What To Do In The San Francisco Bay Area

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In a few weeks we have a good friend from Ireland who will be coming to California for the first time. Ok, ok…she’s more than a friend. She’s my all-time favorite babysitter, and I’m kind of hoping she’ll fall in love with America and move here forever. And by “here” I mean the spare mattress in our guest room. And since I want her to love America, I thought I’d give her some ideas of top-notch destinations to see once she arrives.

I logged in to my blog to pull up a post on what she should do when she visits the Bay Area only to realize that I have never written that post! How have I lived here for 3 years and never given you all ideas of what to do when you come? Better late than never, so here are a few of my favorite things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area:

San Francisco:
If you are coming to the Bay Area, it’s likely because you want to visit the foggy city. Even though it’s only an hour away from our house, I don’t venture up to San Francisco that often. I have kids with small bladders and it’s a bit of a to-do…and it’s cold in The City (California has made me soft–so soft that minor temperature changes have become deterrents. I’m sorry.).

There are hop-on-hop-off tour buses in the city that will take you to many of the top landmarks, or you can buy a MUNI (bus) pass to get around quite easily. If you have your own car, you may want to just park it somewhere that doesn’t cost more than your mortgage and walk or take public transportation within The City because parking here is no bueno. San Francisco is only 7 miles x 7 miles, so it’s totally do-able to see most things by foot anyway.

Now, on to my favorite spots to visit in the city.

Golden Gate Bridge (duh)
I always start my venture over the bridge at the view point and visitor center on the San Francisco side of the bridge. If you’re driving your own car you can park for $1 per hour while you hop out to look around and shop for Golden Gate souvenirs. I always walk out on the bridge so I can look up at the copper spans and down into the deep blue water.

After stopping by the view point I like to drive over the bridge and up to the Marin Headlands. You park up by the old Army barracks and take a short walk out to the best view of the bridge anywhere–you’re slightly above the bridge looking down at it, and it’s absolutely breathtaking.

If you’re feeling more adventurous you can rent a bike on the city side and ride over the bridge on 2 wheels (there are several spots to rent bikes, but we got ours at the Sports Basement when we did this ride pre-kids). You can ride over the bridge and right back to where you started, or you can ride all the way to Tiburon and catch the ferry back to the city.

Fisherman’s Wharf
This is a fun area to explore. There are lots of (overpriced) shops and restaurants, and even a Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. Go check out the sea lions on the pier, eat some bread bowl clam chowder, or even charter a boat out around the San Francisco Bay (highly recommended). We like to walk up to the Buena Vista for an Irish Coffee and then over to Ghiradelli for free chocolate samples and ice cream.

Fisherman’s Wharf is also where you catch the boat out to the most infamous prison in America: Alcatraz. If you want to visit Alcatraz, plan ahead–the only way out there is by boat, and spots fill up quickly. Your best bet is to buy tickets ahead of time and reserve your spot online as soon as you know the day that you want to go out to the island.

Trolley Rides
Speaking of Fisherman’s Wharf, there’s a great spot to watch the trolleys turn around in front of the Buena Vista and, if you want to, go for a ride! Taking a trolley ride is a lot of fun and about as iconic as you can get! I like riding the route between Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square (shopping, hotels, restaurants, and more shopping). This route passes close to Lombard Street if you want to hop off and check out the twisty-turnies.

Golden Gate Park
Go for a walk on the gorgeous trails, rent a boat at the Stow Lake Boathouse, or check out some of the museums–the California Academy of Sciences (where you can walk through a 3-story rainforest biodome and view a myriad of sealife in the aquarium) is my fave.

Chinatown and Little Italy
There is so much to explore in these little neighborhoods of San Francisco. Eat your way through the streets, poke your head into the little shops, and enjoy the world-class people watching.

Catch a Giant’s Game
San Francisco loves their hometown heroes, the San Francisco Giants (Baseball, people. They’re a baseball team.). Head over to AT&T park for a game or, if you’re like me, just nosh on some garlic fries while enjoying the gorgeous views over San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco Zoo
I loooooooove zoos! Every time we travel I have to see the local zoo, and I love visiting the local zoos where we live. The San Francisco Zoo is a good-sized place with all of your favorite animals: giraffes, monkeys, penguins, polar bears, lions, and a tropical rain forest building. There’s also a cute little train ride that goes around part of the zoo and decent food in the cafes. It’s definitely worth checking out if you have an open day!

