What To See and Do With Kids: San Francisco

Moving on to part 2 of this little travel series (If you missed part one’s adventure to Portland, check it out here!).  Today’s location is one that is near and dear to my heart: San Francisco, California. I’ve spent a total of 5 out of the last 10 years living in the San Francisco Bay area–2 years while Jon was in grad school (when our only child had fur and four legs), and then a few years later when we returned for another 3-year stint with our kids.

While we never lived in San Francisco proper, we did spend enough time in The City to discover some special kid-friendly spots (which is really saying something considering I don’t think any actual children live in San Francisco any more). Read on for a few of our favorites!

DISCLAIMER: All tips and tricks are based on my limited and biased perspective. I am the self-proclaimed expert here because I have actually been to these places with actual children and have survived to tell the tale. I always love hearing from other experts, though, so if you have your own tips, tricks, or favorite insights to share please leave a comment at the end of the post!

San Francisco, California
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Where To Stay:
Since we were day-trippers into the city I  don’t have much solid advice for you on this subject. I will note a few tips, however, if you’re trying to find lodging in San Francisco:

  • Parking in The City is scarce and very expensive, so try to stay near a public transportation line such as Muni (the city’s bus and metro system), the cable car lines or, if you plan on exploring areas outside of the city, the BART (commuter train).
  • Try to find lodging in the city center.
  • San Francisco real estate is *ahem* quite pricey which drives up the hotel rates–consider renting through a vacation rental company such as Airbnb or VRBO.

What To Do:
Before I get into this I need to say one very important thing about visiting San Francisco: it’s cold. You may think that it’s warm because it’s in that land of eternal sunshine called California, but San Francisco is a land unto itself. A cold land. Do yourself (and your kids…and your sanity…) a favor and pack along some warm layers and a rain coat. You’re welcome.

Moving along to more exciting matters now…

My very-favorite kid spot in San Francisco, and one that I made a point of visiting frequently when we lived in the area, is Bay Area Discovery Museum (BADM). BADM is located across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco in the seaside town of Sausalito–which means the first part of your adventure to BADM involves a trip across one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the world.

Take some extra time to explore the bridge before or after you visit the museum–you can either pull over on the San Francisco side right before you get to the bridge (there’s a fun little gift shop and visitor center here), or cross over the bridge and drive up to the Marin Headlands for a birds-eye view of The Golden Gate.

Once you get to BADM park in the large fields out front and enjoy your day exploring the indoor exhibits (they’re all set up inside former army barracks) or take a trek outside to hike on the nature trails and play on the giant pirate ship play structure.

Once you get back into San Francisco, spend some time exploring Golden Gate Park. This giant park in the middle of the city is full of trails to explore, ponds to paddle on, and museums that pique every interest.

My favorite kid-friendly museum in Golden Gate Park is the California Academy of Sciences. The museum itself is breathtaking with a grass-covered roof and an indoor 4-story rainforest where you can climb through every layer of the rainforest. The museum also has natural history exhibits (DINOSAURS!!) and an aquarium. There are plenty of hands-on activities to keep little hands and minds occupied.

Another must-do when you’re in San Francisco is a trolley ride. I like to hop on the Powell-Hyde trolley at the Powell stop downtown. Get off the trolley at the top of Lombard Street where you get a great view of the “twistiest street in the world” (It’s not actually THE twistiest street in the world, but it’s definitely in the running for that honor and a visit there makes for some great photo-ops and entertaining tourist-watching).

After you’ve gotten your fill of watching cars try to navigate the zig-zags on Lombard Street, hop back on your trolley and continue down to the other end of the line at Hyde. You’ll get off near Ghiradelli Square, so take a brief detour to get some chocolate or ice cream sundaes at the Ghiradelli Chocolate cafe (Or, if you need an afternoon pick-me-up, an Irish Coffee at The Buena Vista next door).

While you’re in the area, visit Fisherman’s Wharf to watch the sea lions on the docks or take a boat ride through The Bay. And speaking of boats, this is also where you can catch a boat out to one of the most infamous (former) prisons in the world: Alcatraz. If you plan on visiting Alcatraz, definitely try to buy your tickets in advance–this is a popular destination and tickets sell out quickly during tourist season (Which, as far as I can tell, lasts from approximately January 1 – December 31 each year.).

