“Wandering alongside the Woods” column by Jacki Wood
At the encouragement of my husband, I’m venturing out on a new excursion. And while I may not be an “experty expert,” I have a lot of experience and love for traveling as a self-proclaimed road trip enthusiast.
I love the adventure that awaits a summer trek to Quebec or finding joy in the journey to Raleigh.
So I’m starting a new column — this column — “Wandering alongside the Woods.” I’m not sure where this expedition will take me, or you, but I’m excited to explore the possibilities.
So here goes… I hear it all the time: parents who say they can’t road trip because they have kids.
Why would you want to cram a two-year-old into a car and drive for 22 hours? And how can you keep him entertained that long? (And no, the answer is not a DVD player or a Nintendo DS…although I believe they do have their place).
My parents threw me in the back of their car when I wasn’t even a year old and took me to a family reunion in Colorado. They did it every summer. New places, new faces. My husband grew up the same way. So when we got married, it was what we knew. We took our first road trip with Hunter when he was just seven months old.
It’s been a great way to see the country. It also offers flexibility and freedom and is an easy vehicle to teach our children more about history, people and cultures.
When Hannah was about four years old, we drove to North Carolina. Soon after crossing the state line, we stopped at a gas station to refuel and use the facilities. While waiting in line, we overheard the cashier say, “Y’all need a bag?”
Hannah had apparently never heard anyone speak like that before, with a Southern Appalachian/Smoky Mountain English dialect. And when we got back in the car, she repeated the phrase sounding just like the cashier. It’s been a fun memory for us.
In the last 13 years, we’ve taken our kids to 38 of the 50 states and each trip has produced wonderful memories like the one above.
Have there been times when I’ve wanted to yell, scream, spit and pull my hair out? Yes. Of course. It’s not going to be all fun and games. But those memories fade and the wonderful ones, the good experiences, remain.
Prior to taking that trip, I had come across a children’s book called “Freedom on the Menu,” which tells the story of the Civil Rights Movement and the Greensboro sit-ins through the eyes of a child. I knew we could venture off our path a bit to Greensboro to visit the Woolworth’s store where the sit-ins occurred. What an amazing teaching experience for our small children.
So now that I have you reconsidering road tripping (hopefully), I want to share a little about a recent trip to the always popular family-vacation-destination, Mall of America. I, personally, would never plan a trip around shopping because I hate shopping. But, to each his own.
Anyway, after a family reunion in Colorado in 2010, we headed north. This trip was also my first attempt at tweeting some of our travels.
Mall of America was on the agenda — because you can’t go to the Twin Cities and not see a mall of that magnitude — but there were other things to see and do first.
On our way, we passed by the World’s Largest Holstein Cow in North Dakota (didn’t stop, but fun to see). As we ventured farther east, I tweeted: “I’m loving the beauty of Minnesota and its 10,000 lakes (my first time here).”
We’ve read the “Little House on the Prairie” books, so we traveled to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, MN, which includes both historical pieces and items from the TV series. We made sure we also visited the Ingalls dugout site where Laura and her family lived along the banks of Plum Creek, a beautiful area surrounded by towering trees.
Something else on every road trip agenda is to eat good, local food. In recent years, we try to find one that’s been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” So in Minneapolis, we chose Victor’s 1959 Cafe, a cute little dive that serves oh-so-good Cuban food. I loved the Picadillo a la Cubana.
We also took part of a day just to travel over to Wisconsin to eat some squeaky cheese (cheese curds) at Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery. Well worth the drive. Upon our return to Minneapolis, we took a tour of the Guthrie Theater and visited the Midtown Global Market, a diverse area of international food shops, art, jewelry, flowers and more.
And last but not least, we took on the mall.
That morning I tweeted: “Got my walking shoes on. Mall of America today. This is so not me, but I love my kids.”
The LEGO store was a hit with Hunter where he probably spent a couple of hours creating and building with other kids. He and Hannah also enjoyed the rides and characters at Nickelodeon Universe. And for my enjoyment, Larry and I just happened to see a mall cop riding a Segway a la Paul Blart. Hilarious. Best part of the day for me.
So this is how the Woods road trip. When I’m planning beforehand, I make sure every trip has these three things:
1. Something educational.
2. Good, local food.
3. Let the kids pick something they want to do.
And one last thing. If you’re brave enough to road trip, and if in the midst of your travels it’s not going so well, just remember what Winston Churchill said: “If you are going through hell, keep going.”
It’ll make a funny story. Someday.