Sitting here on the red eye back is not fun. Owen screamed for twenty minutes while thrashing about like a tuna fish hauled out of the sea and slapped onto the deck. The whole scene was quite horrifying for us. Although, thankfully, Henry remained unalarmed while he watched some shows and snacked on chips during Owen's epic airplane meltdown. Finally little man gave up the ghost and passed out on the floor between our row and the traumatized passengers in front of us. Henry graciously put himself to sleep and no joke slipped on his complimentary night mask and out he went. And I drank a mini bottle of champagne and stayed wide awake for our cross continental journey. Because at any moment the situation could turn and I needed to be ready to pounce on any screamer! But the now few minutes of silence before we begin our initial descent has me reminiscing about our SoCal adventure. Every time we visit, I just want to pick up the fam and move out to this coast. It is just so darn beautiful, tropical feeling, and the amount of fun we have with our family slipping into their daily lives for a few days is always beautifully awesome. We were out in the sun everyday exploring SoCal and trying new things with the boys from a visit to Legoland to ocean kayaking and SUPing, we tired ourselves out but enjoyed every minute of the family time. The kids fell even more in love with their cousins and I know they will be missing them super hard until we see them again in November.
These Thursday moments brought to you by a little SoCal family vacay.
It is a little crazy to think I have not been home a week since that epic trip to China. Our itinerary was so jam-packed with sights, smells, tastes, and sounds that it felt impossible to blog in real(ish) time during the journey. Up every day around 6AM and to bed by 11PM or later, along with trying to fit in time at each end of the day to connect with my family at home, left few moments for reflections and writing. While out and about, it was great jotting down a word or two in my notes on my cell otherwise all the days would blur together. While the trip was intense and exhausting, it was also amazing and rich and I want to make sure to do the memories and experiences justice. But at the same time, SO much happened within that scope of 13 days that it is a fool's errand to try to capture it all exactly as it was. The best I can do is provide some impressions and captions to accompany the many moments of that trip. Day 3:
Did you know that the city of Beijing is as large as the country of Belgium? According to our tour guide, Martin, this is true. What I found to be particularly interesting is how driving out of the vast city expanse there was an immediate hard stop to the country line. While we might have miles and miles of suburbia sprawled out between Boston and the farm lands, what I could observe in the Beijing to not-Beijing transition was abrupt. City and then country were more definitive. Packing ourselves up, we took a long bus ride to visit the Great Wall. This might have been my most favorite day. Having seen images and videos of the wall, I was eager to see it in person. It did not disappoint. The massiveness of the the wall along with its beauty and seemingly endless quality were breathtaking. You might be looking out from a tower to a far off mountain and then spot the dragon-like snaking of the wall far off in the distance. It was amazing to behold and hard to imagine how humans built this through grueling conditions in order to do one profound thing: keep enemies out. It gave me a lot of pause to consider this idea as our own country talks about building "the wall." As though some magical boundary will "protect" us from foreigners. What I saw and heard on the wall was this: the wall did not protect ancient China. It was breached and today instead of acting as a divider between inside and outside, between friend and foe, between us and them, it acts as a point of unity. A point upon which people from all over the world converge speaking a multitude of languages and from innumerable places to walk together on top of the wall.
While at the wall, we walked through six towers spanning wide landscapes and stopping for all the glamour shots! On the way down from the wall, students rode a toboggan and I came down with my fellow chaperone, Shanshan, in a chair lift before a farmer's lunch of eggplant and soup and a visit to Beijing's 798 district. Trying to warm up from the chilly temperatures at the wall, we sat in a local cafe and I enjoyed the best cup of coffee of my whole trip. As a completely caffeine addicted individual, I was in heaven. We shopped around a bit and I found this great ring but struggling with wrapping my head around the conversion rate, I walked away without the ring but am haunted by its memory (dramatic much, but true). We hopped aboard a jet at 9PM and like zombies flew from Beijing to Chengdu finally settling into our hotel at 3AM utterly exhausted and happy to have a bed.
