Thursday, December 17, 2015

South Carolina


South Carolina was home to some lazy days for this nonstop crew. We based ourselves in Hilton Head, a place I have heard of all my life but not actually been to. What a neat beach town...although completely different than the images in my head had always produced! It much bigger than I expected, complete with two separate roads around the island and every store imaginable. I was surprised by how many of these uber-expensive resorts (even Disney!) are not actually beachfront but in love with the way the city has made the beach entrances their own tourist attraction. We did school on the beach and seriously...how many people don't want to do that in December?!?!?! The kids and I also had our own mad science day...we took the m's off of m&m's, we made our own Borax icicles and turned volcano making into blowing up the vinegar jug instead!

Georgia



What fun we had in Georgia! We hit a huge milestone for this theme park loving family...our 5th Six Flags in 2015! To say we made good use of our season passes is an understatement...I feel like Six Flags needs to give us an award of some kind :) Being December, this one was celebrating Christmas in the Park which is an event we go to every year and seeing it at new parks is always a neat thing.

We found so much to do in Atlanta that we ended up buying the City Pass. It's a great way to get admission to all the top attractions for one price and for a family of 5...definitely a great deal! Most of the attractions are all within walking distance of Olympic Park (which itself is such a neat place to see!). First stop...Atlanta Aquarium. Matt has been waiting to go here for years. It is the worlds largest aquarium and home of a whale shark! Luke's day was sealed when Scuba Santa swam right up to him and touch hands through the glass!!! My overall, honest opinion of Atlanta Aquarium...yes it is a massive building but they have a ton of wasted space. For the price of admission (which I found crazy high for an aquarium) there could be more to do. I expected to spend the day here and we were done in less than 3 hours. Would I come back...probably not. But would I recommend it to others...probably. If your kids like aquariums it is definitely a neat place to spend a few hours... but try to find a coupon :)

Stop 2...World of Coke...Now this was a hit! It started with everyone receiving scavenger hunt booklets to complete throughout our visit, complete with a prize at the end! The kids had an absolute blast in this place. We met the Coca Cola Polar Bear, watched a 4D video, sat on the American Idol couch, amazed ourselves with all of the creations made out of Coke bottles and cans, saw the actual bottling process, drank ourselves silly at the tasting bar (where they have all of the products Coke makes worldwide on soda fountains for you to drink as much as you want!) and even managed to set off the alarms around the vault housing the original Coke recipe (Thank you Luke for being THAT kid!).

Stop 3...CNN. Now this very Conservative family is Fox News fans (I say we...I mean Craig and we all have to listen to it by default!) and NOT liberal media fans. But...touring CNN Headquarters was definitely a fun thing that the kids really enjoyed! Seeing the news being anchored live, looking the the 1000's of tv's (literally) and riding the world's longest freestanding escalator made this stop another hit ;)

Stop 4...College Football Hall of Fame...this just screams my peoples names! We are big 'ol Hall of Fame fans having been to quite a few so far. Now we can check off College as well! This one was extremely interactive and catered to kids. There was so much to do and the newest technology enabled the whole experience to be personalized. Definitely a come back to on our family fun list!

Last stop...Savannah. I was the only one excited to come here as it has always been on my bucket list of places. Of course we picked the only nasty, rainy day we had seen in weeks to come to the city where you are supposed to walk around under the big 'ol trees and enjoy the scenery...grrrrrrrr! Once we arrived, my whole crew thought it looked like a neat place to explore...and then the skies opened up changing our plans. We did manage to squeeze in lunch at Paula Deen's "Lady & Sons" which was every bit as delicious as you'd imagine. Savannah will for sure be a city I come back to and actually get to enjoy (I just might not drag my people along with me!)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

North Carolina


North Carolina was the most relaxing, enjoyable stop for us...it was the cousin state! My cousin Shannon (on my Dad's side) and my cousin Natalie (on my Mom's side) both live there. We spent the better part of a week just hanging out and spending quality time together.

First stop was Seymour Johnson Airforce Base...home of Shannon, Nate, Brynn, & Keelynn. Nate is a pilot in the Airforce and arranged for us to stay on base in family camp. The boys thought this was so fun! Riding bikes and seeing jets take off all day long was such a memorable experience for us all. We had such a great visit...multiple dinners together, a visit to see Santa, shopping, tons of playtime and getting to see Uncle Nate take off in his F15 (which was the highlight of our visit!)

Next stop was Charlotte...home of Natalie, Gary, Tyler and Derek. The boys have been counting the seconds till we got here as Derek & Tyler are the exact ages as my three. Brian and Derek are actually only 7 days apart. Tyler is right between Matt & Luke...5 boys ranging from 8-11 ensured that lots of fun was to be had! We got to see hockey practice (so fun! Derek is an assistant captain for his team is Tyler is a goalie!), spent time outside playing, and had tons of wrestling, yelling, chasing, giggles and fun! We had such a great 2 days with The Pritchard's and cannot wait for them to make a trip to Texas to see us!

The only activity we actually did in Charlotte was a pretty cool one...we drove on the NASCAR track in the Jeep! The speedway put on a drive thru Christmas lights display every year. It was so cool to get to drive around the track and up the curves (Craig got to live out a fantasy...complete with his family in tow! Ha!)  We definitely consider North Carolina to be a HUGE SUCCESS!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Virginia


Virginia was a quick stop for us as unfortunately it was Winter. Jamestown and Williamsburg were "closed" for the season (the reenactments) and we had just done Mt. Vernon this Summer. Having just left DC for the second time in less than 6 months, this kids were kind of over historical buildings so we opted for somewhere fun...The Air and Space Museum. This is actually the second Smithsonian Air and Space Museum...the first being in DC. This one is 3x bigger and has so many more planes and interactive things to do! Craig took the boys for the first part while I ran around finishing up last minute Christmas stuff WITHOUT MY PEOPLE! When I joined them, I was sure they'd be ready to go...wishful thinking ;) All said in done...this was a fun pitstop with some learning thrown in for good measure!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Washington DC


Well we were here in June and we are back again! This time rather than sightseeing, we were on a mission. Luke is a history obsessed 8 year old and memorized the President's all on his own. His dream has been to say them in order in front of the White House! We actually forgot when we were here this summer and he has been begging to come back and do them so here we are! Little man ended up getting all nerved up being filmed but the end result is precious and he was so proud of himself!

Time for my rant...I was SO disappointed in the White House at Christmas. As the national, most well-known landmark in America, one strand of greenery across the balcony was a pathetic attempt at celebrating a National Holiday in this country. It was like a slap in the face and would've honestly looked better completely undecorated. And then there was the National Tree...this was even WORSE! There were no actual decoration on the tree instead throwing some ribbon down the sides with stars representing a Jewish star, completed by a GIANT menorah behind it. I truly left Pennsylvania Ave. with a bitter taste in my mouth and even more disgust than I already had for our President.

Ok...rant over...our other stop in DC was a surprise for the kids. We spent the afternoon at the Gaylord National at "ICE", their winter wonderland ice spectacular! Oh my goodness...this is one of the neatest (and coldest) things we have ever done at Christmas! We have contemplated it a few times in Dallas but Great Wolf Lodge always wins and let me tell you, now that we know how amazing it is, we will be adding it to our to do list back home! A massive winter walk through, set at negative 4 degrees, with everything you can see made solely out of ice! You truly felt like you were walking through the North Pole! At the end was a two story ice castle with ice chutes coming out of it that you can play on as long as you can tolerate the cold! Every year the theme is different and this year's happened to be "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" which really enhanced the North Pole effect! If there is a Gaylord Hotel near you, make a point to go to ICE!!!! It is worth every penny!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Maryland

 Click here to see more :)

We made it to Maryland! While we spent time in various locations in Maryland, the main city we visited was Annapolis. I have been her a few times, as has Craig  and the kids were excited to see it based on our reviews :) The highlight for the boys was seeing the Naval Academy and a boy they know from home who is a freshman there! His younger brother is one of Matt's good friends and seeing "Dale" was such a special treat! Especially seeing him looking all official in his uniform :)

Another fun activity in Maryland was the 6 LB Milkshake Challenge the kids did! Yes, you read that correct, 6 LBS of ice cream!!! Their eyes about popped out of their heads when the cup bigger than Luke arrived and they spent well over an hour getting through 4 LBS of it. Sadly they didn't finish but they sire had fun trying!!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Delaware


Surely I am not the only person who when I think of Delaware, I do NOT think "beach vacation"?!?!? I don't know what I pictured when I think actually do think of Delaware (but in all reality, does ANYONE actually think about Delaware? I mean, they are kind of the forgotten state!), but the gorgeous beaches we stumbled on were certainly not it! Rehoboth Beach is a beach town with so much to do! There are boardwalks, outlet malls, waterparks, mini golf courses and the prettiest, cleanest beach I have seen in awhile! I would definitely come back here for a beach vacation as crazy as that sounds! We didn't do much in Delaware thanks to the never ending rain. We did get to see the monument depicting Delaware as the very first state which is a very fun history lesson in itself, went to the movies and of course felt the freezing water of the Atlantic in December! Oh yeah, we also managed to somehow end up with 3 hermit crabs, ugh!!!! According to the kids, "you can't go to the beach without bringing home hermit crab pets!"

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

New Jersey, Part 2


I told you earlier...we liked New Jersey so much we were gonna come back someday! Well...we're back!!!! Ha! Our original plans had us heading to NYC for five days after Thanksgiving. Thanks to ISIS and Obama (not really fans of either!), we decided to forgo NYC this trip. While I was  disappointed (I had Rockette's tickets from Craig & boys for Christmas), this was actually my decision. Craig and I have worked hard to shelter our kids from the harsh realities of the sad state of America right now and felt it was in the best interest of keeping the kids in this bubble that we skip NYC right now. Seeing police and snipers armed with machine guns, causing unnecessary fear for our kids was not something we were willing to do right now. Plus...we all know how much my kids enjoyed "Filthadelphia" so they were perfectly fine with this decision. We will definitely return to NYC in the near future with our kids to show them all the city has to offer, but know at least we still saw New York this summer and feel like we didn't really miss anything :)

Back to New Jersey...we decided to make use once again of our Six Flags season passes and visit for Holiday in the Park. This has been a yearly tradition for us for the past 5 years in Texas at both parks and we were so excited to see how the east coast compared! We had an amazing two days seeing shows, riding rides and enjoying the millions of lights! The boys were completely disappointed that the 1 coaster they were dying to ride, the one they have wanted to ride for years and is only in NJ, was CLOSED for the winter! UGH....talk about a let down...now we have to come back to New Jersey for Round 3 at some point in time ;)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Maine


We have officially made it as far east as we can go in the continental United States...Maine!!! What a sense of accomplishment...we have literally gone from the bottom left corner of America (San Diego) to the top right corner of America (Portland). We have seen so many amazing things in this country, things that we would never have had the opportunity to see if it wasn't for this incredible trip of a lifetime we are on with the kids. We have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and know just how blessed we truly are.

Maine was our stop for Thanksgiving, we couldn't have picked a neater place to experience something different. We had Thanksgiving brunch at the famous Harraskeet Inn , a hotel just steps from L.L. Bean Village known for their Christmas and Thanksgiving buffets. While it wasn't quite the same as home, it sure was delicious! We had the traditional turkey, potatoes and stuffing, along with scallops, duck and lobster! Brian and Craig were in heaven! Between the two of them they ate 7 lobsters (much to my embarrassment!) but definitely got their money's worth!!! The lobster ice sculptures made the day more fun in reminding us "we sure aren't in Texas anymore!".

L.L. Bean Village is seriously crazy...it is absolutely massive taking up multiple city blocks. It is surrounded by every store you could ever imagine and so many you have never even heard of! Who knew Portland, Maine would be the home to future girls trips?!?!?! Craig had the opportunity to see a friend he has worked with for so many years that lives there and he was happy to show us the sights :) Such a wonderful, nontraditional Thanksgiving!!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

New Hampshire


I have always wanted to visit the upper Northeast and now I see why...it is absolutely gorgeous!!! There wasn't one bad thing I can say about New Hampshire...the people were so friendly, the gas was cheap, the scenery is breathtaking, the roads are great, the houses are beautiful and my kids LOVED it here! This is definitely a corner of the country we will be back too!

We didn't do much in New Hampshire...unless you count visiting the Guinness World Record Holding Candy Store for the longest candy counter in the world!!! Uummmm...this was a place I could barely drag the kids out of...I have never seen so many choices for candy in my life!

We woke up to snow which sent the kids over the moon...they have been in some seriously cold weather (in the teens as a high!) in the last few weeks, but no snow The excitement coming from this RV probably woke the whole RV park!!! They were outside faster than I could declare "snow day" dressed in their gear ready to play. Unfortunately as it was the first snow of the season, there wasn't much to play in so we went in search of more snow...and WE FOUND IT! The local ski resort less than 5 miles away had mountains of it, all fresh and waiting to be played in. They were even making snow and let the kids play under the blowers! Two hours later, with frozen toes and red cheeks, my guys called new Hampshire a SUCCESS!!!!

Unfortunately thanks to the snow we had to skip our day trip to Vermont to see the Ben & Jerry Factory and watch maple syrup being made...such a bummer as we were really looking forward to both of these activities. But in the spirit of being safe...an important one in an RV...we decided to make our way to Maine for Thanksgiving early :) Now we definitely have to return...we need to complete our missing state!!!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Massachusetts


Massachusetts is a state full of things to do...every single one of us found something that interested us! First fun activity...The Basketball Hall of Fame! Brian and Matt were dying to get here...they had researched it online and thought it looked like a super fun place. From the exhibits to the center court where they could shoot and play, topped off with a whole floor of interactive activities for kids, this was definitely a WIN!!!

Next stop was Plymouth...what better place to go during Thanksgiving week??? What a beautiful city this is! It's right on the water and every last street is decorated in a patriotic way!  We went aboard the Mayflower 2, a  full size replica of the original Mayflower that was gifted to America from England over 50 years ago. It came complete with interpreters that were so authentic you forgot they were acting! Luke had a field day marching through town in his pilgrim hat yelling "land-ho" all afternoon :) From the Mayflower we went and saw the actual Plymouth Rock...this was much smaller than I envisioned. I guess I always pictured this huge boulder in the water, kinda like the size of a ship. Ha! Boy was I wrong! It was more like the size of a boulder in your yard!!! Last up was Plymouth Plantation...a village representing the Pilgrims and Indians that was truly a walk back in time. There were so many Pilgrims and Indians to talk with, the kids got to help with the chores and see what life was like for them and we saw them preparing for the feast. This was definitely a stop enjoyed by all of us!

Our last fun destination in Massachusetts was the Boston Tea Party Museum. Craig was the only one excited for the day I had planned as the kids thought it was gonna be lame...ha! By the time we were done they were all talking about how cool this place was and saying that everyone should come here! We all got handed cards with a character we were to portray and the town hall meeting began. What fun to learn about an important historical while recreating it live! We marched in protest onto the ships, threw our tea overboard and had a ball! After the famous tea tossing, we went inside where multiple rooms with holographic characters came to life talking to us and we even got to see one of the actual tea boxes from the tea party! Seriously...there is no better way to learn about history than recreating it!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Connecticut & Rhode Island


Connecticut & Rhode Island are being lumped into one post as Rhode island is pretty tiny ;) Pretty cool little state, but nonetheless, pretty tiny! We really enjoyed our time in Connecticut, everything about this state is pretty. The homes, the landscape, the downtown's, and the beach was home to the neatest shells we have ever seen! The kids and I got to spend time in Groton, CT...which is the submarine capital of the world! It is home to the USS Nautilus, the first submarine to make it to the North Pole, as well as the Naval Submarine Base and the Submarine Force Library & Museum. We had such a good time learning all about submarines and seeing all the artifacts, along with going inside of the USS Nautilus!! Talking with the elderly volunteers who had actually been on these submarines was quite possibly the best history lesson we have gotten so far.

The next stop was a highly anticipated one in this candy loving family....The Pez Factory in Orange, CT! Such a fun place...if you are ever remotely in the area I highly recommend this place! It's the working PEZ Factory, along with a museum with every PEZ dispenser ever made, interactive PEZ games, and the coolest gift shop. We spent far more time here than we originally planned and left complete with sacks and buckets (literally) filled with one of our favorite treats!

From PEZ we ventured down to New Haven, CT where we found the seashell mothership! We wanted to feel the water in the Atlantic so we ventured to the beaches...this is where we found a sight that I in 36 years have never seen. Seashells as far as you could see, stacked as high as 3ft! You were just crushing them as you walked and the shells themselves were bigger than my hand! This is a little kids paradise...I so wish my 3 nieces that just spent time in San Diego beaches with us were here...those little girls were so excited about the dime sized shells like they were real treasure! I can only imagine their reactions if they had seen what we stumbled on!!! I tried to capture this wonder in pictures but it really didn't do it justice :)

The yummiest surprise of the day (even better than PEZ!) was the delicious, mouthwatering seafood shack on the beach that was open and home of some of the best seafood we have to date! Matt had fried swordfish and loved it, Brian stuck with his favorite and plowed through a lobster roll faster than you could blink! I had yummy crab cakes and lobster bisque which was delish! Luke was the family dud ordering a grilled cheese and french fries! Poor Craig missed out so we packed a to go bag to surprise him ;)

We also took the opportunity to venture into Rhode Island. Part of the reason we couldn't make Rhode Island a complete stop was due to seasonal closings. We are finding that being on the east coast in November is more difficult than we thought in terms of finding year round RV Parks, therefore causing us to pick a central location and travel in the Jeep from place to place. Fortunately these states are all pretty small and we can completely cross them in less time than it takes us to get to my parents house back home!

