The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. Psalm 16:6

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Road Trip, The Final Installment

Despite the sadness of saying goodbye to friends and family in Tennessee, we were thrilled to be heading to Birmingham to visit our most wonderful friends, the Henriques Family! We have been friends with Heather and Yurii for what feels like forever, and each of my three big kids considers their Henriques counterpart to be their best friend, despite having lived apart for six years now. Here's the whole gaggle of 'em!

Nathaniel and Nicholas - frighteningly more man-like...

 Gretchen and Emily...sweet friends who use many, many stamps communicating with one another...
 This is where I should put a great shot of Lillian and Hannah, but alas, I don't have one! Heather!? (Thank you, Heather!!! Here they are!!)

Here are Kathryn and Faith...

 We were able to spend a couple of days with our dear friends, playing and talking. We also visited The Church at Brook Hills and heard a really wonderful message given by David Platt. Such an encouragement! There were (A LOT!) of tears when it was time to leave. I know I can speak for my whole family when I say that we look forward to spending more precious time with them again.

We literally had miles to go before we could sleep, as it were. So, we pointed the trusty minivan southwest and traveled down to New Orleans. I had been to New Orleans on New Year's Day in 1994 when I played in the University of Miami's marching band at the Cotton Bowl. I knew it would not be as I remembered, given the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, but we were all eager to visit the city. Gustav insisted on beignets at Cafe Du Monde. So...we had beignets and cafe au laits despite the fact that it was a sultry 98 degrees outside!

 Now, the beignets rocked. The cafe au laits were incredible. But,

if I EVER have to go to the restrooms at that establishment again, I may just do someone bodily harm.

Yes, they were THAT BAD!

 Yeah, he didn't have to go to the restroom there. Hence the playful disposition. 

We spent some time driving the streets of New Orleans and then headed up to Baton Rouge where we were to spend the night. What a cool drive! Much of the highway there is elevated, dangling over the immense swamps and bayous. We discussed alligators and crocodiles at length. 

Once in Baton Rouge we had a super-fun dinner complete with fried alligator. Everyone loved it. Yep, you guessed tasted like chicken.

Once in our hotel room, Kurt took his usual spot for the night - the closet. At each hotel we made him a "Kurt nest" in the closet. He thought that was pretty stinkin' cool.
 The next day we drove down to the coast and put our feet into the unbelievably warm water of the Gulf of Mexico. Oh, it was lovely.
 The landscape was so stunningly beautiful. And the shells! So many intact shells and sand dollars. It was positively magnificent! 
 As we got closer to the ferry which would carry us all over to Galveston, we discussed the horrific hurricane which nearly wiped the city off the map in 1900. We marveled at all the tall houses on stilts, and explained why they were necessary. That evening we made it to San Antonio. Let me just say: "Such a COOL city!!" If I had to pick one place that most surprised and impressed me, I would have to say San Antonio. I really, really loved it. Our first night there we went to The Cove - featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. It is a restaurant, laundromat, and a car wash. Right. I don't know who thought that was a worthwhile combination, but trust me, it is working for them. We had a delicious bison delicious! and sat outside by the playground and ping-pong table (?) While we were eating a group of guys started playing their guitars and drums and singing right there in front of us. They were really good. We were off to a very good start in San Antonio!

The next day we remembered the Alamo.

Kurt and I walked around and examined all the "canyons" (cannons) while Gustav took the big kids to the more academic portions of the museum. It was such a fun place - and FREE, which always makes it funner.

We walked the absolutely magnificent River Walk back to our hotel. Talk about beautiful. I felt like I was back in Europe. Check out how beautiful it is!
 After leaving San Antonio, we drove through forgettable western Texas and eastern New Mexico. I don't even have pictures. Just know that it was about 520 miles and 9 hours of excruciatingly brown, flat land. The following day we made it to Tucson, AZ, for a little visit with grandma.
 and a little swimming in her pool. We had all had a fantastic time on our road trip, but as we started to get nearer to home, we were anxious for our own beds and some kind of normal routine. 
On the evening of August 19th, our weary band of travelers pulled into the driveway and raced in to greet the dogs. Twenty-one days, six thousand miles, and countless wonderful experiences under our belt, we anxiously crawled into our very own beds.

