Friday, November 27, 2015

A short week in Kansas City, KS

We made our way from Branson to Kansas City, KS in order to visit with Mandie's great aunt Fran and cousin Donna. As I mentioned before, this trip isn't just about us and this was one of those moments: Mandie hadn't seen her aunt in quite a few years, so it was a wonderful reunion.

Logan climbed up and hugged Aunt Fran
The area around where they lived was fairly slim pickings for campgrounds. The ones that are there didn't get the greatest of reviews. We ended up at the Kansas City Jellystone. For being in the offseason, it was a little pricey ($43/night with a Good Sam discount). The pool was closed down and they didn't do some of their planned activities (which wasn't a big deal since we weren't at the campground a whole lot). The layout of the pull-thrus is that the campers alternate directions so that your back is back to another camper (which is fine) BUT your front yard is facing another camper's front yard (which SUCKS unless you're traveling together). Anyway, the campground did have a jumping pillow which we enjoyed. I think overall, I might go back but I'm not sure about the shared yards and cost.

Our site + shared yard
This was one of their biggest "yards", some were VERY cozy
The kids and I jumping
He'd get some MAD air
Continuing our theme of Roadside Attractions, I found that next door to the campground was a 50’ tall concrete teepee. We had to walk down a fairly busy street and it was kind of rundown but hey- it was fun to see none the less. It seems like someone is actually living there; not sure as we didn’t peek in the windows or anything.

We had to walk across a litter-filled parking lot
50' Concrete Teepee
My wonderful family
Second building, supposedly used for banquets and whatnot
As you can tell by the vine growing up the sign, it has seen better days
Driving the campground found a really neat older unit. The staff that we interacted with was all very friendly.

I'd love to know more about this thing
The other side, it looks like there are doors on both sides
It's a gooseneck... say what?
Staff member letting the kids feed the fish
The real prize was family visits. Our first get together, we had a nice dinner out at Famous Dave's. It had been a while since I was at a Famous Dave's. The food was good.

The next night we hung out at the house, where Mandie and Paige treated everyone to dinner. Mandie said it was a treat to cook in a full-sized kitchen! After dinner, the ladies all got together to play games; unfortunately, I crashed out on a chair. I had been working 70 hour weeks for quite a while and it caught up to me. I guess it was time to pay the piper. As it goes with family visits, I rarely take pictures. This is a good and bad thing at the same time- clearly I’m focused on enjoying each other, but bad because I’d like to have some pictures for later! Logan loving up on Fran and Donna will be a memory that I cherish for many years.

Some more Logan Lovin'
The first signs of her evil genius
Over the weekend, we decided to check out the Lego Discovery Center. It was a small-ish place, but we had a good time. The tour starts with a demonstration of how Legos are made... well, sort of. It's a very cartoon-ish representation of it. After that, you go to different areas where they have various Lego displays (from Kansas City to Star Wars to the Wizard of Oz), a couple of rides, and various play areas and a much overpriced and pretty crappy café (worse yet- they don't allow outside food & drink). The café aside, we did enjoy it there and would likely visit a Lego Discovery center again. I didn’t think that we were going to be able to get the kids out of the gift shop at the end!

How Legos are made
Star Wars Something or Other
Posing with CP30
The Arch
Kansas City
Legoland - how meta
We were off to see the wizard
My Lego Artwork - a Gold Ribbon
Paige's Lego Artwork
Riding a ride
HUGE foam blocks
Mandie and some dirty hippy in the racing Lego area
Leaving Legoland, Mandie remembered the Hallmark Visitors Center and we were right near it, so we went to check it out. It was cool seeing back in time at a lot of their older stuff. There was a machine that made bows that Logan was enthralled with. We all came away with bows.

Waiting for the folding machine
Our bows
The steps were the shortest path
Because everyone walks down steps like this
Once we left the Hallmark Visitors Center, it was dinner time. Using TripAdvisor, we found a place called the Beer Kitchen. (Nothing like taking 2 kids into a place with “Beer” in the name- but don’t worry, I didn’t let them drink much!)

Their beer menu
A beer from my sampler
Overall, the food was good - a little fancy for us, but good none the less. The pretzel appetizer was AWESOME. However, the "award winning" truffle-something fries were pretty disappointing.

Burger with BBQ and fries
Chicken and Waffles
We had a good time in Kansas City, but it was time to make our way across the state on our way to Colorado Springs. I normally wouldn’t dedicated a blog post to it, but we made a stop to a really cool area and I’d like to write about that. So, until next time!

As is usual, this is just a smattering of pictures from my Flickr album. There are more of the campground, the Legoland, a couple of random downtown Kansas City pics, and more pics of us! Check Flickr for many, many more photos.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Branson, MO & the Fulltime Families Rally

Prepare yourself, the time is now September 1st and we are headed to Branson, MO from East St. Louis, IL.

Route 66 was our guide
We have become absolutely terrible at making and keeping a plan. So much so that we planned for our typical travel day lunch: a stop at a rest area and doing a picnic. That was well and good until we drove past a billboard for a quirky little sub shop. And then another where it billed itself as the sub shop with the V-Dub. How could we not stop? Well, of course, Mandie did a first quick check on Google Maps' aerial view to verify that the parking lot wasn't a trap.