If your kids enjoy animals (What kids don’t like animals?!) head over to the San Francisco Zoo. The zoo is a good sized with all of the expected animals (the giraffes even have a view of the ocean from their enclosure). There’s also an indoor rain forest exhibit, a train you can ride through the park, and an epic playground where your kids can let out their inner monkey. After you’ve seen all of the animals, head down the road for a little play time at Ocean Beach so your baby can eat sand and you can dip your toes in the Pacific.

What To Eat:
San Francisco is a melting pot of people and cultures, so I would recommend treating your dining experience as a trip around the world. You can visit Chinatown for dim sum (Do yourself a favor and head straight for the oldest–and best–restaurant in Chinatown: Sam Wo); Little Italy for pasta or 40-clove Garlic Chicken at The Stinking Rose; the Mission District for authentic Mexican food at La Taqueria; or Ethiopian food at Tadu in SOMA.

The Farmer’s Markets are also amazing and most of them operate year-round–check the current offerings by day or neighborhood here. While you’re at the market, grab some goodies that you can pack along for a picnic by the beach–maybe you can nibble your organic veggies and vegan cheese while you watch your children frolic in the waves.

Pure. Bliss.

I know that this just scratches the surface, so now it’s your turn! What are your favorite things to see and do with kids in San Francisco?

 

What To See And Do With Kids: Portland

Hello, friends! It’s been awhile. Between months of terrible weather (Hello, winter in Seattle.) and me endlessly trying to escape it, I haven’t made much time for writing lately. Spring is finally here, though–and with no more snow to shovel, I have a renewed desire to get back to writing. So let’s get this party started, shall we?!

I just mentioned that I spent most of the past few months trying to escape the winter weather, and I wasn’t kidding. In the last 5 months I’ve been to Hawaii, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and Portland…and those are just the destinations that took more than 1 tank of gas to reach. Now that I’m settling down from my winter wanderings I’ve had some time to reflect–about what I enjoyed about each destination and how I might travel differently next time.

So an idea was born: a blog series about what to see and do in some of my favorite family-friendly travel destinations. Over the next few weeks I’m going to write posts about different locations that I’ve visited with my kids and a few insider tips in case you decide to escape reality with your own brood. First on the docket: Portland, Oregon.

DISCLAIMER: All tips and tricks are based on my limited and biased perspective. I am the self-proclaimed expert here because I have actually been to these places with actual children and have survived to tell the tale. I always love hearing from other experts, though, so if you have your own tips, tricks, or favorite insights to share please leave a comment at the end of the post!

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PORTLAND, OREGON
Over my kids’ spring break last week I took them on a little road trip. We visited my grandma in southern Washington and then went on to Portland, Oregon. I’d been to Portland several times before, but this was my first visit brining my kids. We had a great time and we’ll definitely be back again!

WHERE TO STAY:
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Portland. My priorities for finding this hotel were: 1) Close to all the action downtown 2) Indoor swimming pool and jacuzzi (Because why would you ever stay at a hotel with kids and NOT have a pool???) 3) Not a totally terrible place (remember, I was by myself with 3 kids).
This place checked off everything on my wish list and then some.

Pros: Reasonably priced, free parking (most of the hotels downtown charge around $30/night for parking), free breakfast (Including fresh Cinnabon cinnamon rolls–double bonus!), clean rooms, friendly staff, property is adjacent to two coffee shops and a Jack-in-the-box (I just feel like this is important to mention.), and it has an indoor pool and jacuzzi. The pool was heated to tropical ocean temperatures, which meant we could spend 2 hours swimming off our drive and nobody ever complained about being too cold.

Cons: Not within walking distance of most downtown attractions (I’m looking at you, donuts.), very confusing freeway situation getting to the hotel…but I think that’s Portland’s fault and not the hotel’s.

WHAT TO DO:
OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry): This is a must-do if you travel to Portland with kids. It’s part science museum, part IMAX movie theater mecca (I think they had a dozen different movies showing the day we were there!), part submarine experience (You can go on a real submarine that is submerged in a real river and go on a tour led by a real Navy captain. True story.), and part foodie destination (Seriously–OMSI has the best museum cafe I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a LOT of museum cafes!). Plan on spending a whole day here.

