A Monchau Feeling

Well before we left Monchau I knew it would be my favorite stop in Germany. The architecture and the colors completely grabbed me. We visited the medieval town center dominated by narrow streets, the Rur river, and the half-timbered buildings (structural timber frame is visible on the outside of the structure with plaster, brick, or stone infilling). I love this type of construction because the structural elements are exposed rather than hidden away and are often used to great artistic effect. I’m hoping to see a lot more of these types of buildings on our British Isles trip that is coming up right around the corner!

Monchau is nestled into lush and green hills. I can’t imagine a more appropriate and charming setting for a medieval town. I was smitten. We were caught in a little rainstorm while hiking up a hillside of the town. Under normal circumstances we might be a little annoyed to be wet. However, it seemed so appropriate to rain here that it simply added to the ambiance and our enjoyment of the moment.

I’ve prepared a couple photos that capture a little of this Monchau feeling.

This photo captures some of that medieval timber construction, the Rur river passing between buildings in the midst of the town, and the green hills outside the town. It was taken handheld on May 12th 2017 in Monchau, Germany using the Fuji X-T10 and the Fuji 18–55mm lens at 18mm, 1/250s, f/7.1, and ISO 800. Editing was performed in Lightroom to square the architecture and slightly adjust the white balance.

This photo captures some of German shingle work that I noticed in many of the cities and towns is a favorite detail of mine. Just look at the patterns; the are fantastic! Throw in a little grunginess and I’m as happy as a clam.  It was taken handheld on May 12th 2017 in Monchau, Germany using the Fuji X-T10 and the Fuji 18–55mm lens at 37.4mm, 1/250s, f/8, and ISO 320. Editing was performed in Lightroom to square grunge the photo up a little.

This photo was taken as we were walking back down the hillside into Monchau!

This photo is a great little example of the small and narrow streets in Monchau.

This one is of Julie and the kids taking in the scenery.

Walking Among Trees

Among my favorite things are the many trees in Paris. After grabbing a few pastries from an eclectic pastry shop, we walked into the gardens from the Rue Auguste Comte (from the south) through these large rows of squared Horse Chestnut Trees (at least that is what I think they are). These trees are so full and green. It is wonderful to walk along them. It was pretty rainy during our visit so this little glimpse of blue sky was welcome.

Walking Among Trees
Walking Among Trees

Walking Among Trees was taken handheld on May 5th 2017 at the South Entrance to Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France using the Fuji X-T10 and the Fuji 18–55mm lens at 18mm, 1/420s, f/5.6, and ISO 200. Editing was performed in Lightroom to darken the sky slightly and lighten the shadows of the tress just a little.

San Diego and Oxnard 2016 Video

One of the things I asked from Rob for my birthday was to catch up on making some of our family vacation videos.

Here’s our vacation from last year with his family. It’s so fun to watch and remember!

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P.S. I promise to start blogging “real” life and not just “vacation” life again real soon. If I’m going to be honest, “real” life has been real messy as of late and “vacation” life is just so much more pleasant to talk about. So don’t get the wrong impression that our life is nothing but fun and exciting. It’s not. And maybe once the kids are all in school full time (WOW!) in a couple of weeks I’ll be able to come out of survival mode, have a moment to decompress, and write.

In the meantime, enjoy the music on the video!!

Road Tripping Northwest Europe: Parks Edition

I’ve decided to spice up the old travelogue by lumping together our experiences rather than jotting down our day-by-day itinerary. Anyway, I already did that on my Facebook so I don’t want to just repeat myself here. If you ever want any detailed info about our trip, please ask. You all know I love talking travel!

This post is dedicated to all the parks we visited. We wanted to give ourselves a lot of play time so that it didn’t feel like we were always on the go. This meant that we stopped at most of the parks we passed and we tried to spend some good time while there.

Our kids now think that the world is their playground! And why shouldn’t it be?

Central Park

Madeleine like this spot because it looked like it was from the movie Enchanted.

 

Washington Square Park

Oh, what a wonderful way to start the day! This man was so great and talked and taught the entire game. Nate did impress him as he sat right down and started playing strategically immediately. He already knows some moves from his time in Chess Club. I don’t think the man was expecting it!

Super cool jammin’.

 

Greenwich Village Neighborhood Playground

Pier 51 Playground

 

Jardin du Luxembourg – Paris

Petanque is alive and well in Paris.

