Saturday, December 1, 2007

Christmas letter 2007

Merry Christmas and happy (almost) 2008!

We have had a busy year. Joey is still working for CSC and excited that his sports teams have been doing so well! Heather is working a day or so a week at a scrapbooking store just for fun to finance her expensive habit. The cards that she sells are really starting to take off (already stocked in one boutique with hopefully more to come), which is exciting. She is still involved with her Moms groups, one of which she produces the monthly newsletter for. Never one to allow a dull moment, she taken on the responsibilities of secretary of the church pastoral council, organizing the children’s church program, and reviewing applications for a catechist certification program.

Our new reader and EX-thumb sucker, Zachary, now goes to preschool five mornings a week and takes Tae Kwon Do and piano lessons. He wants to play soccer in the spring, so he’ll have to temporarily stop TKD because Heather doesn’t aspire to be a chauffeur.

Bella is still at home with Heather, but she comes to the Moms group meetings to play with other kids and has a gymnastics class once a week.

Continuing our goal of the kids seeing all 50 states and 7 continents before they turn 18, we had a 10-day vacation in June where we drove out to St. Louis, up to Minneapolis, and through Chicago and Cleveland. Sadly, Heather’s grandfather passed away while we were gone, but she was very glad that she was able to spend time with him in March. We also took the kids to their first VT football game in September (very bittersweet since it was our first time there since the horrific April 16) and spent a long October weekend at Emerald Isle, NC with Heather’s extended family in October.

We can’t wait to hear your yearly updates. Be safe and well.

Wishing you peace,
Joey, Heather, Zachary, and Bella

Friday, June 15, 2007


(written by J)

10 days, 13 states, 2900 miles, T family, you are the winners of the amazing Midwest vacation. We are back home now and while it was an incredible journey, it is great to be back in the Commonwealth. I would like to use this final post to recap the vacation. First off, I've always seemed to equate a song with a trip. Usually there's always one song you hear on the radio during your trip that whenever you hear it, it reminds you of that trip. As we've traveled, there have been 2 songs that we have heard relentlessly over these past 10 days. They are Daughtry's "Home" and Gwen Stefani's "Sweet Escape." We've heard these songs probably 1000 times over the past 10 days. In fact, I had never heard the radio version of "Home" until this trip - only the American Idol "you are getting kicked off and all the girls cry" version. But because I've heard "Home" so much recently, I found myself singing it in the shower the other day, and I believe it was unvoluntary. Now onto the rest of the recap.

Best city - Chicago

Best hotel - Hampton Inn, St. Louis - the view from the room was outstanding - you could see the Mississippi River and traffic snarl on Interstate 70 all at the same time.

Best attraction (tie) - Sears Tower, Chicago, skydeck and The Park at Mall of America, Minneapolis - the views of Chicago were spectacular and the rides at the Mall of America were enjoyable and the lines for them were not long

Worst gas prices - Chicago - $3.79 for regular unleaded

Most boring state - Iowa - nothing but corn

Best T-shirt worn by a local - a man at the Noodles and Company restaurant in Chicago was wearing a shirt which said "Ipood" in lieu of "Ipod" and it had a picture of a person sitting on a toilet. H and J are still laughing about that one.

Best observation by a T family member - B shouting out "bear" in St. Louis when she saw a crazy woman walking down the street holding a teddy bear for some reason

Worst parking lot - City Museum, St. Louis - J had to get out of the car and let H park because she is much better at fitting big cars into tight spaces.

Overkill award - Mall of America. J loves hats but seeing 6 Lids stores in the Mall of America with pretty much the same stuff ... that's a bit much.

Underrated attraction (tie) - St. Louis Walk of Fame and Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland - St. Louis's walk of fame is kind of like Hollywood's walk of fame but in essence, if you have ever been in St. Louis, you are eligible for the Walk of Fame. Z and B should get their stars shortly. The Great Lakes Science Center was a very enjoyable hands-on place that the kids loved. It wipes the floor with the Richmond Science Museum.

Worst tour guide - Chicago bus tour guide Judy - she told a lot of stories some of which were not true including one about the design of the Sears Tower. How do we know this? We watched a movie about the Sears Tower at the Sears Tower the day before which contradicted what she said. I would have preferred to have Vince Vaughn be our guide like in "The Breakup."

Shameless promotion award - Louisville Slugger Museum - the very first thing we did upon entering the factory where they make the bats was watch a video on how to buy a bat with your own name on it.

