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Are there any roads in Canada, Eh?

So, in mapping out my cross country trip from Jersey to Seattle for next summer’s Cross Cruiseapalooza, we thought it might be fun to cross another country going out, and our own coming back.  I put us in Niagara Falls our first night, then wanted to map us from Niagara Falls, ACROSS Canada, to Seattle.

It takes me back to the United States.

So I added in a point or two on the map IN CANADA.  It keeps taking me OUT of Canada, back into the United States, and then back into Canada.

When I finally add enough stopping points in Canada that the map gives up and decides to leave me there, it makes my 44 hour trip a 56 hour trip 🙁

I’ve come to the following conclusions –

Canadians don’t drive, and dog sleds take much longer to get everywhere.

We’re not welcome in Canada, and every chance they get, they’re kicking our ugly American asses back across the border.

The moose have taken over the highways and cars are forbidden.

I do not understand the finer points of the mapping software.


I’m going with the Moose.


Lindsay Lohan – Who Exactly is in NEED of an Ass Kicking?

You may have been living the past few years under a rock, in a cave, on an alien planet with no satellite TV or internet access.  So you probably have no idea who Lindsay Lohan is.  Even those of us who HAVE remained consistently on this planet have a hard time going back far enough in the recesses of our brains to remember WHY we know who Lindsay Lohan is.  Then we vaguely recall the cute, freckled face from The Parent Trap, and we wonder what the hell happened.

I am forever optimistic when it comes to people.  I believe that we are all products of our childhood environment, and it’s not necessarily our fault we turn out the way we do, but it is our responsibility to work on changing the things that are not valuable personality characteristics.  We have to figure out a way to get along in life.

So who is to blame for the screw up that is Lindsay Lohan?  Have ya got a pen?  And a couple of sheets of paper?  And a whole lot of time?

Let’s just go back to this morning.  Part of Lindsay’s new world order, according to the judge yesterday, was to show up at 8 o’clock this morning for blood and guts duty – cleaning up the morgue.  She was going to be wiping down tables, sweeping and mopping floors, and making herself useful around the recently deceased.  At 7:40, her ASSISTANT called to notify the morgue that she was ten minutes away, which would have put her in the right place at ten minutes before the right time.  Good for her!  By 8:20, she still wasn’t there.  At some point after she was already 20 minutes late, the morgue was called to say that she would have been there on time, but she didn’t know what door to go in.  And there was way too much media attention for her to get through.  And Starbucks put full fat milk in her skinny latte (okay, I might have made THAT one up).

So what the hell is the assistant for?  Did she assist her in getting her ass out the door this morning?  Apparently not.  Did she assist in finding out which entrance she should go into?  No.  How about when she called to say they were 10 minutes away – did she inquire then about alternative entrances?  Nope.  Did she call at 8 AM to say they had arrived but couldn’t get in?  Uh-uh.  Does she assist in keeping Lindsay clean and sober.  Uh, hell no.  Keep her from shoplifting?  Nah.

Let’s start here with the ass kicking.  What exactly is an “assistant” getting paid for if the only assistance they are providing is the assistance you DON’T need to get into trouble?

And how about that mom?  The one who consistently says Lindsay is “Fine!”, “Great!” “Doing well!”  Has she seen her daughter?  Can she notice that her 25 year old daughter certainly doesn’t look “fine”?  Is she doing Lindsay any favors by telling the world how fabulous her daughter is?  Keep the ass kicking ball rolling.

What about Daddy Lohan?  No stranger to legal problems himself, he, ironically, often seems to be the voice of reason.  He publicly pushes for Lindsay to get treatment.  He’s always talking to this reporter or that news outlet about his concern for Lindsay.  Perhaps he should have been talking to Lindsay from day one.  Kick this ass, too.

Then there’s the collective “us”.  The ones buying the magazines that love to publish photos of Lindsay at her worst moments.  Lindsay in need of serious dental work – front page of the Star.  Lindsay falling down drunk? OK Magazine.  Lindsay snorting cocaine in a hotel room? The National Enquirer will run that one.  Are you clicking in to read your daily dose of Perez Hilton?  Yeah, me too.  Do we deserve an ass kicking?  Yeah, probably.

