Welcome to the Wandering Drays!

Not all who wander are lost...

Welcome to my blog dedicated to my family and our crazy foreign service life. Never content with staying in one place, we are excited to share our journey. We've survived two unaccompanied tour (Baghdad 2010-2011 and Baghdad again in 2015-2016), multiple TDYs, and enjoyed a two-year family assignment in Cairo, Egypt. The fab hubby is currently learning Turkish for our next assignment...Istanbul, Turkey! We leave for Turkey sometime in summer 2017. I write about what I know. Which is mainly kids, tween drama, gross pets, dealing with lots of government info, our moving adventures, being a nurse, yoga, running, living on too-little sleep, and an addiction to coffee lattes. I hope you'll enjoy this glimpse into our lives.

Friday, June 3, 2011

It Started As a Griswold Family Vacation

When you spend two months planning the perfect family vacation, it's no surprise that you get a teensy weensy upset when it doesn't go as planned.  At all.  However, what started out as a crazy National Lampoons-style Griswold Family [Mini] Vacation ended as a great two-day Dray Family [Mini] Vacation, with full sanity intact.  Mostly.

It's fun to act like a kid.
Jason's been home on leave from the mean-old Baghdad, and we've enjoyed every minute of it.  This is the first Leave I didn't focus on the countdown-till-he-leaves-to-go-back-There.  Maybe it's because it's his last Leave and the next time he's home it will be permanent (!!), or maybe it's because I'm getting good at this gig (doubtful), or maybe it's because I'm just plain tired of being so emotional over it (likely).

But in any case, we wanted to spend a few days away from our home with the kiddies and give them a sweet little mini-vacation.  I am awesome at planning vacations, whether long or short.  And I jumped into this planning full-on Heather-style.  We decided to keep the drive short and chose Western Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh, in the beautiful Laurel Highlands area.  We've taken the kidlets to Idlewild and SoakZone each summer we've been in the area, and it's only about 2 1/2 hours away.  If you're reading this, and you're in the DC-area and have young kiddos, we highly recommend it.  It's only about 2 1/2 - 3 hours drive from your direction as well.

Idlewild is one of the the last of the dying breed of great family amusement parks.  Small, kid-friendly, affordable.  The water park is INCLUDED in the admission fee ($25 through AAA, or $32 at the gate).  Parking is free.  They even have grills for use.  For free.  Anyway, I also booked reservations at The Log Cabin Motel in Donegal (about 20 minutes from Idlewild), as there is an adjacent Animal Park/Reserve there.  The Kids LOVE this place.  Plus, Ft. Ligonier is nearby, getting my husband his history fix (nerdy nerd nerd), and I figured I could find some fun shopping in the area.  Perfect, right?

We took the kids out of school THE LAST DAY OF SCHOOL.  Packed up the car (you'd think we were moving to Cairo at this very moment with all the crud we jammed into the SUV).  And left our home two hours later than we planned.  As always.

OH, Sh*t.
Imagine our surprise when we approached Idlewild and noticed the parking lots.  Were. Empty.  We pulled to the gate.  Shocked.  Idlewild was CLOSED.  Griswold-style at it's finest.  Turns out that the park was open over Memorial Day weekend, but closed during the week until the following weekend when it would open fully for its season.  I had only checked (very quickly) to see that it was open beginning the last weekend in May - didn't read the print to see that it wasn't open during the week.  I honestly almost lost it.  I am ashamed to say that big tears welled up in my eyes. I wanted this to be the perfect vacation for the kids. Jason whispered to me "don't make a big deal of it, and the kids won't either".  I sucked it up.  Fast.  The kids were upset, but Jason promised them a good time and he delivered.

We drove to historic Ft. Ligonier and Owen (who is obsessed with George Washington) got to tromp around the Fort with his new [fake] coonskin hat and wooden gun.  Abby wasn't so keen on Ft. Ligonier, but she managed to enjoy it nonetheless, with visions of a promised water park dancing in her head.  A kind worker at Ft. Ligonier gave us directions to a local pool and we drove there next.  It was underwhelming to say the least.  But the kids loved it!  The water wasn't too deep, the bathrooms were clean, the grass was soft along the banks, and there were floaties to rent.  Plus, Daddy swam with the kids - their favorite! - and tossed them into the water and encouraged them to show off their swimming skills.  I ignored the beer snack bar (I don't know if they sold anything BUT beer) and brought in our own snackies (Combos and Nacho Cheese Bugles) and drinks (Capri Sun pouches) and we dined as if were owned the pool ourselves.  Owen did some rad moves off the diving board.  Dinner was McDonald's (Like I said, this vacation was all about our kids!) and we checked into the hotel late, about 8:00pm.
Kellen got a coonskin hat, too.
Historic Ft. Ligonier.

