Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On the road again (and in the air)

I am so blessed to have an opportunity to see so many new things and places as a travel writer. Last week while the kids were on their Easter break from school, we took a short trip to Indianapolis. I hadn’t been there in nearly eight years, but the last time around I was there checking things out for a family travel piece I was writing and I remembered that it was a very family friendly city.

The Indianapolis Zoo was a blast, especially when the boys were able to pet a shark. Sometimes, coming from a big city like Chicago, you expect big things elsewhere. Sometimes it can be a disappointment, other times it’s refreshing. This was the latter. While Chicago has two great zoos, often getting there and parking are dreadful. My last few trips to Lincoln Park Zoo have been on field trips with the boys where I arrive via bus and don’t have to worry about parking. Once I’m there, I love it, but getting there is the tricky part. Brookfield is also a wonderful facility, but it’s so large, we never make it through everything we want to see in one day. We spend as much time walking from place to place as we do enjoying the exhibits and animals. So, the Indianapolis Zoo was a refreshing change. On a warm April day, we found parking just five spots from the entrance. Once inside, the zoo was easy to maneuver and packed with exhibits that excited the kids – and me.

Parking was only $5 and once you were in the admission gates, you weren’t charged extra for other exhibits, like the farm area or dolphin show. We also were awed by the butterflies that filled a conservatory in the White River Gardens. This was also free with zoo admission. We just had to get our hand stamped while exiting the zoo to go next door.

In the evening, my oldest son and I attended a game of the Indianapolis Indians, a Triple-A team of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The park, Victory Field, has been called the “Best Minor League Ballpark in America” by Sports Illustrated. The city skyline looked stunning from our seats behind home plate. And to top it off, the Indians pulled off a 4-2 win over the Louisville Bats.
On our walk back to the hotel after the game, it was apparent that there were many options for dining and nightlife. I also had to stop to gaze at the capitol building all lit up at night.

Indy is a great walking town, especially for sports lovers. From our hotel room on the 12th floor of the Omni Severin Hotel, we could see both Conseco Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers and Lucas Oil Stadium, which is the new home of the Indiana Colts. We were also able to take a skywalk across to the Circle Centre Mall. The historic Union Station was right out the hotel’s front door. It’s no longer a functioning train station. The building now serves as a banquet hall and sits beside the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which has several authentic Pullman cars that have been converted into guest rooms. The architecture is gorgeous, though, and it was a treat to look out the hotel window at it.

On day two, we visited the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. The boys were in heaven between the temporary Lego, Star Wars and comic character exhibits and the permanent dinosaur exhibit. We could have easily spent a full day there.

Next it was on to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I’m not a huge racing fan, but of all the places we’ve been and cool things we’ve done, one that still ranks near the top was taking a ride around the speedway track on our previous visit. We were in a bus rather than a racecar and were going quite a bit slower, but it was still quite a thrill. On this trip, we didn’t get to do the racetrack lap, but went for a behind the scenes tour and were able to see some cars doing practice laps. I even was interviewed by a local television station while we were there. The Helio Castroneves verdict had just been announced and they were out looking for reactions from fans. I rattled off a few goofy lines about how I loved him on Dancing with the Stars.

The morning after we returned, I was to head out to the Lansing Municipal Airport to meet with the crew of the Great Lakes Wing of the Commemorative Air Force for a ride aboard the Black Sparrow, a replica of the C-47 lead plane of the D-Day invasion.

The ride was much smoother and quieter than I anticipated. I met a lot of interesting people and heard a lot of interesting stories. I even talked to a guy who reported to basic training in 1941 in California and was trained by legendary Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart.

After the first flight took off, they loaded up a van of photographers and reporters and took us out to the runway at the southeast end of the airport to get some shots of the plane taking off and landing, which was quite exciting to see close up. I went on the second flight which took us along the lakeshore for some amazing views.

This week I’ll be heading down to Springfield with a busload of fourth graders on their long-awaited class trip. I’m looking forward to revisiting some of the great historic sites there and exploring some I haven’t been to. That’ll be visits to the capitals of both Indiana and Illinois within a week. Whew! That makes for a busy week, but a very fascinating one.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Never a dull moment

Moms sure do live exciting lives. Not glamorous, luxurious rock star lives, but not dull by any means. There's always some action. And when it's quiet, you know it's that calm before the storm and you're just waiting for something to happen.

Tonight, before doing dishes, I instructed my nine-year old to vacuum the living room. Next thing I know, there's loud sobbing coming from the living room and I run to see who has gotten hurt. I'm thinking something has fallen on someone or a body part has been sucked into the vacuum. Turned out my 7 year-old lost his first tooth, which happen to fall out onto the floor as my older son was vacuuming. He was sure it was gone for good and that he wouldn't be able to tuck it under his pillow. (Translation: no tooth = no money from the tooth fairy.)

While I tried to reassure him that she'd be understanding and we'd write a note explaining what happened, he rambled on about how it fell out right in front of the sofa. As he was pointing to the spot where it fell, he noticed a small white piece among the carpeting. His tooth has managed to escape being sucked into the vacuum filter. Suddenly all was good again. A big smile came across his face, with a big empty space on the bottom left.