How To Survive Washington Winter

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I grew up in Washington state and, with the exception of the 10 years we spent trying to live in as many different cities as we possibly could in a decade, I have always called Washington home. There are many things I love about Washington, but winter is not one of them.

You see, for a small sliver of the year we get to experience a magical time called Washington Summer. Fleeting as it may be, Washington Summer is a bit surreal–the weather is divine (Unlike some places where the summer heat is so unbearable that you actually have to retreat indoors!) and the people are the happiest gosh-darn people who you’ve ever laid eyes on. And why, you might ask, is everyone so happy during Washington Summer? I’ve thought a lot about this, and I’ve decided that the only reasonable explanation is Survivor Syndrome: Summer Washingtonians are happy for the simple fact that they’ve already survived Washington Winter.

Washington Winter is one of the most depressing seasons imaginable. The nights are long and dark, and the days are short…and also dark. And when I say season, I mean half of the year. Between the months of October and May most days in Washington go a bit like this: wake up in the dark, trod through a dark gray day, welcome the return of the dark sometime between finishing lunch and thinking about making dinner. It’s also cold, but not cold enough to make snow which would actually be exciting. Yes, this is the time of year when I long to be anywhere but smack-dab in the middle of Washington Winter.

However, long as dark as Washington Winter may be, there is hope! Here are a few ways that I have found to help cope–and maybe even enjoy–Washington Winter.

Enjoy sleeping in
Since the sun doesn’t come up until after breakfast during Washington Winter, your internal clock will be all out of whack. If you’re lucky, your kids will be so confused about how late it is that they will actually sleep in, too. So enjoy the sleep-ins while you can–it may even make up for the fact that your kids woke you up at 5:30 every morning during Washington summer.

Buy a light with the same name as your mood
On the 4th day God created the Sun…and on the first day of Washington Winter, man created SAD lights. You see, there is this thing that depressed people in Washington get in the winter called SAD (Seasonal Affect Disorder)–even the names of diseases caused by Washington Winter reflect the mood of everyone living through it. But no worries–if you have SAD you can hop over to your local Costco or Amazon Prime and, for around $40, you can buy a SAD light to set up your own mini-sun in your bedroom. After all, nothing says nirvana like staring into a desktop lightbulb!

Play flashlight tag…
…on your walk home from the school bus stop! When the sun sets before your kids amble off the big yellow bus, there is ample time for night games, even in the middle of the day! Other fun Washington Winter middle-of-the day-dark activities you might consider: snipe hunting, star gazing, glow stick waving, capture the flag, sleeping without an eye mask.

Catch up on everything you neglected all summer
During Washington Summer everyone basically lives outside and, even if you still have a 9-5, you’re living like you’re on summer vacation. Beside being exciting and exhausting, Washington Summer leaves plenty to catch up on during Washington Winter. Now is the time to clean your house, fold your laundry, organize those closets. And, once you’re done with all of that (since you’re stuck inside approximately 28 hours a day during Washington Winter) you’ll still have time to perfect a skill or take up a new hobby. Needlepoint, anyone?

Answer your toddler’s questions truthfully
When she asks you at 11AM if it’s time for bed, say yes.

Get outta here
Plan a vacation to somewhere not-Washington during Washington Winter. It doesn’t even really matter where you go, as long as it has daylight and *bonus points* some hope of warmth. Even Iceland with all of their hot springs and volcanoes would be an improvement in the warmth department. Seriously, though. If it is at all possible, just leave.

Rant
Sometimes you just have to get stuff out in the open so you can move past it. Don’t hide behind your hatred of Washington Winter–just get it out there! Rant to your friends about how much you miss your flip-flops and how you don’t even remember what skin pigmentation looks like any more. Complain about how your favorite shoes haven’t dried out since October and you’re pretty sure that new color is coming from the fungus that’s started to grow on them. And who knows–maybe after a good ranting you’ll even find camaraderie with another Washington-winter-weary friend who can’t remember where they put their sunglasses either.

