A Pile of Shoes

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It is just a pile of shoes. 

Some were expensive and some were on sale.  Some were worn just once and others were worn many times.  One pair walked me down the stage as I received my Teacher of the Year award in 2008.  Another pair took me out to dinner with my husband.  One pair had the privilege of making an appearance in two different weddings.

These are just a handful of the many bridesmaid shoes that I have had to purchase over the years.  My husband and I were one of the first few to get married and after that came a deluge of weddings for the next ten years.  After standing up next to dear friends or family more times than can be counted on both of my hands, I have quite the collection of bridesmaid shoes. 

Each pair of shoes not only represents a beautiful wedding but also an exciting adventure. Six weeks after I delivered my second child, I left my brave husband at home with our three year old and the baby and flew from Florida to San Francisco to help one of my best friends from high school celebrate her big day.   Another wedding created a trip to Panama City where my brother-in-law married one of the most wonderful women I know.  Even though I don’t have a pair of shoes for the wine country wedding (we walked barefoot through the grass), looking at the shoes reminds me of the time spent with my husband driving from one winery to the next.  That is one of the first few vacations my husband and I took in our early years of our marriage.   

The last wedding I was in, I wore those pretty little gold shoes from Nine West.  The reception was at a beautiful bed and breakfast in Downtown Pensacola.  That night, after the dancing had finished, I tossed those shoes in my suitcase and flew to Oahu to celebrate my ten year anniversary with my husband.  The shoes never did make an appearance on that trip.  My flip flops were more suited for our dinners on the beach but every time I shoved the shoes out of my way to find a shirt or a pair of shorts, they made me smile. 

I have since retired my bridesmaid shoes.  As I clean out my closet I still smile when I think of each adventure that happened all because I was walking down the aisle…again…and again.

Visit Mara over at Mother of All Trips to see what everyone is dreaming about today!

A Visit to Hanauma Bay 21 Years Apart

A very young me before the conservation effort that prohibits standing on the reef and feeding the fish.  It was a LONG time ago!

A very young me (taken from a family scrapbook) before the conservation effort that prohibits standing on the reef and feeding the fish began. It was a LONG time ago and this is a BIG No-No now!!

“Come on…will you just get in the water, Jennifer?”

That was what I heard as I stood on the coral reef in the middle of Hanauma Bay in Honolulu, Hawaii.    My mom was trying to coax me off of the reef and into the water.  My sister was swimming around like one of the brightly colored fish darting in and out of the anemones while she tossed frozen peas from the bag that she carried close to her.  It was 1990. 

I don’t remember much from that trip to Hawaii.  I remember eating copious amounts of pineapple.  I remember attending a luau and my amazement (and a little bit of disgust) as they removed the pig and prepared it for the attendees and I will not forget standing there in the middle of Hanauma Bay thinking that surely something was going to find me a tasty morsel for his next lunch.

Fast forward to my ten year anniversary where we celebrated in Hawaii with our first major trip without the kids.  Hanauma Bay was on our list of things to do.  The weather wasn’t conducive to snorkeling the first morning of our trip so we spent the day driving around and exploring the island.  The next day the rain had stopped and, thanks to our jetlag, we were up with the sun.  We threw on our swimsuits, packed our sunscreen and made the short drive to Hanauma Bay.  Because of the overcast weather, we found a parking space quickly and close to the entrance.

A lot has changed since my visit 21 (yeesh…21 years?!?!) years ago.  Shortly after our visit in 1990, a great effort was made to help rebuild the reef.  You can no longer feed the fish and walking on the reef is a no-no and for good reason.  These rules are in place to help preserve the beautiful reef and in turn make it available to visitors for many years to come.

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To swim in Hanauma Bay, you have to watch a conservation video about the bay, the reef and the sealife.  If you plan on returning to Hanauma within a certain amount of time, you can sign a sheet that states you watched the video and you will be able to enter the bay without watching the video again.  As I watched the video I could feel my pulse quickening and when it showed an eel popping out of a hole in the coral reef I about fell over!  However, I was determined to do this after everyone back home made fun of me!  Once the video is finished, you are free to start swimming.

