RSS Feed

‘Road Trippin’’ Category

  1. In Racine, Head for Z’s!

    September 12, 2014 by admin

    A recent trip to the Racine area left us hungry and ready for lunch.  Our pre-trip research had suggested a place named Z’s might be a good choice, so we pointed ourselves in the right direction and went to check it out.IMG_7443

    We’re glad we did!

    Z’s Grill and Custard is a Wisconsin custard stand with a few twists:  They are open all year round and they have way more than custard on their menu.

    IMG_7440Z’s opened a few years ago with a goal of transforming a seasonal custard stand into a year round restaurant.  But even though Z’s offers traditional local fare like burgers and dogs, they also incorporate the owners’ family favorites like hummus, tabbouleh and house-made soups and chili.

    What a delight to be able to walk into a place on the outskirts of a town and order a vegan wrap, or a grilled cheese on a fresh pita!  Everyone in the family found something they loved.

    We were impressed immediately by the friendly service.  The warm greeting we received was a fantastic start.  The Staff were happy to answer any questions.  They took care of us and made sure all our food was to our liking.

    Z’s prices are quite reasonable also.  Our total bill was right in line with our typical Saturday lunch bills.  Kids and adults were happily fed and we’re looking forward to stopping at Z’s again the next time we find ourselves in the area.

  2. Backroad Bonus: MUGS, in Ripon, Wisconsin

    September 5, 2014 by admin

    Although we do have our list of go-to chains that have decent vegetarian/vegan options on their menus, we do so love to find new places that are off the beaten path and that might serve up a good meal.

    After several trips to the Ripon, Wisconsin area, we finally stumbled upon a good lunch stop downtown.429920_10150597134698106_1715193449_n

    Located just a few blocks off the Ripon College campus, MUGS is a coffee shop/ sandwich shop that fits the bill for our family.

    MUGS is a cozy place that is well suited for studying, or just settling in with good book or the daily crossword. From the number of large tables in the dining area, we imagine many Ripon students head to MUGS for study-time and group project planning. (We arrived prior to the start of fall semester, so there weren’t any crowds.)

    We loved seeing several vegetarian and vegan choices from grilled cheese to a delicious hummus veggie wrap. All this served up with great coffee and fresh-made chocolate milk. They also have Chocolate Shoppe ice cream on hand, along with a small number of desserts.

    The pricing fits the student budget too- which means it works well for our hungry family. Most sandwiches were under $5 and included a side of chips. Large coffees were around $2.  The friendly staff was helpful and accommodating.  They didn’t hesitate to modify their grilled cheese for our Bluey.  We could see ourselves as regulars if we lived in the area.  As it is, MUGS will be our go-to cafe when we are next in Ripon.

  3. Backroads Bonus: Pockets in Aurora, IL

    August 24, 2014 by admin

    It can be hard to find a good place to eat when traveling.  Many places we consider are either too expensive, not at all nutritious, or lack vegetarian/vegan options.

    And then there’s the trick of convincing the kiddoes to give a new place a try.  On some days they are very adventurous and eager to check out a new menu.  Other IMG_7408days they want the satisfying security of going to a known restaurant.  We can easily fall into a pattern of seeking out the short list of national and regional chains that offer foods we know our kiddoes happily eat.

    But we are also working on expanding their palates, as well as encouraging their eagerness to try new places.

    We found great success with this endeavor on a recent jaunt to Aurora, Illinois, where we discovered Pockets.

    Pockets is small chain in Illinois featuring a menu built around the idea of… pockets!  Pitas, calzones and stuffed potatoes make up the bulk of their menu.  But they also offer salads and pizza, along with soups and a few sides.

    IMG_7406Pockets hit all the marks for us: cost, nutrition, vegetarian/vegan-friendly, and kid-friendly.

    Upon entering, we were most pleased to read on the Pockets’ board, in big letters,  “Veggies Only? Subtract $1.20!”  Typically, we are charged the standard price of a meal whenever we request the removal of the meat.  We knew that we were in the right place when we’d finally save money for being vegetarians/vegans!

    Pockets bakes their whole wheat bread fresh.  Their kids meals come with a choice of fresh fruit and the kids pizza is on whole wheat crust in the shape of a dinosaur!  You can choose from the standard menu or you can build your own meal.

    Our food arrived within 15 minutes and we dug in.  Everyone ate up to the very last crumb.  We were completely satisfied and very impressed. The total bill was equal to our family’s typical charge for eating at one of our favorite chains.

    So now the only question that remains?  When will a Pockets open in Madison?


  4. The Tablet

    July 9, 2014 by admin


    Part of our continuing series: Traveling With Kids


    We recently added a new tool to our traveling arsenal when heading out on a long trip-  a computer tablet!

