How we spent our summer vacation

Last week we -- being Chris, the girls and I; Amy; and Chris's parents -- set out for Chicago and its suburbs to attend a reunion of Claudia's family, the Podgornys. Chris was born in Hammond, Indiana, just south of Chicago, and lived there until he was about seven. He described the region -- in fact, people call it "The Region" -- as the "Industrial Armpit of the Midwest." Both of his grandfathers and many other assorted family members worked for the steel mills (one worked in the Cook County jail and once turned the key on Capone). There was a great deal of nostalgia about this trip -- eating at White Castle, getting Green Rivers at Schoop's; driving past the spot on well-traveled Calumet Avenue where Chris, then three, fell out of the car and narrowly avoided being killed. We saw his and Amy's elementary school, and the Dairy Bee where they got ice cream, and the cute little house where they grew up.

We stayed with Claudia's cousin, Kathy, and her husband Don, who live on a farm in Lowell, Indiana. The farm was the opposite of industrial; it was quite lovely. It had all kinds of trees, and a pond, and big pastures where their horses, Beau and Skip, grazed. Kathy's grandchildren, Sophie (8) and Alex (5), were there, and my girls had a wonderful time climbing trees and swinging on willow branches and catching fireflies with them. Phoebe loved riding Skip the horse; Mallory, not so much, but she did help with grooming.

Both of them loved Teddy, the Wire Fox Terrier. He was a very good dog, the kind of dog that makes me want another dog (but only if it would be as well-behaved as he was).

Our first day there, we went to the Indiana Dunes, off the shores of Lake Michigan. "It's just like the beach!" we were told, so the last thing we Atlantic-coast dwellers expected when we got there was a really long hike prefaced by this foreboding sign:

Strenuous doesn't begin to describe it; by the time we reached the top of the dune, we were all about to pass out. This is the view from the other side; it doesn't begin to do justice to how steep it was.

The Dunes also featured this lovely view:

The sand was gritty and really hot, and there was about two feet of really sharp pebbles right before you got to the water. And the water was freezing.

In spite of these troubles, the kids had fun. Mallory swam all over the place in spite of the temperatures:

The next day was the reunion. We got all dressed up and went to a banquet hall in Hegewisch, a neighborhood of Chicago. (Incidentally -- I don't know how anyone knows where they are in The Region. It's just a string of endlessly changing townships and suburbs. St John, Cedar Lake, Munster, Lansing, Highland, Hammond, Griffith -- every two blocks you were in a different place. Hegewisch is where Claudia's mom grew up; the story goes that Hegewisch girls were so beautiful that the conductor of the South Shore Line called out "Hollywood!" when the train reached Hegewisch station.)

Here we are reuniting with family members! Kind of.

I bought fancy shoes for both of the girls; both pairs were discarded within the first hour. Luckily I had the foresight to bring along some flip flops for them. They looked nice anyway:

Mallory got to hold newborn Mia, her third or fourth cousin. This was probably the highlight of the trip for my baby-loving girl:

Music was provided by a real-life polka band. Phoebe danced the polka with Auntie Mimi:

The next day we hit the big city! I'll tell you about it later.


Travel Tips

If, at the end of last summer's road trip, you put away the cables to the portable DVD player in a spot that you think that you'll remember before next summer's road trip...you will be wrong.

If you tell your 6-year-old to pack six changes of clothes, she will pack 6 skirts and 6 shirts...none of which match.

If you tell your 9-year-old to pack six changes of clothes, she will ask you why a million times, and then not do it.

If you're excited about visiting Chicago, but dreading the 13-hour drive...you're only human.

If you hope to have lots of good pictures and stories to tell upon your return...you're a blogger.

Catch you next week.


Growing Up

Today I had Mallory try on the sundress I got her to wear at our upcoming family reunion. "It looks good," I said as she examined herself in the mirror.

"It's kind of grown-up looking," she said. "It's sleeveless." Then she raised up her arms and examined her armpits. "I just hope I don't start puberty before the reunion, because that wouldn't be pretty."



Phoebe is six today -- six on the 6th, so it's her "golden birthday," and it's also the first birthday that falls on the same day of the week on which she was born. (Like me, she's a Wednesday child -- full of woe.)

"Good-bye, Five, I'm sorry to leave you," she said last night before bed.

I'm sorry to leave Five too. Five was a good year for Phoebe. She did big kid things -- started school, started Girl Scouts, learned to read, made a new best friend (MEGAN! -- always said like that, in caps with an exclamation point). But she was still little -- loves to snuggle, can't sit still for more than a minute, says "bekfrast" and "callerpitter," sings and dances for us without being self-conscious. And she's still full of giggles and jokes and still a clothes diva and loves dolls and Spongebob and, somehow, usually manages to get her own way by turning on the tears.

I will miss Five. But as Phoebe also said last night, "And now presenting...Six!" If anyone can make Six sparkle, it's my baby girl.