Ten Top Memories from Our Great Lakes Adventure

***I found this post in the depths of my yet-to-be-finished archives from our epic adventure in the fall of 2013.  These are precious, unforgettable memories for me.  So even if not one person besides myself (and my dad who will receive this post via email because I make him read my blog) sees this, it will be okay.  Because I want to have this down for posterity.***

In case you didn't know, my blog hiatus during the month of September was due largely in part to our second annual fall trip [of mammoth proportions].  Last year, we spent a couple of weeks touring the beautiful sights of New England.  This year, we made a similar northern journey only more westward and in the counter-clockwise direction into Canada and around the eastern three Great Lakes.

Just wanted to give you your morning geography lesson.  To be honest, that part of the northern hemisphere is not my forte.  And it just gets worse as you go west.  Frankly, I need to study up on my geography altogether.

(There I go again on another irrelevant tangent...oops.  Bear with me, the next one actually has something to do with this post.)

A few days ago, Sam did a factory restore on my phone to try to stop it from continuously and spontaneously turning off.  Before doing it, he backed up my contacts and emailed me the memos I had saved on it, just in case any of them were important.  This morning I sat down to read the one in which I'd written all of the "funny" things that happened on the road this September.

Last year, I attempted to chronicle each stop on the trip with a full blog post of its own.  Not sure I'm going to do that this year.  I have pictures as memories.  Ben and Abby have their travel journals.  But these random tidbits from our travels?  Priceless.  And you don't remember these from pictures or travel journals.  (Man, I love that little memo function.)

Thirteen Funnies from The Great Lakes Adventure of 2013

1.  Ben's commentary on Long Island traffic

Maybe we dawdled in White Marsh, MD at my parents house for too long.  It was obvious we were in no real hurry to get to Long Island for Sam's business obligation.  After a quick lunch at a NJ turnpike service area and no traffic whatsoever, we crossed the Verrezano Bridge and immediately came to a standstill on Long Island.  At 2:30 in the afternoon.  Because of construction.  And with each passing minute, visions of rush hour danced in our heads.  Of course, we were stuck there for hours (on the bright side, we had plenty of time to do some schoolwork).  We sat there in complete and total gridlock watching people trying to merge onto the road and watching people drive over medians to try to escape the madness.

Ben looked out the window and with his usual stoicism declared, "People are just driving off the road."  Yes, son.  Traffic rules are optional here, it appears.

A few moments later, a motorcycle zoomed down the striped line between cars at no less than 80mph.  Ben commented, "It'd be nice if we could do that too."  This, of course, prompted a delirious bout of laughter as I imagined our family of six with luggage aboard a long line of crotch rockets driving illegally down the center line of a Long Island highway.

Then, his most profound observation - "This is called rush hour?  It should be called slow hour."

2.  Ben's 10

We celebrated Ben's tenth birthday at the Residence Inn in Plainview, NY.  This was the one day on the trip that Sam had a work obligation, so we woke up at our leisure, turned on the television, and much to Ben's chagrin, Ben 10 was on the tv.  This prompted an "Aww, man.  Ben 10!" from our own Ben 10, and thus resulted in us calling him Ben 10 ad nauseum for the rest of the day.  (FYI - Feel free to call him this if you see him.  He really likes it.)

Lest a 10th birthday at a random Long Island hotel sound lame, rest assured, he had the "best birthday ever."  Lunch at Chili's, a new Kindle, a Minecraft t-shirt, a giant chocolate chip cookie cake, and two pools to swim in.  Life is good.

3.  What's an Adirondack chair?

As we approached our first stop at the caves and natural stone bridge in Pottersville, NY (connection to It's a Wonderful Life, I'm not sure), we passed straight through the Adirondack mountains.  I said, "I bet they have a lot of Adirondack chairs around here."  Sam inquired as to what one of those was.  I said, "You know.  It's like a rocker.  That doesn't rock."  To which Sam replied, "So...it's like a regular chair?"  Maybe I was already delirious at that point, but I nearly died laughing.

4.  My Gringo Kids

Clearly, we've never been out of the country before.  Not even to French-speaking Canada.  The prospect of people speaking a foreign language just blew my kids' minds.  (Okay, it was a pretty big deal for this exclusively-English-speaking girl too.)  At our first hotel in Montreal, after merely passing through a lobby of French-speaking natives, we went downstairs to check out the pool.  Abby noted that there was no hot tub and inquired, "Do they even know what a hot tub is?"  As if, because they speak another language, the people of Quebec are stuck behind the Iron Curtain.  Oh Abby.

