The Mall of America…so cliche

I like to think I’m pretty unique. The kind that marches to the beat of her own drummer. Someone who lives in her own little world. The kind of woman who sparkles in her own special way.

Heading for the mall.

Heading for the mall.

 

It turns out that while I do all of those things; hey, it’s my blog; I can toot my horn if I want to, I’m still a bit of a cliché.

Take the summer two years ago. That would be 2013 if my math is correct. And if it isn’t correct, then it was a different year. Math never has been my strong suit. Regardless, I know it was summer.

Anyway, we got a dreaded call no parent wants to get. There had been an accident. Etcetera, etcetera. I won’t go into all the details. Just know there were a lot of tears, a ton of unnecessary drama, and more stress than anyone needs to go through. Ever. There wasn’t any water under the bridge with this one. No, it was all out…whatever. I’m not getting into it.

The point is, things got cliché after the shock started to fade.

We took the kids on a family vacation that we’d planned long before things got messy. I’m not sure why we chose the Mall of America. Maybe because we had a houseful of teenagers who like to wander the mall and shop. Or because we were in need of miles of exercise in the form of walking the biggest mall in the country. I don’t know. More than likely we’d chosen this destination because we’d never been there before.

How was it cliché? Oh boy, where do I start?

First, there was retail therapy. I was in a mall for goodness sakes. And not just any mall; a big one. Even though I don’t care for shopping (unless it’s online), I had to buy something. They don’t call it retail therapy for nothing, right? And believe me, I was in serious need of a caring therapist who would listen to my troubles and help me identify some coping skills.

Her suggestion after we’d talked and I’d done my fair share of sobbing and shouting? Go to the mall.

Walk that mall, folks.

Walk that mall, folks.

You have to do what your therapist says, right? Assuming, of course, that what she says to do is moral, ethical, and supposed to help you. Right?

So I went to the mall. I walked miles around that place. Which is also good for the soul. A little endorphin rush never hurt anyone. Especially if you’re going to buy shoes. Which I did. My niece got an amazing pair of cowboy (cowgirl?) boots for her birthday that year. She’s adorable. I love her.

cute cowgirl boots

cute cowgirl boots

Second on the list of how this trip turned into one big cliché…the diamonds.

It’s true. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. They don’t talk back. They don’t lecture you about your attitude or insist you act as if everything is okay when it’s really not. Not that a true best friend would do any of those things, but you get what I’m saying. They’re diamonds. The only thing they could possibly do wrong is not be big enough.

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We also ate a few good meals while we were there. And watched the fireworks show from the comfort (and safety) of our hotel room. Fireworks make me nervous. I’ll gladly watch them and ooh and ahh over their spectacular show of colors, but only if I can do it from far, far away.

FIREWORKS!!

FIREWORKS!!

Then there was the amusement park in the mall, which our kids loved.

Amusement park, anyone?

Amusement park, anyone?

So much fun!

So much fun!

And hubby and I went to our own form of amusement. We saw a play. Which is also like therapy for us. I don’t remember the name of the play, but I do remember enjoying it. In a building like this, how could you not? Two thumbs up for the Guthrie Theatre, folks.

2 thumbs up for the Guthrie!

2 thumbs up for the Guthrie!

I don’t recommend anyone experience a tragedy or a dramatic family event before getting the urge to go to the Mall of America. Don’t worry. You can use any small, much less dramatic excuse for needing retail therapy and buying diamonds. In fact, you don’t need a reason at all other than “this is where I want to go.”

If you have a flare for the dramatic, just go to a play while you’re there. There’s no need to create your own before going. Trust me on this one. The Mall of America is a place to have fun, kick back, and buy some jewelry. And if you’re interested, go on the amusement park rides. You might enjoy that too.

Whatever you end up doing out there, enjoy it. In a respectable manner, of course, but still. Buy a little something for yourself. Be a little cliché. It’s okay. You wouldn’t be the first to do so.

Beach Size Small

From time to time, size matters. Like when you sidle up to the counter of your favorite fast food restaurant and they ask you what size you want. Your diet minded self wants to say small, but your “I love the way I look and could care less about the newest slim down craze or being heart healthy” can’t get the word out. So you say “super sized” or “large” or “the biggest one you’ve got.”

Size matters when it comes to pairing up with a mate. Maybe. Sometimes it does. That’s a conversation we’ll leave alone for today.

It also matters if you’re part of the #TinyHouseNation. Something I’ve only recently learned about. I’m a little slow to the party, but that’s okay. I couldn’t live in a house that small. I’m not a hoarder by any means and I’m fine with not filling up on stuff, I just really need my space. Can you say claustrophobic?

There is one place though where size doesn’t matter. You can be ten feet tall or weigh four hundred pounds and still be beach size small.

I’m not talking about fitting into a size zero swim suit. I’m talking about the size a person feels when she stands on the sandy shores of a beach. Which beach? It doesn’t matter. I’ve stood on several and watched as the waves pummeled against the shore and it’s the same wherever I go.

When I stand on the edge of the beach, the water lapping against my ankles (it scares me to go too deep into the water), I feel small. Tiny House Nation small. Miniscule.

And that’s when the perspective on life changes just a bit. Or perhaps it comes more into focus.

Out there, gazing into the sunset or watching dolphins make their way across the horizon, is when you realize you’re not a big fish in a little pond. No, it’s the other way around. You’re a small fish. A guppy in the ocean of life. The world is out there in all its massiveness and you’re standing there, a tiny print on the sand of shore.

I’ll admit when I’m out there, I get distracted. There are those moments when I wonder if I’ve eaten too much before tugging on that tankini. Or where I’ll go on the next trip I can’t wait to plan. Sometimes I think about what’s going to be for dinner or worry about the activities I left undone on my desk before taking this trip.

