Our First Stop – Winter Garden RV Resort

So our dream of just packing and hitting the road didn’t happen as fast as we had hoped:

First off, we spent about a month selling and purging stuff from our house, and did a pretty good job of parring everything down. But, then you have to pack – and packing with a toddler and a baby is not easy.

Then, when we thought we were ready to go, we realized that in order to sell the house, we still needed to get rid of a lot of stuff and prep the house for selling. So instead, we found a place to park our trailer while we finished the house stuff.

Hello Winter Garden RV Resort. Just minutes from downtown Winter Garden, Florida, this quiet RV parks boast a playground, showers, and two heated pools (which mini-man has already discovered and loves!). We chose this place for it’s high ratings and proximity to our house.

I was worried for many reasons:

  • I’ve always heard that RV parks have high crime: Not here. This place has been very quiet, and despite the place being pretty full, we hardly see anyone. Just like a normal neighborhood.
  • How would the kids adapt: Mini-man loves the RV. There’s plenty of places for him to play and explore. I even seen him become more curious about playing outside! Little-dude (our newest addition) is still really young, so all he needs is mommy and daddy and he’s good.

Honestly, as worried as I’ve been, its been pretty calm and amazing. Which we needed! Trying to unpack in a tiny space makes for a lot of clutter. Add in watching a toddler and a baby while Damon is at the house trying to get projects finished and it makes for some stressful days.

Luckily, we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The last house project is wrapping up today, we have a few more projects to finish in the RV, and we’re ready to hit the road!

I am so happy that we found such a great first stop. While I don’t talk about the resort much in this article, I think that’s a great thing. The whole point is to get out and explore and have adventures. So having a place that’s relaxing but close to everything has been great.

Madison, Wisconsin

After our stop in Minnesota, we decided to turn around and head to the east coast. Our first stop brought us to the capital of Wisconsin – Madison. The drive was fairly smooth.

It was a beautiful day and a great place to take a break

We planned to stop half way at a playground for lunch and some exercise. This worked really well. The boys loved playing and it even wore them out for the rest of the drive to Madison.

Our first day was the only nice day we had during our stay, so we made sure to enjoy it. We started with painting outside. Min-man loved getting to play with water colors while little-dude liked making a mess and soon moved onto playing with water.

Little-dude likes to do everything mini-man does

Later, we headed to the playground, where the both of them played on everything – and there was a lot on this playground. This wore out little-dude, who took a nap while min-man enjoyed the pool.

The next day, it was drizzly and cold. Much colder than this Florida girl is used to in August. Usually, when it rains in Florida it gets hotter. In Wisconsin, it gets into the 60s! And silly, me, I worse a thin long sleeve shirt thinking that would work for the day.

It wasn’t so bad at our first few stops, a thrift store and camping world, but when we took the boys to the playground, I began to shiver. After a stop at another Goodwill, I managed to find some cute sweaters for a great deal and they kept me much warmer.

After a stop at Walmart and Costco, we had the car filled to the brim (even piling it up between the kids), we headed home. It was a long evening, as both boys had very short naps and were both very cranky.

We spent our last day being home bodies. Damon took mini-man to the pool and playground, while little-dude and I napped. When we woke up, mini-man had fallen asleep, so he took his nap while the rest of us cleaned up for the next days drive. The only down side to late naps is the kids stay up late.

Thankfully, the drive to our next stop, Chicago, is very short.

A Year in Review

One year ago, after about 12 weeks of planning, we officially started our RV adventure. I had just given birth to little-dude and we were in the process of selling our home when we spent our first night in our new Coachman Catalina travel trailer. To say I was nervous/scared/skeptical is an understatement. I mean, who does this – travel in an RV with two small kids!?! What would people think?

Good bye house, Hello tiny living!

Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the knowledge that something else is more important

Seeing how passionate Damon was for this adventure assured me that we were doing something right. Plus, we have always had an agreement that if something doesn’t work, change it!

Trying to fit 1200 sqft into 300 sqft

After deciding to visit Vermont, we set about crafting the perfect route – trying to hit as many beaches as we could along the way . That quickly went out the window when a little storm called Hurricane Irma decided to follow that same route. Thinking fast, we changed our plans and left sooner rather than we had planned. By September, we were on our way to Tennessee.

Of course the storm decided to change course and follow us to Tennessee

In a way, we got some training under fire – we had our first big road trip while thousands of Floridians were also trying to get out of the state. What should’ve been a three hour drive to the border of Florid/Georgia, took nearly 10 hours! As you can imagine, we were thrilled to arrive at our campsite – which was full of other RVer’s escaping the storm.

I still remember how beautiful this park was. I wish we could’ve stayed longer #stupidirma

We were up early the next day and headed to Atlanta – another drive that should’ve been just three hours that became seven. Two long days of driving with tow young kids and we were wiped. Thankfully, we had a large car where we could spread out and entertain the kids without having to stop to much.

Our stop in Atlanta is still one of our favorite places – ultra beautiful and large sites

Now, part of this craziness is neither Damon, nor I, had ever driven or hooked up a travel trailer. Fortunately, Damon watched a lot of YouTube videos on how to set up and credits video games for his mad driving skills (an awesome reason to video games). This, plus a certain amount of luck, and we managed to get up the east coast pretty quickly without any problems.

Is there anything this amazing man can’t do?

Our luck seemed to run out by the time we hit Kentucky, where we encountered several problems:

  • Hazard, Kentucky: our first flat tire. We were lucky to breakdown next to a festival where the people were very friendly and happily helped us.
Perfect time to learn that we hard the wrong spare tire for our trailer

It’s amazing how helpful strangers can be when you are in trouble.

