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

DIY Paper Heart Animal Valentines

FullSizeRenderIf you’ve been following my posts lately, then you know I was SO over January. When February 1 rolled around last weekend, I seized the opportunity to start something new. I “took down January” (recycled all of the paper snowflakes we had hanging around the house) and decided it was time to “put up February” (cover my house in hearts). Plus, since Jon was off for the day starring in his first major Hollywood blockbuster (OK, he was just an extra in a new Steve Jobs movie, but I’m sure he rocked it!) I took advantage of the quiet morning at home with the kids to do a little Valentine project.

We had gone to the library earlier in the week and checked out this cute little book, My Heart Is Like a Zoo:

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It’s a rhyming book with timely similes about the many ways our heart can love. What makes the book really unique, though are the illustrations–every picture is an animal constructed entirely of hearts. There are silly seals and a rugged moose:

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Eager beavers and a steady yak:Hall-2

And even happy hippos sipping their juice:

Hall-4Each page features a different heart animal, and my boys couldn’t get enough of them. After reading the book for about the 5,000th time that week, David suggested that we make some heart animals of our own. And, since I’m never one to shy away from a cheesy craft, I obliged. We (and by we, I mean I) set to work making our little love zoo.

Here’s a brief how-to if you want to join in the heart-animal fun:

What you need
~Paper–any paper will work, but I used a combination of construction paper and scrapbook paper. If you want more sturdy animals, use colored cardstock.
~Scissors
~Glue–glue sticks work best for this project
~Black marker
~(if you’re the perfectionist-type) Heart-shaped stencils, paper punches or die cuts

What you do
~Decide what animal you want to make. After making about a dozen of these critters, I’m convinced that you can make any animal imaginable out of hearts. If you need some inspiration, see my creations below or search Google or Pinterest for “paper heart animals” and you’ll find more animals than were on Noah’s Ark.

For instance, did you know that you could make a penguin, a blue jay, or a bear out of hearts?
IMG_1859Or a beaver and a fox?IMG_1858 What about a caterpillar and a butterfly?IMG_1857You see, the possibilities are endless…
~Next, choose what papers you want to use for each part of the animal, and just go to town cutting out hearts! I did the good ‘ol fold-your-paper-in-half freehand method for my hearts, but you could certainly use some other more-precise technique if you have the patience for that sort of thing. Cut out hearts in many sizes and colors to use for the different parts of your animal.
~Start puzzling together your animal. Cut hearts in half to make oval shapes, turn the hearts in different directions, or cut the points off the bottom of the hearts to make triangles–it’s amazing the different shapes you can form from simple hearts! If there’s a part of your animal that doesn’t lend itself to a heart-shape, I also give you permission to just cut out whatever random shape of paper you need. You’re welcome.
~After you’ve laid out your design, glue it all together. Use a black marker to add details like a nose, mouth, or whiskers.

And that’s it! Each animal only took me a few minutes to make, so I had a whole Valentine menagerie by the time my boys had finished watching Veggie Tales (yes, I also give you permission to enchant your children with television while you get lost in kids’ crafts that they should be helping you with).

Happy Heart Day, friend!

 

Allison’s Favorite Things

Last week I went to a “favorite things” gift exchange. It was brilliant. Everyone brought a wrapped gift–one of their favorite things–then we exchanged them “white elephant” style so everyone could see and experience some new favorites together. The only problem with this little game was that I struggled for weeks to narrow down just one favorite thing to wrap up and bring to the party. There are so many products and services that I love–so many things that I could write a whole blog post about them.

So, because I know you’ve all been dying to know, here are a few front-runners for the 2014 edition of: Allison’s Favorite Things.

Flat ShotsOrla Kiely
I fell in love with Orla Kiely last year when we were living in Ireland, where everyone who was anyone sported her styles like they were…um…going out of style.  Orla Kiely is an Irish contemporary designer with the boldest, most beautiful prints you’ve ever seen. She designs all sorts of home and fashion accessories: purses, wallets, dishes, blankets, gardening tools, notebooks, clothing. Unfortunately, it usually costs you an arm and a leg to get into the world of Orla Kiely. That is, until TARGET stepped in (I should write a whole post on how much I love Target. Maybe next time.). That’s right, Target now sells Orla Kiely, and for a piddly fraction of the cost. Peruse the selection here or in store, but just make sure you have a hanky handy to wipe your drool off the floor.

sandalsRainbow Sandals
I know that I’m a bit late to the game here, but I’m new to this whole California-living thing. Rainbow sandals are the best–they’re made with real leather and, for a flip-flop, are incredibly supportive. From what I hear, they also last forever. And, now that I can actually wear flip-flops year-round, I’m getting a ton of use out of them.

 

Herbs_de_Provence_1024x1024Herbes de Provence
Really? An herb on your favorite things list? Yes, and don’t knock it til you try it. A friend introduced me to this stuff and now I put it in just about everything I cook: roasted veggies, marinades, mashed potatoes. I just hope my family loves it as much as I do! And, for the love, if you ever have to buy herbs/seasonings/pantry staples of any kind, please visit the bulk foods section at WinCo. You’ll thank me later.

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Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime has changed my life. Seriously. I am yet to find a single product in this whole vast world that I can not order on Amazon–and, with Prime, I get it all shipped in two days to my door. For FREE. Now, you do have to pay upfront for your Prime membership ($99 for a year), but it the benefits far outweigh the costs (plus, you can always do a free trial of Prime for up to 6 months depending on when you sign up). We get items shipped to our house via Prime almost every day–everything from diapers to clothing, to pantry staples, to our new BBQ (the same item shipped to our house from Home Depot was going to have a $50 shipping fee added on). Not having to leave my house to do my shopping is reason enough for me to order Prime. But wait! There’s more! In addition to free shipping, Prime Members enjoy a number of benefits: online access to Instant Video (similar to Netflix, but with much less selection), Prime Music (similar to iTunes Radio), Prime Photos (free unlimited photo storage online), and access to the Kindle Users’ Lending Library. I could go on and on about the amazingness that is Amazon Prime, but I’ll try to restrain myself. If you don’t already have Prime, sign up here. Now.

