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July 21, 2016

FILED IN: Personal, Travel

After getting settled in, water sliding, eating really gross smoothies, and zip lining (all in part one here), we were ready to go hiking on Saturday! Carla volunteered to stay at the house with the toddlers (Henry & Winston) while they napped so the remaining crew headed over to Old Man’s Cave. It was absolutely beautiful there with little creeks, a waterfall, and lots of foliage and rock formations.


Back at the house, Winston napped like a champion and my typically great napper Henry woke up about 10 minutes after we left to go hiking. (Sorry Carla!) There was a stroller-friendly hike at Ash Cave so we went back to get Henry, Carla, and Winston and head back out for a quick, easy hike before dinner. Sadly, I left my camera at the house for that one, but really could’ve used it because there was a small wedding going on in the cave and there was no photographer. Had I had my camera, I would’ve taken some photos for them!

After dinner Saturday, we headed outside for some much-needed updated family photos. Megan took the reins on it since she’s much more skilled with family photos, but I kept my camera handy so we could swap off. You know what’s really awesome about our family gatherings? Having two professional photographers on hand. I’m embarrassed to say our standard for vacation snapshots has gone way up.

That evening, we started a campfire and pulled out the necessary ingredients for s’mores. I should mention that we had the most wonderfully perfect weather while we were there. It was warm (but not as hot as expected), but the nights were cool and I was glad to have thrown in a long-sleeved shirt.

As I mentioned before, the next-door property was a wild life hunting preserve. There were plenty of natural wildlife roaming around our house (non-threatening animals like deer, frogs, lizards, etc.), but beyond the fence were wild boars among other scarier animals.

So as the evening turned to night and the conversations turned to scarier stories (why do we tell scary stories at night outside??), we started getting really jumpy. At one point a mouse ran across the brick and we all screeched. But it was nothing compared to when a cat jumped out of the bushes nearby (with those beady eyes!) and sent us scattering. It was midnight by then so bedtime was looming anyway, but that cat did it for sure. (My younger brothers had also gone to bed by that point and we were leery they had ulterior motives to sneak back out to scare us.)

Vacation ended Sunday afternoon. We spent the morning slowly packing up, having a short devotional, and then playing games in the rec room. Henry went down for a nap and we waited to leave until afterwards. He had done really well in the car on the way out (albeit with an iPad in hand and Super Simple Songs on repeat) so we were hopeful for a successful trip back home as well.

We stopped for dinner about 2 hours into the trip, then he fell asleep around 8:30 that evening. Our plan was that if he fell asleep, we’d try driving the whole way back home (instead of grabbing a hotel room). Kevin blazed the trail (bless him and his driving skills) and we made it home around 11:45 Sunday night. I carried Henry in and laid him in his crib and the kid sprawled out with all the love of finally being in his own bed again.

The vacation I had anticipated for so long is over, but I’m truly so grateful for the wonderful memories with my family. I just wish we didn’t live so far apart.

July 19, 2016

FILED IN: Personal, Travel

My parents are celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary this fall. For over 5 years, they’ve been talking about doing a family vacation. We didn’t plan it soon enough for their 40th and it kept falling through the cracks with both my sister’s (also a photographer) and my wedding schedules and everyone else’s work. There are 22 of us total with 10 of those being kids so you can imagine how hard it is to coordinate 12 adult work calendars. Finally, over a year ago, we nailed down a date so we could all block our calendars. Since then, I’ve been looking forward to spending a long weekend with everyone.

My parents rented a huge house called Tanglewood Manor near Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio. The house itself was out in the middle of nowhere with no cell service at all. (Our phones actually read “no service” up in the left corner where the bars usually are.) The house was equipped with wi-fi so we could have some access to the outside world, but the only way to call in case of an emergency was on the house phone in the living room. (Which was a little iffy since the next-door property was a wild life hunting preserve; we saw them haul in a wild bore at one point!) There were plenty of rooms (the house can sleep 40 people!), nearly all with private bathrooms, so we were able to spread out. It also came with 2 dining rooms (one for the kids; one for the adults), a large kitchen that was stocked with everything you could need (pots, pans, mixer, paper towels, etc.) besides food itself, a recreation room, laundry room, and a large living room.

To make the meals easy, we split up into families. The Sarvers had dinner Thursday night, Jordan & Payton (with help from mom) had brunch Friday, we had dinner Friday night, the Whipples took Saturday brunch, and the Millers took Saturday dinner. Snacks and Sunday breakfast & lunch were all leftovers and miscellaneous foods we brought along for sharing.

We arrived Thursday afternoon and spent some time unpacking and checking out the house. While everyone was spread out inside, there was also a lot of outdoor play area. There was a large cement pad with basketball hoops and a volleyball net as well as a 60′ slide in the side of the hill and a swing set. Henry’s gold mine was the huge shed nearby that housed all kinds of kid’s toys including his favorite Cozy Coupe car.


While the kids got out the ride-on toys, the boys immediately picked up game of basketball (where they conveniently lowered the hoop for dunking purposes).

After dinner that night, we got out the garden hose and turned the slide into a water slide.

After the babies & littles were cleaned up and in bed, we played a disgusting Fear Factor-esque food challenge. Foods were color coded–sour cream, marshmallows, ice cream were white while peanut butter, prune juice, and chocolate syrup were brown, for example–and corresponded with colored paper in a draw bowl. We were split into 3 teams and one person from each team would draw a paper and the corresponding food item of that color that was next up in line would land in a blender. Some notable combinations were black beans+prune juice+sour cream, Ranch dress+mayo+beets, refried beans+avocado+corn chips, and ice cream+milk+green beans. (You cannot understand the level of disgusting.) The three people (one from each team) that drew the colors had to drink the combination and the first person to get it all down got a point for their team.

On Friday after brunch, we headed over to Hocking Hills Canopy Tours to go zip lining. It was the first time most of us had ever tried it so there were some mixed feelings and nerves. I figured if I could repel down a building in Chicago, I could go zip lining. And, it turns out, it’s not scary at all. It was more awe-striking than breathtaking. It was absolutely beautiful out there and wasn’t nearly as much of an adrenaline rush as I had thought it might be.

There were several different courses, including a kids one that Kylie and Gavin did. The rest of us did the x-tour, which took almost 3 hours from start to finish. A few of us had GoPros with us to capture some video; the rest of these photos were taken by my sister Megan (we were split into two groups and she was in the next group that started half an hour later).

Friday evening we were all exhausted and spent some more time outside before hitting the showers and then sprawling out in the living room until midnight reminiscing old memories and hearing even older one from Mom & Dad.

I’ll be back soon with part two of the vacation, which includes hiking and roasting s’mores and being scared out of our minds in the dark.

Note: my sister, Megan, and I took a lot of photos and pooled them together. This blog shows a lot of my photos, but some of hers as well.

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