10 Things That Are Saving My Life Right Now

Image result for life ring in waterEvery week I listen to one of my favorite podcasts (Sidenote: podcasts are one of the greatest inventions ever. Especially if you’re a stay at home mom who usually only hears other adults speaking between the hours of 5-9PM.). Each episode in the current series ends with the host asking that week’s guest a single question:

What is saving your life right now?

The guests answer’s range from the mundane to the profound, but it’s always interesting to hear what people consider significant. I’ve been thinking a lot about that question myself, but I can’t come up with a single answer. So instead, I’ll give you my list of 10 things that (really and truly) are saving my life right now:

  1. Preschool
    This year I have entered a new phase of my life, a phase that I have been greatly anticipating for quite some time now: The “All My Kids Are In School” Phase. With my youngest child entering preschool, we have ushered in a new era of Mommy-Freedom.  For any of you with multiple children–really, for any of you with any children–you understand the significance of this phase. Because not only are my children’s lives being enriched every day with education, but I get a break. Can I get a Halleluja?! Granted, by the time I drop all of my offspring off at their respective schools my “break” comes to a total of only about 3 hours per week. But 3 hours is 3 hours, and I’ll take it.
  2. My Stroller
    Over the course of the past 9 years since we’ve been toting around our babies, we’ve gone through approximately 597 bajillion strollers. We’ve had umbrella strollers and double strollers and snap-n-go strollers, and jogging strollers. So. Many. Strollers. So last spring when my trusty BOB started falling apart (Literally. Bolts and screws would fly off every time I opened the thing up.) I seriously debated just getting rid of strollers for good. My husband in his ever-present wisdom, however, convinced me to get one more stroller to pull us through to the finish line of toddler-hood. I reluctantly bought yet another stroller…and, boy, am I glad that I did. Every single afternoon I toss Hannah into that stroller with a snack (and, let’s be honest, her favorite “baby show” to watch on my phone) and I go out for a walk/jog/whatever. In this way, my stroller offers me freedom and, literally, a breath of fresh air.
  3. No
    This has already been an interesting school year for our family, and we’re only a few weeks into it. Some of the changes in our schedule and commitments have meant that I have to say no quite often. Sometimes I have to say no to really good things or things that I really want to do. But I’m learning to embrace that “no” is an acceptable answer. No allows me to keep my sanity, to be there for my family, and to focus on what is most important for me right now.
  4. Yoga Pants
    I made a decision quite some time ago that my comfort trumps fashion. As a result, I have relieved my wardrobe of pants with confining buttons and zippers. After all, what am I doing in my life that is so important that I can’t bring yoga pants along for the ride? Dropping the kids off at school: yoga pants. Taking my favorite stroller out for a walk: yoga pants. Steamy date night: yoga pants with a dress on top. I am yet to find a solution to life’s woes that is more appropriate than simply replacing jeans with yoga pants.
  5. Waterproof Cast Cover
    As I wrote about here, my 7-year old son broke his arm a few weeks ago. Beyond the physical limitations of having a broken arm and a ginormous cast, there are some very real emotional issues we have come across. For poor little Jacob, one of the biggest hurdles he’s had to face is not being able to take a shower with his cast. This kid loves his showers more than anyone I’ve ever met, and it was crushing his soul to know that he couldn’t take a shower for approximately 1/80th of his life. I was sharing this heartbreak with a friend recently and she told me about a waterproof cast cover that she’s used with her sons when they’ve broken their arms. Being the loving mother that I am, I went on Amazon that very moment and ordered the cast cover. Two days later (Thank you Amazon Prime!) Jacob was back to taking his beloved showers and our life has blessedly resumed a sense of peace.
  6. My Minivan
    I’m not gonna lie, I love my minivan. Like, really, really love it. Sure, it’s not the coolest car on the road, but it appeals to my practicality like no other object in my life. At the push of a button I can open or close doors and windows. There’s enough floor space to conceal 3.8 bags of crushed goldfish crackers. There’s room in the trunk for a load of groceries, soccer gear, and the family dog–all at the same time. There’s a built-in child-quieting device (Some refer to it as a DVD player, but I choose to think of it as my rescue inhaler). God bless the designers who took my motto of comfort over fashion and applied it to the automotive industry.
  7. Barry’s Tea
    I got turned on to Barry’s tea when we were living in Ireland, and now I’m officially addicted. My day does not officially begin until I’ve had my cup of tea, and you probably don’t want to know what I’m like until that happens. Let’s just say that if you ever find me lying unconscious in my living room, the likely solution is an IV of Barry’s tea.
  8. Freedom From Nap Jail
    This summer Hannah (my youngest) officially gave up naps. When my children were younger I loved the break I would get if I could (miraculously) get them all to nap at the same time. As they got older, however, nap time became nap jail. I was forced to stop whatever activity we were doing and rush home for nap time, then wake up a cranky toddler so we could rush off to whatever other thing we had to do. Now that all of my children are officially done with daytime naps I have been released from nap jail, and it’s kind of amazing. I can stay places for longer than 2 hours in the morning, I can relax if there’s traffic because I know my toddler won’t fall asleep in their car seat and have to be unsuccessfully transferred, and I can plan activities that have a start time after 12:00PM. Buh-bye, nap jail, and hello all-day freedom!
  9. Miss Veronica
    I have a housecleaner, and she is one of the most important people in my life. Miss Veronica comes to my house once a month and I am not joking when I say that the day she comes is my very favorite day of every month. When Miss Veronica comes she re-sets the physical space in my home which, in turn, re-sets my mental space. The fact that I can see through my smudge-free windows again and rest in the knowledge that dust bunnies are no longer inhabiting every corner of my home gives me an absolute sense of relief. For one day out of every month I can walk into a clean house and know that all is right in my little world. And that is worth everything.
  10. Grace
    Over the last few months I have been learning the importance of grace. Grace for myself, and grace for others. Sometimes this looks like admitting I was wrong or that I stepped out of line. Sometimes it looks like pushing homework out until tomorrow morning because the kid is just too dang tired to put forward any more mental effort today. Sometimes it looks like stopping to hold a screaming toddler instead of screaming with her. Sometimes it looks like letting the laundry pile up so I can go for a walk on a sunny day. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

And now it’s your turn–what is saving your life right now?

What To See and Do With Kids: San Francisco

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving along to more exciting matters now…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pure. Bliss.

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

 

What To See And Do With Kids: Portland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And speaking of waterparks…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

The 10 Stages of Summer Vacation With Kids

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Today is our first official day of summer vacation!!! I know some of you have already been on summer vacation for days, weeks, maybe even a full month by now…but for our late-to-the-party kids in the Pacific Northwest, today is Summer: Ground Zero.

While “summer vacation” may stir up different memories or bring to mind different connotations for each person, for the stay at home mom it means one thing: INSANITY. You see, by “first official day of summer vacation” I mean that this is day 1 of approximately 100 that all three of my precious children will be with me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No breaks. No schedules. No commitments. Just me and my crew.
All. The. Time.

Of course I love my kids and I honestly do look forward to summer vacation with them…but there are some definite shifts that will happen over the next three months. I like to think of these “shifts” as the 10 stages of summer with kids:

Stage 1: EXCITEMENT!!! (Lasts for approximately 1 day)
It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for!!! SUMMMMMMMMERRRRRR!!!!! Visions of sunshine and popsicles fill their heads. We have so many plans and good intentions. There is so much to do, so many places to go, so many experiences to experience. And now–NOW–is our moment. Hooray!!!!

Stage 2: Getting Into The Swing of Things (Lasts for approximately 1 week)
You start tackling all of the must-do’s on your summer bucket list. There are oodles of fun things to occupy children in the summer and you do them all–Bubbles! Plastic kiddie pools! Water balloons! Playing with the neighbors! Riding your bike! Everyone is mostly having fun and the thrill of doing something new and different is still there. Capitalize on this while you still can.

Stage 3: Boredom and Bickering (Lasts for approximately half of summer)
The novelty of the kiddie pool has already worn out. Those new books have already been read. The neighbor kids left on vacation. There is a non-stop chorus of “I’m bored!” and “Mommy, play with me!” echoing throughout your (incessantly messy) house. Your children have become tiny lawyers and are able to argue unceasingly about literally everything. You check your calendar and realize that you only have 10 more weeks to entertain your minions. You can do this.

Stage 4: Family Trip (Whenever your husband was able to schedule his PTO.)
By now you have realized that, as a parent, you do not ever take a vacation with your children–you take a trip. There is a distinct difference between a vacation and a trip: A vacation is fun; a trip is simply a way to move your bored/bickering/picky-eating/sleep-refusing children to a location other than the comforts of your own home. You reason that the mental, physical, and financial anguish you endure for the sake of your family trip is being made up for in the construction of “happy childhood memories” for your children.

Stage 5: Rally (Begins at the beginning of month 2 of summer vacation)
Woah! How did a whole month of summer already go by?! We’re almost halfway through summer vacation and we haven’t done half of the stuff we wanted to do! You rally the kids together and make a push to get back on track. Let the fun re-commence!

Stage 6: Summer Camp (Hopefully you have at least 1 week of camp planned somewhere in your summer. If not, there’s probably still time to find one if you book it RIGHT NOW. Haha! Just kidding. They all filled up back in January.)
Ahhhh…finally, a break. I don’t care if it’s only from 9:30-12:00, this week of art/robotics/Lego/sports/VBS/gymnastics/outdoor adventure camp was worth every penny of the $600 registration fee.

Stage 7: OMG Is Summer Over Yet? (Begins somewhere in the middle of month 2 of summer vacation)
The dog days of summer are dragging on. There are still tens of days left until school starts, but everyone is already spent. You spend extra days at the gym just so you can use their free childcare. You hire a mid-week babysitter so you can “run errands” that involve sitting by yourself in an air-conditioned car while your children ask somebody else 5,000 times if they can have a snack or play on their tablets again.  You write pre-emptive thank you notes to next year’s teachers because you already realize that they are saints.

Stage 8: Finish Strong (Begins 2 weeks before school starts)
Heads down, now, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other: forward momentum is what we’re going for here. Finish those summer reading programs. Make your kids sit down and finally write the letters to their out-of-state friends and family that you had intended to have them write every week of the summer. If you have any energy left in your reserves, plan a few fun little outings that your kids can share about when their teacher asks them “what they did this summer”. Maybe even cook a meal that isn’t a piece of meat grilled on your BBQ. We’re not going for gold here, but let’s at least try to finish the race on our own two feet.

Stage 9: Back To School Panic (Begins 2 weeks before school starts)
SCHOOL?!?! How is this happening?!?! We had so much time and we did…NOTHING!!! But now it’s over and we’ve got to MOVE! Gah! Go to 12 different stores to buy school supplies because none of them had the correct brand/size/quantity that is very specifically required by your school. Argue with your children over backpacks and lunch boxes and appropriate new shoes. Force your feral offspring to get haircuts. Send yourself a mental note to start all of this back-to-schoool mumbo-jumbo in July next year.

Stage 10: Joy (The day before school starts)
Joy! Overwhelming joy. You made it!!!
Your heart is full. Even though this summer had its ups and downs, you wouldn’t trade it for anything. After all, this summer was 1/18th of the summers you’ll ever have with your kids before they grow up and leave you forever (SOB!). You got to spend precious time with your children who are growing up more and more by the minute, and you made lasting memories together–the kinds of memories that they’ll recount to their own children some day. You carpe diem‘d the summer like its never been carpe diem‘d before.

And now? Now you get to send your children–a little bit bigger and a little bit more refreshed–back to school for another year of growth and learning.  And maybe–just maybe–you’ll celebrate with a mimosa tomorrow.

Happy summer, friends!

 

My Seattle Spring Bucket List

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Now that Hannah is 2, she seems to be learning new words every day. The cutest by far, though, has to be the fact that she has learned how to sing her first “song”: Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun. Whenever she catches a glimpse of the sun (which is quite rare during a Seattle winter), Hannah breaks into song: “Sun! Sun! Goooooooolden SUN!”(P.S. It’s absolutely adorable. P.P.S. We’ve missed you, Sun. –Yours Kindly, every Seattleite who has been Vitamin-D deficient since September).

And now that the glimpses of sun are becoming less infrequent, I’ve been longing for the longer, warmer days of spring. So as I sit here daydreaming of the next season, I’ll share a few of my “Seattle Spring Bucket List” longings with you:

  • Visit the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. I haven’t been to this since Jacob was a baby, and I can’t wait to go back! The endless sea of blooming flowers, the equally endless rows of mud puddles and mud-covered children, the obligatory stop at Snowgoose Produce for a giant scoop of ice cream–I want it all!
  • Easter. Easter is my favorite holiday of the year, and I can’t wait to do all of the fun Easter-y activities with my kids. On the short list: Opening resurrection eggs, baking resurrection rolls while acting out the Easter story, painting eggs (Pro tip: Place your egg inside a wire whisk and dip into a bowl of dye–even a 2 year old can handle this without making a mess!), a neighborhood Easter egg hunt, and making a table-top Easter garden.
  • Plant a garden. I’ve never really done this before, and the only times I’ve tried have been epic failures. After all, I have enough to worry about keeping a husband, three children and a dog alive–adding plants onto that list is a bit too much for me. But I have empty garden beds in my new yard and they’re mocking me, so I think I’ll give it a go. Wish me luck.
  • See all the baby animals. I want to pet baby bunnies. I want to hold baby chicks. I want to see a baby lamb frolick in a field. Give me the farms, the spring fair, the neighborhood horse ranch–just give me all the cute baby animals, please!
  • Go puddle jumping. We have plenty of puddles in the winter, but they’re cold and I won’t let my kids play in them for too long because, well, pneumonia. But spring puddles are fun because you can jump and splash and soak your little brother and it’s not the end of the world (Unless you ask the little brother. Then it is definitely the end of the world.). Bonus if there’s a rainbow in the sky on puddle jumping day.
  • Find some frogs. We have a pond behind our house that is chock-full of frogs at this time of year, but we are yet to catch any of our amphibian friends for further observation. Jacob cries every night that he hears the frogs croaking outside his bedroom window because he wants to hold one of them. So basically, this is just so we can all get better sleep at night.
  • Ride bikes. So, none of my kids can ride bikes without training wheels. Hannah’s off the hook because she just learned how to walk 9 months ago, but the almost-6 year old and the almost-8 year old have no excuses. I’ve already made up my mind that THIS IS THE SUMMER. Yes, this is the summer that they will learn how to ride a bike. And I guess that means we need to start practicing. Pray for me.
  • Go outside after 3 PM. For the past few months it has been dark by the time David is getting off the school bus, and I can’t WAIT to get my afternoons back! Kids arguing? Send them outside! Too much energy? Outside! Need a change of scenery from our living room with the same pile of books and board games? GO OUTSIDE!!!!
  • BBQ. Speaking of going outside, I’m ready to revive the BBQ. Winter is for crockpots, but warmer weather calls for the grill. I’m ready to say goodbye to soups and stews and hello to burgers and brats. Yummmmmmm….
  • And speaking of yummmmmmm…I will be eating asparagus. Fesh, local, in-season asparagus. And lots of it. Yummmmm….
  • Run outdoors. I did most of my training for my last race on a teadmill at the gym because it was too cold and wet and miserable to go outside. I’m ready to just open my front door and say, “Yeah, this will do!” and then do it!
  • Buy shoes, not boots. With the exception of my running shoes, I have literally worn the same 3 pairs of boots on repeat every day for the past 5 months. I don’t even remember what “shoes” feel like on my feet. I would like to get a new pair of shoes to remind myself.

