Category Archives: Travel

The Vacation from the Wedding

If you read my Vail Wedding recap, you know that, while we had an absolute blast, it was a jam-packed week. Nothing wrong with that. But hauling 6 kids around to multiple events a day and missing bedtime 5 nights in a row definitely takes its toll.

Truth be told, after last year’s best-vacation-ever stay in Louisville, CO, we had already planned on making the drive again this year before we ever heard anything about the wedding. So, when we heard the dates, we decided to tack a little extended stay on the end–this time in Broomfield (also close to Boulder/Louisville/Denver).

Yet again, we managed to snag an adorable, reasonably priced, ideally situated Airbnb rental. I was sure we wouldn’t be able to top the placed we scored last year (or find anything at all; the pickings were slim this year), but this one–with its twin over full girls’ bunk bed, basement toy room, fenced in backyard + sandbox, and ample bed/bathrooms, was even better.

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{If the hand over the eyes is any indication, Evy was pretty embarrassed for the naked–and likely motion-sick–Ken doll that Theo is so gleefully toting}

I’m almost embarrassed to say how little we did during our five days there. But I can say this: we needed the rest. The kids were pretty exhausted after all of the wedding excitement, and I’m not too proud to admit that I was too.

So, we vegged. We played board games.

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{We eventually had to resort to a “virtual” Life game spinner on Shaun’s phone for the twins, since the real deal kept getting wrenched off of the board}

We took naps. We ordered takeout. And we played an inordinate amount of a very addictive, very silly internet game called slither.io. We are not a video or phone game family (I literally didn’t have a single game on my phone before I downloaded this one), but we made up for a fair bit of “lost time” that week.

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ANYhoo, lest you think that all we did was stare at our phone/tablet screens (the boys do not have phones and had to take turns playing on the 1 tablet we brought, and the girls were downstairs playing with the “new” dolls for hours on end), I would like to point out that we did get out of the house and enjoy the local culture a time a two–starting with the Broomfield Farmer’s Market.

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It was a fairly small operation, but it boasted of being the ONLY volunteer run farmer’s market in…(insert large geographical area that I don’t recall). I didn’t really know what that meant until I realized that they had several booths for kids, including one with giant bubble wands and another with several carnival-style games that were completely free.

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{Apparently, Nola considered bubble-blowing a tackle sport}

PLUS! They held a zucchini-mobile race for the kids (complete with free zucchini + stick-on wheels) with a $20 first prize.

We went in a little dubious and left an hour and 1/2 later full (from the yummy street truck food) and happy (even though we didn’t win the zucchini race).

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{I hope that you are genuinely impressed with our fake excited expression at the prospect of sharing a giant shave ice sno-cone}

Another night, we attended a free Family Movie Night at the Broomfield Auditorium, and yet another afternoon, we watched the mighty Mudslinger–a trick pig from a traveling show called Top Hogs–do amazing feats like…using his snout to lower a ring so he could walk through it when he was supposed to have jumped through it from a decent height (played for laughs…it was cute).

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That show also featured Bullet, the rescue dog, who did a good portion of one routine in reverse at rather frantic speeds, which, weirdly, was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Shaun and I even managed to get a date night in, since the people who owned the house–sweet Christians who had a special needs daughter–had left trusted babysitter recommendations.

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We headed down to Pearl Street in Boulder and ate at an incredible restaurant called Riffs Urban Fare. Maybe this sounds like a superfluous detail, but our waitress was FANTASTIC. She was so attentive, knowledgeable, friendly, and cheerful that it definitely made the whole thing a bit more of an “experience.”  (Plus, the food was amazing).

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Holy wow. I’m getting hungry just staring at this yumminess.

After dinner, we waddled wandered down the promenade, peering in cute shop windows, and then circled back to sit on a bench, where we sat and talked for over an hour. More and more, I find myself cherishing moments of rest like these over activity. I’m pretty sure that’s a sign of aging. And I’m pretty sure I’m fine with that.

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{In case you haven’t noticed yet, Theo has quite the personality on him; apparently, end-of-trip donuts get him jazzed. Me too, T. Meeee too}

Oh, and just because…

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{This kid just makes life fun. That is all}

Friday morning, I managed to sneak away to Boulder again for a solo shopping trip to Anthro and LOFT (where I found a dress for $4.88–HOLLA).

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Happily ensconced in the giant Anthro sale room.broomfield15

{This one came home with me. The cropped bell bottom overalls from above…did not}

Oh, and somewhere during the week, I attended two separate BODYCOMBAT+GRIT combos at a local gym, which, despite being exactly what I teach in Texas, felt considerably harder than usual (mayyyybe due to elevation, although I had been in CO plenty long enough to adjust, so most likely just due to my epic levels of slug-worthy couch-surfing + wedding burnout).

We capped off our trip with a visit to my Uncle Kris’s and Aunt Marilyn’s house (just outside of Denver), where they treated us to “Tacos in a Bag.”

Basically, you set out taco fixin’s + a bunch of mini-bags of Doritos (they used Nacho Cheese), and then you add spoonfuls of taco add-ins to the chip bags, shake them up, and eat them straight from the bag with a spoon.

It’s entertaining and quite tasty.

Note to all 8-year-old boys: there is no need to shake the bags so viciously that all of the (rather messy) contents eventually shoot out the wrong end of the bag, which pops open from sheer exhaustion/abuse. Not that that happened or anything.

The 18 hour drive home (to which I contributed a whopping six hours of wheel-time. Bless you, husband) was a bit of a beast, but we made it.

And there you have it, folks. One of the least eventful, and therefore most relaxing, vacations on the books to date.

Am I a total geezer for preferring low key family vacations? Maybe. Am I okay with that? Definitely.

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A Wedding in Vail {Part 1}

Whoa.

The past week has been a blur. I looked up this morning expecting it to be Monday, maaaaybe Tuesday, only to realize that–shoot!–it’s Wednesday, I haven’t blogged in over a week, and our vacation is almost over. (Pssst…even when I’m not blogging, you can still find daily updates on Instagram).

Okay, so I’m not quite that clueless, but the last 7 days or so  have melted together in a rush of travel and wedding activity.

The past few days have been a welcome respite from the busyness (we decided to stay a few days longer in Colorado after the wedding at an Airbnb rental in Broomfield), but I haven’t done (or felt like doing) much other than my best slug impression (although, I did get a free pass to a local gym yesterday and did BODYCOMBAT + GRIT STRENGTH for the first time in a week, and now eeevvverything hurts).

ANYhoo, how about that wedding that I went on and on about for weeks on end?

It. was. lovely.

And a lot of fun.

I’d only been to Vail once before (that I can remember), and while I had a vague impression of charm, my memory was a pale facsimile of reality.

I’m pretty sure at one point I said: “This is better than Disneyland!”

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Vail Village–while far from “real” (no convenience stores, grocery stores, gas stations, or otherwise necessary shops)–is such a picturesque escape from reality that it’s hard to care. Window boxes fair-to-bursting with vibrant blooms everywhere you turn, funky sculptures, adorable boutiques, a burbling river that runs through the center…and all of it set against the backdrop of the mountains and the crisp blue Colorado sky.

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{Theo woke up at 5 one morning, went back to sleep, but I couldn’t, so I went for a “run.” Code for mostly walk. Because I’m an elevation wimp}

It’s seriously Fairy Land.

We pulled in around 3 PM after driving all night last Tuesday and the first half of Wednesday. Other than Evy waking up and squawking every 15 minutes for the first 4 hours, the drive went as smoothly as it possibly could have. In what I can only describe as God’s care for the details of our lives, Theo, who had been churning out pretty horrendous teething diapers every half hour for a week, didn’t poop once on the entire 18 hour car ride. Grateful doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt…even when he made 4 (!!) huge diapers within an hour of our pulling into Vail.

We were staying in the same condo as my parents, which was great, since my kids adore their Safta and Sabba, and my mom is pretty much the grandmother of everyone’s dreams (always willing to babysit, help, change diapers, do laundry, and just generally be a blessing).