Planet Sub
After leaving lunch, we passed my next favorite - a sign for a Route 66 roadside attraction, the world's largest rocking chair. Again, Mandie did a quick check of the drive and made sure that there wasn't anything majorly in our way and we headed for it. It was located at the Fanning 66 Outpost. The shop was pretty kitschy and full of Route 66 crap. I'll be honest- I think we gave up some mullah to them for a couple of little things. Oh, and the rocking chair was cool. Quite big- I do think it holds a world record.

Family Selfie
Kids and a chair
Just chillin' on my shoulders
Fanning Outpost
Fanning Outpost
Nice relaxing porch
The remainder of the drive was pretty easy. We got to America's Best Campground before too long. All of the sites are pull-thrus but a bit on the narrow side. The parking pads themselves were mostly level, but between the sites are on a hill.

America's Best Campground - nice place
Our site on the hill
The pool was well used by the kids
I've mentioned it before- the real reason that we were in Branson was because of the Fulltime Families "NOT Back to School Rally." We got there a week+ ahead of the rally. It was great to get a bit of "one-on-one" and "small group" time with other families. I think the first night, we ended up down at another camper where a bunch of them sat and played with Legos. It was great to see the kids playing with new friends.

It was our first official 2-week stay anywhere. It was nice having extra time to actually relax at home and still go out and do things:
  • No pictures, Mandie, Paige, and Logan went with folks from the rally to the College of the Ozarks (aka, Hard Work U) where the students work off their tuition at the school
  • More no pictures, Mandie and Paige went with folks from the rally to the Titanic museum
  • Still no pics, but Paige went to an IMAX movie with rally folks
  • Finally pics! The 4 of us went to the "Top of the Rock" cave tour (a bit of a misnomer- there want much caving to it!)

    All ready to go in our golf cart
    Our first cave
    The rules specifically forbid swimming, but these folks had their swimsuits on
    Lots of water falls
    LIES. All LIES.
    Pond/water inside a cave
    See that drink Paige has? We bought it at the "Bat Bar". Very overpriced.
    The grounds also house a golf course
    View of Table Rock Lake
    They also had a museum, but we didn't go
  • And pics again, we went to Branson Landing for a day of shopping and dinner out

    Look at that parking job!
    Shoe shopping for Paige
    Drinks for Mandie
    Crawdads for me
    And Ridemakerz (playing not buying!) for Logan
    Dancing fountains
  • And, of course the rally where we were one of 40+ families; where our kids would leave to go find other kids to play with; where I ran (yes, my fat ass ran) between buckets and pretended to empty a black tank with a pool noodle; where we had an 80s prom; where we made new friends and the kids made new friends; and where people understood this wanderlust in us. And. so. much. more.

    Pre-rally Pot Luck
    Making New Friends -
    Road Working dads commiserate together
    We got our first taste of a Krispie Kreme Hot Now doughnut
    Connectivity & Apps Coffee session
    Mandie Hosted a Tweens Get To Know Each Other night
    Session on Escapees SmartWeigh and the importance of weighing your rig
    Looking back at this photo, Logan said "I love her. And I love her."
    Taco Night!
    I won't lie- a little jealous of this setup.
    My beautiful family
    Parachute Ranger off of the camper
    My budding photographer
    80s Night was a hit!
    The boy can DANCE.
    (Photo credit: Jason Liske)
    An amazing group of fulltime families
    (Photo credit: Jason Liske)
  • We finished the week out by taking Paige to go zip lining at Branson Zipline.

    Sissy- afraid of a little ole bear
    Ok, not a sissy - she's totally bad ass. No fear!
    I only got to see a couple of ziplines that she did, but it looked like fun!
    All smiles.
    Super-duper high up there.
    Look close, she's freaking waving!
And then she stepped off of a 100' high platform for a controlled fall to the ground. Ballsy, she is. Click for video:

Click to watch
I picked up a new goodie and that's my "The Claw" awning anchor. I think I've mentioned that I use support arms for my awning. It typically lets me deploy it upon setup and not retract it until we are packing our site up. To those poles, I take a ratchet strap to a tie down point on the ground. I had been tying down to a dog anchor but had issues in some grounds being too hard. In fact, that's exactly what had happened here in Branson. I had read about The Claw anchors and decided to give it a shot. Longest story shortest, these things are awesome BUT don't waste your money on the "RV Tie Down" kit; but the anchors separately. The kit comes with a crappy hammer and crappier straps; but the storage bag is cool.

Kit Contents - anchors, nails, straps, hammer, and bag
Anchor in use
Anchor and support pole in use
The other excitement was of an Unlimited Data plan named OmniLynx out of the Huntsville, Alabama School System. Unfortunately, it was a wild violation of their terms & conditions to open it to the public and Verizon shut them down. But, I got almost 3 months of super cheap unlimited internet.

The holy grail- unlimited data
A bit of surprising fun- Mandie volunteered us to be the "official rally photographer". I have a Flickr album of 400+ photos from the event. We aren't in all of them (or really a whole many); but you can see how much fun we had.

By the time our departure day rolled around, we were genuinely sad to go. But, the wheels keep on turning on this house of ours and we made our way to Kansas City to visit with Mandie's aunts, but that's a blog post for another day.

As usual, this is just a smattering of picture. There are many, many more pictures on Flickr from our time in Branson (in addition to the rally pictures above).