And now it’s your turn! There’s still time for me to add on to my list, so what are your must-do spring activities?

David’s Pokémon Birthday Party!

This week marks a momentous occasion: The seventh anniversary of the culmination of the most treacherous 48 hours of my life. Also known as the day I gave birth to my first child. Also known as my son’s birthday. So, happy almost-birthday, David!

Birthdays are a big deal in our house and I always try to make sure the birthday-boy or birthday-girl feels extra-special on their special day. We have a slew of birthday traditions and it seems like every year the celebrations stretch out for longer and longer. Which is totally fine by me, because what’s more fun than…having fun?!

Part of the birthday week celebration usually involves a birthday party. This year we gave David a sensible choice of birthday party options David told us he wanted to invite his whole class over to our house for a party and we naively obliged to his demands. So it was set: we invited 22 first graders and their entire families (because I was NOT about to invite 22 first graders without parental supervision alone into my house) over for a fun-filled afternoon of birthday shenannigans.

David’s current obsession is Pokémon (and when I say “obsession”, I mean that his world literally revolves around mythical creatures that are carried in the pockets of their teenage trainers. I think he would actually keel over and never revive if Pokémon were somehow removed from the universe.), so the theme was already set. Winning already. I found this awesome website that lets you customize and print your own Pokémon cards, so I used that to create the invitations (Which we then passed out to all. 22. Kids. At. School.):

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I’ll be honest–the days and moments leading up to the party were not my finest. If you’ve ever stress-planned an event that is highly weather-dependent then you know why. I had planned (hoped) that the weather would be at least not totally-sucky the day of the party so all 50-or-so guests could spend time outside (I even had a super awesome bounce house obstacle course reserved if the weather cooperated). I even prayed for partial afternoon clearing like Jeff Renner taught me. But, alas. The weather has a mind of it’s own and it decided not to listen to me that day (Don’t worry, I’m a mom. I’m used to people not listening to me. No offense taken.).

The day of the party was the rainiest day of the year with a high-wind advisory and thunder showers predicted during the exact hours of the party. Lovely. So we scrapped the outdoor activities, cancelled the totally awesome bounce house obstacle course, and moved everything inside *confetti emoji*!

Thankfully, my dear husband had decided the week before the party to start tackling the downstairs remodel that we were forced into when our hot water tank unexpectedly exploded this summer. Unfortunately, we didn’t finish the project before party day. So this is what most of our downstairs party zone looked like up until about an hour before the guests arrived:

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My husband’s a good man, though, and he knows how to quickly shove tools into a closet when his wife starts running around the house with bulging eyeballs, screaming, “The guests are coming! The guests are coming!”.

We also hung part of David’s prolific Pokémon drawing collection around the house to help cover up the patches in the walls and spots where we still need to paint:

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Our other saving grace was our friends Abe and Val who came over to help us pre-funk for the party. They came over about an hour before party time and they helped us finish setting things up, played with our kids, and helped us break into the snacks before they all disappeared into the mouths of 6-year olds:

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Speaking of snacks, I’m quite proud of the Pokéball pizzas I made (The recipe: 1 frozen cheese pizza, 1 package pepperoni, 1 can of chopped black olives (drained). Cover the top half of the pizza with pepperoni. Double layer it up if you’re feeling extra-adventurous. Use the olives to make a line down the center of the pizza, with an open-circle in the center. Bake per frozen pizza directions on the box. Take a photo and Instagram it before it gets messed up. Slice and serve.):

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Before we knew it, guests were arriving and it was officially party time!

