Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Niagara Trip - Day 12 - Two problems solved!

July 31, 2012

Well, I tried to add pictures, but the internet is too slow here.  I'll add them as soon as I can!

Two problems were solved today and I can't even decide which one is better.  We did finally get our air conditioner fixed, which is great of course.  But also, at Idlewild, they had a mystery spot (like the one at Mystery Hill that was closed on the first day of our trip!)  I didn't even expect that problem to get solved.  Well, really I wasn't sure if the AC problem was going to get fixed either. 

It was really a relief to get the AC fixed.  Early in the morning I drove out to Weimer RV near Altoona, PA.  Meanwhile, Kyrie stayed at the hotel with the kids and then took them to Idlewild Park when it opened at 10:30.  It took a couple of hours to fix the RV and then I met up with the rest of them at about noon.  I really didn't believe it was going to get fixed today until it was finished. 

This morning the plan was for Zoe and Marc to get the AC fixed while I take the kids to Idlewild where they will join us in the afternoon.  I called for a ride to take us the 2 1/2 miles from the Ramada to the park.  They told us they could not take us because we don't have carseats for the kids. (While I of course prefer the kids are in carseats at all times, the law usually does not apply to taxis and limos.)  Surprised and disappointed by this and out of ideas, I went to the hotel's  front desk and asked if they have a shuttle (knowing they do not.)  Hearing of our bad luck and seeing three sad puppy eyed kids, the kind lady at the desk took pity on us and conferenced with the general manager. They decided to personally drive us.  How amazing!  It saved the day and was a real turning point in my vacation attitude.  The lady at the desk, Sally, even gave us promtional coupons for concessions and souvenirs at the park that is reserved for people who buy a special package at the hotel.  Then Debra, the GM, drove us to the park right up to the entrance for Storybook Land just as it opened for he day.  Hooray!
Idlewild Park is an old amusement park that is geared towards young children.  It was voted as the best children's park in the world by Amusement Today.  It's a really nice park with lots of forest in and around the park.  There are many traditional rides such as a carousel, Ferris wheel, and bumper cars.  They also have a water park that is included in the price.  To me the best part of the park was the few unique rides that they have.  One of the rides was a trolley ride through The Land of Make Believe from Mister Rogers.  It was a fun look back at my childhood and made the kids want to see the show.  I don't know if they even play reruns of it anymore, but I'm sure I can find it for them on the internet.  Another unique attraction they have is Storybook land.  This is where you can walk through the stories of many old nursery rhymes.  Kyrie and the kids did that part before I was there, but they said that they really liked it.  My favorite attractions were the Hootin' Hollar Hotel and Confusion Hill.  The Hootin' Hollar Hotel had a spinning room which was really cool and Confusion Hill is the "Mystery Spot" attraction that I mentioned earlier.  I've only been to one of these in the past - The Wonder Spot in the Wisconsin Dells - but this one was much better.  Unfortunately, we left our camera in the stroller and didn't get any pictures.  When I have faster internet to work with I'll see if I can find some out there in the universe.  All in all, it was a fun day and definitely a relief to have our RV problems resolved.  Tomorrow, we are on to our fifth and final destination, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

We nearly skipped this leg of the trip entirely due to "the incident."  I'm reaaly glad we made it here.  Idlewild is a very nice park.  It was a great day!  Storybook land opened one hour before the rest of the park and was not busy at all.  We strolled through a winding path of nursery rhymes come to life.  We walked through the 3 bears house, saw a giant on Jack's beanstalk, saw the big bad wolf in granny's bed, and so much more.   There were even live characters at some of houses and usually there were recordings with rhymes or songs at each stop.  Very cute!  We took our time and finished up just before the rides opened.
We reached a new stage on this trip.  Our kids are suddenly riding rides that we also enjoy.  Our first ride was a log flume.  Even Ella really enjoyed it so now I'm excited for next time we go to Disney so we can all go on Splash Mountain.  Many of the rides here were the kind you would see at fairs.  Some though, like Marc already explained , were very unique.  Mister Rogers' Neighborhood of Make Believe was well done.  I think it was more enjoyable for the adults who grew up watching Mister Rogers.  It was neat that you rode a trolly through the land and all of the characters voices were done by Fred Rogers' just like on the show. 
The waer park area was nice.  It was especially nice that there was no extra charge.  Unfortunately just as Jake and I were about to go on the big slides, they shut down the towers becasue a storm was coming.  That storm didn't amount to much, but later--around dinner time--there was quite a long hard storm.  We ducked in to eat dinner then and it didn't interrupt much.  With all of the rain on this trip, we've been very lucky that it never interrupted our plans much.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Niagara Trip - Day 11 - Moving right along...

July 30, 2012

Well, we still don't have an air conditioner.  This morning we got up bright and early to make sure we had everything packed up and ready to go so that we would be ready when the repairman called.  We weren't sure if the Coleman store opened at 8 or 9, so we just made sure we were ready by 8:15.  Well, 8 o'clock rolled by and so did 9 o'clock and no call from the repairman.  At about 9:20, I called his number and got his receptionist which is probably his wife.  I let her know who I was and that I was wondering if he was able to get the AC.  She said that she wasn't sure where he was, but that she would get a hold of him and have him call.  Well, that wasn't very encouraging, but I still held out hope that he was picking one up.  At about 10 o'clock he finally called and said that he couldn't find one.  He sounded completely drunk to be honest, but hopefully I'm wrong about that.  Anyway, he didn't have anything for us, so it was time to move on.

Meanwhile, I was figuring out how to keep the kids occupied at the campground figuring Marc would be gone for a few hours this morning.  Each morning thre campground has Yogi characters meet and greet the kids  followed by a craft activity at 10am.  The craft this morning was painting cermaic figurines.  I would never have gotten involved in this craft it weren't for the fact that it should kill a good hour this morning and the kids really wanted to do it (but they really want to do everything.)  We paid our $22 for the 3 figures the kids picked and started painting.  Soon after we got started, Marc called with the news that we had to move on.  Bad timing.  We still had a lot of painting to do, not to mention drying.  The figures did turn out better than I expected though and the kids had fun.
I made some calls to the area around Pittsburgh since that's where we planned on getting to today.  After a few tries I finally found a place that has the right AC and can install it for us tomorrow!  They were nice enough to rearrange some things to help us since we're in the middle of our vacation.  We decided to book a hotel room near Idlewild instead of camping tonight since I'll need to take the RV to get it fixed for several hours.  That way Kyrie and the kids can hang out in the hotel room and then head over to Idlewild once it opens.  Hopefully I'll be able to join them early in the afternoon.