Powell’s City of Books: I don’t even know where to start with Powell’s. When they say that they are a “city of books” that’s not just them trying to be cute. It is literally a city of books. Well, an entire city block, anyway. Powell’s book store fills an entire city block and is something like 25 million stories tall (At least it feels that way when you are in the lowest level–where the children’s books are located–and nature calls so you have to drag 3 children up multiple flights of stairs to find the only public restrooms.). Powell’s carries both new and used books that intermingle harmoniously on the bookshelves: You may find a brand-new copy of Disney’s Peter Pan right next to a vintage original from the turn of the century. And speaking of old, there is a rare books room on the top floor that more mature children with gentler hands and quieter voices than my children may enjoy–some books in the rare books room are nearly 1,000 years old which just makes every book nerd bone in my body tingle.

Portland Aerial Tram: This quick tram ride gives you a great view of the city and, if you catch it on a clear day, the surrounding mountains (I could see all the way from Mt. St. Helens in Washington down to Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood in Oregon on the day we were there). The tram itself is actually a functional way for people to get from downtown (by the river) to the hospital (at the tippy top of a hill). Bring a few bucks for your fare or, if you’re strapped for cash, just schedule a quick procedure at the hospital at the top of the hill and your ride will be free of charge.

Oregon Zoo: I’ve never actually been to the Oregon Zoo, but everyone says that it’s wonderful. I’m adding this to our must-visit list for a future trip.
Bonus: The Oregon Zoo participates in the reciprocal zoo program. If you have a membership to the Woodland Park Zoo (or most other zoos around the country), you can get half-price admission to the Oregon Zoo with your membership. And, as an added bonus, the Oregon Zoo is now a sensory inclusive location–they have backpacks you can check out for free that include items like noise canceling headphones, sunglasses, and fidget tools so that all kids can enjoy their zoo experience.

Multnomah Falls: Located just 30 minutes outside of Portland, this 600-foot waterfall is a breathtaking side trip. There are kid-friendly walking trails around the waterfall and a beautiful viewing bridge. If it’s a hot day you may even get to cool off in the waterfall’s spray–nature’s water park!

And speaking of waterparks…

Wings and Waves Waterpark: Technically this is not in Portland, but it’s just shy of an hour away in McMinnville, OR. And, again, I have not been here before…but I’ve had friends go and was adequately jealous of their Facebook posts about this place so I thought it would be worth including. Wings and Waves is a giant indoor waterpark complete with twisty waterslides, splash pads, and swimming pools (they even have a huge screen above one pool where they show movies). There is also an air museum next door for all of your aviation buffs.

WHAT TO EAT:
I was trying to decide if I should make a separate dining category for Portland or just put all of this under “what to do” because, honestly, most people just go to Portland to eat. Any way you put it, though, food will be a central part of your Portland vacation!

Brunch:
The weekend brunch scene in Portland has a strong game. If you can get your kids to sleep in (ha!) or if you’re ready for second breakfast by 10:30 then I highly recommend a family brunch adventure. There are dozens of restaurants that vie for the top spot in the brunch game: HunnyMilk, Mother’s Bistro, Tasty n Alder, Pine State Biscuits. I could tell you about the melt-in-your-mouth biscuit sandwiches or luxe eggs benny but you might just be better off tasting them for yourself.

Food trucks:
Every few blocks in downtown Portland you will find a brilliant phenomenon known as the food truck pod. In empty parking lots and abandoned spaces you will find clusters of food trucks waiting to offer you fare from every corner of the globe. From curry to crêpes, pierogi to pizza there is something sure to please every palate (even the bland, picky ones typical of the under-four-feet-tall set). Just start walking down any street in the Pearl District downtown and you’re sure to bump into a food truck pod (or twenty) so you can discover your own delicacies.

Dessert (or just whenever):
Portland is known the world over for their donuts, but the locals have a bit of a debate about which donut shop is king. For the cult followers, a trip to Voodoo Doughnut is a requirement (Because who doesn’t want a donut that looks like a zombie with a jelly “blood” center?). The purists, though, prefer Blue Star Donuts. Why not try them both and decide for yourself?

