Friday, December 30, 2016

Anaheim for Christmas

  The first thing that happened on the holiday break for the boys was a morning hanging out with Grammy. It was really fun for them, and in the mean time it was a teacher work day. The work day turned into a mandatory party (as it was voted to do the work Wednesday evening and then have the party Thursday morning). After that we packed up to head down to Anaheim.
  Bright and early December 23rd we headed down to Anaheim to stay with Annie, Freddy, Emmie, Molly, and Hattie. Colby was staying with them as well. Bonus! We got there at lunch time and Annie had made a bacon-potato soup with a pasta salad. The soup was a huge hit with all the boys. I really liked the salad. It was so nice to see the Grand's - all of them. Being with my family really brings joy into my heart.
 We played all day with the cousins, went to a church service, and had an appetizer night for Christmas Eve. We also opened the gifts we had for each other. As for Church - it was standing room only, which nobody was really happy about, but that is the nature of Church on Christmas Eve, Vander and Emmie entertained each other and enjoyed themselves (Vander was adamantly against going and cried about it earlier in the day, but I couldn't let him out of it after he threw a tantrum), Oliven was pretty pouty throughout, but it was Jesus' birthday, not theirs so we did what Jesus wanted for his party. There was really no good story or message, which is always my favorite part of the service so I was a little bummed, but I know they did the parts that the Catholic Church feels is the most important.
Don't forget to look at the dollhouse in the background!
  Christmas was fantastic. Santa came in the morning. He must have done lots and lots of  preparing the night before and stayed up super late because the girls got a giant doll house (5'x3'). It was really incredible. At 6am we woke Annie and Freddie up as well as the girls for Santa gifts and stockings. The boys were stoked. Vander said, "All this stuff was on my Christmas list, well it wasn't cause I didn't know I wanted it, but I would have put it on my list if I had remembered to." I went back to bed for a few hours while the kids played. The rest of the family (Grandma Gretchen, Grandpa David, Uncle Ken, Aunt Karen, Heidi, and Anthony) came at noon.
We all mingled and enjoyed each other's company. At around 3pm we had Christmas dinner - prime rib - I love prime rib. After a lovely dinner and dessert of cherries in the snow it was time for the white elephant gift exchange. Vander was stoked that I ended up with a basketball hoop for behind the door as my white elephant gift.
 Next, it was time to let the kids open their gifts from everyone. It was really cool to hear the boys say, "oh my gosh, this is just what I wanted. How did they know?" Karen got everyone a dreidle as well with candy in it and everyone enjoyed that. Though, they never did teach Karen how to play and they forgot to sing her some Christmas carols. During the day we made sure that everyone filled out a favorite's sheet for the favorite's book the boys are making. It's "Our Favorite People's Favorite Things." Overall a very fun day.
The evening, after the kids went to bed brought even more fun. We played beer pong, which I have actually never played before,  and King's Cup. Even Justin played King's Cup - he just drank water on his turns instead of beer. Heidi, Anthony, Freddy, Annie, Justin and I had a really good time and again went to bed way too late.
  In the morning we hung out around the house for a while. Heidi and Anthony went to Santa Barbara to pick up his new car. The rest of us headed out to go bowling. The kids had a great time. Freddy and Annie both got turkeys when we went bowling. Nice! Justin ended up beating them both, so you know he was on his game. We came home for nap and quiet time and the guys and I played a rousing game of Istanbul. I whipped up. We had 2 rematches after bedtime and Freddy won once and then Colby annihilated us all in the third game.
  We went to Deb's house on the 27th. Justin went out to lunch with Walter - all you can eat sushi. Walter is having some tough stuff go on in his life right now and Justin wants to be there for him. The rest of us stayed at Deb's and played Oliven's new game from Santa, Tokaido, twice and had some grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. We had some really good quality time with the Pint's. I am so glad we got a chance to see Deb and Heather together. It really was a delight.
We headed back to Anaheim around 4 and got stuck in some traffic. Oliven started feeling sick so we bought him some medicine. We met up with the Grand family at a pizza place to play some airhockey and eat pizza. After Oliven spilled his water twice and Emmie spilled hers we decided to cut our losses and head back. The kids were all tired. We watched a little tv - Top Chef and Martha and Snoops cooking show (Martha Stewart and Snoop Dog). It was oddly entertaining. We all headed off to bed.
  In the morning I got up early to help Oliven get some medicine and got a chance to just chat with Freddy for a while. I got a good chance to talk with Colb on the trip because we took a walk each day for exercise. It was really nice. Around 9am we had cleaned everything up that we could and packed our stuff. We drove up to L.A. to have brunch with Jon. We went to a place called, "More Than Waffles". Everyone really enjoyed their food. Nutella banana waffle for Justin and Jon, chocolate peanut butter waffle for Vander, and breakfast special for Oliven. My crepe was super salty, so I sent it back for a waffle with nuts. Not great, but everyone else raved about their food. It was a fun morning spent with Jon. Then, back home we went. We stopped at the Outlets in Gilroy to get some New Balance Tennis shoes for Oliven and me. We grabbed some groceries at Trader Joes in Morgan Hill, then ordered Chinese Food from Golden House and ate it by the light of the menorah for the 5th night of Hanukkah


Monday, December 19, 2016

Other highlights

My bunco party was a blast and my December Cookbook club: King Arthur Flour was a delight. Polly's Gingerbread decorating party is always a favorite. Justin got to build a train this year, which he really enjoyed. The same day both boys went to birthday parties and Oliven had a piano lesson. It was a very busy day. Oliven and Vander each got to do a Teacher Treat recently. Oliven's was a hike with his teacher and Vander's was a Dia De Los Muertos movie with snacks. They both had a good time.

