A Day in the Life

The day we left. Look at those shirts we found the day before we left!

Before digging into a day in our cross country lives, let me share the how’s and why’s of our general traveling approach. When finally deciding to drive cross country we considered many options – camping, renting an RV, renting a car or driving our own car. After realizing that we would only be spending one or two nights in each location, I took camping off the table. We don’t own a camper and I refused to set up camp every other night. The astronomical cost of renting an RV, gassing up every few miles and paying nightly for a place to park, eliminated that option. In the end, we chose to take our own car; our Toyota Avalon possesses a sizable trunk, offers plenty of leg room and doesn’t hurt my back on long trips.

With camping officially out of the question, we needed lodging. How in the world could afford four weeks of hotel rooms? I began imagining us sleeping in our car at rest areas along the way. However, God would save us from this peril. You see, this is where Doug’s economical skill and determination really shine! Through travel miles accrued on business trips, credit card rewards and hotel memberships, Doug arranged for 24 free nights of lodging. Out of 31 overnight stays, we only paid for seven! Another money-saver: our hotels have provided free breakfast on 22 days and free dinner on two nights throughout our trip.

This is our luggage on a light day...there's actually some still in the car!

So now that you have a general idea of our traveling system, how about a taste of life on the road with the Perreault’s. More than half of our days are real “on the road” days, meaning we pack up all of our bags and load them in the car. This includes a suitcase for each of us, toiletries, a traveling medicine cabinet, bag of shoes, laptop, various other electronics, my pillow, personal bags for the car (with books, activities, stuffed animals, etc.), souvenirs, a snack bag and more! Doug uses his gifting for geometric and spatial strategy to pack the trunk in such a way that everything fits and we can still reach the lap-top, water, sun-block and umbrella.

Then we either head for our free breakfast or hit the highway. Days without a free breakfast are especially interesting; one morning we didn’t have breakfast until about 12:30 p.m. and all we could find was a cupcake bakery. So guess what? Cupcakes for breakfast!

Overall, we are pretty good car travelers. Doug and I both like driving and riding in cars, though Doug prefers driving. In fact, he has probably driven 90% of this trip, while Jacquelyn and I share the other 10%. Thanks to an ipod adapter, we can listen to our various ipods in the car. We even compiled a cross country play-list. Some of our favorites are “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Life is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts, “I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore” by Carrie Underwood, “Mountain Music” by Alabama, “Walkin’ in Memphis” by Marc Cohn and “America” by Chris Tomlin. Major bonus: as country music fans, we are almost always able to find a radio station that we like; and we especially enjoy all the contemporary Christian music stations – something we don’t have at home.

Jacquelyn and Christina keep busy reading, coloring, texting friends, using the laptop and Nintendo DS (thanks Grandma!), or playing car games and chatting with us. They have both previously experienced multiple road trips, even as young children. In fact Christina went on her first non-stop road trip to Florida at 3 months old in a van with 7 other passengers. (How that happened is a long story for another time!) You will not be surprised that Christina acts as our game coordinator, though she has a penchant for changing the rules mid-way through a game. Formerly inclined to motion sickness, she has adapted well and has even tolerated reading over winding mountain passes! Everyone knows when she has been in the car too long because she gets as silly as we have ever seen her. Then we all share some good laughs. Jacquelyn is a great big sister, playing with Christina and helping out as much as she can. More often than not, she prefers to sleep in the car, but that is not always so easy. I know she anxiously awaits a night in her own room and a chance to sleep all day!

We typically need stop every two hours or so for a restroom and/or gas. We had a whole conversation the other day about all the various restrooms we have experienced. They range from the large, clean, automated bathrooms in rest areas along I-80 in the Great Lakes area, to the small, unmanned rest areas with no soap (weird), to the adventurous gas station bathrooms, to national park outhouses, to a 2 ½’ X 4’restroom fitted with a mini sink and toilet at Dirty Sally’s in Ten Sleep, WY, that we like to call the “Alice in Wonderland Bathroom”. And that is just a few – I could go on, but I’ll spare you!

Eating is a little different every day, but in an effort to save money and time we try to combine lunch and dinner. This means lots of snacking and we’ve probably had ice cream for lunch more times than I would like to admit. Before our trip, we cashed in credit card rewards for $500 in dining gift cards, which also helps us save on meal costs; even still, food is probably our biggest expense.

