HELLO Fall

Finally. It’s not 98 degrees outside and the kids are getting excited about Halloween coming up around the corner.

Time to say Bye! to summer.

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Night fishing capped off our last summer trip to the lake.

Night fishing capped off our last summer trip to the lake.

Michael played in his first Drive, Chip, Putt competition and he’s just signed up for a fall Jr. PGA league. He’s officially caught the golf bug.

Michael played in his first Drive, Chip, Putt competition and he’s just signed up for a fall Jr. PGA league. He’s officially caught the golf bug.

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The first day of school came out of nowhere. Second grade for this one.

The first day of school came out of nowhere. Second grade for this one.

Eighth grade for this one. The real smile took a little prodding…

Eighth grade for this one. The real smile took a little prodding…

And fifth grade for this one.

And fifth grade for this one.

I couldn’t get one decent photo of all three together so…

I couldn’t get one decent photo of all three together so…

Labor Day was our last chance to enjoy the lake.

Labor Day was our last chance to enjoy the lake.

The big kids cleaned out the canoe and took off on a clean-up expedition along the shore.

The big kids cleaned out the canoe and took off on a clean-up expedition along the shore.

Our final sunset cruise!

Our final sunset cruise!

Hank was tiiiiiired. Too much lake fun.

Hank was tiiiiiired. Too much lake fun.

She was saying something like, “Oh Mom, STAHP it already with your camera.”

She was saying something like, “Oh Mom, STAHP it already with your camera.”

Gigi and Poppa came in town over my birthday weekend and we took a drive down to Fossil Rim in Glen Rose, Texas.  I got a T-shirt. (Not pictured.)

Gigi and Poppa came in town over my birthday weekend and we took a drive down to Fossil Rim in Glen Rose, Texas.

I got a T-shirt. (Not pictured.)

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Brisket was a little jealous that everyone was paying more attention to photo albums than to him so he pinned Wes down to remind him who’s the boss.

Brisket was a little jealous that everyone was paying more attention to photo albums than to him so he pinned Wes down to remind him who’s the boss.

For Michael’s 11th birthday, he wanted to go to Top Golf which made everyone happy.

For Michael’s 11th birthday, he wanted to go to Top Golf which made everyone happy.

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Aside from being a little embarrassed by how his little brother swings a club, Michael had a great time.

Aside from being a little embarrassed by how his little brother swings a club, Michael had a great time.

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It’s Year 3 for the Candy Cake.

It’s Year 3 for the Candy Cake.

There’s Brisket again, making sure everyone knows he’s Top Dog.

There’s Brisket again, making sure everyone knows he’s Top Dog.

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In a couple of weeks, we’re heading to Austin to see an F-1 practice day and catch an Imagine Dragons concert. It was hard to tell if Michael was more excited about the weekend trip or the Purple pillow he wanted so badly.

In a couple of weeks, we’re heading to Austin to see an F-1 practice day and catch an Imagine Dragons concert. It was hard to tell if Michael was more excited about the weekend trip or the Purple pillow he wanted so badly.

The U14 Rockets are back at it for the fall season, playing other U14 teams as well as U15 and U16. The beginning of the season was rough but they are really hitting their stride the last couple of games. Love to watch them play!

The U14 Rockets are back at it for the fall season, playing other U14 teams as well as U15 and U16. The beginning of the season was rough but they are really hitting their stride the last couple of games. Love to watch them play!

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Henry now envisions a future as a basketball star.

Henry now envisions a future as a basketball star.

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We have very high hopes for his eventual career.

We have very high hopes for his eventual career.

It was a 97-degree day in October, but we enjoyed the chance to watch #4 round the bases for the Grapevine team.

It was a 97-degree day in October, but we enjoyed the chance to watch #4 round the bases for the Grapevine team.

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Rocket's First Birthday

Last November, Rocket finished his 70th trip around the sun, which is something pretty wonderful to celebrate. However, back then, he was deep into the middle miles of his journey back to health after his bone marrow transplant and wasn’t up for a lot of hoopla. So we put some candles in an apple pie for him on Thanksgiving Day and kept the fuss to a minimum.

Eight months have passed and those rough middle miles have smoothed out in incredible ways. As of the one-year anniversary of his transplant, he has been declared cancer-free! He feels better than he has in years and the classic car resale economy is happily on the rebound after his time out of the game.

In the transplant world, anniversaries are celebrated as new birthdays, not only for the recipient but also in appreciation for the donors who make medical miracles like this possible and the tireless, compassionate medical professionals who fight alongside their patients.

Naturally, we used this as an excuse to throw a 1st birthday party that would be a little unlike other 1st birthday parties. There would be live music! And no whining or crying! No diapers to change, naps to schedule around (well….), and no one would smear cake in their hair. With just a little arm-pulling, Dad was on board and we got to work lining things up.

Credit to Molly for the fun invitations!

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We invited everyone to Hart Hall on Main in downtown Coppell, which is a great little venue you can rent through Beyond the Box Catering, a company I will definitely call again if I ever have another need for catering.

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With some help from Aunt Molly on the ‘cigar wrappers,’ Ella baked and decorated chocolate cupcakes for the birthday boy. She was a little over-protective of them on the ride over to the venue, but I think she purposely let one roll onto it’s side so she’d have to eat it instead of putting it on display…

In Your Face Cakes came through with an outstanding three-tiered cake that tasted even better than it looked. I mean, usually a cake looks great or tastes great, but not both.

This one was both.

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And I’m not sure when I grew to be bigger than my brother, but here you go. Photos don’t lie, LOL.

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One downside to a cake that’s not propped up with Styrofoam and 2 inch-thick fondant is that it will wilt a little in 100-degree heat. We noticed it was taking a slow dive to the left and decided it was time for candles. Quick!

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Really, I did a terrible job of taking photos. By the time I picked up my camera again, the majority of the party-goers had said good night and driven off with full bellies.

Lucky for those of us who lingered after the sun set, the breeze kept up and we all hung out comfortably on the patio.

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I’d say we lucked out finding Luqman Rashada to play for us. It was a last-minute booking but he really came through — adjusted his playlist to Rocket’s tastes, learned a couple of new songs for him and generally pleased the whole crowd. If it hadn’t been so dang hot that day, I think more of us would have hung outside with him for the whole party but, well, it’s July in Texas!

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On August 1, these two lovebirds will celebrate 49 years of marriage.

(Sounds to me like we have an excuse for another party next summer.)

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The words ‘thank you’ don’t feel big enough to convey our appreciation for all of the love, laughs and kindness everyone has thrown our way over the past many months. Our prayers for Rocket have been answered and we will do our best to hold on to this gratitude.

xoxoxo, Annie

12 Days, 39 Feet of Fabulous RV, and 2,100 Miles of America's Southwest*

*Not Pictured: 27 gift shops and 284 souvenirs collected.

First, I’d like to thank Presidents Roosevelt and Hoover and the combined talents of Trent Reznor, Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus for making this trip possible. The former for having the foresight to save so much our of country’s land as National Parks and the latter for contributing to the hit song Old Town Road, which entertained Henry, literally for hours, while he watched the scenery go by on our trip. He’s also into The Devil Went Down to Georgia which helped break things up.

“There is nothing so American as our national parks. The scenery and the wildlife are native. The fundamental idea behind the parks is native. It is, in brief, that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us. The parks stand as the outward symbol of the great human principle.”