The next morning we used our reciprocal science museum membership to go to the Montreal Science Center.  In a word, it rocked.  There was an awesome area for the kids to play, and Abby (being our social butterfly) naturally flocked to the other little girls in the room.  Then she realized they were speaking French and she came over to inquire, "Are there any normal girls here?"  Nice.

For Sam, driving in Montreal took some getting used to.  (Okay, so it's not just our gringo kids...)  I should say that he was absolutely cool, calm, and collected because credit is totally due...especially considering that almost every road we needed to travel on was closed or under construction and all of the signs.  We spent most of our time on the roads frantically (okay, maybe that was just me) trying to figure out what "Barre" meant.  In the words of Ben (who, bless his heart, was trying to take it all in), "I can't read!" 

5.  Humorous Highways

The roads across Canada proved entertaining for Sam and me.  As we traversed the great continent, we saw a sign that warned of a "Paint Test Area" and lo and behold the next section of road was splattered with all colors and designs of paint.  (They made a sign for that?!)  Upon entering each new province, there were gigantic signs outlining the penalties for speeding.  Just in case you were wondering, at 20km/hr over, they will take your car and fine you $10,000.  That might not be so bad if it didn't feel like you were crawling along the highways.  We must be used to the 70mph speed limits of Georgia.  (But seriously, dang.)  In case you're ever in Ontario looking for some good, old-fashioned family fun, there's a Ponderosa Family Nudist Resort just one exit from the children's museum.  Sam and I had a great time...talking about what a trip like that would be like.  We didn't actually go there.

It wasn't all Canada, however.  As we re-entered upstate New York, we were warned by this sign, "Prison Area.  Do not pick up hitchhikers!"

6.  Girls and the Garden

We must have walked a million miles in Montreal, half of which were on the grounds of the Le Jardin botanique de MontréalAbsolutely gorgeous botanical gardens and the day was even more beautiful (even if the entire province decided to visit that very same day).  

We didn't take a stroller on the trip and being seven months pregnant, I couldn't do much Leah-toting.  So Sam strapped her on in the Ergo carrier and those two became two peas in a pod for the duration.  Of course, Sarah was the first of our walkers to tire out, and so often times the scene was like this:  Sam with Leah strapped on the front carrier and with Sarah on his shoulders.  To make it even more sensational, Sarah was typically riding with two fingers in her mouth and the other hand in her belly button.  I followed behind encouraging Ben and Abby to keep up (because "Ain't nothing going to break Sam's stride, Ain't nothing going to slow him down, Oh no, He's got to keep on movin').  Due to my vantage point, I got to enjoy the stares, grins, and elbow-pokes of strangers who were most entertained by the stackable girls.  How I wish I'd taken a picture of that.

At the end of the Botanical Gardens day, we took a quick peek at the Insectarium.  What is that?  Well, it's a building full of dead bug exhibits.  Maybe we were underwhelmed because we were exhausted.  Maybe we just don't really care for dead bugs (or living ones either).  At any rate, Leah decided to make it a little more exciting by squeezing behind some of the glass display boxes, where only a one year old could fit.  Needless to say, some of the patrons got a peek at a really big bug through the glass.  (In case you're wondering, Sam extracted her with his long arms while Ben and I cordoned off the exits.)

7.  Navigating the Thousand Islands

I guess it's unusual to see a family with four kids roaming about tourist attractions on weekdays in September.  We got to hang out with lots of retirees.  Nevertheless, it was nice of the cruise boat tour guide in the Thousand Islands to acknowledge our kids.  He said into his microphone, "You've been good kids, so you get a reward.  What do you want?"  Uhhh...open ended much?  I can answer that for you.  Ben wants an X-Box, Abby and Sarah want Barbies or maybe tickets to Disneyworld, and Leah wants food - any variety.  Who knew our tour guide was also Santa Claus?!  Perhaps he could have better worded that as, "You've been good kids.  Would you like to steer the boat for a little while?"  Thank goodness they all just stood there and blankly stared at him.  That could have been awkward.

I learned a fun fact from Wikipedia while traversing the St. Lawrence river that day.  I shared it with Sam.
Me:  Did you know that the St. Lawrence was once seemingly irreversibly polluted.  They used threw zebra mussels in and they cleared it right up.
Sam:  They threw zebra muscles in the river?  (Gross.)

Those darn homophones.  Get you in trouble every time.

