How Not to Lose Your Mind During Summer Break {Guest Post}

Moving around as much as we do, I use social media to keep up with some of my favorite people I’ve met along this journey. I’ve ‘known’ Sheena since our Fort Drum days and I’ve enjoyed keeping in touch with her using the powers of the internet over the years. She writes over at Just Another Day in Paradise and I always appreciate her take on things. Keep reading to learn how she survives summer break with three kids at home.

When my oldest child was small, people truly used to tell me he was so well-behaved and charismatic that I should write a parenting book. I remember humbly saying “Well, we’ll see how the next one goes…” while (obviously) concocting a working title in my head. Then I had a girl (Insert an understanding “ohhhh” from all mothers of daughters out there) and believe it or not people stopped telling me that. When our girl was about 16 months old, I became pregnant with my third child because every woman wants to be pregnant five calendar years in a row, right? He is now two, and dearly beloved and so precious and spoiled – the way the baby of the family should be, but times were tough there for a while with a challenging toddler and a new baby, and then another challenging toddler, a new baby, and a pre-K’er. I am not ashamed to say that the sun has only recently come out from the behind the clouds of frustration and overwhelm for me.

Anyway, I told you all of that to tell you this:

I am a crazy person who smooshes her children in so close in age they practically share birthdays. I have exactly zero business passing out parenting advice because my older children LIVE to torment each other. But I do know a little something about life in the trenches of motherhood, and I have some tips that have kept me from absolutely losing my mother lovin’ marbles this summer (which starts in May here, by the way, so I’m an expert already) – my first summer after getting used to having two of three children out of the house for at least part of the day.

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All The Popsicles –The rule at my house is that popsicles don’t get eaten inside. EVER. Can’t stand another minute of the fussing? Send them outside with an ice pop. They don’t care if it’s hot, they have popsicles! It’s raining? EVEN BETTER! Put on their rain slicker and galoshes first. Yeah, chemicals, sugar, blah, blah, blah.  Sanity is the name of the game, here. You can get back to wholesome meals at dinnertime. Or in an hour when they want another snack. And on that note…

Snack Trays – My kids are eating all the things. Someone recently told me just cut up some veggies and throw them on a plate and leave it on the table. My mind was blown. Produce has never gone faster at my house than when it just sits around begging to be snacked on. They think they won the lottery if I put some olives on there too. Tell them the platter has to be consumed by the time popsicle hour rolls around and watch it all fly.

Just Get Yo’Selves Out – This morning after we were all up at 5:45 (thanks to a leaky diaper), fed by 6:30, and desperate by 9 as it was already 92* outside, I loaded the kids in the car and we drove 35 minutes to the gourmet donut shop the next town over. They chose glazed donuts which had been frosted and topped with those rainbow tropical marshmallows and chocolate sauce. It gave me a toothache to look at it. Luckily, they all chose juice for their drinks because it’s important to make healthy, balanced choices in life. Whatever, man. It killed an hour of the day, and the kids thought they were getting the treat of their lives. Then we went to Target and they acted like absolute bats out of hell from ALL THE SUGAR, but everyone at Target in the middle of a weekday is a mom or grandma so no one batted an eye. Suddenly it was lunch time and since we were now an hour from home we had to go out again. We tried a new street taco place, and I let my oldest get a burrito that he’s “always wanted to try” that was honest to God the size of his thigh. I was impressed that he managed to put down half, and it felt good to both of us for me just to say “Yes!” to his request, rather than telling him to get a kids meal. It was loud in there so no one noticed the awfulness while we waited, and if they did I’m sure they thought “Man, summer is hard on Moms, I bet she wishes she could have a margarita with her lunch.” And they’d have been correct. But we all survived! And every summer field trip proves to be easier than the last.

