The Perfect Day In Every City I’ve Ever Called Home

In honor of the monumental fact that we will NOT be moving this summer (as I mentioned in an earlier post, this is only the 4th summer in over a decade that we’ll actually be staying put), I thought it would be fun to reflect on all of the amazing places I have already lived. The places I’ve called home range across regions, state lines, and even continents, making for quite the variety of locations. Each of my former homes have their own unique personalities–their own quirks and highlights that outsiders may not be attuned to.

As such, I’d like to share with you my highlights reel–the best each city has to offer. As a bonafide insider (or, in most cases, at least a former insider) I have discovered many of the hidden gems in each of these places. Read on to see what my perfect day would be in every city I’ve ever lived in.

Starting, now, at the very beginning…

Phoenix, Arizona

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I was born in Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix. And, although I haven’t lived there since I was a baby, we still have plenty of family in the area and I’ve visited often throughout my life.

My perfect day would be in mid-April when the weather is still mild and the cactus are blooming. I’d wake up decently early and head over to Camelback Mountain for a hike before the day heated up. Once at the top of the mountain, I’d take in the sweeping views of the city and the desert below.

After all of that physical exertion, I’d be good and tired…and hungry. I’d stop for lunch at an authentic taqueria for some queso and tortas before heading back to my hotel (I’m staying at the Royal Palms–go big or go home). Next, I’d check in to the hotel spa for my Quatro de Palma full body massage–after all, I did hike already today. After my massage I’d lounge in the sun by the pool for a bit sipping an ice cold prickly pear margarita.

When dinner time rolled around I’d peel myself off my lounge chair and head over to Malee’s for some out of this world Thai food. I’d order 5 or 6 dishes and then I’d just sit there for as long as it took me to down them all. The food is that good and I know I wouldn’t regret it (ok, I’d definitely regret it, but it would still be worth it).

After dinner I’d head out of the big city to my grandma’s small desert town of Cave Creek for some late-night entertainment: wild west desert-style. Once in Cave Creek I’d head over to the Buffalo Chip Saloon to take in the spectacle that is amateur bull riding while listening to the live bands.

After watching the bull riders get punished in the ring, I’d return to my plush hotel bed– thankful that I still had each and every one of my bones still in tact.

Seattle, WA

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I have spent most of my years living in the greater Seattle Puget Sound area. Although I’ve lived in four different cities in the area, I’ll concentrate my efforts on the larger city for which the region is actually known. After all, nobody probably wants to hear the finer points of the cities that I’ve actually lived in (even though Federal Way has such a nice ring to it…).

My perfect Seattle day is in late August when the days are long and warm and…perfect. I would start with a hearty breakfast at Portage Bay Cafe. I’d order the Oatmeal Cobbler French Toast and then I’d head straight over to the breakfast bar to douse the whole plate in all the fresh berries and whipped cream my plate could bear. Then I’d lick off all the berries and whipped cream and I’d go back for more. On repeat. Until my belly burst or they kicked me out of the restaurant, whichever came first.

Next, I’d roll myself out of the restaurant and head over to Agua Verde on Lake Washington to rent a kayak or a SUP. After paddling through the Montlake Cut, I’d make my way into one of the secluded inlets with leafy tree branches stretching over the water and turtles sunning themselves on logs and lily pads…and I’d take a nap. Just a little snooze to reward myself for all of that grueling paddling through pristine blue waters. After my nap I’d make my way back to Agua Verde and I’d stop by their cafe for some chips and homemade salsa and an ice cold horchata.

Now it’s lunch time, so I’d drive over I-5 to Fremont so I could stand in line at Paseo for approximately infinity minutes. And it would be worth every single one of those infinity minutes because at the end of it I would eat the world’s most glorious Cuban sandwich. Heaven on a bun, slathered in garlic aioli. I’d take my sandwich down to Gasworks Park so I could sunbathe and watch the sailboats on Lake Union while I ate my lunch licked my fingers clean.