Worst meal - Center Point, Iowa McDonald's - B found a bone in her Chicken McNugget. It was truly amazing that she didn't eat it.

Best Midwestern accent award - Yankee Candle employee, Mall of America, Minneapolis - He said "So are ya having a good day at the mall?" and it kind of made H laugh. It was just like an accent from the movie "Fargo."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

J's state route sign mania returns

(written by J)

I know I said that I would post more sign mania Saturday or Sunday, but I just didn't feel the creative juices flowing then. Also, we've been in many more states since the first post so this will be a thorough analysis in which I will declare one state the winner of the best state route sign. Now on with the show.

Missouri - Finally a state with creativity. I'm so sick of squares and circles so it was a thrill to see them actually use their state shape as their sign. And it's not an easy shape to draw so they get bonus points for that. Of course a few miles down the road, we saw a county route sign which was a square. But they use letters for county routes instead so that was slightly intriguing.

Iowa - A circle. Fantastic! Don't hold your breath, Iowa. You will not win the contest.

Minnesota - It is a square but I was truly fascinated by it. It says Minnesota, has the state outline and it is blue. Simple but yet so effective.

Wisconsin - I have no idea what shape their sign is. Let's just call it an abstract. On a side note, Wisconsin takes their cheese very seriously as you can see by the picture above which says "Cheese" in huge letters.

Michigan - They chose a diamond which is different and different is good. The "M" above the number is a nice touch as well.

Ohio - Like Missouri, they use the state outline. I really like the state outlines. I also really enjoy how on this sign, the 3 digit Ohio route number is fatter than the 2 digit Ohio route number.

And now the grand champion is ... Minnesota. The blue sign is just so original and I'm a big fan of it.
I hope you enjoyed this mania. If not, I apologize for the time of your life that you will never get back by reading this.

Day 8: Chicago to Cleveland

[written by J]
H is very tired this evening so J has volunteered to document this day. Originally, the plan was to go to Indianapolis today but because we really didn't have anything big planned for Indy, so J convinced H to go to Cleveland instead to experience a city enjoying (at least for 1 more day) a quest for a championship. More on that later. Today, we left Chicago at about 7:30 Central time and experienced the Chicago rush-hour. It really brought back memories of the daily Northern Virginia commutes which I don't miss at all. Sitting in the traffic though gave us more time to look at the Chicago skyline which is very pretty. The opposite of pretty is Gary, Indiana. It was ugly and it smelled awful. Due to the fact that the Indiana toll road is very close to the Michigan border, J thought it would be a fun little side trip to drive across the border and say we've been in Michigan. We drove in Michigan for about 20 minutes parallel to the Indiana toll road and then headed back across to the toll road. Not much on that stretch of Michigan highway. Later H went to a scrapbooking store in Indiana at a Prime Outlets which was a lot smaller than the outlets at Williamsburg. It was on a road near both the Michigan and Ohio borders so J decided to take that road across to Michigan and down to Ohio. Total time to visit those 3 states - about 20 minutes. When we finally found a travel plaza on the Ohio Turnpike, it was one of the most pathetic plazas I have ever seen. I would compare it in quality to the Diamond. The decor was very 70's and the food selection was more like a concession stand.
Once we got to Cleveland, we drove past Jacobs Field and the "Q" to Tower City, a downtown shopping mall. The area was very festive with Cavs jerseys on top of one of the tallest buildings in Cleveland, the Terminal Tower and a huge NBA championship trophy right in front of the "Q." Also, there is a huge "We are all witnesses" LeBron mural on the side of one building. Inside Tower City, there were Cavs banners everywhere and J, Z and B signed a big "Go Cavs" poster in the mall. J then took a short walk to the Cavs team shop at the "Q" and it was loaded with Finals merchandise. It was hard for me to not buy one of everything in the store. Now if they could just win a game in the series, that would be great.
Tomorrow, we are going to take the kids to the Great Lakes Science Center right next door to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and then we are off to the last stop, Steubenville, to see J's grandparents. We are rounding third and heading for home.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Day 7: Chicago

I still love Chicago. B has been saying "Chicago!" all day.

We took the El back down to the Sears Tower to jump on a guided city tour on a double-decker bus. I hate looking like a total tourist, but it's nice to relax and let someone tell you the important things while driving you around, too. We were able to see the Trump building in progress (that Bill Rancic from the Apprentice was project managing... we thought it was weird that the tour guide didn't even mention that!). The only place we jumped off to see more was Navy Pier, part museum and part amusement park with some small stores thrown in. We all rode the ferris wheel, and B later rode the carousel while Z wanted to play mini-golf. We also took them to the Children's Museum, which I think Z had a great time in... B was so exhausted that she slept through half of our time there. J mentioned that he was bored, and I said of course he is because it's a CHILDREN'S museum.