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Below is a sort of/kind of map of the route we took. I would update it based on our actual stops but a membership to Roadtrippers now costs $29.99 and we spent the last of our money on gas, arrowhead necklaces and bags of Sour Patch Kids.

Substitute Albuquerque for Santa Fe, add a stop at White Sands National Monument before Carlsbad Caverns, and squint your eyes a little. That’s pretty dang close.

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We picked up Big Betsy on a Saturday and immediately things started to go wrong. It took Wes a full hour to level the RV on our slanted street, we couldn’t get enough power to run the AC from our house, the kids unfolded one of the banquet seats and we couldn’t get it back into the upright position, and the two largest storage drawers wouldn’t latch shut (not a problem when parked; a very annoying problem when rolling down the highway).

We figured, this is good!

We’re getting the “well something has to go wrong” part of the trip out of the way and we hadn’t even left home. So we spent the rest of the afternoon unloading all of the stuff from the RV that qualified it as “fully stocked” (we probably paid extra for all of it) and then loading in our own stuff. In went a week’s worth of groceries, bedding for five, flashlights, bug spray, maps, 18 device chargers, and hopefully enough clothing to last all of us until our first laundry stop which was seven days away.

DAY ONE

Sunday morning was Father’s Day. It was also the final day of the US Open. Wes earned some major brownie points as we pulled out of the neighborhood, headed for Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle. Waze said it was 360 miles away so we were figuring on a relaxing 6-7 hour drive. It was time to put the 20 minutes of drive training he received the day before to the test.

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The kids were immediately big fans. No seat belts! Go potty whenever you want! Full access to an entire pantry of snacks whenever you want them!

I figured out how to make ham sandwich lunches while the mayo bounced around on the countertop and the plates slid around without warning. Henry found the best spot for a nap was on the floor right behind the driver’s seat and not on one of the three available beds or the cushy couch. The freezer drawer had no latch and flew open every time we took a right turn (“Freezer turn!” became their cue to either brace their feet against it or slam it shut for us), Wes started making friends with other truck drivers on the road, and we eventually pulled into our first stop.

The only things we officially forgot to pack were the boys’ toothbrushes. I’m calling that a success.

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Leveling Big Betsy and hooking her up to water and power for the first time went marginally more smoothly than the day before. The views from the Sagebrush Campsite were gorgeous and none of our new neighbors looked too suspect.

We were officially "roughing it.”

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Right after entering the park, we made a stop at the visitor’s center and took in a great view of the canyon. It was carved by the Red River and, we’re told, it’s the largest canyon in the States outside of the Grand Canyon.

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While Wes dealt with Big Betsy, the kids and I went out to find how we would walk from the campsite to the Pioneer Amphitheater, where we had tickets to see TEXAS the Musical later that night. With time to burn, we decided to check out the Pioneer Nature Trail, too. The map I had promised it was only 1/2-mile long and suitable for beginners. That’s us.

The bugs were plentiful but we saw wildlife tracks, wild watermelon vines and some beautiful wildflowers on the floor of the canyon.

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If you run, the bugs can’t get you.

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After our “hike,” we walked to the amphitheater where you can buy tickets to a chuck wagon dinner before the show. The online reviews were mixed which probably brought my expectations down a bit, but honestly, it was pretty good.

Michael approved, anyway.

Photography is not allowed during the show itself but I snapped a quick one of the stage as everyone was finding their seats.

The backdrop was impressive! The show, sadly, was not. Maybe it was because we’d had a long day, but by intermission, we weren’t interested in waiting it out another hour+ in order to see the fireworks show at the end. We found our flashlights and started the walk back to Sagebrush. For once, it didn’t take long to get the kids to bed.

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DAY TWO

We packed up Big Betsy and rolled her about a mile down the road to Old West Stables which thankfully had a large parking lot.

We’re already pretty neat people at home but living all together in such a small space dialed up our collective OCD to a whole new level. Not making our bed or leaving a pair of shoes on the floor was suddenly a major offense. It didn’t take long to whip our morning pick-up/pack-up routine into something quick. There were horses to go see!

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Disclaimer: Photos on this post will often be a little out of order so that I could include iPhone shots. :)

For months, I had been working on Henry, talking up our trail ride, showing him photos of the (kind, gentle) horses and how safe everything would be. Eventually his “Heck no!” comments turned around and he was tentatively excited about the chance to ride a horse.

Unfortunately, the when the moment arrived for him to sit on top of the actual horse, he changed his mind and would have nothing to do with Dusty the 22-year old Palomino who literally looked like he couldn’t hurt a fly. Wes took one for the team and gave up his spot to take Henry back to the RV while the big kids and I hit the trail.

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Once again, the bugs were fierce! Like, bite-you-through-your-jeans fierce. But the views more than made up for the annoyance. The butte on the right is called Sad Monkey Face Rock which we we all thought was funny.

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Leaving Palo Duro State Park, we drove through Amarillo and made a stop at Cadillac Ranch.

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It was…interesting. Walking around, it felt like we were visiting something between a junkyard and a toxic waste dump, where you needed to watch your step or risk losing a shoe in the mud or rolling an ankle, slipping on a discarded spray paint can. But the kids loved it. Wes and I were hoarse from constantly “redirecting” the kids while they ran around spraying the cars, and then the dirt, until their cans ran out.

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Back on the road, with the environmental disaster behind us, we spent the afternoon driving to Taos, New Mexico.

The trip was young. But y’all…at night, the boys were sleeping in bunk beds that had doors which closed them in. While we were on the road, they would hang out in there, shoes off, and listen to audio books, watch movies or play games.

It was about this point in the trip when I opened one of the doors to let the kids know lunch was ready and I was completely knocked on my butt from the overwhelming boy stench. We tried airing it out. We tried stuffing dryer sheets in every corner. We begged the boys to wear socks with their shoes each day. But it was a struggle we never quite conquered. After a few more days, I was resigned to leave the doors shut and let the boys stew in their own smell. They didn’t seem to mind. Why did I?

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The legs of our trip on the way to Taos and through Mesa Verde, Colorado had the most gorgeous scenery. When not glued to a screen, the kids were glued to the windows. Sometimes both at the same time.

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One of the great RV mysteries for newbies: How often do you have to dump your gray and black water? Answer, if you’ve got a family of five? Every dang day. And make sure to dump the black water first. And pack disposable gloves. And don’t watch RV, featuring Robin Williams, right before your first trip no matter how many people recommend it to you.

DAY THREE

Each of the kiddos found a special connection in Taos. For starters, our RV site was named “Henry,” where we had a lazy morning with pancakes, eggs and berries.

And for our first lunch, our taxi driver sent us to Michael’s Kitchen.

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After lunch, we walked downtown to meet Anita with Turquoise Tours for a three-hour driving tour of Taos highlights.

First stop: Taos Pueblo.

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The Puebloan people now live in homes on the reservation surrounding this UNESCO site, but it comes alive during the day as the dwellings have been converted into artisan shops which help support the community.

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We joined a short guided tour and learned a lot about the sacredness of the location and how the people lived and thrived in this valley for centuries. Our guide was born and raised on this land and was a wonderful storyteller. One story, in particular, stuck with me.

