Surprise Adventures

The end of summer daycare closure inspired me to take the kids on an out of town adventure and give Craig one night and two days of working and relaxing in complete peace and quiet. Of course, I am not ready for a solo overnight trip with the kids yet, so Grandma Sue came up from Juneau to keep me company (and keep us all sane).

We got ready for the day, picked grandma up at the loading ramp at the airport, trekked over to harass State Trooper HQs and say goodbye to Daddy, and eventually loaded up into Craig’s Expedition, toting a lot of snacks, lunches packed by the girls, and backup clothes, stuffed animals and blankets.

Unlike our prior visit to the Kenai Peninsula, the girls actually napped on the drive down. Reagan drifted off to sleep by the time we hit the highway and Emerie not long after, while Harper spent more than 30 minutes chewing every little piece of food before succumbing to the sleepiness around the Portage Glacier pull-off.

We only needed one pit stop for the drive down, where we walked the boardwalk along the Kenai River, searched for big, wild mushrooms and other plants and berries, and checked out the shoreline. A nice lady took a photo of us just as the rain picked up again and we dashed back to the car.

The first night was actually quite mellow, with the girls content to play with toys at the house and color while the adults relaxed from the busy day. I wasn’t sure how the night would go, since it’s been about a year since I’ve had a solo night with the kids, when Craig traveled to Juneau last summer for a work trip. Since we’ve traveled to Becky’s before and it’s a familiar location, sleeping overnight seem to be much easier of an accomplishment than it is when we are at home. Becky read a fun bedtime story that distracted them enough from the thought Dad wasn’t there, and all three stretched out across the twin mattress with the second mattress pull out next to it, providing just enough space for everyone to shift around without awaking anyone. Other than a few moments of fussiness when each took a turn and then fell back asleep, the night went off without a hitch!

By the next morning I could already tell that the trip would be easier than our visit in June, unknowing that the girls would definitely prove their increased maturity by the end of the morning. After breakfast with Miss Becky and getting ready for the day, we loaded up into the car, anticipating a day trip to Homer. Of course by now I should be skilled at rolling with the unplanned surprises, and this day proved to be no different. As we pulled up to the first light after leaving Becky’s house, right as you enter Soldotna, and lightly hitting the break in anticipation of the red light before us, the back end of the whole vehicle slid out from behind us, almost like we hit a big patch of black ice and lost control. I fully admit I know nothing about the workings of or repairs needed for cars, and Craig is always great about keeping our maintained as needed for each season, and in that moment I immediately knew something was wrong.

With kids in the car I am far more paranoid of things happening, whether that’s checking if the other direction actually stopped at their red light before I go or to play it safe during a snow event, so on went the blinker and I eased into the left hand turn lane to pull into the O’Reilly’s service shop along the side of the road. Hitting the breaks a second time to wait to turn, the issue repeated itself. I couldn’t have more perfectly timed a major car malfunction than at a traffic light with an O’Reilly’s on one side and a Midas Auto Shop on the other; thank heavens it wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, Alaska, like we were for most of the prior day’s drive down.

Grandma Sue, in her infinite wisdom, came out of the shop with an older gentleman, who kindly agreed to drive the car across the street to the Midas to see if he could pinpoint the issue, since our unskilled look at the back tires was fruitless. We unloaded the girls and they trekked across the parking lot to Fred Meyer, where the mid-morning excitement apparently inspired starvation and the need for a fancy Starbucks fruit drink while he drove across the street, noting something was definitely off and making it unsafe to drive.

Long story short, the whole thing still makes me chuckle. The kind folk at Midas determined the bolt holding the rear suspension together not only came loose, but fell out altogether; hence the feeling of the back sliding out of control. When I chatted with them on the phone later that day after that revelation, they noted the Expedition was unfit to drive until the part was found and installed, and that they didn’t recommend me taking it in that condition, NOT that I wanted to. The entire morning ended up working out relatively seamlessly, thanks to Becky, who bailed us out, helped me uninstall and reinstall three car seats into her SUV, and then hitched a ride back to her house so we could take the girls to the park.

Needless to say, we did not make it to Homer that day, but we did have fun exploring a fabulous park along the river and walking all the boardwalks. The park was huge and Alaska themed, with whale tales and construction equipment and beautiful artwork along the climbers. All three were off exploring and shouting to one another at new spots were discovered and in true park visit style, everyone had a long turn on the swings and a bathroom visit. After a bit we walked down toward the boardwalk, pausing at each access point to the river to look at anything of interest, such as real life fisherman, seagulls (Emerie still calls them eagles!), rocks in the water and my personal favorite, the fact that a red apple was floating along the shoreline at random, which was far more interesting to the girls than anything else.

