And Then We Laughed

A blog about going places and doing things

“Everything I learned, I learned from the movies.”

Audrey Hepburn

I like to joke with Clay that I endured a lot of bad movies for the sake of spending time with him during our dating years. We do have similar tastes in most areas of life and there are no shortage of films that we both love – but we certainly have our preferences. He loves Quentin Tarantino films. I do not. I’m a sucker for (good) romantic comedies. He can take them or leave them. My argument is that the real world can be enough of a bummer that when I sit down to watch a movie, I want to experience happy feelings and be reminded about the positive aspects of life. He respects that and therefore watches John Wick-type movies on airplanes when he is TDY. I’d like to apologize to those who sit next to him.

The following are some of my favorite quotes about love from various films. The first one is arguably the most famous and I’m sure quite easy to find on Pinterest written in a whimsical font with an ascetically-pleasing graphic. But the others may not be as well-known. This list doesn’t feature “You had me at hello” or “As you wish” or even “Here’s looking at you kid“, but don’t let that deter you from reading on.

“I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

When Harry Met Sally

Okay, okay – this one is cheesy. It’s pure Velveeta. Speaking of Velveeta, I can’t stand the processed cheese product. I’m horrified when it is used in cheesesteaks and I find Rotel dip absolutely terrifying. Clay entered into our marriage with a fondness for Velveeta. However, that affection dissipated when he discovered that it was, in fact, not legally able to be labeled as cheese. Thank goodness. But back to When Harry Met Sally – yes, the quote is cheesy but it is also spot on. It’s true – when you realize that you want to spend the rest of your life with your lobster, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. As someone who got married young (I was 21 when I walked down the aisle), I identify with this quote. For us, we knew we wanted to be together so why delay the inevitable?

“The odd thing about this form of communication is that you’re more likely to talk about nothing than something. But I just want to say that all this nothing has meant more to me than so many somethings.”

You’ve Got Mail

Sigh. You’ve Got Mail is one of my favorite movies. I find it to be a superior film to Sleepless in Seattle (controversial opinion, I know) and truly believe that I could watch it once a week and never tire of the 1998 Nora Ephron film. Meg Ryan’s character typed these words to Tom Hanks’ and I just adore how this quote captures the simplicity of communication. That a conversation seemingly about nothing can be just as, if not more, meaningful than the bigger moments in life, simply because you are having it with the right person.

“They say when you meet the love of your life, time stops, and that’s true. What they don’t tell you is that when it starts again, it moves extra fast to catch up.”

Big Fish

Clay and I went to see Big Fish at the theater when we were in college. Directed by Tim Burton, it is surreal film about tall tales, metaphors, and the relationship between a father and a son. This quote has stuck with me after all these years – now that I am in my mid-thirties time sure does seem to move a lot faster than it did in my twenties.

“It’s all those good things you have in you. The love, the wisdom, the generosity, the selflessness, the patience. The patience! At 3 A.M. when everyone’s awake because Ibrahim is sick and he can’t find the bathroom and he’s just puked all over Katki’s bed. When you blink, when you blink! And it’s 5:30 and it’s time to get up again and you know you’re going to be tired all day, all week, all your fucking life. And you’re thinking what happened to Greece? What happened to swimming naked off the coast of Greece? And you have to be willing to make the family out of whatever you have.”

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I was pregnant with Weston when we saw this movie in the theater so I heavily (ha) identified with Maya Rudolph’s character. In the film, a couple, John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph (who is pregnant), travel around the country in hopes to find the perfect place to set down roots and start their family. The quote is from Chris Messina’s character to John Krasinski’s and it perfectly captures the absurdity of parenthood. In the moments – the ones where it feels like we’re gasping for air while drowning in attitude, clutter, kid sports, and homework – it’s important to remember who we are as a couple.

“I knew I’d never be able to remember what Nina wore that day. But I also knew I’d never forget the way she looked.” The Father of the Bride

How can you not love this movie and it’s opinion on superfluous buns? Steve Martin’s character said this about Diane Keaton’s and I think it perfectly sums up what is like to be with someone for years and experience life milestones together. These memories are etched into our souls but some of the details fade with time. It’s such a beautiful and simple sentiment.

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What are some of your favorite movie quotes about love?

