Tuesday, July 31, 2012

National Lampoon's Southern Vacation

Where to start? 
Well, I guess I'll start where we started...our driveway...on Saturday morning. 
On the 14th of this month Bryan and I (mostly Bryan) packed the car and we headed south. 
The plan was to take three days to get from our house to Bryan's sister's house in Enterprise AL to meet the up with the whole fam and then everyone would make their ways down to Florida later in the week.  We had some stops planned to keep the kids happy and we were content to take our time traveling to avoid meltdowns.  Our first planned stop, a little rock shop near Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky, was a bust.  We missed the exit and Lilly was devastated, as the rock shop was something she had been looking forward to.  So, we were desperate to find a replacement stop.  We settled on a Railpark and Train Museum outside of Bowling Green KY.  The best part of this stop was the way we got there.  I pointed to the sign on the interstate and Bryan turned off onto the exit.  I suggested we just follow the signs to get the museum while Bryan wanted to punch the name and address, which we didn't know, into the navigation screen, which I didn't know how to use.  After a few tense moments 'we' decided to hastily turn into a small parking lot to try and find the exact location of the museum.  When we couldn't get the museum to come up on the nav screen we 'discussed' our plan for a few minutes.  Now I was in the driver's seat and 'we' decided to keep going in the same direction and look for a sign.  Needless to say we both got a good chuckle out of the fact that we sat in a parking lot for 10 minutes arguing about where the museum was and the whole time it was around a curve and about 75 yards away.
So...anyway...here's Lilly riding one of the toy trains at the museum.  The lady who gave the tour assured us that she had been to Chicago, San Diego and New York and this museum rivals any of the museums in those cities.  I guess I'll not being going to any museums in those cities because I'll just be disappointed because I was sure disappointed by this one.  Oh well, Lilly had fun and Jack learned to say "choo choo" and enjoyed watching the model train go around the track. 
And, here's Bryan roasting Jack over a pretend hobo fire.
Later that evening we made it to Nashville TN, our first planned stop.  We didn't, however, plan very well on our hotel.  We decided that we might get a better deal by using price line at the last minute, a strategy that has worked well for us in the past.  But, this time our system failed us.  We ended up at the Hotel Indigo int he pouring rain.  Google it...really...if you are a young, hip black couple with no kids it is the place for you.  For nearly $200 a night it was nice, trendy and lacked a bathtub, elevator from the parking garage, luggage cart and most things that make traveling with a child more convenient.  It took Bryan three trips up and down a small stairwell to bring all of our things up to the room.  But, it was a nice place, the room was huge and we were able to walk to a number of restaurants...although, we kind of felt like we needed to sneak the kids in and out.
We settled on Italian and the kids ate great after a long day in the car.  Jack even discovered that he like calamari and an older woman at the table next to us complemented me on the behavior of my 'beautiful children'.  That was a first...and would be a last for this trip...
Jack and his calamari.
The next day in Nashville was spent walking around downtown, shopping and site seeing before heading to the Adventure Science Center.
Of course we had to get some cowboy boots in Nashville.
Adventure Science Center.  Please note the glass pyramid on the top right of the building.
Jack getting really involved in some trains.
Lilly on the magic school bus.
Jack.  Magic school bus.
When you first walk into the front doors you are greeted by two sets of stairs.  These stairs lead, obviously, to the second floor, but also into a labyrinth of intern organs that you climb on or into and they all lead up, up and up.  Within ten minutes of arriving I had followed Lilly into this maze and we emerged at the very top of the glass pyramid that you see in the picture of the building.  I don't like heights, but we were so far into the exhibit that I couldn't find Bryan and I couldn't let Lilly go on alone.  By the time we were at the top I was sweating, nauseous and dizzy.  Yeah for me.  When we got down and I told Bryan about the horrors that I had just experienced he was desperate to do it as well...but, without any of the nausea and dizziness...although, he tells me that the sweating wasn't from nerves, but from the sweltering heat of the top of the 3 by 3 glass pyramid.
Lilly at the top.
An exhibit that I'm not proud of, but it's one of the few pictures of my from out trip.  There was an aging experiment where they take your picture and calculate what you will look like in 10, 25 and 50 years after smoking or sun exposure.  As a non smoker I chose to see what I'd look like if I never use sunscreen again.  The results are not pleasing.  This is me at 82. 
The Adventure Science Center wore everyone out and we made pretty good time between Nashville and Birmingham AL, our next planned stop, so good in fact that we continued on to Montgomery with no issues.
Thanks Grandma for the travel pillows.