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While everyone was arriving I had the kid-guests play a game. I had made these “Pokedex” booklets for each kid (print-your-own sources here) and I had little Pokémon printouts hidden around the house. The kids had to find each Pokémon and cross it out of their Pokedex.

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This game kept everyone occupied for the better part of an hour (Woohoo! Indoor activities for the win!):

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During this time I also had several arts-and-crafts stations and games set up downstairs (As an added bonus, since this whole level of our house was already torn up, we didn’t care at all about any messes that might occur!).

The kids made “Pokémon power bead bracelets, did Pokémon coloring pages/mazes/word searches, created their own Pokémon out of Play Doh, and played the Pokémon Headbandz game.

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After our initial “welcoming hour” we played a few games that David had planned.

The first was a “wake the Snoralax game” where the kids got to play a song on their flute (Designed by David from a toilet paper tube) and then place a Z over the sleeping Snoralax:

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The next game was “Pin the Flame on Charizard”. You know how this one goes: Creature missing an integral body part hanging on the wall, blindfolded child holding the integral body part, stick it on the wall, and try to make a target:

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And, finally, we had a Pokeball hunt. I’d ordered about a million little Pokémon figures off Amazon and entombed them all in vending machine balls with red lids. They didn’t quite look like Pokeballs, but it was good enough for me:

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I took all of the kids downstairs to decorate party bags while Jon and some of the other parents hid the “Pokeballs” upstairs. IMG_7134

Then, in Easter egg hunt-fashion, we set the kids loose on the loot. Most kids found about 5 Pokeballs, but some filled their bags to the brim (I’d saved a few Pokeballs out of the hunt for the kids who didn’t find any…and there were a couple who I shared my stash with). Then, since they were all such good Pokémon hunters, we gave them all candy to feed their Pokémon (Although most of the kids just ate the candy themselves. Learning about osmosis from such a young age.):

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Next, it was time for CAKE!!!!

I purchased this beauty from the same place I got our wedding cake: Costco. What can I say? If the wheel ain’t broken, don’t fix it!

I just ordered a plain cake with no design and asked for our theme colors to be piped around the border. Then we topped the cake with some Pokémon toys, and voíla! Custom Pokémon cake to feed 50 people for under $20:

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And, just like that, it was over. We posed for a family photo, wished our guests well, and relished in a successful (if not chaotic) birthday party.

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We had an incredible day celebrating our incredible not-so-little boy, and I’m so glad we could have all of his friends over to join in the fu! It was wonderful getting to visit with some of the parents and see the looks of joy on the kids’ faces. And you know what? I bet none of the kids even knew or cared that it was the rainiest day of the year.

The night of the party I was tucking David into bed and he looked up at me and said, “Mom, that was the best day EVER!”.

And you know what? It kind of was.

P.S. My husband is the best ever and the day after the party he surprised me by sending me off for a massage. By myself. Alone. And you know what? It was the actual best day ever!

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The 10 Stages Moms Go Through When Their Husband Travels For Business

There have been times in our marriage when my husband has been gone traveling for work more than he has been home.

Case in point: Ireland.

When we returned to the U.S. after living in Ireland we had to fill out bunches and bunches of legal and tax paperwork. One of the documents required us to fill in a calendar for every day that we lived abroad and note whether we were “in country” (Ireland) or “out of country” (NOT-Ireland). What we discovered upon completion of that calendar confirmed exactly what I had suspected during that year abroad: my husband travelled a LOT. In fact, he was “out of country” more than he was “in country” that year. This means that I spent slightly over half of that year alone with our children in a foreign country (I am now accepting sympathy cards). Is it any wonder, then, that I gained 10 pounds when I turned to scones and sugared-laced tea for comfort that year?