After lunch I’d head downtown to take in the sights and sounds of the city. I’d wander through Pike Place Market and stop for some cheesecake at the The Confectional (P.S. Apparently all of my “perfect day” activities revolve around stuffing my face full of food. Now you now the secret to my perfectly toned post-baby body. You’re welcome.).

Now that it’s late afternoon–and I’m exhausted from my endless eating throughout the city–I need a break. I’d walk back up to Westlake Center and explore some of the shops before booking myself a 60–no, a 90-minute–massage at Ummelina Day Spa.

After my massage I’d catch an Uber over to Canlis for the best dinner in Seattle (Disclaimer: I’ve never actually eaten here because reservations are impossible to secure and the meals cost a bajillion dollars, but it’s on my bucket list and everyone tells me that I must go and I’m a lemming so we’ll just go with it.)

My day would end with a bonfire on Alki Beach in West Seattle surrounded by all of my friends and family–and that would truly be the perfect ending to my perfect day.

San Jose, Costa Rica

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Between my Sophomore and Junior years in college I studied abroad in Costa Rica–and even though my time there was short, the country still captured my heart. I found home among the palm trees and the crashing surf and the pura vida, so I’m including it here on my list.

My perfect day would be in late October, during the dry season but before the tourists arrive for their winter holidays in the Caribbean.

I would wake up in a beach bungalow on the Pacific side of the country, maybe Playa Sámara where the sand stretches for miles or Manuel Antonio where the monkeys run rampant. I’d drink jugo fresco de morado (fresh-squeezed blackberry juice) and eat gallo pinto (rice and beans doused in salsa Lizano), grilled sweet plantains, and mangoes plucked from the tree outside my front door.

After breakfast I’d snorkel in the pristine blue waters, take a quick zipline tour through the rainforest, then take a nap in a hammock while sipping a piña colada.

In the afternoon I’d magically transport myself to Volcán Arenal so I wouldn’t have to drive on the narrow, treacherous roads that are the only way to actually cross the country. Once at the volcano I’d check in to my suite at the Tabacón Hot Spring Resort. Then I’d head downstairs to bask in the dozens of earth-heated hot spring pools while watching the red lava flow down the side of the volcano in the distance.

I’d end my day with a moonlit walk on the beaches of Tortugero where I’d witness the hatchlings of giant sea turtles push their way from their sandy nests into the breaking waves.

Cork, Ireland

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In 2013, when our boys were just 11 months and 2 years old, we decided to move halfway around the world to Ireland. Sure, why not. Looking back at this time in our lives, I think we were absolutely NUTS-O, but I suppose if you know me then you already knew that anyway. And I wouldn’t trade our time in Ireland for anything, so maybe crazy is good.

We lived in Cork, the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland (Although “largest” is a relative term. People there are still outnumbered by sheep, about 2:1.). The perfect time to visit Cork is late May when the weather is glorious (or at least as glorious as one can hope to find in Ireland) and the tourist crowds are still small.

My perfect day in Cork would begin with breakfast at the Mahon Point Farmer’s Market where I would buy freshly baked almond croissants, rich hot chocolate (made from melted handmade chocolates and milk fresh from the cow over yonder), and local Irish strawberries. I’d eat scones with jam and clotted cream, and sip cup after cup of Barry’s tea. I’d sit at one of the outdoor tables surrounded by daffodils and produce stands, listening to live music and contemplating my next move.

Next, I’d head over to Fota Wildlife Park to visit the free-roaming kangaroos and giraffes, the tigers and the howling monkeys. From there, I’d continue on to Cobh, the quaint seaside village that was the last port of call for the infamous Titanic. In Cobh, I’d go through the interactive Titanic Museum, stop by the little red history museum, and marvel at the gorgeous cathedral on top of the hill.