But even with those wandering thoughts, the one thing I’m sure to think about even if for only a minute, is how small I am in the grand scheme of things.

Will I have an impact on those in my life? What will my legacy be? How can one person, who’s small to begin with, make a difference in the lives of those around me? Have I lived enough in my lifetime? Will I have regrets in the end? What is the purpose of being here?

Does that ever happen to you? When you take that beloved trip to the beach (whichever one you’ve traveled to) what floats across your mind like seaweed on the waves? Do you find contentment there? Is it a place you want to live someday? Or do you already?

Whatever beach you’ve happened upon, consider that for a moment. Your role in the big world. The impact you can have on someone you’ve crossed paths with. The legacy you’ll leave for your children or grandchildren or the neighbor kid next door.

And while you’re there, forget about the little things in life that people get trapped up in. Like the size of your swimsuit or the person who walks by looking like she’s walked off the pages of a magazine. Or the people in the beach house next door who look like they have it all together in life and are living in a house bigger than yours.

Because when it comes down to it, those are the things that don’t matter. Everyone has their struggles. Someone’s house is always going to be bigger than yours. Or nicer than yours. Or closer to the beach than yours is. Don’t get caught up in keeping up with the Jones.

Focus on you. Your family. Your trip. Your mission in life. When you’re at the beach, deep down, everyone is the same size on the inside.

Carry On Folks, Carry On

Travel much? Of course you do or you wouldn’t be reading this. Unless you just traipse on over to see where I’ve traveled to in the recent weeks so that you can turn green with envy.

Whatever the case, I have a question for you. Because whether you’ve taken a stay cation to somewhere nearby your home or you’ve done a day trip (those are all kinds of mini fun!) or traveled the world, I know that you’ve done one thing for certain.

You’ve packed a carry on bag.

If you’re like me (because I’m sure only the likes of me do this), you’ve also checked out the carry on bags of others. That’s fun, isn’t it? I love a good bag. Cute, portable, handy, and not one that weighs you down so much on the shoulder of your dominant hand that you end up walking around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Because that last description is so not cool. What’s a pretty bag if it has you walking all cock-eyed? Am I right?

These bags are so great. Love them all like my own children. Okay, not really, but they are fun. Don’t you think?

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And then there’s this one.

bag2

This was one of my really great gift ideas to the hubby last year. I was very excited that not only had I come up with a unique gift idea but even managed to pay for it in a sneaky enough way that he was unsuspecting.

Only to have him make some kind of snarky remark about these very bags after I’d made the hefty purchase (hey, they’re hand sewn, it’s going to cost a pretty penny!) three weeks before the holiday.

Drat that man.

He loves the bag though. He carries it everywhere we take a trip. Yep, I’m a great wife.

Not only do I like to ogle the carry on bags of others, but sometimes I wonder what they’ve packed in them. Not because I’m a creeper or anything but because…well…sometimes I wonder if they have the one thing I’ve forgotten to pack in mine.

Come on, you never forget to pack anything? If you don’t, can I borrow your thing that I forgot to pack in my amazing carry on bag? Pretty please?

Fine. If you’re not going to share. I’ll make a handy list here of all the things we should never forget to pack in our carry on luggage. So that I won’t forget the next time I take a trip. Seattle in June!!

  1. A toothbrush and toothpaste. They’re essentials, right? Just remember to make certain that toothpaste is the travel size kind or they won’t let you take it on the plane. It doesn’t matter how many times you insist you need that toothpaste or that I reminded you to take it by making this list. They won’t let you do it.
  2. Charging cords for all your electronics. This includes your Kindle or Nook, your phone, your iPod, and your laptop. All necessities because talking to your seatmate on the plane or the bus or in the car isn’t always as fun as it sounds.
  3. The all important travel pillow. This is a must. Just so you know, it won’t fit inside your carry on probably, but it’s sufficient to hang it through the straps or handle of your carry on. Until you’re in the seat and then, you put it around your neck. Unless you’re driving. Then, you don’t get a travel pillow. You have to drive.
  4. A blanket or sweater or hoodie of some sort. Now, this won’t be a full size blanket, that’s silly. It needs to be a smaller size. Think “blankie.” The kind you snuggled up with as a kid and took everywhere with you. Only in the case of travel, it’s not a security blanket. It’s the blanket (blankie) that keeps you warm in those over air conditioned places. Like planes, cabs, buses (maybe? I haven’t taken a bus in a while), trains, and the car. Especially the car if you’re traveling with my husband who likes it to always feel like the arctic when we take a road trip.
  5. Another travel must have. Yes, there are typically vending machines wherever you go, but I can’t promise they won’t just steal your money and leave your mouth watering for that two year old treat stuck hanging precariously from the metal swirly thing that holds all the snacks hostage until the correct change is deposited inside the machine. There are also snacks given out on planes and trains (maybe? I can’t remember the last time I took a train.) but not on buses or in cabs. Well, the cabs I take here in town give out candy, but I can’t guarantee your cab driver will give you candy. Besides, you shouldn’t take candy from strangers. So, the moral of that little piece of advice: bring snacks when you travel. Just not jelly or jam to put on your crackers that exceeds the limited three ounces TSA lets you carry on to a plane. Get it? Carry on? Funny.
  6. Hair accessories. If you’re a guy, this probably doesn’t pertain to you. Unless you’re the type of guy reading this who has hair so gorgeous and amazing that girls only date you because they want to steal your hair styling tips. Those guys annoy me. Unless they’re taking the time to read my blog and then I love them. But only platonically because I’m married. But hair accessories are a must have when you travel! Believe me, it doesn’t matter how much product you have pasted and gelled into your do, hours of travel are going to undo whatever you did in front of the mirror this morning. Let it go. And then tie your hair back or pull on a scarf or headband to tame that wild mess.
  7. I know, you’re thinking you can’t possibly fit all your shoes into your carry on. And that’s okay. As a self proclaimed shoe monger, I wouldn’t expect you to be able to do that. The idea that you have so few shoes is ludicrous. However, you should be able to fit one pair of shoes into your carry on at all times wherever you’re traveling to. Because those sexy stilettos you’re wearing are going to hurt after that last jaunt to the gate change you weren’t expecting to have to make. But, if you’ve followed my list thus far and came prepared, you’ve got that cute pair of ballet slipper type flats stowed away in your awesome carry on bag that will totally go with your outfit (as long as you’re not wearing brown) and make your feet appreciate you.
  8. Or ear buds. Or those noise canceling jobs my husband is ever so fond of. These are important to provide you with music, the ability to listen to your audio book without disturbing the peace of others, and well…to ignore those chatty Cathy seatmates you got stuck with. They’re also helpful for drowning out the noise of those traveling toddlers. Poor. Those little ones weren’t expecting to have to race after their well intentioned parents to meet the next plane.
  9. And while you’re at it, anything else that will help you smell like you’ve just spent the last eighteen hours in a flower garden. Because let’s face it, traveling is amazing, but it’ll make you stink. So grab those bottles of deodorant, perfume, body spray, and scented lotion. Make sure their scents complement one another. And yes, that they meet the three ounces each that are only allowed when traveling by air and smell good. That’s an order.
  10. A change of clothes. This is by far the most fun item to pack in your carry on. I can’t explain it. Maybe I’ve read one too many John Grisham novels. Or, I’ve just read The Firm eighteen hundred times. Regardless, the one thing you must take away from having read that book (if you haven’t read it, go do so now and then come back to read this last item) is that you always, always take a change of clothes with you. Now, I realize that the main character in that book, Mitch, didn’t bring his change of clothes with him, he bought them when he was out trying to escape the mafia, but trust me on this one. There is nothing (okay, maybe a few things) more fun than getting to an airport wearing a specific outfit only to go into the bathroom and come out in something completely different. I’m certain it’s how Superman must have felt every time he went into that phone booth to change. Seriously. So. Much. Fun.

