Hellllllllllloooooo there Readers!
If you’ve been following along on our adventures, you know that we’re in Iowa! If you haven’t been following along, I’ll give you fair warning, this might be a strange place to start. But come on along whoever and wherever you are! We’re on the 9th day of our 20 day move from Northern Nevada to Summertwon Tennessee. Yes, we realize that Iowa is NOT exactly on the way, but don’t worry, we’re not lost. We’re just right smack dab in the middle of here.
I left you all on the peaceful and amazingly beautiful lakeside of Lake Okoboji in Northern Iowa. We had just shared a beautiful sunset together, as the kids were running around and playing just before bed…
When I wake up in the camper every morning, everything looks exactly the same. Everyone sleeps in the same place and if you know me, you know my OCD makes for a perfectly organized road home. So when I open my eyes each morning, it takes me a minute to remember what’s outside the door. THAT is almost always different. And waking up at Lake Okoboji, after I remembered what my front yard looked like, I was so eager to swing open the camper door and take in the day.
I laid in bed with the door open for just a few minutes before I had to get up and start being a mom, and I enjoyed the peace and calm of the lake outside. The dog’s collars clinked as they ate their breakfast, and the kids laughed and talked as they climbed into the dinette, and I just took a minute to take it in. I don’t do that enough. I most definitely don’t start my day that way enough. What a difference it makes.
The kids were eager to get dressed and play outside, and frankly I couldn’t blame them. The geese were hanging around- they had quadrupled in numbers since the night before- and Harper looked pretty nervous. I can’t be sure, but I’m willing to bet he found someone’s nest and messed with it. They looked ready for revenge.
As we packed up to head into town and see what we could see, I decided that I most definitely want to have a house on a lake someday. I think there is just something so serene about lakes. Yep, I’m going to go ahead and pop that on the old dream board.
We headed into downtown Okoboji, and stumbled upon some quick pros and cons. Con: pretty much everything was closed for the season, including the giant amusement park and mini golf course, as well as the restaurant we actually found a parking spot for and got out to go to. Pro: We didn’t have to spend $150 gaining admission to the giant amusement park like we had planned to do! Another Pro: the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum was open! Con: Gage was absolutely NOT in the mood for any kind of museum. And there was just no convincing him otherwise. So he was escorted outside where he could tantrum in the great outdoors.
However, the big kids had a great time checking out all the old boats and the scrapped pieces of the old fun houses and thrill rides from the original amusement park!
We found a Mexican food place to eat lunch before hitting the road and heading to our next destination, which was my sister’s sister in law’s house- try to keep up. Gage fell asleep pretty quickly and so we tried to cover as much ground as we could while the kids were happy. Ps, the kids are pretty much always happy. Merit sings almost all the time, and he’s an amazing juke box! That kid has a log in his head of every song he’s ever heard- and I’m not just talking kids songs here- and he busts them out at the most amazing times. I like to think he gets this from me, but I know he’s going to be musically inclined- likely a drummer- because of his dad’s influence.
For example, he just started singing a gospel song in the backseat by Trevor Hall. I mean, who reading this even knows who Trevor Hall is?
Anyway, we drove until we realized we were going to be a little too early arriving to our destination. They had told us anytime after 4pm, and we were on schedule for a 3:30pm arrival.
We found a State Park called Prairie Rose State Park and we pulled off. Triple win for this stop! The park had a dump station (a win when you’re planning to stay at someone’s house for the next week- you definitely don’t want to pull a Cousin Eddie), it also had a playground for the kids, and there was a beach and a lake for the doggies to take a swim! Win, Win, Win!
At the playground, there was a sweet family who had three kids right around the same ages as my kids. Everyone immediately began playing, while I fielded the complicated question of ‘where are you guys from?’
After about 45 minutes of visiting with this darling young family, we learned a lot about what there is (and is not) to do in Iowa, and we learned a little bit more about farming and the economy in this part of the country. It’s always so fascinating to get a little glimpse into someone else’s world. Being that I’ve never even stepped foot in the midwest before this trip, this is all so new to me and I love to learn. We also got some great ideas on what we may want to do with our farm when we finally get there.
Once we pried the kids away from the playground, we made a quick stop at the lake for the dogs. They absolutely love to swim and as soon as they caught sight of the water, they were off in a full sprint.
Back in the car, we realized our arrival time had gone from way too early, to basically so late it was rude. Thomas and I had a miscommunication and although he thought we were a mere 10 minutes away from our friends, we were actually more like 30 minutes away, and there were 9 people waiting on us to have dinner together! #Awesome
We met Katie- my sister’s sister in law, remember- at her house and quickly disconnected the trailer at her farm before we were back in the truck and on our way to dinner. Unfortunately, we had delayed things just enough that one of our in laws actually had to order dinner to go so she could make it in time to pick up her child from practice. Sorry Whitney, we really made an impression on your family!
Dinner was in Minden, Iowa. I mention this because exactly a week ago, we left Minden, Nevada. We’ve driven across the country for a week’s time and we’ve found ourselves right where we started. But isn’t that just life sometimes? I also think it’s funny that my sister- my best friend- and I both married men from the midwest. We both have mother’s in law named Kathleen. And our in laws both live in/near the town of Minden. What are the chances?
After dinner, we bowled! Who doesn’t love bowling? The place was hopping for a Tuesday night, and the kids ran themselves wild between the arcade and the lanes. Cadence and Julia (Katie’s daughter) were recently flower girls together in my sister’s wedding so they were just over the moon to be reunited.
Although Gage has been the biggest champion of this trip- never crying in the car and playing well with his siblings- he was definitely finding himself at the end of his bowling rope much quicker than the other kids. So we had to call it a night. And as luck would have it, one of the MANY gutter balls in the first three rounds of bowling ended up shutting down the lane, so we decided to use that as an out and make our move.
The kids were quick to sleep, once back at the trailer, and the adults were quick to the chicken house. Katie and Brian have a chicken house that has been converted into a game room. Music, guitars, pool and most importantly, wine, ensued. Yes, it was a work night for Katie and Brian and yes, they were the ultimate hosts and stuck it out with us until almost 1am. I mean, who do we think we are? But then again, how frequently do we find ourselves in a chicken house in Shelby, Iowa? Sometimes you just have to take the chicken by the henhouse.
A few short hours later- actually it was a graceful 8:15am- the kids were awake and the morning had begun. More cereal. We’ve definitely NOT broken into the eggs or pancakes or anything else for that matter. We’re pretty much not morning people, let’s be honest. But we’re on an awesome cross country adventure, so you know, you win some you lose some.
We had a big day of driving ahead of us. Thomas thought it was about 4 hours of driving. Katie told me it was more like 8 hours. Google said it was about 6 hours. So basically, we had a lot of ground to cover, no matter how you sliced it. Our destination for the day was Rockford, Illinois. We have plans to stay there about 10 days. Why, many of you have asked? Thomas is actually from Rockford, believe it or not. He lived there until he was about 10 years old and most of his extended family still live in and around that area!
I have to tell you, Thomas and I have been together for 10 years and I have never been to Illinois, so to say 10 days is the least we can do, is an understatement. Grammy, Thomas’ dad’s mother, lives there and she has come to visit us for several months of every year that I’ve know my husband. So yes, we’ll be staying with her. Or I guess I should say we’ll be parking in her driveway and taking over her home. Five people and two dogs make their presence known, if you know what I mean.
Our first stretch of the day was about an hour long. Yea, not off to a good start in terms of ground coverage. We stopped at the Bass Pro Shop in God knows where, Iowa, and let me tell you what, that was a complete win! Have ever been in one of those shops? They should call it Bass Pro Extravaganza! It’s like Cabela’s on steroids! I walked in to see two giant moose’ posed in a battle to the death. I mean, that’s something you don’t see everyday. And by that I mean a moose.
We roamed the store and took in all the sights. It was basically a strong recap of all the wildlife we’ve seen thus far on the trip, not excluding a Grizzly. Remember how I said we saw one of those at Bear Country USA? Yea, well, this should give you some idea of how terrifying these things are. The kids are standing on a bench that is at the same level as the bears feet.
I mean, that’s crazy right? Can you imagine coming across that dude in the woods? No thank you.
