Thursday, July 31, 2014

How I Drive Across the Country With Three Kids

Driving with the kids is actually not all that bad. I drove from Texas to West Virginia with a 4-year old and 9-month old, while 6-months pregnant. I drove from Texas to North Dakota and then from North Dakota to Michigan with a 5-year old, 2-year old, and a 1-year old. Here's how I do it: 

You'd better use the restroom!
I make Riley (the only potty-trained child) use the bathroom just before we pull out. Then during the trip drinks are limited. There are times when emergency restroom breaks have to be taken, but for the most part limiting drinks helps with those. Now, they are allowed to drink plenty of liquids. I just don't allow them to sip drinks constantly.

I have Capri Suns for the older kids to drink, and plenty of snacks for everyone. One thing that has made life much easier is fruit pouches. All the kids like them. They usually don't make a mess, and they only cost about $1. When Ella or Nolan get fussy, a pouch will usually get things quiet pretty quickly. 

All snacks are within reach and easily accessible from the front passenger seat. 

I do not have a TV in my car. I have one iPad that gets passed around and one LeaPad 2 that is shared. I pack a couple bags of toys for the kids to play with when they get bored with technology. 

There are also times when I make them put the iPad or LeaPad up. For instance, South Dakota was too pretty for Riley to be absorbed on the iPad. I made her put it up and look out the window. (Isn't that what I did?) 

We also sing songs. Pandora has a great toddler station and Kidz Bop station that we listen to. We sing along with the songs and dance. All the kids like this. 

A good helper in the backseat!
I am lucky and have a very mature 5-year old helper in the backseat. I realize it is a lot of responsibility for her to take care of a 1 and 2-year old, but she is made that way. She is a great big sister and is very attentive to their needs. She helps pass out snacks and toys. She also lets me know if I need to stop for any kind of emergency, i.e. poo-poo has been smeared all over someone, their clothes, their car seat, and toys. That was fun. 

I get on the road and drive!
I do not stop for much. Anytime a state line is crossed I like to get out and get a group photo. Chances are we've been driving for a couple hours and need a break anyway. State lines usually have great photo opportunities and clean restrooms. 

Unless a baby in a diaper has poo-pooed, I don't stop to change them. Otherwise, they get changed about every two hours, which is basically the same duration as a nap time. 

There are times when I stop. If I need gas, everyone also uses the restroom. Anytime I stop I also reorganize toys, snacks and trash. When I get back on the road I am fully stocked and ready for another 2-3 hour driving stint. 

I have my route planned!
Planning road trips is fun for me. I like to research the roads I will be on and any tourist attractions along the way. I study the directions and in addition to my MapQuest app that talks to me, I know which roads I am going to take. 

I'm a Choice Hotel member and try to only stay at their hotels. When planning a 2-day driving trip, I look for towns a little over half-way to my destination that have a Choice Hotel. Most of these hotels provide complimentary breakfast which is great when traveling with little ones. My kids wake up and demand to be fed, so it's easy to get on the elevator and go get hot breakfast right in the same hotel. 

That's pretty much it. I think anyone can do it. 

Headed Home

Henry had a reservation in Parma, Michigan and we made it to yet another hotel. We were under the impression that it would only take him a couple hours to do what he needed to do, and then we could all head home together, me following him. NOT! After me driving around and killing time we found out he would have to be there all week. I was devastated and shed some tears. After two weeks on the road with the kids I had had enough and was ready to go home. I don't know how Henry stays on the road for months at a time.

So, I left my husband in Michigan and high-tailed it to Texas. No tourists stops. Few pictures. We were tired and tired of riding.

I can't remember what town this was in, Illinois or Missouri for sure, but this meal at Cracker Barrel was the best I had had in a while! It was delicious. We loaded up on some jelly beans before we left and the kids snacked on them until we reached Blytheville, Arkansas for the night.

Happy girls when we crossed into Texas! We had to stop at Brookshire's and get groceries before we got home. Everyone was just silly. I was so embarrassed in Brookshire's! It was worse than the normal 3-kids stuff. They were really happy to be home.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

En Route to Parma, Michigan

When we left Dickinson, North Dakota, on a Thursday, the only thing we had to do was be in Parma, Michigan, by Monday morning. It was a 17 hour drive. We had no itinerary, but just started driving.

We had lunch just before we got to Fargo, North Dakota. We weren't impressed! We got back on the road and high-tailed it to Minnesota.

Minnesota was probably the favorite leg of our entire trip to Michigan.

Our hotel had a bunch of brochures available to tourists, so I grabbed a few. There was one particular brochure for an aquarium and we decided we would go to that aquarium and then hit the road for Michigan. Well… that aquarium was actually located inside the Mall of America. We ended up spending most of the day at the Mall of America and didn't make it to Michigan as quick as we thought we would.