In the afternoon I would drive out to Bllymaloe House for a late lunch at what is probably–no CERTAINLY–the single best farm-to-table restaurant and culinary school in the world. I would eat whatever they cooked that day (because that’s all there is to eat)–hot-out-of-the-oven breads; meats that, earlier that day, were still wandering in the grassy paddocks behind the manor; fish that were plucked from the sea mere hours ago; vegetables from the on-site Garden of Eden; hand-churned ice creams…you get the picture. And, since everything there is served family style and all-you-can-eat, I’d just keep eating and eating and eating and eating.

After one of the most incredible meals of my life, I’d take the short drive over to the Ballycotton Cliff Walk for one of the most incredible hikes of my life. As I’d wander through the cliffs over the sea I’d marvel at the sheer beauty of the sea and the force of nature.

To end my day, I’d return to the City Centre for dinner and craic at a Local. I’d eat steak with grilled onions and tomatoes. There would be live music with guys sitting around tables in the dark pub strumming their guitars and fiddles and bodhrán drums and we’d sing along between sips of icy Bulmers Cidres. We’d stay until way too late but I wouldn’t care, because this is Ireland. And tomorrow we’d eat a Full Irish and life would go on.

San Francisco Bay Area, California

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Our most recent adventure has brought us to the technology capital of the world, Silicon Valley, in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is actually our second stint living in the Bay Area (we lived here for two years pre-children while Jon completed his Master’s degree), and it really is starting to feel like “home”.

Every day–literally every day–is perfect weather in Silicon Valley, so it wouldn’t matter what time of year my perfect day occurred. My day would begin with a run with good friends to the top of The Dish (a looming hill behind Stanford’s campus with giant satellite dishes at the crest). I’d take in the gorgeous view of the campus, San Francisco Bay and the cities beyond before making my way back down for brunch at Cafe Borrone (Acme Pan De Mie French Toast topped with fresh berries and vanilla bean whipped butter. And a mimosa. Or two.).

After breakfast I’d drive over “The Hill” to the beach in Santa Cruz where I would lay out my blanket, pull out my book, and drift away to my happy place. I’d just lay there in the sun, listening to the waves crash at my feet. All. Day. Long.

If I had the energy and motivation I might walk over to The Boardwalk to go for a ride on the historic wooden roller coaster or indulge in a mint-chip waffle cone, and I’d definitely grab a slice of surfer pizza from Pizza My heart.

Once I was thoroughly rested and rejuvenated by the surf, I’d drive back over The Hill for an out-of-this-world dinner at Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino (you get to hand-pick your meat and nosh on amuse-bouche while you wait for your meal to be prepared–and they reward your patience with fresh-spun cotton candy at the end of your meal).

I’d end my perfect day with a visit to The Mountain Winery in Saratoga for a concert while we sipped red wine under the moonlight.


 

Thank you for coming along with me on my perfect days.

Now excuse me while I recover from jet lag and go on a diet.

 

 

 

 

 

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The No-Spending Project

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine posted on Facebook about how she and her family recently completed a month-long no spending challenge. For 30 days they spent money only on necessities (rent, utilities, simple meals, gas), and they found creative ways to make up the difference. I was inspired by what I consider their act of bravery. I wondered: Could I do it? Could I go without all of the little extras–the Amazon purchases, the random stops for lunch when we’re out, the kid events, the little trinkets, the gifts, the coffee–even for a little while?

I decided to find out.

I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take on a whole month, but I knew I could handle a shorter time…say, 10 days. Just to see what it was like. Just to test the waters. Just to become more aware of my spending and, hopefully, save a little money in the process.

Before I began my 10-day challenge, I laid out a few ground rules for myself. First, there was to be no frivolous spending (obviously)–my credit card became totally off-limits. In addition, I could only spend money on necessities that couldn’t wait until after the challenge (bills that became due, doctor co-pays, etc.)–the groceries already in my house and the gas already in my car would have to suffice. I should also note that Hubby was traveling for work during most of this time, so that made it really easy for me to control what was being spent or, in this case, NOT being spent!