So there you have it. All the items you need to pack in your carry on. If you’re gearing up for a trip soon, be sure to follow this handy blog so that you can come back to this post when you do your packing. And don’t forget to post a picture of your carry on bag in the comments. It’ll help me out for the next time I go shopping for travel accessories.

Clear Water. Beach. Florida.

I’m a fan of the beach. Most any will do. Like this one in Toksook Bay, Alaska.

toksook bay

Granted it was a bit too cold to venture into the water and even a little on the cold side for just being outside. Thank goodness I had my spring gloves on.

There’s something about standing on the edge of the ocean that thrills me. And if the name of the beach has the words “clear water” built right in, even better.

Because I take the name literally. Clear water. As in it’s so clear that I can see to the bottom where I’m always scanning the area for sharp rocks. And masses of seaweed that can get tangled around my legs. Or for little fish that like to nibble on my toes. And, of course, for the big fish, aka sharks, that like to nibble on my arm or leg.

So, when hubby suggested a day trip during our first ever trip to Florida, I was game.

Road trips are fun. They’re for singing in the car. They’re also for napping in the car. I love a good road trip nap. I’ve been to a lot of places over the years; I’ve got pictures and blog posts to prove it. Probably I’ve been to even more places than what is on my list even. I was simply too busy napping to snap pictures or jot down a memory. In fact, I have a rather vague memory of hubby saying something about us driving through the D.C. area once. I’m pretty sure I snored in response.

Anyway, we drove from Orlando to Clearwater Beach. I stayed awake for most of it. Mostly because a wicked rain storm hit about halfway there and appeared to be following us. There’s nothing worse than gearing up to go to the beach only to learn you’re going to get rained on out there.

By the time we arrived, the rain had dwindled to a small shower. We pulled into a gas station for refueling. Snacks are so much cheaper down states than around where we live. Here, you pay a solid ten dollars for a bag of spicy Cheetos compared to the ninety-nine cents in the lower forty-eight.

Oh and we put gas in the van too for the long drive back. Which was also much cheaper there.

When we made it to the beach, everyone was glad to get out of the car and stretch. The sun was fighting the rain clouds for a position in the sky and a light breeze was blowing. It was perfect for walking along the shore line, pretending we didn’t have a care in the world.

clearwater

Who am I kidding? The only real care we had on our minds was where we were going to eat for dinner. With a group the size of ours, you have to plan a meal out as if you’re planning to take over the world. Every detail is important.

How long is the wait? Is the menu hand painted on a piece of gorgeous stationary or is it a laminated piece of copy paper? The former means the price is probably going to be high enough to warrant taking out a loan, whereas the latter might mean we’re forced to eat our meal out of plastic baskets and Styrofoam cups. And personally, I like my meals to be somewhere in the middle of all that.

Yes, I’m a fan of real dinnerware, silverware that isn’t a spork, and nice glasses. I prefer wine glasses even though I’m not drinking wine, but an actual glass will suffice.

After taking beach shore walks and letting the kids air up the rubber raft they bought to play in the water for a while, we called it an evening. We’d decided dinner would be the place with outdoor dining a few yards away. Not so much for the food, but for the view of the ocean.

Or in the case of our youngest son, the view of the sun. Which hung right in his face because he was the last one to take a seat. Poor. The kid was not a happy camper as he squinted his way through the meal. Nor were the rest of us whose backs were to the sun. It was a scorcher.

Which is pretty much our luck on vacations, if you haven’t noticed by now. It pours down rain during our drive to the beach, is cloudy with spotty rain the whole time we’re on the beach, and then the sun comes out when we’re trying to get through a meal before heading home. It wasn’t the worst luck we’d had on a trip, by any means, but it did make for some grumbling at the dinner table that night.

