Our Seventh Anniversary: The Recap

A week ago, Josh and I celebrated our seventh anniversary.  That’s the copper anniversary, by the way.  Josh and I try to theme our gifts by the traditions for each anniversary.  Copper is a difficult one.  Finally, I asked my techie hubs in desperation, “Isn’t copper in all electronics?”

His response:  “Uh…yeah.”

Score!

(By the way:  the eighth is worse…bronze)

In keeping with tradition, we decided to stay (with Muffin) at the site of our honeymoon (and where we have stayed several of our anniversaries…or just after…):  Dallas.  More specifically, the Westin Galleria Dallas, using points+cash (but that’s a story for Cent Saving Saturday).

The efficacy of our anniversary coinciding with the whirl of the holiday season is great for many reasons.  We can go shopping for Christmas gifts.  Certain locations are already sporting Christmas decorations (which makes Muffin…and his mama…and his dad…very excited and hopeful for the wintry months ahead).  We can go shopping for ingredients used to make Christmas goodies and gifts.  We can get out of town and take a deep breath before plunging back headlong into the holiday season chaos.

We also strive to make this a very Muffin-friendly trip.

We started out getting donuts at the local donut shop as we left the house just after 5 a.m. last Saturday.  Yes.  Five a.m.  By my choice.  Muffin may have been still asleep.

Then, we stopped at a great truck stop between Gladewater and Tyler, Texas.  They have “Canadian candy bars,” or rather exports of some of Josh’s favorite candy bars that he likes to stock up on when we pass through.  They have all sorts of sodas and beverages that are difficult to find anywhere else.  One that I tried there on this trip was on my “soda bucket list”…the holy grail of difficult-to-find sodas:  Moxie.  To put it as politely and succinctly as possible, I can now cross it off of my bucket list.  (as in…thankfully I never have to taste it again…It wasn’t kale jerky bad…just not something I would willingly reach for unless dying of thirst)

After that, just down the road in Lindale, we stopped at Collin Street Bakery.  Previously, they gave out free cookies to children.  Muffin had to pay for his this time.  Note:  these are the people who make the fabled Collin Street Bakery Deluxe Fruitcake (with the deluxe price of $27 dollars…32 if you want it sliced).  I’m going to attempt to make my own fruitcake.

Our first major stop in Dallas (other than the stop-go on I-635 for construction) was actually in Frisco…at IKEA.  This was a special trip to IKEA because it was the first time Muffin could go in the play place there called Smaland (because last time he was still in diapers).  Dropping him off did not bode well because this was the first time I had left him alone with someone who was not family (or not known to family).  There were tears…not Muffin tears…but Mama tears.

No, my independent son soon forgot that anything existed outside of Smaland…such as his mama or dad.

He was a bit disappointed when his hour was up…until I told him that there were more surprises in store.

We then went to lunch at Rainforest Cafe…which is kind of pricey.  The one saving grace, though, was that it had buy one, get one free coupons for Legoland Discovery Center…the next location on the trip.

Muffin really liked Legoland Discovery Center.  Last year, when we came to Dallas on the great anniversary trip (one week late), we went to the “store” part of Legoland…but we didn’t go to the Discovery Center part.  The line was way…too…long…at that point.

Then came the hotel.  Muffin loves staying in hotels.  When I first told him a week before that we were staying in a hotel, we had to count down from that day on the number of sleeps until we would be staying in a hotel.  Seriously.

There are many reasons I love this hotel.  The people who work their are fabulous…as in…call you to let you know that your debit card fell out of your pocket fabulous (and don’t tell your husband that you accidentally left his anniversary card for the next day at the table, as well).  Yes.  I did that.  Both of those actually.

And how can you not love a place that has a decorate your own cupcake bar at check-in on Fridays and Saturdays?

And we all love the beds.  Seriously.  Love.

And the window seat that, until shortly before our honeymoon seven years ago, would have been a locked balcony.

And…keep in mind that this hotel opens out into a mall.  Note:  If you did not realize when you booked your room that the Westin Galleria Dallas was attached to the Galleria Dallas and have issues with it…you might not want to be in front of me in line at the check-in desk.  Because a year later I will still be spreading that story.

But…if you are staying at the hotel (or visiting the mall) during the latter half of November or during December…you will be witness to this sight:

I think, for Muffin, the best part of staying at this particular hotel is that he gets to go to the play area on the third floor before the mall opens (when it isn’t crazy busy with kids):

In that same spot, fourteen hours earlier, you couldn’t walk without running over someone or being run over.

