Category Archives: travel

The Great New Hampshire, Vermont Food Tour

The idea of eating our way across New Hampshire was all Glenn’s fault, who knows the way to The Professors heart: food. More specifically, after reading an article about the best doughnuts in every single state, he decided we needed to do our duty and find out.

You know, some people visit every state to run marathons. Apparently, doughnut tasting is more up our ally. I’ll have you know, I’m still running! In fact, doughnut-tasting family reunions is why I HAVE to run!

While Glenn, Kim, and darling children were visiting from Saudi Arabia (yes, it’s true. they really live there) we decided to make a day of it: find the best doughnuts in New Hampshire AND taste test across state lines.

Of course we didn’t hit all the hot spots, but we did taste test at EIGHT establishments. For heavens sakes, is this what your family vacations look like?

Are you ready to visit New England yet? Here goes: the great New Hampshire, Vermont Food Tour of Summer 2016. Courtesy of us. The piggies.

  1. Muriel’s Donuts in Lebanon, NH. This was the establishment that started it all. Rated as “#1 donut of New Hampshire,” the donuts were only 40 minutes up the road. Muriel is a cute, elderly woman working out of a tiny, but tidy, hovel, serving up warm, buttery, fluffy, melt-in-your mouth donuts (how the heck do you really spell “donut”?) Recommendation: Cinnamon sugar donut. Were they good? They were pretty darn good.

    o

    Before the cinnamon sugar…

2. King Arthur Flour Company. After the donuts we were ready for lunch! Oh man, for the love of all things baking – this store and cafe is a DREAM. Due to the large amount of flour I already had, I limited myself to one purchase: Amy’s Recommendation: a bag of Crystalized Ginger Bits ($15) for scones. Can’t wait!

The Professor's Lunch: Brie and Apple Sandwich on Homemade King Arthur Flour Bread for $7-8.

The Professor’s Lunch: Brie and Apple Sandwich on Homemade King Arthur Flour Bread for $7-8.

3. Ben and Jerry’s! This is a serious operation that includes a tour of the facility, complete with holstein cows in the pasture and an earth conscious message. It’s like a tiny amusement park that hosts hundreds and hundreds of people a day. This is because, well, the ice-cream is fantastic and the tour is fun! And the gift center is full of earthy tie-die hats and shirts. Amy’s Recommendation: Chocolate Therapy! ahhhhh, prepare to get wrecked.

4. Chocolate made us want more chocolate. It was off to Lake Champlain Chocolates in Waterbury, VT.  Featuring a “full selection of chocolates, a hot chocolate café, award-winning house made ice cream, hand-whipped fudge, Vermont souvenirs, and plenty of factory seconds.” Amy’s Recommendation: Dark Chocolate Hot Chocolate, 54% Cacao, topped with Whipped Cream.

5. Next door? The Cabot Cheese Company in Waterbury, VT. Here we sampled no less than thirty cheeses. Amy’s Cheese Recommendation: Lamberton. I have no idea what that is exactly, but it was gooooood. Satisfyingly stuffed, we drove up the road to…

6. Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury-Stowe, VT. Oh my goodness, what a charming country store and mill, complete with free cider samples, gallon jugs to purchase, 50 cent apple cider donuts, and more Vermont cheese. Here is where my heart truly melted. I have to say, these were the best donuts of the day! Amy’s Recommendation: Fresh Pressed Cider and Apple Cider Donuts.

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Cope: “This is like, low-key, the best cheese I’ve ever had”

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Arthur-approved cider so you know it’s good!

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7. Simon Pearce Glassblowing and Restaurant, in Queechee VT. Needing a reprieve from food, we stopped to see the glassblowing and drool over the handmade pieces we’ll never be able to afford 🙂 Also cool, is the water mill that provides the power for the entire Simon Pearce operation. The restaurant is upscale and pricey, but well worth a visit for special occasions.

8. Dinner? The Skinny Pancake in Hanover, NH. The Skinny Pancake specializes in a plethora of savory and sweet crepes priced between $9-$12. Atmosphere is intimate and family friendly. Amy’s Recommendation: for sweet, The Lovemaker, featuring strawberries, nutella, and whipped cream (do you like the name? :). Can’t go wrong. For savory, The Pizza Crepe. Huge kid hit. And guess what? Any crepe can be made with their gluten-free batter!

9. It was a good thing Morano’s Gelato in Hanover, NH was closed, but I’ve got to include it here because it’s hands-down the best gelato I’ve ever eaten, including my samples in Europe – it’s THAT GOOD. Amy’s Recommendation: Dark Chocolate and Sweet Milk or Hazelnut. The combination is unbelievably swoon-worthy.

Dark Chocolate and Sweet Milk Gelato for $3.89

Dark Chocolate and Sweet Milk Gelato for $3.89

We rolled ourselves home and collapsed into bed after a full day of gluttony. If you need Boston recommendations, I could do that too 🙂 But this is a bit more off the beaten path and a way to experience authentic New England in New Hampshire and Vermont.

We’ve been swimming and running ever since – I swear! But I’m considering a change of profession to food critic.

Enjoy! Questions? I’ll attempt to answer. Hope your summer is as tasty as ours!

xoxo

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10 Reasons You Might Want to Go On a Cruise

Before this year, I’d never been on a cruise ship before. It’s not the type of vacation my parents ever took us on growing up. Cruise ships were for other people. Besides, getting on a boat with a few hundred strangers? No, thank you.

But when my mother had the brilliant idea of taking her daughters and daughters-in-law on a bonding trip, a cruise came up. So I did my daughterly duty and took one for the team 🙂

My mom was very insistent that we ALL come. We wanted to go a full week, and with six of us trying to figure out schedules, childcare, and work details, there were A LOT of emails sent back and forth.

Finally it was decided. We would go on a 4-day March cruise to Key West and the Bahamas – two places I’d never been. Even when we had our tickets I felt like I was living in a dream world. The Kardashians go to the Bahamas. I go to, like, Wyoming.

As the day approached, I was excited, thou I also had that mother-guilt of leaving the kids and husband behind during their spring break. Yes, it was a cross I had to bear…:)

I have to say: I’m sold. It was incredible.

If you’ve ever thought about embarking on a cruise ship, here are ten reasons why you might absolutely love it.

10. Get a taste of the TitanicDSC_0582 Wait. That’s not a selling point? I wasn’t scared of the ship going down, but I think anyone who gets on a vessel this large must have that scenario run through their head. The ship is huge. Everyone has to attend a safety meeting the first day. It was pretty awesome to embark on something that big and to float into the sea.

9. Have a Relaxing and Luxurious VacationDSC_0292 We don’t take relaxing and luxurious trips. It’s more like, Get your backpacks and you’re one change of clothes! We’re going to rough it, eat squirrel, and like it! Which, you know, has its place but it’s not exactly… relaxing. On a cruise, you’re treated like royalty. Someone comes in to “make up your bed” twice a day. There is a gym, spa, yoga, games, night-time karaoke, dancing, and 24-hour room service. Everyone is so nice.  You don’t lift a finger. You begin to think: I could get used to this.

8. Adventures of a LifetimeDSC_0514 My mom and sister will love this photo…aren’t they cute? 🙂 It was my first time snorkeling and once I got past gulping salt water and the chilly water, it was a blast! DSC_0023 Another activity I’ve never done: parasailing! Hands down, a sisterhood favorite. I’m scared of heights but I wasn’t at all afraid up there in the sky. It was so fun. So exhilarating. SO BEAUTIFUL.DSC_0257 This is Key West. I couldn’t get over the color of the water.IMG_9577-14 Cope wasn’t drooling over my water pictures…just the boat crew and photographer 🙂

7. Sea and Animal LifeIMG_9642-32 When you can dive down and pick a starfish off the ocean floor? Wicked cool, no?

IMG_9596-22Many seagulls and birds.

