Category Archives: I have Family

Vacation: The Mitt (Part 5) — Journey to Hawks

The next morning we were to meet Tony’s parents and his 2 uncles for breakfast at a cafe in Boyne City.  As it happened, the cafe was across the street from an enormous wooden play structure.  What is it with Michigan and these enormous wooden play structures?  Never have I ever seen so many amazing wooden play structures in my life.  California is all about plastic structures that burns-your-bum-in-the-sun and that lasts forever.  And how is it that wooden playgrounds stand up so well to the extreme weather that Michigan encounters?

As I wandered through the play structure, following “William the White Rabbit” (again with the Alice in Wonderland theme), I noticed that I was walking through quite a few spider webs.  Offhandedly, I thought to myself how busy those spiders must have been to spin their webs so quickly overnight and how bummed they must be that the tall human was destroying the carefully woven web of captivation.  Then I learned a bit later (from talking to one of the other adults who was there with his grandson) that this particular playground had been closed for a good long while, and that it had just reopened that day, and the ribbon cutting ceremony for the reopening ceremony was at noon.  The timing of it all felt rather fortuitous.

Eventually, though, we had to load up in the car, go back and pack up our stuff, and hit the road.  As we drove back to the farm, I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to understand my delight when I found a giant metal chicken.  There’s a story behind this, and if you’re ever interested, feel free to ask.  But that giant metal chicken totally made my day and gave me the energy to face the day ahead.

Because… MORE ROAD TRIP (see previous post)!!!  This time, however, we were following Tony’s parents as we headed to the area where Tony’s dad grew up, and where Tony spent many of his summers in his youth.

We made a stop at the Cross in the Woods shrine and parish.  The walk out to the cross was the beginning of the ramping up of my mosquito phobia.  Anywhere there is stagnant air in humid places, there is likely to be a mosquito or three lingering around, and if that’s the case, then they will find me.  So I kept my step quick with an eye for avoiding the caterpillars that seemed to be dangling from trees like an aerial obstacle course.  I didn’t know anything about this particular place, except for what the sign in the parking lot said, so all my reading about it has been done after our visit.  When I saw it, it was rather jaw dropping… as one might expect of a 28′ bronze statue hoisted on a giant wooden cross.  From their website (link):

The sculpture of the crucified Christ was titled “The Man on the Cross” by the renowned Michigan sculptor Marshall Fredericks. It is made of bronze 3/8″ to 1/2″ thick. It weighs seven tons, is twenty-eight feet tall from head to toe, and the outstretched arms span twenty-one feet. The figure of Christ is attached by thirteen bolts 30″ long and 2″ thick that were made when the figure was cast in Norway. Fredericks wanted to portray Christ in a peaceful way. It was his dream to “give the face an expression of great peace and strength and offer encouragement to everyone who viewed the Cross”. Christ is symbolized just at the moment when He commends Himself to His Father. The sculptor received special permission from the Vatican to omit the crown of thorns and the wound on Jesus’ side. In 1992 because of damage to the crucifix caused by weathering and pollution, it was decided to clean the corpus. The Jensen Foundation for Art Conservation spent several weeks cleaning the corrosion from the bronze figure. It was then lacquered and waxed. Fredericks requested that the Cross be painted in a light tan tone to emphasize the bronze corpus. The corpus is waxed by volunteers every two years.

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After that, we headed to a McDonald’s/Gas Station/Gift Shop all-in-one combo place where you could fuel yourself, fuel your car and commemorate the visit with a souvenir.

We passed Moran Iron Works in Onaway, Michigan.  On their vast lawn, they have enormous metal sculptures of the World War II aircraft carrier Bunker Hill and a bust of George Washington.  According to Moran Iron Works’ website, Tom Moran (the owner of the company), is quite the artist and has done other items of art, which he either donates, gifts or displays throughout the state of Michigan.  You can see his art here:  Link

We stopped at a local grocery store as we neared our destination to stock up for the mosquito apocalypse that I was suspicious we were heading into.  Tony also grabbed a small can of bug repellent in a cheery orange canister and nonchalantly dropped it in the wheel well near my feet.  Then as our rental car reached more rural locations, our cell phone access got more and more spotty and finally disappeared altogether, coinciding with our arrival at The Kamp.

