edamomie

An Exploration of Parenting by the Vowel

Paws for Celebration: Six Months of Puppyhood December 2, 2015

Filed under: The Unknown — edamomie @ 6:37 am
Tags: , , ,
Copper_Cone_Nov2015_8277

Puppycone of Misery

We recently celebrated our puppy’s six month birthday. There was cake (fit only for human consumption), beef and cheddar homemade gourmet dog biscuits by the Brown-eyed Baker in the shape of a bone (fit for both human and puppy consumption), an extra long walk and treats from Bone Adventure.

 

Copper, our beloved medium goldendoodle with an Instagram account, now nearly five times his bring-home puppy weight of 7 lbs; knew something was up on November 20, his half-birthday. He was so insatiable and would hear of no rest, even past 10:30p.m. We attributed some of this spunkiness to his neutering a mere 10-days earlier and the removal of the puppycone. Saying goodbye the the cone gave him a new-found freedom (since removal, he has thoroughly inspected it, swatted it and nearly tore it apart, signifying his dominance over it).

 

It might seem silly to celebrate a dog’s half-birthday, but his presence in our lives has held a lot of meaning. Having never had a dog before, the decision to get one was not taken lightly (see 2.5 years of research in The Perils of Puppy Pursuit). For our family of four, with varying levels of interest from main caregiver/walker (me), to nuturer (my 12 year-old daughter, Ava) to hyped-up player (my 10 year-old son, Calvin) to my nonchalant husband whose attention ebbs and flows, consistency in training has been a challenge.

 

Dirty Laundry

Dirty Laundry

Here’s the Six-Month Overview:

Months 1-2

In the beginning he peed a lot. And just wherever. I was happy we did not just recently do our flooring. We will be doing that next. It needs to go. It was a good two months before we could stop walking on eggshells for fear of a mess when he disappeared into the next room. Soon, we understood the random-pattern floor-sniffing, much like a crazed ant, as a key indicator to get him to the dog run stet.

 

At the onset, I was summoned at least once nightly by barking to release him from his kennel and take him out. Thank God it was summer. I honestly don’t know if he’d be with us if he required winter training. It was insane how quickly I jumped back into the newborn mom routine and sleep deprivation. That lasted a good month (or bad month, as the case may be).

Dognapping

Dognapping

 

I recall many a happy dance when he did sleep through the night. Even then it was only until 6:00a.m. For weeks we were in great stride with early morning walks. Sometimes I tried to go back to sleep 6:30-8:00, but could never seem to get quality sleep.

 

We started dognapping often as the breeder (Goldendoodle Acres) reported the goldendoodles need for up to 16 hours of sleep a day as a puppy. Most days a dognap could work, but catch me after the shrill ring of the doorbells mid-nap (a trained Copper-induced cue that he needs go out), and you would find a not-so-happy dog-owner.

 

Month 3:

A crazy thing happened at the end of June, just as we were thinking about prepping our small city lot for puppy. Our neighbors on both sides installed fences. In addition, we had our own chainlink fence on the street-facing side. It was a design nightmare of sorts and I spent months contemplating options to enclose the fourth side of our yard that faced the alley. It was clear that escorting him around to the side of our house to the 18 x 7′ enclosed dog pen 10X daily was not a sustainable effort.

Fenced In! ...Finally

Fenced In! …Finally

 

Finally, in October, I reached out to our neighbor’s fence company and found a contractor for the small fencing project. He was awesome. He completed the fence (6″ planks with 2″ gaps to allow some site lines) to complement our neighbor’s fence.

 

Because we completed the cedar fencing so late in the year, I had to give the wood just enough time to dry out, but not wait too long before temps dipped below 40 or for precipitation set in to stain the fence. Luckily, we had one of the nicest Minnesota fall seasons on record! Our neighbor’s shared the cedar stain brand/color they used and I was off to the races. It took me four hours of really intense work to complete the staining.

 

Months 4-5:

Official Dog Tag

Official Dog Tag

Now Copper runs free the yard, with just a quick open of the back door to let him out and a high-pitched treat call to bring him scrambling in. Liberating. It changed our lives just when patience was at an all time high (hauling a 22 lb dog to the dog run equals no fun).

 

Things were going smoothly until one day we called and he didn’t come. We heard meek squeaks coming from underneath our wrap-around deck. My dad had just completed some fancy lattice work surrounding it, leaving no space too large for little Copper.

 

How could this be? He was stuck under the deck. It became apparent that he’d been working on his project for weeks, clearing dirt in a non-visible area under one set of steps, much like Tim Robbins work in the Shawshank Redemption.

 

I lured him out to his neck with a treat, then grabbed his collar. Had he not had his walking harness on, which was completely necessary to grab, I might have had to dismantle the step to remove him. Jeez, Copper! Calvin said, shaking his head. When will this dog ever learn?

