Friday, December 30, 2016

Traveling Near and Far in 2016

2016 is what I'm calling "the New Normal." It's been two-and-a-half years since we returned to Texas from our three year expat assignment living in Malaysia. There's no doubt about it. Malaysia was a turning point in family travel for us. Before that, we fell into the "One Big Trip a Year" category, typically during the summer. Most holidays were spent visiting our families who live 3 hours away in Houston where both hubby and I grew up. With the overseas move, we were in a rush to squeeze in as much travel as possible while living on the other side of the world. It really helped that almost all our friends were in the same mode.

The "New Normal" is a mix of both styles. We still drive to Houston for Easter, Fourth of July (USA's Independence Day), Thanksgiving, Christmas and other weekends here and there. But, we managed to take three big family trips this year, too. On top of that, hubby spends a total of one month in Malaysia and one month in Hungary on business.

During the year, I tend to blog about whatever I feel like writing about that week as opposed to chronologically following through on the trips I've taken. I jump all over the place. So, this post is my attempt to wrangle all my memories of 2016 into a cohesive narrative.

January - Roadtrip to Grapevine, Texas

Great Wolf Lodge

When we were getting ready to move back from Malaysia, I was in a bit of a funk over the diminishing travel opportunities we'd have living in Texas. So, I'd keep mentally planning a roadtrip to Grapevine, Texas to visit Great Wolf Lodge. It was a trip that I had meant to do when the kids were younger but never found the perfect time. Forget about perfect. I was seizing the opportunity. Great Wolf Lodge's defining feature is its indoor water park reserved exclusively for their hotel guests. It's a nice break from winter weather. Other activities include MagiQuest which is a scavenger hunt with clues activated via magic wand, stories by the Clock Tower and, because it was Winter Break, a flurry of snow every night and a gingerbread house so big you can dine inside it. Our family suite had a separate area made to look like a miniature log cabin with bunk beds for the kids as well as a kitchenette. It was a good trip overall, but I think the kids would have had a better time if they were five years younger. 

February - Exploring my hometown of Austin, Texas

Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library

I didn't have much chance to travel in February because every single weekend was occupied helping my Girl Scout troop sell cookies. However, I did get to chaperone a school field trip to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library located in Austin. Since he was Vice President when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, LBJ assumed the position of President of the USA under rather somber circumstances. The above photo is of the replica of how the oval office looked during his term.  

March - Walt Disney World and a Disney Cruise to the Bahamas... and Houston roadtrip.

Watching the movie Up on deck during our Disney cruise

Our 2015 Disney cruise was such a big hit with the kids that we did it again for Spring Break 2016. In fact, we'll be repeating it for a third time in just a few months. You may think that it's just for little kids, but even my teen has a great time on board. We preceded our cruise with a fun filled day at Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom. At this point, I've lost count how many times we've been to a Disney park. You can definitely classify us as a Disney loving family. Have you watched the movie Up? I like it's dual message of "You're never too old to travel" and "Seize the day because there may never be a 'perfect' time to travel." 

We also took a weekend trip to Houston for our traditional Easter holiday spent with my husband's extended family. It was something that the kids missed when we were living overseas.

April - Exploring Austin... and another Houston road trip

Celebrating Austin's reputation as "Live Music Capital of the World"

April had me mostly sticking close to home. I explored downtown Austin a bit to figure out why so many people like to visit this town. We also drove to Houston so I could host a wedding shower for my cousin. Ahhhh, young love is so sweet.

May - Camping and a Fredericksburg daytrip

Pioneer kitchen

May marked the first time I've gone tent camping in almost two decades. It's certainly the first time I've gone with kids. And most of the kids weren't even mine! See last week's post about the travails of Girl Scout camping and surviving getting outside our comfort zone. The Girl Scout troop also took a daytrip to Fredericksburg to visit the Pioneer Museum. Y'all, we got to churn butter! It takes a long time. Do you know what else took a long time back in the pioneer days? Everything! Face it, we have it so much easier in modern times. On the way back home, we stopped by one of the many fresh peach stands that you'll find all over Central Texas this time of year. Confession time: I really like that being a Girl Scout troop leader gives me an excuse to drag kids all over Texas on excursions. I love sharing the experiences on my blog, but I enjoy sharing it in person even more.

June - Austin Street Art, Waco road trip, Gruene Music Hall... and Houston

Street Art

With summer break finally here, we had time to do all sorts of short trips. We started off the month in Houston. Then, my daughter and her friends had a great day exploring the street art, shops and pizza in Austin's South Congress district. I took the Girl Scout troop up to  Waco for a day of visiting the Dr. Pepper Museum, the Mayborn Museum and a relaxing lunch at Magnolia Silos which is famous because it's owned by HGTV's Fixer Upper couple, Joanne and Chip Gaines. While my oldest spent a week tent camping in the summer heat, my other two kids and I drove down to watch Lone Star Swing perform at Texas's oldest dance hall, Gruene Hall

July - Houston (again) and literary bucket list trip to England

Fangirl at the Jane Austen Centre

Almost none of July was spent at home. We headed to Houston for the Fourth of July weekend and my nephew's wedding. Afterwards, we spent 16 glorious days roadtripping across England. I was an English major in college and have always dreamed about visiting the places where my favorite authors lived. Finally, I strolled through the Yorkshire moors and visited the home of the Brontë sisters where they penned Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, walked in the footsteps of Jane Austen in Bath, visited Roald Dahl's home just outside London, and, of course, explored the many William Shakespeare sites all over Stratford-on-Avon. Unfortunately, I messed up buying tickets inline for the Royal Shakespeare Company performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream and bought them for June instead of July when we were there. I tried not to cry and consoled myself with a chocolate cake from Tesco. The above photo was taken at the Jane Austen Centre where they have Regency era clothes for you to dress up in. Yes, I am that much of a geek.

August - Vermont, New Hampshire, Boston 

American Classic Arcade Museum

I grabbed on to my cousin's wedding in Boston as an excuse to fly up a few days early to visit Vermont and New Hampshire. Along the way, we squeezed in visits to the Lake Champlain Chocolates factory, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory, the Trapp Family Lodge (of The Sound of Music fame) and an afternoon at Funspot which is "The Largest Arcade in the World" according to the Guinness Book of World Records. In addition to the modern video games, its collection of 300 arcade games from the 1970s and 1980s makes up the American Classic Arcade Museum. I have tons more picturesque photos from this trip, but I've chosen to highlight one that shows how we sometimes end up in offbeat places.

September - Daytrip to Fiesta Texas in San Antonio

With the school year starting back up again, travel once again slows down. Unless you count hubby. He seems to spend the next 2 months either on overseas business trips or helping out his parents in Houston. He did manage to take the family to his company picnic in San Antonio. They rented out all of the Six Flags Fiesta Texas amusement park for the employees and their guests. It was perfect weather and short lines. I have no good photos.

October - Houston, and then Houston again

Thai rolled ice cream

I am beginning to understand why my daughter's friend commented that we always go to Houston. Another cousin and his family was visiting Houston, so we drove over to spend the weekend with them. I finally got to try Thai rolled ice cream. It's fun to watch them make it, and the mango flavor I ordered was delicious. At the end of the month, my oldest kid gets to take a trip with his school's theater troupe to compete at a One Act competition. Guess where they go. Houston. 

November - Camping and... wait for it... Houston

Kayaking at Girl Scout Camp

I went camping again with the Girl Scouts in November. By this time, hubby and I have spent only 2 of the last 10 weekends together. The kids are so busy that someone always has to stay in town on a weekend, and one of us parents needs to stay with them. For anyone who thinks that travel is hard with young kids, they obviously haven't tried to plan around middle school and high school schedules. Even if he doesn't have anything on the calendar, my oldest pretty much has to study the entire weekend. So, we honor his wish to just relax and do nothing during the week long Thanksgiving holiday school break. Unlike previous years when we've flown off to New York City or Washington, D.C., we plan nothing other than a short trip to Houston for Thanksgiving weekend. It's hard for me to give up this opportunity to squeeze in a "real" trip, but I'm trying to balance the needs and wants of our five member family. And I have to admit that at this point, I'm kind of glad to have a lazy week stretching out in front of me.

December - Htown

Christmas Eve at my childhood church
I've always loved the global unity message in this window.

I tried to fool you. Houston's nickname is "H-town." I have never once spent Christmas in Austin even though I've lived here for 24 years. We always load up the car with all the gifts, haul them all to Houston for opening, and then haul them all back to Austin again. Because both hubby and I have extended families in Houston, it's a multi-day celebration so that we can gather with various sets and subsets of relatives.  

While travel is important to me, family is an even higher priority. Both hubby's parents and my own parents have traveled the whole wide world. But as they get older, going out of town is harder, and their world is getting smaller. So, we go to them since they can't come to us. And that, folks, is my New Normal. 

Wishing you a Happy New Year

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  1. I was stunned to read you've been back 2.5 years!! Good grief, where do the year's go. Loved your recap of adventures. Wishes for continued happy travels wherever they may take you! Happy New Year!

  2. My blogging style sounds similair to yours ... well, until now anyway when things will change for me! Up until now I have been the same as you, blogging about what felt right at the time but as we have just started our new nomadic journey of being permanent travellers, I guess that will change to writing stories about the latest country I am in ... right now we are in Malaysian Borneo :D We love Malaysia! It's been wonderful reading about your adventures in 2016 and looking forward to hearing of your travels in 2017! Happy New Year to you #weekendtravelinspiration

  3. It certainly is the way that as we get older our parent's role in our lives changes. Wishing you lots of travel opportunities in 2017.

  4. There really is a lot to see in Texas. The LBJ library is really nice. Have you been to the George W Bush one in Dallas. I was really impressed with that one, especially when they had the exhibit of his paintings. I still need to make it to the George H W Bush one.

  5. Wow, you've managed to squeeze a lot of things into one year. It must be the eternal kid in me, but the Disney trip and visit to Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory would've have been great hits with me :-)

  6. It looks like you've had a great year! We're a Disney family, too. We're going on our first cruise in February and we're so excited! #weekendwanderlust

  7. You are so funny Michelle! I have never been to Houston. I should go and meet you there (good joke, right?). I am glad you and your family had time to move around and enjoy different places. Sending you the best vibes for the new year. All the best in 2017!

  8. You had a pretty busy year, Michelle. I have never been in Texas and seems I'm missing a lot. Hope you have some wonderful travels planned for 2017. Wish you a Happy New Year!

  9. Sounds like you have had a busy travel year. Glad you made it to the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. I recently visited it and enjoyed it very much. Happy New Year, Michelle!

  10. Have a happy new year filled with lots of travel :)

  11. Michele, I've lived in London pretty much all my life and yet it sounds like there are some areas you saw on your UK Road trip that I still haven't seen! There's definitely something to be said about exploring your own country eh?! And I absolutely love the Thai rolled ice cream! We found somewhere in London that does it and I think it's so clever how they make it all in front of you!

  12. contented travellerJanuary 1, 2017 at 2:43 PM

    Happy NY, and you had a very full year with lots of adventures. Hoping 2017 is just as rewarding.

  13. happy New Year! Looks like you had tons of amazing adventures this year! Hopefully there is more to come in 2017!

  14. I was constantly trying to plan trips around any days off school or work - and it didn't always work out. I scheduled a trip months in advance for when my kids got out of school and then my daughter found out she was getting an award at a ceremony that was when we were on vacation. She still is upset with me and she's 25 now! And my oldest son spent his 17th birthday at Disney - not his first choice, that was to be with his friends - but he made it through. I am truly enjoying the empty nest and being able to travel off season - but I still miss traveling with my kids! It sounds like you made the best of vacation and summer days to have a fun traveling year!

  15. I wonder the same thing myself about how quickly time is flying by.

  16. Becoming nomadic, permanent travelers is so exciting. I look forward to hearing your chronicles of your adventures. I'm so glad that you are enjoying Malaysian Borneo. I hope you get to see orangutans and proboscis monkeys.

  17. I think I'm in what's called the sandwich generation. I'm caring for my kids, and my parents and in-laws are starting to need help, too.

  18. I haven't been to either of the Bush libraries. I don't seem to get up to Dallas as often as I should.

  19. I think I may have been more excited about the Ben & Jerry's factory tour than the kids were. It was cool seeing where all the magic happens. And hubby and I honeymooned at Disney, so it's been a fave for us even before we had kids.

  20. You are going to LOVE the Disney cruise. There's a reason why we're going back for a 3rd time.

  21. Thanks Ruth. You know what. If you show up in Houston, I may very well meet up with you there.

  22. Texas has a lot to offer. I'm sure you'd enjoy a visit to the Lone Star State. Happy New Year to you, too.

  23. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the Jane Austen Centre, too. I also geeked out going around Bath and visiting places Austen mentions in her novels.

  24. Thanks Rhonda. Wishing you a terrific year of travel, too.

  25. I will admit that I haven't explored as much of Texas as I should considering that I've lived here practically my whole life, so I understand your not making it all over the UK.

  26. I'm sure you and Gordon already have a ton of trips on the calendar for 2017. I can't wait to follow along to see where you go.

  27. Thanks, Krista. I hope 2017 has a lot of good things in store.

  28. It ended up being fortunate that we didn't plan a week-long Thanksgiving trip. The same kid who wanted to stay at home and relax advanced to the state with his high school theater group. The competition fell during our typical travel time. So, he went somewhere, but I didn't.

  29. I've been looking forward to this trip for months.

  30. Indah Nuria SavitriJanuary 4, 2017 at 5:11 PM

    You really have a wonderful 2016 filled with those great trips ..I should make one post out of it as well :). Happy New Year and cheers from NYC :)

  31. I would love to visit NYC this time of year. When we were there a few years ago, we left just before the tree in Rockefeller Center was lit up.

  32. I can't believe it's really been 2.5 years since you returned to the states. Loved following along on your travels this year. I definitely know who to go to when I make it to Houston :) Wishing you and your family a wonderful 2017 with many more travel adventures.


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