Sunday, September 14, 2008

Riding the World's Steepest, Shortest Railway

Dubuque, Iowa is the ‘Home of America’s River’ sitting on the Mississippi River at the corner of three states. One bridge out of the city will lead you to Wisconsin, while the other will take you to Illinois. The city is home to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, the Diamond Jo Casino and you can still take an ole’ fashion trolley ride and stop at the soda fountain for a root beer.

But the biggest, little attraction in town is the Fenelon Place Elevator, the world’s steepest, shortest scenic railway. Alex didn’t hesitate to climb aboard. In about three minutes, one small car makes a vertical climb up 189 feet as the second car simutaneously lowers back down. The two cars act as a balance against each other on the rugged original pulley system. The unique little elevator was built in the late 1800s for the personal use of a rich banker whose home sat on top of the hill with a view of the banks of the Mississippi, but whose bank sat in the downtown at the bottom of the steep incline. He just wanted to come home for lunch daily. So, to save time, he built the elevator for his own pleasure.

These days, even Alex and I can save calories, one way or round trip, for just a couple of bucks.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Wisconsin Dells...the happiest place in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Dells is located in central, southern Wisconsin and is known for its beauty and family fun activities. The Dells were formed by glaciers during the ice age 15,000 years ago. With textured ridges, these steep cliffs are topped with tall evergreen trees. Since the 1950’s families have migrated to the Dells in the summer time to enjoy the Tommy Bartlett Water Ski Show and take a ride on the ducks, amphibious vehicles that ride on land and float on water.

In the summer of 2008, storming in the area caused the central lake in the region, Lake Delton, to breach and drain into the Wisconsin River. Some houses floated away and while others dropped into the empty lake. Alex met up with family shortly after the water dropped and was relieved to find that most of the family fun activities were still operating. Today, Wisconsin Dells is the “Waterpark Capital of the World.” While Noah’s Ark is the biggest water park in the world, there are indoor options too such as Great Wolf and the Wilderness Resort. The parks combined two of Alex’s favorite things….water and slides.

When I was a kid, Story Book Gardens was my favorite place. Humpty Dumpty sat on a Wall, Jack climbed his Beanstalk, and Alice wandered in Wonderland. Today the old exhibits are covered with fresh paint, and the Timbavati Wildlife Park have joined the fairy tales. So, now you can still see Three Blind Mice, but you can also ride on the back of a camel, hand feed giraffes and watch aardvarks, sloths, porcupines and tortoises take the stage. While it’s definitely not Disneyland, it's one of the happiest places on earth….or at least in Wisconsin.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Boating on Big Bear Lake

When our friends got married at Big Bear Lake in California this summer, Alex got the chance to enjoy the scenery of the lake and the surrounding woods. Just an hour or two from Los Angeles, the Big Bear area is best known for skiing and snowboarding in the winter, and jet skiing and boat tours in the summer. For a tamed down trip with a toddler, take a boat ride aboard Miss Liberty, a replica of the Mississippi River paddle boats of the 1800s, where your little one can wonder around, and even play captain for a few minutes. If a Pirate Ship suits your fancy instead, then the lake has that too -- with pirates aboard and a working cannon. Both boats dock and offer tours year-round from the Pine Knot Marina just north of the area the locals refer to as The Village. The boat tours give you some history of the region and the guides will point out the attractions of the lake including mansions, movie sets, and the Big Bear Solar Observatory.

By the way....we never did see any bears.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Miska Mouska, Mickey Mouse!

The old days of the Mickey Mouse Club may be over, but Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Daisy, Donald and the gang can still dance the night away. Actually, it took Alex a little while to get into the swing of things during his first trip to Disneyland. The train and monorail tours were instant hits, and we went round-and-round the carousel. But, standing in line to fly with Dumbo took all the patience that a kid could muster.

The highlight of the day was giving a ‘high-5’ to “the Mouse” as Alex calls him. Mickey took the time to greet the whole family, and we took home the traditional mouse ears as a souvenir of Alex’s first trip to Toon Town. The park is now known as the Disneyland Resort, which includes California Adventure, Downtown Disney and numerous hotels. A simple one day pass will cost $69, but there are endless park-hopper, multi-day, and annual passes. For rides, Disneyland still offers the traditional favorites like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted House, but the new favorites are the re-designed submarine, the upgraded Space Mountain and Indiana Jones. (“It’s a Small World” is closed). If you’ve only got a day, then come at 8am when it opens and stay until after the fireworks at 10pm. The Fast Pass will get you on more of the rides. Or, even if you are a local to SoCal, plan a family vacation and see all the treats of Anaheim.

