Monday, October 28, 2013

Leaves Aplenty!

The weather has been so cold, and we've all had a touch of something or other for the last week or so, that I didn't want to get out in the yard and rake those leaves that had to be done. This weekend though, we had fantastic weather. Just look at that gorgeous sunshine in the pictures! That weather provided the perfect opportunity to do yard work, and a lot of it.  It turned out just me and little man were free to do it...and do it we did. My son worked his little tush off!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Most Surprising Place I've Visited

 Nebraska is full of surprises, good ones!

Not too awful long ago, I decided it would be a good idea to get my final degree. I researched schools and programs that I liked, and finally decided on the one I wanted to apply to: University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The hybrid option played no small part in my decision because it allowed for me to do a good deal of my doctorate-level work from home (not an option that is easy to find). There are several really good universities close to us here in Michigan, but they are all an hour and a half away, and driving that daily, especially in the winter, never appealed to me. What that meant for us, however, was long summer trips to Lincoln, to attend classes on campus (the hybrid option requires on-campus class attendance).

Now that all of my course work is done, and I am working on the dissertation, we no longer have to go to Nebraska in the summers (we didn't go this summer), and I actually missed it!!

Nebraska was such a pleasant surprise!! I'm not going to lie. Prior to my first trip, I thought Nebraska was going to be all about watching the corn grow, or in other words, I thought it was going to be b-o-r-i-n-g.  So totally not so!!!

First and foremost, the people in Nebraska are so nice!!  That is my absolute favorite thing, hands down. People just seem very genuine there, and I like it.

A friend of mine told me to be sure to eat at Lazlo's!

The second thing is the food! Nebraska folks know how to eat!! I cannot tell you all of the good meals we had while visiting. Every single restaurant was downright delicious.

And they have football. Nebraska is a state that loves their football team. The Cornhuskers are a part of the Big Ten now too, and I think they're a good fit. I have to tell you, there is something exciting about driving up to the stadium, even in the off-season. I would love to go to a game.

While we were there, I was busy a lot because in addition to my classes I was also prepping for my dissertation work (killing two birds with one stone while in the state), but we did get some play time in.  One of the places I liked best was the Capitol Building.

Everything about the building was appealing to me, it was vast, clean, rich in detail, and organized well for the business at hand.

Even the floors were gorgeous in the Capitol Building (Lincoln)

View from the top of the Capitol Building (Lincoln)

We went to the observation area at the top of the building. I like to get the town view from up high, and Lincoln, as you can see, has a lot of trees!

Another cool thing we did was visit the State Museum of Natural History which has some really cool exhibits and information we didn't know prior to our visit. That was one of my favorite things to do.

Just outside of town was James Arthur Vineyard, and it was a beautiful place to visit.

James Arthur Vineyards

I loved the grounds at the winery, which is where I spent most of my time while hubby sampled the wines and cheese (not fun for kids ;) ).

We found a new friend while we were roaming around.

University of Nebraska-Omaha

In addition to our trips to Lincoln, there was one semester where I enrolled in a class that took place at the Omaha campus. Omaha was incredible. The buildings in the university were clean, welcoming, and pretty! The faculty and staff were kind (I wish I'd have known Alissa from Planet of the Apels when I was there!!), and everything was very organized and well put together.

Spezia was my favorite place to eat in Omaha, I like it but others with us preferred the bustling (but still charming!) downtown area, and I admit I loved it there too. Omaha, like Lincoln, was filled with good food, nice people, and had charming additions like musicians on the street and horse-drawn carriage rides. Though I am true blue (or true red?) to Lincoln,  I actually liked the city of Omaha better. It had a homier feel to it.  

One of the things the class did that I was in was take a behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. That was a very (and again surprisingly so) cool thing to do.

Inside the Butterfly & Insect Pavilion at Henry Doorly Zoo

I liked everything I heard while at the zoo. There are a lot of educational programs going on there, and the administration seems to have a strong community bent that extends way beyond networking (very cool!).