Snow White and the 5 Dwarfs

 The 7th and 8th graders performed their updated version of Snow White and the 5 Dwarfs and they did a really great job. I am shocked and amazed that it went so well. Every single one of them really got into their character. It was fun to see all the hard work (mostly mine and Katie's - Snow White). Katie is an amazing girl who is going to go very far in life. She reminds me a lot of myself at her age.
 Overall, it was a great production with awesome scenery and a cute script that had some very funny parts. Everyone I talked to said that they enjoyed it very much, which makes me really happy. Some people came to the night performance after seeing the day performance because they enjoyed it so much the first time.
 I had the kids choose the story they wanted, write the script, make all the scenery and props, and then act, sing, play keyboard, and do the lighting and backstage work. It was very difficult to the get the cooperation of the 11 out of 13 kids that didn't want drama to do all of it, but in the end I hope that they are glad that they did. My first time as a director all the way through from beginning to end and it was a success.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Cookie making and decorating

We had our annual cookie making and decorating get together. It was a delight as always. This year Camille joined us as well for the fun. In the evening was our annual block party with food and caroling at Christi's house. :)

1st and 3rd grade Christmas in the park holiday carols

  This year my goal as the music teacher is to make sure that every kid gets to perform. This excludes the 7th and 8th grade students not in my classes since I don't have any time with them, but includes every kid kindergarten - 6th grade. My first big performance this year was with the 1st and 3rd grade students singing holiday carols. First they sang for an assembly and the second performance was at Christmas in the park. They did such a great job. As a bonus those happened to be the grades that both of my children are in this year, so they both got to perform on stage at Christmas in the Park. It was really fun, super crazy, and they did a great job. All the kids are really proud of themselves. 8 of the 3rd grade students got to have solos. Vander was one of them - not because he is my kid, but because he was one of the best boys that auditioned. All the kids did an excellent job. I am really proud of all the 3rd graders who had the guts to go up in front of those huge crowds and sing solos. The 1st graders were super cute with the red noses that Carrie bought for all of them for "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". A shout out to Carrie Lim for being my right hand woman and doing everything that I couldn't and for organizing the parents and supplies!

crazy meal


Our favorite meal of the year - CRAZY MEAL - was last week. It is always entertaining. It is not at all the most delicious, but it's so darn fun. This year we ended up with:
Justin: coconut shrimp; Ashley: hint of lime chips, refried beans, and a red onion; Vander: a frozen pizza; Oliven: grapes, two tomatoes, an  apple, and a carrot. So, our final meal was chips dipped in a very interesting bean dip made with: beans, sauteed apple, carrot and onion, and tomatoes. This mix was accompanied by pizza, shrimp and grapes. It was an oddly sweet dip, not surprisingly.
  Recently we have been watching "Chopped Junior" where the kids get random ingredients and have to make an appetizer, main dish, or dessert out of them. So, when we had our ingredients in the car the kids kept saying things like, "from the pantry I would grab... and then deep fry..." We had to explain that this was crazy meal where you use what you get to make something delicious, or at least edible, but no pantry ingredients and no deep fat fryer. It was fun as always with our living room picnic, watching "Chopped" this year as we enjoyed our eclectic meal.

Monday, December 5, 2016

advent 2016

Completely out of order, here is our advent list for 2016:

            ·         Dinner with the Lim family at Sweet Tomatoes
·         Dinner with the Rogerson family at our house
·         Breakfast with Santa
·         Decorate outside lights
·         Crazy meal
·         Write a Christmas story
·         Holiday dance party
·         Gingerbread houses at Polly’s
·         Holiday movie as a family
·         Christmas in the park
·         Make sugar cookies
·         Living room picnic and a show
·         Hot apple cider   ///   Holiday lights drive and candy canes
·         Decorate cookies
·         Grammy & Pops visit
·         Holiday themed meal
·         Vander’s choice game night
·         Oliven’s choice game night
·         Put train together
·         Go to Grand House
·         Hang out with cousins
·         Candle light dinner
·         Holiday lights walk
·         Watch Charlie Brown Christmas
·         Watch Garfield Christmas
·         Holiday block party

Sunday, December 4, 2016

piano recital

 Oliven and I have both been taking piano lessons since this summer. Ollie is a natural. He loves to play, he has a love of music and he gets the theory quickly and easily. He has to work on his counting, but the notes come very naturally to him as does reading music. He plays the songs and memorizes them with ease. It's truly a delight to listen to him play.
  Playing piano doesn't come to me as naturally. I am better at counting, but I have to concentrate on the notes, where they are, which finger, and how to read them. I then have to make notes in the music and practice the same thing over and over. It really is mentally challenging for me. Learning to have both hands doing different things on notes and counting is not easy.
  Our first recital was in November and Oliven rocked it. I was super nervous and totally messed up several times. I have never been that nervous singing. I think being a beginner as an adult made it more stressful with my own expectations.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thankful for and Thanksgiving break

