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Nick’s summer schedule is especially crazy and full this year, so we didn’t have time to make our pilgrimage back to New England this summer (we were due for one). We do plan to do something fun this fall, but the kids don’t know that, so if you know us personally…. Shhhhhhhh! don’t say anything to the kids!

Anyway, we knew we needed to do something this summer, because carving out some “just-family” time and doing something fun, is a summertime must! This time around we needed something relatively close to Kansas City, because we only had time for a 1 night/2 day trip, and because we’re planning something bigger for the fall, we needed the trip to be cheap. Our goal? Stay within a few hours drive and try to spend less than $400 total (a challenge for a family of 6!).

Before we get down to what we did/where we went, I have to say this…. The kids were amazing during our trip! Last year we were only 2 minutes down the road when one declared it to the be “the worst vacation ever”; this year we heard nothing but good things from them. Last year when we skipped lunch and just snacked on Day 1, it came back to bite us in the form of crabbiness and complaints of bellies hurting; this year they rolled with it SO well (and it had not been our intent to skip a meal, it just kinda happened). Last year I know we had a mini-meltdown or two, as well as some complaining, but this year none of that happened. Nick and I were so proud of how they behaved, and it made this vacation actually enjoyable for us! Exhausting still, but enjoyable!

Day 1

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

About 2 hours southwest of the Kansas City area is the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. It has some amazing views of the Kansas prairie, and Nick and I were excited to take the kids there. We had visited the preserve back in our DINK days (Double Income No Kids) and had loved it! Since our last visit there, the preserve has added a really nice visitors center, complete with the chance for the kids to earn their Junior Rangers Badge (which they did).

Tallgrass Prairie National PreserveTallGrass PrairieTallgrass Prairie Preserve in Strong City KS

The kids loved it! They thought the walk was fun (tons of grasshoppers on the path), they loved the wind we could feel at the top of the “hill”, and the fact that we could see for miles and miles amazed them. They had hoped we’d see some bison wandering, but they weren’t visible. They were mildly disappointed that most of the grass was not as tall as them yet, but they had already learned in the visitor’s center that it doesn’t reach it’s peak height until fall, so they weren’t entirely surprised. They did find one little patch that was about as tall as them, so that satisfied them.

And we also didn’t see any snakes. This made Nick and me very happy…. {shudder}

Prairie Grass KSTallgrass LilyTallgrass

I really could have stayed up there, just staring at the views, for hours. It was so beautiful! Pretty sure I’m going to need to take a little photography field trip there sometime too, just for fun. Highly recommend stopping at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve if you’re driving through Kansas!

Where We Stayed

After our time at the preserve we drove the 45 minutes to our hotel in Wichita. Nick and I learned before Lily even arrived that our family was happiest in a suite rather than a standard hotel room. Sharing a bed with wiggling 3 year olds was not fun, let alone the fact we had to turn the lights out and essentially “go to sleep” at 8:30pm with them! Fast forward 4 years and one more kid, and we know how to find a great hotel for our family.

Enter the Homewood Suites on the Waterfront in Wichita! This was our first Homewood Suites stay (usually we do Embassy Suites), and we loved it! Not only was our room huge (sleeping area plus living area), but our stay included dinner and breakfast, plus they had a basketball court, putting green, lake with walking trail, and indoor pool and hot tub! Needless to say, the kids had a ball, and we didn’t leave the place from our check in at 3:15 to check-out at 10am.

Know what made it extra fun? The night we were there they just happened to be celebrating their 9th birthday! They had live music outside, cake, some raffle drawings and they did a Hole-In-One contest… Yeah, our 4 year old totally won that contest, and with a trick shot! She hit the ball so hard it went past the hole, and then rolled backwards into the cup! Whaaaat?!

Hotel Stay


Day 2

Salt Mine Museum in Kansas

Day 2 involved some salt! Yes – salt! We drove the 50 minutes from Wichita to Hutchinson, KS to visit Strataca, and underground salt museum. That right there is Jackson, Ty, and Chase 650 feet underground, leaning up against a gigantic piece of salt.

When we were researching things to do on this short, cheap trip we knew we wanted unique. Going 650 feet underground, getting to wear hardhats, driving through dark tunnels, and picking out our own salty souvenirs seemed pretty unique!

Salt Mine in HutchinsonSalt Mine

Jackson in the top, right corner cracks me up! He was clearly excited to discover the hunk of salt he picked up fit under the measurement bowl, which meant he could take it home.

Chunk of SaltDark Ride at Strataca

Getting ready to go on The Dark Ride! It was a 30 minute ride through various tunnels of the mine, and also where we got to stop, get off, and grab some salt. Very cool aspect of the tour!

Cheap Vacation from Kansas City_0003

Also stored down there are lots of artifacts, important documents, original reels with Friends episodes, and TV & movie costumes! Pretty cool stuff!

Captured Summer 2

There were a couple of spots where they had these cool reflecting lights cast on the walls and floors! The kids loved running through those! And honestly… is there anything cuter than Lily in her crooked hard hat?!

Strataca Salt Mine

Final verdict on the Salt Museum was lots of thumbs ups! Lily just asked me this morning when we can go back – she was hoping I’d say “tomorrow”. One little note – only kids 4 and up are allowed down there, so make sure you don’t have anyone too young!

After Strataca, we headed back to an amish restaurant we had passed, where we all gorged on roast beef, burgers, and chicken fried chicken. It was delicious!

