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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Career Chronicles: Putting It Out There

Let’s Talk About Oprah. During my last semester of college, I taught US Government and Economics to high school seniors at a nearby school in order to graduate with a teaching certificate. My mentor teacher was nearing retirement and had lost passion for the art of teaching many years prior. I learned a lot about how not to teach and that death by PowerPoint is very real and very painful. At this particular school, teachers would monitor the halls in between periods by standing outside of the doors of their classrooms. A particularly joyful and boisterous woman taught English across the hall from the room in which I student taught.

I would marvel at the dichotomy between her room and the one I stood outside of – the kids were actually smiling and laughing as they entered hers. She and I would talk a lot during those 5-minute intervals. Having been born and raised in the South, she asked a lot of questions about the Philadelphia area and seemed particularly interested in Revolutionary-era history. But more often than not, we talked about Oprah. She loved Oprah Winfrey. Loved. I was often treated to the recap of the previous day’s episode and found myself riveted by her infectious laugh and her ability to empathize with almost every topic covered by the Chicago-based show.

Years later, when the final episode of The Oprah Winfrey show aired, I couldn’t help but think of the cheerful English teacher across the hall. For as beloved as she is by her fans, critics dismiss Oprah as a promoter of positive-thinking rhetoric that lacks weight and real-world adaptability. Others call her dangerous – a promoter of pseudoscience and the idea that the universe punishes those with negative thoughts. But I can’t help it – I love Oprah’s message of finding your purpose, the need for a spiritual life, and living in gratitude. It’s no secret that I am on the glass-half-full side of the fence. I admit that I don’t devour the self-help books that were featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show – I’ve never read The Seat of the Soul, The Secret, or The Power of Now and I side-eye quite a few concepts presented in such books. But I do believe that there is something to be said for living an intentional life, the power of positive thinking, and the need for gratitude and visualization.


Putting it Out There. A few months ago, I wrote about the Lloyd Dobler Effect and What I’ve Done throughout my hodgepodge career thus far, which resembles a scrap quilt. And you know what? Shortly after – I received an offer for an instructional design contract. When looking back on my storied job history, I am able to see a pattern – when I’ve declared my intentions and have literally shouted them into the universe, the universe has responded. Even though it felt vulnerable to write about my struggles associated with my so-called career and a bit icky to write about having the luxury to choose between working and staying home with young children – I hit publish. And what resulted was a fantastic conversation across various social media platforms that inspired me while also showcasing the grit, determination, and capability within the military spouse community.

When I decide to do something, my initial reaction is to keep it close and guarded within the confines of my own thoughts. There are many reasons why – embarrassment, fear of failure, feelings of inadequacy, etc… And then there is just the general uncomfortableness of talking about myself – which, don’t get me wrong, I realize is silly seeing as how I write a blog. I am always apprehensive that I’ll come across as self-absorbed or self-congratulatory and it can be difficult to balance those anxieties with confidence and self-esteem. But every so often – I push those ugly feelings aside and shout my intentions in the universe. I write about them. I talk about them. I don’t keep quiet about my strengths and I actively work to address my weaknesses. And then the universe responds.


Appreciate Left Field. Being a softball player, I’ve been known to use baseball terminology in everyday conversation – Every game is game seven. Never go down without swinging. Hit it out of the park. You’re killing me, Smalls! It’s a brand new ball game… When I throw something out into the universe, the response may not be what I initially envisioned but let’s be honest – some of the best opportunities are the ones that come from left field. Keeping yourself open to unexpected opportunities while thinking positive, expressing gratitude, and practicing visualization will always lead to something. It may not be what you initially wanted but it will yield a result.

I’m still learning how to navigate through these responses that the universe is throwing my way. I accepted the instructional design contract. The particular subject area isn’t my passion but I do find tremendous value and fulfillment in the art of course design so I know that my experience with this project will yield results that will only benefit my journey. There is still much more that I want to put out into the universe. I want to write. I want to see the most remote areas of our planet. I want to live with less. I want to understand more. And I want a meaningful career that benefits others more than it does me. It’s a tall order. But you never know…the universe works in mysterious ways, after all.