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Over the past few months, I have received a handful of messages on Facebook and Instagram with questions about our military experience. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not fielding inquiries left and right (let’s face it – in the popularity game, I am much more of an Andrea Zuckerman than a Kelly Taylor), but my inbox has been getting more full lately with questions about all things Army. So without further introduction, I present to you my answers…

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What does your husband do in the Army? Despite being fairly open about our experience as a military family (read military-related posts here), I don’t really share too much about his actual rank/speciality/position. It’s not a secret – all of that information can easily be gleaned from his uniform – but I’m cognizant about not wanting to ‘wear his rank‘ or take on his accomplishments as my own. Obviously I am ridiculously proud of him but there is a stigma within the military community surrounding spouses who fail to cultivate their own life, choosing instead to wrap themselves up within the achievements of the military member. But for the sake of clarity – my husband is a military intelligence officer currently serving as an aide-de-camp.

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Did you husband go to West Point? Nope. He went to Clemson University on an ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) scholarship. It’s a good thing he did because at the beginning of his sophomore year, a freshman girl walked by the open door of his dorm room, prompting him to ask her if she wanted a double shot of Peach Schnapps. She thought he was cute so she accepted his offer. My husband claims that I was the first girl he offered the Schnapps to but I have my doubts.

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How long has your husband been in the Army? He commissioned as a second lieutenant in May 2004. I ‘pinned’ on his rank during the ceremony and he proposed the following week. Earlier this summer, we found out that he was selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel so he will pin on his new rank sometime next year. Occasionally I find myself looking at him in disbelief that he is where he is career-wise – aren’t we still the teenagers who fell in love and made out between classes? Are we really that old now?

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Did you know what you were getting yourself into? I met my husband on September 9, 2001. He had accepted his ROTC scholarship in 2000 with the intention of serving his four-year commitment and then pursing other options. As we’re all aware, the world changed shortly after and war became part of our reality. Clay, and therefore the Army, have been a part of my life since 2001. In that regards, I knew what I was getting myself into because our country entered a two-front war during our dating years. I knew if I married him that our marriage would involve separations, deployments, and other experiences unique to military life.

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That being said – there is no way to fully understand what it is like to send your husband off to war, or not to hear from him for weeks, or to receive notification phone calls about deaths in the unit, or to attend memorial services for fallen soldiers, or to experience the wave of relief you feel when you find out it wasn’t your husband who was killed, or the experience of hugging your husband for the first time in months/years. You can’t fully understand until you’re in the trenches – living it and tasting it firsthand.

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How long will you be in the Washington DC area? My husband will be transitioning out of his current role sometime next spring, which means that we will embark on a new adventure to a place unknown at that time. There is always a chance that we could stay in the area but we’re still at the stage in our lives where we enjoy moving at the whim of the Army. As our children get older, we will explore the possibility of staying in one place    but so far, they have proved themselves quite resilient and enjoy the adventure of moving as much as we do.

Do you know where you are PCSing to next? No. Do you know where we are going next? Because if you do, I’d really like to know.

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What do you like best about the Army? You mean besides my husband in his uniform? Who knew that I would be such a sucker for him in his mess dress – I am here for those high-waisted pants. The friendships, the camaraderie, the lessons learned, the awe of watching my husband be apart of something greater than himself, and the opportunity to experiences places we otherwise wouldn’t choose to live ourselves are all things I really like about having a husband in the Army.

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What do you like least about the Army? I get frustrated during the times when I feel like that I have very little control over my life. We view this life as a grand adventure but like all adventures – there are some aspects that just downright suck. I miss my husband when he is gone. I feel like the Army has contributed to my career frustrations (see my posts about The Lloyd Dobler Effect and What I’ve Done). And to be perfectly honest – I am terrified of turning into one of those wives who don’t talk about anything other than their husband’s career. I realize that I am admitting this fear in a post that is pretty much only about my husband’s chosen career – the irony is not lost on me.

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What is your dream assignment? Europe. But honestly, I’d be happy with anything out of the ordinary. Part of the reason why we decided that Clay continuing until retirement was the best choice for our family is that we enjoy feeling of holding our hands and jumping into the unknown together. We agree that if there comes a point that we want to settle down and stay in one place for longer than a couple of years, then we will reevaluate. Until then, I am keeping my fingers-crossed for an off-the-beaten path assignment. Or Europe.