Take the walk down to the water…the view is beautiful and there are several opportunities to snap a few pictures. 

My delicious husband rocking the scruffy face posing for yet another picture taken by his obnoxious wife!

My delicious husband rocking the scruffy face posing for yet another picture taken by his obnoxious wife!

Once you have reached the bottom, head directly to the huts and get in line to rent your snorkel equipment for reasonable prices.  If you brought your own gear, you can skip this step unless you need a locker.  You can stay as long as you wish snorkeling around the waters. 

Arrive early and be prepared for crowds.  The parking lot fills up quickly and you will be turned away.  Also, the area to rent gear and lockers is very small and the line gets very long very quickly.  Even though it does get crowded, the area is large enough that you are not constantly bumping into other people (though it does happen occasionally!).

If you don’t have a car, you can still go!  Follow the directions on the website to catch the correct bus to Hanauma Bay.  You can also set up a tour that will pick you up and drop you off.

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Don’t bother with disposable underwater cameras or be prepared for not so great pictures.  I didn’t want to invest in a waterproof box for my DSLR camera and we don’t own a waterproof camera so we just bought a disposable camera that we could turn in to have developed and tossed.  After being amazed by all of the underwater sights and seeing the poor quality of my pictures, I wish we had spent the extra money to rent a camera.  I think it would have been worth it.  On a sunny day, your photos taken with a disposable camera might turn out better than ours did on an overcast day.

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If you have your own snorkel equipment, bring it. If not, consider purchasing inexpensive equipment at one of the hundreds of ABC stores (or any other store carrying snorkeling gear) you will find around Honolulu.  We brought one snorkel and mask leftover from a cruise.  While in an ABC store near our hotel, we decided to spend a few dollars on a second set so we could avoid waiting in line for rentals.  I also like the idea of not using a snorkel that had been previously used!

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Pack a lunch or bring snacks.  We had planned on just spending an hour or so at Hanauma Bay and then we were going to head to one of the local shrimp trucks.  It turned out that we took to snorkeling like the little fishies we were visiting and we stayed a lot longer than we had planned.  There is a concession stand where we grabbed a drink to tide us over until we were able to get our late lunch. 

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Bring cash. You will have to pay for parking and you may want a few dollars to ride the shuttle bus back up the hill.  We had planned to walk back up the hill but after several hours of nonstop snorkeling we decided to take the shuttle.  I was glad we had a few bucks ($1 a person) in our pocket!  Admission into the park is $7.50 per person but children 12 and under are free. 

Consider wearing a rashguard.  I can’t stress this enough.  We both got sunburns.  Be sure to give extra attention to your back, neck and the back of your legs because that is in fact what will get the most sun as you swim around the water!

Kids will love it too!  Though it was just me and my husband, we wish that we our children had been able to experience this with us.  There were children of all ages. Everyone had the same look of wonder in their eyes when they emerged from the water.  If your children are not proficient swimmers, life jackets will help them stay afloat when you are exploring the reef.  Another option that I read about on Go Explore Nature when we returned was purchasing a boogie board with a see through window.  You can swim beside your child as they float and look through their window to a whole new world!

 Our children are still very put out (even 8 months after our trip) by the fact that we did not take them to Hawaii with us.  We will have to make it up to them someday.  I dream about the day that I can take them to Hanauma Bay and add another memory to the banks of that beautiful horseshoe, its coral reefs, and colorful inhabitants.

What are you dreaming about this week?  Visit Mother of All Trips to read about all sorts of different dreams.

