family fun, photography, travel

The Las Vegas Vaycay: Best and Worst

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Friends, we drove from Wisconsin to Massachusetts, visited family for two days, flew to Las Vegas without the kids (who were left safely in the care of Grammy & Papa) where we stayed for four days, flew back to Massachusetts and then two days later we drove back to Wisconsin again.

This trip was amazing and stressful and exciting and nostalgic and too long and too short and just all of the things. I’m not really sure where to begin or if you want to be bored to death with all the minutia of a vacation recap so I’ll stick with how I’ve been recapping vacations lately and give you a Best / Worst list rather than attempt to give you a minute by minute recap.

Ready?

6 Best Moments

Vegas Best

  1. 13876359_1270172276361340_9151433683835147605_nFOR THE WIN I was on a mission to find a slot machine where you actually pull a lever to play – most of the slot machines have transitioned to buttons or touch screen. Several of the machines have levers that do literally nothing, but I somehow found one in the middle of Treasure Island Casino while we were waiting to see Cirque du Soleil, so I put in a dollar and pulled the lever and won TEN dollars. I’m not a high stakes kind of girl so I took my winnings and never touched another machine. Dan tried my machine and one other and lost both times so out of the three dollars that we willingly sacrificed, we lost 2/3 of the time, but…. I won ten dollars in Vegas, so.
  2. 13668875_1265022976876270_3984995559212191329_oOMG FOOD NOM NOM Dan had an amazing Japanese breakfast in room service one morning, we ate some seriously delicious Italian food the first night. There were little coffee shops everywhere with lattes that would make Starbucks ashamed of itself and pastries that just completed me. We went to a buffet at Treasure Island before seeing Cirque du Soleil and I had chicken fried steak with stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn bread and collard greens while Dan had chinese food and then we checked out the dessert buffet and it was like oh my god, where do I even begin? I could go on. The food was good.
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    CIRQUE Like I said, we saw Cirque du Soleil and yeah it was all the things. It bordered on overwhelming with so many amazing acrobatic stunts being pulled off, often at the same time, and it just never stopped for two hours. It had comedic moments and ohhhh and ahhhh moments and was literally breathtaking. I could go on, but I don’t want this to be a whole review of the show.

  4. 13880215_10100959495545446_7383965259143166571_nTHE DAM TOUR We took a tour of the Hoover Dam on our third day which was a much needed break from the constant buzz of the Vegas Strip. Our tour guide, Memel, was amazing and funny and we had a great group of people on the bus with us. It was also nerdily fascinating to see the other side of Vegas and learn more about the history of the town and about Hoover Dam. Memel was really knowledgeable about the area and we learned a lot and saw a lot and laughed a lot. And perspired a lot, but that’s par for the course when you go to Nevada in August.
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    THE SWEET SUITE The King Bed in our hotel room was all the things. We stayed at The Venetian which is massive and beautiful and kind of like being on another planet compared to some of the other Vegas hotels. And when we weren’t wandering casinos or peeking at people taking Gondola rides or listening to entertainment in Saint Mark’s Square while sipping lattes and eating gelato, we were hiding in our amazing hotel suite. The whole room was really phenomenal with the huge bathroom and comfy bed and whole separate living room area with tvs in like every room. Also it wasn’t my job to clean the room, do the laundry or entertain small people for like four blissful days. I was sufficiently pampered.

Overall Best

  1. FRIENDS AND FAM We got to catch up with friends and family, too, for the few days we spent in Massachusetts. Somehow we managed to catch up with a ton of people, celebrate a few birthdays, eat at all the local nostalgia places that make it feel like home, and drive those old streets of our childhood. Our kids got an extra dose of family time while we were in Vegas – they had an amazing vacation of their own as both of our families whisked them around to see and do all the things and I’m so grateful for their enthusiasm and care and time that they put into making it a great week for the kids.

