Arkansas Family Vacation

Jack has been busy marking new states off his bucket list this summer! Last week, we went to Tennessee and Georgia, and a few weeks before that, we traveled to Arkansas for a family reunion where Jack got to meet all of his Arkansas and Missouri cousins.

Jack is becoming a pretty good little car rider. When we go on long trips, like this one (it was about a 9 or 10 hour drive), I usually sit in the back with Jack and make sure to pack lots of books, toys, and download some of his favorite videos onto our Kindle. We also make pretty frequent stops to get him out of the seat and let him move around.

We stopped in Hardy, Arkansas, on our way and walked around downtown to get out of the car for a little while. Hardy has a really neat little downtown area with lots of little shops, so it was a nice place to get out and stretch and do a little sight-seeing.

Once we got to Springdale, my mom kept Jack in the hotel room (he was so tired after that drive) and Jeff, my dad, and I went to an Arkansas Naturals game. We had been to a game when we came up for the reunion a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so we decided to go back this year. We had great seats right behind home plate, and the tickets were really affordable.

The next day, we were supposed to check in at our cabin at Lake Fort Smith (where our reunion was held) at 4:00, so we had the entire day to explore. Mama and Daddy took Jack with them while they looked around at shops in town and Jeff and I headed to Devil’s Den State Park to do some hiking.

The caves at Devil’s Den were really cool. They were closed, so we couldn’t go inside (not that I’m brave enough to go into a cave, anyway, but my husband would have been climbing in without a second thought), but when we walked by a cave opening we could feel a burst of cool air coming out of the ground. We had a lot of fun on the trail and I took about 500 pictures (as usual).

My grandfather was in the CCC (he was working in Washington, I think), so I’m always interested in the CCC monuments at parks like this. I really want to find the park where he was working and and see it someday. This monument was near the dam at Devil’s Den and honored the men who worked to build the park.

After our hike, we were starving, so we searched Yelp for restaurant reviews and took a chance on a local little place called Crawpappy’s. We were so glad we decided to try it! Jeff got their etouffee, and it was the best I have ever tasted. I got their Cajun catfish and fries. I highly recommend it if you are ever in Alma, Arkansas.

After our lunch, we met my parents at Lake Fort Smith and checked into our cabin. Our family rented the big lodge so everyone could have a room and we’d have a place to have our meals, but we decided to get a private cabin because we thought it would be easier with Jack than rooming in the bunk room. We got a two bedroom cabin, and it was so nice. My parents and Jeff and I each had a room with a king bed and an attached bathroom, and there was a nice kitchen and a big living area for Jack to play in. We spent the next few days relaxing at the cabin and exploring the area around the lake.

Lake Fort Smith has lots of amenities, including a big pool with a kids’ swimming area. We took Jack swimming for the first time while we were there and he loved his float. He was not a fan of getting his head under water, but as long as he was in his float, he had fun splashing and floating around with us.

There are also trails at Lake Fort Smith. We saw a bunch of snakes on the first trail we attempted and I ended up chickening out and running back to the cabin (I am terrified of snakes), but this one from the cabins to the lake was pretty clear and snake-free.

The lake was beautiful.

Meeting all your cousins is apparently exhausting.

Arkansas is the perfect vacation spot for nature lovers. There are tons of state parks and opportunities for outdoor activities. Jeff can’t wait to go back and find another state park to explore at the next family reunion.

Have you ever visited Northwest Arkansas? What are some must-do activities we should check out on our next trip there?

Georgia Mountain Vacation

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We just got home from a long weekend trip to the Georgia mountain with Jeff’s mom and sister’s family. We stayed in an awesome cabin in Epworth, Georgia, which is just about 15 minutes from the town of Blue Ridge. There are lots of places to go zip lining, horseback riding, fishing, and white water rafting, and lots of little shops and fun restaurants, too.

On our way, we stopped in Chattanooga and walked around at the top of Lookout Mountain. I had never been to Chattanooga before, and Jeff wanted me to see the view from the top of the mountain. It was a nice break from riding and Jack loved getting to be outside for a little while. We walked over to Point Park and had some wonderful ice cream at Clumpies before getting back on the road. (We also spent the day in Chattanooga on our way home a few days later, and you can read about our adventures on that day here.)

I absolutely love Jack’s stroller, which my grandparents got for us at our baby shower. It should grow with Jack until he outgrows a stroller, and it is easy to fold up and store. It’s also really durable – we have put lots of miles on it in the last 11 months. I couldn’t find the exact one we got a year ago, but I linked some similar ones.

Jack was a great little traveler. I made sure to pack him plenty of books and toys and downloaded some episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse onto the Kindle before we left to keep him entertained on the long drive. We switched him to the Graco Extend2Fit car seat when he was about six months old because his feet were already resting on the back of the seat. This car seat has an extender to give him more leg room while he’s still rear-facing and should also grow with him and turn into a front facing seat for him until he’s ready to move into a booster seat.

