How to Plan a FUN Road Trip

Most people love the idea of road trips. Open road, lots of tunes, gas station snacks. All the good stuff. 😉 But they can also get stressful quickly: getting lost, bad weather, realizing you forgot something important. We have a little experience under our belt road tripping. Just in 2017 we drove over 6700 miles!

Big road trip: 2700+ miles
Texas Househunting: 1600+ miles
Move to Texas: 800+ miles
Visiting Family in Texas: 200+ miles
Home to Louisiana for the Holidays: 1400+ miles

And each year before that we’ve taken at least 1 major road trip either to vacation or go home and visit family. Because of that, I have a few tips and tricks up my sleeve to make sure everyone has a good time!

Plan Your Route with Purpose

If you are taking a trip where the destination truly is the goal, such as a trip for a special event at your destination, I usually prefer the most direct route. Also, now that we travel with a toddler, I prefer to stick to interstates as much as possible because they usually have larger and cleaner travel stops. However, when it was just the two of us we took as many state routes and scenic roads as possible (and nearly ran out of gas a few times in Utah-not ideal). If you are going to do the wandering, small road thing, I definitely recommend filling up your gas tank whenever you have the opportunity because you never know how far the next station is.

Whatever your goal, make sure you plan your route according to what you want! The route you take can drastically change the feel and outcome of your trip!

Decide How Much You Want to Spend

Taking a road trip can be just as cheap or expensive as you want it to be! You know that no matter what you’ll be paying for gas, but you can save tons of money packing your own drinks and snacks. Caffeinated drinks are usually the most unexpected expense for us if we don’t plan properly. We are usually trying to cover a lot of ground each day and are always looking for our next cup of coffee or energy drink. If you know this is something you are going to want, pick some up in a bigger pack at the grocery and store them in a cooler.

Enjoy the Ride!

Road tripping is as much about journey as the actual destination, so enjoy it! Sometimes our driving days take us much longer than expected because we run into things we just have to stop and see! Remember, you’re in a car, there’s no plane to catch, and you can change your itinerary at the drop of a hat if you want!

 

Do you have any fun road trips planned?

 

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Push

Recently while trying to catch up on blog reading, I read a post by one of my very favorite bloggers about not making excuses. Even though she published this about two weeks ago, it really resonated with me right now! There are a couple things going on in my life that require that I either put up or shut up, and Michelle’s post was very motivating to move myself into the “put up” category!

Weight/Health

I have yet again gained a few more pounds. I do not like it. I do not feel good. And I’m not body shaming myself, I am not in good shape either. If maybe I was super fit and strong but still had a few extra pounds I wouldn’t worry. That is not the case here. This is pure laziness and white powdered donuts (they are like crack to me). I went to the gym purely just to force myself to be there today, and was embarrassed that I can’t even run a mile right now.

Horseback Riding

I’ve been in love with horses forever and riding on and off since I was 7. This is not an inexpensive hobby. So with my current part-time work status (which, ironically, gives me the time to ride again), I can’t exactly dive back in to the horse world like I would like. It’s pretty much just a toe dip at this point. But I want more, I need more! It’s just not financially responsible to spend tons of money on this hobby right now.

So what’s the point…

Over the last couple weeks I’ve spent significant time reflecting on what I really want my life to look like. I have unfortunately always put a lot of stock in what I thought everyone else thought my life should look like, which led to my making some decisions that I wasn’t happy with in the long term.

For example: I was basically a work-a-holic when we lived in Nebraska because I had changed careers and wanted desperately to prove that it had not been a bad decision. So I made it my mission in life to work as hard and as much as possible to get promoted as quickly as possible. I did achieve my goals but I had zero work life balance, something I craved at my core.

Now what?

It would be easy to sit here in front of my computer late at night and say that I’m going to change my whole life and lifestyle right now, but then it would also probably be a massive failure. Though I do feel something different than before. I’ve read what others have written about suddenly having this burning desire for something different. Once you get a taste of something different or have that vision in your head, you can’t rest until you get it. I am desperate to maintain my current level of work life balance but also have money for the things I love and want to do with my time.