In retaliation against the typically peaceful Puebloan people for their part in the bloody Taos Revolt in 1847 during the Mexican-American War, their church was destroyed by canon fire. At the time, it was filled with their people — who practice both their Ancient faith and Catholicism — seeking sanctuary. Legend says a young girl, maybe 8 or 9 years old, carried a statue of Madonna out of the church before succumbing to her injuries. The place where she died is where they built their new church, pictured a few photos above, where the Madonna is currently displayed over the altar.

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I brought home a silver cuff made by this man, Art Lujuan, who also goes by the name Beautiful Aspen. He was kind enough to let me take his photo and spent time explaining the significance of all of the symbols on the bracelet.

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From the Pueblo, we went to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. The kids and I enjoyed our 1/4-mile stroll with sweeping views of the gorge. Wes, who has a slight fear of heights and is likely just smarter than the rest of us, did not.

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Our third and final stop was to see the Earthships, which are the brainchild of architect Michael Reynolds. Built largely out of recycled materials and fully self-sufficient in terms of energy and providing basic needs like water, it was pretty fascinating to see these homes.

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Anita dropped us off at Enterprise for Attempt #2 at picking up a car (they can take a reservation…they just can’t hold a reservation) and we wandered back to the old part of town for dinner at Doc Martin’s at the Taos Inn.

No, not that Dr. Marten or that Doc Martin. This Doc Martin.

After dinner, we met up with our guide for a ghost tour of the old town. Wes’ face in the photo above pretty much sums up our initial impression of her, long gray duster and all. She was straight out of central casting.

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In Taos, if it’s not Open, it’s Shut.

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We finished up our (hilarious, campy) ghost tour near the historic Hotel La Fonda and called it a night.

DAY FOUR

For this leg, we drove both the RV and the rental car to Mesa Verde, Colorado. If I hadn’t been behind the wheel, I would have been hanging out of a window with my camera the entire drive. On the way, I saw signs for Chimney Rock and Wes agreed to make an unscheduled stop. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to tour the site but there is major construction happening around this monument and good things are coming in 2022.

Next time.

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The iPhone photos below were all taken around this time in our trip.

Henry discovered the RV’s (ridiculous) fireplace actually put out a little heat; Ella found her personal connection to Taos; the kids cuddled up together in the back of the rental car and enjoyed killing some time at the Mesa Verde RV park pool. Henry’s super power to make instant friends at any public pool or playground came in handy.

I also got busted by Wes for taking one photo while driving the rental car (everything was so dang pretty!!!) and by the morning of Day Five, we were winding our way up to Balcony House where we were scheduled for a 9:30 a.m. park ranger tour of the famous cliff dwellings.

Also not pictured: a couple of epic movie nights in the rig. We introduced the kids to both Napoleon Dynamite and Titanic on this trip. It’s a toss up to say which was the bigger hit.

By this time, a few more things had broken on Big Betsy. Two of the foot locker drawers no longer latched which led to a lot of ankle bruises; an after-market steering assist stabilizer bar (say that five times fast) came unhinged and had to be unbolted from the front axle; and a small crack was slowly crawling the full length of the front windshield.

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On the far left below is Eagle Nest Lake near Cimarron, New Mexico. Mental bookmark, we should come back to this place.

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DAY FIVE

On the winding, climbing road through Mesa Verde National Park we stopped at a few scenic overlooks.

Hearing Ella freak out inside of a park bathroom that had no flushing toilets or running water was worth the cost of admission for the day. This photo was taken before that very traumatic experience.

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Following the advice of Wise Internet People, I went to book tickets for a ranger-guided tour of Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings the night before our visit. We only had the morning to spend at the park and we were left with one option, despite my pre-planning: Tour Balcony House at 9:30 which requires the most strenuous climb to reach the dwellings.

I decided to buy the tickets and keep the details to myself.

On the way to Balcony House, we stopped to catch a view of Cliff Palace.

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This stop was the most highly anticipated by the kids. It was incredible to imagine the Ancient Puebloans who found a way to survive in these cliffs. They farmed on the tops of the mesas, and built their homes inside natural caves caused by seep springs that eat away at the rock.

After living through the most laborious talk on safety and respect we’ve ever heard, we climbed down into the canyon and gathered at the bottom of a 32-foot wooden ladder. Where we got to hear the safety and respect talk reprise. :) Now, I’m not too proud to admit it, after Henry totally backed out on the horse riding adventure, I made a plan to bribe the heck out of our cautious kid to climb this ladder.

$20 to spend at the gift shop and a Roblox account saved the day.

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Here’s Ella, just chillin’ in an ancient dwelling built into the side of a sandstone cliff.

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The large round structures are kivas, which archeologists say were used for everything from cooking to political meetings to housing the sipapu, which represented their place of emergence from the underworld.

So, pretty multi-functional.

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As far as I can tell, the Ancient Puebloans were incredible parents. How did they keep their children from falling off the face of the cliff as soon as they learned to crawl? We struggled and we were only there for 20 minutes max. It might have been longer, and we might have learned a little more about this civilization, but our ranger was a little long-winded on the front end with the Welcome schpeel. Luck of the draw!

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From Mesa Verde, we headed Southwest to Williams, Arizona, driving through the Canyons of the Ancients along the way.

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…STILL DAY FIVE…

Our original plan was to stop at the Petrified Forest National Park on the way. As it turns out, the Painted Desert is slightly closer to Highway I-40 and we were looking to shave a few minutes off of our route. We did check out some petrified wood in the souvenir shop so we didn’t feel like complete failures.

After buying some wood rocks, we saw Painted Desert Inn which was one of the original highlights along historic Route 66.

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And then we got to see the actual Painted Desert which was a lot more colorful in real life than this photo. (Still true even if they all say that.)

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The rest of Day Five went a little downhill. I-40 was shut down for about 40 miles around Flagstaff so we added an hour and a half of driving to an already very long day. But we made it. And there was a brewery across the street from the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and RV Park. While the wait was 30 minutes for a table at 8 p.m., they had an indoor pond where the kids could make wishes and a shuffle board table.

DAY SIX

Grand Canyon Day! Three of us were happy to smile for a couple of photos before boarding the 100-year old train from Williams, Arizona to the South Rim.

One was not. It was a theme for the day, actually.

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On the way to there, we splurged for seats in the domed car where you can see panoramic views of the very exciting pine trees and cattle ranches. They also have singing cowboys. We were such fans of D.B. Rouse we bought his $5 demo CD so we could listen to his original tune, Pug with Opposable Thumbs, whenever we like.

All kidding aside, our first views of the canyon were breathtaking as promised.

Henry still wasn’t interested in having his photo taken, but he came around a little later in the afternoon.

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“The really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplating your own greatness is pathological. At such moments we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves.”

— John Piper

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With three hours to spend before our return train ride, we decided to hike a portion of the Bright Angel Trail.

Of course, what goes down…

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…comes back out of the canyon a sweaty, thirsty, elated mess.

And then we headed to the Hopi House which I thoroughly enjoyed.

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DAY SEVEN

We planned a lazy day in Williams. Grocery, laundry and just generally laying low. We also ended up dealing with some more RV problems…the hot water heater went competely kaput, along with the master bedroom toilet.

So we called the owners who called around and sent Rex the RV Repairman to see us. He had a big truck full of stuff, but not the relay switch the hot water heater needed.

Good news: He set us up with a temporary solution that would last until we got home.

Bad news: Rex had earned his points and had no interest in fixing the toilet.

