It’s a Wonderful Life

A month and a half ago, we were feeling pretty worried.  Kareem had lost his job due to circumstances of the business that had nothing to do with him, but it felt so terrible because we were just a few weeks from the most wonderful time of the year.  I remember feeling like I should be freaking out, but I felt pretty calm.  Surely it would take no time to get a job.

Depending on when you talked to me over the past month and a half, I was either feeling very hopeful or during those moments of worry, I was feeling very concerned.  I told Kareem, you’re with me now and we’re a miracle.  It’s going to be okay.  But there were those moments where I was like, oh shoot.

Moving into this season of hope, joy, love, and peace, we have had to accept some realities of our circumstance.  Not just financially, but also being a blended family has raised some challenges, mostly in the scheduling department.  Many people cannot relate to this, but imagine how you schedule your holiday plans around your family and your in-law’s family…. Now add in four additional family schedules and blend with some complicated feelings, and well, your annual traditions just might not be happening the way you always do them.  That is mostly okay with me, but this year, it has been more difficult for me to accept.  I think because of the additional challenges we were facing.  I was like, geez is there something that I can control?  Answer: nope.  Not at this time.  🙂

Now that Christmas is right around the corner, I wanted to pause and reflect.  This has so far been my favorite holiday season to date.  It has been simplified in a sense, and not because we haven’t had the money.  More because of the scheduling aspect.  I have been more intentional about how we are spending our time, prioritizing differently, and spending lots of family time.  We also did gratitude reflections everyday during November, which is something I did while going through my divorce but haven’t done it with such frequency since.  It made all of this into a bit of an It’s a Wonderful Life moment- “Oh look at this wonderful old drafty house, Mary!”  That was us everyday.

I heard my six year old girl singing “Count Your Blessings” on her own, to herself last night.  It brought a tear to my eye.  Here in the midst of our mess, she’s reminding me to count my blessings.  This past month, I told Kareem, we are not going to get down and in our feelings about this.  We are going to serve others, lose ourselves in the service of others.  There were moments when we had opportunities to give time or gifts or of ourselves this past month and either one or both of us thought we couldn’t do it.  So we did it anyway.  And I will tell you what, it has been such a blessing to us in every way.

We experienced so many tender mercies during this trial.  And no, it’s not over yet.  But it is amazing how when you’re expecting something to look a certain way or have one specific solution in mind for a problem, you sometimes don’t see the incredible blessings that are getting you closer to that dream or hope or solving that problem that you are working on.  Our Christmas season has been made so merry through love and care of our family and friends.  Our kids’ dreams are going to come true one way or another, and the season has been simplified through circumstance.  We have had get togethers with friends that cost zero dollars, spent movie nights and fire nights and looked at Christmas lights all for free.  We got invited to do cool things with friends and family, attended family parties, and have just had a merry old time despite thinking we may not be able to.

I have also been so blessed by hearing from people in my life, both past and present, who share such uplifting things.  They remind me of what’s important and what life is all about.  It’s all very “It’s a Wonderful Life,” as I eluded to earlier.  All in all, I am so grateful for this Christmas season, and I am full of hope and peace for this season of our lives and what’s to come, which is really what it’s all about anyway.  

Hiking Goals Recap 2021

This year really looked a lot different than 2020 in all kinds of ways. It was a bit tougher on our family than 2020, to be honest. As a result, we didn’t do as much hiking as we would have liked to. However, we still did a lot of hiking and went on some really cool adventures. I’ve been featuring many of them on my blog page this week.

After today’s hike, we will total 71 hikes for the entire year. That’s not bad! About half from 2020, but more than 2019. This year’s goals included:

10 new trails- achieved and exceeded!

8 camping trips with hikes- individually, we achieved this, but not as a family.

7 waterfalls- achieved!

3 national parks- achieved and exceeded!

1 Bucket List Hike- not met

Many of the hikes we went on totally would have been bucket list hikes, but we did not get one off my big list due to… well, due to a lot of things. Maybe next year!

Ultimately, we learned a lot this year. We went through quite a bit of transition with me getting a new job and Kareem going through some major transition at his company, and ultimately, searching for a new job.

Both Kareem and I got COVID in February. It was very difficult for me, and the recovery took months. I didn’t get to hike for almost two months. I gained some weight at this time as well, so getting back in shape has been a challenge. This directly affected our hiking plans and goals, of course.