Airbnb-2AirBnB
2014 was the year of travel for our family, and it was all made possible by AirBnB. Traveling with two young children can be challenging, and finding the right lodging made all the difference for us. AirBnB.com allows you to rent a space directly from the owner, so you can find many more options for temporary or travel housing than your standard hotel: a single room in a house, a bed and breakfast, a full apartment, an entire house or even something more eclectic (think windmills in Holland and houseboats in Seattle). And, since you’re renting directly from the owner, the prices are usually very reasonable. When we were in London, for instance, we had a 3-bedroom apartment with our own kitchen and laundry facilities, a few blocks from the tube, for half the price of the cheapest hotel room I could find in the same area. I heart AirBnB ❤

nivea lip balmNivea Lip Balm
My sister in law got me hooked on this stuff a couple of years ago, and I just can’t stop. This is, hands down, the best lip balm I’ve ever used. My lips have never been smoother or balm-ier. Thank you, Nivea. Some of the balms come tinted, too, thus eliminating my need for extensive lip-makeup routines (let’s be honest here: If I manage to swipe some tinted lip balm on in the morning, I call it “putting on my make up”). Find your new favorite balm at any drug store or online here.

61yhxs1BiUL._SL1500_Double Walled Starbucks Cold Cup
If you have seen me in the last few months, then you’ve probably seen me holding this: a reusable double-walled Venti Starbucks cold cup (the name of the cup is just about as complicated as the names of their drinks).
I love this cup for the following reasons:

1. It’s big. I drink lots of water and I don’t want to be running to the faucet every two seconds to refill an insufficient cup.
2. It has a straw. I drink far more liquids when I am drinking through a straw and, since we’re all supposed to drink more water, this just makes sense. Plus it wouldn’t mess up my lipstick…if I ever wore lipstick.
3.My hands never get cold when I’m holding it. Since it’s double-walled, the cold stays inside the first wall and my hands only touch the insulated outer wall. Bring on the ice!
4. It doesn’t “sweat”. Again, since the cup is double-walled, you don’t get any condensation on the outside of the cup. And, since I hate using coasters, this is a hand feature.
5. It fits in the cup holders in my car and stroller (my favorite water bottle does NOT. Boo.)

Buy your own fancy cup at the ‘Bucks or online here.

PumpkinCupcakes
Alright, so my obsession with cupcakes is not new to 2014.  What has changed, though, is my close proximity to some of the best cupcake shops in the world. Within minutes I can be at no less than a dozen cupcake bakeries that have been featured on Food Network or the pages of foodie magazines. If you ever find yourself in the Bay Area, check out some of my (new) favorites: Kara’s Cupcakes, Sprinkles, Icing on The Cake, Frost Cupcake Factory, and Minicakes.

61N-ivATQYL._SY355_UnderArmour Gold Gear Jacket
This is the most versatile jacket I’ve ever owned and I wear it almost every day. It’s warm, but not too warm. It keeps the wind and rain (at least, California “rain”) off you. It’s the perfect weight for wearing pre- or post-workout…or just lounging around the house…or running the kiddie carpool. It has tons of zippered pockets so you don’t lose your keys or your phone or your mind. As an added bonus mine is neon pink, so I’m sure to always stand out in a crowd! Get yours here.

 

29823-spicy-chai-mixTrader Joe’s Chai Tea Powder
I’m not a coffee drinker, so I have to get my fix from other sources. And, as we’ve already established with my cupcake entry here, I have quite the sweet tooth. Chai tea is my favorite sweet, warm beverage to cozy up with on a cold winter’s night. As a chai tea connoisseur, I have sampled many different varieties. TJ’s powdered mix is my new favorite and it comes in a variety of enticing seasonal flavors (try the pumpkin spice chai in the fall and salted caramel in the winter). At less than $5 per container, the price point is also pretty sweet. Find yours in the Trader Joe’s beverage aisle next to the coffee.

article-1250992-083E2A01000005DC-544_468x324Sleep
For the first time in half a decade I have two children who consistently sleep through the night–which means I am back to a regular schedule of sleeping (in my own bed, until a humanly-sane hour in the morning). It’s pure bliss, and I can not recommend it enough. Find your own good night of sleep with a weekend getaway or having older children who literally run around ALL day to the point of pure exhaustion. And, if you are lucky enough to find sleep, it’s priceless.

So, there you have it! Some oldies, some newbies and, always, some goodies. Hope you enjoyed a little peek into some of my favorite things. What’s going on your “favorite things” list this year?

 

Canary Islands Vacation

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Last week was a big week for us with much to celebrate: my birthday, our wedding anniversary, and Father’s Day. With all of these big events happening in the same week, we thought it would be exciting to take a once-in-a-life time family vacation. Our destination: Lanzarote in Spain’s Canary Islands.

We left for Lanzarote in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, June 8th. Our taxi to the airport picked us up at 4:00 in the morning and we boarded our plane before the summer sun even had a chance to greet us:
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We decided to try out Ryanair, a budget airline, for the first time. We’d heard mixed reviews about the airline: yes, it’s cheap (we’re talking $15 tickets from Dublin to London…CHEAP) but it comes at a price. Ryanair has very strict baggage requirements and you pay extra for every little thing, so we’ve been hesitant to fly with them and our kids and our 5 billion things that our kids require every time we leave our house for even 5 minutes. In the end, though, they were much more lax than we’d heard, we had comfortable flights and, most importantly, we saved ourselves loads of money.