   We wrote down things we were Thankful for all month and it has been nice to think about how lucky we are in the life that we have. I am so thankful for my life. :) We didn't get a chance to write them all down, but we made quite a list. I love doing this during the month of November it is such a great way to sit back and be Thankful in a positive way, all together as a family. Vander is apparently extremely thankful for food. Seriously, read his leaves. Justin's are red, mine are orange, Vander's are yellow, Oliven's are green, and friends are brown.
  What a fun break we had this year... it started with a visit from Jon. The boys always really enjoy wrestling around with him. Monday Vander had an orthodontist appointment, which felt more like going to Disneyland than anything else. It was fun, upbeat, good conversation, and tons of swag. Seriously, sunglasses were on my list of things to buy at Target right after we left and they gave them to the boys free along with like 8 other fun toys. Gymnastics was that evening as a make-up for Thursday because of Thanksgiving.
  Tuesday we had a day of play with Ollie's good friend, Cooper who came over. We started the play date by doing an art project making ornaments. Lots of lego creations were made, and outdoor fun was on the agenda.
   On Wednesday morning I took Vander on a date to see the movie Trolls at the Morgan Hill movie theater, where he ate an entire tub of popcorn by himself. Justin and Oliven went to Mod Pizza for lunch followed by a two rousing games of bowling. We walked over to see them when our movie ended and to share our refill bucket of popcorn. That evening Sexy Justin came to visit us for a couple of days. He is pure delight. He is such a lively fun guy. I miss having him around. He loves to eat, drink and play games - which really makes him a fantastic guest.
   On Thursday morning we had homemade cinnamon rolls with veggie scrambled eggs which was obviously extremely delicious.
We headed down to Larry and Theresa's with Sexy Justin at 1pm to join in the fun with Mitch, Katie, Evan, and Heather. It was a nice afternoon and a yummy Thanksgiving feast. I am so very Thankful for family and spending quality time with the people I love.
  Friday brought an entire day of game playing with Sexy Justin. A marathon of games (surprisingly not that many only because it just took so long to learn them all and then we played all of our best ones, which tend to take a while.) Vander and Ollie were not left out of the fun as we played a few games with them as well, and they loved getting to play Wii - Super Smash Brothers. I will never understand what people see in that game.
We had sushi for dinner and I got my exercise in jogging to Lucky to grab cream cheese to make cream cheese frosting (with too much Vanilla) to go on carrot cake cupcakes for Sexy Justin's 35th birthday (on Saturday). We played until I melted and then went to bed. Justin left in the morning for a full day drive in the rain back to San Diego on his birthday in a car he thought might over heat and leave him stranded on the side of the road. Luckily that did not happen. We got out our Christmas decorations and started the process of making the house look festive. I got the tree up with the boys while Justin went to the grocery store.
  Sunday morning we took the boys to see Moana (which was a very cute movie) and then to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. We stopped at Bed, Bath and Beyond for some necessary items, and just like that our week off was gone. We are, however, left with lots of good memories and Sexy Justin has an open invitation to come stay with us every Thanksgiving, cause we had a blast.
   Monday, Jon joined us again for a day of hanging out on his return trip from Israel. Now, Wednesday, we are guest-less, what shall we do? How about getting all of our advent stuff together since December starts tomorrow???

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Trump is President

  4 days ago Donald Trump was voted in as America's newest president. I still can't believe the country took this giant step backwards. I am disappointed and devastated. I am not alone in this sentiment. Even kids have been crying and worrying about this huge debauchal. They voted in a sexist, bigot, who is so closed-minded and intolerant. I really thought that we had come farther than that. I know living in California really skews my view of the amount of tolerance people have. I have lived in Indiana and felt the culture of racism and sexism. I have visited the South and seen how very intolerant people are of each other based on race. I felt the tension when I was there - it was palpable and uncomfortable. I just hoped that it wasn't as prevalent all over the United States. I am deeply saddened by the choice of Trump as president. The people in our country, by popular vote, chose Hillary Clinton, but the electoral college chose Donald Trump. Why is this allowed? We obviously need to make a change. How is this Democratic???
  Our country is in mourning - most of it. I have talked to so many people who have shed tears for this unfortunate choice of President. God help us all. I can only hope that Donald Trump can't actually do the things he has "promised" (threatened) to do. He is a heinous man. Please oh please let his beliefs not prevail on our country.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Black eye

Who knew teaching drama could be so dangerous! I got punched in the eye by "Grumpy" dwarf while rehearsing "Snow White and the Six Dwarfs." His fist at full force happened to land where my eye was. Yikes. This pic is from day one, it looks uglier each day. My first fist fight and I was the bigger person I didn't punch him back. I did go down and cry. It hurt so bad. Boy does that kids have a story to tell for the rest of his life - beating up his drama teacher. One thing is for sure...he won't forget me. :)


Camille joined us this year for some epic trick or treating. The boys didn't want to stop this year and they got tons of candy. There were lots of regular sized candy bars. I was good and didn't eat any Halloween candy until the Friday after Halloween, which was on a Monday this year. Justin carried a walking stick and was a joy to walk around with. The boys were green lantern and superman. Grammy and Pops handed out candy to the trick-or-treaters. (tradition, you know). We had mummy dogs and squash soup with eyeballs for dinner (meatballs).

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Grand family comes to visit

We got some good quality cousin time in over the last few days. Annie, Freddy, Emmie, Molly, and Hattie drove up to San Jose for a visit on Thursday night. They got in super late (as they left their house at 8:15pm). Friday the kids and I still had to go to school, but we came home a little early to get in some extra time. It was so nice to see them. We spent most of the day in the house on Friday. Basketball was played, and some sliding was definitely enjoyed. We had an epic glow in the dark dance party with glowing skeleton jammies on the girls and glow sticks all around. It was awesome!
  Saturday morning, after making pineapple pancakes, we all geared up and went for a walk to Staples and Lucky while Justin was at the grocery store. I got to hold Ms. Hattie in the baby carrier. She is seriously the easiest baby ever. She is just so content and rarely cries or is fussy. It was a delight having her here. Emmie and Molly are good little walkers. They started out scootering and were pretty wiped by the time we got there. We stopped, grabbed some Jamba Juice for the girls, and sandwiches for the adults (Justin had already picked Vander up to head to baseball), so we headed back so that Ollie, Freddie and I could get to the baseball game to watch Vander play.

  The game ended up being super hot and in direct sunlight and Freddie put the sandwich bag on his head. Oliven's ears were looking a little red, so we put some napkins over his ears. It was pretty funny, a little "trashy", but mostly funny. Vander played catcher and third base and got a really good hit.
  After the game we came back. The kids had what what Vander and Oliven deemed the tea party that was a tradition.
  Sunday morning we made French toast, took cousin pictures, carved pumpkins in the rain, and at three we headed over to a neighborhood driveway progressive party with games in every driveway.   It was really neat. Jennie Anderson hosted it and the whole block lent their driveways for our fun. I got to be in a scoot scate race, the kids played hot potato with a pumpkin, did egg races, played musical chairs, and we brought pin the spider on the web. There was alcohol for the adults (I made brain hemorrhages that I learned from Hannah) with peach schnapps, Irish cream and grenadine, and then their was a potluck. As per usual Freddie was the hit of the party. The rain was coming down hard the morning before and in the evening, but the afternoon was gorgeous.
  Then, all too soon, the Grand's headed home. The girls and boys had a great time together. Thanks for coming up guys!!!

