Category Archives: life

The Annual Honeymoon

We’ve written about our vacation deal before – we promised one another before we were parents that every year we had dependent children, we would go on at least one vacation without them. So far we’ve managed to pull it off, and one of our friends started to use the term “annual honeymoon.” It is a perfect description of why we do this.

The point isn’t to get away from our kids – we adore them both, and we love spending time with them. The point is to spend time focused on ourselves and each other. You know – what we used to do all of the time before we were Joey’s Mom and Blake’s Dad. We had full lives with hobbies and activities. We’ve been fortunate enough to find ways to carry on most of those hobbies with our little explorers, but in some cases it just can’t be done. Scuba diving comes to mind (and will be featured in the 2017 honeymoon…!).

That’s why we have the annual honeymoon. Special bonding time for me and Simon, to keep our relationship happy and healthy so that we can best serve our family. Special bonding time for the older and younger generation, where the grandparents are given full control and the grandchildren receive exotic treats like juice for breakfast, pet fish, and all the educational toys they can get their little hands on. It is always hard to leave, but wonderful to come home well rested and energized to hear of their adventures at the Grammy & Papa resort.

We have been long due for a honeymoon, as our last was a dive trip to Raja Ampat, Indonesia in December 2014/January 2015 (it was a big enough trip that we counted it for both years). Blake arrived in December 2015 – making it tricky to plan a trip in 2016. Fortunately, a good friend planned a New Year’s Eve wedding in San Diego and gave us the perfect excuse to fly as a duo at the end of the year, just after Blake had cleared his first birthday.

In our four day trip, we visited old friends, favorite restaurants, and re-lived many of our graduate school dates. (Most of them involve take-out burritos and a hike on cliffs overlooking the sea). We had hours of time to talk to one another without interruption. We didn’t worry about nap time or bedtime, and slept late in the morning. The wedding was beautiful. It was time and money well spent. There is truly nothing better to come home to than my sweet boys’ smiles and hugs.

Oh, and Dory the pet fish lives at Grammy and Papa’s house now 😉

 

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Re-Thinking Gifting: Save Money & The Planet Holiday Edition

Our family resolution for 2017 is to spend less money on things, and to start to reduce the amount of stuff in our home (in other words – make a more pronounced shift towards minimalism). Between that and our desires to reduce waste and leave a small environmental footprint, we have been brainstorming some less than ordinary gifting strategies this year.

Experiences

  • Instead of a physical gift, wrap up tickets to a theme park or activity (great for kids)
  • Make plans with another family to not exchange gifts, but instead go on a special weekend trip together (works well for other families with similar age kids)
  • Say that a financial contribution towards a vacation is your holiday gift. Simon & I agreed happily that our only gift to each other is our diving trip next year.
  • Take a person or couple out for a day – to a show, for a pedicure, hiking, for dinner. For most busy grown-ups, having an all-expenses-paid fun afternoon with no planning is nearly as good as a stay in a fancy resort.

Handmade Gifts

  • Kids’ arts & crafts are a time-honored tradition, and the options are endless (check out google image search or pinterest). These are wonderful for caregivers & relatives. When I know we are making a gift I use higher end materials so the finished product will look better and last longer. Creating wall art on a canvas or putting it in a frame are great touches.

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    If you have the skill to crochet this R2D2 hat, by all means please do. Pattern here.
  • Edible gifts are another time-honored tradition where you really can’t go wrong. We’ve gifted cookies, wine & hot cocoa jars, but again the possibilities are endless here.
  • The world of DIY seems to get bigger every day. We have received many adult-handmade gifts that we love including blankets and wall art.
  • If you aren’t crafty, check out Etsy to support local small businesses & find exactly what you want – i.e. Blake’s Halloween shirt from Simply Cloth Boutique.

Donations

  • For Blake’s upcoming first birthday (where did that year go??) we requested donations to the American Civil Liberties Union in his name in lieu of gifts.
  • For an older child, it can be a great experience to walk the donation over them self (i.e. to the animal shelter). Let friends & relatives know if
    you are requesting money or specific items, and have your child(ren) help package everything up & bring it to their charity of choice.