I hope someone can save Lindsay before she becomes a member of the infamous Forever 27 Club.  It’s not looking good at the moment, and I hope that the judge who has revoked her probation can get her behind bars for longer than 20 minutes, where maybe she’ll get some help for her addictions.  Or maybe the legal system, the last line of Lindsay defense against her demons, needs an ass kicking, too.

Alternative to Microsoft Streets and Trips?

I can’t handle being called an anti-Microsoft person — that would be like being called a Universal Mom over a Walt Disney World Mom. But with Jim retired from Microsoft due to his disability, I have been given lots of new found freedoms over the past two years. We all have iPhones for one.  I cannot begin to tell you how horrible it was 12 years ago to be forced to use early adopter alpha beta gamma whatever they call it – I called it junk – Windows smartphones. The only thing they did good was let me play Bubble Burst.

On our last two cross country trips we used a laptop and Microsoft Streets and Trips. It lets you plan a trip from A to B, but “budget” in hours of sleep or rest and add stops to your itinerary. It had its problems — the biggest being no one goes on vacation on DAY ONE. We need to be somewhere by June 25th, 2012 – not DAY FOUR. I don’t know if they have fixed that bug from previous versions yet – fingers crossed.

But back to the original question — before I spend money on the 2011 or 2012 version of Microsoft Streets and Trips – is there an alternative?  Are you guys using anything I should look into?

As The Stomach Turns…

You may remembering me mentioning my first strike towards being nominated mother of the year came early in this school year, when on the second day of school, Granuaile told her first grade teacher that I didn’t feed her anything, and the teacher took pity on her and allowed the child to enjoy taco day with the rest of the lunch buyers at school.

After lengthy conversations, we agreed to allow Granuaile to buy the school lunch, which she found much more preferable over the Mommy Packed Lunch.  I reminded her to make healthy choices, always choose a fruit for her tray, and indulge no more than once each week in chocolate milk.

We sent in our first payment of $60, which, based on a five day per week school week and lunch at $2.75 per day, should have lasted us into October.

Imagine our surprise when just about two weeks later, we got a bill saying we owed money to the cafeteria service.  What?  If the child has burned through a month’s worth of lunch money in two weeks, shouldn’t we be rolling her through the front door?  Would the kid not be ripping the seat out of her gym shorts?

We figured we miscalculated, but we called the cafeteria service.  No answer.  So another check for $60 was written.  Now we’re good at least until the first of November.  Or so we thought.

Yesterday, we got a bill saying we were more than $10 in a hole with the cafeteria service.  $10?  So, not only has the child eaten her way through the $120 we’ve sent in less than a month, but she’s eaten $10 over it?  Is there a surf and turf option for lunch we’re not aware of?  Do they serve peanut butter and caviar sandwiches?  How do we get the same ban on foie gras here that they have in California, because they must be serving it during Granuaile’s lunch period!

Finally, Jim got a lunch lady on the phone today.  Granuaile, it seems, has loads of money in her LUNCH account, but she is woefully under funded in her SNACK account.  Apparently, the school separates the funds, and you as the parent have to authorize money for snacks.  Which we didn’t.  Because I send a snack in with her every day.

Either we will be bankrupt by the end of the first semester, or our child will weigh 600 pounds.  Whichever comes first, it ain’t gonna be pretty.

Forget the Loch Ness Monster

There are stories that we can recall back to our childhoods.  A good many of them involve life’s mysteries.  We’ve all seen the grainy photos claiming to be positive proof of the existence of Big Foot.  And who can forget the dark, blurry silhouette of the Loch Ness Monster?  Today, I have even seen a report of a bizarre one eyed albino shark.

I can almost believe in the existence of these mythical creatures.  As hard as I try, I don’t see a zipper running down the back of Big Foot.  I’m pretty sure I don’t see any place to put the batteries in the back of Nessie.  Oh – and the cyclops albino shark?  He’s for real.

But the one mythical creature I have yet to see captured on any grainy, thumb over the lens, almost but not quite sure you see it?  The child that cleans up after themselves.  It is a pursuit I have been on for over 20 years – this mysterious character who allegedly makes a mess, then picks it up.  I know – it makes you gasp, doesn’t it?  The mere thought of such a beast existing in our world sends maternal hearts into a fluttery rage.