Alex’s next trip to the happiest place on earth will probably be longer than the half day we lasted, and it definitely will not be in the hot month of July while flooded with tourists, but now that he is expert at standing in line, we’ll be ready for many more rides.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Calling All Gold Medal Mothers!

Just when you think you are the only woman on the planet crazy enough to drag her kid(s) from one end of it to the other, be reassured that there are others like you, including some of the women of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Softball Team. This story, A Journey Toward the Games, With the Kids in the Back, tells of how gold medal winners didn’t ride with the team around the States for the qualifying games to travel to China, but instead tugged their toddlers along in a RV. While the women of softball aren’t the only athletes alternating trainings with diaper changes and carpool duty, all moms who tackle jobs, travel, study, and more alongside family should be Gold Medal winners.

Since Alex was born, he’s traveled alone with mom from California to Idaho to Texas to Kentucky to the Middle East all on behalf of mommy’s work. At just one year old, and barely able to master walking, the three hour drive in Idaho from Boise took him trekking through the soft snow of Sun Valley. Things warmed up in Houston, but he slept all along the beautiful River Walk of San Antonio. A year later, he hopped skipped and jumped his way from the hills of downtown San Francisco to exquisite horse farms in Lexington, KY. Two trips to the Middle East already under his belt will soon make him an expert on the region.

But, while the women of the US Softball team were able to pull together the $75,000 needed for the daycare on wheels, the rest of us are not so lucky. What would I pay for a nanny-on-the-go? Even accepting the help of family, friends, business contacts and strangers in planes, trains, rental cars, airports, hotels and more is never enough to make the challenge of travel much easier, but the prospects leaving Alex behind is far more difficult. So until I win the lottery to cover the costs of a traveling nanny, Alex and I will continue the journeys alone.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

8.8.08 “One World, One Dream”

Two years ago, when Alex was not yet 6 months old, he made his second trip half way around the world and back. At less than three months, he’d already been to the Middle East and now double that age, he took on Singapore and China.

Beijing was literally marking the days until the 2008 Olympic Games with a large countdown clock rolling back the hours in Tian'anmen Square. On that muggy July day, there were still 754 days to go before opening ceremonies, but the Chinese government and people were preparing for the throngs of international tourists.

Like the Olympic Rings from which they draw their color and inspiration, the five official mascots of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, known as Fuwa, carry a message of friendship, peace and good wishes from China to children all over the world. Each of mascots has a rhyming two-syllable name -- a traditional way of expressing affection for children in China. Beibei is the Fish, Jingjing is the Panda, Huanhuan is the Olympic Flame, Yingying is the Tibetan Antelope and Nini is the Swallow. When you put their names together -- Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni -- they say "Welcome to Beijing.

Alex was a star during his visit to Beijing – touring the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, shopping and climbing the Great Wall – as hundreds of Chinese people surrounded him to snap a picture of the little American baby who’d come from so far. (Check out this blog’s story from July 2007). As I took pictures of delicacies like scorpions on a stick and panda bears, Alex somehow became a mascot of goodwill too as he brought smiles and joy to so many with just a smile.

As the countdown clock shows just hours until China commences the Games of the XXIX Olympiad , the whole world is watching and waiting. But on 8.8.08, Alex will be practicing for the 2028 Olympics by jumping across the living room, shrieking in glee and waiting for his marks from his parents. You never know…maybe he’ll win the Gold for the high jump, the long jump, gymnastics or be able to dunk a basketball! He’s already got the Gold, Silver & Bronze from mom!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

All Aboard!

Travel Town is like heaven for little boys who love trains. Founded in the 1950s, the outdoor museum is situated on the edge of Griffith Park in the center of Greater Los Angeles. It features retired locomotives, freight cars, cabooses, passenger cars, dining cars, and more. The grounds are shaded, easy to walk and you can climb on nearly every engine.

Alex was so overwhelmed with excitement that I prepared myself for the first case of a heart attack for a 2-year-old. Once he got onboard with the place, he was a true conductor testing his own toy trains on the real tracks.

A good place to begin the visit is on the miniature train that adults and children can ride together. Lapping the park twice, the ride is longer, faster and the train is bigger than most of the kiddie train rides elsewhere. While this rest of the park is free of charge, the ride will cost kids of all ages $2.50 per ride. The gift shop will set you back if you (or your child) is a Thomas the Tank enthusiast. It is fully stocked with party supplies, T-shirts, books, videos, and every possible character in the Thomas and Friends collection. We enjoyed a picnic and planned for future birthday parties, as there are plenty of places for pinatas, cake and the party treats will be great! While the museum is popular with little boys, this recommendation is for all the 21st century little girls too....All Aboard!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Asleep by the Sea

Tel Aviv and Jaffa share the Mediterranean shoreline. One is the modern city of skyscrapers, open-all-night clubs, great shopping and traffic jams. The other retains its old city stone finish, crumbling streets and is famous for baklava and fish restaurants by the sea.

