Sunday, 25 December 2016

Bob's Birthday

Well, now that the vacation is out of the way...

Most of the hotels for the trip were booked on, which offers a free night for every 10 nights completed. At the end of our trip, I got a lovely email informing me that I had earned a free night. So I began scheming at once. 

Long story much shorter:

I booked a surprise trip to Branson for Bob's birthday. He knew nothing until I handed him a card after lunch on the 14th. Inside the card were two papers. One was the receipt for the hotel; the other was the receipt for a show that night. He was more or less in shock as we gathered our clothes, phone chargers, and keys. We left the children with competent supervision, and went to Branson!

Bob's cousin works at the Branson Travel Office, which is apparently owned by her mother-in-law. So, once I decided on a show, I called her and she booked the tickets for me at a discount. I had the choice of going in to get the tickets, or having them mailed to me, and chose to go in. Therefore our first stop in town was at BTO. As it turned out, the cousin wasn't there, but her husband welcomed us warmly, gave us the tickets to the show as well as complimentary tickets to Inspiration Tower, and a few insider tips about where to have dinner.

Next we walked across the street to Dick's 5 and dime. We took our time and found a few gems, including 12-shot caps for Ced's cap gun, a splatter guard for the microwave, and a locket that says "Ella" on the front - she's been wanting one.

Toilets out back which were heated, and then we drove out to the Tower. I wasn't going to go up, but Bob talked me into it (He said, "See you later" and headed to the elevator). I faced the doors in the elevator instead of the glass window, but once at the top I looked around some. It had drizzled on us most of the drive to Branson, but on the way to the tower the sun popped out, so we got a decent view. It was cold though, and breezy up on the hill. I didn't find anything to buy at their little gift shop, but we chatted with the 90 year old lady for a few minutes.

After that, we checked in to the Carriage House hotel, which was decent but not fancy. Very clean and friendly. We freshened up and went out for dinner. 

But first, we went to the Shoppes at ... I can't ever remember where. Anyway, the one with Case knives and Corning Ware outlets. I got a skinny scraper/spatula and a 9x13 inch baking pan. Except I actually got a 4 piece set which included a 10x14, and lids for both.

In spite of the cousin-in-law's advice, we ended up at Shorty Small's. It was good food, and most of their fare was wheat-free. The only trouble was that we ate way too much. The plates didn't look that big, but Bob couldn't finish his. I ate my pulled pork, fries, and some of the coleslaw, and we shared an appetizer. By the time we left, we were in pain. We went to the Tanger Outlet mall, and walked for the next hour and a half, with frequent bathroom breaks and more water. Bought Elijah a pair of jeans, and finally started to feel a little better.

It was getting close to show time, so we headed over to the Imax theater complex. Got our ticket receipt thingys and were told seating began at 7:50. That gave us enough time for the "as seen on TV" store, a bathroom stop, and a trip to the concession stand. I wanted a drink, and our Branson guest pass card netted a free popcorn. The popcorn was good, but I was too full to eat much of it.
We were seated in the center of the second row of a very small auditorium to see the Sanders Family Christmas. There were only a handful of other guests, so we moved over one seat to make room between me and another man to put our coats. The show was very good: funny, interesting, and heartwarming. 

After that we went back to the hotel to relax a bit in the jetted tub, and sleep in the king-sized bed.
In the morning we got up about 7, dressed, packed up, ate breakfast, and checked out before 8. After life with children, that statement still seems incredible. 

The coffee was lacking, so we went to Krispy Kreme to redeem Bob's birthday coupon for free doughnut and drink. The "HOT" sign was on. I was tempted, but not too strongly. Then we headed for the Apple Tree flea market, but they weren't open yet, so we drove back around town to the Amish store, where I bought some candy for me and a dress for Ruth. Then back to the flea market where we walked around until we didn't want to walk any more. Having picked up some items for some children, we felt obliged to get something for the rest of them, and eventually did. A whip, cookie cutter, guitar string winder-upper, puzzle, Lego rounded out the list.

We headed home after that, but did stop in Alpena for the first time, and visited their row of flea markets. One place had some old Tupperware toys still in the box. I got all nostalgic over the kitchen set with cake taker and server, square plates, and little cups, because I used to have the same set in another color. But I didn't buy it because we still have most of it. I did buy, however, a boat set. It was so cute! And Daniel and Ruth both love it. Also picked up a board game called Figaro.

Finally home again, to hand out presents and listen to all their adventures. The dress didn't fit, and the puzzle was too hard, but everything else was well-received. The gift was a resounding success.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Vacation 2016 Day 15

Edited to add: This is part of a series. The Vacation 2016 story begins here.

Vacation 2016 Day 15

We went home.

Not much else, really. I suppose we got some groceries; I really don't remember much. I was glad we had cleaned house before leaving. Everything was as we left it.

Vacation over; back to real life.