 

Present day:

Cal and Copper Cuddling

Cal and Copper Cuddling

Well, he’s learning. We’re all learning. One thing at a time. From late August – Sept puppy obedience classes at the Canine Coach to our recent investment in a bark collar (six month minimum age required), training a dog takes diligence, consistency and patience. The collar was immediately effective, making all the difference between a bark-through Thanksgiving dinner at my parents to a bark-free Thanksgiving meal at my house two days later.

 

Next up? Winter-weather exercise. We headed to the Minnehaha Dog Park last Sunday. No way would we let him off-leash there… we’re working up to it though. Just keeping him from destroying the backseat of the car after that visit and bathing him was hilarious challenge enough.

 

Through it all, I continue to remind everyone that all we need is just a little patience.

 

— Happy six month, Copper! We love your unconditional love and sweet little licks all over our faces. — love, the fam

 

Queen of Hearts for a Day November 1, 2015

A: Activities and I: Independence
 

My kids inherited the Halloween gene. While you might say that this proves true for every child — what kid doesn’t like a pillowcase full of candy? — the fact that they start scheming and envisioning their costume as early as June places them in the slightly obsessive category. They owe this debt of gratitude for the love of planning the costume and going to painstaking lengths to ensure its perfection, to my husband. And maybe my handy, if not limited, sewing skills.
 

Queen_Halloween_MakeUpThis halloween, my 12 year-old daughter, Ava, envisioned the Queen of Hearts three months before the spooky holiday neared. She found a DIY costume video from a teen pop culture icon, Bethany Mota (#SpookBook), on Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland version of the Queen of Hearts character inspired by the actress Helena Bonham Carter.
 

Two months out, we made our list of stuff we would need: fabric: red, red lace and gold brocade; thread, black corset, red ribbon, black elastic, gold fabric paint, red jewels, a dowel rod, gold piping and gold foil for the scepter; funky black tights, black felt, hot glue gun and sticks and of course, the make up.
 

We hit Joann Fabrics for the first round of items. For the first time in 20 years, I actually bought a sewing pattern for the skirt (typically I just pull something out of my closet with a similar cut and improvise). The red skirt complete with interfacing, waistband and a zipper presented numerous challenges and creative differences. My Brother sewing machine needed a $75 tune-up. Halloween costumes of the past with glittered to sequined fabric had taken its toll. We used too thick of a thread for our satin fabric. Ava accidentally cut out a small chunk of the nearly completed skirt. We sewed in the zipper upside down. The list goes on…
 

Queen_Halloween_Skirt
 

The most challenging part was the red lace overlay. The entire skirt was a Project Runway #MakeItWork moment. We were three weeks in and Ava was starting to wane — this is a ton of work for a costume I’m going to wear for four hours! Let’s just buy a costume at the store. I assured her, we would see the project through. We were already $80 (+ $75 for repairs) into the project.
 

By five weeks in, we came at it with renewed energy on a quest to find the red tutu and black corset for less than $30 and $50, respectively. We ended up finding a $6 red tutu at Michaels and a $16 Bebe corset at NuLook Consignment. Perfect moment for a refresher course on our Halloween costume budget and the meaning of DIY. Ava was quite focused on executing the costume to every exacting detail she saw in the video. I stressed the importance of using things we already had on hand and reinventing our own version — creative and economical. We shared some very vocal creative differences again… and resolved them.
 

Queen_Halloween_Hare_Training
 

At seven weeks in (one week away from Halloween), we visited Spirit Halloween in search of my 10 year-old son’s costume. Ava was immediately drawn to the $59.99 Queen of Hearts costume in the bag. It was jumping off the rack, speaking to her. It would be so easy… She was practically begging me to buy it. I held firm if a bit incredulous she’d push to go that route after our efforts. I assured her that now was the fun part.
 

Queen_Halloween_Corset
 

And it was. We put all of the details together little by little throughout Halloween week. By Friday (the day before Halloween), it was pretty solid and she was fairly confident. Halloween day, I picked up black tights for $5 at Target and Ava’s aunt Katie (@Glamwhip), once again showed her awesome skills as a make-up artist. We had pinned away the night before (Pinterest Board: Queen of Hearts) and she came with all of the make-up and ideas ready to go on Halloween. I found my wedding crown and Katie used that in the glam up-do. Ava stepped into my velvet heels and the role of the queen.
Queen_Halloween_Tights
 

Ava’s friends came over around 6:00 on Halloween to enjoy hotdish, hotdogs (#mummydogs) and hotcakes (chocolate cupcakes); head out trick or treating, then just hung out at our house til 10:00. The make-up came off with some persistence (the heels had been shred long before in favor of her Converse) and the candy was counted. It was def a DIY Halloween filled with lots of good lessons on creativity and perseverance with a pricetag of $115, if that’s a factor.
 

Happy Halloween, everyone!