Rhode Island is every bit as beautiful as Connecticut, but I will say the people are less friendly as a whole. Now take this for what it's worth...I am a southern girl who has a huge focus on good manners so I might not be a fair judge of this ;) We found such a fun aquarium in Rhode Island...it was a hands on marine biology center that lets the kids touch almost everything there! It is full of 'animals' found in the waters in this neck of America and was awesome! The BEST picture of the trip so far was taken here...Matt was standing watching these sharks and one jumped up a good few feet right in his face! The true look of surprise on his his face was priceless and I am so glad I captured it! We also went and saw Cliff Walk, along with another yummy meal down by the water....Rhode Island...success!


Sunday, November 15, 2015

New Jersey, Part 1


So Craig and I didn't have much planned for New Jersey...it's quite literally the one state in America neither of us really had any desire to even visit. We didn't even really plan a true stop here! Well slap our wrists and tell us how dumb we are!!! The funnest place in America, quite possibly the coolest place we have ever been (and we have been to a LOT of places!) lies right smack in the middle of New Jersey!!! Now we may be partial as the parents of little boys calling this the coolest place in America but I as a girl even had an absolute blast! What is this magical, amazing place you might wonder? It's called Diggerland USA...the only place I have ever seen that allows my kids, even Luke!!!, drive life size, actual construction machinery!!! Holy cow did I earn the title of 'Coolest Mom EVER' with this find!!! Of course we picked the absolute nastiest day of the season so far to trek out in the cold but my guys could've cared less! There is something about a boy and a construction truck that are like magnets to each other :) The most surreal moment of this whole trip so far has got to be when I watched Luke drive off in a massive bulldozer, in full control of wheel and gears ALL BY HIMSELF! The park was crazy complete with a stunt show and rides they made out of the trucks. Seriously...this was such a fun stop and we are so grateful we didn't skip New Jersey!!!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Pennsylvania


Well...the kids and I ate our way through Pennsylvania! We ended up making a few detours in this state thanks to Craig's work schedule but it ended up working out :) Our first stop was Gettysburg, a city full of history. We definitely got our social studies done here...holy cow what a NEAT place! I have always thought this city would be a giant yawnfest...as blood, guns and battles are not my thing. I can say I was completely wrong! I found it as fascinating as the boys (maybe not for the same reasons!) There are so many museums, places to see, exhibits and interactive things to do here. Did I mention they have the BEST main street full of shops?!?!?! The kids were mesmerized by Gettysburg National Park, so much so that I was literally dragging them out! Lincoln's Train Museum may appear to be insignificant but was my favorite place in the whole city! President Lincoln talking to us and taking us on his train that chugged along the countryside was the coolest thing! Sadly we were here in the wrong season as most of the live reenactment was over for the season but we still managed to have a blast! The kids have already listed this city on our list of places to come back to!

Next stop...Hanover, Pennsylvania...home of some crazy awesome food factories complete with tours!!! This city may be small and not full of tourist attractions but we sure LOVED it! We took tours of both Snyder and UTZ. Both have factory stores that you can shop in, as well as endless samples given during the tours. Talk about FUN! We watched pretzels and potato chips be made from beginning to end...literally saw the potatoes being dumped off the trucks and watched those same potatoes being put in their bags as chips! By time we were done in Hanover we had a trunk full of salty snacks and full bellies!!!

Quick pitstop was next and was a total SURPRISE! My dear friend Sara (from home in Texas) grew up Amish. What a surprise to find out she was less than 40 minutes away visiting her mom! Lancaster here we come...the kids and I had so much fun seeing someone from home while we are so far away, along with meeting her mom & sister and eating at a delicious Amish cafe that came highly recommended. This was such a neat real life experience for the boys to not only see the Amish, but to meet currently practicing ones, along with shopping in their stores with them! And for me to see Sara and spend time with her, plus seeing her in a totally different element was a priceless stop on this adventure ;)

Our final Pennsylvania stop was Philadelphia...better known as Filthadelphia to Luke :) This stop came as a huge surprise to my country lifestyle, living in a bubble, private school kids...they absolutely HATED this stop! They complained the entire time, could not stop commenting on how miserable it would be to live in a big city, were disgusted by the fact that there are not backyards or cul-de-sacs to play in and don't even get me started on their commentary on people walking everywhere with no place for cars! I was truly not prepared for this. My kids are clearly sheltered but I thought had traveled enough in their short lives to be open to other lifestyles. Clearly I thought wrong! They all went as far as to declare they will never marry a girl from a big city for fear they would have to move to one at some point! Good news for me on this stop was I am pretty confident my boys will always stick to the South and be somewhere near their Momma ;) We did manage to squeeze in the Liberty Bell and Independence Halls, plus tried authentic cheesesteaks! (WIN for me...they like mine better!!!!)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Tennessee


Holy Smokies...this family is in LOVE with Tennessee!!! If we ever leave Texas, there is where you are going to find us! We spent almost a full week covering the state... going from Memphis to Nashville to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg and were still sad we had to leave. Bear with the long post and tons of pictures...we seriously loved this place!!!

Memphis was stop #1 and we literally stayed on the Mississippi River! Tom Sawyer's RV Park has got to be the coolest place and yet there is nothing "organized" to do! Our RV was parked less than 10 yards from the river and all 5 of us were completely mesmerized watching the barges go by! It quickly became a full fledged activity with someone yelling "one is coming" and all of us looking out the windows or sitting on the bench outside. The sheer capacity of these massive floating islands chugging by was such a neat thing to see firsthand. The kids and I ventured into Memphis for a day of fun and education. First stop...the Peabody Hotel, home of the world famous duck march down the red carpet 2x/daily. No joke y'all...this is one of the funnest free things we have stumbled on so far. This man, called the Peabody Duckmaster, makes a hefty living marching ducks up and down their private elevator from their $200,000 penthouse on the roof to the lobby via a red carpet where they climb a few stairs and splash into the fountain! These ducks have been on Jimmy Kimmel, Sesame Street and more...and the daily march has been happening everyday for over 90 years!!! If you have never seen this...put it on your checklist! Our next stop was Huey's, your typical bar food type restaurant but will keep your kids entertained for hours! They hand you a bucket of crayons and toothpicks, plus straws when you sit down. The purpose...color on the walls and shoot the toothpicks through the straws trying to make them stick on the ceiling! UUUMMMM...can we say fun?!?! This place was right up my guys alley and I was litterally dragging them out of there! Next stop...The National Civil Rights Museum, located at The Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed. Brian spent the better part of 5th grade learning about this topic and the events leading up to it and was fascinated by the museum. And BAAMMM...as the teacher, I feel like I can check a good amount of Social Studies off the list for Matt as he is 5th grade now :) It is the neatest thing to get to go so many places with my boys that they have learned about and see the excitement on their faces when they look at an exhibit, turn around and tell me they already know all about it and excitedly start telling me all the details! We have decided we are much more visual learners and are loving actually seeing things we learn about come to life!

The drive from Memphis to Nashville contained a pitstop requested from Brian...this Summer when my Grandfather passed away, Brian and my Dad drove together from Texas to Ohio for the funeral. They stopped outside of Nashville for the night and had dinner at Maria's Mexican Restaurant, a restaurant that according to them "had the very best Mexican food they have had since we moved from Arizona".  They liked it so much that they actually stopped again on the return trip a few days later. Brian has been talking about this place since August and demanded it be on our journey so to Maria's we went. (Besides...is this family that is stuck in TexMex land Texas ever going to pass up an opportunity for authentic Mexican food?!?!?) Maria's was everything they promised...huge portions of true Mexican food and "no gravy, chili, or queso"!!! The best part of this was when the manager recognized Brian as 'the boy who came here with his Grandfather twice in a few days this summer'...clearly they made themselves known...ha!

Nashville was stop #2 in Tennessee. Seeing as how country music is the only music considered music in our house, this was an exciting stop! Brian and I took a backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry which was a dream come true. I would have killed to score tickets for the Christmas Show going on or the CMA's, both happening while we were there...grrrrrrrrrrr, but you can't have everything! We had the best lunch with an honorary family member, Justin. This kid (I say kid, yet he is now taller than me!) has been a part of my life for over 20 years. I was there when he came home from the hospital, babysat him till he no longer needed one and he was my ring bearer in our wedding. Now he is in college and just about a fully grown man. He and I couldn't get over how weird it was to be at lunch together, at his college, with my kids! The kids and I saw "Cooter's" (and they got a quick lesson on what it is!), and even took a behind the scenes tour with a marine biologist through The Aquarium. Matt was all over this one with the ocean being his passion in life! My second highlight was getting to go to the real "Bluebird Cafe"...a Nashville legend made more famous by my favorite tv show...Nashville!

Our final Tennessee stop was Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg (located 8 miles apart, separated by the Smoky Mountain National Park). Holy cow...talk about a true kids dream come true! This town is like any really fun beach town in America x1000!!! (And there's not even a beach!) There must be 5 stationary carnivals, at least 25 go kart and mini golf places, all themed differently, home to Dollywood, every restaurant ever imagined (both chain and themed), multiple show halls, at least 100 souvenir stores, Ripley's of every kind, indoor magic quests of every kind, and I kid you not...self controlled roller coasters coming straight down the sides of mountains which my kids LOVED!!!!! And this was only Pigeon Forge! Gatlinburg was its own kind of fun with even more craziness! It had all the same things of Pigeon Forge, plus a huge mountain with not only a ski resort at the top but a "theme park"! You could literally spend a week in this part of Tennessee and not do half of what is offered! Now the best part of these two towns is your are in true hillbilly country, a saying to which they proudly declare and own! It is written right on the buildings and signs. We are talking about true Americans drinking homemade moonshine on their porches and as friendly as you'll ever meet! Our skyride operator proudly declared he "was living the dream"...he was 44, had 9 kids and 6 grandkids, his oldest child being 31...you do the math. Friendliest, nicest guy who I'm sure saw the calculating look on my face as I quickly did and redid the math to make sure I was correct :) We rode a mountain coaster at a place called "Goats on the roof" where you guessed it, there were actual goats on the roof! The fact that their laws dictate if you are simply 50 inches tall, you can be strapped into a car by yourself and fly down a mountain at 30mph in a car you control for over a mile is crazy (but really fun!!!) We also rode the Alpine Slide in Gatlinburg, which was essentially self controlled bobsleds down the mountain and insanely fun. The Fall colors in Tennessee were a sight that took your breath away! Driving through them in Smoky Mountains National Park and then going over the top of them on sky rides and ski lifts was something I could do over and over again. The last activity we did in this neck of the woods was The Lost Sea Adventure. This gem was something on my list since my friend Shana did it with her kids last summer. Now mind you, I was perfectly happy with my people doing this without me. I am truly terrified of bats and was panicking the whole time I was in the cave. I even called ahead and was "assured" by a 16 year old that he hasn't seen bats...not sure whether to believe him or not! Matt was so excited to climb down natural caverns and find the largest known underground lake! Taking a boat ride through it topped off that fun. I of course was THAT person...the one who wore flip flops (is there really any other shoe???) and a baseball hat to cover my head from bats, pulled down crazy low so I could barely see (I had nothing I wanted to see!). Go figure I managed to slip on loose gravel, falling flat on my face and ripping my knee, shin and toes apart and then got to spend the rest of the tour with blood running down my leg and everyone staring at me :) But...my ankle held up so at least my reconstruction surgery last year worked!

Sorry for the length of this one but seriously...if they need poster people for tourism to Tennessee...call the Rose Family! We have NOTHING bad to say about the whole dang state!!!! If any of you are looking for a random, insanely fun family vacation...RUN to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Arkansas


Arkansas was a state we were waiting for because it meant we got to see Gaga & Papa!!! We were so excited to get here and meet up with them! Digging for diamonds was the activity we had planned for our short visit and was one we were all excited for :) The drive to meet them was a long one for us, although it wasn't the mileage. It was the crazy, one lane road with a 25mph speed limit and switchbacks galore for 200 MILES that was the cause of our LOOOOOONG day! Fortunately we discovered there were two fun stops along the way...The National Fish Hatchery and The Walmart Museum (who knew this existed?!?!?!) I half expected to find myself on the wall of fame for big spenders (if such a thing existed) between my Walmart and Sam's Club shopping :)

The Walmart Museum turned out to be a really fun place to spend an hour. The history of Mr. Walton was fascinating, all of his original items were really neat, the original 5-10 he started was full of treasures and the original ice cream parlor was the hit in this family! Dirt cheap, delicious ice cream overflowing our cones!

Once we hit Texarkana (Yes...we literally can't get away from Texas...clearly a tribute to how much we love our home state!!), we met up with Gaga & Papa! The kids were thrilled that they had brought their dogs along for the quick trip!!! Not having ours along has been so hard for us, but we know they are in such wonderful places, being loved on so much while they wait for us to get back :) The next morning was the fun we had been waiting for...diamond digging at Crater of Diamonds State Park. The only place where you can keep whatever you find at no charge. We rented our tools and set off. Gaga & I made base camp on a hill out of the mud, while Papa & Craig took the boys into the freshly rained on, mucky hills to find treasure.  Well, sadly 4 hours later we can say we have no more diamonds than the ones my Mom & I came in wearing :) Although someone did find a 1 carat diamond while we were there. We had some seriously muddy boys but lots of smiles and a great memory with Gaga & Papa! This was definitely a quick stop, but one of the BEST ones!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Kansas


Due to Halloween falling on a Saturday, Kansas turned out to be a longer stop for us than I had initially planned on but turned out to be perfect! I will admit, I had very low expectations for this state. I mean, how many times do you hear people say "Oh, I am so excited, we are taking a family vacation to Kansas!"??? I personally know one person that loves Kansas and she's originally from there so I have to think she's a little biased ;) Well let me tell you, there is actually a lot of fun to be had in this state, so much so that I would even return to it!

Our first stop was Wichita. We were all glad to arrive as the drive here was our longest day of driving so far. While I will tell you Wichita was not my favorite part of the state, the kids had a ball here! Our RV park was a kids paradise with endless activities, so much so that they rarely wanted to leave it! We did make one trip into downtown and spent the day at the neatest place...Cowtown. A real life old west town right on the river that has fully restored the original buildings of the Chisolm Trail and gives you a true taste of the old west. There are costumed people in the town giving a real life experience and even a working saloon where you can buy lunch! My guys LOVED the swing and bowling alley, and thought seeing how people actually lived 100 years ago was fascinating. Seriously, if y'all are ever in the area, I highly recommend this place!

Kansas City was our second stop in Kansas, or wait, is it Missouri?!?!? Seriously, I have never been so confused as to where I am as I was in Kansas City!!! Every time I got in the jeep I saw nothing but continual "Welcome to Kansas" and "Welcome to Missouri" signs. The kids gave up asking what state we were in as my answer was always "I have absolutely no idea!". For as confused as I was, I was positive about one thing...Kansas City is the neatest city! My dear friend Beth put out a call and had a bunch of her friends in the area give me ideas for this city...they did not disappoint! We had too much to do and sadly did not have the time to make it to everything. Fortunately we hit the highlights...we'll save the rest for another visit :) We managed to take a tour of the Federal Reserve, a tour of Hallmark (I was so excited for this!), visited the Hallmark boutique "Halls" (seriously, who knew Hallmark had their own, amazingly awesome clothing boutique?!?!), had lunch at the Crayola Cafe, played at Kaleidoscope (a completely free children's museum courtesy of Hallmark), saw the WW1 Memorial & Museum, hit the Lego store, found the tallest Barnes & Noble we have seen thus far, went on a fountain hunt for blue fountains (there are tons!), saw how loyal the town is with everything decorated in support of "KC Royals" (world series was going on while we were here!) and had a super fun dinner at Fritz's, a restaurant where a train delivered our food to the table!

The coolest part of Kansas City was the orchard we stayed in. The kids loved being here...so much to do and such a neat setting. We purposely picked this place for Halloween as they had a schedule of events all day for kids. We did arts & crafts, fished, played football, pumpkin chunked into the lake (BEST part of day!), carved creepy pumpkins, they had a costume parade, a hayride and at the end of the day...trick or treating! My crazies had the best week in Kansas and need a week somewhere calm to recover from the "high" they are on!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Colorado


Colorado is still one of the prettiest states in America by my opinion. I have been there in various seasons and each is prettier than the next. Our RV park honestly looked like it belonged on a postcard. We were actually in Colorado recently with the kids and did everything Colorado Springs and Denver had to offer so our trip to Colorado this time was sadly a quickie (but we plan to return in the Spring when we are heading through the Northwest!). Fresh off of our adventures in Moab, we were ready for some downtime and Colorado provided the perfect R&R. We made our home base in Durango and the kids had so much fun exploring this city. We spent a ridiculous amount of time at the fish hatchery (much to my disgust!) but the kids had a ball. Seriously, there were some pools that looked black from the amount of fish on top of each other in them!