All in all, Nebraska was just a huge surprise for me, and I loved everything about it. Of course, I've never spent a winter there, and if I did that might change my mind. I like my state just fine too, until winter rolls around. ;)

Some trips you expect to be fun, majestic, wonderful, whatever, and they might turn out 'meh.'

Nebraska trips for us turned out to be just the opposite. I thought Nebraska was going to be boring, but it turned out to be anything, but (as you can tell from my unusually long post!! lol). I like Nebraska, and if you ever get a chance to go, I say give the nod, and get to packing. :)

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Old Man on the Country Road

There's an old man who walks along the country road, when I'm doing the early morning school run. I assume because he is carrying a brief case, and dressed in a suit, that he is headed to work. If you know country roads, you realize they are not the safest of places to be walking...there's no sidewalk, the terrain is rough, and cars don't always see you.

I have seen this man walking every single day since school started (just this year), and there have been several times I've wanted to stop and give him a ride. But I do not. Not when the kids are in the car, but truth be told, I probably wouldn't even if I was solo...because you just never know.

When the harsh weather happens in, I hope he's not still out there walking.

Humanity should make me stop. Fear of safety prevents me. I'm mad at myself for not stopping, and I'm sad (maybe that's not the right emotion to express how I feel) that I am too scared to stop.

Do you ever let fear prevent you from helping others, when it wouldn't be hard at all for you to help?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cedar Point

A lot of you know we lived in south Florida for a very long time. No matter, every single year without fail, we have made our way to Ohio to visit friends, family and the amusement park. My kids love Disney World, but they love Cedar Point too, and if you ask them their favorite amusement park they always say Cedar Point, hands down. My kids are all thrill-seekers (the second oldest joined the craze a few years back), and no one beats Cedar Point for roller coaster thrills.

Cedar Point has roller coasters galore (we're talking 15 or 16 of them), many of which win awards. This year the big draw for my daughter and I was The Gatekeeper, the new one they have, that is also the tallest, fastest and longest wing roller coaster in the world.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Travel Funnies


The picture is blurry but you'll still get the gist of things...

Yesterday I posted something about travel, and someone said they didn't care for airports much, but that wouldn't stop them from traveling. It's not my favorite part of the trip, but usually things go pretty well. We have, however, had a few things happen.

In Germany a police officer deliberately sent his drug-sniffing dog over to my teen boy to sniff his luggage while we were walking in the airport. My son was mortified/outraged at the stereotype, and I was dying laughing. I still laugh if I think about it.

In one country the police in the airport had guns, very unsettlingly large guns, that they carried around like military.

My daughter has been singled out for a pat-down 70% of the time since she was like 12 (I'm not kidding, it's a standing family joke, but we do find it a tad ridiculous).

On our last international flight there was a child in front of us (one of two in his family), and half way through the long trip, he discovered my son directly behind him. He would lean over, touch my son's Kindle screen to 'help him play,' try to take his stickers, which my son was willing to share anyway, and various things like that... even when it was dinner time (ew, no germs around my boy's food, please), the mom let her son hang way over the seats (see very first picture of this post). I told the boy it was 'time to turn around now' a couple of times when we needed a little peace. Invariably he'd come back, which was okay for my son (he enjoyed the company), and okay for us a little, but still there was the, "Hello, are you even paying attention to your child???" thing going through my mind.

Eventually, when the plane landed, the child was leaning so far over the seat to try to get something of ours that he fell over. A complete, over-the-top-of-the-seat, half-somersault fall. We were standing, collecting our things, and his fall knocked my entire seat cushion off. I bent down to pick the child up. He thankfully wasn't hurt but my arm and hand got pretty scraped up from the exposed seat.  I handed the mom her child, and she STILL didn't say anything, just took her boy and started collecting their things. All I could do was think, 'Geeez.'

