Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer Vacation 2013: Arrival at Mammoth Cave National Park

Greg and I have been to Mammoth Cave before, way back in 2006, when we'd been dating for less than a year. It was a really fun trip, and Greg brought back a coffee table book that Nick likes to look through. He's been begging to go "to the cave" for years, and he was thrilled when he found out about our destination. We decided to stay on the grounds of Mammoth Cave National Park, which is in Central Kentucky.

We were tired and hungry as we pulled up to the park, and decided to eat at the Travertine Restaurant, which is the sit-down restaurant in Mammoth Cave Hotel. They had lots of really cool pictures, both modern and historic, of the caves and the park.

Here's Nick giving a fist pump of glory, rejoicing that we were "all done" in the van.

We ended up eating in this restaurant no fewer than FIVE times from Thursday evening to Saturday afternoon, and generally the food was decent. The park also boasts a coffee shop and a fast food place, but we didn't try either of those--we stuck to the Travertine. You can check out my Yelp Review here

This is the back wall, decorated with a photograph of one of the big rooms in the cave. 

National Park Service hotels aren't typically very fancy, and that was okay with us, for the most part. The last time Greg and I visited Mammoth Cave, we'd stayed in Cave City, and hadn't liked it very much, especially the long drive from town to the park. Our hotel room wasn't fancy, but it was serviceable and clean. We did, however, immediately have to unplug the landline phone because the boys decided to start calling people. We've never had a landline, so the boys didn't "get" that this was a real phone.

Henry: "Hello? Hi! Hello"

Even though it was getting dark, we did want to check out the cave's historic entrance. Nick wanted to say that he'd seen the cave he was going to visit on his tour the next day. So we took the long walk down. It's really neat that when you walk down towards the cave, the air gets noticeably cooler and drier because the cave air is always in the upper 50s.

This is what the cave looked like at night. I know, I know. Really exciting. We didn't see any bats, but that's just because we didn't know what to look for--we learned later how to identify flying bats.

The walking felt pretty good after all day in the car, even if the view was limited by darkness.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Vacation 2013: Indianapolis City Market

 We were very hungry by the time we made it to Indianapolis. Before our trip, I had downloaded a few helpful apps onto my new iphone5, including the Yelp app. I have a sensitive stomach, and good food is often hard for me to find on the road. As we approached Indianapolis, I found a place called 3 Days in Paris that sounded pretty good. Greg and I both love crepes. What we didn't know is that this place was located inside the City Market.

Honestly, I didn't even know that Indianapolis had a city market. A few years back, Greg and I took a trip to Milwaukee, and discovered their Public Market. Now, the one in Indianapolis wasn't quite as impressive, but the building was gorgeous and the food delightful.

Grandma Toni liked the crepes as well. 

I love the concept of a public open market with many vendors. I especially loved the stairs at this one.

The pattern was gorgeous.

The best thing about 3 Days in Paris was the way you can watch them make the crepes. They did it just like I remember from Paris.

They had both sweet and savory crepes, and both were very yummy. We had a Blue Moo crepe and a summertime crepe with a yummy fruit and lemony filling. Here's my Yelp Review of the place.

Henry liked the Nutella crepes the best. No surprise there.

Nick liked running around the 2nd floor and looking down over the railings.

Indianapolis was a nice place to take a break, and we loved the City Market. We weren't exactly eager to get back to the car, but destiny was calling. Or, at least, our hotel reservation at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

Part I: Journey to Indianapolis

Monday, July 29, 2013

Summer Vacation 2013: Journey to Indianapolis

Today I'm going to start telling the story of our family vacation. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . . No, really, the times were mostly pretty decent, barring a few inevitable and sometimes hilarious hiccups.

Does Nick look a little crazed? Desperate, perhaps, to get out of the minivan?

