An Overnight Trip to Historic Downtown Gettysburg

There is something so freeing about being able to hop in the car and drive – knowing that you won’t be returning home until the following day. We did just that this past Saturday. After fulfilling our weekend commitments, we drove north to historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Established in 1786, Gettysburg is synonymous with the Civil War and is considered one of the most haunted towns in America.

Despite the warmer-than-average temperatures, we were determined to ski on Sunday so instead of paying $200+ for a room at the Liberty Mountain Resort, we opted to utilize the generous military rate at The Gettysburg Hotel and spend Saturday afternoon and evening wandering around historic downtown Gettysburg.

We plan to return this spring to tour Gettysburg National Battlefield so we spent our time popping into shops and exploring the town. We learned that it isn’t uncommon to see Civil War re-enactors walking casually up and down the streets and there are no shortage of wine tasting rooms or tap rooms.

At Battlefield Brew Works Tap Room, the kids enjoyed fresh-brewed root beer while Clay and I sampled the adult beverages. We played a few rounds of UNO and laughed at inside jokes. One of my most favorite things about traveling with our children – both big trips and the seemingly small overnight ones – is that it allows for uninterrupted time together as a family. We sleep in the same hotel room, we eat every meal together, and we laugh together. And sometimes we get super lucky and laugh so hard that tears stream down our faces. Those are the best moments.

Unfortunately, our dinner was underwhelming. We really wanted to eat at Garryowen Irish Pub but the wait was too long so we ended up at an Italian restaurant that was nothing special. Womp womp.

We stayed at The Gettysburg Hotel, which originally opened as a tavern in 1797. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and found the decor and ambiance fitting for the location. As a bonus, that night we discovered that friends of ours were staying there as well so we met their family in the hotel bar for a round of drinks. It was great catching up and our kids enjoyed seeing each other as well. I love such instances that remind us just how small the world really can be.

We woke up on Sunday morning ready to ski and after a quick stop for coffee, we made the 15 minute drive to Liberty Mountain. We spent the next four hours skiing together as a family. This trip, our kids worked up the nerve to ride the highest lift and ski the trail that originates at the top of the ‘mountain’ – we were skiing down said trail when I looked over at Clay with the biggest grin on my face. In that moment, I was so incredibly happy to be engaging in an activity that all of us really enjoy and have a lot of fun doing together – even if we’re still learning.

It was a good weekend and the perfect overnight getaway.

Are We Too Busy For Our Own Good?

A video of our daughter crawling for the first time popped up in my Facebook memories this morning. Her smile couldn’t have been bigger when she finally reached the purple stuffed animal stationed across the living room rug. And the delighted squeal that escaped as she looked up at me holding the phone was enough to flood me with enough emotions to last a lifetime.

Life was a lot slower back then. While Clay’s position took him TDY a fair amount, it wasn’t as high-stress as the one he is in now. I was a stay-at-home mom to an infant and a preschooler and our children had yet to enter the time-suck world of extra-curricular activities. I spent my days playing with my children, volunteering at the preschool and with the FRG, and dreaming about having a fairy-tale job that both challenged me and was flexible enough to not require childcare.

Fast forward six years and we are still happy but man, are we busier. I did end up securing a fairy-tale job – I only work part-time outside of the home when the kids are in school and I am required to use my graduate degree on a daily basis. Clay’s current position can be described with many adjectives – not limited to demanding, rewarding, infuriating, and eye-opening. The kids are involved in scouts, soccer, baseball, gymnastics, violin, chess, and other after-school activities that fill our color-coded calendar throughout the year. We go to church. We travel. I continue to volunteer at their school, I’m a Girl Scout leader, and I coach when able. We are happy. We are busy. And we are tired.

Our lives are no different than millions of other Americans. If we were to judge our success by the lack of white-space on our family calendar, we’re pretty darn well-off. But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss the simpler days of raising babies. And I’ve been catching myself lately wondering if we are too busy for our own good. Being busy is a bragging point in America – a way to set yourself apart from the masses – or at the very least, the lazy. After all, we’re the nation that brags about not using all of our allotted vacation days and expects women to be operating at 100% no later than six weeks after giving birth. If you’re not busy, you’re not living. The past few years have made way for research into the phenomenon. Harvard Business Review theorized that the “shift from leisure-as-status to busyness-as-status may be linked to the development of knowledge-intensive economies.”

Like most things in life, there are two sides to the busyness coin. Keeping your brain engaged and stimulated is good for health and productivity. A lot of people classify this as ‘good busy’ – you are energized to tackle the day and look forward to accomplishing goals. So how does that differ from the so-called ‘culture of busy’? Well – one school of thought highlights that the culture of busy is actually decreasing our productivity and leaving us with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. I shared this article from The Atlantic on Facebook a couple of weeks ago – the idea of saying, “Ugh, I’m so busy” as a positive status symbol really resonated with me. The saying, ‘work hard, play hard‘ is well known in the US but there seems to be the underlying message of, ‘work hard and then play hard, but don’t play too hard or too often.’

Is our little family of four too busy for our own good? Are we busy because we’re finding fulfillment in all of our extra-curricular activities? Or are we busy because we feel like that’s what our lives are supposed to look like as a middle-class family? Are we busy just for busy sake? We’re currently stationed in northern Virginia, where the pace of life can feel relentless. Young children are scheduled to the max and teenagers seem to fill their very little free-time with extra-curricular activities in effort to appeal to college admission offices.

So what does this mean for our little family? Well – the Army is sending us somewhere new this summer. With each move, we get the opportunity to start fresh. I’d like to be a little more intentional with our time and carve out more time for exploration and imagination. There are no shortage of articles with tips on how to overcome the culture of busy and how to embrace the present. We’re told to connect with people, not our devices, we’re told to say ‘no’, and we’re told to schedule downtime. I know that I want to simplify our lives. But if I am being honest, I am not quite sure where to begin.

Our Walt Disney World Vacation – The First Day

We did it. We spent 6 days at the self-proclaimed Most Magical Place on Earth, despite writing a post last year detailing the reasons why we hadn’t gone to Walt Disney World (WDW) yet. I do not plan on giving each day of our trip it’s own blog post by any means but because I felt so overwhelmed by the planning process when we first decided to jump into the WDW pool, I thought it’d be nice to break down our experience and lessons learned into more manageable nuggets of information.

We had a 7:00am flight from Reagan National to Orlando International Airport. Because we were staying on property, we were able to utilize the Magical Express service, which includes complimentary luggage delivery and transportation to WDW. About a month prior to our trip, we were mailed special tags for our luggage. We handed over our checked luggage in Washington DC and didn’t see it again until we walked into our cabin later than night – it felt great to bypass baggage claim and walk right to the Magical Express boarding area upon landing in Orlando. Because we were going straight to Hollywood Studios, we packed our carry-ons accordingly – Clay carried a backpack and I carried my favorite travel bag/purse (the NorthFace Elecrtra Daypack).  The process to check into Magical Express was super easy (we just scanned our Magic Bands) and before we knew it, our chartered bus was heading to WDW.

 When the Magical Express dropped us off at Fort Wilderness (I’ll write a blog post specifically detailing why we likely won’t choose to stay there again), we hopped on another bus to Hollywood Studios and before we knew it, we walking into our first WDW park together as a family. We purchased Disney Salutes 6-Day Park Hopper ticket vouchers from the Fort Belvoir MWR Office ($294.75/ticket). The ticket numbers were on the back of the vouchers, so we were able to book our FastPass+ at the 60-day mark (because we were staying on property) but because they weren’t true tickets, we had to visit Guest Services in order to exchange them and get the information synced with our Magic Bands. It was an easy 5-minute process and while there, we also purchased the Memory Maker at a discounted rate ($99).

