130 Miles West – A Overnight Trip to the Shenandoah Valley

Last week wasn’t the best. The kids were sick, Clay was TDY, and I’m pretty sure we were experiencing some post-vacation blues. Earlier in the week we talked about going way for Saturday night but then a stomach virus knocked me off my feet, Clay came home sick, and we waved the white flag on Friday night.

However, the four of us woke up Saturday morning refreshed and feeling *almost* normal. We were drinking coffee, watching TV, and brainstorming ideas of how to spend the day. We talked about going downtown or hiking Great Falls or visiting Roosevelt Island but nothing was really exciting us. But the coffee was kicking in and we were feeling the best we’d felt all week so when the idea of going out of town for the night was tossed around, all four of us we’re on board. We quickly decided to head to Charlottesville, Virginia for the night, which was our original plan earlier in the week. Despite being stationed here for almost five years between two tours, we had never been to Monticello or Shenandoah National Park, which was as good of a reason as any to drive a couple of hours toward the mountains.

We were on the road by 10am. We stopped for brunch along the way and made to Monticello by early afternoon. We purchased tickets and then wandered the grounds until our scheduled tour time. We participated in outdoor ‘Slavery at Monticello’ tour, which focused on the experiences of the enslaved people who lived and labored on the Monticello plantation.

Even though Thomas Jefferson publicly condemned slavery, he owned over 600 slaves himself. He split up enslaved families, impregnated a teenage Sally Hemings when he was in his 40s, and only freed five enslaved men during his lifetime. I appreciated that our tour guide didn’t try and gloss over these facts and was very outspoken about how Thomas Jefferson was not a good man when it came to his treatment of the enslaved people at Monticello – ensuring his reputation as a complex and controversial historical figure.

The house tour was informative but it was a bit squished due to the size of our tour group. No pictures are allowed inside the house (pictured above is small building in the gardens) and it was difficult to hear the guide at times. While we’re glad that we finally visited Monticello, we all agree that it is a ‘one and done‘ place for us.

After Monticello, we drove into Charlottesville and checked into our hotel. We were a very short walk from Charlottesville Historic Downtown Mall, so we spent the evening strolling along the brick-paved roads. It was a gorgeous evening and it was easy to see why Charlottesville is consistently voted as one of the best places to live in the United States.

We opted to eat dinner at The Bebedero, which is located at one end of the mall. We loved the vibe and the drinks were amazing – my spicy margarita was one of the best I’ve ever had. But we may have been a bit to cavalier going to a Mexican restaurant after a week of not feeling great. For that reason, I don’t feel like I was a good judge of the food. We chalked up our meal as a learning experience for the weekend.

Yesterday morning, we checked out of our hotel and drove into Shenandoah National Park from the Swift Run Gap entrance. We briefly considered hiking Old Rag with the kids but due to them just getting over being sick, we decided that the strenuous hike might’ve been a bit much for them. Instead, we hiked a 5-mile loop and saw Dark Hallow Falls and Rose River Falls.

We did a bit of rock scrambling and the trails had enough obstacles that it didn’t feel like we were taking a leisurely hike in the woods. And most exciting – we had our first black bear in the wild! It was through the woods on the other side of the creek so we felt no danger but it was still a bit unnerving – especially since the kids were with us.

We checked off another national park and look forward to spending more time at Shenandoah National Park until the Army decides to send us somewhere else. We’re so glad we decided to get away for the night. -summer is quickly coming to an end (I start my new job next week – eek!) and the kids’ sports schedules will soon dictate our weekends. Time seems to be moving at lightening speed during this phase of our lives so it was nice to spend uninterrupted time together as a family. But we’re hopeful that this fall will allow us at least a few spontaneous last-minute overnight trips…where should we go next?

Advertisements

My Favorite Amazon Finds Under $10*

Sometimes my love of Amazon makes me feel a bit dirty. We’ve been Prime members for over a decade and it seems impossible to imagine our lives without Subscribe & Save, Prime Video, and two-day shipping. I consider ourselves fairly green but it is impossible to ignore the environmental impact of Amazon. I’m sure I’m not the only one wrestling with such thoughts as I type amazon.com into the address bar and give preference to items with the beautiful blue prime in sans serif font. Sigh. So today I am sharing my favorite Amazon finds under $10 (* a couple of the items fluctuate under/over $10 by about $.40 or so) that I use on a regular basis.