Say Yes to Netflix – Turn on a movie you loved as a kid (although I speak from experience when I say the odds of them liking it are slim). Or turn on whatever crap show they’ve been begging to watch. A minutes peace so you can, say, write a guest blog post is more than worth it.  I’m all for carefully curated art projects and relevant documentaries, but just take a moment for yourself and let them watch the stupid show about stupid Lego Ninjas while the baby naps- they’ll be fine. Also, I feel compelled to share that my two oldest were watching a movie while I typed this out and they just turned it off and started playing together. So maybe marshmallow donuts are the answer here? I’m not saying I know all the answers, but hot damn if something didn’t fall in to place today!

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Find a Bookstore – Set a budget and go in. Kids don’t see bookstores or libraries enough (but libraries = quiet and my crew just can’t manage that, and if you’re still reading by now, I’m guessing yours can’t either.) I don’t know anyone whose kids don’t go ape for new books. Sure, buying books in real life means they’re more expensive than on Amazon, but A) it’s hard to teach budgeting on Amazon, and B) instant gratification. And secret bonus C) SILENCE ON THE CAR RIDE HOME. Please imagine my emphasis here.

Take the Trip – My best friend lives near DC which is about 9 hours away from my home. Last year when she invited us to come up for a week that summer I was nervous, hesitant, excited and juuust desperate enough to do it though it meant a full day of driving without another adult to help. Staying with anyone for a week can be tough, so pick someone who is understanding and loves your kids, and whose children you also love. My friends kiddo and my own children have very different personalities and play styles, and sometimes get on each others nerves. But that’s part of life, right? Learning to interact with people different than yourself. And they’ve invited us back this summer despite having infant twins in their home now. And yes, we’re going. For the cost of a few tanks of gas, my kids get the memory of road tripping with a mom who wasn’t afraid to do things on her own, a glimpse at our nation’s capital, and hopefully, the travel bug. If you don’t have someone to visit, how about going to the zoo a few hours away instead of the one that’s local? Or even to the story/music time at a library that isn’t the one nearest to your house? Hey, if your kids are the craziest ones in the pack – you can just pick a different library next time!

Make a Mess – Go through the effort of doing something they like that makes a mess, even if you have to remind yourself that cleaning it up is a good way to kill a few more minutes before bedtime. We made cookies yesterday. I HATE baking, both because of the mess it makes and  because I am just not very precise. So my baking is usually… “off.” But you know what kids like? Baking. And you know who doesn’t care if the cookies are too crumbly? Kids. The good news for us is that we live on a military installation and always have a new neighbor nearby to bless with our sorta funky baked goods. Because you know who else doesn’t care if your cookies are too crumbly? New neighbors who feel welcomed and wanted. Can we get #messesmeanmemories to start trending? Maybe that will help me when I see my children and everything on my entire first floor coated in flour…

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Happy Summer, friends! Here’s to hot coffee, crisp (or whatever adjective describes red – earthy? woody? icky?) wine, and keeping our collective marbles in their rightful place until bedtime! We’ve got this!
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A Newcomers Guide to Life in Southern California {Guest Post}

When we drove away from Fort Leavenworth for the last time, I waited until we were through the gates until I opened the note Allyson handed me after our last hug goodbye. And then I promptly cried. And laughed. And then cried some more. Allyson is one of those friends that everyone feels lucky to have. Almost everybody loves her – well, except for administrators of the online military spouse group she was kicked out of last year for insubordination.  She appreciates my dirty sense of humor and I absolutely love her wit and writing over at her blog Magnolias & Mimosas. She and her family recently moved to Southern California, courtesy of Uncle Sam, so I asked her to share some observations she’s made thus far. And like always, she didn’t disappoint.

I’m sure that Karen would be the first to admit that moving every 2 years or so will absolutely shatter most of the preconceived notions a person grows up having about other regions of the country. From what the women wear in Manhattan, to how flat Kansas is, to the size of a waist in Los Angeles, once you live there for a month you realize that most of what you thought you knew is just plain false. While Karen and her family are learning how divine the Indian food tastes in England and that no picture can actually do the Eiffel Tower any justice (especially at night), I am going to share with you 5 myths I’ve busted since moving to L.A. in May and 3 things that turned out to be spot-on.