 

The Perils of Puppy Pursuit August 1, 2015

U: The Unknown  I was puppy-obsessed. The more the universe told me I had no business owning a dog, the more I pursued it. Two and a half years ago when my then 9 year-old daughter, Ava, started on her individual quest for a dog, I would hear nothing of it. Sure, I humored her by participating in dog quizzes nightly at dinner for stretches that lasted two weeks at a time. After a few of these, the pattern of irreconcilable dog differences began to emerge.
 

She wanted a tiny dog that looked good on her arm in the latest designer handbag. I wanted a medium-sized square in stature dog who was an avid-runner and a non-squirrel chaser. We also had to consider allergies. My son has mild allergies to dogs, which greatly narrowed our options. And the conversation, which I managed to stop for three months (and delay with other obsessions like pierced ears and a room redo) before it gained any momentum again in the spring of 2013.

Pitbull Mix  - Animal Humane Society

Pitbull Mix – Animal Humane Society


 

I’ll give Ava points for persistence. I thought the interest would pass. Around this time, our neighbors left on a week vacation and entrusted us with the care of their well-trained lab, Riley. Riley was incredibly easy and chill. By the end of the week, Ava was tired and unsure. I, on the other-hand, was surprisingly sold. I could envision me as the main caretaker of said dog with no expectations of the kids and their role.
 

This vision of me at the helm was critical according to other cautionary parents. Our long reviewal process and conversations with dog owners pushed this idea to the forefront as the key in dog-ownership. If we were to get a dog, I would assume responsibility and guilt-free joint ownership for the other three members of our family.
 

Once on board with this, we visited animal humane societies (notably in Golden Valley in April of 2013: see my related post: The Dogs Are Barking). Having never owned a dog myself (my husband had two over the course of his childhood), this visit was rather intimidating. What breed, or more specifically, what individual dog would be most suited to our family?

Corgi Bonding at Mpls Kennel Show

Corgi Bonding at Mpls Kennel Show


 

We continued the quizzes and my daughter logged long hours looking online and tagging her favorite pups. We took a break over the summer. She started up again in the fall of 2013. We hit up the annual Minneapolis Kennel Club All Breed Show and Obedience Trial in November 2013. This began, for Ava, a love of the Corgi and all its variations. We recommitted to ramping up the dog search again in the spring of 2014. The discussion remained dormant over the holidays.
 

During the spring of 2014, we landed on the basenji as an agreeable breed for Ava and me. We visited a basenji breeder in WI and met Harry late May of 2014. We liked Harry a lot. We made a date for the breeder to drop him off at our home for a weekend-long stay. A few days prior to the scheduled visit, the breeder cancelled on us citing the reason as becoming too attached to Harry and wanting to keep him for her own. Was this a taste of what to beware of when working with breeders?
 

Yes. While breeders are certainly avid dog-lovers, they do not necessarily pride themselves on their professionalism or customer service (of course, there are exceptions! I am just basing this on our experience with about 10 different breeders interactions). I was ready to take a summer break in our search. We did that and then some. Talks resumed in March of 2015.
 

We reflected on the path to-date and recognized the basenji, as a sight, not scent-hound, was prone to venturing off and never finding their way back to home base. So for this search go-around, we focused on low-bark invoking, highly trainable, hypo-allergenic breeds. I did more online searches and long email conversation strings. After an interview for an article I was writing for MN Parent and a simultaneous conversation with a dog-owner friend, both landed on the goldendoodle, I took it as a sign.

Basenji Bonding at Breeder

Basenji Bonding at Breeder


 

We had our breed. I did one last month-long push to reach out to breeders of goldendoodles in the Midwest. I even submitted a deposit to a breeder in Hutchinson, but had no returned email response until two weeks later, at which time we had already committed to the breeder we ultimately selected in Neenah, WI. We also talked with a breeder in Mankato and made arrangements to meet them. We were on their waiting list and had plans to visit over Memorial Day weekend, but received no confirmation. Weeks later, we received an email that pups were available. We had already moved on.
 

I committed to one last evening of research and inquires on Thursday, May 28. The following Sunday, I received a call from the breeder, Janece. Someone with the first pick of the liter ready July 8, had to back out of their commitment. I immediately sent in our deposit to GoldenDoodle Acres, our breeder of choice, on June 3rd on a wing and a prayer. It worked out. The universe wants us to have a dog. We have accepted the challenge.

 

Bases Loaded Going into the Tenth June 27, 2015

Filed under: Independence — edamomie @ 8:16 am
Tags: ,

I: Independence

10YO Coolness

10YO Coolness

The scheming and theming might be over. Upon Calvin’s calendar reaching double digits, having a party theme that looks like you tried too hard, in his 10-year-old words is not very cool, Mom. I could hardly find a plain enough Evite to send out for the party and it was made clear that the plates and napkins were to be solid colors only.
 