Riley touching a star fish.

Nolan had a good time!

Riley and a tortoise.

There was a LegoLand inside the mall. The blue transformer in this picture was only 2 stories tall. 

This painting was made out of legos. Both the babies wanted to touch it, as you can see. 

The indoor amusement park. More on that later. 

There was also a Barbie exhibit. Actually, Barbie's Dreamhouse was on exhibit for people to walk through. Riley has been wanting a Barbie Dreamhouse for a while now, so this was perfect for her. 

Each room had a different light theme so it was hard to take pictures.

Barbie's freezer. Riley thinks it's so neat she has been inside Barbie's freezer. 

Barbie's balcony. 

Catwalk. The Barbie Dreamhouse tour ended up taking an hour. It was a little too long. I didn't have much patience for the craft or dress-up after walking around Barbie's house for an hour. 

Daddy and Nolan walked around and explored parts of the mall. Henry was happy when we finally came out of Barbie's house! Afterwards we ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. It was wonderful food! I was so hungry. 

After lunch we had an old timey picture made. I wanted to do this in Medora, but you had to have an appointment there. We chose the "Civil War" theme and decided not to smile. All except Nolan. 

After pictures we went to the amusement park. 

That's Henry and Riley on the little roller coaster. Riley has her hand on her eyes and Henry is in the black shirt. 

Riley is very cautious and wouldn't consider any of the bigger rides. I talked her into getting on this Wonder Pets ride. This thing went up in the air about 30 feet and then would drop suddenly a few feet, go back up, drop suddenly, etc., about 10 times and then it would go back to the ground. 

She was all smiles before the ride started!

Not so sure...

Definitely did not like it...

Not having fun. The other girls were holding their hands up, laughing and smiling, but not Riley! Not even a smile. 


It's over! 

Next to the Wonder Pets ride was a three-seater carousel. It was perfect. The kids could have ridden this all day and been happy. 

Riley and I rode a Blue's Clues ride. It was fun! 

I stayed with Ella and Nolan while Henry and Riley waited in line for the Log Chute. Henry wanted to ride this really badly and somehow talked Riley into getting on it with him. Nolan fell asleep while we waited. 
Best picture ever! She did not like this ride at all! They were both surprised at how steep the hill was. After the log ride it was time for us to go. We were at the mall from 9-3, and still didn't manage to see much of it. There are four stories and I think one day is needed for each of the bottom 3 floors. I can't wait to go back! 

We hit the road and spent the night in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. We had a good meal at the hotel restaurant and had a nice time in the hotel room. After being without Henry for several months, I am so grateful for the time we get to spend with him! 

After several hours of riding, we stopped in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. It seemed like a tourist town alright. We tried some cheese and then spotted a trampoline park. It was a good energy release for the kids! 

Didn't get any pictures of the girls! 

We left that town and headed for Michigan. We went straight through Chicago, which happens to now be one of my least favorite places. The traffic was terrible and the roads were bad. It just seemed dirty. We shot through Indiana and made it to Michigan. We had a lot of trouble finding a hotel. We stopped at about 20 hotels, but none had a vacancy. I called Choice Hotel's 1-800 number since I have a rewards account with them, but they didn't have a vacancy at any of their hotels within a 50 mile radius of our location. This was the most tiring part of our trip. All we wanted to do was find a decent hotel! We couldn't figure out what the occasion was that would fill all the hotels. 

After at least an hour of driving and stopping at each new town and group of hotels, I spotted a Baymont Inn and quickly googled the number to call and see if they had a vacancy. Finally! We were able to get a room. The hotel attendant told Henry that the room we were able to get had canceled about 2 minutes before I called. Lucky! He also told us why all the hotels were booked… we were .5 mile from the beaches of Lake Michigan. 

So the next morning we decided to see what Lake Michigan was all about. It was super foggy but really nice. The sand is white and clean. The water… I don't think ice water is colder! I didn't go in past my shins. 

Riley wanted to build a sandcastle and make a sand angel. She was able to do both just before Ella destroyed them. 

It was impossible to keep him from eating the sand. 

Daddy buried her in the sand. 

After several hours on the beach we decided it was time to have lunch. We hit the road and found a Chili's. After lunch we drove for another 45 minutes and made it to the town where Henry needed to go for work. 

Michigan really isn't for me, either! 

Finally Headed Home

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dickinson, North Dakota

While Daddy got up and went to work at 5 a.m., we tried to sleep a little later and explore Dickinson. Our hotel had the best complimentary breakfast so we ate there every morning. Some mornings provided other diners with a little extra noise, but for the most part everyone behaved.