Bay Area Discovery Museum
This is more for those of you who are traveling with little companions aged 1-7 years old. Just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito, I love this children’s museum for its interactive exhibits, indoor/outdoor play spaces, and pirate ship playground overlooking San Francisco Bay. Insider pro tip: the first Wednesday every month has FREE admission!


Day Trips From San Francisco:
Outside of The City there is still plenty to do! Here are a few of my top picks:

Wine Country
Take a tour bus out to Napa or Sonoma for a day of wine tasting and soaking in the beautiful scenery. Or, if you still want to go wine tasting without the crowds, head south toward the Santa Cruz Mountains (where we live!) and sample dozens of local wineries in a single afternoon.

Beaches
From San Francisco your best bet is to head over to Half Moon Bay so you can dip your toes in the Pacific. Continue south to Santa Cruz if you want a day of amusement park fun at The Boardwalk: rides, fair food, and a giant wooden roller coaster await.

The Redwoods
Ummmm…some of the biggest, oldest living things ON EARTH. Need I say more? It’s worth a trip. Some forests to check out if you’re near San Francisco: Muir Woods (12 miles outside of the city), Big Basin, Portola Redwoods State Park, or Butano State Park.

Silicon Valley
Now, I’m partial to Silicon Valley because this is where we’ve been living for the last few years. It really is a unique spot to visit, especially if you’re into technology and tech companies. All of the big tech companies are based here, and many have visitor centers you can check out: Apple, Google, Facebook and Netflix to name a few.

Monterey and Carmel-By-The-Sea
These are some of my all-time favorite coastal towns. They’re just so quaint and beautiful and slow-paced that they make you feel a million miles away from any care in the world. If you make it to Monterey, be sure to check out the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, go sea kayaking with the marine life, or go out on a whale-watching tour. If you’re in Carmel, drop everything you’re doing (which is probably not much of anything if you’re in Carmel), and eat brunch at Mission Ranch. Just trust me on this one, and send me your thank you card later.

Now that you know what to do, all you have to do is come enjoy your own San Francisco treat!

10 Rules Of Mommy Laundry

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Back before I had children I remember contemplating what life would be like once I had babies. I imagined how much fun it would be to share in adventures with my offspring and how wonderful it would be to see them learn about the world around them. I knew too, of course, that there would be certain work associated with having children: more cooking, cleaning, and tending. One thing I was not prepared for, however, was the sheer amount of laundry that amasses each day when you add kids to the mix.

I have three children now, which means I do laundry approximately every ten seconds. We actually have a sixth member of our family, and it is the mountainous laundry pile that lives downstairs next to the washing machine. Laundry for days, laundry for weeks, laundry for eternity.

Since I spend such a large chunk of my life devoted to my family’s laundry pile, I have noticed a few patterns. A few rules of mommy laundry, if you will:

  1. If you touch it/smell it/look at it funny, it’s dirty.
    We aren’t risk takers! We don’t want to risk cross-contamination! Never ever ever put something that could potentially be dirty back in your drawer.
  2. Set clothes next to the laundry hamper.
    Science has proved that there are adverse magnetic fields surrounding the laundry hampers of children that make it nearly impossible for soiled clothing to actually make it in to the laundry hamper. Next to the laundry hamper, in the vicinity of the laundry hamper, even hanging on the handle of the laundry hamper is the best we can hope for our clothing.
  3. Only put one sock in the laundry hamper.
    Goodness only knows what would happen if two matching socks actually made it into the same batch of laundry. Would there be sibling rivalry mid-cycle? Would civil war break out in the dryer? We dare not find out.
  4. Leave your underwear inside your pants.
    Who are these crazy people who take the unnecessary extra step to separate underwear from the inside of their pants? When I go to put my pants back on, won’t I need to wear underwear, too? Let’s streamline efficiency here, folks, and just leave the undies inside the pants.
  5. Wear white in the mud.
    Let’s go puddle hopping! Or play soccer! Or roll down a hill! You know what is the perfect color to wear for these outdoor pursuits? White. Always white. That way you can see the efforts you made at enjoying your mud-laden experience. Clothing is merely a canvas for your creation.
  6. Leave crayons in your pockets.
    You never know when you might need a crayon, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and always leave one or two of them in your pockets. That way when your pants go through the dryer the crayons can melt and leave beautiful multi-colored wax on everything (including the dryer). Jackson Pollock would be proud.
  7. Poop in your pants.
    It’s just funny and it makes mom laugh.
  8. Eat spaghetti while wearing your “nice clothes”.
    Mom doesn’t buy us too many nice clothes, so when we get to wear them it’s a special occasion. Special occasions call for special food, like our favorite food: spaghetti. And do you know what’s even better than eating spaghetti? WEARING spaghetti! Those nice linen shirts and frilly dresses look great with a little added décor.
  9. Have diaper blow-outs when you’re wearing tight-fitting clothing.
    What fun is a diaper blow out if Mom or Dad can actually change you easily? Wait until you’re wearing a tight romper or something with loads of tiny buttons. It’s super fun getting out of these outfits once they’re smothered in poo. Mom will be so excited that she’ll do a whole separate load of laundry just for you and your little surprise!
  10. Find the non-washable paint, and use that.
    Yes, I know they have shelves and shelves full of washable paint at preschool, but why use that junk when you can get your hands on the good stuff? Non-washable acrylics are far superior. When you’re using this non-washable paint, also be sure to not roll up your sleeves, and certainly do not take any precautions not to spill on your outfit.

