As I mentioned in last week’s column, vacation time has been upon us Hoovers. As I write this, we’ve been home three days and I have yet to catch up on sleep. But then again, I’m also starting to think this might just be how I’m going to feel forever. This quote describes me perfectly: “I’m not a night owl or an early bird, but rather some form of permanently exhausted pigeon.” But that’s not even what our time here together today is about, Constant Reader – it’s about VACATION!

We started planning this excursion in February, and while it’s good to be prepared, it also makes the anticipation a killer. I downloaded a countdown app and every few days would send a screenshot to everyone with captions like “OH MY GOSH IT’S NEARLY HERE!” and “CAN IT GET HERE ANY QUICKER???” It’s all we talked about any time we were together. Almost daily texts went out to the group, like “I have the tea bags and sugar,” and “Do you think we need to pack toilet paper? We ran out last time…” and “I just got a great deal on Chips Ahoy!”

The day began with all eight of us (Kady’s best friend included) getting up mega early. We all took turns entertaining the baby while everyone finished getting ready, did the last minute packing, and got stuff together. We girls would put bags and boxes by the door and the boys would dutifully haul them to the cars where Paul played a game of Grown-up Tetris and managed to pack both trunks to their capacity. Our goal was to leave a 9 a.m. At 9:21 we were rolling out of the driveway – a pretty good record for us actually. Paul and I were in the lead, Sam, Kady, and Matti were in the middle, and Abby, Dakota, and the baby brought up the rear. We had two walkie-talkies, so Sam and I immediately started radio communications. Kady and Matti thought they could just get on there and talk all civilian and all. I informed them that no communication would be recognized unless it ended in “over.” Sam changed his handle from Red Leader to PorkChop halfway through the drive. I remain Momma Bear.

We met my sister’s crew at Lambert’s where we were pummeled by flying rolls and Paul and Dakota ate chicken friend steaks big enough to feed third world countries. We separated once more to do our own thing while we waited until check-in time and of the 79,963 things to do in Branson, we ended up at Walmart. We had to grab milk and a stroller (yeah, we totally forgot that important item) and a loaf of bread. Then it was back on the road to Hollister to our gorgeous home-away-from-home for the weekend. We stayed there two years ago and it perfectly suits our crazy crew. Three stories – one entirely for the teens – plenty of rooms and a big ol’ dining room table perfect for sitting around and playing cards and games.

As always, we packed entirely too much food, laughed a ton, loved on the babies, visited, and just enjoyed being together. The guys went fishing and played pool. The teenagers swam or played Xbox. We women talked, read, napped, cooked. We visited Silver Dollar City the same day as the Duggars, but alas, I didn’t even get a tiny peek at my favorite giant family of Arkansans. Saturday we went shopping. Wemberly got new clothes, the baby got new clothes, I got Sam a hot dog cooker for his apartment (something every college Freshman should have, right?), and I got a new coffee maker. Evenings were spent at the 5 & 10, visiting Krispy Kreme and playing card games.

15 people. One family. Lots of junk food. Ridiculous amounts of laughter. Tons of love. I can’t wait until next year.