Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Big Apple Escape

Oh fair readers... I just returned from two-ish days in New York.  I needed it.  Beyond Charlotte being a handful lately, it's been two long years since I last visited and I've been itching to get back for a long time. It's an easy four hour drive from here to New York by train, car, or bus, and pre-kid was on the regular rotation of weekend getaways.  But I haven't made it back since Charlotte was born.  #firstworldproblems
 
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So my friend Jess and I planned a quick trip up, leaving Saturday morning on the train and returning Sunday evening- giving us two full days to fill up with goodies.  I was conflicted-- I typically try to do new things each visit, but since I hadn't been in so long, I really wanted to visit my old favorites.  So we ended blending the two agendas and here's what we did...
 
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A matinee showing of A Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder {this year's Tony winner for best new musical} allowed us to get in a show and still get in a great dinner.  Our train arrived at noon, we dropped our bags at the hotel, and cabbed up to 48th St. for the show, grabbing a bite of pizza in between.
 
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I was already tired from our busy morning but the show quickly snapped me out of it.  GGLAM was very funny and clever. A must see- Jefferson Mays steals the show!
 
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Confession: I always get teary during standing ovations.  People are just so talented and they're living their dreams and...!! I can't.
 
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{Of Mice & Men was across the street—the crowd of people waiting to see James Franco and Chris O’Dowd was insane.}
 
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{We strolled by my home away from home—the show is closing August 24th—I was seriously tempted to take in a fourth show…}
 
We hit Joe Fresh after the show.  I LOVE Joe Fresh.  They're style is very clean and preppy—lots of stripes and navy and good basics. Great prices. I discovered them on a trip to NYC two years ago and their only US stores are in Manhattan, save for a small line at JC Penney, so it's always a must on my list.  I feel like they’re still somewhat of a hidden gem, so I hesitate to share my treasure lest they turn into messy, overrun megastores.  But I love their stuff!  Unfortunately this trip was lackluster but I grabbed a few tissue T's for $2.50 and some workout gear.  I always feel less guilty buying workout clothes.
 
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Also, post-show: Sour cream apple walnut pie at the Little Pie Co. on 43rd and 9th.  No crowd, not a tourist spot, easily found a table outside and devoured this delicious pie.  I would've been satisfied by the giant crumble topping alone.  The crust is always the best part, am I right?
 
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The weather on the East Coast was out of control this weekend-- we enjoyed a breezy evening walking around the pedestrian friendly Little Italy.  We sat outside, drank wine, and pasta with porcini mushrooms and pancetta... I was in heaven.  Regulars might tell you differently, but you can't go wrong in Little Italy.  I've never had a bad meal there.
 
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Gelato followed and a cab ride back to the hotel.  In bed by 11 and slept like a log without the light of a baby monitor.  I was very, very in need of this trip.
 
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{Tasted better than it looks…porcini mushrooms and wide ribbon pasta.  I died with every bite.}
 
Saturday morning we grabbed coffee and took the subway up to the Upper East Side to visit our friend Jen.  She and her husband Chris recently moved up from DC and we're all living vicariously through their new adventure.
 
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{#subwayprobs}
 
Confession #2: the spring before I got pregnant with Charlotte I was lobbying Tyler VERY hard for a move to New York.  I found our church, our apartment, my job... I just never convinced Tyler. Oh well.
 
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{I almost always order eggs benedict…I just can’t branch out.  This time I at least ordered smoked salmon!}
 
It was so fun to see their little apartment {I broke all etiquette and asked how much their rent is—I just had to know} and hear about their transition.  We brunched at Cafe d'Alsace and gossiped about Real Housewives of New York like we knew them.  We also hit a Goodwill across the street after hearing Jen's tales of Michael Kors raincoats and $12 designer handbags. We left treasure-less, however.
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{Jess and Jen, quickly snapped as we were hopping in a cab.}
 
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{I don’t have any pictures of the good stuff because I was too busy shopping…}
 
The rest of the afternoon was walking and shopping!  There are wholesale jewelry stores around 31st and Broadway, close to Herald Square.  I think I've shared this secret with you before, dear readers—I never skip a trip here.  Enamel bracelets for $3.50, bib necklaces for $6.  I always buy a sheet of fake pearl studs and just keep them in a jar on my dresser.  New this trip: they sell a ton of adorable infinity carves.  The thought occurred to me too late, but next time I'm doing an NYC goodies giveaway!  You would love these stores for fun, inexpensive accessories.  All of those $40 necklaces in boutiques?  These are them, for $5.
 
