Posts in TRAVEL
Where to Stop When Driving from Texas to Colorado

I’m a super late bloomer here - growing up, a summer migration to Colorado was not my family’s thing. It actually wasn’t until I was working for a Texas retailer with a big ski and outdoor selection a few years ago that the concept piqued my interest.

Colorado is the perfect complement to Texas life - the mountains, the cold, crisp air and all those trees! It’s a short flight from Dallas, with major airlines now going direct into resort towns during ski season.

I’m a big advocate though, of finding a simple condo, packing up the car and bringing as much home life as possible to the Rockies - bikes, balls, even our Vitamix, and, if you can swing it, the dog. Stay every minute you possibly can until there’s a nice mirage that the heat of a Texas summer is gone and your real summer living is done up in the clouds with the windows open and blankets on the bed at night.

Our Favorite Colorado Towns

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Markus, our daughter and I identify as a Telluride family. There are nice amenities here, but, thanks to the old gold mining town’s architecture still in tact and a city ordinance against chain retailers coming in, it still feels rough around the edges- like a simple, funky portal into nature. If you like athletic vacations, Telliuride is TOUGH in a good way. It’s a tall peak at 8.750 feet.

For this reason, I’m thankful this is where I learned to hike and ski! My favorite part of Telluride is the free gondola system that is not just a summer novelty but a main source of transportation there between the town of Telluride and Mountain Village. For that reason, I like to stay in Mountain Village so we can ride it back and forth into Telluride proper, making sure our stay overlaps with the awesome local music festivals (we’ve seen Widespread Panic, G. Love and Special Sauce and many other smaller acts in this perfect concert backdrop).

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The past two years, my extended family has gotten on board with mountain travel and we’ve gone to Vail. It’s 8,120 feet elevation, which my parents can feel as a considerable difference from Telluride when adjusting to the altitude. It also offers a lot more multi-generational programming (kid’s camps and beautifully made playgrounds, adventurous expeditions and spa options are plentiful), a wider selection of dining, a good mix of luxury hotels and basic condos (my parents stay at the gorgeous Hotel Sonnealp and my sister and I get family condos in Lionshead,, so it’s the best of both worlds). The towns are impeccably clean, there’s a more diverse offering of trails for varying skill levels, and nothing is far with the free bus system. I’ll take it in a heartbeat.

There are a million cool Colorado towns and resorts. It’s all about taking a look around and finding something perfect for what you like to do and what makes the outdoors exciting for you!

Since we meet family there, we love finding different paths for the drive from Texas to Colorado to get some time as our own family unit and mix up the experience. Here are our favorites so far!

The Best Stops Driving Direct

Most of the direct ways from Texas to your favorite Colorado resort town will pass through most or all of these stops with a minimal detour. Check your route and then decide what’s calling you!

*indicates that this stop is on the original US Route 66 - Route 66 landmarks are such a fun way to engage in our country’s history while seeing more of our landscape! I highly recommend trying at least one every trip to connect with our country’s history of recreational family road travel!

Archer City, Texas

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Per the New York Times, 1,850 people and 450,000 second hand books live in Archer City, Texas (although I know many of the books have been dispersed since the writing of this article thanks to some large liquidation sales, I believe the ratio remains impressive). The reason for this mind boggling statistic is Larry McMurtry, author of my favorite book of all time, Lonesome Dove, and proprietor of the Booked Up used book stores that take up much of Archer City’s main drag.

This is a great spot to stretch your legs, feel like a Texan and find your vacation reading material. Down the road is The Royal Theater, made famous from another one of McMurtry’s books turned movies, The Last Picture Show.

*Shamrock, Texas

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This is another charming spot to stretch and use the bathroom at the restored Conoco station, a registered Route 66 Historical Landmark. We got to meet one of the visitor center guides, Theresa, whose grandfather owned the station in its hey day. The spot also housed a diner where Elvis ate once, so don’t forget to rub butt cheeks with the King by sitting in the same booth!

*Amarillo and Canyon, Texas

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This is a favorite overnight spot for us, especially if you can plan early and book a coveted Palo Duro State Park Canyon Rim cabin. These structures were built by the CCC during the FDR programs and have stunning views, as well as decent showers and cozy beds - just the right amount of “camping” for our family. At night in the canyon, there’s a famous play, Texas, that runs in the amphitheater after sunset.

Dinner at The Big Texan is a must, and we’ve been lucky enough to get to witness brave souls take on the 72 oz steak challenge while we’re there. The Don Harrington Discovery Center was great for when we stayed an extra day one summer and needed indoor fun and fantastic outdoor playground. Even if we’re just driving through town, we love to pop in to Evocation Micro Coffee Roasters.

The Historic Route 66 area is fun if you like dive bars and funky antique shops (which we do - a lot).

And the stop at Cadillac Ranch is totally worth the photos you’ll get and the look on little faces when they’re told they can spray paint a car!

Santa Fe, New Mexico

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We really got the full Santa Fe experience when we opted to stay at Suitable Digs, a completely solar powered grouping of bungalows with great people and gorgeous views from the common areas of the property.

We always end up at the Tune Up Santa Fe for breakfast or dinner, and it never disappoints.

