Sunday, July 26, 2015

O'Briens Going For Broke: Loosing Some & Winning Some!

So much to blog and always feeling behind which is so frustrating since I had real intentions of blogging this trip thoroughly!! I’m mainly just going to share some general road tripping woes and feelings stuff.

Hot Springs, Arkansas (going to blog about Arkansas more at some point!)
In the spirit of always “keeping it real” (social media’s current favorite term that’s starting to drive me real nuts)… After Shawn’s mom (aka Nana) left this past Thursday- joining us for 4 days of the trip, the kids started feeling REALLY homesick. It’s been somewhat of an ongoing theme throughout the trip, but it’s always been a quick and easy fix as kids are resilient and easily distractible. It’s also fluctuated between the two but after Nana’s departure it hit Cormac hard that we weren’t going home at the same speed as her (aka, a plane).

 At the Christ of the Ozarks in Arkansas, a place their Nana had visited as a kid!
He took pretty much a day of solace to cope with the thought of another week on the road. Lots of tears involved. I mean, at 6 weeks in… Who can blame him, really? Trying to explain that we’re at the tail end of our trip and there’s only a week left was a frail attempt that no longer worked. We were toying around with a few different routes home, possibly to see another set of friends and add a few days, but have decided against it in the spirit of keeping our timeline… And so our son doesn’t end up in the loony bin at 6 years old.

As of lately on the road… Let’s see, we did Branson, Missouri for 4 days. I felt like an idiot because I had never heard of Branson before. And now I cannot figure out how I’d missed out on this huge part of American tourism.  It’s an entire town completely dedicated to tourists who are looking for some good, clean fun. And I mean clean… like finding liquor in this place is a task. Branson is a weird place, I’m not gonna lie. The only way I can describe it is like a dry Las Vegas for old people and kids. Someone else called it Geriatric Vegas. That works too. Not that Shawn and I didn’t have fun- we totally had a blast. Mainly because it was so random and unusual to the type of fun we’d normally set out to have that we enjoyed every moment knowing we may never see the place again.

The essence of Branson.

Watching the Grand Country Jubilee (four men who had so many outfit changes their act could easily translate to West Hollywood given some song changes) perform lots of mainly patriotic songs (and a great YMCA- case in point) was nothing short of amazing. People were literally raising their hands worship style and waaaait for it… fist pumping (!) to God Bless America… Definitely an experience! It was MERICA! at it’s absolute finest… GOD AND COUNTRY baby!

We stayed at The Grand Country Resort and half of the fun with this place was the buffet... The all-inclusive-all-you-can-eat buffet. Biscuits and gravy and chicken fried steak any time you want (if you haven't read about my chicken fried steak mishap from our last road trip- DO IT). There wasn’t a fit person to be found within miles of this place. Shawn and I included- I mean we’ve been sitting in a car for 6 weeks we’ve obviously lost all muscle retention. We lost our minds on this buffet and don’t you dare judge because you would have too, just trust me. We began revolving our days and activities around meal times- everything coming in second to loading up a plate with mashed potatoes and gravy. I’ve never cared so much about food in my life, like I’m pretty sure I had a dream about the rolls… And in the dream I saw Shawn as a Southerner… It wasn’t pretty.

This is an actual stock Grand Country Dining photo. You're welcome.

