Monday, February 13, 2017

Vacation at a Cabinet

We used to be such good travelers. As often as we could, we would take off on an adventure somewhere far away or even sneak in a quick weekend getaway. But then kids came along and different job responsibilities, and the opportunity just hasn't presented itself like it used to. I won't use the girls as an excuse for why we don't travel as much anymore, but I will blame our lack of exotic adventures for why I don't keep this blog updated as often.

We still find ourselves out of town with some regularity, but with family far away, the bulk of our travel is devoted to spending time with loved ones in Washington, Kansas City, and Nebraska. These visits are great, and we always have a good time...but they're not exactly vacations. For that reason, we took some time after our Christmas visit to the Midwest for a family vacation to Mountain View, Arkansas.

When we decided we needed a vacation--since we couldn't remember the last time we'd taken one--we'd originally planned to go somewhere that a) had snow for skiing and outdoor activities and b) would allow us to unplug. We'd initially thought Wisconsin would be a good choice, but then we actually looked at a map and realized it was much farther than we wanted to go, particularly after our Thanksgiving roadtrip to Washington DC (written about here). So then we thought Iowa would be a good option. We'd still have snow, but it was much closer to Nebraska, where we'd spent Christmas. But, alas, our plan was thwarted by Mother Nature. The only snow we saw was at the beginning of our trip (that forced us to drive all night to Kansas City). Elsa made the best of it, though:

She's already a better skier than I am

Fortunately, we're flexible because Option C proved to be an excellent decision. On our way back to Memphis from Kansas City, we stopped in Mountain View, Arkansas, a small town near the Ozark National Forest, and stayed in a "cabinet" (what Elsa mistakenly called our cabin, and the name stuck) for several days. I could feel myself relaxing as soon as the trip began; it was just what we needed.

Arkansas Traveler, our home away from home

We ventured into town for breakfast the morning after we arrived. It was a quaint downtown, and now that I think about it, a lot like Kirksville. We found a small cafe and had a delicious meal made even better by the fact that an anonymous stranger picked up the tab. Talk about hospitality! We browsed in a few shops before the day's big adventure: Blanchard Springs Cavern.

It was my first trip to a cave, and it did not disappoint. (Lena, however, was not impressed and slept in the carrier most of the time...although to be fair, it was close to naptime.) The man who designed the lighting did a tremendous job because all of the rock formations were so striking.

"Soda straws"

The tour was really informative, and we learned a lot. It may sound obvious--or not--but I hadn't really considered the fact that caves are living entities that are constantly changing. Very cool.

After our time underground, we had to check out the Blanchard Springs, as well.

The only way to guarantee they'd stay still for a picture

That was enough activity for the day, so after dinner at the cabinet, we were in for the night. The next day we decided to return to the forest for a short hike. I'm not quite sure what happened on the drive over, but when we arrived at the trailhead, we had one sleeping baby and one pouty preschooler. Elsa and I began the hike, but had to stop numerous times throughout. At least the scenery was beautiful. Before we finished the short loop, Jon and Lena joined us so we could all finish together.

"Take a picture when I point this stick at you"

A snack seemed to perk Elsa up, but she still requested to go back and take a nap--she must have been really tired from our travels--so that is what we did. Jon and I took advantage of the opportunity to do a tag-team run (one ran while the other stayed with the girls, and then we traded) around town and through the woods. Once everyone rested as long as they needed to, we set off on a quest for fish for dinner. Unfortunately for us--but fortunately for them--all of the local restaurants advertising fish from the river were closed during the offseason. We had to settle on a Mexican restaurant instead.

The next morning was a flurry of activity as we (and by that, I mean Jon) packed up the car for the seventeenth time during the break. It was a short drive back to Memphis, and we returned home rested and rejuvenated, ready to begin a new year.

DC or Bust!

No, this isn't a political post. Rather, it's a long overdue account of our Thanksgiving trip to visit friends in the greater DC-area. (I am consciously abstaining from discussing politics on this blog--which isn't terribly hard to do since I don't post very often.)