Owen loved it here.

Rad moves.

The hotel is awesome for families.  TACKY TACKY TACKY!  Bunk beds made out of logs, 'minky' animal blankets, horseshoe nailed to the wall as a toilet paper roll dispenser.  A total kids haven.  The next morning we beelined to the Animal Park/Reserve.  And thoroughly enjoyed petting goats, a wallaby family, camels, and llamas.  We stared at the tigers and emus.  Abby, when she was three years old had been at a petting zoo and had been surrounded by a swarm of goats (I kid not) and has been terrified by goats ever since.  This time, she conquered her fear, at least a little, and fed and petted some baby goats.

Even I loved petting the wallaby family.
No longer afraid of goats!

Kellen is actually bigger than the baby goat.

Too much candy.  Obviously, Daddy's treat.

Abby and her new airline-approved carry-on Trunki.
She can't wait to fly to Cairo!

Then we drove to Ligonier and ate lunch at the Ligonier Tavern that actually catered to both adults and children with their delicious menu.  We walked the town, shopping in the marvelous boutiques and shops.  Kids ate candy.  Lots of it.  And I found a local coffee shop ("Abigail's" - much to Abby's joy!) to soothe my latte desires.  We drove home and Jason promised the kids he'd take them to a movie the next day.

Things learned on this vacation:

*Jason is dazzled by my Matrix-style ability to avoid Kellen puke.  Baby barfed just a little at the animal park, probably due to the intense heat and humidity.  And I avoided it all, despite it's initial trajectory in my direction.

*You will never remember to pack everything needed. Plan to blow at least $75 at Target along the way.  When you realize you forgot baby swim diapers, towels, hydrocortisone cream, flip flops, and baby toys.  You'll still think of more things you forgot when you're pulling out of the Target parking lot.

*There is never a Starbucks when you really need it in rural Pennsylvania.

*History is cool.

*You have to remind yourself after packing and unpacking and repacking the car...don't forget the kids.

*It's fun to act like a kid.

*Makeup is unnecessary on vacations such as these.  But deodorant is never optional.

*It doesn't matter where the baby sleeps so long as he sleeps.

*You will spend three times as much money as you originally budgeted.  And when your plans go kaplooey (such as our "OMG, the park is closed" moment), you will spend even more.  Get over it.

Finally, the most important thing.  And I thank a new FS friend for reminding me.  It doesn't matter where you are on vacation, so long as you are there as a family.  After a long long LONG year+ of separation, we completely enjoyed our Griswold-style family vacation. Together.

Even at the beer pool.


  1. I am CRACKING UP at your vacation. Sounds so Perlman-esque it's scary! See what I mean? (http://theperlmanupdate.blogspot.com/2008/06/river-runs-through-it.html)

    Ok ... so what is a trunki? Never heard of it - but it looks cool!

    Love the pool. Love the candy (I'd be the one giving it). Love that the baby sleeps anywhere (we're so past that now).

    BUT WAY BOO on the no Starbucks around. Aren't you the one who told me that you lived in a place based on it's proximity to a Starbucks?

    Glad it went well!!

  2. Yes, I am convinced in a domestic move that if you look in an area with a Starbucks and a Target you can never go wrong - good neighbors, good schools, safe area.

    As for the trunki, it's a Melissa and Doug item ; a heavy-duty kid's carry-on! You can decorate it with the stickers to create crazy faces on it and it can be used as a seat for kids up to 100 lbs! I saw some kids at the airport in Colorado Springs wheeling them around and made sure to get one for Abby and Kellen.

    Love the blog, Jill, of your past vacation. And thanks again for the insight - you helped me keep the important stuff in perspective, especially at the beer pool. :D