Stand Up Paddle Boarding on Lake Michigan

We spent the weekend paddling on Lake Michigan. The path from our house to the beach is down a fairly significant hill, which makes it near impossible to put our kayaks in the water within walking distance, which we were able to do on Lake Ontario during our time at Fort Drum – womp womp. However we have two inflatable stand-up paddle boards that have proved to be perfect for our current situation (SereneLife and ROC). We carry them in backpacks up and down the hill and inflate them on the shore. When the water is calm, we use them as stand-up paddle boards and when the water is choppier, we treat them like kayaks. Our long-term goal is to get each kid their own paddle board but for the time being, Clay and I can each comfortably have a kid on the board with us so we’ve been able to cover some ground in the waters along the North Shore of Chicago as a family.

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The water was incredibly calm yesterday morning. The sparkling turquoise water was the perfect antidote to the uncertainty and anxiety that has been churning inside for quite some time. Despite reciting my mantra of everything will be okay continuously the past few weeks, my mind would find itself being lured into the dark spaces where doubt, apprehension, and hopelessness have been banished. And as much as I don’t want to retreat into my own little world when so many horrible things are happening in our country, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find the bandwidth to take it all on after tending to my own family’s needs during this dumpster fire of a year.

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Deciding what to do about the kids’ education dominated the majority of my headspace this month. I reconciled the idea that homeschooling may be the best option for our family but we ultimately decided to enroll the kids in the public school system, which has a stellar reputation and the opportunity for students to attend school in-person for a couple of hours each day. Only time will tell if the hybrid-model is sustainable through the fall and winter but we felt it was worth it to give it a chance. And if we find that it isn’t working for our family, we will likely make the switch to homeschooling and persevere with grit and determination. I think once I gave myself grace and the power to change my mind, I became much more at peace with our decision. It’s easy to twist my insides into knots when it comes to our children but time and time again they’ve proved themselves to be resilient – they will be okay. Everything will be okay.

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2020 has proved to be anything but ordinary, so I think it’s important to fight my initial instinct to make everything feel ‘normal’ for my children. Because that’s not how life works. We adjust. We adapt. And we push forward. We’re thankful that we were able to sign them up for soccer and baseball this fall, even though the season will look very different than what they’ve experienced in the past. And that’s okay. I’ve vowed to stop asking myself, “How can I make this feel more like normal?” and instead I’ve been asking, “How can I make this better than before?

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Leonardo DiVinci told us that water is the driving force of all nature. Not only can water carve its way through stone, but it makes a new path if it deems necessary. I am so incredibly thankful that this assignment will allow us to spend time on the water and embrace its power. There is a sense of freedom when we’re paddling in the water – we’re focused on the horizon and maintaining balance while appreciating the vast beauty. Every paddle is different than the one before – new water, new movement, and new insight.  Our family is craving the routine that a new school year brings – we look forward to the challenges on the horizon. And we will continue to carve our way through 2020 and should we find that the path we’re one is impassable, we will make a new one.

It’s Quiet Here

We’re settling into our new home on the North Shore of Chicago, where turquoise waters shimmer underneath the seemingly endless midwest sky. Our on-post house is yellow, it boasts the cheapest appliances we’ve encountered in our 15+ years of marriage, and it’s only a two-minute walk down to the rocky shoreline of Lake Michigan. We’re catching our breath and learning our new routine – the pandemic has made this move feel like the hardest one yet. While the house is unpacked and we’re beginning to meet people in the neighborhood, our life doesn’t necessarily feel like ours yet but I have faith it will in due time.

It’s quiet here – at least compared to our last three years in the Washington DC area. In fact, the past couple of months have been the most we’ve ever spent together as a family of four – partly due to pandemic-restrictions and the fact that Clay’s previous assignment was the most intense of his career thus far. Now that we’re on the other side, I suppose we’re realizing just how much of an impact the last three years had on our family – not that they were bad but we definitely learned some things about what we want and what we don’t want out of life. I wrote about how over the years I’ve learned to give when the Army asks for even more of my husband, and how I deal with envy, and the not-so-subtle art of dealing with disappointment. I’m not sure what lessons our two years at Fort Sheridan will teach us but we hope to leave America’s third coast with a clearer picture of what we want our next 10+ years to look like.

Clay and I are both on the increasingly fast downhill slide to 40 – while we have no desire to map out our remaining years in a manner than prevents us from experiencing the beautiful and exciting moments graced upon those who embrace the unpredictable nature of life, we also recognize that the Army isn’t forever and we have some decisions to make when we inevitably come to the fork in the proverbial military road.

I’m looking forward to writing more here at And Then We Laughed and other places. Now that I’ve settled into a routine at work (I am working remotely for our previous school district) and the house is almost done, I find myself wanting to write beyond my professional obligations and doing so without the guilt overwhelming me into paralysis.

So thank you for reading. I hope you continue to follow along with our adventures at our new duty station. The pandemic has halted our travel plans but we’re determined to make the best and most of our two years at Fort Sheridan, Illinois.

Three Days in The Cotswolds Isn’t Enough

When people would ask us about our travel plans for the summer, we were often met with quizzical expressions when we mentioned that we were flying into Manchester Airport as opposed to Heathrow Airport outside of London. But then when we described our plans to rent a car and drive down to the Cotswolds for a few days before heading over to London, our plan made a bit more sense to most. And in full disclosure, saving over $200 a ticket certainly played a role into our decision to not fly into London.

We arrived in Manchester around 8:30am. By the time we cleared immigration and received our rental car, it was late morning. We were able to check into our inn in the Cotswolds at 2pm that day and we were quite exhausted from our red-eye flight so we forewent any exploring around Manchester and chose to get right on the road. In hindsight, I wish we would have heeded the advice of my friend and squeezed in a visit to The John Rylands Library at University of Manchester but such is the perils of traveling – there is never enough time to see everything.

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After a few hours and a few stops at various motorway service areas (a huge shoutout to Clay for driving on the other side of the car on the the other side of the road on three hours of sleep), we arrived at the little English village we’d be staying at for our three nights in The Cotswolds.

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Bourton-on-the-Water is consistently voted one of the prettiest villages in England and filled with charming little inns, restaurants, and shops. The River Windrush winds through the village and during the warmer months, you can find children wading in the water. Beautiful bridges are sprinkled throughout the town and you can always find an outdoor table to sit at as you enjoy the view while sipping a drink.

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Our lodging choice couldn’t have been more perfect – we stayed in a family suite at The Broadlands Guest House. The innkeeper, Marco, was brilliant and really helped make our stay wonderful. He came outside and greeted us upon our arrival and excitedly informed us that Clay was the first Clay he had ever met in person. Quite the honor for my husband.

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We relaxed for a little while in our room but didn’t allow ourselves to fall asleep. By late afternoon, we walked down to a pub for an early dinner and we were in bed by 7:30pm. And by 1:30am, we were all wide awake watching British TV in the same bed and eating the shortbread I randomly picked up at a service station earlier that day. It was one of those silly little family vacation moments that I don’t think any of us will soon forget.

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We were served breakfast (cooked by Marco!) each morning of our stay and we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go in Bourton-on-the-Water from The Broadlands Guest House. We throughly enjoyed exploring the quintessential countryside village – we really lucked out with our choice and it served as a great jumping off point for taking little day trips.

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We knew that we wanted to see a castle during our time in The Cotswolds and we weren’t let down by Berkeley Castle outside of Gloucestershire. It was only about a 45 minute drive from Bourton-on-the-Water and was the perfect way to spend our first full day in the English countryside.

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We spent hours touring Berkeley Castle and wandering the grounds. We were able to look down into a dungeon, walk around the underground tap room, and see the prison cell where Edward II was held and eventually murdered.

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The little guy even became a man for all seasons.

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We ate a late lunch on the property in a yurt and by the time we left the castle at 3:00pm, we were ready to head back to Bourton-on-the-Water and relax with a leisurely dinner and stroll through town.

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The next day, we tackled Stonehenge. We ate breakfast at our inn and then drove two hours south to the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire. The drive wasn’t fun – it required a lot of concentration on Clay’s part (tons of super windy streets wide enough for only one car) and since I was on GPS and hedge-duty, we were unable to entertain the kids with our dazzling personalities and jokes. We drove through some spectacularly quaint villages but we didn’t really get to enjoy the scenery because it felt like we were sternly telling our little adventure-mates to be quiet and stop fighting the entire drive down. When we arrived, we chose to walk about a mile to the infamous sight, rather than take the shuttle, in effort to burn some of their energy. It was just one of the many mistakes made during our trip to Stonehenge. As evident by the picture above, the kids weren’t terribly impressed and we could hear them muttering “We spent two hours in the car to see rocks?

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We were determined to maximize our time and get our money’s worth – we spent about three hours exploring the English Heritage site. If it were just Clay and I, we would have hiked all over the ancient landscape and wandered about the ancient burial mounds. But because we were traveling with kids, we adjusted our goals. The kids endured our time there and enjoyed touring the ancient dwelling replicas on display near the museum – we even caught them smiling a handful of times.

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And we got our token family shot so as far as anyone knows, we had a fabulous time at Stonehenge. Clay and I often diffuse situations with humor so when we realized that our trip to the infamous stone circle was a bit of a bust, we used it as an opportunity to make the kids laugh and salvage what we could of the day. And as a silver-lining, we now have a excellent bargaining chip when it comes to getting the kids to turn their behavior around – we threaten to take them back to Stonehenge if they don’t shape up. It totally works!

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Upon our return to Bourton-on-the-Water, we ate fish and chips at a pub, had post-dinner drinks along the river as the kids splashed in the water, and walked the quiet streets back to the inn. And we marveled at how everything was a little bit smaller, quite a bit older, and slower-paced than we’re used to back home.

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The next morning, we returned our room key to Marco and gave him a big hug. He made our stay in The Cotswolds just that much better and we couldn’t have asked for a better host. After breakfast, we walked around Bourton-on-the-Water for the last time and stopped in a bakery for a post-breakfast snack and Americano before heading to London.

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Then we hopped into our rental car one last time and turned onto a little village road. Next stop – London!

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As a closing note – I am so glad that we incorporated the English countryside into our vacation before heading to London and Paris. If you should find yourself wanting to visit England, don’t bypass The Cotswolds. And you can’t go wrong with a stay in Bourton-on-the-Water at The Broadlands Guest House. Just be sure to tell Marco that Clay and Karen sent you his way.

Four Days in Munich – Prost!

Munich (München in German) is literally “Home of the Monks”. Founded in 1158 and known as the capital of Bavaria since 1506, Munich’s history is filled with stories of counter-reformation, renaissance arts, the plague, and war. Despite the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, Munich eventually became known as Hauptstadt der Bewegung (Capitol of the Movement) when Hitler and the Nazi Party took control of Germany in 1933. Dachau, the first concentration camp, is located only 10 miles outside of the city. For these reasons and more, it’s a shame to only associate Munich with Oktoberfest and beer.

That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy ourselves when it came to drinking our calories in Munich. I was right at home because it doesn’t get much better than hefeweizen in my world. Clay is an IPA man himself, so while he thoroughly enjoyed drinking his way around Bavaria, he was missing hops greatly by the time our trip was ending. And you have to love Germany – Clay and I drank cheaper than our kids during our four days in Munich, which should be known as Land of the 5€ Cokes.

We arrived in Munich around 11am on a Sunday and thankfully didn’t have too long of a wait for immigration – waiting to get my passport stamped after sleeping on a plane for 9+ hours is easily my least favorite aspect of traveling. We grabbed our luggage and attempted to figure out how to purchase passes for the Munich U-Bahn and S-Bahn. We used a kiosk and crossed our fingers that we bought the correct tickets. On our way to find the U-Bahn entrance, we passed an information desk and decided to double-check our instincts – which ended up being wrong. The incredibly nice lady gave us a refund, explained the various zones, and told us that a daily family pass is our best (and cheapest!) option for using Munich public transportation.

We were able to get to our hotel, Sheraton Munich Westpark, without any trouble and we very much appreciated it being directly above the
München Heimeranplatz train station. We were in a family suite that was spacious and found paying the extra $10/night for access to the Sheraton Club on the top floor was will worth the money. With the Club, we had 24/7 access to bottled water, bottled soda, bottled beer, and coffee/espresso/cappuccino, as well food during certain times of the day. I highly recommend the hotel, which is part of Marriott Bonvoy collection, if you find yourself in Munich with kids – it is just a few train stops away from the city center and within walking distance of some fantastic independent neighborhood restaurants that don’t charge city center prices.