We took the (free) public bus to the local Safeway (the kids thought riding the bus was the raddest thing ev-ah) and then proceeded to buy way too many groceries without realizing that we would have to haul them across a highway to the rather strangely situated return bus stop. Whoops. Let’s just say that, after contemplating hauling 6 kids plus 8 bags of groceries and a watermelon across the highway, we dismissed that thought and called Shaun to come rescue us.

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{Della: “Softa, this bus is sooooo fun. It’s like the funnest ever.” Not sure where she picked up her Valley Girl vernacular, but it’s pretty cute}

Thursday morning, Shaun and I took the kids on a jaunt through the village and up the pathway to the river + the park. Simon fell in the river, but, really, with six kids, that was bound to happen to at least one.

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{Simon is likely dunking himself in the background. Theo and Daddy aren’t too worried about it; also, RIP, Theo’s curls}

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Here we are at a bus stop that we would likely have waited at for a very long time had someone not come along and informed us that that particular bus was only running every 2 hours.

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And what would a family “hike” be if it didn’t end in celebratory ice cream?

Thursday evening was the first of a series of wedding festivities–a pizza/pool party at the Lion’s Square Lodge. The kids took turns shivering in the pool, but I was glad that none of the adults seemed the least bit interested (and also that I have a 10 and 8-year-old who are happy to save their mama some swimsuit angst and herd the little kids in their floaties in the shallow end–don’t worry; there was always an adult on the edge of the pool too).

We got to meet the lovely bride (who was marrying my first cousin, Erik), and the girls (the twins especially) shined up to her immediately, offering shy hugs that quickly morphed into Koala bear clinginess at every opportunity.  (Sorry no photographic evidence was captured of this adorableness).

Friday was the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, so the girls and I headed to the rehearsal at noon while the boys (minus Theo) rode the gondola for some fun on the mountain. Not gonna lie. I was sad to miss the mountain adventures, but it was still pretty cute to see the girls taking their flower girl roles so seriously…prancing gravely down the “aisle” (it was an outdoor venue, so they mostly tried—and failed–to walk a straight line in the pavement and pretend that there were people on each side).

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{The bride gave them matching satin clutch purses and “pearl” bracelets, and they were just a wee bit thrilled}

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{My Aunt Patti–mother of the groom–was so sweet to the girls, even giving them wedding-themed coloring books/crayons, which kept them enthralled as we waited for the rest of the wedding party to practice}

Meanwhile, Della and I took shameless selfies.

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The rehearsal dinner was at a charming Austrian restaurant inside a resort called Sonnenalp (conveniently located a stone’s throw away from our condo), and, while multiple trips to the huge bathroom several levels down were the little kids’ favorite activity, the food was delicious, and I was just happy to make it through a 3 hour shindig with a minimum of spilled drinks and tears. (Between my brother’s two little girls–ages 2 and 9 months–and my brood, there were 8 kids, 10 and under, at 1 table; it could have been disastrous, but the kids did great).

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Nola: I luuurve Uncle Shae.

Shae:

{Kidding, he’s a fabulous uncle; just managed to catch him at a rather blank moment}

I’d been worry-warting about the girls’ hair for a while, since the twins’ is stick-straight and fine, and Della’s is long but still needs a little help to look smooth. I wanted curls but had struck out with trial runs of foam curlers and curling irons. Lots of nice people on social media suggested curlers through the night, but we were home way too late from the rehearsal dinner to stay up and roll. Plus, the twins were doing well to keep the curlers in for an hour, much less sleep on them.

ANYhoo, Saturday arrived–WEDDING day!–and the girls were suuuuper excited. Most of the day was spent in some form of preparation or another. But my mom was nice enough to keep kids while Shaun and I slipped away for a quick bite.

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Mmmm…crepes + bacon.

When the girls got up from naps, we went into full-on beauty mode. Pretty much everybody who wasn’t dressing him/herself got in on the action, whether it was toenail painting (Shaun: “So…how do you keep the paint from getting on everything around the nail?”) or hair-drying (Simon can wield a mean blow-dryer, y’all).  I dampened the girls’ hair, applied mousse, then rolled them in foam rollers and blasted them with the hair-dryer. I knew it would be touch-and-go, but it was the best option we had, so we went with it.

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Clearly, they loved the process. Clearly, I was very sympathetic.

A couple of hours later, it was time to go–not so much because were were all as ready as I would have liked but because we had run out of time.

Wedding time was upon us…

And now, lunchtime is upon me. Plus, this is really long.

Part 2 is coming…get excited.

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Vancouver Do-Over (Part II)

So, where was I?

Where…

Oh yeah! That pesky phone call right in the middle of the movie. (Read Part I if you’re lost as a goose).

Shaun checked his voicemail on the walk back to the rental, but try as he might, he couldn’t make out much more than that it was the Vancouver PD and that they had found our car with the smashed window (it was the little triangular window behind the full-sized rear window, in case you’re wondering) and were trying to notify us that it had been vandalized.

Of course, we already knew this. We also knew that we hadn’t lost one single penny or scrap of possessions.

So, when Shaun called back, fully expecting to be able to explain the situation, and was informed, instead, that the police had towed the car for “safekeeping” without permission or actual notification (methinks a missed phone call does not count), we were both a bit stunned.

Of course, the biggest bummer (at that point) was being car-less when we had been planning a day trip to Squamish the next morning, but the impound (hey! I got to visit all kinds of places I’d never been on this trip) was only a 30 minute walk away. So, the next morning, we strolled over to the Twisted Fork, ate an, ahem, hearty breakfast of banana stuffed french toast and Eggs Benedict, and then did our darndest to walk off at least a tiny fraction of those calories.

On the way, we were treated to some not-so-shabby views.

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When we finally got there (somehow, we missed a turn and turned our stroll into a 45 minute hike), the niggling suspicion that the VPD was going to stick us with the bill for their little act of kindness came true…to the tune of $155. (So, basically, our car got broken into, and we lost nothing…until the police came along. Ha!).

It was actually kind of (but not quite) comical to watch the exchange when the girl told Shaun the bill, and he said, “But…we didn’t ask to be towed or do anything that warranted it.” And she said, “But we performed a service.” And he said, “That we didn’twant.” And she said, “But we performed a service, so…” And he paid up.

I told him in the car that I was going to start washing random people’s doorsteps and then showing up a day later demanding payment, even though they didn’t ask and/or want me to wash their steps.

ARgh.

To add insult to injury, we had a parking ticket, even though I had proof that I’d paid the bill (we’ve since managed to clear up that little snafu, but at the time it felt like, “Oh, C’MON!!”).

Of course, although it never occurred to either one of us that getting towed was even a possible outcome, we sure weren’t keen for a repeat, so we drove the first rental car back to the airport, exchanged it for a zippy little VW Golf, and headed out for Squamish.

My brain could never quite immediately conjure the name, so I kept throwing out ridiculous versions like Squeamish, Sasquatch, and Saskatchewan, but the town itself was way cuter than its name (which, to be fair, originates from a Native Indian tribe and probably sounds much better in their language).

We got there while the Saturday market was in full swing and proceeded to eat all. the. things.

Basically, I’ve done vacation food two ways: 1) try to find a place with yummy salads and pace myself on all treats…mildly obsessing over/dreading the next meal (yup; that would pretty much describe my 20′s) and 2) gleefully research thee best food within a reasonable radius on Yelp and then eat what/whenever strikes our fancy.

I’ve learned that I much prefer the second, even if I do come home with some extra jiggle. Both because it frees up my mind up to actually enjoy the moment and because it makes Shaun happy when I don’t worry about it.

I point this out because I’m blushing a little remembering our farmer’s market indulgences, which included: a Greek Souvlaki wrap, an empanada,  a strawberry rhubarb hand pie, caramel kettle corn, and the best sno-cone I’ve ever had (most of them shared, I might add #justificationsrus).

