Like any good road trip/family vacation, there are nuggets of joy tucked in amongst the agony of the drive, the “are we there yets?” and the hustle and bustle of traveling during the holidays.

We’ve been able to see Eric’s family, celebrate Christmas, and even Santa came and delivered his goods in our hotel room! Of course no family vacation is complete without the hotel pool, to which we have been nearly daily visitors. Enjoying the kids’ next level of independence as they can both swim has been especially joyful for Eric and I.

Christmas is wonderful, and one of the most anticipated holidays in our home, but is often rife with high expectations, anxiety, and of course missing far away family. Today, the day after Christmas, has been a really great day. We lowered our expectations. We took things as they came, had (mostly) more patience with the minions, and had loose plans to go skiing and tubing. Skiing (and skating tomorrow) are the two bucket list items that Hannah has been begging to do.

Hannah had her first ski lesson, and Jake and I tromped off to the snow tubing park!


It may not look like much, but it was quite the hill! Above is looking up to the top, and below is the bottom straightaway.

When we hopped onto the conveyor belt to take us to the top, Jacob stated that “this was not what I expected” and that he “would not be doing this”.

“Okay,” I said. “But we have to do it at least once, because that’s the only way down.” I told him to take his time, and that when he was ready we’d do it. Giving it some thought and watching 3 or 4 people gleefully fly down the hill, Jake decided he was ready. “Alright. Let’s do it.”

At the bottom of the hill, he was grinning ear to ear and yelling, “That was AWESOME! We are doing that AGAIN!”

And we did!

Two hours later we were tired and cold, but had a blast! Jake and I took solo rides, and then at the end we rode tandem and giggled all the way down!

At the end of our time, we met back up with Eric and Hannah and went to the lodge to warm up and grab some dinner.

It was just one of those days that could have gone wrong in many ways, but didn’t. Hannah went skiing and did fantastic! We all got to play in the snow and had a wonderful time. It was a day that had joy woven through the decision to simply go with the flow and have no expectations.

I need to remember this day when I get caught up in the busy and the to-do list. Going with the flow always beats the alternative!


Loving and Loathing the Mall

While on our adventure from there to here, we made a stop at the Mall of America. We usually do when we are visiting the hubby’s family in Minnesota. This thing is huge. When we pulled up, there was construction and I wondered aloud if they were fixing something. Eric mentioned that they were actually expanding.

If you are unfamiliar, the Mall of America, or MOA as locals refer to it, is one of the largest malls in the country. It boasts an indoor theme park, 520+ stores (many multileveled), an aquarium, and a bazillion places to eat. With over 4 miles of store front space, why the need for expansion? Isn’t it enough?

Whenever I enter a mall, I notice every time how no one smiles. No one ever seems to be truly happy. No one is content. The mall seems to be a place that only fosters “never-enough-itis”. It’s a constant comparing of oneself to 1000 different messages of “look better, feel better, be more, be fabulous, be envied, be the Joneses” etc. etc. etc. Watch women (and girls) walk by Victoria Secret with the larger than life layouts of beautiful women modeling bras and underwear and you can almost hear the negative internal dialogs. (Some words just gross me out! I just hate, and refuse to use the word “panties”. **Shudder**)

Music in the mall as you wander from store to store is usually blaring and obnoxious, depending on the type of store. It makes it difficult to think. (There is research to show that various types of music makes people make impulsive purchases, spend more, etc.) I must be getting older because the louder they play the music, the farther away from the store I go. It drives me crazy! Perhaps I’m also getting crotchety, but as a parent of a kiddo who gets sensory overloaded, a place like a mall (a big one or not) can be entirely too much. Even as an adult, I can tend to shut down after being in a place like this.

Recently, I saw a BuzzFeed article about mall properties that had been abandoned. Not only creepy and apocalyptic, these photos convey such emptiness that I see even in still-thriving malls. These photos convey the story of our consumer culture as a pursuit of emptiness. How completely accurate.

