Year End 2016

Last year I said that 2015 was ‘the most outrageous year.’

I never would have thought that it was possible to have a MORE outrageous year.

But, in fact, it is.

2016 was the MOST OUTRAGOUS YEAR.

I mean… in 2015 we had a fourth baby. And it was a girl, after three boys – so we felt a little like first timers. We decided to sell our house, almost all of our possessions, and move from Chicago to London. We lived intermittenly with my parents. We home-schooled. We took four kids under 6 on a plane across the ocean. We were excited and over-stressed. We slowly settled into a new country.

I guess when you keep a high standard of activity like that, it seems LAZY to just kick back for a year. SO. We achieved the goal. The goal I didn’t set. The goal of having a crazier year than 2015.

Looking back, I think it would’ve been better to pace ourselves. But.. what are you gonna do? Life is short.

In addition to the small task of navigating the British lifestyle, the main stamp of this year is that we TRAVELED.

more specifically, we travelled to:

Amsterdam

Rome

Munich

Paris

Croatia

Las Vegas

The Chalk Cliffs of England, Bath and Stonehenge

oh, and Rich and I BOTH made separate trips back to the US for family occasions.

and oh, also – Rich went to Glasgow with his brother to watch the British Open.

 

And here in London, we took a couple fun day adventures:

Legoland

Chessington Worlds of Adventure

Natural History Museum, Hampton Court Palace, and the London tourist circut (a few times)

 

I can’t imagine we’ll ever have another year where we travel this much. It was incredible, and honestly our wallet is pretty sore. But… how amazing.

This year has had so much activity… so many changes… and so much growth for each of our children that when I think back it HONESTLY feels like two or three years instead of one.

The longest post ever may now commence:

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We started the year with our German Au Pair (Rica) moving into the guest room. Also in January, Harry started at his new school. This was a big deal. He was resistant, to say the least. Life became harder for us, now that I needed to be two places at once (hence Rica). All of this is detailed in my “school saga” post.

Viv started exploring the world of eating food, and sitting on her own.

In March, Theo turned 2! And Daddy had a birthday too.

Then on Spring Break, the O’Rourke’s visited and we took a trip to Amsterdam and Rome. All 6 of us, plus 4 O’Rourkes, plus Rica. We were quite the entourage.

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Then in May, the angels sang and Finn was offered a place at Harry’s school. Both boys at the same school!!!!! This was also a big deal, for me specifically. And once again it’s detailed more in the “school saga” post.

For several reason (to use a British expression) I wasn’t ‘keen’ to throw birthday parties for the boys.  In lieu of a party, we chose an outing – this year it was Legoland. Both boys agreed on this. We went on a weekend in June between their two birthdays. And then, on the actual day – I decorated, we had birthday breakfast and presents from mom and dad. Then, after school we invited just a few close friends over to play. We had cake and their friends brought small gifts – even though I asked them not to. It worked out wonderfully for both Harry and Finn. They do much better in a small grouping, we didn’t get overloaded with a toy hurricane, and it was simple and fun for mom and dad. It ended up being the most perfect thing. They each felt special and celebrated.

Viv started sitting on her own, crawling, and pulling up!

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Harry’s birthday playdate with Toby, Tilly, Loic, and Reece

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Finn’s birthday playdate with Jacob and Yusef

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She can pull up!
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She’s on the move!

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We had the busiest summer in recorded history, with all of our family visiting and trips to Croatia, Munich, Paris, Paris again, Las Vegas, the Cliffs, Bath, and Stonehenge.

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Oh, and also Viv started walking and turned ONE.

When I was pregnant with Viv, we were deciding whether or not to take this London oppurtunity. I realized that if we did, it would be possible for us to take baby girl to Paris for her first birthday. I envisioned taking her picture in front of the Eiffel Tower eating french pastries. I had this picture in my mind before she was born, and I’m so thrilled that we actually made it happen. On top of that she literally took some of her first brave steps in our Paris apartment.

Also, I decided to make a donation in the kids’ names for their birthday. So I started this year with Viv’s first – donating to Little Ray of Hope.

 

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We rounded out the summer by visiting Chessington Worlds of Adventure, Hampton Court Palace, and the Natural History museum. Other than that, we played outside a lot.

At our parks:

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Natural History Museum
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Aquarium at Chessington Lands of Adventure

 

The Magic Garden in Hampton Court Palace

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In September, the big boys returned to school. Theo and Viv continued to grow and learn to play together. Also – up until school started we were moving children’s beds around in different rooms trying to figure out which combination of kids in which rooms was going to be best. With Viv still sleeping in our room, an au pair staying, and then lots of family visiting – everyone was moving all summer. I think every kid slept in every room at some point. And we tried different combinations of kids. But school was the deadline for a decision on WHO was going to sleep WHERE. We settled on NOBODY in with mom and dad. Theo on the third floor. Guest room open. Harry and Finn together. Viv by herself. It’s not the most glamorous, but it works just fine.

Also a couple small things in the house, I finally finished our command center, and our art-wall in the kitchen.

 

We also got to spend our first summer without air conditioning. And, I have to say – I thought I would die. But I did not. Generally the London climate stays mild, but this year was one of the hottest summers London has had in a long time. So, for purposes of future air-conditioning purchasing plans, I decided to rate the days as they grew hotter: totally fine, nice but warm, or completely uncomfortable NEED AIR CONDITIONING NOW!!  We had eight days of NEED AIR CONDITIONING NOW. And they were NOT consecutive. But those eight days still had our wimpy butts researching air conditioners and air coolers. They don’t really have ‘window units’ here, and none of our windows are suited for it anyway. Any other options require window tubes and stuff and are a big huge pain. We ended up buying an air-cooler that’s basically just a bad fan. And as I looked around the neighborhood, I couldn’t hear the hum of air conditioners, or see one sticking out anywhere. And when I would talk to the neighbors and asked if they had air conditioning – they looked at me like I was ridiculous. So, we’ll just have to get over it and bear the 8 days of blazing inferno every summer. I guess I’ll survive.

With fall, came beautiful weather and a new house guest. Maleah came to stay with us. She’s a family friend that we know from Illinois. She stayed in the guest room from August to December. She took classes online, she traveled around Europe, and she helped me run the ship. She did more than pick up the slack, and was not afraid of a crying kid or a poopy diaper. She was like a better, more efficient version of me. We trust her, we love her, and we miss her greatly.

The boys started school and we still spent lots of time outside. The boys especially love our garden, which I consider the outdoor playroom. Even as the weather gets colder – I still make them go outside. Boys need to be outside a little bit each day…. even if that means you shove them out there and tell them they can’t come back inside until you let them.

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Also in the fall, Rich got a promotion at DRW. He was on the team, and now he’s the team lead. Shortly after that he hit his one year mark in the London office. It’s been a challenging and very busy year for him, but he’s very happy in his new role.

ALSO in the fall I may have purchased my 11th and 12th strollers.

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Whatever.

Shut up.

You bought 12 strollers.

I need what I need.

Anyway.

For Fall break, I learned from Summer break, and actually organized myself. In the summer, everything just sort of happened in uncontrollable chaotic streams. I was constantly two or three steps behind the kids. Like, we were getting up and I was dishing food out all the time and then cleaning up the kitchen mess. And they would ask for fun summer-type things and I would help them, or I wouldn’t. And then in like 5 minutes, they’ve re-arranged all the furniture upstairs and turned the bathroom into a puddle because they were making “potion.” But most often, they were doing as they pleased – which resulted in a lot of screen time. Which resulted in over-stimulated, brain fried WHINERS.

SO, for fall break, we had a schedule with daily activities and designated screen time, free play time, friend time, and reading/writing. The kids took to it really well, and it was simple and much more relaxing.

And, oh ya, the Cubs just won the World Series. We had to pull an all nighter to watch them win in real time. It was easy and fine.

 

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Tent, always.

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The morning after the CUBS WIN all-nighter.
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a friend from the Chicago office sent a few papers to us!
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the park we attend almost every day
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I kept getting weird looks. I DIDN’T KNOW she had a Duplo motorcycle in her mouth.

 

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When I make BBQ, I always have two spotters.

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a hiding black spy and a king… two things that make sense

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And then Halloween.

I didn’t have it together for Halloween costumes. Harry and Finn were really wanting to be Wild Kratts – the show they (especially Finn) love so much. Then on the day, Harry changed his mind after realizing that no one in England knows who the Wild Kratts are. He put on his skeleton from last year. I didn’t get Theo a costume because I assumed he wouldn’t want to dress up. If he did, we have a bunch of dress-up stuff upstairs. I was right, and he just wanted to wear his hoodie and it wasn’t worth a fight. I knew Viv would be happy to wear a fun skirt, so I got her some ears and a tail and she was a cat!

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Around Thanksgiving, Erika and Jake returned for a quick trip without the kids. They stayed with us on the weekends and travelled to Paris and Ireland during the week. We went with them to our first British Tea time and conquered an escape game. We also began testing out the neighborhood Church-of-England church. We really like it!

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Relaxed Tea Time at Muriel’s Kitchen
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Mulled wine and WinterWonderland!

Then there’s Christmas and return visits from both Grandmas.

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____________

the babies

Harry

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Age: 7

Height: 4’5″

Harry has continued to amaze us this year. He grew and developed both at home and at school. He continues to love his siblings and embrace his role as head-kid-in-charge. He fawns over Viv all the time saying things like “I can’t believe how cute she is! I love her so much!” And when Finn had trouble with a kid at school, Harry says “Who is it? Is that kid younger than me? If he is.. I can help you Finn. Just show me who it is and I’ll help.”

And, he’s so patient with each of them, imitating my calm directives. “Pause it Finn. Now, I know you’re excited to show me this new land… but you have to let me do it on my own.” And “I can’t understand you when you whine.” He is truly good help with Viv when I need an extra pair of hands to sit with her or feed her.

 

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He is the leader, and the director of everything play. Whether it’s constructing a tent, playing Minecraft, creating a zoo, or organizing a hunt. Theo and Finn, and sometimes Viv, just follow his lead. All the ideas go through him. We’re lucky that Finn’s demeanor so greatly meshes with Harry’s personality. They are able to play together with virtually no conflict. And if a fight does break out, Harry is great at resolving it.

This year they made me laugh playing ‘sell the house’ where they enjoy placing all of their things in containers and pretending to move them. And then playing ‘travel’ when they dig out their suitcases and pack them. Then travel around the house announcing where they are and how they are traveling there. Harry:”Now we’re taking the underwater train to Paris! And if you are good boys at security I’ll buy you a treat!” Security is in the bathroom and the underwater train is mom and dads bed. They’ve picked up knowledge at school and piled it on with our travels, and their adventures take them from Russia to Asia, to Africa and the Arctic. It’s cute and amazing.

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Also this year, Harry has really taken off with his computer skills. Rich gave him the tools, (his own super-computer in his room) with a few “games” and there’s been no stopping him. He can do things and make things – homes, and tools, and rollercoasters in Minecraft and dinosaurs in Arc. He’s seven and he can do it all.

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At school Harry has completely caught up with his peers after starting out severely behind last year. The curriculum in the US is 1-2 years behind the UK. After our parent teacher meeting in November, he is right at age level – in fact, a little high in some areas. Back in the spring, the kids were writing “joined” as they call it here. Or cursive. But his teacher wasn’t pushing him on it at all. Completely on his own he started trying to write cursive, and now he has some of the best hand writing in his class.

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He reads amazingly well, and is obsessed with multiplication tables. He comes home and reports on his knowledge of the science units on volcanoes and oceans. But most of all he loves to write. As he became more confident, he began wanting to write at home ALOT. He would write to-do lists, plans for machines, gift lists, facts about animals and dinosaurs, books about animals and dinosaurs, super hero books and cards, short stories, and even entire board and card games. He went through three whole notebooks in just a couple months. The things he wrote at the beginning of the year are printed and the things toward the middle of the year are in cursive.

Harry is also very headstrong. Sometimes – depending on his tiredness level – we can’t even reason with him. He has outright refused to comply at GP and eye doctor appointments. The school sometimes has reward days, NON-UNIFORM days, where the kids can dress however they want. On these days, Harry insists on still wearing his uniform. That’s just what he wants and he doesn’t care if he is LITERALLY the only one dressed in uniform at school. One of the days, there was one other kid wearing his uniform at school – and he was only wearing it because his family had been out of town and his mom didn’t know it was a non uniform day. And he insists on wearing way-too-small boxers OVER his boxer briefs to bed every night, no matter how much I tell him how ridiculous it is. whatever….

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Most of the time we find ourselves annoyed by his stubbornness – but other times I’m proud. Like when he refused a Gatorade from the team-mom after baseball because it was ‘too sugary” he told her….

He used to be terribly self-conscious, and this year we’ve seen lots of improvement. He definitely still has a self-conscious moment here and there, but generally he sticks to his convictions – even if they don’t make sense to us. And as he’s settled into school, I see him starting to gain a better understanding of social dynamics. Not to be confused with ‘being social’ because he definitely is still on the more reserved side, IN PUBLIC.

Despite his reserved nature, he seems to have no trouble making friends. He enjoys having them over, and tells me often about the things the play together at school. Their favorite game to play together is “Archa and Neato” a band of superheros that they have made up. His best friends of the year were Jerome, Tieri, Loic, Reece, and Toby. He was over-the-moon proud to receive the ‘Best Rounders Player’ trophy at sports camp this summer. Not everyone received a trophy. And on the self-improvement side, he had a little bout of lying to us this summer. He said he felt like he couldn’t tell the truth because he was afraid of getting in trouble. I assured him that lying to me was much more trouble than whatever he did. We were able to squash it with negative reinforcement. But Finn still reminds him, and us, of ‘all the times Harry lied about stuff.’

Favorites: Legos, Minecraft, Arc, Lego Jurassic World, Ninjago, YouTube suprise egg and gaming videos, pepperoni pizza, crumpets with nutella, “movie” popcorn, Skittles, Digestives

Birthday Questions:

  1. Now that you’re 7, what’s different?   That I’m taller. I’ve grown bigger
  2. How tall are you?   Don’t know.
  3. What are you really good at? Umm… Lego’s, being nice, reading books, being at school and being nice, taking a shower all by myself! making breakfast!.
  4. What’s your favorite thing to do? Legos! And Minecraft! And watching DanTDM!
  5. What’s your favorite thing to eat?  Chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookie with white ice cream with M&M’s, and Nutella toast, Digestives, and now two healthy things… sandwich with ham and cheese and eggs!
  6. Where’s your favorite place to go, and why? Legoland! In America, because everything is made of Legos!
  7. Who’s your favorite friend? Jerome.
  8. What do you want to do when you grow up? Lego Master Builder
  9. How old are mom and dad? Daddy is 33 and Mommy is 29!
  10. What does daddy do at work? He fixes computers
  11. What do you like the best about mom and dad? Daddy plays video games with me. And mommy…. uuuuu. I don’t really know… oh ya, watching TV with me.
  12. How strong is dad? REAAAAAALLLLY strong. Like Hulk. Because his muscles look like Hulk’s. But it’s not the same size, it just looks like it. And he’s really strong.
  13. What’s mom’s favorite thing to do? Work on the computer – I see you do it all the time.
  14. What’s your favorite thing about your brothers? Finn plays with me nice and Theo’s cute.
  15. What do you think of girls? Umm. Don’t know. Tabitha’s in love with me. I don’t love Tilly anymore.
  16. If you could have a super power, what would it be? Being really strong.. ya. Because then I can jump really high and climb.
  17. What’s the best thing that happened to you this year? Not sure yet, going to Wimbledon Park Primary?
  18. Where do you want to go on vacation? No where. I want to stay home. Well, actually, I want to go to a hotel with a pool in the summer. Maybe every summer first we can go to a hotel with a pool.
  19. Are you going to get married some day? to who? No. Well… probably. Maybe I will because Tabitha’s in love with me. But I don’t love her. Maybe when I grow up, I can see.
  20.  How long does it take to make dinner? umm…. about 3 minutes.
  21. How do you make cookies? Umm… I don’t know. Sugar, bread, and milk. Eggs. And uuuu.. salt. And chocolate! Mix it all up and put it in the oven.
  22. How much does a car cost? ahhh… 50 pounds because it’s really big and they help people, so they are expensive.
  23. What’s the healthiest thing you can eat? Umm… oatmeal and soup. Oh – and ham. I love ham.
  24. Can you give me an example of a good deed? I do not know. Give someone a present on their birthday?
  25. Can you tell me a joke? Um, no. Ok, Knock knock. ‘Who’s there?’ Cow. ‘Cow who?’ Mooooo!!! Hahahaha
  26. What do you know about God and Jesus? That they take care of you and that they help you.

Finn

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Age: 5

Height: 3’11”

Finn, our sunshine baby, continues to be just that. Most of the time. He is most often happy to go along with whatever is happening. He’s our “most likely to be in his underwear” and also “most likely to wander off.” He’ll wander not because he’s trying to escape us, but because he saw a butterfly or a bird or a gap in the trees. He finds the most to laugh about. He looks at things in a new and different way – often seeing things I don’t. He noticed our uber driver’s hair or our tour guide’s shoes and says things like “That shirt is lovely. I would like this lovely shirt.” and “The water looks beautiful.” and “A rose is my favorite flower.”

And oh man, does he listen. He listens and remembers what you say and takes in his world better than anyone. He doesn’t LOOK or sound like he’s paying attention. But he is. When it’s something he’s interested in… he is paying attention.

Like with animals, for example. He eats up anything animal, like “Wild Kratts” and “Planet Earth” and our Animal Encyclopedia. ON THE DAILY – he spouts animal facts to me. “Mom. Did you know crocodile eggs: if they’re hot, it’s a boy, if they’re cold, it’s a girl?” “MOM. A Peregrine can glide down so fast!” “MOM. A trap door spider doesn’t have a web. It builds a hole and then builds something over it and… and… ” “MOM. A Honey badger lives in Africa and regular badgers live in America.” “MOM. Did you know that the Asian Beetles moved to Africa?” “Mom. Did you know a beaver’s teeth never stop growing?” And so on and so on. He tells me all kinds of things. I often come up to his room to find his animal books open. He’s been looking, and trying to read them.

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He also remembers everything else too. I took him and Theo to Hampton Court Palace in mid August. Because of where it is, it’s two trains and then a bus from here. It takes about 45m. We took the trains, we took the bus. I didn’t mention anything specific. I shuffled them there and back. We had a great time. Fast forward to mid October. Hampton Court was so fun, I wanted to take Harry because he didn’t go on the first trip. The big boys had a day off of school so I decided to leave the two little ones with Maleah and take just Harry and Finn to Hampton Court Palace. After we got off the second train, I was maneuvering them through the platform and out of the station, simultaneously checking my phone for the bus route – because I didn’t remember which bus number we needed.  Finn says to me “Mom, since we don’t have a stroller, can we ride on the top of the bus?”

And I say back “Yes, but I’m not sure if THIS bus has a top. I think it’s just a single deck bus.”

And he says back “Nu ah, the 111 has a top.”

I stopped in my tracks and stared at him. Then I glanced at my phone for the route information. We needed the 111 bus.

“Finn!” I said “You’re right. How on earth did you know the bus number? We only came here one other time, weeks ago.”

“I just remembered” He says.

So then I say,”Well, ok, but I still don’t think the 111 has a top. So if it does, we can. But I’m pretty sure it’s a single, so be prepared.”

“Ok, but it has a top.” He says.

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And ^ that’s them riding on the top of the 111 bus. Because not only did I have to look up the bus information again, I HONESTLY thought I remembered it being a single bus. Little did I know, I just needed to ask Finn.

His sunshine nature is offset by troublesome stubborn-ness, and a little bit of social awkwardness. He’s stubborn enough to lie sometimes, to get the results he wants. And despite his open, carefree attitude at home – we’ve learned that he very much keeps to himself at school. His teachers say he behaves very well, but that he’s reserved. He’s not the most outgoing or outspoken, and he isn’t the first to run around and make friends. It takes him more time. He likes more subtle friendships, a closer relationship with one or two people instead of a small group. At Riversdale, his old school, his BEST FRIEND was Yusef. He talked about Yusef constantly, and I was so happy to hear that he had a friend. But then he had to leave Riversdale to come to Wimbledon Park.

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I caught up to Yusef’s mom on Finn’s last day. We exchanged numbers and we’ve gotten them together a few times since Finn’s transfer. They always seem happy to see each other.

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Shortly after the start of the new school year, I was elated for Finn to ask to have a friend over. He asked Jacob and then also Leon. But now we hear more about a friend called Hamza. I’m sure with time, he’ll find a good social fit. This year was just challenging for him, on that. He was also sick with a fever and cough and missed a full week of school in May and another in November

Social issues aside, Finn is absorbing what is being taught at school. At five years old, the full day of school – every single day – is hard for him. Some days he gets home and just melts or lays on the couch or cries… or all three. And I know it’s because he’s mentally and physically exhausted. Despite it being so tiring for him, he is doing very well. He often gets behavior rewards and he is right on target with his classmates on writing and math. His reading has really taken off. He uses the phonics rules to sound out words he doesn’t know and takes pride in reading new things. In November he moved up a reading level from where he started in September.

Despite his obvious brightness, he is 5. And within the first few  weeks he lost these things at school:

water bottle (found two weeks later)

school sweatshirt (found 6 weeks later)

red polo shirt (still missing)

rain coat (found two days later)

shin guards (found 8 weeks later)

lunch bag (still missing)

a glove (found the next day)

and then came home with – someone else’s shoe laces, someone else’s cardigan, and someone else’s jumper.

At home Finn is endlessly goofy. Every once in a while he’s in a stubborn grumpy mood, but most of the time he’s up for an adventure. Up for playing in the rain. Up for eating treats in the middle of the day. Up for a dance party. Up for pretending he’s a bird. Up for telling a joke. Where Harry often wants to stay home – Finn wants to go out. And when we have non-uniform days at school, Finn is SO excited to wear his own clothes. When he plays video games with Harry, he’s so into it. He jumps up and down until he’s red and sweaty. He is the VERY BEST play mate for each of his siblings. He has the most mesh-able personality.. happy to fit the mold of whatever Harry or Theo or Viv need him to fit. Without virtually ever irritating them.

He’s the best at NOT wearing his clothes.

He’s naturally coordinated – making him good at any video game, kicking a soccer ball, or racing his scooter to school.

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And then there’s this:

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Favorites: minecraft, candy, snacks, playing adventure, animals, snacks, animals, cake, pizza, animals

Birthday Questions:

  1. Now that you’re 5, what’s different? nothing different
  2. How tall are you? one, actually i’m not one. i’m 100.
  3. What are you really good at? i’m only good at eating
  4. What’s your favorite thing to do? playing minecraft
  5. What’s your favorite thing to eat? strawberries, sweets, and cereal!
  6. Where’s your favorite place to go, and why? the Pig and Whistle, bc it has chicken! and pigs!
  7. Who’s your favorite friend? Yusef!
  8. What do you want to do when you grow up? I want to be an explorer, a famous Minecraft person, and a scientist!
  9. How old are mom and dad? Mom is 1 and Dad is 100! hahahaha
  10. What does daddy do at work? sleeps on his computer! hahaha
  11. What do you like the best about mom and dad? don’t know, i love you. and I like daddy setting up minecraft on the computer.
  12. How strong is dad? 100 strong!
  13. What’s mom’s favorite thing to do? i don’t know… watch tv?
  14. What’s you favorite thing about your brothers? don’t know
  15. What do you think of girls? I only know two girls. Ashtyn and Avery.
  16. If you could have a super power, what would it be? Super Diego power! To save animals!
  17. What’s the best thing that happened to you this year?  don’t know
  18. Are you going to get married some day? to who? I’m not going to get married bc i’m going to be a famous Minecraft player.
  19. How long does it take to make dinner? 6 minutes!
  20. How do you make cookies? You need wheat and flour and chocolate chip cookies!
  21. How much does a car cost? 94 GBP
  22. What’s the healthiest thing you can eat? That’s easy.. it’s oatmeal.
  23. Can you give me an example of a good deed? I know, it’s hugging them.
  24. Can you tell me a joke? I can! What does a cow poop like? (what?) sausage pizza!
  25. What do you know about God and Jesus? I don’t know, only that they are really old. And Jesus was born in Christmas.

Theo

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Age: 2

Height: 3’1″

We’ve seen lots of change in Theo this year. Last year I wrote that he was THE MOST challenging toddler, and I stand by that. We put him though a lot, all while he was learning to communicate and grow and develop. He was constantly wanting to fit in with his big brothers, but feeling left out. And I know he often felt separate from Mommy and Viv. We started noticing a difference in his attitudes when our Au Pair moved in. He finally had someone more dedicated to him. I think she really helped to usher him ‘over the hump.’ The terrible-toddler-hump.

By late summer, he went from ‘zero to hero’ as Rich says. Now he’s our sweetest, cuddliest, cutest little bear. He is just SO CUTE. And easy and fun to be around. He’s starting to actually enjoy playing by himself. He dances around and tells us the most adorable things in his cute, excited little voice. He’s always happy to see us when we come in from being out, or when we come into his room to get him, or when we’ve been upstairs. He loves to sprint from the front of the house to the back of the house. And of course, he loves to hang out with his brothers. By the end of the year, he’s starting to see Viv as more of a playmate. I’ve caught glimpses of them playing together. They spend a lot of time trying to make each other laugh – usually by spitting food out of their mouths. For most of the year he lovingly called her ‘baby gurl.’ And I’ve started seeing Theo trying to protect Viv from things, and giving her kisses if she hurts herself. He will also worry about mom or dad if they cough or stub their toe. “you otay?” he says.

He also has very good manners, thank you. you’re welcome. good job! You’re so smart!

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He definitely still has lots of grumpy moments, and times when he just needs to chill in the stroller for some TV.

He enjoys getting Viv to mimic him, including his act-like-a-dog phase (which coincidentally Finn also went through). He will sit at the table and try to eat his food from his plate without using his hands, but most often calmly dumps his snacks on the floor and then eats them like a dog. He taught Viv. It’s fine.

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Speaking of eating, he has really struggled with eating this year. He was a great eater as a baby. But now, he doesn’t want to sit. Typical for a grazing toddler. And he piled that on with deciding he didn’t like two thirds of what I make. Turning into a real ‘picky eater’ or ‘finicky eater’ or ‘problem feeder’ or whatever it is.

I was just letting it go, but then he started losing weight so I had to try harder.He stopped eating oatmeal and bananas, and stopped drinking milk. Three big staples for me. He stopped eating any fruits and vegetables. The only ones he gets are snuck into bars or muffins that I buy or make. This phase included me doing absolutely ridiculous things like following him around with a bowl offering him bites, feeding him in the living room, and feeding him in his bed. I can’t be catering to him like this, but I also can’t have him waste away. I’m still doing ridiculous things to make sure he doesn’t starve. It’s so dumb. “Like c’mon kid! Don’t you realize that if you don’t eat, you’ll die?!”

I know from Harry and Finn that, with time, the whole Theo-trying-to-starve-himself phase will pass. But until then, I’ll be pretty grumpy about it.

Along with food struggles, he decided that maybe he doesn’t need to nap. NOW…. I am the nap princess. The nap dictator. We nap here. So, I was utterly confused when he just randomly starting dropping it. But at only 2.5, he actually seems to do ok when he doesn’t take one. And then he goes to bed at 6:30 and sleeps a full 12-13 hours. So, I decided to be cool about it. He still goes up to his room for rest time. If he sleeps, he goes to bed later. And if he doesn’t, then it’s lights out early. And at the end of the year, it’s working well. But odd, and sort of freeing, to think he’s ok without his nap at almost 3 and that I might only have one napper left in the house.

I had the loose goal of teaching each kid their letters, numbers, shapes, and colors by age two. Like, in or around two – between their 2nd and 3rd birthdays. Harry took to it early, so I decided it was reasonable. It’s not like I drill them or anything, we just play puzzles and cards and if they’re interested, they pick it up. If not, then that’s fine. At an early two Harry knew his colors, letters, and shapes. But NOT his numbers. Just didn’t interest him, and didn’t stick – and I don’t think he learned them until he was four. Finn came along and ON HIS SECOND birthday knew his colors, his numbers, his shapes, but NOT his letters. Didn’t care about that. Now Theo, I have at 2.5. He knows his letters and his numbers, plus his shapes. But you know what – NOT color. So, there’s that for the child phycological development section.

Mentioning science… as if I am conducting an experiment in nature vs. nurture, Theo started loving anything tech – OF COURSE. He can actually hold a controller and do things with it. He can also move a mouse around and do things on a computer. And his Ipad – forget it. He’s a little bit too obsessed and we have to limit his time. He’s a master at Temple Run, of all things. Much better than me… which isn’t saying much, but still impressive considering he’s two. Impressive for him, not me.

He also loves to pull all the cushions off the couch and sit in front of the window. He talks about the things he sees outside.  90% of the time consists of him keeping tabs on the spider in the bushes. He was also deathly afraid of bubbles this summer. Hiding under the patio furniture when we got them out. But he’s more okay with them after a few months.

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He continues to bang his head as a soothing mechanism. He does it considerably less frequently. As he approaches three next year, we’ve read it should taper off. We will probably transition him into a ‘big boy bed’ sometime in the new year. And I have a feeling that will help to stop the head banging – because if he’s upset he can just come get mom or dad of course. And… yes, he’s almost three and still in a crib. And NO, he’s NOT potty trained. I see no need to rush these sorts of things. Everything happens in due time… when they are ready. On the crib – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And on the potty – he’ll let us know when he’s ready. What’s the point of struggling? IN FACT, on December 11th, he asked to sit on the potty himself. So… maybe something will happen soon.

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This has also been the year of Blue’s Clues. HE IS COMPLETELY OBSESSED. If he gets to pick at the breakfast table, for rest time, for bed time, for when he’s throwing a fit – it’s Blue’s Clues to the rescue. It’s his show, it’s his thing. He has all the episodes memorized. I guess he could do worse. Steve has a nice demeanor. He’s learned a few key phrases from Steve that he loves to use like “Jud job! You’re so snart!” and “exactly.” And “Did you see a clue?”

The other thing he loves is puzzles. Again – just like his brothers. He started wanting to do them, and I can’t stop him. At the end of the year, he can easily do 48 pieces by himself. Most of what he got for Christmas… new puzzles.

Favorites: Blue’s Clues, cookie  balls, puzzles, playing anything with Harry and Finn, Blue’s Clues, puzzles, Blue’s Clues

 

Vivian

Height: 2’7″

Age: 1

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OH MY GOODNESS, Vivian.

In 2016, Vivian arrived.

She let us know who she is. She is attitude to the max, sass to the max. And she is fearless. I call her Tiger Princess.

From 6 months old in January to 17 months old in December, this has been a year of constant growth and change for her. She began with learning to sit, then crawl, then pull up. And once she was pulling up, she immediately started cruising. Once she was cruising, she took off walking with no fear. She climbed up on the couch. And then up on the arm rest. And then the book shelf. If it looks like she can climb it, she tries.

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Her favorite thing was to climb up on the couch and then toddle along the front edge of the couch. I eventually gave up and just let her climb everything, and toddle along the front edge… which lead to her falling a lot. But then lead to her actually being able to walk along the edge of the couch without falling off. She has more balance and coordination than any of her brothers, and more might too. She moved through the crawl/cruise/walk thing faster than the boys did. She was ready to do the next stop, no hesitations. She is also freaky with her fine motor skills. Since she was itty bitty she could pinch and pick up something tiny, like a raisin. And at a year old she could open the window shutters in the living room – and then grab them by the tip of the hinge on the inside and pull them closed. She also managed to shove some of her bracelets in a crack between the window sill and the radiator. A task I struggled with when I tried to repeat it.

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She’s very vocal, and very bossy. She’s learned to use shrieks and screams to defend her toys against her brothers. She likes for you sit on the living room floor and watch her play. She doesn’t like for you to necessarily play with her. And she definitely doesn’t want you to sit on the couch.