I’ve heard tales of the kid that gets a drink of milk, puts the lid BACK ON THE BOTTLE, CLOSES THE REFRIGERATOR DOOR, and, if you haven’t passed out yet, WIPES THE KITCHEN COUNTER CLEAN OF DROPLETS OF MILK!!  I know – it’s almost too much to imagine!

But wait – I’ve heard other fairy stories of these angelic little pixies who come in from school, DON’T drop their backpacks by the door, DON’T toss their shoes off in the middle of the entryway to your home, AND sit right down to do their homework!

The thing that finally convinced me to end my search?  Someone threw it over the top when they told me these same imaginary beings don’t fight with their sisters AND have nothing strewn on their bedroom floors.

Now that’s going too far.

Summer 2012 Cross Cruiseapalooza Planning Begins!

Where were we?  Oh yes!  The family has decided to drive cross country to Seattle to board the Disney Wonder for that Alaska cruise.  So obviously, we were just this side short of sanity.

Skamarakas family cross country trips have been incredibly interesting.  The last one we took was dubbed the DNA Tour.  It was a lesson in making sure everyone went to the bathroom BEFORE we hit a mountain or desert, AND it was a lesson in watching what you feed people before you get to the Grand Canyon so no one has to puke, right at sunset, on the Grand Canyon.  Had there been a nation-wide crime spree, perpetrated by a crazed family in a minivan, we left enough DNA evidence between here and the west coast that we’d all be in Sing-Sing solitary as I speak.

The first piece of the puzzle is what car are we taking.  Our family has two – our minivan and Brighid’s Mini Cooper.  I for one am always up for a challenge, but I’m reasonably certain that I won’t fit the shoes I need for the cruise in the back of the Mini.  So it seems like a no-brainer, right?  The minivan.  That’s where Jim steps in and says, “We can rent a car that gets better gas mileage and save the wear and tear on the minivan.”  On our last cross country trip, we ended up in a Jeep Grand Cherokee that POSSIBLY got one mile more per gallon than our minivan; was painfully uncomfortable; had way less storage space; and had a driver’s side window that wouldn’t roll down.  I know what you’re thinking – how did Anna get her Starbucks with no drive through availability?  Thank you for thinking of me.  I managed.  This time around, we’ll check the windows before we get to Ohio; and if possible, we’ll check out the comfort level well in advance so we know we won’t have hineys hurting in the back seat.

I’m thinking the best plan of action will have us hitting Chicago our first day – maybe as far as Milwaukee.  If there’s a festival, Milwaukee may be the way to go; and if it’s Milwaukee, there’s probably a festival!  We could wake up early, do a little sightseeing, then hit the road for somewhere in North Dakota.  I spent much of my teen years denying the existence of North Dakota – it was my version of teen rebellion (I belonged to the Flat Earth Society, too) – but I digress.  After another night of sleep, a quick tour around some points of North Dakotan interest (that should be a quick tour, no?), we’ll hit the road again head for parts in west Montana.  That will be our last stay before arriving in Seattle, which should give us a full day to play with – so if we end up stuck in traffic behind a herd of buffalo (buffali??), we should still make the ship in plenty of time.

So send me your suggestions – where to go, what to see, who to visit!

North to Alaska – and Whatever Else We Can See In Between!

I always have these grand intentions of building fabulous trip reports, and every time we take an awesome vacation, I go into it saying “I think I can; I think I can; I think I can” – and then I don’t.

Let’s approach this from a different angle – let’s start talking about it now, and maybe by June, when I actually take the trip, I’ll be more motivated to finish the conversation!  So let’s get started – come plan this trip with me!

Here are the basics:

We have to be onboard the Disney Wonder on June 25, 2012 – that’s only 252 days away!  Thank God we’re going to Alaska – I’ll never get into a bikini by then!!  We board in Seattle, WA.

We’ve chosen second seating because it gives us time to eat breakfast, second breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, second lunch, afternoon tea, and an evening snack before dinner.  We’d miss at least the evening snack if we did main seating dining!  Actually, we prefer second seating for a number of reasons.  We never feel we have to rush to get ready after a day of excursions, and if a kid comes back needing a nap, there’s time before dinner to do that.  We’re also more inclined to get to the shows if we go to them before dinner, as after dinner, you are so full and tired from a big day of adventure, you might decide just to turn in.  I also like that on some of our Disney cruises, the kids will get picked up by the kids’ club staff at second seating, and they will be escorted to their club for evening activities.  This gives Mom and Dad a chance to eat dinner with the kids, but also have some time to themselves to linger over a cup of tea and dessert.