Facebook: UrbanExplorationUS / Via architecturalafterlife.com
Facebook: UrbanExplorationUS / Via architecturalafterlife.com
Facebook: UrbanExplorationUS / Via architecturalafterlife.com
Facebook: UrbanExplorationUS / Via architecturalafterlife.com
Facebook: UrbanExplorationUS / Via architecturalafterlife.com

About the only thing I DO like about a mall, is if I have more than one store to go to, I can do it in one trip. I’m just not a mall person I guess. It’s just too much; too much noise, too many people, too much distraction, chaos and loud.

(Just don’t tell my 14-year-old-gum-smacking-side-ponytail-wearing-grew-up-in-the-80s-self, because she LOVES the mall. Like totally.)

Big Time Small Town

As a mother of military kiddos, I often marvel at the idea of living in a small town, putting down roots, and having them grow up from kindergarten through 12th grade in the same school district. Does anyone do that anymore? It seems like it would be idyllic in some ways, a nice idea, but hardly a possibility given our active duty status.

I always thought I’d grown up in a small town. That was until I met my husband and he showed me where he grew up! No locking doors, everyone know everyone else. Friendly midwestern peeps who are genuinely interested in the answer when they ask, “How are you?” These travels have been repeated encounters of small town life.

While in some random bathroom in Wyoming, I sneezed and heard a random “bless you” from out of no where! (It actually quite startled me as I thought I was the only one in there!) Usually not a chatty kathy in the stall, I had to laugh to myself and offer my thanks in return.

While visiting my husband’s family in Minnesota, I jumped at the chance to run a 5k with my niece! (You can read her awesome blog here!)

Me and Missy after our race! (Photo credit goes to her! I liked her selfie better than the one I took!)
Me and Missy after our race! (Photo credit goes to her! I liked her selfie better than the one I took!)

When we headed out for the run, I asked her, “I don’t need to lock my car, do I?” She shook her head no, it wasn’t a big deal. I tossed the keys in and off we went to the starting line. The race was fun, humid and she ran a PR! (I on the other hand ran with my hands clutching my chest due to starting out way too fast (as usual) and couldn’t breathe in the humidity! I felt like a beginner all over again!) After the race and pancake feed at the local fire department, we returned to discover my keys are in fact locked inside. It’s an auto-pilot habit. Crap! What do we do? I can’t call the hubby because the phone is locked ever so securely in the car.

“Let’s go find Ralph!” she suggests.

Huh?! Who’s Ralph?

Of course. Ralph is the chief of police. Apparently unlocking car doors is something they do for free! Who knew?! Where I grew up, I locked my keys in the car on a fairly regular basis, but the cops didn’t come to help you but would instead would refer you to a locksmith. (My particular locksmith and I were on a first name basis. Yes, it happened that often.) After Ralph finished his pancakes at the firehouse, he popped by to help me out of my predicament! While regaling us with stories from the job, his cell phone rang. It was the theme from the show COPS. Seriously. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

In addition to my niece being on a first name basis with the chief of police, we discovered that she is also neighbors (literally) with the in-laws of a milspouse friend of mine from Washington! Talk about a small world!

While I was doing all of this, the hubby (who was one of those kids that went to the same school from K-12th grade) took the minions fishing where he went as a kid. We attempted to fish during the salmon run in Washington, but we didn’t catch anything. Luckily the fish were biting in Minnesota! They caught 17 sunfish – and they were delicious!








I often think a small(er) town life would be great. Then, I think about how much I would miss Target. And Starbucks. And museums with the kids. And giant grocery stores, And, and, and…

I suppose there are pros and cons to both like anything. I often vacillate between being a hermit in a tiny town, living off the grid, shutting out all social media, being completely isolated, and living a more anonymous urban life in some bustling city. I’m not sure one is better than the other, but as a hermit with social butterfly tendencies, I need regular down time like I need oxygen.

