Into the Polar Vortex: a trip to the homeland Top 10

We’re back from vacation!

Last week we left the comfort of North Carolina winters and flew into the eye of the Polar Vortex.

Who visits Wisconsin the first week of March? Well, sometimes people who want to see their college basketball team play (unfortunately, not us this time). But mainly people whose nephew is celebrating a first birthday (that would be us).

blanchard fam

The trip wasn’t terribly long – just over five days – but it was packed with fun. The highlights:

1) The weather was good…

This was huge. Living in the South for the last ten years has softened us, and we were a little nervous about the insanely cold temperatures the Midwest had been experiencing. But when we were there, it was in the 30s and 40s. People in Chicago and Wisconsin were thrilled, and rightfully so.

2) …but there was still tons of snow.

Mountains of snow. Walls of snow. The table on my mother’s back patio was nearly engulfed. But this meant that Noah got to do some proper sledding. And Rory, who bawled the first time he encountered the white stuff here in North Carolina, has added “Touch the snow!” to his list of demands.

noah snow

3) Kid-exhausting activities.

My hometown of Rockford, Illinois, may have been deemed the Third Most Miserable City in America, but nobody told my kids. Usually we go to the Discovery Center Museum, one of the best children’s museums I’ve ever been to, or out to Rock Cut State Park. (When we were kids, my friends and I would ride our bikes there, buy ice cream and Hubba Bubba at the concession stand and hang out by the lake.)

We weren’t in Rockford very long, but we did visit Sapora Playworld inside the Carlson Ice Arena, which was bustling with kids suiting up for skating lessons and hockey practice. They have one big play area for older kids, and a smaller one where Rory had a ball. Because Thursday was a half-price day, I think I paid $2.50 for both kids.

We hit a couple fun spots in Madison, too. We spent a good hour Saturday morning at the awesome new children’s area of the Madison Public Library, and the dads took the boys to the Madison Children’s Museum Sunday morning while we got ready for my nephew’s birthday party.

madison library

4) Childhood book jackpot. 

I was greeted at my mom’s house by a cardboard box of books she had found in the attic. I spent nearly every free minute at my mom’s paging through them: from Choose Your Own Adventure to Christopher Pike, Beverly Cleary, Encyclopedia Brown, The Babysitter’s Club, Nancy Drew and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

And there was other miscellany: my 4th grade yearbook, copies of the newspapers I wrote for in middle and high school (I may need to devote an entire post to that 7th grade newspaper), choir competition schedules, a list of things of “fun things” I wanted to do with my boyfriend in the summer of 1994. (I read it out loud to Pat, who laughed, because it’s basically the same list I would write in 2014, including a reference to eating “somewhere dressy” when and if I got back a dress that I had returned to the Gap.)


5) When in Rome (or Wisconsin)… 

Later this month, I’m joining a few other bloggers in a Clean Eating Week. I’m glad it was scheduled after our trip to Wisconsin. Time with my sister generally revolves around food: from road trip Twinkies and Snapple peach iced tea to apple cider donuts and coffee. When I was in college, an employee at a local shop christened us “the sisters who always come in here for frozen yogurt.”

Food is our thing.

Specifically, I was looking forward to two things Wisconsin excels at: beer and frozen custard. (I’m not including cheese and sausage, though let me assure you that the grocery store Katie shops at had the most extensive selection of each that I have ever seen.)


I ate the custard too fast to get a picture, so this will have to do.

When it came to beer, though, there was one hitch in my giddy up: I was STILL fighting the cold/sinus thing that I’ve had for over two weeks now. I hadn’t been drinking, so I wasn’t sure how it would affect my symptoms.

I proceeded with caution. No beer with the square pieces of cracker-thin crust Buck’s Pizza, which Pat deemed “Exactly like what I grew up with!” (People who assume deep dish is the only Midwestern pizza should know that this is the type most of our dads brought home every Friday night.)

But I didn’t want to miss going out in Madison. My brother-in-law is a regional manager for a beer distributor, and he has all his favorite places. He took us to a nano-brewery called One Barrel Brewing.

It was great. I had two beers. I played Cards Against Humanity for the first time. (I nearly derailed the night by getting frustrated that my answers never got picked, and then pouting when my sister suggested that I was “trying too hard to be funny,” an insult that I take particular offense to, especially from someone who didn’t even know what “smegma” was, anyway. But I recovered.)