This is the morning our group met Allen. The tour group that brought us around, Alpha Exchange, made our travels so painless and easy. From engaging guides, to immersive itineraries we were well cared for. And our guide in Chengdu won the hearts of the Beaver students. He introduced to us the idea of the Panda way of life: To enjoy good food and good rest was to embrace Sichuan living. While riding on long bus rides between our sites he shared truths like: time is money but enjoying your time is life. Deep Allen! Chengdu is not like Beijing. Where Beijing felt like NYC tenfold, Chengdu was warm and sweet smelling and fully in bloom. Shanshan is from this city of 16 million and meeting her parents was the best most delightful part of the journey. Their welcome and open-heartedness made falling in love with their city easy. I had this feeling in Chengdu that “I want to see everything.” The food of Sichuan was promised to be the most delicious of our journey and our Chengdu lunch with views of the river set that tone. Student embraced the local dishes and even tried some fish eye and bubble tea. Then it was time to see the Leshan Buddha. The magnitude of the Buddha was amazing to take in as we descended the side of the ridge towards its feet. Taking the staircase single file allowed for some pensive thought as we approached the feet of the buddha. It reminded me of my nanny who often collected various Buddha statues. Being halfway around the world and having such a vivid reflection of my nanny was a pleasant surprise of this day. Once we climbed our way back to the top, we found a secluded veranda and enjoyed a tree top tea just us chaperones. It was these quiet, stolen moments away from wearing the hat of the chaperone that helped reset the day and remind us that this was amazing.
This day was a bit of a struggle for me. In the morning, I was not able to get in a great conversation with the boys or David. They were settling into the bedtime routine at home in Boston. And it was hard not to really connect with them. They were cleaning the playroom and tackling dinner and pjs, and it hurt my heart to feel so detached and distant. Then it was time to leave the hotel and I left in a complicated mindset. We boarded the bus and were warned that the ascent and descent of Mount Emei would not be easy. That the bus ride would likely make us sick and the altitude could make us lightheaded. You know the guide is serious when he preemptively passes out sickness bags. As someone with a gentle stomach, I was nervous and still emotional from the morning call it was going to be a day. The ride up took a little over an hour. We were driving up through the clouds and made our way toward the Golden Buddha. When we disembarked from the bus ride, the fresh cold air never felt better! We hiked for another forty minutes to the top of the peak. It was worth the journey and threat of illness. Once we reached the top, the clouds opened up and the elephants flanking the buddha were beautiful. While we were hoping to see the phenomenon known as the sea of clouds, were not able to see it with true crystal blue skies, but there was a moment when I sat on a wall overlooking the fog and closed my eyes. Leaning up to the sky, a pocket of sunshine opened and warmed my face. When we descended the mountain and returned to Chengdu, the students left to go stay with their homestay families. It was hard to watch them walk away, I might have teared up a little bit as they left for their next little adventure in the homes of Chengdu families.
After a good sleep and satisfying breakfast, we headed to the local high school for a welcome ceremony. It was amazing how formal the ceremony was including name tags, speeches, flags, gifts, and lots of love and applause. In building the new bond between our schools the principal wanted to demonstrate how much he saw the fostering of this relationship as a true investment in the future of our student communities. We cut and ate a cake and were overwhelmed by their kindness and the lovely formality of it all. Our students were given their formal school track suits in a morning assembly with the 2,000+ students of the local high school and our first day of shadowing classes began. Students took a class on Confucian, on dragon dancing, and calligraphy. In the evening, Dave and I walked the city riverside and without student obligations found our way to an outdoor bar to share a German beer.
