Beach Days are the Best Days!

We love hitting the beach the week before Memorial Day to beat the big crowds and, more importantly, the sweltering heat!  This is our last year not having kids in "real" school, so it might be the last time we get to take advantage of going that week.  Who knows, maybe we'll skip one of the last weeks of kindergarten next year...

For the third year in a row, we invited our friends, the Rikards, to join us.  Our kids play so well together and we've gotten in the groove of how to vacation together.  I think this year was probably our best one yet!

I know I've said it before, but it's so much easier when we leave on Friday and drive a little more than half way.  Plus, the kids think staying at a hotel is the best.  We stopped for dinner at Cracker Barrel and had to do some porch rockin'. 


I bought the kids each a pair of headphones for the trip and they wouldn't take them off.  They carried around their "ipads" (Leap Frog Tablets) so they could listen to music.  Teenagers already, I tell ya.


Our vacation is getting predictable.  When getting close to the beach house, we first stop in Seaside for pizza and our first beach sighting.  And then we always take a picture in this cutout board!


Our biggest goal for the trip was just to really get into vacation mode.  So we tossed any kind of schedule out the window, ate ice cream or candy every night, didn't force naps, and generally said yes to most things.  It was fun!

One pineapple, four straws!


Beach Bums

This year, Matt and Laura dug two really deep holes in the sand and then connected them with a tunnel.  It terrified this mama, but Katie Wynn and Levi loved crawling from one hole to the other!  We let them do it a few times before collapsing the hole so no one else could go in it.


Pool Sharks

Coordinating Cuteness

If you know me at all, then you know it wouldn't be vacation without plenty of matching outfits!

I don't know where they get all of their "coolness" from.


Here is our family picture from the evening we spent at The Hub.


And this is the "goodbye" photo taken on the front steps of the beach house before we drove away after a super fun week.  Might be my favorite picture of all four kids...even if they don't all match!


The only bad thing about vacationing the week before Memorial Day is that it's over too early in the summer!  We really have to figure out a way to spend another week at the beach at the end of the summer too.  Not too much to ask, right?

All Aboard the Polar Express

Last year, several of Katie Wynn's classmates got to ride the Polar Express and ever since, she has BEGGED us to ride it too.  Couple that with the fact that Thomas loves the "Holer Express" (how he says it) movie and we knew that this year we had to take them.  

Our Elf, Coffee, doesn't do crazy things around the house but on the first morning they were out for Christmas break, Coffee had big news for the kids.  He had written them a note telling them he had gotten them tickets to ride the train! 


I took the pictures below of them with their fake tickets from my bed because they woke me up to show me.  Notice there is no light coming in through the windows.  It's Christmas break!  Why aren't we sleeping in!?!


So we packed our bags, hit the road for a long drive, and checked into our hotel room later that afternoon.


Our train departure time was 5:00 so we changed the kids into their Christmas jammies and went to check in and get our official tickets.  


We had a fair amount of time to kill before the train left the station, so we walked around and looked at the fountains and decorations.  The kids thought this car was really cool.


Eventually, it was time to board the train and go!


Katie Wynn was super excited about getting her ticket punched, "just like in the movie!" and about getting hot chocolate.  And she got both of those things!  On the hour-long trip, they read the Polar Express story to us, served hot chocolate and cookies, sang Christmas carols, and we got to see lots of Christmas light displays out the window.  Both kids really enjoyed all of it!


Santa came on board to visit with the kids and take pictures and, well, I think we all know how Katie Wynn felt about that.


Super excited about having "real bells from Santa's sleigh!!"


So, there was a "homeless man" sitting on top of the train when we boarded that called Katie Wynn "Polka Dots" as we walked by.  Near the end of the trip he came onto the train and was hiding from the conductors and they tried to kick him off, yadda yadda.  (All just some fun acting and entertainment.)  Well, he recognized Katie Wynn's polka dots and sat down in our booth after "escaping" from the conductor and she was scared to death.  The conductor came back and caught him and threw him off the train, but he grabbed our bag of souvenir mugs on his way out and poor baby girl just boo-hooed.  The conductor brought them back and we had to explain that it was all just pretend.  You can see the homeless man's hand in the picture below.


We highly recommend taking your kids on a ride if they are fans of the Polar Express movie or book!  Definitely fun to experience with them at least once.  

We had booked two nights in our hotel room but really hadn't decided what we would do the next day or if we would even stay the extra night.  Our plan was to play it by ear, which is not something Matt and I are very good at.  First thing the next morning, Katie Wynn and I found a place to get our nails done while Matt took Thomas with him to find a place to get a hair cut.  


If Matt was writing this post, his advice to you would be to never get your hair cut while on vacation, especially by an old, possibly ex-military, man.  That's how he ended up with a buzz cut for Christmas 2017.  


We spent the rest of the morning walking around a little shopping area.  We shopped and played arcade games and ate and rode up in this really tall balloon thing to get a view of the town.


We made it through lunch and then didn't know how to spend the afternoon.  Find an attraction or hop in the car and start the drive home?  We knew Silver Dollar City was nearby but we had heard it was kind of a full-day type of park and we'd already wasted half of ours.  We went to a ticket store with the thoughts that if we could get tickets to some kind of afternoon show or event we would do that and if not, we would just head back.  After talking to the man working the ticket counter, he convinced us that for our age kids, Silver Dollar City was where we needed to go.  Plus, it didn't even open til 1:00 in the afternoon so it's not like we could have gone earlier even if we'd wanted to.  We were still kinda hesitant because rain clouds were moving in and the tickets would be expensive, but we decided to give it a go anyway.

As we walked up to the front gates of Silver Dollar City and headed towards the line to buy tickets, we were approached by a couple and their kids.  They asked if we already had tickets and we told them no.  They happened to have an extra ticket that they weren't using that they graciously gave to Matt.  And then, they told me they had family passes and that technically one more person could go in on their passes if I wanted to tag along.  Isn't that the nicest thing ever?! Since Thomas was three, he got in free, so the only ticket we had to buy was one for Katie Wynn!  What a little blessing that family was - I wish we'd taken a picture with them!  We didn't necessarily need help buying tickets, but it was nice to know that if it started raining soon, we hadn't sunk a lot of money into the theme park for a short amount of time.  


The weather had really dropped since the day before so our first stop in the park was to buy gloves for everyone and hats for me and Matt.  Souvenirs for everyone!  From there, we rode carousels and climbed in big tree houses and played carnival games and watched weavers and ate snacks.  


When we made it to the kids' amusement rides, I could not believe Katie Wynn...for someone that was terrified of Santa Claus and even the nail technician when we were getting manicures that morning, this girl wanted to ride very single ride!  And she was disappointed that a grown up had to ride with her! 


You may be able to tell from those pictures that by then, the rain had come.  It started out as a light drizzle and then turned to heavier sprinkles.  It was picking up though to the point that the seats to the rides were soaking wet when we sat down and we occasionally had to stand under a steady drip while waiting in line.  Our clothes were getting pretty soaked through and it was COLD!  

Matt and I held out as long as we could but when it finally turned dark, we gave up.  We had given the kids as much time at the park as we could and now we just wanted to be warm!  We took one last picture under the Christmas lights and then hopped on the tram to get to our car.  


Everyone slept good that night after a full day's worth of activities.  The next morning we left for home, but not before getting breakfast at Hurts Donuts.  They had some of the craziest flavored donuts we'd ever seen!


It was a really fun quick trip for our family of four (wish the big kids could've come!).  We returned home on the 23rd, just one day to spare before Santa could come! 

Our trip to Washington, DC

In November of 2016, Matt's Granddaddy passed on and we had a nice service for him in his hometown.  We did not have a burial for him because, since he was a career marine, he would be buried at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC.  Matt's Mom got him on the schedule for Arlington and because they say so booked up, we knew it would be June or July before we heard back from them to get scheduled for Granddaddy's service.  Once she heard from them, we were finally given an October date, nearly a full year after his passing.

We told the kids about three weeks out that we were going to get to go on an airplane ride and say a final goodbye to Granddaddy.  They were excited and we counted down the days until we got to head to the airport!


We had a pretty full morning of traveling.  We met Wyatt at the airport for the first leg (sadly, Anna didn't get to join us since it was Homecoming weekend and she had cheerleading obligations) and hooked up with Matt's parents on our layover for the second flight.  By the time we made it to DC, we had a quick lunch and then it was time for a nap for our kiddos.

This may look like just a pile of pictures on a bed to you, but there's a Thomas hidden underneath them.  Yes, that's where he actually took his nap.  He was playing under the pillows and fell right to sleep.


That night we had a nice dinner out with just our side of the family.  We enjoyed a nice walk back to the hotel that was made a little bit longer by getting slightly lost for a while.  The kids enjoyed getting to be out late!

Friday morning we got dressed up and ready for Granddaddy's service. 


We rented a limo and a bus for all of us to travel to the Arlington in.  Our family got to ride in the limo!


I am not a wordsmith by any means so there's no way I could do justice to describing how amazing the service was for Granddaddy.  We left the lobby where we had been waiting and all rode in the bus to the service.  First, though, we stopped to let the urn be transferred into a casket.  I took the picture below from the window before we got out of the bus to watch the transfer.


From there, we caravanned to the location of Granddaddy's actual service.  The Arlington performs 27-30 burials a day but you wouldn't know it.  Before we got there, I expected that we would be able to see other services going on in other parts of the cemetery around us, but we didn't see any others.  They made us feel like we were the only ones there that day.  


I tried to discreetly take pictures throughout the service.  This was the first funeral for Katie Wynn and Thomas to attend and they did a pretty good job of being quiet and taking it all in.  


There was a 21 gun salute for Granddaddy, which is actually three rounds of seven shots.  The shells were given to Matt's Mom, the patriarch of the family, at the end of the service.


My favorite part was probably when Taps was played by a trumpet (or bugle?) soloist.  The full band played 2 or 3 other songs too.  


Katie Wynn was a little weepy at the end of the service.  We had been telling her that we were going to get to say goodbye to Granddaddy and I think she thought she was going to get to see him.  I tried to explain that we just picked something that reminded us of him to bury - I didn't think she was ready to learn about cremation just yet.  


We walked to see Granddaddy's headstone where his two wives that preceded him in death had already been buried.  His new stone will have his name on the front and their names will move to the back. 


After the service, most everyone was going to stay to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  It happens every hour and since we were just a few minutes past the hour, we knew it was going to be too long of a wait for the next one for our two littles to handle.  So the four of us hopped back in the limo to go change clothes and get lunch.  


The weather was nice enough for us to eat outside and the kids enjoyed playing in this little tube thing.  


That evening, we had a big dinner for everyone that had traveled in for the service to attend.  We had a private room at an Italian restaurant and they served us SO much delicious food.  It was nice to visit with all of Matt's family and even meet some that I'd never seen before.  A lot of them had not ever met our little kids either so we were glad to have them with us. 


We got to sit at a table with one of Granddaddy's good friends, Howard Piercy, and it was great hearing stories about them and their wives from back in the day!


Saturday was our last day in DC.  Wyatt's flight left early in the morning but ours wasn't until late afternoon.  We spent the morning doing some sight-seeing and visiting the National Air and Space Museum.  


There were food tucks lined up at the National Mall and I'm not one to say no to food truck food.  Everyone got to pick which truck their lunch came from and then we tried to look extra tourist-y while eating on the benches.  


Soon after lunch we grabbed a cab to get our stuff from the hotel and then headed straight for the airport and our flight back home.  It was a quick trip to DC but one that was special and will always be remembered! 

A Trip to Fayetteville

The first full week of school, the kids left with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  Daycare had ended for the summer, and preschool hadn't started yet.  I had been wondering for weeks how I was going to keep them occupied for about ten days straight.  Rather than sit around and be bored at home, I decided we would take a mini vacation to Northeast Arkansas, visit with friends, and hit a couple of kid-friendly attractions.  

Mom and I loaded the kids into the car late morning on a Monday and hit the road.  My friend, Emily, was in the same predicament as us with her kids being between summer programs and school starting, so she welcomed us with open arms for a visit!  We made it to their house late afternoon and took the kids to a fun restaurant that had an awesome outdoor play area for the kids to run around while we got to sit and visit.  It was a perfect night.

She and her kids were busy the next morning so we ventured out on our own to the Wild Wilderness Drive Through Safari.  We arrived right as they opened for the day and hit the petting zoo first.  We bought a couple of bags of feed and then you just walk into a pen with some loose animals (and some behind fences) and pet and feed all you want.  There were goats in the same fenced area as us and they knew exactly what was in our little white sacks.  Those dudes were aggressive and the horns on their heads are not soft!  We fed lots of goats and sheep and pigs and even a baby bull.  

Pictured below are the bags of food we were able to purchase for $1.  Each bag had some feed and two very stale pieces of wheat bread.  Since we were some of the first visitors of the day, these were possibly left over from the day before.  Why is this important?  Well, it's not.  Except that as I was busy feeding the goats, I turned and saw over my shoulder that Thomas was having a snack.  He ate an ENTIRE SLICE of gross, stale, covered-in-animal-food-crumbs piece of bread.  Gross!


After emptying our bags of food, we wandered over to the next petting zoo area to visit the cutest little kangaroo I'd ever seen.  We learned her name was Reba.  


Reba had THE SOFTEST fur I'd ever felt and we all thought it was hilarious that, as my Mom was petting her, she jumped right up on her! 


We laughed and I took pictures and it was funny, ha ha, and then y'all - excuse my language here but - shit got real.  Do you see this picture below?  This is what my nightmares are made of.  


Reba kinda jumped up and hugged my arm (below left) and licked me over and we thought it was funny and then, I have no idea how this happened or what went wrong, but Reba pounced on me and started HUMPING me.  Aggressively.  All I could do was scream, "REBA! REBA!" as people turned to look and my mother - no help at all - could not catch her breath from laughing so hard.  My kids?  Terrified at the sight of this wild animal ravaging their mother.  Probably scarred for life.  And the young petting zoo employee is just standing off to the side going, "Oh wow.  I've never seen her do that before." Meanwhile I'm all "REBA! REBA! GET DOWN!"  Do you see that picture on the right?  That was at the end of the escapade - how I even got the picture I do not know - and can you tell how she is practically trying to break my arm?! 