After the tour, we treated ourselves to Jamba Juice, which we last had in LA... if Jamba Juice was in Richmond, I think I would abandon Starbucks.

We ate at a great neighborhood noodle place tonight, and we have to pack up to move on (again!) tomorrow morning.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Day 6: Minneapolis to Chicago

I think we only threatened to fly home once today... Today's was a 6+ hour drive, and the kids had pretty much had it by the time B threw her blanket into the very back of the van and had to wait 10 minutes until we pulled off to get it for her.

Chicago is AWESOME, though. Of course, I'm a city girl anyway. Buildings, trains, people, 3 Starbucks within a few blocks of us... woohoo! We arrived about 4pm (our hotel is a mile from Wrigley Field) and took the El to the Sears Tower, which we MOSTLY all enjoyed (ahem... B). Z was a big fan of looking out of the telescopes and hitting buttons on the computers that tell about what you are seeing. Luckily, because it was late afternoon, it wasn't at all crowded.

Oh- and thank GOODNESS the hotel has valet parking... once we were within 20 miles of the city (of course, we're used to that because of D.C.), it was gridlock, and the area around our hotel is packed with cars.

6 days down, 4 to go...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Day 5: Minneapolis

So, the kids slept in until about 7:30... not too bad.

We went to Mass at 10am (apparently the key to them being great in church is having $7 sticker books for each of them!) and then went to the Mall of America- the largest mall in the U.S., complete with an amusement park, aquarium, and wedding chapel! It's 4 stories, and we saw 95% of it. We skipped the partial 4th floor because we were exhausted after being there for more than 6 hours. The amusement park is much smaller than Kings Dominion, but they have a lot packed in there... we were in that area for about 3 hours. Z's favorite ride was the Ferris Wheel (but by his reaction, I would have actually guessed it was the Log Flume), and B's favorite was the Carousel. The top of the Ferris Wheel was 4 stories up, which gave a great view of the rest of the park. The scariest few minutes of the day was when the kids were riding the planes, and we thought for sure B was going to get out of her seat belt and fall. We didn't buy much... a few melts at Yankee Candle since they were having a sale and a few souvenirs. I would have spent a lot in the scrapbooking store but decided I probably shouldn't.

My feet hurt... I'm off to take a shower and go to sleep soon!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Day 4: St. Louis to Minneapolis

We left St. Louis around 7am this morning and arrived in Minneapolis around 4:30pm.

The roads that we took through Iowa were pretty much... you should have guessed it... corn fields. Minnesota was much more populated. I really slacked off on the driving today. J did about 400 miles compared to my 100 or so. I couldn't do it without my Starbucks, and there were none on our route between St. Louis and Minnesota. There are some here, though, thank goodness!

We walked around the downtown area here in Minneapolis. There is an outdoor mall and Skyways that connect many of the buildings on the second level, above the street but enclosed from any bad weather they might be having [not today, though... it's HOT here!].

We're hopefully sleeping in a bit tomorrow before church. Fingers crossed that the kids do...

Friday, June 8, 2007

Interlude - J's Road Sign Mania

[written by J]
As promised in an earlier blog, it is time for a diversion that I call J's road sign mania. But before we get to the road signs, let me expound on the disappointment I felt when I didn't see a sign telling us that we entered the Central time zone. I checked the receipts for our lunch and gas in Indiana (at what seemed like the first exit with any services since Kentucky and it was halfway through the state), I noticed that the lunch receipt said 10:30 AM and the gas receipt said 12PM. We ate at a Wendy's so obviously we weren't in there for an hour and a half. The gas station was right next door to the Wendy's. Is it possible that the time-zone line was between the Wendy's and the gas station? We may never know.

Now onto the road sign mania. I have always been fascinated by road signs, especially state route signs which vary from state to state. For example, Virginia has a shield for primary state route signs and a circle for county roads and North Carolina has a diamond. Because we are visiting so many states, I thought it would be fun to observe and analyze the various state route signs along the way. Granted, I came up with the idea in Kentucky so West Virginia's analysis will have to wait until the return trip. Let me say, it's been an unimaginative bunch so far.

Kentucky - circle
Pretty blah. Due to the state's obsession with horses, perhaps a horsehead would have made a more imaginative design.
Indiana - square with Indiana on top
Wow. Creativity at its finest.