(Side note:  According to local lore, all “hunting lodges” or “cabins” in Michigan are called Camps.  I’m not sure why this is and, apparently, no one else really knows for sure, either.  When I inquired, there were a lot of theories that were spoken, but no hard facts were presented.  From the moment the name of it was mentioned, I changed the spelling in my mind to The Kamp, because “camping” to me is something you do in a tent.  So, camping in a building is more glamorous and, thus, should be dressed up with a K from the very start.)

We pulled into the parking area of The Kamp and a cloud of mosquitoes greeted us with great anticipation.  Like true vampires, they had somehow caught our human scent long before we even knew they were in existence.  As we sat there captives in our car, 25′ from the Kamp’s front door, mosquitoes pinging our windows, our cell phone access gone, like a super hero, Tony bravely stepped out into the cloud of vampires to run into The Kamp to open it up for our occupancy.  Four mosquitoes slipped in before he could shut the car door, and I grabbed that cheery orange canister of bug repellent and frantically sprayed them.  Now, mind you, bug repellent doesn’t work quite like an insecticide would, killing bugs on the spot. No, no, it doesn’t, and I knew that.  But I sprayed enough of it that they drowned in it, and from then until the end of time, the seats of the car should have been invisible to them.   I had unbuckled William in preparation for going into The Kamp, and as he climbed into my lap, he bravely declared, “It’s OK, mommy, I’m the Bug Killer.”  I stared at him in horror, for he was an innocent.  An untested.  He had never seen a mosquito in-person before this day.

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My purse slung over my shoulder, my son’s hand in mine, and that cheery orange canister in my other hand, I opened my car door and yelled, “RUN, SON, RUN!”  And I blasted that bug spray in a cloud all around us like it was a massive weapon of destruction with a tiny nozzle, while we ran for our lives to the door of the building.  In retrospect, I suppose I could have just casually sprayed us before we got in the car after we visited the grocery store and that likely would have been sufficient.  Or, you know, even as we exited the car at The Kamp, but that sort of rational, calm thought did not seem to make sense in the face of desperate, hungry, ravenous, starving mosquitoes who all had big eyes, sharp teeth, a kamikaze attitude, and hadn’t eaten all winter long, and here we were, served up in beautiful Volkwagen Jetta platter, just in time for dinner!

–To Be Continued–

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Vacation: The Mitt (Part 4) — Journey to Boyne City

After our visit in Kalkaska, we loaded back up in our rental car and got back on the interstate.  We’re driving along and wouldn’t you know it?  We found that road painting truck again.  I was kind of surprised, because DON’T THESE PEOPLE HAVE A HOME SOMEWHERE?  Shouldn’t they be having the “What are we having for dinner?” conversation that unites couples everywhere with SOMEONE?

We lingered behind them for awhile, and then the person behind Tony roared past us and the truck with a great big gust of wind, and that was all we were waiting for.  A cue that passing them (when safe to do so, of course) was legal.  With that, Tony floored it and we were on our way.

I remember road trips with my mom and brother with great fondness.  It was the adventure we had together as a family that bonded us with mutual experiences which we would remember with love and alchemy for the rest of our lives.  We would stop and take pictures with interesting sites and pose with each other, an arm slung around each other’s shoulders, as proof that we had been there, here is what “there” looked like at that moment in time, and we loved each other, by golly.  See?  Evidence.  Look how happy we were together!
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OK, well, maybe that’s a bad example.  Let’s try again a couple years later when we were older and more mature …

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Uh… well. Huh.

Well, this road trip experience with Tony and William was quite similar.  Except now that I’m the adult I can eject myself the moment the car stops and close the door, leaving the madness contained inside strapped helplessly in the child’s car seat in the back!  It’s not always awesome to be a grown-up, but sometimes it has its perks!

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Because now I’ve got a kid in the back seat whose toes seem to suddenly be  7 inches long and they reach into the front seat and poke us in the armpits.  This kid, who when he climbed in the car, the first thing he said was, “I don’t like this car. It doesn’t have a snapper.”  Confused, we asked what a “snapper” was.  He didn’t expound at all, instead he exclaimed with great delight, “Oh!  Here’s the snapper!”  And he reached with his extended toes and started snapping the cigarette lighter cover repeatedly.  OH, OF COURSE.  THE SNAPPER.  YIPPEE!!  Then we have the “Are we here  yet?” question.  And, everything beyond that is just bonus.  Pure bonus.   For your viewing pleasure, a video with lots of bonus footage!!  Go ahead.  Watch it.  You know you want to.

