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!

 

Moms and Target Starbucks: A Modern Day Love Story

This Wednesday afternoon while my boys were in gymnastics (as is the case with every Wednesday while my boys are in gymnastics) I popped into Target for a quick look-sie. When I walked in the front door I noticed that the in-store Starbucks they’d been building out since this summer was nearing completion, and upon further investigation I discovered that they were scheduled to open the Starbucks this upcoming Monday.

I snapped a photo of the storefront and posted it to a neighborhood Facebook group, and what happened next was totally unexpected. Within a few hours over 300 people had reacted to my (unexpectedly controversial) post:

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Dozens of people also left comments. The comments ranged from “Why do we need yet another Starbucks in this town?” (Answer: Because Seattle) to “Ermahgahd it’s finally happening!” (Because coffee). As I read through the mostly-comical comments, though, I noticed something: nearly every comment that extolled the virtues of the new Target Starbucks was left by (based on their profile pictures) young moms like myself.

The people who were excited about the Target Starbucks–the ones who were rejoicing with their red shopping carts along with me–were almost exclusively women with children in tow. And then I realized something: Target Starbucks speaks the love language of moms.

 

The reason moms across my town are rejoicing right now is because Target Starbucks fills a void that moms have. And I’m not talking about coffee. Heck, I don’t even drink coffee, and I’m dancing in the streets. No: Target Starbucks meets a need that moms have, and it meets it well. It provides caffeine and comfort at our favorite store. It’s the perfect combination.

Moms are busy. They are overwhelmed. They are crunched for time. This is a fact. And when your life is so full, having something as simple as a hot beverage available at the store you already find yourself in can be life-changing. Holding that warm cup while you wander through aisles of household goods and pantry essentials can feel like a vacation. For some of us moms this is the only vacation we will have for the foreseeable future, and we’ll take it. For those 20 minutes you can step outside the regular hectic-ness of life and stop to smell the coffee beans. It is a breath of fresh air.

You see, Target Starbucks is about so much more than making available an over-priced, over-sugared drink while you shop. It’s about offering actual love, peace and joy. So, Target Starbucks, thank you for being there for me when I need you the most.

Thank you, Target Starbucks, for providing the mid-day caffeine I need to make it through the carpool line and homework and dinner and baths and tooth-brushing wrangles and endless bedtime stories.

Thank you, Target Starbucks, for making my simple shopping trip into a coffee date (even if it’s only a coffee date with myself while I browse Hearth & Hand).

Thank you, Target Starbucks, for offering something delicious and exciting (Hello, Unicorn Frappuccino!) while I pick up diapers and bananas on my way home from swim lessons.

Thank you, Target Starbucks, for consistently changing your cups to match the seasons so I can loosely track the months of the year (You know I need the help. I have totally lost track of years now and I still put down the wrong year every time I write a check).

Thank you, Target Starbucks, for providing the pick-me-up I need at a place where I’m already going so I don’t have to make two stops with three children who are already cranky and mostly uncooperative. Goodness knows I’d be good at herding cats by now.

Thank you, Target Starbucks, for making my favorite store even more favorite-er.

Love,

Moms Everywhere (Especially moms here. We’re really excited you’re finally here!)

 

Ireland Adventure

I’ve always been a carpe diem-type person, and if an opportunity presents itself I’m likely to seize it before it has a chance to slip away. It makes perfect sense, then, that when Jon found out this summer that he’d need to travel to Ireland for work in a few weeks’ time that I would see this as an opportunity to seize.

Ever since we left Ireland three years ago I’ve been trying to find a way to get back there. Ireland will always be a second home in my heart, and I’ve been homesick. The timing of Jon’s business trip seemed ideal–I could bring Hannah (who is not quite 2 years old yet, and therefore still able to travel on a plane without having to buy her a ticket)–as our only child who has never been to Ireland I felt like she has been missing out on a big part of our family history. In addition, we could take advantage of the September sweet spot between the busy tourist season and the wet and windy days of…well…the rest of the year in Ireland. So, really, I just had to go.