Our itinerary:

Day One: Seattle, Washington

Day Two: At Sea

Day Three: Tracy Arm, Alaska

Day Four: Skagway, Alaska

Day Five: Juneau, Alaska

Day Six: Ketchikan, Alaska

Day Seven: Victoria, British Columbia

Day Eight: Seattle, Washington

Now to get there.  The plan at the moment is to drive.  From Jersey.  With three kids.  In one car.  Oh, and did I mention that at least one kid is in school until June 20th?  Unless we get no snow days, and then she might be done a couple of days sooner.  Should I start taking Valium NOW?

If Google Maps is accurate, we eliminate all pee breaks, we don’t eat anything not already in the car (I’m thinking by hour four, Granuaile is gonna look mighty tasty with some honey mustard), we don’t stop for gas, and we skip any side trips to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine and the World’s Biggest Rocking Chair, we can be there in just under two days (1 day, 22 hours).  My fear is, just adding in pee breaks is going to cause us to miss the boat.  Somehow, I have to balance potty stops, eating, and a tiny bit of sightseeing with getting there in four days – which puts us at a Seattle hotel the day before the cruise.  Oh, and did I mention that I wish to arrive somewhat sane?

And we’re off, faithful readers!  Watch over the next few posts how I try to lay out the trip TO Seattle.  Then we’ll talk shore excursion possibilities.  And finally, we’ll talk about how we get back in time to make my sister’s wedding on July 21st.  Dressed.  In North Carolina.

Oh – and who wants to watch my dogs for three weeks?  They’re great fun to have around!


Trick or Treat…or Something Else Entirely?

I don’t think Halloween is any scarier than when I was a kid, but I know I certainly stress more now that I’m a mom!  But now, moreso than when I grew up, there are community alternatives to traditional trick or treat.  And even if your neighborhood doesn’t participate in one of the cool alternatives, borrow one of these and make it your own!

Trunk or Treat

These are popping up all over the place in this area!  I see quite a few Church groups and community organizations opening up their parking lots to parishioners to come and hand out trick or treats from the trunks of their cars!  The theory here is that you are usually with people you know from your church or neighborhood community group, so you know who your kids get candy from.  Some folks go all out with car decorations, but others just stand there with a bucket of candy to hand out.  It’s great fun – and especially for little ones, who don’t want to walk up and down steps, it’s an easier method of trick or treating.

Halloween Party

This seems like a no-brainer, but t

ry convincing kids who have visions of sacks full of Hershey bars and Skittles that they should stay inside for Halloween.  The best way to do this is to ask each family that brings a kid to bring a bag of candy.  You can set up trick or treat stations around your house and in your yard with a game of some kind at each station.  For each game completed, the kids get a piece of candy.  Alternatively, set up a night of watching scary movies and games, and while the kids are watching movies, make up treat bags to hand out as they leave using the candy the everyone brought! 

Treat the Elderly

Check nursing homes or assisted living facilities in your area – or even senior citizen apartment complexes.  For many of these grandmas and grandpas, it’s a huge treat to see the little ones dressed in costumes!  Many nursing homes permit trick or treating in common areas, and the residents are happy to hand out candy and comment on how cute the kids are!

Theme Parks – Not Just for Summer Anymore

You don’t have to live in Orlando or be traveling to Walt Disney World for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party to check out theme park Halloween festivities.  Many theme parks – even those that close when the weather gets cold – have some Halloween festivities.  Many have trick or treat stations set up for the kids to gather goodies, plus you may find Halloween themed shows or characters.  In my area, there are Halloween events at Six Flags Great Adventure; Hershey Park; Dorney Park; and even down the shore!

You could even organize a street fair for your neighborhood; a party at your kids’ school (complete with Halloween parade); or pitch in with a bunch of family and rent out a community center for a big family Halloween bash. Just remember to have lots of treats, lots of games, and lots of fun!