Sunday, after shopping at Central Market for our anniversary dinner (at home) of a cheese board as well as a few other items for making Christmas goodies and gifts, we ate lunch at La Mad before heading home.  This was Muffin’s first La Mad experience…and I was frankly worried.  Here is the shot with the food still on his plate.

And then the food disappeared.  I asked Josh what was in Muffin’s fruit cup because, when I looked up the next time, it was empty.  Josh said…”grapes.”

“Just grapes?”

“Well…there was other fruit.”

“What kind of fruit?
To which Josh replied…”Well…I couldn’t really tell.  It was gone too fast.”

The sandwich also went the way of the dodo bird…in this case in Muffin’s stomach.  Note:  Josh’s and my lunch consisted of tomato basil soup (a bowl for him and a cup for me) and the complimentary bread.

The trip was a great family vacation/bonding/anniversary trip experience.  One that we will doubtless do again.

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The Canada Trip: Friday/Saturday 6/20-6/21/14

We left from home Friday evening after Josh got off work.  He brought with him Cane’s meals that we ate before starting out (no dishes to clean).  We each got the box, and Muffin ate the kid’s meal.  Our route took us up Louisiana Highway 3 to the Arkansas line and up Arkansas Highway 29 to Hope, Arkansas.  At Hope, we got on Interstate 30 headed east.  At Little Rock, we connected first with I-440 and then I-40 to head to Memphis, Tennessee.

By the way, if you are attempting a similar experience, there is A LOT of construction eastbound on I-40 in eastern Arkansas and the Memphis area.  I would strongly not advise traveling there in the dark because you get down to about half a lane of driving traffic at one point (without warning) with concrete barriers closing you in (and making driving hazardous).

Muffin did a lot of iPODing for the first part of the trip.  If I could have avoided looking at the construction scenery, I would have.

This was a very anxious, excited Muffin who kept saying, “I want to go to Grandma’s!  When is Dad going to be home?”

And the iPOD shots:

And here’s one of him taking a picture with his iPOD of me taking a picture of him:

Friday night we stayed at a Comfort Suites in Cordova, Tennessee, on the east side of Memphis.  Basically, we drove until around 11 when we both realized we needed to stop for the night.  We knew we needed to make it to Seville, Ohio, for Saturday night, so we tried to shave off as much time as possible for Saturday’s drive (which was going to be the “long” day).  At six hours of travel time, we ended up here.  It was a nice place and offered a nice morning breakfast.  I cannot speak to the niceness of the pool or other amenities, as we arrived too late to try many of those.  We just needed sleep, thanks.

Saturday dawned bright and early as we tried to eat breakfast and get on the road.

Around about crossing into Kentucky, we decided we needed to have a longer rest break.  So, we stopped at the Kentucky welcome center in Franklin and let Muffin run around.  Here is my Picasa-artistically-enhanced photo of Muffin in front of the entry way to the map-tourist-magazine-pamphlet room.

The grounds were beautiful and a place for Muffin to run free!  Trust me, he needed it.  He wanted us to race on the path all over the grounds.

And here is Muffin and Mama, playing in the water fountain.

After a fairly confusing pass through Columbus best documented in the introduction, we settled into our hotel and restaurant, Pizzazio’s (There’s a printable menu at this link).  For this meal experience, Josh ordered mozzarella sticks to start with with meatball subs and fries for Muffin and him.  I ordered the lasagna dinner with a salad and garlic toast.  And realized that as absolutely wonderful as the lasagna was, um…these were awesome fries…for the Canadian-inclined, chip stand fries.  I may have…borrowed…a few of their fries.  Perhaps…possibly.

We were at the Seville one.

For the record, this is how fries are supposed to be.  The anemically white things that McDonald’s passes off as fries are not even the same species.  Proper fries must be the following:  brown.  Crispy with potato-chip-esque fry bubbles on the surface so that you have the delicate little crunchy places.  Mashed potato consistency in the middle.  The middle that is mashed potato (think creamed potatoes) consistency must taste like a perfectly (steakhouse) baked potato.  Not like I’m picky or anything.  They must be able to stand up on their own.  Sans ketchup.  Sans malt vinegar.  Sans mayo.  If the fries are prepared properly, one will feel that any additive that softens the surface to be borderline insanity.  And just.  Plain.  Wrong.

Not that I’m picky or anything.  Countdown to next chip stand experience:  2 years.

I should also add that if you cannot do that with a mozzarella cheese stick (see above), that those are not prepared properly, either.  By the way, they are best eaten if you have side ponytails a la Penny on Inspector Gadget (the 80s version).