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{Half raspberry vanilla, half hibiscus lemonade = aaaaaalll yum. Also, I really wanted to buy that gorgeous flower arrangement for only $10–$7 with the Canadian/US exchange rate, but it was our last day there, so it wouldn’t have made much sense}

After all of that, we couldn’t manage much more than a leisurely waddle around the picturesque square for the next half hour, but Shaun had warned told me about a challenging hike just outside of Squamish, and I said I was game. So, off we set, determined to beat the estimated 3 hour round trip time.

We started up the trail, unsure of when “the hard part” would start, but it didn’t take long to figure it out.

Y’all.

This is the hardest hike I’ve ever done…by a long shot. Now, granted, we didn’t take our time. We were determined to go as fast as possible, but after the first 10 minutes of climbing big rock after big rock and ascending stairs so steep you practically had to use the handrail to haul yourself up them, my pulse was hammering in my throat, and my breath was coming in jagged rasps. (And I thought I was in decent shape)

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{I keep looking at this and thinking: “That doesn’t look nearly as steep as it felt.” This was only the first flight of stairs, by the way}

Fortunately, although the trail rarely let up (there were 3 or 4 spots that plateaued for maybe 20 feet before you were climbing steeply again), once my legs warmed up and my breathing achieved a rhythm, it felt doable. Still hard. But not quite as likely to kill us.

Of course, I think we were pretty much the only ones on the trail (that day, at least) really pushing ourselves, since we passed quite a few people we never saw at the start, taking their time picking from rock to rock and stopping at the outlooks. (Like normal folks; not knocking this approach).

But honestly?

I loved it.

I love exercise (y’all know that). And I love challenges. But I don’t love hiking. I’m a multitasker, but I don’t enjoy stomping through nature while trying to enjoy it. If I’m meant to be looking around and taking in the views, I’ll need to stroll, thankyouverymuch. But if I’m working hard, I’m focused on the next step, the next handhold, the next summit, and trying to get me to simultaneously enjoy that waterfall over there just makes me peevish. (Don’t I sound like a fun hiking date?)

Fortunately, this time, since our goal was speed, and the ascent was so stinkin’ vertical, I kind of got the best of both worlds. I was always looking up for the next rock, which helped me take in my surroundings, and I was always pushing myself to get to each one a little bit faster.

At the end of the hike, there was a section where you basically picked your way up the side of a vast boulder, in some cases using chains anchored to the rocks to haul yourself up when the footholds weren’t sufficient.

And then…we were there!

And the payoff was pretty spectacular. 360 degree views of God’s stunning creation. As soon as we reached the tippy-top, we flopped down on the warm rock, sipped water, and shaded our eyes from the dazzle of the sun off of the water.

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It was a lovely reward for all of the gasping and sweating and burning muscles.

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{Heeeellooooo, Squamish! Anybody else picturing that scene with Tom Hanks and his “aunt” and his “brother” from You’ve Got Mail?)

It’s a little hard to tell from the panoramic shot from above, but we were up high. I don’t honestly know if the next pic is going to give you any better of an idea, but…

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…we were on top of that giant boulder.

Of course, the wildest part is that we spotted at least one group of crazies folks rappelling off of the sheer face of the boulder. Shudder.

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{I promise we didn’t coordinate our climbing outfits}

Half an hour later, we started the descent.

And, y’all, it felt like we went so fast. Again, on the way down, we passed up multiple people taking it slow, but I was concentrating too hard on landing on the next boulder down to notice much other than the constant: “Don’t fall” chant in my brain.

Ultimately, it took us approximately 46 minutes to climb it and 40ish minutes to get down (I was pretty slow on the first section of the descent where you had to hold onto the chains, since I was more interested in not dying than speed at that point).

Still, we were pretty happy with our 2 hour round trip (including the rest at the top), and–I’m not gonna lie–I felt considerably less like a slug after 2 days of eating with no exercising.

That night, we crowned our culinary “achievements” with a trip to a place with Brooklyn style thin crust pizza, and I couldn’t help but notice a couple at the table across from us who were engaged (I presume; she had a solitaire, but he had no ring) but rarely spoke to each other. I honestly felt a little sorry for her, since she seemed inclined to talk, but he spent most of the time staring at his phone. (Apparently, I’m a nosey Parker; probably, there was someone observing me, wondering what I was doing staring at another couple instead of talking to my husband. Ha!)

I only say this because–weirdness of all weirdness–the exact same couple were on my plane home, on the same aisle as I was. (And they STILL didn’t talk!)

I mean, Vancouver is a city of over 600,000 people, and the odds of my sitting beside a couple I’d happened to notice especially at one of literally thousands of restaurants the night before are pretty darn slim.

Cue: It’s a Small World. (Sorry).

So…there you have it, friends: what we did, what we ate, what we saw.

I know I say this every year when we manage to get away, but I fully expect each trip to be our last. But our gracious parents (this time: his) are always so stinkin’ nice to keep our kids for several days, and–not gonna lie–as long as they keep saying yes, I’m going to keep tagging along on work trips!

The longer I’m married to my husband, the more I’m struck by how much I like him. Like just genuinely enjoy being in his presence–the way he makes me laugh, the way he can always, always make a crummy day better. I’ve always felt this way, but I don’t know that I expected my appreciation for him to keep increasing. It has/does each year, though, and I’m so grateful for a good God who saw fit to give me such a good husband and bless our marriage so richly with these opportunities to get away and just be us.

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Vancouver Do-over (Part I)

I mentioned last week that Shaun and I took a quick 11th anniversary trip to Vancouver over the weekend (Thursday through very-early Sunday, to be exact). I don’t trust myself to be completely accurate, but I think it’s the 5th-ish time that we’ve managed to tack a getaway onto one of his work trips, and, while I’m not a fan of the fact that he had to stay behind and work, I loved our time together.

Vancouver–as I was “warned” multiple times–is a beautiful city. Tons to see. Tons to do. Tons to eat (as always, we were especially keen on that last part).

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{Random pretty building, but I was really impressed with the attention to detail throughout the city–especially all of the hanging flower pots}

We started out the trip pretty sleep-deprived. One of Shaun’s client’s QuickBooks program crashed the day before we left (naturally), and Shaun literally worked all day and all night (minus 1 1/2 hours when he slept fitfully) to fix it in time for us to catch our flight. I got something like 4 hours of (equally fitful) sleep, so by the time we got up at 4 AM and spent the next 7 hours traveling, we showed up in Vancouver pretty zonked out and ready to sleep for 3 days straight.

Of course, you would have thought something more than lack of sleep was affecting me on the way to the parking garage when I fell off of my 4″ wedge and, overbalanced by the bags I was carrying, came crashing down on my right hand/knee. (Why do I have a feeling there’s a video of this on the internet somewhere?). We were actually being directed by some sort of City Guide to the parking garage at the time, and she came running back offering to call 911. I’d like to say that was an overreaction (it was), but maybe it was just a dramatic fall.

We got situated in our Airbnb rental, where I nursed my “wounds, and we opted for a 90 minute nap…which morphed into 3 hours when one of us (we still don’t remember who; see: zonked) didn’t set the alarm correctly.

We knew we didn’t want to do anything complicated our first night there, and we love to eat good food, so we spent a while scoping out a great restaurant on Yelp. We landed on Le Crocodile because of its fantastic rating + interesting menu, got all fancied up (it was our actual anniversary, so we made a bit of an effort), and set out on foot, since it was only 10 minutes away.

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{I love that I still have “nap face” here a full 2 hours later}

After the episode with the wedge heel, Shaun was giving my 5″ dressy wedges some serious side-eye, but this time, I managed to stay upright and only ended up with 6 small bleeding blisters to match my mottled, purple right knee. Oy. The things we [I?] do for fashion.

The entire experience at the restaurant was one of the best we’ve ever had. The decor was tasteful and elegant (but not stuffy) and reminded us of our favorite restaurant we found in France two years ago. And our waiter, who was actually French and named Pierre, was thee best waiter we’ve ever had. Absolument (yup, I had to Google that).