And in an effort to keep it real, folks…

5 Worst Moments

Vegas Worst

  1. CASINO CROWDS The whole casino environment really is not my scene and I’m pretty sure hubby would agree with me on this one. After two days I think we were both done living inside a Casino, dodging crowds and dealing with the constant flashing lights atmosphere. Why did we take a trip to Las Vegas when we are not gambling night life folks? We have never been and we really wanted to experience it – and see some shows, stay at a nice hotel and eat great food. Las Vegas gave us all of that, so mission accomplished.
  2. 13882422_1270168349695066_3845605412622649863_nPUSHY SELLERS Our hotel has this whole section called the Grand Canal Shoppes with all these major label stores that are too expensive to buy anything but so pretty so we spent a lot of time window shopping and just peeking at all the things. It was beautiful and seriously where we spent a good 1/3 of our trip. But while walking through this area, you are constantly bombarded with people trying to sell you tickets to shows. Not scalpers, but like legitimate employees of the hotel jumping in front of you to ask if you want to buy any show tickets. Constantly. These folks make the mall kiosk employees at your local mall seem passive by comparison.

Overall Worst

  1. NOT ENOUGH TIME For a ten day vacation, it felt like we were always running from one place to the next. Trying to squeeze in a proper visit with friends and family in Massachusetts was nearly impossible but we tried anyway. I wanted more time with everyone – but I probably say this even when we get there with plenty of time to catch up. Still, it bears repeating : There wasn’t enough time.
  2. UH AIRPORTS There is a reason we drove to Massachusetts, we really hate airports, especially with the kids. Waiting in line at security for the first flight to Vegas took literally hours. The planes were tiny and cramped like always and we had six hours of flying plus layovers to deal with. The flight back lasted literally all day after factoring in the time zone changes.
  3. HIGHWAY TO HELL Driving 1,500 miles is bound to be stressful so I’m surprised I don’t have more stories of bad moments on the road, but the truth is that most of it was pretty par for the course. Until the last day of driving when a tractor trailer literally swerved across four lanes of highway right in front of us after the driver inexplicably lost control of the truck. We still have no idea what happened – if he had a heart attack or fell asleep or what – because the highway was pretty empty and amazingly there was no one in front of him really or next to him in any of the lanes. He hit nothing but the jersey barrier (which he hit hard) and I’m grateful that we were somehow not harmed, but we were all seriously shaken by it. After calling 911 to make sure someone got to him ASAP we made a serious bee line for the next rest stop so we could shake off the trauma before finishing our trip home.

And now we’re back to the grind of swim lessons and karate classes and why isn’t my house being magically cleaned by housekeeping? I should have smuggled some of them back in our luggage.

 

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family fun, photography, travel

5 Nights in the Woods: The Highs and Lows.

20160621_184337We just got back from the longest camping trip our family has ever taken so obviously I have a lot of things I want to tell you and a lot of pictures to share but I don’t want to overwhelm you guys with all the things so I’ll attempt brevity here.

You might be asking yourself, “What kind of crazy person would agree to sleep in a tent for five nights????” I know, right? But the idea came to me when I was trying to come to terms with my ten year old son going to a 3 night cub scout camp by himself that was a 2 hour drive away. Logical Jen said “he’ll be fine, he’ll have so much fun!!” but Anxiety Jen wasn’t having it and was dreading the idea of being so far away. She had lots of super sensible / shrieking insensible gibberish reasons for being apprehensive.

So the two Jens in my head worked together to find a compromise and that compromise was for the rest of us to take a camping trip of our own nearby so that we’d have a shorter drive if anything happened (nothing happened) and I’d be too busy to go all mopey zoo lion for three days (it worked). I didn’t want MM to miss out on our camping trip though so I added an extra two nights onto the trip so that we’d get some quality family time in with all four members of the family, too. My husband meanwhile heard, “Wanna go camping for 5 nights???” and was smart enough to jump on the opportunity before I came to my senses.

Annnnnyway, we went, we survived, there are pictures to share and stories to tell but here’s the cliffs notes version.

5 Best Things

1 – Wizard Quest : The first day of our trip we took the kids to Wizard Quest while we waited for our check in time at the campground. It’s kind of a labyrinth / scavenger hunt / puzzle that has you walking through a 13000 square quadrasphere (as they call it) solving riddles and puzzles and finding clues throughout the building. We played through the 75 minute beginners level and didn’t finish our mission but still had a great time. I recommend going with a mix of ages because you’ll want little kids to crawl through some of the little tunnels and tubes but you’ll need some big kids / adults to figure out some of the puzzles.