Honolulu Family Vacation on raveable

In Memory of…

This morning, I enjoyed sleeping in, my kids are getting in a few minutes of video games before I make them turn the television off and head outside, and we are going to have a nice dinner tonight with Oma and Opa who arrived from Germany last night to visit us.  The fact that I can do this and have this day with my family in part because of the men and women who have given their lives for my freedom is not lost on me. 

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On this Memorial Day, I am thinking of all of these men and women and giving thanks.  I am thinking of my husband’s great uncle, Winder Lane Close, who went to fight for our freedom during World War II and never came back because he was killed in action in his early twenties.  A few years ago, my husband and I were able to visit his gravesite at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial.  We were the first family members to visit in over 40 years and it was an emotional moment finding his name on one of the hundreds of white crosses. 

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Stop by Mondays are for Dreaming at Mother of All Trips to see what others are hoping, wishing and dreaming.

Monday Dreaming: Postcards

This week, I made it my mission to clean out the hall closets.  They were a disaster and it took awhile to wade through all the junk.  While I was gutting the closets, I came across this box.  It isn’t a big box…just a little shoebox sized Rubbermaid bin but it is full of over 15 years of memories. 

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Since I was allowed to pick out souvenirs, I have always picked up a postcard everywhere we went.  I have postcards from big cities, small towns, attractions like the La Brea Tar Pits and the California Missions, amusement parks and hotels.  

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I even have post cards from cities and states that we just drove though.  I made sure that when we stopped to buy gas, I would run into the convenience store and grab a postcard. 

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Since I got married almost eleven years ago, I really haven’t purchased postcards on our travels unless I was sending one.  After digging around in this box and dreaming about places I visited years ago (some I have revisited since), I think I might have to start with this tradition again! 

What are your travel traditions? 

Thank you to Mara for hosting Monday Dreaming at Mother of All Trips.  See her latest Photo Friday where she shared her son’s souvenir cup!

Traveling Mom, Traveling Daughter

Some of my severe wanderlust I attribute to growing up in a military family that moved around a lot.  Each time we moved, it was across the country.  Hawaii to Florida then to California to Virginia back to California…well, you get the picture.  We would pack our cars full of only what we would need for the next weeks as we waited for the delivery of our belongings and we would drive. 

Most of my wanderlust, though, I attribute to my mother, a lover of all things road trip and adventure.

A scrapbook page of our weekend adventures to Washington DC while living in VA.

A scrapbook page of our weekend adventures to Washington DC while living in VA.

 

My road trip memories are full of homemade tuna fish sandwiches ice cold from the cooler and bags of chips and green grapes at rest areas all over the United States.  Our meals were always placed upon a lovely picnic tablecloth.  Somehow we always got to the hotel early enough to play in the pool for an hour before bedtime…every single night, no matter what.  Of course I later found out that my mom planned it that way so we had time to wear ourselves out splashing in the water and then we would fall asleep quickly once back in the room.  Those fun mini cereal boxes were always a treat on road trips because that was the only time she splurged on them.  My sister and I would fight over who would get which cereal boxes but we would be especially excited when we found out we were staying in a hotel with a free continental breakfast because that meant make-your-own waffles the next morning!

Preparation for proper roadtrips always started with one or two new outfits, some new toys and magnetic travel games but it was the stack of brand new books that plagued me for days before we hit the road.  A week or two before the road trip, we would make a trip to the bookstore where we would get to pick out several books.  When we got home those books were confiscated and placed on the top shelf of my mom’s closet until the trip.  I read voraciously and this was pure torture.  I always contemplated snatching one of the books and hoping she didn’t notice but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it knowing that she would find out somehow or just magically know. 

Getting lost was always on the road trip agenda.  I can picture the gigantic Rand McNally Atlas sitting on the front seat or on the hood of the car as my mom determined where to go.  Inevitably, we always got lost but some of our most exciting adventures were when we were trying to get back on track.  When I finally had my driving permit and then license, I remember a brief argument about wanting to drive and not being able to.  At least not until we were in a stretch of super flat, straight road!