Maybe tomorrow night I'll be able to add some pictures.  I've really wanted to, but we haven't had WiFi access since we left Monroe until now.

The drive to Ligonier PA went by pretty quickly.  I think it was about 3 hours.  After checking in to our "suite", we had dinner at the hotel restaurant and then went swimming.  Zoe got a lot of attention at the pool from a 9 year old girl who was on vacation with her grandparents.  I think she was missing her baby sister.  Max got mad at the girl's twin brother who was wrestling with Max and Jake and pushed him under water.  When Max gets mad, it is time to go!

I got to see a little of the Olympics on TV this evening before we went to bed... some gymnastics and some swimming.  It's easy to forget the Olympics is going on right now.

Niagara Trip - Day 10 - Bonus day in Lancaster

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Today we tried to make the most of our “extra” day in Lancaster.  We drove back to The Kitchen Kettle Village (which had closed right after we got there yesterday), only to find out that it isn’t open at all on Sundays.  In fact, almost everything is closed around here on Sundays.  One thing that was open was the Plain and Fancy restaurant.  This one had a feast like the one from yesterday, but this one was better.  So we had that and then went to the nearby Intercourse Canning Company.  We bought some pickles, jelly, and chow chow then headed to the outlet mall to get a few things that Kyrie needed. 

I feel the need to describe the "Amish Farm Feast" again.  It's just unbelievable the amount of homemade food they lay out at these Pennsylvania Dutch restaurants.  The kids (and we) love it!  The meal here started with Chow Chow, Pepper Cabbage, Bakery-fresh Raisin Bread, and Potato Rolls served with apple butter of course.  The main course was Golden Fried Chicken, Roast Beef, Chicken Pot Pie with homemade noodles, Baked Sausage,  Real Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, Egg Noodles with Browned Butter, Sweet Corn on the Cob, and Green Beans.  Dessert included Sour Cream Apple Crumb Pie, Wet Bottom Shoo-Fly Pie, Apple Crisp, and Vanilla Ice Cream with Hershey's Syrup if desired. They brought a big dessert cart to the table and served you wahever you asked for instead of passing (and wasting) whole pies this time.  A smart way to do it since I hate to see a good dessert go to waste!

The gift shop at the Plain and Fancy Restaurant and the Canning Company took care of some of my shopping needs, but I was still disappointed I couldn't browse through all those gift shops at The Kitchen Kettle Village. 

On the way there we passed Dutch Wonderland, a small themepark in the area.  When planning this trip we decided not to include Dutch Wonderland because their website made it look mostly like carnival rides and we already had two theme parks planned for later in the trip (Idlewild and Cedar Point).  But now that I see it in person I kind of wish we would have gone there (especially now that we probably won't make it to Idelwild).  It looked a lot more unique than I expected.

I was glad for the stop at the Outlet Mall.  I needed some makeup.  We have gotten so tan on this trip that my foundation didn't match at all.  I also needed some clothes for work and never have time or the desire to shop when we're home.  I was pretty quick as the two stores I needed to go to were right next to each other.  Marc and the kids played Yahtzee in the RV while I shopped.  (I bet that would have more enjoyable if the AC worked!)

The best find of the day though was a pottery shop that was actually open on the way back to the campground.  They made everything onsite.  I wanted a souvenir...something that would look nice in the house. I took me a while to look at everything in there.  Jacob was sent in to get me!  I bought a bowl for our house, and a mug for the RV to enjoy my morning coffee in.  I also bought a souvenir for Kristin for helping me out so much the other day. 

During the little bit of shopping I did get to do around here, the Pennsylvania Dutch style evoked memories of my Grandma and Grandpa Schumacher's kitchen.  They had quite a few decorations in this style and even a lot of my grandma's cooking reminded me of recipes I've encountered here.  I wonder if the decorations came from here if they ever visited or if it's just my grandfather's German or farming background that influenced their decor as I'm sure it influenced Grandma's cooking.
Once back to at the campground, we cooked some dinner on the grill, went swimming, and then watched the Yogi Bear movie out at the park and had a great night.  Hopefully everything will go well with getting the AC fixed tomorrow!

Niagara Trip - Day 9 - A "minor" incident

July 28, 2012

I can hardly bring myself to write about this day because it was so lousy, but someday we’ll laugh about it, I’m sure.  So today I hit a bridge.  Yes, you read that right.  I went under a bridge that was too low and our roof air conditioner hit the bottom of the bridge.  The air conditioner on our 1 month old RV is destroyed big time.  We were on our way to Lancaster at the time and our GPS seems determined to send us down the smallest roads there are.  I know this area is mostly farmland, but I’ve seen big roads around and our GPS must hate them.  Anyway, I saw the bridge and I have no idea why I tried to go under it.  I just went for it and I shouldn’t have.  So, now the top of our RV had this hunk of metal on top of it that used to be our air conditioner and we can see daylight through the AC vent on the ceiling. 
Marc, while horrified at what was happening as we passed under the bridge, at least knew what was going on. He had in his head he shouldn’t go under and knew immediately something on our roof was scraping when the terrible sound began.  The kids and I (and an Amish woman mowing her lawn nearby) thought the end was near, when we heard the unexpected loud sound of the metal being mangled above.  I really thought the roof was going to collapse.

