Birthday Celebration: Our NYC Adventure

A couple of years ago, we decided it would be fun to take our kids on a trip of their choosing, without their sibling, when they turned 10. Chloe wasn’t sure where she wanted to go. She narrowed it down to “the mountains”, “the beach”, or Hoboken, NJ. Since Hoboken, via NYC, was the only specific location she mentioned and also the least likely location we’d visit with her brother any time soon, it seemed like the right choice.

We tried to fit as much into our time in New York City as we could. I had never been, so selfishly, I wanted to cross some items off my list too! We got in mid-afternoon on Saturday, settled in our Airbnb in Jersey City, and then Uber’ed into the city. (Sometimes I felt guilty about spending money on Ubers, but it was a balancing act between saving money and saving our sanity!) We headed to a restaurant that had been recommended to us because of their mac & cheese cones – which were delicious – but I was thrilled with the location. We were on a patio next to the river and could see the Statue of Liberty in the distance. When we were done eating, we walked over to the 9/11 Memorial and the One World Observatory.

At the 9/11 Memorial, I thought it was really special that they take the time to put a rose in someone’s name on their birthday. Since we were there on C’s birthday, we read the names of some of those who she would have shared a birthday with. Then as we were heading up to the top of the One World Observatory, there was a really powerful animation shown on the sides of the elevator that shows the changing skyline. It starts in the 1800’s and ends in the present day. If you have the chance to go, the twin towers appear, and disappear, on the right hand side, as you’re facing the back of the elevator.

On Sunday, we had tickets to see Aladdin on Broadway. We spent the morning and early afternoon exploring the area near Rockefeller Center and Times Square, before heading over to the theater. FAO Schwarz, the M&M and Disney stores, and a slice of pizza – folded in half, of course – were highlights. After the show, thanks to the friend of a family member’s nephew (thanks 6 degrees of separation 😉 !) we were able to go backstage at the theater. It was interesting to learn about their sets, props and costumes and Chloe wasn’t even a little shy when it came to checking things out!

Monday was the big day! You might think that a Broadway show would be the highlight, but no. Carlos Bakery, the bakery featured in Cake Boss, was THE REASON we traveled to NYC. During our trip, we also managed to visit several other bakeries connected to TV chefs – Sprinkles, Jacque Torres Chocolate, and Milk Bar. And because the trip may as well have just been a tour of desserts, we also enjoyed treats from Devon & Blakely (solely because of the name!), cheesecake from Junior’s, a waffle with cookie butter from Wafels & Dinges, shakes from the Shake Shack, and cookies from Levain. The lobster tail from Carlos and Chocolate Chip Walnut cookie from Levain were probably my 2 favorites – although I really wanted to add several others to the list as I typed this out! Chloe’s favorites were the lobster tail and cheesecake and Aaron, who wouldn’t have gone to nearly as many bakeries, if any, on his own, liked the Chocolate Peanut Butter cookie from Levain and the strawberry shake from Shake Shack. We walked a total of 35 miles in 4 days, so we felt totally justified in all the yummy food we ate!

When we weren’t eating, we rode the Staten Island Ferry, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, visited Grand Central Station, and explored Central Park. We looked liked tourists and I didn’t even care. I know that we barely even scraped the surface of what there is to do and see in the city, but I feel like we had a successful trip!

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Double Digits for Chloe!

My baby girl is 10! How did this happen?! I can still remember those long, hard nights her first year – bouncing and singing to her at all hours of the night in hopes she’d sleep for just a bit on her own. I can remember the endless chatter when she first started talking and the hours she’d spend on the swings during her toddler years.

These days, she’s writing her own original stories and reading chapter books that are hundreds of pages long. She can bake homemade buttermilk biscuits by herself and make her own lunch (when she feels like it…) I’m thankful there are still many times when I see the kid in her – when she comes in from playing outside covered in mud or spends hours playing a game with her brother, full of made-up family members. But sometimes it catches me off guard when I see glimpses of the adult she might become!

For her 10th birthday, we told her we would take her on a trip anywhere she wanted to go. AND that we would leave her brother at home. Eventually, she decided on New York City, because she wanted to go to Carlos Bakery in Hoboken, NJ (from the show Cake Boss.) We also asked 10 friends, family members and teachers to write her a letter and we shared those with her throughout the trip. Mine started with:

“There is something about you turning 10 that has me feeling all kinds of feelings. I’m sure you haven’t noticed this, because I’m keeping it well hidden, but it’s true 😉  As you get older, you’re gaining independence, but you’re still a kid, which I know that isn’t always easy to balance. There are some things I want you to know and remember as you get older. Hopefully some of it helps.”

I followed this with advice, most of which she’ll probably forget, but I’m hopeful that bits and pieces of it are floating around in her brain now and will come in handy someday. It was fun watching her discover who the next envelope was from (and it was a great distraction, at times!) and I hope that years from now, she’ll look back and appreciate the letters even more.

This girl is a creature of habit, so even as we were in the airport on the morning of her birthday, she was asking me when I’d ask her the 20 birthday questions. She has the love of planning and the memory that pre-kids Blakely had 🙂 Thanks to her, we got the questions answered on her birthday.

  • What is your favorite color? Purple and aqua blue
  • What is your favorite toy?  Dollhouse
  • What is your favorite fruit?  Pear
  • What is your favorite TV show?  The Voice
  • What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch?  Mac & Cheese and fish sticks
  • What is your favorite outfit?  Anything with Harry Potter on it.
  • What is your favorite game?  Codenames
  • What is your favorite snack?  Nutella banana wrap up
  • What is your favorite animal?  A fox and a dog
  • What is your favorite song? Rewrite the Stars –from The Greatest Showman
  • What is your favorite book? Land of Stories and Harry Potter
  • Who is your best friend? Nya
  • What is your favorite movie? The Greatest Showman
  • What is your favorite thing to do outside?  Play in the mud.
  • What is your favorite drink? Vitamin water with sparkling water mixed in
  • What is your favorite holiday?  Halloween
  • What do you like to take to bed with you at night?  Tangled blanket and dog
  • What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?  German pancake with butter syrup and strawberries
  • What do you want for dinner on your birthday?  Ribs with mac and cheese
  • What do you want to be when you grow up? A baker or a writer

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Winter in April: Escape to Phoenix

After making an offhand comment at the beginning of January about how winter really wasn’t too bad this year, Mother Nature decide to prove me wrong. It seemed like we were getting snow or experiencing below zero temperatures constantly for months. When the snow wouldn’t end in March, we decided we needed another escape. We used the explore feature on Kayak.com and found plane tickets to Phoenix, AZ for $60/person in April.

The mornings started out in the 60s and the temperature was in the 80s or 90s by the afternoon. Our kids are not great at changing their sleeping pattern due to time changes, so we got up early every morning and went hiking before breakfast – and before it got too hot. Then we went swimming from about 10-12, had lunch, and worked on a little schoolwork before finding an afternoon/evening activity. Pretty much any activity that could be done outside was, so we could soak up as much sunshine as possible.

The company Aaron works for has an office in Scottsdale, so I felt like we needed to scope out some good restaurants in case we come back. My favorite breakfast spot was Butters Cafe and we had a fun afternoon date by going to Top Golf and getting donuts at the Fractured Prune. We were also happy to find that they have In-N-Out Burger in Arizona and I kinda wanted a Neopolitan shake every day, but I showed self-restraint. Sort of. Really, we just scoped out several different spots to satisfy my sweet tooth and were happy to find a great ice cream spot, Churn, close to the Phoenix Art Museum – which, if you’re visiting, is free on Wednesday afternoons starting at 3!

Although it took a few weeks to fully warm up to normal spring temperatures when we got home, this was just the recharge we needed to make it through!

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Family Magic: Disney Cruise

When my daughter and niece were born, my mom started saving up to take the whole family on a Disney Cruise. Almost 10 years and 3 grandsons later, and we were ready to embark!

I had been on two previous cruises, but this was the first time with our kids, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. However, Disney did not disappoint! My only complaint would be that there were too many activities my kiddos wanted to do and it was difficult to fit it all in!

We were on the Disney Magic and our favorite dining experience was on our first night at the Animator’s Palate. It was really fun to watch the animations transform from simple sketches to full color animations. We also really loved the fireworks on Pirate Night, the endless activities in the kids club, and the 3 Broadway style shows we were able to catch.

Along with 2 days at sea, we also stopped at 2 ports. Our family of 4 decided to splurge on an excursion when we were in Cozumel and we went swimming with dolphins – specifically with Linco, who was great at backflips and had some sweet dance moves! I was so proud of the kids, who were a little nervous, but totally rocked it and now only have great memories!

My favorite day was in Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. Aaron and I started the day by dropping the kids off in Scuttle’s Cove (the kids area on the island) and then did the Castaway Cay 5K. It was a great way to see the island and was actually nice to get some exercise after a few days on a boat – even if it was a huge boat!

After we made it to the beach with the kids, they didn’t want to leave. Thankfully, we could bring lunch to them! We found Oaken’s Trading Post on our way to the water slides, which was a plus, because Devon was really hoping to see Olaf somewhere along the way 🙂

It was such a lovely, sunshiny, low-key day and I would totally go for a cruise that just takes us to Castaway Cay and hangs out for a few days!

This will probably go down as one of my favorite vacations, because it was so fun to have all the cousins together! The delicious food and built-in babysitter didn’t hurt either 😉 If the amount of sleep on the airplane ride home correlates to the amount of fun experienced, I’d say my kids would agree!

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Murphy’s (Georges’) Law

I love my dog. I have loved all of my dogs through the years. But, (wo)man do they test the limits of my love sometimes! Georges has had his fair share of disasters the last couple of weeks, and his timing has been the worst. Definitely made me think of Murphy’s Law!

When Iowa was dealing with record low temperatures, with wind chills reaching -50, our back gate broke.

Of course, Georges took this opportunity to go explore the neighborhood. And I took off after him, wearing sweatpants, a thermal, and socks. That’s it. When it was below zero and there was snow on the ground.

Thankfully, Georges quickly decided it was too cold to go far and I was able to catch up to him and carry him home. A little inconvenient, but in the end, not a big deal.

Georges saved the big deal for a couple of days later when he decided that his dinner wasn’t enough and helped himself to some garbage. He was sick overnight and into the next morning – Friday morning. He wasn’t eating or drinking and was pretty lethargic, which if you know Georges, you know is not good. I called the vet, who said they were booked full and said I should take him to the ISU Emergency Vet.

Long story, short (too late!): Georges ended up under anesthesia to get an endoscopy to pull the garbage out manually.

We got him home at about 9PM – a full 9 hours before we had to leave for the airport to go on vacation for the week. Not just any vacation, but one out of the country where we would be unreachable.

We filled in our dog sitters, got him some special food and his meds. We checked in as long as we had service, but of course, as soon as we were out of range, Georges decided to keep everyone on their toes by refusing to eat. In the end, it turns out that he thought the expensive, special food was just gross, and he was fine once he went back to his regular food. But still.

It’s a good thing he’s cute. Even if he is still missing hair on his leg where his IV went.

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Devon is Seven!

And loving that his name and age rhyme! Life won’t be this good again until he turns 11 🙂

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Devon is taller, has bigger feet, longer hair and fewer teeth than last year. But I could write the same things I did last year:
“Oh, sweet boy! You continue to challenge me and love me every day. You have such strong opinions, about everything, and I hope that you learn to express those opinions in such a way that you can change the world (instead of just driving your mama crazy!) You still give some of the best hugs I’ve ever had and love to snuggle while we do schoolwork.”

You love American Ninja Warrior, Harry Potter and living in pretend book-worlds with your sister. You have been in Tae Kwan Do for about a year now, but are really excited to try basketball later this fall. You want to do everything as quickly as possible, including brushing your teeth and playing piano, unless we ask you to clean something.

Since you can read now, I had to turn the computer away from you so you couldn’t read last year’s answers, but you were excited to answer these questions, none the less.

What is your favorite color? Blue. 

What is your favorite toy? “Probably the dolls.” (Dollhouse.)

What is your favorite fruit? Frozen blueberries, probably.

What is your favorite TV show? Paw Patrol.

What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? Mac & Cheese

What is your favorite outfit?  Minion shirt with my jeans.

What is your favorite game? Tier auf Tier (Animal Upon Animal)

What is your favorite snack? Goldfish.

What is your favorite animal? A dog

What is your favorite song? “The Other Side” (from The Greatest Showman)

What is your favorite book? Minecraft how-to books

Who is your best friend? Judah! (even though he’s lived 4+ hours away for 5 years now…)

What is your favorite movie? The Greatest Showman

What is your favorite thing to do outside? Play with the floating steps.