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{Pierre even snapped our pic! Woohoo! We’re terrible about taking pictures together on our trips}

If you’ve ever been to a place where they drone through the specials of the night, and you find yourself taking a quick open-eyed nap, then I wish you could have seen Pierre do his specials spiel. He enunciated every word, varying his facial expressions and punctuating the important parts with little hand flourishes.

We were kind of mesmerized. By his accent. And by all the choices. Okay, but mostly by his accent.

The food was…incredible.

Everything was flaky or buttery or savory or crisp, depending on what it should be.

The only miss was Shaun’s Chilean Sea Bass, but the second Shaun mentioned that it wasn’t his favorite, Pierre whisked it away and asked what he’d like instead.

Now, that’s how it’s done.

Also, because apparently your 11th anniversary is the one where you attempt to gain 5 pounds in one sitting, we said yes to dessert. Thing is, we couldn’t decide. So we asked for Pierre’s opinion, and…after listening to the ones we couldn’t decide between, he winked at us and told us he’d bring us a surprise.

Moments later, he came back with a pear sorbet “palate cleanser” that, had it been our actual dessert, would have gotten no complaints from us. It was divine.

But then, he showed up with profiteroles (because “they are actu-ah-lly French”) and proceeded to smother them with rich, warm chocolate from a gleaming silver carafe.

So, so, so good.

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{Any place that finishes off the meal with little dark/milk chocolate crocodile molds is a win in my book}

And, yes, I know I’ve just written way too many words about that meal, but it really was epic, and I can’t recommend Le Croc (as Shaun insisted on calling it) enough.

The next morning, we continued our gluttony with a feast at PureBread…

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then moseyed on down to the seawall.

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{Pardon our giant, fuzzy heads blocking out the view, but the morning mist hadn’t burned off yet, so there really wasn’t much to see}

We’d heard so many good things about Granville Island that we knew we wanted to visit, so we ambled back to the parking garage where…we discovered that our rental car had been broken into!

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{Couple things: a) that gold door is so stinkin’ rad and b) I love the shirt I’m wearing in this pic, but I didn’t pay attention to wash instructions when I got home and unpacked, so…Della has a new shirt now. :/}

Thankfully, they didn’t even take the only thing we’d left in there (a package of Ritz crackers…apparently, these weren’t peckish thieves….although Shaun’s suggestion that they’d probably licked them all made the cracker I’d just put in my mouth taste a little funny).

We called the rental agency, and they told us we’d need to bring the car back at some point to exchange it and fill out an incident report, but we decided to keep it for the rest of the day (a decision that came back to bite us) since it was an hour round-trip to switch it out.

We spent the afternoon at Granville Island, meandering through the shops, buying 2 lb. bags of Rainier cherries (that I proceeded to eat pretty much single-handedly…over the course of 2 days), and fighting off the cheeky seagulls who attempted to snatch food directly from your hand the second your head was turned.

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{So much window shopping cuteness!}

An IG friend had suggested a trip to The Cross Design and Decor, so we popped in for a quick look-see on the way back to our apartment.

And let me just say that if you’re in the market for overpriced gorgeousness, this is the place for you. Every new corner was filled with yet another impeccable display of stylish knick knacks, and–much in the same vein as Anthropologie–the sum of the whole made the individual pieces all that much more desirable. Every vignette was just so perfectly curated and arranged that I found myself thinking, “Oh! Yes. I need chairs like these,” until I actually lifted the tag and gulped so hard I almost swallowed my own tongue. $800 for one little rickety wooden chair?

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Nooooo thanks.

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{Gray walls have never been my favorite, but, even though this pic doesn’t do it justice, this slate gray on this wall was such a sophisticated backdrop for all of the white frames that I found myself scheming walls in the new house that could use a coat of gray paint}

But it was still so fun to look–and to guess prices (we basically made up our own ritzy version of The Price is Right and took turns guessing, with the person who didn’t go over “winning”…nothing much).

Dinner was simple–a quick stop at a Fresh Bowl (kind of like an Asian Chipotle–yummy and, yes, fresh), and then we walked down to Bella’s Gelateria, which is this much-lauded little spot that’s won oodles of awards.

We waited in line for a good half hour (and, apparently, this was a slow night), but it was such a beautiful night that we didn’t mind a bit. Really, the weather could hardly have been more perfect if we ordered it up especially.

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And the gelato was pretty delicious to boot.

We took another stroll along the seawall as we slurped our sweets (my only complaint is that mine melted lickety split, and I’d forgotten to grab napkins, so I ended up looking like a toddler who got into the chocolate sauce).

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{It always fascinates me how the sun seems to take its time getting to the horizon, and then, suddenly !!!, it’s gone. There were literally 5 seconds between when I decided to snap a pic of the sun setting at the edge of the trees and when I actually got the shot, and I still almost completely missed it}

Once we (I) were clean, we decided we were still awake enough to watch a movie (we’d been drooping in our noodle bowls around 8:00 but got a second wind once we’d  blown right past our CST bedtime).

So, we headed over to the Odeon to watch Love and Friendship (a take on Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan–it was entertaining and very clean!) and were, by a good 15 years, the youngest people (of about 20) in the audience. At one point in the movie, Shaun got a call, but the number just said, “Unlisted,” so he ignored it.

Turns out, that was a bad idea.

But you’ll have to wait until Part II to find out why.

Muahahaha.

Until next time!

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A Winner + Some advice from you (pretty please?)

First up, wow! You guys were super-excited about having pretty, non-bleeding lips. So, let’s get right to the winner of last weekend’s giveaway, shall we?

And that would be:

elise

…who said:

I just had my seventh babe and have had a horrible-so-embarrassing-why-won’t any-stinkin’-lip-product-work dry lip problem since I got pregnant with my son 10 years ago. I think it is because I have had six girls in a row. Apparently, girls make your lips plump up because of hormones??? Who would have thought? Anyway, I am ready to be amazed! My choice is D. ;)

Well, yeehaw, girl! I’m excited for you. I hope this is your cure, for sure!

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

And now, onto my plea for advice.

Thursday is Shaun’s and my 11th wedding anniversary (which is so weird because I feel like I just wrote a post about our 10th), and, as much as I don’t just love it to death when my husband travels, I’m always grateful when we we can manage to coordinate a work trip so that I can tag along.

We did it last year for our 10th anniversary trip to California, and this year, we managed to coordinate a work trip to Vancouver BC, Canada so that I could come to.

I’ve heard so many good things about how pretty it is and how much there is to do, but we’ll only be there for 3 full days, so we’re trying to prioritize our top picks.

Any native Vancouverites (Vancouverans? Van…what DO you call yourselves) out there? Or maybe you’ve visited and have some killer restaurant recs or activities from your trip? I’m all ears.

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This is what I’ve got so far for packing (I need to get on the stick seeing as how I also need to pack for 6 kids!!), but I’m thinking I may need a heavier layer for the evenings. And I doubt I’ll be using either of those swimsuits. In fact, I kind of despise swimsuits, which is weird because I grew up swimming competitively. But these days, I’d rather do just about anything than put on the equivalent of spandex underwear and then go out in public. I was pretty pleased to disover a tankini + a one piece option–both brand new–on thredUP for next to nothing.

And, nope, this is not a sponsored post. I just continue to enjoy getting polka dot boxes on my doorstep occasionally, In fact, I scored the black/red/green floral Anthro top (right) + the cream eyelet blouse (middle/top), and the black + white embroidered tunic (left) recently. (So…maybe thredUP should be sponsoring this trip to Vancouver, since 2/3 of the clothes I’m taking are from there?) You can grab this code to get $10 off your first order ($10 for me too), but no pressure!

ANYhoo, enough about what I’ll be wearing. What we should do/eat/see?

Not gonna lie. A nap might be high on the agenda.

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My Best Tips for Traveling With Kids

When we were planning our trip to Colorado, I probably should have been more nervous about hauling 6 children 9 and under 15 hours away from home for two weeks, but I really wasn’t. We had a game plan, and, as evidenced from this post, I’m used to carting my children with me every-stinkin’-where I go, so I was pretty confident that we’d at the very least survive.

