The Start of My Bucket List

My kids and I @ Hershey World; one of our stops on the trip.
My kids and I @ Hershey World; one of our stops on the trip.

The Journey Begins...

I turned 50 this past November and realized that I have spent most of my life on this beautiful Earth putting my own needs and desires on the back burner and attending to everyone else's wishes. This list of people of whom I have attended to all rightly deserved my time and care; don't get me wrong. However, the past five years or so have brought up questions in my mind about my own mortality and the amount of time I may have on this planet to enjoy my future. I have not been diagnosed with anything life threatening (unless you include my problem with obesity) but have helplessly watched loved ones; both family and friends, become sick and /or sadly pass well before what I considered to be their "time".

Turning 50 for me was like having a large boot kick me in the head. I have enjoyed many aspects of my aging. I remember well my youth, young adult and early mothering years. All wonderful memories that I shall hold dear forever. The problem with my aging has been allowing myself to accept whatever is thrown my way as definitive. I have accepted all altercations, pain and situations that bring me great discomfort to be acceptable and unchangeable. At times I have felt like the Sad Sack (for the older crowd, you will know of whom I am referring to) of society. My friends describe me as a magnet that attracts negative elements. Those oppressed, controversy and situations that suck the energy out of me often find a way to control my thoughts and decisions. I often can't help but curse parts of my religious upbringing for brainwashing me to put others first and myself last. I bought into it all. I truly believed that if I spent all my time helping others and putting my own needs last or as nonexistent, then I would reap the benefits later on in life. Unfortunately, I have become tired, neurotic, bitter and unhappy waiting for a glimpse of that promised land. I enjoy doing for others and experiencing the joy that I receive from my actions. I do believe that my purpose here on Earth is to help others. What I haven't enjoyed is the fact that my dreams and longings never were recognized and I am growing older and sadder by not acting upon those thoughts.

So, I decided that I was going to change that in June 2012. Even though I couldn't afford a trip, I planned one with my children. My son who is set to graduate from high school next year and my daughter who is in 7th grade accompanied me on my first journey toward completing my lifelong dream of traveling. I decided to travel using my Suburban instead of flying. I assumed it would be more cost efficient and conducive to stopping where ever it looked interesting. I also hoped that this time together would bring my children and I closer to each other. I know. Big wish. My son, who is pleasant by nature but very much a loner would be challenged by all of this togetherness. My daughter who is the oil to my water is at a transition in her life where she hates me for 90% of the day and loves me for 10%. She would present the true challenge. It was a challenge I was ready to take however; for all of us...but mostly me.

Impressive statue outside of Cabela's
Impressive statue outside of Cabela's

The First Unplanned Stop!

Packing for the trip wasn't that difficult. After fighting with my kids about what clothing to bring and packing up bags of snacks, a cooler with pop and water and another cooler filled with meat, cheese, yogurt, fruits and veggies, we waved goodbye to my significant other (he stayed behind to watch the 3 dogs, 2 cats, 2 birds, 2 crabs and 2 fish tanks) and set on our way.

I had typed up a 40 some page itinerary that included the sights we HAD to see, directions using Map-quest, maps, helpful driving hints and approximate times for arrival. I explained to the kids that we could be somewhat flexible on our trip and add items to the itinerary as we saw them. The end goal was to go out to Massachusetts to see the MIT campus for my son and add a bunch of extra activities that would begin eliminating options from my bucket list. At first my son lamented over the thick folder holding my carefully chosen information. He questioned my pacing of the trip (Tuesday to Wednesday the following week) and all I wanted to see. He wondered if he would be able to enjoy it all if I was driving the three of us to move along at such a quick pace. He had some good points but I discounted them, imploring him to "go with the flow" and to allow his mother to provide he and his sister with an enriching trip.

As we drove toward Ohio, we decided to stop at Cabela's. This is a huge sporting store that houses more than you knew existed or ever wanted to know about when it comes to sporting, hunting and all things outdoors. It is very impressive and has many "stuffed" animals that are put together in wildlife scenarios to depict the living conditions and behaviors of wild animals.

The kids really wanted to stop here, so we did! I got so many unique and great photo shots here of the kids and the scenery. Good choice kids!