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And I began to ask myself why I was being a hero.  Exactly what kind of bonding are we experiencing here?  The survival type of bonding?  A weird twist of the Stockholm Syndrome, except William is our captor?  And that’s when the internal negotiation begins with myself.  When the “I will never…” part of it becomes the “the trip is over two hours and we need to concentrate on where we’re going.  Yes, I know we stay on this interstate until it doesn’t exist anymore, but we need to concentrate, dammit!  Concentrate on the silence.”  And I hand the child his iPod which has short movies on it.  And breathe a sigh of relief at the instant silence in the car.  Suddenly, the trees are greener, the grass is prettier, the road ahead melts back into a possible harbinger of good things instead of a never ending connect-the-dot maze leading straight to hell.  Suddenly, I can enjoy the journey instead of wondering where the hell our destination is.

And then your child hands his iPod back to you and tells you he’s done.  He doesn’t want to watch a movie. He doesn’t want to play games.  And you hear, “Dun dun dunnnnnn” in your head and momentarily give consideration to actually picking up a hitchhiker, because a real live person would certainly entertain the child, wouldn’t they?.

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There might have been a slight bit of panic in my mind when Tony handed me his cell phone and said, “Here, call my dad and find out where they are.”  I reply, “What do you mean, find out where they are?”  And then I call his dad and find out that they are not at his aunt’s farm, that no one is at his aunt’s farm, his aunt’s farm where we are supposed to go and sleep is empty of people, and all of the people who might welcome us to his aunt’s farm, those people are all over at  Uncle Al’s house having dinner.  A nice, grown-up, leisurely dinner at 8:45 PM with elderly people, whose children have left home and live on their own as successful contributing members of society.  So they have no comprehension of my anxiety, which was rapidly escalating because of the REASON of that anxiety, a delirious 4 year old in the back who needs to go to bed.  And Tony’s all, “Calm down, it will be OK!”  And I hand the phone back to Tony, while his dad is explaining something about how to stop by Uncle Al’s house, and said something along the lines of, “I can’t deal with this…”

We found Tony’s aunt’s farm, laid out just as he remembered it, stretched out along a hillside.  A barn standing across a single lane dirt track, a tool shed of sorts beyond that, a meadow beyond the barn, all framed like a perfect picture by tall trees.  Grateful to be there and grateful that out in the sticks of Michigan, people don’t always lock their doors.  Shocked that it was still light outside at 9 PM and grateful that I had packed black out drapes, we hustled inside and set up for William’s bath and bedtime, and prayed for a good night’s sleep.

The road trip wasn’t done yet.   The next day we had TWO MORE HOURS, maybe longer, depending on how fast Tony’s dad planned on driving, and how many stops he might be thinking of making.

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More About Last Month’s Vacation.

In a previous post, I shared one of the funny moments that happened late in our vacation while it was still fresh in my mind. I also shared some tidbits of things we did while on vacation in William’s monthly post. I wanted to share an overview of all the things we did.