Vacation 2016 Day 14

Edited to add: This is part of a series. The Vacation 2016 story begins here.
Not too much on the books for this day:

Sept 4
Sunday drive to kara, stay 9-4. Quality Inn & Suites Council Bluffs, IA (2 suites with 2 dbles and sofa each).
Stop in Mitchell to see Corn Palace (north on Burr st from hotel, then Left on 6th st.)
I-90 East to Sioux Falls.
Stop in Sioux Falls to see the falls Park: go past I-29 and exit #399 for 115/Cliff Ave. Go south past all the restaurants. Just past river, turn right on Rice/Weber, then right on Falls Park dr or turn into park from Weber.  Back to route: East on Weber/Rice to I-229; South/West to I-29 South.
I-29 South to Council bluff; exit 54A, as map. Left on Ave G, R on N 35th St, R on Broadway, Near immediate Left into hotel.
See K. What does K like? Old Market; Riverside parks; childrens museum open 1-5, $12 each, Fontenelle forest $9.50 per adult $7.50 per child (2-17), zoo open to 5, expensive; Gene Leahy pedestrian mall - a park; shopping mall, bowling????

We did see the corn palace, and it was appropriately corny.  This was a "thing" for Bob and I because when we were overseas we occasionally watched the Armed Forces Network, which had sort of public service announcements instead of commercials, and a frequently repeating ad featured the Corn Palace as a unique feature of South Dakota.

We didn't stop in Sioux Falls.

K is Taryn's friend from England. She chose a mall in Council Bluffs as a meeting place. The mall was kind of a dump. We had lunch together at a nearby Burger King and then walked and visited. There was a playspace and a clearance outlet for Dillard's (I think it was Dillard's). We bought a few things. K had to go to a wedding, so couldn't stay long, and to be honest the reunion was a bit of a letdown for Taryn. 

When that was over, I got to thinking. We really didn't have any reason to hang out in Council Bluffs all evening, and we still had 45 minutes to cancel our hotel without being charged, and there were plenty of hotels in Kansas City. So I started calling the hotel to cancel. With less than 24 hours notice, I had to call directly - not the chain; not It was easy enough to find the number, but when I dialed it, all I got was a busy signal. Over and over.

It was a 15 minute drive in the wrong direction to go to the hotel. I called and Bob drove. When we got there, a sign was posted on the door that the pool was closed. So it would have been super boring to stay. I went in and cancelled, and then mentioned the phone must not be working. She picked up the receiver and had a dial tone. I verified the number with her, dialed it in front of her, and let her hear the busy signal. Huh. I think I'm glad we didn't stay there.


We drove on down to Kansas City, where I had booked us a Days Inn. With a couple of positive experiences with the chain, I felt confident enough to book without extensive research and comparisons. Boy, was I wrong! That place was poorly managed to say the least. I've left reviews on and other places; no need to try to repeat that here.

For more introspection: as we turned south from South Dakota, it occurred to me that I was following in Laura's footsteps (more or less) as she moved to Missouri. That was almost cool for a second, but then I thought, "I hope it didn't break her heart to leave." Immediately followed by, "Of course it did! She loved it there." Not to mention her family that she left behind. Then I wondered why it was so important to me that a "fictional" character should have a happy ending. And that, of course, leads one to the whole point of fiction - hope. And I came to the conclusion that I really don't have much hope in this life. No one is going to rescue me. No one even understands me. I'm not ever going to be rich or famous or beautiful. I do have plenty of love, and generally I'm not unhappy. But when it comes to hope... My hope is in a future with my Lord. My true joy must come from keeping that hope alive, not from false promises of a good time. 

So that stuff simmered in my mind for a while, until I condensed it into a life motto: Life is hard, but it's short, so keep your chin up. Not just "chin up" as in "be tough", but as in "look up for your redemption is near."

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

more pics

Edited to add: This is part of a series. The Vacation 2016 story begins here

These are from my phone. Bob has lots of pretty pictures that he may one day put on Facebook or Flickr...
Do I have to say anything?
Lower Falls and canyon of Yellowstone
New hot spot opened in the middle of a parking lot in Yellowstone. No signs posted about when (or anything else).
Another toilet. "composting" toilets were popular in Wyoming.
Inside the cave, looking down at a staircase.
The brand new Ramada Rapid City
Ruth tells about something at Wall Drug.
Nice big room at Days Inn Mitchell.
The winning picture in Jackson, Wy, Silver Dollar Grill.

Vacation 2016 day 13

Edited to add: This is part of a series. The Vacation 2016 story begins here.

Sept 3

My perhaps complicated and obviously edited plans for today read:

Saturday drive to DeSmet SD, stay 9-3 in Days Inn Mitchell (2 suites). Be still my heart! Go to De Smet!!! See Corn Palace.
5 hours to De Smet; better get on the road! thoughts: it is too expensive to do a thing. So, go out, look around, get a driving map if possible, go to church and cemetery, but don't stress about getting there "in time"
So, take the Badlands Loop Scenic Byway comprises 31.5 miles of roadway and along it are fourteen designated overlooks. Go south at Wall on US 240 - it comes back around to I-90.
Ingalls Homestead says: Coming from the west, drive east on Interstate 90. At Mitchell, SD take Exit 330, follow SD Hwy 37 north to SD Hwy 34.  Head east on SD Hwy 34 to SD Hwy 25.  Head north on SD Hwy 25.  Watch for signs just before reaching De Smet.  May 28 - September 5
Daily 9AM - 7PM Activities are offered from 10AM - 6PM Wilder Memorial on site is free - 5 original cottonwoods
Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes

guided tour only. Free self-driving  tour maps are available at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes. 

