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New York Trip Day 3: Family Reunion & Niagara Pt 1

We knew Sunday was going to be a busy day for us because our first stop was the family reunion brunch that was also a graduation celebration for Matt’s second cousins and we wanted to make it up to Niagara Falls before meeting everyone at the casino for dinner. The brunch was fun. We got to see family and friends that we hadn’t seen in 20 years, the food was excellent, and we enjoyed chatting with Matt’s older brother and his family who were at our table. 

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After we ate for 2 hours- it was an all you can eat brunch and we ate a whole lot- we had the kids change into more casual clothes so we could head up to Niagara Falls. It took us another hour to get out of there while plans were made and changed and then changed again….and again. 

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Finally we were ready to go! The kids were so excited to see Niagara Falls. We had to stick to the American side because we didn’t have our passports with us. But that was fine. Matt and I have already done the Canadian side but we’d never seen the American side. It was beautiful and so much fun! The kids were vibrating in their seats the minute we started crossing the bridge.

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We drove separately from Matt’s brother so we had a few minutes to enjoy the view while we waited to meet up with them. It was gorgeous. The kids were totally enthralled. 

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Before long our group was all together and we took a bunch of photos. Even Tyler consented to appear in some photos. That was the magic of the Falls. 

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The kids wanted to get closer and see more of the Falls. We decided to take the boat tour, called Maid of the Mist, which also included access to the Observation Deck. It was AMAZING and if you’re going to do Niagara Falls, I highly recommend shelling out the money for the boat and the observation deck. It was worth every single penny. The views from the deck were spectacular.

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Tomorrow I’m going to share all of our pictures from the boat tour, the trolley tour, and the casino. The boat tour pictures are by far my most favorite from the trip. You’ll see why. ha!

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New York Trip Day 2: Buffalo Zoo

So we left off the last post on Friday night when we arrived at Matt’s aunt’s house. There wasn’t a lot of sleeping that night between all the beer drinking and catching up we were doing with relatives. Matt’s older brother was already there with his wife and 5 year old son and we hadn’t seen them in over a year. When we finally did crash into bed it was near 3am and we were all crammed into the living room between a pull out sofa and a pallet bed on the floor. So believe me, when I say there wasn’t a lot of sleep happening. And everyone was awake bright and early the next morning. We had all day on Saturday to do what we wanted until our hotel check in time at 4pm. We decided to take the kids to the Buffalo Zoo since it was only in the mid-70’s up in Buffalo instead of the high 90’s that we are used to at this time of year. 

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The kids were so excited to get to explore and run around a bit after being stuck in a car for 12 hours the day before. Well, Tyler was less excited than the little kids but he survived. ha! 

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We got to see a lot of animals but a few were not out including the hyenas, the polar bear, and the panda. Mason was disappointed not to see any wolves but there were enough animals to keep him happy. 

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These 2 are exactly one year and 5 days apart in age and they were thick as thieves during this trip. Zoey is usually the youngest one with nobody near her age so this was nice for her. They held hands and played together the whole day.

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My sister-in-law and I found a great informational poster that proves that females are indeed in charge in all species. ha! The menfolk were not impressed. But they also didn’t disagree. 

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By the time we walked through the whole zoo, with Tyler acting as our guide with the map, the little kids were tired and a bit bored. Two seconds after Zoey whined about her sore feet and hitched a piggyback ride from Matt, we saw a playground and all of a sudden she was full of energy again. Amazing how that works.

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We let the little kids play for awhile, they were the only ones short enough to play on this playground and that rule was enforced by a guy walking around with a ruler stick. By this time it was near 4:00 so we headed back to Matt’s aunt’s house to pack up our stuff so we could check into our hotel. We stayed at the Embassy Suites in downtown Buffalo, only about a 10 minute drive from his aunt’s house, and it was super nice! His brother had rooms at the Westin, which is where we were going to stay until we realized that it didn’t have a pool. 

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We got checked in and settled in our room rather quickly and just hung around until Matt’s brother and family got there to come swim with us at our hotel pool. It was really nice with a huge hot tub that we all enjoyed. 

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We had about an hour to swim before we had to get ready to head back to the aunt’s house for dinner. The only thing we found out about staying in a downtown hotel is that you must do the valet parking. It’s not optional because parking is so hard to find and so expensive when you do find it. So we did a lot of sitting in the lobby waiting for our car.

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Matt’s aunt and uncle did a huge cookout that night with SO MUCH FOOD! Seriously. There was fried fish, hot dogs, italian sausages, NY strip steaks…just so much deliciousness. We stuffed ourselves full! 