Thankfully, the water was clear when we were in it. No sharks or biting fish. No seaweed to grab my legs. And no sharks. It’s always a good thing when they’re aren’t any sharks. Or those ghost crabs that come out at dusk, scurrying all over the sand. Have you seen those? They creep me out. I’m always afraid I’m going to step on one. Ew.

clearwater

the art of miniature golf & travel traditions

I imagine every family has at least one traveling tradition. And why wouldn’t they? Traditions can be tons of fun. Traveling is super fun. So, putting the two together just make sense.

One of our family traditions dates back to hubby’s and my honeymoon. We’re quite the gypsy couple and wound up in exotic Tennessee following my walk down the stairway to join him in wedded bliss. (It was a lovely wedding.)

Aren't we a lovely couple?

Aren’t we a lovely couple?

After our long drive to Tennessee we did the usual. Had some ice cream. Explored the shops in Gatlinburg. There are a ton of shops there if you’ve never been. Mostly novelty, touristy stuff, but it’s a lot of fun to check out. And the ice cream is good too. It’s possible, that while in Tennessee, we also started the traveling tradition of getting ice cream on every trip. Yeah…that sounds about right.

Anyway, like new married couples do, we engaged in some fun activities together like shopping and exploring. We also went horseback riding, which was tons of fun and a totally new activity for hubby to try.

But, we did one thing that neither of us had done before.

We played putt putt golf.

Since then, we’ve played miniature golf on many trips. Like in Kissimmee and on a cruise ship. We even played the game in Vegas.

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The courses are always a little bit different. Some have been on hillside; others have been surrounded by small alligators. The one on the cruise ship was surrounded by a life sized game of chess. I remember it was windy when we played on the cruise ship and I wondered…if the ball falls over the side of the ship, do they make you go after it?

The courses are always fun and a bit challenging. Though I can’t imagine getting a tiny round ball into a hole way over there not challenging. It’s why I have never taken up the actual sport of golf. My understanding is that it requires a great deal of patience, which I don’t have. It also requires serious hand-eye coordination and I’ve got even less of that than patience.

The last course we played on, in Las Vegas, was the most unique of all the miniature golf courses we’ve played on in the last fifteen years.

First, it was in the backyard of the rental home we were staying at. This was good for two reasons. One, it didn’t require a long drive to get to. While I’m a fan of road trips, this was a long weekend trip and I was tired.

Second, there wasn’t a long line of impatient people waiting their turn at the next hole. If you haven’t played a round of mini golf at a course where we were at (you’d have recognized us, believe me), then you don’t know we are bad at the game. As in really bad. So bad in fact, that we often let other large families (some even larger than hours) play through ahead of us because we each need approximately seventeen swings to get that ball into the hole.

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Seventeen swings each times seven (or eight since we usually have one of the kids’ friends traveling with us) is…wait for it…a total of one hundred thirty six swings to play one hole in a miniature golf course. And that’s if none of us have hit the ball so far out of range (or into that alligator infested water) that we don’t have to send one of the boys to fetch it. Because when that happens, then we’ve got to share a ball (or two) and that adds on to our time spent there at hole seven or two or whichever one we’ve actually gotten to.

I’m not kidding when I say that we have shut down miniature golf courses due to the length of time it takes us to play the blasted game. I’m pretty sure they won’t be sending us a groupon to return to the course in Kissimmee.

Add in the factor that we’re terrible at keeping score, hubby and I spend more than the allotted time kissing at each hole, and we are a family full of ADHD-like individuals who are usually laughing, snapping pictures, and talking about random things ad nauseum.

Seriously, if you ever see us in line ahead of you at a putt putt golf venue, just don’t bother getting out of the car. Go home. Go to Mexico and back…you’ll have time. We’ll only be on the twelfth hole by the time you get back.

The other great thing about the course in Vegas? It only had one hole. Just one.

It was as if the owner of that house had read my blog, was aware of the kind of nutty people we are, and thought he’d do all the Las Vegas vacationers a favor that weekend.

“Hey guys don’t worry. Go. Enjoy the mini golf courses all over town. I’ll just throw down a piece of green in the backyard. They’ll think it’s fate or bliss or the cosmos in alignment and you’ll be able to have fun while they’re all taking turns with their “mini” course in the backyard.”

So sweet was he! Am I right?

Because it never fails. When we take a trip, there are two things our kids ask about every single time.

  1. When are we getting ice cream?
  2. Are we going to play miniature golf?

Please. When we took our kids to Pennsylvania all those years ago, we had ice cream every day. It’s possible we have a problem.

And we’ve been to countless miniature golf courses across the country and to a couple on ships out in the ocean as well.

Because traveling traditions are fun! They help families bond. They teach conflict resolution skills. Seriously, they do. And with miniature golf, it gives you something to create conflict about and eighteen holes to work through that conflict. –Just be sure to hold onto the clubs of those in conflict. Or things could get ugly.

So, as you prepare for your next trip, be sure to find a mini golf course in the area you’re traveling to. It doesn’t matter if you have tots you’re traveling with or teenagers, everyone will have some fun and there are small clubs (is that even what they call them? I’m not sure) for the little ones.

Make a game of it. Everyone who wins (and everyone wins a little bit in mini golf) gets ice cream afterward. Or, ice cream for everyone afterward that doesn’t hit their siblings over the head with a club. Or, ice cream for the family of mini golf losers who closed down the park because they’re so bad at the game.

If you’re the latter, you’ll be having ice cream with us most likely, so be sure to say hello. We’ll take a group selfie and I’ll post it on the blog.

Now…go get a hole in one.

A City Vacation

The first time we took a family vacation, we didn’t really know what we were doing. There was the general idea that taking a road trip with four little kids was going to be challenging as most things with four little kids under the age of six can be. We knew a tent would be involved because it was the more frugal way to travel. And it’s how my parents did it when they towed four little dark haired girls around the country. How hard could it be?