De Smet Alliance Church, organized and built by Pa.
303 2nd Street SW
De Smet, SD 57231
The Loftus Store
206 Calumet Ave SW
De Smet, SD 57231 closes at 3 on Sat.
Walking Trail to Silver Lake was completed in 2008. It provides a short concrete path

Breakfast was a little hectic, as there was only 1 person working the lobby for check in and out, answering the phone, and getting breakfast for many hungry people. She was super friendly and fine with it, just a little overtaxed. There was fresh fruit, packaged muffins, and "instant" oatmeal made possible with a carafe of hot water. Coffee and water to drink. Once that was over, we did hit the road.

Wall. Yep... For an hour or so, there was sign after sign for Wall Drug. It started to sound interesting, and we finally decided to stop. Apparently it was actually a drug store at one point, but now it is a shopping mall/tourist trap/amusement park. We had fun, bought a few things, took pictures, and shared a free coffee and doughnut. There was a mechanized gorilla who played the piano and sang. Ruth laughed and laughed. There was a giant mechanized T-Rex who growled and blew smoke. Ruth and Daniel were both terrified. We told Ruth it was a puppet, and held her tight. For hours afterwards she talked about the "puppy" and checked on Daniel and Elijah to make sure they were all right.

We took the scenic loop through the Badlands, and it was amazing. We had a picnic lunch there - bright and dusty, and very difficult to keep the boys from climbing the cliffs that were clearly marked with multiple signs for people to stay on the road, and covered with other tourists. Sigh. We marveled at the landforms, saw bison and a big prairie dog town.
Pano of the Badlands

Onto the Interstate across South Dakota. The hills gradually become smaller and smoother, though not really flat until the far Eastern side of the state. We saw miles of ranches, a few small towns, and not much else. There were more trees and water than I had imagined. Looking out the window at one point I said the dynamic equivalent of, "Don't get me wrong: the mountains are awe-inspiring. I could just sit and look at them all day. But this! This is real; alive. I feel as though I could just keep going all day out here. I'm in love." And Bob looked at me and said the dynamic equivalent of, "Yech! This is boring. Ugly. How could you even say such a thing?" And I must confess that a part of me died on the inside at that point. It wasn't just that we disagreed; it was a thought of us never being able to see eye-to-eye on ANYthing. Of course that is an exaggeration, but I just felt very "incompatible" at that moment. And neither of us took a single picture of this amazing country.

We stopped for gas and bathrooms, and it was very windy. We drove. We arrived in Mitchell about 6, I'm guessing. Went ahead to the hotel and checked in and unloaded, and (I think!) had supper in our rooms. They had intended to downgrade us to pet-friendly rooms, as a previous hotel had done, but when I showed the printed email receipt, he checked and our big rooms were still available, so we got them after all. Now, the reason I chose this particular hotel (besides the big rooms with sleeper sofas) was that it boasted an "indoor water park." There is a HUGE tube slide into a rather large pool, and a separate kiddie pool with a small slide, and some splash features.  Our rooms were 2 out of 3 or 4 on a little balcony overlooking the pool. 

The children were super excited about going swimming, and (as you know if you read my plans) I and the older girls were looking forward to going to DeSmet. 

It was over an hour to DeSmet from the hotel. Bob was tired and didn't want to go. So the girls and I started figuring out who wanted to do what when Bob said that he couldn't go swimming without me; that if I went to DeSmet, all the children would have to go. That part of me that died earlier was now decomposing, I think, and I went all hollow on the inside as I realized that this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, this dream of nearly 30 years, had suddenly changed into just another opportunity to put the children first. To be the bigger person. To die. I put my face down on my pillow for about 3 seconds and then declared, "Let's go swimming!"

At the pool, Bob went with the older children in the big pool and I played with the three little ones in the kiddie pool. It was crazy fun. The girls befriended another girl who was initially scared to go down the slide, and talked her into trying. The boys made friends with another boy. They all went down that slide a hundred times. We splashed and laughed and had the best time you can imagine. Twice, the girls came to watch the little ones so I could go down the slide as well. It was so fast! The hotel boasted of a lifeguard, and warned us that she had the authority to close down the slide if people got too rowdy. Well, there was a woman sitting in a chair, reading a book. She occasionally got up and restocked the towel rack, and glanced up at the swimmers once or twice.

Once again we had comfy beds and amazing pillows. At checkout in the morning I bought a pillow to take home.

(I realize this post may come across as feeling sorry for myself, but my intention is merely to feel. Also, there are lots of really big things to talk about - the drug store, the hills, the pool, the prairie dogs... I'm running out of adjectives and refuse to say "ginormous.")