Here’s a rundown of how my no-spending project played out:

Day 1:
We spent most of the day at home doing school and catching up on chores. I saved money on housecleaners by teaching the boys how to put away their own clean laundry and handle a broom and a dustpan #forthewin. Since I kind of decided to do this whole no-spending challenge on a whim, I hadn’t filled up my car with gas and was already hovering below half a tank. In the afternoon I decided to take the boys for a walk in our neighborhood instead of driving to the park so we could save some of that precious fuel for another day when I really needed to get out of the house.

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Day 2:

We spent the morning at Playhouse (an indoor preschool play time at our church) where I happened to win a Starbucks gift card in a raffle (coffee would still be had this week–Thank you, Jesus!). After Playhouse we brought a picnic lunch to the park down the road where we met up with some friends. We spent most of the afternoon playing in the park and exploring the creek. I even had some leftover carousel tickets from when we’d had David’s birthday party in the same park that we were able to use for a special ride.

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Day 3:
We went to the library and checked out about 400 books and movies to get us through the week. We ate leftovers for every meal. I also drank some wine that my friend had given me as a party favor at her daughter’s 4th birthday party the weekend before. Have I ever mentioned how much I like my friends?

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Day 4:
We had planned on going to a park day with our homeschool group but at the last minute we got rained out. Not one to cancel fun, I looked into some indoor options for us. A few weeks ago I’d purchased a Groupon for Pump It Up (just picture a giant warehouse full of inflatables and sweaty children bouncing off the walls), so we decided to switch gears and head over there.

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The boys spent 2 hours jumping/climbing/sliding/hurtling their bodies through space. Then we went home for lunch and a nap (and by nap, I mean I took a nap with the baby while they watched PJ Masks in the living room) .

Day 5:
We spent the morning at a lovely race–even the boys got to run and win their own medals!

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It had already been a long week and I needed to feed my feelings, but since the grocery store was off limits I decided to spend the afternoon in the kitchen. We baked chocolate chip cookies and scones, then had a proper tea party to nosh on our bounty.

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Day 6:
Mother’s Day! Since Jon was out of town and my children are too young to have the decency to sleep past 5 AM, I decided it was time to cash in that Starbucks gift card I’d won earlier in the week.

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The rest of the morning was spent at church, and then we went home to pick up some beach gear. We ate a picnic lunch in the car while we were driving (because having children strapped into a carseat is just about the only sane way to get them to eat, anyway). We managed to find one of the last free street parking spots at the beach and spent the rest of the day lounging in the sun and surf.

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Day 7:
More school, more chores, more leftovers. In the afternoon we went to the boys’ gymnastics class and while they were in class I snuck out for a quick walk on the nearby trail (45 minutes alone…well, mostly alone except for the baby…was starting to feel like a mini-vacation!). After gymnastics we picked up a dinner order before heading home (I ordered the dinner using a meal-delivery gift card that we’d been given as a gift when Hannah was born…only they don’t deliver to our house, so I had to pick it up from my friend’s house. And they were late with the delivery. And I had 3 screaming, tired kids waiting in the car. But it wasn’t leftovers and I didn’t have to cook it, so it was still worth it.).

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Day 8:
After a full week of very full time parenting I just needed some time to myself so I decided to find some creative ways to carve out some no-cost me-time. First on the agenda was reading a book. I’d been trying to read this book all week, but by the time I got all 3 kids in bed at night (and staying in bed) I was usually so exhausted that I fell asleep on the couch by the end of the first page. Instead, I decided to distract the kids at the park so I could sneak off to a bench by myself and read mid-day. This tactic worked wonderfully. I sat there incognito for nearly an hour before the wild banshees realized I was missing.

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The boys had swimming lessons at the YMCA in the afternoon. After swimming lessons I took advantage of the free childcare and got a quick run in on the dreadmill before mommy guilt took over and I ran breathlessly back to check on my fragile infant and crazy boys who were surely wreaking havoc on the poor underpaid childcare staff.