May your days be ever full of love…and laundry.

Out of Control

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This week at MOPS we started something called “The 28 Day Challenge”–basically a month-long truth or dare game for grown-ups. It’s awesome. On the first day of our challenge, the “truth” was to tell about what ways you feel out of control in your life.

Ummm…hold up. Are there any ways in which I actually feel IN CONTROL in my life right now? The jury is in, and the answer is a big fat NO.

This past month has been a bit of a whirlwind. Literally. January started with a series of storms that left us stranded, isolated, cold…and completely out of control. Those four days that we were trapped in our house with no electricity and no means of escape were some of the most “out of control” feeling days I have ever experienced.

Then Inauguration Day happened and…well, ya know. Out. Of. Control. (I want to keep this about me here, so we’re going to just mosey around all of this political mumbo jumbo for the time being. Moving on, now.).

And then there is my personal life. Let’s just say that there was a huge decision out on the table that was going to affect every aspect of our family’s life. It was monumental. We spent months praying about God to open doors so we could have some sort of discernment when making The Decision. A few weeks ago we finally made up our minds and committed our hearts to The Decision. Right when we were patting ourselves on the back for making one of the biggest decisions of our life and getting excited to move forward with everything–BAM! The door shut. Out. Of. Control.

This month has taught me that my world is actually quite small, and it doesn’t take much to move from hunky-dory to earth-shattering. I have spent a lot of time praying and crying and questioning everything over the past few weeks. It’s been terrible…and wonderful.

I’ve had a lot of time to think this month (turns out, sitting in a dark house with no electricity for four days allows for a lot of thinking time). In all of my thinking, I’ve realized something. This is important, now, so pay attention:

The World and my little world are not mine to control.

THEY ARE NOT MINE. None of it is mine. The world? Not mine to control. The weather? Not mine to control. Political leaders and their decisions? Not mine to control. The Decision and it’s outcome? Not mine to control. Not. Mine. To. Control.

And, guess what?  I’m fine. Weary and confused and with an aching heart many days, but fine. Because someone else who is far more capable and compassionate and omniscient than I am IS in control.

Out of control, I have realized, is an opportunity to live out my faith. If I say, “Yes, God, I trust you!”, then I have to actually TRUST Him. I have to trust Him in the storms and in the answers to prayer that aren’t the answers I wanted to see. I have to trust Him in the good times AND the difficult times. When I feel out of control, I have to trust Him that what He says about himself and who He is and what He can do is true.

Control is not ours for the taking. The irony of control is that the only way to actually gain control is to release it–to sacrifice my false sense of control to the One who actually IS in control. Only after I release control can I experience the peace and the hope that comes from trusting God.

As mind-blowingly difficult as “out of control” feels, it is actually a very good place to be. I don’t like out of control, not even a little bit, but I’m going to allow it. I’m going to take a step back and just sit with my out of control for awhile. I’m going to take my doubts and my worries, and I’m going to turn them into prayers. I’m going to look for the blessings around me and celebrate the good that still happens in the out of control. I’m going to trust God.  And then? I’m going to watch in amazement at what happens on the other end.

So, if you’re joining me in the out of control club, welcome. Welcome to the chaos and the confusion and the craziness. But more importantly, welcome to the hope that comes through trusting the One who is in control.