Then and Now day for Oliven

Oliven had his Then and Now day at school. He was super cute - no surprise.  They did all kids of fun activities from the past. He liked the tea party the best, again, no surprise. He didn't enjoy the butter making because it leaked a little.  He liked playing the games as well. He even had a chance to try washing his own clothes on the old washboard like the Boogie Woogie Washer Woman (his favorite song that I taught the 1st graders). Overall he had a great day. I was so glad that it was on one of the days that I teach the first graders music, so I got to be a photographer for the day and see all the action.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

October update

I told myself that when I went back to work I would make sure to keep up on my blogging and scrapbooking, but I am not doing a very good job of that. Well, here I thought that Mondays I could get a lot done, but not so much. I make sure to exercise and practice piano, but really where does the rest of the time go? I mean it, I do get work done. This is the real reason I took an 80% contract, so that I could be done with all my other stuff and not have to stay at school working for hours several times a week, and so far so good. I do have to go to meetings on Wednesdays, but that seems to be the main after school commitment.
 Now for the meat of the blog entry: We went on a couple of awesome date nights with the Lims. First we went to go see the 49ers football game. Then we got to go to La Fondue and have the Le Freak, which is everything on the menu. I haven't been that full in a very long time. It was all amazing, but the chocolate was for sure the highlight.

I got laryngitis and couldn't even whisper at the Gala this year as well as Polly's favorite witches party. I resorted to a tablet and pen and text messaging. Socializing is not nearly as fun when you can't do it.  I had laryngitis for about a week really bad. It turns out singing all day is not great for your voice. I know that is no surprise, but I am still really hoping that my vocal chords will just get used to it. We shall see. Despite not being able to talk I still had a good time at the Gala. I auctioned off a Murder Mystery party and also a teacher treat of The Little Mermaid Jr. with students. (The musical was all kids and it was really good. Sebastian was amazing, and several of the kids in the musical were from Charter which made it extra cool). We ended up winning a tea set. The highlight of the evening was dancing. We danced the night away - Camille and I. We danced until Justin said that he was leaving, which was around 10:40pm. My feet did not enjoy dancing in my new shoes, but oh well.
 The next night was Polly's Favorite witches party. She is world's best party thrower. She has themed food with a printed up menu, signature drinks, prizes for the best costume and the favorite item brought to the party the previous year. I had to bring a tablet and a pen to scrawl my notes on. Nancy helped me out during the night (in her own sassy way). Did I mention that Polly has the most amazing parties, well she even had spider web fake eyelashes on. I always enjoy a Polly party!
  Let's see what else??? We had a pool playdate with the Lim family and the Trombleys. Then, we had Cooper over for a playdate with Oliven and Justin for playdate with Vander during conference week, and went hot tubbing at the Lim house another day.
  I have been crazy busy at school with putting on 2 musicals (middle school and 5th grade), teaching the 3rd graders to read music and now I'm going to be prepping the 1st and 3rd graders to sing at Christmas in the park. It's a lot of work, but I can tell how much joy the kids are getting out of it, so that makes it really fun as well.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Fall update; summer readiing final tally

  Both of the boys have been really enjoying the beginning of school. They really like having me as their music teacher - yay! They both got to perform at the back to school Hispanic Heritage festival at CSMH. Oliven performed "De Colores" and Vander did the body percussion and sand "Que Llueva" with the 3rd grade under my direction. They both did a great job. Afterwards they did the macarena. Oliven did not like the buddy shaking. He found it quite offensive.
  Vander is loving baseball and really coming into his own as a pitcher and an all around player. He is also doing really well with his typing.
  Oliven is loving piano and gymnastics. He got to meet Aly Raisman (an Olympic gymnast) over the weekend, which was really cool.
  The boys wanted me to write down the tally for their summer reading fun. Vander got 188 boxes (1880 minutes, which is 31.3 hours) and Oliven read 176 boxes (1760 minutes, which is 29.3 hours) with 49 reflections each.

Monday, September 12, 2016

School started

  1st and 3rd grade are underway and so far so good. The boys both love their teachers and have been thriving in their new classrooms. Vander has Mrs. Swope and they still have no desks, so they are using cafeteria tables until they come in! Oliven has Mrs. Miller and is not thrilled that there are some talkers in his class this year. I am getting into the groove of being the music teacher. It's been a pretty great start to the school year. :) Oliven is loving piano lessons and gymnastics. Vander is excited that fall ball is starting back up. I have some pretty great kids!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

State and Capitol count update

These are the 29 states the kids have been to so far in chronological order:
1. California
2. Colorado
3. Nevada
4. Oregan
5. Washington
  (Vancouver, Canada)
6. Texas
7. Louisiana
8. Arizona
9. New Mexico
10. Utah
11. Minnesota
12. North Dakota
13. South Dakota
14. Nebraska
15. Iowa
16. Illinois
17. Wisconsin
18. Georgia
19. Alabama
20. Mississippi
21. Tennessee
22. North Carolina
23. South Carolina
24. Ohio
25. Michigan
26. Indiana
27. Kentucky
28. West Virginia
29. Pennsylvania
Number 20 will be Hawaii this year for New Years.