We also spent a whole day in Pagosa Springs at the resort using the hot springs. They have day passes available for the pools and we thought this would be a neat adventure for us all. What a neat gem this was. I am 36 years old and have never seen something like it. The resort has 23 "pools" on multiple levels, all flowing into each other via waterfalls and "streams". They vary in temperatures from 91 degrees to 114 degrees and all have funny names that match their description such as 'the lobster pot'! All of this overlooks the river which is 42 degrees. It was hilarious to be sitting in our swimsuits, literally dripping in sweat and watching people walk along the river wearing their winter coats and hats! Matt joined the local polar bear club when he jumped into the freezing river, fully submerged himself and then hopped into the lobster pot! My crazy kids never cease to amaze me...I am literally dreading the teen years when they completely lose their marbles!!! Luke spent the whole day complaining of the smell and would only use two pools that were right along the river and had a great crossbreeze. He did nothing but whine and make gagging noises while everyone else was trying to enjoy the serenity of such a beautiful place. We should've been the smart parents who used that knowledge before making a final decision of the day but apparently we are not the smart ones. We took the kids up to the lobby courtyard of the resort (this place isn't for the economically challenged, the room rate the day we were there was over $600/night) where the actual hotspring is located. This is where the resort pumps the water from. Luke walks over to look, turns around and promptly barfs his nachos and popcorn all over the entrance to the resort, literally blocking the doors. Yep...we were those people! I looked at Craig and proclaimed "back to the trailer park for us!"...

Our drive to Kansas was the hit of Colorado...we saw the first snow of our trip! Conveniently enough, it was located at our stop to see The Continental Divide. Geography quickly turned into recess for this crew!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Utah


We can check another state off our list...Utah. What an unexpected treasure this state was; I honestly had no expectations for Utah and was beyond surprised to find how much I really loved this state. Our first stop was Zion National Park...home to some of the prettiest hiking I have ever done. The kids were very excited to get here and wear their Zion School clothes to the park...I cannot tell you how many people stopped us and asked what their shirts meant! Zion is set up fantastic, you park at the visitor center and they have continuous shuttles running to all of the stops. We hopped our bus and headed up the mountains to our first big hike, "Emerald Pools". This is a 4 mile roundtrip hike that led us up rocks, through caverns, around waterfalls and even under trees to three different places, lower pools, the falls and upper pools. One was prettier than the next and my guys had a ball climbing and "accidentally" getting wet! We hiked to "The Lodge" for a fun lunch, complete with actual mountain spring water tapped right from the spring. (I even drank some which says A LOT!) A few more short hikes led us back to the bus where we went all the way to the top and planned to get out and hike "Riverside Walk". On our trek up the mountain the weather started shifting, you could see that clouds changing right before your eyes and Craig & I (much to the dismay of the boys) opted to stay on the bus and wait to take the loop back down rather than get off. Boy are we thanking God for that decision...Zion quickly got hit with one of the worst storms in recent history and we experienced it all firsthand from the safety of the bus rather than the middle of a trail next to a river! The boys decided our Zion connection was God's way of watching out for us :) As we made a very slow trek down the mountain, the roads were washing away right before our eyes. The radio in front kept announcing alerts to the drivers of what roads were now closed and we literally had just passed each of these minutes before. (This was fortunate as every bus behind us ended up being stuck on the side of the road, full of passengers for hours). I kid you not the paved road was completely white from hail and I only wish I had been able to get a clear picture to show y'all what we were watching. We were grateful the watchful eyes looking over us this day and safely tucked ourselves away in our RV to listen to the storm for the rest of the night.

After being RV bound for 2 full days thanks to storms, the kids and I made a second trip into Zion for another fun day and to complete the Riverside Walk trail. What fun this trail was, full of giant rocks to climb in the river and we had even got to have a picnic lunch right on the river. The bus ride up was a true eye opener as the black paved road was now orange from the runoff and the piles were waist high lining the road of debris, rock and tree scraps that the bulldozers had moved. Our whole hike you could see the line on the rocks where that water had risen to, evidence that we definitely made a GREAT decision not getting off that bus :)

We made our second stop in Utah in Moab, a tiny little town on the Eastern border of Utah. It is home of Arches National Park which is not as exciting as Zion but home of really cool rock formations. The kids and I made use of our National Parks pass once again at this spectacular place and spent a few hours learning the history or Arches, the city of Moab and it's place in Utah. That afternoon was a fun treat for the kids...Moab is home to a fantastic aquatic center, complete with waterslides and multiple diving boards. My guys were in heaven for this fun twist on PE and spent hours doing crazy tricks off the boards! Sadly this type of PE was right up my alley but a giant migraine sidelined me to a spectator rather than a participant...we are definitely gonna have to find another diving facility along this journey!

Moab was also home to a highly anticipated adventure for 4/5 members of this family (can you guess the 1/5???)...a 4x4 Hummer ride up Hell's revenge, followed by whitewater rafting down the Colorado River! I tried to offer up my ticket multiple times but sadly had no siblings hop a flight to Utah!  Unfortunately the rain we had gotten caught in at Zion was now in Moab so our day started wet, but according to my people "that's what makes it even funner!"  (Ummmm...ok?!!?) We had a 7am arrival and it was 49 degrees when we got there, yep, cold and wet...doesn't this sound delightful??? My guys all hopped in back of the Hummer leaving me to the front seat where I literally spent 1/2 my morning looking at the sky! I kid you not, there would be a 100 ft rock/boulder/mountain in front of us and we would go straight up the side! My people had a ball! Not only enjoying the adventure but getting tips from the driver on bringing the Jeep back here someday! (Count me out people!). The highlight of this trip was Luke...he was wearing 5 layers of clothes (including waterproof raingear) as to to keep his itty bitty body warm and happy. When the rain started back up, he snuggled up in a sleeping bag, covered with a towel AND FELL SOUND ASLEEP! Like a bear in hibernation, he got all snuggled in and literally slept for over 1/2 of a Hummer ride through Hell's Canyon!!! I truly think he offended our driver :)

Once we were back at the Adventure Center, we boarded a van to Adventure #2, whitewater rafting! I was slightly more excited for this as it is something I have never done, but I would have happily given up my seat had someone asked ;) I will say, I had a change of heart...rafting is fun! I don't know that I ever have a strong desire to do it again, but I can say that I did it and enjoyed it! My guys on the other hand LOVED it! All 4 of them can't wait to get to go again and are thinking they need to do a multi-day rafting trip...all I have to say to that is "have fun!" We rafted only class 2 and class 3 rapids (class 5 is highest) as it is low season for the river but even those sent Luke flying across the raft and left us all soaked! Fortunately the kids all had full raingear on as Craig & I didn't want them to be completely miserable since it was 50 degrees out and the water was 52 so they all didn't have the reality experience I had :) All said and done...Moab is now my kids current FAVORITE city in America as it is truly an adventure city...rock climbing, zip lining, mountain biking, 4x4, rafting, kayaking, tubing are only the beginning of the things to do in this 12 mile long town! Next stop...Colorado ;)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Las Vegas & Grand Canyon...


What a FUN 9 days this leg of the trip was! We arrived in Vegas and spent the whole time with my sister, brother in law and sweet nieces. This is the longest uninterrupted time we have spent together in years and we truly enjoyed every second of it. We had the best time with all 6 kids at playgrounds, an ice cream factory tour, Hershey World, seeing live mermaids, watching the girls take their classes, rock climbing, donut making, celebrating Molly's early Birthday at Pump-It-Up, lots of cul-de-sac playtime, dressing up like princesses, mani/pedis with Aunt TeTe, Brian & Matt had a date with Uncle Jerms to the bottom of the Hoover Dam & lunch plus so many yummy meals and treats Aunt Key cooked up for us!!! (She even sent me with to-go meals!) Craig finally arrived back after a WAY too long absence and Kerry gave us a night off to enjoy Vegas while the kids stayed with her and had a chocolate fountain for dinner party!

We took a mini 2 day trip back to Flagstaff (where we went to college) and my sweet Molly tagged along for the roadtrip! What FUN to get to have a girl along with me, I LOVED every minute of it! Particularly seeing Brian and Matt playing with her ponies :) We stopped at the Hoover Dam where Matt & Luke made a learning video for their classes, showed the kids the college we went to and spent a day at the Grand Canyon where Matt & Luke made another very informative video :)


Funny enough, the RV has needed a few warranty repairs so I deemed Vegas the perfect place to drop it off and leave it, enabling us to spend the full 10 days at my sister's house. While I loved being at my sister's and having LOTS of sqft again, I actually found myself missing my home on wheels which tells me we are finally settled into our home and it actually feels like home! Kerry, Jeremy, Molly, Mackenzie and Maggie...we will miss y'all like crazy!!! Thanks so much for the BEST two weeks...we can't wait till we see you again!!!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

California


California has been our longest stay in a state so far and we had a great time! Glad to be out of the traffic nightmare but still had a blast! The first half of our stay was in the Los Angeles area. We had a great RV park in Santa Clarita that was literally a stones throw from Six Flags Magic Mountain. We took advantage of this and made great use of our Six Flags season passes while we were in the area. The kids we elated to visit this Six Flags...it has different rides than the ones in Texas and they literally closed down the park 2 different nights! We also spent time at Universal Studios learning the art of TV and movie making. Our kids have been to a lot of theme parks in their lives but never Universal Studios. They loved it...for a place that actually only has 7 rides, they opened and closed the park twice and were still up for more! Brian was chosen to be a part of the Animal Actors Stage Show and had a blast being on stage, being the brunt of a few jokes and the best part...hanging out with actual celebrity dogs!!!