We tried to carry on with our day while at the same time trying to locate a place that could fix it.  I called every place I could find in the area.  Many of them were closed because it’s Saturday and other’s said they would have to order it and it would take like a week.  In between calls we did some tourist stuff in Lancaster County.  We started with a buggy ride where a young Amish man took 13 of us in an extended buggy through a small part of the Amish farmland that surrounds the area.  If that sounds like a lot to be in one buggy, you're right.  It was a big buggy and many of the 13 of us were under age 10, but it was still pretty crowded.  There were two kids sitting in front with the driver that immediately started bugging the driver.  They weren’t trying to be rude, but they just kept interrupting and kept asking if they could drive.  It got to the point where the driver was getting annoyed and started being rude to the kids right back.  So, we really didn’t get to learn much about the Amish way of life, but it was still nice to see the countryside.  I was very preoccupied about the RV anyway, so it wouldn’t have made much of a difference to me. 
We were really crammed into that buggy.  Jake and Max just had elbow fights the whole way while complaining that there was no room.  Zoe was on my lap and Ella was on Marc’s.  That mother should have stopped her son from talking so much thereby causing inappropriate/awkward responses from the immature Amish man.  If not for those two things, the ride was nice.  The country is beautiful.  We made a stop at an Amish homestead where a couple of girls came out to sell us lemonade, pretzels, and cookies. We saw an ironic Amish business too…a shoe store…even though most of the Amish people we saw were barefoot.
After the buggy ride we went to a restaurant.  It was called Good and Plenty.  They serve a family style feast there where you sit at a big table with other families and they bring local dishes to the table for you to share.  The food was very good and the kids were on their best behavior because we were sitting with strangers.  Although at one point Max asked as he passed a dish, “are you going to take this or not?”  He didn’t mean it in a rude way and it didn’t come across that way, but it was still funny.  He just wanted to know if they wanted the food. 
There was an unbelievable amount of food served: fresh tomato slices, chow chow (sweet and sour pickled vegetables), pepper coleslaw, applesauce, bread with apple butter to start.  Then fried chicken, ham, meatloaf, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, browned butter noodles, and green beans were brought as the main course. The meal ended with five desserts!  A whole shoefly pie, whole strawberry-rhubarb pie, a platter of mini cherry cheesecakes, a family sized bowl of cracker pudding, and a dish of your choice of homemade ice cream: chocolate, vanilla, or orange sherbet. It’s a shame to see so much food to go to waste.  It was all quite good though, and Jacob found a new favorite pie—shoefly pie.

After lunch I climbed on top of the RV to see how bad the AC really was.  I was hoping that it was just a little bent and that the plastic cover was the only thing really destroyed.  No such luck though.  The fan was cracked into pieces, so even if the rest of it was able to work, it wasn’t going to do us any good.  I removed the rest of the plastic cover, so that nothing was moving around up there and then made a couple more calls to RV places, still with no luck.  At this point, it was getting to be the middle of the afternoon and it seemed unlikely that we would find anyone until Monday.  We’re supposed to leave tomorrow for the next campground, but I wasn’t able to find any RV places there that could help either.

I dropped Kyrie and the kids off at The Hands-on House which is a local children’s museum.  It looked like it was going to rain soon, so I covered the opening with duct tape and then drove to K-mart to get a tarp to put over it once we went back to the campsite.  Meanwhile, Kyrie called her sister Kristin who is always ready to jump into action whenever there is a family emergency.  As usual she was extremely helpful.  She was able to find a RV repairman in Quarryville that does emergency service.  I called the number and got voicemail which said that he doesn’t work or listen to messages on Saturdays.  That was disappointing, but I was still holding out a little hope for a call on Sunday morning before we left Lancaster County.

At that point it was almost and we had no options left to try to get this thing fixed.  We went to a little shopping area, The Kitchen Kettle Village, that Kyrie had really been looking forward to going to for months.  She got to look around at one store with Max while I took the other kids to the park and then into some other shops.  She was busy catering to Max’s needs and didn’t find the stores that she wanted until six and that’s when the place closed (unbeknownst to us.)  That did Kyrie in.  She had been holding it together so well and was so patient all day despite everything; but she was so disappointed about not getting to go to the stores that she just broke down.  At this point we were both pretty miserable.  We had no idea how to get the RV fixed and what to do on Sunday.  Should we just continue on with the trip, or should we stay here until Monday and hope that someone can fix it?
It has been so hot each day and night of this trip that we were just sure not having AC would be miserable especially at night.  The level of sleeping comfort is already less than ideal with a baby between us on a small bed.  And what about the thunder storms and the hole in the roof?
So we were driving back to the campground and the phone rang.  It was the emergency repairman – the one that doesn’t check messages on Saturday.  He asked if our air conditioner was a Coleman, which it is.  He had us drive to his house so that he could check it out.  He was hoping that the coils on ours weren’t broken, because he had a Coleman air conditioner like ours that needed new coils and could have just swapped them out, but ours were broken.  So, he removed the broken one and put a fan in place to cover up the hole until the new AC could be put in -  just as a thunderstorm rolled in!  He managed to get it in place enough to keep out the water.  The storm moved past quickly and he was able to caulk it into place.  He said that there is a Coleman dealer in Lancaster where he should be able to get one on Monday and he’ll be able to fix it and get us on the road by lunchtime.  Hopefully, he’s right!  It was a relief to have some hope of getting it fixed.  It’s a bummer to have to skip our next stop, but it will be better to have this resolved.
It was nothing short of a miracle that the repairman called when he did.  We were near his place when he called and asked us to come right over.  He worked hard and fast as the rain started right as he removed the mangled AC from the roof. He gave us hope that we could actually get this fixed early Monday AND if we had to hang around here that meant we could go back to my stores tomorrow, right?!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Niagara Trip - Day 8 - A day at the campground.

July 27, 2012  Friday

We spent all day at the campground today.  We started with getting pictures with Yogi Bear.  Then we saw that they were making t-shirts in the pavilion, so the boys had to try that.  Then the kids played on the pedal carts before trying out the bouncy pillow (which was too hot on their feet).  After lunch we went to the pool where the kids had a blast going down the slides and getting soaked in various ways.  It was a hot, humid day, so it was perfect for the pool.  We also tried out the miniature golf.  At dinnertime one of Kyrie’s classmates from chiropractic school met up with us since she lives sort of near here.  While Kyrie and Barb caught up I took the kids back to the park and we found out there was bingo going on so we tried that out.  We didn’t win, but it was a lot of fun.  The kids tried out the bouncy pillow again and had more fun this time (except Ella who was too tired and it was really crowded and scary for her).