Tucked way in under the trees we happened upon a wonderful playground full of too-dangerous-for-American-children equipment. These American kids had a blast!

The kids decided this little duck family was representative of our own little family. They even decided which duckling best reflected their own personalities.

Since the park was directly across from our hotel we were able to go back a couple of times. One of those times we play Truth or Dare. I ended up kissing a statue on the cheek. Rob ended up sticking his head in a garbage can. Giggles galore!

 

Luxembourg City Corner Playground

I was impressed how high they could climb! 

Madeleine’s method is new to me but it seemed to work just fine.

We were definitely the only ones shedding clothes and strewing them about.

 

Vallee de la Petrusse – Luxembourg

It’s kind of nice to have kids old enough (and camera-bred) so that Rob and I can get the occasional picture together!

This dandelion fight got way out of hand. Neither of them were interested in surrendering.

 

Westduinpark – The Netherlands

We stumbled upon this beauty on the beach. There was something magical about being on the North Sea. Neither Rob nor I could put our finger on what exactly was so magical…it just was.

There were other parks but these are the ones with pictures. Taking little park stops while exploring cities and neighborhoods ended up being the perfect way to relax and reenergize at the same time.

Parks. Just do it.

BSB, Disney, Beach

Where do I even start? Ahh, yes. The beginning.

Last fall my mom bought tickets to the Backstreet Boys concert in Las Vegas for my little sister’s March birthday. My sister was screamin’ thrilled! Originally, it was going to be an girls trip but a few weeks before leaving I convinced most of us to turn it into a Disneyland trip as well. After all, we were already going to be halfway there so why not just keep on driving a measly few more hours to Mickey? Sounded reasonable to me!

We stopped for red rock playing in St. George before getting to our hotel in Vegas.

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The men stayed with the kids while the women fancied up for our big night out. At least, we thought we were fancy until we saw all the other 7,000 girls really dressed up! I wasn’t sure how much I was going to enjoy the concert since I hadn’t even thought of listening to BSB since I was maybe 17…but as soon as the music started, so many fun memories of my teenage years flooded back and the ambiance and enthusiasm was so fun and infectious! We sang and danced our hearts out the entire time.

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The next morning we played at the park and had a big brunch before the rest of us headed west, making it to Anaheim right at bed time.

Here is Rob and Jake doing a Duo This Not That!

Jake was playing a game with the kids where he had to catch them and put them in jail.

 

Disneyland was, well…the happiest place on earth, of course! As long as you plan well and “just keep swimming” then it’s all good. We rode and rode and rode and had so much fun doing it. California Adventure the next day brought more good times.

These next two pictures make me giggle. 

Then it was time for some beach!

That night we all headed to the hotel pool to celebrate the birthdays of my sister and my mom (which both took place during the trip). I grabbed some pies from the bakery next door and we had a POOL PIE PARTY!! Or was it a PIE POOL PARTY!! Either way it was a genius idea and one of those memories that will always be treasured.

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Rob and I decided to try our hand at driving straight home the next day rather than stopping in Vegas or St. George as usual. We were a little apprehensive about how the kids would handle it but I have to say that it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, I’m sure we will be doing that a lot more often from now on.

THANK YOU, mom, for making this trip possible! It was so great to go with her and my sister’s family. We’ll have to do it all again someday!

Keystone with the Kiddos

Rob had an exclusive Tailings and Mine Waste Conference (Whoa. Snoozer!) to attend in Keystone, CO. We have always loved driving through the area on our way to Denver so we all had to tag along. Rob was in meetings, presentations, and work dinners most of the time but the kids and I got a lot of enjoyment out of our few days of down time. 
We picked up dinner in Vail and picnicked at our most favorite park, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. It’s hard to see in the pictures but there are multiple, multi-level wooden play structures among the trees and each has a breathtaking view. Throw in the gorgeous alpine botanical gardens and it’s a place you never want to leave!
I didn’t include a ton of pictures now but here is our post from last time we were here.

This park where Caroline enjoyed her very first swing and her almost first time walking. 
This is a picture from our last time here. Madeleine wanted me to take a picture of her reenacting it. Isn’t this the cutest?! She got the pose and facial expression just right!