After leaving Branson we headed for Kansas and stayed our first night at a State Park (El Dorado). For a state park we were super impressed: clean enough bathrooms and camping right on the lake. I guess we were feeling really safe and lax because for the first time on the entire trip we decided not to lock everything we owned up (who are we kidding, I never lock anything ever- hence having two cars stolen with the keys in them... FOOL ME ONCE Kenna! Anyway, Shawn usually bolts the place up). There were few campers around us and we’d met our neighbors who were very sweet. So we left things out that turns out we'd come to regret! Shawn woke up first to get breakfast started and he said, “Kenna I think we got our pan and spatula stolen!”. At first I was thinking what a strange thing to steal, they must have been hard up for eggs or something… But when Birdie and I came back from the bathroom Shawn’s list had grown… It became like a scavenger hunt to find items. All in all, our cooler full of food (and our Ozark mountain jelly we never got to try and yes I’m really pissed about that one), 3 fishing polls (one of which was Birdie’s recent birthday present from Shawn), a chair and some cookware were taken. I’m sure they’d have taken the stove if it weren’t so loud to pack up. These thieves were ballsy as they stole stuff while we were sleeping in a tent with no rain guard in the middle of the camp. I’m kind of shocked I didn’t wake up since I’m such a light sleeper but in a way I’m glad I didn’t because I’m nuts and already know my whole fight or flight response and let’s just say “flight” isn’t in my wheel house (takes off gold hoops and walks towards thieves carrying cooler yelling, “AHHH HELLS NAH…”).

The only redeeming factor to getting our campsite robbed was that we got to experience the generosity of our neighbors (who also had a lantern and beer taken from their cooler) who came over and insisted we take a pan, spatula and a chair to replace ours. These people had next to nothing as they were actually living at the campground with their 3 kids for the summer to get back on their two feet. They were so bummed that on our first night in Kansas we’d had that experience. It was heartwarming to see strangers lend a helping hand and reminded us that there’s bad and good people everywhere.

We arrived at the KOA campground in Salina, Kansas for the KKOA car show (KOA for the KKOA- confusing, I know) on Friday the 24th of July. This campground was perfect, probably my favorite of the entire trip. If you’ve never camped a KOA- it’s a very different experience from a State or National Park. It’s a well-monitored campground, clean beyond clean (sometimes you feel like you’re not ‘truly camping’), and there are amenities like showers, laundry, parks, pool, rec room and more. This KOA was really fun because it was only 4 miles from the car show, hence it was a campground full of old cars- a mini car show in a way. We made friends right away as we were camping next to another family with kids. Birdie made a little camp bestie named Danielle who she longed to play with while stuck at the car show. One of the things I love most about camping is meeting people from all over who you’d never otherwise met. Getting to be social with total strangers is so freeing- that “blank slate” feeling is the best. They don’t know your baggage! No really, they have no clue. And you can kind of act normal for a couple days and fool the entire campground in to thinking you’ve got things together!

Birdie & Danielle
The KKOA car show was a huge turn out and a great show overall. It was fun to see 2,000+ cars that we hadn’t seen before. After going to West Coast Kustoms and Ventura Nationals for years, we’ve gotten used to seeing the same old cars (literally) and faces. The pro of that is that we have a little “crowd” we hang out with and so things like parking or packing lunch isn’t something we think about. It’s always just family style food, parking near friends, etc. Getting to the KKOA, we couldn’t have gotten in to an in-crowd if we tried. Not that people weren’t friendly, everyone seemed very sweet and welcoming- we just didn’t know many people… We did have a few “fans” from Shawn’s thread on the HAMB so that was fun to have people come up and chat us up who’ve followed our journey online... We love our fans!!! (I’ve always wanted to say that so just give it to me.)

This is my pick of the show- 58' Chevy Convertible called the Rag Doll. I love the clean look and super sweet interior!

One great thing about the car show was that it was next to a waterpark. Praise God for that water park because in 100+ degree heat, we were desperate for something to cool us down. As warned, the heat was insane. This whole “heat index” thing is terribly annoying! You’re looking at your weather app like, “HOW IS IT ONLY 97 FLIPPING DEGREES AND I’M THIS ANGRY?!” Well, add the humidity factor in to that 97 degrees and I’m not quite sure it could have actually gotten any hotter, like it appeared to me that we were physically melting... However that could have just been me.

I’ve had a few “rough days” on the trip where I’ve felt like if there was a bridge nearby I might decide to use it. Car Show, pre-water park I was having a bridge moment. The heat paired with the kids paired with the heat and kids… I was borderline crazy mommy. You know her right? Please tell me if you're a mom, you’ve been her at least once. If not, try a 7 week road trip with two kids in ungodly heat… You WILL discover your inner crazy mommy I promise you.

