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Family Travel Tips: Packing Kid Food

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happy traveler!

(per request…) Our Top Ten “Must Pack” Kids’ Food for Hotel Travel:

  1. Single-serve, microwavable, macaroni-and-cheese packs. I buy lots of the Back to Nature ones and pack them for trips. (K & O will eat 3 each in one sitting.) These are a real special hotel treat for the bambinos. If we’re going for more than a day or two, I’ll often also pack pre-made pasta… I’ll make a batch of penne with pesto before we go (I’ll often mix into it a can of white beans, or a whole bunch of frozen peas), let it cool, then dump it into a heavy-duty storage back. Packed in the cooler, then stored in the hotel room mini-fridge, then microwaved in single-serve portions, this is an easy way to give the bambinos some comfort food while away from home. (note: plastic spoons and forks are always on my To-Pack list.)
  2. Fresh fruit & veggies (and a good, small, portable knife to slice them up with) to augment whatever else they’ll be eating at the hotel (room service; pizza delivery; take out; etc.). Baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, apples, bananas, clementines, and grapes make regular appearances on our hotel trips.
  3. Cheese & crackers. Our kids love the Cracker Barrel extra-sharp cheddar cheese sticks. I often pack those, along with mozzarella sticks, and other easy on-the-go cheeses.
  4. Yogurt tubes & single-serve yogurt smoothies. (and I try to remember to pack straws for the smoothies).
  5. Nuts and/or trail mix. A quick and easy great source of protein (and we thank our lucky stars that none of our kids are allergic!).
  6. Milk. And lots of it. Our kids are whole-milk drinkers. I’ve always packed milk in our trusty Nalgene bottles (leak-proof and compact). We bring a small cooler for the drive, and then store the milk in the hotel room mini-fridge (if we have one. if not, we use the hotel ice-machine to keep the cooler cold in the room).
  7. Bottled water. and lots of it. If we’re traveling by car I buy a case of bottled water in advance of the trip and stick it in the trunk of the car. it is sooooo much cheaper to do it that way that to buy bottles of water along the way! AND Seltzer (or other sparkling water). There is nothing more refreshing. I often toss in a lemon or lime for the trip for Braydon and I to slice up for our bubbly water (the bambinos like it straight up).
  8. Wine and/or Beer. Yup! The saving grace for the bambinos’ parents on each and every trip! Nothing like a nice glass of wine in the hotel room once the kiddos are snoozing! (and nothing like a cold one on the beach at sunset either!)
  9. Treats. Of course! Because trips are a special occasion! Road trip treats of choice: Kyle = Fig Newtons, Owen = Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies from our grocery store bakery, Meera = Fruit Snacks. I also always pack single-serve bags of Smartfood and at least a couple boxes of cereal bars/granola bars.
  10. Drink containers. bottles and sippy cups are no longer needed by us J-Ms. :( but we still pack a “straw cup” for Meera, and our kids’ Camelbak bottles are our steady companions (whether we’re traveling or not). this way we can re-fill the containers as we go, and we don’t need to worry about car or hotel-room spills.

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Chincoteague, 1 of 1

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We celebrated our 7th Adoption Day with a trip to Chincoteague Island, Virginia.

Chincoteague is a unique, wild, beautiful place. It’s famous for its ponies — Chincoteague Ponies — and we saw lots of them. Ponies! Ponies just roaming around wild, grazing on marsh grass. It is a sight to behold. We took in lots of other sights too — like sunset so gorgeous it was hard to believe it was true, and three kids who reminded us (just by being them, in all of the fabulous and infuriating ways that they are just three young kids) that adoption is love.

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Our first year of parenthood, as we were approaching the 1-year-anniversary of our adoption of Kyle and Owen, Braydon and I spent a lot of time talking about how we wanted to mark these yearly milestones for our family. We decided on two things: 1) we would give experiences, not material gifts, and 2) we’d celebrate these occasions with/for our whole family. We’ve stuck to these things, and we’re so glad we have.

