Tag Archives: family travel

Family Bar Hopping?

14 Mar

When planning vacations, I do not take into consideration the possibility of torrential rain or unforeseeable weather conditions that would stop regular activities for more than an hour or two.  While most of my tropical vacations have been during the “rainy” season, I usually have had pretty good luck from Mother Nature.  A few times I have experienced the afternoon thundershowers and random short downpours.  I view those as perfect for an afternoon nap, some quiet downtime, or even a swim in the rain.  A couple of years back, while visiting the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, that all changed.  My family and I experienced some crazy weather and received a quick education on what a  Tropical Depression really means.

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The afternoon before the “storm” began with dark skies and scattered showers.  That was nothing we couldn’t handle.  We went to bed naive of the storm warnings and awoke totally shocked to a flooded bedroom, over flowing pool, and unimaginable amounts of water falling from the sky.  After a couple of hours of board games, eating, and jumping on furniture, it was time for the family to make an escape.  We needed to get out.  I searched the web and came up with a few ideas of what to do with 4 kids, in a foreign county, in torrential downpour.  We came across the ideas of shopping, museums (not in the right place for that), and bar hopping.  We decided on shopping…

We took one of the scariest taxi rides of our life. We were literally racing through what seemed like rushing rivers of water to finally arrive at the mall of Playa del Carmen.  Let’s just say that calling it a mall was a bit of a stretch. It was an experience that lasted all of about 30 minutes.  The “mall” was somewhat of a flea market.  It was filled with pharmacies, souvenier shops, portable carts, and anchored by a store that remided me of the childhood memory of FEDCO (a 1970’s California discount store).  Oh, there was a movie theater, but watching a movie in Spanish wasn’t going to fly with the kids (or grownups).  Needless to say, things were decling rapidly and I needed to act quickly.  I remembered one thing that stood out during my searching the web of things to do…bar hopping.  Surely, not what I had envisioned during a family trip, but at that point we were game for anything.

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Off we set to 5th Avenue for a search for the best margaritas and chicken wings in town.  We had the kids in tow and were thankful for the fact that World Cup Soccer was on at every bar in town.   The crowds were huge and loud.  At least no one would take notice of our obnoxious and under stimulated children.  We spent the next several hours and the better part of the next day bar hopping.  The kids drank more sugar than they have ever possibly ingested in a 2 day window, made new friends, ate some fabulous chicken wings, and rode out the storm.  It was a great time had by all.  Salud!

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For the Love of Camping

24 Jan

The art of camping is one family adventure that has definitely grown on me over the years.  I didn’t grow up in a camping family, but I always envied the fun that my childhood friends would have on camping trips.  I always knew that camping was something I wanted my kids to experience, but wasn’t quite sure where to start.  When my camping journey began (being that I was a novice camper), the reasonable way to begin this new adventure was to hook up with a rented RV and go from there.  Taking the first step was by far the hardest part and camping surely has been a learn as you go experience.  Mistakes were made (yes, even nasty dump tank mistakes), as well as many more successes. I experienced a few tears, all while creating some great memories.

Camping actually was the “perfect” vacation for my family when the kiddos were young.  It beat airplane rides, rental cars, and dining out.  At that early stage in my journey of parenting, the thought of dragging 4 small kids (and all their crap) through TSA and on layovers, all while ignoring sleep schedules and lugging car seats, diapers, and sippy cups was totally unbearable.  Camping made it possible to explore our surrounding states and sights, all while still getting away from the routine of being at home.  We camped often and saw so many amazing places.  But, as every parent knows you must change as your family grows and all good things do come to an end (kind of).

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As soon as my family grew out of naps and booster seats and those little bodies grew bigger, camping was not quite the same.  My true passion to start seeing the world was finally possible and quickly overruled any camping desire.  I put my rustic outdoorsy side on the back burner and abandoned most of our camping excursions.  Believe it or not, it was kind of sad (okay, not that sad).  There is something about being able to fill your kids full of junk food, get as dirty as they want, and run around like hooligans outside all weekend.  I love the feeling of setting up “camp”, the late night adult campfire discussions about politics, and playing cards.  So, in keeping up the tradition, my family now spends one weekend a summer filling my kids with the best food of Walmart and zero showering (for the boys at least).