Upon arrival at our hotel, we unpack the car once again and carry everything to our room. We use a luggage trolley, whenever available, to save time, energy and our backs. Once all the bags are in the room, we immediately begin searching for outlets in which to charge our laptop, three cell phones, three ipods, Nintendo DS and batteries for four cameras. Nope, this is not an “unplugged” vacation! Then we hang up bathing suits, still wet from swimming at the previous hotel and either flop into bed if it’s late, get ready for that evenings attractions or go for a swim.

Traveling out west, we gained an hour every other day or so, but now as we head home we are losing an hour every few stops. While no one likes losing time, being only one time zone away from EST makes calling home a lot easier.

The best news of all is that, so far, we haven’t killed one another. You may think that I am setting the bar too low, but don’t be so sure. Being stuck in a car for even a short road trip can bring many a family to the brink of all-out war. But 32 days, in such close proximity, without a break – even the mellowest of people might struggle – and we, my friends, are not mellow. Even amidst all the challenges, I believe our joy has outweighed our difficulties. Experiencing our nation and God’s creation together is a gift we will never forget!

Disneyland vs. Disney World

By now you all know how our family loves Disney World. I actually think, that if given the chance, I would visit every year. My dream vacation, aside from this cross country road trip, is to spend 2 (maybe 3) full weeks in Disney, staying inside the park and seeing everything at a reasonable, enjoyable pace. Disney always feels like a genuine escape; a place one can forget everything beyond the borders and just have fun.

Over the years, I have heard much commentary on the difference between Disney World and Disneyland. Mostly I have been told that the Land is nothing comparing the World and that if you are going to go, you should just go to Disney World. After my first visit to the Land, I see the reasoning behind this sentiment. Disneyland is what I would call “Disney Light” – same great taste but a little less filling. Yet for some families, this may not be a bad thing.

First, as most people know, Disneyland is much smaller than Disney World. Disney World has four major theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios – and two water parks – Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. While Disneyland consists of a mere two parks: Disneyland (equivalent to the Magic Kingdom) and California Adventure, a sort of mish-mash of the World’s other three parks.

 A smaller park disappoints in some ways, as there are fewer rides, shows and dining options. Also, because of its sheer magnitude, Disney World possesses an intangible power not present at Disneyland. In Orlando, one feels overcome by and absorbed into a completely new world, a place apart from time and free from the trials. Disneyland does not have this effect.

 The most shocking moment for us was when we entered Disneyland and looked up Main Street toward Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. At first I thought the parks centerpiece was missing! Sleeping Beauty’s castle is a mere dwarf compared to Cinderella’s Castle in Orlando.

Note its height in relation to the trees and Walt Disney's statue!

 Doug and Jacquelyn also mentioned that some of the rides, particularly the roller coasters, were disappointing, slow and less elaborate. Other rides, however, like Pirates and Small World were longer and more detailed. Though some people, like my step dad, would not consider extra time on It’s a Small World a good thing!

 A smaller park does have many advantages, though; and families looking for a “Disney Light” experience may find the Land a little more digestible. While there are still many attractions in Anaheim – too many to see in one day – they all reside closely together. This increases the sense of crowding (which I hate) but also decreases the amount of walking (yay!). A more compact park also means that you can see more in less time, particularly if you approach the park strategically. Another bonus: Disneyland and California Adventure sit directly across the street from one other, making park hopping easy and efficient.

The smaller more condensed layout extends to the area surrounding the park as well. At the Land there are only three hotels within the resort and they are mega-expensive. No value resorts here. But a slew of independent hotels surround the park for relatively reasonable rates. We stayed at a Sheraton outside the park (using mile points) and we were only a 10-15 minute walk from the park entry. All hotels appear to offer a shuttle service as well. For $13/day for the four of us, we used the shuttle service, which ran every 15-20 minutes. Those of you who have been to the World know that whether you are inside or outside that park, travel time is always a minimum of 20 minutes and can be more than 30 minutes if transferring from one mode of transportation to another. (The only exception is when visiting the theme park your hotel is based in; for example if you are staying at a Magic Kingdom resort you have a short ride or walk to that park, but visiting other parks typically takes much longer.)

So if you are interested in Disney but don’t think that you or your children can handle the magnitude of the World, Disneyland may be a good option for you. I think you can see all of both parks in two days at a fast pace, three days at a moderate pace and 4 days at a more leisurely pace.