6. FOOD!DSC_0543 So, when you go on a cruise, you’ve already paid for everything. You never have to pull out your credit card unless you’re buying the extras. I couldn’t get over the fact that I could walk into a buffet every morning, lunch, dinner, snack, and late-night snack to get unlimited FOOD that I DIDN’T HAVE TO PREPARE or clean up after. I was so thankful for this fact I could have wept several times.

And the food was good. We were on a Celebrity cruise. I’ve been told Norwegian cruise lines are even better, but I tell you what, I felt I was living pretty large!DSC_0373

5. It’s an Economically-Savvy Way to See the World!DSC_0569 This is downtown Bahamas which has a lot of history. It was very sobering to know that the dock we landed at was a former slave auction/port. Cruising is a pretty economical way to see the world. Our tickets, with taxes, came out to about $500. For $100 more we could have had a 7-day cruise and seen more of the world.

Hotel costs, transportation, and food will eat that money up in a second. In addition, there is NO HASSLE. You just get off at different ports, explore, snorkel or whatever else you want to do, and make sure you get back on the boat at 4 pm. (If you miss the boat you’re on your own!)

Every other time I travel, we are using the GPS, finding a place to eat, calculating costs, figuring out the hotel, how to get here and there. This was just so easy.

4. Disconnect and UnplugDSC_0440 A wi-fi plan is available, but I didn’t want to pay for it, nor did I have any urgent business. I just shut my phone off for four days and hoped the kids would survive. Gasp…I had to read books and talk to real people! No email to check, no texts to respond to. Until you unplug, you might not realize what a load it really is.

IMG_9656-37It was very freeing to ponder the great big world under the great big sky.

3. Get a Taste of How Others Spend Spring BreakDSC_0552  Yeah, so I’m joking about this one. But one afternoon while we were in port we chose Señor Frogs and realized it was party destination number 1. We Mormon moms were only slightly out of place…haha!

2. See the Great Beauty of the World IMG_9647-34 Man, there is so much beauty out there.DSC_0256 I took a gazillion shots of the sunrise and sunsets. Watching the sun slowly slowly come up over the horizon was like watching a master artist.DSC_0180 I remember Cope telling me that we should STOP using plastics because it’s destroying ocean life. Once you’re on that ocean you really understand what a precious and beautiful resource it is…and maybe it’s one worth preserving (those “beady” face washes? Plastic? Destroying the ocean.)DSC_0234 Clouds and water and sunsets hold an enormous fascination.DSC_0393  DSC_0270 A fishing vessel out on the water.

1. BondingDSC_0364 Bonding was the #1 purpose of this trip and that’s exactly what occurred. I loved these girls before, but I loved them even more now. We’re all so busy, living in different parts of America, working hard, raising kids, and only get to see each other once a year.CCS-160313-8x10BarsLounges-5285162_GPR Aren’t they beautiful? How FUN and wonderful to leave real life behind for awhile, to get to know one another even better. To laugh, cry, karaoke, eat, and talk late into the night.IMG_9640-30 Such a dorky picture of me, but you know, we were pretty darn happy 🙂DSC_0443 Thank you, Mama Mary. For such a great idea. For sponsoring us, for loving us, for bringing us together.IMG_8203Will there be a next time? Oh, you bet your pa-tooty! It was unanimously decided it’s a definite YES. Top picks: Charleston, a ranch, another cruise, Venice, North Carolina…so many parts of the world we need to see TOGETHER.

I came back with a totally new appreciation of vacationing on a cruise ship. And I’m already planning a husband/wife trip…the Professor isn’t so sure but I think I can sell it. Anyone else in?

xoxo.

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The Last of the Great Adventure: Normandy and Paris

This is it – the last “trip of a lifetime” post! Congratulations on making it this far with me; you’re a true pal. With just four days left, this is how we saw France:

After leaving England at 10:45 pm via the English Channel, we arrived in France at 6:30 a.m. Our spirits could only be lifted with a chocolate croissant, which the French do very well. We disembarked The Brittany and embarked on a 30-minute bus ride to Caen. (This took tons of planning and rearranging; trying to figure out how to get to Normandy. Did we do it correctly?)IMG_0947Here we are waiting for our train to Bayoux. As you can see, we look stunningly beautiful after an all-nighter across the English Channel. Yes, definitely one of my better shots.

IMG_0592We boarded the train and headed to Bayoux, a most beautiful part of France. We had a breakfast of ham and cheese quiche; very different than our usual fare.

Stopping at Normandy was definitely a highlight of the whole trip. We debated whether or not to pay for a tour guide, but are very glad we did. Charlie was excellent.

DSC_0996This is Omaha Beach. What a gorgeous part of the world!

DSC_0990Much of this Omaha Beach memorial is just as it was in WWII, with underground and overground bunkers built by the Germans. Just this week we watched Unbroken. Seeing these pictures again reminds me think of all the young men killed, fighting against Hitler and his evil regime.DSC_1007Hitler was building a great wall down the coast. What humanity does to this world is often heartbreaking. “Unfortunately,” Charlie said, “It’s what the human race does.”DSC_1068The American memorial in Normandy is incredibly moving. It was established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944 and was the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. The cemetery site is 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 of our military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations.

“On the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.”

IMG_0565The dead were buried as they arrived. Charlie told us the story of the Bedford brothers from Virginia, both of whom died within days of each other at Omaha Beach. The story of their parents receiving the telegrams made us teary. I kept thinking of my grandpa. He and his six brothers all served in WWII. His brother Keith was on this very beach.

The last time I saw my grandpa, I mentioned how remarkable it was that all seven brothers came back alive. He looked off into the Utah sky and said, “Yep, that was really something.” Seeing this place was very emotional for us.

DSC_1045DSC_1049“Some must die so others might live.” – Winston Churchill, prime minister of the UKDSC_1017A lookout for the Germans. The whole story of the D-Day invasion is incredible as the U.S. was the underdog for this particular invasion. The Germans had a huge advantage as you can see from the above picture; the coastline is completely exposed, making a sneak-attack near impossible. How we were successful is miraculous. The sacrifice was high.

Our 9:15-1:15 tour flew by. I definitely recommend it; it’s unforgettable.

DSC_0008While in Bayeux, Cope HAD to see the Bayeux Tapestry, IMG_0943 The tapestry depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings.

According to Sylvette Lemagnen, conservator of the tapestry, “The Bayeux tapestry is one of the supreme achievements of the Norman Romanesque … Its survival almost intact over nine centuries is little short of miraculous … Its exceptional length, the harmony and freshness of its colors, its exquisite workmanship, and the genius of its guiding spirit combine to make it endlessly fascinating.”

By this time it was late afternoon. We were hot, tired, and exhausted. We caught a 6:30 p.m. train to Paris (a 2-hour journey which was heavenly; we love the train!) From the train station we have to get on the subway. The Paris subway system will prove to be the most difficult. It’s complicated and yes, all the announcements and people speak in French!

This is also the first time we use the airbnb, a site where people list their rentals. We arrive at our apartment at 10p.m. It’s dark and the neighborhood is sketchy. We don’t speak the language. A heat wave is just about to hit the city.

I wearily say, “This is such an adventure.”

“I’m ready for this adventure to be over,” Cope says.