Perhaps that’s the beauty of this military life – for a while anyway, we get to experience all different parts of the world, in 2-3 year doses. As hard as it is in some ways, it’s also pretty dang cool, and we get to meet all sorts of people and expose our minions to opportunities that they otherwise would not experience.

What about you? Small town or bustling city? Knowing everyone or complete anonymity? Friendly chat in the bathroom with strangers?

I think I may always be a private pee-er. The sneeze blessing was nice, but it’s just weird chatting about randomness while taking care of business. But, that’s just me.

Minnesota Madness!

We made a whirlwind surprise trip to Minnesota last week to visit Eric’s family before his upcoming deployment!
Flying with little kids is really not for the faint of heart – but we did it and we all survived!
The flight there couldn’t have been more perfect! As you can see, Jake was sleepy as we were getting ready for take-off! 5 minutes into his movie – and he was out! Hannah slept through take-off, landing and the entire flight in between!


Jacob catching some zzz’s after the first day of travel! Poor bubba! Globe trotting is hard on little ones!
Squeezing in visits with friends and family in 3 days was a bit tough, but luckily there were lots of fun playground opportunities in between!
Jake was enthralled (for 5 minutes) with Uncle Steve’s video of trains!
Hannah hangin’ with Pop-Pop Stoffers! Not sure where she got “Pop-Pop” from, but that’s what she calls her Grandmas!
And of course the hotel had a pool and a jacuzzi – a must for any family vacation! We were so happy that many of our friends and family were able to come see us to minimize traveling in the car for the kiddos!


Jake and Hannah were both in heaven!



While visiting a family friend, the kids got to sit on a real tractor!! They were so excited!!




I think Jake was ready to take it home!!!
And Hannah got a seat in Ms. Fannie’s super cool Camaro!!!



Being silly!


 Getting out the sillies!


 Super fun at Uncle Greg and Aunt Marty’s!!! Jake was SOOO thrilled to ride such a big “monster truck”!! (Hannah was of course “all done” half a block down the road!)
 She loved Buddy!
Great food and fun!! (I even tried smoked duck for the first time! Pretty darn good!)
And then back home again! This time the boys slept while Hannah and I played with the phone!
Overall – it was a great trip and all things considered, the kids were FANTASTIC! It really was a quick trip and so hard to fit time in to see everyone, but we made it work and I’m so glad we got a chance to see our Minnesota family before Eric’s departure 🙂

Flying to Minnesota….

One of the things packed into this crazy month before D-day is a whirlwind trip to Minnesota to visit with Eric’s family.

As I sit here on the plane I am feeling grateful that Hannah is snoring peacefully, Jake is (for the moment) thoroughly engrossed in a movie he has seen 5000 times. We planned well and wore the kids out with strategic stops at a friends’ to play, to eat and thank God for the person who came up with the idea for a children’s play area at the airport! I could kiss them! Pure genius! (and might I mention they have a family restroom as well as a nursing room!?) Again, pure genius!

While watching the kids play and frolic about burning off pent up energy I was struck by how disengaged the other parents all seemed to be. (No judgement – just observation. Who knows how long their layovers were!) There were about 6 other families and about 5 of the couples were into an iPad, a smartphone or otherwise engrossed in something other than the kids. The 6th couple was frantically trying to keep their what looked to be 18 month old from enjoying himself at all! It was hilarious that in a virtually rubber room this kid wasn’t allowed to climb or jump and the mother never smiled, but was biting her nails looking frantically to gauge his next move – and then attempting to prevent it! (I so used to be THAT mom!)

And then there was us. Our kids were the LOUDEST kids in the room! (shocking, I know!) For the record, the play area was surprisingly quiet or well insulated! Eric was in the middle sitting on the floor playing WITH the kids. I love that about him…

It was fun and I have to say that without a doubt THE easiest flight with the kids!