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  • Another favorite for both of our kids and give to others are books. New, used, hand-me-down, and maybe signed, these don’t take up too much space are timeless. True to our science-family style, we love a house full of books!

Second-Hand, Thrift Store, & Hand-Me-Downs

  • Buying second-hand is an easy way to save money & have a positive environmental impact. Check out Goodwill, Salvation Army, & thrift stores for just about everything under the sun. If you’re crafty, you can re-finish or paint wood pieces to then use as extra special gifts (not that I have time for that… I’ve been watching too much Fixer Upper!)
  • Hand-me-downs are another wonderful gift, in particular to a child younger than yours. Most kids clothes will easily last through several children since they outgrow them quickly, and parents are grateful to reduce their costs. Swimsuits, sun hats, flip flops, snow boots, coats, and other seasonal items are particularly good hand-me-downs because they are pricier and generally not heavily used any one child.

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    A neighbor kindly shares the monthly onesies with Blake, which is perfect as each kid only wears them once!
  • Cycling toys between families is a great way to keep your playroom interesting without letting it get too cluttered. If you are buying & selling used, there is a far lower monetary cost too.

Recycle & Re-Use

  • Recycle gift wrap, bags, tissue paper, & ribbons
  • Paint newspaper or brown packaging paper (handprints or finger painting are especially fun) to use as gift wrap.
  • Use cardboard as party decor – paint signs or banners or make a big card for guests to sign. Love this idea from Meredith Tested!
  • When it can’t be re-used anymore, recycle wrapping & tissue paper

 

Everyone loves giving & receiving presents, our family included! We are grateful for all manner of gifts that come through our door. This list is simply a collection of some different ideas we have tried to cut costs, be kind to the Earth, and maintain a festive & happy holiday with our friends and family.

Why Force Posed Photos On My Kids?

We love photography – something that started as a means to chronicle our travels and underwater adventures, but we’ve recently been adapting our techniques to document our children growing up. It is a fun hobby for both of us, and generally rewarding.

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Sit with your brother and smile – nailed it.

My favorite family/kid photos are not posed. I love shots of the boys engaged in activities or with one another, unaware that I’m off to the side with a camera. If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook (or even backtrack through the photos featured here), you’ll pick up on this theme quickly. That said, I force posed photos on our kids frequently. Trips to cool places, birthday parties, holiday weekends with friends – none of these are complete for our family until I’ve piled all of the children together unwittingly, promised them tasty snacks as a reward for their cooperation, and played peek-a-boo with the camera for a few minutes in hopes that they might all smile (ha!) or at least look at the camera at the same time.

 

These photos look posed. Generally at least one kid looks pissed. Joey now says cheese and intentionally turns his head away from the camera. Why bother making everyone annoyed for what tends to be a mediocre photo?

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Smile guys!

Because one day, we will all want to see the posed photos. I’ll still love the shots of Joey chasing seagulls down the beach more, but he will want to see himself with his brother, family and friends. And some of the posed photos look awesome (about one in a thousand, but who’s counting?) Who was there? What did they look like? Did you really make me and Blake wear the same outfit EVERY TIME mom?

Yes dear. Yes I did.

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Both boys on the verge of laughing at my winning humor on animal sounds – success.

When Travel Doesn’t Go As Planned

I wanted to call this “When the Shit Hits the Fan,” but I’m pretty sure my mom reads it.

You may have gathered that we have taken to the air again with our two kiddos and are currently in Hawaii. The lack of a pre-departure post is a fair indicator of our lack of organization for this trip.

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Joey collects Macrocystic kelp on the beach in La Jolla

Usually, I am a super-planner. Every detail thought out, from snacks for everyone on the plane to printing out hotel confirmations and addresses ahead of time (or more recently, saving them to my iPhone). Simon is surprised if I cannot spout off our itinerary in detail at any point on an adventure.