Landing at the Lanzarote airport feels like you’re going to crash into the ocean. It was quite thrilling. The runway is only a few meters from the beach, so as you’re dropping down from the sky at 100 MPH it feels like you’re actually dive-bombing into the sea. Luckily we landed on solid ground and our vacation could continue as planned:

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We rented a car for the first few days so we could explore a bit of the tiny island before retreating to the confines of our resort and the beaches for the second half of the week.  As we were driving from the airport out to the resort I was struck by the landscape. The whole island of Lanzarote is volcanic, and in the late-1700’s there were non-stop volcano eruptions for 6 straight years. As a result, the topography consists entirely of volcanic rock and, when you approach the ocean, sand. There are no plants (except for the palm trees the resort-builders have planted) and almost no native wildlife (except for fish and bugs). I kept getting the sense that we had actually landed on Mars rather than being 78 miles off the coast of West Africa:

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The land is so barren, in fact, that there are no sources of fresh water on the island. This could pose a problem for anyone who, you know, wanted to survive for more than 24 hours. Thankfully the resort builders thought this one through, too, and they have built desalination plants all over the island. These desalination plants turn the plentiful salt water from the surrounding ocean into clean water (well, clean enough to wash your hands with and take a shower in…you still can’t drink it or anything). I’m pretty sure the island also keeps the bottled water companies in business year round with the demand for drinking water.

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When we got to our resort (the Lanzarote Gardens, if you’re keen to know) we checked in and dropped our bags off in our room. We had a bungalow, a nice two-level place with a kitchenette and two outdoor patios. It was perfect for our family and right across the way from the swimming pools and children’s areas. Then, after we’d gotten settled in, it was time to explore Lanzarote!

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For our first full day in Lanzarote we decided to go out on a glass-bottomed boat tour. We met our boat in the nearby town of Playa Blanca (Well, actually every town in Lanzarote is “nearby”. You can literally drive from one end of the island to the other, in any direction, and be there in about an hour).

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The boat ride itself was lovely. We had a jovial captain who grew up on the island in the pre-resort days when there was nothing on the island but a few fishermen’s shacks down on the beach. He gave us a brief history of the island as we sailed past beaches and towns and soaked in our often-missed sunshine.

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Unfortunately, the “glass-bottomed” part of the boat was a bit disappointing. We saw a few fish and sea urchins and a starfish when we were close to the harbor where our boat docked. Other than that, though, there was not much to see in the water. Despite the lack of underwater viewings, we thoroughly enjoyed our little boat ride.

The next day, Tuesday, was my birthday! It was definitely one of the most memorable birthdays I’ve ever had. We spent the day exploring Timanfaya National Park (also known as “Fire Mountain Park”):

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Upon entering the park you are greeted by hundreds of camels, just waiting to give the obliging tourist a ride up into the lava-rock hills:

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We were more than obliging, so we saddled right up and went on our first family camel-trek. Our camel (who we nicknamed “Rocky”) hated us. He kept glaring at us and trying to sit down when his camel friends were scurrying up the path. Sorry, Rocky–I wouldn’t want to carry four heavy people (including two squirmy, kicky, hair-pulley little people) anywhere, let alone up a mountain. But we thank you, anyway. It was an epic adventure:

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After our camel ride we drove to the top of the mountain where there is a visitor center and restaurant. It being lunchtime on my birthday, we decided to go into the restaurant for our afternoon meal. There were floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding the restaurant for a 360 degree view of the park. It was breathtaking:

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Amazing as the views were, though, that was not the best part of the restaurant. No, the best part was the food–or, rather, the way they cook the food there. You see, instead of cooking with a boring old stove they cook over the heat of a volcano. That’s right, a volcano BBQ. The volcano we were perched upon still produces a good amount of heat and fire, so they set up their cookery right over one of the hot spots. I’d never seen anything like it before (and, by the way, everything was delicious!):

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While we were dining we could also look out the windows from the restaurant and watch a steam show. One of the park rangers would dump water into special vents that were placed over some of the hot spots in the ground and steam would burst out, kind of like a geyser. Cheap thrills, folks:IMG_6113

After lunch we hopped on one of the waiting buses for a 40-minute guided tour of the park. We gazed down into calderas and marveled at the 30 different types of lichen growing on the volcanic rocks and drove through the middle of ancient lava floes:IMG_6271

Our tour of Timanfaya concluded our exploration of the island. There were a few more sites we could have visited, but we really just wanted to spend the rest of the week relaxing at our resort. So that’s exactly what we did.

We spent countless hours at the resort’s 3 pools. David and Jon are part-fish, so they are right at home when they’re in the water:

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The water was a bit cool for my comfort (If the water’s not warm enough for me to fall asleep with a pina colada in one hand and a good book in the other, then I’m just going to stay on dry land). Jacob felt a bit the same way as me, so we set up shop on the lounge chairs. We had a good vantage point from our poolside perch to watch David jumping and splashing and sliding to his little heart’s delight:

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Just across the street from our resort was Las Cucharas beach, a lovely white sand beach with a swimming area and plenty of space for water sports (windsurfing seemed to be the most popular choice). We spent a few afternoons at the beach building sandcastles…
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…and frolicking in the ocean:IMG_5803

There is a beautiful promenade that follows the coastline. I followed the promenade for a few miles one day and couldn’t see the end of it, so I’m not sure how far it actually goes if you want to walk/run/cycle the whole thing. We had a great time walking down the promenade and taking in the stunning views:
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Another favorite resort activity we enjoyed was Kids Club. Kids Club is a magical place at the resort where parents can drop their kids off so they can run off and enjoy a few hours swimming or beaching or napping. While Mom and Dad are off doing boring grown-up stuff the kids play games, make crafts, and get hyped up for the World Cup (alright, I’m sure that’s not the case most of the time, but this being the first week of the World Cup–and Europeans being obsessed with soccer–it was kind of a big deal):

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There were also two playgrounds at the resort where we could take the boys to run around and burn off some of their boundless energy:IMG_5836

 

After playing hard all day, we were usually pretty hungry. We had a half-board package at the resort (breakfast and dinner included), so we enjoyed most of our meals at the on-site restaurant. Everything was buffet-style–lots of meats, potatoes, pastas, salads, and international cuisines:

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There was even a separate childrens’ buffet with kid-friendly fare like hot dogs, chicken nuggets, spaghetti, and Jell-O. Lots and lots of Jell-O:

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We all agreed that the best buffet in the restaurant, though, was the dessert buffet. Ice cream, pies, cakes, cookies, fresh fruit and even a chocolate fountain. Yummmmmmm….IMG_5774

Each night there was entertainment at the resort. There were shows for adults–Chinese acrobats, musicians, dancing, theater–but we didn’t see any of them because they didn’t start until 9:30 and, well, we’re old and that’s our bedtime. We did, however, go to the kids’ dance party “Daisy Disco” most nights after dinner. David and Jacob loved singing and dancing and parading around the room with clowns and throngs of other children:

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On Thursday Jon and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary! It was a special day, so we celebrated with some special activities. We went for a family walk on the beach and re-created one of our favorite wedding photos. My how our family has grown in the last 9 years!

IMG_5865Jon and I also treated ourselves to massages at the resort. The spa is located in a cave behind a waterfall–pretty incredible:

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For our final anniversary celebration we went out to a nice dinner in town. The menus–as with everything in Lanzarote–were written in three languages: Spanish (because we’re in Spain), English and German (the last two languages being for the tourists. There are LOTS of German tourists in Lanzarote):

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We went out for Mexican food and it was delicious. We drank margaritas and ate burritos and jalapeno poppers. We had a wonderful time, despite having our third- and fourth-wheels (our children) with us for our romantic evening out. And, just so we wouldn’t forget this memorable anniversary, the kids also decided to get sick at dinner. Jacob threw up all over me and had a diaper explode with diarrhea (sorry, TMI?) but, like I said, it was…memorable.

Our poor kids spent the last couple of days going in and out of yucky sickness. This meant that they also had a hard time sleeping–which meant none of us slept. One morning Jacob was up almost all night so, at about 5:00 AM, I decided to take him for a little walk to see if I could get him to fall asleep. We ended up walking up and down the beaches for two hours–my poor sick baby never fell asleep, but we did catch a beautiful sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean:

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Despite everyone feeling a bit yucky, we still managed to squeeze in some fun during our last couple of days in Lanzarote. We even found “The Fish Spa”–a very unique experience, for sure! You basically put your feet in these giant fish tanks where swarms of little fish nibble dead skin off your feet. It sounds weird…and it is. But it was fun and kind of tingly and I’d do it again!IMG_6014We blinked and then it was Sunday again, time to go back home. Sunday happened to be David’s day to be sick, so we stuffed plastic bags in our pockets (to contain the inevitable sickness), packed our bags, and headed to the airport. Poor little David was so sick that he fell asleep in the airport waiting for our plane…and he didn’t wake up until 5 hours later when we touched down in Ireland:
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Volcanoes, camels, beaches, swimming pools, boat rides, sunshine, and some good quality time with the people I love the most–I couldn’t ask for a better vacation (well, maybe minus the sickness). Many memories were made, much fun was had, and much joy was celebrated. It was definitely a vacation none of us will ever forget!

St. Patrick’s Day In Ireland

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On March 17th each year the whole world dresses in green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Never in my life did I think I would actually be in Ireland on this most-Irish of all holidays. Yet, here we find ourselves, and I couldn’t have been more excited. This being our first St. Patrick’s Day in the Emerald Isle, we wanted to make it memorable. And, now that I’m starting to recover from the festivities, I can honestly say that St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland did not disappoint. We had a whole weekend of celebrations, and this will definitely be a St. Patrick’s Day that none of us will ever forget!

Our St. Patrick’s weekend festivities began on Friday. The boys received a care package in the mail from their Gammy and Grandpa Pete in Washington. It was full of goodies–including “leprechaun candy” that they feasted on all weekend:

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On Friday afternoon we had a St. Paddy’s playdate with some of David’s friends. We all went out to lunch at our “local” (the pub in our neighborhood) that was all bedecked in Irish decor. Two of the moms  have recently gone back to work so we don’t see as much of each other as we used to–we had a grand time catching up while the kids ran around the pub like wild banshees. Here’s David with his two buddies: Alannah and Jack Kelly (David calls him Jack Kelly–not just Jack–Jack KELLY. I kind of love it because it sounds so very Irish):

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Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day so we went out to Blarney Castle for a romp in the gardens. The castle grounds were beautiful with the Spring flowers blooming and the (rare) sun shining to warm us:

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On Sunday we had our day of rest to prepare for the busy day on Monday: St. Patrick’s Day! Since St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland,  Jon had the day off work (woot!). We started our day with a hearty St. Patrick’s-themed breakfast: “shamrock pancakes” (green pancakes) and “leprechaun juice” (green milk).

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After breakfast we noticed that there were little green “clues” hidden all over the place. Apparently, a sneaky little leprechaun had snuck into our house while we were sleeping and hidden his treasure for us to find. The boys ran around (and up and down and all about) following the clues until they found the leprechaun’s treasure:

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After our scavenger hunt we dressed up in our green get-ups and got ready to drive into the city for the Cork City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Even Bota dressed up for the occasion (even if she didn’t get to come with us to the parade):

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We arrived about 2 hours before the start of the parade which was kind of perfect–all of the Catholics (a.k.a all of the Irish people) were still in mass so we got a great parking spot and staked out a seat along the parade route. While we were waiting for the parade to begin we wandered around and got lunch at the food booths, visited the face painters in the park, and generally took it all in. We were here, in Ireland, for St. Patrick’s Day!

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The parade was a grand affair. Michael Flatley of “Riverdance” fame was the master of ceremonies, although I didn’t even recognize him when he drove by (you can hardly blame me–he wasn’t wearing tights). The parade had bands, acrobats, dancing groups, an eclectic collection of international groups, fire trucks, and floats. The boys loved watching the parade–David’s favorite group was “the army guys” and Jacob’s favorite was the Chinese dragon (I know because he cried when it went around the corner and he couldn’t see it anymore). It was all really, really wonderful.

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The parade must have wiped the boys out because shortly after we returned home I  found them resting on the floor with blankets they’d pulled off their beds. Ah, even leprechauns need their sleep.

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I probably should have joined them for their little afternoon snooze, because my day was far from over at this point. After the boys were tucked in for the night we had a babysitter come over so Jon and I could go out and enjoy the St. Paddy’s nightlife. We went back into the city and met up with our friend (and Jon’s co-worker), Cole, who had just arrived in town for a week of work in the Ireland office.

