Arkansas Family Vacation

Jack has been busy marking new states off his bucket list this summer! Last week, we went to Tennessee and Georgia, and a few weeks before that, we traveled to Arkansas for a family reunion where Jack got to meet all of his Arkansas and Missouri cousins.

Jack is becoming a pretty good little car rider. When we go on long trips, like this one (it was about a 9 or 10 hour drive), I usually sit in the back with Jack and make sure to pack lots of books, toys, and download some of his favorite videos onto our Kindle. We also make pretty frequent stops to get him out of the seat and let him move around.

We stopped in Hardy, Arkansas, on our way and walked around downtown to get out of the car for a little while. Hardy has a really neat little downtown area with lots of little shops, so it was a nice place to get out and stretch and do a little sight-seeing.

Once we got to Springdale, my mom kept Jack in the hotel room (he was so tired after that drive) and Jeff, my dad, and I went to an Arkansas Naturals game. We had been to a game when we came up for the reunion a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so we decided to go back this year. We had great seats right behind home plate, and the tickets were really affordable.

The next day, we were supposed to check in at our cabin at Lake Fort Smith (where our reunion was held) at 4:00, so we had the entire day to explore. Mama and Daddy took Jack with them while they looked around at shops in town and Jeff and I headed to Devil’s Den State Park to do some hiking.

The caves at Devil’s Den were really cool. They were closed, so we couldn’t go inside (not that I’m brave enough to go into a cave, anyway, but my husband would have been climbing in without a second thought), but when we walked by a cave opening we could feel a burst of cool air coming out of the ground. We had a lot of fun on the trail and I took about 500 pictures (as usual).

My grandfather was in the CCC (he was working in Washington, I think), so I’m always interested in the CCC monuments at parks like this. I really want to find the park where he was working and and see it someday. This monument was near the dam at Devil’s Den and honored the men who worked to build the park.

After our hike, we were starving, so we searched Yelp for restaurant reviews and took a chance on a local little place called Crawpappy’s. We were so glad we decided to try it! Jeff got their etouffee, and it was the best I have ever tasted. I got their Cajun catfish and fries. I highly recommend it if you are ever in Alma, Arkansas.

After our lunch, we met my parents at Lake Fort Smith and checked into our cabin. Our family rented the big lodge so everyone could have a room and we’d have a place to have our meals, but we decided to get a private cabin because we thought it would be easier with Jack than rooming in the bunk room. We got a two bedroom cabin, and it was so nice. My parents and Jeff and I each had a room with a king bed and an attached bathroom, and there was a nice kitchen and a big living area for Jack to play in. We spent the next few days relaxing at the cabin and exploring the area around the lake.

Lake Fort Smith has lots of amenities, including a big pool with a kids’ swimming area. We took Jack swimming for the first time while we were there and he loved his float. He was not a fan of getting his head under water, but as long as he was in his float, he had fun splashing and floating around with us.

There are also trails at Lake Fort Smith. We saw a bunch of snakes on the first trail we attempted and I ended up chickening out and running back to the cabin (I am terrified of snakes), but this one from the cabins to the lake was pretty clear and snake-free.

The lake was beautiful.

Meeting all your cousins is apparently exhausting.

Arkansas is the perfect vacation spot for nature lovers. There are tons of state parks and opportunities for outdoor activities. Jeff can’t wait to go back and find another state park to explore at the next family reunion.

Have you ever visited Northwest Arkansas? What are some must-do activities we should check out on our next trip there?

Georgia Mountain Vacation

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We just got home from a long weekend trip to the Georgia mountain with Jeff’s mom and sister’s family. We stayed in an awesome cabin in Epworth, Georgia, which is just about 15 minutes from the town of Blue Ridge. There are lots of places to go zip lining, horseback riding, fishing, and white water rafting, and lots of little shops and fun restaurants, too.