We also took some of our favorite trips we’ve ever taken as a family, as you know if you have followed my blog. We did a lot of local hikes as well. I love when my family and I can act as sort of a hiking ambassador, taking people with us who don’t typically get to hike for whatever reason. We were lucky to have several opportunities like that this year.

Sometimes we didn’t want to hike. We were busy, tired, dysregulated. Bad things were happening around us, and we just wanted to skip it.

Luckily, there was always one of us saying that they wanted to do it. Or being an encourager. It’s not because we have our goals, and it’s a to do list and we need to get it done. No! It’s because all of us in our family recognize the value in hiking. It is meditative, it can be challenging and give us a sense of accomplishment, and it is a bonding experience for our family. Kareem and my couples therapy is hiking, haha. And we know that it reduces anxiety and helps us maintain perspective. There’s a reason for the phrase “hike more, worry less.”

I am proud of all we accomplished in our hiking year this year! I can’t wait to plan our goals for the upcoming year this weekend and I will update those next week. We always choose to spend part of Black Friday outside in order to maintain perspective about what’s really important and to remind us that we always have a refuge from the crazy of the world in the outdoors. Please always feel free to join us! Happy Thanksgiving!

Visiting Fort Sumter and Patriot’s Point with Kids

Charleston offers lots of historic points of interest- it was hard to narrow it down!  I was on the fence about visiting Fort Sumter and/or Patriot’s Point.  I was not sure our kids would be interested.  But, as always, they surprised me and they LOVED these sites!  

You can purchase a combo ticket for these points of interest to save a little money.  FYI- you can scan your electronic ticket for Ft Sumter, but you have to go to the window and get a Patriot’s Point voucher to get in there.  AND you have to go to the Ft Sumter window, not the Patriot’s Point window.  They are side by side, but there could be a line, so know before you go.  🙂

You can only get to Fort Sumter by boat, and as it is a National Park Service site, the only boats allowed are the ferries they run.  They run from Patriot’s Point and another site in Charleston as well.  We caught the ferry at Patriot’s Point, though we did visit these sites on two separate days.  There are certain times of day you can take the ferry, and they are ticketed times.  You also will have to take the ferry back that you came on.  You have about an hour at the fort to check it out, which is plenty of time. 

Fort Sumter is a site of significant American history.  It is the site of the battle that began the American Civil War.  We had recently visited some historically significant sites of the Civil War, so the kids had some frame of reference for this, which made it better for them I think.  

The fort is not a super large site.  There are lots of signs and information to take in, and there are some displays of Civil War-era weaponry and supplies.  There are many cannons that have been restored there and it is neat to see the original brick.  Just outside the fort, there is a (very) short trail where you can see the manmade island and how it was made.  There is virtually no shade.  Bring water and prepare for the weather.

The kids really enjoyed this each in their own right.  Rami liked reading about the history, Nick enjoyed the war strategy, Lucy liked the trail, and Jimmy enjoyed the cannons.  

Patriot’s Point is a site with an aircraft carrier, a destroyer, a submarine, and several museums on site.  You could definitely spend a full day here.  We arrived early and spent about six hours.  Your entry ticket includes admission to the aircraft carrier, destroyer, and museums on site.  There are a couple of experiences that cost extra if you want to do them.  All our kids wanted to do the Navy flight simulator, so we purchased the tickets for that.  This visit overall was probably the most expensive experience of our trip, but it was definitely worth it. I think this was one of the kids’ favorite things we did on our trip aside from the beaches.

You can explore the entire aircraft carrier that is anchored in the Charleston harbor.  There are many opportunities to see how the Navy lived and worked on this ship.  They have a self-guided tour available, and it is very good. It leads you through the ship on a very logical and well-thought out tour.  It is no joke navigating that aircraft carrier though.  You are using ladders and steep stairs just as the Navy did.  I did notice there were elevators available to make things wheelchair accessible, but the entire tour is not accessible. 

You can go up to the very top (flight deck?) and the tower up there as well.  They have many aircraft throughout the aircraft carrier to see as well.  It was really special and cool to go up to where the captain would sit and the navigator room and everything.  They also have a space craft on board as it was pulled from the ocean by the crew of this specific aircraft carrier!  

