Tag Archives: family fun

Vacation Planning Tips

Vacation Rental

We just got back from a week away in Northern Wisconsin. This area was a first first for us and we really enjoyed the change from the Black Hills where we had travelled 3 years in a row!

I had a few people ask how we planned this trip so I thought it would be fun to write a short post about some of the tips I have learned doing this sort of thing the past 4 years.

We have always chosen to rent a home from VRBO. Hotels can be really expensive per night and most don’t accommodate a family of 6 without having 2 rooms. Dominic’s parent’s travelled with us so renting a home where we have space for 8 and a place to cook meals was top on my list of priorities.

Having done this several times I will say we haven’t yet had a house we didn’t love. No not everything is perfect, but with a little planning and flexibility we always walked away blessed at the rentals.

When searching for a rental you should consider the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you will want as well as your budget and the area of the country you want to stay. We specifically wanted something on a lake so we could do some fishing each day.

Lake home

We found a amazing cabin with lots of space, a hot tub (or hot pool if you ask Karlena) and a private mini golf course in the back! It was homemade by one of the owners kids and was lots of fun!

Most owners list the types of amenities that each rental will have. Consider the types of meals you normally prepare and ask in advance if they have the necessary “tools” to accommodate you.

For instance I had planned 4 specific meals in advance and 2 of them were soups that my family loves. White chicken chili and taco soup. I typically cook it in a crock pot but often times the homes we rent only have small crocks available. I was going to bring my own, but we ended up buying a new one while we were there.

On two of the days before we left for our adventures I prepared the meals and set them in the crock on low. When we came home we didn’t have to fuss with a bunch of cooking we just set the table and ate!

Another tip would be to make lunches for the road.

I purchased a bunch of snack items and then we also had sandwich meats and breads available. Everyone got to choose what they wanted, and we prepared them in advance and then didn’t have to stop for fast food during the middle of the day. People could eat when they were hungry and we saved tons of money on not eating out.

Bring along sandwich baggies and a sharpie when you are packing for your trip. That way when you make your lunches you can easily label whose sandwich is whose on the front of the baggie.

We live in MN where we don’t pay sales tax on our groceries. We travel to states where they do pay sales tax…so for us I have always purchased a bunch of the food in advance and packed it in Rubbermaid tubs to bring with us.

This allows you to not have to stop the first day for groceries. I also always fry up some hamburger and chicken and freeze it in advance. It adds a nice ice substitute to the cooler and when you are ready just thaw and use.

That brings me to the most awesome cooler ever and a must have on a road trip vacation like this one. We bought a Coleman Refrigerator Cooler  last summer after we borrowed my parent’s the summer before.

Coleman Cooler

It plugs into an outlet in your car and keeps things cool and has an additional plug so you can bring it into the house and plug it into a wall outlet. This was the perfect cooler for our sandwiches and waters. We froze several waters and put them on the bottom that added extra cooling when the car wasn’t running.

It is expensive at $100, but we have used ours for 2 years and it was a worth while investment!!

And finally (or at least for now) packing.

I have a 31 medium tote that I use for each of our kids. They know which bag is theirs and can get themselves a new outfit easily. When they were smaller I would pack full outfits in gallon baggies and they could grab a baggie and go!

I do tend to over pack. Next year I am scaling it back because the reality is I do laundry each day so I don’t need to pack a weeks worth of clothes.

I know for some doing laundry seems crazy, but after this trip I came home with all clean clothes except for 1 small load. I didn’t have to spend our last day before entering the real world again doing loads and loads of laundry. Win for me for sure!  And make sure to pack some detergent and dryer sheets so you don’t have to buy it once you get there!

Well that is probably enough for this post…what are some of your best vacation planning tips? I’d love to hear them!

Mom Confessions – Smiths in Real Life – Part Seven

Mom ConfessionsWhat fun these “confession” posts have been….are you loving them like I am? There is something freeing about laying it all out there. And even though I would love for you all to go on believing that I have it all together, that isn’t my reality. At all. So I am joining up with my friend Anna over at Girl With Blog and sharing some of my Mom Confessions.

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It is raining A LOT here today (Sunday) and I am sitting under a blanket, feeling like it is winter all over again. Got me a taste of the warmer weather a few weeks ago and now 50 degrees feels painful. I am such a whimp! And I know the rain is good but it has been raining for hours. I have not idea how much rain we have gotten either because last summer our dog ate the rain gauge. We have yet to get a new one…so I suppose I will be guessing from here on out.

I was doing laundry yesterday and as I pulled out a fresh load from the dryer I noticed smutchz all over the dryer. This smutchz was on the clothes, everywhere. I know it is hard to tell exactly, but it was greasy and needed to be cleaned.

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As I grumbled to myself about which child must have left something in their pocket for me to wash, I pulled out a pair of my own pants and to my horror found the object of my smutchz. The melted, gooey remains of a uneaten Starburst. Drats, all my fault and no one else to blame. After some soaking, another wash and some serious scrubbing…the clothes are back to clean and the dryer is shiny again.

