The Rockwood Files: A Vacation Unicorn

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It happened – the rarest of family vacation experiences. It has never happened before and may never happen again, which is why I must document it here for the sake of posterity and to give parents everywhere hope that it’s possible.

On our recent trip to Minneapolis, Tom and I took our three kids to the amusement park he’d visited as a child – Valley Fair.  We arrived before the gates opened and hoped the morning rain shower wouldn’t wash out our plans.

We debated about buying “fast passes” for the kids. These passes allow you to stand in shorter lines for rides, which means you spend more of the day riding and less of it standing around sweating. But fast passes are also a fast way to empty your wallet, costing $150 for three kids. We decided to take our chances without the fast passes and hope for the best.

On our first ride, not only did we not have to wait in line, we were the only people on it. I pretended we were VIPs who’d bought out the entire park so as not to be bothered by the paparazzi. The ride was amazing, and we scampered off to the next and the next. By then, the clouds had parted and the sun was peeking through. The temperature was a perfect 82 degrees without an ounce of humidity.

But the most remarkable part was that we never waited in line – ever. Anyone who has been to an amusement park knows just how rare that is. It’s the unicorn of all vacation experiences. You dream of it, hope for it, but you know deep down it’s not going to happen.

unicornAnd yet  it did.

We kept expecting it to end. Surely the crushing crowds would come. They’d catch wind of our good fortune and show up to spoil it. But they didn’t. We meandered through the park, walking on to each ride. We even rode the park’s largest roller coaster two times in a row simply because we could.

By 2 p.m., we’d criss-crossed the park and been on every ride we wanted. We decided to break for lunch, and that’s where the story takes a turn back toward reality. In our haste to get to the park early, we’d neglected to pack a picnic lunch to eat outside the gates.

Luckily, we spotted a Subway inside the park. We’d been burned by other amusement parks in the past, who charged penthouse prices for what turned out to be inedible chicken fingers. At least at Subway, we’d know what to order and what to expect.

As we’d hoped, the food was good, but we paid $75 for it. Keep in mind that only covered sandwiches for five people who shared one bag of chips and one bottle of water. We took comfort in the fact that we’d skipped buying those fast passes, so we were still coming out ahead.

We finished the day with a visit to the adjoining water park, where we slid and splashed to our heart’s content. The people-watching was fabulous, too, although we still haven’t recovered from a few of the R-rated bathing suit choices we witnessed along with some inexplicable tattoo designs. They were the proverbial train wreck you don’t want to see yet can’t look away from.

It was a small price to pay, however, for what will go down in family history as that time we went to an amusement park, walked on to every ride with no waiting, never felt crowded, ate decent food and enjoyed perfect weather.

Vacation dreams really do come true.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Alone: A Fairytale

By Jen Adair, Blogger at Slightly Tilted, Entreprenuer, Homeschool Mom to two fab kiddos

The girl planned her escape carefully,  considering what to take and what to leave.

She would wear her yoga pants and an exercise tank with a long T-shirt covering her butt. If she was going to do this, she wanted to be comfortable.

kindle readerShe would take her Kindle and her Bible and her computer. She’d need her lip balm and her flip flops. Who knew when she’d be back?

She would miss them. She laughed. Would she? They’d call her. Multiple times. They’d beg her to come home. But she wouldn’t.

She made a list of the things they needed to do that they would end up forgetting to do and that she’d end up having to do anyway. She had made dinner. Fresh pjs had been laid out on the beds.

They would be able to make it without her. For a little while.

She went over everything again, just to make sure. She texted all the other moms to make sure they all had her hubby’s number. There would be playdates later, and she was not going to coordinate any of them.

She called her parents, just to hear their voice one more time and get reassurance that what she was doing was okay.

Her hubby texted. He was almost home. Did she need anything? Oh, yes. She needed a lot. She had a list of all the things she needed. Things he would never be able to find no matter how hard he supposedly looked.

He pulled in the drive 10 minutes later. She went out to meet him. He was surprised. This can’t be a full conversation, she reminded herself. This needed to be a shock-and-awe campaign to be successful.