Our airline experiences this time were much better and on par with what I expect from Southwest Airlines. We managed to rack up $400 a person in complimentary vouchers from Southwest for the shoddy way they treated us last October, and those vouchers mostly funded our trip to San Francisco the end of May and our trip back to Nebraska. Sadly, since they did so well, that is the end of our free ride. Thank you, Southwest Airlines!
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We stayed with my dear Aunt Marjorie (paternal side) for a few days while we visited the Omaha Zoo and Lauritzen Gardens again. We had visited those places last October, but our gardens visit got cut short due to a fast moving rainstorm. They have a model train garden that is quite amazing to watch, it’s so detailed! So we visited that again, and also walked up to see the two real-size, huge, famous engines they have on display.
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We were well pleased with our visit to the zoo last time, except they had ended the season of camel rides and their train wasn’t running the day we went. This trip it was overwhelmingly hot and humid. While the weather wasn’t necessarily a surprise, it was challenging for me (us?) because we’re used to California’s weather. Sadly, I wilted quicker than I expected in the heat. While at the zoo, We managed to meet up with some friends, a lady I know from an online Facebook group (and her family). Fortunately, they were willing companions for our agenda and didn’t protest when we suggested going and getting lunch. She had her two boys with her, the older of them shares a birthday with William. William LOVED meeting him and I loved hanging out with her. Tony pretty much gets along with anyone, and her husband was great to converse with. So, we kind of went to get some lunch and then just never stood back up again until it was time to leave.
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The timing of our trip was stipulated by a family gathering that happens annually the last Sunday of July in Albion, Nebraska. So, we did a road trip from Omaha to the middle of Nebraska, a two hour drive made longer by construction and ill-timed traffic lights on a timer in the middle of nowhere.
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My uncle (maternal side) graciously hosted us in their basement, which was blissfully cool and mostly comfortable. They are gracious hosts and very accommodating to quirky travelers. I highly recommend them. I just love staying with them on their farm. They have animals galore… cats and kittens(!!), dogs, horses and ponies, goats, guineafowl, cows, and… I’m sure I’m missing naming a species here. Also, my cousin has two girls and William just loved playing with them!
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The drive to the family gathering was mostly on dirt roads, which William thought was fabulous thanks to the off-roading scenes in the Cars movie. It was made more entertaining for me by texting with my cousin, who was in the vehicle in front of us. She acted like a tour guide with such things like, “This is corn fields on your right and soybeans to your left. Upcoming to your right is a house where no one famous lives.” She would switch the types of fields appropriately. As we drove, we passed a farm that had a bunch of old buildings on it. There were a couple of churches, a sheriff building, and other things. It looked like a little Western town. I later learned from my uncle that the owner of that farm had a vision of building a little town, but he passed away and now his family doesn’t know what to do with the buildings. I guess his vision isn’t theirs.
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At the family gathering, the couple who hosted it are 2nd or 3rd cousins, once removed, to me, I think. I’m not really sure. Anyway, they have grandkids around William’s age, and while the kids weren’t in attendance, their toys were. William and my cousin’s girls had a fabulous time playing down in their basement. They have a pool table down there and William loved putting the balls in the holes and then listening to them rumble to the end. Best kid entertainment ever! I enjoyed seeing one of my cousins who I haven’t seen since he was 6 or 7 years old, and meeting his wife. There were also other distant relatives there and it was just an enjoyable relaxing time. The food was set up buffet style, entrees on one side of the kitchen island and various “salads” (the notion of salad is very different in the Midwest vs. California) on the other side. Also, desserts.
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The days went quickly (surely a sign of a good vacation?) and before we knew it, we were headed back to Omaha to stay with my Aunt Marjorie one last night and catch our flight the next morning. Now… where do we go next?

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A Story from Vacation

We just got back from traveling to Nebraska and Iowa yesterday. We stayed part of the time with my darling aunt (my dad’s sister) and my uncle (my mom’s brother), and their families, as well as visiting with other of my relatives during our stay. It was a wonderful time. Not so relaxing as one might think or expect, but I don’t expect that these days. In fact, I just laugh when people ask if it was relaxing. No. No, it wasn’t.

What I hope for is that my son will build the kind of memories I had as a child with my cousins with his (2nd) cousins and that my aunt will get to know my son, who is the only continuation of her (deceased) brother’s genetic line.

I’d like to share one of the stories from our trip that will have me laughing for years to come.

My cousin’s youngest daughter, Abby, just turned two years old. In fact we celebrated her 2nd birthday with them while we were there. She doesn’t say much, but has these unimaginably huge blue eyes that communicate (along with her pointing fingers, body language and her giggle) pretty much most anything she needs. Monday morning, the last morning we were out at the farm, I was busy with a project that my aunt asked me to do and Tony was carrying suitcases out to the car.

William was in the house, playing with the girls. They had been playing hide-and-seek, a game that has moments of loud and moments of quiet. So when things got quiet, I assumed they were in the hiding part of the game until I heard William yell out, “MOMMY! I NEED YOUR HELP!”

I got up quickly and asked him what he needed, mostly to track down where he was in the house by the sound of his voice. I found Abby standing one step into the bathroom, her eyes huge and her finger stuck in her mouth conveying all sorts of uncertainty and concern. William stood further into the bathroom, his underwear on backwards and pulled halfway up his legs.

“Did you go to the bathroom?” I asked curiously.

“Yes!” He replied, matter of factly. “I went poopy and I also peed. I didn’t flush it yet.”

“Oh.” I responded. I went over and checked the toilet and it was as he said. “Did you wipe?”

“No.” He answered, and exasperation entered his voice to a level only a 3 year old can muster, as he continued, “I told Abby to wipe my butt, but she didn’t do it. That’s why I need your help.”

I glanced over my shoulder at Abby, her finger still stuck in her mouth, her eyes huge as saucers and her diaper soggy, and visible below her little dress. I smiled a little and said, “Yeah, dude, I don’t think she knows how to wipe butts yet.”