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Some highlights of this trip for us:

  • The hotel: Hampton Inn Chincoteague Island Waterfront. By far the best Hampton Inn we’ve ever stayed in. We are Hilton Honors members (and try to be strategic about earning our points), so we often stay in Hilton-brand hotels. But this Hampton Inn was like no other. Seriously, we could not believe it was a Hampton Inn. As always, in planning this trip I did a ton of research. I kept finding that the Hampton Inn in Chincoteague was ranked the #1 hotel in the area. I read reviews that were just glowing, and I couldn’t quite believe the accolades that were being given to this hotel, but we went ahead and booked it. We were sure glad we did! It was more like a really nice boutique hotel, complete with all the bells and whistles. It was impeccably sparkling clean, and sitting right on the water. It had one of the best indoor pools we’ve ever swam in. And our room was unbelievably perfect, with a huge balcony right over the water.
  • Speaking of the hotel, when we arrived around 9pm Friday night, we pulled up to find “WELCOME JOHNSON FAMILY” on the hotel’s marquee sign. We could not believe it. Nothing like that has ever happened to us and we were all completely shocked and giggly upon check-in. (Speaking of Hilton Honors members… on the online form to make the hotel reservation it had asked the purpose of the trip and in the box I filled out “we are coming to celebrate our family’s 7th Adoption Day.” Well, apparently they took that very seriously, and it made us feel very special upon arrival, that is for sure!!).
  • We took a chance in planning this trip for January in the dead of winter. But our risk paid off and we lucked out with a long weekend of incredible unseasonably warm weather (clear blue skies, warm breezes, and tons and tons of sun). In addition to that good luck, we got the true prize of going in the off-season: we felt like we were the only people there. We had acres upon acres of nature trails, vast expanses of beach, and whole visitor’s centers all to our selves.
  • The bambinos went fishing right from the dock/pier of the hotel. They caught nothing, but loved fishing.
  • Seafood. Oysters, crab, shrimp, fish, clams. Chincoteague is not known for its food, and especially not in the off-season, but you can’t really go wrong if you just stick to what the local eateries know best: fresh simple seafood. We ate only two big meals out in Chincoteague (a big late lunch each day), and made due at the hotel the rest of the time (we are old pro’s at packing hotel-friendly kids’ meals). We ate one day at a place called “Wright’s Seafood,” and the other day at a place called “Don’s Seafood.” The kids got the biggest kick out of eating at “Don’s,” (MorFar’s name is Don), and insisted on us taking their picture in front of the sign (see post below). And as it unexpectedly turned out, Braydon and I had one of our Top Food Experiences Of All Time at Don’s… as an appetizer we ordered one of their specialties — a hot crab dip with baked pita chips — for the five of us to share. It turned out to be the best hot crab dip we’ve ever had (it was gone in a flash, and Owen was literally licking the bowl it had been served in). And– Braydon and I had bloody marys with it, which turned out to be truly some of the best bloody marys of our lives. That combo — the crab dip and bloody marys — is forever etched in my memory as pure delicious Adoption Day decadence (it is making my mouth water just typing this now).
  • Wild ponies, egrets and herons at every turn, ocean and marsh teeming with life (we felt like we were on safari, no joke).
  • Shells galore. Meera is way into shelling now. She could spend all day just collecting shells. And Owen found three huge perfect conch shells in the surf that completely blew my mind. I could not believe he found them that far north of the Caribbean (when you see the photo in the post below you won’t believe it either).
  • NASA Wallops Flight Facility/Goddard Space Flight Center. K & O are way into space right now. Kyle, especially, is utterly obsessed with all-things-space. So one of the allures of Chincoteague was the very-close-by NASA Wallops Visitors Center. We went there on our last day, before driving home, and it was a major highlight of the trip for both Kyle and Owen. And again, because it was the off-season and we were (literally) the only ones there, we were treated like royalty. We left there with armfuls of amazing space-related hand-outs for the boys to bring back to their class.
  • Misty of Chincoteague. This is a classic, Newbery Honor winning, children’s book that neither Braydon nor I ever read as kids. We started reading the book to the bambinos before our trip. And while we were in Chincoteague we watched the movie in our hotel room one night (we had bought and brought the DVD with us, and the hotel had DVD players for loan to guests). Very, very cool to connect the events and places of the story with what we were actually seeing and doing while we were in Chincoteague!
  • Feeding seagulls (on the beach). Feeding ponies (at a pony farm, not the wild ones!).
  • The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, and Assateague Island National Seashore. These, alone, are worth the trip to Chincoteague.
  • We stopped on the drive home for the kids to to pick out a special treat for Adoption Day to bring to school the next day. They picked out two cakes — one for Kyle and Owen’s class, and one for Meera’s class. They were so proud to bring those cakes to school to share with their friends. And that, really, is what it is all about for us– to try to truly foster (in real, tangible ways) a sense of pride and celebration for being an adoptive family. Unique sets of challenges, hurdles, and angst come with the territory of being in an adoptive family. But pride and celebration are something that don’t necessarily just come along with the package — we have to make that happen. So make it we do.
  • We were only five hours away from home, but it felt like a different world. Which was a good thing. Because being away is the best way for our family to let go of all other distractions and focus in on our little unit of five. The connectedness that a trip like this fosters is worth every cent that it costs, every minute spent planning and packing and unpacking, and every ounce of energy that any good adventure requires. We come away knowing what drives us most crazy about each other (yes, just like all families, we drive each other nuts, and on this trip we had our fair share of blow-outs), but we also are reminded, too, of what makes us love each other like crazy cakes.