The one part of temporary life in China that was hard to get used to was the driving and all the cars. When walking out of the hotel to the sidewalk, one must look both ways to make sure none of the motorcycles on the sidewalk get you! If you just take a breath and close your eyes, you can trust that even though it might not seem like it, the drivers of the various vehicles will stop for you. Trust them. Our second day at the high school brought us to the second campus. Here students took a drawing class and we toured the beautiful campus complete with ponds and gold fish. It was truly idyllic. Students also did a little kung fu and then Shanshan and I slipped away to visit the people's park where we spied retirees putting on a musical performance and then visited the wide and narrow alley for some shopping and dinner with her uncle. The food was fantastic and the company so welcoming. Our path intersected with our third chaperone Dave and we attended the Opera together and then walked to a nearby massage venue for a two hour trilateral massage! There was a lot of stretching involved and it was hilarious to be sitting in-between my colleagues for a deep tissue massage. I am not sure our school's lawyer would have approved but it was hilariously fun and relaxing. And we had our first experience with cupping and I won't lie, I was a little nervous about the size of the flame near my feet!
We woke up early. And meeting up with our group we trekked over to the panda breeding center. While panda's may be a cultural treasure of China, when you see them lounging about or munching on bamboo, you cannot help yourself from wanting to climb the fence into the enclosure! They are just SO cute. I struggled so hard not to buy all the panda things from the gift shop after visiting the pandas for the morning and watching them enjoy the slow and steady pace of their sleeping and eating daily routine. And then there was the Hot Pot Dinner which just knocked my socks off! After our delicious dinner, we visited Tai Kai Lee outdoor shopping and the local beer garden to kick off the next 24 hours in which the chaperones were "off" to explore Chengdu alone while students were fully immersed in their home stays.
Chaperone Day Off: I slept in until 9:30AM. What? It has been literally three years since I have done such a thing and it was glorious. After my slow morning, I walked over to Starbucks and enjoyed a little American treat in a far away place. Shanshan's family hosted me for the most delicious lunch including pan-friend dumplings, steam dumplings, duck, pork belly, veggies galore, and so much more. It was my FAVORITE meal during the whole trip. Dave and I then went on an adventure to Tianfu Square where we talked to a police officer donning forearm pads with little intimidating daggers in order to get directions. He might have pointed us in the wrong direction but we eventually made our way to an antique market, back to the wide and narrow alley where a bought my favorite little momento from the trip these four baby buddhas, and then ended the night having dinner at a Chengdu's teacher's home, Huang. We talked a lot of during dinner about the importance of food in a country that has experienced famine and a lack of food and how that shapes culture. It was a heavy boots discussion which let me with so much to think about.
I woke up to my last day in Chengdu feeling quite sad to pack up and have to leave after feeling like "I just live here now." Huang and Dave picked me up and we left Chengdu to visit a museum park outside of the city center. As we approached the mall of museums Huang noted, "this is our history is it real, I do not know." And this statement haunted me for the day as we explored exhibitions to Mao Zedong, the cultural revolution, WWII, Japanese war crimes against China in the Asia-Pacific war, and the Red Times. There was so much to reflect upon and think about moving through the exhibitions. When we stopped at a plexiglass box full of food ration tickets, an older woman walked up to us and shared how she remembered her childhood in which those tickets were her everyday reality and that during these difficult times in China she lost both her brother and sister to famine. With no food and no work for a generation, it puts into great perspective the current focus on the importance of education for this new generation.
Good Morning Shanghai! We flew in and settled into our hotel at 2AM and were up and out to explore the city by 10AM. The morning flew by with a visit to the beautiful Yuyuan gardens, soup dumplings, the bund, some gift shoppings and drinking cheese berry flavor tea. We walked around the riverside and then had the chance to take a river cruise at night to see Shanghai shine in the moonlight.
I was up all night with incredibly anxious thoughts. Sweating and sleepless, I was very confused as to what was going on. Not sleeping even an hour, heading out to a second day in Shanghai was a little intimidating. One of the students on the trip also had a rough night and with a terrible stomach needed to stay home and rest in the hotel. I sacrificed myself as tribute to stay back with our student and attempted to get some rest myself. I napped from 9-11 and trolled social media most of the rest of the day. I felt rested but lightheaded and enjoyed a super hot shower and a little walk outside. I made it to KTV with the students in the evening but felt pretty rough by the end of the night and knew that I was sicker than I was letting myself feel. Traveling home was going to be rough, but at least we were heading home and I was going to see my babies and David after so much time away from home.
