Tag Archives: vacation

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation – Chicago Edition, Part 1

I may never catch up on my writing, but maybe I’ll finish the summer by the end of the year!

We traveled to Chicago for a family wedding this past June, but since it’s such a big deal to fly with littles we extended our trip for a fun (not restful) family vacation. Henry was great on the flight up: he colored, played quietly, and then watched movies or gamed for the duration of the flight. He also got hopped up on juice and skipped his nap, but that wasn’t too bad. Elliot, however, did not like to be contained since at one, he could finally move on his own and could not understand that he needed to sit still for the flight. It wasn’t the easiest, but still it went fairly smoothly since there were two of us to one of him. And as adults, we are bigger and stronger than him so we prevailed.

Keith’s cousin, Donna, graciously picked us up from Midway and drove us downtown to our hotel in rush hour traffic the week of her son’s wedding so we didn’t have to worry about figuring out how to get all our gear and the boys downtown. She even packed us a cooler with snacks and drinks for our stay – she is the best! The boys napped during the commute, and our hotel (Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront) turned out to be fantastically situated on the Chicago River. We especially lucked out and got a corner riverfront view – we had giant windows on two of our walls! We could people watch, boat spy, and check out all the cars, trucks, and buses to our heart’s content! In other words, it was a preschooler and toddler’s dream, spoiling us making all other hotel rooms pale in comparison.
 


After unloading our gear, we had two priorities on our first day: (1) eat and (2) find Maggie Daley Park. We decided to combine the two and get carry-out Chicago-style pizza for a park picnic, before running wild at the playground. The three of us determined that deep dish pizza is not our favorite, but Maggie Daley Park definitely is. This Park is a wonderful garden oasis with several playground areas for all kids. If you want to climb a rock wall – there is a giant one available. If you adore miniature golf, play your heart out on its course. If you want peace and quiet, there are plenty of nooks scattered throughout where you can have alone-time.
 
The Play Garden is 3 acres of amazingness for kids. It encourages imaginative play with trails meandering to hidden treasures, gigantic playground structures, and water fountains. Henry spent the majority of his time in the Slide Crater, dashing across the Tower Bridge, climbing the towers, and speeding down the slides. He had a blast running up and down the hills and playing tag with new friends. Elliot strolled with me through the Enchanted Forest, balanced himself across the tree beams, and tried his best to jump into fountains (despite it being chilly for us Floridians!)
 

Every day of our trip Henry asked to return to this park. It may be his favorite one ever! He still asks us when we will be returning. Unfortunately, it rained a ton while we were downtown, so we only made it back one additional time, in the rain. Still, totally worth it, and it wasn’t crowded when it was raining! This time we first focused on a couple of Play Garden areas we missed the first time around – the Sea and the Harbor – before returning to the Slide Crater for madness.


Located about a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel, we returned from Maggie Daley through Millennium Park and Pritzker Pavilion by way of the Bean. This area of town is truly a gem, and we will be returning for more fun on our next visit!



Going Home to Jacksonville Part 3 – Arlington

In college, whenever I told someone I met I hailed from Jacksonville, and they also came from there, they would become interested and ask me, “What part?” Jacksonville is the biggest land area city in the country, so your neighborhood served as an identifier. When I responded, “Arlington,” mostly they looked shocked. Unless they have been there, Arlington is portrayed on local news as a decaying neighborhood whose heyday in the 1950s through the early 80s is long past.
 
Arlington became the first automobile-dependent suburb and flourished following the construction of the Matthews Bridge in 1953. My parents’ home in the Fort Caroline Club Estates was built in the late 60s, and they’ve been its owner since 1977. It’s always been a nice, middle class neighborhood within walking distance of the St. John’s River.
 
To me, it’s home. I spent entire summer days swimming at the Fort Caroline Club pool. I rode bikes around the neighborhood without a helmet. I played softball at Arlington Little League. I snuck into my first R-rated movie (There’s Something About Mary) at the Gazebo theater. I attended the local (non-Magnet) schools and received a great education thanks to committed teachers and my involvement in after-school activities.
 
I’m feeling nostalgic about Arlington lately because my parents are preparing their house to sell within the next year and move closer to my brother in Kissimmee. We’ve been trying for years to convince them to move closer to me or Scott and now they are actively moving forward in their process. And it kinda scares me. I’m not entirely sure why; I rarely visit Jacksonville because (a) my kids do NOT sleep when we aren’t at home and (b) my parents visit us on a monthly basis. It’s the change that’s intimidating…my parents will be moving from the place where I grew up, the only one, and all its familiar idiosyncrasies. I have to make sure to get back at least one more time before they move, sleep be damned!