More bad news: Rex’s temporary fix lasted long enough for Ella to take a brief hot shower and then water began spewing out the side of Big Betsy.

So we called the owners who called around again. Rex could return in the morning. And Danny the Other RV Repairman came to look at the toilet. Which he couldn’t repair. But he promised to come back the next day to try again and, on his way out, declared there was no way Rex could fix the hot water.

Thanks for the attitude, Danny.

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DAY EIGHT

We reworked our schedule and Rex came and (hooray!) fixed the hot water for good. Before he left, he declared there was no way Danny could fix the toilet. These guys were a hoot.

While there was no help for Wes being tied to the RV waiting on repairs, I could see the future and trying to entertain three kids in a parking lot for a full day was not going to work. So I found a taxi driver that could drive me to Flagstaff where I rented another car.

Thirty-five minutes and $132 later, I was delivered to Enterprise where a 24-hour rental cost me less than $60. Whatever, it was worth it.

The kids and I planned a Wildlife Day. First up: Bearizona, where we drove through several large animal exhibits, saw a Birds of Prey show and finished with the petting zoo.

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Henry wasn’t feeling like taking a photo on the way into the walk-through zoo part of the park, but he wanted a do-over on the way out.

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Genius idea: After the Birds of Prey show, you could line up to feed money to a Raven, who collected donations for the park.

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Just one wildlife experience wouldn’t do! So we also stopped by the Grand Canyon Deer Farm eight miles up the road. It was crazy! The kids got to hand feed literally dozens of deer and see lots of other animals along the way.

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Ella smooched Gracie the camel!

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In the end, Danny never showed and Wes missed the Deer Farm for nothign. We are not fans of Danny.

But Rex assured us there was a fairly good chance the second toilet would hold out for the second half of our trip so the next morning, we crossed our fingers and hit the road to Albuquerque.

DAY NINE

Reassuringly, the RV’s generator started to cut out randomly while we were on the road through a portion of country highway with zero cell service. No problem. We could pull over, take the cover off the generator and manually restart it. Problem solved! (Sometimes for 15 minutes, sometimes for an hour. It added to the travel excitement.)

Some people might wonder…why Albuquerque? We’re not totally sure. But we’re big fans of Breaking Bad and our original plans including taking the tram to the top of Sandia Peak. With our delays in Williams, we didn’t have time for that but we did hop on a trolley tour of the city.

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Breaking Bad Pop Quiz Question: Who’s house is this?

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Better Call Saul Pop Quiz Question: Who’s house is this?

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The motel and the Simms Building pictured below were also popular film locations for Breaking Bad.

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The rest of our trolley tour wasn’t much to write home about but we did get to see some more of historic Route 66 and we had the best dinner of our entire trip at High Noon Restaurant and Saloon in Old Town.

It was about this time that we went to leave the RV during a gas stop and the exterior stairs suddenly stopped working. We weren’t surprised. The kids found it entertaining to jump the three feet in and out of the RV all day long and Wes and I just added it to the list of reasons we were grateful we didn’t own Big Betsy.

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DAY TEN

Detour! On our way to Carlsbad Caverns, we worked in a stop to White Sands National Monument.

Wow. If you made me pick, this was my favorite stop on our trip. The sand is powdered white gypsum, the dunes rising out of seemingly nowhere as you drive down the highway through the Tularosa Basin. Because the gypsum is good at holding what little water falls in this area, the dunes don’t completely blow away and some plant life is able to put down roots.

Walking around here felt like showing up to school still dressed in your pajamas. You were at the beach but something important was wrong…you couldn’t quite put your finger on the missing ocean waves. Were you in a dream?

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For a cool $16 a piece you can buy plastic saucers in the gift shop and then slide down the dunes. Bonus, the next time we get a big snow in Texas, we’re all set.

Pro Tip: Going down is super fun. But save some energy for the climb back to the top.

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After slip-sliding the afternoon away, we drove to Carlsbad where all of the flies live. We made dinner while the boys played GaGa ball with some new RV park friends. Then we hit the KOA Gettin’ Store for some s’mores supplies and had some post-shower chill time by the fire pit.

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DAY ELEVEN

Carlsbad Caverns! We left one of the best stops for last. Of course, we underestimated the time it would take to get from the KOA to the park itself — note for next time, 36 winding miles in an RV will take always take a full hour — and we nearly missed getting to join our ranger-guided tour of King’s Palace and a few other caves which aren’t open to the public. Thankfully, Henry helped us charm our way in and the sights were spectacular.

Our ranger guide, Aubrey, was pretty awesome. She told elaborate stories that likened the formations in the caves to historical places and legendary characters, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Native American stories. She really entertained the kids and wove in a bit of local history along the way. Michael’s favorite part was when she turned off all of the lights in the Queen’s Room, leaving us to appreciate the cave in absolute darkness. Henry had a different opinion of that part.

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The formation below on the right is called the Bashful Elephant. Do you see it?

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Visiting here was truly like being in another world. We won’t forget it.

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We also won’t forget the climb back out of the caverns. When our tour ended, we had the choice to hang a right (toward the elevator we took down originally) or take a left. Without much thought, we followed the kids to the left. They thought a little climb sounded better than an elevator ride.

As it turns out, it was a 1.25-mile climb with an elevation change equal to 84 stories. About 1/3rd of the way up, my back started to spasm, like it tends to do at the worst times, and Wes and the kids were pretty far ahead of me. It was during one of my ‘old lady’ rests that I figured out we were heading away from the main attraction — the Big Room — and there was no way I was going to catch up to stop everyone.

So I got to take a more leisurely walk, snapping photos along the way, and we saw the Bat Cave near the natural entrance which I thought we were going to have to miss. Of course, thousands and thousands of bats = thousands and thousands of bat guano droppings but if you hold your nose and keep on walking, it’s really cool.

And now we have a reason to return some day. I’d make a second trip in a heartbeat.

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Leaving Carlsbad Caverns, we decided to split up the drive home with a rest stop in Abilene.

Happily on DAY TWELVE, we were home by lunchtime, spent a couple of hours unloading and cleaning out the RV and returned it to it’s owners a day early. Handing over the keys of that maintenance nightmare was a real highlight.

Sitting at dinner at Pappadeaux’s that night, Wes and I toasted each other, giddy that we made it.

Because this post hasn’t included enough photos, here are just a few more that I don’t want to forget, years from now, when I’m re-reading and remembering this incredible trip.

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I’m already noodling on the next adventure. It’s going to involve some National Parks up north…Yosemite, Grand Teton, Glacier, Crater Lake…Wes needs a little more time to recuperate from all of that driving and get excited with me, but I know it won’t take long.

March April May

So in March, I took a grand total of 3 photos.

April, I didn’t do much better. 53.

But I stepped it up in May with 283! The good news for everyone who feels obligated to read these posts is that this one will be pretty short for a three-month round up. The bad news is that we’re hitting the road for a two-week family trip in June so I’ll make up for this one with an embarrassingly long one in early July. :)

This incredible team is reason No. 1 there are hardly any photos in March. We are too busy putting on the Greatest Hardware Show on Earth to mess around. #bestworkfamilyever

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After the show, Wes and I took off to Deer Valley for a long weekend. We celebrated 16 years of marriage with lots of spills on the bunny slope (for me) and checking out every art and gift shop in Park City (for Wes…just kidding, that was for me, too.)

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Henry finished up what might be his last baseball season. He’s excited to try basketball in the fall.