Virginia : Electrical problems. This time we weren’t so lucky. We arrived at our campground late only to find that we couldn’t move the slides or turn anything on. We spent the trip in a hotel room while we tried to get it fixed. We managed to get everything working, except the kitchen slide – which would take weeks to fix

What a great time to learn that all of our electrical stopped working

Vermont: By the time we reached Vermont we managed to really break something – the break on our car. Somehow, we broke the break in half – something the mechanic had never seen and couldn’t figure out we did it. Turns out, that trying to break the trailer with car breaks isn’t a great idea.

We learned quickly that inexpensive travel trailers aren’t built for long road trips.

We also learned how much stuff we didn’t need. When we started, I had every cabinet crammed full of stuff. By the time reached Vermont, about half of was gone. I realized that we weren’t using most of it and we donated it.

It’s amazing to see how much stuff you have just because you think you need it.

By the middle of October, we’d reached Vermont and were ready to get back to the warmth. Now, we’d assumed that going south = warmth. Ya, not so much.

After making our way through New York, which wasn’t easy, we stopped at Niagara Falls. While we thought we’d end up in some tourist trap what we found was a beautiful waterfall. I’m glad we stopped to see it.

When we stopped in Mississippi where we had a beautiful site near a river. We made the mistake of leaving our windows open and came home to a trailer full of mosquitoes! I refused to stay and insisted we stay in a hotel while we figured out how to get rid of those pesky bugs. It took three bug zappers and two days to finally clear them all out.

I couldn’t get out of the trailer fast enough

This stop is also where we said goodbye to our two cats. While we loved them, they weren’t enjoying the constant travel. While we tried, nothing was making life easier for them. My parents met us in Mississippi and took them back to their home in Orlando, where they are enjoying a comfy life.

We loved our kitties enough to say goodbye

As we entered Texas, we stopped at a beautiful lakeside campsite that was the perfect opportunity to use our drone. What happened next was a true comedy of errors – we sent the drone up without a phone and it ended up getting stuck over the water. When we did attach the phone, it needed an update! It took some effort, but we managed to get the drone back just before the battery died.

Lesson learned – look before you fly

I can still hear Damon cursing up a storm during all of this

We decided to stop in San Antonio for Christmas. I didn’t want to travel too much during the holiday, which can be crazy. Plus San Antonio offered a lot of activities. It also gave us an amazing opportunity to finally get the trailer fixed.

First time, in my adult life, experiencing snow right outside my front door.

We rented a house for a week while the repairs were being done and realized there was quite a bit that we missed about living in a house. This inspired Damon to start looking at alternatives to our travel trailer. We’re pretty picky and knew what we wanted in a new unit would be hard to find.

It was great to have so much space again – but still a pain to clean up.

Then he showed me the floor plan of the Thor Challenger – a class A with a smaller kitchen but much better layout than our current travel trailer. Luckily, there was one not too far away that we could tour. As soon as I stepped inside I knew it was for us. It felt so comfortable compared to the travel trailer. Even the boys felt right at home.

Our new ride!

We were ready to buy that day but this dealership wanted too much for it and wouldn’t negotiate. The seller even tried to pull the “well someone else is interested” tactic. Ya, nice try. A little research showed that a similar unit was four hours away and for $20,000 less! It didn’t have everything the first one had, but it was all stuff we could have installed for less than the $20,000. Merry Christmas to us.

Just a bit of an upgrade

Now how could we afford this after not working for six months? Just as we found this unit, our investment in Bitcoin went up significantly, allowing us to purchase this new unit without financing.

We rang in 2018 with our first official trip in our new RV – to a mechanic about 30 minutes away to have some of things added to the RV. To make life easier, we had a dish washer and a washer/dryer added. It took a week but it was worth it – we use both items several times a week.

These have truly been time savers for us.

We continued it’s our tradition of picking a destination and heading there – this time we picked Victoria, Canada, home of the Butchart Gardens.

From the South back up to the North

The first several months of our trip was plagued with illness. It felt like every stop, someone was sick and I would, inevitably, get sick. Just as we got to the Grand Canyon, and it seemed like we were on the mend, my teeth started to hurt. I discovered that I had an infection in my back tooth and it needed to be removed.

This was a massive pain in my mouth

This process took weeks and kept us in the Grand Canyon area for a while. Fortunately, it was February and not a popular time for the RV park, so they had plenty of room. But trust me, we were more than ready to leave. Especially after it starts snowing. Who knew it snowed at the Grand Canyon.

lesson learned: it can snow in the desert. Don’t assume it’ll be warm just because it’s in the Southern part of the country

Didn’t expect this!

Once we got the all clear, we hightailed it to California. We really wanted to stay on schedule for Victoria, in hopes of spending most of the summer in the Midwest, away from the heat of the South (ha!)

Absolutely amazing!

We seemed to find perfect weather in Los Angeles, where we lounged by the pool (to the delight of mini-man), visited Disneyland, and toured our old neighborhood in Glendale.

Of course we went to Disneyland

Literally, our next stop brought us back to snow. I was really excited to see the Sequoia National Forest and Redwood Forest, I just wish it was warmer. These drives up into the Pacific North West were stunning, but definitely not built for RVs. These drives almost always took longer than we anticipated.