 
New this trip: Uniqlo!  I keep a note on my phone for NYC finds so whenever I see a cool restaurant or store in a magazine or something, I write it down and consult The Note before each trip.  I had Uniqlo written down with two stars buy it.  A great basics store-- mostly solids, few patterns. Great blazers and buttons ups, blouses, tees, jackets... Three stories, free alterations, I saw nothing over $70.  I left with an LBD, striped tunic shirt, and a down vest.
 
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Last stop: M & J Trim on 37th.  I'd been there once awhile back but didn’t have a reason to buy.  With the dabbling I do in baby accessories now, I knew I had to make a trip.  This place was crawling with ribbon and trim and buttons and clasps out the wazoo.  Floor to ceiling.  Our day was dwindling quickly but I managed to grab a few yards of some cute embroidered ribbon—coming to a paci clip near you!
 
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After retrieving our luggage from the hotel, we grabbed hot dogs and gelato and sadly, were on our way.  I can't speak highly enough of our experience on Amtrack all weekend.  Friendly, helpful redcaps, clean, efficient trains, left and arrived on time... I rarely take the train but always love it when I do!  Jess and I shared some wine and cheese on the trip home to liven up our sad trip home.
 
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I desperately needed some time away from home and this was just what I needed {have I mentioned my nearly 18 mo old is kicking my butt?}.  And though I was sad my little retreat was over, I was more than happy to find Charlotte and Tyler waiting for me at Union Station.  I was only gone for 36 hours and she grew THIS much while I was away-- how does that happen??
image_50{Seriously people.}

I returned home to a clean house with a fully stocked fridge and pantry, and clean laundry—apparently I need to leave home more often!  I feel so thankful to have a capable husband, fun friends, and the means to escape for a few days… Until next time, I’ll be dreaming of Hill Country Chicken, Fish’s Eddy, and banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery. Smile

Behind the Scenes…

So I shared in my last post about a TV network reaching out to film in our house.  The radio silence that followed was the sound of me going crazy cleaning my house, rearranging, re-decorating, PAINTING, and generally over-thinking every corner of the house.
This little event, though tiresome, was the kick in the pants we needed to finally finish up little projects around the house.  There have been these dead, gross bushes in the front yard that didn’t come back after winter that we finally dug up.  I’ve been meaning to hang some lanterns in the basement.  I’ve hated the tabletop arrangement in the living room.  You know, all those little things that you need to host a party for to finally do something about.
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So, knowing full well I was going overboard, I spent all of last weekend making trips to HomeGoods, World Market, and Home Depot.  I bought new pillows, decorative knicknacks, fresh flowers.  I found myself replacing frame mats for pictures in the laundry room and buying a new, cute basket to sit atop the dryer, thinking “WHY am I wasting all this time and money finishing the laundry room??”
 
But I can’t help myself and you know, there’s a film crew coming tomorrow!!
 
So, after going to bed at 2am, we were all up at 7 to be ready for the crew, who arrived promptly at 9.  “The crew” consisted of a producer, camera man, and two production assistants.  They immediately dropped off their bags and started setting up lights and computers, while I gave Julie, the producer, a quick tour of the house and she said…I quote…“Wow.”
 
A TV producer said, “Wow.” 
 