Setting: One blue minivan, packed to the ceiling with everything that five people would need for eight days. I packed 17 outfits for Nick and 20 for Henry. We brought special new dollar store toys and books to keep the boys interested during the long car rides. Greg had the back of our van set up like a carefully orchestrated game of Tetris, except for the fact that whenever you opened the trunk, everything fell out onto the concrete.

Characters: Melissa, Greg, Grandma Toni, Nicholas, and Henry. Henry was lucky enough to sit in the way back, and Grandma Toni mostly sat in the middle row next to Nick, though she sometimes squeezed in next to Henry so he wouldn't get lonely. Sitting backwards in the way-back of a mini-van is no fun, poor little guy.

Objective: To enjoy ourselves while taking care of two diaper-clad, rather highly strung little boys.

And thus our tale begins. . .

We wanted to make it to Indianapolis for lunch and to Mammoth Cave National Park by dinnertime. The first leg of our journey wasn't too bad-the boys are used to a few hours in the car, and Nick was excited about the upcoming trip. But after awhile, he started asking how much longer it was going to be, and when I told him we'd be in the car all day, this was his reply: "Mommy, you are destroying my dream!" I guess it was a dream of miraculously fast travel. Yup. Destroyed that one.

Don't you think the stickers add a certain. . . je ne sais quoi? 

Grandma Toni was wonderful with the boys. She even let Henry decorate her hand with stickers, when he started getting bored. We were all ready to get out of the car by the time we finally arrived in Indianapolis, though!

Do we look like we've been sitting in the car a little too long?

Indiana is not really my favorite state, but Indianapolis is one city that I don't mind walking around, especially on such a beautiful day. We stopped in a pretty part of the city, and there was plenty to look at as we strolled around.

I had to tell Henry that these decorative chili peppers were NOT for eating. 


We walked down to the City Market, where there was a lovely public square with benches and flowers and even a pretty historic gate. We ate inside the City Market, which I will describe in my next post.


Nick liked this clock. He's been into clocks lately, since he started watching the Back to the Future trilogy. It reminded us of the clock tower.

It felt really good to stretch our legs. . .

. . . even if that stretching was accomplished through chasing this young gentleman across the square.

Greg finally had to tackle him and carry him bodily back to the minivan for another few hours of travel.

They were both sleeping in a matter of minutes.

Nick's lips are blue because a nice man in the City Market gave the boys samples of the messiest ice cream ever.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tanks and Water at Cantigny

Did you think the picnic and concert were all we did at Cantigny a few weeks back? No way! We also found the water sprayers and cooled off in the water, which was cool but not cold. The boys loved it!

They were completely soaked and kept going back for more.

This little spray park was pretty neat, especially on a hot day.

You would think all that running around in the water would've tired them out, but they were still up for checking out the tanks, even while dripping water. I helped Henry climb up on this one, then stood right in front of him in case he slid.

Then, when we got to the next tank, Henry waited until I was taking a picture of Nick. . .

. . . and somehow managed to climb up on top of the biggest tank around. I have absolutely no idea how he climbed this high with no help.

He wouldn't come to me, and just laughed and clapped for himself.

I asked a couple of kids to try to corral him, but they had no luck. He was too happy.

I do not have much in the way of upper body strength, and I was pretty sure I couldn't climb up that high. A nice man in decent shape finally scaled the tank and pulled Henry down. His shirt was all dirty and wet, so I took it off.  Henry was mad. He didn't want to come down. He kept trying to climb up all the other tanks.

The boys wanted to stay longer, but I was exhausted. Apparently, the boys were, too, because they passed out within seconds of being strapped into the car.

Friday, July 26, 2013

What Can You Do With a Box (or Two)?

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about how I was in a car accident and had to get two brand-new car seats for the boys? I figured out a way to kill an entire afternoon just with the empty boxes from the car seats.

First, I turned took the tape off of the boxes and retaped them inside out, so that the boys could decorate them. I taped both boxes together, and we even found an empty Sam Adams box that I put on top as a chimney. Note the little birdie that I drew on the chimney.

