Saturday, August 25, 2012

{12 in 12} Tips for a Great Family Vacation

Back in the over-confident days of January, I was certain I could get 12 projects done in 2012.  One project a month.  No problem.  While most of those projects are still waiting to be given any thought at all  started  completed ...  I was pretty sure I could manage the August project just fine:  


It's a big project to tackle, I know, but we have experience with this one, and I'm determined!!!!

Here are some of our tried and true tips for having a great family vacation:

Go to the same place every year.

Once I thought an annual vacation in the same spot would be the most boring thing ever, 
but especially with a young family, it's a great idea.  
We've vacationed at the beach in Alabama for 20 years now.

Going back to the Gulf Coast feels like going home, and because we're so familiar with it, we don't spend those first few days of vacation trying to figure everything out.  The familiarity removes some stress.
It's vacation stress, which is an oxymoron, but still.

 In Alabama, we know what to expect and we already know the things we love to do.  We've never had a bad time, even the first year, when Hurricane Andrew cut our stay short, so it's reasonably "risk-free."  Nostalgia and great memories are waiting for us, and because we know the drill, 
the relaxing begins more quickly ... that's a great thing!!!

Stay in the same place every year.

Not only do we go to the same place on the beach, we stay in the same condo.  So when I say vacation feels like going home, I really mean it feels like going home.  It took us a while to find the unit we loved, but once we found the one that fit us just right, it's a repeat every year.

Our booking service, Brett-Robinson, (click }here{ to go to their website) has an online booking service and you can take a virtual tour of the rooms before you book. I've looked at other units, but haven't found one I like any better!  Want to see why I love this place so?

I love the beachy colors and decor of this unit.  The walls are the perfect sunny yellow.  One year we stayed in a condo that was very elegantly decorated but we never got that kick-off-your-flip-flops kind of feeling.  
This condo has a beachy fun tone.

Here's the view from the balcony ...

One of our favorite things about this unit is that the master bedroom has a sliding glass door right onto the balcony ... we  leave it cracked open all the time.  
We go to sleep and wake up listening to the waves.  Pure bliss!

Know what else I love here?  

The shower curtain.  

It makes me happy - I LOVE it.

I also love the painted cabinets in the kitchen.  

Very much a happy place!

Get a great swimsuit that's comfortable.

If your vacation involves water play, especially in the waves, you don't want to worry about staying covered up.  We love to play in the waves, and last year I got board shorts from Board Shorts World ...

 It was an excellent investment for totally worry free water play ... more fun than ever!! 

Be sunscreen ninjas.  

We're fair skinned, so our goal is to cross back over the Texas state line at the end of vacation in the same shade in which we left.  Part of going down to the beach includes spending 15 minutes making sure everyone is adequately covered.  It's kind of like packing someone else's parachute.  

We love each other, but at the same time,
 we don't want to spend a week with someone who's inside the misery of sunburn.  

Make everyone get haircuts before you go.

I love to take pictures on vacation, but I have to say that the pictures from the year my children look like 1960's beatnicks are my least favorite.

Even though Nate did rock the surfer dude look :o)

Get a really really cute haircut before you go.

Not only did Abbie get a haircut before vacation this year, she went from super long to cute and short  and donated her long hair to Locks of Love ... 

what fun to take lots of pics with a new style!

Cook.  Or Grill.  Or both - instead of eating out.

Do I have to tell you eating out with a family of six is expensive?
Our condo has a full kitchen with all the cooking paraphernalia you could ever need.
We go to the grocery store at the beginning of the week (it's the happiest grocery store run EVER) and we eat breakfast and lunch in.  It saves us a good bit of money, and makes eating out a little more special.

And LtDan grills dinner by the pool at least once.
Barbeque ... at the pool ... by the beach?  Perfection!

Make a schedule for the day ... and for the week.

We learned that making a vacation schedule helps put everyone at ease when the kids were pretty little.  Because answering "when are we going to the pool?" 84,000 times a day gets tedious, we make a loose daily schedule so everyone knows what to expect.  We do the same thing with the week ... just so everyone can relax and know when their favorite thing is going to happen. 

The best part is that once you've decided how the week's going to go, you can put it on auto-pilot and turn off your brain ;o)  The year Lt.Dan and I just weren't up to officiating The Schedule was a somewhat amusing role reversal ... our kids wanted to get everything all lined out  - and they've never let us forget how important a schedule is to a satisfying vacation!

Take a book that's challenging.

I always take a good beach read, but I also like to bring along something that's a challenge or thought provoking on a spiritual or emotional level, or maybe a self-improvement book that will help me jump back into everyday life with greater passion.  It takes the concept of a vacation reset to a deeper level.

One of my favorite vacation reads has been Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindberg.  This year, I read The Art of Extreme Self-Care, by Cheryl Richardson, and I started The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Mid-Life, by Marianne Williamson.  I loved Cheryl's concept of the Absolute No List:  I will no longer rush ... I will no longer jump out of bed in the morning before taking time and space to start the day in a serene and relaxed state ... etc.  And here are some empowering words from Marianne:  "It's time to intend to age with joy, deciding that the joy of youth is a good kind of joy, but it's not the only kind.  In fact, there is a joy in knowing that after all these years, we've finally grown up."  

Designate a day to take pictures.  

If it were up to me, I would snap photos every minute, which would drive my family crazy and I would be banished from vacation.  So, we designate a picture day for mom to resemble the most obnoxious paparazzi you can imagine, and then I leave the camera behind and live the moments instead of trying to capture them ... which is really the best vacation tip of all.

