Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Family Vacation - Part 2

If you missed part 1, you can find it here. It covers our time in St. Kitts, Antigua, and St. Lucia.

Jan 6th - Barbados - Barbados was our last port of call. We went in with no plans for what to do while there. We had originally hoped to visit the Mount Gay Rum distillery for their Bajan buffet lunch tour, but the days they offer it didn't match up with when we were there. I stayed in the room with the kids each night after they went to sleep, so the night before our stop in Barbados, I researched while they slept. I wasn't impressed with any of the beaches, it's hard to top the beaches we'd already visited, but luckily I came across Harrison's Cave. Not only did it look cool, but I felt we needed to go since it shares a name with Harry. After breakfast we grabbed a cab and headed toward the cave. It is a 20-25 minutes drive there. Simon, our driver, did a great job telling us about the history of the island and how moving to Barbados increases life expectancy 15-20 years. The cave was really neat. The tour consists of a quick video and then a tram ride through the cave. The tour lasted 30-45 minutes, and the kids enjoyed it except for the 15 seconds they turned out the lights and we sat in complete darkness. After the tour we did some walking and were hoping to find monkeys. The walkway we needed to take was closed and without cell/internet coverage on the islands, we went the wrong way and didn't realize it. What did we do before cell phones? Oh right, Mapquest.

We had planned for my mom to sit with the kids after dinner so Robbie and I could enjoy some adult entertainment. There were so many things on the ship we didn't get to take advantage of. Scarlett had other plans though. She had a double ear infection when we left and was on antibiotics for the whole trip. She was particularly congested this day and had already coughed so much she threw up twice. Once on our bed, and once all over me. Yay motherhood. Half way through dinner it became obvious the babies weren't going to make it, so I took them back to the room to put them to bed. Everything was going fine until they had dozed off, in our bed, and Scarlett started coughing. I had to sacrifice my dress in order to save the bed, and she and I both wound up needing a shower. After that ordeal, We didn't end up going out.

Jan 7th - Cruising - Both babies were up bright and early again, and Scarlett was thankfully feeling better than the night before. Since the whole last day would be spent cruising back to San Juan, we had a pretty relaxed day. We walked around the ship a lot and checked out the babies and tots play area. It was just a room with a few toys, but it was nice for the babies to get to play with toys instead of the trash can in our room. We got to watch the parade of flags where all of the crew's countries are represented. The Philippines was the most represented country among the crew. On days at sea the kid's pool is open all day, which meant swimming and sliding for the big kids. The babies weren't allowed in any of the pools, but there happened to be a shower next to the pool that was perfect for them to splash in for a few minutes. We made a quick visit to the helipad before doing our nightly dinner and bedtime routine.

Each night during dinner our room attendant straightened the room and left a towel animal on the bed. The kids of course loved them. One night after dinner Harrison walked into the room and started yelling. He came back to the door, threw his arms out to block us from coming into the room and said, "Mom, you can't come in, there's a dinosaur in the room!!" He was so excited and serious about it. It was hilarious.

Jan 8th - San Juan - We had to have our luggage out of our room the night before, and we had a set time we had to get off the ship. We ate breakfast, said some goodbyes and were off the ship and to our hotel by 9:30am. Our hotel was great about letting us check in early, and checking bags for our family that was still with us even though they weren't staying at the hotel that night. The kids got to play in the pool for a couple hours in the morning before they all took a nap. Harrison and Brooke napped for almost 3 hours, so by the time they woke up it was time to get dinner. There was a great traditional Puerto Rican restaurant within walking distance from the hotel. Casita Mirimar came highly recommended from the hotel staff, and it did not disappoint. By far, the best meal of the trip. Seafood stuffed avocado, pumpkin fritters, sangria, tres leches cake. All so delicious.

We flew back the following day and were so happy to be home. All 4 kids did really well on the trip, but by the way home the babies were tired and just wanted mom. There was definitely some crying on the flights home, but we managed to get them both to sleep on both flights. My parents were on the same flights home, and having my mom as an extra set of hands was priceless. Somehow it always happens that as soon as both babies are finally asleep, one of the big kids needs to go to the bathroom. 

We made it back to Fort Wayne, picked up the dogs, and had everyone in bed by 9:15pm. The babies are still working on getting back to their usual sleep routines. We are no longer waking for the day at 5am, but after a week of sleeping with mom and dad, there's some definite separation anxiety when we lay them down in their cribs. Overall it's back to life as normal after vacation. H and B are back to school, laundry is done, and I'm already dreaming of another vacation, or at least for summer to get here. 