The shows we saw at the Land were equal in quality to those in the World, and the smaller park enabled closer viewing. For the most part, this made the viewing much better. However, at the Land, “prime viewing” for night time shows must be bought or fast passed. For example, at Fantasmic one must purchase a pricey dessert tray ($59/$49 person) to gain entry to the closest sidewalks. For World of Color, a person must either eat dinner at an expensive restaurant ($40/person), purchase a picnic dinner ($15/person) or wait in a line (up to 90 minutes) for “fast pass” reserved seating. Unfortunately, unless one resigns to watch from the side or back, (which distorts the images projected on the water), viewing for World of Color is entirely reserved. The Land even has reserved seating for parades!!! I think this method is probably the product of limited space combined with L.A. mentality – out here, people seem accustomed to paying for what they want.

I personally missed the freedom of open space and the “first come, first served” mentality at Disney World. There, even the cheapest among us can stake out prime viewing early in the evening. Don’t get me wrong! We have paid for our share of dinners at Epcot’s Rose ‘n Crown, but that was because we chose a nice, leisurely dinner in front of the fireworks; not because we had no other options. Perhaps, if we had another day to spend in Anaheim, we would have waited for the fast passes or bought the $15 dinner; but with such limited time, we opted for the 10:30 showing of Fantasmic. At this time of night, the crowds were thinner and we were ready for a rest. We did not have reserved seating but we were just behind them with a perfect view. Strangely enough, this was our first Fantasmic experience and we loved it!

 The only other difference that stands out to me is the general lack of Disney camaraderie at the Land. At the World one has a sense of being part of something grand, even a sense of community. Don’t expect to do very much pin trading in Anaheim and “cast members” are not nearly as cheerful, magical or “Mickey-fied” as those at Disney World. (Though, our waitress was wonderful!) Basically, the Land has more of a general amusement park feel. As Doug put it, “Disneyland is not quite Six Flags, but it’s definitely not Disney World!”

So here’s my summary of recommendations:

1)If you are going to be in L.A. and you love Disney, go! It’s worth it!

2)If you are looking for a “Disney Light” experience, go! This is the perfect place to get your feet wet.

3)If you want a genuine Disney experience, the whole shebang, go to Orlando. It’s the real thing, baby!

CC Day 15 ~ Disneyland!!!!!

Day 15 Disneyland!!! Many of you are probably wondering why we chose Disney over Universal Studios. Well, we love Disney and with limited time we decided we would rather spend our day at the happiest and most magical place on earth. We also had nearly $500.00 of Disney cash – so the visit was basically free! Fellow Disney fans out there are, no doubt, waiting for my comparison of Land vs. World. Don’t worry, I’ll get there.

We began our day by hopping on the shuttle at 7:00 am. We were at the Disneyland park by 7:15 and it opened at 8:00. We attacked our day by visiting attractions not available at Disney World, that we hadn’t experienced before and/or have long waits. Then we hit some of our faves. After riding Finding Nemo, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio’s Daring Adventure, Mr. Toads Wild Ride and Indiana Jones, we went across the street to the only other park, California Adventure. There we rode Toy Story, Mickey’s Fun Wheel, California Screamin’, Soarin’ and Monster’s Inc.; after which we went back to Disneyland, got fast passes for Buzz Lightyear and rode Winnie the Pooh.

 Finally, it was time for lunch! We ate in New Orleans Square at the Blue Bayou Restaurant. Here the atmosphere is that of a dinner along the river in New Orleans at night. Paper lanterns and candles light the room, while the boats from Pirates of the Caribbean ride sail by. This was one of the day’s highlights for sure!

After a spin on Buzz Lightyear, we got fast passes for Splash Mountain and returned to our hotel room for a much needed nap. Had we not set the alarm for 5:30, we most certainly would have slept through the rest of our night! After dinner in the hotel lounge (also free!) we returned to California Adventure to catch the stage musical, Aladdin, which was fantastic. We especially enjoyed Genie (hilarious) and when the characters rode the flying carpet up to the balcony and mezzanine levels.

We then returned to Disneyland for Storybook Land (which we found is best seen at night, when all lit up!) and It’s A Small World. Here Christina found a hidden Mickey which was formed by the shadow cast by a light shining on three balloons that were part of the set. So cool!