  1. Everyone here is blonde, a size 0 and tan.

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So, no. Although he is undoubtedly tan, he’s not a size 0. And the women aren’t either. I’m a size 14-16 and most women look like me. Sure, when you go to the beaches you will see teens and early 20’s flaunting their assets in bikinis and thongs, but you also see plenty of moms in one piece bathing suits and skirts. In a way, it is a surprisingly judgement-free zone. Every bodyis different and you don’t see anyone paying extra attention to someone in a plus size bikini (and I was the only one snapping a pic of this guy – but I knew it would come in handy someday. Also kudos to you, sir).

  1. Everyone either surfs or is in “the business”.

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Yes, there are plenty of surfers spread all up and down the California coastline. If surfing is your jam, you just can’t get waves like this on the East Coast. Surfers show up in VW buses and Jeep Wranglers with their surfboards strapped to the roof and wet suits slung over shoulders. That is a thing that happens daily. Likewise, while many people are trying to catch a wave, just as many are trying to catch a break on the big screen. I attended the red carpet premiere of Hotel Transylvania 3last weekend (which is not really as impressive as it sounds – but more on that in a minute) and ended up chatting with a gentleman who is in voice training. But there are also everyday people doing everyday jobs, just like men and women in North Dakota and Maine and Texas…but with better weather. I can say with 98% certainty that my dental hygienist, my vet tech and the cashier I see all the time at Costco are not auditioning on the weekends.

  1. Seeing a celebrity on the red carpet takes a lot of planning.

Nope, not at all. Movie premieres are held at 4 theatres around the city at either 1 PM (for children’s movies) or 5:30 PM (for PG-13 and R). Simply check this website (hyperlink to www.seeing-stars.com) and look at the calendar for upcoming movie premieres. The website lists the movie, the location and the start time. Stars in the movie (and not all the stars – Adam Sandler couldn’t be bothered with a sequel premiere even though he voices one of the main characters) begin showing up (in blacked-out Escalades, no less) about 30 minutes ahead of the movie start time, but you will want to have your spot staked out at least 2 hours in advance, depending on the hype surrounding the movie and where the theater is located. I assume it’s harder to secure a good spot for a premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater than it was at Westwood Village Regency Theatre. (We were right up against the barrier and we were there 2 ½ hours ahead of time – bonus: this theatre has a Chick Fil A one block down.) Find the group of people who are sitting in their camping chairs, photos and Sharpies in hand. They are the ones who sell autographs on the internet. The stars will come over to them, but these folks also have no problem shoving you out of the way in order to get their autograph. Find a spot next to them, not amongst them. You may not get an autograph or a selfie, but you can see the celebrities and may be able to snap a good picture.

  1. Fashion is the name of the game in this town.

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No one likes a pair of leggings, an ironic tshirt and a trucker hat like folks in L.A. From hiking in Runyon Canyon to hitting up The Farmer’s Market at The Grove, most people are wearing whatever is comfortable. I get compliments all the time on my $25 bamboo watch from Amazon and the Sunshine & Whiskey baseball cap I take to the beach. If anything, Los Angelinos err on the side of casual and comfy, especially around the beach towns. You may be dining in a 4-star restaurant on Manhattan Beach, but rest assured most patrons have some sand between their toes.

  1. If you want to see the famous landmarks in L.A., you will be in gridlocked traffic for hours.

OK, this is true if you are trying to visit Santa Monica Pier at 3 PM on a Saturday, but for the most part, you can get around L.A. (even the most heavily trafficked areas like Griffith Observatory and Rodeo Drive) with relative ease. It helps to have a small car and confidence in your ability to change lanes. But drivers in L.A. will let a person merge into traffic or change lanes, which is more than I can say for a lot of people driving on I-75, I-65 or I-81. Turn on Waze or Google Maps, anticipate your next 2 turns and you will be just fine. Once you arrive, parking is a whole ‘nother animal but the parking meters take credit cards and the garages aren’t as outrageously priced as the ones in NYC. If you can drive in Atlanta, Kansas City, Indianapolis or Louisville, you can drive in L.A.