IMG_0672Our apartment, rented to us by Armelle, turns out to be a great place to rest. We sleep until 9 a.m., pose by our French apartment window, make a plan for the day (PSG soccer stadium, the Louvre, and boat tour off the Pont Neuf). We are off to Paris by 11 a.m. DSC_0219_2There were three keys to get into our apartment; this one was our favorite.

IMG_0600Making a plan the night before proved to be very smart. Luckily, we had the internet.DSC_0112_2A boat tour off Pont Neuf (thank you, Dave Flemming!) was a great way to travel down the Seine River. Like the Taimes, you can get off and see the sites you want.

Here’s something I learned while traveling: Play to your strengths, but challenge your weaknesses. For me, this meant not being afraid to try new things, like getting around on the subway in a foreign country, or using euros, or asking questions when I thought it was a stupid question. Being afraid will hold you back; you really have to make an effort to learn. To get the most out of an experience like this, it’s easy to coast and do what sounds easiest, like letting others do all the navigating. We tried to ask our kids a lot of questions like, “How would you get back to the apartment from here?” and “Here are some euros. Go buy us breakfast.”

This was scary! But our richest experiences were often harder ones.

DSC_0103_2DSC_0091_2DSC_0087_2DSC_0153_2Our Paris experience was hard. Our enthusiasm waned as we were tired from days and days of travel and the 104 heat wave that decided to hit the city.DSC_0152_2IMG_0691This was cool. Cope informed us that the Seine was the same river in which Javert jumped to his death. Yes, these are the facts that keep our life interesting.DSC_0083_2The famous “love locks” were removed from the Pont de l’Archeveche because of the great weight they were adding to the bridge. The locks moved to a different bridge. You write your name on the lock and throw the key into the river, locking your love in Paris.

DSC_0077_2We walked and walked the city, admiring the century-old architecture.DSC_0030_2Notre DameDSC_0026_2Never in our life were we so grateful for water. It was SO hot.DSC_0040_2Outside Notre Dame, the flowers bloomed gorgeousDSC_0044_2DSC_0038_2We were particularly fascinated by the gargoyles atop Notre Dame, remembering the story of Quasimoto.DSC_0035_2More Notre Dame. The details!DSC_0058_2When in Paris, may I suggest a crepe?DSC_0206_2With little time remaining, we arrived at the Louvre. I had NO IDEA how gigantic it was. Unfortunately, we had to catch the last subway back to our apartment and did not get a tour of the famed museum. I hope there will someday be another trip to Paris and Mona Lisa.IMG_0649IMG_0655The sun sets above The Seine RiverDSC_0222_2The next day was a tour of the Victor Hugo museum, where Hugo began writing Les Miserables.DSC_0223_2IMG_0683DSC_0224_2IMG_0572Now let us turn our attention to the pastries.DSC_1080DSC_1081DSC_1079IMG_0605IMG_0611PSG stadium. What I most remember is eating the best olive pie pastry of my life. Priorities 🙂IMG_0603On the subway, an accordion player played his tunes – and asked for money, of course.

IMG_0675The Arc de Triomphe de l’ÉtoileIMG_0645During a 30-minute subway delay, we did wall sits for entertainment.IMG_0705By the end, I was holding on to Paige’s backpackIMG_0688Nellie carries his sister home.

Our Paris adventure was short, but memorable. Someday, I’d love to go back. There is so much history, so much of the world; it will take a lifetime to see just a portion of it!

IMG_0723Passports in hand, we headed to the airport.IMG_0717An 8-hour flight brought us back to the United States, where we landed in Phoenix, Arizona for a family reunion!

I’m hitting publish before editing. Please forgive the mistakes…

How great it was to have this adventure. How empowering it is to find your way in a foreign land. How bonding it is for a family to travel together, get lost, consult, and find their way back. Onward to the next life adventure…!

 

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Hello, Mates! What Happened in England.

We landed in London after a 2-hour flight from Bilbao, Spain. A plane flight was just as cheap as the train and saved us a day of travel.

Cope, our great English history buff, could hardly tolerate our newly acquired English accents, and refused to speak to us if we spoke that way in public. This of course just made speaking in an English accent that much more fun!

It was a bit of a headache trying to figure out how to get around London. We eventually bought “Oyster Cards,” which you load money on and swipe every time you get on a bus or subway. We finally figured out where we were going (a travel lodge 30 minutes from the city). Of course it would have been more convenient to stay right in the center of London, but alas, that’s what budgets are for. And again, the GPS was essential!

If you’re ever in London, here are some highlights:

IMG_0324Ah, “The Prospect of Whitby” (said with an English accent!), the oldest riverside inn in London. Back in the 1500s it was a real pirates den. Very exciting.

IMG_0328Dominick and Danielle are great travel buffs and friends of my husband. It had been over 20 years since they had seen each other, when Dominick was a camp counselor with Gregor. At 19, Dominick dove off a New Hampshire pier and was paralyzed from the chest down. D&D are amazingly optimistic and even with Dominick in a wheelchair they travel everywhere! Dominick says Paris is terribly behind for disabled access and America is exceptional. IMG_0327Fish and Chips and “mushy peas.” Just as tasty as it sounds 🙂
DSC_0843Outside The Prospect of Whitby, is the Thames River (pronounced “Tems.”) The kids went outside with Danielle and another mate to hunt for treasure – because you never know when the crown jewels are going to wash ashore…DSC_0851 We brought home some beautiful sea glass from the banks of The Thames.DSC_0853 Paige and Brynne said this part of the trip “was the best part ever!”, which just goes to show, you don’t have to be fancy nancy to have fun!DSC_0836 The gallows still hangs outside the famous pub. IMG_0337 Look at that…the pub was built during the reign of King Henry VIII. Awesome sauce.IMG_0323 IMG_0429 In London, you best convert your dollars and euros into pounds. We also had to remember that paying by pounds meant almost double in American currency.

IMG_0315I wouldn’t want to give the impression that traveling is all fun and games. Oh no, this is just one of many moments of waiting for the bus. We also had a bit of a laundry issue as the travel lodge did not have machines and we were in desperate need of a real wash. We eventually found a laundromat owned by a muslim who did not speak English, but we communicated by nodding and pointing. While we waited, Nelson had a haircut next door in the fashion of Ronaldo.IMG_0322 IMG_0445Just a different take on “pole dancing.”
IMG_0310Ugh. Figuring the subway out…

We decided to see the city of London by river cruise, which lets you on and off to see the sites (travel tip: ask your friends for advice. There are so many ways to save money and see the world if you ask the right people.)

DSC_0704We started at the famed London Tower. We really wanted to go in, but had already been through a castle in Spain and getting all six of us into everything was expensive. Instead, we listened to Cope tell tales of torture, of the three queens who were beheaded at the tower (including Anne Bolyn), and how the two sons of Elizabeth and Edward were kept here and mysteriously disappeared – it remains a great mystery today. You may want to consider bringing Cope along as your English tour guide.

DSC_0701Zowie. London knows how to do a bridge. Sailing down the Thames.

DSC_0927 The Parliament building, where the architecture is exquisitely stunning.DSC_0745

DSC_0969 A WWII war shipDSC_0964 DSC_0960 DSC_0955Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre where live theatre is performed outdoors just as it was in Shakespeare’s day. Next time: see a play.DSC_0936 The great London “eye,” where you can see all of London.IMG_0488 The Thames at duskIMG_0466 A closer look at the Parliament buildingDSC_0899 IMG_0231 A panoramic view of London

IMG_0288Taxi!DSC_0777How Cheesy, can you get, right? I wish we’d tried a little harder for a Christmas card moment…IMG_0249Isn’t The Professor a good sport? I make him do these things and he loves me 🙂 DSC_0790 London’s upkeep and cleanliness of WWII memorials and monuments is so impressive, especially given the 8 million residents and millions of visitors every year.