What was your least-favorite duty assignment? Fort Sill, Oklahoma. We made the best of it but at the end of the day, there are so many other places that we’ve enjoyed living more. We did get to attend a Hail and Farewell at a place called The Dry Beaver Supper Club, where they served salad out of a bathtub, so not all was lost.

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How do your kids feel about having a father in the military? They’re smiling in this cheesy CGSC (Command & General Staff College) yearbook photo so that must mean they like it, right? They don’t know what it is to not have a daddy in the Army so this is their normal. They miss him when he is gone and give him huge hugs when he returns. My husband does a fantastic job at being present for our children when he is home and tries his absolute hardest to make it to their events – big and small. I’m not going to lie though – it’s a bummer when he isn’t around for milestones. The kids understand but I can tell when they’re sad because he isn’t around and they miss him.

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How do you remain so positive? I consider myself a positive person and I am a huge proponent of fakin’ it ’till I make it. That being said, I have my moments when I am just.so.damn.tired of going with the flow. Trust me – I have my moments. This post best illustrates my glass half full attitude and why I try my hardest not to focus on the not-so-glamorous aspects of this life.

Well – there you have it. Any other questions? Ask below and I’ll do my best to answer as best I can. I’m curious as to how many people who read this blog are affiliated with the military – if so, how so?

We had one of those increasingly rare unicorn weekends with absolutely no obligations – sports, social, and otherwise. There was nothing remarkable about our weekend. We didn’t travel anywhere new. We didn’t eat world-class cuisine. And I’m sure some will argue that nothing about our weekend is blog worthy. But perhaps the simplicity and everyday-ness of our weekend is what makes it worth documenting. Clay flew home on Thursday evening and only had to work half of the day on Friday so we met him at the Pentagon. The kids have been wanting to see where he works when he is in town and the timing finally worked out for them to receive a personal tour of the world’s largest office building.

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The little guy is very interested in military history and is well-versed on most Department of Defense matters. He loved walking up and down the corridors and seeing the various artifacts on display. Baby girl was most interested in the contents of Clay’s desk and spinning around in his fancy chair. Nonetheless, it was nice to finally show the kids around the the infamous building (check out 9 Amazing Facts About The Pentagon and History Channel’s Facts & Summary to learn more about the five-sided 6.24-million-square-foot concrete structure).

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Afterwards, we metro-ed down to Fashion Centre at Pentagon City and grabbed a bite to eat at Matchbox. The kids were begging to go to Shake Shake but Clay and I weren’t really feeling burgers. We’ve had great meals at the Capitol Hill Matchbox location so we were disappointed by our eh experience on Friday afternoon. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t necessarily great. Perhaps the kids were on to something?

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On Saturday morning, the kids still couldn’t shake their craving for Shake Shack and asked to go there for lunch. We negotiated with our little terrorists adorable children and  told them that we can go to Shake Shack for lunch but it would have to be at the location in Nats Park. We quickly purchased tickets, put on our best Nats gear, and headed downtown.

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Unfortunately the Nats lost but we still had a great time enjoying America’s favorite pastime on one of the first gorgeous days we’ve had in awhile (i.e. it wasn’t raining). As we were walking from Fort McNair to the ballpark, we commented on how happy we were to finally experience a weekend with no plans other than to just see where the day took us.

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Violet had been wanting to remove the training wheels from her bike so on Saturday evening, my amazingly patient husband successfully taught another child how to ride a bike sans training wheels. We walked down to their school and practiced our mad bike skills in the empty parking lot. We then looked at all of the painted rocks that decorate the school grounds before taking a short cut through the woods back to our house. Little neighborhood elementary schools are just one of my favorite things about being stationed here.

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After church on Sunday morning, we ventured over to Old Town Alexandria, which is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the area. We ate an early lunch at Haute Dogs & Fries, which was everything I hoped it’d be and more. The Chicago-style hot dog was on point and I now know where to go when I get a craving for one.

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It was painfully obvious that Weston had outgrown his 16-inch bike so we ventured over to Dick’s Sporting Goods to take advantage of a sale they had for their 20-inch mountain bikes. After having the mechanic give his chosen bike the thumbs up, we loaded it up to head home.