Previous Career Chronicles posts –

I Believe in Wilmington, North Carolina

When Clay and I make plans to visit our parents, it hardly feels like a chore because both sets have chosen to retire in locations that are geographically desirable and vacation destinations in their own right. Thank you, Mom and Dad! So when we realized that we’d be able to drive down to Clay’s parents for the holiday weekend with only a slight rearranging of our schedules, we hopped into the car and headed south to Wilmington, North Carolina.


Named after the Earl of Wilmington, Spencer Compton (1673-1743), Wilmington, North Carolina is a port city and considered a gateway to the beaches along the Cape Fear coast.  The most industrialized North Carolina river, the Cape Fear flows 200 miles and empties into the Atlantic Ocean near Southport, North Carolina and served as a main transportation route in to the interior of North Carolina during the colonial era. Downtown historic Wilmington stretches along the Cape Fear, complete with a riverwalk, cobblestone streets, restaurants, bars, and boutique shops.


We arrived on Friday in the early evening hours. Clay’s parents offered to feed the kids and handle the bedtime routine and insisted that we go out for the night. They didn’t have to twist our arms hard – before we knew it we were dressed up and heading into downtown Wilmington. As soon as we found out that it was the kick off for the Downtown Sundown Concert Series, we paid $1 for wristbands, grabbed some beers, and  watched the sun set as 42, a Coldplay tribute band, performed with the USS North Carolina in the background.


Afterwards, we walked over to Circa 1922 for dinner, where we had cocktails and the local snapper “escovitch”, which came with a warm bammy, pickled peppers, scallion and chayote. After our late dinner, we walked along the river underneath the stars.


The next morning, we headed south and crossed the intracoastal waterway to Caswell Beach on Oak Island. This is our go-to beach when visiting Clay’s parents because it is low-key and almost always empty. Dolphin sightings are almost always guaranteed and we even had a blue crab that kept swimming our way in the waves. The kids thought he was cute – Clay and I thought he looked delicious.


We spent hours body surfing and playing on the beach. As I mentioned in my previous post, we’re really enjoying this phase of parenthood and love that our kids are so adventurous and up for anything. The forecast for the weekend was touch and go for awhile but thankfully, we couldn’t have asked for a better beach day on Saturday. The waves were big, the sun was shining, and the occasional cloud provided much-needed cover.


After the beach we stopped for frozen yogurt. So healthy.


We showered and then played in the backyard for a little while before deciding we were hungry enough to head down the road to The Shuckin’ Shack. We had local beers and Saul T’s Steampot, which comes with a dozen oysters (we ordered 6 steamed and 6 raw),  a dozen clams, 1 pound of snow crab legs, 1/2 pound of steamed shrimp (we ordered them Old Bay style), corn, and slaw.


The next morning, we went to church with Clay’s parents and out to breakfast. Afterwards, we headed over to Ocean Isle Beach. We stopped in OIB Surf & Java and purchased coffee and some gear before hitting the beach.


The weather was starting to deteriorate but we didn’t let that stop us from going in the water. We made the best of the cloudy afternoon and body surfed until we decided to head back to Clay’s parents for dinner.


After showering, Clay and I were tasked with picking up the pizza from Pizzetta’s. We stopped next door at Lowe’s Grocery Store and somehow ended up at The Beer Den. We chatted with other customers and the server about our love of beer and ended up taking home a growler for Clay’s parents.


We headed back home yesterday morning, but not before snapping a picture of the kids with their grandparents. The drive home wasn’t the best – lots of rain but the not-so-fun drive was worth having a great date night out in Wilmington and two days at the beach. It was great being able to spend time together as a family and having four interrupted days with Clay – time is precious and we have made a pact to take advantage of every opportunity we have to do what we love most. Nothing is guaranteed in life. Might as well make the most of it and swim into crashing waves and eat fresh seafood.

A New Phase of Parenthood

Our daughter graduated from preschool yesterday afternoon. She walked down the aisle in the same sanctuary our son did during his preschool graduation when we were stationed here last time. By pure luck, Clay was able to join me in the pew at the last minute and watch our baby sing and dance with her class for the last time. I’m not one to get overly emotional at milestone events – I see so much beauty in the journey and being able to witness my children grow is something I strive to never take for granted. But I admit that there is a hint of contemplation as we move into this new phase of life – parents of elementary school-aged children.

babyAll that remains of the baby years is neatly packed away in their memory boxes. We no longer worry about bringing a stroller, or an extra change of clothes, or snacks when we head out for our adventure of the day. We eat at restaurants without kid menus and we’re able to Uber with ease. And we watch them from the sidelines as they become part of a team that doesn’t require us as active participants. It’s not that they don’t need us. They do. Just not as much as they did.