IMG_0222 DSC_0903The inside of Westminster is closed the first day we visit. Cope vows to get in – “it’s the one thing I have to see! Do you know how many queens and kings are buried there? ”
IMG_0471The outdoor gardens are spectacular.IMG_0352 DSC_0904 DSC_0765 IMG_0255A visit to “Number 10” (10 Downing Street) to visit the prime minister. The place is heavily guarded. And no, we don’t see the prime minister. We’ll have to reschedule.

DSC_0805Next, onward to Buckingham palace to get a look at the queen. We hope to run into Kate and William, too.DSC_0801 We don’t see them either, but we surely admire the taxi cabs in London – so cute!DSC_0802IMG_0938

A tribute to Princess Diana
IMG_0232London loves its Churchill

IMG_0462And we love our Jack Minister! Jack played basketball for The Professor once upon a time, went on to play college ball, and now plays professionally in England. He’s also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He has this great English accent and came down two hours from “Manchestuh” to see us. What a treat to see Jack again!

This is how we talk to Jack:

“It’s jolly good to see you, mate – have a great holiday!”

“Ah, rubbish!”

“I wouldn’t recommend it; it’s real dodgy.”

“Fancy that!”

Cope was merely tolerating us.

DSC_0887We went with Jack to Churchill’s War Rooms, a war time bunker that tells the story of Churchill and his legacy. This is the bunker from which Churchill ran the war.DSC_0884Churchill said of the British airmen: Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day, but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate, careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power…”
IMG_0403An English garden  IMG_0385One afternoon we found ourselves in the middle of a giant parade and some street dance.IMG_0358When in London, you have to go to Hamley’s Toy Store, right? The kids overheard a frustrated father say: “Put it down, you silly sod!” and thought it was so hilarious they haven’t stopped saying it. Also, in London, people watch “the telly” and everything is “lovely” – unless it’s “rubbish” or “bloody awful.” I’ve really taken to the word, “bloody” and Paige tells me to stop swearing 🙂

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On Sunday morning we attended an 11 a.m. Eucharist service at St. Paul’s cathedral. It was Anglican, very much like a Catholic mass. The boy’s choir was exceptional. The whole serve was absolutely beautiful. I definitely recommend it.

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And it’s definitely in poor taste to take a photo…(we paparazzi have no shame.)

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The Book of Mormon musical is huge in London. My brother described it as “crass, hysterical, irreverent, and surprisingly touching.” Someday I’ll have to see the show. Our last day we had only a few hours. Cope HAD to see the inside of Westminster, but the others HAD to see Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4. What to do?

We split up.

Cope hopped on the subway all by herself (with no working phone!) and found her buried queens in Westminster. In the mean time, we found Harry’s platform (and it was actually free.)

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The gift shop was not free…but never mind, it was very fun! Paige desperately wanted a Hermione wand and was willing to spend her entire fortune ($33) on it. We made her wait until we arrived in the U.S. and could order from Amazon; this was not nearly as exciting as bringing home a Hermione wand from London.

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From there we had to hustle (as in sprint with those backpacks on our back) to meet Cope at 11:45, hop on a subway, and get across town to our 12:30 bus. We couldn’t find Cope. After a closed subway train reroute, crowds galore, great stress and mayhem, we were finally reunited and made it to the bus stop at exactly 12:31. Whew. We sunk down in our seats with relief.

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Good-bye, London! A 2-hour bus trip from London put us in a beautiful seacoast town called Portsmouth. We bought some groceries, ate pizza, ate a most delicious English scone, and visited the home of Charles Dickens:

IMG_0939 IMG_0689 At 10:45pm we loaded The Brittany, a giant boat, for an overnight excursion across the English Channel. How charming and exciting it seemed! Crossing the English Channel by boat also saved a hotel cost.

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It was very Titanic-ish. We observed the life boats and made bets as to who would live longest if the boat capsized. The darlings said I would die first because of my great intolerance of cold water. I disagreed with that assessment 🙂

The idea of crossing at night only seems more romantic than the reality. At 11 pm the lights went out. Our beds were big movie-theatre-style chairs. So if you can sleep upright, listening to other people sleep and snore, no problem. Gregor plugged himself into iTunes, listening to “bi-neural brain waves.” I however, had to change my miserable and tired mindset to, “This is a great adventure!” It kindof worked.

At 5:30 am the lights came on and just like that we were in Cain, France. Cheerio!

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What to See and Eat in Spain

Espana, we love you! Of the three countries we visited, Spain was our favorite. I think this had everything to do with being fresh into our adventure and excited to embark. Also, we were able to communicate (Gregor is fluent and I can get by) and we had a very comfortable place to lay our heads.

We spent 5 days in Spain and I’m in no way an expert. Our short journey is just one way to go about Spain. There are hundreds of routes, cities and towns, people, and places to see of course. This was our short walk through pieces of beautiful Espana that I hope inspires you to get packin’ for a foreign land!

unnamed-52 We did not venture into Pamplona to run with the bulls, but the tradition is alive and well!

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After an 8-hour layover in New York, followed by an overnight flight to Spain, we were left a wee bit fatigued. We had a civil family discussion about being kind to one another, and how important it would be to get along on our “once in a lifetime trip.”

Nelson was suffering from poison ivy and a subsequent staph infection. We gave him many besos (kisses) and he rallied.

We also talked about euros and how that translated to American dollars and the kids’ precious spending money.unnamed-1

The first stop: Madrid! Europe has the most stunning architecture. We ditched our bags at our hotel and hit the city, meeting up with Gregor’s high school friend, Tony. He took us to Nelson’s dream destination: Estadio Bernabeu, home of Real Madrid, where Nelson’s soccer idol, Ronaldo plays! Barcelona, home of Lionel Messi, had to be nixed due to travel.

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We watched some amateur soccer and Nelson decided he would continue to pursue his dream of playing professionally 🙂

unnamed-2 We walked around the capital, taking pictures like good American tourists.unnamed-3

We loved Madrid. It was so clean and not very crowded.

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When in Madrid, visit Mercado de San Miguel, a delicious market. We loved hearing The Professor negotiate en español. The kids and I tried buying food speaking Spanish. It was…funny. There was a lot of pointing.

unnamed-5 When en España: eat the olives. Muy, muy buenas!unnamed-6 And the fresh oysters. They tasted just like the ocean, fresher than fresh!unnamed-51 Oh, eat the cheese (queso), too. Oh, the cheese. unnamed-40 Like all cities, there were the homeless. This is always hard to witness, as so many of us are blessed with so much.unnamed-8 The Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Again, the architecture was incredible. Hundreds of years old.

Tony and wife, Myriam hosted us to a 9:00pm balcony dinner, spanish style, at sunset. The majority of Spanish residents live in apartments. I felt grateful to have my home in America, a HUGE residence in comparison to how much of the world lives, but it was also appealing to think of living more simply in a small apartment in Europe where everything feels like a miniature version of what we have, especially kitchens and bathrooms.

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Myriam served us homemade Spanish tortilla (my favorite) and small slices of prosciutto, and chicken wings (apparently The Professor and Tony ate a lot of them in high school.) We can’t wait for them to visit us this August in New Hampshire! We were in bed at midnight, dead tired from jet lag, and slept until 10 a.m. the next day.

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The next day was more Madrid. We admired this Tree Man. Very artsy, no?
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unnamed-26Paige didn’t have money, so she gave her new friend some cookies. He didn’t have teeth, but accepted anyway.

