The Open Road Part 1

This past Saturday morning I took my minivan through the car wash and then proceeded to vacuum and clean the inside. 45 minutes later, I was still cleaning. I must have filled an entire 60 gallon trash can with garbage too. The amount of smashed and ground-up food on the carpet was beyond gross, and there were some particularly nauseating items that I could not even identify that were swiftly thrown out as well.

It’s amazing what three small humans ranging in ages from 9 to 4 can accumulate in a car when you’re on a road trip.

Even as I was what felt like elbow deep in crushed up goldfish crackers, I could not help but smile as I went over the 16- day epic road trip our family had just gotten home from the night before. The mashed up crackers were worth it for the amazing memories we had just made driving to Tennessee and back.

The Pup

About a week before our road trip I was stressed about where our beloved Riley was going to be during our trip. We would have just brought him along, but we were going to be staying in some hotels that weren’t dog friendly along the way, and our cabin does not allow animals in Tennessee.

Thankfully, my Aunt Debbie and her husband Brian in Denver told us to bring him to them. They have a 13-year-old Shih Tzu named Poky, and are dog lovers so we knew Riley would be well loved with them.

So, we packed up the van and made our first 8 hour day drive to Arvada, Colorado. Our first day went pretty well, although we ran into pretty heavy snow in Vail which seemed so surreal! Other than that slow down, the kids all did great so we were hopeful the trip would go without a hitch.

Since we were only spending the night, we stayed up and talked late with Debbie and Brian and let the kids stay up late too so they could get some wiggles out. It was so nice to catch up, and Poky and Riley hit it off immediately so I was relieved about that. Riley is like my fourth child, so knowing he was in good hands helped me feel a ton better to go on our trip.

Nature Sucks!

Our first major stop after Denver was to be Milwaukee, Wisconsin to see my birth mom Sherri. She is currently a Creative Writing Professor at Marquette University, and we worked out our trip schedule so that we could arrive on a Saturday and spend the weekend with her when she was not teaching. It would take us two days to get there from Denver, so we decided to stop halfway in Omaha, Nebraska.

I found us a cheap hotel on Booking.com and unfortunately we got what we paid for! It wasn’t the worst hotel I’ve ever stayed in, (I need to write about the Miami hotel that had a horrifying pool of blood on one of the beds!That’s a whole other story) ,BUT this hotel had an indoor pool! So we were able to take the kids swimming that night to help wear them out. We all showered after and went to bed after feasting on some amazing tacos from a local place right next to our hotel that I CANNOT remember for the life of me. The kids thought eating in bed was the best thing ever, but let’s just say I didn’t have to sleep in their bed afterwards!

Like I said, the hotel was not the best. It was also not in the greatest neighborhood, and we arrived on a Friday. So, there was quite a rowdy gang of people who decided it was okay to party in the hallways until 4 AM. They were so rowdy that I got up to double and triple check the sturdiness of our door locks!

The next morning it was no surprise that we slept right through our alarms and missed the free breakfast (but I’m gonna be honest and guess it was probably a blessing in disguise!)

We instead packed up the van and stopped by a local grocery store for some muffins, bananas, and yogurt and filled up on that. Then even though we had another 7.5 hour drive ahead of us to Milwaukee, we decided to check out downtown Omaha since neither of us have ever been. I have driven through Nebraska plenty of times, but we always stayed in Lincoln.

We were impressed with Pioneer Park, which is a park right in the center of downtown which was dedicated to the Pioneers who trekked across the plains. There are many large bronze statues of different groups of pioneers. The kids may or may not have climbed all over them, but we figured it was okay.

It was a good little place to explore before we hit to road to Milwaukee.

This third straight day of being in the car was really starting to wear on the kiddos. We decided they needed to not watch the movie player the entire day so we turned it off and urged them to draw, color, read, or play with some of the things we brought along to keep them entertained. Jess even gave them the suggestion:

“Just look out the windows and enjoy nature!”

Memphis was completely enraged by this idea and yelled out in reply:

“Nature sucks!”

He did not appreciate us getting a good laugh about it either.

Unfortunately this drive also involved me getting pulled over somewhere in Eastern Nebraska. Thankfully the officer lowered my speeding ticket by $100 so it was only $87.

Let’s just say we were all relieved to pull into Milwaukee proper around 8 PM and go up to Sherri’s apartment knowing we would be staying put for two nights.

Don’t Be Curt About the Curds

It was so nice to see Sherri again. I haven’t seen her since early August when she, along with all of my sisters and my grandparents met up in Blackfoot, Idaho to attend a funeral for my Papa’s brother, Lin.

It was nice to be able to see her for a day and a half in Milwaukee. I flew out to see her two years ago, but Jess and the kids had never been.

Sherri’s husband Rick sadly was not there. He is currently in Albuquerque for a construction job that he started in September. So we were bummed to not see him, but grateful for the time with Sherri.

She was ready for the littles- and even had cute fish cupcakes already made (she’s an amazing baker), and cute little Halloween sticky window decals that were perfect for her apartment full of windows overlooking downtown.

I have zero doubts that her entire building knew we spent the weekend. Let’s just say my children don’t know how to be courteously quiet in apartments.

That first night we caught up, ate some pizza, and talked until we were exhausted. We slept in her front room where she had a full size Purple mattress for guests, and the kids were surprisingly super stoked to sleep on the couch or a nest on the floor so we were happy they were content.

The next morning once we all got up and readied ourselves, we drove out to the lakeside to explore. Lake Michigan is a marvel to see in person! You don’t realize just how huge it is. A ferry takes about 4 hours to cross it! We walked along the shore where there’s a cool kite shop, and a really unique looking art museum. We discussed whether it was a whale or a sting ray, and decided any answer is right.

The cafeteria was on the bottom level, and there was a cool art display made by locals of interlocking cardboard blocks that had all be drawn, painted, or decorated in some way. They formed various archways, forts, and shapes. The kids had fun running through them and picking out which ones they liked best.

We made our way back to the van, and headed to get some lunch because the children were displaying symptoms of extreme hangriness.

After lunch, we made our way to the central downtown area in the hopes of showing Jess the Bronze Fonz statue. If you didn’t know, the show Happy Days was based in Milwaukee, so what better way to commemorate it then to make a bronze statue of Fonzi am I right?

Well, due to some unforeseen construction and road/sidewalk closures we were unable to reach him! Jess assured Sherri it was alright, and we enjoyed walking along the Milwaukee River which runs through the city. As we made our way back to the van, Jess wanted to go into a cheese store. We all sampled various yummy cheeses, and Jess was overjoyed to get himself a bag of cheese curds that weren’t fried. Apparently, Milwaukee’s “thing” is to deep-fry everything, including cheese curds.

The kids had fun trying on various “Cheese Head” hats in the store too.

That evening we made some dinner and watched Sunday Night Football and pretty much talked until Sherri needed to go to bed. She had to work in the morning and needed to be up early. So we said our goodbyes that night, although she did wake me up in the morning for one more hug which I was so grateful for.

We slept in a little bit, and took our time getting ready because our next stop was Chicago and the drive was only an hour and a half from Milwaukee. So we hit the road again, thankful to not be in the car for 7-8 hours bound for the Windy City. More on that in my next post!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

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