This trip was not well planned. In fact, it coalesced together in a messy fashion after we both were given slots for conference talks at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Honolulu this week. From there, we slowly added on items. We decided to bring both boys & a dedicated care giver (Japanese Grandma!). We decided to come to Honolulu early to use rewards nights at the Marriott for our anniversary, and to stay the weekend after the conference with friends on the North Shore of Oahu. Somewhere along the way, we had the idea to make a long layover in San Diego en route to Hawaii where we would visit Scripps to give talks, catch up with friends & colleagues, and Simon would collect some data off the pier while we were at it. So in summary, in two weeks we would visit two cities, stay in six different places, do a wide variety of work things, vacation with our kids, and catch up with friends.

 

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If we had gotten on our original flight to Honolulu, we wouldn’t have had this beautiful cliff top picnic on our last night in San Diego
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Joey likes al pastor tacos the best

 

 

 

 

 

 

What could go wrong?

Turns out, a lot:

  • We forgot toothpaste
  • We didn’t realize that we wouldn’t have childcare in San Diego for all of those talks and experiments & had to modify our plans at the last minute
  • Joey took three days of sharing a room with Blake to nap quietly without waking his brother, much to my dismay
  • Our bags didn’t really fit in the rental car with the car seats (so I had either a large suitcase or stroller on my lap)
  • Renting car seats with the rental car is expensive & they didn’t tell us that ahead of time. In fact, our first rental car reservation added so many costs & fees that Simon elected to cancel it and find another rental car at the airport, adding nearly an hour delay before we got to our digs for the night.
  • We missed our flight from San Diego to Hawaii and had to fly standby the next day
  • On our standby flight, we were seated behind another child who spent a lot of time screaming, making it extraordinarily difficult for our non-screaming children to nap and remain well-behaved
  • We lost Simon’s wedding ring and the quadcopter (not at the same time)
  • We continue to not have baby wipes available when we need them, despite bringing at least five packages with us

I’m forever optimistic, and am inclined to now list the things that are going well. I’ll spare you bullet points, but will say that we are still having a good time and for the most part the boys are not phased by our stress and struggles.

Whether this trip is a set of unique challenges or a complete disaster depends on your point of view. For example, we found ourselves leading a discussion with graduate students about government jobs and postdocs while holding a very alert and cheerful Blake, watching Joey play with the foozball table out of the corner of our eyes. At least we’d had the foresight to suggest this event occur in the graduate student lounge? And the grad student coordinator that organized for us had kindly provided Joey’s favorite snacks (bagels) as refreshments, further sweetening the deal for him. In fact, he has been asking to go to another “work meeting” with us since.

So what do you do when your plans fall apart? Or you failed to make a plan in the first place?

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Make a new plan stat.

Simon & I will waffle endlessly about things like where to go to dinner – until we get to a critical situation. Then we both switch gears and start damage control. We dish out orders to each other and the children, and follow one another’s instructions exactly.

We triage:

  1. Safety
  2. Immediate/unchangeable logistics (i.e. flight departure)
  3. Personal needs (hungry, tired, diaper change)
  4. Everything else
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Blake’s first steps in the ocean. This moment alone made all of the hardship worth it, but there were many other high points along the way too.

This trip has been a healthy reminder that planning is important, but even more important is learning to roll with the punches and make the best of it. We could have let various challenges ruin this trip, but that would have been a much bigger loss overall. The kids mean that we spend more money (missed flight? better just get a new hotel and go out for lunch so the boys can eat & nap), they also keep us on the happy end of the spectrum. They achieve this magic partly because we want the best for them, including happy parents, and partly because they are delightful and they cheer us up. Joey has even started making jokes. We also have some perspective that the most challenging situations wind up being some of our favorite memories and most endearing stories later on.

That ^^ was supposed to be the end, in hopes that posting would put an end to our comedy of errors. Nope! Cue some important emails to Simon yesterday about his first day as a federal employee – not only does he have to be in the office in person with paperwork on Monday, but he needs to arrive no earlier than 7:30am and no later than 8:00am. Our flights would not get him there in time.

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Both swaddle blankets dirty? No problem, use one of Daddy’s t-shirts instead. Improvising solutions to smaller problems along the way have kept our whole family much happier.