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And Ella was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society.

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About the same time, Ella earned a spot on her middle school soccer team. They finished the season undefeated as Zone and District champs. #gowolves

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The night before Easter Sunday, we lost power for several hours and ended up dying Easter eggs by candlelight. This might become a new tradition.

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Easter morning, the power was back on and we headed to the Farm.

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Ella hosted her Bible study group and led the night’s discussion with one of her friends.

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She also kicked some butt on the soccer field with her rec team.

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Henry let me tag along on his 1st grade field trip to Fort Worth’s Museum of Science and Nature.

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And we took the kids to a Rangers game before the triple-digit heat sets in.

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With fingers crossed, Rocket asked for and got permission from his transplant doctor to take a short flight from DFW to Fort Wayne to see our family up north.

Here’s Nana, looking tickled that I wanted to take her photo in some pretty light.

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We made a stop to visit Grammer and Gramper, aka Bob and Bea.

I wish our kids had the chance to know them. The anchor pants, the Ruby Red nail polish in the door of the fridge, endless cantaloupe, and a half-stick of gum whenever we wanted some. They let us build haunted houses in their basement and carve animals out of bars of soap on their front stoop. Ella got to hear a lot of stories about our summer trips to Indiana when Matt, Molly and I were kids. Lucky girl.

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George Washington Slept Here. ;)

It was so wonderful to see Granny, aka Ella Lue, for the weekend. Her sharp wit is still turned up to 11, she doesn’t suffer fools, and she isn’t afraid to share her opinions (which are always spot-on). She also kicked my and Aunt Jan’s tails at Euchre, closing out the second game with a 5-trick loner.

It was really good to see these two together again.

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Mmm, breaded pork tenderloin sammiches.

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Nana might be second-guessing making a quick stop to her favorite yarn store in Ft. Wayne. (I know I am, ha!)

Ella fell in love with a heavy-weight 100% Alpaca yarn and, before we knew it, I was buying 16 skeins and Nana was signed up to knit a full-sized blanket. I told Ella she’s going to have to share it with me.

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One thing I miss dearly in Texas, dogwood trees.

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Ella made fast friends with Libby.

Memorial Day weekend, we headed to Possum Kingdom. We’ve been going there for, what, eight years now? I have never seen the wildflowers in bloom like they were after all of the heavy rains we’ve had this spring.

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Ella brought a friend for the weekend and we let the kids try out our new tube.

They did not follow the rules.

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And then Kate graduated from high school. And we all cried a little.

She heads to TCU’s Nursing School in the fall. Maybe she can get us an invite to a real kegger?? It’s been too long. (Just kidding, Matt!)

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Last weekend in May! We headed to Atlanta/Athens to see our much-missed Georgia family and to celebrate Poppa and Gigi’s 50th wedding anniversary.

We are in awe of this milestone. 50 years of being lovingly committed, building a life together and sharing that love with their own children and grandchildren. We are blessed to have such strong role models and hope to celebrate our own 50th anniversary one day.

(2053 is just around the corner, Wes, when you think about it! xoxo)

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The luncheon was a big surprise for Gigi.

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Jen-Jen was extremely well supervised for the weekend. I kept joking that her feet never hit the ground the whole time her cousins were around.

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The bride and groom were good sports and reenacted their wedding photo for us!

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After lunch, we took the kids on a short walk around North Campus and downtown. Here they are, standing right where Wes asked me to be Abby’s real mom 17 years ago.

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Summer is officially here, the kids are out of school and we’re going to do our best to squeeze in lots of family time while we can. Prayers welcome that the kids don’t come to blows before school starts up again! ;)

Hello 40! in St. Lucia

Our group of friends decided a few years ago that if you’re going to have to turn 40, you should celebrate that milestone surrounded by ocean air, cold cocktails and people you love who share your delusion that you’re still college-aged. And thanks to the extreme Type-A personalities among our crew, we put this plan in place a long time ago, giving us the ability to find the time and gather the resources (and bribe the husbands and children) to make it happen.

Side Note: If you’re in the market for a travel agent, we can’t recommend Ansley Bentley with ProTravel International enough. Her recommendations were spot-on, she was super organized, very responsive and got us great deals. As much as I love travel planning, I think I might be a convert to working with a professional.

When I count my blessings, these ladies — and the other rare gems who round out our group but couldn’t make the trip this time! — are always on the list. Life is so much sweeter when you can share it with people who forgive all of your faults, laugh at your jokes, and give you honest advice when you need it most but still swear they hardly notice the gray in your hair.

I’d love to start this post at the beginning of the trip, but Delta left me stranded for a day in Atlanta. Whoopsies.

Picture me with a sad face, watching our plane pull away after racing over from my delayed connecting flight.

Plan B came together pretty quickly, though! There were no other options for getting to St. Lucia on Wednesday so I asked for someone find my bag in the bowels of Hartsfield and the Velmers graciously took me in for the night.

Well, the Velmer boys took me in. Micki was safely aboard the plane, texting instructions on where to find the good wine. Lord bless her.

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All in all, not a bad day! After all of our years of frequenting Brick Store Pub, I finally got to sit at the bar like a real grown up and I got to hang out with these two cuties with their matching smiles and matching jammies.

Meanwhile, the girls sent me photos and videos from Cap Maison.

It looked really awful.

I couldn’t wait to get there.

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Thursday brought Take 2!

Delta got me to the island and the hotel sent a race car driver to take me the 90-minute route to the hotel. I made it with enough time to drop my bags, change into a dress and we were off to the sunset cruise which was included with our booking.

That’s Captain Bebe at the helm.

That’s Captain Bebe at the helm.

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Friday morning, Kristen, Ash and Amy took off in a rented car for the other side of the island to hike Gros Piton while Micki, Viv and I headed for the beach.

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First morning for me = much relaxing and very little documenting. We had lunch at The Naked Fisherman right on the beach and generally had a very lazy day.

After enjoying some cocktails at lunch, Vivian and I thought it would be a great idea to try paddle boarding in the ocean. Which was hilarious. And not like paddle boarding in a lake whatsoever.

We entertained everyone on the beach with our frequent spills into the salt water but we avoided major injury on the rocks just below the surface and eventually we got the hang of it.

Late in the afternoon, Vivian went off to join Micki at the Cap Maison spa and I went for a walk around the property with my little Fuji.

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Around dinnertime, the hikers returned! They were exhausted, stinky and absolutely beaming from ear to ear with accomplishment. From what they told us, their experience was much closer to “scaling a mountain” than “hiking a trail.”

These ladies are kicking 40’s ass.

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Feeling more rested, we beach bums signed up to take a shuttle from the hotel to a local street party. Apparently there are two towns on the island that make this a tradition every Friday night and we were excited to experience more of the local culture.

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Dinner was at Duke’s Place — a fairly small open-air building housed the bar, colorful picnic tables and lots of stray cats and dogs filled the yard, and hungry party-goers waited in line to grab whatever was hot off the charcoal grills when their turn came.

For us, it was a big filet of Marlin, rice with some sort of onion-y slurry/salsa and a couple of cold Piton lagers.

So good.

Saturday morning, it was the hikers’ turn to be lazy at the beach and we went off on a full-day excursion to Soufriere, the first town to be settled on the island in 1746, organized by the hotel.

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We started with a quick shuttle to the marina at The Landing, where we set off on a 90-minute cruise around the island to the Port of Soufriere.