I thought once we hit Party City he’d warm up to some decor, perhaps a baseball theme since he’d really stepped up to the plate with the Brewers, Richfield baseball this season. Alas, he stood firm. I barely talked him into four solid color balloons. The cashier empathized, How old? me: 10; cashier: Consider yourself lucky. My son is 13. All he wanted for his birthday last week was a ride for him and his friends to the movie theater. Nothing else. 

Ticket Redemption

Ticket Redemption


 

Well, I reasoned, if it’s the end of an era, so be it. I’d just like to hold on to their littleness for awhile longer. Reflecting on previous parties from pizza and a movie (age 6), Lego My Eggo (age 7), Flip this Room (age 8, all about the remodel) and Skyzoning Out (age 9), we’d had a good run of theme-oriented fun. This year, we chose Grand Slam, a laser-tag, mini-golf and krazy kar extravaganza.
 

We set the party date for a Friday and offered to shuttle the boys from Minneapolis to Grand Slam’s Burnsville location with a 4:00p.m. drop off. All parents took us up on this offer and we were out the door by 4:20 and with shameless use of the I-35W carpool lane during rush hour, we arrived at Grand Slam by 4:40. Jim, headmaster at the complex, allowed us to check in at 4:45, prior to our official 5:00 start time. He also had great suggestions about the order of events from laser tag to mini golf to pizza, then krazy kars to arcade. I would’ve gotten these all out of order.
 

My husband and I played Win, Lose or Deal and then played mini golf with the boys, which was much better than sitting on a bench in non-participatory mode. I appreciated the boys’ age, the little monitoring required and the super-easy process at Grand Slam. All for $14.95 a kid (Package #3). Since we were transporting all of the boys, I opted not to bring the triple-layer, double-fudge cake into the venue. We saved that and the presents for our house.
 

Too Quick for Candles

Too Quick for Candles

The boys burned off some energy playing laser tag no doubt. As a result, switching gears to mini golf when they were ready for a more focused activity, worked well. The course was close-knit without much breathing room, but I appreciated the Pirates of the Caribbean meets The Truman Show vibe they created. Golf was followed by pizza and pop and all sorts of goofiness, which was really sweet, actually.
 

The boys ended the eve there burning through the six tokens included in their package. Some were lucky to hit jackpots and collect 250+ tickets spewing out of the machines only to discover 500 tickets would only get them a packet of gummi bears. I appreciated that restraint. It forced each boy to carefully select one meaningful item from the ticket redemption area.
 

I enjoyed a more subdued ride back to our house, with that one special item in each of their hands. When all the boys took their places at the table, we cut into the cake. I’m sad to report that I only got 5 of the 10 candles lit before impatience pre-empted my lighting (we would make up for this during the half-cake family b-day later that weekend). And yes, cake was served on solid color plates.
 

BD Swag Bag Items

BD Swag Bag Items

Cal decided that for this year’s party, he wouldn’t mind gifts. We had a rapid-fire opening of them and most all translated well to the front lawn from lawn darts to Nerf guns — and they all needed to immediately be tested. Calvin does like his gifts, but he also really enjoyed picking out each and every item that went into each invitee’s birthday swag bag. There were squishy basketballs, paddleballs, bouncy balls and gumballs (Ha! It’s a theme).
 

The parents arrived promptly at 8:30 and the house had quieted by 8:41 or something close to that. I found myself totally cool with the downplay of the theme and the mellowness that was my son’s tenth year celebration. It’s definitely a whole new era.

 

The Age of The Lateover June 7, 2015

Crafty Paper
I: Independence
 

The end of the school year is always a flurry of activity, so why not throw a birthday celebration into the mix? The celebration, in honor of my 12-year-old, Ava, would be very non-princess, very non-pink and very bold.
 

Unlike past birthday parties I’ve thrown for Ava including Disco Superstars (age 8), Babycakes (age 9), Peace, Love and Balloons (age 10) and Twisted Princess (age 11), this one would be notably different in many ways.
 

First-– we based the party theme around the Avengers, The Age of Ultron, devoid of princesses (unless you count the movie’s female superhero, Black Widow).
 

Second — it was a progressive party of sorts. We went from our house to the park, to the theater and back to our house. Change of venue kept the momentum up and me with less busy-work and entertaining.
 

Starry ShieldsThird – my daughter didn’t even ask for a sleepover, it was a lateover. This new term was brought to my attention by the guy sitting next to me at the theater and the father of another 12 year-old girl whose wife had shoed him out of the house during his daughter’s party. Basically it’s a late end to the party — in our case 10:00p.m.. — that pushes parental limits.
 

After years of birthday parties for Ava where I’m running a bit much, this year, the girls’ ages made it super simple, mind you never less loud.The party began at 3:00, right after the bell on the last day of the school year which included a Grand Slam field trip with their entire sixth grade class. When I picked up half of the crew at school, they looked ready for some down time. After the other half arrived via a rowdy bus ride, they all quietly watched about an hour and 15 minutes  of Once, before I summoned them away to sneak in a 20 minute activity making superhero shields.
 