This was a trip that we will remember forever. It was one big, long opportunity for memory making, and boy did we! I cannot encourage those of you with children enough to plan a road trip with your children. Short, long, near, far. You will not be disappointed.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Road Trip, Part 4

So, I promised my most wonderful friend, Heather, that I would blog today in an effort to actually finish the road trip entries sometime before our next road trip. Thanks for the little push, my friend :-)

My last entry had us landing in Pigeon Forge, TN after 2200 miles logged in the minivan, which is about 33 hours for those who like the stats. The kids were really exceptional in the car and I think I speak for all of us when I say the time together was a blessing. Once we arrived in Pigeon Forge we checked into our lodge which was perched precariously on a mountainside. The views of the lush Tennessee forests were breathtaking and the sound of the cicadas in the trees magical. The home itself was a little more run down than I would have liked, but the views and the arrival of family made up for it. Soon there were eighteen of us sharing the 8-bedroom home. Cousins quickly ran off to quiet corners to giggle and share highlights of the last year, while the adults breathed a contented sigh that vacation had come.

One of our first endeavors was to head over to MagiQuest to have a little fun and, boy, did we! What a fun and enjoyable time. Gustav and the older kids ran off to fight dragons, puzzle out riddles, and cast magic spells. Kurt and I acted as a team and had a blast. After the quests were completed we spent some time in the hall of mirrors getting ridiculously lost and loving it.

We finished the day off with some local TN BBQ and some more catching up with family. Happy tummies and happy hearts.

The following days brought plenty of adventure. We spent a day in the Smoky Mountain National Park. What a beautiful, lush place. The greenery, rivers, rolling fields, and old churches and homes were just beautiful. A wonderful time to appreciate the handiwork of God!

 Seeing as it was my 30-something-i-eth birthday, we stopped by a little riverside picnic area and enjoyed some sandwiches and cake (that was smuggled in by lots of adorable little girls!) I loved the way the bright sunshine streamed through the thick leafy canopy. It was breathtaking.

 After filling our tummies (again) we continued on through the park and found a delicious little swimming hole tucked into the forest. What a time watching all of the children swim with abandon, jump off rocks, and just be kids. Like the good old days. Gabriel's expression here says it all:
 The water was chilly, but no one seemed to care. Kurt had a blast crawling from rock to rock.

 And Gretchen learned to walk on water.

 It was really one of the most delightful days I can remember having as a family. Relaxing times in the beauty of God's lovely creation. So thankful.
 Later in the week we experienced what was probably the highlight of the family reunion for many: a zipline course through the breathtaking Tennessee forest. Most of the cousins (all except Kurt, who, sadly, was too young) suited up and set off on a 2-hour zipline tour at Foxfire Mountain. Kids and grown-ups alike had a fantastic time riding the different lines through the course, including a 1500-foot zipline!

 One of our final adventures that week was to hit the "upside-down house," a.k.a. Wonder Works. This was a brain-frying experience for those over 21. The lights, the sounds, the sheer number of people squealing, running, and crying. But, the kids, again, had a great time. Rock-climbing, hurricane chambers, puzzles, roller-coaster simulators, laser-tag, games, and a real, live bed of nails to lay down on. What's not to love?

We finished our week-long family reunion and sadly said goodbye to those we love. But the Hoyers were very excited to head down to Birmingham, AL to see their most wonderful friends, the Henriques Family!! And I'll tell you all about that, and our trip back to Cali next time :-)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Road Trip - Part 3

After a fast but enjoyable evening in Memphis, TN we jumped back on the I-40 east and came to Nashville where Gustav had a business lunch at The Hard Rock Cafe. The gracious man he was meeting didn't mind having the family tag along, so we all tucked into a cozy table for 8. Kurt loved the touch screen piano (below) and the rest of the kids enjoyed hearing about the people whose clothes, pictures, and instruments littered the walls...such greats as Johnny Cash, Elvis, and the Judds.

