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.

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Daydreaming on National Plan for Vacation Day

Did you know that today is National Plan for Vacation Day? I didn’t either until two days ago (thanks Sarah!). According to Project: Time Off, “individuals who plan are more likely to use all of their time off, take more vacation days at once, and report greater levels of happiness in every category measured.” I know that I am happiest when traveling and thankfully, my adventure-mates are too! Looking back, we’ve had some wonderful trips and even those that we deemed busts at the time make for some great stories after the fact. Over the years, we’ve dined on chicken feet with Chinese mobsters (we think…) in Montreal, gotten sick on the Staten Island Ferry, hiked to secluded beaches in St. John, ate reindeer in Alaska, been woken up by drunk groomsman in kilts in a remote village in Scotland, caught lobsters off the coast of Maine, and so much more.

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Unfortunately, Clay’s current position prevents him from taking more than a week of leave this summer but as of yesterday, Clay blocked out his leave so we can partake in National Plan for Vacation Day – hip hip hooray! He won’t be around much until then so we want to make sure that this vacation hits the spot without breaking the bank.

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We’re 99% positive that we will not be moving this summer, which will make it the first summer in four years that we haven’t had to plan a trip around a PCS. This is cause for celebration in itself. Woohoo! We’re currently trying to determine the magic number of what we can reasonably afford for our big vacation in addition to our smaller trips planned thus far. While we’ve never regretted spending money on vacations, the reality is that Clay is the military, I don’t work full-time, and we’re not independently wealthy so a trip to Fiji is simply out of the budget. However, some places that we’ve tossed around this year include…

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Acadia National Park, Maine. Four years ago, we took a 10-day vacation to Newport, Rhode Island, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Ogunquit, Maine. We look back fondly on our little tour of coastal New England. We were unable to squeeze in a trip up to Acadia National Park that year and we’ve been talking about going there ever since. Perhaps we could combine our time in the park with a trip to Mount Washington, New Hampshire or Boston or take the car ferry over to Canada. A plus is that we’d be able to drive, which will help keep the cost of the trip more reasonable.

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London, England. We asked the kids where they’d like to visit this summer and Weston was quick to say London. He has been wanting to go for years and to be honest, the rest of us want to go as well. Unfortunately, it just isn’t in the budget for the four of us to go to London this year. Sorry kiddo!

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Disney World. Violet’s contribution to the conversation was Disney World. While we had an absolutely fantastic three days at Disneyland last spring, Clay and I have no desire to go to Disney World during the summer months. There is something about being in Orlando in July that sounds utterly unappealing. Therefore, Disney World will not be happening this summer. Sorry baby girl!

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St. Thomas and St. John. When Clay and I spent a week in the USVI a few years ago, we left the kids with my parents. We’ve been wanting to go back with the kids and I love the idea of putting money back into the economy after the destruction that Hurricanes Irma and Maria left in their wakes. I’ve been following updates about the progress of the repair and restorations on the islands and time will tell if this is the year that we go back with the kids.

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Nova Scotia, Canada. The CAT runs from Portland, Maine to Nova Scotia in 5.5 hours so we could spend the day in one of our favorite New England cities before setting sail. Clay and I have always wanted to travel to Nova Scotia by sea and perhaps this is the summer to do it! We could also hit up Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Once in Nova Scotia, we could spend our days whale watching, hiking in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, kayaking in the North River, catching lobsters, and more.

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Colorado. Even though we haven’t spent a ton of time in Colorado, every time we visit, Clay and I leave feeling like we belong there. It’s far too early for us to think about where we want to settle post-Army life (we change our minds way too much) and the thought of putting down roots somewhere is absolutely terrifying. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up in the mountains of Colorado. Perhaps we should vacation there this summer. Boulder? Breckenridge? Ouray? Estes Park? The possibilities feel endless when it comes to vacationing in Colorado.

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British Columbia. Sigh. Have I ever mentioned how much I love Canada? Clay and I spent a lot of time there during our Fort Drum days and we’ve been wanting to visit British Columbia every since. We could spend time in Vancouver and then head to the mountains. The Canadian Rockies are consistently on Most Beautiful Places in the World lists – maybe this will be the summer we finally get to experience their grandeur in person.

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Where are you going this summer?  Please share so we can all travel vicariously through your adventures! Are you celebrating National Plan for Vacation Day? While I think we do a fairly good job at vacationing on a budget, I am always open to tips and tricks of the trade so feel free to pass them along.