Stretching My Mind

I’m writing this post from the waiting room of a car dealership, which is a poppin’ place the day before Thanksgiving. Last week, one of my brand-new tires on my brand-new car managed to pick up a screw on the sidewall. A new tire was special ordered and it finally arrived, which means the kids and I are spending the morning with Subaru’s finest while Clay works a ‘half-day’ (don’t you love how in the military a ‘half-day’ is still at least 8 hours..). We’re leaving for Georgia late this afternoon/evening, which means we will be in good company among millions of other last minute travelers. Nothing says the holidays like spending hours in the car, right?

Speaking of holidays – over the weekend, Clay and I watched Holiday in the Wild, a Netflix Original movie with Rob Lowe and Kristen Davis. We watched it with the intention of rolling our eyes and snarking on the amount of cheese often associated with such Hallmark-esque Christmas movies. The movie certainly wasn’t without such faults, but wouldn’t you know – the gorgeous African landscape (the movie was filmed in South Africa and Zambia) and the decent acting held our attention. Spoiler – Chris Traeger and Charlotte York fall in love, end up together, and save the elephants. Merry Christmas, indeed. And while I’ve been wanting to visit Africa for awhile, now the pull is even greater. We’ve decided to wait until the kids are a little older – it’s a bucket list item of mine to hike Kilimanjaro as a family when the kids are in college. Who needs Spring Break at the beach when you can summit Africa’s highest peak with your parents?

We spent this past Sunday afternoon hiking at Great Falls Park, which is one of my favorite places in the area this time of year. Nestled within the urban sprawl of Washington, DC is 800 acres of protected land along the Potomac. We love to climb the rocks that pepper the banks and explore the 15 miles of trails that follow Difficult Run. There is little I love more than rock scrambling and I am keeping my fingers crossed that the Army sends us somewhere next where I can really immerse myself into the hobby without having to drive hours into the mountains.

Now that the weather has turned, we’re reminded of how we will be settled into our not-yet-disclosed new location for the holidays next year. As much as we’re going to miss certain aspects of our life in the nation’s capital and the people we’ve grown to love, we’re ready for another adventure. People ask us if we’re tired of not putting down roots or if we find ourselves wanting to just stay put. Not yet. We’re still in the phase of our lives where we get caught up in the exhilarating whirlwind when embarking on a new Army-induced adventure. We’re aware of the short list of places the Army could send us next but there is no guarantee that our next locale will be one of them (the joys of the military – ha!) so I’m not devoting too much energy into research and I am actively trying not to get my hopes up (and no – Europe isn’t a possibility this time around…womp womp).

Sometimes I wonder if Clay and I’s wanderlust will negatively impact our children. We know that each move will become increasingly difficult as our children approach their middle school and high school years. While I don’t think staying in one place for that duration is the only way to raise teenagers successfully, I do think there are actions we can take that will ensure that our choices won’t have lasting adverse impacts. I suppose we will cross those bridges when and if our journey takes us there. Whenever I find myself fretting over whether we’re doing our children a disservice, I remind myself of the famed Oliver Wendell Holmes quote – “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.

There is nothing I want more for my children than for them to find joy in opportunity – to seize each day and make the most of it as if Mr. Keating is speaking directly to them. I want them to find comfort in the unexpected and value in new experiences. One of our family mottos is, “We do hard things.” Just because there may be shadows doesn’t mean there isn’t beauty in the view. We have so much to be thankful for – both known and the unknown. While it’d be nice to know what our future holds, embracing the uncertainty offers its own sense of exhilaration…we might as well enjoy it!

Tales From The Walt Disney World Planning Trenches

We’re finally doing it – we’re going to Walt Disney World. In a couple of months, we will fly down to interior Florida and spend six days within the 40 square miles hailed as the Most Magical Place on Earth. Earlier this year, I wrote about all the reasons why we’ve chosen other destinations over Walt Disney World for vacations so I do have to chuckle that we’ll end up visiting Mickey less than a year after I published that post. Why the change of heart? Well – there are a handful of reasons why we decided to bite the bullet sooner rather than later…

  • Our kids really want to go. People certainly don’t accuse us of taking kid-centric vacations (pictures from our visit to Stonehenge exemplify this fact). When we visited Disneyland almost three years ago, Clay and I planned the trip with the idea of “We’re doing this for the kids…“. Well wouldn’t you know – I think Clay and I ended up enjoying our three days at Disneyland more than the kids. While our kids really do love our families adventures, they’ve mentioned a few times how they’d like to visit WDW. And truth be told, Clay and I do too.
  • Armed Forces Salute tickets aren’t getting any cheaper. Look – Disney World is not an inexpensive vacation. Disney has offered the Armed Forces Salute off-and-on since 2002 at varying discount levels. Since 2009, the Armed Forces Salute ticket prices have increased each year. We’ve always known we’d visit WDW eventually so early 2020 seems as good of a time as any to finally take the plunge. According to the WDW website, a 4-day non-park hopper ticket that allows guests to visit one park per day is $335/ticket. For comparison, we purchased 6-day Park Hopper ticket vouchers at Fort Belvoir for $301/each.
  • We want a winter escape. Washington DC is the winter is beautiful. There is nothing quite like seeing all of the monuments covered in snow. But by the end of the January/beginning of February timeframe, we’re always itching to escape somewhere warm for a little while. Only caveat? It is not cheap. When pricing tropical destinations to visit this winter, we mentioned, “Geez, visiting these places will cost more than Disney World!” We originally started to plan to visit over Spring Break (apparently we felt like being gluttons for punishment) but last week, we decided that we wanted to go as a mid-winter break from the gloomy DC weather instead.
  • We don’t know where we’re going next. We’re anxiously waiting to find out where the Army will send us this upcoming summer. We’re hopeful that we will be able to go on another big adventure this summer (Italy? Road trip up into the Canadian Rockies? Alaska? Ireland?) but with so much uncertainty tied to report dates and unknown locations, we’re bracing ourselves for the possibility of needing to scale back our big summer trip this year. We’re going to try our hardest to squeeze something in though!

