Midwest trip: July 3, Day 14

Well, I’m almost done posting about our trip – what a bummer. It’s been so fun to relive it…

We left Chicago the morning of the 3rd at 10:00 with our destination for the day being Vicksburg, MI – just outside of Kalamazoo; 171 miles away. Our friends from Chicago were heading to her parents’ house on Indian Lake for the 4th and we accepted the invitation to join them for the festivities and arrive home a day later than first planned. However, we didn’t consider the traffic patterns of the Great Lake area or that many people would be getting away early for a long weekend. The traffic was horrendous and what should have been a 3 hour trip took us SIX; so we didn’t arrive until 5pm local time (Eastern). We didn’t even realize we would be passing into the 4th timezone until we arrived there. However, it was fun to then be able to say we’d traveled through 14 states and all 4 timezones! Now, that is a roadtrip!!

We stayed at the Nazarene Camp and Conference Center across from Heidi’s folks’ house. The guys went to get fishing licenses while the ladies took the kids to the park. Jordan had a great time playing soccer, while the youngest Ellis kiddo, Jeremy, jumped from a toy and hurt his foot. Following dinner, the guys went out fishing in the boat while Heidi, myself, and the kids fished off the dock, talked, and read.


Heidi’s brother (Darren), Wayne, Cole, and Willie head out on Indian Lake


Heidi and Ashley try for some fish – no luck


Midwest trip: July 2, Day 14

We went into Chicago today, and I was so psyched!

Despite deciding ahead of time that I really wanted to see the Field Museum (MIL great up very near it, for one), we all felt ‘museumed out’ and opted for an outdoor day. We started our downtown experience at a big McDonald’s which had an escalator and a walking history of McD’s inside of it! We didn’t eat here, but instead went across the street to Rainforest Cafe for brunch.

From here, our RFC waitress had suggested Navy Pier so we headed there. We found a postcard that made the Pier look so calm, which wasn’t our experience. The traffic and tolls just to get into Chicago were enough for me to realize that I didn’t miss city life!! After seeing the huge and very cool looking ferris wheel, we got parked and headed out. Our experience was that of a truly windy city, hot, filled with lots of day camp kids. There were stores, but other than that not a whole lot for us to see. Dragging Jordan through crowds where stuff was blowing in his eyes was not very pleasant. We ended up getting ice cream at McDonald’s and heading back to the car – just under our free 1 hour of parking.

The ice cream bunch

Off to the Magnificient Mile – yay! Then the whining, fits, and complaining kicked in and quickly the fun faded. At one point, we started back to the hotel it got so bad. Once attitudes were checked, we started our Mag. Mile experience. First, Hershey’s Store, then it was on to the place Bekah had so long looked forward to: American Girl Place. It took her 1-1/2 hours, but she eventually picked a doll ‘just like her’. Ashley trudged along with Bekah and me for about an hour of it before returning to the Willie and Jordan who were on the main floor playing with GameBoys they had checked out from the front desk – seriously!!

Bekah at Hershey’s Chicago

Happy Shopper

Outside of American Girl Place

We look forward to seeing the Kit movie when it comes out.

Following AGP, we embarked on a mission to find something for Ashley. “Jewelry or bags” – oh, dear. The girls took on this mission while they boys took it easy in the LEGO store and game store. We searched for hours and never found anything she wanted. (Shopping with her just about drives me crazy. Somehow she’s combined my traits in an awful way: price conscious, unable to make up her mind, and uncomfortable asking for anything.)

Back to the hotel for a swim. We were exhausted. I actually left the pool to go back to the room and nap before the kids came back for baths.

My opinion of Chicago has greatly changed. It is not a place to drag your disabled son around, and I may not recommend it as a family city at all. I have, however, heard of many adults having a great time there with friends… Maybe we’ll try that someday.

Midwest trip: July 1, Day 13

We left Springfield this morning, dropping a goodie/thank you bag by Gammy & Pa’s on our way out of town.

Our destination for today was Chicago’s Hilton Suites Oakbrook Terrace, 499.92 miles away – 8 hours 1 minute driving time. (It was kind of funny that the hotel was located on Drury Lane. Made us think of Shrek: Do you know the Muffin Man? The Muffin Man? Who lives on Drury Lane?)