“Hey, honey…what’s up?” he asked.

“Dinner has been made. Pjs are on the bed. I am going to the grocery store. By myself. The kids are all yours. I’m not coming home until they are in bed. I will need photographic proof of this before I return.”

“Ok…love you?” he said, confused.

“Love you, too. A lot. But I have to do this. Good luck.”

She climbed in the car and threw her bag in the backseat. She backed out of the driveway.

She turned on her music. Full blast.

She smiled. She laughed.

whatever she wantedShe could go to the store and get all the things she needed. By herself. She had time to do whatever she wanted.

Whatever. She. Wanted.

She made up her mind right then and there. She was stopping at Sonic to get an iced tea or a diet Coke.

The possibilities were endless.

**This mom fairytale was based on a true life event. Names and details have been deleted to protect the mother who is concerned an insane wave of jealousy will cause complete strangers to hate her for getting time to herself.

jen adair3Hey. I’m Jen Adair. I’m an entrepreneur. Homeschool mom. CEO of organized chaos. Ok – it’s really not all that organized. Some days are great, some are not, some days I feel invincible, some days I can barely get out of bed. BUT…it’s my life and I’m living it. Browse my collection of random thoughts, humor (well, I think I’m funny!), images, links, whatever…at my blog Slightly Tilted. Sharing is caring, people! :)

The Rockwood Files: 5 steps for getting your way

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Whether you’re forty-something or only 4, we all want our own way. Toddlers are especially insistent about getting their own way which is why you’ll often see one out in public having a meltdown when things haven’t gone well.

As we get older, we learn to relax a little but, underneath the seemingly mature, reasonable façade, we all want what we want.

So here’s a handy how-to guide for how to shift the odds in your favor, especially when dealing with kids. (Feel free to try them on spouses and co-workers, too.) Some might think these steps are sneaky or manipulative. I’d just call them “effective.”

Step 1: Make it easy for them to do it your way.

We humans always want the quickest, easiest way to get something done. If this weren’t true, the remote control wouldn’t exist. Arrange the circumstances so that “your way” is also the easiest and simplest way, and your odds of success shoot way up.

The only reason our kids have shoes on is because I set up shoe cubbies right by the car in our garage so it’s easy to dump shoes into a bin before they go into the house. Without this system, the kids would track mud into the house daily and never be able to find a pair of matching shoes when it’s time to leave.

Step 2: Brag, don’t nag.

Okay, so maybe there’s no way to eliminate nagging completely. But it is easier to get people to do stuff when they think that you think they’re awesome at that particular task. I once made our oldest organize a closet and the results were so good that I bragged on it for months. Now when I need something organized, I recruit him for the job and he reports for duty with much less grumbling because he knows I admire his skills.

pizza-sliceStep 3: Incentivize with pizza.

This one’s easy and is especially effective during growth spurts when kids get hungry about once every 17 minutes. When they don’t want to do it your way, tell them there’s a pizza in it for them. Works every time.

Step 4: Play a mind game.

There are two times in a kid’s life – toddlerhood and the teenage years – when he or she is sure they do NOT want to do anything that you think might be a good idea. During these phases, you may need a strategically-timed mind game.

When one of our boys was a vegetable-hating toddler, I made green peas for dinner and told him not to eat any because it was a grown-up food. Fast forward nine years. He still eats green peas as if they’re M&Ms.

Check. Mate.

Step 5: Play the “Mom Card.”

When all else fails, and it often does, I play the “Mom Card.” When they start whining about how hard their chores are, I remind them that giving birth wasn’t so easy either and that I did it not one but three times.

They roll their eyes immediately and say, “Aw, Mom! You always say that.” And they’re right. I do always say it because it’s always true and it’s impossible to trump the Mom Card. To maximize the effect of the Mom Card, just add exaggerated details of the birth or what happens if you have a surprise sneeze at the same time as a full bladder. They’ll do anything just to make you stop talking.

That’s it – five easy steps to world domination. Use one or multiple steps until you achieve the desired effect. Go forth and use your powers wisely.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Wondering what to do in Branson? A list of things to try!