I begged and pleaded my case with Jon and as soon as he gave me the affirmative “Well, we could look into this and see if it makes sense…” speech, I scheduled an appointment at the passport office so we could make Hannah a legit traveller and I started researching flights. Since Jon was traveling for work, he had to be in Europe a week before me and we had to book our tickets at the last minute after he received his final work schedule. In the end, though, we found a way to get me there at the end of his trip, and he was even able to take a few days of vacation during the time I would be there. I was actually going to carpe my diem after all!

Arranging to leave on a cross-continental journey alone with a toddler, while also preparing everything at home for your two school-aged children who would be staying behind, was a bit of a puzzle. It was a whirlwind of preparations, but finally travel day arrived and I braced myself for the journey ahead.

I don’t know if any of you have ever traveled with young children, but if you have then I’m sure you’ll agree with what I’m about to say: toddlers are the WORST. The worst travel companions, that is. I love my children, but I despise traveling with them when they are toddlers (even if they are really stinkin’ cute).

Babies: no problem. They nurse and sleep and snuggle and they’re easy-peasy. Big kids–even preschoolers–fine. They can entertain themselves with coloring books or movies or snack time. Some of them can even reason or understand the reward that awaits them on the other end of the travel. No problem.

But toddlers? Toddlers are a nightmare to travel with. They are set on their schedule and routine and their own cozy bed, and when they don’t have those things they scream. They are tired all the time but they refuse to sleep, so instead they scream. They can’t communicate their needs, and when they try to do so but you don’t understand, they scream. They are always hungry but if you feed them the wrong food or food in the wrong way or, God forbid, request that they not dump the entire juice box down the front of their shirt, they scream. They don’t have the attention span to watch a tv show or play with an app or read a book or color a picture, and when you suggest that they do any of these things they scream. They want to walk and explore, and when you make them sit they scream. Basically, they do a lot of screaming and the parents do a lot of hair-pulling.

You can see, then, why I was not-so-excited to be traveling alone on a 10-hour flight with a toddler.

Our travel day to Ireland went something like this:

6:00 Wake up, make breakfast, get the kids ready for school
8:00 Drop David off at school
8:45  Go to the grocery store and stock up on food that my kids might actually eat so their grandparents have a reasonable chance of success in feeding them for the next week.
9:30  Go to the gas station and fill the car up with gas so the grandparents can cart the children around all week
10:00 Get the last load of laundry out of the dryer and finish packing
11:00 Make lunch for the two children who are still home with me
12:00 Grandparent helpers arrive! Review with them the 38-page Childcare Manual that I compiled to ensure they know the who/what/where/when/why of the offspring I’m leaving in their care.
12:30 Drop off Jacob at preschool
1:00  Drive grandparent chauffeurs around to the kids’ schools and activity locations and explain the overly-complicated drop-off and pick-up procedures
2:00 Meet my brother in law (who is driving us to the airport) at home. Load my bags, car seat, stroller, baby carrier, backpack, and baby into his car. Drive to the airport
3:00 Schlep my 5,000 essential travel items through the airport to the baggage check-in area. Get shuffled to 3 different locations before an actual human is willing to help me check in (the computers don’t like checking in babies, by the way).
4:00 Finally get through airport security! Buy a burrito for linner (lunch-dinner) because who knows if/when I will get another chance to use my own two hands to eat again.
4:30 Settle at the airport playground to eat my linner burrito while Hannah runs around screaming in a place where it is socially acceptable for a toddler to scream.
5:00 Call the boys to FaceTime with them before we board the plane. David is sick. He has a headache and is throwing up (As it would turn out, David would be sick the entire duration of our travel and wouldn’t go back to school until after our return. His grandparents who stayed home and cared for him now have infinity crowns in Heaven.).
6:00 Board the plane an hour before take-off because that is how much time is required for 200 people to find their seats, argue over who gets which overhead storage bin, and browse the SkyMall magazine.
7:00 Takeoff!

So, you see, by the time our plane even left the runway I was exhausted. I’d already had a full day of running around and chasing children, and yet there were miles to go before I’d sleep.