On our way, we stopped in Chattanooga and walked around at the top of Lookout Mountain. I had never been to Chattanooga before, and Jeff wanted me to see the view from the top of the mountain. It was a nice break from riding and Jack loved getting to be outside for a little while. We walked over to Point Park and had some wonderful ice cream at Clumpies before getting back on the road. (We also spent the day in Chattanooga on our way home a few days later, and you can read about our adventures on that day here.)

I absolutely love Jack’s stroller, which my grandparents got for us at our baby shower. It should grow with Jack until he outgrows a stroller, and it is easy to fold up and store. It’s also really durable – we have put lots of miles on it in the last 11 months. I couldn’t find the exact one we got a year ago, but I linked some similar ones.

Jack was a great little traveler. I made sure to pack him plenty of books and toys and downloaded some episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse onto the Kindle before we left to keep him entertained on the long drive. We switched him to the Graco Extend2Fit car seat when he was about six months old because his feet were already resting on the back of the seat. This car seat has an extender to give him more leg room while he’s still rear-facing and should also grow with him and turn into a front facing seat for him until he’s ready to move into a booster seat.

We stopped at the Ocoee River where they had the 1996 Olympics Kayaking Competition. They had that section of the river dammed up when we stopped, but it was a neat little park with all the flags from the different countries (you can seen them in the background of the picture below) and a sidewalk built into the rocks along the side of the river. We had a little photo shoot on the bridge over the river and Jeff took the picture of Jack and me and said it is his favorite picture of me because it shows what I look like on a normal basis (apparently I am always making some kind of goofy or sarcastic face). We got caught in a summer shower just as we were leaving and got soaked, which Jack thought was the funniest thing ever, and when we got back into the car and I dried his hair, it stuck up in the most adorable mohawk.

After a long day of adventuring, we made it to our cabin, Trinity Waters (available through Cuddle Up Cabin Rentals). Jeff had stayed in this cabin before on a guys’ trip and loved it, so he told him mom about it and she booked it for us. It has four bedrooms and a loft, and two bathrooms and could comfortably sleep 8 to 10. There were seven of us (including two small children), so we had plenty of room to spread out. The cabin is right on the water and has an amazing back deck, which we made sure to take full advantage of during our stay.

Jack loved watching the water, but he and I decided right away that it was too cold for swimming. We let Jeff do some swimming while we stayed on the deck. I loved having this pop-up play yard for Jack on this trip. It is so easy to set up and it was perfect for keeping him from crawling off the steps of the deck.

Once the rest of the family got to the cabin, we headed into Blue Ridge to get some supper. The boys were fascinated by the Blue Ridge Express train and we got some pictures of them at the train station while we were waiting on our table.

On our first full day at the cabin, we let the men go exploring (they looked for a place to go fly fishing and went swimming in the river) and we stayed in the cabin and let the boys play and nap. That afternoon, we went back into Blue Ridge for dinner and to explore the little town. There are tons of shops, and we had fun strolling around and looking. We met the town pet, Nibbles the Cat, and Jeff, Jack, and our nephew, Zachary,  loved petting him for a little while. One of my favorite shops was Blue Ridge Olive Oil. We tasted some different flavored oils and balsamics and I got a sampler pack of oil and balsamic pairings to experiment with at home. You can expect some recipes using those coming soon!

On our second day at the cabin, we decided to drive around and explore the mountain. We drove up to the top of the mountain and stopped at all the scenic lookouts along the way. We found a really cool park on top of the mountain with a swimming area and lots of spots for camping and grilling out and will plan to go back there for a picnic and swimming with both boys if we go back next summer.

We are already planning to go back to North Georgia when the boys are old enough to enjoy all the outdoor activities. This was a really fun family vacation spot! Do you prefer the mountains or the beach for your vacation? I used to always say I preferred the beach, but the mountains are winning me over lately.

A Day in the Life – January 2018

I love the idea of documenting a regular day to show you guys what life is really like for us. Sure, it’s fun to show pictures and highlights from special events and trips, but the real story about us is found in the normal days. I’m just like you – trying to balance being a wife and mom, working full-time, cooking and cleaning, and everything else in this crazy life of mine.

