roadtrippin' with kids

Let's talk roadtrips with kids, shall we? Right now, it's a little past noon on a super rainy Tuesday afternoon and my heart is a little weary after sending Ethan back to school today. Carmen is napping, I've prepped meals for tonight and tomorrow, and right now I just want to close my eyes and pretend that we're all together in my faithful minivan embarking on some adventure somewhere. Work with me, okay?

Now, car travel wasn't always easy. Ethan was one of those babies that would scream so hard he would vomit, even on a five minute drive to the grocery store. What grief he gave me in infancy he has fully made up for because dude is one hell of a passenger. Aside from having to pee every so often (okay, I'm guilty of this, too), he is the ultimate roadtrip partner. Carmen's first cross-country roadtrip was at 7 months old and I have to say, for a child so filled to the brim in never-ending energy, she seems to love our car trips. Regardless, our first cross-country roadtrip was a little daunting thinking of all that could possibly go wrong with two small kids in a car for so many hours, but it instantly proved to be worth it.

People ask often, so I thought I would throw together this post. Here are some tips and tricks for road trips with kids, zero screens and lots of quality family time instead.

1. Activities

I load up on activity books before we go. My favorite are these by Usborne. Sure, you can go to the dollar store and load up on cheap little maze books but these? These are gold. Ethan worked on one for six hours straight. What I love about these Usborne activity books is each page is something new, something that requires thinking or switches things up a bit. One page may be coloring in a picture and the next may be designing your own car. The Usborne activity books range in books for all ages, from little ones like Carmen (she loves the coloring and sticker books) to kids even older than Ethan. (Click here to browse!)

2. Books

Piggy-backing off my last post, sometimes you just want to chill out and read. Ethan is reading chapter books and loves trying new series, so I tried to find a new series for him to begin and read through on our driving. He fell in love with the Isadora Moon series and couldn't wait to pop back into the car after each stop to continue reading.

3. Pre-plan the playlist

Now, on parts of our route to New Mexico we travel through some rural areas where all signals just end. We learned our lesson the hard way the first time and were prepared with an XM Radio subscription for our second cross country trip. This way, when you lose your signal, you will always ensure you have some music playing. That said, none of us listen to the same music. I'm obsessed with everything from Iron & Wine to '90's hip hop and R&B, Ethan is partial to anything that would be playing over the speakers at Hot Topic, my husband loves Rancid and anything loud and punk rock-ish and Carmen would be happy to listen to the Doc McStuffins theme song over and over (and over and over) again. Yes, we usually rotate but something fun that drums up learning, conversation and exposure to new music? Listening to the artists from wherever you're driving through. It became a game on our first road trip, when we crossed into Oklahoma and I forced -- I mean, gave everyone else the privilege -- everyone to listen to Hanson. If you're unfamiliar with an artist in the city or state you're passing through, a quick Google search will turn up a bunch of results. We listened to a whole lot of new songs written about places we drove through or performed by musicians from wherever we were at the time. This gave Ethan some love for Elvis as we crossed into Tupelo, where Elvis was born. And Ethan and I also made a deal to make Corpus Christi on our route next time just so we can enjoy some more Selena.

4. Find the playgrounds

Whenever the kids are starting to get antsy, be prepared. Use your GPS to look up some nearby parks and playgrounds. Sometimes we would set goals, like five straight hours of driving before a stop and then making plans to stop for lunch. Others, the kids would just feel antsy and want to burn off some energy. By plugging in playgrounds into the GPS, the kids not only got to spend 10 minutes or so running around and getting that energy out, but they got to experience some really cool new parks along the way. If I was able to plan ahead enough, I would seek out some fun parks located near a restaurant the kids would like, and we would turn it into a productive little stop. Seeing what each park would look like was exciting for Ethan, too, and brought some fun energy to the drive.

5. Postcards

Before we left, I made a little address book for Ethan with all of his friends names and addresses, and I picked up a book of postcard stamps. We would try to find postcards at each stop (this is a little more tricky when you hit some more rural areas) and read some neat facts about where we had stopped. He enjoyed sending messages home to his friends about something he had done, learned or saw while he was gone (though he got a little creative on his postcards from Roswell about the aliens he "saw"...).

6. Pack a map

Pack a US map, but not for navigating. This was suggested to me before our first trip and I am so glad I did this. It was a hit the second trip, too. I printed out a simple US map and at each stop, Ethan marked where we had stopped. When we arrived, we connected the dots to see our route and just how far we had gone as well as how many new places we had been! This really puts the driving distance into perspective for kids.