After 6 days in Los Angeles, we headed to San Diego. This is where Craig had to leave us for 2 weeks for a work trip and we got to meet up with my sister, brother in law and three nieces for the duration of Craig's absence. We had so much fun in San Diego...the RV park we stayed in was literally on the beach (we could see the sand from or RV!) and a complete kid paradise. Before Craig had to leave, we went to the coolest pumpkin exhibit I have ever seen in my 36 years of life...Rise of the Pumpkins. Over 5000 carved pumpkins arranged to create "things". Seriously, I cannot do this justice with words, you need to see the pictures to get how neat this was! Kerry, Jeremy and the girls arrived the next day and we had the best time with them. The fun began with Kerry throwing Luke a surprise "Monumental Presidents" party for his belated Birthday in her hotel room. My little guy was so excited and loved every second of it! Taking her girls to the beach at sunset was the highlight of the day as all 6 kids felt the need to hit the ocean fully dressed and full of giggles. The next day we took all 6 kids to the San Diego Zoo for a fun filled day learning about animals. My guys had never been here so this was a fun adventure for everyone. Our last day in San Diego was spent at the beach with the whole crew before we headed to Vegas with my sister and her family to spend time with them while we wait on Craig. I can't think of a better place to wait for Daddy than with my sister, brother in law and 3 precious nieces! I am extra blessed as my brother in law is a firefighter and I conned him into driving the RV to Vegas for me so I didn't have to! I figured if you drive firetrucks, surely you can drive an RV!!! Yay for Jeremy being an awesome brother in law and doing this for me!!!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Arizona


Back to where this Rose Family was originally established...Arizona. We actually didn't have much on our Arizona stop as we were just here with the kids 2 years ago for Spring Break and did everything from top to bottom then! We were fortunate at that time to hit everything from an 18in. blizzard in Flagstaff to 95 degree weather in Tucson so the kids got to see what Arizona really has to offer. This round to Arizona we based ourselves in Casa Grande, a city smack in the middle of Tucson & Phoenix. Our first day in Arizona was perfect...Eegees for lunch and Macayos for dinner (two Arizona chains that we desperately miss!). My oldest friend Andrea (literally have been friends since middle school!) joined us for the day with her kiddos (my godson!!) and we had the best time with all the kids :) We see each other only a few times a year now but manage to pick up right where we leave off every single time! An amazingly fun indoor playground was the hit of the afternoon and all 5 kids spent 3 hours running themselves ragged. The kids loved hearing stories of us as kids all day and Luke finished his night with pre-Birthday singing and the yummiest dessert on the planet...chocolate chimis!!!

Luke's Birthday happened to fall on this leg of our journey...our first celebration for the year in our new home! The boys and I decorated the RV for him as a surprise when he woke up, we had cake, a cinnamon roll "8" and presents galore! He live skyped with Gaga so she could be part of the fun and had the best morning, even declaring he grew on his Birthday cause his knees hurt :) The rest of the day was Luke's choice...we spent the first part at The Ostrich Ranch...an oldie but goodie located right off the freeway between Phoenix & Tucson. It's a petting on zoo on steroids complete with goats in the sky! Little man had a ball running from animal to animal with giant cups of food and even scored a free ostrich feather from the gift shop as a Birthday treat :) Next stop...Dave & Busters...Luke's favorite restaurant! The boys got extra lucky here as DHL was having a convention. A few guys on their way out gave the boys each an unlimited video games card, good for the rest of the day! What a LUCKY surprise!!! They saved their cards we had bought for the games where you win tickets and spent hours playing all the video games they could. Craig & I literally had to drag them out of there!!! Back home to our RV for cake and a late night swim concluded Luke's big day :)

Our main reason for stopping in Arizona was my surprise to Craig & Brian...tickets to University of Arizona vs, UCLA football game at Wildcats home! Brian was over the  moon...his dream has been to see a home game (he has been to away ones with Craig) and seats on the 50 yard line are about as good as it can get!!! We headed down to Tucson early so we could stop and shop for new UA apparel, as well as partake in all the fun going on around campus as not only was this a home game, but it was chosen as the ESPN College Gameday Game of the Week! Seriously...Brian's world just kept getting better and better!!! Matt was even a good sport and dressed up complete with facepaint even though he announced multiple times he is an OU fan, not a UA fan! Craig managed to catch up with one of his childhood friends before the game for a few minutes while the kids had fun in the Coca Cola Kidzone. We got into the stadium and I don't think Brian stopped smiling the whole 4 hours...even though Arizona got their butts handed to them on a platter with a massively embarrassing loss! He was a true fan that stayed till the end, even though the majority of the stadium had cleared out and declared this the best day of his life!  Next stop...California!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

New Mexico


Well...we can check New Mexico off our list and we are now 3 states and 2000 miles down! Whoohooo! When this all started I thought maybe 10-11 months was gonna take a really long time to complete but time is flying! The kids and I have finally settled into a routine and we all feel like we have just about figured this thing out. We do school for about 3 hours right when we get up and then either head outside to swim, ride bikes, play or we head out on an adventure or errands. Craig sadly has to stay back and work (we gotta pay for this somehow!) but we try to save the really cool stuff for when he is done for the day or the weekends so he can tag along! 

We spent the last 5 days in New Mexico. I can honestly say from all of the times I have either been to or passed through, New Mexico is not one of my favorite places. I am a huge fan of some of the things to do in New Mexico but wouldn't have any desire to live there...to each their own I guess :) Our first stop was Albuquerque...home of the world renown hot air balloon festival. While we missed the festival by just a few weeks, we did get to go and play at the Hot Air Balloon Museum and learn all about the science behind hot air balloons! Next stop...the top of Sandia Peak in a sky tram...so fun! We took a 20 min ride 3 miles straight up the mountain in a swinging cable car to the prettiest views of New Mexico! We hiked around the 2 mile trail with the kids, saw the different ski runs and had an absolute ball! 

The second half of New Mexico was spent in Alamogordo...a tiny little town in the bottom of the state and home to one of our favorite places in America...White Sands National Park! 7 miles of pure white sand dunes literally plopped in the middle of nowhere...a kids paradise! It is actually located in the White Sands Missile Range which is another really neat place to go and see the rockets (did that too!) The kids and I spent 4 hours playing in the sand, rolling down the sand, flying down the sand and completely exhausting ourselves climbing up the sand! We were completely covered by the end and so glad we got to come back!!! Our last stop in Alamogordo was McGinney Pistachio Farm,home of the worlds largest pistachio! Here we got to take a tour of the pistachio farm and the vineyard, learn all about the harvesting process and try pistachios right off the trees! Our tour guide was beyond knowledgeable and the kids were fascinated to learn that there are actually male and female trees. We left with a bag full of treats and of course, a photo of the worlds largest pistachio!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Amarillo


And we are back in Texas! Clearly Texas is home since we can't seem to leave!!! This stop was a place none of us had been...Amarillo! A small Texas town made famous by a few things...a country song, Cadillac Ranch and The Big Texan...the famous steakhouse that is home to the 72oz. steak challenge! Rest assured, we hit these two major landmarks, sang the song and even found an RV Museum that was a hidden gem!  Our RV park was the home of the first photo op...an RV buried in the ground to mimic the famous Cadillacs, complete with the tv still hanging in it! The boys thought this was beyond cool so our next stop was the actual famous landmark...Cadillac Ranch! We pulled up and initially thought "lame". In my head this was gonna be so much cooler than what it actually was. Up close though, I will say its kinda cool. The sheer amount of spraypaint alone on these things is worth an "ooh" and an "ahh". Now let me tell you...3 little boys and a can of spray paint has excitement written all over it. My guys thought being given free reign to just spray paint a car was the coolest thing ever! All in all...a fun stop we can check off our bucket list!

Next stop...the RV Museum. This was an unexpected find that we literally had to tear ourselves away from! It actually started as a private collection and has turned into a free museum that you can go and explore. They had everything from mint condition RV's from the 1930's to the kids favorite...Happy Max from the movie "RV"...our favorite movie well before this trip was created! You were able to go inside all of the RV's and see how they have changed over the years. Talk about a reality wake-up call...we are seriously living in high class quarters compared to early model RV's! The kids and I spent well over an hour exploring this museum and reading all the information we could completely fascinated by it all.

