Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Indiana Road Trip

We had an amazing, crazy, whirlwind, long weekend, road trip to Indiana. We had initially planned this trip for spring break, but Hubs wound up having to work. This weekend worked out perfectly because I had already taken time off from my businesses to attend the youngest mini's conferences and complete a few other tasks. The few other tasks were put off in the name of fun and instead we picked up the boys at 3:30 on Thursday, told school they wouldn't be there on Friday, and left for Indiana.

Of course I had help packing from the youngest mini after her school conference. I had mostly everything packed up and ready to go. She felt the need to add dozens of toys, books, and movies to the mix. I stopped her when she tried to put her play farmer's market in the minivan as I loaded up.

We drank an unbelievable amount of coffee on this trip, but we were energized and got to see and do everything we wanted!

The official road trip shirts for this summer: Max's says Road Trip from San Fransisco to New York, H's says Road Trip, and Elizabeth's says Adventure. We'll be wearing these shirts on numerous occasions this summer.

The trip was A LOT of driving--around 20 hours in the car in 56 hours--but the minis did amazing! It makes me much less nervous for our hours upon hours of driving to the Smoky Mountains this summer. They kept themselves entertained telling each other stories, DVD's, books, naps, and several stops to get out and run around.

We drove through light rainfall across Iowa. As we came to a break in the rain we were treated to rainbows. The kids got excited, thinking Sammy the Leprechaun was back for a visit. If you're lost and confused by this statement, check out our St. Patrick's Day 2016.

The kids slept in the car. Hubs and I loaded up on caffeine and Prince music.

We drove 6 hours to Champaign, IL and spent the night at La Quinta Inn. I was pleasantly surprised by our experience. I wanted to keep hotels super cheap since we would only be spending a few hours in them each night. I booked hotels through Hotwire (as we usually do) and found this hotel for $64. We didn't get in until 11:30 at night, but the hotel was ready and waiting for us. When I mentioned how tired my kids were and where we were coming from (and where we were going), the hotel staff decided to move us to a first floor room so it would be an easy entrance and exit for us in the morning. They also upgraded our room at no additional charge. We walked into a good size hotel room, complete with a table and chairs, two double beds, plenty of space, a good size bathroom/dressing area, and an apartment size refrigerator and microwave. The hotel was by no means amazing but it was good and has me looking into booking this hotel chain for future stays elsewhere.

We got up early Friday morning and drove the remaining two hours into Indianapolis, IN. As soon as we crossed the boarder, we switched to Eastern time zone. This continued to confuse me until Saturday afternoon/evening when we switched back to Central time zone.

Our first stop, and main reason for this trip, was the Indianapolis Children's Museum. It's the largest children's museum in North America and was well worth the drive. I saw this museum featured in a parenting magazine a few years ago. I wanted to wait to take the kids until they were all at ages that they could enjoy the exhibits. My minis are nearly 8, 6, and 4 (birthday's are coming up in June!!) and these were perfect ages to go to the museum. There was something for everyone and all exhibits (with the exception of one, but more on that one later) were appropriate for them.

Even the building grabbed the mini's attention as soon as it came into view.

I bought our tickets online and printed them before we left home. This made our entrance to the museum quick so we didn't have to stand in the ticket line. When we arrived the ticket lines were only a few people deep, but by the looks of it, the lines can get insanely long and timely. It was nice to have everything we needed ahead of time.

We attended the museum at a time when they were in between all of their special exhibits. Their regular exhibits were amazing enough, but it would have been awesome to see some of their specials. This Hot Wheels exhibit will be opening soon.

Max was most excited about the dinosaur exhibit.

Train exhibit

The Discover Ancient Mysteries exhibit. Max and Matt had a blast rebuilding the Terra Cotta Warriors.

The building had some awesome features, including Fireworks of Glass and a clock.

The cafeteria was on of my favorite things in the entire museum. Not only did they have healthy lunches available, but every kids meal came with a side (that was either a fruit or a vegetable) and a drink (that was either water, milk, or organic juice). They had fresh salads, fruits, and meat that actually looked like meat. Everything was completely affordable as well! My favorite part about this cafeteria came when we went to throw away our trays. They had clearly labeled cans (even the kids understood) and nearly everything was recyclable. Every single part of this museum aimed at teaching the kids through hands on experiences. 