I chose to document Monday, January 22, which was a pretty normal day for us. Here’s what happens around here on a typical day…

5:45 a.m. – TIME TO GET UP

I am NOT a morning person. I wish I could tell you that I am the kind of person who gets up early, before the rest of the people in the house wake up, and spends my morning in peaceful quiet watching the sun rise while I read or workout or do something productive, but that is not me at all. This morning, when my alarm went off at 5:45, I was on the couch with a half-asleep, fussy baby on my chest. I didn’t even hit the snooze button – I asked Jeff to because he was closer to my phone than I was and I didn’t want to get up. As soon as the alarm went off, Jack wanted his bottle, so Jeff fixed it for him and handed it to me and I fed Jack on the couch while Jeff finished getting ready for work.

6:00 a.m. – GET READY FOR WORK AND DAYCARE

This little guy actually is pretty happy in the mornings (I have no idea where he gets that from because his dad and I are both zombies first thing in the morning). After I give him his bottle, he usually hangs out in his crib and plays with Mr. Fox (his favorite stuffed animal) while I get dressed. He’s the last one I get ready, and we try to be dressed and in the car by 6:50. I have alarms on my phone for every 15 minutes in the mornings to keep me on track because I tend to move at a glacial pace in the mornings until my brain finally wakes up. We were almost on time today and were in the car by 6:55.

7:30 a.m. – ARRIVE AT WORK

My morning routine at work is always the same. I write out the agenda for my classes on the board (please don’t judge how dirty this board is…I know I need to clean it, but that’s at the bottom of my to-do list right now) and make sure that I have all my copies ready for the day. I even remembered to change the date on the board today, which is a big deal for me (it said January 11 when I erased it this morning, just to let you know how often I remember to do that). I usually have about 15 minutes to myself to settle in before the kids start coming in for the morning.

10:45 a.m. – PLANNING PERIOD/BREAK

I love having my planning period in the middle of the day. It gives me a nice little break from students and gives me time to put in grades, work on lesson plans, or just chill if it’s been one of those days. I usually try to eat breakfast on the way to school, but today I didn’t so I took some time during my planning period to eat a Larabar and drink a V8 while I graded some papers.

12: 40 p.m. – LUNCH

This is so NOT what I wanted for lunch today, but I’m on day 21 of my January Whole 30, so I ate my mason jar salad and daydreamed of a Chick-fil-a sandwich, waffle fries, and sweet tea. My salad was good (just not as good as waffle fries) – I mixed some pineapple juice and a little olive oil with cilantro for a dressing and put that in the bottom of the jar, then tossed in some raw almonds, raisins, pineapple chunks, sliced strawberries, broccoli florets, sliced cucumbers, and mixed greens on top (this mix is spinach, kale, and leaf lettuce). I always shake the jar up a little before I dump it out onto a plate to help spread the dressing over the salad. Then I heated up a leftover hamburger patty from last night in the microwave and put it on top.

4:15 p.m. – TIME TO GO HOME!!!

I had to stay for about an hour after the final bell today to make some copies and plan for the rest of the week.

Leaving school and going to pick up Jack is always my favorite part of the day. He always smiles so big when I walk into daycare to get him, and it just makes my heart melt. I hope he’s always this excited to see his mama.

5:00 p.m. – HUNGRY HUBS AND AFTERNOON CHORES

I came home to a starving husband, and he requested a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich ASAP. Once I cooked his food, I put in a load of laundry. Here’s a little fact about me: I am THE WORST at doing laundry. I will go put clothes in the washer and forget that I put them in there and they’ll end up sitting in the washer until they stink and I have to wash them again. Since Jeff was gone for two weeks, we are still catching up on all his laundry, so I put a load in the washer when I got home. I actually put a timer on my phone to remind me to go get them out and put them in the dryer (how sad is that?).

In the meantime, I fed Jack his supper (he tried carrots for the first time and loved them). I also made my lunch for tomorrow (a salad similar to the one I had today), cleaned up the kitchen, and rocked Jack for little bit.