Embrace it
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Sometimes you just have to leave your hopes and dreams at the door and surrender to reality. Washington Winter is here, and it’s not leaving any time soon. So zip up your big girl parka and enjoy it for what it is!

After all, Washington Summer is coming…

 

 

 

The Storm

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The Short Story (Because brevity is bliss):

We had a storm last week and it was craaaaaazy.

The Long Story (Because I want to remember the whole story so I can tell it to my kids some day when all they remember about this ordeal is that they got to stay up late and eat ice cream in the dark after we’d already brushed teeth. And because I suck at brevity.):

Last Tuesday, January 10, actually started off quite fantastically. We have a tradition in our neighborhood that whenever a child from our community has a birthday, we gather at their house in the morning for a celebratory breakfast before starting the day. We had one such birthday on Tuesday, and I’m not one to complain when I’m served sizzling meats and birthday cake before 8:00 AM. After dropping the boys off at school, I took Hannah to her first baby-and-me music class. Also wonderful.

There was no problem at all until I got home from the music class and realized that the “atmospheric river” the meteorologists had been warning us about was reaching it’s max capacity. We were in the midst of one of the biggest winter storms I’ve ever witnessed, and that’s saying something.

Now, I grew up in Seattle. I know rain. I’ve seen every manner of rain and lived to tell the tale. This rain, however, was different. This was dark, brooding skies, incessant sheets of rain, and strong gusts of wind. Making matters worse, we live in a narrow mountain canyon, literally on the edge of a creek (and by “on the edge” I mean close enough that the boys pee off our back deck into the water, and by “creek” I mean that the storm had turned it into an insanely full, about to spill over, raging river.).

By the time I picked up the boys from school in the afternoon, I could tell there would be problems. Tree branches littered the streets and a few large rocks had rolled down the canyon walls outside our house. Things were getting wet and wild, and I cancelled our afternoon plans in favor of hunkering down inside our safe, warm house.

That night Jon had to work late, so I put the boys to bed and went upstairs to begin a night of bingeing on all of the shows Jon refuses to watch with me on the basis of “risks to his masculinity” (Call The Midwife and The Crown were on the agenda). I was about to cut into a pan of brownies when there was a loud crashing sound, followed by darkness. Utter and complete darkness.

It’s hard to describe the kind of dark that it gets in our house when the power goes out suddenly in the middle of the night during a storm. Since we live in a canyon, there’s already no external light–no distant streetlights, no ambient light from the city, not even moonlight reaches the canyon floor. In those first moments, it was so dark that I literally could not see my hand in front of my face. Thankfully, I was prepared for a power-outage (we’d already had one for a few hours 2 days before when the storm was just getting started), so I fumbled my way over to the kitchen counter where I had stashed a few flashlights.

I turned on my light and went to check on the kids, but the loud crash had woken the boys up and they were already on their way upstairs. Since the boys were awake and now WIRED, I decided to let them stay up and play for awhile so I could try to figure out what to do. My first instinct was to leave. After all, we live in a narrow mountain canyon with a quickly rising creek in the middle and steep muddy walls on either side–not exactly the ideal place to be during a raging storm with a power outage.

I set about packing overnight bags for us and called Jon at work to let him know what was happening (read: I called Jon to freak out and completely lose my mind.). I was about to go wake up the baby for our great escape when I got word from a neighbor that no escape would be possible. That loud crash I’d heard? Yeah, that was a mudslide and the only road out of the canyon was now blocked by a ginormous downed tree, splintered power poles, and live electrical wires. There would be no leaving…for awhile.

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The mudslide damage on our street in the canyon

For the next few hours I attempted to look calm and excited about our little “adventure” in the storm while I continued to fret internally at the possiblity of our house either (A) Being wiped out by another mudslide (B) Having the roof crushed by another ginormous tree making its way down the hill or (C) Being washed away by the raging river outside our back door.