I was done.  I can die a happy woman.
image_3{See that little framed calendar on the wall? It took a film crew coming to get me to finally change it from March of 2013.}
 
And then she announced they were going to shoot in every room of the house, even the laundry room.  For the first time in my entire life, I did NOT go overboard preparing my house for something.  In fact, every last decorative item, every fresh flower arrangement, were all used on camera.  This was extremely validating.  Adios receipts!
image_1{Pitcher from Target, $14, sunflowers from Trader Joe’s $4.  Why don’t I always have fresh sunflowers in my house for $4??}
 
The products were shot individually, so we went through the same process three times throughout the day.  First, they shot the product around the house sitting in different spots, which took about an hour.  Lots of lighting adjustments and shots from different angles.  Then, they filmed us holding and using the products, took another hour.  And the last step was being interviewed about the product.
image_4{Product shots for a portable cell phone charger.}
 
image_7{Charlotte helping, taking some serious production notes in her pajamas.}
 
They said lots of TV things like, “Where’s my call sheet?” and “You’re in my light.”  I just stood to the side and tried to sneak cell phone pictures, acting like this was all totally normal.
 
image{I even bought movie star water for the talent only.}
 
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The portable cell phone charger was Tyler’s to film.  The producer sat there and called out directions, “Okay, now wrap up the wire.  Now pass it to your other hand.  Now spin it around.”  A lot of this footage included close ups of our hands, so I’m extremely grateful my friend recommended we get manicures beforehand.  Good call, Amanda!
 
image_14{Husband getting make-up before his interview to get rid of his “shine.”}
 
The product I filmed was a set of plastic snaps, like the ones on clothing.  Very random, but I do use snaps a lot on the bibs and paci clips I make, so I truly appreciated how easy they were to apply {no hammers or positioners or grommets} and how well they stayed on.  We did have to be a little creative in the filming…there’s just not a lot to do with snaps.
 
image_15{“Okay, snap them. Now unsnap them. Okay, try not to use your left hand, it’s getting in the way.  Snap them.  Unsnap them. Smile!”}
 
Charlotte managed to take a nice 2.5 hour nap amid the commotion, which is good because she made it on camera to film us working with the baby bibs.
 
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I recruited my neighbor Amanda for the last product…wait for it…a door stopper!  Fancy and innovative, right? World changing.  We got to keep as many as we wanted.  I’m thinking monogrammed door stoppers.  It’s going to sweep the nation, I’m sure of it.
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image_21{See that lantern I finally hung??}
 
I was keeping Charlotte occupied by the time Amanda was being interview—I have no idea what kind of testimonial she gave for a door stopper!
 
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So, the products were kind of random and there were no projects or renovations, which I think a lot of people were expecting, but it was a fun experience!  It was interesting to see the time that went into what will ultimately be a very small segment of a show—I can’t imagine what goes into full renovation shows!  The air dates for the next season are TBD...I'll let you know!
 
Until then, I’ll just be waiting on my fame and fortune.  It’s too bad we just missed the Emmy nominations… I have “Best Baby Bib Snap Presenter” written all over me.
 
Next year.  Next year.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

So That Happened…

A funny thing happened a few weeks ago while we were at the beach.  Tyler, reading his phone, told me to check my phone. “There’s a TV producer trying to reach you.” 
But of course.  And Oprah’s on hold.
I gave him the side eye and grabbed my phone to find that beckoning red bubble over my email.  I had three emails waiting for me—two from a friend and one from a name I didn’t recognize.  As it turned out, the name I didn’t recognize was indeed a producer for the XYZ Network, and the other two emails were my friend Shelly telling me, “Heads up—you’re going to get an email from a TV producer!”  I read everything quickly and out of order and was…confused.
Apparently, a friend of a friend {Hi Erin!} passed this blog on to the producer.  I thought for sure there was no way this would go any further once they read my D-list blog.  I was ready to brush it off until I realized the producer had emailed me through my blog. “What? They saw this and still contacted me??”  I was still confused and didn’t know what the show was or what this was about, so I re-read everything.
“…looking for people in the DC/Northern VA area….20-40s…attractive…modern, updated homes…”  She asked for pictures of our house and our family.
I was flattered, for sure, but certain our little rental with my painted curtains and contact paper walls wouldn’t pass muster.  “DC” and “20-40” was the only thing I was sure I qualified for.  I thanked her for the opportunity and let her know I’d send pictures when we were back from vacation.
So, as soon as I was home, I cleaned my house top to bottom and took pictures of every room in the house… And by cleaned, I mean I pushed a mess of suitcases around the house, out of view of the camera.
006{In real life, there is a mountain of coloring books right there in this corner.. ^^}
Off I sent the pictures, doubting every decorating decision I’ve ever made, fully expecting a, “We’ll get back to you” reply.  I was content to think, “One day I’ll tell my grandkids how I emailed with a TV producer….”
But, long story short, IT’S HAPPENING!!
I’m still not totally sure what is happening, but a film crew is arriving NEXT MONDAY to shoot products in my house.
Next Monday.
Film crew.
We get free lunch and everything.
So here we go!  I recruited Tyler, my bipolar toddler, and my neighbor Amanda {the awesome one who takes my kid at a moment’s notice and doesn’t ask questions when I text her and say, “Hey, wanna be on TV with me??”} to be a part of it too.  Coming to a TV set near you!
{My expectations are so low and reasonable, I can’t even tell you.  But, you know…I’m still daydreaming about how I’m going to charm the pants off them and get my own TV show.  Ha!}
I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Flying with a Toddler

