Sunday, December 30, 2012

Destination: Illinois

Along with my real job come vacation days. It's kind of surreal, but I felt like we ought to take some vacation to take advantage of all these paid days off I get. So, we planned a trip we've really been meaning to take ever since we moved to Wisconsin.

We headed Southwest toward Iowa and the Mississippi River. As it happened, we took our trip toward the end of peak leaf season in Wisconsin, which means we saw a lot of beautiful leaves on our drive. Here is the view as we crossed the Mississippi to Dubuque.

I don't seem to have captured it photographically, but we really liked Dubuque. It's actually quite the picturesque little city on the river with lots of lovely red brick buildings. We thought the same thing about Burlington, Iowa, when we were there the next day. Iowa is much more charming than I would have thought.

Because we wanted to maximize on opportunities for the kids to sleep in the car, we didn't leave until around 4pm. After dinner in Dubuque, we put everyone in pjs and Thomas obligingly went to sleep. Scout stayed awake to the bitter end and asked a lot of questions about Barack Obama and Mitt Romeny, since we were listening to the Presidential Debate while we drove. She also read at least thirty books to herself (really), notwithstanding the dark, and generated a huge pile of books, of which she was immensely proud. We finally arrived in Nauvoo around 10pm and spend far too long convincing the kids they could sleep in this new place.

The next morning dawned absolutely beautiful. This is the view from our hotel room window just before the kids and I headed out in search of breakfast. Food options are not plentiful in Nauvoo, Illinois.

 It was gorgeous, but if you're thinking "Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning," you're right. The morning was pleasant and we walked around Nauvoo seeing Joseph Smith's original house, the blacksmith shop and the cobbler's house.

I even got in a little photo op with Thomas when he'd had enough pioneer handicrafts. But then, the weather changed, things turned cold, and it started to rain.
  One of our major goals in Nauvoo was for James and me to be able to attend the Temple. So on each of the days we were there, while one of us did the nap thing with the kids, the other attended the Temple. It was lovely.
 That night, we went off in search of somewhere to buy diapers and ended up driving through a torrential rainstorm. We ended up in Burlington, Iowa, having dinner at an Italian place that we just happened onto. It's called La Tavola, and you should definitely go there if you're ever in the area and hungry. It was fabulous and well worth the extra drive. We had the most wonderful waitress, who brought us a plate of ritz crackers and cucumber slices for Thomas and a free cannoli because of his birthday being the next day. The food was wonderful and there was so much of it that we ate it for lunch then next day too. The highlight of it all came after we gave Thomas some of the gelato we were all sharing. When it was gone, we gave him the bowl and he put it up to his face and started licking the bowl. That boy loves his ice cream!

Virginia's favorite part of the trip was the wagon ride behind the horses. We'd been promising the entire time that she'd get to ride in the wagon, so she was thrilled when Thursday morning's first activity was the promised horse ride.
 Virginia had a bit of an obsession with Joseph Smith's potty the entire time we were there. We talked a little about outhouses and a lot about potties, since we're always looking for an opportunity to solidify her bathroom progress. She had no accidents the entire trip! And even got to use "Joseph Smith's potty," which was really the missionaries' bathroom in the cobbler shop just because the nice elders were concerned she might not make it to the public restroom. In recognition of this wonderful potty training time of our lives, we took a commemorative shot of this outhouse, though she did not make any use of this particular bathroom.

Every time it started raining, it seems, we would drive down to the river and look at the pioneer crossing. It wasn't even that cold, but it was windy and unpleasant and I kept thinking of the Saints leaving to cross the plains in the winter.

The day remained cold and rainy, but we still saw plenty of beautiful leaves,

and a lot of fun shops and houses,

and lots of views of the Temple. It hadn't been rebuilt yet last time I was in Nauvoo, so I enjoyed seeing how prominent it is on the hill for all the city to look to.

Another big promise on the trip was that we'd get to go to the bakery and eat cookies. It wasn't quite as warm as we'd hoped, but it did make Scout happy to see all the little cookie cutters and get her own little gingerbread person.

Following dinner at the Nauvoo Hotel Buffet (may I just say that if anyone ever opened a restaurant with really good food in Nauvoo, they might just make a lot of money--but there are lots of places with really a lot of food in Nauvoo and I suppose that counts too), we headed back to our hotel for a little birthday celebration.

There were gifts, which Virginia was very eager to help Thomas utilize.

The truck was such a hit that Virginia nearly immediately started requesting one for her birthday.
And, of course, there was cake. We found some cupcakes at the local bakery (my favorite eating establishment in Nauvoo).  Thomas was pretty excited about the candle on his cupcake,
and really excited about the frosting.
Unlike his sister, who didn't care much about sweets at all at her first birthday, he loves them!
I hadn't thought really thoroughly about the implications of giving a one year old a cupcake while he's sitting on the floor of a hotel room that you're trying to keep in decent shape. I may have spent some time with a rag and the carpet when the cupcake portion of the evening was through.
For ice cream, we all moved into the bathroom, where things are much easier to clean. We couldn't not have ice cream after Thomas's excitement for it the night before.
I might feel bad that half of his birthday celebration happened in the bathroom, except that it's probably his favorite room. We finished it all off with his favorite activity, a bath. There was abundant splashing.
This kid loves to be wet even more than he loves to eat.
The next morning, we packed everything up and continued on our tour of Illinois. We headed south and crossed the Mississippi one last time to visit Hannibal, Missouri, boyhood home of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain).
We probably wouldn't have gone, except it was only five minutes out of our way and it's always good for pregnant women and small children to have fun places to stop and use the bathroom. All we did was whitewash the fence, eat lunch and buy gas.
We had a lot of fun with the fence though.