When in Madrid, I highly recommend Museo Nacional del Prado (The Prado Museum). Pictures are a big no-no, but I snapped this one of an artist recreating the famous Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Pink Dress, an oil on canvas portrait of Margaret Theresa of Spain by the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. The Professor was thankful I didn’t get us kicked out.

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“The three routes around the galleries feature major masterpieces of European art such as The Annunciation by Fra Angelico, Christ washing the Disciples’ Feet by Tintoretto, The Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden, The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch, and The Three Graces by Rubens. They also include key works of Spanish art such as Las Meninas by Velázquez, Jacob’s Dream by Ribera and The Third of May: the Executions on Príncipe Pío by Goya.”

SO COOL.

unnamed-54This was an incredible reunion. After more than 20 years apart, Gregor got in touch (thank you, Facebook), with a mission companion, Roberto, who lives in Spain. They made plans to meet outside The Prado. I saw Roberto walking toward us. As soon as he saw Gregor, he began to run, sprinting up the stairs and grabbing hold of the The Professor for a bear-hug embrace. It seemed very Spanish-like; no hand shakes – we kiss and hug in Spain! There was laughter and there were tears. It may well have been the most meaningful moment of the whole trip.

I could not understand much of what they were saying, but I did get that Gregor referred to me as “the paparazzi.” Roberto laughed, and later wrote to Gregor, thanking him for “the paparazzi photos.” Now that he has them, he said, they will always remind him of this special moment.

So there. Take pictures!

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Until we meet again, Brother

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After 2 days and 1 night in Madrid, we traveled 30 minutes to Segovia by high-speed train. Eyes wide, we wearily walked to our apartment, courtesy of Hogwarts and its overseas program.

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On the way we passed the famous Aqueduct. This is how Rome brought water to Segovia. unnamed-49

unnamed-15Our apartment overlooked the Plaza Mayor in Segovia. We loved Segovia. We all agreed we wanted to move there. The kids fell asleep watching Zorro in Spanish.

unnamed-25Churros y chocolate for breakfast at 10 a.m. It was delicious but truthfully, I felt a little ill. I was starting to miss my green smoothies 🙂

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unnamed-17Have I mentioned the pastries?

unnamed-18As for other fare, we often ate bread, cheese, and chorizo for breakfast and lunch, supplementing with fruit from local markets. Delicioso.

unnamed-36unnamed-19Panorama view of The Aqueduct, which brings water to Segovia from a mountain 11 miles away. If you ever go to Spain, I highly suggest Segovia! It has a very small-town, authentic feel and isn’t as crowded as bigger cities. We were so lucky we had perfect the weather the entire trip.
unnamed-20“Isn’t that amazing, that Rome brought water to Segovia? How good of them.” I opined. Gregor laughed and referred to the menacing pig/boar/she-wolf(?) statue above which has small monkeys drinking from her. Translation: we conquered you. we own you.

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Me and my Spanish lover.

unnamed-22Outside a Spanish castle. Paige said, “look, it’s a Nephite!” Of course he asked for money after this picture was taken. “How you say?” he said. “I’m a freelancer.” I had to smile (and tip!)
unnamed-24 unnamed-23Segovian Castle

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unnamed-55The tower where I would put my naughty children as I overlooked my kingdom.

unnamed-30I was constantly surprised and awed at the abundance of religious and Christian themes represented in painting, glass, statues, and sculptures. Incredible beauty.unnamed-46 Future kings and queens in their castle…

unnamed-28After the castle it was time to get on a bus. Paige surrounded by Spanish speakers.

unnamed-32After three glorious days in Segovia we boarded the high speed train (love them, very clean and quiet) and took a nap. A couple hours later we were in San Sebastian, Spain.

unnamed-31This was an amazing moment for Gregor as he told the kids about stepping on this same platform twenty years ago as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “I stood here over twenty years ago and thought about what my life would be like. In many ways this is where my life started. The experiences I had here were preparing me for fatherhood.” It was in Spain, on his mission, that The Professor decided he wanted to be a teacher.

unnamed-58Beautiful, beautiful San Sebastian.unnamed-56May I suggest a honeymoon here? ( We WILL be coming back!) So, I’d heard of topless beaches, but I’d never actually experienced it. After our mouths dropped open and Nelson’s face turned a more normal shade of pink, we adjusted. I was surprised by my conclusion. Topless was not a sexual thing here; it was just normal. Many, many children were completely naked, just swimming free and easy! (jealous!)

All shapes and sizes of bodies were comfortable just hanging out. I was pretty fascinated by the mothers, especially one who sat completely exposed with her three naked children, one of them coming over to have a drink now and then. I took quite a few (tasteful!) pictures, but decided that this PG blog might not be able to handle it 🙂

unnamed-57Brynne and Paige loved San Sebastian and absolutely did not want to leave. Best water ever. Not like ice-cold New England ocean water. They would have been happy here the rest of the trip.

unnamed-39It was fascinating to learn about politics and the Basque people.

unnamed-42The “Combs of the Winds”unnamed-41 The Spanish Dons (totally my interpretation 🙂

unnamed-29The Professor spent almost a full day trying to find Menchu, a woman he grew very close to many years ago. There is a documentary on her.
unnamed-35 unnamed-44 unnamed-43 The darlings waited sunburned on a bench as dad went for dinner.

unnamed-38Success! This is a donner kebab, not Spanish, but tasty.unnamed-50 Dancing in the streetunnamed-48 Cool doorknobsunnamed-45 The San Sebastian Cathedralunnamed-37 John Green is popular in Spain too.

After San Sebastian, we boarded a bus for Bilbao, passing through picturesque Idaho-like countryside. Lots of sheep. We ate a dinner of roasted chicken and Spanish tortilla. The next morning we awoke for an early flight, slipping into slightly damp clothes from the previous night’s washing. We were a bit grumpy and sunburned. We split up to take two taxis to the airport (pricey!) and ate a breakfast of bread and chorizo (Spanish sausage) in the airport at which point Cope said, “You know, I don’t ever need to eat this again.” Yeah, we had gotten to the overdose point.

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The kids played Ninja in the airport, Cope in her pants purchased at a Spanish market. I read Kate Atkinson’s, When Will There Be Good News? Terrific writing, a bit depressing in an English-author way. It readied me for our next destination.

After a two hour flight we were here…all speaking in our perfect English accents.unnamed-33

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How to Travel to Europe With Kids

Hello from Madrid!

Hello from Madrid!

Hello darlings! We are back from a great adventure that took all six of us to Spain, England, and France. It was incredible, hard, wonderful, and now a bit surreal. After my 1300+ picture download, it’s hard to know where to start. If you’ve ever wanted to travel abroad with the family, here are some things that made our trip fun, less stressful, economical, and very tasty.

Planning Tips:

Democratic voting: Ten months ago we started discussing our summer adventure. One idea was to go to Canada and watch all the women’s world cups games. In the end we decided that if we had one “trip of a lifetime” it would be to Europe. Since Paige has Grace, the American Girl, the only place she cared about seeing was Paris. Check. 🙂

Saving: Traveling across the ocean to foreign countries is expensive. We would not have even considered european travel had we not been given “summer enrichment” money from our Hogwarts. In the past, a faculty member was given a whole year sabbatical. We used to dream about spending a whole year in Spain, but summer travel was the second best option. Even with “summer enrichment funds,” we still had to plan carefully, research flight deals and the best and least expensive housing options. Is european travel possible with kids? YES. But it does require a lot of saving.

