The Art of Knowing Very Little

The other night after dinner, the four of us were playing a game at the table when I was struck with one of those moments of disbelief – the type when it feels like you’re floating above the room keenly observing the people and events. If we were in a Nancy Meyers film, the screen would’ve given way to a gorgeous and unnecessary oversized kitchen as Summer Samba (So Nice) floated in the air. I stared at my hard-working husband and curious children and the Ticket to Ride: First Journey game board and thought to myself, “I am here.” The three of them were laughing about a mispronunciation of a train station as I looked on with reverence. I was reflecting on our path that lead to that precise moment in time when my son called out, “It’s your turn, Mom!” – which sent me crashing down from my ethereal birds-eye perspective.

the great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been

madeleine l'engle quote

I’m getting older. The laugh lines on my face are more pronounced than they were five years ago. When I stare at my hands, I’m struck by how much older they appear than the years my birth certificate indicates. The sands of time seem to be falling at feverish pace and I know they will continue to do so with each year. And while I am more confident than ever and grateful for what I’ve been able to experience thus far, I am continuously reminded that I know very little about this world.

Grand Canyon family sunset

We’ve been lucky to travel to some pretty amazing places that will be forever etched in our hearts. But there is a reason why I am quick to recommend the Grand Canyon as a must-do family vacation – being able to participate in the transformative experience of soaking in the indescribable view with our children is something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. Sitting on that ledge, we were reminded of just how small we were in the most overwhelmingly way possible. And what is perhaps most astonishing is that if were were to sit in that same exact spot right now, the view would not be the same because the canyon is ever-changing. Just like life.

Sometimes I wonder if I deserve the life that I’ve cultivated over the years. I’ll look down on the events taking place around me and think, “How did I ever get here?” and confuse perception with reality. I wonder if I express enough gratitude. And I question whether I’m seizing the moment enough to maximize the experience. But when I float back down, I’m reminded that the beauty of life lies with understanding just how little we understand of it. I am lucky that I’ve had the time that I’ve had and I can only hope that there are many more years ahead of me. After all, I still know very little.

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Germany and Austria – Our {Rough} Itinerary

I can count on two hands the number of days left before we board our flight to Munich. To say that we’re excited is an understatement. Eeeeek. Earlier this year, I wrote about how we chose our big summer vacation. And last year, I really enjoyed writing about how we chose our adventure and our rough itinerary, and recapping our time in the Cotswolds, London, and Paris. So I figured I’d give a brief overview of what we plan to accomplish during our time in Germany and Austria and how we plan to incorporate lessons learned from our trip to Europe last summer.

Munich. We scored an amazing deal on roundtrip tickets to Munich so we’re bookending our trip in the capital city of Bavaria. We initially considered incorporating Berlin into this trip but ultimately chose to focus on southern Germany and Austria in order to really experience the scenery and culture. Yes – we will be sure to visit Hofbrauhaus, Marienplatz, Frauenkirche, and more but we’re just really looking forward to wandering around the city and seeing where each day takes us.

Salzburg. After our initial stay in Munich, we’re renting a car and driving to a villa on the outskirts of Salzburg. We will stay there for a few days and explore both the city and countryside. Yes, we will be doing a Sound of Music bike tour and will have no shame singing Do-Re-Mi in Mirabell Gardens. We hope to visit a lake or two, we’re looking forward to hiking Untersberg, and of course eating our way throughout the city!

Edelweiss Lodge & Resort. We had already pretty much mapped out our trip when we received news that Edelweiss Lodge & Resort changed the eligibility requirements back to those stationed outside of EUCOM. We were able to score a few nights at the resort so we will be heading back into Germany after our time in Salzburg. We plan to relax during this portion of our trip and leisurely explore the countryside and visit Neuschwanstein Castle and other famed Bavarian sites. And I am almost positive we will fall in love with Garmisch-Partenkirchen and will never want to leave. We will also be in town for Garmischer Fest so we will be able to experience a true German festival.

Munich. We are ending our trip back in Munich and will have a couple of days to explore more of the city before flying back home.

What We Are Doing Different This Year

More time. Due to Clay being an aide-de-camp at the time, he was only able to take a week of leave. We made the most of our 7 days in the United Kingdom and France but because of our tight schedule, our days were packed and we were exhausted by the end of the trip. This year, we will have more time and we will have more opportunities for rest and relaxation.

Less guilt. This ties into the previous point but we are not going to let ourselves feel guilty if we want to have a quieter day that doesn’t involve running from landmark to landmark in order to maximize our time. Clay and I have trouble relaxing but we are going to force ourselves to have a few hours of down time built into each day – even if it means eating a leisurely meal or sitting in a park and letting the kids play while we sip drinks.

Listen to Rick Steves. We love watching his show and reading his books so we have no reason not to follow his advice. His travel philosophy is simple and we will be sure to be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic during our trip.

Those of you who have been to Munich, Salzburg, and/or Garmisch-Partenkirchen, what do you recommend?

The Art of Being Bored

How can it already by the second week of July? School starts back up next month. Next month. How is that even possible? My elementary school summers were spent in Phoenix, Arizona. Perhaps it was the unrelenting heat, but the almost three month break from school seemed to last for.ev.ver (said like Michael “Squints” Palledorous from The Sandlot).