I realize this is supposed to be the part where I laugh at my own naivete, but honestly? The trip went off without a hitch. We didn’t have car trouble. No one got (seriously) sick. No epic traffic jams. Nothing.

And we had so. much. fun. I’m already pining for next year. Because–yes–we’ve vowed to do everything in our power to make it back to Colorado every summer from here to eternity.

So! Even though I can only credit God’s amazing kindness with a great deal of our trip’s success (because, let’s face it: stomach bugs aren’t exactly something you can control, and they can bring the fun to a screeching halt in a hot upchucking second), there were some things that worked really great for us, so I thought I’d pass them along on the off-chance that they help someone else.

1. Just say no to over-packing.

I’ve been known to pull the, “I can’t decide which necklace I want to wear. I’ll just bring all of them,” move before. Which is all well and good doable when you’re single.

But that kind of mindset just doesn’t fly when you’ve got 6 (or even a lot fewer) little humans and their junk to think about.

Which is why I’ve become increasingly sparse in my packing methods. So much so that I brought ZERO necklaces with me on that trip…and ended up regretting it. (Good thing I found two squirreled away in the pocket of my makeup bag, eh?)

ANYhoo, I used the same spartan approach when packing my kids’ clothes and managed–somehow–to get ALL 6 KIDS’ stuff in one large suitcase. I brought plenty of socks and undies but limited each kid to 5 or so outfits that could easily be mixed and matched (except Theo, who is kind of the king of blowouts and needed lots of extra onesies). Of course, it helped that we were going to a place with a washer/dryer.

Which brings me to…

2. Just say yes to vacation rentals

I’ve already sung the praises of VRBO and Airbnb several times before on the blog, but this is the part where I tell you that I will never again stay in another hotel for longer than two nights if I have anything to say about it.

We found our adorable vacation rental on Airbnb (which is where we also found all of our rentals for our European anniversary adventure last year and 2 out of 3 of the places we stayed in Cali for our 10th anniversary).

Not only was it super affordable and a pleasant place to stay in a great neighborhood close to all kinds of restaurants and shopping and parks and, and, and…

But it had everything you could possibly want to make an extended stay possible–fully stocked kitchen, washer and dryer, extra towels, toys, etc.

Because that’s the beauty of renting a real house from a real person. You get access to all of their real life stuff (like a double oven and muffin tins) and you get some of the perks (like shampoo/toothpaste/lots of extra linens) of a hotel, since most owners have planned ahead to make their guests’ stays the best possible.

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{There’s a strange man in my bed! Oh well, at least my pillow cases are cute}

I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve stayed in vacation rental houses or apartments at this point, but we’ve never had a bad experience. If you do your research and communicate well with the owner, you can be sure you’re choosing a reputable rental, and most of the time, the owners will go out of their way to accommodate your needs.

If you want to try Airbnb, you can use this link for a $25 credit towards your first rental (I get a $25 credit too, so we both win!).

3. Plastic snack baggies are the bomb!

I’m aware that nobody uses the phrase “the bomb” anymore, but I just don’t have it in me to say, “on fleek,” so now that we’ve got that sorted, let me tell you about the snacking system that–while not eco-friendly–definitely made life easier on our long drive.

In case you hadn’t noticed, pre-bagged snacks are…expensive. So, I brought along a big box of sandwich baggies + a club-sized box of a certain brand of fish-shaped orange crackers universally loved by children, raisins, pre-washed grapes, pretzels, etc.

And every time (pretty sure it was once a minute for the first two hours of our drive) that one of my offspring (and then, of course, all of them) said, “I’m huuuuungry,” I simply dumped a little bit ‘o something in a baggie and handed it back. The older kids were able to keep up with their bags for a couple of uses, but the twins usually “misplaced” theirs as soon as they were done with their snack. Which was okay (though not my favorite) because a) I brought a LOT of baggies and b) the kids have to clean out the back of the van, so they were the ones cleaning up all of the dropped bags.

4. Drive all night long (all niiight)

I was extolling the virtues of night driving to a friend of mine at church the other day, and she told me they’d tried it, and it was disastrous. So, I guess I’d include the disclaimer that I highly recommend driving at night IF you’ve got good car-sleepers. All of mine are, which resulted in a much more peaceful and speedy (fewer stops for food/potty) trip for us.

I also highly recommend audiobooks + earbuds for distraction on those 6-hour stretches through flat, featureless, sleep-inducing West Texas. (Which is pretty much the opposite of hilly, green, tree-filled East Texas, where I live).

5. Coolers are the coolest

I can’t actually tell you exactly how we ended up with 8 people’s stuff + 8 bottoms in 8 available seats and didn’t feel crazy cramped (because we didn’t), but I tell you this: our cooler would have been worth every last square inch of space that it took up, even with a tighter fit.

We brought raw milk + farm eggs + a few other thing that we didn’t want going bad with us on the way up, and it was really nice not to have to immediately head to the grocery store for supplies. And then, on the way back, we were able to bring all of the perishables that we hadn’t polished off during our trip. Which I loved because I’m not a fan of wasted food (but then, who is?).

Plus, it’s pretty sweet to have chilled water bottles with you on a long trip.

6. Keep the toys simple

I know it’s tempting to bring every gadget and doojabber (this, along with my “the bomb” reference, just cemented my status as an old lady) that might possibly capture your children’s attention and keep them from spending the entire vacation hanging onto your shoulders and saying, “Mooooommmmm, I’m booooooored”…

But honestly?

Our best toy purchase of the entire trip was a giant pad of drawing paper and a new set of washable markers in bright colors. We bought them to make Father’s Day cards for Shaun, but we used them almost every single day, and all 5 of my drawing-capable children spent hours (spread out) doodling and scribbling.

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Other than drawing, we spent most of our time at home hula-hooping or kicking the soccer ball in the backyard. Although, the little girls did log some hardcore time accessorizing the Barbies that the girl of the house had left for us to play with, and the boys + Della got some serious Minecraft time with Shaun (usually, they only get 30 minutes of game time/week).

7. Scope out the kids’ eat free nights

If you’re traveling to a well-populated area, chances are, you have several kid-friendly chains near you, some of which have a kids-eat-free day/night (with the purchase of an adult meal)…which can translate into big-time savings in the eating out department. A couple that pop to mind are Chick-fil-a (kids eat free night varies) and Jersey Mike’s (all day Sunday).

Oh! And PSA: Today is the day of all days to make a total doofus of yourself and dress everybody in your family like a COW. Because if you do, and you have a Chick-fil-a near you, everybody in cow-gear gets free food! If you do and don’thave a Chick-fil-a near you…well, your neighbors will still get a kick out it.

8. Bring the stroller. Leave the pack n’ play

We used our stroller constantly–while hiking, while shopping, while trolling the local farmer’s market, while sampling food at the street fair, while jogging around the neighborhood. Pretty much everywhere.

And we contemplated bringing a pack n’ play for Theo to sleep in. But it was going to take up a lot of space, so we opted for making him a pallet in the closet (what we’d done on our anniversary trip as well). It sounds a bit ghetto, I realize, and might not work if you have an older baby. But it worked great for Theo (6 months). Just make sure there’s nothing on the floor or within reach for them to fiddle with and turn into a potential choking/strangling hazard.

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{I should have said, bring the stroller AND the baby carrier…and then let your husband do all the wearing}

9. Picnic every chance you get

We ate most of our evenings meals out or had them delivered because this mama–who cooks dinner almost every night of the week–was on vacation, if you know what I mean. But other than dinners out, we ate a lot of cereal and eggs and sandwiches at home. Any time we could, though, we packed up a picnic or took our food outside in the backyard, which made turkey and PBJ sandwiches (again) seem festive and cut down on clean up inside. More fun and less cleaning? Count me in!

