These are the 29 states the kids have been to so far in chronological order:
9. New Mexico
12. North Dakota
13. South Dakota
22. North Carolina
23. South Carolina
28. West Virginia
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)
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
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.
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.
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.