8:00 p.m. – QUALITY TIME WITH JEFF AND JACK (and Pickles)

We brought ALL of Jack’s toys out to the living room so he could play while we watched some TV, but he was being clingy and just wanted to hang out on the couch with us. We watched the movie Enemy of the State and just chilled.

10:00 p.m. – BEDTIME (we wish)

We don’t have a consistent bedtime around here (does anybody have tips for sleep training a 6 month old?), so I usually just entertain Jack until he’s ready to fall asleep. He’s teething and gets really cranky around bedtime, so we always have to deal with him fighting sleep for a while before he gives up and falls asleep. While he was playing, I took some time to clean up the kitchen, lay out food for tomorrow’s dinner, and fold laundry while I watched House Hunters. He finally fell asleep around 11:30 and I went to bed right after he did.

That’s our typical day! It might seem a little boring and simple, but I wouldn’t trade all these little moments for the world.

My grandmother has a plaque in her house that says, “Thank you Lord for dirty dishes, For they have a tale to tell, While others may go hungry, We’re eating very well.” I have always loved that plaque and the meaning behind it. These little, everyday moments (including dirty dishes and laundry) are our greatest blessings, and I am so thankful for every day I have with my family.

Fighting for Family

I recently read an article about how Satan is trying to destroy our families (you can find the article here). It talked about how we are all so busy, stressed, and absorbed in technology that we’re making it easy for Satan to get in and tear apart the foundation of our society, the family. Family is so important. God set up families to be the perfect example of how He loves his children: the father is the leader and protector of the home, the mother is the helpmeet and comforter and kisser of boo-boos, both parents teach their children right from wrong and provide a safe place for children to learn that’s filled with grace and love.

It made me really think about how easy it is to let so many other things creep in and take priority over family time. As Jack gets older, I’m sure he will play sports, but Little League is no longer just a fun thing for kids like it was when I was little. Now, it’s a serious game where kids are either playing or practicing 4 or 5 nights a week, making the commute from school to the fast food place to the ball field the best family time possible during baseball season. And it isn’t just baseball – there are so many activities for kids to be involved in, and it seems like such a good idea to give them all these opportunities and experiences, but we have to ask what we’re sacrificing for those things.

I definitely don’t have this parenting thing figured out. I’ve only been a mom for 16 weeks, and they have been the most stressful, challenging, beautiful weeks of my life. I’m learning everything as I go and just trying to do my best, but reading this article reminded me that, as a mother, I’ve got to fight for my family. I don’t know yet what that’s going to look like as Jack gets older – Do we limit him to only one extra-curricular activity? Do we not allow him to have a cell phone or put time limits on his TV and other technology? Do we adopt a family game night where we don’t allow anything else to but into our family time at least that one night of the week? I don’t really know yet.

What I do know is that my family is my priority. Spending quality time with Jeff (including date nights – which are so important for parents!) and Jack is something I want to do better. I can already see that cell phones and television are getting in the way of quality time for us, so it’s time for us to sit down as a family and figure out something that works for us.

I also know that the best thing I can do for my family as we’re figuring out what works best for us is to pray. I need to be covering my husband and my marriage and my child in prayers daily. It seems so simple, but the truth is that I’m often too busy or tired or preoccupied with something else to take the time to stop and pray. It’s time for me, as a mother, to become a prayer warrior for my family. I need to make time to spend in prayer over the people who mean the most to me.

I honestly believe that Satan is out to destroy our families, because broken families create broken people and broken people are easy targets for Satan’s lies. He doesn’t want us to have happy homes. He wants our lives filled with strife and pain. But God wants better for us. He wants us to live lives full of peace and joy. He wants our homes filled with love and laughter. He wants parents teaching their children His ways, not only by taking them to church, but by being role models and real life examples of how to live in God’s grace daily.

I definitely don’t have all the answers about what to do and what not to do, but I know that I’m going to get into God’s Word and I’m going to pray more specifically for my family. I’m going to make time with my husband and son my first priority. I’m taking a stand, because I refuse to allow Satan to come in a steal my family.