We stayed at The Swan Mountain Resort condos which were a perfectly preserved blast-from-the-past. The kids were ecstatic about the trash compactor in the kitchen, the spiral staircase, and the sliding accordion door.
The property had an indoor pool and hot tub that we swam in every day. We played air hockey and learned how to play foosball. Nate and I had some pretty good competitions!
One of the nights Rob was out late so I took the kids swimming in the clubhouse. I left my phone on the charger in the room. To get the foosball and air hockey puck we needed to leave our condo key with the front desk. I didn’t realize they closed early that night and they all left with our key still inside. That made me keyless and phoneless. Great! 
Luckily there was an old wall phone outside the office. I didn’t dial outside numbers , including Rob’s. He was soon going to be waiting for me to pick him up, having no other way to make it back to the condo. We were wet, and it was dark and cold. All I could use the phone for was to PAGE a staff member. Page?! I haven’t paged anyone since I was probably 15 years old and I couldn’t remember how to do it. The phone was so old and the buttons barely even worked. After a few tries I thought I finally got it to work. Sure enough, a few agonizing minutes later, the phone rang back. Someone had to drive back to the office and get my condo key out. What a fun time! Not really.
The weather toward the end of our stay was very windy and cold so we stayed inside playing board games and marathon-watching Fixer Upper. I did take the kids to a few parks to play while I bunkered down in the warmth of the car. We explored Frisco a bit and had maybe my favorite pizza ever at Peppino’s Pizza and Subs. One night we all drove to Breckinridge for a bison burger and a walk around town.  
On the one semi-warm day the kids and I went to Keystone Village to play. It was barely open as it was between the summer season and the winter season so we had the place pretty much all to ourselves. We didn’t mind one bit!
This is the pedestrian tunnel going from the parking lot to the resort. We played giant outdoor Checkers and giant outdoor Connect 4. Inside we played Jenga and the Wii (we don’t have one so it was super cool for them).
The colors were stunning so I don’t understand why it’s not a more popular time of year. Renting a paddle boat and buying a bag of fish food was the kids’ very most favorite thing about the trip. We were swarmed on all sides by hungry fish and they kept jumping out of the water and head butting our boat in order to get their kibbles.

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We played at the playground and the river before taking a nature walk through the trees.

This is Lake Dillon. It was cold so we didn’t stay long but so pretty with the clouds, mountains, and trees.

On the drive home we stopped in Glenwood Springs and walked across the pedestrian bridge.  In this picture I cropped out one of the MANY green cross marijuana supplier signs we passed during our stay in CO. It became legal just before our last time in Denver and they were just beginning to pop up then. Now only a few years later, in just in our couple of wanderings around the few little towns we visited we passed maybe 20 shops? Quite the demand for the stuff, I suppose!

We had our picture taken on this bench our first time here when Madeleine was just 3 months old. When we told her about it she insisted we do another reenactment. How funny! We got Nate on the wrong side but Madeleine is spot on. Ha! Man, she looks so big now!


It was a quick trip but worth it. Thanks for letting us schmooze off of your business trip, Rob!

Top 21 Greatest Vacation Moments (and Top 6 Worst)

I started this post as a Top 10 list but it quickly got away from me. I topped out at our top 21 greatest vacation moments. Oops. I couldn’t help it! I also added a few of our worst moments at the end of the page in order to keep things interesting and not too fluffy.

Ready?

21- Playing at the Pinball Hall of Fame and eating tremendously tasty tacos at Baja Bar & Grill next to UNLV.

20- The shows at SeaWorld. They’re basically the same as when I was there 15 years ago but I think it’s much more fun to watch your own kids gasp and laugh.

19- The rides at SeaWorld. There are only a few but they are great fun! We got soaked on some and then dried off on the others.

18- Rob and Nate enjoyed the USS Midway. The rest of us? Not so much.

17- Lazy Coronado. This view of Nate was typical. Every tree or other high thing within his view he quickly climbed.

16- The Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery forces you to be humble and grateful and sad.

15- Exploring Point Loma. I’ve been to San Diego many times but have never seen it from this vantage point.

14- Sharing a flight of flavors at Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream in San Diego. We scarfed down the 8 flavors without nary a picture so you must realize how good it tasted! Our favorites were coconut strawberry oreo, lime cream, lemon cream, and chocolate.

13- Moseying around Old Town San Diego.

12- Getting an adorable picture of the three girl cousins all dressed up in the skirts and headbands that Madeleine sewed and the bracelets their aunt bought for the occasion.