Elizabeth's reaction when she learned I was "daddy's wife." Her exact response: "you're somebody's wife??? I didn't know that!" Every part of her almost four year old self was amazed by this news.

Nothing beats Iron Man!

"Look mom, I can make my hands like his!"

The daycare provider in me came out as I walked around the museum pointing out all of the toys we have at home. One of the favorites around our house are the Zoobs (pictured above) that all of the kids at the museum were incredibly excited about.

The minis are currently enchanted with fairy tales and fables. This was the perfect exhibit for them.

Kings, Queens, Princes, and a Princess. Max deemed me the King because "you could be the ruler of anything mom...and then you can write about it!"

I loved these two sayings on the walls of the exhibits.

The oldest mini completely missed the point of this exercise, but I had to laugh and was still a bit proud. The idea of this game/exercise was to work together with at least one or two other people to bring the turtle to the top and down the shoot. I had started to read the directions to the minis, with Harrison and Elizabeth more than willing to work together. Max walks to the one next to us and says "I can do this one on my own. If I need anyone's help, then I'll ask but I have to at least try it myself first." I recognize that fierce independence from somewhere...

My favorite exhibit was Take Me There: China. It gave kids an excellent taste of what life is like in various parts of China, all with hands on opportunities. 

We now have our own Chinese tea set and tea on order thanks to this exhibit.

We practiced, but not one of us mastered the chop sticks.

The minis were fascinated by all of the differences in foods and operations at the grocery store.

They learned about pandas and how to take care of them. This just made them even more excited to see pandas this summer at the Memphis Zoo.

Cooking at the restaurant in China.

The Power of Children exhibit was very interesting, informative, and meant to empower children. However, I felt oddly uncomfortable walking through this exhibit. Every so often throughout the day, plays of these three children's stories are performed. During performances, children younger than 8 are not allowed in the exhibit due to the content performed. While that threw me off, since the rest of the museum is geared towards kids 10 and younger, that wasn't the reason I felt oddly uncomfortable. The reason is that I had yet to talk to my minis about Hitler, Jews, and Nazis, segregation, or AIDS/HIV. I have no issue discussing these with my minis, but felt this was not the time or place to have such a heavy discussion in public. We didn't spend much time in this exhibit, as none of the minis understood it and the exhibit did not do a great job of explaining what these three kids did to make a difference in kids terms. If you're planning a trip to the museum, plan on talking to your kids ahead of time so you're not left with a heavy discussion at dinner time in the middle of a crowded restaurant.

Massive dollhouses

We loved the mirrors!

We ended our long day at the Children's Museum with a stop in the gift shop (no shock there).

Even the parking garage had stuff!

After the museum, we decided to eat an early dinner. We headed to a northern suburb of Indianapolis to eat at my favorite pizza place: Giordano's. Even though it wasn't the original Chicago location, it was still amazing!

The garlic Parmesan fries were amazing.

We usually try to avoid any restaurant that has a 45 minute wait for food, but Chicago style pizza is always worth it.

An unbelievable amount of cheese on the pizza. As delicious as it was, I still feel nauseous thinking about it all of that cheese we inhaled.

After dinner, we needed exercise. We drove back south to downtown Indy. I absolutely loved their downtown district! We walked by Lucas Oil Stadium, the NCAA headquarters, and White River State Park. It was a gorgeous walk.

After our walk downtown, we drove by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, then drove to our hotel in Lafayette, IN (about an hour north of Indianapolis). We planned to be in northern Indiana along Lake Michigan the following day, so it made sense for us to drive part way to spend the night.

The kids were exhausted and fell into their beds for the night (after a good shower to wash the day's germs away).

We slept in a bit Saturday morning...and by sleeping in I mean just before 8 a.m. Thankfully we booked hotels that served free breakfasts. Both hotels that we stayed at (La Quinta and Comfort Suites) had an excellent spread of fresh food with plenty of options. Both days the kids went for yogurt and the waffle bars.
Our first stop Saturday morning was to a nearby Barnes and Noble for new books to read. The books that were read the most on our trip were our travel books: America's 50 States, National Parks Guide U.S.A., and Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas.