It turns out, very hard indeed.

Our first mistake was not having an actual destination to point our truck toward. Actual as in specific and easily located on a map as opposed to a general radius and the word ‘Chicago.’

It's all about where you travel to on the map.

It’s all about where you travel to on the map.

Not that you can’t find Chicago on a map. You can. But it’s an area. It’s not a specific place to end up in where you plan to bed down four little kids, one just recently out of diapers. It’s not like we had a restaurant identified for dinner or a deadline by which we’d plan to feed our little brood.

If you don’t have those things identified and you’re about to travel with even one small child, I’d recommend you postpone the trip for just a little longer. Grab your GPS, punch in the area you want to go to and then narrow things down from there. If you like to eat certain food, find a restaurant, enter the address. Work with the rest of your traveling party to decide on a stopping time. Then follow through with that plan. Do not, I repeat, do not plan a camping trip and enter the destination of Chicago.

That was also a mistake, neatly intertwined with the first mistake of not having selected a more specific destination in which to travel to.

Camping in Chicago.

In our defense, we’d only been married almost two years. It was our first family vacation. Prior to that I hadn’t vacationed since the one actual family trip my parents took my sisters and me on when I was seventeen years old. My husband had only ever camped at the lake behind his grandpa’s house.

The lake behind Grandpa’s house…now that would have made for a simple and probably more successful camping trip for our first family vacation. Good ole’ hindsight. Always twenty twenty.

As we made our way away from our beautiful, newly built by my husband’s own hands, home with our rather large family, things started out okay. Pointing the truck in a northerly direction wasn’t that hard. Gas was cheap back then and we had high hopes for this trip. Our children were mostly well behaved in the car, so there wasn’t much ruckus out of them.

We turned the radio up, put on the cruise control, and ventured out. Two naïve adults still working our way into the comfortable place that marriage can take you after several years of marriage and four little kids. Conundrums saw us coming. We were quite an easy target.

I don’t remember much of the drive. It was a good five plus hours and I tend to fall asleep on car trips. It’s possible all the cross country driving my folks did when I was little taught me how to sleep. After I managed to overcome the wretched motion sickness that used to plague me when we drove from one side of town to the other.

I’m not sure if the kids slept the whole way or if our youngest cried a lot. I don’t recall any real bickering between our older daughter and our two boys, though I’m sure there must have been some. We’d only blended our two young families less than two years ago. It’s safe to say we were all still adapting.

My memory starts to kick in as dusk fell.

I remember we got all turned around and had ended up in a rather ritzy neighborhood somewhere. There was a kind of block party for the rich going on. We oohed and ahhhed at the fancy houses and the elegant party atmosphere. It was a far cry from the drunken staggering we’d witnessed in the sleepy college town we were from.

I remember some sharp words being said as my new husband drove around trying like mad to find a place for us to spend the night. I know I asked him to stop and ask for directions. That was my newlywed bride mistake of the night. Ooops.

By the time he finally drove into a hotel driveway to inquire about vacancy, the kids were asleep sitting up in their booster seats. The baby was slumped over in her car seat, her hand tight around her favorite stuffed animal. I was delirious and frustrated and wishing we’d never decided to take a trip away from our cozy home with the comfortable bed in the master bedroom.

It felt like hubby was in the hotel a long time. Which made me happy. My rationale was that the longer he stood in there, must mean he was filling out the paperwork for a lovely, albeit cramped hotel room where in a matter of mere minutes we’d be hauling our little ones into for the remainder of the night.

No. It turned out there was just a really long line of other folks looking for rooms that night. By the time he came out, he was in an even more sour mood than when he’d gone in. There was no room in that inn.

As the wife of a pastor, I thought about Mary, the mother of Jesus. She must have been equally frustrated that night. If not more so, she’d been traveling on the back of a donkey whereas I sat in the air conditioned comfort of my husband’s new truck.

She must have been extremely grateful when they’d finally gotten to that semi vacant stable where she could lie down.

We kept driving.

We drove and drove and drove some more. As we neared middle of the night status, I did what no wife should do.

I told hubby to figure it out. Then, I propped my weary head against the passenger side door of that truck and fell into a trouble sleep.

It’s a wonder we stayed married and are now approaching our fifteenth wedding anniversary.

Somewhere around one in the morning, the truck rolled to a stop. Hubby gently shook me into a half wakeful state.

“Come on. We’re here.”

My sleepy brain interpreted that to mean we’d found a nice hotel with a room available.

Also a mistake.

When I asked him where we were, he explained shortly that we’d arrived at our destination. A campground…of sorts.

I stumbled out of the truck with him and together we put up the tent we’d purchased. The kids moaned in their sleep and the baby wailed a couple of times. I attempted to hush her; people were sleeping soundly around us and we’d likely already woken some of them with the bright lights of the truck that we used to guide our way around that tent.

Probably we wandered to the public restroom and made sure all the kids used the potty before getting them into the tent to lie down. Maybe we took the time to put them into pajamas, but I doubt it. It’s likely hubby and I snapped at each other out of exhaustion and frustration; maybe even out of relief to finally be minutes away from getting sleep in a lying down position.

I doubt that we snuggled in close with each other, all kisses and I love you’s. We were still newlyweds somewhat, but we were tired and cranky.

The next morning dawned way too early. And somehow, little kids have this way of getting all the sleep they need packed into only a few hours before they’re up with the birds raring to go another day.

When we got up, we surveyed our surroundings.

Somehow, in the middle of all the middle of the night driving around, my hubby had found us a place to stop for the night. It was a large field with rows of cornfields standing nearby. There was the public bathroom/shower facility standing off to the far side. Other tents dotted the area.