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But not before stopping by Target for some accessories for Violet’s ‘new’ bike. She is now the proud owner of Weston’s old 16-inch bike. We are going to paint it this week (she wants blue), get a new seat, and perhaps add some sparkle – stay tuned for the final reveal.

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A Sunday evening family bike ride was the perfect cap to a remarkably unremarkable weekend. We said goodbye to Clay this morning for the week so having an unremarkable weekend together as a family was exactly what we needed after the past few weeks (see Walking on Broken Glass). Confucious told us that everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. Sometimes I feel like if I am not doing something momentous, then it isn’t worth experiencing. But as I grow, I’m learning that these seemingly small moments can be just as meaningful and even more impactful as the so-called bigger moments in life. These everyday moments have beauty. I just have to remember to see it.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared on Facebook about how we met a fellow military family PCSing to London in the Centurion Lounge at the Philadelphia airport. We had just arrived from Charles De Gaulle and they were en route to Heathrow. In the handful of minutes that our time overlapped, we discussed topics such as the Army, various duty stations, and the joys of traveling with kids. Clay and I talked about our brief time in London and just as they were gathering their belongings to catch their flight, we remembered the Oyster cards still in our wallets. We handed them over – happy the little money left would be used sooner rather than later and hopeful that we made one step of the stressful PCS-process just a little bit easier for them. I’m not going to lie – I was a little sad to pass my card along because it meant that I wouldn’t have a need for it in the near future.

I fell hard for London. And I know there will be a time in my life where I’ll permanently have an Oyster card in my wallet because I’ll be in the city enough to justify doing so. But until then, I’ll think back on our quick trip to London and marvel at the city that managed to beautifully combine old and new.

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When planning our trip, we decided to return our rental car in the heart of London, rather than Heathrow Airport, because we wanted to save ourselves time and hassle. The drive into London wasn’t horrible and the traffic wasn’t anything we haven’t experienced in downtown DC during rush hour. Next time, we won’t hesitate to utilize Heathrow as a jumping off point because we know understand just how easy it is to navigate around London and its suburbs. But at least now we can say that we’ve driven in downtown London and even paid the congestion charge of £11.50 for the privilege of doing so.

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Where we dropped off our rental car was about 2 miles from our hotel in Hyde Park. The kids really wanted to ride in a Hackney carriage (the quinessential London taxi) so we hopped in one and marveled at the city through the iconic rear windows on the way to our hotel.

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So let’s talk about our hotel. First – we couldn’t have asked for a better location. We were a short walk from Paddington Station, Hyde Park was around the corner, and there were plenty of restaurants and shops right outside the door. However – of the three places places we stayed this trip (Bourton-on-the-Water, London, and Paris), this was by far the worst accommodations on the trip. The room was small (understandable…it’s London!) but it was also not terribly clean nor was the furniture in good condition. It wasn’t bad enough for us to go through the hassle of changing hotels but we will not stay there again when we go back to London.

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After checking into the world’s tiniest family suite, we walked down to The Victoria for drinks and a late lunch (pictured are fried pickles). We ate in the library and thumbed through the London guide books available for reading and planned the reminder of our day. After lunch, we hopped on the Tube and down to Westminster.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and enjoying the energy of London.

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River Thames and London Eye

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Much to Weston’s dismay, Big Ben is under restoration until 2021. We were disappointed but we all agreed that this just means we will have to book another family trip to London in 2021.

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Victoria Tower, Palace of Westminster

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We walked from Parliament Square to Buckingham Palace through St. James Park and stopped to let the kids play on a playground.

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We grabbed drinks and cookies (biscuits?) from one of the many concession stands throughout the park and then wandered around Buckingham Palace.

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By 7pm, we were ready for dinner so we hopped on a double-decker bus (on the same card system as the Tube) back to our hotel. We spent the next few hours wandering around the streets near our hotel and grabbing a bite to eat. All of the pubs were packed full of patrons watching the France/Belgium World Cup Semi-Final so we settled on an unremarkable restaurant that was just okay. By the time we returned to our room at 10pm, we were ready for bed because we knew we had a full scheduled the following day.

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The next morning, we went straight to Buckingham Palace to watch the infamous changing of the guards. Armed with Americanos and Pellegrinos from a food stand in St. James Park, we waited. And waited. And waited.