    We were gifted a used tablet and have found that by relaxing our stance on electronics in the car, we have a new item to help make the trips go smoother.  We loaded the tablet with games and some movies that meet our criteria for educational value and non-violence.  We find our Bluey really appreciates this new part of the traveling repertoire.

    Now part of the lead up to a longer adventure includes the possibility of a new game to try out, so our kiddo is even more excited about the road trip.

    We have created a few rules about the tablet, so that it doesn’t overtake our usual traveling experience:

    1. The tablet never comes along on shorter trips, so we can continue to build our appreciation of experiencing rides together.

    2.  We have an understanding that when TRMom or TRDad say the tablet must be set aside for a time, there are no arguments.  This allows our kiddo to get back to his other car activities that stimulate other parts of his mind: looking out the window, playing with Legos, drawing, singing and interacting with the rest of the family.

    3.  No headphones!  We don’t want our kiddo retreating from the trip entirely, so we insist on no headphones.  We’d rather tolerate a few quiet blips in the background and be able to talk with Bluey as we like, than have him checked out completely.

    We find our longer jaunts highly enjoyable since this piece of tech has joined our family.  Our kiddo looks forward to each new adventure.  And he continues to be just as likely to spend a half hour during the trip playing with his stuffies, or fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube, as opposed to exploring on his tablet.

  5. Map App

    June 13, 2014 by admin

    chicago-days-inn-melrose-park-mapIn our transition to smart phones, we find the mapping apps to be real lifesavers, especially when only one parent is in the car.

    We will always be big fans of traditional paper maps. We love how they show a wide and detailed perspective of part of the world. We love their old school simplicity. We love their tactile nature.

    But we have found that our phone app maps are indispensable when traveling solo, as recently happened in our family when only one parent could take the kids in and out of Chicago.

    Google-maps-iconWhether encountering construction delays or making a wrong turn, the mapping apps we use (GoogleMaps and AppleMaps) help us avoid having to pull over, locate ourselves on paper, and determine a new course.  It’s much simpler to find our position through satellite on the phone app and automatically get a new route, or see our options. And thanks to street views and 3D images, it’s also relatively easy to determine exactly where we are and what direction we are facing.iOS6-AppleMaps-icon

    With two parents in the car, we typically run a standard driver/ navigator dichotomy that works very well for us.  In that situation, we lean towards paper maps with a mapping app as our back up.  But when solo on the road, we can’t express enough thanks for our mapping apps! 

  6. Suppertime! Dining with your Dog on the Road

    June 1, 2014 by admin

    Part of Our Continuing Series On Travelling With Pets

    An important part of any vacation plan is the food. You probably think about what restaurants you’d like to try and what car snacks you need to buy before setting out for a road trip.

    If you are like us, you love bringing your pup along on trips whenever possible.  Fido has needs, too. Bringing your pet along for the trip adds an additional dimension to the planning.IMG_0519

    What your dog will eat on the road is actually the easy part: she’ll probably chow down on whatever she normally eats. We pack a plastic container with our pup’s dry food and measuring scoop, and she’s all set. (Our dog has a bowl and treats in the car at all times, so we don’t need to pack those items for a longer trip.)

    The bigger question for a long road trip with your dog, is what she’ll do while YOU are eating? You can’t leave your pup alone in the car while you spend an hour slowly munching on a fancy dinner. You need to plan ahead to make sure that your meal stops will be either quick, or outdoors.

    When we are traveling with our Moo dog, we frequently pack a picnic lunch. This way everyone gets to stay together to eat. We love our picnics, and we can all keep an eye on the pup.  All we have to do is track down a suitable park or scenic spot for a snack.

    Another easy option is to get your food to-go.  This way, you can eat restaurant food when a picnic is not desirable or feasible.  You will only be away from your dog for a few minutes while you place your order.  Then you and your pup van find a shady park, or just roll down the windows and eat in the lot.

    Tip:  If all else fails, leave your car on with the A/C running, and lock your car doors.  It is not at all the best choice, but it’ll keep your pup safe for a short time.

    Drive-thrus are a variation on food to-go.  Many chains offer dog biscuits or other treats to traveling pups.  Our Moo used to love going to Dunkin’ Donuts in New Hampshire because she always got a free munchkin, just for being cute.  The downside?  You usually end up eating while driving.

    The main thing is to keep your pup in mind when on the road.  Fancy dining may be off the menu, but you can still find many options for eating that ensure the safety of your pup, and give you both a chance to relax and stretch before you continue to explore.