Below are a couple of my battle wounds - superficial scratches, sure, but we all know those are the ones that sting like crazy.  It's safe to say that I will no longer be jumping at the opportunity to get inside a fence with a wild kangaroo.  


After we pet all the animals we could, we piled into the car for the drive through portion of the safari.  The kids loved it because they didn't have to be in their car seats.  Mom and I loved it because there really were SO many animals to see!  We drove through looking at animals for probably an hour but definitely could've spent more time there if the kids weren't getting antsy.


Here are some of the many animals we drove past - white and orange tigers, zebras, tons of different breeds of deer, bears, monkeys, even a hippopotamus.  

Our tour was slightly delayed when we came to so camels in the road.  Not really the make-up of your every day traffic jam.  They were not really interested in being in any kind of hurry to move out of our way.  


We watched the camels finally walk past us out my side (passenger) of the car and then turned back around to move forward again, only to spot this fella out Mom's window ready for a stare down.  He (she?) would not stop staring through the window at us!  The picture of him (her?) finally walking away looks exactly like my go-to hand figure for shadow puppets.  


One of my favorites: a Zonkey.  Nope, not even kidding.  Got that donkey figure with those zebra stripes.  


It was lunch time when we finally left the Safari and the kids were starving.  Emily had told us to go to The Wooden Spoon if we could so we looked it up and went straight there.  We were surprised at how packed it was on a Tuesday for lunch!  We had to wait about an hour but the food was well worth the wait.  


Late that afternoon, we joined Emily and her kids at their neighborhood pool where we all swam and ate pizza for dinner.  The weather was perfect that night and we had the pool all to ourselves for a while.  


We visited the neighborhood playround too.  We sure miss these friends of ours living in our town! 


When you're on vacation, you can stop for chocolate ice cream cones at 9:00 in the evening!


We were scheduled to drive back home the next day, but decided to squeeze in one more fun stop before hitting the road.  Emily and her kids joined us and we all went to the Amazeum in Bentonville, AR.  The kids loved playing with all the fun toys and cool attractions, and maybe I enjoyed wearing the Walmart vest and scanning groceries too.  

This trip was so fun and such a good way to spend a few days instead of just sitting around the house.  I'm so glad we went and hope we can make it a yearly trip!

Weekend at the Lake

Just like last year, we were invited to spend the weekend at the lake with some of our friends.  We were the last to arrive Friday evening, making it there just in time for a pizza dinner.  We ordered in and played around the house that night so that we could be well rested for a full day on the water the next day.

We rose early on Saturday to eat breakfast, make sandwiches, pack coolers, slather on sunscreen, and load up for the lake.  Matt and I rode in the back of Justin's ranger down to where they keep their boats.


We had the best weather for a day on the water.  The sun was out so it was warm enough to swim, but not so hot that it was miserable and unbearable.  


The big kids could hardly wait to jump into the water!


Not totally eager to jump off the boat?  This guy.  My little Alfalfa.  :)


Thomas enjoys boat days a lot like I do.  We're just there for the snacks.


Levi (and Mason, though I didn't get a picture of him) was so brave he jumped off the roof of the boat!


Justin had a really cool inflatable slide to hang off the side of the boat, and Thomas warmed up to that.  He thought it was way better than just jumping in.


After lunch, we split the two boats up so the bigger kids could do some tubing and the babies could nap.  Since Thomas is just a year behind the big kids but two years older than the babies, he got to go on the tubing boat too. 


The girls went first while the boys watched.


And then the boys took a turn.  Even Thomas gave it a try!


We made a quick stop to fill up with gas, which was a good time to shoot water guns off the front of the boat.


Jeff let each of the big kids take a turn driving the boat. 


We were just be-bopping along, enjoying the ride when I looked over and saw this.  Poor T-man.  He tried so hard to hang but just couldn't stay awake!


We made sure to recreate a couple pictures from last year for comparison.  And this year we added Chase to even the siblings out!


Here is a year-to-year comparison of the big kids.


This year we added in a picture of the younger siblings, and the mamas and the daddies too.


What a fun day on the water we had!  Sadly, we had another commitment on Sunday so we had to hit the road early the next morning and missed out on day two.  We made sure to time our departure so we could stop at the Bulldog Cafe for lunch.


We are incredibly grateful to our friends Justin and Laura for inviting us to their house and out on their boats.  Our kids are already begging to go back again sometime!  Maybe next year...