Our Cherry Blossom Cruise Experience

Eyes are watering. Heads are pounding. And noses are being tickled throughout the national capital region. It’s peak cherry blossom week! This time of year, visitors flock to the tidal basin in hopes of seeing the delicate and fleeting Japanese flower for themselves. We’re not immune to the splendor and beauty of what is known as sakura in Japanese so when friends mentioned they bought tickets for a cherry blossom cruise out of Georgetown for Sunday afternoon, we decided to join them.

Despite the shining sun and blue skies, it was windy and cold – especially out on the water. It was our first time on a cherry blossom cruise so we weren’t quite sure what to expect. But like most things in life, we kept an open mind and made the best of our chilly hour on the Potomac.

It’s interesting how the cherry blossoms came to be in the tidal basin, which is part of West Potomac Park. The Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, and the cherry blossoms all surround the tidal basin in Washington DC. Back at the turn of the century, First Lady Helen Taft became enamored with Japanese cherry trees when visiting Japan when her husband (future President Howard Taft) was the governor-general of the Philippines. Soon after her husband became President, she received a letter from Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore from the National Geographic Society, who wished to transform the tidal basin by planting cherry trees.

David Fairchild, a food explorer with the United States Department of Agriculture, also campaigned for importing cherry blossoms into Washington DC. President Taft viewed the trees as a tool to improve international relations with Japan. David Fairchild brokered the initial deal, which unfortunately involved faulty trees. But after Yukio Ozaki, the mayor of Tokyo, met with Fairchild, a second shipment of trees was organized and described as a memorial of national friendship between Japan and the United States.

The cherry blossoms represent a time of renewal – one of the first signs of spring in this part of the country. The delicate flowers also represent the fleeting nature of life due to their short life span. When appreciating their beauty, you can’t help but be reminded of life’s ephemerality.

The cherry blossom cruise was okay. We likely won’t go on another one – we much prefer to walk about the tidal basin. Being on the water felt too far removed to really appreciate the peak bloom. I’m not upset that we did it but after experiencing the cruise, I wouldn’t categorize it as a ‘must-do’ in the area. We were able to snag a deal on Groupon for half-price tickets – I certainly would not pay full ticket price ($30/person) for the experience.

Prior to going out on the water, we finally checked out The Berliner in Georgetown, which classifies itself as a modern German beer hall. The food was delicious, and the beers were awesome, and it was kid-friendly. How can you not love a place like that? We still have a handful of months before our trip to Germany so we will definitely be back!

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How We Chose Our Family Summer Vacation – 2019 Edition

Last year – I wrote a post about how we chose our summer vacation. It was a big hit on social media and prompted a lot of discussion about planning family vacations with a lot of people chiming in on what works best for them. So I thought I’d do it again this year. Back at the end of January, we started to seriously discuss where we wanted to travel this summer. We had our ill-fated New York City trip already planned, we knew we were going to Amelia Island for Spring Break, and while we penciled in trips to Williamsburg and Hershey Park and possible trips to see our parents in Lake Lanier and Wilmington, we had yet to narrow down our big summer trip. So one night at dinner, the four of us brainstormed possible vacation ideas.

Our kids were campaigning hard to go to Disney World this summer. We said no. But we are entertaining the idea of going there in November. Over Thanksgiving. Yes – we’re apparently masochists. As you can see, our list was all over the place. For as much as we’d love to travel to all of the places tossed around at dinner, our wallets and schedules say otherwise. So how did we narrow down our list?

First to be scratched off the list was a Caribbean cruise and any Caribbean island. We reasoned that because we’re going to Amelia Island for Spring Break and likely visiting Clay’s parents at their new place in Ocean Isle, North Carolina this summer, we will be able to get our beach fix at those places. We haven’t ruled out a cruise in the future but right now, it just doesn’t really appeal to us. This picture isn’t helping.

Truth be told, we researched traveling to Hawaii fairly extensively. We found some decent prices on airfare and hotels but most of the deals involved us staying on one island the entire time. When we added island hopping into the mix, the end result was more than we were comfortable paying. We also looked into Costa Rica, which actually appealed to us more than Hawaii and was cheaper. But since our desired travel time was smack dab in the middle of the rainy season there (hence the lower prices), we decided to save that trip for another year.

We also very briefly considered South Africa because we came across a fantastic deal on a vacation package but ultimately decided that we’d rather go when the kids are just a little bit older.

We then got a bee in our bonnet about taking a road trip throughout the eastern shore of Canada. We throughly enjoyed our New England road trip a few years back and thought it’d be a great way to save a few pennies while seeing some of the most remote areas of North America. Hahahahaha. When we started pricing car ferries to the various remote islands of Canada, we were met with sticker shock. Sorry Cape Breton Island, we won’t be seeing you this year!

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And then before we knew it, we were pricing flights to California. We sketched a rough itinerary of four days in Disneyland (we even reserved a hotel room!) and then taking a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway into Northern California. We told ourselves that California was the destination for our big summer trip and began to plan accordingly. But then the more we thought about it, the more we realized that we both wanted our next Disney-related trip to be Walt Disney World instead of Disneyland again. We don’t see ourselves going to either park multiple times over the next decade so we reasoned that it makes more financial sense to do our Walt Disney World trip in the near future, rather than spend money going to Disneyland again. So we cancelled our hotel reservation.

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We were eating lunch at Old Brogue in Great Falls when we seriously began discussing going to Ireland this summer. We loved Scotland and England so we had no doubt that we’d love Ireland too.

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Italy was also high on our list, as was Germany. The more we entertained the idea of going to Europe again, the more excited we became at the prospect. So few weeks ago, we became absolutely determined to make it happen within our budget. We were somewhat flexible with dates (a huge difference from last year due to Clay’s previous position) so we started looking at flights to almost every major European city in July. We were also flexible with the location. We spent a little time each night researching flights and tracking on a spreadsheet the price to fly to various European cities.

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And before long – we came across a fantastic deal on airfare that almost seemed too good to be true. So we bit the bullet and booked four airline tickets to Munich, Germany!

Yup – we’re going to spend almost two weeks in Germany this summer and we couldn’t be more excited. Both of our ancestors hail from Deutschland and beer and Bavarian pretzels are practically our love language so I have the feeling that we’re going to feel right at home in Germany. While we don’t have the details hammered out yet, we plan to visit Munich, Berlin, multiple Bavarian villages, the Alps, and more.

As you can see, our process for choosing a location this year that worked within our budget wasn’t exactly linear nor easy. Would we love to go on multiple trips throughout world this year? Of course! But that isn’t our reality. But with some flexibility and good ol’ fashioned research, we came up with a summer travel plan that has us excited.

Have you planned your summer travel yet? If so, where are you going?

Sick in New York City. Again.

Guys. Guys. GUYS! It happened again. A stomach virus from hell invaded our family while visiting the city that never sleeps (read about the first time here). While in the grand scheme of things getting sick on vacation isn’t that big of a deal, the fact that our family was at the mercy of norovirus in New York City has me wanting to muster my best Nancy Kerrigan “wwwwwhhhhhyyyyyy????” and stomp my feet in frustration. We had originally planned to go to New York City over MLK Weekend but a snowstorm derailed our plans (perhaps that was a sign?) so we rescheduled our three-night stay for President’s Day weekend. We’d been looking forward to our trip for weeks.

Washington Deluxe

We decided to take a bus up to New York City for the first time – we ended up choosing Washington Deluxe and booked our tickets a week out. On Friday morning we took an Uber to Union Station in downtown Washington DC to pick up our bus. The boarding processes couldn’t have been easier. Weston and Violet sat next to each other and Clay and I were across from them – we settled into our sets and before long, we were on our way. We weren’t even 15 minutes on the road when we heard a woman say, “Ummm – your daughter threw up.

::record scratch::

We look across the aisle and our five-year-old daughter is covered in vomit. We had a change of clothes, wipes, and bags – unfortunately, they were all in the cargo hold of the bus and not accessible. Thinking fast, I took off my thin sweater (thankfully for the other bus riders, I was also wearing a tank top) and used it as a rag to mop up the mess. Clay grabbed toilet paper from the bathroom on board and I smothered Violet (and her clothes) in hand sanitizer. I spent the next four hours holding her as she drifted in and out of sleep. She didn’t get sick the rest of the ride and she was her normal vibrant self when the infamous skyline came into view so when our bus pulled into the Garment District, we chalked it up to car-sickness and hopped in an Uber to our hotel in Hell’s Kitchen – the Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan Central Park.

Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan Central Park

Our hotel room was nice – albeit a little small but that is to be expected in our price range for New York City. Would we love to stay at The Plaza Hotel? Of course. Can we afford to? Hell no. So Fairfield Inn it is! Our hotel was a short walk to Columbus Circle so we were close to a major subway station and I loved the old-school attitude of Hell’s Kitchen. After resting for a bit (and washing up!), we set off on foot to explore and eat dinner.

We ended up eating at Mama Mia 44sw on (you guess it…) 44th Street. Clay and I enjoyed some well-deserved glasses of wine and we had a great Italian meal. The kids really wanted to see Times Square at night so Clay and I yielded to them and braved the commercial and cliched tourist Mecca. Our kids loved seeing the off-brand Disney characters and going to M&M World and the Disney Store. The bright lights captivated them and they commented how it reminded them of our visit to Las Vegas. I’ll admit that I am a huge snob when it comes to Times Square but even I caught myself smiling despite the abundance of chain restaurants.

New York City Taxi

On Saturday morning, we were rested and ready to take on the day. We took the subway to the Upper West Side so we could visit the American Museum of Natural History. We opted to purchase our tickets that day rather than online ahead of time – something we’re glad we did because all four of us received free general admission due to Clay being in the Army.

 American Museum of Natural History

We were blown away by the generosity of the American Museum of Natural History and grateful to experience such an amazing museum free of charge. Because we live in the Washington DC area, we have access to the Smithsonian and go to the various museums multiple times a year – they are wonderful. But the American Museum of Natural History is in a class of it’s own – we could’ve spent multiple days there but because time was of the essence, we limited our visit to three hours.

Central Park
 Central Park Plaza Hotel

After the museum, we walked through Central Park down to 5th Avenue to ogle at the hotel we can’t afford (the Plaza) and to make our way Rockefeller Center. While there, we visited the LEGO store and the new FAO Schwarz, which opened in November 2018. While it isn’t nearly as magical as the original – the clocktower is back, as well is the iconic giant keyboard.

Rockefeller Center
FAO Schwarz

We grabbed a late lunch/early dinner at Sean’s Bar and Kitchen and then went back to the hotel to rest before heading back out after the sunset.

New York Public Library
Empire State Building at night
Chrysler Building at Night

We then walked, walked, and walked. There is something magical about New York City at night and I will never tire of seeing the iconic buildings lit from within and under the moonlight. We then got hot chocolate and hopped on the subway to the Financial District.

September 11 Memorial

While this was not our first visit to the National September 11 Memorial, it was our first visit at night. If you only do one thing at night with your children in New York City – take them here. We quietly walked around and had the place almost to ourselves. Our kids asked questions and we answered them to the best to our ability. I also shared one of my favorite quotes..

What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.” – David Levithan

September 11 Memorial

Around 10pm we decided that we probably should make our way uptown again. If it were just Clay and I, we totally would have stayed downtown and enjoyed the nightlife but kids. So we got on the 1 train at the Cortlandt Street station, which was completely destroyed in the attack – it only re-opened this past September.

Ann Hamilton Chorus

On the platform is an Ann Hamilton installation, titled Chorus, which has text from the Declaration of Independence and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I was in awe and wouldn’t have minded waiting even longer for the train so I could look at the installation more.

We stopped and picked up some desserts on the way home and ate them in our pajamas. Little did we know that all hell was about to break loose that night…

Don’t worry – I’ll spare you the details but this was the only picture I took on Sunday – we didn’t even leave the hotel room. Weston was the first to fall. Then me. Then Clay. And there was Violet (likely patient zero), who kept herself occupied thanks to electronics. It was not a pleasant day – being trapped in 150 sq. ft. space with multiple sick people pretty much solidified that 100% tiny house living is not for us.

Heckscher Playground New York City

By Monday morning we were feeling okay. We were so disappointed to miss an entire day in one of our favorite cities. However, we weren’t getting on our bus until 12:30pm so spent a few hours walking around and getting some fresh air in Central Park.

Heckscher Playground New York City

This picture pretty much sums up how Clay and I felt on Monday. We were well enough to go about the day but utterly exhausted. We took an Uber back to the Garment District and met our bus. Thankfully – the bus ride back was uneventful and dare I say, even enjoyable. Clay and I were able to relax while the kids kept themselves occupied and I was able to keep my shirt on this time, which was nice.

Traveling with kids isn’t for the faint of heart. Clay and I have a saying about a lot of things in our life together – “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” But if I have to get violently sick with someone in a shoebox hotel room, I’d want it to be the man I’ve loved for 18 years. This trip to New York City wasn’t what we’d hoped it’d be but we’re thankful that we at least got one good day in one of our favorite places as a family. We’re planning another mulligan to New York City. In fact – we learned that once you get Norovirus, you’re immune for 14 weeks so we will likely be going back sooner rather than later. You know – just in case it’s three times the charm for us.

What We Liked Best

There is really no way to know that you’re in the good old days until you’ve actually left them. The art of looking back fondly is a somewhat idiosyncratic effect of human nature. We always seem to have a more idealized take on our experiences when we’re looking at them through the rearview mirror. While we have certainly preferred some locations over others, when I think about all the places that we have lived together over the years I’m able to affectionally recall good times and assemble a highlight reel that features what we liked best about each area.

This is my highlight reel.

Clemson, South Carolina Whenever we roll into a new duty station, neighbors have little trouble determining where we went to college. Go Tigers! It has become a running joke among some of our friends, “Hey – did you guys know that we went to Clemson?” because we never shy from talking about our beloved alma mater. Because we got married during winter break my senior year (thanks Army!), we count Clemson as the first place we lived together, even though we didn’t actually live together our first six months of marriage (again, thanks Army!).

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Tillman Hall is considered the building that is synonymous with Clemson University. The dorm that we lived in when we met, Clemson House (RIP), overlooked Tillman Hall and Bowman Field. We would cut across the open grass as we walked to class and spent many afternoons playing catch or frisbee in front of Military Heritage Plaza, which happens to be where Clay received his first salute as an officer. We also enjoyed hiking at Table Rock, walking around downtown Greenville, and

Fort Huachuca, Arizona Clay proposed shortly after he commissioned. We were engaged about a week before he left for OBC (now referred to as Basic Officer Leaders Course) at Fort Huachuca. I did not accompany him to OBC because I had a great summer job in my hometown and it made better financial sense for Clay to live in the officer barracks since I’d be returning to Clemson for my senior year of college well before he graduated. I visited a few times and thoroughly enjoyed the area surrounded Fort Huachuca. We ate at the Mesquite Tree (sadly now closed), visited Bisbee (best coffee ever), and hiked in the Coronado National Forest. And of course – you can’t visit Fort Huachuca without visiting Tombstone – we took the kids there during our epic southwest road trip a couple of years ago – I’ll be your huckleberry indeed.

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Fort Drum, New York The most obvious place for the Army to send Clay after spending months in the Arizona desert was of course snowy Fort Drum, New York – home of the 10th Mountain Division. We got married and after I graduated, I joined him up at the Canadian border. We spent three and a half years in the north country and ended up loving almost everything the area has to offer. We lived in Sackets Harbor, which remains the favorite place we’ve ever lived to this day.

We would walk to the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company for drinks, eat brunch at Tin Pan Galley, and catch a show at the (now defunct) comedy club. We kayaked on Lake Ontario, walked around the historic battlefield, and skied at Dry Hill. Yes – the winters were cold and white but the summers were some of the best we’ve ever experienced.

Raleigh, North Carolina After Clay ETSed from the Army and joined the National Guard (oh yes – Clay got out of the Army back in 2008…boy is that a story!), we ended up in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina. We bought our first home, Clay ended up going back to being a full-time soldier, and we welcomed our first child into the world. While we have no plans to ever choose to live in that part of the country again, there were things that we really liked – like the Raleigh Flea Market at the state fair grounds and the Raleigh Farmers Market.

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Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Say what you will about Lawton but the Wichita Wildlife Refuge is up there as one of the coolest places we’ve ever lived near. Whenever we wanted, we could get up close and personal with buffalo and long-horned steer which was pretty amazing.

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Fort Leavenworth, Kansas We went to Fort Leavenworth knowing that we’d probably enjoy our year there but we were blown away by how much we loved Kansas City. It really has it all – music, food, sports, museums, and some of the nicest people we’ve ever met.

We loved Union Station, the National WW1 Museum, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. If Kansas City were closer to mountains or water, we’d consider moving there in a heartbeat after this Army ride is over. That being said, we certainly wouldn’t complain if the Army sent us to Fort Leavenworth again due to the proximity to Kansas City and the fact that it really is a lovely and beautiful post.

San Antonio, Texas If I had to sum up the year that my family spent in San Antonio, Texas in one sentence, it’d be: We didn’t love living there but if you haven’t been there, you should totally go visit! Most are surprised by our confession because San Antonio has such a great reputation – it’s a city certainly not lacking in culture and attitude.

We loved going to the Tejas Rodeo in Bulverde on a Saturday night. We’d grab a Shiner Bock and Frito pie and watch the traditional rodeo from the stands for the quintessential Texas experience. We also enjoyed Guadalupe River State Park and of course all of the food!

Washington DC There is our second time around being stationed near our nation’s capital. Because we’ve lived here the longest out of any other place (almost three years the last go-around and we’re currently on year two this time around), it feels the most like home by default. Of course we love spending time in the city, the National Mall, and the Smithsonian. But we love the surrounding area as well.

One of our favorite things to do as a family in this area is hike at Great Falls Park, which is where Potomac River “builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge.” There are multiple trails with varying degrees of difficulty (but none are really all that difficult) with various look-out points along the way. So basically it is perfect for younger kids.

We are slated to leave Washington DC next summer so only time will tell what we will like best at the next place the Army sends us.