The Not So Overwhelming But Still Intimidating Planning Process. This picture of Violet at Disneyland is exactly how I felt going into the Disney World planning process. Before kids, Clay and I would fly across the country without hotel reservations – instead choosing to Priceline a hotel upon landing. We loved the adventure of the unknown. And we love a good last minute trip. For example, a couple of years ago, we received our household goods and booked a vacation package to Deerfield Beach, Florida that had the four of us flying the next day. That’s how we like to roll, which is pretty much the opposite when it comes to a WDW vacation. It didn’t help that people would say things like, “Wow – you really are booking your trip last minute!” Since when is booking a trip 70-days out considered last minute?!?

So last weekend, I put out an SOS message on Facebook and within minutes, I had a bunch of people holding my hand telling me that it would be okay. By Sunday night, we had reservations to stay on-property and reservations for one sit-down meal each day. By Tuesday night, we had ticket vouchers in hand and plane tickets reserved. And now here we are – just waiting for the 60-day FastPast window to open up. We chose not to use a Disney Planner because we actually found ourselves enjoying the planning process and sitting side-by-side on our laptops researching various aspects of the trip. If that isn’t romance, I don’t know what is. In the past five days, we’ve completely planned a WDW trip, we’ve watched the first two episodes of The Imagineering Story on Disney+, and we’ve binged on related YouTube videos so we’ve pretty much jumped into the WDW pool cannonball style.

The excitement is building and we’re fully embracing the dorky Disney family vibe. Will mouse ears be involved? Yes. Will we wear coordinating Mickey shirts? You bet. Will this trip launch a yearly pilgrimage to WDW for our family? Nope. But I have no doubt that our visit to the most Magical Place on Earth will be a fantastic week for our family.

What are you MUST-DO’s at Walt Disney World? Those of you who are well-versed in Disney culture or have visiting WDW before, I’d love to hear your favorite things to do while in the parks. Is there a certain restaurant that you love? A ride that’s worth waiting in line for if a FastPast+ doesn’t work out? A certain snack that no trip to WDW would be complete without having? What is your favorite life-hack related to WDW? I’d love to hear it!

An Unremarkable Weekend

There was nothing remarkable about our weekend. We didn’t go cliff diving in the Ord River, we didn’t hike within Glacier National Park, and we didn’t run with the bulls in Pamplona. Instead we slept in, binged on Disney+, and indulged in fondue. We threw around a baseball, went to church, and braved Tysons Corner to get a jump start on Christmas shopping. We talked about our future and began to plan our Walt Disney World trip (yep, we’re finally going). We jumped started Clay’s car and we had a Latin dance party in our son’s room to the only station that his radio would pick up. We lounged on the couch in comfy socks and ate hot fudge sundaes. We were completely unscheduled for the first time in months. By Instagram standards, it was a weekend of big ol’ nothing. Some people may even call it boring. But it was exactly what our little family of four needed.

I admit that I sometimes fall victim to the fear of missing out – unsure if I am really living life to the fullest. Occasionally I find myself peering at my life like its contained within a snow globe – various vignettes, sometimes with snow. Thoughts like, “Is my life boring? Am I taking enough risks? fall through my head like little snowflakes as we skate around the town square inside the globe. But then we experience a weekend like the one we just did and I’m reminded of the beauty found within the most simple of experiences.

We want our children to balance the moments of quiet and introspection with ones of risk and adventure. We don’t feel the need to entertain our children constantly and fill their days with activities and schedules – they do a fine job creating spectacular worlds themselves. Yes – our plan is to continue exploring the world with them throughout their childhood and into adulthood. But we also plan to make plenty of time to squeeze on the same couch and savor the occasional lazy day together.

This weekend was the reminder I needed that only boring people are bored. And our seemingly unremarkable weekend emphasized that not only is there much to be discovered about the world, but also there is a lot we can learn about ourselves and how we relate to the ones we love most. After all, adventure isn’t always standing on top of a mountain or sailing the great seas; adventure is attitude to experience the seemingly unremarkable and most simple aspects of life.

Oh Hi. Life Lately.

It’s been awhile. 43 days to be exact.