Anyone else have airport/plane stories to share? Or find it ludicrous that a parent would let their child hang over a seat like that on an airplane? No judgement, but as for me, I would never...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Paris, France

Standing in front of the Musée d'Orsay

This is where I should be today, well not today since the museum is closed on Mondays, but you know what I mean. :)  Driving home from the kid-run this morning, the feeling to travel enveloped me. It does that from time-to-time, I'm used to it. I get these overwhelming urges to just go-go-go. I suspect I got it from my father. He passed when my mom was expecting me, but every once in awhile I hear about his spontaneity, or willingness to just go-go-go, and I'll think, 'ah, that must be where I got it from.'  No one in my childhood family likes to travel like I do, most of them don't even like to fly. ;)

Thankfully, my kids like to travel and they enjoy the places we go. Me? I'm busy saving for the next trip as soon as the first one is over. Why? Because I love it so very much.

Some of our friends and family don't 'get' the travel thing, they can't understand why we take our trips. I'm always surprised at their disdain for international travel, or their lack of support that we want to go. For me, it's the only one thing I'd change in life. I'd have started traveling much earlier, had I known how much it would mean to me. There are so many places to go, so many things to see, learn, experience... and today I wish I was in Paris. I was dreaming of it on that drive home this morning. I could feel it, see the Seine in my mind...and so I came home and pulled out the photo album. And there it is...and the pictures help. A little.  I'm still dreaming of our next trip though, and saving. :)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Crazy Dog

Crazy dog! Not to be confused with the cute robotic dog, Zoomer that I just reviewed. :)  Last night my family went out to eat in a little sleepy town about 45 minutes from home. We live in a little town too, but this particular place has a restaurant with dishes that are s-c-r-u-m-p-t-i-o-u-s, so every so often we make the trip.

It has become tradition for me and the kids to walk around the little area (outside) while we're waiting on our food. Hubby stays at the table with a newspaper (and loves it). On this particular day there was a huge St. Bernard dog sitting on a porch we had to walk by. All three of us noticed him at the same time.

"Aww...he's cute," piped my son.
"Eww, he's just sitting there staring, and it's creepy," contributed the teen. ;)

I remember thinking vaguely that he looked like a statue, he was so still. That was right before we got directly in front of the steps he was on and he ran out as fast as he could, clearly trying to intimidate us. He succeeded.

The rest of the evening was filled with my daughter's spontaneous giggles as she remembered me wrapping myself instantly around the 5-yr. old.

"Hahahahaha, that was so funny the way you wrapped your whole body around him."

Whatever. People can do strange things when they're startled: Fight or Flight. For sure.

No harm, no foul, and I love dogs as much as the next person but in hindsight I'm wondering what the owners were thinking. Their dog could have easily snapped his line if he wanted, and he was way bigger than either me or the children. Call me overly protective or paranoid, but I'm thinking the pet should have been more properly secured.

Have you ever done something in a startling situation that totally surprised yourself? I'm sure I have before, but this is the first one I remember in a looooong time. :)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

#WW: Baby Girl Rockin' the Up-Do!

She looks SOO much like her daddy did when he was her age (minus the little ponytail on top of her head ;) ).
Little sweet, awesome, cute grandbaby.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Six Flags Great America

Disclosure: We received two complimentary tickets to the park. All opinions stated, however, are genuine and entirely my own.

Seems like your favorite amusement park is always the one you frequented as a child, and for my husband that is Six Flags Great America. Every year his parents would pack up the three kids and make their way to the park, and it was a big deal.  Now my husband is 48-years-old and doesn't get excited much about amusement parks, but he sure did for this one.  Everyone noticed his unusually chipper early morning attitude as we packed up the car at 6 in the morning to head on over to Gurnee, Illinois (just outside of Chicago). He was excited to be returning to Great America after having not been there since he was a kid.  For the rest of us it was a first-time visit (it won't be the last).

The first thing that struck me when I entered the park was the double-decker Columbia Carousel that stood ten-stories tall. I've never seen such a thing, and I really thought it was unique and very pretty!

Great America was a lot bigger than I expected, and had a lot more things to do than I'd anticipated. And the roller coasters (always a family favorite), boy did they have 'em!!! You can see from the sky in the pictures that we were faced with an overcast day, and on and off rain, so a lot of the times the big rides were not running. That was perfectly okay though, because there were a lot of other things to do that didn't make you feel like you were 'settling' at all.

