Big Bend Camping Adventure

For our family vacation this year we went to Big Bend National Park. I was inspired to take this trip after our Moab vacation 2 years ago, where I discovered my kids love to hike and explore! The one thing they were particularly excited to do in Moab was stargaze, but the moon was so bright when we were there that it didn’t work out. I decided to look for good places to stargaze in Texas and Big Bend was highly recommended. Because our camping experience in Moab was so positive (in a little 1-room cabin), I decided to do the same again… only this time I happened upon something a little more creative than a cabin. We stayed in a bus named Franny:

The kids knew we were staying somewhere “different” and had been trying to figure it out for some time. When we pulled into the campground they were like, “What’s with all the crazy buses and stuff?” I said, “This is where we’re staying!” and they fell silent. Then I heard a bunch of, “Whatever. You’re not serious. You’re kidding, right?” When I parked and got out they were still very skeptical. After looking around a bit closer they were not entirely enthused about the idea…. I didn’t know what exactly their reaction would be but I didn’t expect that!

They really thought mom had lost it! But after some exploring, Franny definitely grew on them….

We had a lot of fun camping. We cooked out on the campfire every night. We experimented with campfire recipes, and some were better than others! I tasked the kids with building the fire on their own the last night and we used Chase’s socks as fire starters lol!

This camping experience made me “rough it” a bit more than I had done in awhile. We used an outhouse and I showered in an outdoor shower. It was a very strange experience being naked in the desert with nature but by god I did it! And I got to wake up to this every morning:

The other thing we did every night from the back of the bus was stargaze. And it was amazing….

We also made some friends! The owner of the place has cats to eat the critters that bring nasty things like snakes around. Well 3 of those cats had kittens! One litter in particular loved to hang out with us. And they were serious hunters. One even grabbed the hot dog off my stick! I mean, I love cats but that’s where I draw the line (lol)! It was hard to keep them out of our bus, especially when food was being prepared. The kids absolutely fell in love with them. They named every single cat/kitten we met.

Chloe also fell in love with the owner’s burro, Sampson.

And just look at this sweet picture:

Anyway….

We did do more than just hang out at the bus! We spent one day exploring Big Bend. I had no idea how huge it was, really! We all decided we have to go back because there is so much we didn’t see, and it was too hot to truly explore like we wanted to. Still, we did our best with the time we had!

We decided to start our day with a hike that took us to the Rio Grande so we could put our feet in the water and cool off. As we hiked we heard singing, and when we got to the river we realized the singing was coming from Mexico! The man on the other side of the river spoke to us, asked if we liked the singing, etc. There were items placed around for sale and he pointed them out to us but we said no thank you. Everything was going very well until Chase said, “Uhhhh… Mom? He’s walking toward the canoe.” I said, “Well surely he isn’t coming over here. That’s illegal!” The guy got into the canoe and mama bear decided it was time to go!

If you click on the top right photo below and zoom in you may be able to see him, just right of center (and you can see his canoe there on the right):

The next day we went to the Turlingua Ghost Town, which was cool. My favorite part to explore was the cemetery. Chase thinks I’m weird for that. He thought I was even weirder for taking so many pictures there.

Chloe got a souvenir Big Bend hat at the Trading Company there and I just love it on her!

After a few days of adventuring it was time to say goodbye to Franny, and leave some words of wisdom to those who follow:

For being so skeptical of her in the beginning, all of our talks of returning to Big Bend included Franny. It was definitely a fun experience and we are excited to go back one day!

For more information on Franny and the other creative camping options at Tin Valley Retro Rentals, check them out at tinvalleyretrorentals.com!

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Loss

I was in Las Vegas this weekend, but not for vacation. I found out on August 8th that my biological father died, and I haven’t said anything because it’s a little awkward to talk about. We haven’t had a relationship for a long time so I’ve been experiencing a lot of different emotions. My brother and I are left to deal with all of the logistics and we’re doing the best we can, with the little information we have.

This weekend we were in Vegas to work on cleaning out the house where he lived with my grandparents and uncle until they died. Mom came along, too, which proves (as if anyone actually needed proof) she has the biggest heart of anyone I know. 