The upside is that the dryer smelled fruity for a day! 😉

That same afternoon we decided to go the easy route and get a Papa Murphy’s pizza for lunch. My 11 year old can’t eat pizza…it makes him feel like he is going to throw up. I can’t imagine not loving pizza, but we have stopped trying to force him to participate and come up with something else for him to eat.

Ragu

We didn’t have much to choose from so he got leftover noodles and a can of Ragu Alfredo sauce. Simple, easy and made him happy. I felt a little less than because I didn’t even have chicken for him to go with it – but he was happy. Sometimes easy is better!

Karlena says several words wrong but it is so adorable I have a hard time correcting her.

Mudder’s Day = Mother’s Day

Uticorn = Unicorn

Smookie = Spooky

Shark knife = Sharp knife

Dominic took the kids out to get me a “Mudder’s Day” gift the other day. He told them to keep it a secret from me. The first thing Karlena told me when they walked in the door was she picked me out a purple card. It was hilarious.

And then on Sunday I got to open my gifts…Dominic and the kids wrapped “daddy style”. I couldn’t have loved it more.

Mothers Day wrapping

And finally I have a real “first world” problem when it comes to the car I drive…for some reason I have a hard time seeing the gas gauge.

Gas Gauge

The way I sit, once the gas gets down below a little over a 1/2 a tank, the turn signal knob blocks my line of sight and I forget to check the level of gas that I have remaining. Inevitably, I let it get so low that the dummy light comes on. This has happened several times. Several. Clearly once it hits a 1/2 a tank I should stop, but it never seems to be a priority. Does anyone else struggle with this?

We are in the last few days of school here…and the big graduation is Friday night!! Our actual “party” isn’t until next week and I can’t wait to share the wall of Isaac we have. I love it. I may leave it up inevitably….or not because that may seem creepy. But it is really cool! 😉

Have a wonderful rest of the week!!

Exhaustion, Influenza, Christmas and More

I realize I have been pretty quiet here lately. It is hard for me to believe that I had the capacity to write every day for 31 days in October. I posted 9 times in November and only 3 times this month. I think God knew that I could handle it in October, because clearly the remainder of 2014 was going to be an all out war.

To lay it out there honestly, I am EXHAUSTED.

Pretty much everything life is throwing at me right now is too much, and most of that is self imposed I know. Some of it was unplanned and those things have hit me the hardest.

I have lit the candles on my advent wreath twice. There I said it. Day 2 and I think day 6. We read a smidgen of the book I had all perfectly laid out and the pages haven’t cracked since. Sure looks pretty but it is all show. Plain and simple I have failed having a spirit of Advent in our home this season.

Advent wreath

Our Christmas Angel has moved each day, but typically not at 9:30pm when my reminder alarm is set because Karlena is ALWAYS still awake…so I forget and scramble at 5:30am instead. One of the days I am going to get caught.

Christmas Angel

Last week Elijah was sick and out for 4 days, poor kid didn’t have his spunk….except for the day he was at home with me when our daycare was closed, the day after my surgery, when I should have been resting but he and Karlena fought and screamed so badly that I may have lost my temper at them that my screaming caused me to double over in pain.

Elijah sick

Yes THAT was a proud moment…the moment when you tell your kids that LITERALLY they are going to make their mama explode if they don’t stop fighting.

Heading right on into our weekend was Karlena’s first dance recital…where I stressed over getting the perfect ballet bun. We tried a couple of times and figured it out thanks to You Tube.

ballet bun

She was adorable and while she doesn’t seem to be a natural quite yet, she looked beautiful in her costume and fulfilled my mama’s dream of having a dance daughter.

Karlena ballerina

 

I have not wrapped a single Christmas present. NOT A ONE. My kids keep asking me to please wrap presents, but first I would have to box everything up into unidentifiable containers so that I can wrap in front of them, or with them as they would prefer….but this mama is EXHAUSTED. Did I mention that?

Oh and yesterday I went to see a Dr. because I was feeling like I wanted to die, and was told I likely have Influenza. (They don’t even bother testing when you have all the symptoms) Because OF COURSE. So go home and rest mama, and oh too bad so sad the pharmacies in town are all out of the meds to treat it. 🙁 I cried a little and crawled in bed. I posted an updated to FB and someone I know, who will remain nameless, contacted me because they had just had Influenza and had extra meds…because the week before the pharms were packed full of meds and they were filling scripts for the entire family. And one of the peeps in their family didn’t use/need the meds they bought. This may be some black market/illegial stuff going on but I was desperate.

But Praise Jesus – I mean seriously PRAISE JESUS. These meds were a LIFE SAVER. I told my mom I feel 800 thousand times better today. Not great, but I am not whimpering in a corner either. Life is looking up.

Christmas is ONE WEEK away, and did I mention that I have NOTHING wrapped? Oh, sorry I am still a little foggy here…I am going to just go with it. We may just celebrate Christmas up in Isaac’s closet….where all the presents are “hidden”…and I use the term “hidden” loosely, but since most of my children are too young to know I blog, they won’t read this soon enough to know to go and peek. Mom for the win.