After breakfast we would go back up to our room and get ready for the day. Our first explorations led us to a Catholic cemetery about 20 miles away. The first burial I found in this cemetery was 1898, so it was an older cemetery. Plus, many of the people buried there were born in Hungary or Germany. Several headstones were in German, so with the help of the Internet I was able to interpret some of those; I thought that was pretty cool. We took the wagon and I just pulled the kids right along behind me as I took photographs.

The first day we headed out to this cemetery I noticed advertisements for "Enchanted Highway." It touted the World's Largest Metal Sculptures. I am so glad we decided to check "Enchanted Highway" out! There were about 8 giant metal sculptures and they were so neat! Riley loved this part.

'Birds in Flight'

This is the first sculpture we saw and it's located right on the Interstate. It was probably the biggest. You can barely see Riley and Ella at the bottom. Nolan was asleep. 

Deer Crossing

Grasshoppers in the Field

Fisherman's Dream

Pheasants on the Prairie

Teddy Rides Again

The Tin Family

Whirly Gigs

Dickinson is also home to a dinosaur museum. Riley was really excited about seeing the dinosaur bones. There was a real triceratops skull. It was pretty good!

Sunday was Henry's only day off the whole time we were in Dickinson. Twenty miles west is the town of Medora and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (the 'badlands').

We got to see a huge buffalo herd, as well as the beautiful badlands.

The national park took an hour and a half to drive through, but was totally worth it. Nolan and Ella slept through most of it and Riley took pictures with her LeaPad. It was great. We looked around Medora, had some ice cream and then headed back to the hotel.

Of course, being away from home means going out to eat for most meals. One night we ate at Sanford's, where Henry's co-worker took a good family picture of us.

Coincidentally, we have friends who live in this same town in North Dakota. I went to school with Lauren, and Joe is my best friend's brother-in-law. She graciously invited us over, let me do laundry, let the kids play, entertained me, and just let us relax at her house. It was so very nice to have a place to do laundry. Riley really liked Lauren's daughter, BreeAnna, who is eleven. They played in Bree's room with the door shut, which is apparently a big deal. I am forever grateful to the Scotts of North Dakota.

Henry's hotel had an indoor pool and hot tub which all the kids liked.

Riley, it seems like you've grown up so much. You're so dependable when it comes to the babies and taking care of them. You continually help me out. While we were at the hotel you always held the door open for me when I was pulling the wagon, and you never let Ella out of your sight.

You and Ella have such a great sister bond. You are truly best friends!

Nolan had a fall out of our wagon. I got into the habit of not strapping him in; usually that's fine even when he stands up. On this particular day, Nolan stood up just as the wagon went over a bump, and out he went. He bounced off the concrete and came up wailing! His face looked pretty bad for a couple days, but got better pretty quickly. 

Nolan turned 1 in North Dakota! I went to Walmart and got him several new toys, which the girls enjoyed more than he did. When Henry got off work we walked across the street to Dairy Queen (which is nothing like a Texas DQ) and had ice cream. Nolan couldn't wait to get his hands on his very own cone! 

We had a great time in Dickinson! It's a cute little town and had enough attractions to keep us interested. If Henry's hotel room would have been a regular room and not a king suite, things may have been a lot different. I could close the door to the bedroom and let Nolan or Ella sleep in the play pen while the rest of us played in the living room. There were days when we had to get out of the hotel and times where I wanted to pull my hair out. Being cooped up in a hotel room for a week and a half can be hard on everyone. (We totally ruined Henry's routine!) The hotel also served a continental breakfast, which we ate at every single morning. They always had good food and things the kids would eat.

We pulled out of Dickinson a week and a half after we arrived, headed for Parma, Michigan; on to other adventures!

To Michigan

*note - I was involved in my second verbal altercation this trip. One night the girls and I were swimming in the pool. There was also a twenty-something man in the hot tub who had broke the posted rules and brought his glass Corona bottle into the pool area. As he got up to leave it was clear he was drunk. He barely made his way to the trash with his bottle and attempted to throw it away. He was able to throw the bottle away, but it fell out and shattered all over the tile in the pool area. He then collected his things and was on his way out the door when I got into school teacher-mode and got his attention. At first, I politely told him his bottle shattered all over the floor and it needed to be cleaned up so someone wouldn't cut their foot. He brushed me off/acted like he didn't hear me, so I raised my voice. Other parents were already watching all of this unfold. Unluckily for the drunk young man, I was the closest parent to him, and thus, felt it my responsibility to alert him to the danger of his mess. So when I repeated myself to him, I was louder and ruder. I told him he needed to alert management and he said ok. It wasn't long before management came and cleaned his shattered bottle up off the floor.