Capitol buildings (and obviously Capital Cities), Ollie's favorite, in chronological order:
1. Austin, Texas (everything was very big)
2. Sacramento, California
3. Phoenix, Arizona
4. Madison, Wisconsin
6. Minneapolis, Minnesota (under construction - remodel)
7. Jackson, Mississippi (outside - it was closed the day we were there)
8. Nashville, Tennessee (outside - it was closed the day we were there)
9. Columbia, South Carolina (in session; discussing a gas tax for travelers)
10. Atlanta, Georgia (soft colors)
11. Carson City, Nevada
12. Lansing, Michigan (stars on ceiling in dome)
13. Indianapolis, Indiana (All doorknobs had the state seal. Lots of stained glass)
14. Frankfort, Kentucky (dome changes color; French themed; symmetrical)
16. Charleston, West Virginia (lots of pretty chandeliers)

Our midwest vacation

Monday, July 25th, 2016; DAY 1: Swim is over; time to hit the road for our Midwest vacay! We woke up early and Pops drove us to the San Franscico airport. We spent most of the day on our plane - especially considering the time change. When we got to Cleveland and picked our silver Jeep Grand Cherokee, we headed to our hotel to drop our stuff off and change into our nicer clothes to go to Michael Symon's restaurant, Lola. We went for a super fancy, special 12-year anniversary dinner. Ollie requested the cioppino and Van asked for the smoked pork chop over mascarpone polenta. We decided if we added two beef cheek perogies, Lola fries and roasted potato with onion that we could all share. The dinner was excellent, especially the polenta. The ambiance was also nice. It was a great way to spend our anniversary (though it would be nice to have one with just Justin).  I bought a signed copy of Micheal Symon's "5 in 5 for Every Season" cookbook. We skipped dessert and headed to the "Chocolate Martini Bar" attached to our hotel. The boys shared a dessert called "Lady Godiva." It had striped chocolate on the outside. They were very impressed and talked about it the rest of the trip. Justy and I shared a mediocre chocolate "brownie" sundae. The AC dripped on us, which I did not enjoy.
  Our hotel was super cool. It was in an arcade (not the kind with video games, but with shops on the bottom 2 floors). It was golden and gorgeous. It felt special and had an elegant ambiance. It was built in the 1890's and had aesthetically pleasing craftsmanship and a real sense of style.
DAY 2: In the morning we headed over to Al's Diner, one of Michael Symon's favorite breakfast places. I'm pretty sure he put this rinky-dink diner on the map. We made sure we ordered their signature dish - corned beef hash.
  After breakfast, on our walk to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we found some really neat "art" which included a giant rubber stamp and a bunch of plastic snails that Ollie enjoyed sitting on. We spent the next 5 hours at the Hall of Fame. This place was made for me. I could have stayed a lot longer - it was fascinating and filled with my favorite music. Ollie liked listening to the "Hey Mickey" song. Ollie also enjoyed holding an electric guitar. Justy like hearing songs from early influencers and one hit wonder songs. I loved reading all the history of the artists that I have always loved so much.
  We went to another Michael Symon restaurant, Mabel's BBQ, for briquet, pickled cabbage, lamb ribs, pig ears (Justy's best bite so far), beets, kielbasa and pork spare ribs.
  Time to head over to the Indians vs Nationals baseball game. We started out by getting Pierre's ice cream. They accidentally made Van's extra large, we also got a little baseball helmet. The ice cream was amazing! So creamy. I will be thinking about the chocolate chip cookie dough for a while. There was so much ice cream (quickly melting) that the boys actually couldn't finish theirs. Who knew that could happen. It was a great game. The Indians rallied and won in the 9th inning. The inning started 6 - 5 Nationals and ended with a walk off in the bottom of the 9th,  7 - 6 Indians. There is nothing like an exciting baseball game, followed by an easy walk back to the hotel. What a great night.
DAY 3: We left Cleveland to head to Sandusky, Ohio where the Kalahari resort offers a huge indoor water park (the biggest indoor water park in the US). We decided that we would spend the day being wet indoors - yay for no sunscreen. As for a huge African Safari theme, this hotel did a great job and did not disappoint. We went on tons of winding, wet tubes with rafts, w/doughnut shaped tubes, on our own, you name it - they had it. Ollie wasn't a huge fan of the sliders he had to go on by himself without a tube, but Van was game for every ride that he was tall enough to go on. My ultimate favorite, though, was by far the lazy river. Ollie and I went around at least 20 times. At one point he was tube hopping to get ahead of us. It was pretty hilarious. We even played water basketball for a while. At about 5pm Van had to call it quits because his eyes were hurting too much from being splashed with chlorine.
  After bathing we took a trip over to Mekong for some Vietnamese food. A trip to Toft's Ice Creamery was a must to end the day. They make the ice cream from local ingredients and cows milk. The small was 5 scoops of ice cream (not baby scoops).
DAY 4: Unfortunately on the way out of the hotel's doorway (on of the ones that goes in a circle) Vander ran into the glass panel before the opening and he hit hard. He ended up chipping his front tooth. :(  3 1/2 hours after leaving we arrived in Lansing, Michigan. We went to the Capitol building first. The dome had stars on the top on the inside, which Ollie liked. There were murals of all the Muses and lots of dark wood paneling with a cabinet that had books, but looked hidden in the wall. Justin really liked this element.
  For lunch we went to Zaytoon Mediterranean for a huge family platter that was delish. We couldn't finish it all. Then we hopped back in the car for a quick ride to the western coast of Michigan. We went to Grand Haven and walked on the pier to see the red lighthouse and beyond. The original plan was to go mini golfing, but the pier was so pretty and relaxing. Justy and I decided it would be a fantastic place to revisit when Van is 17 and Ollie is 15. Let them hang out and just be free to roam, fish, eat ice cream, meet girls, etc. We of course got some ice cream as we walked - do you notice a theme here??? We were still pretty full from lunch,so the ice cream was our dinner.  At 10pm we watched the really pretty fountain show put to music across Lake Michigan (a narrow part). it was about 25 minutes long with 5 songs. The best song was "Proud to be an American." The red, white and blue reflected off the water.
DAY 5: We stared our day with a drive to Chicago. We went straight to the Museum of Science and Industry (our first ticket in the CityPass booklet). There were lots of exhibits - nature, shooting hoops using angle and force (Van loved this), a flight simulation (Ollie loved this). The highlight for all of us was the "Brick by Brick" exhibit. It was very elaborate buildings made out of Legos. They were pretty incredible. They included the Golden Gate bridge, Cinderella's castle (Disney magic kingdom), and many others. There was also a Lego wall, so you know the boys enjoyed that.
  When we were museumed out, we headed back to our hotel to park ($63 a night!!!) and headed over to Giordano's for a deep dish veggie pizza. It was the best deep dish pizza that I have ever had. We pre-orded and it still took like an hour to be seated and the pizza to come. It turns out we were in Chicago the weekend of a huge 3 day concert called Lollapalooza, so there were thousands of people in their 20's everywhere we went. It was crowded in a lively way and entertaining.
  After dinner, despite it being cloudy, we decided to head up to the Willis Tower Skydeck (weather forecast called for clouds and rain the whole time we were there - though it didn't end up being that way). It was really neat. Floor 103 on the Willis tower (formerly the Sears tower) is where the plastic rooms out over the building were. We made sure to look out, take pictures, and or course jump. We saw mostly clouds, but it was a great view in between clouds of the city and beyond. Justy got to look out of the tower like Ferris Bueller. Ollie wasn't scared at all and thought it was beautiful.