Illinois - square with Illinois on top
Did they cheat off of Indiana's test?

Missouri - we have yet to see one in our travels around St. Louis but we should see some on the way to Minneapolis. I do give Missouri bonus points for this fun interstate sign that is near our hotel. This is a perfect example of what H calls "condensing."

That's all for now. I will give another report probably tomorrow. In other news, GO CAVS (Cleveland not UVA)!!!!!!

Day 3: St. Louis

Woohoo... the first day we've been in one place for the entire day! :)

After breakfast this morning, we went to the Arch because we heard that it could get pretty busy after 10am. B still took great joy in yelling "Arch!" when she spotted it on the way there. It was nice going at 9am... there were only maybe 10 people with us at the top. Z loved that he could see the train below, and B seemed to like looking out of the windows at first, but I think the whole experience was a little too claustrophobic for her. At the bottom of the Arch is the Museum of Westward Expansion. I was impressed that Z was really interested in the American Indian exhibits, remembering the Native American that came to speak to him at preschool. But THEN, we saw someone changing the light bulbs on one of the automated lifts, and that's the only thing the kids wanted to see. So much for education.

We then went across the street from the Arch to the courthouse where the Dred Scott case was heard. This was probably my favorite part of the day, reading about Dred (whom you tend to forget was an actual man, not just a court case), his family, and their lawsuit to become free from their owners. There is also an exhibit on the Underground Railroad, which we had to zip through because Z was being a pain.

On the way back from lunch, we walked past the Federal Reserve Bank, which I really wanted to go in and see, but it's not the kind of place that gives tours... I probably would have been arrested.

After the kids naps, we took them to the City Museum which is like the Children's Museum on crack. Half of the museum is outside, suspended above the ground with an intricate maze of walkways, stairs, and bizarre twisted tunnels, hung from which you can find a fire truck, a crane, two planes, crazy slides, a tightrope challenge, and a ball pit. At first, I thought this museum might be too advanced for the kids, but they had a good time. There is also an aquarium and more crack-induced fun on the inside. J and Z took turns going down a 3-story (yes, 3 stories!!!) high slide, and Z and B did another that was about 1-story. I was nervous for her, but she loved it. The museum is in an old bank building, so we were able to walk through the safe and see all of the safe deposit boxes... H probably had a lot more fun doing that then the kids.

We also walked halfway across the Eads Bridge, one of the bridges connecting Illinois and Missouri, so we had fun standing in different states than each other.

It was a bit of an early night since the kids needed baths, but that's probably for the best since we have a long drive tomorrow.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Day 2: Louisville to St. Louis

MThat looks funny... I only just realized both cities are named for Louises.

Before we left Louisville this morning, we went on a tour of the Louisville Slugger factory and musuem. In the beginning, Z only wanted the free mini bat that came at the end of the tour, but once he saw the machines that carved the wood onto bats, I didn't think he was going to want to leave.

We left Louisville around 10:15am and arrived in St. Louis about 2:30pm Central time. J was VERY disappointed that there wasn't a road sign denoting the change in time (more on his road sign mania later). From what we saw of Indiana, it's a wonder that IT isn't the state most known for corn. OH, and the winds while we were driving today were crazy. We stopped at one of the very few exits that had signs of life and paid a ridiculous $3.29/gallon for gas (which actually DROPPED 10 cents while we were eating lunch next door).

The kids are obsessed with the Arch (and a crane that is visible from our hotel room window). Every time they have seen it so far, a loud "ARCH" comes from the back seat of the van. Our hotel is just down from the Arch, so this has happened several times. We're staying right beside of the dome where the St. Louis Rams play, and Busch Stadium is across the street from the Arch.

Way back when we decided that St. Louis would be a stop on this trip, I knew that I wanted to make time to go by the Mary Engelbreit store here because it's the only one left (there was one at Tysons Corner until 2000 or so). There were signs posted in the store today that it's closing on Sunday for good, so I'm glad that we made it here when we did!

After the mall, we went to the St. Louis Walk of Fame in an area of town near Washington University that reminds us a lot of Carytown. The Walk of Fame is similar to the Hollywood WOF, but it honors famous people of all kinds that were either born here or lived here at some point. Bob Costas, Harry Carey, Ulysses Grant, and Maya Angelou were some of the names that we saw.