The boys loved that I let them stay up after bedtime to eat all of our ice cream…after all, I didn’t want it to melt during the power outage and go to waste. When people ask the boys how the storm was or what we did all week, they always answer the same thing: Ice cream. The only thing they remember about this whole crazy week was that we ate ice cream in the dark.

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Eating ice cream in the dark

I finally gave up on the idea of trying to get out of the canyon that night and realized that we were just going to have to lay low in our own dark house. I made myself a bed on the floor of the boys’ room and laid down with them until they finally fell asleep around 11:30.

Shortly after, at about midnight, Jon made it home and I got my first report from “the outside”. There was another mudslide on Highway 17, the only road we can take to get to our mountain, and he’d been stuck in traffic for hours before he finally snuck past the barricade during the workers’ break. Once he got to the canyon, he couldn’t drive down our road because of the downed trees. He parked about a mile up the road and walked in…in the total darkness, with no light, and stepping over the (hopefully no-longer live) wires that were strewn across the road.

We got our first glimpse of the damage once there was daylight the next morning (Wednesday). Several men from our community were already out in the street with chainsaws working to clear the downed trees off the road. The power company, PG&E, arrived on scene a bit after 8:00 and began to assess the damage. In total, 7 power poles (including the one directly in front of our house) had been knocked down and needed to be replaced. This would not be a quick fix.

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Power pole down in front of our house.

Since Jon’s car was already parked on the other side of the mudslide, he was able to walk back out of the canyon and go to work on Wednesday morning. I, however, was still trapped at our house. David’s school was cancelled anyway, so we just hung out inside the house reading books and sitting by the fireplace.

Wednesday afternoon we got word that the trees had been cleared off the road, and anybody who would like to have access to the world outside the canyon should move their cars out of canyon now before they closed the road again to begin electrical work. Since there were still mudslides on Highway 17 that were intermittently closing down the road, I decided to just park my car outside of the community but stay put.

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Walking back home from our car–we had to park about 20 minutes (at kid pace) away from our house.

Even though being stuck in a house without power isn’t ideal, it still beats being stuck on a Highway with a car full of kids for hours on end with no way to get off the highway (this has happened to us before, and it is a scene from a horror movie that I do not chose to ever repeat.). Turns out this was a good call–most people I know who left the canyon took 3-5 HOURS to drive the 3 mile stretch on Highway 17 between the last exit in town and our exit. No thank you, very much.

We spent the rest of the day Wednesday staying out of the way of the PG&E crews that had taken over the street, visiting our neighbors (some of whom ended up in the emergency room with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning from the fumes coming off their generator), cooking meals on our BBQ, NOT using water (because our community water pump doesn’t work without power = no filtration, and no way to purge sewage…ewwwww….), napping (Hannah) and going completely bonkers from being stuck inside all day (Boys. And me. Mostly me.). With the mudslide commute, Jon got home around midnight again. The rest of us were already asleep huddled around the fire in my bedroom.

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Our home within our home…sleeping bags around the fireplace.

Thursday was pretty much the same as Wednesday. Still no power, still no way to get off the mountain.

By Friday we still didn’t have power, and I was starting to lose it. We’d all been living, playing, eating, and sleeping in one room, because that one room was the only room with a fireplace…and heat is a good thing when it’s 35 degrees outside. Since we were all sleeping in one room, that meant I was doing very little “sleeping” and much “tending to children who woke up in the middle of the night” so that they wouldn’t wake up the rest of the room. Plus, I was still nervous about the whole tree-falling-on-our-house-or-washing-away-in-a-river possibility. After 3 straight nights of no sleep, I was SPENT. Like, really, really over this whole storm adventure thing.

By Friday morning they seemed to have the mudslide situation on Highway 17 under control, so I made quick to get the heck off of our mountain. I was beyond excited to finally re-enter civilization! My cell phone had been perpetually out of battery for the last 3 days (which is a bit disconcerting when it’s your only link to civilization and emergency help should you need it), and the only way I could charge it was to go plug it in to my car for a few minutes at a time. On the agenda: finding a place where I could charge my phone and get something warm to drink.