I am not going to lie, the flight from Boston to Beijing was long. Being on the twelve and a half hour flight gave me a lot of perspective on what my father does every week when he takes his passengers from Boston to Hong Kong. By the end of the flight I was feeling light-headed and a touch nauseous from the lack of sleep on board. Never someone to sleep easily sitting up, I might have snuck in an hour or two of shut eye. When we landed and I stepped off the plane, I felt like a traveler getting off of a boat with legs shaky but moving. Walking around every two hours felt like a funny ritual but it helped break up the night into day into night travel. Hainan airline served two meals which were very tasty: a tilapia for meal one and some chicken fried rice with dumplings prior to landing. I measured time by movies. The silver lining to hours of television was that I had not had that kind of solo time since the boys! Twelve hours to just watch romantic comedies was in some ways luxurious. I watched: Florence Foster Jenkins, About time, 500 days of summer and the notebook. So yes those generally sappy rom coms had me hidden crying in my row each time because movie love is so beautiful and I was all triggered up missing my soulmate, David. When the wheels touched down we spent at least an hour making our way through customs and immigration. While the signs were clearly different and it was obvious in many ways we were in a new country, in many other ways it visually looked like Logan airport. Once we collected our bags, we hopped on to a bus and drove an hour to the hotel and passed out sick with travel weariness. High: I sat in an aisle seat with the middle seat empty. This gave me not only some extra leg room but one chaperone to my front and one to my back meant funny little check-one with them along the way too and a nice balance of solo time.
Low: Definitely saying goodbye to David and the boys. I wish we were adventuring together.
Laugh: We made it though customs and were connecting with our local guide for about five/ten minutes and as we started to head for the bus, a student left his bag behind and just started walking away carrying nothing. Another student shouted, "hey your bag!" The student rushed back and grabbed for the bag of the student who announced the issue, "this is my bag, yours is over here." I tried not to laugh and then remembered "uh oh we are responsible for these kids." #dayonefail
Day 2: Really our first day in Beijing
Have you ever woken up in a dark hotel room completely confused as to where you are? That was definitely how I felt waking up in Beijing. But once I got my bearings, I got myself ready and thought multiple times "wow I am literally in China," got dressed, had too much for breakfast (which was an assortment of American standards like bacon and eggs and Chinese standards like congee and dumplings), and grabbed a Starbucks. Stepping outside of the Penta hotel felt a little like I was in NYC. Big tall sky scrapers and neon signs turned off or down for morning, people waking up and heading out for their days. Starbucks had a pink blossom latte which was a delightful, I checked out a local grocery store with Dave and bought a little candy for my babies back home, and we headed for the first adventure the temple of heaven.
When we arrived, we went over to the retiree playground first to walk around, get some fresh air and watch hundreds of 65+ members of Chinese societies do their morning exercise. It was astounding!!! This whole playground was teeming with retirees bending, stretching and moving around on all sorts of fitness/playground equipment! It was simultaneously quaint and strange. I mean strange in the sense that there is no comparison in the states and I doubt any of my grandparents could have been as limber as the men and women we saw! Legs up alongside their heads, hacky sack tournaments, chin ups, dancing, and all sorts of feats of strength. Our students joined in and it was amazing listening to them practice their Chinese with the group. We laughed so so much!! It was so playful and the Beaver kids even picked up some new dance moves.
Walking into the square of the temple of heaven was startlingly! I just have not seen any architectural comparison. It was so beautiful to see the wide open square and towering structure and the details of it all were captivating. You could easily get lost in the beautiful Ming designed space. The corners of the side structures were adorned with elegant guardians denoting the importance of the building. It was hard to leave but so fun to have been. From this very tranquil setting we headed to the Pearl market, which is a bargainer's dream as vendors sell their "real" bags and shoes to susceptible tourists. It was all fun though and the kids stocked up some sneakers, bags, sunglasses, and adorable stuffed animals. I was feeling a little unsettled in the tummy while there and found myself face-to-face with a squatty potty! With thirty minutes to spare before the kids regrouped from the market, I sat down outside the market with our local guide, Martin, and just look at the city life driving and walking by. We talked about daily life, his family, and the smog. The smog was not as bad today as sometimes. On the smog index it was a 283. Without context, I am not sure if this is really good or bad. We had some blue skies in the morning but they turned thicker and hazier by afternoon. I swear I could "feel" it in my chest but maybe that was psychosomatic?