My last epic road trip as a young woman was to move me from Southern California to Pensacola for college.  I wasn’t even 18 yet.  I know the fear and trepidation that I had as we made our way closer to the city that I would call home for four years.  Little did I know I would still be here 15 years later.  I remember pulling in to New Orleans, a side stop to see the city, and falling in love with it for the first time.  I remember something going wrong with my car and for the last 300 miles (maybe more!) of the trip; fully loaded semi trucks were passing us by.  I remember pulling into the University of West Florida and seeing my dorm building for the first time.  Most of all, I remember driving my mom to the airport, watching through the window as my mom walked to her plane, crying tears of both joy and sadness.  Joy because I was beginning a new phase of my life…one that would eventually take me to where I am today–a mother of two children of my own.  Sadness because I was watching my mother get on a plane and leave me to test out my independence and continue to grow into the woman I am and in the past she had always been the one to watch me leave.   

A scrapbook page from our CA to FL trip.

A scrapbook page from our CA to FL trip.

I hope that I am teaching my children to look for adventure around every corner the way my mom taught my sister and I.  I hope that I am inspiring the same wanderlust and love for road trips in my own children with some of the same traditions and some new ones as well.  Both kids are already fighting over who is going to get the last mini cereal box.  When we get lost, this time because of a faulty GPS (of course it wasn’t me that missed the turn!), my four year old always asks if I have to turn around again. 

I hope to watch my teen daughter’s eyes roll as I play my favorite monster ballads from when I was her age.  I am so nervous for the day to arrive when my son begs to drive the car for part of our road trip.  And I know that fight will happen someday because, already, he is full of such independence.  As my children do get older, I hope I never forget the  excited exclamations when cows or horses are spotted, the tired yawns and the chorus of “are we there, yets” as we embark on new adventures.  I hope I always remember that my children associate the gigantic bag of Swedish Fish in the shopping cart with an impending road trip.

So many memories made and so many more to make.

In honor of Mother’s Day this week, thank you Mom.

Be sure to wander over to Mother of All Trips to see other Monday Dreams.

Hiking with Kids

Cashiers, North Carolina has a number of wonderful hiking trails that lead to mountain vistas and waterfalls.  As part of my solo road trip with kids, we are headed to Cashiers, North Carolina to be guests of the High Hampton Inn and Country Club.  I am looking forward to strolling around Hampton Lake, having afternoon tea, and exploring the nearby hiking trails

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My kids will whine about walking across a parking lot to get to the store but will run for hours when we are on a hike or a nature walk.  When we were in New Orleans last week, the kids complained as we walked from spot to spot through the city but once we hit our destination they were all too happy to run and jump and play until their hearts were content!  I am hoping that this holds true when we arrive in Cashiers.  Now that my foot is healed and I have been released from physical therapy, I am looking forward to hiking with my kids and exploring Cashiers.

What are you dreaming about?  Stop by Mother of All Trips to see other travel dreams!

Photo Courtesy of KE4SFQ via Flickr

Dreaming of a Girl’s Weekend Getaway

This weekend is my annual girl’s weekend getaway.  There are a couple of us that try to get together every year.  It started with my 30th birthday.  We headed to Biloxi, Mississippi for a true birthday blowout.  Last year, we were on a super tight budget but we had a wonderful time exploring Destin, Florida.  This year, we are headed to Orlando.  I know I just went to Orlando for the Traveling Mom Retreat and it feels like we head to Orlando every other trip but I am so excited about this trip. 

We have been reading the Harry Potter books since the first Harry Potter book came out over ten years ago.  We have a standing date when the movies come out and I can’t wait to share the books with my children when they are old enough. 

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We are making this trip to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  I got lost in the pages of the books and I can’t wait to get lost in the streets of Hogsmeade, walk the halls of Hogwarts, and drink our first butterbeer (we have been told frozen is the way to go). 

What I am most looking forward to is spending some much needed girl time with two of my best friends. 