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H and K

Our family has been hugely impacted by adoption. We think about that all the time. But once a year we take time out to really deeply remember it and celebrate it as a five-some.

(Lots more photos from our trip in the post below.)

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pony in brick

NH Summer 2011: Healing places

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Kyle, Owen, and Meera’s Great-Great-Grandfather Builds the Original Dock at The Cottage

A gentle breeze over the water, cool and fresh; the sound of laughter. Cottage screen-door slap-cracks against the jamb, down old stone steps, one, two, feet in splash, brisk, but not bad. Better to fly off the end of the dock, slight jolt; swim to first rock, then second. Catch the laughter before it drifts away.

Just the quiet boat rocking when the motor is cut; hints of being vulnerable in the face of such a lake. The water is wide, deep and clear, the bottom is down there somewhere, a little scary. Head-first in, over the side. Heads bobbing up. Over the side, again. Can the boys really be only seven? Can she really be only three? Towel off, quick, it’s cold in the breeze. We don’t drift too far in the wind; the motor starts without any problem.

Casting far out, but if you look close, the fish are under the dock. Hold still, it’s about to bite. Do we keep it and eat it; it’s big?  Throw it back. Tears to let it go, but happy to free it too. Ten more fish caught, all released. We try to figure out how long a fish memory is – will we catch the same ones next year?

Catching the Mountain Washington DC. Mini-golf, go karts, Weirs.  It’s a high fly ball to center field; sun drenched from the day. Sitting on laps for a first-ever night game on TV. It’s a loss for the Red Sox, but a win for us all.

Lunch, dinner, lobsters and sweet corn. Wine, water, juice. Sustenance, a break from the daily grind of food prep for Heather. Bacon and pan-friend english muffins for breakfast. S’mores at night, ice cream in Wolfeboro across the lake. Coffee whenever. Grace.

There were recent updates, but it’s still the cottage. There is a dishwasher now, and even a washer in the basement. The stone fireplace is marked 1941, handcrafted like the one outside. Like the foundation of the cottage.

The evolution of many years, and generations of hands, but it still feels the same. Fun, lightness. Grounding, healing. A wholeness we struggle to maintain in our daily lives. A reminder of how we love, of how we live. Of how lucky we are. Lift the porch windows, let the breeze in. Gratitude.

The work goes on; on the backs of work done before us. The work of ensuring that places of healing continue to be a strong presence in our lives.  Reminders of who we want to be when the rest falls away.

A Vacation in The Lowcountry (1 of 3)

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We went to The Lowcountry of South Carolina seeking a low-key, slow-paced, deep south break from our reality. We went for a week of simple things; a grounding, a re-connecting, a reminding. We got it.

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“I dream of simple things I can believe in, like the feeling this day brings, true love, and the miracle of forgiving. I believe in simple things.” ~Amy Grant, lyrics from her song ‘Simple Things’

It was a week of simple things in their finest form. Crab straight from the creek, caught with our own hands, and cooked right off the dock, dipped in drawn butter – the sweetest crab we’ve ever had. Watermelon picked ripe that day – the juiciest, most delicious watermelon we’ve ever tasted. Shrimp caught by boats trawling right off the beach where we spent our days in the sun. Salt, and water, and sand, and shells. Marsh grasses and a long wooden dock with oyster beds in the mud beneath. Silence. Pelicans and dolphins. Jellyfish washed up onshore and “Don’t feed the alligators!” and thousands of tiny fiddler crabs scurrying everywhere. Bare feet. Sunrises and sunsets. Fishing poles and sand shovels. Watching the tides come in. Watching the tides go out.

It was deliriously magical in its simplicity. It reminded us: we can believe in simple things.


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watermelon on the beach a watermelon on the beach

Braydon on the dock

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Lowcountry Vacation (2 of 3)

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The vacation was bookended on either side with road tripping. All five of us love travel of all kinds— even including (yes, I know, it is hard to believe this to be true of young kids)… long roadtrips. The drive from our house to Beaufort, South Carolina is 15 hours. We split it up each way with overnights at hotels (on the drive south, we stopped in North Carolina; on the drive north, we stopped in Virginia; which means… and this is important to them!… that K & O have now slept at least one night in every state on the eastern seaboard). Meera got weary a few times along the way, trapped in her carseat, and not entirely sure what exactly the point of all this was, but she was a real trooper. And never once did Kyle or Owen even utter a “when will we get there?” Every hour is part of the adventure for them. Believe it or not, they honest-to-God enjoy it. They watch videos; they color/draw/write/do mazes and word-finds; they play with their iPods (while Meera naps); and they eat (and eat and eat and eat– the roadtrip snacking is a major part of the experience – oh! and pizza! pizza is by far their favorite roadtripping fast food).

Road Trip - movies - Day 1 Heading South

Road Trip - lap pads - Day 2 Heading South

Road Trip - sleeping and ipods - Day 1 Heading North

Road Trip - pizza - Day 2 Heading North 

We had rented a cottage for the week from VRBO. We found it to be exactly what we had been hoping for: private, right on the marsh, small, simple, and with –the major attraction for us— a private dock. That dock came to take on a life of its own during our stay. It was like an extension of our house rental—a whole other room stretching into a weird and wonderful new land for us.

the villa the marsh - dock 

With only one exception (an awesome day trip to Charleston), our days went like this: an adventurous excursion of some sort, followed by a late-morning arrival at the beach, followed by a late-afternoon arrival back on our dock for crabbing and checking out the tides.

Our morning excursions included a bunch of different adventures at Hunting Island State Park (the lighthouse there, the marsh walks, the lagoon, the nature center); a trip to the Penn Center (awe-inspiring place!); and exploring our new favorite art gallery on the planet: The Red Piano Too on St. Helena Island.

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The bulk of our days were spent on the beach at Hunting Island State Park. A vacation like this is a lot of work (especially for Mama); the packing and unpacking of beach gear, the picnic lunches, the laundry. But it is so worth it.

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(and there was Dairy Queen for the bambinos on the drive ‘home’ everyday! what a treat!)

Lowcountry Vacation (3 of 3)

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We took a daytrip to Charleston half-way through our week. Braydon and I lived together in Charleston for a year in our early twenties, before we started graduate school. It was an amazing year for us in so many ways and Charleston brings back lots and lots of good memories. Braydon and I have been back to Charleston many times since then (it is one of our favorite places in the world), but we have never brought our kids there. We loved bringing them to Charleston and showing them that heart-and-soul city of the the deep south. We did the top-of-the-list Must-Do Charleston experiences: explored the beautiful streets, browsed in the marketplace, took a horse-drawn carriage ride, ate warm pralines from Market Street Sweets, and walked along Rainbow Row. At the end of our day we put bathing suits on the bambinos and let them go crazy in the waterfront fountains. They had fun. Highlight of this daytrip, though, was our bbq lunch at Sticky Fingers. Braydon and I are long-time fans of Sticky Fingers and we suspected our boys would love it. However, we could have never predicted how much they’d love it. Never, in our entire seven years of parenting these boys, have we ever seen them love a meal so much. Owen ate probably an entire rack of ribs. And Kyle ate – no kidding – a entire half of a chicken – by himself. To say that they loved Sticky Fingers would be a serious understatement. At the end of our lunch they did something absolutely unprecedented: they asked us to buy them Sticky Fingers t-shirts. It was the only thing they asked for the entire trip. I sprung on the opportunity to gift them with that memorabilia!

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In addition to our Charleston pralines and Sticky Fingers barbeque, we ate lots of other Lowcountry delicacies during our week. Steamed blue crab; shrimp and grits (with okra and heirloom tomatoes and thick bits of bacon – from Saltus River Grill, our favorite of the restaurants we discovered in Beaufort – oh so heavenly!); fried shrimp; steamed shrimp; fried oysters; raw oysters; fried green tomatoes; collard greens; hush puppies; boiled peanuts; biscuits and sausage gravy; and of course the watermelon – oh my! oh my! the watermelon! Kyle, Owen, and Meera did not like everything (O loved crab, K & M did not; K loved collards, O & M did not; M loved boiled peanuts, K & O did not), but they are adventurous eaters and they all tried everything. One southern delicacy we discovered that they all loved?! That oh-so-decadent-doughnut: The Krispy Kreme!

