Thursday, February 12, 2009


Isn't this the way of All Things Cosmic? Shortly after I posted "Family Planning (no, not that kind)" I heard from Lisa Tawn Bergren, one of the founders of Due to the infiltration of some bad guys, their forms for submissions are presently out of commission. However, the site is fully operating and she's standing by, eager to hear from you, so ... I'll let Lisa tell you how you can submit.

"We'd love to hear about your family's travels! To submit a report and encourage others to travel in a multi-generational sort of way, just send a Word document to, along with a few pictures that document the trip (please note: our form to submit is currently disconnected, so please submit it this way). You might end up on our front page for March's update!"

--Lisa Tawn Bergren,

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Family Planning (no, not that kind)

Back when my youngest son was a toddler (he's now 38, so we're truly talking "back when"), our little family of four drove from Chicago to New Mexico to visit my parents and do a little skiing. Even after all these years, here's a few "highlights" I remember about that trip:

  • Our diaper-wearing toddler experiencing "stomach distress" on the drive out there, back before the days of "family changing tables" in every public restroom. As I recall, he--all of us, including the car--needed a bath by the time it was over, not just a diaper and clothing change.
  • How good it was to laugh and share with my folks; how glad they were to see us.
  • The pristine beauty of the ski slopes.
  • The hospital where they put the cast on my leg.
  • Watching my husband pack the car--ski equipment, suitcases and our oldest son--for the drive home without me. There was no way I could endure the trip.
  • Sitting in the bulkhead seat, battered leg extended in front of me, toddler trying to slide down my cast, PAIN, and the utter lack of help anyone (flight staff or seatmates) were willing to extend.
FACTOID: a toddler and a straight, casted leg do not both handily (or unhandily) fit in the lavatories in airplanes. Unless you've experienced this contortion, you can only imagine .... But don't. It will give you a headache.

My, how things have changed for family travelers. (Not including airline lavatories.) Sure, toddlers still get stomach distress in inconvenient places, and so do we. But these days, there are so many family-friendly resources--right down to those handy-dandy changing tables. Now, I marvel as I watch that same son disappear into the men's room with his daughter, who needs a diaper change, and think, HURRAY for PROGRESS! (Take that any way you like.)

If you travel with family (and even if you don't), check out this truly unique resource with an interesting concept: Not only do the seasoned traveler founders of the site (the Shonts and the Bergrens) offer superb and detailed first-person experience as it relates to their own family travels--complete with pictures, tips and a few warnings--but they also collect first-hand information from families who've ventured to all kinds of places (Petra, Nevis, Dracula's Castle to name a few), and from those who live in those places.

Opening words on their "About Us" page: "We’re the Bergrens and the Shonts's, friends who dared to venture to Italy together and returned home better friends than ever (a feat in itself!). Our trip in Fall 2005 from Rome to Venice was fabulous, and only whet our appetite to travel more—and show our kids what it means to be a global citizen."

WORTH A REWIND OF A REREAD: " our kids what it means to be a global citizen." Now that, dear reader, is a worthy goal in and of itself!

Examples of helpful family hints in the travellogs [sic] section:

HOW TO HELP GROW THE NEW SITE: The Trip Advice page accepts shorter input from readers such as, "Share Knowledge. Think: Recommendations ('Do this!') & Warnings ('Avoid this...') Post as many as you would like." There's even a place to tell out-of-town visitors what they might want to do when they visit your home turf. invites you to send "postcards" from the best day of your trip and, like I said, to upload full-fledged family travellogs [sic]. Those posted are always well thought out and interesting (hint-hint); I haven't yawned once during a read. The folks running the site then vet and organize them.

Real people helping real people. Seems especially important when traveling with your family, and much more reliable than some of the come-hither information contained in glitzy brochures and souped-up travel sites that make everything appear so remarkable. Yes, I know, I KNOW that brochures and websites can also be highly spot-on and helpful, but when you're taking your munchkins along, you want to make sure.

So, you submit, the site organizes and grows, and we all read and benefit. You read before you travel, and maybe not only find a few out-of-the-way and uncommon gems, but you save yourself some headaches.

As they say, it's all good.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Toot-Tooting Down Memory-laden Tracks

In the midst of a way too busy schedule, yesterday I decided to take time out for lunch with a friend. Sometimes I just need to air out the old brain so that I can return to the heavy work load in my office with a sense of refreshment. You know, change the scenery, think about something for an hour or so that doesn’t relate to my own “issues,” deadlines and why-is-everything-so-last-minute?! frustrations. I find when I don’t do this, I end up spinning my wheels and getting cranky. Very cranky.