Branson, Let's go

If you still haven’t planned your summer vacation — or you’re in desperate need of a long weekend away — here are some highlights from our recent trip to Branson, Mo. We hope this little tour sparks ideas for activities you might want to try with your family!

The Branson CVB invited us to #ExploreBranson {through the ever-fabulous The Women Bloggers group, headed by Stephanie Buckley} and covered the cost of our hotel — the ritzy Hilton Convention Center — and a variety of the city’s most addictive attractions. We were among various bloggers from a number of states who participated with our families. We had a blast!

Knowing that we’d have two 14 year-old girls on the trip (Shannon’s daughter and a friend), Kristiana and Liz of the CVB chose the perfect itinerary for our family vacation. We started out at the Titanic Museum on Day 1 and ended our three-day trip with a ride on the brand new Branson Ferris Wheel.

Even though we’d been to Branson before, we’d never experienced these attractions. That’s the cool thing about the city: there’s so much to do, you probably missed something when you were there last time or you haven’t tried that new thing. They’re always adding cool attractions. Branson has several additions in the works right now and they sound AWESOME.

santas on snapchat

Santas from the city of Branson’s Snapchat account

Fun aside: We were in Branson during a Santa convention. There were over 800 Santas in the city and we kept experiencing Santa sightings. We saw Santas driving by in vehicles, walking into restaurants and walking beside us on the Branson Landing.

Here are a few quick details about each of the attractions we visited during our stay. (At the end of each description, look for quotes from my 14-year-old daughter her friend. The teenagers sum things up nicely!)

Branson, Day 1:

Titanic Museum

As I said on the nwaMotherlode Facebook page, I was in tears multiple times during our tour of the Titanic Museum. One of the crew members, Kevin, eloquently told the story of the band continuing to play as the ship sank. The musicians wanted to keep spirits up, although they knew things were likely hopeless — and they were doomed. None of the band members survived, but their story certainly did. I was so inspired by their bravery in the face of tragedy.

You know what’s super cool? When you’re in line to enter the museum, you receive a card about a person who was actually aboard the Titanic. You don’t learn whether your person survived or perished until the end of your self-guided tour. I was Genevieve Cassebeer and I was one of the lucky women to survive the tragedy. Genevieve died in New York at age 95.

The museum is great for adults who are fascinated by the Titanic because there are so many exhibits to explore, with detailed descriptions of how events unfolded. But teens and younger children will also appreciate the museum because there are so many interactive exhibits.

We were there for two hours, but could have easily spent more time. There was so much to see and the staff was wonderful. They’re able to tell you little details not found in the exhibits.

The Teen’s Take:

“I’ve never seen the movie and this made me not want to see it because I know I’d cry. I really liked that you got to see whether you lived or died at the end.”

“I liked the interactive exhibits and the artifacts. It was really cool to stick my hand in the water and see how cold it was that night and to stand on the deck to see how steep it got when the Titanic was about to sink.”


Visitors are assigned cards about passengers aboard the Titanic

The Haygoods Show 

Honestly, this show blew us away. Again, we had two 14-year-olds with us, so we were a little concerned it might be too folksy for them — or too kiddish. We were so wrong. We really (really!) loved the Haygoods, a group of siblings who can play pretty much any instrument you put in their hands. The youngest, and only sister, could even play the harp like a dream.

The show was a mix of laser lights, great singing, fabulous dance moves and comedic exchanges between the siblings. It’s really high energy. At the end of the show, they bring their mom to say hello. Family-friendly, but edgy is how I’d describe it.

We never thought we’d hear AC/DC on the banjo, but we did. And it was awesome ;)

The shows are on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I can’t imagine trying to muster up that kind of energy every night of the week!

The Teen’s Take:

“10 out of 10, would go again. I want to learn how to play the banjo now.”

“The Haygoods show was fun! Even better than I expected.”

Here’s a video that pretty much sums up the Haygoods fun:

Branson, Day 2:

White Water Branson

On a hot summer day, our family is all about a water park! We really enjoyed White Water, especially the Ohana Falls water raft ride. You basically sit in a huge water raft with your peeps and zoom down a big, winding water slide. Expect a few dips! Perfection!