Dotted Grid Notebook/Journal – I am always jotting down notes and as a left-hander, I’ve endured a life-long struggle with spiral bound notebooks. If we weren’t planning on paying for our children’ college education, I’d exclusively use Moleskin notebooks but that is not my reality. These notebooks are a good alternative that are much easier on the wallet. My goal is to someday fill a notebook cover-to-cover but my addiction to new journals has prevented me from doing so – maybe 2019 will be THE year!

dimok Running Belt Waist Pack – You know what is cooler than a person wearing a fanny pack running belt? Two people wearing them! Both Clay and I are proud owners of this running belt. It can hold keys, a massive iPhone, and more! The reflective bits really up the fashionable allure of the belt and the adjustable waistband really lets your individuality shine when wearing it… up high or down low? It’s your choice! In all seriousness, it’s a good running belt at a great price. Clay wears his when running fast. I wear mine when challenging the definition of running (who am I kidding – my pace can only be describe as a jog).

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Gel Cleanser – I’ve gotten a lot more serious about my skincare as of late. And honestly, anything is an improvement over my 20s. Back then, my skincare routine consisted of regularly sleeping in my make-up and washing my face in the morning with St. Ives Apricot Scrub. Over the past year, I’ve started double-cleansing, using serums and masks, and really paying attention to the products I use. That being said, I refuse to spend a fortune on my newfound interest in skincare products because if it comes down to me being able to afford to travel or having less-radiant skin, my passport will win every time. I’m a huge fun of Neutragena’s Hydro Boost line with hyaluronic acid – I’ve noticed a big difference in my skin since introducing it my routine. I only use it at night because I find that my skin can’t handle a hyaluronic acid cleaners in both the morning and night.

Aztec Secret – Indian Healing Clay – Every one and their mother are aware of this amazing product but it really is a fantastic mask for a price that is almost criminal. I use it a few times a month and mix it with apple cider vinegar. It lasts a ridiculous amount of time too – according to my Amazon order history, the last time I ordered it was December 2016.

Heritage Store Rose Petals Rosewater – I love spraying rosewater on my face and hair whenever I need a little refreshing. Rose water has been used in various cultures for centuries; the anti-inflammatory properties are said to reduce skin redness and puffiness. Does it really do that for me? Meh – who knows? But it sure does smell good and it really does put a little pep in my step so I continue to buy it. It’s great to use when traveling after sitting on an airplane for many hours and again – it smells amazing!

What inexpensive items on Amazon do you swear by?

Things We Learned: Traveling to Germany and Austria With Kids

We’re back from our amazing 11-day trip to Bavaria and settling back into our summer routine. While on the early-morning train to the Munich Airport, our little guy exclaimed, “I don’t want to go home, I wish we lived here.” And Clay and I shared a look and responded in unison, “Me too.” Baby girl was too preoccupied with complaining about a stomach-ache (foreshadowing the events on our 9-hour flight back to the States) to contribute anything to the conversation beyond, “I liked the pretzels and riding bikes.

city view of Old Salzburg

I’ll talk to a wall about my desire to live overseas and while Clay is totally onboard with the idea, the Army keeps giving him his best career-advancing assignments stateside. Waiting until after he retires to live overseas is a realistic goal but we’d prefer to live the expat life sooner rather than later. But such is life in the military, I suppose. And as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards so delicately wrote, “You can’t always get what you want.” So until it’s our turn, it will be my lot in life to roll my eyes extra hard whenever I hear/read about someone complaining about receiving an overseas assignment. And keep to keep traveling internationally for as long as our wallets and schedules can afford.

Neuschwanstein castle from Queen Mary's bridge

I plan to recap our trip by breaking it down into posts about our time in Munich, Salzburg, and Garmisch Partenkirchen but I wanted to address a few things before diving into itineraries, recommendations, and highlights – a lessons-learned of sorts.

