Monday, August 24, 2009

6 Days in the Car

We just returned from three weeks of a wonderful family adventure. I don't know how to even begin to record everything that happened, or how to explain what this vacation did for our family.

My intent was to update the blog while on vacation; I gave up on Day 2. (I did post a little about the adventures of our first day.) So, if you will bear with me, I will attempt to do this in a few segments. (We'll see how far I actually get.)

First, the car trip:

We loaded up the minivan and headed west to Boise to visit Grandma and Grandpa Miller for a couple of weeks. The trip was 36 hours of drive time; we did it in about 4 days with some stops along the way. We got some weird looks and raised eyebrows when we told people we were going to drive across the country with three little kids. Just to spite everyone, we had a fabulous time together in the car.

Passing the Time
I started off with great expectations. I packed books, toys, games, crafts, coloring books, and other fun things to do in the car with the kids. We made Fruit Loop necklaces, ate fun snacks, and played with punching balloons.

The play dough was a hit...

...and the girls made themselves beautiful with their new make-up kits (notice Natalie's pink, glittery face):

We had a DVD player as a backup - just to get us through the hard times. Our goal was to only watch one or two movies each day. Who were we kidding!? By the end of the trip, we were tired and our enthusiasm was spent; we watched Veggie Tales and High School Musical and the Music Man pretty much non-stop that last day...oh well. Good intentions, right?

The highlight of the car trip for the kids was being at "Hotel." (To Andrea and Natalie, Hotel is a proper noun and a destination in and of itself - like Red Robin or Florida.) At Hotel, the kids enjoyed Cartoon Network - which made me grateful that we don't have cable at home. A pineapple under the sea? Really? Is that the best they could do?

Swimming is always fun, but swimming at Hotel is extra exciting. Maybe it's because Dad is there to throw, catch, and wrestle with the kids in the water - way more fun than the usual baby pool with Mom. I have to mention that at the last hotel pool, Ethan learned how to dunk himself while holding on to the ladder. He was a little dare devil, going under again and again. It scared me to death - that was probably part of the appeal for Ethan.

Part of the fun of Hotel is sleeping together with the whole family in a cool new room. The kids loved it, and I have to say it was nice to have everyone - Mom and Dad included - asleep by 9:00. I can't remember the last time I went to bed that early. So nice!

Beautiful Country
Maybe this is lame, but we loved seeing the country and its beautiful variety. The Appalachians are gorgeous, lush, and green. The Midwest made me want to drop everything we are doing in Virginia and live simple, wholesome lives as farmers. Nebraska was surprisingly beautiful. Kansas was clear and open, and you could see the whole sky (which is something I really miss in Virginia). Wyoming...well, Wyoming had some very interesting windmills - hundreds of them, all lined up on hilltops. And of course, the Rocky Mountains are always gorgeous and were surprisingly green for August.

Family Time
Since most of our vacation time is spent with extended family (which is great), we don't have lots of our own family time together. The car trip was wonderful for that reason...just the 5 of us for a few days. We listened to music, we played, we were silly, and we just enjoyed being together. We even had little Family Home Evening together on Monday night. Dad gave a great impromptu lesson about the beautiful earth that Heavenly Father created; we sang songs; Natalie offered a sweet little prayer thanking Heavenly Father for the trees and birds. And then we played Name That Tune with the iPod - who knew that Andrea knows John Mayer and Natalie knows Jack Johnson?

I have to dedicate a little portion of this to Melinda, who rode back east with us. Melinda sat in the back with the kids most of the time, which allowed Anders and I some quality/quantity time to chat. She was also helpful in expediting potty breaks. The kids loved having her along; she has lived with us for so long that she's like their second mother and is practically part of the family.

Visiting Family
Along the way, we stayed with Great Grandma Erickson in Provo, where we got to visit with Matt, Tyrelle and baby Elllie, Jonah and Charlotte, and Auntie Melinda. A few highlights from Provo included:

playing in the water fountains on BYU campus...

...and riding in Great Grandma Erickson's awesome elevator in her house.

We also got to walk to church, which is a pretty novel thing to do when you don't live in Utah.

Thank you, Great Grandma Erickson, for your hospitality and kindness!!

We also got to stay with Jake, Amanda, and that sweet baby Audrey in St. Charles, MO on the way back home. I wish I had pictures to show, but alas, the camera was full that last day of our trip. But Jake and Amanda were so good to us and showed us a great time - shopping at the outlet mall, playing on new playgrounds, swimming with froggies, and more food than we could handle. The best attraction was Audrey, the newest little Erickson cousin. What a sweetheart!

Ethan adopted a new habit of screaming at the top of his lungs, and it kind of peaked while we were in Missouri. Our apologies to Amanda for keeping Audrey awake. Thanks, Jake and Amanda, for putting up with our crazy family!

The Bad Points
There were a few bad points of driving across the country, such as:

- nasty, nasty, nasty gas station bathrooms
- Natalie's increased tinkling the last day = bathroom stops every 2 hours
- hours of watching/listening to High School Musical 2
- Anders' speeding ticket in Sydney, Nebraska
- a flat tire while staying with Jake and Amanda (but we are glad it didn't happen on the road)
- eating at McDonald's about 5 times, which is about 5 times too many
- the crumb-laden, bug-splattered, slightly stinky car that resulted from 80 hours of total travel time.

But overall, the journey was a success, and we would do it again in a heartbeat. Stay tuned for Adventures at Grandma's...