Some myths I couldn’t bust:

  1. It’s always sunny in Southern California.

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It hasn’t rained since we arrived on May 15. Every morning is overcast but the marine layer burns off around 10:30 AM and the sun shines, without a cloud in the sky, for the rest of the day. I forget to water my plants and my kid and we are all living in a constant state of drought. Plus my arms are at least 4 shades darker than the flesh that never sees the light of day. Florida needs to hand over its title as the Sunshine State because Cali totally has this one in the bag.

  1. A. traffic sucks.

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It’s true. It’s not quite as bad as I had built up in my mind, but getting on the 405 or the 110 can look, at first glance, apocalyptic. But it moves and I’ve not yet sat in traffic for more than 14 minutes (and I’ve yet to come to a dead stop). Traffic apps have probably helped, but still…there is no such thing as “rush hour” in L..A. …it’s ALL rush hour. 24/7. OK, Sunday morning at 8 AM isn’t bad. My rule of thumb: one mile = one minute and then multiply that by 3. That’s how long it will take you to get somewhere. It hasn’t failed me yet.

  1. California is a “green” state.

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There are HOV lanes and if you have an all-electric car, you get to travel in the HOV lane regardless of how many people you have riding with you. Stores charge for bags so everyoneis walking around with reusable bags tucked under their arms. The International Bird Rescue is here and they focus on cleaning and rehabilitating birds after sickness or disasters, such as oil spills. Every car licensed in CA must undergo smog testing and there are extensive directions about how to pump gas into your tank to avoid making the smog worse. And anything bigger than an SUV is rarely seen on the freeways.

Moving from Dutch Amish PA to L.A. County has been an overwhelming adjustment but it has forced me to realize that no travel is impossible. Even when you feel like you’ve leaped from one universe to another, there is still a way to get from point A to point B and you may be surprised by what you find when you get there.

The Importance of Vacationing Without Kids

We leave today for our family vacation – to say that we’re excited is an understatement. Feel free to following along on Instagram. While we’re so thankful for the opportunity to travel as a family, we’re also keeping our fingers-crossed that Clay and I will be able to get away for a few days in August – sans kids. Ultimately the Army will make that decision for us but in the meantime, we’re brainstorming places to go on the East Coast within driving distance so we can maximize our time together. Over the years, Clay and I have taken our fair share of kid-free trips and to date, have yet to regret doing so. In fact, I am always encouraging married couples to incorporate kid-free trips into their marriage.

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Not that everybody feels that way. In fact, a few years ago, I had acquaintance tell me that she loved her children too much to be away from them for longer than a night. I didn’t take her words personally. I’m secure enough in my mothering aptitude to know that spending time with my husband away from our kids doesn’t lessen our ability to parent effectively or have any bearing on our love for them. It does, however, mean that we celebrate our relationship and each other outside of our parenting roles. And it’s not like we’d be able to take our kids on a distillery tour in Scotland.

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I get it – it isn’t easy. Our sans kids trips absolutely take more planning than our family vacations because they often involve multiple moving parts.

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We took our first kid-free trip when the little guy was 15 months old, shortly after Clay returned from a year-long deployment. We left him with my parents and flew out to exotic Lawton, Oklahoma in order to look for a house. We didn’t have luck securing a house and the scenery wasn’t exactly what one pictures for a post-deployment vacation but we had a nice time, despite almost dying of cigarette smoke inhalation at a casino located on the outskirts of town. We’ve since traveled kid-free quite a bit – a mix of true vacations and PCS-induced travel. And I’ve learned a few things along the way…

It can be a logistics nightmare. I’m not going to lie – securing childcare isn’t easy. Both sets of our parents live far away from us and it always involves lots of logistics for us to get the kids (and Lucy) to them before setting off on an adventure. Most of our kid-free trips start off as family road-trips to get to either the Atlanta area or Wilmington, North Carolina. Therefore, we usually either fly out of Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta or Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Being nervous is okay. The night before we left for Scotland, I tearfully told Clay that I was worried that six nights was too long to be away from the kids. He reassured me that it will be okay but if needed, we can always reschedule our flights once in country and return a day early. Just knowing we had that option was enough to calm my fears. And to be honest, the minute we stepped foot in the Atlanta airport excitement overtook my apprehension and I took comfort in knowing that our kids were safe and happy to be at their grandparents.