If donuts aren’t your thing, maybe ice cream will hit the spot. In keeping with the city’s motto of “Keep Portland Weird”, even their ice cream shops have to mix it up a bit. Have you ever wanted to taste pear and blue cheese ice cream or have edible flowers mixed in to your sorbet? Then look no further than the ultra-creative flavors of Salt and Straw. You won’t find any plain Jane vanilla here, but that’s not why you came to Portland.

 

Now it’s your turn! What are your favorite go-to spots for families in Portland?

 

A Love Letter To My Daughter On Her Third Birthday

51078369_10103073984926620_4062535618834464768_nDearest Hannah,

Every time I sit down to write one of these birthday letters I am conflicted. On one hand I am  overjoyed at having known you and loved you for one more glorious year. On the other hand, however, a piece of me grieves that yet another year has already passed us by. I know that the time we have together is finite, so I want to treasure each precious year for what it is worth: a priceless, fleeting gift. This was the only year in your life that you will ever be two; and for me, it is the last time I will have a child who is two. Today you turn three–THREE!–and together we will enter a whole new phase of your life.

I have noticed that more significant than the ages you are, you kids go through important stages. It’s easy enough to tell when you are in the throes of a stage, but the endings are somewhat more subtle. There’s Newborn Stage, marked by sleepless nights and endless feedings, and…well, that’s really all I remember because I think one of the defining factors of Newborn Stage is maternal memory loss. When you are in the middle of Newborn Stage it feels long and arduous and incessant, and then suddenly one morning you wake up and realize that you are actually now in Toddler Stage.

This was your last year in Toddler Stage as you learned how walk (and climb and run and jump and dance) and to speak (something you have learned quite WELL, my dear!). Toddler Stage was marked by daily new discoveries and growing into the little girl who we knew was inside that baby. And now, without hardly realizing it, you have shifted into the next stage: Little Girl Stage.

And what a remarkable little girl has emerged! You are perhaps the most persistent child I have ever met–once you set your mind to something you can not, will not let it go. You are kind. You are silly (you’re also the only girl I know who will have full-on “tooting contests” with her brothers while wearing a sparkly pink tutu!). You are incredibly smart and you have an uncanny ability to remember minute details (Thank goodness I have you to help me because I wold be lost without your reminders!). You love ballet and all things pink and your crazy big brothers and singing “Jesus Loves Me” and making espresso with Daddy and cleaning up messes and stroking your worn pink gigi when you want comfort. You are amazing. And you are you. And that is the best.

So now as we enter Little Girl Stage I can not wait to see who else you become. What will be your passions? What will drive you and what will make you stop in your tracks? Who will you choose for friends and what will you play together? What new places and new passions will you discover? The world will open up more and more to you each day, and I can’t wait to see the mark you make on it.

Our family and, indeed, the world has been better these last 3 years because you have been a part of them. Happy third birthday, sweet Hannah–and may this be your best one yet!

I love you always and forever,

Mommy

The First Day of School: Timeline of a Kindergarten Mom

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There’s this absolutely crazy thing happening tomorrow and I can’t quite wrap my brain around it yet: MY LITTLE(est) BOY IS STARTING KINDERGARTEN! Now, obviously I’ve know that this day was coming for approximately as long as I’ve known this child, but it’s still caught me off-guard. How on earth did I go through the (insanely long) pains of labor, turn around, and suddenly have a little boy who will be LEAVING ME? Tomorrow. This growing up thing truly did happen too fast and I still won’t admit that it’s actually happening. After all, Denial is the first stage of surviving motherhood.

My saving grace is that I’ve already been through the first day of kindergarten with my oldest son and, I am pleased to report, that I survived the ordeal. You see, the first day of kindergarten is kind of a big deal. Yeah, it’s a big deal for the kids…but it’s a REALLY big deal for the parents. Especially the moms. A lot happens on that first day of kindergarten–and for the moms, it looks something like this:

6:00am    What is that annoying beeping noise? Oh, it’s an alarm. I haven’t had to use one of those since my college days when I had to make it to an early class at, like, 11:00. But alas, now it is time to get up so I can prepare myself mentally/physically/spiritually/coffee-ly for the day ahead.