We then rode Splash Mountain and Pirates before settling down for a great view of Fantasmic on the Rivers of America. We warmed up with hot cocoa and popcorn while waiting for the show to begin. Believe or not, we have never seen Fantasmic – we loved it! We completed our evening by riding the train to Tommorowland, taking one last spin on Buzz and doing a little shopping. We left the park at midnight and crashed as soon as we hit the beds! I think that’s everything but maybe not. This is a really long post so my Land vs. World comparison will have to come later. But if you’re a Disney fan and you’re considering a trip to the Land, don’t miss my review!

CC Day 12 – Confessions along US 1

Today we drove down the California coast on US 1. Unfortunately, we were plagued once again by the fog. I wish I could tell you that I was like Ma Ingalls, ever cheerful, never complaining, looking for the good in everything. But I wasn’t. Nope. Not at all. 

Most of you, unlike my poor family, have been spared the ugliness of my cranky side. Even if I don’t say a word, the intensity of my emotions can fill a room, let alone a four door sedan. Painful self-awareness of my crabbiness and the impact it has on those around me, along with feeling powerless to change anything, only makes me angrier. Doug tells me to trust God and I snip back that it has nothing to do with trust, but that I just don’t like what He (God) is doing at the time. Soooo mature.

As I stewed in the car, mile after mile, fuming at the fog that seemed to be almost mocking me (just a glimpse inside the head of Nichole), I contemplated my feelings. What was really bothering me? I realized that what I wanted most was to change the situation or at least to run away from it  – anything to stop feeling so miserable. But here I was, stuck on this drive and I couldn’t change a thing. Sounds a teensy bit like a control issue to me!

This last year, God has been revealing to me that my response to any situation I don’t like is to fight or to flee. If I am afraid, hurt, uncomfortable, angry…any situation where I feel something I don’t like…I either fight to change it or I run away. There is no middle ground. Apparently acceptance is not one of my strengths. Who would’ve thunk it? I can hear a question from one of Andre’s sermons, “Are you trying to deliver yourself or are you trusting God and waiting on his deliverance?” I love how God never abandons us to ourselves. How He continually calls us to a higher place by challenging us to go deeper in our relationship with him.

As the evening wore on, we drove up into the California hills and I apologized to my family for my bad attitude. I am so grateful for their love and understanding.

You should know that we did see some breathtaking views along US 1 along with a beach full of enormous, active and loud elephant seals. Did you know a male elephant seal can weigh up to 5,000 lbs.! In the spirit of Ma Ingalls, let me say that I have seen the sunny, bright view from US 1 countless times in movies and ads, but today was the only time I have ever seen the coastline covered in fog. In many spots, we rode beneath the fog, which covered the hill tops just above us in a misty blanket. Yet we could still see the cliffs, rocks, sand, surf, birds, roads, people, everything, in between the fog and water. The experience brought back childhood (and parenting) memories of playing beneath a fort made from blankets and living room furniture.

On the way to our hotel we watched an orange sun set over the golden hills and Ma Ingalls’ words kept coming to mind. “All’s well that ends well.”

CC Day 9&10 – Nevada, Tahoe & Baseball

Thursday we drove from Idaho to Lake Tahoe. The drive through what they call the “high desert” in Nevada was interesting. The drive was smooth, fast and easy thought the scenery was a little boring. We arrived at Lake Tahoe, which is a lake that rests – like a bowl of soup – inside a ring of mountains on the California/Nevada border, just in time to see the sunset. What a beautiful view!

We had dinner at Chili’s and found a Trader Joes’s which made us all feel a little closer to home even though we are thousands of miles away!

On Friday we drove down from the mountains to San Francisco. We decided to go into the city to do some shopping for the evening. As we were headed in, I asked Doug if we could check if the Giants were playing at home this weekend. I said it could be my anniversary present (which is today 6/26) but he just rolled his eyes. Really? What guy out there wouldn’t be thrilled that his wife asked to see a ballgame for their anniversary?!

Anyway, part of his reluctance was because we had checked the Red Sox schedule months and months ago and they weren’t going to be in any of the towns we were in on our trip. He didn’t want to pay to see just anyone. As we drove by AT&T Park, we saw all the fans lining the streets and Jacquelyn pointed out how many of them were dressed in Red Sox gear. I didn’t think much of that; Red Sox fans are everywhere. But there were more and more Boston caps, Ortiz jerseys, Red Sox sweatshirts. Finally we asked someone and sure enough, due to some scheduling changes with the LA Dodgers, the Red Sox were playing the Giants, right here in San Francisco!!!