These "down" days are often some of the most fun.  The pool and water play zone here are pretty awesome for a campground.  I love cooking out and having a fire at night.  It was nice to catch up with Barb whom I haven't seen in 5 years.  Turns out I had other friends in the area but didn't realize it until too late. All in all, it was a very relaxed and fun day. It was nice not to have to break camp and go anywhere.  It was great to catch up on some laundry too. (Thanks, Marc!)

An interview with Jacob and Max:

Now that we are halfway done with our trip, what has been your favorite part?
Jacob:  The mirror maze at Niagara Falls.  Because it’s fun!  What wouldn’t be fun about a mirror maze?
Max:  Going to the playground.

What has been the most surprising part of the trip?
Jacob:  That somebody is coming over tonight.
Max:  That Zoe put rocks in the recycling.

What has been your least favorite part of the trip?
Jacob:  That it’s taking so long to go to the golf course!
Max:  Having to stop Zoe from putting rocks in the recycling.

Do you like sleeping in the RV?
Jacob:  No.  Because it’s so uncomfortable to sleep in the sleeping bag.
Max:  Yes.  Well, it’s mostly like sleeping at home.  So, a little yes and a little no.

Niagara Trip - Day 7 - You hit the mayor?!

Our day started out in the laundry room.  I wanted to get caught up on some laundry since we have like 10 kids, or at least that’s what it seems like when I wash their clothes.  So, I took the kids to the playground, which is next to the laundry room, and then I went to do the laundry.  I arrived at the laundry room at (thanks for getting us up so early Zoe) and someone was already using all three washing machines, so I had to wait.  Now, this place has at least 100 campsites and only 3 washing machines.  Before long I wasn’t the only one waiting.  Eventually, one of the washers was empty and I started a load of laundry.  It started to rain, so I took the kids back to the RV.  Of course the dryers took longer than the washers, so I had to wait for the dryer also.  So, it was a boring start to the day.  Finally, our laundry was finished and we headed out.

This was a pretty late start for us.  When we finally left, we were all hungry and wanted to eat right away.
We stopped in Strasburg for “lunch”.  Our “lunch” started with delicious pretzels from The Pretzel House, and then some bakery treats from another place and then ice cream.  The roads around here are of course very narrow and on the way in to Strasburg I forgot how much the mirrors stick out on the sides and I smacked one of them into a telephone pole (we weren’t going very fast and it didn’t break the mirror or anything).  Jacob asked what the heck happened and I said, “I hit the mirror”, then Max said, “What!  You hit the Mayor?”  We all got a good laugh out of that. 

Marc did not do our "lunch" justice. The soft pretzels were the softest, most delicious pretzels I ever tasted.  It tasyed like freshly ground wheat was used and that they came right out of the oven.  They probably did, as they only had 3  (we wanted 6) but didn't want to wait for more to come out of the oven.  This "forced" us to buy more sweets at the bakery than we ever normally would buy.  We tried 3 kinds of whoopie pies and an apple dumpling.  The whoopie pies were a must since it's a local delicassy.  They were pretty good.  The original was the best flavor.  The apply dumpling had an amazing crust.  Not that I try, but if I could make crust like that, I'd have to bake a pie every week.  Next the Strasburg Bakery, was a winery.  I tasted a couple of wines.  They were very floral which makes sense the owner/wine maker is also a botanist..  I found a sweet one that I liked and bought a couple bottles.  One for us, one for one of my employees.  And the last shop in this little area we happily stumbled upon was a gift shop, candy shop, and creamery.  The kids had fun looking at old fashioned toys and I had fun looking a local cookbooks and history books.  We shared some ice cream to complete our "lunch" and hit the road.
After lunch we headed to Hershey to go to Chocolate World.  We enjoyed seeing the chocolate colored street lined with Hershey Kiss street lights on the way there.  Oh, by the way, our new GPS doesn’t work now either.  Must be something wrong with the outlet that we plug them in to.  Anyway, after a little confusion, we found our way to Chocolate World and had fun watching the movie, drinking some frozen cocoa, and then taking the fake factory tour.  We all enjoyed ourselves.  Yeah, that was a good idea to have a sugary lunch before going to Chocolate World, right? 
After that we searched out another Walmart to exchange our GPS and get some groceries for the next few days.  I’m plugging the new GPS into a different outlet and hoping that this solves the problem.  After that we ate at a good restaurant, but I’m not sure what the name was.  Something like Hometown Restaurant I think.  They had some really good homemade perogies there.

There was a a HUGE rain storm as we left Walmart.  We stopped at that local family restaurant both to ride out the storm and because Zoe didn't want to drive anymore. One random observation...things close early around here. The restaurant closed at 8pm.  I find this odd because on Eastern time, things usually open later than at home too. 
Once again, we arrived at the campground after dark and this time it was during a thunderstorm.  I decided to try a different approach when parking the RV this time.  My new approach worked worse than the one last night.  This time a tree branch rubbed along the side of the RV and I nearly ran over Kyrie when I didn’t realize that she was trying to direct me from behind the RV.  Thankfully I stopped and she got out of the way and hopefully the tree branch didn’t scrape up the RV, but I won’t know about that until morning.

Oh, that's where the the scratches on the RV came from. 

The RV has both a backup camera and microphone.  I thought he was using them.  He did stop when I YELLED.  I bet a few people looked out their windows.  I was standing next to a giant tree anyway. He would have hit the tree, not me, but that would have been bad too.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Niagara Trip - Day 6 - The Kleinfelter are allowed to return to the United States.

Wednesday - July 25, 2012

After a "quick" breakfast at IHOP (with some very Canadian prices) we headed back over the border into the U.S.  When we reached the border crossing I misunderstood the sign and didn't get into the RV lane.  They asked me if I didn't see the big sign and I basically just told them that I was too stupid to understand it (which was true).  They didn't give me too much of a hassle, but they wanted to see each of the kids before they let us proceed.  We had to wake Ella and Zoe up to do that.  Other than that we didn't have any trouble.  After an hour of trying to follow the mapquest directions I printed, I finally decided to stop at WalMart to get another GPS.  They don't carry the special RV one that we have, so I couldn't just exchange our broken one.  We had a really nice drive through New York and Pennsylvania.  It was very beautiful country.  We had to go through a lot of small towns, which meant that I got a lot of practice driving this exceptionally wide RV on some very small roads.  It took a very long time and we made it to our campground just after dark, which made parking in our campsite quite tricky.