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Day 9:
Daddy came home! Praise the Lord, Daddy came HOME. There was no need to spend any money today because all I wanted to do was throw the children at him and hide in a dark closet by myself.

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Day 10:
We had a very full schedule of gymnastics class for the boys (their last one…thank goodness because I am SO not the mom who can shuttle children to activities every day of the week), a veterinarian appointment, and another swimming lesson. It all seemed totally manageable, though, because I had HELP! Jon’s mom (better known as Grammy around these parts) had arrived for her quarterly baby oggling…er…family visit. And when Grammy is in town, we all get spoiled. She came bearing treats and promises of delivering Childrens’ Heaven on Earth (a trip to McDonald’s for Happy Meals). With free help and free treats, it was an easy end to my 10 day no-spending challenge.

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At the end of my 10 days, I’m happy to report that YES, I CAN go without spending. In fact, I actually rather enjoyed the challenge! It was a good exercise for me to recognize where I spend unnecessarily and to find creative ways to use what we already have access to. As a side note, we also received our tax refund in the mail during my no-spending challenge. Coincidence? I think not.

Although the official challenge is officially over, I’m going to keep at it. I do need to go to the grocery store and fill up my car with gas (our pantry and gas tank are both empty), but I’m going to continue my no-excess spending challenge for the rest of the month.

Now, how about you: How long could YOU go without spending?

 

Home

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“When will we be home?”

Lately Jacob has been asking me this question. Frequently. Like, several times a day. It’s a simple enough question, given the right context. Say you’re out running errands or visiting a neighbor. Or maybe you’re away from home for an extended time, on vacation or traveling somewhere. There are plenty of scenarios where the question “When will we be home?” makes sense. What makes Jacob’s query unusual, however, is the fact that he almost always asks me, “When will we be home?” when we are, in fact, at home.

I can’t blame the kid for his confusion. In his 41 months of life he has already moved “home” 3 times, and over 9,000 miles at that. In fact, this August will be the first August in his entire life that we will NOT be moving to a new home (and only the 4th August in over a decade that our family will stay put. I’m actually in the process of petitioning the government to change the name of August to Moving Month.). For Jacob, home is an impermanent idea more than it is a place.

His question simultaneously amuses me and breaks my heart. After all, one of my jobs as a parent is to provide stability in my childrens’ life…and how can I do that if they change homes as often as they change their underwear (c’mon, folks, we all know how little boys roll).  As much as I want my children to be able to set down roots and call a place their own, however, the question of “When will we be home?” has gotten me thinking.

Maybe there’s something to be said for the realization that we are not home. Something to be said for living life a bit differently, a bit unsettled, on purpose. Something to be said for adjusting to a place while trying also to avoid fully adjusting. Something to be said for the fact that all of us are outsiders, in a way, and that we will never truly be home until we are with Jesus. The Bible tells us that we are strangers, pilgrims, aliens and sojourners on earth (Hebrews 11:13-16, 1 Peter 1:1, 2:11-12) and that our citizenship is in Heaven (Phil. 3:20).  This place, this entire planet, is not home. It is a place of work, a battlefield, and a proving ground, but it is not home.

If I truly believe this–that my entire life is just a stopping off point on my journey–then it changes things. Radically. It changes the way I teach my children about home and, in fact, changes the very definition of home. In wanting to provide those stable roots for my children, then, maybe I don’t need to have a single place that we call home. Maybe instead of cement, our foundation will be The Word. Maybe instead of doors, we will open our hearts to God and to others. Maybe instead of windows, we will reflect the love of Jesus to the world. And in doing so, maybe we will help bring others home.

I don’t know when or where or if we will ever settle in a home, but I do know one thing with certainty. With hope there is home, and I have enough hope to carry me through infinity Augusts.

And in the end, I will truly and forever be home.