Me – circo 1990 in Glen Arbor, Michigan

Back then, my summer days involved countless hours in our swimming pool, one massive road trip to Michigan, and day trips down to Mexico. I had very relaxed summers growing up. My mom stayed home and we didn’t do day camps, classes, or any other scheduled events that seem to dominate kids’ schedules nowadays. We’d go to the library and Video Showcase, where each of us kids were able to rent a movie on $1 Tuesdays – discovering such films as Mac & Me, He Said/She Said, and my beloved Three Men and a Little Lady. And yes, I was bored – some days more than others.

Thank goodness.

The art of boredom is dying – especially among children. It is alarming the amount of children who are rarely given the opportunity to fully use their imagination and fill empty time with self-created adventures. Perhaps I am more cognizant of this trend living in Northern Virginia – the pace of family life in this part of the country really can feel relentless at times.

I purposely do not fill up our summer days with activities and outings. Yes – we still do quite a bit and my children experience plenty but they also have quite a bit of days with absolutely nothing scheduled and they’re left to their own imaginations for entertainment. Yes – they use the iPad and watch plenty of television but they’ve built an entire city out of LEGOs in the basement, they created a vending machine out of a giant cardboard box, they worked together and wrote a book, they designed a scavenger hunt, and they play outside plenty. Most importantly – they’re learning how to self-motivate and work together as a team.

The internet has no shortage of articles about why bored is good for the soul. Study after study have demonstrated why unstructured time is crucial for childhood development and psychological well-being. I admit there are times when I doubt my instincts and wonder if I am doing enough for my children this summer. But then I am reassured when I’m called down to the basement to marvel at their newest invention made out of BBQ skewers and Play-Doh.

We have plenty of family adventures planned for the rest of summer but there will also be a lot of down time where 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.

An Overnight Getaway in St. Augustine, Florida

Last year, I wrote about the importance of vacation without kids. Now that our kids are elementary school-age, we’ve been keeping our non-kid getaways limited to overnights and weekend trips because we’d rather take them on our big trips! So when my parents offered to watch the kids for a night while we were visiting Amelia Island a few months ago, Clay and I jumped at the chance to sneak away. We chose St. Augustine, Florida because it is a short drive from Amelia Island and it has a completely different vibe than the surrounding area.

Casa Monica Resort and Spa

We decided to stay in a hotel that we wouldn’t have chosen if the kids were with us. We’re big Marriott fans so we booked the Casa Monica Resort and Spa, which is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. It was built in 1888 and served as a hotel until the owner abandoned the property when the stock market fell – it officially closed in 1932. From 1968 until the 1970s, it served as a county courthouse. In the 1990s, it was sold again and officially re-opened as a boutique hotel in 1999. It’s in the heart of the St. Augustine historic district so it was the perfect location for our little getaway.

We arrived at the hotel mid-morning and we were able to check in early. We dropped our bags and set off in search of coffee and to explore the cobblestone streets. Founded in 1565, St. Augustine lays claim to the oldest city in the United States and boasts the nickname The Ancient City. The brick-lined streets have a distinct European flavor and there is no shortage of centuries-old buildings, hidden courtyards, or vibrant fountains.

We popped into some shops and enjoyed strolling through the alleyways – the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Soon after, the pool was calling our name so we headed back to the hotel. We sat in a cabana, ordered drinks, and enjoyed reading our books without children demanding our attention.

While in the cabana, we researched places to eat dinner and made a reservation. After getting our fill of sun, we changed and set off to explore some more and grab drinks and appetizers since our dinner reservation wasn’t until much later that night.

The Casa Monica lobby is filled with Moorish-Spanish decor, frescoed fountains and ornate chandeliers. The hotel is beautiful and full of the charming quirks that often accompany historic hotels – a maze of hallways, tons of scones, and unique pieces of art scattered across the property.

Super close to the hotel is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, which is our country’s first parish and the oldest Catholic Church in St. Augustine. We visited the sanctuary and admired the exquisite murals and beautiful stained glass. We then set off to stroll the cobblestone streets yet again.

The live music at Mi Casa Cafe drew us in so we ordered draft beer and enjoyed the shaded patio and eclectic crowd.

We then had chips and guacamole and another round of drinks at Taberna del Caballo. Pictured is the caipirinha I ordered, which is one of my favorite drinks to order when at the beach. Made with cachaça, a rum-like spirit from Brazil, lime, and muddled sugar, the caipirinha is a simple and refreshing cocktail perfect for a sunny afternoon.

We explored for another hour or so before heading back to our hotel to change for dinner. It was amazing to leisurely walk around at our own pace (we’re fast walkers!) and not have to take into account the needs of our children.

The sun was setting as we set off for dinner so we decided to walk along the water. St. Augustine is located on the Mantanzas Bay, which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Augustine Inlet.

We also walked along the exterior of Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest and largest masonry fort in the continental United States. We watched dolphins frolic in the Mantanzas Bay and the sun set to the west.

We had dinner at Collage, which is up there as one of the best meals we’ve had in a long time. We were not disappointed and enjoyed the award-winning experience of dining there. We can’t recommend it enough!

If you do find yourself in St. Augustine and dining at Collage, do not hesitate to order the Bougainvillea dessert. It is a perfect combination of fresh strawberries, fresh vanilla ice cream, phyllo dough, cracked pepper, and mint.

The next morning was filled with more exploring and walks along the water. We decided to head back up to Amelia Island a little sooner than expected in order to squeeze in as much beach time as we could with the kids because the weather forecasted later that week wasn’t greatest. We had an absolute blast in St. Augustine and can’t wait to go back with the kids when we’re back in the area.