A Road Trip to Holland, Michigan

Despite emerging from adolescence and my subsequent adult years without having read Moby Dick, I can answer most Herman Melville-related Jeopardy questions and I can also spit a handful of quotes from the whale of a novel (see what I did there?) into a conversation. Such as – “I try all things, I achieve what I can.” and “It is not down in any map; true places never are.” The latter being one of my favorite travel-related quotes that hipsters have commandeered on Instagram, along with man buns and ironic Bill Murray shirts.


Tunnel Park – Holland, Michigan

Last week, we embarked on a whirlwind long weekend adventure that had us pulling back into our parking spot (no garages in the historic building we call home on Fort Leavenworth) at 5pm on Monday. We were tired, hungry, and ready to get out of the car. But we were also a little more learned, we were still laughing about a joke told in Iowa, and we were carrying a memory or two that will be added to the lifetime pile.


We left Thursday evening intending to drive four hours and stay the night in St. Louis. However Waze had other plans and didn’t even offer a route through St. Louis because of construction traffic. So we ended up driving through rural Missouri (e.g. serial killer territory) in the blackness of night and stayed the night on the Mississippi in Hannibal. The next morning, we explored the town a bit before getting on the road, quickly becoming enamored with the river town charm and slower pace of life.


And of course we couldn’t leave without visiting Mark Twain’s childhood home. When in Hannibal…


{Earlier that morning, I discovered that I forgot to pack shorts, like not one piece of day clothing for the bottom part of my body. I’m technically wearing pajamas in this picture.}

We wanted to make it to Holland, Michigan before dark so we didn’t have much time to see Hannibal but we were able to walk along the Mississippi and get a cup of coffee from Java Jive – some of the best coffee we’ve had in a long time. I’m not sure when our travels will bring us through Hannibal again, but if they do, we totally want to go on a Haunted Hannibal Ghost Tour…spooky!


We ate lunch at a Steak & Shake in Springfield, Illinois, where Violet fell asleep in the booth and we attempted to convince ourselves that it wasn’t fast food (it pretty much is) and totally ignored the calorie content of our delicious choice of beverages.


Corn was the name of the game for the majority of our drive through Illinois until we hit Chicago Friday afternoon traffic. We stopped at a LOFT in Indiana so I could purchase a couple pairs of shorts (thank you vanity sizing) and by 9pm, we pulled into our hotel, The Hayworth Inn in Holland, Michigan, which was conveniently located directly across the street from the brewery where some members of my family were partaking in pre-wedding festivities.


So we did what any parent would do – we took our kids to a beer garden, ordered them a late dinner, and personally enjoyed a well-deserved beer while we caught up with family. Yup – we were those people. I suppose I should state that the reason we drove to the west coast of Michigan was to attend the wedding of my cousin, Nick. Back in April, Clay and I traveled to California for the wedding of my cousin Matt (pictured above right with his wife Angie), who is Nick’s brother…it’s been a busy wedding season for our extended family!


On Saturday morning, we met my parents and my siblings at Tunnel Park in Holland so we could squeeze in a beach day before the wedding later that afternoon. My aunt, uncle, cousin, and her son joined us as well – our get-together totally dominated the beach…my apologies to the other beach goers that day!


Me and my siblings.


If you haven’t been to a Lake Michigan beach, I am sorry. You are missing out. I grew up vacationing in Glen Arbor, Michigan and have so many fond memories of #puremichigan. Three years ago, my parents rented a lake house in Glen Arbor and we all met up there for the week surrounding July 4th. Clay and Weston were able to experience the Michigan coast for the first time that week and I’m happy that Violet was able to have her first taste of Michigan this past weekend.


The wedding ceremony and reception were at The Felt Estate in Holland. The mansion was built by Dorr E. Felt in 1928 and served as a family summer home until it became the St. Augustine Catholic Seminary preparatory school in 1946. The state of Michigan purchased the property in 1977 and since 1995, the mansion has been restored and preserved by the public.


The pacifier didn’t help – Violet lasted about 3 minutes before I removed her from the situation. The two of us ended up watching the ceremony from about 200 yards away. Who brings a two-year-old to a wedding anyway?


My entire family (children included!) were able to attend the wedding. This photograph was the best of the lot and perfectly sums up life with Violet. I love how you can see Clay getting ready to take off after her.


The kids had a blast playing with their first and second cousins on the estate grounds during cocktail hour. At one point, approximately 12 children were hunting for ghosts near the stables. The Felt Mansion is rumored to be haunted, after all.


Autumn Rae Photography

The beautiful bride and groom.


While we weren’t able to stay until the sparkling send-off, the kids did great and were troopers. We got back to the hotel about 10pm and they promptly fell asleep – probably due to the copious amount of cupcakes consumed and hours spent rolling down the hill in front of the mansion.


We left Holland the following morning and decided to drive back to Kansas through Iowa, just for something different. I hadn’t been to Iowa since I was a preteen and Clay and the kids had never been so we couldn’t think of a reason not to go. We were surprised by just how much we like Iowa. Seriously – it is an awesome state. We stayed Sunday night in Hawkeye territory – Iowa City, Iowa – home of the University of Iowa. And did you know that the Iowa City is the only City of Literature in the United States as awarded by UNESCO?


On Monday, we ate lunch at Zombie Burger + Drink Lab in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. The creative burgers lived up to their reputation. I also had a root beer float – it was good but not the best I’ve ever had. We ate outside and finished just before this rolled in…


I took this picture at 12:30pm.

The storm was intense. No tornadoes, thankfully. We couldn’t see 3 feet in front of us due to heavy rain so we pulled off the interstate and sat in a Target parking lot until the sky let up a little bit.