A lot of you know, especially if we’re FB friends, that Charlotte and I fly a lot to meet up with my ever traveling husband.  Back in November, I posted some tips on flying with a squirmy baby, so I wanted to post an update with new tips on toddler flying!

There are trade-offs for traveling with kids of different ages—infants you don’t have to battle mobility, but they tend to cry without warning and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it.  Toddlers are busy, busy, busy, but can be easier to distract {i.e. bribe} if they’re on the verge of a meltdown.  It’s always a learning experience and each trip is always a little different.  So here’s what I’ve picked up in the last nine months…

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Booking Your Ticket/Flight Times

  • Same advice as last time: do your best to travel at times that work best for your kid.  I prefer midday flights so Charlotte can get a morning nap in.  I avoid late afternoon and evening flights as best I can. 
  • Make sure to add “Infant in Arms” in the special accommodations section when you book your ticket if your child is under 2 yrs.
  • I prefer aisle seats for quick exits; some people prefer window seats to minimize distractions, if you have a kiddo that will sleep on the plane
  • Fly direct.  I know it’s not always possible, but given reasonable differences in ticket price, it is always worth it to me to fly direct and avoid the increased risk of lost baggage and missed connections.  I may or may not have been spotted publicly crying on a recent Delta flight, as our delayed flight was leaving me faced with the very real possibility of being stuck alone overnight in Minneapolis, with my kid, three diapers, no pack & play or real food.

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What to Pack

  • I pack one roller suitcase for Charlotte and I, and check it upon arrival.
  • One carry-on.  Minimize your needs.  I usually use Charlotte’s diaper bag and skip a purse, but on my most recent flight I carried both.  If you bring two bags, keep all liquids in one bag so you’re not rifling through two different bags in the security line.  Even if it’s not liquid, I put all foods in one gallon ziplock {bottles/cups, squeeze packs, crackers, etc…} and just drop it in the bin at security.
  • An umbrella stroller or a car seat roller.  Gone are the days of Charlotte in a Baby Bjorn, but we have discovered this: the Brica Roll & Go.  The best $70 I have ever spent, hands down.  It essentially functions as a dolly—you set your car seat on the platform, wrap the strap around the back and voila!  You pull your kid around the airport in their car seat like a piece of luggage.  We have a hand-me-down car seat used only for air travel, so it’s not the end of the world if we have to check it, or heaven forbid it gets lost.  If you don’t need a car seat on the other end of your travel, I recommend a light umbrella stroller that folds up easily to get through the airport.

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Checking In

  • When you check in and drop off your bag, find out if there are adjacent open seats and asked to be moved to them. I prefer an aisle seat at the front of the plane, but if there’s an open window and middle seat next to the bathroom, put me in it!  Finding out if there are open seats also gives you some mental preparation on whether or not you’ll be able to take your car seat on.  If the flight is full, you will have to gate check the car seat.  Make sure there is an ID tag on the car seat, in either case, so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.