Some would call that destiny – it felt like it to me! I even had on my hot pink Red Sox cap and Doug was wearing the team sweatshirt by brother gave him. Our plans changed quickly – how can you fight destinyJ 🙂 – and we bought four tickets on the top level just behind home plate. You don’t want to know what we paid…or rather I don’t want to tell you! But it was worth it. Our view was absolutely amazing. As Christina put it, “I like this because it’s like an aerial view.” The ballpark sits right on the edge of San Francisco Bay and from our seats we could see the water, sail boats and sky just over the bleachers and right field. 

I love baseball! I love baseball games! One of my favorite moments in life is walking from the dark tunnels of the concourse up the ramp or stairs and out onto the wide open, sunlit or lamp lit, green field. At that moment, a feeling something like freedom and expectant hope washes over me. There is nothing else quite like it. Even after a night of rooting for our team on someone else’s soil, watching a star player leave the game hurt, leaving 13 men on base and losing the game while down one, with two outs and the bases loaded (for the 3rd time) could dampen this girl’s spirits. Nearly 12 hours later and I am still riding the high. Doug said it best when he told the girls, “We can go home now. Mom’s vacation is complete.”

Well, we aren’t quite intending to come home yet, but I am feeling pretty great!

CC Day 8 – Yellowstone Part II

I have decided that Yellowstone is nature’s Disney World. The park is so large (3472 sq miles) that it has been divided into numerous smaller areas, such as Tower Roosevelt and Mammoth Hot Springs, just as Disney (only 40 sq miles) divides its parks into regions like Fantasy Land, Frontier Land, etc. Each area contains themed lodging, dining and gift shops while boasting multiple attractions that people travel to and from throughout the day. Yellowstone and Disney both require tremendous amounts of walking and some waiting, resulting in exhilarated yet exhausted children and adults. Both parks are meticulously maintained (with one exception – more on that later) and beautiful in their own regard – a feast for the eyes, ears, mind and heart.

 You nature enthusiasts out there probably think I have lost my mind so here are some important differences: First and most obviously, Yellowstone features spectacles of nature, not the creativity of man, engendering awe, solemnity, wonder and even humility. Also, while at Disney one may wait for the Spectra Magic Parade but at Yellowstone people stake out a seat in front of Old Faithful an hour in advance of nature’s performance. (That’s what we did! Doug even ran to get us lunch and we all picnicked around the geyser as we waited.)  Transportation at America’s first national park is up to you (unless you sign up for a guided tour) and, due to its vastness, this means lots and lots of driving. Most drives offer beautiful views, which often include wild life, such as buffalo, moose, elk and more. But this is no Animal Kingdom. You’re in their territory, now; no fences between you and that Grizzly Bear so be careful! The facilities at Yellowstone are appropriately rustic but well maintained. I  believe they offer too few bathrooms; and while the restrooms at information centers and gift shops are clean, the bathroom huts at attraction sites are really just glorified – and unclean – outhouses. This is my only complaint 🙂

 As many of you know, Disney World is one of my very favorite places. I laugh at myself as I admit that, because I am typically averse to commercialization and the like. My love for Disney is a mystery, even to me (except that it really may be the happiest place on earth!). NOW I have two favorite parks – man-made and God-made. I feel my life has reached what others might call a “zen-like” balance. Aaahhhh.

 Yesterday we finished up at Yellowstone by visiting the geyser basin, home to hundreds of geysers, colorful hot springs and bubbling mud holes. To describe them in writing would be futile. I have included an aerial picture of the Grand Prismatic Spring. (Just in case you are wondering, we didn’t take it!) The long, thin, tan colored line to the left of the colorful water,  is the boardwalk we walked along. This is just one of the many amazing natural wonders we witnessed. If a trip to Yellowstone is out of the question for you, I recommend a Google image search so you can see more!

On the way to our hotel in Pocotello, Idaho we drove through Grand Teton National Park, ate pizza in Jackson Hole and watched the sunset over the Idaho countryside. One really interesting fact about the land out here is how elevated everything is; even in the valleys we are a mile higher that those of you back home in CT. Just imagine what the mountains would look like from sea level!