6:30am    Shower and get dressed because you know once the kids are up the rest of your morning will be swallowed up in the “we must be out the door by 8:30” tornado.

6:35am    Start preparing a special breakfast for your new kindergartener. They should definitely have a full tummy before they leave for their big day. We can resume Cheerios and bananas (if they’re currently in a “willing to eat bananas” phase) tomorrow.

7:00am    He’s awake! Your groggy kindergartener (we’ll just call him “K”) slinks down the stairs and tries to sneak his tablet up to his bedroom before you can notice that he’s there. Nice try, bub, but your ninja stealth will have to wait until the weekend. We’ve got work to do.

7:05am    K asks for breakfast. You tell him that you’re making him a special breakfast and it will be ready soon.

7:06am   K asks for a snack. You remind him of the breakfast that you are currently exerting extreme effort toward preparing for him and if he’d just leave you alone for 5 minutes you could actually finish making it so we could eat.

7:10am   K asks for a snack again. You politely refuse.

7:12am    K asks for a snack again. You make a mental note that between the hours of 9:00am and 3:30pm he will not get to ask you a single time for a snack. Kindergarten is sounding better and better all the time.

7:30am    Breakfast is served! K is not hungry.

8:00am   Send K up to his room so he can get dressed in the outfit that you selected together last night so there wouldn’t be any wardrobe drama on The Big Morning.

8:10am  Go up to K’s room to see how adorable he looks in his back to school outfit. You open his bedroom door and find him laying on the floor playing Legos…naked. Well, at least he got out of his pajamas.

8:11am    K refuses to wear the approved outfit. Present him with other appropriate choices and have them all vetoed in favor of pajamas or superhero outfits.

8:22am    Make a truce that if K will wear real clothes to school today then he can wear pajamas all weekend, even to church. I’m sure God approves of being cozy.

8:25am    How is it already 8:25?! We have to be out the door in 5 minutes MAX, actually more like 4. And we haven’t even taken the required first day of school photo on the front porch yet. You start yelling like a toddler who was just served his sandwich with the crust still attached–everyone must put on their shoes NOW.

8:28am   Not one single person save yourself has put a single shoe on their own foot. There are 100% shoeless feet milling about the hallway. Give the yelling another try.

8:31am  Great, now we’re a full minute late. Oh well, at least now he has his shoes, jacket, and backpack on. Photo op!

8:32am  Give K the super cute chalkboard with all of his first day of school stats that you worked on all last night. Tell him to hold the chalkboard straight and smile. He holds the chalkboard upside down and makes a goofy face. Close enough.

8:35am   Drive K to the bus stop because you’re going to drive behind the school bus the whole way to school today and make sure he does, in fact, get from point A to point B.

8:37am   The bus should be here any minute! The anticipation is palpable.

8:39am   Hmmm…where is that school bus…?

8:43am    There is a school bus coming, right?

8:48am   The bus finally arrives (apparently schedules are only moderately heeded by school buses). You watch nervously as K walks toward the bus. He walks up the stairs, sits down in the front row, and doesn’t even wave goodbye. So it begins.

8:49am   Jump back in your car and follow that bus like your a PI tailing your highest priority suspect.

8:54am   Try to park your car in the (very full and chaotic) school parking lot but realize that all of the other moms followed the school bus today so there’s no parking left. Park down the street and hustle back to the school so you can watch K go into his classroom.

9:00am  Arrive at K’s classroom just as the bell is ringing. You have just enough time to give him a hug and a (discreet) kiss before his teacher opens the door.

9:02am   K walks in the classroom and you can see him hang up his backpack before he disappears around a corner. Realize that this is it: he’s officially in big kid school. Commence: ugly cry in the middle of an elementary school hallway.

9:04am  You pull yourself together when another mom comes over and gives you a big hug. She’s been there before, too, she says.

9:05am  Sneak over to the classroom window and steal a last peek of K inside his classroom. He’s busy coloring something at a table and he seems totally comfortable and not at all like he already misses his mommy. Decide that it’s safe to leave.

9:06am   Wait! I get to leave! FREEDOM!!!

9:10am    Get in your car and contemplate all of the amazing things you could do today now that you have childless freedom. Become overwhelmed by the options and decide to just drive home.