How to Start: Once you know where in the world you’re going, order a Rick Steves book. Steves lives four months a year in Europe and makes a living by giving tours, writing books, and maintaining a blog for ordinary people to have a European experience – he KNOWS everything. I wish I had ordered his books sooner and studied more. He is AWESOME.

What to Pack:

One Backpack: Yes, this means you carry your life on your back. Absolutely the best decision we made. One backpack per person. The professor and I had big backpacks that we specially ordered for this trip. Mine is purple. I love it. I’ll use it forever! The kids used school backpacks This is us…do we look like American tourists?

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IMG_5260My backpack has this long strap. Paige held on the entire time and never got lost from mama.

Minimal Clothing: We traveled for two weeks and this is what I would suggest: three outfits (I preferred short, comfortable maxi skirts), three pairs socks and underwear, one pair of shoes, one light sweater, and a swimming suit. I opted for sandals over running shoes because of my skirts. My eldest darling brought three pairs of shoes, but she had to carry them. We often washed our clothes at night and hung them to dry. Only one apartment had a washing machine. We did as the Europeans: washing in the sink and hanging to dry!
unnamed                                  Folded clothes, hand washed the night before, ready to go.

Toiletries: The Professor was of the opinion that we buy when we arrived, but I was very glad to have my own little bottles of familiar shampoo and conditioner. I carried these for the family and we were all allotted nightly pea shapes of shampoo and conditioner. I didn’t bring razors, thinking I wouldn’t get through customs. I should have. True, I was in Europe, but I don’t enjoy feeling like a hairy beast (in a skirt.)

Other Essentials: fingernail clippers, band-aids, earphones (great for that 8-hour flight!), sunglasses, baby wipes, allergy pills, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, hair elastics, gum, chapstick. I was the keeper of these items and kept them in a small sturdy baggie.

Food: I couldn’t bring a lot, but my sandwich baggie of nuts and dried cranberries SAVED me. Until they were gone 🙁

Camera: Ah, the big debate. To bring the big Nikon or just take pictures with my phone? The Nikon is much higher quality but also requires its own bag. It’s also much heavier. I brought the big camera, wore it around my neck with my credit cards and cash. Worth it? Yes.

Passports: You’ll obviously need them! I suggest having one person carry them in one safe place at all times. The Professor was given this task. He had a special zip pocket in his backpack. Every time they were taken out, they went right back.

Money: Each country has it’s own currency. We dealt with euros and pounds. Familiarize yourself. Bring a credit card, preferably one with an electronic chip. Bring a debit card. Tell your bank you are going so you don’t get cut off. Also, ask your credit card company for a 4-digit pin number. I did due diligence and then left the pin number on my desk at home. Errr.

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Converter: European outlets are not the same as American. You won’t be able to charge your phone, any electronic, blow dryer, curling iron, etc. without a converter. You can buy anywhere, even wal-mart.

Journal: The goal was to have everyone write every night. It didn’t always happen, but we are so glad to have our individual record and perspectives.

journalsJournal writing in a Paris apartment

What I didn’t need

A neck pillow. I brought one but it was so big and bulky, that a child “conveniently” forgot it somewhere in Spain.

A curling iron or blow dryer. Yep, that meant that in every picture I’m wearing a bun and headband. Glamorous? Whatever. I was all about easy.

My computer or iPad. This was hard to leave behind. I wanted to upload pictures at the end of every day. I wanted to journal electronically. Alas, the computer was too heavy. It ended up being the perfect break from technology, and a huge focus on a family experience.

Where to Sleep: Do you want to know exactly where you’ll rest your head every night or wing it? Both have their plusses and minuses. I wanted to plan ahead because we had the whole family and I thought it would keep us moving. Next time? Maybe I’d be more spontaneous! What was really nice was staying in one place for several days; then you don’t have to carry the backpack. We spent one night in a hostal, family style. I’m not sure I’d be too keen to share a room with strangers…IMG_5250

How to Eat: Well, you’re definitely not going to go to American fast food chains, right? Try the local fare! This was probably our most favorite part – the food! With a family, food is pricey at restaurants. We visited local markets and grocery stores almost every day for produce, quality bread, cheese, prosciutto, and olives. We ate A LOT pastries. I’m practically made of butter now. I have sooooo many pictures of food. foodOh, the pastries…our goal was to eat a minimum of one a day 🙂

How to Get Around the Country: You’ve got a lot of options here. We tried several: plane, ferry, taxi, walk and walk and walk, metro, train, bus. I think the biggest thing is knowing where you’re going and the cheapest and fastest way to get there – unless, traveling slower gives you a better view and experience of the country. bikesI love this picture of mama, baby and groceries – there are a lot of bikes in Europe. So healthy and fun.

subwayOn a subway in Paris, serenaded by an accordion player. After I took this picture he handed me a cup so I could tip him. Everyone wanted a tip!

Maps: The professor was the only one who had cellular coverage and we used Google Maps the entire trip. It was a life saver. Plug in where you want to go and it will tell you what metro or bus to use. There are some great apps out there that we learned about only after our trip. Here The Professor works on our itinerary before we head out for the day. I was soooo glad we had him. His navigation skills are, shall we say, a little more developed than mine 🙂planning

Keeping Track of Expenses: For my own personal peace of mind, I used Evernote to record every single thing we spent money on. I recorded in euros and pounds, which translated to higher American prices. Recording helps keep you on budget (or just depresses you :). We tried to spend $100 a day, not including lodging, splurging here and there (mostly on food and admission prices), knowing this was our “trip of a lifetime.” Evernote:evernotes

This trip was all about experiencing a foreign world for the first time with our family. We were looking for adventure, bonding, learning, fun, and traveling efficiently and economically. We planned ahead, listing things we wanted to see in every city, but were also flexible. By the end, we were so tired, that Paris didn’t get our full attention.

tired A tired girl after miles of walking with a backpack. Even light backpacks start to feel heavy!

Traveling to Europe for the first time is trial and error. For instance, you can save money using Oyster cards in London or getting Eurorail passes to England or using the ferry on the Thames to see a lot in a little time. There was also a lot of success. No one got sick, broke a leg, or was maimed by a Spanish bull. No one got lost on the subway (my huge fear) or fell in the Seine.

Were we happy we went? Oh yes! Was it relaxing? Not a bit! We guess we averaged 10 miles a day of walking. Our youngest mentioned Hawaii several times (as in, “I want to go lie on the beach and have someone serve me pina coladas”).

We were in very close proximity of one another for two very intense weeks. It’s tiring traveling in a foreign country where everything is, well, foreign. The language, food, customs are all new. This combination can produce frustration and snapping. This trip required A LOT of patience, consideration, and gratitude. Would I recommend it? Oh yes, but I will also say that I was very glad I didn’t have anyone under 8 with me. Paige was an endurance trooper, but we were on the move constantly. Wee ones would have altered our plan drastically.

Upcoming posts on what to see and eat in Spain, England, and France. Adios for now! And it’s so good to be back, writing again. xoxo.

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D.C. in Pictures & the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act

Fifty years ago this year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed. President Kennedy was assassinated before he saw the day come, but when Lyndon Johnson signed the act, he said their was no better tribute to our fallen president.

Many of my personal heroes come from the civil rights era, and though a quick trip to D.C. came at a terribly busy time, I was easily talked into accompanying my husband.

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Our 4:30 wake-up call was worth this picture of the sky guy.

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Before meeting with kids at schools, we stopped in at the offices of Foulger-Pratt. These boys are Gregor’s former college roommates at BYU. We love these good boys. It’s been years and years since we’ve seen each other, but time had hardly seemed to pass at all. They said we looked exactly the same, but I wonder, are we getting older?