10. Do a little research

With just a few clicks of a keyboard, we found more activities–VBS! Free movies! Street fairs! Craft mornings! Music festivals!–than we had time or interest to go to. Summertime, especially, is ripe with opportunities to get outside and do something fun, so be sure to check out the local offerings for kid-friendly activities because they’re sure to abound.

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{My kids loved tickling the ivories on one of Fort Collins’ “pianos about town”}

What are YOUR best tips for traveling with kids? I loved all of your ideas of doing errands with kids and picked up some new tricks for our outings, so I can’t wait to hear your travel wisdom too!

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Rocky Mountain Getaway {Part 2}

So, I think when we left off on the oh-so-scintillating recap of our Colorado trip it was with a pic of my chowing down on pizza, yes?

Well, the good eats just kept coming (I’m not planning a dedicated food post, but there was a lot to like about the food options in the area), and so did the fun activities.

Simon, who loves the outdoors like a mama loves naptime, had been begging to go hiking in Colorado, pretty much since he discovered that the concept existed.

So, hiking we went. With 6 kids. And a non-sport stroller. On a gravelly path. AKA: death to your calf muscles.

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At least 10 people coming down the mountain when we were on our way up looked like they wanted to either laugh or cry for me as I puffed my way along wearing Theo in a carrier and pushing Della and Nola in the stroller. But, as ridiculous as I knew I looked, I also knew that I was getting a stellar workout (that pizza I was holding in the last post was more of a theme than a cameo), so I turned down all of Shaun’s offers of: “Are you SURE you don’t want me to take a turn now?” and tried not the pass out in the whoa-this-is-much-higher-than-I’m-used-to elevation.

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At least there were giant his/her dandelions waiting for us at the “top” (code for: as high as we got before the kids started melting down). (Not that either one of us had enough breath left to actually blow all those little fuzzies off to make a wish).

Simon, for his part, discovered that he doesn’t like hiking. He likes walking on flat paths through nature, while taking long breaks to catch lizards. Why hike when you can flit?

Putt putt golf, though? That was an entertainment medium that all my kids could get behind.

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And by “get behind,” I really mean that they were all very, very capable of losing their mini golf balls (sometimes intentionally…ahem, Nola) and then fishing them out of the water features.

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Oh, and NO ONE has ever been prouder to hit the 500 ticket arcade jackpot than Della was.

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ESPECIALLY once she realized that said jackpot was just enough to buy her the world’s biggest, ugliest, gaudiest plastic “diamond” ring eh-vah. #goals

Her expression was slightly less ecstatic when she had to wait one whole turn to ride the go-karts.

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This picture makes me laugh every time I look at it. Oh, the agony of having to wait five minutes for your turn when you were expecting immediate gratification.

Of course, all of that arcading and putt-putting and go-kart riding took its toll on certain members of our family.

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That would be Nola passed out cold on the lovely teal couch in an attitude of complete and total abandonment to sleep. Which is something she never, ever, ever does at home.

Meanwhile, her brothers and I were busy whipping up a little deliciousness in the kitchen.

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Note to self anyone who cares to listen, remember to adjust temps/times for altitude differences while baking, or else your banana muffins will taste great but look like squashed piles of mush. #askmehowIknow

Our final night was spent with some family that lives near Denver, and not only did my kids love getting to choose the toppings for their pizza and help pile them on, but they just about had apoplectic fits of excitement when they discovered my cousin’s army gear in her closet and were allowed to put it on.

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Don’t worry. They’re going to kill them with cuteness.

Honestly, I had worried that almost two full weeks of vacation with 6 little kids was going to be too much. That we would get bored. Or homesick. Or stir-crazy.

But none of that happened. All of our (verbal) kids declared their love for our little rental and the trip as a whole. And I think we were all at least a little sad to sardine ourselves into the van and head back to real life.

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Not that we look it in this pic.

So! There you have it. A pretty ridiculously amazing family vacation in to two parts.

I’ve gotten several questions about vacation rentals and traveling with kids, etc. so I’m putting together a post on what did/didn’t work for us.

Just a little something to keep you going to the end of the week, eh?

Happy Thursday, folks!

 

 

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A Rocky Mountain Getaway {Part 1}

I know I’ve mentioned that Shaun has traveled a lot recently. But the truth is that I’ve pretty much lost count of all the trips he’s taken this past spring/early summer, and there are more to come.

Yipp-to-the-ee.

So, even though the kids and I have our solo (can you really call it “solo” when there are 7 of you??) routine down pretty pat by now, you better believe whenever there’s even a chance that we’ll get to tag along, we jump at it.

So, several months ago, when Shaun mentioned the possibility of a trip to Boulder during the summer, he barely got the words out before I said (shrieked?), “WE’RE COMING TOO!”

Fortunately (for his well-being and my sanity), he thought it was a great idea, so I started combing Airbnb (if you’ve never tried it, you totally should!) for a rental until I stumbled upon this lovely little home in Louisville (about 15 minutes from Boulder).

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I mean. Turquoise painted brick? Now that’s my kind of rental!

Because it wasn’t in the heart of it all (not that we cared) and because it was the owner’s first time to rent her house out and because she didn’t charge some of the more ridiculous fees that some rentals do (like an extra $25 per night for each person after 2), we got an amazing deal on a super-cute house with a killer backyard and patio and easy access to tons of great restaurants and parks and shopping (heck, I went to Anthropologie twice…not that I actually bought anything).

Plus, it served as a great home base for all of our adventures…of which there were plenty.

In fact, the very first thing that we did after driving all. night. long (on the way there, Shaun did every bit of the 13 1/2 hours of driving, so I can’t really complain a bit) was to hightail it over to the Louisville Farmer’s Market, since we arrived on a Saturday around noon, and the market was over by 1.

And the second thing we did?

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NAP.

I am not exaggerating a bit when I say that this is, by far, the best vacation we’ve had together as a family, and it ranks up there with several that we’ve enjoyed with just the two of us.

Somehow, we managed to strike pretty much the perfect balance of play and rest…of doing nothing and lots of things.

There were plenty of days that we stayed home all day, drawing and playing with the toys the owner’s kids left specifically for anyone who might have kids, watching Netflix (which we don’t have, so it was a huge treat), hula-hooping in the back yard, and ordering Thai food for dinner.

But then, there were the days we left the house early in the morning and didn’t get back until late in the evening. Like that time we hit up Estes Park and Fort Collins. In one day. 12 hours away from the house with 6 kids, including two toddlers and 6-month-old.

And you know what? It was a blast!

In Estes Park, we checked out a Scandinavian Street Fair and ate a picnic by Grand Lake.

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{Yeah, I wasn’t too mad about life at this point}

In Fort Collins, we hit up a park/animal farm right in the middle of the city, then meandered down Main Street, checking out the cutest little toy store you ever did see, eating pizza, with ice cream for dessert, and finishing it all off with a splash in the Old Town fountains.

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{We got to the animal farm right after they stopped doing the pony rides, but pretty much all of that disappointment got erased when they brought them all out for us to pet}

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{You better believe I was wracking my brain for ways to take this gorgeous peachy piano home with us from a toy store that my children happily played in for almost an hour}

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{Clearly, Nola was pretty upset about the opportunity to get soaked while wearing regular clothes}

Louisville has a fairly modest population of just under 20,000, but there are so many towns close by that their weekly summer street festival is absolutely PACKED and includes all kinds of miserable pursuits such as face painting…

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and bungee jumping…

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and FOOD…

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{Anybody else thinking I’m storing most of that pizza in my cheeks? #chipmunkface}

Yup. We were seriously depressed after that night.  (Depressed that it didn’t last longer).

And wouldn’t you believe it? This was just the first half of our trip.

That’s right. I’ll be back with even more pics of my offspring + obnoxiously beautiful backdrops very soon.

I know, I know. Your week has been made. Until then, try not to sweat too much at the community pool, okay?

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When we travel, we do NOT eat clean (but we do eat delicious)

In case you’re wondering, I have, in general, been sticking with the clean eating regimen that I established back when I did my 10 day cleanse.