As we transition into this new phase, we know that pedestals our children have us on now will only get shorter with each passing year. Soon they will think they know better than us and seemingly forget that we were once young ourselves. There will be slamming of doors, rolling of eyes, and lots of tears. But it will be okay. In fact, it will be better than okay – it will be phenomenal. Don’t get me wrong, it will be hard. But then again, it’s been hard since the beginning.


Clay and I aren’t perfect. I’m sure we will make mistakes as we venture into this new phase. Our children will see us fail, they will see us succeed, and I am hopeful that they will always take comfort in knowing that we are trying our best. We are now parents of elementary school-aged children. Bring. it. on.

Historic Occoquan, Virginia

7c3cbedfcfd1640ee69795dc3ceb31d5On Saturday morning we found ourselves wandering around Occoquan, Virginia thanks to a rained-out plans and a quick Google search that informed us that May 19th was Discover Occoquan Day. We put on our rain jackets and drove a handful of miles so we could discover the quaint little town ourselves. While I had been there once before – I had brunch at The Secret Garden Cafe – we had yet to visit Occoquan as a family. Clay flew back into town on Friday night from a far away land so we were thrilled have him home for the weekend and took full advantage of having the time to explore the area due to cancelled baseball games.

Located about a half-hour south of Washington DC, Occoquan was established in 1804 along the Occoquan River. The Dogue Indians settled in the Occoquan valley – naming the area Occoquan, which means ‘at the head of the water’. The infamous Captain John Smith explored the Occoquan River in the early 1600s and during the civil war, the post office passed along letters between the North and the South.IMG_7661Currently the town is home to antique shops, restaurants, little boutiques that cater to artists, walking ghost tours, and Music on Mill – which is a free family-friendly concert series at River Mill Park. Throughout the town are remnants of the industrial settlement founded by colonists – grist mills and tobacco warehouses being the most prominent.IMG_7666.jpgThe Occoquan River is a tributary of the Potomac River and serves as part of the boundary between Fairfax County and Prince William County. Located at one end of historic Occoquan, River Mill Park has a walkway along the river and a foot bridge that is perfect for gazing at the mighty Potomac.IMG_7667We walked around the town for awhile and popped into stores when they struck our fancy. We knew we wanted to eat lunch in Occoquan and settled quickly on Cock & Bowl – a Belgian cafe that instantly transports you as soon you step inside.IMG_7705Clay had been wanting to try this place for awhile and when it comes to beer and waffles, you don’t have to twist my arm very hard. Located in a former house, Cock & Bowl is a small restaurant with an atmosphere that can only be described as cozy European chic (is that a thing?).IMG_7693Our kids are fairly adventurous eaters so the fact that there wasn’t a kids menu didn’t slow us down. Because we wanted to try as much as the menu as possible, we decided to split a bunch of items as a family. We ordered French onion soups, a traditional Belgian waffle, a marinière bols de moules (a classic mussel bowl), and pommes frites.IMG_7691Everything was quite tasty but we all agreed that the pommes frites may just be the best fries we’ve ever had. While I still want to go to Belgium sooner rather than later, it’s nice to know that I can get my pommes frites fix without having to fly across the pond.IMG_7689I actually didn’t opt for a Belgian beer this visit – the Crispin Brut Cider caught my eye because I love anything dry and often find cider too sweet for my palette so I wanted to try what an extra dry cider tastes like. Verdict? I really liked it and look forward to trying other extra dry ciders once the weather cools down in the fall.Moms-Apple_Pie-Bakery-5919d3a13df78cf5fa499307After lunch, we walked down to Mom’s Apple Pie Bakery. This place is always recommended on Facebook groups and local foodie blogs as the place to go for pies. We opted for individual slices to go – I went with Sour Cherry and Clay chose Southern Pecan. The kids declared that they did not like pie (???) and opted for a sugar cookie instead. We also grabbed a couple of cannolis to eat later that day. I’m happy to report that I found Mom’s Apple Pie Bakery to live up to it’s reputation. The pie was really good. Like really good – one of the best cherry pies I’ve ever had (I’m allergic to pecans but Clay says that his pie was very tasty). And the cannolis? Amazing.IMG_7712After Mom’s Apple Pie Bakery, we walked over to Grind N Crepe on Commerce Street. Clay and I had coffee while the kids played in the courtyard. We thoroughly enjoyed the coffee – we had the house blend – and after looking at their menu, I very much want to go back and try their crepes.IMG_7681On our walk back to the car, we encountered the world’s friendliest cat. It was the perfect feather in the cap to our few hours in historic Occoquan. The rain didn’t stop us from experiencing a community rich in history, food, and drink – don’t let it stop you either.