So this time I’m going to push. I’ve been pushing myself to write something for about 5 days. Telling myself that I have more than enough free time and if I really want these things I envision, I had better get to work! I have seen too many people carve out their own success not to give it a try myself!

Tomorrow I will push myself to go to the gym again. I do not want to go, but if I keep pushing, in a week or a month or three, maybe I’ll look back and be happy with what I’ve accomplished! And just maybe, I’ll be a little closer to what I’m envisioning!

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January Goals

Recently I have come to accept something about myself. I don’t just like goals, I need goals. Having something to work towards gives me a sense of purpose, especially while my normal routine is a little out of whack. I used to set goals every month and I really miss it and am so excited to get started again!

January 2018 Goals

  • Write/post 2018 Goals
  • Find a workout routine
  • Unpack all Master Bedroom boxes
  • Organize makeup/hair tools
  • plan first 2018 road trip


Write/post 2018 Goals

With all of the craziness of moving and traveling home to Louisiana right before the new year, I did not even think about goals for 2018 until I started seeing everyone posting about them! But I am such a goal oriented person that I do want to get some intentions written down for this year! And of course I’ll want to post them here!

Find a Workout Routine
I have not had a good fitness/exercise routine since just this side of forever. And since I’m got more time on my hands than usual right now it’s a perfect time to get into some good habits. OH, and I just found out that the base we just moved to hosts a sprint triathlon in the summer. Game on!

Unpack All Master Bedroom Boxes
We’re at the point in unpacking when the boxes are getting harder to unpack. The spaces are getting filled and it takes a lot more effort to find a place for everything. So I think that I need to just go room by room and get everything unpacked until I’m done. I tend to have some attention span problems and just wandering from room to room unpacking a box here and there will lead to me still having unpacked boxes when we leave here in 4 years. 😉

Organize Makeup/Hair Tools (and products, etc.)
Yeah. I like my beauty stuff. I’ve paired it down and yet it still seems to have babies at night when I sleep and end up a big mess all over my bathroom counter. Hubs has suggested several solutions and I think we’ve finally come up with a good one. I’ll be sure to grab some pictures!

Plan First 2018 Road Trip
We have a lot of plans for places to visit while we’re in Texas. First on my agenda is one of the THREE National Parks that are within 4-5 hour driving distance! (For comparison, the closest one to our home in Nebraska was 6.5 hours away.) I know it doesn’t seem much closer but it definitely feels like it and there are three, not just the one!

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2018

A lot of people had a lot of beef with 2017. And to their credit, many of them had a truly crummy year so I can totally understand them giving it a swift kick and ringing in 2018 with new hope and a “See ya never, 2017!”. My year was, a bit bipolar. There were several very high points, a couple of really bad moments, and a lot of meh in-between. I too, am hopeful for a more awesome 2018.

I’ve been doing some reflecting on the high, low, and everything in-between lately and have come to the conclusion that each awesome thing that “happened” in 2017 was not something that happened by accident but that was purposeful and that I put effort into. Let me explain.

2017 Bestie Reunion

I had so much fun (even though I was getting over being very sick) reuniting with my best friends even for just a few days in May. But this did not happen by accident. There was much comparing of schedules and purchasing of plane tickets and planning of adventures. Full disclosure: most of our “adventures” consisted of sleeping late, drinking coffee/wine, and shopping at the outlet mall near my BFF’s house. #lifeat31

RAGBRAI 2017

Oh yes, that time that I rode nearly 400 miles across Iowa during the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. This certainly did not come about by happenstance. Especially, since we did it with a two year old and my parents in tow. Well, actually they did the towing of our belongings and our child from city to city each day. But pulling this off took a lot of planning and effort for all parties involved! And obviously a lot of effort to actually pedal my bike 50+ miles each day!

Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks Road Trip

11 days, over 2700 miles, 4 National Parks. This one actually took less planning than you may think. The hardest part was finding when we would both be able to take so much time off work. Then our efforts were nearly derailed by the fact that we got our orders to move to Texas shortly before our trip. Even though we would not be leaving Nebraska until December, we weren’t sure if taking such a long trip was a good idea or whether we should stay home and begin the process of selling our house, finding housing in Texas, and everything else that comes with moving your family halfway across the United States. Anyway, we went. It was amazing! We slept in a tent, washed clothes in a river, and saw some of most amazing scenery I’ve ever been privy to.

 

So as I was thinking back on this last year and pondering what kind of year I want to have in 2018, I came to one very simple conclusion. All of the good things in 2018 will be things that I make happen. I will not have a clean house, lose weight, or become a better baker by simply sitting around waiting for those things to happen to me. I am a great maker of lists but often get perfection paralysis and talk myself out of a project, hobby, or interest before it has really started.

To that end, I am not going to beat myself up for not having a perfect post ready for today. Nor am I going to berate myself for the fact that I have let this blog go by the wayside for the last few months. Instead, I’m going to finish this post (perfect or not) and move on to the next one. This year, I’m going to do my best to try and do the things that I want to do without letting perfection paralysis get the best of me.

 

What do you want for 2018?

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Life Lately

Well yikes, that happened quickly! I took a quick break to finish out my last couple days of work and now here we are on December-freaking-1st!! I took a leave of absence from my regular job to prepare to move, thinking that having over a month “free” before we leave would be more than enough time to pack and prepare to move to Texas. However, November flew by in the blink of an eye and I’m fully expecting the same to happen in December. Here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve been up to!

The rundown:

November 6th: I had my wisdom teeth out (more on that later). It look me forever to recover so I lost about a week to being incoherent on the sofa.

November 14th (15th?): My step-mom came to visit and we had a great time!

November 18th: We departed for a week long house-hunting trip to the town where we’ll be living in Texas. (More on the base housing, no base housing, buy/rent saga in a moment).

November 25th: Returned home to realize we’re moving in just over two weeks and let the real panic set in!

More on the Wisdom Teeth:

Ok so wisdom teeth: apparently when you’re over 30 and have your wisdom teeth out, your body basically rages against you for it. The oral surgeon had told me it would be a more difficult recovery due to increased bone density “at my age” but I was not prepared for the fact that I am still in pain, now almost a month later!!! It needed to happen so I’m glad that’s it’s over but for the love of Pete, if you have the chance, have your wisdom teeth out when you’re young!

About that housing:

The base we are moving to, apparently, has fairly limited housing for families with only one child who aren’t “senior” enlisted or officers. Even though my husband is thisclose to being senior enlisted, we still don’t qualify for the housing that isn’t like 1000 sure feet of 1950’s splendor. After much discussion, we decided to look at purchasing a home like we did in Nebraska but when it came right down to it we really didn’t feel comfortable purchasing a home in Texas for a couple of reasons. 1: We are only going to be there for 4 years and it would be difficult to build enough true equity to make it worth our while. 2: I do not feel comfortable with how slowly the market moves in the town we’re moving to. I do not want to be stuck with a house in a town I’m not going to be living in or want to return to. So after much deliberation, we decided to rent. The rental market leaves much to be desired as well but we finally found a nice little house that I think we’ll be perfectly happy in for the next four years!

 

See you soon! In way less than a month I promise! 😉

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Fall Sprinkle Chocolate Chip Cookies

Even though down South temperatures are still in the 80s (or higher!), here in the Midwest fall is upon us! The nights are cooler, days are shorter, and everyone and their mom has plans to go to a pumpkin patch! One of the things I love most about Fall and Winter is that it puts me in the mood to bake. I don’t know if it’s some sort of primitive gene wanting me to fatten up for winter or the fact that it’s getting cold and I little time in a warm kitchen is very welcomed!