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2 – Enjoying beautiful sunsets on the river. We stayed at the Holiday Shores campground in the Wisconsin Dells which is close in proximity to all of the local waterparks and tourist traps but nestled into the woods a bit and right next to the Upper Dells River which you can see in most of the pictures above. Our camp site was right on that river and we took full advantage. Dan and the kids did a bit of fishing and I took lots of pictures at sunset and it made a nice backdrop to all of our camping festivities. The camp ground has a beach area on the river also as well as boat rentals and more.

3 – We pretty much had the campground and the Dells area to ourselves. Camping during the week meant that the first four days were pretty low key. It wasn’t until Thursday night that things picked up and by Saturday it was so crowded at both the campground and the Wisconsin Dells area that we were kind of thrilled to be leaving which was honestly perfect timing. I will have to remember this for our next trip.

4 – We got a lot of quality one on one time with our six year old daughter. A fringe benefit to the whole cub scout camp thing was the ease of parenting just one child for basically the first time in nearly seven years. It was kind of a cakewalk by comparison, you know? We had a lot of fun playing mini golf at Pirate’s Cove, walking the Broadway strip, going to a paint ball range, getting ice cream and seeing Finding Dory together. I think she enjoyed being the center of attention for a few days.

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5 – I walked an average of 10,000 step every day that we were there so I probably look like a super model now. I think 4,000 of those steps were probably going to the bathroom.

5 Worst Things

1 – Having to walk 5 minutes to the bathroom every time I had to pee or a child had to pee. Especially fun in the middle of the night. The best part about coming home was closer proximity to bathrooms, honestly.

2 – I spent a part of every day being either too hot or too cold and most days I experienced both. Thank god for bandanas, because I was a sweaty hot mess for most of the trip.

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3 – When the campground did fill up, the constant stream of people definitely got to me. The campsites were decent sized but felt very pushed together once we got closer to the weekend. And we had some pretty noisy neighbors that kept us up a few nights. This is nothing new and pretty par for the course with camping.

4 – I went through cell phone battery packs like they were going out of style, and wasn’t really doing all that much. My phone and I were at war for much of the trip because every time we drove twenty minutes in any direction it decided I had no coverage and didn’t know where we were anymore until I restarted and then it was fine again. First world problems, I know.

5 – I slept in a tent for five nights. My back hates me.

photography, travel

Look at me, way up high, suddenly here am I…

I’m flying!

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Something about looking out over the world from high above feels so freeing. I could not stop clicking that camera button over the course of the four flights we took this weekend. So many beautiful views worth savoring.  Each picture gives me that sensation of weightlessness and renewal. Too good not to share.

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I can soar
I can weave and what’s more
I’m not even trying

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High up, and as light as I can be.
I must be a sight lovely to see.

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Nothing will stop me now:
Higher still look at how
I can zoom around,
‘Way up off the ground
I’m flying.

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family fun, travel

Summer Vacation 2015: Cheers & Jeers

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We drove from Wisconsin to Hershey Park in one day – by the skin of our teeth, arriving at the hotel at 11:45pm. Then we drove from Pennyslvania to Massachusetts, visited as many family members and friends as we could before driving back to Wisconsin again four days later. Like any road trip vacation, there were awesome memories and less awesome memories, too. Here are some highlights.

Cheers to:

1. Preventative doses of children’s dramamine for the car sick prone girl child. Hurray for no pukes on the road (or otherwise).

2. The rest stops in Ohio were borderline gorgeous with Panera Bread and Dairy Queen so children and adults felt pampered. Also impressed with the assortment of healthy snacks and fresh produce available at all the rest stops. Fresh strawberries make any meal seem healthier.

3. Relaxing with a good book in a private cabana the next day after a long day on the road. Completely recharged my batteries.

4. MM becoming obsessed with the water slides at the hotel pool. This was a big deal for him, he’s been a slow to learn swimmer and never really much of a thrill seeker – tackling the water slides is a pretty big step for him.

5. Bonding time with family. Playing Pitch with the inlaws into the wee hours. Going to Boston with my dad. Watching little cousins enjoy theme parks and birthday cakes and little memories together. Trying to teach my in-laws how to play Munchkin. Catching up with my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and more.

6. So much birthday cake. I think we saw at least 5 birthday cakes on this vacation, most of them for BB who turned six while we were in Massachusetts.

7. Candlepin bowling with my best friends from high school and most of their children – two generations of people who were mostly terrible at bowling but loved every minute of it.