And…the lasagna dinner:

(cough cough)  Someone (named Muffin) ate the innards of my garlic bread.  Since I stole several of the fries (only a few, really), I guess that was fair.

Afterwards, we chilled in the pool at the Comfort Inn right across the street.  Sometimes the restaurant and hotel can be the destination.  After the hydroplaning-near-Fort-Payne-Alabama nightmare of three years ago, this was our newly discovered jewel on the return trip home.  Seville, Ohio.

Here is the awesome (heated) indoor pool with the cool rock waterfall:

It also has jets.  And is rock-lined.  And on the return trip home we had…well…that surprise is just going to have to wait until next time.

We continue tomorrow’s installment of the Canada trip saga with our actual arrival in Canada and Train Museum #1 (of 2 on the trip).  Enjoy y’all.

What are your must-haves for hotel stays?

The Trip: An Introduction and What I’ve Learned About Traveling

First of all, let me say Happy Fourth of July to those who celebrate the Fourth.  We are “fireworks-upped” for today, and after I post this post, I will begin the day’s food preparations in earnest.  Hamburger bar, ice cream bar, potato salad, baked beans, cheese cake, and a surprise pie.  Yum!

Recently, we completed a trip to Canada and back that was roughly 1500 miles one way.  We’ve completed this trip together several times (in fact, this is Muffin’s third trip).  All of my trips to Canada save two have been driven.

My first was by plane which was the first time I had ever been on a plane, not to mention through airplane customs and airport security.  On a red eye flight to Toronto by myself on a morning after a huge storm hit Dallas.  Flying over said storm again in a very turbulent path.  Dealing with Pearson International by myself.  Deciding right then and there that flying is not worth the time, cost, or indignity involved.  (And this was before the invasive body scans)  After one flight, I have learned:  I hate flying.  I would rather drive, walk, go by train, cruise, swim, or crawl (on my belly over broken glass) than fly.  All of the “security” checks do not make me feel safer, they just make me feel harassed and dehumanized. So, airplane industry and government agencies involved in flying (especially international flying):  you’ve lost a customer with your ham-handed procedures.  The only thing that would cause me to fly would be an emergency situation.

The only other time we have not driven is when we went by train last year.  We liked it enough to plan to do it again this year, but I guess Josh thought there were a few cons that I tried to gloss over.  1)  The seven-hour Chicago layover.  2) Luggage hauling/storage issues—While Amtrak is very generous with the carryon allotment, you have to stow it (at steep prices) or carry it around with you during said 7-hour layover.  3)  If you are on a busy train and there are three of you, more than likely you will be separated and have to sleep by a creepy someone of the opposite gender.  Even if you beg otherwise.  As I did.  Repeatedly.

Basically, we like going by vehicle of our own locomotion (in this case the Journey) because we can be (sort of) on our own schedule.  I guess both Josh and me are independent-minded like that.  Plus, it allows us the freedom to explore and deviate from our path (somewhat judiciously).

Now, for what we learned on this trip.

Save more than you expect to need for the trip.  Things tend to be more expensive than you think they will be.  Fact.  Guarantee.  Such as gas costing more than $2 more a gallon in your destination.  Surprise expenditures.

Rest.  Some days of vacation require rest.  If your vacation is jam-packed of things to do every minute of every day, more than one member of the trip will reach burnout by day four.  This is one of the reasons (and there are several) that I have never planned a Disney World trip (I’ve heard burnout is common).

Make limits and stick to them.  When we go to Canada, the trip isn’t simply, “Let’s go to Canada to see the sights.”  It’s a family-seeing trip.  In a previous trip, we went several places in Ontario to visit various family members.  With Josh extremely tired (possibly exhaustion level) from work and recovering from a bout of pneumonia, neither of us felt as if going all over Ontario would be possible.  We decided to stop at his mom’s and his sister’s.  Anyone wanting to visit us there was welcome to.

The last two seem a bit harsh, I know.  But trips of this magnitude take a lot out of people.  And you really don’t need to be more tired after a vacation than when you started.

That being said, next vacation we plan to spend more time traveling, stopping in to see other relatives.

DO NOT TEACH YOUR FOUR-YEAR-OLD THE DARTH VADER SONG JUST BEFORE TRAVELING!  This led to several arguments in the car.  And headaches.  Especially since Muffin tended to “donh donh donh” at the top of his lungs.

Bring electronics.  Trust me.  If you plan to survive the trip, even a busy book will only keep them busy and entertained so long.  Bring electronics.