When all was said and done, we dropped less than $400 on our 2 days of fun, food, and hotel stay. If you have more time and cash than we did, there are so many other things you could add to your trip both in Wichita and in Hutch – we had a crazy number of recommendations once friends heard where we were headed.

This trip though? Not bad for a family of 6, and the kids will all tell you they had a blast!

  • July 19, 2015 - 8:20 pm

    MandyE - Sounds like we’re in a very similar boat this summer. We’re planning a short little trip before school starts. Granted, it won’t have the glamour of a big trip, but sometimes those are some of the best memories.

    That salt mine looks cool! (No pun intended???)ReplyCancel

    • July 19, 2015 - 9:53 pm

      Helen - Ha! It was a nice 68 degrees down there 😉

      Enjoy your short trip! I bet you’ll make awesome memories!ReplyCancel

This post will remain at the top of the blog for the duration of the summer. Scroll past it to see new blog posts.

In an effort to take more photos of my own children (beyond the usual cell phone photos I Instagram on a regular basis), I’m committing to this being a Captured Summer. As summer moves along, images will be added to the slider below (pictures will go from newest to oldest). Nothing wordy – just images telling the story of our summer! Enjoy!

On a mobile device, you can just swipe across the photo to see the next one.

{when you’re curious about what’s happening in the picture, you can click the little thought bubble in the lower, right hand corner. if you love photography and want to know my settings, you can see that by clicking the little camera icon in the lower, left hand corner.}

  • June 2, 2015 - 1:02 pm

    Cindy in San Antonio - Oh, I’m so glad you’re doing this! I love photos and I like watching your kiddos grow. Thanks!ReplyCancel

    • June 2, 2015 - 2:18 pm

      Helen - Oh yay, Cindy! Thanks for checking them out! New ones will be added to it every few days most likely 🙂ReplyCancel

  • June 3, 2015 - 3:57 pm

    Dick Coleman - As usual, fine shots. Love the chance to see the shutter speed and ISO. I’m trying to explain to my daughter, Tammy, how these two things go together to create
    good pictures. Yours will help. Thank you.ReplyCancel

    • June 6, 2015 - 8:59 pm

      Helen - Thank you! Glad you can find the camera info helpful!ReplyCancel

Things are not all sunshine and roses over here lately. In fact, it’s kinda matched the Kansas City weather we’ve had this month – a lot of rain and stormy skies. We’ve been having the kind of days where I want to just curl up in the corner and mumble “I love my kids. I love my kids. I love my kids.” over and over.

I’m going to be honest – there’s been so much yelling, fighting, and crying this week that I’m officially dreading that tomorrow is the last day of school (and only a 3 hour day at that!). I should be excited about the Last Day of School tradition we started last year, and then checking off our Summer Bucket List, but instead of looking forward to it, I’m dreading it.

I’m anxious.

What if they keep fighting? 

What if  they continue to not listen?

What if I keep yelling and wanting to cry?

The other day I was so fed up with not being listened to, that I turned and started talking to a kitchen cabinet, because I figured it would generate about the same response as talking to my kids (specifically the 7 year olds). True story.

Clearly I’m losing it.

I know they’re excited and wound up about the end of the school year. I know they aren’t behaving this way for teachers and adults at church, for which I am insanely grateful. I know they’re good kids. This has just been an epically crappy week… and it’s only Thursday.

I need an extra dose of grace right now. Grace for them, because I know their tiny little brains can only process and handle so much, and there’s a lot going on right now. Grace for me, because I’m not a complete screw-up of a mom and everyone has their bad days.

Needed - an extra dose of grace |


I know that something beautiful can and will come from all of this rain, but my gosh, it’s hard to focus on that right now. All my head wants to focus on is how desperately I want a vacation…. by myself!

Today I’ll be forcing myself to focus on what is good in my life – my wonderful husband, my silly Lily, and my sweet and caring boys. A dog that drives us crazy and makes us laugh all at the same time, a roof over our heads and that our basement hasn’t been too wet, considering all of the rain we’ve had. Money to buy groceries and clothes for our growing kids. Fun family time ahead this summer, and that my boys had an amazing school year with fantastic friends and teachers.

With some focus on what’s good and right in my life, and grace for my behavior and the behavior of my kids, I can and will turn this week around.

I will turn it around.

  • May 21, 2015 - 1:40 pm

    Margaret - Ah! Thank you for posting this. I just had a bad morning with my 6 year old, and I’m feeling a lot like this right now. Very encouraging to read your focus on giving our kids, and ourselves, grace to pick up and try again!ReplyCancel

    • May 21, 2015 - 2:16 pm

      Helen - Ah, so sorry you are in the same boat, Margaret! I’m glad my sharing could encourage you though. Here’s to calmer kids and moms! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • May 21, 2015 - 3:50 pm

    Esther - My Emma is 7, and she has been INSANE the
    Sat couple weeks. Getting in trouble in school, which she never does, and NOT LISTENING at home. Sweetheart, you are not the only one. Virtually hugging you right now!ReplyCancel

    • May 21, 2015 - 5:49 pm

      Helen - Virtual hugs right back to you, Esther! These kids!ReplyCancel

  • May 22, 2015 - 5:56 pm

    Kara - I adore my children. I marvel at their every achievement. I thank God every day for them. I am constantly amazed by the amazing miracles I have the opportunity to raise. I would lay down my life for them without even making a conscious decisions. I love them more than myself.

    But I don’t always *like* them. And that’s okay. 🙂ReplyCancel