was getting dark.

It was another fast food dinner since all the good restaurants were closed. We were excited that this was the last night on the road, the last time we had to unpack and repack our suitcases and that we were very near home.

Continue reading: Day 17 – Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Home!

 Posted by on October 3, 2012 General Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Sep 052012
 

For all the miles we covered on our trip, we might as well have driven to the moon!

 

We were strangely content being on the road over two weeks. Maybe we are starting to build up our traveling stamina.  The only sign of fatigue was the query from our 6-year-old:

“Are we going front or back?”

meaning were we headed back to where we had just come from or forward onto another stop.

We woke on Day 15 of our journey just outside of Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our first stop today was the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland, Nebraska.  This stop was requested by my husband to indulge his love of military and Cold War history.

The Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland, Nebraska.

The museum is a very modern-looking building with a missile perched right outside.  Inside is a very large atrium with airplanes hanging from the ceiling, several large hangars filled with aircraft, some smaller exhibit spaces and some interactive, educational exhibits geared toward children.

My favorite memory from the museum was the small stage in the main hangar, where I assume the museum hosts events or lectures from time to time.  My children climbed up on the empty stage and as I climbed up to shoo them down, I sensed that I had an audience.  The immense aircraft were positioned almost in a perfect semi-circle around the stage.  It gave a sense of a Superbowl-sized crowd staring down at you.  It was a really impressive and humbling experience to think of all the people these aircraft represented, from the engineers who designed them to the craftsmen who built them to the pilots who flew them.

My children enjoyed the children’s exhibits, particularly anything that involved pushing buttons.  We talked about an exhibit exploring whether asteroids would hit the earth but this was a bit confusing and scary to them at such a young age.  They also loved constructing buildings out of the architectural foam blocks.

My husband’s favorite part of the museum was this quote:

After the museum, we stopped briefly at another Nebraska institution, the nearby Cabela’s store!  We did a little shopping and then ate in their cafe for lunch.  What a menu they offered!

My husband tasted some of the more exotic meats while I stuck to something more traditional.  The ambience for the restaurant was very unusual.  Our table was an interesting homage to hunting:

There were lots of animal heads on the walls and it made you stop for just a moment to think.  For some reason, it struck me that while this display was a little shocking, it represented a completely different mindset–one that was much closer to and more comfortable with the cycle of life and the pecking order of the universe.  In my bubble of life, I don’t have to kill my own food.  In Nebraska, it appears that many people do (or could) and it takes enormous strength of mind to handle the emotions involved with that.  It is not surprising that so many people in this region turn to fervent religious belief to make sense of it all.

After lunch, we drove on to Omaha, Nebraska.

Downtown Omaha, Nebraska.

Our scheduled stop was to walk around the “Heartland of America Park” which is supposedly home to the second tallest fountain in the world.

As we arrived at the park, it began to rain lightly.  A handful of elegantly dressed people came running out of the park in prom-like dresses and tuxedos, with one woman in a princess-style gown.  We asked it if was a wedding and were informed it was a Quinceañera (15th birthday) celebration.

The park has a central lake with a sidewalk all the way around.  It was very beautiful and peaceful.

When we were about halfway around the lake, the sun came out.

We never did see the record-breaking fountain.  Perhaps it had turned off due the rain or due to the droughts.  We finished our walk near some Norman Rockwell-like patriotic statues.

Then it was back to the car and on to Des Moines, Iowa.

This part of the drive was one of the prettiest of our journey.  When I look back at my pictures, I am not sure I have captured its beauty but I remembered thinking at the time that Iowa was really more like a landscape painting turned into a state.

We caught up with the rain again.

Iowa thunderstorm!

Which just made for even more dramatically beautiful landscapes.

Close to the city of Des Moines, we saw signs along the road reading:

Urban Sprawl

Ain’t too pretty

Save Our Farms

Build in the City.

Apparently Des Moines is plagued by the same problems we see here in the Washington area.

We arrived in Des Moines in the late afternoon

and took a walk downtown in the Pappajohn Sculpture Park.

We didn’t have very high expectations for Des Moines but it really blew us away.  This was an incredible display of art and the whole of downtown had an arts community sort of vibe.  There were people drumming in the park, lots of art gallery spaces and a vitality to the place.

Downtown Des Moines as viewed from the sculpture park.

My girls loved this sculpture by Yoshitomo Nara.

The sculpture park was a wonderful way to create an outdoor art gallery that is accessible to all.  Many children were enjoying the park during our visit and we learned that the park is even open at night!

We left Des Moines

and headed toward Davenport, Iowa.  What is in Davenport?  Dinner!

We ate at The Machine Shed, which is an odd name for a very delicious restaurant.  They serve traditional farm-style food.  Drinks are served in Mason jars, there are oversized knives in the silverware

and you could make a full meal out of just the appetizers, which included cottage cheese, coleslaw and fresh bread.  I have never been served cottage cheese as an appetizer before but I must say it was delicious!

There was a wonderful gift shop attached to the restaurant selling everything from pie-making supplies to die-cast tractor toys.  There were some wonderful humorous but true quotes among the merchandise.

There were some mouth-watering desserts on the menu but we had absolutely no room for them.  We would have gladly taken a to go box if there was any way to refrigerate the leftovers.  Overall, it was a fun Iowa culinary experience.

We drove on through the dark to our hotel in Aurora, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, where tomorrow’s adventures awaited.

Continue reading: Day 16 – Illinois, Indiana and Ohio

 Posted by on September 5, 2012 General Tagged with: , , , , , ,