We each had our own itinerary on the same flight, and Joey was attached to Simon’s. Much of our first day at the conference was spent looking for flights, calling airlines and travel agents, and establishing that Simon really had to be at work by 8am Monday (he does). We went through a string of options and came down to the choice of 1: buying Simon a new flight home early, while I traveled alone with both boys on a red eye and really hoped that they would let me add Joey to my reservation without asking for large sums of money or 2: cancel all of our flights home and buy three seats on an earlier flight together.

I think we’ve finally learned something from the last few weeks, because we picked #2. This sadly means cutting our family fun weekend on the North Shore a little short, but based on how things were going we decided to plan conservatively.

What else can go amiss in the next few days? Stay tuned for updates 🙂

 

 

 

Four Months Flew By

IMG_1951Just like that, I’m not surprised that I have two children and we are plateauing to the ‘new normal.’ Slow down time – my tiny newborn is now an excitable four month old!

Four months ago we were enjoying our new baby whilst getting very little sleep. Every event felt like a milestone; every outing an achievement. I’ve slowly been increasing my work hours, and we have returned from our family vacation to Japan. Suddenly, it seems like we have a fingertip hold that isn’t going to give.

I went to the grocery store the other day with both boys and it wasn’t terrifying. I knew to go slowly and take everything one step at a time. Put first kid in carseat. Put second kid in carseat. Drive to store. Unload Blake first and place him in baby carrier. Then unload Joey. Let Joey push the little shopping cart. Make several laps of the store. Smile back at the more experienced parents smiling at us. We bought (most of) the things we intended to get and went to Starbucks afterwards.

Blake communicates more each day and is falling into a routine, designed around his brother’s routine. They both nap in their rooms in the afternoon (*Blake is trying to do so, anyway), giving their caregiver a break. They both go to bed at 8pm, and I have enough confidence that Blake will stay asleep for a few hours that Simon & I can spend some down time together and/or finish cleaning the kitchen.

IMG_1973Joey has accepted that Blake is going to stay, and has started interacting with him more. Nothing fills my heart with more joy than watching J bring toys to his little brother, read him a story, or show him how to make the infant toys work.

We are making plans to bring them along on a big work trip next month without thinking “can we even do this?”

It isn’t easy at all. We are still very tired and really looking forward to when Blake sleeps all night…! But we are doing it. It’s funny how no matter what your situation is, you often find yourself busy and think that things are challenging. Then it gets harder and you wonder how you ever thought it was exhausting before.

For Mother’s Day I asked to go hiking, so we spent the weekend exploring Shenandoah National Park. As a family of four. And it felt perfectly ‘normal.’

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The View From Three Weeks

Blake is here! He was born on December 18, 2015 without complications and has happily ensconced himself into our little family.

There are a few times from my life that I remember with a surprising clarity, as though I can replay the events in my head in slow motion with a high level of detail. Many of these were notable events, or times when I was forced to take things at a more relaxed pace. The days before both of my sons were born stand out, the day Simon & I got engaged, the first time Simon & I hiked to Cape Brett together… there are many more. But I can already tell that the first few weeks with Blake will be one of these times.

Many things are different with a second child. The two biggest are that you kind of know what to do with a newborn, and that you are also dealing with an older kid. I am usually of the stubborn mindset that I will do everything myself, but something in the back of my head told me to just ask for help during this time. We said yes to almost everything that was offered – my parents came to care for Joey and stay with us for the first week; the neighbors generously arranged a delicious meal train for the second and third weeks; friends offered to take Joey for playdates. Simon & I both promised that we would do no work for the first two weeks after Blake was born. This was greatly facilitated by his arrival a week before Christmas – plenty of other people were on holiday too.

Of course we are both very tired, since newborns eat all of the time and ours don’t seem to understand the concept of night time. But aside from that, things have been so peaceful. I’m sure it will be harder as we incorporate more and more work time, but for now we are very much enjoying this slowed down pace. Each little event feels like a big deal – going out to dinner, visiting the air & space museum, sprinting out for a movie date while both boys are napping under the watchful eyes of their grandparents – this will always be a special time in my memories. Blake & I go for walks each morning and have found new trails in parks near our neighborhood, which we love. Simon & I aren’t usually willing to dial back our pace this much (or stay around home this much!) and it has been a really enjoyable stay-at-home-vacation.