Yosemite was one of my favorite paces to visit

We were pleasantly surprised with our stop in Oregon, when we discovered the Oregon Aquarium. This simple aquarium is filled with amazing exhibits that offer something we rarely see at any other aquarium – space. The boys had tons of room to see everything, even when it was busy. By far, our favorite aquarium and highly recommend visiting if you get the chance.

Shark…wow.

The majority of our trip up to Victoria involved taking the 101 highway. This is, what I’d call, a great driving road -the twists and turns take you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. However, if your driving in an RV, it can also be one of the most stressful roads you can drive. The twists and turns slow you way down. So I have a love/hate relationship with the 101 – it’s beautiful but stressful.

The 101 was not made for RV’s

By mid-may, we’d made it to Victoria. About five years prior, we’d visited Victoria on an Alaskan cruise but could only stay a couple of hours. Since the , I’d been eager to return and was thrilled when we arrived. Victoria is a beautiful place and we enjoyed seeing the Butchart Gardens and exploring the area.

Still one of my favorite places on earth

While we stayed in Victoria, I noticed that history repeated itself a little bit for us. Five months after getting the Travel Trailer, we stayed in a house in San Antonio . Here, five months after getting the Class A, we stayed in a condo in Victoria. The first time we realized we wanted a new unit and bought the Class A. The second time reaffirmed our decision and that we loved our Class A.

Nice place to eat strawberries

Once we got back to the RV, we started planning our next stop leg and decided to make Chicago our next targeted stop. After studding our trusty map, I noticed that we could fill in a lot of states along the way.

Headin’ for the Midwest

I’ve heard that summer can be tough to get reservations for RV parks. But we found with some planning and staying away from popular areas, we could find plenty of places to stay. That included Mt. Rushmore!

A nice surprise in Idaho

Our stop in Salt Lake City pleasantly surprised me. I only knew the city to be the home of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. But what we found was a beautiful, friendly city with an amazing aquarium and fantastic thrift stores.

As Floridians, were not used to pools being closed due to cold weather (except once in a blue moon)

In our eagerness to collect states, we forgot one important thing -it was summer. Most of the cities were fine and gave us wonderful opportunities to enjoy taking the boys to nearby lakes (which we hadn’t done before). However, we were faced with 100+ degree heat. Unfortunately, our poor AC units couldn’t handle the heat and the RV became quite steamy. Our solution to tape space blankets to the outside of the RV worked fairly well. Paired with dips in the kids pool and trips to local attractions and we managed to survive the heat.

Baby, it’s HOT outside!

Our biggest surprise, to date, came when we came to Missouri. I wasn’t expecting too much and was amazed at how much we enjoyed the ‘Show Me State’. From boating at Table Rock Lake and not having to worry about gators to exploring St. Louis and loving the City Museum, we think we’ve found an awesome state.

Home of the 1904 World’s Fair and 1904 Olympics!

After a quick stop in Indiana, we made it to our last stop in Chicago, where we boondocked for our longest stint ever – one full week. The advantage to this, was it forced us to get out everyday. We rode our bikes, went to the beach, and visited some wonderful local attractions.

We also met up with Damon’s parents and brother during our stay

We started our next leg heading back to the Midwest to get two more states before we headed to the east coast. We enjoyed seeing Wisconsin and the Mall of America in Minnesota. Our original plan had us going through Wisconsin to Canada and into New York. However, after extensive research, most of the stops in Canada didn’t offer much for the kids to do. So we altered out plans and headed into Canada through Michigan.

We were in this neck of the woods about a year ago.

We ran into some snags thanks to the Labor Day Holiday, which made it difficult to find any place to stay. We finally found something in Cleveland, which means that we are starting our second year on the road with a six hour drive (yikes!).

After a year on the road we’ve visited 36 states, driven 13,000 miles and stayed at over 70 campgrounds. We’ve learned a lot, seen a lot, and created a lot of amazing memories. It hasn’t been easy, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Now onto our next leg!

Home sweet home

Wisconsin and SPAM

WE left Chicago assuming it was a short trip. This short trip became six hours after we spent a couple of hours looking for gas. We’d used a lot of gas while boondocking – we still had some, but not enough to go all the way to our next stop.

I swear when we finally parked at the state park in the Wisconsin Dells, the boys jumped at the chance to go outside and play in the dirt. We pulled out a lot of the outdoor toys and the boys went to town.

On our one day in the town, we took a train ride through the dells. This small railroad is adorable and the boys loved it. They both sat and watched the woods go by, both making choo-choo sounds.

Thanks to the rain, we spent the rest of the day playing at home. By the evening, the boys wanted to play outside again and didn’t let a little rain stop them. I guess we spent a little too much time in the concrete jungle for our boys taste.

We were surprised to wake up to rain the next day. The forecast predicted the rain would stop overnight, so we left our outdoor stuff outside to dry. Oh, well. At least most of it was under the awning.

We spent the morning relaxing and playing outside a bit, but soon got antsy so we went to explore Minnesota a bit. We hit a goodwill and took the kids to an awesome playground. A nice, low key, family day.

I woke up on Saturday, exhausted. I think little-dude is having a growth spurt which is causing him to have restless sleep – which gives me no sleep. In times like this, I do stuff. So I started cleaning and reorganizing the toys. But since I’d just done that a few weeks prior, there wasn’t much to do, so I moved onto route planning.

I mentioned before that we had no reservations after this stop. I don’t like having nothing, so i started plotting our next route. We kept putting it off because we couldn’t figure out our next steps. Once I was able to plot out an easy efficient route, Damon started making reservations.

After hours of planning and researching, we were frazzled and wanted to get out of the house. After grabbing some lunch, we headed to the iconic Mall of America. And boy was I surprised.