7. Hotel Points

We decided to open a Marriott credit card to earn ourselves Marriott points. While we did stay in an Airbnb at our final destination, having points helped us get free rooms along our journey. This was super convenient because there are Marriotts all over, so one night in particular when we got a little lost and wound up in a Georgia town we didn't intend to stop at, we were still able to find a place to crash for the night (at no cost) and then continue on in the morning.


Call me crazy, but I cherish this time in the car with family so much. I will never fly if I don't have to and am so content just having these wonderful bonding times taking in all the new experiences, scenery and places with those I love the most.

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I suck at New Year's Eve. I can throw a pretty sweet party for just about any holiday. St. Patrick's Day? No problem. You bet that leprechaun will find his way to my house, leaving a trail of green footprints across my tile and even some green urine in the toilet for good measure. No detail remains undone. New Years? Meh. I'm not sure my poor children ever celebrated New Year's Eve (or day, for that matter), short of waking up and me pointing out it's now an entirely new year. Sometimes we share annoyances that businesses are closed or that the beach is crowded. Usually, we just retreat to the zoo for something to do. I don't know why I lose my party planning excitement for New Year's other than I've never been very good at staying up late, and I can't recall the last time I even stayed up until midnight. Resolutions are lame and no one ever keeps them, let's be real. So New Years? Meh. Meh all around.

This year, though, I feel a little differently. Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to have my happy ass in bed at 9:00 struggling to stay awake through just one more binge-watching episode of Blackish, but I kind of get the appeal of a fresh slate. A little bit, anyway. Enough to maybe make my meh a smaller one this year than in years past.

My husband surprised Ethan with a day trip to Legoland for their New Years party and Carmen, my mom and I had a more low-key day at the (where else?) zoo. The neighbors are already getting into the spirit with noisemakers (can you see my side eye from here?) and I'm just counting down the minutes until bedtime, because that's how I do. But anyway, resolutions. I'm feeling it this year, maybe because the last few months have been such a gigantic breakthrough for me in so many ways.

I'm gifting myself the promise of self care this year because this is one area in which I routinely slack off. In the past, I've determined that self-care meant allowing myself time to wash my hair a couple of times a week or enjoying a non-rushed hot shower. I'm learning that these are just things that are kind of mandatory, and I have to give myself time for actual self-care: reading books that are piled up on my nightstand, taking myself on a date to the movies, going for coffee with friends or even extending my nightly walks a little longer so I can listen to all of John Moreland's albums twice just because I want to. I've been trying to practice this the last few weeks and I've noticed a huge difference in how much more refreshed I feel even when the big details don't really change (the laundry is still piled, the dishes are still hanging out dirtied on the counter, there aren't enough hours in the day still).

My hopes for this upcoming year? Allowing myself to feel -- truly feel -- inner peace without worrying about when or if the other shoe will drop. It's been a long road and I'm forever changed by the path I've walked, but I'm trying to keep my grip on peace because I've been waiting for it to arrive for a while. So that's a whole lot of peace, a whole lot of happiness -- and all the roadtrips my minivan can stand because seeing so much of this country with my babies has been such a place of joy this past year. Bring it on, adventure. Ready for you, 2018.

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I began this little blog as a place to keep friends and family in the know with my first pregnancy and then I sort of morphed things to fit neatly into the world of mommy blogs. (This just happens when you're a mom and kids rule everything around you.) 2014 saw a gigantic shift in my life when we lost our daughter, Wylie, and this space turned into a place to share grief and express myself at a time when life couldn't possibly get any scarier or lonelier. Because life moves in waves with tides that ebb and flow, this grief space eventually became an infertility journey. It was a journey that was ended when an adoption journey began -- and then wholeness. And healing. And trying to find my footing in a world that was different than it once was, yet still eerily the same.

This has been the part of my journey that I have kept closest to my heart, not necessarily in secret but certainly in a level of quietness that no one has come to expect from an over-sharer like me. It has been a journey of accepting things about myself that the world doesn't know how to see in me: a PTSD diagnosis, a child who will never be present on our chaotic family Target visits or cross-country roadtrips. It has been a journey in taping up the wounds that until now I'd left gaping and bleeding, trying my best to let the healing begin even though there will always be scars. And, oh, how there will always be scars.