Five Places to Travel This Summer in the Continental United States

The United States is quite amazing – each state offers a unique landscape, climate, culture, and attitude that is worth exploring beyond a fifth grade textbook. While I believe that traveling the world is worthwhile and I have the goal to visit as many countries as I can afford before finally kicking the bucket, I also strongly believe in traveling within the United States. Our enormous country offers a variety of landscapes that are as beautiful as they’re unique. Fun big cities, charming small towns, and people from all walks of life. As much fun as international travel can be, it’s important not to discount adventures within the United States. So for those looking for places to travel this summer within the United States beyond Myrtle Beach, the Grand Canyon, and Disney World – this list is for you.


Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan


The are very few places in the world that I find more beautiful than the Leelanau Peninsula in northwest Michigan. The vast sandy beaches, crystal blue/turquoise water, and incredible scenery rival any beach in the United States. If you’re like me and love cherries, northern Michigan is a little slice of heaven – or at least a slice of cherry pie. Stay in Glen Arbor, run down the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, make your way across the Leelanau County Wine Trail, and kayak along the Crystal River.

Ogunquit, Maine


Continually voted one of the best US beaches, Ogunquit has three and half miles of white sand beaches along with rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean. Walk along The Marginal Way, take a lobster charter boat from Perkins Cove, eat at the Lobster Shack, and spend the afternoons on the beach. This is New England. This is Maine. This is heaven.

Kansas City, Missouri


Sigh. Who knew that Kansas City would hold such a special place in my heart? Not only is it a great place to live – it is a fantastic place to visit. Go treasure hunting in West Bottoms with a beer in hand, eat BBQ at KC Joes, catch a show at Kansas City Live! in the Power & Light District, and wander around Union Station. If you have time – catch one the major league sporting events. And don’t leave town without visiting the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Dahlonega, Georgia


Nestled in the North Georgia mountains, Dahlonega was the site of the first major gold rush in the United States in 1828. Also known as the heart of North Georgia wine country, the surrounding area has multiple vineyards and wineries that welcome visitors. Historic downtown Dahlonega has fantastic restaurants (you can’t go wrong with Bourbon Street Grille), wine tasting rooms, art galleries, antique shops, and bars. As far as where to stay, there are multiple cozy bed & breakfasts in town (check out Yellow Daisy and Mountain Laurel Creek), rent a cabin in the woods (like Cavender Creek), or even sleep in a yurt.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon


Located in Cascade Mountains in southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park offers hiking trails, ranger programs, scene drives, and some of the darkest skies in America on moonless nights. Stay in the park at Crater Lake Lodge or the Cabins at Mazama Village and see for yourself what John Wesley Hillman called the “Deep Blue Lake.”


Obviously this list is nowhere exhaustive and only serves to spark some ideas of places in the United States that one may not immediately think of when brainstorming summer travel destinations. Whether you visit the Pacific Northwest, the West, the Great Plains, the Midwest, the South, New England, or the mid-Atlantic, there is beauty and adventure to be found. Happy and safe travels.

A Room Interrupted – Adventures in Rearranging Furniture

As a child, I would rearrange my room at least once or twice a year – for no reason other than I wanted change. I’d swap out my poster of a wolf howling at a moon over a waterfall for a poster of the 1992 Dream Team and I’d curate my collection of Milk campaign advertisement carefully taped inside of my closet. My original Macintosh 128K would always remain the focal point of my desk – where else would I play Stunt Copter and Brickles Plus? But almost everything else would change – at least a little bit. My desire for change in my personal space didn’t cease when I went away college or settled into married life. My dorm rooms and apartments never looked the same for long – I would grow bored waking up day after day in the same space.

Yesterday was no different.