Bring food and beverages.  We started out with a variety of food (healthy and unhealthy).  Just remember that the border crossing guards (especially if you are going into the U.S.) tend to confiscate fresh produce, such as grapes.    Also, fill up with ice for your coolers at hotels that you stop at.  Usually, that’s the only time we use the hotel ice machine.  Use tight-fitting plastic containers for cooler items that you don’t wish to become water-logged.  We’ve found that baggies become water-logged.

Pack a “hotel bag” and make sure you have enough clothes to cover the traveling part of the trip.

Bring the meds that your family uses most often, including prescription and non-prescription ones.  We bought all of our scripts, plus adult and children ibuprofen (in case Muffin had a fever spike), Muffin’s cold meds, sunscreen, bug spray, antihistamine (cream and pills), and our first-aid kit for the car.  On this trip, only the children’s ibuprofen and antihistamine pills weren’t used.  And we had to procure Pepto Bismol once we arrived in Canada.  (I had vacillated over putting that one in, and it turns out that I should have added it)  Both Josh and I used the ibuprofen, Muffin needed his cold meds, we all used the bug spray and the sunscreen, and we had to use band-aids and Neosporin from the first-aid kit.  Make sure they are climate-controlled.  Josh really thought we wouldn’t need them, and it turned out that we did.

Take a GPS.  We would probably still be trying to figure out how to navigate the construction nightmare in Columbus, OH (on the way up) had we not had Josh’s GPS.  This is my first time to travel with one, and I found it to be indispensable.  By the way, if you are traveling north through Columbus in the near future, be aware that the Interstate is completely closed for one section and to follow the “suggested detour” signs.  Most detour signs we have become blasé about because they appear to be suggestions; these detour signs were not.

Stop.  Rest.  Stop again.  Sometimes this can mean a brief stop such as a restroom and/or gas stop, but sometimes you need to escape the confines of the car for a bit (and Muffin needs to get out and run).  Or you need to stop for the evening earlier than you had planned.  This happened to us the last night of the trip.  I was becoming super crabby and extremely tired of the Darth Vader song (see above).  We ended up stopping earlier rather than closer to Jackson, TN, or Memphis, TN.

Stop for the fun stuff, too.  Yes, that might mean that you see your second (unplanned) train museum in one trip, but it saves trip exhaustion (and you create memories, too).

If you are traveling internationally, keep at least one cell phone active for the duration of the trip.  We paid AT&T for the basic US/Canada minutes plan and went with it.  My in-laws have a special trucker’s plan that allows them bi-border calls.  After we hydroplaned in Alabama the last time we drove, we saw the necessity of having our phones while traveling.  Just be aware that while roaming call prices are ridiculous, roaming data prices are beyond insane.  Seriously.

Remember to not be judgmental of fellow travelers or people living at points along your travels or destination.  Don’t be the ignorant, bigoted tourist, in other words.  Be aware that people do things differently in different places.  Don’t stereotype.  Acclimate.  Assimilate.  I’ve learned to check my disbelief at the door to the point that entering Canada is second nature now. Of all of us, Josh, the Canadian citizen, had the hardest time adjusting to Canada than any of us this time.  We’ve gone from American Walmart being the half-price store to “I’m not paying that for a bottle of pop.”  And it took eight years.  Whereas I simply think, “Okay, this is the price we pay for pop at a convenience store in the U.S., and this is the price we pay in Canada.”  It’s a trade-off.  A lot of produce prices and drink prices tend to be cheaper in Canada (of the frozen concentrate variety).  And, ginger ale is on the tap at restaurants.

Realize that your child’s schedule will be blown by traveling.  If this is a problem for you, don’t travel.   Sorry, but there is really no other way to put this.  If you have put your child on a schedule that you don’t feel comfortable deviating from, you are going to be a nervous wreck while traveling.  If your child is on a particular schedule because of a medical reason, keeping to that schedule will make you a wreck and be extremely difficult while traveling.  Muffin completed maybe two full naps during the entire trip (as in waking up without an external influence such as getting out of the car).  Just have your child return to his schedule as soon as you return home.

Fiber and water.  If you are traveling by car (or by train) and have limited mobility for several days, make sure you eat plenty of fiber and drink plenty of water during your eating and drinking times.  You’ll thank me later.

If you tend to be snarky with authority, let someone else deal with the border crossing agents and you stay mute.  In my family, I am not allowed to talk to the border crossing agents.  I might end up channeling my inner Oscar Leroy and say, “My taxes pay your salary.”  That probably wouldn’t go well.

Tomorrow, I will begin going over the trip, day by day, with more tips and destination suggestions.

What are your favorite traveling tips?