We had a great time at the water park and couldn’t believe it was only $4.00 each to get in… We mentioned this price to Kansas locals and they said when it first opened residents were furious at the prices! We got a good laugh out of that since a water park like that would be about $20.00 a head in California… The perks of the mid-west!

Another huge perk of the trip was that the wagon was entered in to a contest put on by a Kansas local hot rod & kustom photographer, RoyBoy Productions for a "People’s Choice" Young Blood Award that he gives out every year. The guidelines are you must be below age 35 and have a bitchin' old car. Shawn got news of it and entered us and we immediately hit up social media for votes. We had a good feeling about winning but were still beyond happy to hear our names announced at the Young Blood party on Saturday night at the Paramount Bar in Salina, KS. Travis, the owner or RoyBoy Productions, shared our entire story before calling Shawn up on stage to give him our $500 cash prize. People clapped. Shawn gave an acceptance speech giving yours truly a huge shout out. Women went wild. The people clapped some more. It was pretty awesome. For the first time in a long time I felt really proud of us, like we’d set out to do this crazy-ass trip and here we were 6 weeks later, almost done with it- winning $500 and pumping people up with our story about putting 11,000 miles on a 1959 Chevy wagon during the summer of 2015. It was kind of a surreal moment. Until the kids started pushing each other off of bar stools and then I realized our kids were sitting at a bar at 9pm at night and that's weird.

Shawn on the right, Travis from RoyBoy Productions in the middle and Gus on the left, winner of Travis's Favorite Car Pick.

There it is. You’re caught up. We spent today (Sunday, July 26th) at the car show and water park again and tonight we’re at a Best Western somewhere in Kansas living the high life. Our plan is just to “head west” and hope to see the ocean again in the next week.

xo road trip or die xo


Sunday, July 19, 2015

O'Briens Going For Broke... On Florida Theme Parks!

From CA - FL... That was the goal! To catch you up, we did our first route going from CA, NV, AZ, UT, CO, NA, IA to IL (using Chicago as our first stop so Shawn could go to Seminary for his Doctorate program)... And then headed downwards from IL to FL using IN, OH, KY, TN, NC, SC & GA. We took 26 days total to get to Florida for Disney World to celebrate Birdie's 4th birthday as the climax to this crazy adventure. 5 of those days being with friends near Chicago, 4 days with friends in Ohio, 4 more with friends in TN and the rest camping and a couple of motels... 

*If you're new to the blog, you can search "O'Briens Going for Broke" in the search bar for the other blog posts on our Summer 2015, 7 week cross-country road trip.

Birdie's thrilled to be in the Sunshine State!
Upon crossing the FL border we had a situation with the Florida state bird: the wasp. A 3" midnight black wasp entered in to the wagon through my window, first hitting my wrist, while driving on the highway. Let me tell you I'd have paid good money to have us on video trying to handle the removal of the wasp. First Cormac screamed, "There's a huge bee in the car!"... Then Birdie spotted it a few inches from her at the bottom of her window and began panicking... Then Shawn started yelling at the top of his lungs, "KILL IT! KILLLL IIIIIT!", which unfortunately I knew was directed at me. But I couldn't find anything to kill it with. All I had near me was Birdie's all-time favorite baby doll, and I couldn't bring myself to damage her image of sweet baby Coco. So I did what any almost 35 year old mother with a baby blanket would do. I sacrificed it. I grabbed it, jumped over the front seat in to the back and then attempted to smother the life out of that wasp. After a valiant 40 or so second smoother... I began to roll down the window, trying to kick the now suffocated wasp out of the car. AND WOULDN'T YOU KNOW IT THE DAMN THING WAS STILL ALIVE. 