Jeers to:

1. Sketchy gas stations in Pennsylvania and Illinois with “working but not working bathrooms” and potholes that could swallow your car whole. And gas stations that don’t seem to actually sell gas.

2. Forgetting all my plans to stop worrying and go with the flow – though I did good with this on the whole, there were a few moments when I kind of ruined my own fun by worrying too much over nothing in particular. I’ll continue to work on this.

3.  There never being enough time to catch up with everyone sufficiently. Though we were ready to go home by the end of our trip, we definitely weren’t ready to say goodbye yet.

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family fun, photography, travel

Things Learned in the Woods

Yes we can!
#likeagirl: Super proud of setting up the tent behind us all by ourselves!

Sometimes I have a tendency to sell myself short. I will let other people do things for me simply  because I believe they can do it better, faster, stronger (more than ever our work is never ooo-ooover). But how do you grow that way? Last weekend in the woods, I learned that I know how to set up a tent. After 6 years or so of camping with DH, I actually committed this skill to memory. And did it. #likeagirl

#imaginationvacation
They don’t need toys and gadgets

No matter how many toys you buy them, how many gadgets they own – a kid with some sticks and rocks and a few leaves has everything they need to have fun. Minutes after arriving at the campsite, they were busy digging trenches and building fairy houses. You don’t have to tell kids how to play in the dirt – this knowledge resides at the core of their very being.

rainy day cuddles
You can’t tell the weather what time it is.

Sometimes you have to roll with the punches. The weather doesn’t care that it’s Father’s Day weekend and you have a limited amount of time for Fun in the Sun memories. Go with the flow, indulge in rainy day tent cuddles, catch up on your reading pile. Breathe.

enjoy the view
Stop and look around.

Don’t forget to reevaluate your day often, especially on a “bad day” – because a day doesn’t have to continue being bad. You can always find beauty in it if you slow down and look. You can always pause, breathe in the dewy air and start fresh. Ignore the rainy moments, the itchy bug bites and the muddy trails and find your zen again.

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She fears nothing.
Don’t be afraid to do your own thing.

Sometimes you have to admit what you need and pursue it, even if your needs differ from the crowd. There are times for rolling with the punches and there are times for saying, “See you in 30 minutes. We’re going to go enjoy the beach now.”

this is the good life
Let go of perfection and you’ll find it.

Sometimes “perfect poses” are over rated. Sometimes the giggles can’t be contained and make a beautiful moment even better. Sometimes the beautiful moments are just as much in the people as they are in the place.

fried fish is made to be eaten
Plans are made to be broken.

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men; Gang aft agley” (translation: …often go awry | source: Robert Burns). I think I instinctively knew that if we planned for one of our meals to be the fish caught by my husband and friends, that somehow we would not be eating fish. It’s not that I don’t think they can catch fish, it’s just that I knew it was foolish to rely on it. Apparently it was foolish to rely on my backup plan, too, of bratwurst and hot dogs. Between the lack of fish and the ever persistent rain, we opted to seek out the next best thing: Fried fish, followed by frozen custard: safely indoors.

to infinity and beyond
Fear is a powerful thing.

I’ve been afraid before. I’ve avoided things simply because my fear said “no, don’t do that.” Sometimes they are silly, sometimes not. But I’ve rarely pushed too far against that instinct. I didn’t know the physical manifestations that accompany fear when you push on. The way your feet try to betray you and your breath feels constricted. The way time slows down for you but seems in fast forward for everyone else who joyfully prances ahead to see the cool thing. It’s surreal to watch others around you not affected by these invisible forces.

Logic told me that the infinity room was something worth pushing ahead for and that it was unlikely to fail me. I wanted to reach the end, to see the big sights. I wanted it even more when I realized how hard it would be for me to walk that short walk to get there. I forged ahead slowly and I’m proud of myself, but I felt much better a few steps back as the air returned to normal thickness and my heart stopped hammering in my chest.

there be dragons
Where there is a photo op, we’ll be there.

This where I wrap up my post with a sweet, heart warming paragraph about how great my family is and my words sort of contradict the things I’ve already written but also tie them together beautifully. But sometimes you don’t need to tie it all together. Life isn’t a perfectly tied bow. It’s a series of semi-unrelated incidents that only make sense if you step back far enough to let them blur together. If you stop looking at them altogether and look at the faces around you instead. Because at the end of the day, the faces are all that matters.