Flexibility is crucial. When we go on our big trips (big meaning anything over 5 days and 1000+ miles away from home), we choose to operate with a rough itinerary rather than meticulously planned out days. Of course we book anything that requires advanced notice but we try our hardest to take each day as it comes. There is little we like more than wandering foreign streets not knowing what is around the corner and gathering recommendations from locals. In fact, some of our most treasured vacation memories have been moments that we weren’t even planning on experiencing.

little girl in Munich street

When your child breaks a bottle of wine in a train station grocery store, fess up and accept responsibility. Prior to boarding our train back into Germany from Salzburg, we popped into the super nice grocery store in Salzburg Hauptbahnhof (the station) for some snacks because our train ride to Garmisch Partenkirchen would be 3+ hours. Violet accidentally kicked a bottle of wine from the bottom shelf and it shattered all over the floor. My instinct was to get the hell out of dodge but because my husband is a better human than I am, he flagged down an employee and offered to pay for the (extremely cheap) bottle of wine. The employee rolled his eyes and mumbled something about Americans under his breath but when he alerted his supervisor, we were told not to worry about it and thanked for bringing it to their attention.

The Bayern-Ticket is the way to go when traveling between/throughout Germany and Austria. We did not research enough and grossly overpaid for our train tickets from Munich to Salzburg. When on the train, we met an extremely nice family from Chicago on vacation with two children similar ages to ours. She is a German teacher and her and her husband met in Vienna when studying abroad so they were very well-versed in travel between Germany and Austria. They explained the Bayern-Ticket to us and because of them, we saved significantly more money on our train ticket from Salzburg to Garmisch Partenkirchen. When we inevitably go back, we will be sure to take advantage of the Bayern-Ticket.

father son in Munich

Google Maps isn’t always right. Traveling internationally in the 21st century is a million times easier that it used to be due to smartphones. Having a personal handheld computer that can translate phrases, book last-minute tickets, give us access to restaurant reviews, and tell us where to go is nothing short of amazing. But yes, even Google Maps can be wrong. We ran into a few situations when what Google Maps was telling us contradicted the directions from local sources – we always yielded to local and successfully made it to our destination.

Don’t assume your debit card will work in rural ATMs. Cash is still king in Germany and Austria. We used our American Express whenever we could (points, points, points!) but we made our fair share of ATM withdrawals during our trip, especially in the rural areas. We learned the hard way not to assume that our debit card will work in an ATM. When we arrived in the outskirts of Salzburg, we were famished and in desperate need of cash. We struggled to find an ATM and ended up digging through our pockets and backpacks for enough Euros to purchase lunch. Thankfully we emerged victorious (5 euro coins FTW!) and after eating delicious pizza (yes – Austria has fantastic Italian food), we eventually found an ATM in Old Town Salzburg that worked with our card.

Attempting key phrases in German is better than just speaking English. This is a no brainer – whenever you travel to country that speaks a different language, it is always best to try and not be an ‘ugly American’ by assuming everyone speaks English. We had our kids say at least please and thank you in German everywhere we went and it earned them quite a few cheek pinches from proprietors.

Eat vegetables whenever you can! When Clay and I traveled to Scotland a few years ago, we learned the hard way that fresh vegetables weren’t a given when dining out, especially at pubs. We found the same to be true in Germany and Austria – meat and carbs are king. Tasty but not the greatest for the digestive tract. I wasn’t always successful but I tried to order at least one green item each day. Pictured is the salad I ordered outside of Neuschwanstein Castle. It interestingly came with a baked potato, potato salad, kidney beans, and corn…the joys of ordering food when you don’t speak German! 🙂

And finally if you’re debating about whether to go or not – JUST GO! Travel somewhere new with your kids. It doesn’t have to be internationally or even across the country. But do not underestimate the power of traveling to a new place together as a family. Obviously don’t put yourself in debt to do so but investing in travel and adventure as a family is never a bad thing. You learn so much about each other. There will be times of frustration, there will be moments of pure wonder, there will be belly laughs, and there may even be a few tears. But most importantly, there will be memories that will remain with you for the rest of your life. And who doesn’t love a good “Hey – remember when we …….” family conversation around the dinner table?

family view from Hohensalzburg Fortress

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.