The kids loved learning about this so much, they were super psyched to also explore the destroyer!  It was much smaller, of course, but had a (very) small theater where you could really hear and see what the people on board would have experienced.  Very real, very cool.  

We visited the Medal of Honor museum.  The kids were very reverent and respectful.  Beautiful museum with incredible stories to experience.  We also visited the Vietnam Experience, which is outside back on land.  The kids learned a lot here, and we also got to see many veterans through our entire visit.  Rami and Nick thanked them for their service when they had the opportunity, and this opened several conversations.  It was touching to speak with these people.  

All in all, Fort Sumter and Patriot’s Point were both very educational and unique experiences that I would recommend.  I would not try to do both in one day with small children, but I think an ambitious adult or older kids could probably handle it.  🙂

Family Travel on a Budget- How We Do It

When I got divorced, I thought I might never travel again. I was able, through a variety of opportunities, was able to continue to travel, but I was solo. Travel is something I value highly, and something I really want to share with my kids. I had to figure out some way, some how to continue to do it.

Fortunately, I have been able to do it. Through these tips and tricks, I have found ways to go places and experience the world with my kids on a budget! I will share with you some things that have been working for me.

Be flexible about where you’re willing to go, then choose wisely.

I never get stuck on a destination. There are a million and one places I want to see and a lot of things I want to do, so I am lucky because I’m pretty much down to go anywhere. This helps when you’re on a budget, because you can choose based on low prices. I always price out a few destinations for whatever my time frame is. We have really done well going to places that I previously would not have considered but that were priced well, and having an amazing time! I never would have considered taking kids to New Orleans, but it was one of our favorite- and cheap!- trips with kids.

I’ve used flight shopping websites like momondo.com to help my find cheap airfare. I never would have gone to Iceland, for example, had it not been a cheaper flight. But I’ve gotten to go twice!

Also, choose a place with a low cost of living. That means that food and entertainment are going to be cheaper there too. Mostly, this applies abroad. For example, I traveled to Wales and some small towns in England and spent a short time in London. This allowed me to see the country without blowing my entire budget on a high-priced city where everything is higher, including food and lodging.

Give a little, save a little.

We do a lot of at home dates and DIY dates that don’t cost us anything. We then use the money we would have spent on doing that stuff to buy experiences on our trip. We are wiling to give a little in this area of our life to enjoy our trip more. If you look at your budget, and you know you want to take a trip, you can take from some of your everyday expenses and set that aside. Eating out is a great example. We don’t eat out a lot because I’d rather eat out seaside somewhere than hit TGIFridays up the road.

We also ask for experiences as gifts for us and our kids. We use the money to buy experiences for travel. When we went to Disney, we asked for Disney gift cards. I also buy the tickets for attractions and experiences ahead of time, little by little.

Scavenge for discounts, bundles, and family deals.

I’m so not above calling ahead and saying, listen we have six people. What kind of deal do you have for groups? For school employees? For [insert whatever group you belong to here]? Are your kids a student? If I know someone who works for a company, I’ll ask them what kind of discounts they can get us.

I do this with lodging all. the. time. I will look online at prices, and then I’ll call and see if they can do me one better. Often, they will! I also comparison shop. I’ll also say hey we are looking at spending three days, but if we spend four, will you give us a discount? These kinds of things. The worse they can say is no! Go for it!

Also, many attractions and cities have bundles and combo discounts for attractions. I very much am not the person that needs to see EVERYTHING available, but if there are things I think our family would be interested in, I’d rather do that at a discounted price. Also, if you have flown somewhere, public transportation and/or those hop on/off buses are big money savers as well!

Look for free attractions!

There are a million state parks, national parks, city parks, municipalities, etc putting on programs and festivals. You can ALWAYS find free or low-cost activities for the family. For example, on our recent trip to the Carolinas, a state park does panning for gold for $2/person. Way more reasonable that those panning places you see along the strip! Also, most parks do educational and entertaining programs often. Check local parenting websites as well, as these are often full of into.

Fourth graders get a free National Park pass for the year- check that program out as well!

Also, most museums have a free day and/or time of day. Make sure you play your visit around those days.

AND don’t forget to check out those kids eat free, kids do free, kids get in free places! You can find LOTS of attractions with free kid entry, and as we know, many restaurants have kids eat free days. This is a big saver for us!