We picked up Lucy at her pet hotel and by dinnertime, we were home. It was a whirlwind weekend – busy, tiring, and a hell of a lot more fun than just sitting at home.

Our Trip By Numbers

  • 1,000,000 + ears of corn
  • 1450 miles
  • 40+ members of extended family
  • 35 minutes in a supercell storm
  • 6 states
  • 5 cupcakes
  • 4.25 days
  • 4 zombie burgers
  • 3 hotel rooms
  • 2 college towns
  • 2 root beer floats
  • 1 famous author’s childhood home
  • 1 pretentious coffee shop
  • 1 beach
  • 1 wedding

Lawrence, Kansas – Home of the Jayhawks

Since arriving at Fort Leavenworth, Clay’s schedule has been fairly low-key and will remain so until the official start of the school year. Because of this, we’ve been taking advantage of his limited schedule and exploring the various towns in the area. So far, we’ve hit up Weston, Missouri, Atchison, Kansas, and of course, Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri. Although to be honest, we haven’t really even touched upon the soul of Kansas City, unless one counts eating at the world-famous Oklahoma Joe’s as doing so. Countless trips have been made to retail meccas such as Legends, Zona Rosa, and Overland Park but their suburban flare hardly seems worthy of a blog post (Target? Check. Trader Joes? Check. Whole Foods? Check. Nebraska Furniture Mart? Oh my goodness – does a furniture store really need to be that big? Yes. Yes, it does. Home Goods? Check. And so on.). But this post isn’t about our desire to experience Kansas City beyond suburbia – it is about Lawrence, Kansas, a cute little city that is home to University of Kansas and bleeds college town charm.


The other day, the four of us headed about an hour west with no plan other to take country roads to Lawrence and see where the day takes us. A quick stop at a donut shop on the way out of town ended with me exiting the bakery empty handed because the man in line ahead of me purchased 47 donuts, which happened to be the only remaining donuts. Womp womp. Apparently locals take their donut consumption very seriously. But we didn’t let lack of sugar deter us from enjoying the blue skies and green fields as we continued toward Jayhawk territory.


As far as numbers go, Lawrence was founded in 1854 and home to about 90,000 people, making it the 6th most populated city in Kansas. Approximately 28,000 students attend University of Kansas, which is located on Mount Oread, the highest point in Lawrence (only about 1000 feet above sea level). Not surprisingly, there are not a lot of high points in Kansas.


We drove through the tree-lined streets downtown and around the campus, commenting on how we’d both love to work in the collegiate world someday – something about the college environment is so intoxicating. Perhaps it is the smell of cheap beer and burnt microwavable mac & cheese. Pictured is The Campanile, a memorial that honors University of Kansas students killed in World War II. It houses a carillon – 53 bells that chime every fifteen minutes from 7am – 9pm.


We ate lunch at Free State Brewing Company, which in 1989 was the first legal brewery to open in Kansas in over 100 years. The beer was great (Clay had the Copperhead Pale Ale and I had the Wheat State Golden), as was the food. And the kids report that their lemonade was top notch.


After lunch, we walked around the town for a bit but the kids began to stage a mutiny so we weren’t able to pop into any shops, with the exception of an antique store that boasted a $200 metal pedal car that Weston fell in love with and unsuccessfully campaigned for.


Afterwards, we consulted our smartphones to find a playground for optimal energy depletion and decided on Clinton State Park, about 4 miles west of Lawrence.

IMG_5921 (1)

Despite one Yelp review referring to Clinton Lake as a nuclear wasteland, Clinton State Park met our needs by offering decent views, a playground, and clean bathrooms. Clinton Lake is a reservoir  formed during the late 1970s that allows boating, fishing, and other water sports.


Trees like the one above pepper the eastern Kansas landscape.


Our little day trip to Lawrence whet our appetite and cemented our desire to return during our time in Kansas. If you ever find yourself stationed at Fort Leavenworth, be sure to check out Lawrence – you won’t be disappointed!

The First Two Weeks

We arrived at Fort Leavenworth almost two weeks ago and our little family of four immediately earned Kansas-resident status by managing to get trapped in the commissary with no power during a tornado warning. It appears that our time at Fort Still, Oklahoma will have prepared us well for the famed unpredictable midwest weather. In other exciting news, our household goods were delivered last weekend with little fanfare. Our stuff is a little worse for the wear (to be expected when schlepping furniture halfway across the country) but we managed to emerge from our moving day fiasco with no major damage. And as of this afternoon, every single box is unpacked. Hip hip hooray.


We are living on post in Infantry Barracks – a group of buildings built in 1902/1903 that were converted into family apartments sometime around WW2. Our unit has hardwood floors, 14-foot ceilings, skeleton key door knobs, crown molding detail throughout, and enough charm to make up for the small bathrooms and oddly laid-out kitchen. Infantry Barracks currently house primarily Command and General Staff College (CGSC) families so we joke that our little neighborhood filled with people eager to meet people, beer, and discussion of school makes it feel quite like college…but with kids.


View of the Missouri River from Fort Leavenworth

I’ve mentioned before that those who are unfamiliar with Fort Leavenworth and CGSC often gave us a look of pity when they discovered the Army was sending us to Kansas. Please don’t feel sorry for us. In the short amount of time we’ve been here, we’ve fallen in love with Kansas City and the surrounding areas. Would we want to live here forever? Probably not. But then again, in our world, living somewhere longer than three years is a completely foreign concept. So until we find our Shambhala we’ll just spend the year discovering why so many people decided to call Kansas City home.