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Memorial Day Weekend.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, we went to San Francisco. We’ve been there several times before, so we pretty much knew the things we wanted to do while there, but we knew it would likely be a different experience with having a child along.

William is a remarkably good traveler, so, not surprisingly, we were actually able to do most of the things we had on our list. The price we pay for traveling with him is researching and scheduling time at a playground once or twice while traveling, so he can have something that’s “his” on the itinerary, too. That’s about the only concession we make, though.

To start, Southwest stopped us when we were boarding the plane and invited William into the cockpit to say hello to the pilots and look around. Dude, I didn’t know airlines allowed that anymore! It was really neat!

When we got to SFO, the car rental agency had overbooked themselves and, so, when we arrived, the check-in line was a mile long (we should have pre-checked in, doh!) and when we finally got out to the parking structure to claim our car, there was a grouping of people standing there, and they literally had no cars available. The workers were running to other agencies and “borrowing” cars from them. Exhausted, I took one look at the chaos, spotted a bench off to the side, and went over there with William and wilted on it. One of the guys who worked there chased me down and told me he’d be back with a car for me. When he came back, he had a fully-loaded Chrysler Town & Country van, proclaiming it to be a free upgrade. Before the guy could finish his sentence, Tony had claimed it and we were on our way. Sort of. We had to navigate our way around the guy in front of us who was trying to start his GPS in the parking garage, but… yeah, mostly we were on our way. And for William, vacation will never be the same again… because the “fully-loaded” part meant that he had a DVD player for movies while driving around. ha

We were generously invited to stay at Tony’s cousin’s apartment. They live right down near everything we wanted to do, while they were in Hawaii for the weekend. (Which answers the question of, where does someone who lives in San Francisco go on vacation? Hawaii, of course!!) They saved us mega-bucks in hotel costs, plus we were super comfy in an awesome and convenient part of town.

Our first day there, we found a little rose garden where William was pretending he was a rabbit, hopping around, twitching his nose, pretending he was nibbling flowers and various other rabbit kind of stuff. It was around 7pm and we had just finished walking Lombard Street. One of the city workers told us she needed to lock the gates of the park, and William started crying, heart-broken. He’d been having such a good time, but sadly, the lady needed to do her job. A woman and her friend were walking by and felt so bad for him, she offered a granola bar to us from her backpack. Even though we declined her offer of the snack, the compassion and kindness behind her offer meant the world to us.

When we went out to Alcatraz island the next morning, our intention was to do the garden tour. We get a lot of island history and are allowed to go in cordoned off areas that are normally off limits. It’s a special thing, free, but only once a week on Sunday mornings. William wanted to ask the docent 10 million questions, and I kept telling him he had to listen, not talk, just like he does in library story time. He was not a fan. At the end of the tour, the docent announced she had one more story… when she finished that story, William said, with a hurt feelings look in his eyes, quite loudly and repeatedly to me, “We’re done! We’re done.” I would feel guilty, except… if I can tolerate 3 hours in a playground with a bunch of kids, dirt, sand and germs, he can certainly tolerate a mere 45 minute tour about plants, birds and history, especially since it was book-ended by running around time and boat rides. We caught the same boat back to the mainland as the docent did, and when she caught sight of William, she told him, “I need more people like you on my tours, you liven things up!”

The Golden Gate bridge was awesome as usual… since we’d been there last, they’ve made some changes to the pedestrian traffic, bikes go on one side of the bridge, foot walkers go on the other. That was a nice change, and one I appreciated for the safety aspect of it. When we got on the bridge, William requested, “I want to walk on it all by myself!” and so I let him down. His grandma D. had done a fantastic job of building the hype about the bridge, so he was super excited about it the whole trip. When the Southwest flight attendant gave him a coloring book, he spotted the bridge on there and said, “That’s where were going!!” Of course, he also spotted the alien spaceship representing Roswell, NM and said we have to go there, too, because that’s where Buzz Lightyear lives. ha!

The other highlight of our trip was our dinner at Scoma’s. I utilized the opentable app to schedule our reservations, and ended up rescheduling twice because it just didn’t fit in with what ended up happening for us each day. I was grateful for being able to do that on the fly, and we had a fantastic meal. I branched out and tried their salmon this trip and was ever so glad for it, because it was melt in my mouth delicious. Tony was sad to discover they no longer serve lobster tail, so he ended up with some sort of lobster dish that he was fairly happy with.