Traveling with out family was amazing, and definitely something we'll do again in a few years. This cruise was on RCL Jewel of the Seas, and while we had a great time, it wasn't really a baby friendly ship. If we cruise again we'll pick a different ship or cruise line. Disney anyone? The cruise was a really great way to get a taste for each of the islands. They were all great, but St. Lucia and St. Kitts are the two I'd really like to visit again. The locals had a very relaxed vibe, plus the islands were gorgeous. 

Where are your favorite tropical vacation spots?

Need more vacation pics? You can see the rest of our pics here.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Family Vacation - Part 1

My siblings have been pushing for a destination Christmas for quite a few years now. The last few years have been full of weddings, babies, relocations. 2016 was pretty wide open though, so this holiday season seemed like the perfect time to make this family vacation a reality. We decided on a Caribbean cruise the first week of January. A cruise was perfect for a large group, 12 adults, 3 kids, 2 infants. It gave us all the freedom to customize our rooms and activities while still getting to spend time together as a family. As it turns out, my younger brother and and my SIL weren't able to join us :( , but we still had a big group of 15 total.

We were able to fly out of Fort Wayne for about the same price as flying out of Indy or Chicago. We flew out at 7:50am on New Year's Day. An early flight on NYD meant everywhere was still closed, except for the Starbucks inside our local Kroger. Thank goodness for coffee and breakfast sammies at 6:30am when traveling with 4 kids. Also, not having to drive a couple hours before our flight was amazing. We had a layover in ATL, and landed in San Juan just after 4pm. All of the kids did really well. I even managed to watch most of Bad Moms on the flight from ATL to SJU. My parents were on all of the same flights as us which was a huge help. I came down with a migraine after traveling all day, so I missed out on the first evening of vaca. Our hotel had a great pool and a lobby bar/restaurant, so everyone stayed in at the hotel while I slept off a migraine.

Jan 2nd. San Juan - The babies were up bright and early after a not great night's sleep. We all met for hotel breakfast and then Harrison and Brooke took off with my siblings while Rob and I hung back with the babies while they took their morning nap. H and B got to check out Castillo San Cristobal. The new governor's inauguration happened to be on this day, so Old San Juan was extra crazy while we were there. It made it a little difficult to get around, so Robbie and I missed out on the Castillo. Once we did meet up with everyone we walked around Old San Juan and grabbed lunch at Mallorca before heading to the cruise ship. The first evening on the ship was spent checking out the different decks and getting settled. I wish we would have been able to see the ship take off, but all of the kiddos were so tired, so we were in our room before the ship left port. We definitely felt the boat moving all night however.

Jan 3rd . St Kitts - Robbie and I had a snorkeling shore excursion planned for this day, but it got cancelled. We decided to hitch on to my older sister's plans for the day. We found a wonderful cabbie named Mr. Rogers who told us all about St Kitts as he drove us to our destination. We went to Shipwreck Beach Bar in South Friars Bay. The restaurant was great and very kid friendly. Awesome fish and veggies tacos. Hot dogs and chicken tenders for our picky big kids. As an added bonus, there are monkeys and mongooses that live in the woods and come down close to the restaurant. We thought this was way cooler than the kids, but what do they know. ;) We didn't bring swim suits, which was a mistake, because the beach was great. H and B were completely soaked and covered in sand. They played in the water and sand, and we searched for shells and bottle caps. There were free lounge chairs with shade which was perfect for nursing and napping babies. Mr Rogers was back to pick us up on time, we found all of our drivers to be great about being on time for return trips, and we headed back to the ship. It was the last day of Carnivale, and I wish we would have had more time to check it out. The kids were ready to get back to the ship and have a snack before dinner.

Jan 4th Antigua - As was the case every morning, the babies were up by 5:30am. The pack and plays weren't very comfy, so they slept in our bed every night. We were waiting for the breakfast buffet to open every day at 7am. This day we ventured to Darkwood Beach. Everything we read said the beaches of Antigua were fabulous, and they did not disappoint. We were able to rent lounge chairs for $5 each and arrived early enough to get "public" shade. Darkwood Beach Bar and Restaurant serves onto the beach, and was very kid and adult friendly. The water was turquoise blue, and had the perfect amount of waves. All of the beaches we went to were on the Caribbean side, and none of them were to difficult for the kids to handle. Clark spent a good portion of his day napping in the shade, while Scarlett was having too much fun to rest. Harrison and Brooke swam with their cousin and uncles and we could barely get them to stop long enough to eat and reapply sunscreen. They learned how to body surf the waves and chicken fight. We found some really great shells and coral, but they won't let you take it back on the ship. Our driver was on time to pick us up and get us back to town. 4:30 was our departure time each day, so we didn't get to stay anywhere later than 2 or 3 pm. We definitely could have stayed at this beach all day. We did dinner in the main dining room each evening, and then it was bed time for the babies, and Harrison, immediately following dinner. Brooke and her cousin went to Adventure Ocean, the kids play area, each evening after dinner. Harry just wanted to stay with us and get extra sleep.

Jan 5th St Lucia - We arranged a private catamaran tour along the coast with Mystic Man Tours. We got to snorkel, see most of the Caribbean coastline including the Pitons, enjoyed lunch and rum punch punch while sailing, watched flying fish, had a mini dance party on the boat. I can't speak highly enough about this experience. We got to see so much of the island, and I can't wait to go back someday for an extended period of time. I took at least 50 pictures of just scenery. Mountains, trees, quaint villages, boats lining the shore. It was all so beautiful.

Part 2 coming tomorrow.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Scarlett and Clark are 1

O-N-E!! My babies are one. They've passed that unofficial line from baby to toddler. They are still no where close to walking, so maybe I can call them babies for a wee bit longer. We celebrated their birthday with family and friends already, but I want to make sure that their birthday never gets lost in all of the excitement of the holidays. I know from speaking to friends with Christmastime birthdays, that birthday gifts often get wrapped in Christmas paper and are received at holiday celebrations. Parties are pushed aside when other plans and obligations take precedence. The actual birthday becomes just another day between Christmas and New Years. I don't ever want them to feel like their birthday isn't special just because of the holidays that surround it. We will celebrate their birthday and celebrate them every year regardless of what other holiday obligations we have. Their birthday is a super important day to us!

I knew we weren't going to be going anywhere on their birthday, so we made it as special as we could at home. Donuts and birthday balloons were on the agenda, and it turns out they loved one of those things. I blew up about 50 balloons the night before and had them waiting in the living room for when they woke up. I would have put them in their room, but someone still wakes up multiple times per night. Yes Scarlett, I'm talking about you. They were so happy to play with the balloons. Clark crawled through them trying to hit every balloon along the way. Scarlett put them in her mouth, because everything must go in her mouth. She chewed on the ends of the balloons and I thought for sure one would pop in her face when she bit down, but as of today it still hasn't happened.

Once they started playing with their toys instead of the balloons, we moved on to breakfast. We stopped and got donuts from one of our favorite bakeries. Rise N Roll's cinnamon caramel donuts are the bomb, yes I just went full 90s there, and their first birthday seemed like a perfect time to introduce the babies to them. Well, they could have cared less. Who are these children who don't want donuts? Certainly not mine. ;) They settled for fruit instead, and everyone was happy.

In true big kid fashion, they only took one nap yesterday. We played with balloons A LOT. We played in the bounce house. We dropped Brooke and Harrison's play kitchen back down to baby height, which Scarlett and Clark seemed pretty excited about. They took two steam baths, their favorite thing lately, and then they called it a night after reading a couple of their new birthday books.

It was a really fun day that I know they won't remember, but I will, and so will their big brother and sister. The last year with them has been so special, and I'm glad we made it a point to celebrate their big day. Happy Birthday, Scarlett and Clark!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas 2016

Merry Christmas!! Every Christmas is special, but this one was especially great for us. Scarlett and Clark's first Christmas. In all honesty, they couldn't have cared less. To them it was a couple days of short naps, late bedtimes, and lots of people, but it was great fun for us to watch them experience it all. Brooke and Harrison are at the best age for Christmas. Brooke was literally shrieking yesterday morning, "Tomorrow's Christmas! I'm so excited!"

We always do the Christmas Eve children's mass and then go to Rob's parents after to celebrate with his extended family. Mass with 4 kids is a juggling act, but snacks and books got us through. Santa showed up at the end of mass and invited the kids to join him at the manger and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. Brooke thought it was great and jumped at the opportunity. Dinner and exchanging gifts followed after, and I managed to get zero pictures of all the kids. Harrison and Brooke were willing to pose for a picture in front of the tree before bed. I asked them to not pose, and Brooke promptly told me she likes posing. Then Harrison mimicked her posing. These two. :)

Scarlett was up to nurse at 6:20am, so I was already awake and had coffee made when H and B came bouncing in at 6:50. Scarlett went back to sleep after her morning top off, and we got some one on one time with the big kids to do stockings before the babes were up. My parents arrived soon after the babies woke, so we had breakfast before diving into presents. French toast casserole, sausage and egg casserole, muffins, fruit, minosas, blody marys. Holidays that involve breakfast food are kind of my favorite.