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Sadly, the iconic Red Coat regiment was on block leave (ironic – right?) so the changing of the guards didn’t pack the typical pizazz (sorry Royal Air Force). That being said, it was still quite the spectacle and a nice way to spend the morning.

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Afterwards, we hoped on the Tube and went to Regent Street for what the kids now refer to as the highlight of London – Hamleys Toy Store. Back when we took the kids on their inaugural trip to New York City, the flagship FAO Schwarz Toy Store on Fifth Avenue had closed its doors the year prior, which crushed me – there is just something so special about going to a giant toy store in a big city as a child. One of my favorite memories of my first time in New York City as a kid was experiencing FAO Schwarz – completely in awe of the seemingly endless floors of toys.

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Hamleys is the oldest and largest toy shop in the world. It was founded in 1760 and moved to its current location on Regent Street in 1881. We spent almost two hours exploring the shop and even managed to pick up a few small things to take home with us. We grabbed a bite to eat at a fantastic pub and then took the Tube down to Tooley Street.

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We walked along the River Thames, saw City Hall, grabbed coffee at Hay’s Galleria, saw HMS Belfast, and gazed at The Shard and The Gherkin.

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We continued along the river Thames toward the Tower Bridge.

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We walked across the Tower Bridge and then wandered around the outskirts of the Tower of London. Because we had done Berkeley Castle during our time in the Cotswolds, we chose not to go to the Tower of London this trip because our time was limited – next time!

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By the time that we made it back to the Hyde Park neighborhood, the World Cup semi-final between England and Croatia had begun so every single pub and restaurant looked like this one next door to our hotel.

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Because the television set was broken in our room (sigh) and the odds weren’t in our favor to actually grab a seat in a pub with two children in tow, we opted to walk around Hyde Park during the bulk of the match.

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Hyde Park is the largest of the four Royal Parks, established by Henry VIII in 1536.

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We walked by Kensington Palace – I had no idea that so many members of the royal family lived there. A quick Google search also verified that with enough money, commoners like us can live there too!

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We walked all around the grounds that surround the Palace. We fed swans, we had birds chase us, we visited the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, and we even found a little playground for the kids to enjoy (the Diana Memorial Playground had already closed by the time we came across it).

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We walked back toward our hotel and came across this fantastic little Italian bistro. We were hungry and wanting to watch the last of the match so we popped in…we are so glad that we did. We all agree that it was our best meal in London. The proprietors were warm and friendly, the food and wine was absolutely delicious, and we were able to watch Croatia win over England. It was almost 11pm by the time we got back to our hotel.

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The following morning, we packed up our bags, made our way to St. Pancras station, and boarded the Eurostar. Next stop – Paris!

My grandmother used to say that I was born 35. I was often disinterested in the wild little-kid shenanigans that my siblings favored, instead preferring the company of adults. Being forced to sit at the kid’s table during holiday meals, I felt, was one of the greatest injustices I had to endure. And I grew up preferring VH1 over MTV, which I felt I had outgrown, even as a thirteen year old (The Real World being an exception, of course). In fact, it was on VH1 when I first saw the video for Walking on Broken Glass, which features Annie Lennox sneering and huffily stomping around a palace with a red velvet towel on her head while wearing a matching guardainfante. I was blown away. Not only was it the first time I’d heard the song – which remains in my Top 10 to this day – but I was enamored with the production, the drama, and quite frankly – the weirdness of Ms. Lennox.

But this isn’t a post about how I identify most with the women who were side-eyed during their adolescence for having off-beat observations. You know, those of us who had spastic movements like Ms. Lennox in that video; those of us who spent time perfecting our Hannibal Lecter impressions and practicing sweet moves from Cocktail with empty wine bottles swiped from restaurants.

You see, these past couple of weeks weren’t best for me inside my head.

And I don’t really know why.

I have the luxury of reflection because over the past few days, I feel like I’ve emerged from this so-called fog. I was not unhappy. I was not sad. But I was something. When I get like this, I wish to be left with my own thoughts. I become pensive and shun a lot of my more outgoing traits.  And I couldn’t bring myself to do what I loved and getting from morning to night was exhausting – especially because Clay was gone for a lot that time.  For lack of a better phrase, I felt like I was walking on broken glass. Even worse – I felt like I had no control to stop myself from doing so. Until I did.