Our lunch was amazing! We arrived and everything was set up for us. We each had giant bowls of noodles with veggies and a delicious fermented bean sauce. There was sliced potatoes, spicy cabbage, and different preparations of pork and chicken. We left massively full and sleepy but it was time for the forbidden city! We walked alongside Tiananmen Square on our way toward the imperial residence. The square is the largest public square in the world donned with the symbols of the Chinese communist party. We were not able to walk through because the government officials were meeting and security was strict and very visible. But the space was vast, imposing, and beautiful to see first hand. I thought a lot about free speech and what that means and who gets to define its limits.
Once through the gates, the forbidden city illicited all of the "oooooo" and "aaaahhhs" you could imagine! It is stunning in scope and detail and so vastly different from the architecture of European cities I have visited. Yet the function of demonstrating the importance of the emperor as a divine right ruler is universal. We walked through courtyard after courtyard. And I loved learning about the male and female lions that flanked the entrances. The male stands on an orb and the female is tickling her cub. Did you know that? It was so cute! After going through the private residence of the emperor and his concubines, we ended in the gardens. Trees marked with red labels were over 300 years old!! It was a lovely space with imposing rock formations, architecture, water features, and lush plant life. I could have sat in there even longer.
We ended our night with Peking duck and so much more food!! The duck was delicious and eaten in a pancake with scallions and cucumbers. It tasted rich and fresh. And we tried something called fried milk. It was like a dessert in sweetness but served at the main meal time. It was light and flaky sort of like a churro in shape but when you bite into it it has a sweet milk the consistency of pudding inside. It was delicious and surprising and the kids were so full and tired that they fell asleep on the bus and lights were out in the hotel by nine.
High: definitely the retiree park! It was all so cute and welcoming and so different and awesome.
Low: we struggled a bit today with having kids come back to our meet up spots on time. We gave a little speech about safety and will be tightening that up!
Laugh: I love BJ! These shirts were everywhere in the pearl market and I naively was so confused by them. Was this supposed to be sexually charged and provocative? Nope it was I love Beijing!! Also a student told the most hilarious story about a trip he took with our school and an awkward occurrence and I died laughing! I had tears streaming down my face but you will need to ask me to find out.
"Don't bring home a panda bear, mommy," Henry shared last night when we were talking about how much I was going to miss him, and Owen, and his daddy when I went to China in 24 hours. "Why not Henry? Wouldn't a cute panda bear be so fun to have in our home?" "Actually, no. He would scratch our walls," and off he went to build another Lincoln log cabin, his latest favorite. Watching him design and execute on his imagination, I thought about how much I am going to miss these silly conversations. They are unpredictable, reflective, nonsensical, wise, and all things heart-warming. And simultaneously Owen's language is just exploding! His little conversations include things like, "Mommy I need you," as he takes my hand and hugs it to his chest. Or "Mommy poo poo in there," as he laughs and points to his diaper and runs away from me laughing and laughing. Those moments are making me weepy today. I know once we land in Beijing, I will be assaulted with sounds, smells, and experiences and immersed in a new space, but until then I am trying to have all my feelings and squeeze in all hugs and kisses. Do you think I can pack David in my luggage? I worry that if I am having a travel angst, it will be hard to remain a calm, cool, and collected chaperone and David is always so good at reminding me that it will all buff out in the end. Am I excited to go? TOTALLY! But today is a day for not only packing that suitcase I have delayed packing, but also for putting aside my to-do list and any social media scrolling and to be fully immersed in the babies and David before I have to bid them adieu in the morning. Cheers to all the feels.
Where is my teleportation device? Don't you think by now you should easily be able to step on a disc in your living room and reappear anywhere in the world you want? It would definitely help solve my dilemma of living so far away from my brother and brother-in-law. Our trip to Disney World highlighted how awesome it is to be together in one place at one time. When Boston, California, and Southern Florida all descended on Disney for three days, it was overwhelming, chaotic, busy, but awesome and I want to hop on to my teleporter and do that again and again and again.
Seeing the kiddos together was by far the best part of our ten crazy days away from home. It took no time at all for Henry and Owen to become totally transfixed by their cousins! From nonstop cuddling to laughs and playful imaginations, the trip felt like a total success watching the littles together. Disney with everyone was intense and my feet ache still from walking over 45,000 steps in three days, but it was so so so sweet seeing the magic in their eyes and watching them bond together over their sweet playfulness.
But, I promise this won't be a total mushy post about love and family (you know my constant emotional go-to). Instead, I was thinking of sharing some insights into doing Disney with little kids and weird observations from inside the park. Like, did you know if you were planning to go on any of the Avatar rides you might as well start training your dog to do your calculus homework? Seriously, unless you fastpass that thing 6 months in advance we saw wait times upwards of 295 minutes! Who is able to stand that long in line? Well, maybe a parent who needs a break, but otherwise I don't know if any ride is "worth" a five hour long line. Or maybe I am only saying this because I did not experience the ride. Before heading to Disney get your elbows sharpened or practice your "New Yorker wide stance". The park was so full of visitors for the holidays and everyone is so distracted by their companions and looking all over the place to take in the sights that is it treacherous to walk. I dare you to walk from one end of the park to the other without getting rammed in the back of the ankles by a stroller or rascal. Drinks on me if you succeed in this mission impossible!
What makes Disney the happiest place on earth?
- Open Carry for parents. Yes, after your have withstood your third or fourth tantrum at Epcot head on over to the Bavarian Pavilion for a nice cold adult beverage. It changes your whole experience.
- Do NOT eat the frozen chocolate dipped bananas. It looks weird but it also doesn't taste great. After a few days of eating too much, I thought heck this is "sort of" good for you. But, it was not that tasty so I want to prevent you from wasting $5. Just go all in for the Mickey Mouse Ice Cream Bar instead.
- Pay attention, parents everywhere are surviving and thriving in Disney through an array of false promises to their kiddos and empty threats. Just about every second you hear some parent say, "If you don't...." or "If you do...." and then throw knowing glances at each other.
- I dare you to leave without a Banshee or two? Yes it might be $65 but when you see a kid or an adult walk by with two or three of these creatures on their shoulders, it is hard to resist their allure. I am not going to lie, it took all of my willpower to walk away from the kiosk as mesmerized as I was!
But all kidding aside, it was a super fun and funny visit. I think every member of the group had a blast and we did SO much thanks to beautifully timed fastpass rides organized by my SIL, Jessie. I had hoped to do a ride in a park depending on the kiddos and by the end of the experience we did so much more than I anticipated: Mission Everest, Kali River Adventure, the Safari ride, Gorilla walk, Tiger walk, Nemo, Frozen, Mexico's river ride, BuzzLight year, the people mover, the carousel of progress, dumbo, flying dinos, the tea cups, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Small World, the Seven Dwarfs roller-coaster, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, the Speedway, and met up with so many Disney characters too. You know those Disney commercials where the music plays, the family has smiles plastered to their faces, and everything bakes in a warm beautiful yellow light....it was sort of like that. Also vacationing with little kids is just parenting somewhere else.