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Each summer we spend a weekend with a growing group of fabulous families at Palisade Sate Park in Central Utah.  This place is just too perfect of a campground and way to much fun to quit visiting.  The location is great for friends and family coming from several different states and it is absolutely beautiful.  The lake is just big enough to explore, yet small enough to put a life vest on your older kids and let them take out a canoe.  Since this lake doesn’t allow power boats, it especially adds to it being a perfect lake for swimming.  There is tons of open space for that game of  kickball, an outdoor movie, or just to throw the frisbee around with your dog. The bathrooms are clean, with showers and flush toilets (a must for this high maintenance camper).  There is even a golf course and cafe to add to the list of why I love this place.  Did I mention the most amazing sunsets too?

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I could rave on and on about this amazing campground, but I think I’d better get on booking our campsite for this summer.  Happy adventures!

To Read more about my camping adventures, check out my post about Yellowstone.

My “Real” Family Pictures

9 Oct

Family photos…the perfect example of a love/ hate relationship.  As any parent knows, the preparation of finding the perfect outfits and trying to get those perfect smiles is a daunting task.  I will admit that I spent years and many frustrating hours always trying to get that “perfect” family photo.  You know the picture I’m talking about.  The one with the perfect kids, flawless smiles, and perfectly patient parents.  Everyone looks so happy and like they are enjoying every second of that wonderfully joyous time in front of the camera.  I mean really?  We all know “that” family doesn’t really exist.  In my experiences, this quest of trying to obtain the perfect and amazing family image, turned me into a 1st class Mom-zilla.  I don’t need to disclose anymore.  Bottom line it was stressful, ugly, and painful.  But hey, I lived by the rule that as long as we get that one perfect photo (even with hours of photo shop) the mission was accomplished.

When looking back at my photo memories of my “perfect” family photo days, all I can think about was what a liar I was.  Really, we looked perfect, but all I could remember was what a nightmare it was to get that one perfect picture.  Oh, the hours of preparation, the tears, and  the tantrums.  Did I mention the hours of photoshop?  Really, WTH?  Anyone who had ever met my kids knew the truth anyway…

So, I decided at that moment that I was done with the perfect family shenanigan and it was time to show the world what we are really about…wild & crazy chaos.  I decided that if I was going to take the time and spend the money on a professional photographer, it needed to be about capturing the real life of my “real” family.  We are not perfect (actually not even close).  Each of my kids have different personalities and unique expressions.  I wanted that to be captured, not some perfect family that doesn’t exist.  I wanted fun and crazy, and it had to reflect who we are and what we are really about.  Since my happy place is being on vacation, I decided that a great time to attempt this new revelation, was while vacationing in Southern California.  My boys grabbed their favorite board shorts of the season, my daughter and I grabbed our favorite sundresses, and my Hubby & I had a glass of wine to start the adventure.  We were relaxed, had minimal bickering between the kids, and were ready to have some fun.  We met up with Eva from Eva Lempert Photography and just asked her to snap away.  We let the kids help pick the poses (including awkward family photo style) and had an absolute blast.  The best part was that we had some great memories, fabulous photos, and I can honestly look back and see who my kids really were in Summer 2012!   Love them!

To check out more of our wild and crazy photo shoot check out Eva Lempert’s blog!

Disclaimer:  Any photos that even slightly resemble that perfect family… we were most likely bribing our children, allowing them to use potty language, they were teasing each other, or we just got lucky.

Giving Back to Belize

19 Sep

As a parent, I feel that one of my many responsibilities is to teach my children about compassion and  giving back to others.  It is no secret that American children have it really good.  We live in a land of fancy stores, well manicured homes, and a great education system compared to much of the world.  Most American kids don’t really understand the reality of true poverty.

So, when it comes to teaching my kids this concept, it can be hard.  I, like so many parents, can easily  get caught up in our daily life of material things and stuff.  We are a society caught up in iPhones, video games, and celebrities.  It is truly a difficult task  for our young people to see beyond that.