Floor. And watch.

And like, when I come in her room in the morning she never greets me with a happy smile – it’s always a grunt/whine and tapping her hair – a demand for me to pull her hair up.

She is generally a happy baby, she just likes things to go her way. And she lets you know immediately if they are not just so. And she’s just SO loud you can’t ignore it. She just gives me this look… like “Why don’t you have it more together? Why can’t you get me all the things I need every second and have things the way I like them all the time?” Half the time I feel like I’M an inconvenience to HER.

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She’s on the serious side. But she’s also very curious and thoughtful. She’ll sit back and watch me do something. She’ll watch me with such intensity, it’s like she’s taking notes.

And when she’s not being serious and demanding – she can be sweet and happy. Her teething really bogged her down this year; with almost a whole mouth-full slowly coming in over 4 or 5 months. But every once in a while we’d get a day or two where we could tell she was having an easier time and we would glimpse her fun and silly side. And it’s glorious. When she’s happy and feeling good – she relaxes and has fun. We can turn on some music and she loves to dance. She’ll get a blanket and cuddle up on the couch. She loves to get on the floor and attempt to rough house with the boys. She’ll play with her favorite red bus, or throw a ball around, or join Theo playing cars and dinosaurs.

And there was the day she played with these raw potatoes all morning.

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She amazes us with all the ‘girl’ things she does, despite the constant boy influence. She ALREADY notices the things she wears and admires them. She LOVES to carry around any bag, or multiple bags. And she hooks them through her arm, like a girl does. She loves to wear bracelets, and spins in a little happy circle whenever I put them on her. They way she carries things… cradled up on her front, like a girl naturally does.

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And I have to admit, I was a little surprised. We put the baby dolls in her room, but I thought she wouldn’t be interested. I’m not used to the sight. I made sure to have a doll on hand for the boys to play with. It never got any action of course, and eventually made it’s way out the door. But, Viv has a couple babies and she likes them.

And then there are shoes. Her favorite toy/thing to do is anything involving her shoes or your shoes. She loves to look at her shoes, carry them around, put them on. She also loves to discuss YOUR shoes and put them on. She’s OBSESSED. It’s one of the things she says most clearly “SHOES!” She got slippers for Christmas. Indoor shoes that she can play with all the time.

She’s also an diligent product quality tester.

She started the year as my most enthusiastic eater EVER. I did some baby-led weaning techniques with her, and this lead to a very confident chewer. She loves to explore the texture and taste of food. She’ll try anything. The boys all started with feeding themselves, but didn’t like the textures or the mess on their hands. But not her. She takes mashed potatoes or oatmeal or pasta and just smooshes it all in her hands, then shoves her hands in her mouth.

She makes an unprecedented mess almost every meal. She would eat any thing and everything with ease and joy. Then she started teething and became very finicky, throwing almost everything on the floor. Towards the end of the year, she’s starting to slowly return to better eating.

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When she was born, I really expected for Viv to be a soft sweet little flower. Not sure why I thought that…. none of the other kids have soft, calm demeanors. They are each so strong and vibrant and varied. No wall flowers here. She’s no different. Now that I know who she is – a fire tiger princess – I really love her more for it. She has a sweet and soft side, but so far…  she’s hard to contain. And I wouldn’t want to.

Favorites: shoes, her clothes, trash from the recycle bin, dancing, her brothers, the red bus toy, bags and backpacks, yogurt

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a day in the life

At the beginning of the year, Viv went from three naps to two. Then in the summer, she went from two naps to one. Theo is transitioning out of his nap, and the boys are in school most days. A typical week day:

5:30 AM Finn has to poop

6:00 Finn whine

6:30 Finn comes in for snack, goes down for TV

6:45 theo starts banging, Viv starts fussing – bring him his Ipad in crib, change Viv and give her drink in crib. close my eyes again for 20 minutes, then get up and get dressed

7:40 make breakfast, go back up for Viv and Theo, dress kids, sit kids down for food, everybody’s shoes, everybody’s teeth, big boys need backpacks, water bottles, and anything extra for activities/homework/show and tell/special projects/school fundraising

8:40 walk to school, return home and clean up kitchen. playtime for Theo and Viv

11:00ish – lunch for T and V

11:30 – naptime for V

12:00 – theo goes into bed with show, probably doesn’t nap

choose a couple – clean up lunch, eat my own lunch, workout, bake, clean the bathroom, prep dinner, laundry, watch survivor, put in grocery order

1:30 – Viv is up. play in her room, while we continue to let Theo have alone time.

2:00 – play in theo’s room together

2:45 – snack time

3:15 pack up and leave for school pick up

3:45 – return from school, unload backpacks, wash hands, additional snacks for whiners, big boys retire to their room or the couch if their brains are extra mushy

4:30 – load up babies in stroller again and head back to school to pick up whoever stayed after school for an activity which on Wednesday is Harry for football, Thursday is Harry for Brainblocks, and on Friday is Finn for football.

– make fast-as-lightning dinner while Viv and Theo take turns crying in the living room

5:15 – Kids dinner, try to clean the kitchen during and after they eat.

6:00 – Theo bath, ask Harry to stay in Viv’s room with her.

6:15 – Finn’s shower, brush teeth. Brush Theo’s teeth and read a quick book.

6:30 – Put Theo in bed with a show (remember, he didn’t nap)

Read with Finn.

6:45 -Put Finn in bed with show.

read and play with Viv – again stays with Harry, so I can go up for Theo.

7:00 – Theo’s show is over, prayer and song, lights out. Come back for Viv – song and lights out. Instruct Harry to start his shower.

7:15 – Finn’s show is over. Song and prayer with Finn – lights out. Help Harry finish showering, supervise him brushing his teeth. Then, read for a while with Harry. Then, go down and finish cleaning the kitchen and prepping for adult dinner. Harry can play quietly or watch a show.

7:45 Rich is home.

8:00 Prayer, song, lights out Harry.

8:20 Adult dinner.

Clean up, finish laundry.

  • ^ this is when Rich is working his late shift. And usually on the late shift, he is home for breakfast and walks the boys to school. Every other week he works an early shift. For the early shift everything is the same, he’s just home at 5:30 – if we’re lucky.

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kid words

Me: What’s your name?

Theo: Name.

Me: No, What’s your name?

Theo: Finn!

 

I gotta write Finn on my face so everyone knows my name! – Finn

My arms are actually really long, see! – Finn

Finn’s fore-brain is hot! – Finn

This place is awesome!!! – Harry (at Battersea Park)

Let’s fire this baby up! – Harry (about a fan)

Red roses are my favorite flower. – Finn

I’ll never stop loving you mom. – Finn

Someday, if a girl thinks I’m handsome, she could marry me. – Harry

They speak Italian in my school.. only they call it French. – Harry (trying to learn Italian)

I love our family. It’s fun to have two brothers and one sister. – Harry

When my friends are over, I want to call you mom. But when my friends aren’t over, I will call you mommy. – Harry

I’ve got a rocket and I’m going to space. – Finn

 

Rich, after pulling rocks out of Harry’s pockets – You’re such a boy.

Harry – Why?

Rich – because. every little boy I know always puts dirt and rocks in his pockets.

Harry – Na uh, daddy! Just me!

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a selection of words from Finn in the bathroom:

“Thank you and Goodnight.” (after me wiping his bottom)

 

Me: Are you done Finn?

Finn: NO. My poop is still trying to win the race.

 

“I have to learn to wipe myself because you’re going to die someday.”

 

(I told Finn that when he mastered wiping himself after going number 2, I would get him a special prize. He asked me what ‘mastered’ meant – and we discussed it. Then a few months later, he was sitting on the toilet crying – not wanting to wipe himself.)

“I don’t WANT to be the master of the toilet mommy!”

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Finn (after going on a tour of Stonehenge) – Mom, I LOVE our guide.

Finn (riding in an Uber), points to the driver and whispers – I love his hair.

Mom, can you write ZOOOOM! on my airplane. That’s his name. – Finn

I want my hair to look like a forest. – Finn

My health is at 200. – Finn

Na, I’m just gonna sit on the couch and eat some grapes. – Finn, after asking him to come upstairs for bed

Chocolate milk is not important, being alive is important. – Harry

Dammit! – Harry

But I’m already wearing a shirt. It’s invisible. – Finn, after asking him to put a shirt on

Mom, when you grow up, you should be a baker. – Finn

Your grandma sounds like a cowboy! – our neighbor, Reece, about Grandma Janice

 

Good job painting your eyes black! – Theo, after watching me put on mascara

 

My favorite number is 100 – Harry

Well, my favorite number is 64! – Finn

 

The coffee table is not for climbing – Me

What’s it for then? – Harry

 

Harry to Finn “I love you no matter what”

Harry about Viv “She’s just sooo adorable, I JUST LOVE HER SO MUCH!!”

Nobody knows how much bacon I ate. – Finn

 

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mom fails

I’m so jealous of Rich’s brain function. He can add numbers in his head and remember today’s date. He knows what he ate for lunch and when I ask “Hey, can you grab a shirt for Theo when you come back downstairs” he almost always remembers.

– threw away a full container of formula

– didn’t realize/forgot that Finn needed sunblock at school. He came home with a sunburn (slight… but enough).

– completely missed the permission slip for Harry’s field trip (he still got to go)

– paid to ‘not run’ in the school 5K

– Left Harry in our Rome apartment (we got to the lobby and realized we forgot him)

– sent Harry on a different field trip in the wrong shoes, with a lunch that didn’t look like anyone else’s

– sent Finn on field trip with an ordered ‘school packed lunch’ when everyone else’s mom packed them one. The school offers to pack a lunch for them on field trip days. I was like. YES!! But, I guess everyone else doesn’t think that way.

– Took Viv to the wrong doctor’s office for her shots

– Missed the deadline for Theo’s nursery application

– Realized Rich and I WERE SHARING A TOOTHBRUSH

– melted brand new expensive water bottles in the microwave (this one hurt BAD)

– ruined a rubber spoon and a spatula… trying to help the food processor. Had to comb through recipe searching for bit of spoon and spatula.

– accidentally make rock candy instead of sugar syrup and ended up with sharp-as-glass sugar shards in my cookie ball recipe. Had to comb through batter and fish them out.

– sent a picture of Maleah’s gift to my mom to see what she thought. Oh wait, no I didn’t. I sent a picture of Maleah’s gift to Maleah.

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what i learned this year

I learned the origin of why they drive ‘on the other side of the road’ here.  There used to be horses on the roads. The men on those horses carried swords, and most of those men were right handed. This meant they carried their sword off to their left. So, they drive their cars on the left to keep their swords from hitting.

I also learned the origin of the word Piccadilly and dilly dally. Piccadilly Circus is sort of the London equivalent of Times Square. Its huge, lights, mega action shopping place. Savile Row is a famous street of suit shops and men’s clubs. A woman, more specifically, a prostitute used to be called a Dilly. Wasting time staring at and flirting with the Dillys became dilly dallying. Women would accuse their men of dilly dallying while they were out. Just around the corner from Savile row, there was a street known for it’s Dillys. So you could get your suit, go to the mens club, then go around the corner and Pick-a-Dilly. Piccadilly. I think that’s fun.

I also learned, from the Brits, how to take my time. I don’t need to do everything at Tasmanian devil speed. Just like I’m always telling the boys – take it back a notch.

Viv cries every time I load/unload the dishwasher because I lock her out of the kitchen. I lock her out of the kitchen because she can’t handle the dishwasher being open. Anyway – me taking an extra minute to put the dishes away without breaking them in a hurried rush is worth it.

But overwhelmingly this year, I feel clueless with the kids. Like I’m constantly in uncharted territory, never sure of myself, – not only with Harry and Finn, but also with the two younger ones. I’m always telling Maleah, “like, I don’t know what to do here…let’s try X, and then we’ll try Z.”

I think a parenting thought evolution goes like this:

after one kid: Alright, I know some things.

after two kids: I know everything!

after three kids: Okay, there were a couple things I didn’t know….

after four kids: I know nothing.

 

 

Paris

The biggie.

 

I, Emy, traveled to Paris twice this summer.

What? I know. I can’t believe it either.

This is, in fact, real. It’s ridiculous and indulgent. I know.

 

I spent a weekend here with my mother in June.

Then in July we came back with our kids… and Rich’s family.

Even though I did go twice, both times were fast and furious.

I am, by no means, an expert on Paris.

 

the mom weekend

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For this trip mom and I took the Saturday morning train, spent the night, and returned on the Sunday night train. The ride on the Eurostar train from London to Paris takes about two and a half hours. We arrived, got some Euros and began to figure out city transit. I was trying NOT to use my phone for directions and translations. I didn’t want to rely on it all of the time. After a little while staring at the map and train lines, we figured out how to get to our hotel using public transit. It’s possible to do it with your own brain.

We bought tickets and we were on our way. I had booked a hotel in a great location, so it was easy to get there. Our boutique hotel was perfect. Very english language friendly, cute, clean, and within walking distance of Notre Dame. I would stay there again, for sure.

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We quickly decided that the best way for us to see the sights on our quick trip was to buy tickets for a Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour. On a HopHop bus tour, you drive around the city. The bus stops at various landmarks, you can get off and walk around, then wait for the next bus to come and continue your tour. We have them in London. Great for tourists who want to skim the sights of the city without actually having to figure out how to get around. We had read some reviews that sometimes the buses are very spaced out and people had to wait a really long time for a bus, so we just didn’t get off. We rode it all around, and then decided it was worth the risk to get off at the Eiffel Tower. And we actually had no trouble catching another bus.

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It was a little extra bustl-y when we were there because Paris happened to be hosting the EuroCup. When I booked the hotel, I received the “EuroCup discount” and I was like ‘cool!’ It didn’t click with me what that was… or that it might cause extra crowds… or that there might be a giant soccer ball in the middle of the Eiffel Tower. Honestly, it didn’t affect us as much as I thought it might. Just an extra hooligan here and there.

Also going on at the Eiffel Tower that day was some sort of protest? or celebration? I’m still not sure, but there was crowd from it and a man CONSTANTLY yelling, in another language, over a mega-phone.

And, of course, your standard group of Chinese tourists at least 200 strong.

We took the bus back around to Notre Dame, where – in true French fashion – my mom made me cut the line! No apologies. I’m not sure what got into her…

In her defense, it was really really long.

And I think we were hungry. Or it was raining a little.

In my opinion Notre Dame is the best thing Paris has going.

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Those bus tours are not perfect, however. They quit running around 5 or 6 or 7 or something. So you have to get yourself around town after that. But, thank goodness our tour company offered a night tour that started at 9. We went back to the starting point at 9 ready and excited for our Paris-at-night tour.

And the bus never showed up.

We waited for… an hour?… if I remember correctly. There were a couple others waiting with us.

(The next day we went to office to get a refund for a tour that we paid for, but did not receive. And the jerks in the office told us it was our fault for missing the bus and would not refund our money. We were there at 9, which was the posted time on the website and the time that our day-time bus driver told us. But they said that it left at 8:30 and that the night tour ran had, in fact, ran the night before. We got grumpy, and told them we would leave bad reviews, WHICH I DID. But, they didn’t care, and would not refund us on the spot. They gave us an email to write to, which did end up refunding mom’s money after we got home. I was too sour/lazy/bitter/not-trusting to bother with it. There is nothing I hate more than poor customer service. We really enjoyed our tour bus around the city, but this soured my ability to recommend them.)

After waiting and waiting for the no-show tour bus, we finally gave up and decided to try to get to the Eiffel Tower ourselves because that is the main thing we wanted to see at night. I did finally use directions on my phone and we only caught the wrong bus and went 20 minutes out of the way ONCE.

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I think we made the 11:30pm twinkle show of the Tower, ate dinner at midnight, and everything was good. I don’t remember what we ate for this meal… but it was French and it was delicious.

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For the way back to the hotel at 1am… ah, pulling out my phone for UBER. Not chancing my sketchy French bus skills this time. Note on that though – Your Uber driver is a local, and it’s likely he doesn’t speak any English.

 

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The next day we stumbled upon the second best thing Paris has going…

this unremarkable street:

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It was just a regular, local, Parisian shopping street. There was live music and basically zero English anywhere. Fish dressed up so pretty and colorful they look like dessert, fresh baked bread, cheese, meat, and lots of other things I had no idea about.

There were no tourists taking pictures… except me. We came across this street on the way from our hotel to the tour bus stopping point. We both agreed, it was our favorite.

On this day, we made it to the famous macaroon shops and past the Lyric Opera House.

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And one last meal before catching the train home…

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Where we stayed:

http://www.le123sebastopol.com/en/

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the family weekend

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On this trip were Rich and I plus the four. Then Rich’s sister, her husband, their two girls, and Rich’s mom. Kim, Zach, Ashtyn, Avery, and Janice.

Here again – we took the train early, stayed one night, and took the train back the next day.

Up front, the two little ones were immediately thrown off by the disruption to their nap schedule and we felt the affects of that for the whole 48 hour trip.

You know… meltdowns at restaurants and just a little extra difficulty getting a happy face for a picture.

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Our hotel was apartment style and it was literally AT the Eiffel Tower. Like, this close:

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It was so special to stay here. We were just there one night, so we figured we could splurge on a great place. Between the 11 of us, we had two large apartments. Ours had three beautiful bedrooms, a full kitchen with laundry, and so much space.

The kids immediately claimed it as their own though, of course. And Viv made use of the space by taking some of her very first steps here.

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After checking in we headed up the river to Notre Dame to find it barricaded off. Unfortunately, this trip was right after the Normandy shooting and the barricade was crowd controlled for the special mass taking place. We could’ve waited in the massive line. But since  we weren’t confident in our ability to understand the situation, we decided it wasn’t worth waiting. Outside pictures would have to do.

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By the end of this day we had high-level multiple kid meltdowns. So, we threw them in bed early and grandma graciously stayed back with them so that the adult children could go out for dinner. (And by multiple kid, I mean MY kids. Not Ashtyn or Avery. They were as chill as a seasoned traveller and had no trouble adjusting to anything. They didn’t complain, stood still and smiled for pictures, and ate their food in a normal fashion. Maybe someday, my kids will behave like them.)

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Our waiter took our picture. But before he took our picture, he accidentally took this picture of his own self.

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On our second day, Kim, Zach, Janice and the girls ventured first thing to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Our family got around a little slower, so we bought some pastries and met them in the park and took some pictures of Viv since it was the day before her birthday.

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We tried to take a nice family picture.

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From there, we strolled the Champs Elysees and Lauduree, the macaroon shop.

Then is was time to catch our train home.

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Like I said, fast and furious.

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Where we stayed:

http://residence-charles-floquet.fr/

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in addition  –

Although the public transit is easy to understand we found it a little on the dirty and dark side at times, in comparison to other places we’ve been.

And for me, Paris is the least walk-able city we visited this year. Everything is spread out, so you have to rely on some sort of transit to get from one thing to the other. Unlike London, Rome, Amsterdam, Dubrovnik, and Munich where you can easily walk from one thing to the next.

The rumor is that the French are rude. And while I’m sure there are millions of nice people in France, I found them to be short on patience with English speakers and with kids. And for this reason, it is not the most kid-friendly place to take them. Plus, finding a restaurant that has 1.An English Menu 2.Items the kids will recognize and 3.Room to seat us – proved frustrating at times. Enter, super crowded McDonalds in Paris.

But I knew all this going in – especially since I had a warm up trip with mom. On top of that, honestly, there were quite a few homeless and that’s always hard to discuss with kids.

Paris also has a bad reputation for terrible pick-pockets. While we did not experience any sort of thing, I had a complete stranger warn me on the subway that my purse was open too much. “This is the subway in Paris, girl.” He said. “Watch your bag.”

On the subject of reputation…. lots of people from the states ask us if we are afraid living over here in Europe. Or if we were afraid to travel here.

And our answer is no. First of all, you can’t protect yourselves or your kids from every little thing every second of the day. The control we think we have is really only just an illusion.

Second of all, what good does it do for us to live afraid to go anywhere? My being afraid means that I keep my eyes out. I watch myself and my kids like an eagle. I take precautions. I communicate with my spouse and the other members of my group. And then after that, there is nothing left to do. For the record, I would never take my children to a place that I didn’t feel was safe. Even though Paris has unflattering sides, we are still glad we took the oppurtunity to share this special city with our children.

There is evil in this world, everyday, all around us. And if we let it, the evil will take the world from us. Is that how it’s going to be? No, we will show them the world anyway. And we will teach them to be smart and careful, but not afraid. Know the risks and travel on. 

 

 

 

 

 

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England

We carved out some time while family was here to venture to a few places here in England. For these trips, we wanted to lighten our load a little. So, Theo and Viv had to stay back with a sitter and miss out.

With my mom, dad, and brother we drove south to the coast and visited Bodiam Castle and the Chalk Cliffs of Seven Sisters.

When we moved to London I promised the boys that we would visit a castle. I searched for the most castle-y looking castle. The one that I thought THEY would have in their head as what a castle should look like. Once I found this one, I knew it’s where we had to go. Look at that castle! It has a moat! It was built in 1385!

The boys absolutely loved it. And the adults did too.

Bodiam Castle

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Yes, that is a teddy bear with an orange hoodie on it.

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This castle happened to be near the southern coast, so we decided to head to the nearby chalk cliffs.

Chalk Cliffs at Seven Sisters

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In case you didn’t catch that, I did say THAT WE DROVE.

And… I look forward to NEVER driving in England again. Rich rented the car online, and then called me, “Ya, I got the car. And.. oh, hey babe. You have to drive because my license is expired.”

I was like

Huh.

Ok… ok, alright.

Hummm.

Ok. Ok. I will be driving then…hummm hum hum..”

I drove. I DID. I drove the car, in England, with my husband, two children, mother, father, and brother in tow. On the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road. I started out ok with it. The city roads, I wasn’t worried about. The country roads, I was definitely not worried about. But it was the merge onto the “motor-way” that had me the most anxious. I was also super nervous about all of the city round-abouts. A few tight spaces had everyone holding their breath, but overall getting out of the city was fine. Getting onto the motorway was also ok because I had four adult helpers watching out all sides.

But then we had to veer off of the motorway onto the English country roads. Which were going to easy peasy.

Except I was completely wrong. The English country roads that we drove on were, like, not in a big open field with lots of visibility. Na Ah. They were windy crooky around all these little villages and stuff. They were about the width of a car and a half, and they twist and turn so bad. You can only see about 40 feet in front of you before the road winds again. And most of the road had tall shrubs or a wall right on the side of the road. A shoulder is non-existent.

SO your car can’t fit on your side of the road. You can’t see on the road up ahead because of the turn and because of the walls and the shrubs. If a car comes, you can’t move over. And you have no warning. I don’t understand how this flies. It was like driving in a tube slide that is not wide enough for two cars to pass. And the Brits are just flying around these blind turns, like no big deal. When we met another car, literally and actually, one car had to wait for a little break in the road side wall and pull over so the other car could come through.

I built up a line of at least 8 cars behind us, at all times. There were times when I felt (as I heard another ExPat friend say) frozen in fear. Our whole life was in this car and it was impossible. I had to pull over a couple times and give my white knuckles, tense shoulders, and nauseous stomach a break. Trying to drive on those blind country roads sort of broke me. I couldn’t do it.

Rich (and everyone else in the car!) kept complaining that I was driving too far over and that we were going to slam into the road-side wall. And I can’t blame them. Honestly, to not-used-to-it Americans, it was F’n scary.

“I don’t know what else to do!” I would shout. “Ride the middle, and get in a head on collision!? I can’t see!”

“But if you keep driving so far over, we’re going to hit the wall!” They would say.

Here’s the truth, after a few rounds of complaining, I pulled over and had Rich start driving on his expired license. After not even a few turns he goes “Oh wow babe, you’re right. This is really hard. Really hard.”

See? Thank you.

I drove all the way to the castle. He drove for a little while and then we switched back and I finished driving the last half hour to the cliffs. When leaving the cliffs, my anxiety at driving home had me in tears, so Rich finished the trip home from there. If he got pulled over, my plan was to plead insanity.

We didn’t get a scratch on the car, or die in a crash, or get pulled over…  SO it all worked out in the end.

Will I be able to face those country roads again? It’s hard to say. I don’t like that they defeated me so badly. The competitive and adrenaline-junkie side of me wants to try again – without kids in the car. But the normal, rational me definitely wants to avoid them for all eternity. I’ll be just fine if I never drive on those roads again. And I will surrender to the fact that I can’t do it. You win, roads! You win.

My blood is pumping right now at just recalling the memory…. so I’m not hopeful for victory in the future.

UGH!

That’s that.

ANYWAY.

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A little later in the summer, we traveled BY TOUR BUS to the English city of Bath and Stonehenge with Rich’s family. Comfy, air-conditioned, reclining seats. And no driving required.

BATH

Bath is an adorable little town centered around the old Roman Bath house. Rick Steves has a great episode on Bath, and it was my reason for wanting to go here. Look it up on YouTube.

Bath often wins the National Competition for the prettiest flowers. It’s extra unique because every building in Bath is required to be built out of white bath stone. It also has an amazing Cathedral, easy cozy pubs, and impeccably clean streets. It’s beautiful, arty, chill, and fun.

We loved it and I would love to go back.

In fact, we liked it so much that all of us have decided that we are going to retire here. Wish us luck with our retirement in Bath.

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Stonehenge

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Stonehenge was more for the adults to appreciate. But the kids had a great time here too.

Mostly because it was just an open field.

That is always fun.

If you’re into history or mystery or aliens or quiet places or being outside then you will like visiting Stonehenge. It’s a world heritage site and a “wonder of the world,” for goodness sake. If you’re over this way, it’s worth the trip.

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They had a little village of how the people building Stonehenge would have lived. The boys saw it as a great oppurtunity to play in the rocks.

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We toured with Day Tours London. There are lots of tour bus companies. We were very happy with this one. Would recommend!

http://www.daytourslondon.com/

 

Stonehenge

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/

 

Bodiam Castle

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodiam-castle

 

Chalk Cliffs

http://www.sevensisters.org.uk/

 

Munich

My parents and my brother came to visit in June, and decided to make a quick additional trip while in Europe. They landed on Germany, specifically the southern region of Bavaria. Now, I’ve watched enough Rick Steves to know that I wanted to go here too. Southern Germany was at the top of my list, and NOT at the top of Rich’s.

If we could swing the childcare, maybe I could join my family for a couple days and knock it off my list. And that’s what happened! Between our Au Pair still living with us, and Rich making a couple drop offs and pick ups, I was able to escape basically guilt free. I had two full days in Munich with them. On the first day we took an all day bus tour to the Neuschwanstein Castle. Then on the second day we took an all day bus tour and crossed the border into Salzburg, Austria.

My mom took enough pictures for all of us, which meant that I blessedly got to take my photographer hat off for a while and focus on living in the now, looking around, and enjoying the quiet of no kids. This also means, that most of my pictures from the trip are just selfies of me and my brother (who doesn’t smile with his teeth).

But I’m fine… with both of those things.

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Neuschwanstein

Neuschwanstein Castle is the stuff of fairy tales. I saw this. I lived this in real life. However, I did not take these pictures:

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Opulence and grandeur on a level you can’t believe. Just… literally unbelievable. To think they did it without modern machinery… or vehicles… or a crane. How many thousands of trips up this treacherous mountain did they make, WITH HORSES?!

You have to see it to believe it.

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Three notes –

One: you only see a teenzy bit of inside the actual castle. We guessed only 1/10th of the castle. I don’t know why this is. What you do see is incredible. Inside the castle itself… I’d say took us 30minutes.

Two: you have to get there yourself. The bus tours drop you off at the village near the castle. Then you have three choices. Shuttle, horse, or walk. Also – if you miss your tour time at the castle, they won’t let you in. Or so they said.

Our tour guide recommended walking it. He was at least 65, and told us he was going to be walking it, and it was an up-hill hike of 30minutes or so. We decided he was insane. You can also take the shuttle, but it only runs every 20 minutes and takes you to the top of the mountain where you still have to walk down-hill to the castle for 10 minutes, plus it’s not the most reliable because if it fills up they don’t let you on. And then you’re stuck waiting for the next shuttle and you miss your tour time. Then there are the horses. The horses run at regular horse intervals, not timed or tracked by any one. And they cost a little extra money. However, once you are on a horse carriage, it’s only a 15 minute very-scenic trip up to the castle. When we got dropped off by the bus, we had lunch, and decided to wait for the scenic horses. The horses did not come and the horses did not come. And there was no one there to tell us if the horses were coming soon. Then one horse carriage came, FINALLY, but our group was not first in line and we couldn’t fit on. Now we are first in line, but we still don’t know when the next horse carriage is coming and it’s getting closer and closer to our allotted tour time. We wasted so much time waiting on those horses. Worried more and more about time. It’s for sure too late to walk it. We spot the shuttle at the top of the hill. We race to it. The driver graciously lets us on without a ticket (as long as we can give him cash at the top). The shuttle shuttles, drops us off and we raced down the hill, actually running… all four of us… to the castle to make our tour time. We ended up being there about 5 minutes early, hahahahaha. So funny. Lesson learned. Avoid the horses. Either grab a quicker lunch and wait for the shuttle OR grab a quicker lunch and go on a hike with your insane and incredibly fit tour guide.

Three: Seeing 10 percent of this castle is worth the stress and the hike.

In fact, Isaac was so thrilled to make it to the top of the Neuschwanstein, that he smiled with his teeth.

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the view from a balcony in the Neuschwanstein

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Austria

On our next tour day we went to Salzburg, Austria. Home of Mozart and the Sound of Music. We walked around and took in the old cathedrals, cemetaries, and garden. We followed that up with a ride down the river. It was beautiful and relaxed and educational and cool.

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On beer: The perfect place to unwind after a treacherous and exhausting castle mountain hike or a trip to Austria is the Beer Hall/Beer Garten. They are all over and we asked our tour guides what they recommended. You can refill on a huge pint of beer (often brewed in-house) and have as many pretzels as you can handle. You’ll probably need to ask for an English menu, but the atmosphere will be fun and laid back. (Unless you go to the pumped-up-on-steroids Beer Garten that my family found the day after I left… where they couldn’t figure out how to order, got yelled at for being slow, and then couldn’t find a place to sit)

At our first Beer Hall, instead of a full beer, I ordered a Radler – which I had read was the way to go. A Radler is a half beer and half lemonade (or we suspected, some sort of lemon-lime soda). And it IS the way to go. For me, at least, because I’m not much of a beer drinker. My family thought it sounded gross and ordered regular beer, but of course, my Radler quickly became everyone’s favorite. Because it is awesome.

 

On accommodations: Our hotel was apartment style. It wasn’t super luxurious to the eye, but it was clean and spacious, very convenient and highly rated on trip advisor. It worked great for us and I would stay there  again.

 

On getting around: Munich public transport was clean, simple, and consistent. I love when one pass gets you on all busses/trams/trains. That way switching is easy. Their transportation system is probably the best I’ve witnessed. If not tied, then second, to London. You may, though, need a little German… or a little luck finding someone who can translate while buying your tickets. We felt so confident that we didn’t even bother with a taxi service from the airport at 10 o’clock at night. Someone helped us buy the right ticket, and we found our way to the hotel on our own, via train.

 

On language: Munich is not a huge tourist town, so English speakers/menus/signs are less common. But still common enough. You can clunk around ok enough if you try. The people are friendly and helpful. And if they know English – I found a polite acknowledgment at the beginning of the conversation was best, and then were happy to speak it.

 

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Where we stayed:

http://www.kriemhild.de/en/homepage.html

 

We toured with Grey Line Bus Tours. COMFY seats, great guides. Our only complaint was that we wished we would’ve been warned about the physical hike at the Neuschwanstein. I don’t know how it would’ve helped us, but we would’ve like to have been warned. And we think that the Salzburg trip could’ve been timed a little differently. But overall, we were very happy.

http://www.grayline.com/things-to-do/germany/munich/

 

 

 

 

 

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Dubrovnik

Rich and I were the luckiest people on earth and got to travel KID FREE to Dubrovnik Croatia this summer. We had heard tales of beautiful scenery and fresh seafood. For Rich, it was the number-one-top-of-the-list place he wanted to go in all of Europe. Flying to Croatia is not cheap and neither is a good hotel, so we knew we weren’t going to be able to go with the kids. Therefore when mom came to stay for the summer, we jetted off for a quick weekend on our own. And by quick – I mean two nights. I don’t even think Rich took off work.

In Croatia!
In Croatia!

Our hotel was clinging on a cliff like barnacles on a ship. It felt more like we were sleeping on a boat than a hotel. It was beautiful and fancy. Almost too fancy for corn-land me. I mean, I did ok… But I definitely felt like I had to behave myself. And, while eating our pretentious meals on the hotel terrace, I was a teensy bit self conscious and felt the need to whisper and stop all fidgeting. I can’t fault the hotel, the staff was great. And if we traveled there again – I would stay there again, because it was perfection. But I don’t know… just not home-y cozy comfortable, that’s all. And the OPPOSITE of kid friendly. We didn’t see a single child in the hotel. I have to admit, though – that was nice.

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I’ll just keep talking about food now.

If you would like to dine outside in the most perfect of weather with the most perfect seafood risotto, then Dubrovnik is the place for you. Outside of our hotel, the atmosphere was more relaxed and I felt like I could speak at a normal volume. The rumors were right, the food was amazing. But here is my tip – when you are in a city, surrounded by the sea – like Dubrovnik – look around yourself. What do you see? Do you see cows? Or pigs? Or do you see the sea and the boats on the bay? Think to yourself – what do these people know how to make? I’m not going to mention any names, but ordering beef in a seafood town might lead to disappointment. Order from the sea and avoid disappointment. Trust the people by the sea. They know how to do it.

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From the bay, they are running all kinds of tours off to different islands – of which there are many. But, we had heard from a travel blog that there was one island that mostly locals go to. It’s not on any of the tours and you can just take a ferry there. She said it was worth the visit and she was right. The name was Lokrum Island and while leisurely walking around the island you will run into cliffy crags, caves, a secret lagoon, a monastery and wild peacocks. I didn’t go to the other islands, but I can say that Lokrum is the best one.

 

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And because we like to think of ourselves as adventurous, we signed up to go kayaking around the bay! We underestimated the skill level and stamina that were required for such a trip – but as least we didn’t tip our kayak over like one of the other couples, or have to be pulled by the speed boat to catch up with the rest of the group. Just keeping up with the guide and staying afloat meant that we were amazing. Despite the stress, our guide was great and we loved the tour. And afterward we ate a huge meal.

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Dubrovnik is an ancient walled city. There are no cars. Walking around is fun. We didn’t do anything else recommended on the travel sites while we were there like take the “Game of Thrones” tour, or a walk around the top of the city wall. I think we were too busy eating and leisurely walking around on our own.

 

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Since we’re an old married couple who prefers sleep to partying, I cannot report on the night-life of Dubrovnik. I know there is one though. Because as night fell, these truly beautiful women starting popping up on the walkways promoting their night clubs and handing out cards to people walking by. We passed… I don’t know… 5 beautiful-women-club-girls. And not one of them invited us to their club! And we weren’t like dressed all schlubby or anything. And come on, we are two people who are taking care of ourselves, we don’t look that bad! I mean…. I didn’t want to go to the club anyway. But I would’ve like to have been invited.

Whatever.

It didn’t hurt our feelings that bad. It’s not like we still talk about it or anything…

I’ve recovered from not being invited to the club, and it in NO WAY spoiled our night. If anything, it gave us a good laugh.

 

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Where we stayed:

http://www.adriaticluxuryhotels.com/en/hotel-bellevue-dubrovnik/?gclid=CP_kgt2UoM8CFSIz0woda2UHMw

 

Even though Croatia has a native language… which I don’t even know what it’s called…. English is not a problem because Dubrovnik is super touristy. English is everywhere. Shop workers and servers all spoke English flawlessly. Most menus looked like this, friendly to many languages:

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Getting to Lokrum Island: This one is a little tricky. A lot of the tours heading out advertise that they are going to Lokrum. But they are only driving by it. If you want to take the ferry directly to Lokrum and get off and walk around, it’s literally just a guy at a table on the dock. Ask around. If nothing else, I think the ferry’s ran every half hour. So, just watch one come in and then try to board it.

 

On the Kayak tour: Kind of the same thing. Outside of the city walls, there are all kinds of tour groups advertised. There are friendly people with signs and clip boards, as well as other tour groups meeting and leaving. We just caught one of those guys and checked on trip advisor before paying. Easy peasy.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rome

We had a lot of trouble narrowing down a second destination for this trip. There were so many possibilities. We were literally up for anything. Our individual lists had 5 or 6 cities on them. We kept switching ideas and thoughts. And we also had to factor in that we were traveling with more children than adults.

Finally, we literally ended up just going on Google flights and looking at the whole continent of Europe. You can just look at the map of Europe on your screen and see how much flying to each city costs. Ok – so where are the cheapest places to fly on our dates?? Turns out, Rome was one of them. We all thought that sounded great.

So, Rome it is. The kids will like that, right? Why not?

And that’s how we decided. Google flights.

off to Rome

We flew to Rome early on Easter morning. Very early.

Like, we had to get up at 4:30A.M. It was nice though, because there was no one at the airport and we moved easily and quickly through everything. We had some breakfast at the airport and boarded our plane. This flight was the only one out of three that was not delayed. So, maybe there’s something to flying out that early.

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doesn’t matter how early it is, these two…

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a playplace in baggage claim. yes!

 

The kids did great on this travel leg. Better than the adults, naturally. They just got right up and put on their neon uniforms. None of them were mad at us for waking them up so early, they just went with it. I felt lucky to have happy kids all morning.

day one

The advantage of arriving early on your travel day is that you have a bunch of the day left once you land. One might normally take a short nap in their hotel room, and then leisurely head out to enjoy what is left of the day. And that sounds like a wonderful plan.

Ummm, that’s not really how it works with kids. You will not rest. No.

Nope, no rest for you.

We got lucky with another  great rental home. This place was clean, light, modern and spacious. Since it was Easter, all the stores were closed and we couldn’t buy any food for the house. I’d thought ahead to ask, and the owner of the property had stocked us up with a few essentials.

 

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the self operated, pint sized Italian elevator. not complaining, though!

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doesn’t take long for a fort to be constructed

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Once we got to our rental, an exhausted Theo laid down for a nap while we settled in. But once he was up, we ventured out. Even though most neighborhood stores were closed, public transit was running, and restaurants and tourist areas were open. We walked down to Piazza de Popolo and then walked from there to the Spanish Steps, which were under construction. We gawked around, took in the sun and the beautiful day. We saw some amazing shopping, and the boys played bubbles in the piazza. We still had on our clothes from the plane, and we were all exhausted. But we were so happy to be here and it was a nice relaxing way to start our time in Rome.

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Look at my helper boy, pushing the stroller.

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Viv and I spotted Chanel

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We’d had a REALLY really long day, and at the Piazza we realized it was approaching dinner/bed time for the kids. We also realized that they were all melting at an increasingly alarming rate. If we didn’t get them fed and back to the house and in bed, we would end up with crying heaps of children in the middle of this Italian city. Heaps. Too many to carry. Lots of crying, and  lots of children doing the limp noodle bit on the dirty pavement. There were a few restaurants by the Piazza, but they were all nice Italian ones that we knew were going to take waaaay too long for our hungry minions.

So.. we fed them Burger King.

I know.

Just.

I know…

I know.

 

Anyway, after the kids went to bed we found the nearest take out.

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And it was fine. Just ok.

Like, not special or great in any way.

Certainly not the best pizza or pasta we’ve ever had.

NOO, uh huh.

The sauce was not fresh. The pasta was not handmade. The tuna was not unexpectedly scrumptious. The cheese was stupid.

The pizza did not have the most amazing crust that you can’t even understand how it is possible to make a pizza crust that exists in the world like this.

No.

The sauce. Like, what happened?

The tomatoes. ugh.

Naaa.

I mean, it was fine. And we were calm about it.

Like, I dunno…. this:

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Or this:

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And then, maybe this:

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So, I’ll just skip ahead to some of our other eats and talk about that:

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Like, I don’t know how to behave myself.

It’s one of those things that messes with your head.

They served us a platter of meat and cheese, which first of all is incredible. Can you imagine going to TGI Friday’s or Olive Garden and them bringing you a meat and cheese platter? It would be so lame… and probably really gross. But the meat and cheese platter you get in Gusto’s in Rome is not lame or gross. Not at all. In fact you feel like you are having the best food ever… and it’s basically a deli meat sandwich without the bread. What is going on?

You think you are tasting the most amazing cheese that you’ve ever had in your entire life. But then you’re like, no, that doesn’t make any since. I’ve eaten a lot of cheese. I’ve lived for however many years… this can’t be the totally best cheese ever… right? It’s just because I’m sitting here in Italy and it’s really pretty. And I want it to be good.

It’s something that I’m just making myself think. How can this cheese be sooo far superior to any other cheese. Cheese is cheese. How good can it be? What are they doing in Italy that they’re not doing in America to make this amazing cheese. How can it be that much better? It’s like all the other cheese is all of the hockey players that have ever played in the NHL, and then the cheese you are currently eating is Wayne Gretzky.

It’s better than all the rest and nobody can ever touch it.

It doesn’t have to make sense.

And then you’re a little bit mad that you’ve not had access to the Wayne Gretzky cheese before. And you also feel a little desperate because you’ll never have the Wayne Gretzky cheese again, after you leave. The Wayne Gretzky cheese in Rome has ruined you for all other cheeses. And then you feel annoyed.

Now, we can apply this feeling to the whole spectrum of Italian food, including coffee (oh my gosh – I can’t even), and that’s sort of how I feel after eating in Rome.

I don’t know.. maybe it was all the wine.

But, come on, when the AIRPORT CAFETERIA looks like this:

You are bound to be in crisis.

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I would like to state that we did our best to get recommendations for good food, from either trip advisor, Rick Steves, or Anthony Bourdain. I imagine there is bad food in Rome, we just didn’t have any. I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain in Rome before we left. On there, the Italian men said “Other people, they eat to live. And Italians, they live to eat.”

I was only in one city for a couple days, and I get that now. There is a importance placed on goodness. There is a respect for quality ingredients.

They are in LOVE with their food. Sub-par is not okay.

Except at Burger King.