My friend and I decided to meet at a nearby and relatively new restaurant, one that delivers the food to your table (or seat at the counter, where most of the eating takes place) via Lionel electric trains. Decades ago, there used to be a little independent café in a neighboring town with this same unique attraction. I remember going there as a kid, watching, waiting for that little train laden with my burger and fries to make it’s way out of the kitchen, down the counter, until it chugged to a stop right in front of me.

Upon entering the 2Toots Train Whistle Grill, I was happy to see the same type of setup. After I got seated, I couldn’t help but watch the anticipatory eyes of the little boy seated between his grandparents on the other side of the loop. It was like catching a glimpse at what my excitement must have looked like way back when.

Here’s how the food delivery works: the flat bed train car containing say your hand-pattied burger (their specialty), tuna salad, or egg salad sandwich, stops in front of you. (video here, but for the Downers Grove location, not the Glen Ellyn location which we frequented.) Then your waitress “unloads” your order (all meals come in a plastic basket, aside from my soup, which did not arrive via train) and asks if you’d like anything else. Occasionally someone blows what sounds like a train whistle mounted on the wall; occasionally one of the children orders the Train Whistle Cupcake that comes with a plastic train whistle on top, and of course the first thing they do is to toot-toot away too. If that isn’t enough ambiance, the theme restaurant in Glen Ellyn is located right next to real train tracks, and you can actually feel the building vibrate when a train goes by—total-package effects better than any 3-D movie.

Although the food and the company were good, what I especially enjoyed about my brain break was the trip down memory lane. For much of the lunch, we chatted about our own railroad recollections, including those of the restaurant from our past. But mostly we talked about real train rides. In fact, our dining adventure is still igniting memories, including annual childhood trips (then those with my own children) on the local Metra to “downtown Chicago” to ogle the Christmas windows in what used to be the grand old Marshall Fields, but which is now a Macy’s which, in my opinion, lost its lure during the switchover.

My husband, soon to turn 70, owns several train posters he sent away for as a youth. I keep telling him he should go to one of the monthly Great Midwest Train Show gatherings right here in our county (billed as “The World’s Largest Monthly Train Show”) and show them off, see who else might own them, swap a few yesteryear stories. One poster is from the Monon, a railroad both my grandfather and uncle worked for. I just Googled “Monon train” and wow, the memories those results evoked! I learned there’s even a book called Monon: The Hoosier Line. That’s the one my relatives, who lived in Lafayette, worked for! I am this close to clicking the “buy” button.

I remember my cousins riding the Monon from Lafayette. We’d pick them up in Chicago and go straight to Riverview. I recall taking what I believe (could be wrong here) was the California Zephyr--all the way to California to visit another cousin. I was in high school, and oh, the array of young service men riding the train on that particular Christmas break! Be still my beating heart!

George and I once traveled from Chicago to Albuquerque with our two young sons. During my very short college days at SIU, I can still remember the exhaustion I felt after taking what we referred to as the cattle run from here to Southern Illinois. I think it took 8 hours—when things went well—and stopped at at least a bazillion stations.

Then there was my brother’s Lionel; the train I rode from Thirsk to York to celebrate my 50th birthday trip to England; the entertaining and champagne swilling stream train ride on the Grand Canyon Railway wherein the bad guys rode up next to our steam engine powered train on horseback and “robbed” those of us who paid to experience the reenactment; that little train at Kiddieland I rode as a child, then later stood waving at my own children in it when they passed by…. I even learned about a brand new steam engine (who knew?!) while a-Googling, chasing first one rail trail, then the next, each memory launching me into a new one. Plus, check out this cool site that enables you to find all the surviving steam locomotives in the whole USA!

All this spawned by a lunch break to air out my brain.

I highly recommend you stop what you’re doing and schedule a brain break for yourself. Who knows what mind’s-ride journey you might embark upon.

If this post triggered a train-riding memory for you, rather than email me privately, please share it publically here under COMMENTS. A memory shared helps multiply memories for its readers, and the next thing you know, even in the midst of our otherwise overbooked schedules, we’ll all be traveling—chug-chug, toot-tooting along--to our happy places, even if we don’t have those cute little plastic whistles in our mouths.