What about you?  Do you have some good vacation tips or a favorite place to vacation?

I'm linking this post to Amanda's Weekend Bloggy Reading Party at Serenity Now!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Locks of Love

There was a time when I thought my girl Abbie's hair would never grow.  Once it got started though, we just let it grow ... and grow ... and grow.  

We went through pigtails ...

and headbands ...

and a hat phase ....

and bangs, growing out forever that were always in her face.  

But Abbie has been ready for a change for a while now.  I knew she wanted to cut her hair, but I was scared.  What if she didn't like it after it was cut?

She picked this style with encouragement from her brothers.     

(this is Yuna from the video game Final Fantasy X, if you're wondering :o) 

 I put it off as long as I could, and then Abbie got me.  She didn't just want to cut her hair off.
She wanted to donate her hair, to Locks of Love.  

Locks of Love is an organization that accepts hair donations and makes it into wigs 
for cancer and alopecia  patients.

How could I say no to that?  

Abbie researched what Locks of Love needed:  clean hair, at least 10 inches, gathered in a pony tail ... 

sent to their address in Florida ... 

secured in a ziploc bag, inside a padded envelope ...

After several last pictures of her beautiful long hair, we were off.

I took her to Ericka's Hair on the Square, where I've been getting my hair cut for about five years now. 

When I found Ericka, I really wanted to establish the habit of getting regular haircuts, but I hated going to the hair salon.  In fact, when I met Ericka, I told her I was most definitely not a salon girl.  But I've seen her every six to eight weeks since :o)   I love her salon because it's small, there's not a lot of drama, and the atmosphere is comfortable and fun.  And, of course, Ericka is exceptional at what she does!  

Abbie took a picture of the style she wanted after the length was cut off, 
and after studying it closely, Ericka got to work.  

Ericka put Abbie's hair in several pony tails so that after cutting them off, 
her hair wouldn't be too short wot work with.  

I knew I loved it right away.  

I think Abbie did, too.  

Iust like that, my little girl's long hair was gone ... but for a worthy and wonderful cause.   

 And in its place is a style that suits Abbie completely.  I'm so proud of her for knowing herself well enough to know what would look good ... and especially for making a charitable donation of her long locks.  It makes my heart swell with love every time I look at her!  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Good Morning, Glory!

This is a dramatic tale.  It has all the elements of a good story.  Dreams.  Aspirations.  Tragic sickness.  Insurmountable obstacles.  Dastardly villains.  And ... one can hope ... 

glory in the morning.  

It all started with this book 

Sunflower Houses is a delightful  book about gardening with children.  In addition to many other gardening pleasures, Sharon Lovejoy shares the joy her mother gave her in growing summertime sunflower houses.  Sunflower houses!  Her mother planted sunflowers in a large square, and when the flowers were tall enough, tied them together to form a roof.  She'd also plant morning glories along with the sunflowers, so they would wind their way up, lovely blue to offset the sunflower yellow.  

We did try this once.  When the sunflowers got about 6 feet tall, I just couldn't water them enough to keep them from drooping.  I already had a soft spot in my heart for sunflowers ... they're so very happy ... 
but those lovely morning glories stole my heart right away.  

When we built our house with a Texas-size front porch ... 

I was struck with a grand idea that first summer ... 

morning glories!  planted all the way down the porch!
   It would be lush and magical.  

I soaked my seeds.  I planted them.  I strung fishing wire around which the flowers would twine.  I watched the miracle of tender shoots pushing their way into the world.  I watered daily. And the vines began to climb. 

And also the temperatures.

Which wasn't really a problem for the morning glories.  But our dogs ... well, they were hot.  And that damp soil proved to be irresistible.  In the heat of the summer, while I was laying stricken on the couch with some strange summer malady and had not the strength to fight, the dogs were busy digging up my morning glories so they could stretch out in the cool mud.  

I was angry.  I was chagrined.  But I was not beaten.  
One lovely, brave morning glory vine survived the carnage.
And it thrived.  And reached the top of the porch.  And wound back upon itself.  
And produced massive royal purple flowers that were ... 


The dogs and I arrived at a a truce ... this vine, they left alone.

All was right with the word.

And then we got Sioux.

Sioux and the morning glories co-existed for a long time.  She didn't seem to notice them.  She had so much other green stuff to keep her busy, I naively thought my morning glories were safe.

The very day I noted with much satisfaction and great joy that my sole morning glory vine was looking particularly luscious and healthy, she struck.

I declared defeat.  

For a little while, I took my leave of the gardening world and determined to take what scant satisfaction I could muster from pretending the fake flowers on the front porch were real.

But you know what they say ... hope springs eternal, especially in the spring.  
This time, my aspirations weren't so grand.  Just a 2x2 square at the end of the porch.  

I got my potting soil.  

and my seeds ... 

I soaked the seeds in warm water overnight so they would sprout ... 

and I planted them in my 2x2 square. 

 Just 2x2.  
It's all I asked.  

It was apparently too much.  


Guilty ... guilty ... guilty.  

This was WAR.

I planted more seeds, I called in reinforcement,

and went for the bailing wire.

That's right.  Fear me and my awesome bailing wire skills!

And the seeds, they grew!

And the vines, they twirled!

And the horse, she chomped!

But although my new best friend, Sevin, claims only to be a pest repellent of the insectivorous kind,

it apparently works on genus Equs as well, because after munching just one sunflower button and a couple  leaves, the voracious Miss Sioux has left my beauties alone!

 Now ... if I can just coax those morning glories out ... I will tell them ... a fence is in their future!