As soon as I dropped the boys off at school, I drove over to the closest Starbucks ready to get my charge-and-drink on. When I walked in, however, my dreams of recharging disappeared. Every single chair, booth, and table was already full. I even asked a few different people if I could sit at their tables, and I got denied each time. Under normal circumstances I would have just brushed this off and moved on with my day. But this?  This was not a normal circumstance.

I’d been scared and stuck in a cold, dark house for almost 4 days with 3 young children. I needed a warm place to sit and charge my dang cell phone. Nobody would make room for me. I’d just been through one of the most stressful weeks of my life, and nobody cared. Nobody here even seemed to notice. It was, shall we say, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I burst into tears and stormed out of Starbucks (baristas, by the way, love it when their customers grab their drink, randomly burst into tears, and then storm out of the store.).

Then I did what any rational adult would do in this situation: I called my mom. I was done being the “strong” grown up, and I just needed to cry with my mommy. I have no regrets. She totally talked me off the ledge and made me feel like someone really did care (because, really, people do care). She (and my dad, who had been called in for reinforcement) offered their love and support, then convinced me to go home and take a nap. It was sound advice, and I took it.

I tried to take the nap, but my brain wouldn’t turn off–I was trying to figure out how to get the heck out of here. I couldn’t stand one more night in the cold, dark house with everyone huddled around the one, small fireplace. I sent out a plea of desperation on Facebook, looking for someone who might have room for us at their house for the weekend. After a few minutes I had so many responses from friends offering to help us that I had to take down the post so we wouldn’t break the internet (Thank you, friends, you really are the best!). See, I told myself, people really do care.

In the end, we decided to make a break for a warmer locale. My sister lives in southern California, and we figured this would be the perfect excuse to visit them for the long holiday weekend. I don’t know if my sister had been tipped off to my pleasant little phone call with my parents earlier in the day, but she and her family bent over backward to accommodate us. Her family moved out of their house for the weekend and stayed with her in-laws so we could have her whole house–and, most importantly, all of their beds–to ourselves.

We had a great weekend playing with my niece and nephew, swimming, eating out, hiking, and feeling very loved. When we went to church with them on Sunday morning, though, God got the last laugh: the sermon was on why God allows natural disasters to happen. Seriously. I took copious notes, and I left church that morning realizing that God’s grace can override anything and everything–even a storm. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

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Hiking with my sister and her family in sunny southern California–no storm here!

By the time we got back home after our weekend away, the streets were cleared and the power had been restored. All’s well that ends, well…I guess.

So, that is the story of the storm.

I know that I’ll remember this adventure for years to come, but if you only remember one thing about my story, remember this: ice cream is not worth sacrificing. If your power goes out, just start eating all the ice cream. At least then your kids will have a story worth telling.

Mitchelstown Caves and Cahir Castle

This week brought several storms through Ireland–blustery wind, chilling rain, and even snow in the “mountains” (the quotes are there because Irish mountains are nothing like Washington mountains. They are simply taller rolling green hills than the rest of the rolling green hills that dot the countryside.) Nevermind the storms, though, adventures were still out there waiting for us. I found a nice indoor activity for our family that would get us out of the wind and the rain: cave exploring. After a quick stop at our new STARBUCKS (!) in town, we were on our way.

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The caves we went to are called the Mitchelstown Caves, and they’re only about 45 minutes outside of Cork. We drove up early Saturday morning and we were the first (only?) visitors of the day. I guess other Irish people don’t have my same sense of let’s-go-cave-exploring-in-a-storm adventure.