While vacationing abroad, I always make a point to stop at a local school, village, or library.  In past years, I would stock up some needed donation items to distribute to local charities.  Our family would show up to distribute our donations and my kids would love the attention and praises of being told how kind they were.  Honestly, this attention would overshadow the meaning of why we were there.  I never had much success with impacting my kids for more than the time it took them to get their next virgin pina coloda.  I really wanted to make an impact in their  young minds, but have had little success in the past. On our recent summer trip to San Pedro, Belize, a different approach was attempted (this tactic was somewhat by mistake, dictated  by luggage restrictions).  We showed up empty handed, except with a basketball from our local University, and thought we’d send a monetary donation after returning home.  The focus of this visit turned away from my kids and onto the true meaning of the less privileged kids of Belize.  The visit was all about observing and really seeing the needs of the children who attend this tiny school.

The reality of  the struggles this school in Belize faced was a sobering experience.  The soccer field was dirt, buildings sat over a swampland,  and the level of poverty shown in the homes near the school property was unlike anything we have ever seen.  Yet with all the obvious obstacles this school faces, they have amazing success in educating some of the poorest children in San Pedro.  After spending almost an hour touring, learning, and asking questions. my kids were impacted.  They left quiet (which NEVER happens with my crazy bunch) and asked questions for hours.  I knew they were impacted.

Upon returning home to the U.S., my kids genuinely wanted to give back.  They decided (on their own) to donate many of  their old toys and sell them at a yard sale.  With the help of some donuts and juice, they were able to raise $75 to send to the school.  They were on a mission and deeply touched by their experience in Belize.  My youngest even asked for his birthday, instead of a remote control car, to send that money to the kids in Belize.  It’s not a lot, but every little bit helps! Most importantly, they were looking beyond themselves and felt like they were giving back to the kids of Belize.

So my goal, as a parent, is much more then just this one small school in Belize.  The bigger picture is what I hope for with my children.  I hope to raise compassionate adults, who realize that the impact of  giving can touch so many lives.  I hope that as adults, they too will find the importance of giving back and teach their children to do the same.  If every parent could just pass on a little bit of this way of thinking, our world would surely be a better place!

Click HERE for more information about Holy Cross Anglican School, Belize

Tropical Paradise

27 Aug

When I was planning our 2012 summer family adventure, I was looking for something unique.  Something a little more adventurous than the typical beach vacation and a way to expose my kids to some new experiences.  I wanted my kids to do things that were beyond anything they could have ever imagined.  Through hours of research and planning,  I finally decided on Belize.  Having already made a trip to this tiny country (minus the kids), I had a good idea of what to expect and thought that it would fit the bill for my active brood.  I was right.  The kids had a blast, enjoyed some amazing experiences, and even learned a bit along the way.  Mission accomplished!  Our adventures in Belize began in the jungle and continued with some “chillaxing” on the island of Ambergris Caye at the Coco Beach Resort.

Coco Beach was the perfect tropical family resort.  Two bedroom condos, amazing pools (with an unbelievable climbing and sliding structure), swim up bar, and a staff that loved kids (or at least faked it really well).  I will admit that Coco Beach was not the easiest place to get to.  The trip started on the mainland, included a quick puddle jumper flight over to Ambergris Caye, a taxi to the dock, and lastly a quick boat ride to the resort.  While getting to this tropical paradise was a little draining for me (ok, totally exhausting), it was all part of the adventure for the kids.  They were totally fascinated with the 12 passenger plane and the a boat doubling as a taxi was totally amazing.  The minute we arrived to Coco Beach, the torture of the long and hot day became a distant memory.  This resort is fabulous!

With my kids being so programmed to associate beach vacations with boogie boarding, Belize was quite a surprise.  To be honest, at first my kids were upset when realizing that Belize was not going to be like other beach vacations.  There are no waves, so playing in the surf and boogie boarding was off the table.  After about four thousand complaints about the no wave situation, the little monsters finally listened to all the other great things that Belize had to offer.  Swimming with sharks, petting sting rays, spear fishing, sailing, and exploring the island on bikes or a golf cart.  The kids were sold on Belize and never looked back.  We spent the days keeping active and the evenings out exploring the town of San Pedro.  Perfect combination of activity and relaxation!

Ambergris Caye (and the Coco Beach Resort) was total paradise for the whole family!  By the way, if you’re wondering…yes, that is my kid swimming with an 8 foot shark.  No lack of adventure in Belize!

Belize Zoo

2 Aug

I must start this off by saying that I am not a zoo person.  The thought of spending an entire day (and a spending a small fortune) walking around a zoo, among crowds of people, all to see a some sleeping animals from 20 yards away, does nothing for me.  If I had the option, I’d rather stay home and watch the National Geographic channel from my couch.  Simply stated…zoos are not my thing and you will rarely find me making them a part of a family adventure.  I look at zoo excursions as more of a time killer when all else fails or simply something I do to appease my persistent children (shhh! don’t tell them that).

So that being said, while in Belize this summer, my kids started begging to visit the Belize Zoo.  I was totally hesitant.  The weather was insanely hot, the mosquitoes were out in full force, and bottom line… zoos aren’t my thing.  While the Belize Zoo prides itself in being a rescue and rehabilitation center to local animals, they also offer some unique and once in a lifetime animal encounters.  I knew that a visit would be supporting a great cause and would have an educational aspect that I always strive for with my kids…but still it’s the “zoo” thing.  So after a few beers poolside, pleading children, and the possibility of doing the “once in a lifetime experience” of  the Jaguar encounter (explanation at bottom of page), I reluctantly agreed.  My expectations were low and it made clear that our time was limited.

We arrived at the zoo right at the peak of the heat.  Let me explain that this is not just hot, it was over the top hot.  The kind of hot that burns your skin and instantly makes you soaking wet in sweat.  We quickly learned that it was even too hot for “Junior” the jaguar to be taking visitors into his cage, so we had to settle for a visit with the Tapirs (photo below of this interesting creature).  I was instantly disappointed, but logically knew that getting inside a cage with a grumpy jaguar is probably not a great idea.  Maybe a blessing in disguise.

We wandered through this amazingly well kept facility, taking a quick look at the local animals of Central America.  My feelings about zoos started to change for the better.  We were able to hang out in the enclosure with the Tapirs, the national animal of Belize, and get up close to some really unique creatures. Our visit was quick, informative, had no crowds, and the kids had a blast.  We ended with an ice cream from the gift shop, experienced something totally new, and supported a great cause all during our quick and informative 45 minute stop (exactly how a zoo should be seen).  Perfection!

Jaguar experience:  So, for $50 USD, 5 people can pile in a cage, inside the enclosure of a Jaguar. You would have the opportunity to learn from an animal trainer about “Junior” the jaguar, feed him a little snack of raw chicken, and even get a kiss from him.  Sound crazy?  Absolutely yes, but talk about a once in a lifetime experience!  Hopefully my next visit to Belize will be a little cooler for Junior and I’ll have a chance to get up close and personal.

Golf Cart Adventures in Belize

10 Jul

The small town of San Pedro, Belize is known for their cobblestone roads and tiny streets packed with golf carts.  Thats right, the main source of transportation on this tiny little tropical island is the golf cart.  So, we rented our own cart & set off with all 4 kids in tow, to discover and explore the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize.  What a fabulous day we had!  Our little adventure really gave my kids a look at how the locals of Belize live and created some great memories.

We stopped at a small local school that many of the poorest children in San Pedro attend. My kids were fascinated by the differences from their school in the U.S. and are still compelled to do something to help the school children of San Pedro.  We even left the school with a basketball from our local University.

We had to stop at my favorite San Pedro restaurant, Waraguma, for some lobster papusas!  Yumm!!!

Minor injuries are a must on every adventure with my brood.  Yes, I almost fed my 8 year old to a 100 pound Tarpon fish.  A little blood with a few tears and he was all recovered.

After leaving the town, we navigated through the north end of the island.  We rode through the tiny jungle lined paths and made a quick stop for cereal and pasta at the Mata Grande Market.

No trip would be complete without a coconut or two…or one really HUGE coconut!

What a day.  Full of fun, sun, lots of bumps, and adventure!

Welcome to the Jungle

9 Jul

First, I must start by saying that I consider myself to be pretty adventurous.  I don’t have any huge phobias, I am willing to try new things, and I definitely consider myself to be brave.  Extreme is what I set out to do on our latest family adventure and the mission was accomplished.  My desire for adventure and thrill rocked my little world!

This summer, I set out with the family for something totally unique, high intensity, and an ideal situation to create some long lasting memories. I thought that with having 3 wild and crazy boys, an adventurous daughter (that could use a little toughening up), and a flexible husband…a few days in the jungle of Central America would be a great adventure.  It was an adventure alright!  We experienced amazing new situations and experiences as a family…although it was a bit painful at times.  It was crazier than I could have imagined and the conclusion is that the jungle is not for wimps!

We began our Central American adventure in high adventure mode.  After traveling for what seemed like hours on end, I led the family away from the airport and headed deep into the Belize jungle for a stay at the Caves Branches Jungle Lodge.  Three days in a treehouse, limited electricity (no hairdryers, TV, & air conditioning), and only walls of screen to protect us from the life of the jungle.  The place was unique and beautiful.  I felt like I was a million miles away from it all and I was ready for the adventure to begin.

We spent the days exploring the local cave systems and learning about the Mayan culture.  We rode around in a vintage bus, had a picnic lunch in a cave, climbed to the top of a Mayan temple, and played in the rivers throughout the jungle.  The adventure factor was high, the history was amazing, and the weather was hot!  I returned to the lodge each day ready for a cold beer and loving the heavily shaded pool!  Little did I know that while I felt the days were adventurous, the nights were the real adventure.

When the sun set, the jungle became a whole different world.  The humidity rose, the noises got louder, and the bugs became braver.  Actually, the 4 inch cockroaches can’t even be considered bugs, they were more like nasty little monsters…yuck!  I slept with one eye open (when I could actually fall asleep).  I’m not sure if I was more afraid of the noises in the dark or what could appear right in front of me if I turned on a light.  My one and only nighttime bathroom visit included bumping into my husband while we both were chasing a cockroach with DEET bug repellant.  Not a pretty sight I’m sure.  Just a side note, DEET does not kill massive cockroaches.  It actually doesn’t even slow them down.  I decided it was better to just wait to use the restroom until morning, regardless of how uncomfortable it became.  I was also so incredibly thankful that my poor husband was the only one suffering from a case of montezuma’s revenge (sorry Honey!).  It was hot, loud, and I was scared.  I patiently waited each night for morning to come so I could actually relax and get a couple of hours of shut eye.

Over all, (speaking after recovering for 6 days in a fabulous tropical beach resort) this was an amazing experience.  A bit painful at times (okay, it was horrible at times), but I wouldn’t change a thing.  The stories and experiences we shared are irreplaceable.  I feel proud and strong.  I can say I survived and my kids have experienced something that none of their friends have ever done.  I set out for an adventure and was it ever an “adventure”!

My daughter will never again be squeamish about the bugs at home and my boys will always view me as one pretty brave Mama!  I can cross staying in the jungle off my bucket list and start looking toward what to do next to top this adventure of a lifetime.  I just know that my next extreme  family experience will involve air-conditioning and hopefully no cockroaches!

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

23 Jun

Family vacations for my crew are all about serious adventure, exhausting the kids, and having some new experiences along the way.  I strive every day of vacation to play hard and exhaust my kids physically and mentally.  I aim to stimulate their minds to total exhaustion.  At the end of the day, I hope that they are so tired and overstimulated that they forget to bicker and are forced into a sleep trance by 9 p.m. (which leaves me about 2 hours of quiet adult time to relax).  Flashing back to last summer, we took an adventure to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  Hands down, this is the most beautiful place I’ve been so far, absolutely breathtaking.  Really this place had it all…plenty to explore, beautiful beaches, amazing people, and tons of adventure.

Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular National Parks in Costa Rica and thought by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  It sits on the Pacific Ocean, and it is where the jungle meets the sea.  The monkeys and lizards roam freely on the beach, giving an amazing show and entertaining travelers several times a day.  The beaches are great for surfing,  horseback riding was amazing, and the dining was fantastic.  While the kids would vote the playtime on the beach was the highlight, I think I vote the zip lining as my highlight.  I have to admit that seeing my middle schooler (that knows everything) a little frightened was a bit entertaining.  If you’re reading this Son, stop now.  You might not like the next picture.  Overall for family adventures, Manuel Antonio has it all.

The lodging options are endless in the Manuel Antonio area.  There are rustic hostels to elaborate villas.  Since I was traveling family style and watching a budget is always a concern, I found our dream vacation spot right in the middle. After many hours of research and planning, I decided on a private home in the Tulemar Gardens gated community.  Best decision ever.  The waves on their private beach were perfect and the kids loved the boogie boards and sand toys.  There were cocktails served on the sand and the monkeys were always around to entertain you during the day.  The kids were happy (and exhausted at the end of the day) and I was relaxed.

After a full day of fun in the sun, we settled in to our comfortable home to enjoy a dinner on the patio while watching the sun set.  Casa Panorama was truly a perfect spot for a family or group of friends. Whether we were preparing a great meal in the gourmet kitchen or sitting in the hot tub, this was the perfect home away from home.

So, families looking for a big adventure to exhaust your own little monkeys, Manuel Antonio has it all.  There was always somewhere to explore, waves to ride, and monkeys to watch.

WARNING:  I am not a professional videographer.  Actually, I’m a pretty crappy amateur videographer.   So, if you are prone to motion sickness, watch this at your own risk.  At least it will give you a visual of my monkeys being entertained by some real monkeys and amazing scenery of the jungle meeting the sea.

Why I Hate Hiking (with kids)

12 Jun

I realize that hate is a strong word, but sometimes it is really the only appropriate way to describe something.  Hate is really a great word to describe how I feel about the art of hiking (with kids).  It’s exhausting, draining, and overall is a pretty miserable experience.  I realize that many would disagree, but that is just how it works for my family.  Maybe it is a combination of my overactive & wild boys mixed with my needing to be in control personality.  But seriously, hiking with my family is simply a nervous breakdown waiting to happen.

I haven’t always disliked hiking.  In fact, one of my first trips was with my husband was to Yosemite.  We spent an amazing weekend hiking, exploring, and dining.  It was about as close to perfect as I could have imagined.  Then came baby #1, and hiking worked.  Then, baby #2, and it was a little tougher.  By Baby #3, it was starting to change.  Quickly.  The 1st hike with 3 kids (four and under) was rough.  One mile, 2 potty breaks, 10 snacks, a few tantrums, about 50 sticks collected, 500 rocks thrown into the water, and I don’t want to leave out that the “hike” was done with an infant hanging off my boob the entire time.  Then came baby #4.  Insanity.  Somehow, I still felt pressured that hiking was the right thing for my family.  How can fresh air and beautiful scenery not be a great experience?  I didn’t like hiking, the kids didn’t like  hiking, and my husband and I were at each others throats the entire time.  Good clean family fun…right?

These pictures say a thousand words, but there are more words.  Whining, crying, fighting, tired, thirsty, hot, cold, freezing, cramping, hungry, dehydrated, hurting, bored, wet, sweaty, teasing, about to die, hurt, sore, scared…need I say more??

The actual moment of deciding that I hated hiking happened in Zion National Park in Utah.  First, this place is beautiful…absolutely amazing.  But when hiking with my fabulous 4, beauty doesn’t matter, it’s a pain in the ass.  So, “the hike” began with 3 of the kids carrying sticks turned “walking sticks”.  It was a typical hike.  Whining, complaining, jumping off of everything, throwing every rock, and “be careful” was said about a million times.  Then, right before my eyes, my oldest jumped off a rock, tripped, and that stick flew out of his hand.  It hit my daughter (drama queen) in the face.  She started screaming (the gasping for air kind).  My husband screamed at my son and grabbed the other stick away from my then 4 year old.  Both boys started to cry…hysterically.  I yelled at my husband for getting so mad.  Our youngest in the backpack started wailing.  There it was for all to see, 4 kids hysterical and 2 adults fighting.  Just then, I looked up and there was a group of European tourists watching us.  The look on their faces was horror, total shock.  That was the moment that I decided I HATED hiking with my kids and that we would not be traveling to Europe anytime soon with my brood (Europe is not ready for these kids).

That was a few years ago and things could potentially be getting a little better.  In my head, I still hate to hike with the kids, but I am starting to consider being more open minded.  Maybe next year.

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