That night we went to a school to speak about Hogwarts. This admissions trip is vastly different than NYC. And it has everything to do with culture, family, and money. I felt so incredibly blessed to have good schools for my kids, that I’m not attending school fairs to get my child out of a terrible district with underfunded schools that don’t even have paper!

I love Hogwarts with all my heart and I wish everyone got a howler – but wouldn’t it be better if every single community made education a top priority and no one had to go outside their community to get a top-rate education? Sigh. School systems are tricky and sticky.

The next day was one of my biggest motivations for traveling to D.C.: A National Mall tour where millions of tourists visit to commemorate past presidents, iconic symbols of america, and to celebrate our veterans.

Beware: If you go to DC, don’t follow my route. It’s rather erratic. Go Here to get the full experience.

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We had a few hours, so to get around for our tour, we put on our running shoes. Armed with ipods, and me with my iphone for pictures, we started off.

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My tour guide was a little…fast. My tour was more like an interval sprint as I kept stopping to take pictures of what could be a once-in-a-lifetime-moment(!) and then had to sprint back up to my tour guide who was still running! I needed to work on speed anyway.

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So much history in this place. It took me a few trips to enjoy NYC, but I loved D.C. right away. Of course I was in a very clean and well-kept area, but the city had a clean, cool vibe.

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We didn’t stay long to chat with the IRS!

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At every street corner there were suits

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The architecture was incredible

IMG_5649 The Red Cross, inscribed with: “In Memory of the Heroic Women of the Civil War.” Love that.IMG_5653 Wicked CoolIMG_5657 IMG_5661 IMG_5668 The Washington Monument was built to honor George Washington, the first president of the United States. It’s a 555-foot marble obelisk tower overlooking D.C.IMG_5674 Found this in the middle of the National Mall. Made me feel right at home.IMG_5636Department of Commerce

IMG_5645 IMG_5643 The White HouseIMG_5647And bomb-sniffing dogs. Are they always around or just this morning?

Next we ran (sprinted) to the WWII Memorial. IMG_5712

From the Pacific the Atlantic…all the states are honored with the fallen

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I’ve observed: Musicians, songwriters, photographers, and writers find inspiration in sacred places.

IMG_5741 IMG_5735 The work of this artist is stunning, detailed, and poignantIMG_5733 IMG_5732

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I imagine this monument would mean that much more if I was sending my son or daughter into combat.

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From there we ran to the Lincoln Monument:IMG_5679

And I stood where Martin stood:IMG_5696This is where Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. The next year, the Civil Rights Act was passed. Five years later he would be assassinated.IMG_5688The Lincoln Monument. We arrived sweating and tired from running up the stairs. It’s worth all the steps you’ll ever have to climb.

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In the middle of a work week in the middle of October, hundreds of tourists were taking pictures. It was striking – most were foreign speaking. Of all the places they could go on vacation, they came to America, the capitol of the United States to take pictures of the symbols and monuments we have built to represent freedom and equality.

Soon after, we were running again, me taking a photo and then sprinting…”Wait up!”

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The sprint was worth this photo. It was a gorgeous day.IMG_5751

Eventually we ran by the Smithsonian Castle and museum. By this point, 10 a.m., I was starving, my blood sugar low from lack of breakfast.

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But there were still photos to take. Like our nation’s capital…

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There was a ceremony taking place

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The view from the opposite end of the mall

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Like NYC, but to a lesser degree, souvenirs for sale. I just wanted food, not a shirt. Wait up, tour guide!

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Thankfully, 7 miles later, he found me an apple in the hotel gym. And I lived another day.

From there we headed to another part of D.C. where our “contact,” was.

While waiting, an old man came out. His name is Walter Ray. He was “just writing down some song lyrics.” And this guy, he’s like 80-years-old and he’s got civil rights history! He’s written songs for “I don’t know who all,” including the The Manhattans .

“Do you all like to write?” he asked.

Husband pointed to me, “She does.”

He shakes my hand and says, “The thing is, you gotta have ambition! You just gotta keep at it.”

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And I said, “Sir, I need to get your picture (even though I really hate my hair right now).” He obliged and after, showed me two of his published books of poetry.IMG_5816

I was sufficiently inspired.

IMG_5818 Walter’s walls were covered with memorabilia, including this picture. “That’s me with the man right there,” he says.

Walter Ray has two children, Roz and Walter Ray Jr. They are both lawyers. Roz has represented Bill Cosby, Kris Kross, Johnny Cochran – there was an entire wall of autographed photos, including Roz and Hilary Clinton.

Walter Ray jr showed up and we went for crab cakes and talked “business.” IMG_5814Walter looks like this laid-back, casual guy who you may not glance twice at. But he runs a non-profit to help kids go to school. When he starts talking I start taking notes. He knows every basketball stat there is, and connections to everyone in the city.

He hints at political “rats” and scandals, of people who are “distractions to the kids who could actually be somethin’ and you guys is the problem! Masquerading like you’re all that. Rats!” He says, “Satan has a team!”

He says that the best don’t always rise – “most of ’em are in the pen.” Kids, he says, need someone to believe in them. And this of course is where strong families come in.

Walter is working on a documentary of his uncle, Sam Jones, who won ten NBA rings for the Celtics – the second most EVER in history.

We could have listened to Walter all day, but when he writes his book, we’ll be first in line.

After that we headed to Virginia to meet kids at a school.IMG_5833 I took pictures of the art on the wall – how cool is this? It was done by artist-in-resident Stephen Parlato. I was so inspired, again wishing that all kids could get an education with an artist like this.IMG_5834

And then it was time to say adieu to D.C.

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We raced to the BMI, stopping to drop off our car rental, take a shuttle, grab some dinner, get through security, shove dinner in mouth, and hop on a plane for an hour and a half. We landed in Manchester NH at midnight and drove an hour home. We were greeted by dear grandmother who had watched our children for two days, played chauffeur, fed darlings, AND kept the house clean. I tell ya, we’ve got it good.

The next morning was a full day at Hogwarts as it was parent’s weekend. I walked around campus with my daughter, thinking of this opportunity she has. Not only is there magic, spells, and arithmetic, there are people who love her, take care of her, encourage her “to rise.”

Fifty years ago the civil rights act was passed, and though we still have problems and society isn’t perfect, we’ve come along way, haven’t we? I’m optimistic for the future. As Walter says, “the best don’t rise unless there’s someone tellin’ ’em what’s up.”