Growing up, both Jon and I were blessed to have wonderful "framily" nearby. [Side note: I borrowed from a cell phone commercial for this term because it is less wordy--and funnier to Elsa--than "family as close as friends."] We continue to be blessed with great friends here in Memphis, but those we consider "framily" are alas, not geographically close. So, when we realized we could take nearly an entire week to celebrate Thanksgiving, we knew we had to visit some of these folks.

The last time we visited this family (written about here), we were able to get an affordable direct flight. However, since weather is always a potential factor in late-November and since nobody wants to fly over Thanksgiving, we chose to drive. Our friends had done it last New Year's when they had visited us, so surely we could do it, too.

We have done a number of roadtrips with two kids--I have even done several by myself--so we weren't worried about how the girls would do. This would be the longest, by far, however. In order to maximize our time, we left on a Monday night after I had finished teaching my class. After our customary roadtrip stop at Chick-fil-A, we were on our way. As expected, Lena fell asleep pretty quickly, and Elsa followed, once she was full of chicken nuggets, of course. So then it was up to Jon and I with regards to how far we could go until we needed to stop for the night.

We made it past Nashville, which was our goal--this knocked several hours off the entire 13 (if we were to drive straight, without kids). Even with this headstart, though, we were still in for a full day of driving. Nothing particularly eventful happened (fortunately), but now Elsa thinks that every long trip is a special occasion that warrants ice cream since we stopped for lunch at the Dairy Queen attached to the gas station where we filled up.

It was definitely bedtime when we rolled into the driveway in Maryland, so we whisked the girls upstairs before getting to visit for a few minutes. In the morning, it only took Elsa a few minutes to assimilate into the tribe of kids, which was heartwarming. Lena also joined in the ruckus as best she could. After rounding everyone up, we headed into the city to visit one of the Smithsonian museums, the Museum of American History. They have a really cool interactive area for kids, which is where we spent the bulk of our time. Both of these girls are a work of art.

It was definitely nap/rest time when we got back to the house, and then the rest of the afternoon/evening was spent according to the comforting rhythm and routine of family life. After getting the kids in bed--which, with five little people ranging from 6 1/2 to 10 months, was quite the undertaking--we proceeded to do what we would do for the next several nights: play board games and drink adult beverages.

We didn't stay up too late because Day #2 was also Thanksgiving, and we had a Turkey Trot to attend. The 6 1/2-year-old participated in a fitness group at school, and their culminating activity was a 1K fun run. Not to be left out, Elsa and the 4 1/2-year-old ran, too. Each was awarded a medal and a cupcake for their efforts. 

Elsa with her celebratory cupcake and Lena with her celebratory...rock?

Our return to the house commenced in a flurry of Thanksgiving prep activities. I somehow wound up watching all the kids while the others cooked and cleaned...which was great because I also got to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Just doing my part, you know. Our friends had invited some of their neighbors to join us for dinner, which increased our kid total to 8. In a small world connection usually reserved for Memphis, one of these families had ties to Bamberg as well. And then, a friend from our time in Bamberg came over too. It was a typical Thanksgiving meal, with too much food, lovely conversation, and small children running amok. Pretty much awesome.

Lena's first Thanksgiving

Elsa and all four kinds of pie
We never quite figured out how to spend our final full day in Maryland, but with the previous two days' excitement, staying at the house proved to be an excellent decision. I even snuck out early for a run, and I've got to say that Maryland is much hillier than Memphis--the difficulty of the run couldn't possibly have been because I am out of shape. At any rate, after breakfast, we played in the backyard on the swing set and in the leaves and just generally enjoyed each others' company. If all of this sounds Norman Rockwell-esque, that is because it was (albeit peppered with inside jokes and bitmoji avatars).

And then it was time to say good-bye. We gamely attempted to make the entire drive back to Memphis in one day, but with a late start and some longer-than-planned stops, we decided to call it a night just past Knoxville. Fortunately we still had Sunday before having to get back to our regular schedule, so we got a good night of sleep and hit the road again. Yes, we may have spent 3 days driving for a 3-day visit, but getting to spend time with our "framily" was totally worth it. Although now it's their turn to visit us...