Girly MonkeysI wasn’t sure how this would go over. It was borderline and risky, but either the girls humored me or had fun with the making of their bedazzled shields. We used cardboard cake plates as the base and traced and cut circles and stars in varying shapes using craft paper in blue, red, sliver glitter and black stripes (Michaels). With packing tape, we adhered a faux leather bracelet from a DIY kit to the back of each shield. Cap (Captain America) would be proud.
 

Weapons aside, the pizza delivery guy showed up around 4:45. He parked in the wrong direction and at a diagonal, like his life depended on this delivery. I thanked him for his superhero speed and in turn, the girls downed the two pizzas in about three minutes. Post pizza, they played with shields and musical instruments and harmonized to the Disney parody Thank You BP, then were ready to head to destination two: Veteran’s Park.
 

The new apparatuses for climbing and zipping at Veteran’s were impressive. I hadn’t visited there with the kids lately so it was nice to let them run wild for an hour while my husband (co-shuttler for the night) and I chilled on a park bench. I noted their advanced monkey skills at this age, climbing, swinging, jumping with agility.
 

After tMarvelous Birthday Cakehey numbered off diplomatically for who was to go in each car, we made the quick trek to Southdale AMC for the 7:05 showing of Avengers: The Age of Ultron. My 10-year-old son actually wanted in on his sister’s party this year as did my husband. The three of us sat together in the row behind the six girls. True to form at Southdale AMC and 20 minutes of trailers later, the 2:21 movie was rolling. It was a bit of a gamble taking 12-year-olds to see a PG-13 movie so I was a little concerned on the suitability. In discussions after, most gave the movie high ratings for action, pace, story, characters and humor. I thought the action in back to back scenes was a bit intense. I was not following some of the pending end-of-the-world drama either. It had me wondering about an additional suitability rating like CG-35. With this rating, you’d know going in that if you’re over age 35, your child (or a child) will need to explain certain parts of the movie to you.
 

During the car ride home I received the tweens’ explanation of the movie. I’m still not sure how good and evil got so mixed up within Ultron and why Bruce Banner grew exponentially as The Hulk, when in the TV show he went from 180lbs to 250lbs. One bright friend of Ava’s proclaimed herself the biggest nerd and relayed all the Avengers facts my 35+ mind could fathom. I was starting to catch on, but I couldn’t help but think that a 1.21 versus 2.21 film duration might have lessened the confusion.
 

The movie trailers and length put us home at 9:48, just in time for a rapid fire light of 12 candles (not possible), the birthday song, cake and ice cream. The girls’ timely parents all arrived, some yawning, at or very close to 10:00. I’m such an efficiency girl that I note all five guests were out the door and it was quiet by 10:17.
 

Cake Eating with AvengenceAva was exhausted, but happy with her party turnout and the reminder that school’s out for summer. She went to bed. I reflected on the sweetness of her last tween-year birthday, the age of 12 and the lateover while enjoying my piece of cake. Then I went directly to bed myself with no worries of preparing pancakes for six in the morning.

 

Spring Break: Vacate the State May 2, 2015

Y: YOLO (Travel Adventures)

We got out! Last winter, we did not. We staycationed it in Minneapolis and it was miserable. Minnesotans need a getaway and timing is critical. If you vacation in January, just know it might be miserable to endure three more months of winter. End of March, some Minnesotan’s might argue, is an ideal time. It’s also spring break.
 

In the process of writing an article on family travel planning for May 2015 MNParent, I talked with Linda and Jim of Pique Travel Design. Vacations with your kids throughout their formative years are opportunities not to be missed. We cited the anticipation and planning for a trip as well as having more long-range travel on the horizon to look forward to, as top benefits. I expanded a bit on the planning for trips in my April blog, The Pros of Family Travel Planning.
 

When March 27 rolled around this year, we were ready to vacate the state. Our 8-day road trip, with a final destination of the Great Smoky Mountains, started out rocky. On the Wednesday prior to our Friday departure, my husband volunteered to host my son’s baseball kick-off meeting at our house. After shrugging off disbelief to this type of commitment, all four of us stepped up our game Thursday prior to the trip (and baseball meeting) for 2. 5 hours to whip the house into fine shape (I mention this because it was awesome to come home the following Saturday to a super clean house). When everyone arrived, my 11-year-old daughter, Ava, and I left for our scheduled pre-trip Target run.
 

New stylish, but cheap, sunglasses and sweet and salty snacks packed, we headed out the door 6:45a.m. on Friday. After an hour of chit-chat and a fair distance away from metropolis, I pressed play on one of five audio books I checked out from the library. Harry Potter didn’t garner much attention. All four of us were too focused on our individual tasks: driving, Clash of Clans, Minecraft and Martha Stewart. I would attempt again later.
 