Either way, I’m a sucker for some good old fashioned chocolate chip cookies but for a little festive fun, it’s fun to dress them up for the season.

For my chocolate chip cookies, I use the recipe from Pillsbury’s website with a couple of small edits.

Ingredients

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup butter or margarine (softened)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
2 & 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bag (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips (try using minis for a different look/taste)
sprinkles of your choice

Directions
My directions vary slightly from, but are still based closely upon the Pillsbury directions.

Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pour sprinkles/colored sugar into separate bowls, set aside.

In large bowl, beat sugars, butter, vanilla and egg with electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with spoon. Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt (dough will be stiff). Stir in chocolate chips.

Use hands to roll dough into ~1.5 inch balls. Dip balled up cookie dough into sprinkles of your choice. Place on ungreased cookie sheet* about 2 inches apart.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light brown** (centers will be soft). Cool 1-2 minutes, remove to wire rack.

*I much prefer to use a baking stone rather than a traditional cookie sheet. I find I have much more even heat and no burned bottoms!

You are welcome! Now, go! Get out of here and go make some delicious and adorable treats!

Happy Fall Y’all!

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2017 YNP, GTNP, GNP, & TRNP Road Trip: Part II

Recently we went on a 10-ish day, super amazing road trip through Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, & North Dakota (and technically South Dakota on the very last day). We visited Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Glacier National Park, & Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Hope you enjoy the recap!

In case you missed it, you can find Part I here.

Day 3: Yellowstone National Park

We spent most of Day 3 in YNP, taking the driving tour and trying to see some of the more famous features. This was the day that we were able to see Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic, & the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We basically spent the entire day trying to get around the south loop, which is bigger than it seems! I’ll just let a couple of pictures speak for themselves!

Old Faithful, YNP

This was also the day of the Solar Eclipse! We had originally intended to head down to GTNP since there was going to be a 100% eclipse over most of the park. However, after talking with some of the Rangers, we decided that it would be far too crowded and that 98% was good enough for us. 🙂 We ended up watching the eclipse at Inspiration Point. And that’s when I figured out where Yellowstone got it’s name.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Look at all that yellow rock!

Day 4: Grand Teton National Park

LC exploring

For this day we wanted to maximize our time in the park so we got up and rolling early. Once we were in the park we stopped for breakfast near Jackson Lake. We don’t often make use of the picnic areas near different features but it was a great place to stop, cook a little breakfast (the benefit of carrying your food/kitchen in your car at all times due to bears) and let LC stretch his legs a bit.

Chocolate chip pancakes!

It was an absolutely gorgeous day in the park and as with all of our other adventures, I wish we could have stayed longer. It was a much quieter park than Yellowstone, it doesn’t have as much tourist-y allure, but definitely don’t pass it up if you’re anywhere near. The pictures don’t even begin to do it justice.

After a long day in the park, we headed back to camp to settle in before our last day in Yellowstone.

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How to Go Camping with a Toddler (and Actually Have Fun!)

Before we had LC, we ran into a lot of people who would tell us to have fun while we could, because after you have kids you won’t be able to keep up with any of your old hobbies. They would tell us, travel while you can, cycle while you can, go out to restaurants while you can,…because once you have kids, the fun STOPS.

Well I am here to tell you that could not be farther from the truth! Since we have had our son we have been on several long road trips (the most recent one was over 10 days long!), taken an overnight train to Denver, ridden our bikes across Iowa (with help from grandparents), participated in my first Triathlon, and done lots of other fun things as a family.

That being said, one of the things that I was nervous about initially was taking our little guy camping. I rekindled my love for camping and the outdoors during a 2014 road trip and was scared we’d have to put that kind of adventure on hold now that we are three. As it turns out, TONS of people camp with kids and in general, the kids love it! Through lots of trial and error, we have found some sure fire ways for the entire family to enjoy the trip

1.Bring toys, lots of ‘em.