Security

  • Kids under 12 don’t have to remove shoes, so wear whatever will be comfortable for them.
  • There is no limit to the amount of milk and baby food you can bring on, but liquids will be tested with a little litmus strip by TSA.  You can save time by not bringing milk and just buying it on the other side of security.
  • Your tot will need to be carried with you through the metal detector; you do not have to go through the full body scanner.  They will swipe your hands with a little wand to check for…something.
  • Strollers will need to be sent through the scanners with your bags, so have your baby out of it and folded up as you near the detectors.  Car seats generally don’t fit and will be inspected separately by TSA—I have never had to take it off the Roll & Go contraption, just lower the handle and fold the wheels in.  I flag a security person in line and they send someone over to inspect it while we go through the detectors and wait for the milk to be tested.
  • Again, have all liquid bags in one carry-on.  As soon as I get a bin, I drop in my shoes, my bag of milk/snacks, and my bag of make-up/liquids.
  • Don’t wear any watches or jewelry to the airport—I just keep it in an accessible bag pocket and put it on later.

Gate Arrival & Boarding

  • I check again with front desk as boarding time gets closer to see if there are two open seats—most people will have checked in and have seat assignments by now.  Unless the flight is sold out, I find that gate agents are more than happy to help you sit next to an open seat.  As are the passengers. Smile 
  • There are two approaches to hanging at the gate: keep them strapped in, or let them move around.  Charlotte does much better buckled in to the car seat—she doesn’t mind sitting and is generally more relaxed.  If I know the car seat is coming on the plane, I keep her in it and pre-board as soon as they’ll let me on so I can struggle with her car seat without the tapping toes of businessmen behind me {downside of the Roll & Go is that car seats are generally too wide to roll down the aisle}.  If she is going to be in my lap, I let her roam to use up some energy and I board the plane as late as possible—an aisle seat comes in handy with this approach.
  • If you didn’t pay for an extra seat but are able to take the car seat on, let the flight attendant know as soon as you board that you are flying Infant in Arms and the gate agents said you could bring on the car seat.  They get confused when they check the seat rosters before take-off.
  • If you are unable to take the car seat on, I highly recommend removing the Roll & Go on the jet bridge, before gate checking it {it is tricky carrying a kid and a bag and a car seat down the jet bridge—roll them in it until the last minute.  Then step to the side, take the kid out, remove the Roll & Go}.  On the latest flight catastrophe I referenced earlier, they almost lost our car seat and my one consolation was that I still had my beloved Roll & Go.

image_5{The reason our last flying experience didn’t go well…or go at all!}

In-Flight Entertainment

All of my personal standards are out the window as soon as we pass security.  I’m not big on kids with electronics, and I try to feed Charlotte as healthy as I can {ignore the cold hotdog she fisted around the house yesterday…} but I will let that kid drink straight Yellow No 5 out of BPA-filled plastic water bottle and go comatose on Sponge Bob Square Pants if it keeps her quiet and contained on an airplane.  Let’s face it—pardon the comparison, TSA, but getting on an airplane with tiny human is like getting on a plane with a grenade.  They might sit quietly the whole time and everyone is relatively unaware of their presence.  OR they will completely explode without warning and everyone around you will wish they were dead.  You just never know and it’s almost completely out of your hands.  Toddlers are not designed to sit still for hours on end, much less minutes on end, they cannot be reasoned with, and have no understanding of the word “embarrassed.”  Whatever it takes to keep them quiet, happy, and not kicking anyone’s seat, do it!  For my very active 1.5 year old, here’s what works:

  • Short TV episodes.  For $2, you can buy iTunes episodes of pretty much any show.  Our iPad is stocked with 20 minutes episodes of Doc McStuffins, Thomas, and Octonauts.  I try to keep this hat trick in my back pocket for as long as possible, BUT you no longer have to turn off your mobile devices for take-off and landing {it just has to be on airplane mode/WIFI off} so if you need it as soon as you get on the plane, go for it.  They won’t make you turn it off.
  • Coloring. Praise Jesus for Crayola Color Wonder.  As my sister says, “Whoever invented this, deserves a Nobel Peace Prize!”
  • Stickers.  Our most recent travels had us sitting on a runway for two hours.  A big page of Doc McStuffins stickers saved me.
  • A trip to the bathroom.  Even if she doesn’t need one, we take a trip to the back of the plane for a new diaper about half way through the flight.  Gives her a chance to stretch her legs and practice her beauty pageant wave to rows of her adoring passengers.  Side note: I always have Charlotte in dresses for easy diaper changes.
  • Snacks, snacks, snacks.  Pack their favorites and any treats that are usually reserved for special occasions. Lollipops, fruit snacks, Pirates Booty, apples {Charlotte still loves teething on apples}.  If they’re chewing, they’re usually not crying!  Also note, most flights I’ve been on have milk.  I’m always paranoid about rationing fluids, and grab a carton of milk as soon as the bevy cart comes, even if I don’t I need it.