I’m used to malls that go on forever, that have overcrowded food courts and can feel overwhelming. This place, despite its reputation for having a roller coaster/theme park inside, never felt overwhelming. The designers did a wonderful job designing the building so that we always felt comfortable. Even for a sunday, which was supposed to be busy, it never felt like it was.

We took the kids to the Crayola Experience, similar to the one we’ve taken them too in Orlando, and they had fun climbing and crawling. We even got an annual pass, as it was only $10 more, per person, and it’s good at ALL their locations!

After a grabbing some food, we wondered around a bit, checking out the Nickeledeon theme park area and the Lego Store. I even bought the boys a new Duplo set that I hadn’t seen before, but new they’d love since it was full of animals.

I woke up the next day excited to get back to the Mall of America and see some of their awesome attractions. Unfortunately, I was met with disappointment.

We stopped at the Sea Life Aquarium first, thinking the boys would like to see fish. About a third of the way in, Mini-man had a melt-down and refused to go on. Damon took him out, while little-dude and I finished. Afterwards, it took a while to find Damon and mini-man in the mall. Once we caught up both boys passed out and took long naps. Which left Damon and me to sit on an uncomfortable bench for hours.

We tried to regroup once we got food and tried to go through the aquarium again. Which led to another melt down. I was feeling quite frustrated – I cou;don’t figure out why mini-man was so upset. As a last ditch effort, we went to Crayola, where mini-man calmed down while playing with some play dough. Unfortunately, we went in just as they were closing, Mini-man did not want to leave, so he had another melt-down.

Damon’s quick thinking led us back to the big playground, where the boys enjoyed climbing, swinging, and getting wet on the splash pad.

By the time we got home, I was emotionally spent. I wanted to do so much at the Mall but didnt get to do any of them.

On our last day, we decided to approach the day differently, trying to learn our lesson from the day before. Instead of going straight to the Mall, we went to a playground. This place was close to the RV and was really cute. Made of all wood and shaped like a castle, this structure offered a lot of climbing and exploring opportunities for the boys. After about an hour, we all left happy.

After a quick break for lunch, we headed to the Mall for one last trip. First stop – Moose Mini Golf. This was interesting, as the boys had their own way of playing that involved wanting to play the same whole, over and over again.

Next we headed to Crayola to give the boys plenty of time to play. Little-dude fell asleep, so Damon held him while I played with mini-man. I assumed he wanted to climb but he took to painting and sat there for an hour! I think a paint set is in his future.

After Crayola closed, Damon took the boys to Lego while I went to ride Paul Bunyon Log Ride at Nickelodeon Universe. Very cute but the audio-animatonics were very outdated. I shared a car with two girls who didnt want to get wet, so I laughed every time they squealed at the water. I’m glad I got to ride.

When I met back up with Damon, mini-man was fast asleep so we headed back to the car. Since we were leaving the next day, we decided to stop to grab some supplies. while we were shopping we found a Barbie Power Wheels camper – adorable!

Now that we’re finished in Minnesota, we’re turning around and making our way to the east coast. First up – Madison, Wisconsin.

Updated: Heartswell Adventures: Leg #5

Update: please see our updated itinerary below

Phew! I think this is the longest we’ve ever waited to start planning our next leg. We knew we wanted to head to the east coast, but kept changing how we were going to get there. First, it was through Wisconsin and into Canada. Then, since we didn’t know if I would have a passport in time, we thought about skipping Canada, and go through the US to New York. Now that I have my passport, we seemed to have settled on Michigan to Canada to New Hampshire. It’s an easy route that hits several places we want to visit. So here is our next leg!

Then we hit a little snag, called Labor Day weekend. It seems that everyone with an RV up here goes camping that weekend. We spent days trying to find anything we could get and finally settled on a place near Cleveland , which has altered our route, somewhat.

Updated Map: Decided to do a loop-de-loop
  • Wisconsin Dells:
      • Water Park capital of the United States, this place looks like a cute place to visit
  • St. Paul & Minneapolis, Minnesota
      • Mall of America!
  • Madison, Wisconsin:
      • Found a place with a pool, so we plan to relax and prep for our long journey to Toronto
  • Chicago, Illinois:
      • We had a fun time in Chicago and it’s the perfect place to stop for the holiday weekend before we press on.

UPDATE: After our stop in Chicago, we learned that mini-man needs dental surgery. One of the benefits of our life is our schedule is very flexible. So we’ve altered our trip a bit to get us back to Chicago for the surgery

  • Cleveland, Ohio:
      • This is a six hour drive! We have a place to stop if we need to, but for now, we plan to drive the whole thing. It’s one of the only places we found a campsite for the holiday weekend. Kept this stop as it was still a holiday weekend and the only place we could find
    • New Stop: Cincinnati, Ohio

    New Stop: Cincinnati, Ohio
        • As long as we have to change our route, might as well swing by one of the best aquariums in the country

      New Stop: Louisville, Kentucky

        • A quick stop on our way to…

      New Stop: St. Louis, Missouri!!!