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You’ll miss the kids. But not too much. We love traveling with our kids. They’re resilient, fairly well-behaved, and up for almost anything. But they’re still kids. Our kid-free trips are typically more extreme versions of our favorite activities. We’ll kayak for hours. We’ll hike 10 miles. We’ll swim super further out than we would with the kids. We’ll eat fancy meals and we’ll drink a little more. Because we’re doing things that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do if the kids were with us, we don’t feel sad or guilty about not having them with us. And they’re having too much fun with extended family to miss us anyway.

Just do it. So while the logistics of childcare and budget restraints don’t always make it possible, it is definitely worth putting forth the effort to try and make it happen – even if it is just for a night at a nearby location. You won’t regret it. I promise!

97 Degrees and Rising

As Nelly shouted to the world in 2002, it’s hot in herre. Really hot. Washington DC is currently experiencing a record-breaking heatwave that has me thankful for our pool membership while also giving my flashbacks on our brief time in Texas. The infamous capital-area-swamp humidity isn’t helping. My coarse thick hair is weeping for SoCal and my body is wondering why my husband chose to pursue a land-locked career in the Army rather than along the coastline in the Navy. That being said, I really do love living here. But I’d like it even better if were in a cute little bungalow within walking distance of a major body of water.

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Clay was home for the majority of the weekend, which meant we attempted to squeeze in as much family time as we possible could. Which is how we ended up kayaking at noon in 99 degree weather – looking back, not our brightest idea. The kids managed to keep the complaining to a minimum and they powered through but we waved the white flag around the two hour mark.

In effort to keep this space from flatlining, I am really trying to write more. Not that I think anyone is chomping at the bit to devour my words but it’s nice to a place that I get to completely cultivate as my own. I may not be the next voice of my generation but I sometimes say things that make my friends and family laugh and the people who live with me seem to think I’m the cat’s pajamas. That has to be worth something, right?

I’ve noticed an uptick in readers as of late. Either Russia is really refocusing their efforts or some of the words I’ve written over the past few months have resonated with various members of the world population. Although, I do hope it is not those who aren’t actively seeking to destroy our well-being. So it seems like as good of a time as any to answer a few questions that may help you get to know me a little better.

Zodiac sign? I am a Pisces. I don’t really care though because I haven’t checked my horoscope since middle school. And even then I only did it because I was desperate for friends and it felt like every.single.girl in our school was obsessed. Back then, my tragically fragile self-esteem would take it personally that the horoscope for Pisces was always located at the bottom of the newspaper section. As if it were an after thought – if only I were a Cancer or a Sagittarius or a Leo. Is it possible to feel rejected by a newspaper horoscope section? Because I’m pretty sure I was continuously rejected by mine during my middle school years.

Three annoying things. (1) Slow talkers. Unnecessary pauses are positively grating and life is way too short to extend words beyond their required syllables. (2) Lack of turn signal. I’ve spent way too many minutes fantasizing about enrolling in the Police Academy, working hard, making close friends, and graduating with honors – only for the privilege of pulling over drivers who refuse to use their damn turn signal. Book em’, Danno! (3)

An embarrassing moment. I have had a lot of embarrassing moments over the years. Without elaborating (perhaps a future post?), some of them include: falling down a staircase in my wedding gown during our reception in front of everybody on the dance floor, inadvertently asking my 9th grade math teacher how big his “thingy” was in front of the class, raising my hand during English 101 as a college freshman and asking the professor to describe phallic because I wasn’t familiar with the word, and a very unfortunate incident involving unpasteurized cheese.