 

day 2

This day we went to the Colosseum. It’s old… and huge. It’s just as amazing as you imagine it will be. The boys LOVED it. They loved the story of the gladiators and the animals that used to fight in here. They loved the size of it all and talking about how the building had fallen into disrepair. Of all the things we did – Harry remembers this the most.

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After the Colosseum, we took the bus to the Pantheon and Trevvi Fountain.

 

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you win some, you lose some

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*** side note on the transportation system in Rome. On the plus side – you buy one card and its gets you on any bus, tram, or train. In Amsterdam that was not the case. You needed a bus ticket, separate train tickets, and separate tram tickets. Talk about annoying. Anyway – one ticket gets you everywhere, so we were excited.

On the negative side – the system is a little harder to figure out. And after this trip I concluded that we are extremely spoiled in London. Our trains run every 6-8 minutes all over the city, and our buses run every 8-12, also all over the city. Things are clearly and simply marked and incredibly clean – for the most part. There are tons of employees everywhere and announcements are made at every stop. Basically, it’s amazing.

In Rome, we found that it was a little dark, and dirty, on the underground. Things weren’t as clearly marked, or announced. You just kinda get on the bus, and hope it goes the right way. Then hope that you recognize where you need to stop, and then hope that the bus that you’re on actually stops there.

The trains don’t run as often, and neither do the buses. In fact, we sat near the Trevi Fountain waiting for our bus so long that we actually gave up. We were waiting for the number 53 and it was supposed to come in 12 minutes, but never did. We waited and waited. So many other buses went by, the 191.. 64… whatever. No 53.

Finally at about 30 minutes, we decided to leave our post and try to find another way to get back. But we knew our options were going to be limited plus we were all exhausted and didn’t want to walk anymore.

As we walked further away from the bus stop, I kept turning my head around just looking to see if a 53 was coming. And you know what? Once we got really far away – almost too far away to see the number on the buses, sure enough, a number 53 comes pulling up. But, we had left the stop and were now halfway between the last stop and the next stop. This meant that we – five adults, four walking children, two strollers, plus purses and backpacks – went running down the sidewalk to the next stop.

Yelling at each other, and the kids. We can make it! We can! Run guys! Traffic is stopped, we have a chance! He’ll let us on, if he sees us! Damn you 53 bus!

And we did – we made it on. Whew.

But, ya, that part of Rome is underwhelming for sure.

We’ll forgive it though, because pizza.

day 3

Day three was Vatican day. For this outing, we left the two littlest babies back at the house with Rica and only took the older boys. We arrived at 9 in the morning with our pre-booked tickets and were able to avoid the huuuuuge line.

 

I’m still in denial about the Vatican.

I mean, we’re not even Catholic.

I went into it without expectations, and it was the most incredible place.

You can’t even believe your eyes. You can’t even believe the quality. You can’t believe the QUANTITY. You can’t believe the attention to detail.. what it must have taken… how much it must have cost. It feels like EVERY SQUARE INCH of every single room, everywhere we were allowed to go, was covered. Covered in painted art or gold or marble or ivory. The opulence is unreal. You can’t even count the tapestries. You can’t count the statues.

The beautiful windows, the doorways, the courtyards. I see why people come from all over the world to visit. It was my favorite place we went the entire trip. You don’t have to be catholic to appreciate it.

 

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We went through the Raphael Rooms, and we got our picture with the pope:

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We visited the Sistine Chapel, where you are not allowed to take pictures. And from there we snuck (literally snuck through a “restricted passageway”) from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s Basilica.

I can’t believe St. Peter’s Basilica. It just doesn’t quit.

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The Vatican piazza was still set up from the Easter service.

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In the afternoon, we went back to the house. We cuddled and rested. Erika braided Viv’s hair for the first time and we began packing up.

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Our flight back to London ended up being delayed by almost three hours. At least we weren’t trapped on the plane though. We waited in the terminal, and ate, and played. Then when we boarded, we learned that they had to replace our scheduled plane with a bigger better plane. This meant we had entire aisles to ourselves, and it lessened the blow of having to wait so long.

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And then… we were back “home” in London. Back to the land of the full English language and the speedy and easy-to-understand transportation system.

And it felt good. Really good.

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where we stayed:

https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1623217

 

best place we ate:

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g187791-d2036473-Reviews-Crile_Cucina_ai_Parioli-Rome_Lazio.html

 

 

 

 

 

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Amsterdam

Well.

We moved to London, and wasted no time planning our first trip.

Or… holiday, as its called here in England.

They big boys automatically called it holiday because they are morphing into Brits.

“Are you going to call my teacher and tell her I’m on holiday?” verbatim from Harry.

“Yes, I will Harry. Don’t worry. I’ll let her know you’re on HOLIDAY.”  Insert head turn with a giggle, in conjunction with an eye roll.

 

ANYWAY –

First on the books this year was my sister, her husband, and their two boys. So that’s Erika, Jake, Lincoln (almost 5), and Graham (freshly 3). Our dates between all the kids school schedules were slightly constraining so we found ourselves traveling over Easter. And we couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

On THE DAY they arrived we hilariously crammed in a visit to Rich’s office, the Easter bunny, and Theo’s birthday. The kids took it pretty well though.

This is where Rich works. The view is incredible. It’s no big deal.

And check all the positivity Theo’s throwing down.

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This gave us our first taste of moving around as a group with more kids than adults. And when I say moving around with kids, remember that these kids have special powers. The special power to multiply their combined energy when they are together. One of those ‘The whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ type situations.

They love each other – which we love.

We want them to love each other. We want them to have fun together.  But when they are together, it quickly gets out of control.

2 plus 2 does not equal 4.

2 plus 2 equals, at least 20.

 

We also snuck in a date night. Yay us!

We did a thing called an ESCAPE GAME. Look it up. It was amazing, and we were so smart. Only 30% of people make it out, and we did. Because we are sooo smart, and sooo awesome, and have such great communication. We worked together, we all helped. I mean… we went home and congratulated the kids on the excellent genes that we have passed on to them.

I can’t speak for all escape games, but I would highly recommend it to anyone traveling to London or any city that has one.

Here’s a link to the one we did: http://mysterycube.london/home.php

And then we went to Wahaca! YUUUM YUM. yum yum yum.

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off to amsterdam

Since Erika and family were visiting in the spring, we decided that going to Amsterdam would be our first destination. We wanted to see the world famous tulip festival, that only goes on from March to May. Plus, I had just read that despite the loosely-moraled reputation it has, that it was actually a wonderful destination for children – with a great zoo, aquariums and museums, an easy going attitude, and beautiful parks and gardens.

We had an evening flight out, and the big boys went to school on the day we left. We were packed and ready, picked them up, changed them, and raced to the airport.

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don’t mind us

Two trains later we were at the airport and they thankfully pushed us to the “family security” line, which was not very long. We went right through, and made it to our gate.

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waiting to board, there was an interactive floor!

We then boarded the plane.  It backed out… then went right back into stand. There was a technical problem.

We waited on the plane, on the ground, for an hour and a half. We finally took off, landed, stopped for a potty run, and went straight to border patrol for the Netherlands. Our flight that was supposed to be 2 hours turned into 3.5.  And now there’s another (kinda unexpected) line before we can pass through. The line at border patrol was long, and we waited another 30m or so. It was getting late and the kids were, understandably, over it (evidenced by these pictures).

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Thankfully our pre-booked taxi drivers saw that we were delayed, left, and came back for us. They took us to our rental, where our hosts had also, graciously, waited up for us. Because we rushed to the airport, then were stuck in a plane, then felt rushed to get through the airport to our waiting (and possibly gone) taxi drivers – we didn’t stop for dinner. When we arrived at our rental, everything was closed. We had, thankfully, packed food for the kids and had fed them on the plane. But all the adults went to bed without supper that night.

day 1

We woke up the next day, all a little dazed. We took our time getting around, gathered provisions from the nearby store, then ventured out. This day we just walked and ate and explored central Amsterdam. It’s similar, to me, to New Orleans in that it is such a unique place on this earth. There’s no where else like it. The weather was mostly (typical European) grey, and slightly cold. But we could still enjoy ourselves.

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amsterdam flower market
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along one of many of the canals

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In the evening, we settled the kids at the rental with Rica, then went out.

Indonesian food is the big thing in Amsterdam, because of old trade relations. So, we ate Indonesian, and it was outstanding.

 

day 2

This was the tulip festival day! It is held at the Keukenhof (which is a massive garden) in Lisse (which is outside the city).

I still cannot pronounce Keukenhof correctly. Rica, my German au pair, laughs at me.

She can do it perfectly, of course.

  • Side note on the Dutch language. aaaaaa, WHAT? Your dealing with street names that look like Langemeetstraat, Dijkgraaf Poschlaan, Jupiterlaan, and Ruige Muts. And bus stops that look like Weteringcircuit, Gravesandestraat, Hoogte Kadjik, and Koningsplein…. just to name a few. Whether you are trying or not, your brain is frantically trying to make sense of what you’re reading. It’s not like Arabic or Chinese. If my brain sees lines and dots, it can give up and shut off. But Dutch? My brain recognizes letters. So it wants to make sense of them. I want to pronounce these words correctly, but I can’t. There’s too many vowels together. And then there’s too many consonants. I can correctly pronounce one of those words, I can. But, just one, and I need three tries and 2 minutes. And I will definitely put the wrong EMHPAsis on the wrong syllABLE. We kind of gave up and just started pronouncing them exactly how they looked to us in English, and of course we had apps on our phones helping us get around. We managed, whatever.

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The Keukenhof was amazing. Definitely the manicured and immaculate gardens we had imagined, worthy of it’s world wide fame. We were there on the second day of the festival, and it has been a cold spring. So, we were a little disappointed that most of the tulips outside weren’t really up yet.

Instead of looking like this: 20150423aa

It looked a little more like this:

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But we got the idea. It was lush and green, and wonderful. Still though – I think Mommy and Viv will have to come back someday for girl time when the sun is out and the tulips are in full bloom. This was probably the kid’s best outing. There was an live large bird show they loved and several play spots.

Plus, in the massive green house EVERYTHING was blooming – and it was incredible.

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Around the grounds:

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We were basically only in Amsterdam for two good days, because our other days were half travel days. It was fast and furious, but really really really cool. The kids really enjoyed themselves. They loved walking along the canal and they especially loved running around and exploring the Keukenhof. Harry has been talking about ‘Hamsterdam’ since we got back. I’m so glad we went, and I would love to go back… and stay a little longer.

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First stop: Amsterdam

Second stop: Rome…

 

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our rental house:

https://www.flipkey.com/north-holland-condo-rentals/p630527/?m=24766

This place was great for us. But it was outside of the city slightly, and had this treacherous staircase…

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best place we ate: Indonesian

http://anekarasa.nl/

 

 

 

 

 

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