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The kids got to hang out and enjoy cupcakes and running around in the garden. And Maia looks WAY too old in that picture. No. How is that possible?

Day 2 was super fun and busy and we slept like babies that night! I think all of us were crashed by 11pm. ha! And that was a good thing because day 3 was so very busy!

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New York Trip Day 1

If you follow me on Instagram then you know we made a long weekend trip up to New York, specifically Buffalo, last week. Matt’s cousin’s twins graduated from high school and his aunt threw a family reunion/graduation celebration. The last time we went up to see them in Buffalo was 20 years ago when we were newly married and kid-free. So it was definitely time for a trip. It was a last minute decision for us because we had to work around Tyler’s football camp schedule but we managed to carve out a few days. We left Friday morning bright and early and arrived in Buffalo a short 12 hours later. Note the sarcasm there. 

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We crossed into Virginia about an hour into our trip and Zoey immediately began asking if we were there yet. ha. Sorry kid, no. 

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We hit the East River Mountain tunnel an hour later and the children were forced to suffer through 5 whole minutes of no internet and no music because xm radio does not get a signal in the tunnel. Matt and I tried to sing them a song to help them through those long hard minutes but they remained grouchy and ungrateful. 

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5 minutes later we crossed into West Virginia. I had no idea just how long we would be spending in WV. I always thought it was a relatively small state. So why did it take us nearly 5 hours to get through? I’m perplexed. 

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We stopped for lunch at Chick-fil-a and filled the kids with food thus ensuring us at least an hour of no whining, fighting, or complaining. Theoretically anyway.

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We came across a little sight seeing look out on the side of the interstate about an hour and a half after we stopped for lunch so it seemed like a good time to stop and stretch our legs. Tyler was asleep and refused to wake up so Maia had to climb over the back seat to get out. She was displeased. She got over it. 

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An hour and a half later we hit our first thunderstorm. The skies opened up and dumped massive amounts of rain on us. And every car on the road immediately slowed down to 35 mph on the interstate because they clearly do not understand the benefits of Rain-X on their windshields. Amateurs. The thunder woke up all 4 sleeping kids who then immediately asked “are we there yet?” No. 

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Half an hour later we finally crossed over into Pennsylvania. Again, the kids began asking “are we there yet?” No.

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We were trucking along at a speedy 70 mph until just after this bridge. Then BAM. Dead stop traffic. For miles and miles and miles and miles. Ugly words were said, bargains were made with God. Nothing. 

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2 hours into the stop and go traffic we reached the “shove powdered donuts into our faces” stage of the road trip. 

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Shortly after we finally crossed into New York, prompting an immediate chorus of…wait for it….ARE WE THERE YET? Sigh. No we are not there yet, FORTHELOVEOFGOD stop asking that question!

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An hour later we passed through our last toll booth of the trip and were so close we could taste the freedom!

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By 10:30 we had arrived, been stuffed full of food, snuggled in our jammies, and were enjoying time with our relatives. We had 14 people crammed into a 3 bedroom house with 1 working bathroom. Nothing says family like claustrophobia. But it was only for one night- we didn’t see the point in paying for a hotel room when we were arriving so late and Matt’s aunt and uncle graciously opened their home to all our craziness. We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning drinking beer with Matt’s brother and his family and just chatting. It was awesome! And bonus- we drank enough beer that we didn’t care where we slept! 

Day 2 coming tomorrow. Spoiler alert- we went to the zoo!

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5 Tips For A Successful Summer With Older Kids

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Now that my kids are older summer break has taken on a completely different dimension. It used to be something I dreaded. 12 weeks of little kids who require total supervision every single hour of the day and woke up at dark o’thirty every morning? That’s a nightmare. But now that my kids are older it’s so much better. That being said there are still things you can do to make sure your summer break is successful.

1. Keep the food fully stocked. We have 2 pantries and 3 fridge/freezers. I keep them fully stocked at all times in the summer. I buy most of our snacks at either Sam’s Club or Aldi to cut costs and I always keep a ton of fruit on hand. My kids expend a lot of energy at the pool and they eat a lot. I keep the freezer stocked with things they can microwave easily by themselves- hot pockets, taco wraps, quesadillas, mini pizzas, chicken melts, etc. 

2. Let them sleep. Remember those days when the kids woke you up before the sun? Well those days are long gone in my house. My kids don’t wake up before 10am unless we physically wake them up. And I only wake them if we have somewhere to be. Otherwise I let them sleep as long as they want. Poor Tyler has to be at football by 8am four days a week so he’s leaving the house at 7:15am. I remember my mom always waking me up by 8am during the summer and it was awful. So I don’t do it. They sleep late, sometimes they take afternoon naps after swimming, and they stay up late. That’s exactly what summer should be. 

3. Keep the plans to a minimum. I used to have a schedule and plans for nearly every day of summer break. Vacation Bible Schools, splash parks, play dates, dollar movies, camps…we did it all. If every minute wasn’t scheduled the kids were fighting, bored, and annoying each other. Now that they’re older they do not want to have all those plans. They want to chill. Which works well because I also want to just chill. 

4. Spend as much time at the pool as possible. We’re lucky to have a great neighborhood pool right down the street from our house and a hot tub right on our own back deck. We spend as much time in them as possible. It keeps the kids active, keeps them busy, and limits the fighting. They’re too tired to whine and all their friends are swimming with them instead of messing up my house. It’s perfect. 

5. Relax the rules. During summer I am flexible with the rules we maintain during the school year. The kids are allowed to drink select sodas during the summer when I never ever buy it during the school year. We make Coke Floats and Root Beer slushes. I don’t enforce bedtimes. They are expected to be in their bedrooms by 9:30 unless it’s family night but they can play, read, or watch a movie for as long as they want. I also don’t enforce any limits on screens or electronics. The kids spend a lot of time outside and in the pool so unless I see them spending days upon days glued to a screen I just let it go. Their friends are welcome to come over and play anytime during the hours we’ve established- 11am to 8pm. They just come and go all day and it’s great. My backyard is always full of laughing kids. 

Cheers to a great summer!

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Our Plans For An Amazing Summer

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It’s here, y’all! The first official day of summer vacation at our house for all the kids. Tyler’s been out of school since May 23 and Maia was done June 2 but the little kids last day was on Friday. We are so excited! It was super sad saying goodbye to our favorite teachers at the little kids’ elementary school though. This is our last year at that school after having at least one kid enrolled there since 2006. It’s on to a new school next year- the same charter school where Tyler attends school and while the kids are excited I was sad to say goodbye to some of the teachers who’ve meant so much to our family.

But we’re ready to dive into summer vacation this year. We don’t have any plans for a big beach vacation or anything. Putting 4 kids in charter school is expensive y’all so we’re forgoing the big beach vacation and sticking close to home this summer. Plus Tyler has football workouts 4-6 days a week all summer long and physical therapy twice a week so that kills the summer vacation plans. We are so busy during the school year that we all really just want to relax during the summer. I asked the kids what they wanted to do this summer and the number one thing they all agreed on was sleep in, followed closely by swimming. 

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Most days will consist of the pool, the hot tub, play dates with friends, and playing outside in the yard. My kids are happiest at home where they can relax. I’m fortunate that they don’t require a lot of entertaining, they are very much self sufficient and able to amuse themselves without my direction. I foresee lots of hours at the neighborhood pool with friends and lounging in the hot tub. Not having to drive Tyler up to football practice and sit and wait in the parking lot this summer means we can pretty much be at the pool all day every day if we want.

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I also see lots of movie nights and sleepovers. Dinners on the back deck and nights in the hot tub also factor heavily into my summer plans. Mama loves her a good frozen margarita while soaking in the hot tub! I’d also love to take the kids to some of the free summer concerts and movie nights in the park that our city does. I think they would love that. Basically my goal is to spend as much time outside as possible this summer with some trips to the library sprinkled in there too. Maia has set a goal to read 30 books this summer and Mason wants to read 10. 

There are a few house projects that I want to get done this summer. I want to get all the trim in the house painted- it hasn’t been repainted in the 12 years that we’ve lived here. I want to get the kids bathroom upstairs painted. I really want to get Zoey and Mason’s rooms redone but that might be too ambitious for this summer. We are definitely going to get the backyard done. We actually already started that project this weekend. Matt cut down all the old bushes that were just randomly placed around the yard and he cut down 3 small trees. Then we (and by we, I mean Matt and Tyler) leveled the section of yard that has been eroding every time it rained. Today we’re getting hundreds of dollars of river rock delivered to start filling in the yard. It’s going to be a big project but it will be so worth it!

I’m so ready for this summer break. It’s been a long year of school. It was a great year but a long year. I look forward to recharging my batteries and enjoying some time with my kids. 

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