The sunrise over Ohio on a quiet Thursday morning.
Waking the kids as we pulled into a Bob Evans for breakfast.
Maya's oft-repeated exclamation, "This is going to be the Best TRIP EVER!"
Going to bed at 9:00 PM for the first time in many, many years.
Surprisingly beautiful Pittsburgh, ornate homes dotting the tree-covered hills, tunnels leading to the water-framed skyline, a small-town feel in a big city.
Enjoying a morning meal at the local bagel shop, where a group of elderly men met for their regular morning social time, joking with each other and with passers-by as they sipped their coffee. And, in a nod to the changing times, each one had his cell phone casually placed before him on the table, ready to take a call from a wife or grandchild at home. Such delicious contrast between old and new.
Pink sparkly sand, multi-colored rice, huge tubs of water, a Mr. Rogers Neighborhood exhibit, and an afternoon gelato treat all adding up to a delightful day at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum.
Purchasing a coveted pink baseball cap (reading: "Pennsylvania"), along with some not-great sandwiches, at a rest stop along the PA turnpike.
Thanks to the people at Wee Sing, several hundred repetitions of "Jimmy Crack Corn" sung by a three-year-old who only knew four lines of the song, one of them incorrect. ("...Jimmy Crack Corn and I don't caaaaaare, he lives on Drury Lane!" [repeat]) Then having the question occur to us as we walked through a Target store still being serenaded quite loudly by said tune, that it could, possibly, have racist undertones. And having that worry confirmed by a quick Google search on Mark's Blackberry. And then quickly encouraging another song as the anthem of the evening, while making mental notes to hide that CD for the rest of the trip.
Hershey's Chocolate World. Complete chocolate overload with giant walking Kit Kat bars and a ride featuring singing cows ("there's real milk in Herrrrrshey's Milk Chocolate..."). In other words, a preschooler's heaven!
Also at Hershey's Chocolate World - the older woman who insisted on locating her husband by standing in the center of the chocolate aisles with her hand on her hips, angrily bellowing "Mitchell! MITchell!! MITCHELL!!" (rather than strolling over a few rows to where he was innocently checking out some M&Ms) thus causing me to jump a mile and my sleeping son to wake prematurely from his nap. Thanks, lady. And Mitchell...run. Run like the wind.
Happening across "A Day out with Thomas" along our route from Hershey to Philly, fairly certain that we wouldn't be able to get tickets for the train ride at such late notice...and the joy of finding out that we could! My sweet girl in her new pink hat peering down the track to see Thomas pulling in to give her a ride...well, I don't think I'll ever forget that.
My constant thanks to the makers of the Leappad, which occupied Maya for hours and hours of drive time.
One miserable evening spent attempting to get to a restaurant...any restaurant...as bedtime approached and the confusing center lanes of the highway caused us to reroute frustratingly close to several dining options that we just couldn't seem to access. Ending up at a Red Lobster and wolfing down dinner just before Noah entered meltdown mode.
The palpable excitement as we drove into Sesame Place amid light rain showers on our way to Breakfast with Elmo. And having a fully-satisfying experience (despite the less-than-stellar buffet options) as Maya's eyes grew wide with wonder watching her TV friends approach to give her hugs and say hello. So priceless. Actually, there was a price, but we're choosing not to think about that...
The rain clearing as we left breakfast to go explore the rest of the park, beginning with a successful merry-go-round experience, a terrifying Elmo ride "I didn't like the up-and-down, Mama!", and the redeeming teacups, hot air balloon chase, and Elmo fish attractions.
The somehow cozy atmosphere in spite of the theme park setting. Seeing the same families throughout the day, and having plenty to do without feeling overwhelmed by territory to cover.
Three stage shows, where the best entertainment was watching Maya's eyes dance along with the characters.
The "Rock around the Block" parade, which didn't disappoint, even as it left me humming Huey Lewis' "The Heart of Rock and Roll" and Gloria Estefan's "Conga" alternately for several days straight afterward.
Spending hours in the shallow sections of the water park, enjoying the sight of Maya tirelessly scampering through the sprinkling jets and tiny fountains, and letting Noah have the first feel of his tiny feet in the pool.
Uneaten $8.00 chicken strips, passed over for the far-too-tempting Elmo cupcake. Why did we allow that? Vacation mindset, I suppose.
Dinner at Macaroni Grill that night, where watching Maya was like watching an addict come down from a high. And taking a huge piece of cheesecake back to the hotel to share after the kids were asleep.
A peaceful drive from Philadephia to Baltimore, immediately followed by a hair-raising leg from Baltimore to Washington D.C. Highway driving + screaming six-month-old = frayed nerves.
Having family portraits taken by a stunningly talented photographer who also happens to be a friend that we got to meet in person for the first time.
All of us sleeping in one morning after a few particularly exhausting days, getting an unexpected but so totally worth it late start on our next travels.
Eating dinner one-at-a-time a couple of evenings as Noah decided that he had been traveling for too long to allow us a peaceful restaurant experience close to bedtime. He did become the official greeter at the Outback Steakhouse in Maumee, OH one such evening, however - charming all who entered, even as he protested entering personally.
The joys of traveling with a GPS device and constant internet access. So freakishly cool...I don't ever want to do it another way again. Spoiled? Yes. But admitting it is the first step.
10 days of hotel stays and restaurant meals. My kind of vacation!
The close proximity of everything on the East Coast. Several major cities within a couple hours of each other, compared to the wide expanses between areas of activity in our Midwestern surroundings.
The realization, once again, of just how big the world is. And the wonder of God's creation as reflected in the familiar flatlands of Indiana and Ohio, the gorgeous green hills of Pennsylvania, the brilliant views from the edge of the Appalachians...as well as in the beautiful uniqueness of each person we were privileged to cross paths with - the vast array of differences that remind me that the world doesn't revolve around my life and circumstances, and the similarities that underscore the elements of humanity that bind us together.
The incredible love and appreciation I have for my husband and children. I am blessed beyond belief.
It was fantastic.