DAY 6: Our second day in Chicago (I requested to Woo that we stay in one place for at least 3 days on each trip for some consistency and respite from all the driving - some trip are more than others). We spent the morning at the Shedd Aquarium. Because we had CityPasses we got to skip most of the very very long line. We saw Beluga whales, penguins, lots of fish, frogs, and a cool 4D experience. It was all about all the predators that get together to eat the sardines when they migrate close to the shore. Dolphins, birds, sharks, and whales all eat their fill.
   We hustled over to the Bongo Room for lunch. Red velvet pancakes (Ollie), Chocolate french toast and lobster Benedict (Justin), Meyer lemon french toast (Ash) and pretzel pancakes with caramel sauce (Van) was our very decadent and delicious lunch. This place is so good that we have gone there every time we have been to Chicago (about 5 times). Soooo good!!! The Bongo Room never disappoints.
  The Field Museum was our next stop - we enjoyed seeing a T-Rex named SUE (the most complete T-Rex every reconstructed), a 3D movie about African Animals, and an Egyptian exhibit of a mummy's tomb. We had a small dinner at Noodle and Co. on our way back to the hotel.
DAY 7: We set ourselves up for lots of walking (Justy and I doubled our socks to prepare our feet). We walked to the "Art Institute of Chicago". We got to see art by Monet, Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Pointalist art by Cezanne, and much much more. We also got to see miniature room re-creations of all kinds of time periods. It was super cool and very detailed.
  We had lunch at the Purple Pig (Frontera grill was our 1st choice, but it is closed Sundays). The Purple Pig owner was voted best up and coming chef James Beard award and got a Michelan Star. The food and ambience were phenomenal. We ordered the meat platter, 3 cheeses, pig ears with fried egg on them and bone marrow. Wow! The boys really liked the bone marrow (served in the bone with toast). They were the best pig ears Van ever had and he loves pig ears. They were fancy and delicious. The food was served up on a big wooden block, which was very cool. After lunch we went to Dylan's Candy Bar to look around, get samples and bought some suckers for the Pirates game later in the week.
   We then walked to the Navy pier to check it out. Ollie decided the ferris wheel looked to scary and it was over $50, so we decided to skip it. Justy's feet were very tired so we had to do some resting on the way to Eataly. We had some pizza, gelato (Ja and A), canolis for the boys and shared a Baci candy bar (my fave) on our way back to the hotel.
DAY 8: Time for another Capitol building, but this time in Indianapolis, Indiana. But wait, before we got to Indianapolis, we decided we had been to tons of museums, so we could skip the Children's Discovery museum and stop in West Lafayette instead to show the boys were many of our (mostly my) stories take place. We started walking to Our Savior Lutheran Church, where I worked as the director of education and as a nursery worker. Pastor Will and Sandra were both there. Sandra said, "Wow, talk about a blast from the past." We had a great chat with them. It was really nice to see them both. Pastorr Will hasn't changed at all. Sandra has a cane now. I was super bummed that Joy wasn't there. I really liked her. She was one my favorite people in West Lafayette. I showed the kids all around the church. I showed them my office, the nursery, and was reminded of playing with flour in the kitchen with Gabby when I started a youth group. I have very fond memories of that job. It was very relaxed, nice atmosphere, and lots of kind people.
  Next, we headed over to Krannert and took a tour of Justin's grad. school classrooms. The boys liked seeing where Justy studied. Our last stop was at our old apartment at 2976 Snowdrop Dr. They didn't look nearly as nice as when we lived there. They looked like they hadn't been painted in over 10 years. They were pretty new when we lived there. We showed them our walk to the mailbox when it was zero degrees and we had to turn back because we were so cold to take a cold shower that felt very hot. They also wanted to see the corn fields next door and across the street. They didn't have nearly the same effect being that they are currently soybean fields. I was flooded with good memories of playing "Dance Dance Revolution" with the Larsons, Hillers, and Tolmans. We had also bought and eaten a ridiculous amount of Tollhouse cookie packages. A freezer full (38ish the first year and about 50  the second year). Don't worry we shared. :)
  We left after admiring the Purdue buildings and drove to Indianapolis for the Capitol building - it was gorgeous with lots of pretty stained glass sky lights, and very open. All the doorknobs had the Indiana seal on them. There were statues with virtues in the rotunda. Pastor Will's name is on the wall inside the dome. Marble and wood mix made it look very clean. All materials flowed well together. The chandelier in the House of Reps. had 100 lights. If one burned out it is tradition to tell the new guy he has to replace the bulb, let him squirm for a few days, then say just kidding. Governor of Indiana is running for Republican vice president right now. House and senate have a super majority Republican - 70%. If a bill sits on the Governors desk for 7 days with no veto it becomes law. We went to dinner at Michael Symon's burger restaurant, B Spot Burgers.  It has been a Michael Symon kind of trip. The burgers were not surprisingly, fantastic. We also got shakes to share. Woo and Cumin (Vander) got a chocolate bacon apple pie shake. This made Justin realize once and for all that he likes desserts sweet with no savory element.
  That night we slept in World's hardest bed - second only to Mitch's bed. It was like sleeping on planks of wood. I did not sleep well at all that night. I like firm mattresses, but this was WAY too firm. The door between our bedrooms in the suite didn't close. Breakfast was made to order and was so bad none of us finished our meal. Hotel fail! The only redeeming quality of this hotel was the huge Jacuzzi tub. I put a hotel bottle of shampoo in and BUBBLE MANIA ensued. I think I enjoyed it as much as the boys did. It included some great bubbly hair dos, bubble snow and lots and lots of bubble fun that lasted like 2 hours. It included lots of pictures and some videos, but most of all a plethora of laughter and good memories!
DAY 9: Our first stop was the Louisville Slugger Factory in Louisville, Kentucky. We got to see how they made all the wooden bats. It was pretty neat. They have machines that whittle them now, but they used to do it all by hand. They leave nubs on the end during the process and give them to the tourists when they cut them off. Win-win. Each pro gets a batch of 6 or 12 bats and decides which ones will be game bats and which will be practice bats (even though they are within 1/100th of a centimeter of each other. There were lots of different types of bats to choose from made either of Ash or Maple. We each got to hold a bat that one of the great players used in a game. Justin - Ken Griffey Jr.; Van - Ricky Henderson, Oliven - Babe Ruth; Ash - Tony Gwynn. So cool. We each got a chance to pitch and see our accuracy and speed. Justin threw 51 MPH, and Van threw 35 MPH. There was also a Ripley's Believe it or Not baseball themed room. We each got a mini bat and nubs as souvenirs.
  For lunch we had my favorite meal of the trip - no question. It was a Mayan restaurant called, "The Mayan Cafe." It was a quaint little place, but the food was OMG so good!
Each mouthful was pure delight. My veggie enchiladas had a crazy good green mole over beets, black bean, roasted banana pepper, shiitake mushroom enchiladas with guacamole. I so need to recreate this! It was one of those meals you share, but begrudgingly because every bit needs to be appropriately savored. I wish this place was in San Jose! We also ordered dessert - stuffed churros and Mayan spiced hot cocoa (awesome), chocolate cake with mango sauce, and bread pudding.