We uncovered a lot of memories in that house. We had fun looking through old pictures of us with our dad and grandparents…

…and getting a glimpse into our family history, reading love letter exchanges between my grandparents during the war, seeing our grandparents as a young couple, digging through old newspapers and artifacts….

We also learned more about my dad’s talents.  He used to sell jokes to Joan Rivers!  He was a great poker player and dealer, as well as writer:

We turned the loose change we found into an opportunity to gamble a little one night. (Stress relief, you know.)

I haven’t dealt with a lot of death in my lifetime but one thing I have noticed in my few experiences is that death has a way of bringing people together. My brother and I have talked more in the last month than we have in the past year. And even though the work we did this weekend wasn’t fun, we all managed to laugh together a lot. Because sometimes laughter truly is the best medicine.

It was a long and exhausting weekend but I’m so grateful for the family I do have that is always by my side, and I’m glad my dad is finally free of the inner demons he battled his whole life.

Thanks to all for the support. Let’s all honor him by living our best lives every day!

Weekend in Chicago!

I left the kids in Michigan (see previous post!) to drive to Chicago.  It was my friend Holly’s birthday weekend and a bunch of us met there to surprise her and go to a Def Leppard/Journey concert at Wrigley Field!

We also took some time to explore the city a bit, squeezing into Ubers, hitting the Field Museum and the Hancock Sky Lounge:

I also got to see my dear friend Nicole and her family, though we didn’t take pictures.  We really need to get better about that!

Michigan Vacation!

The kids and I flew to Michigan for our summer vacation this year!  The kids were really excited, especially because we normally drive.

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It was a bit of an adventure flying there, as our original flight was cancelled while we waited at the gate, and we had to book a new flight on a different airline.  We eventually made it, though!

It was a really nice, relaxing vacation.  The kids loved swimming with Kacee in the lake (while I “sunned” lol):

My mom took us to the “Ribbit Exhibit” at Dow Gardens, which sent us on a fun scavenger hunt!

And we helped Grandma with her puzzles.  (We became slightly obsessed, actually, and had to buy her more!)

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At the end of the week, the kids got to stay with Grandma and Grandpa while I drove to Chicago for the weekend!  (See next post!)

London Adventure: New Year’s Eve

Happy New Year! My cousin Jamianne took us to breakfast at Wolseley to start the day.  Apparently there are lots of celebrity sightings there, but we had no such luck. From there we headed to the Tower of London for the Beefeater Tour! Very cool.

Things were crazy around our hotel today because it’s located right across from Trafalgar Square, which is a really popular place for New Year’s Eve partying. Because of this we headed back to do some shopping in the area (Covent Gardens). On the way we swung by Buckingham Palace, which is literally right down the road from our hotel!

While out shopping, we asked someone to take our pic at the cool phone booths here, which I’ve been trying to do all week!

The New Year’s Eve party was a bust but it was great people watching and it was nice to ring in the new year together. We left after the fireworks and are currently enjoying our sandwiches in bed (thanks to Katie for thinking ahead and ordering them to go earlier)!

This is unfortunately the end of our journey, as we head back to the states tomorrow.

Cheers to 2018!

London Adventure: Day 5

Today we took a tour outside London to see Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Oxford.

Windsor was amazing but we were given strict instructions that the bus would leave without us if we didn’t get back on time. We got stuck inside the castle behind a very slow-moving group and when we finally got out we literally RAN ACROSS WINDSOR CASTLE to get back to the bus (again, I cursed myself for canceling my gym membership). Like, weaving in and out of strolling tourists… we were sprinting.

But we made it. With 1 minute to spare.

Then we went to Stonehenge, which was really cool, followed by Oxford. Did you know Oxford University isn’t one university? It’s a collection of 38 different colleges. It was hard to get pictures there because it was dark. At 4:30.

I have to say we were a hit with the tour guide. He sat us up front and while I assumed it was because of our fun personalities, Katie said, “He probably thought, ‘I could look at them ALL DAY.’”

(She’s very modest.)