Also if you’re an outdoors person… the outdoors is FREE! The beach is FREE! The lake is FREE! And awesome!

Eat in and pack snacks- and bring your water bottle!

Nothing gets at your budget more than food. If you are prepared, you can really work this in your favor. We try not to eat more than one meal out a day when we travel, and we plan out take away vs sit down places.

Vacation may be your time away from being a cook, but it is such a joy to visit somewhere new and hit a local market for some fresh local ingredients that may be different than you have at home!

If you stay in a hotel, many of them have breakfast. We always stay somewhere we can fix a meal. We typically eat breakfast in. We buy sausage and ham, then we often buy pastries or cereal and fruit at the local market. We bring lots of snacks with us.

We also eat a lot of picnics when we are on the go- like this obviously thrilling picnic we had on a recent trip! 😀

A huge money saver is simple- bring your own water bottle!

Pack a first aid kit and medications, but overall- pack light!

If you are traveling with family, you know you’re going to need a band aid along the way! But bringing other basic medications will save you time, money, and heartache on your trip. We always have Benadryl and Tylenol with us, among other things.

Also, always pack light. See this pink and black backpack?

It is typically my only piece of luggage, even for trips that are multiple weeks long. And it has gone everywhere with me. I never pay for additional luggage, and I can always navigate any public transportation or unexpected lodging changes because I have packed lightly. This has always been my number one travel advice I give.

I also try to make sure every individual, even the four year old individual, can handle their own luggage, so I’m not carrying everybody’s. But sometimes, yeah, you just use a luggage rack because that’s where you’re at with everything. Lucy’s expression says it all! 😀

The greatest tip I can give you when planning travel on a budget is keep an open mind and stay flexible! There have been so many opportunities I’ve taken, though I wasn’t sure what the kids would think of it, and guess what- they NEVER complain! They love it all! I also do not fear the road less taken, and I never regret our stops on the less beaten path. Pull over, check it out, try it once- you never win or lose- you only learn.

If you know in your heart your reason for traveling as a family, commit to it and make it happen. 😀 I’ve literally looked around my house and thought, what can I turn to cash here? in order to travel with my kids, even as simple as a YMCA lodge an hour and a half from home. I believe strongly in the power of travel in the lives of children. So I try to do whatever it takes! I hope some of these tips are things that you hadn’t considered or refresh your memory to help you take the best trip ever!

From the archive: The Restorative Power of Salt Water

From the archive. Originally written May 31, 2016.


It’s time to talk about my trip.  There’s so much to say, really.  Of course, I need to do the whole photos and recap post, but first, I think I’d like to talk about the effect of the trip on me personally.

When I walked out of that school on my last day there, I walked out with tears streaming down my face but I sighed a big sigh of relief.  Not that it was over, but that my last day was finally over.  I felt like I had been dreading that day forever, and had been living that day over and over everyday through a thousand different “lasts.”  After that, I went home, picked up my babies, and headed to the airport.  We flew just the three of us to meet their dad who had been out of town for business for a week.  I was so proud of myself when we arrived in Denver!  I felt like an accomplished mom- a real mom- for having successfully flown somewhere with two children three and under on my own.

Utah was so wonderful.  I immediately felt at ease when we arrived there.  For so many reasons.  But being reunited as a family, the mountains, Paul Simon, and my old, dear friends did wonders for my soul.  Utah was sweat- hiking, dancing, playing with the kids- lots of activity.

We headed off to California.  We went to Disneyland with the kids which was truly delightful.  Lots of play time.  We went to an aquarium and the beach.  I love the sea.  Nick does too, which made it extra lovely.  We stood at the edge and let the waves roll upon us together.  I had to hold tightly to him because the water is so powerful.  We did that over and over again, and it might have been my favorite part of the California trip.

Spending time with Spencer and the kids brought me back to Earth.  Spending time talking to Sam and listening to Paul Simon reminded me of who I am.  Salt water- tears, sweat, and the sea- restored me.  When I came home, I felt a million times better than I did when I left.  And a million times more like myself.  And a million times more ready to take on this next chapter of my life.  Isak Dinesen was right when she said, “The cure for anything is salt water- tears, sweat, or the sea.”  I needed a dose of each to cure me.  And it has.  I’m so grateful.