Hannah actually did great on the flight. She was in a good mood and I was able to get her to fall asleep in my Ergo baby carrier after just a few hours of flight time. Unfortunately, my joy over the well-traveled toddler was about to end.

I was standing in a hallway in the middle of the plane bouncing Hannah to keep her happy and asleep when we hit turbulence. The flight attendants asked me to return to my seat and buckle my seatbelt for the time being. Normally this would not be an outlandish request, after all, the seatbelt is there for my safety, but I knew the real consequences of this request. A sleeping toddler who is in an upright position sleeping in a carrier will almost certainly awake once they are squished into a narrow airplane seat and restrained with a seatbelt. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter, though, so I went back to my seat.

As soon as I sat down Hannah woke up. And she was angry. She wanted to keep standing and bouncing, and she was going to let me–and everyone else on the plane–know how she felt about this situation. So she did what toddlers do best: she screamed. And screamed. And screamed. I tried to comfort her but until I could stand up and resume the mommy rock-bounce, there was nothing I could do.

As if the stress of having a tired, angry toddler screaming in my arms wasn’t enough, some gentleman sitting a few rows behind me thought it would be prudent to also let me know how he felt about the situation. I’m sure my crying baby was quite the personal insult on him because he started yelling across the plane, “Won’t someone shut that thing up!” and other helpful, encouraging words. He was so helpful, in fact, that the flight attendants requested him to stop lest he be escorted right off the plane.

After 10 minutes that felt like 10 years, we were past the turbulence and allowed to get out of our seats again. The flight attendants were super helpful after the whole guy yelling incident and they moved me to another seat that had more room…and that was as far away from the yelling guy as I could get. Hannah fell back asleep right away (as I knew she would), but I was so angry and stressed out that I just sat in my seat brooding for the rest of the flight.

Our first flight ended in Amsterdam, and I had an 8 hour layover before our final flight into Ireland. I had found out that it’s very convenient to take the train from the Amsterdam airport into the city center and, since I had time to kill, I decided to give it a try. When we disembarked from the train in Amsterdam, however, I realized that I was grossly unprepared for the weather. The city was in the midst of a tempest and the only thing we had to keep us warm and dry was our airplane travel clothes (pajamas), plus a blanket I stole off the plane. I was already there, though, so I decided to walk around the city for a  bit before heading back to the airport.

We managed to find some yummy pancakes to eat, but I didn’t have the energy or the rain gear to do much else.

We returned to the airport, changed into the clean set of clothes that I thankfully had in my backpack, and spent the rest of the day exploring inside where it was warm and dry. The day is mostly a blur because I’d already pulled an all-nighter with a toddler. I was in survival mode. As a consolation, at least they had these giant tea cups to sit in.

Finally it was time to board our last flight, we made the short journey from Amsterdam to Cork, we arrived, a taxi took us to our hotel, Jon met us at the door, he carried us into bed, and then I didn’t wake up for 14 hours.

And that, my friends, was the longest day of my life.

The next afternoon I woke up totally refreshed and ready to go. We looked out our window and we’re greeted with the most spectacular view of Cork city.

Jon was finishing up his last day of work in Cork, so I met up with some friends at a park down the road.


Joanne had been my neighbor when we lived in Cork, and her two children were two of our boys’ best friends. Joanne had a friend from growing up, Leah, who lived the next neighborhood over. Leah’s son was in David’s preschool class, and so us 3 moms had spent many days together with our children. When we lived in Ireland our kids had played together on “the green” in the middle of our neighborhood nearly every day and us moms had spent endless hours getting to know each other over cups of tea. Reconnecting with Joanne and Leah (and their new children who had not yet been born when we left Ireland) was the perfect start to my little Irish adventure.

Over the next few days we did exactly what I had set out to do in Ireland: we visited the people and the places that we missed.

We went to our old church and caught up with our “family” there.


We went to museums and the zoo and parks.


We visited historic churches and rang the bells in their bell towers.


We attended playdates and birthday parties.


