What I did with my summer vacation, Part 1: Buffalo

Long story short: what I did with my summer vacation was drive all over the damn place.

We had planned to take a trip to South America last Christmas, but it fell through. Since we had a bunch of saved up vacation, we decided it would be fun to plan a big trip; perhaps not as big as South America, but still. Eventually (partially for reasons which will be explained in Part 3), we settled on a trip to Maine.

Maine is a long, long ways away. And thus we found ourselves in the car with two small children, covering 2731 miles (and 991 pictures!) in 15 days.

We went into the car ride with our eyes open. It was going to be rough, and we were going in armed with every possible trick up our sleeves. We bought activity books and “surprises” from the Dollar Spot at Target. We loaded our MP3 players with audio books and fairy tales from Storynory (seriously worth checking out if you have kids! Hundreds of hours of classic stories from around the world, all for free!). I pre-made lists of car games to play and potential plots for made up stories (the kids never stop begging for stories). We even made a mixed tape (mixed cd?) of traveling music to jam too.

Overall, it went MUCH better than I anticipated. There were still crying meltdowns, redundant bathroom stops, and refusals to get back in the car, but a lot less of them than I feared. We used up every trick in the book, and then some, but I think it was well worth it, just because the driving really wasn’t an issue at all, and really didn’t dominate the trip.

Ready to drive

The first leg of the journey was to Buffalo, NY to visit some very old friends. Sara and Alexis were roommates freshman year of college, and if not for that fact, Sara and I most likely wouldn’t have gotten to know each other. But more importantly at this stage in our lives, our kids slot directly in the middle of their kids.

First off, 5 children under the age of 7 = crazy. I felt like there were children everywhere, all the time. The pairings from our point of view work pretty well: Evie loves to play with older girls, and Ollie finally gets a chance to play with boys for once in his life. Unfortunately, poor Jackson is kind of the man in the middle, since he’d rather play with the older girls and they’d rather make his life miserable for their enjoyment. There is also the fact that our kids have about the most opposite schedules in the world; ours ready to conk out hours before theirs but then waking everyone up at the crack of dawn, resulting in a lot of tired kiddos.

Mostly Evie just commandeered the entertainment center, forcing everyone to sit through multiple showings of current-favorite Annie and just discovered Barbie and the Pink Shoes. Seriously with this movie. Evie has not stopped talking about it for a single minute. I have to admit, though “Barbie and the Pink Shoes” sounds like the most godawful thing I could ever imagine, it wasn’t as bad as all that. It was mostly about ballet and Swan Lake (so you can see what Evie loves about it), and really not so terrible. But I swear, if I have to hear about it one more time, I’m going burn and destroy every copy of that DVD in the world.

Luckily, it wasn’t all Barbie and the Pink Shoes, we did find some time to sneak away to Niagara Falls and ride the Maid of the Mist.

Niagara Falls

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I had never been to Niagara Falls, and it was about what I expected. Maid of the Mist was definitely worth the ride. I was a little surprised at how much sort of “tourist junk” stuff popped up around it, but then again it seems kind of obvious in retrospect. Certainly the falls were intimidating, as were the furiously rushing rapids at the top (especially if you were, say, wearing a wedding dress!).

The other big thing we did in Buffalo was to go to the county fair.

This may seem like a silly thing, but it was so awesome. I have been wanting to take the kids to an old school-style carnival for several years, but we just haven’t made it to one. This was a legitimate as it gets, with barns full of prize animals, any kind of fried food you can imagine, and rickety, deathtrap rides put together by drunken carneys shooting screaming pre-teens hundreds of feet in the air. In other words, absolutely perfect.

We bought enough tickets for each kid to ride one ride, and Ayla immediately picked this ridiculous arial swing thing that *I* wouldn’t have ridden on. That girl is absolutely fearless, with a big grin on her face the whole time. Next up was Ollie, and he selected to ride “The Dragon”, one of those little kiddie roller coasters.

This poor boy. I don’t think he had any idea what was about to come next. He was the only one on the ride, and he looked so forlorn sitting there by himself. He wasn’t prepared at all, and he didn’t brace himself when it took off, so he spent the entire time pinned awkwardly in the corner by the g-forces. Sara said, “Did you hit your head on the bar?” and he said, “Yeah. It was soft.” He said he liked it afterwards, but he looked pretty terrified going around and around and around. I thought it was never going to stop. Finally, just when Sara begged me to tell the man to shut it down, it came to a stop.

Luckily, we had enough tickets left at the end to give him an extra ride on something more his speed.

Carnival Ride

Alas, before we knew it we were back in the car.

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The kids were pretty sad to leave, but we did happen to find the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, who just happened to be having an exhibit on Mo Willems. You want to talk about the perfect road trip stop! Aside from being a decent museum in its own right, it was something that the kids were really interested in, from the pictures, to the “pigeon” treasure hunts, to just doing the art activities. I don’t know how many Mo Willems books we have, but it’s a lot. Knuffle Bunny in particular we have read a million times, but Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus gets a decent amount of play. We also bought our first souvenirs of the trip: 2 pictures books and some Mo Willems pigeon fabric for as-yet-undetermined usage.

No more time for stops, though, it’s on to Maine!

Now that’s what I call a vacation

We were visiting the family all last week and it was great! Plenty of relaxation, and plenty of good food. We were grilling out for practically every meal. Evie met some new doggies and kitties, we got some swimming in, played some card and board games, and even saw some fireworks. Everybody helped us watch Evie and did most of the food preparation, etc. so we didn’t have a whole lot to do.

There were some extra special highlights of the trips though:

We took Evie to see some buffalo on a farm by my dad’s house. It was pretty cool, there were lots of babies. Our fun was cut short, however, when someone drove by and threw firecrackers out the window at us. When they went off, they scared us (and the buffalo) half to death. I felt bad for poor Evie who doesn’t even really know what firecrackers are! The buffalo wouldn’t come back over by us after that.

We got a ton of fresh blackberries (mulberries? There seems to be some debate) picked off the vast expanse of pricker bushes lining my dad’s estate. I’m eating some now actually!

We did some more garage sale-ing and found some good buys on Evie clothes, puzzles and toys. This taught me a new fun game, which is checking the rummage sale listings in a small town newspaper to see what you can find. My all time favorite was one that listed “guns” for sale, but I appreciated many more items such as, “Plus size ladies clothes, Harley Davidson and Nascar.” After you’re done laughing at those you can flip over to the real estate section and cry at the ridiculously low prices.

Sara and I snuck out to see a movie to celebrate our anniversary. We saw Public Enemies staring Johnny Depp,¬†which was good and entertaining but didn’t change my life or anything. This was only the second time we’ve seen a movie in the theater since Evie was born, upping our average to one a year.

On the way home we stopped at the Albanese Candy Factory. We have always wondered about it when we passed it on the highway, so we decided to go in and see what it was about. We didn’t do a tour or anything, but we still had a very enjoyable little stop! There is a huge chocolate fountain inside and an absolutely ridiculous selection of bulk candy, which I assume is made on the premises. We bought some truffles, chocolate toffee pecans and something else that Sara picked out which I can’t remember but was just as good as the other two. They also have free samples! Evie screamed about wanting more chocolate the rest of the way home. All in all, it basically¬†reminds me of the Chocolate Castle, with more of a candy selection, but less classy.

Despite being able to relax, it was still somewhat exhausting to be away from home and everything. Exhausting enough that I literally fell asleep waiting for a traffic light to turn green when we were on the way home. Good thing I woke up Sara to keep me company shortly before that!

Finally, for all you haters out there (and those on facebook), I give you a goat on a trampoline: