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!

The 10 Stages of a Family Road Trip

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Each summer our family completes a pilgrimage to our homeland. Like our great forefathers Mary and Joseph, we cast away the comforts of home and journey forth to the place of our birth. It’s a daring adventure that covers thousands of miles and that brings us closer together as a family (Literally. We’re stuck in a car within poking distance of each other for days on end. We’re very, very CLOSE.)

Seeing as we are currently smack dab in the middle of The Great Homeland Pilgrimage of 2016, I have noticed a pattern of stages that occur during the course of a family road trip. It goes a bit like this:

Stage 1: Anticipation
Hooray! We get to go on a road trip!  I can’t WAIT to see the country and make precious memories with my family! This will be sooooo much fun!

Stage 2: Preparation
You neatly pack and organize all of the essential items. You package your childrens’ color-coordinated outfits into Ziploc baggies for ease-of-dressing on the go. You pack a NoseFrida and baby Tylenol (and a little Melatonin), just in case.

You hone your “I Spy” skills and research the latest fads in travel games. You create customized road trip bingo boards with interesting sites and trivia for the places you’ll be driving through (you laminate them for good measure, because they’re going to get SO MUCH USE!!!).

You stock up on healthy snacks and go to the dollar store so you can buy little trinkets to surprise the children with while you’re on the road.

You map out the stops along the way that include really cool parks and indoor play places for “wiggle breaks” while you’re on the road. You book a hotel with a pool and research family-friendly restaurants.

You make sure there is a fresh oil change and full tank of gas in your car.

You are totally, absolutely 100% road trip ready.

Stage 3: Departure
You load up the car the night before so you can make sure that Tetris puzzle of luggage and toys and dog crates will fit snugly and safely in your vehicle. You put the kids to bed early the night before so you can rouse them at daybreak and get out of town before the other drivers crowd the roads. Everyone is slightly groggy from the early start, but they are still totally, absolutely 100% PUMPED for the adventure that is about to ensue.

Let’s hit the road, Jack!

Stage 4: Road Trip Bliss
You sing songs as you pull out of the driveway and laugh with excitement as you discuss the interesting places you’ll be driving through today. The kids play happily with the dollar store trinkets you surprsied them with this morning and your oldest child reads a book to the younger children. The dog curls up peacefully at the childrens’ feet and drifts off to dreamland. You sip your coffee contentedly. It’s almost like Heaven, but in a minivan.

(This stage lasts for approximately the first 5 minutes, or 2 miles, whichever comes first)

Stage 5: Road Trip Hell
You notice that the car is making a strange sound and shaking every time you press the brakes. Whisper a silent prayer that you don’t have to use the “runaway truck ramps” when you drive down the mountain passes.

The kids are super tired and they’re already bored with the toys and games you have prepared for them. They are now using your beautifully laminated Bingo boards to play Sword Ninjas.

You hear a scream from the backseat, quickly followed by the second-most-awful phrase that can be muttered during a family road trip (“HE STARTED IT!”). You look back to see your 4-year old clutching his bloody nose…but it’s not that big of a deal because the dog is already licking his face clean.

You decide to pull over for lunch so you can handle The Situation and mend your childrens’ tears with chicken nuggets and milkshakes. Thankfully there’s a Burger King with an indoor playplace at this exit (*Gold Star* for researching this stop during Stage 2!).

You walk in the door to Burger King and your kids are PUMPED to play on the playground and eat the chicken nuggets and milkshakes that you promised them in the parking lot. When you walk in the door, however, you get a strange feeling. The lobby is full of very disgruntled looking customers who are holding receipts and staring daggers at the pre-pubescent fast food employees who are supposed to be microwaving their lunch. A lady sitting at a table leans over as you walk in the door and hisses, “I’ve been waiting here for half an hour. For a cheeseburger. This might not be for you.”

You’re right, disgruntled Burger King customer, this is NOT for us.

So you leave the “restaurant” and walk across the parking lot to the only other eating establishment: Taco Bell. Only, your kids are not at peace with this decision to leave chicken nugget-milkshake-playground-happy-place, and they are becoming quite vocal and violent in their protestations. When you suggest that they eat a cheese quesadilla they fall to the ground like a heap of writhing, screaming fish out of water.

You order them the cheese quesadilla anyway and  kindly escort them back to the minivan where they can fully express their disapproval in a constructive and productive manner.

By the time your husband brings out the cheese quesadillas, you have put on a movie, re-buckled the children and nursed the baby. All is quiet and right with the world. You calmly pass the now-comatose children their cheese quesadillas and hope they won’t notice what they’re eating since Chase from Paw Patrol has lured them in with his hypnotic acts of heroism.

You start the car right as child 1 takes his first bite of the quesadilla, only to hear a violent wretching sound and shrieks of “IT’S SPICY! IT’S SPICY! BLEHAHEHALJALTKHAADHGKLJADSHFPOIUE;LKFASDGKHADG!!!!!!” coming from the backseat.

Fast food restaurants: 2   Family trying to eat a quick meal on the go: 0

You sic the dog on the spat out quesadilla and throw an applesauce squeezie and a bag of Goldfish crackers to your child. You turn the movie back on and pray for the next 13 hours to please go quickly if you love me and these presently-unharmed children, sweet Jesus.

Someone from the back seat utters the first most-awful-phrase that can be muttered during a family road trip (“Are we there yet?”), but you barely hear them because you’ve already put in your ear plugs.

Stage 6: Arrival
Where’s the bed and the mini bar?!?!

Stage 7: The Destination
You see all the places and visit all the people.  You take the car in to the shop and spend $700 of your vacation fund on new brake pads and rotors (at least you didn’t have to use the runaway truck ramps on the mountain passes). Your children act like lunatics escaped from an asylum because they’re off of their well-honed routine. Nobody sleeps because the baby is teething and your children aren’t in their own beds (They’re not in their away-from-home beds, either. They’re in your away-from-home bed, and at least 30% of the time one of them pees in that bed. Good thing you pre-packaged clean clothes into Ziploc baggies, because now you need to use the baggies to stuff pee clothes into until you can find a suitable place to wash them).

This, my friends, is what memories are made of.

Stage 8: Returning
After tearful goodbyes and a careful re-working of luggage Tetris, you load up the car and begin the journey back home. Everyone basically skips straight to Stage 5 and you just pedal-to-the-metal into the sunset.

Stage 9: Home
YOUR BED!!!!!
(and unpacking)
(and laundry)
(and grocery shopping)
(and locating that funky smell coming from somewhere downstairs)

Stage 10: Reminiscing 
You look back at your Instagram photos and Facebook posts from that trip and you remember the road trip glory days. You remember that quirky roadside attraction and that glorious  view along the Sierras. You think back on the lazy days you spent with your family and long-lost friends, and you yearn to be back.

Hooray! Let’s go on another road trip!  I can’t WAIT to see the country and make precious memories with my family! This will be sooooo much fun!IMG_4911 3

 

A Story of Friendship

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The original small group couples (plus the first couple of babies) in 2009

This story began eight years ago.

In 2008 Jon and I embarked on our first Grand Adventure as 20-something newlyweds. We decided to pack up our house, our cars, my classroom, and our dog and move 1,000 miles away so Jon could attend a top-ranked grad school. It was a huge decision that would impact every area of our lives (and our pocketbooks), so we were nervous.

There were a lot of “what if’s”: What if school didn’t work out? What if I couldn’t find a job to support us during those years? What would it be like living in a place so different and so far away from the only place we’d ever lived? What if we missed our family too much? What if we didn’t meet any friends?

Through all of the what if’s, however, we had confidence because we knew that this was where God wanted us to be. So, we moved forward in faith, trusting that it would all work out.

Shortly after arriving at our new home in Palo Alto, California we got connected to a great local church that some of our friends were attending. We decided to join a small group Bible study that met once a week in a couple’s home. After all, we still didn’t know many people, and maybe this would be a good chance to meet some new friends.

Little did we know then, but that one decision to join a small group would impact our lives forever.

On the first night of our small group I tried on about 15 different outfits. I wanted to look cool without looking like I’d tried too hard so I could make a good first impression. I was incredibly nervous–as I always am when meeting new people for the first time (I try to play it off in public, but I am 100% an introvert and social gatherings often set me in a panic)–but I was also excited to hopefully meet some people our age.

When we walked in the front door of the Barley’s tiny top-floor apartment on that first night we were greeted with hugs and huge smiles, and I knew we were in the right place.  These people were genuine, and I couldn’t wait to get to know them more.

Over the next two years the couples in that group would become like family to us. We found commonality in our faith, our careers, our joys, and support when all of our husbands worked too hard. We went through a lot together in those two years, and the years that have followed. Three of us became pregnant with our first child at the same time. More than one of us miscarried. One of us adopted. One of us nearly died. And, eventually, most of us moved away.

Over the years we kept in touch and followed one another’s adventures. When our family embarked on our next Grand Adventure to Ireland, our small group friends journeyed along with us in prayer (and in faithful reading of my blog!). And when our third Grand Adventure moved us back to California, some of them were still there to greet us and welcome us “home”.

Our lives are so very different now than they were when we first met eight years ago, but this is the kind of friendship that spans time and distance and life change. In the two years since we’ve been back in California I have met up every couple of months with the ladies from that original small group (I refer to these gals as my “comfy friends” because I can wear my comfy sweats and messy hair around them, and they’ll do the same for me). It has been such a source of contentment and  joy to have my comfy friends back in my life again!

A few weeks ago we managed to hold a reunion with the 4 families from that original small group that are still living in the Bay Area. It was absolutely incredible to see the husbands and wives and children and careers and homes that we had prayed for all those years ago–here, in the flesh.

And, while it was amazing to have all of us together under one roof again, it was short lived. Because next week? Next week we send another family off on another Grand Adventure. But that’s not the end of this story.

You see, this family of dear friends is not just moving anywhere. They’re moving to Ireland, the same far-away country that we recently moved from. Actually, they’re moving to Cork–the same city where we lived two years ago. More specifically, their house is in Rochestown–the same neighborohood where we once lived. In fact, they will be living just a few doors down from our former home, and walking the same streets where we once walked.

The irony of us moving back to California to such wonderful friends, only to have them move halfway around the world to the same neighborhood that we recently moved away from, is fascinating. I am so excited for them and the adventure that is unfolding for their family. Excited for what awaits them, but also excited because our story will continue through them.

I love it when God surprises me like that. He wrote this whole story before time began, and when the pieces come together He must smile knowingly because He planned it that way from the very beginning. It’s not luck or coincidence that I have these friends in my life or that our paths have crossed over time and space. It’s providence. It’s God’s provision for our present and His protection for our future. I can trust God’s providence because He already wrote the ending of our story. And it’s GOOD.

So, as new plot twists and characters enter this story, I will be ready. Ready to embrace the journey and the story as it continues to be written in our lives. Ready to trust and follow the Author. And, most of all, I will be ready to be amazed.

Because amazing is what He does best.

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Our small group reunion, July 2016

How To Not Suck At Disneyland With Young Children

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We just returned from one of our most epic family vacations ever: our first visit to Disneyland with children. And, although Jon and I have been to Disneyland several times before, this was our first time taking our kids (ages 3 and 5) with us.

I purposefully did not plan too much for this vacation because I knew that we were going at one of the worst times of the year (crowd-wise, anyway) and I just wanted to go with the flow since this would be the boys’ first visit. That being said, I picked up a few useful ideas during our time at The Happiest Place on Earth. Read on to see how to NOT suck at Disneyland when you’re bringing young children along for the ride.

Timing, timing, timing

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There are certain times of the year where the park is virtually empty (these dates usually align with when most students are in school). There are also certain times of the year where the park is so busy that they literally lock the gates once the park reaches full capacity (we chose to go during the latter).

Unless you enjoy waiting in obscenely long lines and losing sight of your children in a sea of people, choosing a not-so-busy time will probably be in your favor. Several websites keep track of crowd volume at Disneyland so you can plan your trip for a less-busy time of the year (I liked the crowd forecast predictor at isitpacked.com).

That being said, I did not take my own advice on this one. Jon had the whole week of Thanksgiving off work and we wanted to squeeze in a vacation before Christmas and baby arrive, so we decided to bite the bullet and go during one of the busiest weeks of the year. Knowing ahead of time that the park would be crowded, however, saved us a lot of headaches and gave us a proper perspective for what to expect!

Keep track of your stroller

strollersFirst of all, BRING A STROLLER. Even if your kids are bigger and don’t usually ride in a stroller any more, bring one if they can still possibly fit. Little legs still get tired of walking (and standing in lines), and sometimes it’s just nice to throw them in there and get to where you’re going without complaining/wailing/gnashing of teeth. Strollers are also a handy spot to spare jackets, snacks, sunscreen, extra water bottles…all those things you don’t necessarily want to lug around in a backpack.

There are literally thousands of strollers at Disneyland on any given day, which can make parking and locating YOUR stroller a bit of a puzzle. Especially when you go to the park at a particularly crowded time like we did and the Cast Members (Disney employees) will oh-so-“helpfully” “relocate” your stroller without your knowledge so they can make room for more strollers.

To help reduce the panic-inducing surprise of returning to retrieve a stroller that is no longer where you left it, make sure you always park in a designated stroller parking zone. You can also try using a “marker” to easily locate your stroller amongst the masses: tie a helium balloon to the stroller’s handlebars so you can spot it from a distance, and hang a family identification card on the back of the stroller so you’ll know which burnt orange Bob Duallie is yours (find some cute free printable Disney stroller tags here).
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Ask for helpCast_Member_2The Disney cast members want you to enjoy your magical experience. So, if you have a problem, seek one of them out. In my experience, they’ll do whatever they can to help you–whether it’s locating your “relocated” stroller or finding the nearest potty.

We had one experience where a cast member totally saved the day (or, at least, our sanity). We were about halfway through the line for Pirates of The Caribbean when both boys simultaneously announced that they had to go potty. NOW. I ducked out of line with the boys and ran to the nearest restroom while Jon kept our spot in line. Right before we returned, however, the line went inside a building and Jon had to step out of line to wait for us–and now the line had grown to over an hour-long wait. When I told a cast member at the entrance what had happened she ushered us to a separate entrance and allowed us to get right onto the ride. Hey, if you never ask, you may never get!

Get Fastpasses and Rider Switch Passes

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Most of the major rides at Disneyland have Fastpasses available. A Fastpass allows you to skip the regular line and go through a shorter Fastpass line, which can save you a lot of waiting. As soon as you arrive, get a Fastpass for the ride you want to go on most and, as soon as you are able to, get a second Fastpass for another ride you want to make sure you get on (the times for when you can use your Fastpass and when you can pick up another one will be printed on your Fastpass ticket).

Since only 2 out of the 4 of us could go on the Fastpass rides (Jacob was too short and I was too pregnant), I just got 4 Fastpasses to each ride so Jon and David could go twice in a row if they wanted to.

Related to the Fastpass is the Rider Switch Pass. If you have one or more children who are unable to ride on a Fastpass ride and one parent has to stay behind with the littles, you can request a Rider Switch Pass at the ride so that the other parent can return and go on the ride without waiting in line. We never actually did this since the other parent, me, couldn’t go on the Fastpass rides either–definitely worth remembering for next time, though!

Download the Disney app

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There is a free Disney app that we found really useful. The app showed real-time ride wait times, times and locations of character appearances, special events, and park maps.

There are also apps (and the Disney website) where you can purchase park tickets ahead of time to avoid additional lines at the ticket counter.

Bring snacks and water

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Let’s be honest: kids are just tiny snack monsters. They want to eat all day long–especially if there are tempting treats they can view in every snack kiosk and restaurant you pass. With a cup of grapes costing $6 inside the park, however, you may go broke before you fill those little tummies.

You are allowed to bring in any foods and beverages you want into the park, so pack up a cooler (or two) and save a buck (or 100). We brought granola bars, fresh fruit, Uncrustables sandwiches, crackers, fruit snacks, bottled water, juice boxes–even McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches and leftover Halloween candy. With their appetites (mostly) satiated, we were able to pass (most) food temptations without much of a fuss, allowing us to splurge for a few giant corn dogs and bags of sticky cotton candy.

Dress for the weather

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Southern California is not known for it’s terrible weather, but it is known for one thing: sunshine. Make sure to bring all of your sun gear (hats, sunglasses, sunscreen). No matter how hot it is during the day, however, nights can cool off dramatically. I was really glad that I brought warm jackets and long pants for us to change into in the evening so we could stick around for the nighttime parades and firework shows in comfort. Also, double-check the weather forecast before you leave home to see if you’ll need rain gear (precipitation  happen)–the last thing you want is to be walking around in a rain storm with your flip flops and sun visor!

Don’t go on the teacups

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Because they’ll make you puke. Oh, just me? Alrighty, then. Moving on.

Find lodging close to the park

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I’m usually the queen of finding obscure, affordable housing when we go on vacation. For this trip, however, I just wanted to be CLOSE. I knew that we would have long days at the park and we’d be toting around a lot of gear, so I wanted a hotel that was close enough for us to just walk to the park and not have to deal with traffic or parking.

We stayed right across the street from Disneyland at the Howard Johnson on Harbor Boulevard and it was perfect. Our room had a Queen-size bed for Mom and Dad, and bunk beds for the boys. As a bonus, there was a water playground at the hotel with a pirate ship feature that doubled as a Disneyland fireworks vantage point.

Kids will be kids

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Kids are KIDS…even at Disneyland. No matter how much you plan, no matter how much fun you’re having, no matter how magical the place is…kids are still kids. They will melt down. They will throw fits. They will get tired and cranky and hot and cold and hungry. Just go with it. This, too, shall pass. And, unless you’re like me and you get some sort of sadistic enjoyment from documenting these moments on film, nobody will probably even remember the meltdowns.

Leave space
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I have a tendency to plan, plan, plan–especially when we’re going somewhere that will cost as much as a mortgage payment. Since this was our first time bringing the boys to Disneyland, however, I purposefully chose NOT to plan. I wanted to allow the kids to explore at their own pace and to do what they wanted to do without having to stick to some sort of prescribed schedule or optimal timeline.

As a result, some of my favorite moments on this trip came from allowing the kids their own space. They wanted to ride the Buzz Lightyear ride 3 times in a row, so we did. They wanted to leave early the first night and have some time to swim at the hotel, so we did. They wanted to skip the (truly mesmerizing) firework show and look at a Toy Story-inspired shop window for 20 straight minutes, so we did. This trip was about them, not us, so we let them take the lead.

Now go forth and embrace the magic–happy travels!

100 Reasons Why Kid-Free Vacations Suck

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Last week Jon and I embarked on what has been our most daring parenting adventure to date: our first ever kid-free vacation. With great anticipation we boarded our flight to Hawaii and set off for 8 days of egocentric indulgence. We couldn’t wait to discover this mystical world of solitude and lack of responsibility that people who travel without children have told us about (if memory serves me correctly, I think we used to be those people). And here it finally was: the moment of truth. How amazing would this vacation actually be?

The truth is, the reality of our vacation came as quite a surprise to us. Along the way I realized something: kid-free vacations kinda suck. Here’s why:

#1: You sleep too much.
Without our natural alarm clocks (named “David” and “Jacob”, respectfully) we were sleeping 9 or 10 hours a night. That’s like a whole week’s worth of sleep all in one single night. Who can cope with this madness?

#2: You eat too much.
I ate more un-interrupted hot meals in our one week of vacation that I managed to scarf down in my first two years post-partum. Motherhood: Best. Diet. Ever.

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#3: Your inner daredevil will come out in full force.
This could be dangerous.  Ziplining through the trees? We all meet the height and weight requirement, no problem! Bouncy helicopter ride? The kid prone to motion sickness isn’t here, let’s do it! Precarious hike along cliffs? There’s no baby asleep in my backpack and no toddler to drag up the trails, let’s go! Swimming under raging waterfalls? I don’t see anybody with water wings, I’ll meet you there after I cliff dive into the river!

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#4: You will get places way too quickly.
When you don’t need to change diapers, take children to the potty, pack a ginormous bag full of snacks/clothing/entertainment/sunscreen/the kitchen sink, drag children down to the car, fuss over car seats and seat belts, and return to the house 3 times to retrieve forgotten items each time you want to leave home, it frees up a lot of time. We found that when it’s just the two of us, it takes exactly 4 nanoseconds to leave the house (as opposed to our usual 4 hours with the children). We didn’t quite know what to do with all of this extra time.

#5: You will buy way too many “guilt souvenirs”.
About halfway through our vacation I had to force myself to quit going into stores because I was buying way too many guilt souvenirs. Every time I was in a store, I’d see some cute little Hawaiian shirt (“Jacob would look adorable in that!”) or puka shell necklace (“David would have so much fun tearing that to pieces!”) and I’d feel like I had to buy it for the children I’d abandoned on the mainland.

#6: You’ll forget your own rule: Don’t talk to strangers.
You may find yourself sitting in the hotel hot tub after what would normally be your kids’ bedtime and you’ll meet a couple from Alabama. You’ll start talking to them and you’ll realize that you have so much in common with these people that maybe you should just move across the country and move in next door so you can be besties. Stranger danger, pshaw!

#7: You don’t have an outlet for your motherly advice. 
Without your children around, who are you supposed to take care of and worry about and yell at? I had to stop myself from turning around in our rental car and chiding the empty back seat to “Keep your body to yourself”. I did my best not to admonish random sunbathers on the beach for not wearing beach hats or enough sunscreen, to no avail. At restaurants it was difficult not to approach patrons at their tables to make sure they’d eaten all of their vegetables.

#8: You’ll forget how to clean things. It’s amazing how the absence of children also equates to the near-absence of filth. Our laundry pile was minimal, there were almost no dishes to wash, the clutter was mostly contained to our own suitcases, and the rental car was relatively free of pulverized Cheerios. With no need to actually keep up with the cleaning, I went into a sort of cleaning amnesia. Cleaning? Come again? What’s that?

#9: You’ll have some awkward moments before you recollect what “privacy” is.
For the first few days of vacation, you’ll probably forget to close the door to the bathroom because you’re so used to having other (small) people barge in on you. You also may feel guilty for taking a shower all by yourself in the middle of the day. And then you’ll remember what this phenomenon actually is: privacy. Now that you know what it is, you may not want to relinquish it upon arrival back to reality after your vacation. This could be dangerous.

#10: You’ll way  under-exert yourself.
There is no limit to how much time you can waste when there is nobody vying for your attention. Maybe you want to do nothing but sleep in a hammock all day. Maybe you want to review all of your friends’ status updates from the last 6 months. Maybe you want to read a whole book (the kind without cartoonish pictures in it) from cover to cover.  Or maybe your poison is more along the lines of binge watching TLC and Food Network. Guess what? You don’t have any interruptions, so you can DO IT ALL (or do none of it or do nothing at all…that’s kind of the beauty of this kid-free thing). The possibilities are endless.

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#11: You’ll miss your spouse like crazy…
…after you get back from your vacation! Jon and I hadn’t spent a solid week together since our child-free days nearly 5 years ago, and our vacation really reminded us how much we like each other. Without the interruptions of work and kids and life, we had a lot of time to just focus on Us–and what we found is that we really like Us (which shouldn’t be surprising since we actually chose each other out of all potential partners in the world, but it’s always nice to have your selection reaffirmed).

We spent our whole vacation feeling like two young lovebirds–it must have shown, because we had several strangers approach us to ask if we were enjoying our honeymoon. When our “honeymoon” week ended and real life resumed, however, we started missing each other with a new eagerness during the hours we are forced to spend apart.

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#12…to 100: You’ll miss your kids like crazy.
Of course I knew that I’d miss my kids while we were away, but I was naive enough to think that we’d be having so much fun on vacation that I’d hardly even notice. Well, folks, that’s just not how it works. Just like when you’re at home with your children, you will think of your kids every moment of every day. Their crazy antics and annoying habits will somehow appear endearing in your memory, and you will miss their absence. You’ll FaceTime and call them obsessively.

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You’ll talk non-stop about those little rascals when you should be discussing more engaging topics. You’ll see other kids playing with their parents and you’ll think “Gee, our kids would sure have fun here…”. You’ll wake up at some early hour (because your kids have programmed you to do that) and you’ll think to yourself “I wish Jacob was here to snuggle”. There is no escaping it: you will miss your kids dearly.

With that said, I wouldn’t trade our kid-free vacation for anything. It was a time of relaxation and excitement and selfishness that simply could not, would not have happened if we’d had our kids with us. And sometimes, even parents need to relax and have excitement, and do things for themselves.

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So, parents of the world rejoice! A kid-free vacation is actually possible–even if it does suck a bit. XxX

85 Things To Do In A Seattle Summer

Well, folks, it’s actually happening: we’re finally moving to California! Tomorrow morning I’m boarding a plane with the boys and, two hours later, we’ll arrive in San Jose ready to begin this next adventure.

Before we leave Seattle, however, I thought I’d give you a little (and by little, I mean massive) recap of what we’ve been up to here for the last month. It has been a very busy, action-packed summer for us in Seattle (which, by the way, is literally the most amazing place to spend a summer. It’s true. I looked it up on Wikipedia). So, just in case any of you want to visit Seattle some time, here is a not-so-brief rundown of what you could look forward to doing while you’re in town:

1. Squirt water guns
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2. Shop at Costco (interesting factoid: Costco was founded in 1983–the same year I was born–right here in Seattle)IMG_7954 3. Visit the house that you own but never seem to actually live inIMG_7982 4. Go for a waterfront walk and marvel at the majestic beauty of Mount Rainier in the distanceIMG_8006 5. Make Trader Joe’s “Fudge”: Combine in a food processor one whole box of Trader Joe’s unsweetened cocoa powder, one whole jar of Trader Joe’s coconut oil and one whole tub of Trader Joe’s creamed honey. Spread the mixture in a pan and fridge it until hard. Try to stop yourself from consuming the entire pan in one sitting.IMG_8007 6. Make yourself a breakfast of scones and Barry’s tea to remind you of IrelandIMG_8010 7. Visit Northwest Trek to get up-close and personal with some Northwest-native wildlifeIMG_8029 8. Be so busy that your kids literally take all of their naps in the car while you are driving between activitiesIMG_8057 9. Run around GreenlakeIMG_8073 10. Go on a private tour at Starbucks headquarters with an insider, and be jealous of the employees who get to use the do-it-yourself espresso stations located on every floorIMG_8083 11. Meet up with your mommy friends and cuddle all of their new babies that have been born in the past yearIMG_8084 12. Watch the Blue Angels doing practice flights over I-5 during Seafair WeekendIMG_8089 13. Build sandcastles at Alki BeachIMG_8098 14. Take in a stunning view of the Seattle skyline with your even more stunning sister 🙂IMG_8104 15. Take your dog for a walk at 9:00 PM and revel in the fact that there’s still another hour of daylight left.IMG_8122 16. Decorate your own 100% recycled organic fully biodegradable Seattle placematIMG_8125 17. Refuse to look at the camera or smile for a photo with your 91-year old great grandmotherIMG_8139 18. Complete your first engineering project with Daddy: an LED flashlight!IMG_8176 19. Play in your friends’ awesome backyard IMG_8177 20. BBQ every dayIMG_8184 21. Eat Dairy Queen Blizzards (you may get the idea of a DQ Blizzard stuck in your head, and you may have to drive to 5 different locations in 2 different cities before you find one that is still open, but it will be worth it)IMG_8204 22. Light sparklers, and always remember: safety firstIMG_8244 23. Watch The Sound of Music at an amphitheater and get misty eyed when Maria literally walks down a mountain signing “The hills are alive with the sound of music…”IMG_8261 24. Play with Grammy in your secret hideoutIMG_8264 25. Swim in a riverIMG_8303 26. Spend the weekend with your grandparents who live over the river and through the woodsIMG_8311 27. Play at your favorite place in the world: McDonald’s IMG_8316 28. Make a “Countdown Caterpillar” to count down the days until you move to California (!)IMG_8317 29. Visit awesome fruit standsIMG_8319 30. Bake treatsIMG_8323 31. Find a book of your mom’s childhood books and spend hours reading them togetherIMG_8324 32. Jump down sand dunes at Pacific Ocean beachesIMG_8344 33. Play mini golfIMG_8376 34. Fly a kite with your grandpaIMG_8383 35. Strip down to your skivvies so you can swim in a lake on a hot dayIMG_8385 36. Try–and fail–to capture the “Super Moon” with your iPhone cameraIMG_8390 37. Spend way too much time spent in Seattle traffic. Seriously, folks, this is a problem.IMG_8395 38. Meet up with some awesome moms for a workout in the parkIMG_8399 39. Get wet at a splash padIMG_8415 40. Eat a picnicIMG_8418 41. Buy an entire family of Potato Heads off Craigslist. Sit back and relax with a magazine while your children entertain themselves for the rest of the summer.IMG_8424 42. Husk fresh local corn and grill it up for dinnerIMG_8428 43. Get a pedicure with your mom on her birthday (Happy birthday, Mom!)IMG_8434 44. Pose as a Giant Pacific OctopusIMG_8438 45. Go for a walk at Chambers Bay. Well, try to go for a walk at Chambers Bay, but get a flat tire on your stroller and spend your time on the playground instead (and vow to always bring a patch and a tire pump with you from this point forward)IMG_8441

Go to iconic Seattle restaurants and wait in ridiculously long lines at 46. Dicks 47. Ivar’s 48. Red Mill 49. Salumi 50. Ezell’s and 51. Paseo. Consider it time very well spent.
IMG_8457 52. Spend a day in the park catching up with dear friendsIMG_8476 53. Jump on rocks. Why not.IMG_8494 54. Tend to your backyard garden. Sit in the dirt and eat kale straight off the stalk.IMG_8508 55. Pick apples, eat apples, throw apples for your dog like they’re tennis balls. Apples, apples, apples.IMG_8510 56. Pick wild blackberries and 57. Bake blackberry slumpIMG_8511 58. Play on millions of playgroundsIMG_8512 59. Go to a U-pick organic blueberry farm. Pick berries until your buckets or your tummies are full, whichever comes first.IMG_851460. Hike to the bottom of Snoqualmie FallsIMG_851661. Drive a tractorIMG_853062. Go on an alpine hike to Lake ColchuckIMG_857163. Use a loo with a viewIMG_860364. Watch “Frozen” with your grandma and 65. Make paper snowflakes (who cares if it’s the middle of August and 90 degrees outside!)IMG_860465. Visit the Bavarian Village of Leavenworth. While you’re there 66. eat a bratwurst, 67. dance to the oompa-band playing on the stage in the center of town, 68. sip a brew in a beer garden (extra points if you wear lederhosen or a dirndl), and 69. rent a giant inner tube or an inflatable raft and float down the Icicle RiverIMG_861070. Maintain a 27 year-old tradition and go out on a (belated) birthday date with your dadIMG_868171. Jump on your friends’ trampoline
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72. Get a Chinese Foot Massage (it will be the best 20 bucks you’ve ever spent, trust me.)IMG_868773. Wander through a rose garden IMG_868874. Reconnect with your college roommateIMG_873175. Spend a day meeting the animals at Woodland Park Zoo
IMG_872076. FaceTime with Daddy every night because you all miss each other like crazy when you’re living two states apartIMG_873577. Drive down to Longview so you can get 4 generations together for lunch at Grandma’s favorite restaurant in the whole wide world: SizzlerIMG_874178. Run out of gas on I-5 (I wasn’t driving, so we’ll just chalk this one up to another adventure on the road) and 79. Call 911 for roadside assistance (according to Google, this is what you’re actually supposed to do). Get a recorded message that all lines are busy, so please try your call again later. 80. Call 911 again and get the same recorded message 81. Call 911 for a third time and get the same recorded message. 82. Call 911 for a fourth time and actually speak to a person. Be thankful you didn’t have a REAL emergency. 83. Read running magazines in the car while you wait for roadside assistance and pray that a passing semi truck doesn’t knock your car over. 84. Thank the nice Incidence Response man who comes and gives you free gas so you can drive to the next gas station.
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85. Watch the sun set over Puget Sound
IMG_8684…and just soak it all in, because there really is no better place than Seattle in the summertime. To all of the people and places that made this month amazing, thank you.

Until next time, Seattle! XxX

In the Middle

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It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything will be just fine, everything will be alright.
-Jimmy Eat World, “The Middle”

Last month we left our home in Ireland for our next great adventure. This is not, of course, the first time we have left our home. Just over a year ago we left our home in Washington when we moved to Ireland–and now we had to do it again. With both moves we left our friends, our home, our church, our kids’ schools and playgrounds and favorite places. We left it all. And now, three weeks after moving from Ireland, we find ourselves in the middle. In the middle of this wild ride called life.

We decided to spend some time at “home” in Seattle this month before heading down to California. We wanted to spend some time catching up with our friends and family before moving yet again, another great distance away. It’s been a much-needed time of refreshment and joy for our family. We have laughed with our friends and celebrated with our family and it’s been altogether wonderful. As lovely as this time in Washington has been, though, it’s still just the middle. Jon left a week ago to start his new job in California (which he LOVES, by the way!), and I’ll be joining him there next week with the boys. This place is just a stopping-off point, not the end destination. We are living in the middle.

And then there’s the cultural “middle”: the reverse culture shock. In some ways living in Ireland was very similar to life in America, but in other ways the two could not be more different. I was away for a full year, fully immersed in another culture, and coming back “home” has had its confusing moments.

The pace of life is slower in Ireland. There aren’t as many people there. You drive on the other side of the road. When you go for a drive you see farms instead of endless traffic jams. Different types of foods are readily available–and other types of food are not available at all. There are not 5 bajillion Starbucks and Taco Bells and Best Buys and Home Depots and…well, there just are not 5 bajillions of anything in Ireland. The weather is different. The topics of conversation and the words you use are different. Different. So many things that seemed so different when we first moved to Ireland became my new norm…and now that’s all been turned upside down again. To be honest, I feel a bit lost–which is a very strange thing to feel when you are in the place where you should finally be found. I am an ex-expat. I am living in the middle.

But it’s all good. Crazy and confusing as it’s been, I enjoy this ride and I really don’t think I’d have it any other way. Yes, we’re living in the middle–but isn’t the middle just the beginning of the next part? I am excited to see what the next part of this adventure has in store for us. I know that it will have challenges and changes and all of those other things that come with new life experiences–and that’s great. I’m ready for it.

It just takes some time.

Everything will be just fine.

Everything will be alright.

Even better–this is something I learned in Ireland–everything will be grand.

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