Vacation by Numbers: Noah and Rory’s Excellent Adventure

Well, it looks like summer vacation has turned into blogger’s vacation!

I have a good excuse: I took the boys to Illinois and Wisconsin for eight days, and didn’t take my laptop.

rockcut boys

But now we’ve been back for over a week, and my only excuse is that I’m lazy. Out of practice. Distracted. In my free time, I’ve been trying to figure out the rest of the summer: camps for Noah, a trip to the beach, our upcoming weekend in Nashville.

Then there’s the more mundane stuff: eating Pat’s leftover birthday cake and tweeting like it’s my job (sadly, it’s not), watching True Detective and scouring the online sales. (I just got some pairs of Noah’s favorite Gap shorts for less than $4 each.)

pat cake

Noah insisted on this cake for Pat because “Dad played baseball” (that one year when he was nine).

So whatever it is – shortage of time, lack of motivation, ability to only write in blurbs of 140 characters – I’ve been in a rut.

I’m breaking out of that rut – I hope – in the easiest way possible: with a recap from our trip. My mom and sister did a great job cramming all the things a 5-year-old would want to do in a summer into one week, and Noah was in heaven. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a pretty great time, too. You’ll see why.

And so, to quote my voice-crush Kai Ryssdal, let’s do the numbers:

28: lemonade stand dollars earned

My sister helped Noah set up a stand on the day of their annual 4th of July party. He’s been saving money for new Legos, and these earnings definitely pushed him over the top. (In the previous three weeks, he had earned maybe $12 in quarters by emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash and putting his clean laundry away.) This kid was bouncing off the walls with excitement.

lemonade stand

The only problem? He actually made maybe $5 of that money from the lemonade stand. The rest most likely was beer money donated by friends of Katie and Mike after the lemonade stand change jar inadvertently was moved right next to the cooler.  They let him keep it anyway.

25: dollars spent on ice cream and custard

Okay, you all know I love ice cream, but I bought a lot of ice cream, even for me.

I nearly flipped my lid when I saw that Dairyhaus – a favorite ice cream shop from my youth – sold pre-packaged quarts at the local grocery store. Including…Blue Moon. I had forgotten that flavor existed until recently, when someone posted on Facebook about another old ice cream store in Rockford that served it. I had been flooded with memories of drippy sugar cones of Blue Moon, complete with a gum ball in the bottom of the cone to keep it from leaking out as it melted.


I was sure Blue Moon would be too sweet for me now, but guess what? It was pretty delicious. The Dairyhaus one, at least, had some licorice undertones that offset the fruitiness.

In Madison, I had to get custard. I took Noah and my brother-in-law Mike to the custard shop to buy pints, but of course I couldn’t walk out of there without a cone in my hand, too. Mike ended up driving Noah and me around until we finished our cones so I could eat from the pint later as if that cone had never happened.

noah custard

 11: kids to play with

Noah and Rory would have been entertained by my family for the whole week, but it was fun that they got to play with the kids of some of my childhood friends, my sister’s nephews and her friends’ kids.


It was great to see this generation rolling down the street I grew up on (or pushing around  a stroller full of sticks, as Rory was into doing) and remembering so many tiny details from my childhood: that particular spot on the street where a puddle always forms after a big rain and is great to splash through on a bike; how the oak trees in the front yard arranged perfectly with one pine to make a baseball diamond; the clang of the back gate swinging shut.

rory stroller

10: elevator rides

I’m not sure when it happened, but Rory has become obsessed with elevators. One day we were running an errand to the eye doctor, and he started shouting “Alligator! Alligator!” All the receptionists and doctors were looking around trying to figure out what he was talking about. I was sure there was some miniscule Lacoste logo in in the store that he had zeroed in on.But as soon as we walked out to the lobby, he ran toward the double doors of the building’s elevator.

“Alligator!” he yelled.

“Oohhh, elevator,” I said.


And ever since then, it’s been his obsession. First thing in the morning, I’ll go into his room, and he’ll say “Elevator, Mommy!” It was all he wanted to do on the trip.  I got in as many rides as I could – at the airport, repeatedly at the Discovery Center Museum in Rockford – though never as many as he wanted.

But I guess it was enough, because when Pat greeted us at the airport and asked Rory what the best part of the trip was, his answer was as expected.


3: maximum number of s’mores allowed in one sitting, according to my sister

I respectfully disagreed, to which my sister responded, “You really should be fatter than you are.”

But seriously, I love s’mores, and there are only so many chances you get at a freshly-roasted marshmallow. Undoubtedly in my Top 5 desserts.


3: donut shops visited

Okay, you would think that every trip of mine back to the Heartland is about trying to pack on as many pounds as possible. A reverse fat camp, if you will. But let’s just call it “nostalgia eating.”

Yes, Durham has its fancy donut shops like Monuts and Rise. But sometimes I just want a good old-fashioned donut shop that sells crullers and bear claws and cheap, acrid coffee. Where you wouldn’t  be surprised if the person boxing up your dozen was holding a long-ashed cigarette in one hand.

I got to that one, and another shop that makes mini-donuts while you wait, and made the obligatory Dunkin’ stop at O’Hare to load up on things to distract the kids and pacify me on the plane.