Stop by Mother of All Trips to see other travel dreams!

Photo by popculturegeek via Flickr.

Dreaming of a Safari Inspired by the Animal Kingdom Lodge

This weekend I had the opportunity to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disney World.  When I first found out where we were going to be hosted, I was excited at the prospect of staying in one of the nicer Disney properties (which is something we don’t normally do!) but I was also a little wary about how a Disney “safari” would be.  Would it be too cheesy?  Would it scream pretend play world? 

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For the past few years, I have been obsessed with traveling to Africa for safari.  We have friends who live in Zambia and have built and grown the Mission of Love Community Orphanage in Zambia.  Our dream is to visit the orphange for a week, volunteering, reconnecting with an old friend, and learning more about the orphanage.  Then I would like to take the next week to go on a safari.  My husband and I want to wait until our kids are a little older for several reasons.  We would like the volunteer experience at the orphange to have an effect on them.  We want them to learn from the experience.  We also want the kids to remember traveling to yet another continent.  We want to be able to do the trip right so that is going to take us many, many months to pad the savings account so we feel confident spending the money to go. 

Did the Animal Kingdom ruin my dream for a true African safari?  I can answer that with a resounding no!  I was pleasantly surprised at the authentic signs of Africa throughout the architecture of the hotel, the restaurants, and the animal habitats.  It certainly wasn’t subtle.  It was most definitely direct and in your face, but not in an agressive or annoying way.  If nothing else, my stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge has only increased my desire to take my family to Africa to see the real deal someday.

To learn more about my Traveling Mom Retreat at Walt Disney World, see some of the posts that are  popping up on the website: Traveling without Kids When the Other Parent is Deployed; Got Culture? Five Ideas for Family Travel; and Some of the Magic Behind Magic Kingdom at Disney World.

Want to keep dreaming of a safari with me?  Head to The Carey Adventures to see pictures taken on his safari.  But please be aware, clicking over will most definitely cause you to want to book your plane tickets immediately!

Stop by Mara’s at Mother of Trips to join many other travelers that are dreaming on this beautiful Monday.

Disclosure: My visit to Disney World was sponsored in part by Disney.  My reviews are based solely on my experiences and opinion with no outside influence (except maybe the kudu and impala that greeted me underneath my balcony each morning).   

Dreaming of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

The sun is trying to peak out from behind the clouds but that pesky wind and rain has been persistent.  Mr. Sun is not having much luck.  The temperatures have warmed up a little bit but are showing no signs of creeping any higher.  I know I have no room to complain about temperatures that range from the 20s to the 40s but we live on the Gulf Coast.  We just are not accustomed to temperatures like that for more than a few weeks at a time.  Our houses aren’t insulated for that freezing weather, our coats are not heavy enough, and we can’t find the darn mittens and scarves in the closet.  Don’t even get me started on my shoes.  My poor flip flops are aquiring a very tall layer of dust as I constantly rotate the only two pairs of closed toed shoes I own.

This is why I am dreaming of my spring break trip already even though it is still two months away (and may still very well be cold where we are going!).  We will be packing up the car and making the eleven hour drive to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Not only will I be able to check off #3 (putting our toes back in the Atlantic Ocean) on my 33 Things to Do the Year I Turn 33 list, but I am excited to explore a part of the South that I have not been able to explore yet.

Courtesy of alan2onion at Flickr.com

Courtesy of alan2onion at Flickr.com

South Carolina makes me think of sprawling porches, rocking chairs and all the sweet tea you can drink.  It makes me think of BBQ sandwiches, boardwalks with carnival rides and ice cream shops, and collecting seashells on the beach as the sun rises.

We will be visiting Holiday Inn Vacation Club’s South Beach Resort courtesy of the Holiday Inn Vacation Club.  I am looking forward to taking advantage of what the resort as to offer including their pools and that beautiful boardwalk out to the beach.  I can’t wait to see my children’s reaction when they walk out on the that sand and see how different it is from our powdery white beach.  I am excited for the car ride because much of the ride will be a route we have never taken before. 