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We visited some pubs, and I learned three important truths on our little late-night escapade:

1. There is nothing like celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in an Irish pub. Especially if that Irish pub is actually in Ireland. The atmosphere was…how do I put this…electric. Everything was buzzing and alive and, well, crazy. It was tons of fun.

2. Even the rowdiest pub in Ireland will still serve you tea and scones at midnight. No joke.

3. I am getting old. One of the pubs had a great band playing cover songs and we spent most of the night signing and dancing along with (what seemed to be) half of Ireland. I left the pub feeling old. Very, very old. Nevermind the fact that I still can’t hear out of my left ear (the one that was facing the speaker while the band played) or the fact that I left the pub clutching my sore back (too much dancing). The thing that makes me feel REALLY old is the fact that me, Jon, and Cole were the only ones singing along to songs from our high school days. Which makes sense when you consider that most of the other revelers in the pub were probably in Kindergarten when those songs were popular. Dang.

In short, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was everything I’d hoped that it would be…and more. Every St. Patrick’s Day for the rest of my life I will remember this week: that time that I was actually in Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day.

And it was–wait for it–legendary.

Our Trip Home: From A to Z

Yesterday we returned from an incredible three-week holiday at “home” with our loved ones in Washington state. This was our first time returning home since our move to Ireland six months ago and we savored every moment of it. As with any trip of that magnitude, there were ups and downs during our stay. Here are the alphabetical highlights of our trip:

The ABC’s Of Our Christmas Vacation

IMG_0169A is for Annual Christmas date: I have gone on a Christmas date with my mom every year since I was 4 years old. It’s something I look forward to every year…no matter how old I get! We’ve done lots of different things for our dates over the years, but my favorite is always going to see Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker. And, since I was feeling nostalgic this year, that’s exactly what we did. After our matinee performance (which was beautiful, as always) we walked around Seattle Center to look at the fountain and the Space Needle all decked out with lights. Then we walked up the street to the Melting Pot for some delicious cheese and chocolate fondues. It was a perfect evening, and I couldn’t ask for a better date!

IMG_0551B is for “Besties”: We’ve been missing our friends, so it was great just spending time with them and catching up. It’s amazing how time and distance can’t even change the bond you have with your best pals! From evening runs to dinners out and gatherings in peoples’ homes, every moment we had with our friends was precious. In addition to seeing our friends, I also loved meeting all of the sweet new babies that have been born since we were last here–the future best friends of our children, I’m sure!

C is for Christmas:

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We had a very low-key Christmas this year. We celebrated Christmas Eve with Jon’s side of the family and spent Christmas day at my parents’ house. The boys had a blast opening all of their Christmas gifts (David’s favorite gift is a tie between his blue basketball and all of his new Angry Birds gear; Jacob just liked rolling around in all of the wrapping paper). After brunch we went for a walk around the neighborhood and played with all of our new toys. We ended the day with a yummy Christmas dinner (ham) and a noteworthy Christmas film (Curious George’s Christmas Special). Then it was off to bed where visions of sugar plums danced in our heads.

IMG_0040D is for Dentist: We love our dentist so much that we made time to visit him during our little stay in Washington. We all got cleanings, and Jacob even got his first turn in the big chair. Both boys did great job letting the dentist clean and count their teeth!

E is for Everett: During most of our visit we were staying with my parents in Federal Way, but we made a few trips up north to our former hometown of Everett. While we were in Everett we got to visit friends, check in on our house, and visit some of our favorite local places. We wish we could have spent a bit more time up there visiting more people but, alas, time was of precious short order on this trip.

unnamedF is for Family: Our family is the main reason we decided to pack up and head home for Christmas–and thankfully we got to see a lot of them! Besides our local family in Washington, we also had family members come up from California and down from Alaska to visit while we were there. To all of our parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, nephews, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who we got to see: thank you for making the time for us. It really meant the world to each of us to spend time with you!

IMG_0802G is for Grandpa: Unfortunately, four days after we arrived in Washington my grandfather passed away (you can read my tribute to him here). Grandpa was an incredible man, I loved him dearly, and it’s difficult to say goodbye. Still, though, I am so grateful that I got to spend some last moments with him before he passed–I will never forget that last day that I spent with him. Living so far away from home now I realize that this was God’s grace to me that I got to say goodbye in person and spend time mourning with my family. I love you and I miss you, Grandpa!

IMG_0177H is for Holiday With Lights: For the second year in a row now we decided to brave the elements and venture out to Holiday With Lights at Wild Waves, a local theme park. The whole park is decorated for Christmas with beautiful lights. Most of the rides were open–we enjoyed going on the carousel and the roller coasters (which are a bit scarier in the dark!). We even got to visit Santa just in time for our annual photo-op.

I is for iPhone: A few days before we left Ireland for our trip to Washington my iPhone died. I was a bit panicked for those 3 days that I didn’t have a phone. How would I call people? How would I check the weather before I went outside? How would I get people’s status updates on Facebook in real time? It was terrible. So, as soon as our plane landed we made an appointment for me at the Apple store to see if they could revive my poor little phone. In the end, though, the phone was bricked–as in, it was as useless as a brick. I sucked it up and traded in my “brick” for a new phone–and life went on again.

IMG_0814J is for Jetlag: Traveling with kids is difficult. Traveling halfway around the world and dealing with jetlagged kids is horrible. I’ve discovered that, for kids at least, it takes about 1 day of adjustment per hour of time difference that you travel. So, if you travel through one time zone, you’ll be back on track in one day. If you travel through 8 time zones like us, though, it takes 8 days before the kids figure out again how to sleep at night and not be terrors during the day. Moral of the story: jetlag SUCKS.

IMG_0533K is for Kid’s Museum: On Christmas Eve my mom and I took the boys to the Tacoma Children’s Museum for a fun morning of play and exploration. It was a beautiful museum with lots of fun activities that were perfect for the boys (and, best part of all, it’s totally free–donations accepted, of course!). Both boys loved the water play area, the drums, the soft “snowballs” that they could throw down tunnels and tubes, and climbing on the giant DaVinci-esque flying machine.

IMG_0418L is for Leavenworth: Jon’s parents live over the mountains (and through the woods…) in a little tourist town called Leavenworth. The town is in the middle of the Cascade Mountains and is set up to look like you’re in a Bavarian village. It’s all very cute and unique. We spent 3 days over in Leavenworth visiting Grammy and Grandpa Pete. During our stay we played in the snow, fed the deer that frequent their yard, walked through town, played pool, and relaxed by the fire. We had a great time on our mini-vacation!

IMG_0452M is for Mars Hill: Mars Hill is our former church that we attended for several years before moving to Ireland. The church has several campuses and both our church in Everett and my parents’ church in Federal Way got new “homes” while we were away. We got to visit both of those new buildings for services and catch up with our friends there. All I can say is “Wow!”. God is so good!

IMG_0561N is for New Year’s Eve: We rang in 2014 with some of our closest friends. New Year’s Eve was spent at our friends’ house where we played games, visited, and caught up with each other. We also started what will have to be a new tradition: a Christmas tree bonfire. The Christmas tree was quite impressive going up in flames…and it made for a nice warm fire on a cold evening.

unnamed (2)O is for Oregon: On January 3rd our family from near and far gathered in Longview, WA for my grandfather’s memorial service. It was a lovely Military funeral complete with Marine color guards and a gun-salute. It was a wonderful time for our family to spend time together, share memories of Grandpa, and honor his life. After the funeral we drove down to Oregon where we were going to spread Grandpa’s ashes the next day. Eleven of us stayed in a huge beach house called Arch Cape Lodge right on the Oregon coast. The next morning we drove out to one of Grandpa’s favorite places: Cannon Beach. When I was growing up we would visit Cannon Beach frequently and I have many fond memories of playing in the sand and walking out to Haystack Rock with Grandpa there. It was Grandpa’s wish to rejoin his fallen comrades in the Pacific after his passing, so Cannon Beach seemed like the perfect place. Incredibly, the day that we were at Cannon Beach to spread Grandpa’s ashes was one of the most beautiful, crystal-clear sunny days that I’ve ever seen at that beach–especially in the middle of winter! Yet again, God’s grace shone through.

IMG_0677P is for Pike Place Market: You can’t visit Seattle without a trip to the iconic Pike Place Market. So, of course, we went. We walked  through the market admiring all of the fresh fruits and veggies, the wide-eyed seafood, the lush bouquets of flowers, the samplers of homemade jams. And, since we were already there, we stopped by the new Storyville Coffee for a little pick-me-up before heading over to the Seattle Art Museum (it was First Thursday so admission was free–definitely an added bonus!). Then the icing on the cake: we walked down to the Seattle Waterfront and went for a spin on the Great Wheel. While it wasn’t quite as impressive as my last giant Ferris wheel ride in London, the views were definitely worth the price of admission!

Q is for Quiet Time: I took several naps on this vacation. That’s a rare enough occurrence that I thought it warranted it’s own little shout-out here. So, to the grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles who played with my kids so I could sleep: from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

IMG_0458R is for Russian Spa: Jon and I met up with a friend in Seattle for a new and unique adventure: our first experience at a Russian spa. The spa, Banya 5, consists of a tea room/relaxation area and a large room with several pools and saunas that you circulate through. At one point you go from a 240 degree sauna right into a 45 degree icy plunge. It literally takes your breath away. Crazy as it sounds, it was all pretty fun…and even a bit relaxing.

S is for Stomach Flu: It all started with one person having an upset stomach–and, before we knew it, every person in our family was sick with the stomach flu. For one solid week (Christmas inclusive) we took turns being sick and passing our sickness on to each other. By the end of the week, 11 of us had our turn with the sick bug. It was miserable. The one saving grace is that I wasn’t sick alone, which meant I had people to help care for my children and let me sleep when I felt like death. Moving on…

IMG_0809T is for Travelers: The boys did so well traveling on this trip. During all of the plane rides and car rides and airport layovers I just kept waiting for one of them to explode in an uncontrollable fit. But it never happened (Thank you, Jesus). In fact, both boys actually slept for the majority of our long flight home. It definitely helped that we had good seats on our flights and fun new toys from Christmas to keep everyone entertained. Still, though, I am so proud of them. What great little travelers we have!

IMG_0521U is for Ummelina: Instead of giving each other gifts for Christmas this year, Jon and I decided to go out on a special date. We started our date at Ummelina day spa where we each got glorious 90-minute massages and plenty of pampering. After our massages we walked down the street to Purple Wine Bar for a delicious dinner of bacon poutine, braised short ribs, lamb meatballs and pasta. Not exactly spa food, but it was incredible. We rounded out the evening at the cinema watching “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (by the way, we both give the movie two thumbs up). It was a wonderful evening with an even more wonderful date!

IMG_0640V is for Volcano: On New Year’s Day we drove out to Mount Rainier National Park (the mountain, by the way, is technically a volcano). My sister, her husband, and my nephew Noah were up visiting from California and they REALLY wanted to see snow. Washington has had very little snow so far this winter, so we had to drive deep into the mountains to find some good playing snow. It was a lot of driving, but the mountain rewarded us with an amazing day. We ended up having clear blue skies and sunshine, a bit of a rarity this time of year. All of the kids (and kids at heart) had a great time sledding and sliding and frolicking in the snow. Quite the start to 2014!

IMG_0666W is for Washington: Washington is where we came from, and it will always be home to us. Being back home reminded me of what a beautiful and unique place Washington is. After being away in Ireland for several months we were able to see things with new eyes and appreciate things in a different way. I heart you, Washington!

IMG_0376X is for Xbox One: Jon ordered himself a new XBox while we were in Ireland and it was waiting at my parents’ house when we arrived. Ah, boys and their toys…

Y is for Yummy Food: There are so many foods that I’ve been craving since we’ve moved to Ireland. And, me being me, I decided to try to eat ALL of them while we were home: Macaroni and Cheese, Pho, Reeses, Goldfish crackers, graham crackers, Mexican food…you get the picture. I guess the diet starts next week?