8.  Shortcuts on September 11

We were in Buffalo, NY on September 11.  Our hotel was literally across the street from the airport (an ongoing theme for the trip).  As we checked out en route to Niagara Falls the next morning, instead of having us make a u-turn, our GPS instructed us to take a few left hand turns...through the airport parking lot...where there were traffic stops, policemen, and bomb-sniffing dogs set up to search and question every vehicle.  Imagine our embarrassment when we rolled down the window and when the policeman asked what our business was at the Buffalo airport that day all we had to say was, "We're just trying to get to Niagara Falls."  In his thick New York accent, the kindly policeman said, "Oh geez, just pull over here.  Where are you folks from?  Georgia?  Alright, I'll tell you how to get to Niagara Falls."  He then proceeded to speak very slowly for us Georgia folks, giving us complete directions including vigorous hand gestures.  "You'll go over two bridges."  Then he made an arm motion to show us how the bridges were shaped.  He seriously probably thought we wouldn't know what a bridge was if he didn't draw us an air picture.  After all, we did seem to think we'd find Niagara Falls in the Buffalo airport parking lot.  In all honesty, he was very nice and his directions were spot on had we not had our trusty GPS.  Sam and I could barely keep a straight face the whole time he was talking.  It was a good day for a little levity.  We hope he felt the same way.

9.  The Crow's Nest is for the Birds

When we finally made it out of the parking lot and to Niagara Falls, we did everything.  We were poncho wearing fools like the rest of the tourists.  After braving the Hurricane Deck at the Cave of Winds and surviving the boat ride on the Maid of the Mist, we were pretty tired of our plastic apparel.  Ben, Abby, Sarah, and I all tossed those jokers right into the recycling bin on the boat ramp as we disembarked.  What we didn't realize was that there was an optional path along the way back to the elevators that took you up to what is referred to as "The Crow's Nest."  What is that, you ask?  It's a boardwalk that comes to a summit just a few feet from the falls where the water that's hitting you feels like a pressure washer on your skin.  We walked up that path.  With no rain gear.  And as we reached the top, Sarah crying hysterically, Sam turned around with Leah strapped to him and from the comforts of his poncho said, "Oh.  Where are your ponchos?"  Oops.  #momfail  We decided right then to call it a day and walked our soggy bottoms (and soggy everything else) back to the car.  But not before we got a stranger to take a dripping wet picture of us.  In retrospect?  Hilarious.

10.  Canadian Hooters

We made the trip across the US/Canada border for our final time that trip where we dried off (and played with the automatic shoe shiner...yes I'm serious) in our room.

Then we went out for some lunch at the closest place to our hotel (because we were tired of walking and being in the car).  That place was Hooters.  (Don't judge.)  Apparently, at Hooters in Canada they don't trim that inedible part off of the wing before they fry it and serve it up.  Abby received her plate full of wings and with a look of contempt, held one up and said, "I'm not eating this.  It looks like a gun."  I have no picture to prove it, just use your imagination.  

As I look back through the photos, I am thrilled with the memories we made.  I doubt that the kids will remember every detail of these trips, I know I won't, but if nothing else, they'll remember them as good times, I know I will.

Too bad it's practically irrelevant now...four months later and I suddenly have so much to say about this trip!  Hey, at an average of four months to write a single post I ought to be able to crank out at least one more this year! 


Sharon said...

Make that you, your dad, AND me who read this post! I loved it, Jennie. I think you guys are wonderful for traveling with the kids. You learn so much, and so much *bonding* happens on trips. I can remember traveling with my family (when I was younger, and late with my boys) and we still laugh at our fun times. I'm sure Noah will be adding his own signature on the next Shep adventure!


(P.S. Would really appreciate your prayers. My dad fell badly last Monday, was in the hospital for a week, and is now in a rehab facility. He's really, really struggling - so is my mom. They've been married 61 years, and though Dad has some dementia problems added to his injuries, he knows enough to really miss Mom, and she is having difficulty with it all, too. And so am I and my siblings. Prayers for wisdom, guidance, and comfort would be greatly appreciated, dear friend!)

Debbie said...

I came here a few days ago, but I was called away before finishing. I remembered this AM that I had some stories waiting to be read. I'm so glad I did. I love these. Your family vacations remind me so much of ours growing up and the ones we took with the girls. For the life of me, I will never understand how people can just go to a beach or something year after year and see and do the same things. There is so much adventure waiting to be had if you'll just look for it.

I laughed at the remedial Georgian directions. Too funny!

And btw, if you happen to bring Ben Ten and the rest of the clan to Grammie's anytime soon, I'll be so thrilled. I would like to meet Noah. (And I happen to have church nursery this weekend so why not throw some clothes in a bag and head here so I can hog him for the hour. )

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