Back to our visit…my kids had a blast at Grandma and Grandpop’s house – playing with new (but seriously old, like my dad’s old) toys, splashing in the sprinklers, and walking to and terrorizing Gerrie’s Park, just like my brother and I used to. It’s a small, neighborhood park with a few climbing areas, some swings, and space to run around. They boys’ favorite was helping Grandpop pick up tree debris from a recent storm. Who needs an actual playground when there are sticks bigger than your body? It was the best!



Going Home to Jacksonville Part 2 – Mandarin

My parents wanted to take us to Clark’s Fish Camp on our visit because it has delicious seafood and stuffed animals. I thought they meant weird looking Care Bears, but they meant taxidermy stuffed animals in a “lovely room of death” (to quote Ace Ventura). Actually multiple rooms of death, I felt totally creeped out and saddened by the dead animals. The seafood was on point, though. Shrimp for days, plus tasty sides (I brought my Grandma my shrimp since she wasn’t feeling well enough to come out with us. She actually smiled, she was so stoked. 


But backing up a bit to before we went to the restaurant, we hit up Mandarin Park first. Keith couldn’t believe we were still in Jacksonville after driving for one hour to get to the park. Oh, but we were – Jacksonville is the largest land area city in the United States. It’s freaking huge! And also explains why I have no idea where things are outside of Arlington and some of the Beaches, Riverside, and Southside areas.
 
Mandarin Park is beautifully shaded right on Julington Creek. Keith and I watched the boats sail and motor down the river, taking off from a small dock on the property. Henry napped in the car (watched over by my Mom), and Elliot played on the shaded playground with my Dad. We sat on a bench in blissful silence, enjoying every moment. It was like a date (if by date I mean it was a break from parental responsibility for all of 20 minutes before the littlest came looking for us.)

The playground had swings, slides, and things to climb – all in the shade! Elliot liked the swings the best, but we couldn’t rouse Henry to get him to play. His sleep schedule was all out of whack being out of town and all. If we lived in Mandarin, I would definitely return to this park often. 

Hiking Black Balsam Knob With The Littles

We spent our last day in North Carolina hiking up a mountain. You may be thinking, they have two kids not even school-age – they must be crazy! Naysayers be damned – the kiddos did splendidly!
 
Keith selected Black Balsam Knob (via the Art Loeb Trail) in the Pisgah National Forest (Mile 420 off the Blue Ridge Parkway) as the location. It’s the second highest mountain in the Great Balsam Mountains at 6,214 feet tall! The weather was freezing for us Floridians – in the 40s! It was quite a shock from the temperature in Asheville, so I took Henry’s hat for myself because he had a hooded coat. 


Henry has been preparing his whole life for hiking. He has an abundance of energy, climbs everything in sight, and has been doing trail walks since he took his first steps. Up on the mountain, he acted like a little mountain goat hopping from rock to rock and sprinting the straight-aways. We have a great backpack carrier that Elliot rode in since his walking skills weren’t up to snuff for a mile and half hike. He could look out and see over Keith’s shoulders, and looked quite relaxed so long as we didn’t stop moving.


After the one mile hike to the peak, we took a break for snacks and water, reclining on the grass while enjoying the beautiful view. On a clear day, you can see Shining Rock, Looking Glass Rock, Mt. Pisgah, Cold Mountain, and occasionally Mt. Mitchell (the highest point in the Eastern United States). In other words, the view is pristinely lovely. Henry only needed the tiniest bit of help going down the mountain when the rocks were slippery. We didn’t see any bears (thank goodness!), but ran into a few hiking dogs (much to the Hen’s dismay). 


We stopped for ice cream at Dolly’s Dairy Bar (Lutheridge is a special flavor!) on the way back to Amber’s (kids were sleeping so we got to enjoy a mini-date), and ended the day with an evening stroll and playground adventure in her neighborhood. It was such a great visit; I hope we return soon!

Birthday Beer is the Best!

Keith asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday and my request was simple: spend some time with the family and some non-kid time with Amber, but all of it should include beer. Asheville has a fantastic craft beer scene, and I wanted to partake!

After worshipping at Amber’s church where I wasn’t solely responsible for two littles (meaning I got to enjoy most of worship!), we headed to the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company for lunch. Amber and Chris had told us that it was like the Disney World of breweries and they did not lie. We could have spent the entire afternoon there, if we didn’t have to get the boys home to nap. Lunch consisted of shareable small plates and everyone was licking their fingers. We headed out back afterwards and enjoyed live music while relaxing around a fire pit (it was chilly for us Floridians!) A sand table area was set up for kids, and Henry had too much fun digging and laughing (as usual). We also walked through their garden where edible plants are grown for their brewpub. The brewery offers tours, too, but we didn’t have time for that.




Because after dropping Keith and the boys off at Amber’s, us ladies headed to downtown Asheville for more fun (and drinky-drinks)! Our first stop was Catawba Brewing Company in South Slope. This was our favorite tasting room – lots of tables, great beer, and a beautiful warehouse. There’s a smaller room for private events, and I’m sure it is a cool place for wedding receptions. It also has food trucks outside for food, and there’s a donut shop next door that looked delicious.
 


Next up was Green Man Brewery, which turned out to be our least favorite. I liked the Yoda, Slimer, and other green decor, but the beer I had was just so-so. Finally, we visited Hi-Wire Brewing, and the beer there was yummy. We sat at the bar, there was a nice breeze, and great service. By that point, I was full of beer and super hungry and there was no line for the French Broad Chocolates. So of course we had to get some sweet treats! I had the most delicious Mexican hot chocolate, Amber snagged a tasty cookie, and I picked up a mint chocolate brownie to take back to Henry.
 



Back at Amber’s, we had burgers on the grill and sides before chowing down on birthday pie from a Hendersonville bakery. It was decadent and a perfect birthday treat. The best part of my birthday was spending it with people I love: Keith, my kids, and best friends. That evening, I told Keith my birthday priority in the future would be spending it with best friends who I don’t get to see all the time, because it was so lovely. What a fantastic start to 35!

Asheville Adventuring with the Littles

Let me first start by saying that everyone needs a friend like Amber in their lives. She’s one of the best, and we are lucky to have been friends with her since college. It’s one of those friendships that can pick up after not keeping in touch well (on my part, she’s always the one reaching out to say hi) and it seems like no time has passed. Additionally, she was kind enough to invite all four of us to stay with her for a week while Keith was at his conference and she was teaching. Adding our four-person level of craziness to her quiet home was probably an adventure in itself, but then we ventured out!


She recommended a playground in Asheville called Carrier Park which was incredible! A velodrome surrounded the playground area so we had fun watching bicycle racing before playing. The playground itself was a wooden castle, with climbing tunnels, swings, slides, and an airplane! In two sections – one for older kids and one for the smaller ones – we spent equal time in both. Henry loved playing hide and go seek against me and Elliot because there were so many spots to hide. We also took a walk alongside the French Broad River to relax before heading back for lunch and a nap.


The next day we headed into downtown Asheville to get awesome books from Malaprops, the local bookstore. The kid’s selection was on point – we got four excellent books. Then we attempted to go to the Western North Carolina Nature Center. Unfortunately, all the schools and everyone with kids (at least that’s how the crowded  parking situation seemed) had the same idea, so we didn’t even make it past the parking lot. There was a playground nearby so we hung out there until lunchtime. Are you sensing a theme? When all else fails, a playground always makes things better.


The final day of Keith’s conference occurred on Saturday, so Amber had the day off to play with us! We visited the Hands On! Children’s Gallery in nearby Hendersonville and had lots of rainy day fun. Henry loved creating energy by peddling a bike, selling ice cream in the ice cream shop, making lego cars and racing them, and rapidly running from exhibit to exhibit. I think everyone took naps after this.

Road Trip To North Carolina

Keith has been wanting to attend the Catechumenate conference for a few years now, but never managed to go. This year’s one was hosted by Nativity Lutheran in Asheville (our friends and family’s church), so we decided the whole family was going to road trip it up to Amber’s house and spend the week working and playing. But first we had to get there, and that is no easy feat with a 4yo and almost 1yo. It’s about a TEN hour trip, without stops (and we knew there would be stops) so I researched potential stopping points along our route so the kids could play and we could get an “are we there yet” break.
 
The Play Across America Blog was particularly helpful once we hit I-95 because it had a descriptive listing of playgrounds to be found within a few miles of road exits, but first we had to make it out of Florida. Which takes HOURS. The only real place to stop for a picnic lunch along the route from Seminole to the Georgia border via US-301 was the town of Starke. I drove through this place all through college (it’s about halfway between Gainesville and Jacksonville), but have never really stopped. Except for that one time I toured the Florida State Prison located there, but that’s another story. The town of Starke had a small park a few blocks from downtown with clean bathrooms, picnic tables, and some playground equipment. It wasn’t fancy, but it worked for us. Henry had fun climbing and making up games while we ate in the 90+ degree weather.