Disney World Christmas – My Quick List of What Not to Miss

You cannot begin to imagine how excited I get over Walt Disney World at Christmas time!  I start planning next year’s holiday trip probably before I leave this year’s vacation.  Visiting Walt Disney World during the holidays has become tradition for my family, and as much as there is to see and do, there are a few things I encourage you to put at the top of your list.

A Cup of Christmas Tea

The Garden View Lounge at Disney’s Grand Floridian resort is where you’ll find this jewel of an afternoon break.  Afternoon Tea is served daily from 2 PM until 4:30, and honestly, this is a meal – and an event – unto itself.  Choose from a selection of packages that include tea, sandwiches, pastries, scones, and fruit; or opt for the a la carte service, where you can choose the components of the meal you want.  It is a great way to kick off the holiday season, and it’s usually where my family begins our Christmas holiday at Walt Disney World.  We head from the airport to the resort, and we are checking in for a relaxing tea service right around 3 o’clock.  I love sitting with my girls around the table, enjoying their company in a way that we don’t always get to do in the hustle and bustle of home – OR during the hustle and bustle of a theme park vacation.  It’s a must do for me.

World Showcase Santas

Where else in one afternoon can you visit Santa, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, AND the Monkey King?  And where else in one afternoon can you give your kids such an amazing holiday cultural lesson without the whining and complaining that comes normally with trying to teach kids something on Christmas vacation?  I like to clear an afternoon and have the girls go from country to country in the World Showcase to listen to the stories of Christmas in other cultures.  The “Santas” are all wonderful, and the children are glued to the stories of how other kids are waking up on Christmas morning.  You’d think there was a Hannah Montana marathon on, they’re so attentive!  If you can’t give up a whole afternoon/evening, choose the countries significant to your family – perhaps La Befana in Italy can give your kids a glimpse into what it was like when Great Grandma woke up in her country on Christmas day.  I love it when learning and playing are almost the same thing!

Jennings Osborne Is My Hero

Long before his lights became a holiday tradition at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I couldn’t help but admire a man who held Christmas and the joy of his daughter in such high regard that he went to court to defend his right to celebrate both things.  Unfortunately, Jennings lost his court battle, but fortunately for the rest of us who couldn’t get to Arkansas for the holidays, he was kind enough to share his love of Christmas with us at Disney.  If you have ever wanted to burn your neighbor’s house down, because he has the most obnoxious holiday light display on the block, you might want to skip this part of my annual holiday tradition, but if you find joy in the bright celebration that is Christmas, you won’t want to miss the Osborne Spectacle of the Dancing Lights.  I have to tell you, I could do without the dancing part, which was added a few years back, but I still wouldn’t miss a chance to go see this outrageous display of Christmas celebration at least once (but usually twice) during my Christmas vacation.  You’ll see flying angels, marching soldiers, dancing lights, and even snowflakes (yes, in FLORIDA!!).  If you linger after the initial massive crowds when the lights first come on (usually around six in the evening), you can grab a cup of hot cocoa (yeah, I know, it’s 80 degrees – but ya gotta….) and meander up and down the street, soaking up the holiday festivity.  I’d venture to guess this is the very top of the must do list for my two littler girls, but it’s a holiday favorite for all of us.

EPCOT Candlelight Processional

It is here every year that I find the true meaning of Christmas.  Yep, in the middle of a loud, busy theme park.  Surrounded by people whose feet hurt.  Crowded by crying children.  Overwhelmed by all of the “I want…” and “Can I have…”s.  If you don’t find your holiday spirit here, you are not going to find it.

This is the retelling of the Christmas story – remember that one?  No, not the “You’ll shoot your eye out” one – the ORIGINAL Christmas story.  A celebrity narrator tells you of the birth of Christ and his impact on the world.  I gotta tell you, by the time the essay “One Solitary Life” is read, I’m crying.  I’m crying right now just thinking about hearing it.  It is the most moving theme park experience I have ever had, and I cannot wait each year to enjoy it again.  The music is outstanding, and the reminder of the reason for the season much welcomed.  If there was only one thing I could do at Walt Disney World during the Christmas season, this is the thing I would do.  (and after I did it, I’d push to do all the other things!)

This is a can’t miss vacation, no matter what.  I hope you get to enjoy some of the wonderful things my family goes back for year after year, and I hope some of our family holiday traditions become some of your favorite family traditions as well!