Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Our Trip to Kansas

I can't remember the last time I went away (out of state) on a vacation where the purpose was not to visit a friend or relative. Honestly... I'm thinking. Cliff and I went to San Francisco in 2005 for three days, tacked on to the end of a training he had to attend for work. I think that might have been our last real vacation where we just went to go. We spent a long weekend in New York city a few years back, staying with Cliff's cousin and exploring the city together. That was another fun time we won't soon forget. We went to Texas maybe 10 years ago or so, and stayed with his aunt Darlene, had dinner with his Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Donn, and did manage to spend a day exploring sand dunes on the beach and shopping the street markets in Mexico. That was a long time ago.

I'd like to be able to tell you that I fly off to some place warm and sunny with blue waters and sandy beaches a few times a year, but I don't. I have a lot of other things I like to do and a lot of people I like to see, so I tend to use my vacation time and my money on the smaller trips. The trips to Iowa for family reunions, the trips up north for camping, 4-wheeling, or just relaxing in a cabin in the woods.

For our honeymoon, we spent almost a week enjoying the wonderful and welcoming family cabin of my sister's husband's family up north near Minocqua, Wisconsin. We had a fantastic time enjoying the wilderness, paddling out on the beautiful lake, swimming, shopping in the quaint little towns, watching a lumberjack show, go-kart racing, and riding our motorcycle through the northern woods. We enjoyed dinner at a restaurant called Polecat & Lace and a drink (or rather a few!) at an irish pub called T. Murtaugh's Pub & Eatery. That's closer to our typical vacation than just lying on a beach some place sipping margaritas, although I wouldn't complain about a vacation like that either!

For our wedding anniversary each year, we do try to get away and do something fun together - just the two of us. One year we went up to Madeline Island for a long weekend, stayed at a big and beautiful bed & breakfast, went on a freezing cold and rainy boat tour of the Apostle Islands, spent a day sitting on a quiet beach that we had all to ourselves, ate at every restaurant on the island, saw an incredible and very very strange "fire show", hung out at Tom's Burned Down Cafe where we saw cavemen and puppet shows, and watched the island's 4th of July parade and fireworks. That was a great trip.

Another year we stayed in a KOA Kamp Kabin near Black River Falls and brought the 4-wheelers up for some redneck fun. We rode the four-wheelers all through the woods, stopping at local bars along the way for refreshments and food. It wasn't all crazy four-wheeling though, we also spent an afternoon soaking up the sun at the campground pool and enjoying ice cream sundaes. We even watched an unofficial barefood waterski practice on a farmer-made lake in the middle of a farm field. They even tried to ride a snowmobile across their lake - the snowmobile didn't make it, and they ended up having to "tow" it out of the lake with a 4-wheeler, That was certainly entertaining. We happened to also hit Black River Falls' town festival while we were there. While in town, we got something to eat and spotted a pedal-operated picnic table complete with a built in cooler. There were 8 or 10 people sitting around it pedaling it around town, having a great time. Now, why haven't we built one of those yet???

I think the last anniversary trip we took was to Wisconsin Dells, where we raced go-karts, shopped, ate our share of German fare at Essen Haus, did the Duck Boat tour, and yes, went to a water park. We even had an old time picture taken with me in fishnet stockings and a feathered hat and Cliff posing with an old rifle.

I admit, however, that we haven't gone anyplace for the last few years since I was first pregnant, then I had an infant, and then this year we thought we'd have to work that weekend due to the MNA nurses' strike. We didn't go anywhere and we didn't end up having to work, so we did end up having a nice fourth of July / Anniversary weekend at home and enjoyed the time to recoup from the recent stresses at work and give our yard a little long overdue TLC. More on that later!

So, although it's been a long while since we've sipped margaritas on a sunny beach and we've never strolled through paris's night lights, or scuba dived in the great barrier reef, we do have fun when we're on vacation and we really do enjoy quick little weekend trips to visit family and friends.

This summer Gavin and I seem to be doing a fair amount of traveling together. We went down to Kansas in June with my friend Carrie to visit my sister Kristin. We had a really good time. Vacation isn't quite the same with a toddler in tow, but we had fun and it was a nice pace to share with Kristin, who was 7 months pregnant! Gavin really is a good traveler, and didn't complain too much about the nine hour trip down there. It would have been seven hours if we had driven straight through, but we stopped a couple of times for bathroom breaks, snacks, and to stretch our legs a little. Having our friend Carrie along was so wonderful! She's a fun and easy-going travel partner and was really helpful when it came to keeping Gavin entertained and keeping an eye on him when we were in unfamiliar territory. As always, Kristin's home was welcoming and comfortable. When we got there, we all laid down for naps until Kristin got home from work. We spent the evening catching up, playing with Gavin, and enjoying dinner together of delicious BLT's and salads.