Our final fun activity in Amarillo and one we will never forget was The Big Texan. Craig and my brother have fantasized for 15+ years about eating there one day and taking the 72oz. steak challenge. To date, 55,000 people have taken the challenge and only 9,000 have completed it. How do you not do it when you finally end up there? Especially when you have a fan club of 3 little boys egging you on! I called ahead and signed Craig up for the challenge guaranteeing us front row seats to watch the "show"! The BEST part of this phone call came when the very kind woman named "Mary" offered us free limo service to and from the restaurant...uuummmmmm....YES PLEASE! We opted not to tell the kids about the limo and when a knock on our door came at 6pm, they opened the door to find a limo and driver complete with bull horns on the front and were over the moon excited :) Yes...imagine the visual, an old school limo from the early 90's, painted rusty orange with bull horns arriving in our RV park :) Once we arrived at the restaurant we took a look at what Craig would have to eat in 60 minutes or less...a 72oz steak trimmed perfectly, 3 shrimp, a salad, a roll and a baked potato! We took our seats and the BEST part of the night happened, "our people" were able to live stream this event and watch it right along with us! All of my siblings, their spouses and kids, my parents and our dearest friends got to watch Craig take the challenge! Talk about Friday night fun for the O'Briens!!! Good thing my phone was charged cause the texts were out of control! Craig's meal arrived, the clock started, Craig began eating and the craziest thing happened...all of these complete strangers got up from their tables and started taking Craig's picture! I kid you not, at least 100 people came up to do this. It was the craziest thing I have ever seen...Craig was a one man freak show eating in front of a completely full restaurant of 400+ people. The kids and I were having an absolute ball cheering him on, fielding calls and texts from our live audience and relaying the messages to Craig as well as eating hands down the best filet of our lives! About 50 min in, it happened. Craig looked at me, he looked kind of gray and mouthed "I'm gonna puke" and he did (automatically disqualifying himself unless he chose to eat his barf!) YEP...in a crazy crowded restaurant with all eyes on him, Craig barfed up his entire dinner (thankfully into a bucket), but nonetheless he barfed for an audience. And then crazy thing #2 happened...the entire place broke into cheering and applause! Apparently puking gets a better reaction than actually finishing in Amarillo and the place was on their feet whistling, cheering, clapping...it was insane and hilarious! Sadly the restaurant has the live feed on a delay and stops it when someone pukes so to quote my sister "Craig is officially on Kardashian level...he broke the Internet!". I gotta hand it to Craig, he decided to show his boys, nieces and nephews he is not a quitter and he put down the pail and resumed eating until his clock ran out! All said in done, Craig managed to eat the potato, the shrimp, the salad, the roll and 47oz. of steak in 60 min. I'm proud of him for trying, a little grossed out by what he consumed and seriously had one of the funnest nights ever!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Oklahoma!


Back when Matt was 4, he out of the blue deemed himself a diehard OU fan...for no reason at all! We had never been to Oklahoma, knew no one who lived there but the little guy owned it and has been a passionate OU follower and Oklahoma as a state fan ever since. It only made sense to have our very first stop leaving Texas on this crazy adventure to be Oklahoma!! Matt was so excited to get here and see all the "fun" Oklahoma has to offer...and fun we found! First stop was the OU campus...what a beautiful campus! I would be perfectly fine with my Moose heading here someday. It is small (1.5 miles from end to end), serene and has old school charm. The people couldn't be friendlier and we all really enjoyed getting to see and learn about OU. Matt was in heaven as we made it our mission to find him lots of new OU apparel (this boy is growing like a weed!), eat in the local hangouts and fully embrace the Oklahoma lifestyle.

The next day was a work day for Craig so the boys and I busted out school and then headed back to campus for the coolest tour...a behind the scenes tour of the National Weather Center. It doesn't get much better for a science lesson in weather than touring the place in tornado alley that tracks it all! More shopping, lots of swimming and mini golf (we stayed in a kids paradise this leg!) and a fun local ice cream place rounded out our stay in Oklahoma City.

An early 5am start got us to our final Oklahoma stay before the kids even woke up...Great Salt Plains State Park. What a true hidden gem this turned out to be! It was a place that in research we couldn't find much information on but everything we did find said "go, go, go!" We had the most beautiful campsite right on the river bank where the dam meets the lake. The kids had pretty much the whole park to themselves and loved spending their days just riding bikes, skateboards and scooters along the riverbank. No don't get me wrong...this was not just a leisurely lake stay...we had real life treasure hunting to attend to! Great Salt Plains State Park is located on what used to be an actual ocean in Oklahoma! At one end of the lake is the spot where the ocean used to be the deepest and has now formed this 7 mile salt flat left over from the drying up of this body of water. These salt deposits form Selenite crystals just below the surface and it is free 6 months out of the year to dig up and keep as many as you want! You literally drive down this dirt road in the middle of a wheat field with no houses for as far as you can see (a true picture of Oklahoma) and all of the sudden it looks like you are at the beach! Seriously the craziest thing you have ever seen! Literally...picture a giant sandbox, buried treasure and 3 little boys...you can imagine the fun this place was!?!?! Craig got to come with us early in the morning and see this crazy place for himself. We took him back to work around lunchtime and went digging for round 2! We met the nicest old man that spends his days volunteering at the plains to help people dig. Since we were the only people there on a Wednesday afternoon, he spent the afternoon with us helping the boys score the jackpot of crystals! This truly was the highlight of Oklahoma for me...watching my 3 crazies dig like mad men to find me as many crystals as they could....priceless!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Utter Madness!

So we have gone into this trip with the knowledge that we have never owned and RV, have never pretended we knew the first thing about them and have fully admitted we are learning as we go. I feel like the last few days have gone above and beyond in proving that...tonight I sunk as low as I can possibly go. I feel like after the last few incidents, we have seen the worst and it can only go uphill from here!

For those of you not friends with me on Facebook, let me catch you up. Here are my last few posts...complete with pictures!

 We got up at 5 and drove here to discover that....oh and just for extra kicks the water line under kitchen sink got bumped and detached so when we turned on sink water flooded the kitchen floor

THIS is what happens when you trust the kids telling you they locked the fridge and you make a turn! 
So trying to rush to go 2 exits in 5 minutes before an RV service center closes as a piece of piping on the kitchen sink keeps leaking. Craig makes a wild turn and 18 eggs, a jar of salsa, a jar of pickles (all broken and everywhere!), 2 lbs of grapes rolling throughout RV and various sodas, waters and Gatorade all covered in broken goo!!! After cleaning the mess...we have now missed the service center and realize there is a camping world 10 miles away that closes in 25 min. We decide to try to go there to get the part and follow the navigation on phones to make a uturn. Yep...took us straight to a dead end of a one way road! Only solution...unhook jeep and back the RV all the way down it!!! 
I can't make this stuff up!!! 

OMG...this just happened!!!! (an hour after the fridge explosion!) B is asleep, Matt & Luke are lying in their beds watching TV show and I walk past table...this is what the two dummies left and it clearly slid off table!!!!

AND THE GRAND FINALE...
(sorry no pics, but since I am the family photographer the camera wasn't being touched!) 
So my worst nightmare came true...it was horrible and I sobbed for 30+ minutes. Craig was at home depot and the grey tanks said full. No biggie, easy. Brian and Matt have done it lots so they are quite capable. I go out to supervise...front tank ✔, all grey water flows into drain no problem. Brian thinks we should do back while we are at it...sure I say. He moves the hose and struggles tightening so asks me to do it. I squat down in front of it to tighten and my special child decides to pull the lever to empty tank, before I have tightened it! The hose flies off and THE BLACK TANK, OUR SEWAGE TANK COMES SPRAYING AT ME LIKE A FIREHOSE!!!! The idiot not only pulled the lever before hose was connected, he pulled the black lever instead of the grey one!!! Yep...I got sprayed by sewage! Needless to say I burst into sobbing, hysterical tears. Brian runs away gagging leaving me there to deal with it. I had to not only be sprayed but reach in and turn off the valve while it was still spraying! Craig pulled up in the midst of this with his eyes huge and thankfully took over the cleanup of outside. 3 fulls scrubs later with Dawn, Irish Spring and cherry blossom soaps I HATE camping, I HATE this stupid trip and I am drowning my sorrows in a large quantity of alcohol right now to hopefully erase this horrid memory! I am not finding it funny yet but will hopefully feel that way eventually!

As you can see, the last 3 days have been a learning curve in this family. The kids have heard words we are not proud of, Craig and I have screamed like maniacs at each other, they have seen me sobbing crying, covered in their own feces and yet we are still going forward. What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger is the motto I am taking...So I figure that by the end of this trip I should either be Hercules or an alcoholic!!!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A final catch up before we leave....