There HAD to be a better way than all these small roads.  It was a pretty drive, nevertheless, I would have appreciated a faster drive.  This GPS system we picked up seems to prefer small roads.

I think the thing that would speed up our travel time the most is a stopwatch.  If we treated our stops like pitstops instead of lollygagging for half an hour or so, we would cut down our travel time by hours.

Along the way we stopped at Reptileland.  This was a mercy stop for the kids.  We were on the road for the entire day and just had to give them something fun to do.  This turned out to be the perfect stop (except for the price gouging).  We spent about 45 minutes looking at tortoises, alligators, snakes, and dinosaurs.  And the dinosaurs weren’t even in cages – yikes!  We saw the entire zoo in that time, although we probably would have spent a little more time there if we didn’t need to hit the road.  After that we grabbed dinner from KFC when the most horrible thing happened – they gave me a senior discount!  Ugh!  They didn’t mention it (and I wasn’t going to give up the $3.50 savings after what we spent at Reptileland), but I saw it right on the receipt.  I’m hoping it was just a mistake or that the lady just wanted to save me some money.  I might have to blame Jacob and Max for it though.  They decided that I can’t shave on this trip and my beard is coming in awfully gray.

Niagara Trip - Day 5 - Niagara Falls

Today was our day to really be tourists.  We started the day with a ride on the Maid of the Mist which took us right up to the bottom of the falls.  They gave us some rain ponchos (Zoe did not like hers at all) and we needed them!  It was amazing how wet it was just from the mist coming up from the falls.  The boys loved it and refused to put their hoods on.  Ella had a big smile too, but she did let me put her hood on.  The experience was just as you’d expect it to be – loud and wet!  The falls don’t look as huge in person as they do in pictures and TV, but they are still impressive and quite beautiful.

After that we walked up Clifton Hill.  We started with the Crystal Caverns Mirror Maze.  We love mirror mazes and this one did not disappoint.  We went through it several times.  It was a little too easy, but it was still lots of fun.  Poor Ella started chasing after Jacob and ran face first into one of the mirrors.  Max even cried for her.  After the mirror maze we went next door to the upside down house.  That was very disappointed.  Even the kids thought it was stupid.  It only had a few rooms and no really good photo opportunities and it was super expensive for what it was.  I think it was like $8/per person and we were only in there for 5 minutes.  After that we headed over to the IMAX theater to see a film about Niagara Falls.  It was a good movie, but it could have provided a bit more history.  Next we went to My Cousin Vinny’s for lunch, which was good.  

The amount of walking we did around town today was amazing and the kids never really complained.  The movie had some good points but was really outdated, especially for an IMAX film.  It was a nice cool break though. We were starving after the movie, yet had to walk quite a ways to find a restaurant.  It ended up being good, but not fast.  Sometimes I think it's just our area of the country that expects relatively quick service.  Every where else we travel is really laid back.   At least we were close to the hotel now.

After lunch, we hopped in the RV and drove to Niagara on the Lake. It’s a really interesting area, which is mostly just wineries – it’s amazing how many grapes are growing there. It also has a really nice downtown with a lot of small, boutique shops. Kyrie did some shopping while the kids and I chilled out in the RV for an hour.

Niagara on the Lake is pretty far away from Niagara Falls (at least in an RV with 3 kids asking "Are we there yet?"  But it's a pretty drive. I've never seen so many vineyards in my life.  I would have like to stop and buy local fruit at the stands but we had neither ime nor the need to eat much fruit before crossing the boder.  The town was actually the most crowded area I've seen so far. There are nice shops, restaurants, and lots of outside patios to enjoy wine of course.  It would be a nice place for a couple to enjoy an afternoon.  Marc dropped me off at the far end of the main street and I had about 1 hour to make it to the other end of town where they parked.  I browsed interesting stores on just one side of the street to ensure I stayed within my time limit.  I couldn't buy much anyway since I would have to carry it all...so no wine even though it was interesting to see bottles from so many local wineries.  I bought a pair of sunglasses, a Christmas ornament, and two boxes of maple sandwich cookies--one for us, one as a gift for those hard working employees who make these trips possible.

I made it back with time to spare.  On the way back, we stopped at the Inniskillin Winery which is famous for its ice wine.  Marc and I tasted a couple of table wines and selected a bottle to bring home.
After that we went to the Oh Canada, Eh?! dinner show.  Before the show I learned a couple of interesting facts like that Canada eats more Kraft Macaroni and Cheese than any other country and that Montreal has more churches than houses.  But the show went downhill after we entered the theater.  The show had some comedy, but not nearly enough.  It was mostly just them singing songs from Canadian artists, but many of the songs were very obscure and most of them I had no idea who sung them anyway.  The food was good, but it was a 3 hour show and it felt like forever.  The funny parts were good – I just wish there were more of them!

The show (and dinner) was too slow moving.  The kids did amazingly well, but we had had enough once dinner was finally over and left early.  The food was just okay and the kids didn/t really enjoy it.  One observant server/performer noticed the kids weren't eating much and brought them some macaroni and cheese which really made Jacob and Ella happy.

The view from our hotel room is the best part of this portion of our trip. We have an awsome view of both the Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls.  I found it disturbing though tat they light the falls at night.  It would be one thing if it were just white light, but instead they use all sorts of neon colors that rotate.  It detracts from the great natural beauty in my opinion.  It got me thinking about what must have surrounded the falls hundreds of years ago.  I imagine forest.  Wouldn't it be amazing to walk through the forest and happen upon a sight like that?!  It's too bad that it's completely developed and commercial now.  It's still beautiful and I apprecieted the view from my room.

