Year End 2018

WHAT.

It’s the end of the year again.

We did ALOT this year… so I’m just going to dive right in.

We started the year with a little bit of snow, which rarely falls in London. Needless to say, it was exciting.

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Theo’s buddy Joe

 

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Viv started off the year STILL in her high chair, which is hard to believe.

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It’s since been removed from the house and given to another family.

And we are now a house without a high chair.

Onward and upward!

Also at the beginning of the year, Theo was in morning Nursery. Which meant that he got to come home in the afternoons and play. I usually required him to play quietly in his room while Vivian napped. And if you ask him… that’s what he did.

But… pictures tell the story of what really happened in the afternoons.

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As in all the years before this, the kids favorite toy remains the same: household items.

Like… uhrg.. why do we even buy them “toys”?

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With imaginative play still being at the forefront of how they spend their time together. They like to play store and school, and travel and pirate ship, and most recently “HOUSE SIMULATOR” Not “House.” My computer-nerd-raised children play “House simulator” where they give themselves awesome fake names like ‘Sophie’ and ‘Tyler.’

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Every once in while they get to make a mess with Playdoh….

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and rice…

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And sometimes I let them go crazy with the craft boxes.

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Which – most of the time. Not all of the time, but MOST of the time results in armor or weapon construction.

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I don’t encourage fighting. I don’t know why they are constantly preparing for battle.

——————

We feel ourselves creeping out of the baby/toddler phase and into the fun-time kid phase; which is great because we can move away from Candyland and into more challenging games. Turns out, all the kids are natural gamers. Harry and Finn -especially- are able to understand complex rules. So we introduced them to Settlers of Catan. They can now play, and *legit* win. And I’d put Theo and Viv up against anyone in a game of Memory. It’s such a fun phase to enter with them.

Competitiveness is high. Sportsmanship is low.

But…. we’re working on it.

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I discovered an adorable youTube channel called “Cosmic Kids” that does absolutely adorable (and fun themed) kids yoga sessions. I try my *hardest* to push it on all the kids, with Theo and Finn being my best participants.

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Theo’s friend Frasier sat in on one class.

 

Finn and I had a day date at our favorite place – Kew Gardens. Where we explored the seasonal Orchid display, the temporary dried flower art installation, and the permanent collection of wood and paintings by Marianne North. We had the best day.

 

Daddy took Theo for a morning adventure to the Natural History museum.

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Vivi was (and still is) really into wearing as much jewelry as possible and riding her scooter. Watch out! She’s fast.

 

Other around-the-house favorite pictures of mine:

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Finn surprised me with a highlighted mustache one day.

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The kids who were not spies.

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Vivian clawed the chocolate out of a chocolate pastry.

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Viv decided these two guys were perfectly suitable friends for Anna and Elsa….

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We took the babies to the pet store, while the big boys were at a Rock Climbing course. We rode in a car. It was all very exciting for them.

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Then we have some featured books, science information, and artwork.

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“The angry Ice Cube” and “The Lion that Couldn’t Roar” both by Harrison Norman

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“Community’s that I belong to is Sainsbury Local, Southside, Aldi, Homebase, church, and school because I…..something ineligible, my closest community is my home!” Finn

Then we have our March birthdays:

Daddy first:

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Then Theo:

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All throughout the year we continue to use and love London’s public transit system. And I always think the kids look too cute on the bus and the train.

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On Spring Break we took the kids (back) to Paris, and to Paris Disney. There’s a whole other separate post about that. It was a great family time. And I’m still dreaming about the croissants.

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The Hamilton Gods smiled on us AGAIN. Somehow, I won the ticket lottery and we got to go see it for a second time. From the front row. We loved it just as much the second time around.

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Then, we had a random mini-summer in the middle of spring.

Took advantage of that.

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We started ATTEMPTING to garden.

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We got back to doing our favorite thing… hanging out in the green.

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Then, Harry went on his residential. Which is basically like going to camp for a few days with your entire year group from school. Praise the teachers.

We made sure he was prepared.  He’d had several sleepovers at friend’s house. He practiced showering on his own. He was excited and nervous, and he was only 8, but he went right on. And he had a great time.

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While he was gone Grandma Janice and Papa Greg arrived!

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One of the days he was gone happened to be his birthday. They put a banner on his door and sang to him in the mess hall, and made him feel special.

And when he got home, we celebrated too.

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This leads us to half-term break, which is a week we get off from school at the end of May. For this we ventured with all the kids, and Grandma and Papa, to Hamburg, Germany and Prague, Czech Republic – both of which have dedicated posts.

I can’t speak highly enough about this trip. We had a truly GREAT time.

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Then we went into summer…

I got to come into the Nursery garden one morning.

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We played in the park some more.

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We explored the expansive woods and green at Wimbledon Common.

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All the boys had the traditional British Sports day. Go Green House!

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Even the parents get involved. This is the dad’s relay. Every one is a good sport.

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Theo asked if he could “go stand in the flower bed” and I was like, “Ok….. sure…”

And when I turned my head, it was too late.

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We went to Ikea. I told the boys they could only buy the giant animals if they were willing to carry them home themselves.

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Ipads and naps.

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Theo – one of our trickiest eaters – tried (kids) Sushi and chicken curry.

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Finn got attacked by a wasp. But still has nothing but love for them and only good things to say about wasps. He told me why the wasp felt threatened by him and had to sting him. NEARLY RIGHT ON THE EYE.

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I refused to buy Finn a £5 tub of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream at the store, offering him lots of other options instead. I mean, I just didn’t feel like paying £5 for that tiny tub. But then he played his trump card and told me he wanted to buy it with his allowance money. So he did. And he stretched that tub over three or four nights, declaring each time that it “WAS SO WORTH IT.”

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Gotta always play in the dustiest corner of the house, near the power outlets.

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Then in June – sunshine Finn had his turn.

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On sunny days, we’d get out the wading pool for Viv and then she’d join me for a little yoga and light sunbathing.

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And we also have morning cuddle time.

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I had breakfast with an old friend, in town from the US. Hi Mel!

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Finn’s class had a “graduation” from Key stage 1 (which is years Reception, 1 and 2). Those are his best buddies Hamza and Leon.

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We had a few special visits to the kids *favorite* restaurant, McDonalds.

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Then mom came and her and I ventured to Amsterdam for a girls weekend, and then she stayed with the kids so Rich and I could have a weekend in Barcelona. Both of those trips have separate posts.

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Ok! Then school ended for the year and we promptly left for our summer visit to the USA. This trip also has it’s own lovely post.

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Then we returned, with three weeks to spare before school picked up again. Getting re-adjusted to the London time zone was hilarious with breakfast being lunch, and lunch being dinner and everyone generally confused. The first day Rich went back to work, the kids and I all casually slept until 11:30. Whoops! Once we got better adjusted we fell into a better groove.

The summer weather in London is something I prefer. Warm, but never too hot. So – for most of our remaining summer, I usually stuffed a bag of food and drinks, our giant blanket, and we went to the park mid-morning and stayed until the kids told me they wanted to go home. Which was usually NEVER, or sometimes at 4 or 5 in the afternoon.

 

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While taking this (above) selfie, Harry’s exact words “Mom, we’re so energetic!”

“Yes, lol, Yes you are.” I said.

While in the US, Vivian turned three. But I realized when we got home that we didn’t take her obligatory number picture. Better late than never.

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I had seen some pictures and done a little reading about this Lavender farm outside of London.. so I arranged for us to have a morning there. And although the Lavender wasn’t quite as Lavender-y as we had seen online (blame the dry summer, and our late-season visit) it was still fun to be outside exploring a new place.

And! The kids got to mingle with the royals.

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Then it was time to head back to school. Our school has staggered start dates for the younger years so that each child ‘can have plenty of attention on their first day.’

But, it’s not that way in the older years – so the big boys started together on the first day:

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The following week Theo and Vivian got their turn:

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And now – the whole crew goes all together to school in the morning.

And EVERYONE is very very happy.

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Finn’s class had their performance fairly early in the year.

And as usual we were very impressed.

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I arranged for us to have a family photoshoot. The pictures are so special to me that I made a separate post. We caught one of the last sun-filled days of fall, and we had a great time.

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In the fall Finn also (FINALLY) learned how to ride a bike. And I don’t have any pictures because I was to busy running beside him.

While Finn was getting his “bike riding lessons,” Theo insisted that he have lessons as well. So he did. And now he can ride a bike too!

Viv is still on her balance bike. But by summer, I’m confident we’ll have four steady bike riders.

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Then is was time for Halloween, which is a little down-played here in London, but still lots of fun. The school hosts a “Monster Disco” for the kids, and all the boys very happily attended it. And, on Halloween night I stayed home to hand out candy, while Rich took the crew out. He stayed out much longer than I would have, for some pretty epic trick-or-treating.

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Right around Halloween, Rich’s company solidified it’s future plans – which meant that he was needed back in Chicago. For a change in role and a big move-up in the organizational chart. We weren’t expecting it. We thought we’d have a couple more years in London. But, it doesn’t really matter. Rich couldn’t pass up this oppurtunity. We have been incredibly happy in London. The kid’s school is amazing, and we’ve met so many wonderful people. We are so sad to leave, but equally excited for what’s ahead in Chicago.

 

Over Thanksgiving, Rich’s mom came (back) to visit, and to stay with the kids while Rich and I hopped over to the US for a friend’s wedding. Love you Hollee and John.

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Then Rich and his mom travelled to Brussels for the day, where they ate lots of fries and chocolate.

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And on Grandma’s last day, we squeezed in an afternoon tea together – girls only.

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Then rib dinner with just me and Finn.

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And a unscheduled lunch and shop for Vivian.

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Another thing I had read about and heard about for a while was this beautiful Hindu Temple IN LONDON. It is called the Neasden Temple and it is the real deal. It was built entirely by the community and is completely hand carved. At the time is was completed, it was the largest Hindu temple outside of India. This visit had been on my “to do” list since we moved to London and I came across it in the London Pass booklet. But I kept pushing it aside because it was a little bit of a trek – a little over an hour, and a couple switches on public transit.

But now that I knew we were leaving, this became very important to me. It’s not likely we can take the kids to India anytime soon. But this, we could do. How special to be able to expose the children to this amount of culture right here in London.

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Once inside the rules are strict.

No shoes, no pictures. But let me tell you – it was incredible on the inside.

I got these pictures from Google:

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And they sort of do it justice.

Intricate wood and marble carvings like you can’t believe.

We were welcomed in with open arms by easy going, warm people that commented on how cute the kids were. The kids, like the adults, were expected to follow rules of where and how to sit. But they did. And we were lucky enough to attend a short Hindu ceremony while inside.

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Then, in early December my brother and his babe came to visit. We love spending time with them and we went out for amazing food and an escape game.

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“Hopper’s” Sri Lankan cuisine. Yum to the max.

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We Won. We are the best.
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“Bravas Tapas”    BEST LIFE.

Then, all together, with Ike and Bailey, we went to Christmas at Kew. For the third year in a row. It didn’t disappoint.

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Then, it was time to visit Santa. I let the kids decide what to wear for such an occasion. Viv wore her best Christmas dress, Finn and Then went with pajamas, and Harry went with his favorite cargo pants.

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Then, because of our move timeline, Santa made a small drop at our house a little early.

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Everyone was in on the big gift – a Nintendo Switch.

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Then we had to go back to school and wrap things up.

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Theo has a towel on his head as part of his shepherd costume…lol
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Viv’s class Christmas party. And because she doesn’t normally have a meal at Nursery, she got to bring her party snack in a Darth Vader lunch box!
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And Daddy got to come in one morning.

 

Then Grandma Susie arrived!!

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And we took the boys to the British Christmas tradition – Pantomime. This year’s show was”Aladdin.”

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After the Panto, it was time for one last Sunday Roast at the Pub.

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Then on Christmas Eve, mom and I took Viv for afternoon tea.

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And we met the boys at church. And we tried pretty hard.. but no one was in the picture-cooperating mood.

 

Then on Christmas day – I finished packing up our first load of bags while Rich made a delicious Christmas dinner.

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And the day after Christmas Mom and I took the kids and 12 bags to the airport.

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This lasted for 15 minutes.

We flew to JFK, went through border patrol, took all the bags off the luggage carousel and had them carted to the domestic carousel. Went through security AGAIN, and boarded a second plane to Indianapolis. Once there, a driver picked us up in a massive three-rowed van and whisked us to my parents’ house.

It was an ABSOLUTELY EXHAUSTING day. But we did it. We survived it with no major incidents. Nobody threw up, nobody pooped their pants, nobody threw a major fit.

The planes were on time and so were we. And although it was probably the most tiring day I’ve ever had, that travel day couldn’t have gone any better.

Once we were safely at Grandma’s house and had a good nights rest, we began Christmas-ing more properly.

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Family Photo – We’ve got daddy on the video chat!
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Even uncle Isaac made a beaded princess necklace.
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Fort making kit from Grandma. Big hit, naturally.
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In the Car! To have more Christmas!

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Now. That was all of 2018.

I LEFT THE CHILDREN at my parent’s house and flew back to London on New Year’s Eve.

And that completed phase one of our move back to Chicago.

With Rich’s last day (in London) in the middle of January, it didn’t make sense for the children to return to school. So we decided it was best to send the children on home to America.

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I landed and joined Rich in move-out mode.

We tirelessly worked. He patched holes and re-hung doors that we’d removed.

I sorted and sorted and sorted.

Similar to our move to London, we got rid of EVERYTHING.

AGAIN, we are moving light. Because the cost of sending our goods over the ocean doesn’t outweigh the gain, we’ll start over again in Chicago with a new house and new furnishings.

I prioritized and we packed up a few boxes of absolute essentials that we shipped over ourselves.

 

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FedEx came and picked up our boxes.

Cleaners came for the End of Tenancy Clean.

Property management checked us out.

And that was it, our time in this London home was over.

Rich and I moved into an AirBnb in North London so he can finish up work. We are looking forward to a footloose and fancy-free time, where we can really enjoy each other and our last few nights in London. Then we will join the children in Chicago.

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KID WORDS____________

“Mom, this is the goodest thing ever!” Vivian at Christmas

——–

“Mom. It’s good that Captain America can drink alcohol and not get drunk. Because adults like to drink wine. Especially strong muscular adults. That’s who I always see drinking wine.” Harry

——–

Viv brings me books: “Here mom I brought you these books.”

Me: “Great! Do you want to give some to daddy”

Viv: “No. These are just for us. No boys.”

——–

Theo: “LITERALLY!?”    “SERIOUSLY?!”    “NOT FAIR!”

——-

“Mom, there are always new things to discover.” Finn

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Vivian (riding her balance bike through the house) “I’m super cool!”

Theo, to her “No, you’re super beautiful.”

——-

“Grandma’s house is huge. Made for running around… which is weird because grandma and grandpa don’t run around as their special talent.” Harry

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“Mom. Do you know how a star-nosed mole traps its prey? I’m gonna give you a clue.” Finn

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“I hurt my feelings” Vivian

———

“I’m looking up facts about pigeons” Finn

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Me: Can anyone name a country or a city in Europe?

Harry – Scotland!

Finn – France!

Theo – Captain America!

Theo – Joe!

Theo – I really want to go to the park

——–

“I’m worried because I really need to start deciding what I’m going to be when I grow up. I only have 9 years left.” Harry

——–

“I wonder what Viv is going to look like on her next evolution.” Harry

——–

“We’re so energetic” Harry. Referring to himself and his siblings.

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“You need a butt to poop and to sit.” Theo

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Harry watching Mr. Rogers “I can tell this hasn’t had very much editing.”

——–

Me “How was your day?”

Vivian “Sparkly and fun.”

——-

Me: I’m sorry you can’t have any TV before your nap today.

Viv:  YES!

Me: No, sorry.

Viv: I’m gonna cry! I’m gonna wake you up!

——–

Viv “mom. I really love daddy.”

——–

Finn, talking to the Google home “Hey google, play SWEET guitar music.”

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Viv, after putting the bean bag RIGHT in the door way. “This looks like a good spot!”

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“Did you clean that all by yourself?” Theo, to me

——–

“You don’t want to be a princess, Vivi, you want to be a pirate!” Harry

——–

“I’m proud of my life and I like who I am. I have the greatest mom and dad and siblings.” Harry

——-

“Mom do we have any jet packs?” Theo

——-

“Mom, I need a hot second.” Finn

——–

“It’s gonna be awesome when we have a giant rocket ship.” Theo

———

After 45m swim assessment “How bout we top this off with a little more swimming.” Finn

——–

“The birthday boy is pooping” Theo – on his birthday.

———-

“So, when we go to Paris, I won’t have my popsicles right?” Finn

——–

“Nobody’s respecting me when it’s close to my birthday” Finn, 20 days before his birthday, not wanting to go to bed.

——–

“My room needs an upgrade” Harry

———

“Mom. Minecraft was invented a long long long time ago…. in the 90s!” Finn

——–

“I’ll take care of the babies tonight mom. I can tell you’re tired. I’ll put their pajamas on and put them in bed.” Harry

——–

“You have to get up in the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT to help Vivi? That’s so awful for you!” Harry

——–

“I’m gonna turn into a wolf soon.” Theo

——–

“I don’t like my eggs with dirt on them.” Vivian, referring to pepper on her eggs.

——–

“Can you please read a book to Viv?” Me

“Ok, but I gotta get paid.” Harry

———-

“You’re forcing us to do this!!” Finn, after I sent them outside to help Grandma shuck corn.

——–

Viv orders at a restaurant “Yes. I would like strawberries and blueberries and cherries.”

———

Finn sees two dead bees next to each other of the ground. “Look mom, two dead bees. Right next to each other.”

Me “Maybe they had a battle.”

Finn “YA! A battle to the death. It was a tie!”

——–

 

HARRISON ______________

Harry is smart and awesome and kind and sensitive. He had a year of continued growth in school, with his teacher saying that “He’s quite the mathematician.”

He loves being in charge. Of anything. But especially, he loves to be in charge of whatever he is playing with his siblings – he’s the head creative on tent building, the shop manager, and the ‘dad’ of playing house simulator. And, for the most part, they are happy to oblige. And he loves each of his siblings so much.

He likes to create – books, cards, anything. And he’s very typical-first-born type A. Saying things like “organize and collection are my two favorite words mom.”

He is hilariously analytical and often applies logic to simple situations like video games and playing in the park.

“Mom they add these songs to Roblox to add interest and enjoyment.”

And he came home from the park, where they had built a “base” within the trees, to tell me the strict advantages to letting other people into the base. “Mom, it makes us more creative. We have more stamina. And we can build more things.”

He’s also oddly good at explaining his emotions and they often just spew out of him. He’ll tell me “I’m feeling stressed out about my new swim instructor” or “I’m feeling really nervous but also excited about going to residential.” And he’s also quite sensitive – often having a tear in his eye during the sad parts of a movie.

We took a big step with him this year and (after MUCH begging and conversation, and him telling us he was the ONLY one in his class without a phone) got him a cell phone. He was so happy he cried when we gave it to him.

He’s so much fun and we love watching him grow.

 

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Besties Thierry and Jerome.
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Other bestie – Loic… and Jerome again too.

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Harry Birthday Interview

How tall are you? About, nearly 5 feet tall.

Now that you’re NINE what’s different? I don’t know. Nothing.

What’s your favorite food? Donut.

Who is your favorite friend? Loic.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Still thinking about it. Maybe a builder or a toy maker. I think both of those jobs make a lot of money.

What does daddy do at work? He works on computers and he fixes them.

What do you like best about Daddy and Mommy? That daddy will play video games with me. And then, you always make good meals.

How strong is daddy? Really strong. He’s ripped.

What’s mom’s favorite thing to do? (Harry asks me back):Is it cooking? Is it taking care of us?

What’s your favorite thing about Finn, Theo, and Viv? Finn – that he’s really funny. Theo because he’s really honest. And Vivi because she’s really cute.

What do you think of girls? I like the girls in my family, but the rest – like in my class or in the world except for Pippa (piano teacher) – I don’t like. And I like Marta and Dori. (sitters)

If you could have a super power, what would it be? Super human strength. Because then you can jump really high and that’s basically flying.

What’s the best thing that happened to you this year? I don’t remember that well. When we went to Paris was the best thing.

Where do you want to go on vacation? Japan, because that’s the most common place where they make toys. Because all the toys we have say ‘made in China’ and all the Pokemon cards are really cheap there.

Are you going to get married someday? don’t know. well I’ve been planning if I do, but not if I don’t. I would buy lots of fancy stuff and I would buy whatever she liked. That’s why I want to make lots of money. And getting children by intercourse. That’s all.

How do you make cookies? You need chocolate chips. That’s the main thing. You need dough. You need milk. Then I don’t know. That’s the three things you need to make it.

Can you tell me a joke? I don’t know know any jokes. hahahaha

What do you know about God and Jesus? That they are special to us. That they’re our father. And that God is Jesus’s dad. And that God can do lots of powers and he lives in heaven and Jesus was born in a cabin. And then God is in our heart. There is different religions that believe in God. That’s all I know.

 

 

FINN____________________

This year Finn has grown is all sorts of ways. He’s his funny little self. He’s naturally quick-witted, often understanding jokes that go over Harry’s head. He’s charming and smart. When I sat down with his teacher for his conference, she just flat said “I love him. He’s so funny.” Like Harry, he’s creative and loves to draw. And also like Harry, he’s a natural math whiz.

He LOVES to swim. So, we’ve kept that going. And he loves nature. So, we’ve kept that going… as if we had a choice.

This is him, climbing trees at park. “Mom I need a stick to make a prehensile tail. Marmosets have tails just to balance. But monkeys have prehensile tails to use as a fifth hand. So I need one so I don’t fall out of the tree.”

Me: “Well, you are a human. And I’m not sure if we can fashion any sort of tail that will work like you need it to.”

Finn: “I would live my whole life in a tree if I could.”

If you get him on his own, then you get the full encyclopedia. He will pepper you with questions and facts about all kinds of things in no sort of order.  “Mom. Let’s think of food chains.” “Mom do you know the difference between a Llama and an Alpaca?” “Do you know how much an ant weighs?”

I’ve had several IN DEPTH conversations about snake breeding with him.

One of the things that excites me most about him this year is his love of all things food. He wants to make food and try food. He’s always requesting new things he wants to try, unique and fun things. He wants to try it all. And he likes a little bit of spice – he loves to use Siracha and mayo to make his own dipping sauce. Like… we have to have it in the house now all the time. I think we have a future foodie on our hands.

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Birthday Interview:

How tall are you? 41cm, oh sorry, 1 meter. I’m one meter and 41 centimeters

Now that you’re SEVEN, what’s different? ah, nothing.

What’s your favorite food? BBQ ribs!

Who is your favorite friend? Hamzah

What do you want to be when you grow up? Um, biologist.

What does daddy do at work? Fix computers

What do you like best about Daddy and Mommy? The best thing about daddy… um… is um… he gives me video games on my ipad. And mommy gives me snacks after school and every Friday you give me treats.

How strong is daddy? Strong enough to carry me and Vivi and Theo

What’s mom’s favorite thing to do? Yoga

What’s your favorite thing about Harry, Theo, and Viv? Harry – plays with me on RoBlox, Theo, plays with me every time in the morning. Viv, when I make something she tries it out.

What do you think of girls? I don’t know. um… I don’t know.

If you could have a super power, what would it be? To turn invisible cuz then I could sneak up on Theo.

What’s the best thing that happened to you this year? My Birthday! Hahaha. No! Daddy and Mommy give me my ipad. Swimming at explorers hotel with daddy.

Where do you want to go on vacation? I want to go to Mexico because it’s a hot place. No, I want to go to Japan because they make really yummy candy and they make really fun video games.

Are you going to get married someday? No. Easy… because I don’t want to smooch. Because I don’t want to have a baby.

How do you make cookies? You have to have sugar, chocolate chips, … I don’t know. Mix them up then you put them in containers, then you put them in the oven. Then when they’re done you push them in your mouth and then you’re going to laugh with excitement because you’re so happy that you ate cookies.

Can you tell me a joke? “Do you want to hear a construction joke?” “yes” “I’m still working on it, hahahaha”

What do you know about God and Jesus? That they are very important and that they made us.

 

 

THEO___________________

Theo is so much fun. He has gone through a lot this year. Going from half-day Nursery to full-day Reception (with lunch!) really forced him to grow up a little bit. After adjusting, he really thrived.

He is our most natural social butterfly. He is quick to make friends. And lots of them. He came home from his FIRST DAY of reception and told me about his best friend Fred. And he and Fred remained best friends. And he is friends with Oli and Frasier and Joe and Seb and Santiago and India and everyone else. And when he sees them on the street he says “HI SANTIAGO!!” He insists on playdates with friends. Getting together with a friend after school is the highlight of his week. And he already asks to have sleepovers.

His teachers say he’s fun and friendly, considerate of the other kids and one of the best picker-upers. He is zooming through phonics and LOVING that he is starting to be able to read, like the big boys. He loves to practice reading any way he can.

He loves to go out – whether it’s to the museum or just to the store. He’s weirdly good at “Look and Find” books, patiently looking until he finds Waldo or whatever. He can keep up with his brothers playing almost anything, but he also loves to hang with Vivian. Of all the boys – he’s the most musically inclined. The only thing he wanted for his birthday was a guitar, and he loves trying to play it. He has natural rhythm and he loves singing songs, and dancing.

 

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Duplo time with Frasier
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bestie, Fred

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Theo Birthday Interview

How tall are you? 4

Now that you’re FOUR, what’s different? giraffes and T-rexes

What’s your favorite food? eggs, no chips!

Who is your favorite friend? Fraiser… and Joe

What do you want to be when you grow up? Seven

What does daddy do at work? He builds. A tower.

What do you like best about Daddy and Mommy? He helps me do Mario 3D world. And mommy, cleaning, because you tell me I have to clean with you.

How strong is daddy? I don’t know. Stronger than an jellyfish.

What’s mom’s favorite thing to do? I don’t know…. Oh ya, cleaning.

What’s your favorite thing about Harry, Finn, and Viv? Harry tells me to play with him and gives me presents, Finn tells me I have to watch him on his computer, Viv plays with me.

What do you think of girls? They have long hair.

If you could have a super power, what would it be? Fast fly! Fast starts with an M

What’s the best thing that happened to you this year? Fraiser let me have some playdoh, and then I gave him some.

Where do you want to go on vacation? Paris! And have some fun.

Are you going to get married someday? Ya. When I marry a super hero, I will fly to the sky like a bird.

How do you make cookies? First you need sour. Then you need chocolate chips. Then you need chocolate oatmeal. Then you put in a pot and it turns to a chocolate chip.

Can you tell me a joke? “How did a worker save the boys?”  “How?” “Going to Pizza!!” …. Uhhh, it’s funny. That’s funny.

What do you know about God and Jesus? It means when a kid gets stronger.

 

VIVIAN__________________

Vivian is so sweet and so loving and so fun. She’s grown and changed so much this year. She loves to talk and sing and do whatever I’m doing. She’s almost perfected her potty training and she still loves her nap. She loves pink and flowers. She loves going to the cafe for afternoon tea. She loves to go shopping. And although she’s increasingly ‘girly’ she loves to jump in and play with the boys. She started morning nursery five days a week. And although she started off being really shy, she began to open up and make friends by the end of the term.

Vivian started noticing the mole near her eye, often thinking it was dirt on her face. We named it her ‘cutie mark,’ just like on “My Little Ponies.” And now, she doesn’t worry about it. However, we did have it officially evaluated by a specialist. It’s healthy and beautiful.

She loves her dad. And he loves her. One day Rich came home with flowers for me. But she spotted him the minute he walked in the door and screamed “Daddy brought me flowers!! Look mom, Daddy brought me flowers!!” And she was so happy.

Another day, I bribed her with chocolate to help Theo clean up the unusually-large mess they made. I never bribe them to clean up, but this time I did because I really wanted her to help. She didn’t help. I bribed her again, but she still didn’t help clean up. Theo finished cleaning up the mess by himself and received a piece of chocolate. Vivian was then, of course, very upset. But I told her that she couldn’t have any because she didn’t help Theo clean up. To which she replied, with tear filled eyes; “Daddy dit me chotate!!”

When I tell her no, she says “Daddy says yes!”

When we walk into the store during the day, she says “I bet daddy’s in here. Daddy?! Daddy!?”

Her brothers dote on her just as much as Rich, and I think we’re in serious trouble.

 

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MOM FAILS                      

 

making coffee without water

making hot water without coffee

making coffee without a cup underneath

check out at the local grocery store without my wallet – TWICE

laundry mat with no laundry soap – TWICE

 

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And that’s it!

2019….. ready or not, here we come.

London’s Calling: family photos

For a while now, I’ve wanted to have our photos done.

Like, OFFICIALLY.

But I was lazy about it. I was bloated from having the babies, and didn’t necessarily want to be memorialized that way. Rich is never excited when I speak the word ‘photoshoot,’ even casually. And, honestly we were traveling a lot so it always got pushed to the back burner.

My pictures of the children tend to look something like this:

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Obviously I could use some help in the picture department.

In addition to that, in the fall we learned that we were moving back to the US. This meant that a “family photoshoot in London” shot straight to the top of the to-do list.

I searched for a photographer, and honestly was intimated by my ‘big city’ options. I didn’t know if I would find someone that would understand our family and be ok with chasing energetic children around who DON’T and won’t “pose” for you.

Can’t stop. Won’t stop.

And I don’t want them to pose anyway… because then it would be fake.

But, with enough persistence, I found our perfect match.  I can’t recommend her enough.

http://www.margaritakarenko.com/category/family/

Margarita…. the goddess of photographing children. You are the child whisperer. We shall create a shrine and bring gifts of chocolate and cameras to your feet.

Margarita embraced the craziness with patience and laughter. Often, good-naturedly asking me “Is this how they always are?” She set a relaxed tone and captured each child perfectly.

I stressed for a few weeks about our outfits and the weather, and if the kids would be warm enough if the weather changed. I always knew I wanted to have our photos taken in the fall, because I think it’s the most beautiful season in London. But the season is also hit or miss on sunshine and rain.

All of that worry was wasted however. We showed up at Tower Bridge in the morning to an incredible morning sun and mild temperature. The weather held, and the children loved being out in the city. Aren’t they always the best when they are free and outdoors?

I don’t know how to say anything else without being totally cheesy.

But, truthfully, it was magical.

I mean, they went almost an hour without asking for a snack.

That’s some photoshoot magic.

 

We started out in a green space adjacent to Tower Bridge and London City Hall.

 

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And we got a few pictures in, before the boys requested to be dinosaurs for a little bit. Margarita went with that.

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This is the moment that Theo got a bloody lip.

Because we don’t go a day without a bloody lip.

Margarita asked us to jump. And we did.

Rich was next to Theo and upon jumping – whacked him, mouth first, with his heavy duty watch.

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Then we ventured up on to the bridge, where Margarita asked us to ‘walk naturally”:

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And then I asked if we could flex our muscles.

Because we do a lot of that.

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Then she took turns focusing on each child.

Quickly and efficiently, I must say.

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This was on the definitely more candid side… but I just like that Theo and Viv are naturally holding hands.

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Then we walked down and around and back under the bridge on the opposite side from where we started. And the boys continued being themselves.

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Daddy found a second to swing Vivian around, and it was the first time all morning she let out an unguarded laugh.

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It was about this time that Finn settled into his newfound friendship with the photographer and started confidently telling her about different types Piranha species, as well as other types of marine life she would find in the Thames river.

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Then we walked around to the docks.

I don’t particularly love this photo, but I do love that Harry, unprompted, decided to make air-hand pistols.

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And we’re back to being incapable of a nice natural smile….

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A little bit more total candid.

But I love it because Finn is always, ALWAYS, the first to go digging for a snack.

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And don’t worry about Theo…

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Much to my surprise, Margarita pulled the kids again for individual shots by the phone booth.

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And if you thought that while each child was getting individually photographed by the phone booth that the other three were just sitting nicely on a bench waiting for their turn – then you need to get the heck out of here.

I mean, there was a turtle made of stone.

Irresistible.

 

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And, this is Harry, trying to decide (as usual) if the other three are unruly hooligans and he needs to help and calm them. Or if he just wants to join them.

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And Theo holds the phone upside down.

Even though he’s never seen a phone, he miraculously know’s it’s for talking – just doesn’t know the specifics.

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And then we’ve got Tiger Princess.

With her stare. That she gives us ALL THE TIME, and in many situations.

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We’re almost done. Harry’s over it. Finn is still high on the attention, and Viv didn’t want to be held – so she’s acting like a human bag of flour.

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Theo remembered he didn’t get his turn to play with the leaves and Viv decides she’s ok with being held if she can play with my hair.

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And, as we were packing up to leave (and dishing out reward snacks) Margarita caught one final moment.

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To celebrate and commemorate our time as a family in London, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Thanks kids, for being perfect.

And thanks Margarita.. for also being perfect.

 

USA: summer with family

 

We moved to London in 2015. I made a quick trip home for my brother’s graduation, and we flew to Vegas for Rich’s debut in the World Series of Poker. Other than that, we have not been back to the US. And the kids haven’t been back at all.

Our family has been amazing about making visits to see us in London the last three years and I haven’t been enthusiastic about taking two toddlers on an 8 hour plane ride. We’ve been so happy to have so many visitors. But this year, with Vivian reaching a more palatable-plane-age, we decided it was time.

If I had known that we were going to be moving back to the US in 2019, I may have changed our plans. But, you know what they say about hindsight.

Regardless – it was so much fun. The kids were great little travelers, and it was great time spent with lots of family.

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Just getting out the suitcases.

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Rich wasn’t able to take off work just yet, so we arranged for Grandma to fly with us.

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Then we landed and breezed through border patrol.

Theo was so excited when we got off the plane (who can blame him) that he ran full speed down the jet-way. We were some of the last people off the plane, so the hall was empty for him. I warned him. I know him. He’s clumsy. And sure enough, after a second at top speed – splat – massive face plant. From the sound it made – I anticipated upon reaching him, a broken nose. Seriously. It was awful. I looked awful and it sounded awful. He didn’t even use his hands to break his fall. Nothing broken, thankfully. Just a good bloody nose, rug burn on the forehead, and airport staff checking if we needed help.

We were all good after a trip to the bathroom. And because he’s a kid, he was practically fully recovered by the time we got in the car. And there was only a little bit of face burn left to show.

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Then, Poppa Scott picked us up!

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And we began the drive from Chicago to Casey.

Within 20 minutes, Vivian declared she didn’t like her carseat and wanted to get out and walk.

 

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By the time we made it to Casey, all four children had fallen asleep.

It was a really really long day.

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We spent the next few days relaxing and hanging out with family.

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Then we packed back up and drove to Michigan. My dad drove a big truck – with me, Viv, and Theo. And mom drove her car with the big boys. We mitigated the whining in the car with donuts and ipads. And before we knew it – we were there.

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My parent’s rented a GIANT victorian in Holland, right near the center of town. It worked as the perfect base for our time there and had pleeeeeenty of room for everyone. Everyone – meaning – my parents, the 6 of my family, my sister’s crew plus the nanny she lovingly brought, and my brother and his girl. Rich was conveniently brought from Chicago by my brother.

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We began our time in the Michigan sun with a trip to the nearest beach.

Mom, thoughtfully brought along our beach essentials – a giant peacock and a giant unicorn.

And we were quite the scene on the beach with these.

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We have three consecutive July birthdays – 29th, 30th, and 31st.

My sister celebrating 29 again. My brother celebrating 21! And Vivian celebrating 3!

It was fun to be together to celebrate each one.

 

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We spent a beautiful morning at a park along the river.

 

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And this is my one and only picture of our lovely angel-nanny Kelsey. She was amazing with the kids. She was on hand as an extra set of hands at the beach, and allowed us to have adult time every evening. We went out kid-less for beer and pizza for Ike’s birthday, sushi for Erika’s, dinner at a restaurant on the lake, dinner at a local Bavarian restaurant, and a night out at the Coast guard festival the next town over. It was such a special treat for us to have her come along, and made our time in Michigan so relaxing.

Thanks Kelsey. Love ya.

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We went jeeping on the sand dunes.

This was my first time for this, and it was really fun.

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More beach time.

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All the kids enjoyed the beach, but Vivian was especially in love. She kept herself busy working with the sand while we were packing up, thinking we wouldn’t notice her and wouldn’t make her leave. But, sadly, we did have to peel her away.

 

And we finished the week out with a boat day on the lake.

The kids (and the adults) loved it.

 

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Then it was back in the car, for a drive back down to Illinois.

Our destination – Mattoon, IL.

To spend a week with Rich’s family.

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……Where we spent two more days on the lake.

We took all the kids out on the first day, and it was so much fun.

Then, on another day, Grandma stayed home with the kids so we could have an adults-only lake day.

I only have pictures of the kids boat day, and I think that’s a good thing for everyone involved.

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The kids repurposed their sandwich bags as “aquariums” while playing on the lily pad.

And that entertained them for a loooong time.

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Also while here, we celebrated Vivian’s birthday again and went out for Rich’s mom’s birthday. We attended a family reunion, and a party at the house with old friends. I met up with several girlfriends in the area and did some shopping at Old Navy! and Target!

It was so great to see everyone and have some downtime here.

Newsflash – the summer is really hot in central Illinois.

Naturally, we spent more time playing in the hose.

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Then we spent time at a local wildlife refuge.

For our animal-loving kids, this was a real highlight and big surprise for them.

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Our time in Mattoon came to an end. And, with sun-kissed faces, we headed back up to Chicago to prepare for our flight back to London. Rich’s sister let us borrow her van for the day, a friend loaned us car seats, and Rich’s mom drove us up.

We drove around the city for a little while, just to take a few peeks around. Then headed out to the airport where we had booked a hotel for the night.

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A little swim.

A comfy bed.

Then, wake for an early morning flight.

 

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We, of course, go through the international wing and I wanted a picture with the cool globe and all the flags. But we couldn’t stand here all day because we were sort of in everyone’s way and we needed to get to our gate. So I had to settle for the most terrible picture of them.

Whatever. I tried.

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We took the “daytime” flight out of Chicago. Which leaves mid-morning, but lands in London at midnight. The line at border patrol was enormous despite the late hour. Some wonderful airport employee saw us with our four children, and plucked us right out of the border patrol line and put us right up in the front. Saying “Children don’t need to be waiting in line at this hour at night.”

It was almost too good to be true.

But it was. It was true.

We passed through in – I’m not even exaggerating -10 minutes. Saving us at least an hour in line. I wanted to feel bad for all the people left back in line. But, listen, we’ve served our time in the border patrol line, ok? Just let us have this one. With no guilt. And that’s what I did.

Upon landing, you think all the kids would be tired.

But that’s not how it works.

While waiting for our bags, they played wrestle mania.

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Our taxi was patiently waiting on the other side of baggage claim and we cruised home in the silence of London at midnight.

 

Where we were solidly turned around for a good 7 days, and this is the kids eating Cheerios for dinner because we were all messed up and didn’t have any food.

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And that’s that.

We did it!

AND we had a great time.

Amsterdam: Round 2

Mom came to London to visit this summer.

We love that.

And, as we have done the last three summers, we wanted to plan a little girls’ weekend somewhere fun. We asked Rich to go on kid duty and we decided that we’d like to go to Amsterdam. Now, I’ve been once before in the spring of 2016 with the kids and my sister and her family. It was a really great trip. But it was, however, slightly grey and cold – similar to London in the spring. I could tell then that, like London, Amsterdam would be incredibly beautiful in the summer. Ever since, I had hoped to return to Amsterdam in the summer. So this was my chance. And I knew mom would love it.

We decided it was best to take a late night flight Friday, which landed us in Amsterdam around mid-night. We weren’t sure if it would be wise to travel into city center on our own this late at night, so we decided it was best to book an airport hotel.

This hotel was physically connected to the airport by an indoor walkway, and it was really great. And super convenient. The airport hotel offered luggage storage and was less expensive than staying city center. In Amsterdam, this is a great choice because you can just walk back to the airport terminal and hop a 30m direct train to city center. Then on your check out day, you just leave your luggage downstairs (in the safe room), head into town for however long you have until your flight. When the time comes, take the quick train back to the airport, grab your bags and head to your terminal.

It makes things so easy.

Big win here.

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First thing Saturday, we booked ourselves a Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour of the Dutch countryside. It was easy to get into town from our spot at the airport. We walked through the airport to the train, then took the 5 minute ferry across the river to the bus meeting point.

From there we hopped on!

First stop, the fishing village of Vollendam.

Here we walked the shops along the harbor, started our cheese journey, and we ate some fried fish. I got fried mussels, and mom got white fish. They were crispy and slightly greasy and oddly filling  – and with that little bit of vinegary mayo. YUM!!!!

 

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We hopped back on the bus and hopped off again at the quiet little town of Edam. Edam is known for Edam Cheese. This one was slightly off the beaten path and we got a little turned around walking here. It was so empty it felt like we were almost in the wrong place – or like we were intruding or like we were on a movie set. There were, like, no people in sight and barely any sounds. Everywhere we walked was still and so quiet. Maybe because it was Sunday? I don’t know. But mom and I both fell in love. If I were to ever look for property in Amsterdam – I would begin and end with Edam.

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As we approached the center of the village – we started seeing a few other people. Mom chatted with the cheese shop worker and bought her first cheese. I poked around in an antique shop and found a vase to bring home. We got a little lost (again) on our way back to the bus stop. But, we managed to find it and soon enough a bus came to pick us up.

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The last stop of our tour was at the Zaan Schanse. Historic windmills and little green houses were moved here to recreate an 18th/19th century Dutch village. There is also a shoe making exhibit, museums, livestock, and of course – shops.

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From here, we hopped back on the bus and went back to city center. From there we walked to our dinner location. Amsterdam has really great Indonesian. When we came here before – my sister found this little gem. Called “Aneka Rasa.” The menu is split into two options – Regular Table, or Vegetarian Table. You just pay by the person and they fill your table with the tastiest food you ever did taste.

http://anekarasa.nl/menu/

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Full bellies. Check.

Train. Airport. Back to bed at hotel.

 

The next morning, we took our time getting out of our room and had a nice breakfast at a restaurant in the airport. Then we took the bus to the other side of town, so we could begin our *Rick Steves* recommended walking tour of the city center.

We started by the museums.

Visited Van Gogh.

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From there, we got a little confused (again) about the bus routes, but straightened ourselves out and made it to our destination – the floating flower market. Then we walked down through the Dam Square and over to the Anne Frank house. We couldn’t get tickets to go inside because they sell out far in advance.

We ate some delicious fries.

And dutch apple pie.

And the sun was out.

And the flowers were blooming.

And everyone was riding on their bikes.

And it was great.

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We needed to catch our bus back to the hotel/airport. But before we did that, we had a little bit of time to kill. However, we were also pretty tired from walking around and didn’t feel like doing much else.

Enter park nap.

I have noticed through my adventures to other European countries, that lounging in the grass of a public area is quite common. Just laying down – right on the grass – for a little nap. We located a big beautiful green space, near our bus stop. And sure enough, there were tons of local Amsterdamers just laying in the grass soaking up the perfect weather. SO. That is exactly what we did as well. And it was glorious. It was just the refresh we needed before heading back to the airport. Ahhhh… yes yes yes.

 

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I mean, just in general, Amsterdam is SUPER walkable and easy. It makes for a relaxing time. The food is great. The scenery is beautiful. I would be happy to return again.

And I would probably stay right at the airport.

 

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Where we stayed:

https://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/netherlands/hilton-amsterdam-airport-schiphol-AMSAPHI/index.html?WT.mc_id=zELWAAA0EU1WW2PSH3Cluster4DGBrandx&WT.srch=1&utm_source=AdWords&utm_medium=ppc&utm_campaign=paidsearch&sitelink=1&sl=Amsterdam-Airport-Schiphol_B&campaignid=115605363&adgroupid=30783838083&targetid=aud-346991724370:kwd-302484512590&

 

 

Barcelona

BARCELONA!!!!!

 

This summer my mom came to London again, which meant that we could leave the kids and get away for a quick weekend.

How flat-out lucky are we?

We were thinking we could get away the second week in July, and this time we had our eyes on Spain. Neither of us had been yet and it was the obvious choice.

That makes it easy enough – Barcelona it is!

Our pre-trip research began and ended with watching the Barcelona episode of “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having.”

That show told us everything we really needed to know – which is what to eat. And where. The host – Phil – is charming and fun and I’m pretty sure he’s our friend now.

Rich booked our flight and hotel, and we were on our way.

Goals = Tapas, Sangria, and Paella.

We arrived at our beautiful boutique hotel. Great job honey.

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Then we went straight out to explore the “La Boqueria” market. It was within walking distance of our hotel and it did not disappoint.

Oh my.

Oh my goodness.

Fruit. Meat. Fish. Cheese.

Fruit again. Laid out in beautiful, eat-me-right-now fashion.

It’s well and widely known that I’m a *bit* of a fruit extremist.

So naturally, I’m all up in this place.

How can I make this my life? I want to eat all the fruit within eye shot. I will work for them, and they can pay me in pineapple and cherries. And I’ll never be sad about anything. Or – I could move in! Just roll myself out a sleeping bag and sleep in the aisle. And everyone would be like, “What happened to Emy?” And Rich would be like “I lost her to the fruit. She has become a recluse inside the market and can no longer be reasoned with.”

#myprecious

Drool face.

Googly eyes.

Heart times a million with La Boqueria.

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I peeled myself away from the fruit section and we made our way to the meat and cheese.

Yes!

We had some cheese, the famous Jamon (ham), and had some fried seafood.

 

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Then, because that wasn’t enough – we located our final destination inside the market = a restaurant called El Quim de la Boqueria. The place that our *friend* Phil had recommended to us. And at first, we couldn’t figure out how to get any food. There were, like, 20 barstools around the workstation. And every single barstool was occupied with a human – eating, and mostly leisurely drinking and chatting. Then beyond that, were maybe 40 other people just standing around… with no rhyme, reason, or purpose. So we watched for a while. We almost dropped it and left. It wasn’t making any sense. When one of the lucky diners got up, everyone wiggled their way toward that empty barstool. And whoever got there first was the winner. Like, grown up musical chairs. No line. No one in charge. Free-for-all for empty seats.

Once we understood how to play, we were ON IT. I circled. Rich and I were both servers for several years. In those years, we honed a special skill – not often used, but now suddenly crucial to our existence. This special skill is knowing when people are close to being done eating. I positioned myself between our two likeliest candidates. And wouldn’t you know it, candidate number one was finished within minutes and our butts were on those stools. Thank you very much.

We tried our first In-Spain “potato bravas” with croquettes and then moved on to the prestigious squid omelette.

It was also here that we had our first In-Spain sangria. Hello!!!! It was like glug glug glug glug SO GOOD.

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We wandered around, down the main shopping area, Las Ramblas.

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We found the Sagrada Familia. Obviously awesome. We didn’t feel the need to go inside because the outside is an experience in itself. I read through my guidebook while we walked around it and we appreciated it even more.

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The streets of the city are chill and green.

 

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I love a good set of doors.

AND when a city takes time to make it’s manhole-covers a work of art all on their own.

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Here is a typical Tapas menu.

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During the days – because we’re us – we went to the beach.

Barcelonetta Beach one day and Platja de la Nova Icaria Beach the other.

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The first was a fun-music-party scene.

The second was quiet, peaceful, and surprisingly well equipped.

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Along the beach – one of the main items being sold was “beach sheets.” I decided I should have one and I could probably get it back into my luggage somehow. Worst case, I would just have to wear it as a blanket scarf.

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I carefully perused the offerings and then bargained for my choice. I enjoy a good haggle.

Look at that! Pretty AND Functional.

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And might I note that at BOTH beaches – quiet and calm or music-party. Most of the women were topless. I actually would’ve liked to have had the children with us for this. Especially the boys. The European attitude towards nudity is something that I support. Listen… it’s just boobs. Americans can be so weird about it. When you are there – it’s not like people are running down to the sand ripping their clothes off and screaming “I can’t wait to get naked!” It’s so casual and non-sexual. I’m not sure you can understand it until you go there. No one is oogling or judgmentally staring. In my humble opinion – it’s good for boys, and men, to have a realistic expectation of a woman’s body. The images of women that young boys are exposed to are confusing. When they enter the dating world, their girlfriend’s body isn’t going to look like a brushed-over supermodel. More importantly, they shouldn’t expect her to.

I’m not about to go make a flash card set of tasteful-naked-women pictures or anything. I’m just saying – I would argue that exposure to occasional, casual, non-sexual nudity at a young age satisfies boys’ curiosity in a healthy way.

Anyway… that’s enough of that.

If you’re wondering whether or not I joined in…. welll… all I have to say is “you only go around one time” or “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” or whatever cliche thing you would like to insert here.

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We liked the beach at night too.

Rich even risked his life by purchasing, and drinking, a mojito from a guy just walking down the beach. As in, this guy wasn’t with a resort or restaurant or anything. Just a dude with a box-lid-turned-tray of drinks he made… himself… I guess. Rich is like, “It’s good.” and I’m like “I’m sure it is. But one of us has to return home to the children, I’m not drinking that.”

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Speaking of drinking… that’s leads me to eating….

We had Potatos Bravas and Sangria with nearly every meal.

We were like “Well…. we better try THIS PLACE’s bravas.. and their Sangria. You never know…. It’s better to be thorough with something like this.”

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We tried a different version of Tapas. This type is called Pinchos, and these are little concoctions stacked on top of little pieces of bread – each stuck