But the best thing to do if you're only 2-years-old in 100 degree heat is enjoy some ice cream and take a nap. Alex slept to, from and during the day trip, which made the excursion easier on the rest of us.

I made my first trip to Tel Aviv more than a decade ago to the clubs. It was great at the time, but what seems like a lifetime later was a lot more fun with my son. Seeing the world through Alex's eyes is greater than seeing it through my own. He'll have to save the all-night partying another 20 years to really enjoy the experience of its white nights, but maybe by then he'll stay awake for the trip.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jet Setting Jet Lag

Alex's preferred method of getting through life is to jump. Running and climbing are both excellent too, but its not any fun at all to walk. So, how tired do you have to be to fall asleep standing up? Alex didn't grasp the concept of hours of airline travel that took him speeding through timezones across the globe and switching night to day. Try explaining the concept to a 2-year-old when its 3am, you haven't slept for days but he still wants to jump, rock 'n roll.

It took Alex five days and five nights to adjust to the ten hour time zone change from the Pacific Coast to Mediterranean Shoreline. It took me 5 more to recover from not sleeping for a week. By then, it was just in time to fly home again and I was falling asleep standing up.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Floating on the Dead Sea

Alex saw a dolphin in the Dead Sea.....and a Humpback Whale. Since the sea is so saturated with salt nothing can live in it and its saliency allows your body to float without effort, its hard to imagine how he saw these creatures, but I'm his mom, so I believe him!

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the planet at 420 meters (1378 feet) below sea level, and the second saltiest place on earth. It's bordered by Jordan and Israel/Palestine. For centuries, travelers have come from near and far come to cover themselves in the boiling mud and float. The healing effects are well known as the salt & mud is packaged and sold in spas and malls worldwide. The mining of the sea has caused it to drop well below natural levels leading environmentalists to wonder for how many years future tourists may even be able to come to enjoy its effects.

We arrived mid-morning with temperatures reaching near 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The bumpy, two lane road through the West Bank to get there included passing through military checkpoints and a Separation Wall that divides Israelis and Palestinians politically and geographically. Unconventional tourists, we stopped for lunch in the ancient city of Jericho and drove up to the border crossing with Jordan and looked across with talks of our future trips. The newly paved freeway that connects from Jerusalem for the Israelis guided us back. Even on vacation, its hard to avoid the reality of the geopolitical and national conflict that challenges the Palestinian and Israeli people. The juxtaposition of nomadic bedouin tribes alongside newly constructed 4 Star hotels within minutes of each other is hard to miss. Neverthesless, the trip is worth the effort.

When floating with children on the sea, be aware that the salt stings the eyes, the rocks burn the toes, the mud boils and Alex warns it is "dirty." Oh, and most importantly, watch out for unexpected dolphins!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Old City of Jerusalem

The Old City of Jerusalem is holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews. Inside its ancient walled City, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Al Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall, the holiest of sites for the Abrahamic faiths, are just footsteps apart. Nevertheless, its not so easy to navigate by stroller. The ups-and-downs of the uneven stone steps, its small passageways and the seething heat of the summer sun make it a challenge for even the most rugged 2-year-old traveler.

As Alex longed to run free and I jetted behind, I couldn't help think about the reality of the life for the Jewish and Palestinian children who call this Old City their home. Though they are stacked in small flats on top of each other and neighborhoods that bleed together, these children will not play or study together; they will not meet and get to know each other as equals. They will grow up on opposite sides of a national conflict prepared to take up arms against each other. While Alex is having the chance in his life to mingle with children of different faiths, ethnicities, cultures, traditions and geography, the children of Jerusalem live in the shadow of hopes for peace and the reality of a conflict all around them.

Like all parents of the 21st century, we worry about the food our children eat, who they play with, where they will go to school, if they will dart out into traffic, and if they'll break their arms when they fall from trees. But, we need to do more to place our own fears aside and teach them equality, respect, mutual understanding. It's easy to know that broccoli should be on the dinner menu, its harder to instill a culture of peace in a child. But, the future of humanity for all of us depends upon our healthy bodies and our healthy hearts.

As for Alex, peace in the Middle East wasn't so much on his mind. He liked the french fries at Abu Shukri.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Winter in Wisconsin

More than 7 feet of snow have fallen in Southern Wisconsin this winter, and when Alex arrived it was only 7 degrees. For a little boy from Southern California such cold weather takes some time to adjust. But, neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night shall keep Alex from a trip to Gramma’s House. Actually – it seems like any trip to Wisconsin last year required a double booking. First, for the time you actually want to go. Second, for the time you end up going because bad weather caused the airport to close the last time around.