Oh, and a vacation update wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include potty talk, right? So, there we were driving around and I realize I have to go to the restroom. Like, bad. And things just aren’t the same down there for me since giving birth, if you know what I’m saying (a post for another day, I guess). So we hunted down a public restroom, and I hopped out and waited in line. Because there’s a line for all public restrooms in San Francisco. Thankfully, I made it… in case you were wondering. In kind of a karmic universe balancing itself out thing, when we went to Pier 39, I was shocked when I walked past the public restrooms there and the line for the MENS room was super long. When does THAT ever happen?

I had a bit of a run in with TSA when we were heading home… I was wearing William through the inspection point, and I passed the metal detector and hand swabbing test. However, in all the hulabaloo, I forgot to remove my netbook from my backpack, and instead of them just simply removing it and re-scanning it, they decided to have me go through a full body pat-down, which meant I had to remove William (essentially giving him freedom in a super busy airport), and they dumped all the contents of BOTH my purse (which HAD passed the scan) and my back pack (which hadn’t passed) out in bins to hand inspect, swab, and finally re-scan. Tony had gone ahead to the gate, so he had no idea what was happening. They denied my requests to communicate with Tony, they denied me going after William when he wandered off (I had to verbally coax him back)… words can’t even express how helpless, violated and anxious that experience made me feel. And when they crammed all my stuff back in the bags, I couldn’t find my boarding passes!!

Thankfully, Southwest redeemed themselves in spades to me this trip. The pilot of our plane even came to the end of the gate and reassured me they were holding the plane for me while they reprinted my boarding passes. The flight attendants were super sweet to us. We were very blessed to have had a great experience with Southwest this trip.

I guess now we’ll see how Southwest does when we fly in July… and we’ll see if TSA responds to the letter I sent them.

Pictures from our trip can be seen here: Click

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Travel Escapades, Part 3

Between travel escapades part 1 and 2 lived the peanut butter and jelly part of the trip. The good stuff between the bookends. The seeing of people we love. The visiting. The time spent with family. The memories made. The laughter. The exploring of new places.

Because of the mess on the flight out, we lost a half day of time that I had planned to spend with family that Saturday. My aunt had made a special dinner, which she put away for another day when we let her know we wouldn’t be there. Normally early to bed, early to rise, I was grateful that my aunt & uncle were still up (watching football) when we finally did get there at 11:30 PM. I was also grateful that we miraculously did manage to get a decent night’s sleep. Side note about sleep and traveling with William: I’ve learned that it’s better for everyone if I just sleep in the same bed as William when we’re traveling, especially for that first night, I just go to bed when I put him to bed. If I don’t, then he wakes up repeatedly crying (different house, different bed, it makes sense) and then I spend far too much time calming him down and getting him back to sleep, only to have it repeat again in an hour. If I go to bed with him, he’ll wake up, but will reach out a hand, find me and go right back to sleep on his own with no problems.

Sunday my aunt had her family over, so William got to play with my cousin’s grandchildren, and I got to visit with the grown-ups, people that I always enjoy spending time with when we visit there. I especially enjoy the quiet moments of conversation that I have with my aunt, and it always seems like they’re too few and too short, because those conversations always seem to happen late at night when we both need to be asleep. Those late night conversations are also the reason I like to stay in her home, instead of a hotel. For some reason, one loses those vulnerable visits with family if you’re staying in a hotel. Thankfully, my aunt loves me enough to put us up.

My aunt also passed on some family heirlooms — a child’s rocking chair made by William’s g-g-g-grandfather in 1868, and a handmade quilt that we believe to have been made by William’s g-g-grandma. Getting those items home were a bit of a feat, a worthy feat, to be sure. We bought a sturdy box and bubble wrapped it, but the measurements were too big for “free” check in with Southwest. We priced out other options and ultimately decided to customize the box so it fit within Southwest’s dimensions… and, we are so very grateful that despite all the things Southwest screwed up, they did get those two items home for us without damaging them.

On Monday, we went to the Omaha Zoo, which is rated to be in the top 10 zoos of the United States. After having visited it, I can see why. While large, it is really well laid out, so a lot of ground can be covered in a minimum of time. We visited the big cats first, then meandered over and took the tram and the skyride. After which we went to the playground, where William played with the peacocks. Then we went through the gorilla exhibit, their desert dome and their aquarium. It was definitely a full day and we really enjoyed ourselves. Upon leaving, William informed me that, “I’m going to cry about leaving the zoo.” So, I guess it’s safe to say he had a great time. The Omaha Zoo offered half price tickets to us as a reciprocal program to members of the Santa Ana Zoo. So glad I read about that on the zoo’s website!