And there was the crabbing. The ‘high’ of our whole trip. We crabbed off our dock every day. Ask the boys why they want to go back to South Carolina next year and they’ll tell you it is for the crabbing. They loved it. Truth be told, crabbing was really the hook that got me reeled in to the whole idea of a Lowcountry vacation in the first place. I just knew that if we could do it right (a good private dock, a healthy marsh, the wherewithal to make it happen), then crabbing would be the perfect centerpiece to a great family vacation. Oh my gosh, was I ever right! We had never done it before, and before we left for this trip I did a whole bunch of online research, prepping, and planning in regards to crabbing (How to catch blue crabs? How to cook blue crabs? How to eat blue crabs?). It paid off big time with big beautiful crab-after-crab caught by our team of five. It was a blast!!! And they were so delicious!


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As I mentioned (above, in Post 2 of 3), a vacation like this isn’t entirely easy. There were two main things about this trip that were not simple: #1) we – meaning I — did a lot of our own cooking and all of our own cleaning/laundry/etc., and—   #2) and this is the big one… we – meaning all five of us – had to grapple with our country’s history of slavery and the legacy of those roots in our world today.

As for #1… I just so happen to be someone who really enjoys cooking, especially when it involves something along the lines of stopping at the shrimp dock on the way home from a day at the beach, buying up some fresh shrimp right off the boat, and then – while sipping a gin and tonic made perfectly by my husband with fresh tart key limes that we can’t even buy where we live – cooking up that shrimp into a simply divine shrimp scampi with linguine that my whole family then ooohs and aaahs over the entire time they are eating it all up. Yeah, that is pretty amazingly enjoyable to me. That said, the daily grind of cooking and cleaning and laundry is a bummer to have to do while on vacation. But there is no way around it – for the kind of vacation we had, it just comes with the territory. You can’t have a low-key, laid-back, simple-things vacation and a luxury-all-inclusive vacation too. And so I/we went into it with our eyes wide open and just tried our best to make the best of it (oh, and, note: I officially lost it – like total, full-blown, ugly-cry, raging mad-woman melt-down – exactly three times during our 10 day trip. note: there are no photos of that.).

As for #2… You can’t go to the Lowcountry and not come face-to-face with African-American history. The Lowcountry is African-American history. And nothing about talking about slavery with seven-year-old black boys (as white parents, no less) is easy. You could sugar coat it with all the amazing contributions that came, and are still coming, out of the Lowcountry and the entire African Diaspora: resilience and tenacity and creativity, Gullah Culture, the cuisine, the arts of every form, the music – heck, the history and craf-making of Sweetgrass Baskets alone is enough to fill up a whole ten day trip with celebration. But, we went to the Lowcountry in part as a way to approach African-American history with our children. And we worked hard to do the right thing; We talked about all the good and amazing and wonderful, and we talked about the horrors of the slave trade, the ugly truth of plantation slavery, and the legacy of racism and poverty that results in present-day form. Yeah, that is some pretty tough stuff to grapple with. Not easy. Not a simple thing.

But mixed with the raw harsh truth of the tragic roots of the deep south are the sweet simple truths of the deep south too. The place is just beaming with life. Resiliency and tenacity and sheer creative brilliance just ooze from every pour. In the smoldering heat tiny crabs scurry in and out of their mud holes with a fervor that is just mesmerizing. The thick Spanish moss hangs down and oysters spit from their beds and birds dive for fish. Dolphins swim with their babies, close enough to shore that you can watch them playing in the water. There is beauty and inspiration in every direction. Really, it is simply incredible.

So, from our dock everyday we kept track of the tides kept an eye on the oysters and crabs and watched the sun rise and the sun set. It was, simply, glorious.

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One final note about our Simple Things vacation: a not-so-simple thing for us = trying to get a family photo. Here are the only three we managed to get (none of which are, in our minds, at all frame-worthy):

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family photo on the dock 

We almost never go back to the same place twice, but this place is pretty tempting. I won’t be entirely surprised if we find ourselves back there for another vacation a year from now. This was, for sure, one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. If it were up to Kyle and Owen we’d have spent the whole summer there.

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“I dream of simple things I can believe in, like the feeling this day brings, true love, and the miracle of forgiving. I believe in simple things.”