  7. Lego To Go

    May 28, 2014 by admin

    Our on-going love of all things Lego has collided with our love of exploring, resulting in a need to bring Legos on our jaunts. When traveling by car, we had constant problems with Legos being spilled all over.  This equated to unhappy kiddoes trying unsuccessfully to build the coolest thing while parents desperately attempted to reach inaccessible pieces under the seats- all while we rolled down the highway.

    What to do?IMG_1864

    For us, the answer was to create our own mobile Lego table- a lap desk/tray specifically for building Lego projects on the road.

    We considered constructing the whole tray from scratch, but then we chanced upon a great wooden tray set at Michaels. The tray perfectly fit a large, flat Lego panel Santa dropped off over Christmas. At just a few dollars, the tray was right on budget. Plus, the unfinished wood allowed for future painting projects. Perfect! We glued the Lego panel to the bottom of the tray and voila!

    We now have a great way to move Legos about, and a platform on which to hold and build projects while on the road!  And in addition to spotting cool birds and funky houses as we travel, we have the joy of seeing what new creations our backseat travelers have conjured up.

  8. Would You Rather…

    November 7, 2013 by admin

    Part of our continuing series on traveling with kids


    Occasionally, a trip gets long- too long.  When this happens, we reach for our “Would You Rather Cards?” that we scored at some garage sale a while back.  Our beat up set of “Would you Rather cards?” lives in the glovebox, and comes out when needed to ease the grumbles and get us through to our destination.

    “Would You Rather?” posts sometimes strange, sometimes thoughtful, questions.  They typically generate conversation or giggles.  And they are always tons of fun.

    Our whole family enjoys this little diversion and the kiddoes frequently ask for the cards to come out, as we road trip to our next adventure.

  9. Route Planning For Your Dog

    September 14, 2013 by admin


    Part of our Continuing Series on Traveling With Pets

    Once you’ve gotten your car all packed for a road trip with the pup, you need to consider your travel route.  While this may seem daunting, it’s actually quite easy.  After a few adventures, planning will become as natural as any other part of the journey.

    When considering a car ride with your dog, think about how long of a trip you are taking.  The longer the trip, the more extra thought your pup requires.  Ponder these questions:  when will your dog eat? drink? get exercise? relax in nature?

    Whether you prefer an online map, an atlas, or a folded paper map- your best bet is to check your route for a park along the way.  We like to search in two or three-hour intervals for a stopping place—you may have to stop more often if you have an older dog, or a puppy (when Moo was a pup, we stopped every 30 or 45 minutes to let her out.)  A few stops built into the trip and your dog can go potty, get a drink of water, and maybe have a bite to eat.

    Many of these stops will bring you into towns you might not have noticed before and give you a chance to see natural sights you may have otherwise missed.

    Tip: Your car can get hot very quick.  Never leave your dog alone in the car!

    We do a short bit of internet research on each selected stop before we leave to make sure that dogs are permitted, and where they can go off leash.  Giving your dog a chance to get her run-on will help keep her happy and help her sleep when back in the car.

    Things to pack in your car:

    • A water/food bowl:  we use one metal bowl for both purposes.
    • A container of food
    • A bottle of water: ours is a half gallon size- plenty of water is important!
    • Chew toys for the ride: we have a hard ‘chew bone’ that stays in the car and helps our pup relax.
    • Toss toys for stops at parks.
    • Check our complete dog packing list HERE.


    You not only get a great travelling companion with your dog in the car, but an added reason to check out some parks and natural areas that you might have driven right by on the interstate.

  10. The Kid’s Atlas

    September 10, 2013 by admin


    Part of our Series on Travelling With Kids

    Embarking on a long trip with kids in the car, you know you’ll hear an unending chorus of, “Are we there yet?” Rather than get annoyed by this chant, we try to turn it into a learning experience (and cut down on the repetition) by responding—“Why don’t you check your map?”

    IMG_1932We bought each of our kids a small United States atlas.  Now they can keep track for themselves how close we are to our destination.  We’ve tried to wrap travel into a real learning opportunity.

    We teach our kids figure out how to interpret the maps, while enhancing their sense of direction and helping them to determine what town we might pass next.  They also practice reading and the skills required to follow a route.  Bonus- they keep themselves occupied and create their own fun.

    You get the same effect by handing over old paper maps from AAA, free maps from rest stops, or maps provided by local tourism boards—with an added origami challenge of trying to fold it back up again.  Bluey sometimes turns a big map into a tent that he drapes over his car seat!

    In our tech driven world of GPS and Siri, many folks can’t read a map very well.  We hope that our kids will be an exception to this trend.  We’re interested in showing them where they are, where they’re going, and where they could get to next.

    Life’s an adventure, bring your map!