We’re Baaaaaaack!

We have returned home from the land to the north (and east).  I hope to make several posts about it (because we had so much fun and Muffin enjoyed so many adventures that one post will not cut it).  Luckily, we escaped any major bad weather in our travels to and from Canada and arrived safely there and home.  The barrage of posts will probably begin Saturday after the Fourth of July celebrations.  I hope that those who celebrate Canada Day enjoyed their Canada Day (ours was spent driving home and the actual celebration was Saturday) and that you enjoy your Fourth of July.  Also, please keep enjoying the Twelve Days of Christmas in July posts (if there weren’t enough celebrating going on).

I leave you (for today) with a picture of Muffin on the morning of Canada Day with his ubiquitous blue blanket (that used to be the comforter on Josh’s and my bed).

We were in Dickson, Tennessee, at that point.

Trip Preparations (we think) plus dinner-on-the-fly

Today was mostly spent getting ready for the trip tomorrow although we weren’t sure for sure if we were going to be able to go. My youngest nephew has run a fever the last few afternoons, and, like his cousin Rene, is prone to febrile seizures if the fever spikes. Today, he seems fever free and eating healthily, so all of us have breathed a big sigh of relief. So tomorrow, “dark and early” (if I can get the boys up and going) we will be leaving for my sister’s. Three days of family fun and cooking up recipes (teaching Deb to make Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and she teaching me the secrets of the family chickie and dumplins recipe).

We went to the library today, which gave Rene time to play with the toys there as well as pick out his favorite I Spy book (A to Z because it’s one of the ones with pictures) while I picked out Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

Great news: a few weeks ago the bugs that decimated the squash moved on to the cucumbers and killed (we thought) all of the cuke plants with cukes growing on them. Today Josh found…blossoms…growing on at least one of the cuke plants.

We brought Daisy to the vet today to board her (which is really a pedestrian term for a diva princess like Daisy). She will be treated to midline luxury (they have suites that have TVs that play Animal Planet and animal-full shows and movies–no reality TV so we don’t do that to Daisy). The main thing we wanted done to her while she is there is her nails clipped (although after the chili and blue Hawaiian punch incidents a bath is definitely in order). She is also getting a “brush out.” She was very happy and excited to be going to the vet; I think she’s treated like the VIP diva that she is while she’s there.

We also had to go see Granny and Granddaddy because they had some stuff for us to take down to my sister’s. Rene kept them company during that time. I showed Mom this blog as well as the Cassie Craves blog and the Pioneer Woman blog (and favorited them to her laptop).

Then came the great dinner argument that didn’t occur at breakfast because we had three chicken breasts (left over from the chicken breasts from yesterday) continuing their thaw in the fridge. Finally, in a stroke of near brilliance, we dumped Italian dressing on them in the bag (I knew that big bottle of Great Value would come in handy), tossed them on the George Foreman grill, and grilled them until done. We then sliced them up, spread mayo down the center of a tortilla, placed said chicken on the mayo, sprinkled green bell pepper down the middle, sprinkled onion on top of that, sprinkled sliced green olives on top of that (LOVE LOVE LOVE green olives), (this is where Josh and Rene deviated from me…they used BBQ sauce, honey BBQ sauce) drizzled more Italian dressing down the middle, and covered the row with cheese. Then we rolled it up, ate, and repeated. Rene actually at most of his roll-up (as well as over half a cantaloupe on his own). The pics:

Rene’s favorite part of the day would probably be when he helped with the laundry (if you don’t count going to the library).  He loves to lift his clothes into the washer.  He had to hug his Perry the Platypus blanket before putting it in the washer.  It was so cute!  (but, unfortunately, no camera was handy  😦   )

How do you prepare for big trips?  How do you make the trip preparations fun for little ones?

Cheers and Happy Packing!

What to Do with All of the Laundry Samples You Receive…

Josh is going to be going to Georgia twice (for two weeks each) in the next couple of months for job training for his new job. During those visits, he will have to do the laundry at least twice. I’ve been wondering what to do with a lot of our laundry samples (some of them are not HE-friendly which means they cannot be used in our washer), so I decided to make him a laundry kit with a Tide-to-go pen (not a sample, but necessary), Purex 3-in-1 sheets, detergent packets, and dryer sheets. I divided the 3-in-1’s into three strips. I added in a special note that he will find when he opens his laundry bag.

All of this went into a quart sized baggie labeled “Laundry Stuff”

What do you do with your leftover samples?

Cheers and Happy Sampling (I would say happy Laundry-ing, but that’s a chore I’m about to have to work on)!