One of the bison that wanted more food!  They loved to slime the windows!
One of the bison that wanted more food! They loved to slime the windows!

On the Road ... Again

Our first "official" stop was in Ohio (we are from Michigan) to see a Wildlife Safari where animals come up to the car. This was something I have wanted to do since I was a child. An avid animal lover, I dreamed of having giraffe, lions and zebra approach me and allow me to feed and pet them.

Well, this safari had giraffe and zebras gated off for viewing only and no lions, but it did have a multitude of bison, deer, moose, alpacas, llamas and other hoofed animals that bombarded the vehicle in hopes of a tasty morsel. Not quite the safari I had anticipated but the joy and laughter coming from my daughter the entire time was so elating to me, I loved the entire experience! She is quite the animal lover herself and her oohs and ahhs made the experience very fulfilling to me. Mark one off the bucket list!

Beautiful!
Beautiful!

Beautiful Niagara Falls

Our second stop was Buffalo, New York. My children and I had seen the Niagara Falls from the Canadian side years ago but never from the American side. We arrived in Buffalo in the evening and found it to be a very industrial area; not much to see but factories and machinery. We were a bit nervous about staying here but arrived at an Econo-Lodge situated about 15 minutes from the falls. The lodge was very clean, beds very comfortable and the atmosphere in general very welcoming and pleasant. Our first night in, we stayed in the room and slept. The following day, we drove to the Niagara State Park and paid our $10 for the all day parking and then proceeded to have an experience that we won't forget! Riding the Maid of the Mist.

The boat ride was incredible. We got so close to the falls that there was a period of time where no one could see a thing as we were blinded by the mist coming off of the falls. Luckily, we were given ponchos to wear as we loaded the boat, as we got drenched! It was elating, beautiful and so much fun! My daughter laughed the entire time and my son and I were rocked around the boat trying to take pictures as we clung to each other smiling and giggling. I could feel my soul and mind being washed and refreshed! All three of us were beaming with joy when the boat docked and we exited toward the viewing tower.

The beauty of the area leaves one without words. Across the water, we could see the skyline of the Canadian side. We were right next to the Horseshoe Falls and the view was incredible. We stayed and admired the beauty of this power of nature for over an hour before heading into the park to see other sites while riding on the trolley. We stopped at the small, Niagara aquarium that housed some playful seals, some large fish tanks and a group of penguins. We continued on the trolley and saw parts of the area that would allow you to walk behind the falls or to get closer to them if chosen. Considering how wet we became on the boat ride, we decided to pass on those adventures!

After touring the park area (which is huge), we ate at the Hard Rock Cafe, saw a couple of the museums and shops (all very expensive and small, not taking much time to go through) and then we went back to the lodge to rest before we ventured out to the falls in the evening to see them lit up with color.

I felt pretty exhausted. My son just took driver's training and I allowed him to drive the day/night before through Cleveland's rush hour (the horror of this experience can only be summed up with two words: Never again!) and then into Buffalo. My nerves were pinched in areas that I didn't recognize before and from the walking all day, I felt as if I hadn't slept in days. I lay down onto the bed and was awakened by my kids around 10:00 PM. We drove to the falls and took in the beauty of Canada and New York at the Falls in the evening hours.

momma and baby Humpback whales; with baby getting ready to dive
momma and baby Humpback whales; with baby getting ready to dive

Massachusetts, Here We Come!

I wanted to visit the Boston area for many reasons. The first being MIT, the school my son has spoken of since he was a little boy. I wanted him to be able to see some of the campus. The second was Harvard. He had spoken of this college as well and since they were so close to each other in proximity, I wanted him to be able to visualize the similarities and differences.

I wanted to visit Boston to go whale watching. Number three on my bucket list. I looked forward to watching whales jump out of the water and show their flukes off.

I planned on visiting the Harvard and MIT museums, the New England Aquarium, whale watching, Plimouth Plantation, The Cheesecake Factory (my kids had never been to one and the one in Chicago is my favorite!), The Melting Pot ( none of us had been and I kept hearing wonderful things about this restaurant) and just taking in the area over all.