Blake and Joey both adore each other. Blake always looks towards Joey when he talks and is calm in his presence. Joey brings Blake toys and blankets, and like to hold him, pet him, and hug him. Although much louder than his brother, Blake is also a chill baby (something we are extremely grateful for!) He seems even more easy going & like he sleeps better than Joey did, but it could just be that we have a better handle on newborn care this time around.

I’m Not Ready

For the past few weeks, “are you ready” is my most often received question. My answer is a shaky to unequivocal no.

The room is ready. The crib is assembled, clean sheets and blankets are laid out. The newborn and 3-month size clothes are washed and folded in drawers, which have been meticulously labeled. The newborn nappies are freshly cleaned and ready to go. The car seat is ready. The house is (mostly) clean. The freezer has lasagnas in it. We’ve ticked off most of the boxes on the internet’s maelstrom of “things to do before baby” lists. My nesting urge has been strong, and I have indulged it.

But I’m not ready.

Partly because there is always more I could do – a little more cleaning, one more frozen meal, a little more work before I hand over my projects.

But mostly because a new baby means a huge change. And this time we know that.

With our first, we were so very excited and enthusiastic, but naively so. We knew that babies woke up every couple of hours to eat. We knew that babies couldn’t be left alone and had to come everywhere with us. I knew that it would take awhile to look and feel like myself again after he was born. We even knew that our life would change.

But we didn’t really know what that meant. This time we do.

Not only will me and Simon’s lives be turned upside down, but Joey’s will too. Our sweet & mischievous two-year-old is so excited to meet his baby sibling. He is looking forward to a friend and playmate. He really doesn’t know what it means to have the baby around all the time, that newborns can be kind of boring when it comes to play, and that they are also very needy. His life with regular sleep patterns, helpful skills, and a decent degree of communication that Simon & I have become used to is about to change dramatically. Joey’s ability to command both of his parents’ attention on a whim is about to be greatly diminished. How will he fare with this?

I know that at first it will be (very) hard. But I also know that amongst his other attributes, our two year old is very adaptable.

We always wanted to have two children so that they could grow up together, have a playmate and confidant when we take them to the far reaches of the earth, someone to race down the trail with when they are old enough to carry their own backpacks.

I hope that one day Joey will ask me what he did all day when it was just him – was he bored? Wasn’t he lonely?

No one told me about this part, but it hit me like a sack of bricks soon after we learned we were pregnant again, and the weight has only gotten heavier. People are often surprised that I’m not worried about labor, and not eager to be done being pregnant.

I just want a few more days of being mom to an only child. A few more hours of one-on-one time with him with no other babies on my mind. A few more minutes of keeping his life the same. I want to savor every second of our old life.

So that when our big change arrives, I’ll be ready to accept it with open arms. I’ll know that we made the most of every day we had flying solo with Joey, and embrace the opportunity to introduce him to his new best friend.

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Joey & I stay out past sunset to play in the sand a little more.

 

Cherry Blossom Bloom in DC

IMG_4897This past weekend was the peak bloom for the iconic cherry blossoms in Washington, DC. The trees were a gift from Japan many years ago, and each year locals and visitors spend weeks eagerly awaiting the short-lived ‘peak bloom’ – 2-3 days of incredible flowers before the petals begin to fall. Since the peak bloom fell across a weekend, and the weather was beautiful, we decided to join several million other people to check it out.

Bonus - Joey enjoyed watching airplanes take off and land from Gravelly Pt Park
Bonus – Joey enjoyed watching airplanes take off and land from Gravelly Pt Park
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After a quick snack, Joey & Daddy set off to explore the Jefferson Memorial

We’ve been here long enough to know better than to drive into DC (ever! but especially not for a big event), and to realize that the metro would be packed and hectic. We decided to leave our car in IMG_4925Gravelly Point Park in Virginia and walk the last 2 miles to the tidal basin and monuments. This was a great idea. We still had to catch someone leaving the park and wait for their parking space, but within five minutes we were parked and ready to go. The Mount Vernon Trail extends from Mount Vernon (south of our house) into DC past the tidal basin (well north of us), so we hopped on that with hundreds of other bikes, strollers, walkers, and joggers. We were notably the only family with a baby backpack, our trusty Poco carrier.