To say the last 10 days have been absolute whirlwind is a severe understatement! But the insanity is over...the RV is ours, the kids are with us and we are finally starting this much anticipated adventure! I have been horrible about my blog and promise to get better but I have been so crazy-busy I had to let it go for a few days. Here is a recap...

Things we have learned in the first 4 days:
-Little boys peeing while we drive makes for a very decorated bathroom!!!
-The door handle MUST be held when opening from inside or the hydrolic air spring attached will break off and end up sitting on your kitchen counter leaving your door to permanently flap in the wind!
-The washing machine makes the bed vibrate...no joke! It's like a coin operated bed in a seedy hotel! (If you discover this for the first time at 2am after many days of very little sleep, it is extremely funny!)
-Cream colored leather is a really stupid color in an RV designed with kids in mind!
-Coffee, Gatorade and soda will all spill if not in cupholders while driving!
-If the refrigerator doors are not strapped correctly, they will open when you a hit a bump and things will come flying out!
-Trying to charge 5 laptops, 5 phones & 3 tablets while running two a/c's, two tv's and a microwave WILL blow a fuse if you are driving and running off your generator!
-This GIANT RV is actually capable of making a u-turn on a two lane road...lots of baby steps going backwards and forwards! (See story below)
-We have a master light switch rather than turning on/off each light manually! (No joke...this took us 3 days to discover!)
-Having a built in ladder leading to the roof is very enticing to little boys!

These are just some of the lessons in our new reality that we have dealt with and we have literally not even gone anywhere yet!!! Thankfully Craig and I are taking it all with humor and laughing or we would seriously go crazy!

This past Saturday the RV officially became ours. Craig and I spent all day at "RV School" learning how to work this completely foreign thing. By the time they left us to spend the night at their park in it learning to use it, it was dark and getting late. We felt "schooled" enough to leave and go sleep in our hotel. Clearly we belong in the dummy class. We made it as far as the exit gate and realized we both had forgotten to call the insurance company! YEP...we are the responsible ones taking 3 kids on a nationwide adventure!! After a 40 minute phone call, we were tired, not wanting to make the 30 minute drive and decided to just stay. Well....we learned 2 things...the RV can NOT go in reverse when the Jeep is attached to the back and making a u-turn on a two lane road in the dark is easier said than done! 30 minutes later we were back in our bay (backed in I might add!) and all hooked up. I decide at 10 pm to venture out to get us dinner and make it back to the gate and have no gate opener! At this point, security (off duty police officer) has come to see why I am back at a gate I was just at and AGAIN NOT LEAVING! My trying to explain all of this only made me look even more crazy :) About 11:30, we have now eaten, caught up on checklists for RV and  like the two "scholars we are" we realized we had zero bedding, blankets, etc.!!! Y'all I kid you not...after all this we left the RV where it was and drove ourselves to the hotel :)

Monday we finally drove off in our new home on wheels! Houston was our destination to finally pick up our guys and show them their new house! My sister, brother-in-law and their 4 kids were waiting with my kids and parents for us to pull in. Seeing the smiles on our guys faces made the whole exhausting whirlwind of a week all worth it! We got to show off our new digs and take all the kiddos for a ride before we had to say our goodbyes :) Tuesday my brother & sister-in-law brought their 2 kids over and we got to spend time with them before we left as well. My parents came over for the final send off (but not before we put my Dad to work fixing things for us and my Mom filling our freezer!) and we left Houston full of emotions...sad to not actually see our family for a year, grateful for new age technology where we can see each other all the time, excited for the unknown lying ahead of us, terrified for the unknown lying ahead of us, blessed to be able to have this opportunity to do this crazy adventure and so dang happy to have our boys back!

Today we have literally made a full circle in just over a week (no joke, Austin-Dallas-Houston-Austin!) We are back in Austin for one night (to unload the Jeep that is overflowing with all of the stuff I overpacked, a quick last minute Dr. appt and seeing some of our dearest friends one last time before we head out! The RV is as full as it can get, the kids are chomping at the bit to get going and this is my last post "at home", the town I know and love...tomorrow we are officially on our way! Let the adventure begin!!!


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

It just got REAL!


What a whirlwind of a few days!!! We got rid of Craig's truck and bought a Jeep Wrangler we can tow behind the RV, we finished putting everything we own into storage, we closed on our house, we loaded the next year of life into a Jeep, Suburban and a small UHaul trailer, made our way to Alvarado, Texas and WE BOUGHT AN RV!!!!

Holy cow...this all suddenly got real. I have been living in crazy, overwhelmed mode for the past month and haven't really processed all of this. Locking our house for the last time is when it all suddenly hit me. The house we built and raised the boys in the prime of their childhood in is gone. The house we brought Luke home from the NICU to, the house they broke multiple bones in doing crazy things, the house with walls, floor & cabinets colored on, the house we had to replace a door in cause they crashed through it...all these memories came flooding back to me and I realized we are actually doing this! We are going from 3400 sqft to 429 sqft BY CHOICE!!!

Yesterday at the RV dealer, we were going through the different models and apparently I had a look of terror on my face. All I can say is they seemed a whole lot bigger when I had a giant house to go back home to. Now...this is it...and you know what...I CAN'T WAIT!!!! Y'all, I am a very lucky girl!! I got a 2016 brand spankin new RV, complete with 2 full bathrooms, a full size residential fridge and a washer/dryer!!! I have a husband that knows camping is so far out of my element of comfort and made sure I got an RV that makes me feel like I am at home (a smaller scale home, but nonetheless, a home) and I am confident I can survive in the wilderness for a year!

Today we had to be back at the dealer and the moment I have been dreading, the one that literally makes my stomach feel like I have raging stomach flu happened...I HAD TO DRIVE THE RV! They pulled it up for us and any excitement I had for seeing a huge bus with my name & a giant SOLD sign on it disappeared. Craig hopped right into the drivers seat excited. I hung out in the back, about as far as I could get, hoping they'd all forget about me. (In my head I was hiding really far away...in reality, how far can you actually go in 429 sq ft?!?!) We get off the freeway and approach a red light and my husband throws it into park, hops out of the drivers seat and says "better hurry, light's about to turn green!" Talk about a real life "I'm so scared I think I might poop my pants moment!" I not only had the pressure of actually doing this, but the added stress of there are cars behind me waiting to go! The comments floating around me from Craig & the salesman were in the lines of "take your ears off of your shoulders and relax", "you're not in a one way tunnel, don't forget you have 2 giant mirrors to be looking at", "watch the trees overhanging on the road so you don't shred the sides" and "you do know this is supposed to be fun"...no joke y'all, I had to drive with all of this added pressure! and guess what...I DID IT! We may have not reached speeds that are considered normal freeway driving speeds, but I did not hit anything, I successfully made left and right turns and I did not need to change my clothes when we finished!!!! I consider it a success!

There are a few steps left before we actually head out to see America but by this time next week we should be on our way!!!! The jeep is currently being outfitted to be towed behind the RV, we say goodbye to my beloved Suburban this weekend, we go to RV school on Saturday/Sunday to learn how the heck to work all the gadgets and buttons on this thing, we get the Internet up and working so Craig can get a paycheck and then we head to Houston to get our boys and show them their new home!!!! Now that I know that in an emergency I am capable of driving this thing...I am ready to go!


Friday, August 21, 2015

We are so BLESSED!


Most people like their school. Some even love their school. We are the lucky few that are truly blessed by our school. Our boys have attended Zion Lutheran School for years. It is a very small private school in the middle of the most beautiful country setting off the beaten path. Our boys have had the same classmates since they started, making priceless friendships. We have fully embraced it and love the Christian education our boys are receiving.

 When we approached the school with our crazy adventure, we were blown away by the support by everyone there. We have a new principal and he is truly a godsend to this small, country school. He has a passion for children and a true calling to be a leader. He assured us that he is 100% in support of us taking the boys on this adventure and will do anything he can to make it easier for us on the education side. What a wonderful feeling to know that our boys have such an amazing place to come back home to and feel like they never left. Their teachers immediately gathered the boys books for this year so we could keep them on the same curriculum as their classmates (also making for a very easy transition back next fall!), as well as their year "maps" for me to keep us on target. They assured me they are simply a phone call away if I need anything. Matt & Luke are thrilled to be doing a Skype pen pal program with their classes all year, learning geography with all their friends as we take them places with us. All 3 boys joined their classes today for the back to school kickoff yearbook signing party! Picking up our books last week, the thought of leaving this place that has been our home away from home for a long period of time pulled on my heartstrings. Mr.Wrege (our principal) had small gifts for the boys to remember our Zion family and all the teachers came out to wish us well (not just our current ones) and talk with the boys for a few minutes. How blessed we are to have such an amazing school family rooting for us and helping us along the way. Zion Lutheran School...you will be greatly missed this year!!!