9:11am – 3:30pm   Putz around your house and periodically miss your child.

3:31pm   Walk to the bus stop so you can greet K when he gets off the bus.

3:40pm   The bus should be here any minute!

3:45pm    Hmmmm…where is that school bus?

3:49pm    There is a school bus coming, right?

3:53pm   You see a big yellow bus coming up the road—he’s home!

3:54pm   K hops off the bus and he smiles his Happy Smile when he sees you. All the hugs and kisses.

3:55pm   As you walk home, you ask K how his day was and what he did and who he played with and how he likes his teacher and what was his favorite part. He replies to the battery of questions with a shoulder shrug.

4:00pm   K runs in the door to your house, throws his backpack on the floor, and asks for a snack. Some things never change, and that’s a good thing. You give him a plate of chocolate chip cookies (that you actually had time to bake while he was off at big kid school). On his very own he says “thank you” and you say, “where did you learn such polite words?”. “School!” he says, and you realize that this kindergarten thing might not be so bad after all.

***

To all of you starting a new season of adventures, may it be the best one yet!

Dear Lily

Birthday cupcake

In 2015 I had a miscarriage and we lost what would have been our third baby. This is a letter to that child.

Dear Lily,

Today would have been your third birthday and, as much as I wish you were here celebrating with us, I have hope that some day I will see you again. And that, my precious one, will be the greatest celebration of all! Until then, however, I just want you to know that we remember you.

I think of you often, and sometimes the funniest things will remind me of you. A toddler’s giggle. The first flower I see poking out of the spring soil. Sunshine after a storm. There are little reminders of you all around and it makes me smile every time I see one of them.

Your brothers are getting ready to go off to “big school” together for the first time in a couple of weeks and I can’t help but wonder what you would have thought of them–their silly antics, their endless energy, their unwavering devotion to the things that they love. I know that they would have loved you.

Hannah is two now and I can’t help but wonder if a piece of you lives on in her. She is made of smiles and giggles, and she has a knack for melting hearts. I like to think that she has an extra dose of love to give because she carries some of your love inside of her.

It’s a strange thing to miss someone you’ve never met and to love someone so deeply when you’ve never actually seen them face to face. But I am your mommy, and that is enough. Even though I never got to hold you in my arms, I will continue to carry you in my heart–on your birthday, on the ordinary days, and on the extraordinary days.

So today, Lily, we remember you.

Always and forever,
Mommy

Too Old For Tutus

ballet3A few weeks ago I turned 35 and, now that I’m officially in my mid-thirties, I’ve noticed a few changes in my life. I’m more experienced, more confident of who I am in my own skin, more driven to achieve personal goals, maybe even a bit more wise. What I am not, this week has proven with certainty, is more athletic.

In my teens and twenties I was at the top of my physical game: I danced, I competed in gymnastics, I ran marathons. There seemed to be no limit to what my body could do with enough training and mental fortitude. But then something happened. I turned 30, popped out 3 babies, and my body decided that it had had enough. D.O.N.E. Done. My glory days are over, and it is time to settle the heck down. Old habits die hard, though, and I continue to think I can still act and do and move like I did a decade or more ago. Which is how I came into my present predicament.

Yesterday I decided to try out a new extreme sport: Mommy and Me Ballet.

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Mommy and Me waiting for our ballet class to begin

Why, you might ask, is Mommy and Me ballet an extreme sport? Isn’t that just a playful class of tiny dancers and their mommies twirling and hopping around a dance floor? Why, yes. Yes, it is. But somehow–somehow–I managed to turn this most innocent of toddler experiences into a death-defying physical battle and I ended up leaving the class in crutches.

How on earth does this happen? Well, let’s just say I’m too old for tutus.

The ballet class started out about as adorable as 8 little blonde two year olds in pink tutus can be. We twirled around the room to Disney music and practiced hopping on colored dots scattered across the floor. All fun and games so far. When we moved to the ballet barre, however, it all went downhill (for this nearly-over-the-hill mama, at least).

We were asked to raise up to our tippy toes and then plié…up, down, up, down, up, down. Basically we were doing pretty calf raises. As we were doing our pretty calf raises, however, I heard a strong snap in the back of my right leg–almost like a sudden and severe charlie horse that wouldn’t go away. By the time I got down from my tippy toes I realized that this was bad. This was very, very bad.