Niagara Trip - Day 4 - Don't need a map I have a GPS

Today we left the campground and headed for Canada.  Before leaving Monroe MI, we had to check out the very first NUCCA office since that’s the kind of chiropractic that Kyrie practices.  That was in downtown Monroe and that was when we started having trouble with our GPS.  Before the trip I decided not to bring the road atlas because it wasn’t very useful and I figured I would just be using the GPS the whole time anyway.  The GPS started locking up and then it would work for a while if I unplugged and started it again.  Now it won’t work at all and it’s making the driving much more difficult. 

I suppose it's the very first NUCCA office since it's the office of the man who developed the technique, I just never thought of it like that before.  It's a quaint little building behind a house that Dr. Ralph Gregory once lived in.  We pulled up the closest corner, I hopped out of the RV and snapped a quick picture before we moved on.  I just felt like I should at least get a glimpse of the office while we were so close.  Currently 2 NUCCA doctors who were mentored by Dr. Gregory are still practicing there.  Nice piece of history that is particulary important to me, since NUCCA saved my life.
The Canadian border patrol stumped me with the “what’s your license plate number” question (since we’ve only had it for a few weeks), but other than that we managed to invade Canada without much resistance.   We did inadvertantly smuggle in some lunchmeat and cheese.  The drive through southern Ontario didn’t have much to look at.  It was mostly corn fields and some trees.  It reminded me a lot of driving through Wisconsin.  The big difference is that there aren’t any billboards in Canada, well, at least not that we’ve seen.  I could see from the exit signs that there were some places that we could have stopped at along the way that might have been sort of interesting, but without billboards to entice me, I just could never decide if any of the stops were worth it.  Plus I never had more than 1 or 2 kilometers to decide!  The kids were getting really tired of driving by the time we reached Hamilton, Ontario so we exited and looked for a place to get out of the RV for a bit.  We saw a park right on the lake (Hudson?), but there wasn’t anyplace nearby to park so we kept going and eventually settled for a WalMart to walk around and pick up a couple things that we needed.  That worked out okay, but our stop definitely dragged on for too long since we were less than an hour from Niagara Falls. 

Finally, we reached our destination and made it to the Embassy Suites where we will be parking our RV and sleeping in real beds for the next two nights – yeah!  When we checked in at the hotel, they offered us an upgrade to one of their presidential suites for $80/night extra.  We decided to go ahead and splurge since they described it so nicely and since we have no idea how much $80 is in this funny Canadian money!  I think it’s about $75 USD, but who knows?  Anyway, since Canada doesn’t have a president, they apparently don’t have much of a concept of what a presidential suite should be like.  The room is nice, but I would hardly call it a presidential suite.  It has a bedroom and then a sitting area with a pull out couch.  Both areas have a great view of the falls, but the suite that we originally booked would have also.  I think the whirlpool tub and the fireplace is also part of the upgrade, but I think I still would have been just as happy with the other room.  What we really needed was an elevator pass – the elevators are so crowded all the time. 

We had dinner at Tony Roma’s which was fine and then Kyrie and Jacob headed back to the room while the rest of us ended up taking a long walk to the falls.  Looking out of the hotel window it appeared that getting to the falls would be very easy since it is right there, but getting down there with a stroller required walking many blocks north before I could get to a road that would take us down to the falls area.  Eventually we made it and had a good time along the way.  By the time we got back Zoe was sleeping and we were all ready for bed.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Niagara Trip - Day 3 - A "relaxing" day at the campground.

July 22, 2012  Sunday

Our very narrow and shadeless campsite at Harbortown
Well today we don't have any plans.  Just a whole day to relax, kick back and just enjoy the campground.  No reason to get up early at all.  My day to finally sleep in.  Apparently the kids didn't get that message.  Zoe woke up at 7:00 and everyone woke up with her.  And of course since the kids didn't get enough sleep, everyone was crabby today too.  We still had a good day though.  Kyrie made pancakes on the grill - I don't know how she managed to keep them from falling through!  Then we went to the pool and did some laundry - boy did we get some funny looks!  Just kidding, we did laundry at the laundry room which is next to the pool while we went swimming.  The penguins coming out of the pool shivering should have clued us in to the temperature of the pool, but that didn't stop us.  Once I got past the initial heart attack it was really quite refreshing on such a hot day. 

An adequate pool...just a little cold

It was nice that we could see the playground from our campsite so the boys could play there without us going along

We thought Harbortown would be our favorite campground on this trip, but it turned out to be our least favorite.  It was fine though.  The sites were just too narrow and it had no character. 

THE $3.50 truffle from our stop the day before. It was delicious, but I'm glad we only bought two. It wasn't that special.

After lunch we finally headed over to the go-cart track. Jacob has been begging to ride them ever since we got here two days ago. Jacob rode in one and Max and I took the other. It was a lot of fun. I'd never been on a go-cart before and I was surprised by how fast they went. After that we cooked up some hamburgers and had a quiet night at our campsite. The place was packed for the past two days, but now it's pretty much deserted. 

Niagara Trip – Day 2 (corrected) - Have I been to Olive Garden 100 times?

 July 21, 2012

Ford Factory Tour
Today we went to the The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.  We started with the factory tour.  Zoe didn’t appreciate the introduction video, but I did get to see enough of it to find out that Henry Ford invented a quadracycle (like a car that is powered by pedaling it) before he built the Model T.  The plant that we visited was built to be completely self-sufficient.  They even made their own steel.  I don’t know if they still do or not.  After the introduction movie we saw sort of a 4-D circle-vision movie from the point of view of a car being built.  Zoe liked that one better.  After that we got to see the assembly line itself from the observation deck above.  It was really interesting to see the trucks being built.  I was surprised to see the variety of colors and options all intermixed on the line. 