Last Day of 6 in NYC

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It is only ever going to happen once in our lifetimes— the last day of having twin six year olds. It just happens overnight—they have a birthday, and bam!— they are never the age past again. On the last day that Kyle and Owen were six years old, we took them to the Big Apple to go out with a bang. MorMor and MorFar were visiting for the weekend (Friday was Grandparent’s Day at K & O’s school, and Sunday was the big birthday). So, we took full advantage and left Meera with them for the day so that we could do our favorite daytrip – NYC – toddler-free (so much more fun to do NYC toddler-free! and we all appreciated that MorMor and MorFar made this possible!). Braydon and I had planned this in advance, but it was a big surprise for K & O. When they woke up Saturday morning we told them first thing: “Get dressed! We’re going to New York City!” They were ecstatic. First question from them: “Are we eating at the dumpling restaurant?” “ABSOLUTELY we are! We wouldn’t do NYC any other way!” And we were off and running by 7:20am!

First stop (after a Dunkin’ Donuts pick-up on the highway, of course)—the train station in Summit NJ. Where we waited for the boys’ first real train ride (‘real’ meaning not a touristy/cog railway/kiddy-train-type thing –which they’ve done before—but an honest-to-goodness commuter rail)— whoooopie! the boys were ecstatic about this! A REAL TRAIN! Here they are, early Saturday morning, waiting for the train~~


And here they are on their first real train ride. Icing on the cake: it turned out to be a double-decker train, and we got seats on the top floor! The hour-long ride felt like about 10 minutes— they were so enthralled the entire time~~


We got off the train at Penn Station. There is nothing like walking up the stairs from below ground and entering the street to the hustle and bustle and frenetic frenzied energy of NYC. It feels like magic—you get on in your plain-jane-neck-of-the-woods and— Abracadabra!—  you get off in a whole other world. Braydon and I love it. And our boys’ wide-eyes and pure-zest-for-every-bit-of-it just makes it all the more magical. We walked the couple of blocks to the Empire State Building. Tallest building in NYC. And we had tickets in hand to go to the top! K & O could hardly believe it!

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And there it was. A view worth the ticket price to get to the 86th floor. It was a beautiful sunny day. We could see forever. I loved looking at my boys looking at the world on the last day of their 6-year-old year. To me, this picture just screams it: “The world is your oyster boys! So slurp it right up and enjoy every bit of it!”


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After a quick cab ride downtown, next up on our agenda was Chinatown. We always make sure to get out of the cab early so that we have plenty of time to meander the streets toward our favorite restaurant. There is absolutely nothing underwhelming about Chinatown. Just so much to see, smell, touch, hear, feel, taste at every nook and cranny. Kyle loves to look at the nick-knacks the street vendors are selling. Owen loves to look at the edibles the street vendors are selling. Fruits and vegetables unidentifiable (but oh so interesting) to us, barbequed whole ducks hanging in shop windows, and the most intriguing: the seafood and shellfish displays. Oh my word, it never gets old. Owen could spend a whole day just looking at the piles of things-from-the-water. Highlight of this portion of the adventure: a huge barrel of frogs he discovered. He could hardly believe it when I told him that they were for eating. He asked if he could touch them. I said no. But he could not resist.


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And then there was Joe’s Shanghai. Long-time blog readers know how much we love this place, so I won’t go on and on and on about it. Just: WE LOVE IT. We’ve been taking the boys there since they were babies. Way back then we’d order one order of dumplings. By the time they were three years old we were ordering two orders. The last couple of times it was three orders. This time, on our walk to Joe’s Shanghai, Kyle was already all over us about it: “We better order four orders of dumplings this time!! Remember, last time? Three orders wasn’t enough!” It seemed like a ridiculous amount of dumplings for us to be ordering— one order per person?!— but every single dumping was eaten, plus every morsel of our other two standby’s: Szechuan Green Beans and Shanghai Flat Noodles. This is our perfect lunch. If we were stranded on an island and could only ever have one meal, it would be this one. And we savor every bite of it. (And I have to say, the guys who work there – many of whom recognize our boys from seeing us come in all these years – as well as the clientele who happen to witness it when we show up, don’t hold back in their obvious joy in our boys’ eating of this food with such gusto.) 


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After lunch we told K & O that they could each pick out one thing to take home from the street vendors. They chose matching wooden Chinese swords (and a Chinese fan for Meera). I bartered for a good price for the three and everyone was happy. The boys performed some dramatic sword fighting in the streets of Chinatown while we waited for Braydon to get our dessert: Iced Bubble (Tapioca Ball) Tea… the perfect ending to a lunch in Chinatown.

We were back on the train by mid-afternoon and made it home just in time for the Kentucky Derby and an early bedtime for the bambinos on the eve of the boys’ 7th birthday.

What a treat of a day!