The caves were discovered in 1833 by a farmer who was doing some work on his farm when his crowbar fell through a crevasse. His family explored and developed the caves, and to this day the same family still owns the caves and leads tours through them. Here we are at the cave entrance, anticipating the wonders that await us below:

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Once you get inside the caves, it is absolutely breath-taking. Stairs lead you down into the caverns where you can see all sorts of stalactites (the mineral deposits that hang from the ceiling like icicles), stalagmites (the little mounds that form on the ground beneath stalactites), pillars (where the stalactites and stalagmites eventually meet to form a floor-to-ceiling column), and “curtains” (intricate patterns of mineral deposits that cover the cave walls, looking like a gently-folded piece of cloth).  Limestone stalactites like these form at the rate of about 1 inch every hundred years, so you can imagine how long some of these bad boys have been growing. I didn’t know that rocks could be so beautiful.

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Photo courtesy of Google Images since we weren’t allowed to take photos inside most parts of the cave.

Back in the 1800’s (and well into the 1900’s, in fact) the only way to see the cave was to carry a candle into the dark abyss where you would spend hours climbing over boulders and through tiny crevices. Thankfully for us, that is no longer the case. Today, the cave is fully lit with electric lights and has a cement pathway with handrails that lead you 1/2 a mile into the cave . When you get to the end of the trail in the “developed” section of the cave, there is a large natural platform surrounded by huge pillars. They actually use this platform as a stage, and during the summer the Cork Opera House brings in musicians to play in this unique performance hall. David and I sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” from the stage and, I have to say, we never sounded so good. Here we are standing in front of the stage by a large pillar that they call “The Dragon”:

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We all loved the caves and will definitely try to return again some day.

After our morning of cave exploration we were ready to head home. At least, we thought that’s what we were going to do. The great Irish road system had other plans for us, though, and after a wrong turn that led to a 16 Kilometer detour the wrong direction on the highway, we ended up in the town of Cahir. Turns out Cahir was a good place to unexpectedly turn up as they have one of the largest and best-preserved castles I’ve seen in Ireland:

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Since we were already there we decided to check out the castle. So, after some quick refueling in the car:

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…it was on to Cahir Castle!

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The weather was absolutely horrendous by this point–you can’t tell from the photos, but the rain was blowing sideways and it was freezing cold. We had to make pretty quick work of the castle, then, to avoid becoming human Popsicles. In the end it was all worth it, because the castle was really amazing. There were cannons all over the grounds that David used to help defend the fortress:

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And iron gates that could chop your head off if you got in the way (not really, Grandma Doreen, they’re just for show…):

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There were several rooms of the castle that we could walk through. Even though the castle was built in 1142, the preservation work that they have done in this castle is beautiful and really gives you a picture of what life would have been like inside these walls. This was the banqueting hall. Note the huge ancient Irish Deer antlers hanging on the wall. These animals weighed between 800-1000 pounds and stood over 6 feet tall, with antlers nearly 12 feet wide. I would have loved to see one of those creatures in real life!

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Back outside the castle there were lots of little nooks and crannies and holes in the wall (literally) to explore:

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As we came to the outer edge of the castle wall I marveled at how the town of Cahir just exists here. With a castle across the street. I wonder if the people who live and work and shop here realize how cool that is.

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It was a day full of adventure–and misadventure turned into adventure. But isn’t that what adventure is all about? The planned and the unplanned, the known and the unknown. The journey. Even if that journey takes you 16 kilometers out of your way.

Beach Day in Youghal

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This week Jon is away on a business trip in the Ukraine so it’s just me and these two munchkins holding down the fort:

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I wanted to take a special “field trip” this week to help break up the time. We actually got some nice sunny weather in the middle of the week which reminded me of summer which reminded me of the beach…so, we went to the beach! Yes, it’s January and it’s still frigid out there, but the boys were up for the adventure. I decided to check out the beaches in Youghal (pronounced “yawl”) because they’re not too far from our house and I’ve wanted to go back there ever since we visited  the town’s medieval festival in August.

Our day started with a picnic lunch on the beach. Jacob approved.