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After leaving the boat, we headed through the town to the Toraille Waterfall.

Our guide for the day, Chaka, was a pro at timing our stops to avoid the large crowds of tourists coming from the bigger resorts like Sandals which was nearby.

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Cold!

Cold!

Next we headed to the Sulfur Springs.

St. Lucia is a volcanic island and warm, black, sulfur-rich water flows to these pools where you can soak, basically curing any ailment from bug bites to insanity. After a short swim, you paint yourself with white mud, decorate with black mud, pose for campy photos, then head back into the black pools to wash off.

Like Micki said, “If this place isn’t legit, how hysterical is all of this to the locals running the place?”

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After our sulfur and mud bath, we went to see the source of the springs, at the Caribbean’s only Drive-In Volcano site. Word on the street is that it used to be the only one in the world before the park rangers at Yosemite stole their idea.

It was pretty smelly, but very cool to see the bubbling pools all along the rock face. Up until about 1990, tourists could walk right up to the hot spots and cook a potato (I’m envisioning them roasting on long sticks over the insanely hot vents in the rocks like S’mores). But then a guide slipped in while jumping up and down on some rock, demonstrating that it wasn’t totally stable (Here’s Your Sign) and they built some fences and changed the rules. The guide was able to escape serious injury and works in the Soufriere marina these days.

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That mountain behind us in the photo on the right and below in the harbor shot?

That’s Gros Piton which the girls hiked. #rockstars

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After a local lunch, we headed back to the boat and cruised about halfway back where we stopped to swim and snorkel. I don’t have a lot of experience snorkeling but it was so peaceful and incredible to see the reef and all of the sea life.

I might have been the only one who felt that way, though, being the first in the water and the last one to get out.

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Sunday morning, we met for breakfast and then Amy and I went down to the beach for one last hour before showering and packing up. We squeezed in a little paddle boarding and made it to the return shuttle to the airport just in time.

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I think this little guy was sad to see us go.

I think this little guy was sad to see us go.

We spent the rest of Mother’s Day together, traveling back home to our babies and husbands, shaking off some nausea from the ride to the airport, and mentally getting back to Work and Mom mode.

But what an amazing time it was.

Here’s to many more girls’ trips in the years to come! I love you guys! xoxo

P.S. Scroll past the rest of the photos I couldn’t leave out — many not taken by me! — for our Girls’ Trip Superlative Awards.

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The Annual Girls’ Trip Superlative Awards (in alpha order)

AMY

  • Most Likely to Start a Rapping Career, Known as Lil’ Dirty Feet

  • Most Likely to Charm the Locals, Working “Y’All” Into Every Conversation

  • Biggest Champ on the Winding Drive to the Airport

ANNE

  • Most Likely to Drain Your Aperitif for You

  • Most Likely to Be Carried Away By St. Lucian Mosquitoes

  • Best Janet Jackson Wardrobe Malfunction Impersonation

ASHLEE

  • Most Likely to Recreate A Real Housewives Moment

  • Best Post-Champagne/Pre-Dinner Costume Change

  • Most Likely to Open a St. Lucian Animal Resort for Furry Friends

KRISTEN

  • Most Comfortable Bosom for Snuggles

  • Most Likely to Lead an Expedition to Mars and/or Drive a Taxi in London

  • Best Floatie Flair and All-Around Zen Mama

MICKI

  • Most Likely to Surprise Herself with Her Own Friendliness Toward Strangers

  • Best Late-Night Mac n’ Cheese Chef

  • Best Damn Wing-Woman During Travel Snafus

VIVIAN

  • Villa DJ in Chief: Reggae All Day

  • Most Improved Paddle Boarder and Over-comer of Wildlife Fears

  • Best Honesty Bar Customer (When She Has a Pen)

Jan. 'n Feb.

Hello 2019!

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So far, Ella finished up basketball season.

So far, Ella finished up basketball season.

Miss Kate turned 18.

Miss Kate turned 18.

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Michael fake-played his way through the 4th grade recorder concert.

Michael fake-played his way through the 4th grade recorder concert.

The flu hit.

The flu hit.

Ella baked.

Ella baked.

We visited the 6th Floor Museum.

We visited the 6th Floor Museum.

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Henry’s been hitting the books. We’ve got high hopes he’ll be caught up before second grade starts in August.

Henry’s been hitting the books. We’ve got high hopes he’ll be caught up before second grade starts in August.

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Kate performed in her final high school musical,  Newsies .

Kate performed in her final high school musical, Newsies.

We made cake for the winter birthday girls.

We made cake for the winter birthday girls.

And the only good sense Matt showed while teasing his wife for being older than him, was the fact he did it from a safe distance.

And the only good sense Matt showed while teasing his wife for being older than him, was the fact he did it from a safe distance.

Track and Field season kicked off with a frigidly cold meet.

Track and Field season kicked off with a frigidly cold meet.

And Brisket continues to live the good life.

And Brisket continues to live the good life.

I Was Kidnapped By Aliens?

I honestly couldn’t tell you how it happened, but it’s Christmas in a few days.

What have we been up to since Labor Day weekend?

Ella started 7th grade athletics, beginning with volleyball (her favorite non-soccer sport so far).

Ella started 7th grade athletics, beginning with volleyball (her favorite non-soccer sport so far).

Michael hit double-digits.

Michael hit double-digits.

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Henry logged another season of baseball.

Henry logged another season of baseball.

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And Ella played her first season with the Rockets.

And Ella played her first season with the Rockets.

That was September.

October brought more volleyball.

October brought more volleyball.

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And our annual pumpkin carving mess, I mean, afternoon.

And our annual pumpkin carving mess, I mean, afternoon.

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Ella the Elephant

Ella the Elephant

Plus a pretend pirate and a knight who didn’t want to wear any part of his costume except for the tunic. Based on the candy haul, the night was a success.

Plus a pretend pirate and a knight who didn’t want to wear any part of his costume except for the tunic. Based on the candy haul, the night was a success.

Next up: Henry’s birthday month.

After an 11-month wait, we hit the road for Galveston to catch our Very Merrytime Disney cruise to Cozumel. Henry was pretty excited about the McDonald’s pancakes.

After an 11-month wait, we hit the road for Galveston to catch our Very Merrytime Disney cruise to Cozumel. Henry was pretty excited about the McDonald’s pancakes.

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Checking out the Port of Galveston before we set sail.

Checking out the Port of Galveston before we set sail.

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Mmm, breakfast buffet.

Mmm, breakfast buffet.

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So many activities!! (Joke for two.) Despite the fact the kids weren’t interested in any of the Disney Clubs, we were entertained all day every day.

So many activities!! (Joke for two.) Despite the fact the kids weren’t interested in any of the Disney Clubs, we were entertained all day every day.

We made pretty good use of the Concierge Lounge and it’s juice, hot chocolate, fancy little snack plates that the kids wanted to taste but not actually eat, and all of the coffee.

We made pretty good use of the Concierge Lounge and it’s juice, hot chocolate, fancy little snack plates that the kids wanted to taste but not actually eat, and all of the coffee.

The shows! This was my favorite part of each day. Henry was on the edge of his seat for this one.

The shows! This was my favorite part of each day. Henry was on the edge of his seat for this one.

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We woke up and found we were in Cozumel.

We woke up and found we were in Cozumel.