One terrible mistake I made during our first weekend camping trip when LC was solidly into the toddler age was not providing enough entertainment. Just because I like to sit around the campfire and read for hours at a time does not mean that my super energetic 2 year old will do the same. Even his favorite movies on the iPad got boring to him after a while. And word to the wise, even sticks and dirt will only entertain them for so long.

Be sure to bring some new and exciting things such as a new coloring book or a new model car to play with. Bubbles are also usually a big hit. I look for things that are inexpensive (that way I’m not spending a fortune on new stuff) and that we generally don’t do a lot of at home.

2. Creature Comforts

We have lots of little creature comforts for camping. Whether it be a favorite chair, awesome sleep mat, or making sure your favorite snacks are in the food box. Make sure your little one has these too! Learning how to keep him comfortable has definitely increased everyone’s enjoyment on our trips! LC has his own camp chair, cot, and sleeping bag. The cot, in particular has been a godsend. Make sure that for every comfort item you bring for yourself, your toddler has something similar.

3. Good Sleep

If you all have a terrible night’s sleep because you have a toddler who was up half the night beside himself screaming and crying because he’s uncomfortable and in an unfamiliar environment, no one will have fun the next day (I do, unfortunately, speak from experience on this one). Spending $22 on a cot for him was literally one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. He always has his own spot, that he’s now used to sleeping in no matter where we pitch our tent. It’s even gotten to the point that he will put himself to sleep on his cot just like he does in his bed at home!

4. Plan Activities Accordingly

Remember that your toddler is not going to be able to hike/walk for very long. They will get tired easily and if you don’t remember what a disaster that will create, refer to #3. We make sure to either keep the walking short or be sure to bring along our “pack pack” as LC has dubbed it. This was a something of an investment but if you wait for a great sale (that’s when I purchased ours) or look for one used it’s not as tough a pill to swallow.

5. Plan Some Down Time

Speaking of activities, it’s also important to plan some down time, especially if you’re on a longer trip. Before LC, we packed our days full of activities and hikes and Go Go Go! It is a difficult transition, because we still want to see and do all the things, but we all have a much better time if we have an afternoon or morning here and there to just relax! Even just spending a morning in camp lazily making breakfast and coffee rather than rushing off to start that hike at 7am makes a huge difference!

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3 Simple Things I’m Doing Right Now to Save Money

Once we received our orders to move a couple months ago, we decided that I would leave my full time out-of-the-home job about five weeks before the move to pack, sell our house, search for housing in Texas, and deal with all the things that crop up in the weeks before a cross country move. However, with my leaving work, about 40% of our family income goes out the window as well. As much as I like things the way they are, I’m not willing to go into debt to maintain my lifestyle once our income is slashed. So I’m starting to practice my frugality now so that I can make the most of our money once we become a one income household. (I should also mention that while I will be searching for employment at our new duty station nothing is a guarantee, so once I leave work we’ll be a one income family for an undetermined amount of time. Scary!)

1. Make coffee at home

Y’all. Let’s not talk about how much money I used to spend on coffee, it’s embarrassing. Especially during the warmer months, I love iced coffee and I never could make it quite as perfectly at home as the baristas at my local Starbucks. But in the interest of living the frugal life, I’ve found an option that works for me. I’ve been buying the pre-brewed iced coffee (you find it by the milk and coffee creamer in the refrigerated section) either made by Starbucks or a company called Stok. These aren’t quite as cheap as truly making it from scratch at home but I have not mastered that skill yet (mine always comes out tasting stale, yuck), and it still fits within our grocery budget. Win!

2. Meal planning every meal

Over the last 5 years, I was in survival mode a lot of the time. My husband travels a lot for this job and I convinced myself that I either didn’t have time or “deserved” to eat out because my life was so crazy! Unfortunately, that lead to a lot of money spent and a few pounds gained as well. Over the last few weeks I’ve been planning out our meals so I can (A) be sure to buy the right supplies at the grocery and (B) have a plan to stick to during the week when things get hectic.