I spent the remainder of the class hopping around on my good foot since I couldn’t straighten my right foot or put any weight on it. And, because I was too prideful and embarrassed to sit out for such a ridiculous injury, I carried on. After all, I have over 10 years of advanced ballet dancing under my belt and I should be able to finish out one measly toddler ballet class, even if I am too old for this mumbo-jumbo. I managed to struggle through the rest of the class while Hannah had the time of her life twirling with scarves and bopping out to a Frozen medley.

When we got home I knew that I’d messed up my leg in a “not getting over this any time soon” kind of way. I texted Jon and let him know that he should plan on bringing home whatever he needed to work from home the next day if I was still immobile. I also sent out an SOS to my go-to guy in these situations: my Dad.

Lucky for me, my dad is a Physical Therapist with 40 years of experience helping people recover from injuries such as Mommy-and-me-ballet-induced torn calf muscles. Within an hour he was at my door, crutches and an air cast in hand. He taped up the offending calf and gave me instructions for proper icing, and a few hugs for good measure. If anyone ever tells you that you’re too old to need your parents, they are absolutely 100% wrong. I’ll remind my children of this often.

Doctor Dad coming to the rescue!

So, here I am: an invalid in my own home. Jon took the day off of work today so he can help drive the kids to their activities and make sure our family doesn’t fall apart while Mommy is out of commission (I’m sure he had a comical conversation with his boss explaining why he had to miss work today). I’m getting around alright with the crutches my dad left me with, but I’ve discovered that it’s actually easier to crawl than to crutch. I repurposed Ace bandages as knee pads, and I’m good as gold. Now if that’s not ingenuity, then I don’t know what is!

ballet1

Crawling: it’s what the cool kids do

I’ve learned an important lesson about not pushing my (limited) limits, and today is already the “someday we’ll laugh about this” day. Perhaps they’ll write me up in the newspaper for being the first person ever to suffer such a fate from a toddler dance class. At any rate, it’s quite the story! And now if you see me on crutches this week you’ll know where my battle wounds came from.

Tutu or not, I am a warrior!

Tales From a Bargain Queen

deals

One of my most charming personality traits (just confirm with my dear husband) is that I love a good deal. And by “love a good deal” I actually mean that I am obsessed with bargains…maybe it’s even a border-line addiction.  I don’t even really care what the good deal is–I just love the hunt and chase. Maybe a little bit too much.

My quest for a good deal has taken me across the country and around the world. My deal hunting  has given me great bounty such as: $2,000 from a shampoo company (filled out a questionnaire while waiting in a salon waiting room in Washington), pints of free ice cream (won an ice cream taste test contest at a county fair in Oregon), free dinners at my favorite restaurant (volunted as a “secret shopper” in Ireland), and free pizza for a year (woke up at the crack of dawn to wait in line with my 6-month old baby in order to be one of the first customers at a new pizza restaurant’s grand opening in California).  I’m basically an Olympic-level bargain-hunting sportswoman. I should win a medal or be inducted into a hall of fame or something.

It may come as no surprise, then, that this week is one of my favorite weeks of the year: FREEBIE WEEK! Tuesday was free meals at Chick-fil-A if you dressed like a cow (don’t worry, I still have my costume if you want to borrow it next year). Wednesday was July 11th…better known as 7-11…better known as free Slurpee day (the tropical splash Slurpee gets two thumbs up).  And this year we even got a bonus freebie day: Thursday’s “pay your age” day at Build-A-Bear.

What is “pay your age” day at Build-A-Bear, you might ask. Well, it is basically a day where you can trade your sanity, patience and dignity for a cheap teddy bear.  Let me explain.

The premise behind “pay your age” day is that you only have to pay your age for whatever teddy bear in the store you want (for instance, my two year old would only have to cough up 2 bucks for a new stuffed lovie). The only catch is that all of the other moms also think this is a good deal so they all came to Build-A-Bear for “pay your age” day, too. And when I say “all the other moms”, I literally mean ALL the other moms. EVERY. SINGLE. MOM. IN. THE. WORLD.