CC Day 7 – Yellowstone Part I

Today we visited the eastern and northern portions of Yellowstone National Park. We drove in through the eastern entrance over a 9,000 ft mountain pass. When we reached the top, the temperature was around 45 degrees and there was so much snow it looked like late March or early April in CT. Even under a gray and misty sky, the views were stunning – white capped mountains on every side and waterfalls from the melting snow rushing down the cliff sides and underneath the roads.  

First, we stopped at the mudpots, which are basically small ponds of boiling water; the acid in the water turns the surrounding rock into clay which bubbles, steams and even rumbles and growls in some places. We walked along wooden boardwalks which protect people, like us, from being scalded by the hot, sloppy, gray mud. The only part we didn’t like was the smell – sulfur! Think hardboiled eggs, gone bad, times 1,000. Then multiply that by, oh, I don’t know, a million. OH! I can’t forget this: there were sections of the parking lot in that area blocked off because the asphalt had either been blown out or sunk in because of the geothermal processes going on there. There were just these holes left there in the parking lot, with steam coming out of them. I read about this and posted it on FB before we left. I can hardly believe it really happens!

Next we drove onto the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, an amazing two level waterfall. While there we met Dick Maher, of Maher Paint, from Avon, CT. He stopped to talk to us because he saw our CT plates. It was fun to see people from back home. As we continued our drive we saw more falls, amazing landscapes, rivers, streams, creeks and marshes. and even some Elk and Buffalo. Doug really wants to see a Bull Moose. I mean he really wants to see one! Maybe tomorrow. Christina, however, is glad to watch any cute ground animal, like a chipmunk or squirrel – but she is ever on the lookout for the tiny Pika. Of course she had to choose to search for one of the smallest animals in the park. 🙂

I convinced the family to see the exhibit about Yellowstone’s supervolcano. Fascinating? Yes. Comforting? No. At one point Jacquelyn said to me, “Why did you think it would be a good idea to come learn about this?” Oh, well. Not much we can do about it now, right?  Then we had lunch at the Roosevelt Lodge, which included drinking from mason jars and eating Roosevelt’s home made baked beans.   

Our final stop in the park was the Mammoth Hot Springs, my favorite part of the day. Here, magma pushes hot water up to the earth’s surface and, through a variety of chemical reactions (I won’t bore you with the details, but if you’re interested, google it!), the water solidifies when it is exposed to the air. Certain microorganisms, called thermophiles, thrive in the acidic water and color it blue, orange and yellow. (My inner geek is really shining through now!) The entire process results in pools of water atop terrace like formations, which then overflow into more and more terraces below. Over the years, if water stops flowing in an area, the terraces turn grayish white. But then, undoubtedly, the water will begin to flow somewhere else, creating new, colorful pools of water and terraces. Some terraces are shallow and wide, some are deep and stout like staircases. There were other formations too, though, like simple falls and even a big, orange mound (20 ft. tall maybe) that is growing so quickly it is making its way into the road. 

I was amazed by just how close we could get to the springs or terraces. Again, we travelled along boardwalks that stretched directly over and around the hot, colorful, sulfuric water. The entire area is plastered with signs warning people to stay ON the boardwalk and paved roads because the earth’s crust is so thin in those areas that one might just fall through to, well, who knows what? Some hot, boiling, sulfuric water, I guess – similar to what happened to the parking lot we saw earlier. 

I got to talk to my mom tonight and then we had a great dinner at Rosie’s in Montana. It’s also nearly a full moon. Aaaaaah. I know it was a long post but there was sooooooo much to tell. 🙂

CC Day 5-Mt. Rushmore, Black Hills, Devil’s Tower by Christina

Hi everyone this is Christina is blogging today! Yesterday we went to Mt. Rushmore and it was amazing to see the scratches on their faces from where they were carving. When we looked up through a cave you could see George Washington face through a crack. But you can only see it so much or eventually it loses its excitement.

When we were on our way to Devil’s Tower, we saw buffalo flooding the streets. They were everywhere. It was like you were in buffalo land. None were the same; there were babies and parents. Some were nice and some were mean, but the only thing you kept thinking was “What if? What if? What if?” After we finally got through the buffalo at one mile per hour, we finally got to Devil’s Tower.