11- Witnessing humpback whales and dolphins frolicking in the deep blue sea. We took a half-day boat ride to the Channel Islands and superbly enjoyed seeing two whales surface and dive a few times each. We also loved the thousands of common dolphins (and their babies!) that swam alongside the boat most of the trip. Incredible!


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10- Speaking of whales…making out with Rob while riding on top of one is definitely one of my favorite vacation moments!

9- Visiting the Old Mission Santa Barbara. The gardens were beautiful and perfectly peaceful.

8- Watching (over and over again!) the looks on these three faces when they tried the yucky wheat grass shots.
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7- The Getty Villa in Malibu. The beautiful sculptures of Greek gods and goddesses, the stunning Roman architecture, the delicate tile mosaics, the ancient Egyptian mummy, and many other priceless artifacts, we loved it all. As a bonus, I was so happy that my kids didn’t only behave well but embraced and enjoyed it just as much as the grown ups.

6- Playing a competitive game of Dwindle with the whole family. Umm, let’s just say the low score trumps, shall we?

5- Yoga with my love with this view.


4- Best. Swinging. Ever. 


3- I’m not a big water person but Rob and I adored watching Madeleine and Nate jump right in and learn how to boogie board. Except for the cold, splashy water part it looked so fun! Also, watching these two girlies cartwheel at the water’s edge! ALSO, watching Rob try to surf. It was the best birthday present ever. I couldn’t stop laughing! Not only did he have a heck of a time even getting over the breaks but once he did he couldn’t even stay sitting on the board. How I wish I had a video of the hilarity!
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2- Beaches, beaches, and more beaches. From Carlsbad up to Ventura we visited eight (some of them multiple times). We made it a goal to visit as many beaches as possible and I’d say we did pretty well.

1- Spending time with our wonderful siblings, cousins, and parents, of course! They made this dream trip possible. Many, many thanks to them!

Now for the worst moments.
6- The yucky food at Fiesta de Reyes in Old Town San Diego. We came here for the fun ambience but waited over an hour for a seat. After all that, we only half-ate our dinner.

5- Too much sugar! We indulged. It was good. But it was bad. 

4- The aquarium displays at SeaWorld. These were dark, old, sad, and in need of care. I was expecting a lot more for such a renowned place.

3- Trying to find acceptable peeing locations around Santa Monica and Los Angeles. Forget acceptable, even unacceptable would have been accepted!

2- The Cat Cafe. We did this to cheer up the kids who missed their pet. The place smelled. The cats weren’t very friendly. Did I mention it smelled?

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1- T.E.R.R.I.B.L.E cell service (Sprint), even while in cities. This meant getting driving directions, looking up pertinent destination information, and even listening to music was very limited. This made for some frustrating moments where I was THIS CLOSE to throwing my phone out the window of our moving car and into the salty sea.

But really, I’d be an idiot to complain about anything on our trip. Seriously, you can’t ask for much more than time off from work, time exploring new places, and time playing with family. We’re very grateful for the opportunity we had to do all of those things together! 
  

Dear Tulum: A Love Letter

Dear Tulum,
You stole my heart and I will never be the same again.

I succumbed to your carefree vibes.

I soared when you touched me with your delicate sands.

My worries melted away with every delicious taste you gave me.

Your light shined on my bare porcelain skin and left me in afterglow.

My inhibitions washed away in your secluded waters.

Oh, my dear Tulum. You will always hold my sweetest memories, my deepest love, my heart.


Devotion Forever,

Julianna

Where We Stayed & Played in Playa, Akumal, & Vallodolid

I thought I’d write a post just on our Mexico lodgings because they deserve it.

The hotel prices in the nice areas of the eastern Mexican coast are exorbitant, around $450 for places on the beach. It didn’t matter, though, because we didn’t want to stay in a resort anyway. We wanted to enjoy a more intimate, local vibe that made us feel like we were actually experiencing Mexico.

We have rented lodging many times before through vrbo but this time we decided to give the much talked about Airbnb a try. Contrary to what people think, there are many small hotels listed, not only people’s apartments. It’s a convenient, cost-effective way for these small establishments to get business without running a webpage/booking site of their own.

After sorting through hundreds of options, we finally settled on our favorites and booked our stays. The booking process didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped. One place that we had tried to book was being sketchy so we cancelled and weeks later they were still trying to get us to give them money. The other three places we actually did book were a thousand percent perfect, especially considering they only cost us around $100 per night! The owners couldn’t have been more gracious and wonderful to work with before and during our time at their properties.