After smooth sailing from Nashville all the way to Montgomery AL, things started to fall apart.  It was almost 8pm Alabama time and we hadn't fed the kids or made a stop in a long time.  Our navigation system told us that we had about two hours of two lane country highways to go before reaching Bryan's sister's house.  We calculated that if we stopped to eat and stretch our legs it would be almost 11 before we arrived.  The thought of traveling for another two hours with crying children and then having to unpack and get those children to bed did not appeal to us.  So, we stopped for dinner, got a cheap room at a small Inn and ended our travel day.
At dinner Jack chose to haul his meal around in his construction equipment rather than eat any of it.
But, everyone was excited about the little hotel room.  It was an old fashioned, family owned, inn with about 20 small rooms and a common grassy knoll.  It was a great stop.  The kids played, and the owner actually brought out some of his kids' ride on toys, while Bryan unpacked the car.  The room had a double bed and one twin.  Lilly was beside her self with joy about the little bed just for her.  And, in a rare moment of kindness, she offered to let Jack sleep with her in the little bed.  He refused.
We were up and at 'em early the next morning and made it to Cam and Ed's by about 10:30.  We, of course, caught all sorts of hell for our decision to stop with so little time left to drive, but we handed over the kids and all was forgiven. 
Jack almost immediately found a seat that he liked...the dog bowl.  He spent quite a bit of time here, the only problem was that he couldn't get out of his own.
Jack and Granddad having a serious conversation about big trucks at dinner.
One night, Morgan's friend came over to meet the fam and Lilly was quite taken with her, especially when the older girls started taking turns playing the piano and singing. 
We spent three days at Cam and Ed's and then made the under two hour trek to the beach on Wednesday.  Well, it should have been under two hours, but our navigation system decided to get cute and send us to a beach resort about a 20 minutes away from the one that we were actually staying at.  But, eventually we made it to the villa, unpacked the car chose a room and headed to the beach.  Actually, we headed to dinner, but when Lilly laid eyes on the beach it was a done deal...she was going to get to that sand and there was no talking her out of it.
Of course Jack wanted to play too.  About a foot from the steps leading down to the beach he stopped, dropped and started digging in the sand with his backhoe.
After a kind of tumultuous start to the evening, that included getting lost on the way, circling a parking lot several times while looking for a place to eat, only to finally find a place through a Winn Dixie parking lot, we ended up having a great dinner and Lilly lead the boys to an ice cream place while Jo and I did the shopping for the rest of the weekend.  The next morning we were ready to hit the beach and in a couple of hours Cam's crew joined us and we were in full force.
Lilly on the beach, exfoliating herself with sand.  There was enough sand in the tub that night to make our own beach.
I don't think Jack ever did realize that there was a large body of water nearby, he mostly just played in the sand as if he were at home in the sandbox, or on some kind of job site.
After the beach Lilly, and almost everyone else, wanted to rinse off in the pool.  Within minutes Lilly swallowed several gallons of pool water and immediately threw it back up along with some of her lunch.  Only those of us in our little family group saw it and we were all out of the pool in seconds...except Lilly...so, Bryan had to stay in with her.
After he got out, Jack lead Uncle Ed and Matthew around the pool and demonstrated his new driving skills when he, and in turn both of the 'adults, would stop every couple of feet, prop his foot up as if it was on a gas pedal, turn his like a steering wheel and say, "brrrrrrm".
The next day started off as kind of a dud.  We woke up to rain and it continued for several hours.  But, the moment it stopped Bryan, along with Wes, had Lilly and Jack out the door and looking for fun.  They found it at the other end of the resort in an area called Harbor Walk Village.  There were shops, restaurants, bars and random activities.  Jack rode in the the stroller, but Lilly got to jump on a trampoline.  Jo and I got there just in time to see them strapping her into the safety harness.
She was a little unsure at first, but eventually started jumping higher...
and higher.  She was all smiles when her turn was over and asked to do it again.  So we steerred her towards some other things.
Lilly driving a remote control boat.  Not sure what Bryan is doing.
Jo, taking on the role of stereotypical tourist, if only she had a large camera around her neck too.  Oh wait...that's me.
Leave it to Lilly to find a stage...and Jack to find something dangerous to climb on.
Aside from the group picture that follows, this is the only picture of me on this vacation, and one of the few of Morgan.  Please notice that we had to take it ourselves.
We had been so impressed by what Harbor Walk Village had to offer that after the kids got up from their naps we headed back over there for dinner and entertainment.  But, not until Jack had his after nap cuddle and snack with Matthew.  Not sure how much of the trail mix Jack actually got, but he seemed happy.
Our only group picture.  Even though I had big plans to get a nice picture of all of us together this is the only one that I remembered to take, or rather remembered to have the server take.  If you look really closely you can see Jack at the end of the table.  And, you can look as close as you like, but you aren't going to see Ed, although I promise he's there.