Driving from New York near Buffalo to the coast, I found the traffic was pretty good. The shock I received was the cost of parking and toll booths from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts and back. I am not exaggerating when I say I spent $22.00 in toll booths on the way to the coast and spent $25.00 on the way back. Parking in the Boston area was a nightmare. Most parking garages charged $35.00 for 4 hours or more. I spent $70.00 in two days of Boston for parking garages alone. Not to mention the other $30.00 I spent at meters (they all take credit cards) and parking in lots around the city. I do know that there is a subway system in Boston but with our only being there for basically two days and wanting to drive from one part to another, I didn't feel confident enough to try to manage arrival/departure times to keep us on schedule. Pennsylvania is a huge state too and most of my driving was done here. Luckily, Pennsylvania is also a very beautiful state with high mountains cascading around the horizon of the state and filled with forests. I had no idea that there was this much uncultivated land in this state and I enjoyed the scenery very much.

As before, we slept the first night in a very comfortable Hampton Inn in Billerica which provided quick access to the highway. Driving in Boston is car to car but I didn't find anyone to be rude and in fact, drivers let you maneuver from lane to lane without question. I found the community of Boston to be very pleasant and I only encountered one traffic jam that had us at a stand still. I did not enjoy driving Boston at night for I got lost multiple times; even using my navigational system on my cell phone. All the streets looked the same to me. One street would turn into another without warning and it was confusing. One night, I had driven almost an hour out of my way because surprisingly, I couldn't receive any Wifi in the city at various points and the navigation system stopped working. I will blame my cell phone company for that as I never get good service.

We accomplished all we set out to do in MA except for the plantation. We arrived right before it was to close. We did however, shop at the gift shop and then saw the sights of the city of Plymouth. We even got to see the Mayflower II and the Plymouth Rock. I never knew that the Native Americans treat the original day of Thanksgiving as a day of sorrow because of the genocide and mistreatment of their population. This is all presented by structures and plaques around the city of Plymouth. Thanksgiving will not be celebrated as a premise of the New World for me anymore. It will solely be a day of celebration of being with family. I loved Plymouth, as did my kids. Not only did we learn a lot of history, we found it to be a beautiful, quaint, little town.

My son loved MIT's campus and we loved all of the structures erected on campus. Harvard seemed to be more situated in the city among businesses but then again, we didn't visit the campus area.

Whale watching proved to be more than I had anticipated with seeing not one but four whales and a calf with its mother. They provided quite the show for us. The NE Aquarium was incredible and filled much of our afternoon.

The MIT and Harvard museums were excellent. Both featured different items and all of it was extremely well done and very interesting. When we left MA and headed to New Jersey, we decided that we would have to return to the Boston area soon and explore all of the things that we didn't have a chance to see. I purchased the Boston Go-Card which would have allowed us to see over 55 sights (or more) without paying the extra fee that was required of everything (Boston is a very expensive city to visit). We saved money with the card just visiting the few things that we had. We can't wait to go back!

What a glorious face!
What a glorious face!

Lady Liberty and Ellis Island

I had read online that seeing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from the New Jersey side would have me dealing with smaller lines and less wait time. I am so glad that I listened to the woman that wrote this. While we had to drive through New York (we got in one traffic jam in the Bronx) to get there, we literally parked in the lot ($7.00) and walked a short while to security where we went through metal detectors, went right onto the boat and were on our way.

We stopped at Ellis Island first, although the Lady could be seen during the ride. The sky line of New York, New York was visible as well and beautiful. The new tower was being built to replace the Twin Towers and it was inspiring to see.

Ellis Island is very different from what I have seen in the movies. I imagined books lying around and people scouring through them to find past relatives. Everything is computerized now and it costs $7.00 to get 1/2 hour on a computer to search for your ancestor(s). I wanted to look for my Grandpa Joe who was the only relative I knew of that had left Poland and come to America on a boat. I found two men that could have been him but could only print off one piece of literature. I printed off the name of the boat, year and the city he came from which I plan on comparing with the notes my father had given me years ago before he passed. I also received a ticket that would allow me to access further information about my grandfather if I wanted to. This made our visit to Ellis Island worthwhile.