There was no name of the campground that I recall. It was some kind of small, family run operation. The showers were lukewarm and required quarters dropped into a slot to keep the water streaming down on you. I remember juggling the coins while holding a slippery baby and helping our five year old daughter wash her curly hair. It’s possible I then deposited quarters into the same slot while handing showering supplies to the two boys and keeping an eye on the five year old who was babysitting her sister. Hubby was still sleeping in the tent.

Other mistakes that happen when a young family decides to take a camping trip in the city?

Forgetting to bring towels. We improvised with the queen sized sheet we’d used to cover up with in the night.

Bickering amongst the adults and treating things as if it was every man for himself. Anytime you’re outnumbered by small children and miles of endless highway, you always use the buddy system. It’s more fun that way and the guarantee that everyone makes it out in love in the end is higher that way.

Not having an actual destination with reserved rooms next to a family restaurant waiting for you on the other end of your family’s vacation plan.

We managed that night. On caffeine, gasoline, and snarky comments. In fact, we managed so well, we’ve gone on countless vacations since then. Many of them have even been camping trips. And we’ve learned a lot over the years.

About planning ahead. Bringing towels. How to set up a tent in the glow of a large battery operated flashlight. We never have conquered getting to the campground before dark. But that’s how we do it…by making a grand entrance. While being shushed by the other campers.

The most important lesson by far? Don’t camp in the city. Unless it’s in a five star hotel.

Where will your travels take you?

The travel bug is a funny little guy. He shows up whenever he feels like it, can easily take you on the ride of your life, and sometimes, he takes you to unusual places. Just for the sport of it.

Last night I finished reading Savannah Grace’s memoir I Grew My Boobs in China.

Great title isn’t it? It’s her first in a series of books about how following her parents’ divorce when she was only fourteen years old, Savannah’s mother decided a trip abroad was just what the doctor ordered. So, she packed up Savannah (her youngest), and two of her three other children (the third was overseas serving in the military) and went.

Their accommodations throughout the first leg of their journey were rather…un-resort-like. Dusty roads, extreme culture shock, and more mutton than Savannah cared to eat. Their sleeping arrangements, modes of travel, and toilet facilities were not my kind of style. Frankly, I grew my boobs in Kansas City. Metaphorically speaking.

After I finished the last page of the book and leaving a friendly review on Amazon (where all readers should leave a little lovin’ for the books they read), I puttered around until hubby got home from work. When he graced the front door entrance, we had coffee and a piece of pie. And that’s when he shared his news:

He’d been introduced to a new place to travel. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

My first question: “Idaho? Isn’t that where they grow potatoes?”

He nodded. “It’s a resort town. Some guys at work told me about it.”

As he hurried to grab the iPad to show me some pictures and share this wealth of information he’d gathered, I was already intrigued.

I have an interest in resort towns. Artsy places where you can get the lay of the land by walking the culture filled sidewalks and eating at local establishments. Especially if those local establishments have seafood. Though I’m a fan of potatoes too.

According to hubby, a couple of guys he works with grew up in that area or lived near there for a time as adults. I can’t really remember. But they moved away because the area became a bit of a tourist’s trap.

Even better.

See, I’m not the kind of woman that wants to experience rugged, backpacking across Europe, kind of travel. I have nothing against those who do. In fact, I admire them a great deal. But I already have boobs. I don’t need to grow them in China. Or anywhere else that consists of a hole in the ground for the toilet.

Come to think of it, I grew my boobs on the campgrounds of my youth when my parents’ idea of a vacation meant either camping for a week or two at a time (My mother insisted on some notion of toilet facilities whenever we went. Bless her heart.) or traveling to the inner city of “de Region.” The latter was not your average vacation destination. Or a pleasant one, come to think of it. I’ll be sure to blog about that later.

I’d dare even say I’m not a “real traveler.” I’m a vacationer.

I like resorts with spas, fine dining, and five star hotels. Or a vacation rental home with pool access, wi-fi, and a Jacuzzi tub. I don’t want to eat mutton when I travel, nor do I want to eat at a restaurant where my food is served on a paper plate or in those red baskets with a mere piece of wax paper to catch the grease.

Perhaps the phrase vacationing diva suits me best.

travel

So when hubby was going on about vacationing in Idaho, I was a little leery.

Until I saw the pictures and perused the website a bit. And I saw that food was in fact served on beautiful dishes, not the least bit paper or red basket-ish. Then I saw the advertisement for spa facilities.

Say no more. I was ready to pack my bags and go.

We decided Coeur d’Alene, Idaho will be one of our new adventure travel spots. Though due to grad school and all PTO secured for use through early fall, we won’t be going this year. Oh the woes of not being able to travel six months out of the year.

When we do go, we’ll likely get the questions about “why Idaho” or “do you have family there.” And our standard responses will be: “why not” and “no.” Although we do have family in one of the “I” states, Idaho isn’t one of them. That we’re aware of.

How do your travels define you? Are you a vacation diva? Or a rugged traveler? And for women everywhere reading this….where did you grow your boobs?

Experience Fremont

There is quite possibly nothing like the thrill of your parents taking you on a spontaneous trip to a land you’ve never been before. Or so I like to think. When I sit my growing kids down and prepare to share with them the exciting news about another adventure we’re about to embark on, I know this is what they’re thinking. Or so I like to think.

Family Vacay

Family Vacay

The truth is I don’t sit them down to tell them. I text them. They might be at school or at work. They might be upstairs in their rooms and I’m too tired to walk up there. Or don’t possess an extra ounce of energy to holler “Hey, I’ve got something to say. Come down here.” And let’s face it, even if I had the energy to do those things, why would I? I can text them. It’s so much easier.

The other truth is, when I tell them we’re going on another grand adventure, they’re more like “okay” or “k” if they’re texting back their reply. Their eyes don’t light up. They don’t squeal in delight. There is not much hugging and jumping up and down with glee. Perhaps this is because they’re used to these kinds of announcements. Or because they’re very chill and low key people. But probably because they’re busy texting their friends and I’ve just interrupted them.