IMG_0683Z is for FeliZ Cumpleanos (Spanish for Happy Birthday): I know that it’s a bit of a stretch, but there is a “z” in feliz. Plus, this is really important. On January 2 we celebrated Jon’s grandma Doreen’s 91st birthday. NINETY-ONE! If I live 91 years I hope that someone will dedicate at least a few sentences to me on their blog. Grandma Doreen is an incredible woman: kind, confident, joyful, strong, and sharp as a tack. She is a big part of our lives, and we were blessed to spend this special day with her. We celebrated with a small family dinner at her house (decor provided by fresh flowers from Pike Place Market) and red velvet cake for the birthday girl. We love you, Great-Granny Doreen!

Our trip home had a little bit of everything: adventure and relaxation, excitement and heartbreak, health and sickness. What it had the most of, though, was love. I love my family, I love my friends, I love this place that we come from. I think Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz had it right: There’s no place like home.

I’ve Seen London, I’ve Seen France


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We just returned from an epic vacation: 2 weeks with 2 little kids in 2 different countries.  One of the main reasons we wanted to move to Ireland was for the opportunity to travel and see places we wouldn’t otherwise be able to see, and this vacation was the first of several that we hope to take in the next 2 years. Our trip included visits to London and Paris–must-see cities on any European travel itinerary.

This was the longest vacation we’ve ever taken (see, we really are embracing the European way of life!) and it was…incredible. The boys traveled great, everyone stayed (mostly) healthy, we saw incredible sites, we ate delicious food, we had great accommodations, and we all had fun. Really–lots and lots of fun. While we were planning this trip I actually had a lot of anxiety about how the boys would do and how we would manage the logistics of a trip this big. And, in the end, it was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had (proof again that worrying is never worth it).

One of the biggest reasons this trip was so successful was because of this girl. Meet Jillian:

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Jillian is a family friend of ours (and one of our all-time favorite babysitters) from our church in Seattle. She flew all the way out here to help us with our kids on our trip. Jillian’s mom works for an airline, so she was able to get a killer deal on a plane ticket–plus, I think she was just a little bit excited about the prospect of an all-inclusive trip through Europe!–so we pulled some strings and got her out to Europe. It was great having an extra set of hands and eyes as we were traversing the cities and she also provided babysitting for us so that Jon and I could go out and do some exploring on our own. It was so, so very wonderful. Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll ever be able to travel without a helper again. Thank you, thank you for everything, Jillian!

London:

We began our trip in London. Here we are in front of Buckingham Palace. Jon and I both agreed that the palace itself was not quite what we’d expected. I had pictured this big palace set apart from the city with beautiful grounds for us to meander, but no. The palace is right smack in the middle of a busy intersection in downtown London, surrounded by busy streets and people walking by at all hours. It was beautiful, just not quite as grand and serene as I had imagined.

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We did get to watch the spectacle of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. There were bands and horses and fancy soldiers marching around. The whole thing lasted about an hour, so we sat there and ate our lunch while the guards did their thing.

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While we were at Buckingham Palace we also visited the Royal Mews (the stables where they keep all of the royal horses and carriages). This is one of several royal carriages that was on display–definitely fit for a king!

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After visiting Buckingham Palace we walked down the street to Westminster Abbey, one of the largest, oldest, most fascinating churches in Europe. This is the church where Wills and Kate and Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married. It’s also where many famous people are buried. In addition to almost every monarch to ever set foot on the British throne, many “commoners” have found their final resting place here: Charles Darwin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Charlotte Bronte, Winston Churchill, and Handel to name a few. I like this photo of me with Westminster Abbey because it’s so very London: the Abbey, a red phone booth, and a double-decker bus.

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Since our first day in London was a “grown up day”, the next day was a “kid day” . We visited the London Zoo,  a beautiful zoo and one of the largest that we’ve ever been to. We spent all day exploring the zoo and watching the animals. In addition to the standard zoo animals, there were some pretty unique ones: Okapi (a cousin of the zebra), camels, a pygmy hippo (David’s favorite animal by far), and huge Galapagos tortoises (disclaimer: David is not sitting on a real turtle, but they were really that big!).

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We got to be quite the experts at navigating the public transportation systems in both cities on this trip. While the subways came frequently and got you anywhere in the city within minutes, we found them a bit difficult to navigate with a stroller. You see, subways are underground. And to get underground you go down stairs. Lots and lots and lots of stairs. And then, when you arrive at your destination, you have to get back above ground. And that means–you guessed it!–lots and lots of stairs.  Luckily Jon is like the Incredible Hulk when it comes to lifting and we managed just fine (minus a few thrown-out backs–collateral damage, I guess).

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Another highlight of our time in London was Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.  The original Globe Theater burnt down hundreds of years ago when the actors shot a real cannon during a performance, but the theater that stands today gives you a pretty good idea of what it would have been like. They still perform Shakespeare plays in the theater, but seeing as it was the middle of November and we had two rascally boys with us, we decided to play it safe and just do the theater tour. The tour was informative and entertaining. And now, for some reason, I just want to read Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet…

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From The Globe we walked onward to see more of the city. We found London Bridge which, to my great disappointment, is just a bridge. Not a fancy bridge or a beautiful bridge or a quaint old bridge. Just a bridge with 5 lanes of traffic driving over it. At least it wasn’t falling down.

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Not too far away, though, there is a bridge that is actually worth seeing: Tower Bridge. This is the one you picture when you think of iconic London landmarks:

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At the base of Tower Bridge is the Tower of London. The Tower of London is not a tower at all–it is a huge, sprawling castle with lots of towers and lots of history. The Tower of London was the royal castle of the British monarchy for several centuries. Today, visitors can go inside the castle to explore the bedrooms, throne rooms, secret passages and even the dungeon.

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This is also where the Crown Jewels are on display–they even have special jewel guards here called “Beefeaters” (not sure where the name came from, but they were all very cute in their fancy uniforms).  It was quite fascinating to see all those glittering  jewels and gold, and to picture how they would look on top of my head if Wills had chosen me instead of Kate (I have to say, though, I think we all fared better the way things worked out).