Our first meal in Munich was at the infamous Hofbräuhaus am Platzl. Yes, it was a touristy thing to do but hey – we were tourists. Clay and I did learn that we were a bit overzealous with our drinking a liter of beer on only a few hours sleep.

We spent the rest of the evening strolling through the streets of Munich and just experiencing the sights and sounds of the city. By the end of World War II, Munich was a shell of it’s former self due to the heavy bombings it endured. As a result, the city was painstakingly rebuilt using photographs that the Nazi’s meticulously captured when they realized that the Allied Forces were closing in.

We spent the next day exploring to our hearts content. I found the dichotomy between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ throughout the city particularly somber and beautiful.

We were able to witness the famed Rathaus-Glockenspiel in Marienplatz, which is in the heart of Munich. Every day at 11am and 12pm (year-round) and 5pm (summer only), it chimes and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century. Marienplatz is the central square of Munich and has been it’s main square since 1158. Pictured is New Town Hall, which was completed in 1909 and a brilliant example of neo-gothic architecture.

We visited Viktualienmarkt at least once a day for drinks and food. Viktualienmarkt is a popular outdoor market next to Marienplatz that is filled with over 140 stalls offering food, drinks, flowers, produce, etc…

The Englischer Garten is a large public park in Munich that is one of the largest in the world (it’s even bigger than Central Park). We waded in the water, saw a few nude sunbathers, and marveled at the seemingly endless green space in the middle of the city.

The beer garden that surrounds Chinese Tower in Englischer Garten seats over 7000 people so of course, we had to eat (and drink) there.

The stream that runs through Englischer Garten is artificial so as a result of the water pumping mechanism there is a standing wave at one end. On any given day, you can see people attempting to serve on the wave for as long as they can. We watched quite a few people with serious surfing skills – in Munich nonetheless!

Like many people traveling to new places, we love to visit churches that have withstood history and tell a story of their own. I couldn’t stop staring at the ceiling of Heilig-Geist-Kirche (Holy Ghost Church).

Another one I loved was Michaelskirche (St. Michael’s Church), which is the largest Renaissance church north of the Alps. “Mad” King Ludwig II also happens to be entombed in the crypt.

Our time in Munich was broken up into two chunks – two days at the beginning of our trip and two days at the end. We stayed at the same hotel and really enjoyed bookending our vacation in Home of the Monks. Munich is Germany’s third largest city and home to almost 1.5 million people. But it many ways, it’s the perfect blend of city and country – there are so many public parks that you never feel too far away from nature. And we were hard-pressed to find a window that didn’t have fresh flowers or plants growing in a windowsill.

And how can you not love the sight of Monks strolling the streets?

We loved just walking around the city and seeing where each day took us. One evening, we climbed almost 300 rickety steps to the top of the Church of St. Peter for a fantastic view of Munich (totally worth the few Euros).

We all agreed that our favorite food in Munich were the meals that had a strong Hungarian influence. The goulash we had at Hofbrauhaus was one of the best dishes we ate the entire trip.

We did make it a point to visit Olympiapark, home to the 1972 Summer Olympics and the site of the Munich Massacre. We visited the memorial – erected near where 11 Israeli Olympic team members were held hostage and killed by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. A West Germany police officer was also killed in the attack. Olympiapark continues to serve as a venue for cultural, social, and religious events. It also has a playground that the kids absolutely adored (Germany has fantastic playgrounds in general).

We also popped into BMW Welt, where we were able to get up close and personal with various Bayerische Motoren Werke products. Entrance is free and you are encouraged to ask questions and fall in love with the cars. We opted not to pay to go to the museum because we got our fix from the free and massive showroom.

Did you know that there is a Michael Jackson memorial in Munich? Neither did we until we accidentally stumbled upon it one morning.

Feldherrnhalle, a 19th-century Italianate monument to the Bavarian Army and the site of Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch.

We found Munich incredibly easy to navigate and an absolute joy to explore. If you ever have any questions about visiting Munich with kids, please do not hesitate to ask!