Greenfield Village, Dearborn MI
After the factory tour we went to Greenfield Village which consists of a lot of old buildings setup in the layout of a village in the early 1900’s.  We enjoyed looking in the houses and seeing what it was like to live at that time. 
One of the highlights was that the kids got to make their own candles by dipping a wick in beeswax and then dipping it in cold water.  They had to repeat the process quite a few times.  Max got tired of it very quickly, but Jacob stuck it out until the candles were a pretty good size.  They had too many people doing it at the same time so it ended up taking about 45 minutes, mostly because he had to stand in a long line over and over again.  We all learned some things from the visit.  I hadn’t ever considered why covered bridges are covered.  I guess I always just thought it was to make it look nice.  Apparently, they are built that way to protect the bridge from weathering.  They said that it was a lot easier to rebuild the cover part instead of the bridge itself. 
Oldtime bikes circled the blocks in the village
Model Ts and other old cars were driving around
Early lightbulbs adorned the street posts

After a ride on the carousel and some ice cream, we headed over to the Henry Ford museum.  There was a lot to see there.  Of course a bunch of different cars, but quite a bit of other stuff as well.  The kids especially liked seeing the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile and the chance to become hot dogs themselves.  I liked seeing the Dymaxion House.  It was made of aluminum and circular and built in the 1930's.  It was built to be very efficient at using space and made out of cheap but effective materials.  It looked like it would be miserable to live in unless it was just one person.  It was 1,000 square feet, but it didn’t seem like it.  The bathroom was as small as the one in our RV and the kitchen had almost no counter space.  It showed a twin bed in the bedroom.  Anyway, it worked out in the end for the designer because he later went on to obtain the patent for the Geodesic dome (like the one at Epcot).  Those were a couple of the highlights of the Henry Ford Museum, but there was quite a bit more to see and I would recommend this stop to anyone passing through the area.

The highlight of the boys' day...BEING the weiner!

After the museum we headed over to Olive Garden for dinner.  Normally, we try to avoid things that we could have at home, but after a long day at the museum it seemed better to play it safe and eat somewhere that we knew we’d all like.  We thought that we’d quickly get some breadsticks which would make everyone happy, but apparently they didn’t think anyone was going to want breadsticks today.  It took a long time for the breadsticks and salad and then it took a long time again later to get another batch of breadsticks.  Oh well, it all worked out fine.  We were all starving and everyone ate well, which is almost unheard of in this family.  When the waiter asked if we’d ever eaten there before, Max said that he’s been to Olive Garden “like a hundred times!”  While that was certainly an exaggeration for Max, it made me wonder if I have been to Olive Garden 100 times.  I don’t remember when I first started going to Olive Garden, but I figure it must have been at least 20 years ago.  So that would only require 5 visits a year, which I probably exceed now, but I don’t know if I could really have been there 100 times.  It’s definitely possible, but probably more like 80 or 90.  Well, I’m sure that was really interesting to read.  I guess I better get to bed now before I try to count how many times I’ve been to Home Depot or Walmart.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Niagara Trip - Day 1 - It's a mystery!

July 20, 2012

Today we began our circle tour around Lake Erie.  The first leg of our trip is from Geneva, IL to Monroe, MI.  It's about a 6 hour drive and puts us in a good place to visit the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village over the weekend.  Our drive there was fun and of course took much longer than 6 hours.  Kyrie was hit with the "If I see a billboard for it, I have to go to it" bug.  Usually that's me, so I guess it was opposite day or something.  So, in south Michigan we stopped at the Round Barn Winery, Chocolate Gardens, and Grandpa's Cider Mill. 

Kyrie tasted a couple of the wines and bought some (of course).  Then we ate lunch on the road before stopping at Chocolate Gardens.  This place has been on Food Network and has the prices to show for it.  Actually, I can't knock them for their prices because we haven't even tasted it yet.  We bought two truffles (for about $5.50), but haven't tried them yet.  The truffles looked good, but it would have been nice if they had more different kinds of chocolate instead of just truffles.  I'll add an update after we taste them. 

Grandpa's Cider Mill was right next door and had a bunch of different flavors of apple cider (like 30 of them!)  We each tasted a different flavor, but in the end decided to stick with the traditional flavor.  We also bought some apple cider donuts to have with our breakfast tomorrow. 

I had picked one roadside attraction that I thought would be lot's of fun - The Mystery Hill, where the laws of gravity no longer apply.  I researched it yesterday, but couldn't find out the hours.  I figured it would be fine since we would arrive in mid-afternoon.  Well, with all of the stops it eventually became clear that we wouldn't arrive until after 4:00pm.  I tried calling there at around 2pm to verify that they would be open, but just got a busy signal.  I figured it would still be alright since 4pm isn't very late, but I was wrong.  When we arrived it was closed.  I didn't bother checking their sign to see what time they closed since it wasn't going to help me now.  Big disappointment, but we'll manage.

After leaving Mystery Hill, we were all starting to get hungry.  We had been seeing Big Boy restaurants in Michigan which reminded Kyrie and I of our childhood, so when we saw one at dinner time we just had to have it.  That was something better left to nostalgia.  The food was not so good. 

Oh well, on to our campsite.  At about 7pm we arrived at Harbortown RV Park after getting a little lost and checked in.  I'll save my review on that for tomorrow.  I'm super tired and the kids finally fell asleep!

Monday, July 9, 2012

RV Practice Trip #2, Day 5 - Broken Key!

July 7, 2012
We survived the storm.  The rain was quite loud at times throughout the night, but the kids slept right through it.  We slept in this morning which turned out to be a big mistake.  Prior to that we worked on breaking down camp which was pretty easy since we picked up most of it before the storm came.  I ran into a problem because the key broke to the cabinet with the water tank valves.  Luckily, I could access the locked cabinet from the one next to it and was able to use a fireplace poker to unlock the cabinet from the inside.  I couldn't relock the cabinet, so I had to duct tape it to keep it from flapping around.  Finally, we headed to Paul Bunyan's in Minocqua for breakfast.  When we arrived there the line was really far out the door and wasn't moving.  We decided to head downtown to Island Cafe which turned out to be worse.  It only took 20 minutes to get a table, but it took forever after that.

The rest of the day went much better.  The kids were great on the way home and we made it home quicker from Minocqua (300 miles) than we did going to central Wisconsin (150 miles) a few days ago!

Overall, another fun trip.  Can't wait for our real trip at the end of July!

RV Practice Trip #2, Day 4 - How to use the weather radio.