It has been almost 8 months of inconsistent blogging. The usual excuses are the culprits. Primarily my lack of sleep and feeling pinched everyday for a free second are the contenders for my stretches of absence. As our family grew so too did the responsibilities and returning to work added on top of the heap more stressors and timing issues. By nightfall once the house was quiet and the papers of students graded, there was little energy left for much. Poor David has been so understanding and often from 8PM-8:30PM when I surrender to sleep, we would lay in bed for some pillow talk and have "our time" as a couple in 30 short minutes. But, at least those minutes were uninterrupted! This season of life is good though, I don't want to give off the impression that we are not happy. Happiness is definitely a constant in the house and in my heart. It's just very busy feeling and having a stride or a routine that let's us balance these busy endeavors has been elusive. Then we thought how do we make our lives EVEN MORE complicated? Ah yes, let's buy a new house, sell our house, pack, and move all before Christmas! My sister-in-law called these early months with a new baby the longest shortest time and it truly is. Yes, there are hard days, yes we are all tired, yes we bit off more than we can chew, yes we are all laughing, yes we are all eating, yes we are all screaming, but it is flying by and I wish I could slow it all down and stay inside of this manic experience a little longer. I don't want it to end even though I crawl into bed completely zapped every night.
With the holidays keying up, I am feeling particularly nostalgic for everything and blogging feels like the right endeavor to make some space for. These little dudes and this little life should be documented more consistently because I know that I will want these stories to read and read and read as our days continue.
In mid July David and I were able to fly down to Florida to visit with his brother, sister-in-law, and their littles. Each year around the fourth of July we make our trek down for a long weekend of fun and sun. This year we met our newest little nephew only 14 days old. When we arrived a tropical storm was trailing us, promising to keep us indoors during the visit. Somehow though, it broke up allowing us all to enjoy the outdoors. We had a picnic at the beach at sunset, went to a cookout in a local park to honor the Navy Reserve, took walks around the block, had a massive water balloon fight, and just soaked up as much time together as possible. It is always so hard to leave on Monday. I wish I could pick up Florida and place it right next to Massachusetts so that we are only a short drive from one another.
Uncle David meets our newest nephew. They are both rocking the same hairdo.
Just a little beach nap at sunset.
Setting up our camp site. We packed blankets & fried chicken and sat in the sand between sea turtle nests.
Nothing beats this view
Did not done a bathing suit this time, but still had to put my feet in.
The little guy woke up right before it was time to head home. First visit to the beach at just a few days old not to shabby.
Our niece and nephew splashing around in the waves. They are fearless, beautiful, little fish.
A little family portrait? Gosh do I want us to start a family. Holding little boy really made that desire apparent. Maybe someday...
While we were there, I was reintroduced to ramen noodles and fell in love with that salty, noodle soup
Kid races at the cookout. About to launch off for the potato sack race.
David and his littles
It had been one year since I last saw my bestie, Kaelin. When I heard that the BlogHer '13 Conference was in Chicago, I knew it was going to be great to fly in early and spend some much needed time with her before heading into the blogging sessions. And....it was! Laura and I left for Chicago on Tuesday morning and landed in the Windy City. It was like we had just seen Kaelin yesterday. We immediately caught up on life, loves, work, and the everyday. We ate lavishly each day and explored extensively. Kaelin treated us to the best of Chicago and hosted us in her poshly decorated apartment. I was so impressed and had such a good time that it was terribly hard to say goodbye after six days. There were so many highlights from our Bestie Fest 2013. We sunburned at the lake, danced on a boat cruise, watched fireworks cascade over the city, took a Segway tour (despite our better judgement), ate multiple desserts per night, drank champagne, listened to free outdoor music, put our feet in a fountain, shopped for random things, laughed, cried, talked all day and night, and just had a smashingly good time.
I went to Chicago envisioning a certain type of conference experience. As a newbie to blogging, I desperately sought new tips and techniques for enhancing my blog's look, function, and readership. Days prior to the flight, I read through all of the BlogHer Conference materials, highlighted which sessions I wanted to attend, and looked through the attendee list for bloggers I wanted to meet. The plan, goal and purpose was clear and prepared.
