Saturday, January 11, 2014

Our LEGENDARY Family Roadtrip

I have to laugh when anyone asks what we did over Christmas.  Because to be so amazing, I sure haven't talked about it much.  It may not be very well documented, but to us it was kinda a big deal.  Our little family of 6 drove to North Dakota.  It wasn't a secret.  Not an intentional one, at least.  Its just that we spent most of the 10 days fairly unplugged and we arrived back to L-I-F-E.  

So, here ya go.  FINALLY.  The not-secret-on-purpose details of our Christmas adventure revealed in a format kind of like the 12 days of Christmas (only not at all.  don't try to sing it, it won't work).  We didn't send out Christmas cards this year, didn't give teachers Christmas gifts until we came back to school, didn't do a lot of things because of one amazing trip.  We spent several weeks planning our roadtrip north, days packing for the excursion, and then 10 days away from home.  And at the end, I'd say it far surpassed all expectations.  If you were one of the haters who pointed out how cold it would be...well, you were right.  But we loved every minute of it.

12 Family members under one roof for Christmas
For years we weren't together.  Between peace core commitments and deployments, we experienced just enough empty spots at the Christmas dinner table to know it wasn't our favorite thing (like WAAAYYYYY down the list).  So, this year when my baby brother (seems weird to say about a Captain in the AF, but still true) said he couldn't get leave to come from North Dakota to my parents house for Christmas, the choice was simple.  Minot, here we come.

We were together.  And it was worth it.

Here's where I should shout out to my parents.  They were so gracious to give up Christmas at their house- which I know they love- to make sure this could happen.  And THEN they helped in lots of ways make sure we could all get there.  I love what they teach me about family.

Even bigger shout out to my precious sister-in-law who helped my brother be able to host this whole crew in their home.  Yep, we ALL stayed with them.  Including the bonus of the two doggy-cousins.  (See Cbugs new best bud, Champ, below).  The Captains worked so hard to make sure we could all stay at their house and maximize our time together.   They really went above and beyond in having rooms ready for everyone and meal plans and spoiling us in every possible way.

11  hours spent at the Mall of America
Our gifts to our kids this year were all "trip" related.  From new boots and warm clothes to tickets to some fantastic places.  Like the Nickelodean Universe amusement park...

...and the Lego and American Girl stores in the Mall of America.  They all were very brave about riding rides, the boys LOVED spending their "santa money" on Legos and Libby got to take my-now-her Samantha for a makeover.  Over the course of two days, a total of 11 hours, at this fun place- our kids had a BLAST.  Ok, so did their parents.

10 Days away from home
Its already crazy enough that we drove to North Dakota.  In December.  But to make it all the more crazy (and awesome), we didn't go the short way.  We drove up via a West route that added about 5 driving hours to our trip and south via an east route that added about 2 hours.  I hate to brag on my kids (except i don't mind at all)- but they ROCKED this road trip.  We did watch some movies and played some video games, but a lot of the time they read and played with toys and entertained themselves and talked and laughed.  oh, and ate.  YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN the backseat collection of crumbs.   

We all learned some things.  My kids learned to unbuckle and put coats on BEFORE opening van doors and to knock mud and snow off their shows everytime they re-entered.  I learned to feed Tito applesauce by reclining the seat until I was next to him and wrapping my arm around his rear-facing self.  Talents, people.  Tito enjoyed feeding snacks to his favorite travel buddy, "Mel-mo".  

All of us were a little batty by the time we got within a few hours of arriving home.  But other than that last little stretch (see crazy face pics below),  I am AH-MAZED at how smoothly this went.

9 states traveled
This is one of my favorite things about our Christmas.  We actually slept in 5 different states, 4 of which I had never been to before. We drove through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri.  Shew.  I had a great plan to take pictures at every state sign.  Which didn't really happen.  But I was absolutely determined to get a perfect family photo at the North Dakota sign.  This was worth documenting.  So, even though the temps were well below zero, RRL got the tripod set up, we bundled everyone up, set the timer, ran to the sign, did the cutest family pose (sweet Lou in cheerleader position) and then ran back to the car to unbundle, rebuckle and admire the results.  Which is why it was both hilarious and so sad that it turned out being only RRL's backside and the rest of us not even in "ready" position.  Camera timer fail.  Just like the ND motto on the sign and just like our little trip north- the picture is LEGENDARY.  (as runners up, I also really like Cbugs interpretation of SD's "Great faces" motto and my hubby and i under "the good life" in Nebraska).

8 days we saw snow
Snow is a commodity for our little crew.  KJ and Cbug, especially, loved romping in the snow, hiding in the snow forts their uncles helped them build and having snow ball fights.

7 suitcases loaded in the van
Packing for this trip was interesting- especially since we needed everything from swimsuits to snowsuits...times 6. I had a crazy awesome system for packing us for all the different stops so that we wouldn't have to load/unload the whole van each time.

Unpacking was easy- it all just exploded into our entry way when we got home.

6 People to spoil small children
We spent nearly 4 days actually in Minot and by far the best part of that was watching my kids be so well loved.  Between Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents our kiddos always had someone to provide sweet treats, play games, read stories, snuggle...

...and of course provide some much loved Christmas presents.

5 Original Bradfields
And it wasn't just my kids that were so well loved, I was, too.
No family is perfect.  But I sure love mine.  For years and years, I've loved the five of us...

...but now that we've added spouses, I love this group EVEN more.  I'd drive and drive for moments like this one (or I should say "ride and ride", let's be real I drove exactly none) .  We got all the kids in bed on Christmas eve and then enjoyed an "adults only" dinner.  Luckily, KJ needed a drink of water, mid-dinner, and came upstairs just in time to be picture taker.

4 Different hotel rooms
We learned all kinds of tricks for making small spaces work well for the 6 of us, and we actually really didn't mind most of our hotels at all.  We mostly stayed LaQuinta and found them a reasonable balance of well priced and well kept. And bonus, we stayed in so many on this little adventure that our last night was nearly free.

A "we've been in hotels too long" story I love to retell was when Cbug yelled "MOM, Tito is pushing buttons on the Ah-Mah-Nah" again.  And when I finally figured out what he meant, I thought it was THE FUNNIEST THING EVER.  The fact that I found it so hilarious, and even took a picture of it, made me realize- I MUST GET HOME.

But my FAVORITE hotel memory is the night I spent dining on the floor with this guy toasting 12 years of marriage- with McDonalds sweet tea.  I won't sap you out now, but if you wanna read about that night, I posted about it here.

3 Huge waterslides at the indoor waterpark
Like I said, this Christmas we gave our kids the gift of experience.  Each day, for 12 days leading up to Christmas, they got to open something.  Sometimes it was books to read in the car, sometimes snacks, but once it was a hotel WITH an indoor waterpark.  Apparently, these are pretty standard in the area we visited in South Dakota, because even our LaQuinta was attached to one.  And they were SUPER reasonably priced compared to the one in our town.  Our boys were in HEAVEN.  Libby loved it, too, but the boys really enjoyed the slides.  Cbug would literally RUN up the 70 stairs (one time I made him count them so I could catch up), slide down and do it again so quickly that he swallowed enough water to make himself just about puke.  So, he started a new routine of stairs, slide, toilet (just in case), stairs, slide, toilet.

KJ had quite the adventure in the lazy river (which is anything but lazy with boys).  He and I were playing bumper rafts (see- not lazy) and he hit is face on the front of his float, knocking out his (very loose) front tooth.  It sunk straight to the bottom (which he found hilarious) and he was missing his two front teeth for Christmas (which I found adorable).

2 Crazies playing in the snow at Mount Rushmore
Another "gift" was National monuments. We saw two this day- the still-in-process Crazy Horse monument, and Mount Rushmore.  If you haven't been to Mount Rushmore, I can't quite explain the feeling of standing under it.  Its just like the pictures- faces carved in rocks- but for some reason it is just about one of the coolest things I have EVER seen in person.  As you walk up to the monument, one of your first glimpses is between the rows of state flags.  I know I'm sappy, but that moment was so powerful.

I absolutely LOVED the time I got to spend with Cbug, playing in the snow in the ampitheater that is right at the base of Mountain.  Everyone else mostly stayed inside (again with the FREEZING cold temps), but he was determined to play.  How could I say "no" to "may I go play in the snow" in front of Mount Rushmore.  How many kids can say they've done that (or adults for that matter).  Not very many.  In fact, approx 5000 people PER DAY visit Mount Rushmore in the summer.  But only about 100 in the winter.  There is a reason for that BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR, but its kinda cool that we were among the few this year.

Crazy Horse

1 Detour to see the Badlands
Have I said "my favorite" yet?  Well, then this was my "surprise favorite" part of the trip. If I hadn't been researching this trip like crazy, we might have missed this gorgeous slice of our country.  Seriously beautiful.  But the main scenic route was under repairs so we had to really work to get ther.   As we turned off the main interstate onto a small road which turned into an unpaved road into what seemed like the middle of nowhere, I really doubted myself.  You can't see the spectacularness from the interstate so you might just miss it, but when you do finally arrive- wowzers.  And covered in snow- double wowzers.  I do wish we had been there sans small children so we could do more exploring, but we all enjoyed the views for a little bit and the visitors center was fun for the kids.

Which is actually a perfect way to sum up this trip- the whole thing was quite an unexpected blessing.   It was a Christmas packed so full of goodness, I could have never seen it from the road before we arrived. We didn't necessarily plan it to become a tradition, but giving the gift of experience might just be our new favorite part of Christmas.  Because, just like the North Dakota sign, I have a feeling this Christmas will be least for 6 of us.



JMS said...

Allison - you write SO well and funny, love reading you! What a blast you guys had over Christmas - kudos' to you for doing something different! It pays off, doesn't it? Look at these memories!! -- Jen

Betsy@Living in the Moment said...

Increidble post.Epic. I felt like I was there with you. :)

The Brackeens said...

We went to Mount Rushmore when I was in high school (I think). That dumb Crazy Horse thing was under construction then...are they EVER going to finish it? Wow! I am totally with you on the Mount Rushmore thing. It was one of my favorite things to see, also, and I can't explain it. It's an emotional thing, I guess. You have to experience it. Glad I'm not the only one. I think gifts of experiences are the best things. Those will be the things they remember after the toys are long gone to Goodwill (which doesn't take too long in my house). We've done this as an anniversary gift every year, but haven't done it for the kids yet. I'm going to have to think how we can incorporate that next time. FYI...I am VERY secretive (on the blog and FB) any time we go out of town. Don't apologize for that. I think it's really the way to go. No need to advertise an empty home. :)