        • We made it back and we have a long list of things we want to do, including: the St. Louis Arch, City Museum, and a boat tour

      New Stop: Chicago #3

        • Back for mini-mans surgery

      New Stop: Kalamazoo, Michigan

        • Who wouldn’t want to stop here!?! Just to say you’ve been to Kalamazoo

      New Stop: Detroit

        • Quick stop before Canada
      • Toronto, Canada:
          • When I was first researching Canada, Toronto kept showing lots of places to visit with kids, so I’m excited to stop here.
      • Ottawa, Canada:
          • Looks like riding the canal is a must do, so we must do it!
      • Montreal, Canada:
          • I was excited to visited the bio dome here, but it’s closed til next year. I guess we’ll find something to do. It’s faster to just go into the states, so we’re skipping Montreal
      • New Stop: Colchester, Vermont
          • A pretty stop and a faster way to get to New Hampshire
      • Twin Mountain, New Hampshire:
          • We enjoyed visiting New Hampshire when we stopped in Vermont last year. Can’t to see what else is there.
      • Portland, Maine:
          • I’ve heard that Maine is beautiful in the fall. Looking forward to seeing this area.
      • Boston, Massachusetts
          • Damon grew up just outside of Boston, so he’s excited to take the boys to the Children’s Museum and Aquarium

      Were really excited for this leg of our journey. Let us know if there are any must do’s along the way.

      Bookdocking

      Boondocking is an RV term, which means to camp without any water or electrical hook-ups. We first tried this type of camping in New York. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a pleasant experience – it got hot very fast and couldn’t run the AC except during two hour blocks in the morning an evening. couple that with an inaccessible fridge and no way to charge/use electronics and you end up with a very cranky wife, kids, and husband.

      Beautiful site but far from anything and limited generator hours

      When we decided to camp in Chicago, the only place available, that wasn’t an hour outside of the city, was a parking lot near the convention center. It was just a place to park – no hookups. I was nervos, so say the least. But, this time, things were a bit different – we had larger battery banks to run/charge our electronics a large water tank, a large gas tank for AC, no restrictions on AC use, and a much bigger fridge. We also did a lot of planning ahead of time – researching activities to keep us out of the RV during the height of the heat, pre-cooking food so we could keep cooking to a minimum, thus not heating up our RV unit, and covering all of our windows with space blankets to keep out as much heat as possible.

      Not much to look at but we could constantly run the generator and it was close to everything

      The results were much better this time around. Our location was ideal for exploring the city with our boys. It also encouraged us to get out more and stay home less.

      I’m not sure what’s more amazing -that they’re in the bike or that they’re sitting next to each other nicely 🤔😆

      The unknown cost however, is there. While we could run the AC to keep things cool, it does drain the gas tankl. By the time we made it to our last day, we were down to aquater of a tank of gas. After doing the math we discovered that we spent about $30 a day in gas, on top of $35 a night to park. That’s about the same as staying at a nice KOA, just without the ammenities.

      Pro:

      • Cheaper
      • Awesome location
      • Encouraged us to get out of the RV

      Con

      • More money to run the air conditioner
      • No Amenities
      • No shade

      I think, overall, it was a great experience. We got to see a lot of Chicago. But I’m also glad we didn’t stay longer. Maybe Ill give this boondocking thing another try.

      Chicago – Last Stop on Leg #4

      Thank goodness our drive from Indianapolis was a short three hours. We managed to stop just outside of Chicago to get some supplies and have lunch. Since we made good time, I convinced Damon to stop at a nearby GameStop to get a Lego Dimensions set I’ve been looking for (so thrilled to find it!).

      We made it to our destination, but it’s not an RV park – it’s a parking lot in the middle of downtown Chicago. Amazing location but ZERO amenities – no power, no water, nothing. To help keep the RV cool, we set about covering all the windows with space blankets.

      A cheap way to keep the RV cool

      We turned on the generator in the evening to help cool everything down then went to bed. We then learned the hard way that our Co2 detector works. Turns out our generator doesn’t ventilate out, it just settles under the RV. And with no wind to ow it away, it started to build up and seep into the RV. Opening windows and turning off the generator seemed to clear things up.

      Needless to say, my mind was filled with worry, which made it very hard to sleep. By morning I was a zombie. However, the boys soon made it clear that they needed a day out.

      So we walked to a nearby playground on Lake Michigan, filled with lots of swings, climbing equipment, and splash pad. Little-dude instantly took to the slide and splash area. Mini-man played a little, but was more interested in climbing a tree than playing.

      Really cute playground that wasn’t busy

      Me. I was tired and dehydrated. After we grabbed some lunch, I felt better, so we decided to take the boys to the Lincoln Park Zoo. This free zoo is adorable and filled with awesome animals.

      Eavesdropping led us to this amazing view of Downtown Chicago

      While we were there, we met up with Damon’s brother, who helped us get to a local grocery store to pick up supplies for our sailing trip that evening. Unfortunately, a storm rolled in, cancelling our excursion.

      Fun fact: this zoo is free!

      It was the last day before the weekend, and according to my research, Chicago is very busy on a weekend. So I wanted to get some more visits in before the crowds hit. First up – The Shedd Aquarium.

      How to get the boys to look at the camera – give them food

      Ever since mini-man started liking fish, I have wanted to take him to this aquarium. what was really fun, was he seemed to know where we were going. After parking the car in a parking garage, we had to walk to the aquarium through Millennium Park. About a quarter of the way through, mini-man jumped out of the stroller and insisted on walking the rest of the way. When the aquarium came into view, he sped up and couldn’t wait to go inside.

      Unfortunately, the line for tickets was very long. Here’s a tip – buy them online before you go. I did that while waiting in line and not moving. Within a minute of finishing, I had my tickets in a pdf sent to my phone and was able to go straight into the building. Which also, magically, lets us skip the bag check.