Five dishes you wouldn’t want to live without? (1) Double-blanched French fries. (2) Beef tenderloin/filet mignon. (3) Maryland blue crab. (4) Fresh shrimp. (5) Pho.

Well – this seems as good of a place as any to close the post. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it. However, it remains to be seen if anyone enjoys reading it. For those who have made it thus far – thanks. And for those who bailed at an earlier paragraph – you missed out on learning that I am able to sing “Little Black Backpack” by Stroke 9 without needing to look at the karaoke screen.

Lessons Learned From Coaching T-Ball

Back in January, I went to a local middle school gym to sign-up the kids for Little League. While both have played baseball in the past with YCMA and Parks & Rec leagues, this marked our first official experience with Little League – an organization that is synonymous wholesome Americana and considered by many to be a childhood rite of passage. In Arizona, I grew up playing Little League softball and as a result, I developed a lifelong love for the sport. During my later years in high school, it became obvious that despite being good – I wasn’t good enough to play at an elite college level. So after graduation, I transitioned to an intramural and fun-league softball player and still rather enjoy surprising people with a diving catch or a hit into center left.

So when a league coordinator at the Little League sign-ups pleaded for people to volunteer as T-Ball coaches, I felt a push that I needed to do it because I got so much out of my Little League experience growing up. This is a crazy season of our lives – Clay’s position takes him away a lot and with Violet playing T-ball and Weston playing baseball, I knew there’d be times I’d have to be in two places at once. But after the league coordinator assured me that the T-Ball head coach commitment was manageable, I filled-out the paperwork and agreed to coach my daugher’s T-Ball team.

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The league undersold the commitment – beyond practices and games, there were mandatory manager meetings, field prep, and other events. It was difficult to coach Violet’s team and not feel like I wasn’t there for Weston. Clay was gone a lot but thankfully not too many games overlapped so I was able to see both kids play most of the time. Practices overlapped a lot and required me to be in two places at the same time – which is officially one of the my least favorite aspects of parenting. And when you’re the coach, it just adds an extra layer of stress. That being said – the 2018 spring season ended a few weeks ago and I can definitively say that I am thankful for the opportunity to coach Little League. And I learned a few things along the way.

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I learned that parents can make or break a team. Almost every parent associated with my team was willing to pitch in and help when needed, which is absolutely essential for a successful season. Additionally, I had fantastic assistant coaches who made my job easier because wrangling 12 four-to-six-year-olds can be absolutely exhausting.

I also learned that there are some intense coaches. Overall I had a good experience with the other T-ball coaches in the league. There were a few that perhaps aren’t suited for working with this age group and one in particular who made the game miserable due to his attitude and behavior toward the children, but I just reminded myself that there are bad seeds everywhere. It was painfully obvious that some were coaching in order to fill a void caused by broken major league dreams rather than to teach fundamentals to our next generation. Seeing that always bummed me out a bit.

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And finally, I learned that it’s difficult to coach your own kid. Or at least my kid. Violet is a strong personality. She is also super affectionate and never hesitates to give me a hug – even if we’re in the middle of a game. She doesn’t like to hear “No!” and if she isn’t the best at something, she will convince herself that it isn’t worth doing. I learned a lot about my daughter this season. I also learned a lot about myself.

As the sidebar on this silly little blog states, children constantly remind me that I don’t know as much about the world as I think I do. My season as a T-ball coach certainly proved this to be true. I thoroughly enjoyed coaching and hope to do it again in the future. I hope that I helped foster an appreciate for a sport that I love and I hope that the kids learned a rule or two about the game. But most of all, I hope the kids had fun.

 

Adventures in Kayaking

When Clay reported to Fort Drum, New York many moons ago, we ended up choosing Sackets Harbor, New York to be our home as young twenty-something newlyweds. For three years, we lived a few hundred yards from the Black River Bay, which is feeds into Lake Ontario. We absolutely adored living in the little resort town and took full advantage of living on the water. We purchased kayaks, made friends with a couple who owned a boat, and didn’t let too many days go by without being on the water in some form or another.