Gavin seemed to be wired and was not ready to fall asleep at 8:00 like he usually does. It may have been the strange surroundings or it may have been that I was in the room with him, but he played in his pack 'n' play for over an hour. When I finally decided to leave the room in hopes that he'd then go off to sleep, he cried. But, he did fall asleep. Overall, he slept pretty well, although he did wake up a couple of times during the night while we were there. He was usually quick to go back to sleep, but was once up for an hour before falling back to sleep. At least he doesn't cry during the night like he did when he was littler. Now, he just checks to see if I'm there and lays back down... or whispers "Mom" at me until I look at him. One time I woke up to him standing in his pack & play, peering over the side and stroking my hair. What a doll.

Saturday we enjoyed our morning coffee in Kristin's living room while rearranging her furniture. She wanted to make her living room feel more open and not have the loveseat to close to the fireplace. We tried a few options and it turned out perfect! All she needed now was a big area rug, which we found later that weekend for a measley $50 at a cool rug & fabric store. It's an awesome rug and the price was unbeatable. It was exactly what the room needed!

Our friend Katie was also in KS City for the weekend visiting her husband's relatives, so she joined us for the afternoon at the pool in Kristin's community. The pool is awesome and I wish I could have spent even more time there. (see pics below!) Unfortunately a pool isn't quite as relaxing with a toddler as it is with just your favorite three girlfriends! It was a hot and sunny afternoon and the water was cool, but not at all cold. The pool has an end that is zero entry, so we could sit in just a couple of inches of water and play with Gavin and the bath toys that Kristin let him use. There is also a waterfall type fountain thing in the pool that you can sit under and the pool is shaped a bit like a kidney so there's some nice separation between the deep end of the kidney where the "adults" are and the zero entry end of the kidney where we were.

As we were relaxing and enjoying the pool, we noticed an ominous-looking cloud headed our way. It was seriously the biggest, blackest rolling cloud I've ever seen. Well, except that time we were tent camping at Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls and we were out for a liesurely hike, about a mile from camp when the very biggest blackest rolling cloud rolled in and pounded us with hail, rain, thiunder and lightning, not to mention blowing our tents over before filling them with water. So, I guess the big, black rolling cloud in Kansas was the second biggest, blackest rolling cloud I've ever seen. It was rolling right for us, but we were still bathing in hot, bright, beautiful sunshine. As the cloud rolled closer, we decided we'd better pack up and start walking the block back to Kristin's place. In the two minutes it took us to pack up, the wind picked up and the patio umbrellas around the pool started flying across the pool deck. Katie and Carrie ran back to Kristin's with our important things like phones and cameras so that they didn't get too wet. Kristin grabbed Gavin and started running toward home as I grabbed the last of the stuff. There was Kristin, 7 months pregnant and toting a 30-lb dripping wet boy wrapped in a towel, running across the pool deck, dodging running kids and flying umbrellas. I caught up to her half way up the block and took Gavin from her. We hit her back deck door just as the rain came pouring down! Despite the crazy black storm cloud, we had a lot of fun. After the pool, we went back to Kristin's and ordered some take-out. Katie headed off to hang out with her family for the evening and the rest of us laid low for the rest of the evening.

Sunday morning we went to the zoo. I think it was possibly the hottest day of the entire summer. We had fun at the zoo, although we only made it through half of it. There is an African trail and an Australian trail. We chose the Australian trail, since it seemed different than what most zoos offer. It was neat, but a lot of the animals reminded me of the petting zoo variety. We saw llamas, goats, sheep, deer, kangaroos, birds, and a few kinds of monkeys. We even saw a momma Kangaroo hiding out in the woods with her little Joey in her pouch (see 2nd picture below). The kangaroos weren't in a cage and although visitors are asked to remain on the walking paths, the Kangaroos can hop right up to you if they want. Kinds neat!

The whole zoo was outside, but did have a fair amount of shade - the paved path through the zoo wove through some wooded areas and shady landscapes. The gardens and landscaping were as interesting as the animals.

The highlight of our trip to the zoo was the camel ride. Gavin and I paid a total of $4.00 to ride a camel and I have to say, it was the first time I'd ever ridden a camel. It was a little awkward - it seems that the back of a camel is a little lumpy! Actually it wasn't uncomfortable at all, it just looked like we were falling off the back end of the camel! Gavin had fun learning to say Camel too, "Commo".

It was so hot that day, we had Gavin stripped down to just his shorts and I actually ran through the sunny spots, pushing the stroller, until I made it to the next shady spot. The zoo had cool water misters set up in several places so you could stand directly in front of it and get really wet or you could stand a few feet away and just get a light cool mist. Gavin didn't like the mist, but I thought it was a great idea!

I love goats and the zoo had a few of those to visit as well, although they were in a penned area. One goat liked Kristin enough to climb right up on the fence to say hello to her! The goats were fun to see, but the sheep were the most fun to photograph because you were able to walk right into their pen and feed them and pet them. Gavin enjoyed being so close!

After the zoo, we went back to Kristin's and Gavin and I went to the pool for a while before we all cleaned up and went out to dinner. We sat out on the patio at The Elephant Bar and enjoyed a delightful and delicious dinner, but it was way more than any of us needed to eat!  

It was such a nice and relaxing weekend with my sister, my friends, and my favorite little boy!

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