Willie & the kids head toward the Arch

Willie & the kids head toward the Arch

Attraction for the day was the St. Louis Arch – Gateway to the West. I couldn’t wait to see this sight; what a piece of history! It was gorgeous. Once we were into St. Louis, trying to follow the GPS’s directions to the parking was more than a little challenging! Roads were closed all over the place due to flooding of the riverfront streets themselves. It was neat to drive along the cobblestone streets. Finally, we found a parking lot and walked through a park, along a lake and near the Mississippi River to reach the base of the Arch. There was a big, slow line for the security checkpoint before we entered the Museum of Western Expansion. Bekah threw a nice little fit while we were in there, tossing her sunglasses on the ground – then forgetting them. I have come to the point that I will not clean up her messes when she chooses to throw a fit!

Arch of Westward Expansion

Arch of Westward Expansion

The museum was very beautiful; full of stuffed replicas and interactive displays. It was particularly interesting to me that there were no labels on actual artifacts so they could be viewed for what they were.

Covered wagon within Museum

Covered wagon within Museum



It was very evident that the Mississippi was very high and my curiosity led me to ask a park ranger just how high the River was… TWELVE feet above normal, just a couple feet below the “Hundred Year Flood” of 1993.

“No Parking” signs were just barely visible, and street lights lined what must typically have been a pretty riverwalk.

The Mighty Miss...

The Mighty Miss...

No Parking?!

No Parking?!

On to Chicago – which I was super excited to reach!! I had an idealistic view of Chicago and couldn’t wait to get there. (Although I very rarely watch Oprah, there was something about her show that made Chicago seem very appealing to me.)

One of the purposes for our trip was to visit our friends, the Ellises, who had moved to Chicago 2 years ago after being the music ministers at our ‘old’ church – Aurora Nazarene. What a fun reunion at Giordano’s Pizzeria! It was so good to see Wayne, Heidi and the kids. We all went back to the hotel so the adults could chat and the kids could swim. Yay! Jordan was very brave and went into the water without an adult.

Caitlyn, Cole, Jeremy & Ashley

Caitlyn, Cole, Jeremy & Ashley

Bekah jumps at her comfort level

Bekah jumps at her comfort level

Go Jordan!

Go Jordan!

Midwest trip: June 30, day 12

Kids kickin' it at the Showboat Landing

Kids kickin

What a special treat! We attended the Showboat Branson Belle  with Gammy and Pa today. They celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary! Congratulations!

The Belle on a very high Tablerock Lake

The Belle on a very high Tablerock Lake

We went down and got our tickets for the 4:00 boat and then headed into town for lunch and some mini-golf. Lunch was much friendlier this time compared to the Little House Buffet! The waitress reminded us of my Aunt Kathy D’Amico. We golfed at Prof. Hacker’s Dinosaur Canyon Golf in Branson with 86 degree weather, but I just love the creative and fun golf places of warm climates!

Mini-golfing at the Dinosaur place

Mini-golfing at the Dinosaur place

Onboard the Belle we had a yummy dinner of Cordon Bleu, veggies, beef tips, and mashed potatoes before the evening’s entertainment started. On tap for the evening? Showstoppers dancing, music, acrobats, and Todd Oliver and Friends. The evening was fantastic and we were doubly blessed in that they didn’t charge at all for Jordan to attend since he wouldn’t be eating! (You know never what is possible unless you ask…) PTL!

Reflecting on our favorites:

Bekah: “I loved all of it.”

Jordan: “The best part I loved was the talking dogs.”

Ashley: “The entire show. I thought the dogs were funny and I like the singing.”

Broadway show tunes that were performed by the band, and sung and danced by the Showstoppers included: Grease, Footloose, Fiddler on the Roof, CATS, Little Mermaid, Mama Mia, Hairspray, Risky Business and so many others. Prior to the show starting, we had some time to wander the boat during which we went up into the pilot house. Fun stuff! The wheel was gigantic!

Midwest trip: June 29, Day 11

Today we attended church with Gammy and Pa at Central Assembly. Bekah and Jordan attended children’s church where Jordan had the thrill of playing ski-ball in their game room! Bekah got linked up with another visitor and they had a great time. A bouncy house was available as well.