The kids were getting stir crazy as we crossed the South Carolina border, so we stopped at one of the coolest playgrounds ever in Ridgeland – Harold Turpin Park. It comprised nearly a whole city block surrounded by quiet, tree-lined streets, and just looked how a playground was supposed to look (you know what I mean-picturesque). The whole playground was a wooden treehouse, and it had slides, fun swings (including a spiderweb swing), and a zip line! E loved the little splash pad to cool down. We would have spent more time here if we could have, but had to hop back in the car for the last stretch to Amber’s house where she was waiting up for us.
 

The day took a little more than 12 hours, but it was totally worth it to us to take these two long breaks for everyone’s sanity. 

Bad Kid Christmas Orlando

Our enjoyment of the Christmas season is quickly followed by our annual Bad Kids Christmas reunion with some of our seminary friends. It is one of the best weeks of the year! This year we hosted everyone at a huge rental in the Orlando area. We had plenty of space for our 15 person-strong group (9 adults and 6 kids now), and the weather cooperated (highs in the 80s). This allowed us to enjoy the heated pool and hot tub everyday (even me)! Henry shared a room with one of the sisters (on rotation) and got his wish for a roommate.


We went to the small Legoland (Disney Springs) and the big Legoland in Winter Haven, where he lived his best life. He keeps talking about it because building things and riding fast rides are his jam. I didn’t really care about Legoland but could definitely see why little kids love it…Henry could do almost everything as a 3 year old.



We returned to the Alifia River for a boating party (thanks Dan Jr.) where people did some back porch relaxing and riding on SUPs, in addition to the main boat ride down the river. It’s really a perfect place, and I’m so happy our family shared it with our friends.


My favorite part, like always, was simply hanging out with everyone, catching up on our unique experiences of being clergy families, and the hugs. Because I love these people and once a year is not enough time but we make it work.

Milwaukee Vacation, Part 2

We headed north to Milwaukee in the fall to attend Keith’s cousin Katie’s wedding to her love, Matt. We woke up Henry from his afternoon nap to rush over to the ceremony at the Three Holy Women Catholic Parish. We walked in with a crying and cranky Hen and sleeping Elliot just as the mother of the bride was being escorted down the aisle. Keith walked around the back of the church to calm Henry, and then Elliot awoke, wanting to nurse. So I headed to the back of the building, too. Needless to say, we were distracted during the ceremony, but the parts we saw were beautiful. Everyone in the place was so happy for the couple, and it showed. 



We piled in our cars to head for the reception at the Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery, chosen in part because Katie and Matt are big beer drinkers and Matt works at the the Lakefront Brewery. It was a cool building with stained glass windows and cells in the basement. The cells made for a quiet place to nurse away from the party. Henry danced up a storm at the reception with everyone – he definitely has some signature moves! Keith and I alternately wore Elliot so he could sleep while we ate, drank, and danced. It was one of our favorite wedding receptions ever, but the best part was hanging out with extended family who rarely have the opportunity to all get together in one place (because there’s so many of them)! Milwaukee and the Meister-Krajnaks, we love you!


Milwaukee Vacation, Part 1


Back in October we took our first plane ride as a family of four up to Milwaukee to attend Keith’s cousin, Katie’s wedding. Making a mini vacation out of it, we hung out in downtown Milwaukee for a few days with our extended family, exploring “the good land” and eating and drinking our way through the town.

We’re members of MOSI in Tampa and one of its benefits is reciprocity with other science museums all over the country, including Discovery World. Located on Lake Michigan, this museum is amazing. One building houses an aquarium filled with fun and informational exhibits about the Lake Michigan watershed, and a second building focuses on science and technology exhibits including hands-on music (Les Paul) and physics areas.


Keith and I loved the aquarium, which Henry wanted to blow through, of course. Henry liked racing cars using air pressure, and Brent humored us by joining our adventure (I’m not sure what he liked the best). Henry keeps asking when we are going back, it was that awesome.


We also toured the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan by boat, which was fantastic. Our guide gave a synopsis on the history of Milwaukee and its buildings along the river and lake, and local beer was available for purchase. Henry performed an impromptu dance, and we all loved spending additional time with the newly married couple and extended family – Miller and Meister cousins reunited!


Luckily, we happened to be in town on a Sunday when our friend, Alexis, was preaching at Lake Park Lutheran Church, so we drove up for worship with her and her congregation. We spent time on two different days with her; it was totally bonus donuts on top of an already wonderful trip. 


Finally, we ate at several delicious restaurants (Milwaukee Brat House, Colectivo Coffee, Stubby’s, and Cafe Benelux were favorites) – lots of beer, cheese, and sausage consumed by all. At one meal, Henry ate bacon, sausage, and chicken tenders – he was in food heaven. We visited the Public Market and picked up yummy cheeses to bring a bit of Milwaukee home with us – I wish we had cheese curds here; I could eat them every day!