St. Louis, MO

Gateway 630 Feet Mark

Originally considered a type of fly-over destination on the trip, St. Louis proved to be rich in history and monumental. But then again, every city is. It’s about seeking out a unique experience. Thanks to Ava and her trip research, she discovered the Delmar Loop historic district in SLP, ranked among top 10 Great Streets in America by the APA. We arrived at 3:00 and checked into Ava’s booking suggestion, the Moonrise Hotel. Within walking distance of retail, restaurants and shops along St. Louis’ Walk of Fame, we spent hours combing the memorabilia of Blueberry Hill and throw back candy stores. We topped it off with bowling at Pin-Up Bowl, just next to our hotel.
 

The next day, after a visit to Winslow’s Home on Delmar, we headed to The Gateway Arch. It was a bright, sunshiny day so we started with a walk through downtown and visit to the St. Louis Old Courthouse, where Dred Scott was tried. The kids were fascinated with the story and Ava could lend some insight as she had just studied slavery and the Civil War. We purchased our arch tickets and walked through the historic courthouse, currently undergoing restoration. Up my alley!
 

After an expected wait in line to get into the underworking of the Arch, we learned the South Tram was shut down (there are two tiny trams, one in each arch). We agreed the delay would be worth it and 1.5hrs later, we ascended to 630 feet via the North Tram. With our family and a stranger in the five-person tram, it felt quite claustrophobic (people in 1963-1965, when the arch was built, were smaller than modern-day Americans perhaps?).  The views from the top through tiny windows that you leaned over mimicked both in-flight and free-fall feelings. An architectural and engineering feat undoubtedly that left us feeling a bit uneasy and happy to make a safe descent.
 

Louisville, KY

Jockeying for PositionWe arrived 3 hours later in Louisville (pronounced LOO-ee-vil) with our accommodations booked en route, as we had left this night to chance. The Galt House was hopping and Saturday night was in full swing. Around 8:00 we headed out to explore via foot, the Yum Center, Whiskey Row (yes, with the kids) and dine at DocCrows in the midst of the Kentucky vs. Notre Dame game. The southern smokehouse and raw bar proved one of the best meals of the trip. Most rowdy experience? A group of people in the lobby using adult language to the extent that the wife told her husband, Mouth Up. Calvin, my 9-year-old, thought that to be hilarious.
 

On the way out of the city on Sunday, we visited Churchill Downs for the tour and museum package. Excitement was definitely building for the 141st season of The Kentucky Derby (coincidentally, starting now). The museum had surrounding video screens to capture the spirit of the race during a 20 minute video showcasing the history and the greats from horses to jockeys including Calvin Borel.
 

Nashville, TN

Most Beautiful Small TownFour hours later and a side detour based on my husband’s request to wind along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, we navigated into Nashville. I will say the wandering included lunch at Bardstown, a quaint little town whose claim to fame is Most Beautiful Small Town in America. The Vanderbilt University area of Nashville, just SW of downtown, found us in another Ava-booked accommodation: Homewood Suites Vanderbilt by Hilton. With two nights ahead of us, we were happy to enjoy the awesome comp happy hours, dinners, breakfast buffets and sizable salt-water pool (the largest pool in their new model of Homewood Suites, according to the manager).
 

On Sunday we went to Perfect Pizza in Hillsboro for dinner and retired early. Monday, Mar 30, we ventured into downtown Nashville. It was an easy drive. We parked in the huge, new Nashville Music City Center (convention center) and happened upon the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was such a beautiful day, that we opted not to visit there, but head over to The Ryman, the birthplace of the Grand Old Opry. We so enjoyed The Ryman (currently under restoration) and the backstage tour where we heard stories about Minnie Pearl and Johnny Cash and the greats that graced the stage. Chad recorded a song he wrote in their sound booth for $25.
 

Honky Row NashvilleWe had plenty of time to walk Honky Tonk Row, have lunch in an open-air cafe (as Minnesotans, we were totally giddy about this), check out the shops and hop on a trolley for a city and environs tour. The capitol and grounds was worthwhile, then mid-tour, we hopped off at the Parthenon, just next to our hotel. We basked in the sun at the park for a good hour and hit the pool (again!) for a quick swim.
 

After we took in dinner at the hotel, the kids were on their own. A grown-ups must-see? The downtown scene of Music City. With live music on every level and every stage in every bar, we visited three touristy joints before inquiring with a local to find the off-the-beaten track venues (Printer’s Alley). Date night. Check!
 