There were several kids' areas, and each one was unique, huge, and fun in its own right. There was Camp Cartoon that had different sections all themed to some of the all-time favorite cartoons like Scooby Doo, The Flintstones (woot! my favorite!!), and The Jetsons. Another children's area of the park (with shelter when it was raining) was part splash area, part climb/slide/play, part kiddie rides, and a huge karaoke stage for kids. My two children were oh so excited to get up on that stage and sing one of their favorite pop tunes to the world but right after they'd picked out their song it started to rain really hard, and my daughter chickened out because a whole lot of people came scrambling in. ;) Too bad too, 'cuz she's got a really great singing voice, and it's fun to watch when her and her little bro. duet.

Though there were so many things to enjoy, each one of us ended up having our own favorite.

I didn't get to ride this, but waited with my youngest instead while others did.

King Chaos: My daughter & I are on there...the ride flips you around and then brings you back down, face first before going back into an upright position.
My favorite ended up being the King Chaos ride because it was a concept I'd never seen. This huge chair that seated many took you high up into the air and then flipped you around and brought you back down, face first. My daughter and I rode this together, and she'd never seen anything like it either. I caught her coming off of the Superman coaster and got her on it before she could see what it did.  "What's this do mom?" Oh....nothing, just a little swing ride. hehehe

My teen loved the coasters & Great America had plenty of them!
The teen's fave was the roller coasters, and when I asked her which one, she said, 'all of them!' No surprise there, she takes completely after her mama.

My little guy loved the shows!
The little one, which really surprised me, loved the shows above all else.  In the one pictured above, he got the biggest smile when Bugs, Sylvester, Foghorn and Daffy came out on the stage, and then every time I looked at him he flashed me the same big, uncontrollable grin (which I loved seeing every single time).

You could shoot riders with water from the sidelines (with water cannons, of course).
I loved that concept. :)

The lines were great, the park was very clean, and the rides were fun. My only regret was that we didn't get to ride The Viper (a backwards-going roller coaster) because by the time we got around to it, the rain had completely shut it down. Just one mishap, and a good reason to go back next year, don't you think? :)

She had sore feet and was tired too, but if you'd have asked her if she wanted to go back into the park, she'd have said 'yes' in a heartbeat. :)
On the way out we finally took a ride on that double-decker carousel, and it was very relaxing, and pretty too because everything was lit up (we went to the top deck).

iGnite Grand Finale
Great America allows you to end your night with iGnite Grand Finale, which was full of singing, dancing, lights, and fireworks too...the perfect way to wrap up the fun for the day.

I'm glad we took that trip to Six Flags, for us it was way overdue. I know Jen from The Adventures of Our Army Life went this year with her husband (you can read about her visit here). How about you? Have you been to Great America or any of the other Six Flags parks?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Visiting Key Lime Cove

Disclosure: My family and I received a complimentary stay as part of a blogger promotion. All opinions stated, however, are genuine and completely my own.

Have you heard of Key Lime Cove in Gurnee, Illinois? It is conveniently located right next to the Six Flags Amusement Park and can definitely enhance your vacation or be a vacation all on its own.

A few days ago, we packed the kids up and drove over, excited to give the resort a visit. We didn't tell the youngest where we were going, we only told him that it was a surprise. The oldest knew, because, well she has to know these things to pack accordingly. ;)  When we pulled up he still didn't realize what a treat he was in for, but once we walked in the front doors, he knew.

Immediately when you step in you are greeted with a replica of a tropical paradise. There is seating everywhere, including big cozy couches next to the windows that overlook the huge indoor water park; a waterfall, several stores including one that carries anything you could need during your stay (& it's open 24-hours).

This store is open 24-hours a day & has everything you could possibly need during your stay.

This was just one of many, many of the cozy types of seating areas set up
around the resort. There were nooks and comfortable seating options
everywhere you looked.

Our son was delighted to see the indoor water park from the wall-sized windows on the ground level. The big surprise came, however, when we went down a short flight of stairs to the game room.

The game room was HUGE and you can see from the top middle picture that my son's
first reaction to seeing it was sheer delight.