      He was in heaven

      Once we caught up with little-dude and Damon, we went in. I kid you not, mini-man just walked ahead of everyone. He just had to see his sish. Fortunately, there’s a very large aquarium as soon as you get inside. Both boys sat there for a while just watching the dish. This was great for Damon and me, as we could cool down in the AC and get something to drink.

      I love the Washed Ashore Project and the work -especially this otter 😍

      Soon, we were being led through the whole place by the boys. The aquarium is four stories tall and filled with with all kids of exhibits. What I loved was that the Aquarium offered a wide variety of things for kids to touch and climb on.

      After spending about five hours there, the kids were done and ready to leave. Little-dude fell asleep, so we took mini-man to the nearby Maggie Daley Park – which has an enormous children’s playground. Mini-man adored climbing one everything, and even ventured off on his own for a while. I love that his confidence is growing. While we were there, we met up with Damon’s parents, who came into town to visit Damon’s brother.

      This place was huge but very busy

      ONce, Jared got off work ,we headed to a local pizza place, Pizannos. Cause when your in Chicago, you gotta do pizza.

      Broke my diet for this -but I made sure to only eat a few pieces 😜

      Along the way, we did another Chicago staple – the bean.

      Also known as the other endless cloud

      The ride home was certainly interesting. We were in stuck in wall-to-wall traffic for some unknown reason. After some redirection from Google, we made it back and learned that the traffic was due to a Beyonce concert (For those of you reading this in the future – shes a singer).

      That girl can sure stop traffic

      We woke up Saturday and saw that the downtown area was congested again – this time due to a ‘back-to-school’ parade. Wanting to get out of the RV, but get away from the crowds, we headed to the suburbs of Chicago for some thrift store and grocery shopping.

      I love seeing how much fun they have in thrift stores

      Sunday, we decided to do something different. Since parking, and traffic, in Chicago is horrible, we tried biking. After a rough night, we loaded up my bike and rented a second bike for Damon to ride, and headed to the Navy Pier. The four-mile bike ride took us, mostly, along Lake Michigan, so we got to see a lot of the city. The boys objected at first, but soon fell asleep in their wagon.

      At the pier, we met up with Damon’s parents to ride the Ferris Wheel. This turned out to be awesome as it gave us a great view of the city. And both boys did great. They sat and looked around as we rode. I was slightly stressed when the boys tried to push on the doors but loved the experience overall.

      High above Chicago

      After a quick dinner at a nearby TGI Fridays, we got back on our bikes and headed back. We got about a third of the way back, when the boys freaked out so we stopped in front of the Millennial Fountain and let them play. They soon calmed down and we were able to go again.

      Quick stop to fix the iPad

      Then just as we approached the beach close to our RV, they freaked out again, so we pulled over again. The boys seemed to enjoy this stop a lot, as they could play on the beach.

      Boys wanted out of the bikes and instantly went to the beach

      Once they were done, we started to walk back to the RV. Im not sure why we did this. At the time, it seemed like the best option. But we started to feel tired and cranky on the walk back. Both boys wanted to be carried, which made the journey feel like it took much longer.

      I collapsed when we got home – four+miles of bike riding plus walking and my legs were done. After sitting for a few minutes, I tried to get up and realized how much pain I was in. Sleeping was definitely interesting.

      The next day was a monday and is was 80! Perfect day for the each. As soon as we set up camp, the boys were in the sand and clammoring to get into the water.

      Wis!

      We spent our last day in Chicago, back at the Navy Pier. This time, taking the boys to the Chicago Children’s Museum. This two story place is filled with a variety of activities that both boys loved.

      This place was fun

      We returned to our to a very hot, humid RV. At first we tried to cool it down by opening he windows and using fans, in an effort to save gas. However, that didn’t work and everyone felt it. I soon put my foot down and turned on the air conditioner. It might’ve cost us some gas but it was worth it as the cooler temperatures allowed for a much calmer evening.

      And so ends our fourth leg of our journey. At this point, we don’t have leg #5 mapped out. We really should get on that. After next week, we have nothing reserved!

      $35 a night with a view of downtown Chicago. Not too bad

      Indianapolis

      After a too short stay in St. Louis, we hit the road to Indianapolis. We could literally tell when we left Missouri because the highway roads went from nicely paved to nearly destroyed. Unfortunately, we think these bad roads may have done something to the van, for as we made it to the RV park the brakes stopped working.

      Once it stopped raining, we hit the pool. This is the first pool we’ve had in a while and wanted to enjoy it. Plus, after three days of non-stop adventure, we needed a down day.

      The boys loved the pool. This is a perfect pool for kids – lots of splash area, a slide, and it only ever gets three feet deep!

      Little-dude and I went back to lay down in the RV while Damon took mini-man to the playground. While there, they met the campground’s horses! Mini-man was enthralled – he fed them, petted them, and kept saying ‘neigh’. They headed back after that and both crashed.

      Unfortunately, this was pretty late and we all napped til about 9p. This led to a really crazy night of one of the kids being awake and both parents becoming pretty exhausted.

      We spent Damon’s birthday morning trying to catch up on sleep. Around noon, we decided to take the van into be checked. We figured, its better to take it in early in case it needs a lot of work.

      After dropping the car off, we headed to a nearby mall – where both boys fell asleep. Damon and I walked around the Target and the attached mall, trying to keep the boys asleep. Now this place was the epitome of a dieing mall – almost everything was closed. The few places that existed only opened on the weekend. Realizing this wouldn’t entertain us for two hours, we walked to a nearby Five Guys for lunch.