I had only been to WDW once growing up on a family vacation and it was Clay’s and the kid’s first time. I was a freshman in high school, we didn’t stay on property, and we were only there for three days so I don’t remember a lot about the trip – only little snippets. Our six-day Disney World extravaganza was very different from what I experienced as a kid so in many ways, it felt like my first visit too. I remember my time at MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) the most so I was happy to oblige our son’s request to make Hollywood Studios our first park because he had one thing on his mind ever since we announced our vacation plans: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

We walked around Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, in awe of the craftsmanship. While I enjoy the Star Wars movie franchise, I had to ask Clay and our children a lot of clarifying questions about the little details peppered throughout the land. We were starving so we grabbed lunch at Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo. We opted to purchase the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) for this trip (I plan to write a post detailing our experience with DDP) so we used a Quick Service credit, which also included alcoholic beverages for myself and Clay.

That afternoon and evening, we saw the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, rode Star Tours, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Toy Story Mania, and Muppet Vision 3D. We ate snacks, walked around the various ‘lands’ within the park, and popped into shops before finally deciding to head back to Fort Wilderness around 7pm so we could finally see our cabin. We had checked-in online using the My Disney Experience earlier that day so all we had to do was walk up to the cabin, click the ‘unlock door’ button on the app, and scan our Magic Bands.

After relaxing in our cabin for a bit, we took transportation from a bus stop near our cabin down to the beach to grab dinner at P&J’s Southern Takeout (another Quick Service meal) and watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks across Bay Lake. I’d like to say that it was the perfect end to a fantastic day but to be honest, we were exhausted. Next time, we won’t try and pack so much into the day we land in Orlando…lesson learned!

My Thoughts on 'The Good Place' Finale

How can it be Friday already? It feels like I just published my Monday post. For as slow as January was, the first week of February is flying faster than Maverick buzzing the Tower. Clay and I finally were able to watch The Good Place series finale last night. For those not familiar, The Good Place was created by Michael Schur, who is known for his work on The OfficeParks and Recreation, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, all of which we adore. Themes of ethics, philosophy, and what it means to be human were explored and woven throughout The Good Place and the series did a fantastic job developing characters – both primary and secondary. The writing was extremely smart and hilarious and while the episodes could be mind-bending complex and difficult to digest in one sitting, the overarching theme of the show was quite simple…what does it mean to be a good person?

There was one scene that will likely resonate with me for the rest of my (hopefully long) life. Eleanor and Chidi are cuddled up on a couch, watching the sun set over a body of water surrounded by mountains – spending their last moments together before Chidi walks through the arch, into the unknown. Chidi tells Eleanor, “Picture a wave. In the ocean. You can see it, measure it, its height, the way the sunlight refracts when it passes through. And it’s there. And you can see it, you know what it is. It’s a wave. And then it crashes in the shore and it’s gone. But the water is still there. The wave was just a different way for the water to be, for a little while.

The idea of a wave being only a temporary form for the water stems from an old Buddhist metaphor. Each wave has a beginning and an end. When the wave breaks on the shore, it will no longer exist. But the wave was only a different way for the water to be for that moment in time. The wave crashing into the shore is simply how the wave returns to its true self – water.  I was wiping away the tears falling from the outer corners of my eyes when Clay commented on how deep the episode was becoming, which is impressive because a few minutes earlier, there was a hilarious line about the most human thing a person can do is text, “I’m five minutes away” when you haven’t even left the house yet.

I like to think of myself as a seeker. It is difficult for me to accept some of the traditional answers that my Christian faith provides to certain questions. I am constantly asking questions and trying to soak up as much as I can about this world and beyond. I love to read about faiths other than my own and experiencing how other cultures approach the seemingly nuances of existence. I’ve written in the past about how I no longer feel invincible. Age has not only granted me maturity but also the realization of my mortality. Each year, I try to make sense of all the things I want to do and all the things I likely never will – my purpose, my meaning, my reason.

I walked away from The Good Place series finale comforted by my current wave form. I don’t know how much time I have left but I suppose it is the continued uncertainty that makes life terrifying and beautiful and everything in between. Ordinary life really is far from ordinary. The ability to build relationships and have a profound impact on those around us is the ultimate human experience. How lucky are we to take on this form for a little while?