Starry Eyed

 

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You may have noticed that things have gone kind of quiet on here lately…for a whole month, to be exact. Life has been BUSY. In the last month, both boys celebrated their first day of school (all the “WOOHOO”s!), which is a whole thing. Getting kids early to bed, and early to rise every day with a hearty breakfast in their tummies and a healthy lunch in their backpacks is no joke. And while the kids have been celebrating their first days in their new adventures, I have been busy preparing for a first day of my own. Today all of my efforts came together and the adventure finally began!

But before I tell you about the new adventure, let’s rewind a bit.

About 2 years ago, shortly after we moved to California, I joined a group at our church called MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers). I’d heard of MOPS for years (in fact, my Mother-in-law was one of the founding leaders of MOPS International back in the early 80’s), and I had several friends in MOPS groups, but it just never worked out for me to attend a group of my own. Once we were in California, however, I knew that I needed to find a place for me. A place where I could connect with other moms AND get a break from my (darling) children (who were completely overwhelming to me at the time).

MOPS has totally filled that space in my life. As soon as I joined the group at our church I started meeting new mom friends and getting connected. It was love at first sight. For the past 2 years, MOPS has been the thing I most look forward to every week. It’s been a total game-changer, and I’m so glad I finally decided to be a part of it.

Now, fast forward a bit. Shortly after I started attending my MOPS group, I was asked to step into leadership. But not just any role, the main role. Like, be in charge of the whole group. I’d only been in the group for about 2 months, so I was honored that they would even ask me…but  I had to say no. This was right when we were considering homeschooling the boys for the following year, and I knew that I couldn’t lead both my boys and the MOPS group well. I declined, but I told them to think of me again in the future if they needed more leaders.

Fast forward another year, and the opportunity came up again to take over leading the group. Hannah had just been born and I was sensing that homeschool wouldn’t be the right fit for our family the following year. If we didn’t homeschool, I knew that I would have the time and energy to pour into MOPS and I could give a leadership role the attention it deserved. The timing was right this time, so I said yes! The next few weeks were a blur of learning as much as I could from the standing coordinator before she handed the reigns completely over to me. By the end of May, the transition was complete and I found myself suddenly in charge.

Over the summer I planned leadership retreats, tracked down about a dozen community leaders to come speak at our group, worked with the church staff to plan and execute publicity and marketing materials, and tried to learn as many of the behind-the-scenes details as I could. There are, as it turns out, a LOT of behind the scenes details that go in to running a ministry.

Everything was coming together beautifully. Then, about 3 weeks ago, tragedy struck. Our ministry leader and my mentor, Dee, suddenly passed away. Dee was a huge advocate of MOPS, and she had a great love and passion for our group. Her passing was a shock to me and to everyone in our church and community who knew and loved her. At her memorial service a couple of weeks ago, hundreds of people filled the room to share funny stories and precious memories of this incredible woman. Dee will be greatly missed by me and by her MOPS family.

But even in the face of tragedy, today came.

Today was our first official meeting of the year, and it was amazing. We had about 50 moms at our first meeting, and as I was walking around the room everyone seemed to be having fun and connecting well with one another. We had a huge breakfast spread and there was enough coffee for everyone. Win, win, win.

My team worked so hard to make the room welcoming and gorgeous (thank goodness for them, because I still haven’t even figured out how to hang up pictures in my house!). I was so busy running around that I didn’t get many photos, but here are a few photos of the room before the moms arrived this morning:

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Everything ran smoothly, and I am so grateful. Grateful for the incredible moms that I get to travel with on this grand adventure, grateful for God’s provision, and grateful for the calling to leadership.

This morning I gave a brief talk at the group to introduce myself and the MOPS International theme for the year, “We Are The Starry Eyed”. It went something like this:

MOPS Welcome Talk 2016: We Are The Starry Eyed

Like all of you, my family is very important to me. I love my family more than life itself, and I will do anything for them. Well, almost anything. There is one thing, however, that I have sworn off until my kids move out: housecleaning.

Not too long ago, before I decided to boycott housecleaning, I decided to vacuum my house. Now, you have to understand that even before I quit housecleaning, I did it very rarely. Like, only when the filth and the general level of broken health codes required that I do something.

Unfortunately, we had reached that point, and the cleaning simply had to be done. Between a dog, two boys who spend most of their waking hours tromping through the woods, and a baby who is learning the fine art of “self-feeding”, our house had reached a new level of disgusting. Even I couldn’t ignore the mess any longer.