      By the time we reached the restaurant, we were hot, tired and hungry. There was no way we could keep walking around in the heat with the kids while we waited for the car. Thank goodness for Lyft! We were picked up pretty quickly and dropped off at Walmart – the perfect place to entertain us.

      After a little bit of shopping, we heard from the mechanic …$1,500 in repairs (Ouch!). Apparently we had a lot of cracks and problems with the front of the car (I’m sure Damon could tell you exactly what it is). At least its getting fixed and, at this point, there shoudln’t be too much more that can break (right!?!).

      Tired, we caught another Lyft back to the RV resort and headed to the pool. After such a long morning, it was great to relax and play at the pool.

      We relaxed and got some projects done the following day as we waited for the car repairs to finish and we could pick her up. Unfortunately, they found even more damage and needed an extra day, plus $400 more to fix it. Oh well. It has to be done.

      Around this time, mini-man brought me my bathing suit top. Gee… I wonder what he could want. So we gathered our stuff and spent the rest of the day at the pool and playground.

      Saturday looked like our last day without any rain, so we decided to take the kids to the Indianapolis Zoo. Unfortunately mini-man chose to be a typical three year old that day. It all started with our walk to a nearby McDonalds for lunch. However, he didn’t want to do that and proceeded to kick and scream the whole way there. Of course as soon as he saw it was McDonald’s he calmed down.

      Our next bit of drama was thanks to Lyft, and not our three year old, who was surprisingly well-behaved considering what we were doing. We ordered a four seater car to pick us up. What arrived technically a four seat car, but the gentleman driving it was so large that his seat backed all the way to the backseat, thereby eliminating a seat. Though we tried, we could not fit and sent him on his way. When we went to order a new car, Lyft tried to charge us! We had to wait for him to cancel the trip, which took some time.

      Fortunately, our next driver was wonderful and very friendly, who got us to the zoo in no time.

      The zoo is definitely one of my favorites that we have visited so far. It was a hot day but a lot of the exhibits were shaded or indoors. Lots of the exhibits were lush and designed for maximum viewing of the animals. It was great to approach each spot and actually be able to see the animals.

      Once we made it to the back of the zoo, the boys were both hot and tired. We stopped for a bite to eat and drink, hoping it would revitalize them for more zoo fun, but, alas, it became quite apparent that they were done. And perfect timing, as our car was ready to be picked up.

      On the way back, mini-man started to doze off but quickly woke back up (I’m talking minutes). I wish he’d stayed asleep. He started screaming and crying the last bit to the car. He was okay in the car, but once we got into Walmart he went into full melt down mode. We tried to calm him down, but he was hot, tired, and cranky – a very dangerous combination in a three year old. And, of course, it wasn’t until the end of the trip that he got what he wanted and calmed down – a popsicle.

      I wish I could say it lasted, but as soon as we got home, the crying started all over again. At this point I was tired and emotionally spent from the stress of getting around the city, mini-man, and the heat. I put on Curious George for him and I curled up in a chair.

      After a while, we all seemed to cool down, which put us all in better moods. So much so, that mini-man brought me my bathing suit top and tried to put it on me this time. I wasn’t in the mood for the pool, so Damon took both boys to play while I stayed behind. This gave me the chance to clean up a bit and make dinner. Sometimes all you need to reset is a time to yourself (that, and I had no wine in the house, so cleaning it was).

      There’s was a lot that I had planned for us to do in Indianapolis, but after our zoo experience, we discovered that the kids just wanted to swim, play, and see the horses. Why force them out when everything they want to do is right here? Plus, we had a lot of adventures planned for our next stop in Chicago.

      After swimming on Monday, we decided to go shopping to stock up for that next stop. We are full-on boondocking in the middle of the city so were trying to get ahead of the game by premaking a lot of food. We also managed to get in a trip to Goodwill, where we found lots of toys that the boys adored.

      We had a big agenda for our last day – get ready for Chicago. I wanted to cook as much food as I could. Plus we wanted to pack and rearrange some stuff to make, what we think, we’ll need more accessible. About half way through rearranging stuff outside, mini-man screamed so I went to see what was wrong. Most times, this is irritating. This time, it was perfect timing.

      After I restarted mini-mans DVD, which is why he screamed, I noticed a puddle of water near the door. Naturally, I assumed one of the boys spilled something. Then I noticed it was flowing from the bathroom. To which I concluded that mini-man left the sink running and it overflowed. Wrong again. Turns out, the culprit was Damon. He had dumped our tanks earlier and ran the washer to clean out the black tank and left it running. So it wasn’t just water running through the RV, if you catch my drift.

      Thankfully, I came in when I did, so we were able to stop the flooding before it spread too far. Took about 15 minutes to mop up and sanitize. All-in-all , it could’ve been much worse.

      The rest of the evening was uneventful and both boys were down pretty early. However, this led to very disruptive sleep, which led to a nice ally morning. At least we got a jump on our drive to Chicago.

      Meet me in St. Louis

      Meet me in St Louis is one of my all time favorite movies. I love the look at this time period and the celebration of the worlds fair. Despite all of the news reports around St Louis, I really wanted to visit and have been looking forward to this stop for a while.

      After a late night, we woke up mid morning and were on the road by 1030. The drive was fairly entertaining – never have I seen such a wide variety of billboards, covering almost all topics. My favorite was counting the number of billboards for the a candy store – 30 signs in 39 miles.

      We chose to stay at a state park just outside of the city – absolutely beautiful park and in a pretty safe area (didn’t want to take any chances). After finishing our usual setup, we headed out to pick up some stuff that we needed.