We had afternoon tea and dinners with our friends.


We visited dear friends of ours from California who had recently moved to Cork.


We walked on the sea cliffs and breathed in the fresh, salty air.


We went to a castle.


We listened to trad in a pub.


We drank tea and had a pint in our local.


We ate the local delicacies.

(No, not that.)

We walked the streets that we used to call home.

We spent a whole week living out all of our favorite things with all of our favorite people, and it was perfect.

But, as with all good things, eventually it came to an end. At the end of our week I was sad-happy–sad, because I knew that I wouldn’t be back again for a long time, but happy for the experiences this week that would never leave me.

Thank you, Ireland, for a lifetime of memories squeezed into a single week. I love you so much that it was even worth traveling to you with a toddler–and that’s saying a lot!

Until next time, Ireland–I miss you already!

Filling My Love Jar

Last week we returned from our Last Hurrah of Summer, a half-month-long road trip where we reconnected with the people and places we love in Washington State. The very next day we loaded up the first batch of boxes into our not-yet-unpacked car from our not-yet-fully-packed house and started moving into our new house. August has been a whirlwind of activity. Busy, crazy, hectic, stressful, exhausting, magnificent activity. And you know what? Everything is just as it should be.

While we were in Washington, we celebrated my mom’s 60th birthday. She was pretty much the cutest birthday girl ever.

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I wanted to do something meaningful for her on this monumental milestone, something that might make her cry in front of all of her friends. Awhile back I’d seen an idea for a “love jar” (very few of my great ideas are actually my ideas at all), and I decided to give it a whirl. I sent out requests to all of Mom’s family and friends-who-are-like-family for stories and encouragement they would like to share with her. I wrote out each response and rolled it up like a scroll, then I placed them all in a jar. The result was a vessel overflowing with love.

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After this summer I feel like I am the love jar, and I am bursting. Despite the craziness of these last few weeks–perhaps because of the craziness of these last few weeks–my jar is full. Full of joy, full of awe, full of love.

This summer, my jar was filled each time we embarked on a new adventure or saw a loved one who has been separated from us by too much time and distance.

My jar was filled as we spent time with beautiful people in beautiful places.

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My jar was filled as my sons, who had only met my maternal grandmother as tiny infants, spent quality time snuggling and playing with their GG (we’re already planning our trip to Phoenix so we can get a repeat on this one!).IMG_5583 (1)

My jar was filled when the boys visited Jon’s beloved Granny Doreen and her health seemed to improve with each hug and little boy squeal that filled her home and her heart. IMG_5525 (1)

My jar was filled when we stopped by my paternal grandmother’s house on our drive back home and were able to gather four generations of Schroeders from three states into one photo.

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My jar was filled every day that we spent having fun and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.IMG_5617 (1)

My jar was filled when we managed to collect this many tiny children into one house (catching up with their beautiful mommies between moments of intervention was also bliss).IMG_5638 (1)

My jar was filled when my children met my friends’ children and became instant best friends themselves.IMG_5599 (1)

My jar was filled when my boy challenged me and surprised me with his strength and determination.IMG_5750

My jar was filled this week when we moved into this new house that is the answer to our every prayer (with the selfish exceptions of a lack of cell service and acceptable internet speeds).IMG_5878 (1)

My jar is being filled as this new house becomes our home.IMG_5881 (1)

My jar will continue to be filled each time we explore together and continue on this crazy adventure called life. IMG_5916 (1)

And as this summer comes to a close for all of us, that is my wish for you. That your jar will be filled anew each day and in each season where you find yourself. May your love jar be overflowing: today, tomorrow, and always.

XxX

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

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!

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.