So, when the stars aligned and I had both a napping baby AND two boys happily playing Legos in their room at the SAME TIME, I seized my opportunity. I quietly slipped upstairs so the happily playing boys wouldn’t realize I was trying to be productive (A mom’s productivity is, of course, the quickest way to make her children need her). I took out my vaccuum and I spent 20 minutes attempting to remove the layers of filth that had accumulated in the month or so since I’d last braved housecleaning.

When I finished vacuuming upstairs, I proudly surveyed the work I’d accomplished. As I was patting myself on the back, however, I realized something. It was quiet. TOO quiet.

Every mom knows that TOO quiet is the second most-feared sound, next to the terrifying high-decibel scream that follows the silent scream when your baby gets hurt.

I took a deep breath and headed downstairs to the boys’ room, bracing myself for what I would find. When I tried to open their bedroom door, however, it wouldn’t budge. I finally pushed my way through and discovered the source of the barrier: clothes. Lots of clothes. Piles of clothes. In fact, strewn across the floor was every single piece of clothing our family owns (P.S. We own too many clothes). Clothing from every dresser and every closet and every shelf was piled in the center of their room. Forget that I had just spent an hour folding laundry and putting it away that morning. Now, we had MOUNT LAUNDRY…and it was about as tall as Mount Everest.

But we were just getting started. I walked down the hallway to put the vacuum away in the laundry room. When I entered the laundry room, I was greeted with pure chaos. The boys had emptied our craft bin and “decorated” the entire room with streamers and stickers and paper cutouts and scrapbooking decor. It looked like someone had taken a Hobby Lobby and shook it out all over the room. It was, the boys declared, a party.

And just when I thought I’d seen enough, I looked down and saw the dog’s water dish. Where there should have been clean drinking water, there was a yellow puddle. I didn’t even need to ask the boys, because I already knew. They had been using the dish as target practice–PEE target practice. And, in all honesty, I was quite impressed they were able to aim and hit such a small target with such accuracy. That takes mad skills.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or scream or just pass out right then and there. So, I decided to take some age-old advice: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Since this was a PARTY according to them, we had our party. We put on the party hats that were lying on the laundry room floor and we finished hanging the streamers over the door. We jumped in the pile of clothes like it was a giant leaf pile.

And then we got to work. We dumped out the dog dish and disinfected the living daylights out of it. The boys learned how to fold socks and pants and shirts. The party is still up in the laundry room, because it’s actually kind of cute and it makes laundry day a little bit more fun.

I made a conscious decision that day– one that didn’t come naturally, but that was necessary in that moment (for my sanity and the physical safety of my children). I decided to embrace the mess. Because, in the end, isn’t that what life is like?

There are times in life when everything seems to be going well, but then–BAM!–some MESS happens. The drawers of your life are emptied out into a giant pile in the middle of the room, and you can’t even see around the mess.

A tragedy strikes your family. You long for another baby, but it’s just not happening. Your husband leaves town for business right as your toddler contracts a double ear infection. Your housing situation falls through. Loved ones pass away, and you are reminded of the fragility of life. We see injustice in the world, and it breaks our very hearts. You’re having an “I Quit” day and you just want your mommy, but Mom lives a thousand miles away. You yearn for a better tomorrow while just struggling to get through today. Motherhood is full of dark times. There is pain. There is sorrow. There is despair. Darkness comes in many different forms, and we all face it at one time or another.

But there is hope! Even in the darkness, we can find the light of hope. This year at MOPS we will be joining together as friends and comrades to support each other on the front lines of motherhood. Through both the light and the dark–no matter what we are going through, whether it’s a “dark” struggle or a “light” joy, we are in this together. Because together? Together we are stronger. And together, we are The Starry Eyed.

Starry Eyed means looking for the light, even when darkness is enveloping. It is an opportunity to hope recklessly and to witness God’s presence guiding things seen and unseen, comfortable and uncomfortable. Starry Eyed means running wildly toward hope when it seems that all else has been lost. Starry Eyed means finding the wonder in the mundane (Can I get an “Amen” for endless piles of laundry and dishes?!). Starry eyed means finding comfort in the kindness of friends and strangers alike. Because this journey of motherhood? It can be rocky and confusing and downright scary. But as the Starry Eyed, we find our hope and wonder and kindness together–and we find refuge.

Psalm 139:12 says, “Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.”