Once at McCormick Place, however, all of these shifted. Walking through the doors of the convention center, I assumed I was flying solo throughout the sessions. Of course, I would mingle, smile, and small talk, but was I really going to build strong connections? I was skeptical and kept my expectations low and my priorities straight a head of me. Then I walked into the newbie breakfast. It was immediately obvious that the women at this event were vibrant, intelligent, passionate women who were here in fact to make real connections to similarly competent and confident female bloggers. Excitement overtook my previous desires for skills like: search engine optimization and monetizing your email list. I decided then to go with my gut from session to session. Ending up in completely different places then expected, I had a blast. From Instagram Style, to Girls Coding, to how to use social media tools without being a tool, I got a smattering if blogging ideas and along the way connected with some pretty awesome gals.
The session that left the largest impression though was Sheryl Sandberg's interview on Lean In and the LeanIn.org. In the morning prior to my cup of coffee, I rode the escalator up to the main floor of the convention center. Ahead of me was a woman in a crisp white suit jacket. In my hazy brain I thought, "Gosh that woman is quite peppy for this early and dressed immaculately," as she leaned over to strike up conversations with those around her. As we disembarked the escalator and made our way to Starbucks, I realized that this friendly woman was Sheryl. She listened with great intention to the women around her and seemed genuinely interested in their personal anecdotes. In the later session, she maintained this presence which was captivating. While some find her message contentious, I found it inspiring. As a young female teacher, I am often confronted with gender bias about my career choice and I see this bias playing out in the halls of the school. Sheryl is accurate when she notes that the major corporations and government positions are filled by men. Case in point, Massachusetts recently elected its first female senator, Elizabeth Warren. While women represent an ever growing number of college graduates, women are still confronted with "or" statements. Do you want to be a successful business executive OR do you want to be a successful mom? "And" statements seem reserved for men. Society and the media do not often question a man's ability to run a company and be a father. And here, I am reminded of the documentary MissRepresentation which focuses on "how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence."
Sheryl's message isn't that new. She believes in women and she is proud of where women are and she shed light on real inequalities that exist between the genders. And, in this post-feminist world, she is merely asking women to reflect on where they are and to ask themselves, "What would you do if you were not afraid?" It is quite a difficult question. I might answer it in the following ways:
(1) Live a little. Stop being so worried about what other people will think or how something might be perceived and just do it.
(2) Take more risks at work. Speak up about myself more and believe in my potential.
(3) Engage more authentically with those in power and not shy away from the opportunities to do so.
Sheryl noted in her interview that young girls are often described by parents, teachers, friends, etc. as bossy. When she asked the crowd, "Who here has ever been called bossy as a young girl?" 90% of the audience raised their hands. Instead she said we need to change our language and mindsets. Those little girls are not aggressive they are demonstrating "strong executive leadership skills." Bias runs deep and starts early and what is most important is finding your voice, believing in it, and using it.
When I walked into BlogHer '13 I thought I would get a quick dirty list of to-dos for my blog, but straying from this goal led me to more deeply reflect on what it means to be a woman and to lean in.
The perk of being a school teacher = summer vacation! No sooner did the school year come to a conclusion then I hopped onto a flight to Florida to spend a long weekend visiting with my family in Florida. After a long, tiring, eventful, amazing, challenging, and exciting school year, I was able to decompress on the beach for three days. Ah....such luxury.
We spent most of our time lapping up the sun. It was so much fun watching Avery and Smith experience a number of firsts. First time in a swimming pool, first time on the beach, and for Avery first time splashing in the waves. On the first day, she would not even walk on the wet sand as clearly trusting such a thing was scary. But, by the last day of our vacation, we could not keep her out of the ocean. She let the waves crash over her legs, sat in a little wading pool, and played and played in the sun. It was precious. Mr. Smith enjoyed himself too and fearlessly floated (with assistance) in the "big" pool.
On the last day as we piled 8 people (including 2 carseats) into a rental minivan on our way back to the Orlando airport we got a crazy idea. Why not postpone our return one day more and spend an afternoon at Epcot! After a few phone calls to our various airlines, we did just that. While it was brutally hot at a humid 93F, we had a great time. The kids went on all of the rides although the Nemo ride was the favorite and we ate and danced in the German Biergarten. A truly excellent way to kick off summer 2013!