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The Grand Canyon: Giant Hole in the Earth

When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of
canyons deep in an old land.
-August Fruge

We are back from a whirlwind western trip.  I feel I’ve traveled the world, though it was only 6000 miles and a 3-hour time change.  I’ve decided I will never get so comfortable that I can’t pick up and leave and see a new piece of the world.  Home is where the RV is, right?
My parents have moved to Arizona, so the Grand Canyon was at the top of the TO SEE list this year. Who knows if we will ever have the chance again?  When the opportunity presents itself, I say grab that bull by the horns and charge!  After an 11-hour road trip with my sister (did you know Siri does not talk when there is no service in the middle of Hopi/Navajo country…ah!  thank goodness for old-fashioned things called MAPS) we awoke early with eight wee ones (children) and headed to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World:  The Grand Canyon.
It’s huge.  It’s a giant hole in the ground:  277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and more than 6,000 feet deep.  One could get to the South Rim to the North Rim as quickly as the raven flies, except we’re humans.  And can’t fly from one rim to the next. Travel is a precarious situation.
The Grand Canyon is a result of the Colorado River cutting through the rock millions of years ago. Did you know the Colorado River touches seven states?  But the Grand Canyon is decidedly only in Arizona.
Do you like the history lesson?
The Grand Canyon is managed by the National Park Service, the Hualapai Tribal Nation and the Havasupai Tribe.  I like that.  
See that winding path?  That’s where we were going.
I am very afraid of heights.  I wish I wasn’t.  I wish I could look down and want to bungee, jump, and fly off the mountain, but an overwhelming cold inches over my body until I am near paralyzed.  Don’t tell Fear Factor; that’s the fear they would pick for me.  I blame this fear on a ill-fated hike up Timpanogus Mountain when I was ten, clinging to the side of a mountain, watching my mother and brother slip and slide down a giant glacier.  I remember looking down off the ledge I was scaling (we were lost), wondering what it would be like to die by falling.  That cold, overwhelming fear overtook me. Crying, I prayed that I could be teleported far, far away to a safe place, but soon realized quitting wasn’t an option; we either finished or… we didn’t. 
We got down off the mountain far after sunset, and met the rescue crew who had started to search for us.  Fears.  Deep like the Grand Canyon.
A deep digression.  This is like therapy.  Thanks.
And so we set off, our brave little crew, down the winding rock paths

Pausing to sit down, drink water, and occasionally cry

Spectacular, no?
Here are the original explorers who saw more than a vast and barren waste land.  Many explorers came, including those appointed by Theodore Roosevelt (who proclaimed it a barren waste land).  Sadly, I had to admit, that had I been in the camp, I may have not recognized Grand Canyon potential.  I mean, you can’t exactly plant a garden in rock.

Here are the new explorers.  A mostly cheerful lot.  Except for the one, “i don’t want to be in the picture!!”  I was intrigued by the sign:  When mules pass, Stand to the inside of the trail.  Follow mule guides’ instructions.  MULES?  Where, mules, where?

While looking for mules we arrived at the Ooh Aah Point

Yeah!  I turned 14 at the Grand Canyon!  Okay, mother, I’m 14, not you.  Whatever.  Let us pause a moment and digest the fact that I have a 14-year-old.  These are times that try the souls of men.  Mothers, too.

Then we had to take a picture on the cliff.  And I was scared.  And inched along the rock, trying not to hyperventilate.  Cope thought it awfully funny.

Nemo!  Get away from there!  Nemo!  Even the picture makes my heart thump.

I don’t want to walk anymore!

And then…to distract us from Nemo and crying…the mules began to come.  Do you see them making their way down the winding rock ledge?

I was perplexed.  These are mules?  They look like horse to me!  They are carrying dirt and supplies down to workers working on the path.  They passed us three times going back and forth.  I felt bad for them, but wanted to ride them, too.

Lucky guide of the tribal nation.  She had beautiful long black hair and was very nice and smiled as we waited on the side of the path like good Grand Canyon hikers should.  Apparently there is a restaurant and a camp down at the bottom…someday. 
A view from the top.  Them is hard mule workers!

Beautiful red, brown, and orange rock

 One more birthday kiss

Whew, we made it all the way out to Hopi Point. We did take a shuttle in the end, thankfully.  It was a momentous, and sometimes arduous journey that made us feel exhilarated and slightly nauseous all at once – the perfect adventure combo!

Oh, darling, please don’t let me fall off the cliff.  Here we are after almost 16 years of marriage…so lucky.
And then we were off to another adventure, through the desolate deserts of Arizona.
Now that the first of the seven natural wonders is crossed off the list, which one should be next? Perhaps Rome?
For each man sees himself in the Grand Canyon-
each one carries his own Canyon before he comes, each one
brings and carries away his own Canyon.
-Carl Sandburg

Wondering…what Canyon did I bring and what Canyon did I leave with?

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Headed West and Finding Butch Cassidy

It’s been thousands of miles
since we last met

A few days ago we took off from Boston, left the big city and headed west

Let us digress for one moment and say that I’ve discovered instagram
Has life ever been so exciting?
I wanted my secret code name to be Maisymak, but someone had already TAKEN MY NAME.  So I’m going by something even more creative…amymakechnie.
Yeah.
Find me there and follow my every move
and then I can follow your every move

I’m quite thrilled with the quality of the little iPhone.  I’m snapping pictures left and right.  Don’t you love clouds?  I had one small moment of panic when I looked out the window – it was like extreme vertigo – and everything was small and I was so HIGH.  Some self-therapy talk snapped me back to reality.

We had a delay on the tarmac – 45 minutes of waiting. I watched this mama in front of me look at her husband.  I thought she might cry.  I remember those days – both the kindness and inconsiderate comments about having to sit by my crying brood.

The mama was utterly exhausted; bags under her eyes from late, sleepless nights and crawling, sweating, crying babies all over her in a tight, confined space.  This is the rule:  NO ONE complains about the babies.  I would have to glare you into a shrinking spot on the airplane floor. 

Flying over the ocean; leaving Boston Harbor

Newark was cool.  Because of the cupcakes

Flying over my homeland; the vast midwest.  That’s where your corn comes from!

And then we decided to fly to the HOTTEST place on the planet:  The deserts of Arizona.

Where we have spent hours by the pool just to stay alive.  I was reminded why I feel sick for three days every time we come to the desert in July; it’s just heat acclimation.  Last year I actually took a pregnancy test I was so convinced nausea meant baby… 

The kids love grandma and grandpa’s.  They discovered my old toys and cabbage patch baby. Her name is Annie Bessie.

The day after we landed I boarded another plane all by myself and flew to Provo, Utah

Flying over Utah Lake, a vast expanse of water in the middle of another desert

And saw my aunties who were best aunties during my childhood.  Margaret is suffering with the gene her and Angelina share.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t caught early.  But Margie is a trooper and Joanne is the sister you want by your side in such cases.

The next day I got in the car with my sister and four of her children for an 11-hour road trip.  We headed back down to Arizona…and drove through Butch Cassidy country.  He was from a nice Mormon family with 14 kids.  Actually I don’t know if they were nice.  I have a slight obsession with Butch after watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid about a million times.  This is southern Utah, with lots of bluffs and rocks for shoot-outs with the law.  Just in case the need ever arises, you’ll know.

Now.  You are allowed to complain about children if you go on an 11-hour road trip with them.  But they were angels and I never needed to complain.  We heard, “Are we there yet?” at least 200 times.  No.  We were never there yet.

The red rocks of Utah; taken with an iPhone in a moving car.  That’s pretty much what I did the whole time.  I couldn’t help it.  We drove past Brice Canyon and Lake Powell – gorgeous.

We passed into Arizona country where the flags are lowered to half-mast to honor the Prescott Arizona Hot Shots; the 19 firemen who lost their lives fighting a treacherous fire. 

There was a long detour through utter desolation.  This is Navajo/Hopi country and I can’t believe anyone lives out here.  My father thinks I live in the sticks, but this – there wasn’t even a stick.  
Finally.  HOT BRKFAST in Williams, Arizona!  We arrived on Cope’s 14th birthday…is it really true?  Did I really bring her home 14 years ago?  Time is too short.
Paige had suffered greatly without her Mama

I gave my oldest, underwear for her birthday because it’s a long story about her asking me for some for her birthday and me writing an article about it.  “Look super thrilled about your underwear!” I said.  “Thanks, Mom – this is the best present ever!”  It’s so good to see you.  And my hair isn’t all that horrible – even after three days of traveling without a shower.  Yes, this time I was wearing deoderant.

Then we hit the road again and headed to the Grand Canyon.  But that’s a post by itself.

Happy trails! 
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