What is your favorite drink? Sparkling Water

What is your favorite holiday? “My birthday!!” (And then we had a discussion about how it’s not technically a holiday, but we do celebrate it- just like last year and the year before. So then he said…) “Or Christmas. Everyone I know celebrates my birthday though…”

What do you like to take to bed with you at night? “My stuffies and my blankets. And my clock and flashlight and my pillows. And my sheets. And a whole bunch of books.”

What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Pancakes!

What do you want for dinner on your birthday? El Azteca

What do you want to be when you grow up? Probably a baker. Or an artist. Or a runner. (After reading him last year’s answer, he said, “Well, at least all of these are reasonable answers.”)

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Planes, Trains & Automobiles: San Francisco

Our trip to San Francisco involved all of those modes of transportation, and more, just not in that order 🙂

This trip started with 46 hours on an Amtrak train, from Osceola, Iowa to Emeryville, California.  This was such a cool way to travel. We slept through the rest of Iowa and Nebraska, then woke up as we pulled into Denver, Colorado. This means that we spent the whole day with gorgeous views of the mountains. We set up camp in the observation car and spent the day playing card games, reading, listening to music and drawing pictures. We counted tunnels – 63 in total and ate multiple desserts a day. As with any trip or experience, there were learning opportunities along the way – like when we had to teach our kids what “mooning” is when we saw rafters on the Colorado River 😉

The second day involved a little more restlessness, but overall, it was still a good experience! When we arrived in Emeryville, we rented a car and drove across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco and checked in to our Airbnb.

The next morning we were up bright and early (thanks, time difference!) and got ready to drive up to Muir Woods. We hiked through and the kids completed their Junior Ranger booklets. We loved being able to stand inside the tree trunks to take in their massive size and enjoyed finding the banana slugs along the way. We drove over to Muir Beach, enjoyed a picnic lunch and then put our toes in the Pacific Ocean. The kids kept creeping further in until a bigger wave came their way. They weren’t able to outrun it and Devon was knocked over. Without a change of clothes handy, this ended our time at the beach pretty quickly. Weeks later, we’re still finding sand in the pocket of the sweatshirt he was wearing!

On our way back to our home for the week, we stopped to take pictures in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and then over to Lands End Lookout, where we explored ancient baths, a cave and took in some more views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Day 2 in San Francisco involved Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies (Full House opening!!), a ride on a cable car, sourdough bread, the sea lions at Pier 39, Aquarium of the Bay, Ghiradelli Square, Lombard Street and In-N-Out Burger. It was a fantastic day, full of iconic SF sights and I was starting to wonder what we had left to do. Thankfully, there was a lot more to see!

We had returned our rental car the day before, so we were completely at the mercy of public transportation for day 3. Even so, we managed to stop at the see the Tanner’s house (once again, think Full House!) The kids had watched all the episodes on Hulu, so at least 75% of our family was really excited about this! Then we hopped on another bus, detoured to our second San Francisco park and spent the rest of our morning at the Exploratorium. After lunch with a view of the sea lions, we took a Bay Cruise out under the Golden Gate Bridge and back. It was a windy, choppy ride, but neat to see things from that perspective.

By this point in the trip, we had been on a train, car, cable car, bus and boat. We had also done plenty of walking! An underground train took us partway home that night and we’d eventually take a taxi and airplane to get back to Iowa. But first, we had one more full day of fun!

Our last full day was also Chloe’s 9th birthday! In her honor, we had a second breakfast of crepes before hanging out at our third park of the trip. We stayed closer to home and spent the day in Golden Gate State Park, with most of our afternoon at the California Academy of Sciences. Of the three museums we went to, I think this was everyone’s favorite. There were a variety of exhibits, including a planetarium show and live animals.

After dinner, we found a rolled ice cream place, because – birthday!

Before heading to the airport, we had about a half day left to explore. We stuck close to “home” – and more importantly, our luggage we didn’t want to cart all over the city – and explored even more of the enormous Golden Gate State Park. We saw the Japanese Tea Garden from the outside, played at park number four and even saw police officers on horses 🙂

Right as we arrived at the airport, we got a notification that our flight was cancelled. They couldn’t get us home until the next day, so we stayed in a random hotel and let the kids watch movies all evening. That was a rough ending to the vacation, when everyone was tired and potentially a little cranky. On our way home, I tried to say “yes” to the kids as much as possible, to make the experience as bearable as possible. I’m not sure how successful my plan was, but we made it home in one piece!

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