When you’re used to jetsetting to foreign lands, the nearly four hour flight from Los Angeles to Chicago seems like an easy hop, skip and jump. But, to make it the rest of the way to the middle of northern nowhere, it’ll take another 3-4 hours. There’s always a dilemma for how to make the 2nd half of the trip. Should you risk life or limb by taking a connecting flight at O’Hare on one of those small propeller planes that looks like (and feels like) its controlled by some guy on the ground with a remote control. This will take you to Madison, WI where you’ll still have to drive another hour plus. Or, do you just rent the car at O’Hare and slip and slide on snowy, icy roads for three hours. We choose the over the river, and through the woods, land route.

The highlight of Alex trip was walking Grampa’s three dogs in the winter wonderland. In rural Wisconsin, the mailbox can be a ½ mile walk down the driveway, and another ½ mile back up the hill. This is a long walk for a two-year-old forced to waddle in a snowsuit being tugged along by a beagle and two Labradors. It’ll be another year or two before Alex can make a snowball or a snowman, but he loved watching the snowfall -- and that was worth the trip.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Suitcases for Toddler

When traveling with children, it seems like you might have done better to just pack up your entire house, ordered a moving van and driven across the country for your three day weekend away. It's impossible to 'go light' no matter how hard you try. So, at least be sure to bring the right suitcase. Here some obvious tips:
  • Don't go any bigger than you absolutley must.
  • Wheels are essential.
  • Don't use the suitcase with the broken leg (like we did), just because you 'thought it would work.'
  • Get one of those compact, small duffels that fold down to the size of wallet, so when you bring items back, you've got an extra, small carry on.
  • Oh...and make sure your kid can pull it if you really want to slow yourself down.
Alex loves to pull suitcases around. It doesn't matter if their empty or overloaded. And, he's most likely to take his time and go in the opposite direction of where you are headed. But, boy can he haul....I guess, practice makes perfect.

Monday, January 21, 2008

FAA Regulations Should Indicate No Jumping

The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, is the agency responsible for maintaining all aircraft safety in the United States. They have determined that all travelers should listen to safety instructions at the beginning of every commercial flight. The frequent flyer can recite the announcements in unison with any flight attendant. Buckle your seatbelt, follow the lighting to emergency exits, life vests are under your seat, etc. etc. In the case of a real emergency, you’d be likely to forget everything no matter how much you’ve traveled. But, here are some rules they should probably start announcing if there are any 2-year-olds on the plane:

  • Do not use the chair arm rest as a diving board. Specifically, do not jump into your seat, head first, as if it was a swimming pool.

  • Do not play peek-a-boo (at least so loudly) with all the passengers behind you.

  • Do not shriek in excitement so that it actually pierces the eardrums.

  • Do not run up-and-down the aisles.

  • Do not jump on your seat.

  • Do not kick the seat in front of you.

  • Do not crawl under the seat in front of you or behind you.

  • Do not raise and lower your window shade more than 20 times.

  • You do not actually have to say ‘hello’ to every passenger on the plane.

  • Listen to your parents!

Alex and mom have been logging miles on airplanes for two years together now. Any hopes of it becoming any easier seem to be far, far off in the horizon. I’ve determined its best to never make eye contact with passengers around me, and to offer appreciation at the very end of the flight for the patience of those closest. While, the nearest exist row may be behind us, it’s never close enough.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

New Years in North Carolina

After Santa made his stop on Christmas Eve, Alex hustled onto to North Carolina to wrap up the end of 2007 in Charlotte. As one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, Charlotte is a great for children of all ages. Alex took it easy visiting family, looking for after Christmas deals at the Mall and strolling in local parks. But, for a 2 year old, it can’t get much better than that.

The Charlotte Nature Museum sits next to Freedom Park, around a large pond, it’s a great spot to walk your dog or chase your kid -- but maybe it’s not so easy to do both at the same time. At the Nature Museum there are lots of activities for the little ones to learn about trees, plants and animals native to the region. One of the highlights is the Butterfly Pavillion where many different species fly free and you can enjoy searching them out in the flowers and plants. If you really take the time to look, you’ll see dozens at once. The museum is also home to different breeds of turtles, snakes and even a few small mammals. There are weekly puppet shows to teach the children about conservation. And, for the wild wanderers, you can check out the gopher holes can crawl through holes and tubes that, at least for me, were as small as the real thing.

Alex made it home just in time to ring in the New Year in his own home, with dreams of where he’ll be flying off to next.