When we are going through the dark times of life–the chaos and the mess–we can find our refuge in God. We can choose to live courageously in both the light and the darkness, because He’s GOT this. We can perform significant acts of kindness that will send ripples of light out into the world. We can open our eyes to wonder, and choose hope over fear. We can move forward courageously, because we are the Starry Eyed.

When we reflect back over our lives, this year is going to stand out. It will be the year that we decided to live fully by both sunlight and moonlight. It will be the year that we embraced the beautiful mess that is motherhood. And the best part is, we will experience it all together.

So, thank you. Thank you for joining us on this journey at MOPS this year. YOU are important, and we are so glad you’re here. This will be a year where we will be stretched to challenge ourselves as individuals and as mothers. It will be a year that we will create new friendships and deepen old relationships. It will be a year when we will laugh and cry (and laugh and cry some more…because we’re moms, and that’s what we do best). It will be a year of learning to embrace both the dark and the light, because…

we are the Starry Eyed.

 

10 Signs I’m Too Tired To Mom

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This week I read a hilarious post over at Scary Mommy called 20 Signs I’m Too Tired To Mom (disclaimer: the linked post contains language a shade more colorful than my own). Before I even read the article I was giving mental high-fives to the author because…amen, sister. I felt like I could write my own “Signs I’m Too Tired To Mom”. So I did.

With the joys of summer (full-time kids is intense) and a husband who is working on an increasingly more demanding project at work and an infant and a dog who has both a broken tooth and a Urniary Tract Infection (Lord help us all), I’m finding that I, too, am tired. Not like *yawn* “I’m sleepy, let’s go take a nap” tired. More like “just wake me up when they’re teenagers and ready to do their own laundry and cook their own dinner” tired.

And here’s the proof:

  1. Story time under false pretenses
    Let’s read a book, kids! Oh, wait…what’s that? There’s a movie version of that exact book (or at least a movie in a similar genre/theme/category as said book)? And it’s available on Netflix? Hold up, this is real world learning. Text-to-film connection or something. Let’s start the streaming (and excuse me for the next 74 minutes while I lock myself in my bedroom…)
  2. I encourage “independence”
    Yes, you can make your own breakfast (a spoonful of peanut butter topped with chocolate chips). Yes, please dress yourselves (no underwear, backward pants, inside out shirt). Yes, you may play quietly in your own room (dump out every toy box and empty every game box into a mountain of toy shrapnel in the center of the room). You’re on your own, kids.
  3. I can’t find my sunglasses
    They aren’t in the car. They aren’t in my bag. They aren’t in any place where a reasonable human being would put them. I blame the kids and/or dog for hiding them and while I contemplate appropriate punishment I happen to walk by a mirror. And then I find them. On top of my own head.
  4. Time warp
    Dinner is served at 4:30 and we’re wrapping up the bedtime routine by 6. What’s that you say, dear children? Why is it still light outside? Because of the tilt of the Earth… and the end of Mommy’s rope has officially been reached. Goodnight.
  5. Cooking takes on new meanings
    If I have warmed something up–whether by oven, stove, or microwave–that counts as cooking. Actually taking raw ingredients and transforming them into edible fare is a totally different ballgame, and we just don’t go there now. Frozen chicken nuggets? Not anymore–I cooked them (at 425 for 9-11 minutes). Marie Callender’s chicken pot pie? Tastes just like homemade (vent the packaging and microwave for 5-7 minutes).
  6. Nightly routines
    …now consist of tucking in the kids and promptly passing out on the couch with a bowl of popcorn on my lap.
  7. I go to the gym
    …but not to work out. They had me at “90 minutes of free childcare”.

4. I lose track of things. Like counting in order.

9. Bath time
My kids love bath time, and they’re happy to stay in the tub for a good 20 minutes.                That’s the time equivalent of 16 games of Chutes and Ladders. Added bonus: bath                  time = contained children, contained children = contained mess. Added, added                        bonus: they come out smelling better than they did going in. Win, win, win.

10. Early riser
This is counter-intuitive, but waking up early actually helps me counter-balance the            perpetual tiredness. You see, I know that once the wee ones awaken, there’s no                      stopping this train wreck. So I’ve started setting an alarm and waking up before                      everyone else in the house (and, as it happens, before the sun itself makes                                an appearance) just so I can have 2 minutes of peace before the crazy begins. If that’s            not absolutely insane, I don’t know what is.