So when I informed them we were going to Vegas it shouldn’t have surprised me when our youngest asked: “What are we going to do there? It sounds boring.”

Viva Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas

Mind you, I did not go on an all out manhunt (woman hunt?) for exciting and fun things to do with teenagers in Vegas. I mean, I glanced at a couple websites and threw out the idea that there’s an aquarium there, but that was as far as I took it. Not because I didn’t care or didn’t want to do anything fun there, but because I knew she wasn’t so bothered by this that she was going to opt to stay home instead.

No, she’d muster up some energy to do something, anything in Vegas. And besides, I was too busy searching for a rental home for the long weekend we had in store. Did you know that March Madness weekend is not the best time to be looking for a cheap hotel in the Las Vegas area? It’s not. It’s like they know people are going to travel there, so they jack up the prices everywhere. All the VRBO homes were being snatched up quicker than I could investigate them and we were down to the wire. If I didn’t spend all my free time searching for something at a minimum of 3.5 stars and within a reasonable budget for a few days in the area, our daughter wasn’t just going to be bored in Vegas, she wouldn’t be going.

With a lot of searching and a lot more luck, we came in contact with a guy who had a house in a neighborhood not too far from the strip. It was in our budget and while not the Rio or some other glitzy hotel, it was doable. I signed on the electronic dotted line, made a payment, and the weekend was secure. We were going to Vegas, baby.

As the boredom conversation crept up from time to time, my husband and I took the best course of action we could. We lied. Instead of searching for family friendly activities, other than the aquarium, we just said our plans for the weekend were to: win big. I did win a solid $45 at the slot machine and hubby won “11 times the amount of money he played.” For an easy $58. But we were nowhere near the big leagues at the casino.

Vegas9                                                                            Vegas6

We tried to remind our daughter that when she got there, she’d have fun. We told her there were plenty of things to do. To which she smartly reminded us there weren’t “because I’m not old enough to gamble.” And when we got there, we found something for her to do.

It was not the roller coaster that rose up into the sky higher than the skyscrapers. Um, no. It hasn’t even been a year since the trip no one wanted to take so that was totally off limits for her. The aquarium never did pan out. It’s quite possible I was the only one who wanted to go to that and my husband omitted getting us tickets because even he would have been bored had we ventured over that way.

No, we let her and her brothers go zip lining instead. Over Fremont Street of all places.

For those of you who have never been to the Las Vegas area, the “old Fremont Street” is an interesting place to go. It has this carport type covering over most of it and houses all sorts of…interesting sights. Like the woman who is covered in what appears to be body paint that has her looking like some kind of wild cat. And a thong. Or the two elderly gentlemen who are only wearing thongs that have these suspender like straps over their shoulders and make it very clear what they’re covering up between their legs. Because those outfits leave almost nothing to the imagination.

Enter Fremont Street

Enter Fremont Street

Let’s just say it was less shocking to see the folks dressed as superheroes posing for pictures with folks who walked by. Or to see how long this one guy could sit stone still waiting for someone to drop a quarter in his bucket so that he could “come to life” in a strange seated dance while screeching –I mean singing- some weird song.

Did I mention the whole experience was family friendly? Because I think it was supposed to be. There were people as young as babies in strollers and people as old as the guys in those suspender thong things wandering around. And while no one was freaking out at the wide range of quirky folks, there were some of us who had the thought “what were they thinking” etched clearly on our faces.

So, what do you do when you have three teens in tow who don’t want to be bored in Vegas? You give them each twenty bucks and usher them to the zip lining stand.

Ziplining over Fremont

Ziplining over Fremont

I know what they saw when they were on the ground. Because we were with them, gawking like the rest of the Fremont Street newbies. What they saw while flying overhead, I have no idea. Because somebody would have to pay me more than $20 to climb up several flights of stairs, strap me into a seated position, and send me flying across the street on a cable. And because what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

The Golden Nugget

The Golden Nugget

A Trip Down Memory Lane

There’s nothing like taking a trip down memory lane. Reflecting on fond memories, spending time together, and generally having a good time. Unless your version of memory lane is less than thrilling, that is. And who hasn’t experienced life’s not-so-pleasant moments?

So today, since it’s still winter and I’m ready for spring, to put hope in the hearts of those who need it, and just for fun, let’s take a trip down memory lane…vacation style….with Christmas ornaments.

I love a good souvenir. Whether it’s a hoodie, some killer postcards, or a piece of pie made by the hands of people who live in the place where I’m traveling; they’re all amazing. I also love Christmas. And somewhere along the fifteen years my hubby and I have been vacationing together (can you believe it’s been that long?) I started collecting ornaments from the places we’ve traveled to.

There are still many more to collect and a few places I need to return to because I didn’t pick up an ornament the first time I was there. Here are what I have so far.

Jamaica: The land of tiki dolls, water falls, and the constant thought: I can’t believe I made it to this exotic place!

Jamaica Christmas

It’s Jamaica!

Pennsylvania: That was the year our family dynamics changed (again). We heard “Do you have family there?” a million times in response to our telling folks where we were headed. The amazing things: the tire swing, what an apple orchard looks like, and the moment your uber conservative husband stands out like a hooker in church because he wore a blue button down to the Mennonite church instead of the customary white button down. Rebellious, that’s what that man is. Pennsylvania is also where the whole “let’s renew our wedding vows” bug bit me. We have yet to make it happen.

Amish buggy

Traveling Amish style

Cozumel, Mexico: This was in fact our second trip to Mexico, but I don’t have an ornament from the first time. Both times though, I teared up a little. I feel like I belong when we travel there. It’s my chance to show my kids where my family heritage stems from. Fun facts: I can read/understand some of the language (fun because hubby & kids actually need me to translate), bargaining, and knowing that even though I wasn’t born there and know shockingly little about my family history, this country is the place where I come from.