We got to Build-A-Bear at about 9:00, 1 hour before the store was scheduled to open, with the idea that I’d just throw my backpack down outside the door to save my spot in “line” while we played in the mall playground for a little while. Bwahahaha! I can be so naÏve!

The already-full mall parking lot should have been my first indication that something was off…I mean, how many elderly mall walkers are usually sweating it out an hour before the mall opens on a typical Thursday morning? My second indication should have been the steady stream of moms hustling preschoolers and overloaded strollers into the mall entrance. But nothing–NOTHING–could have prepared me for the actual chaos that awaited me inside those doors.

Upon entering the mall you could hear the din of hundreds of children playing/screaming/whining/wailing. I couldn’t even see the store yet, but I could hear the mob waiting for their precious treasure. When we finally reached the store, I couldn’t actually see the store. There were too many hundreds of people already lined up and I couldn’t even see where the line began. So much for my idea to be the first one in line and just hang out for a few minutes until they opened!

I bent down to explain to the children that Mommy doesn’t have the will-power to stand in an hours-long line with expectant children who will likely end up with nothing when the inventory runs out before we even see the light of the Build-A-Bear sign. My lecture was interrupted by a friend who had arrived before me–she already had a spot in line and she convinced me to give waiting a try. My kids were all game, so we decided to hunker down and see what happened.

As we found our place in line, streams of people continued to pour into the mall and into the line. At one point the line stretched from one end of the mall to the opposite end (about a 10 minute walk if I’m hustling–I’m guessing at least half a mile). At another point the store manager came out and started counting groups–he got to 1,000 and told everyone behind them that point to come back another day because there aren’t enough teddy bears in the universe to accommodate that many deal-seekers. It was mob-level madness and I wrote my phone number in Sharpie on all of my childrens’ bodies in case we became separated in the mayhem. Fun. Times.

And so we waited. And waited. And waited some more. We made a Starbucks run. We took turns ferrying children out of line to play in the Lego store after it opened (we’d already been in line for over an hour at that point and had only moved a few feet). We played Pokemon Go. We dreamed of what magical furry friends were awaiting us in the mystical Build-A-Bear store in the distance. And then we waited some more.

After about 2 hours of waiting, I made a decision: I’d had enough. There were still hundreds of weary folks ahead of us in line and I could foresee an unbearable future should we tough it out and stay. By my calculations, it would be approximately 2026 by the time we made it through this line and exited with a furry friend of our own. So, I went against every code in my bargain-hunter handbook and I gave up the hunt. Sometimes, surrender is the true sign of courage. In the end, there are only so many hours of waiting in a never-ending line with three tired, hungry children that I can handle. I found my limit and, with great disappointment, we let the deal go.

Of course, the story doesn’t end here. Because you can’t just stand in line for multiple hours with the promise of a thing and then not leave the mall with a thing. My kids simply do not possess the mental fortitude to survive such a blow. Plus, I was weakened by the line-waiting and I simply could not face a struggle of the epic proportions that would come at this point if I told my kids “That’s IT! We’re going HOME!”. So, I did what any sensible parent in that situation would do and I bribed them.  I told them if they would just quietly follow me toward the exit, they cold choose a Lego set on our way out the door. It worked and, with only a smattering of tears, we made a clean(ish) exit.

All said and done, I figure the Build-a-Bear “deal” actually cost me more money than it would have cost to just pay full price for the stuffed animals between the Starbucks runs and the Lego bribe.  In the end, though, it was still worth it. I got to visit with friends in line and commiserate on the ridiculous things we do for our kids. I got to witness firsthand the social impact of a bargain (the lady behind me in line drove for 2 HOURS to get to this, the closest Build-A-Bear to her home!). And even though we didn’t get to build a bear, we got to build memories…crazy, stressful memories.

And I have hope. The future is full of more deals to be found and more bargains to be hunted. And now? Now I have persevered. I am better. Stronger. More hungry for a deal than ever before. Will I be deterred by one insane experience? Never! As the great artist Chumbawamba once sang: “I get knocked down, but I get up again!”. Life is full of obstacles, but this harrowing experience has taught me that I can endure even through the most trying of circumstances. I will continue my quest for a bargain, no matter what the obstacles.

Bring. It. On.