We stopped at the Ocoee River where they had the 1996 Olympics Kayaking Competition. They had that section of the river dammed up when we stopped, but it was a neat little park with all the flags from the different countries (you can seen them in the background of the picture below) and a sidewalk built into the rocks along the side of the river. We had a little photo shoot on the bridge over the river and Jeff took the picture of Jack and me and said it is his favorite picture of me because it shows what I look like on a normal basis (apparently I am always making some kind of goofy or sarcastic face). We got caught in a summer shower just as we were leaving and got soaked, which Jack thought was the funniest thing ever, and when we got back into the car and I dried his hair, it stuck up in the most adorable mohawk.

After a long day of adventuring, we made it to our cabin, Trinity Waters (available through Cuddle Up Cabin Rentals). Jeff had stayed in this cabin before on a guys’ trip and loved it, so he told him mom about it and she booked it for us. It has four bedrooms and a loft, and two bathrooms and could comfortably sleep 8 to 10. There were seven of us (including two small children), so we had plenty of room to spread out. The cabin is right on the water and has an amazing back deck, which we made sure to take full advantage of during our stay.

Jack loved watching the water, but he and I decided right away that it was too cold for swimming. We let Jeff do some swimming while we stayed on the deck. I loved having this pop-up play yard for Jack on this trip. It is so easy to set up and it was perfect for keeping him from crawling off the steps of the deck.

Once the rest of the family got to the cabin, we headed into Blue Ridge to get some supper. The boys were fascinated by the Blue Ridge Express train and we got some pictures of them at the train station while we were waiting on our table.

On our first full day at the cabin, we let the men go exploring (they looked for a place to go fly fishing and went swimming in the river) and we stayed in the cabin and let the boys play and nap. That afternoon, we went back into Blue Ridge for dinner and to explore the little town. There are tons of shops, and we had fun strolling around and looking. We met the town pet, Nibbles the Cat, and Jeff, Jack, and our nephew, Zachary,  loved petting him for a little while. One of my favorite shops was Blue Ridge Olive Oil. We tasted some different flavored oils and balsamics and I got a sampler pack of oil and balsamic pairings to experiment with at home. You can expect some recipes using those coming soon!

On our second day at the cabin, we decided to drive around and explore the mountain. We drove up to the top of the mountain and stopped at all the scenic lookouts along the way. We found a really cool park on top of the mountain with a swimming area and lots of spots for camping and grilling out and will plan to go back there for a picnic and swimming with both boys if we go back next summer.

We are already planning to go back to North Georgia when the boys are old enough to enjoy all the outdoor activities. This was a really fun family vacation spot! Do you prefer the mountains or the beach for your vacation? I used to always say I preferred the beach, but the mountains are winning me over lately.

Family Day in Chattanooga

We spent this weekend in the mountains with family, and we stopped in Chattanooga on our way home to spend a little time checking out the city. We visited some local shops and then walked across the bridge, which was really fun and had some beautiful views. A very nice stranger offered to take a picture of us all together and ended up taking a pretty good picture of us, even though Jack was too busy lookin around to pay attention to the camera.

After our hike from the car, we went to the Tennessee Aquarium. Jack loved it and kept pointing and saying “ish, ish.” Jeff and I had a lot of fun, too. We got to pet a sturgeon, a sting ray, and a shark (with Jack safely in his stroller) and Jack loved watching all the fish and turtles.

After we left the aquarium, Jack fell asleep while we walked back over the bridge and Jeff and I grabbed a late lunch at Good Dog, a neat little hot dog restaurant near the river. I had a classic dog with pickles and onions, and Jeff had a breakfast sausage dog. It was a really cool little restaurant and the food was good and reasonably priced for a quick lunch.

We had a fun day and it was a nice way to end our long weekend vacation. It was especially nice to get out of the car and walk for a while to take a break from riding so much. I would highly recommend checking out the Tennessee Aquarium, especially if you have little kids!

Have you ever been to Chattanooga? What are your favorite places to visit there?

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oats

Apparently, it is frowned upon to eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, but you can get your chocolate fix with these peanut butter chocolate chip oats!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 banana
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Heaping tablespoon of peanut butter
  • Tablespoon of chocolate chips
  • A few chopped walnuts
  • Honey

Instructions:

  • Bring 1 cup of water to boil on medium high heat and add 1/2 cup of rolled oats.
  • Stir continuously for about 2 minutes, then reduce heat to low and cover.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 7 to 10 minutes until oats are at your desired consistency.
  • Mash 1/2 a banana and add to the oats with the 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. Stir well.
  • Pour oats into a bowl.
  • Top with a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter, chocolate chips, walnuts, the other half of the banana (sliced), and a drizzle of honey.

Little Letters – June 2018

This is one of my favorite link ups hosted by Kristen at Taz and Belly. If you want to join the fun, check out her original post here and link up by sharing your little letters!

Dear Jack,

I can’t believe that you’re already 10 months old. I’m so glad I get to stay home with you this summer. I love this stage right now where you’re trying to talk and pulling up and getting into everything. I’m exhausted, but it’s fun. I love you, little man.

Dear Summer Break,

I am so glad that you are finally here and that you’re bringing me some days of rest and spending time at home with Jack. This school year was really tough for me, and I’m so thankful for this time to recharge. I’m looking forward to lazy summer days, lots of little weekend trips, and reading a few great books (like these).

Dear Devil’s Den Hiking Trail,

You kicked my booty today and reminded me of how badly I need to get in shape. You were beautiful, though, and Jeff and I had a lot of fun climbing around your hills and caves.

Dear Incredibles 2,

I know that I am 31 years old, but I can’t wait for you to come out. I will be standing in line at the movie theater with all the kids on June 15th. You better be as good as the original Incredibles and you better live up to the hype that’s been built up with all these teasers and ads. I. Can’t. Wait.

Dear Crawpappy’s Restaurant,

Thanks for serving us the best étouffée ever today. We’re glad we found you as we were driving around today and I will forever be trying to make that dish as well as you did.

Dear Hyundai,

I’m a little miffed at you right now. Don’t get me wrong, you’ve been a great vehicle, but I can’t get over the fact that you broke down and left me and Jack on the side of the road earlier this week. Looks like you’re going to get a brand new engine out of the deal, though, and I’m glad you at least chose to blow up on a day when Jeff was already close by to come get us so we didn’t have to be stranded long.

Summer Reading List

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I have been saving up all my monthly selections from Book of the Month club and am planning to finally make a dent in my pile this summer. I also have a few books that were recommended to me by friends and family and some that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now. My list is pretty long, so I doubt that I’ll get to all of these books, but I am hoping that I can read at least four or five of these before school starts back, and I’m going to try to make more time for reading in my regular routine once I go back to work in August, so hopefully I can get through this list by the end of the year.

  1. The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy – This is my most recent Book of the Month selection and the book I am currently reading. I am really enjoying it so far.
  2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio – I have heard so many amazing things about this book that I want to read it for myself and see what all the fuss is about.
  3. Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker – This is a Book of the Month selection from a few months ago that has been sitting on my shelf. It had great reviews and is supposed to be a fast read, so I’m looking forward to reading it.
  4. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls – I bought this book when I saw the trailer for the movie and have yet to read it. I want to read it before I watch the movie, though.
  5. A Torch Kept Lit by William F. Buckley – I bought this book for my dad and he said that it is a must read.
  6. Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips – This is one I started around Thanksgiving last year and have not been able to finish yet due to time and to the fact that it kept making me feel on edge (the story is about a mother who is trapped in a hostage situation with her young son, and it is really well written and I keep having to put it down because my maternal instincts are going crazy and I can feel my anxiety getting too high).
  7. Desperation Road by Michael Ferris Smith – The author was my Creative Writing professor in college, so I’m interested to read this one.
  8. Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell – This is a recent Book of the Month selection. My mom read it and said it was really good.
  9. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer – I loved Into the Wild, so I have high expectations for this book.
  10. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt – My mother-in-law gave me this book and suggested I read it after Jeff and I went to Savannah earlier this year.

 

Hello, June!

We kicked off this month with a visit to Mamaw’s house and a sushi dinner followed by some music and fun at Live at the Plaza (a local summer concert series at Government Plaza in downtown Tuscaloosa) tonight. It was the perfect way to start our first month of summer break.

School has been out for one week, which has been exactly long enough for me to realize that I vastly overestimated my motivation and ability to do all the things when I originally made my summer to-do list. Now that Jack is crawling and trying to stand and walk, there’s no keeping him corralled in the pack-n-play, which means that I’m chasing after a wild boy all day, which is equally fun and exhausting. I had lots of home improvement projects on my list for this summer, but I’m starting to doubt that I’ll get as much done as I originally thought.

I am going to be creating and sharing a lot of recipes with you guys this summer, though, and I’m going to start a Taste of Tuscaloosa series soon where I’ll be sharing Jeff’s and my favorite local places to eat around town.

Besides that, my plans are to just spend as much time with Jack, Jeff, and my family as possible and maybe even find time to read a book or two. Jack and I are going to try to mark off all the things on our summer bucket list, too.

We have a couple of trips planned and I’ll also be sharing some tips for traveling with a baby (after our trips and we see how it goes…).

I hope you have a fantastic and fun summer! What are your plans for June? Let me know in the comments!