A Pragmatist’s Guide to Road-Tripping Across America

We did a crazy (for us) thing this summer. We road-tripped from Nashville to Seattle and back! That’s right, over 6,000 miles, 75 hours of drive time, 5 national parks, and 12 states visited in a little over 3 weeks. And, quite honestly, I’ve gotten so many questions about how it went because so many people have said they’ve wanted to do a trip like this but feel intimidated. So, I figured I should dust off the old blog to share a few things I learned from it, because you should totally do it!

IMG_5644.jpg

Arches National Park, Utah

IMG_3625

Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

My husband and I were nervous that it was going to be way too challenging to spend that much time on the road with three young children, but it was so, so worth it! They acclimated really well to road life, all things considered (read: some moments were indeed hard when we all felt done but there were fewer than I expected).  I think the biggest keys to our success were setting realistic expectations, planning like crazy beforehand, and the ages of our children (meaning no diapers, no napping required).

One thing you should know about me if you don’t already, is that I am a self-proclaimed Budget Queen. We have had very tight finances for most of our 12 years of marriage and have been able to cash flow grad-school, babies, and life (minus a mortgage on our house). So, even though this was an uncharted, gigantic project, I was excited at the prospect of breaking it down and making it affordable.

IMG_3010

My shirt is doubly awesome because it was a cheap thrift store find

We broke the trip into categories like food out, groceries, explorations, lodging, fuel, souvenirs, and van rental. One note on the rental: our beloved minivan is a 2008, and we feared we may spend a lot more on getting a new car/repairing our car if we packed another 6,000 miles in a short time onto the 170,000 existing miles. So, we opted to allocate money for a van rental. We did consider renting an RV for a minute; however, not only would fuel cost more, we weren’t sure where to park it when we stayed in the downtown areas of bigger cities (which we totally wanted to do). We decided instead to rent Air BNB properties where there was usually a yard to play and space for us to hang out after the kids went to bed. We also stayed once at a hotel for the indoor pool benefit.

IMG_5681

Playing corn hole outside of our Air BNB cottage in Salt Lake City

We had financial wiggle room on this trip, but I am pleased to say we were within $50 of budget in every category (except for that darn van rental)! One of the biggest ways we achieved this was to plan ahead! If something could be brought inexpensively instead of bought regularly (like coffee in the mornings) we packed it and saved. We saved our money for unique experiences and food we couldn’t get at home. This means we picnicked a lot. When we weren’t trying delicious pastries at adorable bakeries, we were eating granola bars and PB&J’s out of the back of our car. We often stopped at playgrounds to picnic, which was also great because it gave a place for our children (ages 8, 6, and 4) to burn off some energy before we got back on the road.

IMG_5714

Lunch stop at a playground in Pendleton, Oregon on a travel day

IMG_3310

Picnicking after hiking Hurricane Ridge at Olympics National Park, Washington

For curious minds, whose wiring is for details (like mine), I’m an open book. Our budget ended up like this:

Lodging: $1376 (budgeted for $1400, we were lucky enough to have gracious friends and family host us for free on 10 of the 23 nights, 8 of those being while we stayed in Washington)

Food Out: $1102 (budgeted for $1125)

Groceries: $299 (budgeted for $300, majority for the week we stayed at a friend’s home in Washington)

Explorations: $624 (budgeted for $600)

Souvenirs and gifts: $324 (budgeted for $400)

Fuel: $816 (budgeted for $775)

Rental car: $1625 (budgeted for $1200, long story here but the biggest reason we owed more was because we under estimated mileage and our “deal” was not unlimited miles)

That brings the trip to a grand total of $6,166 from beginning to end (and significantly less if we had decided to take our own vehicle). And because we reserved the rental car and virtually all of our lodging before we left, about half of our trip was paid before we started.