      First stop – Goodwill, of course. We found some great stuff – a new Bluetooth keyboard for my tablet (which makes writing a lot easier), a new swimsuit for me for $1.50, and a toy car for little-dude. He was so cute when he found it – like a moth to a flame. He saw it and was just drawn to it. I couldn’t leave without it

      Next we hit up Walmart and Sam’s club to stock up on more fruits and vegetables. The car was definitely full when we were done. At this point, mini-man discovered the car that I bought for little-dude and he claimed it as his own.

      Although I didn’t sleep at all, I wanted to go out. With just three days in St. Louis, I didn’t want to waste anytime. I heard a lot about a local place called City Museum – a large museum in a warehouse that is built large enough for adults to have fun. I was worried if the boys would enjoy it, but Damon and I both really wanted to go, so we took a shot.

      OMG, I’m glad that we went. This place was amazing. Unlike other places that have defined spaces, everything here flowed together and intertwined. The amount of detail was amazing – anything that could be something to inter act with, including the balustrade on the staircase. Damon loved seeing how everything worked together.

      He’s always been a fan of small spaces and details, so this truly spoke to his heart. Both boys loved being able to climb and touch everything. I loved being able to relax and watch them having fun

      We started our second day a bit late thanks to another sleepless night. Which is unfortunately because there was a lot we wanted to do. After two hours in the car, running errands, the boys were getting figity and I was low on patience.

      To help, we stopped at a local playground that had elements both boys loved – climbing. for mini-man and water play for little-dude.

      After some playing, we headed to a different area of the park that was the central hub of the 1904 World’s Fair. As a huge fan of Meet Me In St Louis, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit this place that was essential in the movie. It was neat to see how similar the area was to the movie.

      On our last day, we got no sleep, again. But I was determined to get out. It was our final day and there was so much we wanted to do. First stop – City Museum.

      Mini-man was excited when we went inside the building and lead is straight to the toddler area. It’s amazing how much there is to do in just this area.

      We discovered how the museum got it’s name when we made it to the fourth floor – where they had lots of exhibits and displays with St. Louis statues and building exteriors from all eras. It was amazing to see the detail up close.

      By the end of our visit, it stopped raining and the outdoor area opened. Knowing Damon loved stuff like that I let him go play while I took the boys.

      Instead of going back to the toddler room, mini-man found the skateless skate park and had a blast climbing up and down while little-dude slept. When they closed, I had to, quite literally, drag mini-man out of the exhibit while carrying a fast asleep little-dude. Luckily, Damon caught up with us just as we left the exhibit and was able to help me.

      I guess it was a good day, as both boys were fast asleep in the car. This gave Damon time to get some errands done.

      In retrospect, I don’t think we gave ourselves enough time to enjoy St. Louis. As we drove past the infamous arch, we saw so much more we’d like to see – like a riverboat ride, or a baseball game, or more thrifting, or a trolley ride. It feels like there is so much more left for us to do. But alas, we have a schedule to keep and an amazing amount of things to see in our next stop – Indianapolis.

      Branson, Missouri

      To say this was a rough trip is an understatement. Mini-man didn’t go to bed until 2a and little-dude was up most of the night, which didn’t help with my cold. You’d think that this would mean a late start for us. But sadly, the boys were up fairly early.

      Leaving early is usually a plus, but when your sick and tired, it makes for a stressful journey. All I wanted was a nap but that wasn’t happening. On the plus side, we did manage to stop at a Sams Club along the way to stock up on fruit and other supplies.

      Once we parked and set up, I was in bed and fell fast asleep. It seems when illness hits this family, I get it the worst.

      I spent the next few days in bed trying to get over this cold. It seemed to travel to my sinuses, which gave me a migraine that lasted for days. Damon was amazing during this time – he took mini-man out for shopping and lunch many times so I could try and rest. It also gave him a chance to complete a lot of projects we had going on – such as setting up our new entertainment systems.

      By our last day I was feeling better but still nursing my headache. It was beautiful out and we wanted to take advantage. Fortunately Damon made a reservation for a boat out on Table Rock Lake.

      To ensure maximum comfort, I made a lot of food and packed a lot of beverages. Nothing worse for a migraine than getting dehydrated, which is easy to do on the water.

      I was also worried about the boys – would they have fun? Would they be scared? Would I be nervous the whole time worried they fall overboard?

      That last fear was put to rest when we got on the boat, which was a pontoon with lots of seats and high sides. The boys tentatively took their seats but quickly started to cry once we got underway. About 10 minutes in, they both fell asleep. This gave Damon and me the chance to enjoy the ride. The wind and water were perfect and made me feel a lot better.

      Once we got down one on of the side coves, we parked the boat and both boys woke up. I’ve never jumped into the water from a boat before and had a lot of fun dipping into the cool water. Little-dude became intrigued and followed me in. He liked swimming around as long as I was with him. To my surprise, mini-man wanted nothing to do with water and chose to stay onboard and eat.

      The one thing missing from our boat was an anchor, so we so found our boat drifting toward the shore. Not wanting to keep moving the boat, we moved further down the river. Apparently this is just what mini-man needed. Shortly after we stopped mini-man got into the water. He spent the rest of our time in the water.

      As for me, my food efforts paid off. I managed to keep my migraine at bay and actually enjoy myself. The young man who helped us quoted “lake days are nap days for kids”. He was partly right – the kids relaxed on the way back, which kept them wide awake until midnight. Just what we needed the night before we drive.

      But at least we’re going someplace I’ve always wanted to go – St. Louis