The Good, The Bad, The Beefarino: Why We Travel with Small Children

I think this picture is about the most accurate depiction of what it is like to travel with a one-year-old and a three-year-old. My oldest daughter is having the time of her life, basking in the glory that is a pink, sparkly horse-drawn carriage ride through the streets of San Antonio, her new stuffed purple shark from Sea World within arm’s reach. My one-year-old is having a complete, nap-deprived tantrum. Did I mention it is Mother’s Day? Did I mention the horse had just eaten an entire can of Beefarino? I’m kidding on that last part of course (Seinfeld-reference) but traveling with small children, whether by car or plane, is no joke!

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So why do we do it?

I love traveling. There is something about getting away and exploring a new place that completely fills my soul. I think the best part of taking family vacations, even if they’re a modest trip to a hotel (with a pool…always with a pool) in a nearby city, is the time we get to focus only on our little family of four. I’m not thinking about laundry or groceries, I try to keep work thoughts to a minimum, and I’m able to really just be with the ones I love the most.

As chaotic as it can be, I find that almost immediately after returning from a trip with the girls, I only remember the good things. If I think hard enough I can conjure up the images of my one-year-old screaming her lungs out on the airplane or my three-year-old’s disgusting love of using any and all drinking fountains she encounters. Instead I remember their laughter at the sea lions at Sea World, my baby swimming for the first time, and my oldest daughter smiling through every moment of her princess carriage ride. The happy memories always overshadow the inconveniences of traveling with littles ones and make it oh so worth it.

I want to instill this love of exploring in my daughters, and give them memories of fun times during which I was entirely and completely focused on them. And I don’t even want a stuffed purple shark. The only souvenir I need is the happy memories and the fun, focus, and willingness to go with the flow that I hope will linger into our everyday life long after we return.

All 50 by 40: Texas

My quest to visit all 50 states by the time I turn 40 has the self-imposed rule that airport layovers don’t count. This is why Texas remained on the to-visit list despite the fact that I have been to airports in various Texan cities several times. My husband and I decided to make this one a family trip and chose San Antonio for the history, River Walk, and abundance of kid-friendly activities.

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My three-year-old has flown several times and is a pro as well as a lover of all things vacation-related.

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This was my one-year-old’s first time flying and she didn’t take too kindly to it despite the happy photo below. I’m not giving up that easily, however.

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The grounds of the Alamo are beautiful and made for a great place for the girls to run around and experience some fresh air while my husband and I got our history fix.

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We explored all five San Antonio Missions, which were fascinating.

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We stayed at The Hotel Contessa on San Antonio’s beautiful River Walk. I’m working on a separate post just about the hotel, which was elegant, yet kid-friendly. This was a great location close to shops, restaurants, and, of course, a pink horse-drawn carriage.

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The below photo pretty much sums up the highs and lows of traveling with small children. There are smiles, fun, happy memories, mixed with occasional inevitable meltdowns.

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Sea World was a must and the whole family enjoyed our day spent there.

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The little one sampled the duck food. Gross.

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San Antonio is somewhere we’ll definitely revisit in the future. We will also continue to take family vacations at least once a year, despite the hiccups that accompany traveling with small children. In the end, the memories of their laughter while splashing in the pool and watching them experience something new will always overshadow the screeching, spilled milk, and flights with a squirmy, nap-fighting one-year-old.

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I have six states left to visit and tomorrow marks exactly five years to visit them all before age 40. I can’t wait to book my next trip!

The Updated List

Alaska

Arkansas

Michigan (I have been to airports)

Tennessee

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Springtime in South Dakota

When spring finally arrives in western South Dakota, often long, long after the actual equinox, certain signs fill the senses. The sight of an endless blue sky, the smell of green grass and branding smoke, the feeling of a light breeze through bedroom window at night, all combine to tell us winter might be gone at last. It is Mother Nature’s great sigh of relief.

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We praise God for cowboys, kids, baby bison, cookouts, afternoon rains, lilacs, and longer days.

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After a long winter, the trees have buds, though few leaves have presented.

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It is my belief every child should spend time on a cattle ranch, even if it is just for a visit.

