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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Highlights of the drive into Phoenix

Here are some highlights of our drive to Phoenix:

  •           In Oklahoma City, we visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum where those who were killed in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building are remembered. The most striking part of the outdoor memorial is the field of empty chairs, one for each survivor, facing the reflecting pool that covers the footprint NW Fifth Street. It is a grave yet beautiful place. However, we probably should have known better than to go through the indoor museum, which is not a place to bring two young children who need to run off noisy energy after at the end of a long day of driving. The museum simulates the intenseness of the day the bomb went off and tells the stories of the survivors; it is a place to be solemn and quiet. On our way in, I noticed a young man sitting alone with bowed head near the reflecting pool. He sat there a long time and was obviously more than a tourist. I wondered how he was connected to the memorial. Was he there that day? Did he lose a loved one? The memorial is an active place of healing and remembrance.
  •        In Albuquerque, we were excited to finally be in a part of the country where we could count on getting good Mexican food. Based on Yelp reviews and the recommendation of the hotel clerk, we went to Sadie’s of New Mexico and our taste buds were so happy. Sadie’s serves New Mexican-style Mexican food, which involves chiles (“Red or green?” is the state question and refers to what type of sauce you want on your food) and sopapillas among other things. The food at Sophies was everything we were looking for: home-made chips and spicy salsa; sopapillas and honey served as part of the meal. I ordered a stuffed sopapilla with red sauce that was so large we ate it for three meals.  Jim ordered a chile rellanos combo with green sauce. Both were excellent, but my sopapilla was best. On the way out of town, we saw three colorful hot-air balloons with the sunrise, which is emblematic of Albuquerque. See here for a lovely time-lapse of the hot-air balloon festival.
    Sweet corn and black bean soup at the Turquoise Room
  •       The next day we stopped for lunch in Winslow, AZ at La Posada. We’ve only been there twice, but I’m tempted to say this is one of our favorite places, perhaps because we discovered it by accident years ago and it was such a great find in a small town. La Posada is a hotel that was built by the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad in 1929. It has been beautifully restored and has enormous personality exhibited in paintings, sculptures, and architectural details throughout the inn. It is pet friendly, which is how we discovered it when looking for a place to stay with our dogs. The Turquoise Room is possibly the finest restaurant in the Four Corners area. The chefs create “regional contemporary Southwestern cuisine” based on fresh and local ingredients. Where Sadie’s was comfort Mexican food; the Turquoise Room was elegant Arizonan food with offerings such as piki bread and hummus, sweet corn and bean soup with chile sauce, and honey-mesquite corn bread. Everything was absolutely delicious. After lunch we walked the grounds outside and found a haystack maize that delighted L1 and L2. L2 imitates everything that L1 does, and is often determined to do it on his own. L1 led the way through the maze, and L2 walked the whole way, following L1 every turn. 

  •         As we left Winslow and drove the last leg of our journey into Phoenix, the San Francisco Peaks beckoned us on to Flagstaff. Leaving the mountains, we told L1 to keep an eye out for saguaro cactus, and that when he saw them we would be about 45 minutes from the grandparents. He not only spied the first saguaro, he continued to tell us whenever he saw another one, which was essentially for the next 45 minutes. I don't have a picture of the saguaros, but I'll try to include one next time. We also saw a bonus of several more hot-air balloons over the valley.  And finally, we arrived safe and sound at Grandma and Popop’s home and didn’t get back in the car for two days!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cross country drive

If you have been following J’s blog, you know he is ahead of me and that we’ve already reached Phoenix. So I’m playing catch-up.

One of our challenges on our cross-country drive was to find stops in the cold winter weather where the kids could run off some of their energy after several hours in a car. We planned driving times of four to six hours with stops every two hours because that is about the extent that our youngest can ride in a car. Our solution the first two days of travel was to stop at shopping malls (the Galleria in St. Louis and Northpark Mall in Joplin). This worked reasonably well; the malls provided room for them to walk and wiggle, and lots of visual stimulation, even though we prefer parks and playgrounds when the weather permits.

We also made sure to stay in hotels with indoor swimming pools so that L1 and L2 can swim off their final energy for the day. L1 was excited to swim each time we arrived at a hotel and would have jumped out of the car straight into the pool if we had let him. In his words, “It is hard to wait,” which covers most situations where a 3-year old has to wait for adults to finish all those pedestrian tasks such as checking into the hotel, walking the dog, and getting dinner. But oh, the joy of warm, chlorinated air and jumping in the pool.

We stayed in three hotel chains that met our criteria of being pet friendly, having an indoor swimming pool, and a free breakfast: Baymont Inn and Suites; Springhill by Marriott (my favorite with the best breakfast); and Drury Inn (it won on the free evening meal and drinks in addition to free breakfast).

Although I was a slow convert to a smart phone, I have found it to be indispensable when traveling. Here are several apps that we found useful, especially when you have a three-year old who says he really needs to go potty:
Road Ahead: my number one travel app. It locates you on the highway and tells you what is coming up at each exit ahead of you. It includes gas stations, restaurants, rest areas, and occasionally other businesses or even parks. It is linked to Yelp reviews.
Play Places: Locates McDonalds with play places and Chuck-E-Cheese. Integrated map shows your car’s location. You can search ahead. We found the locations to be slightly off; the app usually got us in the general vicinity and then we had to look for our destination. We were sick to death of McDonalds, but sometimes it was the only place to stop for in indoor run-around.
Rest Area: Simple, locates all the nearby rest areas and tells you if they have facilities. One drawback is that it does not list whether the rest area has a playground. Integrated map shows your car location with gps.
Around Me: Great if you are stationary (at a coffee shop or gas station) to tell what businesses are around you in any direction. Not so helpful when you are driving need to find something in the direction you are going.
Trip Advisor: I used it to research hotels for amenities and quality based on customer reviews.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Our journey begins

This week we packed up the car for six months of adventure during my husband’s sabbatical. “We” means my husband (J), my children (L1 is 3.5 years, and L2 is 1.5 years), and my dog (Paddington). The first phase involves taking 5 days to drive halfway across the US to Phoenix, Arizona. From there we will launch our international travel. We left in four inches of wet snow – picture perfect winter wonderland, but not pretty to drive in. We were glad to have some snow before we left, although L1 did not get to build his snowman. We were even gladder to drive out of the snow on our first day.

L1 has a collection of dinosaurs that he brought along to play with in the car. They kept him occupied for long stretches of time (due to the time distortion of traveling in a car with two small children, I couldn’t say if this was 20 minutes or 2 hours). He also asked for his own lip balm at a gas station, which became a prized possession for two days.  Among the photos he took one afternoon in the car when playing with our phone was a series of pictures of his pteranodon with Chapstick. Looking at the pictures he chooses to take is an insight into his world view: what is important to him and literally what his perspective is, whether that is from the back seat or from knee level among adults.

Travelling and parenting have a number of things in common. You learn about yourself as reflected in someone else’s eyes. You are faced with ever-changing challenges that push you out of your comfort zone and force you to think on your feet. You encounter new joys and beauty that leave you breathless, often while you are sleep deprived. And some of the best moments are the small details that are so easily missed in the rush of life, but leave you with a smile when you do notice them, like a pairing of a pteranodon with Chapstick. I’m looking forward to both the big adventure of traveling during J’s sabbatical, and the quickly passing moments of the boys’ childhood.