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Success- naptime in the Poco

The cherry blossoms were beautiful. The trees were even beginning to shed some petals in the wind as we wandered about, so it was definitely worth it to make the trip when we did! We explored the tidal basin, Jefferson Memorial, the mall, Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and the Washington Monument. The weather was perfect, and everyone had a great time!

IMG_4978This was also an opportunity to spend a long time walking with Joey in the poco and both of our cameras in preparation for our upcoming family vacation. We wanted to see how long he would stay happily in the poco (forever it seems, he loves it), if he would nap in it (yes, but later and not as long as he would at home), and how accessible our cameras were (we need to work on that some more!) We also let Joey demo his new Patagonia Baby Capilene, which he and I loved. It kept him dry (not sweaty), protected from sun, and never too hot or cold.

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Don’t Forget to Think Like a Child

IMG_2034Joey absolutely loves wandering around outdoors now. “Outside! Outside Mama!” is my most oft heard request. We always try to fulfill it even in cold, rain, or snow. However, I have to admit that spring weather makes it a lot easier! We found a little park a block away from us with a series of wide trails through the woods. Joey can roam freely up and down the trails to his great delight, carefully navigating over tree roots and collecting rocks. We listen to birds and keep an eye out for squirrels. It’s just a small park in a suburban area, but we’ll take it.

Today, I took him through the park to get a bagel at the grocery store (another favorite activity of Joey’s). On the way home there is more uphill than down, and he started lagging. I stopped with him for a drink and snack, and taught him to play hide and seek behind a large tree. He quickly assumed the role of hiding (“Bye!”) and popping out (“Peek!”) with great enthusiasm, consumed with giggles. After several iterations, he disappeared behind the tree and fell silent. I couldn’t see him (I knew he was close behind the tree – I would have seen and heard him if he left). Curious, I approached the tree.

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Joey was standing inches away from the bark pointing to something. As I came closer, he smiled and said “baby bugs.” I looked too and saw a line of little black beetles climbing up the tree, traveling along the channels in the bark. Joey was absolutely fascinated. He was not touching or harassing the beetles, just watching them. “Beetles” I taught him, and he repeated it promptly. We knelt down and crawled along the leafy ground to follow the line of beetles across the trail and downhill into the woods. I lifted him up to watch them reach higher extents on the tree. Joey calmly watched the beetles for 18 minutes, completely captivated.

Earlier, we spent half an hour at the creek where Joey experimented with dropping in leaves, sticks, and rocks to see what would float downstream
Earlier, we spent half an hour at the creek where Joey experimented with dropping in leaves, sticks, and rocks to see what would float downstream

He would have stayed longer, but it was nearing lunch time and I urged him to continue home. He stopped at each subsequent tree to check for beetles, even those in our yard. When we got home, Joey collected both of his books featuring bugs and asked where the beetles were in the books. He is so very curious about the little bugs climbing up the tree bark. I looked up beetles on the computer with him so he could see more pictures and identify their eyes and wings.

My job is to be curious, explore, and learn more about the world. Even for me, it was a remarkable reminder to watch a small child discover something new today. We are all curious – we just become too busy to remember it, sometimes.

So once in awhile, stop and think like a child. Look for something you haven’t seen before in a place you visit often. Wonder why it is there and what it is doing. If you need help, just follow the nearest toddler around for half an hour.


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Joey is wearing a North Face Reversible Wind Jacket in 24M size, which is perfect for early spring weather in Virginia.

Snow Days!

We got moved in to our new digs just in time for our first big (~8″) snow! Simon & I had a day off of work, and we all three had a wonderful time walking through the neighborhood, towing Joey on a sled, and enjoying how quaint everything looks covered in white.

We’ve got nothing on New England (and are thankful for that!) but really enjoyed finally getting some of the white stuff after several weeks of really cold, sleety/slushy weather.

 


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