Ashley attended the adult service with us and were we ever wowed! We hadn’t thought about how close to the 4th it was, and when the Colors were presented it really got our attention! Willie wondered if that was the way they opened all their services. But, being the Sunday before Independence Day – and being that we were in the midwest where patriotism is honored, the service was called “Celebrate America” and had a full orchestra which led worship, patriotic songs, and Gershwin’s amazing “Rhapsody in Blue” with guest Greg Morris.

Aside from the orchestra being fantastic, my favorite part of the service was when they did a “Salute to the Armed Forces” where each branch’s hymn was played and those who had served in that branch went to the front to be recognized. Two of my great-uncles as well as my dear Pa went forward. Oh, I am so proud of them. Once all had come forward, few men remained in the audience, and a standing ovation continued for quite some time. So powerful!

Following the service, and removing Jordan from the Game Room 😉 , we went to lunch at the Center with my great-uncle Ken and Mary, great-uncle Wes and Miriam, Dort and daughter Gerri, as well as Gammy & Pa.

Bekah cracked us up with “Your shoes are pretty, Gammy, but I thought they were for younger people.” Stinker!!

Following lunch we went for a hot walk to the library in search of a puzzle for Jordan. He kicked the ball and managed a pretty long and hilly walk. After our walk we went to Fantastic Caverns – America’s only ride thru caves, which, aside from being far to expensive, was neat since the use of a tram allowed all of us to see the caverns. It was neat that the formations definitely could have been formed in thousands and not millions of years based on the growth that had been seen since they’d been discovered. (To Sonic for dinner afterward.)

Midwest trip: June 28, Day 10

Today we made the hour long trip to Mansfield, MO and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum. We picked up a beautiful postcard of the home which seemed ironic because the photo shows clear blue sky and our weather was so utterly opposite. We drove through thunderstorms, pouring down rain, and flash flood warnings. But despite the ickiness outside, the inside was beautiful and full of history. All nine of the Little House books were penned from this location. We visited the museum (everyone but Jordan really enjoyed this) filled with artifacts of all kinds from both the Ingalls and Wilder families, and then toured the Rocky Ridge Home.

Entrance to the Rocky Ridge Wilder Home

Entrance to the Rocky Ridge Wilder Home

A little further down the road, we toured the Stone House which their daughter, Rose, purchased for Laura & Almanzo. The home was gorgeous – very rich – with indoor plumbing as well as electricity but it never seemed like home and Laura & Almanzo moved back to the old farm at Rocky Ridge.

We had a very interesting lunch at a place that seemed promising, “Little House Buffet”, but they didn’t have a lunch buffet and were out of 3 of the 4 things I first asked for (Chili, Baked potato & Cherry Coke – they only had Coke and Dr. Pepper).We had a major laugh when Gammy’s burger was delivered with 2 “bottoms”; then Willie’s arrived with 2 tops as well as a fresh slice of tomato in the middle of a tomato recall due to a salmonella outbreak. The bathroom brought more laughter, and as the rain got harder the ceiling started leaking (several places showed water damage already with water spots or just plain holes). We were seriously concerned that the ceiling might fall! We also laughed about the Christmas decorations that were still up at the end of June, and the couple waiting to order who got up and left after they heard us attempting to order. (Even funnier was the waitress’s response, “I wonder what their problem is?! Ha!) We figure the place will probably be condemned within a year – at least it should be!

Bekah started assigning Little House name to all of us. Memorable… and wet day!

Midwest trip: June 27, Day 9

Our first full day with Gammy & Pa was, of course, fun-filled. Special event of the day was Incredible Pizza which would technically be comparable to Chuck E. Cheese except way, way better. I loved the fact that the food was an all-you-can-eat buffet including pizza, pasta, salad bar, tacos, drinks, ice cream, cookies and brownies. There were several themed rooms in which to eat with your family – we chose to sit in the 50’s diner where old shows were quietly playing on the TV. Following lunch, we hit great redemption games and some things just to have fun with: go karts, bowling, basketball, air hockey, mini golf, and my personal favorite: Deal or No Deal. What fun! The kids combined their tickets together to get an Incredible Pizza frisbee and a pin art thing. Wish we could trade our Chuck E. Cheese in for one of these truly family-friendly places.

Following our neat afternoon playing at Incredible Pizza, we relaxed together, had dinner at “Bob Evan’s”, and then enjoyed a relaxing walk to the local lake with Gammy & Pa’s long-time friend, Audrey. Jordan did the hills quite well and enjoyed kicking the soccer ball as he walked.

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