The water park features 2 million gallons of fun rides and attractions, including a HUGE wave pool + a long and winding lazy river (my fave). We felt like we were at the beach.

They also have food and drinks, which I’m all about. Lounging near water while eating yummy food is one of my favorite things, ever. Seriously.

The Teen’s Take:

“Definitely Ohana Falls! The water raft ride was my favorite.”

“Yes, I loved the water raft ride and also the lazy river. Such a fun day!”


Parakeet Pete’s Waterfront Zip Line

OK, truthfully, when I saw the zip line on our family’s itinerary, I thought: “NO WAY, Parakeet Pete. I’m a chicken!” You might say I’m a teensy bit scared of heights and the parakeet takes you high above the Branson Landing, over Lake Taneycomo.

Linda Peterson, one of Parakeet Pete’s wonderful managers, talked me into facing my fears. I bravely boarded the parakeet seat and felt extremely proud of myself when the ride was over.

The theme of our trip suddenly became: Face your fears. Step out of your comfort zone.

I was literally shaking when I stepped off the parakeet seat, but also exhilarated. Linda was there to ask my honest opinion about the ride and I told her truthfully: It was great! I’m so glad I did it!

I felt completely safe on the ride and was pleased to avoid this huge fear: vomiting from a fast-moving, high rise ride into the lake below.

The Teen’s Take:

“It was a really pretty view!”

“That was one of my favorite parts of our whole trip. It was fun with a dash of adrenaline!”

Parakeet Pete's collage

Parakeet Pete’s Zip-n-Sip

You’ve really got to do this. We loved being high above Branson on the Sky Deck listening to music and watching the sun set over Lake Taneycomo. As the evening grew dark (after a gorgeous sunset!), it was fun to watch people zip up to the Sky Deck from Parakeet Pete’s down below to join us. After having a drink (or dinner — sometimes they have events with a whole meal, too) and visiting for a while, you can zip back down the zip line and continue enjoying Branson Landing. That’s why it’s called the Zip-n-Sip!

The lights on the landing and zip line were beautiful and the view from the deck was fabulous. The band (Durango) was also wonderful.

The Teen’s Take:

“If you want to impress your friends, go and take photos up there. It was lit.”

“The scenery from there was beautiful. The lights were pretty hipster.”

panaramic view

Branson, Day 3

The Track Family Fun Parks

There are four family fun parks throughout Branson and we spent some fun time at #4. We rode the bumper cars, played arcade games and rode go-karts on the 4-story track called Heavy Metal High Rise. A BLAST. There’s also a smaller go-kart  track for the littles, which looked like lots of fun.

The Teen’s Take:

“I liked this place a lot. My need for speed was met (on the go-kart track). I got super competitive, even though I’m usually not. I wanted to pass people. #fastandfurious8″

“I liked the arcade and the bumper cars best.”

Heavy Metal High Rise_ride

Heavy Metal High Rise/Photo credit: The Track Family Fun Parks

 The Branson Ferris Wheel

The new Ferris Wheel is at Family Fun Park #4, but I’m pretty sure you can’t miss it. With more than 16k LED lights, this beauty can be seen for miles — and lights up the night. It was originally at the Navy Pier in Chicago, but now it’s at home in Branson. There are light shows several times in the evenings. Side note: Michael Haygood (of the Haygoods, easy on the eyes) helped design the lights for the Ferris Wheel.

The Ferris wheel is 150 feet tall and was actually scarier than the zip line for me, probably because the whole ride is 7 1/2 minutes. I had more time to think about being that high up. However, there was a great view and I felt safe since the gondolas are enclosed.

The Teen’s Take:

“OK, fine, I was too scared to ride it.”

“The Ferris wheel gets an A+”

Ferris Wheel

Branson’s new Ferris wheel is 150 feet tall and lights up the night

The Hilton Convention Center

The Hilton is a beautiful hotel and they treated us very well! Great staff, for sure. It’s 12 stories high, so you can’t miss it if you’re near Branson Landing. Speaking of, we loved being so close to the landing which has tons of shopping, restaurants, bars and activities. Than Landing — plus the city’s downtown — are within walking distance to the hotel, so that kept us from jumping in the car a lot.