3: runs

I did attempt to balance out all those donuts and ice cream cones. The last time we visited Rockford and Madison, I did not run once. Granted, there was still three feet of snow on the ground, and I was busy barfing inexplicably. But this time, I vowed that my bulky size 9 1/2 wide sneakers would not take up precious space in my suitcase if they weren’t going to get used.

katie run

And so they did. After all, how could I pass up the chance to run flat courses in 75 degree weather when I’ve been slogging it out in the hills and 95 degree heat of North Carolina? Not to mention the scenic lake-and-capitol views in Madison?

And how could I pass up the chance to run with my favorite partner? Katie is training for a half marathon in September. She’s trying to convince me to join her. My mind says yes, but my mouth says pass the crullers. Stay tuned…

2: carousels ridden

I don’t know what is about Madison and carousels, but in the four days were were there, we  encountered three. The kids rode two: one at the fantastic free Madison zoo, and one at a super weird yet awesome Madison landmark called Ella’s Deli.

noah carousel

rory carousel

The one they skipped was at a carnival we went to on the 4th of July. But Noah’s adventures there – which included riding a ferris wheel, the Tilt-a-Whirl, a small roller-coaster and one of those huge slides you go down on a potato sack – were cut short by Rory’s hysterics over not being tall enough to ride any of the rides, and his ultimate melt down as we tried to distract him with shaved ice. (Which also melted down. All over his face and clothes.)

rory carnival

Ella’s Deli was a trip unto itself. It’s a Madison landmark, a kid’s paradise – the carousel out front, all sorts of figurines flying across the ceiling, Lego and train dioramas under glass on the tables – and full of enough clown paraphernalia to be many adults’ worst nightmare.

ellas deli

ellas elephant 

The menu was all over the place in a confusing but exciting way. I had a sandwich that I totally fell in love with: goat cheese, cucumbers and red onion on pumpernickel. Seriously. Delicious.


2: backyard skinny-dips

Kids only, of course.


It started as wading with clothes on, devolved into semi-clothed splashing, and eventually we gave up, took off the sopping diapers and underwear and let them go full monty.

I’ll spare you the pictures of their naked backyard baseball game – played at risk of the worst sorts of mosquito bites – that took place after the tired of the pool.

2: miserable climbs up a water park rope ladder

Maybe it seems crazy that this rope ladder is getting its own subhead. But that’s how much it impressed its agony on my brain (and my feet).

On our last day in Rockford, we took the kids to a water park called Magic Waters. Though I have fond memories of hanging out there (mostly involving Sun-In and trying to meet boys) I hadn’t been there in at least 20 years. It’s changed a lot since I was kid, including the addition of a kids area complete with sprayers, water cannons and two- and three-story slides. And to access those slides? Horrible, horrible rope nets for kids to climb on. Or should I say, kids and parents of insanely adventurous, stubborn and fast two-year-olds.

magic waters

I became familiar with Rory’s fondness for a rope ladder in Madison – I stood next to one at the zoo playground cheering him on his tedious climb to the top while a line of impatient kids formed behind him, staying back just far enough to ward off the shrieks he’d unleash when they got too close.

rope ladder

But the net at the water park went much higher, and led to water slides, so I was obligated to follow. Have you stepped on a wet, knotty rope with bare feet recently? Have you balanced on those knots while trying to keep a toddler from tumbling back on you as you claw to the top of the net? IN YOUR BATHING SUIT? Well, let me tell you, I now have a new concept of hell.

When we finally got to the top of the structure, the teenage lifeguard informed me that I would not be able to accompany Rory down the long, winding water slide. I figured this was a deal breaker, and turned to climb back down the dreaded net. But by the time I did, Rory was already boarding the slide, looking completely oblivious to the potential peril ahead. The lifeguard just shrugged.

What was the worst that could happen?

Okay, don’t answer that. Because at least this time, it was fine.

Rory went down the slide again and again. The last time, I waited at the bottom for so long that I started to worry. I was about to ask the lifeguard to check on him when I saw Rory scooting around the corner, pushing himself along with his arms. He had gotten stuck somewhere along the shoot, but it didn’t seem to phase him a bit.

rory magic waters

Noah, meanwhile, was off with my mom and my sister conquering any ride they’d let him on. He’s determined to grow three inches by next summer so he can go on the tallest slides, a 75-foot vertical drop that he will ride over my dead body.

1: favorite cousin

Finnley is the boys’ only cousin, so it’s a good thing he’s awesome. I mean, look at this kid.

finn 4th


All of this, and I didn’t even cover eating Swedish pancakes, Noah playing soccer and going on a paddleboat ride with his uncle Mike, the fireworks we got to see from Katie and Mike’s backyard on the 4th, catching lightening bugs, watching one episode of Orange is the New Black and all of Garfunkel and Oates with my sister, the discovery of another box of books and a couple headless Barbies from my childhood,  the 1,000 piece puzzle we started the day before we left Madison, and all the naps. I took a lot of naps.

I’ll leave you with some et cetera photos.




museum water




rory hat

katie kids


monga with boys

family pic