Smoky Mountains

The next morning, we cruised through the new Grand Old Opry area, but did not stop. I was looking forward to our morning visit to Andrew Jackson’s Historic Mansion. When we arrived, three people opted out. I guess after three days of other tours, no one could muster up the energy for another tour. I was disappointed, but we moved on. The Great Smokys awaited…
 

Black Bear CabinAfter our cross-TN journey, we wound around narrow, climbing roads and arrived at our cabin for a three-day stay. Our Black Bear Hollow Cabin with its three floors and decks, pool table, hot tub, fire pit area, isolation and views of the Smokys, at $150 a night was a steal! This lodging pick courtesy of my husband, found us in Townsend, TN, by the Cades Cove area of the Smokys. Already day five of our trip, we were in vacation relaxation mode and ready for a night in.
 

We had a fire in the fire pit, enjoyed the hot tub and planned activities for the next few days. Upon waking up Wednesday morning, April 1, we were ready to see the mountains we had travelled all this way to see. We were refreshed and ready to hike, so we ventured out from Cades Cove (on the western side of the park) to see Abrams Falls. It was a decent elevation over a round-trip 2.5 hour hike. We were starved though. Somebody forgot the picnic we packed….
 

After R&R at our cabin, our curiosity about Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg got the best of us. Just 15 minutes up the road, the kids and Chad did an Alpine Slide in Pigeon Forge for $15 a pop. We marveled at the rise-in-place tourism mecca of every tour for kids imaginable – buildings built like pirate ships, a Jurassic Jungle and more. We did not stop. Gatlinburg was retail, restaurants and entertainment. The kids loved it – one big amusement park and American fun factory. Chad and I were ready to tap out.
 

Horseback VistaThursday morning, we loaded up on allergy pills and headed just down the road two minutes to Next to Heaven Horseback Riding, where they tout unguided tours with the most scenic routes. We had passed a few other options in the flatlands, but this just appealed to us. We got a two-minute overview, then got on Liberty, Dakota, Huck and Dusty for a one-hour tour. It was indeed scenic. These sure-footed horses made me most uneasy in trot and downhill mode. Chad and Cal relished in the adventure, Ava and I were a bit more cautious. It was elating, but I was happy to be back on my own two feet!
 

It was starting to get a bit overcast after our post-horsebacking riding rest, but we continued on with our plan to venture further into the Smoky Mountains. Townsend, north of the park, was an hour-long drive into the park and our destination along Clingman’s Dome Road, a seven-mile stretch of road to the top. This particular road, only open seasonally, had just opened April 1. As we climbed, the fog (or blue smoke/ purple haze) enveloped us and about 4 miles in, we turned back. No doubt upon reaching the top, the fog would prevent a view of anything. Instead, we hung out at Newfound Gap at the Tennessee and North Carolina border.
 

After a full day, Friday morning, April 3, had us packing up to say goodbye to our lovely little cabin. We logged 12 hours of travel-time that day before reaching our friends’ home in Chicago. There would be no sight-seeing in Chicago. I had set that expectation at the onset. Chicago would be a return trip and weekend visit during the summer. We slept well. The six hour drive back home to Minneapolis on Saturday seemed a breeze compared to the day before. We were happy to be home.
 

All in all, it was a taste of southeastern America that was new for all of us and a good combo of cities, historic sites, museums and the great outdoors. Most importantly, I feel grateful to have had the time to travel, bond as a family and create memories. Next up? We’re discussing it over coffee this morning…

 

The Pros of Family Travel Planning April 19, 2015

Y: YOLO (Travel Adventures)

We knew we were on the hook for a kids-inclusive spring break vacation this year. Last year my husband and I got away for a trip to Las Vegas over spring break while the kids went to their grandparent’s home in sunny southwestern MN. In March 2014, we were just seven months off our 10-day family vacation to Glacier, so we reasoned that a mom-and-dad only trip was justified.

 

Ideas for our March 2015 spring break started popping up in family discussions around October 2014. At the end of October, my husband returned from a business trip to Ashville, North Carolina, where he got a little taste of a state that lies east of the Mississippi. We started quizzing ourselves about what we knew about the Eastern U.S. and realized neither of us had visited much, nor did we know what we’d do in that area of the country.

Charting a Course

Charting a Course

 

We got out a big atlas map and started charting a possible route for a road trip experience with the final destination as the Smoky Mountains (near Ashville, NC, our inspiration point). It would be a marathon. Luckily, the kids, Ava age 11 and Calvin age nine, were road warriors. In other words, we’ve groomed them through frequent summer weekend trips to Okoboji, IA (6.5 hrs round trip), a trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota (26 hrs round trip and in-trip driving) and a trip where we flew into Calgary, but logged about 30 hrs between Glacier National State Park, Waterton and Banff, Canada (see our August 2013 Trip Adventure). Important prep and groundwork for setting expectations and practicing patience en route for our upcoming trip.

 

The kids’ schools tacked on a freebie Friday prior to the week-long spring break so with dates of Friday, March 27 – Sunday, April 5 wide open, we set a rough outline of our nine-day itinerary. We started by booking our Smoky Mountains lodging. The cabin we wanted was available for three nights toward the end of the vacation (Mar 31- Apr 3), so we booked that in November 2014, and continued to ruminate on the other cities and points of interest along the way over the next few months. Having a trip on the horizon was a great focus for the after-Christmas-blues!