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Sparkling water and the smell of pine trees bring joy to us on a Sunday afternoon drive through the Black Hills.

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It is also my belief that even my “town girls” need to experience a day now and then of getting the kind of messy that leaves the bath water muddy and dark.

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They need to smell like horses and have dirt under their finger nails.

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Then they need to clean up nice for church the next day and chase each other around after breakfast.

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We are grateful and blessed.

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The kind of sleep we have after a full day of fresh air is the most restful. It is the peace we feel after a hard day of work with family and friends. Spring is finally here in South Dakota.

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Motherhood Should Come with a Lifetime Supply of Kleenex

She’s three, sitting there bravely waiting to have her ears pierced, and I’m digging frantically in my purse for one of the little packs of Kleenex I can never be without. They’re not for her. I look away, pretending to be interested in a display of tacky pink feather boas, hoping she doesn’t notice my tears.

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Her sister will be one in a week. Again, I am reaching for Kleenex as I put finishing touches on her birthday party plans and wonder where the last year has gone. I can’t help but think that motherhood has made me soft. But in reality, it has also made me incredibly strong because I know I can and would do anything for these two girls.

I kick myself for crying because, well, I’m usually a little embarrassed about it. But, when you think about it, maybe that willingness to be vulnerable and to love deeply is actually one of our super-hero powers as parents. Capes are the new mom-jean.

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I know reaching for those little packs of Kleenex is just part of my life now. I’ll be digging for them at first days of school, graduations, and wedding days, and all of the milestones in between. I wouldn’t change it. Motherhood is such a deep, consuming type of love. We can’t describe it, and we can’t contain it, so sometimes the only thing left to do is to invest in a lifetime supply of little Kleenex packs. We are going to need them, and that’s a good thing, because I really believe most of those tears will be the happy kind.

A Tour of Hillcrest Estate

I have an amazing treat for you all today! I caught wind of the fact that the talented Tarin of Tayhart Photography had gotten the opportunity to stay in Hillcrest Estate, Chip and Joanna Gaines’ renovated vacation rental. The spread of this gorgeous estate in the winter issue of Magnolia magazine left me yearning to see more of this place.

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I reached out to Tarin, who I bump into occasionally in our small western South Dakota town, and asked if she’d be willing to share some of her beautiful photos on A HOUSE WITH CHARACTER. She graciously said YES! Warning: The images you are about to see are going to make you want to drop everything and hop on a plane to Texas immediately, just for those cupcakes alone.

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“I love photography, but my next favorite love (besides Jesus, my hubby, and kiddos) is all things Fixer Upper, ” Tarin said. “I’ve watched every episode of every season and love everything Chip and Jo do!”

So imagine her excitement when she received a text from her mom asking if she would like to take a trip to Waco, Texas and stay at Hillcrest Estate, Chip and Joanna Gaines’ newest vacation rental.

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Tarin’s mother went on to fill her in on the details of how her long-time friend from Spokane, Wash. won a three night stay, gift-card, and tour for herself and 11 of her friends. This awesome lady invited Tarin, her mother, and sister to be part of that lucky group.

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“Our first glimpse of Hillcrest Estate did not disappoint,” Tarin said. “It’s a stately historic home situated in the middle of a beautifully manicured lawn, complete with a garden area, gorgeous fire pit surrounded by rocking chairs, amazing porches, and a sweet little playhouse.”

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“The inside of the home is decorated to fit the historic charm of the house with some of Joanna’s classic touches of antiques, beautiful wood tones, perfect paint colors, gorgeous textiles, and, of course, shiplap,” Tarin said.

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Not only did Tarin and her mother get to stay at Hillcrest Estate, but they also were treated to a tour of Magnolia Market.

“My favorite part of the tour was that everywhere you looked you could see glimpses of Chip and Joanna’s faith and their love and appreciation for their employees,” Tarin said.

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Tarin said Silo’s Baking Co. was worth every minute spent in line.

“That line was pretty long, but the way they work it is like a fine-tuned machine,” she said.

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Tarin found time for shopping, too. Some of her favorite spots were The Findery, The Warehouse, Spice Village, and Laverty’s Antiques and Furnishings.