But we had some time to kill before we were allowed to disembark.

But we had some time to kill before we were allowed to disembark.

Cue: Shuffleboard

Cue: Shuffleboard

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We made it! Swim with Dolphins Day!

We made it! Swim with Dolphins Day!

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Back to the boat.

Back to the boat.

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By the last day, Henry was happy to chill in the room with some Frosted Flakes. All of those trips to the souvenir shop to decide how to spend his allowance must have really worn him out.

By the last day, Henry was happy to chill in the room with some Frosted Flakes. All of those trips to the souvenir shop to decide how to spend his allowance must have really worn him out.

Note to self: Save $200 and skip the Disney photo pass next time around.

Note to self: Save $200 and skip the Disney photo pass next time around.

Back home, we gathered with family to celebrate Henry’s 007 birthday.

Back home, we gathered with family to celebrate Henry’s 007 birthday.

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Our nearly 13-year old has been stricken with a familiar problem. She can’t eat a s’more without taking a photo of it first.

Our nearly 13-year old has been stricken with a familiar problem. She can’t eat a s’more without taking a photo of it first.

Thanksgiving at the Farm! Where Mom has a 5-gallon bowl ready for mixing the oyster dressing.

Thanksgiving at the Farm! Where Mom has a 5-gallon bowl ready for mixing the oyster dressing.

Gigi and Poppa came to visit!

Gigi and Poppa came to visit!

Here are a couple of outtakes from our last-minute Christmas card photo shoot.

Here are a couple of outtakes from our last-minute Christmas card photo shoot.

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Drew’s birthday falls right between Henry’s and Rocket’s.  When you’re sixteen, nearly all of your presents fit inside envelopes. Time flies!

Drew’s birthday falls right between Henry’s and Rocket’s.

When you’re sixteen, nearly all of your presents fit inside envelopes. Time flies!

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Rocket’s 70th birthday fell on Thanksgiving Day this year. xo

Rocket’s 70th birthday fell on Thanksgiving Day this year. xo

It’s been a tough year, but that makes us all the more grateful to be #TeamRocket and celebrate our favorite man with a mustache!

It’s been a tough year, but that makes us all the more grateful to be #TeamRocket and celebrate our favorite man with a mustache!

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Moo.

Moo.

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Let the holiday season begin! Gigi and Poppa helped us deck the house and put some yummy decorative touches on gingerbread houses.

Let the holiday season begin! Gigi and Poppa helped us deck the house and put some yummy decorative touches on gingerbread houses.

On to what’s left of December!

Merry Christmas Y’all.

Lake Time, Horse Rubs, School Days, and Mountain Views

Knowing we'd miss Labor Day weekend at the lake, the five of us sneaked over to PK in August for one last summer splash.

We've just about mastered anchoring at Hell's Gate.

We've just about mastered anchoring at Hell's Gate.

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Our captain for the last summer sunset cruise was suspect.

Our captain for the last summer sunset cruise was suspect.

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The big kids took lessons this summer and were a little sad to say goodbye to their barnyard friends right before school started. When I asked Henry if he wanted to take lessons next year he quickly replied, "NOPE." He does like hanging with Buttons the donkey, though. 

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Cash

Cash

Josie

Josie

Buck

Buck

Speaking of school starting...

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For Labor Day Weekend, Wes and I took Ella up to Colorado while the boys enjoyed a sister-free weekend.

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We wandered around downtown Denver on the first afternoon.

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16th Street Mall

16th Street Mall

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While Wes watched the rest of the Georgia game at the hotel, Ella and I struck out at the Unsinkable Molly Brown Museum, so we walked down to the Denver Museum of Art for a quick visit before dinner.

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Dinner on Larimer Square...we highly recommend Osteria Marco!

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Sunday, the Frays were nice enough to invite us out to their home in Boulder. What gorgeous views and wonderful company!

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Baby Judah

Baby Judah

And Miss Aubrey

And Miss Aubrey

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That afternoon, we headed to visit Justin and Cindi in Bailey. Another heavenly spot on a mountain! (Ella is already researching universities in Colorado so she can live there in a few years.)

Monday morning, the Pritchards were brave enough to take us three city slickers out to Arapahoe State Park to hike.

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Trail mix!

Trail mix!

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The morning was cool and overcast; I couldn't help but feel like we were somewhere in the UK.

The morning was cool and overcast; I couldn't help but feel like we were somewhere in the UK.

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In the distance is Mount Bierstadt, a fourteener. Ella was pretty excited to see snow blowing up at the top. I think it might have been even more exciting than the trail mix.

In the distance is Mount Bierstadt, a fourteener. Ella was pretty excited to see snow blowing up at the top. I think it might have been even more exciting than the trail mix.

Vegan Jerky?

Vegan Jerky?

Monday evening, we headed to Red Rocks with tickets to see Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

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Not a bad place to see a show. :) I think we'll be back.

Summer Vacation 2018

This summer's family vacation started the same way many do.

With a tearful "see you soon" to Brisket and a speeding ticket in Louisiana.

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The last 200 miles took about 6 hours so the kids burned off some energy as soon as we put the car in Park. (Fat lotta help they were with the luggage.)

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Us grownups were happy to just sit.

Us grownups were happy to just sit.

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Beach!

Beach!

Jennifer figured me out this time around. She wanted nothing to do to with E-E (Aunt Anne) and her annoying camera so no Jen-Jen smiles from this trip, but lots of curious looks. Next time I'll win her back over.

Jennifer figured me out this time around. She wanted nothing to do to with E-E (Aunt Anne) and her annoying camera so no Jen-Jen smiles from this trip, but lots of curious looks. Next time I'll win her back over.

Every good beach trip needs some good downtime to balance out the sand and sun.

Every good beach trip needs some good downtime to balance out the sand and sun.

Jen-Jen sure loves her Poppa.

Jen-Jen sure loves her Poppa.

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And her Gigi! <3

And her Gigi! <3

Aunt Kristi turned the big 4-0 during our time together -- and she has great taste in cake! Among many other things.  We wish her the happiest year ahead!

Aunt Kristi turned the big 4-0 during our time together -- and she has great taste in cake! Among many other things.

We wish her the happiest year ahead!

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Joshua wasn't up for family photos this night -- but we got a couple of him a few days later!

Joshua wasn't up for family photos this night -- but we got a couple of him a few days later!

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Jen-Jen called both Michael and Henry "Baby" on the first day we were together. To tell them apart, Michael became "Baby Mi-Mi" and he quickly became one of her favorites.

Jen-Jen called both Michael and Henry "Baby" on the first day we were together. To tell them apart, Michael became "Baby Mi-Mi" and he quickly became one of her favorites.

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Kristi and I took time out one morning to take the kiddos to The Factory while the boys played golf.

Kristi and I took time out one morning to take the kiddos to The Factory while the boys played golf.

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Girl enough to want to wear mascara. Tomboy enough to not give a crap when it's smeared on her face.

Girl enough to want to wear mascara. Tomboy enough to not give a crap when it's smeared on her face.

One of Jennifer's MOs is to find anyone who will walk with her the direction she wants to go.  Uncle Wes was a very willing sucker. (So was I, not pictured.)

One of Jennifer's MOs is to find anyone who will walk with her the direction she wants to go.

Uncle Wes was a very willing sucker. (So was I, not pictured.)

A little early this year, the jellyfish came to swim along Gulf Shores. They didn't know what accomplished jellyfish hunters would be there to greet them though.