One of the secrets to our savings? We allowed travel to be part of the entertainment. Even though it was tough having so many hours in the car, we helped our kids to engage with what they were seeing outside the window. Scenery that was so different from home. And teaching our children about public transit through light rails and ferries was necessary for travel but also part of the fun. We also hit up five national parks on this trip (Arches, Olympic, Rainier, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons, plus 2 state parks). We paid $80 for a parks pass and that got us into all of the parks (and will get us into the 300+ in the nation for the next 13 months) and then we had nearly all the breath-taking, zero-cost adventure to drive, hike, and explore that our hearts could take.

IMG_3678

Our trusty National Parks Land Pass stayed with us for the entirety of the tr

img_3693.jpg

We found license plates from 47 states! Huzzah!

Now for a few fun hacks that I learned in my research and along the way:

Leaving at O-Dark-Thirty: We tried this out lots of ways, and I understand it takes commitment from the parents in particular on vacation. But, when we left in the 5 o’clock hour, the day just went better. Our kids RARELY sleep in the car (the youngest will sometimes cat nap) but they were more subdued when we woke them early to get on the road. It was just also harder getting out the door when they were awake/working against us. Everything took a lot longer. What’s more, though, is that we realized by mid-afternoon we were ALL tired of the car. Whether we’d left at 9am or 5am. So time was on our side when we got out of there early, early. We got the daily travel out of the way and then enjoyed our destination for the second half of the day. For us, it was worth the alarm-setting on vacation.

AB21BA19-79C8-4FF1-A7FD-77F7F8BC18A1

Lunch boxes: My sister taught me this one a few years ago, and the kids LOVE it. When you go on a road trip, pack their lunch boxes with snacks (some filling, some healthier, and sprinkle in a few surprise treats) and that is what they get for the day. No constant begging and passing around the car. They can eat everything at once, in whatever order they choose, but once it’s gone, it’s gone. Because we usually left so early, I did not pass them out until after the first stop. Snacks occupy time and attention, but they love the surprise element of it. It definitely took some planning to have things on hand for a lunch box each day, but it was a highlight for them and so worth it. I planned out lunch boxes for half of the trip before we left each way. I then put 3 of each snack into a gallon-sized baggie and had them ready to dump in their lunch boxes every morning.

IMG_3675

Ring Pops were one of the fave surprises on the trip

Rolls of Quarters: This genius tip came from one of my co-workers. She said that when her kids were young, each one would get a roll of quarters for a road trip as spending money. The catch was that each time a child asked “are we there yet?” they had to pay a quarter to their parents. Genius, right? We tweaked it a little for general behavior because our trip was quite lengthy and they really didn’t ask so much as they complained or did not listen. They also had the opportunity to earn them back because we wanted them to stay invested. In the end, they each got to buy a few things that were completely their decision. Erasers, face-painting, books, pressed penny collections, and tape measurers were among their choices. Plus, they learned great skills about decision-making, tax, etc.

IMG_5878

Eraser pen from Pike Street Press

IMG_3273

Face Painting from the Fathoms of Fun Festival

Ziploc bags: I had read about this one on Pinterest but had never tried it before this trip. When I packed the kids’ suitcases, each outfit went in a separate gallon-sized baggie. It eliminated a lot of confusion about what went with what and clean vs. dirty. But, I found as the trip went on, it was also effective for minimizing the unpacking of the van for one-nighters. If I planned ahead, I could take out one baggie with underwear, tooth brush, and jammies for each child, set them outside the suitcase and avoid taking the van apart when we arrived for a one-night stay. Our van was serious Tetris packing, so it was nice not to unpack the puzzle every day.

IMG_3527

I had genuine concern about claustrophobia the night before we left

Organizing drawers in the trunk: This hack may have been my favorite. I packed food, utensils, wipes, etc. so that every time we stopped, I was at the ready to whip out a lunch or clean up a mess from the trunk. Highly recommend! (The only catch to this plan was the cooler we had packed behind it. Not super accessible and no real way to avoid our need for it.)

A wise friend encouraged me (knowing my personality) before we left to slow down when we could slow down. There is much that must be kept on a schedule when it comes to travel, but there are memories to be had if you take the minute to let them make. As much as you want to make good time, it’s important for the kids–and everyone–to move and stretch and enjoy the journey.

IMG_5911

Trails in Port Orchard, Washington

IMG_3476

Playground in Missoula, Montana

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under being a parent, money saving, travel

House Progress: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As promised, I’m back one more time to explain a little more of the crazy process of building an addition/remodeling most of the existing house!

There is so much I could say that it’s hard to pare down to a few highlights. A quick backstory on the timing of the addition: We found out we were (surprise!) pregnant with Ingrid right after Jonathan quit his social work job to begin counseling full-time. I experienced some major anxiety about how things would work out since we were already strapped for money and bursting at the seams in our two-bedroom home. Anyway, we looked into moving or adding a small master on the back of the house at that time, and found we literally had no options except to sit tight. Turns out you have to have 18 months of self-employment income before you can qualify for a loan. And a part-time nursing career amazingly isn’t enough to qualify either. 🙂 So we waited to do anything. And you know what? It was fine. For all the fretting, it worked alright. (Like most of the world and previous generations would tell you.)

Fast forward 18 months (remember that requirement?) and we had WAY more options than I would dare hope for in the Fall of 2014. This was primarily because home values had been skyrocketing in our area, so our little house had appreciated tons in the 5 years we’d owned it. Once we realized we had some options while adding even more value to our house, we decided we should try and tackle all the things that would make us want to move in the foreseeable future, as I mentioned in the previous post. So, it became a mammoth project. In short, God is good. And patience is a virtue. (Even if you’re being strong-armed into said virtue, I guess!)

So, in May of 2016 we packed boxed and moved half of our house into the other half of our house. I cannot believe this, but I have no pictures of what our living room and (old) master bedroom looked like lined with furniture and piled high with boxes. It was tight. We moved out for about 7 weeks, staying a good portion of that time 10 minutes away at Jonathan’s parents’ (Thank you, Dave and Becky!!), which afforded us the ability to check in at the house at least daily.

You see, we subcontracted this mess out, making it all the more crucial to live/not live at our house while we were gone. We decided to subcontract it out because we needed to make the biggest bang for our buck (as you know by now, we were trying to do A LOT–with a little, comparatively). A quick word on that, for those considering something like this: First, we didn’t know how insanely hard it would be to subcontract. None, really. And I really don’t think our expectations were very high. But still. Turns out you can put a price on sanity–it’s called a contractor. Secondly, we had my dad at our side. A retired civil engineer with all kinds of commercial construction experience and connections, we COULD NOT HAVE DONE THIS PROJECT WITHOUT HIM. He may have the been the wind in our sails that convinced us we could do such a crazy endeavor ;), but he was also so committed to helping us succeed that he spent countless hours showing up at our house, making calls on our behalf, doing the heavy lifting when things fell through (which they inevitably do!), and giving a compassionate ear when we cried about how hard it was. It was funny to look through pictures, because there were a million of him walking through the frame, just being there at every turn. My dad deserves a medal. We are eternally grateful!

The last picture is of Jonathan and my dad using a hammer drill under the crawl space to create an opening between the existing crawl space and the new one. In case you were wondering 😉

Okay, so back to the process. One of the best/worst parts was the kitchen. We designed an Ikea kitchen with a local company called ModerNash. We put so much time and energy into planning the thing, then they went and got everything for us, and we were ready to go. Except our assembly guys flaked. We were highly motivated to keep the project moving forward and the next guys who could get it done were like 3 weeks later. So, in a moment of complete insanity, we decided to assemble and install the cabinets ourselves. My mother-in-law came with us late one night (while my FIL stayed with the kids) to help us get our heads around Ikea assembly, and we began to chip away at it. It took weeks. So many late nights, heading there after work and kids were in bed. We didn’t have lights wired yet, so we strategically plugged lamps around the space.

Ikea is wonderful. But if you know anything about them, you know nothing comes assembled. We received about 90 boxes for our kitchen. This picture is at the halfway point or so, but you can see some of our method for organization as we assembled:

Then, came the counters, which were acacia butcher block we bought from SouthEastern Salvage. This is after installation and before we oiled them the first time. Look at the pride in my eyes. And fatigue.

I have all kinds of thoughts about wood counters, but the long and short of it is we love them. Reach out if you have questions!

The kitchen was seriously too much on top of work and kids. It was crazy. I was genuinely worried I would lose my mind, but we did it! (And saved some much needed dollars, so…) As I said, we were motivated to keep the project moving because our life is a bit nuts without all this, so we needed to get back to “normal” ASAP. From start to finish (passing final codes inspection, anyway) we did this thing in 6 months.

Our kids were champs. We arguably had them in so many questionable situations. But, no trips to the ER! They became pretty accustomed to dangerous things around at any given point and didn’t bother things.

After 7 weeks out, we moved back into the house (definitely before most people would think it was a good idea). We had no microwave, hot water heater, stove, running water in the kitchen. But a good bit of that was in shape within a few days! Liam was starting kindergarten in the middle of everything, and it was so important to me that he be back in the house for his security and adjustment. He did a lot better than I did.

Jonathan and I moved our mattress into the living room (around all the boxes) and slept there for the 3 months following. We joked we had a studio apartment whenever people would walk in the front door. This is the only picture I have, really, that proves we were there. You can see our built-ins in the reflection of the mirror.

And here is the kids’ new temporary set up after we moved back in (before the carpet was installed in Liam’s new room).

To make matters more fun, the entire family got head lice (first timers!) within the first few weeks of Liam starting school. People, we did not have a washer hooked up (for months, but this timing was painful)! That kind of stress makes you cry and laugh, cry and laugh.

We went back and forth about the material for the exterior of the addition and finally landed on brick. It’s not an exact match, but it’s not too bad. Several people have asked how we found matching brick. Yeah! And it doesn’t hurt that it’s in the back of the house.

Spring 2016

Spring 2017

This is a gigantic post, but one more strange thing we learned: natural materials are some of the hardest to get rid of. We probably rented five 10 cubic yard dumpsters for everything, but we we got down to sand, gravel, dirt, rocks–we couldn’t get rid of it! Nobody accepts/wants that stuff! Explain that one to me! That meant we had a hobbit hill in our back yard for a l-o-n-g time.

In all, we probably had at least a dozen people from craigslist and such take dirt. I am sure that dirt multiplied. We offered a contractor doing work down the street with a bob cat free top soil and he wanted $500 to take it. What?! So, we kept offering it to people with pickups and shovels. The following spring, it was smaller, but still there, just staring me down. I hated that dirt pile.

I am happy to report that by this summer, we had a (somewhat) level back yard! Things are looking pretty normal here these days. Even though we still have caulking and painting trim to be done here and there. Homeownership is a work in progress, though, am I right?

Phew, I’m tired again just writing about it! We may very well have lost a few years off our lives, but we are so grateful to have the opportunity to make our house so much more of what we wanted and needed. It takes a village, and we certainly have a good one. We love this house. Our blood, sweat, and tears are in this place!

Leave a comment

Filed under DIY projects, home improvements

House Progress: The Mother Lode, Part 2

As promised, here are the pictures from our addition. We turned our 2 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom into a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom house with this addition. The addition is not terribly large (less than 500 square feet) but it consists of two bedrooms: the master and an office, a small laundry room, a master bathroom, and a hallway that includes a small amount of mudroom space. We aimed to make efficient use of space and not build something that feels totally different from the small spaces of our 1940s house. We also had building challenges with our weird property lines and set backs, but that’s another story for another time. Once we got into some real planning for this endeavor, we realized it was important to tackle everything that would make us consider moving in the foreseeable future. We feel like we accomplished that.

There is so much I want to explain about this whole process, but I’ll have to think more on what exactly to include (I feel like we could write a book!).

So, without further ado…

IMG_3554

This is a progression of the master bedroom end of the addition looking into the house.

IMG_3621

IMG_3678

IMG_4766

The office

IMG_4731

IMG_3946

IMG_3876

IMG_5535

IMG_3679

The Laundry room. Almost not worth showing and the room looks crooked, but we still haven’t done much in there…yet.

The Master bedroom.

IMG_5458

IMG_5462

IMG_5454

Our heavenly master bath.

IMG_3754

IMG_5455

 

Leave a comment

Filed under DIY projects, home improvements

House Progress: The Mother Lode, Part 1

Last year we tackled an ambitious project. A very ambitious project. We pretty much re-invented our house. Much of the existing house was renovated. And then we added a sizable addition. All the while life continued on. We knew it would be a tough and draining endeavor, but we underestimated just how tough and draining. One year later, though, we can say it was totally worth it. And we never want to do it again!

One day I’ll get around to posting about the process. For now, pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. In fact, this post will come in two parts. Part 1: the existing house. Part 2: the addition.

Enjoy!

IMG_5546

 

Spring 2016                              Summer 2017

Spring 2016                            Summer 2017

IMG_5550

IMG_4742

Spring 2016                                Summer 2017

 

IMG_4748

IMG_4749

Spring 2016                               Summer 2017

Spring 2016                                Summer 2017

IMG_4733

IMG_5448

Spring 2016                                Summer 2017

IMG_5452

IMG_4752

Spring 2016                                    Summer 2017

Spring 2016                                Summer 2017

IMG_4780

IMG_3592

IMG_4772

1 Comment

Filed under DIY projects, home improvements

Beach Vacation 2014

Vacation.

IMG_0903

Such a lovely idea, no?

A few weeks ago, we packed up our gang and headed to a place we’d never been– the beaches of Pass Christian, MS. Neither of our children had ever seen the ocean before, so we were excited and nervous about how they would respond.

Honestly, I had pretty low expectations for how relaxing the trip would be because we were bringing small children along. We met my sister along with her husband and daughter at my brother-in-law’s family’s beach house. I must say, the whole trip was a welcomed surprise.

July was a crazy month for us at the end of a busy season, so having a chance to relax with people we love was such a gift!

Wonderful weather (cool and sometimes overcast when it was predicted to rain each day). Happy, napping children every day. A practically private beach. Total flexibility to change our plans according to how the kiddos were faring. I can see why people love beach vacations, especially with young kids!

IMG_0809

photo-10

IMG_0898

IMG_0810

IMG_0876

photo-8

We dined out one night, visited a local playground and bookstore, and one day rode with a fisherman out to Ship Island, which was a breathtakingly beautiful and uninhabited beach island. Other than that, we just stayed in our little corner of beach house, pool, and ocean. Bliss.

IMG_0838

IMG_0925

photo-7

photo-4

photo 2

IMG_0907

IMG_0942photo 1

IMG_0912

IMG_0885

IMG_0808

Overall, the perfect getaway. It really is too bad you can’t be on vacation all the time 😉

IMG_0910

 

1 Comment

Filed under travel

Door Drama: Part Three

It’s been a long time since I wrote about any progress to our front door, and any of you who’ve kept up with this blog for a while may have thought we’d forgotten to finish our  “plan”. (I assure you, I had not!)

But…the time has finally come!

I’m really excited about this post because, not only was it a heck-of-a-lot more work than anything we’ve tackled before, it has also really helped to update the exterior of our home.

Okay, so if you’ll remember, here’s how our front entry looked June of 2012:

DSCN0023

We painted the doorway white some time shortly after that and then attached shutters in July of 2013:
DSCN0640

Fast forward another year, and here we are!IMG_0753

IMG_0754

The process began months (or, really a year or two) earlier with plans for our roofed pergola. I cannot stress this step in the process enough. Sometimes it felt like we were beating a dead horse, but since we were (are) amateurs, it was critical in minimizing our stress once we entered the building phase. We talked about what each of us was envisioning. We researched ideas and sketched out our plans. We tried to anticipate what problems we could face. We priced lumber and supplies online. We talked with people in our lives who knew how to build. We made an exhaustive list for our Lowe’s trip.IMG_0967

Then, we set a date to build and recruited some help. This came in the form of my brother-in-law who helped with the manual labor (my dad threw out his back days earlier but still graciously managed to come and help out for a while), my in-laws who brought lunch and helped with just about anything else we needed, and my mom who kept the chilluns so we could actually focus and get stuff done. The hubs and I were talking about how DIYers get all the glory for rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty, but (in our experience) it takes a village to get the job done. We’re so grateful to everyone who helped us out!

The first step was to tear out the old awning, see what was left underneath, and power wash the area before we built over it again.IMG_0696

As in true DIY form, we did experience a few hiccups in our plan. The biggest one was the way we attached our posts to the concrete slab. We unsuccessfully tried a couple of frustrating methods before using L brackets and bits designed to drill into concrete.IMG_0721

The second most frustrating step was the way our corrugated steel bowed. IMG_0730

Even when we drilled it to the pergola while pulling it taut, the front bowed. We remedying it by attaching 1×2 pieces in between each rafter. In the end, we like the look better than without it.IMG_0755

IMG_0756

 

One of the hardest parts about the project both in planning and in execution was building around that little corner. It was a pain because that affected the 3 inch slope on the last rafter. Let me tell you, math is an important skill in building!IMG_0751

Because we used pressure treated wood, we have to wait a while until we can stain it. But the plan is to stain it the same color as the shutters and then paint the concrete gray.

August 2011:DSCN0512

 

July 2014:

IMG_0753

We had many moments of frustration, but we knew that we’d feel pride once we were finished. And we do. One of the areas where I feel most accomplished is in anticipating the cost and sticking to our budget. We built this puppy (including the painting and staining that have yet to be completed) for right around $250. IMG_0755

IMG_0733

 

One thing is for sure: it was a learning experience. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s still standing! 🙂

 

Leave a comment

Filed under DIY projects, home improvements

DIY Twin Duvet Cover

Our three -year-old is now an old pro at sleeping in a “big bed”. When we first transitioned him out of the crib, I realized that he was used to only sleeping with his blankie. Even the pillow at the head of the bed was new for him. So, I slapped a fitted sheet on his bed and called it good.

Lately, though, I’ve been feeling like he might be ready for covers. The blankie barely covers his legs and he is *better* about staying covered while he actually sleeps. I have a twin down comforter that I saved from when the twin bed was mine in college, so the only real question was how to cover it. (Notice the pun reference?)

I headed to Goodwill with my mom one day in search of some inspiration. We decided against blue and gray (that I was thinking of doing) since it could clash with armoire if it wasn’t just the right shade. There wasn’t a great selection, but my mom found this cute patterned sheet at the last minute:

IMG_0676We paired those subtle green circles interspersed in the pattern with a vibrant solid green sheet. We liked it because it was fun, coordinated well with the colors in the room, and wasn’t too babyish. (since he is three afterall!)

After throwing them in the wash, I simply put the “right” sides together and sewed across one side and the bottom. As it turned out, the sheets weren’t exactly the same size, so I laid it out and pinned the opposite side with both sheets flattened out:

IMG_0667

After sewing that side, I cut off the excess and sewed it once more (in case the green sheet frayed at all).

Then, I flipped the whole thing inside out and stuffed it with the duvet. I really wanted this thing to stay put (as sometimes the comforter can move around inside the cover), so I opted to tie a few knots with embroidery thread to secure the whole thing.

IMG_0670As for the top, I folded the green side over and did a wide hand stitch with embroidery thread. I’ll have to take all that apart whenever I wash it, but it made for a nice temporary fix, anyway.

IMG_0673

For a simple afternoon project, I’m pleased!

IMG_0738

IMG_0741

Unfortunately for me (since I make bed), Liam informed me that he’s not ready to get rid of his side rail just yet. 🙂

 

Leave a comment

Filed under home improvements, nursery, Uncategorized