Devil’s Tower looked like it was climbing its way to the sky. It’s a 1,000 feet tall and looks like a giant bear scratched the sides of it. Scientists believe that its leftover magma from a volcano core. When we were hiking around the tower we finally saw some people, a dad and his daughter. And of course as dad is he asks them to take a picture of our family. So we started talking with them and the girl was very nice. Her name was Kirsten and she’s going into 5th grade just like me. She seemed very nice and I hope we get to meet up with them again on their cross country road trip because we are going to alot of the same places.

Once we finally we got on our way to the hotel, there was a thunder and lightning storm. You could see the sunset through the thunderstorm. The sky was flaming bright orange and looked like it was on fire burning the land.

It was a great day and I miss you all.

Cross Country Update

I went to bed last night without telling you that Doug is related to the first person to go over Niagara Falls! Her name was Annie Edson Taylor and she went over Niagara Falls in a barrell in 1901. And yes, she survived!!! She tested it out  by sending her cat over first. The cat didn’t make it, but she wasn’t easily discouraged. Annie tenaciously added a little extra padding and, apparently thinking it was sufficient, climbed in and “took the plunge”. She survived with only a few bumps and bruises. Her photos and story are all over Niagara. We found one plaque on the Journey Behind the Falls tour and I took a photo of Doug, Jacquelyn and Christina with their famous ancestor. Photos will be coming soon.

Today we spent the day at Cedar Point Amusement Park. I am going to let Jacquelyn blog about it tomorrow (she’s sleeping now). I am sure she will have many more interesting things to say than I. Back and neck troubles have grounded this roller coaster enthusiast. Now my joy at amusement parks must come by living vicariously through others. I have grown to love watching people as they wait to go up a big coaster. The range of emotions is fascinating, from white knuckles to laughing to crying to taking deep breaths to making the sign of the cross. Wow….this is pathetic. Read more tomorrow and hear it from someone who did more than watch! HUGS!

Cross Country Day 1

All day I have been thinking about what clever things I can write to you about the first day of our family’s cross country road trip. Yet here I am with one thing to say: I am exhausted. Completely, totally, bone-deep exhausted. I am not complaining, but just telling the honest truth. Planning for this trip has taken over a year, although most of the credit for that goes to my husband, Doug. The last 2 months, however, have been a life lived at maximum capacity for all of us. Who knew how difficult it would be to prepare four lives for a 32 day road trip? Not me.

Exhausted or not, the train (actually, our 2000 Toyota Avalon) left today – packed full of, well, whatever we could fit,really. We drove 7 hours and 400 some-odd miles to Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. After checking into our hotel – which is, of course, under construction and, unless you want to pay $20/day plus tip for valet parking, you must park across the street and wheel/carry all your luggage the long way around the construction zone – we walked down the big hill to the falls. And oh are they amazing! Doug and I were here 17 years ago, when I was pregnant with Jacquelyn, but the girls have never seen the falls before. What a treat to watch their eyes widen as they ran up to the fence and leaned over the edge to get a better view. For about $50.00, we took a walk behind the waterfall. To do this we took an elevator down several stories into the earth until we reached waterfall level. Then we walked through various tunnels to experience different aspects of the waterfall. The first one took us out onto a deck of sorts, just below and to the right of horseshoe falls. We were so close to the cascading water that they passed out ponchos in the elevator to keep us dry – and yes, everyone put them on..together…in the crowded elevator. The next two tunnel took us to different viewing portals which were about 8 feet tall by 8 feet wide, and through it we could see the waterfall from the inside. Raging, white water so thick you could see nothing else. Pretty awesome!

The wildest part for me was the noise. As we walked through the tunnels, there was no escaping the reality that we were underneath millions upon millions of gallons of water fiercly eroding the very earth we were walking through. In fact, at one of the portals the front edge of the wall had lost about a foot of stone and there was loose rock in the tunnel. Yeah. I give myself a gold medal for not having a panic attack.

Well, that was the highlight of our day for sure. Oh, and we did get to see the Niagara Falls rainbow which happens when the sun shines on the mist over horseshoe falls! We then walked back up the hill (the smartest of you saw that coming) to have dinner and go for a swim. (I took a nap, Doug and the kids swam.) Only to walk back down the hill at 9:30 to see the falls illuminated in a rainbow of color and walk back up one last time. The colors were pretty but you are right, Mom, it’s not the same as colored water!

Now it is time for bed. Love and miss you all. Nichole