Yes, I indulge in the occasional treat. I have had an Icee…or three (not at once, of course). I have added some dairy back into my diet (I had Greek yogurt this morning for breakfast…for the first time in for-evah), and I do eat bread eeeeeevery now and then.

Still. In general, I’m sticking with proteins and veggies and fruits.

EXCEPT.

When I’m on vacation.

Suffice it to say that, on our recent anniversary trip to California, we did not eat clean. We sure did eat gooooood, though.

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I wouldn’t necessarily say that we’re super-adventurous sorts when it comes to food. We don’t go in for the squid or the fried alligator. But we still like a fair bit of variety, and we do a collective happy dance (choreographed, of course; I’ll have to video it for you sometime) when we find a unique, well-rated, delicious little place that serves not-completely-conventional food.

When I posted about some of our food adventures on Instagram, I immediately got asked the same question multiple times: “How do you find these places?”

And the answer is easy: Yelp.

That’s right, you just cup your hands around your mouth and emit a high-pitched noise, and the restaurants, they just appear. food5

No, but seriously, if you’re into really good food while you travel (or even if you just want to find the best places in your hometown), download the Yelp app and get to browsing. You can narrow your search by all kinds of factors including price, whether the restaurant’s open during your search time (good for those times when you pull into town at 10 PM, and everything looks dead), and food genre.

TripAdvisor is great too, but Yelp is just really nice for an uncluttered, streamlined restaurant rec app. Plus, I find the reviews to be more accurate and consistent than those on UrbanSpoon or Google. (Where it’s not uncommon to encounter: “BEST. FOOD. EVAH.” right on the tails of: “Total dump. Never go here. I think I’ll bomb this place.”)

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{That ho-cho tasted as good as it looked. Mmmmm}

ANYhoo, we ate like kings, beginning with a dang good falafel. Our trip basically started with our muscling our way through San Fran traffic on a Friday afternoon (I highly recommend it…if you want to be late to wherever you’re going…and then to whatever you might have planned after that too).

As we crawled (inched?) along, we both noticed an Olive Garden on our left, and (discovered later that) we both thought, “Ooooooh. Salad and breadsticks. I could really go for that right now.” But we were both too embarrassed to admit that we wanted to start out our 10 year anniversary trip at a chain restaurant just because we were too hungry to wait for the good stuff. By the time we figured out our mutual bourgeois-ness, it was too late. Because while parking spots are about as common tripled-winged unicorns, NO U TURN + NO LEFT TURN signs abound. And making 14 right turns (don’t even do that math) to fight our way back for lukewarm bread + soggy salad (see how our perspectives changed the millisecond we passed it?) just didn’t seem worth it.

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So, I hopped on Yelp, and we found a falafel shop with rave!! reviews that was only 1.3 miles away…and then proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes getting there. Turns out, our location wasn’t accurate when it gave us our initial arrival estimation. So, friendly note there. Make sure your actual location is entered before you attempt to hit up that 5 star gourmet burger joint “just around the corner.”

Anyhoo, by the time we found ourselves on Market street in downtown San Francisco and realized that parking was nonexistent, we were too hungry and too determined to get us some falafel to care. Shaun dropped me off and circled the block until he found a temporary spot to squat (before being shooed off by a police car) and then circled some more while I waited in line for 5 minutes and then another 15ish for our food.

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At one point, a lady stomped up to enter the door right next to the falafel stand (the Flying Falafel, in case you’re wondering), and, fixing all of us with a glare, spat: “I don’t know if you know this or not, but this door is not associated with the falafel shop. Which means that you all are loitering outside a private door. And you need to move…over THERE.” Flaps hands dramatically.

Me and my small-town Texas self uneasily inched away from the door, even though I was standing the farthest away from it and in no way blocking it.

Everybody else?

Just glanced at her and then resumed their conversations.

So, Miss Indignant made a big show of shouldering her way through the “crowd” (it really wasn’t that bad, and no one was truly in her way) and huffed into her building. And then turned around to face us and hollered, “I’m talking to YOU PEOPLE,” through the glass door, while making all-encompassing circles with her arms.

I was still trying to appease her by taking a few more steps back (any farther, and I’d have been in the street). But this time, no one else even looked up.

And that, my friends, is how you spot a native San Franciscan. They eat their falafels with a side of crazy and don’t even blink.

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Speaking of the falafels, they were worth every last stomach growl and moment of Southern girl people-pleasing discomfort.

Seriously, yo. As hungry and tired and annoyed at traffic as we were, Shaun got halfway through his, and was like, “I am so glad we didn’t stop at Olive Garden. This is amazing,” and I was all: “Um hum, mmm hum, ggmmmmm.” Which is me agreeing with a really full mouth.

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Just as satisfying was the Thai food that we ate and the farm-to-table brunch with the to-die-for Eggs Benedict and $4.50 drop biscuits (yes, EACH) and the gourmet pizza joint with the crazy-nice owner who made us a delicious pie at 10 PM. Oh, and we can’t forget the yummy Greek food, and the mouth-watering almond croissants, and the prettiest hot chocolate you ever did see… and.. and… and

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{This cute little place in Santa Rosa was fantastic. My bangs in this picture? Not so much}

Oh man, my stomach is rumbling just thinking about all of the goodness we consumed.

But maybe our favorite place on the entire trip–both for the food and the experience–was Crepes of Brittany on the Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.

It’s a good thing that place is nowhere near my house because I might be leave my husband and children to set up camp outside its door. If you read my European food recap from last year’s trip, then you know how deeply Shaun and I fell in love with both the crepes (sweet) and the galettes (savory) that we ate in Paris, but I kid you not when I say that these were at least as good. Maybe better.

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{A buckwheat galette with tomatoes, egg, and cheese = heaven}

Mostly because the guy who runs it–a stocky, middle-aged dude with tattoos all up his arms, closed-buzzed hair, and twinkly blue eyes–was born in France and still uses his mother’s crepe recipe, even though he hasn’t actually been back in 35 years.

The coolest thing, though, wasn’t the crepes, even as amazing as they were. It was his story. From the moment we walked in, there was just something about him–the way he met your eye, the way he expressed himself–that just shone, and it totally belied his tough guy look.

And then, while we were eating, I noticed that Christian worship music was playing in the background, and I was really surprised. In East Texas, I wouldn’t blink an eye. Probably 1/3 of the stores I shop in play Christian music. But in California? It definitely jumped out at me because it was so unexpected.

He came to our table to ask us how we liked our food (we gushed, of course), and I told him, “Oh, by the way. We love your music.” And he just fixed those bright blue eyes on me, smiled gently and said, “Thank you.”

When we got our dessert crepes, he brought us out a complimentary one (both were–oh man–soooooo good), and then he stayed a bit to tell us how he had been a contractor for 25 years, never known his dad, grown up rough and tumble and uneducated. He only made it through 8th grade, and reading gave him so much anxiety that he would pass his contracting company bills straight to his accountant, so he wouldn’t have to decipher them. (I would neverhave guessed this, considering how well he expressed himself).

But then, through a series of totally unsought after events, he ended up with this little crepe shop, and then one day, he came in contact with a Christian guy who gave him a Bible verse to read. So, he took it home and painfully worked it out. Then, the guy gave him another one. And another. And Terry (the crepe shop owner) said that by the third one, he had such a hunger to know more that he couldn’t wait for the guy to give him the fourth. He attended a Bible study with the man, and the Lord just ignited a ravenous need to know more of his Word and his ways in the pit of Terry’s soul, and he’s never looked back.

Y’all.

I know this post is supposed to be about food. But that moment honestly made the trip for both of us, I think.

To see the pure gratitude and joy that shone from this man’s eyes as he talked about how his growing relationship with the Lord has given him a completely different life–how he has learned to love his wife (because he never had a model of marriage to follow before) and his kids, how his life now has purpose and how he is able to see the way that God pursued him, even in the midst of his sin and self-seeking lifestyle (his description). How he’s going to take his entire family to meet his father for the first time in France this summer…

It was just awesome, and it did the heart of this girl who has known Jesus for over a quarter century and can get complacent all-too-easily some serious good.