After a fair amount of roaming, we sat down for lunch at the in house restaurant, that truly kicks the cafe in Cabela’s butt. It was legit! Like actual sea food and steak! And there was an under the sea themed bowling alley! I’m not kidding, if I lived in Iowa, that would absolutely be where all my kid’s and my birthday parties would be held. Hands down, best surprise stop of the trip thus far.
We ate, grabbed fudge and jelly beans from the in house candy shop- I know, right?- and jumped back in the car to actually cover some ground this time. We made it another hour and a half to Cedar Rapids before we had to stop again. This time, it was to meet a long lost family member. Thom Pritz is Grammy’s brother’s son. He saw our adventures on Facebook and reached out to say, ‘if you’re coming through Iowa, stop by!’
How could we say no?
Thom is the General Manager at the ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids, and so we met him at the studio for a tour and some social downtime. What a treat to get to tour a tv studio! They broadcast the local news from this studio, and we got to have the run of the place for a little while. The kids immediately found their place behind the anchor desk, and I have to say that they look like naturals if you ask me…
They even got to see how the weather man does his job, and I have to be honest, I don’t think they really understood how it all worked. Okay, neither did I.
But it was a lot of fun! I used to be an actress and although I did a lot of film work in school, it was interesting to see how a three camera studio was set up. I may have liked it even more than the kids.
We walked down the street after the tour and found a big, open grass park for the kids to run around and play in, while the Tom’s and I got aquatinted. Thomas had met Thom when he was about Merit’s age, so other than Facebook, we were family but also strangers. Isn’t that the gift of social media? You really do get to feel connected to people you otherwise would lose touch with forever.
Back on the road again, this time for our longest stretch of the day- two hours- we made it as far as the largest truck stop in the world. Well, if you’re a signage person, and I think I’ve revealed myself as a signage person, you’re not going to NOT stop when you see this sign…
But the truth is, we had already decided that we were going to stop there. Yes, we googled ahead. Readers, I don’t know if you’re fans of the show Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives, but we most certainly are. And there is a food channel map that you can easily google if you happen to be on a road trip, and we do happen to be. Well, apparently, this truck stop has been featured on Food Paradise as well as the chef from the restaurant there has also been a contestant on the show ‘Chopped.’
Do not get your hopes up, Readers. I’m sorry to say that the food at the restaurant- called Kitchen something or other- was mediocre at best. Yes, I realize that I should have had tempered expectations at a truck stop, but I was tricked by the food channel!
The stop was not a total bust, however. There was a pretty impressive truck accessories store. I had absolutely no idea that there were so many light, steering wheel, chair, shifter, and exhaust pipe options. They had several full sized truck cabs in the store that were on display- one was on a full on turn table in a show room!
So that helped pass the time. My kids also learned about the magical arm pump that makes truck drivers honk their ridiculously loud horns at you. We may or may not have spent about 20 minutes at the entrance of the parking lot pumping our arms in our pj’s.
I mean, it is one of the best ways to pass the time on a road trip, is it not?
We ended the night with an amazing sunset in the rearview mirror as we crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois.
The boys were asleep by the time we pulled into Grammy’s driveway in Rockford around 9:30pm local time. Cadence couldn’t stand the anticipation of seeing her Great Grandma. She had to stay awake, despite the long trip we’ve had thus far. She’s just the sweetest, most loving little girl. It’s such a blessing to get to know her as well as I feel I’m blessed to.
We’re setting up camp here in Grammy’s driveway for a little while. It’s time to unplug, decompress, and spend some quality time with the family we see too little of. I’m excited for the break, and even more excited for the shower.
I had the pleasure of watching my team’s monthly meeting virtually as we made our way into Rockford. Thank God for technology- my hot spot allowed me to watch all the action from my computer on my lap in the passenger seat. I’ve missed maybe eight meetings in my eight years in business, and so it was hard to watch the excitement of the meeting taking place without me. But it was absolutely amazing to see how much I’m not needed. Yes, that was a blessing and a gift. The leaders I’m leaving behind are beautiful, capable and ready. It’s their turn to fly. And I guess it’s my turn too…
From where I’m sitting, shotgun to my partner in all things- my husband- the future looks very bright.
I think I might just be on the verge of ready for what’s to come…