  Straight form the cafe we went to the Louisville Mega Cavern the ONLY fully underground aerial ropes course in the world and one of only 20 courses of its kind in the U.S. They give you 3 hours of rope time. I thought that might be limiting, but it was challenging to climb that long. 2 1/2 hours in we were very worn out. There were about 76 different elements to do. Over 1/2 of them were about 3-5 feet  above the ground with the rest being about 20-25 feet in the air. It also had 3 zip lines. Oliven was too scared to go on the high ones (paralyzed with fear would be a more accurate description), but he liked most of the low ones. He liked the low zip line, but also found it very scary. Van loved it all - especially the biggest zip line. We were hooked in by strong harnesses and 2 large carabiners with fail safe clips. It was well worth the money and a one of a kind experience.
  We decided when we were done to eat the hotel's free snack reception with drinks for dinner. Embassy Suites usually have a decent spread with crackers, cheese, veggies, etc. This one only had pretzels and a cream cheese "pizza dip" and few pepperonis. They boys ate a little box of cereal we had with us and a Shirley Temple with a cup of maraschino cherries. I had a whiskey sour and we called it a night. (Breakfast the next morning at the hotel was excellent.)
DAY 10: In need of a leisurely day, we woke up in time for breakfast, but with no alarm clock which I enjoyed. Our first stop was the Capitol building in Frankfort, Kentucky. We saw a huge clock decorated with butterfly shaped foliage, so we walked over to check it out. Apparently it's a huge tourist attraction - who knew. The whole area was quiet and deserted. It was really tranquil. The Capitol building is French inspired. It was expansive, elegant and on of my faves of the 15 we have been to so far. The tour guide said, "Every state will tell you that their Capitol is the best, but ours really is, so now you can say that you have seen the best." The rotunda changes colors through the use of LED lights and had a statue of Lincoln. It was build in the 1900s when electricity already existed, but they still did their best to take advantage of natural light, even gilding the ceiling to use reflected light in the Supreme court room. The 36 ten-ton marble columns there, were put in place with only pulleys and elbow grease. Yikes. The architect really liked symmetry, so there was even a door to nowhere so it would be symmetrical. We got to go out on the patio to enjoy the view - gorgeous. The Legislative branch is only in session 30 days a year in one year and 60 the next, alternating. This dates back to when most of the men were farmers and could only meet in Winter. There were lots of stairs and use of marble dust mixed with some other materials to impersonate marble on the walls. We also got to hear about Daniel Boone, "Kentucky's favorite son."
   For lunch we went for Thai food - it was okay. What we did next was pretty cool. We went to the "Rebecca Ruth Candy company" tour and museum. Two women started this candy company back in 1919. They were the original creators of the bourbon ball. They were even able to stay in business through the Great Depression and World War II despite sugar rations and tin rations. Ruth even persevered after everything burned down. A friend, named Fanny Rump: gave Ruth her whole life savings ($50) to start over and she did. It's still a family company with amazing chocolate. We got to see the whole process and all the machinery of the past. Van decided to buy cinnamon roll flavored cotton candy.
   When we were done with the tour and full of chocolate and bourbon balls, we went to the hotel in Lexington for some down time. We played Uno as a family and chilled. The boys and I went to the gym for a while. We had hotel provided sandwiches and soup for dinner.
DAY 11: After our 3 hour morning drive, we went to the Capitol building in Charleston, West Virginia. We got there at 12:08 and the next tour was at 1pm, so we went to The West Virginia State Museum Cultural Center. It stared out with an ancient land and prehistoric people section and went through current times, and what it means to be a West Virginian. The most interesting part to Justin and me was all about how the Civil War allowed West Virginia to finally break off from Virginia with the support of the North (W. V. became Union and V. became Confederate). W. Virginia had wanted this for a long time before this due to economic and cultural reasons. They felt neglected by the state government with only 4 roads running east-west, and only 1 state funded building (a library). Many soldiers switched sides during the way because they were just trying to defend their homes and families. Mothers day was actually stared by (and inspired by) a West Virginia woman who  decided that her and her daughter with the help of other women should help all the soldiers regardless of which side they were on during the Civil War. She organized groups to help in her humanitarian efforts.
  Time for a tour of the Charleston Capitol building. It was the 6th W. Virginia has had - built during the great depression from insurance $ of Capitols 4 and 5 burning down as well as a penny tax. They moved the Capital 3 times - up and down the river. They building had all kinds of chandeliers that were grand and sparkly. They bring the giant one in the rotunda down yearly to clean it, they raise it back up so it is always at max shimmer. Robert Byrd was the longest serving US senator in history. He served 51 year in Senate and 6 in the House of Reps. Obviously he was from West Virginia. He died at 92 years old.