I can't describe how I felt about seeing the Statue of Liberty. This has been a lifelong dream of mine. I got pictures of her from every angle. She is simply beautiful. Always under some type of construction, no one was allowed to enter the statue. This had to be one of the most exciting parts of my trip.

Silly mom showing off her candy bar package!
Silly mom showing off her candy bar package!

A Glitch made Sweeter!

That night, after seeing Ellis Island and Lady Liberty, the kids and I drove to Dillsburg, PA to stay in a motel that I had prepaid for. This was the only real glitch of our trip. We didn't arrive until after midnight and since my son couldn't take my screaming "BRAKE" constantly while he was driving in busy traffic, he opted to have me drive the rest of the trip (hee hee) so I was really struggling to stay awake at this point.

We drove up to what looked like a "hooker" motel. The kind you see in movies where police find people having illegal drug exchanges, sex or holding hostages. The photos on the website made this motel out to look like a simple, decent place; which is why I booked it. From the look of the stained linens and curtains and a decor that hadn't been redone since the late 70's, I shuddered thinking of who and what had taken place in the room.

I physically could not drive any more. I promised the kids that even if I couldn't get a refund for the following night (I couldn't) we would just sleep there the one night and leave (which we did). We visited Hershey World the next day, made our own candy bars, saw a lot of neat things and then retired in a Hampton nearby. All was good again!

one of the beautiful contrasts of Pittsburgh
one of the beautiful contrasts of Pittsburgh

Pittsburg Stole My Heart!

We had accomplished practically everything that I had planned for the three of us in one week. Due to the length of time it would take to drive from Hershey to home, I planned a stop in Pittsburgh, PA to spend the night. We were all pretty tired and very content with how the trip had gone so far. The kids were leery about going to another hotel (this time I chose a Super 8) in Pennsylvania because of the motel experience but I assured them that their mother, having been put on driving duty for the rest of the trip, NEEDED to stop so that we could all safely arrive home the following day.

When we arrived, we were first put in a non-smoking room that wreaked of cigarette smoke. After calling and complaining, we were put in a different room that had a faint odor but one that didn't make us feel sick. Apparently, this particular hotel used to be all smoking and they switched to non-smoking. From the smell of the first room, it is apparent that the smell lingers for a very long time. Years beyond the last cigarettes!

We set out to explore Pittsburgh and were pleasantly surprised to find what a neat and interesting city it is. I absolutely loved Pittsburgh! From the mountainous backdrop, to the unique architecture to the various bridges that cross the waters; I loved how the old buildings and the new, modern structures fit so beautifully together. I was mesmerized by the look of this city alone.

We visited some of the shopping areas, all got crab and lobster at Joe's Crab Shack and maneuvered through a city that while busy, was very easy to navigate. My daughter found a bookstore that sold her Manga books for under $3.00 each (normally costing $8-10 each) and was in heaven. People constantly walked the entire city and there was never an area that didn't provide us with something to do.

We visited the Science Museum there and found it to be fantastic! Very easy to understand yet full of challenging and interesting, hands-on activities. This was a city that we wished we were staying in longer as well. Before leaving for home the next morning, we drove around the city so I could take pictures of the contrasting architecture. This city stole my heart!

The End of the Beginning

We may have ended our trip but it is just the beginning for me. I feel fulfilled in a way that I haven't felt in such a long time. I bonded with both of my children on a level that I used to when they were much younger. I felt close to them again. I got to know them better. My daughter and I laughed together throughout this trip and while we did have a few verbal skirmishes as a group, we quickly resolved them and enjoyed each other's company. This would have to be the first true check on my bucket list: Getting to know my kids again.

The rest of the checks go to:

1. A car safari

2. Niagara Falls from New York

3. Whale Watching and sight seeing in Boston

4. Seeing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

5. Hershey, PA

6. Pittsburgh, PA

This trip has taught me that if I keep waiting until I have the finances to do something, I will never do it! Instead of flying, I drove. Instead of eating out for every meal, I packed food. Instead of buying lots of souvenirs, I purchased magnets to commemorate each place we visited. Instead of waiting until my children were older to establish an "adult-like" relationship with them, I took the plunge and initiated it earlier and love them even more!

No longer will I let experiences pass me by. I will accept more invitations. I will seek out ways to make life more fulfilling. I will live.

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