I believe that is whipped cream on Henry's face.  :)

Besides hiding in it and using it as a tunnel, there are many things to do with a box. You can decorate it with crayons. (If I had been braver, we could've used markers or paints, but I dreaded the mess.) The boys can use it as a launching pad for their toys. They can sit inside of it and eat raisins.

They can pretend to have their dinosaurs attack the house, godzilla style.

"Rawwr!" Said Henry.

The boys also took turns hiding in the box, and at one point they refused to come out. All I could see were their feet.

The boys eventually played too rough for the boxes, and they started collapsing. We had to tell them that climbing on the roof was not a good idea!

All it took was some packing tape to put their house back together. I propped it up between chairs and a bookshelf.

Cost= $0
Fun= Endless

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Walk in Downtown Plainfield (and Ice Cream, Too!)

When Greg and I first moved to Plainfield back in 2006, we thought it was kind of lame. We chose our home based on affordability and space rather than location. Previously, Greg lived in Oak Park and I lived in Downers Grove, both of which have very nice downtown areas. Plainfield is nowhere near as cool as either of those places, but I think it's definitely improving!

We killed an afternoon a few weeks back with a nice walk around downtown Plainfield. They've really done a lot of work to make it more pedestrian-friendly, and I think that main street is looking pretty good.

We spent a good hour walking up and down the street, just checking everything out. The butcher gave Nick a lollipop, and then Henry started crying and we finally figured out why: Henry wanted a lollipop, too! I guess Henry is big enough for lollipops, now.  

Nick was impressed with all of the motorcycles parked on the street. He wanted to touch them, but I didn't think the owners would be cool with that. 

I also like the historic houses in the area, and the older trees. One thing about living in a planned subdivision is that the trees are younger and planted in very straight lines. I do appreciate older trees, though I'm sure they'd be a pain if they were on my property.

We stopped for ice cream at the Gourmet Junction, this little tea room/ice cream shop/store that has yummy real ice cream. I always get the strawberry because there are chunks of real strawberries in it. Yum. Nick got the chocolate, as evidenced by the chocolate goatee he sported. 

Henry and Greg split some mint chocolate chip. 

Henry is still too messy of an eater to brave eating an ice cream cone. He thinks he could handle it, but we know better. Henry can definitely say ice cream now. He can DEMAND it, in fact. 

Henry was a little perturbed when the ice cream was "all done," but he survived his disappointment. He did not, however, want to go back into the stroller. I had to walk with him. He's still learning how to walk while holding someone's hand. It is a learning process.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My Date with Henry

I think it is important to spend time with my children as individuals. It's also pretty fun, and it lets me get to know each of them in a different way. This week I had a date with Henry, and Greg spent the day with Nick.

First, we went to Target. I like to scour the dollar bins for fun things the kids can do in the car, especially since we have a long car trip coming up. Henry likes trying on hats, among other things. He also helped me pick out a new umbrella. Then it was off to my school to water the plants.

I can help, Mommy. Really, I can. 

My classroom has over 50 indoor plants, and I'm obliged to check on them at least once every week or two. I let Henry help, because I really do believe that little kids learn best this way. However, Henry watered the table more than the plants. I gave him only a tiny bit of water each time, and he loved pouring the water and saying, "More water!" Henry speaks only in vowels right now, so it sounded like, "oor ahhuhh," but he got his point across. 

After our plant-watering, I took Henry outside to check on the school garden. I run a school garden, and during the summer it is mostly left to its own devices. Henry did, however, find a carrot. He picked it way too early, but I was impressed that he knew just what it was. 

Hopefully the carrots will get much bigger by the time fall rolls around. I think I'll probably take Henry with me again at least once more. He seemed to get a kick out of walking the hallways of my school, and helping me with the watering. 

He also got a kick out of decorating my dry-erase board.  :)