The rest of the day was a blur of opening gifts, trying to organize said gifts, snacking on leftover breakfast, drinking iced coffee, and playing with new toys. The babies weren't much into opening gifts. They just wanted to play and hang out on laps. When Brooke opened the balls for the bounce house, they suddenly became very interested. They both thought the balls were great, especially Clark. He crawled back and forth through them laughing the entire time. 

Rob's parents, brother, and niece joined us early in the afternoon. More gift opening, eating, and playing with toys. Rob got a VR headset in his stocking, and it was definitely a favorite of the day. Brooke and Harrison decided they were all about it, and it was what caused the major meltdown of the day that put two 4 year olds in bed by 6:15. I knew an early bedtime would be needed, but I had no idea how spent they were. Christmas is so much fun and so exhausting for them. Scarlett and Clark made it to their usual bedtime and even got to have some FaceTime with my brother and brother in law before bed. 

I didn't take nearly enough pictures, but I know I'll remember Clark's excitement with the balls. How much Harrison loved his super hero city. Brooke riding around the house on her BB-8 scooter. Scarlett's obsession over everything her big brother and sister were doing. Christmas with young kids is truly one of the best parts of parenthood. Harrison and Brooke are old enough that they remember things from last Christmas, and I'm sure they'll be talking about today for the next 365 days. It was as wonderful as we could have hoped for, even with the major meltdown. I hope you all had a wonderful day celebrating with your loved ones. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter Onederland

Scarlett and Clark don't actually turn 1 for another week, but when your birthday falls on a Wednesday between Christmas and New Year's Day you celebrate a little early, so we celebrated over the weekend. I decided to go with a Winter Onederland theme since I could use most of our Christmas decorations as party decor. We served soups for lunch, peppermint vanilla cupcakes, and a hot chocolate bar. All things I could make ahead. My best friend offered for Brooke and Harrison to spend the night at her house, which was quite possibly the best thing ever. I had plenty of kid free time the night before and during the babies' naps to clean and prep for the party, plus the house actually stayed clean for more than 10 minutes.

The weeks leading up to the party were spent cutting out snowflakes, which is not nearly as much fun as I remember it being when I was a kid. I also broke out some spray paint, ribbon, and glitter and DIYd snowflake wands and paper mache letters. I am quite certain I will be cleaning silver glitter from every flooring surface in our house for the next 4 months. 

Since Scarlett and Clark aren't big into party games, we skipped games and activities for the kids. We had a few older kids that came to the party, and they were quite content to jump in the basement bounce house. The rest of us ate soup, beef vegetable, white chicken chili, and baked potato, and conversed until it was time to serenade the babies with Happy Birthday.

Harrison and Brooke's best friend's birthday was the day before the party, so we actually got to sing Happy Birthday 3 times. Once we gave them their cakes, Scarlett went in face first. She didn't exactly smash her cake, but she definitely went all out on eating cake and icing. Then she tried to eat her brother's cake and eventually threw her cake on the ground. Yes, that's right, she thinks she's Andy Samburg. #happybirthdaytotheground

Clark was happy to sit there and take it all in, but he wasn't much into eating his cake. He had a few bites, but mostly he just watched. Later that evening he did get sick, so I'm guessing an upset stomach may have played a part in his less than enthusiastic cake smashing.

Once the babies were done with cake, they opened a few party gifts, but as is evidenced by the presents still on the gift table today, they don't quite understand presents yet. They are figuring out that ripping the paper is fun, and Brooke and Harrison have been happy to help them open along the way.

I am a firm believer that kid's birthday parties should involve adult drinks. Themed drink bars when possible. ;) This seemed like the perfect time for a hot chocolate bar. I used Archer Farms dark chocolate hot cocoa mix, and made a carafe full at a time. For toppings and mix ins we had crushed peppermint, chocolate chips, caramels, pirouettes, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, whipped cream, and three kinds of marshmallows (snowflakes, snowmen, and mini marshmallows). For adult mixers, Kahlua, whipped vodka, and chocolate liquor.  This was so easy, and such a hit. A few friends even took adult hot chocolates to go. Cheers!

I know they won't remember their first birthday party, but I'm glad we decided to have a big party to celebrate their first year. On their actual birthday, we'll be spending the day at home and getting ready for their first vacation. I think donuts for breakfast may be in order, because if you aren't having birthday cake, you should definitely be having donuts. Happy almost birthday! I can't believe you'll be one in just a week.

Party Hats - Little Blue Olive
ONE onesies - Olive and Birdie
Various Christmas Decor - Target and Michael's