Descent! 

  • Oh the sweet feeling of a descending plane’s pressure changes!  Have bottles/sippy cups, pacis, and suckers ready to suck on to help their little ears.  I’ve only had a problem with Charlotte’s ears once, and I typically don’t stress about crying on descent—everyone is much more patient when they know they’re almost off the plane anyway.

Luckily, we’ve been spared any real meltdowns and strangers have always been helpful and complimentary to us at the end of the flight.  I’ve read enough stories and comments sections though to know there are folks out there who have no amount of patience or empathy for parents and kids on an airplane and you can usually spot them eyeing you at the gate.  I am always ready to prove those a-holes wrong, and calmly, confidently handle my bags and my kids alone, even if she’s starting to lose it.  You want to shoot me eye darts, Buddy?  I mean this in the nicest way possible, but…Bite Me.

So, take heart mamas!  Flying with toddlers is possible.  Just do everything in your power to come prepared, anticipate hiccups, and handle the whole process with as much efficiency as possible.  And if it all goes to hell and you have to cry in public?  I’ve done that too.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Surprise!!

Our first summer vacay is on the books, people.  Complete with road trips, hotels, grumpy toddlers, and hair that was washed every three days. Er, four days?  Because when you're at the beach and dry shampoo exists, why waste your time.

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My wonderful mama celebrated a milestone birthday last weekend and my sister and I, plus twenty eight other relatives painstakingly planned a surprise beach week bananza without her knowing.  We've been emailing {and emailing and emailing} since August of 2012, and the location changed at least three times.  There is no doubt the NSA has a lengthy paper trail of our comings and goings the past 18 months. But we pulled it off!



Ignorantly {we THINK} enjoying a quiet beach weekend on St. Simon's Island with my step-dad and two brothers, Mom was surprised by an onslaught of more children, siblings, grandchildren, parents, nieces, and nephews storming the beach singing Happy Birthday on Saturday afternoon.  Her surprise and joy were well worth the planning.  And not only were we ALL there {my big family is hard to pin down}, we were there for the whole week!

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We enjoyed long days with cold drinks on the beach...
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{Baby Annalise had a rough week}
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Rainy afternoons with Doc McStuffins....

Boating on the river…
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PLENTY of cousin love to go around...

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Sibling love...
IMG_5468{The best picture ever taken of us, hands down}

Halley and sweet Annalise.

One less than awesome addendum: Charlotte had about 12 meltdowns per day.  Anyone else have a kid show up on vacation with a completely different personality??  I’m hoping it just stemmed from being completely overwhelmed by people and non-stop fun for five days?  I felt like I was tricking people, faking like I have this sweet kiddo on Facebook, and then actually showing up with a holy terror.  That girl was a full blown toddler in every sense of the word-- happy as a clam one minute, then melting down the next.  Ugh.  Growing pains of parenthood.


image_8{Exhibit A}
She’s lucky she’s cute!
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All in all, it was great week with family.  We were so happy to have T with us the entire week {still a rarity} and spend time with family we usually only see for day or two at a time.  And it was truly relaxing!  With so many cousins and aunts and grandparents around, we actually found time to sit by the beach and pool, read a few magazines, and throw some bocce balls.  I even made it to the gym FIVE days in a row...it was a little vacation miracle.

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 It is never lost on me how fortunate I am to be part of a family that truly loves one another and enjoys spending time together.  We are already planning our trip for next year!