There was no more time for beer because we had to leave the bar in time to get to Michael’s Frozen Custard before it closed. (And, I suppose, because we all had to get up with kids in the morning.) I had my mind set on their Leprechaun Shake.  We made it just in time.

The shake was huge and way too rich – a Shamrock Shake on sterroids – but I sucked down almost the entire thing. I will tell you now that we ate custard from Michael’s every day for the rest of the trip. This really proves my devotion to custard (or my total insanity), because the day after that   Leprechaun shake…

6)…I puked in a snowbank.

I’m telling you about vomiting for two reasons, neither of which may change your feelings about me writing about vomiting. (You’re welcome to skip this item, but if it makes a difference, there are no pictures.)

First:  It was the most mysterious barf of my life. I woke up feeling nauseous, spent the whole morning feeling terrible but unsure of if I was going to be sick or not. And then I was.  I never figured out why. It wasn’t a stomach bug: it was one and done, and no one else got it. I slept it off that afternoon and was eating Chinese food (and yes, custard) by evening. I wasn’t hungover: I had only had those two beers, and never was even remotely drunk. Oh, and I’m not pregnant. Though if by some miracle I am, hopefully you will learn about it here first, and not on an episode of I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.

The second thing that makes this puke noteworthy:  I learned something new: if you have to throw up, doing it outside on a cold day is the way to go. This one happened in a big snow drift in my sister’s front yard. We had just come back from the library, and I couldn’t make it into the house. It turns out that vomiting into snow is quite refreshing. Way better than, say, the family bathroom at the library would have been. Or any enclosed space, really. And I have no shame: if my sister’s neighbors saw, they’ll just assume it was her. (You’re welcome, Katie.)

7) Cousins.

The only thing that can make your own kids cuter than they are is seeing them play with other kids, especially cousins. Rory is less than a year older than Finn, but he dwarfs him. I was nervous that there may be some injuries.

But they were great together: Rory started each day yelling “Finn!” and regularly tried to “help” Finn by jamming his pacifier into his mouth. And if there ever was a tussle over a book or a toy, Finn was not afraid to stand up for himself. He was small but mighty. Even Noah had fun playing with the little guys. And they all had fun playing with the cats (and in Noah’s case, pretending to be one of them), Neil Diamond and Mr. Saturday Night.


8) When in Rome, Part 2: Rockford.

Rockford is a hub of all things Swedish. This means we were able to get our Swedish pancake fix at Stockholm Inn and pick up a pack of lefse to bring home. And Rory got to pretend he was a wee Swedish jockey.


9) Monga as morning go-to has been established.

Noah and my mom (“Monga”) have always been very close; he was her first and only grandchild for over three years. When we’re visiting her or she’s staying with us, Noah makes a beeline for Monga the minute he wakes up.

This is great, but since Rory was born, it hadn’t done us much good in terms getting some quality grandma-assisted sleeping-in. Rory would start screaming for me the minute his eyes opened, and I’d have to get up, too.

But at 6:30 a.m. on our last day there, from the next room came the sweetest sound a mother can hear: her child calling for someone else to get him out of his crib.

“Monga!” “Monga!”

I slept another two hours.


10) Great flights.

It was Rory’s last flight as a “lap child.” Rightfully so: I don’t think we could squeeze him on our lap again. But even though he wiggled, squirmed and occasionally shrieked, we kept him occupied with a steady stream of fruit, crackers, songs and books.

rory ohare

Rory lounging with a mysterious stain on the floor at O’Hare.

Near the end of the flight, he stood on my lap and looked at the passengers behind us. And let me say: God bless you, every one, that actually engages the children who look at you during a plane ride. A woman a few rows back started playing peek-a-boo with Rory, and he was laughing his head off, relieving me from entertainment duty, and making the people behind us laugh, too.

When it was our turn to exit the plane, Rory yelled “Bye!” to the people behind us, and I think the last ten rows of the plane said “Bye!” back. Thank you, people. It really makes a difference.

Back in Carolina, we walked out of the airport into 75 degree temperatures and clear blue skies. That sweet, silky breeze. We ate Chipotle takeout on the back porch and recounted our trip. Noah pronounced that the best part of the trip was “Everything!”

I’d pretty much have to agree.

So don’t worry, Mr. Toddler Wisconsin. We’ll be back soon.