The best thing our family can recommend you do with your time ever is go to Meow Wolf! This place is NOT like the fun but commercially focused art pop ups you may have experienced in Dallas, but instead the result of a free-thinking art collective focused on experiential exhibits. Our advice is to go as early as you can and plan to spend double the amount of time inside that you think you need. Markus and I recently saw Meow Wolf: Origin Story in a local theater and it’s made the place even more special to us. I highly recommend watching it before you go if you can!

*Albuquerque, New Mexico

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We did an overnight here on our most recent drive and absolutely loved it.

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The El Vado Motel is a fully restored historic motor lodge and complete perfection. Everything that should look original and everything that should feel new is executed with a brilliant attention to detail. Our suite was perfect for a pit stop with a kid in tow. The pool and outdoor dining was great for expending energy, and there’s the Botanical Gardens right across the street if you need even more room to explore. Even with all of the exciting activity, the rooms are completely quiet at night! We loved the quirky shops on the other side of the lobby, especially Metal the Store.

Keeping with the Route 66 theme, we ate at 66 Diner and were happy campers with the food, aesthetics and service. The itty bitty ice cream sundae is just right!

Before hitting the road, we headed over to Las Palomas Lavender Farm for breakfast and milling about. Holy Nora Ephron movie, this place is a dream. We had an incredible breakfast, the most uniquely flavorful and satisfying, for $20 total for three people. The powerful aromas of the gift shop, filled with every product you made ever need made from farm fresh lavender, will knock you off your feet. Every detail is thoughtful and every desire is anticipated and met in a beautiful way. I can’t wait to come back here for a weekend with my girlfriends!

Taos, New Mexico

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Even though it was only another short stop over, we had the best time exploring and catching up with resident Taos girl turned Texas lady, Andrea Overturf of Loubies and Lulu. If you plan to spend more time in Taos, you have to check out the guides on her blog. Her ancestors are memorialized in bronze in the Taos Plaza - she’s legit!

Our first stop after a long day in the car was Twirl, a local toy shop with an incredible play structure in the back. This is such a good spot to get out energy and find some “good behavior rewards” - in your family you may just call them bribes, and that’s ok too. Twirl is attached to the Taos Plaza, which was a wonderful spot to walk around and experience coffee, handmade items, live music and some good food with friends.

Our stay was at Hotel Luna Mystica and - WOW. From the incredible sunset to the quiet of the morning and openness of the scenery and sky, our short stay here will be imprinted in my memory forever. Next time I’ll definitely be hitting up the fire wood attendant they have on site to make us a fire under that beautiful star blanket.

The next morning, we couldn’t leave town before dining at Farmhouse Cafe (Andrea’s family ranch, Martinez Family Ranch, provides the beef). We had a very tasty breakfast and helped ourselves to some of their gluten free desserts out of the case for the rest of our drive.

Abiquiu, New Mexico

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I embarrassingly haven’t done much in the Georgia O’Keefee wheelhouse in Santa Fe, mostly because of the great experience I had visiting her private home at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu.

We stopped here one summer on the drive back and Markus and our girl enjoyed a beautiful hike while I did a Georgia O’Keeffe landscape trail ride, going through the natural scenes of some of her most famous paintings up to her personal home where she worked. This was such an inspiring experience for me! I would love to come back for one of the artist workshops or retreats.

*Tucumcari, New Mexico

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This is my favorite stop on Route 66 I’ve seen so far! I love that there are a few restored motels where many travelers love to stay the night, really bringing the feel of Route 66 to life! We loved the Blue Swallow Motel. It might be my favorite place we’ve ever stayed the night on this trip. It’s so charming and clean and they’re right - that refrigerated A/C is ice cold!

We also loved Kix on 66 Diner here for a morning cup of Joe before hitting the road and driving through the town to see all of the murals!

Denver, Colorado

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Last year, we decided to head out of Vail but spend a night and morning in Denver before hitting the long road home. This is such a great town, and we had so much fun!

We stayed at the Curtis Hotel downtown. I can’t recommend it enough for kids. It’s a super clean, mid-level hotel in the middle of downtown Denver. Each floor has a theme - the elevator makes sure you know by announcing it when the doors open! There’s even more thematic suites, like a video game room with Mario wallpaper, that will make sure you always remember this pit stop.

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We loved walking around the Santa Fe Art Trail and found some great art for our house from Access Gallery, an art program and gallery space for makers with special needs. There’s a mural around every corner to take in here!

Speaking of immersive art, you’ll have to decide if a family stop at The International Church of Cannabis is your taste, but we loved sitting under the mural by Okuda San Miguel. Famous rap producer and art collector (with partner Alicia Keys), Swizz Beatz, hired Okuda to create a special design for his home the day he saw photos of the church ceiling in the New York Times. The space is open to the public, including children, when church is not in session.

The last activity we enjoyed in Denver is the trolley, tucked behind a nice Starbucks/REI combo. The trolley drivers are friendly as all get as they take you up and down a nice row of children’s museums and attractions, which you can stop off to enjoy if you don’t want to ride directly down and back. Don’t forget to ask to drive or ring the bell.

Worth Going Out of the Way

Now that we’ve done the drive a few years and know the fun of it, we’ve started veering more and more off course to get the most out of our week in the West. These are pretty much, almost, on the way.

This year, we started in Albuquerque and headed west to the Grand Canyon before going north to Utah and then dipping southwest into Vail.

You won’t regret it!

Petrified National Forest and *Holbrook, Arizona

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This was a fun drive through experience. The National Petrified Forest was a fairly pretty drive. I actually liked the painted desert vistas more than the petrified wood. We essentially went through the park back onto 40 into Holbrook, checking a national park off our list in the process.

The Rainbow Rock Shop held some wonderous “good behavior rewards” and Route 66 visual perfection with the hand painted signs and dinosaurs out front. Definitely make sure to pass by the Wigwam Hotel for a look at one of the final hotels in tipi style from the Route 66 hey day.

*Winslow, Arizona

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If you keep heading west from Albuquerque instead of going north to Colorado, you’ll continue on the Historic Route 66 and hit Winslow, Arizona.

You will, inevitably, find yourself standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, (per The Eagles), with a mural, signage and even a flat bed Ford available for photo ops. There’s also a clean coffee and ice cream shop with a great restroom and a selection of Route 66 shops with souvenirs worthy of coming home. Pull over!

*Williams, Arizona

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Williams is the one of the best preserved spots on the “Mother Road,” and where the Pixar team who made Cars came to nail the Route 66 aesthetic. At dinnertime, the sidewalks had people walking around, patios were full with families having dinner, live music was streaming out of historic bars. We had the best time feeling back in time and taking it all in!

Williams also has one of our most talked about stops on the trip, Bearizona. This drive through and walk about animal sanctuary is beautifully done, and houses Black Bears, Junior Bears, mountain goats, bison….there’s not a woodland creature left behind. The “oooohs” and “WOWs” coming out of the car were from every family member. I can’t believe I saw a bear y’all! This was so great. ‘

The Grand Canyon

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It’s a bonafide disgrace that I’m attempting to write about The Grand Canyon when we only stayed there for about 20 hours at the most, but trust me on the fact that if you’re ever in the “neighborhood,” it’s worth everything to come in and see what you can in the time that you have. Holy. cow.

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We stayed at the very basic but incredibly cozy Yavapai Lodge in South Rim of the park, which made it very easy for us to wake up early and make the short drive to Yavapai Point for the sunrise. The grocery store next to Yavapai Lodge was amazing, just as good as home, with breakfast sandwiches and coffee. When we come back, we’re definitely staying for a week and staying at Yavapai for more fun.

Page, Arizona

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Our pit stop on our drive The Grand Canyon to Moab was in Page, Arizona, where we met with the wonderful Navajo family who owns Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Tours.

Our combo tour took us out on an open top, off road truck to the family’s private land that features one of the picturesque and mysterious slot canyons made famous by the Antelope Canyon area. This experience features just one canyon (which is all we needed) with a maximum of 12 people in the group. Everything I’ve heard about Antelope Canyon experiences points to it being very beautiful and also quite crowded, so this tour really appealed to me. I especially liked supporting a Navajo family using their sacred land as a way to support their family, which paid off since everyone with Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Tours couldn’t have been nicer and more informative.

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Our tour also included private access to Horseshoe Bend - a small curve in the Colorado River that bends into a horseshoe shape. The family that owns our tour company told us how this spot has always been on their land with no public interest, but, thanks to Instagram, it’s become one of the most coveted spots to photograph in the world. In fact, there’s now a special parking lot with entry fees to get in on the government-owned side of the spot, and lines can get unruly! I loved getting to see this beautiful creation in more of its original presence, with just eight other people and lots of quiet time for reflection.

Moab, Utah

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From Page we drove straight north into Moab, arriving late after driving through the most surreal sunset and arriving at Red Cliffs Lodge under a blanket of stars. We loved our suite. After being on the road a few days, the kitchenette in our room was a welcome sight! We put our girl to sleep and enjoyed the star blanket on the back patio.

Coming in at night made the morning even more magical. We walked out onto the back patio to see a gorgeous green belt running behind this block of rooms, red canyons stretching up to the sky and - oh my God - ponies!! Horses drinking from the creek behind our room and walking up to the fence line for pets and ear rubs. This is another place where we’ll be back for a week as soon as we can. Pure magic.

Every view at Red Cliffs is incredible - but breakfast over the Colorado River as it ran between the cliffs couldn’t be beat. We took a swim in the pristine pool and caught (and released) frogs before packing up and driving through Arches National Park before another four hours of scenic travel to Vail!

And that’s everything we’ve been able to see from going a little off the path driving from Texas to Colorado - so far! These trips always expand us, reset us and make us think outside the box. (You cannot see a sunrise at The Grand Canyon and go the rest of the day without getting a big idea, I’ve decided.)

Where do you love to head to in Colorado? If you’re reading this planning your route, TAKE THE LONG WAY and happiest trails to you!

The Best Audiobooks and Podcasts for Curious Kids and Parents

Post written by Lilly

We returned this week from an epic summer road trip. Seeing five states in eight days meant a LOT of scenic driving - over 40 hours!

Markus and I love to use this time to listen to audio books and podcasts that help ignite more emotional and creative conversations with each other. Listen, hit pause, share, cultivate deeper understandings - repeat!

This year we were excited that our daughter’s interest in audio books from riding in the car with me during the day transferred to our trip. We had the adults’ book running through the car Bluetooth on my phone and kid’s programming running to Markus’ Bose noise cancelling headphones on his phone. With something to listen to and some sticker books and coloring supplies for idle hands, she barely wanted to talk to us and, much to my surprise, we went the entire trip without watching movies!

If you’re hitting the open road this summer and want to dig a little deeper, here are our top picks!

Adult Audio Books

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Markus: Wow. I realize that’s a cliche way to begin any book review but if there’s one that’s worthy of it, this is it. Whatever you’ve heard about this book is true, starting with it being a favorite of Oprah and Barack Obama’s and Bill Gate’s Winter 2018 Books List not to mention that it’s spent months on the New York Times Bestseller list and has 4.5 stars on Amazon based on over 8,000 reviews. Without going into spoilers, the basic story is that Tara is raised in a reclusive and isolated fundamentalist family in rural Idaho without getting any formal schooling at any point. The story begins with her parents’ paranoia about The Federal government and Illuminati - because of which she doesn’t have a birth certificate until age 9 when she finally gets a “delayed” birth certificate (and to date, she still doesn’t know what date her actual birthday is). If you think that premise doesn’t lend itself to keeping you on the edge of your seat, you’d be wrong. We only took breaks on this audiobook when we absolutely had to - it pulled us in and gripped us that hard from start to end.

It’s an insane ride through interwoven topics like family dynamics, personal identity, generational trauma and abuse, mental health, education (obviously) and learning to ask for help. There are plenty of excruciating moments that were almost impossible to listen to and in the end made me so much more grateful for all the opportunity and privilege I’ve enjoyed in my own life. In the end, all that each of us knows is what we’ve been told by our parents and teachers until we explore the world for ourselves. We do this by becoming educated in one way or another - and that’s when we can break free from what hasn’t been working for prior generations and leave our own mark of love and beauty on the world through our own life and decisions. Get ready and hang on tight.

Lilly: I first loved Kelly because she is one of my people, a modern feminist mother and writer raised in an Irish American Catholic family. “We” (Irish American Catholic families) are so incredibly loud but surprisingly insightful, effusive to the point that we often scare strangers or newcomers to the family (my Mom still praises sweet, German Markus for being able to “ride out” getting to know us) but stoic at the same time. It’s always so good to hear a voice of reason from the group.

Tell Me More is Corrigan’s collection of personal essays centered around the phrases that have changed her ability to relate and communicate as a mother, daughter, wife and friend. Her honesty with herself and us shows how the smallest things like changing an “I’m Sorry” to “I Messed Up” can grow and heal us and our relationships. Corrigan wrote the book while raising two teenage girls and losing her force of a father and a special best friend, all seasons of life that challenge us to go inside and relearn how to do things, especially when they happen all at once.

I loved her reading of her own writing in the audio format. I both laughed and cried so hard in parts I had to make sure I could drive. It’s now my favorite book to gift to a friend.

Markus: In the late 1960s, Richard Alpert traveled to India after he and Timothy Leary were kicked out of Harvard. After a few years on his spiritual journey, Alpert returned to the States as Ram Dass, which means “Servant of God.” In 1971 he published the best-selling book Be Here Now where he shared a wealth of what he learned – spoiler alert, just live in the present moment and you’ll be fine (so I’m told). Since it was so heavy on illustrations, Be Here Now was more of an experiential book than something text-based with chapters, paragraphs, and sentences. Polishing the Mirror touches many of the same threads as Be Here Now, though in book format and with nearly 50 more years of experience from Ram Dass. The reason this is number one on my list is the book’s tagline “How to Live From Your Spiritual Heart.” Even today, he still boils down his lessons from India to these simple words: Love Everyone, Serve Everyone, Remember God.

Lilly: Markus and I are dreamers and hard workers. So, how do we still end up pulling into Taco Joint in dinner desperation once a week (besides it being delicious)? What’s up with the seemingly constant struggle to start good habits and break negative ones? I’m a little over the self-improvement books telling me to have a life I’ve dreamed of - tell me how! I got so much out of this book that I asked (begged) Markus to have a listen too. As Clear states, “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your habits.” His systems and tips are formulaic, so if you’re willing to try them success seems (and, in my experience, has been) imminent. And I’ve truly seen personal changes! I also appreciated the author reading his own text and the very easy to access online portal for any diagrams referenced in the audio format.

Markus: This was a very good book, I really liked reading this book. Fifth grade book report joking aside – this is the most important book I’ve read in the last few years. The premise is that brain fog, fatigue, and the “afternoon slump” are not normal – and that instead they’re warning signs from the brain that it isn’t getting what it needs. Dave argues that there are many ways we’re shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot when it comes to energy, focus, and overall wellness and ease in our bodies – most of which have pretty easy fixes with exponential results. Forget fad diets and “weird tricks”, everything in the book is based on documented, repeatable research. Dave doesn’t present any rules or preach – he just offers what he’s learned so you can try and see what works for you. But don’t take MY word for it!

Adult Podcasts

We’re discussing trust a lot right now. It takes the pressure off my relationships so much if I know I can completely trust a person - the rest is details. I loved this quick talk for very tangible ways I can scan relationships as trustworthy and be a more trustworthy person myself.

After so much time together last week, Markus and I were both completely interconnected and frayed at the edges. We both listened to this podcast yesterday - a lighthearted group conversation on intimacy with folks ranging from currently single to married with kids for up to 14 years. It’s already one of our all-time favorites.

Another all-time favorite in our relationship that kick started a new chapter of intimacy in the house. (We don’t have to talk about it Mom.)

I got to understand more of why Markus loves Dave Asprey and he got to know more about why I love Jen Gotch. It also reminds us of a great few days in L.A. last year where we would walk to the Venice Beach Bulletproof Cafe and I, by surprise, enjoyed a fun workout class and off-the-cuff mental health conversation with none other than Jen Gotch. Markus and I are excellent at L.A.

Do you have plenty of ideas that are just as good as Superbad? (Even as a major Seth Rogen fan I’m going to go with yes.) Markus and I loved this conversation on getting in creative flow, how to make and keep creative relationships and just some more back story about some of our favorite movie guys. I love when Rogen talks about how much his parents enjoyed watching comedy together when he was growing up. You never know what you’re giving your children by simply doing what makes you happy.

Kids Audio Books

I have an affinity for the Quimbys since my Dad read me every book growing up, and Stockard Channing’s narration hits the mark. Listening to these together was fun for the whole family and a very needed and nice reminder that a real family is the best family - we love each other, parents have conflicts, kids are naughty, money comes in and out in ways we don’t get to plan and, when we’re lucky, we enjoy a nice dinner together at the Whopper Burger. I love that every book featuring Ramona is in this one download for easy enjoyment.

Stuart as a person/mouse is just o.k. in my book, but I am here for the beautiful language and other redeeming characters. We enjoyed listening to this over the course of a week running errands. The chapters are short, it is easy to start and stop and the narration is very soothing and beautiful - bringing a nice calm to the car after a boisterous day at camp or the pool. Our daughter requested it every time we started the car when listening for the first time and has asked us to repeat it since.

I don’t understand these stories and prefer they didn’t exist. They are odd, a little dark (Markus says they are not dark, but I raised an eyebrow when a mean teacher turned kids into apples. Our daughter laughed at it.) and explore topics such as boogers. In reality, they are not anything more sassy than the TV shows I was watching at our daughter’s age. She is engrossed in them, and her imagination has seemed to explore fantasy a lot more since getting hooked. There are two collections of short stories about this school so weird it was built sideways, and over our trip she listened to each book four times. They are an exercise in Markus’ right to also decide what we read and listen to in the house, even when it is outside my more classical taste. When our girl recites the rhymes or silly phrases he lights up, remembering singing them as a young boy with the same delight she does now. That alone is worth it to me.

Thanks to some random and kind relatives, there may be readers of this blog that live or were raised outside of Texas. This description is really only for their benefit. These were a family road trip staple growing up, and I think I laugh more at them now. I love the narration, the recurring cast of characters and the music in the background, making all of the escapades more thrilling. The adventurous life of a Texan is only more exciting when seen through a dog’s eyes.

Another childhood classic that I laughed harder at this go round. We also had a time explaining the concept of a tollbooth to a modern five year old. Rainn Wilson of The Office narrates! The least popular with our daughter but overall enjoyed, and it did prove successful in putting her to sleep. :)

Kids Podcasts

This is really the only chlidren’s podcast we listen to, so I could use your recs here! Any topic involving animals is a favorite, and I particularly liked listening to this one on the affects of screens and their addictive nature together.

Help us out and share your favorite audiobooks and podcasts in a comment below!

And if you burn out on information overload, load up our Family Friendly Spotify Playlists, The road trip playlist is over three hours long!

Happy trails!

TRAVEL, GROW, BY LILLYLilly
A Dallas Mom Getaway at First Monday Trade Days in Canton, Texas
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My friend Ruthie and I met when we had the same first day of work nine years ago at The American Red Cross, her in development and me in communications. We started in September and for Halloween just a month later, I asked her if she wanted to dress up as Laverne and Shirley. I was pretty psyched when she said yes, and more so when I found out on Halloween day she had never even seen the show. This girl was fun and impressionable.

We’ve schlemiel/schlimazel-ed our way through her engagement, the arrival of my daughter, the wedding, about four million new jobs between the two of us (mostly mine) and now, Ruthie becoming a Mom herself to a baby boy, also welcomed through adoption.

With all this life, the scales finally tipped for a while before we realized we had gone far too long without some quality time together. We needed to make up for a few dozen phone calls lost to now each having our own child yelling from the backseat on the drive home from work these days. Soon I realized Canton, Texas, First Monday Trade Days, a flea market held on the weekend that holds the first Monday of the month, was calling our name.

I love this trip because it’s just far enough to feel like you road tripped out of town but extremely doable in one day. I’m all for extended time away from the fam, but adding hotel rooms and goodnights on FaceTime always brings a few more layers of logistics. When I tell myself I’m too busy for just one full day with my friend, I feel like I’m really acting a little self-important that the world can’t turn without me, you know?

Canton is the perfect girls’ day formula: very easy country drive filled with wildflowers, no place to officially go or be, folding tables with mountains of visual inspiration for new conversations, and tapping into our intuitive need to hunt and gather. We’ve done a couple of great spa days together, but I thought this was so much more fun and economical. It was one of the best days of our friendship ever.

Before you go:

Bring cash, more than you think you need (but not a dime more than you’re actually allowed to spend, if you’re me). ATMs are scarce and have fees, and not only does cash help negotiating but generally this is an experience still left untouched by digital payment methods.

Don’t knock the value of the little carts the veterans pull behind them. I did, until I got home and had to massage the imprint of roller skate laces out of my shoulder from where they dug into me while being hauled on my back - more on that later. A folding wagon is coming with us next time. I even brought large reusable shopping bags but forgot them in the car when basking in the glory of a day without being responsible for everyone else’s belongings.

The hardest part of feeling like a trip to Canton was successful (re: the huntering and gathering at least) is knowing where to start, as the grounds are actually bigger than they look. The main pavilions have more mass produced items. (Most of which, by the way, includes phrases acting as a very intense reminder that a lot of these fine people don’t…vote like me, which I, surprisingly, seem to be more accepting of based off what they are willing to print on t-shirts and hand paint onto reclaimed wood signs. So, no harm here but - you’ve been warned if reminders of a divided nation kill your vibe.)

To get the “best junk,” bypass the main entrance to the trade days and head to the back of the Canton Civic Center, taking Flea Market Road off of W Dallas Street to the RV park. The blue building by the parking lot has the cleanest restrooms.

This is how Google Maps should take you from Dallas to the Promised Land.

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From then it is really just on like Donkey Kong. Ruthie decorates like her house is on Fixer Upper and I decorate like my house is on Clarissa Explains It All, so in terms of being pleased with the decor offerings laid out for us, we’re fishing in a barrel. All gold as far as the eye can see. Vintage red firetruck ride-in cars for dapper young babies for her. Flintstone’s 30th anniversary commemorative glassware commissioned by Hardee’s for me. Of course I got the glasses. I mean, what better way to remember my love for Hannah-Barbera shows and my Dad taking me to Hardee’s every day when my Mom signed me up for both public school and Catholic school kindergarten. He ordered a double cheeseburger with large curly fries and a strawberry milkshake, then turned to me at age five and said, “What do you want?” like I even knew life outside what my Mom put in front of me. I said, “Uh, the same.” And ate that for lunch every day with my Dad for the year.

Sorry to digress, but these are the types of stories you get when enjoying a day on the scenic route.

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One thing out in the fields that kept stopping us where those “tacky in a way you want to participate in” metal yard decorations. We were admiring a vendor’s space when I literally said, “I always look too closely at these groupings thinking the perfect one is going to find me.” And I found her, a weird stand-alone red and white mushroom, just like the ones I painted on my walls in college. Where trust me, I had a ton of friends (sarcasm font may be applied).

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This was love. But I wanted to say I got a deal to enhance the story, so I had to haggle and then do the walk away move. So we went forth.

My best find of the day were these vintage roller skates in exactly my size for $3. We just got a new bike trail behind our house and I will be “that person on rollerskates.”

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Ruthie has a good eye. She spotted this guy, and he had gorgeous handwoven baskets and other items. Ruthie and I keep a pretty big/little sister dynamic despite a slim age difference, just because she is so wildly accepting of my bossiness and unsolicited advice (thank you KRUB you are the best). But then she will pull something super grown-lady-ish, like picking out a nice handwoven basket for buying fresh produce from her special farmer’s market vendor, Omar, and it’s like, who’s raising who here?

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Father’s Day is just around the corner…

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In the end, we walked and talked, got just the right amount of lost and went home filled with finds sure to completely enhance our life. Including my metal yard garbage twin flame.

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But mostly, we just had the best time together.

Here’s the deal, for me at least. Us emotional laborers used to get together regularly and just listen to each other’s real stuff: quilting, bridge club, walking over to each other’s houses. I know it still exists, but sometime the pace of life these days doesn’t make it happen, at least for me. Standing get-togethers and girls’ weekends become lunches, lunches become coffee dates then keeping up on social media, phone calls become texts. By the end of a full day as we sat over our not-to-be-missed bison burgers and fries at the neighboring Dairy Palace, we were way out of the highlight reel that conversations can so easily stick to these days. We both promised to do it again ASAP, knowing our husbands and children could not only handle themselves but also appreciated our friendship and the treasures we so dutifully source for our homes.

On that note, has anyone been to Round Top?

Enjoying Disney World in January with a Five-Year-Old Girl

Oh boy, has an innocent family trip to Disney World become a topic of debate or what?

Camps are divided over whether a Disney trip is the family vacation of choice, to the point of it now almost existing as a subculture. Those outside this subculture often not-so-gently remind parents that for the costs and commitment of Disney, there’s an entire “real” world out there that children can explore through travel.

Personally, this is one where I love the middle ground. Yes, we love (and need!) slow, simple vacations and immersion into new world cultures through travel. But, we also LOVE Disney World and its magic and ability to put us into that child-like creative space where, like Walt believed, anything is truly possible with an imagination, some engineering and a little bit of pixie dust.

With that in mind, I’ve wanted to take my girl to Disney World since she was born. My grandfather and parents loved to take me growing up, and it was a travel tradition from my family of origin that I was excited to pass on. My two cents on Disney travel is there is a time, a place and a way to do it where it is experienced in its fullness before going down the (white) rabbit’s hole and everyone becoming exhausted and jaded. I waited patiently until my daughter’s fifth birthday - that time and place where I hoped a trip of this intensity would be exciting, memorable and magical to her but have her still at an age where I could control the experience and keep us all from being overwhelmed.

Spoiler alert: it worked.

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Since my girl is a Christmas Day birthday, it felt like a good way to (barely) offset costs of the trip and make the announcement a special memory by presenting the trip as a surprise from Santa, Mom and Dad. A new suitcase “all my own” has been the top of the list of desires for our girl, so she awoke on Christmas Birthday morning to a new Disney-approved suitcase filled with some second-hand costumes, Disney surprises and a letter from Santa with the exciting details.

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The timing also worked out perfectly where we could book our trip about 30 days out to let anticipation build and to travel at one of the record low attendance weeks for the parks. I partnered up early with a Disney travel planner, Small World Big Fun, who was a massive help with locking up our hotel and meal reservations. Meals seem to be the hot ticket item and I specifically had my eye on Cinderella’s Royal Table (inside Cinderella’s castle). My agent, Jody, looked for available reservations first and booked our trip around one available table left at the castle in the month of January (!!). From there, Jody was a massive help in working with me on an awesome itinerary based on what we wanted to be sure to do on the trip and our total budget. It was a huge relief to get the bulk of planning done over what felt like just a few emails, down to reservations for some of the best rides in the parks!

Another thing we took care of was getting PhotoPass, which is an package that allows parks employees to take your photograph at the parks with the images going straight to the DisneyParks app on your phone - with full photo rights for all images! Traveling as a little threesome, it was a great relief to know we would have all of the family photos we might desire (which was going to be a LOT based on my financial and time investments, k fam?).

Based on our daughter’s age and the length of the trip, we opted to just focus on Disney parks, side-stepping Universal, etc. and we stayed on the Disney resort at Caribbean Beach. We got a “preferred” room which put us about 60 seconds away from the resort bus stop and about three minutes from the lobby building. This seemed like small beans at the time of booking, but once we got on the property we noticed that some room blocks were a 10 minute walk from the bus! I would rate Caribbean Beach as just right for our needs on this trip - a cozy place to crash at the end of the day. If you’re bringing along smaller babies (that need a break at the hotel or in the rooms during the day) or grandparents, I might suggest going up one hotel tier. Disney hotels are rated as “value”, “moderate”, and “deluxe”, with Caribbean Beach being a moderate hotel. All of the staff at the hotel were excellent and accommodating and our room was spotless every day, which is all any of us required. Tip: The best part about staying at a Disney hotel are the free wake up calls from Disney characters! Just call in your wake up times and your phone will ring with a recording by a surprise character. Having the phone ring “for her” was such a highlight of the trip and she still talks about speaking with Winnie the Pooh on the telephone!

Since we were staying on Disney resort property, we took the Disney Magical Express bus from the Orlando airport to our hotel. This is such a nice cost savings (maybe “cost savings” is a bit of a stretch at Disney, but airport transfers are something I often overlook when budgeting our vacations and they can be SO expensive?! Not the case with the Magical Express.) and it’s extra helpful if you’re checking bags. Checked bags are magically picked up by special baggage handlers and then dropped off in your hotel room - so you can just get going without having to wait at the baggage claim or lug large, heavy bags upstairs with the kids in tow.

A few tips on this: Make sure you are wearing or carrying onto the plane everything you want to have with you for the first day! It can take half a day or so for the checked bags to make it to the rooms. There’s nothing like having to walk around all day in your flight clothes when you’re wanting to get into the spirit of the parks! Also, even if you plan to only carry-on bags and not check any luggage, I recommend still bringing the bag-tags that are mailed to you so you can use this service for transfer of your carry-ons from the airport should they get gate checked. We had a full flight to Orlando and our bags were gate-checked at our departure where I was very happy to realize I had the bag-tags in my purse - which meant we could avoid stopping at baggage claim in Orlando and instead got straight onto the bus to the hotel.

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We kicked off the Disney happenings with what I think is the best thing we did on the entire trip: Alice’s Wonderland Tea Party at the Grand Floridian Hotel (GF). The hotels themselves were such a marvel for our girl, it was fun to savor just that for a moment at the GF before getting overloaded with the parks! I made the tea party reservations in advance and for the cost (about $45) I thought the programming and surprises were above what I would expect if I were paying the same price for a similar experience at home in Dallas. The event is capped at 12 children, but our little girl was just one of two guests for the afternoon! Stories are still told in our home about the things that Alice and the Mad Hatter said, how they decorated cupcakes and drank Apple Juice Tea and designed their own tea set to take home. (Tip: We were headed out to one of the parks from here so the bell hop at GF took our teapot off our hands and sent it over to our hotel for us!)

This is also a children-only event - hallelujah! That left us parents available for a leisurely seated meal at the hotel to catch up and exhale from a long morning of travel which may have involved turbulence-induced child vomit. (There is a high tea at Grand Floridian at that time with champagne that looked Heavenly even though we passed on it, should you be inclined.) Everyone was really in vacation mode and feeling the Disney magic after this!

PhotoPass does the heavy lifting at the tea, since the kids enjoy themselves while a photographer takes care of getting photos that go straight to your phone.

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From here we went over to Epcot for the evening, which was a nice transition into the parks madness. The best part of heading over here from the tea party was traveling by Monorail! Epcot is a great half-day park if you logistically need one, like we did after arriving mid-day. By now we were up for just walking around to see the sights and we weren’t looking for anything so major that we had to do a lot of waiting (especially since we had Fast Pass reservations for the Frozen ride thanks to Jody!). The big show at Epcot for us was meeting Anna and Elsa. It was enchanting to see the generosity and friendship values of Disney Princess Lyfe already impacting our daughter, as she kept her floral bouquet and pinwheel from her tea party to gift to Anna and Elsa when she met them.

This was a day with a -gasp- costume change! Wearing costumes to the parks was not a thing during my upbringing, so I was trying to get on board and understand the ins and outs from a distance. Santa brought some costumes via Facebook yard sale and one Etsy semi-splurge with the news of the trip. I wore a backpack to the parks where I packed the costumes and clothing changes in gallon Ziploc bags. My girl simply changed from Alice to Elsa in the restroom at Epcot with no fuss.

Since we’re on the topic - I originally thought she would wear her Cinderella dress only to breakfast at Magic Kingdom and then change into play clothes, but I did not know at the time that every Disney cast member is required to call a child “Princess” or “Your Highness/Your Majesty” when dressed in costume. My favorite example of this occurred when we were all completely beat and walking out of Magic Kingdom at the end of the night when the park closed. As we were walking, two security guards got down on one knee and bowed to our daughter! It was worth tracking some princess dresses down, finding ones that I was on board with for photos and also packing an outfit change or two so she could get into the spirit. Even the way she carried herself walking through the park was more elevated in her costumes - princess manners!

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After the World Showcase, we had dinner at Seasons and loved Soarin’ and a few other rides before sitting down with some French macarons to watch Illuminations. A perfect first day!

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Magic Kingdom was the big show and our destination for our first full day at Disney. Planning this for the second day was great for us as we still had lots of energy and were feeling transported into a magical world where everything registered high on the WOW factor. We got in right as the park opened and headed to the castle so we would have plenty of time before our 10:00 a.m. breakfast reservation. We did not do the Bippity Boppity Boutique, but I had heard a rumor that the Castle Couture shop right by the back side of the castle would pixie dust your hair on the house. Our daughter loved this! We also had time to ride the carousel which was a really nice way to take in the park and get jiving. Right in front is the Sword in the Stone which I love for photos. We even saw a boy pull the sword out!

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Choosing to experience the magical and special feeling of dining inside Cinderella’s castle was a no-brainer for me - especially for a little girl’s trip where the alternative way to have the same experience was to wait in line to meet a bunch of lovely 20-year-old college interns dressed as princesses. Instead of dealing with butterflies and trying our collective patience waiting in line, I’ll take checking celebrity meet-and-greets off the list while seated and eating.

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From there it was all of the best park stuff, from Pineapple Dole Whip to Dumbo and fireworks. The creature of habit that I am was quite pleased.

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On the morning of our second full day at Disney, we were completely beat - our daughter had fallen asleep standing up on the bus the night before! We were also relieved that after two days of early mornings and late nights, I hadn’t made a reservation for this day until noon, so we were in no rush. We still woke up early and got to Hollywood Studios, rushing straight to the back corner for Toy Story Land.

Slinky Dog Dash was the only ride I was not able to get on FastPass before the trip so we headed there first and had our only hour-long wait of the trip. I’m still surprised to say, we enjoyed it. It’s so easy to shortcut and plan out every minute of a day here - but we enjoyed actually needing to stand around a little and pass the time, making conversation and letting anticipation build. The details in Toy Story Land are bananas and this was our daughter’s favorite ride by far. We even lined up later that evening to ride again and almost did it three times! So with that said, I wouldn’t write off an attraction just because it’s not available for you to FastPass!

Hollywood Studios was a great third day park for us. Our five-year-old is too short to ride a few of the rides at Animal Kingdom, but she could ride Tower of Terror (which impressed me!) and the Toy Story rides, so Hollywood Studios seemed like a more age-appropriate choice of park for this trip. This was also my favorite park when I was little and I am selfish. Logistically, with this park being smaller and featuring more show-based attractions, it made sense for our tired feet! It was a leisurely day that helped us wind down our trip. I also can’t believe that it will have the Star Wars land there soon, so I wanted to soak up the kind of old school vibe of the park before it gets too crazy with the addition. Our daughter did not know what to make of the Star Wars attractions or shows that were there at all, and she was switching back and forth between reactions of curiosity and being freaked out. Now all she asks us to play at home is the Star Wars musical score and she is obsessed with Chewy!

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The last day we had an evening flight, so we had a leisurely wake up at the hotel and went to Disney Springs for lunch and poking around before our flight. This area has changed so much for the better! The shopping is great and we loved Raglan Road Irish Pub. It was lively, even at Sunday lunch, so it didn’t feel like a downer way end to vacation. The Irish performers are great and even invite the kids on stage! The gluten-free fish and chips were the best I’ve ever had.

Our energy as a family on the flight home and over the next weeks was so vibrant and connected! This was just the perfect amount of time for us to peek up from our New Years routines and winter to do something fun and commemorate such a special milestone - going from toddler to little girl. We are so proud of our daughter and this trip and all of the sacrifices, planning, and even figuring out a new app (if you’re at Disney your life is run by the Disney app) was completely worth it to us. It was also a great conversation starter for our family on the magic of making joy for others, saying thank you and practicing gratitude, using our table manners and patience - all things that I’m focusing on as we get ready for Kindergarten!

Share your favorite Disney memory below or let us know what we need to do next time!

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TRAVEL, BY LILLYLilly