The room we had was a very spacious, one-bedroom suite. It had two queen-sized beds, a couch, chair, dining room set, balcony with seating for two, and a little kitchen area (the room had a microwave and refrigerator as well). There was a safe in the drawer, a spacious area outside of the bathroom, two vanities, and pocket doors to separate the dining and living room areas from the bedroom and bathroom (both areas of which had a flat screen TV).

The teen immediately plopped on the sofa w/the remote (middle left). "Mom, Shakira's on Ellen!!!" Who?!?!?
The little one had no problem at all checking out every nook and cranny, and getting comfy on the balcony.
You know a resort is goooood when both kids are sound asleep by 10 PM (center).
Check-in was at 4pm, but you could come early and get a wrist-band to play in the water park. Check-out was at 11am, but again, you were welcome to spend the whole entire day in the rest of the resort after you'd left your room.

The wrist-bands for the water park were also the keyless entries for your room (this was an awesome feature because who wants to carry their card key to the pool?). You could also use your wristband to make purchases anywhere in the hotel, including for the arcades, shopping, dining, and the lockers down in the water area.

The Hurricane Vortex on the top right was awesome!
The seating was ample (one area on left, middle) & the locker rooms were huge (middle).
There were multiple fast slides (bottom left) & several kid areas (one is on the bottom right).

The lifeguards in the pool were very attentive. The towel attendants and food servers were very helpful and courteous. Even the locker rooms were impressive with a huge changing area, multiple showers (body wash dispensers were on the walls), restrooms, and a machine to extract the water from your wet suits.

There were six restaurants in the resort. We had pizza for lunch which was fine (the kids loved it), and a really delicious dinner at The Crazy Toucan Margarita Grille.

Taco appetizers.
For dinner the bottom left is my Tequila Lime Pasta and on the right, Steak Fajitas.
The kids got your standard burger, mac & cheese meals.

There was a shuttle that took you back and forth to Six Flags Amusement Park whenever you wanted to go (tickets purchased separately). That was awesome because it meant you didn't have to pay the $22 parking fee at the park. The driver was really nice, and at the waiting stop is where the Batmobile I posted yesterday was located.  If you wanted a boxed lunch (sub, chips, cookie, drink), you could order it at Key Lime Cove and they would deliver it to the amusement park...right to you, at a designated time. We didn't take advantage of that, but for under $9.00, I thought that was such a great idea.

Shuttle to Six Flags Amusement Park

There were many other perks, services, and fun things to do in the resort, way too many to list!

There were two spas, one award-winning spa for adults, and one separate spa for children (awesome!!).

There was also a very large room split into two big sections for crafts. Children could do one free craft a day. There were also many items available for purchase, and places to sit to get a great view of the outside. Again, everything had a tropical resort feel.

The craft room was awesome. You could do one free craft a day, or purchase
as many as you wanted. We created the free paddle ball game craft.

Every single thing was above and beyond nice, but he most amazing thing about the resort to me, was all the thoughtfulness that was put into everything. There were decorations all over the place that were just 'resort-y feeling' like the colored hallway walls,

The sections of all the walls were painted in different tropical-feeling colors.

The little man perched on the window sill up high,
See the man on the window sill up high? 

And old-fashioned gas pumps were on display.

Even the BATHROOMS were decorated in tropical grandiose fashion...not that I would take pictures in a bathrooms, who would do such a thing?!?!? ;)

The sign they had up that Key Lime Cove was a great place to relax was spot-on. We couldn't have had a more wonderful time.

Keylime Cove Resorts received the distinguished honor of being named the #1 Family Hotel in the US and #2 worldwide by TripAdvisor in 2012.

If you are going to Six Flags in Gurnee, IL (just outside of Chicago), this is hands-down the most convenient, best place to stay (there are package deals available for discounted amusement park tickets). If you're just looking for a place to relax, have fun, chill out, etc., this is also a great choice. It goes without saying that the kids loved it, but even better, the adults did too (it's win-win when everyone's happy).

You can learn more about the hotel by visiting their website here:
You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Pinterest.