His new job doesn’t have him traveling nearly as much as he did in the good ‘ol days (ha!), but that doesn’t mean we’re totally off the hook. There will always be customers and conferences and…I actually don’t understand a thing that he does, but it seems to be quite important. So, travel. Sometimes. Not as much, but sometimes.

This week Hubby happens to be in Europe preparing the way for my own European arrival/reunion with him in a few days (More on this later!!!!). The first part of his trip is business travel and, meanwhile, I’m here at home holding down the fort.

I’ve been through this husband-on-business-travel gig enough times to know what to expect by now. But just in case you were wondering, these are the stages (of grief?) that a mom goes through while Daddy is away:

Stage 1: Acknowledgment
When you see that black town car or shiny white Prius Uber pull up to your driveway, you know that this “travel thing” is really happening. His ride to the airport has arrived, and there’s no turning back. Acknowledge this new reality, and release him. You’ve got this, momma.

Stage 2: Jealousy
Your husband will send you a photo like this from his business class seat on the airplane:

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(Actual photo sent to me by my husband as he sat on the plane sipping champagne while I changed my 4th poopy diaper of the day.)

Yes, he will lament how this is “just business” and “no fun”, but you know the truth. Sitting on an airplane with unlimited and uninterrupted entertainment and snacks at your literal fingertips is just about as close to heaven as you can fathom. And then he’ll arrive at his destination and go out to Michelin-starred restaurants THAT HIS COMPANY PAYS FOR while you eat leftover mac ‘n cheese with your kids for the third night in a row.

Yeah, rough life, buddy.

Stage 3: Busy bee
In order to occupy your mind with something other than his absence, you purposefully over-schedule yourself. Why, yes I can bake muffins for breakfast every morning and do that extra volunteer project and wash the car and scrub the garage floors! And, yes, I will go to your birthday party and weekend BBQ and farm festival and the Alice and Wonderland Tea Party at the library. Just get me out of this house before I explode.

Stage 4: Responsibility
You realize that during this period of time you are solely responsible for the health, safety, discipline, and literal life of your offspring. There is no Daddy here to back you up, no extra person to stay home with the kids at night while you run out to do such-and-such, no partner to converse with and determine outcomes. You are it, the one and only parent. And that? That is a lot of responsibility.

Stage 5: Fear
What if someone gets sick? What if an intruder tries to break into our house? What if there’s an earthquake and I sleep through the whole thing? I’d better pack a first aid kit, a baseball bat and an earthquake survival kit just in case.

Stage 6: Cray-cray
It’s been a long day (or week or month). Too long. Why do these kids always cry? Why do they always need something? Why do they want to eat EVERY. SINGLE.  DAY? Why do they have so many questions? You are going actual crazy. You call your mom/best friend/therapist for reassurance and a swift kick in the pants. Remember: you’ve got this, momma.

Stage 7: Grief
Oh my GOSH I miss him so MUCH!!! I promise I’ll never nag him again about his socks on the floor in front of the laundry hamper!!! Just please come home and hold me in your tender embrace! It gets so bad that you start watching Sarah Mclachlan pet adoption videos so you can feel sorry for someone other than yourself.

Stage 8: Exhaustion
Stick a fork in me, because I’m done. I’m going to take a nap now. It will last for approximately 8 billion trillion years, and don’t anyone dare try to wake me up.

Stage 9: Excitement
Ack! It’s almost over! He’s coming home tonight!!! QUICK!!!! Clean the house, wash the dishes, shove the laundry into the closets, groom the children, and recycle the wine bottles–we don’t want him to know how we actually live while he’s away.

Stage 10: Relief
He walks in the door and you melt into a puddle of spent motherhood at his feet. You survived, but barely. Now don’t let him claim that he needs a nap after all of his travel. Mommy: out. You’ve got this, daddy-o.

Safe travels, Hubby, and I really do love you! Thank you for working so hard for our family…even if I do work 10 times harder here at home 😉