 

Our first night we stayed in Playa del Carmen. We decided we wanted to be out of the main hubbub touristy area so we booked a LOVELY boutique hotel a couple of minutes north.  It was situated in a very local neighborhood but right behind a 5-star resort. It was the best of both worlds since we got some local flavor but only had to walk a block to a beautiful, uncrowded beach.

There is a gospel church behind the hotel and so that evening we were serenaded with the craziest spanish gospel singing slash bawling. They were really feeling the spirit. It was awesome. Or disturbing. I’m not sure which. We recorded the audio from our back patio.

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The neighborhood itself was a little out of our comfort zone. However, we really enjoyed taking it all in.

But once you walked through the large wooden gate into the courtyard, we felt so relaxed. After a day of travel and getting our bearings, we needed some serenity and this place delivered!

If I could live this minimally in my own home, I’d be a happy camper.

Our personal patio.

The rooftop was incredible. And, please. I’m NOT wearing a fanny pack. It’s a travel pack. And my did it come in handy so no making fun!


For the next two nights, we drove south and stayed in a beach apartment in Akumal. Getting to the house was an adventure. The potholed dirt roads are something else! Click video to view.
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It was literally 25 steps to this gorgeous view!!

 

The grounds were beautiful.

Wall of Coconuts
And the room was very comfortable.

Our last night we went inland to Valladolid and stayed in the center of town at a GORGEOUS bed and breakfast. It was actually more like a high-end boutique hotel.

Again, you walk off the noisy streets

And into serenity.

Everything about this place was perfect and spotless…which ended up being highly important since I ended up being sick all night long (not from their food). Since I couldn’t make it to breakfast in the morning, they brought it to me.

We had such a good experience with our lodgings through Airbnb that we will definitely use it again and again, I’m sure.

Disneyland with Cousins

We went to Disneyland in September with Rob’s family and we had an absolutely amazing time. We already posted our beach time but we haven’t posted on the Disneyland portion of our trip until now.

We overnighted in Las Vegas on the way down and back and got into a few little predicaments…

Ouch! Don’t touch your bums to the cactus!!

 

I walked out of the stall to see this.

On every trip we take Caroline gets a goose egg on her forehead.   Every. Trip.

One thing we didn’t get a picture of was when Ben hit his head at the hotel and had to be glued back up at the emergency room!

We usually stop in Barstow for lunch on the way down and back but let me tell you, stop in Victorville instead. It’s so much less crowded and there are so many better dining options!
This trip we rented a house together a mile or two from Disneyland and either shuttled each other or took Uber back and forth. The house had a pool which was fun to come back to after the park and it was really nice to buy groceries for a lot of our meals. On a couple of the days we picked up food on the way back from the beach or the park and ate together at home (the park closed at 8pm most nights). It was so much easier than trying to control all the kids inside a restaurant or spending top dollar on Disney dining.
We went during the Disney Diamond Celebration so they had a new light parade and World of Color show for the event. Rob and I can’t even express how blown away we were by the spectacles. FANTASTIC! Our theory is that you get so hot and tired playing all day and wonder if it was all worth it but the night ends so spectacularly so that the parents forget about the cost and stuff and realize just how worth it it all is!
Here things got a little crazy while waiting for the daytime parade.

Did I mention it was H.O.T.? It was right around 100 degrees most of the time while there. We knew this would be the case and were as prepared as we could be with spray water bottles, cooling towels, lightweight clothes, cold treats etc. but we were all dying at times. Of course, we still had much fun.

A few randoms.


Our last night in Anaheim we took advantage of the house and parental units by taking the kids back home early, feeding them and getting them in bed, and then Rob and I snuck back out to enjoy a date at Disney. It was so nice to be together in the happiest place on earth.
I do need to document one aspect of my trip that was quite less than ideal. As you remember I got a tendinitis and bursitis flare up a week or two before we left and wasn’t able to walk well. In fact, I was in a lot of pain from my feet and hips. My doctor gave me a steroid pack and special insoles to get me through and I barely did. I was hobbling slowly and putting my weight on the stroller and gingerly stepping into and out of rides. I must admit, it was pretty rough. However, I refused to let it ruin our vacation so I kept smiling, made sure my kids didn’t know how tough all the standing and walking was on me, and had fun anyway! 
We had a great time with these people and are so glad we got to vacation with them!

Thanks for the memories!!