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Thank you Tarin for sharing this beautiful tour with us!

 

 

 

 

Our Maui Top 10 List

When it comes to Maui, I probably would have been completely satisfied spending the week on the beach or poolside reading, but after that long plane ride it seemed only right to do a little exploring.

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My husband helped me come up with our 10 favorite experiences in Maui. Yes, three of them involve food. No judgment, please. Full disclosure: The list originally featured four food-related faves.

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10: Hike at ‘Iao Valley State Park. This hike is beautiful and since our bodies were still on Mountain Time and we were up before dawn, we had the trail all to ourselves.

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9: Fish tacos at The Fish Market, Lahaina. I had the most amazing grilled fish tacos served in a basket with macaroni salad. Casual. Quick. Divine.

8: Trivia night at The Pour House. For two nerds who haven’t missed an episode of Jeopardy since we started dating (even counting the nights our two daughters were born), we jumped at the opportunity to play trivia on the island. We ended up winning a $20 bar tab and were embarrassingly proud of our efforts.

7: Hawaiian sweet bread at The Banyan Tree. This stuff. I can’t even explain how delicious.

6: Pools at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. We stayed at the villas near the Ritz-Carlton, but our villa had an agreement with them for guests to use the pool. There is a wonderful kids’ area our daughters would have adored, and an adults-only area where we could read in pure peace. The pools overlook the ocean, which is a plus.

5: Spa day and couples’ massage at The Grand Waleia. Our flight home didn’t leave until 9:30 p.m., which left us one last day to soak in some relaxation. This spa is absolutely amazing. We spent the afternoon in the sauna, steam room, and healing pools, then got a couples’ massage. The only thing left to do was have a glass of wine at the airport and completely zonk out for the long overnight flight home.

4: Twin Falls hike. The waterfalls on this hike are stunning exactly the kind of thing I imagined I’d see in Maui and they didn’t disappoint. I was also intrigued by the amazing flowers on this hike. Many were like nothing I had ever seen before.

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3: Sushi at Sansei. We are both sushi fans and agreed this was the best we’d ever had. The service was also excellent. Make a reservation. We tried to get a table our first night in Maui and had to make a reservation for the next night.

2: Whale watching with Ultimate Whale Watch. Our small boat made it easy to get close to the whales. We saw at least a dozen whales breaching, slapping the water, and even swimming right under our boat! We went on the 4 p.m. tour, which meant we caught a stunning Maui sunset during the ride. Our captain and the marine biologist onboard were knowledgeable and clearly very excited about their jobs.

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1: Helicopter ride with Sunshine Helicopters. I was a little apprehensive about getting on a helicopter for the first time, but just moments into the ride I experienced complete relaxation as we flew over the Maui countryside. This is truly the best way to see the island and worth every penny.

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All 50 by 40: Hawaii

I just finished visiting my 43rd state on my quest to visit all 50 by age 40, and this last trip left me with one question: Why did I leave Hawaii until number 43?! Silly.

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My husband and I stayed on Maui. It was absolutely gorgeous. We chose not to island-hop on this trip because we really wanted to absorb as much of Maui as we could while still having time to relax.

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I am currently working on my Maui Top 10 list, which will definitely include whale watching and eating my weight in fish tacos.

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There was relaxing pool time.

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The Banyan Tree, which gets creepily loaded with noisy birds at sundown.

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Our beautiful resort made it difficult to come back to snowy South Dakota.

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Our beautiful resort made it difficult to come back to snowy South Dakota.

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The fantastic hiking trails were one of our favorite parts of the island, and, in my mind, an excuse to eat more fish tacos.

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I took my first helicopter tour. It was awesome!

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We left our three-year-old and eight-month-old daughters home with my very generous and caring parents. We missed them so much, but the time away was good for us. Thank you, dear friends, for reminding me of that, and squelching that mommy guilt before it had a chance to take hold.

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Stay tuned for my favorite parts of Maui. What state should I visit next? Here are the remaining seven.

The Updated List

Alaska

Arkansas

Michigan (I have been to airports)

Tennessee

Texas (I have been to airports)

West Virginia

Wisconsin