Anguilla 2011 ~ 1 of 3

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“What happens to the wide-eyed observer when the window between reality and unreality breaks and the glass begins to fly?” ~Author Unknown


Two years ago my cousins Karen and Eric both died within six weeks of each other. Life as we knew it changed then, and it would never be the same. Braydon and I blogged about it only the tiniest bit (for example here, and here), but otherwise it was something that we kept off-blog. It was just too raw for public viewing. It was a turning point in life – a point that marked the start of a whole chain of events that in sum represent a very intense couple of years for my side of the family. To say that my cousins’ deaths have had a profound effect on my family of origin would be an understatement. While my parents, my sister, and I, have each felt it and handled it very differently, Karen and Eric – their lives and their legacies – have impacted us immensely in unison. There has been intense pain, grief, and confusion. There has also been – in that strange way that life works – intense joy, centeredness, and clarity… not in losing them, but in what they have taught us along the way. In the end I think I can speak for the four members of my original family when I say that through our experiences of the past couple of years, at least one thing was deeply affirmed for all of us: life is fleeting and far too precious to squander.

Somewhere in the vast ripple effect of it all, my mother got the idea in her head that we were all – her, my dad, my sister and her family, and me and my family – going to go to Anguilla together. My parents have been spending two weeks of March in Anguilla for the past nine years. They adore Anguilla, and have always wanted to share it with their kids and grandkids. ‘We only live once,’ and ‘life is too short,’ and ‘who knows what tomorrow will bring?’ and soon enough my mom was determined to make it happen. Anyone who knows my mother knows that when she’s determined, nothing will stand in her way. And so, she made it happen.

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Anguilla March 2011. It was a dream come true for my mother. And it was a dream of a week for all of us. Somewhere between reality and unreality is where we were. Powder white beaches. Crystal-clear turquoise water. Whole new worlds beneath the surface. Sunsets beyond reason. Views that make you squint because it is hard to decipher how it can be real— is this for real? isn’t this from a postcard I saw somewhere? The window between reality and unreality broke and the ‘glass began to fly.’

Day 1 - Shoal Bay - walk to Gwens 1 1 Day 5 - Junk's Hole Savannah's Bay - Meera on the beach 3

Kyle way down deep

anguilla is beautiful b

anguilla is beautiful

It was a gift. This trip was a gift. And in the warm breezes of the Caribbean (where – we J-Ms never forget – lie the roots of two of the five of us), we somehow all found a way to gracefully receive it. Our family has known pain, and receiving gifts is not our greatest forte. But there is nothing difficult about watching joy in children who you love with all your heart. There is nothing complicated about the simple pleasures of sand and sun and time spent together on a once-in-a-lifetime family vacation.

1 Day 2 - Roy's - kids on beach 4 

People in Anguilla say that Anguilla is “heaven on earth.” I heard that over and over while we were there. And having been there, I can understand the sentiment. There is something almost ethereal about Anguilla. A sort of haze – a roundness and softness – around all the edges. Even when you edit the photos for crispness, and increase the contrast, the fuzziness of all the contours are still there. Like a subtle fine mist that sort of glosses everything, giving it all just a little bit of buffering. You see it – in real life and then in the photos – and you wonder, “is it real?” It was real, and it was just what our family needed.

1 Day 1 - rendevous bay am walk - 3

Day 3 - Malliouhana Sunset - JM kids

Day 2 - Roy's - group

There were also many, many sharply defined moments of adventure and exquisite excitement! It was crazy-fun!

No car-seats necessary!

1 Anguilla - no carseats Yipeeee

No seatbelts required!

1 Anguilla - no seatbelts yipppeeee

No reservations needed.

1 Day 6 - Shoal Bay - Gwens - Lunch 2

No shoes – just feet in the sand – most of the time!

at Gwen's

Anguilla is absolutely beautiful!

1 Day 3 - Long Bay - kids

And we did a lot while we were there!…

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Anguilla 2011 ~ 2 of 3

Posted by | TRAVEL | 5 Comments

…Getting ten people (who live in three different states) to Anguilla is no simple task. Especially when four of the ten are under the age of 8. We J-Ms stayed in an airport hotel the night before the big travel day. That put us in good shape for when our wake-up call rang in at 3:45 am! It was 14 hours of travel, including 2 van shuttles, 2 airplanes, 1 taxi, and 1 ferry…

Travel - airport 4am Travel - plane to Anguilla - M dora stickers

Travel - plane to Anguilla - plane Kyle

Travel - ferry to Anguilla

…some of us (especially one of us) were really exhausted by the time we arrived at our villa in Anguilla.