July 6, 2012

Well things are getting exciting now.  About an hour ago one of the campers warned us that a storm was coming.  At that moment it was still sunny, so we figured we had a little time, but soon we started hearing the thunder.  We quickly finished up dinner, cooked up some smores and cleaned up camp to get ready for the storm.  We weren't quite quick enough and I spent the last few minutes in the downpour.  The storm came roaring through and it prompted us to figure out our weather radio.  It turns on automatically when there is a weather alert, but apparently that has to be configured.  So, we fixed that and it turned itself on one time later that night.  The storm probably wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but being in the middle of these huge trees with nothing more than some aluminum (or whatever they build these things with) protecting us makes it seem a little scarier.

Earlier in the day we just explored a little and went swimming some more.

RV Practice Trip #2, Day 3 - Indian Shores Campground

July 5, 2012

We had a mostly uneventful trip up to Woodruff, WI.  It took a few hours which wasn't too bad (for us).  Our generator overheated just as we arrived.  We read that the ACE has a problem with that and they have a kit to resolve this.  I just wish they would have just fixed it ahead of time.  It was still super hot, so I wasn't too surprised.  We arrived at the campground in the early afternoon and were escorted to our site (which was funny because it was literally right next to the main building).  We quickly hooked up and switched to swimsuits and headed to the pool. 

With this being only our second campground it's hard to review it fairly.  The pool seemed rather small for the size of the campground.  The miniature golf course looks abandoned.  I actually thought it was free because of the condition that it was in and the building next to it with the clubs and balls was just sitting open.  Jacob and I inadvertantly had a stolen round of golf.  I didn't realize until I saw a sign in the laundry room the next day that they charge $5 for it.  I'm surprised that anyone pays that.  The rest of the playground area is pretty nice with a mixture of older and newer equipment and some ball courts.  The campground is in a really beautiful setting with trees everywhere.  It sits on the shore of Lake Tomahawk, but it doesn't have much of a swimming beach.  Also, they currently have signs posted warning of swimmers itch, so we stayed out of the lake.  Otherwise it looks like a good lake for boating and other water sports.  It also seemed very expensive, but that may have been because it was a holiday.  Our site was  $65 for full hookup, but not pull-thru.  They have a small store and a restaurant on-site.  They only activity during our stay was Funky Bingo.  I don't know what that is since we didn't attend it.

After swimming (and our rogue round of golf), we grilled some food for dinner and headed inside out of the heat.  We watched a couple movies that we rented at a nearby redbox and hit the beds.  I tried to get Zoe to sleep with Ella or Max, but she wasn't going for that, so Kyrie and I ended up squeezing Zoe in between us again.  We still need to figure out a solution to that.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

RV Practice Trip #2-Day 2 - The Burning Sands

July 4, 2012

It was a long, hot night.  It took forever for the cabin to cool down.  Somehow we managed to sleep, but we probably should have just slept in the RV.  It's even hotter today, but at least the AC can run all day to keep it from getting too hot.  My sister and her family are coming to our cabin to visit for a day before they go to the Dells and we go further north to complete our second practice trip.  They arrived around lunch time and we soon headed to the beach.  The sand was so hot that we literally had to run from the shade (where we setup our chairs) to the lake which was only about 10 feet away.  The cousins had a great time swimming.  Kyle, Jacob and Max especially liked jumping off of the raft.  Jacob decided that he needed to jump in 100 times - he did that and more!  After a long day in the hot sun we opted for a quiet night inside instead of going to see fireworks and sitting in the still high 90 degree weather.  We rented the movie Mirror/Mirror and Max and Ella were asleep before it was over.  Tomorrow we head to Woodruff!

RV Practice Trip #2, Day 1 - 20 Miles per hour

July 3rd , 2012

With “Movin’ Right Along” blaring from the dash we headed out on our second ever motorhome excursion at about 9:30am on this Tuesday morning.  Our first destination is our cabin in central Wisconsin.  For whatever reason it seems to take us at least twice as long when we drive in the RV than when we drive in the van.  Marc has the RV GPS set to warn him when he goes a certain amount over the speed limit.  Even though I am constantly hearing “Speed Warning” coming from that annoying little thing, we seem to go nowhere fast. 

It wasn’t a bad start, but we had to stop a get a little breakfast before we got on the interstate.  No problem.  Not much longer to pull up and run into McDonalds than it takes to drive-thru.   The delay really occurred because we detoured a bit to stop at an outlet mall in Wisconsin Dells.  At 12:30 we went to the Crocs store to exchange a pair of shoes that were hurting Ella’s feet.  The boys had to pick out new Jibbitz too while we there.  By then we were pretty hungry and thought the fastest solution was going across the parking lot to Buffalo Phil’s.  Several problems here…  It was busy.  They stated there was a 15 minute wait for a regular table.  (The kids wanted to wait 45 minutes for the train side table, but we refused.)   The next problem was that this place has a huge arcade and ride area.  The kids were dying to be able to ride or play something.  We felt justified in saying “No” since we just bought them new Jibbitz afterall. 

Finally our table was ready (about 25 minutes later.)  The service was slow and poor.  The food was poor.  Overall it was a big 2 hour waste of our time.  I wish we had gone anywhere else!  Oh well, we’re in no hurry, right?

Back on the road and not far to our cabin now.  It's super hot out.  The temperature reading on the RV says 105, but it's probably exagerating a bit.  It took us 7 hours to go 150 miles - that's just a little more than 20 miles per hour! 

The plan (at this point) is to change into our swimming suits in the RV and drop me and the big kids off at the community pool while Marc and Zoe go turn the air conditioning on at the cabin and unload.  We got to the pool about 5pm.  We had a good time here.  Marc and Zoe joined us about an hour later.  We stayed until the pool closed at 7pm. 

Not too hungry but knowing we would need something else to eat tonight we headed to a local convenience store that has a deli.  The hot food section had just closed, but we managed to buy a box of broasted chicken and grabbed a box of frozen waffles to satisfy the kids. 

The thermostat registered 86 degrees when Marc turned on the AC.  It was sooo hot outside that two hours later when we walked in it actually felt cool at 84 degrees!  It took all night to get down to 73 degrees.  Even then the temp would rise throughout the day; the AC just couldn’t keep up.