The Teen’s Take:

“The shower was great and I liked their shampoo and conditioner. They had a refrigerator for my Sprite and a safe for my art tablet. The room was really pretty.”

“The pool areas were great. They have inside and outside pools, plus a hot tub. The view from our window was cool. The bed was really soft and so were the pillows. The bellman was really nice. They had snacks downstairs if you forgot to bring any.”

Feet pic

We loved relaxing on our soft bed at the Hilton in between activities!

Branson, overall experience

Over breakfast at Clocker’s Cafe downtown, I told the Branson CVB ladies, Kristiana and Liz, that they had chosen the perfect itinerary for my family. And my husband and I told them that it surprised us that we had been to the area before but hadn’t enjoyed these attractions. We love that Branson keeps adding new things to do and works hard to make the city a fun destination full of surprises.

We had a wonderful time and can’t wait to go back!

The Teen’s Take:

“My brain hurts from all the adrenaline.”

“I stepped out of my comfort zone on this trip and it was so fun!”

I survived

Back at home, enjoying hot tea in my Parakeet Pete’s mug

The Rockwood Files: Boots the Beloved

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I don’t believe in reincarnation, but, if I did, I’d want to come back as my parents’ dog.

boots and dad2They adopted him four years ago, and he was a tiny thing – solid black except for small white feet. Mom and Dad named him Boots.

My theory is that, when parents raise their children and send them out into the world, the love and attention they once heaped on their kids doesn’t disappear. It has to go somewhere. All that energy transfers to something or someone.

Some empty-nesters spend the energy on travel. Some take up a new hobby. And some people, like my parents, transfer that parental love onto a dog.

Boots is what I would call a professional love sponge. His job is to soak up all that love and daily devotion and be the four-legged “kid” of the house. By all accounts, he does it brilliantly. I don’t want to say Boots is spoiled, but it’s hard to deny the evidence.

Exhibit A: Boots has his own recliner. It’s positioned three steps away from my dad’s recliner. On any given day, you can find both of them lounging in their chairs, watching The Weather Channel or listening to country music.

Exhibit B: Boots, the love sponge, has swelled to a size we’ll call “pleasantly plump.” When dad can’t remember whether or not he has fed Boots his breakfast, he errs on the side of feeding him dog-bones-350094__180again, just in case.

When Boots was a puppy, my parents worried about him having separation anxiety while they were away from the house. So they started a ritual wherein Boots gets a “going away treat” as they walk out the door. When they return, he gets another treat for waiting patiently. As you can imagine, Boots is more than happy for his humans to spend the day running errands because he has literally got them “coming and going.”

All the treats do have an impact, however. I don’t want to say Boots is fat, but we haven’t seen his neck in two years. We’ll just leave it at that.

Exhibit C: When Boots isn’t watching the news from his recliner or eating his second breakfast, he spends nights on his own blanket in the middle of my parents’ king size bed. Sometimes they scoot to the outer edges of the bed so as not to disturb his slumber.

If Boots needs to go outside on a rainy night to answer nature’s call, Dad goes with him, holding a flashlight and an umbrella over his precious head.

Last weekend, my parents took a trip out of town, so I was in charge of dog-sitting Boots the Beloved. We kept him with our dog Charlie on an enclosed (and air-conditioned) back porch, where he had access to a dog bed and one meal a day.

Boots wasn’t impressed. He stood at the door looking in at us as if we’d left him in war-torn Baghdad. “What? No recliner? No one brought me extra bacon from Waffle Hut? What is this God-forsaken place?”

After three days of slumming it at our house, Boots was rescued from his non-pampered purgatory. When he saw my parents again, he wagged himself into a frenzy as he celebrated their homecoming. He went home and sacked out in his easy chair, thankful to be restored to his rightful place in the universe.

For some couples, retirement truly does go to the dogs.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.