After B&N, we drove an hour north to the Indiana Sand Dunes National Lakeshore

Pit stop at a Steak and Shake for lunch. I have never tried it before and I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the food.

Next stop, Indiana Sand Dunes! This was definitely a favorite of the trip. We spent time walking on the beach, running from waves (the boys were convinced we had taken them to the ocean), climbing up, and sliding down sand dunes. It was the off season, yet still quite busy. I can't imagine how busy it can get from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

They weren't sure about the sand at first for some reason.

We didn't have great luck with the selfies this trip.

I was surprised by the size of the sand dunes. They were like small mountains that gave us quite the work out while we climbed.

Just so you don't make the same mistake I did: thin leggings are NOT the optimal clothing choice with sand around. Let's jut say the thin leggings do not keep the sand out.

"It's okay mom. If we fall the trees will catch us." They had no fear.

The boys thought chasing seagulls was hilarious...until the seagulls flew at them. The middle mini nearly fainted when that happened.

As we were at the Sand Dunes, we looked across the Lake and saw Chicago. We were suppose to leave for home after the Dunes, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit one of my favorite places. The kids napped and Hubs and I navigated our way through traffic.

This was the minis first trip into Chicago (there will be more trips soon). We chose to do the Lincoln Park Zoo, walk around Lincoln Park, drive down Lake Shore Drive, and Michigan Avenue. We were only in the city for a short time, but it was a great introduction for the kids. We also showed them where Hubs and I got engaged. They thought Millennium Park was "cooler" than where we got engaged. Go figure.

I don't recall ever seeing hyenas this close up before. They had such unique markings and the kids had a great time watching them chase each other and play.

The wolves and bear were another highlight.

No joke, we spent a good five minutes searching the enclosure for a glimpse of the bear but couldn't find him. At the very end of the enclosure was a small cave that the kids could climb into and look in. Apparently the bear had been against the cave glass the entire time and we had overlooked him. It was obviously time for more coffee.

The Chicago skyline is my second favorite skyline, with Des Moines being my first. The minis didn't find it as spectacular as Hubs and I do, but I'm hopeful that will change in time.

The minis have been very big on posing for pictures. They've got some very special stances, hand gestures, and clothing options. As long as they're willing to let me take their pictures, I'll take whatever I can get!

After a VERY full two days, we headed for home. Thankfully, leaving from Chicago meant an easy, straight drive home. The kids fell asleep, Hubs and I sipped coffee, and we arrived home just after midnight. We all fell into bed the minute we got home. We were all exhausted and kept Sunday incredibly low key. The highlights of the day included grocery shopping by myself (at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday), lounging on the couch with a book, taking a four hour nap, and grilling before falling into bed again.

I knew I'd need easy breakfast options for the beginning of the week. Enter the french toast sticks, waffles, bread, and peanut butter.

We had a very tight schedule for this trip due to prior obligations that required us to come home, but we got everything in that we wanted and a little bit more. I don't foresee any relaxing vacations in our future as our summer vacation seems to be an even bigger whirlwind than this road trip. However, this trip was a great indication for how the kids do for long periods in the car. I'm thrilled they seem to have inherited our love for road trips.

My goals for this road trip was to see how the minis did on long trips (they passed successfully), do as much as we could, and not spend a ton of money. All together, this trip cost us about $850. That includes all hotel stays, gas for the minivan, meals, attractions (museum, National Park, parking in Chicago, gift shops, and shopping at the outlet mall). We could have very easily reduced this amount by $200 if we had limited spending at gift shops and not gone shopping (I've never been one to pass up a Gap Outlet however). I had budgeted $1,000 for the road trip so I'm patting myself on the back for coming in under my approved budget.

The five of us all had a fantastic time on our road trip and left us planning for more. Next road trip: back to Omaha to go to our favorite zoo and hiking in the Loess Hills in just a couple of weeks!