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After lunch we spent a couple of hours playing on the beach. David had fun digging in the rocks and the sand:

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And the boys made themselves a “house” on top of this rock. David collected a few dozen rocks that he used as the “fire” and the “plates”. Jacob mostly just stomped around destroying everything that David tried to build.

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Once he’d tired of his menacing brother, David moved on to “sand sliding”. He loved climbing up this little sand dune and then jumping and sliding back down.

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After we’d had our fill of beach fun we decided to drive through the town before heading back home. Youghal is an ancient walled city and there are still some pretty cool relics from its medieval past.

We drove through this, Youghal’s clock gate. It was built in 1563 on the former site of Trinity Castle, one of the five principle gates into the walled city during the late 14th century.

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As we continued down the road we passed Tynte’s Castle. Now set among shops and restaurants on the main street of Youghal, Tynte’s Castle is a 15th century urban tower house–the last tower house that remains in Youghal today.

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Finally, we came upon the crowning glory of the medieval town: the town wall.

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The Youghal town wall was built in 1250 and it is the second-longest surviving stretch of town wall in Ireland. The sections of wall that still remain stretch for about 1 Kilometer–not bad for a fortress nearing its 800th birthday!

We had a grand time climbing to the top of the wall and peering out through the windows where guards used to patrol with bows and arrows.

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The view wasn’t too shabby, either:

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And, since David’s newest obsession is the Disney movie Tangled, we had to check out the tower to see if Rapunzel was hiding out inside (she wasn’t).

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After walking along the top of the wall we decided to climb back down and see what was on the other side. Just inside the wall is St. Mary’s Collegiate Church and Cemetery. What? A medieval cemetery? I just had to see this.

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While we were wandering through the cemetery we came upon this section of the medieval wall. See the coffin-shaped cutout in the stone work? A coffin actually used to reside there. This was the former location of the “pauper’s coffin”. When someone too poor for a proper burial would die, their family would first put their body into the pauper’s coffin. Then the body would be wrapped in a shroud, buried, and the pauper’s coffin would be returned to the wall for the next body. Craaaaazy.

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From the cemetery we continued down into St. Mary’s Church. The first church built on this site was a monastic settlement in the year 450. The church that stands today was begun in the year 750 and completed in 1220. The original Irish Oak roof is still intact and the timbers have been carbon dated to the year 1170–which means the roof was constructed before saw mills were even invented. Somebody (rather, somebodies) went out into the woods with an axe, cut down giant trees, and hewed each piece by hand to an exact size and shape before fitting it into the roof.  It’s incredible, really. And the church is beautiful–stained glass windows, intricate stone work, and fascinating tombs line the walls.

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After exploring the church it was time to go home. As we were heading out of town we passed by this restaurant, The Old Thatch. This restaurant has been in business since 1662. People have been drinking beer here since about the time the Mayflower set sail for the New World. I wanted to go in for a snack but, seeing as both boys had already conked out in the back seat of the car, I decided it was best to just keep driving.

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It was a wonderful day exploring with my two little sweeties. And now we’re one day closer to Daddy coming home!

I’ve Seen London, I’ve Seen France


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

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

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

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

London:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paris:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, bon voyage!

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

Stay-cation

As I mentioned earlier, Jon had a crazy month of work in December. He was gone traveling for a good portion of it and, the days he was in this country, they had him working up to 20 hours a day. So he needed a break. We ALL needed a break.

On New Year’s Eve we got the best gift ever: Jon’s company gave him the week off. Since the time off came as a surprise, we had no plans for our time together. There are a lot of things close to home that I’ve been wanting to do with Jon and the kids but because of our crazy schedules have just never done. This was going to be our week to do them all. Bring on the stay-cation.