I spent yesterday crossing almost everything on my to-do list that had grown quite long during the two-week absence from myself. I was productive. I was a present mother. I cooked a hearty meal from scratch, I scrubbed toilets, and I even rearranged our bedroom. I felt energized by the promise of the future instead of being crushed by its weight and I felt in control. I haven’t felt that way in awhile. To be honest, it’s hard to feel in control when the Army is involved.

I’ve written before about what is going on inside my head. There are still times when I feel like pieces of me are breaking off and floating away into oblivion, but today is not one of those days. I’m not sure if I stopped walking on broken glass or if I just managed to put on shoes but either way – I’m no longer hiding within myself.

It’s a good feeling.

When people would ask us about our travel plans for the summer, we were often met with quizzical expressions when we mentioned that we were flying into Manchester Airport as opposed to Heathrow Airport outside of London. But then when we described our plans to rent a car and drive down to the Cotswolds for a few days before heading over to London, our plan made a bit more sense to most. And in full disclosure, saving over $200 a ticket certainly played a role into our decision to not fly into London.

We arrived in Manchester around 8:30am. By the time we cleared immigration and received our rental car, it was late morning. We were able to check into our inn in the Cotswolds at 2pm that day and we were quite exhausted from our red-eye flight so we forewent any exploring around Manchester and chose to get right on the road. In hindsight, I wish we would have heeded the advice of my friend and squeezed in a visit to The John Rylands Library at University of Manchester but such is the perils of traveling – there is never enough time to see everything.

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After a few hours and a few stops at various motorway service areas (a huge shoutout to Clay for driving on the other side of the car on the the other side of the road on three hours of sleep), we arrived at the little English village we’d be staying at for our three nights in The Cotswolds.

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Bourton-on-the-Water is consistently voted one of the prettiest villages in England and filled with charming little inns, restaurants, and shops. The River Windrush winds through the village and during the warmer months, you can find children wading in the water. Beautiful bridges are sprinkled throughout the town and you can always find an outdoor table to sit at as you enjoy the view while sipping a drink.

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Our lodging choice couldn’t have been more perfect – we stayed in a family suite at The Broadlands Guest House. The innkeeper, Marco, was brilliant and really helped make our stay wonderful. He came outside and greeted us upon our arrival and excitedly informed us that Clay was the first Clay he had ever met in person. Quite the honor for my husband.

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We relaxed for a little while in our room but didn’t allow ourselves to fall asleep. By late afternoon, we walked down to a pub for an early dinner and we were in bed by 7:30pm. And by 1:30am, we were all wide awake watching British TV in the same bed and eating the shortbread I randomly picked up at a service station earlier that day. It was one of those silly little family vacation moments that I don’t think any of us will soon forget.

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We were served breakfast (cooked by Marco!) each morning of our stay and we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go in Bourton-on-the-Water from The Broadlands Guest House. We throughly enjoyed exploring the quintessential countryside village – we really lucked out with our choice and it served as a great jumping off point for taking little day trips.

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We knew that we wanted to see a castle during our time in The Cotswolds and we weren’t let down by Berkeley Castle outside of Gloucestershire. It was only about a 45 minute drive from Bourton-on-the-Water and was the perfect way to spend our first full day in the English countryside.

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We spent hours touring Berkeley Castle and wandering the grounds. We were able to look down into a dungeon, walk around the underground tap room, and see the prison cell where Edward II was held and eventually murdered.

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The little guy even became a man for all seasons.

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We ate a late lunch on the property in a yurt and by the time we left the castle at 3:00pm, we were ready to head back to Bourton-on-the-Water and relax with a leisurely dinner and stroll through town.

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The next day, we tackled Stonehenge. We ate breakfast at our inn and then drove two hours south to the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire. The drive wasn’t fun – it required a lot of concentration on Clay’s part (tons of super windy streets wide enough for only one car) and since I was on GPS and hedge-duty, we were unable to entertain the kids with our dazzling personalities and jokes. We drove through some spectacularly quaint villages but we didn’t really get to enjoy the scenery because it felt like we were sternly telling our little adventure-mates to be quiet and stop fighting the entire drive down. When we arrived, we chose to walk about a mile to the infamous sight, rather than take the shuttle, in effort to burn some of their energy. It was just one of the many mistakes made during our trip to Stonehenge. As evident by the picture above, the kids weren’t terribly impressed and we could hear them muttering “We spent two hours in the car to see rocks?