About a dozen or so fisherman were out as we walked along and the girls enjoyed pausing to see what each person was doing, standing out in the water. One nice group said they had caught a good number the day before, during the rainstorm we drove down in, and the current day was a bit slower but still a success. A nice gentleman brought their catch up so the girls could firsthand see it and poke the eye balls (sigh) to see if they were squishy. Next summer’s set netting adventure is almost a year away and I already can’t wait to go with them!

As we turned around to retrace our steps and grab some lunch, that same nice guy hollered up from the shoreline that one of his buddies caught one on his line. The girls leaned over the railing and watched him real it in, pull the hook out of the mouth, whack the sucker and hang it up with the rest of his catches. Emerie hollered a couple times she could see blood and all three watched the whole process with good interest. This was almost as exciting as seeing that damn red apple bobbing against the shoreline.

The rest of the day was spent hanging out at Becky’s, playing inside and out and filling a lot of tiny buckets with lake water out on the dock. Craig and William drove my car down after work that evening, with the plans to at least be able to get the girls back to Anchorage while the Expedition was fixed.

Lucky enough, Craig’s awesome cousin Jamie was able to swap vehicles with us so we could cram into her Suburban and do the day trip to Homer, much to my excitement. It took us a bit to get down there, between bathroom breaks, rainstorms, and installation of car seats, but we finally made it and it was so worth it. The girls immediately took to the beach adventure and the rain held out for the visit. Grandma picked up anything of interest and explained things to the girls while they collected pretty rocks and shells and splashed around.

We visit two beaches that day, first Bishop’s Beach as the tide rolled in and then walking along the spit through a few shops and watching all three collect dozens of shells and treasures. Emerie enjoyed finding feathers mixed into her shell collection, especially the big ones. Fearless Harper picked up the seaweed and other sufficiently wet things to show us. Reagan managed to immediately overflow her boots following William to the sand dunes before they re-submerged, which she eventually overcame to enjoy the sights.

At some point too many collectibles meant the hoodies came off and became bags tied around waists. Shell collection was certainly the highlight of the day. At one point our minions adamantly demanded Grandma walk out into the waves to select a specific shell, a couple of feet out. Under no circumstance were they going to take no for an answer. Little did they know that Grandma smartened up to this concept and packed her pockets with some shells that “she picked up” out there and handed off to unsuspecting and excited littles.

We definitely could have spent a weekend exploring the town, which I haven’t visited in so long and was much overdue to go to, but as the rain started back up we decided to head back to Sterling for Becky’s amazing brisket dinner, which we were super late for from the day’s adventure (and tasted as amazing as ever!). The Kenai Peninsula Fair was still going strong as we pulled up to Nikiski, so we took the opportunity and stopped for face painting (Mom, Dad and Grandma included), an ice cream treat and of course, a horse ride for each. Everyone wanted full unicorn faces, with each kiddo in her own color and with glitter. Craig received a brown bear on his cheek while I did a triple flower and Grandma Sue a fancy fireweed.

All three were happy to do a horse ride and climb into the saddles without too much assistance. The petting zoo part was also still open, with some young animals to love that were out of the rain. The girls all asked the nice lady with the two-day-old baby chickens a bunch of questions (as if we didn’t have baby chicks two months ago!) and learned that they hatch from eggs she had in a nearby carrier. That concept was quite interesting for all three and they asked a lot of questions. The other big hit was the three-legged goat, which Reagan excitedly told a couple of people about and continued to discuss on the way home. Very impactful stuff.

We managed to cram a family breakfast in before heading back home for the weekend, with Jaren and Savaya and Tyler joining us. I am loving having family only a few hours away and we were very blessed that the car situation was so manageable with a little help!

It was a great weekend overall. Excluding the car issue, the trip didn’t feel very stressful and all three were very well behaved and enthusiastic for every adventure we attempted. Each trip gets a bit easier and I find it so refreshing to get the new life perspective one only gets when leaving your house for a few days. It took about a week to get the part and fix Craig’s car; luckily the issue was relatively simplistic and therefore, not overly expensive, and the girls took it all in stride.

Now I’m ready for fall and another out of town adventure in the cold, fresh air. Bring on September!