But most importantly?  I am looking forward to the three days of family time…you know…that Forced Family Fun?!

Have you been to Myrtle Beach?  Do you have any suggestions for us?  We want to hear about your favorite restaurants and activities!

Stop by Mother of all Trips to see what everyone else is dreaming about today!

33 Things I Want to See and Do the Year I Turn 33

Whew!  That post title is a mouthful. 

33…this is not a grand birthday.  Not like 18, 21, or 30 were!  My husband is turning 35 this year.  Funny thing about 35…I remember when my parents turned 35!  I am not afraid of getting older or regretting not doing something in my life, but I am definitely settling in to a time in my life where I realize that I need to be living in the now and not constantly looking for the next best thing…the next best job, the next best house, the next best anything.  At the same time, I still have many goals and expectations for myself and of course they include lots of travel! 

I was thinking about how this year is going to be a fun year in travel.  Even though we don’t have a lot of specific trips planned, we do plan to travel a lot!  My youngest is reaching that age where she is beginning to remember lots of stuff that we do and is enjoying traveling and “adventures” as much as the rest of the family. 

That is why I decided to start a list of things I wanted to do this year.  I have a “bucket list” in my head, but this is just what I would like to accomplish this year!  Who knows if I will finish everything on this list but I am going to certainly try! 

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1.  See the Northern Lights.

2.  Watch my kids learn how to ski.

3.  Put our toes back in the Atlantic Ocean.

4.  Visit some Florida destinations like Anna Maria Island and Sanibel that we have skipped even though we live here!

5.  Put more stamps on our Florida State Park Passport.

6.  Go on a Girl’s Weekend to New York City.

7.  Spend more time on Pensacola Beach.

8.  Head back to New Orleans for some beignets to celebrate our anniversary.

9.  Take the kids to Hawaii next summer…or maybe not.  Either way, Daddy J and I want to return!

10.  Try five new foods that I previously was scared to try.

11.  Be confident and anxiety free about roadtripping on my own with both kids, which I will be doing in June.

12.  Try five new parks in Pensacola that we haven’t been to yet because they are either too far away or we just stick to the same old parks.

13.  Head back to all of the amazing German Christmas Markets and visit a few new ones.

14.  Renew my son’s passport!!!  Ack! We let the passport expire and we need to get it taken care of soon!

15.  Visit a few cities that are within a day’s drive but we always decide to go somewhere else.  They include:

16.  Huntsville, Alabama to see the Space Center and caves (thanks to @theqfamily!)

17.  Atlanta, GA

18.  Go camping at least three times at new campsites.

19.  Take a day trip to Orange Beach to ride the Ferris Wheel.

20.  Wander the shops and restaurants of Fairhope, Alabama.

21.  See the Christmas lights at Bellingrath Gardens this year (last year I broke my foot right before we were going to go).

22.  Continue to work on my book and actually get some entries finished.

23.  Grow my Pensacola with Kids website and continue to find new and inexpensive activities.

24.  Create an editorial calendar for Two Kids and a Map and actually stick to it.

25.  Get published in a magazine (online or print) and continue to write guest posts.

26.  Visit Verona, Italy.

27.  Head to Denver for an extended weekend if the timing works out.

28.  Take a ride on an ice breaker.

29.  Take the kids to Disneyworld and visit Harry Potter at Universal Orlando for the weekend.

30.  Accompany the husband on a business trip!

31.  Visit Legoland Florida when it opens.

32.  Ride a gondola in Venice.

33.  Savor the moment but remember to take more pictures!

What are you dreaming about this week?  Stop by Mara at Mother of All Trips and read about fulfilling her own dreams and see other Monday dreams!

**Funny for the day…I just wrote this post titled 32 Things…then I remembered that I was turning 33!