7 Tips and Tricks for Parents Traveling With Littles

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We recently returned from an epic family vacation to London and Paris. We brought along our children: Little Guy (age 3) and Tiny Guy (age 1) and, not only did we survive, but we actually enjoyed our time together. Here are a few reasons why our trip went as smoothly as it did:

1. Bring help.

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I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner, but having a helper along for the ride can make all the difference when you’re traveling with young children. We brought our family friend, 14-year old Jillian, on this last vacation and it was amazing. Incredible. Fantastic. Really, really wonderful. Not only was she an extra set of hands and eyes while we were navigating busy cities, but she was also an at-the-ready babysitter. Having a helper allowed us to have extra hours (sans-children) every day to explore and to go out for grown-up excursions. Ask around, and you just may have a friend or grandma or auntie of your own who will happily accompany your family for free room and board!

2. Allow routines to be broken.

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When we are at home, I am a strict routine follower. When we are traveling, though, I make allowances. We try to keep to a rough schedule, but the nature of travel is that things are just…different. So, we encourage our kids to nap in the stroller instead of in their beds and we also allow a bit–ok, a LOT–more screen time than we would at home. It’s all part of the adventure, right?

3.  Choose family-friendly lodging.

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We love, love, love airbnb.com for family lodging. We were able to find 3-bedroom apartments with full kitchens (saving us loads of time, money and stress at meal times) and laundry facilities (because little kids require laundry duty even on vacation) for less than most 2-star hotel rooms in the cities we visited. Our apartments didn’t have pools or spas or room service, but they sure were more comfortable for our family–and, in the end, that’s all that really mattered.

4.  Make time for the kids.

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I was tempted to pack a million excursions into our travel itinerary, but I managed to hold myself back (a bit) so we could make some time for the smaller half of our family. Time every day where we just hung out and did kid stuff. Travel can be rough on little ones, so I tried to make sure there were downtimes for the kids (and kids-at-heart) to just be kids.

Otherwise, you just might start to go a bit crazy…

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5. Pack the right gear.

There are a few baby items that we had with us on this trip that I could not have lived without. First, this little pop-up travel crib tent by Sun Essentials:

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Our little guy loved his tent and the only reason he looks sad in the photo is because I took him out of the tent to take his picture. There is a blow up mattress that zips into the bottom of the tent, so it’s actually very comfortable and cozy. And, the best part is, it folds down into a little bag that you can stuff into your suitcase.

Another essential travel item is a great baby transportation device. We had an Ergo baby carrier and a double Phil and Ted’s stroller–both of which we used every single day. When you are spending hours and hours wandering around every day, it’s helpful to have a good way to get your kids from point A to point B. It’s also very helpful to have a buff husband who can carry said stroller down to undergound subway tunnels and up to the top of the Eiffel Tower on his back.

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6. Keep a close watch on valuables.

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This is Mimi. She is my 3-year old son’s best friend and, I recently discovered, the woman he hopes to marry some day. He loves her dearly. And we nearly lost her forever. We had Mimi with us one night as we were walking around London. Somehow baby brother got a hold of the monkey and, without any of us knowing, he threw her right out of the stroller onto the dark street. An older woman literally chased us down through the streets of London just to return Mimi–I think she is my guardian angel because I seriously would never be able to live with myself if we lost Mimi in a foreign country. Lesson learned: keep a close watch on your valuables.

7. Splurge for some extras if it makes your life easier.

We had the option of traveling to and from the airports on public transportation. You see, we could have taken the above-ground train to the M8 subway to the M3 subway to the 216 bus and arrived at our apartment 3 hours later. Or, for twice the cost, we could have a guy meet us at the airport baggage claim and drive us (and our 5,000 bags) to the front door of our apartment in 30 minutes. We chose the guy at the airport. And do you know why? Because it is never worth it to drag two children under the age of 3 and 5,000 bags through 4 modes of public transportation just to save a buck. Never. If you can afford a family vacation, you can afford a taxi. Just do it. The kids may even enjoy the ride.

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So, there you have it. Travel with little kids is possible, maybe even enjoyable. I wouldn’t trade this trip or the memories we made together for anything.

Well, except for maybe a quiet week on a secluded beach in the Bahamas. Sorry, kids, looks like the next vacations is just for Mommy and Daddy 🙂

* For more practical tips for traveling with kids, read my posts on pre-travel arrangements, getting through the airport, and surviving your flight

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!