In a vain attempt to impress Lilly I put aside my fear of heights and motion sickness and go on a zip line for the first time ever.  I briefly imagined myself (on a 10th anniversary trip that I'm sure Bryan is planning) zip lining through the canopy of the South American rain forest and thought that this would be a much better time and place for a panic attack so, I gave it a try.  The smile you see in the picture below is fake.  I was nervous and felt sure that I was only moments from either my own death, or the humiliation of climbing back down the steps in front of everyone and passing small children who were on their way up to bravely zip line across the small man made lake. 
Well, I did it.  The first step off of the platform was one of the hardest of my life.  But, after that it was a lot of fun and I can' wait for that trip that Bryan is surely planning.
Clearly, you can see how impressed Matthew is by my bravery in overcoming my fears.
After I was done risking my life our heard made it's way to the arcade where Jack got to ride a motorcycle and Lilly robbed Matthew of about 20 minutes of his life that he'll never get back.  He volunteered to help her chose what to buy with all of her tickets.  It's probably not something that he'll ever do again.
Just hanging out with a big truck and drinking some milk.
Not sure what Bryan's doing in this picture, but it just wouldn't be a beach vacation without this ridiculous yellow flowered shirt.
While all the other kids played on the playground Jack used his playground time to hand out piles of rubber mulch.
Within 60 seconds of Lilly being on the playground Bryan had lost sight of her, but heard almost every other child calling her by name.  She's never met a stranger.
Getting a ride on the way back to the car.
Story time with Grandma.  Obviously, Granddad is more into the story of Barbie the Pet Vet than Jack.
Lilly had woken up from her nap with a fever the day before, but seemed to feel OK, but today the fever was higher and she just wasn't herself.  So, instead of a big adventure to the beach everyone relaxed around the villa for a little while and did some fishing.  Lilly was actually the only one to catch anything and it wasn't even a fish.  It was a snapping turtle.
Did I mention that everyone was fishing in their pajamas?
Lilly noticed some 'friends' a couple of doors down that were outside and fishing too, but when we explained that she shouldn't go near them because she wasn't feeling well she was content to wave and say 'hi'.  Jack on the other hand continued waving and saying 'hi' for about ten minutes.
PJ fishing with Daddy.
A little later Bryan and I decided to go to the pool.  We were hoping to get Lilly out of the heat and that the cool water might bring down her temperature and make her feel better.  In the spirit of togetherness everyone decided to join us at the pool instead of ditching us for the beach.  It turned out to be a fun pool day filled with water squirters (which lead to threats of violence) and a swim race (which could have lead to a heart attack).  I think Bryan and Ed both would have killed themselves to beat Matthew.
But, they didn't need to over exert themselves, they just put him in the middle.
And, pinched him out at the end. 
Bathing beauties.
Getting a ride from Daddy on the way home from the pool.
After naps Ed insisted on going to the mall.  Morgan and I were all for it until we realized he meant the Bass Pro Shop, but by then it was too late to turn back.  So, Lilly got her picture taken with the giant shark.

Jack drove a boat.
And, everyone went to see the giant fish in the aquarium.
Then, we saw the train.  It is obviously intended for little kids, but Lilly asked Matthew to ride with her in such a way that refusal was not really an option.
We played mini golf.  That's really all that I'm going to say about that.  It was pretty much a disaster.
When everyone walked off of the golf course (without finishing our round) the Maynards went one way to drive go karts and we went the other way to drive the ones that Lilly could ride on with Bryan.  At first we weren't quite sure what she thought about it.  She held on and wouldn't let go to wave at Jack and I, and she never cracked a smiled, but when the ride was over she was smiling and excited and claimed to enjoy it.
Before we were even out of the car Lilly noticed the little ferris wheel.  So, after go karts she wanted to take a ride.  As we waited in line her excitement only built and when it was finally her turn to get on she was beside herself.  Then, when the ferris wheel started she circled around by us and yelled, "It's going really fast!"  And, when she circled around again she joyfully, and very quickly, yelled, "This is very scary!"  At the end though, she was smiling and wanted to go again.
Every time I pointed at the swings, the only thing that Jack was big enough to ride, and asked him if he wanted to take a ride he would shake his head 'no' and point at the train and say, "choo choo".  Poor guy, he just didn't get it.  But, I was finally able to talk him into the swings.  And, he was determined not to smile.
The next day was our last beach day so I figured it was time to break out Jack's new shirt:  Have you seen a little boy with blonde hair and blue eyes and a t-shirt that says 'bull shit'?  (If not, then you clearly haven't seen 'The Jerk' and you probably think we're horrible parents).
After dinner on the last night we walked across the street to do some shopping because the money that Lilly brought to spend was burning a hole in her purse.  This may come as surprise, but she bought a shell necklace.
We had a great time in Florida, but best of all was just spending time with Bryan's family and watching Lilly, Jack, Matthew and Morgan interacting with each other.