On Tuesday, we went to the Lauritzen Gardens. I love botanical gardens (remember my visit to the botanical gardens in Oklahoma City in 2004 or the ones in Hawaii?) and these were just stunning. Upon arrival, we took the tram tour, and then went and had lunch at the cafe (which closed at 2pm). The food at the cafe was amazing! After lunch, we walked back to see their miniature model train garden, which was actually one of the primary reasons for visiting there. The structural elements of the tracks are handmade, even the bridges, from twigs and branches, etc. There are six trains that run, three above and three below, as well as a cable car that goes back and forth. Sadly, it started POURING rain about 20 minutes after we started to look at it. They shut the trains down when it rains to preserve them, so we left. If I had known that it was going to rain and that we would be leaving so quickly, given that’s what we were there for, I would have made that garden our priority and gone there first.

That evening, we had dinner in Old Town Omaha at a place called Spaghetti works with my uncle Paul, his wife and their daughter. Their son wasn’t able to make it, sadly. I haven’t seen those two cousins since they were small, maybe about William’s age. It was kind of neat to see her all grown up and to see my uncle play with my son’s Hot Wheels with him across the dinner table. It was a good evening.

On Wednesday, we went to breakfast at the Cracker Barrel, and then visited the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. It was an interesting walk-through and able to get through it within an hour or so. That evening we went back to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge to let William run some steam off, and also to replicate a picture we took when he was 11 months old.

Tony came down with a cold on Tuesday, so he was feeling under the weather. We delayed our departure to my uncle’s farm on Thursday, allowing Tony a little more time to rest. I had hoped to be out there by lunch time, and felt badly that we weren’t given that she had prepared lunch for us. Instead we made it there in time for dinner, which was all homegrown — steak fillets from a steer they grew, tomatoes, potatoes and ears of corn from their garden. It was kind of startling to realize, that with a little effort and land, a family actually can be self sufficient in this day and age.

Friday, we spent visiting and playing outside. William played on their swing/slide combo in their yard, played with the litter of kittens who were exploring their home in the woodpile. He also “helped” carve some pumpkins with my cousin’s 2 girls. We went to my cousin’s house after dinner to check out her goats, calf, bunnies, dogs, cats, hens, and a pony.

Our day ended too quickly, despite extending it the best we could with a late bedtime. We were up early Saturday morning to make the drive back into Omaha to presumably catch our flight home. All the stress involved with loading the car and sadness of saying goodbyes.

Pictures can be found here: LINK

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Filed under I did something Special, I have Family, I Stimulate the Economy

Travel Escapades, Part 2

On Saturday, October 4, 2014, we were scheduled to fly out of OMA at 4:20 PM, through LAS, into SNA.  We sadly departed our visiting with family in Elgin, Nebraska at 10:10 AM that morning in order to make our flight.  I had forgotten my camera’s charger at my aunt’s house, so we wanted to swing by and pick that up on the way to the airport (a 30 minute detour).  While Tony drove the 3 hours into Omaha from the country, I checked our flights online (thanks to Smartphone technology), and I discovered the flight was delayed from OMA to LAS.  We continued onward and upon arriving into Omaha, discovered the flight was even more delayed.

I called Southwest customer service to clarify what was going on, and was informed that there was a “ground stop” in LAS.  She said our flight from LAS to SNA was on time, however, our flight from OMA to LAS would be arriving into LAS too late to make the connection.  Basically, our connecting flight would be taking off while the flight we were on was over Colorado.

 She presented us with an alternative to depart the next morning, Sunday, October 5, 2014, at 8:15 AM (OMA-PHX-SNA).  We took the last 4 seats available on this route, as all other flights that day were sold out.   This left us with no option but to stay the night in Omaha and, as such, we needed to extend our rental car reservation for an additional charge.  

 The customer service rep also indicated that when we checked in at the airport to note to the gate agent that we would be eligible for pre-boarding due to the inconveniences we had experienced.  Particularly, since two of the people in our party of 4 had purchased Early Bird Check-in, which given the lateness of the flight change was a moot point (putting us in the “C” boarding group).  Additionally, remember, we were on a full flight and got the last 4 seats.