I can’t express clearly enough how visibly the light of Jesus shone out of this man’s eyes, but it did. He wasn’t wild or ranting or jumping up and down and dancing. He was just at peace and full of joy. We told him we had noticed something different about him almost immediately, and he smiled and said, “I noticed it in y’all too. I don’t know why or how, but that’s why I came over.”

So stinkin’ cool.

Oh, and his crepes were amaze-balls. So, there’s that.

So, what about you guys? Are you fellow Yelpers? Any other recommendations for ways to find good food? We’re taking a family vacation soon, and, even though we’re mostly going to be cooking (good food loses its flavor right quick when there’s a side of screaming toddler) we’ll definitely be scoping out some of the local eats too.

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A 10th Anniversary Trip–Coastal Style

Pretty much every time we’ve gotten back from a trip in the last two years, Shaun and I have looked at each other and said, “Welp. That was fun. But it’s never happening again. At least not until we’re old, and the kids are grown. I mean. How could it? We have ___________ of the little critters, for crying out loud.” (Funny how that number’s not getting any smaller).

And then, a year or so goes by, and we get the itch to get a few days to ourselves, and we start thinking, maaaaayyybe we can talk those nice parents of ours into keeping our kids yet again.

Oh-so-graciously, we both have super-obliging parents who not only love their grandchildren but are sweet enough to watch them for days at a time so we can get away. (I suppose it doesn’t hurt that both sets live 30 minutes to an hour-ish away).

We usually do a split deal, since the twins–at not-quite-3–are what might be generously termed a “handful” (assuming you have God-sized hands) on their own.

So, with the older 3 off at my mom’s house, and the twins at his, we winged our way to California for a 5-day road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway.

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Here is #Theodorbs himself, ready to charm an entire airplane. But for reals. He did great and spent pretty much the entire flight climbing between Shaun’s and my laps, alternating between nursing, napping, and grinning his sweet-cheeked little face off.

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{Dude in the background clearly had no clue how lucky he was to have a crinkly-eyed, smiley baby next to him, and his wife–AKA, the black lump you see behind Theo’s head, slumped forward with her face resting on the tray table–slept through every effort at cuteness that he attempted. And that was just fine by me}

We began our journey here:

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Foggy bridges are cool. Foggy bridge traffic? Not so much.

From San Francisco, we made our way down the 1 to Santa Rosa, where we had booked a VRBO rental room at a cute little mini-farm, complete with ducks, dogs, cats, chickens, a peacock, and a donkey.

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The weather, after weeks upon weeks of rain and mugginess in East Texas, was glorious. Crisp and cool and sunny. Neither Shaun nor I got more than an hour 1/2 of sleep the night before our flight due to various factors including the fact that our hop-over flight to Dallas got canceled (at midnight!) due to weather, and we ended up having to leave at 3:30 in the morning to make it on time for our flight. Shaun did all the driving, and I got to sleep in the car on the drive down from San Fran, so while he caught a quick Z or two in our room, I plugged my earphones in with an Audible book (The Kitchen House…it was pretty good, especially since the readers were excellent. I don’t think I would have liked it as much as a traditional read), and Theo and I roamed the farm property, checking out the critters and taking sun flare selfies.

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{I really should stop starving this child; his double-chin is clearly suffering}

After a fun (chilly) wander to the cute little downtown square that evening + a tasty dinner, we spent the next morning eating even more good food (don’t worry; I plan to torture treat you with a post all about our eats very soon) and stumbling upon a happy discovery.

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That would be the Santa Rosa Farmer’s Market. Very few things make our skirts fly up more than scoping out local vendors/shops/markets, etc. In fact, if those boysenberries (their flavor is part raspberry, part blackberry, and ALL yummy) don’t prove our willingness to buy local, then take a gander at my handmade leather sandals from Greece that I’m still wearing (and loving) a year later.

From Santa Rosa, we began our many hour meander down the coast, taking our time and catching our breath at views like this one:

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and this one:

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I know. Our lives are rough.

But before you hate us too much, I will report that Theo ended up with a (relatively mild) case of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, which meant that I ended up sleeping through a fair bit of the views after spending my nights up with him doing my level best to get him to nurse and sleep for fitful spurts at a time. Shaun was a champ, driving the entire time, even though he wasn’t exactly getting tons of sleep himself.

Happily, Theo’s worst nights happened in Santa Barbara, where we stayed at another rental (Airbnb this time), which happened to be inside a lady’s home. At first, I was stressed about bothering her with all of our late night walking sessions and fussing, but it turned out that Gayla (our host) was one of the nicest human beings I have ever met. She was completely understanding about Theo’s sad state (she was a retired nurse) and went out of her way to do anything she could to make our stay more pleasant. She was such a lively, fun personality too, that whenever we were home at the same time and she tried to sneak off so that she “wouldn’t be in our way,” we did our best to convince her to stay so we could chat.

The rest of the time, we spent at the Monterey Aquarium (which was, quite possibly, the best I’ve ever been to, and I’ve seen some of the best in the world. I’m looking at you, Sydney), doing the 17 mile drive, and hanging out in the picturesque town of Carmel-By-The-Sea, where everything (including the Shell gas station) looks like it’s straight off the pages of a storybook.

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Our last night in Santa Barbara, we snuggled up to the fire on Gayla’s gorgeous back patio and made s’mores (with fixings that she provided…seriously, she was THEE best).

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And then, just like that, it was our last day, and we found ourselves here…

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…and not even a little bit sad about it.

Really, the best word I can use to describe The Mission Inn is: Magic.

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It’s the 3rd time we’ve gotten to stay here (including our babymoon when I was pregnant with the twins and our trip at Christmastime), and I’m starting to feel like this is “our place”–the one we’ll always come back to every chance we get. I don’t ever just love it that Shaun travels, but I can’t complain too much when his work keeps bringing him back to Riverside, California. (Even if it means that he was gone 20 out of 33 days from May 5-June 6–gulp!).

We even got the room that we stayed in on our original visit–the one with the high, high ceilings and the four-poster bed.

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{Theo tried to convince me to let him sleep all sprawled out on the pristine white sheets while I took the hotel crib, but I didn’t bite}

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Speaking of bites, Theo also did his best to charm me into giving him a taste of my Casey’s Cupcakes red velvet masterpiece. (Nice try, cuteness, but your Mama’s got a hard, hard heart).

The Mission Inn is such a decadent experience already that Shaun and I couldn’t help but just laugh when they sent up a bottle of chilled sparkling wine after they found out it was our anniversary. 10anni12

Neither of us are drinkers, but we both sampled a bit of it just so it wouldn’t go to waste. I genuinely dislike pretty much all forms of alcohol that I’ve tried, but I managed to down a (tiny) glass of this one without feeling like I had just imbibed mouthwash, so I’m calling it a win.

Before I could really even wrap my brain around it, it was time for Theo and I to hop back on the plane for Texas. If you follow along on social media, you know that I asked for prayer because I was a little nervous that Theo would have a bad flight after not feeling 100% for several days. And wouldn’t you know it? The very night that y’all prayed, he finally latched voluntarily (I had been doing a combo method of, well, many different things to get him to eat…none of which were kosher on a plane) and slept so much better than he had in the last 3 nights combined. 10anni7

This DFW bathroom selfie comes to you courtesy of a very happy mama whose 5-month-old spent the entire ride back being ridiculously sweet (even if we did hang out in the bathroom/back of the plane as much as we could get away with just in case).

I was really ready to see the rest of my chitlins by the time I got home, but I was also so, so happy to have had some time away with my man (especially since I hadn’t seen him for longer than 72 hours at a time in a month).

And there you have it. More pictures and words about our anniversary trip than I’m sure you were ever hoping/thinking/expecting to receive (who are we kidding? If you’re a long-time reader, then you knew there were going to be words and pics aplenty).

But never fear! I will bombard you with yet more in the very near future.

I know. The suspense. It’s practically unbearable.

Hasta pronto, friends!

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