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One of the best perks of having our helper on this trip was that Jon and I were able to go out on several dates. We had lovely (quiet) dinners, stayed up until grown-up hours exploring the city, and even took in some shows. Our favorite date of the entire trip, though, would have to be riding on the London Eye. The Eye is a huge ferris wheel with pods instead of seats. One rotation takes about 45-minutes, so you get to see a lot of the city from a unique perspective. It was so fun to see all of the glittering lights of London as we rode up in the sky. Really spectacular.

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Our last day in London was a free day: all of the attractions we went to were free and open to the public (a notion that we welcomed with open arms after realizing how stinking expensive everything is in London). We started the day at the Natural History Museum. It is a HUGE museum with many different sections to explore.

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Our favorite part of the Natural History Museum was the dinosaur exhibit. There were several full dinosaur skeletons on display, and Jacob even got a birds-eye view of them:

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After a few hours in the museum we needed some fresh air, so we headed over to Hyde Park. The boys had fun playing on the playground and throwing rocks in the lake. It was a beautiful day to walk around and spend some time outside.

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Our final stop of the day was a giant toy store called Hamley’s. It’s 5-stories tall and there are oodles of toys to play with. We ended up spending over 3 hours in the toy store and, sticking to my guns on the whole “free day” thing, we didn’t buy a single toy. The boys were so tired at this point, though, that I don’t think they even noticed.

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London was incredible, and we all agreed that we must return soon. For now, though, it was time to move on to Paris.

Paris:

We rode the Eurostar train from London to Paris through the Chunnel. It was a pretty quick ride (less than 2 hours) and I actually didn’t even notice when we went through the Chunnel. I guess we were just going fast (or I was just out of it, which I probably was).

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For our first day in Paris, we made a beeline for the biggest Paris attraction of all: the Eiffel Tower. There it was, in all it’s majesty, just as grand as you think it is. We posed for some nice photos to prove that we really were in Paris:

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And then Jon did what we’d kinda been wanting to do all week:

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(Don’t worry, Grandma Doreen, the boys were laughing the whole time and no children were harmed in the process of taking this photo)

After waiting in a very long, VERY cold line, we took the elevator all the way to the top deck of the Eiffel tower. We even celebrated our time in Paris with a champagne toast at the top of the tower:

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The view from the top of the tower is spectacular. It was a bit cloudy on the day we were there, but you could still see for miles. It was amazing being able to see the whole (gigantic) city from one spot.

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The next day we headed over to another Paris landmark: The Louvre Museum.

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It was, shall we say, interesting navigating an art museum with two small children. But we were determined, and we made it happen. We may or may not have snuck the boys snacks in the “no food allowed” areas, we may have allowed David to watch a movie on the iPad instead of marveling at the world’s greatest masterpieces, and I may have timed our trip so that Jacob was exhausted and fell asleep shortly after our arrival. At any rate, we had a successful 3-hour tour of the Louvre.

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The building itself is incredible–the walls, the floors, even the ceilings are pieces of art in themselves:

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And, of course, there is plenty of “real” art to look at, too. Like this little piece you may have heard of, the Mona Lisa:

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Mona Lisa was interesting to see just because, well, it’s the Mona Lisa. Other than it being famous, though, Mona Lisa isn’t all that impressive. One of my favorite pieces in the whole museum is this painting that is on the wall directly across from Mona Lisa. It’s a HUGE painting of the Biblical scene where Jesus turns water into wine. Standing in front of the painting you feel small, like you are actually a part of the painting itself. It’s all very cool.

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Another stand-out piece in the museum is this mummy. He’s an actual Egyptian mummy, thousands of years old and still fully intact. Craaaaaaazy….

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Since we visited the Louvre on a Wednesday, they were open late until 9:30. After dinner we dropped the boys and Jillian off at our apartment so Jon and I could return for some child-free time at the museum. It was great to have a bit of time to wander the halls and not worry about who needed to eat or where we could find a potty NOW. It was also nice to break up the visit a bit–there’s only so much art museum you can handle in one go.

The next day we visited Notre Dame Cathedral. It was every bit as huge and beautiful and incredible as you think it is.

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We (and by we, I mean me and Jon. No kiddos on this one.) also climbed hundreds of stairs to the top Napoleon’s great monument, the Arc de Triomphe.

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Jon and I also had a date out at the infamous Moulin Rouge. This was both what we expected, and not what we expected. Long story short, you need a reservation (which we did not have),  despite offering children’s tickets this is NOT a child-appropriate venue (good thing we left ours at home with Jillian!), and the show is actually quite spectacular when you get past the risque attire of the performers.

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The most unusual place we visited in Paris was the Paris Catacombs. Hundreds of years ago, the Parisians realized that their graveyards were getting full and something needed to be done. There were already miles and miles of underground quarries in the city, so they decided to move all of the bones into the quarries to create the catacombs. The bones are all stacked and arranged beautifully (can you say that about bones?). The catacombs go on for miles through all of these underground passageways–it’s really crazy to see!

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We spent some time later in the week doing some kid stuff. We visited a children’s museum within the City of Science and Industry (a huge complex of museums and fairgrounds). This was an incredible children’s museum, designed specifically for kids aged 2-5, and the boys (my husband included) had a blast! We probably could have spent all week there, it was that good.

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We also went to a huge children’s park called Jardin d’Acclimatation. There were animals, playgrounds, a children’s theater, a water park (we’ll have to return when it’s warmer!) and even a little train that you can ride on.

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There were also carnival rides, and David insisted that he had to ride on the cars. Here he is driving his little truck, in all his bundled-up glory:

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Our final day in Paris was spent taking a River Seine boat tour.

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The boat tour took us past all of the famous Paris landmarks and gave us a different perspective on the city.

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And, then, just like that, our vacation was over. Two weeks flew by at lightning speed–good thing we took (literally) tens of thousands of photos to remember everything! Our time in London and Paris was amazing–so many incredible things to see and do and experience. We will cherish all of the memories of this trip for the rest of our lives.

Until next time, bon voyage!

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P.S. We learned a few tips and tricks for traveling with little kids while we were on this trip. Check out my post here for some insight on how we managed the madness!