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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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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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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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Meet me in St. Louis, Louis…

This is the song lyric that ran through my head most of the weekend. I really don’t know any other words to this song, but these alone seemed appropriate enough!

We arrived Friday afternoon and went to the Old Courthouse. The kids completed a Junior Ranger booklet, including a scavenger hunt around the courthouse and a chance to be a judge. Then they received their Junior Ranger badges!


After 6 hours in the car and a trip to a museum, the kids were ready to get outside and see the Gateway Arch! We couldn’t ride the elevators up to the top due to some construction, but D thought the construction equipment at the base made it so much cooler! 


After checking it out from the viewing platform, we walked over to the Arch so we could touch it. The kids were happy to quote Finding Nemo and said several times, “I touched the butt!” They were also thoroughly confused by the fact that the base of the Arch is a triangle. They had to count the sides multiple times 🙂

After the Arch, we stopped at IKEA (hooray for me!) and then settled in at the hotel. Drury Inn & Suites might be my new favorite hotel to stay at with kids. We had a suite with a separate bedroom. They offered free popcorn every afternoon and “heavy appetizers” that we easily made into dinner. Score! This left us with plenty of time to go swimming!

Saturday morning, the kids were up bright and early and by 7:15 they were already asking when we were leaving to go to the zoo. As a result, we were there within minutes of them opening. It was a little chilly to start the morning – about 35 degrees – but still warmer than it was at home! It warmed up to a beautiful 50-ish by the time we left!!

Due to the cool temps, the zoo was not very busy. We went to the Kansas City Zoo with some friends in December, on a day with similar temps, and it was equally as not-busy. I despise cold weather, we all know that, but I think winter might be my new favorite time to go to the zoo! There were no crowds to fight through and the kids got to spend as much time interacting with the animals as they wanted – no need to let other kids have a look!

The hippos and polar bear were some of the kids’ favorites. They had each taken $10 of their own money on the trip so they could buy a souvenir of their choosing along the way. C picked out a stuffed polar bear that she named Louis (Loo-ee) and D chose a small hippo toy he named Jimmy. Letting them use their own money made it so much easier than saying “no” to the majority of the junk they wanted and they took their time to pick out one thing they really liked.

And did I mention the St. Louis Zoo is free?!? I had no idea until I started researching our trip! There are certain things they charge for, such as the Children’s Zoo, carousel, train ride and sea lion show. But we discovered along the way, that even some of those things are free at certain times of day. The Children’s Zoo is free for the first hour the zoo is open and the carousel is free from 10-11 every day – which we conveniently discovered at 10:02!

After the zoo, Aaron’s sister and her family met up with us at a local pizza joint. We had some delicious St. Louis style pizza and then headed back to the hotel to watch the Iowa State basketball game – it is between the months of November and March, so our schedule on game days is predetermined 🙂 Then we got to go swimming again, with cousins this time! As proof that love for our children runs deep, I not only shaved my legs (in winter!) to put on a swimming suit, but I also fully submerged myself under water so I could swim C under the rubber barrier between the indoor and outdoor pools. I don’t put my head under water voluntarily. And I don’t swim underwater in 50 degree weather. But C wanted to, sooo…

The cousins got to spend the evening hanging out together and the adults got to chat and play cards after the kids fell asleep.

It was a great time hanging out with family and getting away from the day-to-day grind. We enjoyed some warmer weather and time outside the house, before we came home to a blizzard on Monday with wind chills below zero forecasted for the next few days.

A week on a beach might have been my first choice for a vacation, but this weekend away helped cure my wanderlust. For now!

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