After our lunch and a quick glimpse of the city of Nashville we headed to visit our dear, dear friends, the Runkles. To say that Gustav and I were excited was an understatement as we had not seen them in a long time. We had trouble believing that Gabriel didn't remember them (which is understandable, since he was only 2 when we all lived in CT together!) Tom was Gustav's roomate through most of his time at the University of Hartford. They have known each other longer than I have known Gustav! We had a blast with them in Chattanooga. 

We did some swimming...

...ate some ice cream (you're welcome, Casie)...

...we went on a lovely river walk in downtown Chattanooga. We really loved this great city...

...we took some pictures...

...carried some adorable little people...

...and had Five Guys for the first time after church (which was super-yummy!)
We were sad to say goodbye to the Runkles, but we were hopeful that we would see them again on this trip. Our next stop was Pigeon Forge, TN where we would spend the next week with the Hoyer family for our annual family reunion. Some of us were so tuckered out when we got there that beds were optional.

And others of us were so tired that we momentarily lost our minds.

More to come...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Road Trip - Part 2

At the rate I am documenting our 3-week summer road trip, I should have us back home in sunny L.A. just about the time we leave for summer vacation 2012! Slow and steady, right? Anyway, I want to send a big shout out to my Mom and Dad who can now read this on their new iPad! Welcome to the 21st century, dear parents! I hope you enjoy all the pictures of your grandchildren!

After we left the Grand Canyon we traveled down to Flagstaff, AZ to spend the night. Don't ask Gustav how the hotel was. He will break into hives and start uttering under his breath about excessive points and lackluster facilities. He is right. It was a dud. 

However, after we cleaned out the dud hotel at free-breakfast-time (seven people can do that pretty easily) we were off on another fantastic adventure. We hopped back on I-40 heading east and exited onto Route 66 in Holbrook, AZ to head toward the Petrified Forest National Park. Along the main street we passed this gem...The Wigwam Hotel. Can you say 'inspiration for Cars??' We HAD to stop and takes some pics. It was so super-cool!

No, I haven't slept in a wigwam lately...or ever, for that matter. I highly doubt they sleep seven without the cozy factor becoming unbearable. The period cars were neat-o, though.

Ever Mater was there!!

After our little unplanned detour (one of the things we so love about road trips) we headed to Petrified Forest National Park which is located within the beautiful Painted Desert of Northern Arizona. This place was amazing - maybe because I had no expectations at all...but I REALLY loved it. Of course, there is no actual forest, as it is located in the middle of the desert (actually it is categorized as grassland, but it seemed super desert-y to me). But there are many, many trees and partial trunks that have, over time, become rock. Some of the colors are simply beautiful. Here is my budding geologist, Lillian, enjoying the sights:

The day was perfect with a deep blue sky and beautiful puffy clouds. Just gorgeous.

The Painted Desert is simply breathtaking to drive through. Pictures do not do it justice. 

After a bit more driving on scenic roads such as this one we made it to Albuquerque, NM. This time our hotel room was grand... a lovely little garden suite with a short walk to the pool and hot tub. The boys had endless fun with the luggage carts. I'm not sure which of my four boys enjoyed it most :-)

 After much swimming, eating, and watching "hotel TV" (aka cable) we headed out the next morning for our longest driving day of the eastward trip - approximately 550 miles. As we sailed through the Texas panhandle we encountered some weather.  The clouds were scary, but thankfully, they never started spinning around.

We spent a peaceful night in Oklahoma City and then moved on to Memphis the following day. Here's the gang getting ready to fill their faces with good 'ol Memphis BBQ at Marlowes Ribs & BBQ on Elvis Presley Blvd. Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives came through with that recommendation. The food was amazing!

Fat and Happy, Baby. Fat and Happy.