We went to Union Station for dinner and ate at a Key West Cafe, where I was very excited to get a Cuban sandwich, which I've only ever had in Miami. J had barbecued tuna (all together now... ewwww. I'm probably the only one that thought that.).

The kids are already asleep... woohoo, but they got to bed an hour past their bedtime technically since they were still kind of on Eastern time.

That's all for tonight... pictures of the Arch tomorrow. Goodnight.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Day 1: Richmond to Louisville

We left Richmond this morning about 5am and arrived at hotel in Louisville around 4:30pm... stopped 4 times, 5 times?

Our rental van, a brand-new (30 miles to it when we picked it up!) Grand Caravan is AWESOME. I swore never to be a mini-van mom, but I see why so many people love them. It drives great and is bigger than our Highlander, but it doesn't feel huge. BUT, we stopped to fill up the 1/4 full tank and paid $51 and change. Gotta love high gas rates. I miss vacationing in September...

The kids are LOVING that we bought a portable DVD player. They watched a Veggie Tales DVD today and have already requested Curious George for tomorrow. Z has discovered the hidden games that come on DVDs, so whenever we watch a DVD, it lasts forever because he wants to do all of the games. Usually we have to cut him off.

As always, the short time that we were on I-81 was one of the heaviest for traffic. The drive from Lexington (VA) through West Virginia was great, though (and, Charleston had WAY bigger houses than I thought existed in WV).

Kentucky was boring for the most part with little to see. Oh, and we heard an anti-Catholic "commercial" on the radio... somehow I wasn't surprised.

After checking in at the hotel (and manuvering around the crazy Louisville beltway in pre-rush hour traffic), we went to the Waterfront Park (along the Ohio river between KY and Indiana), where they have several playgrounds for kids. Z and B couldn't have loved it more after sitting in the car all day.

They are still awake singing and talking to each other and themselves because J and I won't talk to them anymore... hopefully they'll be asleep soon.

Prayers for Papa... even though we're here, our hearts are with him.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Possible plans to complete state-seeing

Cruise to Alaska trip!

Hawaii trip:

Cross-Country Road Trip:
North Dakota
South Dakota
New Mexico

South Central U.S. trip:

By continent

North America- all, nat
South America
Europe- J and H
Antartica (if anyone has ideas on actually making this one happen, let's hear them! Maybe something from Argentina?)

By country

U.S. - go figure
Canada- all, most recently in 2008
Mexico- J, H, and Z in 2004
Bahamas- all in 2005

Our most recent travels by state so far...

Most recent trips:

California- H in 2000; J, H, and Z in 2004; all in 2010
Colorado- J
Connecticut- J, H, Z, & B in 2008

Delaware- J, H, Z, & B in 2008
Florida- J, H, Z, & B in 2005 and 2009

Georgia- J a lot; H in 1986; J, H, Z, & B in 2009
Illinois- J, H, Z, & B in 2007

Indiana- J, H, Z, & B in 2007
Iowa - J, H, Z, & B in 2007
Kentucky- J, H, Z, & B in 2007
Louisana- H in 1995
Maine- J, H, Z, & B in 2008
Maryland- J, H, Z, & B many times
Massachusetts- J, H, Z, & B in 2008

Michigan- J, H, Z, & B in 2007
Minnesota- J, H, Z, & B in 2007
Missouri- J, H, Z, & B in 2007
New Hampshire- J, H, Z, & B in 2008
New Jersey- J, H, Z, & B in 2008
New Mexico
New York- J, H, Z, & B in 2006 and 2008

North Carolina- all most recently in 2010
North Dakota
Ohio- J, H, Z, & B several times
Oregon- all in 2010
Pennsylvania- J, H, Z, & B many times
Rhode Island- J, H, Z, & B in 2008
South Carolina - J and H; J, H, Z, & B in 2009
South Dakota
Tennessee- H
Texas- H- 1988
Vermont- J, H, Z, & B in 2008
Virginia- All, of course
Washington- all in 2010
[Washington, D.C. - All, often]
West Virginia- J, H, Z, & B in 2007
Wisconsin- J, H, Z, & B in 2007

Current states-seen score, as of the end of this 2010 trip:
J: 30
H: 32
Z: 29
B: 29
A: 5

We really must be crazy

So, H read somewhere a couple of years ago about Tim Russert's goal for his son to see all 50 states before he turned 18. I thought that was fabulous... imagine when you are at freshman college orientation and you are asked to tell something unique about yourself and THAT is your answer.

Recently, I thought it would be awesome to add on ... "and visited 6 of the 7 continents".

Really... commit me now.