I was in middle school when Jagged Little Pill dominated the airwaves. My favorite song on the album then and now is Head Over Feet and my least favorite is {ironically} Ironic. I admit that I was by no means considered brilliant in 7th grade but even I side-eyed Ms. Morissette’s lyrics, which detailed bad luck and not irony. Because of this, I’m always hesitant to declare something ironic because I always feel the need to take a step back and ask myself, “Is this really ironic?” So – with trepidation, I am writing that I found it ironic that I woke up sick on the day I took off from work in effort to collect and recenter myself. Of course.

I’m feeling better today and I have another day at home thanks to the kids not having school due to Election Day and the fact that my hourly rate barely covers child care. The house is scrubbed clean, our winter clothes sorted, and our guest bed is now home to a mountain of items to be donated. So now I write. The past couple of months have been a whirlwind of new normals, uncertainty surrounding our future, and the everyday life that occurs when raising two children in the DC suburbs.

Soccer season has come and gone. Our Saturdays will become a little more open because both decided not to play a team sport this winter. We took advantage of the reduced military rate for the Epic Pass so we hope to spend most of our weekends this winter on the slopes and finally have the kids learn to ski. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t learn to ski until I was in middle school and living in Pennsylvania and even then, it was during a ski trip with the French club. My parents don’t downhill ski so my siblings and I never learned as kids. Clay and I would like to take ski vacations with the kids when they get a bit older so we’d like them to learn sooner rather than later. We’ll start with the Poconos and who knows – maybe in a few years we’ll be skiing in the Alps?

We leaned into fall and visited Great Country Farms in Bluemont, Virginia. I’m not a huge fan of the organized fun that occurs at such places – I’d much rather wander through fall foliage without the ‘farm’ experience. However, the kids really enjoy going and we found ourselves in fits of laughter while getting lost in the corn maze.

We cheered on the Nationals as they won their last regular season game – we did not attend any of the playoff games or World Series games. We briefly considered dropping the cash because the opportunity doesn’t come along often to see your team play in the World Series but it was either pay for four tickets or have the funds to take another epic trip next summer – we chose travel. It was the first World Series were neither team won any home games so one could argue that it worked out to our advantage. But boy, it sure was fun watching the Nats – even if it was on television. They finished the fight. Go Nats!

We went to the Maryland Renaissance Festival in Crownsville, which is the second largest Renaissance festival in the country. While we enjoyed the jousting tournament, we quickly learned that we’re not really Renaissance Festival people. We inadvertently went on Pirate Weekend, which made for some interesting people watching but the grounds were ridiculously busy and we found it to be very expensive. But yeah – not our cup of tea.

Clay and I saw The Head and the Heart at the Anthem, which is one of my favorite venues in the area to see concerts. The Head and the Heart put on a fantastic show and their set list was a good mix of old and new songs. Does it really get any better than Charity Rose Thielen’s voice?

We bought a new car – a 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx XT Edition. We’ve been wanting to trade in Clay’s car for quite some time because neither one of us particularly liked it but there was nothing on the market that we wanted to buy. That is – until Subaru announced the new Onyx XT package on the Outback. I plan on reviewing this car on the blog in the future because it is so much fun to drive and we’re so happy that we waited instead of settling.

The broken mini-blinds really make the picture, don’t they? I’m a sucker for my husband in his Mess Dress so I was thrilled to accompany him to the Marshall Dinner last month. While there was no dancing at the event, we did get to hear former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, belt out Theme from New York, New York among other songs. His speech really resonated with us and covered many of the topics that have monopolized our own discussions about what we want the next 5, 10, 20 years to look like in regards to Clay’s military service.

Clay’s parents come up to visit and help us celebrate the little guy’s 10th birthday. They were able to attend both soccer games, which the kids really appreciated. The following weekend, my mom flew in for a quick visit. She was able to also see both soccer games and afterward, we took her to our favorite place to get blue crabs in the Annapolis, Maryland area (The Point Crab House).

We only managed to visit two breweries over the past 43 days – Fair Winds Brewing Company in Lorton and Dirt Farm Brewing in Bluemont. Pictured is the Pineapple Tart Ale, which is described as “A simple grain bill of Pilsner and Wheat malts with just a touch of Perle hops. Lactobacillus is added to the wort before boiling to achieve a tart flavor. Pineapple puree added post fermentation for a hint floral aromas and a citrus finish.” I highly recommend if you like tart ales and/or wheat beer with a hint of fruit.

The kids’ costumes for the Book Character Parade at school were quite different than what they wore later that night for Trick-or-Treating.

And finally, while we haven’t decorated for Christmas yet, we do have an undecorated Christmas tree in the corner of our living room. Over the weekend, we bought a new tree with a smaller footprint because our 10+ year-old tree has just been too big for our last few homes. We took the tree out of the box to make sure the lights worked and it just seemed silly to put it back in the box so up it went! I’m sure we will decorate the tree and the rest of the house sooner rather than later – when do you traditionally decorate for Christmas?

So there you have it – a glimpse into my life over the past 43 days. I didn’t write near as much as I wanted due to other professional obligations but the next few months will look quite different than the previous few. And for that, I am thankful.