I have been a pushover for most of my life, always saying yes and bending over backwards to accompany other people. I have taken on too much unnecessary stress and pain and hurt for the sake of friendship or not wanting to hurt anyone else's feelings. On my journey into wholeness and healing, I have forced myself to rid myself of this. I have forced myself to have enough self-respect to acknowledge my own feelings matter and that not all people fit into the place you're in, and that's okay. This is only one of many ways I have found myself stronger as time continues to go on. I am standing up for myself and being the example I want my children to see.

It's now nearly 2018 and after a year of self-discovery and reflection and changes in mind and body, I am ready to reclaim this space as my own in the form that I began this life as: a writer. Writing has saved my life and been my place of familiarity during all of the shifts life has made both with and without my consent. This is my resolution to myself in 2018, as I find my peace and let it fit comfortably all around me: find my words again.

Life has changed so much over the years and I've been struggling to hold on for so long. But I've got this now, and I feel bolder and stronger and more alive than I have in a while. This new year will be the start of a new journey, and I'm letting that not feel as scary as it would have sounded at one point. I took a different route to get here and my soul is forever scarred, tattered and changed, but I have reclaimed my life. For the first time, I feel the depth of my strength both mentally and physically.

And so hello, little blog, little space on the web for my words. I'm back. Promise.

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legoland brick or treat

We just got back from a cross country road trip and, nevertheless, all Ethan could think about was Brick or Treat at Legoland Florida (his favorite place on Earth). For weeks he has been drawing the way he imagined Brick or Treat, hoping he would get a chance to meet Lego Frankstein or Lego Mummy along the way. Finally, the day we here and we woke up bright and early to drive up to Central Florida for Brick or Treat! The spooky little decorations were everywhere, which is always my personal favorite part of Legoland -- the attention to detail. Wherever you looked, there was some Halloween flair thrown in -- even in Miniland!

Upon entry, we were given a great guide to the event which included meeting times and locations for all of the Halloween Lego characters. I loved that each character was offered a few times, making it nearly impossible to miss the photo op that Ethan had been looking so forward to.

Of course, one of the best parts about Brick or Treat was the Trick or Treat Trail! The set up was super cool, but this mama's hat is off to Legoland for keeping the line moving so quickly. Everything went so smoothly that it was effortless to walk through the super spooky trick or treat trail despite the long line. Legoland is awesome that way. Each kid was given a special bag at the start of the trail and then got to walk through the trail, admiring the spooky set-up and trick or treating from the themed houses along the way.

Legoland closed off an amazing evening with a fabulous interactive fireworks show by the lake. The kids got to listen to a spooky story about a pirate and watch an incredible fireworks show -- complete with special viewing glasses that made the fireworks look like Lego bricks! Brick or Treat is a must visit event for little Lego fans. We are so grateful for the extra dose of magic it gave us this Halloween!

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2017 albuquerque balloon fiesta

As I said yesterday, we've been back from our cross-country roadtrip to Albuquerque for a week now. We saw so many wonderful sights in New Mexico, the land of enchantment after all, as well as along the way...but the thing everyone asks about is the Balloon Fiesta. And for good reason: it's absolutely magical. This is our second year attending the Balloon Fiesta and I can truly say it's one of those things that never gets old. Year after year, you will still be able to find magic in every bit of the fiesta. Our favorite part is watching the sun rise over the mountains and feeling the chilly New Mexico temperatures (which Pinon coffee and hot cocoa accompanies perfectly) while the balloons get ready to take off for mass ascension. It is absolutely surreal to watch them slowly take off into the sky, floating over the mountains.

There are so many beautiful hot air balloons but our favorites are always the special shapes. This year Ethan's favorite was a rocket ship balloon as well as a penguin named Tall Steve. Carmen really loved the pink elephant balloon which was so bright and beautiful! It's always fun to pick out the usual favorites each year as well as discover new and unique balloons that we didn't see the previous year.

This year, in addition to a beautiful morning mass ascension, we also visited the Balloon Fiesta for a nighttime Glowdeo. It turns out that watching the sun go down behind the mountains is just as magical as watching the sun rise. The kids loved being able to sit in the field and have dinner, watching the balloonists get ready for the Glowdeo up close and personal. While the balloons don't fly in the evening, watching the Glowdeo is every bit as magical.

The Glowdeo kicks off with an incredible laser light show followed by a fabulous fireworks show.

No matter where you live or how many times you've been before, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is worth seeing. As beautiful as it is photographed and on TV (so many of our South Floridian pals were watching the fiesta on the news!), it's even more incredible in person. It's a bucket list must-do for sure.

Check out The Balloon Fiesta website for event details, scheduling and to get planning your trip!

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