Screaming ensued. Louder, more high pitched screaming. From all four humans. I clamped the blanket back down and went for round two. I pressed harder and Shawn began to roll down the back window while simultaneously driving so I could get it out... It was like all hands on deck at this point. It was pretty much life or death or at least that's how we handled it. We got the window down and I then took my blanket and let the entire thing fly out of the window like I was waving a flag. I did this for like 20 seconds to make sure the wasp was out. To ongoing cars we must have looked like a ship of fools. If only they knew we really were.

After the wasp was definitely out we rolled up the windows for a bit to ensure our safety. But it was like 95 and humid so that couldn't last for long. We prepared to roll them back down when Birdie started showing signs of PTSD, wasp edition. She would not let her window go down. So we baked a little more than normal to protect our poor daughter from her newfound fear of wasps.

Our first stop in Florida was Saint Augustine which is was awesome. We were able to get in to the castle for free because we bought a National Parks pass at the beginning of the trip... Turns out the castle at Saint Augustine is owned by the National Parks! Loved reading all of the history and looking out at the ocean... What a gorgeous place, totally want to go back some day.


After leaving Saint Augustine we headed to Daytona Beach which Shawn really wanted to see because of all of the car racing history. A few times on the trip we've answered locals questions about the car and upon learning about the road trip they've let us in to said tourist spot for free... This was one of those times! We cruised down the sand at Daytona Beach and the kids enjoyed time back at the beach.

In between Daytona and getting to Disney World we stayed at a friend's home an hour outside of Orlando. They had kids our exact kids ages and it was a great stop with two amazing home prepared meals! After tons of eating out we were so stoked on home cooked southern food!

A few days before getting to Disney World we got a call from a friend in Los Angeles saying he had a family connection to Disney World park hopper passes and that he'd like to put us in touch with them. Due to my slightly cynical nature I was thinking, "too good to be true", pretty much until it was true. A Disney dream come true is what it ended up being.

Initially we were planning to get to our Disney Resort and do one day at Magic Kingdom and the other two days lounging at the pool and eating free resort food. I was fully prepared to lie to my kids and tell them the pool area was a Disney water park. Heck, with that Mickey logo on the towels... They'd have bought it!

However, we were able to enjoy all four parks after meeting up with our friend's cousin who got us in for free! It was truly a once in a life time opportunity and we were totally those parents who reminded our kids multiple times a day, "You were only supposed to go to Magic Kingdom FOR ONE DAY... Do you understand how lucky you are?!"


One of my favorite parts of our Disney World experience was Cormac getting to take part in the Star Wars "Jedi Training" at Hollywood Studios. Because we weren't planning to go to this park we hadn't researched any of it. So imagine our surprise when we heard about this awesome little "academy" they put on for little Star Wars fans! However when we went to sign him up we realized we were in way over our head and that other parents had signed their kids up like um... months ago! So we were stuck with the "alternate" list and just kept showing up to every session until the last one when they called his name! He was truly beaming. He understood that he might not get in so when he did he was just beyond stoked. We loved watching him take part in something he is so in to... Plus the fact that it was really well done and kind of a hilarious show!

Birdie was fairly low-maintence for with her requests for what she wanted to do at Disney World, however she did know that there were a few rides she wanted nothing to do with, like the Dinosaur ride at Animal Kingdom... And after seeing Cormac's pale white face after getting off of the ride, I figured Birdie had done her research.

The one thing she was so in to was taking pics with Disney characters. Which you would think would be a simple task... Not so fast!! Somehow, and I truly blame Shawn... We waited in a line for AN HOUR under the assumption we were seeing the Ice Queens of Arendele only to get in to the castle and find Rapunzal and Cinderella. Whomp, whooomp... I mean with all do respect to these classic princesses who have earned the rhinestones in their tiaras... Just not exactly who we had in mind! "Where the hell are the Anna & Elsa?!" was pretty much the sentiment given by all four O'Briens. Cormac refused to take pics with either one and Birdie, well... I think the photos of her enthusiasm speak for themselves. 

After this fiasco let's just say we headed straight for the Frozen Summer Musical... We may have not gotten a photo with the Ice Queens but by golly we sang our hearts out with them!