Skiffles - Meera's arrival to Anguilla

I often hear people (in real life) and read people (on blogs) bemoaning how hard traveling with young children is. I agree, obviously, that it is challenging. But somehow Braydon and I have always found a way to take on the challenge as a genuinely fun, interesting, exciting one. We love traveling with our kids, and our kids love traveling. We all five know, and appreciate, what a privilege it is. If anything we only wish that we could do it more. And so, when we get to do it, we make the most of it. And we made the most of Anguilla, for sure!

My parents had an amazing itinerary for us. They know Anguilla well, and were superb hosts for our trip. We stayed in a beautiful villa, met many of my parents’ Anguilla friends, went to different beaches everyday, had drinks in mind-bogglingly-beautiful places (like here, and here), and ate lots of bbq and lots of seafood— at places that you’d only discover after years of spending time in a place.

We went snorkeling daily! (snorkeling = a J-M family favorite activity)

1 Owen 2 

2 brothers snorkel

3 Papi and K snorkel

Kyle got really, really into snorkeling on this trip. Last year in the Dominican Republic, Braydon started teaching both K and O how to dive down deep without life jackets on. In Anguilla, Kyle mastered it. He stopped wearing his life jacket completely about two days in, and spent most of his time snorkeling down deep. He also spent more time than any of the ten of us snorkeling. He was snorkeling every chance he’d get. One day he found a thick palm branch in the woods on the edge of the beach. He used it as a “fishing spear” the rest of the trip – snorkeling with it, diving down deep with it, and attempting to spear fish with it.

4 Kyle 'spear fishing'

5 Kyle 'spear fishing' 2

He never successfully speared a fish, but he is one determined little 6-year-old-snorkeler! And while he never speared a fish, he did see plenty of fish (his favorites were the clown fish and the squids), and he dove to retrieve some amazing treasures on the bottom of the sea. Including beautiful empty conch shells that he dove deep for.

6 Kyle's conch cow fish

And Anguilla was were Meera began snorkeling (mask only). She loved it! And for a two-year-old she did very well with it!

7 Meera

8 Meera underwater

There were plenty of other adventures too.

Like climbing for coconuts. In Anguilla, Owen mastered it.

1 2

And with a little help from a nice guy with a machete, we all got to partake in the coconut milk that Owen collected for us.

3 4

There was “playing tag with the waves.” (Sometimes really big waves!)


And there were discoveries of all sorts of new things. Like how the Anguillans fish for eels right off the beach.

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And how the Anguillan kids make sandballs just exactly the same way as we make snowballs. After watching some kids on the beach one day, it didn’t take long for Kyle, Owen and Sadie to master the art of the sandball. They made many for Meera, who was regularly requesting them.

8 9

There was a hermit crab outside our villa one day. We played with him for quite a while before I finally hid him deep in the brush so that he could reclaim his peace. And there were tropical flowers that Meera found to be just perfect as cheerleading pompoms (always the cheerleader that one).

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Speaking of that one…

Is there anything cuter than a two year old on the beach? I’m sorry, but I can’t help myself…

1a Day 3 - Cove Bay - Meera 1b Day 6 - Shoal Bay - Meera 3

2 Day 2 - Meads - Meera plays 2

3a Day 5 - Junk's Hole Savannah's Bay - Meera plays 3b Day 1 - Shoal Bay - walk to Gwens M

4a 4b

5a 5b

1 Day 2 - Meads - Meera plays 3

…there is nothing cuter. And there was nothing more shocking than the fact that Meera slept wherever we were each afternoon in Anguilla… on the beach, in beachside lunch spots, wherever we happened to be, she slept. Given that she almost never sleeps anywhere except her bed, this came as a big shock and a big relief to her mama and papi.

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And as for K & O… these two just love the beach. Plain and simple. It is love love love love love times two.




There was really good food. And really good drink.

Day 3 - BBQ 1 Day 3 - Malliouhana Sunset - pina colada

There was K & O’s third Coca-Colas ever in their lifetimes (this is, for them, a monumental thing to note)!

Day 5 - Junk's Hole Savannah's Bay - Nat's Place - 3rd cokes

There was salt and sand and a swimming pool at the end of the day. There was a special dinner out, alone, for Braydon and I, at Blanchard’s (the restaurant of the authors of my most beloved cookbook, At Blanchard’s Table)— Oh. My. Goodness. Gracious. And there were two rental cars in which we explored that beautiful island. And books read. And rum punch. And MorFar’s 64th birthday. And morning walks on the beach. And sunsets at night. There were jam-packed days that felt long and leisurely. And amazing things experienced every day we were there….

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