A little early this year, the jellyfish came to swim along Gulf Shores. They didn't know what accomplished jellyfish hunters would be there to greet them though.

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The ocean is Joshua's happy place.

The ocean is Joshua's happy place.

Jellyfish hunters in action.

Jellyfish hunters in action.

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Family picture day, take two!

Family picture day, take two!

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I want to go this way. No, I want to go this way.  Who's in charge here?

I want to go this way. No, I want to go this way.

Who's in charge here?

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Bye-byes to the beach! We can't wait to see everyone again.

Bye-byes to the beach! We can't wait to see everyone again.

We decided to break up the drive home so Saturday morning, we got up early to be among the first aboard the USS Alabama in Mobile.

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It was a hot day, but we were so grateful to have the ship nearly to ourselves for the first hour. Between the machine guns, giant chains, cannons, narrow passageways and getting a glimpse into what life would have been like on a real battleship during wartime, it was hard for us to decide what we enjoyed learning about the most.

It was a hot day, but we were so grateful to have the ship nearly to ourselves for the first hour. Between the machine guns, giant chains, cannons, narrow passageways and getting a glimpse into what life would have been like on a real battleship during wartime, it was hard for us to decide what we enjoyed learning about the most.

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After visiting the airplane hangar (and the gift shop), we hit the road toward New Orleans.

Dropping our bags with the hotel, we walked over to Royal House for the first of two great NOLA meals.

Dropping our bags with the hotel, we walked over to Royal House for the first of two great NOLA meals.

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After a failed attempt to tour St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in the blistering heat, we defaulted to Jackson Square where we found the nicest caricature artist ever.

After a failed attempt to tour St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in the blistering heat, we defaulted to Jackson Square where we found the nicest caricature artist ever.

Then we hopped on a horse (mule)-drawn carriage ride around the French Quarter...

Then we hopped on a horse (mule)-drawn carriage ride around the French Quarter...

...with Bob and Big Freida, the mule.

...with Bob and Big Freida, the mule.

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After a short respite at the hotel, we took our sweaty, under-dressed kids to one of the nicest restaurants in the Quarter. They didn't get us kicked out, which was great.

After a short respite at the hotel, we took our sweaty, under-dressed kids to one of the nicest restaurants in the Quarter. They didn't get us kicked out, which was great.

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To really wear the kids out, we bought seats for the 8 p.m. show at Preservation Hall. It was authentic, crowded, steamy hot and completely amazing. We were inches away from the eight-piece accomplished jazz band but were not allowed to take photos of the performance.  Somehow, Henry conked out in my lap and I carried him back to our hotel through the revelers on Bourbon Street in the rain. I was pretty grateful for everyone aiming their bodily fluids away from the kid, and I'm pretty sure they were confused about why kids were there in the first place.

To really wear the kids out, we bought seats for the 8 p.m. show at Preservation Hall. It was authentic, crowded, steamy hot and completely amazing. We were inches away from the eight-piece accomplished jazz band but were not allowed to take photos of the performance.

Somehow, Henry conked out in my lap and I carried him back to our hotel through the revelers on Bourbon Street in the rain. I was pretty grateful for everyone aiming their bodily fluids away from the kid, and I'm pretty sure they were confused about why kids were there in the first place.

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NOLA, we can't wait to go back.

Awesome Possum Kingdom

It always takes so long to get here, and always goes by in a blink. The Cowgirls' annual Possum Kingdom lake weekend, was by all accounts, a bit more successful than last year's. 

  1. I didn't wreck the boat into the dock.
  2. I didn't run the boat over a dock cable that got sucked up into the prop requiring substantial repairs.
  3. I didn't fling the girls out of the tube so quickly that one gave another a big bruise on her forehead.
  4. I put worms on hooks. And removed the remains of worms that the fish turned down.
  5. I took a crappie off the hook and only screamed a little while he flopped around. 
  6. I learned what a kill switch is and why it's required for boat operation.

This list is beginning to feel like it's all about me.

But it's really all about these girls. They mean the world to me and I am so grateful we can find this time to spend together each summer -- relaxing, cooking, inventing cocktails, floating on the boat or off the dock, looking up at the stars together and solving all of the world's problems. We never seem to run out of conversation, laughs, hugs or good-natured eye rolls. I think it's rare to find such a group of friends that are always supportive, never judgemental, and ever-willing to tell it like it is when that's what you need to hear.

Aside from all being really awesome people, I'd also like to point out how great these ladies are when it comes to serving up a beautiful meal, paired with just the right bubbly.

Aside from all being really awesome people, I'd also like to point out how great these ladies are when it comes to serving up a beautiful meal, paired with just the right bubbly.

I'm pretty sure that when Jill was dreaming up her wish list of places to have a Baby Sprinkle, Possum Hollow was at the TOP. She was a wonderful sport and made everyone's night at the local dive.

I'm pretty sure that when Jill was dreaming up her wish list of places to have a Baby Sprinkle, Possum Hollow was at the TOP. She was a wonderful sport and made everyone's night at the local dive.

We made a gametime decision to bench the tube and pull out the kneeboard for this summer's watersport adventure. Solid decision!

We made a gametime decision to bench the tube and pull out the kneeboard for this summer's watersport adventure. Solid decision!

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Without further ado, and in alphabetical order....

The 2018 Awesome Possum Kingdom Superlative Awards!

Ashlee** -- Most Likely To Kiss a (Stuffed) Possum's Bottom for the Sake of a Photo

Elizabeth -- Least Likely to Eat a Doritos Salad at Any Gathering

Jill** -- Most Likely to Soldier Through a Weekend with Inebriated Friends Like a Saint

Megan -- Most Likely to Spend the Night with the Rubber Dockie

Micki -- Most Likely to Discover Jewelry In Her Swimsuit

Vivian -- Most Likely To Haul @ss Out of the Lake After a Snake Sighting

**Runners Up for Most Likely to Win a Charcuterie and Cheese Spread Competition

xoxo

It's a new day.

**CORRECTION**

Ella read this post and was incensed that I called the baby goats baby lambs. I am so so so sorry. She will be proofing all future posts.

***

 

New year, new goals! When I first started these posts, Ella was a toddler and they went up every week, or sometimes every two. This year, my goal is to get four posts completed. Which would be better than zero.

Hanging in there. That's my personal theme for 2018. :)

Like they say at Llama Productions: Trying Hard Every Day to Suck Less.

Kate turned 17.  I can't. We can't. None of us can.

Kate turned 17.

I can't. We can't. None of us can.

Ella played indoor soccer this winter. Under horrible lighting conditions.

Ella played indoor soccer this winter. Under horrible lighting conditions.

And when Ella got sick (unrelated to poor indoor soccer lighting), the boys set up target practice as close to where she was trying to watch a movie as possible.  Brothers are the best.

And when Ella got sick (unrelated to poor indoor soccer lighting), the boys set up target practice as close to where she was trying to watch a movie as possible.

Brothers are the best.

The Cuestas came for a visit, and we took them to see cows, and chickens, and lambs (in leotards), and questionably constructed carnival rides.

The Cuestas came for a visit, and we took them to see cows, and chickens, and lambs (in leotards), and questionably constructed carnival rides.

Ella loved the Ferris Wheel; Michael was undecided.

Ella loved the Ferris Wheel; Michael was undecided.