I could keep going on and on and on…but I’m just too tired to keep writing. Good luck, moms, and good night.

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?

 

A Photo Tour Through Our California “Mountain” Home

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Ah, home sweet home. This week marks one month since we moved into the house we now affectionately refer to as River House (even though the “river” that supposedly runs behind our house is currently only a dry creek bed. I’m sure the massive El Niño they’re predicting for this winter will take care of that in no time, though).

It was a bit of a gamble moving out here–we’re getting a steal of a deal on the rent (by Bay Area standards, not by normal human standards), but the house is in the “mountains” (Californian for tree-covered hills). Even though it is physically quite close to civilization, there is an absolute feeling of remoteness. Though only two miles separate River House from town and the rest of Silicon Valley, the two places sometimes feel like they are worlds apart: Mountain people drive trucks instead of Ferraris; in the mountains you hear crickets and cougars (yes, large wild cats share our property) instead of The 101 or 85; in the mountains your gardener is Jesus, not Jesús from Ramirez Brothers Landscaping. And even though we’ve only been here for a month, I kind of love it.

I know you’ve all been curious to see what life is like out here in the boonies, so here’s a peek inside our little mountain life.

We are probably the only house in the mountains (or anywhere, for that matter) that has a large cement goose wearing a dress and an Irish welcome plaque at the front door. You really can’t miss us.
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Once inside the threshold you enter the Great Room. Turning left you’ll see our living room and school corner. My favorite part of this room is the massive vaulted cedar ceilings and the river rock fireplace (we’ll talk more about the necessity of that fireplace in a moment).IMG_6503

To the right of the living room is the area we’ve set up as the dining room and, beyond that, the kitchen.
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I love our kitchen at this house! It’s spacious and bright and, as of last week, fully functional. See our brand new fridge? This was a gift from our landlords two weeks after we moved in…after our old fridge died. We went 4 days with no working fridge which made storing food and eating fresh food a bit of a challenge. The ordeal gave me a greater appreciation for my pioneer ancestors. With the help of our generous neighbors offering us space in their fridge and a chest freezer in our garage, however, we persevered and survived the Great Fridge-pocalypse of 2015.
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The kitchen is so spacious that I actually have empty drawers and cabinets–and that’s saying something considering we own such obscure kitchen gadgets as an apple-peeler-corer-slicer and a Turkish coffee station.IMG_6519

Remember how we’re living in the mountains, and it’s full of wonderful surprises? Well, no tour of our kitchen would be complete without the inclusion of our little kitchen friends, the ants. And the gnats, but they’re too small and too fast to snap a photo of.IMG_6518

Off the kitchen is one of our five decks. This one is currently housing our BBQ…and a drying rack with our swim gear.IMG_6512

Speaking of the decks, we spend quite a bit of time out on them. This is Bota’s deck (she allowed a guest for the photo op):IMG_6514

And the boys’ play deck:IMG_6130

Back inside the house, we’ll finish the tour of the top floor of the house. Just off of the Great Room/Kitchen set up is the master bedroom (or, if you ask the boys, The Boys’ Second Bedroom):

IMG_6471Notice the utter lack of grown-up bedroom furniture. We had sold half of our bedroom furniture before we moved to Ireland, and then we sold the rest of it this summer so we wouldn’t have to move it. This was before we realized that we actually need bedroom furniture for absurd purposes like HAVING FURNITURE TO USE. Our mattress is currently sitting on the floor, I’m using a Rubbermaid container as a night stand, and I literally found Jon’s nightstand in a dumpster. It’s actually pretty cool, because we feel like we’re in college again. Not to worry, though, because our real Grown Up furniture has been ordered and is en route as we speak (!).

From the bed you can see our two private decks and gas fireplace–once you look past the Rubbermaid nightstands, it’s quite the retreat. IMG_6469

The white door you can see to the left of the fireplace is our closet. It’s a massive closet with ample storage for our clothing (and our full suitcases and boxes full of clothing, because it turns out bedroom furniture like dressers are actually useful for things like holding your clothes).IMG_6473Continuing on through the master suite you come to the master bath. The soaking tub is so inviting to my achy pregnant body but, unfortunately, I can’t use it. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but California is in a DROUGHT, which means there are water restrictions in place. And by water restrictions, I mean our mountain home is basically siphoning water from the city through a straw and if we go over our allotted amount, the water police will come knock down our front door. And they’ll fine us thousands of dollars, but whatever. Alas, the soaking tub will have to wait.
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Finishing up the tour of the master suite is our…office corner? I don’t even know what to call it. We have a dresser, filing cabinets, boxes of crap we don’t want to unpack, a bookshelf, school stuff, and a random office chair (with no desk) crammed in there.At least there’s a pretty little deck to go stand on if you want to get out of the mess!
IMG_6472This is also where we house our modem (for the world’s slowest internet) and our landline telephone (because we don’t get cell phone reception at the house). See, it really is like we’re in college again.