3. Only pre-meditated and necessary shopping allowed

Before, whenever my husband would go out of town and/or I’d have a super stressful week at work, I would shop to relieve stress and treat myself to something I “deserved”. I don’t totally disagree with this strategy if you have the spare funds as it did help me cope and I was fortunate/smart enough not to go into debt over it. And I wasn’t spending crazy amounts of money, but enough that it’s not wise to continue on a smaller income. It’s important that I don’t shop just for the fun of it and that if I do need to purchase something, I make sure it’s something I/we actually need (like food, or clothing for my continuously growing toddler).

 

These things may seem like second nature to some people who have been living the frugal life for a while but until you stop and look at how much you’re actually spending and on what, you may not realize that some really simple changes can have a big impact on your finances. If I’m being totally honest, I would estimate that I used to spend $100 every two weeks (each paycheck) on lunch and coffee. Using these tips I now spend about $40 every two weeks on coffee and food at the grocery store to bring with me to work. That’s $60 every two weeks or $1500+ per year. YIKES!

 

Are you living the frugal life? Why or why not? What tips do you have to share?

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Tips for Camping in a National Park

Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone NP

Follow all posted signs and directions of Park Rangers and Staff

Now I know this isn’t super glamorous but it’s very important for your safety and frankly for the sustainability of the park. Wild animals really are wild and dangerous, sometimes the conditions really are too dry for a campfire, and the terrain can be very unforgiving. I saw a lot of people on our most recent road trip putting themselves and wildlife in danger because they were approaching them beyond the safe distance just to get a “great” picture!. Then when we were camping in the nearby National Forest there were several people every night at our campground having campfires even though there were many posted signs about the current extreme fire danger and active wildfires burning in Montana. (Literally, one Law Enforcement Ranger we talked to described the area as a “tinder box”.) Just follow the freaking rules so we can all continue to enjoy the land.

Do Some Research and Make Reservations If Necessary

The National Park System has a lot of different options for camping. They have campgrounds complete with general stores and restaurants, completely primitive backcountry camping and literally everything in between. There are also some campgrounds that take reservations and some that operate on a strictly first-come-first-served basis. I would say that especially if you’re planning on camping in the parks during the peak seasons (usually the summer months), check around and see if you’re able to make a reservation. However, if you’re going to a park that only has first-come-first-served basis camp sites or even if that’s your preference, you can often check the website (like this one that pertains to Yellowstone) to see what time the campgrounds generally fill up each day or even call the National Park and the rangers are happy to help answer questions! And if you plan to go into the backcountry, be sure to check on whether or not you need a permit!

*not a National Park map

Stay for Two or More Nights If You Can

Nothing is worse than finding an amazing spot to camp and then remembering you just have to pack up and get back on the road the next day! There is so much to see and do in the National Parks that it’s really nice to spend at least 2 nights, ensuring at least one travel free day at the park. You’ll have more time explore and give yourself more time to relax and a break from setting up and breaking down camp every single day.

Always Say Yes to the Map and Newspaper

Y’all, there is so much park information in these little pamphlets. You can learn about the geography, history, landscape, wildlife in the park and more! They are not just an ideal, but totally necessary tool you can use to plan and get the most out of your visit! It is something I never leave the Ranger Station without and has earned many an eyeroll from my husband when the Park Ranger says “Map and newspaper?” and I shout an enthusiastic “YES!!!” from the passenger seat. (If you’re super eager, some parks will even mail them to you ahead of time! Or you can find them online, like this one from Glacier NP!)

 

In general, I’ve really enjoyed each time we’ve been able to camp in a National Park (though we’re becoming pretty partial to National Forests as well) and can’t wait to do it again. Do any of you have a favorite camping tip for camping within the National Park system?

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