 The next morning, I spoke to the supervisor at Gate 18 about issuing us pre-boarding passes, and he refused to do so.  Since he was unwilling to honor the promised pre-boarding, we requested, as an alternative to pre-boarding, that he change our tickets to Business Select.  He said we would need to pay $40 per ticket.  The only concession he made was to refund the Early Bird fee that we had paid.  Despite explaining our situation, and knowing that our flight from OMA to PHX was sold out and would be a full flight (meaning 30+ people in front of us), and pointing out that in PHX we would only have 35 minutes to make our connection, and less time than that if our flight from OMA left late (which it did indeed end up departing late).  Upon arriving in PHX, and waiting for the 30+ people in front of us to deplane, our connecting flight was already boarding… and actually ended up departing early! We easily could have been stuck in an airport again! It is shocking to me that, given all the extraneous variables explained to him, that he absolutely refused to accommodate us in any way, and didn’t seem to care at all whether we made our connection in PHX.

 Also, contrary to what I was told on the phone from Customer Service Rep, about the reason we had to reschedule our flight (she said that it was due to a ground stop in LAS), the supervisor at the gate in Omaha informed us that the delay out of OMA the previous evening was due to the Chicago fiasco from the previous week… I’m not sure which story was true, but it seems to me that there was ample room for Southwest to be more accommodating, helpful, and plan better.

 Finally, as if it were a grand finale to Southwest’s incompetence, after we made our connection in PHX and settled in our seats to head to SNA, I began to nurse William who was coming down with a cold (ear issues).  If a child is coming down with a cold, their sinuses and ears are more sensitive to elevation changing, and breastfeeding can help alleviate that, as well as provide comfort.  I was asked twice by the male flight attendant on that flight to cease breastfeeding and buckle my son into his seat during takeoff and landing.  All three of the female flight attendants on that flight walked past us, noticed and said nothing, but he felt it necessary to say something twice?  In retrospect, he had taken a special interest in William, commenting on how big is is, and then to note that we were breastfeeding on top of it, kind of left me feeling as if I had been singled out by him.

 In all the previous flights that I’ve flown with Southwest, or any other airline, I have never been asked to stop breastfeeding my son while taking off or landing.  Before flying, I always check the airline’s policy concerning traveling with children, with breastmilk, with nursing, etc., and the only thing that Southwest’s website states about breastfeeding is the following, “Southwest welcomes nursing mothers who wish to breastfeed on the aircraft and/or within our facilities.”   Perhaps Southwest is intentionally leaving its breastfeeding policy vague so that it can be interpreted liberally by its flight crew, or perhaps Southwest thinks that by keeping its policy vague they are helping nursing moms.  Obviously, my situation demonstrates otherwise. 

As a nursing mom, it is difficult to “follow the rules” if I don’t know in advance exactly what the rules are. For instance, I would NEVER have latched my son, who had been through the wringer this past week with travel fiascos, prior to take off, if I had known that I would be asked to stop nursing him for take off.  Generally speaking, one doesn’t just “stop nursing” once you’ve just started and your child has gotten a letdown.  My son was on his last bit of sanity and had been in meltdown mode because, among other things, we had turned off the movie he was watching when we were landing on the previous flight (and I nursed him to calm him down while landing without comment from the flight crew, by the way) and had to unlatch him, much to his displeasure, to make our extremely tight connection and promised he could continue nursing once we got on our next plane, because I didn’t know there would be a problem with it.

 If there is a difference that a child under 2 (lap child) may nurse upon take off and landing, but a child over 2  (or a child who has their own seat) must be in their own seat during take off and landing (no nursing), then the airline’s policy should state that explicitly. I have always chosen to fly Southwest in the past for many reasons, one being that I’ve always believed them to be a family and breastfeeding friendly airline.

Either way, as a breastfeeding mom, I strongly suggest that Southwest educate all its employees and flight attendants about Southwest’s breastfeeding policy, as it is stated on the website.  If the breastfeeding policy on Southwest’s website needs to be clarified, then I strongly suggest it be done immediately.

I mailed two letters last week, one addressing our outbound flight issues and the other addressing our return flight issues. As I stated previously, there were so many ways that Southwest could have made these situations OK, and they failed on every single one of them.

It’s a good thing I don’t have anxiety attacks about traveling anymore, because I would be a serious wreck after all this mess.

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Filed under Entertainment can be Expensive, I have Family