This is my personal favorite. In true Tom Sawyer fashion, Young Tom is supervising the whitewashing. No, we didn't pose it. But, as my dad commented, it's just as it should be.
I enjoyed some of the character of the city and took pictures of the older buildings while we walked around.
As our drive continued we saw a lot of lovely trees and clouds. It was fun to watch a sort of reverse Autumn take place as we drove further south and the trees became less and less colorful and increasingly green.
Because we did so much driving this day, Scout was awake a lot in the car. She wasn't always as entertained by the passing scenery as her parents were. So she made her own fun.

We were pleasantly surprised by her happiness and ability to entertain herself most of the time. Thomas is pretty much always a happy kid and loves the car, and this was no exception. But then, he also took a lot of naps.

Early in the afternoon, we arrived in Springfield, Illinois, at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. This was also a great place with lots of dioramas and displays that managed to keep Virginia's attention for a solid half hour. While we were there, she learned about the White House, that Lincoln's kids were hooligans, and what bombs are. In fact, after we left she kept talking about having put a bomb in the building. No airport trips for Scout in the next few weeks!

After the serious exhibits, we took her to the children's portion of the museum where she got to dress up,

cook food like Lincoln's mom would have done,

and generally enjoy age appropriate entertainment. Thomas just cuddled with Mom. He's not big on the social scene yet where he's in a new place and there is a lot going on.
We stopped to admire the old Capitol where Lincoln gave some of his speeches.
And we went by the Lincolns' home in Springfield. There's a whole street of restored old homes, though we arrived too late to go inside any of them (and the kids probably wouldn't have stood for it anyway).
We enjoyed more gorgeous fall foliage.
walked up and down the street in anticipation of the long drive to Chicago,
and even found an obliging Park Ranger to snap a family photo for us.

At this point, I was having lots of fun taking pictures, but the kids were both nearing the meltdown point. So, we piled back into the car and starting looking for a place to have dinner. There was nothing. We pulled out my iPhone and asked Siri. There was nothing. Springfield is the state capitol, and there was really nowhere to eat. Siri gave us one place that was expensive and didn't look family friendly and another that looked like a dive bar. Period. In the end, we gave up, found the interstate and headed toward the next city, where we found an obliging Cracker Barrel. So, if you're ever traveling through Springfield, Illinois, pack a lunch. Restaurants are apparently not to be found. It was strange.

 After a few more hours, we finally arrived at our hotel in Chicago. There was a small mistake about the hotel room, so we were all in one room with a King bed and a pullout couch. Apparently if you call Marriott specifically asking whether their suites are one room or two and they assure you that you will have two separate rooms with a wall and a door that shuts in between, it doesn't actually mean that you'll get two separate rooms. Fortunately, it was 10pm at this point and I basically wanted to go to bed anyway. So, after enjoying the view for a few minutes,
and coaxing both children away from the window (made me nervous every time!) and into bed,

we sent James off with his friend who happened to be in town to attend the BYU-Notre Dame game the next day and retired for the night.

In the morning, we enjoyed the view some more. I love admiring the Chicago architecture!
Then we checked out and headed to the Shedd Aquarium. Both James and Virginia love fish, and Thomas appears to be headed that same direction.
We went with the basic pass, because we weren't sure how long the kids would last anyway, and it was definitely plenty for our family with kids as little as ours. I did feel a little bad that we refused to pony up the extra cash for the Jellies exhibit when Virginia kept coming back to this little window of Jellyfish and staring and staring and refusing to leave.
Still, we saw a lot of cool things, and enjoyed some fabulous views of the city. As luck would have it, the weather was completely gorgeous, so it was a great day to be out and about in Chicago. I also recommend eating at the Aquarium if you're ever there. It's a little pricey, but that's where we found the great views, and the food was wonderful.
When we left, we noticed that the line was ridiculous. More words of advice on the Aquarium, go in the morning! It's much less crowded and the wait is much more reasonable. Also, you can avoid this line entirely by bringing a stroller (why would you not, with small kids?), because then you get to use the handicapped entrance, which has another (shorter!) line entirely.
Our destination on our next Chicago excursion: The Field Museum
With the children once again showing signs they'd had enough, we piled back into the car and headed home. It was a bit of a tough drive for Scout.

But she eventually caved in and slept, during which time Thomas seized the opportunity to grab her precious sheep. He has his own puppy, which he adores, but he knows there's something great about the sheep and he takes it anytime he can get his hands on it.
At long last, we arrived back in beautiful Madison, where basically all of the leaves were gone from the trees. Still, we were glad to be home and back in our own beds.
Possibly the best part is that we got home Saturday evening, so everyone got a decent night's sleep and we had all of Sunday to recover from our vacation before diving back into real life with work and school. The rest of this year's vacation time will be spent doing things around the house to prepare for baby number three. But I'm glad we took the time for our first real family vacation.