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~ Lake Ontario, New York 2007 ~

When we moved to Raleigh, North Carolina we decided to store our kayaks at Clay’s parents, who live outside of Wilmington. When visiting, we’d take them into the Cape Fear River and keep our eyes open for alligators. Our kayaks remain in North Carolina to this day because once our son arrived into our world and the Army sent us to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, it just seemed easier store them near a water source we knew we’d visit a lot.

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~ Cape Fear River, North Carolina in 2009 ~

So for the past seven years, we’ve only used our kayaks when visiting Clay’s parents. However, that doesn’t mean we’re not above renting kayaks when we travel.

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~ Crystal River, Michigan 2012 ~

We’ve kayaked down the Crystal River in Glen Arbor, Michigan.

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~ Long Bay, St. Thomas, USVI 2014 ~

And we’ve gone out at night on clear-bottomed kayaks in the Virgin Islands.

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~ Lake Lanier, Georgia 2015 ~

Over the years, we’ve cut it close with storms.

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And we’ve spent hours upon hours together on the water. It’s our happy place. I think I like it so much because it really is a great analogy for life. Kayaking is fun. It can be hard. And there will be times that you are so tired that you just want to stop paddling and coast. Just like life. Kayaking can be peaceful. It can be exciting. And it can be scary. So pretty much – kayaking is life.

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~ Lake Lanier, Georgia 2017 ~

My parents have a couple of kayaks at their place on Lake Lanier, Georgia. So when we visit, we’ve taken the kids out on the kayaks there to expose them to the sport and get them excited to be on the water. We thought about grabbing our kayaks from North Carolina last time we were stationed in the Washington DC area but the kids were really young and then the Army sent us to Kansas and then Texas – it just seemed easier to leave them there.

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~ Potomac River, Virginia 2018 ~

But guess what? We’re back in Northern Virginia. And our once-tiny kids grew and they’re not so tiny anymore. In fact, they’re both fully capable of using an oar and manning the front seat in a double kayak. Needless to say, Clay and I are thrilled.

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We took the kids to Fountainhead Regional Park this past Sunday and rented two double kayaks. We foolishly forgot our life vests at home so we had to rent those too (womp womp). We managed to get an hour of kayaking in before thunderstorms rolled in.

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We hope to pick up our kayaks in North Carolina soon and bring them home. They are single kayaks but the wells are big enough for the kids to sit with us but we will likely eventually trade them in for two double kayaks. Because a family the kayaks together, stays together.

Three Evenings, Many Years

There was a stretch of time during middle school when I would watch Grease after school almost daily. As a result, I can recite every line and lyric – which is quite horrifying as an adult because the movie is quite problematic well beyond 30-year-olds playing teenagers. And because of this, it is impossible for me to think of summer nights without quoting at least one line from the infamous song. A few weeks ago, I signed the kids up for an evening three-day Vacation Bible School and I crossed my fingers and toes that the Army wouldn’t send Clay away during those days so we could have some kid-free summer nights – at least for a couple of hours.

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Well – the stars and moon aligned and Clay was actually home those three days. After our children excitedly joined their friends, we waved goodbye and promptly went out for dinner and drinks every.single.night. It was absolutely glorious and a reminder of what our lives were like before deciding to expand our team. The first night, we ended up at El Paso eating chimichangas and drinking margaritas and then we hit up the grocery store for pints of ice cream – obviously a super hot date.

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Because we only had 2.5 hours each night, we chose places in our little pocket of Northern Virginia. If we were cooler (and wealthier!), we’d be closer to the district but instead, we’re leaning into our young-family-with-two-kids-and-a-dog-wanting-good-schools personas and find ourselves living on the other side of the Potomac. The second night, we made reservations at Mike’s American Grill, which is our favorite local restaurant.