  When our tour ended we drove over a Vietnam Veterans memorial that was like a giant sun dial that shines on the men who died during the day and corresponds to when they died. It was so hot and muggy that we didn't stay long. Next we headed to the Capital Market. It was a big farmers market with an indoor area as well. We bought some fruit and veggies to munch on. The guys got a deep fried soft shell crab to share. I bought a West Virginia calendar because the Mountain state sure is pretty! We were all still pretty hungry so we went to "Pies and Pints" for dinner. The house salad and cheesy garlic bread were yummers. It was suggest that we try the grape, gorgonzola, rosemary pizza and the bacon, chicken, smoked gouda, red onion and chipotle crema pizza (Justin couldn't get past the crema). The pizza's were unique, but we didn't love them. After that we stopped in to get some ice cream at "Ellen's homemade Ice cream" Ollie and Van decided to share a cinnamon cone with choc. ice cream. Not the best choice. Van took 7 licks, claimed he took 3, then watched Ollie like a hawk when he took licks. Justy really liked his chocolate waffle cone stuffed with Dutch chocolate, choc, chip raspberry, and hazelnut gelato.
DAY 12: After our 3 1/2 hour drive to Pittsburgh, which after stopping at Old Navy, Gap, Dick's sporting Goods, etc. to look for Pirates shirts took about 6 hours. We bought shirts for the boys, but didn't find what Justin wanted until we went to a shop right by the stadium right before the game. We tried to go to an Argentinian restaurant for lunch, but the parking situation in downtown was very stressful and Justy got frustrated when he made a wrong turn, so we made lemonade out of the situation and went to a place called "Cop Out Pierogies". It was a retired cop who liked to cook and his daughter was the waitress. She had been to 46 states (goal of 50 before his daughter's college graduation). It was pretty cool to meet someone else who has done this. We have officially taken the kids to 29 states and seen 16 state Capitols. The pierogies were very good. Justin wanted to have some in Pittsburgh because they are know for a strong Polish influence and population in that area. There was even a pierogi race at the baseball game with people in pierogi suits.
  After lunch we went to the home of a local artist, Randy, who turned his home into a giant work of art affectionately called, "Randyland." It was located in eeh Mexican War district. His goal was to beautify the area and help everyone take pride in their neighborhood, as well as being positive and happy. He has painted life into every square centimeter of the house, as well as personality. Not only that, he has turned his home into a destination and bright, cheerful landmark in Pittsburgh for neighbors to be inspired by and tourist to enjoy and learn from. The only downside what how hot and muggy it was while we were there.
  Back at the hotel we took some time to cool off and relax. At around 6ish we decided to head down to the game, got a shirt on the way, and then got a giveaway shirt as we went into the game. It was a pretty uneventful game, but fun to watch nonetheless. We got ballpark food at the beginning. I took the boys down to grab ice cream - what a melty mess! Oliven accidentally got Van with his ice cream on the shoulder and me on the back of my shorts on the way up the steps. Ollie said, "instead of in the back of the stadium I want to sit in the very front row, like we do at Vander's baseball games." There was a stand up for cancer with signs in the 7th inning stretch. The score was 2-2 in the bottom of the 9th inning and the Pirates got a home run. What a fun end! Everyone was standing and cheering. 3 minutes later we were back at our hotel.
DAY 13: Our flight home wasn't until 7:30pm, so we had some time to enjoy our day. We went to a super neat, 42 story Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus. It was awe inspiring, and could easily have been the great hall in the Harry Potter movies.The architecture alone with the soaring Gothic towers was enough for Justin and I to love it. It also had 30 nationality rooms that were decorated and gifted to the University from the city's ethnic communities.
There were all very unique and a window into other countries classrooms of the past (prior to 1787, which was the year the University was founded). I really liked Austria's with their fresco ceiling, cushy chairs, table for everyone to sit around that were cushioned and pretty chandeliers. It reminded me a bit of Gone with the Wind. Justin and Van liked Turkey with the wooden desk tables that folded down from the chair backs. The University uses all but 2 of the rooms for classrooms currently. We were there during Freshman orientation so we picked up a few tidbits of info. Justy got his souvenir wooden box from Poland.
  Lunch was a Creperia (yay for blinzes), then on to the Phipps Museum. I was a giant garden, a bit pricey, but huge and really beautiful. The kids got to do a scavenger hunt. There was a butterfly exhibit, like 20 rooms all with different plants and plant types, and a Rube Goldberg exhibit which we all really enjoyed. There were some roped off areas because of all the weddings going on there that day.
  We got back in the car and headed to Cleveland. We stopped for one last meal at the B Spot burger. I bought a signed cookbook for my cookbook club exchange in December.
  Okay, the trip is over, but a few things to remember about the trip were:
1. After Ollie finished writing about his day in his journal he would tear up th enotes page we gave him and say, "ticket punched."
2. There was an older lady who pointed to a banner being pulled by a plan in Chicago and she pointed at it and told her grand kids that she saw a kite. We joked about it every time we saw another sky banner. There were a lot since it was Lollapallooza.
3. Everyone one of us gave the trip an 8 out of 10, and day 9 was our favorite.
4. Van kept saying in a voice, "Hey mommy/buddy, want some cheese?"
5. The boys played a lot of Uno in the back seat of the Jeep.
6. It was a Michael Symon and ice cream themed trip. :)
7. We drove: 1630 miles, and our car kept track of the minutes our engine was engaged: 33 1/2 hours.