That wraps up the top floor of the house! Now, down to the first floor.

The boys’ bedroom is the first room you come to at the bottom of the stairs. We have their bunkbed set up so they can practice their climbing and diving skills from more precarious heights.
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Opposite the bunk bed is the boys’ dresser and reading corner. Pay special attention to the most important addition we’ve made to the bedroom: our eye in the sky camera.IMG_6496

Since the boys are now residing on a different level of the house from the parents, we considered it prudent to install surveillance apparatus. The camera allows us to capture all of the bedtime moments when the boys are anywhere but in their beds.IMG_6425

Next door to the boys’ room is the nursery/storage room/guest room/play room (don’t ever let me be your interior designer). This is the nursery side of the room (Yes, we are 4 months early, but it was just easier to set everything up than store it):IMG_6475

The closet in this room is stacked floor to ceiling with baby paraphernalia: IMG_6477

The opposite side of the room is currently acting as the boys’ play room (because this room has a door that locks, thus containing the mess and the temptations).

(Not pictured: the center of the room, the “guest room”, where we will set up our blow-up air mattress for anyone who wants to brave a visit).
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Also downstairs is the boys’ bathroom. It’s cute, but it smells like pee, so I try not to go in there.IMG_6474

We also have a lovely laundry room downstairs with a utility sink (an absolute necessity with children, I’ve decided).IMG_6479

One whole wall of the laundry room is lined with floor-to-ceiling cabinets. The cabinets are chock-full of electronics equipment (What, that’s not what you store in your laundry room?)IMG_6480

Outside of the laundry room is a linen closet and our game closet. We rarely play games, so I find it absurd that we own this many. Anyone want to come over for a game night soon?
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If you go down the hallway past the laundry room you come to our garage. It’s pretty well organized with storage along the walls, infinity toys on one side, and a narrow sliver of empty space down the other side where Jon can maneuver his car inside to park (it’s a very shallow garage, so it’s quite amusing to watch this transaction take place).IMG_6494

Outside the garage we have our yard. Yup, that’s it. Our property line extends 6 feet on either side of the house and is backed by the (dry) creek and a canyon wall, so this is the entirety of our outside space.IMG_6488

You may have noticed a wooden fence in front of the house (see the photo at the top of this post if you need a refresher), and you may have thought that was a nice little fenced-in yard. You would be wrong. What that is, my friends, is the propane tank enclosure. Because we live off the grid in the mountains, our main heat source for the house is propane gas (what?!?!). Since moving here, I have had to endure propane safety lessons with the gas company and join a propane users support group. True story. Thankfully it’s still FREAKING 100 DEGREES EVERY DAY HERE, so we haven’t had to try out the whole propane gas heat thing yet.IMG_6482

Now, I mentioned earlier that the fireplaces were important, and now you know why. With propane being our main source for heat, and propane being VERY EXPENSIVE, we are told that we will be relying on those fireplaces more and more as the seasons change. As such, we are stockpiling wood scraps and collecting them in aesthetically-pleasing boxes around the outside of our house. You’re welcome, neighbors.IMG_6483

Now, with all drawbacks (bugs, propane, water restrictions, slow internet, no cell service, no yard) aside, River House really does suit us well. Every time we walk out our door we are greeted with nature’s playground:IMG_6493

We have woods and canyons and creeks to explore. It feels very much like the Northwest, and very much like home.IMG_6441

And, though you can’t see the houses or the people very well in this photo, we have incredible neighbors. Neighbors who invite us over for dinner and let us borrow their fridge when our fridge dies and who invite us over for bonfires and s’mores and whose kids have Power Wheels drag races with our kids in the street. The neighborhood is teeming with children the same ages as our boys and we’ve all made fast friends. It’s a wonderful tight-knit community, and we feel lucky to live here.IMG_6486

I hope you’ve enjoyed your tour through our mountain home, and let us know when you’re ready for a visit! I’ll even blow up the air mattress for you.