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We were determined to maximize our time and get our money’s worth – we spent about three hours exploring the English Heritage site. If it were just Clay and I, we would have hiked all over the ancient landscape and wandered about the ancient burial mounds. But because we were traveling with kids, we adjusted our goals. The kids endured our time there and enjoyed touring the ancient dwelling replicas on display near the museum – we even caught them smiling a handful of times.

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And we got our token family shot so as far as anyone knows, we had a fabulous time at Stonehenge. Clay and I often diffuse situations with humor so when we realized that our trip to the infamous stone circle was a bit of a bust, we used it as an opportunity to make the kids laugh and salvage what we could of the day. And as a silver-lining, we now have a excellent bargaining chip when it comes to getting the kids to turn their behavior around – we threaten to take them back to Stonehenge if they don’t shape up. It totally works!

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Upon our return to Bourton-on-the-Water, we ate fish and chips at a pub, had post-dinner drinks along the river as the kids splashed in the water, and walked the quiet streets back to the inn. And we marveled at how everything was a little bit smaller, quite a bit older, and slower-paced than we’re used to back home.

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The next morning, we returned our room key to Marco and gave him a big hug. He made our stay in The Cotswolds just that much better and we couldn’t have asked for a better host. After breakfast, we walked around Bourton-on-the-Water for the last time and stopped in a bakery for a post-breakfast snack and Americano before heading to London.

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Then we hopped into our rental car one last time and turned onto a little village road. Next stop – London!

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As a closing note – I am so glad that we incorporated the English countryside into our vacation before heading to London and Paris. If you should find yourself wanting to visit England, don’t bypass The Cotswolds. And you can’t go wrong with a stay in Bourton-on-the-Water at The Broadlands Guest House. Just be sure to tell Marco that Clay and Karen sent you his way.

After four flights, one ride through the English Channel on the Eurostar, one rental car in the English countryside, countless rides on the Tube and the Metro, a couple of Ubers, and taxi rides in London and Paris, we’re back from what just may be our favorite family vacation yet. A huge thank you to Allyson and Sheena – I consider them among my most witty friends so I am thrilled they agreed share some of their words on this little space of mine.

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I plan to go into detail about our trip and share highlights and lowlights in a handful of separate posts. But I feel compelled to share the general feeling of uneasiness I felt when I woke up the morning of our trip. In fact, when we began our journey with an Uber to Raegan National airport, Clay and I admitted to each other that we were a little nervous about the adventure ahead – after all, it was our first international trip with our children. Don’t get me wrong – we were also ridiculously excited. But like most worthwhile experiences in life, we reasoned that it’s always best to have at least a little bit of fear involved.

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However, our fears were soon alleviated once we boarded our first flight to Chicago. And other than being on top of the Eiffel Tower with a little blonde-haired girl who isn’t bothered by heights in the slightest, the fear was non-existent during our seven days aboard. Due to the success of traveling with our little ones, we’re already planning our next grand adventure outside of the States. Was it always easy? No. Was there whining? Sometimes. Did we bond over shared experiences and inside jokes? Yes. Did they prove themselves worthy international travel companions? 100% yes.

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We gave ourselves grace and didn’t try and pack our days too full. We didn’t view our vacation as a once-in-a-lifetime trip, we have no doubt that we will return to England and France many times before we bid adieu to this world. That being said, we still accomplished quite a bit. We went to bed exhausted and woke up the following morning excited to take on the day. And we also learned a few things too…

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Baby girl found airplane food to be absolutely amazing.

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The little guy discovered that he isn’t a fan of a traditional English breakfast.

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This one couldn’t have been less impressed by Stonehenge.

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Our little architecture expert loved The Shard in person.

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This one was super excited to turn five in Paris.

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And in Paris, this one insisted on using gel in his hair.

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But most of all, Clay and I were reminded just how much fun we have together – as a twosome and with our children. Ernest Hemingway famously told us to never go on trips with anyone you do not love. The man isn’t wrong. There is no one else I’d rather be on this crazy ride with and this trip just exemplified this fact. So while it wasn’t easy, it was 100% worth it.

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!