With bedtimes starting at 7:00 in our house, it’s hard to do many of the traditional New Year’s Eve shenanigans. We decided to just go out for dinner with the kids and be home in time for a peaceful night at home ringing in 2013. Dinner turned out to be amazing. Our friends Scott and Alison were driving home from Mt. Baker and passed through our neighborhood right as we were heading out to the restaurant. They decided to join us for dinner and we had a great time catching up with them (and, as an added bonus, I think our kids’ dinnertime behavior provided these newlyweds with some adequate birth control). Dinner was actually quite wonderful–good friends and good food. Then, to top off the night, the restaurant had a raffle for free dinner right as we were about to leave. And guess who won? Us! Free food for our whole table. Not a bad way to send off 2012!

The next morning was New Year’s Day. It was clear and sunny when we woke up, so we decided to do something outside. We drove down to Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and got there right as they were opening. It was a great day at the zoo–no crowds (probably in part because it was 28 degrees out there), lots of animals were out to entertain us and David had a great time running through all of the paths and pointing out his favorite animals.

Me and David with the elephant sculpture.
Me and David with the elephant sculpture.
Well, hello, peacock.
Well, hello, peacock.
Jacob enjoyed his time at the zoo.
Jacob enjoyed his time at the zoo.
Touring.
Touring.

On Wednesday we went to the new Lynnwood Recreation Center for some swimming. They have a great pool (actually, they have THREE pools), a kids play area with splash toys, water slides, a lazy river and hot tubs. David had fun playing in the water until he got cold and retreated to the hot tub. This was Jacob’s first trip to the pool, and he seemed to enjoy all of it just fine. I’m so glad Jon was with me because there’s NO WAY I could ever take both boys to the pool by myself unless they were both strong swimmers. We did havea lot of fun there, though, and we’ll definitely be going back.

Pool time!
Pool time!
Jacob after his first pool swim
Jacob after his first pool swim

On Thursday we went to Normandy Park to visit Jon’s grandma for her 90th birthday. We didn’t get to make it down the day before on her actual birthday because I got locked out of the house. It was great to spend some one-on-one time with Great-Grandma Doreen at her house. She LOVES the boys, so her greatest gift was just getting to see them.

Great Granny Doreen with her David

Great Granny Doreen with her David

On Friday morning we went to the mall to do a little shopping. Jon and I both needed warm winter coats and we found just what we were looking for at REI (mine was even on clearance for 60% off–CHA-CHING!).

My mom and sister came up on Friday night to babysit the boys so that Jon and I could have a night out (Thanks, Mom and Jess!). We had a perfect date in downtown Seattle. We went to a trendy little place called BOKA for a happy hour dinner: a nice juicy burger for Jon and Vietnamese short ribs for me. We had a bit of time after dinner so we headed over to Westlake Center to grab a quick dessert. Then we went to our favorite spa, Ummelina, for hot stone massages. Everything was just wonderful, and I was so happy to get to spend some special time with Jon.

Me and my date enjoying a night out on the town!
Me and my date enjoying a night out on the town!

We decided to drive over to Leavenworth for the weekend to visit Jon’s parents. For those of you who don’t know about Leavenworth, it’s this quirky little town East of the mountains. It’s a Bavarian town, kind of a “little Germany”, surrounded by mountains and snowy in the winter. We had a fun time sledding, checking out the sights in town, visiting with Grammy and Grandpa Pete, and watching the herds of deer that come to their house to graze. It really was the perfect way to end our little stay-cation!

Bota enjoying the snow
Bota enjoying the snow
David playing with Grammy's "yarn balls"
David playing with Grammy’s “yarn balls”
Leavenworth
Leavenworth
Playing pool at Grammy and Grandpa Pete's house
Playing pool at Grammy and Grandpa Pete’s house

Jacob testing out the sled

Jacob testing out the sled

Driving home through Steven's Pass

Driving home through Steven’s Pass

Today is my first day of “back to reality” with Jon back at work. It’s been a long time since I’ve had some of my usual activities like Stroller Strides and BSF, though, so I’m actually pretty happy to be getting back into our routine. I probably won’t be blogging as often now that I’m home alone with the boys during the day again, but I’ll try to get at least one post per week up for you guys.  Until next time!