Birdie really loved Mickey & Minnie and that Minnie gave her a kiss on both cheeks- she was star struck I think!
After leaving Disney World and the awesome Pop Century Resort, we headed to Gatorland (also in Orlando) which was super fun... We ate gator (not a huge fan), "wrestled gator" and saw so many gators I was seeing them in my sleep... Totally fun for kids and even adults. The thought of a two gators getting in a swamp fight kept my entertained for hours. Is that twisted?

Totally a real gator! Mouth was taped shut if that makes you think we're less stupid.

All in all Florida was a blast, hotter than I ever imagined but totally worth it, especially given the extra time at Disney World. Thank you to Amanda, Doug and Mike for the huge hookup... And our friend Sherman for putting it together!! We are forever grateful.

I'm going to be blogging more this week as my mother-in-law just joined us for a leg of the trip! Being as though my kids are so happy she's here they've forgotten who I am... I'll finally have some time on my hands to get some adventures up!!!

xo road trip or die xo

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

O'Briens Going For Broke... A Mini-Update From Florida!

Well the whole blogging two times a week thing... That was a novel idea. I mean I can't even believe I've managed to get three posts up. In order to actually get a post up it seriously has to be the perfect storm... And I don't mean thunderstorm. We have to have wifi, not be tired, not be visiting with friends we haven't seen in years, have a worth while topic or story... And did I mention not be tired and have wifi?

Right now we're in a Chick-Fil-A and wouldn't you know it we stumbled in here on flipping National Cow Appreciation Day. Lord help me. We were desperate for food and wifi and the only place around is having a freaking dress-like-a-cow contest? I mean normally I'd be moo'ing with the crowd for a free sandwich but this is not the day I wanted to stumble in to a group of heifers... Birdie on the other hand is thrilled and yelling, "Hey Cow, Hey!". The one thing we are thrilled about is the indoor play structure. Thank you God for the play structure!

Yesterday marked the beginning of our journey home and it's bittersweet as there are moments I miss having a schedule and knowing what day of the week we're on and what time zone we're in, and there are moments I can't imagine going back to that sort of structure.

Overall the trip has been going really well. No big car problems... Decent travel days, etc. Traveling the country I've learned so much it's unbelievable. I feel like every day is a new day in Merica 101. I'm not really the "learning type" but when you're stopping in places like St. Augustine, FL and reading about the history, touring old caves in Kentucky, camping in rural places like Hotter Than Hell, FL (or something close to that) and you have to figure out the weather for the day, decipher people's accents, look for fun things to entertain the family... It is seriously like taking one big class on America!

The kids have been swapping roles on who's going to be the "mellow" one for the day. First it was Birdie and Cormac was freaking out... Then Birdie started the screaming thing I talked about in the last blog and Cormac chilled out. It's a toss up on who's going to have a "well-behaved day" because they both have great days and bad days- and never each at the same time... Which is like a blessing and a curse in one. Birdie and I had a heart-to-heart the other day where she told me she was ready to not be on the road and go home and sleep in her bed. She was fighting back tears and it actually kind of killed me. But then we got to a friend's house who had an 8 year old girl who wanted to adopt her and all was right with the world again and Birdie was just as happy in Aubrey's bed as she'd have been in her own... It's like forced flexibility and it's either going to make them amazing with changes or hate us for the rest of their lives and chalk every problem up to the summer of 2015 with no AC and way too much car time... It's a toss up!

I'm going to try and blog a couple of funny stories and lots of photos from Disney World and Gatorland (the wifi I'm on will not allow me to upload photos!) in the next few days but I wanted to get something up while I had the chance and let you know we're still going... On Day 33! This is our last day in Florida, we spent the day at Pensacola Beach and I got burnt as heck... So I've decided the only thing worse than 100 degrees and humid is 100 degrees, humid and sun burnt. We head to New Orleans tomorrow and then up to Missouri and then on to Kansas for a car show we're in... Stay tuned!


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