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I had a traditional martini and Clay had his favorite IPA. We ate crab dip, filet, salmon, and too much bread. And as I wrote on Instagram – we talked politics, we goal-mapped, and we tried to out-do each other with pop culture references. Between our jobs, the kids’ schedules, and day-to-day responsibilities, there are times we wonder where the teenagers from 17 years ago went. But then whenever we manage to grab a moment together – just the two of us – we realize that we’re just still two young kids in love, albeit with more wrinkles and gray hair.

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On our third kid-free evening, we went to Taco Bamba Taqueria. We freely admit that while we weren’t the biggest fans of Texas, we do miss the tacos terribly. But having Taco Bamba nearby helps because they are by far the best tacos we’ve had in the DC area.

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I had a local Fair Winds Quayside Kolsch and Clay had a west coast IPA. Our tacos were coco loco shrimp, barbacoa, Ricky Bobby, taco bamba, and hail to the hog. My favorite is the barbacoa taco and Clay’s is the taco bamba but they’re all really good. And I am forever indebted to their salsa verde – I could put that stuff on anything and everything.

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This picture of us from 2001 is one of my favorites. We had been dating for about a month and I was completely infatuated with the guy – I knew I loved him more than I could love anyone else. And thankfully almost 17 years later, I still feel the same way. There’s nobody else I’d rather eat chimichangas, filet mignon, and street tacos with and I’m thankful that the timing worked out and we were able to enjoy three evenings out in a row. It felt like a callback to our dating days and first five years of marriage. The responsibilities of parenthood can sometimes make us wonder where these carefree teenagers went. But it turns out that they didn’t go far – they just have more refined tastes in beer and food.

Hello Summer. Hello Boredom.

In the 15 days since my last post the kids hit their last baseball of the season, they’ve started swim team, and school has officially let out for the summer. Temperatures in the national capital region have hit 90 degrees and we’ve been spending our evenings at the neighborhood pool. So despite it being a few days away from summer solstice, I’m officially declaring it summer for Team Huffman.

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Summer has been an interesting season in our household for awhile because we’ve moved each summer for the past three years. The little guy was four and baby girl wasn’t even walking the last time we had a summer that didn’t involve packing up our worldly possessions and schlepping them halfway across the country. Not that we didn’t have fun – we always use the transition time that accompanies a PCS (permanent change of station) to travel, visit family, and make the most of our uninterrupted time together. But for as much as I love experiencing new places and meeting new people, it can be quite exhausting to essentially start our lives over each fall. And there isn’t always the guarantee that I’ll bloom where the Army plants us. So the fact that we currently have an uninterrupted summer ahead of us seems downright exhilarating.

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So what are our plans for the summer? Well – the kids and I will be on our own a lot this summer but Clay will be home enough that we’ll be able to squeeze in a few family-of-four adventures along the way. We have our trip across the pond in a few weeks and I’m sure we will squeeze in a trip to the North Carolina coast and Lake Lanier, Georgia to visit family. We will take advantage of Blue Star Museums in the area and we will explore Washington DC beyond the standard tourist-fare. We’ll go hiking in the Shenandoah Valley and kayak on the Potomac River. And we will eat lots of Maryland Blue Crab and s’mores.

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That being said – these kids will also be bored. Their days will not be scheduled with camps, lessons, or schoolwork. They will harness their boredom and transform it into independent creative play. They will draw. They will paint. They will make a mess. And they will clean up after themselves. I will not comb Pinterest for activities to keep them occupied day in and day out. They will have time to think. Time to plan their own day. They will play outside unsupervised. They will build forts. They will fight. They will be sent to their rooms. They will read. They will be bored at times. And they will have a fantastic summer because of it. Research has shown that boredom can lead to happier and more creative kids with superior problem solving skills. So while we will have adventures and experience plenty of new things, the kids will also have a lot of downtime. When they’re able to use their own creativity and participate in unstructured play, they learn to keep themselves entertained – which is, quite frankly, absolutely essential for a happy and successful life.

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So hello summer 2018. Hello adventure. And hello boredom.