 

After coming up with the inspiration, destination and first lodging, my husband turned it over to the rest of the family. And everyone stepped up, just like professional travelers. Ava took it upon herself to research accommodations in the cities we outlined along our route – St. Louis, MO, Nashville, TN and Chicago, IL, for starters. We gave her a budget and criteria for each city including location (based on ease of access and top one or two things we highlighted in each city). I anticipated reviewing her suggestions and having to do more research to find something more suited. I was wrong. She did an excellent job via her ipad over two months of research off and on to find good deals, great locations and a balance of experiences from modern to kid-friendly to historic.

Gateway Arch Greatness

Gateway Arch Greatness

 

To correlate with the accommodation search, we all chose top priorities of things we’d like to see and do in each city and along our way. They included The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, The Country Music Hall of Fame and The Grand Old Opry in Nashville, The Hermitage (Andrew Jackson’s estate) outside of Nashville, The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, somewhere in Kentucky, and obviously, The Smoky Mountains. These top priorities helped us feel confident in our accommodation choices and helped us explore the cities we’d be visiting.

 

About a month prior to the trip, we talked about the length of the vacation. The Sunday prior to going back to school and work would be Easter Sunday. We wanted to re-enter that Monday on a high note so decided that we’d plan to stay in Chicago the last Friday of the trip with friends (no sight-seeing this time around, because Chicago would be an easy summer weekend trip). This meant we could have an easy 6.5 hour drive back to Minneapolis on Saturday.

 

We had a solid, working plan. We’d leave Friday, March 27 at 6:00a.m., arrive in St. Louis by 3:00p.m., spend one night there, leave Saturday open (Nashville was too limited and spendy to book on Saturday night), book Sunday and Monday nights in Nashville, visit The Hermitage on Tuesday morning, arrive in Townsend, TN (in the foothills of The Smoky Mountains near Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN) for our three-nights, spend 12hrs in the car on Friday, April 3 to make it to Chicago and then head home the following Saturday.

 

Well, it didn’t quite happen that way. Which was intended, actually. By planning enough and leaving a bit of room for spontaneity, we were able to roll with all of the unknown surprises and unanticipated challenges that travel always presents. For instance, we didn’t anticipate that one of the two small roller trams in the Gateway Arch would malfunction and cause extra-long lines on a Saturday. We discussed and agreed that spending an extra two hours there would still be worth arriving later than planned in our next city, Louisville, KY.

Postcard Art

Postcard Art

 

In Nashville, although we intended to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, it was a beautiful day for a walking tour of the city. So we opted out of the more expensive, lengthy venue and tour for a historic, quaint, 1.5 hour visit to The Ryman, the birthplace of the Grand Old Opry. On the way out of Nashville, we cruised by the new location of the Grand Old Opry and with its vast, theme-park feel and our Ryman experience surrounding the Opry, we didn’t feel compelled to stop. And although we arrived to The Hermitage mid-morning with plenty of time for a tour (in fact, one I was anticipating a great deal), the family was just not into another two-hour tour. Looking back, I realized we had just come of The Gateway, Churchill Downs and The Ryman tours. The Hermitage would have to wait.

 

One of the most difficult things for me to do as a traveler is relax. I get this charge and excitement from being in a new city or destination that can’t be quelled. I tend to go, go, go. Traveling with a family required that I temper this a bit. However, I did find my early-riser son and I could do some things (like get in a run or workout) before the rest of the family rose. And the three night stay in a rustic cabin in the mountains (Black Bear Hollows) certainly helped with the relaxation factor. For $150 a night, this gorgeous three-story log cabin (sleeps 10) with a pool table, hot tub, fire pit and isolation was a destination in itself. A find, indeed.

 

The weather was cool to warmish (29 in Louisville to 70 in Townsend, TN) throughout our vacation. Even as a Minnesotan craving some sunny solace, I went into it with zero weather expectations. After all, we weren’t going to Mexico. In Nashville and two of our days in the Smoky Mountains, we had perfectly warm, beautiful days. True to form and all of our perceptions of what The Smoky Mountains might be, a purple haze (or “blue smoke” as observed by the Cherokee) settled in over the tops of the mountains during our visit to the top.

 

One day prior to our arrival, the park opened their summer season only road, Clingman’s Dome Road. We found ourselves on this seven-mile road that reaches the very top of the mountains at Clingman’s Dome, enveloped in fog. We turned around half-way up, reasoning that we couldn’t see 10 feet in front of us, it would only get worse and we’d not be able to see a vista when we reached the summit anyway. After hiking, exploring waterfalls and Cades Cove in the park, we were fine with this decision. We knew we were somewhere in the Smoky Mountain Rain and that’s all that mattered.

 

 
%d bloggers like this: