It’s been a bit dreary lately here in Austin and when you live in a place where it is hot so often, this change is welcomed with open arms. Especially when you’re from Chicago. It feels like home. When the weather is like this, I have zero guilt being inside reading and writing. And the dogs lay by my feet as I type away and I feel at peace. I’ve been listening to George Winston’s ‘December’ soundtrack which is totally acceptable now that it is November. I can’t help but think of things that make me happy about this month.
So here it is, my Happiness List Part II: (if you missed part I, here it is)
- George Winston & a Cup of Tea
- Lighting all the candles in our house
- Gathering in a circle with family at Thanksgiving and singing “Piano Man” by Billy Joel
- Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon & Pumpkin Pie
- The lightheartedness of looking forward to a holiday that is simply about celebrating life & its blessings
- Christmas Lights & Festive Decorations. You know they begin this month…
- Fall Wreaths on Front Doors
- Sweater Socks & Early morning Coffee
- Football at the park (observing of course)
- Putting up our tree after Thanksgiving (although the past few years we have snuck it up a bit early…we love our holidays)…
- The day after Thanksgiving- we get up and sit by a fire and listen to Christmas music in the morning. We usually go to the Christkindlmarket downtown in the afternoon.
- The sound of the trees ruffling in the wind with the last of their leaves…
We’re heading to Chicago for Thanksgiving this year and leave 2 weeks from today. I cannot wait for all the fun family festivities. I love you, November.
Whenever I am meeting a new group of people and the ice breaker prompt of the ‘tell us something cool about yourself’ comes up, I always have the perfect answer- I’ve been to all 50 states!
If you think about where you have been in the country, you might think that is an enormous feat, but my family got started early on this adventure. Back in the summer of 1999 when the number of children on our block under the age of 10 had grown to the high teens and I acted as the leader of the pack, my mom thought she would lose her mind if we didn’t get away. There were always kids in our backyard, on our porch, in our house- and I was directing them. I’m the oldest of five so this assumed role was natural for me… but for my mom, it was insanity. Without being enrolled in summer camps that year, she thought she had no choice but to road trip away.
Which we did- FOR FIVE WEEKS. One of the reasons I admire and love my mother so much is that she packed up our 12 seater van and managed 5 kids aged 11, 10, 8, 6, & 4- with no shortage of fights & trouble, and drove us cross country. I think she probably thanks her lucky stars that the Harry Potter series was on tape that year. We were hooked. My Dad flew out for a couple of the weekends, but he had to be at work during those week. So she was on her own for most of the trip.
I am painting this picture for you because we did not realize that this adventure of driving from Illinois to Minnesota, through South and North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and back, would become the first trip in our mission to hit all 50 states. That summer vacation was a giant success and after that, we were no longer kicking and screaming when she dragged us away for the summer. In fact, we were eager to cover more states! Our rule for conquering a state was either driving through it or staying overnight. No layovers at an airport would count.
We did a road trip out east the summer before I entered 7th grade and my favorite memories are those of visiting the Salem Witch Museum, hiking in Northern New York, and tasting Lobster in Maine. Beanie Baby Kids were popular and they kept us entertained when we weren’t listening to a book on tape.
When I was a sophomore in high school, we drove to New Orleans and hit 8 states over our spring break. My favorite part of that trip was staying in a neat bed & breakfast in Chattanooga and making a family music video to “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera, which I’m sure everyone will be glad to know I no longer have to share. GoneZo.
One of the more neat trips we did together took place in none other than the mystifying vast terrain of Alaska. We flew to Anchorage and rented an RV back in August of 2004 and I’m bummed the only picture I have from that trip is the 7 of us pretending to sleep on our glacial cruise. #coolfamilyphotos #weknow …
The most memorable moment from that trip was watching a mother grizzly bear storm down the hillside behind our bus, her fur covered muscles thundering with each of her movements as she barreled down into the valley below. Gosh- if only I had my current camera then…
We’ve been to a lot of places on vacations that weren’t road trips. One of the neatest spots was in Glacier National Park, Montana. We were there for a Solberg family reunion and it was the last trip we all made with our grandfather. I love being part of such a tight knit family. Here we are pictured after swimming in chilly glacial waters.
The coolest trip however, is the one where my siblings and I trekked cross country all the way to California by ourselves. We each had our own role- I planned the stops & activities, my brother Sam did the driving and cooking, my sister Brit handled all the finances (our little math mathematician), my sister Lili made our lunches (which was a responsibility she utterly hated- we’re needy) and my poor youngest brother Joe, was labeled “Camp Bitch” for he had to clean up our camp sites & well, everything for that matter…Ahhh- the youngest sibling complex.
On that trip, we hit ELEVEN STATES! Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, & Nebraska. We camped for the majority of the trip in KOAs and somehow managed to spend less than $350 each for the entire trip including food & gas & souvenirs! Can we talk about money managing? Yeah baby. It was amazing. Here is a little youtube video we made while jamming out in the car… I’m sure my parents were SO PUMPED to see us being so safe at the wheel- yikes. All eggs. One basket. You know what I mean?
After our sibling road trip, we only had two states left on our quest: Oregon & Hawaii. We flew out to Oregon in August of 2010 and met up with my cousins in Portland. Oregon is BEAUTIFUL! I loved being on the coast and seeing lots of sea lions basting in the sun. It was so much fun spending time with our cousins and enjoying the scenic views :)
But of course- we saved the best for last. The reward for the family for hitting 49 states was a trip to Hawaii at Christmastime. We planned thoroughly and Christmas of 2012 was spent in the gorgeous island state. I felt like I was on a movie set. Everything around us was so beautiful. We started on the Big Island and moved over to Oahu for the last leg of our trip. I loved watching the surfers ride the waves and getting up in the morning to have coffee on the beach. The best part was getting a surf lesson ourselves! Pure bliss. Our family made a rule for the trip that we weren’t allowed to use our cell phones (except for pictures) so we had them in airplane mode and focused on enjoying each other’s company instead of tuning in to what was going on at home. It was so refreshing to be cut off from the outside world!
Hawaii was my favorite place we went to but it was sort of a dream. It’s not easy to get to and is quite expensive, so it will always be on the “special occasion” or “extravagant” travel list.
After our 50 state quest, I can say that the below 10 places are my favorite spots in the country :)
- Chicago, IL- Home Sweet Home. This will always be my favorite city. My beginning. My start.
- Denver, CO- I can see us packing up and moving there one day. It has felt like another home over the years.. Maybe because we have been there so many times and have family out there.
- Santa Fe, NM- If you haven’t already, check out my post on this incredible city here.
- Boston, MA- I’ve been there a couple of times now and I love the historic city and its roots. Plus it is so beautiful.
- Scottsdale/Carefree, AZ- one of the most fun, refreshing, beautiful places- I love the dryness & allure of the Sonoran Desert.
- Carmel, CA- my cousin had her wedding in this dream-like destination and I have to say that this is one of the most gorgeous parts of the country. I love Northern California. And the coastal views here were fantastic. Plus the Red Woods? Common!
- Stowe, Vermont. Our family biked and climbed and had the absolute best time touring this area. It was many years ago but I still remember it as a highlight of our roadtrips.
- Zion National Park & Bryce Canyon, UTAH. This was part of our sibling road trip and I am dying to return here with Eric. Such a beautiful place to climb and hike.
- Hilton Head, SC– my grandparents live here and I have so many wonderful memories of this gorgeous island off the coast of South Carolina. Such a neat town and fun place to getaway.
- Napa Valley, CA- the most gorgeous vineyards & scenic views! Plus that wine over there is pretty good ;)
I hope you enjoyed this post and have some inspiration for neat spots to visit in the States! We sure had an amazing 15 years completing this family adventure :)