Cozumel Mexico

Ola!

Orlando, Florida: It’s a cliche place to go visit and somewhere along the way I swore I wouldn’t take my kids. Best memories: Disney World in a thunderstorm (epic!), the kids swimming at night in the pool, and mini golf. Unbelievable: I lost my engagement ring while on this trip.

Disney World

I love Mickey!

San Francisco, California: The place that changed my writing life. SFWC, expensive parking, living the city life for a weekend, and sea lions. Love the sea lions.

San Francisco Sea Lions

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco, sea lions, SFWC.

Catalina Island: If I ever retire, I can imagine doing so here. Cute town, golf carts for cars, and the view. So pretty. Interesting tidbits: this blog post received more retweets on Twitter than any other I’ve written, it was a port on the 1st cruise my family ever took, and the place our family first crammed into a golf cart for a self-guided tour of an island.

Catalina Island

Island tour, anyone?

Seattle, Washington: We go here a lot. We love the market, Elliot’s fried oysters, have walked many miles the length of the DoubleTree Hotel, and love the Cedarbrook. It’s almost like a second home for us. Did you know: In the summer it is cheaper for us to fly to / spend a weekend in Seattle than it is to go to Anchorage during the summer / tourist months? P.S. Go to Sharp’s/Roosters. Their iced tea and burgers are AMAZING!

Seattle Washington

Let’s go to the market

Sharps

They make the BEST burgers!

Seattle Market

So fresh & yummy!

Alaska: A place we never imagined visiting only to end up living here. Best. Move. Ever.

Alaska

The last frontier.

Alaska, snow

Alaska winter

Where do your travels take you? And what do you collect for souvenirs?

Top Ten Things I Hate About Traveling

For as much as I love to travel, it’s hard to believe there are things I hate about it. Yet somehow, I’ve managed to find a few. Here goes:

1. The ache in my shoulder from carrying my luggage through endless airports. Why do I insist on packing so many things and then NOT checking my bag?

luggage

Have I packed….EVERYTHING?

2. When a place I’m used to going to is replaced by something I didn’t know was coming. This happened in the Anchorage airport recently. Why would you get rid of a perfectly good Quiznos and replace it with some other sandwich shop? Why? And then not give me a heads up about it? Wrong.

3. Losing things and/or forgetting them on the plane. If you live in Orlando, FL and come across my engagement ring, please let me know. I’d really like it back. And really do check the seat pocket in front of you for personal items. What doesn’t get claimed by the owners does get sold at the annual employee auction. Kindle, anyone? Noise canceling headphones?

4. Forgetting my travel blanket and pillow. Because there are not many things more unpleasant than using the window of a plane (or the shoulder of a stranger) as a pillow. And don’t get me started on shivering every minute of a four hour plane right because I forgot my blanket and my seat buddy has the air turned on. Yes, I know I married him, but it’s not like he had “I travel with the air on high” in his personal ad.

travel blanket

I need my blanket!

5. Gate changes. With my lack of sense of direction, it’s a wonder I’ve even made it to the airport. Don’t mess with my self confidence or my trip by switching up the gate at the last minute. Especially if you’re going to make me board at the N gate in the SEA-TAC airport. The ten things I hate about the N gate at SEA-TAC could easily be a blog in and of itself.

airport gate changes

Let me sit right here. Please, don’t make me run to the N-gate!

6. Stressing about losing and/or forgetting my ID. And the IDs of my children. And their friends who are traveling with us. If you’re ever lucky (brave) enough to travel with our family, don’t be surprised or bothered if (when) I snatch up your passport for safe keeping. Because the thought of one of my kids being denied boarding in a foreign country freaks me out. I also promise to guard your ID with my life…Trust me on this one.

passport travel

I’ll hold that for you. Wouldn’t want you to lose it.

7. Listening to parents scream at their kids. I’d rather listen to the kid scream. Just an FYI: your kids are tired and hungry too. They don’t like being crammed into a car or a bus or a plane or a boat for sixteen hours to go on a trip you decided to take. Cut them some slack, please. Buy tjem a toy, let them nap on the floor, get them a snack, empathize with them for goodness sake. And please, if you must rush to the gate to meet the plane (this is for all you folks get get out at the C-gate and have to marathon run to the N-gate in SEA-TAC), carry your kid or plan an eight hour layover or something. Don’t run at breakneck speed to get there while yelling at your kid to keep up. Not cool.

kids screaming, parenting

AHHHHHH!

parenting

Parents to kids: Don’t make me come over there!

8. When souvenir shops don’t have the item I want in my size or the color that best fits my skin tone. Didn’t you get the memo I was coming? I need that scarf, dress, t-shirt, tote bag, hoodie. Seriously…I do.

Souvenirs

I must buy…everything in this shop.

9. Missing that perfect photo opportunity because I don’t want to look like a tourist. I realize this is my own issue. I’m working on it. The first step in overcoming a problem is admitting you have one. “Hi. I’m Vickie and I’m a tourist.” All in unison, respond: “Hi Vickie.” (while waving).

Tourist photos

Is this look too touristy?

10. Having to choose one destination when I want to go EVERYWHERE! Why must I only choose one? Why can’t I have 47.5 weeks of PTO and only 4.5 weeks of work so that I can spend my life traveling…to all the places?

traveling choices

How can I choose when I want to go to…ALL THE PLACES?

And there you have it. Ten things I hate about traveling. Maybe not hate, but things I dislike. Pet peeves, if you will. Who am I kidding? These are obviously things I get some kind of sick thrill out of or I wouldn’t keep traveling. Did I mention #10 is what the pre-trip, trip, and post-trip were born from? Have I shared that with you yet? *makes mental note to do so shortly.*

What are your traveling pet peeves?