Some day I will post my award winning, best ever stuffing cups recipe. Some day I will maybe even share my family Christmas letter…but for today I am hanging on by a thread, guilty over all the time away from the office I have spent in the last week…stressed over all there is to do in ONE WEEK, one week people! Agh!!

So may your days be Merry and Bright…around these parts I am just hoping for a little less insane! <3

A South Dakota “Bacation” (goes to Wyoming) – Part Six

Alright, last but not least I have to share about our South Dakota, turned Wyoming, vacation stop! I haven’t ever been to Devil’s Tower, I have seen pictures, but it was another few hours farther West.

We decided that if we got going on our last full day at a reasonable time, it would be worth it to make the drive over the border to Wyoming because we were already so close.

Man was it worth it! What a site!

Devils Tower 1

It is pretty amazing seeing these rolling hills and then this tower of rock dominating the landscape!

Devils Tower 2

Devils Tower 3

Devils Tower 4

Once we parked there was a trail that some of us decided to hike around the base of the tower.

Devils Tower 5

Devils Tower 6

You almost can’t see it, but at the far left of the tower (picture above) a little more than halfway down, there was a climber. There were several actually and they need permission to go up! I am sure Isaac is planning a trip back there some day to do just that!

Devils Tower 7

Devils Tower 8

Apparently there is a wooden ladder on one side of the tower…you could look through these spyglass deals and see it. Karlena didn’t fully understand she needed her eye open though! 🙂

Devils Tower 10

Birds circling the top.

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This tree was so interesting and unique I had to take a picture!

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Here are the prayer bundles that they warned about touching!

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The hike around the tower was a little over a mile. Karlena led the way most of the time.

Devils Tower 17

It was a wonderful way to spend our last day of vacation!

Devils Tower 18

Have you ever been to Devil’s Tower?

A South Dakota “Bacation” – Part Five

I don’t know that you can take a trip to South Dakota without stopping through Custer State Park. What a beautiful part of the State!

After our pontoon ride on Thursday we were only an hour or so away from Custer so we headed down that way. Our first stop was the Needles Highway.

Custer State Park 3

HUGE rock formations and narrow driving paths make this a fun adventure. Unless you are a over sized motor home who has come to a narrow, one-way tunnel and you have a line of traffic behind you and you can’t go forward, and you can’t turn around. It was a bad day for that family!! (I wish I had taken a picture – they had to close that section of the Needles Highway for a time!)

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There were several spots to get out and climb (this mama’s worst nightmare as my kids scaled up the sides of the rocks)

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Karlena would have loved to do this on her own!! I on the other hand thought Dominic had to go with her!

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The we decided to head to the Custer Wildlife Loop in hopes to see some Bison.

It was HOT and sunny and I think all of the animals were hiding in caves somewhere….thus no wildlife, and no pictures…

Oh wait we saw a smooshed snake in the middle of the road. I didn’t take a picture 😉

On our way back home we were heading through Custer (the town) and saw Scott’s Rock Shop. It was a find after a disappointing bison search. We were probably there over an hour and we spent WAAAAY too much money on rocks and treasures but the kids loved it and if I am honest the adults did too!!

If you head to South Dakota, Custer State Park is a MUST stop!

A South Dakota “Bacation” – Part Three

For those of you sticking along with all the vacation posts, thanks! 🙂 I know it can get boring to read about someone else’s vacation…but I wanted to post these so that I don’t forget everything we did. I didn’t do this last year, I did 1 big post I think and there were so many things I wished I had written down. So this is all about me! 😉

The only tough thing about vacationing with a large group is deciding what we should do each day! We had a range of ages between adults and kids and so tried to find things that we could do that worked for everyone.

We decided to check out Wonderland Cave on Tuesday.

Wonderland Cave

There are several caves in South Dakota that you can explore. This cave was about 30 minutes from our rental home and had the least amount of steps…so we thought it was the best bet for everyone.

Wonderland Cave 2

Gabriel and Elijah waiting for our tour to begin.

Wonderland Cave 3

Karlena loved this covered wagon…it would have been even better with real horses. She wants to ride a horse SO bad!

Wonderland Cave 4

After a short hike down a trail we came to the entrance of the cave. Our tour guide Kyle was quite a character…he made the tour interesting to say the least! 🙂

Wonderland Cave 5

Wonderland Cave 6

Caves are pretty cool. Have you ever been in one? The only downfall was the steps were pretty steep and because of all the rain they had had the week before we came the steps were wet. A little scary at times, especially with the little ones!

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They called those formations bacon! 🙂

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The tour was about 45 minutes long and the kids loved it (well all except our niece Ari…she just turned 2 and wanted to walk on her own, but because of the slippery steps she couldn’t so she was upset about that! 🙁  But I think all in all it was a fun experience for everyone.

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A random picture of Isaac that he actually let me take of him! 🙂 Have to have something for his senior graduation party!

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