He had way too much fun picking on us. He told us laughing was not allowed at the castle, to which I replied, “Oh, we’re screwed,” and then we burst into hysterical laughter. He then gave us a children’s entry ticket to Stonehenge.

After the tour we did a bit of pubbing, and made a new bartender friend, who was 24 (awwww…). He told us about his previous night of partying at a club and said, “It’s probably not your kind of thing. Even IIIII feel old there.”

Nice.

We’re Instagram friends now lol!

Tomorrow is our last full day here and we plan to make the most of it!

London Adventure: Day 4

We started our day at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was absolutely beautiful. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but we trekked up about 528 stairs to the very top and we were able to take some pretty great pictures of the views from up there. There were a couple moments I was a little fearful for my life (narrow/short/steep staircases in a few places caused a bit of anxiety, and I cursed myself for canceling my gym membership a few months ago!), but we made it… and it was awesome. Cold and windy, but awesome.

Then we walked across Millenium Bridge to see the Globe Theatre. We couldn’t go inside but it was still cool to see the theatre I taught my students about in person! On the way back we almost got attacked by a pigeon and I managed to get it on camera. We have come close to being hit by a pigeon SEVERAL TIMES. Those of you who know me well know I hate birds, so… yeah. Not cool.

From there we worked our way over to the Tower of London, but we got there too late for the tour so we’ll try again this weekend. We got to see the Tower Bridge a lot closer, though!

We continue to navigate the tube like a boss!

Oh, and do you like my new hat and scarf from my cousin Jamianne? So fun!!

After that we did a little shopping and pubbing. We have learned over the past few days that bars close early here (like 11:00… maybe because it gets dark at 4:00)! We’ve missed some great pub opportunities because we have been getting there too late. Today we started our own “pub crawl” early (like 5:00)! We have made quite a few new “friends” hanging out in the pubs, which has been cool. We even helped one woman plan her vacation to the states!

Tomorrow we head to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Oxford! It’ll be an early morning so it’s time for bed! Night!

London Adventure: Day 3

We started our day today at Westminster Abbey. We couldn’t take pictures inside but it was spectacular! When we walked up the guide said, “Let me guess… Americans?” We asked how he knew and he said, “I watch a lot of Cops. Whatcha gonna do?” (which sounds way cooler in a British accent). Of course we joined in and sang the rest of the song. Yes… in Westminster Abbey. Because we’re classy like that.

Katie is upholding her local status wherever we go, as today a Londoner asked her if he was on the right platform. Of course out came a resounding, confident, “Yes!” and then I said… “Are you sure?”

After Westminster we met my cousin Jamianne Trerice for lunch at the Victoria and Albert museum, which was great! I hadn’t seen her since I was a kid, and I got to meet 2 of her daughters! Katie and I explored some of the museum, which had some really cool displays. We had some fun in the theatre section and even found some New Year’s Eve hats!

Finally, we ended the day with a BANG. Hamilton.

Omigod…. Hamilton.

Absolutely, unbelievably amazing. We can’t stop talking about it. We laughed, we cried (I ugly cried)…. Katie gave it 5 stars because, “Not once did I think, ‘Is it over yet?’”

God I’m glad she has me to culture her.

London Adventure: Day 2 (Paris!)

We took a train under the Chunnel to Paris today! We were given a map and a couple Metro (subway) tickets and let loose in the city! I was almost pick pocketed immediately upon arrival and an old French lady slapped me on the wrist (literally). Katie, on the other hand, was approached by more than one French person needing directions. Obviously she’s the leader in this outfit.

We (Katie) managed to navigate the metro system throughout the city and saw some cool sights in our short time there, and went on a river cruise.

I’m officially a thief, as I stole a bracelet from a peddler. Hey…. I didn’t ask him for it!

One thing we didn’t plan on was needing some French euros to pee. It’s like Urinetown over there (“You gotta pay to pee”)!

We are now back in London, having also learned how to navigate the tube (London subway) on the way back. We tried a new pub across the street and made fast friends but had to run away when they took “friendly” to another level.

We’re killin’ it over here!

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